Following the Paper Trail
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It all starts with a single piece of paper, reading a single name, followed by a string of characters.

“Klain Opkol, 2E44A52AC1972FBB862466EB1D0B.” The worker repeated out loud, before folding the piece into the shape of a bird (Or so they had been told. Not like they could know for certain.), letting it fly into the dusty sky. Its yellowed wings flapped fast, moving towards the north-east. The worker thus followed after the avian trinket.

This has been their job since their inception: Receive a name, turn it into a guide, and follow it through the Maze of Records looking for, well, a record. It is said that when a soul disappears, it still leaves something behind. Here, that ‘something’ was a single sheet of paper detailing information of some kind. The worker wasn’t sure what that information was about, for they didn’t bother reading any of the papers they fetched. That information wasn’t meant for them, but rather for… Someone, probably. They weren’t aware of the finer details of the job, but they knew it was important. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be this difficult.

After several cycles of walking through the filing cabinets that comprised the floor, walls and roof of the newer facilities, they noticed the paper bird was flying in circles over one of the older places: The Voids of Lost Wisdom, gigantic sinkholes of paper where almost all records rested, buried until their retrieval was asked of them.

The worker whistled, the paper bird diving into the sinkhole, the worker jumping after it. They knew not what death felt like, but swimming into a sinkhole, lost in the darkness of the sea of papercuts was scary, and thus was most likely akin to dying. That’s how they had heard dying was like, from the few souls they had had the pleasure of meeting.

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After a time inside the void that felt like an eternity, during which they could hear nothing but the crumpling of millions of sheets of paper, and see nothing but the shine of the paper bird they were following after, they reached the bottom. ‘A’ bottom, at the very least. Some workers spoke of older times, where the sinkholes were deeper below, and the current sinkholes were the places they call offices and homes. Times where all papers would be filed in the usual system, instead of dropped by the millions into the ground, forming immense piles. Then they would run out of space. Whenever it happened, they would begin building upwards. These new heights would become a new place to work in, and the previous one would be filled to the brim with the papers they couldn’t file during the building period.

They had asked these older workers why they did things this way, and they always responded the same way: ‘This is how it’s always been.’ As far as they knew, this cycle was a natural part of their realm. Of this part of the realm, at least, for they had heard not everywhere was like this. Past the towers of manifolds, there were rivers of ink and mountains of wood and castles and basements and many other such constructs. What their purpose was, they didn’t know. Their knowledge of it didn’t affect their job anyway.

The bird slowly unfolded into a sheet again, passing through a filing cabinet. The worker grabbed the rusty handle, and pushed. It barely moved. They tried again, getting the drawer out, pieces of the spring that’s supposed to keep it in place jumping around, loose. Tons of paper began being sucked into the hole they had made, the worker among the parchments.

Another scary moment, but the worker barely reacted. This was part of the job, after all. A rather common part as well. Getting up and removing several of the papers stuck to their body, they kept following after the bird, which had folded itself again into its previous shape, jumping around, looking left and right before navigating through the building. This was the easy part, which allowed the worker to take a short break, sitting down on a collapsed cabinet, watching as the floor slowly began filling with the paper they had let in. This would make finding information here more difficult in the future, but it was quite rare that they needed to explore the same areas again. That might become a problem in a thousand thousand thousand cycles. Oh well.

Finally, the bird chirps, the single sound these constructs make, the worker getting up and walking to where it was. The bird had a single sheet of paper on its beak. The worker took it, and immediately after, the bird exploded into bits of confetti paper. Thanks for your service.

The worker pulled out a brown-colored envelope, putting the file in. Without a second of hesitation, they made their way back to the cabinet hole they had left, jumping through it, swimming against the bureaucratic current. After a few moments, they were free of the pull.

Finally, their scavenger hunt was over, and they were ready to go home.

The return took about the same amount of cycles as their departure. Once back in the offices, they met the Paper Effigy, a massive creature made of thousands of workers that moved as a single one. This was the entity that assigned every worker of this part of the realm the bird-guides they needed to complete their work.

"Klain Opkol, 2E44A52AC1972FBB862466EB1D0B." The worker read the name on the folder, before presenting it to the Effigy. The goliath stares at the worker with hundreds of judgmental eyes before stretching a limb, the worker on the end of it grabbing the paper before inserting it inside a cylindrical capsule, dropping it inside a pipe system that sent the file wherever it needed to be.

"Here is your next job." The Effigy spoke, the voices of all the automatons that composed it harmonizing together before grabbing the topmost paper off one of the hundreds of towers that surrounded them, each one a job yet to fulfill.

The worker accepts it, before looking at it. It contained a single name, followed by a string of characters.

"Allison Wor, 2E44A52AC1972FBB862466EA8329." The worker repeated out loud, before folding the piece into the shape of a bird.

The bird flew south-east. The worker followed.

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