The Seeker (Chapter 5)

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Chapter 5

The Choice

It had been almost two hours since Justin had left all that paper in Dave's drawer. Dave hadn't almost moved since: he sat down right after Justin left the office, and he started staring at the pen he had put aside a few minutes earlier. He spent more than a hour reviewing the night before, but he suddendly snapped out of it and remembered of Justin's list.

So he had done "some research". Then what? Nice to know that while his best friend was risking his life because of that stupid dare, Justin was sitting in front of a computer doing some research. He googled. Yeah of course, that's what Justin meant by "doing research". And then he printed that awful lot of pages, just because the company apparently grows free paper on a tree in the courtyard. What did he find that took so many pages to be written down?

The words of the director were still ringing in Dave's ears. All he had to do was to forget about that story for a while. Maybe if he could manage to distract himself for a few days then the horror of that night would fade in his memory. Maybe he could get back to everyday life, and let that vision melt in the shining sun. It seemed impossible to Dave; he felt like the feeling he had experienced so vividly would never go away, never let him live a normal life again. He felt that the next time he'd kiss his wife, the next time he'd hug his kids, or the next time he'd eat some good food, every single time he would be tormented by that terrible prophecy of frightening frenzy that tore his soul apart just a few hours earlier.

And then he realized the one thing he had unconsciously denied to himself. The true reason of his adventure was not the dare. He knew he was not Marty McFly, he couldn't be tricked into doing such a thing by calling him a chicken. No, in fact it was him who decided to go there, without any influence from whomever. And he decided to do so because he was wondering what would happen to him. He went there with a question that was not the one to ask the Holder. And that's why he grabbed the phone receiver on his desktop, dialed Justin's internal, and invited his friend into his office.

As soon as Justin sat down in front of Dave, he asked:

-- Who's next?

Dave looked puzzled.

-- What do you mean?

-- I mean, who are we gonna visit next time?

-- I don't know, you tell me!

-- Didn't you read the documentation?

-- That pile of paper? No way! You tell me what you found out!

-- Ok, I'll show you. Can I use your computer?

Dave invited him on his chair, and Justin opened a web browser.

-- See, Dave, -- he said, -- I've found this site: Here the stories about the 538 Holders are being collected.

Dave had been looking at the screen without saying a word. -- It's a wiki, Justin. Anyone can step in and write anything he wants.

Justin smiled as if he had been expecting that remark. -- True, -- he said. -- In fact, if I click on "Add page", type a number that has not been occupied yet, and write gibberish, it gets in! You see, now my non-existant Holder is in the website.

-- Well, they'll delete it, hopefully, because it's plain nonsense. But "they", whoever these guys are, wouldn't delete it if it was a well written story.

-- You're right, -- Justin went on. -- In fact I did this experiment yesterday, and now that page is gone. After a few hours, a staff member passed by and removed my vandalism. But please, look at this one instead.

Justin's fingers ran across the keyboard to type another address: The page loaded immediately; it was identical to the home page of the site they had just left.

-- Is this a mirror? -- Dave asked.

-- Not quite. In fact, it almost looks like the other one is the mirror, and this is the source.

Dave looked confused. Justin clicked on "Add page" and said, with the voice of who is packing a surprise: -- Let's repeat our little experiment.

In the form that opened up, Justin input the same information he had typed at the other site. As he submitted, though, a page showed up, saying "Your story has not been accepted." Justin stopped for a while, and waited for Dave's reaction.

After a few seconds, Dave commented, without taking his eyes off the screen.

-- Ok, so this site has a spam filter. It detected your random text and blocked it. -- He stopped for a second to look at Justin's smile, and then continued: -- ...but of course you have an answer for that. You've "done your research".

-- Exactly. I've taken some time to write the story of a Holder.

Dave put his hand on his friend's shoulder.

-- Wait a second. You're saying that, while I was facing death for your stupid dare, you were here making up horror stories?

-- Not really... not "here"... I was... at home... Anyway, you're losing focus. It may well be a spam filter, we said, but a plausible story would be ok, right? Let's try it here. I click "Add Page", submit my story, and...

As soon as Justin clicked the submit button, the same page as before appeared. Justin went on:

-- This site won't accept a story, but only THE story of each Holder. -- Dave's face looked confused; Justin continued. -- Look at the list: there are less stories here. Probably the ones on the .org site and not available here too have been made up. It would seem that you can only add your story here if it's real.

-- Probably this site is Object 538 of 538, -- said Dave, trying to break Justin's seriousness with a joke. -- They must never be hosted together. Neveeerrrrrrr!

Surprisingly, Justin didn't laugh at the joke. Dave couldn't help being knocked back at this reaction; it was one of the few times, maybe the first time, in all the years they had been knowing each other, when his old friend was rejecting a chance to kid around. Sure Justin had taken all this situation very seriously - and this was rare enough for Dave to consider what to do.

-- What would you think then, Justin? Is this site... magical, or what?

-- You see, if you ping it in order to get the IP address of the server... you get this one. -- Justin pointed at an IP number printed on screen.

-- Well, then?

-- Dave, see this for yourself. This IP address is the address of this computer. This very computer I'm typing on.

Dave didn't know what to say.

-- Justin, are you running this website from my own computer?

-- Dave, I've done this test on the computer in my office, and on my home computer. Every time, you get your current IP address.

-- And what would that mean?

Justin hesitated. -- I... I have no idea, Dave.

Thirty minutes later, Justin and Dave were sitting, in front of each other, browsing through the paper Justin had brought in earlier. It was the hard copy of all the Holders stories contained in the .cc site. There were little less than 200 stories, most of which were not longer than a page. Most were formulaic, which made it easier to browse through collecting only the important information.

After a while, Dave broke the silence, put the sheet he was reading aside and snorted. Justin stopped too, and looked at him.

-- This is stupid, Justin. All of these stories put the emphasis on how the Objects must not come together. And in most cases you go facing your death. I don't want to do this again.

Dave got off the chair, stood up and started walking in the office, slowly but nervously. He continued talking:

-- I'm 36 and the father of two. I have a lovely and beautiful wife, to which I already lied about tonight - and I lied for you! I'm not happy with what we're doing here, Justin. What are we trying to achieve? There is no point in visiting the Holders. The only ones who gain something from the Holders are the asylums, who can do their sick experiments on those derelicts who lose their minds going down there!

Justin was listening quietly. Dave went on rambling, and concluded:

-- I won't risk my life in the cove of a Holder again!

-- "Again", that's the point!, -- Justin interrupted as if he had been waiting for those exact words. -- Dave, you have been there, and you're here to tell about it! You're right, many have gone crazy, it's written in the story and you've witnessed it with your own eyes. But you have not! What if you were one of the few men who could gather all the knowledge about the Objects?

Dave's look got less angry. In a quiet voice, he said:

-- I'm not the Seeker. Neither I am A Seeker. I have survived meeting a Holder, that's all there is to it.

-- You'll survive them all, Dave! Why won't you at least try?

Dave's voice got louder again: -- Because I'm not here to risk my life for your stupid curiosity!

A few seconds followed; the two friends exchanged some meaningful stares; their conversation went on unspoken for a little while. Then, calmly, Justin announced:

-- Fine. I'll go then. On my own.

-- Justin, don't be stupid, -- said Dave in a friendly tone. -- You said it yourself, you would have probably broken the rules in the room of the Holder. You would risk too much.

-- Dave, I may be known for being irresponsible, but I know what I want to do, and right now I want to know more about this whole story! This very night, I'll be visiting... -- he said as his hands were rummaging through the paper, -- the Holder of the Negative!

-- Stop being silly! -- Dave tore the sheet away from Justin's hands. -- You will die!

-- I won't!

Another silent conversation took place in a few seconds between them. Then Dave roared:

-- Fine! I'll go visit another Holder! I will lie again to my own family, to go to another house of madness and visit another schizoid, but you have to promise that you won't leave your house tonight for no reason, got me!

-- I'll come with you.

-- You will NOT! And I choose where to go, ok?

Justing fell silent for a short moment, then murmured: -- Fine! You've won.

Dave gave him no look and searched through the paper on the desk.

-- Here it is, number 2, the Holder of the Beginning. Frigging sequential order, understood?

Justin didn't say a word. Dave folded the sheet in four and put it into his pocket; then he took his jacket and his handbag, stormed through the office as the workers looked at him with discretion, and entered his car. As soon as the Focus's engine was on, it roared as the car quickly left the building.

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