Ceto Wonderworld: Underground
Gaige looked around, wrinkling her nose at the smell permeating the place as she reluctantly closed the door behind them. As it closed with a thunk that somehow made her think of a coffin closing, Artemis spun around and wide eyed mouthed ‘What’re you doing?’.
“Allowing us to talk,” Gaige whispered back.
“Think I’d rather have an escape path.” Came the equally soft reply.
Gaige couldn’t fault her for that, but knew that she’d made the right call, so she ignored the faint bitching coming from the other girl and started forward when Artemis held up a hand. Instantly freezing out of fear that one of the mascots must be in the room, she threw a glance back at the shut door, cursing herself, only to catch herself.
If Artemis had heard something in the room, she wouldn’t have talked just then, instead, she would’ve bolted for either the door or the enemy. Gaige steadied her nerves and shot the other girl an inquisitive look, which was ignored as she moved the lantern around, looking for something.
While she worked, Gaige became more aware of a smell lingering under the usual oil and metals she associated with robotics. Of course, there were other smells that she wasn’t as used to, like the plastic and a faint smell of ozone and burned plastic, but this was different, familiar, but off putting. It was causing her nose to instinctively scrunch up as she looked around for its source when everything went white.
Suppressing a scream of pain, she threw her arm in front of her eyes, trying to shield them from the blinding radiance that was trying to stab through them and into her brain.
“Oh god, that hurts.” Came the cry from next to her.
“What is it?”
“My fault. Sorry. I hit the light switch, should’ve warned you.”
“Hit the light switch.”
“Cause I figured they’d have power here, I mean, if they’re making more of these abominations, then they’d have to have power for the tools, right? So, they’d have power to the lights. My mistake was forgetting that it’s been hours since I had any proper lighting and I fried my retinas.”
“Yours? What about mine? You at least knew what you were about to do.”
“Yeah, my bad.”
After a few agonizing seconds, they started to be able to see again, though Gaige hoped they wouldn’t have to try and readjust the other way any time soon, since she’d just had her night-vision blown.
Soon enough, they lowered their arms and looked around, blinking rapidly as they continued to adjust. Now able to fully see the room, Gaige was amazed at the size of it, not that she had thought that the animatronic workspace would be small, it was just that she hadn’t really thought about it at all.
The room stretched for a good ways, easily four times the size of the office they’d been in a little while ago, with most of that space dedicated to shelving, much of which was starting to become bare.
On one side were what she would’ve described as cages, vertical spaces with mesh sides and backs, with a frame up the back that jutted out at the top with chains dangling from them. It took her a minute to recognize the animatronic work-spaces. They were where the mascots would come and get hung up so that they could have their maintenance done, as was evident by the tools that were scattered around the small tables that had been pulled off to the side.
Moving deeper into the room, the smell continued to get worse, till she said out loud “What IS that stench?”
“Don’t even pretend you can’t smell that.”
“Of course I can smell it, I was just distracted by some of this stuff. And it’s blood and viscera, by the way.”
“I know that? Or why is it here?”
“Cause this would be where they made the, well, let’s call them ‘second generation’ mascots. And I wouldn’t look over there if I were you.”
The instant she heard that, Gaige turned and looked where Artemis had indicated and immediately regretted it.
The table by the wall was covered in screws and bits of mechanical parts that would’ve been used for the construction of the mascots, but they were all drenched in dried blood, which looked like it had been poured liberally over the table and splattered on the wall.
“Eh, not as bad as some of the bandit camps I’ve seen,” she said, trying to cheer herself up “Or for that matter, Dr. Zeds’ lab.”
Artemis nodded at that, though she had no real idea what Zed’s lab looked like, “Well, at least we know that they really did make abominations down here.”
“Why what? Why make them? Or why not clean up after themselves?”
“No idea on the first, and as for the second, I’d guess that it never occurred to them.”
“With all this blood?”
“You think that’s bad, look at the tools.”
Gaige glanced at the table again and saw the tools that were scattered around the stainless-steel table to the side, the saws, the screw-guns, everything was splattered in blood, which made her want to cry at the mistreatment of the tools.
“I mean, with the amount of rust on them now, even if you survived the surgery, you’d definitely die from that,” Artemis continued
“That’s what bothers you about this?”
“Well, I mean, it’s true. You wouldn’t want to be operated on by these things.”
“Obviously. But it doesn’t bother you to see tools mistreated this way?”
“Well, yeah, but they’re, you know, not human.”
“So, it’s alright to mistreat tools?”
“No, when did I say that?”
“You just used the excuse that they weren’t human.”
“Well, they aren’t, I mean, you can’t expect things like them to treat their tools well.”
“Wait, what? Hold on, you mean you were meaning the animatronics and not the tools when you said they weren’t human?”
“Yeah. I mean, obviously the tools aren’t human. Not that it’s any reason to mistreat them, but I just figured I’d kinda give the mascot things a little bit of a pass on their mistreatment of the tools since they really weren’t designed to be using them in the first place, if anything, it’s their programmers fault.”
“Sorry, you’re right and that makes way more sense than what I was misinterpreting what you were meaning as.”
“Yeah, it’s alright, probably my fault for not being clear in the first place.”
“You know, not everything’s your fault.”
“I do, but me not being clear is kinda my fault.”
“You know what? I’m not even going to get into this right now.”
“Uh, alright. So, what should we be doing next?”
Gaige paused and gave it some thought “Well, normally I’d be saying that we should be getting the heck outta here, but this might actually be a good spot for a moment.”
“Seriously? In this creeptastic place? I mean, it’s like it can’t make up its mind on being a robot storeroom, a mannequin reposito…repoos…”
“What? No, you know, a storage area.”
“Yeah, that’s it, repository, it’s like a mannequin repository and a slaughterhouse.”
“Right, that totally makes sense, and you’re not wrong. I mean, I don’t wanna be in here any longer than I have to, but think about it, this’ll be our best chance at figuring out how to take these things down easier.”
“You mean it’ll be your chance to figure it out, cause let’s be honest, I’m not going to be much help here.”
“Sure you will, you’re smarter than you think.”
“Not about this stuff, you’re the expert. Tell you what, you get to work on that and I’ll keep an eye out for anything trying to get in here.”
“Why don’t you also look for some melee weapons for us while you’re on that.”
“That’s not a bad idea.”
“Plus, you can see where the exits are in case we need them.”
“Also, a fair idea.”
“Also, could you maybe clean the place up a bit, maybe string some festive lights around.”
“Just trying to lighten the mood.”
“Whatever, get to work so we can get the heck out of here.”
Gaige waved her off and got to work on the stacks of papers and electronics cluttering up the desks, so Artemis started wandering around.
She first headed back to the entrance they’d come in and looked for a lock. She quickly found that she wasn’t able to lock it, due to the fact that it had a keyhole, but she wasn’t able to find any keys and she wasn’t all that versed in lock picking, especially not going the other way with it, so she looked around and found a chunk of one of the animatronic’s torsos to jam into the next shelf over, wedging it so that it could be removed easily, but until then, would prevent the door from opening.
Moving on, she headed around the room, trying not to look too closely at the pieces of the mascots that littered the shelves, even though she was forcing herself to glance around in the hopes of finding anything that could be used as a weapon.
She hadn’t found anything by the time she’d made it halfway around the room and found the next door. Looking at it, she found that it was identical to the one they’d come in through and like that one, had no identification on it, so she couldn’t tell what was on the other side without opening it, something she had no intention of doing until she had Gaige with her.
Making a note of it on her mental map, she continued on, circling the rest of the room till she was back at the area that Gaige was digging through.
“You find anything useful?” Was the first thing out of Gaige’s mouth, uttered without even bothering to look up, like she knew the answer already, that Artemis had failed her again.
“No. Well, I did find a second door.”
“And where’d it lead?”
“I wasn’t going to open it.”
“What’s the matter? Scared?”
“No! I just didn’t want to wake anything up that might be on the other side, at lest not until you were ready to go.”
“Really? Cause I would’ve been scared.”
“You heard me. I’m not an idiot, there’s plenty of stuff down here that’s worth at least worrying about, but if you weren’t scared, then either you were lying or you’re braver than me. Well, or you’re insane.”
“Alright, I was a bit, er, apprehensive about what I might find. There, happy?”
Gaige shrugged, like she didn’t care one way or the other.
“Oh yeah? Well, what about you? What’d you find out?”
“Not entirely sure yet, but I think I’m onto something. It’ll only take a minute longer, until then, you can either sit around and wait or go look through the tools.”
“I don’t think we’re going to want any of them, we’ve got better.”
“Not here we don’t. Especially not the good heavy ones, ones that’d be great for bashing in an animatronic.”
Artemis got what she was getting at and headed over to the work table, trying to ignore the stench that seemed to have been ground into it.
At first glance, she didn’t see anything that would be useful. Most of the tools weren’t the kind that lent themselves to being used as clubs, things like pneumatic impact ratchet guns and omni-splicers. Even the welding equipment was either too weak or too bulky to be used offensively.
After carefully digging through, she gave up. There wasn’t anything on the table that could be used, at least not that she could see.
Just as she was giving up, she spotted something that she’d overlooked. Beyond the table and just off to the side was a wall covered in hooks with a cabinet sitting next to it. Stepping closer, she realized that the wall had once been covered in tools, each one hung with care in its spot. Tools that had long since been abandoned elsewhere.
Moving around the table, she glanced over the wall and down to the floor, hoping to find something of use there, but only found dust, so she headed for the cabinet. Opening the doors, she found herself facing a set of shelves covered in cases.
Dragging the first one off the shelf, she quickly discovered that they were where almost all of the tools on the table had once been stored, with the extra bits and specialty tools for adjusting them still sitting inside, not to mention the instructions.
A quick check of the rest of them told her that they were all empty and of no immediate use, though she thought that if Gaige had been looking through them, she probably would’ve taken any of the tools with.
Stepping back in disappointment, she felt her brows roll together. Glaring at the area, she felt she was missing something, something obvious, so she focused on what she knew. The tools that had once been here were now scattered around the improvised surgical table, the boxes that they’d once been in had been returned to the cabinet, which she found a bit odd. Nothing else had been returned to where it had belonged, so why these. The only solution she could come up with was that they’d been taken by the animatronics before their programming had gotten too far out of whack.
But that wasn’t the only thing that was off. Sweeping her eyes over the rest of the area, she found them returning to the wall, where the hooks for the tools still hung.
It took a bit, but she suddenly realized what was bothering her, if most of the tools that were on the work-space were from the cabinet, then where were the tools from the wall?
Looking around, she spotted a few that would’ve come off of it, but nowhere near the number of hooks, so she kept looking, but she didn’t see any more around. Determined not to give up, at least not until Gaige was done or she found something, she kept going until she eventually found something under one of the shelving units.
She’d dropped onto her hands and knees on the dusty floor to search around, trying to put her head close to the floor in an effort to find anything sticking up, when she spotted it, something under one of the shelves.
Moving over, she hoped that it wasn’t going to be a dead Ratch or anything like that, but when she put her lantern close so that she could see, she realized that it was at least something useful.
Gaige was still sorting through the documents when something entered her vision from the side, nearly causing her to unseat herself out of shock.
“Damn it, how many times? How many times do I have to tell you not to do that?”
“Sorry, but I did clear my throat like, twice, but you didn’t respond.”
“So what? You thought you’d give me a heart attack to make sure that I wouldn’t respond ever?”
“Forget it, why’re you bugging me? I’m still not done here.”
“I thought I’d give this to you and let you know that I’m done looking around.”
“And what’s this?” Gaige snapped, snatching the wrench out of her hand and looking at it “Seriously? Why’re you showing me this?”
“I thought you should have it.”
“It was the best I could find, alright? But if you don’t want it, that’s fine, just don’t come complaining when you get attacked by another one of those mascot things.”
“Oh, you were meaning for me to use it as a melee weapon.”
“Yeah, why else would I be giving it to you?”
“That’s what I was wondering. But this is seriously the best you could find?”
“Well, it was either that or one of their arms and since I didn’t think that’d actually work all that well, yeah, it’s the best I could find, so be grateful.”
“I am, it’s just that I was hoping for something better.”
“Like what? A sword? A buzz-ax?”
“Like they’d have a workshop and you could make us something, but lookin at this place, I guess that’s a bit farfetched.”
“Well sorry for not finding the right stuff to work with.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine, really, I’m grateful to even have this much, but are you sure that I should have it?”
“I’ve already got something,” Artemis said with a shrug, letting the previous confrontational attitude they’d had wash away “So, what’d you find?”
“I think I’ve almost got it. Here, look at these.”
Artemis took the printouts and started trying to decipher what she was looking at.
It was mostly technical jargon, but a few places had notes that seemed to be from other departments, namely the complaints department.
Scanning through them, she quickly put together what Gaige was getting at. There seemed to be a common theme to them. All of them were reports of the mascots acting oddly.
It seemed that on nearly a dozen separate occasions, the mascots had tried to prevent people from leaving, most often groups with crying children.
“What’s it mean?”
“You haven’t found the pattern yet?”
“I found it, that’s why I was asking what it meant. I mean, did you find anything that might explain why they were acting like that, or is this just one of those things that you’re extrapolating that their behavior’s continued to get weirder.”
“There’s a fair amount of stuff here pertaining to the tests that they ran on them, I won’t bore you with all the details and technical jargon, but it seems that there was a recurring error in the code, some task that they thought they were supposed to do or something like that, but they couldn’t figure out why it was happening or what it was exactly. I mean, they wiped a few of them, only for them to do it again.”
“Faulty components? Or was the bug in the, uh, you know, thing they copied the program from?”
“The source copy? I’m not sure, well, they weren’t sure and I’m still trying to go over what they’d found, but it seemed that this contributed to the collapse of the park in a major way.”
“Can’t imagine why? I mean, who wouldn’t want to stay at a park that wouldn’t let you…”
“What? You’re onto something, aren’t you?”
Gaige turned and gave the other girl an appraising look. She could tell that Artemis was trying to put the pieces together, though some part of her wondered how the other girl could figure out what she couldn’t, but she knew that Artemis excelled at animal behavior, so maybe she could see the problem from a different angle.
After a minute of muttering to herself, Artemis looked up with an odd expression on her face.
“Just tell me, no matter how weird you think it is,” Gaige said.
It took a few more seconds for Artemis to get her thoughts in order and get them out.
“They didn’t want the guests to leave, right? That’s what they were stopping them from doing.”
“Well, and I’m not too sure on this, but, well, what if they got something wrong. I mean, obviously they’d got something wrong, but what if they were just doing what they thought was right, the right way to interpret one of their orders, something like, I don’t know, make the guests happy?”
“But why would they want to keep them here then?”
“I’m not sure, maybe they didn’t want them to leave unhappy, or they were happy here, no wait, that doesn’t make sense.”
“Actually, it does. If there was some kind of order given to them, something in there about making the guests happy and they were trying to do that, it’d actually make a lot of sense,” Gaige said, quickly shuffling through the pages on the desk.
“But why would they want them to stay then?”
“Working on that. Ah, here we are. No, this doesn’t relate to why they’re acting the way they were, but what you said reminded me of something I’d just read and here it is, the founder’s last announcement to the mascots.
“Let’s see, ah, here it is 'When I’m gone, I want you to keep making the guests happy, to ensure that they have the best time imaginable. To take the frowns off their faces and replace them with smiles.”
“Alright, so you think that they got that into their programming and somehow misinterpreted it?”
“Maybe, I mean, we’re working on pure speculation at this point, aren’t we?”
Artemis fell silent, eyes narrowing under a brow that was compressing. Gaige let her think for another bit.
“What if they thought something like 'We need to make the guests happy. They are sad when they leave, so they should stay?”
“That would actually work. Especially if they thought of this place as some kind of place of joy and whatnot.”
“You mean like, 'If we’re happy here, they’ll be happy here?”
“Yeah. I mean, that might actually explain something else too.”
Artemis raised an eyebrow, asking Gaige to continue.
“Think about it, if they wanted people to stay, to make them happy and they thought that this was one of the happiest places in the galaxy, they’d want them to stay.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“Yep, but carrying that thought on for a bit, what if they continued to corrupt that thought as the years went by, till they got to the conclusion that they’re happy serving here, this is a happy place, people need to stay happy, people need to stay here”
“So they need to stay. As mascots?”
Gaige nodded. The thought made a sick kind of sense, if the mascots were happy doing their jobs, then the happiest people could be, would be to join them in staying here forever, being mascots.
“Yeah, but it makes sense, doesn’t it?”
“Not in any way that I would like, but if we assume that we’ve got their logic down, then yeah, it does.”
“I didn’t say it was sane, I just said that it makes some kind of perverse sense.”
“Fine, great, can we get the heck out of here now?”