Bert opens the envelopes. The first contains 36 photographs, each with an accompanying card stamped Classified War Structure. He browses them quickly first, to have a general idea of the places, hoping to find something, anything that may be connected with the elusive group of people targeting the old district archives. He doesn’t know exactly why, but he keeps feeling that there’s a connection with the War, that something happened during the War or in its aftermath which deeply affected whoever is organising this sudden, unexpected series of terrible acts against Arslan.
The photos, at first glance, look remarkably nondescript. They probably could be declassified tomorrow and hardly anybody would be able to pinpoint the exact location of these places — if they still exist. A mix of indoor and outdoor photographs, all with a superimposed label bearing a terse description of the place, a coded geolocation string, and the date when they were filed (all between early 2043 and late 2044). Yet Bert feels that there’s more that meets the eye about them.
They don’t appear to be ordered by date. They may be ordered by location, but Bert needs to decode the georeferences to be sure.
Bert follows the first train of thought: “Location #B4E5-801… The first part of the code could simply be a hexadecimal value. That simple? B4E5 is 46309 decimal. Translated to coordinates it could be 46° 30′ 9… and the 801? Let’s have a look at another one.”
“The location designation for this one is #H2G2-593… And there goes the hexadecimal theory. I knew it was too easy.”
Bert decides to look inside the second envelope, which appears to contain mostly documents and a small pocketbook. Perhaps the key — or a useful link — to understand where these places are or were, and their role in the matter, can be found there.
He opens the pocketbook, and a small note comes out. It’s written in the same beautiful, ornate handwriting he has just seen on his notebook, in that mysterious message left by the equally mysterious ‘JF’:
Conflict. You are sincere / and are being obstructed.
The rain outside intensifies, and Bert worries there’s going to be another flash flood. He puts the note in his shirt pocket. He’s startled by the voice of Mr Lindner, that breaks the silence of the library in an unusual manner. But then he realises that there’s only himself and Lindner (“How late is it, anyway?”) and that whispering is pointless.
– Apologies, Mr Kay, but there’s Mr Browne on the phone for you. Says it’s urgent.
– Thank you.
Bert takes the receiver.
– Yes, Terry.
– Mr Kay, in my research I keep getting references to Fanshawe, but since the context seems different every time, I can’t say if it’s a person’s name, a place, an old district…
– It should be a district archive. We could go there, but I’ll have to request some forms if we want to conduct a proper search at that place.
– Is there anything I can do in the meantime?
– Yes, there is. Add the string ‘JF’ to your research. Those should be initials. Search the old tape databases for any reference. It’s probably the only decent lead we have at the moment. Prioritise any document that has even the faintest relation to the term ‘War’ and its synonyms, like ‘conflict’, et cetera. Thank you.
– Gonna be a long night, Mr Kay!
Bert glances at the window behind Mr Lindner, watches the pouring rain for a couple of long seconds.
– You have no idea.