“I’m really tired of all this,” Cal complained as he sat down onto a chair. He winced as he managed to sit on his tail, and rearranged himself so it wasn’t obvious he managed to hurt himself. The orange tabby cat was in the ‘Tree’, as the Alenkans have taken to calling it.
Mostly because it was an easy place to find two cats and a squirrel, as weird as that statement sounds, and because it had a ton of paper and was nearly three stories tall. With an attic that Sam recently found it. Needless to say, neither Cal, Sam, nor Simon have used their apartments at all since the find.
“We know Cal. That’s only the tenth time you’ve said it,” Sam said from her own little desk. The albino cat was drawing something, and Cal hoped that it wasn’t a picture of him hurting himself. Knowing her though, and her rather sharp wit when she wanted to, it probably was.
Simon was busy looking at something, triangulating something using a few of the newer reports that had come in. Sam grinned at him, and showed Cal her paper. Cal sighed. It was a picture of himself hurting himself. Well. Dammit Sam.
“He is right though, a lot of the others are getting tired too. They’re feeling like we aren’t making any progress,” Simon said. The squirrel had to know the feeling too; they were so close to a breakthrough, they’ve checked nearly three quarters of Alenkas so far. Just because they hadn’t found it yet, didn’t mean they weren’t going to. They just needed a bit more time, a bit more hope.
“To be fair, they aren’t seeing what we are. They don’t see the maps the same way we do, they can’t eliminate the same districts the way we can. Too bad we don’t have like a massive board that we can show them,” Cal said idly. It was a wild fantasy, and they all knew it, but maybe they could try to make it real…
“Good idea Cal, but the only way for that is if they came in here. And well, this place isn’t exactly local,” Simon said. He gave the orange cat a look, and for the first time saw the pain on his face, “You alright?”
“Yeah, just sat wrong.”
Simon nodded, as if it explained everything -to be fair, it actually did- before turning back to his board. “You said that we can’t update them unless they come in here. What if we get Lucas and Aiden, when they come in here to grab the next orders for people, which districts have been done?” Sam suggested.
“That could work, but then we’d have to depend on them even more. As much as I like them, I don’t want to overwork them,” Simon responded. Sam acquiesced, and slowly went back to her drawings.
Silence overcame the Tree, until finally Sam looked back up. “What if we just update the maps? We make more, and we fill in the districts already done, so that way when Lucas and Aiden give their stuff back they have a fully updated map already? That way they can see the same general thing we do, just not updated in real time.”
“That’d be a lot of work, but it’d be something that we could all do. But I just…I have a feeling we’re missing something. Something big, something game-changing,” Simon said, after looking at the board some more.
“How about we play chinese checkers, to kill off some time? I mean, next Heat isn’t scheduled for another three hours, so we have plenty of time,” Cal said. Both Sam and Simon gave him the same look. “Right, never mind…” he said after a moment. He could recognize when both of them were against him.
“I just feel like…it’s so close, yet there’s a piece missing. Argh, that’s going to bother me for a while now. Did you guys ever get those reports back to Lyla?” Simon asked suddenly. Sam froze, blinking in remembrance before she tried to think back. It’d been about a week, and reports were going to be due again soon.
“I’m…pretty sure I did?” Sam sounded as if she didn’t quite remember, and dove back into her files to see if she had misplaced it. Cal nodded his head, finally something he could say about Sam!
“I did, ages ago. I just passed it off with A and L,” Cal said. Simon nodded, knowing that he had turned in his own report by hand. He remembered Lyla’s discussion about it with him, and how it was always more of the same. He had looked over them too, and agreed with the fox on that particular matter; it was worrying when many different teams responded with the exact same message.
He still didn’t agree that there was something malicious going on. Not yet. There are a lot of reasons why different teams would use the exact same messaging, such as they were all talking about the same bug, and had been told to write that. That had happened a lot at NuVO, or a single person was taking care of the reports and sending them back. Easy enough to explain away.
“Just making sure. Lyla still has some insecurities, and to be honest I’m starting to see where she’s coming from. I don’t think anything truly evil is going on, but something is wrong, or something went wrong,” Simon said.
“We already know something went wrong. These Heats aren’t natural, and there’s a few of us who are getting the short end of the stick even on those,” Sam said. Simon and Cal both turned to look at her, motioning for her to continue. She raised an eyebrow, “I’ve heard, not seen mind you, that a few of us are starting to get worse Heats instead of slowly acclimating to them as the rest of us have been doing.”
“Do you know who?” Cal asked. “I’ve heard similar but no names.”
“Jen’s getting the worst of it, the arctic wolf. Pretty sure she’s the only arctic wolf, so she’s easy to find. Emma’s also slowly being driven crazy, although no one’s sure if that’s just because Alenkas, or because of the Heats,” Sam answered.
“It’s possible because of Alenkas. There were a few times that it didn’t always sit well with the person’s mind, especially when we used it on the longer tests. I thought I fixed most of those errors, but again without the IDM I can’t tell for sure.”
“You mean people actually did go crazy in those tests? We all heard the rumors but no one thought for sure,” Cal asked. The rumors were quickly hushed, so naturally it leaked to everyone else even faster. They were supposed to be seen only by the leads, although he had asked Lyla at one point and she had no idea, just the rumors.
“Well, not driven crazy so to speak. Paranoia, dementia, all of those were rare but still heard of. It’s the way the system integrates with people’s minds, but I fixed ninety five percent of those issues, so last I checked it should only be about one in two hundred million,” Simon said.
“So what’s the chance of all of us going demented?” Sam asked after a long moment. She shared a quick look with Cal, surprised that Simon A) remembered all that, and B) was just now telling them. That was the kind of information that they should have known long before they went into the actual test.
“Practically none. The system is safe for ninety nine point nine nine percent of people. On the sheets to sign up, it should have said that those with a penchant for dementia or other mental conditions shouldn’t apply. Did you guys not see that? I saw it on my sheet,” Simon said.
Sam shook her head, “No, it didn’t say anything for me. Cal?”
“Well. That’s rather terrifying. I wonder if someone sabotaged the entire test then. I know I made sure to let everyone know the potential side-effects,” Simon said. “Lyla may actually have been onto something.”
“Let’s wait until we got some more actual evidence first. For all we know, it was just an administrator error,” Sam reasoned. Cal and Simon nodded, and the matter was tabled for now. But there was still a small niggle of thoughts lost in their minds.
If, there was something that sabotaged the entire test, what was the reason for it? And why would they then cause the Heats? They had too many questions…and not nearly enough answers yet.
“Yeah, that sounds like the best plan. What was it that you brought up, Sam, when we first started? You know, when I taught you chess that day. I played a game with Lyla first, and I remember you brought up some good points but I don’t remember what they were. Something about a motive?” Simon asked.
Sam blinked, suddenly taken aback from that day. She remembered it clearly; Lyla was naked as the day she was born, playing a chess game with Simon before he taught her. She tried to remember her words, and she hoped she didn’t butcher them, “In every crime, there’s always several things to keep in mind. A culprit, the crime, the motive, and the victim.”
“So we know who the victims are, all of us, but we have no idea about the other three,” Cal said. He thought about it a moment, “Wait, we know the crime. But culprit and motive…if we can figure out one, we can figure out the other, can’t we?”
“That’s the point. If we can come up with either of those, maybe we can figure it out,” Sam said. “Should I try to get Lyla over here at some point? Maybe with all of us we can try.”
Simon tossed it around in his head. There was still a thought missing. It was there, it was close. But it wasn’t quite there. “Not yet. Let’s see if we can’t do this IDM thing first. One step at a time,” he stated simply.
Cal and Sam nodded. “One step at a time,” they both said. Cal sighed. There was maybe something far darker in Alenkas than they all thought. He wondered…what if it hadn’t gone yet to that darkest point? What if it was going to get worse?
He smirked, making sure to keep his face hidden from Simon and Sam. ‘Alright then…bring it on, you freaks!’ he shouted in his head.