Hidden Pages – Chapter 22 – Tied Up in Search Strings


Searching for information was supposed to be boring. Beth wanted nothing more than for it to be dull and uninteresting, but that was not at all what the Measureless Stars had planned for her.

“Beth! Run!” Lagressa said as the wall beside them exploded in a shower of fiery sparks.

“I am running!” Beth wanted to yell but her lungs were in the process of seizing up completely. Her legs were good for a while – at least another ten or twenty steps, which seemed a lot longer than the rest of her was going to hold out.

“Can’t you conjure a vehicle?” Lagressa asked.

“Tried,” Beth said. “Can’t. Focus.”

Running became a non-issue as the stone floor beneath her flexed like an ocean wave and threw her against a wall that was adorned with monitors and touch controls for the library’s digital stacks.

Lagressa, predictably, landed on the wall, feet first and tumbled back to a standing position in the blink of an eye.

“What was that?” she asked.

“Reilians are getting serious,” Beth said. “That must have been a Techton-Bomb.”

“I think they’re already quite serious,” Lagressa said, gesturing towards the fallen party of tech armored warriors who had been chasing them.

Beth’s plan had been so simple she’d thought nothing could go wrong with it. All she needed to do was collect information from the greatest archive she’d ever read about, and she’d be able to work out a plan for dealing with the Burners and getting her dad back.

She’d jumped for joy and high-fived a confused Lagressa when the Galactic Library Archives had returned a positive match to her description of the Burners. Someone had visited the Measureless Stars before, someone who knew what the Burners were, and so the Library held that information too.

Even for the greatest archive of knowledge imaginable though, accessing that information was a time consuming process. Time which had run out for Beth and Lagressa.

“How did they find us?” Lagressa asked, watching the Reilian warriors carefully.

“I don’t think they did,” Beth said. “If the Reilians have broken out the planetary scale weapons then they’re all in on this attack.”

“How can they respond this quickly and severely?” Lagressa asked.

“They have technology to suppress Stellar Gates to the planets they control,” Beth said. “By forcing one open, the Burners made the Library an instant and undeniable threat to their control, and they don’t react to threats well at all.”

“So it seems. We need to leave,” Lagressa said. “The patrol wasn’t disabled by the fall, just stunned. They’re starting to come around.”

“I don’t know how much further I can run,” Beth said. “I’m a bookworm. I don’t do sports, I’m not built for this.”

“That doesn’t change the need to leave,” Lagressa said.

The ground swelled and shook again. A monitor smashed down onto Beth covering her in broken glass as bits of the ceiling followed suit.

Glass cuts are bad. Glass shatters to such a sharp edge that it can cut through flesh with very little force behind it and shattered glass can turn into a thousand daggers at once.

Beth stood up, expecting to be drenched in a blood and pain only to discover that she was fine.

“I’m in a story,” she said in wonder, looking at her undamaged arms. “I really am more solid than this world.”

Her father had told her she (probably) would be, but everything about the Unread worlds she’d been to had suggested they were real enough to hurt her.

Flush with confidence in her newfound invulnerability, Beth smiled and stepped towards the Reilians, who were rising to their feet. If they weren’t a threat to her, then she could claim the information she needed with impunity.

Between one footfall and the next, the world around her wavered and static spread across her vision. Vertigo sent her tumbling against the nearby wall and she felt the air going thin and weak.

Lagressa dragged her back, away from the Reilians and over the space of three breaths the universe of the Measureless Stars focused back into view.

“What happened?” Lagressa asked.

“I think I almost violated the narrative too much there,” Beth said. “Unarmored people don’t charge Reilian patrols. I almost lost my connection to this place.”

The Reilian patrol caught sight of them began charging their plasma lances again.

Beth felt Lagressa haul her up to her feet and together they were running down the carved stone corridors that lead to the Libraries hidden depths.

“We have to evade them or disable them,” Lagressa said. “Their weapons are unfamiliar to me, but if you can’t run anymore, I can take the fight to them.”

“I have another idea,” Beth said, her breath rapidly running out again.

She looked down the corridor they’d chosen. Since neither she nor Lagressa had a map to the library’s layout, they’d picked the direction to flee from the Reilian patrol at random. That put them firmly outside any region which the narrative of the story had touched on, which meant she was free to suggest some structures of her own.

“The library gets deliveries from across the galaxy all the time,” Beth said.

“Why is that important?” Lagressa asked.

“Because it means they need to have multiple docking areas,” Beth said. “Hidden ones since their presence here is still a secret.”

“How does that help us?” Lagressa asked.

“We’re well underground, but not under the level of the Grand Fissures,” Beth said. “Those are supposedly used by smugglers, but what if the smugglers aren’t hiding out here, what if they’re the ones who bring the library its new books and specimens!”

It wasn’t something the novels had ever touched on or even alluded too, but as backstories went it felt like something that would ring true in the setting.

“So we just need to find these smugglers then and they can help us fight?” Lagressa asked.

“Smugglers aren’t so great at fighting,” Beth said. “What they are good at though is escaping.”

“How do we find them?” Lagressa asked.

“We go in that door!” Beth pointed at the door at the end of the hallway, beside the stairs that lead deeper into the library.

The two charged faster, bursting through the door like a tornado.

“No one’s here?” Lagressa asked.

“That’s perfect,” Beth said, her eye radiant with delight. “We don’t need the smugglers we just need one of their ships!”

Before them, rising as tall as a skyscraper was a gently curved rocket with a mirror bright surface and three engines that would take them to the stars and beyond.