"Who knows, but honestly, I doubt he created them. I think they were already here," he replied.
That's your entire professional analysis, after 3 weeks at this location?" I asked, soundly a little more snarky than I intended.
"It's difficult to say more, without visiting some of the other..." He trailed off. He knew how I felt about some of the coordinates he was interested in examining, and although he generally seemed to have his head in the clouds, one trait he did possess was not arguing with me about stuff like that. I'll take what I can get when it comes to team members.
"You talk more about Murtaugh than you do about the Wisdom Gems, Doc. Or at least that's how it seems to me..." It still felt weird calling him Doc, even after 4 months together. Most of the 'Doc's I had worked with previously were all roughly my own age. At 30, this current Doc was pretty junior to Tron and I. Although I guess that made up for the fact that Tron himself was relatively older than all the other Trons I had worked with. But I liked that about Tron, I felt it helped us connect better.
"Well Murtaugh is kind of important to consider when you're studying Wisdom Gems. He changes the nature of the research..." Doc began, going off on another one of his fan-rants about Murtaugh. I had heard it all before. I remembered 2 months ago when he first started spilling out over the "Good Doctor", as most of us 'old timers' usually referred to Mur. We were in the Root (Docs always want to start at the root for some reason) and he was pouring over old documents, trying to piece them together, mumbling stuff about Mur. I asked him about his progress, and that turned into a whole conversation about Mur.
"... well that's just it," he was saying, "Murtaugh didn't really lose his arm, if anything, he was gaining arms," he said, with a look of admiration in his eyes. I asked him just what the hell he meant and he continued, "See, when Murtaugh put his hand through the waterfall, his arm... left. It just left, but only this layer... or rather, our layer, the surface layer. His arm was suddenly existing in all of the other layers at the same time. That's my belief. His arm suddenly stopped existing in one layer, but started existing in all other layers simultaneously. And he is able to concentrate on them all, in all layers, at the same time. That's how he's able to created karma portals. It's like this... when he wants to create a portal, he focuses in on the arms that are in the layers he needs, then he can sort of superimpose them within those layers. When they connect, voila, a portal is created. When you boil it down, all it really is is a cross-dimensional handshake... a handshake with himself, of course, between different layers of himself." All while explaining this, he grabbed his hands together and made a handshake motion with them, to illustrate his point.
He looked at me with this proud look on his face, like he had just made a damned karma portal himself. I personally didn't care for the science of it. I don't care for the science of any of it. I'm just here to be the team lead, to guide them, and make sure they don't get themselves killed or worse.
"Fascinating," was all I could seem to say at the time, and he couldn't detect the slight amount of sarcasm I had put on the word.
At the same time, I was holding back my comment about how, in my opinion, we still had plenty left. Doc was still relatively new, and he had no idea of just how bad things can get down here. I had long ago gotten to the point where I felt like death is always looming all the time down here, and I'm always ready for it, and if I happen to get supplies, well then that just pushes death back another few weeks. I've stopped expecting supplies... now it's just sort of hoping that you eventually find something.
I looked to Tron and our gazes met, he nodded silently in agreement, as was his usual acknowledgement to things. He had been down here long enough to know the nature of things down here. Sometimes, I think that's why he's so quiet all of the time; I think he's just conserving energy. Doc had the crate opened before we even got there. Tron put his equipment down and sat on the floor, looking tired as ever. Looking at his weather-worn face, I thought he looked like a 'Jack' or a 'Bill'. Funny, how I never thought to ask his real name. 'Tron' seemed to suit him just fine, although I think I say that about all of the Trons. Being in charge of the communications equipment and electronics, that was the name he was given. The name had been around since before I was at the company. They just always called the electronics guy 'Tron' for short. No one ever used real names down here. I think it was a way to avoid getting emotionally attached to each other. That way you never felt bad when you found out that another team had been out of contact for months... you didn't think of it as losing friends or coworkers at that point.
Doc was the team physicist, of course, hence the name, 'Doc'. I was surprised when he showed up and I saw how young he was... I guess they're getting pretty desperate on the surface and they're just recruiting anyone these days. He had the credentials, but half the time I thought of him less a scientist and more of just some science-fiction lover. He always wanted to discuss theories with me, and although I had developed an understanding for most of them through the years, I didn't really quite care. I was just indifferent. I was just here to do my job... although even I have to admit that as time goes on, I sometimes feel like I start to forget exactly what my job is... "Explorer?" Not quite. "Survivalist?" I guess so, to some extent. "Team Lead?" Well yeah, that's the job title, but after all this time I wonder what exactly it is they expect me to do down here. I basically just keep the team members from killing themselves or each other, guiding them through the coordinates, keeping them sane, managing supplies. It's really just one big camping trip, I suppose... a camping trip through a maze of one of those weird surrealist paintings I remember see once back on the surface.
I guess it doesn't matter, in the end. I like it down here. It's all 'peace and quiet'... and exploring... can't forget the 'exploring' part. That's why I took the job in the first place... But after getting down here and seeing just what this Submachine is capable of, even I have my limits...
We had been at 529 for what had to have been the better part of a day before one of us suggested sitting down to eat. At some point, Doc asked me if this was part of the Loop.
"It's part of a loop," I responded.
"But there's no actual 'looping' going on here.." he prompted.
"Right, but I think it's kind of like a test version, or at least an alternate version created by the Submachine... it's hard for me to explain. But you can tell, just by looking at the structure. This layout, it's all Creation, obviously. The Loops are all Creation too... no Adoption."
"Loops? As in plural?" he inquired.
"What? They don't tell you that there's more than the one when they're training you up on the surface?"
"They do, but that say it's extremely rare. The only one they really talk about is "The Loop".... you know... the big one?"
I knew full well which one he was talking about. "Well I guess I can't blame them," I responded, "it's hard enough to get information back to the surface from here..."
Doc sat silently for a minute, and then said, "You know, they say you went through The Loop..." He stared at me. I could even feel Tron raise his eyes a bit to look at me.
"Is that so?"
"Yeah," he responded, "A report came back in bits and pieces at some point three years ago. They didn't get much from it, but the gist of it was that you had ended up in it, but managed to get out..."
It was an innocent conversation, and to be honest, I didn't mind talking about it too much, I just never bring the topic up myself. "Was it as bad as they say?" he asked.
I could tell Tron was just as curious. I looked at both of them.
Doc was silent again for a minute, then said, "You know, you're kind of a legend up on the surface."
"And why is that?"
He continued, "Well, obviously because of The Loop, but also because you've been down here for so long... One of the longest at this point. Some people think you don't even really exist because of how long you've been down here. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when I got sent down... I kind of thought I'd show up and there wouldn't be anyone here. I was starting to think that they might have made you up as a way to make me feel better about this assignment."
"There's others that have been down here longer than me. Maybe not a lot, but a few."
"Yeah, but their reports have been coming up fewer and further in between as time goes on," he replied.
I thought about the Lead of Team #2... When was it that I last saw him? Two... three years ago? Or maybe it wasn't that long, maybe just a couple of months? I couldn't remember. I'm sure he had to still be down here somewhere. He knew the Submachine better than any of the other Team Leads. I was sure he was still trudging along down here somewhere. They called him "The Godfather" because he knew the Submachine better than anyone else.
"Do they ever talk about The Godfather up there?"
"Yeah," he replied, "but you're the legend because of you always seem to find the loops. Or the loops find you. Either way. At least that's what they've gathered from the little bits of reports that come in every now and then. They say if anyone can survive down here, it's you."
I suppose that was true. After being down here for six years, I think I had learned how to coexist with this place. Especially after a month in The Loop by myself...
"Does The Loop look like this?" he asked.
"Kind of... it's a similar structure. It's got the same boxy-ness to it. But a lot of the Creation parts look that way."
"What was in it? Just the puzzles, pretty much?" he pressed. He and Tron were hanging onto my words.
"Yeah... just the puzzles, pretty much..."
I didn't want to tell them about the notes you start finding, once you get deep enough; the notes that get left behind from all the other poor souls who got accidentally sent there after The Lighthouse and never made it out. They didn't need to know about that part.
You asked about theories before. Mat isn't accepting new theories into the SubVerse, but you can still post them on the Wiki. You can go about this two ways:
1) log into Submachine Wiki and create a page labeled "(your name)'s theories" and then post your theory there with a title. I will then format the page so it can be included in the September 2015 Theory voting session. This is optional, you can state you don't want to include it for voting if you don't want.
2)You can post your theories in this thread if you don't have much experience with Wiki editing. Then we can make your Wiki page for you!
"-amnit!" I heard Tron yelling once I arrived at 462. I immediately knew what was wrong the second I landed and I could feel my boots fill up with water.
"Damn," I muttered under my breath and immediately turned towards the pipe at the back, walking against the current. I grabbed the maintenance hatch and muscled it closed. I was almost as annoyed as I was surprised at the fact that the hatch was opened. I looked back at the others and saw Doc lifting one leg out of the water to try to keep it dry, while Tron was inspecting a piece of equipment that he had apparently dropped in the water upon arrival.
"Why didn't you warn me that I was going to get wet before we transported?" Doc asked. I could tell he wasn't amused.
"Because normally the hatch is closed."
"So, what, the hatch just popped itself open?" Doc asked, more curious than sarcastic.
"Not likely. Someone probably left it open."
Doc's eyes got wide. "So you're saying someone might be around here? Or at least that they might have been here recently?"
"Well, not necessarily. We haven't been here in probably a couple of months, so that hatch could've easily been open a long time." I could tell Doc was still excited about the possibility of someone being nearby, so I added, "Look, sometimes you visit a coordinate you haven't been to in a while, and you can tell something is different. It happens. But it's really rare. Way more rare than you think. This was just one of those times..."
Doc, still a bit shocked, continued, "Well just how rare could it be? I mean, how many teams are down here? I know we haven't run into anyone yet, but I imagine that we'd probably run into another team every once in a while. From what I understand, some of the coordinates lead to places that aren't very big, and if everyone is following the 'No Random Jumping' policy, then surely we're going to run across someone eventually..."
I think he could tell from the look on my face that I didn't share his enthusiasm.
At this point, Tron, who is generally a man of few words, pitched in, "I've never run into another team down here, and I've been doing this about a year and a half now." He went back to checking his wet piece of equipment. It didn't seem to be working.
Doc first looked to Tron, and then to me, and said, "Well at least this is proof that someone is still with us down here... right?"
I sighed, "I'd say so. This isn't the first time I've come to this location and found that hatch open. But don't expect it to be a regular thing. I've been to this coordinate plenty of times before, and this is only the second time when it seemed like someone else has been here. And that's after six years of being down here."
Still not satisfied, Doc asked, "Well, have you ever run into other teams before? Six years is a long time to never run into anyone..."
"Yeah, I have. A grand total of four times. Four times in six years I've run into other teams. And the last time was quite a long time ago..."
Doc was silent. Tron had given up on the soaked analyzer and had walked to the edge of the path, staring off into the abyss. I joined him, and Doc followed up shortly after, and the three of us stared for a moment. Doc broke the silence, "Whats out there?" He motioned down over the edge, "Or down there?"
The water that had filled the path was still trickling over the edge. "I don't know," I admitted, "And I don't think there's anyone alive who does."
"How far down do you think it goes?" he continued.
I paused for a moment. "What do you hear?" I asked. I paused again to let him listen before I continued, "All you hear is this water right here, running down over the edge. That's it. You don't hear it beyond that. You don't hear it splashing anywhere down below. You don't hear it hitting anything down there once it runs over the edge here."
He thought about it for a moment before Tron broke the silence, "Let's fill these bottles already." He turned to go back to the hatch.
Doc followed behind and I continued to stare into the abyss for another moment. As an afterthought, Doc called over his shoulder to me, "So why would someone just leave the hatch open... kind of weird, don't you think?"
I didn't answer, I just continued to stare. I thought I had a pretty good idea why someone would leave the hatch open... I thought about the last time I came to this coordinate and found the hatch open. It must have been a few years ago. I had asked myself that same exact question; 'Why would someone leave the hatch open?' But I got my answer pretty quick when I found the note sitting on the bell box. It didn't say much, but I remember the gist of the note saying something about how it's too quiet down here in the Submachine, and that the person who wrote the letter missed what it was like on the surface; missed real grass and real sky, and that it was 'too damned quiet down here', and how they were going to leave the hatch open so they could close their eyes and pretend they were standing at the top of a real waterfall back on the surface, surrounded by nature. He wanted to pretend one last time that he was back on the surface, before he jumped over the edge into the abyss.
"Yeah," I whispered to myself, "I think I can guess why someone might have left the hatch open..."