Thomas the Librarian clasped his hands behind his back as he walked. The place into which he strolled resembled a simple wood-trimmed room with an unfolded card table at its center. Three stools circled the table like predators maliciously waiting for their quarry to die of old age, or heart failure. Two of those stools were occupied.
Thomas, it so happened, was the last of those Beings of Old assembling in the meeting-place.
The others cloistered in silence, watching him. One, a white-dressed handsome human woman with a curious necklace. Another, a man whose entire form had been swaddled in burlap. The last, a man in possession of scarves and stripes and scars… and a gun.
“So it is now that four of us convene.”
The middle of the table had no cards, but it was the chosen seat for the burlap man, whose role in the gathering was something approximating a peacekeeper. Why he had elected to sit there, the newly arriving Old couldn’t say. The table-seated Old didn’t bother disclosing his reasons. All Thomas could figure was that he had a “thing” for sitting at a certain elevation, usually above his peers. It was symbolic, of course; everything about them was layers of meaning behind meaning.
Any predilections for poetry in the man’s speech, however, were pure stuff and nonsense.
At least, Thomas thought so.
“I’d like us to be un-convened as soon as we can possibly manage,” said the woman, before pausing, and continuing. “I have things to do and see, and I didn’t ask to bring us together so we could chew the fat for our enjoyment.”
She was playing with her necklace like always. She had a habit of moving its rectangular segments up and down her fingers in a peculiar variant of coin-walking.
“One of my fussiest little divas had to be taken off normal duty, for the sake of guiding some of my other assets back to an ideal neutral state. SHE-”
“-insists that SHE is irked. As though I haven’t other concerns besides her happiness.”
A hand tugged a lock back, jerky and hard and precise.
Truth? Falsehood? Thomas could find out if he was so inclined; he was not. It was a believable scenario, and small talk subterfuge didn’t matter at present.
“Yes, Domino,” replied the man with the gun. “We’re all here at sufferance. I’ve got just as much complaining to do as you. Let’s get down to brass tacks, eh?”
“I am also interested in being done quickly,” Thomas said. He spoke with brazen blandness, a piece of unbuttered bread.
His head cocked a bit at the scarred man as he seated himself.
“Though I must ask what stake you have in this affair, Target.”
Target reached out to his gun’s stock, and pulled something off of it. The something looked a great deal like a salt cellar. He spun it around atop his deft finger, scarred eye folding and creasing like a pageful of greasy ink.
“I place my shots with forethought, to use a vaguely literary-minded analogy,” he declared, one lip corner rising. “As you well know. It’s best to pull the trigger and not have to worry about the laser or slug or thought-round getting deviated. I’d just such an interest in the man you’ve gotten involved with that seer of yours. I was going to help him do some good things for the sake of the Maker’s city. Now, he’s on his own.”
“She’s not ‘my’ seer.”
Thomas tapped the side of his neck.
“She’s now!” Target barked back, shoving the cylinder into the gun once more.
Again, perhaps chicanery, perhaps not. Target – appropriately enough – usually steered clear of tricks.
Then again, this group was both uniquely suited to… and uniquely suited to the detection of… all manner of chicanery.
“Peace will be had today or tomorrow.”
Nobody flinched when the burlap man spoke up, but his voice crackled with intent. They stopped squabbling.
“I called this meeting because I had plans based on certain eventualities,” Domino said, with frosted spines decorating every syllable. “Certain eventualities involving persons-of-interest affected with this… stunt. You screwed those plans up. I believe,” she added with a glare at the seated man, after another pause, “that that goes against the RULES. Objective, you’re supposed to be. Neutral, you’re supposed to be. Your conduct is not exactly ‘objective’ or ‘neutral.’ I demand satisfaction: justification, or some kind of-”
When she stopped this time, Thomas glanced at the table-seated figure.
Her hand clamped down on the necklace.
“That is simple,” replied Thomas. “I made things a great deal less complicated for all the actors in our little drama. The man of whom you speak, Target, is now going to avoid an acrimonious and very public defacement later on in his career. He won’t get into a scenario that leaves him broken, arrested, or simply remade with his teeth pulled. He shall be a player. He will continue to take actions you would consider beneficial to your cause. Maybe not actively supporting the exercise of agency even when unwisely used, but at least serving as a totem.”
By his expression, Target clearly hadn’t suspected the recipient of his patronage would have been so inconvenienced. He, unfortunately, was the only person present who lacked the foresight to directly verify Thomas’s words.
Well, that wasn’t technically true, considering the Librarian’s own occasional limitations. However, Thomas wasn’t making a dream-visitation just now. If he wanted to, he could consult the books any time he liked.
“On the other hand,” Thomas continued, turning his attention to Domino, “there will be a society ripe for your purposes here, quite soon.”
He reached into his pocket and drew forth a miniature representation of the gem. The churning engine of coruscant geometry was marked to indicate a specific facet. By her expression, Domino already knew this. She evidently didn’t think much of the exchange’s benefits.
Well, too bad. Two unhappy souls were often the result of compromise.
“I submit that the objectives of those parties with an investment in these proceedings were equally well met. If such is not the case, then may the absolutes of my actions be rebuked, rolled back, and undone. What say you, Metatronus?”
The codger on the table straightened.
“Cause no more stress and all shall be quite well.”
The other three Beings of Old considered their seated peer and, carefully contemplating the righteousness attributed to Thomas’s cause, decided to avoid making a fuss. Better to go their separate ways than stir the seated moderator to corrective measures.
The Literate Limitless had arrived last, and so left first.
He didn’t perceive them following after him, but he knew they would vacate the premises soon enough in their turn. Four cogs like themselves couldn’t remain out of phase without important machinery starting to slip.
In the void outside the little realm, a piece of paper erupted from his shirt collar and flapped to his hand. With the reading of the single page, Thomas returned to the place he called home. It was an open place, his abode, his bibliophile’s haven. He sighed, and waded into glaciers and rivers of text.
“Tell me,” he instructed a passing flutter-swimming book, arresting its attention. “What say you, on the subject of the outcome for this most recent ‘meddling’ and its results?”
The book, pages rippling along like the mantle of a cuttlefish, repositioned itself in a looping spiral after several seconds, then unfolded. Its intestines whipped by, little orthographic cells in a frenzy. Then its page-turning halted, and one section of one paragraph on one page flickered red. It just so happened to be a fragment of a song from a musical band, hailing from Earth Standard.
JUST TO CONVINCE
THAT WE CAN’T BE
WE ARE NOT
Thomas the Librarian read this in silence, face masked. After ten seconds or so of still contemplation, he walked off. Idly, he freed the book to go do what it needed to do.
Considering the objects of this most recent ‘meddling’ and its results, that passage was a very telling omen indeed.