watching the lights go down

other worlds through sunglasses


automatic earth, don't cry, this is the long-distance call
Rook the Librarian gisho
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[Original - Lanthorn and Terrapin] The Advent of the Catalog Engine
A bit of Lanthorn-and-Terrapin background that somehow morphed into a story in its own right.

Somebody good at drawing wanna make me a Lanthorn and Terrapin icon? I have a feeling they're going to show up a lot.



I wasn't there when it arrived, and I've only actually seen the thing once or twice - not seen the podium, but seen the thing itself - but Dove was and he told me that they almost had to take out part of a wall to fit it inside. That was the same day he got promoted; the old cataloging director had resigned in a fit of pique when he heard what they were putting in the basement. Dove was not the most senior of the remaining staff, but he was advanced on the spot when Lady Gabardine discovered he was the only one of them who not only welcomed the Engine but already knew how it worked. He'd been given a theoretical treatise the previous month, see, and true to his nature had magpied it for three days before he got around to the shelving.

Dove knows, more or less, how the Engine works. This is more than I do. It looks like a giant loom, but with more pulleys and hooks and twisty bits. When it's working which is most of the time, it clicks and hums and occasionally rumbles like an earthquake, and the yarn, which I am told is not really yarn but special-make silk twine, spins past swift enough to give one friction burns.

Miss May, whose real name if May is not such which I am near sure is such I havn't a quiver, came with it. She has the worst stare I've ever seen. Dove and Gabardine are the only people I've seen her look at with an attitude noticably different than that most people would use on a rotten fish. But she does know the Engine in and out and she's always adding ot it. There were about five folk with the general aspect of trained dogs as well, who helped them weave in the catalog. They vanished afterwards. May stuck around. She carries a crochet hook stuck behind her ear, and wears glasses, and since she moved to the Library she's dyed her fringe blue. Dove tells me it was bleached pure white when he first met her. He'd been supervising the installation, and when all the workers left he went back down into the basement and snuck behind the supernumary copier (from context I assume this is part of the Engine, and large) to have a better look, and ran into her. She was doing something with the crochet hook, and spinning the copier feed by hand, very slowly; this was how he hadn't heard it. Thankfully he didn't fall on anything breakable.

She began to berate him for carelessness; being Dove, he cowered and apologized. At this point she recovered enough to ask his name. When he told her she smiled. "Oh, the new head of catalouging? The one who's not afraid of the Engine?"

"Well, yes." He brushed off his robe and bowed. "You're adjusting the machine?"

"It should be ready tomorow," she told him. "I'll be joining the staff to look after it." She is, in fact, now technically his subordinate. But just then they were strangers, so he offered her dinner, since the adjustments were running late.

"Miss May," Dove once told me, "is the most admirably efficient person with whom it has ever been my pleasure to associate." I imagine so; the next day she showed up with her fringe the same shade of blue as his hair, and that's what it's been ever since.

That night they wound up having dinner in the basement, ordered in, while she told him how the Engine worked. One of the perquisites of being Head of Cataloging, it seems, is the ability to send pages on personal errands. A bit past midnight they agreed to reopen the discussion in the morning. Miss May made a few last spins and they parted at the door, and he turned back with the hopes of taking a last look at the Engine empty of substance, before they began the long work of winding on the yarn and weaving in the caalog. It is at this point that the story takes its odd turn.

He idly began to turn the query wheel by hand, and listen the the clicks. As it was supposed to do a bit apparently called the 'finder heddle' dipped through a hole in the floor and returned. What was not supposed to happen was the angel riding it up. At least, that is how Dove describes it. He says it took the form of a spot of light, which burst into a radiance like an afterimage; his ears rung, and he dropped his lantern. The shape inside that raidance was nothing like human. Dove has never been able to describe it properly. All he can tell me is, "It was the shape of a feeling of sudden ecstacy." It regarded him with an eye of fire; it felt, he told me, like a fire burning though the corners of his soul, something he has only ever felt twice. He held out his hand. There was nothing else he could do.

Then the angel gathered itself together, dipped down briefly, and shot up through the celing, leaving him nothing but colored flickers filling his vision. After a while he got up and found the lantern again. He could not recall when he had fallen.

If most men told me this I would dismiss it as a dream. From Dove I was tempted to call it a hallucination. Although they still see each other frequently Dove had an amiable divoce from Reality before he ever entered the university; the poor lad was abused, and yet he stills pays alimony uncomplainingly. Yet he has never misled me, and I am not one to dismiss out of hand notions that the world may extend beyond the immediately visible. Dove being Dove, he did not tell me of this incident for years. It was simply that once when I swa the engine, I remarked upon its majesty, and he nodded and said that uncanny things had happened here when first it came.

But it is not the supernatural nature that disturbs me. No, there are two things that give me pause, and lead me as I have so often done to fear for Dove. The fminor thing is this: before the angel vanished, it spoke. As held out his hand he heard a voice, like, the says, the noise of a great bell striking the hour, and it said, "Not yet." I cannot fathom what that means, except that it will, at some time, return to wreak some chance upon the world - or Dove - that it put aside for a while when it found itself in the empty Engine. But that, as I said, is the minor matter. Angels do as they please and I cannot comprehend thier logic nor arrest their movements. If anything, the angel came too late for Dove. There was an occasion in his earlier life when the appearance of an angel might have changed it for the better, but that time was but an instant and it is long dead.

No. What disturbs me most is this: the next day Dove related this story to Miss May. When he told her what the angel had said to him, she smiled, and answered: "Of course. It won't be finished for years."

She did not specify to what the pronoun referred, and somehow Dove never thought to return to the subject.

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