MLM – Chapter 35

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Lasko and Pira huddled together to find solutions for each of the three tasks that Leonard mentioned. The old man himself was “tired of talking” and wanted to finish settling in. Pira gave him an attending drone to be able to contact him whenever the two of them had questions, but secretly to [keep an eye on him, to make he’s not causing any trouble.]
Lasko himself went outside to meditate, looking at the bustling activity in their homestead; the drones scuttling back and forth with various materials, the automated machines continuing their manufacturing processes, Tunnel and Sharp playing hide and seek with the giant dog.
[So,] Pira started, [What are your big plans for finding this rat nest?]
Lasko shrugged. I didn’t have anything extravagant in mind. Can you just go down there and explore with your drones?
[Explore 125 cubic miles in one week? Even if I had enough drones and processing power to make that happen, the cost would be astronomical. The number of units that we would need for that project is too large, even for you.]
Then how about some kind of geographical scan? I know that even back in the 21st century, we had ways of mapping caves… X-ray? Radio waves?
[We have a map of the caves, for the most part. Leonard’s applied those techniques and more to create a 3D map that seems pretty reliable. The problem is that even with those technologies, there’s no way to pinpoint where the rats might be staying. Not to mention, any type of scanning that we attempt would have to be on a massive scale. The chances of us getting detected by an unwelcome 3rd party are rather large.]
A bit frustrated, Lasko shot out his next idea a bit impatiently, fully expecting a negative answer. Can’t we just capture a rat, tie it a leash, and then let it lead us back to the nest?
To his surprise, Pira took some time to ponder over that idea. [Hm… that is an interesting idea.]
Really? Do you think that will work?
[Of course that won’t work. But a variation of that premise might. If we attach some kind of tracker, we’ll have a tracer. One problem is that losing the signal is a definite possibility. If the tunnels are not linear, the total length of the tunnels could be much longer than 5 miles, not to mention any constant changes in direction would also dampen the signal.]
What if we attach some sort of trail blazing device that will leave markers for us at intervals? Lasko suggested more earnestly, trying to make himself useful again.
[Dumb idea.] Pira harshly rejected it. [If the rat’s way home takes him through a tunnel one mile long, but only the girth of an inner tube, are we going to drill our way through till we get to the nest? Even though there are times when that is unavoidable, we cannot practically take the same path as a rodent, even if that rodent is the same size as Tunnel. It would be incredibly unsafe for one. We could cause a cave-in, and then where would we be?]
Lasko was getting the feeling that Pira enjoyed lecturing Lasko, and especially liked showing how his ideas were not up to par.
[No, a signal of some sort is the only way that makes sense. That way we can keep our options open, taking alternative paths when available.]
Sooo, we’re good then on this task?
[No, we’re not good.] Pira snapped. [You always need a backup plan. Always. We also have to come up with a strategy for making our way back, in case our original point of entry is not reversible. But for now, what we have will suffice, and from our conversation, I got another idea that could prove extremely useful. We’ll revisit this.]
What’s your other idea? Lasko asked, curious.
[You’ll find out soon enough. Nobody likes a nosey neighbor.]
Lasko gave up. Pira said the most incomprehensible things sometimes.
[Now, to the outfitting task and the defensive ‘items.’ Any personal preferences?]
You don’t want my suggestions? I had plenty of ideas for…
[No need. This isn’t a problem like the last issue. The issue of the outfitting tasks and the transportation are just a matter of fulfilling our ‘requirements’. I don’t need to create something new, I just need to make sure that everything is on spec.]
Oh… Lasko was a bit disappointed. For some reason, he had been very excited about describing various pieces of weaponry.
[Don’t worry,] Pira said soothingly. [I’ll take care of you.]
Fine. You don’t have to patronize me. Lasko said. It was his turn to be grumpy. Just make sure that it’s light. I want to be able to move freely quickly while I’m down there. It should also have some sort of temperature control. I’d rather not deal with the heat. Wouldn’t be good to feel like I’m stifling while I’m 5 miles under the ground.
[Got it.] Pira said matter-of-factly. [I’ll work on the device transportation, and I’ll show it to you when I have a proto-type ready.]
Lasko sighed. Pira was taking care of all three components of their expedition. Construction of machines and weaponry, it seemed that her abilities were getting more and more impressive as time went on. He assumed that it would only become more apparently now that Pira could pick Leonard’s brain about the latest three hundred years.
[What are you going to do with Sharp and Tunnel? Surely you don’t plan on taking them too?] Pira said in a judgmental tone.
Lasko felt like as if he was getting the ‘bad father’ treatment. No, of course not. He thought defensively.
[Well then, you better figure out what you’ll be telling them, because from what I can tell, they’re not going to be happy getting abandoned here for a half week or so.]
They were totally fine leaving me alone for a couple days! Lasko argued.
[Is that so?] Pira reflected. [Something tells me that they won’t have the same reaction this time around.]
She was totally right.
“WHAT!?” Tunnel and Sharp exclaimed simultaneously.
Lasko had just told them that he, alongside with Pira and Leonard, were going on a trip underground for a prolonged period of time. He kept the parts about it being extremely dangerous out of it, but Sharp caught on right away.
“That’s rat territory.” Sharp said with narrowed eyes. “Why you going down there?”
“We need to go,” Lasko said. “Otherwise we’re going to run out of food.”
Tunnel and Sharp’s eyes gleamed a little bit.
“It’s a hunting trip?” Sharp said. “Should have said so. When do we go?” He pulled out his knives, inspecting their sharpness, looking eager. Tunnel had already started to drool.
Lasko was filled with a large amount of pity at that moment, tears came to his eyes. “No, it’s not a hunting trip. We’re not going down there to eat the rats, we’re going down there to find what the rats have been eating.”
Tunnel wrinkled his nose. “Why would we want to eat what the rats eat?”
Lasko was floored. If you said it like that… it was a bit difficult to explain.
“No… the… rat food… I mean the food that the rats eat is probably normal food. Rats eat everything.”
Now Sharp was in on it. “If rats eat everything, then why is it probably normal food?”
Lasko held out his hands, stopping the questions, giving him time to regroup his thoughts. “Let’s start over.”
“The rats have been living and growing underground for so long, it is likely that they have a food source down there, a food source that came from the past and is still working. Since we’re running out of food bars, we’re going down there to try to get more food for ourselves.”
At this point the kids had already lost interest in his explanation and had moved on.
“When do we go?” Sharp repeated his question.
“Err… you guys aren’t going to go. It’s just going to be me, Leonard, and Pira.”
There was silence for a while.
“Huh?” Tunnel didn’t understand, and he looked at Leonard strangely. Sharp had understood, and his trademark evil look had appeared.
“What are you trying to say?” Sharp said, obviously angry.
“Nothing, nothing,” Lasko said quickly, trying to appease Sharp before someone got hurt. Namely himself. “It’s just that we’re going underground, and there’s not a lot of room, so there’s no point in all of us going, right?” It sounded like a weak argument, even to himself.
Tunnel still didn’t understand, and tugged on Sharp’s sleeve, asking for an explanation. Sharp spit to the side.
“He thinks we’ll be baggage. He doesn’t think we can handle it. Even though we were the one taking care of this drooler for the longest time.”
A conflicted look appeared on Tunnel’s face. While Lasko had very subtlety taken the leadership role in the group, (mainly since the arrival of Pira), it was still a very recent development. To some degree, the kids still had the attitude of taking care of Lasko, and not the other way around.
Now this change in relationship had finally become apparent, where the decisions weren’t being made by them anymore. As a result, Tunnel suddenly became resistant.
“Rats? Those things are mean! Not safe.” Tunnel shook his head in refusal, denying Lasko permission to go.
Looking at the two kids staring at himself angrily, Lasko could sense that this moment was very critical in defining their relationship. What happened next would shape their interactions going forward.
The fear of rejection and unwillingness for conflict stirred together, and the pressure started to build, making Lasko start to sweat. In that moment, he was very uncomfortable, and didn’t know how to get them to agree peacefully. So he did what many beleaguered and relief seeking parents do in that situation.
Bribery.
“Pira said that she’ll make you two cool new weapons when we get back.”
As soon as he said it, he regretted it.
[Very Nice.] Pira said sarcastically, her scornful tone stinging.
Both boys’ eyes got big. “She did?”
“Yup.” Lasko lied through his teeth, hating himself as he said it.
“Wow!” The two kids looked at each other with immense excitement.
“Did she say what she’ll make us?” Sharp said eagerly. After seeing everything that Pira was capable of, there was no doubt in his mind that whatever he received would be awesome.
“Nope, she said that she wanted it to be a surprise.”
“I want a plasma gun!” “I want a missile launcher!”
The two boys looked around eagerly for Pira’s original body, and dashed over to it, wanting to make requests.
[I lose more respect for you every day.] Pira said scathingly. [And you consider yourself a caregiver.]
Do you need to be so hurtful? Lasko yelled internally. I’m not perfect. I can’t do everything right.
[If I don’t say it, you’d never know how badly you need to improve.] Pira said calmly, and with no regret.
Must be nice to be a ‘perfect’ machine. Never have to deal with hard decisions. Lasko said, purposefully trying to be hurtful.
Pira didn’t say anything back, which was very unlike her, and the two were silent for a while. Lasko felt some satisfaction from this, knowing that his retaliation had found its mark at the AI’s sensitive personality.
Lasko could hear the kids drilling the robot, and to his relief, it seemed like the AI was playing along with his lie. Relief washed over him, and gratefulness. And then regret and guilt followed. He knew that he had messed up, and had lashed out at the AI unjustly. He had deserved whatever she had said about him.
Hey, Pira. I’m sorry about what I said. I didn’t mean it.
[I know. I can read your thoughts, remember? I know that you didn’t believe that and that you were just trying to hurt me.]
Ouch. Why was Pira so good at pointing out his flaws?
Thanks for covering for me.
[We’re a team] Pira said simply. And they didn’t mention it anymore.

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