Monday, June 18, 2012

Monday Madness!

Diners at the Memory’s End


Raymond Frazee

Copyright 2012, Raymond Frazee, All Rights Reserved.

Note:  this is is being written as you read it.  It is a first draft, and as such, it may be presented with typos.  Please excuse these, and remember that everything will be nice, clean, and near perfect, when you buy this story.  Remember--you get what you pay for.

Part Four

Thursday, 9 September, 3183

Four classes later, and suddenly Albert didn’t know if taking a class in astronomy was such a good idea.
The last two classes had been all lecture on things he pretty much knew already. The effect had been to sort of lull him into a sense of false confidence that everything was going to be pretty groovy, that he need not worry about getting by—
Then today—Wham! “Defining characteristics of stellar ecospheres.” Albert felt the “No Shit” shiver pass through his body so quickly that Meredith—who was sitting to his right now that she was his study partner—glanced over to see what was wrong.
So they had their first real assignment: model a binary system with viable ecospheres, that would possess at least one planet capable of sustaining human life. The stellar components were randomly generated, and before everyone shut their systems down, each team got their stars—
Albert and Meredith had to model a system with an F-Class and K-Class star. Oh, joy.
As they walked into the library, Meredith said, “At least they allowed us a forty-four year period for the K-Class,” she said, indicating the period for the orbiting component of the pair. “That one team got an A and G-Class in a nineteen year orbit.”
“Yeah, that’s going to suck big time.” Albert chuckled, then cleared his throat. “Though I think I know how they can model that.”
He turned to Meredith, then pressed a finger to his lips. “Shhh. The walls have ears.”
She giggled. “Indeed they do here.”
“Here” was the Stutten Library, the main center of study for Magdalen College, and one of the largest building for the college. Four stories and several thousand square meters of space filled with over a quarter of a million reading cartridges. Though most reading material was downloaded to one’s personal system these days—like Albert and Meredith had done with their course books—these cartridges could also be held and read like old books, if one chose.
Albert knew they could be checked out as well, which involved nothing more than finding the volume you wanted, tapping against your hand scanner to initiate a copy one’ reader, and taking it with you. There was a deactivation code that would wipe the book from your system in twelve days, so there was never a need to return the “book”—though one could return and request additional checkout time.
But Albert wasn’t looking for books. He had access to just about every book in the library; hell, just about every book in New Oxford if he so desired. No, what Meredith and he needed was a little study space—and access to the library’s main computer.
He knew he could tie his own computer into Meredith’s and probably do a simple model of this system they were being asked to have build by Sunday evening. But there were tons of variables that might get thrown at them when they were building solar systems from the ground up, and Albert worried their “simple” systems—which, when compared to the machines he used to work on, had the power of his old super computers—might not be able to produce the level of sophistication Winnie was likely going to demand.
Hence they needed a study area.
And so did just about every other student who was between classes at the moment.
It was 11:21, and it seemed to Albert as if every student from every class at the school had found their way to every study station on the ground floor of the library. As Meredith and he headed for the first floor, Albert was certain they weren’t going to find anything open there, either. The moment they reached the floor, a quick walking tour of the floor proved him correct.
“How the hell did everyone get here so fast?” he asked rhetorically. He saw students from class who, it seemed, they’d left behind in the lecture hall.
“I believe some of them left just before Professor Koltzer dismissed class.” Meredith was keeping up with Albert, looking to their right as he looked to the left. “I think they got over here as quickly as possible, then grabbed a stationed and waited for others.”
“Someone’s got a private transom,” he said, mentioning the portable portal device he’d used many times on his trips into the past with Cytheria and Tommy.
“I don’t know about that . . .” Meredith stopped before the stairs to the second floor. “Wanna go up? There might not be as many people up there.”
“Might as well.” As they hurried up the stairs, Albert knew why she thought there might not be as many people on the second floor as on the first two: the second and third floors were different.
They held the library’s bound books.
It was only a few months before that Albert discovered the collection of bound books held by the library. As they walked onto the floor, Albert took in the wondrous scent of so many volume of collected lore and information. Tommy had once told him there were over sixty thousand volumes on both floors, with close to sixty five percent of those books on this floor.
Albert had wandered through here the week before classes started, and it brought back memories of him visiting the enormous county library near where he used to live, and the hours he spent there as a young boy, wandering the shelves, looking for novels to read, for stories to entertain and enlighten, for works that would bring the world to him.
He knew of the electronic revolution of the early 21st Century, when books became an electronic medium, data to be downloaded and read with reader similar to the ones on the ground and first floors. But as humans moved to the stars, it became comment for communities to keep “backups” of the electronic volumes, and thus, in the middle of the 23rd Century, did printed books once more become an item.
All libraries these days kept a collection of electronic and print medium, though it was rare that the printed medium was ever allowed to leave a library. Albert knew most of the books on this floor were several hundred years old, and some were already half a century old when New Oxford was founded on University in 2568. Students could come here to touch, to hold, and to read—but only a few people on the planet would ever be allowed to leave this floor with one.
Meredith tugged at Albert’s arm. “Hey, I think I see an open center.” She hurried towards an a space near where half a dozen students had already set up shop. Albert followed, but he was already getting a bad vibe from the spot. He didn’t like being out in the open like that; he didn’t like having other in such close proximity to his work . . .
He didn’t like feeling so exposed.
“Hold up, Meredith.” She stopped about two meters from him, then turned and slowly walked walked until she was a half meter from him. “I don’t know if I’m ready to work out in the open like this.”
“We might not have a choice,” Meredith reminded him.
“Yeah, I know, but I’m not sure that I’m all that eager to show off my lack of solar system making skills.” He glanced down one aisle, towards the far wall. “Maybe there’s an open room.”
“Maybe.” They hurried off in search of something more secluded.
Along the wall were a number of small study rooms, but as Meredith feared, they were already filled with students. Some were from their class, their holographic projectors on, and stars filling the fields. Many others weren’t; a few seemed to be from a biology class, and their project seemed to involve modeling some new kind of molecule.
It didn’t matter what they were doing; Albert couldn’t find an open room, and the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach told him that, has Meredith had already said, it was very possible they would have to settle for something in the middle of the collection room—
“We could go up to the third floor.” Meredith was already considering walking past the open study areas she’d already seen, in the hopes of getting Albert to stop searching—as it appeared their opportunities were diminishing rapidly. “I know there’s another flight of stairs around here—”
“Hey, what’s this?” Albert stopped before a closed door with a narrow pain of frosted glass, and was trying to peer through small, opaque window.
Meredith saw the sign to the right of the entrance. “That’s a conference room. Come on—” She tugged at Albert’s arm. “We can’t go in there—”
“Why not?”
“Conference rooms are off-limit to students.” She considered giving Albert another tug. “You can only use them if you have a reservation.”
“Yeah?” Albert finally the sign giving the name of the room, and and stood thinking for a moment.
“If you want to reserve the room, you have to go down to the ground floor and contact the local avatar.” Meredith didn’t want to hang around here; the longer they dawdled, they less likely they were to find study space. “We can’t do anything here—”
While Meredith spoke, Albert quickly ran his right hand over the area where he knew the scanning device would be. He only needed a couple of seconds to find what he wanted. “No one has this room reserved until 16:00.”
“How do you know that?” Meredith took a few steps closer to Albert. She whispered, “What did you do?”
“I accessed the schedule for the room.”
She shook her head. “How? Students can’t do that!”
Albert shrugged. “I just did. I think . . .”
Meredith was suddenly intent on dragging Albert away before someone showed up and questioned what they were doing. “Come on, Albert! We need to find a place—”
Albert waved his hand over the door scanner. A moment later, the door slid open. He was half in the room in a second. “Come on, Meredith!” He smiled mischievously.
Meredith was very worried they were about to be confronted by the library avatar, and ejected from the building. “How did you do that!?”
“I opened the door.” It was his turn to grab his partner by the arm. “Lets get inside before someone tries to horn in on our act.” Meredith wanted to protest, but Albert was quick about getting out of sight, and she was through the door and inside before she knew what to do.
The lights came on as the door shut behind them. In the center of the room was a long table, four chairs on each long side, and a single chair at either end. The computer and holographic center was in the wall farthest from the door, while heavily-tinted windows filled half the wall opposite the door. Albert dropped his backpack on the table, then looked around. “This is more like it,” he said. “All the stuff we need, and no need to worry about someone bothering us.”
“What if someone from the library comes to see what we’re doing?” Meredith was still worried they were going to get into trouble for entering the room, but she knew if they were here illegally, an avatar would have appeared by now . . .
“That’s not going to happened.” Albert walked slowly around the table. “It’s 11:34; no one has this room until 16:00.”
“What if someone comes because we’re not suppose to be here?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it.” He glanced towards the computer center. “Hey, you wanna get lunch?”
“What?” I’m thinking we’re about to get thrown out of library and earn a school demerit, she thought, and he’s thinking about food! “Doesn’t anything bother you?” She fell into a nearby chair.
“Most of the time, yes.” He chuckled. “Come on; you need something to eat.” Albert looked upward for a moment, as if he expected something to drop from the ceiling. “Could we have services?”
A gentleman in a dark suit stepped out of the wall; Albert was very familiar with that move, and assumed that, at the least, the inner walls, and the floors, were electopolymorphic. "May I help you?”
Turning to the avatar representative, Albert said, “We’d like to order lunch.”
“I’ll need to see some identification, first.”
“No problem.” Albert waved his palm at the avatar, knowing it’d detect and read his nano-stored biometric data.
The avatar nodded only seconds later. “Thank you, Mr. Dahl.” He straightened his suit jacket, though it already sat perfectly. “Now, what would you like?”
Albert already had something in mind. “I’d like a pastrami on toasted rye. Make the pastrami extra lean, and I’d like that topped with fresh horseradish.” He paused, thinking. “Give me a small chip on the side, and a lemonade pint.” He stepped back. “That’ll be all.”
“Very good.” The avatar turned to Meredith. “And for you, Miss?”
“Um . . .” Meredith had no idea what she should say. First they were somewhere they shouldn’t be, now they were giving lunch orders . . . “I’ll have a Cobb Salad, with tomato vinaigrette on the side. And an ice tea.”
“Anything else?”
“That’ll be all, thank you.”
The avatar nodded again. “You orders should be here in twenty minutes.”
“Could you let us know when they’re at the door?” Albert asked. “Don’t want to answer it and find someone there who shouldn’t be there.”
“I understand, Sir. I’ll be certain to notify you.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome.” The avatar vanished from the room, reabsorbed into the EPM floor.
Albert began unpacking his backpack, but Meredith has something else on her mind. “Albert?”
“How did you do that?”
"Do what?” Albert smiled at Meredith, unsure of what was coming next.
“Everything.” She raised her arms, and looked about the room. “You shouldn’t have been able to get us in here, and then you call up the service avatar . . .” Meredith’s eyes narrowed. “And what is this ‘Mr. Dahl’ stuff?” She shook her head slowly. “How many classes have you had?”
Oh, boy. This was something Albert had worried about; having someone start asking questions about his past. He’d discussed the matter with Cytheria, and they’d agreed that the chances of someone digging a little too deep into his was probably minimal.
Except now, it seemed like that was happening. “I’ve had a few,” he said, which Albert knew was true. Just as long as she doesn’t ask about when I had those classes . . .
“But it’s been a while,” Meredith said. “I mean, you’re older than me, so you’ve been out of school for a while.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
“So you met all the prerequisites for Winnie’s class.”
“Obviously.” Albert through it prudent not to mention that he’d also had a couple of conniving avatars help him get into class.
“But sometimes . . .” Meredith touched the side of her forehead. “There’s times when I get the feeling you have no idea what you should be doing in class. Like it’s all new.”
“Well . . .” He looked about the room sheepishly. “It has been a while. Things have changed.”
“Not that much,” she said, chuckling. She eyed him again. “Albert . . . what do you do?”
And there was the question he didn’t want to hear. Of all the thing Albert didn’t want to try and explain, what it was he did for the Empire was going to be among the hardest. Sure, I’m a part time Talent, he thought. Wait around long enough and you’ll get to see how that works . . . “I do a little of this,” he said, “little of that.” He shrugged, trying to be nonchalant about it. “Nothing important, really.”
Meredith was skeptical. “Really.”
“Seriously, my life is an open book.” Albert walked around to the other side of the table where Meredith sat. “There’s nothing to hide.”
“Nothing at all?” Meredith couldn’t read Albert. She suspected he was hiding something, but he fact, his body language—he seemed not bothered in the least by there conversation. He’s very good at whatever it is he does, she thought. Which makes him all the more interesting. . .
As he grew closer, she noticed Albert doing something. What is he up to? Is he— “Albert, what are you doing?” She glanced up and smiled. “Are you sniffing me?”
He nodded. “Sorry, I just . . .” Albert was embarrassed by the exchange. “You’re wearing jasmine, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am! I’m surprised you picked it up. I only applied a little this morning.”
“I thought I was smelling it in class, but I wasn’t sure.” He leaned back against the table. “I didn’t want to sniff you there.”
“I’m glad you didn’t!” Meredith didn’t know if she should do what she was going to do . . . She did it anyway. Reaching out, she lightly touched Albert’s left hand. “Thank you for noticing.”
“It’s okay. Not a problem.” Albert didn’t mention that he would have knew that scene anywhere, and had, during the time when he was working in Chicago, caught a whiff of that scent in his dreams . . . “We should get to this system. At least get things set up.” He brought up his own computer, then activated the main projector in the table. “Besides, lunch will be here in about ten minutes.”
Meredith didn’t press the point after that. She knew they needed to get to work, and lunch would arrive soon, but she saw how Albert changed topics smoothly, while trying to make it seem like the questions she’d asked moments before were inconsequential . . .
You’re pretty smooth, she thought. I’m going to watch you very closely, Albert. Very closely, indeed.

Hope you enjoyed that.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment, and I'll see you next week!

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