14 - The Acropolis

The raised panel of the slanting glass facade had beckoned Eustace, entranced by the cool air, into a minimal but expansive waiting area in a tall, sunny atrium that both impressed Eustace, and made her feel startlingly insignificant.

An array of office managers seated at a low desk at the end of the waiting area guarded the less administrative parts of the building from further encroachment by the uninvited masses.

“Please sit Eustace”, one of the severe guardians of the reception had probably said, but she didn’t see who. She had been momentarily disarmed by them knowing who she was.

Office management seemed deeply engrossed in some important task. As one, the style was hair slicked back, minimalist dress-wear crisped to perfection.

She looked down at her dusty farm-wear and tried not to leave too much behind on the couch as she sat in the echoing waiting area, bathed in light from the transparent plates that looked upon the fields.

After an hour of waiting patiently, no more bored than she had been out in the fields, she was summoned to the long desk.

“As per your request, you have been transferred” Said one of the office managers, who seemed to be very professionally not judging Eustace’s farm-worn gear.

“My request? I haven’t made one of those yet.”

“Yes, but you all do.” Said another, looking at Eustace knowingly with one eye, the other gazing through a mass of rendered information, invisible to Eustace.

“?” Said Eustace, but decided to go along with things, because this was looking like results. Anything to get away from the tedium of the relentless overwatch of the foodstuffs.

“You’re in records now. Floor Two.” As Eustace looked up to the terraces above, she was corrected. “We are on the seventh floor.” As Eustace crossed the wide floor to the elevator, she heard something akin to bets being taken until she’d be back again.

As the elevators slid shut, she resolved to break whatever this weird stereotype about fresh grads was that the office managers seemed to have. Whatever was down here, she was going to do it well, and do it right.

On floor 2, the doors opened to a subfloor of the basement. Unlike the ultra-modern, well lit and tastefully designed headquarters upper, this sub-structure retained the more ornate sensibilities of eras gone by. It reminded Eustace of the Academy really, ancient secrets conceivably around every corner, if only you just knew how to look.

The first thing she noticed - the chill. Were cool rooms good for massive states of data storage perhaps? Second - she was completely alone. Not a supervisor, an office manager, or even a sheep to be seen. She was alone, but for the data states that hummed tirelessly between the ancient columns that conceivably held up the rest of Acropolis.

Apparently, as most of the employees were either unskilled labourers, were fascinated by fruit, or had vested interests in veg, most were not file fanatics, the archives she discovered were in a state of immense disarray.

Her job, she could only assume, though she had no supervision, and no direction, and in fact everyone seemed totally uninterested in her progress, was to lessen the state of disarray.

Some of the archives could be viewed with a standard augmented lens. Reading with information superimposed over the surroundings tired one out over a day, but it was the most efficient. Eustace flicked over these files with increasingly deft eye movements.

But she soon realized that this covered only the most recent parts of the archives. She discovered an actual terminal recessed into one of the thick, four sided columns. It unfolded when she touched the glowing space. She was able to user her hands to manipulate the data projected above the unfolded terminal. And then, she realized she could disconnect the terminal and move it around the room. The oldest archives appeared to be stored within the columns themselves, with different terminal access points for each. These, unnoticed when she first entered the long, low space, glowed a slight red as she brought the terminal nearby.

She spent weeks searching, first the newest data that responded automatically to her augmented lens system, and then trying each of the column storage terminal slots in turn, trying to make sense of the fragmented and disorganized contents, and the contents of the contents.

Eustace found generations upon generations of data stored in states that hadn’t been accessed since dumping the trove. Nothing newer than a few hundred years - contemporary data would be stored on the main network. Along with generations of data were ghosts of documents past - broken references, corrupted files. Languages she couldn’t understand, and yet provided her vague twinges of familiarity. Symbols she’d glimpsed in the oldest alleyways and passages of the city.

Sitting for her lunch break, Eustace sat with her back to one of the large flat column faces and pondered. Why had she been sent down here, anyway?

Management was probably Checking Boxes. She shrugged to herself - perhaps it was a blessing to be out of the fields. Plus, to see how the vast number of edible innovations of the company had come into being, well that would be interesting enough for now.

But - the files she had been finding came together to create a complex pattern. A few days of searching later, she had been left with considerable confusion. Where were the rigorously tested, scientific successes? How had the great Acropolis company developed its many successes, and massive share in all corners of the food market?

She had found many, many failed genetic experiments. And there were thousands of genetic blueprints for the successes that could be found in the markets across Greater Jard.

But there was no record of the experiments that had led to these successes. That was odd, and required some pondering, but here was more as she began to dig deeper.

She dug into files that hadn’t been accessed in many centuries, some increasingly artifacted as she moved back. She learned, reading between the lines, or furrows, of the great schism of Old Jardinian. The great schism, and the role that the Acropolis company would play immediately after.

At first, she saw only passing mentions. She didn’t think much of it at first. But, steadily, by way of what was referenced, mentioned and most importantly, not said, she began to paint a mental picture of a set of events of immense consequence. A set of events that had been thoroughly skipped over in all of her education.

Her discovery began with ancient memos and ancient manifests, nearly a millennium old. She’d uncovered the details of shipments of great amounts of Acropolis brand chips that had been sent to a particular destination, at regular intervals. Now this was strange, but it was the vague references to “the unfortunate event” or the “failure at chronus” in the notes of response to the shipments that were cause for investigation. The tones of the response were desperately apologetic, while the tone of the ancient correspondence written by those sending the salty snacks at Acropolis was generally sympathetic, or at least placating. The actual details were vague, and both sides seemed aware of the situation without needing elaboration.

Other Acropolis memos referring to these events did not pass judgement, but referenced an exile and persecution of those responsible for the ‘disaster, and the growing wasteland’ or the ‘schism of our time’ in a matter-of-fact manner. Some memos even mentioned looking for opportunity, wrought from the ashes of the disaster.

As Eustace studied the shipments and responses, further perplexing details arose.

At first, the huge shipments of Acropolis brand Chips were sent under the cover of darkness to coded locations. All with direct approval of the Acropolis founder. The only payment was labeled future considerations. How perplexing. And, to add the mystery - these shipments continued for several years, and then stopped abruptly. And, each one of these schism-era files had been preceded by strange symbols that she’d seen here and there in the basements and low alleys of the city.

This was where her research stopped - older files, older than the manifests and the notes and vaguely sympathetic messages, was comprised exclusively from this incomprehensible symbol library.

She recorded the weight of the strange shipment, noting that it had been steady throughout those early years, and looked back through more recent data. Sure enough, the same weight and shipment regularity had continued to be recorded on manifests, this time only going as far as the Meteorological and Geographical Conglomerate. The strange symbols had disappeared too. How perplexing. Surely though, more exciting than sheep and fields.

One more thing that had been bothering her - the founder of Acropolis, she noted, signee of some of those first chip shipping manifests, had a family name that was familiar to her. She remembered it now, from her academy days. She had been backing out of the Dean’s office, careful not to take her eyes off the Dean after some remarkably non-academic lessons in curse words. It had been embossed on the door.

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