by Kim McFarland
|Let man's petty nations tear themselves apart,
My land's only borders lie around my heart.
Anthem from "Chess"
It was a dull and quiet cycle. A game had fallen the previous cycle, and after the initial scramble to assess the damage, start the repairs to the nullified sector, and determine how many people they had lost in the game, there was little more for the staff of the Blaine Institute to do. The work crews, binomes who spent their whole lives patching up the holes left by games, were busy doing their part.
Normally Melissa would be using this calm period to continue her research on pre-game energy spikes, or methods of backing up sectors more completely to speed recovery, or any of a dozen other projects. Instead she was puttering at a terminal, unable to keep her mind on anything for very long.
Peg, as ever, was sensitive to Melissa's moods. The red woman had been acting odd lately. Normally an introverted woman with few real friends, she had become more outgoing, more confident, over the last milliseconds. But lately she was quiet, even moody. Peg was sure that there was something going on that she didn't know about, and she had tried to get Melissa to talk about it, but to no avail. Well, Peg had to keep trying.
At midday Melissa was still quietly working at her terminal. Looking over her shoulder, Peg saw that Melissa was organizing old files. She must have something on her mind if she was resorting to makework like this. She tapped Melissa on the shoulder. She startled and looked up. Peg asked, "Are you all right?"
Peg said softly, "You don't look like it."
"Thanks a lot."
For once Peg didn't back down or apologize. "I mean, you really look like something's bothering you."
Melissa rubbed her forehead with the fingertips of one hand, then pushed her silver hair up. "I must look pretty rotten. Lately every conversation begins with the same question. 'Are you all right?'"
"Well, are you?"
"I guess not, if everyone thinks I'm not." Melissa sighed.
"Come on." Peg nodded in the direction of the doors. Melissa got up. They walked to Melissa's office. They always went there when they didn't want passersby overhearing their conversations. Peg didn't have an office of her own; she shared a common workspace in Dr. Matrix's section.
Melissa shut the door behind herself, then sat down. Peg dragged the spare chair to the side of the desk. "Come on, Melissa. I know something's bugging you. You've been zipped tight these past few cycles. I'm worried about you. So's Jay."
"I really wish you two would stop obsessing about me. Really, I'm fine," Melissa said defensively.
"We're not obsessing. We're your friends," Peg said, touching her hand. You used to be happy, like things were really turning around for you. Now you look like you expect a game to land on your head any nano."
"That bad, huh?"
Peg nodded seriously, a sympathetic expression on her face. "Jay thought you might be coming down with a bug. He'd be glad to scan you, just say the word."
"No." Melissa shook her head. "I don't want him to."
"Melissa, he's a doctor. He'd be professional about it."
I know, I know. I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that." Again she rubbed her forehead with her hand. "Look, I admit that something's wrong. They say that's the first step toward a cure, right? Agh." She closed her eyes. "That sounded wrong. I don't mean to be sarcastic. I just don't want Doctor Matrix to scan me. It's nothing personal, but I don't want someone I know going through my code."
"Someone else could check you over, then," Peg continued, undaunted. "I know you've been scanned before, you had to have been scanned when you were registered."
"Yeah." Melissa looked down at her icon. After a few nanos she looked up again. "Okay. I'll do that. I was originally scanned in Mainframe; I'll see if the same person's free. Who knows, maybe I have been a little randomized lately." She forced a smile.
"You'll get a scan soon?"
"I'll set it up today," Melissa promised.
"Good." Peg paused, then continued, "I really don't like to butt in, Melissa, and I don't want to pry into your business, but I hate to see you looking so down. If there's something bothering you, you can talk to me whenever you need to."
"I know." She didn't try to smile. "I'm probably just in a funk. It happens."
"So tell me that after you get scanned."
"Okay, okay. I will."
"Thanks." Peg got up.
"No, thanks for getting in my face about it." When Peg paused, waiting for Melissa to stand, Melissa waved her on. "I'm going to call now."
"Okay. See you."
When the door closed behind Peg, Melissa sighed. She looked that preoccupied, did she? Well, then it must be time. She took a few deep breaths, then called up a VidWindow.
It opened on a spacious, darkened room. One area in the middle was lit from above and by a VidWindow that floated, table-like, at about the chest level of the golden sprite behind it. The sprite looked up. "Ah, Melissa."
"Hi, Phong." She smiled. "Do you have a few nanos?"
He minimized a few frames on the VidWindow. "Yes, my child. What is it?"
She sighed. "I feel silly asking this, but could you do a system scan on me?"
"Certainly." He looked more directly at her image. "Is anything the matter?"
"Nothing, I hope. But I need to be sure."
He adjusted his glasses. "I understand. Can you come here now?"
"Yes. Thanks, Phong. I appreciate it."
"It is not a problem."
The VidWindow closed. Phong wheeled out of the Read-Only Room toward the med area of the Principle Office.
Melissa had no problem excusing herself from work early. She worked late whenever she was needed, which was nearly every time a game cube landed, and they weren't too fixated on schedules in the Blaine Institute anyway. After changing from her business suit into a jumpsuit with a skirt that fell just below the knee, she rose above the city on her zip board.
She skimmed over several sectors of the Twin City toward the bridge that linked it to Mainframe, its principal. The Gilded Gate Bridge linked them at their closest point. It had always made both cities uneasy that that point was directly adjacent to the green wall of the viral West Sector. People worried about that delicate link being so close to the enemy. She smiled to herself. If only they knew...
Mainframe and The Twin City were circular, divided into wedge-shape sectors, as were all systems she knew of. However, unlike the Twin City, Mainframe had at its center the dome of the Principle office. It was here that both cities were managed. It stored the records of all citizens' PID codes, controlled all system-wide security measures, and managed innumerable other subroutines of their lives. As she approached the dome revealed itself as a sphere, the lower half below the top level of the city surrounding it. It could be shielded by a wall of energy, but she had never seen that happen; it would take a viral attack to make them resort to such measures. Which meant, she thought, that it was something she would never see.
She glided down to the plateau in front of the main entrance. A pair of binome guards were leaning at attention against the dome wall. Melissa stepped off of and minimized her zip board. "I have an appointment to see Phong."
One of the binomes opened a VidWindow, scanned for a nano, then closed it again. "Sure do. Go on in."
"Thanks." She had to smile to herself. For the nerve center of a system infected by Viruses, it was pretty laid back here. Well, why shouldn't it be? They didn't have anything to fear. Maybe Phong already understood that.
When she arrived in the med area, Phong was already there. "Welcome."
She found she was embarrassed. She had not expected him to meet her here. Being the direct assistant to the Command.com, he was a busy sprite. However, he always seemed to have a few microseconds for her. She tried not to impose, but there were some matters she just couldn't trust to anyone else.
As they went toward the main med room, Phong asked, "How are you doing?"
"All right. I can't complain." She smiled at him. "Keeping busy as usual, though."
"The games." He nodded. "You do very well, overseeing the repair of nullified sectors."
"Thanks." She smiled again, a little more easily this time. "I wish I didn't have so much practice at it."
"We all do," he said. She held the door open for him, then shut it behind herself. Phong gestured to a chair. She sat, putting herself at eye level with the old sprite. "Now, my child, what is wrong?"
"I'm not sure," she said, her voice wavering unsteadily. "I've been feeling kind of bad for a while, but I didn't really pay much attention to it. But if other people can see it, and start telling me I need a scan, then I guess it's worse than I realized."
Phong looked at her silently for a nano. He knew that she was not telling him everything; he could read her that well. When she did not continue he gestured toward the table and said "Then let us begin," in a light tone.
She lay down on the table and kept still while the instruments scanned her code. She could not see the readouts at the head of the bed, but even if she could she would not be able to read them upside down. She waited, eyes closed, listening to the soft humming. Then she heard Phong take in a sharp breath.
She looked over. Phong, a startled expression on his face, was staring at the readouts. They were displaying in FORTRAN, a language she did not know - in fact, she did not believe anyone besides Phong understood it. It was a security measure, to keep people from accidentally reading her records.
She sat up, anxious. "What is it?"
He looked at her, then adjusted his glasses, trying to choose his words carefully. "You are perfectly healthy. And you are... with child."
She closed her eyes. So, there it was. What could she say to that? She felt his rodlike fingers on her shoulder. "Melissa."
"Yes." She opened her eyes, then took in a deep breath and let it out again. "I didn't think it was possible," she whispered. She looked at the rotating wireframe of herself. It looked no different.
"I did not, either. Melissa, has something happened to you?"
She laughed weakly. "It looks that way."
"I meant, have you been..." He searched for a suitable euphemism. "harmed, or are you in any danger?"
Translation: was I forced, and did the assailant find out I'm a Virus, she thought. "No. No, Phong, it's not like that. I can't blame anybody but myself." She closed her eyes again, thinking, his hand still resting on her shoulder. Then she looked back at him. "Is it a Virus or a Sprite?"
"It is much too early to tell. It has only begun to compile..." He highlighted the midsection of the wireframe and expanded it to fill the screen section, then selected and expanded a smaller section, and another, so they finally saw the wireframe of a small, shapeless being. Unconsciously she put a hand over her stomach.
Phong spoke again. "If your child is not a Sprite, I would think it more than likely that it will be benign like you."
She knew that he meant to comfort her. But - what good would that be? For all his wisdom, did he have any idea what it was like to have to hide your nature from everybody, to live a lie? She would not wish that on anybody. But she couldn't tell him this. He was the one Sprite here who knew what she really was, and had registered her anyway, letting her live as close as possible a normal life. She was as fond of him as she was of anyone in Mainframe, and she owed him her life. Not to mention that he had taken a big risk in sticking his neck out, metaphorically speaking, by registering a Virus, even a harmless one like herself. He didn't deserve to hear what she was thinking - that the last thing she wanted would be to bear a benign Virus, one which would be defenseless against the abuse that it would inevitably suffer.
He looked worried, she saw when she looked away from the wireframe. "Sorry."
"What has happened?"
She choked out a laugh. "It's obvious, isn't it? Really, Phong, I'm all right. Nobody forced me, and nobody's going to blackmail me. I'm not the first woman this kind of thing has happened to." She sounded as if she was trying to convince herself. She got off the table and started toward the door.
He extended his neck so he could look her in the eyes and said softly, "Please, do not do anything rash. And if you need me, please come to me."
"I won't, Phong, and I will. Thanks." She patted his shoulder.
She walked toward the door, Phong behind her. Before opening it she looked back. "Phong... please don't tell anyone about me. I don't want anyone to know."
"I won't," he promised. "But sooner or later..."
"Yes, I know. Just not sooner, that's all."
"Yes, my child."
Well, the die is cast, she thought when she arrived back at work. No going back now. And all those other cliches. Phong could keep a secret, but that would only put off the inevitable for a matter of milliseconds, until she began to show. Not that she would wait that long.
She went straight to her office and began working at her station. She had already started organizing her files; now she was thankful that she would be able to finish that today.
It wasn't long before Peg showed up in her door. Melissa was focused grimly on her workstation, editing what looked like a long set of instructions. Peg rapped on the door. Melissa looked up, then said, "I don't think I'm going to go out for lunch today."
"Yeah. I have to tie up some loose ends here. Sorry."
Peg stepped in. "Did you get scanned?"
"Yeah. There's nothing wrong with me, don't worry," Melissa said in an unconvincing attempt at a light tone.
"Come, on, Melissa, take a break. Your files will still be here when you get back," Peg urged her.
Melissa wanted to resist... then decided not to. She didn't want this to be how it ended, with her brushing Peg off like this. "Okay. You're right, I need to get out of here." She got up, not bothering to minimize the windows.
They walked quietly through the halls. Melissa suddenly realized that Peg was unusually silent. Normally they chattered when they were together, but lately Melissa had been decidedly untalkative. At first Peg had tried to fill in the void, to draw Melissa out, but by now she'd given up.
When they left the building Peg said, "Jay's been worried about you. I told him that the best thing he could do right now was leave you alone."
"Thanks. You have no idea how much I appreciate that." The last thing she needed now was to be distracted by an overly solicitous Dr. Hotshot.
"You're welcome. Is there anything I can tell him? He is worried."
"Just tell him that my scan came out OK. That's all."
"All right," Peg said resignedly.
They sat in a booth at their usual diner. Again Melissa noticed how quiet Peg was. As if she'd decided that she shouldn't push Melissa any further, that she would talk about whatever was weighing on her when she was ready. Melissa wished she could tell her the truth - but she couldn't, any more than she could tell Phong. Peg was Melissa's closest friend, and Melissa hated to see her own depression spreading to her. But what if she did tell her the truth? She would also have to tell her that she was a Virus, and then it'd all be out. She couldn't do that. So she kept her silence.
A binome waitress took their order. Melissa started, "Peg - please don't worry about me."
"I can't help it," Peg replied. "You've been looking so grim lately. It's like you've always got something weighing on you."
Melissa looked into Peg's earnest violet eyes. "It's not so bad. Look - there's something I have to deal with. That's all I can say. And I'll do that, and then it'll all be over with, so stop worrying, okay?" She tried to smile.
The smile that Peg returned was no more genuine than Melissa's. Melissa felt worse.
After a quiet lunch Melissa went back to her office and continued putting together her readme file. She wanted to enter everything she knew into it, but she'd never be able to manage that this millisecond, let alone this cycle. If she had assistants, she could have been training them so they wouldn't be starting from scratch. But, no, she had always worked alone. An assistant would only have gotten in her way.
Microseconds passed as she worked, putting as much of her knowledge and experience into that one file as she could. Eventually she sat back and looked at her work. It was by no means all there, but it was as complete as she could make it. With this, and the files she had amassed which detailed the methods for repairing all of the sectors of Mainframe and the Twin City, someone would be able to step in and take over for her with a minimum of confusion. Hopefully whoever they got would be a quick learner. Melissa had been.
She saved the file, then stood and stretched. Surprisingly, she had a little time left. She walked down the hall to the area in which Peg and Dr. Matrix worked. They were still tending to a few binomes who had been hurt in a recent game. Jay waved when he saw her. Peg saw his gesture, looked at the door, and waved to Melissa too. Melissa waved back. "Can I borrow him for a moment?" she asked, indicating a binome technician, one which she knew to be a spy.
"Sure," Jay answered.
The binome followed her to her office. She turned the VidWindow so he could see it. "I've compiled a readme for anyone who needs to effect sector repair. It lists all of my files, which sectors they correspond to, and all the notes I can think of to help repair efforts. It's not everything by any means, but the repair crew coordinators will be able to fill in most of the blanks."
"So, that's the file anyone new should see," he replied, noting its location.
He looked at her expectantly, waiting for her to say more. She glanced at the open door, then said, "Everything's going as expected."
The binome looked relieved. Melissa smiled back. His was the first happy face she'd seen all day, her own included. "Just make sure that someone finds that file, should the need arise."
"I will," he promised.
They left her office, and both returned to the medical lab. It was not always a pleasant place to visit, especially after a game, but at least it wasn't the viral research area that Doctor Hotshot was so fond of.
Melissa entered and went over to the two green Sprites, who were going through a list of those injured in recent games. She said, "I'm knocking off for the day. I just wanted to say goodbye."
"Be seeing you," Peg said, relieved to see Melissa looking, if not cheerful, at least not so depressed.
"Take care," Jay added, looking at her very seriously.
"I will," Melissa replied. She started to turn away, then beckoned to Peg. "Just a nano?"
Peg got up. Melissa led her to a corner of the room and said in a low voice, "Do you still have the passcode for my home?"
"Yes. Why?" She gave Melissa a puzzled look.
"Just in case. I just wanted to make sure. Anyway, goodbye." She smiled at Peg and patted her on the back. Then, after a pause, she gave her a hug.
Jay watched as the two women whispered, and then embraced briefly. Then Melissa left. Peg looked baffled. "She's looking better. What was that all about?" Jay asked.
"I don't have any idea."
Melissa zip-boarded home. As she flew, she noticed the details of the city below herself. She'd been here for sixteens of milliseconds, but it seemed as though it had been her home for longer. She had become so comfortable here. It had been painful to leave her old system; she wouldn't have done it at all if her identity as a Virus hadn't been exposed. But once she'd landed in Mainframe and been registered by a Sprite willing to give her a chance, she'd fit in very well. She had not forgotten her old home, but the pain had faded.
Until now, that was. The memories, though buried for milliseconds, came back undimmed. She felt irrationally homesick for the system that had rejected her. She had felt this way for cycles now, ever since she had begun to suspect her condition. She didn't know why it was weighing so heavily on her now, but the fact remained that it was. She could distract herself from the specific memories, but the sense of loss remained.
Still, she had survived then, and she could make herself function for a little while longer like this. She only had a few more things to do. After that it would be over with. She had to remind herself of that, to keep her eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel.
She had straightened her home up over the last few cycles. The dishes were washed and put away, the books straightened, the floors cleaned. Why? She couldn't explain to herself why she spent cycles cleaning her apartment - she was not fascinated with housework - but she had still felt a compulsion to do it anyway.
The one cluttered place was her dining room table. She had placed a number of her possessions there. Some kitchen equipment. Various useful household doohickeys. Melissa had not accumulated a lot of things in her short time here, especially since she lived in a small apartment.
She sighed and, clicking her icon to change into a loose shirt and skirt, she sat on her couch. She had been putting off this last task. She opened a VidWindow and created a file. And sat there, staring at the blank screen in front of herself.
She had no idea what she was going to say. She had to say something. But what? And to who?
She was pretty sure who the first person to read her note would be. Peg was the one other person who had the code to her door, and who would look for her here if she went missing, especially since Melissa had reminded her of it. Melissa wished that she could have found some way to avoid placing this burden on her best friend. One of the few real friends in Melissa's life. If there was anyone she might have trusted with her identity, it would have been Peg. But she had taken that risk once before, confiding in a Sprite that she was a Virus, and it had gotten her chased out of the system. She was sure that Peg wouldn't do that to her... but then she had been sure before. Melissa couldn't take that kind of betrayal again. Best to keep quiet, to lie by omission as she always did.
Melissa tended to make few friends, but the ones she made she held close. She loved Peg, and hated to lie to her. She was used to hiding her identity; she had done that since childhood, so that hardly counted. But it had become harder lately. Since she had first met Kilobyte, the Virus who had claimed the West Sector, she had come to realize how unhappy she was hiding among Sprites. They were the only people she had known until recently, but now that she realized that there was another way to live... which led to her current situation, she thought as she rested her hand on her stomach.
Still, what if she told Peg the truth? She wished that she could come clean to somebody to confess everything. She was tired of lying, tired of hiding. She imagined that Peg might actually accept her once she found out. It would be wonderful. And, after all, it wasn't really that outlandish an idea. They'd been fast friends for almost as long as Melissa had worked at the Blaine Institute. Peg wasn't a bigot like Doctor Hotshot; she wouldn't turn against her, Melissa was sure.
Almost sure. And almost wasn't enough.
Melissa wasn't the only one in danger. If anyone betrayed her and word got out that she was a Virus, then Phong would suffer too. If the Command.com that Phong served found out that his subordinate had registered a Virus... she had no idea what would happen to Phong, and was loath to find out.
She would miss Phong almost as much as Peg. His kindness had been an unexpected gift just when she had given up hope. She would have expected that those charged with the safety and management of the system would protect it from anything that they thought might somehow prove a threat, however remote that possibility was. And as people got older, she knew, their attitudes tended to solidify, their opinions and prejudices taking on the solidity of hard, cold facts. When she had first come here, and been brought to the Principle Office as a refugee needing registration, she had resigned herself to her fate. They would scan her, find out that she was a Virus, and then... she had hoped that they would just delete her and get it over with; she couldn't take any more running. But the old Sprite had taken the time to run a check on her when she had asserted that she was harmless. He had scanned her code for cycles, looking for any sign that she could pose a threat. And when he had satisfied himself that she was truly benign he had registered her, granting her citizenship, and helped her find a home. For milliseconds afterwards she had lived in fear, waiting for the magnet to fall. But it never had.
It was mostly because of Phong, she realized, that she had worked as hard as she had to rise in the Blaine Institute. She had wanted to prove that she could succeed, that she could become a productive citizen despite her race. She had started out as a tech, and by learning as much as she could and being in the right place at the right time she had reached her current position. It was hard work, but that was all right. She had been happy working there, doing her best to save the system from its worst threat, the games. It made her feel important and needed. And in the back of her mind she had always known that her work was also to repay Phong for sheltering her.
She was not proud of the way she had deceived him today, leading him to wrong conclusions about her predicament. But she had asked enough of him already; she could not place any more burdens of secrecy on him. And secrets were a burden, she knew that well. They could be unbearably heavy, and wear you down. Better to leave him with his assumptions.
The one other person she would have liked to talk to was Jay Matrix. Though she knew that he was not a bad person, she could not stand him. He never got the hint that she was not interested in him in any way, and ignored Peg, who was. Melissa entertained a fantasy in which she revealed herself to him as she had to Kilobyte, showing him the undeniable proof that she was a Virus. What would he do then? Run away in fear or disgust? Or, more likely, include her in his genocide plans? Whatever, she would just have liked to see the look of shock on his face.
She'd never do it, though. Just let him be, she told herself. Soon you'll be beyond his reach.
She looked at the VidWindow screen. It was still blank. She still had to say something. People always leave notes behind. But she could put that off a little longer. She had the mess on the table to deal with.
She began typing a list of the items there. It didn't take long. Then she thought some more, and added other items to the list, pictures hanging on the wall, some of her books, and so on. Those things that she believed would be of value to others. Most of the "others" were Peg, of course. There were only a few items that she wanted to give to anyone else. She would have liked to give them face to face, but if she had people could have guessed what she was about to do and tried to stop her.
This suddenly seemed tawdry. She knew that she was about to pull a nasty trick on her best friends. They wouldn't care about her few possessions. But Melissa felt she ought to give her things away, rather than leaving them for a cleanup crew. Maybe in the future they'd remember her as she was...
She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, trying to control herself. But it was too late. Tears spilled over her cheeks as she realized that she would never see these people again, that today she had spoken to them for the last time. And what had she said? She'd deceived Phong and said nothing at all to Peg. She wanted desperately to open a VidWindow, to reach out one last time, to tell them she loved them.
She laid down on her couch, hid her face in her arms, and cried.
It was a clear, bright morning.
Melissa, wearing a comfortable outfit with a form-fitting top, medium-length skirt, and leggings, walked out of her home. She had finished setting everything in order. She had come to terms with the fact that she simply couldn't put everything she wanted to say into the text file she was leaving behind, and rather than composing a crass "Goodbye, cruel world" note she had written that she didn't want anybody to be sorry, that she was going to a better place. That wouldn't help much, she knew, but it was better than a page full of overemotional hand-wringing.
One thing she had liked about her home was its view. On the right side was a park where people were nearly always walking about, and often playing with their children. And on the other side was a sector division, the line converging at the horizon, so that it seemed to be receding into infinity. The park ran along the entire length, from her home to the city's edge, adding to the picturesque view.
She was thankful that no games had landed here recently. It was too beautiful to spoil with smoking, nullified craters, she thought as she walked out. She held nothing in her hands; she had left it all behind.
At this time of the cycle it was quiet. Later on it would be busy, filled with people, but now she only saw a few early risers. Some were jogging around the sector's perimeter before work. Others were taking care of errands, or just walking about as Melissa was.
She recognized one of the people, a one binome sitting on a bench with his arms over the back, relaxing in the quiet. Melissa caught his eye. When she was sure she had the binome's attention, she put her hand over her icon. A soft tap, and it rotated and released into her hand. When the binome saw her lower her hand he took a small device out of his coat. As the binome spoke into it Melissa walked on toward the rim, hiding her icon in the palm of her hand.
She walked slowly, looking at the surroundings. Directory trees dotted the landscape. Later in the cycle people would be sitting under them, children would be climbing in their branches.
She looked back, toward the center of the Twin City. There, among the buildings, was the Blaine Institute. She could pick it out, one of many buildings reaching upward. Soon people would be wondering why she was not as punctual as she usually was...
She looked forward again. The rim was close now, just a sprint away. Several binomes were nearby. There would be a few witnesses, none of whom would be able to reach her in time. She stopped and looked around, the hammering of her heart the only sound in her ears.
She tightened her hand. The round edge of the icon pressed into her palm. She took a few deep breaths, then started running.
As she rushed forward she heard someone shout at her. She ignored it. Her eyes were fixed on the rapidly approaching horizon.
She reached the edge, and without breaking stride she launched herself out into space. With one convulsive movement she flung her icon downward, toward the energy sea.
As she began to fall past the levels of the Twin City she saw her icon hit. It flared once, a white spark, then dissolved into the raw energy.
She was falling faster, the sea coming up to devour her. She closed her eyes, choking back a scream of terror.
The world went blank.
The binome at the bench watched as the ones who had seen Melissa jump rushed to the edge. He observed their reactions from a distance. One of them called up a VidWindow, presumably to report the suicide.
A red and blue figure dropped toward the energy sea. Someone shouted "Now!" into an open channel, but that wasn't necessary. It had already been caught by a sharpshooter. Now the green cube surrounding it was being pulled into the cargo bay of an Armored Binome Carrier hidden under the rim of the city, out of the sight of anyone above. Within two nanoseconds it landed inside with a clunk.
A viral adjusted the controls on his filelocker, preparing to release her. Kilobyte, already in the back of the ABC, held out a hand. "Stop! You fool, you'll drop her on her face!"
Kilobyte picked the block up. Though its weight was inconsequential to him, it was large and unwieldy. He turned it in his arms, then nodded to the viral.
The green block disappeared. Melissa landed heavily in his arms, her body stiff, a panicky expression on her face.
She had been falling to her death, and suddenly she was... safe. Her nerves were still screaming alarms. She began trembling. Kilobyte said softly, "Melissa?"
"Yeah," she choked. It was over. She'd done it, and she was alive. She closed her eyes. His arms tightened, holding her closer.
The binome watched as the Virus held the woman as a parent would hold a child. She was shaking, still frightened from her fall. Who wouldn't be? The binome waited quietly, ready to act when needed.
Melissa's heartbeat slowed, and she found herself able to relax her muscles. It was over, she told herself again. Finally. She opened her eyes. Kilobyte was looking at her. "Melissa?" he said worriedly.
She smiled. "I'm all right now." She put an arm around his shoulder. "I was just a little scared. I'm okay. The plan worked - they'll never come looking for me now."
"What did the scan show?" he asked.
She patted her stomach. "I was right," she grinned.
He smiled back at her. She leaned forward, putting her other arm around his neck, and kissed his metal cheek.
Kilobyte looked down at the binome. "We will return now," he said. The binome saluted acknowledgment and went into the front of the vehicle to tell the pilot.
Kilobyte sat in one of the seats in the cargo area. Melissa said, "You can put me down. Really, I'm okay now."
"No. No, I don't think I shall," he answered, but he did set her on his lap. She relaxed and closed her eyes, her cheek against his metal chest, safe in his arms.
A VidWindow opened behind Phong. Before he could turn around the green Sprite in the window shouted, "Phong!"
"Yes?" he answered calmly.
"I need you to run a check for me ASAP, please. I need to find out where Melissa is."
"Melissa?" Phong looked up, surprised. "Has something happened to her?"
"Just, please look up her icon!"
Oh, dear, Phong thought. She wouldn't have done anything desperate, would she? She was too intelligent a woman for that. He hurried to the nearest console and entered his codes, which bypassed all security checks, then entered a tracking request.
110010100: ICON NOT FOUND.
He stared. Then he re-entered his request. The same impersonal answer flashed on the screen. Phong turned back to Dr. Matrix. "I cannot find her! What has happened?"
"I was afraid of that." Dr. Matrix closed his eyes in grief. "It was reported that someone jumped off the rim less than a microsecond ago. A red female Sprite."
"She...?" Phong breathed.
"I'd hoped that they made a mistake, that it wasn't her... You scanned her last cycle. Do you have any idea why she did it?"
Phong looked away. "I cannot say," he said as he adjusted his glasses.
Jay turned away from the monitor. After a few nanos the golden sprite heard him say, "Thanks, Phong."
"You are welcome," he murmured. The VidWindow closed.
Phong turned back to the monitor display. Melissa, child, why? You have lived through so much, endured what would have crushed a normal Sprite. He had never regretted sheltering the young Virus; she had proven her worth many times over, and he had become as fond of her as if she had been one of his own children. Where there is life, there is always hope. Why did you give up hope now? Why did you not come to me when you were that desperate, child?
He called up her PID code file. Her final wish had been for him to keep her secret, and he would honor that. He encrypted her file, locking it with a password that only he himself knew, then moved it to the inactive archive. After a final, sorrowful look, he closed the file.
Back to the fanfiction section of Slack & Hash's Domain
ReBoot is copyright © Mainframe Entertainment, Inc. The Twin City and Kilobyte are also copyright © Mainframe Entertainment, Inc. and were mentioned on its website. Mainframe's properties are used without permission but with a heck of a lot of love and respect. Melissa, Peg, Jay, and the overall story are copyright © Kim McFarland (Negaduck9@aol.com). The unnamed binomes can look out for themselves. Permission is given by the author to copy this story for personal use only.