Author : Catherine Preddle

Jericho sighed contentedly as he eased himself into the contoured leather recliner of the Virtual Library booth. He’d spent most of his lunch break scouring the Multi-Mall for an empty VL booth and was determined to make the most of the remaining half-hour. Slipping on the Virtuality Visor, he took a moment to savour the familiar click and slight electrical tingle as it jacked into the implants on either side of his head.

A new world sprang to life before his eyes. He was standing in a vast cavern of a building filled with shelves that stretched from floor to ceiling and off into the horizon as far as the “eye” could see. Each of the dark wooden shelves was crammed with books of every size, colour and condition. The odd torn dust jacket and brown issue ticket littered the floor. He imagined the smell of musty pages hanging in the air.

“Very authentic,” Jericho thought approvingly. There was even a crumbly old woman seated behind a mahogany enquiry desk in front of him, complete with ink pads and date stamps.

“Greetings, Sir. How can the Virtual Library serve you today?”

“I feel in the mood for something classical. Dickens, perhaps.”

“I’m afraid the Virtual Library is still in the process of encoding that author’s works, but if Sir wishes to access form Delta One, a reservation could be placed on your user record for a nominal fee.”

Jericho shook his head despondently, knowing just how long all that would take and how much it would cost. “How about Jane Austen?”

“That would be available in the chick lit section, Sir, of which you are currently not a member.”

Austen! Chick lit?! Jericho tried desperately once more to spend the rest of his lunch hour productively. An idea sparked in his brain; a literary treat that he hadn’t accessed in ages. “Have you got Shakespeare?”

“Accessing the database now, Sir. Yes. 20 minutes for the plays. 25 for the complete works, including the Sonnets.”

“Better make it the plays – I’m on lunch.”

“Of course, Sir. Download commencing …”

The image of the library flickered and died, replaced by pages of text flashing past so quickly they blurred in front of Jericho’s eyes. Just as he was immersing himself in the beautiful language, the download was rudely halted and the crusty librarian reappeared.

“A problem has been detected, Sir. Mindscans show you do not have the Archaic English upgrade required for this download. Transmission terminating …”

“Wait!” Jericho interrupted. “I don’t need the upgrade. I’ve studied Archaic English and understand –”

“…Virtual Library bylaws clearly state that users are responsible for ensuring their Mindware is optimized to receive requested downloads. This transmission has been registered as incomplete in your user record and the resulting fine must be settled within 60 seconds to avoid a Virtual Library ban.”

“What the …?” Jericho managed as his beloved Shakespeare faded and the VL booth came into sharp focus. “Stop!!”

The persona appeared once more and looked witheringly at him from over her half-moon spectacles.

“Insufficient funds detected. User banned. Any further attempts to access Library material will result in immediate detention.”

“Oh, for the love of –” He tore off the visor in frustration and threw it violently at the wall. “What do I have to do to read a good book around here?”

Jericho exited the booth at a run just as the sound of sirens filled the air along with a shrill disembodied voice.

“Virtual Library property damaged. Authorities notified. Virtual Library property damaged. Authorities …”

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