Aftermath: Daemon's Chosen
Chapter 13 - A Double-Edged Sword
Enzo turned over and pulled the warm quilt farther over his head and buried himself deeper into the dark cocoon. He supposed he should get up soon. He had a lot to do didn’t he? Vaguely, he wondered what second it was and what was the last thing he had done?
And in an instant he remembered and he bolted up and awake.
He was not in his room in Bob and Dot’s house in New Lost Angles. He was in a strange yet ordinate bedroom in Raven’s mountain fortress. He was a prisoner.
Enzo bolted from the bed. He was in his underwear but spied his icon on a small dresser next to the bed.
My User, had Raven had access to his PID codes?
He snatched it up and dressed, placing it protectively on his chest. It was his first morning as a captive. Yet he was amazed at how well he was being treated.
After his aborted escape attempt Raven had walked him into the fortress and Enzo had been surprised by the obviously expensive decorations and furniture. He wondered briefly how someone so young could afford all of this, then realized he knew exactly how. Everything was done up in dark tones and somber hues. It was all perfectly staid and proper.
A service drone rolled up to meet them and Raven gave it a series of commands. Another drone, a floating ball similar to the ones used at the Guardian Academy frontier hovered before him and Raven gave it orders as well, which consisted mainly of watching Enzo. Raven then took him down a maze of halls and corridors until Enzo was so completely turned around he began to despair of finding his way out of this place.
When they finally came to a door, Raven unlocked it with a key card. The room inside was as lavishly decorated as the rest of the fortress.
“This is your new temporary home,” Raven said.
Enzo unconsciously took a few steps into the room. He looked around then turned back to Raven in confusion. For the first time since Raven had taken him, Enzo saw the ghost of smile on his face, “You were expecting to be chained to a wall in some dank dismal cellar?”
“I’m glad you find this situation amusing.”
Whatever was left of the smile faded, “Feel free to use this room during your stay. Once I complete my research, I’ll release you at the nearest civilized system where I can be sure I won’t be captured or traced. I may need to ask you some questions since you’re here. Other then that, feel free to explore if you wish.”
“You’re not locking me in?”
“No reason to,” Raven said. You can’t leave the grounds and my security drones will keep you out of any area you shouldn’t be in, not to mention the service drones will provide you with food and drink.”
Enzo’s eyes narrowed. “Do your drones have personality chips?”
“No,” Raven said, “But I’d advise against you tampering with them, especially the guard drones. They have a security self-destruct device installed. You might as well make yourself at home. There’s no way for you to leave the house without my knowing and even if you did managed to leave the grounds, we’re in an enclosed valley, surrounded on all sides by the mountains.”
“Also,” Raven continued, “The nearest settlement is one hundred kilometers past the north mountain range and if you did manage to get over the mountains without deleting from exposure or from some animal attack the settlement is a rough mining town that wouldn’t take too kindly to you.”
Again Enzo’s mind worked. If only a game cube would drop – well it was a last resort but all the members of the senior staff and their families had game-sprite mode on their icons. If he got inside a cube he could possibly leave with it. He’d be lost in the net but he’d be alive.
“And,” Raven went on again as though reading his thoughts, “Game cubes seldom drop here and when they do, I get out of their way. If you’re thinking of doing that little game hopping routine, I wouldn’t give you the chance first off and second, do you really want to risk being lost in the net when I’ve told you I’d release you?”
How in the motherboard did he know what he was thinking? Not to mention about game hopping? Well, it wasn’t exactly a guarded family secret. “I guess you’ve thought of everything,” Enzo said darkly.
“Yes,” Raven said, “Now I’m going to do my research and contact my client. I’ll return for you in a few milliseconds.”
And with that Raven had left him.
Now Enzo walked outside and was immediately approached by the security drone.
“Take me to Raven,” Enzo said and the drone obeyed.
* * *
Raven rubbed his tired eyes. It had been a long and frustrating night. In his study the mercenary sat at his computer console, the vid-window open before him, the date once again scrolling down the screen but it all said the same thing.
Dot Matrix’s business was in order.
Impossible. She had to have some secrets, some illegal business practices. They all did. Little skeletons in their closets that they didn’t want anyone else to know about. Yet he couldn’t find a thing on her. He was hacking into various other databases of the businesses Matrix Enterprises dealt with when Ran DeCrypt finally returned his message.
“Report,” Mr. DeCrypt said immediately.
“I’m sure you know I have the boy – Enzo Matrix.”
“Yes,” Ran Decrypt said, “From what I’ve heard you were almost captured.”
“An unforeseen circumstance occurred.”
“You’re not losing your edge are you Raven?”
Raven’s glittering gold eyes narrowed, “I am currently looking into all the information I acquired from the Mainframe database.”
“And where is the boy?”
“Safely tucked away for the night,” Raven said.
“You’ve stirred up quite a data storm, taking him,” DeCrypt said, “Not only do you have the entire Guardian Collective after you but a nice little assortment of mercenaries, pirates, and lawmen.”
“I am aware of the consequences of my actions,” Raven said, “I will deal with it.”
“You had better,” Ran warned, “The Prime Guardian and that renegade were here to see me. If this is linked to me in any way --,”
“What?” Raven challenged, “Just what do you think you’re going to do to me, Mr. DeCrypt? Don’t threaten me. The tables can be turned on you. Goodnight.” And Raven had closed the connection before Ran DeCrypt could respond.
Raven sighed, one second he was going to push Ran DeCrypt too far. Very well, he’d open that file when he accessed it. It had all been for nothing. Raven had spent all night going through the files, hacking into the databases and calling every seedy character he knew and all his research seemed to say the same thing. There was nothing he could get on Dot Matrix. Nothing Ran DeCrypt could use to ruin her or obtain her business. Mr. Decrypt would not be pleased.
It was time to question the boy.
* * *
The drone halted before an open door to what seemed to be a study. Enzo paused outside.
“Come in, Mr. Matrix,” Raven called from within.
Enzo stepped over the threshold and his eyes immediately fell on the computer console and vid-screen. Raven stood before it, his back to Enzo but he turned to look at him.
“Don’t even think about it.”
The security drone hovered nearby; its laser cannon at the ready. Enzo walked forward.
“Sit down, please,” Raven indicated the plush leather chair before the console and Enzo sat.
“I’m going to ask you some questions about your sister’s business practices,” Raven said, “And you’re going to answer them all, understood?”
“Over my deleted bitmap,” Enzo hissed.
The movement was so quick and unexpected; Enzo had no time to react. Raven’s right hand shot out and he grasped Enzo’s throat with his thumb and index finger and steadily applied pressure. Enzo gave a strangled gasp of pain and shock as he reached up and tried to pry Raven’s hand away. The mercenary slammed him against the chair back, which didn’t hurt as much as it could have but his throat was aching as Raven released him. Enzo broke into a fit of coughing.
“Now, I will say this once again,” Raven hissed, “You’re going to answer my questions is that clear?”
Enzo glared up at his captor. One hand massaged his sore neck. His hate for this man rose like bile in his throat.
“Very well, Mr. Matrix,” Raven said. “Shall we begin?”
* * *
Seven hours into the past.
The storms abated long enough for a portal to be opened back to the Super Computer. Bob was half glad, half discouraged. AndrAIa, Mouse, and Ray had come back with him. Matrix had stayed to continue his surveillance of Syn. His three sprite friends were going to finish installing the rest of the relays while Bob went to speak with Zif.
“Well this is it,” Zif said, once Bob had arrived at the Operations Center. “Better declare that system wide emergency now.”
Bob contacted Rule, “Get me Colonel Tempus,” Then the Prime Guardian frowned at the boiling mass of black clouds hovering over the outskirts of the city. He realized they wouldn’t be able to get back to Mainframe for as long as the storm raged or would they be able to continue with their investigation. Things were never easy.
Bob spent the rest of the day meeting with sector commanders and giving them instructions on what needed to be done to prepare for the coming hurricane. When he returned to his office to check his messages, Rule told him Colonel Tempus hadn’t yet reported in.
“Did he leave any indication where he would be?” Bob asked.
“No sir,” her answer had Bob frowning. Lately, Colonel Tempus seemed to disappear with no explanation. Thinking of the colonel made Bob suddenly remember the time he had first sent Matrix out with Tempus and they had both come back, furious after an argument. Bob had meant to ask what they had argued about but it had slipped his mind. Curious, he called Mainframe and asked Dot if he could speak with Matrix.
The connection was bad but after awhile he spoke with his renegade friend who explained what had happened. After the call was disconnected, Bob was more concerned then ever. What Matrix had told him didn’t cast Colonel Tempus in a pleasant light. When Bob had went to question the prisoners, they had all been knocked around a bit, but for Colonel Tempus to drag a man who weighed fifty pounds less than he did behind a building for some rough interrogation was highly unlike him.
Worse yet, Matrix had been certain Tempus and the man knew each other, although Tempus had denied it when Matrix asked. The rioter had been pleading with Tempus for forgiveness, but had stopped abruptly when Matrix approached and would say no more. The question was, why would a rioter be concerned with upsetting Tempus?
When Matrix had asked what was going on, Tempus had avoided the subject at first but Matrix was certain of what he saw. Tempus had told him that sometimes a solider had to play on his prisoner’s weaknesses and fears. Before Matrix could question the rioter, Tempus had dragged him away. Matrix had argued with him, and Tempus had given him a speech about obeying orders and learning discipline.
Bob drummed his fingers on the desk top. Something wasn’t right. He rose and left the office, “Rule, I’ll be down in the detention center questioning the prisoners.”
“Yes, Prime Guardian.”
As he started for the lower levels, he heard the distance rumble of thunder. It would start soon. He took the lift down and was about to enter the fist cellblock when someone called to him.
Bob turned and waited for Colonel Tempus.
“I’ve been trying to reach you,” Bob said mildly.
“My apologies,” Colonel Tempus said, “There have been incidents of looting in the city that I had to see to.”
“Zif tells me the storm will hit in full force today,” Bob said.
“Yes I know,” Tempus said. “Sir we have a problem outside.”
Bob looked back at the cellblock, “What is it?”
“We have a group of protestors outside, led by Lynx. I’m hoping it doesn’t turn into another altercation,” Tempus said.
Bob rubbed his temples, “All right, let’s go.”
They started back upstairs. How convenient Bob thought. Tempus would have to have stopped at his office and Rule probably told him where he was. Coincidence? Bob wasn’t sure, but the thought made him more wary than ever.
Outside on the steps of the Council Hall a group of people had gathered, about thirty or so. Captain Lynx was standing by the door.
The people were picketing in front of the Hall, carrying signs and placards declaring cover-ups and conspiracies within the Guardian Collective. Bob figured they wouldn’t be there for long by the look of the sky and the thickness in the air.
“Captain Lynx!” Bob approached the man. “Just what do you think you think you’re doing?”
Lynx looked at him, “This wasn’t my idea.”
“These people came to me because they were afraid of the serial killer and nothing is being done about it.”
The wind picked up, “In case you haven’t noticed, a hurricane is about to hit.”
“Yes, I’ve been trying to tell them to take cover but they refuse to leave.”
“Tempus lets get some soldiers out here, but keep them at a distance,” Bob said “We don’t want them to think we’re trying to force them away.”
“Already being done, sir.” Tempus turned and walked back into the Hall.
“So if this wasn’t your idea, why are you here?” Bob turned back to Lynx.
“Since we haven’t had the opportunity to meet, I wanted to tell you we’ve received word another uprising is being planned.”
“You’re being awfully generous.”
“Well--” Lynx said, “Desdemona is still in the hospital.”
“She has a private room, a nurse watching her, satellite vidwindow and all her medical expenses are being paid by the Collective.”
“Thank you,” Lynx said. “I figured telling you about the uprising was the least I could do.”
The thunder was closer now, “Try and convince them to leave, Lynx. It dangerous for them to be --,”
Bob’s words were abruptly cut of as the sky was split for a nano by the white-hot light and then an explosion ripped through the air as the lightening bolt hit a tower on a nearby apartment building.
The protestors scattered in a panicked frenzy down the street.
“No!” Bob cried, “Get inside, get inside now!”
Tempus’s soldiers were already running down the street. The building was already being engulfed in flames. As Bob started to run, Lynx made to follow.
“Stay at the Hall, Lynx!” Bob didn’t stop running.
“I want to help!” Lynx cried as he followed.
Bob didn’t have time to argue. People were already fleeing the building. Bob was on his communicator summoning assistance. The wind gusted, accompanied by the moist smell of rain and Bob prayed that it would come soon.
The first three top floors of the building were already aflame. Thick black smoke poured from open windows. The gusting winds only fanned the flames.
CPU’s, medical units and fire transports were arriving and Bob took control of the situation. The transports hovered as close as they dared above the burning floors, knocking out windows and helping trapped people to safety. Bob ordered Tempus to keep the onlookers away. The firemen entered the building.
The sound of a woman screaming drew Bob’s attention. He looked to see a young sprite being detained by one of the soldiers. Bob ran over, “What’s going on?”
“Prime Guardian!” the soldier said, “I can’t understand a word this woman is saying.”
The woman suddenly leapt towards him and grabbed him by the shoulders. She was screaming a language that was familiar to Bob and he heard the urgency in her voice. She was hysterical about something.
“I’ll take her away, sir,” the soldier said.
“No!” Bob said. He had taken the language during his Academy training but that had been so long ago and he’d been lousy at it.
The woman was pounding on his shoulder and pointing to the building. She screamed the same phrase over and over. Bob’s processor finally made sense of what she was saying.
“User!” Bob decompressed his zip board and tried to remember the language to reassure the woman, “Don’t worry. I’ll find your daughter.”
Bob signaled the fire transports, which relayed his message to the firemen in the building to look for a little girl. He then hopped on his zip board and ascended. He looked up, willing the clouds to release the rain, but the wind continued to feed the fire and the black smoke seared his lungs.
Bob called on his power and shattered one of the lower windows and flew inside. The heat hit him immediately and his lungs craved fresh air. Bob donned his web armor and breathed gratefully though his mask, the infrared guiding him. It was silent as he walked the corridor, his own breathing the only sound her heard within the mask.
**Claire?** The sound of his modem speak surprised him. He called again, **Claire?**
Bob found the stairwell and ascended, once on the floor above, he called again. He checked each door, most of them opened and those he found locked he blasted open.
**Claire, where are you?** More than likely she didn’t know modem-speak but Bob at least hoped she’d hear him.
At the last door (wasn’t it always the last door?) Bob entered the smoke filled apartment and found the poor little girl unconscious on the floor of a closet.
“Don’t worry Claire, I’ll get you out of here,” Bob hoped somehow she heard him. He removed one end of the breathing tube from his mask and held it over Claire’s mouth, “We’re going to have to share this, okay?”
As he crossed the room Bob heard an ominous creaking. The ceiling gave way and Bob barely had time to dodge the flaming debris.
Where’s a tear when you need one? Or a game cube? Bob made his way around the pile of rubble and out into the hall. At the other end was a thankfully broken window. As Bob rushed down the hall there came that ominous creaking again and another section of the ceiling fell away. Bob dropped, shielding Claire with his body as the burning rubble rained down on him.
For a moment he could move, then he himself to stand. The back of his head and neck burned but he fought his way to the stairwell and descended to the floor below. Again he dashed for the window. Burning things were working their way into his armor, burning the back of his neck. Bob blasted away the section of the wall around the window and was on his zip board and descending as fast as he could.
Cheers rose as Bob rounded the building and settled down with Claire. Her mother ran them and began to scream hysterically when she saw her daughter wasn’t moving.
“Medic!” Bob screamed and rushed her over to the nearest transport. He gently handed the girl over to the medic then turned to the mother and began to sooth her fears the best he could. After a time the medic beckoned the mother inside. Claire was breathing but they wanted to get her to the hospital. Bob advised the medical team to give the girl the utmost care and the mother the greatest consideration. Then the transport was off.
Bob gingerly felt the back of his neck where he had been burned. At that nano, the rain began.
“Perfect,” Bob muttered.
He was surprised when several people began to cheer and applaud. Bob felt himself flush. Some of the people who now cheered him had been same ones who had been protesting. Then one of the cheering people let out a scream.
Bob turned and was shocked to see a male sprite bearing down on him with a knife in his hand. Before Bob could react the man was before him raising the weapon and shouting, “For the Glory of Daemon!”
Instinctively, Bob raised his arm to shield his face and the knife slid harmlessly across his web armor.
People in the crowd began to scream as Bob stumbled back in surprise. The attacker made to lunge again, and Bob hit him with a blast of his power, not enough to really injure him but to stun him. The man hit the ground hard and lay still for a nano, then began to struggle to his feet, and look of pure randomness in his eyes.
“Prime Guardian!” Tempus was there suddenly and without hesitation, drew his weapon and fired.
“No!” Bob said but his attacker was already fragmenting. “I can’t believe you did that!”
“What?” Tempus was looking at him strangely, “Prime Guardian, he could have deleted you!”
“We could have both disarmed him, Tempus,” Bob said. “Not to mention the fact that he was obviously a member of Daemon’s Chosen. He could have led us to them.”
“I doubt that,” Tempus said, “Damn it, Prime Guardian, must you take such chances?”
“A Guardian is supposed to take chances Colonel Tempus,” Bob said.
Tempus let out an exasperated sigh, “Report to the medical transport immediately.” He started away, then turned back to him and inclined his head, “My apologies, Prime Guardian. By your leave.” Then he walked away.
Bob frowned, not quite certain he liked what had just occurred.
“Prime Guardian?” Captain Lynx approached, “Why don’t you come with me to the medical transport? We can get those wounds attended to.”
The rain was a torrent by the time Bob and Lynx found shelter inside one of the transports. The medic there prepared to treat Bob’s wounds. Fortunately, all injuries had been minor, including Bob’s.
“It probably feels like the web,” Lynx commented. He sat himself on the floor of the transport. The captain reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a flask, handing it to Bob, “You look like you need this.”
Bob didn’t argue, “Thanks,” and he took a healthy drink.
“You risked your life to save that little girl.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve realized I’m not such a monster after all?”
“No, just acknowledging your deed,” Lynx said. “You and the Collective still have much to answer for and when this is all over things will resume as they have been.”
“You do whatever you feel you have to do,” Bob said and turned suddenly as Tempus climbed into the transport.
“The fire is extinguished, Prime Guardian. We need your authorization to transport the people to alternate housing and medical facilities.”
“You have it.”
Tempus moved further into the transport and watched the medic work for a moment before speaking to him, “How is he?”
“Just some minor burns,” the medic said, “Some salve and bandaging should do the trick.”
“I’ll take care of this,” Tempus told him, “There are some children outside that need some medical assistance.”
“I said I would take care of it, now go!”
The medic left the transport hurriedly. Both Bob and Lynx gave Tempus a strange look.
“Sorry, I’m used to having my orders obeyed.” Tempus lifted Bob’s hair, “Well you got singed back here. The medic was right, it’s not as bad as all that.”
Bob noticed that Lynx was staring at Tempus in a strange way. It was something akin to shock and suspicion. Bob wasn’t certain he wanted to know what it meant.