Today's Reading

Here, then, is her new case, MNEITH-GNOMON-10559. The name looks like nonsense until you know the framework into which it fits. Framing is everything, in filing as in investigative work. First of all, the label acknowledges that it is her case by logging it under her name. The actual ID number is the last part, "10559," but human beings give things names rather than numbers and this way the Witness can control what that name is, avoiding the inadvertent compromise of operations. The specific term, in this case "GNOMON," is randomly assigned from a list. "THE HUNTER CASE" would be less cumbersome, but there might be another case involving another Hunter, and it would not be appropriate to conflate them. "GNOMON" is there to avoid any kind of confusion: an incontrovertible statement of identity. Beyond that, it apparently means an early geometer's tool for marking right angles, a set square made of metal. By extension it means something perpendicular to everything else, such as the upright part of a sundial. She finds the name itchily à propos, a handful of sand in her cognitive shoe. The Hunter case does stick out. She said that in the interview earlier, but only the channel known as TLDR is actually hosting the whole segment and so far no one has accessed the file. TLDR is basically an archive, paid for by donations from high-net-worth individuals who believe in archiving.

She reviews the case preamble: Hunter, awake and obdurate, a cranky old lady with round cheeks and a bad attitude that must have been fashionable when she was in her twenties.

"Do you wish at this time to undergo a verbal interview which may obviate the need for a direct investigation?"

"I do not."

"Do you wish at this time to make a statement?"

"I'll state that I do not submit to this voluntarily. I consider it a baseless intrusion, and very rude."

"We are committed to affording you the maximum of dignity and care during your time with us. All staff will treat you with the utmost courtesy within the boundaries of their assigned tasks."

She sighs. "Then please record that I am a woman in the prime of life, whose powers are severely limited by authorities perishing with thirst, and now demanding that I make a gift to them of the waters of memory."

"Noted," the technician says, bland in the face of unexpected poetry. The Inspector can hear something in his voice, a mild frustration with this uppity biddy whose interrogation will surely yield nothing more than the misanthropy of the hermetic old.

"Yes, indeed," Hunter agrees. "Everything is."

The medical staff come in then, and Hunter goes limp and makes them lift her on to the gurney: old-fashioned passive resistance, pointlessly antagonistic. Once she screams, and they almost drop her. That makes the restraint team visibly unhappy, and she laughs at them. Her teeth are very white against her skin.

Finally they get her into the chair and the needle goes into the back of her hand. Hunter scowls, then settles back as if getting comfortable for a very boring and time-consuming argument she has determined she must have.

The Inspector touches the terminals, jolts as the dead woman's mind settles over her own: Diana Hunter, deceased. What is the flavour of her life? Sixty-one years of age, divorced, no children. Educated at Madrigal Academy and then Bristol University. By profession an administrator, and then later a writer of obscurantist magical realist novels, she was apparently once celebrated, then reclusive, then forgotten. Most successful book: The Mad Cartographer's Garden, in which the reader is invited to untangle not only the puzzle that confronts the protagonists but also a separate one allegedly hidden in the text like a sort of enormous crossword clue; most famous arguably the last, titled Quaerendo Invenietis, which received only a very limited publication and became an urban legend of sorts, with the usual associated curiosities. Quaerendo contains secret truths that are downright dangerous to the mind, or an actual working spell, or the soul of an angel, or Hunter's own, and the act of reading it in the right place at the right time will bring about the end of the world, or possibly the beginning, or will unleash ancient gods from their prison. First-year university students in the humanities pore over the accessible fragments and consider they are touching some fatal cosmic revelation. Copies of the book, of which only one hundred were printed, are now almost impossibly expensive, and Hunter somehow contrived to extract from each purchaser a commitment not to scan any part of what they had, with the result that even now there is no online edition, and indeed no verifiable text at all.

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