They were moving again. They’d returned to the Tube. “Cute.” Graham muttered. “They own an illegal print-job for the intrinsic flaw that it’s been Auteured. That it isn’t an auto-correcting text. That bound’s only ever been valuable to them for once having been ‘right.’ That it’s become a part of their own history, reading it’s made the bound a love letter between the two of them.” Graham mused on that: he’d thought their scrawlings just masturbation—grotty, low, obscene—I never thought of the two of them… together; just as faintly scandalous boys. But how poetic…
Emlen said. “People connect over their bounds, and by owning a print version of the text. That’s its value: the call and response between two young men.” Graham thought then—as Emlen’s fingers twitched in excitement, uselessly haptic—thought about static narratives, print bounds versus evolving texts. Dynamic, reader-defined works, Authored and re-authored on the House boards, which pushed updates and new annotations, unasked, into the text works. Negotiated narratives always in process, and never slowing enough to be interrogated. Texts never slowing enough to be loved.
They’d already switched three train lines, and it felt like Emlen would never stop. Then he grinned over at Graham from a train bench, swaying over absurd Nineteenth Century lines, holding up two cheap trade-bounds.
“The Underground Library.” He passed Graham a romance, open to the inside cover. “Have a look.”
Graham recoiled from the bound. “Is that clean?” He thought of its Inspiration hazard.
Emlen shrugged. “While it is very unlikely there would be any infestation… you don’t even Author in its genre.” That was true. It was yaoi—Japanese boy porn. And no, he didn’t write that, so Graham knew he was being silly. You had to be an Author, had to have an inclination to the genre, in order for the Inspiration to give you any more than just the thrill of a ‘good idea.’ But obviously, Emlen wasn’t an Author, or he would understand the—somewhat irrational—fear of becoming addicted to forever having to top that drugged sense of Inspiration.
Graham reached out, and lifted the bound hesitantly, opening it. There was a sticker inside: ‘Bookcrossing: London Underground Branch,’ a blurb and reference number.
“You track it by searching for its number, finding its release notes and the reviews of it scattered wherever they are amongst any non-House boards. It’s been around for years, but now it’s had to go, quite literally underground. Most of the refs are merely for admin, and there’s been no real organisation to it at all. I try and take the sorting in hand whenever I’m on the Tube—I developed a line-based system: Victoria for the romances, of course.”
Graham heft the acid-browned bound—old hardware—and frowned. “Emlen, do you actually know of any print copies of my book?”
“Legally art-published? Yes, I have heard of a couple. I wouldn’t know who would have bought them—that’s why I wanted you.” He passed him a literary detective story, swapping their bounds. “You’ve been on my radar for awhile—bleeping loudly I have to add. I heard about the job you had tonight, and I knew I’d have to step it up to bring you in. But lets be sure about this, Graham: what I really need is an assistant to find my lost bound. Now it is perfect that you need my help.” Graham had known it. “I told you not to worry about the hunters,” he chuckled, “but really, Graham! You might not have counted much before, stealing a few bounds here and there—it’s the dissemination large-scale that bothers them, and cutting into the House’s profits and web ranking—but you blew up a building.” Stopped. Thought, “or near enough. A few floors. They might not be modified, killer cyborgs … but they’re after you now. I thought we would have more time to work tracking your bound, but now we really just have to keep moving you.”
The train came to a jerking halt. They stood and considered.
“I will look after you. I have a safehouse to go to now it’s late—took me all night with us running round to arrange it, this has been great cover. We can work out what we—or you and I separately—” he held out his hands, “do from there. It’s up to you.”
He stepped off the train, Graham thought then about staying seated and just accelerating away from him.
“Yeah, ok.” And alighted with him. What else did he do—zoom around the tracks all night? Wait and be picked up, with his head stuffed in a black bag? He looked properly at Emlen, saw he was clothed in binding leathers, that he had mirrored nightsight goggles lodged by the end of his nose. And a holster, with snub-nosed gun on his hip. Standing on the edge of the platform, Emlen was busy performing corrective surgery on the trade-bound, from a field kit of scalpels and tape. Fuck. Was that a real Librarian?
“You’re a nerd!” He said gently.
Emlen snapped up his head, flashing a slant-eyed glint of scalpel. “Of course. The most dangerous nerd you’ll ever meet.” Was this what he was in for?
Holding the bound, still stinking of long-pins of setting glue, Emlen spent credits to request the next Victoria train coming by. As it arrived and slowed he trotted over to it. Still holding the porn-romance, he flicked through it and shuffled his card inside; that extravagant scrap of bond. He briefed it to Graham, and he could see it was only a search term ‘cowboy librarian.’ Once the train stopped, he held Graham off while jumping aboard, to secret the bound behind a seat, easily walking the carriage and coming off down the platform.
“Isn’t that environmentally irresponsible?” Asked Graham, pointing at the window by the hidden bound as the train left.
Emlen laughed sharply. “Do you know the research regarding greenhouse gasses off a human? Or any on population density, indexed versus an educated, literately interrogative stance?” He didn’t. “Then I’ll just tell you this, libraries of bounds are one hell of a contraceptive.”
Emlen slapped the powdery dust of the bound from his hands, striding away up the escalator. ‘Tally-ho!’ The station wasn’t a narrative, its ads and notices actually an ongoing soap opera. They climbed from the station, past a strangely litterless street-entry: no flyers, no stomped-upon papers. No midnight rustling of rubbish.
End Chapter Three
By Paul McLaughlan
Illuminated initial “T” from Crainquebille (1915 translation by Winifred Stephens)