Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Question

Like many things, getting to the north pole of the shell was going to be easier said than done. After a few measurements and some number crunching, Alex and Carbon had determined that the whatever the green triangle was pointing at was roughly thirty million kilometers away. Not exactly an afternoon hike.

The map was aware of their presence. When they left the clearing it shut off and surged to life again once they returned. Alex returned to the pedestal and watched it turn, leaning in to get a closer look at the fine detail. He pressed his face to the very edge of the hologram and learned that it would react to touch when a mountain range ran into the tip of his nose and the whole thing drew to a stop.

Alex jerked away from the hologram and it began its slow rotation again. He reached out and pushed a finger into a desert plain. The surface resisted and then gave way, a small hexagonal section of the globe sinking in and popping back out. It flexed to reflect the actual curve of the interior wall, growing to the size of a dinner plate.

It worked rather like the tablets he was used to. He could grip the edges and felt resistance and the screen responded to various pokes and prods in a way that was instantly familiar. He looked over his shoulder at Carbon, who was doing something with the trees. “Hey, come check this out, the map does stuff.”

“In a moment.” He heard Carbon’s shields pop off and she took a deep breath and exhaled with content. “It has been too long.”

“It is good, isn’t it? Now come look at this, these are solid holograms.”

She sidled up to the pedestal, arm to arm with him. “Interesting. I have seen static implementations of similar technology, but nothing this detailed or useful.”

“Really? I’ve never seen it before...” Alex looked at her as he tilted the map piece, scrolling over towards the grassy field they were in. Maybe there would be some other building they couldn’t see nearby or some other hint as to what they were supposed to do.

“It was a technical demonstration.” She waved a hand and squinted up at the sun analog, the light it was putting out starting to turn amber as thought it were late afternoon. “Inefficient in too many ways.”

“I don’t think efficiency is a big concern here.” The big lake appeared on the display, the tiny grey alcove and then the copse they were in. The zoomed in map was dynamic, grasses waving and the globe lit up, a bright light surrounded by an almost perfect ring of trees. Alex flexed the display down towards the globe.

“Is that...” She trailed off and looked up again. The black shape next to the pedestal shifted and for a moment Carbon was staring up at Alex through the display. She looked back down just in time to see him to squint up into the sun. “It is a live display.”

“You know what? Not that surprised anymore. A little unsettled, though.” He zoomed out and rolled the view slowly over the surrounding area.

“Mm. Have you seen anything useful before now?”

“I’ve seen lots of untouched land, but no other structures.”

“If you find anything, let me know. I am going to gather some fruit.” She sounded happy and had that getting-away-with-something smile again.

“I will.”

After two more hours of investigating the shell through the map, night had fallen and Alex still hadn’t found anything aside from a massive building at the north pole. That answered that question, at least.

“You must come see.” She slipped her arm into his and literally pulled him away from the pedestal without further warning.

“Alright, just let- okay.” He flailed his free arm at the display for a moment, intent lost as he stumbled to keep up with her.

Carbon sat down in the grass, legs folding neatly as she pulled him down next to her. She watched him expectantly, a wry smile on her lips. “Do you see it?”

His eyes darted around for a moment and he felt panic rising. What was he supposed to see? The grass was the same as it had been. There was a little pile of fruit and she looked the same as she had before. “No?”

A little mischief worked its way into her eyes and she gave him a shove, laying him out in the grass. Then it made sense. In the darkness a half moon shined down, what looked like the milky way spilled out across the sky. He relaxed and took it in. “Surprised again. How does that work?”

Carbon laid down next to him, head next to his. “I have a few ideas, but I do not know.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“It is.” She slipped her hand into his and gave it a squeeze. They laid there for some time, looking up into the false sky. Alex disentangled his hand from hers and shut his recording equipment off. He held his wrist monitor up for her to see what he had done and gestured for her to do the same. Carbon looked off for a moment before giving him a nod.

“Awhile back, you said you didn’t like your job, that you wanted to stop but you felt that you couldn’t.” He took a deep breath and ordered his thoughts. “When the timer runs out, if we can leave... Would you like to stay?”

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