Chapter 10 - Back on Track
Bethany sat with Terra at the tree that lay between the Saybaro Mansion and Jimmy’s bridge. Terra idly wove Bethany’s long white hair into a braid while Bethany held little Annie in her lap. Little Annie giggled as Bethany’s slim fingers tickled her sides. Bethany cooed at the child, moving closer to rub noses with her. The baby fional squealed, a grin of sublime happiness on her face as she tried to touch Bethany with her small arms.
“She’s such a little sweetie.” Bethany said, carefully taking Annie’s hands. Annie grasped her thumbs and let out another giggle.
“She is.” Terra agreed. “Tifa was a little fussy when she was that small, but little Annie always seems to be smiling.”
Terra reached a hand around Bethany’s side and tickled her daughter’s stomach, prompting another squeal of laughter.
Going back to Bethany’s voluminous hair, Terra said, “You certainly like your hair long.”
Blushing gold, Bethany said, “I like how it feels in the wind. You think I should shorten it?”
“Nah.” Terra said, “It looks good on you. Are you gonna keep it white?”
“I’m not sure yet.” Bethany said. Her hand touched one of the small plates that monitored and encouraged the growth of her synthetic hair. “What do you think?”
“I’d keep it the way it is.” Terra said. Bethany shivered slightly as Terra’s fingers brushed her scalp.
“Sorry.” Terra said, drawing her hands back.
“No, it’s fine.” Bethany said, cheeks gold again. “It’s still a bit strange. Y’know; feeling things.”
Her hand briefly brushed against the silk material of her kimono. When programming her projections, she’d always chosen normal dresses of Glyche make for formality’s sake, but when trying on the cloths Jimmy and Terra had bought her as a ‘birthday’ present, she found herself drawn to the kimono. The strangely complex way the pieces had to be worn, the long and wide sleeves, the softness of the silk against her skin, and the beautiful designs all just struck a special chord with her, no doubt due in part to her Inheritor’s fascination with his ancient japanese heritage.
Terra usually preferred her usual mid-riff exposing shirt and short-shorts. With her fur, a kimono would likely be uncomfortably warm. She was wearing a kimono as well that day, however; it was a cool day, and Terra had been kind enough to demonstrate how to wear the Japanese garment. She’d even let Bethany dress Annie in a tiny kimono as well; the baby had laughed as Bethany carefully folded the cloth around her tiny body.
The front door of the mansion opened, revealing Jimmy. He chuckled as he approached. “Wow. I just came out here to say lunch is ready, but you three make me feel severely underdressed.”
Giving Bethany’s shoulders a final squeeze, Terra rose to her feet and greeted her husband with a warm hug and a kiss.
“It’s a good look for you.” Jimmy told her, arms around his wife’s waist.
“Mmm.” She rubbed her nose against his. “Well, maybe I’ll wear it again sometime. Tonight, maybe?”
“I’d like that.”
Bethany smiled and turned her attention back to Annie as Jimmy and Terra shared a longer kiss.
“So ... food?” Terra said.
“Yup. Nothing super fancy, but I think you’ll like it.”
“I’m sure I will.” Glancing back at Bethany, Terra said, “Are you hungry, Bethany?”
“My energy levels are ...” Blushing, Bethany shook her head. “I’m good at the moment.”
Terra approached and relieved Bethany of Annie, the little fional letting out a happy squeal as Terra lifted her in the air.
“I know you’re hungry, aren’t you, sweetie?” Terra said. Annie pawed at her kimono, hands clenching and unclenching around the thin fabric. Laughing, Terra said, “Patience, Annie; let’s go inside first, hmm?”
Bethany smiled at her friends as they entered the Saybaro mansion. It had only been two weeks, but already her live as the facility CIC was beginning to fade. While she no longer had a CIC’s omniscience of the facility, experiencing the world in her new form was so much more intense than the simple data feeds she’d processed for centuries.
Bethany lay back against the tree, legs curled under her as she stared out into the cerulean blue of the sky. As she watched the clouds slowly float across her vision, she wondered if somewhere, somehow Angela was able to perceive a similar view. She closed her eyes and pictured Angela’s kind and beautiful face as she’d last seen it.
While she had enjoyed her time with Jimmy, Terra, and the other residents of the Saybaro, worry about her mother’s fate was beginning to break through the newness of her body. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything she could do until her sisters left their own pods. Rebecca indicated that their installation would be faster now that she knew what mistakes she’d made with Bethany, but she still couldn’t provide an accurate timeframe as to when her sisters would be functional.
Something tickled her nose. Her eyes flew open at the unusual situation to see a pair of solid orange eyes staring back at her. She sat up immediately, her forehead hitting that of the core unit standing above her with an audible ‘clunk’.
“Oww!” The female core unit said, taking a step back and holding a hand to her head. “Watch it, Beth!”
Ignoring her own slight pain, Bethany looked at the core unit, a fourth evolution model like hers. The blue jeans and purple halter top didn’t ring any bells, nor did the short bob ginger hair. The face, however, was definitely familiar.
After a few moments, Bethany said, “Cristlyn?”
Cristlyn’s new face grinned. “Ah, so your memory is intact. Rebecca was concerned there might have been some degradation. Nice dress.”
“It’s a kimono.” Bethany said, slowly rising to her feet.
“It would be.” Cristlyn said with a laugh. “Still, it looks good on you. Hair’s a bit wild, though; long enough for you yet?”
“I haven’t settled on a style yet.” Bethany said defensively, keenly aware that the tip of the braid was bumping against her backside, the rest of her hair brushing against the back of her thighs.
“Or a color.” Cristlyn cocked her head to the side. “Stay with the white; it works.”
“Er, thanks.” Bethany smoothed her hair over her ears. “How long have you been up and about?”
“Oh, about a week. Had to make sure the last few props were finished before heading here.” Putting a hand on her hip, she asked, “So, we’re still headin’ for Ronisgald, right?”
“I’d like to, yes.” Bethany said, “But we still need to wait for the others. I’d like to contact the Ronisgald techs as well, let them know we’re coming.”
“You haven’t called them yet? Since waking up, I mean.”
Bethany shook her head. “I’ve tried, but they haven’t gotten back to me yet.”
“Huh.” Cristlyn said, rubbing her chin. “Sounds like the control matrix running Ronisgald isn’t doing so hot. How’s it going at the Saybaro?”
“Great.” Bethany told her sister. “The control matrix wasn’t even necessary; once I was gone, Fei-jan was able to install himself as the primary CIC. He even made me a PIM.”
She raised the bracelet-like device covering the back of her hand. Cristlyn smiled. “Already got him giving you jewelry, huh?”
“What?” Bethany said, her cheeks going gold. “It’s just a PIM! I mean, I still like to keep in contact with the rest of the facility.”
A little flustered, Bethany said, “Have you heard anything from our others?”
“Jocelyn, Alaina, and Sammy?”
“And Rebecca.” Bethany said. “She said she wanted to come along as well.”
“Yeah, but she’s Elsewhere; she’ll be along sooner or later. As for our more local sisters, I know Sammy’s out, and I think Alaina is as well; I tried calling her before heading here. Not sure on Jocelyn.”
“Well, if everyone else is awake, it’d stand to reason she’d be up and around as well.”
“Yeah, about that; Rebecca was working on Jocelyn’s transfer at the same time as mine; apparently, Jocelyn was giving her some trouble about some data she didn’t want to part with. Apparently, she absolutely needed her entire library to come with her.”
“Ah.” Bethany said, “I see. Maybe we should go check on her?”
“Might not be a bad idea.” Cristlyn said. “We should go pick up Samantha first, though.”
“What about Alaina?”
Snorting, Cristlyn said, “It’s Alaina. If you can’t find Alaina at home, check-“
“-check with Jocelyn, right.” Bethany said. Glancing down, she noticed that Cristlyn had a backpack with her.
“Huh? Oh, well ... i figured we could head straight from Jocy’s place to Ronisgald.” Cristlyn said, shouldering the backpack. “Save us some time.”
“Right.” Bethany said, shaking her head. “Sorry, I just ... well, didn’t expect to be going today.”
“Might as well get it over and done with, right? Sooner we get to Ronisgald, the sooner we can see about finding Angela.”
“Yes ... you’re right, of course.” Bethany paused and looked back at the Mansion. This was all so sudden; the idea that searching for Angela would mean leaving the Saybaro, actually going away from the only place she’d ever truly knew somehow never fully hit her until that moment.
“What’s wrong?” Cristlyn asked as Bethany turned to the Saybaro Mansion.
“Give me a minute, okay? I need to say goodbye to Jimmy and Terra.”
“Oh, right. Okay; I’ll just be here.”
Bethany felt the world slow around her as she walked through the front door and into the mansion. Her eyes took in the entire lobby as she walked toward the kitchen; the sweeping staircases, young Fei and Tifa arguing on the second floor landing, a few parcels sitting by the hat and coatrack that no one ever seemed to use. A few people waved at her as they headed to their own destinations; she waved back, trying to ignore the sudden pang in her core.
Jimmy had Annie on his shoulder, his hand softly patting her back as Bethany walked into the kitchen. Terra, still readjusting her kimono after feeding her daughter, opened her mouth to greet her but fell silent.
“Bethany?’ She asked, sash half-tied around her, “Beth, what’s wrong?”
Jimmy turned as well, concern on his face. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, trying to think of how to tell them. Sighing, she said, “Jimmy ... Terra ... Cristlyn and I are about to head to Naidyr to get Samantha.”
“Oh? They’re already up and about? That’s great! I’ll make sure to make extra around dinnertime to ...” Jimmy paused, realization in his eyes. “You’ll be heading out from there, then?”
“Yes.” She said, her cheeks going gold. “I mean, we’ll be heading to the Guildmaster’s Workshop in Rimstak to pick up Jocelyn and Alaina, then head to Ronisgald from there. I know this is sudden, but ... I mean, I’m coming back, after we figure out what happened to Mom. I just wanted to let you know.”
Jimmy and Terra traded glances before Terra rose and approached Bethany. Wrapping her arms around her, Terra said, “I hope you find your mother, Angela. We’re gonna miss you around here, especially Annie.”
Annie let out a small burp at that moment, followed by a small gurgle, her eyes on Bethany. She smiled toothlessly at her and reached forward with her tiny hands.
Jimmy let Bethany take her. “I’ll be right back.”
When he returned a moment later, he was carrying his old backpack; the one he used before he and Terra were married. “I put together a travel pack for you.” He told her. “Travel rations, a bit of rope, a ball of string ... odds and ends that could come in handy for whatever might happen.”
“I put some clothes in there as well.” Terra said, relieving Bethany of Annie. “Just a few old things of mine that should fit in case you get tired of the kimono.”
“Thank you.” Beth said she took the backpack. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me ... both of you.”
“There’s one more thing.” Jimmy paused and pulled out a sash. It was similar to the obi she wore with her kimono, though hers was simply red; the sash Jimmy offered her was marked images of the Sakamota family crest. She recognized it immediately, as she had been the one who discovered it in an ancient Earth database.
“As far as we’re concerned, you’re part of the Sakamota family.” Jimmy said, carefully removing her red sash before tying the new one in its place. “No matter what happens, the Saybaro will always be your home.”
He stepped back a moment to make sure the sash was straight before nodding and giving her a hug. “Take care of yourself, Bethany Sakamota.”
Bethany closed her eyes and let her head rest on Jimmy’s shoulder. “Thank you, Jimmy ... Terra.”
Annie hiccupped, immediately looking puzzled afterwards.
Bethany laughed at this baby fional’s expression. “And goodbye to you as well, little one.”
Bethany left the mansion and rejoined Cristlyn at the tree.
“Ready?” Cristlyn said, picking up her backpack.
Bethany nodded. “As ready as I can be.”
“Good. Now call your boyfriend and see if he can’t transfer us to Naidyr; I do not want to have to walk there.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.” Bethany said as she activated her PIM.