Christopher let his eyes fall shut and emptied his lungs. He’d skipped lunch and remained in the library, again, in an effort to make progress on a project, this one assigned by the Bards. It involved charting the cognitive mechanisms of dream states and analysing their similarities to the techniques of storytelling.
He’d selected this project from amongst all the others he had to work on as it tickled a natural curiosity within. In the last hour, however, that curiosity had shrivelled. A dream state now seemed like a damn good idea.
Christopher forced open his eyes and the sleepiness vanished. His senses sharpened at the jarring absence of noise. He tried to stay as still as possible, willing his mind to think of nothing, hoping to become kin with the walls of books and the strong, stubborn tables and chairs which had been the companions of most students for these first weeks.
It didn’t work. The rhythm of his heart, the subtle movement of his breath and the entropy of his thought were unavoidable.
Christopher’s eyes roved the room. In terms of absolute grandeur, BAIL’s library was small and insubstantial. No vaunted ceilings. No pieces of art. No rare texts cocooned in glass-paned cabinets. A complete lack of pretentiousness.
On the ground level, floor-to-ceiling bookcases formed a jagged coastline, jutting in and out in a futile effort to bend physical laws and maximise storage space. The upper level was a rectangular mezzanine floor that clung to the perimeter of the room. This too was lined with tall bookcases, but these did not jut. Above Christopher was a bridge which cut the rectangular mezzanine into two squares. On the dividing bridge were a few small desks and a sofa. The latter faced the wide bay window behind Christopher and above the library’s entrance.
The books that filled all available wall space weren’t organised by author, by age, or even by formal category. They were organised by association—by James’ sense of association. It was his private library, after all.
During his time amongst the stacks Christopher had found books on military grand strategy neighbouring texts on contemporary agricultural methods; stories of sorcerers and sorceries next to despairing accounts of holocausts and pogroms; crackpot tales of the obscure and occult touching textbooks designed for advanced practitioners of the hard sciences.
There was no known catalogue of the works contained here. Roaming the shelves in search of something in particular was either agonising or delightful, depending on one’s disposition. This library was indifferent to the desire for specific outcomes.
Christopher rediscovered the tablet propped up in front of him. Its screen had faded to black and the void offered him an idea. Perhaps the true purpose of the library at the heart of BAIL was to be a sanctuary? James’ sanctuary.
Henrik had told the students how he had laboured, day after day of one long summer, to complete BAIL’s skeleton. He’d told them that the first building to be erected was the barn and that the first room to be finished was the library—at James’ insistence.
Portrayals of himself as an emcee of chaos didn’t matter. James could take all the pleasure he liked in the turbulence that arose when humans engaged one another on physical, spiritual and ideological battlegrounds. It didn’t change the fact that he was human and needed occasional respite.
Like everyone, James needed a haven, a place in which he could loosen the straps pinning the armour to his body. A place that was antithetical to what he did each and every day. James talked, so he created a place of silence; James synthesised, so he created a place of divergence; James never appeared to be caught off-guard, so he created a place designed to dislocate the mind.
Christopher prodded a key on his tablet’s smart keyboard. The screen came alive. Imposed on the solid white background was the date and time. He froze, understanding why he was alone. He was late for the second instalment of the Hitler, My Hero series.
Christopher scooped up his tablet and scampered through the library’s exit. He wasn’t even ten minutes late. Christopher stopped outside the door of the largest lecture room and listened. He could hear James talking.
After a quick exhale, Christopher pushed the door open and stepped through. All heads turned his way—the students, the professors sitting in on the talk and the production staff. James tilted his head and looked at the intruder.
Christopher, preempting the scalpel-sharp slices of James’ voice, said, “Sorry I’m late. Lost track of time,” and ducked his head in an attempt to make it to the seat Alex had saved for him. James was not content to let him escape so freely. There was a cost to be paid for disruption.
“That’s okay, Christopher. A little delay only heightens the suspense. What were you so lost in?”
Christopher, now occupying the saved seat, replied. “Research for the Bard’s projects.”
“Ahh” said James. “The nature of the project?”
“Dreams and storytelling.”
The answer wasn’t sufficient in breadth or depth—James continued to look at him. He raised his eyebrows, inviting Christopher to elaborate. He did.
“Charles and Isabella think that how our minds conjure dreams is similar to how we create stories.” He tried to recall how they had phrased it. “‘Tiny seeds of signal create ambient noise and these flower into an immersive experience which is at odds with its unreality.’” Christopher paused. “Or something like that.”
“And what do you think?” asked James.
Christopher scrambled for something that had hooked itself into his consciousness in the last hour. He recalled the library’s silence but dismissed it as irrelevant. After that, there was nothing. He considered making something up but knew that James would be merciless if he sensed the deception.
“I think the Bard’s are right.”
There was a murmur of laughter from the class—Christopher caught Alex smiling in his peripheral vision. Satisfied with the result of the interrogation, James let the laughter simmer and restarted.
“Now, the cultural foundations of the Third Reich now. As I was saying…”
Christopher didn’t catch what James was saying. As soon as the spotlight of James’ attention was off of him and dispersed to the room at large, the mental haze in operation in the library renewed itself.
The furore around the series was not enough to keep the haze at bay. This series—neither its content nor its chief herald—hadn’t affected Christopher as much as everyone else. Alex viewed it as profane while George found its allure intoxicating. Christopher thought it was just one interesting take amongst many.
He pulled out his tablet and opened up the messaging app. Every now and then Christopher glanced up to make it seem like he was participating and taking notes, but he wasn’t. He was messaging George, catching up on some groupchats, and talking to Alex.
In the library, AGAIN? asked Alex.
Don’t think I’ll bother tomorrow. Or tonight. Need rest. Can’t think.
Quit doing so much.
I have to!
The projects aren’t homework, typed Alex.
You don’t HAVE to do them…
WTF, replied Christopher. You’re just ignoring some? I wondered how you were coping so easily.
That. Or I’m an angel 🙂
Alex sent another message immediately.
Christopher heeded the warning but decided that the best response was to casually raise his head, as if disturbed by the intrusion of a sudden insight. Christopher did so and found James was looking in his direction. There was a faint sense of mirth.
“Lost in time again?” asked James.
Christopher glanced down and caught another message from Alex before he wrested his attention onto the session at hand: :’)
Despite his best efforts, Christopher gleaned only fragments of James’ talk. The Nazi’s indoctrination of the country’s youth; the attempted imposition of a nationwide spy network which would go on to be perfected in Stalin’s Soviet Russia; the use of media to misinform and revitalise control of the citizenry; how the Nazi’s drive for a monoculture resulted in impoverishment in comparison with other historical and contemporary polycultures.
Towards the end of the session, Mary entered. Christopher had only ever seen her at the beginning of series and singles, and even then she only lingered until the professor saw fit to begin. The rest of the time she was a phantom, administering whatever actions necessary to keep BAIL’s online and offline operations in motion.
Mary opened the door, unembarrassed by the classes’ regard, and waited for James to approach. After a whispered exchange Mary exited and James, who had paused mid-sentence, returned to the same spot on the floor and picked up at the same point in the sentence. It wasn’t until the end of the session that James shared the information hidden in the whispers.
“Today’s entry in the Counter-Custody Basics series has been moved to Thursday afternoon. Luay apologises but says he’ll add something special to the session to compensate for the delay.”
James ceased talking for a moment. Everyone rose to leave.
“However,” said James “Luay’s absence presents us with an opportunity. Students, you’re welcome to take this as a free session. Or you can remain and we can organise a special talk from an unexpected host.”
James let the silence persist for a while before asking, “Would someone like to join me at the front?”
From somewhere to Christopher’s left, Luce squawked out: “Christopher was late.”
The tension eased for everyone but the named latecomer. Christopher looked to James, who shrugged his shoulders, avowing responsibility for the nomination.
“The will of the students is clear,” said James.
Christopher didn’t move.
“Come on up,” said James.
Christopher made his way to the front, like a minor celestial body falling towards a dying sun. When he got there, James grasped his shoulders and turned him to the class.
Christopher’s mental fog was banished and electricity shot through his being. Crude pixels became high definition. Colours intensified. The air around him felt heavy and he could feel his body seeking to crumple under its pressure. The ambient sounds within and without were a barrage. The eyes fixed upon him stabbed with curiosity-tipped blades.
James wafted words into Christopher’s ear. “The floor is yours,” he said, before marching to Christopher’s seat and reclining.
Christopher stood alone at the front. He didn’t know what to say just yet, so he examined the class in more detail. A few wore masks of sympathy but most, including James, looked on intrigued, uncertain of the response to the challenge. George was grinning, enjoying Christopher’s predicament. Christopher’s eyes moved onto Alex, who was next to George. She offered him the smallest smile and chased it with the faintest nod.
Christopher locked eyes with her for a moment more, then smiled back. He hoped the coming attempt to soar off of the cliff edge would result in the flight of man, not another gnarled mess upon the rocks. He’d chosen between honesty and improvised deception when he was late to the Hitler, My Hero series—presented with the same choice once again, he opted to continue in the same vein.
“This is a tight spot,” Christopher said, making the implicit explicit. “I’ll admit, I have no idea where to start. But I do have something to say.” He recalled the conversation with Alex during which he had drawn James’ ire and steeled himself.
“The amount of work us students are expected to do is ridiculous.” He looked to each of the attending resident professors in turn—Linda, James, the Bard twins. None flinched or betrayed any reaction to his words. He continued to speak to them.
“It feels like you’re deliberately trying to overwhelm us.” He let the accusation linger and continued. “Whether that’s true, I don’t know.” He had leapt and, for now, the law of gravity was annulled. “But what is true is that we’ve figured out a coping mechanism: community. Your unreasonable expectations have forced us to work together. As a group, we progressively summarise our experiences and thoughts for one another because we’ve decided it’s the only way we can keep up. I’m going to reverse the mechanism. We’re going to try progressive creation.”
He glanced at his watch.
“There’s just over an hour left. Here’s what I suggest. I’ll pick something and talk about it for five minutes. One person in here will scribe while the rest will be determining where the session can head next. After my five minutes is done, someone else comes up and expands on what I’ve said, leading us in whatever direction they think is best. We’ll repeat this and by the end we should have a pretty decent intro to a topic.”
Christopher surveyed the class. “Sound good?”
No-one said a thing, but there was a smattering of nods.
This lead to the next problem: what to talk about? Christopher unfurled the hand wrapped around his conscious mind and an answer wandered free.
“Let’s talk about unconscious thought theory. If someone could create a document and share permissions that would be great.” There was a grunt of assent from the back.
Christopher knew that his five minutes were the most important. Progressive summation worked because the material summarised was suitable for compression—there were non-essential bits within. Progressive creation would have to function in reverse. It would have to start with something of great density.
Christopher didn’t have any such thing prepared, but in a world of networked epistemology this wasn’t a problem. There was enough accessible material available on almost anything to provide initial momentum. He had a topic and he needed plant a diverse array of seeds around it. He needed to offer a collection of specimens that others could grow and nurture themselves.
“One moment,” Christopher said.
He wove his way back to his table and grabbed his tablet, avoiding the eyes of everyone as he went. As he walked back to the front, Christopher navigated to the tablet’s browser and accessed one of his favourite sources of immediate entertainment.
“Shower thoughts,” he said to the class. With a few taps, Christopher sorted recent entries by date and popularity. He scanned them and read aloud the ones that grabbed his attention.
“‘All languages travel at the speed of sound; sign language travels at the speed of light.’ ‘If you were invisible you could have a perfectly normal relationship with a blind person.’ ‘If the Earth is flat, maybe the dinosaurs live on the other side and we keep digging up their dead and buried.’”
The class laughed and Christopher continued. “Why do we have these thoughts in the shower?”
Aping James’ signature style, Christopher began to wander back and forth, gesticulating the whole time. He found he was enjoying himself. He leaned into the role of James’ twin with relish.
“These thoughts are unrelated to anything occurring in the present, or in the near-past or near-future.”
He stopped pacing, just as James was wont to do, and barked questions to the audience. “Why does taking a walk result in a sudden stream of insight? How can chess grandmasters play simul chess—multiple games at once, with different players, on different boards?”
A recent biography Christopher had skim-read came to mind. “Paul Erdos was a Hungarian mathematician. He was known as an oddball, but he was also renowned for the volume of his collaborators, and for his methods of collaboration.”
Christopher started walking again, this time amongst the maze of the crowd. “When given the chance, he’d assemble mathematicians around a table. They’d be confined to working on a single, bounded problem. Erdos himself circulated, working on all problems in turn, one after the other, without pause.”
Chris reached the rear of the room and stole another glance at his watch. Everyone twisted in their chairs to keep him in sight.
“This is all related to unconscious thought theory. Its central premise? The unconscious mind is better prepared to handle complex tasks involving many variables. The conscious mind is better equipped to navigate tasks with fewer variables.”
Christopher headed to the front now. He crossed his arms, stroked his chin and furrowed his brow as he went. He wasn’t just pretending to think hard. He held the pose for a moment, thought of his recent research in the library and resumed.
“Think of a playground filled only with roundabouts and swings. Initially, roundabouts require a concentrated effort. But once they’re moving, they keep moving. Swings, however, need someone sat on them. In the playground of your mind, you could get all the roundabouts spinning but you couldn’t keep all the swings swinging.” Another glance at his watch: time was up.
“One more thing before I hand over.” Christopher lowered the volume of his voice and leaned forward, imitating a typical James-Barker-finisher. “Not only is it speculated that the unconscious is better at untangling complex problems. It is also speculated that it’s able to make connections that we consciously cannot.”
Christopher straightened and reverted to his normal voice and his normal posture. “Who got next?”
Most students avoided his gaze, and for a moment he thought his talk had sunk in the harbour before it had made it out to sea. But then his eyes locked with another student, a boy called Thom, who nodded and said, “I’ll take over.” Christopher took Thom’s seat.
The adrenaline from his improvised talk had enlivened him. Christopher’s ears remained tuned to the succession of students and staff that took the mantle. His fingers flowed across his tablet as they talked, adding links, inputting questions and updating the outline of the document his session had birthed.
When Hatty—a quiet, intense student Christopher had worked with once or twice—finished her part, James intervened from the comfort of Christopher’s original seat.
“And that is time. Thank you Christopher, and thanks to those who took the mic and helped us all learn something new. Remember, the series that was supposed to have just taken place has moved to Thursday afternoon. I know it’s one of your free afternoons, and I know you’re all struggling terribly under the workload”—he glanced in Christopher’s direction—“but do try to make it. That’s all.”
As most present in the room began to stand and exit, Christopher made his way to his original table. Alex and George were still sat there, as was James.
“Not bad,” said James, when Christopher reached them. “Perhaps I should surprise you more often?”
“I’d rather you didn’t”, said Christopher.
“Noted,” said James.
Before Christopher could untangle what James meant, the founder of BAIL was on his feet and ducking out of the room. Christopher, releasing a dramatic sigh, turned away from the door and towards Alex.
She smiled. “That was great, Chris. If I were you, I’d have backed out.”
George spoke from next to her. “No you wouldn’t have, Alex. You’d have risen to the challenge.”
Alex’s smile faltered and faded as she considered herself in the same position.
“I might of,” she said.
The three of them were the last to leave the room and to exit the building. They made their way across BAIL’s yard and down the track. It was only late afternoon, but the departure of the day’s light was amplified under the gloom of the woodland canopy. Soon, the students would need to carry torches to navigate the trails and tracks, or use their phone’s flashlights.
As they walked, Christopher steered the group towards the boathouse but Alex resisted.
“I have to sort something,” she said. She darted off before either Christopher or George could quiz her further. They wandered on in silence for a few moments.
“Do you think Alex liked today’s lecture?” asked Christopher.
George didn’t mask his scowl. “She said you did well.”
“I don’t mean that. The Hitler stuff. It was more vanilla today. Do you think she actually enjoyed it?” A reply didn’t come, so Christopher prodded. “George?”
“How about when we get to the boathouse we ask her? That way, we don’t waste energy trying to unravel her mind.”
Christopher met the blunt edge of George’s response with a smile. “Good idea. Speaking of energy, how are you keeping up with all the projects?”
“I’m not,” said George. “I’m focusing on the academic subjects. I’m not bothered about the vocational ones, really.”
“You as well? I thought we had to do them.”
George shed his sultry tone. “I did think it was weird when you said the communal response from the students was caused by the professor’s unreasonable expectations. It isn’t. It’s more about convenience than anything else. We put most of our effort into what we’re good at and let others gain from it. Everyone is a specialist, which allows us all to be generalists.
“How did I—” began Christopher.
“—not see that?” finished George. “Some answers don’t require questions.”
Christopher walked and thought of how everyone—even Alex and George—had been coasting along while he starved himself in an attempt to keep up. They’d all said nothing while he slaved away. Christopher couldn’t undo time, and he wasn’t one to hold grudges, but he didn’t mind nibbling on a morsel of revenge.
After a moment, Christopher sheathed his sly grin, looked up and stopped walking. George stopped a second later, a pace or two ahead, and turned back to him. Christopher, terror on his face, raised a trembling finger and pointed into the trees over George’s shoulder.
“What the hell?” whispered Christopher.
Christopher waited for George’s eyes to track from his extended finger and into the woodland. After George had turned away and displayed his confusion with a tilt of the head, Christopher leapt forward, slammed his hands down onto George’s shoulders and loosed a shrill shriek. George staggered in alarm. As Christopher chortled, George unleashed a plague of curses.
“That’s for not sharing your answers,” said Christopher, grin on full display.
George threw more curses his way.
Not long after Christopher and George had finished their dinner in the boathouse, Alex appeared. She nodded to them, collected her own dinner and took a seat. She looked deflated, anxious. Christopher decided to take George’s earlier suggestion.
“Alex,” said Christopher.
“The Hitler series?”
“I’m still sceptical, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“Why?” asked Christopher, bemused that, for once, his intuition about Alex was on point. “James was reasonable today.”
Alex stirred to life. “Didn’t he put you on the spot because you showed up late and interrupted him?”
“Technically, Luce did,” said Christopher, “but it turned out alright, didn’t it?”
“Maybe,” said George, “James wants to challenge people, to force them to rise to a level they otherwise wouldn’t even try and reach? Chris, would you have even thought about taking a lecture like that? Would any of the students even have attempted to stand up and take the lead like they did today?”
Christopher shrugged his shoulders. Alex sat back, pulled her legs underneath her and laughed. “Oh, come on, George. You don’t actually believe that, do you?”
Christopher leaned back in his seat. George began to compose a response, but Alex leaned forward, a dog who’d found a strong scent.
“Haven’t either of you noticed that anytime someone arouses James’ attention, they manage to get it back twofold? I ask awkward questions and make it obvious I don’t like his choice of content; he singles me out in the same class. Christopher shows up late; he gets dropped in the deep end.” Alex looked at Christopher. “But James wasn’t expecting you to handle it so well. Neither was I, actually.”
In the aftermath of Alex’s tirade, George pulled his tablet towards him and ceased communication. Alex propped up her own tablet, doing things that Christopher couldn’t see and having conversations he wasn’t privy to.
To the soundtrack of students muttering around him, Christopher pretended to tend to his own tablet. In reality, he watched the tides of change in Alex’s face. A smile gave way to confusion, then to thoughtfulness, then to interest, then to humour. Christopher lost track of how long it was before George spoke a few words, rose and departed, taking his body to rejoin his mind in a place absent from the boathouse.
Alex looked up as George exited. “What’s up with him?”
Christopher suspected it involved an admiration for Barker, a growing affection for Alex and a frustration that the two were turning out to be irreconcilable. Christopher shared only half of this truth, however.
“He believes in James,” said Christopher.
“I do too,” retorted Alex, “else, as George said, I wouldn’t be here.” She snapped her tablet flat on the table. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t disagree and protest. Or change my mind. Why doesn’t he get that?”
After a moment, Christopher replied. “George is black and white. For him, the line dividing love and hate is thin. He likes someone, or he doesn’t. He cares, or he doesn’t care. It’s binary. All-in or all-out. For you, it’s different. You’re grey. You can handle uncertainty, contradiction. George—not so much.”
Alex said nothing and instead searched Christopher’s face. He tried to remain as unassuming as possible. After a moment, Alex abandoned the search—or completed it. Christopher wasn’t sure.
“Your improv in the lecture today was better than that,” she said.
Christopher’s heart sped up. “What do you mean?”
“There’s more to it and you’re not telling.”
Christopher lived up to her words: he said nothing.
“That’s okay. I don’t mind,” said Alex. “Everyone has secrets. But how about I make some guesses and you just nod or shake your head, tell me if I’m hot or cold? That way, I can hone in on the truth and you don’t have to feel guilty for saying anything.”
Christopher wasn’t on board with Alex’s moral accounting, but he still nodded. Aside from standing up and leaving—which he didn’t want to do—he had no other choice.
Alex began to probe. “George doesn’t like that I don’t like James.”
Christopher took a few seconds to try and detect a trap. He didn’t sense one, so he nodded.
“George is jealous that you did so well today.”
Still no traps. Nod.
“Easy part done,” said Alex. She thought for a moment. “George has a crush.”
“How is this—” protested Christopher.
“We agreed that I get to make guesses,” said Alex, overriding him. “But we didn’t specify the limits.”
Christopher responded with his best attempt at an angry stare. Alex deflected it with a smile.
“George has a crush,” she said once more.
Christopher maintained the angry stare.
“Okay, okay,” said Alex. “You’re the only person George is really close to and really likes at BAIL—”
“—barring me,” finished Alex.
Christopher didn’t move. Alex waited for him to nod or shake his head, and when it became obvious Christopher was going to do neither, she spoke.
“One more? Please?” said Alex.
Christopher stayed silent and still.
“You do, in fact,” said Alex, “think I’m an angel.”
Christopher retracted his chin, screwed up his face in disgust and shook his head.
“Douche,” said Alex, and she rose from her seat. “I’m heading back to the house.” Realising Christopher wasn’t about to join her, she circled around to him, placed a hand on his shoulder and offered a parting suggestion. “Try and show George that the world isn’t black and white.”
Alex left and, in dribs and drabs, the other students in the boathouse began to melt away. For the second time in the same day Christopher was left alone somewhere he had never been alone before. Like tuning forks, the boathouse reverberated with the residual vibrations of the students who had occupied it. Christopher’s head also reverberated, but with echoes of the day’s events.
Christopher thought about Alex’s plea. How could he even begin to change George’s mind? Wasn’t it more akin to changing his nature?
It didn’t matter. People were what they were and could only stop being that through choice. They have to change their own mind, and the stimuli for such change comes only from sharp experience. It wasn’t Christopher’s job to mete out cuts and create scars.
Christopher looked around. Thoughts of wounds and scars soon faded and a wholesome feeling took over. Alone in the boathouse, Christopher was conscious that he was inhabiting a special time in a special place.
He liked Alex more and more, in more and more ways. He felt closer to George, drawn to him because of the differences and the similarities they shared. He felt flooded with gratitude for the opportunity to be around these people and to be experiencing BAIL from the inside, as one of the first in-person attendees. A chance that few others had.
The wave of gratitude subsided and Christopher rose. He killed the lights and exited the boathouse. He looked across the lake. Its surface undulated in the moonlight. Christopher stood there for a minute, spirit rising and falling in tandem, before he made his way back towards the trail. He left his phone in his pocket and walked without a light source: his eyes had began to adjust to the night. Instead of taking the trail back to the residence, however, he headed towards the main campus.
Neither internal nor external lights were visible from any of the buildings. They squatted in the dark, indifferent to human needs and fears. Christopher approached. He circled Henrik’s studio and Arty’s space before he headed towards the barn.
He put a fingertip on its main door and pushed. It swung inward. Christopher entered the building, slowing his footsteps in a vain attempt to merge with the tempo of darkness. He headed for the library, opened the door and paused on the threshold.
Books had always been symbols of comfort for Christopher. Not tonight. The books within the library, far from offering warmth and safety, exuded a madness. The wild array of colours splashed across covers and spines was now dim, sickly. The shelves, which Christopher knew to be straight and upright, leaned away from the walls, as if promising to collapse upon anyone bold enough to walk too close. Despite this, Christopher entered, perturbed but unafraid.
The only light that penetrated the room came from the bay window. It was weak and flickered over the haunted isles of tables and chairs. Christopher avoided the islands and stayed in the shadows at the room’s edge.
He couldn’t make out the titles of the books on the shelves—it was too dark for that. Instead he ran his hand along the spines as he walked the edge, feeling the difference in size and shape and texture and imagining how this translated to differences in content and context. He made it to the rear right corner of the room before his hand crossed a tome that was jutting out, like it had been pulled out and hastily replaced. He paused, felt its dimensions under his fingertips and decided to grasp it.
“Midnight excursion?” asked a voice from high in the middle of the room.
Christopher seized the book and pulled it towards himself in fright. He looked up and around and found James looking down at him from the mezzanine bridge. Silhouetted by the moon’s light, James looked undead.
“Sorry,” said Christopher. “I was curious.”
“Don’t be. The library doesn’t have opening hours. Why don’t you join me up here?”
“And bring that book you’re clutching like a shield with you.”
James floated backwards, out of sight. Christopher waited a moment then continued his circuit of the room. He came to the rear wall of the library. In the middle of the row of bookcases there was a gap. Christopher stepped into it. To his left and his right were twin staircases. He took the left staircase upwards and emerged in the rear left corner of the second level.
He turned towards the moonlit bay window at the opposite end of the room. James stood there, looking out. His hands were clasped behind his back and he was motionless. Christopher trod towards him.
“You startled me,” said James, as Christopher arrived alongside. “I was replacing the book you have in your hand when you opened the door. I’m surprised I made it up the stairs and onto the bridge without you noticing.”
“Very stealthy,” replied Christopher.
James turned to him. “Hardly. I watched you. You were lost in your own head. I could’ve clapped my hands and you wouldn’t have noticed.” James paused. “What do you think of it?”
“Of what?” asked Christopher.
“Go ahead,” said James. “We have time.”
Christopher raised the book into the moonlight and read the title: Piercing the Veil by Dmitry Doyen. He scanned the front cover, flipped it over and scanned the back. He read the blurb. Intrigued, Christopher opened the book. He found the contents page and read a few headings. He thumbed forwards into the body of the book, pausing at fragments of prose which had been marked with pencil.
“What has ‘cultural terrorism’ got to do with your course?” asked Christopher, still scanning the text.
No reply. In his lectures, James employed silence as a tactic to encourage his students to consider their own questions.
“Unless…” continued Christopher. The book he held was authored by a ‘cultural terrorist’ turned informer. It detailed numerous approaches for assailing anonymous, decentralised organisations like the one the author had fled. Christopher looked out the window and over the trees.
Christopher thought, hard. He tried to grasp the source of the tingling sensation in his mind. He recognised it as the feeling that indicated a connection between disparate ideas. Cultural terrorists—VOS—Barker.
“Voice of the Silent,” said Christopher. He about-turned to James. “Cultural activists. You know about them. You’re studying them.”
A small smile played upon James’ lips.
“You’re anticipating their involvement,” said Christopher.
“Keep the book,” said James, beginning to walk away. “I’ve got all I need from it.”
Christopher let his eyes fall shut and emptied his lungs. He’d skipped lunch and remained in the library, again, in an effort to make progress on a project, this one assigned by the Bards. It involved charting the cognitive mechanisms of dream states and analysing their similarities to the techniques of storytelling.