While Ross and Isaccs were off doing the necessary preparations to allow the two AI's to be updated for compatible entrance into Expanse. Carly had very little to do. She wandered around the house for a bit, reminiscing about the times she had enjoyed. But with the good came the bad, the solitude and isolation she had suffered for so long. Carly broke from her memories to check the time, 9:18 am, she had a long wait ahead.
Carly sighed, deciding to send a message to Ross just to check for herself how restricted she was at the moment.
She instead received an automated response reporting that all communications in and out of her TME were currently locked until further notice.
Resigned to waiting, Carly elected to head out to her animals and enjoy their company. First, she went past the chickens, throwing out some leafy matter, seed and shell grit for them. She watched as they scratched, clucked, and shat all over the place. They were not particularly friendly with Carly. She wasn't around enough and rarely cared for them. Moving on, she headed to a paddock that contained the few cows. When she climbed and sat upon the nearest braced post, the cows paused for a momentary glance before continuing to munch the grass around them.
'Well, fine. I have neglected to spend much time with them, so the fact that they don't care enough to come over is on me,' she thought. 'I used to be friends with all the cows,' Carly reminisced. "You all have forgotten me because all I do is run past as I train," Carly called out to them.
Sitting there watching them do their thing for almost an hour, Carly spun and hopped off the post. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
She moved on to watching the pigs. They also ignored her as they lay around or hunted for the few scraps of food around. Carly went to the barn and prepared a couple of 10-liter buckets for them.
'That got the lazy sods up, but all their focus is on the food, rather than who brought it. No love here either,' she thought sadly.
Returning the buckets, she grabbed a wheelbarrow of hay for her three horses and waited at the fence. The three waltzed over at their own pace. Carly hand fed them and gave their noses a rub. "You guys should care at least a little bit that I am going, right? I mean, I at least visit you three when I am in need of some respite." One of the horses snorted, and Carly smiled. "I will take that as a yes." Dumping out the rest of the feed, she returned the wheelbarrow and brought out a grooming brush and went to work on the horses' flanks.
Carly was surprised. "I hate this place, you know. It was my prison for so long. But since the MDP, that seems like a lifetime ago. Now it's the place that I trained to get out of this place."
"Now, here I am, my last day here, and I have regrets. How stupid, I am sad that the other animals feel nothing for me when they see me. What's worse, none of you are even real animals, just facsimiles, data simulations. But here I am, sad for the lack of love from them. At least you guys make me feel wanted, even if it's just to groom you all."
"But leaving this place, despite everything," Carly shook her head. "I can't believe it, but I am sad to leave this place. Sad and nostalgic. How crazy is that?"
Carly rested her forehead on one of the horse's flanks, a tear ran down her cheek, and she sighed. "I am going to miss you guys, you know, all of you. Weird ha? I mean, your all just simple scripted code. Sure, you look, feel, smell, and act like your real-world counterparts. But you're not real."
"Saying that though, is that the truth? If so, what am I? Can I even be considered a person now? On the dark days, I certainly feel less. And yet, even if I do feel less sometimes, am I any different to someone else? Someone alive, well with a physical body."
"Listen to me, bitching about this place. I'm leaving. I will never be back, off to a whole new world. And all you scripted farm animals, that helped me get through those hard times. What happens to you? This TME will be shut down, and you all will just stop." Carly cleared her throat, feeling choked up over their plight.
"How shitty am I, just abandoning you all. I won't look back. I can tell you all that. I'm sorry, I feel shitty about it. But this is it, my second chance and I'm taking it. No matter the cost."
She slapped the horse on its rump a couple of times before she turned and headed through their paddock gate. "You all deserved better. I'll make sure part of my repercussions will be dedicated to you, all my farm animals," she shouted. "I made it this far because of you, so it's the least I can do. I know it doesn't mean anything, but thank you. For just being, thank you."
* * *
Ross Melos started to come around after logging off from his immersion. Slowly, he started to feel more like himself and began fiddling with the chin strap of the neural-sync headgear. Using his old arthritic fingers to manipulate the clip took extra seconds, but finally, he was able to unlatch it. Pushing up with a groan, he twisted and sat up with his legs hung over the side of his office bunk. Now seated, he pulled off the headgear that really resembled a full-face motorcycle helmet. Fortunately, it wasn't nearly as heavy, or sitting up would become incredibly arduous. Headgear off, he patted down the bit of hair he had remaining around the sides and lower back of his head. He groaned again with the effort of getting up off the bed. His hips, back, neck, and left knee were all giving him sharp messages about joint pain.
'Maybe it isn't such a bad thing to have all this go down right now, waiting for another 2-years to enter during the first wave seems like a long way off at my age,' Ross thought to himself. 'But, damn that bastard for taking most of my money. I'll need to make sure that it does go to the rest of the pioneers and that Carly does get 20-percent of my funds. That bastard Isaccs better not think of keeping it for himself. Not that he needs it with all his money and assets. Anyway, I better get moving. Before I get accused of taking too long, reaching the bastards office.'
* * *
"You said this wasn't going to take too long, Ross. Yet here we are over 2-hours later, and you're still mucking about. That ceremony will be happening with or without the AI. Too bad, if they are not sorted out in time," Isaccs spoke with contemptible annoyance in his voice while he tapped his foot.
"Nearly done, the code and modules are all removed, and its at 92-percent through on the recompile. I can't make it go any faster."
Updates were stated with every tick of the percentage value. Of course, it stalled for an extra couple of minutes at 96-percent, nearly giving Ross a coronary. Finally, it ticked over again and finished a minute later. "Done!" Ross stated with satisfaction in his voice. "Recompile complete, and stored, just doing the final confirmation. That will take two minutes. Then it's all yours, Richard."
The lights all flashed green, indicating that the quantum storage blades data was confirmed and placed into stasis mode. "All data is confirmed," Ross said as he stepped back to let Isaccs access the rack.
With antistatic gloves on, he lifted the release leavers for the first blade, placing it into an antistatic bag and repeated the process for the second blade. "Now, let's get the hell out of here, and get these things upgraded."
* * *
Entering one of the tech rooms, Ross followed Isaccs in. "I need these two AI's upgraded to current compatibility for Expanse, immediately."
The team jumped to alert and quickly began the process with all the efficiency they could muster. Plugging the memory riser into external socket devices and powering them up.
"Sir," a member of the team addressed Isaccs. "These AI are several generations old. It will take a while to update them to the current data standard without loss of any data."
"How long is a while?" Isaccs asked in a dangerously, calm voice.
"Approximately one and a half hours so long as there are no problems during the process."
"See to it," Isaccs answers, slightly more relaxed. "Let me know when they are complete or if anything goes wrong, and the upgrade is delayed. Even by a minute, then let me know."
"Understood, Sir. My team is well versed with the procedure."
"I know," answered Isaccs. "Ross, to my office. Let's go."
Soon after, Isaccs sat down at his desk, making a sigh the during the moment he sat down. "All this trouble you, Derver, and that girl have caused. You couldn't leave things well enough alone, could you?"
"You know I had a responsibility. As did you," Ross answered. "But I accepted mine, whereas you ignored yours."
"My company, my data, my victory in court, my choice to use the data however I like, Ross. I did nothing wrong, and at the time, the company you were a part of was completely toxic, and you were all bankrupt." Squeezing the bridge of his nose with his eyes closed and shaking his head. "Things could have been done differently, granted. But hindsight is 20/20. As you well know, Ross. Considering your own mistakes. Now listen and don't interrupt."
"When security returns, they will take you back to your office, I will set it up so you can confirm the two AI are in the Expanse foyer, awaiting access to Expanse. I will give you 5-minutes to confirm they are OK and allow you to meet Miss Berkstead when she portals into the Hub. You have 10-seconds to confirm the AI's are fine, transference has been successful and say goodbye. Then it's over to Miss Berkstead. Let us hope she doesn't make a mess of these last moments, for both our sakes as she departs for the greener pastures of Expanse."
"You, on the other hand, will immediately exit your dive. The security team will be waiting, and escort you to a room allocated for your transference procedure. Then you will be a part of the PURG group that goes on launch."
"I would like to confirm that the money I signed away earlier is being distributed as per the agreement to the PURG pioneers and that Carly received her 20-percent. Along with the remainder also transferred over for me into Expanse," Ross requested solemnly.
Isaccs hit a button on his desk, and several seconds later, there was a knock on the door. An AI robot stepped in. "Bring up all transactions for Ross Melos' account since his PURG stock sell order completed."
The AI nodded, and at the same time, one of the walls changed from the beige paint to a blue colour screen. It displayed the remaining funds in his own account, then a large sum transferring to EID#0. Following that, was the same amount transferred into thousands of other accounts.
Ross took a look at the top two transactions once more. "Even at 30-percent, that is a big number. What was the conversion value?"
"Everything is above board Ross if that's what you're asking. The conversion was done based on the current market rate of $1,020.51 per kilowatt-hour (kWh)."
OK, I admit you were right, Carly has done well out of all this. 91-million Life Points should see her along nicely. Plus, the 10-million from the Loop Event even after her penalty. She's in good stead, and well she should be.
"I couldn't agree more, a well-deserved remuneration," Isaccs said sarcastically. "I'm just glad it isn't my wealth."
"AI, how much time does this give Miss Berkstead in Expanse, including free time?" Ross asked.
The AI nodded, and another section of the wall changed to display the calculation. "Currently, EID#0 will have, 554-years, 10-days, 25-minutes, 31-seconds, not including any personal financials, nor benefits earned during her time in the MDP, that she may elect to transfer over. This calculation is based upon the stock quantum processor all pioneers will begin on."
"How fortunate Miss Berkstead has you as a backer, Ross. Incidentally, how much in LP will Ross have when he transfers over?" Isaccs asked.
The screen that contained Carly's calculations cleared, and a new set appeared right away. "Mr. Melos will have, 781-years, 15-da..."
"That's fine," Isaccs interrupted the AI. "That is also a very long time, more than enough to turn your life into something positive. I mean, if you can't do it with that much time up your sleeve, then you never will."
Well, look at the time, I had better review my speech. I need to make sure it provides optimal optics for the final advertisement push. With a bit of luck, there will be pioneers from around the world still entering into Expanse beyond July. All signed up and ready to go for pre-launch. You know what happens if you sign up after. Then you're going to become part of the first wave, 2-years down the track. Here is something you don't know, that's 2-years Expanse time behind everybody else. Who wants that? Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha. Aah, Ross. The look on your face. What a lucky guy."
"Now wait out with the AI bot in the reception area. I have work to do. Don't bother trying to running away, Ross. I mean, where would you go?" Isaccs asked with a shit-eating grin on his face."
* * *
The AI upgrades were completed in record time. Ross dived to confirmed that they had come through the whole process without any apparent negative effects. He gave them some quick information, what he hoped to provide Carly with this morning before he found out Isaccs was turning up. He was soon forcefully recalled from the dive.
The NEC's in the Hub had been busily informing everyone of their role in Carly's ceremonial departure into Expanse. Everyone was told the event would be a critical part of the final push for PURG's worldwide marketing strategy just before launch.
Ross looked to his left at the three towering NEC guards, then did the same to the right and sighed. It was almost time for Isaccs to begin his speech. 'Hopefully, this one isn't going to drag on as long as his usual ones do,' Ross thought. 'Spending hours with him today has far surpassed my yearly tolerable dose, of Richard Isaccs Shrodastower.'
Looking out past the guards in their plate armor, Ross couldn't help but admire the showmanship of the man. There was an enormous pyramid with a massively wide set of stairs rising up and up. Isaccs would be giving his speech from a landing a quarter of the way where the stairs split to either side. The top of the pyramid appeared to flatten out. Where Ross stood, he could just see the tip of what he assumed was the portal that would take Carly into the Expanse Lobby.
Everyone gathered below the pyramid in neat ranks. The didn't have to wait long before Isaccs appeared. He flew up to the landing in a display of flame and lightning. It looked amazing. Ross could just imagine how many people would sign up just on that bit of the ceremony alone.
Once he set himself, Isaccs began the flamboyant speech. This one was all business, getting down to the key features that Expanse offered as an advantage over Earth. 'Right now, Ross had to admit there are quite a few. Ross couldn't deny it. The planet was not in good shape. The speech was short, 3-minutes short, and then Carly appeared in a burst of coloured light, right near where Ross waited.
"The AI's are fine and waiting," Ross informed Carly. "Good luck, I hope I will see you soon. You need to walk through the center of the crowd and straight up the stairs of the pyramid. Isaccs will hand over your EID. Then you will continue up to the top of the pyramid. At the top, turn and give a fist salute. Right hand to chest, turn, and walk through the portal without looking back."
Carly nodded. "Thank you, Ross, for everything. Even if I do hold you partly responsible, you have made amends in my book. I will see you on the other side." With that, Carly began to walk between the two halves of the PURG pioneers. They all held the chest salute as Carly walked past.
Carly was guided by four of the NEC guards boxing her in. At the same time, Ross was logging out to be greeted by security guards ready to escort him to where he would begin the transference process.
Carly did as Ross had told her. Meeting, Isaccs on the landing, they shook hands in fake delighted congratulations. As he shook hands, a blue box appeared above Carly's head. It was so the world would see, EID#0. She was the first, the special one, the only Extant that would enter the world early, the one to chase.
On Isaccs prompting, she began to climb once more. As she got higher, the crowd became small. She towered over them all, and as she came closer to the summit, they cheered and cheered louder. The cheering gradually became a chant. At first, it was just a few, but more and more took it up each second. "Expanse, Expanse," over and over, it grew in volume.
'Everyone is putting on one hell of a show. Isaccs must be eating this up,' Carly thought.
Reaching the top, Carly looked down. She must have been eighty meters up, perhaps more, on the top of the pyramid. The flat square on top was larger than she expected, a testament to the pyramid's impressive size.
In its center, there was a single massive arched piece of stone standing before her. A surface effect within the arch was like a swirling liquid vortex. Gradually a white mist began to rise up, thickening quickly around the structure. Some of it was getting sucked into the portal effect.
Carly turned and raised her hand high, fist closed. She held it for a few seconds before returning the fist salute they all gave her. Then she turned, striding through the knee-high mist as she stepped through the portal without hesitation.