The mood in town had changed with the temperature; gone was the festival atmosphere, replaced by thinly veiled tension. Everywhere had shorter opening hours. The radio was equal parts reassurance and distraction. The library was emptier than usual as I entered to return the books Aurelia and I had borrowed the previous week, the second job I had to do in town that day.
Despite occupying half the ground floor of one of the cylindrical apartment buildings in town, only one table was occupied. The lone on-duty librarian - Elise - seemed upbeat as I emptied my bag into the return slot, and shot her a wry smile. She tilted her head and asked, “No Aurelia today?”
I shook my head gently, trying to avoid my braids flying everywhere, and responded with a chuckle, “too busy working to visit the old neighborhood.”
“Can you tell her that the book she asked about has come in?”
“I can take it for her now if you want.”
Elise’s face tightened, forcing out “She told me not to tell you about it, so I’ve already said too much.”
“Hmm. Alright, I’ll tell her.” I narrowed my eyes suspiciously, causing the timid librarian to wilt. “Anyway, I gotta keep going. Later.”
I peeked back over my shoulder as I grabbed a newspaper from the table next to the entrance, and was relieved to see her smiling. I didn’t actually want to cause her any grief given how much she put up with when Aurelia and I lived across the hall.
The neat parklands were largely devoid of life as I crossed to the next building over, with only children filling the spaces between hedge rows and sculptures. The whole place had an eerie feeling. The sense of wrongness was only compounded by the bronze and stone human silhouettes slowly being devoured by plants dotted around, and the muffled road sounds due to the hedges.
Wanting to avoid that feeling, I thumbed through the newspaper, and an article caught my eye.
The Informatics Advisory Committee announced today that its first artificial satellite, Raven, has come online and is intermittently connecting the remaining landing craft computers in G'Kar’s Eye to the new computer in Brewster’s Gap. As the relay system is constructed from recovered landing craft electronics, the relatively short periods of time where the satellite is visible from both are offset by the fact it can relay data very quickly — on the order of 64 thousand bits per second.
An IAC spokesperson said earlier today, “while this is only a pale imitation of information networks of the past, this is our first step towards computing system availability for all.” The satellite is presently being used to speed up research in Brewster’s Gap, by allowing advanced computations and library queries to be offloaded to the much more powerful computer in the People’s Library in G'Kar’s Eye.
Confirming that had today’s date on it, I made a mental note to show Aurelia and the director when they surfaced next; even if it doesn’t directly effect us it might be worth getting connected to the computers in Brewster’s Gap.
Next stop was fresh oil and fuel filters. The ground floor of building 4 is a few metres smaller than the floors above, resulting in a large covered walkway, with windows and bronze relief sculptures on the inside, and ornate concrete columns punctuating the bamboo trellises supporting the outer layer of climbing vines the rest of the building is covered in. Apparently this building was the first built by a newly-formed co-op, once upon a time, and they wanted to make a splash.
Situated on the road side of the building was the auto store I was heading for. Selling cars may not be a big business, but parts and service certainly is. I made a beeline for the consumables section, picking out the cheap coarse air filters and a set of oil filters. As I circled around to the counter, I spotted a stand of mechanical pencils in varying decals. Thinking of a certain someone that has been going through an inordinate number of pencils, I selected one with a frangipani flower print and proceeded to the checkout.
“I know, I heard the car pull up.” Aurelia was sitting at the table, half way through assembling the second prototype system.
I frowned, “Hope you haven’t been working too hard. Hey, I got you something while I was out.” I placed my bag down next to the table and shoveled out the pencil, along with a box of chocolates.
Aurelia placed the soldering iron into its cradle and picked up the pencil, twirling it as she inspected its metal casing, a small smile on her lips.
“Noticed you’d blunted the pencil sharpener so I thought that might be a good investment.”
“This is really nice, thank you.” The smile grew, and she opened the chocolates, the top of the box opening away from her. A mild blush spread accross her cheeks, and she said quietly, “open your mouth.”
I complied, only a little taken aback by the shift in her behavior. She placed one of the chocolates in my mouth and waited expectantly as I ate it.
“Didn’t realise these were heart-shaped. Cute.” Confusion spread across her face as I continued, “Oh, and Elise said the book you were waiting for has turned up, but wouldn’t tell me what it was. What’s up with that?”
Her blush deepened by several shades.