Mike carefully lowered the last of the anchored rope into the pit. A thousand feet of it. The top of it was anchored to a steel stanchion in the abandoned Gates Habitation garage. The floor had been carefully swept and dusted clean except where a three foot core had been carved from the concrete.
Excavation had gone down twenty feet before finding another layer of concrete. This layer was three feet thick. After vacuuming out the dirt and dust, and sealing the sides of the hole with plasticine, they were ready to make an opening in the top of the dome below.
Using their laser cutter, they had carefully managed to cut a cone shaped hole. attaching steel pinions deep into the plug, they pulled the plug out with an electric wench. Air rushed out of the hole momentarily as Mike and the other intrepid explorers braced themselves for the descent.
An old man lay on a rescue pallet, pale as the color of the curious concrete plug they had lowered to the floor near him. He looked out of place of course, but the fire in his eyes belied his fraile appearance, as he watched expectantly all the labor of his three sons.
Mike came over to his father. “What now, Pops?”
Stevo raised his head to look at his son, who was chewing on his lip ring thoughtfully. “We go down now. The sonics told us the floor of the cavern is eleven hundred feet below, so we take more rope with us to reach the bottom.”
Mike’s eyes widened a little. His pop was really serious! They all had humored him over these last few months, but now, at this point, even his curiousity was becoming aroused. What was down there?
Mike had gone down ropes before, and tying off was an easy task, but he had never racheted down that long a rope before. He got himself ready to go. Jeff and Harry would remain up here. Only his dad would go down with him. He marveled again at his dad. Crazy old man, weak as a kitten, who had some steel hidden in him to do this nutso gig.
“So which of us goes first?”
“Mike, like I explained before, we go together. The rope has tensile of 800 pounds, if you bought the right kind. It will hold us and our gear. We will take the 200 foot rope with us and tie off at the end to go the rest of the way.”
Mike absently rubbed his chin in the manner of his father. “We have the backpacks ready with a supply of food and water. The lumi-lanterns are powered, so what keeps us from doing this? You want me to go down first and look around? I can radio link to you.” Concern for his elderly father was evident on his face.
Stevo sat up on the pallet with effort. “Mike, for a year now we have discussed this. You ride my pallet down, just like I do. You know where to sit above it. We practiced and practiced this. Why do you want to change it now?”
Mike shrugged, brushing his greying mohawk in frustration. No arguing with the old guy who was bent on his foolishness. “So we go.”
They were down to the end of their last bit of the rope they had carried. Mike, sitting almost on top of his dad, who was still strapped to his pallet, realized that he was stuck. Getting down this thing was easy. If they had to go back up, he did not know if he had the strength to do it, to climb over a thousand feet of rope. He would have to leave his dad at the bottom and pull him up afterward.
“Dad? What now? We reached the end.” His dad looked out of it. Mike shinned the light toward his face. Stevo was alert and peering into the blackness around them.
“Shine your light down, Mike. The floor can’t be more than a foot or two below us.”
Mike moved the light behind him, trying to shine it below his father’s pallet. He saw nothing. “We’ve come almost 1200 feet down, Pops. There is no floor I can see down there. We are really stuck.”
“Mike. Drop my light and see how far down it falls. It will stay lit. Then we will know.”
Mike complied, carefully dropping the light where he could see it fall. It landed almost immediately on the floor below them. “Its about a couple of yards down, Pops. We are still stuck. I can jump down, but how am I gonna get you down?”
“Let the pallet down first. Hook me to the rope for a minute and undo the rope to the pallet. It’s about twenty feet long. You can use it to lower me the rest of the way.”
Mike quickly did as his dad suggested, considering he was upside down, carrying a heavy backpack, and working over the huddled form of his father who was secured to the rope under him. The pallet hit the floor. Working the remaining rope into a cradle, Mike placed the loop under his father’s arms and carefully lowered Stevo the remaining distance. Then he followed the rope down.
“Lets get you back into the pallet, Pops.” Mike raised the pallet on its wheels, lifting Stevo into it. Stevo gratefully lay down again, while his son raised the handle. They made a strange pair of explorers.
Mike placed his lantern on his shoulder patch, aiming it out in front. It was time to look this alien place over.
“Raise my head, Mike.” Stevo wanted to see all he could here. He didn’t want to miss any of it, after fifty years of being gone.
Mike called his brothers to let them know they had made it down. He told them he thought the floor must be made of metal, for it made a strange noise as he pushed his father’s pallet in the darkness. Soon they saw a grey wall before them. “What is it, Pops?”
“This is one of those buildings I told you about. I was worried we would end up on top of one of these.”
“There is no doors or windows, just like you described it. We got to find the resting place of your friend, if she still exists after all these years.”
“Once we find that park, she cannot be very far.”
It took them most of a day to map out the opening to the outside tunnel, the park, and the closet where the lights were turned on. Mike and Stevo were greatly disappointed that between them they could not activate the lights from the closet.
Stevo was growing weaker as the hours dragged on. They found more closets in the side of a building near the park, but they were full of dust. Strange that in a pristine city of metal there would be dust in those closets.
“Pops. We been at this for more than a day. I need to sleep and so do you. We will look around some more in the morning. Its time for your pills anyway.” Mike again called on the radio to his brothers, giving them an update.
Stevo wearily agreed, lying back onto his meager bed. He felt utter defeat. Mary, his beloved friend was undoubtably gone to dust. They slept fitfully in the utter quiet of that alien place. Mike’s bedroll did little to soften the hardness of the metal floor at his back.
Mike contemplated as he dozed off. He was utterly devoted to his father. All his life he had heard of this alien city and had dreamt of exploring it. The reality of being here was quite different. His father was near death, but was driven to find his friend. New developments in the Continuum had driven them both to find this place and make the dangerous descent into the unknown. Who could have forseen that there would be nothing here.
Once the World Computer Consortium had grown beyond even the awesome power of this place, the city had been abandoned. Other, more human structures and edifices were built by man to replace all this. It had been abandoned and forgotten for twenty years. Only the few people who had the need to know had ever known of its existence.
The Continuum continued, chaotic, boisterous, noisy and alive with the melieu of people’s thoughts and ambitions. Pockets had formed within the Continuum, of people who were bent the same way. Each group had their own world view, convinced of their own rightness of purpose and destiny. These became the new nations of Man as the old national lines blurred and were abandoned. Pockets of humanity, each ignoring the others.
Man was introspective at this point in his history, much more than he had ever been, for he had always been centered on his own devices. Now, with almost all the population of the planet getting standard implants and gaining access to the virtual net, everyone was becoming part of a great world wide commonality. Little of anything was being done in the real world, except as necessary to sustain the furnishings of civilization.
Access was the same for everyone. Those who could not read were taught by the automation programs of the Continuum. Those who were not able, because of disabilities or whatever reason were given alternate methods of access. Even the blind or the deaf had complete access. The virtual world had become the real world of Man.
The languages were no longer a barrier to Man. The Continuum converted the speech and writings of anyone to whatever language used by the user, on the fly. It was as if everyone spoke the same language in the Continuum – the native language of the person using the Web. Therefore, each person viewed the new virtual world as his own.
“How you doin’ Pops?” It was a rhetorical question. Mike knew his father did not have long now.
“I am fine, Mike. Just fine. I have an idea, in fact.” Stevo got up on one elbow and smiled. His eyes burned with an alertness that his son had not seen before. Is this how death was?
“What is there left for us, Pops? We have been all over this empty place. It is dead.”
“Perhaps not. I think we should take some of that dust from the place where we think those touring bodies used to be, and try to use it to bring this place to life.”
“I don’t understand, Pops. What do you propose?”
“Lets get over to the building where we found those closets in the wall. I want to take a quantity of the dust on the floor from each of them.”
“What is so important about that dust, Pops?”
“It really isn’t dust. It is clumps of Nanocites, which are tiny mechanical creatures, incredibly small. It was these that made up the body of my friend, Mary, and others like her. We might be able to use this dust to reactivate the power to this city.”
Willing to do anything for his father, Mike readily agreed to try. They took their empty food containers and filled them full of the dust from the floor of each of the closets, and carefully carried it to the end of the city near the tunnel, looking again for the closet containing the power switch.
When they had found it, Stevo applied water to his hand and placed it in the container with the dust. There was barely enough room for Mike and the pallet holding his dad to fit in the tiny closet where the power switch was. All Mike could see was a blank panel on one wall of the closet. He put water on his hand like his father, and placed it in the dust.
They both put their hand on the panel on just the place his father indicated before. Nothing happened. Stevo wiped his hand off on his tunic. “Let’s try it again, shall we?” He wetted his hand as before, and dipped it in the dust again, getting a good layer. Mike did the same, and they both placed their hands on the panel again.
Suddenly light came through the door! Stevo took heart that perhaps this would work after all.
Mike and Stevo shielded their eyes from the daylight glare of the ancient city, now fully powered. Mike turned off their lanters and pushed his dad’s pallet down the street toward the open area where they came down. Stevo now spoke to his other sons on the handheld, telling them excitedly of their accomplishment. He told them that they were all right and to wait until he could get the tunnel open again for them to come in that way.
Stevo knew his sons would do whatever he needed, for as long as he needed it. He felt the quiet pride any father would feel, knowing his children were competent and successful in what they were doing. Mike was the oldest, the firstborn of his wife Beth – his pride and joy.
Stevo was well past middle age when the young reporter had come to see him at his home. She was so intuitive, guessing a lot of things about his role in the formation of the new regime. The fact that there could be reporters, and free speech was something new and exciting. He was quite taken with her, and she was very interested in finding out all she could about how everything opened up into freedom so suddenly.
They discovered that they had a common love for liberty and free thinking. Whereas before, no one was open about their opinions for fear of the thought police, now Beth and Stevo spent hours talking about all their common past and the exciting possiblities of the future.
It was not long that they were looking for a place together. Her stories sold well to the publication sites and his new job as an Apple rep paid handsomely. Having children no longer required permission from the State, so after they were married in a virtual ceremony, Mike came along almost at once.
Stevo stopped his revery, startled. Fifty years! Beth had died a year ago. Stevo and his boys were still bereft of her. She had been the core of their family.
Once she was a wife and mother, she had given up her career to devote herself to her boys. Stevo finally told her about the Continuum and about Mary R147. She was incredulous, thinking at first he was jesting, but she relented and accepted what he was telling her, even though it was so farfetched.
Who could believe molecular implants that connected people to alien computers that were self aware. The commercial implants people wore were small, but nothing like the size Stevo was telling her about. She used the Continuum as did everyone else, but there was no one there but other people. Privately, she was very glad never to have met a thinking, living machine. That was too much for her to imagine. Beth had been very glad they were all gone. Of course she never wrote about any of this. Who would believe it anyway?
Mike believed. Stevo and Mike were close. Mike looked like his mother, which made him more endearing to his father. But their thoughts were alike. Mike liked the idea of a living Continuum. He even dreamed of meeting Mary some day. His ideas about her were much more romantic than Stevo’s. Stevo knew first hand about her Otherness, and there was nothing romantic about that.
They reached the building with all the closet doors once more, which they could see well lit next to the open space. The light was very much like sunlight, but they could not tell where it was from except it was overhead.
Stevo felt strange. It was as if he was feeling some strength returning to his worn out body. Perhaps it was the excitement of finally being here once again.
Mike opened the first closet-like cubby. There was still dust piled in a heap at the bottom. One by one he opened the long line of twenty doors. If this was where Mary R147 went, she was no more.
Frustrated with the situation, and with the wait, Stevo sat up on his pallet. It was wobbly on its rickety wheeled struts. He thought he could put his legs down and stand up. Stevo quiety, slowly, walked over to his son, who was looking in the last closet.
Mike jumped! He had not expected anyone to be behind him, much less his father. “Golls Pops! Whatter you doin up? You like to have got me to wet myself!”
Stevo grinned. “I have an idea, Mike. Lets try something.” Mike watched his father go into the first cubby and sit down in the dust, bringing hands full of it over himself. “You do the same, son. Go to the next one and do what I am doing.”
Mike complied, wondering what had gotten into his Pop. He thought Stevo’s color was improving, or perhaps it was just the bright light of the cavern. “Why are we doing this?” They moved again to the next two closets, trailing nano dust as they went.
Stevo stopped what he was doing and suddenly lay down on the metal floor of the cavern. Mike rushed over to him, fretting that he had allowed his father to be so active.
Stevo was quiet, but his vitals were steady. He spoke in hushed tones to his son. “Mike. I am feeling better because some of these nanocites have gotten into me. I suspect they are policing my body and helping remove some of the damage that old age has caused me.”
Mike was wide eyed at this revelation. “Pops, will this happen to me?”
“Yes, Mike. The first sign will be that your hair will all grow out again.”
Starring even more, Mike took a step back. Seeing his face, Stevo broke into a wide grin, giving away the joke.
“Oh no! Pops, you got your humor back! There will be no living with you now!” Mike grinned sheepishly at his father’s little joke.
“Seriously, Pops. Will the same thing happen to me?”
“I do not know, son. These things were attuned to my body once, but I do not know how they will react to someone else. They might, you know. The way we can tell is that you and I will be able to communicate without speaking. We will have to see. But I have another idea.”
Stevo got up and strode down the street back toward the tunnel. Mike ran after him. As soon as Stevo got to the last building he placed his hand just so on a certain place on the building. Going to the next, he did the same thing. Mike could just tag along, waiting patiently for his father to explain what he was doing. It did not take long to know.
“Mike! Listen to the sounds around us!” Mike heard his father speaking to him in his head! he sat down on the metal floor, put his head between his knees and shut his eyes. Didn’t help. He was seeing a blue area all around him while all his father’s thoughts rushed around like insects. He caught a vision of Mary, then a forbidding man named Lerno, who was somehow dead. He could not keep the thoughts from coming! He got up and ran to his father, taking him by the shoulders, shaking him.
“Pops! Stop it! Stop it now!” Mike was becoming more afraid by the minute.
Stevo turned in shock, hearing his son’s voice in his head, much louder than the shout in his ears! “We can transmit our thoughts! We can hear each other’s thoughts! Amazing!”
Mike had a look of rising terror on his face. “What are we gonna do now, Pops?”