Chapter 8 – Not made in China
Jack was looking at Eirik through the newly reformed transparent window. The water started receding and he could see air pockets forming on the ceiling. The pressure in the remaining water slowly started to increase, forcing him to equalize the pressure in his airways by blowing air into his pinched nose since he had never managed to do it by swallowing. Kneeling on the floor, he removed his stage tank from the front of the buoyancy device and laid it down on the ground in front of him. As he raised his head, he noticed that it was out of the water already. He waited a few more seconds and then stood up. Feeling his equipment was rather heavy, he unplugged the hose from his dry suit and deposited his rebreather on the rubbery floor. He then removed his mask and fins while holding his breath the entire time. He lifted his stage tank from the floor by using a rubber handle and started breathing from it. It was easy at first, but as the regulator mechanism slowly dried out, it became much harder to inhale. After every few breaths, the regulator jammed and he had to exhale hard to unblock it each time. These weren’t designed for use outside water and he knew it. He assumed he could take a few more breaths before taking the chance to breathe the air of the decompression chamber.
Jack took a long breath, most likely his last from the tank, and it made him tremble a little. He held his breath as long as he could before taking another. As he looked around, no longer troubled by his mask, he noticed that the water had not only drained away, but everything was now completely dry. The ambient air temperature was at a comfortable level. He felt as if he had only just stepped from the water to his living room in Florida. Looking at the
structure and what had happened in the past few minutes gave him enough confidence to attempt to breathe without his scuba equipment. As his chest started to hurt, he slowly removed the regulator from his mouth, exhaled and took a small breath, then another, until he could breathe normally. The air felt very fresh just like the filtered air from his scuba tank.
Bringing his mask to his mouth, Jack spoke excitingly, “Eirik, this place is amazing, everything around me is dry, the air is warm and as clean as if I was standing inside a hospital’s hyperbaric chamber.”
He waited a few seconds for his buddy’s reply, but it never came. He started walking toward the outside glass and could see—thanks to the light generated within the corridor—Eirik jesting to him, trying to make him understand that the communication system didn't seem to work through the glass. Seeing this, Jack gave him the closed fist sign indicating him to wait and rushed back inside the corridor, past his equipment laid carelessly upside down on the floor, and pressed the purple button on the opposite wall. Just like it had done to the outer door, the inside door vanished. The air coming from the corridors was just as fresh and warm as in the decompression chamber. Without a moment of indecision, he started carrying his gear and laid them against the wall on his left, and then he returned to Eirik and signalled him to come in.
He went through the open doorway again and rematerialized the glass. Eirik, seeing that Jack was no longer in the chamber, repeated the process and before long he was inside removing his gear just as Jack had done ten minutes before.
Jack entered the chamber and shook hands with his buddy. “That's one small fin kick for man, but one giant leap for all divers.” He winked and continued, “I think it's alright to leave our equipment here. I couldn't flood it from the outside, so it is safe to say that in order for us to get out of here, we would have to seal ourselves in, gear up and flood it before we go open the outer door.” Jack completed with great assurance as if the ten extra minutes he had in the facility gave him some sort of seniority.
“This place is huge. I mean, if it is indeed a dodecahedron like we suspect, this place is likely three times the size of an aircraft carrier.”
The corridors all looked exactly like the decompression chamber. The ambient lighting seemed to fill the corridors evenly as well. Seeing no signs of life, they unconsciously started making their way through the left corridor. From their position, they could already see doors on each side. As they walked closer, they saw on the left of each door, there were black control panels identical to the ones they had previously encountered inside and outside what they have simply labelled as the “Facility.”
“Do you mind if we open this door? After all, we are here to explore, aren’t we?” asked Jack, standing in front of the first door on the left, and with that statement, he placed his hand on the control panel. Like before, only the purple button appeared.
“Weird, this control panel doesn't seem to allow us to make the door transparent, it just vanished at once,” Eirik commented.
“Well, if this was your bedroom, I'm not sure you would be too happy if someone could make the door transparent while you're banging your wife,” interjected Jack.
“Yeah, I get the point,” Eirik laughed. “This technology is incredible, I can't stop wondering if this is human technology or not... I mean, it’s pretty advanced, but is it too advanced for us to have made it?” he added, taking a step inside, but stopped by Jack’s hand.
“Wait, I have my dive knife, let me go first. The transparent window thing, I have seen it before. My uncle has an office in downtown Chicago and he can make his glass frosted or transparent at the flip of a switch. It's called electrochromic glass,” Jack explained as he cautiously entered and started to sweep the room starting on the right. “But it is nowhere completely opaque like these and he definitely cannot make his glass disappear completely. Maybe after a while we’ll find some Made in China stuff, which would convince me that it is man-made. After all, everything is made in China these days, even my adopted daughter,” Jack laughed, a little sad thinking of his daughter still in the States with his ex-partner.
The room was spacious even by American standards and seemed to be furnished with “New Look” designed furniture. There was a door on the right, and in the middle of the room against the wall was a decently large bed, but relatively low to the ground, with no blankets or pillows. The left side wall seemed to be covered by storage drawers, all of them equipped with a small black control panel; in front of them stood a table and four chairs. The room and furniture seemed to be completely denuded of decorations and the plainness of the corridors and this first room deprived them of any clues to who could have built it and when.
“By the look of the bedding platform, I would guess these people are not Norwegian; we like our mattress thick and soft,” observed Eirik as he approached the sleeping platform. He sat on it and felt it was decently padded despite its thickness. He lay down on it but immediately jumped off in a fright, making a loud shrieking sound and turned on his heel to face the bed. Jack, who was walking toward the door on the right, jumped as well and turned, arms raised, knife in hand. On the bed, they both could see a set of pillows and clearly visible on the platform where Eirik laid down a few seconds earlier was the shape of his body, which apparently left an imprint. On the floor in front of the bed was a blanket still flipping in the air. It appeared on top of him and he kicked it as he jumped to escape the bedding platform that was transforming all around him.
“Definitely not IKEA!” concluded Jack calmly enough, but his heart rate had nearly doubled in the time it took for him to say it. They could already see the blankets and pillows disappearing and the platform returning to the original smooth surface as when they first entered the room.
After the initial shock had passed, Eirik reluctantly sat on one of the chairs, still panting a little. “Definitely not IKEA,” he repeated. Nodding to Jack that he was alright, Eirik gave him a hand gesture which Jack understood as a go ahead.
Jack turned around to face the door of what seemed to be a closet, and pressed the purple button once again. The door vanished immediately to reveal a bathroom. He entered and was surprised to see a square sink with no discernible faucet, a familiar-style toilet or so he assumed, as it was not made of porcelain and it wasn’t white. On the opposite corner, he could see on the floor and the ceiling two identical dark grey pentagons. “Eirik, this looks like a Star Trek transporter pad.”
“On my side, I have discovered that the drawers are full of clothes, seems to be for female but I wouldn’t like her; she must be short and a bit wide in the midsection,” described Eirik. “But although these clothes are not for a top model, they definitely don’t look like clothes for a little grey alien either.” But he got no reply from Jack.
Jack decided against his better judgement, and stepped on the pad. He started feeling a tingling sensation all over his body, then it stopped and he heard the voice of a woman saying a few words in a language he couldn't understand. “Eirik, I just heard a voice, get your butt over here!” Jack yelled in a loud voice barely hiding a sense of urgency. He then stepped off the dark grey pad as his friend entered the bathroom. “I just stepped on it and I heard a voice, seems like a female voice but I can’t make it out--it could be Norse or Swedish for all I know.”
“Please, step on it again and let's hear what it is,” said Eirik.
Jack stepped on the pad and felt the same sensation on his body again just like a minute before, and there came back the voice.
“So, is that Norwegian?” asked Jack, looking at Eirik who seemed to be still waiting for something.
“I don't know. I didn't hear anything,” replied Eirik.
“Very strange... It was loud, how could you not hear it?” asked Jack, confused. “On top of that, when I was standing on the pad, I felt tingled all the time as if I was being exposed to low-level microwaves.”
“No way! If this is what I think it is, we just witnessed two new technologies that I have read about but actually never seen in person,” Eirik said with eyes glowing. “If you can only hear the voice clearly on the pad, then this is a directional sound wave and the tingling sensation could only be that of a sonic shower.”
“You mean, those showers that you don’t have to use water and make high-pitch hissing noises?” asked Jack, thinking that it was possible. After all, the dentists were using sound to clean patients’ teeth and hospitals were using sonic containers to sterilize instruments.
“These are the ones, but it is not science fiction really. I remember a Discovery Channel documentary about a Japanese man who invented one in the 1980s, a sonic washing machine. It was apparently only waiting for government approval and some more tweaking. That technology was supposed to change our world: No more need for water for washing, no more need of soap either. They said that 70 percent of the water used by humans is for washing and that would be saved by these new advancement in technology. Showers could have been available in remote areas and dry lands using only solar power. All that without the dumping of soap, thus saving the environment even more,” said Eirik, bowing his head in shame and regrets thinking that the future could never be like it was portrayed in Star Trek, so long as capitalism and corruption overcame the overall good of the people.
“If this technology is so awesome, how come we don’t have one in every home?” asked Jack, looking intently at Eirik for the answer.
“That’s a mystery, but a lot of people have likely guessed it right. The little Japanese inventor was working on his sonic machine on evenings and weekends in his small apartment. He was living a modest life with his wife and son. But months later, he claimed that the sonic washer was a failure and refused to continue or to transfer his knowledge. Saying it would help no one and that nothing could be learned by his many failures. When journalists dug deeper, they realized that he had moved to a superb penthouse in Tokyo and had traded his old Toyota for the latest Lexus. Further investigation revealed that a major soap company had bought all the patents and prototypes and killed the project to save their lucrative business,” explained Eirik.
“So, if this is indeed a sonic washer, it could still be man-made then?” asked Jack rhetorically. As they were discussing, they exchanged places on the pad. As Eirik stepped on, he heard the voice at last.
“That’s neither Norwegian nor Uralic,” concluded Eirik. “I can’t really identify it.”
“Well, I can’t understand the words, but let’s see if we can understand the general idea,” Jack volunteered, removing his dry suit and inner garments.
“Are you serious? You are taking a shower?” asked Eirik, his eyes going to his watch and then at his soon-to-be naked friend.
“Call it a scientific experiment, we need to know what that is and besides, I have three layers of the warmest arctic diver inner garments and it is hot in here. I’m sweating profusely already, if I return in the cold water like that, I’ll die of hypothermia within minutes,” Jack explained, barely exaggerating. “Also, if I’m right, we will likely learn a few new words.”
“Ok, I hear you. I’ll remove a layer or two as well, although I’m not too comfy in assuming this place is empty, for all we know it is occupied and our arrival has been noticed. I’ll go take a look around in the same direction we have started to head,” informed Eirik, meaning the left corridor.
“Okay, let’s continue the exploration for thirty minutes and then return to the surface. I have an idea of what we can tell them for our lack of communication and inform them that they can resume the drilling,” Jack replied with assurance. “Don’t worry, I’ll join you in five minutes.”
Eirik exited the room, turned left and continued down the corridor. He passed in front of several doors, only pressing the purple button, let the door vanish, looked inside, but noticing they were all bedrooms, he didn’t bother to enter. It didn’t take very long for him to find a pattern: Beneath the control panel, he could see pictograms on a colour strip. He noticed also that most of the time, only the last two pictograms would change, but at the door he was currently standing in front of, the strip was blank. He touched the control panel and the purple button; it was becoming sort of second nature to him now, like turning a door knob. The door vanished as expected, revealing a small room the size of a closet. At the back of the room, he could see that the wall had a large rectangular shape in a lighter color than that of the wall it was painted on. Stepping in, a three-dimensional representation of the facility appeared from thin air in front of him and floated in midair. Eirik jumped back in a fright and let out a small “woop” sound for the second or third time this day. He started to see something parallel to the scary ride at the amusement park when he was a kid. He placed his hand on his chest as if to see whether his heart was still beating and took a deep breath. Fear was fast being replaced by amazement as he could now see the Facility for the first time in its entirety. As far as he could estimate, the complex was more like a city with hundreds of rooms, big and small. All the rooms were placed on each side of the corridors which were encircling the parameter. There were a few more inner circles that linked all the five corridors converging from the edge all the way to the centre. Some rooms were so large that he assumed they could be either gathering areas or warehouses.
Taking a moment to regain his composure, he slowly stepped forward again, extended his hand and touched the new image with the tip of his fingers. The three-dimensional image that had just materialized in front of him felt semi-solid, much like the soft balls made for babies or perhaps warm Jell-O, he surmised. By using his fingers he could rotate, enlarge, and navigate through the various corridors, distributed all around the Facility in a very symmetrical way. In addition, he could see black squares distributed at almost every level; at all five corners and the mid-sections and in the centre, but only one of them was flashing. As he reduced the size of the holographic projection to a minimum, he confirmed that they were right all along about the shape of the structure: It was indeed a dodecahedron. Based on the size of the corridors and the rooms, he realized that the Facility was much larger than what he had estimated.
As he was contemplating the section with the black flashing square, he was jerked out of his daze by a low whistle. “Eirik, where are you?” asked Jack in a hoarse whisper.
“I’m here,” answered Eirik, also keeping his voice relatively low. “I think I have discovered an elevator.”
“Sweet, does it actually have density?” asked Jack as he entered the lift and looked at the geometric shape hovering in the middle of the room.
“Oh, that… yeah, it’s amazing. It is not only a hologram, but it has some sort of tactile response to my touch. I can turn it, zoom in and zoom out. The best part is that I think I have understood the layout of the Facility already; it is very intuitive. On each door, there is a colour strip; there are also pictograms which seem to be designating the room numbers and, if you look, for lack of a better word at the hologram, you can see that the color of the corridor where the black square is flashing is the same as on the strips in this section, orange. So, I'm assuming that the black flashing square is where we are and that the other black squares are actually the locations we can go to with this elevator,” surmised Eirik quite accurately.
“So you figured all that in the time it took me to take my first sonic shower,” observed Jack, laughing in bewilderment.
“Yes and there's more; look as I zoom in, you can see that throughout the Facility there are a lot of rooms of different colours and with names or numbers on them. I'm assuming that these have a significance of some sort,” continued Eirik, totally ignoring the excitement on the face of his friend.
“Or they could be complete phrases, like in Chinese, morphosyllabic characters or even runes, where each stands for an idea of its own,” offered Jack, having studied the general idea of the Chinese characters during the adoption process of his daughter.
“Possible,” was Eirik’s absent-minded answer.
“Well, for my part, I was right. As soon as I removed my clothes and stepped on the pad, the shower activated, but no voice came on. After a minute or two, the tingling sensation stopped and I felt cleaner than I have ever been,” inserted Jack, smiling at Eirik and raising his index to indicate him to pause. “Shut up, before you say something mean.”
“Oh great,” said Eirik, still in admiration in front of the hologram and continued as if his friend had never spoken. “I think we should travel to this circular room which is in the dead centre of the place. It seems to have five doors leading to it and it is likely the Command Centre or at least something of importance.”
“But how do we come back to our current location?” asked Jack, genuinely concerned for the time, knowing they had been out of radio contact for 53 minutes already and thinking about the dive master and the rest of the people waiting for them on the surface.
“That's the easy part; the flashing black square is the last one at the top of that colour-coded section, so all we have to do is to return to that square and we should be back here,” responded Eirik with a sigh as if stating something so obvious that it shouldn't even have been said in the first place.
“Alright, push it, but just make sure you bring us back before our scuba gear turns into pumpkins,” added Jack, 55 minutes.
Eirik touched the black square which was closest to their desired destination with one finger. After a second, the hologram disappeared and they felt a slight vibration reverberating through the floor. The door behind them reappeared and they could now feel the change of directions, first downward and then sideways. They had no way to know their speed, but they reckoned it was rather fast.
It took about two minutes for them to travel the distance, considering that Eirik had measured the parameter of the Facility at roughly a kilometre. He was quite impressed by the three dimensional elevator. One more thing to be added to what they already noticed was a long list of marvellous technologies they had encountered since they had entered the water for the third time today—57 minutes earlier. Upon arrival, a soft flickering light was seen by both as the door vanished. They exited together into the corridor in front of them. It was wider and the ceiling was higher than the corridors they had started from, the walls were light grey, much like the grey on the screen inside the elevator. Starting left again, they walked around the great circular corridor in the dead centre of the structure. On the right, they soon noticed a break in a circle revealing a doorway. Next to it, a control panel was placed. At first glance, it looked like any other panel they encountered since they stepped in the Facility exactly an hour ago. Jack pressed the purple button like he had a few times before, but this time nothing happened. He repeated the process a few times, but still the door didn’t vanish.
“That seems like a secure location,” offered Eirik, assuming that the door was locked, although no sign of a good old-fashioned keyhole or card scanner could be seen.
“Well, let’s keep walking, maybe the next door is not protected in the same fashion,” acknowledged Jack, although he didn’t believe a word he had just said.
Eirik was walking a little faster this time. He had seen Jack looking at his dive computer from time to time and he knew that time was running out for them, soon they would have to return to the surface in order not to arouse any more suspicions.
“Eirik, we are at 64 minutes now; we need to go back to the surface very soon. Also, we will have a problem, we need to delete our dive from the computer,” Jack said, feeling as nervous as he had been as a child when his father, a corpulent farmer with hands the size of King Kong’s, called him to his room to punish him for not doing his chores.
“Why erase our-” but Eirik trailed off as he had looked at his computer, which indicated time at the surface to be 53 minutes. “Damn, the sensor thinks that we have returned to the surface,” resumed Eirik, now starting to see the reason of his buddy’s pale face.
“Too late now, we should have waited for a day off to return, not doing it in front of everyone like that,” snapped Jack, feeling pissed at himself and more nervous than before, if it was even possible.
“Should have, would have, could have,” Eirik replied, knowing it was too late and that turning around now wouldn’t help. “Let’s check that room first, okay?” At that, Jack answered nothing and continued walking along site his friend.
Arriving at the next door seventy-two degrees later around the circle, now in the brown quadrant, Eirik had barely stopped in front of the control panel when he pressed the purple button like Jack had done at the previous door. But this time, the door vanished, leaving only a thin mist behind where it had been.
“That’s curious, it didn’t vanish completely,” observed Eirik, stepping forward with a hand in front of him as if to avoid hitting an object in the dark. He approached slowly, half expecting to receive an electric shock, but the remaining lookalike mist did not hinder him at all. As his body cleared the doorway, he found himself on a mezzanine overlooking a vast room divided in five quadrants. All five sections were essentially the same as far as he could tell, each was furnished by black desks arranged facing the centre of the room with a single chair for each desks. If there was a separate area for the boss, he couldn’t tell.
After scanning the room top to bottom and left to right, he found no one. The lights were open, but there was nobody home, he thought, which was exactly what he had hoped since he had entered 67 minutes earlier. He couldn’t tell if the lights were already on or if they turned on automatically when he had entered either, but he assumed motion sensors rather than people forgetting to close them. From the mezzanine, he could see platform elevators leading to the ground floor, but no stairs. It seemed that the builders trusted the elevators never to fail. Before starting to walk toward one, he turned around to see what was taking Jack so long. But Jack wasn’t with him, he was still on the other side of the mist jesting to him and moving his lips. Eirik couldn’t hear a thing and he approached the mist and instinctively touched the control panel and then the purple square next to the doorway. The door reappeared fully, making Jack jump on the other side, but Eirik didn’t see that. As the door reappeared, he pressed it one more time and the door vanished again, leaving the same mist behind once more, but this time with Jack standing with his hands on his hips with a What-the-fuck-are-you-doing look clearly visible on his face. Looking at the panel again, this time Eirik noticed it. On the panel under the purple button was a grey one. Not sure of its purpose, he pressed it and the mist vanished completely. Jack walked in fast, half-afraid that the mist would return before he had a chance to enter. The mist reformed behind him.
“What the hell, I was trying to pass through the door like you just did, but I couldn't; to the touch, it felt as solid and as cold as marble. I could see you, but I couldn't hear a thing and you obviously couldn’t hear me either, it seemed,” explained Jack, clearly puzzled and starting to feel the frustration mounting within him. “To satisfy my fuckin’ wounded pride, I would definitely like to know why it allowed you in and not me.”
Eirik shrugged, feeling as bewildered as Jack, but still ventured to offer an explanation. “Beats me; if it is a facial recognition software, the chance that the system could have mistaken me for someone currently in the database is extremely unlikely. So I’m forced to conclude that it is basing its parameters on something else,” speculated Eirik, thinking that the technology was probably more advanced than that. “I didn't even try the first door, but I'll make a point to try it on the way out just to see if the other door is faulty. But with what we have seen so far, I wouldn’t be surprised that the security feature is actually more than skin deep—probably neural or something more complex.”
“What do you mean?” Jack shot back thinking that it wasn’t time for one of Eirik’s superiority complex outbursts. “Do you mean to say that the scanner or security sensors may actually analyze the brain itself, reading the neural pathways somehow?”
“Anything's possible, we have seen so many things since we arrived that I would not put that knowledge beyond the ability of the people who designed this place,” answered Eirik, now walking toward the elevator. “The question we must ask ourselves is: If my hypothesis about the relationship between the access controls for this facility and brain scan is accurate, it would mean that there is something the system does not like about you, thus you have been denied access to this room... but you also have your dive knife on you, which could be that too, though we don’t have the time to test that now. Let’s take a quick look and run back.”
“Sure,” replied Jack, thinking that at least he had not been rejected after Eirik opened the door on his side. “It’s almost like the system would allow someone to be an invited guest.” Not reassuring, I tell you.
“What do you say we continue looking around for another five minutes and then we can make our way back to where we started,” recommended Eirik. “I wouldn’t want to push our luck.”
“Let’s not, it has been 81 minutes now since we entered the water and 69 in this place. I don’t want to rouse more suspicions than we already have. I think we answered whether or not this complex is inhabited. I mean, if any room has to be called a control room, this has to be it,” concluded Jack, now stepping off the elevator on ground level. “That place seems totally abandoned and I hope it’s not because of radiation or something dangerous like that; you may want to have kids someday,” he chuckled.
They walked amongst the desk and the many cubicles all around them. The desks were made of some sort of dark crystals that were shining in the light, but not making any sound like glass would, as Jack tapped lightly on them with the plastic handle of his dive knife. The cubicles were separated by glass; some of them opaque, some others transparent. It seemed like on every desk they could see the same control panels as the one on the doors. Maybe not Made in China, but mass produced for sure, thought Jack, who took upon himself to sit down at one of the desk. The chair subsequently adjusted to his height, leg and arms length automatically. He was feeling a little uncomfortable at first as the back of the chair adjusted to the curves of his spine.
“There’s the voice again,” Jack said calmly. He had expected it and now that he heard it; he was sure it was the same female voice he heard in the shower, but the words seemed different and the sentences longer.
“Same girl?” asked Eirik.
“Yeah, but different words. The desk and cubicles have nothing visible that would allow anyone to work, so the first thing that comes to mind is that maybe the system is asking the user what he wants to do or what tools he needs to do it with, before it makes it appear, like the solid hologram in the elevator,” offered Jack, guessing wildly and looking at his dive watch again, 87 minutes. “The purple button only removes the divider between the desks.”
“Let me try to sit down and see what happens; maybe this is actually telling you that you are not authorized to do anything.” Eirik offered, grinning as he sat and listened. “I just heard a voice too, but nothing is happening. I guess you have to say something, basically answer a question. It's asking, but without knowing the language, there is no way to answer.”
“I guess that's our cue to go and see what we are going to do from there,” urged Jack.
“You're right, let’s establish a strategy on the way back, and then we will have clarity of purpose once we return to the oil rig,” Eirik said. “The guys will just be happy to resume drilling and won’t care about anything else.”
It took them less than ten minutes to return to the decompression chamber and gear up. They had been out of communication with the surface for almost two hours now, although Eirik had informed both Alexander and the dive master that this could happen. He was fast becoming nervous that they might have people gear up for a search and rescue. Returning in the water for a third time and under the eyes of everyone had been a mistake, he was sure, and like Jack, he cursed himself for it. But it was too late now and all they could do was to surface as fast and as far as possible from the entrance.
As they exited, they made sure the door was opaque and instead of swimming up the slope and return to their entry point, they drifted in the other direction and surfaced more than a hundred metres from the entrance and almost out of visual range of the boat. Dusk had now settled and Jack had the presence of mind to use his whistle to catch the boat’s attention. It didn’t take long for the crew to detach from the mooring line and chase them down the slow current.
As the boat made its careful approach, they both felt stressed out about the entire situation, like an employee being late for his first day on the job. But the euphoria had balanced it out and they praised the writers and producers for introducing the world of science fiction to them. Jack felt that it was almost like the rides in Disney World, simulating all the movies and series he had seen in his life and he hoped they could return soon together—alone!