It was with some measure of relief that Lia returned to her accustomed post in the library the following day. Her friends had become quite tiresomely inquisitive about the new arrival and his relationship with Plaisir. That Lupe, Robyn and Emma from the group also lived in the same shared house meant that she hadn’t been able to get away from their questioning, and it had annoyed her that there seemed to be so little corroborated information about the apparently ‘well known’ historian. She had read some of his books (well, who hadn’t?) but his stories of the rise and fall of the decadent west had been more for relaxation rather than the more rigorous scholarship of her own studies. In the end she had shrugged and blamed the data embargo from Fortress Europe for the lack of anything more definite about him; let them try and find things if they were so interested.

Centuries earlier Europe had had enough of giving to the world. Now, what was left of the world had to pay for a share of the resources hidden behind the closed borders of the inward looking continent – from the solar farms of the southern peninsulas to the wind farms of the exposed highlands, the hard-worked acres of arable land and wooded hillsides. Less tangible resources too had become valuable and so the data embargo had been imposed, controlling access to the memories of previous times and the finds hidden inside ruined cities. Like Lia with her friends, Europe had shrugged and turned its back. Ghosts and glowering myth filled the void left by a continent exhausted by wars and tired of responsibility.

The man she had met had come straight out of the dark, a cipher and a symbol of the withdrawn continent. He could have been everything or nothing like the stories about him. He was rich, powerful, over two hundred years old, a charlatan playing a role, a freebooter hiding behind myths of his own making, a leper, a thief, a monk, a satyr, a harlequin. The more she had looked the more freakish some of the stories she found and she had to wonder how many of these well informed people had actually met the man with the nice brown eyes and the quiet, precise voice.

Whatever the mystery she still had work to finish for Rachel Pullen; the essays on Herodotus were getting no easier to read the longer she put them off. The real world was altogether more mundane than some of the wilder theories that Lupe had gleefully relayed from the Unichat boards. She applied herself to the work before her. Better to deal with the things she could get a handle on, she was sure she would find out what she needed to know about the new man as she went along. He’d seemed easy enough to get on with. That had to be a better start than all the pointless, and distracting, speculation of her friends.

Conveniently she had parked the strange feelings from the previous day, dismissing them as a temporary aberration that she had neither the time nor the inclination to investigate further.

Lunchtime and, thankfully, the essays were behind her. Reluctant to expose herself to more of the same from her friends she avoided her inbox but returned her completed work directly to Dr Pullen’s office. Seeing the swelling belly of the outgoing teacher she was put in mind of the rake thin figure that would be her new boss. The pregnancy had been a disconnected fact, neither good nor bad, but seeing the growing evidence made her feel uncomfortable. She liked Rachel Pullen but this bizarre compound creature was alien and disturbing. It was as if there was something parasitical being hosted in the woman’s body. Not just hosted but welcomed. Knowing the acceptable phrases she kept her small talk brief, remembered to use the word ‘blooming’ to describe the expectant mother and was able to escape before the inevitable invite to feel the thing kicking and turning in its flesh incubator.

Elvira caught her eye as she made her polite retreat and waved her over to faculty office, quickly closing the door behind them. She didn’t seem to be quite as calm as she had the previous day.

“Jensson’s claimed some space in the Library for your research work. He’ll be back here for graduate classes but says he needs somewhere bigger for a data table to lay everything out for you. He wants to find out what kind of things interest you before settling on your program. I’ll mail you the details when the Library stops messing around and gives him what he wants. Good thing you kept out of the way yesterday, hopefully working in the Library will give you have a chance to settle in with him before the rag identify you. It might be worth asking your friends to be discreet. As the faculty office I’ve already been snowed under with enquiries from students wanting to know when and what he will be teaching … and even some rather more personal proposals.” The secretary’s grimace of distaste was enlightening. Lia didn’t need or want to know any more. “Amazing what money and a bit of fame can do. Let’s hope things settle down when people realise he is just a man.”