Routine

And so they began. Like trysting lovers they would arrive separately at the Library while they waited for the hubbub surrounding his appearance at the faculty to become old news. They would meet and discuss progress, sometimes they would chat and he would ask her about her life before coming to the city. She didn’t find out much about him in return but, instead, realised that it was nice just being with him and began to relax into role of protégé. Now and then Gihon would call in to see how she was getting along and would sometimes share a cup with them and sit and chat. Things seemed to be working out better than she could ever have expected.

The first lecture had been a master class in presenting and manipulating images of that brief time of hope before the world, in his words, woke up the fact that it had gone to shit and been too distracted by its own cleverness to notice. She had sat at the back of the theatre impressed at how his quiet voice filled the public space and encouraged his listeners to join him in the past.

“The permanent ever present now of the internet. All we have are the leavings of the people who wanted to say something. We don’t know if they were representative, all we can be certain of is that they left an imprint and we have been able to find it. Thousands and thousands of hours of effort to leave us words and images and their survival as much chance as planning, as random in some cases as the survival of the images of the Black Land that so enthrals my esteemed colleague the Plaisir. To be honest we don’t even know if these people even constituted a majority. They were loud and brash and had opinions on everything, I mean just about every little thing you can think of. And don’t even think that they were logical or consistent even with themselves.

“Take the flimsies we have today. Their very name proclaims their ephemeral nature. Unless someone pays for a permanent imprint they curl up and expire, dust just minutes after their validation runs out. We have agreed the limitation of this format. Before the Collapse there was an analogue in something called newspapers, it was only news for one day and was old the day the next edition was printed. Technology ran on and things speeded up. Was news still news a day later or even half an hour later after it had first been reported?

“And with technological change we get the rise of the individual, new ways of communicating democratising the voices that could be heard. There was the birth of the blogosphere, the power of the twitterati, the change from searching for information to just searching for meaning (Google to Gogol). But what to make of the permanent ‘now’ of the World Wide Web? Even the name was a misnomer. World-wide so long as you had an appropriate level of education, technical infrastructure and money to be able to afford to access it and contribute to it. And this thing, this internet, seemed to be a perfect reflection of the confusion of societies sliding further into decadence and decay.

“In that stateless non-reality how was one to decide if one position was more valid that the rest? What was more real, the economists, the science community, the hedge witches and Crowley wannabes, the (insert name here) conspiracy theorists? And what to say about those who changed their views? How do we differentiate between one year’s terrorist and another decade’s statesman when they are the same person? Time was happening in the outside world but the sense of time was the very thing lost in the stateless present. In the external world opinions evolve, mature, are sometimes tested and superseded. Without the timestamp or corroborated references to external events that can be independently verified that internet of theirs is a strange place, a Grimpen Mire for the unwary traveller.

“When people first began to explore and quantify the world they began to draw maps. The maps told later people much about the educated mind set of the day. I would like to take you exploring but I would remind you of those early maps. At the edges, in the great blanks of the unknown the cartographers used to etch the legend ‘here be dragons’. Just because the maps got better over time and people never found the dragons it didn’t mean that they didn’t exist. As ever they were whatever lurked in the imagination and the context of the traveller.”

Two hours later the applause had been genuine. His stories were not new, most of the audience had some familiarity with the subject but he swam though the information with a formidable ease, adapting his focus in response to questions from the floor. For all his opening caveats he seemed to speak with the familiarity of someone who had experienced the distant past. This skill of immediacy was what marked his work and it impressed her each time she transcribed and annotated his lectures. Each time she thought he might have gone out on a limb she would search through the material and there would be the evidence. Sometimes obvious, sometimes needing more effort, it was like he had all the raw data in his head and it was only in expressing it to other people that he could get it into a coherent shape.

Mainly she worked on the archive, sifting the different types of documentation for common themes and features and tying it the journals he turned over to her. The information had all been digitised but sometimes seemed so random that she feared getting bogged down or completely side-tracked in a blind alley. Some mornings he would reassure her that she was on the right track, the material was already millennia old so taking her time to ponder over it was hardly a critical matter.

Against the background of the steady organisation of information Jensson would ask her to look for and suggest items that might be useful in his graduate classes. He seemed to value the suggestions made with a fresh eye and a direct approach. The archive included many things; part of the problem with getting control of it was the range of media used to document the splintered and competing cultures of the time, the undercurrents of ‘in’ and ‘out’ and the sudden turn of speed that could leave populism passé. Genres divided and mixed, everything became fluid and sources lost in a time when emerging technologies made everything an equal present no matter the actual passage of days, months, years even. She began to appreciate how it was difficult to maintain focus in the face of so much interconnectedness.

He encouraged her questions, becoming animated explaining even the irrelevant seeming ephemera that he’d accumulated on his journeys. Whatever the grandiose sweep of his general histories he seemed fascinated by the minutiae of life in the time before the Great Fall. Free from the time constraints imposed by class schedules their afternoon meetings would sometimes encroach into the early evening and they would suddenly realise how much their day had overrun. The first time it happened he had apologised for keeping her from her real life and her friends. She had laughed and assured him there was no problem – the study area, day by day, was becoming filled with her spoor she said, more like home than anywhere else. It was easy to tell him that no one was dependent on her presence.

She enjoyed the mornings when she arrived and there was music playing. It meant that Dave was already there. When she asked him about the constant background presence he said it helped him connect with the past, made the people more immediate to him as it reflected the things they were interested in saving. The same technologies that accelerated the fragmentation of society also provided the intimate caches of material that he had made a career of mining. The caches were not perfect. Even when source material was still viable it was often held in isolation from its original context, partially named, mis-named or mis-attributed. The motion sensitive lights had gone out in the study area more than once as she had lost herself in the mire of conflicting sources. Jensson might have liked the amount of material available; the deeper she got the more often she felt nostalgic for the finite information that had bounded her previous studies of pre-Columbian meso-American cultures.

Lia still met her friends for lunch and together they would keep an eye on the corner table in the lower courtyard whether there was one, two or three dining there. She said little about her work, relieved that with time her friends had stopped pestering her for news about Gihon. While they had been as discreet as she had asked sometimes their imaginations got the better of them and she had ended one day by rather tersely pointing out that she had never caught a hint of anything inappropriate (or maybe even, appropriate) between the big man and his slim companion. Not wanting to give herself over to flights of fancy she refused to think about the stares and the pauses she sometimes thought she imagined between the two of them when they didn’t realise she was watching them.

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