I was flying above the city of Barcelona, taking measures of tropospheric and stratospheric air currents. The mayor of Barcelona wasn't happy to have a mad scientist flying above the city using wings of fusion plasma, hauling around advanced scientific equipment, and sent me a few phone calls saying as much. I pretended not to speak Spanish and hung up.
I had just completed my pressure measurements when a message came through from Noetron. Medium Priority. I opened it up, and it was a news article. At least he wasn't sending me cat pictures.
Apparently, the New Archivist was below me, visiting the art museums of Barcelona. Really, Neurotron commented. Are you really going to quit these meteorological experiments so that you can go chase after someone who's sort of your friend?
I was going through the security footage of every museum in the city before I touched the ground, trying to find her. I approached her, and saw her admiring a Van Gogh. "Hello, stranger."
She looked at the picture for a fraction of a second more, and turned around. "Hello, Phoenix. I didn't see you."
"I know. I'm so discreet." She laughed.
"I was focusing on this painting."
I examined it. It looked like a Rorschach test in yellow and blue. Wikipedia said it was a field. Some kind of metaphor for his love life or something. Booooooring! "It's beautiful."
"Did you know that Van Gogh painted it in 1882 while on a vacation?"
"No, I didn't."
"Oh my god!" I saw a masterpiece out of the corner of my eye. "It's my masterpiece."
"Yeah. I made it a few years ago."
"No, Leonardo Da Vinci made it a few centuries ago."
"That's exactly what I told the art dealer!"
She frowned for a second. "It was made for the Duke of Milan, and the Virgin Mary in this picture is actually the Duke's mistress. The blue paint is-"
The New Archivist rushed to examine the painting. "Oh." A pause. "Wow. The shading, the lines. Almost perfect for Da Vinci. I'm not surprised you fooled them."
"You shouldn't be. I might not appreciate art, but forgery is a science. This was made by a robot, using authentic fifteenth-century paint I created myself. I had to hard-code all of Da Vinci's great works, use a genetic algorithm to create a virtual art expert, and create a second algorithm smart enough to fool the first."
She seemed lost in thought for a moment. "Your forgeries are fantastic. Could you please do me the favor of making some for my collection?"
"Sure, I've been meaning to revisit the field anyways. I could steal you some genuine ones too, if you want."
"No, thanks. I come in peace and all that."
There was something off about her. She seemed distracted. Lost in thought a little too much for someone who already had all the answers in the known universe. Something was up.
"What's up?" Best to be direct.
"Huh? Oh, I'm thinking about how your use of light is nothing like Da Vinci's."
"First of all, it is withing two sigma's of his early work. Second of all, that clearly isn't all you're thinking about. You've been distracted all day."
She looked around. There was nobody else in the room. "Can you keep a secret?"
"I spent three months selling corporate secrets."
She ignored me. "It's the Archives. The combined knowledge of thousands of civilizations. Trillions of individuals. In my head every moment. Like A'aa'aaaaaa'a in the Taurian epic poem, I can't have solitude. Like Hive 2580427/5717/841, I have voices in my head, filling me with alien ideas. It gets a little distracting at times."
"I might be able to help. I could install some kind of filter into the diadem-"
"No. I am the Archivist. I need to be constantly in touch with my Archives."
"It's who I am. What I am. My reason for being."
"Have you considered that maybe it isn't healthy for your reason for being to a little ruby circlet you wear on your head?"
"You don't understand."
I've never really liked being told that I don't understand. People tend to say it with such finality, as if it meant that understanding was forever beyond my grasp. But before I could respond that I was an incomparable genius who could understand practically everything, she changed the subject.
"By the way, how would you like a tour of my cosmic collection."
A tour of the Archives! Alien sights. Advanced technology! Gross stuff! Exploding stuff! Frozen stuff! How could I refuse?
"Sure, I'd love to."
"I have important meeting for the next week. Would you like to come next Saturday?"
"Some ground rules: the last time you were in the Archives, you stole ancient knowledge, and caused the death of Rava-Iss. I'd prefer to stay alive, so please refrain from looting my collection or dragging me into an epic battle of godlike beings."
"Deal." I paused, thinking about Mephistopheles and his mysterious powers. "Have you been paying attention to this whole Mephistopheles thing?"
"Yes. Some are calling him the world's greatest villain? Jealous."
"A tiny bit. Do you have any idea where his powers could have come from?"
"Are you asking me to search my Archives?"
"Very well." She closed her eyes. Her diadem began to glow red. Out of courtesy, I refrained from doing a spectral analysis, but I did wonder where the glow could be coming from. Thermal? No way. A special effect? Seemed to tacky for the Archivist.
She opened her eyes. "Nothing. I couldn't find any reference to any technology like that. Whatever it is, it's something new in the galaxy. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need some rest, and staring at some of these portraits is as close to sleep as I'm going to get."
I left her, wondering just what if took to be constantly in communion with a vast trove of alien knowledge. And trying to convince myself to follow the New Archivist's ground rules. She was a friend, and I shouldn't go stealing her stuff. Not even her really cool stuff...