Aftermath: Daemon's Chosen
Chapter 2 - Pressure
"Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Matrix Enterprises Online Conference." Enzo said, "Our CEO Dot Matrix will be with you shortly. In the meantime, I invite you to view the quarterly reports."
Dot Matrix watched her brother with a proud smile. Again, she thought of how glad she was that he would be working beside her. She had missed being with him over the past few hours when he had chosen to spend his summers away from Mainframe. It had worried Dot that her brother seemed to be developing an uncharacteristic wanderlust. Dot couldn't imagine Enzo ever leaving Mainframe for good but lately she had begun to wonder.
So she had been pleased, if not a little surprised that he had accepted her job offer. Even after all this time, even though her business had grown to monumental proportions, Dot still enjoyed running them herself, only lately, her overly tedious work schedule had taken its toll.
Looks like that husband of mine was right, Dot mused. Bob had been on her case about hiring a PDA for cycles, claiming she was working way too hard. Dot hadn't had the time or the inclination and besides, didn't think there would be anyone she could trust with her business secrets. Until the day Melissa, on a rare break from the Academy, had suggested Enzo.
To Dot's delight, her brother had grasped the business at a phenomenal rate. Well it wasn't surprising. Top in his class at the Science Academy, 'intelligent' didn't begin to describe him. But Enzo still had a thirst for even greater knowledge; hence his forays away from home. His presence made Dot realize that she would need someone to learn the business. As much as a workaholic that she was, she didn't plan on doing this forever. She wondered would Enzo be interested in taking over someday? His primary interest seemed to be science.
That worried Dot somewhat. Science had taken away her parents and had destroyed the lives of thousands of innocents. To think that Enzo may be taking after their father made her both proud and apprehensive. She knew it would ultimately be his decision.
Yet she was amazed at the ease in which he spoke to the shareholders. It was still hard for her to believe that this serious studious young man was her hyperactive little brother. She felt a pang of sadness at that. He had changed so much, yet he was nothing like Matrix.
Dot sighed. That was one thing that hadn't changed. The rocky relationship her two brothers (Enzo refused to acknowledge Matrix as such and became angry anytime anyone did.) shared had lasted over the hours. She was proud of how they had both created separate identities but Dot often wondered if Enzo only did so to become as little like Matrix as possible.
Although tall and muscular, Enzo wasn't as 'bulky' as Matrix was. And he wore his hair radically different. It was longer and even more "spiky" then his counterpart's. He wore it swept to the right side of his face with spiky bangs covering his right eye and long in the back, done up in a single braid that rested between his shoulder blades. Two silicon rings that had once belonged to Melissa secured the braid. The braid was his tribute to his love for her, like Matrix's tattoo was for AndrAIa.
Many of the ladies in the office had commented on how 'pretty' he was. Enzo hated the term, but that was the first word everyone thought of when they saw his smooth boyish face. The glasses he had begun to wear when he was sixteen lent an air of maturity.
Still Dot was proud of him. Now if only he would make peace with Matrix.
It was time for the conference so Dot turned her concentration to it.
* * *
The office at the penthouse of the Bookmark Tower was a guilty pleasure for Dot. With the advancement of her business, it had become impossible to do her work from the Diner. Although she missed it she knew it was in good hands and she really did like the way her new office looked. When Hex had volunteered to decorate the Tower, Dot had said, "Why not?" So a lot of the viral's presence was here.
The office was in the shape of half-circle but it was the thick burgundy carpeting and the paneling made of rich dark wood that was the first thing people noticed. Ornate glass doors let out onto a balcony where Dot often had lunch delivered. Plush leather chairs were situated in strategic spots for maximum comfort. Pictures from Hex's Gallery also complemented the room.
The second was usually the circular console; similar to the map in the War Room except here Dot had access to any and all functions of the corporation. It sat directly to the left of the entrance at about 22:00 hours.
To the right, sitting at 14:00 was a conference table surrounded by six leather chairs and beyond that was two doors to the washroom and kitchenette, respectively. And just beyond the kitchenette, was a small booth, one of only seven that existed in Mainframe. An invention of Mouse and AndrAIa's (with the help of some engineers from the Super Computer) it was called simply a 'jump portal'. By programming certain coordinates into the controls, a sprite or binome could be instantly teleported to a different section of Mainframe. They could only be used by the Senior Staff and only in cases of emergency.
On the opposite side, next to the console was a spiral staircase leading up to a mezzanine where there were three private offices, one of them Dot's.
With only her and Enzo around and her secretary Ms. Pink in the foyer. Dot was content.
Now as she and Enzo went about the daily monitoring of the business, with twenty vid-windows open around the console, Dot took a moment to observe her brother.
"I've noticed the Mitchell account is overdue again," Enzo was saying, "Have we contacted his daughter?"
"Yes Mr. Matrix."
"Please, call me Enzo."
"Of course, Mr. Matrix."
Dot moved the vid-window aside and smiled at her brother, "Enzo?"
He looked up and smiled at her, "Yes Dot?"
"You're doing a great job."
His smile broadened, "Thanks Dot."
Dot went back to her messages and frowned at the one marked: URGENT. "Oh no, not again."
"What?" Enzo asked.
"I've received a communiqué from the Command.com of System 500."
"Yes." Dot frowned, "he still wants to meet with me concerning a merger of Matrix Enterprises with his organization."
"I thought you told him no the last time you met with him."
"I did," Dot said. "I don't know Enzo, the guy just rubbed me the wrong way. He seemed so - sleazy."
"A sleazy industrialist?"
"You're going to have to meet him to see what I mean. Which is what I'm going to have to do. Apparently, he doesn't know the meaning of the word no."
"Shall I arrange the meeting then?"
"Yes," Dot frowned again. Why did she think she was going to have trouble with this man? Dot was interested in a good business deal as well as the next sprite but this guy - this - Mr. DeCrypt - just gave her the jaggies.
Seven hours into the past.
The conference hall at Outlook Center was packed with the citizenry to its walls. Bob watched from offstage as even more people tried to squeeze into the room.
"It would seem the whole population of the Capitol is here." Katiyana's voice came from behind him.
"So we're supposed to sit down there?" Bob nodded to the rectangular conference table that had been placed below the stage. "And our accusers sit there?" There was a podium on the stage and another conference table set up with seven chairs.
"Of course. So they can look down on us."
"Have courage, my Prime Guardian. We have nothing to hide."
"Actually Katiyana we have a lot to hide. The question is how much will we have to reveal?"
"Mind if I join you?"
Matrix looked up to find Colonel Tempus. He frowned immediately. He had come outside behind the conference center to catch a few minutes alone before the inquisition.
"If I say yes, will you go away?"
"Don't play the big bad renegade with me boy, you're liable to get your ASCII kicked."
Boy? "The last person to call me that I kicked his ASCII."
"Couldn't have been much of a fighter."
Matrix straightened away from the wall. "He was a virus called Megabyte."
"How very unimpressive," Tempus said, "But since I have as much right to be out here as you do, I think I'll stay. I don't know what your problem is --,"
"My problem," Matrix broke in, "Is that I'm about to be raked over the coals by a bunch of whining pixel brains."
"You are?" Tempus said, "You think I'm here for the atmosphere? And what of the Prime Guardian? Of all of us, he has the most to lose."
Tempus drew a small satchel from his belt and opened it. From within he withdrew a pipe and tobacco and proceeded to pack and light it. Fascinated, Matrix watched the old warrior take a long drag and blow out a pungent smoke in the shape of rings.
"Just who was Neuron Cyber?" Tempus asked.
"He was a member of the Resistance, I deleted him by accident after he attacked me," Matrix couldn't believe he had answered the question. The smoke must be affecting my mind, he thought.
"Hmm," Tempus took another drag, "Looks like they don't see it that way." Tempus looked Matrix up and down for he first time, "You have the Guardian Protocol, why aren't you at the Academy?"
"Don't you think I'm a little too old to attend the Academy?"
"Not for the advanced classes," Tempus said. "Just what is your role? I mean what do you do?"
Matrix had had enough of Tempus' prying, "Excuse me." The renegade turned and walked back inside but he couldn't escape the colonel's words.
What is your role? What do you do?
They were the questions that had been plaguing Matrix as of late and he was distressed to find he had no answer for them.
Bob sat at his place in the center of the table. Katiyana was to his left and Tempus to his right. Matrix was looking as menacing as ever and Cooper looked bored. Bob hoped Cooper didn't do or say something to get them in worse trouble. The one Bob felt the most sympathy for was Mina. The poor girl was trying her best to put on a brave face, but Bob could tell she'd rather be hundreds of sectors away.
The noise in the room was deafening. The mood could only be described as volatile. The smell of too many bodies and the oppressive heat made Bob squirm uncomfortably. He felt a trickle of sweat at his temple and the Prime Guardian absently reached up to wipe it away.
Katiyana took his hand, "Are you well?"
"Can't we at least get some water over here?"
Katiyana motioned to one of the binome attendants that was situated around the perimeter of the room and made her request. A few nanos later he returned with an armful of bottles of water. Bob opened his and drank deeply, then moved the bottle across his forehead.
"Try to remain calm," Katiyana said.
"It's hot in here," Bob muttered.
The noise level lowered suddenly and Bob saw why. The representatives of Web Alliance were coming onstage.
Of course there was Desdemona and Captain Lynx. Bob recognized some but others he had never seen before. Three of the people were sector Command.coms. One of the first things Bob had done in his capacity, as Prime Guardian was to contact the Command.com of each sector of the Super Computer. He had received no response from any of them and was told the majority of them had either been infected or perished in the war. Either way, this was the first Bob had seen of any of the sector commanders.
"The binome on the end is - was - the leader of another resistance faction that failed," Katiyana whispered to him. "I have no idea who the other sprite is."
"His name is Lieutenant Bell," Tempus said, "A deserter."
"I wonder if Web Alliance is aware of that?" Bob said. Well at least they weren't here to point fingers.
No one had to wait long for it to begin, the moment Web Alliance sat down and all notebooks and files were situated, Lynx took the podium and spoke. "Thank you all for coming here. We appreciate that the representatives of the Guardian Collective accepted our invitation."
"Invitation indeed," Bob heard Cooper mutter and the Prime Guardian shot him a warning look.
"The purpose of this meeting," Lynx went on, "Is to determine what measures need to be taken to halt the unrest that is currently plaguing the citizenry of the Super Computer."
"Also," Lynx continued, "the citizenry of the Super Computer need and demand clarification of the measures the Collective will take and/or have taken, to apprehend and punish those responsible for the acts of violence against the peoples of this system."
"In addition what plans the Collective have and/or will make to re-establish the Super Computer to its former prominence."
Bob felt a stab of annoyance as Lynx finished. They would know all of this if the sector commanders had answered the many messages he had sent or if Lynx had just taken five nanos to sit down with him and talk. Then again, Bob had all but ignored the messages from Captain Lynx, a decision he now greatly regretted.
"We will begin," Lynx said, "by opening the floor to questions, with the consent of the representatives of the Collective?"
"That's fine," Bob said.
"Prime Guardian, what measures have the Collective taken to re-establish net trade within the system?"
Bob stood and took a nano to call up the proper information in his files. "As of now, reestablishing net trade has not been foremost on our list of priorities--"
"And why not? The people need food, clothing --,"
"Food and clothing are being donated by several systems," Bob said. "I have been attempting to contact the remaining sector commanders, but I have only received seven replies from the twenty-seven registered." Bob let his gaze travel to the three that sat at the table, "Did you receive them?"
"No we didn't, Prime Guardian," was basically the answer the three gave and Bob had a lot of trouble believing them.
"Then my apologies," Bob said, "the sector commanders I have contacted have been already given information on how much in supplies they will be allotted and when they may obtain such supplies. As for the sector commanders I haven't heard from, I've already dispatched representatives to their respective sectors. They are due to report back to me at this evening at 18:00 hours."
Several shouts came from the back of the room. Bob couldn't make out what they were saying. Lynx was rapping a gavel on the podium, "We will have order here."
Bob wondered what the yelling was about. He turned and saw a small group of people in the rear of the room, "What is it? Let them have their say."
"We don't want Guardians in our sector!"
"We don't want the Guardians here period!"
"Down with the Guardians!"
"Order!" Lynx cried. "It was agreed by all those involved that this meeting would be the first step in settling these matters."
"Settle it by getting rid of the Guardians!"
"I said order!" Lynx said. "What of the remnants of the enemy army? There have been reports of stragglers, deserters --,"
Bob looked directly at Bell for a nano then back at Lynx.
" - causing all sorts of malicious mischief. I see very little policing of the sectors."
"Unfortunately," Bob said, "our military and police base was decimated in the war. Colonel Tempus can give you some idea of the state of our forces. Colonel?"
Bob sat down and Colonel Tempus took the floor.
"Well done," Katiyana whispered to him.
"My core-com is in my throat."
As Colonel Tempus advised the group of the state of the military and what they would be doing to police the rougher areas of the Capitol, an uncomfortable feeling, like a touch of icy fingers started at the base of Bob's spine and began to travel their way up. At first he thought it was just nerves, but it began to increase to the point where he was beginning to have trouble concentrating.
"Yes?" Bob said abruptly and Katiyana gave him a look. "Yes, Captain Lynx?"
"And what of the surviving members of the Guardian Collective? Have they been properly reprimanded?"
"What?" Bob said, "Are you asking me if I've punished the Guardians that were under Daemon's control?"
"Of course," Lynx said. "Terrible atrocities were committed against the citizenry by the Guardians. It is only fitting that they be punished."
"Punished why? For having their minds turned inside out? For having their bodies violated? The Guardians, myself included, had no control over what was happening to them," Bob cringed inwardly at the memory of some of the things he had done. "You of all people know that under the influence of viral infection, a normally sane decent person can be made to commit those terrible atrocities."
The icy feeling was now permeating every nerve in Bob's body but he continued, "If the Guardians are punished then I would have to be punished as well."
More shouts erupted. Did Bob imagine it or did Lynx wait a few nanos before pounding for order.
"Yes," Lynx said when the group quieted, "Not many people are aware that you were once the infamous General Dariem."
This time the screams that erupted drowned out anything else Lynx said. The crowd began working themselves into a maddened state. Bob turned and held up his hands shouting for order.
"Please everyone remain calm!" Bob shouted. "No violence!"
When the press of bodies surged towards the table, Bob conjured a sphere of light, which grabbed and held everyone's attention.
"Please, everyone calm." Bob said.
"My family died at your hands Dariem!"
"Their blood is on you!"
Bob turned away as the words tore through his core-com because he knew they were truth.
"I can never began to express how sorry I am for what was done while I was under Daemon's control," Bob said. "I can only promise you that I will do whatever is within my power to make amends."
"Just what are you going to do?"
"My family is gone! You can't bring them back!"
"Out with the Guardians!"
"Silence!" Lynx eyed the assembled group. "So no punishment is forthcoming to the Guardians involved?"
That time there were only dark murmurs coming from the crowd.
"So," Lynx went on, "What of the murder of Neuron Cyber?"
"Captain Lynx I believe that is something that should be discussed in private between the parties involved and has nothing to do with the situation here in the Capitol."
"It had everything to do with it!" Desdemona, who had been miraculously silent the whole time, came abruptly to her feet, "He murdered Neuron and he has escaped judgment."
"I didn't murder him!" Matrix, who had also been uncharacteristically silent, stood as well. "He fired on me first! I was defending myself!"
"Desdemona," Lynx said.
"Matrix calm yourself," Bob said.
Still the two sprites stood and exchanged a hate filled glare.
"I must agree with the Prime Guardian on this," Lynx said, "The death of Cyber is a personal matter, however, that does not explain why Matrix has avoided justice concerning his other numerous crimes."
"What in the net are you talking about?" Matrix hissed.
"You know very well what I'm talking about," Lynx said, "Your time in the net. We know about you Matrix. Many of the members of Web Alliance were witnesses to your crimes and many were victims! You will be made to answer for them!"
"Lynx you had better explain yourself," Bob said.
Lynx regarded him for a moment, "You don't know either, do you Prime Guardian? Just like Dot Matrix. You have absolutely no idea!"
"Lynx--" Bob began.
"Very well," Lynx continued as though Bob hadn't spoken, "We will need time to prepare case. I suggest when you leave this place Prime Guardian you prepare an adequate defense for your young friend. We will be bringing in witnesses to testify against him."
"Testify? When did this become a trial for Matrix?"
Lynx lowered his head, "Very well, we will convene another meeting of the Council and at that time - members of Web Alliance will be brought in to - speak against him. I think the two of you need to have a long talk beforehand."
"No wait just a nano," Cooper said, "We're not obligated to attend any more of these meetings. We did this as a courtesy to you. I mean who in the net do you people think you are?"
"Cooper!" Bob warned. The feeling was now like of a swarm of angry hornets in Bob's mind.
Over the jeers Captain Lynx said, "No you are not obligated to attend but I wouldn't recommend that you not attend, as you can see, the people want justice - it's either this way or --,"
"Don't think you can threaten us Lynx," Cooper said, "The Collective is the law here!"
"Cooper, be silent!" Bob suddenly realized what the feeling was and a lance of ice was figuratively stabbed through his core-com.
Someone was here.
"Bob what is it? What's wrong?" Katiyana placed her hand on his.
When Bob had yelled out at Cooper, all eyes were drawn to him, but Bob didn't notice. He had not felt that way since being in Daemon's sphere of influence. Someone close to Daemon - or rather someone that had been previously close to her was in the room. Somewhere in the crowd watching them. And their malevolent amusement was a stench that made Bob want to gag.
The Prime Guardian looked at Matrix and knew immediately that his young friend felt it as well.
"Prime Guardian!" Lynx yelled. Bob didn't know how long the Captain has been trying to get his attention, "What in the net is wrong with you?"
"Someone is here," Bob said, and he looked at Matrix, "Can you --?"
"Yes," Matrix said. "I sense it too. Someone from -- back there."
"Prime Guardian --,"
"There's a virus here!" Bob said, "Someone who was in Daemon's service! They're somewhere here, right now!"
The crowd became agitated. Murmurs spread and heads craned to get a view although no one really knew what to look for.
"Bob are you certain?" Katiyana asked.
"This is absurd," Lynx said.
Bob turned his eyes scanned the room. The sensation changed, a swift tremor of fear from the other one then it was gone and Bob knew the virus had made their escape.
"It's too late," Bob said grimly, "They're gone now. You need to increase the security on this place!"
"This is nonsense," Desdemona said, "Now he's seeing imaginary virals?"
"And just how did you know one was here?" Lynx asked.
"I --," Bob began. How in the net could he explain it without coming off as completely random? How would they understand the feeling of cold fingers and the certainty that someone who had shared that horrible disease that was the Infection was nearby?
"I can't explain it," Bob said finally, "Only that I can sense someone who once was infected by her or was within her inner sanctum."
"Ridiculous," Desdemona said.
"Actually," Lynx said, "I've heard of such occurrences. Usually it means the person who has these heightened senses still had some of the viral infection on them."
Bob was suddenly reminded of his previous conversation with Melissa. How she had said Daemon's aura was still on him and Matrix.
"There's no way you'll catch them now," Bob said by way of changing the subject. "I'll provide guards for the next meeting."
"Then you agree to attend and to our conditions?"
"Yes," Bob smiled.
"Prime Guardian this is absurd," Cooper said, "Are you going to let these peasants tell us what to do?"
The cries of rage erupted again; the crowd converged on the table.
"No!" Bob screamed, "Cooper, go now!"
The sharp report of Gun caused the whole crowd to drop as one.
Bob turned in disbelief to the renegade. Matrix, seeming to realize too late what he had done, lowered Gun and re-holstered it. His violet eyes grew wide and pleaded with Bob but before Bob could say anything --,
"How dare you fire that weapon in here!" Lynx screamed at Matrix. "There are innocent people about!"
Lynx turned fiercely to Bob, "Prime Guardian, I suggest you keep a tight lease on him until the next meeting." With that Lynx, gathered up his things, "This meeting is adjourned. We will reconvene at oh-eight-hundred in two days." And the captain turned form the podium and stormed off the stage with the rest following.
"Let's get out of here," Bob said grimly, "While the crowd is quiet."
Between Cooper and Matrix, Bob had a feeling that these meetings were soon going to develop into something with much more serious implications.