The folded paper note reads: We should be worried.
It is written in perfected longhand that looks printed out from a computer. They give notes to each other and immediately destroy them both. Having the same ideas at the same time is sometimes a bit offsetting. They have started to call these moments ‘dipity’ because of the time they were up all night making the first mock-up of machine L they both got hungry, looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s get some dips’ at the same time. They discovered they both like dipping bread in dips like babaghanoush, curries, cream cheese or whatever is around. Then they both said at the same time, ‘serendipity.’ Ari came up with ’dipity’ and they started laughing, the kind of silliness that only lack of sleep produces. They are having one of those ‘dipity’ moments. Both of their notes say almost the same thing. In half-formed, pococurante capitals, the other note reads: NEED to WATCH OUr BACKs
They have been sending each other notes because it is the only way they know that is untraceably out of reach of the algo. It is going to piece it all together at some point, but they are not about to give it the picture on the back of the puzzle box. They can almost hear those machines calculating their every move. The camera eyes hang down on them to feed the tabulating mechanism; each clicking gear of the algo is nearly audible. The tech managers salivate when they arrive for a new shift to scan their spheres and download all the fresh new data. Where were they? What could they have been doing? Are there anomalies in their movements? Are they trying to hide something? How can they be trapped? All the calculations and coordinates are at the ready for any question to be asked, answered and skewered askew. Now the emotional data at the new security scan must be organized and corroborated with the old information. More questions to ask to lead to the one answer that matters: Who is at fault?
Knowing they are being watched makes them overly conscious of everything they do, so they make their post-futurehouse actions predictable. They just leave their spheres in the same place every time. This creates a pattern that doesn’t change. They thought about just turning them off but that would arouse suspicion. Then they calculated that a little bit of change combined with the static boredom might look more normal—more like a regular person’s activity. They try not to overthink it. They will just keep to the program of Ari leaving his sphere at his house and An’s sphere near the neighbors. The neighbor doesn’t know it is there. The new spot is tucked behind a moveable brick in the wall, possibly some previous rebel’s secret stash. The bottom of this brick is scraped and its surface is colored in dots where her finger oil has touched.
’I took a roundabout route here because it felt like I was being followed. It was like playing SpyTracker. Sorry for being late,’ Ari says as he strides through the crack left in the door.
‘Thought so. No worries. Did you bring everything?’
’Yes. Only my best graphics card. I am going to sacrifice it. It’s the most expensive thing I own. Together with that tera-terabyte solid state drive and the 24-core processor from the hypercomputer we stole from the robot and it should be enough to get machine L up and running.’
‘Shh. They could be listening.’ An whispers and moves her sea-colored eye to its right corner.
There is a new COR box on the counter. The last parts they need. Once Ari sees it, he tears into the cardboard without cutting the brazenly endorsed, COR tape.
There are two half circle rings lying in the paper. They are made of tungsten, yet weigh very little. At the center, on the outward curve, is a hole covered with glass. The simplicity of the design is breathtaking. Ari barely manages to say, ‘Nice ones’ to the two sets of Ocult UlteriorM6 headsets.
‘They cost that much and that’s all you can say?’
Ari holds them, inspects them carefully and adds, ‘This could mean total immersion!’
’I know you want to use them for gaming but we should only use them for machine L. What if you break them by accident?’
‘Just one game? I have dreams of these. You don’t understand. I could play OASIS Dreamworld! (random23) It would be unreal.’
‘If we do this properly you can have as many of them as you like and perhaps better ones.’
‘There are no better ones… but right, right. Eyes on the prize and all that,’ he utters into the sleek, ergonomic headsets as he holds one ring level at his eyebrows and lets go. They stay there without touching his face like some magic trick. Then he raises his index finger and holds it in front of the sensor. The visor glass drops down in front of his eyes and the ear plugs unfold from the ends like a jet’s landing gear. ‘OK. Ok. I want to try them so bad but I won’t,’ he says. Just as the visor splits in half and a red beam emitted from this space begins to scan his retinas, he raises his finger to the sensor again to reverse the actions. Regrettably he places the headset ring neatly back in its black wrapper.
Ari looks out the window and draws the blind as discreetly as possible. As it darkens, An takes the false concrete from the floor and reaches down into the foundation. She finds and lifts the hexagonal cylinder they helped make that will connect the headsets.
‘We need a better spot now. If they come in with metal detectors it is game over.’
‘I have thought of that. I’m working on something else.’ Ari says as he takes the cylinder from her, slowly and carefully removes the casing to reveal the slender motherboard. ‘I still can’t believe we built this.’ He holds the clear cylinder up to the light and looks through it. Finding the slot, he places his treasured graphics card in and slides the board back.
‘Do you see here on either end? These are input and output. We just connect them now and fix them on. I hope we got the dimensions right for the mold.’
‘We just plug it in now?’ An says as she holds a tiny wire from one end of the sleeve.
Ari looks carefully at the end of the wire and then squints at a tiny crevice in the tungsten ring. ‘Are you kidding me… The inputs are both male and the outputs are both female. Actually it won’t be that hard to fix. Man, we should have looked that up online. We’ll just switch them around, but I’ll need the solder gun again.’
An is handling a headset while Ari has the motherboard out of its sleeve. She aligns the sleek metal with the hexagonal mold. ‘Let’s see if they will snap on.’ She pushes them together. There is no click. She tries to force them harder. ‘No, a little too small still. I’ll have to work on bigger fasteners while you switch the wires.’ An brings out her apparatus from under the sink. She looks in the fridge and finds a water bottle and starts feeding it into the hand grinder. Little curls of clear plastic prism from the skylight. Bands of yellows and purples dance over the white mini-kitchen.
L has been multi-tested and the circuits are ready. It took Ari the good part of the night. The final test cannot be done alone though. Even if Ari could do it alone, he wouldn’t do it without An. They started together and they will fail or succeed together. He knows COR will be looking soon. They are probably so close it is a wonder they haven’t already found them out. They have dug way too subterranean now to give up from fear of COR. He searches through the toolbox for something he saw before. He finds what she thinks is her father’s old leather belt and wraps the pieces of machine L together. Ari goes out under the cover of dark to find a new hiding spot.
By morning, the plastic cylinder with bigger snaps has cooled while An was sleeping. In the comfy leather chair she has cold legs because her crocheted afghan is doubled and pulled up over her head. She wanted the light left on while Ari continued to test the improved machine L. Now he is gone.