S’Mary’s World: Magnus Albert

Magnus Albert is the name given to the mother house of the Albertine Order on S’Mary’s World, also known as St. Mary’s-without-the-Arm. To the Albertines the first colonists gave the task of preserving the Archives, the collected library of the colony ship Our Lady of Loreto, and disseminating its contents to the colonists as and when and in such measure as the colony was ready to make use of them. To this end Magnus Albert was built into the side of a mountain, Albertus Mons, into which chambers were carved to house the Archives. The intent was to maintain the Archives in a controlled environment with low humidity and constant temperature, rather than to provide for defensive fortifications; but in times of social strife the site of Magnus Albert was heavily fortified, and remains so to this day.

The design of the Archives at Magnus Albert reflected the realities of life on a planet with a small population (initially, less than 10,000 individuals). Any level of technology depends on two things: an adequate supply of the required natural resources (from coal and iron to the rare earths) and a sufficiently large population to both harvest them and make use of them. The higher the technology, the wider the range of required skills and the more effort it will take to find and process the materials. The colonists brought with them the technological level of their day, a level which they could not support after the machines wore out. It was clear to them that they needed to regress to a lower level of technology and build a stable society upon it before that happened; and then, to progress up the technological ladder as resources, population, and education permitted.

Therefore, the first Albertines built the Archives on the notion of technological triage. (It is often claimed that the work of triage was done by the Loreto‘s captain, John St. Cloude, as a work of penance, but the consensus of scholars outside the Albertine Order is that this is no more than a pious legend.) Those technologies that would be immediately useful and accessible to the colonists were made available first: the plow, irrigation, crop rotation, tanning, weaving, candle-making, and so forth. Paper-making and ink-making were also made a top priority, as these were essential for the spread of knowledge from Magnus Albert to the other colonists. These technologies once mastered enabled other technologies, and these others, so on. Thanks to data from the Von Neumann Survey of S’Mary’s World, and the Loreto‘s own orbital scans, it was possible to locate the new colony close to as many surface resources as possible.

As a result of this triage, the Archives were structured as a series of modules, each unlocked by mastery of its predecessor. In the popular imagination, consequently, the Archives are thought to be contained in a series of vaults, stretching back chamber by chamber into the heart of Albertus Mons, and each locked against untoward access. The scholarly consensus is that this romantic image is true in principle, though undoubtedly false in actuality; but as only senior members of the Albertine Order are allowed into the oldest parts of the Archives complex the truth of the matter is unknown.

The resulting path of technological development bears only a minimal resemblance to that of Old Earth. Stirrups, developed late in the history of Old Earth, were in use on S’Mary’s World from the beginning of animal husbandry, and Gutenberg-style printing presses were devised as soon as the colonists had sufficient skill with metallurgy to cast the required type. Stirling engines were in use from a relatively early date to drive wood lathes and other tools; steam engines came much later, due to the need for high-pressure containers, and internal combustion engines later still.

The effective control of technological progress by the Albertines was both a positive benefit to the people of S’Mary’s World and a point of contention; it was the latter that led to the formation of the Knights of St. Albert to protect both the Albertines and the Archives. This control continued until the time of the Wars of Irreligion; as the population grew, so too grew the number of skilled craftsmen capable of making new inventions on their own. Misguided attempts by the Albertines and the Prefecture to clamp down on unregulated inventiveness were undoubtedly a contributing factor to the wars. By the end of the Times of Exile the Archives, still closely protected by the Albertines, were more a legend and a curiosity than a source of new technologies.

It is important to note that the Archives contained much more than technological know-how; they also contained the combined literature and history of Old Earth. Many works were made available to the colonists from the earliest days, copying resources permitting, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church, philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, and other authors such as Shakespeare, Tolkien, Lewis, and Habstock (the colonists being primarily English speakers); others were tied to particular technology modules and were released with them. It was no part of the first colonist’s plans to abandon their culture; rather, they wished to retain as much of it as they could at any given time.

At the time of writing, the Albertines remain a potent force in primary education on S’Mary’s World; and the University at Magnus Albert is the planet’s leading institute of higher learning.

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