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The Daemon Conflict
By: LadyBard

Chapter 13 - Gifts

He knew he should be deleted but he wasn't.

How he had managed to survive was an enigma. He couldn't call this survival. This was merely existence. He was nothing more than an observer in a world filled with pain.

It wasn't the pain of the total remaking of his code and his format but the pain of failure.

He had failed.

He had failed himself, his friends, and loved ones.

He had failed Dot.

Forgive me Dot, he silently pleaded. Please forgive me.

* * *

AndrAIa examined each of the weapons schematics displayed before her in five vid-windows. The makeshift command center had been set up in a little-used and oft forgotten storage area. A computer had been smuggled in piece-by-piece and assembled by Zif. In fact, at that moment, the sprite was puttering around with the homemade device in hopes of giving them the capabilities to use the Hall security system for some upgrade level spying.

The schematics had been easier to obtain than they thought possible. The Underlings were so good at being invisible that they had raised their format to an art form without even realizing it.

AndrAIa had only been mildly surprised at the number of people who wished to help. People who wanted their lives, or at least a semblance of their lives returned to them. The Underlings numbered a good two thousand sprites and binomes spread all over the Hall, the Academy, and the surrounding area. Some had military experience, some medical, or other skills that proved useful.

Of course, AndrAIa didn't even attempt to command these people. That job was SiRCe's although when people addressed her as Commander SiRCe, the young woman would deny her rank with a blush and a smile.

So far they had gathered information on the number of Guardians present in the city, as well as their habits, mannerisms, and comings and goings. Remembering what SiRCe had said about manipulating the Guardians who had secrets they didn't want to reveal, AndrAIa had suggested they again, use those secrets to their benefit.

The one thing that bothered AndrAIa about their plan was that SiRCe was attempting to get as much information from Cooper Black as she could and AndrAIa had a feeling SiRCe's means of doing so were well - unpleasant for her. When AndrAIa questioned SiRCe about it and told her it wasn't necessary, her friend waved the game sprite's concerns away. The ends justified the means, SiRCe told her, but AndrAIa still didn't like it.

AndrAIa was so into examining the schematics she almost didn't notice SiRCe approaching her.

"AndrAIa," SiRCe's face told the game sprite whatever it was it must be serious. "I need to talk to you."

"What is it?"

SiRCe took her hand, "We've discovered something very important but we don't want you to get your hopes up. I've been - speaking with Cooper and I've discovered that your friends are alive, the both of them."

"Both? Bob and Matrix?" This time AndrAIa didn't stop the tears.

"AndrAIa," SiRCe said, "That may not be good news. We don't know what condition they're in. What little I did get from Cooper - well, prepare yourself for the worst."

AndrAIa nodded and wiped the tears away.

"We've been assigned to feed them," SiRCe continued. "Tonight we'll go to the upper levels and into Daemon's inner sanctum. Cooper well be there. I'll keep him busy while you go inside."

"Thank you SiRCe, for everything."

"No, thank you." SiRCe smiled.

* * *

He stirred from a sleep plagued by nightmares. When his vision focused he found himself staring at the pristine white ceiling in his bedroom. He sat up and wondered how he got there.

His bedroom door opened and Dot strode in. "Awake I see? How do you feel?"

"Awful. Dot, how did I get here?"

"This is your home," Dot smiled. "I know you feel bad but it will be over soon. In the meantime, I have something for you."

"What?" He said eagerly, his voice high and childlike.

She handed him a square metal box. "Open it."

Inside was ball made of clouded red glass. Upon closer examination he saw something suspended in its center, a tiny yellow worm.

"W-what is it?"

"Look closer."

He turned the ball in his fingers and noticed something etched on the other side, a black "M" with crosshairs. "What's this for?"

"Silly, it's your new eye. Only this is a better one."

"Better, how?"

"Here, give it to me, let me put it in."

Suddenly, he was scared, "N-no-I don't want it. Please don't."

"Ssh, don't be a baby, hold still."

When the ball was pressed into his empty eye socket, the burning sensation made him scream.

"Just relax, let it work its way in."

"No, NO! It hurts! Dot, it hurts!"

When it was over, the world around him changed.

"Do you see what I mean?" Dot smiled. "With my gift, you can see. Not only that, you can take what you see."

"I don't understand."

"No, not yet, but you will. The knowledge is already written on your disk. Soon you will be forced to use your newfound power. You will not be able to resist. You'll delete if you don't.

"I don't want to delete. Please tell me what I have to do."

"All right, concentrate. Look for what you want."

He looked around his room - but suddenly it wasn't his room. It was a place draped in shadows and all around him were wisps of colored lights, moving in various directions. They all seemed beyond his reach, yet he though he could grasp the lights if he tried.

"Now reach out and take one of the lights. Go on, it won't hurt you."

He obeyed and closed his hand around a bright red light. It became a part of him and he was suddenly infused with the energy. The moment it happened, he was hungry and wanted more.

"Take all you wish until you are full," Dot smiled.

He reached for another and yet a third, snatching at them greedily and laughing as he absorbed their power. When he was finally satiated he lay back again and Dot leaned over him and kissed him on the forehead.

"Sleep now," she whispered and when he did the nightmares came again, but he paid them no mind.

* * *

AndrAIa and SiRCe walked purposefully down the hall. Each carried a tray, which held a bowl of weak broth and a small loaf of stale bread.

An infected binome was approaching them from the other direction. When he stopped to demand where they were going, they told him in quiet voices. He succinctly told them to be on their way and turned. He screamed suddenly and clutched at his chest. His energy seemed to drain out of him of its own accord, leaving a mere ghost image of the binome he once was. Without a sound, the binome toppled over.

For a full five nanos, both female sprites stared at the binome in horrified fascination.

Then all web broke loose. Guardians and other sprites and binomes came from all directions. They cornered the two women, demanding answers. To the horror of those around, several others present fell down screaming and ended up in the same condition.

A Guardian cried for an immediate execution of both AndrAIa and SiRCe but it was then that Cooper Black approached flanked by two other Guardians and called for order.

"Remove the bodies," Guardian Black ordered. "These women are not at fault. Return to your duties, all of you."

No one questioned Daemon's right hand. SiRCe smiled pleasantly at him, "Thank you Guardian Black, we are in your debt."

"Yes you are," Cooper smiled lecherously at both women. "Follow me. You've taken long enough as it is."

AndrAIa wanted to point out that they would have gotten there sooner had they not been accosted by an angry mob but she wisely kept silent.

After a time they came to some immense double doors and AndrAIa shuddered at the image of the spider.

"Maxine can do this," SiRCe wrapped an arm around Cooper.

"Take the other tray in then," Cooper said.

The two other Guardians opened the door and a stench that made AndrAIa gag poured from the semi-darkness. AndrAIa and SiRCe stepped over the threshold. A weak gray light with no source shone down on two figures lying on their backs. AndrAIa suppressed a cry.

SiRCe set down the tray and gave her a meaningful look before turning and walking back out the way they had come.

Even though she had not approached them, AndrAIa knew something was terribly wrong. She swallowed the lump in her throat and slowly moved forward, glancing back to see SiRCe once again in Cooper's arms. Neither one was paying her any attention.

AndrAIa set the tray down and knelt beside Matrix. This time she could not repress the gasp that escaped her throat. Matrix's good eye was staring vacantly at nothing above him. Worse yet, it was not its true color, the beautiful deep violet that she never tired of looking into, was now a sickly yellow, with no pupil evident. She blinked suddenly at the difference with his other eye and gently moved away the hair at his forehead.

Someone had replaced his mechanical eye.

The new eye was crystal red and as she examined it closer, AndrAIa could have sworn she saw something moving within it.

"Oh Lover," she whispered, as she fought back tears, "what have they done to you?"

Matrix moaned. It was a pitifully weak sound and he blinked.

"Lover," she whispered, "can you hear me? Do you know who I am?"

"Food," the word Matrix uttered was a soft plea. "So hungry."

The crystal eye began to glow. Something about it made AndrAIa recoil from it. Yet her love for Matrix overcame her fear. AndrAIa lifted Matrix's head and picked up the bowl of broth. She tipped it gently between his lips. It was then that she noticed the jagged wound. AndrAIa turned Matrix's head to one side and felt the bile rise to her throat. His ear also had been mutilated. AndrAIa turned his head the opposite way and saw identical wounds.

AndrAIa crawled over to where Bob lay. His eyes were the same, yellow with no pupils. He carried identical wounds but at his temples as well. She surmised that Matrix would have similar wounds. Then something else drew her attention. Something she hadn't noticed before. Barely discernible underneath Bob's skin was a network of yellow veins.

"Oh Bob," she whispered. She had to do something. She couldn't just leave them both there.

Bob blinked and for a nano, his eyes actually seemed to focus on her, but it happened so fast, AndrAIa wasn't certain she saw true. Instead the game sprite repeated the method of feeding with him.

"What's taking so long in there?" Cooper suddenly called.

AndrAIa ground her teeth, but she forced herself to rise, "I'll be back. I promise. Don't leave me."

AndrAIa turned and strode from the room, forgetting all the protocol of an Underling. SiRCe disengaged herself from Cooper.

"You'll be called again for this once more," Cooper said. "Unless I need you for something else."

"You know how to find me." SiRCe smiled.

"Both of you."

AndrAIa was about to ask what was wrong with Bob and Matrix but SiRCe stepped in front of her, "We had better go."

Then SiRCe was practically dragging her down the hall. "I knew you were going to ask about them and that wouldn't have been wise."

"Did he tell you?" AndrAIa asked with barely suppressed fury.

"Yes, although he wasn't supposed to," SiRCe said. "They --,"

"Tell me!"

"She infected them, but its more than that," SiRCe said. "She's causing their codes to be rewritten, their formats changed. If we don't do something soon, they'll both become virals."

"No," AndrAIa whispered. "I can't let that happen. I won't let it happen!"

"Any ideas?" SiRCe asked.

AndrAIa closed her eyes. She was a game sprite. She could adapt to any situation. "Just one." She said when an idea came to her. "And for that we'll need some help."

* * *

Tan shook his head fiercely, "Absolutely not."

"Now Tan," Zif said, "You know certain Guardians allow us to go beyond the frontier."

"And if you take too long?" Tan growled, "Then we're all deleted." The massive binome turned to AndrAIa, "And how can you even be sure these resistance fighters won't just take Zif prisoner or worse?"

AndrAIa sighed. She had expected opposition when she had voiced her idea. "I don't, that's why I volunteered to go. I know where they are."

"But I have a better chance." Zif protested. "You're new and the Guardians will be suspicious of you. I know for a fact I can get away and back, and even if I'm caught well --,"

AndrAIa knew what he was thinking. He was willing to make the sacrifice. At least he had tried to make a bid for freedom. "Look, Zif --,"

"AndrAIa," Zif interrupted, "there's a Guardian here who - well - indulges in certain illegal substances that I've been obtaining for him. I'm due to go on another run. If I don't take too long, I can take your message to the resistance."

"I see," AndrAIa said.

"I thought it was understood that we do what we can to survive," Zif challenged her.

"I know Zif, I wasn't judging you."

Zif sighed, "So you're sure this Dom Markup will be with them?"

"He should be, I mean, where else would he go?" Where indeed, even if he wasn't the one who had betrayed them, and AndrAIa; after spending so much time with Dom; was certain he hadn't. There had been no reason for the program to fail, besides sabotage and AndrAIa had a pretty good idea of who was responsible, although why they had done it, she couldn't guess.

"I don't see what good this will do," Tan said. "Even if they do agree to contact Mainframe, what can they do?"

"You don't know Dot Matrix," AndrAIa smiled and felt a pang of an unfamiliar emotion. She couldn't describe it. Suddenly she was missing Mainframe. Is this what was known as homesickness?

"I'll do it," Zif said. "Don't worry AndrAIa, I'll get your message to them. I know exactly where this place is. It's a little farther than I normally go but I should make it."

"Thank you Zif, and good luck," AndrAIa said.

"This Dot Matrix must be quite a remarkable woman," SiRCe commented.

"She is," AndrAIa whispered.

* * *

"Why are you so sad?"

"Because I failed."

"Perhaps, but look at what you shall accomplish."

"What? To be in servitude for the rest of my processing? To be in pain?"

"You will soon see how much greater your existence is. No longer a mere Guardian, but my general."

"I'd rather delete."

"I'm sure, but that will not occur. You will serve me long and well. As for the pain, that will not be much longer and when it is at an end, you will be indebted to me."

"Never."

"Never is a long time. You will believe differently soon enough."

* * *

Zif flew low over the silent city streets. Although he basically had permission to be out, he knew if he were caught by a patrol the Guardian who had sent him on this errand would deny even knowing Zif, although he wondered why the Guardian was concerned if anyone found out what he was doing. No one would care. Perhaps despite the infection, all Guardians retained something of their former personalities. The Guardian knew he would be removed from the Collective if he were ever discovered under normal circumstances.

There were many places that Zif could take cover, even outside the frontier and he made use of those places. He ran his errand first and then made his way to the outskirts of the city.

He didn't mind the darkness, since he had excellent night sight and hearing. He had to hide a few times from patrols but basically he traveled unhindered.

AndrAIa had given him directions to the resistance emergency base, which was in a once reputable area called ABC Sector. It was mostly abandoned factories, the workers and management all pressed into service for Daemon. The hulking buildings now stood silent and empty, symbols of a forgotten time of prosperity.

AndrAIa, unfortunately, had no way of knowing which of the factories the resistance now used, but she had had a feeling; and Zif agreed; that the resistance would find him.

When they did it was when Zif least expected it.

He was investigating a factory that was a little off the beaten path. It was surrounded by a wooded area, which Zif discovered had a jogging trail and exercise benches, more than likely for employees who liked to stay in shape. The place was still in basically good condition, despite the obvious signs of neglect and vandalism.

He could just see the rooftops of the factories when a blinding bright light was shone directly on him. Instinctively, Zif raised his arm to shield his eyes. He guided his zip board down and made a rather haphazard landing and before he could make a move, he was surrounded by several sprites and binomes armed with stun lances.

"Don't shoot!" Zif cried as he raised his hands, "I'm unarmed."

"Well that's basic," a voice said. A tall figure stepped into the light and therefore was cloaked in shadow. "Unarmed, alone, at this time of night? If it wasn't so ridiculous, I'd say you were a spy."

"I'm not a spy," Zif said, "I was sent with a message for someone."

"Were you?" the voice was definitely female. "And who might that be?"

"A sprite named Dom Markup."

Several surprised exclamations followed Zif's reply. The woman hushed them abruptly. "Why don't you give the message to me and I'll see that he gets it. Then you can be on your way."

"You wouldn't be by any chance, Desdemona?"

Again, came the harsh whispers. AndrAIa had warned him about Desdemona. She had also told him that under no circumstances should he give the message to her.

"And where did you hear that name?"

"From the one who gave me the message."

"And that is?"

"I was told only to speak to Dom Markup. Is he present?"

"You," Desdemona said, "are an intruder in a dangerous area. Since you're obviously too stupid to be a spy, we'll let you go if you leave now. If not --."

"I'm not going anywhere until I speak with Dom Markup."

"Very well," Desdemona said, "Take him."

Zif didn't resist as he was surrounded and shackled. The light was abruptly doused but his night vision kicked in so he was able to keep up with his captors as they made attempts to trip him up. They came to a gate with a guard shack and were admitted by the waiting binome.

Although all the windows were dark, Zif had the impression that he was being watched. Were the resistance fighters cowering in the darkened buildings? Did they even have electrical power? They stopped before a building and Desdemona stepped forward. There was a series of high-pitched beeps and the ponderous groan of a door sliding open.

When the door closed behind them Zif was given another impression of a wide-open room. He could see machinery of all sizes and that part of his format that loved to tinker came alive. They came to another door after a time, where a binome sat in a chair. The guard admitted them with a key card.

This room in contrast with the rest of the factory was brightly lit. Apparently, this was their command center. The sprites and binomes who were within abruptly stopped what they were doing to stare at them. Zif was led over to a chair and forcefully pushed down into it. It was then that he got his first good look at his captor.

She was attractive, no doubt about that. Her purple hair was close cut and framed her smooth yellow face. Her eyes were also purple and glittered with malice. She smiled wickedly at him, "Now, it's me you're going to talk to little man," she said, "not Dom Markup or anybody else."

"So he is here," Zif said.

Desdemona drew back her hand and slapped him. The noise in the room decreased to whispers.

"Watch your mouth little man."

"I merely made a statement," Zif said.

She slapped him again, "Now, who sent you?"

Zif remained silent.

"You obviously have no idea who you're dealing with."

"Oh yes I do."

She raised her hand again but Zif didn't flinch.

"Um - Desdemona?" Someone spoke behind them, "perhaps you should --,"

"Quiet!" She didn't even look back. "Go about your duties, all of you."

"I need to speak with Dom Markup," Zif said loudly. "It's imperative --,"

"Silence!" Desdemona cried, "Take him and lock him in one of the offices. We'll deal with his later."

Two sprites approached and hauled him to his feet. They exited through another door. As they walked Zif memorized the twists and turns and looked for a possible escape route.

"Is it important that you speak with Dom?" The two guards had stopped and were facing him. The taller male had spoken.

"Yes," Zif said.

"We'll get him," the second guard, a petite woman, said.

The man opened another door to reveal a small office. "We'll have to lock you in. Stay here."

"Thank you both," Zif said and the door closed.

The office contained a desk, chair, and a file cabinet. After a thorough search he found a box of stale cookies in the cabinet that to him were ambrosia. After about a millisecond he heard the lock click and the door came open.

A boy - no wait - he was an adult, with the features of a boy. His green face and bright pink hair only accentuated his youthful features. Dom Markup was as AndrAIa had described him.

"I understand you wanted to see me?"

"Yes, I have a message for you."

"How do you know I'm really Dom?" Dom challenged him.

"Because you look just like she described you."

"Who's she?"

"Can we be overheard?"

"The guards at the door are my friends and these offices aren't equipped with surveillance equipment."

"How can you be sure?" Zif asked.

Dom leaned against the desk and smiled wryly, "I own the place."

"What?"

"Well my family does - did - this is my family business."

"What do you make here?"

"Confections. We're confectioners."

Zif looked at the box of cookies in his hands.

"They're better when they're fresh."

Zif smiled, beginning to like Dom, "I have a message for you from AndrAIa."

Dom's eyes widened, "AndrAIa? She's alive?"

"They all are," Zif said, "But Bob and Matrix are in bad shape."

"What of Mistress Katiyana?"

"We don't know," Zif said. "We haven't seen her."

"Spamit," Dom hissed. "How did you meet AndrAIa?"

Zif gave him a quick explanation of the Underlings role in saving AndrAIa. He went on to tell Dom about Daemon's capture of Bob and Matrix and AndrAIa's plan to create the information network. Dom didn't interrupt as he spoke.

"What she needs for you to do is contact Dot Matrix of Mainframe."

At that Dom let out a labored breath, "Do you realize how long I've been wanting to do that?"

"Then why --? Oh, Desdemona."

"Yes," he said. "You see we, the resistance, are in the middle of our own private civil war."

"I don't understand, why?"

Dom looked at him for a moment, "Tell me, how well do you know AndrAIa?"

"What kind of a question is that?"

"You didn't meet Matrix face to face?"

"No."

"I'm going to tell you something, Zif and I want you to consider it. Ultimately, you'll have to make your own decision. I find AndrAIa trustworthy, but Matrix, well he's the main reason we've been torn apart."

Then Dom explained to Zif what he meant and the news almost made Zif doubt his own judgment for a moment.

"I trust AndrAIa," Zif said when Dom went silent.

"So do I, although she doesn't seem to realize what Matrix truly is, or perhaps she's just too afraid to challenge him about it."

"She doesn't seem that way either."

"So either we're both good judges of character --,"

"Or we're really poor judges of character."

"Zif, I'll try and contact Mainframe, but I can't guarantee I'll be successful. Tell AndrAIa that. If I am successful, how will I reach you?"

"It may not be me you'll need to reach. I told you how I was able to move outside the frontier? I'm way overdue to be back. Even if I don't run into a patrol, the Guardians will question my prolonged absence. It may not turn out well for me."

"I'm sorry."

"If you don't hear from me within one cycle go to this shop," Zif reached into his belt and handed Dom a business card. "Ask for a woman named Verdana and tell her I sent you. Tell her you need to reach SiRCe."

Dom took the card and stuffed it into his belt. "Okay, anything else?"

The sound of a commotion outside drew their attention. Desdemona forced the door open and was followed by two binome guards, "What in the net is going on here?"

Dom stepped forward, "I'm talking to Zif."

"Are you random? He could be Daemon's spy for all you know."

"So what if he is? What do you propose we do, Desdemona? Delete him? Make us murderers?"

This gave the woman pause, "You should have waited until I was here. We should have interrogated him together. We are both the leaders of this group are we not?"

"Yes, unfortunately," Dom turned to Zif, "I'll have to tell her what's going on."

"Yes, AndrAIa knew you'd have to. It's all right now that I've delivered my message."

"Wait - AndrAIa?" Desdemona shrieked.

"Let's go to the command center and I'll explain. Follow me, Zif."

"No," Desdemona stepped in front of him.

"Des --,"

"He's a prisoner of war."

The two sprite guards who were obviously with Dom entered the room. Desdemona's guards stepped forward. It was the first evidence of the civil unrest within the resistance.

"Oh stop it, Des, what do you expect him to do?" Dom brushed past them and before Desdemona could utter further protest, Zif followed him.

"You're endangering us all," Desdemona said when they entered the command center.

"Listen up, everyone," Dom said. Zif made himself comfortable in the chair that he had last used. Dom repeated Zif's story.

"We have an opportunity," Dom concluded, "to save Mistress Katiyana and the Guardian and his friends. Zif will act as our go-between. These Underlings are over two thousand strong. They have schematics for weapons and complete access to the inner workings of the Hall, the Academy, and the city. If we manage to rescue our Mainframe visitors, we may have a chance. Who's with me?"

A cheer went up, but several negative shouts accompanied it.

"And what if this is all a trap?" Desdemona said above the din. "What if he was sent here by Daemon to lure us in? And are you forgetting that Neuron died at Matrix's hand? That he knew Matrix was Daemon's spy?"

"I don't know anything about that," Zif said. "AndrAIa is with us, and I trust her."

"Who asked you?" Desdemona snapped at him.

"Have you any ideas, Desdemona? What have we've been doing? Sitting on our ASCII's making plans that don't work? Katiyana trusted Bob. Besides you owe Katiyana. If it wasn't for you, she wouldn't be trapped within the Hall."

"How dare you --?"

"Who is the real traitor here?"

Desdemona made a sound, an outraged cry. Her fists clenched and her eyes blazed with malevolence. Everyone was staring at her, waiting. Then unexpectedly, she smiled, "Fine Dom. We'll contact Mainframe. Just remember that we do this on your say, so if anything happens, it's on your head."

"As you wish," Dom said.

The smile Desdemona gave Dom caused a shiver to travel over Zif's skin. It came to him exactly why AndrAIa had said he was not to speak with Desdemona. The woman was utterly and completely random.

* * *

"We'll try our best to find out about Mistress Katiyana," Zif said. "Take care, my friend."

"You to, return home safe."

A single light came on in one of the second floor windows. A tall form was silhouetted against the light for an instance, then the room was plunged in darkness.

"She wasn't always like that," Dom seemed to find it necessary to explain. "The war has taken its toll on her. She lost everything. Some of us have the strength to keep going and some of us --," The wistful note in his voice told Zif that Desdemona had once meant more to Dom than he wanted to admit.

"So what if it's true? What if Matrix is a spy?"

"We'll open that file when we access it," Dom said. "Will you tell AndrAIa?"

"Yes. I know she'll deny it, but when and if we get Matrix away, she'll need to warn him to watch himself." Zif decompressed his zip board. "Be seeing you, Dom."

Zif didn't turn back as he ascended so he didn't know if Dom watched him but Zif sensed that he did.

* * *

When Zif returned to the city, the Guardian was so intent on receiving his package that he barely acknowledged Zif's tardiness. Silently thanking the User, Zif made his way back to the underground.

For a while he was the center of attention as he told his tale. Preliminary plans were made to gather information on Mistress Katiyana's whereabouts. It wasn't until the people had retired to their sleeping places and it was just himself, SiRCe, and AndrAIa, did Zif decide to broach on the subject of Matrix.

"I suppose I don't need to ask how well you know him," Zif asked without preamble. He didn't believe in mincing words and didn't now.

"He's my life."

Zif smiled. "I know why Desdemona betrayed you."

"So it was her."

"She sabotaged the device you were using. She has some misplaced notions about the so-called rules of war. Apparently, she believes, as Neuron believed, that Matrix was a spy for Daemon."

"What? Surely you can't be serious."

"So you're saying he's not?"

"Of course he isn't," AndrAIa's eyes narrowed. "Although her belief would explain why Neuron said the things he did before - the incident happened. And another thing, are you accusing me of being one? I mean, if Matrix is one, wouldn't that make me one to?"

"Yes," Zif said, "But then again, your love for him could be blinding you to the truth."

"AndrAIa," SiRCe spoke for the first time, "Are you certain about Matrix?"

"I would bet my life on his loyalty," AndrAIa said.

"Well we'll see won't we?" Zif said. "In a cycle's time, we'll see."

* * *

"You summoned us, Mistress?"

"Ah, my warriors, yes. I have one last gift for you."

"We are honored."

"I shall grant you new names. Viral names."

She approached them, "You, my emerald warrior will be called Valadare."

"Thank you, Mistress."

"And you, my silver-haired general will be Dariem."

"I am honored, Mistress."

"They will come for you soon and you will go with them willingly."

"As you say, Mistress."

"And once among them you will destroy them, for my glory."

"Your will is our format."

"Then rest now my soldiers, rest and wait."


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