Friday Flash Fiction: The Orichalcum Library
“Easy. All you have to do is randomize a title from the two columns,” said Chuck Wendig. Then he gave us two numbered lists, I got my random number generator working, and drew 7 & 3 to give me “Orichalcum Library”.
Wikipedia: Orichalcum is a metal mentioned in several ancient writings, including the story of Atlantis as recounted in the Critias dialogue, recorded by Plato. According to Critias, orichalcum was considered second only to gold in value, and was found and mined in many parts of Atlantis in ancient times. By the time of Critias, however, it was known only by name. In numismatics, orichalcum is the golden-colored bronze alloy used for the sestertius and dupondius coins. In many sources of pop culture, such as novels and video games, orichalcum is presented as a valuable ore that can be mined and crafted into powerful armor and weapons.
Hmmmm. So, I give you 1078 words making up a largely inoffensive tale…
The Orichalcum Library
The thing about the Viridian System is that it’s off the beaten track. You don’t get many visitors. They are miners or miner-suppliers, in both senses of the phrase. The only people known to ‘pass through’ are on the run from somewhere. They generally keep running when they see how bad it is here.
People mine here. Mostly orichalcum over on Viridium 201 through 227, but corundum is a useful product of V150-200 and some brave souls have spent a year or two mining crystal on V228 and 229. It’s nowhere near as good as Ballybran crystal of course, but who the heck can afford Ballybran out here?
When they aren’t mining they turn up in one of the dives on Pleasant Valley, or go to the beach on Sunset Strip. They are good recreational planets if you’ve just spent six months mining. And, as I said, the miner-suppliers will make sure a miner gets whatever recreational need he, she or it has.
The funny thing is, recreational needs start out outrageous, and end up kind of homely. Take Big Pete and the Swede, for example. Spent a good long time checking out claims and working out where they’d go exactly. Disappeared off for ten months, came back with some orichalcum, sold it at a nice profit, came to me asking for some exotic relaxation. I found something nice, three young ladies who were ready for a little off-world experience, and they went over to Sunset Strip and did their thing for four months. One of the ladies came back on her own and said they’d like two more ladies sent over. I checked that everything was above board, they hadn’t eaten them or anything.
“Oh, no, nothing like that!” she’d replied. “They are charming gentlemen, really they are. The Swede fancies a change, though, and Pete was happy with both of them, so they decided to keep Maisie and Dolores and I’d swap for some others for the Swede. They are both real gentlemen. Like surfing, too.”
Surfing, eh? Put me in mind of one of the girls that used to surf on Abraxas. I checked around and found she was free, charged the Swede a premium. He was happy with that when he met her.
The ladies returned after another two months, tanned, fit and ready for work. Seemed like Pete and the Swede treated them so well it had been like a holiday. No exotic stuff at all. That’s what I mean. These miners ask for weird stuff and end up sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair, metaphorically speaking.
It still came as a shock when Pete and the Swede came off the asteroids for the third time. Asked for Dolores and Aramintha (Maisie had gone off somewhere, I can’t remember where, now), and some books to read.
I told them to use their screens like any other self-respecting miner. That way no-one would know they could read properly.
No, they wanted real books. Every time they came in.
I told them I’d see what I could do. Of course. Business is business and if these two want books, who am I to argue?
Where in tarnation do you get books when you’re in the Viridian system?
I was laughing with Karadoxis Slime, a Venusian with a particularly bad case of aranoisis that turns his blue skin a crusty green. I can’t remember how it started, but we got into one of those ‘I can do better than you’ anecdote competitions, and I finally brought out the one about some miners wanting books.
“Ah, but I hev buks,” he says in his funny accent.
“What kinda buks,” I said, because the accent is catching.
“I no know. Some rebel spies left them wiv me. I gev them fud in return,” he added, endorsing his reputation for prime bartering.
“What rebel spies?” I asked. He went off into some long-winded explanation of two visitors with passes to anywhere in the Galaxy, who’d ended up here by mistake. Mr and Mrs Zalo. He’d remembered the name because he liked the letter Z. Slime was like that. I think that was why he liked me, come to think of it.
It seemed this pair had come in from somewhere like Paradisio, and were in a hurry to get lost somewhere else. They’d swapped some books for food. Slime had just put the books in a box.
A few hours later we were looking in the box and bringing out these amazing volumes of paper, bound in a colourful cover with pictures and lettering on it. I don’t know if you’re familiar with books. They kind of feel good to handle, like you could hold them and cuddle them in bed. You’d need a separate light to read them by, mind. They don’t shine like a screen does.
Right there I got a real old-fashioned idea. We’d start a library. I explained to Slime what a library was, and decided the little cupboard behind my bar would do well enough. I could make sure no one stole the books that way. If anyone wanted to borrow a book to read, they had to sign up as a member of the library, or else they had to bring a book and donate it to the library if they wanted to borrow another one.
So we stacked these books on a shelf, and it didn’t look much. There were some real old tatty ones but when I checked the titles they seemed important. “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” was one. “The Shining” was another, and “Five go to Mystery Moor” sounded good to me. Then there were about fifteen with garish pictures of elf-monsters and moons, called “Escape from the Forbidden Planet” and stuff like that. And one called “The Ninja Librarian” that I put to one side as it looked like it could be an instruction manual. I needed instruction, all right.
Well, Pete and the Swede came back and I told them I had books, but they had to join the library, like everyone else. They took a look at the books, paid the membership fee and told me to keep the change.
With that amount of orichalcum I could afford to bring in books from across the universe. So I did.
“The best library in the Galaxy.” That’s how “Readers’ Review” describe it. The Orichalcum Library, on Pleasant Valley. Sounds real cute, doesn’t it?
(c) J M Pett 2013