A patron laid seven infusion chips down in front of Gene, who was manning the circulation desk for the fifth shift in a row because Regina lost their self in a virtual reality and couldn’t come into work. Gene moved the pile onto a pad and scanned them. The patron’s son wanted a sticker.
Gene’s suspended screen ejected a stream of liquid red at him.
“These are late,” Gene said. “I’m sorry, it looks like we even assumed them lost.” He pinched one of the chips and held it to the light humming at a long clip through the stacks. It was sticky with grape jelly. It smelled of grape jelly. Gene almost gagged. “I’m afraid you’ll be liable for the full fines and cost of damage.”
The patron grabbed an infusion chip from the desk—call number 153.25C: Creativity Unchained—and slipped it into the back of her neck. She spasmed a little. Her fingers twitched, and her hair bristled, arcs combing between the strands before settling into the space around her.
“We took these out,” she said, “but this one didn’t infuse me with borrowed creativity.” Her face fell, and she looked empty for just a beat, then a deranged stare crossed her eyes. “I’m brimming with energy, but it’s not creative. I can’t make pottery like this. I’m not in control.” She clutched the desk, then Gene’s throat. Her son tore the chip from her neck and crammed it into Gene’s hand.
“She blacked out for a week,” her son said. This excuse sounded rehearsed to Gene, though all words did.
The chip burned in Gene’s hands. He held it to his eye and noticed a frayed synapse through the translucent plate of the housing. “We can halve the fines,” he said. “As a one-time courtesy.”
Over by the self-checkout kiosks, a man infused the entire works of all European writers from Antiquity to Modern at once. He used a black-market device to overcome the information consumption limiters, and his mind surrendered to the overflow. Gene sighed when he heard the man alternating between spouting Kafka, Sand, Proust—one word from each from each of their seminal works—quicker than any mouth could move or chords could vocalize. He spoke in tongues.
People did this, sometimes. It’s a brilliant free high at your local infusion library. Gene knew the man would soon grow destructive of institutions, so he tackled him to the ground and held him tight.
The patron at the desk gathered her son and left out the front door, but not before sneering that these institutions are worthless. She stole one of the chips—641.815 J—and the security gates sparked at her for it, but Gene was busy holding the rattling man, so she escaped.
An hour later, a drone arrived to drag the man with endless pupils out of the library in a net.
Gene caught a group of teenagers trying to switch sex education infusion chips with juvenile fiction ones in the sub-level stacks. Their uncontrollable laughter gave them away. Unmetered by drug or infusion, it weaved from the sex health section down to J Fiction and back. Gene scraped the library number barcodes from their forearms with a rough metal tool when he caught them. Specks of blood dotted the kids’ raw arms. As is procedure, Gene placed a 616 E infusion chip —labeled Forever Painless: Overcoming Physical Pain Through Advanced Meditation—into the back of their necks.
“Keep it clean so the ink can propagate, and these will grow back in six months,” Gene said. “Until then, you’re banned by the power vested in me by the Lawton Cabal.”
One of the teenagers called their parents, and their digital faces hovered solemn over the scene as Gene dug into their son’s arm.
The neon stacks emptied, the lights dimmed to the point just before off. Public and staff terminals had been shut down for the evening. One adaptive light moved with Gene through all levels of the library as he checked for stragglers, stowaways, and sleeping patrons. He checked the lavatory last in the evening, because it’s a place of expected privacy and Gene didn’t care for the awkward altercations that occurred when someone was in there at closing.
“We’re closing!” he called in through the cracked door of the lavatory. He heard a shuffle but no answer. He said it again, a little louder, then announced his entrance into the room. A woman stood at the sink infused with a de-limited 142.78 K. She stared into the mirror, immovable, paralyzed by her reflection and wondering aloud about her place in the library and outside it.
Gene recognized her. She was a daily patron with nowhere to go. He stood next to her and stared at his own appearance for a few minutes. He didn’t look as tired as people say.
“The front doors are only locked from the outside,” Gene whispered to the woman. “You can always get out if you want.”
In the staff work room, Gene sat at his desk. Regina, in fractured images, flitted through the screens on the walls, attempting to make contact.
“Gene. Gene,” they said. “Gene, I’m still caught in a loop. Every door I open to get back to reality seems to open back to this reality seems to open back to this reality. My doctor says I don’t really want to come out, but I do. I hate that you have to keep covering for me, Gene. If not tomorrow, then Thursday for sure, Gene. Gene.”
Gene pulled an infusion chip at random from the discard pile by his desk and slid it into the back of his neck. It was a story, a mystery, a well-worn whodunnit that had rotted with age, use, and misuse. The writer’s cloned synapses had all but disintegrated beneath the plate.
Gene wandered through the tattered pages until morning.
It was a Tuesday.