Three days remained until the end of the world and Anna wished there was less time left. If there’d been only two days she could have avoided a trip offworld but as it was there was just enough time to make the expedition and just enough potential benefit to it for her to opt out of it in good conscience.
“We’re cutting it a little close with this one aren’t we?” Connie asked, staring at the bookshelves around them which rose over a mile into domed sky above them.
“And stretching ourselves a bit thin,” Anna said. “Have we gotten an update from Tam and Jen yet?”
“They’re still working on getting the last Burrower communities to safety,” Connie said. “As soon as we started the migration, the Overseers began to clamp down on the Burrower population harder than ever.”
“We knew that would happen,” Anna said. “Were they able to convince Castorvell to take any of the refugees?”
“Castorvell’s willing to create permanent housing for all of them, but in the short term they can only handle about five percent of the Burrower population. Too much of Castorvell is inherently toxic to the Burrowers, fortunately though there’s a dead island where the native plant life can’t grow. Initial tests show the Burrowers can live there once a few of their native plants are brought in to help provide some necessary compounds in the air. The bad news is that getting that setup will take about a month for everything to be in place.”
“And in the meanwhile the majority of the Burrowers must remain with us on Earth.” Anna was calculating their options as she and Connie strode past a wall of books in languages even the translation spells she wore couldn’t decipher. The Burrowers were independently capable of traveling between different dimensional layers of whatever world they were on, so there wouldn’t be problems with finding space for them on Earth. The difficulty lay in exposing the Burrowers who were willing and able to flee from the Overseers to the peril that lay three days in Earth’s future.
Moving refugees to a planet that was doomed to extinction was madness in most people’s view and only the even greater, and more imminent, peril of the Overseers drive to exterminate the Burrowers as a species was enough to motive the centipede-like people to make the risky trip to another world. For many of the Burrowers a calamity three days in the future meant three more days of life than they could expect to have on the Overseers world.
“Yeah, the Burrowers need to stay with us, and even getting them that far is a lot of work. It sounds like Tam and Jen have it mostly under control but are going to be cutting it close in terms of getting back on time,” Connie said.
“That’s worrisome. We need everyone back for the High One’s attack,” Anna said. “Do they have any options for speeding up the process?”
“The Burrowers world clock runs a bit faster than ours, so that’s speeding it up a lot already. Tam and Jen are spending about a week with the Burrowers for every day that passes for us but even with that the evacuation is a massive undertaking and having to fight off the Overseers isn’t helping.”
“How bad are the assaults they’re facing?” Anna asked.
“Well, the good news is, they’re holding out pretty well. They even managed to liberate a few enclaves of Burrowers that everyone had more or less given up on. The bad news is the success they’re having has been noticed. Both the Overseers and their nearest neighbors the Harmonic Hegemony have pledged their support to the High One’s Grand Purge, because they see us as a real threat now.”
Anna turned to look at Connie, cocking her head slightly to the side without slowing her pace.
“Really?” A small smile of pleasant surprise spreads across her face. “Kudos to them then, we hadn’t expected their mission to have as much impact as that.”
“Speaking of impact, have you heard about Val and Sarah’s mission results?” Connie asked.
“I haven’t had a chance to check in on them since Charlene and I got back from the negotiations with the Dreadworld Parliament.”
“They found us an extra four billion refugees on Greenglim. They said they’d be back to Earth on time but I’m not sure how realistic that is. I gather they bought some time with the natural disasters that were going to wipeout life on Greenglim but it doesn’t sound like it was going to be enough time even if they worked non-stop. Not without a miracle anyways.”
“Miracles do happen,” Anna said. “All the more so when people make them happen.”
“Let’s hope they can manage that miracle then and manage to keep a few in their back pockets for when things go wrong with our plan.”
“We already have the miracles we need,” Anna said.
“Hopefully. How did things go with the Dreadworlders? What were they like?” Connie asked.
“Surprisingly cheerful,” Anna said.
“That was the sunless world wasn’t it? The one with the shadow predators and hungry ghosts?”
“Yes, that’s the one. I’m going to suggest that we take a group vacation there when we get a chance.”
“Really? With the hungry ghosts?”
“They are quite charming for the most part,” Anna said. “They eat the spiritual remains of burnt food offerings as their primary interaction with the living. Beyond that they roam about witnessing history and working on creative endeavors until they feel the call to progress to another life.”
“That sounds pretty restful. Will they help us?” Connie asked.
“They were delighted with the idea,” Anna said. “I’d hoped we’d secure them as another world which would be willing to grant asylum to the refugees who needed it. They went far beyond that though, pledging support to every request Charlene made. They were even the ones who suggested we meet with the Infinite Librarians.”
“Speaking of our hosts, shouldn’t we have met them by now?” Connie asked.
“I don’t believe so,” Anna said. “The Tessered Library allows new visitors in only to the Open Stacks. The Dreadworlders said this is a small area within the overall library for people without credentials.”
Anna pointed to the immeasurably vast space around them which was filled as far as the eye could see with books on every subject the mind could imagine.
“Which part of this is the Open Stacks?” Connie asked.
“All of it, supposedly,” Anna said. “According to the Dreadworlders, this is meant to allow prospective patrons to peruse the offerings and get a sense of the kind of material the broader library has. Since the Open Stacks are unregulated we won’t see any of the Librarians until we reach one of the Information desks.”
“How far is that?” Connie asked.
“At the pace we’re setting? It shouldn’t take more than another twelve hours or so.”
“And how long from there to reach the people we need to talk to?” Connie asked.
“That could take a bit longer. The Infinite Stacks apparently live up to their name.”
“Wait, forget about the others, are we going to make it back to Earth in time?”
“That will be our miracle,” Anna said. “Or at least one of them.”
“Can we afford to spend a miracle like that?” Connie asked. “There’s always last minute stuff that comes up.”
“Charlene said she’ll be handling that personally,” Anna said.
“Who does she have to call on though?” Connie asked.
The book shelves around them changed as they advanced. Shelves of dusty old tomes, were replaced by racks of scrolls, and then by stone tablets. Glancing at the tablets, Anna was amused to see that in place of pictograms, the stone blocks showed a collection of graven icons which match the popular apps on her smartphone. The small port on the side of the tablets was also pretty clearly a USB connection port.
“Excuse me,” a young blonde woman said, stepping out from the stacks carrying an armful of stone blocks which had to outweigh her by a factor of at least three to one.
“Do you need a hand with those?” Anna asked, slowing her pace so as not to collide with the woman.
“Thank you, could you grab the two on the top, they keep trying to jump away.”
Anna and Connie each grabbed one of the blocks and had to struggle to carry the massive objects to a nearby table where the woman deposited the other five she was carrying.
“Should these be growling like this?” Connie asked, backing away from the book she’d been carrying.
Anna’s book was making similar unhappy noises. She fixed a glare on it and it settled down, but didn’t seem completely content.
“They’re just unhappy because they’re Secret Tomes and they don’t want their secrets getting out,” the woman said. “I found them fairly though and without any assistance, so they’re going to have to tell me where the next global disaster is going to occur.”
“The next global disaster?” Connie asked.
“Yeah. These are secrets because they chronicle future history. Knowing what’s in them can destroy them if the person who reads them isn’t careful.”
“How does that work?” Connie asked, the curiosity which drew her into long forgotten ancient ruins dragging the question out of her despite the hurry she and Anna were in.
“Each of these records a disaster which is in the near term future,” the woman said. “If the disaster is averted though, then the future is changed and the history these tomes record never happens, and so they change from being future histories to simple works of fiction. Assuming they’re not erased entirely.”
“That’s quite a number of imminent disasters for this world,” Anna said, looking at the size of the stack of tomes.
“Oh, they’re not all for this world,” the woman said. “They cover all of the worlds the Tessered Library is cosmological close to at the moment.”
“We must be in there,” Connie said.
“Why do you wish to read about these worlds?” Anna asked, the rush to get to the Infinite Librarians seemingly forgotten. In its place, Anna had settled on trying to puzzle out what it was about the stranger that had snagged her attention.
There was a sense in talking to the blonde woman that she addressing someone similar to Charlene. It was unlikely. From everything Anna’s mystically enhanced senses could tell her, the woman was an exceptional but still mundane human. She might possess an unusual knowledge set based on her interests and access to the Tessered Library but she wasn’t any sort of cosmic entity. At least not as far as Anna could see, and her spells were potent enough to pierce the illusions of a god in their own dominion.
“I’m doing some work as a retro-archaeologist,” the woman said. “It’s sort of a weird field, but in this case it means I’m trying to collect information about these worlds and preserve it so that future people will be able to understand what their world looked like before everything in it changed and all connection with their history was lost.”
“What if the disaster doesn’t leave anyone behind to look into their ancestors’ history?” Connie asked.
“Then it’s for the strangers who will eventually discover the ruins,” the woman said. “There’s too many places where all of the stories of those who once lived there have been lost to oblivion. Even if the only record is stored in a place like this, where it could be close to impossible to find, that the record exists makes a difference.”
“With what’s in those books, couldn’t the disasters be avoided though?” Anna asked.
“In some cases, certainly,” the woman said. “In others, the calamities are beyond any one person or group of people to prevent.”
“Do you ever feel tempted to intervene with what you know?” Anna asked.
“If I didn’t, the Secret Tomes wouldn’t be afraid of me,” the woman said. “I would try to reassure them but I was lucky enough to have someone win a second chance for me when I most needed it, and I know there’s a lot of people out there who deserve a second chance of their own too.”