Day 73. 161 pages, 58,131 words.
Astonishingly, the L&E tower cafeteria was relatively crowded when I found my way there, and the reason was almost immediately apparent.
They had ventilation.
Most of the employees of the lower levels of L&E tower, those who hadn’t just decided to go home for the day, had gathered here for an early and then extended lunch as the situation unfolded on Prince Philip Street. The big space was filled with tables and chairs, almost all of them crowded with people enjoying what, for want of a better word, I will call ‘food’.
I admit, I’m coming from a position of considerable over-privilege when I turn my nose up at certain forms of catering. Not only that but, paradoxically, I’m also coming from a position where I really will eat some of the worst junk food so-called adult humans can conceive of, not to mention a vast range of culinary inventions of my own and an even vaster range of delicacies both foreign, alien and extra-dimensional. My palate is not so much spoiled, as jaded beyond mortal comprehension.
It just seems to be that, given a practical infinity of edible nutritious compounds in the world, and infinite upon infinite combinations thereof, why would you eat that thing the label says is meatballs but actually looks like gravy a bunch of cats have been coughing hairballs into for the past week?
I’m absolutely, nay definitively, not fussy. I have eaten my share of cafeteria food. A lot of it, I’ve rather enjoyed, despite the fact – or because of the fact – it makes Creepy turn a shade of green usually reserved for the clothes he wears. There’s just something about big corporate cafeterias … I don’t know, maybe it’s the way the rest of the general environment sucks life-force out of everything it touches. Maybe it also drains the food of its essential foodness.
I’m probably digressing again.
Marion was not easy to pick out among the crowd, but I used my advanced deductive and observational skills, looking for someone who Rose would describe as a ghastly glutton, someone who had clearly been here for a while and was planning on a stay of decent duration, and above all someone who had the name MARION pinned to his chest. I found him, in the end, sitting at one end of an otherwise crowded table, reading a book.
The book had a picture of a spaceship on the cover and he was taking pains, it seemed, to hide that fact from the other people eating at the table. That, coupled with the fact that Rose had clearly disapproved of him, inclined me to like Marion even though there was a good chance he’d stolen our property. It was, I’d decided even before sitting down and seeing him visibly brace himself for a conversation he didn’t want to have and hide his book even more painstakingly, probably all a big misunderstanding anyway.
And after all, it was dubious to level an accusation of thievery at the guy, if you think about it. What had really happened here? Creepy had stolen a relic, traded it with a possible petty criminal for another item, then thrown said item into a rubbish bin, where it was then retrieved by the janitor and handed over to lost and found, possibly never to be retrieved. Even if Marion wasn’t aware of the full provenance of the X-ray specs, I think Creepy and I had definitely relinquished our right to moral outrage. Indeed, I imagine such items are rightly considered a perk of the job, and if Marion happened to nab this particular item before waiting a decent amount of time for its owner to step up, why – it was probably because he recognised the X-ray specs’ value, and didn’t want to run the risk of them being lost in the storage system that probably existed behind the ‘new articles’ shelves.
“Hi,” I said, settling in the empty chair next to him, “Marion – from lost and found, right?” Marion squinted sideways at me warily. “Rose said I might find you here,” his squint, if anything, narrowed still further. “Good book?”
Marion flipped the paperback back and forth with a forced flippancy that hurt my heart a little bit to witness. “Oh, this?” he mumbled, and pushed a little laugh out of his body like an unwanted child being cast into the snow. “Just a, you know, just this dumb, passing the time, not really following it, pulpy, hack nonsense, heh … ”
I wasn’t entirely sure what sort of antiliterate knucklehead Marion had taken me for, but I decided it had gone on long enough. “You didn’t just call Asimov ‘pulpy hack nonsense’, did you?” I said in a low voice. “Because I will straight-up break the first law of robotics on your arse.”
Marion stared at me, hope and disbelief warring on his face. “What?”
“You heard me,” I grunted, and leaned towards him. “Doesn’t matter. Cool book. I don’t care. Did you find a pair of old cheesy X-ray specs in lost and found today? Because my friend dropped them in Anton’s bin by accident and Anton said he took them to lost and found, and I’ve been chasing down the stupid things all day and I’d much rather be far, far from the swamp that’s happening outside right now.”
Marion stared at me a moment longer, then swallowed spasmodically.
“I did find them,” he said, “but I haven’t got them anymore.”