Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Disappearance of Rothko Ladhiffe: Chapter Five

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Click here for the previous installment...

I use the flashlight to explore the cave, but find nothing but a few strange rock formations, including one that looks like an altar. An ancient culture may have used it for human sacrifices, but for now, it’s mine. I need to take a nap and recharge myself, so I climb up on it, and drift away. Rock is generally really uncomfortable to be on, but right now, it feels like heaven.
I wake up later and realize that I’m also extremely hungry. I even say it loud, forgetting for a second that I am alone, and have been for most of my life. As I’m heading back to where I first came in, I pass the rock formation where I found what I’ve now decided to call the Rothko Torch, submerged in water. The water is gone, replaced by a plate of bread and crackers. I hesitantly lower my hand into the basin and gently touch the bread with my fingers. It’s not a hologram. I touch it again. It feels like regular bread. “Is someone here?” I ask, spinning around in case somebody shows up.
I don’t expect anyone to answer. For some reason, the plate of food magically appearing out of nowhere is a more logical explanation than that someone, out of the kindness of their heart, just snuck in and placed it here for me. As it turns out, I’m half right. “I’m here,” comes a voice.
I spin again and settle on a rock formation that looks like a doorway that leads nowhere. A woman is standing at the fake entrance, hands resting in front of her, and smiling. “Who are you?” I ask.
“Hello,” she says, like an automated phone attendant. “My name is Porter. The Constructor, The Weaver, and I collaborated on this place as a refuge for the needy. It is a prototype, however...a proof of concept, as it were. Congratulations, you have been chosen as a beta tester for the program. Here you will find anything you need. If you would like something, within reason, simply request it out loud. We’re not mind readers, you know,” she adds with a smirk. “If the program is successful, we will be creating more—more advanced—places like this. Go ahead and try it out. Ask for anything.”
“I would like Rothko Ladhiffe.”
“I’m sorry, that item is not in my inventory.”
“Please send me Escher Bradley.”
“I’m sorry, that item is not in my inventory,” she repeats.
I walk over and try to nudge her on the shoulder, sure that my hand will pass right through.
But she isn’t a hologram either. “Please respect my personal space. We’ll all get along better if we’re civil.”
I nudge her again.
“Please respect my personal space.”
So she’s physically here, but she’s not real. They somehow figured out how to record her saying various things, which can be activated upon command. It reminds me of some MS-DOS text games I used to play on the computer. You can’t speak to them like a normal person, only responding when you type commands the right way. Porter is clearly a more advanced version of this, but you still can’t break her worldview by teaching her something she didn’t know when she was built. She knows what she knows, and that’s it. I try to replicate one of the features that not all of them had. “Porter, list of commands.”
“I’m sorry, I cannot do that. If you would like the user manual, however, I can provide that.”
“User manual, please.”
“Item is waiting for you in the item basin.”
I go back over and retrieve a book that’s only about a hundred pages long. As advanced as this system is, I expect it to be as tall as a skyscraper, or something. I guess I’ve gotten lucky. I start flipping through the pages, and testing a few of the features. “Porter, play music.”
“Which piece?”
“Dealer’s choice.” Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla starts playing, and I can’t figure out where the speakers are. It must just be coming from the aether itself. “Lower volume, please. Shuffle Wagner continuously please.” I return to the manual, which tells me that the items I request can come from anywhere in the world; from any time in history; past, present, or future. “Porter, give me the first model of television ever built.”
“The history of television sets, is a complicated one. Exactly what qualifies as a television set varies when considering modern standards—”
“Give me a TV from 1947.” It appears. “Give me a TV from 2017,” I choose, remembering the future book I read in the library above. I expect to see a flatscreen TV, but instead it’s curved inwards. I don’t get why anyone would want that. “Porter, does this function?”
“It does, yes.”
“If I turn it on, will it show me a broadcast from today, or from 2017?”
“Which would you like?”
I smile at the notion of being able to do practically anything, but I don’t actually turn on the TV, because that’s not what I’m doing here. “I would like to speak with the real Porter.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
“She’s dead?”
“Dead...alive...time. Everything never will be and always was.”
“How cheerful,” I respond to the sudden quasiphilosophical musing. “Is there anyone I can speak to? This Constructor, or the Weaver?”
Porter stands frozen for a few strange moments. “I could potentially contact the Weaver.”
“Okay, do that.”
She tilts her head to the other side. “Placing call.”
A different woman starts to climb out of the item basin, even though it’s not deep enough for someone to fit. She looks around. “I’d forgotten about this place.” She looks at a watch on her wrist. “August 24, 2000. Porter, let’s see that GameCube that they announce today.” She looks back and takes a gaming console I’ve never seen before out of the basin. “Still works.” She outstretches her hand. “Hello, my name is the Weaver. How did you find this place? It was buried.”
“With a book, and this,” I say to her, taking what I’ve now decided to call the Escher Knob from my bag.”
Her eyes widen and she reaches for it. I try to pull it away, but realize she’s my best source of answers. “A new thing,” she says happily. “Porter, I need my continuum resonance imaging machine.” While still examining the Escher Knob, she reaches into the basin and takes out a wand-looking thing, which she waves around the knob. “Porter, project the image on this anachronism.”
The television flips on, showing a photograph of the knob. The Weaver is able to rotate and flip it at will just be dragging her fingers across the screen. She then pulls it apart to show a cross section. “Just as I suspected.”
“This shape here is called the cylicone; a cone inside of a cylinder, with lots of other design quirks. I invented it. It allows any dipshit to turn an ordinary object into something that can manipulate time. My biggest regret is letting the instructions for this thing get out into the world. I’m sure if we took a look at that flashlight, we’d find a cylicone.”
“These two things are the only evidence I have that two people who went missing even ever existed.”
She shakes her head, “I’m not going to take them away. That’s not my right. I am going to ask you to be careful, though.”
“I can do that, if you can tell me where they are.”
“I don’t know, but you won’t find answers here. This was a failed experiment. Our testers started asking for more and more extravagant things, and we soon learned that no one deserved to live like this. This is what we in the business call Springfield Y2K. It can’t be stopped. The city is dying, and the only thing you can control is whether you’re in it when it’s totally gone.”
“I can evacuate everyone left.”
“Can you?”
No, probably not.
She goes on, “the people you’re looking for are gone, and from what we know of the future, they don’t come back. Best move on with your life. I’ll allow you to stay here, if you want. You seem like good people. Just know that the biggest problem our testers had over the years...was loneliness.” She opens her shirt to reveal a weird robotic vest thing with buttons on it. “See you in 2016.” Then she presses one of the buttons and disappears.
I do see her again sixteen years later, after all of Springfield has gone.

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