“So we’re nearly to the skeleton room now, which means I suppose I should leave you to your work.” Amanana patted Veronika’s shoulder. “You’ve done very well so far today, from everything I’ve seen, and everything you’ve told me. Don’t let anyone bully you into thinking differently, and don’t let them bully you into backing down about the things you’re angry about, all right?
“I’ll do my best.” Veronika was torn between being warmed and being amused by Amanana’s protective routine. “I’ve been doing all right so far, I think, on that front.”
“You have been, yes. My concern is more what happens when you encounter one of the ancient curmudgeons – you’ll know who I mean when you encounter them, but please don’t tell them I said that! – or in dealing with Mariyam. She’s going to push you, because that’s what she does. Don’t fold, don’t give in, and never let her see you sweat.”
“All right, now we’re in some sort of sports movie. Thank you for all your help, Amanana. I mean it when I say I don’t think I could’ve done it without you.”
“We’re supposed to help. That’s the nature of being a senior archivist here. You’re not worried about the skeleton room, are you?”
“Amanana. You’re hovering.” She patted her – her new friend’s shoulder lightly. “I’ll be fine. As long as the skeleton room doesn’t try to kill me, I’ll be absolutely fine.”
“I believe you, I do, but I’m – well. I didn’t mean for the shortcut to cause problems, and I really do want to see you stay-”
“I want to ask why, but it would sound quite a bit like I was fishing for compliments if I did that, I think.”
“Well, it might sound a little like that, but on the other hand, it might sound like you were looking for information. So I’ll try to give you something in between. As I said, I like talking to you, i think you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and a keen sense of what’s good and what’s bad. And in a more general sense – it’s been quite a while since we haven’t chased one off. I’m starting to think that the tests are too much, or that the Bellamy itself has become too much, or something, and let’s be honest, sometimes we lose archivists. Sometimes they retire, sometimes they move on to another job-”
“Sometimes the window eats them,” Veronika finished. “And you can’t just…. make photocopies to fill out the ranks?”
“I’m sure, having met Two and One, you already know why that’s not a good idea, and that’s not saying anything about the others. No. The Bellamy needs you, and I would like to have a friend in our ranks again. Now go, before I get even more soppy.” Amanana gave Veronika a light push on the shoulder. “Go on, and I’ll see you in the lunch room, or perhaps when you go through a training rotation in Supernatural and Occult. Or maybe you’ll just stop by for tea.”
“Assuming I can find your department again, I will,” Veronika assured her.
“Having found it once, I do believe you’ll be able to find it again. If I don’t see you in a month, should I send a page to guide you?”
“Does the Bellamy have pages? How do they even manage? If archivists can’t find their way around…?” She looked around the place, imagining the pages the Fillion or, worse, one of the places she’d worked as a teenager, trying to manage there.
Amanana laughed. “Three ways. Either they’re children of people who work here – it does happen, I promise. Or they’ve come from someplace, ah, else, and aren’t so much younger than the archivists as they need an entry-level position into our world. Or they’re grad students from the nearby university.”
“That would do it, yes.” Veronika snorted. “All right, here I go. Thank you, again, for everything. For everything.” She looked Amanana in the eyes and smiled broadly and sincerely. “I mean it. You’ve made it – you made it possible to get through today. I really do appreciate it.”
“And I appreciate your company.” Amanana enveloped Veronika in a tight hug. It felt, for just the span of one or two heartbeats, like everything a hug ought to feel like. Veronika hugged back – the first time since childhood she could remember not worrying about how long one was supposed to hold the embrace or who was supposed to back off first. It was just the perfect hug.
There were more than a few reasons, she contemplated as they both stepped back, to enjoy Amanana’s company.
“I’ll be seeing you around.” Amanana turned in a swish of skirts – and a tail. She only saw it for a split second, but, yes, there was definitely a tail! – and was gone between the stacks.
Veronika stifled a giggle that threatened to turn into hysterics and turned herself around too. She couldn’t manage the amazing swish of skirts – maybe the tail had something to do with it – but she got a little swoosh noise that was quite pleasing.
“Right. Onward to skeletons.” She was talking to herself. All things considered, that was probably not the worst trait to develop here, and probably not one that would be that ill-looked upon.
She had only a few rows of shelves to go to get to the Skeleton Wing, according to the signs, the map, and the directions; it was just long enough to think about what people had said about it.
People hadn’t really talked about, say, Reprography, or dangerous sunlight which ate people, or even the woman in Supernatural and Occult who had horns and a tail. They hadn’t talked about the places where the shelves turned at a right angle and shouldn’t, or where you ended up talking to a ghost who didn’t want to let you leave unless you gossiped with her.
On the other hand, everyone had mentioned the skeleton room.
Amanana had said that was just to see how she could handle ordinary sorts of creepy and strange. She could see that. But it had been mentioned so many times, in such different ways, that it seemed like everyone was watching her from somewhere just out of sight, holding their breaths, waiting to see how she reacted.
Well, if they were – and around here, it didn’t seem paranoid to think they might be – then what sort of show did she want to give them?
She wasn’t going to scream and run, no matter what she did. For one, that was no way to find your way out of anyplace, much less a place with geography that moved. For another, if anyone was watching, it would just be embarrassing.
But did she want to aim for stern-jawed and unmoved, or did she want to allow herself to be awed, to be surprised, to be shocked or possibly angry?
In the end, as it turned out, her planning was in vain; the Skeleton Wing itself made the decision for her.