So, we’re basically lost inspace stuck inside a supercomputer and Ger is mashing on me. My Mom’s stuck in digital jail, my Dad’s a friggin’ fake and we may never, ever be able to go back to our normal selves. And Ger is mashing on me?’
‘Dude, timing…’ Isla sighed as she watched Ger visibly deflate. Even as a digital image, she could see clearly that she had to tread lightly here. She watched as Ger turned away, mumbling under his breath.
‘Sorry, stupid idea,’ he muttered.
Isla slid after Ger. Okay, no walking in the aether.
Turning Ger as he stared off into the endless coded horizon.
‘When we get out of here, I’d be totally down with being your girlfriend, okay? I just don’t want to jinx it while we’re stuck in here. What if we can’t get back? And we are stuck here forever? And how long will that be exactly?’ OMG, what if we have to live forever in the aether?
Ger nodded, smiling at her. ’S’cool, Isla. DEAL. We get outta here in one piece, then you have to go on a real date with me, to a real place and everything.’
Isla laughed. ‘You never said anything about being seen in public.’ Psych.
Ger smiled at her, pointing out into the distance.
Code streams and icons stretched off in an endless replicating array.
‘Okay, last time you were here, you called up your Mom’s name and that ported you over — right?’
Isla nodded. ‘Yep, here…’
Ger watched as Isla air typed ANDERSON, MARTA onto her own display.
His lower port access to her stream flashed. ‘And then, I hit return -’
‘Isla wait,’ Ger started. ‘Don’t…’
A ruby red text message flashed in Isla’s eye as her whole world changed before her. Multiple hardrive arrays towered above her, surrounding her on all sides.
‘Isla,’ a voice sounded from behind her.
She spun to see her Mother, dressed as she usually did — a simple housedress and flats — behind her. Her eyes blinked rapidly, seeing her Mom. Unwanted tears pushed out.
‘Mom!’ Isla yelled, racing to the woman, throwing herself into her arms. ‘I thought I lost you forver…’ Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.
She lost herself in her Mom’s embrace, breathing in her scent. She still smells like her shampoo. In here?!’
She slid back from her Mom, turning to see Ger standing in the containment area she had ported them to. ‘Looks like we found your Mom okay then?’
Isla nodded, tears finally spilling as she hugged Marta.
‘What is going on, Isla?’ Marta asked as Isla dragged her towards Ger. ‘Last thing I remember, I was in my kitchen — our home — with your father and then the next thing, I’m here…’
How much time do you have, Mom. Isla sighed. ‘How long have you been here, Mom?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Marta answered, her hands clasped as she tried to explain herself. ‘I’ve looked all over for a door — but there’s nothing here but these computer things. And I can’t open them or use them. I don’t know what they do.’
‘Mom, I want you to meet someone,’ Isla said as she waved to Ger to come closer. ‘This is my friend, Ger — and he’s going to get us out of here.’
Marta smiled widely, reaching out to shake Ger’s hand. He bobbed his head, smiling widely, letting Marta grasp his hand, pumping it up and down.
‘Uh, Hi, Mrs. Isla — I mean, Anderson. I’m Ger… I’m a friend of your daughter’s.’
Marta looked carefully at Isla, ‘You never told me you had a boyfriend, Isla.’
GREAT. We are so not having this conversation. ‘Mom, Ger is a friend — not a boyfriend, okay…’
Ger nodded as Isla spun to him.
‘Yep, that’s right, Mrs. A. I’m just here to try and figure out what we’re gonna do next. Definitely not a boyfriend.’
Isla sighed. Burn much. Thanks Ger.
There has to be a way to figure this out. I got this. I got this… Ger continued to survey the IT stacks that loomed above him. Thousands of archival computer servers spun in the limbo that was Containment. Behind him, Isla was softly explaining to her mother how they got there — and all of the Hieronymus machine stuff — but it clearly wan’t going over well.
‘I don’t believe it. None of this makes any sense,’ Ger heard Isla’s mom, Marta flatly proclaim. ‘This is all some kind of elaborate — hoax or game of your Father’s. I don’t believe a word you saying…’
Ger sighed. It would sound crazy to me too. But she had to try.
He waved carefully to Isla who was staring off in his direction. Shaking his head as he jerked his thumb towards the computer banks. Isla sidled over, her face worn thin with concern. This hasn’t gone the way she thought, I think.
‘Wassup?’ Isla whispered under her breath. ‘Any chance we can blow this popstand soon?’
Ger shook his head. Now, the bad news.‘I’ve done the math so many times now. None of my hacks or cracks are working. It’s bulletproof. I can’t get in. I don’t know what to do.’
Isla blew out a slow breath, glancing back at her mom who sat quietly, as if waiting for a public transport. ‘Well, we can’t stay here. Especially not with her like this. We can port out of here, right?’
Ger nodded slowly. ‘Sure, but this is where we need to be to break the cyber-lock on everything and, hopefully, get you Mom back into her own body.’
‘Hopefully?’ Isla snarked. ‘What do you mean hopefully?’
Ger held up his hands in self defense. ‘It’s not like I had a ton of experience with any of this stuff, okay? I’m learning as we go along. Alright?’
Isla nodded, her lips twisted in distaste. ‘I know. I’m not a complete ass.’
She moved closer to Ger, tugging on his jacket sleeve. ‘I do appreciate everything you’ve done — it’s just that…’
‘Are we going to be here much longer?, Marta called from behind them. ‘I really have a lot of things to do — and sitting here all day is very, very — boring.’
Isla sighed, ‘Parents. No patience — at all.’
She smiled at Ger as he shared a small grin. I miss my Mom. I hope she’s feeling better. If that jerk Anderson did anything —‘
‘Anderson!’ Ger barked. ‘Of course, I’m an idiot.’
Ger flipped down his glasses, engaging the Hieronymus HUD. ‘I’m gonna share my idea with you onscreen. Boot up.’
Isla slid her own glasses down and activated her portal. Onscreen, Ger typed furiously looking for <ANDERSON LOCATE>
‘Why do you want to find that — douche,’ groaned Isla. ‘He’s the reason we’re in this.’
‘Language,’ Marta called out from her slumped seat. ‘Don’t be vulgar, Isla.’
Isla nodded at her mom. ‘Sorry, Mom — but the fake Dad is a complete ass-hat — and he’s not my real Dad.’
Marta sniffed, turning away, dismissing Isla.
‘Denial. Complete fraggin’ denial, ‘ Isla whispered to Ger as she dialed in his OS.
‘What am I looking at, then. Why do we need him’
Ger nodded. This will work. This has to work. ‘Believe me, I don’t want anything to do with the guy — but he’s got the codes that will get us into the Containment unit. We bust everyone out of the lockup — and this will totally F with his plan.’
‘What’s happening?’ Marta cried out. ‘Isla,… young man… help…’
They turned to see Marta starting to disappear right in front of them, her body dissolving into bytes of digital code. Ger gulped as Marta winked out of existence.
This is so not good.
Hot tears stung Isla as her Mom disappeared from the Containment limbo area. She grasped Ger.
‘What’s happening — happened to her?’
Ger spun to the data decks arranged in front of him and plugged his comm link directly into the access port. ‘Let me see…’
Isla raced to her mother’s former seat, trying to find some trace of her. She’s gotta be here. She can’t have just disappeared. ‘C’mon, Ger. Find out where she went.’
‘Gimme a sec,’ Ger rasped as he quick typed on his Hieronymus machine. ‘I’m tracking her digital signal now. She’s in the Containment unit — here in the stacks. I can see her listing — but there’s no way to talk or communicate with her. I’m sorry.’
Isla sighed. ‘Is it bad that I’m glad she’s not here whining anymore. She didn’t believe a word I told her — and she’s not convinced that my Dad is an imposter.’ But she’s my Mom.
Ger pulled off his glasses, tapping Isla on the shoulder, ‘They must have gone into clean up mode, making sure that they filed everything away neatly. Your Mom must have just been a loose thread that hadn’t been taken up.’
Isla scowled at Ger. ‘That’s my Mom you’re talking about.’ Jerk.
Ger snapped his fingers, nervous energy in motion, as he slid his glasses down. ‘Wait one,’ he said as he reactivated his HUD.
Isla walked to the Containment machines and booted the metal casing. A dull thud sounded throughout the gloomy containment centre. Kicking things is my go-to.
‘It’s not actual, Isla. This is all just an elaborate simulation. But I don’t know what happens when you kick it — so please don’t. Okay?’ Ger muttered as he continued to type on his comm link. ‘Okay, I got a trace back on where the request was sent. It was Oleg working for a terminal in the Hieronymus room. I know where he is now — I can make a link to his machine and get the codes from inside the mainframe. There’s a record of every keystroke I can access. I should be able to grab the code from there.’
Ger slid up his glasses. ‘That mean’s you’re gonna be alone here for a moment or two as I go inside the terminal. You okay with that?’
Just get us out of this stupid place. ‘What am I, five? Yes, I’m okay with that, Ger. Go and get the codes so we can crack this thing and get back to our real selfs.’
Ger nodded. ‘Okay, I’ll go as fast as I can — later’
Isla gasped as Ger disappeared.
Wow. That was instant. Okay.
Isla stared up at the digital drives surrounding her. We’ll get you out of there, Mom.
‘This was a very stupid idea, girl.’ A voice thundered behind Isla. She spun to see Oleg, clearly angry at being ousted from his body. Fast work, Ger.
‘Hey Oleg, howzit hanging?’ Isla tossed off as she flipped down her glasses and booted up her HUD. There’s no place like home. <RETURN HOME>, she quick-typed as Oleg raced towards her.
‘Give me that unit,’ Oleg roared as Isla blinked out of the Containment unit.
She opened her eyes inside the closet, glancing to the left, seeing Ger deep in his cyber fade. Isla slid off her glasses and looked at her friend as he continued his digital journey. Be safe, Ger. Come back to me in one piece. Isla reached out and squeezed Ger’s hand, smiling at his touch. Maybe I’ll just lay back here a while and jump back in once Ger has everything sorted. Good plan. The door to the closet was wrenched open as Isla 2.0 peered in at them.
‘Gotcha! Stupid skin-bag. Didn’t you think we’d be tracking you once you came back?’
Just be cool, he’ll never suspect a thing if I’m just cool…The Hieronymus room was just as he remembered it — the two operator chairs and the assorted computers needed to run them. These were the master consoles — much more powerful than the incredible Hieronymus portable units that Ger and Isla were using. Across from Ger, Anderson sat at his desk, tapping away on a computer link as Ger checked out his reflection in a nearby darkened monitor. Yep, I’m Oleg. He tried not to stare at his own reflection, marveling in the size and power of the Russian cosmonaut. I could probably bench like 300. Ger stretched his arms over his head, pretending to yawn — catching Anderson’s attention.
‘Go get me a coffee, Oleg,’ Anderson ordered as he turned back to his work. ‘Isla 2.0 should have them by now. I want to be awake for this.’Crap. Double crap… They’ve found us.
‘Da, sure thing, boss,’ Ger as Oleg answered as he stood up quickly, almost staggering due to his new body size. He quickly grasped a nearby chair, catching himself as he turned towards the door. ‘I be right back, then…’ Ger mimicked, hoping that he could get out of there in one piece and go help Isla. But where is she?
‘Hold up,’ called Anderson. ‘Isla 2.0 is messaging.’
Ger carefully moved over to Anderson’s computer as an insert window popped up from Isla Two. Onscreen, Isla 2.0 had Ger’s body thrown over her shoulder as she dragged the real Isla by the back of her neck. Judging from the bruise marks and red marks on the robot’s face, IRL Isla hadn’t come quietly.
‘I have them, Father,’ Isla 2.0 gasped. ‘Do you want me to bring them there?’
Anderson turned to what he thought was his enforcer, Oleg. Asking, ‘What do you think, Oleg? Is the boy worth rebooting? We don’t need the girl after we pull her consciousness for the Isla 'bot. How many do we have in Containment now?’
Oleg watched onscreen as Isla pushed back away from Isla 2.0, slapping at her captor.
‘Let go of me, you metal freak,’ squawked Isla over the comm system.
‘Quiet,’ barked Isla 2.0 as she slammed the real Isla’s head into the wall, bouncing her off the metal structure.
‘Careful, you idiot. We still need her!’ Anderson snarled as Isla slumped, unconscious in the robot’s grip. ‘You should take better care of her. At least for the next few hours.’
Isla 2.0 dropped her head in deference to being scolded, a soft whimper sounding.
‘Yes, Father. Sorry, Father.’
‘Wait a moment, ‘ Anderson said as he glared at Oleg/Ger. ‘Numbers?’
Ger had no idea what Anderson was asking him to do. ‘Right, right, numbers…’
‘Of the prisoners in containment, you idiot. Must I do everything myself?’ Anderson spat as he flipped into his own OS and ran through the sign-in code to the containment unit.
<RECORDING> Ger’s HUD dutifully noted as he watched the Major smash his keyboard in frustration.
‘Okay, we’re at — peak capacity. Crap, I’ll have to offload a couple to make room for him if I want to keep him at full resolution…’
Anderson leaned forward and studied the numbers and coded data streaming in front of him. <RECORDING>I’ve got it. I can get in there now.
Ger turned from the Major, moving back to Oleg’s terminal. Might as well slip out without them knowing I was here.
‘Bring the girl here and toss the kid into the airlock. Make sure you’ve got all of his tech and boot him out. He’s more trouble that he’s worth.’