Mason looked up from the conveyor and handed the wrench to me, “It’s sure nice that we only have to service these once a week. So many bolts to adjust! We may have to replace them soon: they seem to be getting a little rusty.” I took the wrench and dropped it loudly in the toolbox. I really didn’t care to make conversation, but I knew that Mason wouldn’t leave me alone if I didn’t respond.
“You sure are right, I think it took us four hours last week to finish this job, but this week five” I responded.
“Well, it doesn’t help that it’s so humid in here. Must be a really hot one out there today.”
I picked up the toolbox and my hat, and thought about that comment for a moment. I’d never been outside, and neither had Mason. Mason was about eight years older than me, but we’d both been brought up the same way, in school. Directly from school, we’d been transported to this facility, where it was our job to maintain all the machinery and computers. I never saw the outside on the way here, which I always thought a little odd. According to the demeanor of the history texts that were given in school though, the outside was not something worth seeing.
I hadn’t taken much of an interest in school, and some days I regret that. I don’t regret it too much though; there are plenty of other things to interest me. By my judgement however, Mason loved learning about history. At least four days a week he would ramble on about the country’s grand history and how our robot manufacturing facility came to be. He’s probably repeated each fact at least twenty times. I didn’t remember any of them specifically.
“How do you know it’s hot outside?” I asked Mason as we walked over to the computers.
“Of course you didn’t read anything in the books Ava; it’s hot outside because it’s a natural cycle of the earth for the ice caps to melt, and for the volume of water to induce global-scale climate change. It’s boiling hot outside every day!” Mason lectured me condescendingly.
“Oh right, I forgot” I looked down, annoyed. Mason acted like he knew everything, and he really believed it too. I didn’t think that reading a textbook and calling that the end of the argument was a wise way to live one’s life, though; it’s just so mindless. There is virtue in critical thinking and skepticism, I had concluded long ago. I also didn’t want to put up with Mason’s omniscience for the rest of our work time together either.
The last work of the day was to service the motor room. We lugged opened the airlock to the thermally-sealed room and dragged it closed behind us. The motor room is where all the big motors are located, separately from the rest of the complex. I set down the tool box and we sat opposite from each other on the terminal bench, each of us running diagnostics.
“Do you really believe that you can just accept the weather conditions without knowing anything from your own experience? You’ve never been outside. How do you know the textbooks are accurate?” I finally had to ask.
Mason sighed, “Yes, Ava, and I know that it’s true. There’s no reason the texts would be lying, and, like the history books – that we both read – said, the schools are top quality and produce the best employees, like us. How could they do that without having accurate information about something as basic as the weather outside? Anyways, why else would it be so hot all the time?”
I looked away again, frustrated. Mason’s logic obviously didn’t make sense, but he was making it overly clear that the topic wasn’t open for debate. He was just stubborn and egotistical, I decided. I took off my hat again; it was especially hot here in the motor room since the motors have so many sliding parts.
That night Mason went to sleep an hour early, since it had been such a tough day of work. I myself lay on the couch in the lounge room and read a play I had started a couple days ago, “Oedipus the King.” Though the play was interesting, my mind wandered to the issue of the warmness of the building. The one-sided argument with Mason inspired my curiosity, if not only in effort to spite him. I finished act 3 and then put the book down and walked over to the monitor room, where the main computers were. I sat at the terminal and slid out the old keyboard. I accessed the main database and searched for the temperature records of the facility. As I knew, the records showed how the temperature fluctuated between night and day, just as if it was the sun providing the heat the the facility. I launched the statistical analysis application and ran a test looking for patterns in the rest of the data of the database. There must be something else that was causing the fluctuations.
Then it came to me – the motor room! Of course, all of those machines produced so much heat, and they run only during the day and turn off at night. I quit the pattern search and compared directly the motor operation intensity to the temperature of the facility. I smiled. 98% correlation.
The next day, I held my head slightly higher. For the first time my superior analytical skills had brought me knowledge that Mason could not even understand. Mason seemed to notice my elevated mood but made no explicit note of it. We had to replace a few bolts on the conveyors, so we had a long day of work ahead of us.
After a few hours in the conveyor room, the heat reached its peak. I glanced over at Mason while I knelt next to a giant conveyor bolt and tightened the bearings slowly. He removed his hat and wiped some sweat off his forehead. I smirked. As I did the same, because I was sweaty too, I reflected again on how he chose to believe in myths about this heat, and suffered ignorantly, while I had actually gone through the effort to figure out the truth behind it.
A week later, we were back in the conveyor room. A few more bolts had rusted beyond usability. “These bolts sure are rusting fast aren’t they? So many to replace! It’s sure nice that…”
“Hey, I think there’s a leak over here,” I interrupted Mason.
“Oh. Yup. That’s definitely a leak, a big one too. Go get replacement sheets” Mason said as he looked up at the ceiling, where I had pointed. A thin line was apparent, and water was very obviously making its way through, forming in an expanding puddle on the ground. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed it sooner. I fetched the metal replacement sheets for the ceiling and Mason readied the bindings, which were in the toolbox. After quickly fixing up the leak, Mason seemed especially relieved, “It’s good that we caught it as soon as that. The flood could have gotten sand and debris all over the place in here.”
My eyebrows arched, “Flood?”
“Do you remember anything from school, Ava? There are random floods here where our facility is located, and…”
I didn’t feel like another lecture at the moment so I quickly inquired, “Why on earth would anyone build a robotics manufacturing facility in a place with deadly-hot daytime temperatures and random floods?”
“First of all, the heat problem is everywhere on earth. It’s global. Secondly, the floods are a recently developed problem, and it would have been too costly to relocate this facility. Do you know how much work went into building this complex?”
“No, I forgot,” I looked down, exasperated.
For the next few weeks, I spent every night at the computer terminal. I had never realized the amount of information that was available, if I just put the effort into looking for it. I found even more evidence for my solution to the heat problem, with an overall 99% correlation between the temperature and the motor room’s activity level. As for the “flood” myth, I easily debunked it as well. I researched the history of leaks in the facility and it was immediately apparent that the leaks were not random; they followed season patterns. I concluded correctly that the leaks were caused simply by harmless seasonal rain.
While looking through the databases, I noticed a strange pattern. The data it had concerning the outside was extremely sparse, and the little that did exist was vague and questionable. I had a feeling in my gut that there was a reason for this. It felt like someone had intentionally censored information about the outside world, leaving barely enough to make the small inferences that I had made. However, I did find something very critical – an emergency exit. It was impossibly hard to find in the database; I had to circumvent some serious security measures just to discover that one did in fact exist. Eventually I found the exit’s location, and I made a plan.
A week after I discovered the exit, I packed my backpack. I needed water, food, and some extra clothing, but I didn’t plan on staying out long. I just wanted to experience being outside for myself. I was endlessly curious, and very excited when the night came. Soon after Mason went to sleep, I got up and quietly made my way to the exit. All the lights in the building were off. It was an eerie scene. I could hear the whirring of the computers as I walked by the terminal room, where I normally was at this time of night.
Finally, after walking down what felt like every obscure hallway in the entire building, I reached the emergency exit. The only marking it had on it was large red letters printed at eye-height: “Do Not Open”. I opened the door.
Immediately, an ear-piercing alarm triggered, shattering the silence and widening my eyes. I jumped outside and threw the door closed. The alarm faded.
The ground was a sandy desert, littered with uninteresting short bushes and shrubs. I walked a few steps in the sand. It felt like the ground was melting away beneath me at first, but after a few more steps, I was adjusted to the new texture. I looked around. The full moon shone brightly over the landscape, which consisted of the monotonous color of the sand with random black spots of shrubs. It felt exhilarating breathing in the cool, sharp air, full of unfiltered flavor, but it soon felt slightly nauseating.
I decided to walk in one direction for a while, opposite the facility. I expected to find a city of some sort where other people lived (presumably the people that use the robots that my facility makes). I didn’t remember if the school textbooks said anything about cities nearby or… I stopped in my tracks. Of course there were cities nearby! How would the robots be transported to them if they were so far away? It would be no use to remember the history books anyway. As Mason has shown so obviously through his ignorance, they were completely false. I marched onward with the sureness of knowledge in my step.
A couple hours of walking later, I noticed something out of the ordinary brush and sand on the horizon – a blocky silhouette against the dark. At its distance, it was impossible to tell what it was, but I had a strong feeling it was a building, given its squarish shape. I walked towards it, faster. It was a building, a very familiar building. The outside structure resembled almost exactly the structure of the facility I had just left. This facility seemed slightly smaller. I walked around the perimeter of the new facility until I found the exit door. It was in just the place that I expected, and it was open. I peered inside cautiously. All the lights were off, but fortunately I brought a flashlight. Inside, the ground was slightly slippery and machinery was strewn about, as if it was ripped out of the ground. I slowly beamed my flashlight in a circle around me. All the wreckage was very worrying. Was this place simply abandoned, or had some catastrophe happened?
I explored the rest of the building, but found no functioning equipment or lights. The door to the lounge had been closed though, and everything inside was intact. There was no trace of anyone that had ever lived there, though. I sat on the couch, which was the exact same color and size as the couch in the lounge I was used to. My feet and ankles ached from all the walking I had done that night, and as soon as I relaxed my back against the couch, I felt a wave of fatigue engulf my body. I glanced at my watch. 5am.
What seemed like ten minutes later, I was roused by the sound of water splashing on the ground repeatedly. My eyes opened. It must be rain! The thought of real rain excited me, since I had never experienced anything like it before. Of course I had read about it in books, but that is an entirely different kind of experience. I uncurled from where I had passed out on the couch and switched on my light. The splashing seemed to be coming from inside.
I followed the noise and finally came to what must have been the conveyor room. On the floor, a large puddle of water reflected my flashlight’s beam into my eyes. It rippled with each splash, shimmering the light. I searched the ceiling for the leak, and found it much larger than any that I had seen in my facility. It must have been leaking for ages. I wondered how long this facility had been abandoned, but only for a moment because I was still excited to go outside in the rain. I didn’t have any sort of water resistant clothing with me, but I planned not to stay out for long.
I made my way through the dark maze of the complex to the emergency exit. It had a familiar marking on it: “Do Not Open”. It appeared that I wasn’t the first to not heed this advice. I unlatched the door. As soon as it was unlatched, the door burst out at me, throwing me backward to the ground. I yelled in surprise, but my voice was drowned by the water that cascaded in through the doorway. I grasped frantically for my flashlight, caught it and scurried to my feet. I ran down the hallway, straight away from the door. I could hear the water gushing in, spilling over everything behind me. The ground was already moistened, but I managed to slip only once in my flight.
I eventually made it back to the lounge. I slammed the door behind me and gasped for air. My clothes and shoes were soaked, but I could barely feel anything because of the shock. I sat down on the couch.
The next day, I opened the lounge door. The hallways were wet, but traversable. I walked slowly down the halls another time. The exit door was slightly ajar, and rays of daylight streaked across the adjacent wall. The hall was humid. The warning plastered across it seemed to capture my attention more seriously this time. I pulled the door open cautiously, just enough to expose myself to the outside air. The air singed my skin – I retracted into the shadows. I stood for a moment, and some water puddling around my feet. Then I walked back to the lounge.