It comes in the mail. The box is strange to see outside of the futurehouse. As soon as they see it, they realize An sealed it with her own hands. The contents were stolen off the floor where they work. It seems dark.
It just so happens that when the delivery comes they are discussing the changes that management scrambled to set up after the discovery.
’They are calling it the criminal felony theft of merchandise. Big changes were on their way, but this just sped things up.’
They had an all-hands futurehouse meeting that was standing room only in the lunchroom like they do every four months when there are the birthday groups, but there was no cake. At first the associates wanted to raise a few questions.
‘Have you fixed the clocks?’ Anis, a seeker on his last warning, asked.
A sub-manager was having none of this and dismissed it immediately, ‘Yeah, they’re fixed.’
‘Fixed alright,’ someone yelled.
Another ventured, ‘They are probably the reason the robot was stolen,’ and the sounds of laughter erupted.
Ananke stepped in front of the group when he sensed there was a total loss of control taking place. ’The clocks have temporarily been linked to stopwatch.gov so there will be no confusion as to the exact time. I would like you all to know that the time problem has affected all of the futurehouse. It has been problematic for understanding the exact sequence of the criminal events.’
What sounded like the same voice again questioned, ‘What if the server goes down?’
‘Yeah what if COR goes offline?’
‘… ya and what if the whole world gets hacked,’ Ananke fired back as he shook his head in response to what he considered an inane line of reasoning. ‘Look, it is the best we can do right now and the time is currently accurate so you’ll just have to continue working hard to reach rate.’
After that the mood became dire. Management told them some of what had happened. Something important was stolen—a felony theft of merchandise. They didn’t go into details or say that it involved autoMATTon, but everyone knew it. Some changes would be made. Associates were to go and get all of their electronic devices and leave them in a box by the entrance with the passwords emailed to security. There was to be a new app put on their spheres when they left that day. If they chose not to have it, they had to sign their two week resignation notice. There was a small stack of these notices beside the box. So a new procedure took effect; they have to scan their spheres before putting them in their lockers.
‘They can track us now. COR is GPSing us,’ Ari says before he opens the door to collect the box as the delivery man drives away. ‘It’s here.’
An is still thinking about the changes just put in place, ‘I know. But who knows what else they are up to. Where did you leave your sphere?’
‘At home. Yours?’
‘At the neighbors. I pretended I forgot it there.’
‘Our spheres can’t be together now. They would figure it all out.’
‘Let’s open it.’
He gets a knife from the mini-kitchen and comes back, slides it down the crack where the two cardboard pieces meet to cut the patented COR industrial tape. The flaps open and there are the VR goggles alongside the wrapping paper with the sensor and hardware inside it. They lay them out beside each other on the small counter.
They don’t speak for some time.
‘I didn’t know you snagged some goggles too.’
‘I’m hoping they are good. Are they? I mean good enough to use?’
‘Unfortunately not… but maybe… maybe we can use them for something.’
‘That’s too bad. We’ll have to dispose of them some way that is untraceable.’
‘First let me take them apart. There may be some salvageable parts’
‘But this is the coup de grace. Look at this,’ An says as she pulls one device away from the paper.
They both look at the sensor. The wires hang like entrails. The front has the circular sensor encased in glass now smudged with An’s fingerprints. They place their one-eyed squid back on the table. Next they inspect the rectangular device. It is heavier than it seems. The weight of memory.
‘It was good to get that. It’s a solid state drive hypercomputer. We’ll definitely need it.’
‘Is it a start at least?’
‘It’s more than that. We did well. Let’s not waste time.’
After An goes back to the kitchen to find a small set of tools, they have the goggles as well as the drive open.
‘We hit the jackpot. Look at that. It’s the smallest hypercomputer I’ve ever seen.’
‘Let’s plug it in.’
‘Not yet,’ Ari says. ‘I’ve been thinking about this eye sensor a lot. We need that sensor to source and transmit to both of us looking into it…. and without damaging our eyes.’
‘Yes. I’m worried about that too. We will have to be very careful.’
‘An, do you have a paper and pen? We need a list of what to buy.’
‘If they are going to trace everything, through the banks I mean, it would look better if you bought everything. You’re more into that stuff,’ An reasons.
‘But what about the money?’
‘I’ll transfer that to you and then you can buy them.’
‘I mean they will trace that.’
An stops and twines her fingers through two mousy blond wisps. ‘Hmm, what if I give… buy you a gift card and then you buy the VR goggles with that? That will look legit.’
‘Yes that will work. The only thing about doing it that way is that they can link us for sure—through the purchases of the gift card and who bought it.’
‘Look we are making this far too complicated. We are going to have to take some risks.’
‘Some more risks you mean. We’ve already taken a lot.’
‘I know. Let’s not split hairs. Let’s just get this thing done and see if it works.’
From the bookshelf, she pulls out her notebook and hands it to Ari. A string is tied three times neatly around the covers. She unwraps it and hands it to him.
He holds it carefully and begins to flip through the pages, stopping at her pencilled in blueprint. Circling the oblong shape with his finger, he contemplates it for a moment and looks at her.
She lowers the book so that he sees the difference between the rough idea and the two parts laid out before them. ‘Do you see it?’ she asks.
‘Yes,’ he says then turns the page, takes a pen from the cup on the counter and starts writing:
Copper wire, small gauge.
‘You know we will probably have to manufacture our own motherboard but once we do, we can just replicate and refine it… that is if this thing actually goes into production.’
An puzzles, ‘Motherboard… right.’
He begins again, ‘The board will have to be a long and narrow thing that is housed in a cylinder or rectangle between the two… that’s another thing, we still need two sets of VR wear’
‘You tell me what we need and we will buy them. That’s what my savings are for.’
‘Oh and I’ll need a soldering iron. We’ll have to buy that too. Do you have a toaster oven?’
‘Yes. There in the kitchen.’
Ari stares for a moment. ‘You know, we will have to make our own housing. It will have to be custom. We won’t know the size until we get the VR gear, but we will have to make it ourselves that is for sure. That will mean we need to crush up plastic and then melt it and pour it into a mold. You can do that while I put the hardware together. That will save some time. OK.’
‘I’ll try,’ An volunteers.
’So just let me write this down—Ari turns over the paper and starts drawing a flow chart. He then draws wires, circuits and switches. It becomes more and more elaborate until the paper is filled up and only decipherable by its creator. From a distance it looks to Ari like Chinese calligraphy—the character for biang biang noodles: , the most complicated Chinese character. Ari remembers learning some Chinese when he tried to play a bootleg version of The Three-Body Problem. (random21) He got fairly into the characters with the help of his mom’s workmate.
An interrupts, ‘I have an old soldering iron my Dad had-- in a tool kit he left behind when I was born. Let me look.’
She moves to the storage room and forages.
Ari can’t help but hear the scraping of boxes and rattling jar lids as he thinks longer and double-checks his routes and circuits. He thinks to himself that it should work. He writes a new item, Analog Multi-tester, on the other side of the paper.
‘I found it,’ she says as she carries a handmade tool box. She holds a dowel between two wooden triangles attached to a painted, plywood box. They both look at the contraption. ‘My dad might have made it.’
‘What have you got in there?’
They sit on the floor looking through the contents. A hammer, electrical tape, three boxes of screws, pliers, a leather stamp, different bits of copper wire, and finally after digging deep into the morass, a soldering iron. It is dragged up with her dad’s leather belt entwined in some other mystery … remarkably a multi-tester.
‘We can start now.’
And so they do. They double up and tape the cardboard flaps from the COR box as a temporary motherboard and start laying out the pieces according to the diagram on the page. An holds it all in place. Ari solders the thin copper wires methodically. Then An tests each connection with the multi-tester. The needle usually jets to the right, but if it doesn’t the procedure is reworked. It is a fine-tuned assembly line. The cardboard turns dark brown and then black at the points where the metal liquefies. Smoke, tinged with the smells of copper, steel and new campfire, curls and wafts through the tiny housing unit throughout the night as they work for the first time for themselves.