The Blossoming Rose|
A Beethoven piano piece drifted through the house, sliding down the walls, clinging to the windows. It was one of the master's moodier pieces, disguising darkness as restful solitude, though the low notes touched deep within, awaking emotions and feelings.
Roger stirred, feeling the deep notes through the floor and up in the bed. Something gentle, something filled with greatness to allow him to wake slowly.
The piece ended, then was abruptly replaced by a Gilbert and Sullivan piece called 'Modern Major-General', a musical number meant to grant one gray hair before one's time. Idly, he recalled that there were no words with the song, and briefly wondered about the Professor's speculations about pre-Event politics ...
Roger clenched his teeth and slammed his pillow over his head.
"That's it!" he called, throwing the blankets off. "She's getting a long over-due spanking!"
He picked up his robe and struggled into it as he made his way out the bedroom, down the hall, and into the common room.
Dorothy was standing beside the piano, her stance casual as she leaned on her elbows, her finger keeping time with the Gilbert and Sullivan music. She had a small smile, making her face two degrees closer to human.
Playing 'Modern Major-General' was Cassandra Neuwirth. She finished the piece with a flourish and turned to look at him, smirking.
"Miss Wayneright is correct - this is the only way to get you out of bed."
He snorted, tying his robe. "Good morning, Miss Neuwirth, pardon my state of attire."
"Good afternoon, Mr. Smith," she corrected him. "It's almost one."
Dorothy stood up, her arms going back to her sides and her face becoming expressionless again. She went over to the coffeetable and picked up the coffee service tray, bringing it over to the piano. "Good morning, Roger. Coffee?"
"Yes. You, Miss Neuwirth?"
Cassandra indicated her own half-finished cup and saucer on top of the piano. "Already offered. You've really done well for yourself here. Way back when, I suspected the only way you'd attain this sort of lifestyle is if you'd be a male prostitute."
Roger distinctly heard Norman chuckling in th next room. Dorothy's expression was still emotionless as she handed him a filled cup of coffee. "Thank-you for thinking so highly of me. What brings you by?"
She turned to the piano and lowered the lid over the fingerboard. "It's Dad ... He got into an accident last night on the way home from the supper club."
Roger looked at her as she pulled her hair back from her face.
"Automobile accident. Hit-and-run. No witnesses, either. He's in intensive care right now."
Dorothy looked up at Roger.
He returned her gaze. "Hit-and-run and no witnesses. Which dome?"
"Outside." She spread her slender hands over her lap. "Dad built a house outside the domes. Raving about how elitist dome-dwellers are ... " She looked back up at him. "Dad wanted you to work on something important and somebody found out, I suspect." Her green eyes widened as her breath caught in her throat for several seconds.
Roger knelt before her, his hand shaking her shoulder. "Miss Neuwirth! Cassandra! What's wrong?"
She shook her head, putting her hand to her forehead and leaning forward, supporting herself with a hand on Roger's shoulder. "Another vision - "
"Vision?" he repeated.
"My psychic thing." She raised her head, placing both hands on his shoulders. "Mr. Smith ... Roger ... I fear Dad's life is in danger. I just had a flash of the accident - a red automobile ... with fins ... and the plate has a rose picture just before the numbers ... "
"What are the numbers?" Roger asked.
"A two ... and a 'Q' are all I see. There are more ... " She released his shoulders, folding her hands in her lap over her gray dress. "You probably think I'm mad. My visions probably sound more like memories than actual phenomenon."
Roger got up and gulped the last of his coffee. "Your father's already paying me to find out what he suspects. And I'm curious to know who would hit-and-run him." He placed his cup back on the service tray. "Meanwhile, you go home and get some rest, you still look tired."
She nodded, getting up from the piano bench. "Thank-you, Roger. I'm sorry to burden you with this, considering the work you're already doing for Dad."
Roger pressed a hand to her back as they went to the front door. "Don't worry about it, Cassandra, I'll make sure I find out what happened."
She turned, gently smiling. "Dad was right to go to you. Good luck." She quickly kissed his cheek and went into the foyer where Norman was waiting with her coat.
Roger returned to the common room, seeing Dorothy seated at the piano and plunking out the basic notes of a Mozart concerto.
"What are you going to do now, Roger?" she asked without looking up from the keyboard.
"Take a tour of the library."
* * *
Psychic phenomenon, visions, dreams of Dorothy wearing a tutu and a football helmet and chasing me with a wet noodle on a train in a tunnel ...
Sorry, that last one was the dream from last night, but it ranked right up there with the rest - something without contact with reality.
Flashes of memories were more in contact with reality. But then again, what if they weren't memory at all but psychic impressions?
Or perhaps Cassandra had a point, maybe psychic impressions were actually memories ...
However, her reasoning was wrong. After all, The Event happened twice her lifetime ago, when her father was probably a student at college. Anyone under the age of forty-two would have no memory of the world before The Event.
And then again, what's not to say this psychic ability is on the level? She may actually be picking up someone's memories ... maybe even her father's ...
Roger Smith entered the library entrance, looking around.
The library had students here and there at the tables, a few older people walking around looking for a particular book.
At the front desk was an older woman with light silver hair pulled up on top of her head, her glasses perched on the end of her nose as she observed him.
Roger approached the desk. "Good afternoon," he greeted her.
A smile pursed her lips together. "You don't look like the usual student or memory-looker."
Her smile became slightly more grandmotherly. "What are you here for? I assume you're looking for a particular title so I'm the one to ask."
Roger glanced down at her nameplate ... Brenda Elendt, Head Librarian ... and looked back up at her. "Ms. Elendt, it's been years since I explored the library. I had a touch of nostalgia and wished to look over the Old Book section."
She nodded, getting up. "You do know that the Old Books are not part of circulation and must stay within the study area."
Roger shoved his gloved hands in his pockets and followed the librarian between the long rows of tables to the back of the building.
"Were you always a librarian, Ms. Elendt?" he asked conversationally.
"Always. I believe I may have been one before I lost my memories." She paused in thought as she continued walking. "I do have one memory, though, of being a very young woman and shelving books here ... And I had paused when I looked at the title of one of the books I was shelving."
"What was the title?"
"Fahrenheit 451. I don't remember reading it, but I remember the title. By someone named Ray Bradbury, probably some hack writer. Anyway, I tried looking for it when I remembered it twenty years ago, but I couldn't find it. Probably a dream."
Roger said nothing. The title was completely unknown to him. Indeed, why would anybody write a book about a temperature?
The few students and elderly had thinned by the time they reached the back, their footsteps beginning to echo against the marble-tile floor. The librarian turned down a corridor of bookshelves.
"What's that smell?" Roger asked.
"That's the smell of Old Books," she answered. "The paper and paste react to dust and age and air. A lovely smell, in my opinion, but the younger people can't stand it. Seems a lot of the young folks are allergic to old things." She chuckled. "You seem to be holding up well."
Roger smirked as he followed her. "Been in worse places."
She opened a door at the end of the aisle and held it open.
Light poured in through the windows lining a wall several stories high. The other three walls held bookcases from floor to ceiling with catwalks leading up to several levels at eight foot intervals.
The center of the room held a few tables and chairs. Two older men were sitting at a table, both with books spread before them and both arguing quietly.
"This is it, eh?" Roger asked.
She nodded. "All the books we could find in the library after The Event. Thanks to the Neuwirth System, we've been able to categorize them into some order. There is a catalogue if there's anything you're looking for."
Roger continued looking at the room. "Are these no longer printed?"
"Oh, of course they're printed for the public," she replied. "That was one of my jobs when we organized the library, was to provide material to the printers so we can have more durable books for circulation. As you know, most everything sold in the bookstores these days were written afterward. This is the only place where the Old Books that survived are intact."
"Kind of dangerous, putting them all together like this."
She sniffed. "Thieves are more interested in art and robots than books."
"Is everything here listed in the catalogue?"
"Every single book."
"Thank-you, Ms. Elendt."
"The library closes at six. Good afternoon."
She shut the door and left him in the large room.
* * *
This room is filled with all that is left of human intellect and creativity from before The Event. According to the catalogue, there were over five-hundred-thousand books on these shelves.
The prospect of there being more than that became clearer as I began the long task of checking every title on those shelves.
There were some things I noticed in my investigation:
The complete lack of political thoughts, the complete lack of religious thoughts, the complete lack of anything historical, and the complete lack of anything foreign.
There wasn't even a dictionary in the Old Books, let alone any maps.
The dates of the books, though, were interesting. Most all were dated before 2060 AD. Which didn't mean a thing to me or for the rest of society in general - no one even knows what year it is now in the AD system, whatever it was. For all we know, these books could have been written a week before the Event - or a thousand years ago.
However, books are written as a result of their times, the result of society's state. There had to be references - clues - of what had happened in the past.
And the prospect of reading through every single book seemed pointless, especially since I was quite sure Clark had done it himself.
So at closing time, I left to visit Clark at the hospital.
Roger approached the intensive care center front desk.
"Clark Neuwirth, please."
The nurse behind the desk peered at him. "And you are?"
The nurse pulled out a clipboard and flipped a few papers around. "Okay, you're clean."
"What's going on?"
"He requested only certain people were to see him when he woke up. You're among then. A young lady is already visiting him." She pointed behind herself to the corridor. "He's in a private room already. 2-A. Keep it brief."
Roger made his way down the hall, looking for 2-A. Very likely it was Cassandra visiting her father ...
He knocked on the door and Clark's voice called, "Who is it?"
"Then get in here."
Roger opened the door and saw Clark in bed, casts here and there, IVs into his arms, oxygen into his nose, and other things attached to monitor his body.
"You look terrible, Clark," Roger commented as he came in and shut the door. He looked up and noticed Clark's companion was not Cassandra.
"Not so bad, the pain's only bad when I breath or something."
Roger nodded. "I see Dorothy came to see you."
Clark looked at the girl sitting next to his bed, then reached over and patted her hand. "Dorothy's a good girl, Roger. She's made this more bearable by relating stories about your personal habits."
"She exaggerates, honest," the negotiator commented, smirking.
Dorothy looked up at him. "Roger, I did not exaggerate the spaghetti sauce incident. You did that by yourself."
"True," Roger admitted. "No one would believe it, anyway." He approached the bedside and put his hands in his pockets. "Besides the pain, how are you holding up, Clark?"
The professor inhaled, causing him to wince. "I think I'll live. I have to go into surgery again to get a new torso."
"Remember what happened?"
Clark rolled his eyes. "I already talked to the police, but I hired you, so you have more of a right to know." He released Dorothy's hand. "After we parted in the parking lot, I went to drive straight home. The streets were pretty empty in that part of town, so I kept the car on cruise control. Suddenly, as I'm through an intersection, another car barrels straight on at me. I tried to swerve but it was too late and they plow right through the front of my car. The next thing I know is waking up in the hospital after the surgery to get the steering column out of me." He looked down at the sheets covering his chest. "I don't know if I should be lucky to be alive or cursing the fact I survived enough to get a cybernetic body."
Dorothy pulled away. "Consider it an upgrade, Professor Neuwirth."
Roger looked at Dorothy, surprised to hear those words from her.
Clark patted her cheek. "No offense meant, child. I'm just used to my human body is all. Change is unsettling."
Dorothy's face become slightly warmer, even though she did not smile. "Accepted."
Roger looked down at his teacher. "Do you remember what the car looked like?"
"Eh? Not with the lights shining in my eyes."
"Do you still want me to continue on the case with the missing books?"
Clark nodded. "We made an agreement, didn't we?"
"Yes. Then I'll continue with my work tomorrow morning at the library."
"What did you find?"
"Nothing you wouldn't already know - the missing subjects, published dates."
"And your next question is if I read everything there. Yes, I have. I'm probably the foremost expert on Pre-Event literature. Yes, everything related to the progression of history is gone. Roger, the only question is what happened to those books?"
"I'll get back on it tomorrow, then."
Neuwirth nodded, then turned to the girl next to him. "You can go on home, Dorothy. Cassie'll visit me after tonight's performance."
"You will be well, Professor Neuwirth?" she asked as she got up.
"Takes a lot to kill me, young lady. Go on, scoot."
Dorothy bowed her head slightly and exited the room. Roger turned to leave as well.
"Roger," Clark said.
"Yes?" he replied as he turned back.
The old man winced as he inhaled. "I'm not going to ask what the relationship is between you two - "
Roger's eyebrow raised.
" - but from what I gathered, I can tell that she feels deeply for you, even though she thinks you're a bumbler and an idiot. Just ... be careful."
Roger lowered his eyebrow. "Clark, you're a dirty old man and you'll come to a bad end. You do know she's an android."
"She's still a girl and has feelings. Don't bung this up because of your need to be in control all the time."
"Clark, if you weren't a good friend, I'd punch you in the mouth for that."
"Take a number, kid."
* * *
"So, what did you and Clark talk about?" Roger asked as they sped home.
"About your inability to notice things right in front of you, Roger," Dorothy answered as she stared out the front windshield.
"I notice things in front of me," he corrected her.
She turned her head to look at him. He glanced at her.
"You don't believe me," he concluded.
She turned to look forward again. "I was thinking about getting an upgrade on my casings."
Roger raised an eyebrow. "Casings?"
He smirked. "Upgrade to what?"
"Adult female, age twenty-five, waist-length red hair, height at five-foot-eight-inches, measurements of 40-24-36."
Roger almost bust a gut trying to keep the laughter in. "Why?"
"To match the women posing in those magazines you keep under your bed."
Roger choked, barely managing to keep control of the Griffon.
She ignored his embarrassment. "Of course, I'll have to perform some modifications on the casings to be able to put my ankles behind my head like that."
He finally stared at her. "How do you know about those??"
Dorothy looked at him like he was acting too dense for his own good. "I clean under your bed, Roger. The amount of fluff under there is disgusting. Except the place where you throw those magazines, which has a different brand of disgust."
He turned back to the road, feeling an awkward silence. "Do you really want an upgrade?"
She did not answer him, except with her own small smirk.
Someday, the amount of pulling she does on my leg is going to snap it off.
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