When they found him on that final winter morning, they downed their nuclear jack-hammers, removed their iridescent dymondyte helmets, and silently encircled him.
He stared upward, unseeing, at the ancient frescoes circling the rotunda high above. Twenty four volumes insulated his frail body from the night-cold marble floor: Bradbury beneath his snow-white head, Shakespeare beneath his feet. His blue-veined hands, now marble white in death, gently held Wind In The Willows.
The demolition foreman fumbled at his belt and turned off the fusion generator outside. Silence filled the library for the last time, a requiem unsung.
The disposal crew responded promptly to the foreman’s call. They moved respectfully and efficiently, for they were all, save one, robots. Each performed his customary task. One metallomeric automaton carefully scanned the ID band on the librarian’s wrist. Another took a DNA sample for positive identification. Finally, the mortician deployed the polymeric body-bag. Sapphire fluid oozed from the container, enveloped the deceased and the books beneath him, then hardened to a sky blue cocoon. Two robots placed the rigid cocoon on a gurney and trundled it outside to the Than-Van. The mortician left without a word.
The foreman reactivated the generator, and the building came down rapidly. Automated skip-loaders scooped books from the shelves to the shredder in minutes. Marble surrendered to the jackhammers after a brief struggle. Mahogany smoked and fell beneath the laborers’ laser axes. Finally, all stood aside while the explosives went off, cracking the rotunda like an eggshell. Colorful confetti from the nineteenth century frescoes spattered briefly on the floor seconds before the entire dome collapsed. Soon the Ft. Powell library was but a memory.
Not that many remembered. Most citizens of Ft. Powell had never noticed the library. Those that had, seldom knew what the building was. Only a few elders could say, now, “That’s where the library used to be. I remember…”
On the now vacant property, the city would construct a suspect-monitoring facility, a building where grey-skinned, blue-uniformed voyeurs scrutinized the glowing screens, day and night. Computers suggested in courteous, subdued monotones those screens most likely to need watching, where individuals previously designated as high-probability pre-criminals went about their daily routines.
But of course the library had been obsolete, unnecessary.
Several months before, the city mothers had decreed it “A wasta money.” “No longa cos’-effeckive,” the Mayor agreed, nodding sagely. “Ol-timey shit,” the city website declared, “ol-fashion forest assination (sic).”
Shortly thereafter, the City Administrator, Omar Jones-Wong-Baker-Smith, sat in his bookless office on a bleak November day. The Librarian was shown in. Jones-Wong-and-so-on put his index finger against his computer screen below the Librarian’s name. Booker, yes, that was the man’s name. He smirked at the coincidence, then looked up. “Booker,” he said, “as you know, the lib’ary is closin’.”
Before the Librarian could part his lips to speak, the Administrator raised an emphatic hand. “No, don’t go sayin’ it. We heard all your argyments. The lib’ary has become a encumberance, a detirment to the very know-lidge you claim to want to perserve, and that’s it. We’ve ‘ranged for you to retire. You’ll be quite comfor’ble, really, if you don’t suddenly give up your famous frugal lifestyle.”
The Administrator smiled, trying not to glance at the Librarian’s frayed cuffs and out-of-date attire, thinking: the man actually still wears shoes instead of pneumo-sandals! Wherever does he find shoes these days? Or did he buy those things fifty years ago?
“I’d hoped to find another library to work in,” the Librarian said, looking down.
“Ours is the last one. I’ve looked it up on the Nexotron,” Omar Jones-etc. replied, waving a finger towards his computer display.
“I know. I looked it up, too.” The Librarian held up his wrist, encircled by an antiquated Interstellar Pondering Products computer.
“You are old enough to retire, and then some. Take a rest.”
The Librarian smiled. “I’d rather work for a while. I find work…absorbing.”
“Well, if you really wanna work, there ain’t no law again’ it.” Jones-etc. had looked that up, too. “You’re a bright chap. I’ll just say ‘computers’ and let it go at that.”
“I’ve looked into it. Too much to learn, too little time.”
“Then take a’van’age of that time to live a little. Play the games. Use your booze ration. Take the Zombinol tablets.”
The Librarian shook his head.
Omar Jones-Wong-Baker-Smith stood up. “Well, thanks for comin’ in, uh…” His eyes flicked furtively to the display. “…Booker. Your final pay will be credited to your account. Pension payments will begin promp’ly two weeks affer that.” He held out his hand.
As the final shards of the library’s dome were being robo-vac’d, elsewhere in the city stainless steel nozzles misted ether upon the Librarian’s temporary shroud, dissolving it to slush in seconds. Robotic hands swept the books from beneath the body. The books slid down a metal chute, past the brief scrutiny of an eyebot, who determined them to be unrelated to his task and diverted them to a disposal chute.
The trash container that was supposed to be at the other end of the chute was not there. Other robots had commandeered it to move overflow victims of the city’s gang wars to the crematoria. The books fell to the floor, unseen.
Janitor found the books there several days later, beneath the now-present container. He got down on his knees and retrieved them. Instinct told him to toss them into the dumpster, where they belonged. But the books were attractive, despite their faint odor of ether. They were multi-colored, diverse, fascinating. He considered the matter for several minutes, then took all the books home in a bag.
The books lingered in the bag for several days as Janitor savored the presence in his life of something different. At last, some inner clock told him the time had come. He opened the bag and carefully took out the top book. . .