Chapter 11 (continued)
It did not take long for Ailu to make a decision, the best place to interface was the Trade Academy of Quskaranam. As she walked through the immaculate streets of the city always polished to the point where the streets and buildings gleamed in the light of the sun and the stars alike, she worked on her alibi. While neither their sojourn in Nkiska nor the sudden change of pace had been previously planned Ailu never left headquarters without being prepared. She new all the important facts of all the nations of the world, had comprehensive knowledge of all on the continent and committed to heart detailed intelligence on all the most important cities. Just like the shining beauty of their cities was a point of pride to the Nkiskans so Ailu was proud of her comprehensive and up to date knowledge. It was was separated her from all the good handlers of the Agency, what made her stand out. It was also this dedication which made her such a good match for Anira whose erratic behaviour was celebrated when it scored the Agency another victory and deplored when it upset the bureaucrats back home who could not see beyond the edges of their rule books. And her patient curiosity. Aliu had always loved to watch things develop with Anira she had the possibility to watch systems she understood pretty well thanks to her through self-education and see how it changed in the most interesting ways once Anira decided to give it a sound kicking because of one of her instincts.
She wandered down Gold Ribbon Boulevard, nicknamed Poets Path by the inhabitants as it was home to a seemingly endless series of little cafés and restaurants which were both stylish and inexpensive attracting the more artistically inclined citizens and tourists. Passing by she watched the people sitting out side sipping their drinks having vivid often temperamental discussions of the latest developments in theoretical trade or books or theatre or what ever other interest might be worthy of heated debate that day. There were tables, sometimes even whole cafés, dedicated to certain topics, usually with a few central players surrounded by listeners or people who just through in some argument into the general conversation. These peripheral people tended to traditionally wander along the tables and establishments as their fancy struck them. This 'bazaar' of information was especially popular with foreign traders as developments opinions and news on pretty much everything could be gathered here. Ailu was sure that the Free Agency as well as pretty much ever other intelligence service had their own representatives here furiously taking notes. Looking at this ordered chaos made Ailu smile, there was something deeply satisfying about it for her. She herself had spend many months in this place and others like it soaking in knowledge. By now she had so much facts and data in her head that much like Anira she had developed the ability to let her unconscious chew on the masses on data and spit out relevant ideas when they were ready.
Today she was starting to feel that annoying mental itch which always appeared when she was beginning to form an idea which she could not grasp yet. There were important factors coming together in meaningful ways but had not yet a concrete form. It drove her crazy. She hoped that what ever it was that she was trying to come up with would be aided by the Free Agencies massive knowledge base.
The monumental building housing the Trade Academy which stood at the very beginning of Poets Path was slowly starting to dominate Ailu's view. The building had been constructed in the Expansionist Style popular in Nkiska when the channel project had turned it from a wealthy nation into an insanely rich. The style blended a great number of styles that were en vogue during that time in different parts of the continent in a way that the Nkiskan elite though was a tasteful representation of their urbane and cosmopolitan national character. Back when it was created it was widely derided by critics all over the planet for its horrible perversion of classical styles which had reached their peak through centuries of gradual evolution. One hundred years later it was the favourite form of architecture with the rich and powerful even now new buildings were made in derivatives of Expansionist style.
The Academy was a monument to Nkiska's fortune, to its willingness to disregard tradition for new, better forms and a pledge to add to their material wealth also a wealth of knowledge. While most savants had sneered at the ridiculous notion of a half-barbarian nation of merchants no less, to be able to buy culture most of them did change their opinion when confronted with enormous amounts of wealth from these barbarians coupled with a pledge to allow them to indulge in their arts and sciences to their hearts content. The Trade Academy was there so that the brilliant of the world had a place where they could follow their calling unimpeded. While their patrons where taking note of their innovations turning them into advanced goods or ways to get things done. The 'trade' in the name was originally to indicate a trade of material wealth for pure knowledge but as time passed the first trade philosophers appeared who attempted to find the systems underlying deals of all kinds.
Today the Trade Academy is one of the few academies that is stands on equal footing with the academies of the Order of Reason, surpassing them in trade philosophy, which until very recently was ignored by the Order for being beneath them.
The building itself consisted of the towering main building that stood at the very beginning of the street leading towards it, with two arms extending left and right into the street. The entire structure was slightly curved so that it embraced the people who walked into it long before they had reached the main entrance. While the outside was dominated by crystal encrusted marble the sides facing the central plaza were dominated by high slender columns and flawless single windows reaching from the ground up to the roof opening the view to the extensive libraries, workshops and laboratories inside. All the offices and more boring rooms lay well hidden on the other side of the building.
Ailu entered through the main entrance walking toward the crystal library. Having been an official student two lives during one of her first info gathering assignments she new her way around the labyrinthine halls of the Trade Academy. While the design inside was as majestic inside as it was outside, the architects had neglected to mark the floors and endless corridors in any significant way meaning that the first semester of every student was filled as much with getting lost as attending lectures and studying. After a few months though everyone learned their way around, navigating by smells, minute differences or simply by knowing exactly how far to go and how many turns to take.
The crystal library was a vast repository of data crystal covering pretty much every subject conceivable. As well as holding original works many also contained copies of precious ancient texts which would only ever be allowed into the hands of experts and even then only reluctantly. As Ailu passed the rows and rows of shelves of crystal rods glinting in the sun flooding through the giant windows she felt a strong temptation to stop and have a quick look at some of the more interesting of them. She was wandering through a vault holding her favourite form of treasure: knowledge. Making soft unhappy sounds she turned away from all temptations walking towards the information spike with grim, slightly bitter determination.
The information spike stood in its own wide clearing, with now shelve getting anywhere near it. Nothing was to detract of its majesty. Much like gems naturally occurring spikes weren't much to look at. Usually they were covered with a thick crust of a grey slightly brittle stone, which gave the Litho-Cortex its name. Only through much work could the crystal beneath be uncovered. It took immense care to cut away the stone cover without ruining the crystal beneath it, then the raw crystal had to be polished uncovering its true soft milky nature shining with moving motes of every colour imaginable. At night these polished rocks gave a bright warm light, while during the day they reflected the light of the sun in a dazzling display of coloured flashes. They information net work would never have existed if the crystals had retained this characteristics when removed from their veins, but to humanities later great advantage they lost all of their beauty when mined turning into dull grey pieces of brittle quartz making them unsuitable for the production of jewellery.
The Fountain of Wisdom as the local spike was called, better known as the Bitter Mines to the students, was not only perfectly polished from them outside but carefully cut into a building in itself, maximising the space available for people to access the Litho-Cortex. Inside near the spikes core were the cells fitted with the instruments which were needed by people who did not have the ability to directly interface with the crystal using their mind-force. The places on the outside where exclusively for the people who had the ability to merge their minds with the energy field of the crystal. While Ailu could do that she hated to merge with the information field, so she chose one of the rooms in between where she could use her mind force to manipulate the Litho-Cortex with her mind while seeing the data with her own two eyes.