Cyclopaedia Chapter Twelve: From The Sovereign
The Director took the red chalk he'd been given and drew a clumsy, primitive snake on the floor in front of the laboratory doors. The doors had been sealed by the Inspectors, the white chalk of their symbol, a circle with a hare, spanned both doors broadly. He should've stayed out, but there was work to do.
He entered the laboratory and flipped on the bank of lights, transforming the space into a bright, and relatively stark vault. The two small offices to the right side were dark, one of them Ove's office. The Director paused, looking across the large floor to the center well where the Master Compiler was set. Next to it were operating desks, and at one of these was an overflowing bin of output paper. Several bulbs, orange, white, blinked slowly on the console.
The Director came to the lab tonight after a visit with the Sovereign.
Earlier he'd driven his Engine out of the Capital and into the winding maze-like gardens of Sovereign lands, into a highly arranged estate that felt like an approximation of wilderness, it was in fact intensely groomed. Decay and death happened here only if the Sovereign willed it. He saw rabbits and deer on the edges of the perfect, pit-free road, the extreme winding of which made him drive carefully. Everything here was calculated appearance, no doubt this Sovereign worked personally on the design, probably in an effort to best some other Sovereign's estate in some aesthetic squabble. It was intimidating. It was supposed to be intimidating.
The house, if one could call the complex of buildings where the Sovereign and his staff lived a "house", was likewise a complex construction of meticulous detail. He wasn't entering a building, he was entering a world. This wasn't his first time here, but he knew he could never fully comprehend the extent of this astronomical wealth. The Director wasn't someone who bothered championing the people or the workers, as so many citizens did these days, the Director considered himself a man of cultivation and taste, and yet, even then, this exposition of riches made him vaguely nauseous. No wonder the Sovereigns work through intermediaries, if enough people saw this there would quickly be a violent revolution. This kind of wealth absolutely could not last, and yet, here it was, it had in fact lasted.
He'd waited in some antechamber buried far inside the interlocking structure that was certainly descriptive of the protections Sovereigns kept around themselves. He pondered if it was analogous to the internal state of the Sovereign himself. He was being processed. He was being digested.
The mechanical Master Compiler was a project important enough for direct interaction with a Sovereign. He never lost sight of this. Initially it made him feel important, to be involved, to be the Director, but there was nothing in the Sovereign's demeanor that supported his egotism. In the presence of the Sovereign he felt small, he felt like a child. He would rather have dealt strictly with the Garde, despite the side effects. It was too late for that now.
He'd told the Sovereign that Ove was missing and the Inspectors had locked down the laboratory. He knew the Sovereign knew this, but he had to say it anyway. The smoldering, furious anger of the Sovereign seemed like the garden the Director had driven through, an approximation of a natural element, constructed, but frightening none the less. The project must continue, the Sovereign said. Well then, the Director thought, the project must continue. Without Ove, somehow.
He looked around the chamber and saw paintings that certainly reflected the grandiose imagination of themselves, the Sovereign world, ancestors, mythical and symbolic conquests, hunts, dramatic poses on craggy peaks under a sky powered by allied deities. None of these portraits were concerned with reality, yet he assumed they believed them to be real. The mythology the Garde worshiped the Sovereigns for was concrete in their own minds. The Director knew that when he returned home he would perceive his own abode, his carefully collected minor treasures, his carefully cultivated life as utterly dirty and uncouth—himself huddled miserably in his hovel, as a peon who had nothing but ignorant pretensions. Not that the Sovereigns weren't paying him well for it. But, effectively, by comparison, he was nothing.
"The project must continue," the Sovereign said, "it is vital to our long term goals—the Cyclopaedia cannot continue in the fashion it has, like a church, it has to be brought forward into this new age of mechanics. And we have to be the ones to do it, otherwise we lose an extremely important interest to us, to the Sovereigns, the Cyclopaedia is very important." The Sovereign spoke with an accent that was ancient, the uniqueness of it making every word trill with threatening importance. The Director believed it wasn't necessarily a threat to his physical life. It would be something worse. It would be personal destruction. He wondered how many of the derelicts on the street in Old Town he'd seen had once been like himself, now destroyed and discarded. The prospect alarmed him. He wasn't willing to let this happen—with or without Ove the project would continue. Well, clearly without him, at this point. The Director began scheming about other scientists that might fit the task. For the time being he would have to use Ove's assistants as best he could. They knew the technical specifics, although they didn't know, or understand, the long term goal.
But the Inspectors—they had everything locked down, and Ove's assistants weren't even allowed into the laboratory. The Master Compiler was gathering dust.
He mentioned this to the Sovereign. Tacitly, he found himself tongue-tied, normally he was verbose, persuasive, fluent. The Sovereign seemed to tolerate him. "Yes," the Sovereign said, "I'm aware of that situation. The Garde are also aware. The Inspectors should be ending their investigation soon. Your laboratory will be opening back up. Don't wait for them, begin to do what you need to do, tonight if you must. The project must go forward. And no more Compilers are to be involved in this project, do you understand? We cannot fully trust Compilers with this. They have too many conflicts. They are like priests in a church." The Sovereign seemed disgusted. "Don't they understand where it all came from? The Cyclopaedia is ours, it has always been ours."
Driving away from the estate he watched the lights from the Engine scatter across the road, punctuating the dark hollows in the trees and brush, sometimes a set of animal's eyes looking back at him, sometimes an area of mist clung to the ground. There were no mile markers or no trespassing signs, there was no need.
Back at the laboratory the Director went into Ove's office, looking for an operations manual. Of course there must be an operations manual. He found many of Ove's things, his papers, reference materials, but found nothing that was a clear guide to the mechanism. He went to the second office—where he knew the assistants worked. Some of their work had been left on the desks, unfinished. Blueprints, schemas, lists, formulas, console output, programming cards, notes and things to do. They were busy when the lab had been closed.
Faintly, in his periphery he could sense the buzzing field of the device, not quite a hum, but perceptible. It was effectively off, or more accurately, it was sleeping. He would contact the assistants tomorrow, but right now he wanted to start the mechanism compiling again. And if Ove wasn't going to be here, and it would take him some time to find a replacement, it was best if he knew how to run everything.
Where could the manual be? Surely they would've created one. He upended boxes of papers, looked through file cabinets, desks. Finally, frustrated, he left the office and went to the work consoles by the mechanical well. Was the machine paused? It must be. The majority of lights and indicators were off. The glass was devoid of color. There were two bulbs on however, pulsing very slowly, which told the Director that, anyway, there was Electric.
Infuriating, he thought. One of the major prerogatives of any project, especially one this important, was proper documentation. He'd witnessed basic usage before, Ove had shown him a few things about operations, but more descriptively than instructional. He believed he saw the main circuit engagements. Data ingestion? Pre-cached input and processing module activation? Not all of it was perfectly clear. But then they should've created a manual. If he did something wrong it was their fault. He felt confident that he was toggling the correct levers, and dialing the right knobs—perhaps not in absolutely the proper order, but more or less.
The consoles came alive. The lights synchronized across the two boards, there was a sound deep in the well of thousands of precise pistons, cantilevers, and calipers moving together like a million legs of a gigantic, angry insect. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. There was Electric flowing through now, clearly. The deck of programming cards at one of the desks flipped frantically, mechanically, but with a sense of desire. He waited a few moments, anxiously, for a time wondering if it would never stop accelerating, that the machine would continue to amplify, those bulbs in the consoles burning so hot and bright that he'd be blinded. But they didn't. It reached an equilibrium. The gears worked, the lights danced and the output paper streamed steadily, giving every indication that each mechanical operation was being properly executed. He was satisfied.
He sat in a chair in front of one of the consoles, but quickly felt a headache coming on watching the turbulence. He had difficulty imaging how the assistants, or some future team of workers, would be able to sit in front of such a painful, blinking and constantly demanding workspace. He retreated to Ove's office where he occasionally looked over his shoulder to make sure the tenure and velocity of monitoring remained constant. It did.
Where was the bottle of aquavit that Ove kept? It was in that drawer when he was looking for the manual. He took the bottle out, found a glass that appeared clean and poured himself two fingers worth. He slung his jacket over the back of the chair and sipped as he watched the frenetic consoles. Tomorrow he'd call in the assistants and they'd go through the results, get the project back on track. Inspectors be damned.