All TARDISes, which includes Odyssey, come in-built with a psychic relay. It allows for universal translation – without the undignified necessity of dropping a Babel fish into your earlobe – and usually means you’ve landed outside a pub before you realise you’re thirsty. Depending on your telekinetic link, not to mention personal settings under an unpopular subheading called ‘Preferences’, a TARDIS can also design and build the interior automatically, based on your personality and unconscious inclinations. This has the upside of designing your ship without effort, and the downside that it often tells you a lot about yourself. My bedroom, for example, has a single bed, multiple games consoles and a vast assortment of LEGO; the conclusion I’ve drawn from this is I really need to find someone…and re-design all sleeping quarters before I show them around…
The first time I visited the Library of Life, it was the typical end result of someone who built for function and not fashion. It had been a library of Towel’s (lack of) design: bland, beige and basic, less a hive of books, more their prison.
This, the second time, I looked into a library which could only have been designed with me in mind – it mirrored the room behind me almost exactly, except this one actually had reading material (and then some). Towering over me were rich, dark oak bookcases, strong and thick enough to withstand a forest fire, each shelf crammed with the various life stories. My cases stood in equal-distant parallel lines under warm hanging lamps: white, shining orbs designed with Gallifreyan alphabet motifs. At regular intervals between the bookcases were spaces for Reading Areas: pairs of wingback armchairs and footstools waited patiently, adjacent to hot drink machines.
It wasn’t quiet, but like any library it was peaceful. Minor disturbances in the acoustic air were the dull <thump> of books being moved, in between the endless scratching of new words being written; in the physical air, though, random volumes detached themselves from In Progress and floated down to Complete at the far end. There could be dozens of books above me, then more, then less, down to hardly any and then an upsurge, violent enough to make me believe genocide had reared its head somewhere. They’d leave a space, of course, one which not last long. No two books were the same: brand new single pages could be next to a dog-eared thousand-page epic.
I strolled down the aisles like a man in a public park, hands in pockets, content in company among the living, the dying and all others in between. Best of all was the scent of the place. Varnished wood and fresh paper, old-book-smell mixed with the new, and just a hint of brewing tea. It all made for an excellent aroma. Old-fashioned and antiquated fool that I am, I knew in my hearts it was quintessentially my Library of Life, now.
Humph. It’ll do.
My high spirits were dampened, though not drowned. “What are you doing in here?”
I am exploring my newest space. If you’re going to cram a library into someone, you can’t then expect them to leave it alone.
And there’s a lesson I never saw coming.
Indulge me, what does this have to do with finding Womble?
I reached the first set of tea-and-coffee-and-others-making-facilities, putting the kettle on almost by reflex. It being of Timelord technology, the water boiled immediately. “Nothing whatsoever,” I replied, tearing open a packet of English Breakfast* teabags. Plumes of warm water vapour streamed past me as I poured and already I knew I would need to plan against the possibility of moisture damage. “We never found his book, so I can’t refer to that for his location. Have you managed to find anything with him in it?”
Just the one, but it’s got your name on the front.
Tea leaves brewed and milk splashed, I took my first sip. My entire body sighed, letting steam form over my glasses. “Has he worked his way up from footnote?”
Odyssey hesitated. His lack of an answer was enough. I winced and went for another sip. I’d feel bad for him but then it’s not my fault if he’s not in the book properly, I didn’t write it. Well…in a way I kind of did? Forget it. It also isn’t my fault if he doesn’t actually have a book. I don’t understand how that’s even possible, but then that’s not the first time I’ve thought that about him.
Seriously though, what was the point of tearing me a new one and filling the hole with a pulped mausoleum?
I shrugged, while keeping my mug perfectly still. It remained a fixed point and my shoulders sort of moved around it. “Short lived hobby, quick distraction, accidental detour, a way of ensuring this place never falls into the wrong hands again – take your pick.” My usual go-to reasons, though the last one rings true the loudest. The memory of the Darkness writing mine on my behalf is still suitably carved into my mind, one I have no urge whatsoever to relive.
And the musical plan?
“Still stands. The transmission signal needs time to calibrate. Hacking radio waves is one thing, hacking timelines is something else entirely.” I suddenly remember I’m telling my ship not only what it already knows, but is currently doing. Justifying a delay – AKA making excuses – is faster than second nature. I finished my tea and went wandering again, to the constant chorus of indefinite scrawling. Appropriately, the background noise of life is not unlike walking through the forest, except this one already comes leather bound. “This can help to pass the time.”
You have access to every life story ever written. Does this seem entirely decent to you?
I paused in running a finger along the spines of the A section. The tricky thing about addressing a computer’s omnipresence is rather obvious. Out of habit, I looked up. “Do I detect a hint of morality there, my friend?”
No. I just spoke the question at the forefront of your mind.
And just like that, I find myself returning to the matter of psychic links between TARDIS and owner. It’s sometimes easy to forget precisely where – or whom – my universal residual abilities came from. It can put my excuse-making skills to the test. “I suppose, fundamentally, everyone’s a story. We’re all immortal tales and the physical body is just the main character which the story shall always outlive. Our stories don’t end when we do, they just…”
<thump> A hefty hardback drifted past, overhead.
“…move.” I watched it complete the journey, in more ways than one, before continuing.
“Would anyone want to think they were just left on a shelf?” That’s all books can do, really. Wait to be read. No book deserves it more than these ones.
What if they didn’t want their story to be known? What if it was better left shelved?
I expected comments about my own lifestyle but Odyssey seemed prepared to offer a bit more mercy than that. I appealed to his better nature while neatly disposing of my composure. “Please stop asking me difficult questions.”
I’m not. You are. I’m just reading them out.
Two things about Odyssey, two aspects which, since we’ve been reunited, he isn’t so much reminding me as hitting me in the face with them. He is never one to miss a cue and never one to tread lightly, his lack of feet notwithstanding. If Womble was an investigator, Odyssey would be the sort of interrogator/interviewer who asks: why do you matter? It gets to the heart of both the speech and speaker**. It also often tends to end the conversation.
“You haven’t won, Odyssey. I can find someone who led a good life and would be proud to have it read, so here’s what you’re going to do. By now these books should have linked to your mainframe as lines of data. I want you to choose one.”
“I don’t want to know. Any section, any chapter, any person. Pick a random number and match it to a shelf reference. Basically,” I glared upwards, “surprise me.”
*Note for inexperienced travellers: English Breakfast tea tastes neither of breakfast, nor the English, for that would be awful. What it does taste of is perfection.
**I should know. I – or rather Guardian – programmed him that way. It is natural for a solider to question life when so many people are trying to end it.
Boxing Day: every year’s second best Anti-Climax, beaten off the top spot by the evening time of Christmas Day itself. Today is the day we spend hungover, nibbling on foods we’ve ignored for most of the previous year and compare what we got with what we gave.
I think HH has the right idea – admittedly I am the one who gave it to him – but it’s an amazingly quiet day in which much reading can be achieved.