Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reading with a side of ham

At least there wasn’t a line to stand in to get out of there. One hour to kill. Adams wouldn’t appreciate me calling him for an update, so I decided to cool my heels at the drug store near the end of the food court.

I heeded the ‘Please Seat Yourself’ sign at the drug store’s entrance and headed to a free booth across from the far end of the counter. I dropped in the seat and reached for the menu. I was starved. 

The waitress came by as soon as I had studied the menu back. She pulled out a note pad from her apron and a pencil from behind her ear.

“Big Al’s big breakfast please.” 

She scribbled down my order. “Anything to drink sweetie?”

“And some black coffee thanks.”

“Just be a few minutes.” With that she turned to the next booth for a new order.

There was a rack of magazines opposite the end of the counter. I could see the new issue of Thrilling and Amazing Analog Stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy right at the top. As well as proclaiming it was still only 60 cents, the cover boasted a new story from Isaac B. Clark. I grabbed it and dug in while I waited for my eggs.

By 2081, settlement of the far reaches of the solar system definitely had one adverse affect on Earth civilization: the holdings of the royal and ancient - but unfortunately long disbanded - Scarboro Public Library were scattered all the way from Mercury to Pluto. Colonists could just not part with their beloved tomes and carried them jealously wherever the whims of fortune took them. So, to right this wrong and reclaim the legacy for a new generation, many long retired library board members, along with sympathetic supporters from the underground rebel book alliance, convened to consider their options. They needed a ship - a fleet of ships actually - to go to those distant places and collect those treasures. And collect them with punishing over-due fees.

A laconic “Here’s your breakfast sweetie” roused me. I made room for the big plate and steaming mug of coffee.

“Can you put this on my bill?” I waved the digest at the waitress.

“Sure sweetie” And with another scribble added to her note pad, the waitress left me to my eggs and spaceships.

Professor Emeritus Vincenzo Air reported on a long forgotten chapter in propulsion technology: the curvilinear j-Fforde drive; an interplanetary drive named in honour of the author Jasper Fforde, discoverer of Book World earlier in the century. The basic principle behind the drive was a targeted seeking of the 'spine' in local space that, once found and accessed, allowed a spacecraft to jump to any location in space via 'pages' in a matter of seconds. After an immodest allocation of funds, and a number of years of development, the first prototype book retrieval spacecraft outfitted with a curvlinear j-Fforde drive - the s.p.l. Bendale - was ready for testing. Many hardcore due-date ignorers were on Mars, so the shakedown voyage was to Cydonia for a face-to-face showdown. Prof. Air insisted on being the test pilot, but he was a little too fast on the draw and gunned it so hard that he kinked the main drive unit. When later asked by reporters how fast it would go, he replied, "It's a real page turner". Among the stacks back on Earth, his title of Professor Emeritus, was quickly replaced by Lead-foot - well, at least outside the range of his hearing aid. And what about those fee dodgers? Some tricks of illumination allowed them to avoid facing-the-music on this sortie - but there is always next time!

And so ended the story along my eggs, bacon, beans, sausage and pancakes. The hour wasn’t quite up, but I hurriedly paid at the cash register and headed back to the black door.

The next instalment can be found here.

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