“I cannot divulge that information, May-sa,” EVE replied.
The answer caught May flatfooted.
She had been so sure.
So sure that the answers she wanted, no, needed was finally within her reach.
Finding out that it had been nothing but a fata morgana in an endless desert destroyed just about any measure of patience she had left.
“Why the hell not?” the Earth-native hissed through gritted teeth.
“May-sa does not have the authority to access that information,” came the AI’s placid answer.
May took a deep breath, then another, then with a calm she did not truly feel, she demanded, “Did Kajakh put you up to this?”
“Correct,” the AI replied without preamble. “As the primary executor of Seneschal Protocol, Kajakh-jo has invoked the GuardianAngel Protocol to ensure May-sa’s well-being, both physically and spiritually.”
A deep inhale. A loud exhale. Then, “The Seneschal Protocol was revoked; consider his command obsolete.”
“As the GuardianAngel Protocol was set up under the formal recommendation and with the acknowledgment of the physician responsible for your recovery.”
Green semi-transparent holoscreen appeared in front of her, displaying a formal document that basically said until May Ling had been declared both physically and mentally healthy, any factor that could cause unduly stress should be avoided lest it triggered an attack. Until that day came, as May’s primary medical proxy, Kajakh had the right to govern May’s actions to a certain extent, backed with solid and logical reasoning, to ensure her fast and smooth recovery.
The formal declaration carried the signature of one Doctor Limeh Korah.
Looking at that name, a familiar nauseating face popped up in her head. A high-pitched noise echoed in the large room as May let out a long whine, her frustration palpable.
Just when she thought she’d found an exit, she met a new obstacle.
“That ugly Purple Giraffe!” she cursed, balling her hands into white-knuckled fists. Even without being present, that alien still managed to infuriate her.
Glaring at the signature, she waved the document away from her sight.
Kajakh only wanted to help, she knew, but that doctor...
She bet he was too lazy to even care what he was signing as long as Kajakh stopped hounding him about her recovery.
“Okay,” she exhaled heavily, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees, pressing her forehead on steepled fingers. “Okay. So that’s a bust. Don’t give up now.”
“You feel like giving me some advice, EVE?” she asked, looking up to direct a mocking grin at the ceiling. “All this thinking and going around in circle give a girl a headache, you know.”
“A short nap before dinner will do wonders to a tired person’s mood, May-sa,” EVE answered primly.
May’s lips formed a flat line as she dropped her head back to its previous position. “Don’t know why I expected a different result.”
If asking EVE directly wouldn’t work, then she would need to find another source.
Another source that would give her information freely.
Preferably without being detected by Kajakh.
Meaning it should be accessible from the house.
The steepled fingers separated to bury themselves in her hair as she scratched it vigorously, her frustration mounting with each passing second.
“This is ridiculous,” May huffed, bowing over her knees while clutching her head tightly. “I wish I could just Goo – ”
Her thoughts came to a screeching stop.
Google. A search engine.
A place where information is collected and dispersed freely.
I need a space internet.
After staring blankly at the depression that marked the spot for the holo-viz projector, May hit her forehead in rapid successions, berating her own short-sightedness.
“EVE, can I access the CINe?”
“Yes, May-sa.” The holo-viz fizzled to life before her, showing a holographic floating crystal with instructions to speak her query.
“Excellent.” May couldn’t stop the grin that grew on her face, nor did she want to. Rubbing her hands together, she leaned eagerly towards the projection and said, “CINe search: news on May Ling’s hospitalization.”
“The Protocol limits access to all restricted information that falls under its purview, regardless of their source,” EVE explained.
Growling low, May demanded, “What exactly are the limits?!”
That phrase was fast becoming the bane of her existence.
Fine. I’ll let the topic go. There are other things that I need to know as May Ling anyhow.
Muscled bunched up with anticipation, May ordered, “CINe search: Ling Interstellar Freight.”
She braced herself, as if expecting another rejection, but the holo-viz barely took a second before showing the LIF logo, floating right in the middle of the projector.
A humanoid green woman appeared, dressed in a dark blue dress, light blue sash, with a beige overall poncho with a distinctive spiral pattern in green. “Welcome to Ling Interstellar Freight Information Network. How may I help you?” she greeted pleasantly, a warm smile pasted on her pretty face as she clasped her hands together in front of her.
Looking at the successful search, May let out a relieved sigh. At least she had a leeway.
“Ling Interstellar Freight’s current condition.”
The green lady opened her mouth -
EVE’s voice cut in, “Insufficient authority.”
The green lady stilled, returning to that warm smile and expecting pose.
May groaned, tilting her head back against the backrest. “Of course.”
An automated response. Why would one ever go for paid but personalized service when there was a capable semi-thinking technology that could do it for them?
May knew several people back on Earth who would be vindicated knowing that yes, sufficiently advanced technology had replaced humans – no sentient beings here – and taking over their jobs.
Without even opening her eyes, May flicked her finger, dismissing the LIF ‘homepage’. Interlocked fingers rested on her stomach, moving up and down in a constant tap-tap-tap rhythm. A few minutes passed before they stilled.
Still maintaining her position, May commanded, “CINe new search: LIF leaders’ accident.”
“CINe search: LIF Nimuth-Homyu accident.”
In a flash, May stood, grabbed the mug floating beside her, and threw it across the room through the animated red holoscreen saying ‘Insufficient Authority’. It landed with a heavy thunk, scattering the content all over the floor.
“THEN WHAT GOOD ARE YOU?!” May roared, chest heaving up and down as her heart raced with anger.
Every step blocked. Every promising lead turned out to be a dead-end.
Every hope she had in finding the truth diminished with every revelation.
May didn’t know if she could go on like this.
“I don’t ask for much,” she growled, her pulse quickening as her anger mounted. “I just want to know What. The. Hell. Happened. To me!" May straightened her body, looking up with spread arms, demanding, “WAS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!”
“May-sa, please calm down, your blood pressure – ”
“FUCK MY BLOOD PRESSURE! FUCK MY HEART! FUCK IT ALL FUCK!!!”
A small whirring sound broke her tirade.
The Earth-native stared blankly as a couple of small robots appeared from a hole that just opened on the floor beside the projector. They looked like cones with cut off heads, giving it a flat top instead of pointy one. Without any noise, they floated towards where the glass she threw lied, one picking it up and the other…did something that cleaned up the spilled liquid.
Then both made a beeline towards the kitchen.
Mind shorting out from a combination of intense emotional cocktail and the absurd timing of the two cleaning robots, May’s eyes blankly followed their trajectory with her eyes.
Until her sight latched onto several holographic projections hovering on a drum table located near the door.
She could make out May Ling’s smiling face, surrounded by people she guessed must have been her family.
Without her prompting, the holo-viz came to life, showing the same projections she had been staring at in larger screens.
A younger May Ling with her arms around a brunette Caucasian man with blue eyes and a dark-haired woman with black eyes, all smiling brightly. A caption in a handwritten cursive labeled the photo as ‘May-may’s tenth birthday’.
Teenage May Ling crouching beside an equally young Kajakh, both showing off their fancy star-bands while grinning broadly. Above them, a middle-aged couple whose hair was turning white at the edges, struck a similar pose, showing off their matching star-band. The caption was written in an untidy scrawl: ‘Grandpa and grandma + Kajakh and me + star-bands! Together forever!’.
May’s parents – or who she assumed were May’s parents anyhow – sitting in a spaceship, judging from the panels surrounding them and the spacesuit they wore. Ling’s father was sitting on the high-backed chair, grinning while holding his wife who sat across his lap, holding a placard saying ‘Deneb’s maiden voyage.’
May Ling dressed in loose green robes with strong angular lines embroidered at the hem, white sash tight around her waist topped with a jeweled belt, and deeper green shoulder cape bearing complicated yellow-and-orange pattern depicting several flowers weaved together. She held a trophy of a sort in her hand, lifting it up triumphantly. Beside her, Kajakh stood in his black tunic and trousers, topped with a poncho that cuts short in front and flowed down to his knees in the back, much like a true cape. His hand rested on the small of May Ling’s back as he gazed at her with open pride.
‘Congratulations on your graduation, May-may!’ the caption said.
That was the one handwriting she didn’t need to guess. She’d seen it enough when Kajakh filled out forms and drawing diagrams when he explained inconsequential things to her back in the hospital.
The person who had been her constant companion since she woke up in this world.
His constant presence had been a reassuring rock to lean upon once she decided to extend a tentative trust towards the orange-eyed hybrid. However, that constant presence now weighed upon her like a specter that refused to leave.
She met his shadow at every turn she took as if he had anticipated her every move and stopped her from putting even a toe over the line he had drawn.
He was protecting her; that she knew.
And yet, May guiltily wished for the first time since making his acquaintance that he would care less.
He loved May Ling, who in her theory had truly passed on when this body died that time. She was dead, replaced by a stranger who didn’t even come from the same planet.
A stranger whose identity was flowing out of her grasp like grains of sand. The tighter she clutched, the more she lost.
She woke up nameless.
God knew what else she had forgotten since opening her eyes in this blasted place. Would she one day stop recognizing EVE’s Earth-named protocols? Would she suddenly felt that yes, Warptubes were normal and wondering if wheeled-cars were remnants of her overactive imagination?
Would she one day forget that she had once lived in a blue-gem of a planet instead of a green one?
No. She refused to let that possibility took root in reality.
The speed of her assimilation with the new surroundings scared her, even if she didn’t want to admit it. She adapted fast in general, true, but to feel at home in a house she never saw, to take comfort and feel a sudden affection towards a bracelet she never saw before, to feel invested in the death of people she did not know –
Yes, she was losing herself piece by piece while taking up more and more of May Ling’s life.
This is a nightmare.
The familiar litany that accompanied her early days on this planet began looping once more in her head.
Someone please wake me up.
Tears gathered in her eyes as she stared at Kajakh’s smiling visage, one that currently brought her despair instead of comfort.
Involuntarily, May fell back into her seat, clutching the cloth over her heart as sharp pain spiked through it and spasms ran throughout her entire body. Trembling, she forced her twitching muscles to relax and drew a deep, slow breath. Then exhaled it just as slowly.
She repeated the process several times, ignoring EVE’s incessant buzzing for a verbal confirmation of her condition so that she could focus on getting her body under control.
May would have ignored the AI indefinitely, but then –
“Contacting Kaja – ”
“Belay that. I’m fine,” May immediately cut in, wiping her face clean of tears. Inhale. Exhale. The muscle spasms had stopped, though the pain lingered like a lover she had no choice but to tolerate.
“This is normal; I’m fine.” She didn’t know if an AI could hesitate, but the silence that followed gave her that impression. Glaring at the ceiling, she added, “This doesn’t even rate as a minor attack. It’s in my medical files. Double check it if you must but do not call Kajakh.”
If the blasted AI could not follow her instruction even that much, May’s next step would be finding out how to get away from this house. With a house this big, May reckoned she should have enough capital to live in a hotel for a day or two.
“Understood,” EVE responded. “May-sa, please do not push yourself too hard. Stress is detrimental to your body; an excess of it can prove lethal.”
May laughed, her reedy voice lending it an eerie quality. “Tell me what I want to know, and I’ll be so much less stressed, EVE.”
The AI actually sounded apologetic when she said, “The GuardianAngel Protocol has placed all information that could potentially induce anxiety, provoke traumatic memories, and/or damage the psyche under lockdown.”
Hunching into herself, May continued her breathing exercises, mind running miles a minute at the new revelation. Basically, EVE’s program prevented her from letting May access to any information that could send her back to the hospital.
For some reason, May had the strangest feeling that Kajakh anticipated more than just stress-induced attacks by setting up this protocol.
May’s eyes narrowed as a chilling thought occurred to her.
“If a Seneschal can modify your data enough to set up another protocol that I, as the house owner, cannot circumvent, is that not a security risk?”
Seeing that May would be living here for an unforeseeable future, the idea that someone else, no matter how helpful he had been, possessing that degree of control over the house’s fundamental functions made her skin crawled.
“The GuardianAngel Protocol was first written and incorporated by Creator Altair Ling for the Homyu mainframe before it became a standard protocol for all EVE units.”
May blinked. “Altair Ling?” Then after a pause. “Wait, there are more of you?”
“Altair Ling is May-sa’s maternal grandfather. He created the first EVE for the Ling residence in Homyu. I am the secondary unit in charge of the Ling household in Nimuth. A third EVE unit belongs in Creator’s spaceship, but its connection to the primary mainframe is not automated.”
….wow, May Ling’s grandpa made a female JARVIS.
Biting her fingers, May tried to wrap her head around this revelation. A protection protocol that culled the recipient’s freedom for their own good. She didn’t know why Ling grandpa would need such a thing, nor was she interested in it. The Earth-native had a more pressing concern to address.
“Does GuardianAngel Protocol require you to report my daily activities to Kajakh?”
“No. I will only contact him when May-sa requires medical help that I cannot provide.”
“Anyone else has access to private information within the house?”
May melted into her seat bonelessly as relief washed over her.
Thank goodness for small favors. It was one thing to be monitored around the clock by an AI, but another person? Haha, no.
The hotel was becoming more and more of an attractive prospect.
I really want to get out of here.
I just want to go home.
But home was so far away, May couldn’t be sure it still existed. The one thing she could be sure of was Earth did not orbit in the Al-jurba system.
May slumped sideways in her seat. Then for good measure, put her feet up to lie on the couch properly, arm crossed over her eyes.
“This is ridiculous,” she muttered darkly, brain too tired to explore possible leads to chase.
It didn’t help that her stomach felt empty and the pain that thrummed in her body had not returned to its normal threshold after her…stressed reaction.
She should get something to eat.
Or drink, in this case.
Lying prone, she tilted her head slightly, peeking at the pictures that crowded the holo-viz area. EVE had pulled more than what was displayed as decorations.
And from this, May could see just how close Kajakh and May Ling had been. A green-skinned man made a smattering appearance here and there, a person she assumed was Kajakh’s dad.
I don’t want to think about him.
With that mulish thought, she drew her eyes away, pressing her arms tighter until sharp edge dug into her skin. Wincing, she pulled her arms back a little, pausing to admire the star-band that gleamed colorfully under the afternoon light that filtered through the family room’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
It looked more worn out compared to the one in their younger pictures. She had also seen the two bracelets hidden under their sleeves in the graduation photo. Proof that yes, both Kajakh and May Ling had been wearing this since childhood.
Compared to its colorful pattern, the comm-bracer on her other wrist was far plainer. Though more useful. In a limited sense, seeing that its contact list only contained two numbers: Kajakh’s and the hospital. With its CINe connection controlled by EVE, she could not do anything wayward with it either.
Tiredly, May threw her request without expecting much. “EVE, show me my call logs and correspondences before and after my hospitalization.” She smirked while drawling mockingly, “Or is that forbidden too?”
There was a pause, then the holo-viz cleared out, making way for two screens – one blue, one pink. One contained information on her incoming and outgoing calls, while the other listed out menus to access the messaged in her inbox and outbox.
Pleasantly surprised, May sat up and began perusing her unexpected loot with lips curling up in a wild grin. Hunger and pain forgotten as her heart beat with excitement.
Finally, she rejoiced, progress.