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Aftermath: Daemon's Chosen
By:
LadyBard

Chapter 7 - Convictions

The present

Hex's club Medusa, was alive with chatting voices, loud music, and the hum of excitement that always permeated the establishment. People made room for the commanding figure that moved purposefully through the crowd.

Tall and muscular, Enzo Matrix known only as 'Matrix' to everyone else but family made his way to the rear of the room.

Sprawled in her private booth surrounded by the finest foods and drink, Hexadecimal seemed apparently at ease with her guest. The moment Matrix saw the man named Laroux, he didn't like him and Matrix's instincts were never wrong.

He had promised Bob he would have a little chat with the man people were beginning to refer to as Hex's boyfriend, although they had only been seeing each other for a cycle. Matrix hadn't gotten a chance to approach the man until now.

He wanted to make this quick and get back to AndrAIa as soon as possible. He was worried about her. Eight minutes pregnant and the doctor had told them she could go into labor any second.

Matrix allowed himself a rare smile. If anyone had told him seven hours ago that this would be where he was in life he would have thought them random. No, things hadn't worked out like he planned. He was older and he liked to believe a little wiser. He wouldn't change things even if given the chance.

As he stepped up to the booth both occupants looked up at him. Laroux's face registered mild interest, but Hexadecimal beamed at him.

"Colonel Matrix!" She clasped her hands, "What a pleasant surprise! What brings you to my establishment?"

"Actually," Matrix's eyes fell on Laroux, "I'd like to speak to your dinner guest for a moment - alone."

"Oh really?" Hex tilted her head in her classic look of intrigue. "Well then you'd better go in back. I'll be waiting her for you Golden One."

Laroux slid from the booth, took Hex's hand and kissed it, then with a glance at Matrix, preceded him out the rear door.

Outside in the cool night air, Matrix leaned against the wall. The beat of the music pulsed around him. "Enjoying Mainframe so far, Mr. Laroux?"

"I'm here on business."

"So I've been told," Matrix said, "And is Hex part of that business?"

"No, she's - relaxation."

"She'd better be more than just relaxation." Matrix said. "A lot of people care about her you know."

"So I've seen," Laroux said, "What is it that you really want Colonel?"

Matrix smiled, a sure sign that the recipient of that smile was in trouble, "I want you to conclude your business and get off my system, but until you commit a crime, there's little I can do. So be warned, when you do whatever you really came here for, watch your back, because if I catch you well --,"

"Your warning is noted," Laroux said. "Don't worry. I won't be here for much longer."

"That's nice to know," Matrix smiled, "Good night Mr. Laroux." And Matrix turned and walked off into the darkness. He would have to keep an eye on this one. Matrix's instincts were telling him that he would soon be confronting Laroux and on very different grounds.

***

Raven didn't return to the club immediately. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. The one thing he noticed about this system was that everyone was always in somebody else's business. He supposed that was their way of showing they cared. To Raven it was annoying.

So far, Hex had not said anything that would indicate Dot Matrix was involved in any illegal business practices and his observances of Mainframe's Command.com also didn't seem indicative of such.

He had wanted to make a search of the database in Hex's Gallery. That had been an experience in itself. Raven had stolen into her office under the pretext of leaving her a gift. He had opened the door and fallen into a dark abyss of light, sound and geometric shapes. Apparently, no one entered Hex's office without her permission. He didn't know how long he had been in there before Hex had rescued him. He didn't try it again.

His next move would be to break into the Bookmark Tower when the opportunity arose and download their database to his ship's computers. He knew he was running out of time. People had been shadowing him for the past few seconds. He had to make his move now. He already had his plans in place.

Raven re-entered the club and Hex smiled when he approached the table. "Now my dear what were we discussing?"

"Well you were discussing my business associates and I told you I wanted to talk about something else."

"I just finds the aspects of your business fascinating," Raven said. "Hexadecimal, gallery owner, club owner. Is there anything in New Lost Angles you don't own?"

"Maybe," Hex smiled, "Who wants to know?"

***

Seven hours into the past

 

 

 

It had been a long night. Bob drank his third cup of java and looked over the reports once more. Still no sign of the viral presence. Surely they couldn't have been pre-warned this quickly?

"Prime Guardian?" Rule walked in, "There's a lady here to see you."

"What time is it, Rule?"

"Oh seven hundred," she said.

Bob muttered an oath. He had a feeling he knew who it was. He hadn't gotten a good nights downtime and in one millisecond, he was supposed to appear before the Citizens Council.

"Who is it?"

"A Desdemona from the Citizen's Council."

Bob sighed, "Show her in."

"Prime Guardian," Desdemona strode in, "I demand the immediate release of Captain Lynx."

"Do you?" Bob said mildly.

"Why is he being held?"

"We've been informed that Web Alliance has a contact within this Hall and I want to know who."

"Did Lynx tell you that?"

"Is it true?"

Desdemona was silent.

"Thought so. Desdemona, I will release Lynx but if you or your organization do anything to hinder or disrupt my investigation you'll all end up in the detention center am I making myself clear?"

"Crystal, sir," Desdemona said. "But the people deserve to know."

"Since you know next to nothing about this investigation, you're not qualified to be the one to inform them and if you make the attempt to spread rumors and cause a panic I will have you incarcerated. Rule?"

"Sir?"

"Inform the guards at the detention that Captain Lynx is to be released immediately,"

"Yes sir."

"Good day, Desdemona."

"See you in an millisecond, Prime Guardian."

Bob contacted Matrix and Tempus. He had just enough time to get ready and meet them at Outlook Center. It was the last thing he wanted to be doing. A few micros later Rule entered his office again. "Um sorry sir?"

"Yes Rule."

"Captain Lynx left you a message." She said. "He said the meeting for today has been cancelled and he requests that it be rescheduled for tomorrow at the same time."

"Fine," Bob said. "I'm going home to get some sleep, if any new reports come in -- ,"

The ringing of the vid-phone cut him off. With an exasperated sigh, Bob opened a window. "Yes? Mouse."

"Sugah, we've got a problem here," Mouse said. "SiRCe has gone missing."

"Oh no," Bob said.

"Dom's taking it pretty hard. She's not the only one missing though. That girl, Pixel Shim, is also missing."

Bob lowered his head fighting his exhaustion. "Any clues?"

"None yet," Mouse said. "The last we saw of her, she went to bed late last night. She lives here at the factory in one of the offices, so we thought she'd be okay. She didn't show up for work this morning. Dom went to get her and found signs of a struggle in the room."

"Nobody saw or heard anything?"

"No."

"Can you and Ray handle it? Do you need assistance?"

"Not yet. Hey sugah, shouldn't you be going to that meeting?"

"They cancelled it. Which reminds me, I have to call Matrix," Bob looked up as Katiyana entered. The Keytool Mistress sat without speaking. Bob gave her a tired smile. "Mouse keep me informed of any new developments."

"Sure Bob and I thought we told you to stick to Matrix?"

"He's with Tempus assisting in the search. I'm safe here."

"Sugah, it ain't safe nowhere."

When the connection closed the first thing Katiyana said was, "Have you slept at all?"

"Sleep? What's that?"

"Get some rest Bob. You know you have quarters here you can use. Just sleep a little. I can watch things here."

"No," Bob said. "Now that SiRCe has gone missing I'm more determined than ever to get some answers. I just wish there was something more I can do."

"You have the investigations going, what more can you do?" Katiyana said. "I understand that the meeting was cancelled?"

"Yes, thank the User," Bob sat heavily down and yawned, then reached for the now cold java.

"You're working too hard."

Bob chuckled, "I never thought anyone would say that to me." He leaned back in his chair and despite himself, his eyes drifted closed. He heard Katiyana rise. The ringing of the vid-phone jarred him into wakefulness. "Yes?"

To his surprise, Peg Walrod's face appeared, "Bob, I need you to come down to my sector right away."

Always forward, "What's wrong Peg?"

"You had better see this," Peg said and bring a team with you. "Come as quickly as you can."

***

It had been a long night, but Peg Walrod continued to work to get her sector online. She smiled at that. Her sector. She would have never thought it. Peg stood on the steps of Aunt Judy's clinic and smiled.

"Peg!"

"Yes, Aunt Judy?"

"You've been up all night. When are you going to get some downtime?"

"Later, I'm too excited," Peg said.

"Don't tell me 'later' young lady you need to sleep."

"I will later, Aunty, I promise."

"Peg!" One of her binome foremen approached her, "We've got a problem over on Hyper Drive."

"Now what?"

"There's a ditch full of muddy water there, caused by the bombings. Kids have been playing around it. They're still there, but they won't tell us who their parents are or where they're supposed to be," he said. "We also need you to unlock the storehouse so we can get the drainage pump."

"All right."

"Can't someone else do that?" Aunt Judy asked.

"Aunt Judy, you know I'm the only one with the codes to the storehouse lock," Peg said. "Besides I believe I know who this group is." Peg decompressed her zip board. "Aunty I promise as soon as I finish this, I'll get some rest."

"Oh all right," Aunt Judy threw her hands up in exasperation and walked back into the clinic.

Peg skimmed over the city streets followed by her foreman. The ditch on Hyper Drive was a gaping jagged hole where a building once stood, the unfortunate victim of a plasma bomb. From her vantage point, Peg could see the group of children sitting on the ground well away from the ditch and it was who she first suspected. First she went a few blocks down the street to the storehouse they had been using and punched in the codes. Several workers came to assist in getting the pump running and transporting it to the ditch. Peg flew back and landed into front of the small group of children varying in ages from eight to eleven.

Peg approached who she knew to be the ringleader, "Well Rich, what have you got to say for yourself?"

"We weren't doing nothing." Rich pouted.

"Anything," Peg corrected. "And I think playing around a ditch filled with dirty water is something. What if someone had fallen in?"

"Nobody would of fallen in," Rich said sullenly.

"Now don't you backtalk me young man," Peg said. "I'm responsible for you all -- ,"

"Nobody asked you to be," Rich muttered.

"I know nobody asked me to be but I am so deal with it. As long as I am you'll abide by my rules, got it?" She eyed them all.

"Yes Peg," they all said in unison.

"Peg?"

"Yes?"

"Can we watch them drain the ditch?"

"Yes, you may," Peg said. "And to make certain you don't get near I'm staying right by you."

Rich sat and sulked for a few nanos but was soon caught up in the activity.

Peg was mildly interested for a time then her mind began to wander, particularly to a handsome green-skinned sprite. She smiled slightly, knowing she shouldn't, but she imagined those strong arms around her and that grim mouth pressed against her --,

"Hey look at that!"

Rich's exclamation brought her out of her guilty fantasy. She looked at where he was pointing. The water level in the ditch was surprisingly low but what caught her attention and the attention of everyone present was a large shape bobbing on the surface.

"Pixelacious! What's that?"

Peg stepped forward and squinted at the shape, then her hand flew to her mouth, "Get the kids out of here now!"

"Peg, what is it?" Rich asked. "What is it?"

One of the workers began to herd the kids away, even as they protested.

"I want this area blocked off immediately!" Peg screamed. "No one goes in or out, understand?"

Workers ran to do her bidding. Peg watched as the water level decreased and the thing disappeared below the surface for a time, then reappeared. Peg's eyes never left it.

When finally, there was nothing left in the ditch but ankle-height muddy water, a group of shocked and horror-struck people saw the shape for what it really was. But even more disturbing was the sight of a second smaller one.

"My User," Peg said. "What a horrible way to delete."

***

I'm getting really sick of seeing this place, Bob thought, bitterly. In his exhaustion, everything around him seemed unreal. Sharp edges were softened; people's faces were blurred images. Bob watched Rose at her work as she examined the bodies.

It had taken some time to retrieve them from the ditch. The thick mud had hindered their efforts. Bob had supervised the operation while Peg had kept her people calm. Bob knew there was no way they could hide this incident. They had called for a special transport and Bob had accompanied them to the medical center.

He didn't know what time it was, sometime past fourteen hundred. He hadn't eaten or slept, and both things were of little concern to him now.

"Bob!"

The Prime Guardian turned at the sound of Matrix's voice. Colonel Tempus closely followed the renegade.

"Bob what --?" Then he saw through the window. "Oh no."

"It's them," Bob said, his voice was hoarse. "The missing father and son."

"Peg found them in her sector?"

Bob nodded mutely. "She acted quickly. The area was sealed off and I left a security team there."

"Bob are you okay?" Matrix asked.

Bob looked at Matrix as though seeing him for the first time, "Look at him, Matrix."

"Who, Bob?"

"The little boy." Now everything around Bob looked to be shrouded in fog. He couldn't understand what was happening to him. "The bodies don't look like the other ones but they didn't fragment either."

"Prime Guardian, I'll go and see to the team guarding the sector," Tempus suddenly said.

"All right Colonel," Bob didn't even glance back at him. He eyes were riveted to the scene playing out before him.

"What do you suppose it means?" Matrix asked.

"I don't know," Bob was surprised at the hoarseness in his voice. "Look at him Matrix." He turned to the renegade, then back to the window. "He's so young. No more than ten hours. That - could be - Little Enzo."

"Bob? Bob you don't look well. Are you all right?"

"Enzo --," Bob suddenly felt his knees buckle.

"Bob!"

The room spun crazily and a wave of dizziness engulfed him. Bob heard a groan, realized it was coming from his throat and then there was nothing.

***

Surreal shapes and blurred images suddenly came into clarity. Bob squinted against the light from the setting sun falling over his face, "What in the net?"

"Welcome back, sugah."

He was laying in a bed and a quick examination of his surroundings told him he was in one of the rooms at the medical center. His gaze fell on his flame-haired mercenary friend, "Mouse? What happened?"

Mouse grinned, "You fainted, sugah."

"Fainted?" Bob said incredulously. "I don't 'faint', Mouse!"

"Okay, you want a more manly description?" Mouse said, "You lost consciousness. Passed out. Blacked out. Collapsed --,"

"I get the picture, Mouse."

Her expression turned serious, "You were lucky, sugah. It was exhaustion, according to Rose. She's had you admitted here for a second or so."

"What?" Bob struggled to get up, "She can't do that! How long have I been out? What's been going on?"

"Quite a few milliseconds. Bob, will ya calm down?" Mouse said, "Ya need your rest."

"Don't patronize me, Mouse."

"I wasn't!" Mouse snapped, "You ain't gonna start that pissy stuff with me again are ya?"

Bob sighed, "No. Sorry Mouse."

"As to what's been happening, Matrix returned to the Hall to contact Dot," Mouse said. "Colonel Tempus is leading the team investigating the area where the remains were found. Rose is still running tests but since I last asked, she hasn't come up with anything new. Ray stayed at the factory. We started hacking into SiRCe's records for clues to her disappearance. You know, seeing if she has any enemies. I came here when Matrix called."

Bob sat up, "Dot's going to be worried out of her mind."

"That is an understatement."

Bob looked up to see Dot, Matrix and AndrAIa standing in the door.

"Dot!" Bob said.

"Sorry Bob," Matrix smiled apologetically. "They insisted on coming."

"Are you all right?" Dot crossed the room to him.

Although he was glad to see her, he was somewhat embarrassed as well, "I'm fine - they say I fai - collapsed from exhaustion."

Mouse turned and walked to the door, "Come on you two, we have work to do."

"Matrix told me about SiRCe, Mouse," AndrAIa said, "I want to help somehow."

"I figured you might."

Mouse ushered them out of the room.

"Bob," Dot sat on the bed, "Enzo told me what happened. They found the boy and his father?"

"Yes," Bob lowered his eyes, "I have to stop this Dot. I have to find the answer."

"You will Bob," Dot said seriously. "But you're not going to do yourself or the investigation any good if you work yourself to deletion - and don't say it. I sleep!"

He smiled slightly, "Let me finish things here and I promise I'll come right home and get a good night's downtime."

"I'm holding you to that, Prime Guardian." She kissed him.

Bob moaned softly and cupped her face in his hands. He deepened the kiss, needing the feel of her.

The door came open and a nurse strode in, "Sir I have your - oh!"

Bob and Dot parted. Both began to blush.

"Sorry," the nurse muttered and departed.

Bob smiled and shook his head, "I want to see how the investigation is going at Sector 1018. I should be home later this evening."

"All right. Well it's back to the system dignitaries."

"You left them for me, hmm? I'm flattered."

"Don't let it go to your head."

***

Matrix was in the waiting room when Bob and Dot walked in.

"Bob?" Matrix approached, tentatively. "Are you all right? I mean are you staying?"

"I'm fine, Matrix. No I'm not staying. I got them to release me. There's nothing wrong with me that a good nights downtime won't cure," Bob eyed him critically, "And when was the last time you slept?"

"I don't need to sleep," Matrix muttered.

Bob turned to Dot, "He'll be home when I come home."

"Just make certain of it," Dot said.

"Bob!"

"No arguments now, cadet," Bob said. "Did Mouse and AndrAIa return to the factory?"

"Yeah. Mouse said to stick close to you."

"Figures," Bob said. "Right now, we need to see Dot home, then I want to check out the progress of the investigations and the searches."

"Okay Bob," Matrix seemed relieved. Bob figured it was because he wasn't immediately sending him back to Mainframe.

Upon arriving back at Council Hall, Rule immediately approached and told him there were several messages waiting for him. Bob took them into his office.

"She's pretty," Dot commented when the door closed.

Matrix coughed discreetly.

"Hmm, what? Oh yes, I suppose," Bob said. "I hadn't really noticed."

"Good, Prime Guardian. Very good."

Bob grinned at her.

The first message was from Mouse, reporting that there were no new developments in the search for SiRCe and Pixel Shim. Dom was beside himself with worry. Bob felt a tug of sympathy for the former rebel leader. By the time on the message Bob knew it was an old one, so he deleted it.

The second, much to Bob's annoyance was from Lynx.

"Prime Guardian," Lynx said, "This is to verify that the representatives of the Guardian Collective are to report for the second meeting of the Citizens Council tomorrow at oh-eight hundred. In addition, we respectfully request that the virals Hexadecimal and Melissa be present as well and Dot Matrix and the mercenary know as Mouse."

"What?" Dot said, "What in the net does he want me there for?"

"I don't know, but it's bound to be trouble." Bob said.

"Are you really going to bring Hex and Melissa?" Matrix said.

"I'm going to see if they're willing to go," Bob said, "But I won't force them. Lynx will have to deal with it. Mouse, however, won't have a problem with it."

Bob replied to the message stating his intentions. It was then that Colonel Tempus called to advise them that the situation was relatively calm considering the seriousness of the events. The team was searching for clues and Peg's people cooperated or steered clear. Peg requested a security team, which of course, Bob supplied. Tempus stated he'd stay with the team until they finished their examination. Bob informed him that he was going back to Mainframe, but would return in the morning, something to which Tempus heartily agreed. He was annoyed that Bob had worked himself into a state of exhaustion.

"Even a soldier knows when to rest," Tempus had scolded.

Once Bob was certain everything was in order they portalled home. Bob checked in with Phong before saying his goodnights to Dot and returning to his apartment. It was dark when Bob arrived. He was feeling grungy so he took a quick shower and collapsed into bed.

*

Bob slept, waking only once to check the time; surprised to find it was almost twenty-one hundred. He contemplated checking his messages, then decided if he had any really important ones, they would have awakened him. He drifted off.

*

Something, he didn't know what, jarred him awake.

Bob lay still, sprawled on his back across the bed. His core-com was a rapid beat against his chest and a shudder raced across his body. Something was horribly wrong. Someone - something was there in the room with him.

A paralysis gripped him. Bob struggled to move. As he lifted his right arm, something black and oily wrapped itself around his wrist.

"User, no!" Bob jerked his arm forward only to have the black thing pull back, pinning his wrist to the bed's surface. Bob went to reach for the thing with his left hand and felt another cold tendril wrap around his left, securing it down.

"No!" Bob cried again. He kicked out as he saw a dozen of the tendrils come snaking over the bed, to seize his legs, tying him down. Bob cried out in defiance, his back arched as he struggled. Muscles pulled taut.

"Why do you struggle my Dariem?"

The sound of that voice stole his power of speech. His eyes went impossibly wide. His breathing was labored. Movement within the darkness that Bob sensed more than saw and the accompanying stench of evil decay that Bob was so familiar with sent a shudder of revulsion through him.

She came from the darkness. She stood at the foot of the bed and smiled maliciously at him. Her eyes burned with feral hunger.

"Did you believe death would keep you from me, my Dariem?" She whispered. "I will always be a part of you. You belong to me."

"Never!" Bob screamed.

Her amused chuckle infuriated him, "Try to escape your bonds."

Somehow, Bob knew he had no power, yet he called to it and growled in frustration when nothing happened.

"You see?" She said. "You are completely helpless and at my whim."

"You're not real," Bob said. "This is a nightmare." He struggled to wake from his slumber.

"It will do you no good," she walked around to the right side of the bed, "Ah, my Dariem."

"I'm not Dariem! I'm Robert Lan - Prime Guardian of the New Collective."

Again that amused chuckle. She held both her hands over him. Her claws extended. Bob's breathing became erratic, his struggles intensified. The tendrils constricted viciously around his limbs, cutting off his circulation.

"Don't touch me!"

She laid her hands on his chest and Bob was repulsed. With her claws she tore gashes across his skin and Bob flinched against the stinging pain. Blood began to pool from the wounds. Powerless and immobile, Bob could only endure it. Daemon withdrew unexpectedly. She moved away from the bed. For a brief moment Bob hoped - he prayed to the User that it was over.

She began to laugh.

And a pain like he had not experienced in a long time set every nerve on fire. The wounds on his chest suddenly seemed alive. Things moved within them, writhing and twisting, sending Bob into agony and to his complete and mind-numbing horror, yellow worms burst forth from wounds.

*

"User, NO!" Bob came awake sitting upright in bed and his scream borne of fear and agony shattered the silence.

He was covered in cold sweat and his whole body trembled violently. His lungs were on fire and no matter how hard he tried he couldn't seem to take in enough air. He was trapped in that state for a few nanos, before he tore himself from his daze and slammed his hand down on the control box on his nightstand. A vidwindow opened and after a few nanos, a sleepy Dot answered, "Yes?"

"Dot!" Bob cried.

She was instantly awake, "Bob? Bob what is it, what's wrong?"

"Dot," he couldn't seem to form any other words.

"Bob, what happened? You look terrified!"

Still Bob couldn't form the words that raced through his processor, please come now! I need you Dot! Oh User, I need you!

"Nothing," Bob forced the word out, "It was nothing Dot, I'm sorry I woke you."

He closed the connection before she could reply. Bob just sat there in the darkness staring at nothing.

Unexpectedly, an image of the dream flashed before him. His stomach gave a violent lurch and Bob dashed into the bathroom. When his heaves quieted, Bob pulled himself up by hanging on the edge of the sink and stared at his face in the mirror. Face pale and gaunt, dark bruises under his eyes. "Bob, you are such a wuss."

Bob turned on the cold water and splashed some on his face, then washed the foul taste from his mouth. He was only in boxers and he shivered a little. Then he tossed a robe on, not bothering to tie it and walked into the kitchen. He wasn't about to go back to sleep. Just as he was reaching for a can of java his doorbell rang.

"Now who in the net is that?" Bob hurried to the door and was shocked to find it was Dot. The Command.com was wearing a baggy blue sweat suit; "Mainframe U" was printed on the sweater. Still she looked even more beautiful to Bob.

"You going to stand there all night or are you going to let me in?" she spoke into the lengthening silence.

"Oh!" Bob stepped back and closed the door when she was inside. Realizing his robe was still open, he hastily tied it closed, "Sorry. What are you doing here?"

"You asked me to come, remember? Oh not in so many words, but I got the message."

"Dot," Bob felt his face grow warm, "You didn't have to come. I really wish you hadn't." He didn't think he could be more embarrassed.

"It was horrible this time, wasn't it?" Dot whispered and wrapped her arms around him, "The nightmare."

How did she know him so well? How could she always seem to read him?

"Dot, please --,"

"Don't you dare tell me to leave," Dot said, "Come on, let's talk about it."

She led him into the kitchen, "Were you fixing java?"

"Yes," Bob said, "Would you like some?"

"All right."

Bob reached for a mug from the cupboard, acutely aware of her eyes on him. He had to play it cool. He was already embarrassed beyond belief. The mug slipped from his shaking hand and shattered as it hit the floor.

"No," Bob whispered.

Dot was by his side in an instant, "Bob?" She took his hand. "Bob you're trembling."

He shook his head in useless denial. "I'm sorry Dot."

Dot lifted his chin with two delicate fingers so he would look into her eyes. It was too much for Bob, as much as he needed her now. He pulled her to him and kissed her, almost roughly, "Dot."

"Yes, it's all right Bob," she whispered against his mouth.

Bob lifted her into his arms and carried her to his bedroom.

***

His clock said oh-two hundred, yet Bob was wide-awake. He had tried to sleep several times after their lovemaking but each time he sensed himself being pulled into a dream, he awoke with a start and in turn would wake Dot. So he instead pulled her warm soft body close to his and stared up into the darkness.

He knew he should see her home. Enzo might need her and he didn't want her catching any grief for spending the night with him, although it was nobody's business.

"What are you thinking of?" Dot's voice drifted out of the darkness.

He smiled, "How did you know I was awake?"

"Oh I have my ways," Dot rose up and traced a pattern across his chest with one finger.

Bob tensed.

"What is it?" Dot asked.

He shuddered involuntarily, "N-nothing."

"It has to do with the dream, doesn't it? Will you tell me now?"

Bob sighed in resignation and pulled her to him and began to speak. When he finished, he felt her shudder.

"Oh sweetheart, how awful for you," Dot said, "Is there anything I can do?"

He laughed slightly and kissed her hair, "Darling believe me, you've already done everything."

She laughed too, "Don't ever keep things from me again."

"I promise."

"I'd better go," she said after a time.

Bob sighed with resignation as she pulled away.

"Try and get some sleep and if you need me just call all right?"

"All right." Bob pulled on his robe and walked her to the door. "Thank you."

She smiled at him and kissed him and then she was gone.

Well sleep was out of the question for him now. He knew it was probably way too late to be doing this but Bob changed into his own sweats and left the Eight Ball Arms, heading for Level 31.

Al's Wait and Eat was open as usual. The only people there were two binomes and to Bob's astonishment someone he hadn't seen in ages, Captain Syn. Bob had known the captain was stranded in Mainframe until his ship was repaired, although where he would go once it was was a mystery to the Prime Guardian. Since his bid to discredit Dot had failed, people basically ignored him. Another sprite male Bob had never seen before was sitting in the far corner.

Bob approached the bar and Al's Waiter gave him a look of surprise.

"Hey Al, Bob's here. Fire up the grill."

"What?"

Bob shook his head, "I'm not here for food. Just a bottle of I/O shot, please and a glass."

Needless to say, the waiter was shocked, but he complied, setting the bottle and glass on the counter before Bob.

"Thanks," Bob said and carried his drink back to a booth in the shadowed far corner.

Bob poured his first shot and tossed it down, cringing against the burning in his throat. He leaned against the vinyl surface of the booth and closed his eyes as the liquor took effect. Maybe if he got drunk enough, he could sleep and the dreams wouldn't matter to him.

"Room for one more?"

The voice startled him. Bob opened his eyes to find Matrix standing before him. Bob hadn't even heard him come in, much less approach his booth.

"Or did you want to be alone?" Matrix said.

Bob motioned for him to sit, "Hey, another glass here."

Al's waiter brought one over, look from Bob to Matrix, shrugged and departed. Bob filled Matrix's glass. The renegade tossed it down, much like Bob had done. For a while the two sat in companionable silence.

"AndrAIa still at the Super Computer?"

"Yeah."

"Guess I don't need to ask why you're here."

"Same reason you are," Matrix leaned back and closed his eyes as well. "So what are you're nightmares about?"

"Daemon," Bob said. "And you?"

Matrix actually chuckled, "Would you believe Little Enzo?" His mirth faded.

"That's irony for you," Bob said, "Little Enzo's are about you."

"Figures," Matrix said, "And before you ask, no I haven't talked to him."

"I wasn't going to ask. I know you haven't," Bob refilled their glasses. "I was talking to Enzo the other night."

"Bob the kid runs the other way every time I'm near him."

Bob frowned, contemplating telling Matrix what Enzo had told him. Enzo hadn't said it was a secret, "Well I wouldn't recommend cornering him or anything, but you'll have to be in a situation when he can't run away."

"The only other time is when he's with Melissa, and she looks at me like she wants to turn me into null-bait every time."

Bob couldn't help but chuckle, "Who does she remind you of?"

Now it was Matrix's turn to laugh, "AndrAIa, with me. I still can't believe he fell for a virus."

"Matrix," Bob warned.

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Matrix muttered. "I can't help how I feel, okay?"

"Yes you can," Bob said. "It would be like my blaming her for Daemon's actions."

Matrix leaned back and tossed back his second shot, then reached for the bottle and poured a third.

"There's someone else you need to talk to," Bob chose to sip his second drink.

"Dot."

"You're hurting her."

Matrix slammed a balled fist on the table, drawing attention from the other patrons.

"Why won't you talk to her?"

"I don't want to talk about this," Matrix said.

"You're going to have to Matrix. You should know by now you can't run away from problems forever."

"I know," he said it so quietly, Bob barely heard.

"I won't pressure you, Matrix."

Silence ruled for a time, then Matrix spoke, "Did you ever think that you and I would be sharing a quite drink?"

Bob smiled, finished off his second, and poured a third, "Nope or at least not for another twelve hours."

"Is this weird or what?"

"Actually, it's kind of nice." Bob said.

Matrix raised an eyebrow, "Nice?"

"Okay, lets think up another word."

Both men laughed at that. Matrix raised his glass, "To our renewed friendship, Bob."

Bob smiled and joined him in the toast.

***

Captain Syn watched with all the loathing in his core-com as the two sprites shared a drink at the booth across the room. He spent most of his time in this dive of a bar now. Where else could he go? Even when they did repair his ship his system had been destroyed, his crew had deserted him and he was still reeling from the fact that his first mate had been a spy for Daemon.

He could hop a shuttle somewhere. They arrived periodically now, although one wasn't due for a while. He could ask that old coot at the Principal Office to portal him to the Super Computer but doubt his request would be granted.

It was all Dot Matrix's fault.

"May I join you?"

Syn looked up. The sprite had been sitting a few booths down from him. He was a bald, orange-skinned dwarf of a man with a pinched face. "No," the captain muttered.

"That's too bad," the sprite's voice was amiable. "Because I thought you might be interested in assisting us in our endeavors."

"What in the net are you talking about?" "We know all about you, Captain Syn. How Dot Matrix ruined you," his voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper. "Wouldn't you like some payback?"

"Who are you?" Syn hissed.

"Oh, let's just say I'm part of a group of people who don't like the Prime Guardian or Dot Matrix very much."

"Leftovers from the war, eh?" Syn smirked, "I know they didn't catch all of you."

For a moment, the man's face changed to something menacing, "Would you listen to my proposition? If you're not interested in revenge --,"

"Now I didn't say that," Syn said. "Let's go somewhere and talk friend."

The dwarf smiled, "Call me Ripper."


Read Chapter 8 | Back to Aftermath: Daemon's Chosen