Chapter 32 (or, “Mother of the Air”)
Rhiannon had stopped sleeping two days ago.
The stress of this manufactured world that she, indirectly, had created were finally getting to her. She stayed awake all hours of the night, trying to plan a way out of the situation they were in. No matter how she looked at it, though, the times were dire. Jen and Rifka, the two from the mysterious group, were the only ones left with her. The others had taken their cards with them, so LaTasha was having to do all of the defending. Not that there was much of that now, but if people were disappearing, there would be a need for great defenses, sooner rather than later.
Matsumoto-san was still on the radar, according to Rifka. But the other three were gone. How could people disappear so suddenly like that? Jen had said to relax, that Matsumoto-san would get here soon with Erika -- but if Erika was really gone, everything would be over. There was no way to track that on the system.
Rhiannon felt like she had failed herself, but more importantly, she had failed the Digital Merge card game. Deceptively simple in its execution, it was a game anybody could play, and while it was competitive, it was a sign of unity between countries and had never been used for sinister purposes. There had always been an air of sacredness around the card game. Nevermore. Even if Rhiannon returned to the real world, she would never be able to look at her creations the same way again.
She exited the room she had been using as a bedroom -- even though there wasn’t any actual sleeping going on -- and walked through the hallway until she got to the end of the corridor. There was a door there; and she opened it, finding her way out onto the wraparound veranda on the top floor of the town hall.
Not even Komari could save her from her own thoughts.
The air was chilly, colder than she thought it would have been at this time of year. It didn't help that the sun wasn't up, or that they had been waiting for two days with no knowledge of where Matsumoto-san and Erika-san were, or that everybody was still depending on her. Rifka had said to relax. Saving the world was Erika's job, not hers. But this was Rhiannon's game. She still felt responsible.
Komari had told her time and time again of the heart rate increases, the stress she was going through. Time and time again, she had shrugged off the warnings. And now, all she wanted more than anything was a night of sleep not plagued with guilt and thinking of strategy meetings. She wouldn't jump from this height -- she had known too many people who had cracked under pressure and done that, plus the world needed her too much for her to jump. Besides, she wasn't sure if she would actually die or just disappear for a while.
Disappearing might be fun, though...
Rhiannon shook her head. What was she thinking? Not in a million years would she throw herself away like that. She had worked for far too long to give that up.
She remembered her mother, tall and strong and firm, leading the way for her when Seoul was being bombed in the war to the shelter. She recalled how she had made speeches on Korean television on how the excess violence needed to be stopped. She then recalled sitting in a hospital chair, restless but patient until the very end.
Her mother had left her with the responsibility of finding an end to this war. As a member of Korea's legislative branch, she had called for peace -- and had paid for it with her own life. And Rhiannon, just a pre-teen, was without a mother or a father. Watched over by the state, with enough money to survive, she was considered an extra that the government had to look after.
Until she had showed them Komari. While her mother had been in the hospital, Rhiannon had coded Komari as a way for her to learn other languages. It gave her something to think about other than the crazy that was going on in her world. She would hook up to the computer and debug programs for fun, teaching herself how by trial and error.
When the government found out about Komari -- then just a computing program -- they were astounded. How could a computer program be made to learn its user's preferences for...well, everything? It was a revolutionary idea, an interface that reacted as human. Too human, in fact. That same idea would turn into the idea for tablet navigators, but recoded so the navigators could be anything -- dinosaurs, ladybugs, obnoxious yellow rabbits -- but human, save for Komari herself.
Rhiannon's skills were rewarded. She was put to work as a hacker, and soon, the other two kingdoms on Earth were bowing to Asia. Instead of Asia's leaders ruling over the entire world, however, Rhiannon -- then fourteen -- had suggested that they form a truce. That had been the end of the war that had lasted three decades, and to make the people of the world relax again, Rhiannon had created Digital Merge.
That, as well, had began as a small pet project in her luxurious Gangnam mansion. Rhiannon had created cards based on some of her favorite stories as a kid -- the Chollima, the Japanese yuki-onna and Kaguya-hime, Mu Lan. She added another card to the mix, her own legend -- the Mother of the Air, who could control the entire atmosphere. The card had been made in her mother's image, as a way of her watching her from whatever heaven or reincarnation she was now in.
She had been hoping, secretly, to run into that card here in this Digital Merge world. But so far, no such luck.
She sat her head on her hands, watching over Disasterville as she had from the beginning. She closed her eyes. It was quiet out here -- maybe too quiet, but maybe that was a good thing today. There weren't any problems up here save for the world under her feet, and that could wait a little while. She would have tried to code her way out of this mess, but she had lost her computer back when the world had shifted.
Wait. She had made friends with the Chinese kid who was into computers as well. Computing in his world was a bit more advanced than whatever had been built in Rhiannon's world -- he had mentioned something about not needing wires to connect to the Internet, which Rhiannon had thought was crazy -- but he had coded himself out of a reality problem before. She had been trying to solve this all by herself, and she hadn't even properly looked at her resources.
She turned, but Komari wasn't there. Or had it been Komari's voice in the first place?
Turning again, she saw that the voice had come from a small light, hanging in front of her. She racked her brain for which card this could be. One of the Novas? No, it was too small and didn't have enough of a gravity field to be a Nova. Then was this a gift card?
The voice spoke in fluent Korean. "My dear Kee Moh, named for my own intentions, why have you been so afraid?"
Rhiannon gasped. This was her mother's voice. "Who are you? What are you doing? My mother is dead!"
The light pulsed as the voice came from it. "I am never dead because I am in your heart, dear. You must know that. You must understand that somewhere inside you. Why don't you believe that anything is possible any more?"
Rhiannon sighed. She had to be hallucinating. "Because look what I did, Mom! I created this world, and then this world destroyed everything. We're never going to find all of the cards in time, and I don't even know if Erika's still here. It's hopeless."
"It is never hopeless. You have so many resources, and no reason to be afraid. Be sure of yourself, my daughter. I am always with you." And with that, the light glowed until it suddenly went out, and then it blazed with such a light that Rhiannon had to shut her eyes. When she opened them, there was the Mother of the Air card, in her traditional Korean hanbok, smiling as if she had never left in the first place.