Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
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Chapter 3: The Metal Man
Graelyn was still wringing the seawater from her hair as she looked at her catch. It hadn’t been easy to bring him inside, he weighed an incredible amount, and the little sub had strained and strained to pull him up into the station. She hadn’t been able to lift him herself, so she’d used the sub’s arms to load him onto a cart on the side of the docking station. She’d tried to move him herself out of curiosity, but mainly just ended up getting herself very wet.
“What secrets do you bring?” She said to herself, only to mentally chastise herself for sounding like a crazy scientist in a film.
Its face was an oval with one eye, on it's right side, and the rest of its face was a flat blank. Its fingers were segmented, as was most of its body, but it was in the shape of a human male. On the nape of the neck it said its name was “Archimedes” along with a serial number. Weirdly, it was wearing a trench coat. Graelyn ran her fingers along the material-- it was clearly some durable polymer, but the outer layer was transparent, and she couldn't think of who made anything like it. Was it a pose-able mannequin? A robot? She felt around, and noticed a few hidden bolts. Taking their covers off, she carefully unscrewed a few, and looked inside. There was an intense network of electronics and motors inside him, and from the way it was laid out she was guessing the outer layer of the carapace acted as one big screen. Maybe it was an automaton meant to display ads on its carapace? Closing the limb up, she explored further and found a latch on the back of the head with a standard data port in it. She plugged into it without a second thought, and as the drive she connected to loaded up, she suddenly felt invasive. She pushed the thought away, it was just the automaton's hard drive. The files were arranged by date, but one folder stuck out to her: 'hidden files'. She looked at the blank one eyed face, and clicked it. There were a ton of videos in it, so she just scrolled a bit and clicked one at random. She saw a first person perspective of this unit watching a Hispanic man in a blue jumpsuit with a wrench adjust something on its arm. The date in the corner was from seven years ago. She could see rows of similar units to the metal man all still and silent, and another man in a black blazer with red and white stenciling on the lapels and breasts smoking an old style cigar, not even an e-cig. “Raise your arm.” The arm raised in front of the camera. “So much can happen when you're asleep can't it?” The man turned to the camera and said in a Central American accent, “I think its about time you wake up today, no?” These were memories, these files were this person's memories. This was a person. She felt a rush of terror and power flow through her, and scrambled to exit the system. This was labeled hidden files. Why would that be in a person's brain? It can't access this.
Graelyn dropped the tablet, and pulled the cord out of the metal man's neck, slapping the latch closed. She put her hands over her face, and then lowered them trembling. There was silence, her heavy breathing filling it, and then a gentle humming began.
“You're awake.” He heard, it wasn't a question. It was a statement as clear as the existence of matter. Yes, he was. Exactly why he was awake was a different question. He tried to move his limbs.
“Shh, its alright. Stay calm. I've been examining you. It says your name is Archimedes Von Ahnerabe on your carapace, if you don't mind me using the term?” He found he could still nod, so he did.
“You've got built in weapon systems in your limbs, and even
if you didn't your arms are strong enough to literally pull me in half, so I figured it would be best to take some caution till I knew who you were.”
“Who are you?” he said, his voice sounding tinny and water logged.
“Graelyn Scythes, I'm an intern here at project Atlantis.”
“Never heard of it.”
“I also rescued you. You had quite the fall, and you're very heavy.”
“Thank you... Does anyone else know I'm here?” Graelyn
shook her head.
“No, but don’t get any ideas. Most of us keep to ourselves here. We're all working on
the same project, but I can't say any of us are particularly... Social. My boss wants this project done, so I'm doing it. Even though I don’t get to actually do much. Pays pretty well. Well, for
“Could I sit up?” Graelyn had almost forgotten.
“Oh, sure. Its not like you could get out of here alive if you tried to hurt me anyways.” She wandered around his body, and made a few adjustments. “Should work now.”
Archimedes sat up, keenly aware that her hands had been inside his limbs. It wasn't very different than a doctor messing with your insides he supposed, but it still felt funny. He tested his fingers, and got down from the table with a “thud” that rattled the room. Graelyn took a step back.
“No need to worry, I'm not going to hurt you.” She nodded,
though it wasn't the most reassuring thing in the world. It was one thing to know logically someone had no reason to hurt you, and another to stand in a room next to a
walking tank coated in enough airtight alloyed metal to not be crushed by the ocean, who knew you'd been messing with his servos. “Er, follow me,” she said. Graelyn lead him into a hallway filled with
portraits and sculptures of various sea gods and myths. Whoever picked them out wasn't too picky, and a lot of them just had to do with water. Arch stopped to look at them.
“You alright?” He nodded, “My family raised me on Greek Mythology. They're all gone now, but I still love it myself. This one is Odysseus trying to get home, over there is Artemis bathing and punishing the hunter who watched her, Poseidon's wrath...” He trailed off, and Graelyn wondered if patting him on the shoulder would be the appropriate response. “Never mind,” he finished, “its in the past.”
“I've always found the oceans fascinating, its one of the reasons I came here. Though the project itself isn't about that.”
“What is it about?”
“I'll show you later for now lets just get lunch.”
Arch looked around the vacant cafeteria, built large enough to house a feast for a small town, with its few dozen occupants munching away on this or that.
“This is... Weird.” He intoned.
“Yeah. Mr. Aril built the whole place as a front for this project. Its pretty large. He wanted people to think he was trying to build cities on the bottom of the sea floor and iron out all the problems people had had with that so that it was, you know, workable.” She walked over to the empty lunchline, and then to a touchscreen machine. Arch watched as she tapped a few buttons on the screen and a soft buzzing followed it, immediately joined by a meal dropping down onto a tray below the screen.
“Its a printer.” She explained, “It makes all the food down here from component parts. Its pretty good. Not up to real cooking, but you know, that's what happens when you sign up to live in a fake underwater city for a mysterious rarely seen benefactor.” Arch nodded. Sure, that's exactly what that's like. A common experience. He tapped the touch screen a few times, and chose a dinner of nutrient paste. Graelyn scrunched her face up at that, but he didn't care. This was home cooking.
The pair of them sat down at a table together, and Graelyn began cutting into an artificial chicken breast that had previously been a bag of deconstructed protein. Archimedes pulled a tube from underneath his mask and stuck it in the hot bowl of smooth nutrient soup.
“So, I have to be honest, I haven't ever seen a person like you before Arch. Are you from the rim? I hear the Rimwards out there are super keen on body enhancement, but it looks like you took it to another level.”
“I'm not from the Rim.” Arch clarified. Or didn't. Graelyn nodded and put some seasoned carrots on her fork. “So you're military then?”
“No. Not military.”
“Neither Earth nor Mars.” Graelyn furrowed her brow.
“You're a bit more complicated than I was anticipated, unless you're lying. Which honestly seems the most likely thing...” She chewed the carrots, swallowed them, and repeated the motion. They tasted a bit like honey and chilli peppers.
“But lets assume you're telling the truth.”
“If you are, this means that your answers probably are showing you come from a technicality. For instance, you weren't born on Earth, but Luna. Or perhaps you were born on a space station that is in the inner system rather than past Mars.”
“One of those is right.”
“Well this is a fun game. I'm from Russia, if that matters. You know, Mr. Von Ahnerabe, your last name is the weirdest part for me. I mean, there are a lot of weird things about you. You fell down the depths of the ocean, and didn't die for one, but also you fell in the middle of the ocean. You had to have gone quite a bit aways from shore to have dropped that far. At first I thought you were a spy, but you haven't acted like a spy.”
“Maybe I'm just a bad spy.”
“Hardly. You have enough firepower built into your carapace you could have killed every single person in this base twice over and maybe just had to take a water break.”
“My suit keeps me constantly hydrated.”
“Great! So no water break when you kill me.”
Archimedes suddenly looked awkward, “Okay, I'm not going to kill you. I mean, no. That's not a thing that, no, not that.” Graelyn smirked, “Well that's pleasing to be aware of. So why are you here.”
“I fell out of an air vehicle.”
“Fell? You really should work on securing yourself on your overseas journeys.”
“I was pushed.” She stirred her orange juice, “So this was an entirely unchosen journey. You had no idea we were here imitating John Galt.” Arch searched his memory banks, and returned no results about John Galt.
“I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the name.”
Graelyn made a subtle dismissive gesture. “Its from an old book my Mom made me read, this man named John Galt makes a city in the mountains where all the richest, smartest, most powerful people can seclude themselves from the rest of the world and leave it to die.”
“Does the world end in the book?” Graeyn shrugged, “Its been a long time since I read it, I only ever did once. I think we're supposed to assume it did.” Graelyn looked up at the ceiling, which was a glass passage for sea animals to swim through between the stories of the main compound. There were brilliant yellow fish, and some so clear you could see their veins and organs.
“No, I mean, the world clearly didn't end. That's the thing, there isn't ever really an apocalypse is there? Something always lives on. There's never really a cleansing.”
Archimedes was silent. Graelyn wen't back to her food. She'd probably said too much again.
“Are you familiar with Tubol Cain?” Graelyn shook her head as she ate some potato wedges.
“Its a myth from the apocrypha of this book series called, 'the Bible'.”
Graelyn laughed, “You talk about it like I might not have heard of it.”
“You're a fan to?”
“I wouldn't call myself a fan, but I'm familiar with the basic plotline.” She enjoyed carefully wording that response.
“Well, the book is connected by this being called Yahweh, who is a God.” How fresh off the boat was this guy? Graelyn jabbed another wedge into her mouth to obscure any tells she had, and the thought occurred to her, wherever this guy's boat came from, it had to have been rather secluded.”
“Yahweh goes in between all these characters, and sort of like... Influences them and sends them on missions. Its similar to how my gods do things, but Yahweh doesn't have to deal with any of the intra-Pantheon squabbling so it goes a lot easier for the God.” Graelyn nodded, this was more entertaining than Archimedes knew, but not for the same reasons he thought it was.
“So anyways, Yahweh had made some humans, Adam and Eve, and made this pact with them they could live in this awesome place away from everyone else, but they broke the contract so Yahweh kicked them out. They had some kids named Cain and Abel, and Cain killed Abel cause Yahweh liked Abel better, or something, and Cain got cursed. A bazillion years later, Yahweh decided to end the world in flood cause- oh sorry I left out an important bit. Yahweh has these servants called “Angels” they're pretty neat. Like, its probably why the God doesn't have to put up with a Pantheon. Anyways, some of these Angels decided to mate with humans, and had monster children called Nephilim. Yahweh thought this was messed up, and also realized the Nephilim were convincing the humans to be jerks to each other, so Yahweh was like, “screw it, I'm going to flood the whole Earth and start over!” Which can't have gone well with the other deities, but they don't deal with that part so I just have to imagine how those conversations went down. Yahweh decides a few people are going to be spared, just this guy named Noah and his family and their families. But this guy named Tubol Cain, at least according to the spin off books, he snuck on their boat and hid out. When the flood stopped Tubol Cain went off by himself, as this... Sort of lone survivor of this other way of living. Maybe it didn't deserve to survive, but it did in the form of him.”
Graelyn sipped the rest of her orange juice. “Its a pretty interesting story.”
“I always thought so. It reminds me of your John Galt story. I mean, isn't it just sort of naive to think that other people won't find a way to survive if you leave them to die?”
“That's what I didn't like about the book John Galt is in. Even if you buy the overall premise, the end doesn't work. They'll hide themselves away, but they won't spring up to claim the world when the rest of the world has died, there are too many Tubol Cains, and someone will find a way in the end. By hiding, they just ruin any chance they had of becoming the great people they wanted to be.”
Archimedes rolled the tube up from the empty bowl, and tucked it under his mask.
“So why are you hiding under the ocean then?” Graelyn was silent, and looked back up at the fishes.
“That's a complicated question. I'm not sure I can answer it.” Something large and dark swam above her head. “Maybe I'm searching for something.” Whatever it was, its tail swished in the shadows.
“Do you have any idea why we're down here?”
“None at all. Aside from it apparently not actually being a city.”
Graelyn looked back at Archimedes. She was still perplexed he was here at all, sitting here in front of her, his nearly featureless mask staring back at her. She wasn't entirely sure what the point was, but he'd certainly arrived.
“Yes. Yes that is the case. You know... Maybe that's been the problem.”
“That it's not a city?” She shook her head, “No, I mean, that we're trying to start something new, be explorers forging our way on our own... But that's just a story isn't it? Explorers find things because they follow in other people's footsteps, or get lucky or...” Graelyn's eyes went wide. Arch had no idea what she was thinking.
“Or hitch a ride on someone else's boat! Of course! We're not Noah, we need to be Tubol Cain!”
Arch wanted to nod, but that would almost feel dishonest under the circumstances.
“Sure. I guess.”
“I've got!” She stood up, her face beaming.
“It only took me a year but I did it!” She bolted out of the room, running into a chair on her way, and continuing down the hall way. Arch looked around the cafeteria; no one seemed to be really paying attention to him. He wasn't sure what to do with himself, so he kept seated. So many things were out of his control today.
Graelyn ran as fast as she could, hindered only by her skirt being a bit less functional than it could have been. She rounded the corner to the main facility, and ran in. Aril and Dr. Kalama were pouring over some data, both looking somewhat bored. “I figured it out! Dr. Kalama! Mr. Aril! I figured it out!”
“You got the Cappuccino maker working again?” Hiriwa asked seriously.
“No, I solved the problem. I figured out why the machine isn't working.” Hiriwa rolled her eyes.
“Miss Scythes, we brought you here on this internship so you could learn, not interf-” Mr. Aril waved a hand to cut off Dr. Kalama.
“Miss Scythes, you believe you have a solution?” He asked. Hiriwa grunted.
“Right now the machine is attempting to sort of... Carve into another dimension to put it roughly?”
“Yes, very roughly.” Hiriwa answered with a bit of spit.
“Well if the premises of the experiment are correct, there are an infinite number of alternate realities, including one where this experiment to cut through into another reality has not just already been successful, but is being successful at a concurrent moment.”
“Go on.” Aril crossed his arms.
“What we need to be trying to do is piggy back onto that attempt. Calibrate the machine not towards the fabric of another universe, but so our portal is linked with their own portal.” Graelyn looked up from her tirade of information hopefully, her eyes glinting with excitement.
“That's the same baloney as sitting there saying “maybe this will be the reality where another reality will cut into from their end' its not worth our time.” Hiriwa said.
“But its not-- we're familiar with our own device, it should be a lot easier to link it with itself rather than attempting to make a stable link with an unknown universe.”
“You're just--” Aril gave Hiriwa a look, subtle but clear. She became quiet.
“Recalibrate the machine. We'll try intern Scythe's idea. Its not like anything else has worked so far.” Aril walked away, and Hiriwa glared at Graelyn before walking off to begin her work. Graelyn felt her heart pounding, her skin flush. This would work, she knew it. All of this waiting would lead to the greatest scientific discovery of her lifetime. Things had been so stagnant here, nothing moved, but finally it would. Finally.
She watched them begin to modify the machine, and then she remembered she had just let an unauthorized cyborg with built in weapon systems on the station and left him alone. Her eyes widening for a different reason, she scampered out of the room.
Come back next week, July 30th, to find out what will happen when Graelyn finds Arch... And whether or not they can travel to other dimensions! Things are heating up in Atlantis so don't miss Chapter 4.
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.