The Curator, chapter one

“Well private collections are a problem, certainly. We have no idea how many are out there. What constitutes a collection, also, is a legitimate question.”

Jonathan perked up at this.
“Yeah, that’s what I was wondering about. Say someone has, in the classic example, an old newspaper announcing the moon landing–“

Earl looked at him with sly sympathy.
“Well, if this friend of yours had only that, and just that, while he’d be in clear violation, it’s not like they’re going to come busting down his door. As long as it doesn’t circulate, he’s not going to get into trouble.”

“But he could be arrested.”
“Yes. Of course.  But if he did nothing to draw attention to it, by, say, showing it to someone–who would then become legally complicit if failing to report it–and if he didn’t draw attention for some other reason, he’s safe”.

“Look what they got that last one for, the director of the International Reparations Program, I don’t recall his name, and obviously you can’t find it anywhere; it was a stack of old pornographic magazines. Obviously the pornography itself isn’t the problem, but everything dating from before 2030 is banned outright, even content clearly bearing no political or social effect, as a catch-all.” 

“Really?” Jonathan regretted the intrigue in his voice. “It’s just that his project, well, it would really help if I could see for myself some of the material.” He hesitated. “Not the reactionary stuff, but the original sources. Don’t get me wrong, the licensed historians are excellent, but–“

“You’d like a look at the source material.”

“Yes.” Jonathan said with a hint of apology. “Otherwise I’m just reassembling work already done. I’m not sure, I don’t see the point in my work, what it adds.”

“Jonathan, you’re the only person I know who’d look a gift horse like this commission in the mouth. I’m afraid it’s out of the question for anyone who hasn’t been admitted to the bar. Sorry. To open the past back up and release those demons after struggling for generations to put them down is out of the question I’m afraid.

“There’s still some very dangerous stuff, not just in your theoretical newspaper. Even the sort of material in the chairman’s pornography collection, there’s to be found all manner of misinformation contradicting established truth. Anything of a political nature dating from before the 2030 law would be a stew of such unmetered narrative it would curl your toes. Anything touching on what used to be called “social issues” for instance–from that chaotic time when people still were allowed all manner of theresy–no matter how innocuous it was at the time. Even in casual, thoroughly non-political material the very language reveals, via its assumptions and references–to an astute reader such as yourself for instance–the extent to which misinformation was not only allowed to circulate, but held as true by many. That revelation alone is as dangerous as any content, and if broadly understood by the masses would be very dangerous indeed.

“Still, I noted the IRP director’s arrest only because they had some other reason to come after him and the collection was a pretext.”

“What was that?”

“Who knows? Obviously this is all between me and you, as is what I’m about to tell you. As you know President Feltyear He-Him said just the other night, the International Convention on Historical Accuracy is moving toward the gradual elimination of visual art from the Pre-Awakening period.”

Jonathan could feel the expression on his face resisting his efforts to conceal it.

“Well they’re finishing up the law right now that will add to the 2030 restrictions imagery, to include photographs, paintings, statuary, so-called abstract–“

” ‘Nothing is abstract’ “. Jonathan quoted the president.

“Yes.” Earl smiled.

“So, with the inclusion of imagery, a great many, maybe most people will be in violation, at least until they’ve turned in any objectionable material. I assume there’ll be a buyback program?”

“No. It’s been determined we were too generous before. Giving as much as 1000 social character points to people, for possessing dangerous material they should have turned over already, has been deemed short-sighted, and has resulted in a degradation of the social character points system.”

“And with a high level of non-compliance that means many more people will find themselves in criminal non-compliance. ” Jonathan spoke without thinking. “You’ll have expanded the category of social criminals.”

“That isn’t such a bad thing. It would be better if everyone was vulnerable by virtue of being in violation. The more people have a stake in avoiding corruption or incompetence the better. Just imagine: if everyone knew he could be arrested at any time, the more incentive he has to work hard to make things work. It’s okay if even most people don’t comply. The population will be divided between the compliant and the always vulnerable non-compliant.”

“Sword of Damocles” Jonathan said.

“Careful.”

“What, are old expressions included?”

“Some will be. We’re working on it. But the reason I brought this all up in the first place is because I have an interesting opportunity for you. The rest of what I tell is entirely confidential, needless to say, and you should be very careful with it whatever you decide. The Department has acquired its own collection, you see, and it’s neither small nor in the category of mere curiosities.”

“Really?” Again he regretted the interest in his voice. “Why?”

“Don’t worry about it. We’re establishing a collection of our own. It’s already quite large, and we expect it to grow with the mass confiscations that will occur with the new law.”

“It won’t all be destroyed?” Now it was hopefulness in his voice which Jonathan regretted.

“No. Some of it will be preserved. Don’t ask me the criteria by which it will be; I don’t know. But we expect to have a vast collection that will stored and preserved in the Capitol, in secret.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, Jonathan. Forget the commission; you’re right, it’s pointless. What I want you to curate our secret collection, so to speak.”

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