Chapter Seven

Of course it would rain. Milo would have enjoyed a sunny afternoon nonetheless, but it really was too much to ask living in the Northwest. He tried to occupy his mind off during the long walk by thinking about the Game. As he wrestled through the technological challenges, he entered a different frame of reference, like an astronaut traveling near the speed of light. Relativity kicked in and time dilated; his surroundings blurred as his attention went inward.

He was still struggling with the evolution of the Game, that genetic algorithm approach he’d mentioned to Nate. He hadn’t programmed something like that before, but it couldn’t be that hard.

Just then, it clicked into place. Elegant, simple, and perfect. Artificial intelligence. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t pursued it earlier. Basically everything in the Game thus far were things that an AI would need to make decisions, to be able to choose between different possibilities. He was startled at how close he was to solving the problem, but had never known that he was working on it.

That moment of happiness multiplied when he caught sight of the cabin with the sun setting behind it. The thought of sleeping outside in these dark woods would have been a little too much outdoors for one day.

In front of him was shelter, food, and warmth. All thanks to Marvin’s watch and its inerrant arrow. Quite the fortuitous birthday present. But his mind turned towards more pressing demands. He needed to get dry, he needed to eat, and he needed a night without someone trying to mess with him. He was hopeful that this cabin, along with all its wonderful memories, would be the safe place that Lisa said it would be, whatever she was.

Off of the main road by almost a mile, the cabin was certainly secluded, and though it had land to spare, the structure itself couldn’t have been more than a thousand square feet. Constructed from trees felled on the property, it was a quintessential log cabin, mossy roof and all.

Milo wasn’t sure how long it had been here, but Marvin had talked about it being in the family for generations. He had also made the point that it was off the grid, apparently so old it was built before modern records. Milo just hoped that no one had followed him, so it could stay that way.

While Inu ran right up to the door and patiently waited, Milo carefully walked around the cabin, making sure it was undisturbed. There were certainly no signs of life that he could see, and judging from the intense spiderwebbing, he was pretty confident that no one had been here in a while. Heading to the side of the cabin with the cured firewood, he looked for the hidden key in a hunk of bark at the very bottom. He was relieved that Marvin hadn’t moved it. Of course, Marvin never changed anything. A creature of habit, to be sure.

He wanted to head inside, but he knew how this place worked. The solar panels were covered with pine needles and, if he didn’t take care of it now, he’d run out of power pretty quickly. So, he climbed the ladder next to the firewood and made his way to the roof. Finding the rope which Marvin left up there, Milo loosely tied it around his waist for safety. He proceeded to brush the needles off the solar panels with his shirt sleeves, and then carefully climbed back down.

Opening the heavy wooden door, Milo found the darkness of the cabin to be strangely reassuring, a hidden place where they couldn’t find him. Besides, there were so many good memories of Marvin here. Teaching him how to fish, how to make pancakes, and their delightful rituals of making s’mores by the heat of the wrought iron fireplace. This was their place — now Milo’s haven —but it didn’t feel right to be here without his old friend.

Flipping the switch next to the door, the comfortable cabin warmed with light. A large tan leather couch hid beneath piles of woolen throw blankets. A chandelier made from old filament lights, iron, and antlers hung above the couch, bestowing a rugged hunting lodge vibe. A modern wood burning fireplace had replaced the original — Milo noted with some sadness — and commanded the location which might have been reserved for a TV in a regular living room.

There was a bookshelf filled with esoteric books, a quick scan of which revealed old cloth-bound titles in a broad range of topics. They were Marvin’s favorites, of course, kept here so he could read them at his leisure. A small wooden writing desk occupied a corner nearby. It was mostly bare, with only a few fountain pens and scraps of paper. He took a quick peek in the kitchen and bedroom and found they were exactly the same as when he saw them last, though pleasantly stocked with fresh supplies.

Upon finishing his walk through, Milo saw Inu dash past him for the kitchen. The sound of scratching was followed shortly thereafter by Inu running back into the main room, holding a well-worn nylon chew toy in her teeth. Looking quite satisfied with herself, Inu curled up on the leather couch and proceeded to happily gnaw away.

Peeling off his drenched clothes, Milo walked in his underwear to the bedroom. Though the room was small, the oversized bed made it look downright Lilliputian. It was a rustic bed, headboard and frame hewn from light colored fir branches, knots and all.

After toweling off, Milo found some of Marvin’s pajamas to wear. He looked ridiculous. Not only were they sized for the Santa Claus-shaped Marvin, they were also covered in dots and swirls so as to resemble the Milky Way. But Milo didn’t care about any of that, because here in Marvin’s house, wearing his clothes, Milo felt at ease. Maybe even safe.

Meandering to the kitchen, he opened one of the camping meals from the cupboard. He rehydrated it with hot water, boiled on the stove, and ate it frantically. He might have burned his tongue in the process but it didn’t matter. He’d made it to the Cabin.

Then, he remembered the compass on his watch that showed him how to get here. As he looked again at the face, he saw it quickly count to one hundred and then display the words “OPEN SESAME”.

Almost immediately, a humming noise emanated from a “piece of art” over by the fireplace and a ripple moved across the small rug nearby. Milo rolled it back to reveal a luminescent white plastic ladder descending into a well-lit — perhaps even glowing — basement below. It couldn’t have been more striking of a contrast: a log cabin made of natural materials, and an entrance made of some sort of futuristic white plastic. When he put his weight on the ladder he could just tell that it was as strong as steel, so maybe it only looked like plastic. Milo whistled as he climbed down, Inu watching from above, sniffing at the air.

What he saw simultaneously excited him and filled him with a strange sense of déjà vu. The hallway that he was standing in appeared to continue in both directions curving away from him, like he was standing on the edge of a large circular corridor of which he could see only a small part. It was lit by some other material which ran along the ceiling and base of the wall. This other material glowed gently and shed light into the surrounding material, which responded with a similarly soft but blue light. Everything was flawless, without a seam anywhere high or low. This was incredible, but how on earth did Marvin build this? This sort of construction didn’t exist, this material didn’t exist, and these lights didn’t exist. Milo felt his head swim a little.

“COOL RIGHT?” his watch displayed.

Just then a doorway opened directly in front of him, emerging from a segment of the wall. He hadn’t even seen that there was an opening, but now he was looking into a large room. There could be hidden doors anywhere.

Inside was a lab of some kind, made with the same material as the rest of the place. There were machines of all sorts, glowing metallic computers and glassy displays, robotic arms that were big enough to lift cars, and racks of servers barely visible inside the semi-transparent walls. And there, in the corner, was a bed for a smallish dog.

Inu trotted over to the bed and curled up for another nap. This befuddled Milo, as he had no idea how she could have made it down that ladder, but given the unusual surroundings, it wasn’t the most puzzling thing.

For such a well-stocked lab, Milo thought it unusual to find only a single rolling chair in the whole place. Marvin must have never had guests down here. How lonely. In fact, Milo found the whole thing rather shocking. All this time, Marvin had hidden this lab and all of its treasures from him. It was tough to not feel slighted.

Looking around the room, Milo noticed a fancy microscope with a large computer display next to it. Sitting on the desk next to the microscope was a small cube, a good bit smaller than a Rubik’s cube. It was made of a clear glassy material.

“CUBE” appeared on his watch.

Milo walked over to the clear box and tried touching a few faces to get it to open. Eventually he must have touched the right one as it gently opened outwards, but only a barely perceptible amount.

As soon as it opened, the inner cube flashed with a frenetic display of light, and then the outer wall hissed shut. The interior danced as if it was illuminated by millions of miniature LEDs all blinking in crazy cascades, like a three dimensional version of what he had seen on the Lisp Machine. The display continued for a few seconds, and then coalesced into a pulsing brilliance at the center of the cube. The watch went dark.

There, in the very core of the cube, appeared the perfectly rendered form of a girl his own age. Brown hair in pigtails, peaceful eyes, and a smile undeterred by her apparent confinement, she seemed to light up the whole room. She wore a simple light blue summer dress and waved at him.

A perfectly matched voice said, “Hi Milo, I’m Lisa. It’s good to see you again.”