Thursday, September 8, 2011

New Story

Mr. Tinnis Goes To The Intergalactic Subscription Agency (and other fantastic places)

 Part I

Andromeda Library
Planet Octon Branch
Rezzot star cycle 17,000.01

Mr. Tinnis entered the Reference Sphere knowing his workload was about to increase astronomically. Anxiously hopping from one set of feet to the other, he glanced around for a comfortable seat. But the chairs were made for people with only two buttocks!

His normally bright orange skin faded to a light tangerine when Mr. Fips, the Reference Librarian, sent a withering stare from his upper four eyes. Fips’ lower four scanned a gold data stream flowing across the top of his ebony desk.

“Mr. Tinnis,” Fips hollered, his baritone voice echoing off the concave walls, “why aren’t you doing your job in the Get Stuff Department?”

Tinnis folded his long, narrow arms, certain that he was doing his job. Why just yesterday he received new acquisitions of gaseous thought-works from planets in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Before Tinnis formulated a response, Fips continued. “Doesn’t your job include getting infomedia from the Milky Way Galaxy?”

“Yes, I buy from everyone in the Local Group including…”

“Then how is it possible that a Patron on Barometer Five requested infomedia from Sol-ar System--Planet Earth--History--22nd century but our QUANTUM-DB-9000 tells me we have nothing after their 21st century?”

Fips reshaped his squat neck into a ropy extension, leaning his head forward until it stopped millimeters from Tinnis’ nose. Tinnis stretched his neck backwards. Leaning sideways, he noticed a twinkling blue light on Fips’ desk.

“Patron on Monitor Two,” Tinnis said, pointing with his right-four index fingers. Fips crunched his neck back to normal. He tapped on a Deep Space Access Cube with a flashing identity display.

“How may I assist you, Mr. Kai?” he asked a Patron whose head was covered with spiky red antennae.

Tinnis pulled a rag from his turquoise uniform and wiped his forehead. Was Fips correct in his accusation? Had Tinnis failed to acquire infomedia needed by a Patron, thereby shaming the legacy of the beloved ancestors?

[Ancient Octons developed multiple limbs and senses during primeval competitions for territory and satellite time, eventually devoting their superior physiology to intergalactic library service.]

Tinnis glanced around the sphere, hollow except for the reference desk and the unsuitable chairs. He wondered to himself: what use were his eight arms, legs, eyes and ears if he had failed to predict a Patron request? Like all Octons, Tinnis had only one head and spine, but that was no excuse.

He paced around the desk, pausing to watch Fips send infomedia to Mr. Kai via a Universal Desktop Transmitter.

"Enjoy this cinemusical from Visalia’s Star. Remember, the Octon Branch of Andromeda Library is First-In-Service."

The Patron spun his antennae and faded from view. Fips faced Tinnis.

“You see I'm doing my job. What are you doing?”

“This morning I ordered infostuff from Andromeda’s future via the time-traveling vendors of Planet Kismo’s Third Incarnation,” Tinnis said proudly.

“Future pubs can wait. Today our Patron needs Earth history. My--that is, our branch’s--reputation is at stake!”

“Hmm,” Tinnis mused. “The Intergalactic Subscription Agency might have an Earth book in their warehouse, perhaps an item deemed too trivial for our grand collection.”

"Nothing is too trivial if a Patron wants it,” Fips declared. “Take the next Black Hole Express and see what that useless Subscription Agency has in stock.”

“Yes, Mr. Fips,” Tinnis said. He pivoted on four of his heels and left the Reference Sphere.

The Get Stuff Dept.

“I know I must, but I hate traveling,” Tinnis mumbled, trotting down a ribbon of helical staircases to the Get Stuff Dept. Swinging eight arms wildly he displaced hologenerators and opdiscs from the desks of colleagues who wailed in protest.

Oblivious to his destruction, Tinnis stopped before Mrs. Biblioni’s office. His boss’ door vanished; she appeared and sang in a soprano:

“There you are, Mr. Tinnis, I need a favor.”

“I’m off to Intergalactic, Mrs. B.”

“Now? The Future Pubs Department needs help loading new software.”

“Can’t Mr. Zap do that? It’s his department.”

Biblioni pulled Tinnis into her office; her door rematerialized. “You know Zap can’t handle new tech, he’s still learning upgrades from thirty cycles ago! For the Octon Branch to remain First-In-Service, Zap must access lists from Planet Kismo’s Fourth Incarnation.”

“Fourth?” Tinnis cried. “This morning I bought future Andromeda works from Kismo’s Third Incarnation! Anyway, Mr. Fips needs a history from Earth’s 22nd century."

“Isn’t Earth that silly little planet that organizes people by parachute colors? Never mind, Patrons come first. However, before you leave, please help Zap with his upgrade?” Biblioni smiled with several rows of lips.

“Okay,” Tinnis said.

In the Future Pubs Dept., Mr. Zap hovered by Tinnis whose dozens of fingers tapped rapidly over a kaleidoscopic keyboard. He swatted at Zap to make room for a heads-up display communicating with a KismoSat fluctuating in space-time. After downloading the new software, Tinnis waved to Zap.

“Press this green light when it’s steady to receive the list of future Andromeda pubs from Kismo’s Fourth Incarnation. Do not touch it when it flickers or you’ll disconnect with the Sat and I’ll have to do this all over again.”

“Tinny, you’re the indispensable Octon!” Zap said.

The Black Hole Express, Terminal Six

Tinnis hurried to the Departures platform, grimacing at a whirlpool of particles draining into the singularity. Why did cosmic engineers build transportation portals inside the most claustrophobic formations in the Universe? Sure Librarians want to go to the end of eternity for a Patron, but now they had the means to get there!

A conductor droned in a bored voice: “Passengers, please enter Pier Two. At the signal, you will jump into the Hole.”

Tinnis' fellow voyagers stood on a narrow extension suspended over a field of white light trapped at the rim of the singularity. They waited patiently until a somber bell tolled once. Then everyone except Tinnis leaped into the vortex. He tendered a foot forward, retracting it as if from a chill ocean.

“Passenger on Pier Two: this is your final warning: jump!” the conductor hollered.

Tinnis made a face and held his noses. As he worked up the courage to leap, the pier under his feet dematerialized; the Hole sucked him in.

Tinnis closed his eyes and held his breath as his body stretched into an absurd strand of meandering flesh. An elaborate fugue accented the crossing, vibrating the tiny hairs of his skin as he raced through the core. Suddenly, his elongated form contracted, snapping back to normal. He popped out of the Hole, exhaling. A pilot with a remote manipulator arm lifted Tinnis off the event horizon and stuffed him into a shuttle with other weary travelers.

Universal Space Station #253
Module 8: The Intergalactic Subscription Agency
13,000,000,000.02 B.B.

Tinnis gazed up at his friend Hutch, a long-eared Quadop, flying through the warehouse. Hutch braked his uni-prop aero-ladder to interfile zines from an armful of fibers and photon-cards. Tinnis leaned forward to catch a falling volume.

Hutch looked down. “Thanks, Tinny. D’y’want that one?”

“No. We don't buy books in Quasarian, too wishy-washy.”

Hutch landed softly then hopped toward Tinnis, narrowing his four cerulean eyes. Hutch’s long, white whiskers stiffened; he snatched the tome from Tinnis’ hand.

“Snob. No wonder Octon fills the fewest Inter-Library Loans.”

Tinnis chuckled, following his friend down a narrow aisle between towering stacks.

“S’OK. I have an Earth pub for you," Hutch said hopping into a round hole in the floor. Looking up, he waved a paw at Tinnis.


Tinnis hesitated then leaped but his multiple extensions did not clear the gap, trapping him in mid-passage. Hutch pulled a lever, widening the mechanical iris until Tinnis fell smack on his bottoms.


Tinnis crawled onto a sofa in Hutch’s office. “I'm okay, show me the pub.”

Hutch tossed a silver cylinder to Tinnis then sat at his desk, tapping on a Desktop Universal Transmitter.

Tinnis examined the cylinder's engraved title: CERN Creates Black Hole! What’s Next for Humanity? “This is from 2099. It’s too early,” he complained.

“That’s all Earth was selling when my buyer Gallymore Minker stopped there on her cyclical trip to the Sol-ar System,” Hutch said. “It’s a good book; creating a black hole was a great accomplishment for Earth. It shortened Gally’s trip there by eons.”

"Where is she now?"

“Gally's at the Great Wall of Galaxies buying astronomy books for me.”

“Astronomy of what?”

“Intergalactic space. I’m writing a book about my family's first Subscription Agency!”



“Sorry, Hutch, but last cycle I bought info-stuff in billions of languages: same stories, different places. Yet what does Fips want? A history of 22nd century Earth!

“As far as studying your galactic past, all you'll see is your great-grand ancestor hopping about the first Subscription Agency worrying where the latest tablet from some god-forsaken, war-torn planet is . . .”

“You need a field trip,” Hutch interrupted, his floppy ears pointing upward. “We’ll go to Earth and find out why they aren’t publishing. That will cheer you up. And the terrestrial scenery will inspire me.”

Hutch tapped furiously on the Transmitter then hopped over his desk. “We’re on the next Black Hole Express to Earth!”

Part II

Milky Way
Planet Earth
Sol-ar System cycle 2202.03 C.E.

Tinnis and Hutch sat at a polished-sand table outside a small café. Tinnis sipped a fizzy, gold drink; Hutch ate heartily from a delta-shaped piece of folded bread dripping with milky goo.

“What's that?” Tinnis asked.

“It's a kay-sa-dee-ya. Want a bite?”

“You know Black Hole trips make me nauseous.”

“Not me. But I have had a headache since we arrived,” Hutch said, polishing off his dinner with a greenish liquid from a glass rimmed with salt.

“Where are we?” Tinnis asked.

“Las Vegas, Nevada. We’re meeting the book dealer who sold Gally that antique cylinder you didn’t want.”

Tinnis held lower-eyes contact with Hutch while his uppers gazed at thematically-sculptured buildings. As night fell, lights brightened until the city sparkled like a globular cluster. Tinnis returned full attention to Hutch when the Quadop stood, extending a furry paw to a human.

“Hello, Kipper. Haven’t seen you since the Antiquarian Fair in Bangkok.”

Kipper, a tall but narrow brown creature with only two eyes, hugged Hutch. “How the hell are you? Oh, my,” he said to Tinnis. “You’re the strangest looking’ ET yet. I’m Kip Sanmartin, happy to meet you.”

Tinnis stared at the man’s extended hand, unsure which of his own to offer. Kip grabbed the nearest one then waved for them to follow.

“This is the Strip, the most fun this side of Red Rock Canyon--though we haven't had a new show in ages.”

“Where are we going?” Tinnis asked. And what did Vegas’ problems have to do with his quest for a 22nd century history of Earth?

“Here,” Kip said, opening a frosted-glass door: “Welcome to the Wild Librarian Saloon.”

Inside a dimly-lit hall, tables and chairs sat on wood plank floors sprinkled with yellow vegetable matter. A narrow counter ran along the left side. A sign over the bar demanded: Order Your Poison! (Quietly, Please.)

A young female with red hair folded into a thick, neat bun rested a boot on a chrome foot railing. She leaned over the bar, pursing her lips at the wall mirror. An inch of pink-lace undergarment peeked out from under her tiny black leather skirt.

Tinnis stared at her long, tan legs. She turned to reveal a heart-shaped face with curled eyelashes and burgundy lips.

“What are you lookin’ at, Cowboy?” She smiled slyly.

Kip stretched an arm around the Octon’s shoulders, guiding him away.

“With six more legs like that she’d be a real beauty,” Tinnis said.

“That’s Mayleen Landwalker,” Kip said, stopping at a round table. “She’s the Info-Master at Nevada Singularity Control.”

A waiter wearing a cowboy hat approached. “Hi, Kip. What’s new in the antiquarian biz? Your friends look like they’re from–-way out of town.”

Kip glanced at Hutch: “I brought Gallymore Minker here for lunch. Nevadans aren’t shocked by alien visitors. Right, Bud?”

“That’s right,” said the waiter. “We had the Extraterrestrial Highway long before CERN’s Black Hole brought ETs to Earth and outed the truth. So, what's your poison?”

“Beers all around,” Kit said.

When Bud returned with three glasses, Tinnis sniffed at the foamy topping; Hutch took a long, satisfying drink then grabbed his head.

“Drink slowly,” Kip warned.

“It’s not the beer. I got this headache after we popped out of the Black Hole Station in your desert. I was thinking of a phrase to describe the pink cacti when my head went--thwoop,” Hutch said.

“Like a piece of your mind was sucked out?” Kip asked. “If I'd known you guys had imagination, I'd have warned you: creativity gets zapped by the Black Hole Virus.”

“Hope it’s not contagious,” Tinnis said moving his chair away from Hutch. He was already discomforted with his bottoms spilling over the tiny seat. He didn’t want to get sick too; people with eight nostrils avoided colds like supernovae.

Hutch tapped Kip on the arm, “Is this Virus affecting publishing?”

“Affecting? It destroyed it! That cylinder about CERN’s Black Hole which I sold to Gally was Earth's final publication. Our imagination has been under attack since 2101.”

"The start of your 22nd century!" Tinnis exclaimed. “That's why you have no history pubs since then." Now that he had an answer for Fips' Patron, Tinnis rose to leave. He sat again when Hutch asked:

"How are you combating this Virus?”

Kip beckoned to Mayleen, shifting in his seat so she could squeeze next to him. “Darlin’, tell us how the NSC engineers are handling the Virus.”

“They’re stumped like all Black Hole operators,” Mayleen said. “New ideas get sucked out of their brains as soon as they think of them. They fight back with software from the 21st century. Ancient Norton gives us time for a burst of creativity-–a short story, a new dance step—but the Virus overwhelms it and it’s rerun city.”

Hutch mouthed re-run city?

Mayleen tapped Tinnis’ shoulder. “Let's go there. I'll call the Chief Scientist.”

"Well . . ." Tinnis protested.

"C'mon, Tinny," Hutch pleaded. "Maybe we can help."

Tinnis helped his friend stand. They followed the humans who had linked arms while leading their guests down the street to Mayleen’s aerovan. They flew over the dark desert to Nevada Singularity Control.

A bumpy landing upset Tinnis’ stomachs. He leaned on Hutch as they walked across a field of tumbleweeds.

“This trip better end soon or Earth is going to have two sick extraterrestrials.”

A silo loomed overhead; hidden fixtures spotlighted the encircling landscape of green and pink cacti. The humans and aliens squeezed into an elevator that dropped twelve stories. Mayleen led the group through winding corridors, pausing at a glass partition.

“That’s the power unit that opens the Hole at Nevada Station,” she said.

Tinnis shivered gazing at the chain of revolving cylinders. He turned around as Mayleen completed an identity scan at a steel door that clicked open. The group entered a laboratory with oblong walls covered in electronic grids. Tinnis gagged at the scent of sour vegetation, tracing the smell to three scientists eating lunch at a counter. A woman approached wiping her hands on a white lab coat.

“I’m Jane. Are you Tinnis?”

“These boys traveled from intergalactic space to help us kill the Virus,” Kip said.

Tinnis raised hands in protest. Jane grasped one firmly, pulling him toward a monitor where a line graph spiked up on the right.

“That’s the Virus’ strength,” she said.

“How do you know it causes headaches?” Hutch asked, rubbing the fur between his ears.

“Early in 2101," Jane said, "headaches and dull conversations were dismissed as coincidences since the World Congress had just begun its annual session.

“Later, researchers detected spikes of painful blandness near local Black Hole Stations-–like ours. We thought Hawking Radiation was leaking. But the force was precisely targeted-–killing our imaginations--meaning it had to be an intelligently designed program.

“Can you destroy it, Mr. Tinnis?” she asked, pushing thin-framed glasses up the bridge of her nose.

“I know some Black Hole op-tech,” Tinnis admitted.

“How do you know that?” Hutch asked.

“I uploaded a manual to my Adult Education node,” Tinnis explained tapping the back of his neck. He pushed two armless chairs together and sat before a console. Feeling better with a comfortable seat and a task to do, he overrode authorizations using prompts Jane supplied.

Other engineers hovered as Tinnis raced dozens of fingers over simple controls. “I’ve taken command of the primary computer at CERN. I’ll save their data in this buffer then destroy the operating system interfacing with the Hole.”

“We tried that, smart guy from another planet,” a male engineer said.

“I know a trick,” Tinnis said highlighting a block of text.

“What language is that?” Hutch asked, chewing cabbage from the leftover lunch.

“Modern Esperanto,” Tinnis said.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” a scientist asked.

“Back home, I’m called the ‘indispensable Octon.’”

Tinnis input a standard Andromedan code to avoid a creativity-sucking headache then pressed a green key with a hand-waving flourish.

The building trembled violently.

“Earthquake,” Kip yelled.

“Or a garbage disposal in reverse,” Hutch said.

“Uh-oh,” said Tinnis. “I forgot the blowback factor. Does this laboratory have a license for Multiverse-Virus-Dumping?”

“A what?” Jane asked.

“Let’s check the Hole,” Hutch said.

Mayleen led them to the Station. At the Arrivals area, two gaudily-dressed passengers lay crumpled on the platform.

“Is this Mars?” one asked.

“You never left Earth,” said a conductor leading them away.

“What is this?” Tinnis asked, watching Kip and Hutch dive into piles of debris.

“Mail and luggage,” Kip said, laughing.

“It's not amusing. I’ve inconvenienced people.”

“They’re used to it,” said Mayleen. “Tinny, if you can’t delete the Virus, what’s next?”

Jane entered the Arrivals area. “Before the blowback, I saw a directional spike on the Unified Field monitor.”

“Pointing where?” Tinnis asked.

“Center of the galaxy.”

“That could be the source of the Virus; galactic centers have the largest singularities,” Tinnis said.

Hutch waved an envelope, “I just won a quadrillion bucks!”

Tinnis snatched it, disapprovingly.

Kip draped an arm around Mayleen’s shoulders. “Well, Darlin’? Should we ask our friends to journey to the center of the galaxy? 'Course I’ll go with them, this is Earth’s problem.”

Mayleen squeezed Kip’s cheeks, saying, “Sweetheart, you go kill that Virus so we can keep our creativity and can publish new stuff.”

Turning to Tinnis, Mayleen said, “You may be Earth’s last hope.”

Tinnis whispered to Hutch: “These humans think we’re gods!”

Hutch whispered back: “The galactic core could be a business opportunity. Let’s go.”

“O-kay,” Tinnis agreed.

Kip clapped his shoulder. “We haven’t had that spirit since-– 2099! Follow me.”

Tinnis waved farewell to Mayleen and Jane, shuddering as he passed an upended Departures sign.

Part III

The Milky Way Center

Once again through the Black Hole Express, Tinnis’ body stretched and twisted. This time, Earth music pumped base rhythms, demanding he rock, roll and ride a wave.

The three companions dropped out of the void, landing on a precipice. Above was a ring of trapped energy, below a pit backwashed in deep purple. Fancily-dressed creatures sat on straight chairs, stroking wood and metallic objects.

“An orchestra,” Hutch said.

“There are vibrating strings in the quantum center,” Tinnis mused.

A conductor stood on a podium amidst the circle of musicians, waving a baton. The creature had a mass of grey hair spiking like the aftershock of a wet finger in a live socket. Its oval head had a hose where a nose should be. Two flopping tails extended from the hem of its black coat. It lowered the baton stopping the music and gazed up.

“What do you want? We’re rehearsing.”

Tinnis tested the strength of thick silver threads dangling into the pit. He climbed down followed by his companions.

“Play something soothing,” Hutch pleaded.

The conductor led his cellist through a lament as Tinnis and Kip walked through the players. When the dirge ended, Tinnis stopped before the podium.

“Did you send the Virus that’s killing Earth’s creativity?”

The conductor sniffed, narrowing two eyes that focused so that Tinnis believed they made contact.

“Who are you people, the Odd Squad? Hah, hah, hah.” The conductor’s hose fluttered then he sobered. “I’m Archee, the eyes and ears of the Grand Galactic Center-–what you ignorantly call a Black Hole.”

Hutch and Kip joined Tinnis.

“You’re a living being,” Kip said, reaching forward.

Tinnis swatted his hand. “Don’t touch him. My lower eyes see quanta-scopic suction cups all over his body. He’s more than the eyes and ears of the Black Hole. He is the Black Hole.”

Archee touched the tip of his hose and pointed at Tinnis. “Give a cigar to the eight-eyed alien. Don’t worry. I'm not dangerous.”

“You’re hurting Earth, stealing our imagination,” Kip argued.

“Humans think it’s all about them but I send my Creativity-Gathering Virus to every world that develops a singularity.”

“Why?” Tinnis asked.

Archee looked down, polishing his baton. He explained:

“For billions of years, I vacuumed dusty residue from the Big Bang. Bor-ing. Then some planets developed quantum singularities which, as we all know, gravitate toward each other. Once they linked with me, I tuned into chit-chat and do-it-yourself transmissions from lots of smart people. That's how I made a Virus that extracts ideas from the minds of different species.”

“That makes sense,” Tinnis whispered from the side of his mouth, glancing sideways at Hutch and Kip. Raising his voice he asked, “Who are these musicians?”

“Contest winners! Only a lucky few get to perform with this view.” The conductor gazed up, commanding, “Open.”

Half shells parted the sparkling particle ring, exposing a thick sweep of condensed white, blue and red matter. The aperture spread until the Milky Way swirled all around them. Tinnis, Hutch and Kip grabbed each other as the floor fell away leaving them standing on the stars. When Tinnis realized Archee and his all-alien orchestra were not falling, he let go.

“Amazing,” Tinnis said.

“Always impresses the tourists,” said the conductor.

Kip said: “OK so you’ve got a bigger show than Vegas. It’s still not fair you’re sucking our creativity. The Strip needs new acts. And Tinny needs an Earth history for a Patron.”

“But you have so much imagination for me to enjoy!” Archee whined. “I love a good book before bedtime.”

The travelers glared stonily until the conductor led them to the back of the pit. They stopped before skyscraping doors dressed in ivory, lace curtains (“designs imagined by J.C. Penney,” Archee enthused.) The doors swung open revealing a ballroom filled with floating sketches, musical notes, nouns, verbs and architectural notions. After Tinnis, Kip and Hutch ooh-ed and aah-ed, Archee closed the doors.

“That’s raw creativity,” Tinnis said. “How do you give it form?”

“With a universal compiler designed by an Arcturian engineer.”

“Surely other species complain about your thievery,” Hutch said.

“Everyone has a price,” Archee said icily.

“You buy imagination?” Kip asked.

“No-o. I get offers from offended species who want their ideas back,” Archee said.

Tinnis and Hutch grabbed Kip whose fists were raised.

“That’s ransom!” the Nevadan screamed.

“I prefer the human notion ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law.’”

“He’s got you there, Kipper,” Hutch said.

Weary of his quest, Tinnis offered to negotiate. “Kip, let’s say Archee borrowed human creativity as an Inter-Singularity Loan. If he returns it, you’ll drop the late charges?”

Kip agreed but Archee was unhappy.

“What do you want?” Tinnis asked.

“Storage space,” Archee said.

“You’re living in the center of the galaxy. Why do you need storage space?” Hutch asked.

“Hel-lo? This is a quantum reality. It’s small by anyone’s standards."

“What about extra dimensions that physicists predict?” Tinnis asked.

Archee dismissed that with a wave of his baton inciting the string section to begin an overture. “Extra dimensions are tinier than this one—if you can believe it.”

“Speaking for humanity," Kip said, "I'll get you storage space if you’ll return our creativity.”

“Well . . . there’s just one other teensy thing,” the conductor said. “I need someone to organize my stuff. I’ve got a huge backlog.”

“I’m a Librarian,” Tinnis said. “I can do that.”

Hutch turned his friend to face him. “What about Fips’ Patron? Andromeda Library needs you.”

Tinnis patted Hutch between the ears. “Thanks, pal. When we get back, I’ll submit a proposal to Mrs. Biblioni for an Intergalactic Cooperation Project. Managers love extra activities; fattens the annual report.”

He turned to Archee. “I’ll help you. But first you must give me a history of Earth’s 22nd Century.”

“Deal! I’ll compile it immediately.” Archee disappeared into the back.

“Thanks, Tinny,” Kip said. “I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

“I get that a lot,” Tinnis said.

Part IV

Milky Way
Planet Earth
Sol-ar System cycle 2202.04 C.E.

The trio dropped out of the singularity at the Nevada station. Tinnis carried an armful of ethereal light bulbs into Jane’s laboratory. The engineers gathered to hear the travelers’ tales.

“These bulbs contain ideas stolen from humans for a hundred years,” Tinnis said. “You’ll need a universal socket port on your mainframe to screw them in. After you upload the data, send the world a memo: use your imagination!”

They clapped Tinnis’ back, promising him an official citation.

Mayleen hugged him. “You make me extra-proud to be an Info . . . Librarian.”

“That’s really nice,” Tinnis said, wiping his eyes.

“One more thing, Engineers,” Kip said, “Move your garbage out of Yucca Mountain-–we need space for the conductor’s collection.”

“Let’s go home,” Hutch said. “I’ll copy Archee’s compilation of the Earth history onto a Memory Wave for Fips, Kip, and my other customers in the Local Group of Galaxies. Royalties paid at the usual rate.”

As the four friends hugged, Jane's team applauded.

“Who says nobody cares anymore?” she asked.

Part V

Andromeda Library
Planet Octon Branch
Rezzot Star Cycle 17,000.05

Tinnis watched Fips complete a transaction via his Desktop Universal Transmitter. Finally, the Reference Librarian said:

“Thanks to you, Mr. Tinnis, I just sent my Patron on Barometer Five a history of Earth’s 22nd century.”

“How did you get a copy? I brought one back personally,” Tinnis said pulling from his pocket the Memory Wave Hutch had produced.

“While you were away, Mr. Zap downloaded a new list from Planet Kismo," Fips said. "Their Fourth Incarnation sells future infomedia from beyond Andromeda including items that will be produced in the Milky Way. Mrs. Biblioni got me the copy.

"You must have had quite a trip! It seems that after you left Earth, humans published a fury of titles about the history of their 22nd century. We even have a photop of you on a later visit accepting a Nobellian prize.”

“Me? A prize?”

“Now, Tinnis, after you organize the Milky Way, get to work on Andromeda’s Black Hole--ours is bigger than theirs. We need to keep our galactic center happy to avoid an Earth-like catastrophe.

Tinnis' body sagged, the tips of his fingers touching the floor. Organize two Black Holes? That's a heavy work load even for the indispensable Octon!

The End at Last

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Mr. Tinnis Goes To The Intergalactic Subscription Agency" is a book!

I finished my project with Createspace and published two stories: "Mr. Tinnis .... " and "Equality for Girls" a slightly different version of the one posted here last Halloween. It's a nice little book with an orange cover that I will bring to Readercon 2011 this weekend to give away to all takers. It's been fun to publish my own little book. Reviews from friends have been terrific. Now let's see what the wider public has to say...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Equality For Girls: A Halloween Story

by Fran B. Giuffre

The elevator door creaked like old bones as it opened at the sub-basement of the New York Library. I stepped out, onto a reddish concrete floor. It was October 1972.

I was the first girl page sent to retrieve a book from the lowest level of the stacks.

I jumped when the elevator's time-worn door rattled to a close behind me. The old conveyance whooshed as it rose up the shaft.

I had started work that summer, running slips on seven above-ground floors and the regular basement under stack one, but never the sub-basement. When I asked what the library stored down there, the boys told me that's where they keep dead pages. The all-male supervisory staff winked at such tales, but followed the boys-only tradition.

Then Women's Lib kicked in; the time for over-protecting girls was over. When a supervisor handed me a patron-request slip for a book shelved on the lowest level, I took my assignment fearlessly. I was nineteen.

I stood under a naked light bulb screwed into a rusty fixture on the low ceiling. The place was dead silent; the dumb-waiter delivery system did not service the sub-basement. My supervisor had told me to wait in the square lighted area outside the elevator for assistance since, on that level, regular pages did not retrieve the books.

A special staff worked down there--and only down there.

Footsteps treaded toward me from the unrelieved darkness. As a boy emerged into the lit area, stopping three feet in front of me, I knew the tales were true.

The sub-basement was the place they kept dead pages.

Or at least one. The boy was in his teens, tall, wiry and pale as paper. His transparent irises revealed shrunken, bloodless veins. His head was matted with stringy, dull hair that fell to sunken shoulders covered by a torn tee shirt proclaiming Yes, the logo of the progressive rock band.

He was kinda cute for a dead guy. A weird attraction to him stemmed my initial nausea. I wasn't upset about meeting a dead guy--it was the early seventies; if a guy looked lively he was taking the wrong drugs. I was more concerned that his fate could be my future if I didn't learn more about how the library functioned.

Had he fallen down the dumb-waiter shaft to the regular basement then had his body dumped into the sub-basement to cover up the faulty mechanism? Had the ratty old elevator crashed? Were there other pitfalls to avoid?

"Can I help you," the dead boy asked. His bored voice shook me from my reverie.

I placed a small white slip with the call number of the patron-requested book into the boy's lifeless hand. He looked down at the slip, then up at me.

"They aren't supposed to send girls down here," he said flatly. He turned away to do his task.

"Can I come with?" I asked.

"Sure," he said, waving a thin arm over his head.

"What's your name?" I asked, following him down an inky-black corridor, feeling the way with my hands. The walls were dusty and cold, smelling of must and decay. The cement floor was sticky, forcing me to lift my feet.

"My name was Kitred," he said.

He had referred to himself in the past tense. That made me feel safer having learned in Psych 101 how self-acceptance made for good mental health. He probably did not ask my name for lack of interest in the living. I offered it anyway.

"I'm Catherine."

When we reached the end of the corridor, a dim bulb turned on automatically over a worm-eaten, wooden trunk with a broken iron lock. If that wasn't creepy enough, when Kitred opened the trunk, it moaned as if tortured.

"Don’t let the noise bother you," Kitred said, lazily. "This old trunk has a ghost that complains whenever we open it."

"The trunk is possessed by a ghost? Whose ghost? And what does that make you?" I asked, hoping my last question had not offended the dead boy.

"The ghosts are leftovers from the nineteenth century when Bryant Park was a cemetery for the poor. When the authorities transferred the bodies someplace else, a few of the ghosts stayed behind. They moved down here."

I bent forward to hear Kitred's voice while he leaned deeply into the trunk, rummaging through decrepit volumes. His tee shirt rose up his back, exposing sheet-white skin and a cool Yes tattoo. Despite his smell of decay, I liked this guy; he was totally invested in his favorite band!

Finally, Kitred stood and turned offering me a heavy tome.

"The patron must use this in the reading room enclosure. He'll know why."

As I took the book from Kitred's hand, pieces of the tattered black binding fell to the floor, turning into spidery forms that skittered away. I looked up to see the dead boy walking toward the corridor.

"How far back does the sub-basement go?" I asked.

He gazed at me dully then pointed into the darkness beyond the trunk. "It goes all the way under Bryant Park," he said. "There's plenty of room for more dead pages, if that's what you're wondering."

I wasn't. But since he brought up the dead I asked him again, "How did you end up here like . . . whatever you are?"

"I'm not a ghost. I'm just one of the living dead. Curiosity got me here, I guess," he said vaguely. "Back when only boys were allowed down here, we dared each other to leave the lit area by the elevator. You know, to find out things like, where the books were stored, how deep was the sub-basement, how the dead pages got here . . ."

Well, I hadn't left the lighted area on a dare, but I had walked down the corridor to satisfy my curiosity.

"Didn't you wonder why some guys never came back?" I asked, edging around Kitred so I could rush away if I got too scared.

"Sure. But the supervisors told us the kids got fired and escorted from the building for smoking joints down here," he said, giggling for the first time. "We thought that was cool."

Cool, yet not true. How many other dead boys were down there? I decided not to ask. I had been gone too long retrieving one book and didn't want to give the supervisors another excuse to lie and cover up what they knew about the sub-basement.

"Well, thanks for the info, Kitred. I better get this book to the patron. You know how the bosses hate for us to delay delivery."

He smiled, sort of, more like a pursing of his lips that forced the edges of his mouth to rise slightly.

"You can try to go back upstairs, Catherine. Maybe since you're a girl . . . I'm right behind you."

I stared at him for a second, horrified by his suggestion that I might not be able to leave; I had worked in the Library for less than three months and was not going to join the living dead!

I hurried down the corridor, hoping Kitred was teasing me. I ran as fast as I could. The corridor was pitch-black but it was a straight path to the elevator so I didn't bounce off the walls. When I reached the lighted area, I banged my hand against the elevator call button. A moment later, it thumped to a stop at my level.

I tried to enter, but from my side an un-penetrable fog filled the entrance. From my side. I turned around feeling faint. Kitred was watching me.

"Welcome to the sub-basement where they keep dead pages."

"What about this book? A patron is waiting," I argued, holding up the tattered tome.

"A supervisor will come down when you don't return. They aren't curious like kids so they go right back up the elevator."

"Why didn't you tell me when I asked to follow you that I would end up dead?"

"Living dead," he corrected. "Yeah, I'm sorry. We used to tell the new pages not to follow us, but the ghosts punished us, so we stopped warning people."

"Punished you how?"

"They told us stories. Ghost stories are really awful."

"OK. Then why say the patron had to read the book in the enclosure as if you expected me to pass that on to someone upstairs? You knew I was trapped here. Why didn't you tell me then?" I asked angrily. I had had my fill of library secrets.

Kitred looked slightly ashamed as he made another excuse, "The ghosts prefer people find out for themselves when they can't get past the elevator door; they like to watch the blood drain out of your face when you realize you're stuck here. Personally, I don't get it, but whatever the ghosts want . . ." he shrugged.

I felt increasingly cold and moved closer to Kitred.

"What is this?" I asked softly. "I'm suddenly dead because I was curious?"

He gazed at me with lifeless eyes, offering a dull sympathy for my plight.

"The supervisors send the curious pages to the sub-basement when we ask too many questions about how they run the library. It's just a management thing."

I shook my head saying, "This isn't fair."

"Listen, Catherine, if it's any consolation, you asked to come with me. I didn't invite you."

"I know. I don't blame you, Kitred, at least not entirely. When was it too late for me to save myself?"

"Once you walked down that corridor," he said, pointing in the direction we had traversed together. "The ghosts of Bryant Park made you a living dead so you can live down here forever."


"Ghosts are lonely and bored. They need new kids so they can learn about what's happening upstairs. It makes sense, when you think about it."

Actually, when I thought about it, my fate made a bit of sense. I was one of those pages who planned to be a real librarian after college. I was a curious person who liked sharing information about happenings "upstairs" in the world, with people in general and patrons in particular. Only now I was destined to exist--if not live--forever, telling centuries-old ghosts everything I knew about 1972.

My blood drained out of me, painting the ground a fresh coat of red. I had learned too late that even a liberated woman must think twice before following a dead guy down an unlit corridor on a floor built under the basement.

The End

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Planet X webpage Planet X webpage

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Links to my published non-fiction

Articles on the writing life published in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop

Links to my published stories

Only a Wild Theory is published in the 2003 issue of the Harvard Summer Review
G litch is published in the Oct. 2007 issue of Twilight Times

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Out of Towner

The Out of Towner

By Fran B. Giuffre

Merrill Kowalski took the first taxi that pulled up on Forty Second and Sixth ignoring the driver’s wiry black antennae jutting out from the top of his head. Merrill was happy enough just to get a cab at 5:45 P.M. on a Friday in Manhattan. In New York City you had to be prepared for anyone and anything.

“Main Street, Flushing,” he said wearily, resting his back against the torn leather seating.

“The Bridge is backed up,” the cabbie said. “I’ll take the Tunnel, OK?”

“You can get me to Queens any way that suits you,” Merrill said, hoping the driver would not take too much advantage of his generous comment. “I just finished a sixty hour work week and I’m treating myself to a taxi. No subway crowds for me tonight.”

The taxi rumbled along the Midtown streets moving in a southerly direction toward the East River. Merrill gazed through the dirty, plastic divider separating the front and back seats. He sat up for a moment to see the driver’s photo ID on the dashboard; Merrill wasn't sure he could pronounce the name. The cabbie’s antennae twitched. Was he getting a transmission from someone other than his dispatcher? Merrill was intrigued by the unusual in life; it helped him do his job as a novel editor. What do people say, life is stranger than fiction?

The cab slowed as they entered rush-hour traffic creeping into the outbound lanes of the Queens’ Midtown Tunnel. Merrill cranked his head away from the driver to watch nearby cars inching toward the tunnel then looked again at the cabbie; the driver’s grey eyes were visible in the rearview mirror. Merrill leaned forward saying:

“I guess you are taking me to Flushing. When I got in your cab, I thought you’d lock the doors, drive me to an alley, and beam us up to the mother ship, you know?”

The cabbie laughed loudly. “I love New Yorkers, you’re so blasĂ©. What made you think I was an alien?”

“Your antennae,” Merrill said, wiggling two fingers over his own head.

“Damn,” the driver said, watching Merrill through the rear view mirror. The cabbie banged his forehead twice with the back of his hand; his wiry extensions retracted into the top of his head covered by a muff of thick black hair. “Sometimes I forget to pull them in when I leave for work in the morning, especially when I’ve just gotten back from my home on Alpha Centauri.”

“So why aren’t you abducting me?” Merrill asked, as they emerged from the tunnel into the orange, evening light on the Queens’ side.

“My people don’t do that shtick. We prefer to blend into the populace and observe human behavior. My home planet is pretty sophisticated, kind of the ‘Big Apple’ of the Centauri system, you know? But it’s a mono civilization. We’re totally fascinated by the variety of cultures on Earth.”

“Well then, New York City is the place for you,” Merrill said, laughing.

“You got that right, Mister. Hey, what’s your name?”

“Merrill. How do you say yours?”

“Call me Joe.”

“I’m impressed Joe. You know your way around the city.”

“Oh yeah,” the driver said loudly. “I love this town. I miss it when my vacation is over and I go back to Centauri.”

“This is your vacation?” Merrill asked.

“You bet. It’s the first one I’ve taken in twenty Earth-years.” The cabbie paused as he steered onto Queens Boulevard.

“Lotta traffic,” Merrill said. He wasn’t in a rush, but the sooner he could start his weekend, the better. The cabbie raised his right hand and gestured to get Merrill’s attention.

“I gotta ask you this: so, I’m back in New York last week, driving all over the city: uptown, downtown, the Bronx. I notice people have changed, like something happened while I was gone.”

“There’s always something happening in New York: President at the U.N., big opening at the Met,” Merrill said gazing out the filmy passenger window. A hefty breeze snapped a yellow, sale banner strung across the awning of a music store.

“I know. But this event was bigger, an order of magnitude bigger.” The cabbie let go of the wheel and stretched his hands wide.

“Watch out!” Merrill yelled.

A white van cut off the cab leaving no more than a few inches between his rear
and the cab’s front fender. Joe grabbed the wheel, tires screeching as he switched lanes to avoid the van. He leaned out the window, raising his left hand.

“Hey, buddy, where’d you learn how to drive? On Mars? Sorry ‘bout that, Merrill.”

“Wasn’t your fault. I was watching your hands. You never lost control.”

“I appreciate that. You’re alright, Merrill. You know Queens Boulevard stinks. You mind if I use a trick I learned on Centauri?”

“Go for it, Joe.”

Merrill watched as the cabbie closed his window and extended his head antennae. Outside sounds lowered until the cab was silent. The taxi slimmed until it resembled a long, narrow tube. Merrill pulled in his shoulders then relaxed; there was no apparent change in the physical space he occupied. Joe held the wheel like before, only his antennae twitched rapidly. Merrill was too amazed to speak. He watched as they made a new lane between the traffic, like motorcycles do sometimes, passing in between cars, vans and buses as if those vehicles were standing still.
Gradually the cab expanded into its previous size; Joe eased the taxi into the normal traffic.

“Wow,” Merrill said. “How did you do that?”

“Ain’t that neat?” Joe asked. “Centauri has three suns, you know. With all those gravity wells around us, we learned how to manipulate time and space so we could get to our sister planetary systems fast. That’s how I come and go to New York without too much time passing.

“But let me get back to what I was saying earlier. Whatever happened in New York while I was gone made people different, a lot edgier.”

“You mean the attack on the twin towers,” Merrill said quietly. No one from out of town had asked him about the destruction of the World Trade Center in a long time.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Joe said. “I loved those two monoliths, they reminded me of home. You could see them from everywhere: Brooklyn, Jersey, Staten Island. Those people who crashed the planes into them. Why’d they do that?”

“It’s complicated,” Merrill sighed. Nine-eleven had seeped into the quicksand of Merrill’s memory. His friend Steven had called him from the North Tower as the South Tower collapsed in that hideous time-stopping moment. Thoughts of Steven’s final moments hurt too much to dwell upon; he gave them life once a year, on the anniversary, at the reading of the names of the dead. Joe must be seeing the long term effects of that day. In the faces of people on the street who can’t watch a plane fly overhead without wondering where it was headed, or gazing through a dirty taxicab window at the ghostly apparitions haunting the skies over ground zero.

“Aw, come on,” Joe persisted. “I never met a New Yorker who didn’t have an opinion. “Simplify it for me. Why’d those hijackers do such a mean thing?”

Merrill exhaled a long, hot breath. He leaned forward, into the space between the plastic dividers on the seats. Gazing through the front window, he spoke softly and slowly.

“I think they were mesmerized.”

“Mesmerized? Like under someone’s spell?” Joe asked. He scratched the side of his head then slapped his forehead twice, remembering to retract his antennae. “I guess that’s as good an answer as anything. Sure was a mean thing.”

They had turned onto Main Street. Merrill glanced at the shops along the street, the Italian bakery, the mobile phone store. He smiled. It was good to be in his neighborhood. He leaned to the side and pulled his wallet from a trouser pocket.

“You can drop me off here, Joe.”

Joe pulled the cab out of the bumper-to-bumper traffic and stopped in front of a newsstand.

“Main Street, Flushing. Home of the New York Mets!” he said. “I think we’ve got a shot at the Series this year.”

“We?” Merrill asked, smiling, as he handed Joe his fare and a generous tip.

“Yeah. I want to move here permanently, turn this vacation gig into a regular job. Then I can take a real vacation in the city, see the shows, visit the museums, catch a ballgame at the new stadium. Hey Merrill. Got any advice for an out-of-towner who wants to live in New York City?”

Merrill opened the door and paused with one foot on the pavement. He gazed at the passersby with their red and blue shopping bags and brown briefcases. After a long moment of thought, he turned back and looked into the grey eyes of the cabbie.

“Sure, Joe. Keep your antennae up. For all of us.”
(c) 2009 Fran B. Giuffre