One hundred nineteen

One hundred nineteen

Jeanette knew she was in for it now. Who had she actually told about the Infinite Library? Maybe only the crows. Jack Shift, of course. Captain Ngozi Makena Odile and Grandmère Hutan, but they were both gone. She thought she remembered telling her father about it--but had she just said that Queen Parise had given her books?

From the looks she was getting, it was kind of clear that she hadn’t told all of it to anybody. Okay, so she was busted. But now, how could she possibly tell the whole story?

She unbuttoned the tall narrow collar on the dark dress and pulled out the gold key on the thin metal chain. Lieutenant Octavian’s eyes widened a bit more.

“Queen Parise D’Avignon of Broceliande gave me this key. It opens up doors into a dimensional place called the Library. I call it the Infinite Library even though she said it wasn’t really infinite, but there are doors everywhere. There was one aboard the Paradox Swan. Queen Parise is one of the Librarians.”

She looked down at the ground. “Parise never mentioned anything but doorways, but when we got close to the Library in the park here, my key kind of came to life. And while all of your hands went through the building’s wall, they were solid to me.”

The Queen of Hearts spoke now. “I knew all this as well.” (She decided not to say in Quintus’s presence that the reason she knew it was that she had based her reconstitution on Jeanette’s memories.) “But when I saw that our villain had spent a fortune to be next to the Library, I came to the same conclusion as young Jeanette.”

“But this is incredible!” exclaimed Lieutenant Quintus Octavian. “The mystery of mysteries of Storisende--and you just happen to have the key?”

The queen said in a relaxed and sardonic tone, “I will lay you odds that over Storisende’s history there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of beings possessing keys who found rooms in the neighborhood and used it in private, never telling anybody.”

“Still,” she said, “The possibility exists that this may be the anchor of the Infinite Library--perhaps even its first building.”

“Story’s End,” Dr. Ransom murmured. “Storisende.”

Lieutenant Quintus Octavian looked extremely frazzled. “I have to accompany my men in taking our prisoner--whatever his name is--to the Municipal Courts, since there has to be someone my rank or higher to swear out attainder on his miserable soul. But I entreat you--no, I beg you on my knees--not to take action until I can return. Please?”

“Since you grovel so handsomely, Lieutenant, what can we do but accede?” said the Queen. “Let us have a pause between excitements.” Quintus bowed furiously, and gathered his men together with a clap and a shout.

And so they sat in the library of Tshen Loess and company, and Jeanette told them about the Library, from Queen Parise showing it to her, to getting lost, to Aventine and the Book of You, to the door in Captain Ngozi’s cabin. They were less than bewildered, which made her feel better, even though nobody knew about her key. She didn’t say anything about the Captain’s childhood, since she’d promised.

The mouse came in and served them tea, and the Queen of Hearts assured her that their animus did not extend to Tshen Loess, or more importantly, to her. It struck Jeanette that Ms. Mouse would have stepped over the corpse of her master in order to answer the doorbell.

“Since second and ultimately far larger part of our mission here was to gain information as to the destination of our sodality beyond the Redoubt, I think there can be no better place to further it than a research library,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara.

“I did say that the books are in no particular order,” Jeanette said.

“In the stacks, yes--but the situation might be different at the front desk, or whatever this is.” responded the capybara.

“This is all new and wonderful to me,” said O Tse, “but I wonder if we could find out something about the Chorus.”

“And maybe something more substantial about Change,” said Dr. Ransom.

The Queen said, “Before we get too excited, it might not be ‘we’ who enter the building, but Jeanette alone.”

Lord Elphinstone let out a small growl, and Jeanette’s father frowned. She didn’t think it would be smart to say anything like she could take care of herself. She was already in enough trouble.

Lieutenant Octavian came back alone--or almost.  “It seems to me you’ve been followed,” said the capybara. It was a tiny drone that resembled a sphere of dandelion fluff, distinguished mainly by it following the Lieutenant’s every move.

Quintus shrugged. There’s no getting around the publicity,” he said. “This is Storisende.”

The Queen beckoned Jeanette over and put her necklace over her head. “It would have been a distraction on our state visits, but I suspect you may need it presently.” Jeanette put her hand up to it, very glad to have it there.

They walked over to the park, and through the trees to the Library. They stood at the foot of the low stairway.

“This poses a problem,” said Dr. Ransom. “If Jeanette can climb the stairs up to where the door should be, we can’t. It’ll still be an illusion.”

“Maybe if we held hands,” suggested Jeanette. They tried it, but while Jeanette made a few steps upwards, her father stayed on the ground.

This time she said “I’ll be okay.” She climbed the stairs. It looked perfectly natural, only being jarring by her father standing waist deep in the staircase.

Once she got to where the door should be, she grasped the key with one hand and started feeling around with the other. It didn’t take her long to get a twinge, so she put the key in and twisted it. Nothing seemed to happen, so she moved forward--and the area was now intangible. She walked in, but as the dandelion puff attempted to follow, it exploded in a crackling burst of energy.

When she was inside, there was the unmistakeable smell of books, and she breathed it in. The building wasn’t bigger on the inside than it was on the outside, but it was still an airy space filled with bookshelves. Immediately to her left there  was a well-lit counter, and behind that, amid old-fashioned filing cabinets, a big wooden desk. There was a slightly pudgy blonde young woman at the desk, and she was eating a sandwich.

“Oh, hi!” She said, putting the sandwich down and coming over to the counter.

“Hello,” Jeanette said.

“Can I help you with anything?”

“I’d--like to use the library.”

She frowned a little. “For what?”

“Um--I’d like to do some research.”

“Whew. That’s a relief,” the girl said merrily.

“Why?  What do other people want to use the library for?”

“Oh, conquer the multiverse, change history, topple God from His Throne--we get all kinds.”

“Saving the world?”

“Yeah, like that. But research is fine.”

“Um--can I bring some friends in with me? They’re outside, but I’m the only one with a key.”

“Mm, ‘fraid not. They’d be incinerated.”


Jeanette struggled with what to say next. “Look, I know the books aren’t in any order in the stacks, but is there a place where you can um, look things up?”

“You can talk to the Research Librarian. His office is down the center hall and then make a right.”


She walked to what seemed like the center. The  walls were lined with books, with here and there a paper slip sticking out. At the first right turn she went down a narrower passageway.

A couple of books caught her eye: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DECISION TREE. Another was PRELIMINARY CHORUS GRAMMAR. And a bit further down there was one that she paused at: ONE HAND RAISED HIGH IN THE DARK.

She almost pulled that one off the shelf, but then pulled her hand back. Librarian first.

But when she looked down the passage, it ended in a T with a wall of books across it. Looking back, all she could see was the narrow passage lined with books.

She started to run but it was all the same.


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