2018-10-29 10:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty-Five: Master Compiler

Slv&Elin moved into the Director's office, since the noise and peculiar sensations from the Master Compiler was disconcerting—there was a slight dizziness, a little disorientation, as if you were far away from yourself. Could there be permanent harm? They didn't know. They examined what they could—the offices, the consoles, the bottom of the well of the mechanism itself. Other than the Director's coat at the office table, placed in front of a half consumed drink, there was nothing of note.

"Must've been important–"

"–getting up in the middle of your drink."

"And leaving your coat."

They waited for the second of Ove's assistants, Pietr, to arrive at the lab. They'd sent a priority wire to the Division to have him picked up and immediately brought to the laboratory. They knew this might take several hours. Until then they could rest briefly. And they had to discuss these last steps in the investigation regardless. The conclusion had to match the procedures, there had to be certainty.

"Although we seem to be in new territory with the situation–"

"–if what we suspect is true."

"Or possible."

"There won't be a conviction."

"In that sense the investigation would be a failure."

"However–"

"–we have to move forward."

They would have Pietr examine the mechanism to see if they could tell who, and more importantly when, it was turned back on. This would be a crucial piece of information.

"Would the Director have the knowledge."

"We didn't believe his attempts at false humility or false ignorance."

Even though they didn't understand the internals of the mechanism, there was no doubt that it was operating, and doing so at full capacity. The consoles were steady patterns of lights indicating frantic activity. There was frenzied operation of the punch cards in their slots. And the paper at the other end had, probably days ago, overflowed its bin and now piled up on the floor, each new printed line pushing the mass of paper farther out into the floor of the laboratory. Yes, they could tell the Master Compiler was busy. When they'd first sealed the lab the mechanism was silent. Given the evidence that the Director had been sitting in one of the offices drinking, he must've started it. But why. And did he do it alone? Was Jon with him?

"What the Garde said."

"That this work is important."

"More important than we can understand."

"The Director turned it back on."

"He must've done so because he was ordered to."

"But what would it be working on, what is it compiling."

"There's someone else who knows–"

"–Hedvin."

In a couple of hours Pietr was delivered by Division agents, shaken, unshaven, smelling like a dingy bar. They sat him down in one of the nicely upholstered, expensive chairs in the Director's office. They told him not to worry. This didn't seem to alleviate his nervousness.

In the hallway Slv&Elin instructed the Division agents to arrest Hedvin.

"Bring him in–"

"–tell him he's under arrest."

"He's to be detained, and isn't allowed any outside communications."

"Be aware, he's a Compiler."

The agents raised their eyebrows. To arrest a Compiler would certainly mean the involvement of legal council from the Cyclopaedia. It would certainly mean attention from the heads of the Division, and it would certainly mean energizing back channels.

"Take him in, arrest him, be sure to hold him until we get back."

"Resist pressure to release him. He is being held under our orders."

"There is no legal recourse."

The Division agents acknowledged this earnestly then left the complex. Slv&Elin knew they could be counted on. They wondered how much the Cyclopaedia was willing to invest in its rogue Compiler. They bet it would be very little.

"But if the Sovereigns step in, then we'll know–"

"–that they have a significant interest in this drug Vermilion."

"The Garde might become quarrelsome."

"They haven't in a long time."

"We have our allies. We have the Division."

"We can diffuse the situation if necessary."

"Hedvin might be released by our superiors–"

"–then at least we'd know."

They took Pietr from the office and escorted him to the lab. They explained to him that he wasn't under arrest. He accepted this quietly.

"I don't know what's happening," Pietr said, "none of this makes any sense. All I know is that we were working, now I'm the last one."

It's alright, they assured him, we need your help. As they entered the lab, however, he became agitated.

"What's this? Everything is on, everything is running at full power." He moved quickly to one of the consoles, examining the bank of rapidly blinking lights, then to the other to read some of the consistently expelled paper. The clacking of printing was constant.

"When we sealed the laboratory the Master Compiler was off, correct?" Slv&Elin asked.

"It wasn't operational," Pietr said without looking up at them.

"So... off?" Elin restated.

"It still has Electric in that case. Essentially off." He began to tear the paper, placing the pieces out next to one another on the floor by the console.

"And where does the Electric come from?" Slv asked Pietr, moving closer to see the papers he was laying down.

"The mechanism has its own Electric source. It is however also tied into the Electric for the city, to either pull or push power in that direction." He moved back to the front of the console, and pointed down at several fluttering needles. "And right now, given the amount of work its doing, its drawing Electric from the city. A lot of Electric," he said, clearly concerned.

"How do we turn it off," Slv&Elin asked him.

"Off off," Slv said.

"Really off," said Elin.

Pietr groaned.

"Is it difficult?" They asked.

"Yes. Well, more than that. It was designed to be calibrated, to keep a certain state. It took us months to get to that point, fine tuning. Disconnecting it would mean starting all over. That's one of the reasons it has its own Electric, which makes it almost impossible to do that—to turn it off. Off off."

"We need to turn it off off," said Slv&Elin.

"Now," Slv added.

"No matter how difficult," Elin said.

"But all that work..." Pietr protested.

Slv&Elin looked at him in a manner that indicated they were extremely serious.

"There's something else, that you should be aware of," Pietr said as he was staring at the sequence of papers he'd carefully placed on the floor. "This logging is very unusual, I don't know what to make of it." He picked up a piece of paper, the striated sides punched with holes now dangling like innards. "I don't understand where this string came from."

"String?"

"The output of the Master Compiler is, line by line, a series of strings, of letters, that indicate what it's working on, or errors—those are strings that we programmed into it. It should only ever use those, the letters we gave it. But it isn't. Here, for instance," Pietr pointed to a line on the paper.

"FOX, it says," Slv said.

"Yeah, and this one," Pietr pointed to another place farther down.

"BIRD," Elin said.

"What do these mean?" Slv&Elin asked.

"I have no idea what they mean. It has either been programmed without my knowledge, or the Master Compiler came up with this on its own." He continued to hunt through the paper output, frowning.

"How would the Master Compiler do that?"

"Come up with that on its own?"

"I suppose from the large amount of information the mechanism already has in the data drums. It doesn't contain the Cyclopaedia exactly, but it contains a vast amount of information to extrapolate the Cyclopaedia—this phase of the project was to generate an alternate Cyclopaedia and then understand where the deviance is. We'd evaluate whether that deviance is, positive or negative—it could be creating new strings that reflect the state of itself and its collection."

"But these strings don't really make sense."

"Yeah, I guess they don't." He looked worried, and Slv&Elin believed there was something else Pietr wasn't telling them.

"It has to be–"

"–shut down."

"Alright," he said. He took his eyes off the logging he'd dissected.

"What else?" Slv asked.

"There's something else happening here," Elin said.

Pietr winced, "The Master Compiler doesn't only get its Electric from the city."

"It has its own source," Slv said.

"We're aware of that," Elin said.

"The construction is unique," he hesitated, "it draws Electric from the air, from the ground, from everything around it. This is Ove's design. It's brilliant. But now I wonder about it, it's passive, or it's supposed to be passive," Pietr looked back down at the papers, putting his finger across several lines.

"Are we in any danger right now?" Slv asked.

"I don't know. It seems to be consuming tremendous amounts of Electric."

"Shut it down," said Elin.

"Off off," Slv added.

Pietr moved to one of the consoles and began working switches and buttons. Slv&Elin stood by him, watching.

"This might sound naive–"

"–but isn't there a big switch somewhere, a master switch?"

"I'm preparing it, things have to be done first, so that there will be the least amount of damage. Then I can go into the well and terminate the mechanism."

A few minutes later he indicated he was ready.

"I need to complete this inside the well," he said.

"I'll go with you," Slv said.

Elin looked at Slv looked at Elin. Pietr and Slv went to the elevator that accessed the bottom of the well. Elin went to the guard rail around the perimeter of the machine well.

"Are you down there?" she yelled.

"Yes!" Slv replied.

"I'm pulling the switch now," Pietr said loudly.

He and Slv stood next to the edge of the mechanism itself, he grasped a large, solid lever recessed into the machinery, a lever that had been invisible given the surrounding complexity. Pietr held it, looking upwards to the top of the well and listening—the chatter of the millions of intricately fabricated and assembled parts was clear. With exertion he pulled straight down on the lever, it providing significant resistance particularly at the end, where the lever fit back into the mechanism, invisible again. Pietr still looked upwards and listened. The noise had stopped. He didn't move, Slv didn't move. Then, just as suddenly, the noise continued. Was it even more harried? She wondered, like desperate buzzing, like angry bees?

"Fuck," Pietr exclaimed.

"What is it? What's happened?" Elin yelled from above.

"The internal Electric has taken over automatically somehow," Pietr said.

"How do we disconnect that?" Slv asked.

"This should've been enough to shut it down. But it looks like Ove has a failsafe. A failsafe to the failsafe." Pietr moved around the machine to another section of the column.

"What you'll need to do is go above and cut the cabling while I eject this calculating core." He pointed to a square area on the column that he indicated was distinct.

"Don't worry, you won't need to actually cut any cable—there are securing bolts on both sides, remove them, then pull hard on the cabling when I say so, it's simple, it should come right out. But we need to do it at the same time, up there, down here," he said.

Slv told Elin she was coming back up. She went to the elevator, watching Pietr manipulating the fasteners on the mechanical column.

When she was on the laboratory floor she quickly found the cabling, it lay fat and heavy, stretching from one part of the floor over the gap into the well and into the mechanism.

"Do you see it?" Pietr yelled from within the well.

"Yes," Slv said. It was impossible to miss.

"Remove the securing plate on the floor. It's there to prevent accidental disconnection. You can see it twists off. Then be ready to pull the cable, it will take both of you. But only when I say so. Be sure to pull hard," Pietr said.

When they'd twisted off the plate they told him they were ready.

"On three," he yelled, "one... two... three!"

Slv&Elin yanked the cable upwards and backwards, making a satisfying THOPP sound as the pins let go of the sockets in the floor. The lights and noise around them instantly ceased, plunging the laboratory into darkness. The sudden silence was jarring, even painful.

But then, in quick stages, starting with the consoles, lights came back on. Then the whirring of the mechanism, spinning as if from a distance to become a close, persistent roar. It was soon working as hard as it ever had.

"Pietr! It didn't work!" Slv&Elin yelled down into the well.

"Pietr!" they yelled again.

There was no response. Pietr was gone.