Chapter Three: Ace of Gates

The last thing to do, after they'd covered over and padded the skylight and blocked up all the windows, was the door. It was huge and glass and towered above all of them, even Ambience, who was the tallest, but he and Nauporta together heaved it shut and then all five of them set about insulating it with fur and polystyrene and sheets of mirrors. Darkness fell in the library.

"We should really have lit the lamps first, shouldn't we?" Nauporta said. She smiled, and then wondered what for, given that no one could see it.

"It's alright, I can find them," Ambience said, and Palatino offered to go with him. Nauporta heard their footsteps disappearing off, clicking against the smooth white surface. A moment later, there was a glow of light to their left, and Ambience and Palatino were illuminated against the nearest wall. The glow spread, following them as they walked around the library, till the whole place was quivering with flickering light. There were no gas lamps in the library; it was all candles. Which was prettier, and more, well, library-ish, but they didn't last long before you had to relight them. And the library was never going to look that library-ish anyway, with its perfectly smooth white walls and floor and ceiling and bookshelves – not to mention the fact that all the 'books' were just sheets of translucent, iridescent dreamline, filed away in thousands upon thousands of boxes. Nauporta, personally, preferred real books, where you could feel the paper in your hands. So did most people, which was why the library had never bothered to stock contemporary novels or anything like that: only books that would otherwise be destroyed by time – or ones that already had been.

When Ambience and Palatino came back, all five of them set off for the circle of space in the middle of the library where the fire was. Dreamline didn't burn – one of the many reasons why it was used – and neither did the strange plasticky material that the library was made of. The fire still made Nauporta nervous though, not least because they were completely shut in. Yes, there was a tube which produced oxygen and took in the waste products from the burning, but since for the tube to go outside would let in cold air – and that couldn't be had – it only sent the stuff circulating around inside the walls. It was designed to hold exactly as much as would be produced over the twelve weeks they were here, and it had always managed perfectly, but that didn't stop Nauporta from imagining it seeping out and filling the library with poisonous gases. And she wondered precisely how the tube was producing oxygen from nothing. It had been invented by someone at the Lowfire Institute, which meant that this wasn't precisely a miracle of advanced but explicable science and technology, but something more worrying. The people there were scientists only in the broadest sense of the word – well, she supposed that they were scientists, but what they did – it was all ideas and things which only worked when you didn't think about them, or only worked when you did think about them with your whole head. It was the Lowfire Institute of Paralogy – it was studying what was beyond. Beyond what? That was the kind of question that one of them would give you a three hour long answer to if you asked it. But among other things, it was the study of what was beyond the normal reaches of the human mind. It wasn't logical, or otherwise it was so logical that most people couldn't follow it.

"It's going to be boiling in here by the time we get out," Palatino said. Which was true. But right now they were still cold from the winter outside, and they huddled around the fire.

Chapter Four: Prosperity for All

My mother is in despair over the grocery, but still full of helpful suggestions. She says things like, "Winter's coming – you could put candles inside all the tomatoes and they'd have this beautiful red glow and people would buy them as decorations?"

And it seems like a good idea at the time, so I get up three hours early and carve out the insides of fifty tomatoes and put tiny little candlesticks in them, and naturally people don't want tomatoes with candles in them – they want tomatoes and they want candles – they want decorations that won't, you know, rot. Which I suppose is understandable.

"It's always slow-going in the winter," I say, soothingly. "There's less to sell and the things I have are the things people don't want as much, not nice things like strawberries that everyone always wants. It'll pick up again come spring. And anyway, Adam's making plenty."

My mother sniffs. I used to think she disapproved of Adam – his silent air, and his strange job – but too late I realised that she doesn't disapprove of him and she certainly doesn't disapprove of his strange job; she just wishes I could find a job that would give me accommodation and a steady rate of pay. And I tell her again and again that I like this job – like the huge crates that come in from the countryside on massive trucks, like pulling out brightly-coloured fruit and vegetables from them and washing them and deciding which ones to put next to each other to make their colours blaze as vividly as possible. I wouldn't want to work in a huge building with tongs and a passive expression, watching a hundred experiments fail before I find what I'm looking for.

"He's doing really well," I repeat. "He'll support us both, and Nauporta."

My mother smiles for the first time at the child's name. "How is she?"

"She's doing well." Not much else to say, because my mother is always asking about her, and so knows every detail of her age and how she's doing at school and what she wants for her next birthday. Anything else I say about her tends to turn into about me – how I'm relieved that, two years later, she doesn't seem to remember Solom at all, and yet there is a part of me that finds the fact repulsive, that wishes the girl would still cry at night for the death of her father – would at least show some signs of remembering he existed at all. Of course I don't want my child to be traumatised – and yet – and yet –