Maps in a mirror, p.42

Maps in a Mirror, page 42


Maps in a Mirror

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  No matter now. Kispitorian insisted to the end that his work was pure science, making no value judgments on whether the Empire’s linguistic unity was a Good Thing or not. He was merely reporting that the natural condition of humanity was to speak many different languages. And Leyel believed that he was right.

  Leyel could not help but feel that by combining Kispitorian’s language studies with Magolissian’s work with language-using primates he could come up with something important. But what was the connection? The primates had never developed their own languages—they only learned nouns and verbs presented to them by humans. So they could hardly have developed diversity of language. What connection could there be? Why would diversity ever have developed? Could it have something to do with why humans became human?

  The primates used only a tiny subset of Standard. For that matter, so did most people—most of the two million words in Standard were used only by a few professionals who actually needed them, while the common vocabulary of humans throughout the Galaxy consisted of a few thousand words.

  Oddly, though, it was that small subset of Standard that was the most susceptible to change. Highly esoteric scientific or technical papers written in 2000 GE were still easily readable. Slangy, colloquial passages in fiction, especially in dialogue, became almost unintelligible within five hundred years. The language shared by the most different communities was the language that changed the most. But over time, that mainstream language always changed together. It made no sense, then, for there ever to be linguistic diversity. Language changed most when it was most unified. Therefore when people were most divided, their language should remain most similar.

  Never mind, Leyel. You’re out of your discipline. Any competent linguist would know the answer to that.

  But Leyel knew that wasn’t likely to be true. People immersed in one discipline rarely questioned the axioms of their profession. Linguists all took for granted the fact that the language of an isolated population is invariably more archaic, less susceptible to change. Did they understand why?

  Leyel got up from his chair. His eyes were tired from staring into the lector. His knees and back ached from staying so long in the same position. He wanted to lie down, but knew that if he did, he’d fall asleep. The curse of getting old—he could fall asleep so easily, yet could never stay asleep long enough to feel well rested. He didn’t want to sleep now, though. He wanted to think.

  No, that wasn’t it. He wanted to talk. That’s how his best and clearest ideas always came, under the pressure of conversation, when someone else’s questions and arguments forced him to think sharply. To make connections, invent explanations. In a contest with another person, his adrenaline flowed, his brain made connections that would never otherwise be made.

  Where was Deet? In years past, he would have been talking this through with Deet all day. All week. She would know as much about his research as he did, and would constantly say “Have you thought of this?” or “How can you possibly think that!” And he would have been making the same challenges to her work. In the old days.

  But these weren’t the old days. She didn’t need him any more—she had her friends on the library staff. Nothing wrong with that, probably. After all, she wasn’t thinking now, she was putting old thoughts into practice. She needed them, not him. But he still needed her. Did she ever think of that? I might as well have gone to Terminus—damn Hari for refusing to let me go. I stayed for Deet’s sake, and yet I don’t have her after all, not when I need her. How dare Hari decide what was right for Leyel Forska!

  Only Hari hadn’t decided, had he? He would have let Leyel go—without Deet. And Leyel hadn’t stayed with Deet so she could help him with his research. He had stayed with her because . . . because . . .

  He couldn’t remember why. Love, of course. But he couldn’t think why that had been so important to him. It wasn’t important to her. Her idea of love these days was to urge him to come to the library. “You can do your research there. We could be together more during the days.”

  The message was clear. The only way Leyel could remain part of Deet’s life was if he became part of her new “family” at the library. Well, she could forget that idea. If she chose to get swallowed up in that place, fine. If she chose to leave him for a bunch of—indexers and cataloguers— fine. Fine.

  No. It wasn’t fine. He wanted to talk to her. Right now, at this moment, he wanted to tell her what he was thinking, wanted her to question him and argue with him until she made him come up with an answer, or lots of answers. He needed her to see what he wasn’t seeing. He needed her a lot more than they needed her.

  He was out amid the thick pedestrian traffic of Maslo Boulevard before he realized that this was the first time since Hari’s funeral that he’d ventured beyond the immediate neighborhood of his apartment. It was the first time in months that he’d had anyplace to go. That’s what I’m doing here, he thought. I just need a change of scenery, a sense of destination. That’s the only reason I’m heading to the library. All that emotional nonsense back in the apartment, that was just my unconscious strategy for making myself get out among people again.

  Leyel was almost cheerful when he got to the Imperial Library. He had been there many times over the years, but always for receptions or other public events—having his own high-capacity lector meant that he could get access to all the library’s records by cable. Other people—students, professors from poorer schools, lay readers—they actually had to come here to read. But that meant that they knew their way around the building. Except for finding the major lecture halls and reception rooms, Leyel hadn’t the faintest idea where anything was.

  For the first time it dawned on him how very large the Imperial Library was. Deet had mentioned the numbers many times—a staff of more than five thousand, including machinists, carpenters, cooks, security, a virtual city in itself—but only now did Leyel realize that this meant that many people here had never met each other. Who could possibly know five thousand people by name? He couldn’t just walk up and ask for Deet by name. What was the department Deet worked in? She had changed so often, moving through the bureaucracy.

  Everyone he saw was a patron—people at lectors, people at catalogues, even people reading books and magazines printed on paper. Where were the librarians? The few staff members moving through the aisles turned out not to be librarians at all—they were volunteer docents, helping newcomers learn how to use the lectors and catalogues. They knew as little about library staff as he did.

  He finally found a room full of real librarians, sitting at calculators preparing the daily access and circulation reports. When he tried to speak to one, she merely waved a hand at him. He thought she was telling him to go away until he realized that her hand remained in the air, a finger pointing to the front of the room. Leyel moved toward the elevated desk where a fat, sleepy-looking middle-aged woman was lazily paging through long columns of figures, which stood in the air before her in military formation.

  “Sorry to interrupt you,” he said softly.

  She was resting her cheek on her hand. She didn’t even look at him when he spoke. But she answered. “I pray for interruptions.”

  Only then did he notice that her eyes were framed with laugh lines, that her mouth even in repose turned upward into a faint smile.

  “I’m looking for someone. My wife, in fact. Deet Forska.”

  Her smile widened. She sat up. “You’re the beloved Leyel.”

  It was an absurd thing for a stranger to say, but it pleased him nonetheless to realize that Deet must have spoken of him. Of course everyone would have known that Deet’s husband was the Leyel Forska. But this woman hadn’t said it that way, had she? Not as the Leyel Forska, the celebrity. No, here he was known as “the beloved Leyel.” Even if this woman meant to tease him, Deet must have let it be known that she had some affection for him. He couldn’t help but smile. With relief. He hadn’t known that he feared the loss of her love so much, but now he wanted to laugh aloud, to
move, to dance with pleasure.

  “I imagine I am,” said Leyel.

  “I’m Zay Wax. Deet must have mentioned me, we have lunch every day.”

  No, she hadn’t. She hardly mentioned anybody at the library, come to think of it. These two had lunch every day, and Leyel had never heard of her. “Yes, of course,” said Leyel. “I’m glad to meet you.”

  “And I’m relieved to see that your feet actually touch the ground.”

  “Now and then.”

  “She works up in Indexing these days.” Zay cleared her display.

  “Is that on Trantor?”

  Zay laughed. She typed in a few instructions and her display now filled with a map of the library complex. It was a complex pile of rooms and corridors, almost impossible to grasp. “This shows only this wing of the main building. Indexing is these four floors.”

  Four layers near the middle of the display turned to a brighter color.

  “And here’s where you are right now.”

  A small room on the first floor turned white. Looking at the labyrinth between the two lighted sections, Leyel had to laugh aloud. “Can’t you just give me a ticket to guide me?”

  “Our tickets only lead you to places where patrons are allowed. But this isn’t really hard, Lord Forska. After all, you’re a genius, aren’t you?”

  “Not at the interior geography of buildings, whatever lies Deet might have told you.”

  “You just go out this door and straight down the corridor to the elevators—can’t miss them. Go up to fifteen. When you get out, turn as if you were continuing down the same corridor, and after a while you go through an archway that says ‘Indexing.’ Then you lean back your head and bellow ‘Deet’ as loud as you can. Do that a few times and either she’ll come or security will arrest you.”

  “That’s what I was going to do if I didn’t find somebody to guide me.”

  “I was hoping you’d ask me.” Zay stood up and spoke loudly to the busy librarians. “The cat’s going away. The mice can play.”

  “About time,” one of them said. They all laughed. But they kept working.

  “Follow me, Lord Forska.”

  “Level, please.”

  “Oh, you’re such a flirt.” When she stood, she was even shorter and fatter than she had looked sitting down. “Follow me.”

  They conversed cheerfully about nothing much on the way down the corridor. Inside the elevator, they hooked their feet under the rail as the gravitic repulsion kicked in. Leyel was so used to weightlessness after all these years of using elevators on Trantor that he never noticed. But Zay let her arms float in the air and sighed noisily. “I love riding the elevator,” she said. For the first time Leyel realized that weightlessness must be a great relief to someone carrying as many extra kilograms as Zay Wax. When the elevator stopped, Zay made a great show of staggering out as if under a great burden. “My idea of heaven is to live forever in gravitic repulsion.”

  “You can get gravitic repulsion for your apartment, if you live on the top floor.”

  “Maybe you can,” said Zay. “But I have to live on a librarian’s salary.”

  Leyel was mortified. He had always been careful not to flaunt his wealth, but then, he had rarely talked at any length with people who couldn’t afford gravitic repulsion. “Sorry,” he said. “I don’t think I could either, these days.”

  “Yes, I heard you squandered your fortune on a real bang-up funeral.”

  Startled that she would speak so openly of it, he tried to answer in the same joking tone. “I suppose you could look at it that way.”

  “I say it was worth it,” she said. She looked slyly up at him. “I knew Hari, you know. Losing him cost humanity more than if Trantor’s sun went nova.”

  “Maybe,” said Leyel. The conversation was getting out of hand. Time to be cautious.

  “Oh, don’t worry. I’m not a snitch for the Pubs. Here’s the Golden Archway into Indexing. The Land of Subtle Conceptual Connections.”

  Through the arch, it was as though they had passed into a completely different building. The style and trim were the same as before, with deeply lustrous fabrics on the walls and ceiling and floor made of the same smooth sound-absorbing plastic, glowing faintly with white light. But now all pretense at symmetry was gone. The ceiling was at different heights, almost at random; on the left and right there might be doors or archways, stairs or ramps, an alcove or a huge hall filled with columns, shelves of books and works of art surrounding tables where indexers worked with a half-dozen scriptors and lectors at once.

  “The form fits the function,” said Zay.

  “I’m afraid I’m rubbernecking like a first-time visitor to Trantor.”

  “It’s a strange place. But the architect was the daughter of an indexer, so she knew that standard, orderly, symmetrical interior maps are the enemy of freely connective thought. The finest touch—and the most expensive too, I’m afraid—is the fact that from day to day the layout is rearranged.”

  “Rearranged! The rooms move?”

  “A series of random routines in the master calculator. There are rules, but the program isn’t afraid to waste space, either. Some days only one room is changed, moved off to some completely different place in the Indexing area. Other days, everything is changed. The only constant is the archway leading in. I really wasn’t joking when I said you should come here and bellow.”

  “But—the indexers must spend the whole morning just finding their stations.”

  “Not at all. Any indexer can work from any station.”

  “Ah. So they just call up the job they were working on the day before.”

  “No. They merely pick up on the job that is already in progress on the station they happen to choose that day.”

  “Chaos!” said Leyel.

  “Exactly. How do you think a good hyperindex is made? If one person alone indexes a book, then the only connections that book will make are the ones that person knows about. Instead, each indexer is forced to skim through what his predecessor did the day before. Inevitably he’ll add some new connections that the other indexer didn’t think of. The environment, the work pattern, everything is designed to break down habits of thought, to make everything surprising, everything new.”

  “To keep everybody off balance.”

  “Exactly. Your mind works quickly when you’re running along the edge of the precipice.”

  “By that reckoning, acrobats should all be geniuses.”

  “Nonsense. The whole labor of acrobats is to learn their routines so perfectly they never lose balance. An acrobat who improvises is soon dead. But indexers, when they lose their balance, they fall into wonderful discoveries. That’s why the indexes of the Imperial Library are the only ones worth having. They startle and challenge as you read. All the others are just—clerical lists.”

  “Deet never mentioned this.”

  “Indexers rarely discuss what they’re doing. You can’t really explain it anyway.”

  “How long has Deet been an indexer?”

  “Not long, really. She’s still a novice. But I hear she’s very, very good.”

  “Where is she?”

  Zay grinned. Then she tipped her head back and bellowed. “Deet!”

  The sound seemed to be swallowed up at once in the labyrinth. There was no answer.

  “Not nearby, I guess,” said Zay. “We’ll have to probe a little deeper.”

  “Couldn’t we just ask somebody where she is?”

  “Who would know?”

  It took two more floors and three more shouts before they heard a faint answering cry. “Over here!”

  They followed the sound. Deet kept calling out, so they could find her.

  “I got the flower room today, Zay! Violets!”

  The indexers they passed along the way all looked up—some smiled, some frowned.

  “Doesn’t it interfere with things?” asked Leyel. “All this shouting?”

  “Indexers need interruption. It breaks up
the chain of thought. When they look back down, they have to rethink what they were doing.”

  Deet, not so far away now, called again. “The smell is so intoxicating. Imagine—the same room twice in a month!”

  “Are indexers often hospitalized?” Leyel asked quietly.

  “For what?”


  “There’s no stress on this job,” said Zay. “Just play. We come up here as a reward for working in other parts of the library.”

  “I see. This is the time when librarians actually get to read the books in the library.”

  “We all chose this career because we love books for their own sake. Even the old inefficient corruptible paper ones. Indexing is like—writing in the margins.”

  The notion was startling. “Writing in someone else’s book?”

  “It used to be done all the time, Leyel. How can you possibly engage in dialogue with the author without writing your answers and arguments in the margins? Here she is.” Zay preceded him under a low arch and down a few steps.

  “I heard a man’s voice with you, Zay,” said Deet.

  “Mine,” said Leyel. He turned a corner and saw her there. After such a long journey to reach her, he thought for a dizzying moment that he didn’t recognize her. That the library had randomized the librarians as well as the rooms, and he had happened upon a woman who merely resembled his long-familiar wife; he would have to reacquaint himself with her from the beginning.

  “I thought so,” said Deet. She got up from her station and embraced him. Even this startled him, though she usually embraced him upon meeting. It’s only the setting that’s different, he told himself. I’m only surprised because usually she greets me like this at home, in familiar surroundings. And usually it’s Deet arriving, not me.

  Or was there, after all, a greater warmth in her greeting here? As if she loved him more in this place than at home? Or, perhaps, as if the new Deet were simply a warmer, more comfortable person?

  I thought that she was comfortable with me.

  Leyel felt uneasy, shy with her. “If I’d known my coming would cause so much trouble,” he began. Why did he need so badly to apologize?


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