Titan's most affluent neighborhood.
It was a glorious morning. The city was wide awake, marble and terracota facades shining in the sun, sky changing its color from purple to light blue, clouds slowly dispersing, giving way to autogyros and every other kind of flying craft. And below, the traffic was much more busy than above. No jams, though - the flow of buses and cars ran smoothly.
Today Jake has left his car. His working day started some 40 minutes earlier than usual. Majestic Suites, his home for the last four years - a 24-story apartment building, a property of Davenport Development Co. - looked fine this morning, white sculptures towering over the glass-and-brass entrance. Weather's good for the art, Jake thought, on a nasty day these ancient heroes have a menacing look.
He walked south, crossed 1st Greenway drive (gosh, nearly three minutes to wait for a "GO!" sign) and entered the park. Actually, all his morning stroll has been planned for twenty refreshing minutes between the trees and flowerbeds, ponds and fountains. Twenty minutes of gasoline-free air and sounds of nature behind the green shield, just to hear the engines roar again, this time on the 2nd drive.
Back to civilization! A row of stately towers welcomed Jake as he crossed the drive. One of these towers, the Cote d'Azur with its peculiar array of wealthy tenants, was of special interest, but not now. "Our present task there is observation, not investigation, - the Chief said last week. - Just store the little pieces of evidence for a rainy day and stick to your cases, I know you've got some". So ahead, to the Hermitage building, just on the border between the respectable Park Area and more lighthearted Uptown.
It was nearing two in the morning when Anson finally made it to Mt. Atlas. The limestone promontory that was the mountain was an awe-inspiring sight, almost a smaller rock of Gibraltar jutting out over the chilled gray waters of Lake Erie. The entire eastern face of it had been carved into one massive figure. Usually Atlas was depicted as holding up a globe, but that was actually a historical inaccuracy. In ancient myth, it wasn't the earth (Gaia) he held on his back, it was the celestial spheres. He didn't just have the world on his shoulders...he had the entire universe. So it seemed appropriate that what this depiction of Atlas held on his back was the giant Panoptic telescope.
He didn't expect that the receptionist would be waiting for him by his office at this hour. Had he been paying attention, this would have been his first clue that something was terribly wrong.
“Hold up Anson, I have to talk to you.” The 62 year old woman nearly blocked the door.
“Later.” He took the request forms she held in her hand and nearly shoved past her. It was out of character for him but he was still shaken from what happened earlier that night and needed a moment alone to take it all in.
His “office” was actually a dank and musty storage room deep in the bowels of the mountain where they stored photographic plates, glass disks coated with a silver halide emulsion that they used to record observations from the telescope. There were boxes upon boxes of them surrounding his tiny walnut desk. Nominally, his job was sorting through the massive back log of them and analyzing them for the different research groups who were conducting projects or studies. It allowed him access to conduct his own work with any data he found of use, provided it didn't interfere with any of his duties. Taking off his coat and setting down his umbrella, he started thumbing through his notebooks and work logs. Most of his logs were filled with scribblings and formulas and calculations that would often be indecipherable the next day. His work was done in a near “fugue state” as Dr. Insfeld called it. A state of total concentration where the world around him seemed to fade away. And a thought occurred to him. He wondered if this was indeed his first relapse. Would he even know? Did he spend his nights here holding conversations here with imaginary people through the night? No one was here to observe his behavior. Could he even be sure of anything any more? When he reached yesterday's notes, he saw something he didn't expect. Several pages were torn out. He flipped back to see what they could have been in reference to. He was working on several ideas at the time. One was in reference to a series of novae in the constellation of Aquila. There had been twenty in the last thirty years there, two in 1936 alone. Another note seemed to relate to some correspondence he'd been conducting with Paul Dirac about his Large Numbers Hypothesis, which related to some odd coincidences in certain constants in cosmology that defied explanation: the gravitational constant being inversely proportional to the age of the universe for one thing, or the mass of the universe being proportional to the square of the age of the universe.
But what caught Anson's eye was the first thing that he wrote, jotted down furiously and circled, after the pages were ripped out: FIND PLATE #DH-887.
He looked at the request log and none of the other astronomers had asked for it, so it must have been something he had needed himself. It was then he saw that the inside of his waste paper basket by his desk was charred, that apparently someone (apparently himself) had used it to burn something. He picked up some of the debris, and saw that it was a type of paper only he was known to use, draughtsman paper he had used since college, instead of the usual blue lined notebook paper you'd get at stationary stores. You couldn't get it in Titan, only one company made it and he had to send away for it. The edge of one of the burnt leafs of paper proved to match with the tear mark in his notebook. He checked around the nearby boxes but there was nothing marked DH-887 to be found. He started to fear this was evidence of yet another schizophrenic episode. He stepped out of his office and headed back to the receptionist, who was at her desk with the same ghost-like expression on her face.
“Birdie, sorry about earlier...I was a little pre-occupied. But do you happen to know where I could find plate number DH-887? It's not in the inventory.”
“That's what I was trying to talk to you about. Anson, you in some kind of trouble?”
His blood ran cold. He wondered if she knew. But no one else could have known about his relapse earlier that night.
“I don't think so. Why?”
“Some people were here earlier asking about it. They also wanted to talk to you.”
“Who were they?”
“They said they were from the director's office. They had Department of Information badges.”
“Birdie, where's the plate?”
“That's what I'm trying to tell you. They took it.”
"Listen hun, those mooks don't have no authority barging in here like that, especially after the senior staff had already taken off, but they went along flashing badges and no one even piped up. Beth just let them in, and if I hadn't bumped into them on their way out, I don't think I would've been the wiser."
"They left a card and said to get in touch with them 'at your earliest convenience.' But really, who sets up HQ in a Post Office?"
The card was overly efficient; no name, just the Department lettertype and an address down at the Post Central in the Canyon stamped in black ink. Flipping it between forefinger and thumb, Anson could feel the weight of authority in the simple white card.
The only thing that set it apart was the single blue triangle sketched in ink on the back.