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In LIEU

by

Barry Dean

Librarian, thief, or time-cop? Sometimes, not even those concerned can tell the difference — particularly when time-travel is involved, and things happen in order, out of order, and simultaneously at different times.

Welcome to the time travelling world of L.I.E.U. A future world where nothing is quite as it seems.

Preramble

THERE are some who believe in destiny and for them life follows a fixed line with the future preordained. Others believe that life meanders toward crossroads and decisions made at those times determine the pathway to the next sliding door. Holly Penworthy believed in the latter, but she was wrong. Her destiny was decided by others when she was chosen to participate in a physics experiment involving time and motion. Not the archaic practice that allowed management to harass workers, but an experiment infinitely larger and, to most humans, mind-bogglingly complicated. This experiment concerned the manipulation of time and the relative movement of Earth within a minor outer arm of the spiral galaxy we humans call the Milky Way.

Holly had no idea about her selection. In fact, she had no knowledge that there are two schools of thought on the relative movement of Earth. The first is that Earth moves around our sun in a roughly circular orbit. It covers this route at a speed of around 30 kilometres per second. In addition, our solar system whirls around the centre of its galaxy at some 220 kilometres per second. With such speeds, it seems that Earth must be in a hurry to get somewhere. The question is: ‘where?’ It matters little to most of the planet’s inhabitants but we are actually hurtling through space toward a structure called the Great Attractor. This thing is in a region of space about 150 million light-years from Earth. Accordingly, it’s a waste of time keeping an eye out for it. The second school of thought is that you may become just as confused by listening to Monty Python’s Galaxy song. The bottom line is that Earth hurtles through space while its inhabitants sit on their collective arses and go along for the ride.

You may well ask what this has to do with Holly Penworthy. The answer is simple. The movement of Earth leads to science, science leads to scientists, and scientists can be genii. In AD 2253, one such genius worked out how to harness the dark matter of the Great Attractor and created a machine capable of travelling backward through time. This created paperwork, paperwork created the need for a library and every library must have a librarian. Holly Penworthy was trained as a librarian.

First Encounter — 1940

HOLLY Penworthy’s first encounter with her future occurred on the twenty- ninth of September 1940. Her parents had sent her to the small village of Agarle in southern Kent to keep her safe from the London bombings. She caught the train from London to Ashford and then the bus to Agarle. During the journey she tried to understand why her parents would send her to a place between the coast and London but fourteen year olds have no say in family decisions.

She was picked up at the bus stop by her Uncle Ben who was a man in his late fifties with the stoop of a peasant farmer and ginger hairs growing from his enormous ears. He probably had a face but Holly couldn’t see it under the matted red beard that hung from his eyes to his chest and made his face look like the back end of a tailless wolfhound. Aunt Edith, on the other hand, had a face that Holly could not help but notice. Unfortunately, it was hard to tell whether it was the cankerous mole on the side of her nose or the beagle eyes that won the most prominent feature race. To Holly, they shared the honours.

Despite looks that would scare a ghost from a house, both Ben and Edith were kind-souled individuals who, as part of the civil defence league, were on duty that fateful night.

It was just after eight, and Holly was alone in the house. She was brushing out her long, blonde hair before bed when the light of her bedroom lamp was suddenly overwhelmed by a powerful light shining through the blackout curtains. She froze. It was impossible. She stared at the curtains, not knowing what to think or what to do. If only Uncle Ben and Aunt Edith were home they would guide her. But they weren’t, so she had to make her own decisions.

Pinpricks ran the length of her spine and goosebumps covered her arms as she pulled the curtains aside. Outside was another impossibility; a small patch of daylight in the night sky. A perfect circle of blue and cloudless visibility stretched up to the outer reaches of space. She closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to deny what she saw. When she reopened them, the patch of daylight was still there. Elsewhere, the night sky pervaded everything with an eerie blackness, broken only by the searchlights that created a curtain of light along the coast.

Holly couldn’t understand what she was seeing. She stepped back from the window and reclosed the curtains. It made no difference to the light; some unknown force was holding the darkness at bay. She flung open the window, stuck her head out and looked left and right. The houses on either side were shrouded in darkness. Daylight shone only on her window. Something was very wrong.

Holly reclosed the window, pulled the curtain across, changed from pyjamas to her floral cotton dress, and then pulled on her school socks and shoes. She ran downstairs and out of the back door of the house. Once outside, she looked again at the sky. The daylight circle had followed her.

At that same instant, six thousand feet above her, the pilot of a German Heinkel He-111 cursed as his second engine spluttered and died. He wrestled with the controls, trying to angle the crippled plane slightly upward, but to no avail.

Holly first saw the Heinkel as it entered her patch of daylight and knew immediately that something was wrong. The plane’s only sound was the rushing of the air past its wings as it plunged toward her. She stood, transfixed, gawping at the falling aircraft. Her brain screamed at her to move but there was concrete in her feet.

It was at the moment she turned to run that she saw the door in the wall. Given time she would have wondered why, despite staying with her aunt and uncle for a week, she had never noticed the two storey granite brick wall that now consumed the backyard. But she didn’t have time, so ran toward the beaten copper door that stood inside a narrow Corinthian columned portico. She reached the door and grabbed at its huge brass handle, shaped like a musical F clef. It didn’t budge. She looked over her shoulder at the plane. It was much closer and seemed to be hurtling directly toward her. For some reason she read the name above the door Li . . . In . . . A . . The rest of the name was covered in bracken and dead leaves.

She pounded the door, frantically pushed down on the handle. Her small wrists strained against the pressure of exertion. After what seemed like years but was, in fact, milliseconds, the handle moved and, with a sonorous click, the door opened.

Holly dashed inside, slammed the door behind her and looked for somewhere to hide.

Time stopped. The sound of wind rushing past wings disappeared; replaced by a soft melody that Holly had never heard before. The sound seemed to be coming from everywhere but nowhere in particular. She stopped and looked around. She was standing in what appeared to be a small anteroom. It was pentagon shaped, with ornate wooden doors set into two of its facets. The word LIBRARY was inscribed in large redwood letters above one door. To its right, above the other door was written ACTIVITIES ROOM. Set into the white marble floor was the word L.I.E.U, in black marble lettering. She had no idea what the word meant.

Scared and mystified she cuddled herself, shivered, and waited for something to happen. She thought of Alice in Wonderland with rabbits and strange creatures, but this was different. This was no rabbit hole. This was an enormous building.

When nothing happened after several minutes, she walked to the Activities Room door and tried the handle. The door opened with a squeak. She put her hands to her mouth as she saw the size of the room beyond. There were four full size billiard tables and a small stage with ten rows of seats in a deep alcove, a kitchenette and a row of wooden tables. Everything was covered in a thin layer of dust. It was as if the space hadn’t been occupied for years. She looked at the far end wall and shook her head in disbelief as she pictured the Cock Lane parish church at the rear of her uncle’s property. The rooms and alcoves ran well past the parish church. This place simply could not exist.

She returned to the anteroom and tried the handle on the Library door. The door opened immediately on well-greased hinges. Through the doorway she could see a large glass-panelled bookcase against one wall. Beyond the bookcase was an ornate archway that led to a vast oval room. Moving to the archway she tried to understand what she saw. Three tiers of book shelves, with their own walkways, ran the length of the curved walls. Polished brass rails were attached to the top of each tier, and redwood ladders, attached to the rails, slid sideways to allow the ladders to be moved horizontally. There were reading desks and seating. Each desk had a green lamp shade on a brass base. Plush pile black carpet covered the floor. She examined a brass handrail. It showed her reflection. Unlike the adjacent room, there was not a speck of dust anywhere.

“Is anyone here?” she called.

There was no reply.

As she turned to walk from the library the low light on a bookcase against one wall intensified. There were three closed books on pedestals within the book case. The first was a leather-bound tome, at least four inches thick, with its title embossed with gold lettering in a copperplate gothic font. The Book of Fictional Grievances. The second book was of similar dimensions and had a dog-eared hemp cover. It was titled The Book of Unresolved Grievances Librarians’ Copy. The third tome was entitled A Completely Fulfilled Life. This book appeared to have front and rear covers but no pages in between.

Holly peered at the words ‘Librarians’ Copy’ for what seemed like an aeon. For some reason she needed to know what was written inside it.

She stood back and looked at the cabinet. The way of placing the books on their pedestals wasn’t obvious. She considered using something to smash the glass but her moral upbringing stopped her. She was still looking for a way to get to the book when the lights over the books faded and the titles could no longer be read.

She was returning to the ante room just as a man of about thirty entered through the outer door. “Ohhh,” she started.

“Sorry Holly . . . just back from lunch,” the man said.

This man knew her name. How? She looked him over. There was something terribly wrong with the image. Instead of the sombre greys or browns that had been worn since the beginning of the war, this man wore a bright yellow shirt, tucked into blue denim trousers. The trousers were of the type she had seen in American magazines as having been designed by Levi Strauss — but these didn’t look right. These were low slung on his hips and tight against his legs. They were being worn over off-white canvas shoes with bright designs of multicoloured strips crossing each shoe. He had small plugs in his ears, which were attached to cords that went into the top pocket of his shirt. His hair was brushed back across his ears and reached his shirt collar. The glasses he wore just covered his grey eyes and were rectangular in shape with blue frames.

“You okay, Holly?” the man asked.

She glared at him. “Who are you? How do you know my name?”

He raised his eyebrows and gazed into her eyes. A smile creased his face.

Holly liked the smile.

He leaned forward, placed his hand on her chin and, with chin held between thumb and forefinger, angled Holly’s head from side to side. He smiled again and stood up.

“What year is it?” he asked

“1940 of course,” Holly replied.

“Ahhhh. That explains it. You once told me this would happen.”

Holly had no idea what the man was talking about. “What would happen?”

“Us meeting like this . . . you not recognising me. You said it would be 1940.”

Holly began to shake, pushed the man’s hand away and stepped backward. “Mummy!” she screamed in anguish.

“There’s no need for that, Holly. You’re safe. I won’t harm you.”

Holly closed her eyes and screamed again. This time it was as long and bloodcurdling as she could manage. It was a ploy that had worked when she was eight. She reopened her eyes. The man still stood before her. “Who are you?” she demanded.

The man looked contrite. “I really didn’t mean to upset you. My name is Cameliel Cameron. My friends call me Cam . . . you can call me Cam. I am the Fifth Assistant Librarian.”

“How do you know my name?”

Cam leaned forward so that he could look at Holly, eye to eye. This time his hands were tucked into his pockets. “One day you will look back on this moment and realise just how difficult it is for me to explain. At that time, no explanation will be necessary. For now, however, I must ease your mind. I want you to go back to the door through which you entered. You will open the outer door and will find no plane crash. You’ll be able to continue on your journey. You won’t remember me until the time we both look back on this awkward moment and have a good laugh . . . but for now we must part.”

Holly did as she was told and left the library. Before the door closed, she noticed that she could no longer see the books or the embossed titles in their covers. She closed the door and entered the anteroom. She looked at the entry door and saw it was undamaged. What had happened to the plane? She needed to have a look to see if it was safe to go out, so gingerly opened the door. She was taken completely by surprise. It was daylight. Not just a circle of light but all over. There was no crashed bomber and no uncle’s house. Instead she was on the high street in Paddington, standing beside her mother who was staring at a newspaper and crying.

“What is it mum?” she asked.

“The paper. It’s Ben and Edith. A German bomber crashed into their home last night. They were both killed. I’m so glad we decided not to send you down there. You would have been with them.”

Recruitment — 1960

HOLLY Penworthy eyed her reflection in the hall mirror. Hair not quite in the fashion of the day but that was by choice. She hated the lacquered towers and velvet headbands of the fashion magazines, preferring her blonde hair to be short and tapered. Besides, the style was flattered by the small white woollen hat that matched her clothing. Presentation was everything and, on this day, it had to be flawless. She picked up her white handbag from the hallstand. “I’m off now mum,” she called.

Her mother entered the hall from the kitchen and scrutinised Holly from a distance. “You look pale in white, dear. Good luck with the interview.”

Holly waved to her mother, opened the front door, stepped through the doorway and closed the door behind her. Her mother wouldn’t have noticed but the closing of the door was symbolic, a gesture to signify the beginning of a new life. She turned at the bottom of the steps and looked back at the two storey Glebe terrace that had been her home since arriving from England. Soon the house would be where she visited her mother and father, instead of her home. A new job was in the offing and the increase in salary would allow her to step out of the family shadow and make her way in the world. It was a long time in coming but this interview for the librarian’s job at the State Library of New South Wales in Macquarie Street was the beginning. Today, she would become an example of what a woman could achieve on her own.

She had just closed her front gate when a black and white FC Holden pulled into the kerb. A man, around six feet tall and thin as a whippet, stepped out, He wore a black single-breasted suit with its jacket buttons undone, a white shirt, and narrow black tie. As soon as he was out of the car he placed a snap front black trilby on his head at a jaunty angle. Holly glared him. She would have liked to look him in the eyes, but they were covered by sun glasses.

He smiled and held out his hand. “No first day jitters then.”

First day jitters. Holly had no idea what he was talking about. “I don’t understand.”

“Your first day at the library, of course. I’m here to give you a lift and introduce you to the staff.”

Holly took a step back and glared at the man. “Should I know you?”

“We met yesterday . . . don’t you remember?”

She was perplexed. She had never seen the man.

The man raised an eyebrow; an inquisitive gesture, wasted when wearing sunglasses. “Oooh dear, you sure you don’t know me?”

Holly remained perplexed, the man seemed a little odd. She moved backward through her front gate. Not easy in mid-heeled shoes but she felt it necessary.

The man closed his eyes and a shadow fell across his face. As she watched him, he pressed his right fist into the side of his head and reopened his eyes.

He lowered his sunnies to the end of his nose and peeped at Holly. “What day is it?”

“September 26th.”

“The year?”

“1960, of course.”

The man paused for a moment then continued. “Oooh dear. I do apologise. We were celebrating a football win. We got full of booze and bad manners and must have taken too many stimulants. I’m here a day early.”

The man didn’t make sense. Holly backed up the steps toward her front door “Who are you?”

The man smiled, his shadow disappeared. “Lucian Rowling Helldale at your service. I am sorry about this. I must be scaring you. It happens sometimes . . . when things are out of sequence.”

“What things?”

“You know . . . things out of order. Carts and horses, yang and yin, death and life. That sort of thing.”

The man didn’t appear to be able to get any expression into its correct order. She felt an urgent need to call her father. She would introduce him to this strange man before she went for her interview. Her father would know what to do.

Helldale’s eyes scrunched, “I don’t have time, I’m sorry.”

“Time for what?”

“To meet your father . . . look, I really am sorry. Why don’t I just disappear and meet you again when I should?”

Holly watched from the top of the steps as Helldale turned on his heels and walked back to his car. To meet your father repeated itself in her head. How did he know? She glanced at her watch. It was time to move or she would miss her bus. Contemplation would have to wait. As the car moved away, she let out a sigh of relief.

She walked to the bus stop, sat on the seat and waited. Five minutes turned to ten. She glanced at her watch and looked along Glebe Point Road for the green and yellow of the bus. It was late. She calculated time. Forty minutes until her scheduled interview. Twenty-five minutes for the all stops bus journey. Everything had been so perfect but now the time window was closing. A single bead of perspiration formed at her hairline. She stood and walked around the small bus shelter, then stepped from the kerb and peered along the street.

She was surprised when the black and white FC Holden pulled up at the stop and Lucian Helldale leaned over to the passenger’s side of the car and wound down the window.

“Miss Penworthy?”

She was taken aback. Helldale spoke as if he was addressing her for the first time. This time she determined to ignore him. Besides, she didn’t talk to men who leaned across cars to talk to her. She snubbed him and stared at the top of her handbag.

“I’m sorry, Miss Penworthy. I’m on my way to the library, thought I could gave you a lift.”

She glared at him. A question struck. How did he know her name? How did he know she was going to the library? “Apart from talking to you five minutes ago . . . should I know you?” she asked.

“No . . . but I can introduce myself if you wish.”

She stood and glanced at her watch. “That won’t be necessary,”

“I’m afraid it may be necessary. Your bus has been delayed. It won’t arrive for another forty minutes.”

Holly looked at her watch again. She would miss her appointment. She felt a tiny chill in her heart, her first sign of panic.

Helldale drove the car forward a few yards and pulled into the kerb. He got out. “I’m just offering you a lift to your interview,”

She looked up him. He was at least six inches taller than her. “How do you know my name?” she demanded.

“I know far more than your name. Holly Penworthy. Born London, 1926. Daughter of Tom and Bernice Penworthy. Family migrated to Australia in 1955. You would have preferred to remain as assistant librarian at the Ashford Library in Kent and marry your boyfriend Kenneth Formby, but you bowed to maternal pressure not to break up the family. Took up a position with the Sydney University Library in 1956 and have been promoted twice in the four years you’ve been in the job. You’re currently looking to expand your horizons and have applied for the position of Librarian at the State Public Library.”

Holly’s tiny chill turned to an icy river. She took two steps back from Helldale and looked around for someone to help. There was no one in sight. She thought about running but decided against it. Backing away from Helldale had proved that her shoe selection was wrong for the circumstances.

Helldale smiled at her. For a moment she thought he was about to laugh at her discomfort but then noticed warmth in his smile. There were small dimples on his cheeks and his brown eyes seemed to sparkle. His cheekbones were high set and his jaw was square. His thin nose and perfect teeth reminded her of dental adverts in the Women’s Weekly.

“I can see I’m making you nervous. I’m sorry, but I need to discuss something with you. I promise I’ll drive you straight to the library.”

“Who are you first?”

My friends call me Lucian.”

“You told me your name. I want to know who you are.”

He removed a card from his jacket pocket and handed it to her. “I’m the CRO — Chief Recruiting Officer, for the company.”

She read the card. It showed a name but no address or phone number. Inscribed across the front of the card were the letters L.I.E.U. She remembered seeing the letters in the same font somewhere in her past. In her mind they were black on a white background. This card showed them as navy blue on a beige background. “What does the name mean?”

“I’ll tell you, but not until I have your trust.”

With the bus being late, she felt she had no choice but to accede to the offer of the lift. She nodded to Helldale, who opened the passenger’s side front door for her and closed it again after she was seated. She held on to the door handle as Helldale walked around the car and opened the driver’s side door.

Once settled in, he looked across at her, smiled. “I understand you’re nervous but there’s no need to squeeze the life out of the door handle.”

He started the car and headed toward Parramatta Road. “I promise I’ll stick to the main roads. You’ll be quite safe.”

Holly ignored everything said and didn’t loosen her grip on the door handle until the car turned into Art Gallery Road and then onto Hospital Road.

Helldale brought the car to a stop adjacent to the library.

“Twenty-three minutes to spare. You have plenty of time. Can we talk?”

Holly opened the car door to check for reaction. There wasn’t one. She left the car and walked to a nearby park bench. She was confused, looked at her watch. He was right, twenty-three minutes to spare. How could he be so precise without looking at his watch? She glanced at the rear of the library building; no more than a minute’s walk. She had time to hear whatever it was Helldale had to say. Besides, the logo on his business card had her intrigued. It had significance. She had seen it before. She tried to place the memory, without success.

Helldale leaned over the back of his seat and retrieved a leather bag, prior to joining her. He opened the bag. “I’m about to show you something you won’t have seen before. It won’t harm you.”

With that, he extracted a flat rectangular device from his bag and pressed it in the top left-hand corner. The letters L.I.E.U. were emblazoned on a backlit screen.

Holly put her fist to her mouth and tried to move from the seat.

Helldale put his hand up to stop her leaving. “This is called a tablet. I want to show you something.” Without waiting for Holly to respond, he placed his closed hand on the screen and then separated his fingers. The screen filled with rows of tiny images.

Holly gasped.

Helldale surveyed the miniature images and chose one. He repeated the finger spreading motion until a single image filled the screen. It was the front of the Library.

Holly gasped again as she studied the image. “What is this?” she asked, meaning the device and not the image.

“This is a photo of the library. There are many more.”

His finger pressed the screen and images changed.

Holly recognised every photograph as belonging to the library. “Not the images, what is the device?”

Helldale ignored the question. “You’ve seen the honour board I take it . . . the one listing the names of librarians?”

“Yes . . . of course.”

“Good.”

He brought up a photo of the honour roll and showed it to Holly.

She stared at the image. The part of the roll in the photo showed the years 1956 to 1972. All of the names were filled in. Goosebumps covered her arms. Her mind froze. This wasn’t possible. This photo appeared to be from the future.

“Your name isn’t on the list,”

Holly screamed, as she pointed at the tablet. “What is this?”

Helldale ignored her, again, and continued. “You were the preferred candidate for the post but you failed to show for the interview.”

Holly was terrified. What was he going to do to her? She had to get away. She leaped from the seat and ran toward the library building. She stopped at the corner, before looking back at the seat. Helldale sat looking at his screen and moving his fingers across it. He appeared to be paying no attention to her. She looked at her watch. Still twenty minutes to go before her interview. She was ten seconds from the main doors to the building. The man was wrong; she would be there for her interview. She looked toward Helldale. He still hadn’t moved. She looked around and saw people in the Domain. Three council workers were working less than fifty yards away. Others walked along the road picking up rubbish. She would be safe if she stayed away from Helldale. Surely a scream would bring help?

She walked down the hill until she was fifteen feet from Helldale. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“Simple. I wish to offer you a position with L.I.E.U. We’re in need of a new librarian and you were chosen.”

Holly didn’t listen to the answer. She asked another question. “How can you have the photos you have . . . in that thing?”

“I will explain all once you accept the position. You just need to say yes.”

Holly wandered close to where he sat. She peered again at the tablet screen. “Where did you get this thing?”

Helldale smiled and lifted the tablet toward her. “An electronics store in London. It’s the latest model. They’ve only been out for a few weeks.”

“And the photos?”

“I took them with my phone.” He reached into his jacket pocket and extracted his smart phone.

Holly’s mouth dropped open when she saw the small rectangular tablet. She watched as he pressed an indentation on the bottom of the phone and a screen lit up showing a range of icons. He pressed some of the small icons and handed the phone to Holly. “Point the phone toward the three workers over there. They will appear on the screen. Once you have them in centre screen, press the button that looks like a camera.”

Holly pointed the phone at the men and moved it around until they were in the centre of the screen. She pressed the camera icon and heard a click.

Helldale took the camera back and pressed the bottom corner of the screen. He handed the phone back to Holly. “Your photo.”

She stared at the screen in disbelief. The image on the screen, when she pressed the button, was now on the screen again. She moved the screen to point it away from the workers. The image remained. “How . . . ” she let the sentence drift off. She couldn’t comprehend what was going on so saw no point in continuing to ask questions. She glanced at her watch again. Still plenty of time. “You said I was chosen to be your new librarian. How and why?”

Helldale returned the phone to his pocket. “You were chosen by the library board. The reasons are twofold. First, you will be great in the role and second, you owe the library a debt.”

She had no idea where the conversation was heading but was becoming more and more intrigued. “Debt?”

“Yes. You will remember, in 1940 your parents sent you to Agarle to stay with your aunt and uncle.”

Holly sat down on the bench as she remembered the war years. “You’re wrong. They were going to but they didn’t.”

“Fact is they did. You were in the house when a German bomber ran out of fuel. The library door appeared, and you were saved.”

“I was never there.”

Helldale opened his leather case and returned the tablet to its holder. “When I showed you my card, you realised you’d seen the letters before, but the colours were different. You saw the black lettering on a white background in the entry foyer of the library. Your memory of the incident was put on hold when you left the portal.”

“That’s not possible.”

“Normally no, but there are exceptions and you’re one of them.”

“I don’t believe anything you say to me. Next thing you’ll be telling me you’re an alien of some kind. I’ve seen science fiction movies.”

“Not at all. I’m human, just like you. The only difference is, I work for L.I.E.U. and have the ability to travel through time. The year is now 1960. You are thirty-four. I am fifty-two years old but the date of my birth is in five days from now. I will be born at the Woman’s Hospital in Crown Street. I will be removed from my unwed mother and put up for adoption. The recipients have already been chosen.”

Holly crossed her arms and stood tall. “You’re talking nonsense. I don’t believe anything you say.”

“Then I’ll make a deal with you.”

“What deal?”

“When I approached you at the bus stop you were looking at your watch. Do you remember the time?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will drop you back at the bus stop at that exact time. You won’t remember my being there. However, when you realise you won’t make it to your interview you’ll look for my car. Once you enter the car, you’ll remember everything we have discussed and we’ll go from there.”

“There isn’t time.”

“There’s all the time in the world.”

“No you’re wrong. I intend to leave here now and go to my appointment. I will arrive early.”

Helldale looked her in the eyes. “It will make no difference. You’re not here at the moment. You’re at a bus stop waiting for a bus that’s running forty minutes late. No matter what you do, you can’t attend your interview.”

Holly turned and walked to the front of the building. “We’ll see.”

She stood at the entry door, examining the Daphne Mayo aboriginal sculptures, until her composure returned. She took a deep breath and entered the building. Her friend, Beryl Matthews stood at the reception desk. Holly walked toward her. She was surprised when, instead of acknowledging her presence, Beryl stood from her chair and walked straight past her, as if she didn’t exist.

“She can’t see you.”

Holly spun on her heels as she heard Helldale speak.

“I’m sorry Holly but you aren’t here. Beryl didn’t see you. I’ll explain how it all works once you take up your position.”

Holly Penworthy took the only action available to her. She fainted.

We’ll Meet Again — 1960

CAMELIEL Cameron was besotted with Holly Penworthy from the first time he set eyes on her. He couldn’t decide whether it was the expression on her face, when she realised L.I.E.U. was not your normal library, or her appearance. Cam loved the purity of white and she was wearing a white twin set with white skirt, white shoes, and matching handbag. Even her short blonde hair was tucked into a white woollen hat. This was the ultimate expression of purity for a man who thought the only way to dress was to be as colourful as a rainbow. Beyond the clothes, what grabbed him most were the deep green of her eyes and the perky tilt of her nose. She looked to be mid-thirties and well out of her depth. She was introduced by Lucian Helldale who, as usual, looked like a refugee from a Blues Brothers movie; resplendent in a black suit, white shirt, white socks, and sunnies. For this special occasion, he had removed the red wine stains from his tie.

The wide-eyed expression on Holly’s face didn’t surprise Cam. It’s not easy for anyone to comprehend that while L.I.E.U. represents a library, it is not quite as expected. It has something of an analogous but separate nature and that flabbergasts some people.

For the purpose of having Holly enter her new universe, Helldale had driven her to the L.I.E.U. building in Paddington. From the outside, the building appears to be a typical suburban terrace with fading paintwork and a narrow frontage. There is a small bookstore on its ground floor with an apartment above. It’s on the inside where the building differs from all others in the street.

After introductions, Helldale left Cam to show Holly the ropes and introduce her to the rules and regulations. In short, to describe how everything worked.

“I’m Cameliel Cameron, call me Cam.”

“And where do you fit in?”

Question up front. “I’m the Fifth Assistant Librarian.”

“Fifth assistant. Are there more?”

“Yes. But none are here at the moment. They’re off sliding somewhere.”

“Sliding?”

“We’re time sliders. We’re designated as assistant librarians but sometimes we’re time cops. We investigate breaches of the rules by examining them at the time they occur. We go anywhere at any time. At least that’s what the slogan would say if we advertised.”

Holly shook her head. Cam could tell comprehension was still a long way off but she couldn’t perform her duties without being comfortable with the concept. He decided to shortcut the explanation. “Come this way.”

She followed him through a door to a dressing room.

“This is where we check our clothing and appearance to make sure it is coordinated with the time of our destination. Look at the mirror.”

“For what reason?”

“You’ll see. Now close your eyes and remember what you looked like when you were ten.”

Helldale’s devices had intrigued her. She figured this to be the next stage of enlightenment, so closed her eyes.

Cam gazed at the mirror as Holly’s form morphed. “When you open your eyes you will see a small child wearing a blue dress and scuffed shoes. One of your socks is pulled up and the other one is around your ankle.”

Holly opened her eyes and gawped at her reflection. “How?” she muttered in an adolescent voice.

“It happens and we accept it. It’s part of the tools of trade. Would you like to try for yourself at eighty?”

The small girl shook her head.

“Think of yourself when you arrived here.”

Holly closed her eyes and returned to her normal form. She looked surprised when she reopened her eyes, but a slight smile tilted her mouth and her gaze indicated that she had filed something away.

Cam gestured for her to look at the adjacent dressing room. “This is where we choose clothing to wear. Think of the era and the clothing appears. It’s simple once you get used to it.”

She walked between rows of hangers. She closed her eyes and flapper clothing appeared on the hangers. She opened them again and ran her fingers across the fabric of a golden silk dress. The distracted smile of Mona Lisa crossed her face. The learning curve would be short.

Holly rubbed the golden material against her face. “What is L.I.E.U. exactly?”

Cam grinned at her. “Some say the Literary Institute at the End of the Universe. You see, despite what some humans think, we are not at the centre of any universe. Earth is simply a spec on the horizon of infinity.” He hesitated for effect. “Alternately, our benefactors stole part of a book title from Douglas Adams. Of course, there is a far more technical explanation. Light Interrupting Educational Unit is its real name, but it doesn’t sound anywhere near as exotic.”

“And what’s its purpose?”

The question was profound. Despite being an assistant librarian for some time he had failed to fathom the complete answer. He knew snippets but had not yet discovered the library’s full purpose. From what he had found, its purpose lay somewhere between futuristic theme park and time travelling study centre. The tossed coin was still in the air.

“Now you have to trust me. Give me your hand. We need to be physically connected for the next bit.” He took Holly’s hand, told her to close her eyes, and thought of their destination.

When she reopened her eyes they were standing is a pentagonal room with the words L.I.E.U. inscribed in black marble tiles on a white floor. He took her through a doorway marked LIBRARY and stood her in front of a book case.

“As you can see, the book on the right is The Book of Fictional Grievances. This book contains the grievances of fictional characters who believe their authors have either not developed them to a point that satisfies their needs or have been misused in some way.”

“Fictional characters?”

“Yes. As a librarian you know, better than most, authors give characters life. Readers get involved in what happens to the characters in novels. Fact is, if you don’t get involved you won’t finish the book.”

Holly’s face was masked in incredulity. “Are you telling me characters can complain?”

“Of course they can. We investigate issues and have a word with the author if the character has a case.”

“And how do we do this?”

“We use the time travelling function of the library, research why the character was developed, and what led to the grievance. In short, we sit at the author’s shoulder and take notes.”

“Some books take years to write.”

“No problem. We time slide to cut out the boring bits.”

Holly’s furrowed brow indicated that she didn’t understand the concept.

Cam let her ponder. “Now I must explain the next book. This tome is called The Book of Unresolved Grievances. This book contains tribulations that we must resolve. We, the royal we that is, and by that I really mean you, must solve any grievances that appear in this book. They are grievances between our mentors and the users of L.I.E.U.”

Holly shot Cam another glance of incomprehension. “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. You seem to be telling me I have to resolve grievances.”

He shook his head. “No. The grievances in question are beyond resolution. It’s your task to deliver the retribution.”

“I understand less and less.”

Cam smiled at her. She didn’t return the gesture. He continued. “The people who created the library determine the matters to be solved and we investigate. If nothing else, these investigations keep our minds agile.”

“You’ve met the people who run this place?”

“I’ve seen a photo of one of them. A woman. Unfortunately, when I saw her she was dead, so I didn’t learn much. Her compatriots invented the three second delay in her honour.”

“Three second delay?”

“When we travel, we are three seconds behind reality at any given instant. If we’re at the exact time, we could be seen, might communicate with the people around us, and therefore become part of their history. That is forbidden. We can’t interfere with history — past or future. The three second delay ensures we can’t intervene. However, we can still hear people and even talk to them under the right circumstances. Three seconds in front was tried but gave some librarians ideas about preventing history from occurring. Our greatest dilemma, as most librarians have the desire to prevent bad things from happening. Mind you, we can override the time delay but it’s both dangerous and the reason for the disappearance of some assistant librarians. They tend to see something they like and go for it.”

Holly opened the unresolved grievance book. Instead of pages, she found the outer cover hid a flat screen with an embedded row of buttons. She glanced at Cam and raised her eyebrows.

Cam stood beside her and showed her the controls. “The bottom on the left gives you the case number. The following button shows you, in detail, the grievance. The next button gives you the perpetrators life to date and the final button, the end of the perpetrators life. Your job is to interfere with said life without changing history. You must study in detail the perpetrator and the grievance. You will then plan your strategy and carry out the appropriate measure of justice.”

“I have a choice in all of this?”

“No. You have been chosen as our new Librarian and you are here. There is no going back.”

“I can walk out through the door and catch the bus from here back to Central. I don’t have to do any of this.”

“I take it you agree we are in 1960.”

Holly nodded.

Cam took her hand, again, and led her through the pentagon to the outer door of the bookshop. He opened the door for her and they walked into a crowded street. Vendors’ stalls stretched for as far as the eye could see in either direction. People passed, listening to the silent world of iPods. Holly had never imaged the mode of dress. The formality of 1960 had been replaced by the informality of 2019.

“Just bump into someone. You will have no contact. Everyone is where they were three seconds before you see them. Call out if you like. See if you can gain anyone’s attention.”

She screamed at the top of her lungs. No one listened. Her eyes flickered. Holly had stored more knowledge.

Cam could tell. They returned to the bookshop where Cam pulled a sheet of paper from the pocket of his jeans. “These are a few things I jotted down for you.”

***

  1. You must undertake the tasks requested without interference with history.
  2. You will not get ill for the duration of your tenure. See note 7.
  3. Within the influence of the time machine you will not age. Outside of time machine influence, you will age at your normal rate.
  4. The library was inaugurated in 2253 and contains all major written works throughout history.
  5. Food is provided in the kitchen.
  6. Enjoy your stay.
  7. If you travel without the delay timer, you may be killed or die. The time machine cannot help you under those circumstances.

***

Holly turned to Cam. “Where do you fit in?”

“As I said, I'm your assistant.”

“How much time do I have to learn . . . everything?”

“Infinite.”

“A question . . . when we were outside, what year was it?”

“2019.”

Holly studied Cam from head to toe. Blue jeans and multicoloured sneakers, a t-shirt was emblazoned with The Eagles — Hell Freezes Over Tour. Hair was unruly and lightly gelled. “And when did you join the library?”

Cam laughed and his face beamed. “Not until a month or so from now . . . I’m your first task. You have to recruit me into the system as your fifth assistant . . . you see, time removes the boundaries that give reason for things to occur in chronological order. Don’t worry, you’ll soon understand.”

Holly remembered fainting in front of Lucian Helldale. She had the urge to do it again.

About The Author

 

BARRY Dean is a mid-century relic. A fossilised remnant of a young boy born in 1949 in Lithgow.

From his early days as a long-haired muso with attitude, Barry worked as a techncian, construction inspector, engineer and engineering consultant before a stint as an expert witness for barristers sparked an interest in writing fiction.

Inspired by the likes of Douglas Adams, Roald Dahl and Terry Pratchett, writing fiction that sits just to the left of reality appeals to Barry’s quirkier tendencies.

In his writing, Barry has created a world of his own making, inspired by the music of life, global travel, a love of history and old ruins, and observation. In fact, his first novel The Garden of Emily Washburn (Hague Publishing, 2012) was inspired by watching the Cannes Film Festival and the incongruous sight of a beautiful woman on the arm of a man “with a head like a Picasso painting”.

Barry splits his time between the home he shares with wife Theresa on the shores of the River Tamar and indulging a love of travel. At any given time, you can find him immersed in fiction writing, photography, curating a vintage guitar collection, or jamming with other ancient musos.

For more information visit http://barrydean42.com

The moral rights of Barry Dean to be identified as the author of this work have been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher.

Copyright 2019 Hague Publishing

Hague Publishing
PO Box 451
Bassendean Western Australia 6934
Web: www.HaguePublishing.com

ISBN 978-0-6480503-7-7 & 978-0-6480503-8-4

Cover Art: In LIEU by Jade Zivanovic https://www.steampowerstudios.com.au/

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www.HaguePublishing.com

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