School and work have been doing everything possible to monopolize my time lately. Since this means no time for writing anything unrelated to those, I’m posting a random excerpt from my novel, Smoldering, to make up for it. 🙂
His stomach was bothering him again. Siph realized that he hadn’t eaten in almost two full shifts, but dreaded running into Gard in the cafeteria. He checked his watch; it had only been fifteen minutes since their return. That annoying man would still be stalking the buffet line.
He paused in a corridor on the third floor, just outside the library. Books might distract him for a time. There was one he’d wanted to finish, before Reeves assigned him to linguist-finding duty. But the library was rarely empty during the fifth shift; Advisor Grimmolden tended to monopolize it then, and not even through any real intent on his part. Siph considered it. Vexatious buffoon, or cantankerous fossil?
The only noise was a faint click from the ornate door handle as Siph pressed down on it. He entered with cautious footsteps and, seeing no one, turned to close the door again just as quietly. Grim didn’t seem to be nearby, though that left plenty of other places.
The library was the largest room in the entire Hub, if it could even be counted as a single room. Like the cafeteria, it was located in the very outer curve of the spiral, taking up every inch from the inner wall to the outer wall. Though there were no interior doors, the occasional pair of floor-to-ceiling bookcases marked a division in the type of material to be found in any given area. As the ceiling was at least thirty feet above Siph’s head, this created quite an impressive effect. Altogether, there were five sections: that just beyond the doors, with three long tables and three rows of dark wooden bookshelves to either side of the walkway. These, along with those shelves along the walls, made up the Earthly portion of the Scod’s information. Siph imagined because of this section’s placement and bulk that the organization’s founder had to be human.
The fourth pair of bookshelves pressed against the ceiling, dividing the Earth reference books from those of Valakao on the right, and the smaller Etherín section on the left. In the darkest corner, just behind Etherín, the once negligible Zalú section was now so large it had needed a balcony built to hold the extra shelves, and so essentially took up two claustrophobic floors. The remaining corner of the library contained the same picture windows as the other floors and an expanse of reading tables.
Siph went all the way to the back, keeping an eye out for Grim, and slipped in among the cramped shelves of Zalút history. He climbed the ladder to the balcony — and almost fell off when he found Advisor Grimmolden sitting on the floor just in front of him, sucking on a pipe.
“Seriously?” the young man asked in monotone, pushing himself out of the hole in the floor.
“Says the one come to disturb my peace,” the older replied.
Grimmolden was, in fact, not as old as he liked to look. Though he kept his beard long and his paunch somewhat round, he had very few wrinkles and very many opportunities to show off his well-preserved biceps. His eyes, fierce for a human, reflected his personality, as would his thin line of a mouth were it visible beneath the beard. Siph thought the man had probably obtained his clothing from Earth sometime in the 1920’s, considering the current unavailability of plaid trousers with suspenders.
“I just came for a book.”
“Oh, then by all means, be as inconsiderate as you want.”
Siph revised his idea of the man not wanting to chase people away.
No longer concerned about his noise level, he passed through the nearest aisle to the spot where he’d hidden his book so no one else would check it out. The lamp attached to the top of the bookcase didn’t quite reach here, but his eyes were good enough that he didn’t need it.
The book was not there. He scanned the shelf again, then those around it, one at a time. He passed along the entire wall, checking the spine of each volume. There wasn’t even a gap where it would have been.
Something dawned on Siph. He turned to Grimmolden, thinking that in three years, he had never seen a librarian; and yet the books were always in perfect order.
Grim seemed to feel Siph’s anger, and looked up with a glint in his eye. “What? Don’t tell me,” he said, lifting an open book from his lap, “that this is the one you wanted?”
Siph could tell from the red cover that it was. He could also tell that Grimmolden was in the same mood as when he’d tried to strangle Daus in the cafeteria less than a month before. “No,” he replied, stepping toward the ladder. “I think mine was downstairs after all.”
“Some very interesting things in this book.” Grim flipped through the pages, finally closing the cover and getting to his feet. “Ngoshi traditions, like Coming of Age Day. The fact that each family has a different tradition involving an ancestral relic.” He held up the volume as though mocking Siph with it. “After living a good many years, I can still think of only one reason you would want to look at this. Just know, boy, that if I ever catch you doing so, I will throw you at the warden and let him hang you for a month. Understand?”
Siph’s skin began to itch, and he knew that threads of red energy were appearing beneath the gray. For the sake of the books, he took deep breaths and tried to reign in his heat. But he did not drop Grimmolden’s gaze. “That demon is after me. If I know nothing of what he wants, how am I supposed to protect myself?”
“Protect yourself?” Grim seemed to find this funny at first, but his amusement quickly vanished. He shook the little red book at Siph. “Protect yourself? Boy, you’re going to be the one to destroy yourself, and probably that whole world along with you!” He dropped the volume on a nearby table, pulled at his suspenders with both hands, and wandered towards the ladder, grumbling under his breath.
When his hands had cooled enough, Siph retrieved his literature. There was no use arguing with the old bastard. What was true was true.
Siph pulled out a chair, adjusted the table lamp, and found the page he’d marked with a scrap of old ribbon. He no longer thought about going to the cafeteria; his stomach was too hot for hunger.