Crawley wondered just how space would affect the books. He’d lived in the library for some time, but was somewhat ashamed to admit to himself that for all his knowledge he wasn’t sure what would happen if the billions of books were subjected to the cold void just beyond the walls.
This subject greatly concerned the librarian of late, and he tried not to think of it as he nervously pored over an ancient Earth tome entitled ‘Lord of the Flies’ with his huge green eyes. His mouthless face bobbed up and down as he imagined the library shutting down, the books floating off the shelves, their ancient pages icing over like… like a doughnut covered in pink frosting, Crawley thought, annoyed as he noticed fellow librarian Loraine the Earthling eating over a book she was engrossed in.
Having no mouth, Crawley gently prodded at Loraine’s brain with what her kind called “telepathy”. Do you have to eat over the books like that? He had to make sure he wasn’t too loud. Loraine was one of those humans who was very susceptible to migraines if he spoke in her mind too vociferously or for too long.
She smiled and rolled her eyes. “This place will be shut down in six months. We might as well enjoy ourselves before they cut the engines.” She paused. “Do you think the books will explode when they enter the quasar?” Clearly she didn’t know what would happen to the books when subjected to space either. The only thing they both knew was that once the engines were cut, the library would drift into the quasar and every last book would be destroyed.
Crawley let his eyelids drop into a human expression of displeasure. It’d taken him a long time to learn how to mimic human emotions – it was difficult with no mouth or eyebrows, but he managed. Body language always helped, so he crossed his arms to heighten the effect.
Loraine rolled her old eyes again and Crawley squinted at her. Rolling eyes had become one of his least favorite human expressions. “Alright, alright.” She moved the doughnut off to the side. “So what’re you going to do when we’re out of the job?”
Not sure. His voice echoed quietly in her brain. She nodded solemnly. Only people who really loved tangible books or “tangibooks” as they were now called worked at the library. The employees were so passionate that they hadn’t had to hire a new librarian in over ten years. Crawley’s love for tangibooks kept him tethered to the place like a worm on a hook, and he’d been there for four-hundred fifty-one years.
But now he was forced to face facts: the government was cutting funds. Not that he could blame them. It was a big galaxy with a lot of problems; the least of which being a bankrupt sanctuary for a dead form of reading.
Perhaps we can find a new source of revenue to keep the library open. Crawley mused aloud in Loraine’s mind. Loraine shrugged, looked down at her book and muttered, “Wouldn’t that be something. Maybe a Denny’s in docking bay 5 would be a big enough draw.”
Crawley didn’t know what a “Denny’s” was, but he suspected it was one of the many Earth colloquialisms that always seemed to be exiting her human mouth-hole. It was actually one of the more fun parts of listening to her speak. Maybe if we made a plea with all the worlds that’ve donated their books? I’m sure they wouldn’t want to lose their ancient artifacts. They’re priceless.
Loraine breathed out a sigh and made another amusing human expression as she looked up, squeezing her lips together in thought. “Uhhmmm… nah. Too much work, Crawley. And anyway, who needs these old relics when you can just read them for free on the Net anyway? The only reason all those worlds donated their books in the first place was because they didn’t want them. And the only reason why they’re considered priceless is because they’re so dang old.”
I always thought they wanted to send them here to protect them.
“Nah. They didn’t want them, and they didn’t want to burn them either, so they sent ‘em here.” She shrugged again and ate another bite of her pink doughnut, this time careful not to drop crumbs on her book. Crawley was pleased she took care not to eat over the pages this time, but also wondered what an old lady was doing eating something so unhealthy.
They were silent for a moment, then Loraine glanced up at him. “Did you know humans used to store film on big clunky cartridges?”
No. But, I’m not surprised. My people had something similar.
“Well, when you think about it, our library is like having a big ol’ museum of cartridges. Nobody wants them, nobody cares.” She smiled a bit, “except for us librarians of course.”
Crawley lifted his lower eyelids a little to mimic a human smile and uncrossed his arms. Though she seemed bitter on the surface, Loraine was actually a very good friend and fellow lover of tangibooks. She knew hundreds of languages and could be found reading books from any section during the day. This made her difficult to find sometimes, and once Crawley swore he went a week without seeing the old woman.
Suddenly, three shrill beeps sounded over the library’s communication system. This meant there was about to be an announcement. The library was kept so low-staffed that the government ran the library from off-site, on a mass relay world. Truthfully the whole thing could just be computerized, but the government also liked giving people pointless jobs. “Visiting hours are over.” said a voice from some distant system. There was a pause as the person was obviously reading from some sort of cue card. “Any guests on board the Gor Quasar Library must leave or check out their books and vacate in a timely manner. This is your fifteen minute warning. Prepare for lockdown.”
Lockdown had only become a recent addition to the library. Because funds had dried up, the library could only be kept in the cheapest sectors of space, and this sector above the Gor Quasar was one of the most low-cost albeit crime-ridden zones available.
Crawley mimicked a human yawn by squinting his eyes and stretching his long yellow arms above his head. I’ll see you tomorrow. Uhh, IF I see you, that is.
Locked in his small, comfortable room, Crawley couldn’t help but muse over ideas to save the library, the books, and the staff within. But, it seemed every line of thought led to the same conclusion: no one was interested, and there was no money.
Just as he was about to slump into bed, the communication beacon on his desk lit up. He hadn’t gotten a call in some time. Perhaps one of his children needed advice on child rearing again. He sighed inwardly; long-distance calls were always a burden to his kind. In order to communicate telepathically, the other person had to be close. This being the case, mind-speakers had to use a keyboard to type what they wanted to say, and a computer would repeat whatever was written for the person on the other line.
Crawley hit the ‘on’ switch and the monitor on the wall blipped as it came to life. The entire screen was black. He squinted, thinking there might be some sort of error in the system. Then a voice came though. It was so sudden that the alien jumped; if he were human he would’ve yipped in fear. The voice was medium-leveled, but definitely a voice that commanded attention. “Is this the Gor Quasar Library?”
Crawley quickly typed on his keyboard, glaring at the keys as he accidentally hit a few wrong letters. The computer analyzed them as he wrote them and spat them back out toward the black monitor. “Yes, but the libtary is closed, if you wish to read a book, please come bacl in 12 hours."
Silence. Crawley reached toward the ‘off’ switch, but suddenly the medium-leveled voice spoke again. “I’m looking for sanctuary. If your library’ll house me, I’ll pay handsomely.” This was perhaps the weirdest thing the telepath had ever heard, and that was saying something considering the weird things telepaths think to each other when they’re drunk.
He was about to write a quick “no” onto the keyboard, but as unusual as the message was, what was even more unusual was that the meek librarian began to consider it. Instead he typed, “for how long?”
“A few days for a trillion.” said the voice, matter-of-factly.
“What’s your crime?” the atonal voice of the computer asked back.
“Robbery, naturally. But, that’s none of your business. Just house me quietly for a few days and I’ll pay you.”
“Give me a second.” Crawley typed hurriedly into the keyboard, his long fingers shaking.
“I’ll give you five minutes, but after that I’m outta here. I can’t risk you calling the authorities.”
Telepaths were naturally quick thinkers, being able to relay entire books worth of knowledge between their own kind in moments… but this. This threw Crawley for a loop, and he felt himself get dizzy as he compared what could be gained or lost from this transaction. On one hand he’d be a criminal. But, on the other hand, the odds of him getting caught in this low-volume, decrepit library at the borders of civilized space were very slim.
Crawley paced nervously as the thoughts sped through his brain like the intergalactic highway system. Finally his big green eyes settled on the books he’d borrowed for his room. Such treasures! Was it more criminal for him to house a fugitive or to let these priceless volumes fall into the quasar? If the government would rather let the quasar take care of the books than do anything about the money shortage, then the alien would have to do something himself.
Finally, he stomped back to the keyboard with resolve and typed: “Agreed. I know just where to dock you. I’ll send you a signal.”
“I’ll wait fifteen minutes, but no more.” Then the call was cut.
Crawley hurriedly made his way from his room out into the cold dark of the closed library. It had been a long time since the telepath was out after hours, and he felt a little spooked, as if the books that lined the walls had eyes peering out at him from between their dusty pages.
Soon he found himself running. He’d never been in a hurry on the job before, and now he realized just how big the library was, and that he’d have to be much quicker to reach the docking bay within fifteen minutes. As he cut swiftly through the dark he noticed just how loud his hard-heeled shoes were against the thick flooring and he almost wished he’d worn his bedtime slippers instead.
There were five docking bays. Apparently when it first opened, the library had been far more popular. But, after thousands of years of dwindling membership, only docking bay 1 was ever used. So, it only made sense to Crawley that no one would ever look in docking bay 5. He hesitated at the door for a moment, fearful that perhaps spiders or some space parasite had made its home in the bay during its time of eternal vacancy.
The middle-voiced man was waiting, however, and he knew the criminal wouldn’t be patient. He ran into the bay at full-tilt, thinking that if there was something lurking in the dark it might be scared by his brisk entrance. Luckily nothing seemed to be there as he clacked his way over to the control panel. He sent out a signal to the waiting ship and within a minute it was docked safely within the abandoned room.
Crawley could feel sweat beading down his yellow skin as he anxiously waited for the fugitive to step off the small ship. All of a sudden he found himself wishing he hadn’t let the man dock; that he’d just left well enough alone and let the quasar have the books. But there was no going back at this point, and the alien tried to look tough as he heard the door to the ship clang open.
The man was human, as was expected by the language he’d used in their earlier conversation. He was tall, older, surprisingly clean-shaven (not like pirates in most human books) and wore an unassuming but expensive camel hair coat. Crawley instantly suspected the man of embezzlement instead of robbery like he’d claimed earlier.