I returned the book/brick and watched as the display in my eyes faded away. It was pretty cool technology and it made me wish that they had something like this back on earth.
I turned my head towards the sound and found what looked like an old chameleon. His eyes were slightly different. They were larger and more expressive than a chameleon’s independent cone-type peepers. His hands and feet were splayed similarly, with 3 fingers angled forwards and 2 angled backward. I don’t think he possessed a tail though. If he had it would have completed the picture in my mind of the Tela race being alien chameleons. What he did have was a rough wide mouth that seemed to be perpetually frowning at everything. He was also wearing a soft-looking robe that reminded me of a bathrobe. As for height, bent over like he was, he could have easily been taller than me if he straightened up. He shuffled closer, letting his eyes dart to every single book in my vicinity as if he was checking their positions, names, and making sure everything was well and accounted for.
“Is that a new alien species we have discovered?” He asked as he stood up a little, moving his body left and right to look at me from different angles. “Looks efficient, would need to give it a few years of testing however though. The skin seems soft.” He said as he tapped his three rough fingers against my arm.
“Actually, I am not sure when the Human’s were discovered,” I answered, finding that knowledge to be interesting as well.
“Humans?” He asked as he shuffled over to a shelf with stacks of books and began to touch each one as if he was searching for something. “Where did you find the species that you are using now?” I asked, beginning to understand that this was not what a Tela originally looked like. There were just too many similarities to the little pet store creatures I would see back home.
“Hmm? Oh, this one? It was on a blue little planet with lots of water. I can’t remember its name now though. It has been too many years.” he answered as he looked at me, his hand moving on its own from book to book while he continued to search for something. “The original form was this,” He said as he turned into a man-sized chameleon, with independent eyes and a tail as well. “But there were parts of it that I had discovered that I didn’t like so I removed them over time.” He continued as the tail vanished and the eyes began to revert back to the large round eyes he had previously. “I employ it because it is perfect for my job, allowing me to climb with ease around the tallest shelves back in storage.” He said with a soft chuckle.
“Oh, I am sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. Hi! My name is Kevin!” I said as I reached out my hand automatically to shake his. He looked at my hand and then, without even looking, grabbed the brick that he was touching and placed it in my grasp. Oops, next time I was able to ask Tutor, I needed to ask her how Tela Citizens greeted each other. Probably not by shaking hands.
The book started to fill text in front of my eyes unbidden and I was forced to ignore it while he responded. “Kevin, you say? Like, Guest Kevin the alien from earth? The same earth that my chameleon avatar came from?” He asked with a rich old chuckle. “Don’t worry, I am not interested in turning you in. If you will stay a little while, I would love to chat with you. Only old-timers like myself come here to read the news.” He said as he tapped the brick still in my hand with a finger. I finally looked down and read the text it was displaying in my vision.
-Wanted! Alien invader designated Guest Kevin-
This earth alien is wanted for countless hacking events in and around our glorious Core home. Any sightings, information, and aid in capturing this evil invasive creature will be greatly rewarded.
-Immediately contact the Head of Security if you have any information as to its whereabouts-
“Just because someone is old, doesn’t mean that they are slow in the mind. I have seen so many things in my time, yet the newer generations choose to ignore me and others like me, probably because we were not born in the system. Our minds are not naturally artificially sped up like these Citizen younglings' minds are.” He waved his hand in the air in an exasperated gesture. I quickly started to read his background data to get a feel for his intentions while he continued.
“No one young ever comes here anymore. They all think that old information is useless. Old ideas and creativity. They all choose to watch recordings, simulations and play games. You might be an alien, even a genius hacker at that, but from my understanding, your entire lifespan is less than 100 cycles of your planet. A perpetual youngling species… and yet here you are, in my bookstore. This pleases me greatly.” He said as he climbed up the shelf a little and began rearranging the upper level more neatly.
He seemed very sharp and distracted at the same time. It was as if he had owned this place so long that maintaining it was just something that he automatically did, regardless of who was in the store at the time. He made me smile, reminding me of my grandfather. What did I read in his data background? Honesty was prevalent with every word that he spoke. That put me at ease and removed my instinct to run out the door after he requested for me to stay a little while. I also noticed that his background information was so much simpler than everyone else's that I had gotten to see so far. It was as if he was running on a very early version of the software that was used to house Citizen’s minds.
“So this shelf is for the news?” I asked as I set the brick back with the other ones, trying to make sure it was exactly where it had started. “Indeed. I never did like all those blocks of text that Citizens like to attach to everything so I carved it into the stone.” He said as his foot reached down and grabbed the brick I had just set down and moved it a couple of millimeters to the exact place that he wanted it. Yup, just like my grandpa did with his tools in his garage. Once he had the brick where he liked it he reached down and ran his toe fingers across something carved into the stone. I had thought that it was just there for decoration because I couldn’t read it but now I understood that I was looking at Tela’s original writing and not System-translated dialog.
“Wow, that is really neat,” I said as I reached out and ran my fingers along the spirals and straight cutouts in the stone. After he had removed his toes of course. Their text seemed to be centered around using circles as the base and lines, similar to the hands on a clock, jutting inside the circle at odd angles to represent different letters or words.
When the top shelf was reorganized to his liking he climbed down and looked around. His eyes fell on the brick on the pedestal that I had first touched when I came in and he went over to nudge it a hair back into place.
“Ah, the Last Engineers Archive.” He said as he touched it with respect while turning to peer at me. “For being a hacker I would have thought that you had come here to steal its secrets… but it appears to still be locked.” He said as he started to rotate the brick onto each of its different long sides.
“What do you mean?” I asked as I watched him fiddle with it before returning it back to its exact original location.
He stared at me for a few moments before answering with a question “Are books not common where you come from?”
“Yes, but not like these,” I said as I gestured to the surrounding books. “We write ours on paper and bind them together with a hard cover.”
His eyes opened wide and he hissed in agitation. “Paper? Like the leaves of a plant? Vulnerable to time and everything in nature? Oh, the very thought gives me pain to consider it all being lost to something as simple as a natural occurrence.” He said as even his skin started to change color.
“We recently have advanced into the digital age.” I quickly added in hopes of soothing him. “We have started to save everything onto more permanent forms of material so that generations could still read it later.”
Slowly the shifting colors started to fade and return to normal on his skin. He seemed to calm down finally as he mumbled. “Well, at least they are moving forward. Who knows the treasures that could be lost. The lives that vanish into the maw of time.”
He looked at the brick and then at me before picking it up and handing it to me. I noticed at the last second that he turned it over right before he gave it to me, making a different side touch my skin.
-Locked by owner-
“It says it is locked by the owner,” I said as I read the text that appeared directly in front of my eyes. I rotated it, checking the other two sides and finding them locked as well.
“May I purchase it? I am interested in the lessons about how to manipulate cr with my mind.” I asked as I rotated it back around to the side that I had first touched.
“You are?” He asked as he looked closer at me.
“Yes, I think it would be an amazing skill to develop,” I said as I turned it over to a locked side so there was less text in my vision.
“Can you hack the other sides?”
“No… honestly I am not much of a hacker. That event that just happened was actually just me dreaming. The system didn’t know how to handle it so my dream made things go a little haywire.” I said as he hovered even closer to me. His eyes were very sharp and I could tell that he was watching me closely.
“I wondered why it was that way.” He said as he looked up at the ceiling for a moment before continuing. “I have a couple of old friends who were a part of whatever happened. They both came here and showed off their home recordings, telling me all about how it was the most excitement that they had experienced in forever. I must say that it was a strange thing to mass broadcast into people’s home VR. It was just a recording of a bipedal creature running down a hallway while its body was getting covered by a metallic coating. The scary part was what lay in the other direction, directly behind the running figure, it was a monster that was eating our very homes. The recording ended when each of my friend’s homes was devoured.” He said as he made pinching motions with his unique clawed hands.
“The rest of the Citizens are a little jealous and they hope that you will do it again in other neighborhoods, regardless of what the Head of Security says. They have never experienced a mass event like that.” He said with a chuckle. “Just return it when you are done with it. I will be here. Maybe you will be able to get the other sides open one day. I suspect it is just his notes on other aspects of his job. He was one of our head military engineers before cr won the wars for us.” He said as he moved to the pedestal and began carving a series of lines across the top. “There, my friends will love to see this. I wrote that I lent it to Guest Kevin.”
“Thank you very much, sir?” I replied, hoping that he would finally say his name.
“Oh! Sorry about that, my name is Inesena. Just Inesena. My children took up all those number designations when they were born in VR. Never could understand it… something to do with generations or something like that.”
“Well, thanks again Inesena! I really appreciate it. I am already excited to start learning what he wrote and practicing.” I said as I started again to raise my hand to shake his but quickly changed my mind as I remembered that it wouldn’t achieve anything. “Do you have a bag that I can carry it in by chance?” I asked as I wondered where I could carry this brick on my person that wouldn’t hamper my movement at all when I decided to fly again.
“Hmm? Why not just send it to your VR home?” He asked as he glanced at me before going back to work. “Also, please let me know before you visit next time, I would love to invite my colleagues over to meet you.” He said over his shoulder while he worked.
I looked at the brick and shrugged before trying to will it to my VR home. A little travel disk appeared in the air in front of me along with text telling me to place the object that I would like to have shipped to my habitat from the Core Market Center. Delivery price 1 CR.
“Wait? This thing is real?” I asked as I reread the text.
“Yes… Original books tend to be.” He said with a puzzled tone of voice. I looked at the brick with new respect, this thing was an ancient relic from before the Tela race had become digital beings.
The brick vanished when I paid for the service and a new block of text appeared telling me that it would arrive in 21 minutes of real-time.
Looks like I would need to go back to real-time before I left. - I thought before a question popped into my mind. "Oh, sorry Inesena, something just occurred to me. What will happen to my book if I travel to another Core?"
"It will transfer with you. The data anyways. It will still be locked, however. Once you reach your destination the data will be copied into a new book."
"Ok, thanks again! I will try to stop by when I return this way." I said as I headed out of his shop and through the front door. It was time to visit my friends at the cafe.