27 - The Beacon

A search of the rest of the hall was unheeding, again frustratingly empty of useful clues, conveniently materialising documents, and manifesting manifests.

They spread the search out to the rest of the ring gallery. Apart from the dark incision of the grand hall with the table, the rest was of neutral softness. As was the precedent in the complex, the soft ambient light counteracted the sterility to make it seem cozy despite the vastness of the space.

Work stations seemed to be the dominant feature, as far as the inquisitive pair could tell. Some were just benches with a selection of tools and screens. At intervals, there were larger stations with small foundries, delicate arms poised under material emitters frozen in mid creation, to weave and produce. Some of these stations featured capsule shaped terrariums or tanks, each with plant colonies, insect populations, or various masses of goo. Some of the goo-laden capsules were glowing, throwing ghostly pastel auras across their immediate surroundings.

Fascinated, the unheeded warning beacon temporarily forgotten, Archie and Au went from one station to another, pinching and prodding, turning things on and off. A few screens flickered to life, three dimensional projections showing representations of objects slowly rotating in space, or interfaces of vague and opaque function.

A few of the stations had creations on them in varying states of construction.

One such creation, at the centre of the arrangement of workstations, drew Au’s eye. It was in a version of the clear capsules that had housed organic materials on some of the modules. Gold wires trailed from it, were held up by little blocks as they plugged into an exposed terminal.

Au recognized something similar to what she knew her own brain to look like. It was sitting in a dark housing, the bottom of which glowed in pulses. The whole thing floated in some purple-tinged liquid.

She fumbled around with the terminal connected to the bio-creation. The attached screen showed a visual representation of the er - brainchild - of evident Alovian provenance, and appeared to run some sort of simulation. The creation’s housing pulsed in time with the data curves flowing on the screen. After this, the screen went blank. After a moment, it stated: ready for function imprinting. Au, interest thoroughly piqued, was unfortunately unable to access any further function.

Archie had been poking around the stations a few rows away. The stations were spread out over the extensive level, giving the effect of a museum as much as a laboratory or production centre.

Exploring the ring, Archie had been drawn to one such station. He was intimately familiar with the piece of technology apparently levitating above the table.

He motioned Au over, reluctant to leave the pulsating specimen she’d encountered, but couldn’t seem to interact with.

“It looks like a solar panel,” she said, somewhat unimpressed.

Archie was a little hurt. “This is the exact model of solar panel we’ve been making for the last year. Best panel in the business, rated for a hundred millennia of pure durability! What an ROI. You can’t tell me you’ve never seen one before. Oh the things you’d learn, if you white-collared desk-jockeys ventured down to the factory floor on occasion.”

“Hmm”, said Au, not interested in derogating from a walking pot-belly at this moment of intrigue. She picked up a small grey bar that was beside it. It flickered to life. Above it, it projected an image of the panel, rotating in space. She knew her collar was indeed as white as they came; she had never really looked at the productional output of Carina Molecular before. This product Archie claimed their own, it looked quite - advanced. She was doubly skeptical now that someone of Alden’s habits could be so instrumental in the occurrence of this technical creation.

Archie was also thinking now, the rusty little gears churning inside his head. A few squeeks ensued, but none-the-less, he got there. Wasn’t it odd, he’d never met an engineer at Carina Molecular. He’d never met anyone who did anything with the complicated bits but plug them in. He’d never met any software developers, or hardware specialists; until now he’d spent all his time just putting the panels together. Though - he assumed the brains had been housed in the headquarters just off the grand kilometre. Perhaps he had been wrong. Au had certainly seen a brain housed here.

No, he thought, as the dregs of his company loyalty fought back, surely Alden had been the singular genius. A mind like that didn’t need any other engineers gumming up the minutiae; of this Archie was emphatically certain. He mused just now, that being a sole genius might get lonely. He was thankful that was a burden he himself did not have to shoulder. He was getting off track. Back to the panel then.

Why then, was this model here, out in the open? Shouldn’t it have been hidden away from competitors under the highest of security? This kind of carelessness surrounding intellectual property was tremendously unexpected from an Industrialist such as Alden. They, if anything, were fiercely protective of their livelihoods. Old Jardinian had some intellectual property laws that were just terrific. Corporate espionage was punishable by societal disgrace, and on occasion - permanent vacation to less than idyllic vistas, strongly advised.

Perhaps someone here had stolen Alden’s designs. Maybe that’s why Alden had been so unhinged in his final moments.

He shared his conclusion with Au, who was less sure. She still had some questions.

Why would they, the builders of this vast and delphian research complex, leave it empty, then? Were they rogue scientists on the lam from the intellectual property lawyers and vigilantes of the Industrialists? Had there been a secret war going on, with hacking and comprehensive subterfuge? Maybe that’s why everyone had seemed so edgy. The level of technology of the place had to be addressed too; what was the need for industrial espionage if they already had all this?

Maybe it had something to do with the mysterious arrangement the dean had in place. Perhaps she would know more.

The issue of the warning beacon remained, unanswered, noiseless but seething in the space above the grand table. The intended recipients, perhaps the only ones qualified to action upon it, well clearly, they had gone off somewhere. This mysterious ascension, Au supposed.

Was this some sort of techno-cult? She had certainly heard of Synthtica, but all they had in the way of novel technological creations were abrasive speakers and synthesized, supposedly mathematically sublime trance-inducing melodies. The only ascension of which Synthetica were concerned was of the mind, with gloomy baselines, or more likely, placebo effect. Minor league stuff. This was something new.

Archie, sensing that perhaps now was the time for some optimism, suggested that the beacon could be as simple as a box-home alarm. Au shook her head. Surely, a direct line to what, for mysterious reasons, was the most important room in the whole place was beyond the call for a simple box-home alarm? And then there was the menacing cloud. Clearly, whatever had been represented by that map was a concern.

Archie didn’t want to have to ask the question, but with the way things were going, he knew it would come up sooner or later. “Do WE have to deal with it?”

Au thought for a moment. She supposed the warning was their responsibility for now. An ominous cloud couldn’t be good news for Greater Jard.

Now, It’s not like Austera despised the common Jard, she just hadn’t cared to fraternize with them often, if possible. She knew she was but an education and some decent luck away from being one of the common after all, a thought she didn’t relish. So indeed, she understood their importance on a macro level. And she felt bound to some action as Greater Jard came under apparent threat. At worst, She and Archie could tell a responsible adult.

Or, more accurately, tell an adult responsible for murder attempts and banishments - as the Dean was the final remaining connection to this disappearing science club. Perhaps the Dean would come around to the idea of co-operation when impressed with the urgency surrounding the frustratingly vague, but evidently precarious situation.

Strategy decided, Au still felt a growing dread, the weight of a thus-far unknown presence she couldn’t yet comprehend. It gripped the edges of her mind ever tighter, as she pondered what the pulsating beacon meant.

On their way up from the ring gallery, in the corner of her eye, Au saw that a portion of the research floor had been cleared of workstations. In it, dangled two halves of a grey egg shape, the colour and size of a hippopotamus. Equipment of nebulous design and purpose squatted alongside, like offspring at the local wallowing spot. Au shook her head. The zoological mental metaphor didn’t lend as much gravity as the disappearing tableau exuded. But, already on the way towards the surface, with Nurembep again emitting delighted tones, they already had more mysteries than two people could safely handle alone. Yes, that mystery egg would just have to be cracked at a later date.

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