Friday Bibliotek: Chapter Two.Three

Posted on 05/08/2011 by


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“Wait. Graham. I need you. People died to get me that last bound, it was developed under an anonymous patronage, and it’s had a terribly high cost.”

“Shit, Emlen.” Graham rounded on him. “Are you dealing with Ransoms? Tell me. I’m already on the run from the ninjas—hunters—whatever—and you’re wanting to get me involved with that? Forget ale, I need a gin.”

Graham feared that word. But he didn’t really know what a Ransom was. All he knew was that the faculty he worked for had been strict on warning the academics off of them. He remembered the first time he’d seen those mysterious figures in deep purple, rummaging around the office of a colleague who’d been missing in action.

“What’s going on?” Graham had asked a passing adjunct.

“I don’t know. But everyone says David Ransomed his last book, my guess is they’re from his House, looking for some leftover text. Lucky bastard if he did.” That was all. But Graham had a bad feeling about that.

Emlen shook his head. “It won’t come to that. Not for you. You know your own book, if there were a bound of that—and I have evidence that there were art copies developed—then we could follow the trail of the edits… right back to whoever stole it—maybe—right back to my own lost bound. It’d be like an old-fashioned code book, and only you might still know what it meant. I could still make something from your misfortune.” Graham thought of this new ‘misfortune,’ how the night had changed everything—stealing bounds might’ve been like robbing the Royal Mail, or more aptly, stealing from the King’s Cache—but the law would call the events of this night terrorism. Emlen couldn’t tell why he laughed.

“Graham, work with me. If we can find a bound copy of your bound, maybe I can figure out how the other was lost.”

“I’m laughing because—even if there are hardcopies of my text—you’re saying it has a, what, an fucking ‘cultural significance’? Because it’s a joke?” And without missing a beat. “Are you sure there are bound copies?”

“Yes. Yes. And Graham, at least it was your joke.”

Well Graham was just the straight man to that. “You’d help me find the actual published bounds?”

“And write you a paper to make them famous. We don’t even have to go near illegal publishing. You just tell us where to start.”

* * * * *

It was an hour later in the pub; at the Old Queen’s Head—and wasn’t that such a lovely return to a traditional, English queerdom? Over two pints of Hobgoblin, an ale sweet as if mixed with wine, and then boiled flat; that Graham wrote with a napkin and a pencil. He only had the pencil with him for the sake of the Collective, because they’d liked to make cryptic field-marks in their bounds. Weird. Though he must admit, there was something about hand-copying text; in drawing writing, like a computer would. They’d said it was to keep an offline catalogue—and that’s why he wasn’t on his mobile now, not screaming into it, and sucked down his beer instead. He had to stay off the grid.

Graham hadn’t hand ‘written’ without predictive text in years, and he was still smudging it with the heel of his sweaty hand. He printed tensely while Emlen got them more drinks. The truth was, he had barely drunk anything at all, and it already felt as if he’d received his hangover—or could have been the sword hanging indolently above his head. Once he’d made his list, Graham waited for Emlen, and took the time to look anxiously around the pub. Trying to pick out which of the drinkers could be readers: who might be a danger to them, on the lookout for ‘eraserheads.’ Publishing was a big business, and he knew that there must be many in the pub who would have a sideline in re-Authoring text.

What had reading done to that woman in the blue, for example? Her cultured nails trapped around her mobile; clipping non-spoken punctuation. The partner on her left, jigging to her sub-voco rhythm. Manner coded not through contextual syntax, but by string grammar. Language, and not mere inflection. And across from her, the other friend who lacked their subtext, urging into speech where he wasn’t wanted. Who was watching Graham and Emlen, and what did they see?

He wondered about the hunters: did they even read anymore? ‘Read’ like the drinkers here would, or did they parse? Text as machine code. Would they interrupt rudely in conversation, but be elegant by text?

Like my teenage memories of flirting via instant msg.

He had his mobile from his pocket, even before he could think it—its stream of apps informing him of local traffic conditions and of ‘suspicious individuals,’ tracking him for his own convenience. Graham and Emlen were back closer to the hit on the Atrium now, and guys were coming in off the street shaking ash off like rain. Emlen came back with their drinks, ale in laminated pint glasses. Still looking at his mobile, Graham thought to ask:

“How do you hide from the authorities, Emlen?”

“The same way you lot did.” He shrugged. “Anything offline is inferably illegal. You leave your mobile off, you’re suspect—you can’t even hail a train, instead you’d have to buy a ticket. No one has any reason not to carry anymore. I know, when anything you’ve ever done has been public, it’s strange to disconnect yourself. But there are ways to reclaim your privacy. So I just leave my mobile behind, Graham. I fully embrace that anything I do without it is suspicious.”

“Pretty simple. Yeah, we did that, had our mobile-drops—but—no offence, my lot, or the lot of the Collective—they’re a bit behind the times. I thought maybe you’d have something more…” Graham grinned.

Emlen levelled at him. “Sometimes I do.” And he shook his head, taking the napkin over from Graham. “‘Copperplate’ Ariel.” He looked up at Graham briefly, as if impressed. “So what’ve we got here?”

“Only a few avenues. Top is an old colleague of mine: Ned Kenworth. The two of us were in the Security faculty at London Collage. I’d only just finished my thesis on ‘Naming Conventions in Ephemera,’ it was a management study in psycho-social responses to environment; what the impact of subconscious titling—”

“I know your bibliography, Graham.” He broke in. “Tell me about Ned.”

Oh! Graham blushed, how nice that he knew of it—Citation Tracker had never shown him even one reading of it. Covering his pleasure with the last, mouthwatering gulp of beer, he lowered his voice. “Ok, sure. He was mainly into the morphology of print pagination, it had to do with codes marked-out across bound pages.”

The sweetness was gone after the first new draught, and Graham attempted to drown the rest of the bitterness as Emlen nodded him on. “Yes, yes I know of his Kenworth models, eye-tracking and pattern recognition, the ‘science of the bible code’ and speed-reading. Useful stuff. But I’m not sure he’s still at London, last I heard. Why him?”

“Because he kept a surprising collection of bounds for his research. Or ran virtualisations of texts to simulate the bound reading experience. Used super hi-res screens to mimic the bond. Heh. He kept the strangest collection of bounds, too, attempting to de-couple reading pattern from narrative—had a lot of research works. We got on pretty well, I thought he might’ve kept up on my publications since.”

“… I wouldn’t think so. It seems he’s a consultant for forensic reading now,” Emlen looked up from where he’d been online throughout the conversation—Graham had heard that used to be rude, multi-threading like that. “Still works out of London, but he’s a consultant in document security now, calls his office ‘Paperless.’” He tapped the screen, “I’ve seen his kind of print security at work before—whole offices set alight to control print.” He turned Graham his mobile, “is that him?” And Graham nodded. “Look at his picture, he’s in his office. He doesn’t even have any shelves. He’s too dangerous to approach now. He’s the enemy.” Shook his head, stopped and held Graham’s eyes, his look said ‘gotta do better than that.’ “And the other names on the list?”

Shit. Now he realised that Ned probably was their enemy. “Only a couple of ex-students. They were barred from study in a piracy settlement. Bankrupted, too. I would have been called by the prosecution—one of mine was on the list of unauthorised bounds—but it never ended up going through, not when they settled out of court.”

“Sure.” Emlen drank up to follow Graham’s empty glass, and Graham looked disappointed when Emlen stood to go.

End Chapter Two


By Paul McLaughlan


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‘W’ Initial Source: Everybody’s Cyclopedia (New York: Syndicate Publishing Company, 1912)5:W

Posted in: Btek, Hyperwork, Paul