Cyclopaedia Chapter Seven: Three Bricks
The morning sounds of doors closed gently out of consideration was a normal ritual in their apartment building. Doors closing, then footsteps. Today was a little different. in the middle of the night the Electric had failed, and for many of the residents the usual means of waking up, particularly via alarms, was hopelessly out of sync. Slv&Elin now heard sounds that were rushed. Instead of a predictable length of patter and muffled progress, the noise stretched out, rattling, as most people left later than they should've. Doors slammed, hushed greetings transformed into faint bemoaning, and movements on the stairway were arrhythmic.
This wasn't the first time they'd lost Electric. Recently there were a number of outages in Three Bricks—a small, upscale neighborhood in the Capital named for its peculiarly inefficient intersection of three brick roads. The area was dominated by several large, stylish apartment buildings. The changing shades of brick cast against the glass and steel was striking, particularly on long summer evenings. These apartments were populated by civil servants, government clerks, and professionals with tangential relationships to Ministries and companies run by the Sovereigns.
Slv&Elin lived here. Inspectors, not unlike Compilers, could be perceived as insular, although not in the same ways or to the same extent. Inspectors' work hours were unusual, with long shifts. As a rule Inspectors could not socialize with the individuals that were involved in their cases. These things, along with years of training to think in procedural manners and statistical bounties, to dissect and cajole behavioral indicators and impulses, were necessarily isolating. Slv&Elin weren't friends with any of their neighbors, but they knew their sounds, their patterns, they knew where they worked, who they liked and who they had affairs with, they knew when they took out their trash, who they had arguments with. They heard them this morning stumbling to work, peppered with frustrated grunts and sighs.
Slv made kaf, slowly heating the mixture to "ktik", a northern word meaning "small bubbles". This was the proper way to prepare kaf, as she'd been taught. There were cafes in the Capital that altered the methods for connoisseurs. She thought the old way was best. She stretched her back, which ached. She'd been up most of the night sitting at a research desk at the Cyclopaedia. Elin had been up too, at a counter in the Ministry of Statistics.
This morning they had an interview with Ove's first assistant, who responded to their wire late in the evening, otherwise they would've slept later. Sleep shouldn't be considered a luxury for a properly functioning Inspector. However, during a case realities always interfered. They couldn't count on being fully rested. Their research was necessary and timely. Slv was gathering as much as she could about MetaCompiling and subsequently the history of the Cyclopaedia itself.
School children knew the fundamentals. Everyone knew the Cyclopaedia. Two hundred years ago, or as Slv's northern mother would say "seasons", a school teacher named Quiddity began writing and organizing entries, on small paper cards, for everything he knew and saw. He did this obsessively. If he could obtain an example or specimen that the card referred to, he would. A dried flower. A pinned insect. An example of a mineral. The work wasn't limited to exhibitable things—many cards related to concepts, places and people. Ideas, sensations, relationships. If one uses the word "hungry", to what does that refer? Soon he'd created a system of coordinates, to place these references in an accessible map. As this grew he added a complex series of categories, to organize the map, into a taxonomy that would expand over time.
Quiddity called this the Cyclopaedia. He grew the Work to hundreds of thousands of entries. When he became older the Cyclopaedia was discovered by academics. Libraries may contain books, and books contained ideas, but Quiddity's Cyclopaedia contained Things, and their relationships to one another. This was revelatory. In a period when a grand universal Order was believed to be imminently knowable, it was new and useful for academics, researchers, and the dawning profession of science. There was nothing else like it. The University became interested and began supporting Quiddity, giving him resources and more importantly the assistance of students. Those students went out and gathered data for more entries, calling themselves Compilers, which was a literal description of their task.
Quiddity's home was full of entries when he died, entries stacked to the ceilings, corners hidden, windows obfuscated, dangerous footpaths negotiating enormous piles of research. Those who helped him as students, now adult academics and professors, were determined to continue to expand the Cyclopaedia. Quiddity's entire house, and everything in it, was moved inside of a special new building adjacent to the University. This became the physical center of the Cyclopaedia. The large doors were adorned by a carving of a broad, wide tree—the symbol of the Work. Over time more Compilers joined, the Work grew, the building became a series of buildings, the Cyclopaedia became the center of academic life, and eventually the center of all knowledge.
But Slv had been unaware of many specifics. The glorious institution had a history of messy and often brutal politics and power plays. Those who inherited Quiddity's legacy were single minded and unforgiving. None of this was precisely forbidden information, however unless you were an Inspector or an accredited researcher allowed to sit for a night at a desk combing through accounts and records, these details would be unknown to you. And if you tried to publish, publicize, or otherwise disseminate this information you would, no doubt, be confronted and stopped immediately. But then, she wondered, who would've even wanted this information? Certainly the public had no taste for this kind of thing, they preferred the final, polished, easily digestible summary. As they did with most things.
One of the lesser known details about the history of the Cyclopaedia was the long running support by the Sovereigns. It made sense, the Sovereigns were involved with almost everything to some degree. Since the Sovereigns were patrons of the University this would seem obvious—but Slv read about explicit directives and support, rather than by representatives, which is how the Sovereigns always operated. Direct involvement indicated extreme interest. Had anyone seen any of the Sovereigns in decades? They never left their estates. They maintained control, quietly. They operated through their Garde—a group with nearly unlimited power, a discrete and powerful, manipulative army.
In the footnotes throughout these early accounts she read about a man named Jonas, who she discovered through cross-referencing, was a Sovereign. He visited Quiddity frequently, he became involved in the philosophical direction of the collection. Very involved. Jonas was a Compiler—maybe in some sense the first real Compiler. He traveled distantly, widely, contributing large amounts of information and specimens at his own expense. She wondered what the Sovereigns, then, felt about this activity. Disparagingly, she imagined. Being a Sovereign meant not being actively involved, that would be crass—it was better to stay behind the surface, worshiped and effective, but not known, not involved.
This caused her to wonder if the Sovereigns were still directly involved with the Cyclopaedia. Particularly this project of Ove's Master Compiler. It could be an important factor. The Sovereigns were above common law, with their own arm of enforcement, the Garde, that maintained their connections, financial flow, properties and business. If Sovereigns had interests in Ove's project, financial or otherwise, much like the original Cyclopaedia, it would make Slv&Elin's life difficult.
They would need to speak to the Director of the laboratory again, they would need to carefully reach out to the Garde. The last thing Slv&Elin wanted to do is to call into question, or bring to light, anything the Garde didn't want to be highlighted. Interests had to be maintained.
Slv's research into MetaCompiling was less fruitful. The number of entries about entries, and about Cyclopaedia internals, was linear—far from being some radical implosion of the basic premise of the Cyclopaedia, it appeared to be simply reasonable upkeep. She was no Compiler, so the finer distinctions of their Oath was difficult to grasp without faith, but she couldn't imagine an institution this size with this much incoming information not taking self-reflective measures.
She found no record of who was doing this so-called MetaCompiling. This was interesting. As an Inspector she was allowed access to anything, everything, so finding nothing was a red flag. There was a directory of Compilers, of course, as required by law, but as for who was doing this likely, quite laborious, self-reflective work, there was nothing. Compiler Hedvin could be a MetaCompiler and legitimately deny it. This might have something to do with consequences of cultural shame. To not keep records, or to expunge records indicated guilt or shame. If so, it was a stigma more powerful that she'd first assumed. The Order thought of itself as worldly, adventurous explorers—the men and women in the back room checking everything, making sure connections were being made, these were embarrassing reminders of dirty work.
Meanwhile, Elin's research had been relatively straightforward. The Ministry of Statistics was not formerly associated with the Cyclopaedia, but like every other Ministry, it used the Cyclopaedia primarily. She looked up whatever she could about Compiler Hedvin and his expeditions and his cohorts. How much data had he gathered in his career, how many entries had it produced, what was the average, and tangents around this. Her overall conclusion was that Compiler Hedvin's work was mediocre, and that his social strata was similarly underwhelming. He stood at no great influential node, no intersection of taxonomies, no discoveries of great specimens. He returned, regularly, yearly, to a relatively distant location in the mountains to study an unusual pollinating wasp. The wasp was of marginal interest because of its place in the specific ecosystem, but overall if he'd skipped ten seasons, the observations probably wouldn't change much. Hedvin was the expert in this field, but it was specialized. The Compilers that stood out were generalists. She believed this had to be a personal project of his or some pure escapism.
Elin also looked at anything related to Ove's previous work, and the Director's previous projects. She had authority to see financial outlay, proceeds, and so on. Ove and the Director had known one another a long time. The laboratory was extremely well funded. It also consumed a large amount of those funds—it was expensive. Independently she came to the same conclusion that Slv was coming to, that Sovereigns must be involved in the laboratory and in Ove's project. And a project with that much investment must have large amount of expected return.
Slv&Elin were worried about the same things. What could have been a nice, tidy case of a scientist running away with a mistress had become a chaotic situation. They would need to reach out to the Garde, tacitly anyway, to eliminate possibilities. This could threaten their reputation and careers, if they weren't careful. The Garde operated beyond Inspection, effectively beyond common law. While they were legally bound to certain basic principles, they could easily circumvent these with the connections and resources provided by the Sovereigns. It was another world, with a powerful unsaid tradition—if not a controlling force, then one that perpetually guided.
Their investigative procedures in this area were not easily defined. The best course of action would be to seek advice before engaging the Garde. They knew a retired Inspector who could help, someone with experiences and exposure to the convolutions of the Sovereigns' businesses.
When Elin got home she found Slv half asleep. There was no need to talk about the case immediately, the apartment was warm and dry and she was tired.
The next morning she watched Slv make kaf as they listened to the awkward sounds of professionals being late for work due to the loss of Electric.
"More outages these days," Slv said.
"Should've added an inquiry last night at the Ministry to see how much worse it's become over time," Elin said half-seriously.
"We have an interview this morning."
"And then I think we're going to need to visit Konrad."
Konrad was a retired Inspector they visited occasionally over the years. He was a mentor, and he had opinions beyond official procedures. His advice would be welcomed.
"I thought the same thing last night. We don't want to get mixed up in Sovereign business if we can avoid it."
"You see the same overlap with Ove's project and the Sovereigns' influence?"
"They bankroll the Compilers. It looks like they always have. In return they get valuable trade route, merchant and shipping information."
"But what does that have to do with Ove?"
"Why would they help fund a project that might throttle a valuable flow of information, what would they gain from automation?"
"The goal of the project has not been honestly explained to us."
"There's a lot going on here."
"Always one step at a time."