"Good evening," he replied. "Shall we?"
Bookworm followed Zac upstairs, and blinked in the glow of the warding circle. After a second of hesitation, she stepped inside the circle, and settled down on one of the cushions. Zac settled himself across from her.
"Before we begin, Zac," she said, "I should tell you. I did a lot of thinking after our first training session."
Zac nodded encouragingly, but she still hesitated, and blushed a little, trying to decide how to proceed.
Zac grinned. "When stuck for where to begin, I usually suggest the beginning. But if that doesn't work for you, try the end."
Bookworm chuckled. "I told myself that, if I can't keep this relationship to friend and teacher, I should keep it at 'brother.' I...hope that would work for you."
He smiled. "Brother works."
Tilting her head a little, she smiled back. "You actually remind me of my brother in some ways. Mainly in how much you tease me."
"As I told you before, the more you get to know me, the more you'll probably think of me as a brother. The kind of brother you want to smack upside the head, that is."
Bookworm laughed. "That shouldn't take long. I did that more than once to my own!"
"Well, see? You even have practice."
"And practice makes perfect." She smiled mischievously.
"And I'm honored. That you'd think of me as a brother, that is, not that you have practice smacking one upside the head."
Bookworm chuckled. "Speaking of...I have been practicing my shielding, as much as I could."
"Good! How is the practice going for you?"
"I think well. But it hasn't really been put to the test for a while."
"Ah. Well, I can fix that, if you're feeling up to the challenge. Or even if not."
She smiled wryly, took a deep breath, and sighed it out.
"All right," Zac said, becoming temporarily more business-like. "Let's see how well you do this time with keeping me out. What level of thought should I go for, or should I just surprise you?"
"Hmmm. Surprise me."
"All right. By the way, your type of shielding differs in some ways from standard Deryni shielding, so this is as much a learning experience to me also in some ways."
Bookworm closed her eyes and breathed, setting herself to relax physically. She let her mind clear of its usual pace of thought, then erected her shield, seeing the wooden wall in her mind. She tried to strengthen it, hoping she hadn't left any holes for him to slip through. But it wasn't long before she felt a tendril of his thought insinuating itself into her mind, and she cursed mildly, even as a flash of memory appeared before her mind's eye.
"A group of men," Zac said, describing the scene. "Two older, but more younger, crossing some sort of plain. A woman also. Empty grasslands as far as the eye can see."
Bookworm nodded. "Yes, that was the start of my wandering years."
"Ah. Before you came to Babbage?"
"Yes. There was a rich industrialist living in my hometown. His daughter was a friend of mine."
"That was the woman I saw?"
She nodded again. "He was rich, but he'd always wanted to spend time exploring the western United States. When Zoe insisted on accompanying him, he decided he needed another girl to come as well--for the proprieties, of course. When he realized that in me, he'd get both companion and friend for Zoe, and a photographer...Well, I just couldn't say no."
"Convenient, that," Zac said with a laugh.
"Indeed. But oh! That was a wonderful time. The things we saw..." She trailed off staring over Zac's shoulder, her unfocused eyes evidently seeing a wealth of memories.
"Lots and lots and lots of grass..."
Bookworm snapped out of her reverie and focused a glare on him. "Oh, you mean besides that?" he asked innocently.
She leaned across and mimed slapping him upside the head. "That was only one small part of it!"
Zac grinned. "All right, let's try this again."
Book nodded and closed her eyes, feeling his probing touches on her shield, and groping along it herself, trying to find more holes to plug before Zac could discover them. But soon, she felt Zac's mental tendril slip through another small gap, feeling for all the world like something slipping through her fingers.
"There's a room," came his mental voice. "A bedroom, with dolls on the bed. Several dolls. There's also a wardrobe...." She felt his mental laughter. "And lots of books. This must be your bedroom as a child?"
Bookworm chuckled and nodded.
"You kept me out longer that time. It's progress."
"Hmmm," she mused. "Still, I think it may be time to try something different..."
"Sometime I'll have to let you have a go at this end of the exercise. Or see if you can, anyway."
Bookworm shot Zac a sharp, somewhat speculating look. Could such a thing be possible?
"Shall we try this again? Or do you want to tell me your 'something different?'"
"You'll see..." she replied, filing away that speculation for another time. She mentally touched her shield, changing wood to brick, doing her best to make sure the mortar securely bound the wall together.
She felt his mental probing come up against the bricks. He chuckled. "Very good. I could probably force a break, but I could possibly do you severe harm that way, so I won't. Let's see if there's some other way around this."
Book waited, wondering what weakness Zac might be able to find. After several minutes enduring of his mental examination of her shields, she suddenly felt him dive at a spot near her brain stem. To her mind's eye, it was if he suddenly drove underground, and was digging a way up past her shields, like a terrier digging under a wall. Her surprise at the unexpected direction of his attack caused her control to slip, and her shields wavered. With a gentle mental shove, Zac toppled them, and a memory came to the fore.
She and another person--a man?--partially obscured behind a large bookcase. No, a room full of bookcases! She dashed through the room with an arm full of books, occasionally stopping to shove one onto a shelf at random. The other figure approached--A wolf? Or perhaps a fox?--with more books, placing those on shelves at random.
Bookworm hissed an indrawn breath, as Zac raised an eyebrow. "The new Athenaeum, is it?" he asked. "Dare I hope you've simply got a new job as the worlds speediest librarian?"
She looked at Zac warily. "Erm...not exactly." Leaning forward a little, she continued. "Have you seen the posters advertising for help for the Athenaeum Engine?"
"Yes, I had wondered about those."
"That's...my fault. Mine, and those who helped me."
"Ah. Let me guess...you're trying to disrupt operations so that the Steamweaver Company can't get to the stage of destroying the books?"
She nodded. "A...friend of a friend was able to sabotage the Engine. Subtly, so hopefully they aren't suspecting sabotage."
"You know, on the record, I can't condone going around the law," he said noncommittally. "Though, to be honest, I'm sympathetic, since I think what they're planning on doing creates a dangerous monopoly on information."
"For that matter, I'm part of the militia. But I was a bibliophile long before that," Bookworm replied defensively. "I simply couldn't stand by and do nothing. We're not really destroying anything. Just...delaying them, long enough for us to try to find a permanent solution."
"Well, as far as I'm concerned, i know nothing about this. Unless I'm directly asked, in which case, what would you like me to say?" Zac then muttered, "And let's hope there aren't others in Babbage who can TruthRead."
Bookworm winced a little as she realized the position Zac was now in. "Well, you can say you know how very concerned I am about the situation--that's certainly the truth. But you don't think I have the ability to tinker with such an Engine. Which is also the truth." She gave him a small, wry smile.
"You know, there's another way to prevent the Athenaeum from destroying books," Zac said a little sternly. "Preventing them from getting their hands on the books in the first place. Granted, that wouldn't save the rare editions they have now. Something might still have to be done for those."
Book blushed a little at the mention of "rare books," but kept quiet on the matter of the books now hidden in the Cocoajava Cafe storeroom.
"But is anyone, for instance, guarding the new Babbage Library?" he continued.
She shook her head. "I don't think Mr. Steamweaver works that way. My understanding is that he purchased all of the books now there. And I don't think Miss Puchkina, or the others connected with the library, would sell anything to him. That doesn't stop individuals from selling their own books, though."
"What concerns me is the potential loss or, worse, deliberate changing of information from original sources--the books--to the punch cards. If they copy, say, "Little Women" to a punch card and then burn the original, that's a shame, but there are so many other copies in print, one copy is a loss perhaps to the original owner, but not to humanity. But do the same to a first folio edition of Shakespeare... Or rewrite "Hamlet" with a happy ending, and destroy all copies of the original. That would be the true tragedy." He raised his eyebrow at Bookworm. "You see my point?"
She nodded. "But considering that their ultimate goal is to be the sole disseminator...that means they won't be content with just burning one copy."
"Yes. Which is why I say, stop the books from getting there in the first place. Eliminate the sources, and they'll have no books to destroy eventually."
"Easier said than done," Book said wryly. "Steamweaver Company has the resources to buy whatever they want."
"They'll have the money, if people have the desire to sell. So the trick would be convincing people to love books too much to sell them. Or too much to sell to Steamweaver at least. Or, if not love the books enough--and not all will, you know--at least make it socially unacceptable to do so. People not moved by the love of a book, or the desire to fight a monopoly on information, might be swayed by public pressure. If nothing else, the fewer books that end up in Steamweaver's hands, the fewer you'll need to 'liberate.'" Zac grinned.
"Perhaps. We'll see." Bookworm remained unconvinced, though. While such tactics might well work here in New Babbage, what would happen in the next city? Or the next? Sooner or later, Steamweaver would find a congenial place in which to set up their functioning Engine, and their plans could proceed. She could not, would not, let that happen.
Rather than continue the discussion, though, she changed the subject. "Hmph. I'm going to need to consider how to protect against an attack like what you did."
Zac nodded. "Yes, think about that and we can try again some other time."
"I should probably be getting back. I still have the Salon pictures to develop."
"Well, have fun with that. With all the pictures you're developing from this weekend, I'll see you when, next year?" Zac smiled broadly, and Bookworm laughed. "Something like that."
He stood up, and gave her a hand up. "Goodnight...Sis."
She chuckled. "Good night, brother."