When you peer into the abyss, sometimes the abyss gazes back-Nietzsche
Every state institution that’s more than a couple years old has skeletons in the closet. Doors best left unopened. Topics avoided by mutual agreement. No exceptions. Ours was called the Spyglass.
That was the name with which we were acquainted during our orientation. We looked in on an empty room the size of a largish broom closet, furnished only with a table and the equipment that lay atop it. To say that it was large and unwieldy would’ve been an understatement: the sight before us wouldn’t have seemed out of place in an astronomy observatory—an installation that seemed like a bizarre combination of telescope, microscope and that slightly ominous device that optometrists use when you go for an eye test. It looked like something that had been cobbled together back in the old days of the Colossus and Manchester Mark IV; when computers were room-sized power-sucking monstrosities that ran on punch-cards and spools of paper. Not that we had an opportunity to take in more than a glimpse before the supervisor ushered us on.
While there was absolutely no reason for why it should have struck me so; that room which NASA dubbed the Spyglass seemed to rub me the wrong way. Something seemed…off…about it, for some reason. Perhaps nothing more than the innocuity of seeing something that big in such a small, out of the way area? Or perhaps the surprise of being confronted by a relic of technology that should’ve been rendered obsolete, or the fact that the room was always empty as far as l can recall, and that the equipment was never, EVER turned off.
Now admittedly in large corporations, that last is not really out of the ordinary. In my college years, the terminals in our computer labs and libraries were always powered on as far as l could recall. We’d log in and out of sessions, but never actually bothered shutting the damn things down. It’d have been an exercise in futility to do otherwise, with terminals that were in high demand. But the situation here was nothing of the sort: the Spyglass was always unmanned—its chrome and polymer casing lurking juuuuust in the range of my sightline like some manner of predator waiting to pounce. I even fancied I heard the whirrs and clicks of its ancient machinery; a buzzing distraction from the abstracts and articles I’d be trying to compose at my cubicle. There was no reason for it to be left on. In all my time at NASA I’d never once seen a single person even enter the room in which the Spyglass was housed, much less use it—not even the janitor or cleaning crews. You’d think that they’d have dismantled it for scrap long ago, or at least turned the power off since nobody was using it.
Curiouser and curiouser didn’t even BEGIN to describe it.
Months of subtle ferreting eventually shed more light on the matter. The Spyglass was exactly that—some manner of intermediary that connected to survey drones which fed it situational updates in real time. That didn’t surprise me. NASA does like its drones. It certainly had enough of them to do more than conduct exploratory surveys of Space; that’s for sure. I even said as much to La Belle Dame Sans Mercy—the lady in charge of our research department, during some corporate event or other.
You’d have thought I’d pulled a gun on her from the way she reacted. “Not here. Come with me,”
Now usually when a lady tells a gentleman to follower her, its normally a good thing. In this particular context, however, said lady also happened to be my boss—a fact that tempered any unrealistic assumptions I’d otherwise have made regarding this development. We left the drinks and bustle behind, ending up more or less in the vicinity of the closet that housed the Spyglass: surely not a coincidence.
“Do you know what this thing does?”
“Some kind of monitoring relay hooked up to a probe? Biggest relay I’ve ever seen though. With the kinda juice it must take to power this thing, I’m surprised NASA isn’t already expanding its portfolio elsewhere as well—say the ocean for example, or under the earth’s crust,”
“Why else do you think we’re trying to leave the planet so badly?”
There’s not much one can say if your boss drops this on you out of the blue. Noncommittal silence seemed the best bet.
“You have to sort of hunch over, squeeze one eye shut and position the other one up against the lens—”
“I’m aware of how telescopes work, ma’am,” that came out way more sarcastic than l’d intended.
“Not like this you aren’t,” she fished out a box of Camels and a lighter, introducing one to the other. It was the first time I’d ever seen her smoke, and also the last. “My own supervisor showed me the Spyglass twenty years ago, when I first came to work here and asked the same questions you did. He said that the drone its assigned to is currently situated in the deepest part of the Marinara Trench, and that the footage it captures is always being updated and recorded by the Spyglass here. He refused to say more, other than that once in a blue moon they send someone down here to peep through the Spyglass and transcribe what is collated. The person they choose is always a contract employee, and they always leave without a trace. Advised that the best thing to do would be to forget the Spyglass ever existed, put it out of sight and mind,”
“I notice you’re speaking of this person in the past tense,”
“He died,” the fingers that were holding the cigarette were shaking ever so slightly. “Couldn’t take his own advice, it seems. He looked in the Spyglass one day. Next thing we know, he’s conducting some impromptu surgery. Cut his throat,”
“What did he—”
She took a long drag. “What did he see? I don’t know. Not sure I want to know. Some things in this universe are best left alone. Go poking and prying where we aren’t wanted, sooner or later we regret it. Cigarette?”
That was five years ago. My supervisor is now dead: carbon monoxide poisoning, just went into her car one day and never came out. Investigations were conducted but the police are labelling it as suicide, no foul play is suspected. To this day I wonder…did curiosity get the better of her? Did she finally want to learn what was behind that little, inviting lens? See what Man was not supposed to see?
With every passing day the question grows stronger, and my own will weaker. I need to know. Have to know. What it is that my predecessor saw; and her predecessor glimpsed before her… And back, and back, and back.
One of these days the curiosity will get the better of me. I will find myself walking into that little closet. Bending down over that hulk of ominous machinery. Pressing my eye to the lens.
To whoever follows in my footsteps, I leave this woefully inadequate advice. The same advice my late supervisor told me; and her own senior told her.
Leave well enough alone. Your curiosity will be the death of you.
I really wish l could follow what I preach. I really do.