A man in the purple robes of a High Research Administrator strode into the anteroom of the Archives and range the bell on the counter. He had waited for months for the Archives to arrive in his home system and then had to wait for several hours in a security line just to get transport up to the ship. He had known that it was a privilege to do research at the Archives, it was the largest collection of knowledge in the Empire, but he wasn’t used to being treated like chattel. He was an important man, after all.
A small sigh rose from beneath the counter and a girl, looking no more than ten standard years, climbed into a tall chair and looked the man in the eye.
“Can I help you?” she asked in the tone children use when forcing themselves to be nice because they’re told to.
The man in purple robes looked down his bulbous nose at the girl. Even with the chair, she was over a foot shorter than him.
“I’d like to speak tot he Archivist, please.”
Be good, Cait. Said a warm and comforting voice inside her head.
The girl suppressed the urge to groan and forced herself to smile.
“You are speaking to her, sir.”
“No,” he said, “I am speaking to a child. Fetch the archivist, girl.”
“I am the Archivist,” the girl said.
“Of course you are, dear,” he said, “now go get an adult I can talk to and stop wasting my time.”
“I can assure you, sir,” the girl said with effort through gritted teeth, “I can help with any query you may have, I’m fully–”
You’re doing well, Cait. Just keep a level head.
“Child,” the man said, “stop talking and go get an adult!”
“Listen, you pompous screechbat cloaca, I–”
“Cait!” I sharp female voice cut the tirade short. The small girl immediately closed her mouth and sat up straight. “You will watch your language, especially when talking to Researchers.”
A woman with brown hair cut to a standard issue ear-length bob, a plain blue uniform, and a pleasant face stepped through a door which led deeper into the Archives. She turned to the researcher, whose startled expression had already begun to transform back into a mask of smug superiority.
“You’ll have to forgive Cait,” the woman continued, “she has a bit of a temper.”
“No problem at all,” he replied, “I have several nephews myself who share a similar…undisciplined attitude.”
Just let her handle this.
Cait remained at attention, but her cheeks visibly pulsed as she clenched and relaxed her jaw.
“Are you the Archivist, then?” he continued.
“Yes, I am,” she said, “My name is Nadine.”
“Excellent.” He looked sideways at Cait, “I knew she was lying when she said she was the Archivist.”
“Actually,” Nadine said just as Cait began to open her mouth in protest, “she is the Archivist as well.” She moved her hair behind her ear and her implant caught the light before her hair fell, as always, back into place.
Cait smirked at the researcher, who had risked a glance in her direction, and pulled back her own hair to reveal a similar shining implant.
Cait, there’s no reason to be smug. The voice said.
But he’s such a pompous– Cait started.
I know, but our job is to help them.
“Hmph,” he said as he resumed ignoring Cait, “I’d still never trust a child to help me.”
“And why is that, sir?” Nadine asked.
“Don’t you know who I am?” The Researcher drew himself up to look down on her.
“Of course I do,” she said as her eyes went out of focus as she accessed pertinent records, “You’re High Researcher Pedrick Nason, a specialist in the study of xeno-anatomy and military tactics. You’ve written twenty-seven articles in the last ten years and your research on the Plashaar (commonly called Digger Devils) was instrumental in the retaking of Indus VII and earned you your most recent promotion.” Her eyes came into focus again and she gave the researcher a warm smile.
High Researcher Nason swelled during the Archivist’s recitation and smiled in a way he believed people thought modest.
“I can see you’ve done your homework, ma’am.”
She nodded once and Cait rolled her eyes.
“Now,” the Archivist said as she moved him to the door of the reading room, “what can I help you with?”
“I’m doing research on the mating habits of the Snow Stars on Berryessa II and I heard you had copies of the journals of Bixby Drax. Might I look at them?”
Cait furrowed her brow and opened her mouth to speak, but she was cut short by a hand on her shoulder. It was wrinkled and cold and attached to an elderly woman in an ornate uniform.
“Of course we have those journals. The originals, mind you, not copies. This is the Archives, after all.” Nadine held the door to the reading room open.
“Wonderful!” Researcher Nason said as he walked through the door. Nadine followed after and closed the door behind her.
Cait turned to the elderly woman, whose face looked as though it had known more than it was healthy to know.
“Yes, Cait?” Her voice was warm and comforting.
“According to the Archive, Bixby Drax was only in the Berryessa system for a few standard weeks. Wouldn’t it have been better to check the field notes of Ix’tal Mar?”
“Firstly, not everyone can read Tu’naar. And secondly, yes it would have, but that’s not what he asked for.”
“But aren’t we supposed to help the researchers?”
“Yes, we are. And we’re giving him precisely what he asked for. Maker knows if he hadn’t been such a pompous screechbat cloaca, we’d have helped him a bit more.” Hermina smiled with the corner of her mouth.
Cait looked up at her in astonishment and giggled until her sides hurt.