It's time to check back in with our party's head scientist and see how he's doing...
The room stretched away in front of Simon, and to both sides, to such distances that he momentarily groped for a true sense of scale. Bakana, he thought. It simply cannot be this large.
But it was. The ceilings, set with arched windows from which streamed beams of what seemed pure, natural sunlight (though, perhaps, by the tint, not Earth's sunlight), rose one hundred meters or more; yet it was low, almost oppressively low, compared to the extent of the room it covered.
Shelves kilometers long dwindled, perfect perspective lines, so far that the clear air began to soften the edges like the peaks of mountains on the horizon. And on those shelves…
Soft laughter penetrated his stunned consciousness, and he looked over to see Relgof with an expression and pose that Simon recognized as mirth. "Ahh, my friend, it is always a reward to see the reaction of a first-time visitor to the Archives of the Analytic."
"My… God," Simon said, and for once he meant the reverent tone. "This… this really is…"
"… the collected knowledge of the Analytic, in the original form – paper, electronic, carven in ancient tablets found on Spheres where no living being had walked in a million years, written upon metal sheets, absorbed in scent-matrices, recorded on nanotechnological writing pads or as patterns of light deep within crystals, written words and spoken, holographic images of motion and thought, all of them here, all studied, categorized, and preserved, the thoughts and hopes and fears and learning of a million worlds across a million years. Yes, it is, and it is my pleasure to welcome you here, where very few save our own Researchers have ever stood."
Simon stood for a few more moments, just staring in awe. He could see some shelves built for things rather like Earthly books; others with row upon row of recording media; yet others that were more supports for huge monoliths of stone or steel; and still more holding less-identifiable objects that hummed or sparkled or flickered.
Enough rubbernecking, as DuQuesne might say. I have work to do. "Why here on Nexus Arena? You have many Spheres of your own."
"Many thousands of Spheres of our own, yes. Yet… where else, Simon? No other place is so central, and – you can understand – no other place is even imaginably so safe. A Sphere can be lost in a Challenge, or – though rarely – by direct conquest from without. But nothing can challenge Nexus Arena, nothing can conquer it or force its way in, unless it were something that could shake the foundations of the universe itself. And here, in one of the Great Faction Houses, we have room almost beyond limit."
He nodded. "Of course. I had suspected as much, but it was worth asking. Then the information I seek is, obviously, somewhere here."
Simon noticed movement, and saw a Researcher of a semi-ceratopsian build climbing into one of many half-egg shaped objects scattered about the Archive. The polished white and silver egg rose and flew silently down the rows, carrying the Researcher with it. Well, that answers one of the questions I had. Fifty meter high shelves and many kilometer long aisles could have defeated me before I started. "And I can stay here…?"
"As long as you like, Simon. We were agreed on the value of your gift, and now that you have read its text to us, it is now part of our knowledge – and absolutely fascinating, I will add." Relgof's filter-beard flip-flopped in happy excitement. "You may return any time over the next year and a half, and spend as much time as you wish."
"That is… extremely generous, Head Researcher." Simon was astonished. Being allowed unlimited access to this facility for a year and more? Even with the relatively limited hardware I can use in the Arena, I can learn so very much in that time… "Where is the… index, reference work, whatever you might call it, that I would use to find my way around this paradise of knowledge?"
Relgof paused and tilted his head. Oh-oh. I know that pose. Something both serious and amusing.
"It may be, my friend, that you will not find our gift quite so generous as you think at the moment – although I believe in the end you will still see it as more than fair.
"Still, you understand that knowledge is our currency. The discussion was… heated as to exactly what to give, and how to give it. I am Head Researcher, but that position can of course change, so I am obligated to satisfy at least some of the demands of my colleagues. Some of them… have interests and alliances of their own which may not be aligned with yours, I am sorry to say. I could possibly have gotten you the precise information you asked for, but nothing else – and it might have been in a rather limited format."
"And so I allowed them to argue me into what they found a rather amusing yet, they felt, ultimately useless generosity. Namely, you have full access to the Analytic's Archives… but no access to the Indices of Knowledge, which only a full Researcher may have."
Simon realized his mouth had dropped open and he was simply goggling at Relgof, who at least had the decency to restrain his mirth after a single chortle. "I… what? This entire library of the gods and I won't even know what's where?" He felt anger rising and didn't bother to hide it. "Head Researcher, I can't even imagine what in God's name possessed you to 'allow' this? What possible –"
"Simon, please. I understand your anger, and it's quite justifiable… for the moment. But the fact is simply this: I was.. making a wager, a wager with myself against their assumptions."
Simon looked at him. "A… wager? On what?"
"The group which were being obstructive," Relgof said, "were interested in granting you as little as possible while gaining your prize in return. This struck them as an ideal method – giving you everything you asked, and more, but removing your chances of finding the key facts, leaving them as a single rope hidden in a forest of kelp. But I felt they were missing a key element: that you, yourself, conceived, built, and tested the Sandrisson Drive, the first of your people to do so, one of only a few thousand such in the history of the universe. Even if you cannot find your answers to the Sky Gates here, I believe – I absolutely believe – that you can derive an answer yourself.
"So I took a risk, yes. A risk that you might possibly not be as capable as I believe you are, against the ability for you to sample the knowledge of the Analytic freely, for the space of a year and a half."
Simon looked around again. For a few moments, his anger only increased, along with a feeling of overwhelming futility. It was an impossible task, and even finding anything useful in that nigh-endless Archive…
But Relgof's tone penetrated, finally. Those were not the words of someone who had managed to put one over on a sucker, but… "You have that much faith in me?"
Relgof spread his arms and bowed. "Have I not been at the side of Humanity almost since its arrival? Have I not watched you all closely? You chose your crew, Doctor Sandrisson, no one else, and that crew has done extraordinary things. I have faith that the man who brought them here is at least as extraordinary."
Simon looked up at the towering shelves; but now he felt a tiny shift within himself, a feeling of stubborn certainty. I am standing within the greatest repository of knowledge in the entire universe; even if I pull out books and records at random I cannot imagine I would fail to find something interesting.
He turned back to Relgof. "I … thank you for your faith, Rel. Really, I do." He surveyed the nigh-endless expanse. "I just hope I can live up to it."
Relgof bowed again. "I thank you for your understanding… and I wish you good luck."
Simon watched his friend – and he is my friend, I think, and a good one – leave through the door they had entered by, and then turned to face the Archives. Once more their infinite expanse nearly daunted him.
There was something almost … familiar.
That makes not the slightest bit of sense, you know, he thought. You've never been here, and not a bit of this is actually familiar. I'm not even sure I've seen anything vaguely like this place, even in a simgame.
The feeling refused to go away, however, and he found himself walking swiftly along, jumping into one of the egg-shaped craft and urging it forward. He did not quite understand how he knew how to operate the thing so well, but even that thought was distant.
Another part of him was simply growing more confused. He wasn't sure why he was going in this direction, or where this feeling of certainty came from.
A flicker of memory came… a surge of energy, of Shadeweaver and Faith working together desperately, trying to contain the power that Ariane Austin had neither the knowledge nor training to control… The floor heaving, contacts broken, all the power of both … and perhaps of Ariane herself… momentarily focused through him…
He couldn't remember that moment clearly; it had blurred, faded, and he realized that he had in fact avoided thinking of it since shortly afterwards. But I think I took down notes just afterwards… I have to read them. I think… something happened.
The silver and white egg had stopped, and his hand reached out, grasping a jointed object like a foldable piece of parchment. He looked on alien script written by a species he had never met, one perhaps a thousand years or ten thousand or a million years gone, and there was no translation, none of the Arena's usual tricks…
Yet Simon realized he did understand, that it made sense… and even as a surge of triumph went through him, Simon Sandrisson felt the chill breath of fear.