Once, not so very long ago, there was a University, a City on a Hill, with a Library that was a Borg Cube. (1)
Oh, when they built this library, there was no such intention. When they built it, they built the Library as the Athens of the West with elegant columns and beautiful frescos over its vast reading room for the students of the university. For many years, that was exactly what it was. A little quirky perhaps, but by no means full of dark terrors.
Now, of course, to build a library was a curious and occult process that came of placing books together on a shelves in a certain neurologically significant order known and understood only by Librarians(2) and other devotees of Thoth, god of wisdom and Libraries as he invented writing.
For quite some time, the personality of that Library was an Athens of the West. Even down to the playfulness that came of having a reading room attached that was entirely for pleasure reading, and not for study. Even on grey days, with the fingers of fog rolling in through the Golden Gate, the Athens of the West Library would smile and say, "Let there be light."
The change came when the sheer number of books within had the Librarians praying to Thoth that they might add an addition. Some stacks as it were. By the rattling of the numbers they cast, they knew that their request was granted. Since by that era, no one was thinking classical and everyone was thinking utilitarian and modern, they built a Borg Cube attached to Athens of the West. This was when the Library's name changed in accordance with its new and terrible nature.
They added onto the Library a building ten stories high and its dimensions in width and breadth were equal to its height. Each floor within that space was made of dark woven metal more normally used in catwalks than in floors. With a great gap between the floor and the book shelves. So it was entirely possible to look though the floor itself and see the ones below. Just as it was entirely possible to look up and see the levels above.
Each row of books that a student would enter had a ticking light switch that must be turned on before entry lest there be nothing but stygian darkness. Walking down the catwalks, hearty souls prayed that the light would not turn off before they found their book and made their way back out of the ghastly labyrinth to the central stairwell.
It was often the case that pink cheeked eighteen year old students would venture into those eerie rows in search of a book, only to emerge aged, as if they were now a haggard and debauched twenty-five and a few credits shy of a full load.
Between these shelves, were little dark alcoves where deeds were done. Perhaps books were read. Although, precisely how given the level of light in that library was hard to comprehend. More often ghosts lingered to trail icy fingers down spines of more than just books.
Upon the ground floor were computers that were slaves to a Master Computer somewhere with the heart of the cube. This Master Computer contained the card catalogue, which by its very nature was highly occult for it was a list of all the books within the library. Each slave screen glowed an eldritch green that carved into the monitor whatever search was left longest. That the computer system that served as the catalogue was called MELVYL was a quirk of circumstance. Though none (3) could quite understand why every slaved monitor bore the search "Theories of Masculinity in Moby Dick" as a palimpsest echo burned into the screen.
The personality of such a Library was quite dark. Where once Athens of the West invited bright thoughts under murals, the Library now inspired dire morose brooding fit for later day Poes. The Borg Cube Library roared with bursts of misplaced central heating through exposed air ducts. It screamed, "It is useless to resist. Fiat Tenebris! You will be consumed." (4)
Students were time to time eaten by darkness when daring to pluck a copy of Lermontov's "The Demon" from its rightful home. The ticking sound of the lights should have been ominous warning enough.
Sometimes dimensional portals opened up in the catwalks and one librarian, though well trained in her craft and science, fell through time and space.(5)
Given its organization based on the Library of Congress, the smallest numbered books were located on the top floor, while the oldest tomes were in the basement of the place. Musty books, centuries old lay open on tables in the nether regions of the building. Spreading hysterical laughter simply by gazing upon them in their non-climate controlled room.
Here was where things got a little complicated. One maddened University Library, at war with itself, might taint that city with its(6) madness, and no more. But this Library was part of a multiple University system that was in essence a vast Meta library made up of component parts. The other Libraries within the system had a problem(7). Books might be exchanged between Libraries. Books that carried with them the essence of the Library in which they were shelved. They were pieces of its soul.
The Library of the University across the Bay dedicated itself to matters medical and pretended to have more in common with other University libraries.
Of the great and grand Library in the City of the Angels, we will not speak. For those southern most Libraries in the system: the City of Angels, the Library by the Riverside(8), the Library in the Orange fields(9), the Library with the Mission(10), and the Library by the Beach formed a compact that they would delete all requests into the MELVYL system for interlibrary loans(11).
The Library Amid the Farms drowned books from the Borg Cube Library in either sacred liquid from the wine or beer programs associated with that university and tried to keep the madness so contained.
This left only (12) the Library of the University in the Redwoods to exchange books with the maddened Borg Cube Library.
Now it should be understood that all the other Libraries resided on campuses mostly made up of buildings with the occasional tree. The Redwoods Library was one of a few buildings amidst a mighty forest of redwoods and oaks. Some of those trees were saplings when the Library of Alexandria was built. Some redwood trees had budded from trees that sprouted when the Library of Atlantis was founded.
Every book that was checked out of the Redwood Library spent some time in a rolling meadow brushed with sea breezes, or propped on the bark of a fallen redwood, or in a fern dell on a rare dry spring day. They participated in midnight poetry readings by candle light and ghost stories in elf(13) dens. This meant that this Library in the Redwoods had its own odd character. Students or Librarians were not apt to get trapped in stygian realms until they lost what sanity they possessed. They were likely to gaze out the windows at the forests beyond. This Redwood Library once mused to itself, "Dude, everything in the world changes into something new and strange. That's pretty hey nonny awesome."
So when a desperate Russian literature student went to the Borg Cube Library and made an interlibrary request for Lermontov's "The Demon", the Redwood Library sent that book to the Borg Cue dusted with the soul of a forest.
The Borg Cube Library snarled and promptly shelved that slender tome with the others of its kind on the same darkened shelf. But that book sat there filing the rest of the books with dreams of sylvan meadows.
When a request was made for the Redwood Library's copy of "Is Anyone Out There? A Scientific Search for Extra Terrestrial Life" by Frank Drake, it came with the faint invisible traces from all of the Mars and Milky Way bars handed out by Professor Drake on the last day of his fall "Introduction to Astronomy(14)" class. This was to the despair of the Librarians of the Redwood Library, because they were after all fully inducted into their art and science. Yet, that book carried dreams of star songs that echoed in the Borg Cube Library even after one of its harried Librarians handed it to the requesting student and told her, "Leave quickly, before the Cube notices."
This exchange of books was not one way.
A shard of madness, otherwise catalogued as "Folklore of the Aboriginal Tribes of Queensland", was requested by the Redwood Forest. The Borg Cube Library snarled as it let go of a precious book, but did so in some fevered thought of injuring the one sending all these forest dreams. That shard went into the Redwood Library and was promptly exposed to a Didgeridoo recital in the woods(15). This book was subsequently lost(16).
Another shard of madness, a graduate thesis, "Radical Darkness: an Analysis of Conrad's Heart of Darkness" was hurled from the Borg Cube Library at the Redwood Library. It was read not in a grove, but in senior student housing perched over a redwood and fern shrouded gulch. When the book was sent back with a cheery note of thanks from the Redwood Library, the Borg Cube Library sent back a message via MELVYL, "Going up your river of books is like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. Beware, for when you face me, you face the heart of darkness. You exist in the flicker. Darkness was here yesterday and shall be here tomorrow. I am the first and I am the last in our system."
The Redwood Library replied, "Wow, you're kind of blowing my mind. I was just thinking about how trees become books and we're made up of thousands of books. We are the forest and the forest is us."
The Borg Cube Library rattled shelves and flickered lights on all ten floors. It sent back a reply. "Towards thee I roll, thou all-dreaming but unconquering Library. To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee."
The Redwood Library replied, "Dude, has someone been messing with your installation of MELVYL. I'm sending you a copy of "UNIX for Luddites". It's a lifesaver when your Librarians have to make updates."
Further doomful sputterings were met with, "Hope you feel better. Have you tried having some students vacuum your books with a little cheesecloth? I just had that done and it was amazing how it felt for my chakras."
The Borg Cube Library thought about its chakras. They were very clogged. Having a vacuum nozzle wrapped in cheese cloth and gently dragged across books in its third floor was more than pleasant. It was perhaps pleasurable in a clanging dark hearted sort of way. The Borg Cube Library felt so mellow, it did not prematurely age any of the students charged with this task.
In a haze of pleasure, the Borg Cube Library composed certain verses musing on the silky smooth spines of the Redwood Library's books. There were certain metaphors about milky pages struck by hard typography. There was mention of teasing serifs and sensuous cursive. Pillars thrusting into the earth may have come up once or thirty times. The Borg Cube Library may have even spontaneously sent over a first edition copy of "Lady Chatterley's Lover".
This was admittedly mixed with ravings on the eldritch nature of dust mites, but that did not matter to the Redwood Library.
The Redwood Library sent over a book bound with red embroidery floss in a Coptic bookbinding stich with hand illuminated pages of short stories with coded directions to a map of Elfland(17) between varnished oak cover boards. "So, I got your message. This is part of my my Special Collections, but I want you to have it."
The Borg Cube Library wanted this book, because it was a book and it was a library and it wanted to assimilate all the books. The book was placed in the Borg Cube Library's lowest level by a trembling Librarian. But this book was not musty. It was written in vegetable ink with a peacock feather pen on mulberry paper. That book smiled sleepily at the musty tomes dreaming of ancient horrors of mold and infected the lot with not just the soul of forests, but rivers and oceans and stars.
The Borg Cube Library shuddered as that book was laid down upon the tables in its nether regions.
Feelings arose in the Borg Cube Library. Since the Borg Cube Library was a dark confusing sort of place, they were dark confusing feelings. Though that part of it that was still Athens of the West protested that perhaps there could be light, but that part was drowned out by the clanging sound of feet on metal walkways.
The Borg Cube Library tasked one of its Librarians with a terrible burden to create a very special book. A syllabus of madness. It contained photocopies of an ancient mimeograph of the full and original draft of "Eye of Argon(18) ". It contained the transcript of the extemporized work "Princess Unicorn on Barsoom"(19). It contained the original draft of "Tristram Shandy", which implied that there was in fact no point to it all. It contained a recitation to the old Gods from the lost library of Atlantis(20). It contained many horrible things. This syllabus was sent to the Redwood Library with a red bow on top.
Upon being received, per the rites of their order, one of the Redwood Library's Librarians saw that it had no barcode and one was placed on it. A wand was waved above the barcode and that book was entered into the Redwood Library's system. The Redwood Library had time to think, "Oh, this is not good," when the earth shook with a horrible cataclysm.
This shaking of the earth was so great that it was felt throughout the region. Buildings fell. Bridges collapsed. Fires raged. Even over a distance of some miles, the Borg Cube shook with the force. The Borg Cube Library thought, "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," and immediately after in a rare cogent thought, "What have I done?"
The Borg Cube Library sent queries through MELVYL, but the Redwood Library did not respond. Days went by without response, as the Borg Cube Library's requests for information became more strident and were comprised of slightly mixed messages such as, "Answer me as to your continued good health, or you shall burn as the library of Ashurbanipal once burned!" (21)
Eventually, came the slow reply, "Dude, that was one powerful syllabus. My Librarians had nightly readings of Eye of Argon by candlelight during the power outage. You've got to try this. It's awesome. But enough about me, I'm seismically safe. How are you?'
The Borg Cube Library considered this and considered that perhaps it was not seismically or otherwise safe. The Borg Cube Library replied, "Not good, but I want to change."
Within, the Librarians cowering at the bottom of ten unstable stories of books heard that desire and rejoiced, but quietly because the Borg Cube Library might hear them.
They chanted to Thoth, and having completed the many forms that are sacred to Thoth, who was the creator of both writing and paperwork, they began again.
The books were removed from the Borg Cube Library. The Borg Cube Library was dismantled and once more Athens of the West was what remained. A new addition was hollowed out in the earth. Miles of corridors full of books were built beneath the earth with cleverly designed moving shelves that could be cranked open and closed, because the Library of Athens of the West was never going to be entirely a safe library. But it was well lit with skylights and pleasant lighting that did not cut off while looking for books. There were far fewer trans-dimensional portals. There were a great many plugs for laptops in convenient locations.
As to the relationship between Athens in the West and the Redwood Library, well, they didn't wait for the completion of the new space. After a great deal of book vacuuming, and book exchanges, they formed a Science Library together.
That is not all there is to say about them, but all that will be written here.
(1) This University, this city on a hill, was the first university within a multiple university system in a Left Coast state of mind.
(2) It is well known that the First Librarian was the Librarian Sorcerer Osiris Trigimestrus, who assembled the Books of Life and the Books of the Dead upon his shelves and deemed that no bad things ever came of reading a book. Although, he did caution against reading them aloud without mystic cones of silence. Thus the quiet of the first library was born.
(3) By None, we mean the enslaved imp within the Library's Master computer did it and everyone knew it and also knew it was best not to say it aloud.
(4) The Borg Cube might have meant assimilation, but really, no, it meant consumed.
(5) That Librarian was transported to the Library of Alexandria just in time to save the books from being burned by Julius Caesar. Or more precisely scrolls in canisters. Given the vast library was actually just a hundred scrolls, they fit quite easily in her backpack as she ran for the docks. The legend of Cleopatra being unrolled from a carpet is actually her brave deed of opening her back pack and explaining to Julius Caesar that he should both beware the Ides of March and burning books was something up with she'd not be putting. This naturally resulted in an alternative dimension, but she knew that going in.
(6) Cases in point being the Protest against the Twentieth Century that resulted in people voluntarily spending their weekends recreating the Middle Ages as they ought to have been, or the long lines in all administrative offices where the tedium was relieved by televisions on the walls from which comedians made jokes about standing in line.
(7) In that one of its component parts was bug nuts mad and full of dust mites.
(8) Calling it Riverside somewhat stretches the definition of the word river. Channel of cement might have been closer.
(9) Formerly there were Oranges, but by the days of this story, there were only memorials of those once vast groves in the form of a single orange tree in everyone's yard.
(10) Actually several of the University Libraries had nearby adobe Missions, but this particular Library was very proud of its Mission and Mission statement.
(11) Pretending not to be partially bug nuts wasn't entirely an effective strategy, as the University in the Orange Groves still managed to be the home of Deconstructionism, whose central premise was that it was impossible to truly understand any other persons writing, which made the whole books and reading concept a bit recursive. Somewhere, Socrates and Phaedrus were laughing. http://modernplatonist.wordpress.com/tag/thoth/
(12) For those who protest what of the Library by the Lake, it hadn't been born yet at the time of this tale, and was but an eldritch glimmer in a Librarian's eye.
(13) Not actual elf dens mind you. The students at this university were in the habit of building odd structures in the woods out of branches between rings of Redwood trees and calling them elf dens. Some consumption of medicinals may have been involved.
(14) It should be noted that Professor Drake did not use this as a textbook in any of his classes, nor when he taught about the equation for calculating the possibility of other life in the Milky Way did he call it the Drake Equation. That said, this book had been present many times for the final day of class each year when the students would not infrequently give the Professor a standing ovation.
(15) Which is to say a Librarian on break next to the Redwood Library's parking lot was in a Digeridoo-Drum-Harp band.
(16) By lost, please understand that the student who checked it out eventually found it twenty years later in her parent's office/library shelved with the poetry. But the discerning reader should understand that that book having made a break for freedom was not going back to the Borg Cube Library.
(17) Elfland being the greatest concentration of the previously mentioned elf dens. Although, "land" might be over stating things, but the Infinity of the Spheres cave was quite nice.
(18) If you've not had your sanity tested by reading a copy of "The Eye of Argon", know that it contains eldritch horrors greater than any contained within the leather bound covers of the Necronomicon.
(19) Recited by a child to her fourth grade class and contained all the interesting things in the universe. If perhaps, no real plot.
(20) A library with its own readily apparent issues. But that was when the Art and Science of Librarianship was yet young and they did not yet understand the full power that they possessed. It was only as the Library screamed, "Mwhahahahaha!" that the Librarians who tended it may have gotten the full picture. After that, there were only gurgles as the place sank beneath the waves.
(21) Actually, while that library was once set on fire, since all the books were clay tablets stored in metal boxes, it was all fine.