The archivist ignored the flashing wearable on her wrist and dodged the sparking proto-holos that erupted in her path on her way to special collections. The air, usually thin with that faintly chemical recycled taste, was now thick with acrid oil smoke, and, worse, the earthy, delicious hint of paper. She knew the books, the real paper books that she loved so dearly, were smoldering ahead, but she had to see it herself.
They’d kept her out while the fire suppressor bots went in, and by now, with her luck, there’d be nothing left to save. But she had to try. She dodged one of the bots beeping warnings at her and reached for the handle on the real wood door, technically part of the collection itself, with her heart pounding in her throat.
“Danger! Very hot!” one of the bots beeped, a second too late, and the archivist yanked her hand back with a yelp. That the handle was hot was an understatement, and now her palm and fingers were an angry red, as though she’d placed them on the cracked glass stove in the staff room. They might even blister, if she didn’t get them cooled down soon, but the books–she tentatively touched the wood of the door with her uninjured hand and found it hot, too.
“The room–is it still on fire?” she asked the nearest bot through gritted teeth.
“Low priority,” the bot chirped. “To be left to burn out. Do you need medical assistance?”
“Low priority?” The archivist clenched her burnt hand, but the tears in her eyes would’ve come despite the pain. “There are priceless artifacts in there!”
The bot clicked and scanned her. “Identity confirmed. You may authorize fire suppression in this area. Do you need medical assistance?”
“No! Put the fire out!” she snapped, clutching her hand, and the bot beeped acknowledgement and went around her to open the door. The woosh of heated air hit her even feet away, hot enough to make her throw up her arms to shield her face, so maybe it was good she couldn’t get the door open herself. The room beyond glowed orange.
The archivist waited as the bot put out the flames, wearable flashing in the corner of her eye, until her life’s work was nothing but damp ash. She stepped into the special collections room, but it was already clear there was nothing that could be saved, not even scraps. She sighed and uncurled her throbbing hand from her chest to finally tap on her flashing wearable.
“Delivery confirmed,” was the message. “Expected in two days.”
There was, at least, that. She left the room to find a cleaning bot. Her old collection was gone, but the start of her new collection was already on the way.
Archive by Gina Fabio (You are here!)