THE MALL OF HEROES – Part III
The Grand Tour
The Secretary of Heritage rose from behind the expanse of his desktop. ‘Stefan! Good to see you! Good of you to come!’ The librarian noted the lack of formality, the absence of his title. They shook hands. The Secretary did not introduce himself, there was no need. ‘Please sit.’ They sat. He rested his elbows on his desk and steepled his fingers. ‘You have me at something of a disadvantage, I’m afraid.’
‘I do?’ Stefan took in the well appointed office. There were antique sporting prints decorating the walls. They said more about the man he was meeting than the mandate of his Department.
‘Indeed! Indeed! Your country requests the honour of your services. It’s my job to entice you to accept, to lure you, as it were.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Let’s take a drive, shall we? I’ll explain as we go, but there are some things which need to be shown.’
The grey man who’d collected Stefan from the station met them in the anteroom. Together they rode an elevator down into an underground parkade. The Secretary of Heritage stood for a moment contemplating the fleet of vehicles. He indicated a bright orange cab. ‘We’ll take that one, less official, lower profile,’ he said to the grey man. ‘Our first stop will intrigue you,’ he said to Stefan.
They drove along one of the spoke boulevards emanating from the city’s core in a designated taxi lane painted with diamonds. A cab painted in a competing firm’s colours had eased in behind them and was following closely. Stefan watched the grey man’s pale blue eyes in the rearview mirror; they were active, constantly scanning. Perhaps the nation wasn’t as dormant and secure as the Nation’s Eye contended. Then again, what did he know about standard operational procedure for any branch of government or its officials?
The librarian recognized their destination, an immense and imposing neoclassical building constructed with blocks of quarried stone. He’d walked past it a few times years ago on his way to other places and remembered dramatic postcard pictures of it. He couldn’t remember what it used to be, a bank’s headquarters, an embassy? Whatever it had been didn’t matter anymore. Now it served some other purpose.
They were whisked through the lobby, a vaulted cherubic ceiling arching over terrazzo tiles, their footsteps echoing. Rows of pillars. Light and shadow. Heavy oak doors punctured with iron studs were hauled open. A quiet whoomf! illuminated the vast darkness. The librarian gasped. There were rows and rows of shelves stacked upon one another, tiers of towers. Every rack, every shelf was crammed with newspapers, periodicals, documents, books. Endless boxes of them. Stefan gripped the Secretary of Heritage’s shoulder to avoid staggering. The grey man whipped an automatic out from a pocket of his duster.
‘Isn’t it something, Stefan?’ the Secretary of Heritage asked the librarian. ‘Isn’t it something? My Department, and indeed my esteemed predecessor, has been diligent about collecting every scrap of existing paper since the Great Crash. Everything is here, we think. It’s a bit like uncovering the great lost library of Alexandria, the sum of all knowledge. Of course everything must be catalogued and filed. Naturally you’ll have a full complement of staff, whatever you require. I also believe a man of your abilities could take advantage of this resource to further his own particular academic interests. Stefan, your government is offering you the world.’
As the grey man tucked his pistol away, the librarian watched the man’s thumb instinctively engage the safety catch.
The Secretary went on, ‘Take a walk, Stefan. Wander around. Can’t you smell the paper, the must, the mould, the history? Look at it all! The Overlord wishes to give the country, the world, back its knowledge. He wants this facility to become a great public place of learning and open debate.’
‘That’s noble,’ the librarian breathed.
‘There’s just one catch.’
‘There had to be,’ Stefan replied.
‘This initiative has not been announced. However, there is a deadline and that is the Overlord’s planned 25th anniversary celebrations of his benign rule. You’ve got five years.’
‘That’s not much time,’ Stefan said.
‘It isn’t,’ agreed the Secretary. ‘And there’s another catch.’
‘It’s an easy one, all related. Trust me. But we have to go for a second little drive before we head back to the Capitol. I don’t know if I mentioned this, but money, benefits, whatever you want, I’m not to negotiate.’