2018-08-11 10:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty: An Empty Kit

Leaving now would mean a difficult journey. Maybe deadly. It would be getting colder soon. As Hedvin went north he might become snow bound. There were little cabins along the way, at least until he deviated from the known routes and went through that endless area of forest. Regardless, if any kind of storm hit when he was in transit, he'd be in big trouble. And if a storm hit after he'd arrived in the village, he'd be stuck there, maybe for the entire winter. But, he told himself, he wouldn't have to linger, stay just long enough to get what he needed. He didn't have to worry about approval from the Cyclopaedia, someone had taken care of all of that, the Garde of course. He could come and go as he wanted. Well, not as he wanted. As he needed. He knew who he worked for, in essence—he needed to bring back another batch of Vermilion, so it looked like no matter how he felt about weather, he was going.

There were logistical problems. The main train line would stop in a town farther south from where it normally terminated during the warmer months. Then he'd get a seat in an old fashioned wagon, in the back, probably packed with sheep. At the top of the arc he'd set off on foot. Supplies were an issue since he'd need more in the cold. He'd have to carry more of everything. He wasn't the most adept back-woodsman, although he'd gone through all the same courses and apprenticeships other Compilers went through. The training was more rigorous for others depending on their interests and future assignments. Nobody had ever assumed he was an explorer, his talents were clearly elsewhere. But he knew enough, enough to get himself into trouble, more experienced Compilers might suggest.

He had to consider getting the shipment of Vermilion back. Since it was potent it wasn't terribly voluminous. But this would be the last time he could do it on foot, if he wanted to increase the return in stages. Next time he'd need to expand the operation to a team. And expanding the operation to a team meant confiding in people, which was against his nature. He liked the simplicity of the solitude, responsible for his own success or failure. If it were an operation then there would be conflict, no doubt. And there would be deviation of interests, there would be inequity. He despised this kind of conflict. He would have to manage it. It would have to be done. Maybe Kjetil would join him. After all, he was already regularly dosing. And he was an experienced traveler—although Hedvin chose to ignore those gruesome stories about the survivors of the Ukkonen.

Hedvin would have to convince the woman in the village to increase their output. What was her name? Miila, he thought, it was Miila. He would have to convince her as well, eventually, to show him how to make Vermilion properly. Maybe the specifics weren't local to the village. Maybe they could set up operations elsewhere in the region. It was difficult to believe the grubs could only exist by that village. However, what if there was some unknown, rare element in the soil they live in, which only exists in that exact area? This could be problematic. Yet he had necessary expertise available to him—he needed to weed out the trusted members of the Hallen, to get them involved, and he also needed to hide from them that the Garde, and by extension the Sovereigns, were involved. No, more than involved, he thought—directing.

It was useless getting paralyzed by the intricacies. He put his Compilers' kit onto the desk, its parts unpacked and arranged neatly. He looked at the components and wondered what he could replace. All of it, or nothing. He wouldn't be doing any Compiling this trip, that's for sure, and unlike the previous journeys, where he'd had to make copious notes and drawings of that damned wasp, this time he wouldn't need to cover his activities explicitly. He should still have the kit itself, the case, it was an identifier, it was solid evidence he was a Compiler. It is useful to be seen as a Compiler while traveling, the kit was unmistakable, well known. And then he'd fill the kit with Vermilion on the way back. It could hold enough of the dust to supply three or four times the number of users that he had now. He would need to figure out something else in the future of course, but for the moment this would do. He took the kit's supplies, the pencils and paints, the cards and inks, the tiny glass vials and the tinctures for in-the-field experiments, he put them away into the cabinet. He took the portable copy of the index, with its tiny print, its impossibly thin paper, and he put it in the desk drawer. He followed another index now, an obvious map available in everything, he wouldn't need the old one.

The case was now disturbingly light. It gave him a chill because this was so abnormal. The weight of a kit was a precise and well known sensation to all Compilers. It demonstrated their security, it was a physical measurement of their Oath. Now it was an illusion, an empty kit was just an emblem, without substance, describing his breach from that Oath perfectly—an exciting and obscene rebellion from a life's dedication. It was both an exhilarating and sickening sensation.

When he dosed that morning he thought about Fox. Where did he end, where did Hedvin begin. He hadn't devoted much time to this previously, he'd simply accepted the animal that he'd chosen that first time, with Miila, he'd picked up the Fox mask. But why? At first he'd believed this was some arbitrary aesthetic choice. But as the months wore on, he would think of it, and he would think of Snake. If Vermilion permitted unified thought, concentrated mental acuity, revealing the universal index, how could it accomplish this? There had to be a center, there had to be a construct. Language itself wasn't sufficient. The underpinnings of language, the unsaid webbing of language, maybe. And what was this? Was it Fox and Snake? Those backwards villagers, dosing themselves with Vermilion for perhaps a thousand years, still held onto their totems and their legends, living a shared story, allowing themselves to be representatives of a simplistic epic. Or even becoming a complete epitome—he'd seen them slip into transformative fugues in front of the fire, there were ceremonies, there was story telling, there were masks—it went deeper than the well known rituals, there was a conductivity that was all Vermilion. Grubs and soil, stories and fireside theater.

When he collected all of his gear he made sure he informed the Cyclopaedia of a false destination. He knew the Garde and the Inspectors would examine these transactions. They would compare them with previous entries. The logs of one's movements were a ledger of one's self, what one was interested in, what one intended, what one avoided. And so, he lied whenever possible. He'd always done this. He was confident that nobody knew where he was going. Of course this meant that if there was a storm, or another disaster happened, if he slipped from a rocky ledge, if he was stung by one of the very same damned wasps and died gasping for breath, there was no chance of anyone finding him. He would rot in a pile until mushrooms grew out of him. This was sobering.

His commitment wasn't incidental. What would he do if he wasn't forced into this contract with the Garde, what would he have done of his own free will. Maybe the same thing. He believed he was an agent of change. He probably needed to sacrifice his well-being to make this effective. He could change the Cyclopaedia. He could be the one to fulfill the promise of it, he thought for a quick moment, I could be the hero of the story.

When he was notified by a bell that a carriage had arrived for him, he hurriedly gathered his things, his bags, his empty kit, wondering if he'd ever see this miserable little apartment again. Fox knew winds shifted, and seasons were unstoppable.