NaNo: Chapter 25

Chapter 25: Quarla Does Time

In a perfect world, Quarla thought, I would be spending this afternoon taking a nice, long nap.  

From the hallway, Quarla could hear Mensa’s footsteps, coming from the kitchen.

“So, how long did they say this would take?” said Mensa, dropping in and placing a kiss on the top of Quarla’s head.

“Just today, probably, a couple hours.  I dunno, this whole things seems a little rushed together.”

“I still don’t understand who this Wyndos person is.”

“Me either,” said Quarla.  “I tried looking them up after we disconnected, and there was barely anything.  I just get the sense that they’re important.”

“Yeah, well, anybody who did for us what Wyndos did is okay in my book,” Mensa said.  “Maybe they’re in the leadership or something, though you’d think that information would be available.”

Quarla called forth the information console and pulled up the leadership list.  “It is, and Wyndos isn’t on it. Nobody from our commission hearing is, in fact.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.  These days, disciplinary has got to be a bum assignment.”

“Why’s that?” said Quarla.

“Too little crime.”

Quarla nodded.  “Well, all I really know at this point is that Wyndos needs someone for an important project, it will only take a few hours, and it’s, like, now.  So I figure they’re just calling in a favor, after the way I got treated at the hearing.”

“Yeah, well, Wyndos certainly did play the hero in that story,” said Mensa.  “Without them, you’d still be walking the streets, or diving, or whatever bullshit they had in store for you.”

The link board illuminated, and Quarla clicked to accept.  Wyndos’ face appeared.

“Hello Quarla…and Mensa.  Good to see you two together in mass.”

“Thanks, Wyndos,” said Mensa, leaning towards Quarla’s mic.  “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, Mensa.  However, due to the nature of this particular assignment, I must ask you to kindly give Quarla the room.”

Quarla and Mensa exchanged a look, both shrugged, and then Mensa left the room with a wave at Wyndos.

“Something super-secret then?” said Quarla.

“Nothing of the sort.  Just…sensitive. I need your help on troubleshooting a sim issue, and I fear there was a detail I omitted from our earlier discussion.”

Ah, here comes the rub, Quarla thought.

“You see, when you asked how long this assignment would take,” Wyndos said, “I responded ‘just a few hours’ based on our temporal experience.  However, due to the nature of what we are exploring today, your perception of time may render it somewhat…longer.”

“You mean, like a sim?” said Quarla.  

“Precisely.”

“I just did a sim earlier today, and to be honest, I’m really not ready to live an entire life just to troubleshoot some issue or other.”

“Oh,” said Wyndos, “nothing of the sort, I assure you.  What I mean to say is, while this may only take a couple of hours of your time here, you may experience it to be more like a dozen hours or so, because of the sim.”

“Oh, okay, that’s not so bad,” said Quarla.  “Just tell me what I need to do.”

“I am going to patch in Vair, who will be the controller of this experiment.  One moment, please.”

Quarla saw Wyndos fiddling with the controls, and then another face appeared in the monitor.  

“Quarla, this is Vair.  Vair, Quarla.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Vair.

Quarla nodded.

Oh wow, they look like a kid!  Either this kid is a prodigy of some sort, or I’m really getting older.

“Quarla,” said Wyndos, “I am going to upload you to a test plane.  It won’t be like anything you have ever experienced before, in that you will be fully self-aware, and the plane itself will be extremely basic.  You will see nothing but a console, and I ask that you do not touch it yet.”

“Okay,” said Quarla, “I’m ready when you are.”

“Vair, please proceed.”

Quarla watched the world evaporate, and lost consciousness.  

The first new sensation Quarla felt was a discomfort in their back, as the cushy seat had been replaced by a hard floor.  Sitting up and blinking back vision, Quarla took a look around.

Wow, there really is nothing here!  It’s just walls…like a bedroom without a bed.  Ah, there’s the console. Don’t touch it!

“Quarla, can you hear me?” said Vair.

“Yes.”

“Good.  Now I want to run a quick test with you.  Go over to the console: there’s a timer on the screen.  Tell me when you’re there.”

Quarla approached the console.  It was a primitive screen, the type used by coders in ages long past.  On it, a series of scrolling numbers marked the time.

“Okay, I see it.  It says 15:32:16 but it’s constantly rolling forward.”

“Good.  Okay, on my mark, I want you to count out ten seconds with the help of the clock, and say ‘done’ when ten seconds have passed, okay?”

“Sure thing.”

“Ready…and…mark!”

Quarla watched the digits scrolling up until precisely ten seconds had passed.

“Done!”

“Good,” said Vair.  “That was ten seconds by my count, too.”

“Seems like a pretty simple test,” said Quarla.

“That was just the control,” said Vair.  “Now for the fun stuff. The console in front of you has one button, and I need you to push it, but only once.”

“Okay,” said Quarla, pushing the button.  The numbers on the screen disappeared, replaced by a new screen displaying a single word.  “It says ‘initiate.’”

“Good,” said Vair. “When you press that button again, it is going to upload you to a different plane.  As soon as you come to, I want you to start counting. You won’t have a timer this time, so try to keep as steady a counting rhythm as you can.”

This is getting weird, Quarla thought.  

“Uh, okay.  How long is this going to be?”

“Probably just a minute, but what’s important isn’t how long it is, it’s how long it seems.”

“I don’t follow,” Quarla said.  

“I just mean, you need to tell me how long you THINK it’s been, regardless of how long it actually takes.”

“Okay, I guess,” said Quarla.

There was a moment of silence.  

“You still there?” Quarla said.

“Yeah, sorry, uh, go ahead and click the button again, and don’t forget to count!” said Vair.

Quarla pushed the button, and the world went black.  

Once again, Quarla found themselves on the ground, as though waking from a deep sleep.  Shaking their head side to side, they then remembered the instructions and started to count aloud.

“One, two, three, four,” said Quarla, “can you hear me?”

There was no response.

“Eight, nine, ten, eleven,”

As the numbers ticked by, Quarla took a look around the plane.  It was precisely the same as the first plane, but without a console.  The walls were only ten feet or so apart, and while counting, Quarla decided to measure them.  

“Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine,”

I think it’s ten feet long, but the other dimension seems a bit shorter.  Maybe ten by eight? What a basic plane! This must be how they test out new features.  I wonder what could be so important that they’d have Wyndos contact me for help.

The thought of Wyndos led Quarla back to speculating on this strange person, who seemed to have outsized influence on the commission.  Their thoughts kept returning to that moment when, amidst a debate about Quarla’s fate, Wyndos had shown the other commissioners something that immediately shut the discussion down.  

Was it credentials?

Quarla suddenly realized that the counting had stopped.

Shit!  Where was I?  A hundred and twelve, a hundred and thirteen, a hundred and fourteen.  

No longer counting out loud, Quarla paced the room.  Time passed monotonously.

Nine hundred and thirty one, nine thirty-two, nine-thirty three.

Crossing into four digits, Quarla sat, then tried to recline, but found it difficult to get comfortable.  

This wasn’t a minute, that’s for sure.

Minutes passed, followed by hours.  Sometime around eight thousand, Quarla stopped counting.  

This is hell.  How long am I going to be in here?  

Finally, exhaustion overcame Quarla, and they laid down on the flat, uncomfortable ground, and went to sleep.

Quarla woke up to the sound of Wyndos’ voice.

“Quarla, can you hear me?”

“Wha- yes.  YES! Thank god.  Get me out of here!”

“You’re out of the second plane, Quarla,” Wyndos said.  “Tell us what you experienced.”

“It was so long!” Quarla’s voice was shaking.  “I tried counting but, after like fifteen thousand or so, I lost track. I must have fallen asleep.”

In the corner, Quarla saw the terminal, suddenly reassured that this was, in fact, the original plane.  

“Hold on a moment,” Wyndos said, and the line went silent.  

Several seconds passed before Vair’s voice came through.

“I’m sorry about that, Quarla.  It sounds like you were there for a long time.  On our end, that was about one minute.”

Quarla opened their mouth to speak, and then closed it again.  

Wyndos’ voice came through.  “Vair, it’s time for you to enter the test plane.”

Vair is coming in too?  This is about to get interesting.

Movement caught Quarla’s eye, and turning around, they saw Vair lying prone on the ground, rubbing their head as though having just fallen to the ground.

“Hey, you okay,” said Quarla.

“Yeah,” Vair’s voice sounded groggy.  “Just gimme a minute.”

As Quarla watched, Vair rolled onto their side and slowly stood, wobbling rather than walking towards the console.  

“Okay,” Vair said.  “Now I’m going to send you back into the other plane.”

“What?  No!” said Quarla.  “I’m not going back in there!  That was hell!”

“From what you’re telling us, you really only spent a few hours, right?” said Vair.  “So it isn’t all that bad. C’mon, we need to find this out, it’s important.”

“What am I supposed to do there?  This is NOT what I signed up for,” said Quarla.

“I’m sorry, but we need to do this, for Carem!” said Vair.

“Who’s Carem?” Quarla said.

“Quarla,” Wyndos’ voice broke in through the comm.  “We need you to do this. It’s the last thing, I promise.  And yes, it may take hours again, but you won’t be alone: you will be able to communicate with Vair.”

“And if the time goes long, I can entertain you or something,” said Vair, “I could even extract you early if you want.”

Not leaving me a lot of options here, folks.  

Quarla sighed.  “Fine. Let’s just get this over with.”

With a nod, Vair flipped a switch, and Quarla’s world went dark once again.

So here we are, Quarla thought, back in the nothingness.  

“Can you actually hear me, or was that just a trick?” Quarla said.

“I can hear you,” said Vair.  

“And Wyndos?”

“Nope, sorry, it doesn’t work that way,” Vair said.  “Wyndos can’t hear you, but I can communicate with them if you need me to.”

“I don’t really understand any of this,” said Quarla.  “And about this time thing, how could it be that-”

The world went dark.

When Quarla opened their eyes, Vair was looming above.

“Wakey, wakey,” Vair said.  

“What just happened?” said Quarla.

“You have returned,” said Wyndos.  “Once again, it was one minute by our reckoning.  How long was that for you?”

“About that.  Hell, maybe shorter,” said Quarla. “Can I come back up now?”

“In a moment,” said Wyndos.  “Vair, ask some questions about the second plane, in case we lose that information making the jump.”

“Oh, right.  Yeah, Quarla, um, do you remember anything from the second plane just now?”

“Yeah, I mean, I remember checking my comm with you, and then asking about Wyndos, as you telling me that I couldn’t speak to Wyndos for some reason, but you could.”

“What about the first time you were in the second plane?  When it lasted a long time.”

“I remember counting,” said Quarla, “counting up over fifteen thousand, and then falling asleep, and waking up back here.”

“Okay, good,” said Vair.  “Wyndos, anything else?”

“That is sufficient,” said Wyndos.  “I am going to bring you both back now.”

For the final time, Quarla lost consciousness, and woke to the familiar sensation of the office chair.

“How are you both feeling?” said Wyndos.  Quarla looked at the screen, and saw Wyndos’ inscrutable face, accompanied by Vair, who was evidently just coming to.

“I’m okay,” said Quarla.

“Yeah,” said Vair.

“Quarla, I have some questions about your time in the plane.  Do you remember being in the second plane?”

“Yeah, I…huh.  No, actually, I remember talking about it, but I don’t remember actually being there.”

“The first time you were on the second plane, do you remember how long it took?”

I remember saying it was a long time, but…not actually being there.  It’s not fading, it’s just…gone.

“No, not at all. I think it was a long time, but that’s only cause I remember saying to Vair that it had been a long time after I returned.”

“Fascinating,” said Wyndos.  “I greatly appreciate your work today, Quarla.  You may not remember, but it was a difficult task.  I cannot give you time credit, as you are retired. Is there any service I can render in recompense?”

“No,” said Quarla.  “I figure I owed you from before.  Just…don’t come to me next time you need a guinea pig, okay?”

Wyndos nodded.  

(2248 words)

Advertisements
Published in: on November 27, 2018 at 7:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://andrewdgrossman.com/2018/11/27/nano-chapter-25/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: