MYSTERIUM 2008, part 2: Gylippus

Posted by Ace on August 11th, 2008 filed in Mysterium 2008, Tales of the Interregnum

“This isn’t right,” says Gylippus tersely, scowling at the display.

I purse my lips noncommittally as we walk, without answering, and flip through the various small slips of white paper in my hands, trying to keep the ones we’ve already done separate from the ones we have left to do. As I am currently in possession of only three such slips in total, one would think this to be a simpler task than it is proving to be. Each slip has a twin set of eight-digit coordinates on it, and each set of coordinates is printed identically, differing from the other sets by only a digit or two.

Gyl stops abruptly, then rotates himself slowly through 360 degrees of facing, holding the grey GPS unit out in front of him like a communicator, studying the effect of the action upon it. His eyes never leave the display. “I’m losing north axis as I lose west axis,” he says. “But the sun is there,” he indicates, throwing a thin arm into the sky over the hotel roof, “and setting, which establishes that as west, or southwest.” He points back to the direction we were heading. “So this MUST be north.” He shakes his head in frustration at the impossibility of it. “It isn’t right.”

“Yup,” I say, glancing over his shoulder at the display. “I agree. Had the same problem.” In the distance behind him, I can see another team walking single-file along the edge of the parking lot, covering ground; the bright colors of their clothing pop against the green vegetation. “Is there any way we can ignore that consideration for the moment and still be able to generalize the effect our motion is having on the numbers?”

He takes his own turn not answering: sighs imperceptibly, or perhaps just makes the motion, then walks away in a new direction, refocusing his concentration, girding his loins.

Gylippus takes his name from the Spartan general Gylippus, who turned the tide against the Athenian invasion of Syracuse in the 5th century BCE. He is working on a Master’s degree in International Security, which provided he chooses to stay in the U.S is extremely comforting to me, as the thought of him being on some other country’s side is too horrible to contemplate. I met him for the first time down in the Cavern, when he attended some of our Amber Horizons Monday-night Open Houses. He tended to stand around in the Fountain Courtyard by the right imager, and to listen rather than speak, but when he did speak, it was always to say something very educated and incisive, and I flagged him quickly as somebody I wanted to follow up with. He royally pissed me off one night when he corrected me publicly for referring to Mount Olympus (which is in Greece) when I should have referred to Mount Olympia (in Washington state). I seethed for five minutes, and when I was done seething, I was left with the incontrovertible fact that he was correct, and I got over it.

I remembered none of that by the time we arrived at Alleghera, of course. At the con he was introduced to me as just another one of the people who Mesnab and Church99 had been bonding with in the chat rooms, a new face at dinner, and so I had the funny and pleasurable experience of arriving at my original conclusion about him all over again. Over the course of my life, I have had plenty of chances to deal with people who are younger than I am, or smarter than I am, or better-educated than I am, or more perceptive than I am. I have rarely been confronted, however, with the challenge of dealing with someone who is younger and smarter and better-educated AND more perceptive than I am, all at the same time- and that, to be sure, is Gyl. Watching him bring the mighty searchlight of his intellect to bear on the matter at hand is a joy to behold, more so because there is nothing on which he believes he cannot bring it to bear for the benefit of himself and those around him; that which he knows, he is confident in knowing, and that which he does not know, he acknowledges not knowing, and is determined to learn about, with deadly earnest. He is, in that sense, a kindred spirit: someone I can respect, who makes me remember when I believed that, too.

That kindred sense also allows me to understand and share his frustration when inevitably, the two of us find ourselves confronted with a situation where no amount of intelligence is of any apparent use- a fair description of our current activity. Were we down in the Cavern where we belong, we would be traversing the island of Ae’gura with palm-strapped quantum devices known as “KI”s, using them to locate positional markers in 3D space, and said markers would be responding with audio cues at a distance of 25 meters. Here in Alleghera, we are standing outside a hotel, using a single GPS unit to locate plastic coffee can lids painted to resemble such markers, and the lids make no noise at all. I am used to thinking of GPS units as precise, responsive devices, and perhaps they are, given the scales with which they must contend and the limitations of lightspeed. The unit Gyl is holding, however, holds its numbers constant when we are walking, then changes them while we are standing still, and does so in a fashion that gives only grudging regard to the direction we choose to move in, or to anything else we can determine.

There are three teams engaged in this pursuit. Ours comprises more members than just Gyl and myself, but we were dealt an early setback by the impromptu disappearance of Moiety Jane, resulting in a delayed start as we waited for her to return, and we have split up to try to compensate. We have not seen any of the other team members since, nor anyone else in close proximity to us– a less than auspicious omen.

Gylippus stops again halfway up a small grass rise, looking at the unit suspiciously. “What are the coordinates again?” he asks me.

I check a third time to make sure I have the right slip of paper and rattle off the numbers to him.

“That can’t be correct,” he replies, the tone of his voice somehow making it clear at once that he finds no fault with my recitation. “We’re moving cleanly along the east-west axis now, and the entire distance across the parking lot has been comprised within one to two seconds. To get a variation in minutes, we’d have to be, like-” He pauses for a bare split second to run the numbers in his head. “-Five miles that way.”

It doesn’t occur to me for a moment to doubt his math. But the road surrounding the hotel is only two lanes wide and unlined, and I can see wide paths wandering away between the buildings on the other side. Given that the accuracy of the positioner is dubious at best, an unexpected jump in the coordinate numbers on the other side of the road doesn’t seem out of the question. I say as much. “We shouldn’t have to go far to test the hypothesis,” I venture. He flips me the positioner gamely, willing to rule it out, and follows my lead. The two of us step with determination across the road, into the lot on the other side.

Behind the shield of the trees, between the road and the buildings, the path becomes gravel and skirts a chain link fence, wends out of sight. Piles of long steel pipes lie nearby, mottled brown and grey. The display on the positioner remains obdurately the same, then changes a single decimal place: a tenth of a second. I am acutely aware of the silence. “Nope,” I concede. “You’re right. Back.”

Gyl says nothing as we recross the road and return to the parking lot, either out of politeness, or because he’s still processing. I know the answer to my next question before I ask it, but still feel compelled to ask it for completeness’ sake. “Think it’s worth jumping in the ca-”

“No,” he says summarily, before I’m quite finished.

“Yeah,” I concur. “Didn’t think so.”

We amble back down the grassy rise and into the parking lot. I pause for a moment there, shielding my eyes from the westering sun. “It’s a typo, then,” I say firmly. “We’ve ruled everything else out.”

Gyl still doesn’t respond. He is eyeing the members of another team, a group of three women who are retreating from a particular clump of flowered shrubbery. “If the minutes number in that set of coordinates was the same as in the other sets,” he asks, over his shoulder, “where would that put us?”

I follow his eyeline, then raise the positioner, looking down at it. My eyebrows shoot up. “Very close to where we are,” I reply. I begin to meander in the direction of the flowered shrubs. “Closer,” I tell him, as he falls in beside me. “Closer…”

The display blinks and jumps two tenths of a second higher all at once, passing the target coordinate.

I stop. I back up, away from the shrubs, and it ticks the tenth of a second down, hitting the target number. “Here,” I say.

We look around. We are standing firmly, squarely in the middle of the hotel driveway, on flat concrete. The nearest object in any direction is 15 to 20 feet away.

We look at each other.

“Screw this,” I say, spinning on my heel and heading for the front door of the hotel.

He concurs.

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