by Kim McFarland
|Nothing is so good it lasts eternally,
Perfect situations must go wrong.
But this has never yet prevented me
Wanting far too much for far too long.
I Know Him So Well, from "Chess"
It was a dark and stormy night inside the game cube that had lifted from the Twin City just microseconds ago. This time they had not lost the game, and everyone in the Blaine Research Center was breathing a collective sigh of relief. This cycle, at least, they would not have to repair destroyed sectors and mourn nullified sprites.
"And this happens often?" an incredulous One binome asked. Elvie, a female Zero, looked up from the station on which she was updating sector repair records and nodded her middle section.
"Every cycle or three, yep," Peg answered.
The One shook his eyeblock. He had just downloaded to this system a few cycles ago, and already two games had fallen. They had lost the first game, and all research had had to be suspended for while they sorted out the repairs to the sector and assessed the casualties. "It is amazing that you have managed to get anything done here, with all these games dropping constantly!"
Peg shrugged. "We do what we can. I take it they don't have many games where you were compiled?"
"Very few," he answered.
The One binome, Sevarius, had downloaded from a distant system, so far away that people there spoke a different language. He could speak English - most people on the net could - but with an accent so thick he was sometimes difficult to understand. He had been in contact with Jay for some time regarding his Virus sequencing project, and the Sprite had finally persuaded him to come here to join in the effort. Peg could understand how dismayed he was at the continual interruptions of the games. "The games land on the West Sector too, but they almost never lose."
"Interesting..." the binome mused, looking out the window toward the green energy shield that sealed the West Sector away from the rest of the system. Absently he tapped his thin digits on the tabletop. That was one thing Peg still had not gotten used to: a binome with digits instead of the normal two-part grasping hand. It made sense; for delicate work he had had his hands upgraded. But it was still strange to look at.
Jay stuck his head back in the room. "Only a few people got injured in the game. I won't be too long tending 'em. Carry on without me?"
"Oh, right," Peg said with a smile. He winked at her, then left again.
It's definitely a miracle that they had made any kind of progress at all, with the constant interruptions and the scant resources available to this system, Sevarius thought. When he had mentioned this Dr. Matrix had shrugged and said that the Twin City was not the Supercomputer. Quite an understatement, that. Still, he did see promise in the start that Dr. Matrix had made. He had struck out in a different direction from the other projects Sevarius knew of, and, as they said here, "it was so crazy it just might work." Such a strange turn of phrase.
Even stranger, this research was taking place in a Virus-occupied system. How could they tolerate the presence of a Virus, an infector at that, within their own borders? He could not bring himself to believe that they did not regard the creature as an immediate danger. Infectors were aggressive, territorial predators, never satisfied with what they had, always seeking to claim more for their own. That the Virus, Kilobyte - they even knew their foe by name! - remained silent behind his defenses indicated only that he was building up his strength and waiting for the an opportunity to attack.
A glimpse of movement caught his eye. He glanced out the window, at the wall of the West Sector. A gap had opened high up, and a fleet of Armored Binome Carriers was arrowing through in tight formation. "Frau Matrix!" he exclaimed, pointing.
Peg looked up. "I don't believe it!" she said, wide eyed.
Sevarius stared at the approaching ABCs. They were coming straight at them!
Jay looked up from patching the last injured binome when the alarms sounded. He scowled in annoyance. What now?
Through the building's speakers a calm voice announced, "Viral forces are approaching. Please clear the outer areas."
"Spammit!" Jay swore. Virals coming this way? What did they think they were doing?! He, like all the other staffers at the Blaine Institute, knew the drill: get out of the vulnerable outside rooms and retreat to the center of the building, where they would be better protected. He never thought they'd actually have to do it, though! He stood and announced, "Don't panic. Let's get the injured to safety. If you can walk, follow the guards, they'll show you where to go. If you can't, don't try, we'll get some stretchers." By the time he finished speaking they had already begun evacuating.
Binomes and Sprites filed through the halls quickly but in an orderly fashion, guided by binome guards. The heavy doors leading to the center of the building were opened. The guards, waving green light sticks, directed the people down a hallway which was usually locked to a heavily armored lower level. Originally it had been intended for work with explosives; the thick walls had been designed to contain damage inside itself, not protect from outside danger. That research had long since been discontinued, and the area was now used for general storage. In theory it was also a disaster shelter. Up until now that had only been in theory, one which did not take into account the number of people currently in the building, or the injured currently under treatment there. The guards knew that they were going to have their hands full both with fighting the virals and keeping people calm.
Jay saw Peg down the hall, walking among the binomes half her height toward the shelter. She looked frightened. With good reason, he thought. Who knew what that Virus wanted, or if he intended anything other than wreaking havoc? He put on a cheerful face as he waved to her. "Don't worry, you'll be safe in there," he called.
"Okay," she answered, trying not to sound upset.
He hated to see her like this - scared, arms crossed protectively over her front, as if that would protect her or the Sprite she was compiling. Well, he wouldn't let anything happen to either of them!
The viral ABCs formed a ring around the Blaine Institute. Each had a sharpshooter trained on the nearest exit. From the lead ABC, which was positioned in front of the main entrance, blared the announcement, "COME OUT OF THE BUILDING AND SURRENDER, AND YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED. RESIST, AND YOU WILL BE DELETED!"
The words, loud enough to be heard through the walls even in the innermost areas, sent a surge of panic through the institute. The guards tensed. They were nowhere near as well armed as the virals, but they would not surrender unless directly ordered to. Mainframe would send its CPUs as soon as it could scramble them; they just had to hold out until then. Hopefully.
All but a few ABCs landed, surrounding the institute on ground level to prevent any escapes. Viral soldiers poured out of the vehicles and headed for the entrances, their weapons drawn.
"They didn't even wait!" Jay exclaimed, looking out a window. "They order us to come out and then come charging in!"
"Dr. Matrix!" Elvie, who had been helping him move the injured to safety, called from the doorway. "The way is clear! Come on!" She beckoned urgently.
"Coming!" He looked around. They had gotten all the binomes to safety. If the virals got in here they'd smash the place up, but he couldn't do anything about that. He dashed out the door.
A sharp phut to one side startled him. Instinctively he dodged. Three virals were at the end of the hall. Filelocked people embedded in transparent green cubes cluttered the hall. He ducked behind one, noticing that inside was one of the institute guards. Elvie had dodged to the opposite wall. The virals were shooting their filelockers at the panicking people in the halls. They did not hit many binomes; they were aiming over their heads, at the Sprites. They had already locked all of the guards, Jay realized as he scanned the hall. Two of the invaders were watching Jay, their weapons raised, waiting for him to come out from behind the block.
Jay looked back. The corridor turned not far behind him, and he heard no sounds from that direction. There were no entrances back there; the virals must not have gotten there yet. He backed toward it, being careful to keep the green cube between himself and the invaders.
When he got to the turn he looked around the corner cautiously. It was empty. He broke and ran down the hallway.
A binome pointed in the direction Jay had gone. Two of the virals pursued him, dodging around the filelock blocks as if running an obstacle course.
Jay heard the virals running toward himself. Great! He couldn't go to the shelter now; he'd lead them right to the others. And he couldn't think of anything in this area he could use as a weapon, at least not against filelockers. He could only try to lead them away and buy some more time for the CPUs.
In the lead ABC, And_E listened to the reports that his group leaders were VidWindowing to him. The outsiders were trying to resist, but they couldn't fight back well enough. Their guards were easily taken out; they hesitated for a crucial nano before using their weapons, giving the virals the chance to filelock them. They had caught several Sprites already. However, they had found nowhere near the expected number of people in the building. The rest must be in hiding.
He opened a channel to his group leaders. "Do not waste time. Lock anyone who gets in your way. Capture all the Sprites; don't bother with the rest if they don't interfere. You know where they're hiding. Move!" Each leader acknowledged his command.
He opened another circuit to the ABCs. "We need to scare them out," he said. "Fire on the first target!"
The turret gunners in the three ABCs floating above the ground did not need to aim their weapons; they were already trained on their target. As one they opened fire.
The sounds of the attack pounded through the building. Inside the shelter, all eyes turned toward the ceiling. "What're they doing?!" whispered one of many panicky voices.
The transmitter tower atop the building, its support columns badly damaged, began to collapse. It tipped over and fell down the side of the building. The fragile antenna stabbed down toward the road, then crumpled under the weight of the rest of the debris. Nobody had been hurt. The tower was unstaffed except during maintenance.
And_E watched impatiently. Again he picked up the speaker. "THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING," he declared. "SURRENDER IMMEDIATELY OR BE DELETED!"
A new VidWindow opened in front of him. Kilobyte, his master, glared out of it. "Well?" he demanded.
"Sir!' And_E saluted quickly. "The troops are rounding up the Sprites now. We will bring them back to you immediately."
"Good," Kilobyte said, but sounded far from satisfied. The VidWindow closed.
And_E swallowed nervously. He knew that the Sprites inside wouldn't just give up when ordered too; the fools just had to fight, even when they had no chance of winning!
Two groups of virals converged on one door in the hallway. Though they had not been here before, they knew what to look for; their spies had provided maps long ago for just such an emergency. It was locked. A binome, her arms raised to signal the virals that she was not their enemy, ran over and punched the passcode to open it.
Those closest to the shelter's exit heard footsteps and voices in the hallway outside through the ventilation shaft in the thick door. The virals had found them.
Peg, her green face pale, asked softly, "How did they get in?"
Nobody answered. Most were cringing back. A few Sprites and binomes had found weapons of the blunt object variety and were preparing to make a stand.
The inner door opened to a different code from the outer one. However, a quick pulse from a magnetic gun erased the lock, letting the virals force their way in.
Inside, dozens of frightened Sprites and binomes were cowering. A few had weapons - poles and such - in their hands, ready to swing them. The virals filelocked them as soon as the door opened, shoved the blocks aside, and began shooting over the heads of the remaining binomes.
Sevarius cowered back and tried to make himself invisible as the virals entered the room. They locked the Sprites, yet ignored all binomes except those who had tried to attack them or who had gotten in the ways of their shots. Now most of them were shoving the blocks onto floating transporters like large zip boards and taking them out. A few virals were watching the rest of the shelter's inhabitants, their weapons ready should anyone try to attack them. Nobody did.
Jay sprinted through the halls, easily outrunning the virals chasing him. He had no idea how many were trying to catch him. The more that were chasing him, the fewer for the rest of the building - but they wouldn't send all their soldiers after one Sprite. Things like that only happened in MOV files.
He couldn't keep ahead of them for much longer; sooner or later they would trap him if he stayed in the building. He had made his way to a hall that led to an inconspicuous side exit. He slipped through the door. It opened onto a side alley between buildings, one hardly anyone used.
The world went blank as a viral who had been sent to cover the "hidden" exit filelocked Jay.
And_E watched impatiently as the virals loaded green blocks containing Sprites into the backs of the ABCs. When they looked finished he asked his group leaders, "Is that all of them?"
One by one the team leaders confirmed this, but then came the reply "One more!" A team of two was pulling one last block around the corner of the building. Several other virals rushed over and helped, quickly loading the Sprite into an ABC.
"That's it!" said one of the team leaders. The others added their confirmations.
"Then let's get back!" And_E said, relieved. Though this foray had been a quick one - the CPUs had not even had time to respond! - it had still taken too long. Every nanosecond counted!
The virals returned to their ABCs and within nanos were in the air again, headed back toward the West Sector. The CPU ships had just lifted from Mainframe's Principle Office.
Inside the West Sector, viral soldiers hurriedly unloaded and transported the captured Sprites to Kilobyte's tower. They had not been told the reasons behind their orders, which was unusual. Kilobyte nearly always gave them at least some background to help them do their duties better. Nearly all had their own ideas about what was up, especially since the Virus was not present except via WidWindow, but when they tried to ask And_E he had barked to them just to follow their orders immediately.
When all the blocks were in Kilobyte's command room And_E dismissed all but two guards and one binome they had brought in from the outside. The binome asked, "What's happening? Why-"
He held up a hand, palm outward, for silence. He opened a VidWindow. Kilobyte's head snapped up. And_E said quickly, "We've brought them all here. Awaiting your orders!" He stepped out of the way so Kilobyte could have an unobstructed view of the prisoners.
"Unlock them so I can see them," the Virus commanded.
And_E looked back. The two guards were already unlocking the Sprites. The prisoners looked around, disoriented at first, then terrified when they saw Kilobyte's face in the VidWindow.
Kilobyte looked downward, at something just below the frame of the VidWindow. His mouth moved as he said something in a low, urgent voice that the window did not pick up. He waited a few nanos, then repeated himself.
And_E glanced at the Sprites. He hadn't anticipated that Kilobyte would order him to release them; if he had known that he would have kept more guards. Hopefully he would be able to relock them before they could cause trouble.
Kilobyte, still looking down, pointed at one of the sprites. "Him?" Apparently he received his answer, for he looked up and said, "The green male Sprite on the left. Bring him to me, now." Then the window closed again.
And_E turned back toward the Sprites. Before he could say anything he was slammed to the ground by a foot to his eyeblock.
"Come on!" Jay, who had kicked And_E down, shouted to the other Sprites, then ran to the hallway on the other side of the room. The swarm of perhaps two dozen men and women of various colors followed him. As And_E struggled to his feet the remaining two guards shot their filelockers, catching the slowest Sprite.
And_E ran over. The Sprite Kilobyte had wanted, the one which had attacked him, was not in it. No such luck - right color, wrong gender. Cursors! He called up a VidWindow. "There are outsider Sprites loose in the West Sector, in the tower. All guards, recapture them immediately! But do not harm them!"
All of the Sprites followed Jay, who was by far the fastest runner. That, and the fact that he was the only one among them who had the nerve to defy the virals, automatically made him their leader. He assumed the role without thinking twice about it. At the moment all he wanted to do was put distance between them and the virals.
Their corridor intersected another - in which several viral guards stood. They were taking their weapons out when Jay rushed at them, kicking one of the binomes across the way. Several of the other Sprites took their cue from him and attacked the other guards.
Where were they?! Jay was sure that they had been taken into the Viral sector. Where in it, though?! No time to stop and figure that out; first they had to get somewhere away from all the armed virals, or at least someplace they'd have a chance of defending themselves!
A VidWindow popped open in front of And_E. "Where is he?!" Kilobyte demanded.
The binome cringed. "He fled. All of them did. We're rounding them up now. I'll bring him to you!"
Kilobyte drew in a breath, looking as if he was about to say something particularly nasty. Then at a sound he looked down. Then he closed the window again, sparing only a nanosecond to glare at And_E.
The band of Sprites fled down several corridors, Jay leading them down what he could only guess was the most likely path out of here, or at least further away from danger. They met binome guards, both single and in pairs, and each time they had been able to overpower them with a sudden rush and take their weapons. The virals always drew their weapons - filelockers or, less frequently, shock rods - but they never actually used them.
Jay saw a wider corridor, one with stone columns on either side. The light at the end did not look artificial! He turned and sprinted down it. As he approached he saw that he was right; it led out of this building! "This way!" he called.
When they reached the doorway, they stopped. Outside was a whole city of virals. Every binome they saw had red-pupiled green eyes. Even the children were infected! And there was so many of them. In the distance, the glowing green force wall loomed. Above it, a green sky.
Jay looked back at the other Sprites. Maybe half had weapons, mostly filelockers, a few shock rods too. Maybe a few of them even knew how to use them. "If we split up we won't stand a chance, they'll pick us off one by one. We've got to stay together. The wall's closest there-" he pointed to the right - "so we'll run that way. Maybe the wall only holds people in, or maybe there are guard stations that can open them." It wasn't much of a plan, but it was the best thing he could think of.
Another Sprite who had been occupied with catching his breath, said, "Jay - didn't you see? They got Peg!"
Jay stared at him. "They what?"
He nodded, still panting. "She was in there too, on the other side of the room. When we ran, they filelocked her. She was right behind me."
Jay swore to himself. There had been at least two dozen Sprites in there; he had glanced around before seeing Kilobyte's VidWindow and not seen her in the crowd. "How could even a Virus be that low?!" he said through gritted teeth. He looked back, then said to the group, "Quick, go! I've got to try to get Peg."
"You're going back?!"
"I'm not going to leave her in there!" he said before taking off down the hall again.
A VidWindow popped open in front of And_E. "Sir! The Sprites have gotten out of the tower! We're pursuing them now!"
"Wonderful," And_E snapped. A handful of outsider civilians had gone right through how many armed guards? Somebody would pay for this when it was all over, and And_E was pretty sure that that somebody would be himself. "The priority is to get the Sprite that Kilobyte wants. All else is secondary. Do not harm them - filelockers only. Relay this to all troops!"
"Yes sir!" The VidWindow closed again.
He looked at the Sprite they had managed to filelock. A harmless-looking green woman. At least that was one less to run loose and scare the citizens.
The viral commander looked over. The Zero binome they had brought - one of their spies - said, "Can I help? If I can talk to him-"
"There isn't time for that," he cut her off. "This is an emergency."
She exclaimed, "Kilobyte doesn't attack the outside! He never has for as long as I can remember. What's this all about?"
He told her.
The Sprites rushed out into the streets. Virals, shocked at seeing outsiders in their sector, fled to safety, putting locked doors between themselves and the Sprites when they could. Without any better plan, the Sprites followed the fastest runner toward the green wall.
From their stations along the inside of the sector's border rose the ABCs. The Sprites saw them silhouetted against the green force wall. The vehicles hovered briefly before starting forward.
Inside the turrets of the ABCs, sharpshooters sat at their posts for the second time that cycle. They scanned the ground through their gunsights. The Sprites were splitting up, going into hiding in alleys, in open buildings, wherever they could put a roof between themselves and the ABCs. The sides of the street were littered with green cubes where they had filelocked people who had been unfortunate enough to be in the way of their rampage.
An insert opened in the viewscreen before each ABC pilot. And_E said, "I'm monitoring. All units, where you have seen them, ground and pursue them. Don't bother to talk, just lock them and bring them back. Unlocking and calming down the citizens can wait for the mop-up. If you see a green male Sprite, report it immediately!"
And_E, who was controlling the security force from Kilobyte's command room, left the channel open but said nothing more. It wasn't easy to force himself to wait, but the most he could do now was repeat himself. The troops would do their jobs better without the distraction of a frantic commander badgering them every few nanoseconds.
Jay made his way through the halls. He was backtracking by guesswork; he hadn't been paying attention to landmarks while he had been running. Maybe he was just getting himself lost. Maybe the virals wouldn't give him a second chance, and would cut him down before he had a chance to use the filelocker that he had liberated. But he had to try to get to Peg. He'd never be able to face anyone if he left her in that Virus's clutches.
He was surprised at first that he met nobody else in the halls. On their way out they had run into plenty of guards - of course, they must be busy outside chasing the others down. He didn't relish the thought of their being hunted, but it did give him a chance that he wouldn't have had otherwise.
After that he took more care, peering around corners before turning down new hallways, staying against the wall, moving as quickly and silently as he could. He wanted to keep his advantage for as long as possible.
The Zero watched silently over And_E's shoulder. Data from all of the ABCs flickered on the VidWindow, showing various views of the sector. Here and there she saw Sprites - but never the one they were looking for. One by one they were being filelocked, and the blocks left where they were as the search continued. On one side of the screen a count showed the number of captured Sprites over the total number which had gotten loose.
Another window popped open in the center of the screen. Both binomes startled back from Kilobyte's glowering face. "What are you doing?! he demanded in a low, harsh growl.
The Zero watched in amazement. And_E was cowering! "Sir," he stammered, "We're chasing them down. We've already caught -" he looked at the tally - "over half of them."
"I don't CARE about that! I only want ONE SPRITE! Is that beyond your capabilities?!" Kilobyte said in a dangerous tone.
"Kilobyte, we're trying!" And_E said desperately.
The virus screamed, "TRYING ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH! DO IT!"
The window closed before And_E could reply. The Zero kept her silence. She had never seen Kilobyte so angry, and she would not be in And_E's place for anything. Or Kilobyte's.
Soon the area north of the tower was littered with green blocks. The citizens obeyed the troops without question, willingly aiding them in finding the Sprites. After all, the troops were their own people, their protectors. The Sprites were dangerous invaders. As each Sprite was captured, it was reported to And_E, together with a brief description of the prisoner.
Meanwhile, Jay was still making his way down the corridors. He had made a few wrong turns, but he had a good enough memory to know when he had gone into unfamiliar territory.
A now-familiar phut made him dive to the ground. A flicker of green flew above his head. He turned and rushed at the virals, sweeping the shock rod like a machete. The guards dodged to opposite sides of the hallway. While he was swinging at one, the other took out a communicator and shouted into it, "We found him! He's still in the tower!"
"Where?!" And_E shouted back. He was answered only by the sound of a metallic impact, then static.
He wanted to curse. If only he had had a visual, he would have recognized where they were. Instead-
He slapped several controls.
The hallway was darkening. Jay looked behind himself. The window was closing. All down the halls, plates were sliding down over the windows. When they banged shut the hall lights brightened, bringing the light back up to the former level.
"There, at least he can't get out," And_E said viciously. He had hit an emergency button, one which would seal the tower away from the rest of the sector. All of the doors, windows, and other entrances and exits was locked tight; it would take a bomb to get through it now. Who thought that the security measures left over from before the creation of the energy wall would one day be used again? He ran a tracer on the icon of the binome that had reported in; the answer showed him where Dr. Matrix was. A further few controls sealed that area of the building off by locking all doors.
The Zero spoke up. "Please - let me try!"
And_E didn't look at her. "No. We don't have the time."
"We don't have the time to chase around after him, either," she insisted. "I know him. If he's got an enemy to fight, that's all he'll do. He'll never listen to a viral. But maybe he'll listen to me for long enough."
And_E stopped to consider this for a nano. Then he said tiredly, "All right, go. But I'm sending some guards in right behind you. Go get him before someone dies."
Jay saw the doors begin to swing shut on both ends of the hall. He ran to the closer ones and tried to stop them; they clicked shut with a snap that told him that he was locked in.
Well, they wouldn't take him without a fight. Whatever they wanted him for, they weren't going to get it. He had already filelocked the two guards with their own weapons. He held one of those in one hand, the shock rod in the other for anyone who got too close.
The door on the far end opened. He aimed at the binome that appeared in the doorway. It jumped back when he tried to filelock it, then called, "Dr. Matrix! Jay! Don't shoot, it's me!"
He recognized the voice. "Elvie? They got you too?"
She came up to him, pausing along the way to glance at the filelock cubes. She said, "Jay, please listen to me. You can't win."
"I can't give up, either," he said grimly. "If they're going to delete me, I'll take some of them with me."
"No!" He looked down, surprised at her exasperated tone. "They didn't bring you here to delete you! They didn't intend to harm anyone! If that's what they wanted they could just have blasted the Blaine Institute into rubble in the first place!"
"I don't know how Viruses think. Whatever they've told you is a lie, I can tell you that."
She hated to say this, but - "You want to get Peg back, don't you? If you just cooperate with them, they'll give her back to you."
Now she had his full attention. His stare, incredulous at first, hardened. "How do you know that?"
She pleaded, "Jay, they don't want to hurt anyone. They haven't hurt Peg. I've seen her. She's just filelocked. Just come with me. Please! They need you!"
He swung the shock rod to point it at her. "Why're you taking their side now?" When she didn't answer, he jabbed it toward her. "Are you a traitor?!"
The next moment he was embedded in a transparent green filelock cube.
Elvie looked over. The guards hadn't given her enough time - but she knew now that she wouldn't have been able to convince him. Yes, she was a spy - but she was not a traitor. She had always been loyal to Kilobyte.
And_E glanced up as several guards brought in a cube on a floater. Finally! He could have cheered. Elvie, looking unhappy, said "He's not going to want to help. I told him that if he helps, you'll let her go." She pointed at Peg. "She's his wife. And she's... in beta. I think that if you use that, he'll obey you."
And_E nodded. He felt the same as Elvie - it was a dirty thing to do, but they had to do whatever it would take to force this Sprite to obey. He said to the guards who had set the block on the floor, "Shock rods, medium stun. If he runs, jolt him. We can't afford any more delays." They nodded and got out the spearlike weapons.
When they had surrounded Doctor Matrix and had their weapons at the ready, And_E removed the filelock. The Sprite looked momentarily disoriented, then he glared furiously at the viral commander. "What-"
And_E cut him off. "No more playing games. We have your wife." He pointed at the other filelock block.
Jay glanced over. Judging from her pose, she must barely have begun to run when they locked her. She looked terrified. "If you've hurt her-"
"We haven't. She's safe now, and she will continue to be safe as long as you obey us," And_E said brusquely.
"I'm not doing a spammed thing for you unless you release her!"
Did the Sprite think he had a choice? But And_E did not like holding her hostage. This business was dirty enough as it was. He opened up a VidWindow to one of his other guards. "Get a few people in here to take one Sprite to the border. And take all the Sprites you've caught and release them outside the border too. I want them out of here."
The Window closed. Facing Jay, And_E said accusingly, "We don't hurt innocent people!"
"The Web you don't!" Jay leaned forward. The viral in front of him jabbed his shock rod forward. With a snap a small energy charge ran through the Sprite. He jerked back, startled that they were finally using their weapons. Then he accused Elvie, "You're not even infected! What do they have on you that would make you turn against us? Against Peg?!"
Elvie started to reply, but again And_E cut him off. "Be quiet!" He opened up a VidWindow. Before contacting Kilobyte he paused. He had just realized that the Virus had stopped badgering him almost two microseconds ago. Feeling suddenly cold, he opened the circuit.
The Virus did not immediately react. He was looking downward, his eyes almost closed. And_E cleared his throat. Kilobyte looked up. "Sir. We have him." He stepped aside so Kilobyte could see Jay. "Shall we bring him to you?"
The Virus gazed at the Sprite, his face unreadable. "I will come there," he said in a low voice. Then he looked down again.
And_E closed the window. He felt sick. So did Elvie.
"What in the net is all this about?!" Matrix burst out angrily.
And_E glared hatefully at the Sprite. Then he said to the guards, "If he speaks again, shock him."
"If that's-" snap "supposed to-" snap
And_E turned away and stared at his control panel, trying to shut out the sounds. That User-deleted outsider deserved whatever he got. He didn't even have the sense to shut up! If And_E could have, he would have silenced the Sprite permanently, act of war or not. But that was Kilobyte's right, not And_E's. He looked at Elvie. "You should leave. You won't want to be here when Kilobyte comes in."
"Yes, sir," she said quietly.
As she crossed to the exit And_E looked back at Jay. The man had finally gotten the message and shut up. Good. Now he was only glaring defiantly at him. As if that would help anyone. Spammed fool.
As Jay waited, his anger built. And_E had wordlessly called up a VidWindow and turned it toward Jay, showing viral soldiers releasing the Sprites - including Peg - from filelock and herding them through a temporary gap in the wall. It didn't help Jay's temper. The virus's flunky was still glaring at him with accusingly, as if he was the villain!
It seemed a microsecond later when he heard the Virus's approaching footsteps. They sounded like the pounding of a distant piledriver. A door slid open on the far side of the room, opposite the main entrance, revealing the silhouette of the Virus. It shut again, leaving the Virus in shadow as he approached. His heavy footsteps clanked on the metal floor, causing a faint thrumming.
When Kilobyte came into the light Jay's muscles tightened. He'd known that the Virus was big, but he hadn't realized how big. The monster seemed half again as tall as Jay was, powerfully built, and covered by a shell of green and silver armor. His crest was cruel-looking and sharp, as were the claws that Jay knew could extend from the sheaths on his knuckles. And - his front was stained. Someone had bled on him. And as the Virus approached Jay could see that it was fresh, still wet.
Momentarily paralyzed, he stood still as the Virus loomed over him, staring down with an expressionless, machinelike face. Then he spoke in a low voice. "Get out."
Jay stared, uncomprehendingly. The Virus repeated angrily, "Get out!"
A hot spark inside Jay flared. "You attacked the Twin City and kidnapped and terrorized two dozen just to get to me, then chased me around and had your slaves stab me with their cattle prods, and took a pregnant woman hostage - and now you're telling me to leave?! What kind of a psychotic son of a bitmap ARE you?!" he shouted.
Kilobyte glared at him for a nano. The greens of his eyes darkened to black. His knuckle claws extended, and he roared, "Get OUT!"
The Sprite turned and fled out the main doors. The viral guards were barely able to dodge out of the way as Kilobyte pounded after him.
Jay heard the hammering of the Virus's footsteps. Oh, User! The monster would kill him if he could get his hands on him - and he was in his lair! He had to remember how to get out, if he could stay ahead long enough. He heard a whistling, then a tearing sound as he felt a tug at the back of his coat. The Virus was trying to claw him! He was already within his reach! He dodged to the side, down the next hall he remembered. Kilobyte overshot him, then bellowed in rage and resumed the chase.
The virals in this hall dodged out of the way, terrified. Jay ran past, hardly noticing them. The door at the end of the hall was closed! He ran at it and threw his shoulder against it, but it did not open. The next nanosecond the Virus was on him, drawing one clenched fist back. Before it could smash into his head Jay dodged to the side. Kilobyte's arm rammed up to the elbow into the door, tearing right through the metal and slamming it open. While the Virus was jerking his arm free Jay darted through it.
Jay had a headstart now. He could make it! As he ran for his life the maddened Virus bellowed in rage and frustration. Metal scraped, sparking, against metal as he tore his arm free of the door.
He turned right at the next corridor. The windows were open again, showing the green sky outside. Before he was halfway down he heard the slamming of the Virus's feet again. This time it was a different rhythm, a beat of four instead of two. He saw in the polished metal between the windows that the Virus had started down the hall after him, and was running on all fours like a beast, coiling and springing forward. When Jay came to the far end of the hall the reflection of Kilobyte leapt at him, claws extended, mouth open revealing sharp fangs and three rows of sharklike teeth. At the last nanosecond Jay dodged to the side. Kilobyte rebounded off the wall and landed on his feet, then started after him again.
The Virus was faster, Jay realized; he could never hope to outrun Kilobyte. But Kilobyte wasn't as maneuverable as a Sprite; his size and momentum would not allow him to change directions quickly. If Jay could keep dodging, he'd make it. And he was almost there - there was the colonnade, and at the end the doorway to the outside! He sprinted with a fresh burst of speed. But then he felt a hammer blow between his shoulderblades. He fell forward, skidding. The Virus glared murderously down at him. Before the metal foot came down on his head Jay rolled out of the way. The Virus skidded for three steps, his feet sparking against the stone floor. As Jay scrambled to his feet, before he could run again, Kilobyte pinned him against one of the columns with a powerful hand splayed against his chest. Kilobyte extended the claws of his other hand and, snarling hatefully, swung back. The hand came off Jay's chest as claws stabbed toward his head. Jay ducked down. Stone chips spattered Jay's hair and pinged off Kilobyte's armor. The Virus had driven his claws deep into the column. Jay bolted for the door as Kilobyte threw his entire body back, trying to free himself. His howl covered the shattering sound as his metal claws broke in the middle, the ends remaining embedded in the column. He surged after the Sprite, who was just passing through the tower entrance.
Kilobyte stopped in the doorway, grasping the sides with his hands. Ignoring the pain shooting up his arm from the broken claws, he bellowed after the fleeing Sprite, "I will KILL you!"
But he did not continue the chase. He watched the outsider flee for his life. Kilobyte panted, teeth bared, his heart pounding violently in his chest, pain throbbing in his arm and hand. As his breathing slowed the black part of his eyes faded back to its normal green.
As the virals outside stared at him in shock, he let go of the doorframe and turned away. Once more in control of himself, he walked back into the tower.
The guards who had witnessed the rampage stared in shock and fear as he walked back through the halls. Not a trace of his former fury remained. It had drained away, seemingly taking with it all other emotion. He did not say anything, or even glance at them, as he walked. The only sound came from the rhythmic clicking of his feet, scraping as he dragged them against the stone floors.
In the command room, And_E's eye opened wide when he saw Kilobyte. He had followed the rampage via the surveillance system and frantic reports from the other guards. Now his master looked expressionless. Dead.
The Virus walked by without issuing any orders concerning the Sprite. And_E had heard Kilobyte's final threat, and knew better than to interfere with the Virus and his quarry. He would make good in his own time.
Kilobyte passed by, not looking in the binome's direction, and exited on the opposite side of the room. The hallway he emerged into was smaller, narrower - not meant for troops of guards to go marching through. Very few virals had ever seen this section.
The soft green carpeting deadened the sound of his footsteps. As he walked down the hall his shoulders slumped. One of the doors opened. A little girl with a white face and red skin looked out. "Daddy?" Hexadecimal asked in a small, worried voice.
He paused, then leaned down and touched her head. She tried to take his hand, to come with him, but he shook his head and said "Not now" in a whisper. A female binome, who had been in the room with the girl, took her by the hand and led her back in.
As he reached the end of the hall he heard crying, barely audible through the closed door. He went in.
Inside was a warm, brightly lit, comfortable looking room. Several carts were up against the wall, containing instruments which had, in the end, been useless. By the bed - the only large piece of furniture in the room - was a bassinet. Inside it a blue and silver newborn was crying thinly. The binome attending to it had cleaned it, then swaddled it to comfort it and keep it warm, but it was still crying from shock and pain.
Kilobyte went over to the bed. The other binome in the room, also a medic, watched sadly as Kilobyte folded the sheet back, revealing a red woman's face. Her hair was tangled and spread out on the pillow. He knelt and drew her hand out from under the covers. It was still warm. Pressing it tenderly between his, he gazed at her face, then stroked her hair as if to comfort her. He began, "Melissa..." His breath caught. Oblivious to the weak cries of his son, he closed his eyes and bowed his head over her hand, then whispered brokenly, "I tried..."
Back to the fanfiction section of Slack & Hash's Domain
ReBoot and associated characters are 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, Commander And_E, Elvie, Jay, Peg, and the overall story are copyright © Kim McFarland (Negaduck9@aol.com). The various unnamed binomes and Sprites can fend for themselves. Permission is given by the author to copy this story for personal use only.