Arc looked up, blinking. “Another Glyche facility?! Oh, no! No, no, no, no!”
He promptly turned around and ran straight into a wall that had sprung up behind us. There was no sign of the cave other than the small amount of dirt from our footwear.
“What in Nocturnes is going on?” Arc said, more than a little panic in his voice.
I shook my head. “Calm down; the entrance probably just closed automatically behind us.”
“It's a hologram.” Terry said, knocking on the wall. The wall rippled slightly under his gauntlet-protected knuckles.
“If it's just a hologram, then we can get through!” Arc ran toward the wall again, as though expecting to pass through this time. I winced as he hit the wall at full speed and promptly fell flat on his back.
I sighed and shook my head. “Just because it's a hologram doesn't mean that it won't hurt, Arc.”
If nothing else, the pain seemed to calm Arc down enough to be sarcastic. “Gee, ya think?!”
As Terry and I started to help Arc to his feet, a chorus of loud clanking noises filled the corridor.
My hand on Glint's hilt, I said, “What was that?”
I didn't have to wonder about it long; the corridor began to shift and shake. In moments, the entire segment of tunnel was suddenly speeding along, spinning around like some kind of funhouse ride gone horribly wrong.
I tumbled around helplessly until years of training seemed to finally click into place. Kicking off from what was at the moment a wall, I managed to land in the center of the tunnel. I was able to stay on my feet by running full speed against the spin of the tunnel, but only barely.
Then, as suddenly as it started, the tunnel settled back into place.
I stood there, partially crouched and ready to throw myself back into motion should the tunnel start moving again. After a few moments, I heard the familiar clanking sound; no doubt docking mechanisms moving back into place.
Standing straight, my thoughts turned immediately to my friends. Terry lay on the ground beside me, apparently still stunned from the spinning corridor. Arc, however, was nowhere to be seen.
“Did you see where Arc ended up?” I asked as I helped Terry to his feet.
“I saw him get shunted down a side corridor.” Terry stumbled a little, but I caught him; whatever the armor was, it wasn't nearly as heavy as it looked.
He tried to push away, but I held him firm, saying, “Take a moment. It can't be easy with all that armor.”
“I'm fine.” Nevertheless, he let me help him stand until he regained his balance.
Once I was sure he wasn't about to fall over again, I said, “Come on, let's backtrack; he couldn't be too far.”
“I'm not so sure about that.” Terry glanced around. “Do you see the entrance anywhere nearby?”
Sure enough, there was no sign of the holographic wall. In fact, there was no sign of anything; the corridor seemed to go on endlessly in both directions.
Unperturbed, I said, “Come on; I think this is the way we came from. We'll backtrack and see if we can't find him.
We moved fairly quickly. There was no question of stealth at this point; If, and it was a very big if, the CIC of the facility didn't know we were there, it was only a matter of time.
It took us ten minutes to reach the first fork in the passageway, but the moment we started down the corridor, I heard the tell-tale clanks of docking mechanisms releasing.
“Get ready to run!” I called out to Terry, my body tensing in anticipation.
Moments later, the corridor began to spin; this time, however, I was ready for it. In mid-run, I watched as the segment of corridor that Terry and I were in slid and twisted through the maze of the Glyche facility.
This time, however, the corridor stopped us at the facility's hub room. Several skrievers were skittering around the area, but they didn't pay any attention to us.
I turned to see if Terry needed help, only to bump into him as he started walking forward. “Whoa!”
“Is everything okay, sir?” He asked.
“Just making sure you were on your feet.”
“I am a member of the Royal Guard, sir.”
“I can see that.” I said, impressed; Terry may have seemed a bit nervous before, but he was handling himself admirably under pressure.
I approached one of the hub computers. The computer activated at my approach. There was only one word on the screen, but it was simple enough to figure out.
I set my PIM hand in the inset next to the screen. The PIM came back to life immediately.
“Identified as Jimmy Olsen Sakamota. Status: Inheritor of the Saybaro Facility.”
A blue light shot from the console, presumably some kind of scan. After a few moments, the light faded.
“No corruption detected. Please proceed to the Central Core, Inheritor Sakamota.”
Terry said, “Shouldn't we ask it about Arc?”
“That would be nice,” I said as the runes on the corridor to the Central Core lit up, “But the keyboard's written in Glyche. The PIM's on, so I can probably access some basic functionality, but I'd need more than that to access sensors.”
“Hang on; why did the screen display text in Common?”
I pointed at a nearby surveillance orb that was pointed straight at us. “The CIC's been listening in. Don't worry; when we reach the Core, I'll ask the facility CIC directly.”
“If it's friendly.”
“If it's willing to let us in the Central Core, I think it's safe to say it's friendly.”
“If you say so, sir.”
I had barely pulled my hand back when something hit the far wall of the Hub with a loud 'clang'.
We spun around, weapons at the ready, but there was nothing there. There was a strange dent on the wall, but no sign of what made it.
“That didn't sound like one of the corridor clamps.” Terry said, his plasma rifle pointed straight at the dent.
Something hit the wall again, making the dent even larger. It was then I realized that the dent was inward; something was hitting the wall from outside the tunnels.
“Something's trying to break in?” I didn't want to meet anything that could tear through metal walls.
All of the skrievers in the room coiled into balls. Before I could marvel at this, the metal orbs shot down the corridor to the Central Core.
I didn't need any other incentive. Smacking Terry in the shoulder plate, I said, “Come on!”
The moment we set foot in the corridor, it started moving again. This time, however, instead of spinning us about, the segment we were in constricted slightly and slid smoothly down the corridor while bulkheads slammed shut behind us.
“Whew!” Terry slung his weapon again. “What the heck was that?”
I shook the idea from my head; there wasn't enough information to guess. The corridor stopped moving just short of the door to the Central Core. As we stepped out of the corridor, several more bulkheads slammed shut behind us.
Trading a worried glance with Terry, I held my PIM out to the door and activated the basic opening program. I tensed as the door scraped open, but fortunately nothing jumped out at us. Still, we let the skrievers roll through first just to be sure.
The Core was fully active, though the concentric rings were moving in the same way as Bethany's did when she was anxious about something. It might have been coincidence, but it still left me feeling uneasy.
As we approached, a blue light encompassed Terry and lifted him from the ground.
“Stop!” I shouted, looking around for some way to deactivate the field, “Terry's with me!”
A holographic image of a young girl appeared directly in front of Terry. Her appearance was much younger than that of Bethany; she looked twelve years old at the most. Still, she was a Core Intelligence Construct, which meant she was probably just as old (if not older) than Bethany.
“Your friend?” She asked, her voice much older than her appearance. It was more than a little offsetting.
I recovered quickly and bowed my head in respect. “Yes ma'am. I'll vouch for him. Please release him.”
She stared at his suspended form for a long moment. After a few moments, she started talking as though the two were conversing.
“Yes, I can see you. I understand, but what's with the armor? Oh, I see. Don't worry, I won't.”
After a few minutes of this, the blue light set Terry back on the ground and vanished.
Terry let out a trembling breath. I put a hand on his shoulder, asking, “Are you okay?”
“Y-yeah.” He coughed and said, “I mean, yes sir. Alaina was just making sure I wasn't corrupted.”
I turned to the hologram of the little girl. “Alaina?”
She curtseyed. “CIC Alaina Grace of the Glyche. Pleased to meet you.”
I bowed my head respectfully. “Jimmy Olsen Sakamota of the Saybaro, though I'm sure you already know that. We came here with another Galden.”
She giggled, throwing me off track. “It's nothing. Please, continue.”
“We came here with another Galden, but we lost him when the tunnels moved.”
“I'm sorry about all the moving tunnels, but an outside threat is attempting to force its way into this facility. I believe you witnessed its attempt to circumvent my security?”
“What is it?” Terry asked. “What could punch through a solid metal wall like that?'
She closed her eyes. “A core unit … a rogue core unit, to be precise. I can't say for sure if it's corrupted, or has been similarly reprogrammed, but it is definitely a threat.”
“It couldn't be Mick.” I said, ignoring the horror I felt at the possibility of a corrupted core unit, “Bethany said he was incorruptible.”
“I don't think it's your friend.” She told him, her glowing hand patting his PIM reassuringly. “Core units have a built in signature that indicates where each was built. None of my brothers or sisters in Wenapaj made the rogue, of that I am certain.”
I let out a sigh of relief. “That's a relief. I don't suppose you can locate Mick? We need to find Arc as well.”
“From what I can tell, the rogue is the only core unit inside this facility. As for your friend with the implausible sword, I moved him near the Tech Labs.”
I asked, “Can you bring him here?”
“Teleporters are automatically cut off when the facility is under alert, I'm afraid.”
“Hmm.” I scratched my chin. “Can we talk to him?”
“Oh, that's easy.” She drew a perfect octagon in the air with the tip of her finger. Moments later, an image of Arc appeared in the octagon. He was glancing around wildly with a look of absolute terror on his face.
After receiving a nod from Alaina, I said, “Arc, can you hear me?”
Arc spun around, his massive sword slicing through the air behind him. “Who said that?”
“It's me, Jimmy. I'm here with Terry in the Central Core of the facility.”
His face paled. “Oh no! They got both of you! I'm dead, I am so dead!”
Rolling my eyes, I said, “Relax, Arc; No one's got anyone, and no one is dead. This facility is uncorrupted … for the moment; we're here with the CIC, Alaina.”
“Nice to meet you.” She said politely.
“Listen, Arc.” I said, “I don't want to scare you, but there is a rogue core unit in the facility.”
“I know, I saw it. It grabbed me, but I managed to get away. What are we going to do, Jimmy? I mean, is it corrupted?”
“We don't know. Look, you need to calm down.” I said, but it was clearly the wrong thing to say.
“Calm down?! You want me to calm down?! Do you know what rogue cores do to people when they catch them?”
“Tear them apart limb by limb?” Terry guessed.
I gave him a dirty look as Arc's panic reached a fever pitch. “Not my limbs! I need those to be a hero and marry the princess with the big gazongas!”
“Arc, it isn't going to tear off your limbs!” I said, suppressing the urge to sigh.
Alaina nodded in agreement. “It would probably infect him with transversion cells and make him a drone. He'd be far more useful as a corrupted bio-form with his arms and legs intact.”
“Okay, you're not helping!” I said to the CIC, but it was too late.
Now in a state of complete panic, Arc gibbered, “No! It's not fair! I don't want to be a techno-zombie! Please, Jimmy, you've got to help me! I'm too pretty to die!”
“By the Creator.” I said, “Get a grip, Arc!”
“That's easy for you to say! You're going to keep on living, you and your limbs and your non-corrupted body-”
“Arc, shut up. Alaina, can you do anything?”
She nodded “Stay where you are, Arc; I'm gonna move you to the Medical Bay. The rogue core probably won't bother you there.”
“Probably?” Arc's voice was almost nothing more than a terrified squeak.
“If it is corrupted, it will be much more interested in corrupting me, Arc.” She said in a soothing tone, “Besides, if it does come back, you can use the medical equipment to isolate and remove the transversion cells. It's not pleasant, but better than the alternative.”
“I-I don't know.” Arc said, his eyes darting around the corridor.
“Would you rather stay near the Tech Labs?” I asked, not bothering to hide my impatience. “You know if it can't reach the Core, it'll probably head for the Tech Labs to try to hack into the Core from there.”
“Okay, okay! I'll go to the Medical Bay!” The screen vanished a moment later.
As Alaina lowered her hands, I asked, “What can we do?”
“Jimmy.” Terry said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Are you sure? I don't know if we can stop a rogue core unit on our own.”
“I can't just walk away from this; if the rogue is corrupted and it gets to the core, it could endanger everyone in Wenapaj, especially Alaina.”
“But …” Terry let out a sigh. “You're right. But can we actually bring it down?”
My eyes fell on Terry's rifle. Pointing to the plasma weapon, I asked Alaina, “Would that be enough?”
“Wha-?” Terry's hand touched the top handle of the heavy rifle. “Oh! Right!”
Alaina looked at the massive weapon with some amusement. “With a few light modifications, that plasma rifle could pierce the armor of a Dreadnaught. I'm sure it would be fine, but the rogue core is extremely fast and strong. Your friend is right; I can't ask you to endanger yourselves on my account.”
“It's our duty to help citizens in trouble, ma'am.” I said firmly. “Even artificial ones. Besides, as an Inheritor of the Glyche, I am obligated to provide assistance.”
Turning to Terry, I said, “This is going to be dangerous, and I really don't feel comfortable ordering you to take this risk, rank or no. I merely ask you let me borrow the rifle.”
Terry shook his head. “No sir; that won't be necessary, sir. I'm coming with you.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes sir.” He raised his rifle. “I won't let you face the rogue alone.”
Alaina looked long and hard at both of us before bowing her head in gratitude. “Thank you. Thank you both. I will do what I can to ensure victory. For now …”
One of the doors leading out of the Central Core opened, revealing the corridor beyond.
“… be careful.” She said.
“We will.” I promised.