As we walked, I found myself telling One about my entire adventure. I told him everything from the moment Devon delivered the message from King Iniagus to the moment I realized I'd lost my friends. He seemed interested, and asked me a few questions about some minor details. I answered to the best of my ability and continued until I finally came to the end.
“So what do you think is going on?” I asked him. “With the Glyche, I mean?”
“In general, or this facility?”
“Both. This makes three facilities I've just happened to encounter in the last few months, and I'd bet Glint that we're going to find out that this facility also recently received a burst of power from the Yaevin Space Station.”
He shrugged. “Not sure. I was long gone by the time Thomas was doing his thing in Wenapaj. You mentioned the scans on Mick finished recently, right?”
“Right.” I said. “Apparently she'd been running them for thousands of years.”
“Well, maybe that's the connection; once they were sure he was truly incorruptible, they activated the other facilities to give him full functionality.”
“Maybe.” I said, though I'd be lying if I thought he was right. I wasn't even sure why I felt that way; it was a perfectly plausible explanation.
“As for this place, well, seeing as we haven't been attacked by an army of corrupted skrievers, I'm guessing that dead guy you told me about did something that the skrievers registered as a threat. This is a communications station; perhaps something he was sending contained a virus. Whether he knew it was there or not, he'd still register as a high-level threat to the skrievers, the poor bastard.
“That still seems a little extreme.” I said.
“Agreed.” One said, “Hopefully the CIC will have some answers for us.”
We eventually reached the end of the corridor. Unfortunately for us, the heavy security door leading to (hopefully) the Central Core was securely shut.
One rapped his hand against the metal door. To my surprise, it sounded as though he had knocked on it with a real hand, not the plush one of the doll. “Huh. Guess the CIC wasn't expecting us. Hold me up to the control panel and I'll see what I can do.”
I took the doll awkwardly in my hands and held it to the door's control panel. He tapped his soft felt fingers against the keypad faster than I could read. It was strange the way his fists seemed solid, the stitching only giving the appearance of fingers, yet when he needed to be more precise, the fingers would separate as needed. After a few minutes, the massive security doors slid open.
Rubbing his little hands together, One said, “Ha! I still got it! C'mon, Jimmy! The CIC awaits!”
The core was the usual giant orb with circling rings. Instead of a floor, however, a series of glowing blue holographic platforms encircled the core. I tested the floor gingerly before trusting it to hold my whole weight.
One leapt off my shoulder and started walking across the floor. “It's perfectly safe, Jimmy. Come on!”
As we approached the Core, I wondered what this CIC would look like. I'd only met CICs that appeared female. Was this normal, or would this one be male? Would he or she be as young as Alaina, or closer to Bethany's appeared age? Would they even look Galden? As we neared the Core, however, no one appeared.
“Hmm.” One rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “You'd think the CIC would be more forthcoming.”
Glancing around, I called out, “Hello? My name is Jimmy Olsen Sakamota, Inheritor of the Saybaro and acting Inheritor of the Natalya facility.”
There was no response.
Scratching my head, I asked One, “Could there be some kind of technical problem?”
One shook his head, saying, “I've never known a CIC to be completely unresponsive. The skrievers would fix any major problems.”
“Could this CIC not have a hologram emitter?”
“With all the other holographic technology here? Doubtful. Besides, every CIC has a hologram emitter. Old Desygan thought it help people associate the CICs as people. Even those with physical proxies still had holo-emitters as a backup.”
I caught movement the corner of my eye, but it turned out to just be flashing text on the screen of one of the consoles hovering around the core. I started to turn back to the core, when I realized I understood the message, as it was in Vintan Common, not Glyche. It said, “OVER HERE!”
“Hang on.” I scooped up the doll and carryied it over to the console.
As we drew near, the text vanished only to be replaced with the message, “Sorry about the unconventional welcome, but my personal holo-emitter's off-line. We only received power recently, and it wasn't exactly high-priority.”
“Thousands of years with zero maintenance can be a bit tough.” I said, remembering my first meeting with Bethany. Raising my PIM, I said, “I'm Jimmy Olsen Sakamota, Inheritor of the Saybaro.”
“The Saybaro? Then my sister is awake as well?”
“Alaina too. We ran into her a few weeks ago.”
“Really? That's wonderful! If we can resolve my current situation, I can link up with Yaevin and reestablish and communication link. It'll be so nice to speak to my dear sisters again.”
“Your current situation?” One said.
“Oh! I'm sorry. Things have been chaotic around here lately. I'm Cristlyn, CIC of the Barenz facility. I'm sorry I had to separate you from your friends, Jimmy, but I'm in a bit of a predicament right now, and seeing as you bypassed the wile at the entrance, I had to be sure none of you were corrupted.”
“Corrupted?” I said, alarmed. “What exactly is going on?”
“Perhaps it would be faster to show you.”
The screen changed to reveal an old lab. Inside was a rather battered-looking core unit. A single skriever was crawling over it, making repairs. It was an unusual model, with twin tails and only four legs.
“One skriever and a broken core unit?” I asked, raising an eyebrow at this.
A single skriever tried to sneak inside the room, this one a standard six-legged model. The skriever repairing the core unit quickly moved over the core unit's power core. Moments later, the core unit lifted an arm and blasted the intruding skriever into a pool of molten metal.
“Ah.” said One, nodding, “Corrupted skriever. Has it gotten to that core yet?”
The screen reverted to text. “Not yet. The core unit is a blank, but if the corrupted skriever finishes its repairs, it'll just merge itself with the soulstone.”
“Did you try just rushing it?” One asked.
“Yes, and I lost half of my skriever complement. The damn thing's smart; it took out most of my internal sensors while I was still powering up. If I hadn't shut access to the core before entering hibernation, it would've corrupted me for sure.”
“Skrievers are powered by the local core.” I said, scratching my head, “Can't you just shut off the power feed?”
“No, it's general use. Cutting power to a single skriever would be like you trying to cut off blood-flow to a single finger with the power of your mind. Besides, it's got enough battery power to stay active more than long enough to take over the core, at which point power won't be a problem.”
“So we gotta do things the old-fashioned way.” One hit his hands together in a way that might have been menacing if he hadn't been a plush doll. “All right, send us to-”
“Wait!” I said, “Sorry One, but I need to know if my friends are all right.”
The screen flashed. “Like I said, most of my internals are off-line, but I am getting vague bio-energy patterns in several areas.”
“Any chance you can teleport me close to any of them?” I asked.
“Well ... I suppose I could. The teleportation systems are online.”
“We really should take care of the skriever first.” One said, “This facility isn't corrupted, so your friends should be all right.”
“Actually,” I said, “I was thinking about Terry's plasma rifle. All we've got is a battered old katana and … well, a plush doll.”
One's plush cheeks turned red. “Ah. Good thinking, Jimmy.”
The screen changed, showing an overhead map of the facility.
“Each of the red dots represents a possible bio-form reading. Tap the screen where you want to go, but be careful; once you leave the core, you'll fall off my scanners again. I won't be able to bring you back if you run into trouble.”
I looked over the map. There were at least ten different red dots, which told me some were probably small animals or false readings.
Sighing, I glanced at One. “Any ideas?”
“We'll split up. We can find them faster if we work separately.”
I looked down at the little doll, not bothering to hide my incredulity. “And what exactly do you plan to do if you find any of them?”
“I'll just …” One's voice fell off as he caught my meaning. “Oh, right. They might not be very receptive to a talking plush toy. I guess I'm with you then.”
Turning back to the screen, I said, “Okay, if we've only got one shot at this, let's try and kill two birds with one stone. Which is the closest to the corrupted skriever?”
One of the red dots blipped. Nodding, I touched the point. There was a brief flash of light, followed by a loud “Eeeeeeek!”
“Casey!” I quickly grabbing her camera and turning it away before she accidentally blasted me. “Are you okay?”
“Jimmy!” She said, eyes wide. “How … where …?”
“The CIC teleported me here. She's friendly, but there is a situation-”
“I knew it! We're all going to die!”
One ran across my shoulders and put a felt hand over her mouth. “Oy! Calm down!”
Her eyes bugged, but no sound came out. She obviously wanted to scream, but her mouth vanished the moment it came into contact with One's plush hand, leaving nothing but a smooth expanse of skin with.
“Huh.” He said, looking at his hand. “I guess I'm not completely powerless in this body after all.”
“It's a long story. Don't worry; he's on our side.” I said quickly, “Now focus; we need to find Terry fast.”
After a moment, I sighed. “One?”
Nodding, he tapped the place where her mouth had been. Mouth restored, Casey took a deep, trembling breath and said, “We were separated about five minutes ago. I don't know what happened; he was behind me one moment and then he was gone!”
“Same thing happened to me.” I told her. “The corridors are holographic; Cristlyn changed the layout to separate us while she figured out if we were corrupted.”
“Jimmy?” asked the voice of a teenage girl from my PIM, startling me. “This is Cristlyn. Can you hear me?”
“Yeah, I'm here.” I said, “Surprised to hear your voice.”
“I linked to your PIM. Any Glyche CIC can create an audio link as long as you're within range, given enough time.”
“Strange. Alaina never used it.”
Cristlyn let out a sigh. “Yeah, that's because she's Alaina. Listen, the skriever is almost finished repairing the core unit. I've got what's left of my skriever compliment ready to attack, but it'll only serve as a distraction. You need to take it out quickly.”
“Is there another way into the lab?” One asked.
“Well, there's the air vents, but it's much too small for you to-”
“I got it.” One said, cracking knuckles he couldn't possibly have.
A nearby vent cover fell to the ground, making Casey and I jump. One leapt from my shoulder and slipped inside, giving us a thumbs up and a reassuring smile before disappearing into the vents.
Shaking my head, I said, “Okay, One's going through the vent.”
“Typical Dreamer. In that case, I'd like you and Casey to go and join the skrievers' assault. Don't leap into the room or anything; a blast from the core unit is as deadly to you as it is to a skriever, and I don't want to have to explain to Bethany why her Inheritor has a big hole in his chest.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” I said, “We'll be careful.”
The corridor changed instantly, leaving us one path to travel.
“You ready?” I asked Casey, drawing Glint.
“No.” she said. “But we still have to go, don't we?”
“I do.” I said, “But I'm not dragging you into a potentially hostile situation. I could use your help, but you can stay behind if you want. I won't blame you.”
She seemed to consider this for a few moments before finally shaking her head. “If there's even a chance I could help stop this from becoming a corruption, I'll go. Just … warn me if things are about to go bad, okay?”
“I will.” I promised, not mentioning that I thought we were well past bad already.
The corridor lead us into what looked to be the Tech Labs, where we saw about twenty skrievers milling about, joined by a series of small flying machines I didn't recognize.
“Cleaners.” Cristlyn said from my PIM. “They don't have any combat capabilities, but I thought they might make for a good distraction.”
“Good thinking.” I said as I took up position beside the door, my hands clasped around Glint's hilt. “Let's go.”
The skrievers ran into the room first, the cleaners buzzing by moments later. Taking a deep breath, I spun into the room, Glint slicing through the air until it hit the side of an empty core constructor. There was no sign of the corrupted skriever.
I let my blade fall to my side. The skrievers milled around, seemingly just as perplexed as Casey and me.
“What is your status, Jimmy?” Cristlyn asked, a touch of nervousness in her voice.
“There's nothing here.” I said, prodding the area around the Core pod with Glint. “No force field or Wile. This room's empty.”
“What? But I'm certain … no … that's not possible!”
“What's not possible?” I asked, trying to ignore the growing feeling of apprehension in my stomach.
“The security feed's been set to the wrong room! That little bastard messed with my security feeds! It was set on the wrong door!”
“Well, where's the right door?” Casey asked, her dark-skinned knuckles nearly white from her grip on her camera.
The door on the opposite side of the corridor buckled as something hit it hard enough to leave a fist-shaped impression on the metal. Casey let out a shriek and hurried into the empty room as I quickly moved to the door, skrievers and cleaners quickly following behind me.
“Skrievers, split up on either side of the door!” I said, “Cleaners, get ready to spray cleaning material in its eyes or something. Casey!”
She jumped slightly at the sound of her name. “Y-yes?”
“Stay there and take a shot at it as soon as it breaks through the door, then shut and lock your door. We'll take care of the rest.”
I quickly took up a position to the right of the door. Drawing Glint, I concentrated for all I was worth on drawing stream energy into the blade. Glint probably couldn't cut through the core unit's armor, but my Force Edge could give it one hell of a wallop.
The Core leapt through the torn hole in the door. A bright flash from the adjoining room caught it full in the face. It staggered backwards, hands over its eyes as the door opposite it slid shut with Casey inside.
Lifestream energy coursing over me, I spun through the doorway and swung Glint in a wide arc. The Force Edge exploded from the wake of my blade with enough force to push me back a good foot or two and hit the rogue core with enough force to slam the machine against the back wall.
The skrievers were swarming over it instantly, energy blades digging into the creature. Sensing an opportunity, I rushed forward and brought Glint down as hard as I could on the Core's exposed power core. I felt the crystalline core crack under the force of the blow.
A metal hand shot through the mound of skrievers, sending me flying clear out of the room and into Casey, who had unwisely decided to open the door to see what was going on.
As we both fell to the floor the core unit slowly got to its feet, scattering skrievers in all directions. I made a wild grab for Glint, but I needn't have bothered; the core unit ignored both of us and ran out of the room.
Hauling Casey to her feet, I said, “Cristlyn, the Core's heading your way. I'd suggest cutting off access.”
“I can't.” Cristlyn said, “I have to leave at least one passage to the Central Core. It's hardwired into my system, so even if I were corrupted, I'd have to leave a path open. My Inheritor could override that command, but-”
“-but you don't have an Inheritor.” I finished.
“Right. I can still change the corridors, though.”
“That'll stop it, right?” Casey said. “I mean, she can make it run in circles for eternity!”
“Not if the corrupted unit figures out what's going on. If it does, it'll override the hologram emitters and create a straight path to the core.”
“Can you at least shut the other security doors around the Central Core?” I asked.
“I'll try, but I'd appreciate it if you'd head this way as soon as you can; assuming all the locks work, I'd still need an Inheritor's approval to shut the final door.”
“We're heading your way now.” Nodding at Casey, I said, “Let's go.”
I started running down the corridor the rogue core had taken. After a few yards, I realized that Casey wasn't following me. I turned to see her sitting down against the wall.
The sad look in her face gave me pause. “What's wrong, Casey?”
She shook her head. “Go on without me, Jimmy. I'll just slow you down. Look at what just happened; I wasn't any help at all.”
“You distracted it long enough for me to have a shot. It's fine.”
“No, it's not, Jimmy!” She let out a sigh. “I'm … I'm a failure.”
“That's a bit harsh.” I said. “I wasn't expecting you to kill it with one blast.”
“It's the truth. No one will even look at my scripts; if it weren't for Max, I'd be in the outer city with the rest of the hopefuls. I can't fight or use magic, I can't write a screenplay that'll get considered; I can't even tell Maxis how I feel about him. Sometimes …” she bowed her head. “Sometimes I wonder if I should just head back home.”
Maybe it was the shock brought on by the death of the Tech, or maybe it was just built up stress. Whatever the cause, I could tell Casey had been carrying this inside for a while.
I sat down beside her. “I know how you feel.”
She looked at me, surprise in her eyes. “You do?”
“Yes, about a year after I was assigned to the Saybaro. When I first got there, I was sure I was there to prevent nothing less than a full-on Corruption. By that winter, however, I realized that I was stuck in an abandoned mansion. The air conditioning wasn't working, and my room was little more than a cot, the cardboard box I had brought with me, and a tiny portable heater that barely kept the room from completely freezing over. I thought about leaving every day.”
I smiled. “I packed my meager belongings, and was halfway across my bridge before I stopped myself. As a Lieutenant of the Ronisgald Security Force, my mother took on Blakcal Suon with a plasma rifle, and nearly was killed because of it. Her sense of duty was enough to make her take on a super villain, and there I was trying to run away from guarding a bridge in the middle of nowhere from absolutely nothing. It put things in perspective.”
“It's not about glory or respect; it's about doing your best. Even if you never succeed, even if you never think you accomplished anything or meaning, at least you'll have done it to the best of your ability.” Smiling at her, I added, “Besides, I'm sure your scripts are just fine. You'll get picked up one day. Trust me.”
After a few moments of silence, she smiled at me and said, “Thanks, Jimmy. Even if you don't mean it, it's nice to hear someone say it.”
After a moment's hesitation, she held out her hand. “Could you help me up? We've got a corrupted core unit to stop.”
“Well then. Let's go bag a core unit.”