Amanana patted Veronika’s shoulder. “It’ll be fine. I’m not going to let you get hurt on my watch. If One and Two were concerned about you, I can’t very well do less than that, now can I?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. Her eyes were on the woman’s horns. I would know if you were demonic, she’d said. “I don’t know all that much about you,” she admitted slowly. She was feeling something – she didn’t know what it was, but it didn’t feel nice. “But so far.” She paused, letting herself feel everything that her intuition was telling her. “So far,” she began again. “I think that you wouldn’t let me get hurt. You’ve decided that you like me, or if not like, that you think I’m worth keeping around, and thus, you won’t let damage come to me.”
Amanana looked her up and down slowly. It took a moment for the serious expression to leave her face, morphing slowly back into a smile. “You’re quite a clever one. Now, let’s see that list. I do imagine that Miriam has made it too long again – she does that, you know, to scare off the slackers – and it’s time to shorten it a bit.”
Veronika passed her the list. “Just like that?”
“Well, I’ll call her up and let her know I made the judgement call. And then we’ll open this case and get you the talisman of binding, and I will walk you to your next location-“
“You really don’t have to do that,” Veronika put in, feeling a little embarrassed.
“Of course I don’t. But I do believe you’ve earned that much.”
“If I have, then maybe -” she felt very brave, and couldn’t quite say why. “Maybe I have earned one more answer as well?”
“Oh? And what answer would you like?” Amanana raised one perfect eyebrow.
“Why does everyone keep giving me food?” It was more than that, but that was somehow at the crux of it, and she couldn’t quite say why. There was some small, important thing she was missing, and it was all around the food.
“Ah.” Amanana took a moment to cross things off the list, tutted twice and swore once, and passed the list back to Veronika, now shortened to only two more items.
Veronika stared at the list. “This can’t be right. You’ve taken more than two-thirds the list off.”
“I have, but I don’t think you need to get to all of those departments on your first day. The Bellamy is much larger than it looks – I’m sure you’ve realized that already – and some of these places would take you a very long time to get to.” She cleared her throat. “People give you food because you can get that lost here. And especially on your first day. People have had their first day take – literally – years. We found one woman wandering in a section nobody had even remembered we had.” She took the list back from Veronika and added a swirly signature before passing it back again. “And yes, that is more likely to happen if nobody, ah, takes pity on you, if nobody does what I just did to the list.”
“What about the window?” She didn’t mean to sound accusatory, but she was pretty sure she didn’t manage to sound as calm and friendly as she wanted. “About the trainee the window ate?”
“That-” Amanana clucked. “That is not what anyone wants. I’m serious. Not Mariyam and the way she can be with her rules, not any of the librarians here, none of us. Nobody wants people to just die – although I will point out that the window, I’ve been told, is a very pleasant way to die. You don’t notice anything at all until you’re just – gone. Or so I’ve been told.”
“Still!” Veronika frowned. “Still, that’s still awful. That’s still – well, it’s horrible. It’s – wait.” She backed up, having allowed herself, once again, to get distracted. “Wait, you said – you said people have been feeding me because people can have their first day take years? And that’s considered normal and acceptable?”
“Normal? No. Acceptable, well. That’s a bit different. You won’t get fired for it, although Mariyam would cluck about the overtime- yes, yes.” Amanana held up her hands. “I know that’s not what you meant, I’m sorry. I know you were asking, more, we’re okay with people getting lost in the building? And the answer to that has to be more something like – we understand it and accept it as a regrettable necessity.”
“Regrettable necessity,” Veronika echoed. “Regrettable – because of the overtime?”
“No, that’s just Mariyam, because she will make sure that people are paid for all the time they spend here. Regrettable because it’s an unkind thing to do to someone on so many levels, and because when you add onto that the way that, well-” She looked away for a moment, her smile seeming to struggle to stay on her face. “I don’t want to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back here,” she murmured. “I like you, darn it. You’re frank and you’re bright and you ask good questions.”
“I think…” Veronika spoke slowly, trying to piece all of her thoughts into a coherent single pile. “I think that right now, anything you’re likely to tell me, I am more likely to handle well from you than if I find it out later, the next step down the line. I don’t want there to be a straw that breaks the camel’s back,” she added plaintively.
“That’s a good first step.” Amanana’s smile seemed to have come back. “So I suppose then: time and space do not run at the same rate here in the Bellamy and its extended wings as they do in, say, North Devonshire.”
Veronika waited. They’d already talked about that stairway at the Fillion, after all. There were lots of places where time and space did not run at the same rate as, well, North Devonshire seemed to be everyone’s example of the Perfectly Ordinary Town.
Amanana raised an eyebrow, but her smile also widened. “Right. Time and space are notably different here than they are outside the gates of the Bellamy.”
“As opposed to a trick staircase.”
“As opposed to a trick staircase, yes, or, say, that clock in the O’Neal Repository where one can always be on time to work if one has the key to the clock’s lock, yes. Or as opposed to, mmm, that hallway almost every old university has where you can just keep walking forever.”
“Oh, I hated that hall! Until I figured out the trick – you just had to step into a classroom, any classroom, for a heartbeat but not longer than a minute.” Veronika found herself smiling back at Amanana, but then the smile slid off as she considered the topic. “Okay. So. So we’re talking about serious distortions. Which is why someone can start on their first day-“
“And not be found for a year, yes. Now, I don’t think that’s likely to happen to you, for a number of reasons, including what you just told me. But there are places where it’s more likely to happen.” She reached over and tapped Veronika’s list. “This department’s one of them, so is Local History, but the Dark Archives there, that’s the worst, and you were right, the Dark Archives – you have it written down as the Black-Dubhghall Archive, which is what it’s likely called on the maps – that’s where you’d find a tome like that. We don’t keep them where just anyone can find them.”
“Local History – what day is it?”
“Now, see, that’s a question to ask when you leave. But on the other hand, the thing to do is to remind Maryim of when you entered, and she’ll make sure the door opens to the proper day and time.”
“Is that why – when she opened the door the first time, she seemed confused about what day it was.”
“Very likely.” Amanana tsk’d. “She’s been getting worse and worse about that lately. She forgets that time isn’t nearly that fluid outside of the Bellamy – I keep telling her to take a vacation, but we really are understaffed-“
“Because your archive eats your new hires,” Veronika put in dryly. “Is it also why staff live on site?”
“Mmm, in part. In part because it encourages us to socialize with each other, which is easier than socializing with people who will not understand or like stories like the window tried to eat me today. And in part, it’s a perk. There is no place safer on Earth than the Bellamy, especially the residential areas.”
Veronika didn’t even bother to hide the look of doubt she shot towards the doorway, where, as Amanana had so succinctly put it, the window had just tried to eat her. “Safe.”
“Absolutely. Yes,” Amanana allowed, “there are some dangerous places, too, but those are here instead of out in the world so that they can be marked and watched and, yes, we need to do something about that window. It has really become rather unbearable.” She clucked softly. “That aside, the residential areas are well-protected, comfortable, and, after all, I live there.”
Her smile was something altogether different now. It was sharp and predatory and immensely dangerous.
Veronika made herself meet the other woman’s eyes and hold her gaze. “I see.”Want more?