Sanity Line: 00 - Amnesiac
Ipsa scientia poestas est.
Bacon wasn't entirely wrong when he purportedly coined the phrase, Donnovan Kline and his fellow Kitabists knew. Well-lettered men such as himself counted themselves among the most powerful in the world, and while such power often brought with it the sort of political or economic clout most men dreamed of when they set their hearts salivating after 'power', Kline had long since tired of the pursuit of either.
Kline was a pseudonym of course – men his age could hardly be counted wise if they used their proper Christian names – and in any event, Donnovan Kline had about as much use for the name by which he had been baptized as he did for all the other trappings of his atrophied religion. He was a man of Deep Science, of Logic and Reason, a student of the Enlightenment in almost a perfectly literal sense.
He was possessed of no thirst for Gold, nor hunger for Influence, nor the fever-dreamt lust for transcendental divinity that had consumed the likes of Gloria Creena or her kind. His power was Knowledge.
He was a broker of all that which could be known. In the middle of the previous century the Germans called him Motte and the Americans preferred Gypsy, but here at home Moth would do. Wherever his mark went it seemed his eyes could follow, and he did not want for a wealth of information to barter, trade, and even outright sell further on. Little crossed his mind he couldn't turn a profit on, and in most cases the profit was an even older or more obscure bit of trivia which could fetch an even richer prize down the road.
He sipped his wine somewhat greedily – a nice dark merlot grown from his own vines – and consulted his commonplace book while he waited for his guest to arrive. Strictly speaking, drinking was entirely out of the question, even in the faculty lounge, but as a visiting Emeritus Professor with a long career in English Letters behind him, the university had always given him certain allowances.
He looked out the window – the entire south wall overlooking the lawn, which would have been an architectural impossibility when he'd first come to the Zaxtonian Union – and reflected on the arrival of yet another spring.
"Ah," he said, interrupting himself as an unkempt man sat down across from him. "Professor. So good to see you."
"I hope I didn't keep you waiting long, Professor Kline."
Kline lowered his hand down into his attaché case, and extracted a cloth-wrapped volume. "Not at all. It was I who kept you waiting for me to re-bind it."
The more power you wield, the more you fear to lose it.
As Vidcund Därk scanned his eyes around Media Management Centre #11, he began to grasp the full meaning of that phrase. Such a powerful resource – both in terms of literal computing power, and the actual realpolitik power such control over mass media generated – had come at proportionally great expense to the powers that be.
In spite of a near-lifetime of loyal service to those powers – those men – Vidcund had a doubt that such a large investment could have been a way to stem the inexorable tide of history's great cycle. Human Culture had, in the ages it spanned, cycled more than once between being focused on gods or focused on kings, in all the various permutations that oft-disguised the pattern, ever since the first humans realized they could plant their crops and never have to roam again – likely long before that, in fact. That men – if the invisible purses behind the strings even were men – could hold that power indefinitely was, at best, a fuzzy prospect.
"Agent, the broadcast you wanted to monitor will be going live in 45 seconds."
Vidcund accepted the usual paper cup of strongly-brewed mint tea from the aide, following him back over to one of the panoramic, multi-component displays that occupied its own little alcove in the large chamber. The mint, which he consumed greedily, was a scar of the psyche; one addiction, exchanged for another.
Ah, the powers of the powers that be...
"I care a little less about the introductory content than I do about the specs." he said, speaking over the professor's preamble. "Where's the livestream being recorded?"
"Zaxton University, at the Anfangsburg Campus, A.P. Castigaine Lecture Hall. Want the IP Number?" The drones working at MMS were always careful to be extremely helpful to anyone who got to use the title Agent. It was a wise move.
"The physical address is more than enough for me," the Agent replied, making notes on his phone with his thumb. He didn't need to look – the text he was editing was displayed as an AR overlay through his glasses. "What's the broadcast delay?"
"From camera to the distribution feed is about 6 seconds, including the two-second delay they have set manually."
Vidcund removed his sunglasses. The feed had, of course, long since started, and it would not do to ignore it completely. "... One of our planted technicians?"
A faint nod. Professor Johnson was speaking. "... is, of course, an infinitely-regressive function, fully iterative and for all intents and purposes identical at all scales..."
"So's the number one," Vidcund dismissed, "What's the subject of the talk again?"
Another functionary checked her notes. "Proposed Interpretation of Non-Whole Base Number Structures, with Reference to Ancient Scholarship."
Right. Vidcund knew his fair share of math – he'd spearheaded a program that did quite a lot of work in taking the chaos out of entropy. Even still, he could barely conceive of the idea of a number system that didn't have its base as a whole number. It didn't make sense in any of about fourteen different ways.
Still, having weird ideas wasn't illegal. Today, anyway.
"... which leads us to the conclusion that the number system in the Pnakotic Manuscripts, at least in the 1877 German Translation, could in fact ONLY have been base-5.14."
Vidcund pursed his lips slightly. Suddenly, this all seemed less routine. "I need a longer delay on Professor Johnson's feed. Thirty seconds minimum."
"No problem, we can make that look like buffering."
While the technicians scrambled at their keysets to do what had to be done to buy Vidcund his extra twenty-four seconds, the sharply-dressed agent picked up the handset of the corded phone that was a component of a Supervisor's standing workstation, dialling in a 16-digit sequence before immediately hanging up again, while he removed his Bluetooth headset out of the pocket of his bespoke, polycomposite-fiber jacket and tucked it into his ear.
Silently, the RFID reader near the door changed its status light from green to red, causing the soundproof, frosted Aluminum Oxynitride fixture it controlled to remain quite firmly shut. "Can anyone get me Professor Johnson's Agency Record?"
"He doesn't have one, Agent. We checked when you requested the Special Observance Order."
"Fraternal Brotherhood links?"
"Nothing confirmed. He's got a few dozen angles of association with Donnovan Kline, but so does-"
"Almost everyone in the country in a faculty position," Vidcund finished, bluntly and with that frustrated tone that only someone faced with dwindling information to predict what was about to happen to them could muster. "... What's he going on about now? What's that graph?"
"A rendering of a figure from the book he's referencing, if drawn using his fractional base..."
Vidcund's voice rose above the chatter of the room, though nobody present could recall it rising in tone above the usual frank-and-flat banality of the loyal Supervisory drone. "Shut down his net connection."
"There's still a few hundred students in that lecture hall."
"Shut down our feed, too." Vidcund ordered, tapping his earpiece a little more tightly into place to help listen to an instruction, while he replaced his sunglasses.
Before his order had been carried out, a gasp went out from a few of the technicians who had nothing better to do than actually watch the feed. The camera man, who had grown increasingly lazy in his attempts to frame the professor properly in the shot, suddenly diverted his lens toward the doorway, where no less a person than Vidcund Därk himself – or, at least, a very near relative - had walked into the hall. In the next instant, the feed was cut, but the apparent illusion was manifest strongly enough that there was a stunned silence in the operating room, and more than a few of the technicians, including his own Aide, were staring at him rather dumbfounded.
It was the aide that voiced the obvious question. "Uh... Agent? How did you do that?"
"Do what?" Vidcund said, quite honestly, as he removed his earpiece. His eyes had not been on the news-feed, but focused on the nearer plane of information displayed on the inside edge of his glasses. "Due to the nature of the material viewed, it is directed under Agency Division Standing Order that all personnel present for this Oversight Operation remain present until a Cleaning Crew may arrive and administer Amnesiacs."
There was a general groan. While of course none of them could ever remember having actually needed to accept such an order, they had frequently been drilled on it, and the frequency of the drills had turned the prospect of losing a day or two of memory as collateral damage for one single piece of information they probably hadn't understood the significance of anyway into less of a negative than the wait that would follow such drills.
That was why there was a slight undercurrent of surprise when the heavy footfalls of the composite-armoured Cleaning Crew arrived only a few moments later, familiar submachine guns tucked under their arms. The leader, shorter than the rest and without the helmet, saluted Därk, who responded with a tap of his sunglasses, freshly returned to his face.
"Seargent Drache. Identity verified."
"Agent Därk. You're relieved."
There was a moan of protest that Därk himself wouldn't have to go through the drill, as he slipped out between the barely-opened doors with Drache close in tow, after which the doors snapped audibly shut – far louder than their usual pneumatic hiss.
"You ever wish they'd actually get around to inventing an Amnesiac, Vidcund?" Drache extended a pack of cigarettes toward the other, casually.
Vidcund, for his part, shrugged dismissively. "We'd probably have to cut the Surveillance Budget if they ever did."