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Aftermath: Daemon's Chosen
By:
LadyBard

Chapter 8 - Troublemakers

The present

WARNING: INCOMING GAME

The shimmering violet cube descended from the sky. Raven watched it from his perch atop the Principal Office. It had been way too easy to infiltrate the place and search the records in the file room (which also yielded nothing incriminating about Dot Matrix). But that wasn't his concern now. His chance had come.

Raven descended the spiral stairs and crept through the silent corridors of the Office. At times, he had to use certain devices at his disposal to bypass security. At one point, Raven had to pin himself against a wall to avoid a security bot and he was about to make his next move when he sensed someone watching him. He turned sharply and was shocked to find an elderly sprite standing where the hall had been empty nanos before.

Raven was stunned into immobility. Never had anyone caught him so unawares. He metallic-skinned sprite regarded him quietly. Raven realized this must be Phong, the Keeper of the Core. His gaze did something to Raven. It spoke of an ancient knowledge. The mercenary realized how he must look to the Old One. He was dressed all in black and armed to the teeth, saying he was lost wouldn't fly with this one.

"You have lost your way, my son?" The sprite spoke in a quiet, intelligent voice.

Raven was like a man entranced, "Yes, Old One."

The sprite adjusted his glasses, "Do not worry, you will find your way in time."

With that the venerable old sprite turned and rolled in the opposite direction. Raven found he couldn't move and it was the sound of the security bot returning that forced him into action. Raven dashed down the hall, searching for the venerable sprite, but he had disappeared. Raven swore. Now he truly had to act before the Old One alerted someone.

The game cube was already down by the time Raven found his way outside. Attached to his belt was a detonator. Raven lifted the small square box into his hands and pressed the button.

From far away, came the satisfying sound of an explosion. Followed by the entire sector known as G-Prime going dark and as Raven knew, the Bookmark Tower.

Raven smiled and raised his right hand to his mouth. Integrated into a special glove that he wore were a mini computer and communicator. He spoke into the communicator now, "Ignition."

His ship would be here by the time he finished at the Tower then he would leave the system once he obtained the information. He could study it at his leisure. Raven decompressed his special zip board and was off.

***

"Any casualties? Was anyone hurt?" Dot asked. She had set up her command center in the kitchen of her home in New Lost Angles. Enzo sat across from her at the kitchen table.

"No, Sir, Ma'am," the CPU reported. "But people are scared and G-Prime is totally dark."

Enzo looked up from his own organizer, "Just G-Prime?"

The double-sided vid-window gave both Matrix's a view of the CPU officer. "Yes sir, it seems the explosion only damaged certain machinery at the power center."

"Is the fire under control?"

"Yes Sir, Ma'am. As soon as the fire is out, we'll start an investigation."

Another window opened, "This is Sergeant Four at G-Prime, we need some assistance over here. People are relatively calm but we've had a few disturbances."

"Lieutenant, send two squads to assist in G-Prime." Dot said.

"Yes Sir, Ma'am!"

"What a time for a game cube to fall," Enzo said.

"I think we can handle things here without Bob and Matrix," Dot said. "Auxiliary power has already been activated. The CPU's should be able to handle any disturbances."

"Mommy?"

Dot smiled down at her daughter. The tiny sprite stood in her pajamas, a fuzzy pink blanket clutched under her arm. "The big boom scared me."

"Aw, come here, sweetie," Dot lifted Eve into her lap.

"Mom?" Now Key had entered the kitchen. "Um could I hang out with you and Enzo?"

"Sure. Come on," Dot patted the chair next to her.

"What was that noise?" Key said.

"Big boom," Eve said.

"Some trouble at the power station," Enzo said. "Don't worry, squirt. We have it under control."

"Okay."

"Would you like Enzo to put you to bed?" Dot asked her daughter.

Eve nodded, "Will you sing me a song, Enzo?"

"Yes, I will muffin," Enzo said. "Just one nano."

"What are you doing?" Dot asked.

"Checking to make certain everything's okay at the Tower." Enzo said. "Call me overly cautious."

"You take after me." Dot smiled.

Enzo frowned at the screen.

"Enzo, what is it?"

"I'm not sure," Enzo said. "I just accessed our account information database and I'm getting a message that it's 'in use'."

"In use?" Dot said, "Someone is accessing the database? Our private records?"

"According to this," Enzo snapped his organizer shut. "I can't seem to get any information from here. I think I'll go up there."

"Why? Why don't I just send a CPU?"

"Because they won't be able to get into the office without me there anyway," Enzo said. "It may just be a computer glitch that I'll need to fix from there but this information is too sensitive to leave anything to chance."

"Well I don't know, I'd feel better if you had a CPU with you."

"Have one meet me there," Enzo said. "It won't take too long Dot. Now let me just take care of my beautiful little niece."

Enzo lifted Eve into his arms and carried her to her room. He sang one his favorite lullabies to her. One of the ones Dot used to sing to him. As he was tucking her in Eve said, "Are you going out Enzo?"

"Yes, muffin."

"Be careful, 'kay?"

"Okay."

"I feel kinda funny," Eve said.

"Does your tummy hurt?"

"Kinda," she said. "Do you have to go?"

"Well - I need to see what's wrong. I'll be back soon."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

Enzo frowned, wondering what was wrong. His niece was acting like she was afraid she'd never see him again.

***

Raven bent over the console and allowed himself a satisfied smile. It was all here. All of the business records, client information and personal account information of Matrix Enterprises. He had had a time getting through all the encryption. Whoever had done it was truly an artist.

He began downloading the information to his ship's computer. There was quite a lot and it was taking longer than he liked, but it couldn't be helped. The office was in semi-darkness, except for the emergency lights.

His mind began to wander, something he never allowed himself to do and he found it wandering to Hexadecimal. He had spent another pleasant evening with her and had stolen a steamy kiss. He really did enjoy her company. She wasn't like any other woman -

To Raven's complete and utter shock, the office door swung open. Raven couldn't believe it! Who could possibly be here at this hour? Raven straightened away from the console in astonishment and came face-to-face with an equally astonished Enzo Matrix.

***

Enzo zipped though the warm night air towards the Bookmark Tower. He sighed as he looked back at the game cube. He would be in there, if he had chosen to become a Guardian, but things had changed and so had he. He only hoped Bob was being honest with him when he had said he wasn't disappointed that Enzo had decided not to become a Guardian.

Again, the guard admitted him with little fuss. They were also used to seeing him pull late hours at the Tower. He took the lift up, stopped at the Café (open twenty- four milliseconds a second) for a cappuccino and continued on up.

The hall was empty and dim and Enzo liked things that way. It was easier to concentrate in the quiet and solitude when he worked late. Enzo punched in his security password. The office door opened, he strode in, and froze.

Someone was standing at the console. A menacing figure in black, the lower half of his face concealed by a half mask, the upper part separated into slits but Enzo recognized those piercing gold and ruby eyes.

For a moment, both men were paralyzed with shock.

"You!" Enzo cried.

Laroux swore and raised his right hand and before Enzo could react, he squeezed his hand into a fist and a silver projectile shot from his glove and slammed into Enzo's chest. The impact knocked Enzo back several feet. He hit the floor with a painful expulsion of his breath. Sparks of white light ran across his flesh, deadening his limbs until he was unable to move.

Laroux swore again and crossed the room, closing the door. Helpless, unable to even move a finger, Enzo watched him.

"My apologies, Mr. Matrix, but this wasn't supposed to happen," he said. "No one was supposed to be here."

Enzo tried to open his mouth to speak and found he couldn't even do that. He only hoped the CPU's Dot had said she was going to send would arrive soon.

"I will only stay until I have what I want then I will depart this system," he said. "The paralysis will wear off within a half-millisecond with no adverse affects."

Enzo gave him what he hope was a defiant look. Laroux ignored him. For a time, the man continued to observe the console. Laroux looked up, at the sounds of fists pounding on the door.

Please, Enzo silently begged. Stop him.

Laroux turned abruptly and strode to the balcony, opening the doors wide. A rush of wind came in and Laroux turned back to the console. The pounding ceased. Time passed.

Then all web broke loose.

Searchlights suddenly pierced the muted red light. "Attention intruder! You are an unauthorized entity within the Bookmark Tower! You will surrender yourself peacefully and immediately!"

Laroux swore loudly and inventively. Enzo saw him raise his hand to his face and mutter something. Suddenly, the sky outside was ablaze with light and the sounds of rapid gunfire shattered the silence.

GAME OVER.

"No!" Laroux strode towards him. "My apologies Mr. Matrix but I must alter my plans to suit my needs. I must not be captured."

Laroux now appeared to be tapping the glove of his right hand. The patterns were too deliberate and Enzo guessed he had a mini-computer. "Teleport."

A shower of white light surrounded them, similar to what Hex used to teleport people and the scene around Enzo changed. Although he could not see far, Enzo found himself in an enclosed space but all he could see was some cabinets.

"Begin calculations to open a portal to the net," Laroux was saying.

"Calculating," a female voice said. "Raven, several unidentified transports are approaching."

Raven? Enzo realized the voice speaking was that of a computer. He was on a ship. A ship readying itself for net travel!

"Open a channel to the approaching ships," Raven said. "Get ready to execute travel immediately on my mark."

No! Enzo cried in silent protest. He couldn't believe it. He was being kidnapped! Enzo felt the ship move.

"Clearing system boundaries in twenty-three nanos. Unidentified ships in pursuit."

"CPU's" Raven said, "You will cease and desist in your pursuit of me."

"Unidentified craft," Dot's voice came over the com, "This is Dot Matrix, Command.com of Mainframe. You will surrender peacefully, turn your ship and allow the CPU's to escort you back to the Bookmark Tower."

"I think not," Raven said. "Order your men to cease and desist and allow me safe passage from this system. I have your brother, Ms. Matrix."

"What? You will release my brother this instant!"

"Let me leave or he dies," Raven said.

"You lousy son of null!" Dot cried. "If you so much as lay a hand on him --!"

"Raven, calculations are complete, shall I generate the portal?"

"On my mark - ready - now!"

Enzo felt a sickening lurch. He stomach heaved, and he had to force the bile back down his throat for fear of choking.

"Course laid in and set," the computer said. "No indication of pursuing craft."

"Autopilot." Raven said.

Enzo heard the footsteps approaching and Raven knelt down beside him. "We are away from Mainframe."

Enzo wanted to cry out. To curse this person that was stealing him from his home but the paralysis still had him. What was happening to him was incomprehensible. He suddenly remembered Eve's words. To be careful, as though she knew this would happen. All the time he had traveled to other systems, trying to satisfy his wanderlust, he had always known he had the choice of going home. Now home was lost to him possibly forever.

Raven was saying something. "You will not be injured if you cooperate. I'm going to release you from the field now."

Enzo watched him.

"There's no escape. You're on a ship traveling the net so I'd suggest you wouldn't try anything."

Raven shot a second projectile into his arm and Enzo cried out against the pain - and realized that he could. The sparks faded.

"Take it easy, you'll feel dizzy for a moment." Raven removed Enzo's belt.

That was an understatement. The whole room was reeling. Finally everything righted. Enzo looked up and for the first time got a clear look at Laroux's - Raven's face. He had removed the half mask and those gold-coin eyes stared at him impassively.

"How do you feel?" Raven asked.

Enzo shoved away from him and back crawled, "You lousy son of a null!"

"Like brother, like sister," Raven said.

Enzo stood on legs that he wasn't certain would support him, "You kidnapped me!"

"Your grasp of the obvious is frightening."

Enzo went to lunge for him but in a swift movement, Raven drew a laser pistol, "I wouldn't!"

Enzo straightened, "What do you want from me?"

"From you, nothing." Raven said. He motioned with the pistol, "Move."

Enzo's mind worked frantically. He had to find some way to escape this random sprite. Raven walked him to the rear of the ship. In the midst of storage spaces was a small room with a cot, table and a lamp. "Inside."

Enzo stepped across the threshold, noticing the room had no door. Raven punched some buttons on a control panel in the wall and an energy field barred his escape.

"Had this specially made for certain guests," Raven said. "I can't watch my back all the time."

"You won't get away with this," Enzo said.

"I believe I already have," Raven said.

"Where are we going? What's going to happen to me?"

"As to where, that's not your concern. As to what's going to happen? Well that depends on you doesn't it?" He turned to walk away.

"Who are you?"

"I am known as Raven," he said, "I was employed by my client to obtain information on your sister."

"You were hired by Ran DeCrypt weren't you?"

Raven said, "I'm not at liberty to divulge that information."

"Are you disappointed that you weren't able to take Dot's kids?" Enzo shot at him. "Too bad you had to settle for me."

Raven turned and looked at him then. It sent a shiver through Enzo. "No."

"What do you mean, no?"

"The children were never the intended target if it came to this," Raven said.

"You mean to tell me you had no intention of kidnapping Dot's kids? You expect me to believe that?"

"What you believe doesn't concern me," Raven said. "Dot Matrix's children were never the intended target, you were."

Enzo stared at him in openmouthed shock.

"I don't take little kids," Raven turned and walked away.

"So is that supposed to make you seem honorable to me? It still makes you a kidnapper and a common thief!"

Raven faced him, "Again, what you think of me doesn't concern me as well. I suggest you relax, we have a long trip." Then he walked away.

For a moment, Enzo stared at the retreating figure. Despair warred with relief in his core-com. All right, so he had been taken. He'd find a way to escape. Relieved that this man hadn't taken Key and Eve.

But what was going to happen to him now?

***

Seven years into the past

 

 

Dot had warned Bob not to let Web Alliance turn this fiasco into a virus-hunt but that's what it seemed to be as Dot sat in the front row of the conference center. She sighed when she saw Bob at the conference table. He still looked somewhat tired and Dot knew he felt this was a waste of time. Time he should be spending on the investigations.

AndrAIa sat on her left and Mouse to her immediate right. Ray had opted to stay at the factory but had demanded a complete report of the goings on. There was more space on the bench, for Hexadecimal, Melissa and Little Enzo. Dot really hadn't wanted her brother here but she had agreed to let him attend for two reasons.

First off, Dot knew Melissa would need him in her corner. Dot had told him so when Enzo had asked to go. Second, she knew eventually, news of what was going on here would reach mainframe and Dot didn't want Enzo being fed second-hand and possibly inaccurate information.

Bob had expressed some concern but in the end had agreed with her.

Right now the two virals and her little brother were back stage. The people poured into the room, filling it to capacity and beyond. Bob's security force lined the walls. Dot felt a hand lay over hers and she found Mouse smiling at her. "Don't worry, Dot honey, everything's going to be okay."

AndrAIa was smiling at her to, "We'll get through this like everything else."

"I hope so," Dot said.

Lynx banged his gavel for order and the room obtained a semblance of quiet.

"Welcome everyone to the this second gathering of the Citizen's Council." Lynx said. "As previously stated the purpose of this meeting is to determine what needs to be done to halt the unrest that is currently plaguing the Super Computer as well as bringing the guilty to justice."

Link turned to Desdemona, "If you will give up a recap of what went on at our last meeting?"

Desdemona read from a Notepad, the plans Bob had spoken off, as well as the military situation. They seemed like sound ideas to Dot and her heart swelled with pride for her boyfriend.

"The meeting adjourned early, as there was a 'situation' that occurred that I understand is being dealt with, Prime Guardian?"

"Yes," Bob said.

"How?" Someone yelled from the crowd.

"There was a virus here, was he caught?"

"What about the serial murders?"

"What murders?"

"Murders!"

The crowd was working themselves into a frenzy and Lynx rapped for order, "Well, Prime Guardian?"

Dot saw Bob sigh, "Very well. Recently, there have been a series of disappearances outside of the city. We were not prepared to make an official announcement as we are in the midst of our investigation and did not wish to cause a panic. An official statement was to be made once we had gathered more information."

"It's a cover-up!"

"Unfortunately," Bob continued, "We found what we believed to be the bodies of these missing people. Although we have not verified this they seem to have been affected by a viral bug. We have a medical team on the situation even now."

Again the crowd became agitated.

"Please everyone!" Bob turned and faced the crowd, "Please do not panic! I assure you measures are being taken to apprehend the ones responsible and ensure your safety."

Lynx was rapping viciously with the gavel. Bob turned and gave Lynx a scathing look. Dot could hardly blame him.

"Prime Guardian we request a full report of the measures you are taking to apprehend this dangerous person," Lynx said.

"When I make the official statement I'm sure you'll be the first to know, Lynx," Bob said.

"That Lynx fella has a spy somewhere in the Collective," Mouse commented.

"Yes, I know," Dot said grimly. "Doesn't Lynx realize he could seriously compromise the investigation?"

"I wonder why they didn't mention Sector 1018?" AndrAIa leaned over to them.

"Maybe they don't know. Can we be that lucky?" Dot asked.

"I suggest we postpone these meetings until our investigation is complete," Bob said.

"On the contrary," Lynx countered, "These meetings would be an excellent source of information for the common populace. Surely you don't wish incorrect information to be relayed."

"Very well, but they'll be on my terms now. When I have additional information, I'll relay it to you. Fair enough?"

Lynx conferred quickly with the other members, "Agreed."

Lynx spent a moment flipping through his Notepad before his gaze fell on Matrix. "Enzo Matrix?"

The renegade stood, "Yes."

"You know why you have been summoned to speak here?"

"Actually, no."

"Web Alliance has observed you for some time now," Lynx said, "Although I am sure you weren't aware of it."

"No I wasn't."

"It was agreed at the last meeting that the case involving Neuron Cyber would be discussed at a later date and only with interested parties, however," Lynx went on, "there is a little matter of other crimes you have committed, most important of all being Daemon's spy."

"That's a lie!" Matrix said over the noise of the crowd.

"Is it?" Lynx glanced from Bob to Dot. "Before we continue, are you two still supporting him?"

"Of course we are!" Bob and Dot spoke at the same time.

"I am not and never was a spy," Matrix said.

"Why don't you admit it?" Lynx cried, "Neuron found out about you and you deleted him because of it!"

"Captain Lynx!" Bob said, "I thought we agreed!"

Lynx fought to compose himself, "Would you like to tell us what happened that day?"

"I already told you a dozen times," Matrix said. "He fired on me without provocation."

Lynx glared at him, "Do you remember the time you spent in System 850?"

Dot saw Matrix flinch. "Yes."

"We had a representative there, that will state that you broke into his home and stole from him do you deny this?"

Matrix sneered at him, "No."

"So you admit that you're a thief?"

"I was twelve when that happened," Matrix said. "AndrAIa and I were hungry and alone. We had to do it to survive."

"Captain Lynx, surely you don't believe that makes him Daemon's spy?" Bob said.

"No it doesn't," Lynx said, "But perhaps this does. Are you familiar with a virus lord named Krile?"

"Yes."

"So you admit you've associated with him?"

"Yes - but at the time I didn't know he was a virus lord. He had a unique power, to mask his true form."

"Did you know he was one of Daemon's agents?"

"No," Matrix said. "Look I didn't even hear about Daemon until I reached the Cantina Port System."

"I see," Lynx said, "Can you tell us what you did for this virus lord?"

Matrix said, "Krile asked me to find someone for him. He said the sprite had stolen sensitive information from him and asked me to get it back."

"And you didn't question this?"

"I didn't care, we needed the money." "And you found this man, who turned out to be a prominent official attempting to break Krile's hold on the system."

"I found that out after --,"

"After Krile had him deleted. In a trap that you led him to."

"Yes."

"But you took his money anyway?"

"I had to!" Matrix cried. "You couldn't possibly know what it's like, lost and alone. Hungry, not knowing where your next meal is coming from."

"Yet you took other jobs for Krile and delivered messages to cohorts of his, other agents of Daemon and when you had to leave the system Krile assisted you?"

"I didn't know anything about that!" Matrix said. "I didn't know any of them were associated with Daemon!"

"Do you expect us to believe that?"

"Yes, because it's truth," Matrix said bitterly. "I was basically just an errand boy."

"I also have witnesses that state you did jobs for other agents of Daemon in exchange for money. Some you betrayed and turned over for execution."

"I don't know what you're talking about!"

"The man you collected a bounty on in System 776 was an agent of Web Alliance."

"I was told you was a criminal."

"And you believe everything you're told?" Lynx said, "You were paid well for that too?"

"You're not listening to me Lynx! I did what I had to do to get through my ordeal!"

"Captain Lynx," Bob spoke up, "Just what did you expect him to do? He was a boy, trapped in the games. We've all done questionable things to survive. You can't blame him for that and you certainly can't assume he's Daemon's spy."

"He did other things for people, the gathering of information, turning people over to the authorities," Lynx said, "You never asked questions, you never once thought 'this is wrong'?"

"Of course I thought that!' Matrix said. "I refuse to justify myself to you!"

Lynx turned to Bob, "Prime Guardian now that you know some of the thing he's done, will he punished accordingly?"

"Punished, for trying to survive? No Captain Lynx I won't. He's no more guilty of anything than I am."

"There are others in other systems who will demand justice," Lynx said. "I leave you to deal with them. I would prepare if I were you and I would most certainly demand a full account of Matrix's activities during his travels.

"Is that all?" Matrix hissed.

"For now," Lynx said. Went back to his Notepad effectively dismissing Matrix. "Now Prime Guardian, another matter has been brought to our attention that we'd like to address."

Dot looked back at the crowd that was still in a state of mild agitation. Hopefully whatever this was, it wouldn't stoke the flames again.

"Prime Guardian, we would like to ask about Guardian Infection Protocol 999." The noise level dropped. Dot saw Bob clench his fists and he paled.

"What's that?" AndrAIa whispered.

"I think I know," Dot said and she glanced at Mouse. The hacker for the first time Mouse had known her looked positively stricken.

"And how is it that you are aware of that?" Bob whispered.

"Is it true that this was the protocol utilized by the Collective that resulted in the web invasion of Mainframe?"

Dot saw Bob flinch as old memories assailed him.

"That horses ASCII," Mouse muttered, her hands balled into fists.

"It's okay Mouse," Dot squeezed her hand.

"I guess that's why I'm here," Mouse said, grimly. "It was my fault."

"Mouse! It wasn't!"

"I should have known," Mouse seemed to be talking more to herself.

Dot almost missed Bob's answer, "Yes."

"The protocol is utilized when a web creature invades a civilized system?"

"It is."

"The web portal was caused by a Level 6.0 blast from an explosive device planted by the Guardians?"

Bob sighed, "Yes."

A confused whisper went across the crowd.

"To mend and defend," Lynx said bitterly.

Bob's hands fisted again and his face twisted in disgust.

"The Protocol stipulates that when a web creature enters a civilized system, the solution is to destroy that system, is that true Prime Guardian?"

Again the noise level rose.

"Understand that if a web creature were ever to invade the net it could contaminate every system. Imagine Captain Lynx. The end of processing, as we know it would be the ultimate result. Web creatures reproduce at a phenomenal rate. They would feed off code and contaminate every living being not out of malice of course, but out of natural instinct and the fight to survive. The web is their natural home and once outside of it well - it would be like you're being lost in the web."

"So your saying the protocol is accurate? That systems invaded by Web creatures are destroyed?"

"Yes," Bob said finally.

The crowd erupted into shouts of fury. Lynx hesitated before pounding his gavel. Dot looked back and saw the hatred on the faces of those present. Hatred for her beloved. Dot saw the look on Bob's face. Despair, guilt and perhaps anger? It was hard to tell with all the imperceptible changes.

"Ms. Dot Matrix?"

Dot was shocked when her name was called. "Yes?"

"You are the Command.com of Mainframe?"

"Yes."

"And could you verify that this was the protocol utilized that resulted in the war and the ultimate destruction of your system?"

Dot was despising Lynx just then, "Yes."

"Then war was hard on you wasn't it Ms. Matrix?"

"You have absolutely no idea!" Dot hissed.

"Were you made aware of this protocol by Guardian 452 at the time of the war?"

"Yes."

"At what time?"

"What?"

"When did Guardian 425 make the protocol known to you?"

"After my rescue from the web creature."

"So you had no knowledge of this beforehand?"

Dot glared at him.

"Realize Ms. Matrix you're not obligated to answer any of these questions."

"Thanks," Dot said bitterly. Of course if she refused to answer, that would be the same as saying yes. "No, I had no beforehand knowledge."

"Ms. Mouse."

Mouse looked up, her eyes blazing.

"You were employed by the Guardians to obtain confirmation of the web creature?"

"I was."

"And they secreted a bomb in the communicator you were given?"

"How in the net did you know that?"

"Lynx I demand to know where you're getting this information!" Bob yelled.

"Why is that important? Is destroying a web creature worth the cost of millions of innocent lives? How many times has the Guardians utilized this protocol? How many people have you murdered?" Lynx screamed.

"The Protocol is no longer in use!" Bob screamed back, "It will never be utilized again!"

"How many?"

"None! As far as I'm aware, the protocol has not previously been utilized."

"Only on the system that you were sworn to protect," Lynx said. "If I were the inhabitants of that system, I'd despise you right now."

"Well Lynx," Dot spoke up, "That's proves that you're not and could never be a citizen of Mainframe."

Lynx glared at her but she looked at Bob, who gave her that cocky half smile.

"Order!" Lynx rapped the gavel, "We will adjourn for fifteen microseconds. After which, the virals will be brought forward."

Excited conversations ensued. Dot ignored everyone and everything. Bob was waiting for her.

***

"This bytes!" Cooper Black hissed. The representatives of the Collective along with Hex, Melissa and Little Enzo had gathered backstage. "Why are we letting them do this to us?"

"We don't have a choice," Bob turned to face the wall. "You heard that crowd out there. The last thing we need is for people to start developing cover-up and conspiracy theories.

"Who in the net cares what they think?" Cooper said.

"You should care," Katiyana glared at him. "Are you not still a Guardian? Your protocols are to protect. To mend and defend."

Cooper turned away, "I say we just break this whole thing up." He strode over to Bob, "Prime Guardian, I can't believe you told them about Protocol 999!"

"What choice did I have?" Bob shot back at him. Dot moved closer to him and he was grateful for her presence. "What we should be more concerned with is who in the net has been feeding them information. You wouldn't know anything about that would you Cooper?"

A look of utter shock crossed Cooper's face, "Are you accusing me, Prime Guardian?"

"I just asked you if you knew anything."

"Prime Guardian I don't have to stand here and take these accusations." Cooper turned and walked away.

Mouse, who had been leaning against the wall sharpening her katana muttered, "Good riddance to him."

Bob sighed deeply and Dot placed a hand on his arm. "I'm okay," he smiled.

Bob looked to where Enzo was sitting next to Melissa. The little sprite had a strange look on his face and had been glancing at Bob regularly since they had walked into the room. Every so often, he would whisper something to Melissa and she'd nod and look at Bob to.

"How ya doin' Little Man?" Bob asked.

"What? Oh, I'm okay Bob," Enzo said and went back to talking to Melissa. Bob wondered what was wrong.

One of the binome attendants stepped into the room, "They're reconvening," he announced.

"Back into the lions den," Bob muttered.

***

Bob once again stood before the Citizen's Council. Cooper's empty seat was a minor annoyance.

"Bring the virals in," Lynx was saying. "We must ask that everyone be calm. Prime Guardian Lan has assured us that both virals are benign."

The crowd didn't believe that for a nano. Bob resisted the urge to turn around. Hexadecimal and Melissa were led out by two of the attendants. The mood of the crowd could only be described as ugly.

Melissa stayed pressed to Hex's side and despite the power Bob knew she had, the girl-child virus looked terrified. Hex on the other hand look mildly annoyed.

The good thing about the whole mess was the Citizens Council looked twice as terrified as Melissa.

Lynx cleared his throat, "Ms. Hexadecimal?"

"Yes, love?"

Lynx turned bright red, "You and your sister are the daughters of Daemon?"

"I believe that was already established," Hex said.

The mood darkened. People were shouting oaths and threats now.

"What assurances can you give us that you and your sister won't take Daemon's place and attempt to gain control?"

"Delete them!"

"Lousy virus scum!"

"Oh my sister and I have no intention of taking over everything," Hex said. "We just want to have fun and live in Mainframe, isn't that right my love?"

"You have no want for power?" Lynx said, "No intention of replacing your mother?"

"No," Hex said. "Besides, I promised Bob and he wouldn't like that."

Lynx looked from Bob to Hex, "Young lady?"

"Y-yes?" Melissa whispered.

"Virus trash!"

"They're liars!"

"You are Daemon's heir."

"Yes."

"And you feel as your sister?"

Melissa nodded.

"I and my colleagues are officially vouching for both virals," Bob said.

"The Collective is supporting them?"

"Yes."

"After what their mother did to this city? To you?"

"Yes," Bob said.

"How can we be sure that the reason you're supporting them isn't because you're under their control?" Lynx said. "How can you be certain they won't try to take over? My apologies Prime Guardian, but how can you assure our safety?"

"What do you suggest I do, Captain Lynx?"

"Delete them! Delete the virus trash!"

"Take them now!"

The crowd suddenly and unexpectedly erupted into violence. The people surged forward in a murderous wave. Bob turned and raised his hands, calling on his power.

"Calm, everyone calm!" Bob screamed as the glow enveloped him.

But the crowd was beyond reasoning as they converged on the conference table and the podium in a mad rush to get to the virals.

"Hex, go!" Bob screamed and the Chaos Virus made a motion with her hand, snatching Little Enzo out of harms way, then she teleported. Despite the absence of the virals, the ferocity of the crowd escalated.

"Stop, everyone stop!" Bob cried, "They're gone!"

A dozen people, hands grabbing at him, surrounded him, faces sneered their hate. Bob struggled against the onslaught as fighting ensued. He saw Mistress Katiyana go down, Colonel Tempus fighting, utilizing his soldier's training. He didn't see Matrix or Mina at all and that sent a lance of fear through him.

Bob shoved back at the bodies that surrounded him using pulsing blasts of his power. He struggled to escape, to find the one person that mattered to him. Then his eyes saw something that turned his blood cold. Dot in the midst of a knot of people, she was fighting, but they soon overcame her, dragging her down.

"No!" Bob screamed, reaching out. "Dot! Dot!" Then he was dragged down underneath a sea of pounding fists and screaming voices. Desperately, Bob called on his power and the golden light, exploded surrounding him, repelling those that tried to hold him. Bob struggled to his feet was knocked down again and began fighting wildly as the first inkling of true panic began. He gave a cry of rage.

Then suddenly, everything seemed to slow.

His legs felt as though they were dragging through mud, the screaming voices were suddenly deep super-slow unintelligible sounds.

And then in an eye blink Bob was outside, behind the conference center and his friends and loved ones as well the representatives of the Collective were there as well.

"What the?" Bob looked around.

"Well don't just stand there gawking, Prime Guardian!" Hexadecimal stood by their waiting transport. "You must deal with this situation!"

"Hex, remind me to thank you later," Bob took a nano to asses the situation; everyone seemed well with the exception of Mina, who was unconscious in Katiyana's arms; before rushing to Dot's side. Already, people were spilling from within the center. "Dot?"

"I'm fine," she smiled up at him.

"You're not fine!" Bob said, "Dot, I have to --,"

"I know. Go on."

"Matrix, Colonel Tempus?" Bob said.

"I'm with you Bob," Matrix said.

"As am I Prime Guardian," Colonel Tempus said.

"Me too, sugah," Mouse said.

"No way Mouse, you're hurt, get everyone to the medical center," Bob was already rushing away, "And contact Ray, we could use his help! I'm counting on you Mouse."

Matrix drew Gun and decompressed his zip board. Colonel Tempus was already on a communicator summoning his troops.

Bob was speaking into his own communicator, "I need all available personnel in body armor to Sector 1005 at the Outlook Center - riot conditions. Have medical transports at the ready. Set up barricades at these coordinates."

The crowd was spilling out of the front of the center. Small skirmishes commenced, but most of the people seemed to be trying to escape the melee. Bob concentrated on the ones bent on causing mischief. Fortunately, the disturbance wasn't in a highly populated civilian district, it was mostly warehouses and businesses.

Several small groups, using the confusion as cover began making attempts at looting. Bob instructed Matrix and Tempus to fan out in opposite directions to make their presence known, but not to engage any of the aggressive groups until their backup arrived.

There were also citizens injured in the confrontation. Bob was shocked to find Peg Walrod among them. Unfortunately, she had attended the meeting as she had promised only to get caught up in the fighting when it started. Bob found her within one of the businesses, a small gift shop. The owner was attending to her wounds. She assured Bob she was fine and Bob told her to stay put until he could procure an escort home for her. A band of five sprites and binomes converged on the shop. Bob warned them away but two rushed him and he had barely enough time to call his power to subdue them. He was cut by one brandishing a broken bottle but not severely, and refused assistance from the shop owner.

Nanos later their backup arrived and began rounding up the groups that had caused trouble. Barricades were set up surrounding the trouble area at the radius that Bob had ordered. Guardians and soldiers in groups concentrated on trouble areas. There were less people to deal with much to Bob's relief.

It was not all easy. They meant with some resistance and at one point, the group, which Bob led, were openly attacked by at least a dozen rioters. Bob came away with some cuts and bruises but was otherwise unscathed.

The medical transports were set up at various intersections in the city to treat the wounded. Matrix was rounding up another group that had begun to loot a warehouse and Colonel Tempus escorted a group of injured citizens to a transport waiting at a major intersection. It was there that the three met after Bob received reports that all instances of unrest were put down.

Tempus and Matrix were helping to treat some of the citizens. Tempus was just treating a young woman with some minor cuts when Bob approached.

"Report Colonel."

"All my men have stated that they've caught many of those involved in the violent activity. We've made dozens of arrests and treated twice as many at the medical transports. We can't tell for certain who is who unless they were caught at something, but for now the situation had been controlled."

"Matrix?"

"We've taken care of the group at the warehouse. My group also made quite a few arrests. Looks like Tempus is right."

Tempus suddenly gave an exasperated sigh, "Prime Guardian, did you wait for the contingent of men I sent to assist you?" Tempus reached out and lifted Bob's cut hand. "You've been injured."

"Oh I'm fine," Bob waved his concern away. "This happened before your men arrived."

"You're supposed to be watching him," Tempus said to Matrix before turning away and climbing into the transport. When the colonel stepped outside he was carrying antiseptic, gauze and tape.

"Matrix was following my order," Bob said. "We had more important things to deal with at the moment."

Tempus dabbed at the cut with the antiseptic, "I am aware of that, Prime Guardian," the Colonel went about bandaging Bob's hand. "But you must be more careful."

"You're concern is appreciated, colonel."

"Here comes your friend," Tempus suddenly said.

Bob turned and smiled as Ray descended on Baud. "G'day mates. Looks like I missed all the action."

***

The waiting room of the medical center was a mad rush of staff and injured people. Bob, Matrix and Ray strode briskly up to the desk. Before Bob could speak the on- duty nurse smiled up at him and said, "Oh Prime Guardian! Thank the User. Your friends are waiting for you. I was told to take you right to them."

The nurse led them down the corridor to a waiting room. Mouse, AndrAIa, and Katiyana were waiting for them. Each man went immediately to his significant other. Colonel Tempus tentatively approached Katiyana.

"Dot," Bob said. "Where is Dot Matrix?"

"This way, Prime Guardian," the nurse motioned for him to follow. "Don't fret, she's fine."

"I'll stop fretting when I see her," Bob said.

***

Dot Matrix observed everything through the window of the tiny room where she had been examined. Enzo was sitting on a stool beside the examining table.

"Don't worry Dot, Bob will be back soon," Enzo said. "I know you're worried. I am too, but he'll be okay."

"I know, sweetie," Dot said absently. "I should be there with him."

"No you shouldn't," Enzo said, decisively. Dot looked at him, marveling at how mature he sounded. "You were hurt and needed to see a doctor."

The door came open, "Hi gorgeous."

"Bob!"

"Oh boy, here comes the mushy stuff," Enzo mumbled.

Bob gave him a wry look, then crossed the room and kissed her. Enzo shook his head, gave Bob his own wry smile and left the room.

"They said you were all right but --," Bob said.

"Just some cuts and bruises," Dot smiled to reassure him. "I'm fine."

"You are not fine!" Bob drew back the hospital gown. "Your all bandaged up."

"Bob!" Dot felt her cheeks warm but she didn't stop him.

"I'll make certain you're never hurt again," Bob whispered, his lips pressed gently against her forehead, "So help me, User, if anyone ever touches you again I'll --,"

"Bob," Dot pressed two fingers to his lips. "They say I can leave if I have someone to look after me. They gave me some medication."

"Yes, you can stay at my place - I mean the apartment I have at Council Hall. I'll take care of you for a change," Bob said.

"One of the perks of being Prime Guardian?"

"Of course," Bob said.

"Wait what is this?" Dot turned over his bandaged hand.

"It's nothing," Bob said, "We successfully managed to subdue the riot but not without some difficulties."

"I'd say this was more than a difficulty."

Bob said, "I want to take you home first - I mean - um --, "

"I know what you mean."

"Then I need to find Captain Lynx." Bob said. "I didn't notice whether or not his people got out but these meetings, if we continue to have them, will no longer be open to the public and will be held at the Hall. Maybe that's what I should have done in the first place. Yet another mistake."

"Robert Lan, don't you dare start wallowing in self pity."

Bob laughed and kissed her forehead, "You'll never let me do that, will you?"

Both looked up at the sound of the door opening and Matrix strode in.

"Matrix!" Dot straightened away from Bob reached out her hands.

"My User, Dot!" Matrix closed his big hands around hers. "Why did this have to happen to you?"

She smiled slightly at him. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine - everyone's fine besides some cuts and bruises," Matrix said, "I'm more worried about you. What did the doctor say? Are you going to be all right?"

"Of course," Dot said, "I'm going back to the Hall tonight. I'll be staying in Bob's apartment."

"Good," Matrix's voice was suddenly cold. He leaned over and kissed his sister tenderly on the forehead, "I'll be back in a nano and don't worry, I'll get whoever did this to you." And he left the room.

"Bob."

"Don't worry, I'll keep him out of trouble," Bob said. "I'm going to check on the others. Mina Value was hurt pretty bad. They're examining her now. I want to see how she is. I'll be right back, don't go anywhere."

"I'll be waiting for you," Dot said. She was satisfied. She released the figurative breath she had been holding. The one she had been afraid to release until she knew he was safe.


Read Chapter 9 | Back to Aftermath: Daemon's Chosen