We left Cristlyn in the Central Core and headed back to the Hub area. We spotted a few skrievers along the way; the little machines were busy repairing bits of the facility here and there, and paid us little mind.
When we reached the Hub, the plush doll shifted in my pocket. I quickly pulled him out.
He spat out a wad of lint and said, “Hey Jimmy. Everything all right?”
“For the moment, yes. Cristlyn asked us to check out the living quarters.”
“So I'm useful again! Help me up!”
I lifted the Dreamer doll to my shoulder, refraining from mentioning that Cristlyn had already given us directions.
He pointed us to the correct corridor. “That way!”
Everyone was quiet as we continued to the living quarters. After a few minutes, I realized it was because of One; they were all still looking at him with varied expressions. Mick looked curious, Casey looked like she wanted to pelt him with questions, and Terry seemed as suspicious as a man can with most of his face covered. Arc kept sneaking glances, as though he were interested, but didn't want to look like it.
Sighing, I said, “So, One; had any interesting assignments lately?”
He shook his head. “Nope. Luck and I are still technically on our honeymoon. We came here to make sure they didn't screw up 'Machinations' like they did the first movie. I asked her if she wanted to tag along, but I think she got some bad sushi at dinner last night. Might want to avoid the seafood if you stop at the Prinny Café later.”
“Food poisoning, huh? My sympathies.” Perking up a little, Casey said, “I'm surprised you just didn't remake the original, seeing how badly it was received. I still can't get over the fact that Wong was cut from the movie. He was such a whimsical character.”
“Yeah, he was a little upset too. Fortunately, we stopped him from doing anything drastic.”
“Like what?” Arc asked curiously.
“Like making every actor in Wukice look just like him … and no, I'm not kidding.”
Terry said, “I've always wondered; is he really crazy, or is it just an act?”
“Honestly, it's hard to tell. He's definitely eccentric, but just when you think he's nuts, sometimes he does something really smart. Of course, he'll think he's a teapot five minutes later. Sometimes he manages to ace an assignment in a way that surprises us all, sometimes he screws up so badly that it takes pretty much the whole Elsewhere Incorporate to bail him out. I'm not sure if he's really crazy, but he's definitely weird.” One chuckled and added, “Said the possessed doll.”
We reached the doors to the living quarters not too long after that. The doors opened at our approach, revealing a large entertainment room of sorts. There were several large viewing screens on the walls with couches and chairs set in front of them. Several tables had console screens on the top, currently inactive. Everything from the panels to the chairs to the metal floor seemed to be perfectly clean and ready for use. There were three additional passages leading out of the chamber, each marked with a sign in Glyche.
The reason became clear when a cleaner floated toward us, humming softly. Stopping in front of Mick, it sprayed some kind of cleaner in his face, which didn't seem to bother him. Producing a small cloth, it wiped Mick's face until it was clean and shining.
“Thank you.” Mick said, beaming.
The robot responded with a positive chirp and moved to Terry. Apparently mistaking him for a machine (which, on reflection, isn't particularly surprising), it sprayed him in the face as well. Terry swore loudly, swatting at the cleaner as the rest of us roared with laughter.
“Right.” I said, turning to the others. “Casey and Terry, take the passage on the …”
I stopped abruptly, feeling uncomfortable.
“What's wrong, sir?” asked Terry.
“I don't want you to think I'm trying to boss you around.” I said uncomfortably.
“You're the leader, sir. You're supposed to boss us around.” Terry looked at the others for support.
To my surprise, everyone nodded, even One.
Blushing, I said, “In that case, Casey, Terry, you check out the corridor on the right. Mick and Arc, you two take the left passage. One and I will take the passage across from the entrance. Cristlyn?”
One of the large displays activated, displaying the CIC's youthful face. “Yes, Jimmy?”
“If someone does run into trouble, can you let me and Mick know?”
“Certainly. For the record, I'm still not detecting anything suspicious that way. My guess is that this is where the skriever first entered my facility; still, if there's a hole, I'd like to know so I can plug it up.”
“Understood. Everyone, keep an eye for any strange holes or open vent covers. We'll meet back here in, say, an hour. Everyone okay with that?”
There were no complaints, so our group split into three and went our separate ways.
The passage straight across from the entryway soon branched sharply left and right, with a door right at the split point that Cristlyn identified as a lift. One took the corridor on the right, leaving the left for me.
The corridor was long, and curved ever-so-slightly to the right. The smooth walls were periodically broken on both sides by doorways marked with Glyche runes. The doors led to rooms obviously designed to house the long-gone Glyche.
They were nice, in an austere, generic way; whether made for a single occupant, a couple, or a family, each room had the same dull gray sheets on the beds, the same whitewood furniture, and the same computer panels. It all seemed rather boring, though the dark blue and extremely fluffy carpet was pleasant.
I exited one such room to see Arc and Mick walking toward me.
“Storage was a bust.” Arc said, sounding bored. “It looks like someone cleaned it out.”
“Looted?” I asked curiously.
Mick shook his head. “I don't think so. Nothing seems broken, or damaged; just empty. Have you found anything?”
“Nothing but empty quarters.” I said, jerking a thumb back at the room I had just exited. “I'm guessing One hasn't found anything either.”
“Oh, yes I have!” One said, coming not from the way I'd come, but the way I was heading.
“One?” I asked, kneeling down as the plush doll ran toward me. “Where did you come from?”
“Whole corridor just comes around in a massive circle. Most of it's just more rooms, but I found something else, something awesome!”
“Really?” Arc said, “What?”
“C'mon!” He took off running. I met Arc's questioning gaze and shrugged before following the tiny Dreamer doll.
We followed the little doll down the corridor to a door nearly twice the size of those leading into the quarters. The door opened as we drew near, but what lay beyond brought us to an immediate halt.
For a moment, I thought some sort of portal was at work; the ground outside the door was dirt and grass, a simple path leading from the doorway to the side of the lake. The sky was blue, the suns beamed down a comforting warmth (especially compared to the rather cold corridors of the facility), and the leaves of the trees rustled as a slight breeze blew through the air. It was as though the door led directly outside, despite the fact that we were far underground at that point.
“Impressive holography.” Mick said, startling me from my stunned state.
Remembering to breathe, I said, “Right. Of course; a hologram.”
“Not all of it.” One said. “Just the skybox.”
“Dude, who cares?” Arc said, pushing past me. “They've got a friggin lake!”
One chuckled as Arc ran ahead of us. “They used to call this kinda place a 'sun room'. Some Glyche never had a chance to leave the facility. Hell, some never really wanted to, especially after the first Corruption. Still, you need a little time in the sun to stay healthy and sane.”
“Indeed.” Mick said, “Even Glyche Star Cruisers had sun rooms, if my memories are accurate.”
By the time we reached the lake, Arc was already on his hands and knees and was splashing water on his face. I knelt beside the lake, and stared into the depths. The water was impeccably clean, as well as the white sand that lined the bottom of the lake. This was likely due to the small spherical blue machines whisking busily through the water. There were no signs of fish in the pool, but I reasoned that any aquatic life would have probably died and their remains cleaned away years ago.
Glancing at Mick, I asked, “Does the Saybaro have a sun room?”
“Most likely. Given that you get plenty of time outside and live in the mansion, I doubt Bethany ever thought it worth mentioning.”
I took my sandals off and let my tired feet dangle in the warm water. Mick and Arc followed suite a moment later. I was worried that Mick might short circuit or something, but he seemed fine. He even started humming happily to himself.
One sat down beside me. His tiny legs couldn't reach the water, but that was probably for the best; I'd hate to have to wring the water out of him later, and I'm sure he wouldn't care too much for it either.
“You know,” I said, “It's hard to understand why the Glyche abandoned all these facilities.”
“Really?” Mick asked, “How so?”
“It seems like these facilities were made to be self-sufficient. They didn't have to worry about any native interference, rooms like this would give them a feel of the outside, and the hydroponic and science labs could produce a steady supply of food. Despite all of this, the Glyche still abandoned all these facilities well after the Corruption ended. I just don't get why.”
“I hear ya.” Arc said, laying back against the grass-covered ground. “If I was an Inheritor, I don't think I'd ever go topside again. Well, except to pick up new games and movies, but hell; you could always just download those from the Weave.”
“You wouldn't download a floater, would you?” One said, a grin on his face.
“Sorry; old Earth joke. I dunno, Jimmy. I'm sure they had their reasons, but I was well gone by the time they abandoned Wenapaj. I know some went to Ronisgald, but beyond that, I've no idea what happened to them.”
After a few minutes, I rose, and shook the water from my feet. “Well, there's not much left in this area, and the hour's almost up. If you guys want to go meet up with Terry and Casey, I'll finish up here.”
“You sure you want to be alone?” One said, pushing himself to his feet.
I smiled at them. “I'll be fine. Go ahead; I'll catch up with you in a few.”
As they walked away, I could hear Mick ask, “So, One, what do you remember of Thomas Desygan?”
I walked around the pool again, wanting very much to jump in for a dip. Maybe later, I told myself.
A few of the remaining doors led to more bedrooms: one led to a large bathroom (which I was extremely grateful for, as it had been a while since I had relieved myself), and the final door led to a broom closet lined with dormant cleaners. Shutting the door so as not to disturb the resting machines, I headed back down the hallway to rejoin the others.
Upon reentering the main chamber, I heard shouting coming from the passage to my left … the corridor I'd sent Terry and Casey to investigate. Fearing the worse, I drew Glint and dashed through the corridor. It ended at a set of double doors that I promptly shoved open, Glint poised and ready to release another Force Edge.
Mick, Casey, Arc and Terry stopped laughing and stared at me, each holding a small carton of ice cream. I soon saw the cause of their amusement; One had apparently climbed over the side of his ice-cream and fallen into it head first.
Seeing me standing there, Glint in hand, sent them into another wave of laughter.
My cheeks burning, I returned Glint to its sheath. “Sorry, guys. I thought … oh, never mind.”
Sitting down between Mick and Terry, I grabbed One's frantically kicking legs and pulled him out of the carton. He shook his head, the ice cream shaking completely off, leaving him as clean as before. No worse for the wear, he smacked his lips. “Mmm. Say what you want about the Glyche, but their ice cream is top-notch.”
Terry pulled another container from a nearby fridge and tossed it to me. “There's a ton of it here, all perfectly fine. In fact, everything seems to be fine.”
“Cryogenic suspension.” Mick said knowledgably, “It keeps perishable foods fresh for an indefinite period of time. Much more efficient than normal freezing.” He glanced at me. “You know, we could set up a few of these in the mansion when we get back.”
Arc handed me a spoon and said, “Try some, man.”
I took a speculative bite. It was cookies and cream, my favorite.
“Mom and I used to make ice cream back home.” Casey commented as we ate.
“Really? Where's home?” I asked politely.
One perked up. “Ah, so you're from Alex's village! How's the old toymaker doing?”
Casey shrugged. “Fine, the last time I saw him. I think his wife had another kid on the way.”
“Oh? Another niece or nephew to tickle and tell stories to.” One said delightedly, “I'll have to stop by later and give my congratulations.”
Licking a drip of ice cream off my hand I asked, “How about you and Luck? You thinking of having any kids?”
“Not sure yet. I think we'd both like to, but there're so many questions. I mean, is the Elsewhere Mansion really a good place for a kid to grow up?”
Casey patted the doll on the head, saying, “I think you'd make a great father.”
He smiled. “So does Luck. God knows I'm willing, but …”
After a few moments of silence, I asked, “What's wrong, One?
“Nah,” he said, waving me off, “I don't want to lay my problems on you.”
Arc blew a raspberry at him. “That's what friends are for. Just tell us already.”
He sighed, and sat with his back against his ice cream container. “You're right, I suppose. Truth is, we've been trying ever since coming back to the Elsewhere Mansion, but we haven't had any luck yet, no pun intended. Luck thinks it might be because she's a sentient; they have pretty low birthrates due to their immortality, but I can't help but wonder if we're missing something. It's bothering both of us. Heck, we've considered checking with a fertility clinic.”
“Oh. Um …” Arc looked into his ice cream container, suddenly very interested in scraping out the last bits.
“Hang on,” Casey said, “Alex has kids. He has a lot of kids.”
“Right. One of them's the one who made this doll.” One said.
“So his wife's a Dreamer too?”
“Uh, no. She's sentient …” One stopped, no doubt catching Casey's point. “So that's not it.”
We were all quiet as One seemed to be thinking.
Coughing, I said, “Could it be the Elsewhere?”
“What?” One said, a surprised look on his plush face.
“Well, the Elsewhere's outside time and space. You can slow or even halt the flow of norm time in the Elsewhere Mansion, right? Well, if time's set to slow or stop, wouldn't that effect the growth of a fetus?”
One blinked his button eyes at me a few times.
“I mean,” I continued, “She could be pregnant right now, but only days or weeks into the pregnancy depending on how much time she actually spends in the Elsewhere. How much time have you spent in the mainstream since they started filming 'Machinations'?
“About four weeks.” He said, his plush face looking slightly dazed.
“It differs between species,” Casey said, flashing me a knowing look before turning her gaze to One, “but morning sickness tends to hit four to six weeks into a pregnancy. Are you sure she's suffering from food poisoning?”
“I …” Without another word, his doll form crumpled to the ground. The way its arms landed, it looked as though it were hugging the ice cream.
We all looked at each other and had a hearty laugh.
Raising my cup of ice cream, I said, “Here's to Narrator Number One, Solarion, Dreamer, and possibly a soon-to-be father!”
“Here, here!” Mick, Arc, Terry, and Casey said, raising their cups as well.