Yes, it’s a special bonus Holly story for the final day of Story A Day May. Our prompt today was to write about writing or a writer. After a false start on a boring story, I ditched it and ran away to the planet Llannonn.
For those just tuning in, I ran a contest some years ago for the right to name a character in a short story I was about to write. Holly (the real one) didn’t win, but she tried so damn hard, I made her unofficial co-winner. I had so much fun with the fictional Holly, she’s appeared in many stories since. Including this one, today.
Holly (the fictional one) is a native of the planet Llannonn, where all of her stories (so far) take place. She lives and works at the Main Branch of the Council City Living Library as administrator and den mother to the natives of Llannonn who are so enthusiastic over Earth English-language literature they memorize books and recite themselves (like SPOILER ALERT the people at the end of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
And so, without further ado:
Making It Up in Volume
Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri sat in the makeshift office in the sub-sub-basement of the library, watching. Newly promoted Chief Detective Investigator Pel Darzin sat at a discarded desk near her, reading from a text display. A citizen purporting to be a Living Book–a native who had memorized an Earth English-language text translated into the trade language of Tudolinguo–stood in the corner and recited herself.
“It was the best of times,” the Book recited, “it was the worst of times. Pratties were selling poorly in London, so I determined to drive my flock to nearby Paris, where I could dispose of them for top dollar.”
“Bookmark,” said Darzin, the signal for a Book to pause in his or her recitation. “That’s nothing at all like this text, after that first bit.”
“I know,” said Holly, her full lips a thin line, her sparkling eyes flashing fire.
The Book paled, then flushed. “I was given the text! I was shown the title in Bowkers. In Bowkers!”
Claudinarina Bowkers was the Booking Agent for the Living Libraries of the planet Llannonn, and kept a list of legitimate Earth English-language works and which Living Libraries housed which titles.
Holly spoke to Darzin: “This is one of the volumes of that criminal’s private Library. We absorbed all four of them after you arrested the head of the smuggling ring. As a matter of course, we read all four against the certified text. All four are bogus. We’ve had to isolate them from the legitimate books.”
The Living Book in the corner turned even redder. She raised her voice, which one sometimes will to a policeman, but never to a Librarian. “I was given the text! I was shown the title!”
Holly motioned for the Book to take a chair next to her, took the Book’s trembling hand and said, in her gentlest Storytime voice, “A Tale of Two Cities is a real book. What you were given to memorize is not that book. It isn’t an Earth book at all. They don’t have pratties on Earth.“
The Book fainted.
After reviving the unfortunate volume and escorting her back to her temporary quarters (nicely furnished, despite being essentially in quarantine), Holly and Darzin faced one another grimly.
Darzin said, “This is new. This is so new, there isn’t even a charge for it.”
“Fraud?” Holly suggested. “Whoever is writing these false texts is doing it for a purpose. Selling them to citizens, either to people who want to become Books or to collectors. If they’re selling them as authentic Earth texts, and they aren’t authentic Earth texts, isn’t that fraud?”
“If the writer is crafty–and writing is, after all, a craft–they haven’t claimed to sell an authentic text. They’ve worded it as selling a title, leaving it to the buyer to assume that means the entire text, when it only means the name of the book.”
Darzin and Holly shared a smile as she said, “You know what they say: Never assume; it makes a pratty of you and me.”
The DCI tapped the desk with a stylus, thinking. “I’ll need to question all the Books from that raid, but I believe the one we just heard memorized her text in good faith. I’m betting they all did. I need to find out where they got the texts they memorized.”
“I’ve asked. Each of them was in Jok’rel’s Holiday Rest, rubbing elbows with Earthlings, and each one, at some point, expressed a desire to chuck their profession and run off to become a Book. Each one was approached by a shifty-eyed man who told them that, if they were serious, to go a certain address and see a certain man–the smuggler you arrested, in fact–who would provide them with texts to memorize.”
“So the crime may have been private,” Darzin said, “and, now that the smuggler has been apprehended, the crime is over.”
Holly rearranged her trademark purple feather boa and said, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
Darzin shook his head. “I believe we only uncovered this crime because the perpetrator was arrested for a different crime.”
Holly sat up straighter, if it’s possible for a Librarian to sit up straighter than she habitually does.
“But what if your smuggler isn’t guilty of this crime? What if he was the victim?”
As had so often happened before and would happen so often in the future, Darzin was amazed at the Head Librarian’s brilliance.
“You mean,” he said, “someone may be free-lancing imitation Earth books and selling them to Living Book wannabes and private collectors?”
It was a stunning possibility.
“How would we deal with that?”
They sat in silence while Darzin traced patterns on the battered desk with the tip of his stylus.
“Bulletins,” he said. “The Policing Force will issue a bulletin to the newscasters and the Library system will issue a bulletin to patrons. We’ll post both of them in public gathering places, particularly in ones where Llannonninn mingle with Earthlings. We’ll put the word out on the streets.”
Holly said, “We’ll offer free vetting for privately owned books. False ones will be required to add ‘The False’ to the beginnings of their titles. Any whose places in private libraries are threatened will be given the opportunity to memorize their true texts. Or they can always go back to a regular job.”
“We’ll offer amnesty to the writer,” Darzin said. “If he, she, or they come forward, confess, and express genuine remorse, they can make restitution by writing and claiming their own work and selling copies to pay off their debts.”
Good luck with that, Holly thought, but she only smiled and nodded. It would keep the sneaky petes off the streets and out of the Library business, at least.
Darzin slapped the desk. “Good! We have a plan!”
It fell out perfectly, as one would expect from a plan formed by a Librarian. Darzin was given a commendation for stopping a crime before it had actually been criminalized. Holly was honored by the Planetary Living Librarians’ League at their annual convention with a standing ovation and a t-shirt emblazoned with the words Kiss me, I’m a Librarian.
(The False) Tale of Two Cities chose to memorize her true text, though her fellow private Books chose to return to what they called “civilian life”.
She never regretted her decision, claiming it was a far, far better thing she did than she had ever done before.
I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing Story A Day May with me (if, indeed, you have shared it). We now return to our regularly scheduled daily posts and prompts.
MY PROMPT TODAY: writing and writers