First Day

"First Day"

Dr. Kurt Gödel whittles his fingers inside his coat pockets. He walks down into the Earth and a spotless glass door shifts apart on cue. A metallic foyer greets him and his small escort of personnel; everything is steel grey.

From the letters, he imagined a great marble facade, immense wooden doors, an impossibly ornate interior. The image seems silly now. There's no gold trim on everything, no paintings of saintly figures in beards with their heads tilted slightly, no hundreds of lit candles. He still believes there's a million dollars per square foot in here. A deep breath re-zeroes his expectations for the nth time.

"Welcome to the Monastery of the Holy Archangels," a staffer greets in superlative hospitality. The individual is propped neatly in place in the center of the room.

"It's lovely." Gödel manages a reply, the dry words caught off guard in his throat.

The cadre of new recruits is led through the remainder of the buildings and campus of Site-286. It continues to be lovely. They are introduced to the Library of Anomalies and Gödel likes it rather instantly. Even at his age, when he hears the word "tombs”, he thinks of sarcophagi or divots carved in stone walls where desiccated bodies lie. Not rows of endless books. Another upset of the precognition. They walk away from the library, but his mind never leaves it. The remainder of the campus tour is forgotten quickly, as if the haze of an intoxicant.

People who like to be around books tend to be strange. Once left alone to settle in, Gödel resolves without much thought to spend all his available time in the library, and soon. The room he is in wisely avoids incorporating the trendy decor elements of the day, green carpets and too much wood accents, but it does have a large desk in the corner that is constructed of repurposed metal from an airplane wing, with plump, beige-brown leather capping the contours of each side. The chair seems more executive than should be supplied for a new hire in the research of mathematics.

Glancing at his map regularly but cautiously as to not expose himself as extra clueless, he navigates the wall signs as he walks measured through two-lane corridors. The extent to which he regards himself as out of place is the extent to which he will be, he reminds himself. He can't seem to take the advice as thoroughly as he knows he should. Finally and with relief, he arrives.

There, the door to the cloistered library. Unguarded even. (Why did he imagine there would be guards?) The light from the floor leaps into the chamber as Gödel opens the door, and he steps inside. Down the velvet stairs… strangely the trendy green and shaggy carpet he was pleased to not see earlier… and at bottom he is struck by the contrast beneath his boots. The absorbent and plush fabric shifts to an abrupt and echoing stone floor. His step's touch announces his arrival, as if ceremoniously. He feels like a savage predator spotted by his prey.

This floor's layout is familiar; it's a hendecagon, like the Canadian one-dollar coin. He has no idea how many books exist in this floor, but it's as good a place as any to start; he doesn't want to travel too far and get lost on his first day. There is no map here. He won't read them all of course. But he'll flip through what he can. There's a formula for the area of a hendecagon that's in the back of his head. A few jump-started axons later and he recalls it to the tip of his tongue. A stray piece of paper and a carpenters' pencil do the rest.

Gödel produces a mathematical model that estimates based on the symmetries present approximately how many books must be on this floor. He sketches this crude schematic over the useful portions of his Site map, and once he is done places it is there on the table, flickering along with a candle that has just been lit. He turns to the secrets awaiting on the shelves, splayed like a beautiful, horrible dissection.

Well past dark now, who knows what time, and Gödel has been charmed by the existence of cognitohazards, although from the distance of a safe and academic curiosity. At least, he hopes so… there are a few in this very site itself, it seems, though their hostility is quiescent now due to a healthy dose of Eastern Orthodoxy. Who would have thought; Sunday School as containment protocols.

There is a footstep behind him, closer than the layout of the room should allow as an initial one into it. He turns, ears first. A tall figure in a monk's robe is standing at the first table past the door. This individual is Rasputinian. He is clearly no purchaser of beard hygiene products. Gödel understands without being caught in their contact that his eyes, looking down at his formula on the Site map, are equally as wild. Gödel would revisit this moment many times later. He does not know it just yet, but this is Father Gavrilo himself.

Putting down the paper with a tired smile, Father Gavrilo introduces himself as “Mihajlo” and excludes his prestige. Gödel returns a hello, equal parts charmed and off-put by this random monk. But as the conversation opens, it turns out there is less and less to be worried of. The Father likes spending time in his own library after hours. The foyer, Gavrilo explains, is actually his room, or at least it used to be. His bed was at XXY-012-BA, against the wall with the barred window just above it in the ceiling. Over there. Renovations expanded the space into the sprawling walls that now adorned themselves with the heaviest collection of paper documentation in the world. But according to the Father, you cannot truly separate the imprint that physical action leaves on a place, and he often feels a sense of security and ease when near where his bed used to be.

Gödel begins to understand that this is a stranger man than even his looks would suggest. People who like to be around books tend to be, so what of those who sleep among them? The monk still spends the night here sometimes; he was hoping to tonight, it is confessed, were it not for rule-breakers who don't heed the closing time. Gödel's helplessness quickly betrays his resolve to be there; he apologizes and says he will leave at once. But he doesn't need to follow through with this, as the monk is apparently interested in continuing their conversation. He has an eagerness to his dialogue that is either due to a lack of social cues or is in spite of them.

Father Gavrilo says he thought that he would be deterred by the noise at night, but surprisingly few people spend time down here, and that any who do are habitually cautious of producing noise, thanks to a tidy and hallowed tradition carried through to such places near universally. He says next that he thought he would be deterred by all the new space too — the empty, gaping maws of the library — but around so many ideas and so many long-dead individuals, their spirits still clinging to life in the texts, etched by mechanical proxy into letters, like graves laid into paper… it is surprisingly populated.

"Besides, you can't see the truly empty spaces."

The conversation turns towards Gödel, and he regrets this, because he always regrets talking about himself. The best he can muster so off-balance is that he too finds that he sleeps best when he is surrounded by books. He has never slept around books. Not more than by the bookshelf in his old home. He fibs further, as if demonstrating to himself that he isn't; compensation for a complete lack of conviction:

"The more books, the better the sleep, the more vivid the dreams, the more refreshed the soul.”

Father Gavrilo chews on the thought and is luckily in agreement, although notes that the human body is truly supposed to be starved for sleep now and then. Gödel gives a thin smile and a nod. Mihajlo is mildly impressed with Gödel by this point, though he doesn't say so. Not because of his sketch and calculation on the page here… the Father approaches Gödel and hands the sheet of paper back to him. Gödel sees that his math has been corrected. But instead, because Gödel is the only one the Father has seen in the library at this time of night reading by candlelight in years. He forgot that he used to do that. Confidently, Father Gavrilo takes this as sufficient reasoning to adopt a particular interest in Gödel, despite not knowing much else about him. What risk. What luck. The scarcity, they both conclude of one another, speaks for itself.

Twenty minutes into discussion with Father Gavrilo and the neurons in Gödel's brain sag from heat. He is almost too-deeply planted in the mathematics of his first world — the world of gravity and causation — to process the revelations now brought on by the Authority, the prospect of a life within it, and this monk. There are, he learns, things that prevent you from remembering your most cherished thoughts…

"Memory was the only thing we forgot with until amnestics came along."

… objects that harm you simply by knowing of them…

"Entities that are entwined with the act of addressing their theoretical existence, and that are not always glad about it."

… an entire plane of existence where a thought can be thrown like a baseball…

"Once, I bartered someone else's locket for that someone else's memory tied to it."

Through Gödel, Father Gavrilo recalls discovering these things for the first time. That feeling; like the virgin high from a chemical that will never give you the same experience. He misses it. Sees an opportunity in this new recruit to retry on his old self for a change, to the extent that he can.

The willful suspension of familiarity and rote context, he notes, is an important teacher and lesson, one that continuously makes the eyes new and mind alive. Mihajlo says that he commonly submits himself to age-old thought experiments that help restructure the brain and the mental wiring within. He asks Gödel if he would like to accompany him; there is an opportunity for just this tonight. Gödel is both desperate to leave the library, and too polite to decline the offer.

The endorsement brings them both out the back, through a narrow and musky corridor with too low of a ceiling, up a skeleton of a staircase, the minimal amount of metal possible. Opening a hatch that folds outwards into the night sky, Mihajlo disappears over the cusp of the glorified ladder. An open hand comes back to help Gödel through, and soundlessly closes the hatch behind them. Gödel gets the feeling they weren't supposed to have known about that route.

Father Gavrilo pulls a cigarette from the depths of his beard, and with a lit match signals himself to the black void above, adding his small dot of light in the dance. He sips an inhalation so savored that it makes Gödel wonder if that's why they are truly out there.

"I thought you were Orthodox…"


"Smoking is forbidden, isn't it? Right outside the Monastery too… corrupting the house of God in Eastern Orthodoxy."

"Yes that's true. Let me ask; what do you think God dislikes more? An applied mind or inflexible dogma? The sort of thinking that helps hear, interpret, and understand the rules, or one that can only operate inside of them? Some habits die hard. Others refuse to. Some don't have to and find a version in the anomalous world that is miraculous, and without the toxins that make its usual version sinful."

Gödel pauses before he lets his tastes get the better of him:

"I'd love to bum a smoke."

"I only have one, I'm afraid."

That makes sense. Gödel thinks. Who would carry more than one cigarette in his beard?

The embers piping the cigarette resemble the violence of a forming planet, erupting quietly and lighting the face of its onlooking deity. Seconds pass arduously, the rejection leftover. Turning attention to the dancing smoke, Mihajlo continues where he left off:

"We are constantly working against ourselves. Our natural inclination is to secure wiring in our brains that cause laziness, and that have doomed Authority personnel to develop a dangerous, silent, and routinely fatal enemy for those in this profession; habit. And habit is a very soft pillow. That's why those who think in inverted ways make for the best Authority researchers — those that can sniff out the less obvious anomalies with skill. With a skewed approach. The researcher here finds heritage with the madman, the leper, the outcast, the conspiracy theorist, the martyr. Your rationality must undergo a spectacular death here; so that it may nova and coalesce somewhere else it can't get to in its current state."

Looking upwards, Mihaljo asks Gödel what he sees. Gödel declines to answer because he feels as though any must be wrong at this point; especially the obvious ones. This is a riddle. Instead, Gödel inquires as to how one might develop this… "anti-muscle". The Father takes another drag. Enchanted, Gödel notices that the cigarette’s length hasn’t diminished. The Father forces a chuckle, so rehearsed that it’s natural, and winks, saying that some benign anomalies are best kept uncontained.

"You have to force yourself to understand that there are things you are not registering, simply because you’ve seen similar things over and over. You have to convince yourself that you’ve never seen this sky before, your room before, your route home before. Take this view, above us. You've seen it a thousand times, or have you? All of it must be continuously renewed, decoupled and decontextualzed in parallel with a fully-aware memory. It isn't easy to do."

Gödel says that he is old. If someone wanted to make up for lost time, how would one go about it? There is no way other than time, dedication, and hard work; the answer isn’t satisfying and Gödel presses the Father for his secrets.

Gavrilo thinks:

"Are you Orthodox?"


"In that case, I recommend drugs."

The Father says this is best for a beginner of his age. He is no user himself. But, he explains, because an older mind is more set with less plasticity than the ideal recruit to the Authority, it can be that nudge that starts the whole process. Like a sort of shortcut; and being so, it cuts short the time it takes to get to that state. It also cuts short the time you can remain in it. What Gödel wants, Mihaljo insists, is something more permanent. Something in him besides a chemical with a half-life; something that accesses the dimension of thinking after dedicated, hard work.

However, he adds, a drug could help to see what the mind doesn't yet have a coffer for. Something that the natives of this land used and that grows just above ground. Feigning surprise, the Father notices a wild plant just over there…

Father Gavrilo if he watches Star Trek as the hallucinogenic compound floods Gödel's synapses which do not let go of them readily. Me neither, Mihaljo says; he's not one for trendy television, but he happens to really like this one. Nice to turn the brain off every once and a while too. Flush the system.

"We don’t need space tech to do cartography in this field."

Father Gavrilo's face curls upwards in gladness. His eyes become stratospheric.

"All you need is everything you already forgot. Forgetting is such a psychotic act that we have to find permission with drugs sometimes. Research shows that up to 35% of amnestic effects are placebos and we are just beginning to… ”

Gödel trips. For the first time in his life, he conceives of the sky as something other than a great dome; it's not a ceiling. The immensity of the spaces and distances overwhelm him. The glory is too great and he says he needs to get back inside. He believes, incorrectly, that the negative spaces of the library will be better.

Inside a cocoon of stone and recycled air, Gödel let's his index finger trace the shapes of the books on the shelf before him. The words on them are like new symphonies. Their spines are creased with use. He opens a book on Alpha-White class anomalies; the golden embossed text reads "Circa 1910-1930".

“The mere possibility of the anomalous is sometimes enough to render an individual psychotic. There are some who do not have the mental fortitude to follow through with the conclusions, as obvious as they sometimes are. We take for granted that we are surrounded by individuals for whom these beliefs and thoughts are routine. We are that crazy biblical prophet eating locusts in the desert outside of these sometimes cozy walls.

It isn't written down in the text, but the last sentence floats onto the page and is in Mihaljo's voice.

The pages catch fire. He throws the book to the floor but he continues to feel the heat on his palms. Faint embers spill out from the closed book at first, but soon and suddenly there is a roaring and crackling flame before him. All of the anomalies he has read about in the last 16 hours seep to life from the pages. He runs, cowering, as he goes. He learns that he has no fight in him; just flight.

He runs back through the corridor and up the skeleton stairs to escape a bleating arachnid that has pasted itself suddenly onto the nearby archway. There, exhausted, disheveled, and in the boiling mix of adrenaline and a hallucinogen, his mind cracks. His legs melt into the Earth and his toes become antipodal; his legs are swallowed into the Earth. His head elevators and swells in dimension; as if the size of the planet. The world far below inverts into a concavity that he can choose to enter into or not. In the blackness of the space between the glistening dots in the canopy above him, he is dwarfed by the infinities therein; an overwhelming unknown of terror and matter, swirling and churning in indifference to his revelation. Cardinal directions are hilarious. He experiences a calm unlike any he has felt. He remains, limbs stellate, on the dewing grass, for nearly 3 hours. He falls asleep looking into faint shapes of the clouds camouflaged into the night.

Gödel awakes from a sleep he thought would be better. Something walks up to his face and gouges its fingers into his eyes. It's the dawn. Mihaljo is there. He sits and welcomes him with a summary of the night. He is recalling it too gleefully. Oddly, the Father is pleased to hear about the subjective horrors, and Gödel foregoes offense given the debt of reality he experienced and is now coming to terms with.

Mihaljo tells Gödel that he made quite a scene. He threw up comprehensively in the library. Not the hick and whisper sort, but the sort that the remainder of is mopped up with the back of the wrist. Someone will have to clean that up. Very unpleasantly.

The two sit in silence for some time. The wind is blowing hard upon their faces, as if offended by their presence, and attempting to batter their ears as it moves angrily in small detours around their forms. The cool waves reveal to Gödel that the back of his clothes are damp. It doesn't feel bad, like it might sound. As Gödel regains coherent thought, he authorizes himself to utter a groan of regret deep into his hands. It takes several minutes for any words to surface in the air, heavy as they are with tension. Mihaljo finally remarks that he wrote down the answer to the riddle, that it came to him during the early hours of the morning while he shepherded Gödel from his transient schizophrenia. With a tilt of his neck back, and bringing a small pocket notebook to his face, the Father becomes quite serious, and reads aloud:

I don't see the night sky as small white dots against a total blackness. I see a backlit canopy with holes punched in it.
I don’t hear rain, I hear applause.
I don’t hear the crinkling of paper, I hear the crackling of a fireplace.
I don’t see static, I hear a rushing river, and see an image on the screen that doesn’t fit.

Gavrilo lowers the notepad, the spine pinched between his thumb and forefinger. Gödel says those were pretty words, but that he's sorry, his head is volcanic at the moment, and he just can't think like that.

"Those were't my words," the Father speaks, his smile dawning more and more wryly. He congratulates Gödel on his quick progress and says that with hard work now, he can make this way of seeing the world habitual. He tells him that once he enters that mode, and taking it on and off becomes second nature to him… if he has the discipline to train his mind to do this with its own strength, that great things can come of him here.

Father Gavrilo hands Gödel his unspent, perpetual cigarette.

"I thought you only had one."

"There are always two."

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