As you step into the minuscule library, you are immediately struck by the mingled smells of old books and damp carpet. When it rains the room is cacophonous with the sound of dripping water. Buckets and bowls are placed carefully around the room to catch trickles from the ruined roof; in more than one place you can see the sky through the ceiling. Where these holes stray too close to the incongruously solid, handsome old shelves, shields have been constructed to protect the books. Umbrellas are nailed to some shelves, plywood to others; a complex gutter system constructed, it seems, of every type of scrap pipe imaginable shunts the worst leaks into a large basin in the library's far corner.
Despite all this, the shelves are neatly maintained and arranged in perfect order. To your left, a compulsively tidy desk sports a cup containing ten precisely sharpened pencils; a small stack of books in need of repair; a legal-size tablet noting several book titles, borrower names, and due dates; and a crumbling, well-thumbed guide to the Dewey Decimal system. The windows are shaded with carefully patched blinds to protect the books from sunlight.
A young man is wandering the library with a distracted and puzzled air, touching volumes tenderly as he walks along the shelves, inspecting the building.
The screen door yawns noisily, and another young man appears in the threshhold. Two footsteps sound off the floor as Higami steps into the library, but he remains standing very near the door. One of his hands roams toward the silver chain emerging from the pocket of his trousers, but he barely touches it with the tip of his index fingernail before the hand returns to his side. An easy, bright grin adorns his face, and his eyes are squinted with good humor.
This is a rotund young man with small features and large, square, black glasses. He wears a dress shirt that is somewhat dingy with age, and a touch threadbare at the elbows, but the collar is starched within an inch of its life. His trousers are a little large for him, cinched tight at his waist with a worn leather belt. His black shoes are freshly polished.
He moves nervously, although his hands are dexterous and gentle with the many books that fill his life.
Fred Lemisch looks up from his regard of a slight crack in the spine of a red-leather-bound edition of "The Three Musketeers" and smiles hesitantly. He pushes his glasses up his nose. "G-g-g-good aft-t-ternoon. C-c-c-can I h-h-help you?"
Higami nods. "I very much hope so, Mr. Lemisch. In fact, I'm nearly sure of it." Higami takes another three steps forward into the library and adds, "I've been waiting quite a long time to meet you, Mr. Lemisch." When near enough, he extends a hand. "Higami Ryumaru," he says simply.
Fred Lemisch blinks myopically at the beautiful young man, then gives a tiny shake. He wipes his hand on the side of his trousers and takes Higami's in the sort of grip of someone who's been told several times that he needs to have a firmer handshake. "M-m-mister Hig-g-gami, I'm g-g-glad t-to m-m-m-meet y-you. Ol' M-man C-collins said th-there was s-someone d-d-doing stuff in the l-library. And I s-saw that s-s-someone'd b-been here."
Higami nods once again, but this time it is more of a subtle bow. "Forgive me. That would have been me. I hope I wasn't too intrusive... I left a detailed log of my activities in the upper right drawer of your desk. We can discuss the details in a moment, but I think you'll find that except for a copy of La Morte D'Artur that Rowan was perusing the other day, nothing had been moved or changed in the library. I've been waiting for your approval before I moved any books or other materials in permanently. Please. My business card." The teenager extends a white, featureless card with a metallic texture, slightly cold to the touch. As Higami withdraws his hand from it, he taps the back lightly with his ring finger and the front flashes before an image of Higami fades into view. The image rotates slowly, as text appears elsewhere, covering the surface of the card: "Name: Higami Ryumaru" "Position: Official Representative, Guild of Technology" "Workgroup: Communications" "Clearance Level: 3". Several small buttons allow the card's viewer to switch languages and gain further information.
Fred Lemisch startles as the image comes into view, and then peers, fascinated, at the parade of text. He grins with a child's pleasure in the toy, and tentatively presses the small buttons with a well-gnawed fingernail. After a few moments of playing, he looks up, still smiling. "I'm s-s-sorry that you've had t-to w-wait so l-long. I was on a b-book finding t-trip." He pushes his glasses up his nose again. "I d-d-don't mind anyone being here. N-n-no one h-has been interested in the library in s-so long." Fred's voice is vaguely wistful. "It's s-s-s-*so* nice to m-meet y-you, M-mister Hig-g-gami." There's a desperately pleased sound to his voice. He blinks earnestly behind his thick, smudged glasses.
Higami's grin widens so much that his teeth nearly (but do not quite) show. "I see you are indeed a scholar. Exactly what I expected. You see, Mr. Lemisch," Higami begins, circling around to the other side of Fred where he rests his hand on the back of a reading chair, "In this bright new world there exist a few people who have made it their business to clear the way for knowledge and understanding through information. Some seek out lost knowledge to preserve; others build new communication lines to allow for the free exchange of thought between beings. Everything I had heard about you, both before and after my arrival here, has led me to believe that you were one of those people who would not let the flame of human knowledge be extinguished by the inconveniences of the day."
Fred Lemisch nods. "I h-h-hope so." He looks around at his little library with a fond smile. "I used to c-c-come h-hide here, when m-my parents w-wanted me to d-do chores. There w-was this old lady, Mrs. Weatherbee, that t-took care of it. She t-t-taught me to love the books." Fred turns his happy smile back onto Higami. "She used t-to say, 'Time'll come, Freddy, when folks'll *want* to read again. And the books've gotta be here.' So when she d-d-died, I took over." He looks ruefully at the ceiling. "B-b-but there's so much to d-do, and I'm not g-g-good at fixing things. D-d-dusty's been a help, though."
Higami glances up at the afternoon sky through the library roof. "Dusty has an incredible talent for technological improvisation. If you want, I can supply Dusty with materials to actually fix the roof. The moisture collection devices he's built are impressive to the point of being artistic, but we all know that as long as a large basin of water is sitting in the corner and the rain is wetting the carpet, the books cannot stay in the condition they are in for very long. I could order synthetic building materials, hardening putties that would make it very simple to fix the roof. But that, Mr. Lemisch, is only one of four ideas I wished to consult with you about."
Fred Lemisch bounces a little on the balls of his feet and presses his fingertips together hopefully. "R-r-r-really? Fix the r-r-roof? That'd be so k-k-keen!" His life is complete, his world is perfect. "P-please, Mister Hig-g-gami, I'm being r-rude. W-would you like something to d-d-drink? Have a s-seat." He pauses, considering his two rickety straight chairs. "I'm s-sorry we d-d-don't sit on the floor here. It m-must b-be s-strange for you."
Higami shakes his head. "No, not at all, Mr. Lemisch. In places of business, we Nihonjin rarely sit on floors. The business and home environments have become parallels to global and traditional Japanese culture, respectively." He takes a seat. "Except in Shikoku, of course... but that's another story altogether. Mr. Lemisch, allow me to introduce the next proposal I wanted to extend to you; when I left Nippon, I had already been informed as to the presence of your well-maintained and impressive collection. Knowing that I was to be frequently using it, I could not have arrived without bringing something along to offer in return. When I arrived, I flew in with me three industrial-sized crates, each containing nine other crates. The first of these contained materials to build a shrine here, and a few technological innovations to facilitate the building of a Guild outpost, a simple wooden cabin, really, to be commenced shortly; the second contained technological apparati; and the third contained books. I would like your permission, Mr. Lemisch, to keep these books in your library, to serve as part of your collection, if you would be so generous. I have the books listed and sorted by Dewey Decimal number; you will find that list, in twenty pages, along with my notes in the desk drawer. Also, I have brought equipment which would allow library patrons to access frequency-oriented media, specifically music and speech from before the Dark Years... a CD player, a tape player, an mp5 decoder and four sets of headphones, along with a small crate of actual recordings for them. It would honor me if you would allow them to be stored here as well."
Fred Lemisch blinks. "G-g-g-gosh!" he exclaims, eyes wide. He pulls off his thick, ancient glasses, extracts a clean, neatly folded cotton handkerchief from his back pocket, and assiduously begins to polish the lenses. He opens his mouth to say something several times, and shuts it each time. At last, when the lenses are somewhat less smudged than they had been, he replaces the glasses on his nose and folds the handkerchief back up. Stuffing it into his back pocket, he finally looks up at Higami. "I'd b-b-be honored. If you r-really think there's enough r-room here for all that." He smiles and shakes his head with a little laugh. "And h-h-here I was thinking that the b-b-biggest part of my day was going to b-be finding a p-place for the 2144 World B-b-book set I f-f-found." He opens the indicated drawer of his desk and extracts the list. He pages through it wonderingly and just says, "Gosh!" again.
Higami leans forward a little bit. "Which brings me to my next request, Mr. Lemisch. The Communications Workgroup is working on a project now called the Shattered Rainbow project, or the Broken Mirror project as we call it in Japanese. It is nothing more than an attempt to catalogue the literary materials that have survived the long time of troubles we have just emerged from. I would like your permission to send the Guild of Technology a listing of the books you have collected and cared for so well, so that scholars worldwide may one day know to come here to seek information. This is also the first step of the Workgroup towards reinstating the Inter-Library Loan program, where libraries can exchange books temporarily by patron request. Would you be so kind as to allow me to send the Guild information on your library? Please know that you are under no obligation whatsoever to comply, if you don't feel perfectly comfortable with it."
Fred Lemisch nearly drops the papers. "I... I... I..." He gapes at Higami, and his glasses slide down his nose and very nearly off it. "I... Is it really so unusual? I... I'd b-be so happy!" The last word is an emotion-filled squeak, and he is forced to clear his throat. "An inter-library loan! W-what a g-g-great idea! I've g-g-got a c-c-catalog, both c-card and list, I'll c-c-copy it out for you right away!" He pushes his glasses back up his nose.
Higami smiles. "Which brings me to the last of my immediate requests, Mr. Lemisch. I would like to offer you my own services as a volunteer librarian. Of course, I don't possess your skill and knowhow, but all the same, I believe that while you were away I have kept things in decent working order, and that in the future there may be times when you might appreciate having an employee. Would you consider enlisting my services? I could tend the desk, maintain the new listening devices, reshelve books, or whatever you wish. Naturally, I wouldn't expect you to consider taking on even a volunteer librarian without the proper credentials... I can bring over my resume and give you references in the morning, if you like."
Fred Lemisch seems to be close to tears of happiness, but composes himself admirably to say, "Certainly, I'd b-b-be p-pleased to look at your resume, M-mister Hig-g-gami. I c-could always use the assistance of someone as knowledgeable as y-you seem."
Higami nods, lower than a simple tilt of the head, a lowering of the eyes that indicates a bow. "Thank you very much, Mr. Lemisch. I had one other thought in mind regarding the library, but it is somewhat complex and requres a great deal of discussion. I'll leave it in writing on your desk when I complete it. In the meantime," Higami says, standing, "Welcome home. Much has happened since you left; I'm sure Sashenka would love to give you the news. I would tell you all about it myself, but I know that my own dry storytelling style leaves much to be desired, and if I let Sashenka or Niska tell it to you it will be truly an experience."
Fred Lemisch stands, as well, and positively beams at Higami. "This is the n-n-nicest day of my l-l-life, Mister Higami. Thank you!"
Higami shakes his head. "No... thank /you/, Mr. Lemisch. All of the hopes I harbored about the library and its more-than-capable keeper have been realized. I will see you tomorrow... not a day passes when I don't come to the library. I hope you will consider allowing me to serve you and this facility." He bows... a perfect boomerang slant to the body, control and balance, and a great deal of dignity. The Japanese full honorific bow.
Fred Lemisch demonstrates that his literacy does not extend to visuals, and, in typical Western style, clumsily attempts a bow in return. He manages to catch his glasses before they plummet to the floor, then grins and flushes with some embarrassment. "S-s-see you soon!" He resettles the blocky frames on his ears and nose.
Higami pages: Will Fred let Higami help maintain the library? Higami's really just asking permission to share in the well-being of the library.
You paged Higami with 'Oh, certainly. He's *so* pleased to have someone *else* interested in his baby. :)'.