Chapter 9 - Reborn
Small fragments of data floated in the darkness that surrounded Bethany. She long since stopped noticing them, though how long it had been she couldn’t say; time had no meaning in the strange void that encompassed her existance. How long had it been? Minutes? Days? Years? Centuries?
There had been darkness during her two-thousand year hibernation, but this was somehow worse; even in her suspended state, she still felt connected to teh Saybaro, to what remained of the mansion’s infrastructure, to Mick and the Womb. There was nothing this time; no connection to anything. She had been consigned to oblivion.
And then she felt it. It was so slight, so subtle that she was sure it was just another passing data fragment until it happened again: a slight twitch from what she eventually realized was her right. Another followed, this one to her left. Her consciousness grasped at the sensations, eager for stimuli. A few twitches later, and she realized that she could control it ... control them. They were surprisingly intricate; like a whole series of twitches under her control, their positions to her right and left, but all slightly apart, like the keys of a woodwind instrument.
Joints, she realized; the twitches were actually the movement of joints, small joints very close together ... finger joints. She had fingers! The realization was as shocking as it was exciting. As she focused her thoughts on the sensation, she could make out each of her digits, four on each hand. She tapped them in rhythm, thumb to pinky.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
Delighted at the sensation the movements brought, she did it again with her other hand.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
The awareness of other joints soon followed; her toes and feet, her wrists, her arms, her back, and finally her neck. She slowly tested each joint, each sensation bringing with it a surge of excitement. She tapped her fingers again, noting that it made little sound. She surmised that she was on some sort of cushioned surface before realizing that she could hear.
Her mind awash with the sensations coming from her body, she tried her best to stay calm and focus on her sight. She willed her eyes to open.
“C’mon.” A voice whispered that she soon realized was her own. “Open your eyes. Open ... open ...”
A long straight crack of light suddenly bisected the darkness. She automatically drew in a sharp breath at the sudden brightness, the sensation of air entering her body ironically so shocking that her eyes flew open the rest of the way.
As her eyes adjusted to the lighting of the room, she found herself staring up at the glass lid of the womb. She slowly raised her hand to the lid and froze; her hand hung in her vision, segmented sections of the flexible gray ‘skin’ covering her body’s inner working. She gazed at her hand, flexing her fingers and twisting it around both to ensure its functionality and to get a good look at it. Something about it seemed off, but the surge of new sensations made her soon forget about it.
She pressed her hand to the pod door. It slid open at her touch, the Womb tilting to the side so she could exit. With great care, she lifted one of her slender legs and set it on the floor of the Tech Lab.
She shivered as the sensation of cold metal registered, not so much uncomfortable as it was new. She tried to take another step, only to immediately stumble. Staggering forward, she managed to catch herself on one of the monitors surrounding the Womb.
“Okay.” She said, giving herself a few moments to figure out the basics of balance. “Let’s try that again.”
She tenatively stepped away from the Womb, careful to ensure she wouldn’t topple over before taking another step. When she managed to reach the wall without falling, she couldn’t help but laugh.
“Oh my.” She said, the sensations brought by her laughter making her laugh even more. “This is ... wow.”
It was amazing. When her connections tot he facility were being cut, she was worried that it would be like that as well; a complete lack of sensation, but it was completely opposite; her mind was filled with sensations, so much so that it was nearly ovewhelming. The sensors and the cameras and the microphones of the Saybaro seemed like poor comparisons to the experience of seeing, of touching, of hearing.
“It’s incredible.” She said, managing a slightly awkward spin. “I can’t believe how wonderful this feels! Thank you so much, Rebecca!”
Rebecca wasn’t there, nor was Smokes.
“Huh.” She said, “I guess the process took longer than she expected. Still, she should still be in the facility mainframe.
Taking each step with more and more confidence, Bethany walked to the nearest facility computer panel. Using the touch-screen controls was a strange experience; as a CIC, she normally would just have to think of what she wanted to do, and it would happen (were it within her capabilities, of course). While she was sure she made the proper query, her search turned up nothing; no Rebecca, nor any other CIC.
A little off-put, she decided to head to her Central Core ... her old Central Core to be sure. If nothing else, she could communicate with her sisters and let them know the good news about the prototype core units.
The facility seemed strangely empty as she walked through the cooridors. It had never exactly been bustling, even back in the days when it was filled with bio-form Glyche, but it surprised her when she failed to bump into a single other person by the time she reached the Hub room. She queried the consoles at the Hub, and was surprised to discover most of the life-readings at the Saybaro were in the third floor of the mansion, where they were reconstructing the old ballroom.
Curiosity over this strange meeting won out over her desire to talk to her sisters. Turning from the Central Core, she instead headed toward the mansion proper.
As she stepped into the storeroom Jimmy had long ago converted into his larder, she was overcome with new sensations: smells. She walked around the larder, momentarily diverted by the strange world of scents. It was a very bizarre experience to her, yet she soon found herself forming mental opinions of good and bad smells. She had no idea what caused her to form these opinions; scent data had certainly not been a part of her programming before. Perhaps Rebecca had a hand in this?
The most tantelizing scents, however, came from the stairway leading to the mansion. She found herself compelled as she climbed the stairs and eventually ended up in the lobby of the Saybaro Mansion.
As the grandfather clock slid shut over the larder entrance, Bethany continued to follow the smell until she reached the kitchen. A veritable feast lay waiting for her as she passed through the doors, creating a cocktail of smells that finally gave name to the sensation that led her there; hunger.
She eyed the roast turkey and the ham for a moment before it occurred to her she was about to eat the first thing she’d ever eat. She should make it something special; something incredible. Glancing around, she eventually saw the cake; it was a beautiful affair, with swirled vanilla and chocolate icing concealing undoubtedly delicions spongey goodness beneath. Before she could stop herself, she plucked a small plate from a stack sitting at one of the tables and cut herself a generous slice. Taking a fork as well, she carefully cut a small mouth-sized piece from her helping and slowly slid it into her mouth.
(Author’s note; Bethany was kind enough to supply a very detailed description on this experience that I will not share here for two reasons; the first being that the description is a bit ... provacative in nature. I don’t know if she was deliberately messing with me, but phrases like, “A shudder ran through me as the supple cake flesh slid down my throat,” and, “The delicate sweetness of the icing slowly spread across every taste bud, sending waves of pleasure coursing through every inch of my body.” were by far the tamest, and the rest would have come questionably close to requiring this book to have an older rating. The other reason is that her very detailed description is, as one might expect from any thorough artificial intelligence, VERY detailed, and is over thirty-seven pages long. For simplicity’s sake, let’s just say that she really really liked the cake. -Alan T. Tryth)
Muffled laughter echoing from the lobby broke through her cake-induced reverie. She followed the sound, plate, cake, and fork still in hand. The laughter had died down by the time she reached the lobby, but she could make out conversation coming from above. She climbed the stairs, pausing every now and then to savor another bite of the delicious confectionary.
The conversation was definitely coming from the ball-room, but Bethany couldn’t help but notice that there were no sounds of construction; just conversation and the occasional laugh. Intuiged, she pushed through the door while taking another bite of cake.
The Ball-room was a massive and magnificent chamber. The Glyche never had many occasions to use it back in the day, so when Jimmy mentioned that he was planning on rebuilding it, Bethany had been quick to suggest other uses of the space: a bigger library, an inside garden (the room was big enough to hold an actual tree, after all), an observatory. She wasn’t offended when he stuck with the ballroom, however; it was part of her job to present options, and he thanked her for doing it. If anything, she liked the idea of her mansion being restored to it’s original state. Still, the massive stained glass windows, the mosiac floor, the crystal chandelier … it would take months, to fully repair them all.
That was why when she turned and saw the ballroom completely finished and intact, the light of the moons shining through the stained glass, she was momentarily stunned. The design of the floor and the stained glass was different, of course, but everything was completely restored.
Seeing it all so perfect, so beautiful made her forget about the life-signs, the laughter (and almost but not quite about the cake), even how long she’d been gone. She stepped out onto the dance floor, her eyes on the ceiling; the original ball room had a plain ceiling, but Jimmy had upped the ante; the ceiling was now a massive mural of people she immediately recognized. Jimmy, Terra, and all of their friends. The mural was of their adventures, from the kidnapping of Princess Sera to the restoration of Yaevin. In the center was a sleeping woman, her body curled on a silver circle surrounded by several gray rings. It took her a few minutes to realize it was her; her holographic form lying dormant within her core.
The colors seemed so vibrant in her new eyes they almost seemed to dance in her vision. The sheer enormity of it was mind-boggling; when had he done all this? Just how long had she been asleep?
She stuck her arms out, plate, cake, and fork perfectly balanced, and spun around. The people she knew and loved spun in her vision as she stared up at the ceiling and laughed.
“Oh, Jimmy.” She said, “This is wonderful! If you were here, I’d give you and everyone else a great big hug!”
Bethany lowered her gaze and immediately stopped; she’d been so focused on the stained glass and the mural that she hadn’t realized there were in fact people in the room. The dance floor was clear, but tables had been laid out near the walls. There were in fact dozens of people in the room, every last one of them now staring at her. She recognized them all; Ell and Minnie, Terra’s brother Terry and his family, Smokes, Sera and Cid … every resident and friend of the Saybaro she could recall.
Jimmy was there, as were Fei, Tifa. Terra sat beside her husband as well, a long-eared infant suckling at her breast. The infant was the only one without a shocked expression. Next to them sat Narrator Number One and Luck, their daughter, Figment, sitting between them.
It wasn’t Jimmy who spoke, however; it was Mick. She sat next to Jenna at the same table, both of them dressed in traditional Glyche clothing that was pretty, if a bit old-fashioned. She slowly approached Bethany, a stunned look on her face.
“Mom.” Mick said slowly, as though she couldn’t believe her eyes. “You’re awake.”
“I’ll get Rebecca.” One said before disappearing through a door that appeared behind him.
It suddenly struck Bethany that she wasn’t wearing any clothing. Her body lacked the necessary anatomical details that would require clothes for modesty, but was still clearly female … enough so that she couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable with so many people looking at her. She wrapped an arm over her chest, the experience of blushing coming to her most unpleasantly.
Jimmy hurried toward her, pulling off his black keikogi and wrapping it around Bethany. The traditional garb was long enough to serve as a dress on her.
“Good to see you back with us, Beth.” He said as he tied his sash around her waist. “I see you found the wedding cake.”
“Wedding?” Bethany looked at Mick and Jenna in their traditional Glyche cloths … traditional Glyche marriage clothes. Mick and Jenna’s cheeks immediately went gold.
“We wanted to wait until you woke up,” Jenna said, clutching Mick’s hand, “but Rebecca said it might take years, or that you might never wake up at all.”
“After eight months, I figured we’d waited long enough.” Mick said, taking Jenna’s hand. “So I proposed. We just had the ceremony an hour ago.”
“Eight months?” Bethany said, worry filling her new body. She had guessed it’d been awhile, but nearly a year?
“That’s how long you’ve been under.” Rebecca’s hologram appeared with a look of great relief on her projected face. “My fault, really; I figured with all the data we collected from various core units that we might be able to transfer to the new bodies and skip a few evolutions at the same time. Turns out the wait time between evolutions isn’t so arbitrary after all. Without the programming that naturally develops to handle the new sensory information-“
“Rebecca.” Luck said as One slipped through the door and took his seat, the door vanishing moments later.
“Right.” Rebecca said, rubbing the back of her head. “Sorry, Bethany. Still, you’re up, your about, and hey? What better day than this, huh? Your daughter’s wedding!”
Seeing genuine anguish in her daughter-in-law’s eyes, Bethany decided to put aside the world of new sensations, the eight missing months, and the fact that she’d been spinning around like a ballerina in front of a crowd with nothing but a slice of cake, and put her arms around Jenna.
“I’m so happy for the both of you, my daughter … and I’m sorry about the cake.”
“Hang the cake.” Mick said, hugging the two of them. “I married the woman I love and got my mother back on the same day. I couldn’t ask for better Christmas presents than this.”
When they released, Bethany said, “I guess I should contact my sisters. I mean, if Angela’s still missing.”
“It’s been over a year.” Rebecca said gently. “It’s your daughters’ wedding. We can talk about Mom tomorrow; for now, why not just enjoy the party?”
“Well …” Bethany said, “I suppose … after all this time, one day won’t make a difference … and I would like to spend some time with everyone.”
A supportive round of applause filled the air, none clapping more loudly than Jimmy.
“In that case,” He said, putting an arm around Bethany’s shoulders. “Let’s get the party started, shall we?”
Whatever uncertainty Bethany would face along the path to finding Angela, she would always remember that first night in her body: Jimmy and Arc taking turns to teach her how to dance, getting to hold little Annie Sakamota as the tiny fional burbled happily, and even enjoying a few more pieces of cake in the presence of the newlyweds. It was while watching Mick and Jenna dance that she found herself laying down on an empty bench. In a matter of moments, she was asleep.