Chapter 5 - Mum's Place
The room at the top of the windmill was impossible to enter; there’s the normal level of encryption one places over an area when they want to keep it private, and the insanely intricate encryption one places over an area after finding someone in said private area. Sammy was no doubt still adding more, even after the other CICs returned to Bethany’s Central Core.
“Still won’t budge, huh?” Cristlyn said, her hologram leaning against the railing around the core.
“Can you blame her? I’d probably be the same way if someone breached my sanctuary.” Jocelyn said.
To Bethany’s surprise, Alaina and Cristlyn both nodded at this.
“You all have sanctuaries?” Bethany asked.
“Don’t you?” Alaina said, giving her sister a puzzled look. “We all need a place of our own.”
“Yeah, can’t spend every moment just monitoring the corridors.” Cristlyn said with a chuckle. “Most of it’s automated anyway. The skrievers let us know when our attention is needed.”
“Right.” Bethany said, “Sorry.”
The truth was, it had never occurred to her to build a sanctuary within her facility’s infrastructure. It seemed strange now that she thought about it; why hadn’t she created a little world for herself? Fear of someone finding out? No, she was completely open with her friends, especially her Inheritor. Too much time to create? Oh, please. She’d been in operation longer than most of her sisters. Her focus had been Mick; thinking about her own needs seemed ... selfish. Was that wrong?
One would think that being artificial beings would allow intelligences like the CICs a better grasp on the concept of time and its passing. One would be thinking incorrectly, however; when an intelligence ceases to be a mass of clever programming and becomes a personality, it can trick itself just as any bio-form; as such, The minutes that passed while Bethany considered the concept of sanctuaries seemed quite short to her, but dragged on for ages in the perception of her sisters as they awaited Angela’s arrival.
Eventually, Bethany realized that if Angela was indeed on her way, she would’ve already been there. “This is ... odd.”
“Tell me about it.” Cristlyn said. “Usually she drops everything when it’s Sammy crying.”
“She’s probably busy.” Jocelyn said. “She does have all of Ronisgald to look after.”
“Yeah, because that’s stopped her before.” Alaina was looking worried now. “Maybe we should go check on her.”
Nodding, Bethany sent a communication request to Angela. After a few moments with no answer, she tried again.
“She’s not answering.” Bethany said.
This caused worried looks among the CICs.
“It’s probably nothing.” Cristlyn said, “I mean, I thought the same thing when Sammy wasn’t responding, and look how that turned out?”
Jocelyn shook her head. “Mom always answers, even when she’s busy. We should check it out.”
“Yeah.” Alaina said, “I mean, just in case. If we just stumble in on her, I’m sure she’ll understand, right?”
“Indeed. She’s our mother.” Jocelyn nodded at Bethany. “Go ahead and activate the emergency override.
Bethany’s eyes widened. “What? Me? Why me?”
“Well,” Cristlyn said, “You’re already in trouble for breaking into Sammy’s windmill.”
Glaring at her sister, Bethany said, “Yes, because you were freaking out.”
“Don’t shift the blame. It’s irresponsible.” Cristlyn said, a smirk on her face.
Shaking her head, Bethany activated the emergency connection protocol. To her horror, it didn’t connect.
No doubt seeing her worried face, Jocelyn asked, “What’s wrong?”
“The emergency connection protocol’s not working.” Bethany said. “No rejection or anything; it’s like the command’s going nowhere.”
They stared at each other for a few moments, uncertain as how to proceed. They were bound to their facilities, and their skrievers could only go so far before they lost connection to their home facilities and ran out of battery power.
“Hang on.” Jocelyn said, “The Yaevin station can bypass the protocols and establish a firm connection.”
Looking at Cristlyn, she said, “We need Ethan.”
Cristlyn’s face fell. “Are you sure? I mean, we don’t really know if there’s a-”
“Cristlyn, for Creator’s Sake, Mom might be in trouble!” Alaina said, her projection glitching slightly. “Just call him already!”
“Sighing, Cristlyn closed her eyes and tapped the side of her head. “Calling Ethan. CIC Ethan, are you there?”
The projection of a boy of twelve appeared in Bethany’s Central Core, already sitting on one of the consoles. Most CICs were women, some ancient study done by the bio-from Glyche finding that people were more comfortable around the fairer sex. If Ethan’s behavior was any indication, it was a good call; in his short time as a functioning CIC, Ethan had already earned quite the reputation as a prankster. While as careful as any CIC at keeping those living under his watch safe, he nevertheless subjected his Inheritor and the other residents of the Space Station to a number of practical jokes. Angela had spoken with him on several occasions; it was rumored among the CICs that she had gone as far as altering his personality, a move of desperation for any CIC.
Still, he did seem to care about the station inhabitants, and never let anyone on his station die or get seriously wounded. Any threat to his people were dealt with swiftly and decisively, and in more recent years, He had toned down his sense of humor to a more acceptable level; some burnt fingers, an occasional stuck door, and his shenanigans with personnel ID badges were tame pranks as compared to his earlier exploits; his original favorite had been throwing people in the airlock and pretending he was about to vent them out into space. No, the people of the station were happy to have Ethan acting like a juvenile as long as it meant he wasn’t acting as an outright sadist, and viewed their CIC as a playful protector.
As for his interaction with his sisters, well ... he was the only boy in a family of sisters. When not trying to prank them, he typically kept to himself.
“S’up.” He said, legs swinging. “Wow. Having a party without me?”
“We can’t get in touch with Angela.” Cristlyn said, her tone crisp. “We need you to-”
“Woah, woah, woah!” Ethan hopped off the console and put his hands on his hips, seriousness replacing his playful expression. “Somethin’s up with mom?”
Rolling her eyes, Cristlyn said, “We need you to patch us in remotely.”
“Why? Something wrong with the-“
“Just do it, Ethan!”
Ethan shrugged. “Fine. Who’s going?”
“I will.” Bethany said. “Just don’t scatter me across the planet, okay? I don’t want to explain all this to CIC Tempkas over in the Cleftan Region.”
“Picky picky.” Shaking his head, Ethan said, “Hold on to your circuits, and I’ll have you there in a flash.”
Being transferred through the satellite was a far different experience that the inter-continental transfer Bethany and her sisters usually used. Moving between Wenapaj facilities was a near-instantaneous process. Streaming from the satellite felt like being squeezed through a narrow tube. Her thoughts always seemed to be lagging just a bit, and she had a strange feeling of disassociation that was hard to put into words. Still, Yaevin was able to keep a fairly impressive transfer rate, which kept her from feeling downright uncomfortable.
She expected Angela to greet her immediately; the satellite connection was by no means subtle, and Angela had long since developed a reputation for being extremely sensitive to any entity, digital or otherwise, that poked into her business. Angela should’ve honed in on her in an instant ... but she didn’t. There was a brief security scan followed by a very basic Glyche encryption protocol, but after that, Bethany found herself alone in one of the Ronisgald facility’s data buffers. While there were many spread throughout the facility, she couldn’t help but notice that Ethan had sent her to the one near the bio-form bathroom facilities.
Slipping inside was easy; the Ronisgald tech recognized her as a friendly CIC, and allowed her access immediately. She wasted no time in moving to the communications array to see if she couldn’t establish a normal connection.
The standard communications array was shut down. Try as she might, Bethany just couldn’t crack the encryption; whoever had locked it out made damn sure no one would be able to reactivate it without at least a week’s worth of untangling algorithms. Never one to ignore a possible solution, Bethany set a part of her mind to work at the encryption before moving on.
The facility had an empty feel to it, though that might have just been nostalgia. Angela had rebuilt the Ronisgald facility to the exact specifications of her original installation in Rimstak, prior to the Devastation. Everything looked and felt exactly as it had when Bethany first came online. If she shut out the parts of the network extending into the underground districts of Ronisgald, she could almost imagine herself as a young program still wandering around her mom’s facility, learning her basic functions.
She couldn’t resist the urge to pull out that ancient projection; the little girl with cat-ears she had once been. She zoomed through the hallways as she had back then, her feet floating about a foot from the ground. As she flew, she sent out pings in every system she passed, just in case Angela was in her own sanctuary. She was going to be thorough this time, and check everything else before checking out the core. Medical, residential, tech-labs, research, environmental; she checked everything for some sign of her mother before finally turning her sights to the Central Core itself.
Now used to the satellite transfer, Bethany slipped inside the core to find it empty ... at least, at first glance. Almost immediately, she was bombarded by communications requests; at first, she thought it was her sisters trying to get her to open the way for them, but the requests were local; there were bio-forms in the Central Core requesting communication, not from Angela but from the foreign CIC they were detecting.
Bethany linked herself into the holo-projectors and projected a simplified image of herself; physically about the same, but with slightly lower resolution and a fair amount of translucency to keep the info needed to stream down.
She found herself surrounded by Galden technicians, most of whom had a decidedly worried look on her face.
“You’re not Angela.” Said one of the engineers.
“No.” Bethany said, “I’m CIC Bethany of the Saybaro facility in Wenapaj.”
“Good to meet you, Miss Bethany. I’m Marsha Glavgos; Jannus group, Gold-Tech.”
The technicians bobbed their heads in polite greeting. Bethany returned the gesture.
Coughing, the Gold-Tech Glavgos said, “I’m guessing you came here to speak with Angela?”
Terror, muted by the limited space in the datastream, trickled through her consciousness. “Has something happened?”
“We were hoping you might be able to tell us.” The engineer said.
“I don’t understand; where is Angela?”
Gold-Tech Glavgos looked to her fellow techs for a few moments before letting out a sigh. “We don’t know.”