But what if- purely as speculation, naturally- someone a bit more inquisitive should visit the Library?
Vale was fascinated by the Library. Irene didn't realize until the second day that he was fascinated by the *Library*.
'You've often pointed out that this place rejects Chaos,' he said. 'But I can't see that it's any locus of Order either.'
'Of course it is,' Irene said. 'It has to be, or it wouldn't be a library-- just a bunch of books on shelves.'
'Oh yes, you have systemic classification and shelving, and very nice too. But that's just the books. The Library *building* isn't orderly at all. The traverse from the Near Eastern section to the Chinese literature wing in particular--' He grimaced.
'That one’s notorious,' Kai said. 'They're not all as bad.'
'It seems to be modelled on the interior of Cheops' pyramid. Sloping galleries, false doors, and the entire passage three feet high. Fine for discouraging thieves in a tomb, but who builds a library that way? *That's* not rational. And if, as you once said, Chaos supports things that are blatantly irrational or disorderly, then the Library's structure belongs to Chaos.'
Irene bridled. 'It's not the way you'd do it ordinarily, but the Library isn't an ordinary place. It's a- a hub- connected to all the alternates but not an alternate itself. Maybe that's why it's a bit of a hodgepodge. The rooms here-' she waved her hands at the carved wainscotting and dark wooden furniture around them- 'the walls and furniture- they're all different periods and styles. And it's so *big*- it must have been built over centuries, by different people with different ideas of what a building should be.'
'A reasonable thesis, I suppose. But I'd expect a bit more order if Librarians were responsible for the construction. I assume they were?'
'Um- I really don't know,' Irene stammered. She'd never considered its fabrication. The Library just *was*.
'Then it could have been built by the people out there?' Vale nodded at the diamond-latticed windows, which looked across to a street of houses painted varying and unlikely colours- pale blue, magenta, and saffron- shining in the afternoon sun. 'The city seems to be all different periods and styles too. And am I wrong, or does the same window occasionally give a view of two quite different places?"
'Mh, yes,' Irene said. 'It does seem to shift about.'
'Fascinating. What's it like when you're outside? Does the city move around, or is it the Library that alters? And how do you find your way back inside, if so?'
'It- I mean, I don't know. I've never been there.' Really, she must sound like an idiot. But Vale's questions were so *unexpected*...
'None of the maps show how to get out of the Library,' Kai said, coming to her rescue. 'Finding something that's not on the map, when you're in a building that takes days to cross- I mean, it's impossible. Needle in a haystack doesn't begin to describe it.'
'How strange,' Vale mused. 'You're given access to an infinity of worlds in the library, but not to that peculiar and inconsistent city out there. Your higher-ups clearly want to keep you away from the place. If it's as chaotic as it appears, no wonder.'
'I don't think it can be Chaos,' Irene said. 'The senior librarians would have said something. It's just the city. We don't have anything to do with it.'
'And the townspeople? Do they ignore you the way you ignore them?'
Irene and Kai exchanged glances. 'Fact is,' Kai said, 'no one's ever seen anybody out there.'
'No one I've talked to. I mean, we don't go around staring out the windows-- there's too much to do here-- but any time I've glanced out, the streets are empty.'
Vale cocked his head. 'So here we have a town that looks like a town, that has evidence of occupation-' he nodded to the foot-print pocked grey snow that now covered the street outside, under the blank facade of some pillared stone edifice- 'but whose buildings shift about and whose inhabitants remain invisible to the people here. There's a distinct lack of rationality both inside and outside your Library. And the most worrisome part of it to me is that it doesn't seem to bother you. "Just the way things are."' He looked at them quizzically.
'We have our priorities-' Irene said, hands clenching.
'I can think of a perfectly rational reason for all this,' Kai cut in. 'Some doors in the Library are fixed access points to other worlds. So why not the windows as well? Say they look out on differing alternates, but don't give you access to them, precisely because they *aren't* fixed. None of them are made to open, you'll notice.'
'Yes, fine. But what about the absence of people, where people clearly are present? Why do they keep out of sight? Or, why are they kept out of sight? There's something not right about these alternates, if alternates they be.'
'The problem may be from our side, not out there,' Kai said.
'What do you mean?' Irene snapped.
'We don't change physically inside the Library- we don't age, just for one thing. Meaning we must be in some kind of stasis here. Maybe I'm reaching, but what if we can't see the people out there because they move too fast for us? Buildings, trees, things that are fixed, things that endure longer than- well, uhh, mortal beings- we can see them. But humans, animals, birds- no.'
'I take it,' Vale said, sardonic, 'you think a dragon might be visible out there, if one should turn up?'
Kai flushed, but answered doggedly, 'Yes, I do. A royal dragon, certainly, or even a dragon in his proper form. We're more- I don't know how to put this- settled than you are. Permanent. And that's another thing,' he continued hastily. 'You're seeing with human eyes, and what you see is run through a human brain that has to present you with something that makes sense. You're not equipped to see what's really there. That's why it seems as if an ordinary door can connect you to a completely different world.'
'It doesn't *seem*,' Irene flamed. 'It does.'
'Well, perhaps. But I think it's just the picture your mind gives you to simplify something much more complicated. I've sometimes wished I could go through the Library doors in my real shape so I could see what's actually there. Only I wouldn't fit,' he said sadly.
'And just *why* do you think we aren't seeing what's actually there?'
'When you travelled through alternates with me, could you follow the course of the rivers that I took? Did either of you see where they branched, where the currents changed their nature?' He looked from Irene to Vale. 'No, I thought not. What did you see?'
'Fog,' Vale said. Kai shrugged, as though no more comment was needed.
'So you believe we're just hallucinating the accesses?' Irene's voice sounded too high even to her own ears. 'We're not just stepping through a doorway, but taking an hours' long trip that only *feels* like it lasts a second?' Kai raised a placatory hand but Irene forged on. 'And all that out there-' she gestured to the muddy square ringed by low dark houses in the dim light of early dawn- 'is that an hallucination as well? Or maybe a slide show of some kind? Maybe there's nothing outside the Library and someone has kindly provided the illusion that there is?'
'I wasn't saying that at all,' Kai protested. 'I was just--'
'Theorizing,' Vale concluded sourly.
'Trying to explain the contradictions I've observed,' Kai retorted. 'Because I know things look different depending on what body I'm in. At least I *have* that advantage.'
'Well, isn't that wonderful--' Irene stopped herself. She was being childish and she knew it. 'No, never mind. This whole conversation is pointless. We don't know what's out in the city and there's no reason why we should know what's out in the city, and it doesn't matter anyway. The Library is what matters. Do you want me to continue our tour, Mr. Vale? Or do you prefer to stay here and look out the windows?'
'Oh by all means, let's devote ourselves to the interior.'
Irene let out a breath and started for the door, just as Vale said, 'Because I've noticed the view only changes when no one is looking at it.'