The Daemon Conflict
Chapter 21 - Final Journey
With her organizer open, recording every nano of the event, Dot watched as Hexadecimal gathered power in her hands preparing to open the portal. Next to her, she felt Bob's strong, reassuring presence. He was always close to her now, the way she wanted.
Now as the two of them stood outside of the factory, with a glorious dawn breaking around them, Hexadecimal brought the rest of their troops into the ranks. The portal was immense, almost as big as he web portal that had plunged Mainframe into chaos it seemed to Dot years ago.
As the soldiers passed through the portal, the Mainframers went to work. Dot and the other command center personnel registered each sprite and binome; made brief summaries of their skills and asked each if they were willing to fight. For a time she was so into what she was doing, she barely noticed anyone or anything else around her not. She was just instructing a group of young men with military training to check with AndrAIa on the weapons they were familiar with, when she heard a familiar voice at her ear.
"Greetings. We meet again, Ms. Matrix."
Dot sighed and turned, "Captain Lynx."
"Surprised to see me?"
"No. You agreed to help, and Phong said you'd be here."
"Yes," he said. "What would you have me do?"
"Are you volunteering to fight?"
"I will if need be."
Dot stared at him critically, "My brother is here you know."
"Yes I know."
"He doesn't know about your accusations and I'd advise against telling him. He'd take it badly."
"I have no intention of confronting your brother," Lynx said. "I have long since resigned myself to whatever may happen."
The elderly captain rubbed his beard, "Actually, I came over here to ask if you've seen a companion of mine."
"Oh, you mean your contact here?"
"So you remember? Yes, I want to make certain he is well."
"Since my brother is still processing?" Dot said darkly. She glanced over Lynx's shoulder when she saw Bob approaching. Lynx saw her look and glanced back too. "Well Captain Lynx? Was that the intent of your contact here? To delete my brother?"
"No," Lynx said without looking at her. "Merely to stop him, but if deleting became necessary --," he turned back to her, "This is war, after all Ms. Matrix."
"I don't think I want you fighting or anywhere near us, but I don't have the authority here to make you leave. When this is over and we return to Mainframe, I want you on the next transport off my system, is that understood?"
"Of course," Lynx said just as Bob walked up. "Now about my friend?"
"What's his name?"
Unable to mask her reaction, Dot glanced at Bob, before returning her attention to Lynx.
"What?" Lynx demanded. "What happened?"
"I'm sorry," Bob answered. "He's deleted."
"What?" Lynx looked from Dot to Bob. "How?"
"He was --," Bob began, then looked at Dot.
"He and Matrix had a confrontation. From what I've been told, Neuron drew a pistol on Matrix and fired without provocation --,"
"That's a lie!" Lynx cried.
"Watch your mouth, Lynx," Bob warned. "It'll get you in serious trouble."
"Your friend fired on Matrix. Matrix returned fire. It was self defense." Dot continued. "I'm sorry."
"Are you?" Lynx demanded.
Bob stepped closer to Dot and for a moment, Lynx faltered.
"So you still refuse to see do you?" To Dot's surprise, there were tears in Lynx's eyes. "Neuron was my friend. We were comrades in arms. His murder will not go unanswered for."
"I hope you are not threatening my brother, Captain."
"No," Lynx said. "But if we survive this, I will see that justice is done."
"You do what you feel you have to do," Bob said, "But if anything happens to Matrix, you'll be the first person I come looking for."
Bob's threat had the desired effect. Lynx made a hasty departure.
"Are you all right? He didn't upset you didn't he?"
"No," Dot looked after the binome. "But I think he'll cause trouble for us in the future."
The Command.com of Mainframe sighed, "Lynx isn't worth the effort and we have much more work to do."
Her encounter with Lynx became unimportant over the next few seconds and with the arrival of their additional troops from Cascade and Harddrive, Dot was so busy preparing them, that she put the whole unpleasant incident out of her mind.
* * *
The senior members of the Resistance gathered in the command center for what everyone knew would be the last time.
Katiyana was at Dot's place now. Illuminating the room was a 3-D map, one of several that AndrAIa and her team had acquired during the first confrontation. This one was of the hall and the surrounding streets. The army was planning the best way to approach. They hoped for the element of surprise, but doubted they would have it.
Dot, AndrAIa, Dom and SiRCe were also around the console, examining the map. Zif was there; although making some last minute calculations; was listening intently. The ship captains, Irina (Bob couldn't help but be a little embarrassed around her) and Max Covar (that introduction had been brief and rather tense and Bob later learned of the death of Covar's second-in-command) were also present. Even Little Enzo was there, after finally being given leave to move around and sat with Melissa on top of a pile of boxes, watching the goings on with the excitement only children could have for any given situation. Hex was taking a much-needed rest and Matrix, Mouse and Ray had left for one last scouting mission to test the waters within the city.
"When SiRCe and I left," Katiyana was saying, "they hadn't repaired the gate yet. I say we go through there again. It will be what they least expect."
Dot nodded her agreement, "We don't want to spread our forces too thin but we have enough to send at least four squads in by air and an equal number of ground troops."
"Yes," Katiyana said, "Captain Irina, how goes the repairs on the Libertas?"
Irina glanced at Bob before speaking, "It will still take some time to repair the damage that was done. I'm afraid it will take at least three more cycles for my ship to be battle ready."
Dot shook her head, "We don't have that much time. Mai, will you and a team of your choosing be able to pilot a transport?"
She smiled slightly, "I will do whatever is required of me."
"The Mercurius is armed and ready, Ms. Matrix," Max said.
"All right then," Dot said, "We'll use the Mercurius to drive a wedge through their forces and our fighters and transports can guard its rear."
"Excellent," Katiyana nodded her approval, "Bob, you'll be taking your team in with the ground troops?"
"Yes," Bob stepped forward and motioned to a section of the map. "We'll infiltrate the Hall here. It's a service bay. We'll need four more teams to come in at these points, if I'm reading the layout and the guard posting information correctly. They'll be a diversionary tactic, allowing us to get near enough to the Council Chambers. I can handle things from there."
"I'll go with your team, Bob," Dot said immediately.
"What do you mean --,"
"They'll need you out in the field, Dot. Daemon may be expecting us, but she'll throw everything she has at our troops. She's not just going to let us waltz in. Your experience is there."
"Dot --," he wasn't about to say in front of all those people that he didn't want her there in case he failed. He didn't want to imagine what Daemon would do to her.
"He's right, Dot, we will need you in the field." Katiyana said.
"You're really going to allow him to face Daemon alone?" Dot said, "Wouldn't it be better if his entire team followed him in --?"
"No," Bob said. "Anyone else would distract me from my purpose. Also, I told you something was in that room. Melissa said it was called Tentacles. I may not be able to protect anyone else and I must face Daemon for what I must do."
Dot turned away, "So who will protect you?"
"It's the only way," Katiyana broke in. "We'll need the rest of our forces to subdue the Guardians. We have a better chance since their keytools won't function, but they will still be formidable in battle. Once Bob and his team infiltrate the sanctum and we've dealt with the Guardians then we will converge on the hall."
"Very well," Dot acquiesced, but Bob knew she was regretting it.
So that was it. The final plan had been made. They were ready. With the dawn, they would travel to face Daemon for the last time.
* * *
It was a smaller group that met late that night at the command center as the rest of the Resistance slept. All those with a stake and what was to come were gathered there as they listened to the report by Matrix, Mouse and Ray.
"The city is actually kind of quiet," Mouse said, "Which is a bad sign. We saw the silent patrols out. People are terrified. No lights anywhere. You were right, they're waiting for us, sugah."
Bob nodded grimly, "As I suspected."
"You seem to have formulated quite a plan," Ray said. "So have you chosen your team?"
"Yes," Bob said, "I would like for you, Matrix, AndrAIa and SiRCe with me when we breach the inner sanctum."
"What about me?" Mouse said.
"Well since you work so well with Dot," Bob said with a wry grin, "you're with her."
"Frosty, we get to do some serious damage again, eh, sugah?" Mouse smiled at Dot.
"Um hm," Dot leaned back in her chair and returned a grin.
"Bob," Dom spoke up, "I would like to accompany you as well."
Bob gave him a puzzled frown, but said, "All right, Dom."
"Zif can handle all the tech stuff," Dom nodded at his friend who sat across from him. "I want to - well, I've come a long way in this and Daemon destroyed my family --,"
"It's okay Dom, no explanations needed." Bob stood. "Then it's settled." Bob held out his hand to Dot and helped her to stand. "We leave tomorrow at oh-four hundred."
"Guess that's our cue to get a few milliseconds of sleep," Mouse stood and looked over to Ray. "Walk me to my quarters, sugah?"
Ray blushed slightly, "Sure love."
"SiRCe wait a moment," Dom said as she walked out, "a word, please?"
"Walk me back to the infirmary?" Bob was still in his room there.
"Promise you'll be good?"
Bob smiled, "I promise -- nothing."
* * *
"Unit for your thoughts, Sparky?" AndrAIa leaned against her handsome boyfriend as the two sat under the stars. Neither one was sleepy, being too keyed for it.
"I was just thinking about tomorrow," Matrix said, "AndrAIa, I don't know what will happen and I know I've been acting really basic lately, but I just wanted to say --,"
AndrAIa grasped him by the chin, turned his face to hers and kissed him, after a few nanos, Matrix returned the kiss, moaning softly as he drew her closer.
They parted and Matrix muttered, "Don't turn around but we have an audience."
"So I noticed."
"I think it's Melissa."
"Really? That's good."
"It is? For who?" Matrix actually smiled slightly.
"Hold that thought, Lover, I need to talk to her. Don't go anywhere, okay?"
Matrix leaned against the wall again, "Hmph, where would I go?"
AndrAIa walked back inside, through the kitchen area. On the way, she opened one of the large refrigerators and drew out a pitcher of something. She sniffed at it and was satisfied it was drinkable, and then she found two cups and moved from the room.
Melissa was sitting at one of the tables in the adjacent dining area. AndrAIa approached her and set the two cups down and poured them both drinks. "Hope you like juice."
She didn't speak.
"I needed to talk to you."
AndrAIa leaned back and crossed her legs; she's a bright girl, maybe a little too bright, "Yes."
"You want me to keep secret the fact that she's an agent of my mother?"
Too bright. "Yes. What purpose would it serve telling anyone especially now?"
Melissa shrugged, "I suppose nothing. Do you trust her?"
"Yes," AndrAIa said.
"Like Dariem and Valadare?"
AndrAIa flinched, "Would you call them Bob and Matrix?"
"They're not Bob and Matrix anymore. I really hope you all know what you're doing. I suppose Hex and I will have to clean up the mess."
"Have a little faith," AndrAIa said.
"Dari - Bob said the same thing."
"And he's right," AndrAIa said, "So can I get your promise?"
"On one condition," Melissa said, "Will you answer me a question?"
"Yes." AndrAIa took a sip of her juice.
"Do you like kissing Matrix?"
AndrAIa nearly choked on her drink, "Um - yes - very much so."
"Oh," Melissa regarded her cup, "Do you think Enzo would like it if I kissed him?"
That time, AndrAIa did choke. After a few nanos of sputtering and throat clearing she said, "Um - I think you're a little too young to think about that. Wait 'til you're older, then I'm sure Enzo wouldn't mind at all."
"I'm a lot older than people think," Melissa said, "but I'll take your advice."
"Good," AndrAIa smiled. "Come on, I'll walk you to the nursery. Just what were you doing up anyway?"
"Thinking about tomorrow," she replied.
"You're not the only one." AndrAIa smiled down at the little virus. She's so much like I was at that age. So fiercely protective of Enzo. It made the game sprite long for those days again.
* * *
"No! I'm not Dariem! I'm not that thing anymore!"
"You will always be my Dariem. I'm waiting for you my love. Come to me. I will have you and destroy everything and everyone you hold dear. Including your Dot."
"No, I won't let you!"
Bob came awake in a cold sweat, his core-com slamming against his chest. The panic returned as he stared into the darkness. Then a soft voice came from the darkness, "It's all right Bob, I'm here." Dot laid an arm across his chest.
She had stayed with him again, but still there was no intimacy. Bob sighed and pulled her closer and went back to sleep.
* * *
The troops were ready, falling into perfect ranks on the ground and in the air. The newly commissioned officers had seen to that. As usual Dot had everything running smoothly. AndrAIa and Zif checked weapons. Mouse went over the battle plan with Katiyana one last time searching for any unforeseen circumstances and Hexadecimal and Melissa once again manned the big guns.
Bob briefed his team one last time, pointing out possible places for ambush and where he wanted his people to be. All the while, however, in the back of his processor was the memory of the dream, but Bob shoved the panic back there with it. If Daemon wanted him, he was on the way.
The air was filled with many emotions, excitement, tension, fear, and worry. Bob spread the word for everyone to remain as calm as possible and to keep any negative emotions at bay, lest Daemon use them to gain control of them.
At last, all was in readiness. It was Katiyana who spoke to the troops that time. Until the last moment, Bob kept Dot close to him. When he parted from her, he didn't have a chance to say a proper good bye, but the two exchanged a look of understanding and then they began their journey.
Bob rode in the cockpit of the ground transport, being piloted by Dom and SiRCe. Mouse had created some makeshift armor for the two of them, and both were equipped with pulsar wrist cannons. This particular transport was fitted with six side cannons and Matrix and AndrAIa were standing by one two, while Ray manned a third. Bob would soon join them. In the back of the transport also at the ready were forty or so odd soldiers that were supplementing their team. Communications between the air to ground troops were silenced when they reached the outskirts of the city.
Like Mouse had reported all around was silence and darkness. The city that had once teamed with life was now a graveyard. Its present condition a testament to Daemon's control. Bob saw all of it and at the same time, saw nothing at all.
When they arrived a sector away from the gate, Katiyana broke radio silence, "All right everyone, we have arrived. User protect us all. Proceed forward with Battle Plan 477. They're expecting us more than likely, so stay alert. Too many places for ambush."
"Big guns ready to fire," Dot's voice came over the comm and Bob suppressed a sigh. "All right Hex, Melissa, hit them hard!"
The first strike from the big guns set the sky ablaze and shattered the new construction of the gates with an almost cataclysmic force. The battle cry went up and the air forces once again poured into the city, opening the way for the ground forces to converge.
For a moment Bob hoped that he would be wrong, that they had caught them by surprise. Then the floodlights filled the sky, and the enemy forces made themselves known.
Portals came to life and Daemon's troops came in waves. Infected Guardians, sprites and binomes converged on them from the air and over the ground. They came from the seemingly abandoned houses.
"All forces engage looks like they were waiting for us!" Dot was screaming over the airwaves.
Bob dashed for the rear of the transport, "All guns, engage!" Then he manned the nearest gun and as SiRCe and Dom drove forward, opened fire.
For a time, Bob was only focused on acquiring a target and pulling the trigger. The transport drove relentlessly through lines of enemy troops. Behind him, Bob was aware of Matrix acquiring multiple targets with Gun. Light flooded the transport and Ray went streaking outside on Baud, yelling over his shoulder for them to keep going and that he would be right behind them.
The transport careened wildly and for a panicked moment, Bob was sure it would turn over but Dom and SiRCe managed to keep control. Bob left the gun and went up to the cockpit, "How we doing?"
"We're almost there. Our troops are in position and they're clearing the way for us.
"Be careful you two."
Bob went back to the gun, when there was a flash and an explosion and Matrix cried out. An errant shot from outside had blasted the wall near him. Bob was by him in moments but the brawny renegade waved him away. "I'm okay."
The transport came to a screeching halt and Dom called from up front, "This is it! This is as far as we can go. We've got to travel the rest of the way on foot."
The Resistance fighters soon saw why as the transport was opened and the soldiers spilled forth and Bob blasted at everything with his power. Matrix picked off anything that moved with Gun and AndrAIa cleared the way with sweeping blasts from her trident. Dom and SiRCe also held their own.
A gauntlet had been set up. Machinery and transports had been piled high and the enemy soldiers now used it for cover while they fired on the advancing Resistance troops. Then reinforcements arrived for the harried Resistance. Three more of their transports began to blast away at the barricade and when it fell, Bob and his team drove their way through, uttering insane battle cries, sending the remaining enemy troops fleeing.
Almost miraculously, as Bob and his team made their way through the war-ravaged streets, the transport commanded by Gavin, met then at a cross street. Their other forces were in place creating a wedge that would break the enemy forces and continue to clear the way for them. They hitched a ride on Gavin's transport and with Princess Bula at the wheel; the enemy didn't have the opportunity to stop them.
"When you leave us fall back and assist the other ground troops Gavin," Bob told him as they neared Council Hall.
"Aye, Aye, Sir Bob!" Gavin replied, "and good luck ta ye."
"And you, Crimson Binome."
The air by now was thick with fire, smoke and metal. Above them the final battle raged on, the participants seemingly oblivious to what was occurring far below.
The air troops converged on the hall, clearing the way for the ground troops and Bob's team. They hid for a time, within the ruins of a building waiting for a searching enemy platoon to pass. To Bob, nothing seemed real anymore. His world had shrunk to a small space in which he was a mere automaton, reduced to three actions, fighting, running and hiding. One scream of agony melded into another until they were all one ponderous sound of death that Bob fought to drown out. All his concentration was on reaching the Hall, of forcing his way within and at last confronting Daemon.
And then he was there, fighting his way through the main door. He knew his friends were beside him but he had scant time to acknowledge this. More fighting and running and again the screams of agony that he knew would haunt his days and nights for hours to come.
Then came a new sound.
This scream was different, a high pitched chittering that worried on the nerves and sent a shudder through everyone present and in a murderous wave. Bugs, some almost half the length of a child sprite, came at them every direction and from every crack and crevice. Then Ray was there, forcing them back with wide blasts of his power. An unfortunate soldier ran afoul of one of the larger ones and was deleted between its pinchers nanos before Matrix had the opportunity to destroy it. Then Bob's path was blocked by one. It was a horrid thing, half spider, half scorpion, with acid dripping from its mouth, but surprisingly it made no move to attack Bob and he realized that on a more primal level the bug still recognized the viral side of him. It seemed to be the same for Matrix, as the bugs also avoided him. It made it all the more easy for them to be destroyed.
At one point they were pinned by fire within the corridor leading into the Council Chamber and Bob would fire around the corner, then withdraw quickly. He saw Cooper was leading this detachment of men, whom had formed a makeshift barricade before Bob's final destination. Bob didn't want to hurt Cooper, but he wasn't going to allow his fellow Guardian to stop him now. They were too close.
"Matrix!" Bob called across the corridor to the renegade, "The ceiling!"
Matrix nodded his understanding and fired a single shot upward. The resulting explosion sent debris raining down and choking dust filled the corridor.
"Matrix can you see anything?" Bob called. A few errant shots found their way down the corridor.
"There!" Matrix pointed, "Fire there!" Bob sent a golden bolt into the dust where Matrix pointed and then led their forces onward, soon to be joined by more of their soldiers. Bob walked forward and surveyed the damage and sighed at the sight of the unconscious bodies, Cooper being one of them. Bob bent down and felt his pulse. The Guardian was still alive.
"Bob?" It was Matrix standing beside him. AndrAIa was guarding their backs, but Bob knew her attention was on them.
"Fall back to the designated position."
"But Bob --,"
"Do it!" Bob turned to his friend. "You know it's imperative that you keep any assistance from getting to Daemon."
"I just got you back," Matrix said, "I won't lose you again."
"Don't worry," Bob smiled, "It's not like we're never going to see each other again."
Matrix smiled slightly, "You heard Bob! Everyone to fallback positions. Stay at the ready, we don't know what's going to happen!"
Bob, Guardian 452, stepped forward. He took a deep breath and faced the immense metal door, carved in the likeness of a bloated spider.
* * *
"Keep in ranks everyone!" Dot cried over the airwaves. "Attack formation 7046. Hit them hard and fast!"
At he helm of her transport, Dot caught an enemy fighter in her sights and obliterated it with one well-targeted shot. She could hear Mouse over the comm as well, issuing orders to the squad she commanded from the cockpit of Ship and giving cavalier yells as she gave the enemy the ASCII-whipping they deserved.
The moment the air forces had met with their opposites, the fiery battle kept the sky ablaze. Dot was in the midst of the fray and focused all concentration on her singular purpose - shooting as many of their enemies out of the sky as possible.
Dot's squadron forced their way through the enemy ranks creating a breach that their additional forces filled. The action not only enabled them to pick off the now scattered enemy fighters but it stopped any errant fighters from attacking their ground forces.
Whenever one of their fighters or transports went down, Dot took it as a grave insult as well as an injustice and with single-minded determination, would pursue the guilty party and deal with them.
The Guardians, almost helpless without their keytools, had to resort to conventional means of fighting. They manned transports and fighters, since being in the midst of the fray without their keytools would have been suicide.
More portals opened and Dot muttered an oath. More enemy reinforcements would turn the tide of battle and that could mean defeat at that point. With an animalistic cry that would have done Mouse proud, Dot steered the transport for the glowing sphere. It was in her sites and she yelled, "Everyone, away from the portal! All forces fall back!"
Dot smiled evilly and depressed the trigger.
The transport pulsar cannon fired a blast that cut through anything in its path and slammed into the portal. For a nano it seemed that nothing happened. Then the portal darkened until it was a shadowy orb. A pinpoint of light came to life at its center, sparkling like a new star.
Then the portal exploded with a blinding luminance, sending a shockwave rushing away from its center.
"Get us out of here!" Dot screamed, and even as she did so, she knew there wasn't enough time.
The shockwave engulfed every thing, and when it slammed into Dot's transport, the force of it threw Dot from her seat with a cry. She felt the transport flying out of control. The next few nanos were a nightmare of screaming and confusing. With tears streaming from her eyes caused by the light, Dot crawled back to her seat and grasped the controls, and finally had the transport under her command again.
"Everyone still with me?" She asked of her transport team, who was picking themselves up off the floor. "All forces report!"
A familiar cry came over the comm, "Dot you are totally random!" Mouse said.
"Thank you. I thought you'd appreciate that move," Dot gingerly checked herself for bruises.
The sky was still over-bright. Dot wiped the tears from her eyes. "All right everyone, back in ranks! Now! Drive them back, you know the drill."
Still it took time before their forces could reassemble. They discovered that those nearest the portal had been obliterated but as far as Dot could tell, many of their forces were still processing. To Dot's utter amazement and relief, the other portals had dissipated when the shockwave had hit them.
"Come in, Dot!" Katiyana's voice came over the airwaves.
"We've just received confirmation that Bob's team have infiltrated the Council Hall."
A brief moment of terror seized her. Dot closed her eyes and gripped the controls, fighting with her emotions.
"Affirmative," Dot snapped. "All available squadrons converge on the Hall!"
Then the Command.com trained a steely glare on the battlefield once more.