* * *
“The last time I felt this way, I…” Amanda looked away from the video screen.
“Amanda, I need you to face the screen,” a disembodied voice droned on from the screen.
“I’m sorry.” Amanda forced a smile and faced the screen, but she just wasn’t in the right headspace for her… Deception? She thought.
“You were saying about the last time you felt this?”
“Yes, well…” Amanda stammered. “That’s the thing, I think I’ve felt this way in the past, but when I try to summon the memory, I get dizzy.”
“That is odd. My remote scan hasn’t turned up anything untoward. Do you want to come in for more detailed observation?”
Amanda tilted her head and forced a bigger smile. “No, I need to get to work, I’m meeting my new assistant today.”
“What happened to Josef?”
Amanda blinked. “Who?”
There was a brief pause, followed by, “Sorry, I had the wrong file open. Come see me when you have the chance.”
The screen went dark, the connection terminated. Amanda allowed her façade to disappear. She wanted her practitioner to focus on her physical health, not mental.
Josef? She thought. Why does that name make my heart race?
Amanda looked around her apartment. She felt slightly out of place. Her things were there and in their proper places. She moved with purpose to the heating unit at the foot of her bed. She felt around the frame until she came across a loose screw. Turning the screw, a portion of the frame came loose and she held it up with her other hand and reached inside the machine. When her fingers reached the intended target, she pulled it out and put it in her lap.
Amanda ran her fingers along the leather spine. The corners of the hard cover were damaged and no longer formed perfect right angles. She ran her fingers along the embossed title: Born on Christmas Day. She opened the book and fanned the pages, inhaling the aroma of paper. Amanda smiled and returned the book to its hiding place, reversing her previous actions.
She moved to her utilitarian chair and stared at her main door. The lights in the hallway were continuously broken by shadows. Some moved left to right, but most moved right to left.
Amanda stood and walked to her door. A chime sounded out, almost pensive. She continued to move towards the door and the next familiar sound she heard was not a chime, but a low rumble as her door recessed into the wall. Amanda paused and watched humanity flow past her. She looked left down the corridor and marveled at the teeming mass of people. She turned right and began her own journey.
The travel was infinitely easier. The looks from passing people weren’t anything new to her. She imagined each face had a history unknown to her and she imagined them meeting and sharing the most intimate details of their lives. That was what appealed most to Amanda: uncovering the information. The drive o divine the information was what made her one of the best librarians. Amanda relishes in the fact that her job is to read books and tell people about them. The spartan living space, the looks from passers-by; they all were insignificant and paled to her love of the written word.
As she approached her office, she saw a man leaning against her door. There wasn’t anything interesting about this man, save for one thing: his luxurious moustache. Mister Moustache leaned forward and extended his hand. “I’m Gregory. I’ll be your assistant for as long as you’ll have me.”
Amanda heard the words he spoke, but she was transfixed on his moustache. It moved up and down and undulated with each movement of his mouth. She stared and stared and was aware he was saying something else, but that moustache eclipsed any other thought she had.
“I’m sorry, say again.”
Gregory smiled, causing his moustache to move. “I said, ‘I hope you’re okay with facial hair.’”
“Of course, it’s just…”
“Impressive, I know.”
Amanda smiled and walked up to the door to her office. A chime was followed by the rumble of the door opening. Once the door closed, Amanda turned to Gregory and asked, “You ready to head to the surface?”
“If that’s what you want, but I was hoping to get to know each other. We could be spending a lot of time together.”
Amanda smiled and sat in an identical utilitarian chair to the one in her quarters. “Let’s talk.”
* * *
An image showed on a large screen. It was a false color image of a woman moving about her apartment.
“Does she find it, Stefan?”
“Yes, Sir. She removed it from the heat exchanger and held it for a few moments.”
Stefan heard a sigh from his supervisor.
“Sir,” Stefan licked his lips, “if I may be so bold as to inquire…”
“Why do we let her keep the damn thing?”
“I’ll tell you something, Stefan.” The supervisor placed his hand on Stefan’s shoulder. “You’re aware that this information is not for dissemination?”
“Amanda’s special. Her memory is practically infallible. She can consume a book faster with greater retention than anyone. No librarian in the history of librarians has worked as long or as hard as she has.” The supervisor leaned against an adjacent desk. “We’ve confiscated the book. We’ve tried erasing her memories of its existence. We’ve even tried replacing it with a facsimile. Nothing works. Each attempt ends disastrously.”
“More disastrous than what it’s doing to her?”
“For whatever ghostly reason, she needs that book.” The supervisor scowled at Stefan. “Contamination can be controlled. Amanda can’t be replaced. Understood?”
Stefan nodded and swallowed visibly.
The supervisor’s demeanor softened. “You’ve invited her for a visit?”
“Good, we’ll see if Gregory and his stupid moustache are all they claim to be. Keep me informed.”
Stefan started to respond, but he would’ve been talking to the supervisor’s retreating back. Instead, he spun in his chair and reached out to the screen. He touched the false-color image of Amanda and ran his finger along her silhouette as if he were stroking her hair.
“I’ll see you soon, Amanda.”