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The Daemon Conflict
By: LadyBard

Chapter 3 - Unrest

“Pleasant establishment,” Ray commented as he and Mouse entered the dimly lit room that smelled of rancid fish.

“We won’t be stayin’ long, sugah,” Mouse squinted through the cloud of acrid smoke, searching. The pixel brain better be here, or else…

Mouse spotted him through the purple haze and without waiting to see if Ray followed, strode purposefully towards him.

The zero binome didn’t seem to notice the hacker and mercenary at first as she towered over him. He seemed content as he leaned his chair against the grease-smudged wall and downed yet another I/O shot. The bottle before him was nearly empty.

Mouse hated this place, a hotel and tavern for the criminals and derelicts of System 998. The place where they found themselves had a name, but any sign of it had rotted away after hours of neglect. Right now, it was merely called, Crash’s Place. Whoever Crash may be (or might have been) was a mystery. Yet this was the place Mouse always seemed to find the best jobs and the most accurate information - if she used the right methods of persuasion.

“Hello, sugah.”

The binome answered with a raucous belch. Ray made a noise of disgust.

“Not you again,” the binome slurred his words. “What’cha want now?”

“Besides being stranded on some nice tropical system with nothing but the sun and a case of I/O shot?” Mouse’s fangs showed in her smile. “Information about a certain armada headed this way.”

The binome spat out a stream of liquor and his bulbous frame shook with coughing. After a few nanos he choked out, “Are you totally random?”

“Maybe, sugah,” Mouse drew her katana from its sheath and lowered the blade until it rested under the binome’s chin, “Maybe just a little.”

The binome swallowed, “Guess it doesn’t matter. We’re all dead sprites and binomes anyway.”

The binome staggered from his chair and fell facedown.

“Should we help him?” Ray asked.

“Nah,” Mouse re-sheathed her weapon.

The binome hauled himself up and continued to stagger unceremoniously until he stood before the stairs leading to the upper levels, “Come on,” he hiccupped once before pulling himself upwards by grasping onto the banister.

Once on the second floor, he led the pair down a dimly lit corridor. Unidentifiable sounds issued from behind some of the closed doors and at one point, a door was wretched violently open and a sprite was tossed out to sprawl unconscious across the hall.

The zero binome stopped at the last door at the end of the hall and produced a key card and after several failed tries, inserted it into the keypad slot.

“Cursors and crashes,” Ray muttered at the condition of the room.

The zero binome flopped on the bed and for all intents and purposes seemed to drop immediately into downtime.

“Hey!” Mouse aimed a violent kick at the bed.

“Okay, okay,” the binome sat up. “They’re going to have to stop here to refuel. Our station is the only place between here and Mainframe for that.”

“Okay, any place else they’ll stop?”

“System 444.”

“They’ll get food and weapons,” Ray said. “I know the place. It’s a merchant’s system.”

“Hmm,” Dot would be interested in that, Mouse thought. “When will they get there?”

“How should I know?” The binome asked. “I only know that’s where they’ll stop.”

“And how big’s the armada?” Mouse sat down beside him on the edge of the bed.

“Bigger than what I’ll bet Mainframe has,” the binome seemed to delight in delivering this dire news. “They completely crashed System 101. You know how? Death Strikes.”

“Death Strikes?” Ray asked.

“Kamikazes,” Mouse spat. “Sprites and binomes sacrificing themselves and for what?”

“You might as well forget Mainframe surviving,” the binome said. “Hey, is it true that the renegade Guardians are --,”

Mouse held her hand up abruptly signaling the binome to be silent. An eerie hum suddenly began outside the door. The sound increased with each passing nano.

“Move!” Mouse suddenly screamed as recognition dawned. She bolted off the bed and shoved Ray aside, nanos before the door and a good portion of the wall exploded in a fiery net of smoke and stone.

“Don’t move!” A voice cried.

Through the smoke, Mouse could make out several dark figures as they poured into the room. Mouse reached for Ray and hauled him up. The search engine was coughing fiercely and Mouse was faring no better. Several of the figures advanced towards them and Mouse drew her katana.

One of the masked figures leveled a laser rifle at the flame-haired mercenary. The smoke was beginning to clear. Two others had the zero binome in their grasp.

“You will stand down,” the one with the laser rifle ordered them. “Drop your weapon and surrender.”

Mouse glanced back at Ray. “Hope you got a plan, sugah?”

“Of course,” Ray said calmly. “Just do as I say, love. When the time comes, go for the window.”

“I said drop your weapon,” the armed sprite repeated. “Don’t make me ask again.”

“You won’t have to, mate,” Ray said. “My lady friend and I were just leaving.”

Surf Baud came streaking through the hole, catching their enemy off guard. Mouse figured that was as obvious a signal as any and in the confusion dashed for the window. She leapt, heedless of the glass and crashed through. It was a short fall, but there was a good chance she’d still be hurt.

Then Ray was there, catching her on Baud and they were ascending.

“Thanks, sugah,” Mouse smiled. “But we ain’t out of the recycle bin yet.”

“Guess going back to Ship is out of the question,” Ray glanced behind him and saw three of the guards pursuing them on zip boards, “They’ve got to be kidding.”

Baud streaked away, leaving their pursuers in the distance. “Now what?”

“We find out who they were,” Mouse said. She was loath to leave Ship, but Ray was right. If the masked guards knew who they were, then they probably had a guard on Ship. “Then we find a way off this system.”

“We getting’ a new ship, love?” Ray asked. “As much as I like being this close to you, I can’t carry us both through the web.”

“Guess we are,” Mouse looked back and muttered an oath, “Unless they catch us first.”

Behind them two ships were fast approaching. The first shots passed dangerously close.

“Hang on, love.” Ray dove and the wind stung their faces. “Ask the User that I can out fly them, otherwise it’s not going to be a landing we’ll walk away from.”

***

“Thank you,” Dot smiled at the male sprite on the other end of the vidwindow. “Your help is greatly appreciated.”

“We’ve no love for Daemon here, Ms. Matrix,” the sprite replied. “We’re happy to help. We just wish we could do more --,”

The image began to distort suddenly. Waves of static interference drowned out the sprite’s next words.

“Um - Ms. Matrix - hello? Hello?”

The picture completely faded into static.

“Cursors,” Dot muttered. “Oh well, at least I have this.” Dot held up the disk with a smile. On it, were specifications for an engine upgrade, which could be installed in the reconstructed Saucy Mare. Of course she could just vid-window Gavin, if the communications weren’t down.

“Phong?” Dot called.

“Yes, my child?”

“What’s the problem with communications?”

“Apparently, we’re experiencing some interference,” Phong said. “It is some type of power surge within Mainframe, although we haven’t pinpointed it yet.”

“Keep working on it, and keep me posted,” Dot said. “You say it’s within Mainframe? So it can’t be something Daemon is doing?”

“Well --,” Phong began, “it could be, my child, if --,”

“If what?”

“Morning Dot, Phong,” Enzo entered the office carrying several bags, “I brought you breakfast.”

Dot smiled appreciatively at her little brother. He’d been such help lately. She really needed to find some way to thank him. “That’s sweet of you, Enzo. So you knew I left without eating this morning?”

“Um hmm,” Enzo unloaded the bags while talking in his usual 56K speed. “I got this from the Diner. Do you know the place is packed? Ronnie’s wowing them with her food and she’s got Cecil wrapped around her little finger. Java, two creams and no sugar right? And I have donuts. Cocoa for Phong with lots of whipped cream. Hey what’s up with the communications?”

“Right,” Dot turned to Phong, even as she reached for the java. “You were going to say Phong, that the only way it could be Daemon is if we had a spy in our midst.”

“That is the most likely possibility.”

“A spy?” Enzo upturned his worried face to her, “Do you really think so, Dot?”

“We don’t know,” Dot sighed. “Enzo, we’re going to be working on this problem for awhile, would you do me a favor?”

“Sure, Dot!”

“Take this disk to Gavin at the docks. Make certain Mr. Christopher scans it.”

Enzo took the disk and stuck it in his belt, then he saluted his sister, smartly, “Yes Sir, Ma’am!” He turned to go, then grabbed a couple of donuts and dashed out the door.

“Let’s get to work, Phong,” Dot immediately addressed the business at hand.

***

Enzo zipped across Mainframe, while munching on a chocolate frosted donut, his mind on past events. Dot had really appreciated the food. So what else could he do to make things easier for her? Well deliver the disk for one. Easy enough.

As the young sprite approached the docks he noticed a crowd of people gathered at Pier 14. Someone had set up a pile of crates to form a makeshift stage and perched atop it was Captain Syn. Despite his intentions to deliver the disk quickly, curiosity got the better of him and he zoomed in for a closer look.

The crowd was cheering at something Captain Syn had just said that Enzo didn’t catch. He compressed his board then skirted the crowd, trying to get a better view. No one paid him any attention at first.

“I have made numerous attempts to speak with the Command.com,” Syn said. “And each time, I’ve been turned away. Just two seconds ago when I went to speak with her, I was attacked by her brother, the renegade, Matrix.”

Syn’s words were followed by various exclamations of outrage from the crowd.

“Now that isn’t true,” Enzo muttered aloud. Well the part about Matrix hitting him was as far as Enzo knew, but according to Dot, Syn had started the whole thing. But then again, Matrix hitting him had only made it worse. Still, on the other hand, Enzo guessed he would have done the same thing if he saw Syn threatening Dot.

“And I ask the question,” Syn went on, “Is this woman competent enough to be Command.com? It makes one wonder about her level of intelligence.”

Hello! Enzo had heard enough. He decompressed his board and flew up over the crowd, “Hey!”

The eyes of Syn and the crowd followed him as he glided down atop the stage. “You can’t talk about my sister that way!”

“And what is this? A little green spy?” Syn smirked.

“Spy?” Was this guy totally basic? “What do you mean spy? I live here. I have as much right to be here as anybody.”

“And I suppose you’ll tell your sister about us, so she can stop us?”

“Stop you from doing what?”

“Oh no little boy. You’ll find out soon enough and so will your sister.”

“You’d better not do anything to hurt Dot!” Enzo warned.

At that the crowd erupted into laughter.

“We’d better not?” Syn’s smirk turned malicious, “There’s little you or your sister can do. I warned her that if she weren’t careful things would happen. You can go tell her that, little boy. Now go away. We have important matters to attend to.”

“No.”

“What did you say, boy?”

“You heard me,” Enzo stepped forward. “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

“Well looks like the little sprite has some circuits after all,” Syn’s smile showed yellowing teeth, “But you’d better watch what you say. Your big brother Matrix isn’t here to protect you. Or would he be your father? What is he to you anyway? I’ve heard how you were compiled. For that matter just what are you? Nothing more than a cheap carbon copy.”

“Shut up!” Enzo screamed.

“A freak of the User that’s what you are!” Syn’s voice rose.

“At least I’m not some big fat loser!” Enzo shot back.

Syn’s smile vanished to be replaced by a sneer. “A freak,” the burly captain started towards the young sprite, “and one that needs a little discipline.”

Enzo knew he had one of two choices. He could hop on his zip board and fly away, or he could defend himself. Running, he knew, would only confirm what Matrix had said about him. That he was nothing but a weak little sprite. But Syn was almost as big as Matrix and what chance did he have against him?

Well he would try his best, and convince Matrix (not that he cared what that big ugly green guy thought) that he was not a weak little sprite.

Just as Syn reached him, Enzo decompressed his board, grasped the handle tightly and swung the device as hard as he was able.

It was a bad swing. Enzo knew it the moment he started. He also knew he probably wouldn’t get a second chance. Hopefully the board would work well enough for him to escape. The disc caught Syn on the knee and to Enzo’s utter surprise, the captain went down.

The crowd exploded into shouts of outrage. Enzo hadn’t expected to hurt Syn, much less have him down groaning in pain, while grasping his knee. The zip board slipped from the young sprite’s fingers. Enzo was barely aware of the running footsteps until a shadow fell over him. He turned to find several men, undoubtedly Syn’s crew, surrounding him.

The next few nanos were the worst of Enzo’s life. He found himself being grabbed and jostled violently. Enzo could do no more than kick and punch although he wasn’t causing the men any injury as they shoved him back and forth between him. Enzo realized he should have held onto his zip board.

“Hold, ye scalawags!” A familiar voice suddenly rang out over the confusion, just as someone shoved Enzo from behind and he fell to his knees. The men surrounding him disappeared from his view one by one. Enzo looked up in time to see Princess Bulla hoist one of the men over her head and toss him off the stage.

“Tell yer men ta stand down!” The voice ordered.

Syn was on his hands and knees staring defiantly into the face of Captain Gavin Capacitor. The pirate lord had his cutlass positioned over Syn’s throat.

“Stand down men!” Syn gasped as Gavin pressed the sword point deeper into Syn’s throat.

Enzo was never so glad to see anyone in his life. Mr. Christopher took his arm and helped him up.

“That was impressive, young Enzo,” Mr. Christopher said.

Enzo beamed, “Thanks, Mr. Christopher.”

“But what brought you down to the docks in the first place?”

“Oh yeah,” Enzo sheepishly reached into his belt and pulled out the disk. “Dot asked me to deliver this.”

Gavin ordered the crowd to disperse and they did so, rather reluctantly, and not without a few snide remarks and grumbling. Then he approached Enzo, “Ye all right, Enzo, lad?”

“Where’s my cap?” Enzo searched the ground around him with growing apprehension.

“Cap?” Princess Bulla held the crumpled and dirty article of clothing.

“Cursors,” Enzo muttered. It was his favorite cap, but he had been more concerned about his icon, which surprisingly had come through the ordeal with little damage. With a wistful sigh, Enzo removed the disk from the cap and replaced it on his right shoulder. “Thanks Gavin, you really saved my bitmap.” “Tis’ all right lad, as long as you weren’t seriously injured.” “He’s a little bruised it would seem,” Mr. Christopher noticed. “We’d better get him to the Principal Office.”

“On no,” Enzo sighed, “Dot’s got enough trouble, but when she sees me like this --,”

“Don’t ye worry, Enzo, lad,” Gavin winked. “Ya just let ole Gavin fix things with yer sister. Wait and see.”

***

Dot tried not to let her true feelings of anger and frustration show as Gavin recounted the tale of the dock disturbance.

“Ye should have seen him, Dot lass,” Gavin nodded to where Enzo stood while Phong fussed over her brother and dabbed at his cuts with antiseptic. “He fought like a true pirate, he did. Made this old web dog proud.”

“He defended your honor, quite admirably, Ms. Matrix,” Mr. Christopher chimed in.

As much as she wanted to scream at Enzo that he should have been more careful, Dot found that she couldn’t. He looked so proud of himself right then, that Dot chose not to steal his thunder. And yes, deep down inside, she was impressed that he had stood up for her.

So instead of yelling, she said, “My knight in silicon armor,” while she smiled at Enzo, making her brother’s grin widen and his chest puff out as proud as a peacock gif.

“Of course lass, we were only there to clean up after the lad,” Gavin went on. “He had the situation well in hand.”

“You should have seen Syn crying like a girl,” Mr. Christopher smiled, “No offense, Ms. Matrix.”

“None taken,” Dot knelt by Enzo, “Thank you, little brother, but please be more careful next time. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“I will, I promise, Dot.”

“Specks?” Dot turned to the bespeckled binome, “Please dispatch three CPU’s and have them escort Captain Syn to the Principal Office.”

“Right away Dot.”

Dot didn’t care what Syn did to her, but she would not under any circumstances tolerate his attacking her little brother.

***

“So now it’s kidnapping Ms. Matrix?” They were the first words Syn uttered when the CPU’s brought him in.

“Captain Syn, have a seat, please,” Dot said with barely suppressed fury. “I want to know why you attacked my little brother. He’s a 10 hour old sprite for User’s sake!”

“Attack him! I don’t know what the little pixel brain told you, Ms. Matrix --,”

Dot slammed her hand on the console, “Not one more word, do you hear me? Not one more insult to my family. Captain, you are a guest in my system, but I will not have you intentionally starting trouble for whatever warped reasons you may have.”

“Ms Matrix, I’ve told you people are afraid that Daemon will come here because of the Guardians.”

“Which is understandable considering,” Dot removed her glasses and tapped them on the console edge. “But Guardians or no, Daemon would have come here regardless. And that’s absolutely no excuse for inciting a riot and especially not for attacking my brother!”

“I didn’t attack --,” Syn modified his tone as Enzo entered the room. “You need to teach him some respect. A good swat on the backside will --,”

“Captain Syn that will be all!” Dot bolted from her chair and slammed both palms on the console. “Cause trouble again and I’ll have to incarcerate you.” Dot felt the all too familiar ball of tension form in the center of her forehead. “Good day.”

“Very well, Ms. Matrix,” Syn smirked. Dot knew it meant further trouble from the man.

“Dot, you okay?” Enzo approached her after Syn left.

“Yes - no - I don’t know,” Dot sank back down in her chair.

“What can I do?” Enzo gave her a worried look.

“Well stay out of Syn’s way for one,” Dot tried to smile.

“Oh no,” Enzo gave her a strange look. “Hey Phong!”

The aged sprite rolled into the room. “Yes, my child?”

“I think Dot’s sick, maybe we should take her to the infirmary,” Enzo said.

“Enzo,” It must have been her sickly smile. “I’m fine.”

“You do look pale, my child. Why don’t I fix you some herbal tea?”

“All right,” Dot figured if she agreed, they’d stop worrying, although she’d been getting these headaches a little too frequently.

“I’ll take care of you, Dot,” Enzo gave her a determined smile.

“Did you hear me young man? You can help by staying away from Syn.”

“Dot, this is my system, I can go wherever I like.”

“I didn’t say you couldn’t go anywhere,” Dot squinted her eyes as the headache flared, “look, just stay out of his way, promise?”

“Promise,” she could tell by his tone that he had no intention of doing so. She had a feeling that her hyperactive little brother would run afoul of Syn more times than she wanted to contemplate.

***

“So it wouldn’t be exactly like I was disobeying Dot,” Enzo reasoned. “I mean we know Syn is up to something, right?”

Frisket tilted his head and whined. Enzo threw the ball across the grassy field of Floating Point.

“So who could blame me for checking things out at the docks? Maybe seeing what’s going on with the ships?” Enzo had to struggle to pull the ball from Frisket’s mouth. “Yuck, dog drool! So what do you think, Frisket?” Enzo tossed the ball again.

Frisket barked once as he chased the ball and scooped it up with his tongue, swallowing the toy whole.

“My thoughts exactly,” Enzo smiled.

***

“Are you sure this thing will work?” Syn asked.

“It did before, didn’t it?” Lynx replied, “I say, this is quite a device your man rigged up. Where did you say he was from again?”

“Look, I don’t want to be cooped up in this room all second,” Syn made a gesture with his arm.

“Your quarters a lot better than mine,” Lynx muttered. And I could stand it better myself if you didn’t reek.

“Get on with it,” Syn was losing patience. He moved over to a chair and lowered his bulk down gingerly.

“That boy did a number on your knee, didn’t he?” Lynx smiled. The aging binome captain didn’t look up from his task of making adjustments to the machine, but he knew his question had riled Syn.

“If I ever catch him alone,” Syn rubbed his knee, “I’ll teach him a few things. That little brat and his high and mighty sister will get theirs.”

“Umm hmm.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“Oh I’m sure you will, dear Captain Syn, and be thrown in jail or have to deal with the big version of her brother or the Guardian when they return.”

“If, they return.”

“If?” Lynx looked at him. “Do you know something, I don’t?”

“Isn’t it obvious? You know as well as I do what Daemon is capable of. They don’t stand a chance against her. That’s why I’m doing this.”

“Stirring up trouble?”

“More than that,” Syn smirked. “I’m going to have a strong backing of as many people as possible. Then no matter what happens, it’ll be me they come to. Not some weak woman.”

“Gathering them like sheep?”

“Something like that.”

Lynx looked towards the door as someone knocked.

“Enter,” Syn called.

The tall gangly sprite that entered didn’t spare Lynx a glance, but approached Syn, “Captain, I’m pleased to report that we have strong support in several of Mainframe’s sectors. Mainly our people, but others are being sought.”

“Excellent Kurt,” Syn nodded. “Your machine works like a charm. You’re quite the tech guy.”

“Yes,” Lynx agreed. “Tell me Mr. Daverage, can you communicate with people outside of Mainframe?”

“Why would you want to do that?” Kurt asked.

“Just curious,” Lynx went back to the machine. “You’ll have to verify if the adjustments I have made are correct.”

Kurt approached the machine. “There is more than curiosity, I gather.”

“Perhaps you can sway other systems to Captain Syn’s noble cause.”

“Good idea,” Syn smiled, completely missing Lynx’s sarcasm. Kurt, who glared at Lynx with critical eyes, did not. Lynx disliked Kurt Daverage immensely, but held his tongue. The sprite didn’t seem suited to be Syn’s first mate. Kurt seemed too - perfect. He dressed impeccably, kept his pale green hair flawlessly groomed, and never showed any serious emotion on his face.

“Such wit,” Kurt smiled. “Captain, when will we make the next test?”

“Eighteen hundred hours,” Syn smiled. “Tell me Kurt, what other machines can you make?”

“What do you need?”

A sudden commotion cut into the conversation. Above them, came the sounds of several heavy objects falling, intermingled with shouts, and followed by running feet advancing towards the cabin.

Frantic pounding, then, “Captain!”

Kurt went to open the door, “Yes?” He said to the harried binome crewmember.

“Trouble top side!”

“Now what?” Syn grumbled.

Kurt was already out the door and at the same time, drew the short sword at his hip.

***

Enzo watched from behind a stack of crates as Frisket wreaked havoc on the crew. The big red dog was obviously having the time of his life. No one noticed the small green-skinned sprite as he slipped from one hiding place to another. Frisket was proving to be the perfect distraction.

After a few nanos, Captain’s Syn and Lynx, and another man Enzo had never seen before came from below decks. His chance came, when Frisket brought down a stack of barrels which contained live web slugs and the slick creatures caused even greater difficulties.

Enzo crept below decks, using the same way the three men had.

It didn’t occur to him how he was going to get back out but he figured he’d think of something. Enzo went along checking doors and finding nothing, until he came to a fancy carved door, which he figured, was probably Syn’s room. To his surprise it was open.

The first thing Enzo noticed was the machine.

He had no idea what it was. It had a lot of buttons, dials, and lights on a rectangular panel, with a vid screen. It looked old, and seemed to be a patchwork job. Enzo was so engrossed in his examination of it; he didn’t hear the sounds of footsteps behind him.

“There’s an old read me file,” the voice startled Enzo and had him turning quickly to face the tall magenta-skinned sprite he had seen on deck, “Curiosity deleted the cat.”

The sprite drew a small sword, “You didn’t really think someone wouldn’t notice you?”

“I got down here didn’t I?” Enzo tried his best to sound defiant but he couldn’t keep the tremor from his voice.

“Yes,” he said. “But how did you expect to get back out?”

“My dog--,”

“-- has been taken care of.”

“What do you mean, taken care of?”

“You really should worry about yourself,” the man said.

“I’ll bet this machine has something to do with the communications being out,” Enzo stalled for time.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the man actually smiled. “You shouldn’t be down here. Naughty boys must be punished.”

“You won’t do anything to me! I’m just a kid!”

He shrugged and started forward, “That makes no difference to me.”

“It does, however, to me.”

“What?” The man turned at the sound of the new voice and before he could react a fist was slammed into his face and he went down.

Captain Irina stepped into the room, “Are you all right, boy?”

“Wow,” Enzo said, “that was something! You’re Captain Irina aren’t you? Cool! I’ve never seen a lady captain! Well Mouse is I guess, but she isn’t a real captain. You laid him out good, where did you learn to hit like that? Thanks for saving me! He was going to delete me! This machine is what’s messing up the communication! We have to tell my sister! Can you --,”

Irina stepped forward and placed three fingers on Enzo’s lips, “You talk too much.” Then she took him by the collar and dragged him on deck.

Whatever the man had said had been done to Frisket proved to be untrue. The dog had cowed not only Syn’s entire crew, but also Syn himself. Gavin and a few of his crewmembers were also on deck and the pirate lord gave Enzo a stern look when Irina dragged him forward.

“Now Enzo lad,” Gavin said, “I smoothed things over with yer sister before, but I’m sure it won’t be so easy this time.”

“But Gavin, I saw something downstairs!”

“Not another word, lad,” Gavin admonished.

“Captain Capacitor,” Irina said, “I believe the boy has been punished enough, but he did find something of interest below decks.”

Enzo turned and stared in astonishment at the female captain.

“I must agree Lady Irina,” Gavin said.

Captain Irina,” she corrected fiercely, “I addressed you as captain, I demand the same respect.”

Gavin’s crew suddenly had other things to do and moved away in various directions.

“My apologies, captain,” Gavin took her hand and kissed it.

Irina tilted her head and the corners of her mouth lifted slightly, “Quite all right, captain.”

“Hey!” Syn suddenly yelled from his perch atop a stack of crates, “Would you call off this stupid mutt!”

Enzo gave Syn a superior smile, “That was the most basic thing you could have said.”

***

Dot tossed her organizer down on the desk, “What have you got to say for yourself, young man?”

“I guess I’m sorry wouldn’t work,” Enzo looked sheepishly at his feet. He stood before Dot’s desk and wished she hadn’t closed the door.

Dot groaned, “I seem to remember specifically telling you to stay away from Syn.”

“Yes, Dot.”

“And what do you do? Have Frisket destroy half his ship!”

“He called Frisket a stupid mutt. I can’t help it if he made Frisket mad.”

“Enzo Matrix!”

“Dot, would you listen to me? I found something on Syn’s ship that --,”

“I know, the strange machine, Irina told me everything that happened. And that’s another thing! Obviously that Kurt Daverage is totally random! Do you realize what that would have done to me if he had --,”

Dot’s eyes filled with tears and a blush of shame burned Enzo’s cheeks. He had really messed up that time. “I’m sorry, Dot.”

“I thought I taught you better than that! Haven’t I always told you that you have to take responsibility for your actions?” Dot had never yelled at her brother before it was becoming a struggle. “I know you want to help Enzo and you’ve been doing fine, but this - what am I going to do with you?”

Dot walked around her desk and caught Enzo in a fierce hug, “Don’t you ever do something like that again!”

Enzo knew she was crying and that only made him feel worse. He had been trying to help, but now he had only made things worse for himself and Dot.

“I’ll do better, I promise.”

“Enzo,” she looked at him with moist eyes, “Do you realize what Syn could do with this?”

That had never occurred to him until now, “I-I don’t know.”

Dot stood, “I have Syn and his first mate confined and have property of his in my custody. What do you suppose he’s going to do?”

“What can he do?”

Dot sighed, “I may not have anything to hold them on, except disrupting the communications and that’s not a serious enough charge to do so for very long. Of course, we’ll hold his first mate because we have Irina as a witness to his threatening you, but we may even have to release him. Now do you think I want to waste time on this with Daemon’s Armada only nine seconds away?

“No.”

“Enzo --,” both sprites turned as the door came open slightly.

Phong poked his head in, “Excuse me, Dot?”

“Yes Phong?”

“We have a slight problem.”

“Oh, now what?”

Dot followed Phong outside into the War Room. Enzo waited a few nanos before doing the same. If it wasn’t too serious a problem, maybe he could slip away and hide out somewhere, maybe at Old Man Pearson’s Data Dump until it was over. Then once Dot cooled down, he could tell her everything from his point of view.

Phong had a vidwindow open that displayed an outside view of the Principal Office. A small group of people was marching back and forth as they held signs and placards and were saying some unpleasant things about powers that be of Mainframe.

“Oh for User’s sake,” Dot muttered.

“Perhaps we should speak with whomever organized this gathering,” Phong said. “Shall I dispatch a CPU, my child?”

“No, no,” Dot said, “I’ll go myself.”

“Dot, I want to come with you.”

“Enzo --,”

“Please, Dot? I don’t want you to go out there alone.” Enzo saw the majority of the protestors were members of Syn’s crew.

“All right,” Dot ruffled his hair, then said thoughtfully, “By the way, where’s your cap?”

***

Too bad Matrix isn’t here, Dot thought. One look at the older version of her brother and people usually thought twice about causing trouble. But Matrix, along with AndrAIa and her love were fighting Daemon. Dot suppressed a shudder at the thought of any of them as prisoners of the super virus.

The crowd noticed her approach and gathered to wait for her.

“Greeting,” Dot decided not to get too close, “Who among you is the spokesperson?”

The crowd parted and to Dot’s astonishment, Captain Lynx walked forward. “I am, my lady.”

“You?” Dot couldn’t believe it. She thought she had found at least one ally with the captains. “Why?”

“You are wrongly holding Captain Syn and his first mate,” Lynx said.

“You were on board Syn’s ship when the incident occurred,” Dot said, “Until we can ascertain exactly what transpired, they will be detained. If they are found innocent of any wrongdoing, they will be released.

“How can we be certain they will?” Lynx said.

“You have my word.”

Lynx turned to the crowd and they conversed in murmurs. Dot caught a few sentences along the lines of, “Are you sure we can trust her?” “Isn’t she with the Guardian?”

“I would like to speak with them to be certain they are being well cared for,” Lynx turned back to Dot.

Normally, Dot wouldn’t have agreed but as a show of good faith she said, “Of course. Please have your people disperse.”

This raised a protest from the group, but Lynx waved them away, “You heard her, go now.”

Still they remained, their shouts of refusal increasing.

“It will be all right!” Lynx shouted over the din. “I’ll be out soon.”

The crowd seemed doubtful of that. Dot motioned for Lynx to follow.

“They’d just find someone else to lead them,” Lynx said as they walked. “Sheep, that’s all they are. But they can’t help it. They’ve been through much. They saw most of their leaders destroyed.”

“And what’s your read-me file, Captain Lynx?” Dot said. “Stepping in for Captain Syn?”

“They came to me,” Lynx said, “I couldn’t refuse.”

“Of course you could have.”

Conversation ceased as Dot led her companions to the lower levels of the P.O. Several storage rooms had been recently converted to holding areas (Dot disliked calling them cells) and it was within two of these areas that Syn and Kurt Daverage were being held.

Two CPU’s stood guard and Dot motioned them aside. She activated her organizer and punched in the codes to unlock the door to the cells. Immediately, Syn and his first mate stepped out.

“What’s going on here?” Syn balled his meaty fingers into fists and took two steps towards Dot, “Are we being released?”

“You can’t hold us here,” Kurt said.

“Gentleman, until I find out what happened on Captain Syn’s ship and I verify that you pose no threat to the safety of Mainframe, I do have a right to question you as this system’s Command.com.” Dot motioned again to the CPU’s. “Please follow me.”

“What are you doing here, Lynx?” Syn addressed the binome captain.

“Your followers asked me to lead them in a protest,” Lynx replied, “You’re gaining a following as you wanted.”

“Lynx!”

Dot turned and glared at Syn, “I must advise you it would be unwise to incite any more trouble in my system, captain.”

“Afraid your plans might be found out?”

“What a loser,” Enzo muttered.

“What did you say?”

“He believe he said you were a loser,” Lynx nodded at Enzo.

“You little --,”

“Enough,” Dot halted before the door to the War Room and expelled a frustrated breath as they entered. Phong rolled forward, “Phong, would you contact Captain Irina and have her join us in my office, please?”

“Of course, my dear.”

“We’ll need some extra chairs.”

***

Dot settled behind her desk, “Now I want some answers. Enzo, what happened on Syn’s ship?”

“Why are you asking him?” Syn whined, “It was his fault --,”

“You will have your chance, Captain Syn.” Dot said. “Right now, I want to hear from my brother.”

Dot recorded Enzo’s words in her organizer as her little brother spoke. He didn’t exaggerate (she could always tell when he was) just told his story in a quiet yet firm voice. The only interruption had been when Syn made a comment about Enzo being on his ship in the first place. Dot silenced him with a glare.

“Now you, Captain Syn,” Dot said, when Enzo finished.

Now his story; Dot could tell; was filled with embellishments. There were many accusations and a lot of hand waving and by the time Syn was finished, his face was purple and sweat had gathered on his forehead. All Dot said was, “Umm hmm - now you Mr. Daverage.”

Kurt Daverage was much too cool for Dot’s liking. He reminded her in some ways of Megabyte.

“And what of your threats against my brother?”

“Oh I was merely trying to frighten him,” Daverage said. “I wouldn’t have hurt him.”

“That’s a lie!” Enzo piped up, “He was going to hurt me! He said so.”

“All right Enzo,” Dot said.

“Little boys do tend to exaggerate, Ms. Matrix.”

“I’ll ask that you keep your comments to yourself,” Dot turned to Irina, “Can you tell me what you saw and heard Captain Irina?”

“Mr. Daverage stated he would punish Enzo and advanced on him,” Irina said, her voice level, “I took this to mean that he planned some harm to the boy, so I acted.”

“And what of that?” Daverage said, “I want to level charges against that woman for assaulting me.”

“Do what you feel you must, Ms. Matrix,” Captain Irina stood, “I will be on my ship.” Before Irina left she nodded to Enzo, “Watch yourself, young one.”

“You’re just going to let her walk out of here?” Syn said.

“Captain Syn,” Dot glared at him, “Well Captain Lynx, what was your interest in all of this?”

“Merely assisting Captain Syn, Ms. Matrix,” Lynx said.

Why don’t I believe you? Dot thought. “And what of that machine, Captain Syn?”

“It’s mine. You have no right to take it.”

“Was it the cause of the loss of the communications?”

“No.”

“Then what is it for?”

“That’s my business.”

“All right, Syn, you want to play it this way, we’ll just hold onto it until we can figure out what it is.”

“What? You can’t--,”

“Captain Syn, Mainframe is my system and no one can tell me what I can or can not do here. If that machine is a threat to Mainframe’s safety, it is my right.” Dot reached over and pressed “save” on her organizer. “This appears to be a case of one sprites word against another, but I will do this and all parties involved will comply. “Captain Syn, you and your first mate and crew are confined to your ship until further notice. Captain Lynx, the same goes for you. You will perform only the necessary duties and you will not interact with any citizens of Mainframe.”

“What? You can’t!” Syn cried.

“I thought I just said that I could? My concern is the safety of Mainframe, not your wants.”

Syn slouched in his chair and sulked.

“Enzo,” Dot raised an eyebrow when her brother seemed ready to protest, “You will stay away from Syn’s ship, understood?”

“Yes, Dot.”

“Understood?” She glared at the three sprites before her.

“Yes, Ms. Matrix.”

“Very well,” Dot stood, “Allow me to escort you out.”

It was a silent group that followed Dot outside. It was late evening now, and Dot was tired and hungry and looking forward to stopping in at the Diner and tasting some of Ronnie’s near famous food.

To her concern, the crowd seemed to have increased in size. A cheer was raised as Syn stepped forward, waving and smiling like a bad politician.

“Captain Syn!” Dot’s hands went to her hips.

“Of course, Ms. Matrix,” Syn smirked, “I have unfortunately been confined to my ship for reasons unknown to me.”

“Unknown!” Dot and Enzo spoke in unison.

This caused the crowd to go into a fury. They pressed forward, shouting and shaking their fists. Dot grabbed Enzo and pushed him behind her.

“Cease and desist!” Dot raised her hands, “Please, everyone calm! There’s no cause for violence.”

The crowd was converging on them, and Dot was about to yell to Enzo to run for the Principal Office when a scream erupted over the noise.

Hexadecimal had appeared out of nowhere, her face twisted in a wicked smile.

“Sheep,” Hexadecimal shook her head. “The binome captain was right. They are mindless sheep.”

Twin balls of red-hot energy came to life in Hexadecimal’s palms, “I believe you were told to cease and desist? Would anyone care to argue?”

The crowd needed no further urging. They all turned and fled as one.

Hexadecimal turned to where Syn stood in a paralysis of fear, “Hmm, what a plump sprite you are! I’ll bet you’ll cook up nice and tender!”

Syn made a sound, which was something between a gasp and a croak, “This isn’t over, Ms. Matrix!” Then he turned and ran.

Hexadecimal made the energy balls dissipate, then she burst out laughing, “What fun! I think I’ve found a new special friend!”

“Umm - Hexadecimal?” Dot said, careful to keep her voice even, “Thank you but --,”

“Oh, you’re quite welcome, Dot dear. That was my good deed for the day. Bob will be so pleased!”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh he asked me to help you before he left. I didn’t know how I would do it, but I promised I would.”

“Bob asked you to help?” Enzo chimed in, “Dude! That was so cool, Hex, I think you made Syn wet his pants!”

“Did I?” Hexadecimal clasped her hands together in delight, “then it was worth it!” She frowned, “Young man, did you just pay me a compliment?”

“Well - yeah,” Enzo said.

“Then I shall grant you a wish,” Hex smiled, “I could do something quite entertaining to this Syn person, would you like that?”

“Yes!”

“No!” Dot fought to stay in control as Hex turned blazing red eyes on her. Dot realized that this was basically the first time she would handle Hex alone. Bob always could but what if she couldn’t? “I mean, well, it’s going to be hard enough keeping things under control. That crowd was afraid for now, but they’ll get their courage back soon enough.”

“Oh come now Dot, don’t you think I can handle anything?”

“I know you can Hex, but I don’t want to hurt anyone and frighten them anymore than they already are.”

“Then you don’t want my help?” Hex’s voice was low.

“Sure we do!”

“Enzo,” Dot warned. Now what? They probably could use Hex’s help, but what if they couldn’t control her? What if she went on a rampage? What if she joined with Daemon when the armada arrived?

A memory came to Dot. Something Bob had once told her. Actually, it was something Bob had repeated after receiving the advice from Phong.

Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.

“Yes, we could use your help, Hexadecimal,” I must be out of my mind. “Why don’t we go to my office and talk?”

“Why don’t you walk with me, little one?” Hexadecimal smiled down at Enzo.

“Um - well, okay.”

“Bob said I could trust you, Dot,” Hexadecimal said. “I hope you can learn to trust me.”

Not likely, Dot thought. Bob, you owe me big time for this one.


Read Chapter 4 | Back to The Daemon Conflict