the interdimensional translation sequence in five, four, three, two,
Damn the hour I got pulled into working here.
I had always thought that the Dimensional Corps, the people that patrolled through the many alternative dimensions that had been found, were something with glamour, exciting situations, adventures and many more things. At least, that's what they say in those flyers they cover universities with to get us students to join them.
What those flyers do not mention is that, unless you pass the incredibly demanding physical, weapons and other tests, your chances to go out on a mission become very much reduced. Around a ninety percent, approximately.
Of course, the Corps are always in need of researchers of all kinds: physicists that can explain how and why magic is an universal force in dimension 6244A, chemists that can analyze those samples of the incredibly light and resistant metal that seems to be pulled out of Tolkien's Legendarium, engineers punishing their brains in an attempt to find out how those hyperluminic drives and spaceships from dimension BAB85 - where Earth is the center of an enormous Stellar Republic - work... but going out on a mission is a bit more complicated.
When the guys up there decide that one of us has to go on a mission, it is a given that there is little good about it. But, of course, nearly all of the researchers have that point of idiocy that prompts us to volunteer when they tell us we are needed on a particular travel across the dimensions.
So, now I am here, about to travel to a parallel Earth I know next to nothing about, because, what's the worth of telling me what I am going to find when I arrive there? It's not as if that knowledge could soon become vital to know what the hell I have got to do.
I have been a sarcasm ball since I was born. I cannot avoid making that kind of commentaries.
So, as soon as the countdown ends, one of the engineers out of the capsule pulls the lever, and everything outside disappears.
At least, the travel is quite pleasant, It is not like in the times of Van Zahn, Martí and Smith, the pioneers and inventors of dimensional travel: back then, travelers had to clip everything to the walls and the ground, even themselves - they even had to wear helmets! - to avoid accidents from happening. Now, travels are quite calm with few vibrations, and we can even enjoy the colors that surround us.
We finally reach the other universe. According to what I have been told, it is universe A4A7A. Nothing else is in the records I could pull, and those who have visited it have said zilch about it. Whether it is because it is too horrible, or because it must be kept in secret, I do not know.
When we get out of the capsule, I can see we have arrived to a safe house, or, at least, a safe basement: there are no windows in here, and all the light within comes just from a couple of light bulbs. There are no decorations around here - at least, in the room we have arrived to – and the only furniture is a table, several chairs and a digital blackboard.
At a sign, we take seats around the table, while Martha, the team leader, stands next to the blackboard.
“OK, guys, this mission should not be too complicated. We already know most of the basics about this world, but we need to find out more things about the workings of the automatons to...”
“Hey, hey, hey,” I say, interrupting her. “Hold your horses for a moment, Martha. Could someone be nice enough to explain to me what the hell makes this world so special, and why we are here? You know, all those things no one had the detail to mention before I got put into the capsule.”
“That's what I was coming to, John. This is not something to be said in a couple of minutes,” Martha replies.
“You could at least have the decency to explain to me why this world is so special. Considering what you have just said, it is obvious they already know.”
“They should have told you this at home, but, what the hell... this world has what could be called mad scientists, that can, in appearance, pervert the laws of nature with their sole presence. From what little I have been able to see, they are able to create automatons with artificial intelligence using just gears, pieces and scrap metal they find around, among other things. They also have enough innate charisma to bring to their cause anyone that is listening to them, although it varies from person to person. And, with the arrival of the radio, the situation is not exactly improving.”
“Wait. What. Wait. What. Artificial intelligence? Without any programming? Just with gears? Capable of not paying attention to...?”
That is, after I listen to such an absurd idea, when I feel that my brain is about to break down in tiny pieces. The only thing I can do is to close my eyesfor a few seconds and recite the entire pi number to get my bearings back.
Three, one, four, one, five, nine, two, six, five, three, five, nine...
“OK, now is the time for you to explain a bit more, because it is...”
“Yeah, I know it is unbelievable. I thought so, too, but it is completely real. We've seen the images, and made the videos and everything. And, worse of all, none of those automatons seem to have an internal source of energy.”
I raise an eyebrow while I look at Martha.
“If you want to give me a heart attack, you are about to make it.”
“OK,” she replies, rolling her eyes, before turning back to the blackboard. “Let's go back to the important things. We are here to establish a more permanent base in this world. Start some diplomatic conversations with the locals. And, if it is possible, find out how the automatons work and if we can replicate them back at Home.”
“What's the political situation in this world?” Felix, one of the other team partners, asks.
“Currently, Europe is dominated by two families: the Orléans, which controls Southern and Western Europe, and the Barstrauss, that have taken over the north and the east. Both are pretty much absolutist monarchies, but the Orléans tend to give more leeway to their vassals, as long as they follow the rules. America is quite anarchic, nothing resembling a functioning government in either north or south. Asia is similar, but resembling the local mythology, ever since some wackos – the name they give the mad scientists here – believed it would be hilarious to create dragons, demons and all those other things. As for Africa, it has a lot of contrast, as in our world: parts are very bountiful, and others are not. And Oceania has many independent nations, even more than in real life, because even Australia is divided in six parts.
“But I digress, and we have to concentrate in Europe for the moment. Right now, we are in Barcelona, which is controlled by the Berenguer family, vassal to the Orléans, and all around wackos. Half of them think they are doing good, three quarters of the rest are corrupt, and the others are nice and hard-working. If we are lucky, we'll be able to speak with one of them and start the communications.
“And what about the technology? Because I guess that's the reason I am here for,” I ask.
“Pretty much, yeah.”
Great. And here I thought someone actually liked me.
The first sample of an automaton I get my hands into is one they sell in a shop that looks more like a 24-hour Chinese shop than the repository of such an incredible technology. I bet that the wackos around here would be thinking the same thing about our electronic shops. The shop owner gives me, for a few marks, a small device the size of my fist and tells me how to wind it and that it leaves everything clean and spotless, warning me as well that it is a somewhat temperamental auton – that's the name they give these things around here.
As soon as I get back to the safe basement, I grab the tools – the ones I brought with me and the ones that were already here – and I sit on a workbench, ready to find out what's so interesting about the freaking thing.
Of course, I document the entire process: I pick up a camera and I make photographies every time I pull out one piece, and I place each of them in different, numerated boxes. The fact that what I am dealing with makes no sense does not mean that I will ignore the scientific method.
An hour later, the auton is unmounted and I have not seen anything that remotely looks like a battery. There was one piece that has given me a shock, but just the once. I guess it must have accumulated some static electricity, but I do not know why it did not discharge it through the other pieces.
The individual examination of each piece takes me another hour, and none of them looks particularly special to my eyes. Lots of gears, and there are two things that look like computer motherboards, but hand-soldered and with components similar, but not identical, to resistors, inductors and capacitors.
As soon as I am done with all of it, I pull out the computer, download all the images inside, and begin to put the auton back together, reversing the process I have carried out before. This gear goes here, this plaque there, the
heart, the servos, the spark, the legs, the hands, the casing...
I close my eyes and shake my head. What the hell did just happen? That was so... weird...
As soon as I calm down, and open my eyes again, ready to continue the task, but then I see that the auton is, somehow, back to its initial state. And, according to my computer, I should have been just on step 10 out of 70.
Damn. As if things were not weird enough already.
Well, time to see how these wrecks work. I find the plug the auton shop buy mentioned and I twist it, as if I were winding it. The sphere moves some, and the little arms and legs I saw before get out in the air. The crystal that I guess must be its detector opens in the frontal part, and it shines with the reflection of the light from the lamps that surround me.
I then put it on the table, and I see, fascinated, how it stands up and begins to walk on its legs, almost like a toddler learning to give its first steps. I look closer, trying to see how it walks: even with decades of advances, designs and prototypes, no one at Home has managed to create an automaton that can have such a human-like walk.
Then, as it seems to start getting better on its feet, it turns around and walks towards me. I just watch, surprised, as he slowly steps closer and closer. Then, when he finally stands next to me, so close that my eyes are getting crossed as I attempt to see him right, it proceeds to kick me in my chin.
“SONUVA...!” I shout, jumping backwards. For being a palm-sized wreck, the damned thing is really strong. That is going to leave a good mark in there.
The auton is now with its arms akimbo and its eye half-closed as if it were angry with me.
Looks like the clerk was not exaggerating when he said the auton was quite temperamental.
Meanwhile, the auton keeps whistling, with a tone that shows that it is really angry with me.
“Hey, look, I just wanted to know how you look on the inside,” I reply, angry as well. “If you want to blame someone, you should blame the wackos that have dedicated their lives to give life to you and those that are like you. You are weird enough, and now it turns out that you are actually alive.”
“Give it a break! You were completely inert. I doubt you have suffered at all. The one that is suffering here is me, of boredeness and of the kick that you have given me.”
“Who are you talking with, John?” Martha asks.
“With this auton, who is exaggerating,” I answer, keeping my eyes fixed on the stupid thing. I've seen enough films to know what happens when you look away: they return to an inert state and make you look like you are mad. But the auton must have heard about that thing, because he decides to glare back at me.
“You are seriously understanding what it is saying?”
I am about to answer, when I realize that there is something wrong in here. How the hell did I manage to understand what this scrap ball is saying?
“Yeah,” I finally reply.
“Holy shit. How do you do that?”
“Haven't the foggiest. It happened all of a sudden. Don't know why.”
“Well, it works great for us, that way we might be able to understand this world just a little better. Do you know how they work?”
“Nope. I've checked everything, and the only thing I saw inside was a bunch of gears and plaques, but nothing that remotely looks like it is related with energy. The weirdest thing I've seen in my life. Don't know, it's almost as if... it had a soul.”
“PIIIII!” the auton shouts.
“There you go, always with the lip. As if it were normal for a machine to act like you do. At least in my world, that's not natural.”
“No, we are from another dimension.”
“OK; can we keep the little guy aside for a moment? It is quite irritating not being able to understand half of the conversation,” Martha interrupts us.
The rest of the team is just as surprised as Martha is when they learn that I can speak with the autons, which I find out is not limited to Pi – the ball, pretty much because it is the only thing the others hear from him – because the following day I buy a second auton and I can understand it just as well. I do not know how this has happened. Maybe that shock I felt while I dismantled Pi had something to do, but I do not believe so, because that sounds like a cheap pulp magazine, something no one would write because it would be really shabby.
While the others keep up with their work, I continue researching the autons, even though there is little more I can find out. Of course, if I could get my hands on a bigger one, I might be able to find more, but the mission's budget does not reach that far. In the end, I manage to buy a medium-sized auton – half a meter by half a meter by half a meter – that is a mix of stylist and suitcase, because you can put your clothes into it, take it awaay and tell it what kind of meeting you have, so it can hand you the best clothes for the occasion clean, ironed and matching.
At least, that's what the store clerk told me. I gave it a test, telling it I had to meet with Martha, and it pulled out clothes for a date. Maybe I should have been more specific.
The only thing that scares me in the following days is that I keep having more fits like the one from when I rebuilt Pi. For example, I was working with the house boiler, I started to twist things around and when I woke up – or livened up, don't know what – the boiler not only worked a lot better, but also had a functional organ that works with the hot air produced by the boiler. The fact that Felix was able to play Bach without a problem only increased my suspicions that something really weird is happening to me.
Suspicions that grow when, two days after the issue with the boiler, I go to bed, and then I wake up in the workshop, surrounded by tools and with a weird gun in my hand. No one dares fire it, pretty much because I don't know what it will do. We will have to send it to the test lab in 7AC46: considering what the wackos can do, I bet it makes the atmosphere disappear or change the colors of everything around us.
Finally, after remaking one of the communicator units in such a way that it allows the user to see who is talking on the other side – how, particularly considering the fact that it does not even have a camera, I do not know – that I surrender to the evidence, and that I am becoming one of them. A wacko.