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Dirty Water #137

by Micah Epstein

July 25th, 2021

“The archives are just...sitting there. Rotting. I feel like we need to do something about it. Keep it alive” s

ays a man. His hair is salt-matted. His demeanor is demure, but there is a spark in his hazel eyes. We will call him the Undertaker. “Who’s the we here? Me? You? Do you have the knowhow to get inside the Ivory Towers, find any one of the hundreds of servers in there, and pick and choose what is most worth saving?” A solidly-built woman fires back. Her wide arms are crossed. For our purposes, she will be known as the Midwife. A kiddo stands on their toes on the weathered wood of the pontoon and sticks their head in the midst of the tension, asking “what’s in the tower?? What’s a server? What do you mean worth saving?” A fitting name for this child is Curiosity. At this question, the Undertaker’s eyes light up. “Everything, darling. Everything. The Ivory Towers contain some of the deepest archives of humanity’s scientific knowledge, original source material back to Ptolemy. Mankind’s greatest achievements. Locked up tight in metal boxes that might lock forever if we don’t get to them soon.” Curiosity’s eyes widen and reflect b

ack some of the Undertakers fire, their mouth a small ‘o’ as they imagine ancient knowledge stored in dark passages just on the other side of the Charles. The Midwife cuts in: “That’s exactly it, though. Mankind’s greatest achievement. Not Womankind. Not Humankind. Look where all those great men got us.” And the Midwife uncrosses her arms and indicates the shoddy, bobbing houseboats, huddled together in the cold dawn. “Hey!” Curiosity exclaims, and pouts, “I like Bay Village! It’s fun and I like running on the bridges and I can always knock on a houseboat door and they usually have some greenbread or a taffy for me if I’m polite…” The Midwife’s expression softens “Once again, little one, you are more right than the rest of us.” She turns to the Undertaker “What we’ve built here is what’s important. Ptolemy won’t give us any good information about how to best grind algae to make greenbread. Or how to anchor our flotilla against the monsoon season. This is a new world, and the great men of the lost world aren’t around to help us b

uild it.” The Undertaker shifts from one foot to the next, nervously feeling his rhetoric beginning to slip. “I...I used to work there. Doing research.” Surprise shows in the face of the Midwife, incomprehension in Curiosity’s. “In the tower, it wasn’t just old white men telling people what to do. Sure, it was mostly that. But it was also something different. It wasn’t about being efficient, or even productive, it was about uncovering truth. Discovering and documenting something fundamental and eternal that was just a drop in a beautiful ocean. No, not the ocean. It was organized, built up, alive. We were making bricks, and you felt that your brick was part of a city. The city. The greatest and oldest city, with strata stretching back millenia. And open gates, welcoming newcomers. And plazas filled with lively discussion. And great gardens that fed the mind and spirit. But now I see the great City of Science, sinking beneath the waves.

Like so many other cities these days. Yes, the lost world was flawed, its science didn’t save us and here we are. Here we are, and we have a chance to keep a part of it alive. To keep building.”

Check out all the art and columns of July's Boston Compass at


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