I was peering down at a set of seven large tiles, each very old and etched with worn characters, when the front door at Fiddler's Edge swung open.
"Hello Mord," said Jenny, my former research librarian.
The dress code over at the National Archive's Special Acquisitions unit must be fairly liberal. In place of her usual librarian-standard grey wool suit she wore form fitting glove-leather pants and a gunmetal gray t-shirt. Her jacket was so black it seemed to absorb light. Only the shoes were the same; expensive, red soled and wickedly heeled Louboutins.
"Nice outfit, Doctor Brown" I said, "But the shoulder holster spoils the drape of the jacket."
She sniffed. "Some accessories you just can't compromise on," she said. "The P229 is worth a wrinkle or two. I save the concealables for formal wear."
Jenny's SIG handgun fell under the heading of standard business attire at Special Acquisitions' offices. Think of them as the only covert ops unit made up entirely of librarians. Most of the things they acquire are special to the point of being dangerous. You won't find 'Acquisitions' on the National Archives' website or their budget, so don't bother looking. When ancient texts or artifacts of mysterious provenance pose a national or global threat, SA gets the call.
Hooey? Yeah, maybe. And maybe the Rosetta Stone didn't cause the Tunguska event.
Jenny crossed the room and looked down at the tiles I was working on.
"Ooh!" she said, "Ogham characters. Old Irish?"
"Archaic," I said. I turned in the chair and drew a cloth over the tiles. Jenny's mouth turned down in a moue of disappointment.
"Sorry," I said. "Private client."
She waved it off. "I know the rules," she said. "Just, being on the outside...." She shrugged and sighed. "Ah, you can't go home again."
I raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" I said. "Acquisitions getting boring for you so soon? Ready to come back?"
"God no," she snorted. "On what you pay? The money's better at SA and so is the action. Not to mention that the Eve Online geek quotient there is delightfully low."
She pulled a small volume bound in leather from her purse. "Actually this is the reason I stopped by. Sturlison wants you to have a look at this. We don't have anybody in-house who reads...."
She stopped mid-sentence and glared at my desk, her mouth turned to a hard line. "What," she said pointing, "is that?"
I looked down. "Oh, this?" I said picking up a slim, flat plaque. "It's my new iPad."
"I know what it is," she said through gritted teeth. "What's it doing in your office?"
"This is amazing," I said waving it at her. "I never knew so many archives had digitized their collections."
"Who. Gave. You. That."
"Look, you just flip back this little cover and...."
"No," she said. She snatched the tablet from my hand and looked from it to me with narrowed eyes. "This doesn't fit. This isn't you. You're completely analog. You think ball-point pens push the tech envelope. And suddenly you're leap-frogging three centuries of writing technology to this?" She set the tablet on the desk and tapped it with a well-manicured finger. "Who's been pushing you into the twenty-first century?"
As if on cue the door to the library opened and a tall, red-headed woman, her arms loaded up with books, pushed through the library door. She was tall and willowy, with blue eyes and elfin features. When she spoke her accent bespoke Nordic origins.
"Mord," she said, "I'm done scanning the reference books, but I need the combination for the climate control vault to do the rare manuscripts."
"Oh, that's right," I said to Jenny,. "You haven't met Ella, my new research librarian Ella, this is...."
There was a sharp intake of breath from Jenny as she reached under her jacket for her SIG. As she did, I heard a tumble of books falling to the floor. I looked around and saw Ella had dropped them to pull a small caliber pistol which she brought to bear on Jenny.
They stood that way for a moment, guns pointed at each other, their faces drawn up in a rictus of hate and rage.
I blinked. "So," I said. "You've met."
"How could you hire this...this philistine?" Jenny growled.
Ella chuckled. "This philistine just spent a month reordering the wreck of a filing system you left behind. This is who I replaced? That explains much."
"Hah," said Jenny. "Still shopping for shoes in the Goodwill bin I see."
Ella's eyes narrowed and her finger tightened on the trigger. "Luudite!" she accused.
"Bit-head!" sneered Jenny.
"Um, excuse me...." I interjected.
"Shut up!" they barked at me in unison.
"Well, well, well," Jenny chuckled, shaking her head grimly. "Erla Hilmarsdottir. You're a long way from Reykjavik."
Ella shrugged, "The business of cartoon spaceships is sans frontieres," she said.
"Wait a minute," I said to Jenny, "Are you telling me she's...."
"Yeah," nodded Jenny, "Erla here works for CCP."
I frowned. "But that's ridiculous. Why someone from CCP come all the way to DC to work at Fiddler's Edge?"
"Well," Jenny said, "Not for your charm or good looks. That's for sure."
"Or the pay," Added Erla. "You know, for an American, you are very cheap."
"Hey, there's a global recession going on," I said defensively.
"Pfft!" said Jenny, "You were stingy long before then. No, she was here for the only thing you have that CCP could possibly value."
"My unpublished insights into the politics and economy of New Eden?"
"God, no!" Jenny rolled her eyes. "No Mord, not your stupid spaceship bloggy thing; your rare manuscript collection."
I snorted. "What possible use are ancient manuscripts to people who make digital universes? I mean, they're physical books most people can't read. Even if she could sneak them out she could only sell them as vanity items and...and...oh." I stammered to a halt. "Oh my."
"See?" Jenny smiled at Erla, "He can be taught."
"She didn't want to steal the physical books," I said slowly. "She wanted to scan them; make detailed digital avatars."
"So she could sell virtual copies of them on the Eve Micro-Transaction market. Isn't that so, red?"
"Did you think we were going to make make our revenue quotas selling monocles and pink spaceships?" Erla sneered. "Without a market for golden ammunition and status upgrades, MT revenue projections for Eve are dismally off their targets."
"But my manuscripts...."
"Have the advantage of being both rare and nerd-chic," she laughed. "Exclusivity is the new tactic. No one will pay twenty dollars for a monocle if anyone can buy one. But," she lowered her voice dramatically, "What if there were only five monocles for sale in all New Eden? Suddenly an accessory that makes you look like an idiot is a must-have vanity item. We'll be able to name our price."
"It'll never work," I growled at Erla. "Capsuleers play Eve for action. For adventure.They're not going to spend real money for cartoons of books, clothes and station window treatments, no matter how rare. They're not idiots, after all."
Jenny raised her eyebrows at me.
"OK," I said. "Most of them aren't idiots. You'll never make those revenue projections."
Erla smiled evilly and began backing toward the door. "The Mittani wristwatch is already in prototype," she said. "As are the Mona Lisa, the Phreeze bobble-head, the Crown Jewels of England and the Kirith Kodachi snow globe."
Jenny kept the SIG trained on Erla as she pulled open the door to Fiddler's Edge.
"There are many rare items in the world," Erla said, "If not your rare manuscripts, them perhaps Einstein's brain or a first folio works of Shakespeare. There are many of your friends who would pay dearly for exclusive rights to display such things in their quarters. Trust me when I say our revenue targets are well in hand."
Erla stepped through the doorway. "Soon, all the capuleers will be so busy chasing rare vanity items, they will forget they ever objected to golden ammunition. They will beg us to sell it to them. Farewell for now, Mord Fiddle."
"Catch you later," Jenny promised.
"I think not," Erla smiled.
The heavy oak door closed, and she was gone.
Jenny looked at me reproachfully.
"I suppose this means I don't get to keep the iPad," I said.