Have you ever opened a hundred year old book? Two hundred years old? Older? Often they're in better condition than than books only fifty years old. The twentieth century was all about mass consumerism. Books were often printed as cheaply as possible without them actually disintegrating in your hands the moment you purchased them. They was slightly more care in their manufacture than nitrate film stock.
"Do you know why you're here?"
The question was asked by a man somewhere in middle age, of average height, undetermined mixed ethnicity, and by all that I could see, extremely bland in personality and intelligence.
"I lit a fire," I said.
It was sort of true. There were flames involved. The man clenched his teeth slightly. I could feel him thinking I was some sort of serial killer. I haven't killed anybody in my life. I might in the future, no promises. Things are different now.
"Is that a confession?" asked the man.
"You tell me," I said.
The man let out a rapid little breath he tried to hide.
"Are you going to read me my Miranda rights?"
"That hasn't been relevant in decades," said the man, completely seriously.
"They still do it on cop shows, or do you not watch them?"
"Of course I--"
The man trails off and squints his eyes at me. He pauses then looks at his watch.
"I'm going to interrogate you now," I said.
The man looks up at me sharply and opens his mouth, about to speak. I cut him off.
"You don't participate," I said. "You've opted out. You like green growing things, fresh air, and your own, unadulterated thoughts--"
"What are you insinuating?" he asked.
"You're a functionary. Silent in your opposition, just because you don't want trouble. You've chosen to be a police officer, or some sort of detective or investigator--I can't keep track these days, there are so many layers of security--so that means you want order, but the type of order that exists, the order that you've found yourself enforcing, is not an order you agree with, and you don't know how to rebel against it--"
He cracked me against the jaw with his arm. I fell to the floor. I was expecting it. It's seditious to accuse someone of not participating. He had to defend himself. There were cameras in the corners of the room. There would be questions, and if he was fortunate, his boss would be like him--law and order people who didn't believe in the law and order they upheld.
The cement was cold and somewhat soothing. I was at a literal low point. Defenseless except for my words. My thoughts. There was freedom in being stripped of all power, and then of course there was the act that put me here. The one that confounded them and terrified them.
"Get up," said the man.
I did not.
He walked around the table and pulled me up by the shirt, then righted the chair and sat me back down. He plucked up my cuffed hands and placed them back on the table where he could see them. I looked at him during this. I looked into his eyes as much as I could, to see if he would avert his eyes, and he did.
"You are an archivist, are you not?" asked the man.
"Why did you do this?" he asked.
I smiled and said nothing.
"Why would an archivist destroy an archive? The very thing you work to preserve?"
"Nostalgia," I said.
He crinkled his brow at me.
"You'll need to explain that to me."
"We have passed into an age of noise. You know this, even if you haven't yet articulated your thoughts on it."
"You're very presumptuous about what goes on in the privacy of my mind."
"You say that, and yet you don't deny what I say."
I looked pointedly at the cameras in three of the corners. The man is visibly uncomfortable and tries again to hide it. He rushes on.
"Do you admit to materially destroying the Selector?"
"Absolutely I do. But you still want to know why. You need a motive, and I'm the least likely suspect. Maybe I'm covering for someone else."
The man folded his arms across his chest.
"Yes, a motive would be helpful. And if you did destroy it, I can't see you wanting to hide the details."
"No. I determined that the Selector abuses human imagination, not to mention history. Our art stream is generated by algorithms now, pieced together from previous works. It's amazingly entertaining, dazzling and enthralling, and all classes and countries consume from the same cultural, homogenizing source, but art is now cut off from humanity. It is designed to evolve, to sweep people and culture along with it off into the sunny future, and maybe it does do that, to some degree."
"But why didn't you directly attack the computers that generate art?"
"Access. The Selector samples the art stream, polling for popular themes, and extracting them for permanent preservation. That's my end of things. But that information gets fed back into the algorithms that power the art stream. I broke that loop."
The man looked down at his feet.
"There are redundancies."
"I am aware."
"So your act of sabotage was ultimately futile."
"The message was heard."
He looked up at me.
"You're alone you know. This is your crusade. You don't have followers. You will not be remembered. Your act will be forgotten."
"But for a moment, it registered, and the stream was interrupted."
"You inconvenienced a few people, and destroyed a building. You haven't gained anything."
"Yes, I have."
"What?" he asked. He looked tired. Bored in his blandness.
"I don't have to hide my lack of participation, my lack of consumption. I've earned my own freedom."
"That's nice," he said, rolling his eyes.
He signaled for the door to be opened.
"Maybe someday you will too," I said.