Chapter 36: Vanished

After her little one-on-one with Lawson, Fastny returned to her office and grabbed one of the antigravity units, and was trying to see if it could be modified to climb higher than its apparent maximum of half a metre or 47.3 centimetres, as she wrote on her notepad.  The problem with that idea was that besides the control panel—which offered a ridiculously low range of functions--the body of the unit displayed no opening, screws or cracks for her to stick a flat screwdriver into.  However, when she was exposed to that problem by others, she only pointed out that the control panel was big enough to display eight buttons, but it displayed only two at any given time, which meant that other functions should technically be available.  It’s at that moment, having done nothing in particular, that the device’s language changed to Norwegian.  It took her a few seconds to recover from the shock and grabbed the communication device to announce to everyone what she had done, or thought she had.   As she meant to press one of its buttons, she noticed that the device was also in Norwegian and the words Snakk forespørsel were clearly visible at the top of the display where symbols had been hours after the last time she used it.  She did as requested and asked the device to display a menu.  It, too, was in Norwegian as well.

At her age, she had long forgotten that her heart could beat that fast, but she was too excited to make it slow down.  She added her name in the device and understood that she now had the ability to call the names of others, but realized that no one was in the list of users.  She got up, banged her hip on the table, ignored the pain and headed to Lawson’s office at a brisk pace, hoping that the Colonel was still in the Facility.

At about the same time, Chrissy slowly woke up and extended her arm to hug Steven, but grabbed blankets instead. She was alone.

Surprised, she got dressed and went directly to the Command Centre, but no one had seen Steven all morning.  She then made her way to the cafeteria, took the time to eat a little and asked a few more people before going to the transporters.  But no one had seen him at either place and she started feeling a wave of anxiety splashing inside her chest.

In the newly established Castaway Rescue Centre section, the Colonel was already in one of converted rooms discussing with Celina the faster solution to climb to the top for Eirik.  He had just received the news from Fastny and was slowly starting to become overwhelmed with people’s request for him to go and see what they had discovered or learned since everything now was readable, but not necessarily understood by everyone.  Under normal circumstances, the news would have been welcomed, but now it was being overshadowed by his grief and frustration with the failed elections.  And he wasn’t sure how to feel about it all.

“Colonel, have you seen Steven this morning?  I have looked everywhere,” asked Chrissy as she intercepted him in one of the rooms, not bothering to say hello as she started to get visibly worried.

“No. I can’t say I did,” answered Lawson.  “But it might be my fault, as I had all the communication devices recalled to be reprogrammed now that we have more than one channel.”

Still feeling the urge to leave and look for Steven before the waves of anxiety she was feeling turned into a storm, she asked Lawson only one of the many questions his statement had implied.  “You said that it is not so anymore?”

“No, it’s not.  We have person-to-person and conference calls now. You should ask Fastny for the technical details.  But as far as I know, she managed to learn how to add the name of people to each unit.  Now you only have to say the name and you reach that person,” replied Lawson, his unit already receiving private calls from people.  “We are working to distribute one to each member.  Too bad Steven didn’t have one yet, but I’m sure you will find him soon.  He is probably somewhere playing with some controls or device like everyone else, since everything turned in a language people can understand.”

“Thanks.  I’ll keep looking,” said Chrissy, now connecting the dots. When she walked in the Command Centre earlier, people said that the entire database had now been completely translated, and that it all happened this morning without anyone knowing why.  The only thing that remained the same was the people’s access level.  Maurice pointed out that he still could not access anything on his own.  She was excited by the news, but she needed to find Steven first, so she left to look for him.

As she walked in the corridors, she was afraid for the first time since she entered the Facility.  She didn’t know why she felt like that, but it was strong and she started crying.  It wasn’t rational, but it was out of her control.   She wiped her tears as best as she could and kept looking for him.

After a few more hours of searching, Celina and Dave joined her.  At this point of the project, all the areas had been catalogued, but a few of the rooms still remained untested by Steven and Chrissy.  Of those, only three were not accessible to Eirik.  Knowing Steven well enough for having spent weeks with him talking, among other things, she assumed that if Steven had noticed that everything was in English, he would have likely checked the database for the most advanced or coolest room.  He would go there to see it and returned to their room to wake her up, as it was his habit, since he needed much less sleep than she did.  On a normal day, he would go work a little and return to cuddle with her until she was awakened by the sound of the alarm clock.  Maybe today, he had been too overwhelmed to care, she thought.

As she looked at the most likely places, she stopped and called both Celina and Dave on the communication device that she had been handed by Fastny earlier, who also provided her with a brief explanation on how to use it, but not how it suddenly started working.  It connected as she said their names and both were now in a conference call with her.  Chrissy gave them the location, as she looked at the device they were now appropriately calling the “FastCom.”  She then turned to Fastny, whom she saw to be quite doting and humble, which was normally to be expected from someone of her age.  Fastny told her that the device’s display was in Norwegian since this morning; the same was true for all the computers and panels around the Facility.  That was the detail that had puzzled Chrissy the most—because when she was handed her device, it was in British English.

As she rode the elevator to the location, she exited into the corridor and turned to face the door to the room she had wanted to search.  She pressed the purple button that revealed a salmon-orange closet, which appeared empty until she noticed a screen panel on the back wall and a door next to it.  She couldn’t read anything from her position, as her view was blocked by a misty force field.

Celina and Dave arrived seconds later.  They both tried to enter, but couldn’t go through the mist.

Dave, being used to the concept of having to be invited to the Command Centre, wasn’t surprised, but Celina was.  She had just been refused entry to a public room for the first time.

Chrissy was surprisingly unconcerned by Celina’s denial of access and simply turned to face the door.  Unlike most people raising their hand in front of them, expecting to collide with the force field, she just walked in normally as if nothing was there.

The room was indeed very small and she was now a little more than a metre from the door on the back wall.  On the right of the door was the black panel she had seen, almost the size of a computer screen, but she didn’t stop to see what was being displayed just yet.  Her first thoughts were for her colleagues outside and, being used to inviting people, she looked for a grey button, but there was none.

Seeing that Chrissy would not be able to invite them, Celina offered the only recommendation she felt was safe.  “Maybe you try and open that door at the back and if you can, I suggest that you get out and don’t go any further on your own.”

“Oh, that’s interesting!  I’m surprised that I can hear you through the mist.  It’s not every room that allows it.  Normally I would agree, but this time I don’t see that I have a choice.  If Steven has entered that room, I need to go and see if he is inside,” replied Chrissy, looking a little nervous.

“Why don’t you let us search some more?” proposed Dave.

“I’m here.  Let me at least see what I can find,” replied Chrissy, now facing the large black panel on the right wall and clearly feeling more concerned to find Steven than to protect herself from whatever could be lurking on the other side.  On the screen, the title read: “You are in the grey-coloured section, Chamber 00000000.”  She was nervous and looking at the room number didn’t make her feel any better.  Below it was written “Please enter the Temporal Dilation Ratio” and, on the line below, she could read “Current TDR:  1:300.”

This is totally impossible, she thought.  She understood everything at once and paused for a long moment, thinking of her next move and turned to face the exit.  “Look, guys, if I’m not back in five minutes, inform Lawson about everything and also add that I think this room is like a time machine of some sort.”

Both Celina and Dave’s faces said a lot, but they didn’t ask for clarifications or if she was crazy.  “That’s all it can be, I’m sure.  Give me ten minutes, okay?  Then you can tell Lawson.  But unlike Eirik and Jack, you won’t be able to mount a rescue because you can’t come in.  I’m sure she can’t, but just to make sure, tell Fangs not to cut the power to number 00000000 for any reason,” finished Chrissy as she had just been denied access to bring the ratio to 1:1, the system listing the presence of someone inside already.

Looking at the screen, with her eyes focused on reading every number one by one and counting every zeros two times to be certain she had understood the time machine correctly, she pushed the purple button.

The second door opened fully and she entered.