Cyclopaedia Chapter Six: Interviewing Hedvin
When Slv&Elin got to the landing they saw Compiler Hedvin at the bottom of the stairs, coming up.
"Compiler Hedvin?" Elin asked.
"Yes?" He wasn't surprised, there was an abruptness about him, which wasn't uncommon for Compilers. "Inspectors?" he stated.
"Correct. We visited your apartment to see if you were in."
"I was out, on an errand." He continued up the stairs, pace unchanged.
"If you don't mind we'd like to conduct a short interview," Slv asked. She added the courtesy, although it was well known you couldn't decline an interview, compliance with Inspectors was required. Generally it wasn't the policy of Inspectors to arrive unannounced for an interview unless this provided a specific advantage or information. Slv&Elin had decided Compiler Hedvin warranted that interest. They understood he was smart enough, if he was responsible for Ove's disappearance, that he wouldn't have anything incriminating in his apartment—so the point of arriving unannounced would be signaling to him that they were interested. This might cause him to react in a way they could leverage. But they had to be careful, or at least be somewhat discrete, because while Compilers were subject to most of the same laws as citizens, their status and the importance of their institution were not to be disregarded. A misstep, a false accusation, implications of harassment, and so on, would be consequential when involving a Compiler, not only to them personally but their agency. Quickly eliminating him, or making him central, in their investigation was a priority.
"We can talk in my apartment," Compiler Hedvin walked past them, giving a half-hearted, beckoning motion with one hand.
"This shouldn't take up much of your time," Slv continued to placate what she'd already surmised was his self-importance.
Not all Compilers were arrogant, although the tendency was exaggerated by the modern rise of their roles and the power of the Cyclopaedia. The social profile, the stereotype, that the general citizenry had of Compilers was of a distanced, humorless, and righteous lot. There were also constant rumors of corruption. If you wanted to do business with the Cyclopaedia, at some point you must interface with Compilers. And given their Oath, part of which was to never profit from their Work, to only collect data, the disparities of the philosophy and the reality led to uncomfortable portrayals and compromising situations. When the citizenry went hungry because of failed crops, Compilers were living off the resources of the Cyclopaedia. When a Compiler stepped into a fishing village and wanted to travel to a remote island, there was an obligation to take them. For those that lived outside the Capital, who had no access to the Cyclopaedia and its riches of knowledge, a Compiler was a heavy burden. The role itself led to examples of blatant hypocrisy.
Sometimes there were even violent reactions. Slv&Elin were taught a few of these cases in school, where Compilers were murdered. In an incident at the fishing village, for instance, a Compiler was pushed off the boat a very long way from shore.
Over time administration of Compilers changed. It was important to the leadership that its representatives be perceived more as mendicants and less as opportunists. Compilers who had shown themselves to be devoted, adaptive, evangelical, selfless—these Compilers received high profile expeditions. Others, like Hedvin, spent their time on ancillary work, around the center of the Cyclopaedia itself. Often they did work labeled, unofficially, as 'MetaCompiling'. Slv&Elin knew that this moniker was sensitive. They could probably use it to incite a reaction from Hedvin, reminding him that he was not given prominent expeditions.
Immediately after leaving the laboratory Slv&Elin were able to get a list of Compiler Hedvin's expeditions—when, where, and so on—from the offices of the Cyclopaedia. This wasn't public information, but as Inspectors they were granted it. And Slv&Elin knew requesting this information would eventually be reported to Hedvin, one way or another. He would know they knew. And they were hoping he knew they knew.
The timetable showed Compiler Hedvin was in the Capital more often than he wasn't, and he was in the Capital when Ove was last seen.
Hedvin opened his door, letting them in. He sat at a desk placed centrally in the room, two chairs facing it. It appeared he was prepared for an interview.
"Any word about Ove?" Compiler Hedvin asked as they all sat down.
"Not yet, he's still missing," Slv asked.
Elin took out a notepad, making a few preliminary marks with a pencil. "When and how did you hear about Ove?"
"Today. Jon told me, Ove's assistant, I was speaking with him at the cafe." Hedvin's chair creaked slightly as he leaned back then forward.
"Was this a social visit?" Slv asked.
Hedvin smiled, taking the question at face value but knowing it was asked pointedly. "No. As you may be aware, it's rare for Compilers to be social outside of Compiler circles. I've worked with him. And he thought it proper that I was informed about Ove's disappearance. I would've found out next week when I went to the laboratory, so I believe this was purely consideration on his part."
"What else did the two of you talk about?" Elin asked.
"We only spoke about Ove. Jon wondered if I'd seen any noticeable changes in his behavior," Hedvin replied.
"Had you? What did you tell him?"
"I didn't. I haven't. But then my work with Ove involved the theory behind the project, whereas Jon's work with him was about implementation. I hadn't noticed any changes, from my side. Although Jon said he and Pietr felt that Ove was distracted. Perhaps due to some malaise, Jon suggested." Hedvin clasped his hands together. Slv&Elin believed Hedvin was delivering well-thought-out points, more indication that he'd anticipated the interview. Elin made notes. Slv proceeded.
"When was the last time you saw Ove?" Slv asked.
"I last saw him a week ago today," Hedvin said.
"What were you working on with Ove?"
"I'm not sure how familiar you are with the mechanical Compiler..." Hedvin made an open hand gesture, a prelude to explanation.
"The Director gave us a very basic overview. I believe he called it a 'Master Compiler'?" Slv worried about a lengthy exposition that could derail the interview, but if the Director was correct, his friction with Ove revolved around it.
Hedvin laughed. A little too loudly. It was a guffaw that contained no mirth whatsoever. "Yes, I'm sure he does. But the fact of the matter is, it's only a machine. In my opinion the underlying goal of the project is flawed. But it was my responsibility to work with Ove on the protocols of Compiling, the manner, the exceptions, the procedures. I may disagree with the project, but I take the responsibility of the assignment seriously."
"And that's what you and Ove were working on a week ago?" Elin asked.
"That's right. We were working on new taxonomical formula for the input, for the mechanism. It must be algorithmic, without constant input from people."
"I know it's very complex and hard to explain, I'm sure. Does it have anything to do with what is called MetaCompiling?" Slv said.
There was the briefest flash of anger on Compiler Hedvin's face. "No. Not in the least. I'm acting as a consultant, I'm not actually Compiling anything about Compiling. This is another reason I'm against the spirit of the project, it codifies behaviors that have evolved out of traditions—behaviors that will continue to evolve, as Compilers realize the obvious structures inherent in the data they're collecting, something rigid like a mechanical tool will become completely unnecessary. No, I was there in many ways acting as a translator. And again, I was assigned to it. I had no choice. It isn't MetaCompiling."
Hedvin stretched his arms then crossed them. "As I told Jon earlier today, a lot of this seems like unwarranted alarm. Perhaps Ove is onto some breakthrough. Or the reverse. Perhaps he is overwhelmed by the immensity of the task he set himself and needs a break. He could walk back into the laboratory tomorrow, that's the kind of person he was, these scientists, they are sometimes very dramatic!" Hedvin laughed again, at some inside joke of his own.
"You say he's the kind of person that would leave without telling anyone. Had you ever known him to do that? For instance, would he frequently skip appointments with you without warning?"
As Slv spoke she noticed the edge of a piece of paper sticking out of the corner of Hedvin's jacket, which was pushed forward due to his arms being crossed. As she finished her question Hedvin noticed her looking. He then seemed to realize the paper was showing from his jacket, the paper Jon gave him from Ove's office. He abruptly uncrossed his arms the way a puppet would go slack and lifeless when abandoned by the puppet master, letting the paper slip back into the jacket. Slv suppressed a reaction, but she saw him do it and it was interesting.
"Not particularly." Hedvin said, recovering. "That's not exactly what I meant. I meant the overall behavioral patterns, of scientists, that his disappearance doesn't surprise me too much. With a complex man like Ove, there may be things that appear unpredictable, but aren't."
"I see. Thank you for clarifying that," Slv continued, "did your arguments with Ove ever threaten to become physical? Do you believe this behavioral pattern of his could ever result in violence?"
This time Compiler Hedvin laughed more easily, his demeanor relaxed. What had just happened? Slv thought. He was hiding something, but his sudden relief due to a question that would implicate him in the disappearance of Ove indicates something else, that path was likely barren.
"Never," Hedvin said confidently. "As you might be able to surmise, I can become a bit loud. I can certainly be opinionated. But our arguments were exactly that. They were intellectual parries, they were footholds and philosophies. And I believe it is this, my own particular make-up, that was the reason I was assigned. The leadership of the Cyclopaedia believes these arguments are functional." Hedvin appeared satisfied with his delivery.
Slv&Elin exchanged the slight signs that the current interview had run its course. It was the slight tap of a pencil, the almost indistinguishable nod, a movement of hands or recrossing of legs.
"I want to thank you for your time Compiler Hedvin," Slv said. "As our investigation continues we may need to call on you again for your expert advice. We're aware of your schedule, so we'll try not to be intrusive. However, the case is active, so we need to remind you of the legal non-Compile clause, meaning nothing we've said here together can be recorded or transferred in any way. Do you understand this statement?"
"Yes. I am aware of it. I must comply with it," Hedvin replied, blankly.
As Slv&Elin stood, he stood. He walked them to the door and opened it for them. They each said "good day" in a perfunctory manner, indicating that the exchange had ended. Slv&Elin said nothing to one another until they were down the stairs and onto the street.
"He can't be eliminated from the case," Slv said.
"His reactions were peculiar," Elin added.
"He's hiding something. But I don't believe he's been violent."
"But he has something to do with the disappearance."
"I wonder what was on the paper in his jacket."
"We could've demanded to see it."
"But without much cause."
"That would've escalated the situation too soon and too much onto him, giving him an advantage."
"Yes. We should interview Ove's assistant. Then we can have Compiler Hedvin's apartment searched."
"We'll wire the first assistant, Jon, requiring him to come into the Division."
"Since Ove's wife confirmed he only had two pair of glasses—the second pair there at home, and the first on the cabinet at his office–"
"–we don't think there's any question about it now, without any kind of ransom demand or other evidence of kidnapping, we must assume Ove is dead."