Rabbit's method of dealing with his emotions was to cut himself off from others until everything in his mind had worked itself out. To that end, he stopped answering his phone, especially when the names Maxwell or Vaughn appeared on the caller ID. He staid in, ordering his food through delivery services; the furthest he went from his own home for several weeks was the convenience store on the third floor of his building to buy cigarettes. The only person he had kept more than tentative contact with was Alan, and that was only because the man wouldn't have left him alone anyway.
During this time, he worked with frantic energy. With no work coming in from the SPD, he was able to focus all of his concentration on his work for the university. He had recently run into a snag in his tentative plan to stay inside his home forever, though: he needed information that he didn’t have and that he couldn’t find over the CommNet. He would have to go to the university and use their library.
So he donned a scarf against the autumn chill and set out. As he rode the elevator down, he was surprised to find that he was not at all disappointed about getting out of the apartment. He was looking forward to the trip to the university, in fact. He had even foregone the use of his bike and would take the tram, more because he wanted to enjoy the city and less because it was very inconvenient to take his bike to the school, though the latter was also true.
Once on the street, Rabbit turned in the direction of the nearest tram station, but then stopped. There was something different about the street. He stood very still, straining his senses to discern what it was.
It took him several moments to realize that the light was all wrong. He felt a momentary surge of anxiety. What if his eyesight was fading like his sense of taste had? He could live without enjoying food, but he was sure he could live blind. Trying to quash the rising panic, he hurried to the tram station.
On his way, he saw a number of other pedestrians glancing around themselves in curiosity or nervousness and began to calm down. It wasn’t just him that was seeing things oddly, then. In the tram station, the announcer on the news screen put him even more at ease.
“--not sure what’s behind the weather anomalies, but they want us to assure the public that it is nothing to worry about,” a man with a large chin was saying through his smile. “We will be keeping you posted as new information about what scientists are calling ‘cloud cover’ becomes available. Speaking of scientists--”
Rabbit tuned him out and turned the phrase over in his head. Cloud cover. He’d heard of clouds, of course, from old stories, and he’d seen them in pictures; his window at home even had a view that included them. Or at least it had when it had worked properly. He decided to see what he could find on the subject at the university, while he was there, and to keep an eye on the news feeds throughout the day.
The tram ride to Anomalia University was short, and Rabbit walked slowly to the library. It was the weekend and the campus was nearly deserted. He enjoyed it best when there were few people there and he could admire the buildings and walkways without feeling like he was getting in anyone’s way.
The university had been built in the upper stories of a dense cluster of ten or so structures, connected by an intricate series of linked walkways. The walks were lined with planters and benches, and the railings had been embellished with ornate, painted carvings or inlays of various materials. Each walk even had its own theme: there was one that Rabbit enjoyed in particular where all available concrete surfaces had been covered in a mosaic of tiny pieces of broken mirrors and colored glass. Its effect was a bit dulled under a cloudy sky, though, he found.
Once he reached the library, he showed himself to the vaults and swiped his ident badge to gain entrance to vault four. Of the four vaults, this was the biggest and housed the most diverse collection. Inside, the walls and a number of freestanding shelves housed books on all sorts of subjects that didn’t fit into the more rigidly classified collections in the first three vaults. There were also three long tables with accompanying chairs inside; books were not allowed to be taken out of the vaults unless they needed to be repaired or were being lent to another library.
Rabbit often wished that he could break the rules and take the volumes he needed home to work. It was often easier to work at home, where there weren’t so many other topics of interest to distract him. After having spent a few weeks at home though, he was glad for a change of locale.
It took him only a few moments to gather the books he needed for his research, but he had to look considerably harder to find a volume about weather. Finally, he settled down at a table and began to work, looking up clouds first and then turning to his own work.
He didn’t stir from his pile of books until he heard the door open and close behind him. He looked over his shoulder at the newcomer, a young blond man wearing green plaid pants.
“Oh, hey Nicholas. I didn’t know there was anyone else in here.”
Rabbit recognized the young man from the library’s restoration department, but couldn’t remember his name. The fact that the blond had called him Nicholas made him feel a little bit better about that.
“Hey. Just needed to look up a few things.”
“A few things?” The young man laughed and began plucking books off of the shelves to Rabbit’s left. “You’ve got enough volumes there to fuel a bonfire.”
Rabbit couldn’t disagree. “I need to confirm some measurements.”
“Old world measurements?”
“Yeah. Mostly things having to do with planetary physics.”
The young man set a pile of six or seven books down on the table and slumped into a seat across from Rabbit, dropping a messenger-style bag next to his chair. It was an ugly orange-brown, and after rummaging through it, the young man dropped a notebook and pen onto the table in front of him. His work ident badge dangled from his sleeve.
“So what are you looking for, Hiroki?” Rabbit asked, reading the man’s name off of his badge quickly. Not sure why he felt so talkative after several weeks of self-imposed isolation, he decided to go with it. Talking to an academic might not be so bad for a change. At least he’d offer better conversation than the delivery boys or Alan.
“I’m doing a couple of projects on old world mythologies. On prophets and trickster figures, actually.” The blond set one elbow on the table and propped his chin up with his hand, slumping sideways. He began to sift through his pile of books.
Something half remembered stirred in Rabbit’s mind. He frowned slightly as he tried to grasp at it.
“It’s a shame that most of the pre-cataclysmic sources on topics like this got overlooked for retention by survivors,” Hiroki went on, “or were destroyed for fuel by scavengers. The subjects of religion and philosophy and even a lot of history and science weren’t considered important enough to keep. I’ve got a few sources being shipped from Triumph, but inter-city post takes so long.”
“Triumph? Wouldn’t they be in Slavic?” Rabbit asked, groping for something to say so that he wouldn’t appear as distracted as he was. He could almost remember why the word prophet tickled his memory, but each time he focused on the memory, it slipped away.
“Not Slavic,” Hiroki replied. He flipped his notebook open. “They’re old world, so it was before Triumph’s dialect reform act went into effect. I’m told that most of them are in Romanian.”
“Do you...speak Romanian?”
Hiroki’s smile was cryptic. “Some.”
Somehow, Rabbit wanted to keep the conversation going as much as he wanted to remember what he had forgotten. He supposed it was a combination of stress from recent events and remaining in solitude for so long, but it felt good to talk about something that had nothing to do with himself for once.
“Where’d you learn it?” Rabbit pressed. “And what is the project for? I didn’t know you were a student.”
“I’m not, technically. I’m honestly a professional restorationist. I just happen to also be a research assistant on the side.” He opened one of the books carefully and thumbed through the pages idly. “I finished school a while ago.”
“Oh.” Rabbit stumbled a bit mentally. “But you’re so....”
“Young? Yeah, I get that a lot.” Hiroki sighed. “I’m in my mid-thirties, though. I’ve got a Ph.D. in old world studies.”
“Oh,” Rabbit said again.
Hiroki glanced up and smiled. “Got my degree in Triumph. That’s how I know Romanian,” he said, finally answering Rabbit’s original question. “Their university has an extensive program for the city’s old world languages.”
Rabbit nodded, Hiroki looked back down at his book, and the two of them lapsed into silence. After a moment, Rabbit looked down at his own work, but as he did so he glimpsed Hiroki’s notes. Upside-down, he could read the words, “In some contexts, oracles were not inherently gifted with retro- or precognition, but were people believed to be possessed by spirits or gods that spoke through them.”
The sentence created a spark that made Rabbit’s memory blaze up. He heard Caine’s voice saying, “The nature of prophecy is precognitive,” and remembered his promise to visit the young man again. The fire in his mind spread a sudden urgency through him that made him sit up and begin to pack up his things.
When he stood and lifted his bag to his shoulder, he noticed Hiroki watching him with interest. The blond’s stare was intense, and Rabbit paused long enough for the young man to give him a wolfish smile before muttering a word of parting and leaving the room.
Outside, it was raining.