“Okay, Cassandra. First day. You can do this,” Cassandra muttered to herself as she stood outside the doors of the library. She’d arrived an hour early and had already spent half of that time staring at the front door from halfway across the courtyard.
The night before, she had calculated the chances of every terrible thing that could happen, trying to fall asleep. She’d finally conked out while calculating how likely it was for an asteroid to hit.
The library was bigger than she remembered. Honestly though, she didn’t remember much about the architecture of the campus at all. She had been so focused on the numbers and equations. Everything else might as well have been white noise.
She didn’t know exactly what compelled her to do it, but at one point she had decided she wanted to be a librarian. She suspected it was at least partly the monotony and boredom, partly her parents, and partly some other reason she hadn’t really figured out yet.
She got her degree – online, of course – and now here she was: Cassandra Cillian, librarian extraordinaire. That’s what she was convincing herself that she could be.
She had just managed to enter the library when the familiar sound of “Ms. Cillian!” hit her ears. She watched as the sound waves bounced around in the air for a moment before snapping out of it and looking for their origin.
“Jenkins!” she said, smiling at the man she had considered her closest friend years ago. She gave him a quick hug, which he returned, albeit a little stiffly. He had never been one of any sort of display of affection.
“So, shall I give you a tour?” Jenkins asked, clapping his hands together. “Although, I’m sure you remember your way around well enough. I don’t think there was a day when I didn’t see you here, lurking around some obscure text or another.”
“Well then, put me to work,” Cassandra replied. Now that the determination had taken over, she felt the need to jump in, head first.
Jake Stone was completely stumped. He was sitting at a desk in his office, trying to write an article on the gallery’s most recent acquisition, and it was not going as smoothly as he would have liked.
He blamed Jenkins.
A few months ago, Jenkins had mentioned to him that he should potentially delegate some tasks to some of his staff. Because of that, he was stuck with an exhibition he never would have considered.
For some reason, the exhibitions officer he had tasked with the job decided on what she called ‘mathematical art’. It really wasn’t anywhere near any of his areas of expertise. On top of that, there was something strange about some of the pieces. He couldn’t really put his finger on it, but something about them was definitely off.
He had started working at the library museum years ago, specifically choosing to work at a smaller gallery in a university over some of the larger ones because he wanted to teach. It seemed like he picked up a new job every year.
At this point, he was Professor Jake Stone, gallery curator and research librarian. It wasn’t uncommon for him to be working on three or four major projects at a time on top of teaching a couple classes.
Jenkins’ suggestion that he should delegate wasn’t unfounded, but it was also the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard. Yes, he was a little overworked, but he preferred it that way. His work was his heart and soul. His job was his life, and vice versa. He had chosen this, and he wasn’t about to let any part of it get away.
“Mr. Stone,” Jenkins said, walking into the offices with Cassandra trailing right behind him. “Good, you’re here. Let me introduce you to Cassandra Cillian, the newest edition to our team. She is rather knowledgeable on all things related to mathematics. You may find her to be an excellent resource regarding your latest acquisition.”
“Jake Stone,” he said, extending a hand to shake hers. “So, you’re a mathematician?”
“Mathematician-librarian,” Cassandra said, deliberately ignoring the feeling in the pit of her stomach that was trying to tell her that she couldn’t really call herself either of those things.
“Mr. Stone also curates the gallery,” Jenkins said, “which has recently acquired a lovely exhibit that you might be interested in Ms. Cillian.” With that, Jenkins walked away, leaving Cassandra and Jake staring at each other in awkward silence.
“So, um, what are you working on?” Cassandra asked after one too many seconds of quiet had passed between them. She had always erred on the side of talking too much than too little, never having been comfortable with silence. This became especially true once stunned silences surrounded her exclusively.
“Oh, uh, it’s an article I’m writing about the exhibit Jenkins was talking about,” Jake said, moving over a little so that Cassandra could see. “I’m just having a bit of trouble getting the concepts into the article in a way that doesn’t sound like a robot threw up on the page,” he said. “Uh, no offence to math or anything,” he added quickly.
Cassandra smiled. “Math takes no offence,” she replied. “Not that it could, of course. Concepts can’t take offence to things.” She groaned internally at herself, wondering if she could possibly get any dorkier than she was right at that moment.
As soon as she looked at the images, the patterns shouted out to her, their voices loud enough that she couldn’t stop herself from talking about them. She knew she was rambling, but she couldn’t help herself. She got so absorbed by it that she very nearly forgot that Jake was even there.
“I love this one,” she said, pointing at an image of a sculpture. “Everything is interconnected, expanding out from a single origin. Nothing is added or taken away. Just shifted from one form to another.” She watched as the patterns folded and unfolded in front of her, not minding for once that what she was seeing wasn’t really happening.
When she opened the next image, she noticed immediately that something about it was strange, but just as she was about to mention it, the computer flickered, distorting the image before it shut off entirely.
“Shit,” Jake said, not seeming surprised by the computer’s malfunction. He tried pressing some buttons on the keyboard to no avail. “Give me a minute,” he said, getting up and going to the phone at the end of the hall.
Without the images to distract her, Cassandra noticed the notepad that Jake had been writing on. Even just from the cursory glance she gave it, she could tell that he had written down almost every word she had spoken in the last couple hours.
“Just get down here Jones.” Jake’s voice carried down the hall, his exasperation at whoever was on the other side very clear.
“Sorry about that,” he said when he came back to where they were sitting. “Someone should be down to fix this soon.”
“Who?” Cassandra asked.
“Ezekiel Jones, at your service,” Ezekiel said, coming in as if he had been on the sidelines, waiting for the perfect moment to make his entrance. “Although, like I’ve said before, you could get an actual IT guy to do this.”
“Yes, but if I did, you wouldn’t have the chance to brag about how great you are at it,” Jake said, rolling his eyes. His arms were crossed as if he was very annoyed by the situation, but Cassandra could see a hint of a grin.
“Just ‘great’?” Ezekiel asked, stopping what he was doing to look at Jake, mock-wounded. “I’m hurt.” He turned back, saying “abracadabra” as the computer flickered back to life. “Honestly Stone, I don’t know why you insist on using this thing. It’s ancient. It’s probably older than Jenkins.”
“I heard that Mr. Jones,” Jenkins said, turning the corner right at that moment.
“Hey, Jenkins,” Ezekiel said, trying to save himself. “How’s it going? I just fixed this computer, in record time might I add, and now,” he floundered for a beat before finding an excuse, “I am going to get a coffee. Need anything?”
“No, Mr. Jones,” Jenkins replied, seeming more amused by the interaction than anything else. “Perhaps you could take Ms. Cillian with you. Re-acquaint her with the campus?”
“Sure,” Ezekiel said, taking the opportunity for a clean exit at full speed. “Come on new girl. Black coffee for you, right?” he said to Cassandra and Jake respectively, not waiting for an answer from either of them before heading out the door. Cassandra followed after him, feeling like she had just met a cartoon character rather than a human being.
Ezekiel took the stairs two steps at a time, taking care not to spill his sorely needed caffeine fix. He hadn’t been getting a lot of sleep lately. It felt like, for the past few nights, his brain had been worrying about something that it hadn’t let him in on yet.
It was a pattern his subconscious had put together ages ago. Some creeping suspicion that something strange was going on. But it wasn’t until that morning that it clicked in any sort of concrete way.
What he had been looking into before he had been so rudely interrupted had confirmed his suspicions: He had a copycat. A really good one too.
Good enough that even he could have sworn it was his work. But he knew it wasn’t, which meant that someone was deliberately trying to make it look like he was back in the game. Or they were trying to call him out. He hadn’t really figured that part out yet.
Whatever the reason, it definitely wasn’t good.
Certain circumstances had led to his untimely retirement a few years back. Since then, he hadn’t so much as shoplifted a pack of gum. He couldn’t risk it. There was too much at stake. Eventually, he got bored enough and got a job.
So here he was, a friendly neighbourhood librarian. How the mighty did fall.
But despite himself, he enjoyed working at the library. It helped that it also came with the benefit of being able to set up a secure network in a place that wasn’t his home. He needed to keep tabs on certain aspects of his past.
It wasn’t that he cared that someone was pretending to be him. Part of him was kind of flattered, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all that.
He was more concerned about the other people who would have figured out the pattern. And they would have figured it out by now. These were people who had spent years tracking those patterns. These were people who would knock on, or, more likely knock down, his door, asking questions.
He really didn’t need people asking questions.
“Hey,” a voice he didn’t recognize called from the doorway. Ezekiel nearly jumped out of his chair, being on edge as he was. He looked up to see Cassandra, holding way too many books, even for a librarian.
“You know we have carts, right?” Ezekiel asked, willing his heart to stop beating so damned fast.
“Yeah,” Cassandra said, putting the books down on Ezekiel’s desk before her arms gave out. “I kind of just picked these up while I was looking for something else. Why are you here so late?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Ezekiel said, his eyes flicking to his screen for a split second. Truth be told, Ezekiel hadn’t realized that so much time had passed.
“I lost track of time,” Cassandra said, trying and failing to hide the slight giddiness in her voice. “But I’m probably going to head out soon.” She fiddled with the books on the table, straightening them out.
“You know what, I should get out of here too,” Ezekiel said. He rubbed at his eyes as they adjusted to the darkness of the room after staring at his computer for so long. He shut down his computer and grabbed his stuff. “I’ll, uh, see you tomorrow.”
Even with her limited experience with Ezekiel, Cassandra still noticed how different he was from earlier that day. But before she could even consider asking if something was wrong, he was gone. She wondered if his exit was calculated to prevent such a conversation.
Cassandra managed to get all the books she had gathered to her office. The offices were all dark by now – most of the staff had gone home hours ago – but she saw a solitary light shining in Jake’s office.
“If I ask you why you’re here so late, are you going to get weird and run away?” she asked, standing in the doorway.
“What?” Jake replied, part confused by the question and part flustered by being dragged out of his work.
“Never mind,” Cassandra said, mentally cursing herself. Why did she even bother trying to be funny? She was not funny. “Um, how’s the article?”
“Just putting the finishing touches on it thanks to you,” Jake said. The awkward silence washed over them again, both of them wishing they had something, anything, to say.
“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Cassandra said, breaking what felt like an everlasting silence. Jake nodded at her, turning back to his article as soon as Cassandra left.
“We found him,” Eve said, bursting into Flynn’s office. “Let’s go.” She grabbed his jacket off the coat rack and his keys off the table.
“Do you mean?”
“What else could I be talking about?” Eve said, waving him to the door as if she was guiding a landing plane. “Let’s go. If we leave right now we’ll be there by morning.”