Chapter 27: Damn jarheads

The next morning started earlier to the great satisfaction of everyone.  They had waited enough in transits and hotels and were all eager to start.  Farid introduced Jack to them and left shortly afterwards to pick up a few more recruits in Oslo.  Jack didn’t talk much about the Facility other than to say that once the theory would be completed, they would swim to it, and reassure them that after being taught the basic underwater skills such as using air from your buddy and removing and replacing your mask, they would have no problem diving all the way to the entrance at a hundred feet.

Steven and Chrissy were requested to help with the equipment setup, mainly attaching tanks to BCDs and taking out the equipment and placing it by the shore.  They could hear the course progress clearly from the equipment room.  Chrissy was a little shocked at hearing statements like they were going to skip most of the buoyancy skill tests because there was a rope, and all Jack cared about was that they made it to the decompression chamber safely.

Jack knew this would likely be their first and last dive, provided the underwater ramp was installed fast enough.  So he felt that a basic introduction for a few hours would be enough for the purpose, and the Council had obviously agreed or were not aware of the curriculum.

Chrissy, as she returned from the shore, noticed that the course seemed to have switched to the subject of the Facility and paused a second to listen.  “How do they bring the food to the Facility?” asked Celina, taking the opportunity of the change in subject and because she was already a Master Scuba Diver, a certified solo tech diver, and was only there for a refresher course.  As most pros, she liked to hear what the Dive Master had to say before diving in an unknown area.

“We mainly use the replicator now.  The first time, we brought our food in underwater containers, and then we started replicating the food on site.  Think of it as eating the same apple over and over again. It always tastes the same and feels the same, much like eating at McDonald’s, but healthy,” Jack observed. “In your initial tour, we will teach you how to use it, but it is easy as proverbial pie, pardon the pun.  All you want are in the refrigerators or on the shelves.  You only have to select what you want to eat, place it on the replicator, press the purple button and wait for a second plate to come out.  Then, you can replace the original in the fridge or choose to eat the original food and place the replicated one in the fridge for more freshness.  It’s that easy.  Also, you can go and pee, but I’m sure Eirik told you all about it last night.”

“I bet a lot of dumbasses are just eating the original without replicating a copy,” said Fangs, laughing again, sitting in the back, alone.

“It happens,” answered Jack, remembering that he had almost done it a few times himself.  “Okay, thanks to Steven and Chrissy, we have our equipment ready and we can start gearing up and begin the basic skills.

As Jack was left alone for a while, Chrissy was the first to approach him.  “Jack, if you don’t mind, we would like to go in now,” she requested.  “We both dove on wrecks in colder waters and in worse visibility conditions.  Here, it will be a piece of cake.  I’m sure you are familiar with the large group of World War II wrecks at Scapa Flow, a body of water in the Orkney Islands in Scotland?”

“Yes, I had the pleasure to dive there twice,” answered Jack with a nod.

“I dove there, loads of times.  More so, Steven is Canadian, and there are no more challenging wreck diving sites than in the Saint-Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands with the freezing cold and the massive current,” she said, unknown to her that Steven never returned to North America since he had learned to dive three years earlier.

But Jack was none the wiser.  “I understand.  However, if you were to drown, it would be my ass on the line,” argued Jack.  “We will be ready in five hours.  We are doing a couple of skills dives and then dive directly to the Facility on the third one.”

“Jack, please, Steven and I are both certified advanced recreational divers,” Chrissy insisted, still smiling and flapping her eyelashes like a butterfly for good measure.  But inside, she had been pissed to death since they were requested to assemble tanks and carry gear.  That was not in her job description and she did not spend all these years getting a PhD to be a shore bitch.

“Okay, I’ll allow it, but please be careful and ask for Eirik to come the minute you are inside,” requested Jack reluctantly, although her logic was undeniable.

They both geared up as if they needed to dive to go rescue someone lost in the water.  They were as excited as little puppies finally released from their leashes after a long walk to the park.  Using only wetsuits, the water felt cold the second their neoprene boots touched the water.  They knew that they didn’t have long to swim and the Facility’s decompression chamber would warm them up and dry their suits, at least that was what Jack had advertised, but they didn’t really care if it were true or not.

Steven was the first with his face in the water, trying to find the rope.  Once he did, he took it out of the water and handed it to Chrissy.  They followed it, pulling on the large rope offering great propulsion.  The visibility was good and it took less than five minutes for the Facility to come into view.  As they neared the entrance, they could see the rocks piled together and the perfectly smooth surface of the Facility’s outer shell.  Steven zoomed toward the door by pulling on the rope and by using his fins and legs in big, long strides.  Removing a glove, Steven closed and opened is hand, fighting the cold unsuccessfully and touched the surface.  The touch made everything more real.  He had done the same in Greece at the Parthenon a few months earlier and felt the power of the ages coursing through his veins, chilling his body despite the Greek mid-day sun.  The contour of the door was as described:  Perfectly smooth, though “seamless” would be a more accurate term.  He tried to scratch at the ridge with his nails but couldn’t even feel where the change of colour was, as it is always the case with any colour transition using paint—at least anywhere else on Earth.  It was his first clue; it was not a dream.  Chrissy had let go of the rope and was hovering next to him.  He looked at her and she waved her hand like a little school girl and smiled from behind her regulator, her beautiful blue eyes shining from behind the glass of her mask.  He realized then that he violated the first rule of buddy diving by not maintaining proper distance, but it was too late and Chrissy had been too excited to care.

He pointed at her to do the honours.  She made a saluting gesture and pressed the purple button, and the door became transparent.  They both experienced a moment of incredible amazement at the sight.  Chrissy grabbed his hand to steady herself and pressed the green button.  They could see the water immediately starting to fill the chamber and soon it was full.  She pressed the purple button to make the door vanish and Steven remained behind to seal themselves in the chamber as Chrissy swam to the end of the corridor using the railing.  As Steven rejoined her, they were surprised by the distorted image of a man who appeared in front of the transparent door leading to the Facility.  They assumed that he was probably alerted by the light opening in the chamber.  He was pointing to the panel on their side of the door which she understood at once, and pressed the green button.  He then pointed to her ear, indicating that the pressure was going to change as the water lowered.  That was the cue for them to remove their equipment and stand up.

As soon as the water receded completely, they could feel that the air was warm and they were slowly starting to feel drier.  Steven unzipped the back of his wetsuit a little and felt as if the water had been sucked out of his skin like at the end of a carwash, without the noise or the obvious sucking action.  As he looked, no drying equipment could be seen, but he dismissed it, thinking if he had to start analyzing everything along the way, he would never make it to his quarters.

The man made the window fade away and entered to welcome them to the Facility, but no handshakes were exchanged.  He was unmistakably a typical security guard with a wide belt and all the tools, except without a gun.  Steven remembered Lawson explaining that the Norwegians forbade the introduction of guns in the Facility.  Seeing what Steven had done, Chrissy tried to unzip her suit, but couldn’t find the long band attached to the zipper’s end that usually helped in the self-removal of the suit. Seeing her struggle, the man, without saying anything, grabbed her zipper and pulled it all the way down.

“Better, isn’t it?” concluded the man, looking at her.  “I’m Joe by the way, one of the three security guards for this entrance.”

Steven was standing in front of Chrissy when it happened.  He saw in her eyes that she was not all right, besides having her hair partly on her face and the rest of her hair spread in all directions, having been dried without a hairbrush. She forgot for a moment that she had her bathing suit underneath her wetsuit and turned red with rage. “Next time, before unzipping someone, you should ask them if they want your help,” snapped Chrissy, looking at him with renewed rage.  Joe, despite his size, stepped back in surprise at the unexpected aggressiveness in her voice.

“We have a live one here!” yelled Joe, while adjusting his belt.  He looked at Chrissy from head to toe, smiling, and made a feline-like sound which seemed more like a cat being strangled.  “I didn’t mean anything by it, Ma’am, just wanted to help.”

Steven, not wanting to throw oil on the fire, remained neutral, but understood that Chrissy’s openness to remove her clothes in front of him had been a question of pure trust and not because she was used to it.  Apologies were in order and he would tend to it as soon as he got a moment alone with her.

“Can you point us to our rooms so we can change?  We were told that our clothes would be transported here,” asked Steven politely.

“Yes, they have already been placed in your rooms,” answered Joe, glad for the interruption since the situation was becoming somewhat uncomfortable for him.  “But you need to wait for Eirik to come.  You are early, so you will have to wait for a while.  But don’t worry, I’ll keep you company.  It is pretty quiet around here.”

“That’s fine; I know where our room is.  I asked Eirik last night and I know the diagrams well enough,” Chrissy responded as she contoured the guard to head to the right corridor, leaving the equipment on the floor.  She assumed that it was his job to cater to the professional staff, a lesson well learned from her father.

“Sorry, but you can’t go without an escort,” Joe insisted, as he raised an arm in the air in front of her to bar her way.

“Remove your arm please.  We have been fully briefed on the security measures and told that we were to start immediately upon arrival,” said Chrissy, clearly frustrated.

“If you want to go and get stuck, be my guest,” Joe went on.

“We’ll take our chances.  Thank you Sir for your time,” said Steven, placing a hand on Chrissy’s back to motion her forward.  He pressed his mouth to her ear.  “Goddamn jarheads, all bronze, no brains.”

“Not exactly the way I had imagined my first moments inside the Facility,” Chrissy muttered as she smiled at Steven, her frustration slowly subsiding.

Steven didn’t say anything and simply walked beside her, fully trusting her to lead them to the right place.

They walked for a few metres more until Chrissy stopped in front of a door she remembered seeing.  “That’s the room where Eirik found equipment for the first time.  I’m sure of it, just by looking at the room number,” confirmed Chrissy, looking at Steven and pointing to the symbols on the strip.

“Oh, if you say so.  I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to learn the symbols yet,” apologized Steven, remembering having said that a few times before in China.

“No one knows what they mean yet, but a linguist associated numbers to them since there were only eight.  He was sure they were not letters,” explained Chrissy as she pressed the button and the door vanished.  She entered dragging Steven by the hand and closing the door behind them. “I have a feeling I have been here before, or maybe I have studied the diagrams and saw the photos, so it gives me some familiarity with the place.  I’m not sure.”

But Steven didn’t reply.  He didn’t even care to look at the items on the shelves nor the things that Eirik referred to in his notes as snowboards or the hovering transporter parked on the ground in front of them. “Chrissy, I’m not sure I will be able to enjoy the marvels in this place or the relief I’m feeling that you can open all the doors so far until I take a minute to say what is on my heart,” he said softly looking at her, making sure he had her attention. Seeing that she stopped looking around and turned to face him, having focused her piercing blue eyes on him, he continued.  “I know you said that Canadians say sorry too much, but I feel the need to say it right now.”

“Why?”

“Well, I assumed that you were just comfy being touched and you didn’t have a problem to take your clothes off in front of people in general,” explained Steven, feeling sad at the misunderstanding. “But I just realized it is not the case at all.”

“True, but don’t be sorry. I have acted much more bravely than I really should have,” reflected Chrissy, now looking down.  “Being a model has been a magnet for bad guys and it made me feel that all men are expecting the girls in the fashion industry to be extroverted.  But with you, I don’t feel like that and I didn’t want to lose you, so I acted a lot more forcefully than I normally would.  I know it sounds stupid.  We have only just met, but like Colonel Lawson said to us, I feel like I have known you forever.”

“I know, I have the same feeling about you, and crazily enough, I feel acquainted with this place, too,” said Steven as he hugged her.  “Let’s try to be ourselves.  I’m not going anywhere.”

They both looked at each other, knowing that there was something more.  They could feel it.  The Colonel even said it, but they couldn’t put their finger on it and they didn’t discuss it further that day.  They didn’t kiss at that moment either even though the desire to do so was overwhelming on both sides.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t start working right now?” asked Steven, stepping toward the antigravity transporter and sitting on it, feeling it lift slowly.

Chrissy looked in amazement as Steven took to the air.  “Oh my God, I have read all I could about mechanical engineering in school and I can’t even imagine how that’s possible.  I have seen reports that it is a true levitation machine.  There are a lot of ways to lift objects in the air with magnets, electric current to stimulate electrons, but that’s not true antigravity.  It’s not truly cancelling it, only pushing against Earth, but that is cancelling it all together according to the tests the team made,” explained Chrissy, as she touched the transporter in disbelief.

Steven turned it off and was stepping down when Chrissy stopped him. “Why are you getting off?” she asked.

“Because you also need to do it to see if you can use it without me,” answered Steven.  “That is the only way we will know if you have access to it on your own. Eirik had the right idea by listing the items and doors he and Jack could access.”

Chrissy agreed and sat on it and sure enough, it powered on and lifted as intended.  Steven sat at the back petting her shoulders in excitement, but the feeling in his hand was weird.  “Let’s go to our rooms and change out of these body-sized rubber gloves,” he proposed.  Chrissy brought up the hologram of the Facility and took a minute to play with the 3D image that appeared in front of her.  She placed her finger where her room was, and the unit started moving.  Joe heard the beeping, a sound he knew well from the ground.  He tried opening the door to that room, but had been unable to and never bothered to be a passenger.  Saying that with all the elevators, walking anywhere in the Facility was faster.

“How did you manage to open that door?” he shouted as they zoomed in front of him.

“You press the purple button, dummy,” Chrissy answered, murmuring the last word as they continued along the left corridor and entered the elevator.  Within seconds, they exited backwards into another corridor, and then the colour changed.  They were now in the orange quadrant and soon, the hovering machine stopped in front of her room, lowered them to the ground, and the soft beeping ceased.

On the black display, the numbers started to change.  “Look, that’s how they figured the numbers.  It is counting down and it started at eighty minutes by default,” Chrissy remembered from the notes, thinking that default was all they would get until someone figured out how to read the menus and change the settings.

Steven stepped off and opened the door. “Hmm, that’s a problem I didn’t think about.”

“Aye,” agreed Chrissy as she bit her lower lip. “No more privacy.”

“Maybe it is reassuring in a sense and it could be teaching us something important,” offered Steven pensively and trying to find the good in a bad situation.  “Whoever designed the place made an advanced security system to make sure that some people are automatically prevented from using certain things, like macho Joe, a dude who seemed to not have any access to the equipment room.  However, you and I certainly had no problems,” he stopped.  Chrissy entered the bathroom and rushed to try the sonic shower.  He could hear the high-pitched sound permeating the entire room.

“Please continue.  I hear you perfectly.  I’m just sweating and smelling like a party balloon,” informed Chrissy.

Steven remained in the common area and waited for her to finish.  He was not exactly comfortable in the wetsuit, but he was used to the heat, thanks to his years in Hong Kong.  As he stood there like any man used to shopping with a woman, he was surprised that he had not been more curious about the room and neither was Chrissy, apparently.  He found his behaviour totally strange, especially that he travelled around the world for the past three years and stayed in a large number of hotels.  Each time as he entered the room of a new hotel, he looked into the bathroom to see what types of furnishings were provided.  He often took the pen and notepad to inspect the design and the quality.  He always opened, by pure curiosity, the hotel guide and room service menu.  Now, he was in an amazing place unlike anything he had ever seen, likely alien-built as they had said, and he didn’t feel the urge of looking and testing everything or pressing every button like a little five-year old sitting in the driver seat for the first time.  He was excited to be here, but it was not like how he imagined it would feel.   Maybe it was the photos like Chrissy had suggested.  He looked at them all and was already familiar with the place a little.

“That was not in Eirik’s report,” Steven observed.

“What wasn’t in it?”

“That you could hear the shower from the bedroom,” answered Steven as he walked to the bathroom and closed the door from the outside, no more sound.  He pressed the button and the door vanished, but he didn’t hear the sound anymore.  “Can I come in?”

“Of course, silly,” answered Chrissy. “I wanted to take a shower because I knew you were here, not sure I will be able to take showers in here alone knowing that anyone can open the door and barge in here like in a public W.C.”

He had removed his wetsuit, but still willingly kept his Speedo swimsuit on.  Chrissy was still on the pad and was looking at him. “What were you saying about the Builders?” she asked.

“I’ll tell you after.  Do you mind stepping off?  I would like to try something.”  She obliged and remained in the bathroom as he stepped on.  At that moment, the female voice sounded, but Steven didn’t look for the source because the voice seemed to be coming equally from everywhere.  “I hear the voice that Eirik described.”

“She wants you to get naked.” Chrissy responded with a grin.

“What? Her, too?” answered Steven laughing. “Can you go outside of the bathroom and tell me if you hear the sound with the door closed?”

“That’s it,” snapped Chrissy with a quick laugh and a smile.  “I show you mine, but you will not show me yours,” but she felt a wave of guilt for opening the subject again.

“Please, you’ve seen it already and that’s for work,” answered Steven, not paying too much attention to her remark.  “Just for a minute...”  Steven removed his bathing suit and felt the tingling sensation he read about.  Seconds later, Chrissy re-entered the room.

“Can’t hear a thing outside,” she observed, remembering to take official note of that.  And with that, their job had begun.

“Good, let me go to the bathroom, alone this time.  Seeing me naked is one thing, but you don’t need to see everything, do you?” asked Steven.  Chrissy didn’t say a word and closed the door.

As she finished getting dressed, she heard a low buzzing sound. “Can you hear that?” but Steven didn’t hear her, just the buzzing sound and hurried as best as he could.

Looking around, she noticed that the door panel was glowing, she went to the door and opened it.  Eirik was standing there with a basket of fruits.  Chrissy smiled and took it.  “Thanks, that’s very thoughtful.”

“Joe said that you arrived earlier,” said Eirik, stepping into the room, invited by Chrissy’s gesture to come in.  “I tried opening the door but I couldn’t.  I thought we would have a problem.  I knew Joe already put your luggage in here.”

“What was that buzzing sound?” asked Steven, stepping out of the bathroom and looking at Chrissy holding a large wicker basket of fresh and colourful fruits.  “Oh, hello Eirik.”

“Eh,” muttered Eirik apparently stunned by the scene.

“That was the buzzer for the door.  Eirik pressed the button and couldn’t get in,” explained Chrissy as she turned to face him with the basket and gave him a look he understood at once. “He brought us a fruit basket, too.”

“Really, damn that’s incredible.  Let’s see if I can open it,” offered Steven, referring to the fact that Eirik had not been able to enter, not the basket.  Stopping for a second and having nothing else to wear, he put his bathing suit on again.

“What were you doing?” asked Eirik incredulously.

“We took a shower and we were testing door soundproofing,” answered Steven casually.

“Naked?” asked Eirik.

“Yeah, sacrificing ourselves for science,” answered Chrissy with a chuckle and looking at Eirik, noticing that the joke had not taken.  She paused and put the basket on the table, then returned to the door. “Eirik, Steven and I are very close friends and we were—” but Eirik had interrupted her.

“It’s none of my business and I apologize for barging in on you two like this,” replied Eirik, more embarrassed then they were.  “I should have let you guys have some more time to settle in.”

“Eirik, can you come here please?” requested Steven not paying attention to the conversation and motioning to Eirik to follow him outside.  “Chrissy, can you please stay inside, in case I’m wrong?  Close the door for me, please, thank you.”  She nodded and proceeded to close the door.

Steven waited for a few seconds and pressed the purple button, and the door opened.  “Hello again; long time, no see,” he said jokily.  “Close it again, and now Eirik, you try.”

Eirik pressed it and the panel glowed.  He pressed it again and the door opened.  “Did you open the door from the inside?” asked Steven.

“Yes I did, I heard the doorbell buzzing sound.  I waited a second and opened it,” explained Chrissy.

“Well, I can open your door, but not Eirik.”

Steven explained what he believed happened, but Chrissy and Eirik seemed to be in disagreement with him.  Steven was sure that it was a question of level of access and that somehow they had a higher level than Eirik, although Steven didn’t want to make him feel bad, so he said sorry for believing that hypothesis.  Eirik believed that it had something to do with the brain scanning ability of the door—though he possessed no solid proof to support that theory at all—and since Chrissy didn’t seem to mind and actually wanted to have him in the room, the system allowed Steven in the room at will.  As for Chrissy, she believed Eirik’s idea had merit, although the technological implications were crazily impossible even in the twenty-first century, provided that the Facility was made my humans.  She also felt that Steven’s idea, although plausible, was a little too arrogant, but she didn’t say it.

“Well, there is a way to prove it, I think,” proposed Steven. “Please, can you call Bob the guard at the decompression chamber?  Tell him to come to my room.”

“Bob?  You mean Joe?” corrected Eirik, confused at first.  Steven nodded.  Eirik called him using a communication device which looked like a small PDA and asked him to report to Steven’s room and not to touch the door.  “We are likely to be there before him.  It’s only twenty metres from here, but for the record, if you want to have the room next to Chrissy's, it is empty.”

“I would like that very much,” she answered, smiling at Eirik in a gesture of thanks.  Eirik smiled back, understanding that they had become more than friends as she initially let on.

Steven, for his part, felt a surge of emotion coursing through his body at the implication, but remained focused on the job.  “That’s a communication device, right?”  Steven asked as he pointed at the device in Eirik’s hand.  “How did you call Joe from it?  All you did was to talk into it.  I didn’t see you press any button.”

“Yes, it works anywhere inside the Facility.  Unfortunately, we can’t take it out of here.  The force field will not allow it, but we don’t know how to use more than one channel.  It’s like a PA system inside an airport or a supermarket, but it is useful enough.”

They arrived at the door before Joe, just as Eirik predicted and waited a minute for him to arrive, his gear making knocking sounds at every step.  “Sir, I told you that you would need my help to open your door.  That will be a problem. I can’t rush here each time he needs to enter his bedroom,” said Joe, looking at Eirik and obviously pissed at the prospect.

“Joe, I don’t think that it will be a problem,” replied Eirik, grinning.  “Steven, it’s your show.  What are we doing next?”

“Joe, were you the one who took my stuff to this room?” asked Steven.

“Sir, if you’re suggesting that I stole something...” snapped Joe, placing a finger on Steven’s chest.

Steven exhaled slowly.  “Obviously not, we are just conducting an experiment,” replied Steven, looking at the finger on his chest and thinking that Joe should be a permanent guinea pig instead of a guard.

“Yes, and I placed your backpack on the floor.  Most have been 0900 hours this morning,” answered Joe, taking his index from Steven and motioning to press the purple button. “I’ll show you.”

“Stop!” yelled Eirik.

“No, no,” continued Steven, motioning to take his hand, but Joe stopped, a little astounded and confused.  “It’s okay, that’s what I want him to do.  At the statement, Joe looked at Steven, his face showing confusion, but he still opened the door.

“You see, your stuff is there,” snorted Joe, a part of him wanting to defend himself and the other trying to prove that he was a good worker.

“I know, thanks.  Please bear with us for a minute.  I understand you have your duties, but it is important,” explained Steven.  Joe nodded apprehensively.  “Joe, please, can you close the door?  And Eirik, can you open it?” Eirik opened it without any problems.  “Good.  Now Joe, can you try to open it again?” but the door never vanished for him again.

“Chrissy, can you do it?” asked Steven, and as certain as the sunrise in the morning, the door opened and she closed it again. “Eirik, one last time, now that the door is under Chrissy’s control, can you still open it?”  But he couldn’t.

“What about you, kid? Can you open it?” asked Joe defiantly, smiling at Chrissy as if to say, way to go girl!

But sure enough, when Steven pressed the button, the door faded away.  “Thanks Joe, I wouldn’t want to keep you from your duties any longer,” said Steven, lowering his voice as Joe returned to his post.  As soon as he had entered the elevator, he continued talking normally. “So, you know what that means.”

“That you have a higher level than me and Joe, but likely equal to Chrissy’s because she can open the door even after you opened it,” theorized Eirik, sighing.  “Now I know how Jack is feeling most of the time.”

Steven entered and looked around quickly to make sure that these quarters were not better than Chrissy’s.  He grabbed his backpack and closed the door.

Eirik took a moment to digest the blow he had just received.  The explanation made sense.  “So you were right,” he went on and offered his hand, but Steven didn’t take it.

“No, I’m not. We have to do a lot more research on that, but it doesn’t prove that there is only a level system and nothing else,” explained Steven, looking around for a second to see if they were still alone.  “No offense, but Joe is an ass and he seems to have a very low level.  That is in line with your idea that the Facility knows, by other means, who to allow access or not.  But to do that, it needs to have a way to detect it.  You and Jack have likely done the same things, behave the same way, and you have higher access than him.  No, we are not completely back to square one, but we are not more than at step two or three of a thousand, I’m sure of that.”

Erik smiled, remembering a common storage he was sharing with Jack, which they both had equal access to, but looking at his watch, he knew he didn’t have the time to explain it. The new guy seemed to be smart and not arrogant at all, he thought, and he was happy about that.  “Steven, I need to go and help my team with something.  Can you try to take notes on all these?  Maybe we can derive a model to predict that sort of behaviour.  You are right—it’s no coincidence that Joe has the lowest access.  He is a man of simple mind and he is rude with the opposite sex in the best of days,” observed Eirik.  “Also, he has not been accepted by the Norwegian guards because he is American.  It was agreed that the guards and service staff would be all locals.  Anyway, that’s politics for another time.”

“Noted,” was Steven’s reply. “You said that there is a central room where you need to invite people and it is, for the lack of a better word, high level?”

“Yes,” answered Eirik. “That’s what gave me the idea.”

“I know where it is.  We should go and take a look, well, after Steven changed into something nicer than a swimsuit,” blurted Chrissy, but in reality, she felt that he looked just great like that.  “My plan was to test everyone in the Facility by using a portable item we know, let’s say, for the moment is high level.”

“That’s a fantastic idea; it would also allow us to meet everyone,” Steven approved, eager to start.

“Well, there is an item that I know I can activate.  It is used to see through walls.  I discussed it in the briefing.  It would be perfect for your purpose because it is instantaneous. The second someone is not authorized to use it, it drops dead, which so far is everyone but me,” explained Eirik proudly.  “But I fear that it will be rather basic, a little too binary, if you catch my drift.”

“True enough, but it is a start.  What we need is a complete sample, like a list of all the people and what they can and can’t use,” said Chrissy, planning it in her head as she spoke.  “You and Jack definitely couldn’t determine the access system on your own.  For that, you need a bigger sample group, just like with surveys. The more people you pool, the more accurate the results and the easier you can see patterns forming.”

“I already have a list for Jack and me,” offered Eirik. “I will bring it to you with the wall thingy when I have a chance.”

We have the list already, thanks, thought Steven, but didn’t say it for Chrissy’s sake. “We will be in the Centre experimenting with the access there.  I think for the first day or so, we should test ourselves and experiment and understand the place, then we can start testing others.”

Eirik nodded and left.  Diplomatic for a young man.

They both changed into semi-formal wear and met in front of Steven’s new room which was now next to Chrissy’s.  They had tested the room’s access and both could now enter each other’s room freely.

After a few long minutes experimenting with the equipment in their rooms, Chrissy took the lead and they made their way to the Command Centre.  Since the levitating transport machine returned to its point of origin, there was no choice for them but to walk to the nearest elevator.  “So, what was your idea about the Builders and the open door policy?”

“I was thinking that a civilization advanced enough to build this place was likely evolved enough to have resolved most human problems, like violence, greed, theft, overpopulation and so forth,” Steven explained, thinking that it included educating people like Joe.  “If you don’t have any of these basic issues, then you don’t need to bother yourself with locks. It’s like in developing countries:  The government needs to place signs and warnings everywhere for everything, even for the most basic things related to personal safety or social etiquette—things that people in more developed countries know how to do instinctively.  In the Philippines, for example, they need guards like Joe to make people behave.  In Europe or North America, we don’t need signs telling people to let the passengers get out of the trains and buses before the ones embarking can enter.  But sometimes, in Manila, signs are not even enough and they need security personnel to control the ins and outs of a single train car because if they didn’t, everyone would just push in and push out, violating the maximum capacity and risking the safety of everyone.  Trust me—I have seen that in buses and transports of all kinds.  I have also seen people hanging on sides of vehicles, sitting on the roof, young men pushing elderly people out of the way in order for them to board first, and taxi and bus drivers stopping to honk at people walking on the sidewalk, asking them if they needed a ride and to negotiate fare prices.  All that while blocking traffic for everyone else.”  Without social norms or guidelines to follow and established systems to reinforce them, a society will succumb to utter chaos secondary to individual apathy and wanton disregard towards the well-being of their neighbours.

As she had never been to a developing country, Chrissy listened intently, her mind only drifting for a second as she realized how empty the place was, like an office building on a Sunday.

“Sorry for that. I get very frustrated at times, seeing how humans are still acting like baboons and how far we have to go to solve the problems of this world,” said Steven, squeezing her hand as he said it and released at once.  “Anyway, returning to the Builders, it is not what I believed anymore, at least not the part about the open door policy.  This place has actually more security than I have ever seen or imagined, the misleading facet is that the security looks as seamless as the door frames.”

“It’s like the Facility has been built with controls to force people to behave in a way it deems appropriate.  That must be especially frustrating for the ‘Joes’ that work here,” added Chrissy.  “The worst part is that I think I understand how it could work.  All you need are sensors to record actions and conversations, then a super computer to analyse the data and make conclusions according to the program parameters.  Not that we have the knowledge and the technology to do that yet, of course.”

“Of course,” agreed Steven with a smile, understanding the outline of the theory, being an advanced programmer himself.

“Given enough time, we’ll understand it all, I’m sure,” assumed Chrissy, with Steven nodding in agreement.

“At the risk of repeating myself, I can’t believe how I have been growing close to you and how easy it is to be with you and how fun it will be to discover all these together.”

“I totally agree, but it is not just with you,” observed Chrissy.  “I’m walking in the place for the first time and I know that I should be feeling more impressed, but I’m not.  I’m not afraid either and that’s not normal for me. I never really felt safe or at ease on the campus at Oxford, while the Facility is an alien environment underwater, with only one exit which I cannot hold my breath long enough to reach, and I feel comfortable and safe, go figure.”