Chapter 32: No, you drive

Knowing that it was the first time they would leave the underground complex in a month, they decided to conduct an experiment of their own.  Each replicated a map of the region they had found in one of the many common-area living rooms.  The stack of maps had been placed on a table with a note taped below that read “Original/Non-replicated items.”  Steven understood it to mean that they could be taken out of the Facility for use, although it would have been easier to have left them in the top site barracks, he thought.  But people often didn’t think before acting and, in this case, it was a blessing.

At a little past ten, they received the confirmation that their backpack and purse have been transported to the surface and that their wetsuits were ready in the changing room, next to the decompression chamber.  As they exited, Chrissy tapped her belly and smiled at Steven.  He gave a complicit smile in return as they nervously entered the chamber.  Their smiles were renewed as pure excitement set in.  It took them less than five minutes to get to the other side, using one of the new underwater propulsion units and leaving it with the others at the bottom by the shore.

Still in a state approaching euphoria, Steven was the first to dress and waited for Chrissy by the barracks’ changing room.  As she exited, he showed her his map and she showed him hers.  They innocently discussed which restaurant they would go to and laughed without apparent reason as they looked at the guard approaching who greeted them.

“We have a few cars free in the lot, feel free to take one,” offered the guard, another tall Norwegian.  Steven observed, thinking that at 174 centimetres, he was rather a dwarf in that land.  “Here is the key, Sir.  The closest village is on the left and about ten kilometres from here.”

“Are you sure you remember how to drive?”  Chrissy playfully asked.

Steven snorted at the question.  “If you can drive in Vietnam and in the Philippines, you can drive anything anywhere, trust me,” he grinned smugly as he offered her the keys.

“Thanks,” she replied as she took the keys, seeing that he passed the test that all her other boyfriends failed.

Steven sat happily on the passenger seat and waited for her to exit the compound before he took out a black device that was shaped similar to a deck of cards from his pocket and showed it to her.  She was so surprised that the right tires went off the paved road for a second.

“Oh my God!  What if you had been cut?” she exclaimed, regaining control of the car and slowed down a little.

“I would have spun some good bullshit.  I’m good at that,” he reassured her.  “But you know what that means?  We can take anything we want out of the Facility.  I mean, only five people can use that seeing-through-walls thingy.”

Chrissy’s confusion was evident on her face.  “Erik, Carlos and Celina can use it, but can’t take it out.  How come we can?”

Steven fidgeted the device casually as he pondered on the matter.  “I’m wondering if that’s what Lawson wanted to tell us.  He asked me what a Dungeon Master would do if a player was given a power item.  Maybe he meant ‘us.’  We have special, for lack of a better word, ‘powers’ in the Facility.  We are, by far, the highest level in there.”

“The replicated map would have been enough,” she said, a hint of concern growing on her face.  “I can’t believe it... if we can take that piece out, we can take anything.  Also, I can’t believe we tested everyone to see if they could take stuff out and we didn’t test ourselves.”

“True.  We should enter in the database that we have tried and it didn’t work.”

“What if they request us to be tested in front of others?”

“Well, people have been known to gain or lose access to things.  I can easily act surprised that it works now,” he replied with a straight face.

“We shouldn’t talk about it here, in the car,” she said, with renewed surprise at his ability to come up with a lie that made sense instantly.

“It’s okay.  I swept the car for bugs before we entered and I’m monitoring it now.  I have my kit with me.  I never go anywhere without it,” he said, as he looked at Chrissy’s bewildered face while she was looking at a black plastic box with a white meter placed in the middle.  As she focused her eyes, she saw that the needle was sitting comfortably at zero.  “It’s a gadget you can buy for a hundred dollars, which I’m assuming, an engineer like you can make yourself in an hour from five dollars’ worth of scrapped electronic parts.  The thing can detect microphone transmitters ten metres away.  If John Gotti had bothered to carry one, he wouldn’t have been arrested and convicted.”

“You are incredible.  I love you so much,” she said, realizing that she had been the first to say it and didn’t mind, because she meant it.

Steven was pleasantly surprised at the revelation.  “I love you, too.”

They remained silent until they arrived at the first house of the village.  She stopped the car on the site of the deserted road and kissed him for a long moment before continuing slowly, respecting the road sign of thirty kilometres per hour.  The rest of the village was very beautiful:  the shops, restaurants, and the sun on their faces.  Everything was helping to contribute to make their first date outside of the Facility an awesome series of moments.  During lunch, they weren’t in the mood to discuss anything related to their work.  After the meal they drove around and shopped a little, but didn’t see anything interesting for them to buy.  So they returned to the Facility, making sure to arrive in the peak time at dinner.

As they were gearing up, Steven was struck by a flash of genius.  He just realized that besides Dave and Fangs, the people in his group had equal or higher access than Eirik.  As Chrissy was listening to him from the passenger seat, she realized that he was right.  Three of the five highest levels in the Facility had arrived on the same day.  Not believing in coincidences, she had proposed to do the math, but she had already spun a hypothesis that someone from the outside could have known that they were higher levels.  That was likely why they had been selected.  Knowing now that they could take equipment out, that person or group of people could have somehow managed to get them recruited into the project because he, she or they knew that they were special.  That thought was rather puzzling, but it made a lot of sense.  Of course, they felt that they couldn’t discuss this with anyone else, except probably Lawson, Eirik and Celina, but not until the next day.  Today, their evening was all planned.

In the cafeteria, Eirik, Jack and Colonel Lawson arrived later than usual at dinner that night.  Eirik seemed excited and Jack also seemed happy as if he had won the lottery.  They had obviously discovered something.  People looked at them for a second and continued discussing among themselves, ignoring them.  Whatever it was, it would have to wait.

Colonel Lawson, proud of himself for knowing the pulse of the people under his command, was the first to notice the energy in the cafeteria.  He coughed to attract attention to himself and asked them what was going on.

Celina was the first to speak.  “Oh, nothing special... just some unusual entertainment and fun news at the same time.  It seems Chrissy has fallen for Steven.  She came in, said she was so proud of him without saying why and kissed him for about ten seconds.”

“Good for them, although restraint could have been made for her part,” replied Lawson, smiling.  But he soon returned to his usual business-like manner. “People, I need your attention.  As you know, we have discovered many marvels since we have started three months ago.  Well, today we discovered the biggest of them to date.  I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty sure that we have discovered transporter pads, as those who already know call them.  And I don’t mean the ones that work like mini flying carpets which help us with moving stuff around.  I mean the Beam-me-up-Scotty type.”

Everyone in the room fell silent for a moment.  “Where does it lead?  Where does it draw its power from?  And how does it compensate for the chaos theory?” Fastny finally asked, looking as if Lawson had just announced that they discovered a room with Santa Claus and his menagerie of elves and reindeer in the orange sector.

“People, we don’t have all the answers.  Actually, we have almost no information at this point.  That’s why I’m here, to see if any of you has theoretical knowledge that could help,” replied Lawson, understanding his mistake and lack of precision, feeling that everyone who had watched Star Trek had given them the right to a front row seat.  “Please, you will all have the chance to see it.  But at this time, we need the physicist and engineers.”

As everyone with the basic knowledge in the Facility’s systems and physics made a beeline for the newly discovered transporters, the rest returned, or at least pretended to return, to their rooms or work areas.

The group accompanying Colonel Lawson arrived at the end of a corridor in the Grey Quadrant within minutes.  It was an ordinary corridor with rooms on either side.  But soon the rooms ended on their right, to be replaced by depressions in the wall, numbering five, and just deep enough for a man to stand in.  On the floor were five grey pentagon shapes, one for each of the depressions, half of the pentagon slightly protruding from the wall.

Besides the lack of a grey pentagon on the ceiling, it was nearly identical to the sonic showers in their rooms.  On the wall at the back of the depression, the wall was totally black from floor to ceiling.  On the right side was a panel, similar to those found on the doors throughout the Facility, as well as a grey circle, which everyone was familiar with.

When they pressed the panel, a thin, holographic projection appeared.  It showed seven prisms, five of which were greyed out, as you would have on a Windows menu indicating that this option is not accessible at this time.  Among the active prisms, the first was a dodecahedron while the other, the fourth in the original sequence, was a hexagonal prism.  Both gave off a soft glow that suffused the room with an otherworldly ambience.

Eirik explained that he had known of the existence of these pads, but had the good sense not to try them alone.  Today, a member of his team stepped on the device in a control experiment and pressed the dodecahedron.  When a voice sounded, he jumped off the pad in time for the entire team to witness a solid light emerging, engulfing the entire pad and receding again.

“For all we know, that could be a means to go through that wall or a disintegrator,” offered one of the scientists.

“No, it can’t be,” said a deep and well-known voice.  “Do you think we are fuckin’ retards?  I placed an empty plastic container on the pad and it returned here.  Then I placed the same container again but pressed the second visible Facility.” At that statement, the people started to murmur, some of them wondering why they had not realized earlier what the second prism was.  Fangs looked at them with a sign of frustration on her face.  “Can I continue?”

The rest of the group nodded, too stunned or impressed to argue.  “Then I placed the container on the pad and pressed the Prismatic Uniform Polyhedron—that would be the fourth one on the list or the second visible, depending on how you look at it–and the container vanished.  Then I repeated the process with one of the Builders’ communicators and it vanished as well.  But when I activated the monitoring function using another communicator, I didn’t hear anything.  But the communication was going through.”

“Then we need to send a camera or something,” offered Maurice, the linguist.  “That way...”

“That way you wouldn’t see dick because we have no subspace cameras as far as I know.  The Builders’ comms seemed to work using subspace or something that can go through the Earth despite its density.  In case you haven’t noticed, our radios and cell phones work by reaching land bases or satellites in orbit, but can’t communicate through the Facility’s walls.  That’s why we use divers for news like bloody pigeons,” explained Fangs, looking at Maurice with a think before you speak look as she crossed her arms over her chest and stared condescendingly.

“That’s because our technology requires line of sight to work,” added Jack.

“Thanks for stating the obvious.  Anyway, I can now tell you that there is breathable air on the other side and it should be safe for a human to go through,” Fangs announced as she surveyed the group for reactions.

“Sorry, but why you didn’t tell us that before?” asked Lawson, not used to be told things at the same time as the rest of his people.

“Because I only tested that after you guys left for dinner and picked up more dudes to show them the new toy,” replied Fangs.

“Can you walk us through on how you determined that, Fangs, please?” asked Eirik, thinking that if it really was safe, he would gladly be willing to go first and was sure that Jack would want to come too.  He shot a glance at Jack’s direction.  He could see it in his eyes right now—that same look of childlike wonder when they first explored the Facility.  Before, they were alone with no resources, so he didn’t try it.  Now, with all the scientists and medical staff, the risk was minimized a great deal.

“Here, I’ll show you,” offered Fangs, taking the communication device from her pocket and activating it.  She raised it up to eye level and listened intently, but no sound could be heard.  “Talk… Talk… Talk… or no fuckin’ treats for you!”  Everyone looked at her as if she had gone crazier than she already was, but then it happened—they could hear it, clear as if it was next to them in the corridor, the unmistakeable howling of a Beagle.

“You sent the dog through?” exclaimed Jack.  “Oh my God!  I can’t believe you did that!”

People tightened around her as if to try to rescue the poor creature through the communicator.  Jack looked at Fangs with reproachful eyes.  Soon, the dog stopped howling as it dawned on her that no treats would be coming.

“I don’t get you people.  You watch the Godfather on television and tons of people are getting shot and stabbed to death, blood splattering everywhere and it is entertaining.  But, when they killed a horse, people were outraged.  Besides, isn’t a dog the first animal the Russian sent to space?” said Fangs, shaking her head.  “Just send it some treats and it will be ok until we go get it.”  Then, she paused.

“What’s done is done,” acknowledged Lawson.  “We’ll have the time to discuss this shortcoming later.  The question now is how to bring the dog safely back here, if we can.”

“With all due respect, I understand that what she has done is totally unacceptable, but Philie is already there,” said Eirik, thinking that using the dog’s name would give more weight to his statement.  “We can go and pick her up right now.  I volunteer, Sir.”

“I will go as well, Colonel,” added Jack.

Lawson paused and looked at both of them, analyzing the situation, which was unfolding much too fast to make an educated decision.  He had been used to that in the field, but these decisions taken in the heat of the moment too often resulted in death and injury.  He tried to tell himself that this was not a battlefield, yet the parallels were unmistakable.  Like in the field, the lack of information and time to decide was what caused complications.  In this case, no one knew what was on the other side or if people could even be brought back.  But the worst issue for him at the moment was that he was asked to violate the first and most basic rule of military warfare:  Never sacrifice an officer when an infantryman would do.  It was the same in chess.  No good player would sacrifice a queen over a pawn.  Eirik and Jack were the protégés of the King and the Crown Prince.  What right did he have to sacrifice either of them? And for what?  To save a dog?  No, it was not to save a dog for these two.  It was for fame and glory; to be the first again.  No, he couldn’t. “I admire your courage, but I’m not sure you are the best candidates for this job,” observed Lawson, as the protest rose in their faces.  “It would be like asking Christopher Columbus to go on a suicide mission after he discovered the new world.”

“Sir, no insult intended, but you said to me once that you don’t like kiss-asses and that you’d rather work with people challenging your perceptions,” argued Jack, not sure if he was going in the right direction with this or if it had been appropriate to say it in front of the staff.  “Sorry to say that you are in error here, Sir.  Christopher Columbus has made three more voyages after he stepped on the shores of the Americas for the first time.”

“And nearly died on the last voyage after being marooned for months on the island of Hispaniola,” added Eirik, twitching his mouth on one side.  Jack smiled, knowing it was true.

“Jack is a former soldier,” Lawson explained, as he turned his attention towards Eirik.  “But you are...”

“The one with the most access in this Facility and I spent more time here alone than anyone combined,” replied Eirik, thinking for a second that the statement was inaccurate, and that the Colonel knew it.

“Yes, true enough.  If you are resolute to go, I will not stop you.  But I hope I’m making the right decision.  You two are valuable members of this project and highly regarded by the Royal Family,” Lawson argued.  “If something were to happen to you, I’m not sure how it would be viewed.”

Eirik shared a glance with Jack for a moment and eyed the rest of the team before returning to meet Lawson’s gaze.  “It is our decision Sir, and everyone here is a witness.  No one will blame you.”

But the Colonel had seen rain before.  When things got to the blaming phase of a bad decision, no one was safe.

Soon after giving her explanation, Fangs returned to her den by the reactor and started analyzing the data.  It was obvious that it had taken a little less energy to transfer the plastic container to the same Facility than it had taken to transport it to the other.  But the difference was negligible and she concluded that either the transporter used very little amount of energy or the other Facility was rather close.  She took more time to run numbers and opened an MRE, warmed it up, and ate before returning to the transporters.  In truth, she knew that without something to compare it with, the other Facility could have been under the next village or on Mars.

As the impromptu meeting at the transporters was taking place, Steven and Chrissy were in bed, happily forgotten.