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The Daemon Conflict
By: LadyBard

Chapter 10 - Sprite and Virus

The CPU's approached Floating Point in a semi-circular formation.

Fifty of the enemy fighters broke off from the armada but made no move towards the CPU's. They began to position themselves around the perimeter of the continent.

"I want an equal number of fighters on those ships. If they try something, act accordingly."

Dot scrutinized the 3-D map of Floating Point that appeared before her, "Do you have those codes, Phong?"

"They are programmed in, my child."

"I don't like this one bit," Dot hissed, "But we have to show that arrogant null-face we mean business."

Several cargo ships had landed on one of the upper and lower tiers of the Point. Soldiers resembling scurrying ants unloaded large machines and crates. Dot sighed as she watched them. A rocket cycle bearing General Ashar descended towards the activity.

"Ashar coming through," Specks suddenly said.

The image that appeared was of Ashar on a rocket cycle being piloted by a cowering binome. "I see you have chosen not to attack us. Does this mean you realize you can't win?"

"I seem to remember that we have the upper hand."

Ashar laughed, "If you wish to believe that. My troops will begin the immediate occupation of the sectors. You will hear from me within the millisecond. You still have a chance to give yourselves up. What is your answer?"

Dot clenched her fists, "This is my answer. Phong, de-gravitate Tier 001."

Phong sighed, and then punched in the codes.

There was a rumbling groan, like an ancient giant awakening from a yearlong sleep. The upper tier over the enemy command center flashed with a white light, then began to plummet. The fall seemed to take seconds but it was over in a nano. The upper tier smashed into the edge of the lower, sending both tiers and all who were atop them, crashing into the Data Sea.

A shocked silence filled the airways. General Ashar stared impassively at the destruction.

"I'm impressed, Ms. Matrix," he finally said, "and it takes a lot to impress me. I have not in all my battles seen a Command.com so ruthless. Perhaps you don't have to surrender. Daemon could use someone like you in her army --, "

Dot closed the connection. The War Room remained silent, even after Dot walked away from the consol and into her office. It was only after the door closed that she burst into tears.

* * *

Until that nano, General Ashar was bored.

He was an old programmed soldier. Battles used to mean something in his day. Expert military strategists matched wits in an often-desperate attempt to attain the ultimate victory. Since being appointed the leader of Daemon's forces, winning had become all too easy.

All the systems that they had faced had either fallen or surrendered out right. The ones they had taken by force had made a feeble attempt to fight honourably and had lost. Common sense should have told them that honourable fighting did not win you battles, especially if you were against a viral general.

It had been a minor annoyance to find out Dot Matrix was still alive. Obviously Nemesis had failed, but the assassin was no more his concern than Melissa was. Their contact had been unable to verify if Hexadecimal was still alive, but then again, he knew her Lair had been destroyed as well as the fact that his enemies had not used her power. Ashar had not relished the idea of going against Daemon's offspring. Perhaps Melissa had succeeded. Ashar had always thought Melissa was stronger than she pretended to be. Daemon would deal with them both in her own sweet time.

Ashar had expected Mainframe to fall like all the others, until the moment the tier had started its descent. When it was all over, he wondered if he had finally found a worthy opponent. He had been mildly impressed that she managed to disable the systems aboard Ravage. He hadn't been giving her idle flattery when he said Daemon could use her. He had been without a colonel for quite some time.

Ashar watched for a moment as the soldiers struggled in the water and shook his head, "Back to the ship," he ordered his pilot. The terrified binome turned the cycle and left the unpleasant scene behind.

* * *

Mouse entered Dot's office to find the Command.com sitting at her desk. A bottle of aspirin and a half-empty glass of water were on the desk surface.

"Sugah, are you still getting' them headaches?"

Dot looked up, "How did you know?"

"It ain't hard to tell. You should see a doctor about them."

"It's all this," Dot said. "What I just did --,"

Mouse saw the tears well in Dot's eyes, "Aw - honey --," Mouse approached her and wrapped her arms around Dot's shoulders while her friend cried.

"I'm sorry," Dot whispered, "I'm always crying around you. You must think I'm totally basic."

"No," Mouse smiled. "You did what you had to do."

Dot wiped the tears away. "What's been going on out there?"

"Ashar went back to the ship. He just left those poor soldiers there."

"I'm not surprised, the ASCII," Dot said grimly as she stood. "Mouse, have I told you how much I appreciate your being here - and just you in general?"

Mouse smiled slightly and felt her face warm, "Sure you have sugah, lots of times. We'd better get back."

"Dot," Phong said the moment they re-entered the War Room. "We count at least one hundred more ships have broken off from the armada and are approaching the city."

Mouse frowned at the vid-window as Dot approached the consol.

"Power up all weapons. Have an equal number of forces intercept."

Unexpectedly, the group of enemy ships released hundreds of small glowing spheres from their holds.

"What's that?" Mouse wondered.

"Specks?" Dot turned to the binome.

"They're unidentifiable," Specks frowned. "They're not weapons."

The globes fell like tiny comets to shatter against buildings or the ground. They caused very little damage.

"Wait," Mouse said, "Zoom in on one of those things."

The vid-window followed the descent of one of the globes until it shattered against the wall of the Diner. What they hadn't been able to see before was that within the globes were thousands of obsidian bugs.

Dot made a noise of disgust, "All ships, destroy those fighters! Don't let any more of those globes hit!"

Their forces went to meet the enemy and the first real battle ensued. The occupants of the War Room watched as their people shot the globes from the sky with pinpoint accuracy. Their lead ships positioned themselves between the armada and their own fighters and blasted any enemies that tried to act as reinforcements.

"Message coming in from the captains, should they attack Ravage?"

"Mouse, could we get through the Ravage's shields?"

"More than likely, not. We'd be wasting energy."

"Tell them to keep their eyes on the Ravage, but they are not to engage it until I give the signal."

"Yes Ms. Matrix."

"What about the ships on our perimeter?"

"They haven't moved," Specks said, "Wait, Ms. Matrix, we have a new problem!"

"What is it?"

Another window showed panicked citizens running into the streets, trying desperately to rid themselves of the infestation. Myriads of bugs exploded from within buildings and out of windows, from cracks in the sidewalk and sewer covers. Scurrying about with frightening speed and clinging to the helpless sprites and binomes, driving them out into the open.

Mouse saw something atop the consol out of the corner of her eye, moving rapidly towards Dot's hand. She drew her dagger, advanced across the room and stabbed it.

Dot jerked her hand back, "What in the net!"

Mouse held up her dagger. Although impaled, the insect still struggled crazily. It was all black, with the exception of a red streak down its middle and wicked-looking pincers.

"Ew!" Dot cried, "Thanks Mouse."

"Better have the lab boys look at this, make sure it's not poison. Although I figure it probably is."

"See if they make us up a good old fashioned pesticide."

"On my way."

"Ms. Matrix, we're getting panicked messages from all sectors."

Both Gavin and Ray appeared in two separate windows, "Dot lass, there's panic on the streets! These bugs are everywhere!"

"Don't fire at the globes, that only spreads them!" Ray cried.

"Have your forces separate into groups and attempt to keep everyone calm. Ray, can you do something about this?"

"I can try, love."

"I want two CPU's to watch Ray's back. Gavin, have everyone proceed in an orderly fashion to where there's water -- the beach, Energy Park, the river --,"

"Water, lass. I see what you mean."

Dot leaned down and removed her boot, "Has anyone seen Enzo?" With a quick violent movement, Dot smashed the second bug that was crawling across the consol with the heel.

"Sorry lass, no sign of him."

"I'll keep looking, love, don't worry I'll find him."

"That's not going to be easy," Specks suddenly gave a cry and swatted at something on his hand. "Oh dear."

The bug fell right in front of Phong who rolled over it. "That was unpleasant." The old sprite muttered.

"Specks, you okay?"

"It bit me, but I'm all right."

"Get down to the infirmary."

"They won't be able to do anything until they test the specimen," Specks said. "More fighters are approaching the city, plus a few dozen rocket cycles."

"All forces intercept. Try not to destroy the globes." Dot began programming her consol, "Maybe we can figure out a way to deactivate them."

"Having a situation, Ms. Matrix?" Dot looked up as General Ashar appeared in a window.

"This suits you to a tee," Dot hissed.

"Very useful things these bugs," Ashar said. "I don't normally prefer to use such tactics. Perhaps you should examine what's going on outside." The window closed.

Enemy transports were dispatched from Ravage. Each transport carried a detachment of twenty-five armour-clad and armed soldiers. These soldiers began to round up prisoners with merciless efficiency.

"Mobilize all transports. Keep any of the enemy transports from taking additional prisoners."

Dot watched as Ray used his power to clear away the bugs. The things would scatter only to converge again on the spot.

"Dot, a distress signal is coming from our transport ships underneath Lost Angles," Phong said. "I can't quite make it out."

"Are there any enemy ships nearby?"

"No - wait, we've lost the signal."

"Now what's going on out there? Well we can't worry about it now. Are the fighters still on the perimeter?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Have Captain Covar take them out. They might not be expecting it now."

"Yes, Ms. Matrix."

Dot threw herself into planning once more yet she could not concentrate beyond the thought of Enzo and what he must be going through now.

* * *

"Message coming in from the surfer, Ms. Matrix."

"Put him through," Dot said, "Specks, are you all right?"

"I'm fine, just a little tired."

Dot eyed him critically for a moment, "Report, Ray."

"I'm leading a group of citizens to the Principal Office now," Ray said, "Some of them are sick from the bug venom. Looks like it's a delayed action poison. Still no sign of Enzo."

"Delayed action?" Dot turned to Specks. "Specks? Specks!" The binome had collapsed onto his consol.

"Medics to the War Room now!" Dot screamed into the comm. She rushed over to the fallen binome and cradled his head against her. "Specks? Stay with me now."

Specks smiled weakly. "Sorry -- Dot - I thought I could hold on --,"

"You random binome. I told you to go to the infirmary." Dot looked up at the vid-window, "Ray, meet at the rendezvous point with Gavin. We'll drop the shields on your confirmation."

"Got it love, Stay Frosty, all of you."

A medical team came in followed by Mouse, "What happened?"

"Specks was bitten by a bug," Dot stood back as the medical team loaded Specks onto a stretcher. "Mouse, please tell me you have some good news."

"I do, the medical team was able to create an antidote, " Mouse said, "but they're not sure how well it will work."

"Thank the User, anything will do now. Mouse, would you take over Specks' consol?"

"You got it, sugah."

"Have the medics begun to vaccinate all Principal Office staff?" It was then Dot realized what Ray had said, that there was still no sign of Enzo.


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