Kenz Bradbury softly clicked her door shut and slumped against the frame. She looked down at her hands, now clenched into fists to stop them shaking. Why had the old man affected her so? He was nothing special, just another crazy old guy hording forbidden books. Why? What was so important about them that people would risk their lives and freedom to have them?
With a sigh, Kenz pushed her body into motion, crossed the narrow living room and entered her tiny sleeping room. She shed her black cloak and boots, dropping them on the floor as she entered her bathing space. It was as small as the rest of the apartment, a simple counter and mirror beside the utilitarian sanitary fixture. The opposite contained her lone source of pride; a modern multi-function bathing chamber. Quickly setting a program on the touch pad, she slipped inside and let the steamy water carry her mind away. So much to think about. Would he call? Why had she spared him? So many things to consider.
An hour later, Kenz emerged from her bath clean, misted, steamed, dried, massaged, doused with a faint scent of flowers, and enveloped in a fluffy robe. She stood in front of her small mirror and sighed. If only the nearly magical technology of her bath could somehow include a way of taming her unruly brown hair, her life would be complete. She yanked a large toothed comb roughly through her long locks a few times, then gave up and tied a scarf over her head and returned to her bedroom.
She retrieved her clothing from the floor and carefully hung the long black skirt and tunic on a rack, smiling as the wrinkles immediately fell to smoothness. She ran her fingertips across her name embroidered just under the collar on the left. Kenz Bradbury, and underneath: Librarian 1st Class. The culmination of her life’s desires and drive. The fulfillment of every dream she had for as long as she could remember. Librarian. All she had ever wanted to do was live around books and knowledge, to be one of the caretakers entrusted with preserving that knowledge for future generations.
A frown furrowed Kenz’s brow when the communicator buzzed just as she began to program a meal in the tiny dining nook. Who could that be? She glanced at the glowing numbers on the wall; three a.m. Now she was really puzzled. The Library never called her at home except on her work communicator and this was her private circuit. None of her few friends would likely be up, and even if one was, they all knew better than to contact her at home. This was her retreat, her safe place.
Kenz started to cancel the food program and answer the communicator, then thought better of it. If it was really important, they would wait, and if it wasn’t then they certainly could wait. The food processor beeped and she removed a tray of steaming eggs with a side of bacon and two slices of buttered toast. She carried it into her living room and curled up in the lone chair under her reading lamp, long legs underneath her. When she was mostly finished with her meal and down to sipping a steaming mug of tea, she thumbed the control on her communicator to see who had requested her attention. The blue screen immediately filled with one word: Mars.
One eyebrow shot up. So soon? Kenz had seen the look of fear on the man’s face and thought him thoroughly intimidated. Wait. No. she scanned her memory. Smith’s face had been red, not pale. The look had not been fear at all, but anger. She closed her eyes and concentrated, recalling the scene in detail, a skill she needed in her line of work. She remembered puzzlement when Smith realized she was not going to arrest or execute him, the only two choices he had expected. Puzzlement layered with shock when she handed him her card.
Kenz tapped a few keys and spoke, “Talk to me.” She closed the connection. Her insides were roiling. What did he want? What did he think she wanted? She had told him she wanted to understand, but what else? She wasn’t even sure herself what she wanted, just that a flash of clarity had struck, bringing doubt. Was it wrong to suppress that genre? The official stand was that science fiction was dangerously flawed and filled with things that would disrupt their peaceful society; they would upset the carefully constructed, safe routines that kept everyone safe.
The communicator buzzed again almost immediately and new words popped up on her screen, “You have doubts. Right now you are thinking that your life has all been a lie. You are right. And you are wrong. Call me after noon today.” It ended with, “John Smith.”
Kenz stared at the screen. After long moments, she sipped her tea and realized that it had gone cold. Light! How long had she been staring? Who was this man and why did he exert such a pull on her? Criminals had never affected her like this before. Was she about to get into something she could not handle? She silently thumbed off the screen and the lamp, sitting in the darkness sipping cold tea.