This scene takes place in the story’s present, several years (or decades, or cycles of 10 months, in the Mintakan calendar) after Hlau’s initial trip to the House of Wisdom.
Hlau was in the Evek’s office when they were going over the intelligence they got from the Agency of Investigation. The Agency had called them because they needed consultants on a string of computer hacks, all of which were virtually untraceable to any device. The Agency’s computer experts had gone over the evidence they had available and they could not find anything that would identify a computer or a particular user. Without any real evidence, the Agency had come to the conclusion that this series of events was of a psychic nature, which is where priests from the School of Wisdom could help.
The Evek got up from his desk and walked up to a red-stained teak filing cabinet, and placed his hand at the handle of the top drawer for a few seconds and then opened it. He took out a book-sized box and brought it to the desk and sat down. He drew his finger along the line created by the lid and the lower part of the box and opened it. Hlau knew that the Evek had just unlocked a psychic lock on both the cabinet and the box. The Evek then took a folded piece of paper from the box, unfolded it, and said, “I think you’re ready to see this.”
Hlau took the piece of paper and looked at it. There were many characters on the paper, scrambled beyond intelligibility with numbers, punctuations, and special symbols thrown in throw off any code breaker. Radicals came together to form nonsense words and foundational characters were broken apart from their strokes. They were arranged without any pattern, a chaos only achievable by the most artistic of cryptographers. Hlau creased his brow and asked, “I’m ready to see this?”
“Allow me,” the Evek said, putting his hand over the paper. The ideograms danced and swirled with radicals breaking away from their old groupings into new ones, and the numbers and symbols flashing and changing shape until the text coalesced into something more recognizable as writing. Hlau recognized the handwriting but not the words. There were names and locations hastily written down in Universal. Also, there were words such as:
Below the lower half of the paper, in progressively worsening penmanship, he wrote:
SEEK SANCTUARY AT THE SCHOOL OF WISDOM
Right at the bottom of the paper were two characters childishly scrawled in Phonic:
Without the Universal ideograms for the word (or words), sana could mean almost anything in Itanese. Depending on the pronunciation and the characters assigned, sana could mean fish, forest, high sun, sea shore, or twelve other words. The were the meanings of sana native rooted in ancient Itanese and then there were the loan words from Sutanese, Lthana, and Alysian. It was also a common prefix or suffix in many Itanese names. Geographically, there were many places with sana at the beginning or ending of the word such as rivers, fjords, and even some villages and cities. Sana could be anything, anyone, or anywhere.
Hlau looked at the names. There were seven, including his own:
All of the names except his meant nothing to him at the moment. He could only assume at the moment they were people he once knew, decades ago when he was someone else with memories he no longer had. He continued to look up and down at the paper until he saw, right below LEVEL SEVEN:
Hlau immediately became nauseous and felt the need to flee. He threw the paper down on the desk and nearly bolted from the door, but heard the Evek calmly ask him to tell him why something brought out a reaction in him.
After taking a few breaths, Hlau said, “I’m not sure. I’ve come across this word many times in studying about religion and history. I don’t understand why the name of a creator deity makes me panic right now.”
“Perhaps seeing it in your handwriting has triggered something,” the Evek offered. “Do you remember anything specific?”
“No, but seeing how I scribbled it does.” Hlau pointed to the DEMIURGE, which was quickly written down like the other words, in the panic of trying to remember something. From what he was able to put together from his sessions with the healer, the moment in which he tried to write all this information down must have been painfully horrifying, knowing that all his memory was being destroyed, not being able to remember anything, and trying to write down information that was important, even when he couldn’t be sure that it mattered. He had no memory of arriving at the National House of Wisdom, only what the healer, the Evek, and a few others told him of the incident. He didn’t even remember anything else of his life before – his time in the Agency, attending Chanen University, or even attending the private school on the House of Wisdom’s grounds. Everything he knew about himself at the moment was from other sources – records, information on the networks, and the recollection of others.
“You and I have talked about this several times before, when you first came here. What happened to you is what we all read about in our studies but hope to never witness. The healer diagnosed what happened to you as a psychic demolition, that is, someone did this to you. There are many techniques to modify someone’s memory, but this one was brutal. I saw you lose your mind and mentally disintegrate and the whole time you were aware of what was happening.”
“Could the healer have stopped this?”
“Possibly, but there was the risk that he could have contracted the demolition. Kind of like how a computer could contract a virus program from another computer. Or, his intervention could have simply arrested the process and made your condition worse, like abruptly moving a severely injured patient.”
Hlau felt angry for a moment. A healer on a daily basis confronted all kinds of illnesses, major and minor. That the healer wasn’t willing to try to save him from the demolition made Hlau wonder if the wasn’t willing to do anything to stop the suffering. He didn’t remember any of it, so he didn’t know what the healer did to make him comfortable before all his previous life was gone for good. He took a breath and asked, “What if the driver took me to the hospital?”
“There wasn’t much they could do. Most likely, the doctor might have had you sedated while they figured out what was happening to you and you could be comatose as a result. We had to let this ride itself out.” The Evek paused for a few seconds, paced by the bookshelf, and asked, “If you could have things turn out differently, would you?”
Now it was Hlau’s turn to pause before speaking. He had thought of this many times, much more than he was willing to admit in any meeting or spiritual advising session with the Evek. He had often felt as if his previous life was stolen from him. He lost those days, months, decades in the line of duty to Agency and he didn’t even know what for. From what he knew from seeing his service record and talking to a few former colleagues, he was brash and extremely eager to prove himself as a young agent. That he was one of many Shusa-based agents who grew up as a political brat wasn’t too unusual, but it explained how many of his peers and even his superiors viewed him as entitled. His father had long represented Hladdat in Parliament and his mother an influential advisor to the Secretary of State. From what he had been able to gather from his former Agency colleagues and his parents, he often talked about his aspirations to become the Director of the Agency and then the Home Secretary. Whether he would actually go down the career path his younger self laid out, he would never know, but he knew it got cut short somewhere. There was a significant portion of his record he didn’t have access to, at least three decades (or 28 months) worth. Apparently, he got involved in a top secret project he no longer had access to. If he had never lost his memory, would he have ever left his Agecny career and his life of privilege to devote his life to service with the House of Wisdom. That he did not know.
“You don’t need to answer that right now,” the Evek said. “I’ve seen reflection on a lifetime you no longer know in your eyes. You’re not completely mind-mute, you know.”
Hlau knew his mind-deafness, his inability to hear thoughts or pick up a telepathic conversation with others, was a result of what caused his memory loss. He was not able to engage in psychokinesis or do the type of magic he has witnessed other priests do with their minds. If he was gifted towards a certain ability, he did not know. He had long assumed that he wasn’t able to send thoughts or have others read his. This was the first time he heard about this from the Evek. “What are you hearing from me?”
“I am hearing your thoughts, but it’s like a very weak radio signal. Most of the time, I can barely make out what you are thinking, but if I fine tune my mental antenna, I can pick up your broadcast much better. I get a very good idea what you’re thinking, but your actual emotional state is something I get a clearer picture of,” the Evek explained. “Most telepaths would barely hear you, perhaps even dismiss it as their imagination if they did.”
The Evek walked over to a shelf where he kept his calligraphy equipment, grabbed a sheet of grid paper, and returned to his desk. He handed the paper to Hlau and said, “I want you to take this list and make a calligramme out if it. Take the words and arrange them in any pattern you see fit.”
The calligramme was a traditional art form where the poet, artist, or scribe would take a poem and arrange the words or lines into a visual image. Any configuration was possible, the only limit being the calligrapher’s imagination. Quill pens or brushes, and ink were used to make the calligramme in its final form, but one often worked out the design on a grid with a pencil. Many calligrammes found their way into the canon of fine art and were on display in many museums. A poem rendered with a masterful hand became an object of beauty. The juxtaposition of the words and lines and the strokes of the pens or brush greatly contributed to a work’s aesthetic value. In recent times, the calligramme became a very popular creative exercise. Also, priests and counselors used the calligramme as a tool for opening the mind to conceive new possibilities.
Hlau understood the Evek’s intentions, but his practical mind saw it as a waste of his time. There was an investigation he was consultant to and there were the obligations he had to the Evek and the School of Wisdom. He felt there were better uses of his time.
The Evek looked at him and said, “I know what you’re thinking right now. Don’t apologize. However, I do see value in this small assignment I’m giving you. If you are to help with the investigation at hand and solve the mystery of this list, you need to see things in a new way.”
“And making pictures while there’s a dangerous hacker at large is going to help?”
“Definitely. You can’t always catch a psychic criminal with pragmatism alone.” The Evek paused a moment before continuing. “Think of it as a reverse crossword puzzle. You have the words before you, but you need to find the clues that define them.”
Even though Hlau was still reluctant to engage in this this exercise, he knew that only he could solve the puzzle. Every thing on the list was something he tried to remember at that moment, things he thought were crucial. Now he had no clue what these things meant. There were names, but who were they? Places, but why? And where did san na come in? If he had only been able to write this last part down in Universal instead of Phonic, he might have had some idea. He had always trusted the Evek and he would have to trust him on this idea. He took the paper, thanked the Evek for seeing him, and walked out of the Evek’s office, which was larger on the inside than it was on the outside.