Chapter 14 - The Cylell Facility
When my sense of awareness returned, I found myself surrounded by light, a warmth at my side I recognized all too well.
“Shh. She’s asleep.”
My eyes flew open; I was lying against the tree in my courtyard. Terra’s sleeping form was nestled beside me. Unfortunately, I was standing at the bridge too. The warmth on my side was nothing more than the light of the suns hitting me between the bridge posts.
I felt jealous for a moment as I stared at Terra and the mental manifestation of my subconscious.
“Oh, come on, Jimmy!” He said, grinning at me. “You can’t be jealous; technically she’s my girlfriend too.”
“So you say.” I crossed my arms and asked, “So what is it now? Are you going to argue my relationship with Smokes?”
He chuckled appreciatively. “Guy’s a hoot, isn’t he? Nah, I wanna talk some more about Terra.”
“Seems like I said what needed to be said last time.”
“Ah, but you’ve had a lot more time with her since last time. Time in which your opinion has changed.”
I glared at him.
“Oh, fine.” He snapped his fingers; now it was the real me with Terra lying at my side and my subconscious on the bridge. “Now can we talk?”
I rubbed the soft fur on Terra’s arm. She snuggled against me, a small smile gracing her face as she continued dreaming.
“I still love her.”
“Yes, we do. Do you think she feels the same?”
“I … I’m sure she does.”
“Are you?” He walked toward me, tapping Glint’s battered sheath against the posts of the bridge as he passed. “You know what we feel is more than some genetic bond. Does she feel the same way, though?”
“She’s still with me, isn’t she?”
“Yes, but she doesn’t seem to have much faith in us.”
I bristled at the insinuation. “She’s just worried about me.”
“And with good reason. We certainly find more than our fair share of trouble. Fortunately, we’ve got mad skills to keep us safe.”
“And more than our fair share of dumb luck.” I added.
My other chuckled. “True. And she’s a Shadow. They tend to work alone. I suppose it’s hardly surprising that now that she’s part of the team, she’s a bit protective of you.”
Other Jimmy crossed his arms and looked at me expectantly. “But ...?”
I couldn’t help but sigh. “But you’re right. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a little …”
I let out a sigh. “Belittled. I took out a dragon on foot, but she acts like I need a nursemaid.”
“Ah, but don’t you enjoy that just a little?”
I frowned at my other self. “No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do. You like having someone who worries about you, just like Uncle Ann.”
“Uncle Ann.” I repeated in a flat tone.
“She worried and fussed over us after our parents died. I know we felt guilty when we left Rimstak to get some freedom regardless of her feelings. Be honest; when we were left at the Saybaro for so long, we felt like we deserved it.”
I bowed my head but said nothing. We both already knew the answer.
Other Jimmy sat beside Terra and me. “Ever consider how things might have been different? If we stayed in Rimstak, I mean.”
“Sometimes.” I admitted. “I was good with propulsion systems; maybe I’d be designing floaters and chasers. Heck, maybe I’d have put something together and run the Glyche Circuit.”
“And Uncle Ann?”
“What about her?”
He gave me a knowing look. “Do you think you’d have become one of her suitors?”
“What?! She’s family, for Creator’s sake!”
“Not biologically. The age difference doesn’t mean anything to a Rimstakken. Besides, you’ve already admitted that you think she’s pretty.”
“That’s … that’s not the same thing!” I said. “Besides, she’s more like my big sister. I just can’t think of her like that.”
“Easy there, Jim. I’m just teasing you; we could spend days talking about things that might have happened.” His smile faded into a more serious expression. “Ann was good to us; she was practically a kid herself when she took us in, but she was always watching out for us. As annoying as it was, we always knew she cared.”
He approached the bridge and stared out at the cloudy expanse that lay beyond the Saybaro. “We paid our penance for the disregard we showed for her feelings. We gave up our life in Rimstak, maybe even a relationship with the only other woman who cared enough to put up with us, and for that we were alone. Now Terra is here, filling Uncle Ann’s role in our life in her own unique way. She may not share our confidence in our abilities, but deep down, we both know it’s because she cares. That’s why you didn’t complain when she asked you to let her enter the lobby first, or why you don’t argue with her when she says you should get a better weapon.”
“Because I’m worried that if I throw that away again,” I murmured, my gaze returning to Terra’s sleeping face. “I may never get it back.”
She looked so peaceful as she dreamt. I smoothed a lock of her flaxen hair aside as I considered what had just been said. “I can live with that.”
“Easier than living without her.” My other self said kindly. “Besides, we have been a bit careless since that mess with the dragon. Having someone we love keeping us out of trouble is probably just what we need.”
He, or rather I, was right. During the hunt for the dragon, I was always careful about what lay ahead. I blundered into it anyway, but I always had a plan in the back of my mind.
I couldn’t say the same thing about leaving the Saybaro. Looking back, it should’ve been obvious that the doll wasn’t One, but I had been too eager to explore to question. I had no plan for how to deal with the witch, and going willingly into a Center in turmoil instead of simply waiting for One to inhabit the doll had been reckless.
“I’ll try to be less reckless in the future.” I whispered to Terra.
“I’m sure she’ll appreciate that.” My other self grinned, adding, “Still, some recklessness is a good thing. You do think well on your feet. Steer clear of dragon-sized problems, and you both’ll be fine.”
He snapped his fingers, “Speaking of which.”
“I beg your pardon?”
I awoke with my face pressed against the floor, one arm pinned beneath me, and my right foot caught on the edge of some kind of table. The lights were very dim, so I had to be careful as I reorganized my limbs and slowly rose to my feet.
I waited for my eyes to adjust to the low level of light, rubbing the life back into my now-numb arm. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to figure out just where the portal had dropped me.
It was a Glyche construction bay. It was badly in need of maintenance and had nothing as intricate as Bethany’s Womb, but I recognized the standard core unit constructors and skriever repair stations from other Glyche facilities I’d encountered. I was in another Glyche facility.
I approached the line of core constructors and peered into the windows. They all appeared empty, much to my relief. My encounters with the rogue core units still weighed heavily in my mind, particularly how lucky we had been each time to come out unscathed.
I shuddered slightly; the air in the room was strangely cold. As I rubbed my chest to warm up, memories of what had just happened came rushing back.
“Zig.” I muttered angrily. I didn’t know what he’d tried to do, but he and I were definitely going to have words when I find him.
I was worried about Terra. Don’t misread me, I was worried about everyone, it’s just I was particularly worried about Terra, even though I knew she was more than capable of taking care of herself. After traveling with her for the past few days, not having her there made me feel a little empty. I wanted to call out to her, but didn’t want to give away my position to Zig, should he still be in the area.
Still, I needed to get everyone back together. There was no telling what Zig was up to, if Ell was back to normal, or if indeed everyone else ended up in the facility. Unfortunately, none of the consoles in the construction bay were receiving power. The backup generator was badly corroded, and didn’t so much as budge at my attempts to lift it from the floor. In despearation, I gave my PIM a try; once again, it did not respond.
“Looks like I’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.” I muttered, heading for the door. Fortunately, Bethany had given me a crash course on facility maintenance, including the manual override functions on the doors. With a little work, I managed to release the locks and open the doors enough for me to slip into the corridor that lay beyond.
I had been in Glyche facilities before, mostly the one beneath the Saybaro, but walking through that particular facility left me on edge. For one thing, the lighting seemed screwy. All the lights were dim, but some would just sporadically light up without a moment’s warning, making me jump. It was as if what little power was running through the facility wasn’t regulated properly, but that didn’t make any sense; if it received the same burst of energy as the other facilities, it should’ve been up and running under the control of the CIC.
Most eerily of all was the silence; I couldn’t hear anything save the humming of the lights when they would randomly activate. No distant clicks of skrievers or hums of floating cleaners … nothing.
I was so intent on checking the panels and lights that I didn’t notice the rubble in the corridor until I nearly tripped on it. Quickly catching myself, I looked behind me to see what had tripped me, only to see the severed arm of a core unit clutching at my leg.
“Daah!” I shouted, shaking my leg until the dismembered hand fell off. It took a few seconds for me to calm down enough to realize the arm wasn’t moving; it must’ve just caught on my foot. Still, it wasn’t the sort of experience I needed at the moment.
I walked a few more feet before something occurred to me. I walked back and looked at the arm; it was quite old and corroded, and the severed end had a burnt look to it, as though hit with some kind of plasma burst or cut with a high-power laser weapon.
I saw a few more arms, the occasional leg and a bunch of broken plating as I continued down the way. They all had the same burn marks, indicating some kind of firefight, but I couldn’t help but notice that there were no core chassis or heads. If there was a fight, it seems reasonable that there would be a more or less complete body or two lying about somewhere.
After a long, slow walk through the flickering corridors, I finally reached the facility’s hub room. The consoles were flickering slightly, which was more than I could say of the rest of the consoles I’d seen thus far. I knelt down between the central consoles and pulled the generator up out of the floor with some difficulty. It was a bit dusty, but still seemed functional; in a matter of moments, I had it activated and recessed back into the floor.
The lights of the hub came to life, which did wonders to my morale. As I stood up, however, I saw two glowing red eyes looking at me from between the consoles. With a rush of horror, I realized it was a core unit.
I stumbled backwards directly into a console, drawing Glint and holding it out before me reflexively. After a few moments, however, I realized that the eyes weren’t really glowing. They weren’t even really red; they were just reflecting the red error screen of the console above it.
Still holding Glint at the ready, I slowly walked around the consoles and approached the inactive core unit. She was a more advanced core unit than Mick; in addition to her having chosen her gender, her silver face was much more detailed and her body plating was complete, if still marked with seams. She even had golden hair that hung in a dusty mass down to her mid-back. A few shreds of clothing remained on her frame; fortunately for her modesty’s sake, her frame was a still a few key details from being anatomically correct. From what Bethany had taught me, I placed her somewhere between her fourth and fifth evolution.
She was slumped over one of the consoles at the center of the room, as though she had simply fallen asleep while working. I carefully pulled her back from the console and spun her chair around, only to find her power core housing completely destroyed and her core strangely intact in her lap.
I picked up the core and turned it over in my hands. It didn’t appear damaged, just dead. That was good news for her; once the core was recharged and the core housing repaired, she’d be operational again.
I looked at her face, hoping for some sign to indicate the manner of her deactivation. There was surprise in her expression, but also a little sadness. She was otherwise intact, which told me that she wasn’t taken out by a blast. From the damage to her core housing, I surmised that someone with incredible strength tore out her core.
Repairing the intricate core housing was beyond my ability, especially given my situation at the time, so I turned the chair back around and let the unit rest once again on the console. Patting her matted hair, I murmured, “Don’t worry, Miss. We’ll get you fixed up just as soon as I find my friends.”
I tried a few of the wall consoles, but all they displayed was static and red error messages. I frowned at this; the problem obviously wasn’t power, but the lack of connection to the CIC. I’d need to go to the Central Core to get the network up and running again before I could get any use out of the facility.
“Probably for the best.” I said to myself, “I should introduce myself to the CIC anyway.”
I glanced around at the corridors that went off in every direction. Every corridor was marked by a Glyche symbol indicating the area of the facility to which it led. Unfortunately, while I’d learned much of the Glyche since Bethany named me her Inheritor, I was used to Bethany simply giving me directions or using my PIM as a navigational device and didn’t really know the symbols as well as I should.
Rubbing my forehead, I looked at each of the symbols in turn, hoping that one of them would look familiar. After circling the room, three symbols tugged at my memory; the symbol for the construction labs and two other symbols. I was sure one of them was for the central core, the other for the living quarters, but I wasn’t sure which was which. After struggling to remember, I gave up and started down the nearest of the two, figuring that I could always backtrack.
As I walked further and further from the Hub, the lighting became more erratic; many of the overhear lighting panels were broken, their shattered remains hidden beneath a layer of dust. I kept Glint in hand; whatever attacked the facility was unlikely to remain after three thousand years, but it never hurts to be cautious.
Unfortunately, I reached the end of the corridor only to find myself in the lounge area of the Living Quarters. It was in the same state as the rest of the facility; all the remaining furniture was covered in dust, and every console was either smashed, flickering, or simply displaying static. There were no other core units, however, which seemed odd to me. Surely, more than one had fallen.
“Well, great.” I muttered beneath my breath when checking another console yielded no results. I started to turn around, but thought better of it; I was already there, so I might as well check it out for signs of the others.
The cryo-storage area was empty, which struck me as a little odd. The console was functioning, if disused, so I was able to bring up a manifest. There were plenty of suspended foodstuffs in cryo-storage, but I was amazed to discover that the shelves were still stocked with hard provisions; non-expirables and canned foods and the like.
The other facilities had their hard stores emptied before shutting down, presumably by the surviving Glyche. Whatever happened in that facility must’ve happened too quickly for those living there to pack provisions. That did not sit well with me.
I checked the main storage area next, as it was in the adjoining room. In all honesty, I expected to find the same dilapidation present in the other areas. At best, it would be like the pantry; fully stocked shelves covered in dust.
I opened the door and promptly froze. It was like walking into the warehouse of a large retail store; every shelf was stocked with supplies, ranging from toiletries to replacement console parts, to grass and tree seeds for the lake simulation area. The lights were bright and spaced in such a way as to provide the room with more than adequate illumination.
If that wasn’t enough, the area was completely spotless; not a single grain of dust anywhere. It stuck out as compared to everything else I had seen in the facility thus far.
I looked around the sizeable room, walking through the aisles and aisles of extra stock as I kept one eye out for my friends and the other for equipment that might be helpful.
I was peeking inside a large box labeled ‘Security’ when something landed on my shoulder.
“AGH!” Knocking whatever it was away, I leapt back and pulled Glint, ready to strike.
“Jimmy! It is you! Excellent! I was hoping I’d find you soon!”
I stared. That was definitely Mick’s synthesized voice, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.
I looked down. A skriever looked up at me, nearly identical to a standard skriever in all by size. This one was larger, though not by a great deal, and had an additional camera ‘eye’.
I got on my hands and knees and looked curiously into the skriever’s camera eyes. “Mick? Is that you?”
“Yes. Sorry about scaring you like that, but I’ve been looking for you for the last few days.”
“Ah, yes, my current shell. While my main form is recuperating from the upgrade back at the Saybaro, I’ve been moving through the computer network to try and find you. Fortunately, the skrievers in charge of the warehouse were kind enough to let me use one of their blanks.”
A few other skrievers poked out of the shelves and waved their pincers briefly at me before retreating.
“Nice guys.” Mick said. “A bit bored, though; I think the Glyche forgot to engage their hibernation subroutines before departing the facility.”
“Given the state of this facility, I’m not surprised.” I said. “This place has clearly seen better days.”
“Fortunately, these skrievers have been busy since the loss of their connection to the central core. Using the parts in the warehouse, they’ve built a small core of their own; it doesn’t give them much range, but they’ve been working on modifying themselves to store more energy. My little shell here’s a prototype; they’ve been wanting to test it themselves, but were all too scared to try.”
“Well, you seem to be doing okay.” I paused for a moment and asked, “How does it feel, anyway?”
“You know how Arc was talking about going into zen-mode while playing games? How everything else around the screen just seems to disappear as your focus becomes only the game? It’s kinda like that. I feel oddly focused, probably because I don’t have all the sensation data to process. It’s interesting, but I’ll be glad when I can get back into my new shell.”
Well, Mick was kind of here. That was kind of comforting. I let the skriever climb into my hands, saying, “Well, it’s good to see you, Mick. Er, in a manner of speaking. So where am I, anyway?”
“The Cylell facility. They did extensive research over the basic core unit artificial intelligence. Much of my own design came from information this facility produced. You say the rest of the facility is in disrepair?”
“Very much so.” I said. “I was planning on heading to the central core after having a look around the living quarters.”
After a short pause, Mick asked, “You got the symbols mixed up again, didn’t you?”
Ignoring the heat rising to my cheeks, I said, “I’ve been a little distracted lately, what with Arc working against us, the witch in the tower, and the Center of Knowledge’s little civil war.”
The skriever paused again. “Perhaps before we proceed, you should bring me up to speed on what has occurred.”