In matters of information, no media is quite as simple or prolific as the famed Information Superhighway. The ease with which one can find anything one wishes for is inversely proportional to its usefulness. If you want to see a celebrity engaged in a pornographic act, just ask a thirteen-year-old adolescent male. He can find six links to it quicker than you can say, “I’m not real comfortable asking you to help me with this.”
On the other hand, if you are looking for the three hundred-page amendment to an act of Congress that was filed the night before it was passed and hence read by no one; you may be able to find it in less than six links but more than likely still not then.
An argument could be made as to which search was more important, but the analogy still provides an understanding of what can be found, and what cannot. Another downside is that information can only be found if it has been created or stored in an accessible, electronic format. Geographic Information Systems contain a wealth of knowledge in their databases, many of which are or can be accessed remotely. This is a fact incorporated into numerous crime, drama, and action shows in movies and on television—two media which themselves have begun to be added to the web of accessible information. Even in those forms a GIS is only as useful as its database, which in turn is limited by the source. While James Bond or Jack Bauer may ask someone to pull up the floor plan for a building, it is not good drama to tell them that they are still scanning that into the system on the third floor. Bond and Bauer cannot wait for bureaucrats to finagle through red tape to rescue the kidnapped woman and save the day.
Information must be prioritized in its insertion to the system: celebrity pornography before Congressional Amendments before building floor plans.
Abe Hannah was an insertion point.
His job on the third floor of the Places_____ building was to scan, encode, and make available documents for the clients. The point of it was to put every piece of information imaginable into the database so that no one would ever run in to a dead end while searching for the answer they needed. Or wanted. Or were just bored and thought they needed to know.
On occasion, a client would call needing something sooner than the promised, prioritized timeline. The job Abe was currently working on was one of those jobs.
It was not James Bond looking for information to save the damsel in distress. The floor plan requested was obscure, the building itself had been demolished to make way for the grand Café de Garay. There really was no reason to have the plans for the old house anyway. When it was demolished in 1942, the house was beyond old. Not only had there been no plans of it in existence at the time, there had been no formal plans drawn up for it when it was originally constructed. This house delayed the expansion of the restaurant for nearly a decade. The former owner, known only to Abe as C. Daneri, had claimed it to be an “old and deeply rooted house” that not only he had been born in, but also had been the last home of his sister Beatrice Viterbo.
In an attempt to find out why this unknown woman’s life was justification to stop a development of the size proposed, Abe turned up precious little. Beatrice was mentioned in literary circles in Argentina during the period before Daneri’s legal battles. He was still uncertain if she was an author, an editor, or just some imagined character referring to someone in Dante’s Inferno. This whole project reeked of useless, unneeded information. While it piqued his interest a bit, it was not enough to further sidetrack him. The irony being that Abe’s job was to put in information so that people would not reach dead-ends when they searched, not to trace dead-ends he might discover while inputting.
Once Daneri lost the legal battle based on his sister, he became insistent on cataloging every detail of the house. His demands for the new owners to do so as a prerequisite for his selling were initially ignored. When it was not complied with, he refused to vacate the building. It got so bad, even his own attorney tried to betray him. Finally, the house was meticulously surveyed. Every nook, cranny and bump in the entire house including the basement was measured and plotted, then referenced to a property corner, which in turn happened to be the point from which the new building was referenced.
As odd as all these proceedings were, there were only two reasons any of this would make sense to Abe. The first was to re-create the house at some point in the future. This was not very likely, since the number of people who even knew the house had existed was small. As far as Abe knew, that number now was two: him and the client contact, Faith Garbo. If she were President of the Viterbo Fan Club wanting to re-build the house or make a museum, there could presumably be a large contingent of followers. There did not seem to be any such group working for such a goal. Since Faith was employed by the City of Buenos Aires, which meant she was a government employee, and more than likely not independently wealthy enough to afford such an undertaking without help. This left only the second reason as viable. There was something hidden.
The plans had been made so something could later be found at the site. What that was was clearly not included on the plans. No giant X or labels indicating buried treasures were to be found on the sheets that Abe was scanning. Looking into the pasts of Viterbo and Daneri revealed that contrary to his claim, Daneri was a cousin. Researching both of their ancestral lines turned up nothing out of the ordinary. They had not come from a family with untold wealth that had disappeared or that had once been on a pirate ship. There were no reports of missing family heirlooms.
The most noteworthy family members had been Beatriz and Carlos. Beatriz’s noteworthiness ended outside of the renown she had in Buenos Aires’ literary circles of the early twentieth century. That renown was not sufficient to indicate why she had been known; only that she was known. Carlos Argentino Daneri was noted as having authored an elaborate poem that won second place in a national literature competition. It was said to have rambled on and on, but for a short while in the mid-20th Century, it was vogue in Argentina to claim to have read it.
The search for background went cold. Abe’s job was to insert information into the web so that others would avoid the pitfalls of dead ends. Often that review and insertion would lead Abe down paths that ended in a similar fashion. There was something different about this one though. Intriguingly, the harder he looked the less he found, but when he would give up the search, something would jump out at him, begging for his attention. The data he collected was not from any of his own effort. It was as if the information wanted to be found and was graciously turning itself over to him.
On this evening, Abe was determined not to bring home his work with him. For three days, he had worked on the task and come home to fruitlessly search on his own. Tonight he would catch up on his favorite past time, not follow up on his completed job assignment. After scanning, each page had to be meticulously and painstakingly checked to insure accuracy as well as completeness. In accordance with The Paperwork Elimination (True) Act of President deLyon’s administration, all documents rendered electronic would be eliminated to reduce needed storage requirements. It was the PE(T)A and deLyon that Abe had to thank for both a job and a hobby.
A desire for both more fingertip data availability coupled with ridiculously large warehouses full of data had led deLyon to move forward with the act. Tons of documents were input and destroyed the first year. Initially the push was to start with older material and work forward. It did not take long to realize that the more useful stuff was newer, and that there was an exponentially larger amount of newer data to input. The work began to be done in a non-linear format and from many different sources.
A paradigm shifted, and suddenly the government put out a contract for outside work. Overnight, companies formed, bids were put in and accepted and the race was on. There was no shortage of government red tape to store, and there was no shortage of companies to do the work, but then the idea hit overdrive. The truly useful information was not owned by the federal government. Companies started marketing their services to private companies, small businesses, museums, libraries, and foreign governments. Within a matter of months, President deLyon’s frustration at not being able to get useful information in an online search had launched a multi-billion dollar industry. Soccer moms, inquisitive dads, plagiarizing school kids and researchers alike had increasingly more access to increasingly more information that increasingly fell into one of two categories—completely useful or completely useless. The electrification of information had hit its prime.
Companies began, as companies tend, to consolidate and buy each other out. Mom and Pop type businesses run from a parent’s basement were snatched up by multi-national consortiums. Input technicians went from being people with electrical and computer engineering degrees to community college dropouts to skilled laborers on a par with carpenters and masons. This was Abe—an electronic carpenter.
Well before the bored monotony of his job affected him, Abe stumbled across the Allman project. Highway Information Trust, his employer, had just been bought up by a group of three more information companies that planned to change their names to Super Highway Information Trust, Inc. As a part of their merger, Abe’s job transitioned from American to international clients. In the last week working on classified documents from 2020, he picked up the Allman file.
Once the true digital age hit, many records and documents were simply created digitally. For this project, that started in 2020. The technical drawings alone would have taken Abe two years to input. Luckily, for him, the files he had to work on were linked to the sites with real-time telemetry as well as historic archives. The year 2020 was effectively a mothball year for Allman. Staffs were cut, technical support was cut, and Doctor Rotcod had even been relieved from the project. From time to time, Abe tried to track down where he had gone but always unsuccessfully.
The intricacies of the project appealed to Abe, but also the subject matter and goals were intriguing. To reach another planet, possibly an inhabited planet was the stated goal. Beyond that, the hope was to find some technology element or aspect that would lead to a better world, a better method of space travel, a better mousetrap, and above all a better life. After weeks of searching, Abe stumbled across a heavily redacted memo from an early stage of the program that intimated at finding some way to finally achieve immortality.
An unintended consequence of mothballing the project is that it kicked in the bureaucratic red tape that also un-classified the documents. For some time Abe had waited for the day the un-classification would become effective. It was getting closer. The biggest deterrent to the Freedom of Information Act requirements to get data was the fact that you had to know exactly what to ask for. Half the battle was to know what you needed to look for before you looked for it. Abe knew what that was for this case. He knew where it was. He knew whom to ask. He knew when he could ask. The only thing he did not know was what he would find when he found it.
No one seemed to know or care about the Allman Project. There were no media updates, no reminders of important anniversaries; it was almost as if the world could go on without knowing.
It had not always been like this.
The initial wave of devotion came from the scientific crowd. They were interested in the nuts and bolts of it all—the details. The task was so monumental and unprecedented that they began to preach to the non-learned about the mission. A ground swelling of support followed.
The search for intelligent life, the voyage to another planet, and the scope of the work began to transcend the project. In many ways, it became like the space race of the 1960s and 1970s. People in every walk of life, at every stage of life, and from every country on the planet tried to volunteer for the flight. Even people who had no business going into space volunteered. The initial pool of applicants was almost as daunting as the technical problems for the project. Each time the list was narrowed, there were breaking news reports. Once the list narrowed to fifty, the serious odds were published. Bets had been laid previously, but now was the time for the truly dedicated gamblers.
The truly fevered, fanatical mood started with the selection of Allman. Now the mission had a name and a face. Of course, it had many names both before and after, but once the search was ended, everyone referred to it as simply Allman.
Ernest Allman had not had many friends before. In the secluded digital world, he did not need many. Suddenly he could go anywhere he wanted and get anything free. People recognized his face everywhere. He stayed in before, but the program required him to interact with technicians, workers and staff of all kinds. Then the public affairs department got involved.
Allman had to go on a world tour. Part of it was to gather multi-cultural, multi-national items to take on the journey. Part of it was to give Allman a final taste of all he was about to leave behind. The trip, at near light speed, would be short for Allman, but relatively speaking long to the world. By the time he returned, if he returned, everything and everyone Allman had ever known, or even not known would be gone.
Followers of the project built buildings in his name. They hung on his every word. They named their children after him. They hallowed his footsteps when he came to visit. Each country’s leadership gave untold wealth to Allman and the Allman project. Some even tried to give their livestock or even their daughters to him.
After Allman departed earth, interest in the program ebbed and flowed. Most thought it would peter out quickly, but there were updates daily for a year. As Allman went further out, there was less to report. The news media was so hungry they made up stories about Allman’s love children, his missing years, and even several forged copies of his memoirs. Devotion to Allman remained despite all logic. While Allman had become an overnight sensation, the fickle minds of the public clung to him well past his time. Other newsworthy items came along, but Allman had been a global phenomenon. It took much more to replace him. Nevertheless, no matter how difficult the effort, it happened.
It was a monotonous trip. The scenery changed, if you call the distant constellations scenery. Traveling at near light speed made communication hard. It made course corrections critical, but for Allman, it was just like walking in the park. He could not remember the last time he received a word from mission control but there was no need to worry. Even with the laser-aided transmitter, it would take as long to send a message as it had to reach the spot the message was sent from. A reply would take even longer because the ship stopped for no man. It barreled on into the void.
Every imaginable book, song, movie and television show was stored for Allman’s entertainment in the equivalent of the internet, his information database. While mission control messages were rare, there were constantly updates to Allman’s library. He shut off an electronic book and settled down. Something had been bugging him from quite some times. Where was his toothbrush? His joints felt stiffer. It was bound to happen, that he would age. Relatively speaking he was ancient by earth standards. Everyone that had wished him on his way was dead and gone by now. And Allman was starting to get remorseful. The things he could have done differently. The things he should have done. Why had he agreed to come on this trip?
He crossed his cabin to the navigational computer. His destination was the same. The computer corrected automatically. He glanced at the chronometers, one for his time, one for earths and then he saw it.
How could he have missed it all this time? It was sitting there plain as day on the console by the chronometers. As he reached for his toothbrush, he felt a sharp, painful prick on his finger. He pulled back his hand looking at his finger. A drop of blood formed so he sucked on his finger while he looked at the console closer.
There was no sign of anything that could have stuck him. He crouched closer and turned to view the toothbrush as it lay there from different angles. He touched the instrument panel and slowly inched his hand across the surface toward the brush.
Nothing impeded his hand’s progress. No cracks, no seams, no screws, no rivets, no small needles waiting to poke him, no trap doors to conceal his toothbrush from him yet he knew he didn’t put it there himself. As he got closer, he slowed even more. After all, he had time, right? Nowhere to go and nothing to do. Why did they send him again?
A sudden pain hit Allman’s temple. Was this the headache he had heard so much about but never experienced? His temples started throbbing. Forgetting the needle stab of a moment ago, he snatched the toothbrush up and headed for the database screen. He would brush his teeth when he found out if this pain was a headache or something else. He could almost feel the tartar and buildup on his teeth as he pulled up his information database. He would solve the mysterious toothbrush dilemma later, when he had the time.
The site traffic counters on Allman’s web pages had not increased in the seven years since Abe first looked. He had long since disabled his hits from increasing the counter to make it easier to see that, as he suspected, no one had looked since him either.
The schematic diagram of the Danegeld served as Abe’s computer background picture. It was an incomplete version of the picture. Fully one-third of the ship was reserved for a reason cloaked in the veil of classified documents. Discussions abounded on what it was when the initial layout was revealed. At that time, no one had access to any of the blueprints. Food storage, waste storage, fuel storage, and computer memory were the most standard and expected results. Abe had access to the blueprints; he had left open a back door into his old workstation that remained long enough for him to link to the data from home. In the comfort of his home, he searched it in depth.
No lines, conduits or ducts ran from the galley or the sanitary sewer system, into the area. They ran towards there, but turned just as they reached the bulkhead. The fuel lines were the same way. There was one wire running into the main computer bank, but as hard as he tried, Abe had been unable to trace the wire to where it went. There were two doors, but they were both the size of the walls that held them. This gave them the impression of not being a door, but rather just a wall from the perspective inside the ship. Previously, the supposition was that they were used to access and install whatever was hidden within. Until the last documents were released that was all the facts anyone could obtain. Other than Abe no one seemed to care, now.
Tonight Abe resumed the laborious task of re-tracing the wiring in the main computer bank. After his initial forays into the belly of the beast had proven unsuccessful, he started over, and removed each traced line from the schematic. This would force the wiring to reveal where it went from which he could determine its purpose.
Abe went about his task with an uneaten dinner and unopened bottle of wine resting beside his oversized monitors. Many millions of miles and multiple light years away single impulse, a beam of electricity, set into motion by the pinprick of Allman’s finger, passed along that single line of wiring, through insulation and into the hidden area. Processes that neither man was aware of had been set into motion. Back at his terminal, Allman satisfied himself that the pain he felt was indeed a headache.
He went to brush his teeth, but his mind was full of thoughts. Thoughts of mortality crept throughout his head. To be his age and have never experienced a headache, or a cold. How old was he, anyway? Thirty-eight? Forty? Did age matter at all on this mission? He was resolved to the fact that he would never again see earth, and never again see a human being, but would he ever again step foot on a planet? Would he make it to his final destination?
A strange sound came from behind the wall in the galley. Allman shifted to see what it was. When you spend as much time in a confined space as he had, you pretty much know what to expect from your surroundings. The course corrections, the waste recyclers, the oxygen rebreathers, even the monthly hard drive reboots required as yet another information overload came in from earth all made noises he was familiar with. There was even one spot on the ship where if you remove the access panel and put in your head at just the right position a sound can be heard that Allman theorized was the aether of space colliding with the hull of the Danegeld. But this sound was unlike each of those. This one he had not heard before.
Or was it? A feeling of déjà vu came over him as he floated to what he called the ceiling, and pushed himself over to the wall. He had long ago mastered the technique of bracing himself to keep from bumping into or floating away from the space in the ship he wanted to investigate. When you spend as much time as he had, it was easy. How long had it been again?
Pushing thoughts from his head, he carefully slid his hands along the wall, feeling the wall, waiting for the sound to return. It felt warm, unlike the other walls that formed the exterior of the ship. It felt more like a wall inside the Danegeld. Was this not an exterior wall? How could he spend such a large portion of his life looking at these same walls and not know what it covered? Allman began calculating and scanning the room. Back on earth, Abe Hannah was doing the same.
As he traced each wiring line of the schematic, Abe erased them from the copy of the drawing. Literally days of re-tracing had gone into the drawing he had in front of him. It was taking him as long to de-construct as it had taken to construct the panel. Perhaps longer, because those designers did not care where the wires lay, only where they went.
Another wasted line that ran to the sleeping quarters. It made no sense to run through this area of the ship, so far away from start and end of the components it connected. He erased it, and then blinked. Beneath the writing diagram, another symbol appeared. He could not quite make it out, but it looked to Abe like a door actuator. Could it be that the holistic engineers had a purpose in making this diagram so tangled? On the one hand it seemed odd to find any device buried under the wiring, but on the other, this would make perfect sense if whatever were hidden by the wall was so secretive that it was still hidden by classification after all these years.
In some ways, this was a verification of a long-held theory. The wall had to be a door. It simply did not make sense to be anything else. Of course, it made no sense to need a door there, but none of the fixtures was attached to this wall. Nothing seemed to be attached at all.
Bewildered, Allman floated back. Had he never noticed nothing was attached to that wall before? Every other wall had things attached to it whether it was an external wall or not. He floated through the ship verifying that. With this holistic approach, he began to realize that the layout was such that there may well be another room behind the wall. His mind was racing with the possibilities of a hidden room and what could be in it. Resuming his hands-on float approach, his mind began working overtime.
Life had been kind to Allman. Perhaps cruelly kind. However, he was aging. Slumber soon overcame him. Not sleep, slumber. Allman could awaken from sleep. But in this slumber, he missed the wall slide back as it revealed its contents.
A bleary-eyed Abe rubbed the back of his neck. The plate of food was gone, as was half the wine and all the wires from the diagram that covered what was definitely a door actuator. However, surrounding the actuator were many lines that stubbornly would not be removed easily. The overlapping conduits would need to be traced from their source or destination because they wove masterfully through the other conduits. Many innocuous lines would need to be removed before he could resume the task of finding an answer. In many ways, it appeared that the design had been predicated on hiding this very device. By tucking it underneath the surrounding wires its sources could be concealed. The overlapping wires had been easy to remove, because they had been deliberately placed there to cover the device. The enigma got bigger. Time to call it a night now, though. Tomorrow was not only another day, it was closer then Abe wanted. He collapsed on the couch and fell fast asleep.