Well, page girls too, actually. I know almost all of my posts this month have been about brainstorming my story of the Great Christmas Blizzard, the next installment of a saga that begins with “Orphans of Opry Tower”, but hey, it’s my blog, I can write about whatever I want. 😀
Haunted Organs of the Library of Congress?
Anyway, I had a bit of an inspiration last night, when I was out on the town and (in between dances) reading up on the Library of Congress, at first asking ChatGPT whether it was known to be haunted (answer: no), with the idea being that one of the Founding Father ghosts marching through the National Mall during the storm might pay the Library of Congress a visit, perhaps playing an organ in ghostly fashion a la Davy Jones in “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Turns out there is an organ in the Library of Congress, which lives at the Coolidge Auditorium (named after its patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, not President Calvin Coolidge), though it’s not a big pipe organ like the ones in churches (or Wanamaker’s), but rather a smaller instrument. Boo. Oh well; since my timeline really starts to diverge a decade or two earlier and there’s far more resources available, who’s to say there isn’t a huge pipe organ somewhere in the Library in this universe?
Pageboys: Irrelevant in the modern Day…or are they?
When reading the Wikipedia article on the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building (which as of the point of divergence is its only building; the others were added on later in the 20th century), I was surprised to learn that congressional pages formerly attended school together in the attic of the thing! Which got me thinking about the page program; the Supreme Court and the House don’t have pages any longer (boo), but the Senate still has them even now. Would the congressional pages still be a thing in 2045? Especially in a timeline where technology’s advancement paces quite a few decades ahead of our own? Maybe.
I know the House and various corporate settings say that the job of a page is obsolete in light of modern technology and automation, but consider that we still have no shortage of entry-level office jobs that consist of doing menial tasks around the worksite, which is basically what a page does. Like most jobs credential requirements for these sort of posts have drastically trended up along with a pretense that it’s a lot more specialized, professional, and skilled than it actually is, even when the difficulty and nature of the actual work hasn’t changed much.
Yes, they will make use of new technologies, but technology tends to lead to de-skilling; with each advancement, one inexperienced generalist can increasingly produce the sort of output that previously took multiple experienced specialists to accomplish. This was obvious in the 19th century, but for political reasons the 20th century saw this trend be buried in a tidal wave of make-work and credentialism. It’s not hard to envisage an alternate timeline where this doesn’t happen, and this group of universes includes the one I write in. By the 21st century almost everyone is living primarily off their investment capital, there’s heavy automation, and the 1960s counterculture came much more strongly and focused more on the likes of youth liberation and debureaucratization. In such a social environment retaining teenage boys to be general-purpose office minions would seem perfectly normal.
Interestingly, congressional pages didn’t have school classes to go to until 1949; given a timeline where the high school movement proceeds much more slowly (no World Wars to accelerate it…), they might not even bother with making pages go to school before self-directed education becomes dominant after the 1960s, making the question moot. So the traditional model where all pages are expected to do is work at their jobs might carry on well into the 21st century.
The Pagegirl Question: Alternate-Historical Possibilities
Another traditional aspect that persisted was page boys being…well, boys. Girls were not permitted to become congressional pages until the 1970s. We associate office minion work with women, but the role of secretary, for example, was only feminized recently in the grand scheme of things; as late as the 19th century virtually all office work, even at the lowest levels, was the preserve of men, and in more prestigious office settings such as legislatures this norm held well into the 20th century. For pages in particular, their work required physical stamina in terms of running errands quickly and even assisting with manual tasks that might crop up, which would seem to be more in the male domain.
In addition, it was sometimes thought that the social dynamics among pages and their congressional masters might be more complicated or awkward if the pages were girls. In addition, page girls were thought to be a potential distraction; women, especially young women more likely to look pretty, tend to give men the hots, and until the 20th century Congress was all-male. And as if that wasn’t enough, pages traditionally (and still do!) live in close quarters in dormitory-style arrangements, leading a strict lifestyle, and the introduction of girls was thought to undermine the privacy of the page boys (not to mention the privacy of the then-hypothetical page girls).
One can’t help but wonder why the page girls couldn’t have just been given their own quarters, which would have solved the whole privacy problem. As for the distraction issue, once women start becoming members of Congress it stands to reason they’d be distracted by and have awkward interactions with their page boys (pages are typically assigned to specific members). Doesn’t seem fair to subject them to the distraction of the opposite sex but protect the male members from it.
The logic of fairness, equality, and diversity compelled the introduction of page girls integrated with the page boys, but integration wasn’t the only option; among the marginalized (such as women, but also racial minorities such as African-Americans) there has always been a popular strand of thought that viewed liberation as consisting of not getting a seat at the dominant group’s table, but rather getting their own table that was just as good, separation and reparation rather than integration and reconciliation. An alternate history may well see this (quite more interesting) view be more popular and carry the day.
Separatist Feminism takes over? Would explain a lot…
So might we see page girls be introduced, but with their own quarters and with them exclusively working with female members? With page boys restricted to working with male members? There are few women members — even today Congress is 71% male — but in a timeline where “separate spheres” segues into “each sex gets a fair share of the spoils” it’s not hard to imagine e.g. political parties reserving specific shares of their nominations for women, and using that practice to bring up the female share of Congress toward parity to a considerably greater degree than happened in real life’s “meritocracy”. Yes, the idea is weird by US standards, but globally quotas for women in politics are widespread, to the point the US is slightly unusual in not doing it.
It wouldn’t seem as weird in a United States where there’s a rising sensibility toward the use of sortition around the turn of the 21st century, concomitant with a growing turn among intellectual democrats away from the Roman model of governance presumed by the Founding Fathers and toward the Athenian model that was maligned and poorly-studied in their day (this is happening in real life, by the way, but in my world I posit that it’s far more pronounced). There’s also a rise in the use of proportional election methods, such as ranked-choice voting and multi-member districts.
As an aside, the sort of feminism that rises in this universe would neatly explain how high-tech enterprises entirely comprised of women and girls are considered unremarkable in another 21st century story of mine. Interestingly, as early as 1941 women at least in some states are entitled to lump-sum payments for each birth. Perhaps the idea congeals that the state should spend as much on mothers as it does on the military, if indeed “war is to men what maternity is to women”. Yes, that’s a Mussolini quote, but in a world where fascism never happens a lot of the adjacent affectation and aesthetic will remain much closer to the surface. In light of the Army of Christmas (yes, really) mortifying the great powers into adopting a military doctrine centered on lean nuclear, cyber, and special forces, with the resulting manpower deficits being made up with mercenaries, that discourse might become particularly interesting…
In the latest budget proposed by the Speaker for the next fiscal year, appropriations to soldiers of fortune alone once again exceed payments to new mothers by 50%! This is unconscionable!
Sounds like something they’d be squabbling about in “Star Wars”…
Pages in the Library of Congress on Christmas
Back to the original point, the existence of teenage girls working as congressional pages (or indeed pages for women in other settings) is quite plausible, even expected in my universe’s version of 2045. At one point pages even lived in the Library of Congress, but with the Treasury flush with cash, might they get their own separate building? For all we know their cloistered lifestyle might be a thing of the past, with a housing allowance to rent whatever place they please within easy commuting distance of the Capitol.
In my story twin siblings Fintan and Fia will wait out the storm in large measure in the Library of Congress, and my thinking was that they might meet some pages in there. In real life even without living or going to school in there pages are known to frequent the Library; it’s a fun place for an academically inclined sort, and they might have duties to perform in there for the member they work for.
It’s unlikely in my story that the pages would be on duty, for the simple reason that it’s Christmas and Congress is likely in recess, even aside from an ominous storm whose approach might persuade them to evacuate. So why would the congressional pages still be there? The pages in the library Fintan and Fia meet might be there because they really like books and researching? Or might they be locals to the region who figure if they’re going to be snowed in anyway they might as well be in there rather than at home? Or might they be of a storm-watcher disposition? Or some combination of all of these possibilities?
Pages in Puppy Love: Delightful new Characters?
Anyway, these pages are somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 years old, and my idea was that they might be in love with each other, almost certainly each other’s first romance; very cute. This is why I was paying so much attention to the question of how exactly girls started becoming pages in real life: to weigh the possibility that a page boy would even have a fellow page girl available to date!
It would provide Fintan and Fia some conversation partners besides each other, and the couple would make an interesting contrast to my twin characters; they’re only a few years younger than the twins were in their original appearance in “Orphans of Opry Tower”, and they’re a romantic couple, as opposed to a sibling couple (though they’re intimate enough they might be mistaken for a romantic couple by the pages!). They would also make good conversation partners that could provide some insight into how exactly the post-Rapunzel-Reinhardt federal government operates from a perspective that’s not Rapunzel Reinhardt (the twins meet her later…), as well as the question of the apocalypse, which it feels like they’re in, what with the flashes of lightning, the constant din of the thunder, the pitter-patter of the hail, the roar of the hundred-mile-an-hour sustained winds, and the driving sheets of powdery snow that start to encase the whole building in drifts blowing past the rooftop.
Deep Underground Launch Center: its Story has Come!
I also have (if I might say so) a rather clever idea to include a heretofore unrelated worldbuilding concept I have into this story: the Deep Underground Launch Center (DULC, a play on the real-life DUCC concept) a concealed missile-silo-style installation directly under the White House, where a rocket is housed, to launch the President away in the event of an attack on Washington, fast enough to get out of the blast radius of even the strongest nuclear warheads in just one minute, easily enough lead time to escape even a submarine-launched ballistic missile attack.
Perhaps the pages have seen something like this, which isn’t exactly a secret but is not well-known among the public, and they jokingly suggest to the trapped Fintan and Fia that they could hijack the presidential rocketship and exit Washington that way; perhaps this is even how they start conversing in the first place, after the pages overhear the twins lamenting how they’re stranded in the city during the storm.
When it comes to Treaties, the World is not Enough
The existence of such measures would tie into how, in “Orphans of Opry Tower”, for example, it’s mentioned there are entire robotics factories deliberately sited in deep tunnels in remote areas so as to withstand nuclear attack.
This world has enough wealth and technology to easily build out all this stuff, though it’s still slightly curious considering no military even keeps strategic nuclear weapons in their arsenal; there’s a worldwide “Nuclear Weapons Convention” that prohibits the use of nuclear explosives above a certain yield (colloquially called “city-killers”) for military purposes. That does not, however, restrict civilian uses of such explosives, which abound in this universe, so if a state party were inclined to violate it it would be rather easy to do so, not to mention the possibility of an attack by a rogue civilian.
The world is sheathed in vast networks of bomb-pumped X-ray lasers and various defensive measures to protect against a nuclear attack (the Strategic Defense Initiative envisaged this in real life), and much underground infrastructure is available, though not to the extent of being able to shelter the entire population against an all-out attack consisting of direct hits by city-killers with little warning. In addition to all this, there are space colonies with thousands, if not millions, of people that by 2045 stretch as far afield as the inner Oort cloud, with an expeditionary fleet even en route to Proxima Centauri. These colonies often consist of full-fledged space habitats with ecosystems unto themselves.
One might believe the prospect of human extinction at the hands of even the worst nuclear war is a thing of the past, but I can’t help but wonder if there might still be concern of the possibility of an omnicidal adversary: one who sought to destroy not just a particular enemy power or even the whole mother planet but all of humanity. Space habitats, colonies, and ships are all right out in the open; given enough firepower and the element of surprise, it might be considered within the realm of possibility to attack and destroy them all, in addition to the possibility of a “doomsday device” to poison the Earth, and perhaps even other planets, for a century.
In my post “After the Doomsday Shroud”, I raise the possibility of vast nuclear submarines serving as arks: a genetically viable population of humans, along with biosamples of all ecologically important species, living in a closed ecosystem, submerged for months or even years at a stretch. Nuclear submarines have the key advantage of being untrackable; they’re stealthy by nature. Might governments or various philanthropic efforts adopt this concept of mine as the best insurance policy for the human race?
Sure, there’s also the possibility of stealth spaceships, but the submarine concept seems considerably easier to accomplish. Besides, who’s to say there couldn’t be stealth space arks, not to mention airborne counterparts to the submarines in Venus and the gas giants, in addition to these submarine arks? The drive to make humanity and the Earth’s ecology unkillable, slightly reminiscent of the end goal of Leto II in “God-Emperor of Dune”, might reach unhealthily obsessive levels, but in this universe there is an abundance of smart rich people with nothing better to do with themselves (wait, is that why Silicon Valley is the hotbed of “existential risk” discourse? 👀 ).
Quite a topic for pages and dancers to be discussing on Christmas, but I myself have spent weirder holidays. Besides, it helps to heighten the gothic and science-fictional atmospheres alike, which is what I’m going for.
The pages being of a mischievous bent (as suggested by them jokingly suggesting hijacking a top-secret military spaceplane) might go a long way toward Fintan and Fia dismissing a pipe organ playing in the Library’s auditorium as the work of the pages, only to discover that it’s playing of its own accord and they’re not even there, heightening the creepy atmosphere as the ghosts of the Founders march across the Mall.
This whole subplot introduces some more intrigue and gives the characters something to do that moves the story along before they go out to the monuments, meet Rapunzel Reinhardt in person, and witness the collapse of the Washington Monument. I’m liking the idea, and I’m inclined to include it in my ever-more-sprawling saga. 🙂