A new series!
Veronika, two hours later, was pleased that learning fast was one of her chief traits. She repeated back a bit of esoterica Uma had been working on hammering into her head and was rewarded by an actual smile from the woman.
“Good. I do believe that by lunch time you’ll have it all. You’re quite good at this. That name…?”
“No relation, as far as I know. But my family has been in library and museum work for several generations.”
“Ah, libraries, museums.” Uma’s gesture was so dismissive Veronika really had to work not to take offense. “They’re similar to the Bellamy, of course, but nothing is quite like the Bellamy. We here are an Institution. More than that, we are a fixture of the country and especially of this county. What museum can say that?”
Several could, including several that Veronika’s family had worked in or still did, but she said, politely, “I stand corrected.”
Uma smiled, dropped the matter as if she had forgotten it, and moved on to the next lesson, which happened to involve intake of donations.
The first portion of the lesson was nothing at all surprising, simply involving the Bellamy’s standard rule of anything brought into the Bellamy must be noted, whether it be a person or a donation or a creature. When someone wished to donate books or statues or old suits of armor to the Bellamy, the woman manning the front desk would note everything available about both the donor and the donation before putting it – as much as possible – into the cart for the appropriate division. A good third of the lesson was simply on what department which sorts of donations would go to.
But then Uma continued on, as if she was saying nothing at all unusual, “if the donation is still alive – or at least breathing or making noises and moving – then you must not only log it but make certain it is contained. We cannot have donations simply wandering about the Bellamy. They leave all sorts of messes and get into all sorts of trouble. For those, you’ll go down this hatch here,” she tapped her foot in a specific spot in the floor and a hatch popped open, easily large enough to fit two abreast and revealing a wide, sturdy-looking staircase of cut stone. “And bring the donation and the donor with you. The donor is responsible for the donation until it is placed in one of these cages. After that, contact the appropriate department and move from there.”
There was a very large dog in one of the cages, but the others – which ranged in size from rabbit-size to tiger-sized – were all empty. “So the dog-?”
“I contacted Hunting and Trophies. He’s a Great Mastiff Winslow Hunter, a very rare breed indeed. I believe they have two others, and hopefully one of those is a female.”
“The Bellamy collects… animals?”
“The Bellamy collects everything.” This time, Uma looked quite disappointed in her. “We wouldn’t be much of an archive if we didn’t, now would we? So, with living donations, the process is almost entirely the same as with non-living donations, but you may have to contact several departments until you reach one which accepts the donation. If they take their time – this will also happen with non-living donations, but it is less urgent, of course – you will need to feed and water the donations. Here is the sink,” she gestured, and then filled a pitcher from that sink which she used to fill a suitably large bowl for the mastiff. “And then here is the food cupboard. Get as close as you can.”
As close as you can. Veronika watched as Uma opened the cupboard. There were large containers marked with things like Canine, bovine, caprine, feline, humanoid.
Uma filled an equally large bowl with the canine food and slid it to the mastiff. “Twice a day, and twice a day, afterwards, remind the department that they have a donation here. You don’t want to let them forget about it, because they will, and then you will end up feeding someone’s horse for weeks. At least the rest of it is cleaned up by the belt system.”
She pushed a button; a set of bells chimed and then the floor under the mastiff moved slowly backwards, the food dishes staying in their place but everything else being swept off. The mastiff moved its feet in time with the belt until another bell chimed and the belt stopped.
“Most creatures learn fast. Some just let themselves be pushed against the back wall. Those, those I call their department three or four times a day. They can get a little smelly rather quickly.”
Veronika decided she was going to assume humanoid meant some sort of fairy or golemn and tried to forget about it for the time being. “All right, twice a day any living collections are watered, fed, the belts run, and then we remind the department in question to come pick them up. You have a log for that?”
“We have logs for everything.” Uma’s smile looked tired, more like exhausted. “I’ll show you.”
Back upstairs they went and Uma produced a log labelled Live Donation Holding. She flipped to the page held by a green ribbon and marked the date, the time, and the animal.
Veronika scanned the rest of the page – it went back two months with only three other living donations – a cat and a horse. The cat had taken the longest for a department to pick up.
“And now.” She picked up the headset of an ancient phone and dialed 3 on the rotary dial. A moment later, Veronika could make out a voice coming from the earpiece.
“Yes Uma – soon. Very soon.”
“Today, Delphine,” Uma asserted. “There’s a new archivist training and I don’t want her to have to deal with such things her first week.”
“-break her in. Better if-“
“Today, Delphine,” Uma repeated herself. “Today. Do not leave poor Miss Bellamy to deal with this beast before she even knows where to find the loo.”
“I still think that she ought- -better when -that way.“
“And I’m sure Miss Haas is very interested in your ideas, but I am training Miss Bellamy. Today, Delphine.”
Uma hung up. “I do apologize for that. Delphine has been here since the Greek kalendae, and she does tend to be rather stuck in her ways. She’d prefer we just set new archivists loose on the beginning of their first day and trail along later to sweep up what remains of the first ninety-nine of a hundred, as happened in her time.”
Veronika felt like there ought to be at least two places to giggle in that sentence, but Uma didn’t look amused, just – well, apologetic.
“There’s someone like that in every office,” she offered in bland understanding and a sort of conversational filler. It seemed to work.
“Hopefully, she’ll be here before you go on lunch and you can meet her, if only to know who to avoid as much as possible.”
“That sounds – well, it sounds wise,” Veronika allowed. “What are we covering next?”Want more?