I paced the length of my den for the fiftieth time. There were decisions to be made, hard decisions. Things could not continue the way they had. The Movement was not making as much progress as we had hoped. Matter of fact, we had been losing ground. Recruiting was difficult and dangerous. Most of us who were old enough to remember the days of free access to all genres of literature were tired. Tired of fighting, tired of being scared, and we just plan didn’t have to energy to continue. We needed new blood.
I played out the entirety of my brief relationship with Bradbury in my head again, searching for every nuance, every inflection, looking for the smallest clue that would tell me if she was really interested or if she had been playing me. She was no fool. She was a trained watchdog for The Library, and had probably dealt with people like us before. Her interest could be an act, a way of drawing me out into the open along with any contacts I had. As Librarian 1st Class, she would want to find out if I had friends. What could I do?
A beep sounded on my personal computer, not the dinosaur I kept on the desk for appearances. The sudden noise startled me out of my reverie. I spun a section of bookcase around to reveal the screen; it showed the small green “safe” symbol in the corner, so I didn’t hesitate to click open the message. It was Bill Jones. I laughed as I opened the message, automatic presets instantly providing layers of filtering that kept prying eyes and itching ears from even knowing that a message had even passed between us. The names were just in case. We tried to take no chances. Until now.
I triple checked that my regular system, the authorized system that was hooked into the public grid and monitored 24 hours a day was still showing sound and video of me sitting in my recliner watching the pap that passed for programming these days. Still operating. My own touches would keep the charade going indefinitely. I had an almost unlimited supply of recorded video of my entire routine, and it was even programmed to show in real time the TV broadcast at the time. Meanwhile, I was free to do what I wanted, including read whatever I wished thanks to my network of friends.
Jones grinned at me, his sleek mocha face filling my screen. “What is the status of your experiment, Smith?” Even on our secure network, he would not use my real name, Will Grady, nor would I call him Charlie Johnson. There was no need to take any unnecessary risks.
“I’m not sure, Bill. I want to believe that she is hooked, but until we hear more, we have no way of predicting. Librarians can be sly,” I chuckled. “If worst comes to worst and she manages to penetrate my security, I know what to do.”
Charlie nodded, his face sober as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. “We need new recruits. We need some people with influence who can access schools. Far too many of us are getting too old to keep up the fight.” True to his word, I could see more gray in my friend’s thin, kinky hair than there had been when I first met him over the newly established Shadow Web.
“That is true. If we could recruit a Librarian, she would have the codes to access the schools. With that, it would only be a matter of time before our movement would be unstoppable.” I stepped away from the screen, camera automatically tracking me and poured another mug of coffee. I sipped as I thought about what I needed to ask next. “How far are we willing to go? How much risk can we take?”
“Bill Jones” pursed his full lips and frowned, thinking. He spoke slowly in his rich bass, “You know what we decided in our last conference with the other leaders. We have to do something. If we continue, our numbers will continue to dwindle. We have our best minds working on hacking the systems, but it is slow going.” He laughed bitterly, “They know that the kids are the key. All their best people are assigned to the security of that part of the network. Almost all their technology budget is devoted to keeping the young from even knowing about that whole genre.” He paused and looked at me soberly, “And be careful. I know you volunteered for this, but don’t be a hero.”
“They understand alright, all too well.” I muttered. “Okay, I have a plan.” I broke the connection and went back to my recliner with a refill of coffee. I turned the plan over in my mind, searching for weaknesses, for gaps. I hoped I had not missed anything. Someone could end up incarcerated. Or even dead.
Days passed. I busied myself with normal routines, but I worried. I suppose I was spoiled, but had to remind myself that her network was antiquated and unreliable. It would take time for her to find the information, and even more to assimilate it into a form that would make sense, that would allow her to see the patterns. I wished for the hundredth time that I could bring her out to my place in the hills and let her use the Shadow Web. I grinned at the thought of the prim Librarian sworn guardian of public knowledge, with all the power of a computer network that actually worked. She would be amazed. More than amazed; she would be stunned. Was it worth the risk?
I returned from a walk that didn’t clear my head. The woods were usually a balm but this week they held no answers. I checked by security, all green, and let myself into my home, a hobbit hole dug into the side of a hill, Ms. Bradbury would be fascinated by the network of homes that were inspired by a book. I wondered if she would like the privacy they afforded. She had struck me as the kind of woman who would appreciate such a home. I shook my head to clear the useless fantasy. She would not be interested in an old man like me. Still, she didn’t look that much younger.
The message light was blinking on my desktop, the one that was connected to the public web. My heart stopped. Could it be? I quickly strode across the spacious den and activated the ancient monitor.
“One message,” the notification read.
I dropped into my recliner, breathing in gasps as if I had just run a mile as the sender’s name popped up: Kenz Bradbury.