Saturday, May 9, 2015

Chapter 4, 43, Exercising


There was going to be one at the new UBC Student Administration Building, but the permanent staff decided it would be a liability risk. (The three story climbing wall is fine, because it's supervised.)

Charlotte's outfit by (a slightly under-the-weather?) Maggie Q,

Chapter 4, 43, Exercising 

Charlotte had given a lot of thought to her library outfit this week. Brown lace-up flaps, white socks, skinny blue jeans, rolled up at the ankles, gray, long sleeve knit sweater coat over a white-and-blue check flannel shirt, artfully not tucked in just so. (Was a good girl allowed to notice how the tails hung down over her butt? Yeah, well, too bad, Charlotte thought to herself.) She’d thought about throwing in a knit cap, but the uneasy truce between her hair and her brush was holding, and she wanted to make a gesture of good faith. 

Also, teenage girls wearing caps indoors were usually trying too hard, and trying too hard was a Wong thing. You wanted to steer against the trend, if you could. Even if it usually turned out that that was the “trying too hard” part, after all. 

Besides, she didn’t want to hear Bruce making “hipster” jokes at her expense. Charlotte hated that, even if he hadn’t done it lately. 

So that was the look she was wearing as she walked up to the one wicket at the Restricted Circulation desk that happened to be occupied today. A tall, Asian woman in a green sweater and a very nice floral scarf was standing there, reading over librarian glasses. Charlotte stepped up and handed her the slip in her hand. Her nametag read “Suzie.” 

“Hi. We’ve been waiting for these books in the reading room for three hours now. We recalled them last week! Are recalls supposed to take this long?” 

Suzie took the slip, read it, and answered, with a slight Cantonese accent, “No, they’re not. Let’s see what I can turn up in the catalogue.” She typed something. “Nothing. Ah, wait. It’s actually a subseries of Monumenta Atlantae Historica. One original! Well. That is a very rare edition. Quite sought after. The reprint is less so, although still rare. It is a very rare timeline in which enough Atlantean writing survived to make such an edition possible, you know. I’m not surprised that there is a hold up on these books. Why don’t you request the reprints? I see that they’ve been signed out to a research carrel. That is probably why you couldn’t find them on the shelf.” 

Charlotte switched to Cantonese. “Actually, those books were stolen last week. Doesn’t it say there?” 

Suzie tapped her mouse. “It’s not a very good interface. Yes, the theft has been reported. Well, if you can’t get the reprint, we should get you the originals. Sometimes the requests get lost in the cracks of the system. Here, let me just renew it for you.” 

For a long moment, the librarian stared at her screen, then scrolled down, and typed something. “The books are on a restricted for you. The recall request was disallowed.” 

“What? Why?” 

Suzie raised her eyebrows. “Some adult illustrations.” 

Charlotte was outraged. “We’re investigating a crime here, and the library is worried that we’ll see dirty pictures?” 

“That does seem to be the case. It’s not a problem, though. I can overrde it.” Suzie tapped a key. “Hmm. Why doesn’t that work?” She tapped another key. “It looks like the restriction was authorised by someone with quite a high user authorisation. I don’t think I can get past it, after all.” 

“Who restricted it?” Charlotte asked, even though she had a sinking feeling that she already knew the answer. 

“Assistant Vice-Director for Community Relations Baqul Nazfre intercepted the original recall request last Sunday..” 

“The day after we met with her.” 

“Oh. You know the Assistant Vice-Director?” 

Charlotte nodded. “Do you?” 

The librarian shook her head and smiled. “Oh, no. There are far too many people who work here. I do know of her, but nothing I’ve ever heard about her would lead me to expect that she would be working on a weekend. I wouldn’t have thought that she’d have time for you and your friends, either. There are people in Community Relations better suited to dealing with people like us tou bauu zi.” Suzie raised her eyebrows. ‘Hicks,’ she meant. 

“Yeah,” Charlotte said. “Well, we’re her special project.” 

“You’re lucky to have a Main Liner take an interest in you. On her home dimension, there are cities on Earth that are more than seventy thousand years old.” 

“I’m not sure,” Charlotte said, “That ‘lucky’ is quite the word I’d use.” 

“Here,” Suzie answered, “Let me try this. Hmm. No luck. Another thing. . . No. Let me refresh and see . . . I’m sorry, Miss Wong. It does not look like I can lift the restriction. You will have to talk to Assistant Vice Director Nazfre on Monday. No, wait, according to her schedule, she has paid days off next Monday to Wednesday. Thursday is the next time you can talk to her.” 

“Seriously?” Charlotte was afraid that her tone was a little harsh. “We’re only in town on the weekends. Can’t we call her at home or something?” 

“Unfortunately, the Library is not permitted to give our her number, or facilitate patron private contacts with off-duty personnel. Privacy reasons. I’ll give you her work email address, but I can see from the system that it is set to dump all incomings to an office printer. So unless she comes into her office on her days off –Wait.” 

“What?” Charlotte asked. 

“Her schedule. She’s working out at the Library gym right now. I wonder why this isn’t private? Ah, I see: it’s a Health Challenge. Do you think you can beat her time for the 1500 meters? Because you’re officially welcome to go down there and race her right now.” 

“That is. . .” Charlotte began, “That is crazy. Also, I think I can probably run a mile faster than Assistant Vice Director Nazfre.” 

“It’s for the good of our health. Apparently, the Library’s medical insurance premiums are out of control. Assistant Rector Stevin has introduced a programme of fitness challenges to promote healthy living. Assisstant Vice Director Nazfre has enrolled.” 

“She really doesn’t seem like the type to me.” 

The friendly librarian managed to look over her glasses even more looking-overly. Switching into English, she explained. “Participation in the Fitness Challenge programme has been added to the determinants calculator of the career advancement matrix.” Suzie paused. “She won’t get promoted if she doesn’t make herself available at the Library for at least one Health Challenge a month. She probably doesn’t have the time to exercise during her regular work days.” 

Charlotte thought about that. Assistant Vice-Director Nazfre had come into work on her day off to exercise in public so that anyone could walk in off the street and race her. So that she could qualify for a promotion. Charlotte could just imagine how pissed-off the Assistant Vice Director probably was right now. “Where exactly is the gym?” 

“Ah. I have a map here.” 

“There’s a map of the Library?” Charlotte asked, excited at the thought of actually seeing the rambling building’s layout. 

“Unfortunately not,” Suzie answered. “Can you imagine? It’d probably be more confusing than the actual building. No, I have a map showing this wing in relation to the gym, for people who don’t know where it is. Assistant Rector Stevins had them made for each department.” 

Suzie pulled a folding map out of her desk. A dirty, brown coffee ring marred the front cover, which was done up brochure style, with a picture of attractive-looking people lifting, pulling and lunging on fitness machines. She carefully began unfolding it. The creases crinkled as though they’d never been unfolded before. 

It turned out to be a very big map. The librarian pulled out a red felt pen. “Here, I’ll mark your path for you.” 

Charlotte wasn’t sure how she felt about that. “Don’t you need a copy of the map?” 

“Oh, we’ve still got five more –no, scratch that, four more in here. Hmm. I guess I know what they used to scrape up the mess on the floor after the last kid’s tour. Actually, maybe we do need the map. We might have more tours. No, never mind, please take it. I hope you actually get somewhere with Nazfre.” 

“I hope so, too. Thank you, Miss…” Charlotte was not going to just read off the nametag. It seemed disrespectful, somehow. 

“Please just call me ‘Suzie.’” 

“Thank you, Suzie.” 

The red line on the map led Charlotte through a long hall, down two flights in an elevator, and then up a wide, spiralling staircase which terminated in a platform levered against the wall. When Charlotte reached the platform, she saw that it gave onto a wide, suspended balcony that ran around completely around a glass-fronted atrium four-stories high. A climbing wall ran up the opposite side of the atrium, ending just below the balcony, while a giant slide began at the far corner of the balcony, running diagonally to the floor. 

Some boys were sliding down it. Even from where Charlotte was standing, they looked drunk. Not exactly the kind of thing that Charlotte expected to see at a library, although, on the other hand, they had libraries and climbing walls at universities. She wasn’t as sure about giant slides. 

The map seemed to show that she should take the giant slide to get to the gym. Curious, Charlotte began strolling along the balcony to the opening of the slide. Her phone pinged. 

[Rose]: Was I right? Is Nazfre behind the hold on our recall? 

[Charlotte]: Y. [shrug emoji]. 

[Rose]: [W00t emoji] She’s not at her place. 

[Charlotte] @Lib gym. [Sorry]. 

[Rose]: When were you planning to tell me this? [I’m so mad; I’m just kidding; okay, I’m a little mad] 

[Charlotte] Distr. Have Giant Slide here! R Deppsicles there? 

[Rose]: Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean, Paradigm Pirates. No. There’s no Paradigm Pirates staking out Nazfre’s place. At least, not as far as Bruce, Brian or I can tell, and I think we’ve pretty much got all the concealment angles covered. 

That was Rose for you. She knew all the punctuations. She even knew how to thumb for italics. At least she wasn’t bugging them about getting a better font for their texting any more. 

[Charlotte]: Prolly m3ns t4ble he3. 

[Rose]: You just make up those texting abbreviations as you go along, don’t you, Char-Char? 

[Charlotte]: [Shrug emoji; Joe Cool emoji] 

[Rose]: You saved, like, 3 keystrokes there on just typing “maybe.” We’re coming in. Please don’t lose a fight ‘till we get there. 

[Dora]: Dont wory 12&me got overwatch [I got this emoji] 

Charlotte was very happy that they’d finally got an emoji set on the team phones. 

[Rose]: Is that what the kids are calling it now? Overwatch? 

[Dora]: Srsly Dad Y. 

[Rose]: That’s it, young lady. You’re grounded. And we’re going to have “the talk” when I get home. Wait itill I start talking about… 

[Dora]: Had it. 2x. Second time from a robot. V. weird. 

[Rose]: Auntie Rosa? 

[Dora]: 3x. Mom, yuck. Robot, weird. Spaceship-controlling AI, the best. 

Actually, if there was a single being in all the universe that Charlotte wanted to have the “birds and the bees” talk from, it would have to be Rosa, easily the coolest lady Charlotte knew. There was some pretty serious competition, but being a centuries-old spaceship control system gave “Auntie Rosa” a serious edge. Even if her experience of those things was not always very applicable. Charlotte couldn’t even partition her hard drive, never mind making one for every boy she knew, just in case, and without assigning memory to them. How did that even work? 

Charlotte was at the top of the slide. She checked her six. Dora’s invisibility cloak flickered. Dora was so proud of it. It had taken her five tries over ten minutes to set it up, it interfered with other needfire manifestations, and she had to walk as slow as an old lady when she had it up. But she wasn’t going to get better at it without practice, and all it was needed for was so that Dora and Twelve could spot anyone following Charlotte. So, +1 Dora. 

Charlotte swept the rest of the scene. The drunk boys had made it to the bottom of the slide, where a couple of security guys were waiting for them. Now that she was standing right up against the glass, Charlotte could look down on an unfamiliar street scene. This part of the Library fronted right up against the street, and she could look down from a four story vantage point at a crammed intersection. 

Down, outside, the light changed, and the pedestrians froze at once, with that sudden mass not-moving that always drew your eye, and made you pay even more attention to the one who wasn’t moving. Specifically, the tall, Asian blonde girl in a bright orange sports bra and lime green Lycra shorts roller blading down into the intersection, her right arm thrust out in front of her and above her head, finger pointing at the sky like a disco dancer, or maybe a Hitler Youth who hadn’t quite figured out all the fingers yet. 

Or. . . She was signalling to the traffic that she was going to roll right through them, Charlotte realised. The first few cars weren’t having it, so the blonde danced back a bit on her skates, and even from four stories high and through the tinted glass, Charlotte could lip-read the word she mouthed. As soon as the first car went by, the blonde swept forward again, and the white sedan behind it had just enough time to brake. The blonde girl pounded its hood with a three-ringed fist as she rolled by, and out into the next lane, where a pickup truck had stood on its brakes to let her by. 

Charlotte had two feelings, which were, first, that that was what crazy looked like, and, second, that even from here and with her back turned, it was obviously Madison. The Paradigm Pirates were near. 

It wasn’t all bad news, though. She got to take the slide. She sat down and slid away. It was actually a great deal like the slides in the jungle gym at Bouncetown. Except that this was in a library, not for a daycare daytrip. Anyway, fun. 

At the bottom, the map showed the gym just to the left, and there it was: clear glass to the front facing exercise machines spotted across a shiny floor dotted with exercise mats and walled with mirrors except at the tinted outdoor windows. There was a reception desk at the door, and once inside, facing the receptionist, she could see that the gym extended into other levels at the far end. A big sign said “Fieldhouse-Running Track-Upper Gym” beside stairs leading up to the left, and Charlotte would have been able to figure out that Assistant Vice Director Nazfre was there, even if there weren’t a “Health Challenge Board” showing all the participants behind the receptionist’s desk. 

Nazfre wasn’t matched up. Charlotte took a towel from the receptionist, smiling gratefully. She wasn’t planning to challenge the Assistant Vice-Director, and she wouldn’t work up a sweat if she did, but it was only polite. 

At the top of the stairs, an entrance way led onto a wide track, suspended over a gym big enough to hold an entire volleyball league. You could tell that from the fact that it was holding an entire volleyball league, serving and volleying and spiking while grunting runners, mostly too old to be runners, frankly, trundled and slogged and even in some cases sprinted and thundered by overhead. 

Charlotte waited. And waited. The sprinters came round, and slowed to a walk, panting, exhausted. The thunderer thundered by, on pace for what Charlotte guesstimated was a five minute mile, more impressive in many ways than the sprinters. 

The familiar, slower runners went by, ending with the seventy year-oldish woman who favoured her right foot. If Nazfre was on the track, she’d been lapped by. . . 

And here came the familiar, blue-skinned, purple-haired Assistant Vice-Director, in her own lime-green outfit. Charlotte ducked into the hollow in the side of the entrance vestibule, and deployed her Tatammy fatigues, hurriedly pulling down the cowl. Judging that it was close enough to exercise gear, Charlotte stepped out onto the track. 

“Ready to be challenged, Assistant Vice-Director?” She asked. 

Baqul Nazfre looked over at her. “Ah, the young religious maniac. Miss Wang, I believe? I certainly am.” 

Charlotte fell in beside Baqul, then lengthened her stride. Honestly, Nazfre was running more slowly than most people walked. More slowly than Assistant Vice Director Nazfre walked. She was a yard ahead after literally two steps. 

“Ahem,” Baqul said. “I know that your lack of reading comprehension shows more to the discredit of your madrassa and your guardians than to you, but I must insist that you pay more attention to the conditions of the challenge. The competition is to run more slowly.” 

Charlotte froze, then chopped her stride. 

“That is walking, not running.” Baqul Nazfre gestured to the scoreboard on the far wall, which had suddenly lit up with a “Charlotte Wing versus Assistant Vice Director Baqul Aplus Nazfre” register. It showed a five second penalty against Charlotte. 

Charlotte gamely hopped off, as slowly as she could. By the time she’d complete a stride, she was ahead of Nazfre. Again. “Seriously?” She asked. 

“The key to a true weight loss regimen is sweat-free exercise. Once the body core temperature is elevated to the point where perspiration begins, the metabolism has been reset to “sprint” mode. You need to maintain “endurance” mode to gain the life and dietary advantages of long-run metabolic acceleration.” 

Charlotte gaped back over her shoulder. As slow as she was moving, Nazfre was still, somehow, dropping behind. She was about to be beaten in a slow race. 

Charlotte couldn’t help it. She was mad.

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