Book Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

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Kat waves me over to a table near the pavilions perimeter, where a quick breeze is rustling the white tarp. Little slices of light dance across the table, which has a paper covering marked out with a pale blue grid. At Google, they eat lunch on graph paper. This is Raj, she says, waving a forkful of lentil salad (which looks just like mine) at the skater PhD. We went to school together. Kat studied symbolic systems at Stanford. Did everybody here go to Stanford?more...

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I expected him to be angry about all that, but hes smiling. Corvina took some heat. People were angry. Dont worry, he did his best to stop it. Oh, nono. They were angry we hadnt tried it already ourselves. This upstart Google shouldnt have all the fun, they said. That makes me smile.more...

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Nobody knows. Intensive googling reveals no website and no address for the Festina Lente Company. There are no mentions in newspapers, magazines, or classified ads going back a century. These guys dont just fly under the radar; theyre subterranean. But it has to be a real place, right?a place with a front door. Is it marked? Im thinking about the bookstore. On the front windows, theres Penumbras name, and theres that symbol, the same one thats on the logbook and ledger. Two hands, open like a book. I have a picture of it on my phone.more...

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In fact, Im just getting to the part where Telemach is going to blow the Golden Horn of Griffo to raise the dead elves of the Pinake Forest, who are all bound to him because he liberated their The Golden Horn of Griffo. Huh. Griffo, like Griffo Gerritszoon. I open my laptop and start taking notes. The passage continues: The Golden Horn of Griffo is finely wrought, Zenodotus said, tracing his finger along the curve of Telemachs treasure. And the magic is in its making alone. Do you understand? There is no sorcery herenone that I can detect.more...

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Every night I rap my fingers on the dark wood. He looks up and says, Hey, Clay. Every night I take his place, and we nod farewell like soldierslike men who uniquely understand each others circumstances. *   *   * When Im done with my shift, its six in the morning, which is an awkward time to be set loose in the world. Generally I go home and read or play video games. Id say it was to unwind except that the night shift at Penumbras doesnt really wind a person up.more...

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The Reading Room has grown silent now. None of the black-robes are talking, or moving, or possibly even breathing. Corvina clasps his hands behind his backa teachers pose. Ajax. Im glad you returned, because Ive made my decision, and I wanted to tell you myself. A pause, then a solicitous tilt of the head. Its time you came back to New York. Penumbra squints. I have a store to run.more...

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On my screen, Tyndall will borrow a book from the top of aisle two. Then, in another month, Lapin will ask for one from the same shelf. Five weeks later, Imbert will followexactly the same shelfbut meanwhile, Tyndall has already returned and gotten something new from the bottom of aisle one. Hes a step ahead. I hadnt noticed the pattern because its so spread out in space and time, like a piece of music with three hours between each note, all played in different octaves. But here, condensed and accelerated on my screen, its obvious. Theyre all playing the same song, or dancing the same dance, oryessolving the same puzzle.more...

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Suddenly its not Corvina whos the wayward friendits Penumbra. Neel appears at the top of the stairs. Mat needs your help, he says. You have to hold a light or something. Okay, sure. I take a sharp breath, push Corvinas voice out of my head, and follow Neel back down into the store.more...

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Im supposed to go, but I dont think I want to. She looks up at me. She looks lost. I miss the store. And I miss Ajax Penumbra. He slips in through Pygmalions front door like a wandering ghost, fully buttoned into his dark peacoat, the collar turned up over the thin gray scarf around his neck. He searches the room, and when he sees the crowd in the back, full of the fellowshipblack-robes and allhis eyes widen. I sprint over to him. Mr.more...

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Theyre probably grouped according to some supersecret intra-cult rank, or favorite prime number, or inseam, or something. So I just go shelf by shelf, deeper and deeper into the darkness. The variation between books is incredible. Some are fat, some are skinny; some are tall like atlases, some squat like paperbacks. I wonder if theres a logic to that, too; is some sort of status encoded into each books format? Some are bound in cloth, others in leather, and many in materials that I dont recognize. One shines bright in the light of my headlamp; its clad in thin aluminum. Thirteen shelves in, theres still no sign of PENVMBRA, and Im afraid I might have missed him. The headlamp casts a narrow cone of light, and Im not seeing every spine, especially the ones down by thefloor Theres a blank space in the shelves.more...

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