"Thank you for coming so early!" Heavy boots echo against the stone walls. Dr. Daicy Foldrick is one of those old fashioned librarians, the kind you would see in a movie from 100 years ago. She is covered in tattoos, wears actual reading glasses, a cardigan, and a wedding ring. But you can tell how she looks at people- she's polyamorous. At least for me, that makes her indeterminate age even more unnerving. I might guess she is about 50 years old, but she could be as young as 30 or as old as 70. She thanks the student and folds her arm into mine to lead me away from her. She whispers to me something I can't hear and looks back at the student Ludiya with a wink. With her arm wrapped in mine, her swirling blue and violet skin doesn't look very loose. Maybe my judgment was too harsh. She's probably like 40.
We travel down an elevator to the basement. When the door closes, she lets go of my arm. "That's my graduate student Ludiya. She is a bit of a goody-goody and doesn't know about all the real work I'm doing for the library, you understand..."
I nod, but I wonder what exactly she's going to say if Ludiya asks who I am. I guess a friend, but I have a feeling it’s more like a very close friend. I push that thought away and clear my throat. The elevator door opens and we step out into a dark storage area filled with crates of books wrapped in clear plastic. They are at least twice as tall as we are, and the lights above glow only a few feet away from their tops, making it hard to see how far back they go. We maneuver around them heading back, back into the basement.
"I suppose I will have to explain it all to her someday if she is going to stay with us after she finishes her degree, but..." We squeeze past a particularly dusty tower of wrapped books which appear to be balancing against a solid wall. Daicy turns an unlocking winch and slides back a heavy metal door. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there..." I move through and she slides it closed behind me with a grunt.
"That you, Sugar?" a familiar voice shouts from behind a pile of metal tables. Out from among a chaos of metal pipes, rolls Re-Chron, the resident hacker. The library is supposed to only include the collection of books and materials it owned before the Ban on Physical Media in 2050, and the few items that were "gifted" to the library by the 3 remaining publishing companies, whether they wanted them or not. It's Re-Chron's job to artfully rewrite the history of the library archives to include the new acquisitions and losses made by Daicy. They don't tell me everything, but I get the feeling that they are not the first in a line of librarians to modify the collection and its history.
Re-Chron asks if I've met the new info studies student, Ludiya.
"Yeah and now she probably thinks I'm sleeping with Daicy?" I blurt out through a nervous laugh. I always think I can act cool and normal about things like this, but then I hear my "casual" voice and want to die.
"Nice cover, D. Classic." Re-Chron raises his eyebrows and crosses his hairy arms over his chest, nodding approvingly.
"Is it so far-fetched?" Daicy whines, and winks at me. I think she’s probably at least 65.
"I'm sure there is nothing out of your reach." Re-Chron giggles.
"SPEAKING OF WHICH!" I interrupt, my stomach already clenching. "Ah yes, the books..." Daicy starts, "I was hoping you could take these off my hands." She opens an old cabinet drawer and pulls out three paperbacks. Each has a plastic tape over its cover to protect it, and its pages are very yellowed. Yellowed pages are a dead giveaway that these are books that survived the book purge of 2051, or are at the very least illegal. After the purge, book lovers found all kinds of ways to keep their treasured collections safe. One method was rebinding an illegal book inside the cover of a legal book. Most of them were inside what appeared to be recently printed collectors hardback copies of classic literature that were in the public domain. More rarely, people would rebind their books inside old copies of the same public domain titles. But it's hard for a book lover to destroy an old book like that, so these original copies were usually preserved.
When searched, it was rare that any investigators would bother to check every inch of text in every book. For anyone with a basic knowledge of book binding, it was easy to hide illegal books in legal books. For several years anyway, until the police learned about LTP. Shortly after the ban, publishers started using new materials to attract physical book fanatics to buy their printed books which were available for free in the public domain. One common practice was to use pages treated with LTP, which made each page as strong and flexible as plastic with the same feeling as regular paper. It was coffee stain-proof, pet tooth-proof, and fireproof, which was still a large concern after the campaign to ban physical books scared the public into believing that their book collection was a dangerous fire hazard. But a few decades after the ban, all these books treated with LTP's pages were turning blue at the edges.
Inspectors started to notice that not all books that claimed to have been printed after the ban were fading to blue. There was a mass inspection of anyone who had purchased the 2050 Collectors Edition of the heavily annotated and illustrated Diary of Anne Frank which boasted pages that would "last forever." Anyone who was found to have this book with with yellow pages instead of blue were arrested and fined, their collections destroyed. A new law was passed that any new printing was obligated to use LTP in their pages, and Penguin Classics happily provided funding to develop the handheld device police used to check pages for LTP.
I shuffle through the three books. They weigh almost nothing. The Girls of 3b... Twisted Path... and Strange Sisters.
"Not weird sisters?" I ask. Maybe people didn't read Shakespeare back then…
"I know, right?" Daicy laughs, her eyes sparkling. "I really just want to get rid of them. They remind me of someone I would rather not have to think about anymore. I mean they were kind of like our books you know? I just want them out there..." She waves her tattooed hands through the air, fingers wiggling. "So when they find them, they'll know I gave them to someone else. Get whatever you can for them and keep it. I don't want any CASH back for them, if you can even get CASH for them in the valley. Oh? Did I mention I need you to sell them in the valley? I need you to sell them in the valley."
"That's like so petty," Re-Chron giggles over his coffee mug, turning back and forth in his desk chair, narrowly avoiding a nearby table leg jaunting past his head.
"You want to take em? I can't exactly throw them in the trash!" Daicy snips at him.
"Don't worry." I try to assure her. "They won't end up in the trash. At least not your trash...." I slip them into my backpack behind the hoodie and start to wonder if police ever search their dumpsters. They must know that she is sitting on a gold mine. Don't they?
"I'm just surprised you are giving those up." Re-Chron tries, "You love those old Pulp Novels, I thought. Like, sentimental odors aside, is it really worth letting the collection lose them?"
"These ones are whatever. I mean they are still rare, but one of them wasn't even written by a woman and the other two are... not that great. I mean she liked them and we read them together but they aren't actually good."
I wonder what makes a pulp novel actually good?
"You've got like 3 minutes on those cameras, Sugar." Re-Chron says, staring at his monitor. "I've got a diagnostic chasing the bug I gave them this morning but like it's fixing it a bit faster than I projected. So like, good thing you came early."
"I'll show you out!" She says, pulling back open the metal door.
"Wait, I need you to sign off on this." I wave my handheld at her.
"Oh yes." She smiles. I'm paying the fee so don't worry about having whatever buyer you find confirm receipt. They probably don't have a CASH ID number anyway."
"Yeah but the Directory...?" I start to ask before she interrupts me.
"Don't worry about that. I'll close the order myself."
I have no idea what she is talking about. "You are sure I don't need to confirm with the Directory that it was delivered?" I ask again. I've never not had the drop off sign for a package. But I also have never sold anything myself either. How the hell am I going to sell these books?
"Just stop by the next time you are in the neighborhood and let me know who you ended up selling it to." She waggles her eyebrows. "I mean, I'm sure by then I'll be curious."
"I'll do my best," I manage to say to her before getting off the elevator on the main floor.
"I'll see you tonight, darling!" she coos at me, those long fingers waggling at me next to her eyes.
Ludiya is staring at me from the ticket counter. What kind of relationship are we pretending to have?
I try to reply with a sexy nickname. It's so gross. Oh my god she loves it. Daicy is giggling up a storm and floating away into the stacks. I feel sick. Ludiya has moved her stare to the monitor at the desk. I don't blame her. It's awful. I probably ruined any chance she had at having a comfortable relationship with her boss. But it felt good to remind Daicy that it's never going to happen.