Chapter 15 – Dust Relocation Engineer

The night was short for both of them.  The excitement prevented them from sleeping long, but after a few hours, Jack woke up. A simple look from his friend had sufficed to wake him and get him up.  He had barely slept, or at least he didn’t think so.  He merely spent hours closing his eyes and only opening them to look at the time on his watch, only to realise that ten more minutes had passed.  Eirik was the first to the bathroom and after he finished urinating, he noticed that the toilet didn’t flush and no water was heard.  He meant to investigate it when suddenly a panel appeared in front of him.  It was the first time he had seen that type of display, and the first time it appeared after he relieved himself.  The screen seemed to be projected from a strip on the wall, but since no light could be seen, he wasn’t sure.

The black display had appeared on the wall on top of the toilet at eye level, showing eight distinct selections of text written in light grey inside black boxes. The voice they were now familiar with had spoken and was obviously waiting for instructions.  Eirik, not knowing what to reply, contented himself with touching the textbox on the upper left corner and the display vanished after displaying something else.  The voice uttered a single word he had not understood either.  He waited for a few seconds looking at the wall and then scanned the bathroom slowly with his eyes, but he couldn’t see anything that had not been there a minute before.  As he returned to the room puzzled, Jack was standing in the middle of the room next to the wall by the table, holding a white square plate in his hands and seemed fascinated by it.

 

“What’s that?” asked Eirik as he approached to take a closer look, not remembering seeing it before.

“It appeared out of thin air on the shelf over there,” answered Jack, pointing at a cube-shaped hole in the wall about fifty centimetres in width and just about the same in height.  “Oh fuck! That hole is a food replicator!” he exclaimed, the realisation finally dawning on him.

Using Star Trek a lot in his daily life to describe things himself, Eirik didn’t need an explanation of what a food replicator was, but unlike in Star Trek, there was no screen next to the device to select what you wanted the computer to create for you.  Only a black panel with the usual purple button was there and they had pressed it, but nothing had happened at the time.  Eirik quickly explained to Jack what happened in the bathroom and they both concluded that it was not a coincidence that this food had appeared at the same time.  The plate was cold and its contents were mainly vegetables, something that resembles bok choy and some green veggies, likely beans covered with a sauce, along with a soup or drink that he couldn’t tell just by looking.  On the shelf, a few items remained, something resembling a spoon and some sort of chopsticks attached together with a metal hinge.  Next to it was a silver metal glass with some transparent liquid in it that could have been water but for the smell of it.

Jack was eager to go and see if he could make other dishes appear, but much like at the doctor’s, urinating on demand was not easy and he would have to wait for nature’s call.

Eirik was already poking the vegetables on the plate and dipping his finger in the light liquid when Jack pulled the plate away, almost spilling the contents on the floor.  The thick juice was running slowly on the side of the glass and onto the plate.  He had taken his hand away and looked at the plate now in Jack’s hand.  Jack was now motioning toward the table and deposing it gently. “If you wanted to have it for yourself, just say so. I’ll need to pee soon enough anyway,” he said, grinning.

“No, I think we should make an eatable test first before we venture to eat or drink anything,” Jack proposed, his face harbouring a serious look.

“To make sure it is not poisonous?” asked Eirik. “Damn, that thing analysed my urine before making it for God’s sake.”

“I know that, but do you want to bet your life on it?” asked Jack sternly.

Eirik paused, seeing his friend’s point. “What do you need for it?”

“I don’t need anything except time. I already touched it and I didn’t feel any allergic reaction or discomfort, so next I’ll touch it with my lips,” described Jack as he took one of the bright orange slices of vegetables.  It was soft and although it looked close enough to a carrot, it wasn’t.  Likely a distant cousin of sweet potato, he decided. “Still, no reaction.  So now, I’m going to chew on it and leave it in my mouth for a minute.”  And he did, and then he spat it out.

Eirik looked at him intently, learning the process which he was sure Jack had learned in the army or in the Scouts as a kid.

“That’s it.  Now I will wait eight hours and if I still have no negative reaction, I will eat a piece and wait another eight hours to see the result.  Then, I’ll have to repeat the process with each item on the plate and you can’t really help, because we can’t be sure that you are not allergic to something and I’m not.”

Eirik didn’t object.  He had always been difficult with his food and they had a lot of MRE rations with them.  So he wasn’t too eager to try new food anymore, especially not one which had appeared out of thin air and as a result of going to the bathroom.  The bar for humanity had just been raised sky high with that new discovery and the magically-appearing blankets.

They spent a few more minutes looking at the various pieces of food on the plate.  It seemed rather ordinary, Earth-like enough, although nothing easily identifiable.  Turning their attention to the shelf, nothing caught their attention at first until Eirik placed one Bic ballpoint pen on it.  As he had hoped, a small panel appeared on the wall on the left and almost instinctively, he pressed the purple button, which seemed to be the norm for activating any equipment and doors since their arrival.  It took a second for a mist-like force field to appear in front of the shelf, totally blocking the hole.  At the same moment, the pen disappeared and reappeared as the force field vanished.  Eirik, not sure of what had happened, took the pen and the force field reappeared and a second pen appeared as the force field vanished one last time.

They both cheered with excitement as a world of possibilities unfolded before them, along with an identical pen.

Jack was grinning madly and paused to answer the “why are you smiling like an idiot look on Eirik’s face and continued grinning with renewed excitement.  He was recalling a story he had been told as a child about a wise man in China who had helped his king weigh an elephant in order for his defeated rival to pay him its weight in silver.  To thank the wise man, who was also a mathematician, the king asked what would be a proper repayment for his services.  The wise man requested the payment in rice.  The king had agreed, thinking the request was reasonable and asked how much he wanted.  The wise man told the king that he would be happy if the rice could be delivered outside in the courtyard where the king often played chess, and counted as follows:  One grain of rice would be placed on the first square, two on the second and four on the third; doubling for each additional square.  As it was being done, it took only moments for the king to realise that there wouldn’t be enough rice in the entire kingdom to even fill half the squares.  The king, having been made to appear foolish in front of his concubines, had the man beheaded.

Eirik also had heard the story, the background had been in India and the master of the house had also killed the wise man for his mockery.  “I remember doing the math on that once. On the thirtieth square, you would have already more than twenty metric tons of rice and I also read that if you were to align all the rice end-to-end, you would have enough to reach the Alpha Centaury star, four light years away and back.”

“And likely have enough rice left to feed the planet for a few years,” Jack offered, now unable to control his excitement any longer as he started scanning the room for things to replicate. “Fucking hell, do you know what that means, brother?  If we double this pen twenty-five times, we will have made more Bic pens than the company did since they invented it in the 1950s.”

“Uh-huh, in short we can be richer than God,” confirmed Eirik, laughing as he wondered where that expression came from.

“Yeah, with that thing, if we can replicate gold, we won’t just be richer than God.  We will have enough money to buy Heaven and rent it to tourists!” added Jack, collecting more things around the room small enough to fit in the hole.

They spent the better part of that day replicating everything they could find that fit in the two-foot square of the replicator. They were like kids who had just received a scale and wanted to weigh everything in sight.  To their amazement, the replicator seemed to be able to duplicate anything, including already replicated items:  Sixteen Bic pens, coins, bank notes which they soon realised would be useless as they all had the same serial numbers, but more importantly, they could replicate food and liquids.  That news was particularly appealing to Eirik, who had decided somewhere between the duplication of his dive watch and a pair of fresh underwear that he would request one year unpaid leave and remained in the Facility.

He had not broken the news to Jack yet, but he knew his friend well and he was sure Jack would be too busy selling all that replicated stuff to even care.  Of course, he felt excited at the prospect of making millions and maybe billions of dollars—who wouldn’t—but his mind and heart was already sold to the idea of exploring this place.  He had always said, to the disappointment of one of his ex-girlfriends, that if an alien ship were to land on Earth, he would be the first in line to go even if the only jobs available were those of “bitch-man,” toilet scrubber or janitor, which the aliens would likely call Dust Relocation Engineer to be politically correct.  Now, he had found his spaceship and he was the captain and he wouldn’t leave it for all the gold in the world, real or replicated.