Kickstart: Bibliotek: Chapter One.Five

Posted on 16/07/2011 by

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Have you ever rained down from a volcano? Graham hadn’t, not until they base-jumped from the tower amongst the new thermals which smashed them downward. Shades had thrown him something like a poncho and told him, “it knows what to do.” Blessed fashion, he thought, at least it knows what to do. Lead us on our way. He had no idea. But when his buddy in the chain jumped, he was dragged from the sagging, molten window.

Around them it appeared as if the fires were airy-sparks, or lazy pixies… but the hot beads, a hail recoiling from the street, were actually drops of dense glass.

It wasn’t long after they’d landed, running away on loose paving, that in the pale ash of the bounds they’d rejected, that slogans fell upon them. Cut-ups, slips of bond spelling out doom. After all: ‘Information Wants To Be Free’ didn’t it? Graham couldn’t help but read prophesy into the confetti they’d made of the bounds left behind to the explosion. On the embers of their own op-ed, the slogans caught alight, and out in the cold they were recalescent. Like fire behind the stove front’s glass.

Graham could not unclench his jaw from the cocktail of drugs. Running through Bank, he knew what must happen. He’d heard of the book-ghosts, the library machines, license killers. Book hunters. But when did they ever appear? Well, he thought, they were going to show now.

They said that the copyright-ninjas, the book hunters, had been… ‘adapted’ to better suit their role. That they were a brotherhood dedicated to the freedom of information through unfettered capitalism, the hacker-architects of the ad-view book and hyperwork novel. That they guarded the books as an avant-garde. To ‘save’ information for the people, it must be profitable for the publishing Houses to have it online. The Houses didn’t care about pirated versions of online books, because of course, you could steal them, but then you’d never have that connectivity. Reading was a social experience after all. The bounds were normally just an expensive entertainment, but a public library of them would be a disaster. Too socialist—if that outmoded polarity still held. The readership had to go via the linked and online browser of a feeder. Any other option would only confuse the market, and with it their revenue stream. The ninjas were for information wanting to be free. A freedom paid for by big brother.

Graham wondered if those hunters had been changed to tackle the unique demands of the bounds: Pavlov-trained to respond to the sound of turning pages, equipped with special hands to hold the bounds, turned into niche-dwellers amongst the shelves with their hooked limbs… some said that they thought in text—fonts, indexes, copy-and-paste minds; the better to talk between text and person. Bounds made alive.

That they might be the perfect reader didn’t impress him.

Page-turning hands, he thought. Fine fingers like razor blades fitting between the bond.

Running away, he knew that they’d taken Cho. He’d heard her squeal—or had that been a truck screeching round the corner? He could imagine her entrapment, but not actually been able to see it. Perhaps he was wrong? Maybe she’d gotten away after all? But he still had a job to do. They hadn’t been stupid enough not to have planned for a disaster, they each had bolt holes. Except that Graham was new on the hit. He should have known better than to take on two roles—robber and data guardian. He had no choice but to run back to the vault, and in doing that, to lead anyone following him to their secret collection.

It wasn’t precisely suicide. He could have taken one of the tunnels out, leaving white, burning phosphor behind him while the bounds fused together. The precious database of metadata had already begun harvesting seasons of random numbers. That would melt, too. But better to be safe.

He looked around the collection. The wires showed bare. He’d never been in a actual library—not the way that Shades had described one; rhapsodising from long lost secondhand sources—but he didn’t think they ever would have looked like this. Hell! Not like either of the night’s sets—Collective, nor Atrium.

The shelves were a magnesium tubing packed with thermite powder. They were wrapped in plastic sheeting, and the bounds were in tubs. He didn’t even bother to put on the requisite gloves as he took up the last bound—the orchid text he still carried, wrapped tightly in its plastic memory-cling. The leaves were each as exquisitely textured as a petal—he could almost feel the pulse of a living plant within it.

He took the chance to actually read it, his hands bare on the bond pages. What did he have to lose now? The work was a re-print of Darwin’s On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing; so not a cutting-edge text. Instead, he had to imagine the words of the text lit in ozone blue, re-directing him to newer sources.

An after-thought of the concrete around the Collection, was that it insulated against noise, making it a calm amongst the racket of London. All he could do was listen to the cricket clicking of the hard drives as he waited for something, anything. Wondering if he was under siege.

The Collective had installed proximity alarms, and they must have sounded shortly after the blast of the vault being breached. In the explosion of paper (and he had to assume, a debris of steel and concrete) he was spun—trailing his legs back behind him, like a flying squid—thrown against a stack of shelves, to sit and greet the new, smoking hole in the outer wall. The smoke and ash grew arms and a torso. Then a whole body wrapped mostly in thin strips of fine, patent leather, eyes a flash in glass, with pieces of torn bond caught afloat in his updraft. And the man revealed looked around. For Graham. He glinted, as he bowed:

“Professor Emlen at your service; Freelance Bibliometricist. You must come with me.” He had a hand out, had approached while Graham looked around from the floor in shock. “It’s ok, Graham, but we’ve no time for these bounds.” Paused for a moment, “Did you have a favourite?” He swaggered in a circle, inspecting them. Away from the two men, the circuit of shelves had began to hiss, flaring, telling them both that the vault door had been breached and that the thermite was beginning to fire. The interloper shook his mottled leather head. “Well, maybe not.” He crouched low over Graham and leant him a hand. “You must come.”

Graham looked around. Wow. He realised then, rubbing his face as it ran with sweat in the heat of the newly flared shelves, smearing his own oily skin with the flakes caught from burning bond—he knew then, that the ash of a bound was greasy like his own skin. Not dry, not gritty. The remains of a bound, its ink having melted into porous bond—was almost like burnt flesh. And he was glad to know it. It gave a meaningful poignancy to how he must mourn the collection.

Emlen nodded decisively and turned away. Graham followed him.

 End of Chapter One

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By Paul McLaughlan

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Posted in: Btek, Hyperwork, Paul