Memories Are Made of This
Chapter 8 – The Heat is On
“Oh man, could things get any worse?”
The Mainframe staff had a lot on their hands. Their one little bug problem had now escalated to about seven, which did not make the sprites in the command room any happier. They were starting to believe Cadet Daniels when he said the bugs may have a nest already in Mainframe and perhaps were just hiding out in the Principal Office.
But Hack and Slash had been sent to check things out and Ray as well and none could find where these extra bugs were coming from. They had just gotten another report, this time from the docks in Kits that a worker had been spotted. That’s when Sabrina made her comment.
“Oh man, could things get any worse?”
WARNING: INCOMING GAME! WARNING: INCOMING GAME!
Everyone in the room rolled their eyes at the announcement. “You just had to say something.” Hexadecimal muttered sarcastically.
“Alright, darlin’s,” came Mouse’s drawl. “Who’s goin’ in?”
“Why didn’t I see that coming?” Sabrina asked herself, mentally kicking her bitmap for not sensing the game sooner.
“We are all under a lot of stress, my child.” came Phong’s answer.
“Hello!” Mouse replied, impatiently. “That’s game not gonna wait for us.”
“I’ll go.” Sabrina said, rushing towards the door, only to be stopped by Mouse.
“You think that’s a good idea, dumplin’?”
“Do you see anyone else who wants to go?” came Sabrina’s irritated answer.
“Alright.” Mouse sighed in defeat, grabbing her zipboard and heading out the room’s doors. “But your folks are gonna be awfully sore if something happens to you.”
The crew and passengers of the Saucy Wench were still gazing at the desolate system once known as Turic, as they came into the city’s port. The sky was a darken haze of gray and black and only a few lights could be seen throughout the system.
“Well,” Matrix sighed, removing his zipboard. “I guess we better get moving.” He threw his zipboard out, and he and the others, watched from the railing as it fell to the waters below.
“Deco, system stats.” The keytool buzzed and whirled and brought up a readout. “Not good.” Enzo said, with a shake of his head. “This is really not good. The system’s on marginal power, but not much. It’s a system shut down.”
“Right.” Matrix muttered, still looking at the water that held his fallen zipboard. “No zipboards then.” Enzo nodded. Matrix turned to look at his brother. “I wish you had said that sooner.”
“Looks like we’re walking.” Dot said, heading past the others to the gangplank. “Gavin, make sure that antitoxin is brought to the Principal Office. I think we should take a look around first.”
Six sprites and one binome left the Saucy Wench. Mr. Andrew had the pleasure of delivering the antitoxin to the Principal Office, with word that Mainframe’s Command.Com would join him shortly after she and her team made a sweep of the system for any victims. Five sprites soon found themselves in the middle of a city street.
“This has to be the worst system I’ve ever seen.” AndrAIa whispered to her companions.
“This is worse than Megaframe.” Matrix replied quietly. “Much worse.”
“Crover, scanner.” Kalyle looked at the screen for a moment and looked off into the direction ahead. “If you folks will excuse me…” he said, starting off.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Matrix asked.
“In search of a nest.” Kalyle said plainly. “The sooner we get rid of that, the closer we are to riding the problem.”
“You’re not going alone.” Dot said.
“I think I can handle things.”
“Not by yourself, you won’t!” Dot insisted.
“She’s right, Cadet.” Bob replied. “Right now, you’re our only link to this thing. We’d like to keep you alive.”
“Speak for yourself.” Matrix grumbled.
“Enzo, go with him.” Bob continued, choosing to ignore Matrix’s comment.
The young guardian looked at his father figure in disbelief. “Excuse me?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. “Go with him.” Bob repeated. “Watch his back.”
“I’d really rather not, Bob.” Enzo stated truthfully.
“This is an order, Guardian Matrix.” Bob replied, the look and tone he held was very firm. And not up to a debate.
Enzo looked at Bob, as though ready to reply, but he just sighed and walked towards Kalyle. “Let’s go.” he mumbled, trudging off in the direction Kalyle indicated. The others watched as they left.
Dot sighed and said, “Let’s get started.”
“Where exactly are we going?” Matrix asked.
Dot merely pointed and the others followed her gaze. She was pointing to a domed building off in the distance. The top was slightly damaged, but otherwise in good condition as far as they could tell from their distance. It was Turic’s Principal Office.
“Well, this is pleasant.”
Mouse and Sabrina had barely gotten under the game as it landed in Baudway. Luckily, everyone in the Diner or the vicinity cleared out and left the game to the professionals. The girls now stood on what seemed to be a tropical island. Palm trees lined the beach shore and the colors of the ocean could be present, even from where they stood. Behind them was a row of grass huts and some tables and makeshift chairs.
“So, what’ve we got here?” Mouse asked, looking around their surroundings.
Sabrina closed her eyes for a nano, then opened them. “We’re on the third level of Island Castaways. The user has to rescue himself and six other people from this island. Thing is, the people he’s trying to rescue, namely us, keep getting in his way. Basically, we gotta keep him busy.”
“How easy could a game be?” Mouse asked, in surprise. She hadn’t been much of a gamer, leaving that stuff up to the guardians and AndrAIa, but she had been in a few and they always seemed to be…more or less interesting and challenging. This game just looked like busy work. “So what kind of weapons do we have?”
“Not sure.” Sabrina answered. “We’ll have to Reboot first.”
“Let’s wait to see the user.” the girl said, looking around. “I wanna know what we’re up against.”
They didn’t have to wait long. Coming from the bushes to their left, stood a gangly sailor. He wore khaki pants, a red shirt, and a white hat on his head. He looked like he could be on the chess team.
“That’s the user?!” Sabrina exclaimed, cringing at the young man that stood before them. “Ugh, I can feel my social life dropping several levels as we speak.” she continued, head in her hands. “Let’s get this over with. Reboot!”
The game’s light transformed them and they looked down at themselves. Sabrina was dressed in short shorts and wore a plaid tank top tied in a bow at the bottom. Her hair was now in pigtails and her freckles were slightly accented.
“Mouse,” the girl replied, looking at herself. “Let’s not tell my Mom and Dad about this. Especially Dad. He’d go offline if he saw…wow!” Sabrina turned to see Mouse, who was all dolled up in beautiful red ball gown. Her normally wild hair, now hung limply about her shoulders. Sabrina let a whistle and said, “Aren’t we all snazzy?”
“Never fails, darlin'” the hacker drawled, putting one hand on her hip. “I’m all prettied up with no place to go.”
Ray cruised the sky on his Baud, overlooking Mainframe. He missed the high adventure that Web surfing brought him, but every time he ventured up to look down on the city, he was always in awe. This little system was a bit of alright in his mind. He’d been through too much with them so far to ever turn his back on them and now was no exception.
He knew about bugs and knowing that they had a potential nest in the city didn’t comfort him. He also didn’t feel right with half of the staff leaving to go to Turic. He understood why that cadet had to go and Matrix and AndrAIa, and even Bob and Enzo, but Dot should’ve stayed. He knew the reputation bugs had for Command.Coms and he knew Dot knew this as well.
But when Dot Matrix made up her mind to do something…watch out!
The surfer continued his task, checking on various reports that had come in since Mouse and Bri left for the game. He could see the shiny purple block in the distance. Sometimes he’d get the urge to go try one out, but Mouse or Matrix put all those thoughts right out of his head.
Just as well, he thought. The bloody thing takes all the fun out of the second anyway. He was looking at the game cube when something below caught his eye. Traveling a little lower, he recognized the object.
Ray hated deleting anything, especially something so disgusting, but with one zap, he eliminated the creature. He stood on Baud for a nano, mentally counting how many bugs they had gotten so far. 11. That was the new total now and that made Ray Tracer a little more than just edgy.
It made him downright scared.
The game Island Castaways seemed simple enough. Keep the user occupied. Piece of cake, easy as pi, like taking candy from a baby. And the user…he really couldn’t be a match for the game sprites that were there. Sure, he had made it to the third level, but things change. This couldn’t be more easy, right?
Mouse and Sabrina were finding out the hard way that appearances aren’t always what they seem. Sure, the scenery and the mere game statistics gave way the game would be fairly easy, but that’s where the two sprites were wrong. The user it seemed was much more resilient in getting to the next level than be concerned with the two lovelies that were trying to stop him.
“No thanks, Mary-Ann.” replied the user. “I don’t want any more pie.”
“It’s on the house.” Sabrina, as this Mary-Ann, insisted. “Have another. It’s your favorite.”
“Nah,” the user said, putting his hands up. “I’m done.”
“The lady said have another pie!” Mouse said, trying to look menacing and not doing a very good job.
“I gotta see the Professor.”
“Sit down and have another pie!” Sabrina exclaimed, causing the user to stay where he was and grab another coconut cream pie.
“He’s persistent.” Mouse whispered to her young charge. “This is really hard.”
“Tell me about it.” Sabrina replied. “We can’t keep this up all second. We got stuff to do!”
The user quickly finished his third pie and started to stand. “Where do you think you’re goin’?” Mouse questioned, hands on her hips. “That was really good, girls, but I gotta go.” the user answered.
“Gilligan!” Sabrina said, pushing another pie in front of the man. “Sit. Eat. Pie!”
“I really can’t!” the user said, almost on the verge of tears.
“Oh, this is ridiculous!” Mouse cried, picking up a spare pie. She hurled it at the user and it splattered against his chest. Sabrina got a mischievous smile on her face before picking up one pie after another and hitting the user in the face. After about five pies, the girls heard the wonderful,
“I’m so glad that’s over!” Sabrina breathed, watching as the purple cube lifted above them.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Mouse said, putting a swagger into her walk. “It’s not everyday a girl gets all dolled up to throw pies.”
“Then we’ll bake some pies and throw them at my Dad.” the girl laughed. A vidwindow popped up, Phong’s worried face on the other side. “Hey wise leader type guy.” Sabrina replied, giving the old sprite a smile. “What’s processing?”
“Mouse, Sabrina, you must return to the Principal Office immediately.” Phong said, his voice holding the necessary urgency.
“What’s wrong?” Mouse asked, curious to know the problem.
“It seems our current problem is growing worse.”
Bob, Matrix, and AndrAIa walked through the barren streets, heading towards the Principal Office of Turic. If they had thought the damage to the system was bad off from the ship, it was worse close up. CPU transports lay overturned by the sidewalks, businesses shattered, windows broken, doors lay on the ground, splintered. The whole scene was starting to make the three very uneasy.
“Guys, let’s hurry up and get outta here.” AndrAIa whined, an uneasy feeling landing in the pit of her stomach. “Being out here is giving me the jaggies.”
“I’m with you.” Matrix said. In all the seconds and minutes they spent game hopping, he and AndrAIa had never come across a system as depleted as this. Even the shock of seeing Megaframe didn’t hold up much to this system.
“I don’t sense anything.” Bob replied, looking around as well. “But we still have to be on guard. Incidentally, I’m with you two. I want to get to the P.O. as quick as possible. What do you think, Dot? Dot?”
The three stopped in their tracks and looked for Dot. They found her walking slowly behind them, organizer in hand, typing as she went. “Dot!” Bob said.
“I’m right behind you.” she said, not taking her eyes from her task at hand.
“What’re you doing?” AndrAIa asked. “You’re lagging behind.”
“I’m surveying.” she replied, continuing her walk and typing. “Anything is useful, right?”
“Right.” Matrix sighed, shaking his head.
“Well, do you think you could survey a little faster?” Bob asked, impatiently. “We’d kinda like to get to the Principal Office sometime soon.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Dot shooed his concern with a wave of her hand, eyes still looking around, hand still typing.
The four continued their trek to the Principal Office, the scenes of devastation seemingly getting worse as they did. They could see fresh and dried energy on the sidewalk, in the street, flowing from buildings…for the four that had been through just about everything possible, this was new and uncharted territory. A very terrifying territory. AndrAIa stopped suddenly, causing Matrix to bump into her slightly.
“Do you hear that?” she whispered, looking around nervously.
“What?” Matrix asked. He knew to never go against her superb hearing.
“I don’t hear anything.” Bob said, also looking around suspiciously.
The sound was low and soft, like a rumble and increasingly started to get louder. “Do you hear that now?” the game sprite asked, sarcastically.
“Yeah.” Matrix breathed.
“Dot?” Bob called, suddenly afraid for her.
“Yeah.” she answered, somewhere behind him. She wasn’t as close as he had liked, but at least she had caught up to the group.
The rumbling began to grow, the sound seemingly coming from everywhere. The fear that was etched on each sprite’s face was that they had never known. The games hadn’t been this terrifying, the Web hadn’t been this scary, Megaframe hadn’t been so frightening. Everything seemed to tremor, the buildings, the sky, the ground…
Then it stopped.
As suddenly as it began, the noise just stopped. “It stopped.” Matrix concluded, his breathing slowing slightly. All was quiet, like it had been when they first arrived. “Something’s up.” AndrAIa stated, that growing fear hitting her like a ton of bricks. The group stood on edge, listening for anything remotely similar in that first noise.
Then came a high-pitched scream that filled the air. It was nothing like the sound of a sprite’s scream or even a binome’s. It was so loud, AndrAIa had to cover her ears. The noise blended with the crackling of earth, the shaking of the ground with a tremendous thunder. Then the high pitched scream was replaced with a normal one. One that came from behind the other three. One that sounded very familiar.
Enzo did his best to keep up with Kalyle. The cadet was almost possessed, once he got a confirmed reading on Crover. The young guardians headed toward a larger business sector of the city, buildings and shops everywhere. Enzo imagined what it must have been like, before all of this.
He had seen two binomes already, suffering from what looked like sheer pain. He had wanted to stop and help, but Daniels kept going, didn’t even notice them as he passed. Their walking now slowed, Kalyle examining each building, looking to his keytool for any signs of bug life.
“There’s something wrong.” Enzo said, looking around. He hated being out here. He wished Bob had let him stay with his group. The fact that he hated Kalyle Daniels also played into it. “It’s way too quiet.”
“You have a lot to learn about bugs, Matrix.” Kalyle replied, not looking up from Crover’s screen. “Or didn’t they teach you that at the academy.”
“Dude, what are you?” Enzo asked. “A guardian or a renegade?”
“A little of both actually.” the cadet regarded. “Now, would you mind shutting that mouth of yours? I can’t think if you’re yapping away.”
The two suddenly stopped in front of a small store with the words, Pop’s Shop, on a broken window. Enzo could see it used to be a clothing store/deli, by what was left of the counter and the stools.
Clothes were strewed everywhere, on the floor, the stools, the counter…the deli aspect made him think of Dot’s Diner…thinking of that always made him think of Dot. They were not in a place where he wanted something to happen to them. He didn’t know a lot about bugs, but he knew the worse.
They were like locusts, flocking to anything that they saw as food. The workers weren’t as harmless as they looked. They weren’t as powerful as they bigger counterparts, but they still had enough venom to do some serious harm to a person.
He couldn’t even imagine what might have happened if Kit hadn’t done anything to save himself and his family. Enzo could’ve lost his nieces and nephews in one foul swoop. His family was too important to him. He made a decision right there.
As soon as they were out of there, he’d apologize to Dot and Matrix for his behavior.
“There’s a definite nest here.” Kalyle replied grimly, breaking Enzo from his thoughts.
“Inside there?” the young guardian asked, pointing to the wreck that was once Pop’s.
“In the system.” KD said, sighing. “I’m not sure where though. Crover can only tell me there’s one here. He’s not that sophisti…”
A high-pitched scream cut Kalyle off and both turned to looked in the direction it came. “What in the Net was that?” Enzo exclaimed, covering his ears in order to block the sound. Kalyle knew that sound like he knew the back of his hand.
It came from the very thing that had killed his family and destroyed his home. His ears were trained to pick out which sound came from which bug and he got a sinking feeling as soon as he realized where it was coming from.
“It’s a soldier.” he said, gazing in the direction where the other group was.
Dot didn’t hear the sound until the last moment.
It sounded almost like an explosion coming from behind her. She had barely turned around when she felt a pain in her side, near her lower back. At first, she thought maybe a piece of concrete had hit her, but then her body felt like it was on fire.
Every circuit, every patch of code felt as though they were being doused in flames. It was a pain she had never felt before, coursing through her body. As she fell to the ground, she heard someone, a multiple of someones, call her name.
And she saw her attacker.
It was just as ugly and hideous as the small worker they found in the Principal Office, but it was larger. Much larger. It had to be twice the height of Princess Bula and apparently, a third of the strength. Its eyes were beady and its antennae twitched. As drowsiness started to over take her, she thought she could see the hint of a smile…
The three hadn’t exactly seen the attack, but they didn’t have to when they saw Dot fall to the ground. “Gun: Command Line!” Matrix shouted, Gun in his hand in an instant. “Full delete!”
The shots hit their target, but didn’t seem to damage it much. With an angry cry, the soldier started to charge, but then refrained and took off into the sky, Matrix still firing at it. Bob was at Dot’s side almost immediately.
“Dot? Dot, answer me. Talk to me, baby.” He was answered with a soft moan as AndrAIa and Matrix joined him.
“Dot, can you hear me?” Matrix asked, about to roll her over when his hand touched something.
It looked like a huge, pulsating dart, pumping whatever was inside into his sister. “Matrix, you gotta pull that out!” Bob shouted. Matrix looked up at him, indecision in his eyes. Shouldn’t they not touch anything? Wouldn’t she get worse?
Matrix jumped at the command and sighed. “This is gonna hurt, baby, and I’m sorry.” Bob whispered, Dot’s head now resting in his lap. Matrix placed one hand around one side of the wound and gripped his other on the pulsating sack. He made a face, his hand being slimed from the mere touch. Placing it squarely, he yanked.
Dot screamed loudly from the pain. It seemed the removal of the object only increased the fire that burned inside. “I’m sorry, Dot, I’m sorry.” Matrix pleaded, hating seeing his sister in pain.
Running and panting from nearby caused the three to look up momentarily. The looks on the young guardians’ faces were as different as can be. Enzo looked stricken, in shock. A familiar chord hitting him as he saw his beloved sister laying on the ground.
Kalyle looked more than a little disturbed, if not annoyed.
Both were quickly by the Command.Com, Enzo kneeling down next to his brother, Kalyle pacing around the small group. “Oh no, oh no, oh no.” he replied, like a mantra. He was thinking quickly. They couldn’t possibly hang out here. Bugs were like sharks. They could smell energy a mile a way and come converging on them at any microsecond. “We gotta go. We gotta go!” he said, looking around for any signs of another attack. “Leave her and let’s go.”
“Are you out of whatever’s left of your mind?” AndrAIa retorted, giving the cadet a stern look. “We’re not leaving Dot here.”
“You obviously don’t seem to understand the trouble we’re in right now.” Kalyle said, matter of factly. “She’s a victim. She’s basically bug food. Within a few more nanos, we’re going to be enveloped with bugs. Second, she’s a Command.Com. I bet that soldier you met has gone off to tell the Queen and she’ll be having fine dining if we don’t get out of here! Now, I’ll say this. If we leave her here, maybe the other bugs will finish her off before their Queen gets out here. Now, let’s go!”
The four sprites just stared at him, the anger slowly rising in each of them. “You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’, you know this, right?” Matrix asked, both hands balled into fists.
“I don’t have time for this sentimental garbage!” Kalyle exclaimed. “Now, listen to me. We are in the middle of the bug war zone. We are currently surrounding someone who is probably deleting as we speak. Yeah, we’ve got antitoxin, but look how far away we are from the basic Principal Office, where one of this software pirates took the stuff! He probably didn’t even go to the Principal Office! He probably doubled back and he, and the crew of the most wanted criminal in the Net, are probably long gone and are about to sell that little package and get a slice of the…”
Kalyle felt like he was hit by a truck. Slamming down hard on the ground, it took him a while to realize he was getting the daylights knocked out of him. A wild punch and a push moved his attacker and Kalyle was quickly back on his feet. He saw a rush of green and blue come at him, but was able to duck a right cross, in order to nail the perpetrator in the gut.
Enzo stumbled back, clutching his stomach, unprepared for the uppercut that knocked him into a building wall. Kalyle had his hands around the guardian’s neck, choking him and pushing him back into the wall. Enzo clawed at KD’s hands, trying to pry them from his throat.
Three swift kicks to his mid section caused the cadet to release his grip and set him up for a barrage of punches from Enzo. Kalyle stumbled back, reaching inside his trench coat for his weapon. Removing a large and very sharp sword, the cadet was about to make Enzo fries, when he ran smack into an unmovable object.
Gun’s barrel aimed between his eyes.
Kalyle stopped in his tracks, eyes locked on Gun. Moving them slowly, he looked at Matrix, who stood aiming with one hand and holding a squirming Enzo at bay with the other. “I don’t think I have to say anything.” the renegade addressed the sprite. “This should explain. Any questions?”
“Matrix, Enzo, I need you guys over here.” Bob said, glancing over his shoulder. “Now!”
Reluctantly, the two walked over to Bob and AndrAIa. Matrix gathered Dot in his arms, AndrAIa right behind him. Enzo shrugged Bob’s hand from his shoulder as he stalked after the two. As Kalyle started in the same direction, Bob stopped him with a hand to his chest. “You can bet Turbo’s gonna hear about this.” he said, anger shooting from his eyes like daggers. He removed his hand and followed suit.