Classic Subreality Cafe story here. You got your Cafe, you got your Bouncer, you got your Neon Philosophy (TM). Who could ask for anything more?

Suitable for General Audiences and everyday home use.

Huge thanks to Lady Seraph for beta-ing this for me, to keep me on the Path of Subreality Truth, and for letting me wander into her territories.

The concept of an infinite library that collects all possible variations of books and/or authors is not my original idea--too many great minds have gone before me in that regard. But this Subreality version of it is my own, as best as I can tell, anyway.

If any ideas or new personages in here strike your fancy, please feel free to make use of them!

Just for fun, here is a portrait of the beauteous Pleiades:



***

(Accessing the) Rainbow Collection

In the peace and quiet of a bright and far too early morning, the Bouncer blinked into existence on the porch of the Subreality Cafe.

"Oh, fer the love a' Scrumpy--" he snarled, squinting painfully as he wondered which sick, twisted Writer could be to blame for an aberration like this. Bad enough he was automatically popped out of his private digs and on duty every single flippin' time anyone showed up. Didn't matter if he was getting some well-earned sleep, or taking a break for food...or other necessity, which was usually highly embarrassing to all concerned.

He'd often complained to the Manager he might as well just live there at the entrance and save himself the bother. But to have to appear when it was morning--all sunny out and everything! Insult to injury!

The reason for his summoning was far too easy to pinpoint. Although he knew he could never say he'd seen it all on this job, he was getting harder to surprise as time went by. This, however...this was a definite first.

A violently multi-colored bus was pulling up in front of the cafe. It looked as though it might have been bought used from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, after they became Rich and Famous in the Muppet Movie. If he hadn't already been blinking due to the brilliant morning light, he would have definitely started up now. Expecting the worst, he braced to do his duty as needed, whether he found himself facing a cascade of Muppets, or a bunch of school kids on yet another wacky field trip.

But all that emerged was a...woman. He thought. A hat-rack thin woman, dressed in what would be a nice ladies' business suit if it were not a painful shade of yellow that would make any Jubilee's raincoat look decorously pastel in comparison. Her bright magenta buzz-cut hair-do accented it, though said accent was definitely a case of day-gloing the lily. Glasses hung on a chain around her neck--rhinestone cats' eyes. She looked like nothing so much as a Far Side character who'd gotten a double dose of radioactive Sunday comics ink.

Bounding out behind her came a greyhound, white with brindle spots. Electric blue and international distress orange brindle spots. It figured, the Bouncer sighed to himself.

The neon meant trouble, he was certain. 'Thought She'd cleared out for other territory long ago!' he grumbled mentally. Well, best defense, and all that. "It's not our usual hours of operation, so you won't find anybody else in the Cafe," he said with a half-challenging growl. "Plus you know I can't let you in unless you're a fictive."

"Oh, yes," the woman said with polite vagueness. "But you see--" The Bouncer braced, and wondered if Subreality Worker's Comp covered him for electric dog bites. "Actually, I didn't really want to go in." She eyed him uncertainly. "Unless I need to ask the Manager for permission to post something on the bulletin board...?"

"Um," said the Bouncer, mind a-boggle. Didn't want in. This didn't happen often--although her denial might just be a trick to get past his guard.

"I suppose," the woman mused, "I am a fictive. The Neon Librarian?"

"Not a writer?" he frowned. "Or an avatar?"

"Oh, no," she assured him modestly. "No, I don't believe I qualify on either grounds. I'm only a sliver of my Writer's persona--as you can readily see for yourself." A gesture indicated her far from zaftig build. "I believe I represent her efficient capabilities--which are, ahem, notoriously slim."

"Oh." Now he was truly confused. If he wasn't here to keep her out, what need was there for him to appear in the story at all? Why wasn't he still snoring up a peaceful storm in his room?

She walked up a step to hand him a flyer. "I'd like to have this posted, please. I want to make the Cafe one of the regular stops for our new bookmobile service."

"Bookmobile? Is that what that is?" the Bouncer said, waving a hand at the Paint Job from Hell on wheels.

"Eye catching, isn't it?" said the Librarian with evident satisfaction.

"You could certainly say so." He studied the flyer, printed on--of course--neon green paper, and wondered if he still had some Extra-Strength Excedrin in his medicine cabinet.

"It's our new outreach program," she explained. "From the Subreality Library, of course. Which is a branch of the Library." At his blank look, she explained, "The Nexus Collection? All the literary works from across all space and time and alternate universes?"

"Wo!" Even to someone accustomed to dealing with unfettered grandiosities on a daily basis, that sounded...big.

"Indeed." The Librarian favored him with a thin smile of modest pride.

"So how does that work, exactly?"

"Given an infinite number of universes, any individual with even a small propensity for language is going to turn up as a writer somewhere. The percentage varies, naturally. I believe the current record holder is Stephen King, who is a professional writer in 93.3% of all known alternate universes."

The Bouncer nodded sagely. King seemed like the type of guy you couldn't stop from writing unless you squashed him under a very large rock, and even then he might manage something from beyond the grave....

"If you enjoy his work, you can use the Nexus Collection to read all the novels by all the various Kings. The horror and mainstreams are most numerous, of course. But there is an interesting line of gothic romances by a Stephanie King, plus textbooks on abnormal psychology by Dr. S. Edwin King, the noted professor in his world."

At this point the greyhound barked, somehow managing a querying sort of note.

"Oh, yes, Pleiades, that would be very helpful, thank you." The dog turned and leapt up the bus steps with ethereal grace. The Librarian smiled after her fondly, then explained, "She's both sentient and telepathic, which makes her an excellent assistant. A Starchaser daughter, you know, from the Seven Sisters line on her mother's side."

The Bouncer nodded again, but didn't attempt to pursue the in-joke. It never paid.

Pleiades re-emerged carrying a basket, the handle gripped in her delicate jaws. She trotted up the Cafe steps and sat with art-deco elegance at the Librarian's side. "Thank you, dear," the Librarian said, stroking the silky smooth neck as she took a neat plastic case--surprisingly plain white in color--from the basket. "This is the catalog interface," she explained. "I can enter titles or authors' names; subjects, too, of course, if the patron has several weeks to read through the results...."

"So you're saying you could enter just about any real person's name, and come up with a book they had written somewhere?"

"Yes, that's exactly it," she beamed.

The Bouncer blew out a somber breath, shaking his head. "This is going to be popular with Writers." He could imagine the scrum, and pictured himself trying to sort out the resulting chaos every Bookmobile day. Though he was a strong man, he shuddered.

"Well, yes and no," the Librarian admitted. "You see, there is a small technical problem. If a writer tries to access their own alter-fiction, it creates a psychotemporal paradox loop. The book can't manifest." The Bouncer heaved a sigh of relief. "Actually, our target population for this project isn't Writers at all, although we of course do not discriminate against any race, creed, gender, orientation or degree of reality." Pleiades barked a reminder. "No, or species either."

"So who are you outreaching for?"

"We'll have several stops throughout Subreality City, but our main focus is Shantytown."

"No kidding?!" Like all the more solid characters, The Bouncer felt a strong reluctance to think much about the Subreality ghetto, where fictives who had been abandoned by their Writers ended up. "Sort of...give them something to do with their time, I guess? I guess that's...nice."

"Time spent reading is never wasted," the Librarian devoutly quoted the creed of her calling, "but in this situation we are hoping for an extra benefit. The theory is that providing Library access will show Shantytown residents they have options."

"Oh, options," nodded the Bouncer wisely, though he had no idea whatsoever what this odd person meant. He was operating on the theory that he could hurry her visit along by agreeing with whatever she said, which would let him return to his snoozing a little sooner.

"Options to emigrate to another reality, where a different version of their Writer might find work for them. Might even really need, and be grateful for, the new inspiration."

"Huh," the Bouncer replied, startled by the possibility. He scratched his head, considering it. "You really think it could work?"

"One never knows until one tries."

"But won't an alternate Writer's characters get ticked off at new ones trying to horn in?"

"Infinity has room enough for them all," the Librarian pointed out, and shifted into lecture-overdrive without a pause. "Picture, if you will, a typical Writer--"

"Is there any such thing?"

"Let us not get any more metaphoric than we must," said the Librarian quellingly. The Bouncer ducked his head humbly and she continued. "Picture a universe where our Typical Writer has a serious fight with her boyfriend. They break up, she gets on with her life and eventually becomes a professional novelist." He nodded his acceptance of this possibility. "In another, the same two parted lovers kiss and make up. Eventually they marry, and raise a family, and she fulfills her need to write by working part-time for a small town newspaper. Or perhaps...by writing fan fiction."

"So you're saying...the same basic person might be successful in one reality, but not in another?"

"Not at all," she said quellingly, annoyed at his fictive-bias. "Genuine success in life has little to do with who issues one's paycheck."

"I don't get a paycheck myself," he huffed back, "so I guess I wouldn't understand that."

The Librarian realized he honestly didn't see the point she was making, and changed to a softer tone to explain. "Neither version is necessarily better, you see. Looking back at 'the road less traveled' can be a pleasantly angsty pastime, but a real person does have to make choices in life sooner or later. If they then make the best of what the choices bring, the life they proceed to build need not be agonized over."

"Must be nice, to get to make choices about your life," he said, with only a hint of wistfulness preventing it from sounding like the joke he'd intended.

"Yes," she sighed in agreement. "I wonder if they ever think of that?" Then she squared up her narrow shoulders, visibly getting a grip. "At any rate, as I started to say a moment ago, as far as we fictives are concerned, I don't think it makes us any more or less real if our Writers get paid to create us or not."

"Good point!" agreed the Bouncer, completely willing to switch to a more upbeat topic.

"I'm quite pleased to have been created to fill this little niche in the Subreality scheme of things. It's quite a fulfilling, ah...gig."

The Bouncer supposed a Neon Librarian couldn't help looking on the bright side whenever possible. "I don't know as I could say my job is fulfilling," he said. He squared the hugely muscular constructs which constituted his shoulders, not wanting a brand new character to think he was a wimpy whiner. "But it's steady work and I get a lot of screen-time, so I can't complain. Much."

"A bit more recognition of all that you do would be nice, though, wouldn't it?" the Librarian asked.

"I imagine that will happen about the same time I start drawing a paycheck," the Bouncer muttered.

With a little eager yip, Pleiades nudged the Librarian's hand, in which she was holding the catalog interface. "Why yes, that's an excellent idea!" she responded, and rapidly typed something on the small keyboard.

With a soundless white flash, a paperback with a bright cover appeared in the basket. She silently picked up the book and held it out to him. He gasped and did a double-take as he got a good look at the cover. "Tales from the SubRialto," he read aloud in tones of wonder. "And that's--that's me on the front!"

"Phil Foglio cover art, no less," she pointed out. "That means you are a popular and recognizable character in the series. You are a selling point!"

"Series?" the Bouncer said weakly, clutching the little paperback in his big burly hands and gazing at her hopefully. Pleiades barked an affirmative, and the Bouncer's expression went all gooey, not unlike that of a new father looking at his offspring.

"Looks like our work here is done...for the moment," the Librarian told her canine assistant.

"If you'd be so kind as to put that flyer up," she then suggested to the Bouncer, "we'll be on our way. Perhaps when we stop again you'll be ready to check out the next book."

"How long can I keep this one out?" he asked hungrily.

"As long as you need to," she told him gently. "This is Subreality, after all."

The colorful greyhound barked, then whirled around to dash back to the bus. After a sedate wave, the Librarian followed, though much more slowly, and called goodbye before climbing up the steps and swooshing the door shut.

"G'bye, and thanks!" the Bouncer yelled as they pulled away. He looked one more time at his bold and fierce, yet strangely appealing, image on the book cover and grinned. It took him mere moments to get the cheerful green flyer posted, and then he found himself back in his comfy bed, which hadn't even gotten cold.

Instead of rolling over to go back to sleep, though, he punched up the pillows behind his neck and shoulders, so they would provide the maximum of comfortable support. And then, despite knowing that duty hours would be coming around all too soon, he opened the book and happily began to read.

***

Warm Appreciation and all that jazz goes to the following:

Kielle for inventing Subreality.

Phil (Pinta Scrumpy) Foster for inventing the Bouncer (I think he was co-inventor with Kielle on The Common People rather than the Subreality Cafe, but I might be remembering that wrong. I'm old, you know.). I quite like the Bouncer, even though I played a mean trick on him in my first SC story and teased him in my second. I hope third time pays for all and he forgives me.

The memory of Jim Henson, one of my heroes

The person who established a bulletin board on the premises of the Cafe. Yes, I have lost your name a second time. I wasn't kidding about the failing memory, although losing my inbox recently didn't help matters!

Caro, Inspirational Librarian and co-creator of Lt. Caro Sue Austin, parodical owner of Pleiades' dad, Starchaser the sentient and telepathic greyhound. From the Before Times, when fanfic came on paper! (Can you believe it?!?)