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A simple woman with tastes to match. That's how I like to think of myself. I've worked for governments and secret societies, but what had been exciting then... Had I ever been so careless, taken so many risks? I've lived in high and low places. Flown in the great airships but I was never that fond of travelling. Feet firm on the ground, much better than wingless up in the air. I don’t think we were ever really meant to fly.

            I felt guilty about lighting the cigarette and jumped when the phone rang. I quit the habit years ago. 'Sides, you can't smoke near books. Not the kind I work with. I picked up the receiver. A voice asked, "Rachel Buonarrotti?"


            "I'm calling on behalf of someone who is unable to."

            "Alright." It was not an eloquent reply, just the best I came up with. "What does this concern, Mr..?"


            "Mr. Lewis, I hope it has something to do with books. Or you may have the wrong Buonarrotti."

            A soft laugh echoed down the phone line. I waited for him to continue. The cigarette tasted good but it was strong. I put it out in a plate filled with crumbs.

            "My employer has a proposition for you, Ms. Buonarrotti. You will be happy to know it does involve a book. Have you the time to commit?"

            "How can I say if you won't tell me anything?" I didn't ask questions about Mr Lewis' "employer." Half of this business was knowing the right questions not to ask.

            His laugh held less amusement this time. "You will get a delivery. There will be a note. Read it and reply in an appropriate fashion."

            "Mr Lewis, I'm an historian. An academic. I reflect the general harmony of those who hold the vocation. I'm boring and I'm easily bored. I don't like riddles."

            "Expect the delivery. Good day."

            I put the phone down. From my chair I had a panoramic view of the city beyond the window. Sometimes it reminded me of Old Paris. Sometimes it didn't.

            A delivery, whatever that meant. When I was younger I would have relished a little mystery, the potential to discover something new and exciting. These days mysteries usually panned out in one of two ways: not at all, or boring and by the book.

            There was work on my desk. Now that I no longer worked for the university as an archivist I could pick my assignments more carefully. My workload was less and more of my time my own. But work was the last thing on my mind now as the smell of the waking city drifted through the open window. The phone call lingered. Work would have to wait. It was Tuesday, inconspicuously.



The city was a beast heaving with people and their shadows. My office was on the ground in the fourth ring, an undersized building I shared with an accountant, two lawyers, a sign printing business and a haberdashery.  Mr Lewis had disrupted my morning. Said one thing, he had, and meant another. It annoyed me that his no-words kept crowding in my head.

            I've not lived a life devoid of strange incidents. Before being hired by Philip H. Lovejoy University I'd spent my first stint as a freelancer for the Juno City Theosophical Society. If they hadn't paid me so incredibly well for hunting down rare books I might have quit them sooner. I'd been up to my neck in debt then. You know what they say about money. It changes everything.

            I locked my office and hopped on the maglev to ride the train three rings out, to The Lotus. My favourite café was here. It was never busy early in the morning. Sometimes I wondered how they managed to stay in business so long. I suspected it involved a little magic.

            The Datura was soft and hazy; it always reminded me of being in a warm bath with the lights down low. I didn't recognize the waitress. Did it matter? Somewhat, to me. It was always the same one who brought me coffee. I like a certain amount of structure in my life.

Today the girl was a blonde, a whippet with a lazy tilt to her head. She seemed vaguely at odds with her height but perhaps it was simply nerves, the eagerness to please and perform well. Perhaps she was a rollover from the night shift and just tired. She stood and waited and I forgot to give her my order. I liked consistency and today I was getting none of it. "What happened to the other girl?"

            "What girl?" The whippet's nametag read EVE.

            "I'm sorry, that was rude." My smile was meant to make amends. "A coffee please," I showed her on the elaborate menu. "Add an extra shot. Just a little milk."

            Eve touched her little electropad and it plopped like an electric raindrop. "Anything else? I recommend the mescaline salad. It's our speciality."

            "I know. I'll pass."

            She drifted off again.

Outside the window the maglev shot past like a poltergeist in a hurry. The weather was changing. The scrapers rubbed shoulders, Tetris-like, leaving little room for natural light. Many of the city rings made use of additional lighting. The Lotus was no exception, but the ringdwellers here had made a significant effort to replace the standard issue 500W bulbs with muted tones. A stopover in The Lotus could be jarring, disorientating even, especially for the tourists who come in straight from the desert, beyond the outskirts of the metropolis. Juno City was never what they expected.

             The waitress brought my coffee. She wavered. "You mean the girl with the numbers, right?"

            "Yes. She was always here."

            The whippet scrunched her mouth. "I didn't know her… I've only worked here a few days and she left right after I started." Her brow furrowed. Then she asked, "Do you know why?"

Comments [1]

Robin Rigby's picture

Dang.  Get me interested &

Dang.  Get me interested & leave me hanging. Smile  I enjoyed it thoroughly but want more.