Chapter 37: Not in Kansas anymore

As the door rematerialized behind her, she felt her body go numb.  Then, a tingling sensation coursed throughout her body.  When the intense tingling stopped, Chrissy saw the door in front of her vanish.  She took a moment to pause and relax, but felt it unnecessary.  The fear she had been experiencing all morning was completely gone.  So too was the slight hunger she had for having eaten no more than a fruit for breakfast.  She finally realized she had just been teleported somewhere else, but still wondered why she felt differently.

As she started perceiving everything around her, she noticed that the room was separated in two:  On the left was a magnificent white stone dinner table and chairs.  It was adorned with carvings all around the edges.  The table legs were rounded and carved with interlaced geometric shapes that formed patterns matching that of the chair’s backrest.  On the other side of the room were two couches placed adjacent to each other, resting on a uniformly black carpet.  The walls were of a light grey and two paintings were hanging on them.  Behind the table was a tall structure resembling a pyramid, but with a flat roof and made of the same white stones as the table.  The second painting was hanging on the wall in front of one of the couches.  As she stepped closer, she could see that it was the painting of a bird, which reminded her of an eagle, even though the eyes were too big and the tips of the wings were not really eagle-like.  Having discussed with Celina many times the lack of decoration and cultural design, it was the first thing she noticed.  She was standing in the only room in the Facility festooned with art, or was it?  Maybe it was decorated because she was no longer in the Facility anymore?  At once, her anxiety returned and she realized that she could feel things again, although she would have rather do without that particular emotion.

On the left, she noticed a hallway but dismissed it, having decided to explore the room first.  As she finished analysing the bird painting, she turned and saw a piece of clothing on the arm of the couch, and her heart leaped in an instant.  She recognized the color and the pattern immediately and called for Steven.

Almost immediately, Steven ran out of the hallway with an expression of total surprise on his face.  She ran to him and hugged him.  “You scared the shit out of me!” Chrissy exclaimed. “I have been looking for you for the better part of the day!”

“What?  What are you talking about? I just woke up half an hour ago and took the elevator to this floor because it was one of the rooms Eirik could not enter, and it was the next one on the roster.  Then, I saw the door to this chamber and walked in about 5 minutes ago,” said Steven, looking at her face, waiting to see if she had gone mad.  But all he saw was relief.

“Look, if I’m right, this place exists outside our space-time continuum,” Chrissy said and saw a sign of understanding in Steven’s eyes.  Thanks to The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Steven had a basic understanding of temporal mechanics.  “Let’s sit down. I have a lot to tell you,” Chrissy continued.

As they sat down on the couch, she explained to him all she had read on the panel, which made him understand the time ratio and realize they had all the time they needed inside the room before Celina and Dave informed Lawson.  She also told him about all the interfaces and equipment in the Facility being in the language that people preferred.  Steven was impressed and felt that now they would be able to achieve a lot of things.  As for the language, he was sure that it was not a coincidence that everything was now in English; it had changed since the moment he entered that place in the morning, which to him was only a few minutes ago.

Before he let Chrissy continue, he had some news of his own to share.  He explained that as he entered, he was greeted by an artificial being and that she had told him in English that the system had been monitoring the progress of the people on Earth and the other Facilities around the world.  He asked how come she spoke English while everything else was in a language no one understood, and her answer was that the translation system was offline.  Then she asked, on the same emotionless tone, whether or not he wanted to activate it and voila!  Just like that.  Everything everywhere was translated in whatever language suited the users.

“I was on my way to have a long conversation with her, I mean, the hologram or android.  I didn’t have time to absorb what she was saying that much as she told me that someone was trying to enter.  I rushed out to check if it was true and here you are,” Steven said, holding Chrissy’s hand as he led her to the other room.

“We should go and tell the others first.  They will worry if I don’t return, especially with Eirik and Jack in trouble, too,” said Chrissy, audibly anxious of the thought that Dave and Celina may end up waiting for them for hours at a crucial time such as this.

“And you were doing so well, my love, we have all the time in the world, you said it yourself,” replied Steven.  Deep inside, he wished that they had more time to learn more about the facility from the android in the other room.  However, he took note of Chrissy’s troubled demeanour and reassured her that they would be quick about it.

They walked arm-in-arm to the next room where a woman of small stature was still standing in the middle of the empty room waiting for them.  Steven, who had been to Mexico Yucatan Peninsula, was reminded of the Mayan people still living there.  She had very long hair attached by a metal ring and was wearing plain white pants and a loose pale blue blouse.  Her skin was lightly tan.  Her voice was soft and in perfect English.  She spoke to them with a measured voice, not a computerized one, but that of a human not burdened by emotions.

“Sorry, no offense intended, but are you a sentient being?”  Chrissy began, looking at Steven and then at the woman for a reaction.

“If by sentient being you mean that I am self-aware and have a consciousness, then I would have to answer no,” replied the woman.  “I am the collection of memories and life experiences of the former inhabitants of this Station, but not the ‘Builders,’ as you called them.  I am not an exact copy of an individual either.  However, I am bound by the same set of rules as this Station and these rules cannot be broken.”

“What should we call you?” asked Chrissy, looking at Steven with the smile of a girl that just received the birthday gift she had always wanted.  Steven smiled back and nodded in agreement for good measure, but didn’t care much about the question.  He was more interested in knowing who built that place, what it was for, how many people or cultures have lived in these Stations, and a hundred more relevant questions.  Consciously calming himself down so that he would be able to clear his thoughts for the incoming information, he relaxed his body and waited for the “being” to answer.

“You can call me Sordana.  It is the name of my template, and it means “The Guardian.”’  My purpose is to help the inhabitants coexist in times of need and ensure that this Station survives until it is needed again,” she replied, without any pretention.

“When was the Facility created?” asked Chrissy.

“According to the logs, this Station was completed 666,931 solar orbits and 58 axial rotations ago.”

They had both been shocked by the number.  Hearing that people could have had the ability to design and build this place more than half a million years ago was a lot to take in.  But they were practical and thus managed to ignore the implication for a little while and continued.

Chrissy looked around her, but the room was empty.  Thinking that she had been walking all morning looking for him, she would have welcomed a chair to sit and relax.  “Can you appear in the other room? It would be good if we could sit down for this conversation.”

“The Station has full access to your cerebrum.  Just create the settings you need.  You can imagine it in your mind.  The system has already been calibrated to your brain wave pattern as you entered,” explained Sordana.

“I can imagine it in my mind?” asked Chrissy, fixing Sordana a look from the corner of her eye.  “You mean, all I have to do is to imagine what I want and the Facility will replicate it for me?” she asked, thinking of what would happen if her mind drifted and imagined the room flooding or the walls closing in on them like a garbage compactor.

“Yes.  In this room and only within the limit of the established protocols,” replied Sordana.  Feeling that she had nothing to lose, Chrissy started imagining what she wanted and, just like in the fairy tales of her childhood, there appeared a sofa and a coffee table, on which lay a bottle of Dom Pérignon vintage champagne and a couple of champagne flutes.  Trying to remain focused and pretend that it was just normal, she sat down.  She tapped the cushion with her right hand and looked at Steven, now torn between sitting next to Chrissy and enjoying the moment or pressing on with all the questions he had wanted to ask since he entered the Chamber.

Feeling that pleasing Chrissy was more important, he sat next to her, letting her pour him a glass of the ten-year old champagne.  He barely noticed that Chrissy had imagined the bottle in an ice bucket, already opened.  He checked his watch subconsciously as Chrissy experimented some more with the newly discovered features in their midst and conjured a plate of fresh strawberries.  As he stared at his watch, a realization dawned on him:  If Sordana says that a person can alter the settings of this chamber with a thought, then perhaps he can mentally tell the system to reverse the time dilation that Chrissy was explaining about earlier so that they can spend more time sating their cognitive curiosities.  He squinted his eyes as he tried out his hypothesis, focusing on a blank space in the far end of the room as he pictured in his mind that for every day spent here, only one minute would pass outside.  He felt a familiar tingle surge through his body as he dwelled on that particular thought and recognized it as the same sensation that he felt when he entered this chamber.  Chrissy noticed it too and she stared blankly at Steven, whose eyes had widened as if he had finally discovered the meaning of life.  He snapped out of his trance and hastily put his champagne flute down.  He held Chrissy’s free hand and explained what had just happened.  Steven then verified the current time ratio with Sordana, who gave him roughly the same value that he was imagining.  Steven tossed a triumphant look at Chrissy’s eyes as he smiled impishly.

She finally understood and smiled.  The entire thing was easy to comprehend or even explain, but difficult to realize and apply, especially with only five actual minutes of experience on the matter.  For her entire life, the passage of time had been the same.  Now, time was moving slower for her than for the rest of the world.

It was like two business people leaving together at the same time from the same location and travelling to the same destination:  One used a train that took forty-eight hours to get there, which allowed him to have the time to complete a lot of work; the other took a plane that traversed the distance in two hours, which left him little room for him to do anything much.  Yet, somehow, they both arrived at the same time.

“Let’s take a few hours here to talk with Sordana and learn more about the place now that it is all in English.  Then we can get out and I’m sure that Celina will not have time to twist her hair around her fingers more than two times,” offered Steven, thinking of Celina’s nervous habit.

Steven turned his attention towards Sordana.  “Who created it and why?” he started, feeling that it was now safe to take a strawberry, before pausing and thinking that it would have been more appropriate and perhaps more romantic to lift his glass and toast to the occasion.  But Chrissy had beaten him to it and was looking at him, glass raised like they had done countless times in their room, thanks to the free replicated champagne bottles.  Steven’s mind was far from being in a romantic mood–there would be time for this after the main series of questions were asked. Still, he participated in the toast and took a sip of the sparkling liquid despite the fact that he didn’t have breakfast yet and, according to him, it was still early in the morning.  Sordana did not answer as she was waiting for them to be ready.

“It was created by the People of Mu.  Records show that the island had sunken off the coast of modern-day Peru, in front of Bolivia,” said Sordana, but stopped as Chrissy spoke.

“Peru?  Bolivia?” she snorted, a clean expression of disbelief on her face as if she had been told that Zimbabwe had been the first country to land on the moon.  Steven had also grimaced at the name Bolivia, but for a different reason:  He remembered the stories about the Lost City of Mu, which was rumoured to have sunken off the coast of Japan.

Not understanding the comment, Sordana didn’t answer.  Steven did, however.  “Yeah, I think that a lot of people are making the same assumption about China.  I thought the same thing when I visited the country for the first time.  It is hard to look at the China of today with the developing infrastructures, human rights violations, the pollution and the people themselves.  The country has a long way to go to reach our level of accepted behaviours.  Imagine it was once the most advanced nation on Earth.  I mean, three thousand years ago, China was light years ahead of Europe and I’m not even talking about North America, which was nothing more than a virgin forest from coast-to-coast dotted by the occasional tipi and roaming native tribes of hunters and gatherers.”

“Sorry, you are absolutely right,” said Chrissy, kissing him on the cheek and then looking at Sordana for a reaction, but there was nothing there but the fixed image of a three-dimensional woman looking absently at the wall behind them.  “I remember reading something about Bolivia, a place called Puma Punku where the monuments are made of Dolerite, an extremely hard volcanic rock.  The blocks were placed so close together that it could only have been done using laser cutting tools.”  Then, she paused and asked a question of her own.  “Please, tell us why it was built?” realizing that she had interrupted the Hologram in mid-sentence, though she was unsure if she had insulted it, as much as stopping in the middle of a sentence in Microsoft Word to answer the phone would be insulting to the software.  Damn. That’s why you don’t want robots to look like humans, she thought.

“Initially, it was created for the population to live in a community without negatively affecting their environment,” answered Sordana on the same even tone.  “Later, it was used by various cultures to survive their Ice Age.  Finally, the purpose was redefined so it could help the humans of this era to survive the future disasters to come.”

Feeling that Sordana had not likely been programmed to procrastinate, they realized quickly that they would have to painfully ask the same question over and over until the full story was revealed to them.  It was pretty much like being a lawyer in a court house, interrogating a witness that was trained to answer with short yes or no replies.  “What do you mean by what is coming?”

“The closest one has already started and it is projected that it will reach its peak in forty-one solar orbits, given the current level of overpopulation, carbon dioxide and methane being released in the atmosphere.  It is estimated that the human casualty figures will be no less than seven billion should the current population growth rate be sustained,” answered Sordana.

Steven’s and Chrissy’s initial reaction was disbelief, and it was understandable.  Sordana had just informed them that the Earth would suffer a catastrophic event that would wipeout billions as if the weather lady had predicted light rain for the evening.  Still calm, Steven continued by asking more questions on how this may come to pass.

Sordana referred to it as global warming and said that it had already permanently destroyed more than tens of thousands of plants and animal species around the world.  With the carbon dioxide increasing, the green house effect would eventually trigger an early Ice Age.  Early meant thousands of years, but the warming itself was going to have a devastating effect on the human population in the short term.

Both of them have heard of global warming, but it was far from being an immediate concern.  Steven was on his way to ask if the governments of the world knew, but he didn’t.  He was sure that they wouldn’t tell anyone in order to prevent panic.  That was the basic of government crisis management. Maybe humans were simply unable to handle a truth of that magnitude.  Knowing what he knew, Steven felt that humans would likely destroy themselves before any disaster destroyed them.

Chrissy was torn on the inside.  Half of her believed that humans could, given enough time, be able to design all the necessary technologies to prevent an asteroid impact or a solar ejection.  But global warming would require everyone on Earth to work together to do their part in fixing the problem.  Everyone would need to stop polluting at once and that, to her, was impossible.

Steven sat in silence as he reflected on the revelation.  Being Canadian and cognizant of recent events concerning environmental issues, knew well the Montreal Protocol, which was reported to be the most successful international agreement ever reached with 197 signatories.  The initiative had been ratified to eliminate in time the CFC and Freon responsible for the hole in the ozone layer.  The protocol forced and banned companies from manufacturing products harmful to the ozone and to replace these products by safe ones overtime.

However, knowing that only a few nations were responsible for the current level of pollution, asking the developing nations to stop polluting would be a massive undertaking, particularly since their populations had likely no idea of what global warming was or were too busy with their day-to-day problems to care.  But, even if that could be achieved at the governmental and even industrial level, the citizens of every country in the world would have to do their part as well.  Having lived in both the developed and developing world, Steven knew that this was just as impossible as convincing a person to abandon their current way of life.

Chrissy shook him and he raised his head and looked at her.  “Sorry, I was thinking of the possibilities,” said Steven, grabbing her hands and turning to face her.

“You mean, ‘What can humans do to prevent it?’” asked Chrissy. “What are your suggestions?”

After Steven had deliberated about it for a few seconds, he then expressed his thoughts with absolute conviction.  “If I didn’t know that this Facility existed, I would likely allow myself to hope.  But now, I’m inclined to think that our civilization can’t prevent global warming because humans are not smart enough to realize that they are part of this world and have a profound impact on it.   Whoever said that “An individual is smart and a group of people are stupid and dumb” knew what he was talking about.  For us and the others at our level to survive, we will have to take refuge here like the Builders and everyone following them had done.  There is no other way, unless humans around the world grow a brain in the next few years,” observed Steven, rather dramatically.

Chrissy didn’t say anything.  She had done the math and reached the same conclusion.  Being high level in the Facility made it easy for her to imagine living comfortably for decades in here, knowing that she was welcome.  Also, there was Steven.  She was feeling truly happy for the first time in her life and she wasn’t going to give it up.

Letting the initial shock settle, they both stood rooted to the sofa.  It took a few more questions for them to clarify these threats and understand a little more about what the Builders had done in their time and why there were no traces of them.

Another benefit of the discussion with Sordana had been that they now had enough information to grasp that in reality, there was no system of levels.  All their work and all the data they had accumulated and analyzed in a month had not even come close to imagining how the Facility had worked.  With a few more discussions with Sordana, they had understood the very basic.  The Builders, the Muin, whoever they were, had left the Facility for the next civilizations to use.  But to ensure its survival, they would only allow access to people that thought like them, and somehow that was Steven and Chrissy.

After only two hours in the new section, they both felt that it was enough.  They learned all they could stomach for one day.  They knew, without a doubt, that Sordana would be there for them in the future to answer more questions when they had absorbed the information it had given them.  They took another look at Sordana, said thanks together and walked back toward the entrance.  They were soon teleported back in the corridor where Celina and Dave were waiting for them.

“So, you found him,” offered Celina, smiling at Steven. “Next time you decide to go for a full day tour, maybe you should tell your girlfriend.”

“Sure.  Next time I will be more careful,” Steven agreed.

“What have you discovered, guys?” asked Dave.

Before Steven had the chance to answer, Chrissy cut across.  “Not much.  A nice room, though I was more concerned about finding Steven.  We are planning to return later since now all the information is in English.”  Chrissy decided at the moment that they would tell Colonel Lawson and let him decide who should be told.