The floor was white, vast, and gridded, the ceiling was black, suspended just seven feet or so from the floor, and the space was studded by low walls of ancient humming, reeling, chattering computers.
"What is this?" The man who asked the question was an androgynous looking twenty-year-old mathematician from somewhere deep eastern Europe by the name of Matvey Genadiev.
"Did you sign the non-disclosure agreement? Did he sign the non-disclosure agreement? Yes, let me see that, okay. That looks good. That's great." The second man, named Mr. Black was fidgety, always playing with a pen cap or a stress toy or his watch. He was short, pudgy, and pushing forty-seven. With them was a woman who kept her face expressionless except when it was time for her to leave her shift at the facility. She held a clipboard with the signed non-disclosure agreement. Her name was Magenta.
"What do you do here with all this?" asked Matvey.
"Ah yes," sighed Mr. Black as if working up his courage. "I have to get to it, don't I?" He chuckled nervously. "Well, this will blow your mind, Matvey. Can I call you Matvey? May I..."
"Yuh. Sure," said Matvey, squinting his eyes at the little man. "What is wrong?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all. Okay so, this is called the Predictor Room. We usually capitalized that, although we don't usually write it down, ha! Yeah. Yeah."
"So? Why the old reel to reel computers? This junk must be from the seventies. Maybe late sixties?"
Matvey slowly walked forward, inspecting the old equipment.
"Yeah, well, it is. Don't touch it. You'll be able to, but just not now."
Mr. Black mopped his brow with the back of his hand. Magenta walked up to Matvey, put her arm around his shoulder, then turned him to face Mr. Black.
"Focus," she said quietly. Matvey shivered.
"Yes, thank you, Magenta."
"What do you do here? Can you explain?" asked Matvey.
"Well, as you might guess, the Predictor Room makes predictions, and has been doing so since 1972. It is extremely accurate."
"What kind of predictions? Financial analysis?"
"A little bit of that, yes," said Mr. Black, nodding.
"Why won't you upgrade the equipment? Surely this would be better--"
"No!" shouted Mr. Black a little too loudly. "I mean no. This is, this untouchable. It is finely calibrated. It is...haha...in tune with the universe you could say."
Matvey blinked at him several times.
"Nonsense," he said finally. "Superstition."
"No, no it's not," said Magenta.
"I know that might seem ridiculous, but this room can predict anything."
"Then you can predict my answer to your offer of employment."
"Why do you think I'm sweating so much!?" yelled Mr. Black.
Matvey stepped back into Magenta's strong hands. He looked up at her.
"We knew what you would think," said Magenta calmly. "But we would hardly need to make a formal prediction about it. You are a man of science. A rational being, are you not?"
"Yes," said Matvey, shrugging out of her grip.
"We need you," said Mr. Black, wringing his hands.
"The Predictor Room is only accurate for a six month window. Completely, amazingly accurate. Predictions beyond that are complete gibberish," said Mr. Black waving his hands.
"We've looked into your work on fractals and we think you might be able to help us extend that window," said Magenta. "Actually, we know you will be able to extend that window."
Matvey looked at her with disdain.
"There's something different about you, isn't there? You're not like Mr. Black here, are you."
"No," said Magenta.
"You read the predictions," said Matvey, shaking his finger at her.
"That is correct," she said. "I use my discretion on whether or not to reveal the answers. Foreknowledge can be dangerous."
"Why is not dangerous to you?" asked Matvey.
"Because I don't care about anything. I am a nihilist."
"Really?" asked matvey, his hands on his hips. "Isn't that more of an affectation that angry teenagers assume?"
Magenta looked at him impassively.
"You can't insult her," said Mr. Black. "I mean, not that she finds it rude or anything, well it is, but insults just don't register with her."
"You are both ludicrous," said Matvey. "I need a cigarette."
"This is a non-smoking facility," said Magenta.
"I'm not quitting," said Matvey.
"Then you'll consider working on our problem?" asked Mr. Black.
"It will take less than six months to solve," said Matvey. "Isn't that right? I can waste six months of my life on this. Apply the rational to the irrational."
"Excellent!" said Mr. Black beaming and clapping once.
"The issue I have with this though, is whether it's the right thing to do, to extend this prediction window you talk about. What do you do with the predictions, anyway?"
Mr. Black looked down at his shoes.
"You've already agreed to help us," said Magenta.
"And I can't back out?" asked Matvey. "Have I no free will?"
"What do you think?" she said.
Matvey looked over her face, searching for any indication of emotion, any tell.
"Well, that's an interesting question..." Matvey smiled.