Yusei stood on the steps, gazing up at the stately edifice before him, and wondered if he really wanted to go through with this. He had seldom stood before a building that looked less like he belonged inside it. It was built in the style of a Grecian temple, with a row of tall white pillars supporting a peaked roof, the face of which was carved with images of wise-looking men in robes, who studied scrolls or tinkered with various scientific instruments. If ever there was a building that wouldn't look kindly on a boy from Satellite with engine grease under his fingernails and a criminal's mark on his face, this was probably it.
The sign on the front door read, "Neo Domino Public Library."
It isn't as though they can throw me out, Yusei told himself. Not without a good reason, anyway. It's a public library, after all.
All the same, the temptation was to turn around, get back on his D-Wheel, and go somewhere less imposing. He squelched the urge. If he could cope with the Earthbound Gods, surely he could deal with a cranky librarian or two. He set his shoulders and marched up the stairs.
Up until a few moments ago, he had been doing nothing more strenuous than exploring the city to see what was in it. The bridge had only just been completed that week, and the island natives and the city people were still figuring out how best to cope with each other. Yusei had remained on the island for the first few days - it wasn't all that bad a place to be, now that the city had started taking an interest in making life livable there, and there was plenty of work to keep him occupied. But now the rush to enter the city was starting to die down, as the island people found that getting their home cleaned up and rebuilt was more important than exploring a place that still wasn't sure it wanted them there, and Yusei had decided that it might be nice to have a look around Neo Domino now that he wasn't wanted for anything.
The library doors opened with a soft creak, and Yusei took a few cautious steps inside. The central room of the building was open from floor to ceiling, with tall windows at the back of the room sent beams of light slanting down onto the polished wood floor. On either side, it opened up into wings full of rows of shelves or computer desks. If he looked up, he could see two more floors above the first, with railings along the edges so that people up there could look back down at him, if they cared to. At the far end of the room was a long desk, where a single librarian was standing watch. Not sure what else to do, Yusei walked up to her.
She smiled at him. "Hello, there. First time visit?"
"How did you guess?"
"I think I'd remember your face," she said pleasantly. She was a small woman, seemingly as fragile as a dry twig, with smile lines around her eyes and mouth and boyishly short white hair. Her eyes were dark, though, meeting his frankly over the rims of a pair of half-moon glasses. Despite her apparent age, she carried herself effortlessly erect. Her name tag identified her as "Ruby".
"I guess you don't see too many people with markers here," said Yusei, rubbing self- consciously at his cheek. "Are you sure you don't mind me being here?"
"Honey, you're in a library," she said, her eyes glinting with good humor. "I'm willing to take a risk that anyone who could go anywhere in the city he wanted and still decided to come here is probably all right. Besides, I recognize your face. You're Fudo Yusei, right?"
Yusei nodded. He had been getting that a lot lately. It struck him as a little ironic: he had gone through all that trouble to save the world, and all anyone seemed to remember him for was winning a tournament.
"You look just like your father," Ruby continued. "He used to come in here to do research, sometimes."
"Oh," said Yusei, feeling slightly chastened. That would teach him to think everyone had been paying attention to him. "You knew my father?"
"Only a little," she admitted. "I remember him as a very polite young man. It was always a pleasure having him here." She smiled, a bit sadly. "I'm sorry now that I didn't take more time to get to know him. I'm sure you wish there was more I could tell you."
"It's all right," said Yusei. "I wasn't expecting to hear anything at all. I only came to see what the library was like."
"Would you like me to show you around?" Ruby asked.
"Yes, please," said Yusei. "I've never been in a library before."
"You haven't?" Ruby asked. "Well, now is the best time to do it."
She walked around the desk so she could escort him. When she stood next to him, Yusei realized that she was an inch or two shorter than he was. It wasn't often he could look down on an adult. She began leading him into one of the wings, past rows and rows of gleaming dark wood shelves. The air was still and smelled of dust and old paper and half-forgotten knowledge. The only sounds besides their footsteps were the occasional faint rustle of a turning page, someone coughing quietly, the click of a keyboard, but these tiny noises seemed only to enhance the silence. It was like being in some sort of cathedral, Yusei thought. He had the feeling he should have left his boots at the door so as not to track dirt into it.
"All of this is fiction," Ruby was saying. "New releases here, then general fiction, mysteries, science fiction and fantasy. Young adult and children's books are towards the back..."
Yusei looked wherever she pointed, as fascinated as if he walked through an exhibit hall full of wonders instead of a room full of used books.
"I don't think there were this many books in all of Satellite," he said.
Ruby's expression was sorrowful. "I've never been there, but I did get the impression it was not a place that would be kind to books."
"Most of them ended up getting torn up and turned into fire kindling," Yusei admitted. "Or being stuffed into cracks to block drafts."
"A sad loss," said Ruby.
Yusei gave her an evaluating look and decided that she was being perfectly honest.
"Do you have books on building D-Wheels?" he asked.
"Of course," she said. "This is the best library in this part of the country. You can find everything here. Let me show you."
She led him in a loop around the building to the opposite wing. Yusei knew immediately that this was where he wanted to be. Most of these books were heavy, serious-looking things, unlike their cousins on the other side of the library with the glossy, colorful covers and their titles in fanciful script. These books were here to do business. Yusei touched them as he walked past: history, philosophy, social sciences, arts, technology. He wished he had time to read all of them.
In many ways, he was proud to be from Satellite. He loved the island and the people he'd grown up with there. Living there in hardship had made him strong and honed his skills to a razor edge he doubted he could have achieved if he'd grown up in peace and comfort. One thing that he hadn't been able to do, though, was get a proper education. Martha had taught him and her other children how to read and do basic math, but beyond that his schooling had been patchy at best. There was the internet if he wanted to know something, but reliable connections and even electricity were rarely dependable on the island, and looking things up on Wikipedia was no substitute for an organized education. It had always bothered him slightly. He knew he was intelligent, possibly even more so than the average person on the street, but that didn't make up for the fact that he knew very little about the world outside the borders of his island.
"Next time, I'm bringing something to take notes," he said to himself.
"You're allowed to check these out," said Ruby.
"You mean, take them home with me?"
She nodded. "Once you've been issued a library card, you can take up to ten books home with you for three weeks."
"For free," she assured him, smiling. "Also, you'll be given access to our reference databases, and if you have an ebook reader, you can download books through our website."
"All that?" His immediate reaction was suspicion. He wasn't used to being given all manner of things for nothing.
"Cross my heart," said Ruby, smiling. "Would you like to sign up now?"
"Yes," said Yusei.
She took him back to the desk and handed him some paperwork. He began filling out his name and as much information as he could give.
"What should I put for my address?" he asked. "I don't think they even have mail delivery to the island yet."
"Good question," said Ruby. "I'm not supposed to issue cards unless you have a valid local address, but for you, I'll make a special exception. Just come back and let us know as soon as you have something to put in the blank. Don't tell anyone I did this."
Yusei smiled. "Your secret is safe with me."
She gave him a library card and a pamphlet describing the ins and outs of the library, and then turned him loose to explore the stacks on his own. He started out with a spring in his step, buoyed with a newfound sense of opportunity. Being allowed to carry off an armload of books for free still sounded too good to be true, and he was going to take full advantage of it. He walked up and down the rows, picking up books that looked like they might be interesting until he had a nice collection of different subjects, and then carried them over to a table where he could sit and browse for a little while. Even if he could take them home, it seemed more appropriate to read them here in this peaceful place than at home where things were always messy and unsettled. Here, he could sit and let the things he read soak in without fear of disturbance. He was vaguely aware that Ruby wandered past a few times - checking on him, he thought. At one point, she went to one of the computers and typed on it a bit, studied what it showed her for a while, and then wandered off again, but he was too absorbed in what he was reading to even wonder what she was doing.
He was startled when she reappeared behind him and tapped his shoulder.
"Excuse me," she said. "Sorry to interrupt your reading, but I thought you should know that we'll be closing soon. Did you want to check those out?"
"Yes. Thank you."
Yusei stood up, rubbing his tired eyes, mildly surprised at how quickly time had passed, and carried his pile of books up to the front desk. Ruby scanned them all with practiced efficiency, and surprised Yusei by dropping a pile of papers on top of the stack.
"What's this?" he asked. He picked up the top sheet, expecting more library information. Instead, it had the title of a scientific journal on it.
"I had some free time, so I looked these up for you," she said. "They're the papers that were written by your parents. I thought you might like to have something of theirs."
Yusei stared, feeling a sudden tightening in his throat.
"I... don't know what to say. Thank you," he managed.
"We're here to be helpful," said Ruby. "Have a nice evening."
Yusei walked out of the library smiling, clutching his stack of books and papers protectively. Ruby had been right.
You really could find anything at libraries.