Lasko ran some more searches on Thomas Lasko, trying to find some more personal info, but he couldn’t narrow the results down to anything that was definitively him. Suddenly, a notification popped up on the screen.
External Stimulus detected, shutting down time-lapse synchronization.
Then Lasko heard Sharp voice right next to him. “You don’t waste any time, do you? Just looking around for more things to break!”
Lasko took off the headset, giving a sheepish look at Sharp and Tunnel who were standing in front of where he was sitting. Sharp looked like he had calmed down a little, even though he still looked upset, while Tunnel looked… jealous?
“Man, you got to use the vis-device already? Is it cool?” Tunnel worked the new word that he had learned.
Lasko looked down at the helmet, instantly remembering that the boys had wanted the device as much as he had. “Yeah, it’s really cool. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to use it for so long, I hope the power isn’t gone…”
Tunnel tilted his head. “You weren’t using it long…?”
Sharp nodded in agreement. “It’s only been about 15 minutes…”
What? Lasko could have sworn that he had been perusing the data for hours.
Sharp then realized something. “Oh… Whenever you use the visual-device, time slows down. It might feel like a long time, but actually it’s not.”
Lasko raised his eyebrows again. Of course something so inconceivably convenient was common-place in the future… He really needed to stop getting surprised by the technology in the future.
“Anyways, hurry up and get ready.”
“Ready for what?” Lasko asked.
“We’re headed back to Leonard’s to return the tools that broke. They’re brand new, and they shouldn’t have broken like that.” Sharp gave a long glance towards Lasko. “Even though it’s probably your fault, we still gotta try. We paid good units for those.”
Lasko nodded and stood up. “You’re right. Let’s go.” he said willingly.
“Well, hold on a little bit,” Sharp said, “We gotta empty our regulators.”
Lasko gave Sharp a blank look; he didn’t understand.
The young boy sighed. “The regulator controls the thetan level output, right?”
Lasko nodded in understanding. He got that so far.
Sharp continued. “Well, didn’t you ever wonder what it was doing with the energy while it is turned on?”
Lasko shook his head no. He honestly hadn’t.
“It’s storing up units. Every couple days we empty them out so that we don’t carry too much on us while we’re in town.” Sharp reached down to his waist, and flipped the milky white stone over.
As Lasko watched, a glowing blue orb formed from the stone, dropping into Sharp’s outstretched hand. The boy held it up for Lasko to see; a marble sized blue sphere.
So this is where Units come from. Lasko realized. The article failed to mention this process…
“I get about 13 Units every week or so.” He indicated Tunnel, who had flipped over his own regulator on his ring. “Tunnel gets maybe 8 units.”
The small boy proudly held up a somewhat smaller sphere. Lasko looked down at his own regulator, and Sharp laughed, a little nastily. “You probably ain’t gonna get any units, even if you charge it for a year.”
Tunnel chuckled at that as well. Both of the boys were obviously proud of their unit producing power; Lasko fought the urge to tell them that he probably had more thetan units than a hundred of little holdings kids combined.
I wonder if the regulator even works on me… he thought to himself. “Ok, I’ll go get the hover-cart,” Lasko said, trying to find a method to check his regulator secretly.
Sharp shook his head. “We don’t need it this time, we’re not going to be selling or buying anything.”
Good point. Lasko searched his mind, trying to find a reason to step out.
Luckily, Sharp and Tunnel started to dig, uncovering their secret stash, probably to stash or grab their recently acquired units. Lasko took the opportunity to slip outside, moving behind a nearby hill and breaking line-of-sight with the hut. He squatted in the dirt, eager to try the regulator. How did they do it again?
Lasko reached down and flipped over the stone. To his delight, a brightly glowing substance began to secrete from the stone. He watched as the gel-like substance grew in size, quickly surpassing Sharp’s results; but his excitement turned to panic when he realized that the orb showed no signs of stopping its growth.
Not knowing what to do, he grabbed the now fist-sized unit, separating it from the regulator. It easily detached, but before he could ease a sigh of relief, another brand-new sphere began to ooze out.
Lasko repeated the process twice more, before the regulator finally stopped exuding units. He was left with three large glowing spheres. He picked one up, examining it closely. Lasko had no idea how many units it was, but it was a lot bigger than Sharp’s, at least 10 times bigger, he estimated. Not only that, but the color and glow was much stronger; the blue looking more like a deep aquamarine. He wasn’t sure what that meant, if it meant anything at all. Maybe these things have a shelf-life? I’ve only been wearing it for about a day.
Then Lasko remembered what he had read from the article. “Stronger color” means more units. So maybe each orb is 150 to 200 units?” he guessed.
“Lasko?” He heard Tunnel cry out. His time had run out. Lasko hurriedly stuffed the orbs into his pockets. If discovered, he would have a difficult time explaining how three large balls of units appeared out of nowhere.
Lasko stood up from behind his cover, and waved at Tunnel, who was standing in the doorway. “You guys ready?”
“Yeah. What you doing over there?” Tunnel asked curiously. Lasko laughed awkwardly. “uh… nothing, nothing.” He kicked himself mentally for not being able to come up with a suitable excuse. Sharp appeared next to Tunnel.
“Let’s go.” The older boy shouldered an empty bag, and began walking towards the tower.
Lasko and Tunnel followed, and the three of them began the trek to the gate, the second time in two days.
Lasko was worried that the boys had picked up on his odd behavior. They didn’t seem to think anything was off; Lasko was extremely relieved. He didn’t want to lose their trust by introducing new complicated factors. What could be more complicated than trying to explain that he came from a thousand years in the past?
A few hours later, they arrived at Leonard’s giant warehouse. Leonard met them at the door this time, four floating robots above him, rubbing his hands together eagerly. “Back so soon? I didn’t expect you three for another few days at least.”
Sharp answered him with a scowl. “We might have been, if the tools that you gave us didn’t break the first time we used them.”
“What?” Leonard narrowed his eyes. “The tools I sold you were in in perfect condition.”
Sharp pulled out the now nonfunctioning tools. Leonard took one and examined the outside appearance. “Let’s see here…”
He turned and stepped into the darkness, headed to the back, where Leonard’s workshop and tools were. One floating light robot followed each of the visitors, drifting slightly behind them as Sharp, Tunnel, and Lasko followed Leonard further into the warehouse.
When they got to the rear of the building, Leonard went to a worktable, opening up one of the tools easily. “These DVG’s are all melted!” he said immediately, shocked. “What did you do to them?”
Sharp shot Lasko a dirty glance. “We were just using them normally-”
“Hold on a second,” Leonard said, comprehension dawning upon him, and the adult whirled around, pointing at Lasko.
Crap. Looks like he figured it out.
“The exact same thing happened to my immersion tank reader!”
Sharp interrupted quickly. “So you knew that this would happen? And you sold it to us anyway?”
Nice move, Sharp.
At that Leonard’s momentum halted. “Well, no…” The two began to argue, each trying to get the upper hand.
Tunnel ignored the bickering, and he wandered off towards the Catalog, which stood off to the side where they had left it the previous day. Lasko followed him, leaving the aggressive negotiating behind.
Tunnel hopped into the large chair, the screen instantly turning on. The boy began to browse, but the screen stopped almost instantly on an item. Curious, Lasko looked to see what it was. To his surprise, Tunnel was looking at a rotating 3d model of a large stuffed teddy bear.
They really do have everything in this thing. Lasko thought to himself.
Tunnel just sat there, staring at the rotating 3D image of the bear. “You like bears?” Lasko asked Tunnel. The small boy shrugged. “Then do you like stuffed animals?”
Tunnel hesitated, and then shook his head again. “It… makes me feel happy when I look at it. I remember having one long time ago.” he said simply.
Oh yeah. Lasko remembered. Tunnel used to have parents in the gate. He must have had a toy like this before… before he was abandoned.
“You should get it,” Lasko urged.
Tunnel shook his head again. “Nah, it’s OK. It’s too expensive. Besides, I can come and look at it whenever I want like this.”
But it’s not the same, Lasko wanted to say, but he bit off his words when he saw the price tag.
100 Units?! Why the heck did it cost so much?
Tunnel read Lasko’s facial expressions. “Leonard says it’s pricey because he’d have to use the mole-printer to make it.”
Tunnel’s face brightened up. “The Mole-Printer is really cool. You can make whatever you want with it. I’ve seen Leonard fire it up a couple times to make some old machine parts.”
At this moment, Leonard and Sharp came walking next to them, the two of them finally coming to an agreement. “So you’ll give us the money back, if we buy bigger tools.”
“Yeah, industrial tools are rated for higher temperatures, and the DVG’s shouldn’t melt, even if Mister Zero uses it.”
Sharp laughed. “Mister Zero. I like that.” He motioned Tunnel out of the chair. The image of the floating teddy bear disappeared as Tunnel left the seat, and Sharp climbed in.
Lasko’s heart twinged a little bit as he saw Tunnel watch the image disappear with a longing expression. He couldn’t help it, only Satan himself wouldn’t feel sorry for the kid. Putting his hand to his pocket, Lasko touched one of the hidden orbs in over the cloth. He was tempted to just whip one out and buy whatever Tunnel wanted; he had to remind himself that the timing wasn’t right. Who knew how telling them the truth would change things…
His hand brushed against another foreign object in his pocket. The data-chip. The one that PIRA gave him; the one that contained all of the maintenance information.
At the very least, maybe he could do something about PIRA… Stepping some distance away from the two shopping boys, Lasko caught Leonard’s eye meaningfully, giving a subtle motion with his head. Leonard raised his eyebrow, a bit puzzled, but walked over to him. Sharp and Tunnel didn’t notice a thing, the kids lively discussing which color tools that they should buy.
“What is it?” Leonard asked quietly. Lasko had already fished the data chip from his pocket; he handed it to Leonard.
“Do you know what this is?”
The old man took the rectangular chip, and held it up to the light. “It looks like an old, 1st generation data chip. Where’d you get this?”
Lasko ignored his question. “Can you read what’s on it?”
“Sure. I got an old data format converter in the back.” He walked towards the backroom, throwing out “we’ll be back” over his shoulder towards the boys, which was completely ignored.
In the backroom, Leonard uncovered a dusty machine, with a bunch of different wires and boxes attached to it. He sorted through the boxes, muttering to himself. “1st gen, 1st gen… here we go.” He picked out a box with several input slots on it. He tried the drive in a couple slots, before one finally fit, and Leonard then flipped a switch on the main machine. There was a brief hum and then a green indicator turned on.
“Glinda, load the results on the screen,” Leonard commanded the air.
The screen that they had used to x-ray Lasko’s body turned on, except instead of a view of Lasko’s internal organs, it now had a blueprint of a complicated humanoid figure, with various text and lists written along the sides. There were sections glowing in red, along with the figure’s arms and legs. It took Lasko a second to realize that this must be what PIRA looked like before she lost her limbs.
Leonard whistled. “Personal Robotic Assistant maintenance schematic? Version 2.04? This is a really old machine.”
“I found it back at the boys’ place, and it spit this drive out. Do you think you can fix it?”
Leonard was already shaking his head. “This is some ancient technology. This PIRA unit looks to be over 400 years old! You’d might be able to find some stuff like that out in the dumping field, but nobody will bring that stuff to me, it’s way too old. I’ve never even heard of the most of the parts on this maintenance list.”
“I see.” Lasko said slowly. As expected, repairing the robot wasn’t going to be so simple.
Leonard scratched his head, thinking hard. “Tell you what, here’s what I can do. I don’t have any of these parts, but I do have a couple first gen robotic multi-tools. It weren’t made for the PIRA machine, obviously, but at least you’ll be in the same generation. It’s old enough that you can probably find some driver software for it on the first data disk that I gave you. I’ll jerry-rig them to attach to the arm harness.”
Leonard went to a nearby wall cabinet and rooted around, pulling out some wires and connectors. He connected them all together, forming one long wire, and threw it to Lasko. “You’ll need this to connect from the visual-device to the PIRA.”
He winked at Lasko. “This’ll all cost you a quite a bit, you know. I assume it will be coming out of the thousand units that you stole from me.”
“Haha…” Lasko laughed nervously. He had previously realized that although Tunnel had technically won the bet, (since Lasko had in the end, not pulled a “number” from the level reader), but Leonard probably still wouldn’t be happy about finding out that Lasko did have levels after all. He would have to be very careful with his next few moves.
After peeking out the door to make sure Tunnel and Sharp were still shopping obliviously, Lasko pulled out one of the glowing blue orbs from his pocket. Leonard looked at it initially with an eager smile on his face, but then the greedy expression turned into confusion. He snatched it out of Lasko’s hands, and gazed into it.
Leonard whipped out his measuring tube and stuck it into the sphere.
“Hey,” Lasko protested weakly, but Leonard ignored him, looking at the number counter on the device. 15…78….125…290…460…621! 621 Units. Leonard rubbed his eyes warily, taking another look at the counter to be sure, then yanked the sphere off of the measuring tool and shook it in front of Lasko’s face wildly.
“Where’d you get this?” Leonard hissed, with a crazed look on his face. “This obviously isn’t from the thousand units I gave you. These units are way too dense, I’ve never seen units this blue before.”
Shoot. It was quite a bit more units than Lasko had expected. How would he explain away the units now?
“Uh…I found it with the PIRA unit.” Lasko said nervously.
Leonard blinked. “Really?”
“Yes.” Lasko couldn’t look him in the eye. He was starting to realize that Thomas Lasko was not a good liar.
“Wow. That there is one incredible find.” Leonard stepped back out of Lasko’s face, his face slowly relaxing as he gazed at the precious orb. He whistled and scratched his head. “You’re a very lucky man. I’ve heard of people finding units in the dumping fields before, but nothing like this. If I were you, I wouldn’t want to tell Sharp and Tunnel either.”
Lasko nodded and relaxed. Thankfully Leonard mistook Lasko’s dishonesty for guilt about hiding the units from Sharp and Tunnel.
Leonard began to calculate the units. “15 units for the cable, 40 units each for the multi-tools, service charge-”
Lasko stepped forward taking back the orb from Leonard’s hand.
“Leonard, you’re a proper business man, correct? Sharp tells me you have…’principles.'” Lasko asked.
“That’s right,” Leonard said hesitantly, but proudly. “I got my own honor code. What’s it to ya?”
“Along with these other things, I want to purchase something else from you.”
Leonard raised an eyebrow. “What would that be?”
“Your discretion,” Lasko said seriously. “I’ll pay you 100 units not to mention any of this to Tunnel and Sharp.”
Leonard’s eyes widened, then narrowed. “That’s a lot of units.” the old man slowly. “I’m obliged to say yes… But on one condition. You look me in the eye and swear that this isn’t hurting Tunnel and Sharp in any way. I’m fond of those two.”
Lasko vehemently shook his head. “No, I would never. Those kids saved my life. Now’s… just not the right time. That’s all, I swear.”
Leonard stared Leonard in the eyes for a full couple of seconds before nodding and shaking Lasko’s hand. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”
The older man eyed the orb. “Just so you know, even with the hundred units to keep my mouth shut, you still got a lot of units left…”
Lasko thought about it, and an idea popped into his head. “You know what? There is something else I want. That stuffed toy that Tunnel’s always looking at. I want one.”
Leonard looked at him oddly. “The animal? You sure?” The man thought about it. “How am I supposed make one now in the mole-printer without giving away the fact you bought it?”
Lasko thought carefully for a second. “You don’t have to make it now, just have it ready next time we come. You can tell him that somebody canceled an order or something.”
“OK. That might work. The boy will probably throw a fit though… I don’t really give anything away.”
Lasko grinned. “Well, they’ll have some time to get used to it. I’ll be telling them that you traded me the parts for a personal favor.”
Leonard shook his head in mock disapproval, and chuckled. “You’re destroying my reputation in a single day. Anything else you want? You’ve still got plenty units left. Something for Sharp maybe?”
This old man really knows how to push a sale. But he’s got a point, no reason to leave Sharp out.
“Discount the tools he’s buying today as much as you can without making him suspicious. The units leftover, put them on my account; I’ll spend the rest of them here later.” He tossed the entire orb to Leonard who caught it with both hands eagerly.
“Store credit? Sounds good to me.” Leonard examined the orb one more time, before kissing it and stowing it away. He eyed Leonard appraisingly. “Gotta tell ya, Mister Zero, you seem like a totally different person than the quiet guy yesterday.”
Lasko was just marveling at the same exact thing. When he had first woken up with no memories, Lasko felt fragile and unsure, overly dependent on Sharp and Tunnel. Now, he was making quite a few decisions for himself. It was amazing how some information and lots of money had positively influenced his confidence levels.
“Money changes a man.” Lasko joked.
Leonard’s eye’s widened again, and the old man nodded slowly, mentally reflecting on the phrase. “That’s a real clever saying. How’d you come up with it?”
Lasko froze. Wasn’t that just conventional 21st century proverb? He hastily gave a quick excuse.
“I think I read it in the data archives that you gave me.”
“Huh.” Leonard squinted his eyes and shrugged. “Yeah, there’s lots of interesting stuff in those old files. No time to go through all of it though.”
The wiry old man stretched and started walk out of the back room. “Better get you boys all geared up then.”