On the other side of the door was a small circular room, no bigger than Claire’s bedroom. The floor was black, and the surface caught the light with a slight shine.
When she entered, projections lit up automatically, while the once dark and reflective floor disappeared almost completely from her vision. In total, there were five projections, four of which took the size, shape, and color of black marble statues. The fifth was a blur, still taking time to boot up. Of the four statues, two were men, and two were women.
She had seen statues like this before, projections in the library of her school that were donated from Wit Systems to provide a Classical education. The fifth projection was flashing, unable to take on a solid visual display. She looked to the walls for a control switch.
She assumed this was once a private gallery, as each projection was set at a particular height. She had to look up to work out the details of their faces, but if she took a step back, she could see that each projection was at the exact same height. They didn’t look like they were from a specific set, or that they belonged together. Clearly, whoever had collected them had resized them to fit his or her needs. She assumed they were projected to be exactly at the eye-level of their owner. Each face was strangely intimate, each gazing in the center of the room, where the viewer was expected to stand. The thought of looking into the eyes of these lifeless faces made her shiver.
She ran her fingers against the cool wall, looking for a notch, crease, or loose tile that would reveal the control panel, but she found none. Must be externally controlled, she thought. Or maybe voice activated. She was weary to try out any commands using her actual voice; the area could still have some security protocols active, and after all she had been through, she wasn’t ready to try her hand at being attacked. She took the modifier that Rizal had given her, pressing the fabric against her throat and swiping her three fingers across the surface to activate it.
The pad heated up slightly, and she smelled something metallic. It was in this moment that she wondered if Rizal had betrayed her, but soon the heat subsided, and the pad began adhering lightly to her skin. All she had to do was wait for the modifier to be fully activated.
Rizal’s instructions arose in her mind as she walked the perimeter of the room. She gazed at each face of each projection, coming finally to the fifth. It still hadn’t taken a clear shape. Rizal had said that she would need the modifier, and that she would eventually need to trust him. What if he had just fed her that information to satisfy Wit’s initiatives? She couldn’t trust anyone who had worked for Wit at any time, and it was clear that Rizal had more motives than helping her find her mother in the first place. Deep down, she hoped that he had told her the truth, but conversation with Rizal always felt like an exchange of half-truths, riddles, and bad advice.
The modifier beeped. Claire spoke, “Reboot projection system.” Her voice sounded distinctly male. At first it was shocking, but she was soon used to it. The voice didn’t belong to anyone she recognized, but she was convinced it belonged to the owner of the gallery, or at least someone else who was real. She tried again. “Reboot projection system.”
Nothing happened. She searched her mind for the correct codes. Most systems functioned the same way.
“Reboot projection protocol,” she said. Still, nothing happened.
She tried a few dozen codes, resisting the urge to plug directly into the system and override it, as that would be a sure way to accidentally red flag Wit’s security. When she had enough failed attempts, she sat down and cradled her head in her hands lightly. She pushed the stray strands of hair out of the way of her vision and took a few deep breaths. Rizal had told her something specific, something that would help her get past this next step. He had discussed so much with Claire: her mother’s hobbies, their shared passion for history, astronomy, and the classics. She thought Rizal may have been a real friend to her mothers; maybe he had programmed this system, and the keyword was hinted at in their conversation.
She looked at the fifth projection, it’s holographic body flashing in and out of existence. Out of the chaos, she made out three or four distinct columns – only they weren’t columns of stone or marble. They looked as if they were made of clouds. Somewhere in her mind was the right command to the back door of this program.
It was then that she realized her mistake. The projection was perfectly displaying the image that she needed. She could make out the shape clearly, and the rays of light that interpenetrated it’s shape. This was not a statue like the others. She knew the right word to say.
“Navigate” she said.
The hologram’s flashing stopped and the other four projections faded away. An artificial voice came from an unseen speaker. “Destination?” it ask.
“Eagle Nebula.” She smiled to herself. Rizal clearly knew her mother well.
Almost instantly, the room filled with a projection of one section of the universe. Claire was standing in the center of the Eagle Nebula, but when the projection had reached the outer walls of the room, Claire could see that almost every star had a number assigned too it, as if the projection was organizing a vast and incomprehensibly large file system.
Claire sighed. There were many moments in her life when she felt like she didn’t know her mother, and know she was sure she had barely scratched the surface.