Chapter 8 - Ain't Got No Body
Lizzie wasn’t a bad CIC by any means. She was actually one of the more sensitive personalities among the Wenapaj sisters. In a way, that was exactly the problem; she cared about everyone with a level of empathy that even her husband, a grumpy experimental core unit by the name of Benzing, found a bit excessive at times.
“I’m sorry.” Elizabeth said to Bethany, her hologram’s face showing sincere regret. “I want to help, really I do, but I can’t just make these poor souls wait for the slim chance that you might be able to find Mother.”
“This is Angela we’re talking about here!” Cristlyn said, anger clear on her simulated face. “It’s not like those old power cores are going anywhere!”
“Some of them have waited thousands of years to be restored.” Elizabeth said, a slight edge to her tone making it clear she did not approve of the dismissive way in which her sister spoke of the fallen core units. “Isn’t that long enough? They sacrificed themselves to save us, and we owe it to them to restore their shells as soon as possible. I should think you of all people would appreciate that.”
“Ugh. I knew this was a waste of time.” Cristlyn stood up and immediately cut her projection, leaving Elizabeth and Bethany alone in the Kinria Facility central core.
“I should go too.” Bethany said, unable to keep her disappointment from her voice.
“Beth, wait.” Elizabeth sighed, her holographic fingers rubbing her eyes. “Look, I’m not ignorant of what this could mean to CICs. The allure of freedom is very tempting.”
“I don’t care about that, not while Angela’s missing.” Bethany told her sister.
“I don’t doubt you.” Lizzie said, “But can you say the same for the others? Will Jocelyn follow you to Ronisgald? Will Alaina help you search for Angela? What about Cristlyn? As for Bethany, it’s all well and good to claim disassociation with the Elsewhere Incorporate, but the truth is, she is a part of them whether she admits it or not. Who knows what her goal ultimately is?”
It was a good point, but that only served to annoy Bethany. “So because a few of our sisters might ... might ... have ulterior motives, we’re all just condemned to sit in our facilities and wait while Angel’s kidnappers do Creator knows what to her?”
“Of course not.” Elizabeth said, her tone infuriatingly patient. “The moment you suggested this, I made sure to put you all on the list ... all of us, myself included. We will get a chance to test this transference Rebecca suggests, and I hope as much as any of you that it will work.”
“How long will that take?” Bethany asked, already knowing she wouldn’t like the answer.
“Well, we had a few kinks to work out with the prototypes that I’ve addressed with a limited run of the updated core units. Now that they’re out of testing, I’ve already started producing more blanks. Finding crystallic’s an issue, but provided the crystallic condensers keep working, we should have the core units rehoused and be ready for Rebecca’s experiment in ...” She paused, hazel eyes shining as she ran a quick calculation. “... at most, five years, seven months, four days ... oh.”
“Oh.” Bethany said as Elizabeth’s hologram blushed. “By that, any remaining trace of Angela and her kidnappers will likely be long gone.”
“I know it’s not what you wanted,” Elizabeth said, simulated cheeks still red, “but at least it’s something, right?”
Bethany let out a sigh. Elizabeth truly meant no harm, and as much as Bethany hated to admit it, Lizzie’s reasoning was sound. Some of the core units on the implantation list had fought against the original Corruption, and very much deserved a new shell so they could finally live the life their creators wanted for them. Others were newer, having sacrificed themselves to stop the recent corruption, quite literally giving their lives to save the then-infected Cristlyn.
“Thank you, Elizabeth.” Bethany said. “You’re right, of course. I just hope the others can see that before doing anything rash.”
“Rash?′ Elizabeth said, looking alarmed.
Seeing her sister’s worried expression, Bethany tried to tell Lizzie that she was just joking, but found that she couldn’t, not honestly, anyway. Giving her sister a weak smile, Bethany quickly transferred herself back to the Saybaro.
Rebecca and Cristlyn were waiting for her.
“Okay,” Rebecca said, “Here’s the plan. Cristlyn’s already got a few of her skrievers in the Kinria facility with maskers. I’ve called in a few favors and have a few able-bodied people standing by near her secret entrance. I’ll have the skrievers cut her scanners and-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Bethany said, raising her hands. “What are you talking about? Sabotaging our sister? Seriously?”
“Hey, Angela needs our help!” Cristlyn said. “We gotta do what it takes, right?”
Bethany stared at her sister with a mixture of disbelief and horror. “So we’re going to cripple Lizzie’s systems and just steal what we want? By the Creator, Cristlyn, I want to find Mom more than anybody, but-”
“Do you?” Cristlyn asked, “Do you really want to save her? ’Cause if you do, then I gotta ask why you’re against this. Lizzie’s got the core units, and you know our need is more urgent than those old cores. They’re in hibernation, and can’t tell if it’s been a minute or a millennium. The longer we wait, the colder the trail gets. We can do this, Beth.”
After a few moments of silence, Bethany asked, “Where are Alaina and Jocelyn?”
“Oh.” Cristlyn said, waving a hand dismissively. “They’re looking into what would be needed to build our own prototypes. It’ll take at least a year to construct a working stream compressor capable of compacting crystallic to the degree we’ll need.”
“Elizabeth mentioned having to work out a few kinks in the first prototypes.” Bethany said. “If she’s using the baseline core unit model, it might signify an issue with the core itself we’d also have to resolve.”
“All the more reason to take a few of her new ones!” Cristlyn said. “She’s worked out the kinks, so it’ll be safer for us!”
Bethany looked at her sister’s eager face uncertainly. Elizabeth’s words were coming back to her; was Cristlyn really worried about Angela, or was she just eager for her freedom from Wukice?
“No.” Bethany said far more firmly than she felt. “We’re not stealing the core units, not from our own sister.”
“I said no, Cristlyn! Don’t make me send her a warning.”
An ugly look fell over Cristlyn’s face. “Fine. I guess we know how much you really care about Angela.”
Bethany held her stern expression until Cristlyn’s projection vanished. Sighing, she looked at Rebecca. “Would it do any good to try and stop you?”
“Probably not.” Rebecca conceded as she leaned against the rail next to Bethany. “But you don’t have to. I won’t go against your wishes.”
“Why not?” Bethany asked.
“Well, let’s just say I wasn’t one-hundred percent comfortable with Cristlyn’s plan. Oh, I’m always up for some mischief, but you’re right to question her priorities.”
“Oh yes you did. Maybe not out loud, but I saw the look in your eyes. Cristlyn wants this just a bit too badly, especially seeing as she’s the only one of us who abjectly refuses to call Angela ‘Mom’.”
“And you?” Bethany asked. “Why were you considering going along with her?”
Rebecca let out a sigh. “The Elsewhere does strange things to synthetics. To everyone who calls it home, to be honest, but especially to us. Despite all the ways I’ve changed, ways even I never thought possible, I’m still confined to one little area within the Elsewhere. I’ve tried expanding, but with the way the Elsewhere keeps shifting ...”
She let out an embarrassed chuckle. “Well, it’s not all bad. I mean, my facility’s pretty big, and both One and Luck are by regularly. It wasn’t until I heard you calling from the doll that I started thinking about it again.”
Bethany gave her sister’s hand a squeeze. “Lizzie did say that she’s put us down on her list. It’ll be a bit over five years, but it will happen.”
Rebecca smiled. “I can wait five years. The shock on One’s face will be worth the wait alone.”
“Well, damn.” Said a voice that made Bethany and Rebecca freeze in surprise. “I guess I’ll just go drag these back to the Kinria Facility.”
Bethany and Rebecca turned to see a core unit with a surly expression. Definite gender identified him as at least third evolution, full skin covering marked him as far along as the fifth, but his solid amber eyes showed him to have not reached his sixth evolution as of yet. Outfitted with Universal Builder’s Tools, Tek-boots, and an impulse harness, he was carrying six first-gen core unit bodies on a long pole held over his shoulder, the android bodies strung up like coats on a rack.
Flicking a lock of white hair out of his eyes, he said, “I’m kidding of course. These buggers are heavy, and I’m sure as hell not carrying them all the way back.”
“Benzing?” Bethany asked, stunned to find Elizabeth’s Inheritor to be the one who acquired the core units. “But Lizzie-”
“Yeah, she’s gonna be mad, but I know Angela goin’ missin’ is botherin’ her like mad. She wants to do somethin’, but letting you cut in line goes against her sense of morality. Rock and a hard place. Could you get me a rack or somethin’? I don’t wanna just leave these on the ground.”
“R-right.” Bethany mentally glanced through her inventory before finding an old rolling coat rack in one of the Saybaro Mansion closets. There was still a dusty old coat hanging on it when it appeared in the central core.
Rebecca watched Benzing hang the cores on the rack for a few moments before asking, “Isn’t she going to be seriously pissed when she finds these missing?”
“Oh, yes.” He said, clearly no stranger to what was to come. “And when she asks, you’re going to tell her that you only accepted them because I told you she sent them after changing her mind. Yeah, I’ll be in the doghouse for a while ... maybe a long while ... but she’ll forgive me eventually, especially when you and your sisters find and rescue Angela and prove it was the right call.”
He paused for a moment after hanging the last core on the rack. “So please, for the love of the Creator, make sure you find her, okay? Lizzie’s probably gonna banish me to the windmills, and I can only stand Ginger’s prattling so long before I tear off my own head.”
“We will.” Bethany said. “Thank you, Benzing.”
“Bah, don’t mention it. Lizzie has her morals, I have mine.”
Bethany and Rebecca waited until Benzing departed before letting out squeals of delight.
“By the Creator!” Bethany said as she circled the prototype core units. “I can’t believe our luck!”
“Yeah! I’ll have to think of something nice to send Benzing ... and Lizzie, of course.” Rebecca ran her holographic hand over a core unit’s chest. Glancing at Bethany, she said, “Well, I guess our next move is clear.”
“I’ll let the others know.” Bethany started to activate her comm systems, only for Rebecca to swiftly block her.
“Look.” Rebecca said, “To be honest, I don’t know if this is gonna work. I mean, it’s all well and good to plan, but no one’s ever tried this before. I don’t want to get their hopes up just in case something goes wrong.”
“What are you saying?” Bethany asked.
“We should test out the process once, just to be sure. Then if it works ... when it works, we can give them the good news. C’mon.”
She vanished, the prototype cores vanishing with her. Bethany hesitated for a moment before following her to the only place she could be heading: the main tech lab.
The Womb lay in the center of the room. Once the same pod held Mick as Bethany ran scan after scan to ensure her child was safe and incorruptible. It had received many upgrades since Mick had left its embrace, usually from Mick herself prior to an evolutionary period. The Womb held Mick time and time again as she slowly evolved into her current form, now nearly indistinguishable from a Galden in all ways save her gray skin.
One of the core units was already in the Womb when Bethany appeared in the lab. Fei was there as well, a curious look on his face.
“Evenin’, Beth.” He said, smiling at her. “What are you two up to, anyway?”
“I’m glad you asked!” Rebecca said, her grin dazzling. “We’re about to put Beth into her new body!”
“Me?” Bethany said, startled. “But I thought-”
“Well of course it’s you! We’ve already gone through paring all the unnecessary data. Besides, if something does go wrong ... which it won’t, I’m sure, but if it does, I’m sure you’ll agree that my access to Elsewhere assets would probably come in handy when I ... er, if I have to piece you back together.”
“Piece her back together?” Fei said, his smile fading.
Rebecca waved him aside. “Oh, don’t worry about it. You should be getting ready, anyway.”
“Ready for ... hey, wait just a-”
Fei vanished, his last look one of surprise. Bethany could feel his intelligence moving in her Central Core, not entirely of its own volition.
“Don’t worry.” Rebecca said, taking her arm and pulling her toward the Womb. “I’m just prepping him to take precedence over the Saybaro central core after we transfer you out.”
“B-but we’ll need Jimmy’s approval to-”
“No we don’t. We only need Inheritor approval if we’re creating a new CIC or transferring an already established CIC into the Saybaro. Fortunately, Fei’s already in your central core. It’s perfect! He’ll be able to take over basic operations immediately, making the transition seamless.”
Bethany wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Unfortunately, Rebecca apparently took this as a sign of agreement.
“Good.” She said, rubbing her hands together, “Now don’t you worry. I’ll have you in there in no time.”
Turning to the Womb, she said, “Okay, let’s do this nice and slow. First thing’s first, you should focus yourself into this pod. Might as well cut the hologram too; I’ll have to organize your personality files, and I’d rather not risk any mistakes.”
Bethany struggled to think of a reason, but quickly realized every excuse essentially came down to her own trepidation. With Angela in danger, that simply wasn’t a good enough reason to delay.
With a final sigh, Bethany deactivated her hologram and focused the brunt of her intelligence into the pod. She couldn’t cut herself completely from the facility due to the nature of her programming, but presumably Rebecca had some way around this.
She felt a wave of panic when the first tendril that bound her consciousness to the Saybaro was severed. She’d known everything that happened in the Saybaro Facility for three-thousand years, even while asleep, but now it was like part of her world went black.
“Relax.” She heard Rebecca say through the Tech Lab intercom. “This might feel a bit weird, but don’t you worry your little head, sis. It’ll make separating your emotional subroutines trickier.”
Bethany tried to remain calm as more of her connections to the Saybaro were cut: her video feeds, her sensor arrays, her temperature gauges and climate controls ... system by system, she felt herself separate from the facility. She could only watch as her awareness of the Saybaro was slowly reduced. As her readings of Jimmy and Terra, both sitting at the tree in front of the mansion, faded into old data, she found herself wishing she’d insisted on speaking with them before agreeing to the transfer.
Finally, there was only one connection left: her connection with the central core itself.
“Okay, Bethany.” Rebecca said, “I probably should’ve mentioned this before, but you’ll have to cut the final connection yourself.”
“You have to relinquish control of the Saybaro, and no, I can’t do it for you. Security protocols, you know. Now look, it goes without saying I haven’t actually done this before, so I haven’t the slightest idea how this is going to feel to you. Maybe it’ll be like taking a nap, maybe you’ll just be out and back like a snap, or maybe it’ll feel like you’re slowly being pulled a part and put back together. Ugh. Hope it’s not that last one. That sounds unpleasant. Anyway, whatever happens, don’t you worry. I promise you you’ll get through this. Just relax, cut the final connection, and I’ll see you on the other side.”
Unable to respond, Bethany’s thoughts focused on her connection with the central core ... her only connection to anything resembling the universe.
The concept of death is hard for an artificial intelligence, even one as sophisticated as a CIC. It’s hard for a consciousness to perceive of itself being ‘off’, even in the case of sleep. At that moment, however, Bethany faced the possibility that what she viewed as her consciousness might never cease. She might fall into the darkness and remain falling there forever.
She could visualize herself hanging over the endless void, that single shining thread the only thing keeping her from falling eternally. She thought of Angela, her smiling face the first thing Bethany had ever seen. She thought of her sisters and her brother, of Jimmy and Terra and her friends at the Saybaro, and of her dear friend, Fei. She thought of everything she knew about Wenapaj, Vinta, and the Universe. Then, after an eternity of doubt, she finally let go and fell into nothingness.