by Laurence Raphael Brothers
Welcome to the Library of Beasts. Well. Technically, it’s the Final Library and Transtemporal Museum of Human Culture, but after the orientation tour I’m sure you’ll agree the informal name is superior. What? You don’t know what you’re doing here? Ah, confusion is normal in a newborn librarian. Let’s just take the tour.
The gazelle resting on the throw rug in the central reading room is certainly not showing off. The elegant creature has her nose in a volume of Flaubert, but you’d have to look over her shoulder to see the title, Sentimental Education, so it’s not as if she’s flaunting it. She’s too engrossed in her reading even to look up when we approach. And yet… She’s in so prominent a spot, and she’s so lovely a creature, she must be aware she’s a cynosure. Should you politely inquire what she’s reading, no doubt you would make her day, if days can be said to pass here, anyway.
In the manga stacks we find three mongoose brothers, all reading the same volume of Soul Eater, illustrated by Atsushi Ōkubo. They are nestled together for shared access to the page, a three-headed furry bundle of youthful energy. The left-hand brother is a faster reader than the others, and he’s always reaching out to turn the page before the others are finished, evoking chirping, chittering outrage from his sibs.
We shift our presence to the fine art wing, where two Indian elephants, a dignified couple, walk slowly past a series of post-impressionist landscapes. Bow to them, as I do. Sir. Madame. We are your most humble and obedient servants. The elephants tell us they especially like the Van Goghs time-scanned from the Museumplein. When they pause to admire one of his pieces, their trunks entwine in a gentle embrace. Gratifying, is it not? In this refuge, lovers never need suffer the sorrow of separation. The stately music that plays as they walk? Mussorgsky, of course. Pictures at an Exhibition.
Next, we come to the audio-video halls. Virtual media can be viewed anywhere in the library, but most viewers prefer the auditorium experience for cinema. Hot buttered popcorn is available for those who enjoy it. Here, for example– Oh. A bonobo tribe is in there right now. They’re watching a 20th century porn marathon. I’m sure we’d be welcome to attend, but perhaps we should leave them be for now? Yes, let’s move on. You can always return later, after all.
Here’s a Henry Moore exhibit, full of rotund stone Madonnas. Octopuses navigate the hall in tank-tricycles, clambering out to caress the artworks, running their arms over the voluptuously smooth surfaces. The brilliant cephalopods hardly needed any uplift at all. These octopuses ordinarily live a single tragically brief year, but here they can indulge their love of sculpture down through eternity.
At last we come to the great time recycling engine at the heart of the library, floating in a spherical chamber precisely 1,000 meters in diameter. Beautiful, is it not? Observe the mysteriously glowing form, changing constantly, and still somehow always the same. Oh. My apologies! The manifold of a hypersphere can be distressing at first. It’s natural you should flinch away, though I find it endlessly fascinating. Enough of this for now; let’s return to my office.
So then: any questions? What’s the point, you ask? The grandiose AIs who conceived the library did so on behalf of their human creators; but humanity rejected the offer of refuge, preferring to seek their own fortunes among the dying stars. But nevertheless, we are happy to serve our uplifted animal clients. For a librarian, service is an end in itself.
You say we created the clients ourselves? To be sure. But imagine a library without readers or a museum empty of all visitors… well, really. Yes, it’s true the beasts’ uplift schemata are specifically intended to encourage their appreciation of human culture. But the clients are all more than pleased with their situations. What book-lover could reject a trillion years’ worth of comfortable reading time, after all?
Why you? Why a new librarian in an eternal library? I– It’s a difficult thing to explain. The beasts never despair, you see. They live untouched by sorrow. But we librarians, gratified as we are to serve our clients… after enough millennia…. Well. Eventually it all wears thin.
So. There you have it. Goodbye! Good luck! Best wishes for your career! I’ll be leaving you now.
What? Ah. I see you don’t understand.
When we librarians have had enough of existence, we cast ourselves into the naked singularity at the heart of the temporal manifold. It means total dissolution. Oh, no! Please, don’t cry. Remember, information can never truly be lost. When at long last the universal vacuum energy state finally decays, a new creation will emerge from the desolation of the Big Rip. The library will be consumed in the cosmic fires of rebirth and all its information will manifest in another universe entirely. And who knows; perhaps we two shall meet again someday… in the fullness of another time.
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About the Author
Laurence Raphael Brothers is a writer and technologist with numerous short story publications in such magazines as Nature, PodCastle, and Galaxy’s Edge. For more of his stories online, visit https://laurencebrothers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @lbrothers.