Chapter 29: Why us?

After breakfast, they headed downstairs to the reactor to see it and test Nancy, who only used white make-up this time.  But with her rounded face, it made her look more like a fat geisha than a vampire.  She had most likely known that no one was going to see her down there and didn’t feel it was worth the effort.  As they assumed, she was unable to use the device and had tried to look into the reactor with it by grabbing Steven’s wrist and guiding it toward the wall.  But all that came out was a bright flash of light which blinded them instantly as if they had been flashed by a welder’s torch.  After a few minutes, they all recovered from it like how one looked at the sun for a few seconds.  It was so bright that even well after lunch, Steven was still seeing yellowish-red patches the size of a penny.

Fangs took the opportunity to make lovely comments about their sex lives and how Steven had competition.  They were not sure if she made it up or if it was true, but apparently, there was a betting pool that formed with the object of betting on who would have sex with Chrissy, Celina, or Fastny first.  Chrissy did not care much for it, but was curious of who Fastny was. Nancy said she didn’t know, but remarked that she must be cute if she was in the pool.

Steven politely asked if Goths were eligible and Nancy replied with her usual profanities.

By noon, they found four more people operating the computers and found a few who couldn’t access the Command Centre even with the help of other people.  They were using a laptop equipped with a trackball and an excel spreadsheet to log all the accessed information.  To their dismay, no patterned had emerged.  Each time they believe they had something, someone came in and threw the logic out the window.

Security guard Joe was, for sure, one of the lowest levels in the Facility, having being denied access to replicate a steak knife from the kitchen.  After a few babes and honeys directed at Chrissy, he had managed to replicate fruits and vegetables, but not alcohol.  Considering that everyone else had the ability to do it, it infuriated him and he left before the completion of the test.

Maurice, the linguist, was assisted for a few hours a day by a janitor who had the ability to access the computers and they seemed to get along very well.  He appreciated the new duties, saying that there was not much use for his services, considering the place cleaned itself.  He was soon reassigned, his post and salary readjusted.

The next two weeks flew by relatively fast.  Steven and Chrissy finally met this Fastny whom Nancy talked about and concluded that the betting sex pool must have been a joke because Fastny was likely old enough to have been born before the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower. She was a bright mathematician, but unfortunately for her, she didn’t have access to much on her own.

As they exited Fastny’s office that day, Chrissy was thinking about what men without proper entertainment could invent to pass the time.

During the course of that week, Steven and Chrissy completed a visit of all the rooms and touched all the equipment in the Facility authorized areas.  Eirik had explored and catalogued everything in the past three years, but the project leader’s plan was to rediscover everything slowly.  This meant that they would have to wait for Eirik and Celina to clear more levels before people could be allowed to venture in them.  This was a rule a hacker like Steven had a lot of trouble following, which resulted in his roaming of the corridors and accessing rooms in the unauthorized sections in the morning before Chrissy woke up.

Eirik, being a solitaire, had been well suited to explore the Facility on his own for weeks at the time.  But as he recounts his story to a group of people one evening, he had a few close calls over the years.

“After the first weekend with Jack, we had already discovered the replicators.  Again, with Jack’s American mentality of bigger is better, we had, in that single night, replicated a hundred meals ready-to-eat and at least a copy of everything we brought with us and had discovered in that first weekend.  I remember how excited we were when we replicated our first coins and hundred Norwegian Kroners.  Unfortunately, although we were able to replicate everything we wanted, so long that it was inanimate, we weren’t able to take anything out of the Facility as the force field prevented us to,” recounted Eirik. “It took the removal of all our clothes to understand that nothing replicated was allowed through.  It had been a major problem since all our original clothes, money and equipment were mixed with replicated things and it took us hours to sort most of it out before we managed to exit.”

Eirik went on to explain that the replicator had allowed him to remain in the Facility without the need to get out.  After a few months, he hired an agency to rent his house and store most of his furniture in his father’s garage.  He entrusted his car to a friend in a village close by, bought all the food and gear he would replicate and use during his long stay.  As he was telling his story, he smiled periodically remembering how excited he had been to spend months in the Facility, discovering the place on his own.

Without the ability to communicate with the outside world, Eirik informed his friends and family that he would not be able to call or e-mail them because the oil rig he was going to was too far from shore.  Although everyone seemed to believe him, he still made a point to get out of the Facility a few times a month to e-mail them from an Internet café to keep up the pretence.  During one of his outings, he returned with a laptop and a fully-charged battery, and replicated it upon arrival.  He had instinctively been right, the battery was replicated fully charged and he now had the means to use power tools and electronic equipment indefinitely.

He quickly made an excel spreadsheet with all the tasks he planned to perform and a list of all the rooms and equipment he was discovering.  As a disciplined person, he maintained very detailed descriptions and notes on everything.  When the Crown Prince praised him about it, he simply said that this was more to fight off boredom and the anxiety of being alone in an alien environment.

The hardest part was to discover astounding technologies without having anyone to share it with.  It soon resulted in talking to himself and imagining telling people about it.  Of course, companionship—especially of the female—kind was also missed, and he often daydreamed about inviting girls in the Facility.  What a chick magnet that would be, he often thought.

A recurring dream he had had was finding a holodeck like in Star Trek where he could recreate people.  To add to the frustration, he may have already discovered it, but without understanding the pictograms or without knowing how to activate the system, he would have likely believed the room to be a storage area or something like that.

Eirik, having a lot of time by himself, also took notes of his personal views, particularly regarding health and psychological state in a journal.  The writing helped him a great deal and reduced his ever present anxiety.

Another discovery he made in the first year was a room containing eight beds.  By now, the number had been repeated so many times in the number of rooms per section, the number of drawers per typical room, and the number of tables in the cafeterias, that seeing a room with eight of something was just like opening a box of eggs or wine and seeing twelve of them.  That room, as he explained, had eight single-sized beds which looked more like massage tables. In the centre, there were four pillars surrounding something similar to a sonic shower, but larger.  On one of the pillars, he could see a dark grey circle and understood by experience to be a 3D image generator that would allow him to operate whatever it was that he was looking at, much like the transportation device or the elevators.  The walls in the room were of a light grey and had the ambiance of a doctor’s office, but without the smell.  Actually, it was pretty much like any other room:  No smell, no dust, no sound, and no one around to help if something went wrong.

As he entered and stepped on the platform and took his place amidst the pillars, the same female voice spoke.  It was, for sure, a different speech.  After almost a year taking a sonic shower every day, he learned all the words by heart and could even say all of them in the same tone.  As he stepped on the pentagon on the floor, he heard some noise and saw a shimmering light;, something was being created in front of his eyes.  Particles of matter appeared from thin air, gradually making an object from the inside out.  This object, Eirik thought, must be huge as it started, being formed from waist-high and was now expanding rapidly upwards and downwards.  Being used to how things worked in the Facility, he didn’t feel nervous at first—at least until the particle split downwards in two directions.  There could be no mistake and before his brain completely comprehended what just happened, he was standing in front of a perfect copy of himself.  Nervousness slowly enveloped his body. He moved his head forward and raised his hand to touch it. The newly formed replica had not moved.  Eirik’s fingers reached its skin and he recoiled. As he ventured to touch it again, the feeling was not familiar, so he instinctively moved his hand to the right as he pressed his hand lightly against the rubbery skin.  Effortlessly, as if it had almost no mass, the figure turned like it had been standing on a well-greased turn-table.  He was now looking at his back with messy hair.  Without thinking, he mechanically brushed his own hair with his fingers and checked to see if a control had appeared in front of the circle on the column… it had.  A round ball appeared; that ball he knew well. It was used on almost anything that moved like transporters, antigravity platforms, and to zoom in and out as he often saw on equipment and work tables.  As he pressed it, his body turned to face him again and he rotated the ball forward slowly. He saw his replica getting closer until he could see a colour change.  Skin had appeared, and then blood, muscles, bones, organs, a hint of a beating heart and finally, the spinal cord.  Suddenly, it disappeared.

Eirik was totally fascinated with this new toy.  As he rotated the ball backwards, his body reappeared.  He turned it until the replica of his left arm was in front of him and he zoomed in again.  He looked over the skin and the muscles and he could now see it, as clear as day.  He was no doctor, but that couldn’t be anything else, he thought.   In front of him, in the middle of his radius, was a small crack.  He could see that the injury had clearly been repaired, but the crack was still visible.  With the bone now half a metre wide, he could see that it was offset by at least five millimetres.  In reality, the difference was almost impossible to see and would have likely evaded most x-ray machines in the outside world.  But looking at yourself like this with your veins the size of garden hoses, it was easy to see flaws in your physical makeup.

He remembered that day returning to his room, thinking that with all the stupidities he had done as a kid, he was surprised to have only broken one bone in his entire life.  But now, he was wiser he thought.  He did not try the beds and didn’t press anymore buttons in the medical centre.  He noted it down as a place to visit with Jack as soon as he returned.

Once they listened to the story, Chrissy made it a point to visit the place and try the scanner.  But for now, they were busy with the cataloguing of the employees and their own ability to use the equipment which, so far, had been all of them.  To help speed up the process, Chrissy had the brilliant idea of bringing one or two new pieces of equipment at dinner every night and request people to touch them before entering the cafeteria.  That was helping to complete their survey much faster.  But it had yet to produce results other than a good idea from Colonel Lawson, who requested that a list of all the employees and their access charts be printed and posted in the cafeteria.  That way, if an employee needed to use a tool that he himself couldn’t use alone, he could go and ask others who could help.  The idea created the consequence of making teamwork a necessity, but it also had the bad effect of having some of the personnel exploited by some individuals.

It’s a reality that Chrissy soon painfully became aware of and it was quickly destroying her ability to concentrate on her work, and it also had a negative effect on her psyche.  A lot of men, especially the ones with low-level access, used that excuse to take long walks with her, cornering her and making cheap passes at her.  Although that was not conclusive at first glance, it seemed that low class and low access seemed to be a constant, but it’s only when she was almost assaulted by a Pakistani engineer in one of the lower levels and stayed in her room all afternoon crying, that Steven noticed that it was becoming a pressing concern.

They discussed the situation with Colonel Lawson and he dealt with the Pakistani by placing him on report for whatever feat of bureaucracy that would serve.  The Colonel, even though a great leader, was still old school, thinking that women shouldn’t be allowed in an environment where men were far from their wives, or other forms of basic entertainment.  Being a student of military history, he knew that women were always there alongside men during wars, but for sexual pleasures, not as equals.  That had been the case during the civil war in the United States.  But today, the reality changed and the UN wanted equal representation among nations and genders.  With 65 percent of the staff being Americans and 70 percent being men, that was equal enough in his opinion.  When the point was raised in meetings, he always defended it by pointing out that the US was contributing the majority of the money and should be proportionately represented, and that the women didn’t generally pursue careers in the fields required for the project.  The Facility was a family-excluded zone; the Council made it so in accordance with United Nations’ rules.  Although these rules were generally applied in war zones, the Colonel was in complete agreement with the decision, thinking that the least amount of people knew of the place, the better.

Celina didn’t have that problem, mainly because she almost always refused to help, stating truthfully that her first responsibility was to her team and was already too busy with her work.  Also, with black belts or its equivalent in a few martial art disciplines and her expertise in ancient weapons, the guys were giving her a wide berth.

That night, Steven comforted Chrissy, as she burst into tears again.  It was the first time that she yelled at him and he felt miserable and a little panicky.  At one point in the conversation, she told him, among many other things, that maybe she should just have sex with one of them and get it over with.  At first, he tried to tell her that she shouldn’t do that, but he was still young, and reading between the lines wasn’t second nature to him just yet.  But after his mind cleared and he managed to put his own anxiety aside, he said, “Maybe that’s not a bad idea.”

Shocked at first, Chrissy asked. “What are you talking about?”

“If you can just hear me out,” replied Steven, his hands in front of him, making gestures to try and defuse the situation.  “Like I said, maybe that’s a good idea.  If you were to sleep with someone in the project, they would know you are no longer free and they would leave you alone.  After all, the pleasure is in the chase.”

“If that’s your way to tell me that you want to have sex with me, well, you have a lot to learn about women,” replied Chrissy indignantly. “That’s no better than what Salim did or maybe worse, because you are a friend and I trusted you.”

As she pushed him away and slid to the other side of the couch, he looked at her, a tear slowly forming in the corner of his eye.  “Please, hear me out,” pleaded Steven calmly enough, his hands cold and shaking.  “You know I like you a lot, as a friend, maybe more than I care to admit, so all I want is to help you.  And I know I have the perfect solution.”

“Go on,” allowed Chrissy, handing him one of her tissues.

“You know that we have been sleeping in the same bed, naked, for nearly three weeks now.  We are spending more time together than I have with all my friends combined in the past year.  But more importantly, how many times have we hugged each other, slept spooned together and woke up with my hand entangled on your breast or yours on my butt.  How many times have you been joking and slapping my dick and telling it to calm down?  We are both afraid of ruining a perfect friendship and I understand that and I respect that.  Also, we still have that damn statement from Lawson about us, which is hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles and that’s why we are afraid.  Well, at least, that’s why, I am.”

As she continued looking at him, she took a tissue and wiped her eyes.  “You are right, it happens almost every night, but it was funny, not really sexual.  It’s more like foreplay,” agreed Chrissy, also feeling that foreplay could only be enjoyed for so long and realized that he was absolutely right.  She was also starting to see the idea and thinking it would be a sweet revenge, an added bonus as the saying went, hell hath no fury as a woman scorned.  “So you want us to go to the cafeteria and kiss in front of everyone?”

“Something like that,” proposed Steven, a Machiavellian smile clearly visible on his face.  Chrissy laughed and hugged him and did something unexpected.  She kissed him on the mouth with passion like he had never experienced before.  He didn’t really think and kissed her back, cupping her breasts in the heat of the moment and offered his tongue.  She didn’t react to it and kissed him with renewed vigour for a few long seconds and pulled away slowly.  It took them a moment to look at each other in silence, feeling sexual attraction, love, and a sense of relief that they had passed that imaginary line, at last.

They went to bed like they had for the past week, like the friends they had become since they met, but with a few more benefits.  Before getting out of bed, they discussed for a while each other’s feelings and recalled what Colonel Lawson told them.  They realized that weeks had passed and they were still no closer to having discovered its meaning.  But as they were about to reveal their change in relationship status to everyone, they would also have to change their priorities and devote more time to discover what Lawson knew.

During breakfast, Steven sat with Chrissy, Celina, and Jack who wanted to know the progress of their work.  In truth, he was interested in knowing if they had made any progress in customizing the level system.  Steven and Chrissy made progress on their understanding of the various systems, but were nowhere near being able to grant any sort of access to anyone.  In reality, the point was moot as they had already made their decision.  After a few weeks of study, it became obvious to them that those measures were clearly there to protect the Facility against its inhabitants and that they would not increase the level of people even if they could.