May took in a deep breath, released it in a slow exhalation, then took another one.
She took in all her problems, felt the stress pressing against her brain like a swelling balloon, and pictured them all leaving her with every breath she let go.
It took her a few minutes to calm down enough and began processing the influx of new information she just received.
Fact number one, there was a gag order working against her, signed off by both her caretaker, Kajakh, who acted on her behalf and for her sake, and her doctor, the jackoff Purple-Giraffe, who might be doing this for shit and giggles. Though, as much as she hated to admit it, his professionalism might not allow him to transgress so much, thus she concluded EVE’s limitations might have a solid medical reason.
Fact number two, something went wrong with Ling Interstellar Freight, something to do with a failed shipment to Homyu – some system’s capital – and it struck a fatal blow to the company in ways she had no way of knowing, thanks to the gag order. Kajakh and his father were on the case, trying to stem the bleeding but if the person on the holoviz could be believed, then the company was heading towards a certain end even with their combined effort. And May had no recourse to help at all.
Number three, May Ling had a secret that she shared with a little gorgon who just went off-planet for therapy. But as fact would have it, the little gorgon also didn’t have all the pieces.
Numero quatro, May Ling kept a secret room. Well, a room where secrets were kept. A room that might or might not contain the answer as to what ‘that thing’ between her and Little Gorgon was. However, had she really hid an important hint in there, wouldn’t the police’s sweep take away everything of value that could be a clue in their investigation? Would there even be any left for her to work with?
So many questions, so little answer.
Letting out an especially long breath, May clucked her tongue. What a jumbled mess.
Addendum, a smile graced her lips as a frivolous thought floated through her head. May Ling’s grandfather know English and was fond enough of it that he’s used it to name his AI’s protocols.
Which begged the question on how did anything of Earth origin ended up on this planet?
May filed that question for later, as it had no bearing to the answer she needed the most in her quest to go home.
What happened to May Ling that landed her in the hospital?
She stared at the ceiling, knowing that she should search the bedroom that had escaped EVE’s monitoring for juicy clues, but her heart was not ready to deal with another bout of disappointment, or her head another set of unanswered questions.
So instead, May turned to the last list – one with visual incor – that she hadn’t perused through. She eyed the list of written files with trepidation.
Will I find more mysteries than answers here too?
It had barely been a day – just an afternoon really – and she already felt so wrung out.
Part of it might be due to her degraded physical condition, but the rest came about from multiple dead-ends she encountered since starting her interview with EVE.
Kajakh did a great job corralling my AI like that, she thought with an angry frown, even if she did not feel any true rage towards the man. Especially not when he slaved away in her company while she lounged about on a comfortable couch, having lunch like a true couch potato.
It wasn’t his fault that May Ling also kept her cards close to her chest. The secret room, the alleged alternate comm-device, the covert plan with her best friend, the potential lie she fed to her own house’s AI…
May Ling was up to something, and now it was up to her to find out what.
Sighing, May sat up straight, beckoning at the final list so it floated before her.
Just a glance and she immediately caught the first anomaly.
“What are these [Retrieved] label in front of the titles, EVE?”
EVE’s dulcet voice responded, “It marks the incor that had been retrieved after deletion. The City Guard Investigative team had procured the necessary warrants to perform the reconstruction and copied all relevant information to complete their due process.”
Right, the police were here. A reflexive grimace marred May’s face; she never really did like the law enforcement. Those she had dealings with in the past were either corrupt, incompetent, or both.
So fact number Five, there was an investigation in the house by the City Guards. May had absolutely no idea how that went, nor if the officials had produced any results yet.
“How’s that going, EVE?” when in doubt, consult the AI. “The investigation I mean.”
“Information related to an ongoing investigation is strictly confidential until the law enforcers deem it suitable for release,” EVE iterated her rejection with perfect aplomb.
Worth a shot. May nodded to herself. “Now that I’m back, will they need to talk to me about anything?”
“Kajakh-jo has filed your amnesia as a legal premise to excuse you from any questioning, since it is very unlikely that you would know more than them, and their interview might have an adverse effect to your recovery,” the AI explained yet another merit Kajakh had done for his childhood friend without her knowing.
“I owe him a lot,” she muttered. Still, that would - could not stop her from going behind his back to get answers that she knew he didn’t want her to have. “Will they inform me of any progress?”
“The GuardianAngel protocol will filter any potentially distressing information until May-sa has been declared fully recovered.”
“I’m still the house owner.”
“May-sa’s health takes top priority.”
Arguing with an AI who was hell-bent on encasing her in a bubble-wrap would not be productive, so May began to open up the four [Retrieved] files instead.
Three of them contained a discussion about lack of sleep and request for alternative sleeping aid that sounded really dodgy.
“Did I buy any of these?” May couldn’t hide the incredulity in her voice. Back on Earth, she wouldn’t even give such scam-sounding pitch a second glance, directly deleting any stray that managed to get into her inbox, much less entertaining it.
May Ling actually bought the offered product and from the looks of it, multiple times.
“Yes. In the past few months, you have consumed the Thranh tea three times a day.”
“Was it useful?” May’s morbid curiosity piqued up.
“It has no adverse effect on your body,” the AI demurred.
Rolling her eyes, May decided not to bother pursuing that line of inquiry. Instead, she asked, “Is the tea illegal?”
Why delete the correspondence?
“The reason you looked for an alternative was that Kajakh-jo prevented you from taking more conventional sleeping aid,” EVE elaborated.
May flinched. Knowing that EVE was an AI did not prevent her from feeling guilty for a crime she didn’t commit. Though she should stop thinking like that seeing that May Ling’s crosses had now become hers to bear as long as she occupied this body.
The fourth one had a formal sound to it, an ornate, metallic-looking logo appeared beside the sender’s name: Lisier Mira – Shaping Futures, Inciting Innovations.
“Dear Excellency Jodeth Hir’sna,” May read out loud, “I would first like to thank you for the approved admission to the esteemed Lisier Mira’s Intergalactic Interrelationship, Commerce, and Affairs Development Stream. What’s ly-see-er mai-ror?”
“Lee-sea-eh Mee-rah,” – each syllable drew out slowly to emphasize the correct pronunciation – “A preparatory educational institute renowned for their innovative research and focus on the practical application of knowledge. Its alumni list includes almost a fourth of Al-jurba’s influential people and their heirs,” the AI explained. “Despite many upper-tier families wishing to place their heirs there, Lisier Mira only accepts 1,500 intakes biannually, selected through rigorous tests and background check.”
And May Ling managed to score enough to get in. Wow. However, reading further on, May’s suspicion as to why this incor thread was deleted grew.
“While this acceptance means the world to me, I regret to inform you that I will be withdrawing my application and admittance from the Lisier Mira. I am aware that this means no future application of mine will be considered, however, in light of a recent tragedy in my family, I believe I have other concerns to address before I can continue my education. Thank you for your time and consideration.”
These two people are just too good to each other, May thought with an exasperated huff. “I suppose this too was hidden from Kajakh?”
“Why?” May was quick to get used to having to prompt the AI forward. If it could give her answers, she’d poke and prod at the bundle of program all day long.
“Kajakh-jo and Ozi-jo both had been persuading you to continue your studies in their alma mater while they take care of LIF,” EVE explained. “You refused.”
Had it been a sentient being she was talking to, May was sure there would be an undercurrent of ‘you idiot’ in that statement. Considering it from this angle, along with the fact she had been asking many questions that would raise up red flags had it been anyone else, May counted it as her blessing to have EVE as her ‘who am I’ interviewee.
“I keep a lot of secrets, eh, EVE?”
The silence that followed did not feel judgmental at all.
Yup. So fortunate. May chuckled at her own joke, throwing her head back to finish the last of her lunch.
She began to read other correspondences as well, both text and videos, only to find they were all mundane, everyday things. While she got to know more about May Ling’s routine, her search failed to produce any desired facts.
If EVE’s hypothesis was on the spot, May Ling’s hidden communicator should yield a more bountiful harvest. But first, she had to hunt it down.
Well, at least now I know why Kajakh seems so wary of leaving me alone, she thought, lips forming a wry smile. He caught so many hidden caches in the investigation he’s worried there would be more if he let me out of his sight.
Credit to the guy, his paranoia was actually justified.
However, from the way May Ling skirted the boundaries and avoided surveillance, their relationship must be closer than siblings, with him monitoring her movements every so often.
Nice to know it wasn’t all from the hospitalization, May mused idly, releasing her glass to float beside her. “EVE, is any special day for Kajakh coming up? Even if I lost my memories, I’d like to continue the surprise.” Granted I know what it is in the first place, but hey, least I could do for the person who’d bent backward to take care of me, right?
“None marked in the calendar for the next six months, May-sa.”
May Ling had no compunction to lie to Kajakh and to her uncle, multiple times. It would not be a stretch to consider her lying to the AI as well.
Or her surprise really took that long to prepare, who knows.
“When I said I was preparing a gift for Kajakh…how exactly did I say it?” May asked.
The holoscreens parting to the sides was her only warning before the holoviz activated and showed a 3D live-rendition of May Ling, pre-amnesia, carrying a wrapped box while standing in front of a door she did not recognize.
“Activate Blackout Protocol for my rooms,” May Ling ordered, the English name rolled out flawlessly from her tongue.
“Activation of Blackout Protocol poses a security risk in the unmonitored area. Would you like to proceed?”
“Yes. This is Atmos; we don’t get security risk here,” May Ling stated exasperatedly. “Besides, you’re more of a risk to me than the hypothetical thieves. One word from Zach and you’d be spilling my secrets in a nanosecond.” She grinned to take out the sting of her words. Tapping the covered box, the holographic girl adopted a hopeful look, as she smiled down at it. “I don’t want him to find out before time. It’s a good surprise. I promise.”
“Initiating Blackout Protocol. Deactivating visual and audio monitoring. Only basic health monitoring will remain active until you call my name for specific requests or deactivate the Protocol,”
“Yes, yes, you don’t need to keep giving me the reminder each time I use the protocol you know.”
With that, May Ling stepped into the room and disappeared from view.
Fascinating, May thought, her gaze never leaving the now-static holographic display.
Leaning forward, with arms on her knees, May rested her chin on steepled fingers, eyes furrowing in a thoughtful frown. Seeing the holoviz reminded her that EVE had eyes and ears in the house 24/7. She hadn’t realized the implication until now.
Better late than never.
“The day the City Guard investigation team came in, I want to see it.”
Her clipped command demanded action, not refusal.
Unfortunately, the AI once more gave her the second. “That is restricted information under the GuardianAngel Protocol, May-sa.”
“No, that would be me asking about the day I got hospitalized,” she said slowly as if talking to a particularly slow person. “There should be nothing distressing about an investigation process. I mean, I didn’t die.” Inhaling deeply, she prayed for patience. “As long as the investigation is still open, it means they also haven’t concluded the answer yet. I will not be upset looking at people trawling about my house.”
“The risk posed is greater than 50%. It is ground to quarantine such information to prevent distressing you.”
Keeping her face straight despite her accelerating heartbeat, May forged on, “I’m not asking just for laughs, EVE. I tried to not think about it since you first mentioned it, but someone has been in the house. People I don’t know.” May frowned. “Kajakh couldn’t be in all places at once; I don’t feel safe, not until I make sure they didn’t take or leave anything behind.”
“I would not allow that, May-sa,” the AI responded, crisp and swift as if offended by the very thought that she could not ensure her wards’ safety.
“Logically I know that,” May’s voice wavered as she brought a hand to her chest. “But I keep getting this uncomfortable feeling whenever I remember some strangers have been around, rummaging through this place – my house, my safe place.” Her lips trembled, “I can’t rest like this, EVE.”
Silence followed her confession and May made sure her face was as pathetic as she could make it.
A second passed, then another, then all the holoscreens blinked out, before more than a dozen screens arranged themselves into two rows, forming a semicircle around her.
May breathed out in relief, “Thank you, EVE.”
“The moment you show signs of distress, I will discontinue the surveillance review,” the AI said.
So AI has loopholes to work around after all, May thought as she settled down for a long watch. Good to know.