Chapter 4 - Emergency Protocols
It was two months before Bethany heard from her sisters again. She’d taken to making new training course for young Tifa. The young fional had her parent’s knack for tearing through the courses like they were nothing. Jimmy and Terra weren’t letting her on the combat courses just yet, so Bethany thought it’d be a treat to build a few new courses set in the district Jimmy called home after his parents died. The streets of Rimstak were full of natural obstacles and parkour challenges the young fional would no doubt enjoy. Her brother was a little more somber. Although he did well on the training courses, he spent more and more time with Minuet and Smokes honing his magical talents. Jimmy and Terra were very proud of both of them, as was Bethany.
She was just putting a few finishing touches on a track she called ‘The Roseway Run’ when she felt the tug of the comm alert. Her lips twitching slightly at the interruption, Bethany transferred her consciousness to the core room.
The call was from Cristlyn. Pursing her lips, Bethany reminded herself that despite Cristlyn’s attitude during their last meeting, she was still family. In the very least, Bethany should see what Cristlyn wanted.
Her hologram appeared in the Central Core room, Cristlyn’s following a few moments after, a wild look in her eyes.
Bethany barely had time to open her mouth before Cristlyn said, “I can’t find Sammy.”
Panic flooded through Bethany’s programming. She immediately sent a communication to the Naidyr facility requesting access and was dismayed when the automated responder answered, indicating the facility’s CIC was busy.
Sammy’s core was functional however, so Bethany quickly transferred part of herself to the Naidyr facility. Appearing in Sammy’s Central Core with Cristlyn following shortly after, Bethany quickly interfaced with the control matrix and sent a generalized request for the local CIC.
“She didn’t answer me either.” Cristlyn said, “I thought she mighta been pissed at me, but she didn’t respond to emergency codes either. She’s gotta be here, though right? I mean, everything’s still running, and it’s not like she can just walk out of herself.”
“She’s likely hiding in an isolated partition.” Bethany said. “I’ll start looking through all the local storage and Weave access points.” Bethany said, “Just to be safe, you should go ahead and call Mom and let her know what’s happening.”
Cristlyn looked queasy at this suggestion. “Yeah, I was kinda hopin’ that maybe we wouldn’t have to involve Angela in this.”
“Why not? You know close she is with Sammy! We need to ...” Bethany stopped, a sudden realization coming to her. Narrowing her eyes at Cristlyn, she asked, “What did you tell Sammy?”
“Nothing!” Cristlyn said, raising her hands defensively. “I mean, I might have sent her a few Weave links to studies of magical interaction with artificial beings, but I just thought it might cheer her up.”
“Cheer her up? How?”
“Well, Gineran Magi-tek is essentially a blending of technology and magic. There’s some evidence of repeated use of magi-tek items imbuing the user. The research is still pretty early on, monitoring stream-flux and the like, but his early results seem to suggest a high probability that-”
Sighing, Cristlyn said, “Look, it might be possible, all right? I thought that’d make her happy.”
“How did she respond?”
“I don’t know. I was in the middle of building a prop airship when I stumbled across the articles and forwarded them to her. That’s why I came here; I wanted to see what she thought about it, only-”
“-she’s gone.” Bethany sighed and said, “Fine, but we should at least grab Jocelyn and Alaina to help us.”
“Yeah, okay.” Cristlyn said, nodding. “I’ll call ’em while you start looking.”
It was strange to be moving through a strange facility. Bio-forms always focused on the superficial, and as such always thought the rooms and corridors all looked the same. To a CIC, however, the differences are massive. The level of lighting, the subtle difference in the corridors, the safety features designed to limit access to the Central Core, and even the small impurities in the materials used to build … well, everything. All these differences made the facilities look and feel completely different to a Glyche.
To give it a more bio-form-friendly description, going through another CIC’s facility was like wearing someone else’s clothes. Even if everything fits okay, it just feels uncomfortable.
Samantha’s data was scattered about with a few token attempts at organization. Bethany found it difficult to find anything, but couldn’t help but smile as she recognized tell-tale signs of her sister in every database. To Sammy, however, everything was exactly where she wanted it.
Most of the data was observational: video and audio-feeds recorded in the Center of Knowledge above the facility. Magic lessons, mostly, but Bethany noted her youngest sister seemed curious about cybernetics and the creation of artificial life as well.
She paused as she felt Jocelyn’s presence within the system. Sending her sister a quick hello and brief update on the search, Bethany moved to a seemingly innocuous data node, and suddenly found herself in a virtual world interface.
Her hologram stood at a beach, staring at a windmill that stood at the top of a distant seaside cliff. From her vantage point, she could see a long sandy trail running along the side of the beach and winding up the side of the cliff before reaching the windmill. It was a very nice recreation, but she wasn’t sure if the location was real or something Sammy came up with on her own. A lighthouse would make more sense given the location.
Bethany was so focused on the windmill that she didn’t notice Jocelyn until she bumped into her.
“Oh.” Bethany said, her eyes wide. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine, Beth. You heading to the windmill too?”
“It seems the most logical place to check.” Bethany said, returning her gaze to the distant structure.
“Unless it’s a giant in disguise.”
Bethany chuckled. Seeing Jocelyn’s surprised look, Bethany said, “Jimmy’s been reading ‘Don Quixote’ to Tifa and Fei.”
“Is that appropriate for children their age?”
“Hey, he’s the father. I’m sure he wouldn’t read them something he thought inappropriate.”
By the time they reached the windmill, Alaina had arrived as well and was hurrying along the path to catch up with them. It was just as well; Sammy had heavy encryption on the door.
“Hey, Jocy. Hey, Beth.” Alaina said as she drew near. “Find Sammy yet?”
“I think so.” Bethany said, “Just give me a sec, and …”
There was a loud click. The door handle turned on its own before the door itself swung open, revealing the inside of the windmill. Much larger on the inside (which isn’t so unusual considering it was all simulated), there was no sign of the machinery necessary to turn the windmill, nor any of the usual mill equipment one might expect to see. There were, however, drawings. They hung on every wall, they were taped to the sides of the spiraling staircase that led to the top of the windmill, they even covered the floor. Each picture showed a different landscape, some not even from Vinta, some not even in existence as far as Bethany knew.
“Wow.” Bethany said, glancing from a windswept plain to a city of clouds perched on the top of a giant mushroom.
“You think Sammy drew all these?” Jocelyn asked, reaching for a picture of a moonlit forest. The moment her fingers brushed against the pages, a small tremor ran through the windmill.
She quickly snatched her hand back. “What was that?” She asked, looking around worriedly.
“I don’t know.” Bethany glanced at the door and frowned. There was light coming from the crack beneath the door earlier, but now it looked completely dark. “I think …”
She walked past her sisters and opened the door. As she suspected, the windmill was now surrounded by forest of tall trees. Unlike the smooth trunks of the chronoan trees, however, these were gnarled and twisting trees whose limbs came together in a dense tangle of wood and leaves save for a few paths that lead up into the trees. In the distance, a tree even larger than the mightiest chronoan stood, its branches covered with a civilization’s worth of small structures and lights.
“Whoa. Good job, Sammy.” Jocelyn whispered as Alaina and Bethany stared out the door, their jaws hanging.
“So the paintings change the landscapes with the lighthouse being the central point.” Bethany said once she could tear her gaze away from the sight before her. “But why? What’s the purpose?”
“Maybe she just wants something more to look at than the gray walls of the facility.” Alaina said, a wistful look in her eye.
They continued staring until Bethany shook her head and said, “C’mon. We still need to find Sammy.”
“How about up there?” Jocelyn asked. “She may be in the upper chamber.”
“We should check before leaving anyway.” With a final glance at the woods, Bethany shut the door. The three sisters hurried up the stairs, eventually coming to a single door marked, “Keep Out.”
“Keep out?” Alaina asked, giving Jocelyn a curious look. “How many people does she expect to make it this far into her systems?”
“Shh!” Bethany held a finger to her lips. “Listen.”
They did so. After a few moments, the sound of a young child humming to herself could be heard beyond the door.
“Thank the Creator.” Bethany said as her sisters breathed sighs of relief. Opening a communication channel, she said, “Cristlyn, can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear.” Cristlyn said, now standing right behind Bethany.
Bethany jumped and turned to her sister with a look of annoyance. “Don’t do that!”
“Sorry. You find something?”
“Yeah, Sammy. She’s just in the room there.”
“Really? That’s a load off my mind.” Before anyone could stop her, Cristlyn threw open the door and strolled inside.
The inside of the chamber was surprisingly simple: a desk, a chair, and crayons all over the place. They weren’t just simple wax, though; Bethany could see the incredible complexity hidden by the simplistic appearance. These were the tools Sammy used to create the landscapes, capable of great acts of simulated destruction or creation as she saw fit.
Sammy herself was sitting on the chair, her legs not quite reaching the floor. She stared at her sisters, her mouth open and a single orange crayon in her hand.
“There you are, squirt!” Cristlyn said, strolling over to the table. “You had us worried there! I’ve been trying to contact you for weeks!”
Sammy’s eyes were wide as Cristlyn peered over her shoulder. “Ah, doing a little drawing, huh? I saw your little pictures downstairs.”
Bethany saw Sammy’s lower lip begin to tremble and realized there was about to be a problem. “Uh, Crissy, maybe now that we know she’s safe we should go.”
“What? We just got here! Come take a look at the uh …” Cristlyn peered at the image for a moment before saying, “Thing she’s drawing.”
Alaina started forward, but Beth and Jocelyn caught her and held her back.
Bethany said, “We really should go.”
“Nah, it’s cool. Hang on, you got the ears on the tigreth all wrong.” To the horror of everyone else, Cristlyn picked up a crayon and started drawing on the same sheet as Sammy.
Bethany winced and tried to sever her audio interface. It didn’t work.
“GET OUT!” Sammy screamed at Cristlyn. “GET OUT, GET OUT, GET OUT, GET OUT!”
After seeing Cristlyn stand there for a few moments, her face a mask of incomprehension and the little CIC’s growing anger, Bethany hurried forward, grabbed her arm, and pulled Cristlyn out of the room.
“We’re sor-” Bethany said.
“Right, getting out. Sorry.” Bethany quickly shut the door and hurried down the stairs, Cristlyn’s arm still in her grasp.
“Hey! Watch it!” Cristlyn said, trying in vain to free herself. Sammy’s shrieks could still be heard as they tried to reach a point where they could get back to the normal parts of the Naidyr facility’s infrastructure.
They were almost out of the lighthouse when the shrieking changed. Bethany stopped to listen, her eyes going back to the upper chamber.
“Bethany, I’m sure Ethan heard that, and he’s in orbit.”
“No, she’s calling someone.”
They all made the same realization moments before feeling Angela’s presence in the Naidyr network.”
“Great. It’s ‘Mom’.” Jocelyn said, rubbing her forehead. “Nice going, Cristlyn. This is what, twice in as many months?”
“Hey, we were worried!” Cristlyn pulled her arm out of Bethany’s grasp.
“It was her special place, Cristlyn.” Jocelyn said. “How would you like it if someone just strolled into the one place you feel safest?”
“Well, if it was that important, why didn’t she encrypt this place?”
“She did.” Alaina said. “Bethany’s the one who broke through the encryption.”
Everyone turned to look at Bethany.
“But she was … I mean, we were …” Bethany sighed and said, “Fine. I’ll go talk to her.”