The Daemon Conflict
Chapter 11 - Split Nano
"Hide!" Melissa grabbed Enzo by the collar and pulled him behind a nearby building.
A bulky transport moved ponderously through the city streets. It pulled to a halt and the rear doors opened. Soldiers poured out, wearing red and black armor and heavily armed.
Enzo jumped, as one of the bugs crawling down the wall near his hand. Melissa speared it with her claw.
"Ew, gross," Enzo said.
Melissa shook the bug off and stamped on it. "Come on, it's not safe here."
"Where is?" Enzo asked as he followed her.
All net had broken loose after General Ashar's announcement and Enzo had yearned for the safety of the Principal Office. They had been afraid to travel on zip boards for fear of being seen by the fighters that now filled the skies. Unfortunately, the bugs and soliders made ground travel even more treacherous.
At one point, Enzo looked up and had seen Ray streaking through the sky, but the surfer was too far away to hear him. Enzo suggested they try and find some of their ground troops and Melissa had reluctantly agreed.
Enzo didn't know what to make of the viral girl. She seemed at lot older than her hours, yet sometimes she seemed like she was the same age as him.
"We can't let them catch us," Melissa said. "They're hostage-takers."
"I get it," Enzo said, "the bugs drive the people out and the soldiers round them up and secure the sector."
"It always works," Melissa said. "The bugs have a very lethal venom. It seems to have no effect at first, but it hits you hard later."
"I guess you're immune?"
Masses of bugs were on a wall. Melissa raised her hand and closed her eyes. The bugs dispersed. "You might say that."
Above them, the fighters battled in fiery explosions. Enzo stopped to look up, "Why do people have to fight?"
"What a perfectly ridiculous question." Melissa said.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means the strong are destined to rule," Melissa said, "The weak destined to be ruled by them. In order for the strong to expand their rule, it is necessary to use force."
"Now's who's being ridiculous?" Enzo pressed his back against a wall when another transport rolled by. "You've got some really screwed up ideas you know that? No one has a right to take what doesn't belong to them. Just because you happen to be stronger doesn't mean you hurt people. You should try working for what you want instead of just taking it."
"Who told you that?"
"My sister," he glared at her daring her to insult Dot.
She shook her head, "You will see how wrong you are when my mother takes control of this system."
"No," Enzo said, "you'll see how wrong you are when my sister stops her."
"Ssh," Melissa suddenly said, "Someone is coming."
Now Enzo heard it to. It sounded like a group moving towards them, but there was another sound that Enzo soon recognized as crying.
"Wait!" Melissa hissed as Enzo stepped around the corner. A group of citizens were moving at a hurried pace. They stopped almost as one when they saw Enzo. The group consisted of mostly elderly sprites and binomes and children.
"Hey!" Enzo said, "Is everybody all right?"
"Enzo, is that you?" Ms. Brodie of all people stepped forward.
"Ms. Brodie am I glad to see you."
"Enzo Matrix," Ms. Brodie said, "what in the net are you doing out here? I'd have thought you'd be in the Principal Office."
"Believe me, Ms. Brodie, I want to be there. We've been trying to get there, but -,"
"Oh yes, we were surprised we got this far," Ms. Brodie said. "Oh this is so horrible! Those awful bugs and those soldiers! They've taken so many people."
An explosion above and falling debris caused the group to panic.
"This way, hurry up!" Enzo waved them back into the maze of buildings.
The children were openly crying as Enzo led them into a narrow alley.
"Ms. Brodie see if you can calm the children down," then Enzo blushed. Here he was giving orders to his teacher! "I mean you're so good with kids."
Ms. Brodie winked, "I'll see what I can do, Sector Warden."
"Sector Warden?" Melissa asked. "You have a position of power here?"
"Um - well, yeah. I play the games, since Bob is away."
"You actually play the games?"
"Well - yes."
She regarded him for a moment, "You're very brave."
"Oh - well - um," He turned away and felt his face burn. He was grateful when Ms. Brodie approached.
"Do you think we're safe here for now?"
"For now," Enzo said.
"Um Enzo, I've wanted to ask, who is your pretty young friend?"
"Oh," Enzo felt himself blush a second time, "this is Melissa."
"Hello, young lady," Ms. Brodie smiled at her. "My but you resemble Hexadecimal."
"She's my sister," Melissa said.
"Sister! How nice!" Ms. Brodie said, "But - it seems you chose to visit at a bad time. Do - do you know about your sister, young lady?"
"That she's in the infirmary? Yes."
Enzo decided it was time to change this uncomfortable subject, "Ms. Brodie, how many do we have here?"
"Twelve including the children. We're all from the same neighborhood. When the bugs came, we all ran. Oh they're horrible things. Is your friend all right?"
Enzo turned to find Melissa standing rigidly with her eyes closed. After a few nanos she looked up, "The bugs won't bother us."
Ms. Brodie gave her a confused look.
"Ms. Brodie do you know what that crash was that we heard earlier?"
"Floating Point." She said, "One of the tiers dropped. Crashed right down on the enemy camp. It was on purpose."
"Dot," Enzo said.
"Your sister did that?" Melissa said. "Perhaps I was wrong about her too."
Enzo stopped himself from saying, you were. "We can't stay here. We have to get to the P.O."
"I'll get everyone ready," Ms. Brodie said.
A little sprite girl clutching a green-skinned teddy bear wiped at her tears. Enzo smiled at her, "Don't worry," he said. "Everything will be all right."
"My brother is missing." She said. "He was with me and he's gone."
"I'm sorry," Enzo wiped away her tears. "When this I over, my sister and I'll try and find him."
"Really?" The girl smiled up at him. "Thank you."
Enzo was suddenly aware of Melissa watching him. When he turned he found her looking at him with a slight smile. "Let's go," Enzo's voice sounded a little rougher than he would have liked.
Enzo led the small band through the back streets of the city. As much as he wanted to head straight for the P.O., circumstances prevented it. Many times, they had to backspace and go down levels. They ran into other groups trying to escape the soldiers and the bugs. They accompanied a family down to Level 31 to search for a missing child only to find him at Al's, which was actually still open. Enzo ordered rest and energy shakes for everyone and when Al's waiter protested at Enzo's lack of units the little sprite replied, "Come on you know Dot'll reimburse you for it."
He slid into a booth across from Melissa. She said, "I've never had one of these."
"You've never had an energy shake?"
"No," Melissa took a long sip. "It's good."
"Dot's Diner makes them better."
Melissa looked out the window.
"Do you really think everything will be all right?"
"Yes," Enzo sipped at his shake.
"I hope so, for your sake, Enzo."
"Thanks," the little sprite blushed again, "Come on, we'd better go."
Some of the group decided to stay and hide out at Al's. Enzo didn't stop them. It was getting late and Enzo wanted to be above level before the cyber-sun set.
The group made their way down another alley between two warehouses. Enzo shuddered when he realized where they were. The place where the web creature held the citizens- including Dot, prisoner to use for food. He had only learned of it by over hearing a conversation that he knew he shouldn't have. Enzo was so deep in thought that he nearly cried aloud when Melissa grabbed him by the collar and pulled him back. She pointed.
Across an open space, two enemy transports waited. They were herding in another group of prisoners; many were woman, the elderly, and children.
Enzo turned sharply and hissed, "Go back!"
"Andy!" The little girl that Enzo had spoken to cried, "It's my brother Andy!"
Then before Enzo could stop her, she dashed out into the open.
"No, stop!" Enzo screamed and ran after her.
"Oh my gracious!" Ms. Brodie yelled.
Enzo shot across the clearing but it was too late. The guards spotted her just as Enzo reached her.
"Halt in the name of General Ashar!" One guard, who was armed with a laser rifle, yelled at them.
Enzo turned and dashed for cover not daring to look back.
"Andy!" The girl cried, "No! Andy!"
"Move!" Enzo was screaming as the laser blasts started, "Run, all of you!"
Something hot slashed near his ear. Enzo screamed, and nearly dropped his precious cargo. Then out of the mouth of the alley came blasts of red-hot energy and as he ran by, Enzo had a glimpse of Melissa attacking the advancing soliders with her viral powers. He set the girl down, "Run! Melissa come on!"
Then Melissa was right beside him.
"But what about Andy? I have to go!" The girl turned and ran the other way.
"Enzo there's nothing we can do!" Melissa said, "We have to save ourselves!"
"I won't leave her."
"It's too late, see?"
They looked back at the advancing guards. One held the struggling little girl and the others were coming for them, "We have to run now!"
Sick to his core-com, Enzo ran alongside Melissa, back down the alley. The advantage was Enzo knew the twists and turns of Mainframe, so they managed to keep ahead of their pursuers. As they rounded another corner, they were brought up short by the sight of a third transport blocking their path. The soldiers now had their group, including Ms. Brodie and were forcing them into the back of the vehicle.
"Oh no! We have to help them!"
"We have to follow them, see if we can get a chance to help."
"Enzo --," Melissa said, "it's no use."
"What do you mean?" Enzo's voice rose hysterically.
"We -," she said, "that is, my mother never keeps prisoners, unless they're of some use to her."
"So you're saying we shouldn't try?"
"I'm saying they're already as good as deleted."
"I'm going to try," Enzo's voice was firm. "You can do what you want."
"I'll go with you Enzo. If only to protect you. To keep them from getting you to."
* * *
General Ashar leaned over the portable consol and examined the reports coming in from the various sectors. He didn't even look at the soldier who stood before him.
"You're certain? Melissa was with the Matrix boy?"
"And you let them escape?"
The soldier sighed, "Yes sir."
"And you realize the penalty for failure?"
"I do, sir."
Ashar looked up at the soldier for the first time. He hated it when a soldier begged for his life. This one seemed resigned to his fate and was willing to accept it. "Very well."
Ashar raised his hand and made a fist. Four thorny tentacles shot from beneath his skin at his knuckles to wrap around the soldiers throat. The soldier gave a strangled gasp. Ashar retracted the tentacles and the soldier collapsed, already deleted.
"Find Melissa and the boy," Ashar ordered a nearby soldier. "Make certain they are brought to me alive."
Ashar then turned to the sprite standing at his left, "So the escape transports have been sabotaged?"
"And what of their captains and crew?"
"The majority of the crews are deleted. Those that escaped will not survive."
"Excellent," Ashar said. "You will take a detachment of soldiers with you and help the others search for the boy and Melissa. You have done well. Succeed in this and there will be great rewards. How does Lieutenant Daverage sound?"
Kurt Daverage smiled evilly, "It sounds very pleasing, my dear general."
* * *
The transport came to a halt before another group of terrified binomes. Enzo watched as six soldiers exited and surrounded the group.
"We surrender," one binome said.
"No," Enzo whispered.
"What do you plan on doing?" Melissa asked from behind him.
"Following them. I won't mess up this time." He was glad when Melissa didn't reply.
The transport started up and the sprite and the viral followed until it stopped again at an intersection where another transport sat. The soldiers disembarked and began to talk. They seemed in no hurry and were actually relaxing. Then the transport they had been following opened its doors. People from the second transport were transferred from one vehicle to the other. Neither transport left right away. The soldiers continued to converse.
"We've got to do something," Enzo turned to Melissa. "Can you do anything?"
Her eyes narrowed, "You want me to delete them for you?"
"Of course not!" Enzo hissed. "Just -- I don't know. Get them away from the transports."
Melissa closed her eyes in concentration. Nothing happened at first, then a sound, like a soft rustling from far away began and Enzo was shocked (and somewhat disgusted) to see thousands of bugs converging on the area. The soldiers were completely caught off guard as the insects covered them.
Melissa opened her eyes, "Go, now!"
Enzo ran for the transports and the bugs obligingly moved out of his path. The guards were too busy trying to disengage the bugs from their person, to worry about the green-skinned sprite. Enzo bounded into the back of the first vehicle.
The prisoners stared at him with frightened eyes. "Come on everyone, now's your chance to escape."
With a cheer the prisoners spilled from the transport. Ms. Brodie came out, with the little girl in tow. She was sullen and quiet and gave Enzo the nastiest look. Enzo couldn't figure out why.
Some tackled the guards despite the bugs and wrestled their weapons away. The bugs dispersed and Melissa approached him.
"What should we do with the guards, Enzo?" Ms. Brodie asked him.
"Put them in the van."
"We found more weapons in this one!" A sprite yelled of the other transport.
Of the twenty or so prisoners, at least a dozen were now armed. The first sprite, which had spoken, handed Enzo a laser pistol. "You'll need this."
"Um - I really don't --,"
"What now, Sector Warden?" Ms. Brodie smiled at him.
Enzo absently shoved the pistol into his belt, "Maybe we can use one of the transports to get to the Principal Office."
"Or use it to cause some mayhem," the sprite said.
"I don't think there's much we can do. It'd be safer in the Principal Office."
"Do what you want to do little boy, I say we fight, who's with me?" The sprite cried out.
The armed sprites and binomes cheered their agreement.
"Wait!" Ms. Brodie cried, "We should listen to our Sector Warden, he's --,"
" -- Just a kid. What does he know?" The sprite broke in. "Little coward."
"Sprite," Melissa hissed, her eyes were on fire, "I'd take back those words if I were you."
"And who are you?" The sprite eyed Melissa in a critical way that made Enzo uncomfortable, "just a girl-child sprite yourself."
"I'm not a sprite, I'm a --,"
The warning cry of another one of the former captors drew everyone's attention to the sky. Several rocket cycles were converging on them. The man who was their obvious lead struck a familiar note in Enzo's mind.
"Run!" Someone yelled.
"No, open fire!" The sprite screamed and those armed fired on the riders.
"No, wait, stop!" Enzo's voice was drowned out from the sound of laser fire. The soldiers returned fire and their superior weapons soon turned the tide of the skirmish. Some threw down their weapons and ran.
"Ms. Brodie, run! Take her with you!" Enzo cried.
"But Enzo --,"
"Go now! I'll catch up with you later!"
"Be careful, young one."
"You go to, I'll stay and help."
"No," Melissa hissed and raised both hands. The viral stepped forward and energy balls appeared in both her palms. She hurled both at the advancing enemy and blasted two of the soldiers clean off their cycles.
The fighters raised a cheer, although some looked at Melissa with a mixture of awe and fear. Enzo drew the pistol, hoping to get a good shot at the leader and dreading even the thought of harming another sprite. He aimed for the cycle instead. The soldiers expertly avoided the shots, would return fire again, and when a hit was successful, another defender would fall. The leader seemed to stay well away from the actual fighting. Enzo willed him to come closer so he could get a better look at him.
Then one of the defenders cried out as more cycles approached from the east.
"Get back!" Melissa suddenly yelled. "Everyone run now!"
The viral took him by the arm and jerked him away from the transport.
"Melissa, what are you --?"
Those that heeded Melissa survived. Because of her sensitive sight, Melissa had seen the laser cannon one of the advancing soldiers carried, even from so great a distance. The high-pitched whine and the flash of white-hot light was all the additional warning the fighters received before the transport exploded. Those nearby were deleted instantly.
The force of the explosion threw Enzo and Melissa back. For a few moments the world went dark for Enzo. When his vision cleared he saw that the skirmish was pretty much over. Some of the remaining fighters fled and the soldiers took off in pursuit. The lead sprite landed his cycle near them. He removed the helmet he wore and observed the scene, before turning towards them.
Enzo stood on shaky legs. He helped Melissa up and turned to the sprite. "You," Enzo whispered.
"So it is true," Kurt Daverage smiled. "Melissa, General Ashar was very displeased to learn of your defection."
"You're the spy for Daemon?" Enzo asked, incredulously.
"Of course. Who did you think it was? Syn? Surely you can't be serious."
Daverage stepped forward, "I still owe you one little boy. General Ashar wants you both alive, but he didn't say in what condition."
Melissa stepped in front of Enzo, "You'll have to get through me first, Daverage."
"Easily arranged," Daverage reached into his belt and took out a small blue disk. He tossed it at Melissa's feet.
"What in the net is this?" Melissa reached for it.
"No, wait!" Enzo warned.
The disk exploded in Melissa's hand, bathing her in an eerie blue light. Melissa cried out in pain and tried to fling the disk away, but it seemed to be stuck to her fingers.
"Anti-viral field," Kurt smiled. "Quite useful don't you think?"
"No!" Enzo snatched the disk from Melissa hands and crushed it under his boot. He grabbed for Melissa just as she fell.
"Enzo," she gasped, "It hurts."
"It's okay. You'll be okay. I'll get you help, I promise."
"You're not going anywhere but with me to General Ashar," Daverage started forward.
"Stop!" Enzo snatched up the pistol he had dropped. "You're not taking us anywhere."
"Oh come now, stop these games," Kurt said. "I know you won't delete me. You don't have the circuits for it. Now put that down."
"No." Enzo stood.
Kurt's eyes narrowed. "You can go conscious or unconscious, it makes no difference to me, although I prefer unconscious."
Enzo fired once at the ground. "Get back!"
"You lousy little --!"
Kurt lunged forward and seized Enzo by the arm. The pistol went off; whether it was by accident or design Enzo was never sure; in a flash of green light and the spy was gone.
No one had seen him do it. It didn't make a difference. Enzo knew what he had just done. He stared at the weapon in his hand for a moment before flinging it away. The little sprite stared at it, where it lay, unable to move, his mind and body numb.
"Enzo - help me," Melissa's feeble voice brought him out of his trance. Help, he had to get Melissa help. He couldn't worry about what he had done now. He would deal with it later, but already, the guilt was eating away at him. He had done the unthinkable.
Enzo reached for Melissa, helping her to stand, "Lean against me, we'll take it slow, all right?"
Enzo didn't glance back at the scene.
* * *
It was Frisket's barking that alerted Mr. Pearson to the intruders. The old binome was exhausted after fighting off enemy soldiers and killing off the bugs. The pesticide he had created worked wonders. Now if he could only find a way to get to the Principal Office and if they lowered the shields, he could get it to Dot Matrix.
The pounding on his front door was a surprise, as Frisket had not allowed anyone to get nearer than a few hundred yards. Mr. Pearson moved cautiously towards the door, "Who is it?"
"It's Enzo, Mr. Pearson, open up! We need your help!"
"Enzo!" Pearson flung open the door. "What's the matter with ya --," He halted as he saw the state both the children were in. "What in the net happened?"
"Please help her!" Enzo was crying. "She got hit with an anti-viral field. We couldn't get to the P.O."
"All right, bring her in quick! That's a good lad, lay her down on the bed."
Pearson felt Melissa's forehead, "She's running a high fever lad - Enzo?"
Enzo was sitting in a corner, his knees drawn up to his chest, his face blank, and he was slowly rocking back and forth. Not even Frisket nuzzling him brought him out of his stupor.
"All right lad, ya stay right there, we'll deal with whatever happened later."
Right now, his main priority was helping the girl. In all his travels as a Codemaster, Pearson had acquired many possessions. "Stay with them, Frisket, guard them."
Frisket whined in response. Pearson left his home and made his way to the storage shed. "Let's see now," the old binome searched through various storage chests. He had several different types of diagnostic programs that might work. He gathered what he could and returned to his home.
Enzo was in the same place. Melissa was now caught in the throes of delirium. Pearson covered her with extra blankets and ran the first program on her. She seemed to calm slightly, but Pearson wasn't sure what else he could do. One thing was for certain; both these children didn't need to be with him. They needed to be in the P.O., where they could get real help. Something had happened to Enzo that was for certain and he had a feeling the boy was having a rough time dealing with it.
Pearson reached underneath the bed and pulled out a locked chest. Frisket padded up to him and whined plaintively.
"Well boy," Mr. Pearson said, "Sometimes drastic times call for drastic measures."
Pearson unlocked the chest and opened it. "These kids need help and this old binome isn't the one to give it to them. They need to be in the Principal Office."
Carefully, Pearson drew out the broken halves of his Gibson Coil Pike.
"I can get them there," Pearson held the two ends together and concentrated. The ends fused, becoming whole. "If they drop the shields."
Pearson closed the chest and shoved it back under the bed. "Vid-window."
The window opened to present a scene of the Principal Office. Pearson sat down on the floor. As he suspected the shields were still up.
"Well boy," he smiled at Frisket, "I guess now we wait and hope they lower those shields soon. Don't worry Enzo lad, you'll get through whatever happened. I know you're a strong lad."
If Enzo heard him, the little sprite made no indication.