88. In Castle Inter Lucus
Marty had long been confident of the castle’s label for it: Centralis Arbitrium Factorem. Inter Lucus’s marvelous technology had to be controlled by a computer, an alien computer that somehow coordinated the nanotechnology by which the castle grew and repaired itself, the water system, the power system (nuclear? solar?), interior temperature control, heating, lights, refrigeration, and so much more. But where was it? At first, Marty assumed the CPU would occupy a big room and consume lots of electricity. Counting steps in the corridors of the underground floors showed there was space on both levels for an extra room. A central core of both floors remained hidden. Marty often passed his hands over the walls, hoping to trigger a new door. He explained to Ora and Caelin as best he could what he expected to find, and they joined his search for the CPU. Twice they were rewarded, in that new doors presented access into the core—but only small parts of it. No appliances appeared in the new rooms, and Caelin used them to store vegetables; he pointed out to Marty that the doors to the new pantries appeared when the other storerooms were full. As time passed without discovery, Marty began to have doubts. Could Inter Lucus’s main computer be spread out—parallel processors hidden in nooks and crannies, packed into the very walls?
Marty followed Ora, rushing down the tower stairs, into the great hall, down to the kitchen, and further down to the lowest floor. They sprinted the length of two corridors, going first south and then west. At the end of the passage Alf, Mildgyd, and Agyfen were standing just outside an open door. To Marty’s surprise the new door did not open into the castle’s central core; rather, the new room lay straight ahead. The newly discovered space extended many feet beyond the west wall of the great hall. And when he got a look inside, Marty saw it also reached much further to the south than the interface wall. Whatever Centralis meant, it wasn’t “in the middle of the castle.”
Centralis Arbitrium Factorem was enormous, bigger than Marty had imagined. As everywhere in Inter Lucus, the room’s ceiling was at least twenty feet high, and Marty estimated the distance north to south and east to west at forty feet—sixteen hundred square feet! Yet most of the space was empty. Scattered around the room were six-sided ceramic blocks that resembled, at first glance, the appliance blocks that had risen from the floor in the kitchen, in the west wing, and in the laundry room. The things that marked this room as different hung from the ceiling. Above each hexagonal block—Marty counted eleven of them—a long ceramic stalactite reached down from the ceiling. The blocks, which Marty immediately conceived as growing out of the floor, were about five feet wide and varied in height. Many were like the appliances that had appeared in other rooms, from two to six feet tall. But two of the blocks were at least ten feet high. The ceramic tubes, which Marty could not help but think of as growing down from the ceiling, were also hexagonal, but only about four inches wide. At first glance, the tubes bespoke fragility, as if a light tap could break them. Marty reminded himself they were the product of alien technology. Stronger than titanium, for all I know.
Marty walked in, Ora and Alf close behind him. Mildgyd came in only a step, holding Agyfen’s hand; nan and child watched the exploration from the entrance.
Each block with its corresponding stalactite tube had a distinctive color: black, ash, brown, auburn, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and white. Marty, Ora, and Alf approached the red block and stalactite. The upper and lower parts did not touch. The gap between them was bridged by a shimmering filament, about four inches long, which pulsed intermittently with light. Marty immediately thought of fiber optics and imagined bursts of digitized data flowing through the glass strip. The other block/stalactite pairs also had glass connectors, most of them longer than the red block’s filament. Some were as much as a half-inch thick.
“My lord, what are the lights?” Ora nodded at the flashing filament. Following Marty’s example, neither Ora nor Alf touched the machinery.
“I am not sure, Ora. Remember, Inter Lucus was build by strangers, by creatures very different from us. So we can only guess. But my guess is that Alf indeed has found the CPU. This is where Inter Lucus thinks. The lights are like thoughts.”
Alf touched Marty’s elbow. His fingers still had tough scar tissue from his encounter with the lord’s knob in the summer. “If seepeeyou is like the castle’s head, shouldn’t it be in the east wing tower?” The boy brushed his white-blond hair back from his face as he looked up at Marty.
“Good question, Alf. Aye. If the strangers had built Inter Lucus like a person, we would expect to find the CPU in the tower. But perhaps a castle is more like a beehive. All the bees work to build, feed, and defend the hive, but the queen stays deep within. Inter Lucus has many parts that accomplish work: the interface wall, the kitchen, the west wing tools, the water supply, and so on. The CPU rules them all from deep within. In fact, I expected we would find it in the middle of the castle. What gave you the idea to look at the end of the corridor?”
“Last night I dreamed it.”
Ora and Marty responded as one. “You dreamed it?” According to Kenelm Ash, castles sometimes spoke to lords through dreams.
Alf’s blue eyes made a picture of innocence. “Aye, my lord. I dreamed I was in the great hall, not my bedroom. In my dream, I went down the stairs past the kitchen to the bottom floor. I walked the hall, turned the corner and walked to the end. Then I touched the wall and it opened. But today, the door opened before I touched it.”
“Have you told Rothulf about your dream, Alf?”
“No, my lord. I only told Mildgyd and Agyfen.”
Ora interjected, “My lord Martin…” But Marty cut her off with a raised palm.
Alf wore a solemn expression. “Rothulf would say this proves I am the true lord of Inter Lucus, wouldn’t he?”
Marty brushed his hair back. “I’m sure he would, Alf. So I don’t think you should tell him about the dream. He would try to convince you to bond with Inter Lucus, and depose me as lord.”
Alf looked at his fingers and trembled. “My lord, I don’t want to depose you.”
“I’m glad. But someday, Alf, I will die. A long time from now, I hope! When that happens, Inter Lucus and the people between the lakes will need a new lord. If it is true that you are descended from Thurwold Tirel, it may be that you will be that lord. It may be. We can’t know. But if it happens, you must prepare now to be a good lord.”
“Not like the lords in Caelin’s stories.” Alf’s voice was firm.
Marty laughed. “Indeed. Most of the lords in Caelin’s stories were narcissistic monsters.”
Alf mimicked the word. “My lord, what is narcissistic?”
“It means they care only for themselves and not for their people. If you ever become lord of Inter Lucus, Alf, please remember that God lets you be lord in order to help people.”
“Aye, my lord.”
Marty, Ora, and Alf resumed their exploration of Centralis Arbitrium Factorem. At first, Marty discerned no pattern in the placement of the block/stalactite pairs in the room. They weren’t arranged in a circle or square. Naturally, any three of them created a triangle, but Marty couldn’t see how the triangles thus described made any sense.
There was a rough order in the heights of the blocks; the taller ones tended to be further from the door, which was at the northeast corner of the room. The tallest block (thus the block with the shortest stalactite hanging above it) was the white one, and it stood nearest the southwest corner. But even this pattern was only a tendency; the block closest to the entry was only the second shortest.
Marty passed from block to block. Hexagonal—what does that mean? Eleven colors; surely that means something, but what? Ten subroutines show up on the master list, so… Maybe each block serves one subroutine, with one left over for… what? No matter what I learn about Inter Lucus, it seems I end up with more questions.
“My lord!” A new tone in Ora’s voice demanded attention. “Look at this!” She was pointing up at the violet block/stalactite combination. The second tallest block in the room, it stood about ten feet from the white block and very near the south wall. Marty immediately saw it: where there should have been a tube connecting block to stalactite there was only a space.
Alf said, “It’s broken, my lord!”
“It seems so.” Marty stepped closer and his shoe crunched on something underfoot. “My God!”
Ora and Alf turned their gaze from the machine to Marty. He pointed to the floor; bits of glass were lying about.
“The broken connection, my lord?”
“I think so, Ora. But it should not be here.”
Ora’s face showed puzzlement, then understanding. “Inter Lucus cleans up water, soil, and even broken pottery.”
“Aye. Why has it not cleaned up this glass?”
Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
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