Chapter 15 - Regrouping
I took a few minutes to fill Mick in on my adventure thus far: the trek to Brigsonstrat and Arc’s theft of the floater, getting pulled into checking out the witch in the tower, the war at the center, and Zig’s suspicious behavior.
“Sounds like you’ve been having a load of fun without me.” There was a definite tone of disappointment in his voice.
“Don’t sound like that.” I said, feeling bad, “It’s not like I wanted things to end up like this.”
“Yes, I know. One explained the situation with the doll.”
“I still can’t help but wonder what that was about.” I paused, remembering Zig. “In any case, our guide was trying awfully hard to bring us here. I don’t suppose you have any idea why?”
“Hmm. Most information I have on the Cylell facility seems to indicate it was one of the civilian enrichment centers prior to the Corruption. No notable scientific endevours aside from the AI studies, no dedicated mission; as far as I can tell, they were just teaching the locals about technology.”
“Explains why the Center’s here.” Shaking my head, I said, “Can you tap into this facility’s sensors? I’m getting worried about the others.”
I blushed and said, “At least you know she’s real this time.”
“It’s hard to deny the existence of someone with whom you have conversed with multiple times.” He paused and quickly added, “She stopped by shortly after you left for Brigsonstrat.”
I eyed Mick’s skriever suspiciously. “That’s one time. When else did you speak with her?”
To my surprise, the skriever looked embarrassed. For being a spider-like robot, it pulled off the expression well, lowering its body to the ground and shifting its cameras to the side. “In Wukice, after you were knocked out by the prop dragon ... and again when we spent the night in the facility.”
I glared at the skriever. “You knew she was real all that time? And you let me think I was crazy?”
“I’m sorry, Jimmy, but she asked me to. Besides, you seemed so happy when you were thinking about her and ... well, I guess I thought it seemed kinda romantic.”
I couldn’t help but sigh. Rubbing my forehead, I said, “We’ll talk about this later. For now, I need to collect my team.”
“Of course; let’s head to the CIC immediately.”
Immediately would have been great, but unfortunately, immediately after he said that, I immediately I heard someone shouting from one of the nearby corridors.
“The fun never stops.” Shaking my head, I started toward the sound saying, “Come on.”
I burst through the doors to the living quarters, only to see a long hallway with doors on either side. Glancing around, I shouted, “Terra? One? Ell? Where are you?”
No one replied, but I heard the sounds of splashing, probably from the lake room if this facility was like the Saybaro or Genovis facility.
“Lake room?” I asked Mick as he caught up.
He glanced around a moment before pointing a pincer toward a nearby door. Unfortunately, it was a bedroom, as were the next few doors.
“Come on, Mick!” The sounds of splashing were starting to fade, as though the source was growing tired.
“I’m sorry, Jimmy! I don’t have the schematics for this facility!”
I knew from other facilities that the two corridors made a big circle with the lake room being in the middle, so I ran down the hall, opening each inner door as I passed until I reached the one with grass on the other side.
The lake room in this facility looked more like a lagoon, flanked with palm, banana, and coconut trees. The water was a beautiful and deep shade of blue, and the sky was clear.
I hurried to the water just as something slipped beneath the surface. Without a moments delay, I dove in and swam toward it.
Fortunately, the water was clear, so clear that I could see who it was before I picked her up. Swimming to the surface with some difficulty, I carried her to the side of the lake, and lay her in the soft grass.
“She’s not breathing.” I said.
“Try CPR.” Mick suggested.
Feeling awkward, I opened her jaws and started to carefully blow into her mouth.
Her eyes opened wide. “Jimmy!”
As I sat up quickly, Flip coughed up some more water before giving me a baleful stare. “I know I’m irresistibly cute, but try to control yourself!”
“Sorry, Flip.” I said, my cheeks burning, “I thought you were dying.”
“That’s no excuse!” She paused a moment to shake off her fur and wings, mostly onto the leg of my hakama. “What would Terra say? You’d have broken her heart, and that’s just mean!”
Mick’s skriever approached her cautiously. “She is all right?”
Flip gave a small shriek and dove behind me, nearly ending back up in the water again.
“Yeah, she’s okay.” I said. “Flip, this is Mick Sakamota. Well, kind of.”
Flip walked out from behind me cautiously. “That’s just dumb! Mick was a core unit. That’s a skriever!”
“Indeed, I am currently controlling a skriever. My actual body is at rest at the Saybaro.′ It held out a pincher politely. “Nice to meet you again, Miss Flip.”
Still looking suspicious, Flip darted her paw toward the skriever’s pincher, touching it for a millisecond before pulling it back.
“Well, I’m glad you’re okay.” I said, “I don’t suppose you’ve seen any of the others.”
“Not after the portal machine exploded, no. One minute I was there, the next minute I’m in the middle of a lake.”
“Apparently One and Zig’s interference caused a temporal variance in the portal.” Mick paused a moment before adding, “That is to say, don’t be surprised if anyone appears within the next few minutes.”
“If we’re lucky.” I told him. “True Knight Mikaen and Cygros Cressia entered the same portal and ended up arriving on Vinta seventy years apart.”
“True, but that portal was in close proximity to one of Earth’s Rips, which essentially fueled it. The portal that sent you only had limited power; I’d say everyone will have made it through within the hour, if they haven’t already.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve seen Ell somewhere, have ya?” Flip asked, sounding hopeful.
“I haven’t seen him or Terra yet,” I told her, “But I’m sure they’re around here somewhere. We’re gonna head to the Core so we can run a full sensor sweep. You coming with?”
“As if I’m gonna just stay here.” She clawed her way up to my shoulder, still a bit damp. “Ready!”
Feeling unusually tall, I led my growing group back to the hub. Once there, Mick immediately skittered toward the inactive core unit. “Jimmy, are you seeing this?”
“Yeah, I noticed her earlier.” I pointed to the core and said, “Her core’s drained and the core casing’s completely shot. I don’t suppose you can fix her?”
Mick looked it over a long moment. “The damage is extensive, but I believe so. We will still have to recharge the core somehow, though with the rest of the center offline, I’m not sure how we can do that.”
The skriever’s camera eyes turned to me. “Do you want me to repair her?”
Flip looked startled at the suggestion. “B-but what if she’s corrupted?”
I looked at the core unit’s face once again, taking in the mixture of surprise and saddness. “What if she isn’t? What if she was just a victim of whatever left this facility in such a mess?”
Flip’s feline face fell. She hopped onto the console and peered at the core unit’s face for a moment before giving me a nod. Nodding back, I carefully turned the core unit around so its core casing just beneath her bust was better exposed.
“What happened here, Mick?” I asked as the skriever went to work. “It’s pretty clear this place was attacked, not abandoned. Were the ancient Rimstakkens that smart, or did something else attack this facility?”
“I don’t know. According to the last reports received by Yaevin station before it went into low power mode, this facility was still active.” There was a clunk as a portion of the damaged casing fell to the ground. As Mick’s skriever hopped onto the damaged part and consumed it for raw materials, his voice continued, “They just laid the foundation for what would become the Center of Knowledge, hoping that the bio-forms in the area would be willing to trust them if they just knew more about Glyche technology. To their credit, the Wenapaj Center of Knowledge is the foremost authority on the Glyche civilization, save myself, Core Desygan, and Narrator Number One, of course.”
I spun around to see Flip darting down a hallway marked with an unfamiliar signal. “Flip!” I shouted, but she was already gone.
Mick’s pincers paused. “Should I …?”
“No, I’ll go. You stay and fix her.” I told him, “I’d really like to know what happened here.”
“Okay. Just be careful, okay?”
I flashed him another grin before rushing after Flip. After passing about a dozen locked doors, I spotted one that had fallen off of its hinges. Flip was running toward it, and for just a moment, I saw a glimpse of a large man that was no doubt Ell walking inside.
I shouted, “Yo, Ell!” But he was already gone. Flip disappeared after him moments later.
When I reached the door, I heard Flip shout, “Ell, stop it!”
Fearing the worst, I drew Glint and hurried inside. The room appeared to be some kind of medical bay, though it was hard to tell; it wasn’t just the door that had fallen into disrepair.
Ell was hugging Flip’s tiny body against his massive chest. At first I thought he might be trying to crush her, but the happy smile on his face dispelled my doubts immediately.
Flip managed to squeeze out of his grip and leapt back. “Knock it off, already!”
Seeing me, Ell grinned even wider. He stepped forward, arms outstretched to give me a hug, but I quickly took a quick step back. “Nah, that’s okay. I’m good.”
A quizzical look appeared in his eyes. He pointed at Glint, which was still clutched in my hand.
“Huh? Oh, right. Sorry about that.” I slid Glint back into its scabbard. “Just making sure. You did try to kill us earlier.”
His face fell. He looked at Flip, who appeared to listen intently.
“He doesn’t remember any of it.” Flip told me, “The last thing he remembers is a cyborg slipping this headband onto him just before the mages dragged him away. Jimmy, the image in his head ... I think the cyborg was Zig.”
Ell held it out to me. A cursory examination revealed a small series of circuits embedded in the inside of the cloth, most of which were burnt out (likely from when Terra stunned him).
“Zig had this planned all along.” I murmured, as the pieces came together in my head.
Ell and Flip both looked at me questioningly.
“He’s the one who brainwashed you.” I said grimly. “That’s why we ran into so little interference when we went to rescue you; he used Ell to clean the area out.”
“But why?” Flip asked. “Why send us on a goose chase? Did he think Ell would take us out?”
“Maybe. I’m guessing it has something to do with the tower portal room; One seemed to know something was up.”
Shaking my head, I asked, “We’ll figure out what he’s after later. Ell, have you seen any sign of Terra or One?”
He shook his head.
“Smokes?” I asked, remembering our stoner mage friend.
Flip snorted. “Who gives a damn about Smokes? He’s probably on that bugger’s side!”
“I resent that!”
We all turned around to see … absolutely nobody. I glanced around the room, saying, “Uh, where are you?”
“Vertical thoughts, dude.”
I glanced up and saw a sandaled foot hanging out of the ventilation shaft.
“By the Creator.” I murmured. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, yes, I’m fine. Next stupid question?”
Between me and Ell, we managed to yank the poor guy out of the vent shaft.
He sat down on a medical bed and started rolling another joint. It wasn’t easy; his whole body was shaking. “About time you people show up. Where in nocturnes are we?”
“The Cylell facility.” I told him. “It’s a Glyche outpost that looks to have been invaded a long time ago. Have you seen Terra?”
He gave me a dirty look. “Yes, she crawled by my vent three minutes ago with the Destiny sisters and Almaec Nocturnes. By the Creator, Jimmy, when I said next stupid question, I was being sarcastic.”
“Sorry.” I muttered, but he waved it off.
Smokes let out a sigh. “Ah, don’t listen to me. I’m just a little on edge right now, but that’ll be fixed in a moment.”
Sure enough, a few puffs and his expression became complacent. “Much better.” He whispered, a thin trail of blue and green smoke streaming from his mouth. He started to lay down on the ruined bed, but I stopped him. “I have to ask; are you with Zig?”
“Me and Zig? Nah, I don’t run that way; I just haven’t found Miss Right yet.”
“I mean are you working with him.”
“I dunno. What’s he working on?”
I could already tell my line of questioning was only going to end with an Iniagus-class headache. I turned back to the others. “Mick’s waiting for us in the hub. Let’s go.”
Smokes hopped up off of the bed and followed us out the door, saying, “Cool. Who’s Mick, anyway?”
As we reentered the hub room, Mick turned to greet us. The damaged core casing had been almost completely reconstructed. “Ah, Mr. Ell and Smokes, I presume?”
Ell nodded, looking back at the skriever with fascination.
Smokes knelt beside it and pet it, cooing, “Aren’t you a little cutesy wootsey … Ow!”
Mick dissuaded further embarrassment with a sharp flash from his energy blade.
As Smokes sucked at his burnt finger, I said, “Everything okay?”
“Indeed. I’ll be done in moments.”
I watched him work. It was amazing; he would essentially eat some of the broken casing and spit it out onto the reconstructed casing, fusing it perfectly with the rest.
After processing and placing the last bit of metal, Mick said, “There. The housing is completely intact. All that we need to do now is re-energize the core. Hey, stop that!”
While the rest of us had been watching Mick, Smokes had started poking at the pliable metal of core unit’s face. “There!” He said happily, “Isn’t that so much nicer?”
The core unit was smiling now to be sure, but in an extremely grotesque way. I could still see the imprints of Smokes’ fingers.
“That’s disrespectful!” Mick said indignantly.
“Geez! Excuse me! I was just trying to make the world a happier place!”
Sighing, Mick turned back to me. “Anyway, we can probably channel some energy from the consoles at the computer core for a quick recharge. Shall we?”
I noticed more signs of the ancient battle as we moved through the corridors: deep scratches in the walls punctuated with blast holes from some kind of energy weapon fire, the remains of destroyed skrievers and even more mostly intact core units. Even the ones in the best condition were missing their cores, however.
Walking the corridors over leftover bits of machines made us cautious. The fact that the limbs of core units occasionally stuck out of the walls or clutched consoles didn’t help either.
We eventually reached the door to the computer core. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the massive security doors left wide open, but it nevertheless caught me off guard. I wasn’t exactly relieved when I saw nothing but darkness beyond.
“Jimmy?” Mick asked, no doubt noticing my sudden hesitation.
I shook my head. “It’s just dark. Can you get us a little light? My PIM’s not working.”
The skriever’s camera eyes deactivated for a moment. When they opened again, the cameras shot beams of light into the room; it wasn’t enough to see more than a few yards away, but at least it was better than stumbling around in the dark. He skittered ahead of us until his light illuminated what was unmistakably a core console.
I approached the nearest console but hesitated before actually accessing it. Glancing around at the darkness, I called out, “This is Jimmy Sakamota, Inheritor of the Saybaro. I request permission to access your sensors.”
When there was no response, I tapped the console. The screen activated, but only displayed a prompt.
“Voice recognition must be off-line.” I muttered. Sitting down at the console, I typed, “Can you locate the other bio-forms inside the facility?”
I hit the enter key and waited.
Flip hopped up on my lap, asking, “Is it working?”
“I’m not sure, ” I replied, frowning. Why was it taking so long for the computer to process my request? A simple scan of the facility should have taken only seconds, even if the rest of the facility was offline.
I was just about to try again when I bright flash on the distant ceiling caught my attention. Before I could even ask what it was, something suddenly hit me in the head. It was soft, but I nearly fell over from the force of impact.
“Ow! What the …?” I stopped as Mick’s flashlight revealed a tiny plush body wearing a green and gray striped shirt. “One!”
One staggered to his tiny plush feet, holding his hand to his head. “Oh, hi Jimmy. Say, could you ask the computer to make the room stop spinning?”
“One! Thank the Creator, you’re safe!” I said, picking up the doll.
“Yeah, same here. I was worried Zig might’ve succeeded.”
“What was he trying to do?” I asked.
“Well, I’m not sure.” One said, rubbing the back of his head, “But he was setting the portal exit location somewhere in the Myriad Abyss. Given how he reacted, my guess is he wanted you out of the way.”
Beaming, One said, “Fortunately, I’ve got your back.”
“And I am very appreciative of that fact.” I said, giving him a respectful nod.
As I approached the console with One in tow, I noticed that it still hadn’t processed my request.
Brow furrowed, I typed, “This is Inheritor Sakamota. Please respond.”
When this produced no effect, I sat back against the chair and scratched my head. Ell put his hand on the back of the chair, looking at me questioningly.
“It’s not working.” I told him. “I don’t understand it; CICs are incredibly resilient. Even if the Central Core is damaged, I should be able to get something.”
The lights to the room flickered on with a loud hum as Mick finished rerouting the emergency power to the room. As Mick’s skriever approached me, I asked, “Mick, can you figure out what’s wrong with this?”
Mick didn’t respond. His skriever shell stopped a few feet from me, its eye looking toward the center of the room.
“Mick.” I repeated, “Can you figure out what’s wrong with the Core, please?”
“I already have.”
I looked where he indicated and my jaw dropped.
The Central Core was gone.