Chapter 7 - Risky Proposition
Bethany sat in the partially finished simulation room. The legs of her projection swayed gently back and forth as she sat in the shade of a massive blue-capped mushroom. Samantha was there as well, her small head resting on Bethany’s stomach as the young CIC stared up at the simulated sky.
Five months had passed without a single trace of Angela. Bethany’s skrievers had gone over every inch of the entire country (aided by Angela’s entire skriever compliment, of course), and not one sign of her kidnapper had been uncovered. They couldn’t even nail down the last time she’d been in the core, as the records had been scrubbed. Whoever did it had been an expert on the Glyche, and had erased every single trace of his or her presence. The basic control matrix put into place was clearly of Glyche design as well, and simulated every function necessary to keep Ronisgald running smoothly. Most of the country hadn’t even noticed, as the techs wisely decided not to report the issue to the public.
Bethany envied them. Everything was fine as far as they knew. It was only CICs like Bethany and her sisters that seemed to be effected. Bethany had communicated with every other functional CIC on the planet. To her surprise, some of them seemed completely nonplussed by Angela’s disappearance. Others seemed merely curious, more interested in the how than the who.
Bethany’s sisters and brother made up for their more distant cousins’ lack of interest, however. All six went over the data from the Ronisgald facility again and again as the weeks passed, each trying their best to find some clue that everyone else overlooked. Skrievers pored over every inch of the Central Hub repeatedly, their vigilance unrewarded by any new information.
With no leads, however, soon the investigation slowed to a halt. Gold-Techs went back to their normal duties, the skrievers returned their focus on cleaning and repair, and the CIC sisters relented, leaving only a single consciousness in Angela’s facility at a given time.
Mick and Jenna returned to the Saybaro after a considerable absence. Bethany could tell they’d had a good trip despite their attempts to maintain composure in front of her. She couldn’t blame them; together, they may have interacted with Angela three or four times total. They were concerned, but as the months passed they turned their attention back to their garden project. They’d done everything they could, so Bethany was glad to give them their space.
Bethany toyed with Samantha’s hair as her youngest sister let out a sigh. “You think she’s ever gonna come back?”
“We’ll find her, Sammy.” Bethany said.
“But when? I miss Momma.”
“So do I.” Bethany admitted. Sighing, she said, “I just ... I wish I could’ve gone there. To Ronisgald, I mean. The skrievers are thorough, I’m sure, but I’d just feel better if I could’ve verified it myself.”
“But how?” Sammy asked, twisting to look into her sister’s face. “We can’t leave our facilities.”
“I don’t know.” Sighing again, Bethany said, “Usually people come to me asking questions. Now that I need to ask the questions, the person I’d ask is gone.”
Sammy’s blue eyes suddenly went wide. Sitting up, she said, “I know! I know, I know, I know!”
“What?” Bethany said, alarmed at her sister’s sudden intensity. “What do you know!”
“Be right back!” Sammy vanished.
Bethany sat there for a few moments in silence before Sammy reappeared, a doll in her hands. Wearing a tiny green and gray-striped T-shirt, the doll was instantly recognizable, not just by Bethany but by every Glyche.
“Narrator Number One?” Bethany asked, taking the proffered doll. “You mean ... ask the Elsewhere Incorporate?”
“Why not?” Sammy said, “Uncle Glen’s always helped us out, right?”
Bethany stared uncertainly at the doll for a few moments. It was true that the history of the Glyche on Vinta was liberally peppered with mention of the enigmatic Dreamer known as ‘One’. The doll, a souvenir picked up by Jimmy during his adventures, held a mysterious connection with the Dreamer that allowed him to possess it when he was needed. When it came down to it, though, Bethany had no idea how to call him. Usually One just kind of appeared when trouble started.
At the continued prodding of her sister, Bethany looked into the doll’s brown button eyes and said, “Um, hello? Mister One? If you can hear me, we could use your help.”
There was no response.
“Try again.” Sammy said.
Sighing, Bethany said, “Narrator Number One? We need your help. Angela’s gone missing, and we have no clue where she went. Please, if you can hear me, say something.”
There was still no response. Seeing Sammy’s face fall, Bethany gave the little CIC a friendly pat on the head. “It was a good idea, Sammy.”
She teleported to the bedroom where Jimmy kept the doll. The room was filled with a few odds and ends from the Dreamer himself, mostly souvenirs from assignments he and his wife would regularly take while staying at the Saybaro. It had been over a year since the last time they’d stayed at the Saybaro, but that was hardly cause for alarm. They were both Dreamers, after all, and from the snippets of conversation she’d caught, their daughter was fast showing signs of following in her parent’s footsteps.
She set the doll on of the pillows of the bed. Giving it a brief smile, she turned to Sammy and said, “We’ll think of something, I’m sure of it. We just need to give it a little more-”
She stopped talking and frowned. “One moment. I’m getting another communication request. Probably one of our dear sisters.”
“If it’s Crissy, tell her I’m still mad at her.”
Chuckling, Bethany transferred herself back to Central Control. When she interfaced with the comm controls, however, she was surprised to discover that she couldn’t identify the origin of the communication.
Sammy appeared shorty after Bethany. “Who is it?”
“I ... I don’t know.” Bethany said. “I don’t recognize the flux pattern. It’s definitely a CIC, but I can’t determine the home facility.”
After a few moments of hesitation, Bethany answered the call.
A hologram of a young woman appeared in Bethany’s Central Core. Her appearance didn’t match anyone in any database Bethany could access, but there was definitely something familiar about her. Her holographic matrix was insanely intricate. If it weren’t for the fact that she had the same signal as the incoming call, Bethany would’ve thought the visitor to be real.
“Miss Bethany?” The woman asked with a kind smile. “Hi. I’m CIC Rebecca.”
“CIC Rebecca?” Bethany’s eyes widened. “You’re the CIC in the Elsewhere Mansion!”
“Well, I’m in the mansion.” Rebecca said, blushing. “I’m not over the whole thing, though ... just One’s little corner.”
“I was hoping to speak with One, actually.” Bethany said, feeling awkward. While One had mentioned her a few times back during Jimmy’s adventures, Bethany knew nothing about her mysterious sister from Earth. She wasn’t even sure how they could be talking, as the Elsewhere was supposedly in a pocket dimension cut off from conventional time and space.
Rebecca sighed. “They’re off doing ... whatever it is Dreamers do. I only find out about it in passing, and then only if they happen to need my help. Stubborn knucklehead insists on doing everything himself, and his wife’s no better. Oh well. At least Figment listens to me.”
Shaking her head, Rebecca said, “I caught your message from the doll, so I came as soon as I could. What’s the deal with Mom?”
“She ... wait, you know Angela?”
“Yeah, she made me ages ago. Y’know how some Glyche stayed and some went to Rimstak? Well, I was with the group that went to Earth. They’re gone, of course; millennia of inter-breeding with humanity has pretty much made them nothing more than a few trace DNA fragments and the occasional gray eyes.” She paused for a moment and said, “Still, Angela’s my mother, and if she’s vanished, I want in on the investigation.”
“Yay! New sister!” Sammy threw her arms around Rebecca and hugged her tight. Rebecca patted the little CIC’s head, a bemused look on her face.
“Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we’re reached a complete dead end.” Bethany said, raising her hands for a data transfer.
Rebecca pressed her hands against Bethany’s. Once Bethany completed the data transfer, Rebecca said, “You’ve been pretty thorough. The problem’s likely distance. There’s only so much a remote search can unveil. You’ll need to investigate it yourself.”
“Some of those skrievers were mine.” Bethany said.
“I’m not talking about skrievers, I’m talking about you, and the rest of our sisters. We need to go there and check it out.”
Bethany stared at Rebecca for a few moments. “What are you talking about? We can’t just leave our facilities! We don’t even known how Angela was taken from hers!”
“I know.” Rebecca rubbed her forehead. “I’ve heard of some artificial intelligences having android avatars.”
“Yes, but they still rely on facilities for power. We wouldn’t make it half-way to Ronisgald before burning through the most robust power cells. Even standard power core cells wouldn’t last with all the power we’d need to transmit at that range.”
“Then maybe it’s time we make our own solution. I’ve got access to the Elsewhere’s computer database, not to mention a ton of notes from One and Alan, and you’ve got information on Glyche technology that wasn’t even around when Angela was programming me. Surely we can figure out something.”
“Are you allowed to go digging through the Elsewhere database like that?” Bethany asked. The last thing they needed was a bunch of offended Dreamers.
Rebecca snorted. “I’m the one who keeps it running, thank you very much. Besides, I’m not a member of the Elsewhere Incorporate. I’m Glyche. If we’re gonna do this, we’ll need all the help we can get.”
“Okay.” Bethany said, a few sparks of hope popping in her emotional programming. “I’ll call my other sisters.”
It didn’t take long for Cristlyn, Jocelyn, and Alaina to arrive. After a few moments of greeting their sister from Earth, all CICs present joined in a mass data transfer. On a normal occasion, this would’ve been an impressive collection of data. With access to the Elsewhere’s Information Database, however, it was enough to make even a synthetic mind reel with the enormity of it all ... and it was only a tiny fraction of the information gathered by the Elsewhere Incorporate.
“How about these?” Alaina said, bringing up schematics from an ancient Elsewhere storage file. The included image was of a heavy robotic construct with handle-like protrusions on its head.
“Cybernetic, not synthetic.” Cristlyn brought up a different image, this of a very fancy-looking artificial woman. “How about these?”
“No way to insert pre-existing intelligence. They’re born the moment they’re turned on.” Rachel tapped her thumb against her lips before bringing up an image Bethany knew all too well.
“That’s a standard core unit.”
“I know.” Rebecca said. “But there was another one in here ... yes, here it is.”
A nearly-identical image appeared. The difference in this one was the ultra-dense crystallic core. Easily ten times the complexity of a standard heartstone, the schematic showed it to be easily configurable, and capable of storing an immense quantity of data. Since the core was crystallic, any mage or ready supply of stream energy could be used to keep it charged. That was impressive enough, but the schematic also indicated an additional core could be installed in the head of the unit to allow for even more data storage.
“It’s still not enough.” Bethany said, feeling a little depressed. “Even with the extra space, we just wouldn’t be able to fit our entire databanks into one unit.”
“Well, do we need our entire databanks?” Rebecca asked, scratching her chin. “I mean, a lot of it’s just administrative stuff, right? Hang on, we need a test subject.”
Setting the prototype image aside, Rebecca dug in the files for a moment before producing an image of a standard CIC data storage map. With a start, Bethany realized it was her own.
“Okay,” Rebecca said, “Let’s take out facility operations. That can be routed into a separate control matrix, and let’s face it; you won’t need that if you’re in a body. Don’t need the holographic matrix, so we can cut that out.”
“But ... we could overlay the holograms over the bodies.” Alaina said. “So they don’t look so ... robot-y.”
Cristlyn gave her a scathing look. “We’ll worry about slipping in vanity equipment and programming when Mom’s safe and sound.”
“Uh, right.” Rebecca said. “Let’s see, multiple simulation configurations for combat training. Nope, definitely don’t need any of these.”
“Hey!” Bethany said, feeling indignant at having her mind dissected, “That’s my simulation data for Fei-jan and Tifa!”
“Which you won’t be needing for the investigation.” Rebecca said.
“But ... I worked on that for months!”
Rolling her eyes, Rebecca said, “We’re not deleting anything, Beth. We’re just putting it in storage in the home facility. Everyone clear on that? If we’re going to be transferring into these, we’ll need extra space to adjust and evolve.”
They all nodded, Bethany reluctantly.
Nodding, Rebecca said, “Okay, and if we take out the old project information, the future building schematics for the Saybaro, and data stored by the inhabitants of the Saybaro ... whabam!”
They looked at the projection. To the surprise of everyone, there was now easily enough space for Bethany’s remaining data. In fact, the combined programming of the personality and intelligence of the CIC that was Bethany took up less than half of the core storage space on the prototype unit.
“See that?” Rebecca said with a smile. “Plenty of room to grow from there! If we did that with you, we can do that with everyone here!”
“I don’t believe it.” Jocelyn breathed, her eyes alight with excitement. “We ... we could do this! We could download into these prototype core units and actually leave our facilities!”
“Oh, wow!” Alaina said, positively beaming. “We could go to Ronisgald! We could go wherever!”
Even Bethany had to admit the idea of no longer being confined to the Saybaro filled her with excitement. “Are any of these units in production?”
“Quite a few are actually operational.” Cristlyn said. Her expression fell. “Uh-oh.”
“Uh-oh?” Bethany asked.
Cristlyn brought up the location file. They were in luck, a fresh run of the prototype cores had recently been completed, fixing many of the small errors from the first run. They were even in Wenapaj, in the Kinria Facility. Unfortunately, all the new cores were registered for the Reformation project, a Glyche initiative headlined by the Kinria’s facility’s CIC to provide new bodies for the recently recovered cores of the Glyche core units irreparably damaged while fighting against the Corruption.
“Who wants to be the one to ask Elizabeth?” Cristlyn asked, raising an eyebrow at her sisters.