Day One

As good as her word, directions appeared on Lia’s phone a handful of days after Elvira’s understated briefing. Lia had tried to use the time constructively, getting ahead with work for Dr Pullen meant that she would be able to say goodbye before the expanding abdomen got too much for her to cope with. It also meant that she avoided seeing the increasing number of new faces that just happened to drop by on the off-chance that a) the new tutor was available for a chat, or b) that he might need an assistant, or c) that he might be willing to fund some crack-pot scheme or other, or even d) that they might catch a repeat of the reunion at the Feathered Serpent.

Lia had also spent some time doing a little research into the scope of the Jensson Foundation. Always there in the background at the University, like all universities. Part of the academic scenery for decades the organisation was just a fact of life few people ever got around to questioning. It was clear that there was little chance of the Library refusing to allow him the space or facilities he asked for. Given the starchy bureaucracy that kept the place on an even keel she suspected that the delay was just to save face until someone, gently or otherwise, reminded them of the small print showing where the majority of their funding, and stock, came from.

Following Elvira’s concise message Lia arrived at the assigned study area far away from the busy central atrium of the Library. Most people tended to use the individual desks placed in the open areas between the rows of bookcases, specific areas were unusual. She was surprised to see the amount of space set aside apparently just for her and Jensson. That the space was relatively private, bounded as it was by solid backed bookcases, also probably said something about the influence of the person who had reminded the Library that it it’s interest lay in compliance.

The data table was a logical item to have, though she had to admit that it was certainly larger than any she had seen before. The workstations were standard if very high specification. Any untoward noise from the monitors would be handled by the sound dampers so they would not disturb the gentle peace of the Library. The sofa and easy chairs were unusual but possibly not unheard of. The installation of a small fridge and drinks facilities were probably what had caused the Library to balk initially. All in all, to Lia, it looked like it could be a comfortable place to work.

She wasn’t the first to arrive. Deep in conversation Gihon and Dave looked down into the display on the large work table. Heads close together they gave no indication that they were aware of her presence behind them as they moved illuminated nodes of information across the intelligent surface. She enjoyed the moment watching them together. She had a notion they looked like complementary and contrasting bookends, two possible outcomes from a common source – one gloriously solid and the other strikingly ascetic.

“…extreme fragmentation of society and the rising cult of the individual. Ultimately can we blame the primacy of the teenager for the collapse of society? The arrogant importance of the needs of the one compared to everyone else, a drop in the ocean when it’s a phase but what about when it becomes the norm? What happens when each generation carries a little bit more of that through to adulthood?”

“You are such an old reactionary some days. Just because you were never a teenager, it wasn’t all fun and discovery …” Gihon’s voice had an odd note. There was a long look between the two men, a pause in which Lia imagined something important wasn’t being said. Dave was the first to drop his gaze. He turned to greet his new assistant as Gihon continued to rearrange the data below them.

“Ah, Lia … we were just talking about you. Well, not directly, we were discussing where best to start you off. Come and see.” He moved slightly away from his friend and drew her to the table, smiling at her initial dismay as she saw the amount of raw information they had been casually throwing around the screen.

And so she found herself standing in the gap where things had hung unsaid, feeling very small between the two men and their shared past. They used the table to present her with vistas of data, opinion and disputes of the pre-Collapse world. It was clear that the tall men didn’t always agree, though she guessed that academic differences would never detract from the fondness they clearly had for each other. She was flattered to be included in their debate, finding the situation slightly surreal. Though she might have hoped for more time with the big man, actually being with him and the man who had obviously been his mentor was something she decided she would have to reflect on in private. Perhaps with a drink.

The morning passed. Lia discovered that much of the material was to add depth to the archival sources the men had been working on, intermittently, for decades. This new material had been collected in long years of travel through Fortress Europe and brought back in the bulky pack that Dave had carried with him. It seemed that Jensson had little respect for the data embargo – or, rather, just enough to acknowledge the existence of the strictures. His circuitous route to the city, while tiring, had also been the easiest way of avoiding the interest of European information border control and the heavy tariffs they imposed. Both men promised they would come clean and pay the appropriate levy for any information that was released to the public.

The edges of the work table soon acquired a layer of soft keyboards, loose papers, pens and even coffee cups. Lia was surprised at the relaxed way the men seemed to approach the apparently hard-won material and the very expensive table they ended up lounging against. Briefly she wondered what the authorities would make of their insouciance and then corrected herself – who was there to tell this one off? This was a different game, one they appeared to be playing for their own entertainment as much as anything else. She realised that Jensson didn’t really need a research assistant but, rather, a wrangler to try and keep him focussed. Well, she had been promised quirks, she just hoped that she would be disciplined enough to counter his rather random way of working.

One of the piles of paper buzzed. Dave didn’t seem to notice it. Gihon studiously ignored it. It buzzed again a couple of minutes later. And then again – this time Lia thought she detected a certain edge of Latin temperament to the tone. The two men she was with might have had wealth and influence, but Lia wasn’t going to argue with the source of the disturbance. Wordlessly she retrieved Gihon’s phone from under the notes and pressed it into his hand. He read the message and swore, slipping the previously ‘misplaced’ item into a pocket.

“Damn. That’s paperwork calling. Gotta go or I’ll be in Elvira’s bad books again.” He waved a farewell to Lia and smiled at the thin man. “I’ll see you at home later.” He swept out of the study bay muttering darkly under his breath about people spoiling his fun.

It was only after he left that Lia realised he’d been in shirt sleeves all the time she’d been stood next to him. The long, clerical style robe was only donned as he disappeared into the main body of the library, the flourish as he swept his tresses to the outside of high collar drawing her attention too late to be able to get a clear impression of the shape he made beside her. What might be hidden behind the long clothes was a regular subject of debate for some of his ‘fans’ but hadn’t been something she’d wanted to speculate on openly. She decided to keep the omission to herself. Next time, she thought, next time she would get a description worthy of reporting back to her friends. Mildly annoyed with herself she hoped that there would be a next time.

“Now then.” Uh-oh, she was still staring after the retreating back trying to find words to define the masculine shape that had been so close. She hoped she hadn’t been as obvious as she felt as she turned her attention back to the one who remained. He continued as if there was nothing to notice. “Now that it’s just us, let’s see if we can decide what we want to do with you this term.”