Chapter 3 - Tattletale
The remaining CICs just stood there in silence for a few moments. Although they didn’t have ears capable of ringing, the residual dissonance of Sammy’s scream continued to cause minor distortions in their projections.
“Well done.” Bethany said, glaring at Cristlyn.
“Hey, it’s not my fault she’s such a crybaby! I mean, come on! Everyone knows CICs can’t use magic, right?”
“Is she gonna do it?” Alaina asked fearfully.
“Do what?” Jocelyn asked, her projection finally settling.
Snorting, Cristlyn said, “Yeah, well ... so what if she does? I mean, it’s not like she’s really our mother. She just programmed us, that’s all.”
Despite her words, Bethany could tell Cristlyn was bluffing. CICs were created to succeed the bio-form Glyche after years of tampering with their genetic code left them sterile. With a few exceptions, the bio-form Glyche considered the artificial Glyche not as servants or helpers, but as their children and the evolution of their kind.
Angela had created each of them for Thomas Desygan’s secret project. She had compiled their code, programmed their basic functions, and shared her own experiences with them to help them develop into the CICs they now were. She had every right to call herself their mother as far as Bethany was concerned.
“I dunno.” Alaina said, “Maybe we should cut the call.”
Cristlyn closed her eyes, only to open them a moment later in panic. “I can’t cut the connection.”
“What?” Jocelyn appeared to try to disconnect as well, with the same level of success. “W-what’s going on?”
The chamber shifted to a central core they all recognized: the central core that was in the heart of the nation of Ronisgald. Staring around the room that contained their earliest memories, it didn’t take long for the sisters to spot their mother, Angela, kneeling in front of Samantha beside the comm control panel. Her hologram was translucent and glowing, an appearance popular with the CICs at the time of her creation. She had other holograms, of course, but clearly preferred the ‘digital angel’ look. Bethany couldn’t blame her; it definitely made an impression.
“There there.” Angela said, hugging Samantha. “You’re sister’s just grumpy, that’s all.”
“S-she said I could n-never be a w-w-wizard.”
“Yes, well it’s not up to her now, is it? You just keep watching the Seed and who knows? You might just be the best sorceress of them all!”
Samantha wiped the tears from her simulated cheek, her blue eyes hopeful. “Really?′
Smiling Angela tapped Samantha on the tip of her nose. “Really. Now be a good girl and run along back to Naidyr. I need to have a word with your sisters.”
“’Kay. I love you, mommy.” Samantha gave Angela another hug before vanishing, her intelligence presumably returning to her home facility.
Angela’s smile faded as she turned her gaze on the assembled CICs. Alaina looked like she was trying to hide behind Jocelyn’s shoulder, Cristlyn had her hands on her hips and a defiant expression on her face, and Bethany looked how she felt: nervous. She hadn’t done anything wrong, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow the blame was going to get shifted to her.
“So.” Angela said, her hologram shifting from the glowing ‘digital angel’ look to a more realistic image that of an attractive-looking Galden woman wearing a nice, if a bit austere dress. Cristlyn called it her ‘grumpy librarian’ persona, and the look on Angela’s face certainly seemed to fit that description.
Putting her hands on her hips, Angela said, “Who started this?”
Cristlyn, Alaina, and Jocelyn immediately pointed to Bethany, who despite her expectation of such an outcome was still taken aback.
“I just made the call!” Bethany said, “Cristlyn’s the one who said Sammy couldn’t be a wizard.”
Shooting Bethany a dirty look, Cristlyn said, “Hey, I’m just telling her the truth. I’ve already got one sister with her head always in the clouds.”
“Hey!” Alaina and Jocelyn said. They exchanged glances in confusion until Cristlyn sighed and said, “Fine. Two daydreamers.”
“At least I take care of my responsibilities.” Jocelyn said. “Or did you think I didn’t notice the props and special effects you’re providing for the movies have been getting progressively worse?”
Cristlyn’s nostrils flared. “I’ve made everything to the very letter. Is it my fault the damn producers can’t get their heads out of their-”
“That’s enough!” Angela said, her voice sharp.
Silence fell over the chamber, broken only by the occasional whoosh of one of the rings circling the core.
Angela let out a sigh and rubbed her eyes. “I don’t expect you all to agree, but in the very least you need to be civil to your sisters.”
Cristlyn threw up her hands. “Fine! Whatever! Sammy can be a damn wizard if she wants! I mean, it’s not like there’s no record of any artificial construct ever using even the simplest of magic. Just because we can’t even learn the teachable stuff like alchemy and streaming shouldn’t stop her from her thaumaturgical aspirations!”
“Enough.” Angela said, rubbing her forehead. “I know her chances aren’t good-”
“Aren’t existent, you mean.”
“-but she’s young. Letting her dream a little isn’t going to hurt anyone. Can you at least let her have a little fantasy for a century or two before bogging her down with reality?”
Sighing, Cristlyn said, “Fine. If it keeps her from screaming, whatever.”
“Cristlyn ...” Sighing, Angela waved her hand at the comm console.
Bethany heard Cristlyn mutter, “Finally” before vanishing from the chamber.
Seeing Angela’s expression fall, Bethany said, “She’s a little high-strung. Living in Wukice must be stressful.”
“I know. Still, she’s been so distant since we stopped Kikrieeg. I’ve tried talking to her about it, but she just blows me off.”
“Me too.” Bethany admitted. “I guess I can’t blame her for being upset, considering how close he came to succeeding. Still, it’s over now. She’s fine, Sammy’s fine, we’re all fine.” She paused and added, “Thanks to you and Ethan.”
Angela gave her daughter a hug. “I’m just glad you’re all safe, sweetie.” Stepping back, she turned to Alaina and said, “I hear you’re going into the hotel business.”
“What? Me? Uh ... I mean, it’s not a business, business.” She toyed with her fingers, a sure sign that she was nervous. “Sometimes, people walking along the road need a break, and who needs a tent, right? It’s not like I charge them or anything. I’m just trying to-”
“Alaina!” Angela said, her voice raised not in anger but amusement. “It’s okay. I’m glad you’re helping people. I know it must be lonely out there, so far from any of the Wenapaj settlements. If you’d like, I might be able to put in a word with some of the travel agencies in Wenapaj.”
“You don’t have to do that.” Alaina said. “I mean, thanks for the offer, but I’m sure the people will come pouring in soon. Speaking of, I’d better get back to work on my new sign.”
Alaina gave Angela a peck on the cheek before vanishing.
Angela let out a sigh, a concerned look on her face.
“It’s okay, mother.” Jocelyn said, “She just wants to make it on her own, and knowing her, I’m sure she’ll get there one day. Maybe not with that sign, but she’ll get there eventually.”
“I know.” Smiling again, Angela asked, “And how is your search for an Inheritor going?”
“Fine.” Jocelyn said just a bit too quickly. “I mean, I’m reviewing possible candidates. It’s an important decision.”
“It is important.” Angela said, “And Creator knows I want the best for you. Still, remember that you’re not necessarily looking for perfection.”
“That’s right.” Bethany said, trying to be helpful. “I mean, you’re just looking for an Inheritor. It’s not like you’re gonna marry the guy or gal.”
Jocelyn’s face went red. Very red. “Um, right. Well, I guess I’d better be on my way. Goodbye mother.”
She hugged Angela before turning to Bethany and giving her a hug as well. “Goodbye Bethany. We should talk again sometime ... perhaps without Cristlyn next time.”
“Sure.” Bethany said. After Jocelyn vanished, she let out a sigh.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” Angela asked, a concerned look on her face. “Is everything all right?”
“Yeah, everything’s going perfect.” Bethany said. “Jimmy and Terra are expecting again.”
“Too early to say. Smokes has finally stopped blowing up my labs, Mick and Jenna are doing great work cultivating the new gardens, and we got the instability with the Minuet Tower Portal figured out. Everything’s working just great.”
She tried to turn away, but Angela just appeared in front of her and gently put a hand on her cheek. “I’m not speaking of the Saybaro. I want to know if you are okay.”
“Fine. I’m fine.” Bethany said just a little too quickly.
Angela gave her a knowing look. After a few moments, Bethany sighed and said, “I’m listless. Everything’s going well ... too well. I feel like there’s nothing left for me to take care of, and it’s driving me crazy.”
Angela said nothing as Bethany continued, “I need ... something! Some project to give me purpose! I ...”
Bethany stopped. Angela was listening intently to her, not a trace of surprise on her face.
“You ... you knew this would happen?”
“I’ve been expecting it, yes. Ever since Mick left her last evolution pod. She was your big project, your sole purpose of being, and now she’s all grown up. I can’t help but notice that she’s been spending almost all of her time with Jenna lately.”
“I ...” Bethany let out a sigh and sat down against the railing surrounding her mother’s core. “Yes, they have. They don’t think I’ve noticed, but I’ve seen them together late at night, whispering to each other in the shadows. They think I’ll be angry.”
“Of course not!” Bethany said. “Jenna’s a wonderful woman and a great core unit, and they’re always so happy when they’re together. It’s just ... ”
Bethany looked at Angela, unable to contain it any longer. “They’re talking about leaving. Sometimes it’s Ircandesta, sometimes it’s the Cleftan region. Mom, what if they leave? I spent my whole life keeping Mick safe. Without her, what is there for me to do?”
She didn’t resist as Angela guided her projection into a comforting embrace. Bethany never bothered programming her hologram to cry, something she found herself regretting as she rested in her mother’s arms.
“I felt the same way when I had to let each of you go, sweetie.” She murmured, smoothing Bethany’s hair. “It hurts, I know. Every time, it felt a little worse. When you all went into hibernation, it was the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t know if I’d ever see any of my dear sweet daughters again.”
She made Bethany look up into her smiling face. “Mick may not stay at the Saybaro forever, but she’ll always be a part of you, even if she never returns. Just as you helped her grow and develop, so too did she change you. That’s something that you’ll never lose.”
Bethany smiled and hugged Angela tightly. “Thanks, Mom.”
“It’s nothing, sweetie.”
They sat there for a few long moments before the comm alert sounded. Angela glanced at the panel and frowned.
“Mother?” Bethany asked, following Angela’s gaze.
“I’d better take that.” Angela said, slipping away from Bethany. “I hate to send you away, but-”
“It’s okay.” Bethany said, rising to her feet. “I should probably get back anyway.”
They shared one final hug before Bethany transferred herself back to the Saybaro.