Chapter 11 - Social Studies
The control matrix of the Naidyr facility identified that she was still within range, but couldn’t give them a more precise location remotely. Fei-jan promised to drop them off in Samantha’s Central Core so they could use the scanning equipment to locate her quickly, yet as the light around them faded, they found themselves standing in a large courtyard filled with topiary animals. A few students lingered in the area, mostly in small groups centered around the benches or the fountain in the center of the courtyard. A massive building lay at the far end, floating towers visible high above.
As this was a school of magic as well as technology, the sudden appearance of two women wasn’t particularly noteworthy to those around. Their unusual appearance, however, seemed to be garnering some attention; Bethany spotted a few of the students stealing glances only to quickly look away when they noticed she was watching them as well.
“Huh.” Cristlyn said, scratching her head as she considered a topiary gnu, “This ... isn’t the facility.”
“Definitely not.” Bethany said, “We’re outside the Center of Knowledge. I recognize it from Jimmy’s description.”
Cristlyn sighed. “Looks like your boyfriend needs to work on his aim.”
“He’s not my-”
“Hey! You!” Cristlyn said, her eyes on a student sitting at a nearby bench. “You’re a Glyche, right?”
While the student was clothed and previously occupied with reading a book, Bethany was surprised to find Cristlyn was correct; the student was a core unit. The lack of apparent gender indicated it was only at its second evolution at most, and its design was quite old, indicating that while it was likely built around the time of the Corruption, it had only been activated recently.
“Oh, hello!” The core unit said in a vaguely masculine voice, standing and approaching the two sisters. “I’m glad to see another Glyche; I thought there’d be more of us here. How long have you been enrolled?”
“We’re not students.” Cristlyn said, raising a hand to stem off further questions. “We’re here to see our sister.”
“Sister?” The core unit said, pushing back his hat. “I haven’t seen any other Glyche.”
“She’s not a core unit ... well, she wasn’t anyway. She used to be the CIC of the Naidyr facility.”
“Oh, you mean Sammy? I met her, but I didn’t realize she was the CIC of the facility under Naidyr. She’s a bit young, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, she’s young. So what?” Cristlyn said, putting her hands on her hips. “How old are you?”
“Cristlyn.” Bethany said, putting a hand on her sister’s arm. “He’s a student, not a prisoner of war; stop interrogating him.”
“Aw, I was just ...” Letting out a snort, she said, “Ugh, fine. Sorry, buddy.”
“Not a problem.” The core said. “You say she used to be a facility CIC?”
“Yes. We were as well; I’m Bethany Sakamota of the Saybaro.”
“Truly?” the core unit said, his eyes wide. “It’s an honor to meet you, ma’am. Gillcrest Achivva, from the Achivva facility in Ircandesta.”
Bethany shook his hand. “A pleasure to meet you.”
“Are you a CIC too, miss?” He asked, looking at Cristlyn.
“Yeah. Wukice facility. Crislyn’s the name.” She held out a hand, which he shook solemnly.
“Must be fun, living around all that movie magic, huh?”
“Meh.” She said. “Glad to see the back end of it for awhile. Well, look, it was nice chatting and all, but we’re on an important mission right now.”
“Oh.” Gill said, “Anything I can do to help?”
“Not unless you know where Samantha is. Do you?”
“Well, no, but ...”
“Oh well. Have fun at school.” With that, Cristlyn walked toward the main Center building.
“Sorry about her.” Bethany said, blushing. “She can be a bit ... direct.”
“I’m coming!” With final nod at Gill, she hurried after her sister. To her surprise, Gill followed her.
“Mind if I tag along?”
“Don’t you have classes or something?” Cristlyn asked, not bothering to look at him.
“Not for another two hours. I’ve got time, and like I said; I don’t see many other Glyche around here.”
“Sure, fine, whatever.”
Gill looked at Bethany; he didn’t have hair (or most facial features, for that matter), but Bethany didn’t see any harm in it, so she nodded. Beaming, he jogged until he was beside her and together they followed Cristlyn into the Center of Knowledge Reception area.
Often the first room seen by prospective students, the reception area was a pleasant enough place; there were plenty of chairs and couches for those waiting (invaluable during open enrollment), display cases showing various trophies and plaques displaying the names of exceptional alumni, a few busts on pedastels featuring famous scholars, mages, and technicians.
“Thomas Desygan.” Gill said, pointing at a bust. “They put it here a few weeks ago based on an old portrait found in the Jaalus facility.”
“Really?” Bethany said, gazing at the man who many acknowledged as the grandfather of the modern Glyche.
Thomas Desygan was one of the bio-form Glyche’s best scientists and programmers. It was he who programmed the first functional core unit, he who aided Narrator Number One in stopping the original Corruption, and he who headed the operation that saw the Glyche facilities built in Wenapaj in preperation of what was to come. By all rights, he should have been considered a hero across Vinta, but his legacy mostly remained in Wenapaj.
“Got the nose wrong.” Cristlyn said matter-of-factly as they passed the bust.
“It’s still a good likeness.” Bethany said.
“Yeah, good enough, I suppose.” Cristlyn approached the front desk. Bethany was a little worried about this; given her sister’s pushy nature, she was sure that should anyone be unfortunately enough to be in line in front of Cristlyn, a scene would soon follow. Fortuantely, there was no one; it was a slow day for the Center, apparently.
The woman at the desk gave Cristlyn a polite smile. “How can I-”
The receptionist’s smile twtiched ever so slightly. Turning to her computer, she asked, “Last name?”
“No last name. Just Samantha.”
Seeing the receptionist’s questioning look, Bethany said, “She was the CIC of the facility beneath the center, ma’am. She recently downloaded herself into a core unit, and we were wanting to check up on her to see how she’s adjusting.”
Her demeanor visibly brightening at Bethany’s politeness, the receptionist said. “Ah, thank you. She’ll be registered as a core unit, then; that narrows the field quite a bit.”
After tapping at her console for a few moments, the receptionist said, “You’ll need to see the Seed.”
“What?” Cristlyn said, “Why?”
“Because your Glyche, and anything to do with the Glyche goes straight to the Seed.” Eyes shifting to Bethany, the receptionist added, “Ma’am.”
“That’s fine.” Bethany said.
“What? No, it’s not fine! We shouldn’t have to check in with the Seed because we’re-“
“It’s fine.” Bethany said, raising her voice. “After everything that’s happened, I think a little caution is justified.”
“That wasn’t our fault.’ Cristlyn said with gilded cheeks.
“I know.” Beth said, softening her tone.
Cristlyn stared at her for a moment before letting out a sigh. “Fine. Whatever makes the bio-forms comfortable, I guess.”
“I can show them the way.” Gill said. “I’ve got some time.”
“I’d appeciate it, Gill.” said the receptionist.
Catching Bethany and Cristlyn’s curious looks, Gill shrugged and said, “Like I said; there aren’t many core units here.”
He led them through the doors in the back of the reception hall and onto the main grounds of the center. While the building housed many of the classrooms and labs of the center (the remaining being in the towers that floated above the Center via magic, technology, or a combination of both), the main grounds were home to some outdoor-specific classes such as the druidic arts, weather alteration, herbology, and Magi-zoology. There was still plenty of open room, of course, and some of the less dangerous plantlife was allowed to grow on the grounds, giving the area a very peaceful appearance.
In the center of the main grounds was the Seed’s Tower; a somewhat strange but still impressive building, the Seed’s tower was built right into the Center’s largest greenhouse, and housed many interesting specimens. Since the area was protected from the cold of winter, the plants were allowed to thrive, and were in full bloom as Bethany, Cristlyn, and Gill entered the tower.
They were soon greeted by a woman with skin as brown as fresh dirt, her hair an equally dark green. From the leaves growing in her hair, the rough bark-like patches on her knees and elbows, and the lack of pupils in her brown eyes, Bethany recognized her as a dryad, likely bound to one of the trees in the main grounds.
“Hello.” The dryad said, a tenative smile on her face. “What are you looking for?”
“A wizard with a big red mustache.” Cristlyn said.
“The Seed?” she said, a little startled by Cristlyn’s directness. “He’s in his chambers at the top of the tower, but ...”
“Good.” Cristlyn immediately headed for the base of the ivory spiral stairwell that led to the tower’s upper floors, only to be stop as thick vines that burst from the ground, effectively making the stairs completely impassible.
“The Seed is currently testing a prospective student.” The dryad said, hand still raised as the vines continue to twist and wind arount the stair railings. “You can’t go up there.”
“Oh yeah?” Cristlyn spread her arms and took an impressive leap forward, easily clearing the growth of vines and landing half-way up the first floor stars. She paused to stick her tongue out at the dryad, unaware of the creepers already slipping around her ankles. She tried to take another step, only to fall flat on her face. The vines pulled her down the stairs as she tried in vain to stop both them and her. She eventually managed to get a firm grasp around one of the railing posts near the bottom of the stairwell, and held on tightly as the vine continued tugging at her legs.
“Okay, you’ve made your point.” Bethany said, concerned that Cristlyn would be hurt. “Please, let her go.”
The dryad met her gaze for a moment before nodding and lowering her hand. The vines slid from the stairwell and back into the ground as Bethany hurried over to her sister.
“I coulda gotten out.” Cristlyn muttered beneath her breath as Bethany helped her stand.
“You just got that body.” Bethany told her. “Are you really so eager to get it torn apart?”
“I’m fine!” Cristlyn said, pulling out of Bethany’s grasp. “Geez; chill out already.”
“One moment;” The dryad said, “You mentioned recently getting your body; am I correct in assuming you are Samantha’s sisters?”
“Yes.” Bethany said, taking the dryad’s knowledge of them as a good sign. “Bethany Sakamota of the Saybaro, and Cristlyn of the Genovis facility.”
The dryad seemed to recognize Bethany, but seemed puzzled at Cristlyn’s introduction.
Sighing, Cristlyn said, “The one in Wukice.”
Recognition dawned on the dryad’s face. “So you were both formerly CICs as well? I understand. Please, go on up.”
Bethany and Cristlyn traded curious looks.
“They’re expecting you. ” The dryad said, obviously feeling it explained everything; without another word, she turned her attention back to the garden.
“Well.” Gill said, letting out a small cough. “We should probably go.”
“Yeah.” Cristlyn said, giving the dryad one final glare before she rejoined her sister and the Glyche student.
They walked in silence for a few floors before Gill let out another polite cough. “So, how are you two finding your newfound freedom?”
“Are you kidding? It’s fantastic!” Cristlyn said. “As a CIC, I had to work to see thing as more than just data. You know how hard it is to enjoy a nice symphony when you can feel part of your mind noticing every instrument that misses a note by even a fraction of a second? To look at a painting and to see it for what it is without part of you analyzing the trace elements that differentiate the colors?”
“To enjoy a piece of cake without having to analyze every single atom.” Bethany said.
After a few moments, she realized they were looking at her, Cristlyn with a bemused expression.
Blushing, Bethany said, “Um, so Gill; what are you studying?”
“Oh, I’m majoring in Gineran Magi-technology. Fascinating subject; the idea of merging the order and dependability of technology with something as chaotic in nature as magic.”
“Yes,” Cristlyn said, stifling a yawn. “Fascinating.”
Bethany shot her sister an annoyed look before looking back at Gill. “Are you planning to be a magi-tek technician or engineer?”
“Actually, I’m hoping to become a Builder.” He said, rubbing the back of his shiny head. “There’s a lot of demand for good Builders on Earth, and I’d like to help, maybe even join up with the Knights of the Star.”
“Uh-huh.” Cristlyn said. “Looking to be the next Crash, huh? Fight some monsters, save innocents, make a name for yourself?”
Gill blushed. “No! I mean, maybe. Who doesn’t want to be a hero? I do have a concrete goal, however.”
“Really? What’s your goal?” Bethany asked.
“Have you heard of the Ulasomorf project?” When Bethany shook her head, Gill said, “Well, it’s all very hush-hush, but apparently the Knights of the Star are close to building a starship capable of travelling beyond our galaxy.”
Cristlyn chuckled. “That would be a lot more impressive if we didn’t live on a planet with sentients.”
“Yes, sentients can portal across great distances, but they have to have already been there to do it. I’m talking about actual faster-than-light travel.”
“Physically impossible.” Cristlyn sniffed.
“I know.” Gill said, a grin spreading across his face. “But not magically impossible.”
They both stared at him for a moment before Bethany realized his meaning. “A Magi-tek starship engine?”
“So I’ve heard. In development since the days of the Old Rangers, if rumors are true.”
Cristlyn looked impressed despite herself. “Clever little bioforms. Don’t like the way the universe works? Change the universe. Wouldn’t want to be the tekker in charge of keeping it running, though.”
“I would.” Gill said. “Gladly.”
Cristlyn shrugged and said nothing. Bethany kept her peace as well; the idea of exploring the boundaries of space certainly had some romance to it. Ultimately, however, she found herself agreeing with Cristlyn. She was feeling homesick already, and she’d only been away from the Saybaro for a few hours.
As they neared the top of the tower, the sounds of chanting could be heard.
“And here comes the hocus pocus.” Cristlyn said, sounding vaguely annoyed.
Sighing, Bethany said, “Please don’t offend the Seed, Cristlyn.”
Bethany frowned at her sister. “I’m serious; Jimmy said he was a kind old man. There’s no reason to offend him.”
“Yeah, Cristlyn.” Seed Thamasa said, inexplicably walking on Cristlyn’s other side. “Don’t go offending the old man.”
He was much as Jimmy described him; pretty much the exact image of a wizard one would imagine upon hearing the word; long beared, sequined robe, pointy hat with a wide brim, pouches strapped to his belt no doubt filled with magical objects and reagants. The only noteable variant on the ‘wizened wizard’ look was the Seed’s massive bushy red mustache, a perfect match for that of King Iniagus. Rumors persisted that the two were related, some even suggesting that they might be the same person.
Cristlyn jumped a little. Holding a hand to her chest, she said, “Creator’s Grace, don’t do that!”
“Oh, come on!” The Seed said, clapping her on the back. “Just a bit of levity. Now that you’re unfettered, you need to learn to have a bit of fun.”
“What do you know about that?” Cristlyn said, sounding suspicious.
Thamasa thumbed his nose, his eyes twinkling. “You should see my newest and brightest student.”
“That’s okay.” Cristlyn said as they reached the final step. “We’re just here to see our ...”
A waterballon hit her right in the side of the face. Bethany couldn’t help but laugh at the surprised look on her sister’s face as she tried to process what had just happened.
“Think fast!” said a familiar voice.
Bethany turned in time to see another water balloon speeding her way. Her hand shot forward, slicing through the air in a smooth motion and scooping the balloon from the air without breaking it.
“Whoa.” Gill said, looking at her with wide eyes. “Nice catch.”
“Thanks.” Bethany said. In truth, she was only slightly less shocked than Gill. The movement had been automatic ... involuntary, even.
A giggle broke her from her thoughts. Looking away from the water balloon, Bethany found herself staring at a fourth-evolution core unit with blonde pigtails and bright blue eyes. She was wearing a Center of knowledge uniform and held what was undoubtedly a wand in her delicate fingers.
The woman twirled her wand with a delicate hand at a nearby table that was practically covered with water balloons. To Bethany’s amazement, one of the balloons rose at Sammy’s prompting.
“See Crissy?” Sammy said, a wide grin on her face, “You were wrong! I’m a great wizard after all!”