Wednesday, 20 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 20

Joshua hadn’t been to either of the towers on the campus before.  They were at opposite ends of the same building, which was the oldest building and had originally been part of a fortification.  The taller of the two was the King Richard Tower, and the shorter the Robin Hood Tower.  The entire building was built from local stone and between the two towers were several large halls and, on the upper floor some offices.  Joshua didn’t know anyone who had an office in the building, or even who knew who did have offices in the building.  The large halls were used for graduations and other large ceremonies, and the King Richard Tower had an art studio at the top to take advantage of the views of the surrounding countryside.
“So is Robin Hood Tower just used for storage?” he asked as Lieutenant Georges unlocked a postern that led directly into the tower from the outside.
“I’m not entirely sure,” she said.  This was the first time she’d spoken as they’d walked over.  “My remit is the buildings around the Quadrangle, so I don’t usually come over here.  As far as I know the tower isn’t used much at all any more.”
The door opened and a slightly musty smell spilled out and washed over them.  Lieutenant Georges looked unimpressed, but Joshua wrinkled his nose.
“Ugh,” he said.  “I hope it doesn’t smell like that all the way in.”
“You’ll get used to it,” said Lieutenant Georges.  “I was reading the other day that oxygen smells absolutely dreadful, but because you smell it all the time you don’t notice it.”
“Really?” Joshua thought about that.  “So, if you maybe held your breath for five minutes you could smell it when you started breathing again?”
“Why don’t you try it and find out?”
She led the way in, and then took a gadget from her pocket.  Joshua recognised it as the device he’d been asked to sign when Venkat had been brought to his door.  She turned it over, revealing a second screen, and poked at something on it, then read whatever the display showed.  “Third floor,” she said.  “Room 301,” so it’ll be the first.
The staircase in the tower spiralled up around the central column; each floor was an annular hallway with rooms leading off to the rooms on the outside.  The stairs arrived on each floor, and then resumed the ascent a quarter turn around.  Light was provided by skylights at the top of the tower and electric lighting attached to the central column.  Orange cables ran from each of the lamps to the floor and disappeared to wherever the electric connections were made.  Lieutenant Georges had to insert a lever-like metal key into a socket on the wall in order to turn the power on; then all the lamps on the floors lit up simultaneously and banished the dull grey light from the top of the tower.
“Follow me and don’t touch anything,” she said, setting her foot on the first step of the staircase.
The stairs were each a single stone block, worn in the middle by the passage of feet over time, and stained here and there.  The walls were similarly constructed of large stone blocks, and the air was still, cold, and smelled musty still.  The lamps shone brightly, but were covered with a thin coating of dust, and when Joshua walked past one he could smell the dull smell of the dust baking on.  Their footsteps echoed slightly in the silent atmosphere.
The first floor was empty, and the second floor was almost empty; there was a decayed corpse of a bird pushed up against the wall between the two flights of stairs.  Lieutenant Georges paused and photographed it with her gadget, and then added a note.  When they reached the third floor she looked around and sighed.
“No numbers on the doors,” she said.  “I can’t bring up the plans on this thing,” she waved the gadget.  “They’re always doing this: they use the plans so they know where they’ve put things, but they don’t actually number the damn doors in the place where they’ve put them.  Fine, well, 301 has to be one of these two.”  She indicated the two doors that were between the stairs they’d just come up and the ones leading to the next floor.
“That one?” said Joshua, pointing to the door closest to them.  Lieutenant Georges looked at the stairs, gauging if the door looked as though it were before or after the point where the stairs emerged.
“The other one, I think,” she said.  “Not that it should matter, if you know what you’re looking for?”
Joshua shrugged.  “I think so,” he said.  “But it’s papers, so it might not be that obvious.”
“Oh great.”
Lieutenant Georges checked her keyring and selected another key from it, this one looking surprisingly thick.  She tried it in the door, and it went in but wouldn’t turn.  She pulled it out again and found the other key that was oddly thick on the ring, and tried that.  This one turned, and the door opened when she gave it a solid push with both hands.
The room on the other side had a sickly greenish tint to it, which Joshua slowly realised was because the glass in the windows was shades of green.  There were three mullioned windows, and in each lead-framed segment was a piece of glass a different shade of green to its neighbours.  The room had a desk and a chair in it; on the desk was a globe of the world and a graduated circular disk with some arms that he thought might be an astrolabe or a sextant.  Stacked against the walls opposite the desk were a number of packing crates, each stencilled with a number in black, and on the floor was a tattered rug that looked as though it might disintegrate if anyone were unwary enough to walk on it.  The wall behind the desk had a tapestry hanging on it, but the detail was impossible to make out in the horrible green light.
“Well, that helps,” said Lieutenant Georges.  She nodded at the packing cases, and Joshua realised that all of the stencilled numbers began 302-.  “Wrong room.”
She closed the door and locked it again.
“Do you think anyone ever used that as an office?” asked Joshua.  “There was the desk and everything, but the light was so bad!”
“I wouldn’t,” said Lieutenant Georges, finding the other key again and opening the door to the left of 302.  The key turned with more reluctance, and the door wouldn’t budge until she shouldered it open.  She looked at it oddly, and then at Joshua.
“That’s curious,” she said.  “Anyone would think that 302 got used from time to time.”

Joshua smiled and nodded, but was more interested in what he could see in room 301.

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