2018-08-25 10:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty-Two: Reflection

Slv looked at the paper. Elin looked at the paper. The paper Jon had given them, the paper taken from Ove's office. They handed it to the Division consultant for the Cyclopaedia, a man named Torben.

Torben was kept on retainer. He was a former Compiler who'd washed out early on, but who'd since been swept up into the business around the Cyclopaedia, and inevitably the informant economy. So far they'd avoided consulting him about Hedvin since they were sure he and Hedvin operated in the same social circles, and they wanted to avoid leaking information.

This was how relationships worked in the Division, careful management to obscure or manipulate knowledge. The business of informants was sizable. It had unofficial leaders. It had customs and unspoken rules. They were aware that nothing they wanted from this industry came without two prices. The first was of course monetary—the Division took care of this from a meticulously managed shadow budget like every other office. The other price was social. If you made a mistake with your informants, or consultants, if you offended them, if you gave away too much, or you offered too little, it was kept forever in a collective memory, a perpetual ledger that existed somewhere and nowhere, a chain of whispers passed down from generation to generation. And if there was a mark by your name, everyone would eventually know why. Everything they told Torben was said with this understanding. There was no opportunity to be casual and unguarded. It made them nervous to bring him in and to look at the paper, but they were at a dead end.

The paper meant something, something important to Ove, to Hedvin, to Jon, to the Garde. The schema drawn on the paper was at the center of Ove's disappearance, and by that extension, Jon's disappearance. They had to understand what it meant. They'd already fallen behind, Slv&Elin thought, they had a box of concepts and occurrences, and they didn't understand the connections. They needed to be aggressive.

The paper was written in a foreign language, a specialized language. They'd need specialists to translate it for them. But they didn't want to let it slip into the pool. So they'd taken the paper and printed a fairly poor and incomplete copy. The lower third was obfuscated. They didn't give Torben any indication about where it came from. Given Ove's importance to the overall organization, they believed that news about Ove must've already leaked into the informant networks, who would look to capitalize on it.

"This is interesting," Torben said handling it, "I see some familiar elements of notation used in the Cyclopaedia, organizational notations, a kind of shorthand that was invented by the creator and used by the early Compilers. None of them use it now, it's a language that's taught, though, just because you might encounter it in the old meta stuff."

"Meta stuff? By MetaCompilers?" Elin asked.

"Yeah, sort of. It wasn't called that back then of course. But you've got to understand, there's tremendous amounts of work and consensus that goes into categorizing the world, right? Collecting everything we know and understand—it can't happen without some agreement about where to put things. And those decisions, about what goes where, often involve people or institutions or authority. The strange little notations, symbols, almost equations, you see here were invented to make these ideas and decisions clearer because Quiddity, who created the Cyclopaedia, thought that the written and spoken language we use is stupid, ineffective."

"So what does this equation mean? If that's what it is," Slv asked.

"I'm certain it is. There are experts in this, most of them old men living out their last days in sad, supplemental housing around the Cyclopaedia, who wrote in this kind of script—but I doubt you'll find anyone younger who can give you a definitive answer—myself included."

"OK. Any good guesses then?" Elin said.

Torben shrugged. "Yeah. I mean, the tone of it. Without seeing the whole thing I can't be sure, but it looks like a very complex reflection." He said this in a manner that indicated he knew they'd kept some of it hidden from him.

"What do you mean by reflection precisely?"

"Just as you look in the mirror, you see yourself, but you see yourself reversed. It's you but it isn't you, right?" He smiled wryly. "I guess I'm not explaining that very well. The symbols on the paper appear to describe a complex relationship of some sort, a way to describe something then generate something. Then, here," he pointed to an area about half way down the page, "we see the reflection. Like the first half is reversed, but is equally complex, equally powerful," he scratched his head tentatively. "Honestly, I don't know what it all refers to. It's odd. And again, I'm not an old timer. I can't imagine what it refers to actually... other than itself."

"How is that possible?"

"That's my impression given the amount I remember. Usually this ancient script would build up Things, I mean the idea of Things, information that makes up the Cyclopaedia. Like birds, and foxes, and snakes, and trees and mountains. That's why the script was invented, to make descriptions and organizing the world easier. But this paper only describes itself as far as I can see, that's what's really odd about it. It creates a Thing, then it creates a Thing that's opposite."

"Thank you, that's helpful," Slv&Elin said.

They would have to interview the Director again. There was no need to tell him how they obtained the paper. Legally they would've been able to take it from Ove's desk themselves instead of Jon. No doubt the Director would threaten them with reprisal of some kind, that the paper was integral to an important and highly secretive project, but they knew there was nothing the Director could do other than complain to the Garde or Sovereigns. There may be consequences, but they would proceed.

As they drove out to the laboratory they considered their next steps. One of their informants discovered that Hedvin kept an office in Old Town. They would need to search this location, although they doubted it would result in directly pertinent information, perhaps something regarding Hedvin's drug trade. The scale of their investigation was growing larger. They would let the Director know they understood he was a servant of the Sovereigns. This would irritate him, which might be useful.

Two people were missing, and two people had hidden information from them. There were organizations involved in these events, to a degree, organizations that controlled their career. Slv&Elin weren't without ambitions. They wanted a place in the Division leadership eventually, they wanted respect and they wanted to be known as skillful, successful Inspectors—beyond this, they maintained copious skepticism. They could of course use their role in this case to their advantage, but that felt sordid and tainted. Why would they seek favor from the Sovereigns? Why would they seek financial gains from The Cyclopaedia? These prizes were sought by people with untenable ideas of the world. That path would lead to being consumed by people and mechanisms that had existed before them, and would exist after they'd been exhausted. This rejection of rewards was actually personal conservation. However, they knew it was equally tenuous to be at war with those institutions.

"I guess we're not exactly idealists like Konrad was," Slv said.

"It's good to be practical," Elin replied.

"We don't have to answer to many people," Slv said.

"We'll finish the case. That's the only real goal," Elin said.

"Perhaps it is the simplest scenario–"

"–that Hedvin killed Ove and Jon over drugs."

"If we were less critical, less concerned about being right we could arrest Hedvin and close the case."

"But we would be wrong."

At the front desk of the laboratory they told the guard they wanted to see the Director. They'd arrived unannounced. The Director was a person who relied on presentation, they wanted to put him off-center.

"The Director isn't in. He hasn't been in for a few days," the guard said.

"Really? Is he ill or on leave?"

The guard didn't know. Slv&Elin asked to see his superior. The head of security arrived soon after, moving slowly, his face bloodless when he saw Slv&Elin.

"The Director hasn't been to the laboratory in three days including today. Yesterday we wired his home, but we haven't received an answer," he said.

"Why didn't you inform us of this? Why didn't you contact the Division?" Elin was angry, her voice was louder and uncharacteristically sharp. The head of security didn't have any good answer, only convolutions. It was typical, she thought, they would try to deal with problems themselves to avoid embarrassment. She bet they had their own informants, everybody did.

"When did your people last see him?" Slv asked.

"Inside or outside the laboratory," Elin added.

They wanted to see the security logs. And they demanded, this time, to see all of them, including the private security work, informants, and so on.

"If you resist this order we will have you arrested immediately for obstruction," Elin told him. She fumed.

Without the Director's political considerations, they no longer had any reason to inquire cautiously, or be polite. The head of security complied morosely. It was true, the laboratory had been monitoring everyone there. But the surveillance appeared amateurish to Slv&Elin. They didn't utilize any surveillance best practices really, they threw resources at a target and ignored practical analysis. They maintained informants, but they didn't seem to ascertain or manipulate the informants' loyalties. They were, in fact, easy money for the informants. And they must've leaked large amounts of sensitive relationships into the system.

Quickly they concluded that the Director's circumstances and Ove's were effectively identical—they both signed into the laboratory, however they did not sign out. This wasn't necessarily the case with Ove's assistant, Jon—they didn't know where he'd been. They'd analyze the outlier later.

Elin lambasted the security officer again for not contacting them. The guards had checked the Director's office, but said they stayed away from the lab since it was sealed.

"We are going to check both immediately," Slv said.

The head of security couldn't offer resistance. He handed Slv&Elin the keys to the offices, and the laboratories, pointing out which were which. It would've been a serious offense to refuse.

As Slv&Elin walked through the hall to the Director's office they reflected on the nature of aggression, and wondered if the methods of the Garde weren't actually more efficient. If they'd acted like the Garde at the beginning of the case, would it have yielded different results at a different rate? This sort of examination of their own procedures and instincts, under doubt, wasn't natural to them. It put them in a position of tension, it stressed their pairing.

The Director's office was tidy. There was nothing indicating a change of routine. There was, in fact, nothing of a personal nature whatsoever in the office. It was a professional chamber, it was an emblem of a persona, all surface.

As they left the office Slv took out her white chalk and sealed the door with their image of a hare in a circle. They discussed sealing the entire complex. But they'd start here. They'd seal it piecemeal, then they'd seal the front and the entire staff would be told to go home. They knew this would enrage the Garde and the Sovereigns.

They went to Ove's lab. Immediately they could see their seal which they'd placed on the laboratory, had been broken. There was a red chalk drawing in front of the doors, some primitive figure, was it a snake? It revoked their own seal.

They stood for a few moments in disbelief. The seal of an Inspector was considered inviolable. Had this ever happened before? They'd never heard of this happening. It was shocking.

They opened the doors and were greeted by a stale, metallic breeze. Before they turned on the overhead lights they watched the frenetic blinking of the consoles near the center well, where the machine was housed. And they heard a clicking, spinning sound, low but vibrational. The hair on the back of their necks stood up from some kind of intense Electric field. This was not what they expected to see. They had sealed the lab and ordered that the machine be turned off—both directives had been brazenly violated.

But the Director was the priority. They turned on the lights, but the lights seemed dim, as if they'd been weakened. The sounds of activity were more intense the closer they came to the machine well.

They looked into the offices. One of these was untouched. But the second, Ove's office, had an open bottle of aquavit and a half full glass on the desk. And slung over the back of the chair was a coat. Looking into the pockets they found identification—it was the Director's.

"We need to get the second assistant here–"

"–this machine needs to be turned off."