Day 81. 64 pages, 25,967 words.
“We didn’t exactly mean to come here,” Gyden explained.
“I was not aware that it was possible to come to the archives by accident,” the Bookwyrm said. “I have been given to understand that it is difficult to access.”
“Well, we were sent here to deliver the, uh, abomination that you just destroyed,” Lelhmak explained. “After that, we’d sort of been operating on the assumption that we would just go back the way we’d come and talk to the Destarion about whatever happens next. Even as I say it out loud, it seems hopelessly naïve.”
“We were so young and idealistic back then,” Gyden remarked.
“Strange,” the Bookwyrm said after a long, silent moment of apparent consideration.
“It most certainly is that,” Lelhmak murmured. He gave Gyden a concerned but swift examination, then stepped carefully out of the airlock past Predericon. The Bookwyrm slid backwards slowly to make room for the Molran. “How many people come here on purpose, then?”
“Very few,” the Bookwyrm admitted. “The last visitor took away the interactulix.”
“What is an interactulix?” Predericon asked. She and Gyden joined Old Man Lelhmak just outside the doorway. She knew, intellectually, that the airlock offered no sanctuary or shelter whatsoever, but her instinctive unwillingness to abandon the bolthole was surprisingly insistent.
The Bookwyrm half-turned and raised two arms to gesture at the light that continued to pulse and move sluggishly in the middle of the chamber. Then it lowered the limbs.
“It seems illogical to point out where it used to be,” it said, “in an attempt to illustrate what it was. It fitted over the archives like a dome, and…” it seemed at a loss. “That is the thing that the interactulix was.”
“I actually have a vague memory of something like this,” Lelhmak said, squinting at the light. “Nothing so big, of course – just a prismatic data trove that my grandmother had. Yes,” he went on more positively, “yes, it was a device, with a little interface bubble on the top that you could press and talk into and look through. I remember taking it apart as a child, and the raw data was coded into higher-function-energy light. It was very much like that – although smaller, like I said. I got in a lot of trouble when she saw I’d taken it apart, because she thought if the light shone out that meant the data was – was drifting away with the photons,” he chuckled.
“The elderly are funny,” Predericon remarked flatly.
He gave her a narrow look. “Anyway,” he said, “I’m pretty sure that was called an interactulix, too. Just a stylish old name for a data interface.”
“So now there’s just…” Gyden waved at the light.
“The archives,” the Bookwyrm said. “It is still accessible, and quite fascinating. It was what drew me here to begin with, the bait in the trap. But perhaps less simple to navigate now that the interactulix is gone.”
“How much can you tell us about yourself?” Predericon asked, then shrugged when the other two stared at her. “We seem to be trapped here,” she said. “Might as well get to know our host.”
Lelhmak shook his head, and stumped over to sit on one of the smooth square lumps of hull enamel that furnished the lower archives chamber.
“Fair to say,” he acknowledged. “Unless the Bookwyrm has food.”
“Food,” the Bookwyrm said blankly.
Lelhmak spread his hands. “Life story, then.”