The Arc of the Oracle
"Looking good," said Dave. "The transmissions from the Scouters are piercing the distortion easily. We're getting telemetry; we're getting light spectrum up the wazoo; we're getting just about everything, including Mr. Robertson's electric bill."
Dave glanced up from his computer at his fellow coworkers. No one was laughing at his joke.
"Jeez," he muttered self-appreciatively. "Tough crowd."
"Are you getting anything?" asked Elizabeth in a dull, unamused tone.
"A lot of everything," grinned Dave. "Which puts me in a far better mood now than I was earlier. This distortion doesn't seem to be as bad as it looked at first. Once you get past it and adjust for the near constant shifts in the data stream, things become easy. Finding what we're looking for should be a piece of cake."
"You make it sound so damn easy," muttered Elizabeth under her breath. Sighing, she leaned forward. "I've finished a scan of sector seven. Moving on to sector twelve."
"Sector eight is also clear," spoke up Jean. "Nothing looks out of the ordinary there."
"All very good," spoke up a young man, Corwin, seated beside Em-Cat, leaning back in his chair. "I've got only one grid left and then I'll also be moving onto…" Corwin blinked. "That's…funny."
Dave gave the young man a grin. "Somebody finally appreciating my sense of humor?"
"Huh?" Corwin blinked. "No—I mean…"
"What did you find?" asked Elizabeth, deciding to steer the topic back on course for her flustered coworker.
"Well…I'm not really sure. It doesn't look like I'm getting anything but…" Corwin scowled and hit a button on his computer. In the center of the room, a holographic image materialized, creating the image of a young male teenager, sitting on the ground, staring at something with what decidedly looked like terror in his eyes. Corwin looked at his coworkers questioningly.
"Does this look like he's staring at the Scouter to you?"
"Alex?!" exclaimed Mrs. Hernandez, quickly rushing after the boy. "Alex! Are you all right?"
Alex didn't respond—not with words anyway. Hunching over, he threw one hand over his mouth and made louder gagging noises. The gym entrance was now a yard away and he threw himself at it with utter abandon. He didn't bother looking over his shoulder. He didn't want to see the floating camera-balls that hovered over his class.
Mrs. Hernandez's arm caught Alex's, and in response, he stiffened up and began to dry heave. The teacher let him go out of shock and then immediately pushed past it. Switching tactics, she grabbed hold of him and began urging him towards the gym. Within short order, the door to the Men's Locker Room was thrown open and Alex tumbled in, rushing towards the nearest stall where he promptly fell forward and ducked his head. His breathing came out in choked, ragged gasps. Mrs. Hernandez eyed him worriedly.
"Alex," she spoke. "Are you all right?"
Does it sound like I'm all right? he thought, making a retching sound for added emphasis. Mrs. Hernandez got up and pulled out a thin, tubular object from her pants pocket. Clicking the small, red button on its top, a blue light blinked on and swiveled around to meet up with Mrs. Hernandez's eyes.
"Is there something I can do for you?" the Companion module asked in a pleasant, female voice. Mrs. Hernandez nodded.
"Shelby. I need you to contact the nurse's office and inform them that we have a sick student here."
"Understood. What is the ailment?"
"As near as I can tell, an upset stomach. Hurry, Shelby."
Shelby's blue eye began to flicker at a rapid pace, signaling that she was connecting to the school network. Mrs. Hernandez returned her attention to Alex, who by now seemed to be calming down. Alex made a groaning sound and pressed one hand against his stomach, grimacing.
Jeez, he thought, feeling nauseated from the act that he was trying to keep up. If I keep this up, I really will end up getting sick. He paused for a moment and coughed into the toilet bowl. But that might actually be a good idea…
Alex shook his head. The school frowned upon students faking sickness to get out of a class, and such attempts were usually treated with a call home—something that he did not want to happen—but considering what he had just seen, and what everyone else seemed to be unaware of, it might be worth it.
What were those things? he wondered, going back to the memory of the floating, mechanical balls that had hovered above him and his classmates. He shuddered. Of course, no answer came to him. What did he expect? That one would magically come down from out of nowhere?
Well…I've already teleported twice today…
He shuddered at the memory.
"Alex," spoke up Mrs. Hernandez, kneeling down behind him. One hand went to his back and his shivering froze as his back muscles became taut. "I'm going to have Shelby perform a quick check up on you while we're waiting for the nurse to get here. I need you to stay still, okay?"
Alex's mind became blank all of a sudden as realization crashed down on him. In his rush to get away from the bizarre metal spheres, he had forgotten one key fact in his act. Or rather two key facts, one of which was that Companions were rated to perform very basic physical checkups on their owners via contact with skin, analysis of breath, or, rather disturbingly, he thought, through a quick scan of urine with their eye. The second fact was that Companions could not tell a lie.
Oh shit, he thought, his mouth falling open. I'm screwed.
"Alex," said Mrs. Hernandez firmly. "Did you hear me?"
"Y-Yes," he stammered out, his heart pounding in his chest. Shit! Why didn't I think of this? Now they're going to know that I'm faking and my folks'll get a call and then I'll be up the shit creek then! Crap! Why didn't I…?
Alex jerked slightly as the back of his shirt was lifted and Mrs. Hernandez placed her Companion on the base of his spine. He could feel Shelby vibrate and grow warm against his skin as she gathered data. At a loud beep, Mrs. Hernandez moved Shelby further up his back and Alex's heart pulsated painfully.
I'm going to be found out… he thought, his eyes widening in horror. I'm going to be found out!
The beating in his chest increased its tempo as Shelby was moved further up his back. Alex tightened his grip on the toilet seat and his breathing increased its tempo. This was it. It was all going to be over soon and there was nothing he could do about it…
"Ah!" A sharp tingle ran the length of his right arm, causing Alex to jerk slightly and grip it. "Wha…?"
Alex's eyes bulged as his stomach suddenly and unexpectedly clenched. Heaving, he felt something hot and spicy surge up his throat before splattering out of his mouth. Gasping for breath, Alex tried to right himself.
Wha…what was that? Did I just…?
His stomach lurched again, cutting off all further questions with a stream of hot, steaming liquid. Alex gagged as his body flushed and shook violently. "Guh…" he gasped, trying to breathe. His stomach made an unpleasant, gurgling noise, and Alex winced, placing one hand on it. "Oh jeez…"
Something shifted at the edge of his sight, and he glanced up, blinking away the tears that had sprung forth.
Hovering directly in front of him was a metallic sphere with a large camera eye surrounded by a series of smaller ones. Alex took a shaky breath…
…and ducked his head back down towards the toilet, spewing into its stained water.
Samantha stared at the chalkboard, her teeth on edge and one foot tapping constantly on the floor. One of her fellow classmates looked at her from the side, obviously annoyed at the sound of her tapping, but she ignored him. She was preoccupied with more important things. She didn't normally think of herself as impatient, but in situations like the one she was in, she hated being made to wait. Being made to stay and learn something for a few hours when she had something she needed to do did few favors for her attention on the lesson. Her grilling by Mrs. Emerson helped things even less.
I should have just skipped, she thought, scowling. Of course, she knew that wouldn't have helped things. Considering how things were shaping up, she would still be in the same position she was in now.
Only without annoying the guy next to me, she mused. Glancing to the side finally, her foot paused and she offered the boy, Frank Webber, an apologetic smile. He did not look amused, but he nodded to her, and she returned her attention to the teacher. He's not talking about anything new. She looked towards her desk's screen. Maybe there's something that I can look at online to kill time. Maybe some news article or something. Something that the school will approve of.
No sooner did her hands touch the keyboard, did a message window pop up on her screen.
Hello. Enjoy your package?
Samantha blinked, so startled that, for a second, she sat there, staring at the screen, uncertain as to what to do. The second passed quickly though, and her fingers flew across the keyboard, blasting the messenger with all the pent-up anger and frustration that had been building up inside her.
Prometheus! What the hell do you think you're doing?! The package you sent me… The Logus…
Samantha paused, glaring at the screen. How was she going to end off the sentence? She still couldn't say for certain as to whether or not her suspicions were true. Hitting the enter button, she sent the message as is, letting the ending speak for itself. In response, the screen warped slightly, and the image of a yellow, toy duck marched from the edge of the screen and stopped in the middle. It turned its head to face her and shook it, as though scolding her.
Language dear, came the reply in the message box. Samantha swallowed nervously, resisting the urge to look around to see if anyone was looking in her direction. If someone happened to see…
They won't see, came another message for her to read. Samantha did not react to Prometheus' apparent reading of her unwritten question. You should know by now that our conversations are always shielded from outsiders. Well, most of them anyway.
The duck transformed suddenly into a smiley face, which promptly exploded in a shower of yellow shards. Samantha closed her eyes and counted to three before typing.
What did you do this morning? You said you sent me the package, but I didn't get anything.
Hitting reply, she scowled at the message box, waiting for a reply. She didn't have to wait long.
Sorry. There was a bit of a complication. I had to manage the Logus as best as I could just to get it in. The results are what you see.
Samantha ground her teeth together.
So…you implanted it in my classmate? she wrote. She resisted the urge to slam her finger on the question mark key. That would attract unwarranted attention. Regardless of whether or not her conversation could be observed, she wanted as much privacy as possible. What do I do if I have to involve him?
Another duck marched across her screen, seemingly laughing as it did so. The next message made Samantha's blood run cold.
That, my dear, is something we'll have to work out. I told you this isn't going to be easy. Why don't you take a little break to think things over. Here, I'll help.
An electrical spark leapt from Samantha's keyboard and struck her hand. Crying out, she leapt out of her chair, knocking over her chair in the process and earning her the startled looks of her classmates and their teacher. Before any questions could be made, smoke immediately began to rise from her desk. Crying out, the girl dove towards her Companion, ripping it out of its slot before flames erupted from the desk.
Samantha's mind was awhirl with a storm of uncertainty. So much so that she barely noticed when Nurse Ogawa had finished bandaging her hand.
"Hey," the older woman asked, patting the girl on the shoulder. "Sam? Are you listening?"
"Hm? Oh!" Samantha withdrew her hand, flexing it carefully. The bandages pressed gently against the burn that lay beneath it, but fortunately it didn't hurt the way it had when she came in. "Thank you," she said, looking up at Nurse Ogawa. The half-Japanese woman smiled warmly at her.
"Don't mention it. Always happy to do my duty, especially for my number one customer."
Samantha looked away, causing Ogawa to tilt her head to one side questioningly.
"Hey," she began, her expression full of concern. "You okay?"
"I guess I'm just a little shook up about my desk catching fire like that."
Ogawa nodded in understanding. "I don't blame you. They're not supposed to do that, even if you poured water on them." Ogawa chuckled dryly. "At least, that's what I heard the sales pitch said about them when the school board made the decision to purchase them. I'll bet after this incident, they're going to have a conniption fit. All the desks are going to have to be looked at and evaluated…" the woman sighed, her expression becoming almost distant and thoughtful. "I wonder if we're going to have to break out the older models that are still in storage."
Ogawa snapped out of her reverie and refocused on Samantha.
"Sorry. I shouldn't be focusing on boring, adult stuff. If you feel that you need to talk about this, I can set up an appointment with the school psychiatrist…"
"No." Samantha shook her head, her dark bangs swinging slightly. "I don't want to talk to that quack."
"Now, now," chastised Ogawa. "You shouldn't talk about others like that. Didn't your grandmother tell you it's not polite?"
Samantha's eyes flashed, but she bowed her head, not wanting the nurse to see her reaction.
Ogawa eyed her carefully before speaking again.
"How is she doing by the way?"
"Fine. She's been getting a lot of exercise. She's doing better in fact."
Looking up, Samantha smiled at the nurse, who promptly smiled back.
"That's good." A shifting sound behind her caught her attention, and Ogawa's smile broke as she looked over in the direction of a drawn curtain. "Hmmm…I'd better go see how my other patient is doing. You should head on back to class."
Getting to her feet, Ogawa headed over to the drawn curtain and pulled it back with a sharp click. Samantha stood up, getting ready to leave. Curious, she glanced around Ogawa to see who else had been in the room. Her eyes widened noticeably as she saw the pale figure of Alex, lying beneath the covers, looking for all the world as though he were dying.
"How are you holding up, Alex?" she heard Ogawa ask. The sick-looking boy mumbled something incomprehensible and Ogawa nodded. "Sorry to hear that," she replied. "Don't worry though. Your mother will be here shortly to pick you up."
"Is he all right?" asked Samantha, stepping closer.
Ogawa looked over her shoulder, a little surprised that the girl was still in the room.
"He's just a little under the weather," she assured her. "Now I don't mean to shoo you out of here, but don't you have a class you have to get too?"
"Right. Sorry. Have a good day."
With that, Samantha exited the nurse's office. Making her way down the hall, she furrowed her brow.
Could he be sick because of the Logus? Prometheus said that he was making it specifically for me. So…could it be like what happens when an organ gets rejected?
She didn't like the thought of that. If it was dangerous to him, she would have to get it out of him, and soon. The problem with that was…how did she do that?
"You can always ask me, you know…"
Jumping slightly in surprise, she turned in the direction that the voice came from. Finding a Hall Monitor screen, she went over to it, glancing around briefly before pressing the red button beneath it. The screen lit up, revealing a shadowy, distorted form. She knew who it was immediately.
"Prometheus," she hissed under her breath. Glancing around again, she leaned forward and presented her injured hand. "You got a reason for doing this to me?"
"It sent you to the nurse's office, didn't it?" chuckled the figure on the screen. His—its—voice was heavily distorted, deep and flat. "That is where Alex is.
"You bastard," Samantha growled. "You always were a little weird, but all of a sudden you've been ratcheting up on me…"
"As you yourself pointed out, we're on a time table. It seemed to be the fastest way to me. At any rate, we should focus on the matter at hand; that is to say, Alex. As I expected, he is a little under the weather."
Samantha took a moment to pull her mind away from the memory of her benefactor's extreme method before replying. "Because of the Logus."
The figure nodded. "Because of the Logus. I'm sure you've guessed the reason as to why."
"But why him?"
"He wasn't in the plan, dear Sam. I told you that there was some difficulty, correct? There was an interruption in the transfer, and it caused the Logus to appear midway to your location. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It's as simple as that."
"Great. So how do I get it out of him?"
"The Logus is an integration entity. It will be in the process of bonding with him, and as such it will be difficult to separate it from him. His 'sickness' is the first symptom as it is spreading throughout his system, analyzing him down to the last detail."
Samantha narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. Would I have gotten sick as well? she wondered.
"As he is different from you," continued Prometheus, "it will undoubtedly move slower, having to adjust and make the necessary modifications to itself to compensate. I did plan for there to be such a…complication. Always plan for the unexpected after all. We can use him."
"I'd rather not use anyone at all!" Samantha exclaimed, finding herself becoming impatient. "I want to get it out of him."
She took a deep breath and steadied herself. "No one else is getting involved. Got it?"
Prometheus was silent for a moment before he resumed speaking. "Very well then. In that case, we would need to create a disturbance."
"A…disturbance. Prometheus…you're going to have to be a bit more speci—"
Samantha's head whirled to the side as she spotted movement in her peripheral vision. It was a teacher. Pulling out Michael, she brought his electronic eye up to the Hall Monitor.
"Ah," noted Prometheus. "Of course. One moment."
The light on the Hall Monitor connected with Michael, and then its red light winked out, replaced by a green light. Spinning on her heels she quickly strode over to the nearby girls bathroom and entered it, getting into the first empty stall that she found. Locking it, she plopped down on the toilet and raised Michael. She listened carefully for a moment and as soon as she was satisfied that there was no one else with her she turned to her Companion.
"Okay. Start talking. What do you mean by creating a disturbance?"
She wanted to kick herself for the way it sounded. In her mind, the word simply brought up causing a disturbance in much the same way as pulling a prank or causing some damage—much the same way that Prometheus had done with her desk. However, she knew Prometheus, and as such, she knew that he meant something different by the word.
"You will have to be in the same area as Alex. As close as possible in order for the transfer to work. But first, it means you will have to do something that you wouldn't normally do."
"What?" Samantha felt confused. "But…you told me that's impossible without the Logus. I can't do anything."
"True. You can't. But I can get you to do so—briefly. But only if you'll trust me."
Samantha tilted her head to one side. "What do you mean?"
"If you'll let me in just for a short time, I can provide you with the window you need."
"Let…you in? You mean…control me?" Samantha swallowed nervously. She did not like where this was going.
"It's the fastest way. It's largely dependent on how rooted the Logus is right now, but as long as you desire to not bring anyone into this, this is the quickest and best method available to us. Anything else merely increases the risk of not being able to remove it in time. And we are on a timetable after all. It's your choice."
Prometheus was silent as he awaited the girl's answer. Samantha swallowed nervously.
"W-What…" Samantha ground her teeth together. Damn it… Don't sound like such a scared little girl. Pull yourself together, Sam. Pull. Yourself. Together.
She closed her eyes. How much time is left? A month? And then…?
In her mind's eye she saw lightning flowing up her arms and she shuddered involuntarily. The image was soon replaced by the face of an elderly woman with a kind, gentle smile and curly, sandy colored hair. She ran one hand through her hair in agitation before reopening her eyes, bringing her focus fully on her Companion Module.
"All right," she said, her voice full of determination. "Do it."
The light in the Companion Module's eye winked at her, and electricity suddenly shot out of it. It danced up her arms and latched onto her face. Samantha jerked with every bolt that ran through her, and the next thing she knew she was falling off the toilet seat. Her head cracked upon the wall of the stall and then…darkness.
A groan emerged from Samantha's mouth as her eyes fluttered open. She lay there for a moment, flexing her fingers and glancing around, taking in her surroundings.
Body feels okay. Now can it move?
An uncharacteristic grin appeared on her face.
Wiggle your big toe.
Her grin widened as she felt her toe press against the inside of her shoe in response to her command.
"Transmission complete," Prometheus said from Samantha's lips, getting to her feet. She cracked her neck and rolled her shoulders, working out any discomfort from them. "Time to get moving."
Unbolting the stall door, Prometheus moved Samantha's body, quickly marching out of the bathroom and heading back in the direction of the nurse's office. An eerie blue light danced within her eyes as she came to a halt just off to the side of the door. Glancing around her, she took a look inside to get an idea of who was in the office and where they were located.
She did not like what she saw.
I'm going insane. That's the only thing that makes sense now.
Lying on his bed in the nurse's office, Alex placed his right hand over his eyes, trying to block out the ceiling lights as they assaulted his senses. His head throbbed now and his stomach continued to make unpleasant protests. Between the two, at least his stomach had stopped exploding on him like a volcano and only made weak threats. His head however was an entirely different story.
Groaning, Alex shifted over onto his side and pulled the blankets up over his head. It helped ease the pain, but only barely. He gritted his teeth, restraining a groan. He felt so tired. He wanted to sleep, but fate with its cruel sense of humor prevented him from doing so. He had little choice but to deal with his suffering and wait for it to be over.
What a day this has been. The morning's not even over yet and already I'm having a grand old time. Going nuts, fake puking, and then really puking… Alex shifted the blanket just enough to look at Nurse Ogawa. Presently she was writing something down. Hovering next to her was a metallic sphere, the very same one that he had seen when he first started feeling sick. It had been following him ever since.
Alex shivered involuntarily and wrapped the blanket more tightly around him to retain heat. He was cold.
This has got to be all a dream. Yeah, that's right. I'm dreaming this. I must be sick in real life and just having one God-awful fever dream.
He peeked at the metal eyeball hovering next to the nurse. He took a moment to reflect that, if this were a fever dream, it was a surprisingly real-feeling one.
His stomach growled angrily at him and he tensed up.
Oh God, he whimpered mentally, all thoughts of the eyeball suddenly vanishing for the moment. He flushed in shame. He sincerely hoped that this was a dream. He couldn't think of the last time he had been so thoroughly humiliated like this, never mind feeling so horrible.
A burning sensation crossed his hand, and he felt as though something were crawling up his wrist. Giving a shout of surprise, he sat up, tossing aside the covers to get a look at the unsettling sensation.
Restless leg syndrome? his sickness muddled mind thought as he took a gander at his hand. The rings that had stood out on his palm had changed now, taking on a pyramid-like appearance while sending an arrow-like shape darting down the length of his forearm. He stared at it for a moment, shock slowly seeping into his brain until a low, scuffing noise reached his ears. Looking up, he saw Ogawa slumped over on her desk with Samantha standing in front of her, a dark, almost angry look on her face. Blue electricity danced around her fist, where she held her Companion Module.
To Alex, she looked like some sorceress determined to summon hell upon the hapless nurse's office.
The floating mechanical eyeball that had been his constant companion thus far suddenly surged towards her. Raising her Companion Module, a bolt of blue light flew at it, striking it and shattering it into thousands of tiny shards of sparkling light. Alex was left completely and totally flabbergasted by the sight he had just witnessed.
"W-W-Wha…What the hell…? Sam—?"
"You might want to be quiet," said Samantha coolly. Alex found himself scrambling out of bed frantically, his stomach ceasing in its complaints. All of a sudden, she was right there next to him, calmly looking at him, her eyes gauging him.
Shit! When did she move? Never mind that! I've got to get out of he—!
Samantha's free hand whipped outwards and grabbed hold of his right arm. Alex, panicking, pulled sharply, but her grip remained strong and turned vice-like.
"Don't struggle," she said, turning his palm up so that she could look at it. "I need to evaluate the Logus."
"Log-what? Wait. You know what this thing is?!"
Samantha didn't reply. Instead, her eyes traced the markings, frowning deeply at them.
"It's taken root," she muttered to herself. "Damn."
"Hey!" Alex pulled against the girl's grip, but her hand remained firmly clamped around his wrist. He grabbed her arm with his remaining hand and pulled. The limb wouldn't budge, and Samantha looked at him with an annoyed expression.
"Let…go!" he growled, straining to free himself. Pocketing her Companion, she grabbed him by the face and shoved him backwards, actually lifting him up off his feet in the process. Shock filled Alex's mind as his back hit the wall with a resounding thud, eliciting a grunt from him.
Jesus! What the fuck is going on here?!
"S-Sam…" he garbled, forcing his words past the fingers that pressed against his cheeks. "W-Wha…?"
Samantha shifted him slightly so that his face was more in line with hers.
"Please be quiet," she whispered, bringing her face closer to his.
That was all he got out before her lips pressed firmly against his. Heat flushed throughout his body as his eyes widened in complete and utter shock. A pleasurable sensation, accompanied by a strange feeling of electricity flowed through his face, causing the muscles in his face to jerk in reflex. His mind was awhirl with confusion, trying to make sense of the situation. He started to pull back, questions already forming on his parting lips, but he got no further than a series of muffled sounds as Samantha pushed forward, her lips chasing after his. Alex gasped against her mouth, feeling overwhelmed by the sensation of her skin against his. What was going on, he wanted to ask, but all thought was gone from him now, replaced by a mental shudder as a warm current continued to crawl its slow, pleasurable way through his body.
After what felt like an eternity, Samantha's lips finally parted from his. He could feel her breath blowing lightly against him. His heart was beating at a fast, erratic pace. Her breathing was slow, calm, sure. There was not a hint of the chaos that thrummed within him.
His dark-brown eyes met her bright blue ones. Although he thought it was impossible, the room suddenly felt that much warmer.
His lips moved, mouthing her name as an avalanche of questions prepared to tumble after it from his brain. He never got the chance to give voice to them however, as the world suddenly lurched, becoming one dizzying mess before his eyes slid upwards in their sockets, leaving the world black. His body became limp, and Samantha relaxed her grip, allowing him to fall slightly. Catching his weight with her arms, she carefully lay him back down on the bed. After doing so, she quickly walked over to Ogawa's desk, where a slot for a Companion waited. Sliding out Michael, she slid it in. Blue electricity arced into it, and a moment later Samantha's body slumped to the floor, just in time for a trio of mechanical orbs to rush into the room.