I stood there for a long time, frozen to the spot and completely alone in the Glyche facility. Despite having been around the Saybaro facility for months and having been involved in the recent mess in the Natalya facility, I couldn't help but feel a small note of panic; it was one thing to be lost with friends, quite another to be completely alone.
Backtracking was my first thought; surely, the others weren't far behind me, perhaps in the very spot I had last spoken to them. After walking a good fifteen minutes back the way I came, calling out for Terry, Arc, Mick, Casey, and even Terra to no avail, I came to an abrupt halt after finding my path led straight back to the Hub.
There had been no forks in the passage, no alternate paths I could take, and yet here I was once again, staring at the same circle of consoles. Had I gotten turned around? Was this perhaps another Hub? How would that work for a Glyche facility? It occurred to me that perhaps this facility had the same defense mechanism as the Natalya facility, but there had been no tell-tale clicks, no rotating corridors, nor any other hint that the corridors were moving.
Leaving a scratch on the wall, I walked back the way I had come. This time I could tell that something was wrong; the tunnel was more twisted than ever. In a matter of minutes, I was back in the Hub room. Even stranger, I was able to find the scratch … on a completely different corridor than the one I previously exited.
There wasn't much I could do. I knew I could find the others if I made it to the Central Core, but I couldn't even find my way there; every time I tried a tunnel, it invariably led me right back to the Hub again.
Eventually I just sat down against a nearby wall. Feeling something lumpy, I shifted and searched through my clothes until I removed the offending object; it was the plush doll of Narrator Number One I had picked up in Iniagusville.
It stared at me with its happy little smile as I held it in front of me. I smiled back, despite my situation.
“You wouldn't know the way to the Core Control, would you?” I asked him jokingly.
He scratched his head with a pudgy plush hand. “I dunno. Put me on the console and I'll see what I can do.”
With a yelp, I hurled the doll away and leapt to my feet, Glint in hand. The plush doll hit the wall and fell to the floor with a loud thump and an even louder, “Oww!”
I stared open-mouthed as the doll stood up and brushed itself off, a distinctly annoyed look on its stitched face. It put its tiny hands on the hips of its blue jean shorts and glared at me. “Geez, Jimmy! Nervous much?”
“Who … what …” I stammered.
The doll rolled its eyes. “Oh, come on! You didn't forget me already, did you? It's only been a day.”
“One?” I said, raising an eyebrow at the toy. “Narrator Number One?”
He thumped his chest. “In the flesh. Well, in the plush.”
I had seen some strange things before, but this was … well, this was certainly one of them. I knew that it was definitely within One's power to do this sort of thing, but kneeling on the floor to converse with a doll possessed by one of the most famous members of the Elsewhere Incorporate was definitely an unusual experience.
“I know this is a bit weird,” said One, glancing with bemused interest at his hands, “But it seemed as good a way as any to help you out while I'm busy with the whole movie thing. Seeing as you had one of Maya's dolls-”
“Yeah, I recognize her work. Out of curiosity, what did she look like when she gave you the doll?”
“Vuestan.” I said, thinking back to the toymaker in Iniagusville.
“Eh, she's probably just matching Jeronem now that they're married. You've heard of Jeronem Thistlethorn, right?”
“You mean Seed Thistlethorn of the Muonsol Center of Knowledge?”
“You got it. Well, his wife made these dolls as a special favor to Luck and me. After everything that happened, Luck wanted a way to keep in contact with me when we have separate assignments. I guess Maya just had some extra cloth from the two dolls she gave us.”
“Out of curiosity, what was the favor?” I asked.
One let out a chuckle. “Given that I'm talking to you, I'm guessing I'm doing the favor right now. Maya was always a bit funny like that, though to be fair, I did ask her to send any potential assignments my way.”
Shaking his head, he said, “Well, in any case, after your little stunt in the studios, I thought I'd listen in and give you a hand … if you're interested, of course.”
“Of course!” I said, slightly stunned at the offer. “I'll accept any help you're willing to give, but …” I sighed and said, “Why me? I'm sure there are more important people who need your help. I mean, I guard a bridge in the middle of nowhere!”
“And you're a knight, and a Sleeper. Oh, and a potential hero, don't forget that you're a potential hero.”
I waved my hand dismissively. “The knight and hero titles were from an idiot, and you're the one who said I was a Sleeper.”
“Fair enough.” He said. “Well, then consider this me repaying the Sakamota line for the help your mother and father gave me years ago. Now, if you're done with trying to be modest, pick me up and let me take a look at those consoles.”
Feeling embarrassed, I picked him up and brought him to the consoles in the center of the hub. The moment his tiny stuffed feet hit the console, he was on his little hands and knees, tapping at the controls.
“My Glyche is a little rusty.” He said, “But this should just about do it.”
A thrum ran through the air that made me spin around. To my surprise, there were no corridors now. The Hub was just a room, no entry or exit.
“Crap.” One said, “Not a problem, just give me a second. Aaaaaand now!”
The auxiliary power generator rose up beneath the hub consoles. I looked at it for a moment before turning my attention back to One.
“All right, all right!” He said, tapping faster than ever. “Third time's the charm!”
Another thrum ran through the room. This time, however, there was one corridor leading out of the hub.
“Ha!” One said, wiping his plush hands. “See? Easy-peasy. Pick me up, and we'll go and have a chat with the CIC.”
“Are you sure this leads to the Central Core?” I said, picking up the plush doll and letting him climb onto my shoulder.
“Of course!” He said as he sat down, his tiny feet resting against my shoulder. “Well, either that or Central Plumbing. Or maybe Medical. Meh, it leads somewhere. We'll worry about the rest later.”
“But I …”
“Ooh! Is this real silk? Nice.” One ran his small hand over the cloth of my keikogi, seemingly ignoring me.
With a sigh, I said, “I don't suppose you have some Dreamer way of knowing if my friends are okay.”
“Let me think; small kid with JRPG protagonist written all over him, the dude wearing so much armor it's a wonder he doesn't need wheels to get around, Maxis's 'totally not-my-girlfriend', and the core unit with the hat?”
“That's them.” I said, smiling at his description of my friends. “I thought they were behind me, but the next thing I knew, they were gone. I tried to backtrack, but the corridors keep changing.”
To my relief, he chuckled. “Ah, right, the scrambler mechanism. The corridors shift when a threat is perceived. You friends probably just got stuck in a different corridor.”
“But I haven't heard the corridors moving around.”
One chuckled at this. “Run into one of those too, huh? I think I get your confusion, but this isn't one of those facilities. No, this one uses holograms and force emitters. Saw it in the Janeel facility, back in Rimstak. It takes a lot of power to keep 'em running, so you only saw them in the really important installations.”
“Of course.” I said, “That's why the corridors were different; if they were all holograms, they could be changed into Creator knows how many different configurations … but why? Why separate us? If it thought we were a threat, couldn't it just make the corridors solid, or fill with all sorts of traps to kill us?”
“Dude, it registers you as a possible threat, not an actual one … not yet, anyway. CIC's probably more curious than worried right now. Still, the CIC's not stupid; it's easier to deal with a group of intruders separately. Divide and conquer, man.”
“You aren't making me feel better.” I said.
He patted me on the head. “Don't worry; if the place was corrupted, the CIC would've sent skrievers here to pick you and your friends apart by now. The odds of you being the last are at least one in twenty.”
“Still not helping.”
“Ah, stop worrying and start walking! I'm sure corrupted or not, the CIC's waiting for us.”
“Or Central Plumbing.” I said with a grin. “Or Medical.”
“I'm almost positive I got it right this time.” One said, small circles of pink cloth appearing on his cheeks in what I realized was a blush. “At least eighty-percent sure. So let's go! Onward, to adventure!”
I couldn't help but chuckle at the sight of the small doll raising its hand to spur me onward. With a Dreamer-possessed doll on my shoulder, an old sword in my hand, and a prayer in my heart, I started down the corridor.