All was quiet in the Library. It was the early hours of the morning, when the sunrise hadn’t quite yet crested over the horizon, and when time didn’t quite seem real. The Librarians and their Guardian and the Caretaker were scattered about, some within the Library’s walls, though most were in their respective homes, peacefully sleeping.
The Clippings Book sat upon its pedestal in the centre of the Annex. The lights were dim, casting a faint golden glow onto the cover of the tome. With no warning, it slammed open, its pages flipping wildly to find a place that wasn’t already full of news reports and blog posts detailing magical disturbances. A shudder rippled along the edges of the pages, the book glowed, and several new clippings appeared on the yellowed paper. In their homes, the pocket-sized counterparts of the Clippings Book went through similar motions.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, a village in England, in the county of Lincolnshire, was currently experiencing a lapse in gravity. Cars were floating, twisting and turning in the air, and the branches of trees were pointing straight up, their leaves stretching into the sky. Everyone stayed indoors for fear of flying away. Everyone, that is, except for a single figure, walking through the streets, whistling, and spinning a bright red apple on their finger.
Jacob yawned, still half-asleep as he stood by the centre table in the Library’s Annex. Eve and Flynn looked similarly exhausted, rumpled and half-leaning on each other, and Cassandra was practically falling asleep standing up. Nothing quite like an early-morning Clippings Book call to wake up to.
The Back Door flashed bright blue, and an entirely too perky Ezekiel Jones came sauntering through.
“Well aren’t you a chipper bunch. C’mon, team! We’ve got a mission, crazy haywire magic, international hijinks, what more could you want?”
“You’re way too energetic right now,” Flynn grumbled. At least, Jacob thought that was what he said; it was a little hard to tell with how his face was mashed into Eve’s shoulder
Ezekiel lifted his hands. “I come bearing the gift of caffeination.” One hand held a tall take-out coffee cup, and the other had a cardboard drink tray with four more.
“Oh my god, gimme,” Cassandra moaned. She dropped her head onto the shoulder closest to Ezekiel, but didn’t actually open her eyes. Eve said nothing, but stretched her arm out expectantly. Ezekiel just chuckled as he handed out everyone’s coffee.
Jacob pressed a kiss to his boyfriend’s temple as he passed him his coffee. “Can’t believe you got some for everybody, darlin’, and not just for yourself.”
“Don’t say I never did anything for you, cowboy,” Ezekiel shot back.
Jacob chuckled, and all four Librarians and their Guardian gathered around the Clippings Book. Slowly, the group woke up, sipping at their coffee and yawning away the last remnants of sleep. Once their drinks were drained, Eve straightened up and surveyed the group.
“So, everyone’s gotten a chance to look over the reports?”
“The village of Colsterworth, in the English county of Lincolnshire, is suddenly no longer affected by the laws of gravity,” Flynn rattled off. “The phenomenon began at 10:14 this morning – which was 2:14, our time.”
As if on cue, everyone else yawned at the reminder of how early they had been woken up.
“No one was hurt, and once it became clear what was happening, everyone made sure to stay indoors so they wouldn’t get flung into the stratosphere.” Flynn turned his gaze back to the book, eyes wandering over the clippings detailing the incident. “It’s…mostly been property damage – so far, at least.”
“Is the any word on how far the effect extends? Is it continuing to grow, encompassing more towns?” Eve asked.
Jacob piped up this time. “No, it’s been focused entirely on Colsterworth, and the nearby hamlet of Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth. They’re each contained in…” he waved his free hand around, looking for the right words, “…anti-gravity bubbles.”
“Which is like, the third most common use of alien technology, after death and shrink rays.” Ezekiel butted in.
“It’s not aliens, Jones,” Jacob said, pointedly.
“You don’t know that; for all you know, they’re laying low in small-town England, waiting to exert their influence over our tiny, insignificant planet.”
Eve held her hands up, staving off their impending argument. “Let’s table the “aliens” theory for now, shall we?” She shot them both a cheery, fake smile. They both nodded, chagrined.
“I can’t believe you guys aren’t more excited about this,” Cassandra said. Jacob turned to see her with a huge smile and practically vibrating with excitement. Or maybe caffeine. Probably both, to be honest.
She must have noticed the confused looks on several of their faces. “Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth?” she said. She shot them all a look from the corner of her eye, like whatever meaning she found in the location should be obvious. “The birthplace of Isaac Newton? The father of modern science? He made the first theoretical calculation of the speed of sound, he generalised the binomial theorem to non-integer exponents, he – he developed one of the earliest theorems of prisms and the visible spectrum of light! He formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation!”
As Cassandra spoke, Flynn jerked upright, looking like he’d been slapped across the face.
“That’s it,” he said, dazed. That brought Cassandra up short in her praises of Newton. She made a confused face.
Rather than answer her, Flynn leaned back and called out into the Library. “Jenkins! Meet us in the Perishable Artifacts room!” With that, he took off into the Library proper. The rest of the team shared a bewildered glance before chasing after him.
Eve, unsurprisingly, was the first to catch up with him in the hallway. “We have a Perishable Artifacts room?” Her voice held the tone it usually did when she learned something truly bewildering about the Library.
“Of course!” Flynn waved a hand around in the air as he strode through the halls. “Tons of folklore and myths revolve around sacred plants and fruits. The plants are in the heart of the Library, alongside the Tree of Knowledge.” He paused, stopping dead while everyone else barely managed to keep from running into him. “Well, everything that could be transplanted, that is.”
Flynn started walking again, at a slightly more sedate pace, rounding corners and going up and down various flights of stairs. “The fruits, however, can’t continue to grow once they’ve been picked; so, they end up in the Perishable Artifacts room.” At this, Flynn stopped in front of a pale blue door, with a silver handle shaped like vines. He grasped the handle and gently pushed the door open.
The room itself resembled the halfway point between a greenhouse and a farmer’s market; two of the walls were made of glass panels with sunlight streaming through, while the other two were off-white linen, like a tent. Vines curled up around several pillars around the edges of the room, and the floor was entirely dirt, with a few meandering paths made from woodchips and stepping stones branching out around the room.
The artifacts themselves were each stored on stands that resembled a grocery store’s produce section. The stands were each topped with a large wicker basket, filled with soft green leaves and moss, and misters were installed above each platform. Various fruits and vegetables rested on the lush greenery. As Flynn led them through the room, he pointed out the artifacts as they passed them.
“There’s Persephone’s pomegranate… a couple of the Peaches of Immortality… the Apple of Discord.” His tone turned conspiratorial as he shot a look over his shoulder at the other Librarians. Jacob perked up at the mention of one of their successful missions. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Cassandra and Ezekiel do the same.
“Three of the Apples of the Hesperides… over there are two of Idun’s apples – lots of apples,” he said, giving Eve a bemused look, “the Forbidden Fruit, which isn’t an apple, by the way. Despite popular modern cultural depictions, it’s actually a fig.” They drew closer to the end of the path; the pedestal on the right hand side at the end was empty. Flynn sighed. “And –
“Newton’s Apple,” Jenkins interjected, stepping around the corner from the other side of the row of pedestals. “Missing, as I presume you deduced.”
“The only thing that could cause such a disruption of the laws of gravity.” Flynn grimaced. “That’s not good.”
“Yeah, can’t imagine anybody seein’ everything and everybody in that town flyin’ into space as a good thing,” Jacob muttered. Flynn shook his head.
“No, no, not that – well, yes, that, that’s not good either. What I’m concerned about is how the apple went missing in the first place. It was one of the few artifacts that hadn’t gone missing when the Library was severed, and it was one of the few that DOSA overlooked in their takeover. It hasn’t been moved from this room –” he pointed at the floor around him and spun in a slow circle “– since it was first brought here by Newton himself!”
“Who – or what – could get into the Library, remove one of the artifacts, and get back out again, without any of us finding out or setting off any alarms?” Eve asked, her brow furrowed.
Ezekiel shrugged. “A really good thief?” The rest of the team fixed him with looks that ranged from incredulous to exasperated. He looked around at all of them and held his hands up defensively when he noticed their expressions. “Not me, obviously – some other, less great, thief.”
Jacob snorted. He leaned in to Ezekiel’s ear. “Nice save.”
Jenkins raised a hand, regaining everyone’s attention. “It doesn’t matter, at this point in time, who or what is responsible for the apple’s disappearance. What matters is getting it back. If the apple continues to work its magic unchecked, the anti-gravity effects will only continue to grow stronger. More damage will be done, and people will be hurt.”
Cassandra tentatively raised her hand. “Umm, about that… how are we supposed to get the apple from the anti-gravity bubble it’s creating? Without floating away ourselves.”
“Ah.” Jenkins held up a finger as he dug around in the pocket of his jacket. After a moment he made a triumphant little “A-ha!”, and pulled out a handful of something. The team gathered closer as he opened his hand and started passing out –
“Pebbles? Really?” Ezekiel looked down at the smooth gray rock he had been given with a particularly unimpressed look.
“Not just any pebbles, Mr. Jones – chippings from Sisyphus’ boulder. Much like their larger counterpart, they always return to the bottom of the hill.”
Eve grinned knowingly at Jenkins. “Which means they’ll keep us from getting pulled away by the apple.”
Once everyone had a Sisyphus stone in their pocket, the group retreated back to the Annex. While Jenkins set up the Back Door, Eve divided them up into teams.
“Alright, two of us will tackle the hamlet and the other three will search the village. Cassandra, you and Stone take Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth.” She gave the two of them a look. “Cassandra, try to focus on the mission and not get distracted by all things Newton. Stone, make sure she focuses on the mission and doesn’t get distracted by all things Newton.”
“Sure thing, Colonel,” Jacob chuckled, as Cassandra pouted beside him. Eve turned her attention to Ezekiel and Flynn.
“That mean the two of you are with me in Colsterworth. We good?”
“Hold up.” Ezekiel gestured around at the three of them with a finger. “Three of us are going to search an entire village?”
Flynn shrugged. “Colsterworth only has a population of seventeen-hundred.” He slapped Ezekiel on the shoulder. “Should be a piece of cake!”
With that, the Back Door glowed bright blue, and the four Librarians and their Guardian raced through one after another to the other side of the Atlantic.
Late in the afternoon (Greenwich Mean Time), Jacob and Cassandra slumped onto the ground to take a breather. Their search had, thus far, proven both literally and metaphorically fruitless.
They had spent several hours going around door-to-door, asking the residents of Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth if they had any information about the sudden lack of gravity. No one seemed to know anything, and most just reiterated that when cars and garbage bins on the street started floating, they hurried to get inside. Pretty much everyone was scared of what would happen to them if they left.
Jacob scrubbed his hands through his hair. Normally, he loved getting to do this kind of work, getting in touch with the people in the community and working together to try to solve the problem. Normally, however, somebody had at least some kind of idea of what was going on and could give them something to work with.
The two of them were sitting sprawled out under one of the verified children of Newton’s apple tree. Its branches curved upwards and stretched towards the sky, and the couple of roots that were partially exposed struggled valiantly against the soil to join them.
“I hope the others had more luck than we did,” Cassandra grumbled. Jacob hummed in agreement. Quite frankly, it sucked to put in all that legwork to come up empty handed. The two sat commiserating in their lack of progress for a minute or so before Jacob’s phone started ringing. He checked the caller ID and saw it was Eve calling them. He accepted the call, putting it on speaker and holding the phone between him and Cassandra so that she could hear too.
“Stone, any news on your end?”
“Not a damn thing. Everyone’s said the same thing – they got inside as soon as stuff started floating, and no one’s seen anything leading up to or since then.”
“We might have a lead on our end. How quickly can you and Cassandra get here?”
Jacob turned to Cassandra. Her hands were spread in front of her, her eyes looking skyward, already in the middle of figuring out the equation. Sure, it was simpler than most of the equations that she did, but it was still important. And Jacob knew that she loved any excuse to do math.
“The distance from Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth to the village is 1.1 miles...” She waved a hand, clearing aside something only she could see for something else to take its place. “Average adult walking speed is three to four miles per hour…” She trailed off, snapping her gaze back to Jacob. “We can be there in twenty minutes – fifteen if we hurry.”
Jacob’s eyes flicked from Cassandra back to his phone. “You got that, Baird?”
“Loud and clear. We’ll see you then.”
With that, Jacob ended the call. He hauled himself up off the grass with a groan, and extended a hand to Cassandra to help her up. He knew she didn’t really need the help, but he’d been raised as a country boy in Oklahoma and that’s just what you did.
Cassandra brushed her skirt off as she stood. She looked up at Jacob when she finished, fixing him with a bright smile that he couldn’t help but return.
“Well, let’s get going then!” she declared, and strode past him to lead them out of the hamlet to meet up with the rest of the team.
Eve turned her phone off and slipped it into her pocket. She sighed heavily, rubbing a hand over her face. Ezekiel watched her walk back over to where he and Flynn were sitting, relaxing on a park bench a few feet from her. As she reached them, the two men got to their feet.
“Stone and Cassandra are on their way.” Eve said. She started walking down the street, Flynn slotting in beside her and Ezekiel behind the two of them. “They didn’t find anything out there, so the only thing we have to go on –”
“ – is a little girl in a blue dress,” Flynn finished.
“And we don’t even know if the couple of people who claimed to have seen her actually did, or if she even has anything to do with,” Eve waved her hands around, “all of this.”
Ezekiel was quiet as the two of them talked over the mission. There was something about all of this, something that he should have figured out by now but hadn’t. They walked down a couple of streets, mostly killing time while they waited for Jacob and Cassandra. Maybe ten minutes later, they rounded a corner and saw her halfway down the block.
She was a young girl with warm brown skin, probably in her early teens, if not younger. She was dressed in a bright turquoise dress that went down to her ankles, which was topped off with bright red converse sneakers and a matching vivid red dupatta wrapped loosely around her head and shoulders. She was somehow unaffected by the reversal of gravity plaguing the village.
She also held a bright red apple in one hand.
The four of them stood stock still for a long moment, just staring each other down from opposite ends of the street. Suddenly, the girl spun around and took off down the street away from them. Eve took off in a sprint, Flynn and Ezekiel close behind.
The girl flew around the corner; Eve barely caught herself in time to make it around the corner, which let Flynn and Ezekiel catch up to her.
“Freeze right there and drop the apple!” Eve yelled. The girl didn’t listen and kept running. Despite her much shorter legs, she was incredibly quick. As they ran, everything clicked into place for Ezekiel. Really, he should have realized it sooner. Hell, he was the one to suggest it in the first place!
He ran up in between Flynn and Eve. “You two fall back! Let me handle this!” he called, not breaking stride.
Eve glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “You sure?”
“Leave it to me.”
Ezekiel kept running after the girl, while Flynn and Eve disappeared from his peripheral as they slowed down. The girl was fast, but Ezekiel was just a little faster – just enough to be able to shorten the distance between them. He followed her around another corner, this one leading to a dead-end alley. He saw her head tip up as she sized up the fence at the end of the alley.
“Oi! Mot! Drop the stuffing! That’s bagged flash!”
The girl skidded to a halt, rocking forward on her feet at Ezekiel’s call. She wheeled her arms around to steady herself, then spun around to face him. Behind him, he could here Eve and Flynn catch up with him again.
“Ain’t bagged flash, cove – don’t amuse me!” she yelled back.
“Umm, what?” Eve muttered. Ezekiel didn’t pay her any mind, but Flynn filled her in.
“It’s Thieves’ Cant, also called Rogue’s Cant or Peddler’s French; first developed by thieves and hustlers in the 1530s, primarily in Great Britain but extended to other English-speaking countries as well. I’ve never actually heard it used in real life before.”
Ezekiel yelled back at the girl again. “Listen, colt – you’re a rum bob, we both know it. You know I’m not amusing you. Just give me the stuffing.”
She tilted her chin up and crossed her arms. “Are you bilkin’ me, napper?”
Two more sets of footsteps came running up behind him, but Ezekiel ignored them. Instead, he groaned and rolled his eyes. He started walking towards the girl, hands up in surrender. “It’s me, colt. Your Dimber Damber?” He gestured to himself.
The girl studied him as he walked closer, her dark eyes flitting about. Recognition dawned on her face, only to quickly be replaced with worry. Her eyes flicked past Ezekiel to focus on the rest of the team.
“You’re not gonna leave me in the lurch, are you?” she asked him, her eyes wide and a little scared.
Ezekiel smirked. “Pffft, of course not! Ezekiel Jones would never leave a fellow thief in the lurch.” He turned around so that he was beside her and placed a hand gently on her back, nudging her forwards towards the rest of his team. “But we do need to explain to the others what happened. Oh, and you can stop patter flashing now.”
The girl let slip a little nervous giggle. She bounced the apple back and forth between her hands as they walked. Ezekiel kept his eyes on her the whole way back down the alley, both to make sure she wouldn’t try to bolt again, and to make sure she was okay.
He didn’t look up until they got close to the rest of the team; Eve and Jacob both had their arms crossed and matching unimpressed looks on their faces, Flynn looked concerned, and Cassandra mostly just looked confused as to what she just walked in to. Ezekiel stopped a few feet short of them, keeping his hand resting on the girl’s back. She shuffled so that she was half behind him, looking warily at the assembled Librarians and Guardian. Ezekiel grinned, bouncing forward on his toes and rocking back on his heels.
“Guys, this is Hira al-Massoud. She’s the greatest thief in the world,” he said, full of pride. Four sets of eyebrows rose incredulously at him.
Hira elbowed him in the side. “No, I’m not,” she whined, embarrassed. “You’re way better than me!”
“What?” Ezekiel said as he looked down at her again, the word high pitched and drawn out. “Nah, you managed to steal from the Library, mate – I’ve never managed that!”
Hira giggled shyly, but she stopped looking so nervous and came out from behind Ezekiel’s legs.
“Alright, second-greatest, then. You’re still better than me.”
Someone cleared their throat. Ezekiel looked up to see the rest of the team walking closing the gap between them. Jacob was in the front of the group; he stopped just a couple of feet away from him and Hira and fixed Ezekiel with an expectant look.
“And who exactly is Hira al-Massoud?”
“She’s my apprentice!” Once again, the rest of the team looked shocked, so Ezekiel carried on. “We first met… what was it, three years ago?” He looked down at Hira for confirmation.
She laughed again. “No, it was two years ago! You know that.”
“That’s right, two years ago.” He did know that, but he liked to tease his friends. “I was spending the weekend in Manchester, seeing the sights, sizing up potential things to steal. Except Hira beat me to the first one I tried to take.”
Hira shrugged, a little bit awkward. “I needed to eat. And I was there first; I called dibs.”
“Needed to eat?” Eve asked, her voice laced through with concern. Hira shrugged again, more awkwardly this time, but didn’t say anything. Ezekiel stepped in to explain.
“Her parents died when she was really young, and she doesn’t have any other family here in England. Anyway, when we first met, I saw potential, but she needed someone to teach her the tricks of the trade. I started teaching her the basics – Thieves’ Cant, picking different types of locks, escape strategies, stuff like that. I couldn’t stay long, what with the Library and all, so I set her up in my safehouse in Manchester.” He turned back to Hira. “Speaking of which – why are you here in Colsterworth?”
“What, I can’t take a trip out to the country?” she sassed him. Ezekiel was relieved that she wasn’t so nervous anymore and was returning to her usual precociousness. “There’s a couple of friends from school with family out here and I wanted to visit them.”
“Hold on,” Cassandra said, “you have a safehouse in Manchester?”
“I’ve got half a dozen safehouses around the world, mate. Can’t be too prepared.” He crouched down, putting himself at eye level with Hira. “Now, what I want to know is how you managed to break into the Library. Didn’t set off any alarms, didn’t even get the Library itself to give us a warning. How’d you do it?”
Hira snorted, smirking. “Like I’d tell you. A good thief never reveals their secrets.”
“I thought that was magicians,” said Eve.
“Well, most magicians’ skills are also applicable to thieves,” said Flynn. “Sleight of hand, card tricks, escape artistry – there’s a fair amount of overlap.”
Ezekiel groaned as he pushed himself back to his feet. “Well, however you did it, you’ve gotta put the apple back now.” Hira whined, but he cut her off before she could start complaining. “No, this is dangerous, and it needs to be kept safe. You’ve seen what happened here in town – the anti-gravity bubble. We need to make sure it doesn’t get worse, or that it doesn’t happen again somewhere else.”
Hira ducked her head, chagrined. “Yeah, I know.” She stretched her arm out to hand the apple to Ezekiel. He eyed it for a second, then reached out to push it back towards her.
“You can put it back yourself. Come one, I’ll give you the tour.”
The Back Door flashed bright blue once more that day. Most of the team had gone their separate ways for the day, but Ezekiel and Jacob were still in the Annex, the former having just finished showing his protégé around the Library after returning Newton’s Apple to its rightful place. Hira turned around from where she stood before the door. She scampered back over to Ezekiel and wrapped her arms around him tightly.
“Thank you,” she mumbled, muffled into his torso. Ezekiel smiled softly, the admiration and protectiveness towards her clear on his face. Jacob was pretty sure a similar expression was currently gracing his own face as he watched the two of them. After a long moment, Hira stepped back and, after a quick secret handshake between the two of them, darted through the Back Door back to Manchester.
The Door’s glow faded, and Jacob and Ezekiel were alone in the room. Slowly, Jacob pushed himself off of the table he was leaning against and sauntered over to Ezekiel.
“You did good today,” he rumbled. Ezekiel turned to look at him at the sound of his voice.
“Course I did, I’m awesome.” The brash statement lacked his usual snarky bravado, and instead sounded quietly self-assured. It was a welcome change, in Jacob’s opinion – less fake self-obsessiveness and more genuine confidence was a good look on the thief.
Jacob chuckled. “Your girl was pretty damn good too.” He watched with a flutter in his chest as the same warm, proud smile curled like a cat across Ezekiel’s face.
“She was, wasn’t she.” It wasn’t a question. After a long moment, thick and heady like molasses, Ezekiel leaned in and pressed a slow kiss to Jacob’s lips. He pulled back just as slowly, dragging the feeling out. He gave him a soft smirk, eyes sparkling.
“Come on, cowboy, let’s go to dinner – my treat. I wanna celebrate.”
“Cele–” he cleared his throat, trying to ease the roughness of his voice, “celebrate what?”
Ezekiel shrugged. “A job well done? My awesome apprentice? Dealer’s choice, mate.”
Jacob chuckled. “Lead the way.” He laced his fingers through Ezekiel’s as he set the coordinates on the Back Door. He pressed a kiss to the back of his thief’s hand, and the two of them stepped through the glow into the cool evening air.