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 back to Torben, their Bureau consultant on the Cyclopaedia.
Torben was kept on a retainer by the Bureau. He was a former Compiler who'd washed out, early on, but who'd been swept up into the business around the Cyclopaedia, and inevitably the informant economy. So far they'd avoided consulting him about Hedvin since they were sure he and Hedvin operated in the same social circles, and they wanted to postpone revealing this, or putting him in danger of being exposed. This was how their relationships worked, careful management to obscure, or in some cases trigger knowledge. The scope and business of informants was sizable. It had unofficial leaders. It had customs and unspoken rules. They were aware that nothing they asked for from this industry came without two prices--the first, monetary of course, the Bureau took care of this from a meticulously managed shadow budget like every other office. The second 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 said to Torben was said with this understanding. There was no chance of being casual and unguarded. It made them nervous to bring 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 felt, they had a box of concepts and occurrences, and they didn't understand half of them. It was time to become 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 give it everything about it away. 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 must've already leaked into the informant networks, who would look to capitalize on it.
"This is interesting," Torben said, "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 will encounter it in the old meta stuff."
"Meta stuff? Like MetaCompilers?" Elin asked.
"Yeah, I guess. 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, um, powerful individuals with authority. The strange little notations, symbols, almost equations you see here were invented to make these ideas and decisions clearer because the guy who created the Cyclopaedia, Quiddity, thought that the written and spoken language we use is clumsy and 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."
"I see. Any good guesses?" 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 way that meant he knew they'd kept the rest hidden from him.
"What do you mean by reflection?"
"...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 power relationship of some sort, a way to 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?"
"Hey, it was just a thought. That's my impression with the amount I remember. This is over my head. But 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 very helpful."
It was time to pay the Director another visit. There was no need to tell him how they obtained the paper. They would've been able to take it from Ove's desk themselves instead of Jon, they had all the authority they needed. 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.
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 becoming larger. They would let the Director know they understood he was a servant of the Sovereigns. This would irritate him, which might be useful.
There were two people missing, and there were two people who had hidden information from them. There were two organizations that were involved in these events to a degree, organizations that essentially controlled the world. Slv&Elin weren't without ambitions. They wanted a place in the Bureau 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 as Inspectors in this case for some advantages but it felt sordid and polluted. Why would they seek favor from the Sovereigns? Why would they seek financial gains from The Cyclopaedia? These were prizes sought by people with untenable ideas of the world. That path would lead to total consumption by people and mechanisms that had existed long before them, and would exist long after they'd been expended. This rejection of rewards was personal conservation.
"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." 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 it isn't simple, and 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 and an idea of control, 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, his face drawn and gray 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 Bureau?" Elin was angry, her voice unusually sharp. The head of security had no good answer, simply convolutions. It was typical, she thought, they would try to deal with problems themselves to avoid embarrassment. She bet they even had their own informants, everybody did.
"When did your people last see him?" Elin asked.
"Inside or outside the laboratory." Slv added.
They asked 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 for obstruction." Elin told him. Without the Director's political considerations, they no longer had any reason to inquire cautiously, or even to be polite. The head of security complied morosely. It was true, the laboratory had been monitoring everyone there. But, to Slv&Elin, the surveillance appeared amateurish. They didn't utilize any surveillance best practices really, they threw resources at a target and ignored practical analysis. They maintained informants, but they didn't seem to ascertain or manipulate the informants' loyalties. They were, in fact, easy money for the informants. And they must've leaked large amounts of sensitive relationships into the system.
Quickly they concluded that the Director's circumstances and Ove's were effectively identical--they both signed into the laboratory, however they did not sign out. This wasn't the case with Ove's assistant, Jon, who hadn't been anywhere near the lab at the time of his disappearance as far as they knew. That wasn't some outlier--it was a major exception.
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 had been sealed by Slv&Elin.
"We are going to check both immediately," Slv said.
The head of security could offer no possible resistance. He handed Slv&Elin the keys to the offices, and the laboratories, pointing out which were which. It was a serious offense to refuse anything to an Inspector.
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 element of a persona.
As they left the office Slv took out her white chalk and sealed the door with their image of a circle and a hare. 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 security staff would be told to go home. They knew this would anger the Garde and the Sovereigns.
Then they went to Ove's lab. Immediately they could see their seal which they'd placed at the beginning of the case, had been broken. There was a red chalk drawing in front of the doors, some primitive figure, was it a snake, canceling their own seal on the doors themselves. They stood in disbelief. The seal of an Inspector was considered inviolable. Had this ever happened before? They'd never heard of this happening.
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 power 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 ignored. It was their right to arrest anyone they believed responsible. But the Director was the priority. They turned on the lights, but the lights seemed dim, as if something was draining them. 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 coat.
"We need to get the second assistant here."
"This machine needs to be turned off."