Chapter 28: A lot of hope

After completing a little side project with his staff, it took a few minutes for Eirik to return to the decompression chamber.  The distance was perceivably shortened as he was busy analyzing the implication of the experiment he had just conducted with Steven and Chrissy.

As he intercepted the new recruits at the entrance, he greeted everyone and looked at Nancy Fox’s bare face for the first and last time.  Leaving Nancy and Dave with Joe, he took Celina and introduced her to her team.  Her new employees decided that it would be best for her to visit the areas they already visited and catalogued.  She felt a little out of place at first, being used to dirt, collapsing or collapsed buildings and the usual political, religious, and moral disputes over the sites and right to dig.  The thought of practicing archaeology in a building that looked newly constructed felt weird or even completely crazy.  One of the most interesting observations reported by one of her team members, an old British anthropologist, had been the lack of “proper” decoration and art.  He had been working in the Facility for almost two months and had not made much progress besides listing items and writing symbols in his notebook.  “How can I determine what culture built this place without any art and culture clues?” he said to Celina.  Maybe after building all that, they ran out of money to pay Martha Stewart’s bill, she mused.

She had been walking for nearly an hour now and although the walls and railings displayed colours and a touch of architectural design with smooth curves, it could hardly be called art.  There was no common denominator or parallel with any building or culture on Earth today.  The only common point she noticed was its resemblance to the Yuki Native American Octal, a base-8 numeral system.  Another interesting point was the high ceilings:  The Builders were definitely not concerned with heating bills, she thought.

After an additional hour and three kilometres of walk in three quadrants, she decided to end the tour for the day and debrief Eirik.

“These people are smart, but they are used to working alone without the need to report their findings unless it’s a major discovery,” explained Celina.  “I know the feeling.  If you know that the site has been there for thousands of years and will be there tomorrow, what’s the rush?”

“My point exactly,” agreed Eirik.  “I was with the new guy, Steven earlier.  He is working on the problem of the access.  I’m afraid that he will soon enough realize that people are not team players in general.”

“True,” agreed Celina, yawning.  “We need to establish a system of logs that will be accessible to everyone.”

“Yeah,” replied Eirik. “I’ll go and meet with Steven in the centre.  You seem tired. You should take it easy at the beginning.”

“No, I’m okay,” lied Celina, really feeling tired but didn’t want to miss anything.  “I want to go, too.”

Eirik nodded and took her to the nearest transporter.  Celina smiled but had been a little reluctant to sit on the flying machine; horses were more her style.  They soon arrived at the large circle surrounding the command centre.  Eirik pressed another button which seemed to have brought a ball that allowed him to manually control the machine.  Some people were walking around the circle in the same direction and Eirik stopped upon recognizing someone.

“Thierry, let me introduce you to Celina. She is the new archaeology leader and will be helping us catalogue the items,” explained Eirik, lowering the machine.

Thierry kissed both Eirik and Celina on the cheeks.  “Enchanté Madame,” he said in French.

Mademoiselle, actually,” Celina corrected.

“You see Eirik, that’s her way to say I’m available,” replied Thierry smiling at her.

“Maybe, but you are married and with three kids.” whispered Eirik.

“Of course, I’m Parisian, which means that my wife says I’m allowed to look as much as I want, so long as I don’t touch,” justified Thierry.  “Not that I don’t find that conversation and your presence totally invigorating, but people are gathering in the Centre because that new gorgeous girl who looks like a top model has managed to activate the computers.”

“What?” shouted Eirik, his jaw dropped so low that you would think he had dislocated it.  “Lead the way.”

Celina, not thinking that they would need the flying machine and feeling that this was something special for Eirik to have reacted so energetically to the news, jumped off and followed Thierry on foot.  As they arrived to the next door in the circle, Thierry stopped and waited in front of the force field and looked in Eirik’s direction.  Celina, seeing the people gathered around a few desks below, got confused.  “Are we not going in?”

“I can’t on my own,” muttered Thierry, an expression of resolute shame on his face.

“Let me try,” offered Celina.  She pressed the button but nothing happened.

“No need to press, it is already open.  If you can go in, all you have to do is to walk through that half-vanished field,” explained Thierry, motioning her to enter.

Eirik had already arrived but waited out of politeness and was half curious to see if she could enter on her own.  Placing her hand in front of her, as people do to navigate in total darkness, she stepped through the field, and just like that, she was in.

“That’s it,” said Thierry looking at her, but feeling frustration coming.  “Touch the grey button on your site now.”

Celina couldn’t hear him, but she had seen people invite others already and took the necessary action.  Thierry, seeing the panel on his side glow, knew it was safe to enter.

“There you go Celina, you have invited your first guest,” congratulated Eirik.  Thierry would have said he was honoured, but he was now too ashamed to care.

Eirik followed them, stepped on the platform elevator and got off on the ground floor.  They made their way to the most crowded desk.  Chrissy was working on a large holographic screen that had materialized in front of her on top of the desk.  People were trying frenetically to tell her to go back and press a myriad of holographic buttons, drowning her own voice in a cacophony of requests and commands until a distinctly familiar sound resounded, reminding Eirik of the sound produced by old television tubes as you turned them off.  The screen had vanished.

“What happened?” asked Celina, a little concerned with the instant darkness in front of Chrissy.

“The damn screen disappears each time I touch it,” said Maurice. “I’m sorry.”

“I told you,” said Chrissy. “Let me handle the screen. I’m sure we will soon find the reason you can’t use it and we will fix it.”

“Chrissy, how did you manage to open it?” asked Eirik as he made his way to the desk.  “I have been trying for about three years.”

“The voice of a girl is asking you what you want to use, so I just repeated the last statement, thinking maybe it was this or that at the end of the sentence. It took me a few tries to have the right group of words and the pronunciation right.  It seems that we now have access to either an interface full of words I can’t understand or a graphical representation of the Facility and all the people in it,” explained Chrissy without lifting her eyes from the image that had reappeared and was now hanging in mid-air. “Steven is playing with the graphic one at the moment,” pointing to Steven who was sitting at another table, but all Eirik could see were the backs of half a dozen people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, talking to each other and asking him to enlarge sections.  “I’m trying to understand that one, but it’s all text.  Not many icons that make sense or anything we can recognize.”

“I can read a few of the words, but the fucking screen closes every time I touch it,” said Maurice, again with blatant frustration in his voice.

Eirik was stunned and took a while to realize why.  Maurice was a strapping gentleman in his sixties, always impeccably dressed and spoke with absolutely perfect English.  He had been an interpreter for the UN and, before that, a speech writer in the Reagan administration.  Eirik had never really cared if people used fuck or any of its variations before, but hearing it from a perfectly mannered gentleman like Maurice said a lot about his frustration level and the month spent trying to understand the language and writings of the Facility.  To add salt to the wound, Maurice tried to say the words Chrissy had said, but the computer just didn’t want to open for him.

“Chrissy! I made it. I can reset areas now,” yelled Steven from a few metres away.

“Great!” yelled Chrissy.  “Let’s go at it for one more hour and then we go eat.  I’m already starving.”

“Sure!” Steven yelled back over the voice of the crowd.  “But half-hour only, you know that we will stretch it to two hours if we don’t pay attention.  Eirik, can you please go and see if you can open my room now?  Thanks.”

“Can I ask Joe instead?” replied Eirik. “If he can,” and he stopped himself.

“Sure! If he can, everyone can,” replied Steven to excited to show the same restraint.

As Steven predicted, nearly two hours had passed without any significant progress.  Joe had contacted Eirik and confirmed that he was indeed able to access Steven’s old room again.  He also took the initiative to ask Dark Fangs to try the door as well and she was able to open it, and was apparently very pleased with the deed.  However, Joe, after she left, tried to open the door again and couldn’t anymore.

Eirik tried a computer next to Chrissy and after four attempts at repeating the word Steven had used to access the Facility’s layout, he succeeded, but only the computers that Chrissy or Steven had already used.  The frustration of not having managed it without an invitation before subsided quickly and was replaced by the joy of resetting access to his first room.  As Steven requested, he tried to reset Chrissy’s room, but it failed.  Being alone at his terminal, he chose not to tell him, at least not in front of the others and content to put it in his report.

Now that the adrenaline rush of the first few hours had passed, it was Celina who approached Eirik and asked him where she could go and eat.  Eirik, taking note of the time, suggested a break for dinner.  Eirik led them to the cafeteria.  On the walls were a series of drawers with adjustable temperature and eight replicators on the adjacent wall.  The selection of food was decently good and of course, free.

The tables and chairs were of Builders’ design:  Very simple but comfortable with no fancy patterns of any kind.  Celina was explaining her first day at work to Chrissy, Dave, and Steven while sitting on a four-seater table in the centre of the large room.  Generally, her main topic at dinner was arguing dates, cultures, and religious motivation to explain the origin of a find.  In the Facility, carbon dating equipment had just arrived on site, but she was afraid that the date may be off because items replicated and their originals were likely all mixed together.  It would be like trying to find the date of a file after you copied it, the computer only remembering the date of the last copy and not the creation date.

Chrissy and Steven, on their side, were happy about the day’s results.  Not even eight hours in and they already spotted and fixed a few problems.  Steven’s fear of not being able to access anything vanished like all the doors had in front of him.  On top of everything else, he would have a room next to Chrissy’s which made him feel great.

Jack finally returned from his duties and was discussing the day’s events with Colonel Lawson and Eirik.  He asked if they should impose a dress code on the employees.  Mainly, he wanted to know if a vampire costume was really appropriate for a UN run organization.

“Jack,” whispered Lawson motioning forward at their table and lowering his voice so only Jack and Eirik could hear him. “That’s the point, you see, I have worked with the United Nations all over the world and you always see people in “costumes.”  Be it Arabs wearing a thawb, those long white dresses, and the tablecloth thing on the head, fixed in place by a black rope circlet or Africans with Boubou robes that look like a festive hot air balloon.  The point is, all those are traditional clothing and in their country, it is like a Giorgio Armani three-piece suit, but to us, it’s circus clown stuff.”

“Granted, but her Dracula look aside, you can’t deny that she is a pain in the neck and have the inhibitions of a toddler who didn’t learn yet what is appropriate to say or not,” replied Jack.

“That’s why we will leave her in the reactor room to figure things out on her own,” continued Lawson.  “It seems that it is how she likes it and the fact that the reactor is at the bottom seems to make her happy.  Anyway, she already came and picked up about twenty MRE rations and brought them to the room next to the reactor.”

“Are you sure it is safe to eat and sleep down there?” asked Jack, surprisingly concerned.

“As far as we know and with the IAEA inspectors not finding anything dangerous,” answered Lawson, moving back to rest on his seat.  “I’m sure it is not any more dangerous than what we are doing right now,” thinking of his replicated meal.

Chrissy and Steven concluded the evening by going to Eirik’s room for a few minutes to discuss a little more about the plan for the next few days and to pick up the device that Eirik mentioned.  It was no surprise that all three could use it.

They transferred Steven’s stuff to the room next to Chrissy’s and she refrained from asking him to sleep with her in her room.  Although he really wanted to, he didn’t mention it either.  But they discussed work for an hour while sitting in Chrissy’s room.  The first item of business for tomorrow would be to find people to operate the computers early in the morning, so they could be free to start their survey of the employee’s access level.  Steven also asked her about her father, but she didn’t have anything good to say about their relationship, which made Steven realize that perhaps they had more in common than he thought.

“We should go and test Nancy first,” said Chrissy.  “So we can get it over with and move to more pleasant people.”

“In that case, we should do Joe next,” Steven concurred with a laugh.  “It should be fast.  All we need to do is to pass in front of him with the device activated and let him touch and see it shut off.  It shouldn’t take more than five seconds.”  But of course, he knew that everyone would have to be tested thoroughly and not only on the equipment and their access, but also about their views, beliefs, and past history.  If the Facility judged people because of their morality and social righteousness, they would have to devise a way to evaluate that as well.

“We should also return to the first equipment room; lots of stuff to try,” offered Chrissy.  “Also, we should take time to explore and test all the rooms and equipment that Eirik and Jack reported they can’t enter or use.  I have a list of more than forty already.”

“Okay, do you mind…” asked Steven, interrupted by Chrissy.

“Obviously not, you can sleep here every night if you want,” she answered automatically.  “Unless that’s not what you want?”

“You know I enjoy it as much as you do, but if I’m going to sleep here, let me take a minute and get my stuff,” replied Steven who was not going to ask if he could stay, but in fact he meant to tell her that he was tired and would have liked to go to sleep now in his room.  He always had been fast to give the right answers, which had saved him in more than one occasion in front of his parents and the police.  But tonight, that seemed light years away.