2018-11-27 10:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty-Eight: Cliffs Of Forever

The man standing between Hedvin and the village seemed to be expecting him. The man was wearing a bird mask. Hedvin had spent an extra week in the woods, lost. He was cold, thin, half starved. He had trouble thinking. The clarity of thought that he started the journey with was now gone, expended through cold nights and exhausted supplies. This man must be expecting him, why else would he be standing there on the path between the forest and the village? Behind the mask he could barely see a set of eyes.

Fox, the man said.

He held the fox mask in his hands, upended, like a bowl. Hedvin noticed it now. Hedvin stepped closer. He could see the fox mask was filled with Vermilion. He didn't know how long it was since he dosed. There were a few awkward attempts on the trail, but with the bad weather and his exhaustion he wasn't sure how successfully. He saw the mask handed to him and the yearning for it was viciously palpable.

But what did the man want? Hedvin hesitated. Did it matter who he was, it probably didn't matter who he was. He was Bird. He remembered now the strange mythical consumption of the village, this is how they behave. They dosed constantly. They were out of their heads. They lived inside this construction, this story, where everyone took shape as visible representations.

It will rejuvenate me, he thought, after being on the trail. It didn't matter who this person was. Was he from the village? He was tall. Was he familiar? No, it was Bird, that must be why. Bird gestured again for him to take the fox mask. Hedvin stepped forward and took the mask from him. He felt a blooming anxiety he couldn't understand, but then he'd wandered in the cold for a long time, days? He remembered trying to gather food, miserable berries and terrible tasting leaves. He'd been sick. Water wasn't a problem, there were plenty of streams and springs. But the cold tore him down—it was becoming winter and the nights were terrible. He wanted a fire and he wanted something to eat. The Vermilion would help, he thought.

Hedvin took the mask and placed it front of his face. Bird grabbed his head and the mask, pressing them together hard, then momentarily lifted his own mask to blow into it, forcefully. A large amount of Vermilion was made into a thick red cloud. Hedvin breathed in. When the dust settled Hedvin lowered the mask. He considered the face he'd seen briefly of the man known as Bird. A man from the city, definitely, he wasn't a villager.

Who are you? Hedvin asked. His head swam, he wondered about his own physical weakness and about the strength of the dose he was given.

Bird, the man said.

Did Hedvin know him? Hedvin wondered. The effects were coming on fast, much heavier than he expected. Maybe this batch was very fresh. He smacked his lips and he could taste the grubs. Very fresh.

What's your name, I mean, what's your person name? Hedvin asked.

Eirik, the man said. Hedvin didn't recognize it. Wait, no, he did recognize it. He knew who this was.

You're a Compiler? Hedvin said.

Follow me, Bird said.

Hedvin couldn't claim to know every Compiler, there were too many. But he was certain this man was one of them. Not by name, the name was common enough. It was the movement, the subtle qualities of physiognomy, the features of the face he momentarily saw, a face that had been preoccupied by the structure of the world, and had gained that distinctness. As for the name, he recalled a Compiler named Eirik noted for remote expeditions. He was a Compiler and he'd found the village, and he knew about Vermilion. How long had he been taking it?

Ah, it's too late, he realized. It doesn't matter anymore. How big was that dose? The man, Bird, Compiler Eirik, walked ahead of him down the forking path, away from the village. Not towards the woods Hedvin had emerged from, but upwards. Hedvin held the fox mask in his hands, it was light, like it was made of the visions of green leaves and the sound of rabbits. Bird flew. He had trouble keeping up. The path zigzagged around outcrops of rock, trees becoming sparse. Hedvin was worn out. He begged Bird to wait, while he caught his breath. Bird waited motionless while Hedvin sat, breathing hard, staring at the mask in his hands.

How long have you been here? How long have you been taking it? Hedvin asked.

Bird said nothing.

Where are we going? Hedvin asked.

We need to get there before dark, there isn't much time, Bird said.

Hedvin stood, following Bird. This was wrong, he thought, I need food and warmth I need to be wrapped up comfortably. Instead of the rush he'd expected from his dose he felt the reverse, as if everything was being sucked out of him. Decoherence. Instead of the expected congealing of concepts, he was being dragged along a rocky bottom, a wilderness path by a man wearing a bird mask. He felt powerless to stop it. Regret prickled. How had he ended up here? He asked to stop again. The ground felt moist and soft, as if he could sink into it, as if he would sink down into the center of the world. And what was the world made of if not the same malleable substance, the same temporary fluids he was made from. He was scared of dissolving.

You gave me an overdose, didn't you. Hedvin said.

It's important we keep moving.

Where are we going?

You'll see. It's important.

I want to go to the village.

Not yet. Afterwards. Come on, let's go.

Hedvin didn't know why he followed Bird. There was a logic to it, although no logic really was necessary. There was a rightness to it, although right and wrong were temporary conditions. He was losing himself. He held up the fox mask and looked through it, through the holes that were eyes. He reached behind it and pulled the leather strap around, securing it. His thoughts and worries faded into movement, on the path, trying to catch Bird, the trees thining as they climbed higher, the rocky terrain a game. He could go like this forever, he thought, until he collapsed maybe.

They came to a plateau, wide, relatively barren, covered in short, tough grass. He had never been here before. It smelled like dirt, and there were strong winds nearby. Bird seemed to know where he was going. It would be dark soon, he could feel this in his gut, a tugging sensation, to get close to the ground, to be in the safety of the trees, to watch out for things above in the sky, to be warm.

He wanted water, he was panting, he was so thirsty and there was a terrible taste in his mouth. Like decay. Like carrion.

Water, Fox said.

Soon, said bird, a little longer.

Bird moved lightly. They ascended again, then the world in front of them dropped off with a sudden descent. They were on the edge of a cliff. He could see the valley below, mountains in the distance. The cliff stretched far in both directions. The fading light of day caught along the mountains, streaming rays across the edges, but the valley was already dark.

Fox backed away, the proximity to the chasm was uncomfortable. Bird, though, hovered.

Come here, you can see them just starting to light up, Bird said. He turned and was looking down, over the edge of the cliff.

Fox moved forward, hesitatingly, looking outwards then looking down where he saw faint points of light. The points were birds, whose crests glowed, growing stronger as the light of the day faded. He waited—knowing that the birds too understood the end of the day, becoming excited, each point contributing to a cloud of light that ebbed and swelled. And the longer he looked the more sure he was that the birds knew Fox and Bird were there, near them.

They know we're here, Fox said to Bird.

Bird said nothing. The daylight was gone. Fox could still see, in an impression, the white edges of Bird's mask, the short sharp beak, the prominent delineation of color. Behind this he saw the dim glow of the birds as they swirled above the valley. They flew, they reached up. The pattern was familiar to Fox, he tried to place it—as a sequence, a natural relay, like the blinking lights on that mechanical console, indicating a cognition that was made of a million parts. It was a scattered realization. The sensation was fleeting.

Do you see? Bird said.

The cloud of birds had risen up in front of them. They pulsated. It was obvious what they were saying. This is us, they said.

Yes, Fox replied.

The cloud of birds rose, flying up above them, then slowly sinking back downwards, closer to them. Fox could see individuals now, their eyes and beaks, the movement of wings and their efforts. And they became closer still, he felt the wind from their feathers, he felt the air of their breath. Then around him, their claws were clutching his jacket. Tugging. The lights from their crests illuminated him. He was flying. He could see Bird standing there, under him. And then he could see the valley below.

2018-11-21 10:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty-Seven: Final Report


We have completed our investigation and present this report as a summary of events and conclusions. We understand that further details and explanations may be necessary given the chaotic nature of this case, a supplementary timeline will also be provided.

Importantly, we are directly responsible for the explosion that took place on the 3rd—we ordered it. We understand the tremendous damage done to the research facility ends any viability of that structure. We understand what we've done has wide ranging impacts. However, in the interest of protecting its scientists and workers, as well as ceasing the peculiar Electric effects that have caused or contributed to outages in the city and its social consequences, we took action rather than hope some solution would eventually emerge from outside agencies.

We have concluded that the disappearances, and certainly demise, of four individuals, Ove Eng, Jon Orten, Pietr Koss, and Eero Ringen (Director of the facility) were caused by the mechanism known as the "Master Compiler".

After being present for the sudden, unexplainable disappearance of Pietr Koss, a laboratory worker and last remaining technical member of the project, we had the premises evacuated.

We promptly wired the engineering office at the Ministry Of Internals as well as the Ministry Of Statistics under whose aegis the facility was commissioned. Several representatives from each were promptly sent to the Division. We explained what we knew and what we experienced as best as we could with as much technical detail as we understood. There was considerable skepticism, particularly since none of them knew of the existence of the specific project known as the "Master Compiler".

We also wired representatives of the Cyclopaedia, for whom the project was initiated, informing them that the project was hereby terminated in the name of public safety.

We understand this equivocal declaration would cause turmoil. But, by the time all the parties involved, official and unofficial, knew of our orders, we were determined to have destroyed the mechanism.

It should be noted here that the original representative for the Cyclopaedia, a Compiler Hedvin, abruptly left the city shortly before we issued an order for his arrest in connection with the disappearances, and for involvement in the distribution of an unknown drug. Yesterday a search of his apartment revealed the contents of his Compiler's kit—wherever his destination, he had no intention of working. While it is common for Compilers to be sent on assignments, due to other pieces of information we believe the location is related to illicit drug trade. There is no reasonable means for us to apprehend him while he is in his currently remote, unknown location. But we advise, and request to be given a new case, relating to this substance known as "Vermilion". Once Compiler Hedvin returns, assuming he returns, he should be immediately taken into custody, and presumably the drug he is transporting should be seized and analyzed.

We are unaware of any formal recognition in this matter from the Cyclopaedia, however we believe that, unofficially, Compiler Hedvin's actions have been sanctioned by several parties.

We brought the engineers and scientists we consulted with to the laboratory. We were still concerned that the mechanism would, or could, compile other subjects. But our supposition, which we expressed to the technical team, was that previously only those directly connected to the project had been in danger. Among Ove's papers we found evidence, in the form of a kind of formula, an antique indexing notation of the Cyclopaedia, that he was using himself as a compiling sample. He was training the Master Compiler to categorize and contain himself. We do not know how literally his intent was, since he created the passive Electric power source, we feel he was aware of the danger. Also, there appears to have been incentive provided by Compiler Hedvin's supply of drug as well as a radicalization process through Compiler Hedvin's philosophy and influence that a disparate set of data fed to the Cyclopaedia would later poison, or alter, the political and ideological direction of the institution. We believe that, for all intents and purposes, the mechanism contains a copy of Ove Eng.

While we didn't find examples for the other three victims, we concluded that their proximity to the mechanism, to Ove Eng, and to the programmatic aspect of the device subjected them to the same effects. Since no bodies were found, and since we witnessed the compiling of Pietr Koss this conclusion seems inescapable. We do not fully comprehend what criteria the Master Compiler would have used to target these individuals, and given that all expertise on the workings of the mechanism no longer exist, we believe personal proximity, or what the scientists called "contextual proximity", was the primary factor.

Our suspicions about the mechanism being related to the Electric outages were quickly confirmed by the engineers. Strong opinions were expressed. But the consensus was that the machine needed to be discontinued. Given our initial attempt to turn the device off, and subsequently the disappearance of Pietr Koss, we decided we would disable the machine from the bottom of the well by force. Since we did not, and do not, understand precisely how the independent Electric system works for the device, the engineers concluded that they would bluntly, physically cut all wiring and cabling as close to the surface of the machine as possible.

Much like dangerous work in a mine, a series of engineers stood arms length apart and always within sight of each other. Observers were placed at the top of the well with ropes and mirrors designed to work in treacherous shafts. While there was some concern about the risk of Electric discharge, the engineers volunteering for the work had ample experience with difficult Electric situations. We felt confident.

The mechanism would then be totally isolated, without connection to any outside Electric, or any unknown Electric device, and the consoles on the laboratory floor. This should contain any issues related to outages, we believed. Once everyone was in place, we gave the order to cut everything off.

When the lines were cut away there was a cessation of activity. Then, as we witnessed previously, operations began again—this time without any obvious output at the consoles since they'd been disconnected—but the apparatus was in operation. The engineers were baffled. This unusual Electric source, they said, must be part of the column, the three story tall mechanical installation itself. They explained a kind of ambient field surrounded it, energized by activity of any sort. The more of us there were, and the harder we worked, the more strongly it would react.

It was then we ordered the device to be destroyed by any means necessary. There was strenuous disagreement on this point. Several of the scientists argued that the technological loss would be too great. The engineers involved with Electric for the Capital felt that destruction was absolutely necessary, given the changes of another catastrophic outage. It was likely, they suggested, that the Master Compiler was passively consuming Electric remotely, from the Capital itself.

This was confirmed soon after by a messenger from the city who we'd instructed to tell us if any outage occurred, since we could not independently or reliably determine that from our location. An outage did begin about the same time we tried to disable the machine. Arguments were then made for ways and means of destruction. Placing explosives on the mechanism directly was an obvious thought, one we proposed, which produced a howl of disapproval. If the explosion wasn't strong enough, who knows how the passive Electric would react, perhaps consuming all of the energy. Since there was no clear understanding or agreement about how much explosive power would be needed to destroy the device, another proposal was made—to bury it.

But for this to be effective, the engineers and scientists agreed, there had to be a layer of shielding. A dense, heavy metal. Since the mechanism was already situated in a tall metal-lined well by design, they decided that filling the well with a mix of rock and metal filings would suffice as long as the top, exposed, area of the machine were covered completely with thick metal plates. Then it was suggested that the lab around the mechanism be imploded in place, to increase the dampening effect and to make sure these actions could not be easily reversed. Preparations were made with great urgency.

Meanwhile, with the knowledge they'd gained at the laboratory, the engineers made adjustments to the Electric in the Capital. They were able to rotate the outage, enabling power in one neighborhood, disabling it in another, in schedules, thereby avoiding a period of social upheaval similar to the one previously experienced.

The walls and roof of the laboratory were set with explosives after the well had been filled in and covered with shielding. Reports said the blast could be seen from the city. The collapse of the building was complete, resulting in a pile of rubble that buried the device.

Given that we believe, and were advised, the situation was dangerous for both individuals nearby, and the condition of the Capital, we proceeded with a measure of necessary autonomy and secrecy. Our apprehension that involvement by external agencies would cause indefinite delay is not unfounded. The conclusion of any investigation gives Inspectors the prerogative to pursue judgment we determine appropriate, knowing fully that these actions may cause the displeasure of other agencies. We understand this may effect our standing in the Division, but we maintain that our duties were clear and irrevocable.


2018-10-31 10:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty-Six: The Knife

"This has become more complicated than we expected," a voice behind him said.

Konrad was standing exactly where he knew it would happen. He'd run through the scenario a thousand times in his head, he'd be standing out back, in the alley, at the bins, with a bag of trash in his hands. It would be dusk. The daylight was gone but last light would let the boundaries of the alley become indistinct, perfect for the Garde. Not that Konrad's eyes were any good anymore. But this is how the Garde were—sneaking, obfuscated, elements of the background, until it was too late.

Konrad turned. So far it was just the way he'd imagined it would be.

"Isn't it always complicated," Konrad replied.

He could see the Garde clearly, there was no trickery this time. That took him by surprise. He gasped slightly, he tried to catch his breath. And he knew this man. It was the Garde he'd helped convict all those years ago. How was it possible?

"You have no idea how many miserable years I spent in that prison," the man said, the Garde. Konrad said nothing. "But a drop in the bucket. The years I mean. For me those moments were important lessons. They made me stronger. You have to understand how strong we are now." The Garde stepped up close to him, Konrad was too slow to avoid his grip.

"Your Inspectors have really fucked things for us, you know that?" What was it Konrad smelled on his breath? Something bitter. He was close. And he had a knife. Konrad didn't even see him pull it out. In this scenario Konrad imagined he would be stabbed in the back, a fairly quick end by a competent assassin. But the knife was at his throat. The knife was colder than he thought it could be. Still, he was ready, the details were inconsequential.

"Your Inspectors have ruined a tremendous amount of work. You have no idea what the possibilities could have been, all gone, in an instant, all gone."

The knife pressed closer, but it was so sharp he didn't know whether it cut into him or not. Was it already slicing into him? The slight pressure. There was nothing he could say, he could only stare at the texture of the man's skin, the islands of hairs, the folds, the fields of red, it was the whole of his final world, this landscape. This too, he hadn't expected.

"But we need you to know this—and we know you'll tell your Inspectors—the agreement, the truce, is over. We'll be hands on now. Not hiding. Much more the way I used to be. You remember. This is the correct response to this new age."

The knife descended. Konrad's throat was not cut, he was alive. This too was unexpected.

"Tell them," the Garde said, "that there's a price to be paid." The Garde backed away.

Why am I not dead? Konrad thought.

"You'll live as long as you're useful," the Garde said, "there's a lot to do."

2018-10-29 10:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty-Five: Master Compiler

Slv&Elin moved into the Director's office, since the noise and peculiar sensations from the Master Compiler was disconcerting—there was a slight dizziness, a little disorientation, as if you were far away from yourself. Could there be permanent harm? They didn't know. They examined what they could—the offices, the consoles, the bottom of the well of the mechanism itself. Other than the Director's coat at the office table, placed in front of a half consumed drink, there was nothing of note.

"Must've been important–"

"–getting up in the middle of your drink."

"And leaving your coat."

They waited for the second of Ove's assistants, Pietr, to arrive at the lab. They'd sent a priority wire to the Division to have him picked up and immediately brought to the laboratory. They knew this might take several hours. Until then they could rest briefly. And they had to discuss these last steps in the investigation regardless. The conclusion had to match the procedures, there had to be certainty.

"Although we seem to be in new territory with the situation–"

"–if what we suspect is true."

"Or possible."

"There won't be a conviction."

"In that sense the investigation would be a failure."


"–we have to move forward."

They would have Pietr examine the mechanism to see if they could tell who, and more importantly when, it was turned back on. This would be a crucial piece of information.

"Would the Director have the knowledge."

"We didn't believe his attempts at false humility or false ignorance."

Even though they didn't understand the internals of the mechanism, there was no doubt that it was operating, and doing so at full capacity. The consoles were steady patterns of lights indicating frantic activity. There was frenzied operation of the punch cards in their slots. And the paper at the other end had, probably days ago, overflowed its bin and now piled up on the floor, each new printed line pushing the mass of paper farther out into the floor of the laboratory. Yes, they could tell the Master Compiler was busy. When they'd first sealed the lab the mechanism was silent. Given the evidence that the Director had been sitting in one of the offices drinking, he must've started it. But why. And did he do it alone? Was Jon with him?

"What the Garde said."

"That this work is important."

"More important than we can understand."

"The Director turned it back on."

"He must've done so because he was ordered to."

"But what would it be working on, what is it compiling."

"There's someone else who knows–"


In a couple of hours Pietr was delivered by Division agents, shaken, unshaven, smelling like a dingy bar. They sat him down in one of the nicely upholstered, expensive chairs in the Director's office. They told him not to worry. This didn't seem to alleviate his nervousness.

In the hallway Slv&Elin instructed the Division agents to arrest Hedvin.

"Bring him in–"

"–tell him he's under arrest."

"He's to be detained, and isn't allowed any outside communications."

"Be aware, he's a Compiler."

The agents raised their eyebrows. To arrest a Compiler would certainly mean the involvement of legal council from the Cyclopaedia. It would certainly mean attention from the heads of the Division, and it would certainly mean energizing back channels.

"Take him in, arrest him, be sure to hold him until we get back."

"Resist pressure to release him. He is being held under our orders."

"There is no legal recourse."

The Division agents acknowledged this earnestly then left the complex. Slv&Elin knew they could be counted on. They wondered how much the Cyclopaedia was willing to invest in its rogue Compiler. They bet it would be very little.

"But if the Sovereigns step in, then we'll know–"

"–that they have a significant interest in this drug Vermilion."

"The Garde might become quarrelsome."

"They haven't in a long time."

"We have our allies. We have the Division."

"We can diffuse the situation if necessary."

"Hedvin might be released by our superiors–"

"–then at least we'd know."

They took Pietr from the office and escorted him to the lab. They explained to him that he wasn't under arrest. He accepted this quietly.

"I don't know what's happening," Pietr said, "none of this makes any sense. All I know is that we were working, now I'm the last one."

It's alright, they assured him, we need your help. As they entered the lab, however, he became agitated.

"What's this? Everything is on, everything is running at full power." He moved quickly to one of the consoles, examining the bank of rapidly blinking lights, then to the other to read some of the consistently expelled paper. The clacking of printing was constant.

"When we sealed the laboratory the Master Compiler was off, correct?" Slv&Elin asked.

"It wasn't operational," Pietr said without looking up at them.

"So... off?" Elin restated.

"It still has Electric in that case. Essentially off." He began to tear the paper, placing the pieces out next to one another on the floor by the console.

"And where does the Electric come from?" Slv asked Pietr, moving closer to see the papers he was laying down.

"The mechanism has its own Electric source. It is however also tied into the Electric for the city, to either pull or push power in that direction." He moved back to the front of the console, and pointed down at several fluttering needles. "And right now, given the amount of work its doing, its drawing Electric from the city. A lot of Electric," he said, clearly concerned.

"How do we turn it off," Slv&Elin asked him.

"Off off," Slv said.

"Really off," said Elin.

Pietr groaned.

"Is it difficult?" They asked.

"Yes. Well, more than that. It was designed to be calibrated, to keep a certain state. It took us months to get to that point, fine tuning. Disconnecting it would mean starting all over. That's one of the reasons it has its own Electric, which makes it almost impossible to do that—to turn it off. Off off."

"We need to turn it off off," said Slv&Elin.

"Now," Slv added.

"No matter how difficult," Elin said.

"But all that work..." Pietr protested.

Slv&Elin looked at him in a manner that indicated they were extremely serious.

"There's something else, that you should be aware of," Pietr said as he was staring at the sequence of papers he'd carefully placed on the floor. "This logging is very unusual, I don't know what to make of it." He picked up a piece of paper, the striated sides punched with holes now dangling like innards. "I don't understand where this string came from."


"The output of the Master Compiler is, line by line, a series of strings, of letters, that indicate what it's working on, or errors—those are strings that we programmed into it. It should only ever use those, the letters we gave it. But it isn't. Here, for instance," Pietr pointed to a line on the paper.

"FOX, it says," Slv said.

"Yeah, and this one," Pietr pointed to another place farther down.

"BIRD," Elin said.

"What do these mean?" Slv&Elin asked.

"I have no idea what they mean. It has either been programmed without my knowledge, or the Master Compiler came up with this on its own." He continued to hunt through the paper output, frowning.

"How would the Master Compiler do that?"

"Come up with that on its own?"

"I suppose from the large amount of information the mechanism already has in the data drums. It doesn't contain the Cyclopaedia exactly, but it contains a vast amount of information to extrapolate the Cyclopaedia—this phase of the project was to generate an alternate Cyclopaedia and then understand where the deviance is. We'd evaluate whether that deviance is, positive or negative—it could be creating new strings that reflect the state of itself and its collection."

"But these strings don't really make sense."

"Yeah, I guess they don't." He looked worried, and Slv&Elin believed there was something else Pietr wasn't telling them.

"It has to be–"

"–shut down."

"Alright," he said. He took his eyes off the logging he'd dissected.

"What else?" Slv asked.

"There's something else happening here," Elin said.

Pietr winced, "The Master Compiler doesn't only get its Electric from the city."

"It has its own source," Slv said.

"We're aware of that," Elin said.

"The construction is unique," he hesitated, "it draws Electric from the air, from the ground, from everything around it. This is Ove's design. It's brilliant. But now I wonder about it, it's passive, or it's supposed to be passive," Pietr looked back down at the papers, putting his finger across several lines.

"Are we in any danger right now?" Slv asked.

"I don't know. It seems to be consuming tremendous amounts of Electric."

"Shut it down," said Elin.

"Off off," Slv added.

Pietr moved to one of the consoles and began working switches and buttons. Slv&Elin stood by him, watching.

"This might sound naive–"

"–but isn't there a big switch somewhere, a master switch?"

"I'm preparing it, things have to be done first, so that there will be the least amount of damage. Then I can go into the well and terminate the mechanism."

A few minutes later he indicated he was ready.

"I need to complete this inside the well," he said.

"I'll go with you," Slv said.

Elin looked at Slv looked at Elin. Pietr and Slv went to the elevator that accessed the bottom of the well. Elin went to the guard rail around the perimeter of the machine well.

"Are you down there?" she yelled.

"Yes!" Slv replied.

"I'm pulling the switch now," Pietr said loudly.

He and Slv stood next to the edge of the mechanism itself, he grasped a large, solid lever recessed into the machinery, a lever that was invisible to Slv given the surrounding complexity. Pietr held it, looking upwards to the top of the well and listening—the chatter of the millions of intricately fabricated and assembled parts was clear. With exertion he pulled straight down on the lever, it providing significant resistance particularly at the end, where the lever fit back into the mechanism, invisible again. Pietr still looked upwards and listened. The noise had stopped. He didn't move, Slv didn't move. Then, just as suddenly, the noise continued. Was it even more harried? She wondered, like desperate buzzing, like angry bees?

"Fuck," Pietr exclaimed.

"What is it? What's happened?" Elin yelled from above.

"The internal Electric has taken over automatically somehow," Pietr said.

"How do we disconnect that?" Slv asked.

"This should've been enough to shut it down. But it looks like Ove has a failsafe. A failsafe to the failsafe." Pietr moved around the machine to another section of the column.

"What you'll need to do is go above and cut the cabling while I eject this calculating core." He pointed to a square area on the column that he indicated was distinct.

"Don't worry, you won't need to actually cut any cable—there are securing bolts on both sides, remove them, then pull hard on the cabling when I say so, it's simple, it should come right out. But we need to do it at the same time, up there, down here," he said.

Slv told Elin she was coming back up. She went to the elevator, watching Pietr manipulating the fasteners on the mechanical column.

When she was on the laboratory floor she quickly found the cabling, it lay fat and heavy, stretching from one part of the floor over the gap into the well and into the mechanism.

"Do you see it?" Pietr yelled from within the well.

"Yes," Slv said. It was impossible to miss.

"Remove the securing plate on the floor. It's there to prevent accidental disconnection. You can see it twists off. Then be ready to pull the cable, it will take both of you. But only when I say so. Be sure to pull hard," Pietr said.

When they'd twisted off the plate they told him they were ready.

"On three," he yelled, "one... two... three!"

Slv&Elin yanked the cable upwards and backwards, making a satisfying THOPP sound as the pins let go of the sockets in the floor. The lights and noise around them instantly ceased, plunging the laboratory into darkness. The sudden silence was jarring, even painful.

But then, in quick stages, starting with the consoles, lights came back on. Then the whirring of the mechanism, spinning as if from a distance to become a close, persistent roar. It was soon working as hard as it ever had.

"Pietr! It didn't work!" Slv&Elin yelled down into the well.

"Pietr!" they yelled again.

There was no response. Pietr was gone.

2018-09-30 10:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty-Four: Northerly

Hedvin carefully measured the powder. It was inexact. He didn't have his usual equipment. He was in a small, dingy room at an inn next to the train station before his last stop, which was another day up the line. Soon he'd head off into the forest and the real north, where there'd be no comforts at all. Uncertain that he'd be able to get a reliable dose of Vermilion before he made it to the village, he'd have to do it now. He tapped the vial, discharging too much of the red dust. He didn't have his dosing mechanism, it was too cumbersome to carry. And he didn't have his original fox mask of course—not that this mattered since the mask took two people to operate, as per village tradition. You never took Vermilion alone in the village. He sighed. He tapped the dust out of the vial into a porcelain bowl. What was this bowl? Oh, he realized, it was an old chamber pot. Whatever, it didn't matter, it would suffice. For a moment he stared at the uneven, stained and rotten wood of the window sill, the faint sundown showing a yard full of miscellany, chickens, firewood and trash. Dinner was a flavorless stew, punctuated by bits of gristle. He was hungry but he knew he would have to get used to it, this gnawing sensation would be normal, he'd be strictly rationed.

The dust fell into the chamber pot like red snow. He wasn't sure how he'd do this, but the need had become visceral. A towel? He'd wrap a towel around his head.

As the day had plodded along the universe began to feel disjointed to him. A depressing disorganization of fickle associations. There was no higher order, there was only incomplete, shabby conceptions. The dirty bedspread. The crooked door. The dim old lamp. The idea of a difficult journey. The memory of the innkeeper's acne. The faint sense of persecution from the actions of the Inspectors. The mundaneness and relentlessness of these wore on him, he felt them draining his life, graying his hair, making dark circles under his eyes. It was really too much, the idiocy, it was really too much.

He looked at the red dust. It was scattered on the pure white surface of the porcelain. As the lamp flickered behind him it became an animated sequence of resolve and relief. He threw the towel over his head. He put his head over the chamber pot. He blew hard, kicking up the dust, a cloud into his face trapped by the towel. He kept his eyes open, he willed them open, then he inhaled deeply, as deeply as he could.

He heard things fall into place. The floating misery was diluted, then disappeared. There was order, there was certainty, there was definition. The flux was gone, replaced by a rightness of elements. He would make it to the village and back. He was sure of it. He would move quickly, quietly, and he would get what he needed. He thought of the Inspectors for a moment, their inevitable pinched bureaucratism, irritated that he'd run away, wondering if he'd vanished too. Then they'd discover that his trip was approved by the real authorities, the Sovereigns, and that there was nothing they could do about it. Riding the immediate crest of clarity from Vermilion, this scenario wasn't one of spiteful pleasure, he merely acknowledged it as fact.

What happened to Ove?

Hedvin didn't believe his own explanations. The Inspectors were right to imply that Ove wasn't the sort of man who'd simply leave, or to get involved in a torrid affair. These situations were completely unlikely. So, then, the Garde. The Director was a vicious fucker, he thought, who had direct connections with the Sovereigns, he could've had Ove killed, because Ove's work was basically done and they didn't need him anymore. And Hedvin suspected Ove was only loyal enough to support his own goals, they probably worried Ove could take his knowledge with him. That's something he didn't tell the Inspectors. He didn't tell them because it might've further implicated himself. Ove was successful in creating the Master Compiler, it would collect and categorize everything. But the fact that Hedvin was violently against such a monstrosity didn't mean he'd ever necessarily hurt Ove. However, he did intend to harm the mechanism. One way or another he was determined to destroy it. This, too, he'd wanted to conceal from the Inspectors. He didn't know how he'd do it, that didn't matter presently, but the Master Compiler couldn't be allowed to exist.

There would be a revolution in the Cyclopaedia. It would need enough support to counter the Sovereigns' influence. He believed they could be convinced as well, after all, all they cared about was money and commerce. Their investment in the Master Compiler was created by a belief that the future was mechanistic. He was positive it wasn't. In the coming years, he thought, they would be made to understand the differences between automation and intelligence.

He remembered a passage from one of his Forbiddens, which one was it? An Atlas Of Freedom? A Tyranny Of Bread? It didn't matter. The author described a future society where

The measurement of wealth was not in monies but experiences. The wealthy did not exert oppressive authority to maintain their wealth, but create experiences and culture that spread throughout society.

Another idealistic book written in another idealistic age. But he thought of it, it kept resurfacing. He didn't believe the Sovereigns would ever be removed. Would the Cyclopaedia exist at all if the Sovereigns hadn't? This was idle speculation. He knew change was coming. He couldn't see it precisely, but it was coming.

It was cold in the inn, his room had a small stove and a few handfuls of wood thoughtfully provided, but cut too large for the stove, so he struggled to break pieces off or in half. He realized he missed the street bustle and hallway noises from the city—the silence up here was intense, he wasn't used to it. He focused on the crackle of the fire. He hoped he could keep it burning. The next night would be even more difficult on the trail. He recalled that years ago when he was traveling somewhere north, up here, being unable to sleep because he was so cold, it permeated him. This too, he anticipated. He prodded the fire with the rusty, metal poker. He wrapped the quilt from the bed around himself, it smelled bad, like an old, sour horse. The initial rush of the Vermilion had worn off, to be replaced by a steady calm, as if there was a fine crystalline lattice in his head, any conclusions that could be reached would be reached again in the same way and in the same manner.

Ove must've had this experience too. Everyone who took it did. Hedvin remembered the paper, with Ove's formula, the promises of a completely generative solution. But then he wondered if he'd gotten it wrong. He wanted it to be an answer so strongly he misinterpreted it. Was it something prone to misdirection? Was it purposefully evasive? If it wasn't generative, it was descriptive of something. The diagram, the map Ove left behind... A map. Not a formula. It was a map. The map may must have been about Ove himself, not the world or the Cyclopaedia.

As Hedvin sat in front of the small fire, watching the pulse of the flames, he realized this was the answer. Ove was no longer building the Master Compiler for the Sovereigns or the Cyclopaedia, he was building it for himself. Yes. Hedvin laughed. Why shouldn't Ove be like other men? Afraid of death. Self centered, not the stereotypical, rational and detached scientist. The map on that paper was an illustration of himself, it would be a reflection of himself in the Cyclopaedia. He was using himself as his own test subject. Capture himself, categorized and placed in the proper place in the tree—immortalized in the Cyclopaedia, the same way other specimens are. Eternally referenced. Knowable. A transparency of clear intention. It would be an act of incredible arrogance, to use oneself as a template for all other Things.

Quickly Hedvin corrected himself—was it arrogance? How different was a person from any other specimen? When reduced to points of data and measurable events a person could be a feature of the landscape, a person could be a tendril in the forest, a person could be an example of any bit of life. As temporary, as fragile, as desperate. To generalize a person you would have to start somewhere. He wondered if this is what Ove was attempting, to digest himself or become a reduction. The map would indicate this, and it would explain why Hedvin had interpreted it as a kind of generalization, but one that Hedvin didn't understand.

As Hedvin worked the idea over and over, and the more sure he became of it. But what actually happened to the physicality known as Ove?

He needed to ask Jon something. Only Jon would know for sure if it was possible. Hedvin remembered there was a wire office at the inn, small, probably the last wire office he would see. He would wire Jon.

Hedvin walked out into the hall and down the stairs still wrapped in the smelly, old quilt. There were spots of red Vermilion dust in his hair, eyebrows and around his nose. He was determined. He must reach Jon. It was late now and there was no one in the bottom floor, the front door was locked for the night. What time was it? He looked at the clock over the front desk. Not so late. Anyway, not late by city standards. The wire office was a little room to one side. The door was open, but it was dark. The whole floor was dimly lit by lamps. He considered going into the room but he had no idea what to do, how to operate the equipment. I should learn how to do this, he said to himself, as soon as I get back.

He would have to wake up the innkeeper. There was a back stairway, half way up was a door. He knocked on the door, rapidly, "Innkeeper! Innkeeper! I need to send a wire! It's urgent!"

He knocked again, then heard motion behind the door and the innkeeper say, "Just a minute, just a minute". The innkeeper opened the door, appearing sleepy and confused, seeing Hedvin there, manic, wrapped in the quilt.

"A wire? Now?" the innkeeper asked.

"Yes, now," Hedvin stressed.

The innkeeper shrugged with resignation, pulling his robe tighter around himself. They walked downstairs to the small wire office, Hedvin staring at the back of the man's greased hair, the way they do it around here, he thought, he wondered about all the stained pillows.

The innkeeper sat down at the desk in front of the wire apparatus, which was a tall, thin metal casing with exposed and tarnished internals, strips of brass as well as alternating rods and springs. At the bottom edge was a elongated area with familiar characters printed into a series of metal taps accommodating the size of a fingertip. The innkeeper reached behind the apparatus and twisted a knob, while shaking his head. A light inside the apparatus blinked. He leaned to the right and looked over a long paper roll. He shook his head again.

"What? What's wrong?" Hedvin asked demandingly, seeing enough to know there was a problem.

"There's an outage in the city. There's no signal at all. Hasn't been for hours," the innkeeper said.

"How can you tell?" Hedvin asked.

"The log, this paper roll here, every few minutes will record a signal and the time it happens. See?" He pointed to a spot on the paper, "Nothing's happened for hours."

"Couldn't this be a problem here, with this machine?"

"Nope," the innkeeper said, "light wouldn't be blinking if this end wasn't working."

"This is important," Hedvin said.

"I get that. That's pretty clear," the innkeeper reached back into the machine again, to the knobs.

"So what do we do?"

"Nothing to do. Wait til morning. Probably will be up by then. They've had outages in the city recently. Usually lasts a few hours or so."

Hedvin felt himself turning red, anger rising. But he believed the innkeeper—there was nothing they could do. It would be unfair and detrimental to push any harder.

Hedvin groaned. "Morning. Until the morning," he said.

The innkeeper responded with relieved acknowledgment. Hedvin would have to wait. He hated waiting. Although it wouldn't really matter if he wired now or in the morning. Not really. Knowing now or knowing then. He couldn't explain his urgency. It passed like a storm. He went to his room and flopped down in front of the fire, which was almost out. He had to concentrate on the fire, he had to concentrate on the necessary traveling, he had to put these distractions of Ove and the Master Compiler out of his mind. After all, there was nothing he could do about it. And the Master Compiler had been shut down by the Inspectors when they sealed the lab, so it was no longer a danger to anyone.

He slept poorly. The next morning he gathered his equipment. When he came down the stairs he saw the innkeeper.

"Still an outage," the innkeeper said.

"Oh? Well, anyway, I don't think I need to send anything," Hedvin replied.

The innkeeper nodded, an expected acceptance. "Never been an outage this long," he added.

Hedvin nodded. None of it mattered to him this morning. He began to think about the next few days and not being able to reliably dose. Perhaps I could snort it, maybe that would work. He thought. But transfer is through the eyes? Maybe he could dilute it with water and drop it in. He'd considered, some time ago, simply eating a portion of it. It might be effective on an empty stomach. The innkeeper was saying something, Hedvin went through the paces of the transaction. Rubbing it into a wound? Or creating a suppository? There had to be a better way than this arcane ritual he'd been suffering. After all, if Compilers were to take it, could they be expected to carry around ornate, ponderous devices to dose with? It was a problem that had to be solved, he'd have extra Vermilion to experiment with soon. Maybe an emulsion. Rolled into a cigarette?

Then he stood on the platform waiting for the train. It appeared in the distance, a great, imposing obsidian shape against a frost bleached landscape, exuding clouds of black smoke. It looked like an unstoppable experiment, a kind of monster. As he watched it approach with a degree of discountable atavistic fear, he thought about the contradictions of revolution. If he and his allies were willing to stop the Master Compiler, but they were also eager to discard the archaic rituals of some northern village, what would be left? How deeply intertwined were superstitions and beliefs? He wondered how dangerous his position was, whether the thin cover of his civilization could be easily ripped away.

2018-09-02 10:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty-Three: Turning Back

Turn back, Hare said, or you will miss Fox.

Eirik stared at the stones he'd placed around the fire, the fire now out, the cold morning air making him shiver. There was frost on his thick wool blanket. The crystals melted when he touched them lightly. Likewise he habitually wiped the frost off his kit. He shook his hand to get get the cold water off. The forest was quiet. He'd heard birds announcing dawn, but afterwards they became silent. He thought about doing a quick drawing of the mountains he saw from this point on the ridge, which had taken him the better part of the previous day to ascend. The view was familiar—he'd seen this vista on his way to the village, so he was relieved that he hadn't gotten lost.

But Hare said he should turn back. It was the third consecutive night that the Hare sat with him by the fire, eyes like brown jewels, nose twitching, sitting alertly on his haunches, then eventually relaxing a little and carefully distributing his weight, still ready to run.

Would Hare travel with him the entire way? Sometimes Eirik stopped on the trail, a sound of movement in the leaves to this side, and he would catch a glimpse of ears or a patch of fur. Was it the same hare? At night it was. He'd spent a good part of this life on distinctions, cataloging specifics, he knew it was the same hare.

These journeys were methods of adjustment, Eirik thought, to realign oneself for an environment like the Capital and modern civilization that had created him. Even with a lengthly trip it wasn't enough time to transition and he worried that he might be one of those Compilers who doesn't come back. They become embedded in place. They solidify somewhere. Through love, or fear, or exhaustion, they give up on the Capital and on civilization, they chose to remain where they explored, discovering some revelation of themselves. He wondered if he could spend the rest of his life in the village. What about his position at the Cyclopaedia, could he so easily discard it? He wasn't sure.

But he had to turn around and go back to the village. Hare was right. He couldn't let Fox change it. He sighed. Maybe he'd cut enough of a path here that the way back would be easier. He rolled up his blanket. His kit felt heavy. He looked around casually for any sign of the Hare, he saw nothing. The sky was becoming sullen, he worried about snow but took a deep inhale of air, vigorously sniffing, assuring himself that it didn't smell like bad weather.

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 each of them operated within 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. They were nervous about bringing him in 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 didn't 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.

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.

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 Pietr here–"

"–this machine needs to be turned off."

2018-08-12 10:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty-One: The Lost Tree

Quiddity rolled back and forth in bed, pulling the covers over himself until he felt he was suffocating. He thought of the Cyclopaedia, the thing he created, and he hated it. How was it possible to spend one's life in an enthusiastic frenzy of building, collecting, negotiating, and evangelizing only to wake up one morning and completely loathe it. No this didn't happen instantly. Not in a single morning. This happened so gradually he didn't notice until the loathing had thoroughly rooted. And now it was too late. He was old, he wasn't young enough to destroy anything. Destruction took a necessarily incendiary humor. It took the vitriol of immortal youth. It took bittersweet rage. For the young, destruction and creation were entangled. At his age there was little enthusiasm, and a surplus of skepticism. But he hated it, he decided, he hated the Cyclopaedia. The dozens of Compilers now criss-crossing the globe, astutely and devotedly capturing the nature of the world, he hated them too and the oaths they'd taken to perform their tasks. How sanctimonious. Why would they waste their lives on it? They believed the Cyclopaedia was theirs. But it wasn't theirs, they worked in the service of it, just as he discovered he inevitably worked at the service of the ruling powers of the world. The compromises he'd made allowed them too great a share of his idea. The idea had become filthy with commerce. What he should've done, he thought, was stay in his room. Never have told anyone about it. Instead of making the Cyclopaedia as large as he could, make it as small as possible. And not tell anyone. No, telling anyone was his first mistake. It was a mistake of pride and unverified arrogance, telling anyone about it was only a desire for reward and praise. These frailties were incompatible—exposure to human desires polluted the project, the purity of the original was twisted into an institution, a hierarchy of authority, a resource to be battled over. Everything was a medal to be won. He'd wanted to make sense of the world, and, he thought as he pulled the covers back over himself after gulping down air, he'd only revealed what everyone suspected—that the oldest species of motivations dominated their lives—the greedy and the egotistic, the wealthy and the powerful. Worse, he may have helped those representatives. He should never have left his room. He could've indexed the world without ever seeing it, he didn't need to send people on dangerous voyages by sea to the far corners, discovering new lands, new rivers, new flowers, new animals. He could've imagined everything right here. The fold of the sheets before him, like the rippling of mountains, he would declare it a new country, and create an entry for it in the proper work, a real Cyclopaedia of the mind. The table across from his bed, it was a plateau, wide, reaching far into the distance, populated with roaming creatures, gigantic, not bothered by hunters because of its remoteness, attacked by no predators because of their size and number. The curtained window on the other side of the room was a faint sun, crawling along the plateau and the mountains in a manner he'd formerly believed as late afternoon, but now on the surface of that table those shadows stretched half a continent. This was an alien world. If he couldn't destroy the Cyclopaedia immediately, or soon, he would have to devise some means to destroy it later. He believed he could do this, there was a way. The idea made his heart thump. He would begin another Cyclopaedia, right here, an alternate work, which contradicted everything in the first. He would set up the conditions for an unavoidable battle, between the very large and the very small, between the authoritative and the imaginary. Neither would win. Winning wasn't the point. The point was equilibrium, to remove the weight he'd deliberately placed on one side of the scale, he'd then purposefully stack the opposite side. Who could he trust? Nobody. But that didn't matter. He would be manipulative. He would plant seeds. To trust anyone else with this task meant failure, like the Cyclopaedia it had to live and grow on its own, in the dark maybe, for a long time maybe, but it would grow. Yes, he thought, there needs to be an antithesis. Making sense of the world outside oneself could not happen without an imaginary world. He would build it. He would construct the basis, here, in bed, as the landscape around himself revealed a geography that was as rich as the Cyclopaedia, the four corners of the room were enough. But the legacy of this project required conspirators. He understood he couldn't reveal his intentions directly. He would have to put the alternate, the imaginary, inside the existing—inside its conception, inside its philosophy. The imaginary would generate itself, over time, finding necessary adherents. They may not even be fully aware of their allegiance to this lost tree, this dreamed index. It would be magnificent and subtle. And some day this machine of subversion would awake, a map of this small room, powered by dreaming, by a landscape of a story, a fable. The real things of the world would be consumed, indexed for the alternate, until the Cyclopaedia was no longer a museum but a long walk through the woods or an eternal tale. Quiddity got out of bed and went slowly to his desk. He drew out a sheet of thick, fibrous paper. Decades of work had led him to create a concise symbology, a kind of calculus to plot the course of ideas. He began composing, hesitatingly. Then as the course of things became clearer, he wrote with harried desperation.

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.

2018-07-29 20:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Nineteen: Seeing Or Seen

When they entered the Ministry they saw a uniformed man at the far, front desk. It was late, after hours, and there was no one else in the large hall, except to one side, a cleaning man with a broom. He glanced back at them nimbly. They assumed he was an informant.

Slv&Elin walked forward through the almost empty, echoing hall, this institutional design applied with a brutal optimism, hoping that all construction was monolithic and permanent. The hall would stand, forever. Forever you would be able to file a report, triple stamp an inquiry, wait in a line to find out you'd need another form. The building radiated a stale confidence that came from a wellspring of suppression and politics. They were no stranger to it.

They were sure the officer at the front desk was a fixture of his post, a life-long employee of the Ministry, accepting his duties without humor, without patience, utilizing a minimum of activity. He saw Slv&Elin. As they walked toward him he made a slight gesture with one hand—he pointed to a smaller elevator off to one side, away from the large ornate doors that were full of Ministry business during normal hours. They believed this was the service elevator. The officer's eyes remained fixed on a daily broadsheet he cradled in front of himself, occasionally and suddenly animating to turn each page with grouchy exclamation.

After closing the squeaky gate behind them, they pressed the button, keeping an eye on the front desk as the elevator descended. When it settled at the very bottom floor with a disconcerting, high pitched screech, they opened the lethargic gate and saw, more clearly, a poorly lit hallway. Against the walls, at intervals that allowed passage, were stacks of boxes. They assumed, due to their relentless uniformity, these boxes contained paper work, countless sheets of standard office sized accounting, requests, memos and counter-memos. And yet there was a haphazardness and desperation about the placement of the boxes—a managerial cry for help. The boxes overflowed, obscuring parts of the hallway.

Their destination was an office at the end of this miserable chain of bureaucracy. Certainly the choice of this location was a perverse statement by the Garde, although that message remained obscured to them. Slv&Elin believed they'd already devoted too much time trying to interpret, analyze, and predict their actions. The Garde's behavior, as they understood it, couldn't be perfectly, consistently meaningful. Some events must be meaningful by adjacency, actions left open for influence and interpretation. Utilizing an adversary's over-thinking was a powerful tool, they'd been taught this much. They believed the choice of location, a poorly run, overworked bureaucracy, wasn't a perfectly meaningful choice, but intended to let them create an internal narrative the Garde could exploit. Slv&Elin were familiar with behavioral redirection, of producing circumstances that facilitated eventual clarity, but they believed the Garde did exactly the opposite—improvising with anything available to produce haze and indecision in their prey.

Slv flipped the stone in her pocket over and over. The smoothness of it, it made some small mental noise, a popping, like a bubble bursting, over and over as she turned it. The world became saturated, going from one state to another, where edges jumped into prominence, then back to geometries of light and shade. Delineation was jogged. As she flipped the stone the changes to the world became a rhythm, one that lulled her nervousness into abstraction. Parts of the whole, she thought, I'm flipping the world end over end.

Given the incrementing office numbers, their destination was farther down the hall. They negotiated passage around the tall stacks of boxes, careful not to brush against them, worrying that they might tip over. When they arrived at the office, where they were to meet the Garde, they saw the door was cracked and the light was on. Pushing the door open, there was no one there. The number was correct, this is where they were told to meet. The office was small and depressing. There were no windows since they were far below ground. There were several chairs of different, municipal eras placed without thought.

Slv&Elin entered and sat down. Soon they heard approaching footsteps. The Garde entered the room without hesitation, already aware that Slv&Elin had arrived. He sat in a chair opposite them, arranging himself fluently to face them in an open and comfortable series of self-conscious adjustments.

"Here we are," the Garde said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, I've heard a lot about you. We really should've gotten together much sooner."

Initially not short or tall, not thin or fat, not ugly or handsome, the more Slv looked the more she realized she could see him. She flipped the stone. Flip. There was a face. There was a specific, notable physique. And the clothing, it was expensive but old. It was threadbare in one spot. He was a man in his early middle age, paunchy. She could characterize the build and appearance as a man who enjoyed expensive vices. She looked quickly over to Elin—was she also seeing the Garde uncamouflaged? Slv would normally be able to understand what Elin understood, by proclivity of minute telegraphing of thoughts through slight movement and vocal intonation. This had always been important during interviews. But Elin was concentrating intensely, Slv could tell nothing else. Maybe she was seeing him too.

"These kinds of meetings are not part of standard procedure," Elin stated.

There it is, Slv thought, she also sees him.

The Garde's face reacted with disappointment. The kind of frustration a child might show when you aren't playing their game properly. He had a face that was not used to being seen, and so it acted like it was animated by a series of strings glued badly to a skull.

"I had an interesting talk with your bookseller friend," said the Garde, tapping one knee impatiently and scowling. Slv flipped the stone, the world turned around, flip. They could dismiss any worry for Konrad, it wouldn't make sense for the Garde to be telling them this if he'd killed Konrad. Slv flipped the stone, the saturation of the room changed. The Garde continued, "Yes, he thinks highly of your abilities and integrity, but he worries about you, and this case of yours."

"Really? Worries?" Slv said.

"The case is very involved, isn't it? So many deeply invested interests, so many possible directions, but so little actual evidence. He thinks you may be in over your head—I mean, he clearly has confidence in you, but given his experience in these matters, I would have to agree with him, the bounds of your investigation have become, let's say, overextended." The Garde seemed to be glancing around the room, avoiding eye contact with them.

"There is nothing outside the bounds of our investigation, we are Inspectors. Our prerogative is to find out everything, nothing remains hidden, and no one can legally prevent us from doing this," Elin said. She said it completely without emotion, uttering fact.

"Yes, yes," The Garde said dismissively. "I've heard this before you know, this creed of the Inspectors. I'm sure it's true—but only to a point. There are no absolutes. Surely you must realize that." Then he smiled and looked at them, the smile was diluted and forced. "If you hadn't realized it, then why would you have reached out to meet me?"

"We understand the Garde have their own means and their own sources of information. We also understand you have an interest in the Master Compiler project that Ove ran," Elin said. Slv&Elin had spoken at length the night before about keeping this meeting focused—it would be the Garde's strategy to foster confusion and drift, to inject doubt and deterrence.

"We wanted to meet for several reasons. First, to make clear our intention of pursuing the case, to the Garde. So that there are no dangerous misunderstandings," said Elin.

"Second, to inquire if you have any relevant information about the disappearance of Ove and his assistant Jon," Slv added.

As she looked at him, noticing the pockmarks on his cheeks, the circles under his eyes, the receding hairline, she flipped the stone inside her coat pocket. She realized there was a discrepancy that might explain them being able to see him. There were three minds here, Slv and Elin and Slv&Elin—meetings with the Garde were typically one on one, and she wondered if the abilities of the Garde were limited, or anticipatory, to these circumstances. If that were true, what did it mean that the Garde subjected himself to possible recognition? Perhaps he wanted something very badly from them. She wondered what his masters, the Sovereigns, had said. How strenuously did the Sovereigns want resolution to the situation and what particular resolution did they prefer?

"I see," The Garde said, "So this is to be one of your interviews?" He exuded disdain.

"This isn't an interview. This isn't standard procedure," Elin said.

"We're willing to exchange information since our goals overlap. But we can't stop our investigation, and we can't accept interference with the investigation," said Slv.

"You let us finish the investigation and, afterward, you can continue as you have been, with your interests," said Elin.

"Oh?" The Garde seemed amused, interest aroused. "And what if I was the one who removed Ove? What then? Wouldn't you be obligated, by your rigid reliances on procedure, your love of absolutes, to arrest me?"

"We know we can't—or rather, it would be impractical to try. And that's beside the point—we're sure you didn't. We know you want Ove back, we know that he's crucial to your project, and the last thing you'd do is remove Ove," Slv said.

"I'm glad you're being sensible about this. That's true, we aren't responsible for his disappearance," the Garde said. "It isn't in our collective interest. I can speak for the Sovereigns in this matter. It is not in our interest to get into a pissing match with the Division. We've done it before, as I'm sure you've heard from your old bookseller friend. It wasn't productive. It wasn't profitable. However..." The Garde looked up then back down as if divining some verbal dictation from the air, surmising what techniques of manipulation might be attempted or fitting, "...if you make any moves to attack us, or implicate us, we will retaliate. We will retaliate with the power of the Sovereigns. We will not endure another circus with a Garde on trial. Ridiculous. Our fundamental requirement here is that this project is again operational. I admit, a lot of the technicalities of it is beyond me. And, I suspect, beyond you too. Not to belittle your abilities. But we're talking about specialists here. Incredibly advanced machinery and theories. But I think the direction is inarguable. We're talking about a project that may define the future. As much as you have a sworn duty to some notions of discovery and truth, we have a dedicated purpose to the profits of the Sovereigns. This is why we would rather conduct this investigation ourselves—because it is our property. Ove is our property. The Master Compiler is our property. The Director is our property. The laboratory is our property." The Garde punctuated his words with a set of raised, relatively bushy eyebrows, as if what he was saying was the most obvious, sensible thing in the world.

Elin said, "We're aware of these realities. We have to consider everything in the investigation."

"Anything you know about Ove, the disappearance of Ove and subsequently his assistant, will expedite our investigation and then you can return to managing your properties," Slv added.

"Any information you give us, we consider confidential. And we're willing to exchange information—given the special nature of the relationship between the Division and the Sovereigns," said Elin.

They remained neutral. They had an idea that he wanted to extract a reaction from them, that he would feed off this, and they wanted to starve him. The Garde paused, thinking, then let out a short awkward laugh. "I could swear we've met before. Perhaps it's your confidence and focus that reminds me of another time. It's refreshing. Believe me when I say that I trust your word, and your devotion, to your craft. Also believe me when I say that if the Garde agree to something, you can trust us to keep a contract. But we would only enter into a contract if we consider it worthwhile. The only thing that is worthwhile here, to us, is the resumption of the project. A project you have shut down."

Elin said, "We want to let the project continue as soon as possible. As soon as the investigation is complete."

"Do you believe Ove is still alive?" asked the Garde.

Slv&Elin looked at one another briefly. This was being played out with less complexity than they'd prepared for. The Garde, exposed, seemed to be falling into a discursive path they found predictable. This assured them their approach was correct. Perhaps there was a game underneath the game, but for the moment they didn't want to react. Slv flipped the stone. There was a point, a moment when you understood the way in which a path would unfold, with almost total assurance, that everything was in place, the known things were known, the unknown things were defined, the scope of the interview was a finite event you could grasp. New possibilities would be illuminating.

"To give you a piece of information, we would need a piece of information in return," Slv said.

"I see. So, a contract. Quid pro quo. Makes sense. But—to reiterate this point—you've agreed to not pursue conviction of any Garde, and you've agreed to let us manage our property as we see fit after the investigation—is that right?"

"Yes, that's right," Slv said.

"That's what we agree to," said Elin.

"You have our word," said Slv&Elin.

"And you have my word. The word of the Garde. So, is Ove alive?"

"No. Although there's no body, we are certain Ove is dead," Elin said.

"How can you be so certain?" the Garde asked.

"A few reasons."

"First, the glasses."

"Ove had two pair of glasses. One pair was at his home. The other pair at his office in the laboratory. If he'd simply left, because of some financial pressure, a romantic affair, or stress, it's inconceivable he would've neglected his glasses given he's a scientist and not a young man. He had bad eyesight. If he were leaving the city by train, for instance, he'd need his glasses at the station, he'd need them for his ticket, he'd need them to read the paper. If he did go somewhere else without them one of the first things he'd do is have new glasses made. That hasn't happened. We checked. We were thorough."

"I'm sure," the Garde said.

"Second. His last known location."

"He signed into his laboratory at the front desk, as usual. However, he never signed out. Our inspection found no signs of a struggle or forced doors. While the security staff weren't perfect, we could reasonably discount conspiracy or collusion. These things, spread across many people, would require coordinated narratives and vigilance about keeping a story integral. The staff was much too lazy and disinterested for this level of engagement. The obvious conclusion is that there was a flaw in the security plan or procedure that allowed Ove out of the building. But who could coerce him out of his laboratory, without a struggle, without his glasses? Someone he must've known. And promising a short absence from his work. This leads to our first suspect, the Director."

"In routine surveillance of the Director we noted a visit—and we can extrapolate previous visits due to fuel records—to the Estate."

"While we might have discounted the Director, particularly due to lack of motive, this highly unusual honor, of being allowed to personally visit the estate of a Sovereign, renewed our interest in the Director, and frankly, brought us to you."

The Garde was grinning wearily. "I see. Yes, as I've said before, the project is important. And so the Director has been allowed into the Estate. But, I wonder, what about the possibility Ove was kidnapped, without a body you can't declare him deceased."

"We are allowed this power, we may declare it if we think it is certain and efficacious," Elin stated.

Slv added, "We're certain but not absolutely certain. Another reason we're talking to you. If there were any other information we're not aware of, it could change this assessment."

Elin said, "As far as kidnapping, there haven't been any demands, no contact, no other indications that this has happened—especially as time has gone on. So we have eliminated it."

The Garde shrugged. "Your methods are more rigorous than mine I suppose. Our realities might overlap, but mine isn't driven by worshiping truth, or the idea of truth like yours. We understand that the only predictable things in the world are people's capacity for lies and evasion, their greed, and their fear." The Garde sat back, relaxing a little, saying, "Are there any other suspects? What about Compiler Hedvin, surely he must be a consideration."

"Ah yes, Compiler Hedvin. But, as per our agreement, quid pro quo," Elin said.

So the Garde was aware of Hedvin. This was important.

"Fair enough." The Garde grinned again, but widely and with obvious pleasure. "What I know, which you don't know, is that Ove was a drug addict."

"Drug addict? What kind of drug?" Slv asked.

"You've never heard of it," the Garde said, "it's called Vermilion."

"How long was he addicted?"

"What are the effects?"

"Months, at least. It produces a profound sense of clarity. And of connectedness, I guess you'd say. Ideal for a scientist," the Garde said.

"Where did he get this drug?"

The Garde replied, "Ah, now. Quid pro quo, as you proposed. I'm no Inspector, but I'm guessing the information I just gave you might make a few things fit together." The Garde winked, in earnest.

"It might be helpful," Slv&Elin said.

Elin said, "Compiler Hedvin is a suspect, but only in some ancillary sense. His arguments with Ove were vitriolic. We know he's a radical who's involved with a dissident group inside the Cyclopaedia."

"He's hiding something from us, he has some involvement, but we don't believe he's directly responsible for Ove's death," said Slv.

"Did Compiler Hedvin supply Ove with this drug?" Slv&Elin asked.

"Yes," The Garde said, nodding.

"Do you consider this drug your property as well?" Slv asked.

The Garde guffawed. "I'm afraid we've become a bit lopsided in our agreement, our quid pro quo. It's extremely important to follow contracts as they've been agreed upon." The Garde stood, pulling his waistcoat down over his slightly protruding belly. "I believe we've reached the end of our session. It's been fruitful, however, well worth the time," he said.

"One more. You can ask anything in exchange," Slv said, immediately regretting the hastiness and openness of her offer.

The Garde sighed in a forced, dramatic manner. "Alright," he said.

"Where does the drug come from, who supplies it? We have no intention of interrupting your interests in this specific commerce, but how did Compiler Hedvin end up distributing it?"

He sat back down, but on the edge of the seat, hands on his knees. "Effectively Hedvin is the source, believe it or not. Hard to understand how he came upon such a thing, he obtains the drug from some primitive tribe up north. I don't know where. Eventually we'll know, but at the moment, at this scale, it's not that important. New business, new venture. See, one of the differences between us is that we, as an organization, always think in very long terms. I don't need to tell you that, I'm sure you've realized that through your research and informants. We both have our informants." The glare of the Garde was unsettling. "Of course Hedvin is temporary. You must see this too. He believes in revolutions, he believes in the individual, he's an idealist. He believes in the ideology of the Cyclopaedia instead of the business of the Cyclopaedia. You and I are different—but I'll bet we can see the same things there, in Hedvin, the same impressionability, the same qualities found in his antique Compiler brethren. The drug comes from the Compilers. For now. It comes from their sense of oath, their ideas of a collective heroic story... I can't claim to understand it. All in good time. But Hedvin, he's your source, inevitably. And now, as we agreed, I get the final question."

"As we've agreed, yes," said Elin.

"What's it like being paired?" The Garde asked.

"Excuse me?" replied Slv.

The Garde said, "It's fascinating, the training regimen of Inspectors. And those who are paired, I hear, are particularly valuable."

"I don't see how–"

"–how this is relevant to the matter at hand."

"It is precisely relevant. Precisely. You have certain skills, and advantages. They are used in this case," the Garde said, "Regardless, our contract. Quid pro quo."

This wasn't the first time Slv&Elin had been asked this question, but it was rare, and considered intrusive or impolite. And coming from the Garde it was, in a way, juvenile. He must not want any more information about the case, they thought, he's come to conclusions and now just satisfies his personal curiosity. Or he was concluding the meeting by trying to make them uncomfortable. They felt obligated, but they refused to be made to feel uncomfortable.

"The academy collects rigorous, expansive profiles," Slv said.

"They attempt to find overlaps and matches for possible candidates," said Elin.

"Finding an actual match is relatively uncommon. Their criteria is quite strict."

"And those that are matched don't necessarily pair."

"You can't know until a year into training whether pairing will work."

"It's not like we're one person, as some have poorly presumed–"

"–it's more like the combination of the two of us makes up a third person, one that we have to work to maintain."

"The advantages are combined intelligence, a confirmation of observations by the two of us for the third."

"Where some people might find statistical thinking awkward or unnatural, it has become an intuitive ability for us, or it."

"And the disadvantages?" asked the Garde.

"Quid pro quo," Slv said. She allowed herself a slight grin.

The Garde was briefly disappointed, saying, "Ah, well, there we have it. It's best to conclude here. Fascinating however." The Garde stood. "Since expediency of the investigation is the primary concern, I will leave this more efficient means of contact with you in case you need to get in touch with me. Perhaps we can repeat our little game."

The Garde took a small card from his vest pocket and placed it on the desk next to himself.

Slv&Elin also stood, taking note of every aspect of him, as he turned slightly to put the card on the desk, they noticed every angle of his face, its marks and folds, creases and pattern of neatly shaved beard. What they hadn't told the Garde was that they could see him, and that one of the advantages of being paired was acute visual memory. Out of a crowd of a thousand people, even a million, they would recognize him—they would know him instantly, and the word of officially paired Inspectors on this account could never be doubted. They didn't know if a Garde had ever been identified like this before. It was an asset they intended to keep quietly.

2018-07-12 14:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Eighteen: The Hare's Story

The forest was alive. A single toothy and rough creature, as it swallowed him whole he could look back at the sun on the wide plain full of rocks and grass behind him, with a moment of apprehension when he disappeared into it.

Eirik made guesses about the path he should make. His original path was gone, consumed by the unstoppable growth of the very brief summer, now quickly fading. How long had he been in the village? He'd arrived when it was cold. He left when it became cold. Normally he kept close track of his time. But this expedition wasn't normal. He still felt the influence of Vermilion. He wasn't addicted anymore, but he had to accept that it may have changed him, or some part of him, permanently. The world trembled, the world was a rippling stream, the world was an unfolding series of connections. Normally he kept better track of his time. Otherwise he could be stuck in a place like the village for the winter. The winter that lasted most of the year. He took a chance now by leaving so late in the season. But he had to get back, back to the Capital, back to the Cyclopaedia, back to stop Fox.

He thought about his supplies and how far he had to go. He could forage if he needed to. He was far from any known route. A mistake in direction would doom him. Through the tops of the trees the patch of sky looked swollen and gray like it might snow. This would be unfortunate. He conceived a pace for himself, he set the amount for his daily rations. These were things he knew so he did them coldly, methodically, without provoking his own expectations.

What would the forest think about him being here? The same habitual response as his own, he supposed. He was subject to the forest's whims, but without strong reactions, they were a series of connections that involved him, but were not fully determined by him.

At night he set down into a bed of leaves, a small fire for warmth and consolation. Traveling alone this way, dragging through the forest like a weight, untenable, the fire was a relief. He had to battle the monotony of traveling. Days would overlap and grow and become tangled, you become trapped easily. The jumble makes you directionless, he thought. He stared at the fire listening to the sounds it made, the fire would always sing the same song no matter what was burning. At the edge of his vision, on the other side of the fire he noticed the glint of a pair of eyes, trepidatious, a jerky movement of fur, ears, the face of a hare. Eirik did nothing, he watched. Hare sniffed. Odd, he thought, a hare at night near the fire. And Hare stared back at him, at Bird, and he thought, ah well Hare sees Bird, and Bird sees Hare.

Eirik dozed off to sleep this way, knowing that he should tell Hare to go away because you might not be safe here, something might want to eat you. As he fell asleep, in a half-aware state, he felt abundant and paralyzed, Hare moved closer and looked at him and spoke quietly to him.

"It has been a long time," Hare said, "since we could really jump. We could jump across a whole field, we could jump across this entire forest. We could jump into the sky, we could jump to the bottom of the ocean. We could fly. But Raven grew jealous. Why do I have wings to fly with if Hare, with only its legs can jump right into the sky? And so Raven came up with a plan to steal it from us. He would be the only one who would go into the sky. One day Raven told Hare that there was a huge garden, full of things to eat, the largest vegetables Raven had ever seen and there was nobody protecting this garden. It was there for Hare to eat, Raven said. But Raven knew better, the field was overgrown with terrible vines. When Hare jumped into the field hoping for something to eat, the vines grabbed Hare and held him down. Hare could not jump away, he was held fast by the vines. And Raven flew over Hare and laughed. Who owns the sky now? Raven mocked. Please help, asked Hare. It's time for you to stay on the ground in the dirt, said Raven. But I can't move, if I stay here very long I'll starve to death, said Hare. Well, that will teach you something, said Raven. Please, pleaded Hare, I'll do anything you ask, just don't leave me here to die. Only under one condition, said Raven. Anything, said Hare, I'll do anything you ask, just don't leave me here. You must swear, swear for all time and all of your kind that come after you, that you will no longer fly—you must stay on the ground, said Raven. If you will free me from these vines that are crushing me, then I swear that no hare will ever leap into the sky again, we will stay on the ground. And so Raven freed Hare, and that is why we must hop. But once we could leap. We could jump across an entire field, we could jump across the whole forest, we could jump into the sky, we could jump into the bottom of the ocean."

He thought about Hare's story the next morning. He would never find it in the Cyclopaedia. He would not be the one to add it. Why should everything be in one place? He'd wondered if the Cyclopaedia was too big, if the purpose of it was a mistake, that trying to put everything in one place was dangerous. If everything is in one place, then it can be controlled. But to discover Hare's story you would need to sleep in the forest. 

He asked himself if he still belonged at the Cyclopaedia. Compilers devoted their lives to it, as he had. What else would he do? What else would he believe in? No, he thought, there was a whole world to believe in, if the Vermilion had done anything it had shown him this, he didn't need an authority to make sense of the world for him. He would fight Fox not because Fox betrayed the Cyclopaedia's Oath, but because he wanted to protect the village.

He buried the embers of the fire. He put stones back into the places they'd been. He coaxed the soil he'd disturbed back into a configuration that appeared untouched. A trained eye could see he'd been here, but that didn't matter, he did it because the forest asked him to.

2018-07-08 20:07 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Seventeen: The Outage

On the third day of the outage they began rationing fuel. Far corners of the Archives would remain dark. Several halls in Collections were pitch black. The places that had window light during the day weren't necessarily illuminated when night came. For many at the Cyclopaedia, working until dawn was habitual. But as fuel was rationed the staff which dutifully toiled at night were told to go home. Instead of going home they clogged the local pubs and restaurants, taking advantage of this strange, new, nocturnal freedom. There were several arrests for public disturbances. The regular patrons of these places thought the flood of liberated revelers were an invading army, instilled with all the extra vitality of not having to work.

This celebratory behavior was initially seen as an unfortunate anomaly. But the second, then third night of it caused public scandal. And there was nothing the Council of the Cyclopaedia disliked more than scandal. The Cyclopaedia was supposed to be an inscrutable, silent monolith of pure information without human stain. There was an emergency meeting, tense, recriminatory, where the consensus was that they had to procure more fuel for the Electric backups. More importantly, they agreed, they needed to vent their full rage at the Ministry Of Internals who ran the municipal Electric, which showed no indication of returning.

Some of the oldest staff in the Cyclopaedia had started as children, called 'runners', who once navigated the stacks, retrieving entries and materials—they remembered a time before Electric, and now they were sought for their ancient expertise. Lanterns were discovered in long forgotten storage rooms. The elevators once manually powered by ropes and gears had years ago been converted to Electric. They considered stripping the wiring to return these and other machines to manual operation. Old things were dusted off.

On the fourth day of the outage there was a sense of impassioned retreat at the Cyclopaedia—that Electric had never been very good to begin with and that within a week they could dispense with it entirely. Other casualties were the Electric sorters, machines that flipped through the thousands of cards that often made up a topic, the resulting cross-referencing requiring similar labor. Of course this also used to be done by hand. It would have to be done by hand once again. The 'sorters', like the 'runners', were chosen for their physical abilities rather than intellectual prowess. People with nimble fingers and quick eyes were sought out from the existing workforce. There was something satisfying about the work, the contact with the paper, the bodily effort exerted to seek and retrieve. It was, however, slower. For agencies and researchers that relied on the Cyclopaedia this would mean a backlog. The decreased rate at which information flowed would throttle every avenue, every channel. To the Council this was, at least openly, unacceptable. However, in the top floor of the Administration complex that looked out over the rooftops of the Capital, it was argued that slow was better than nothing. If Electric wasn't reliable, and they had to face recurring outages, they would routinely be rolling back to old methods, they would have to ingrain the old ways into everything that happened in the Cyclopaedia. This was contrary to years of research and planning that anticipated an almost completely new Cyclopaedia—one using the latest advancements, technology that was being developed in expensive laboratories by talented expertise. To the Council of the Cyclopaedia, this sudden, physical reality of systems reliant on one another was sobering. To the technologists who'd made careers out of Electric, it was terrifying.

A runner took a lantern from the cabinet, deftly igniting the wick, then re-examined the slip of paper allotted by the front desk. On the slip were coordinates, indicating a resource somewhere inside the Cyclopaedia. It could be close, it could be far. If the resource was very far, the runner hands off the slip at a relay desk no farther away than their maximum range. The floor of the halls have been polished by a million steps, stairs are worn in the middle, the stone of them a flexible annotation to the ceaseless work of hundreds of years. A protocol reemerges during the outage—which runner has the right of way in the oldest, thinnest passages? There is a bow of heads, a intuitive calculation of distance, an interaction whose laws happen faster than any machine could perform, and one runner is allowed to pass. Calculating machines, huge and heavy, would not fit here, in the maze of subterranean tunnels. Instead long sequences of conveyors had been installed in the Electric age, incoming and outgoing, pushing and pulling references and materials through the passages without the artful dance of the runners' brief interactions. And so the old ways, after the fourth day of the outage, were surfacing as if they'd never become obsolete.

What would be done with a Master Compiler during an outage? How would the information be transferred by this ideologically automatic system? The Council started to reconsider this. They called upon the director of the project, who proudly informed them that the Master Compiler has its own Electric source and was "totally unaffected by this outage". Excellent, they said, but how do we collate? How do we dispense? How do we sort? How do we analyze? How do we maintain the operations that appear to be dictated magically from the whirling gears of a mechanism? The Director spoke, as they'd heard before, of the brilliant future, the promises were tantalizing. Efficiency! Interoperability! Speed! And yet the nagging question of the remaining infrastructure, "brittleness" was the word the Director used, would have to be seriously addressed. Lanterns burned in the depths of the Archives underneath them as they spoke. Runners scrambled through information. Collation and sorting was accomplished by thousands of fingers, collectively. The older voices in the Council were self-congratulatory—their steadfast, long held rejection of change was proven. And the younger voices were intoxicated by the challenges of creating an entirely new, independent system, discounting what they felt were the mired ideas of the older generation. There was no middle ground—everyone on the Council believed the outage proved some concrete ideological victory.

There was of course a deciding voice. They must defer to the Sovereigns. But before arguments were presented, the internal disagreements had to be formalized. This was the proper way of doing things. Shortcuts would invite disaster and wrath. As frenetic activity bubbled in the guts of the Cyclopaedia, the anxious and perhaps paralytic ruminations of its mental state continued in the Administration complex, built when Electric was new and perfect, without consideration for the benefits of natural light, it was now almost completely dark.

Then a sputter of light. The filament of a bulb flows feebly, gains strength. Faces turn and look up, squinting, hopeful. But soon the bulb dims and goes out. Sighs of disappointment. And the rattling of belts, sorters and elevators clang through the massive building as the temporary surge triggers abortive mechanical spasms. Heads turn with looks of fear that the brief jolt of Electric has caused permanent damage. At the same time engineers hovering over their dials and meters at Central Electric jump as the surge surprises them—the generators work, the lines are intact, but they can't understand this behavior. Was there a monstrous thing squatted at the generators, gigantic and thirsty, drinking from the wires like it was a stream, drinking every bit of it, voraciously? The monster pauses momentarily and then there is a flood of power released into the system. Engineers swear in frustration and eventually collapse in weepy fatigue. They have no idea what the problem is, it defies the laws of Electric they were taught. What is happening should not be happening. Leading scientists are called in, arriving confidently, sure that the primitive problems of engineers can be easily solved by the higher level thinking of academia and scientific inquiry. They too are quickly stymied. The next step is blame.

The beginning of the sixth day of the outage brought civil disturbance.

The Cyclopaedia closed its main gates, adding additional guards to the remaining entrances. There was no sense of impending danger, simply precautions, the Council said. They considered themselves guardians of the world's knowledge, and although it hadn't happened in their lifetimes, in the past there had been periods of upheaval. Now the Electric outage, coupled with an unusual heatwave, had aroused old passions of inequity. Cobblestones were torn up and thrown at soldiers who confronted the protesters. Soldiers attempted to strategically steer them into choke points. There were casualties. The Sovereigns carefully kept track of the news from their estates, then quietly blocked off their own roads.

It surprised no one that the first brick thrown was in Old Town. Without Electric the pumps that kept water flowing in Old Town's ancient, poorly designed plumbing stopped working. As badly conceived as the old wells and hand pumps in the four corners of Old Town had been, they now would've sufficed. But they'd been removed in modernization efforts. Instead the area's citizens, and perhaps more importantly, the black market, were dry, waterless. And for these people, petitioning authorities was never viable. They would take what they needed. If there were Electric backups and fuel they could get into the neighborhood, they would get them. And they did, quickly. Soon the black market of Old Town was dominated by the exchange of Electric. Ad hoc wiring was strung. Electric backups and fuel from wealthier areas and institutions disappeared. As rotten food piled up on the sidewalks outside the expensive restaurants on Spice Row, the bosses in Old Town sat in chilled rooms with artificial light, eating well stored goods, and negotiating deals for access to power, or things that used power. Even if the Electric came back right now, they argued, what about next time, you'll want to have options next time.

Fringe political forces used the outage and the unrest similarly. When soldiers came into Old Town to get back Electric equipment and fuel, they were met by an agitated group of citizens who benefited from the localized power generation. Take our Electric away so that the rich in Park Square can have it? There had been a buried but volatile resentment, it merely needed a little help to become explosive. There were people who wanted a violent uprising, and they could use a long-held sense of injustice to achieve it.

When soldiers, believing themselves cornered by the angry mob, opened fire and killed half a dozen citizens, word spread through the rest of the Capital quickly. Physical lines were being drawn by the Ministries, to isolate and quell possible riots. Ideological lines were being drawn by citizens who sympathized with one side or the other—supporting the martyrs of Old Town and seeking radical change, or keeping the status quo ('Didn't the protesters who were shot bring this on themselves?'). Arguments escalated, friendships were broken, squabbles became entrenched positions, disagreements became fist fights, fist fights became riots.

The Cyclopaedia tried to capture these events as they happened. They sent out several Compilers whose expertise was the Capital, an urban taxonomy, to collect timeline data for the major entry known as City. Unfortunately, these Compilers had never been in situations such as riots or revolutions. They'd spent their lives keeping track of the civil ebb and flow of a stable metropolis, noting the boundaries of commercial districts, the political flora and fauna, the construction of landmarks, the social lives of magnates and cultural developments.

On the ninth day of the Electric outage a Compiler was killed in a flash riot close to the train yard. The groups behind many of the violent demonstrations had discovered, or had been fed, information that trains coming into the Capital brought supplies for the relief of its richest citizens. As the poor of the city ate boiled leather and weeds, the rich manipulated the troubled supply chain to favor themselves. Before Electric there may have been deliveries by horse drawn carts, from storage areas clustered in neighborhoods, from root cellars and small grocers, but with efficiencies created from machines, the chain became centralized. And without machines it collapsed. These trains now appeared to be filled purely with luxuries for the wealthy instead of relief for the hungry.

The rioters were determined to destroy the targets of their anger. They were successful in burning down the train yard completely. The military reacted slowly at first, not wanting to create another martyrdom to rally around—but on seeing the size and determination of this growing, frenzied mob, the soldiers were ordered to kill. The fighting was fierce. Because of their weaponry and training, the number of citizen casualties was large. However the crowd inflicted damage as well, the deaths of soldiers was not insignificant. Martial law was declared.

In this battle an urban Compiler tried to stand unseen, observing, trying to record events and accounts of actions—but the slow tradition of capture and collate, a patient understanding of the accretion of information, didn't work here. All around the Compiler were acts of violence and destruction. The names and movements of larger entities, the persona, that was so typical of a meaningful entry, were indecipherable. It was impossible to remain neutral. The restraints of impartiality that had come with a lifetime of observation and study seemed to evaporate. It is wrong, it is wrong the Compiler thought, wrong to be killed, it is wrong to be starved, it is wrong...

The report given to the Cyclopaedia was that their Compiler lost his life trying to pull a gun out of a soldiers hands. This was incomprehensible to the Council. Naturally there'd been Compiler deaths before, many times. But these were by and large circumstantial—a ship lost at sea, an avalanche, eaten by wild animals, the occasional murder, true, but rarely a demise that was a result of the Compiler's direct interference. It went against every tenant of their Oath, and hundreds of years of respected history. What would the Council do if the unrest continued to escalate—what if there were a revolution, could they count on the Compilers continuing to fulfill their Oaths and maintain the tradition of neutrality? If they couldn't count on the Compilers then what would become of the Cyclopaedia? This was a sudden, daunting crisis after more than a century of stability. Despite any upheaval the Cyclopaedia must continue, this was the core of its purpose, to be above the volatility of society.

On the tenth day the bulbs in the Archives glowed faintly once more, became stronger, casting bright unnatural light, creating sharp contrasts and long shadows. Sorting machines came to life, full of old tasks, the hum and purr of Electric machinery an alien sound after a long absence. Optimism was guarded. An hour went by. Then two. The Electric remained on. Word was given from the main station that they believed the power would remain. This confidence didn't prevent the Cyclopaedia from keeping their provisional methods ready. Their newly appointed runners and sorters were maintained.

There would be meetings. There would be an investigation. There would be proposals. And as clashes across the city brought columns of smoke from burning barricades, the shouting from a now organized citizens resistance to advance, pushing the soldiers back and forth with increasing aggression, suddenly paused as the sound of Electric loud speakers, working again, told the crowds to disperse.

In Old Town the spotty self-generated power was suddenly augmented with genuine Electric, causing the badly done additional lines to spark and catch fire. An entire block caught, and because the riots drained resources and man power and firefighters, it continued, and burned the buildings to the ground.

With Electric in place Ministries began to coordinate their efforts to battle the protesters. The members of mobs that had nothing else to do but throw rocks during the outage could now listen to wireless, could again take the trolley, could look forward to restaurants reopening—instead of starting fires in the streets at night, these people could again have artificial light in their homes. It would take steam out of the protests. Although the leaders and theoreticians of this resistance, whose dangerous political views, once ostracized, found themselves with voices and with a new degree of influence. The issues of authority and inequality had been raised and even with Electric, resentments would be close to the surface, raw and ready to ignite. And ready to exploit. The Sovereigns were aware of this, and they made the Garde aware of this—they had to prepare. It wouldn't be tomorrow, or next week, or maybe even this year, but the leaders of the resistance would find themselves in very tenuous circumstances—caught in some scandal, discredited in the eyes of their followers, blackmailed into performing the way Sovereigns wanted them to, led down paths of false information and goaded into beliefs and actions that eliminated or subverted the effectiveness of their leadership. This was child's play for the Sovereigns, they had generations of experience. These burgeoning politicos of the resistance had no experience, they were temporal reactionaries in the world view of the Sovereigns, shallow thinkers ready to be easily played or eliminated. The Sovereigns might be rusty, but they just had to flex their historical muscles to fully dominate and suppress the resistance. They would use it to make themselves even stronger.

The Compiler who'd been killed was given an official, ceremonious funeral—but hesitatingly. The details of his death were left out of any official record. Eulogies were delivered at the funeral pyre, his objectiveness and dedication hailed, the consistency of his work lauded. No mention was made of his final act, the act of personal preference and final moral decision.

2018-07-01 12:44 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Sixteen: An Inquiry

Konrad locked the door, turning over the sign then performed a brief, brilliantly efficient sweeping of the floor, mastered over decades.

The sunlight on the front window waned, the shadows from the buildings opposite the shop advanced in the late afternoon. The displayed books in the window became subdued. As he finished sweeping and prepared to go upstairs he knew someone else was there. It was a vibration, a sound in another pitch, a displacement of existential volume. He knew it must be a Garde. Looking back at his desk, where he sorted and priced books he saw a figure sitting in his chair.

"The shop is closed," he said, "I know who you are, or at least who you work for."

The figure exhibited the same lack of specifics he'd come to understand as Garde trickery, or fashion. There was a Hat, a Face, a Coat, a Suit, but these were indistinct, or insurmountably generic. But he was recognizable in some way, this too must've been part of their camouflage. Surely, Konrad thought, I'm old and this Garde wasn't yet born when I was an Inspector.

"That's too bad, I was looking for a book," the Garde said.

Konrad replied, "I wasn't aware the Garde were really readers."

The Garde laughed a little. "Oh, I think you'd be surprised how much we've changed over the years. We've expanded our interests. Very different than in your day."

As Konrad got closer to the desk he noticed the smell of expensive tobacco, and a hint of something sweet like an alcohol, brandy perhaps.

"That's true, it was a long time ago, before your time certainly," Konrad said.

"Perhaps. But let me ask you—and I only inquire because you seem to be renowned for giving advice—if I wanted to put a stop to an investigation, how would I go about that?" The indefinite face twisted with quizzical angles. "The Division and their Investigators are a very determined group, with almost complete power over anything in sight—without being unnecessarily combative, what can be done to make them loose interest?"

"Are you speaking of a particular investigation?" Konrad asked.

The Garde replied, "Why yes... I have one in mind, yes. You might be familiar with it. The case involving a missing scientist from a notable laboratory. Since you still seem to travel in Inspector circles, you probably know the Inspectors on the case. Young. Bright. Devoted. A paired couple—I hear that's very sought after these days, two heads are better than one they say. I just want to help them out, really, by saving them some time."

"You disposed of the scientist? You had him disappeared?"

"Of course not, don't be ridiculous. These aren't the old days. This is the modern age. We don't need to do anything like that. And why would we want this scientist disappeared? Has anyone even asked that? Your Inspectors, have they even considered this? Not in depth I think, not enough anyway. We have our interests, they have theirs. We both want to find the scientist. Very much, believe me. And we are confident we know where he is. There's no need for an investigation at all—if it's left to us." The Garde pointed to himself, and the chair under him creaked.

"Because it's your project isn't it? The thing in the laboratory?" Konrad was tired from the day, by nature, or schedule, he felt tired. He pulled up one of the chairs from the side of the table to sit on, the Garde noticed this and stood up.

"I apologize, after all, this is your chair, your desk," he said, offering.

"It's fine. This chair works just as well," Konrad said, shifting his weight, slightly uncomfortable.

"How can I get these Inspectors to understand we can take care of this problem?" the Garde said, sitting back down lightly, hands on his knees. "Just as they may have consulted you about a meeting with us, now I'm consulting you about a meeting with them. What are they looking for? How can I convince them?"

Konrad sighed, he still had chores to do in the shop and he thought about his apartment upstairs, how he'd rather be there. "I'm too old to play games with you, so I'll take your question at face value. The Inspectors are bound by training, and duty, to pursue this as far as they can. And you must know that at least since my time, their investigation is independent, no one has the power to stop it. Not you. Not the Sovereigns. Technically," Konrad raised his finger to stress the point. "I understand there are agencies at work, I'm not dumb, I know there are deals, there are subtle arrangements. But the Inspectors' power, unlike yours, is that of clarity—instead of obfuscation to benefit your masters, they are devoted to an ideological principle of revelation. If you know where the scientist is, you should tell them. Then the investigation will be resolved and you can proceed with your interests. You're right, this is a new age, and unlike my time where I chose to fight you, they have chosen not to. They care about the investigation, you cannot stop them, but you can help them."

"This is very sensible, I should've known, it's why your advice is so sought after. Simple. Resolute. But keep in mind, I'm not the only Garde—and the Garde aren't the only forces in motion—it's in their best interests, the Investigators' interests, it's for their protection too. It would certainly be better for their careers."

"I'm guessing these are the normal casual threats. Your kind are used to making them."

The Garde laughed with a rumbling, "I could easily make a threat that wasn't casual. After all, you are no longer an Inspector. There's nothing stopping us from getting rid of you. It might get their attention."

"I'm surprised you've waited this long." Konrad managed a smile. Perhaps it was time, he'd been around long enough.

"Ha ha! I'm not serious of course. It wouldn't be worth it—besides, we know the denigration you suffered for opposing us back then, we know the price you paid."

"Oh, and what price did I pay?"

"You were ambitious. Your stature in the system was rising, you would've advanced beyond the Division and moved into a ministry, you would've been political. Who knows how far you could've gone. Instead you were retired at a young age and have spent the rest of your days here, in this bookstore." The Garde motioned to the dusty books on the desk. "As pleasant as this is."

"Then let me thank you. I would've been miserable. If there's one thing being around books has taught me, it's that you're never as important as you think you are—and as a young man I mistakenly believed I was important."

The Garde shrugged. A smirk. Despite the misdirection, Konrad thought, you can always tell when they smirk.

The Garde said "Regardless, if you see our Inspector friends, make sure you pass along the thoughts we've discussed."

"I'm sure they'll be speaking directly with you very soon."

"No doubt you are correct. As usual. I bow to your wisdom." The Garde stood. "If I had more time today I'd browse for a book—always looking for something good to read—but I know it's closing time. You do have a nice collection of Forbiddens don't you?"

"I have a few of the classics, as many as one would expect."

"Another time then." As the Garde walked out, the delineated sphere that surrounded his head obscured titles on the spines of books he passed. What language did they become in that brief moment? He couldn't place it.

After the Garde left the bookstore Konrad made sure his daily, normal routine was complete, the shop was tidy. He would wire Slv&Elin now, telling them the Garde had visited—just as he knew, the Garde expected him to do.

2018-06-24 21:41 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Fifteen: Like A Mountain

Jon disappeared. They had to investigate. They had to follow up on everything. There was a small chance it wasn't related to the current case. However, that would be an extreme anomaly—the person who worked closely with the original missing person was now, himself, also missing. These connections must be finite, Slv&Elin believed, but they worried about degradation of the situation. The disappearance was an unfortunate twist.

They'd just finished interviewing Pietr, the second assistant who said he hadn't seen Jon since the lab was closed. They ran through the usual questions, maybe a little wearily. Pietr answered the questions adequately, he was a nervous man, but there was nothing in his answers that made them doubt his veracity. They would have to interview the Director again, they would have to question Compiler Hedvin again.

"Hedvin is the obvious suspect, we could legitimately arrest him now."

"If the Cyclopaedia pushed back however, we'd have a real problem on our hands."

"And then there are the interests of the Garde."

The previous day they'd searched Compiler Hedvin's apartment. They were also of course having him watched. They wanted to know where he went and who he talked to. The search of the apartment turned up nothing, as they'd expected. But they signaled to him that they were willing to escalate the investigation, this was important. If he did kill Ove and then kill Jon, they were at a loss for any real motive. Anger over a project he didn't agree with wasn't enough reason for this degree of premeditation or this level of risk and personal danger. And he didn't seem like a psychopath. Perhaps difficult, but not psychotic. Compiler Hedvin had an easy life, a life that many would envy, why would he risk everything out of ideological anger and disagreement? And yet they sensed, if sense was the proper word for an Inspector to ever use, another factor—Compiler Hedvin was misdirecting, there was something he didn't want them to know. They would be failing as Inspectors if they didn't fight to find out what he was hiding. Hidden things must be revealed. They wouldn't stop until they understood what it was, and they assumed Compiler Hedvin knew they would pursue it, since he was smart and likely understood Inspectors' prerogatives. So they had to play this game with him. The situation made Slv&Elin uncomfortable because they were being forced onto Compiler Hedvin's terrain. And they knew this inevitably involved the Garde.

They'd used some of their more important contacts to get in touch with the Garde. They'd been told these operations were never easy, and almost never obvious because the Garde didn't want them to be. You might have to wire someone, who then wires someone else, and so on, until you get a cryptic response. Or you would be asked to bring something to a park, or a restaurant, or a forgotten street, leave it in a particular place. Or you might be told to walk somewhere, at a certain time over several days, to prove you wanted the meeting, knowing full well you were being watched. Slv&Elin believed they were already being watched by the Garde. At this level, everybody watched everybody else. This situation irked them too—if they were being watched, then the Garde already knew they wanted a meeting, why bother with the theater?

They'd been told to leave a written note at a bar, with a bartender, and they hoped this most recent method of getting in touch with the Garde hadn't already been deprecated.

The next day they found a brand new hat in front of their apartment door. This must be contact, they thought. A new hat, pristine, placed directly in front of the door, centered perfectly in front of the door, it must be the Garde. Are we supposed to wear the hat? Which of us? Were they meant to bring the hat somewhere? There was no note. Why such opaque methods? Frustrating. They knew of course, these methods were meant to keep them playing, just like Compiler Hedvin meant to keep them playing. Looking inside the hat they saw the label of the maker. So they went with that. They traveled down to the hat makers' shop. They returned the hat, which the hat maker accepted wordlessly. After this they received a letter by courier directing them to a train station for a particular arrival. Grudgingly, because they knew what was going to happen, they made their way to the train station. They stood on the platform for an hour, gave up, and left.

The next morning they picked up breakfast from a bakery on the way to the Division. Inside the bag of pastries was a note. On it were instructions to go, after hours, to an obscure office in the basement of a municipal building, a bureau of city planning and sanitation. Perhaps this would be the actual meeting. It fit the Garde's profile, have the meeting on unfamiliar territory after convoluted steps to make the attendees feel off-balance and insecure.

The night before the meeting Slv opened the drawer she kept the things her mother had given her before she died. There was a bag of smooth, small, black stones. She didn't know what animal skin the bag was made from, but it was thick and smooth. The stones were the same size and shape. Heavy for how small they were. They had an interesting purple glimmer in the light, like the wet feathers of a crow.

Her mother had been from the North. She met Slv's father who was a government surveyor and they fell in love. She moved back to the Grønn with him but had never really been happy. As her mother grew older she talked more about her village in the North, about being a girl by the ocean, the dangerous beauty of the endless winter, of the stories they told in the village. The things Slv kept in the drawer were the things her mother had as a girl, that she'd kept with her all those years in the Grønn.

The stones, her mother said, are the blood of the world and will protect you. But you have to be careful with them, they want to return to the ground, she said, they will try to get themselves lost if you aren't careful. But they will let you see things the way Nunataata, the world father, sees them. They will let you pass through the ground as if it were water. They will let you be immovable like a mountain.

Sometimes Slv would take a couple of the stones out of the bag and hold them in her palm, clicking them together. She imagined her mother doing the same thing a long time ago.

The night before they were to meet the Garde she took two stones from the bag and she handed one to Elin. Slv told Elin what her mother had said about them. It didn't matter if they believed in it, Slv thought, the stories of the world do not require belief. If the Garde wanted theater they would bring their own stories, the Garde were not as powerful as her mother's stories.

When they left that morning she could feel the weight of the stone in her pocket—it was there, and she knew it would make her a mountain.

2018-06-21 13:23 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Fourteen: Paper

Hedvin stared at the paper. Then he stared some more. He wasn't an expert in the notation, but he was more acquainted with it than others. Certainly more than Ove should've been. But he didn't understand everything this schema implied, he thought he did, he was wrong. He knew enough to understand it was advanced—and he was deeply troubled by Ove's using it. He'd believed he was the only Compiler on the project. Did Ove have other Compilers as consultants? He must've. Did any of the other Compilers know about one another? Hedvin sighed. Too many surprises. Hedvin wasn't one to normally self-criticize, he wasn't normally one to introspect, but these turns made him temporarily doubt his own abilities. He may not have fully grasped the situation.

He believed this schema could generate a new Index. It wouldn't have to be applied by a mechanism, a mechanical device, it could be done by Compilers, it could be the map that they would follow for their new Index. He was sure he copied it properly. He'd triple checked every mark. But parts of it eluded him, it was conceptually slippery and complex. It was both general and specific. There were two sections, and they appeared to reflect one another, like an infinite recursion.

It might be time for him to show it to another Compiler, get some thoughts, maybe he was missing the obvious. But he was wary about showing it to anyone else, even to other Hallen—the Compilers that already believed in the alternate Cyclopaedia—because it might lead to questions about Ove's project. And it would lead to thrashing, reactions, the Master Compiler as an idea would be divisive. He feared those that would support it, and he feared the rash actions those that opposed it might evoke. And leaking information to the Hallen would lead to questions about Ove's use of Vermilion. Vermilion was for Compilers, that was the developing consensus, scientists were the enemy.

He woke from a nightmare that morning. He was Fox and he was standing at the edge of a cliff, the broad expanse of valleys and mountains before him, stretching out endlessly. Then a bird flew near him, then two, three—there were scores of birds flying around him. They became more aggressive. The birds somehow coordinated their actions, grabbing his sleeves, the back of his coat, the legs of his pants. They lifted him. They flew away with him, off the cliff. Then they let go. He fell and fell and fell.

He kept the paper with Ove's work with him, in his jacket. He didn't want to keep it in his apartment or his office. It might be only a matter of time until the Inspectors discovered his Old Town office, he couldn't discount the possibility. When he left his building he looked back compulsively wondering about the state of his apartment and how the Inspectors would interpret the disarray of clothes, the dirty kaf cups, the books piled up. Then he scolded himself for this useless reflex, this waste of thought.

He was going to the cafe to meet Kjetil. Like Hedvin Kjetil spent the better part of his time with other Compilers around the Cyclopaedia itself. Kjetil also considered himself Hallen. There was no explicit declaration for this, there was a sequence of opinions, there was a philosophical wink, a subversive nod. Being Hallen was a subtle state of membership.

Although their careers were similar, Kjetil's younger years were dramatic. Kjetil had been on the Ukkonen, a ship that was wrecked on an island far north of the Grønn, where the crew was stranded for almost a season. Hedvin never asked Kjetil about this incident, but he'd heard stories, mostly from the network of merchants and sailors that hung around the cafe. Only a handful of the Ukkonen's crew survived—and Kjetil. The island was rock and ice, and one by one the stranded starved or froze. There were several variations to the stories Hedvin heard, some more gruesome than others, which Hedvin chose not to believe. A person's limits were tested under these situations, he knew that, but at a certain point the fantastic and grotesque twisted the realities.

It wasn't the first time a Compiler had encountered disaster. There were plenty of these kinds of stories, especially in the early days when Compilers attempted to navigate the world and understand the seas, the unexplored lands. While Hedvin had been to distant places, far away towns and villages, remote wilds, the knowledge Compilers had accrued for hundreds of years helped him avoid disasters on land that might have plagued the early expeditions. They all got better as they learned. But travel by sea was still dangerous, still replete with unknowns. Compilers that went on expeditions by sea were expected to be hearty.

Now life in the city was easy, and Kjetil had put on weight. At the cafe Hedvin watched as Kjetil devoured several plates of rye and fish, crumbs collecting in his beard occasionally spraying forth when he spoke. The stories he'd chosen to ignore about the Ukkonen flashed for a moment into his mind. Stories of hunger.

Kjetil had been dosing Vermilion for a solid month, and like others, the reaction was enthusiastic. "The remarkable clarity of it, of Vermilion," Kjetil said, chewing, "as if everything around me, even now, were obvious entries in a clear universal order. And that order is different than the one you and I have been taught. One we seek. When will everyone else know? When will be able to make the Cyclopaedia operate the way we know it should?"

Soon, thought Hedvin, but there is work to do. Hedvin had considered the possibility, in detail, that Hallen would never be known, would never be in charge of the Cyclopaedia, but their alternate Index and their idea of a universal order would still dominate, because it was True, because it was unstoppable. The only way to make sure this happened would be to get Vermilion to every Compiler. He would need a vigorous supply line and probably duplicate the way Vermilion was made on a large scale.

"Speaking of which," Kjetil said, brushing material from his beard and inserting a fingernail between two teeth, "if I could get another batch, that would be magnificent."

Internally Hedvin groaned. "I'm sorry, I'm already over-extended—I won't have any more until my next trip. You'll just have to get by on what you have I'm afraid."

"Really? Not even a little?" Kjetil's teeth probing halted.

"I'm sorry," Hedvin said.

"Look, there has to be something left." Kjetil's voice hadn't risen in volume, but the desperation was urgent and it made Hedvin look away, embarrassed. "I mean where are you getting it from anyway?" Kjetil said, "Some little village somewhere right? Just tell me where it is. I can set up an expedition. I still have some pull. I can get something assigned, birds or flowers or some shit. It doesn't matter. Just tell me where it is and I can bring back more. This would be beneficial to us both. To everyone. To everyone involved."

"I'm sorry, I can't do that."

Kjetil's mouth hung open in disbelief. One eye twitched. It looked like he was going to say something but then stopped. He glared at Hedvin. They didn't speak at the table again, but quietly paid their bill. At the door, on the way out, Hedvin said "I'll let you know when I have more." Kjetil's expression was pained. He nodded disparagingly and walked away.

As Hedvin walked he thought about this meeting with Kjetil and also about his conversation with the Garde. He had no choice but to make another trip to the village, soon—sooner than he wanted to. He would have to come up with a justification for the expenditure, to procure an assignment, as the Cyclopaedia kept track of the work of Compilers. He could make up something about that goddamn wasp, his cover story, that he traveled to the region to study a rare, pollinating wasp. Quite unintentionally he'd become the expert on the insect, although he knew that absolutely no one cared.

He walked down the street deep in thought, striding with a disgruntled sort of urgency.

But something pulled him out of his reveries. Was it that he passed the same person several times? Yes, he had. A man. He was on the corner right outside the cafe. Then he was in a doorway. What did he look like? Was he a Garde? No, he had a discernible, memorable face. Craggy, worn. He had the face of a sailor, or a dock worker, but he wasn't dressed that way. In fact, he was dressed very well. The latest fashion, nice suit, expensive hat. Now Hedvin paid attention.

He deviated from his normal route back to his apartment. He went down the large central avenue which he knew was usually crowded. He walked calmly. Hedvin avoided staring. But there was the man again. He was standing on the steps of an office building, seemingly viewing the traffic in front of him, leisurely, but Hedvin saw him and couldn't help directly staring—the man noticed Hedvin looking, returned a quick glance. Then the man recovered his poise, and Hedvin, eyes averted, walked past him. Moments later he sensed the man following him—the man left his position on the steps and was following him. Hedvin didn't want to turn around, but he knew it. The man was following him. Hedvin began to sweat as he walked, the anxiety of this was excruciating, but he didn't want to turn around. Fox knew. It was the city, but he was a city fox. He would walk into Old Town, see if the man followed him there. Fox twisted into a series of minor streets, then stairways and alleys. As he passed a shop window, one that had mirrors in their display, he could see behind himself in a rectangular juxtaposition, the jangle of squares fracturing the view around him, and behind him was the man. He didn't imagine confrontation. Fox would not confront, but outsmart, outmaneuver. He wouldn't go to his Old Town office, he would circumvent it, circling back towards his apartment. He transversed a couple of alleys, accelerating his pace as he turned the corner, but making sure to never break into a run. Who could the man be? Another Inspector? The clothes didn't fit—Inspectors were notoriously mundane and took care to present a non-presentation. They stood out by trying too hard not to stand out. An informant, then, of course. There were citizens that specialized in these kinds of things, usually making money by freelancing for various organizations. An Inspector wouldn't follow you, but an informant would. Fox zigzagged through a few more avenues, crossing into smaller streets again. He believed the informant was still behind him. Turning a corner there was a bookstore, he quickly ducked into it.

If the informant was there when he came out, he would confront him, he said to himself. But maybe, he hoped, the man would think he'd turned another corner, or run down another street.

When the bell at the door rang an old man at the back of the shop opened his eyes and looked up sleepily. "Afternoon," the shopkeeper said.

The anxiety of his previous moments quickly melted away with the steady, heavy presence of books and the quietness of the shop. He made a cursory glance behind himself out the window to see if the informant was there, he saw nothing, there was nobody on the street. Now Hedvin knew he had to kill some time.

Hedvin wondered where the old man kept the Forbiddens, those books that the Ministry Of Culture declared illegal. Most bookstores had them, secreted away behind a false wall, or through an old basement junction, or in an adjacent apartment. Originally the penalties for having or selling these kinds of books could be severe, and once there were enforcers who actively sought out offenders. For his grandparents' generation this was a serious matter. They'd had neighbors who were sent to hard labor for having these books. But by the time he was a child the fervor of enforcement waned, the lusty desire for punishment dissipated as resources were strained, as a few years of unusually cold seasons caused food shortages, not many people cared about books anymore much less those designated Forbidden. As the populace stopped caring about books, books stopped being a threat. Although the tradition of keeping the Forbiddens separate remained. Technically the laws continued, even if they were rarely enforced. The old laws could be used as an excuse for extortion or persecution. A few of these Forbidden authors were well known. While fewer volumes were designated Forbidden now, having a work censored could be a significant achievement, leading to a certain kind of fame—albeit a tenuous recognition that might lead to official ostracization, harassment even occasionally imprisonment if you continued to taunt the official structures and its members. Power disliked being mocked.

"Where do you keep the Forbiddens?" Hedvin asked the bookseller.

The old man looked him and down for a moment, tilting his glasses. "Compiler?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Hedvin. It was a fairly easy identification for anyone with a little experience.

"This way," the old man said, standing carefully.

The old man led him to a small, short stairway that went up half a flight to a decently-sized room, square, with shelves and cabinets full of Forbiddens. Hedvin could see it was a nice collection, very thorough. "Looking for anything particular?" the old man asked.

"No, nothing particular," Hedvin said.

"I'll be downstairs then. The prices are under the covers." The old man went out, slowly, causing a few stairs to creak. Hedvin assumed he would pay a premium for whatever he found, this was always the case with Forbidden volumes, and another reason for their continued separation. He wasn't looking for anything, but now faced with book browsing, he felt like he should get something.

There were shelves with the expected dissident philosophy. Some older anti-Sovereign works, ones that felt dated now. As the enthusiasm for enforcement waned so too did the reactions against the great power and wealth of the Sovereigns. He flipped through one of the books. A passage about the coming revolution—which had never happened.

"The People are the tinder. We must be the match."

The passage went on this way. Perhaps it was possible, he thought, to incite the citizenry into violent, radical change, but he doubted it. Enforcement against owning or selling of Forbiddens was lax—but the wholesale monitoring of citizens, complex economics of informants, and systematic financial control by the Sovereigns was total and irresistible. The Sovereigns were savvy, handing the people enough to keep revolution from happening. Hedvin could see no end to their power because it was tacitly granted. Grumbling never evolved into anything constructive. There were no solutions because nobody could agree on a problem.

There were several other books from the time, one title caught his eye, Information or Informant. He scanned it, noting a passage:

"In a perfect society we gladly inform upon ourselves, admitting to crimes we have not yet committed to please the authorities, until we must commit those crimes to prove our love for our masters."

Hedvin chortled. The tone of the age. He looked at the price. It was expensive. But it was a book he'd wanted. At least, he wanted it now. He'd hide it with the others he owned.

He walked downstairs, the bookseller was hunched over a table with books, squinting, casually paging through one. Without looking up he asked Hedvin if he'd found something. He handed the old man the book, the old man smiled and noted the price. "A classic", he said. After Hedvin paid he went to the front door and cautiously peered out into the quiet side street. He heard the old man behind him, who'd noticed his hesitant behavior.

"There's a back door," the bookseller said, "here, back here." He pointed with a crooked finger.

Hedvin grinned, "Included with the price of the book?"

"It reminds me of old times," the bookseller smiled.

Hedvin walked back to a small, skinny door between bookshelves that the old man pointed out. He thanked the bookseller then stepped into a long, ancient alley separating two buildings. As he emerged from it he gathered his bearings and reflexively scanned the street for the informant that had been following him. The man was nowhere to be seen.

He made his way back to his apartment, occasionally looking over his shoulder, becoming increasingly confident that he wasn't being followed. These are how things are, he told himself, this is just the game we play.

When he returned he knew immediately the apartment had been searched. There were small signs, little things out of place, barely, but enough for him to notice. He assumed this was on purpose. Without wrecking the apartment the Inspectors must've wanted him to know they'd been here. This would also explain why the informant followed him, making sure he didn't return too early and interrupt them. Inspectors were very practiced at this, he thought. While he'd been expecting it, there was still a disquieting sense of violation, also mixed with relief, since he wouldn't have to wait for their intrusion any longer. And what could they have found? Nothing. Perhaps a Forbidden book. He wouldn't be the first or the last.

He took the book he'd bought out of his pocket, he flopped down on his couch and he picked a random passage.

"Commerce and data are the same fuel for oppression. To be informed and to be informed upon are no different."

That was a volatile period, he thought, full of strong opinions and dramatic struggles, another age when people believed a few words might be able to change everything, books were everywhere.

As Hedvin drifted off to sleep, the book sliding out of hands, he thought of Ove's machine spinning and clicking, and written on every punch card in the bin was his name.