Here's the complete first section of "Past Due!"
Item 839-T was missing from the shelf. Item 839-T was missing from the cart. Cross-referencing the infallible clay tablet that dangles off the frontispiece of every such re-shelving cart, one might be shocked to discover that Item 839-T was not currently on loan. That one in question, the first staff member of the Aacrospon R. Faragav Municipal Library to discover this anomaly, wasn’t a Reference Prefect or a Knight-Retriever or even the High Director himself but instead humble Iconine Iconine, Circulation Acolyte, and never, in Iconine Iconine’s two short years pushing the cart, had she encountered a book wholly missing.
Surely its absence would have evaded her notice entirely, were it not for the makeshift lean-to, the telltale black triangle, created by one book reclining unfairly onto another, when they all should stand erect in solidarity. A thickish volume, to judge by the shadowed lacuna left in its place, neighbored by Items 839-S (My Husband, The Saftplau by Jaydmasha Rajus) and 839-U (Mycomancy: A Study of Saftplau Fungiculture Methodology by Nikdor Hadikinn), the book had vanished so perfectly that Iconine Iconine actually glanced about her for where it might have flown to, only to chasten herself inwardly for an idiot.
With Item 839-T nowhere in sight and no means immediately to hand to remedy the situation, Iconine Iconine was forced to trundle onward in her duties – climbing ladders, shelving books, negotiating her cart between incommodious aisles. It is possible that she dawdled; she relished not the opportunity to inform her direct superior, Circulation Adept Izcabode, of Item 839-T's evaporation. Izacabode, yet another champion of the popular internal opinion amongst the interlibrary elite that anyone not possessing a formalized education in the Apocryphal Sciences must needs be either a bumbling incompetent or a babbling ignoramus, bore Iconine Iconine only disdain.
Before any conclusions be drawn about wicked old bureaucrats inappreciative of perspicacious underlings, the narrator would ask that you don, if only for a moment, the snug slippers of this Circulation Adept. Imagine one of your Acolytes – timid, overmodest, unassertive, devoid not only of all ambitions, not only of any interest in those librarical hierarchies that form the nexus of your everyday life, but more importantly, of that all-important education that, to your thinking, separates worthy from unworthy – and you may begin to visualize the picture presented when Izcabode and his narrow-minded ilk thought on poor Iconine Iconine.
Add the fact that she was quite visibly Uzire, a member of one of the misunderstood and unmistakable human ethnicities amongst all of Patchwork's manifold minorities, and it should come as little wonder that unassuming little Iconine Iconine only gained traction with her supposed “betters” with great difficulty. Izcabode, as pureblooded a Romádri as he was a pompous popinjay, had yet to acknowledge the long-standing animosity their two cultures shared in any verbal way, but Iconine Iconine harbored no illusions that her turquoise makeup and complex hair-knots endemic to the Uzire endeared her to the supercillious Circulation Adept any.
For herself, Iconine Iconine would hardly describe her work at the Patchwork Branch, the more palatable name attributed to the Aacrospon R. Faragav Municipal Library by its staff, as anything resembling her true calling. Academic fervor and religious erudition seemed to be the order of the day for many of her more esteemed colleagues but, for Iconine Iconine, the library fulfilled only her simple love of books and the income necessary to provide for the infirm ancestra waiting at home. However, a love of books, as Iconine Iconine was quickly to discover, did not necessitate a love of library politics.
The library she loved was the night library, the ill-frequented library, the library of re-shelving and solitude and the occasional devoted reader. In the fashion of a true libratical purist, the High Director instated a moratorium on all natural light within the Patchwork Branch (to “best preserve the texts”) but, nevertheless, during the daylight hours, the insidious sun still diffused himself in, heedless of smothered windows or the Director's decrees. Only after sunset was the library truly dark, though, by Guild custom, it remained publicly open. In these hours, Iconine Iconine's hours, a lantern provided the only companionship required.
It is this image of Iconine Iconine you must conjure, leading her empty cart back to the Desk to report Item 839-T's disappearance, her swinging lantern playing havoc with shadows and candlelight, the benighted library mimicking the true night without, when she first heard the voice. Her solitude suddenly snatched away, her lantern's halo of meager orange was without warning besieged by darkness now home to some unseen speaker. The voice, prissy, feminine, swollen with sham authority, was at once familiar and unrecognizable; having never met the speaker, she would recognize the Library's brand of hauteur from a thousand paces.
“...three summers in my Father's conservatory...” the voice recalled, echoing off stone walls and stone shelves. If the speaker made any more cryptic comment about nine months spent amongst her Father's greenery, Iconine Iconine cannot discern over the distance. With lantern in hand, she probed only the smallest perimeter around her cart and, upon discovering nothing untoward, ventured a quavering “Hello?” This entirely reasonable word echoed much the same as the speaker's nonsensical phrase, and even a polite, if half-hearted, “Can I help you?” elicited no response; only the faintest grinding of metal-on-metal and a subsequent silence.
When no sound, shape or sensation reached her, save one shivering down her spine, Iconine Iconine trepidatiously returned the lantern to its crook, took the cart in two unsteady hands and started her slow sojourn back to the Circulation Desk, imagining with all her might what innocent source – a nocturnal reader she'd somehow neglected to notice on her first pass, a colleague amongst the library staff, one whose voice she admittedly couldn't place, about library business after nightfall – might have uttered that eerily senseless phrase, or whether she'd just had the misfortune to hear the book thief speak.That's the end of the section! Thanks for reading, everybody, and come back tomorrow for a brief change of pace before we continue with the story of Iconine Iconine.