Asteroids (February 2019, Round 1, Day 7)
The room was empty of people and full of things. Halpurn stood in front of the chalkboard he’d just unearthed and read the sole word he’d found on it again. “Asteroids?”
Halpurn pulled out his handled and set it to Image Capture to add this scene to the rest he’d collected since the excavation started. Of all the other things he’d seen, this one left him the most unsettled. This room was, he’d decided, a classroom. It had all the telltale signs and supported their theory on when this structure had last been in use.
It was the word on the board that stood out. If the rest of their data was correct, and there was no reason for it to not be, this structure had been for the young of the community. He could picture what the room would have looked like when it was in use. Being in the room gave Halpurn what he needed, and the chairs, tables, books – all the artifacts – painted a picture.
That was why they sent him, after all. It would be up to him to load his impressions into the Hub so that a full picture of how these people lived could be available for study. That word, though, shouldn’t have been there.
“Almost done, Halpurn?” Eston, his research aid, poked his head into the room. “We’ve got more of this site to catalog before dark.”
“Almost.” Halpurn turned his back to the chalkboard. “Eston, what do we know about these people?”
Eston snapped to attention and provided all the data available on the people connected to the site. None of it was new to Halpurn. He’d done his prep like always. He needed to hear it now, in the room, to help him make sense of things. As Eston chattered on, Halpurn moved around the room, touching different items as he went. When he got to a doorway at the back of the room he stopped.
The door didn’t fit the rest of the room. Where the walls were, as to be expected, built of the slats made from trees, this door seemed like something more fitting to Halpurn’s time than that of this building.
“What is a 3010 door doing in a 1950 building, Eston?”
Eston thought for a moment before offering up, “I have no idea, Halpurn.”
“Helpful.” Halpurn raised his hand to hover his palm an inch from the door, careful not to touch it. “I don’t think it’s empty, Eston.”
“You don’t think what is empty, Halpurn?
“The room beyond this door. Are you sure nothing registered down here?”
“Nothing, Halpurn. You and I are the only ones here.”
“When was the last time someone was sent down here?”
Eston thought for a moment, longer than the last time, and then said, “No one has been sent here since the asteroid hit, Halpurn.”
Halpurn looked over his shoulder to look at the word on the chalkboard. “Right. And these people didn’t know what was coming, right?”
“Correct, Halpurn. The asteroid wasn’t intended to reach here, so there was no way they could have known to expect it.”
“So why did they write ‘Asteroid?’ on their board?” Halpurn didn’t expect an answer and the words were barely audible. His fingers lingered over the handle, the only primitave thing about the door.
“Almost done, Halpurn? We’ve got more of this site to catalog before dark.”
“Damn it, Eston.” Halpurn’s outstretched hand closed into a fist only a breath away from connecting with the door. “Fine.” He grabbed his handheld instead and added an image of the door that didn’t belong to the files. “Fine. Take me to the next room.”
“They tell me you barely made it back in time, Halpurn. That’s not like you.”
Halpurn held his position despite the rebuke wrapped up in the statement. “I did, though, sir, and with a full report as expected.”
Halpurn took advantage of the limitations of the communications interface and tapped his foot silently. He only had to keep his face neutral – the rest of him could do what it needed to make it throgh the meeting. If it had been anyone other than Marxwell this could have been a very different conversation. Halpurn took a deep, invisible breath as the narrow old man peered down his narrow nose at notes he held just out of view.
“Your findings seem to support our expectations. Good, good.” He paused, his beady eyes flitting back and forth as he read. “And nothing unexpected.” He looked directly into the camera. “Just the way we like it.”
Halpurn gave a curt nod as he balled his hands into fists below the camera. “Correct, sir.”
“And you have only one more building to inspect before returning?”
Halpurn heard the not so subtle warning in the man’s simple words. “One more buidling that needs the first pass, sir. You know my process – I’ll need to visit each structure once more before returning to be able to make the most complete report.”
This was always a battle and Halpurn always won. He knew it pissed them off that he did things differently than the others and that was part of why he kept it up. It had been years since the last pass-through was fully necessary. He was sensitive enough now that he could likely finish an assingnment in half the time he was given. If he wanted to, which he didn’t.
“Ah, yes.” The pinched face pulled back from the camera. “Halpurn’s Way – how could I forget.”
“I’m not sure,” Halpurn let slip out before hasitly adding, “sir.” Now was not the time for pushing more limits. “It is what makes my reports so widely appreciated.” He bowed his head in a show of extra defference.
“Yes, Halpurn. Your work is widely appreciated by many.”
Protected by the top of his head and the angle of the screen, Halpurn let his face scrunch at the man’s jab. All he wanted was for the meeting to end.
“Very well. We will expect you soon, Halpurn, and, of course, are eager for your wonderful report.”
The chime sounded singnaling the end of the meeting. Halpurn kicked the wall before turning to Eston. “Speak.”
“You neglected to send all of the data you collected, Halpurn.”
“True.” Halpurn had sat down and was massaging his toes.
“That breaks protocol, Halpurn.”
“Yes, it does.”
Halpurn flexed his toes. “Why what, Eston?”
“Why did you keep some of the data, Halpurn?”
“Oh, Eston. Here I’d thought you’d decided to dabble in philosophy and were curious about why holding data back breaks protocol.” Halpurn smiled at Eston’s expression as he worked through his statement. It wasn’t easy to confuse an android.
“Why did you keep some of the data, Halpurn?”
With a sigh, Halpurn stood up. “Because I don’t share data I don’t understand, Eston.” He walked into the galley, slapping Eston on the shoulder as he passed.
Halpurn had worked his way through the last structure, clearly a shared living space, at his true speed. There were several hours to spare before dark when he stood in front of the school structure with his arms crossed at his chest. Eston stood to his right waiting for direction.
“I’m going back to that classroom, Eston.”
“The one with the door, Halpurn?”
Eston turned to face Halpurn. “What do you need me to do, Halpurn?”
Halpurn wanted to throw a sarcastic remark at Eston, just to break the tension. He didn’t. Eston was doing his job, after all, unlike himself. “I need you to record whatever happens.”
“Audio, Visual, or full sensory, Halpurn?”
“Let’s splurge, shall we?” He stuffed his sarcasm down again. “Sorry. Full sensory recording, Eston. You can start recording once we’re in the classroom.”
Eston nodded and the two of them entered the building. Halpurn found himself disappointed at how everything was the same as it had been yesterday. “Get it together, Halpurn,” he said to himself as they made their way back to the classroom.
As he entered the room he looked over at the board and, as it should have been, “Asteroid?” was still written there. Halpurn turned to where the door had been, torn between wanting it to be there and available to him to explore and wanting it to have all been a figment of his imagination. It, like the words, were just where he’d left them. “The damn things have been here for over a thousand years and you thought one night would take them away?”
“I expected everything to be as we left it, Halpurn.”
“Shit – I wasn’t talking to you, Eston.” Halpurn scowled as his aide, his nerves getting the better of him. “Start recording.”
Halpurn crossed the room and stood right in front of the door, mimicing his examination moves of yesterday partly for himself and partly for the recording. “Everything in this room matches the expected research data except for this door. It is my hypothesis that, upon opening the door, one or more life forms will be discovered. Eston, the recorder, will upload this data without needed express permission only if I am unable to do so myself.”