Aftermath: Daemon's Chosen
Chapter 3 - Hide and Seek
Only the Super Computer itself rivaled the system of Two Gates. Gleaming towers and modern highways comprised its capitol city. Dot and Enzo Matrix traveled on board a sleek shuttle, which whizzed past the buildings with a quiet swiftness.
Sister and brother were both immersed in their organizers, stopping only to sip their cappuccino.
"You know Dot," Enzo said without looking up, "I could rig your organizer to float too."
Dot smiled, "I know you could sweetie. I'll remain in the FORTRAN age, thank you very much."
Enzo returned the smile. She still called him sweetie after all these hours. He didn't mind though.
"Isn't this system amazing?" Enzo asked. "I mean - is this guy really that bad Dot? We could use the business couldn't we?"
"Of course," Dot said, "But we're doing well enough that I'm willing to do without Mr. Ran DeCrypt."
"If you say so, sis." Enzo shrugged.
"Excuse me?" One of the shuttle attendants; a pretty pink-skinned girl, leaned over Dot, much to her consternation Enzo could see, and handed Enzo a small plastic card. The attendant winked at him and walked away.
"Well that was polite," Dot muttered, "What's that?"
Enzo sighed as he examined the card, "Her address and phone number."
"It's not funny Dot!"
"Oh sweetie, face it. You're a certifiable babe magnet."
"Dot!" Enzo blushed.
Dot laughed again, "Deal with it."
Enzo went back to his organizer, muttering over the female condition the whole time until the shuttle arrived at their destination.
The towering structure that housed DeCrypt Enterprises had the two Mainframers craning their necks to see the top.
"Dude," Enzo muttered. "And we have to go to the top floor of that?"
Two grim-faced doormen checked their identification at the door. They were led to a lobby and told to wait. The interior of the lobby was as gaudily decorated as Enzo had ever seen in a place of business. The place sported a high domed ceiling and cathedral windows and majestic pillars of polished marble.
"Is that pure gold?" Dot said of the intricate engraving on the pillars.
Enzo opened his organizer and did a scan, "Yup."
"Dude," Dot said.
Enzo and Dot turned as one. A diminutive teal-skinned sprite rolled towards them. Her blue-green hair was done up in a bun and she smiled at them from behind coke- bottle glasses. "How do you do? I'm Ms. Warren, Mr. DeCrypt's PDA."
"Yes, we spoken before, it's nice to meet you in person at last," Dot shook her hand, "This is my PDA and my brother, Enzo Matrix."
"Ma'am," Enzo took her hand.
"A pleasure," Ms. Warren smiled. "Please follow me."
Ms. Warren led them onto a glass-enclosed lift and they began their journey upward. All the while Ms. Warren told them of the DeCrypt Empire and how Matrix Enterprises would profit from a merger. The ride took a good twenty microseconds to arrive at the penthouse and Enzo was relieved. He was beginning to feel claustrophobic.
Ms. Warren led them down a thickly carpeted hallway, paneled in cherry wood to a pair of hand-carved doors, which opened automatically as they approached. The reception area was immense, even larger than their penthouse office.
"Please feel free to help yourself to refreshments," Ms. Warren indicated the table laid with brunch items. "I shall inform Mr. DeCrypt you are here." On the opposite side of the room was another pair of carved doors that Ms. Warren disappeared behind.
"Well at least Ms. Warren is nice," Enzo said, "Shall we indulge?"
"No," she said. "We won't be here long enough."
Enzo shrugged. Those cream filled pastries looked like they would melt in his mouth.
Ms. Warren open the door, "Please go right in."
Enzo stepped aside to allow Dot to go in first and followed. A group of sprites sat around an oval conference table, its surfaced polished to a shine. But it was the man at the head of the table that had Enzo halting in mid-stride.
One look at the man and Enzo decided Dot was right. He almost immediately gave Enzo the jaggies.
He was not handsome, at least not by normal standards. His facial features were cold and angular, his skin gunmetal gray. He wore his burgundy colored hair shoulder-length and brushed flat and straight down his back.
But the one thing that truly unnerved Enzo were his eyes. They were pale silver - almost white, with two back pinpoints for irises. It took Enzo a few nanos to realize Dot was speaking.
"And this is my PDA Enzo Matrix."
"Gentlemen," Enzo said.
"He's awfully young isn't he?" someone muttered.
"What is he, twelve hours old?"
Enzo ignored them and pulled out Dot's chair for her.
"Thank you for agreeing to meet with us, Ms. Matrix," Mr. DeCrypt said. "I see you received all the reports concerning my business and the merger?"
Enzo had to give him one thing; he got right to the point.
"Yes," Dot said, "And your holdings are impressive Mr. DeCrypt," Dot said, "However, my position hasn't changed. I still don't believe Matrix Enterprises would benefit from this merger."
"Surely you can't be serious," one of the men at the table spoke and Mr. DeCrypt held up his hand silencing the speaker immediately.
"I must admit I'm at a loss to understand your hesitation Ms. Matrix," Mr. DeCrypt. "The facts are all there. Matrix Enterprises stands to make a substantial profit gain."
"I'm sure we would," Dot said. "As I said, your holdings are impressive, however, at this time we are at a pinnacle, so to speak and I feel it would not be prudent to take on anymore ventures at this time."
"There will be little risk involved," Mr. DeCrypt went on. "If by some totally unforeseen circumstance, this venture fails, DeCrypt Enterprises is prepared to support Matrix Enterprises financially. We would of course, require inclusive control."
And that was it, Enzo thought, the foremost reason why Dot didn't want to deal with this creep. The fact that he wanted to get his grubby hands on her business. Dot Matrix owned Matrix Enterprises and no one was going to take it away from her. Why did Enzo have a sneaking suspicion that an "unforeseen circumstance" would occur the moment Dot signed on the dotted line?
"That is very generous of you," Dot said, "But again, Matrix Enterprises and myself, must decline."
Then there was silence that lengthened until Mr. DeCrypt said, "Do you have children, Ms. Matrix?"
Enzo saw Dot tense and he realized she didn't appreciate the tone with which DeCrypt had asked the question. Net, he didn't appreciate it. Enzo was very fond of his nephew and niece.
"I do," Dot said coldly, "And how are they relevant?"
"Don't you want greater opportunities for them?" Mr. DeCrypt said, "Don't you want them to have the best of everything? Access to the finest learning facilities? The basic necessities?"
"My children do have the best of everything," Dot stood and began gathering her files and Enzo followed suit, "They have two parents who love them a great deal. Now if you'll excuse us, we'll be leaving. This meeting is over."
Enzo opened the door for his sister again, and cast a glance behind him. The look Ran DeCrypt was giving them was of barely concealed fury. Enzo hurriedly closed the door behind them.
Ms. Warren was at her desk but she looked up as Dot and Enzo passed, "Oh leaving so soon?"
"Yes, thank you for your time, Ms. Warren." Dot said and kept going, leaving a very puzzled PDA in her wake.
In the lift back down, Enzo observed Dot as one moment she fiddled with her organizer and the next she'd pace the confined space and mutter darkly.
"Dot," Enzo suddenly reached out and took her by the shoulders, "Take it easy."
"I can't Enzo," Dot began to pace again, "Didn't I tell you? Do you see what I mean?"
"Yeah, especially those eyes. Creepy," Enzo said.
"And when he asked about my children," he could see Dot was infuriated, "Was he threatening my children?"
"No," Enzo said darkly, "I'm sure he doesn't have a deletion wish."
"I don't trust him one bit," Dot muttered, "If he goes near my children --,"
Enzo again placed his hands on her shoulders and began to massage the tense muscles. "It's okay Dot, we never have to see that creep again. Besides, no one can get into Mainframe without us knowing it now."
"Yes," Dot said, "Those beacons have been a User-send."
She relaxed slightly and Enzo was glad but the memory of those white eyes and the look of fury on that hard face stayed with Enzo for the next few seconds.
Ran DeCrypt stood alone in the conference room after dismissing the ineffectual louts that called themselves his Board of Directors. He was seething, but fought hard to control his anger.
No one said 'no' to Ran DeCrypt.
When he was through, Ms. Dot Matrix would be begging him to take Matrix Enterprises off her hands and it would be yet another piece in the puzzle that was his Empire. There was more than one way to take over the Net.
He approached the table and activated the built-in console, "Ms. Warren?"
"Contact Raven. I have a job for him."
There was a pause, "Yes sir."
Ran turned back to the window and smiled. "Time to teach you a lesson in manners, Ms. Matrix."
Seven hours into the past
Matrix was silent as they stood in the Portal Generator Room at Council Hall. Miraculously, it had survived the War, although it had taken some damage and until a few cycles ago had been unusable.
Matrix could hear the fatigue in Bob's voice and something else - disappointment?
"I'm sorry Bob."
The Prime Guardian expelled a labored breath, "Look Enzo, you're not a little boy anymore. You're a man and you have to learn to control your temper, even when things aren't going your way. Your actions aren't going to do our case any good, understand?"
"Yes," Matrix said quietly. Bob had only been angry with him once before, the time on the Saucy Mare, when Matrix had reacted violently to a simple accident. Ray hadn't meant to bump into him but he had immediately perceived the action as a threat to his person. Having Bob angry with him had hurt then and it did now. Worse yet, the young renegade knew there was no way he could make it better.
"Now I need you to inform Dot of what's happened. I need to stay here and wait for my Guardian representatives to report."
Was that all he was good for now? A messenger boy, like Megabyte said? "Bob --,"
"Excuse me, Prime Guardian?" A pretty young cadet entered the room, "I'm sorry were you on your way home?"
"No, what is it?" Bob said.
"There are two people here to see you. They say they're old friends. Mouse and Ray Tracer? They're waiting in your office."
"Mouse and Ray?" Bob smiled slightly.
"Mind if I stick around Bob?" Matrix asked. "I'd like to hear what's going on."
"All right," Bob turned to the technician who was setting the coordinates on the machine, "Keep her warmed up, we'll be right back."
Relieved that Bob seemed to be in better spirits, Matrix followed him from the room.
The office that Bob now used had once belonged to Prime Guardian Turbo. Matrix actually missed him. He had gotten to like the leader of the Collective in the brief time they had meant. If only the Keytools hadn't been deactivated when Turbo was fighting Ashar, perhaps he'd be alive today. Matrix of course never voiced this opinion.
When they stepped into the room, the flame-haired mercenary and hacker known as the Mouse was in Bob's chair, leaning back, her feet propped up on his desk. Ray was leaning against Baud a few feet away.
"Greetings, Prime Guardian," Mouse gave him her biggest grin.
"Mouse if you don't get your feet off my desk --," Bob began.
"Aw, you're no fun since you got this high an mighty position," Mouse hopped up and approached Bob, throwing her arms around him in an embrace. At the same time, Ray straightened away from the wall and approached as well.
"It's good to see you two," Bob said as he shook hands with Ray.
"How ya doin', sugah?" Mouse said to him. There was something in her voice that made Matrix uncomfortable.
"Okay, I guess, " Matrix muttered.
"Good to see you, mate," Ray shook his hand quickly and Matrix wondered, now what's wrong with him?
"Make yourselves comfortable, I'll get us some refreshments," Bob said.
"Thanks sugah, we could use something and it's been a long trip."
Once they were settled with energy shakes, burgers and fries from the Academy Commissary, Mouse and Ray began their tale.
"Well we were kind of surprised at the condition of some of the systems we investigated," Mouse, as always did all the talking. "Apparently, the infected Guardians weren't even bothering to play the games. A few systems were ecstatic to hear the war was over and that Daemon was destroyed but - um - others --,"
"I'm sorry we have to be the ones to tell you this, mate," Ray said grimly, "Some of the systems you sent us to - well the moment they found out the Guardians were no longer under Daemon's control --,"
"They surrendered peacefully but the people --,"
"No," Bob said. "Didn't they understand? That the Guardians didn't want to hurt anyone?"
"No one was interested in the bare facts, sugah," Mouse said gently. "They just wanted to punish the ones that subjugated them."
"Did anyone survive?"
"One," Ray said. "He was in hiding with one of his soldiers. Before he deleted --," Ray broke off abruptly.
"It's all right Ray," Bob said.
"He told us how the people rose up against him after he surrendered and how he barely escaped with his life." Ray said. "The Guardian representatives you sent before us also were deleted."
Bob rubbed both hands over his face, then back through his thick silver hair, "What else?"
"Sugah, this can wait," Mouse said softly. "You're exhausted and after the way things went at that meeting --,"
"You were there?"
"Um yeah, on the roof," Ray said. "No way we could get inside so we listened in through the skylight."
"Gotta learn to learn to control that temper, sugah," Mouse was looking at Matrix.
So that explains the cold shoulder, Matrix thought. Great. It was bad enough Bob was pissed at him, now these two? "Yeah," was all Matrix said.
"No, let's finish now," Bob said. He took a long drink of energy shake as Mouse continued.
"Some systems outright refused our help when we told them who we represented," Mouse said. "Systems crashing down around them and they're being pixel brains."
"Did they give you any trouble?"
"Nothing we couldn't handle," Mouse said.
"You're kidding right?" Ray said.
"Don't start Ray."
"The ruddy wanker is lucky you stopped me," Ray muttered.
"What's this about?" Bob asked.
"We had some trouble in a system - it was nothing."
"I wouldn't call some bloke trying to --,"
"Ray," Mouse said pointedly.
"Look this is obviously something you two need to work out between yourselves," Bob said.
"Sugah, there was something else," Mouse said, "This isn't the first time we've heard of this."
"Daemon's Chosen," Ray said.
"I'm assuming you already know about them?" Mouse said.
"Yes," Bob said grimly. "Followers - worshipers of Daemon."
"Well sugah, I don't mean to alarm ya but you're not too high on their list right now."
Matrix who had been leaning back and content to listen, suddenly sat up.
"Mate, maybe you should get yourself a bodyguard," Ray said.
"They wouldn't try anything would they?" Matrix piped up.
"Are you kiddin', sugah? Take out the Prime Guardian of the New Collective? The one who destroyed Daemon?"
"Then Bob, you have a bodyguard," Matrix said.
"Hey, works for me," Ray said.
Mouse shrugged and dipped a french fry into a dollop of ketchup, "You can't watch him twenty-four-seven, so Ray and I'll volunteer too."
"Now wait just a nano," Bob said, "Don't I have a say in this?"
"Now listen you three --,"
Someone knocked and Bob said, "Enter."
The same young cadet came in. "Vid-call for you, Prime Guardian."
"Thank you," Bob pressed a button on his desk console and a vid-window opened. Bob smiled at the face that appeared, "Dom Markup! How in the net are you?"
"Greetings, Prime Guardian," Dom Markup returned the smile, "I'm sorry to disturb you."
"No problem, how's work going?"
"The work is going fine but - are you alone Bob?"
"No," Bob said, "Matrix, Mouse and Ray are here."
"Oh, well that's fine but -- what I'm about to tell you must not leave the room, all right? People are already suspicious."
"Well all right Dom," Bob looked at the others for confirmation then nodded to Dom.
"I'll need a secure connection," Dom said.
Bob programmed on the console, "You got it."
"Last cycle," Dom began, "People began disappearing from the compound."
"Disappearing? Are you certain? Maybe they just went on their way."
"We thought that at first," Dom said, "A great majority of the refugees are still here. They're promised employment once the factory reopens. It will take some time and it's rough going for them but so far they've stuck with us."
"The cycle before last, two young men just disappeared. They were on our employee list, so it did strike me as odd that they left, but I figured they decided they didn't want the jobs after all. They had no family or friends, so no one was unduly worried about them."
"Then a few days later, another man disappeared - a binome. He had a buddy here who was worried about him, but he figured the guy just left to go find his family. That got me suspicious, so I did some minor checking but no one reported anything unusual."
Dom continued, "At the end of that cycle, another man disappeared, and he left a wife and three kids behind. We searched everywhere for him, but could find no trace. A few days later two more men were gone, one had a fiancée and the other a family. This of course goes beyond coincidence. I did a more thorough investigation but still found nothing out of the ordinary. It was as though the people had just walked away. No one had seen or heard anything strange and of course, with so many people around you can't tell if someone is here that doesn't belong."
"Then yesterday, a child was taken."
Bob expelled a breath, "Oh no."
"A boy. That seems to be the pattern. Only males are missing. The child is the son of the first man that disappeared."
"And you've found nothing? No trace?"
Dom shook his head, "I've got all my people on alert but now some are starting to panic. After all they thought it was safe here."
Dom sighed, "I don't know what to do Prime Guardian. I'm not an investigator and I was only a soldier by necessity. I'm a businessman. I called because I would like your help."
"Then you have it," Bob said. "Mouse, Ray, would you --?"
"We're on it, sugah," Mouse smiled and Ray nodded his agreement.
"Thank you Bob," Dom said. "I hope we can stop a volatile situation from occurring."
"So do I," Bob said, "I'll talk to you later. Stay Frosty, Dom."
"You too Prime Guardian."
The window closed, "Report to me as soon as you arrive at the factory," Bob said to Mouse and Ray. "I'd like a new report every second whether you find anything or not."
Mouse stood, "Yes sir, Prime Guardian, sir!"
Bob smiled at her wryly. "You know you two, it may be better that we make this official." Bob stood and moved to the other side of the room. There was a file cabinet and Bob programmed in a password to access it. From within he drew a small metal box, then walked back over to Mouse and Ray. "This should do it."
From out of the box, Bob drew two circular metal badges, bronze in color, etched with the symbol of the Collective and proceeded to place one over each of their icons. "There," Bob smiled triumphantly as the badges file locked into place, "You two are now duly deputized officers of the New Collective. Your title is constable. Raise your right hand please."
Mouse and Ray did so.
"Constable Mouse --," Bob began.
Ray snorted a laugh.
"You're playin' with fire, sugah," Mouse snarled.
"I'm sorry love - but Constable Mouse?" Ray said between chuckles.
"Sugah how'd you'd like to be null-bait?"
Bob cleared his throat loudly, "If I may continue? Constable Mouse (Mouse winced), Constable Tracer, do you swear to uphold the laws of the New Collective and to perform the duties to the best of your abilities?"
"Me too, sugah."
"The swearing in is a little more elaborate than that, but I think we can forgo it for now."
Matrix, who had been watching the proceedings in silence, stood, "Congrats you two."
"Thanks, sugah!" Mouse said, her voice a little more friendly.
"Hmm," Ray mused, "I always wanted to know what it felt like to be a cop."
"Be careful you two, I mean it," Bob said, "I don't want any reports of you disappearing."
"Don't worry sugah, they wouldn't have a snowball's chance in the web of getting us." Mouse's smile showed her fangs.
Quicksilver tapped a claw impatiently on the surface of the java table. The tea and biscuits were getting cold and he was getting impatient.
"Where is that fanatical wench?" Quicksilver hissed. The virus was all out of sorts because that son of a null Prime Guardian had almost discovered him. Of course, Quicksilver had known there was a chance that Bob still had the power to sense a viral presence, but to see his hated enemy squirm, Quicksilver thought at the time, had been worth it.
Well Quicksilver was far from through with Robert Lan. On the java table, next to the tea service was a closed Notepad file. The information contained therein would be another nail in the Prime Guardian's coffin. Now if only that stupid woman would get here -
When he heard the door open, Quicksilver immediately donned his disguise.
"Ram?" Desdemona entered the room, "I'm sorry I'm late."
"Quite all right," Quicksilver motioned to the seat beside him. "The tea and biscuits are cold."
"That's all right love, I'm not hungry," Desdemona said. "The meeting, were you there?"
"Yes, I was there," Quicksilver said, "My dearest, you must learn to control your temper."
"I know," Desdemona sighed, "It's just that Matrix infuriates me. He thinks he's such a great and powerful warrior. Untouchable and that everyone should bow down to him."
"Then prove that he is nothing but a ignorant lout by not lowering yourself to his level," Quicksilver said, "Let him yell, scream and threaten all he wants. If you remain calm through his ravings you will look all the better and he will look like the pathetic twit he is."
"True. I will try," Desdemona said. "The next meeting is in two seconds. Captain Lynx is bringing in other members of Web Alliance to speak against Matrix."
Quicksilver wasn't in the least bit concerned with Matrix, "What about the Prime Guardian?"
"Well popular opinion isn't too favorable for him right now," Desdemona said, "But he seems to be very thorough with his current plans."
This wouldn't do at all, "I have some information that may change all of that," Quicksilver smiled. Quicksilver reached for the Notepad and opened it. He handed it to Desdemona, "Read this."
As the former resistance leader's eyes scanned the writing on the screen, they grew wide with disbelief, "Is this true?"
"Our contact within Council Hall has confirmed it. It's basically how the whole conflict began."
"How often do you think the Collective implemented this protocol?"
"That's what you need to bring out into the open at the next meeting," Quicksilver said, "Use this information wisely, my dear."
"Oh I will and thank you Ram. I'll show this to Captain Lynx tonight." Desdemona rose to take her leave. "I knew allying myself with you was not a mistake."
When she was gone, Quicksilver shook his head at the stupidity of the woman. Chaos was out, procuring more subjects, so once again, the viral assassin made his way down to the basement.
The only light within the gloomy space emanated from the containment fields that held seven sprites and binomes, all huddled together against the wall. Five of them were already dead. Only the father and son still lived, the effects of Virogen on them mild in comparison. That disturbed Quicksilver, for it caused him to believe that there must be something within their coded make-up that was causing them a certain level of immunity. He had to find the answer. He would leave nothing to chance.
The stench of the deceased was actually beginning to sicken Quicksilver. The bodies did not fragment as they would in normal deletion but stayed intact and continued to rot at an increased rate. The extensive experiments had been necessary. Quicksilver had needed to know exactly how Virogen would work and only living specimens were sufficient for such testing. After all they were only sprites and binomes.
"Quicksilver!" His musings were interrupted by Chaos calling to him, "You down there?"
"Yes, come down."
"CPU! What is that smell?" Chaos approached, "Oh knocked off did they? What are you going to do with them? Got one more male for you."
"Forget the male, I need to do some testing on a female now," Quicksilver said, "Dump the dead ones back where you got them and bring me two healthy sprite women."
"As you wish," Chaos said.
Quicksilver turned and started back upstairs.
Bob leaned back and smiled at the first good news he had received all second.
Seven representatives of the New Collective stood before him. Of them, only two had brought back news that the sectors he had assigned them to refused to support him. The others had brought back positive messages and promises that representatives would attend the next Citizen's Council Meeting and demand to be heard.
"We have just one problem, Prime Guardian sir," the third representative said.
"And that is?" Bob knew it was too good to be true.
"The current commander of Sector 1018 demands to meets with you personally. She was very adamant."
"A young woman named Peg. She was interim leader after the sector commander was killed," the representative continued, "Her exact words were, 'if the Prime Guardian wants me support he can damn well come down himself and ask for it'."
"Is that so?" Bob smiled and turned to look to where Matrix sat across the room, "Feel up to it, friend?"
Matrix gave one of his rare genuine smiles.
It was not the first time Bob had traveled throughout the city trying to gauge its current condition. He was pleased to see the construction and revitalization projects going on. He had wanted to portal to their destination, then decided it would be better to take a transport loaded with supplies instead. Matrix piloted it with skill.
Bob wondered what his friend was thinking. He hadn't wanted to hurt him, but Matrix did have to learn to control his temper.
"Approaching Sector 1018," Matrix said.
"I'm scanning a landing area," Bob said, "There, that open lot should be sufficient."
When they departed the transport they found a bustle of activity going on around them, construction, cleaning, and repairing. Everyone seemed to be working. They didn't have to wait long to be noticed and were immediately approached by a small group.
"Greeting, everyone," Bob said, "I am Prime Guardian Lan. I'm looking for a woman named Peg?"
At first their response were mutterings, then a binome stepped forward.
"Why do you want to see Peg?" the binome asked.
"She said she wanted to meet with me," Bob said.
Again for muttering and whispering.
"Follow me, please," the binome said.
Their escort led them through the narrow streets of the neighborhood. Bob was impressed with the organization he saw there. Whoever Peg was, Bob decided then and there that she would be the new sector commander.
At last they came to an open area that was once a park, now devastated by the war. An adjacent building was being worked on and by the faded sign; Bob recognized it as a clinic. A woman with green skin and pink hair was just exiting the building. By the way several people came up to her for instructions, it was obvious she was Peg.
She looked up and saw him and stopped, a look of total disbelief crossed her face. The binome walked up to her and spoke and she nodded. By now, the two had drawn quite a bit of attention. Peg walked back into the building without even speaking to them. Bob looked at Matrix and shrugged. A few nanos later, Peg emerged again, followed by an elderly female binome.
This time she came right up to Bob, "Prime Guardian, I'm Peg Walrod. This is my Aunt Judy."
Bob shook her hand, "This is my companion, Matrix."
Peg's eyes moved to Matrix. A smile graced her lips and her eyes traveled up and down Matrix's large frame, "My, what a big - gun you have."
Matrix's face turned crimson.
"Um --," Bob said, "I understand you wanted to meet with me?"
"We didn't think you'd actually come," Judy said.
"Whatever help you need, I'm here to offer it. I've brought supplies and tools in my transport," Bob said.
Peg snorted, "You want to help Prime Guardian? Pick up a hammer."
Bob shrugged and turned to walk back into the transport. He retrieved a hammer from the supplies and walked back outside, "All right, where do you want us to start?"
Peg's eyes narrowed, "Are you making fun of me, Prime Guardian?"
"It's Bob," Bob said, "And no I'm not. You seem to be doing an excellent job here. I'd like to officially make you the commander of this sector."
Peg regarded him critically for a moment, "Let's see how well you work, then Bob." She turned to Matrix, "And what about you big guy? You willing to work too?"
"Whatever you need done," Matrix said.
"You may want to get out of that fancy uniform Bob," Peg turned and walked away, "Aunt Judy needs help in the clinic. Matrix, you can help on construction in the park."
Bob tapped his icon, which still contained the jeans and t-shirt he had worn to Dot's house and followed Aunt Judy inside.
For the next few milliseconds, Bob and Matrix helped make repairs, did some light construction and cleanup. They worked well into the evening. Bob learned that Judy was a doctor and the clinic belonged to her and had remained open even during the war. Peg, Judy told him, was the sector commander's assistant until he had been deleted by a group of soldiers while trying to protect the clinic. Peg had managed to convince them not to destroy the place, since any medical facility was useful.
Bob and first thought to use his power to help, but then decided to do it the hard way. He didn't want to appear like he was showing off and he wanted the people to know that he wasn't afraid of honest hard work. It was actually sort of gratifying to create something with his bare hands and because he worked so closely with the populace, he gained the trust of all those involved.
A rest was called at one point, and Bob got another shock. While Bob and Matrix were sitting in the park drinking juice and having sandwiches, Bob noticed a group of girls, who had been planting saplings, were pointing and giggling at him. At first he thought they were making fun of him until he heard one of them clearly say, "Isn't the Prime Guardian cute?"
Bob felt a flush stain his cheeks just as a second girl said, "Yes, don't you just love those big brown eyes?"
Although flattered, Bob turned away to hide his blush and came face to face with a grinning Matrix.
"Don't say it," Bob warned.
"Oh Prime Guardian!" Matrix clasped his hands in an exaggerated motion, "You're just so cute."
"You're asking for it, mister," Bob smiled and the two shared a much-needed laugh.
Matrix hadn't worked this hard in a long time, but he was glad of it. It gave him a chance to exercise and work up a sweat. He was never adverse to good hard work. He came out of his vest after awhile when he became to uncomfortable hot and noticed Peg staring at him. Working alongside Bob the two regained the camaraderie that Matrix had feared they were losing.
They spent a great majority of the evening fixing up the clinic and the adjacent park, which was for any children that ended up staying overnight. Matrix thought having the park was a pretty decent idea.
He and Bob shared a laugh over the girls' remarks as they had a quick meal of juice and sandwiches.
Finally, late that evening, Peg called a halt to the work for a few milliseconds. A new shift would come on to work later on that evening and work through the night. Matrix and Bob met her in Aunt Judy's clinic.
"I've been getting some positive feedback about you all day, Bob," Peg smiled at Bob for the first time, "You've really impressed us all. You and Matrix."
"Thank you for your confidence," Bob said.
"Glad we could help," Matrix agreed.
"So when is this meeting?"
"Second after tomorrow at oh-eight-hundred," Bob said.
"I'll be there and I'll demand a seat on this Citizen's Council. Funny how I wasn't approached for it."
"Well since I'm making you the official commander of this sector, they had better listen to you." Bob said.
"Thank you Bob," Peg said, "You've proven to me that you have the makings of a great leader. Then I'll see you in two?"
"Um - before you go, Aunt Judy wanted to see you Bob about medical supplies. Would you mind? I want to speak with Matrix for a moment."
"Something wrong?" Bob said.
"No, I just want to ask him something, personal."
Bob raised an eyebrow but said, "See you outside."
Peg closed the door behind him. Matrix was suddenly and for the first time, uncomfortable around a woman.
"Well dear, you don't look like the kind of man who believes in mincing words," Peg crossed the room as she spoke until she was standing before him, "So I won't either."
Before Matrix could protest, Peg placed both hands on either side of his face and kissed him. Matrix's eyes went wide and he pushed back from her. "Don't!"
Peg seemed undisturbed, "Too forward? My apologies. How about dinner?"
"No!" Matrix said, "I mean - no - that is --,"
"Oh I see," Peg smiled, "You're spoken for. She must be pretty special."
"She is," Matrix said nervously.
"Why are you so nervous? Haven't you had a woman make a pass at you before?"
"Um - not really," Matrix said.
"You probably have, you just haven't noticed. In case you haven't noticed something else, you're quite an impressive man."
Matrix was annoyed at the warming in his cheeks, "Thank you - sorry - I didn't mean to yell at you."
"It's all right, Matrix," Peg smiled, "I have to admit, I envy her a little."
Matrix ran his hand through his hair, "Goodnight Peg." And the renegade made his escape. Bob was waiting for him outside with Aunt Judy. Both seemed pleased with whatever agreement they had made. Bob looked up at his approach and Matrix realized he must still look flustered. He muttered a goodnight to Aunt Judy and he and Bob started back for the transport.
Bob said, "We're going to come back tomorrow with more medical supplies for the clinic and I'm going to assign some workers here to help out."
"Good idea," Matrix said gruffly.
"Whatever it was you two talked about must have been personal."
Matrix didn't reply.
"So how'd she take it?"
"How did Peg take your turning her down?"
Again the telltale flush stained Matrix's cheeks, "How did you know?"
"That shade of lipstick definitely isn't your color."
Matrix raised his hand to his mouth, "It's not - I didn't - I mean - she kissed me before I could stop her."
"Matrix relax, I understand."
"Well I don't, I wish you'd explain it to me."
Bob chuckled, "What this? Don't you know that woman really go for that strong and silent, dark and brooding type?"
Matrix wiped the lipstick off with his thumb, "I don't know how I'm going to tell AndrAIa."
"I don't think you should tell her," Bob said. "You didn't do anything wrong, so why upset her?"
"Maybe you're right," Matrix sighed. "Ever had it happen to you?"
Bob gave him a raised eyebrow look.
Matrix cleared his throat, "Oh yeah, dumb question."
The moment they arrived back at the Hall someone called to them. The young cadet was running down the corridor towards them.
"Prime Guardian! I have an urgent message for you from Dom Markup," she handed him a Notepad.
Bob's eyes widened as he read the message, "This is bad, very bad."
"What is it?" Matrix asked.
"We have to get to the factory now," Bob said grimly, "They've found the missing people. They've been murdered."