Balthazar moved through the shadowy maze of corridors that made up the lower levels of the Harbinger as he went about his routine check of some of the standard operations maintenance equipment. He endured the tedium of his tasks inside of an atmosphere that was as near to being silent as one would expect while wandering the bowels of this ship at such a late hour. With the bulk of the hovercraft’s human payload tucked away in their private quarters the Harbinger had little more than a skeleton crew at its helm as it glided at a moderate rate of speed through the tunneling that surrounded it.
Balthazar eventually found his way up several decks and through a series of twists and turns saw his way into the ship’s cockpit.
“How we doing?” he spoke out as he climbed into the co-pilot’s chair and turned his focus on the instrumentation in front of him.
“Better than expected, Captain,” Vance answered him as he continued to steer the ship. “These topographical runs are getting to be as dull as they are mechanically strenuous.”
“Yeah? Well unfortunately for us they’re still practical,” Balthazar said. “Just make sure you get everything logged into the system correctly. The last thing I need is to get back to the gates and have Commander Abner…”
The noise of a rapidly beeping electronic signal interrupted the captain’s words and redirected the pilot’s attention back toward his instrumentations.
“What the hell is that?” Captain Balthazar said, constantly alternating his squinting glance between the controls and the panes of glass in front of him.
“Me speaking to soon,” Vance replied. He began punching in buttons on a console that succeeded in raising a digital three dimensional image of the length of tunneling they were moving through between his seat and the captain’s. “Shit!” he called out, slamming on the brakes and slowing the forward momentum of the ship.
“Make it a double,” Balthazar said as he studied over the image.
Vance had been completely focused on the picture outside of the cockpit window as he struggled to dramatically reduce the already low level of speed that the hovercraft was traveling with. He watched the bend in the tunnel ahead swiftly come up on the vessel regardless of his efforts and when the Harbinger ultimately made the corner the view outside of the cockpit window had been revamped with the image of a small cadre of mechanical beasts that clogged the piping up ahead.
Vance brought the ship to a complete stop and left it floating there in plain sight of the platoon of hovering bots. He stared curiously at the array of undulating limbs and the horde of floating centerpieces that they were attached to.
“Damn things just came out of nowhere,” Vance said, dropping both his eyes and his rapidly roving fingers down to the controls in his reach.
“Looks to me like it was the other way around,” Balthazar replied, still staring out of the window at the company they kept. “What the hell are they doing? And, better yet, why are we just now picking them up on our sensors?”
“I have no idea,” Vance replied to him still fumbling with the buttons and switches at his command. “From what I can see all of our scanners are firing on all cylinders. You think maybe we should shut down and pull the system for maintenance? Can’t imagine what good a busted scanner relay is gonna do us on this run.” After receiving no answer from his commanding officer he let his eyes drift up from the console. “Captain?” His look swung back over to the cockpit window. “What the hell are they doing?”
His question was promptly answered by the sudden jarring of the room all around him. The flow of motion was nearly strong enough to shake both him and the captain from the seats they occupied. Once Vance had his bearings again he looked over at the holographic between the two chairs. The image that it displayed suddenly swirled around and reconstituted itself into a picture of the Harbinger falling prey to the swarm of digital beasts that had latched on to its hull as well as the squadron sweeping up fast from the rear.
“Go! Go! Go!” Balthazar yelled out in his ear.
The accelerator reengaged and being pushed to rapidly increase its output, Vance hardly gave a second thought to using the front end of the hovercraft as a bettering ram to shove his way through the gathered crowd of sentinel bots that clogged the tunnel ahead. Creatures that promptly regained their coordination after the collision and lit off after the ship to assist their brethren in their cause.
Steel claws dug into the metal and began prying up paneling while mounted lens released beams of searing red lasers to cut away segment after segment of the fleeing vessel that was crawling all over with an ever mounting number of beasts seeking to cut it from the sky.
As if their worries hadn’t been tenfold already, both Vance and Captain Balthazar felt their pulse rates elevate that much higher when a body came bursting through the doorway behind them. Each one of them jerked their heads around half expecting to find the sickle-like blade projections located beneath the underbody of a hulking sentinel awaiting their eyes. Instead they found the panicked expression of their shipmate Ezekiel waiting to greet them.
“What is it!?!” he screamed into the violently quaking room.
“Sentinels!” Balthazar barked back at him.
“What!?!” he replied with a look of unmistakable fright.
“You heard what I said! Now get back to the gun turrets and get ‘em manned!” Once he was gone Balthazar turned his speech back in Vance’s direction. “Do what you can to try and shake these guys until we reach the mainlines,” he said, unbuckling the straps that held him down in his seat. “After I send out a distress call I’ll be arming the EMP. Be ready to ground this thing when I give the say so.”
Vance’s “You got it, sir,” barely had a chance to register in his ears as Balthazar was streaking past the arch of the cockpit entryway. He moved as fast as he could across the rickety railways and rain of metal slabs and wiring in a mad dash on his way back to the ship’s core.
Despite the drop in temperature beads of sweat were beginning to collect on Vance’s furrowed brow as he weaved and twisted his way through the tunneling ahead of him. Tunneling that soon ceased to exist once the Harbinger exploded out of a porthole in the pipe and went careening through the icy air of the lasting night that blanketed the planet’s surface dragging a trail of debris, spent rounds, and sentinels along with it. In his desperation Vance didn’t even make a move to dodge the enormous dilapidated structure that was quickly closing in on the cockpit windows.
The sentinels clinging to the Harbinger’s hull continued to peel away layers of vital machinery and he knew that it wouldn’t be long until they succeeded in knocking the ship from the sky. To say nothing of the ones that had already breached the outer layers. Vance hit the throttle and plowed right through the skeletal framework of the hollowed out monument with the intense hopes that the ship would survive whatever damage that it incurred while at the same time ridding itself of a vast number of the pests plaguing it. Aged and rusted beams of iron and steel clanked against the ship until it finally broke through the opposite side of the building raining down rotted planks of wood and metal on the surface below. In the end, not only had Vance accomplished the task of peeling away some of the crawling creatures from the ship, but he’d also been instrumental in thinning the herd that followed. The withered structure that had stood for centuries reeled from the blow that he had delivered to it and buckled under the pressure. The building’s collapse managed to drown a large portion of the militants coming after the hovercraft in its rain of destruction.
Balthazar stumbled in his walk as the ship’s floor shook beneath his feet. He was able to quickly recover and complete his stride for the operator’s station. Strapping the headset on, he began hitting every dial in reach, expecting at any moment to be placed in contact with a sister ship in Zion’s fleet. Instead, the only noise that he received in his ear was static. He continued to try in vain to raise a signal until the frustration of his failure finally got the better of him. Slamming the headset down, he went straight for the controls of the EMP.
“Now, Vance!” he blared out into the radio over the noise of the tumultuous chaos that existed all around him.
The ship winded its way through the ancient cityscape on a steadily increasing sharp downward arc. Balthazar found it nearly impossible to brace himself when the vessel hit down and skidded its way to a grinding halt on the surface floor. Quickly clamoring back up into position, he flipped up the plastic seal that covered the EMP trigger and twisted the knob.
It took a moment for the initial shock to wear off but when it did he was still left with the realization that the weapon that he’d armed had yet to fire. He tried it again. Nothing. Again.
“No,” he said to himself. “But that’s just…” His mind scrolled through a rundown of data that left an icy chill winding its way up his spine. “That son of a…”
A latch door on the outer hull of the Harbinger was unlocked and flipped open. Ezekiel slowly emerged from the wreckage until he was standing on top of the upper portion of the ship. The pain that he had suffered during the course of the crash landing was quickly overwhelmed by the intense cold that hit his body after emerging into the night air. Ezekiel scrambled down the side of the ship until his feet were planted down in a sea of rock and grit. Rubbing his palms up and down the lengths of his arms for warmth, he continued to slowly back away from the downed hovercraft with his eyes stuck on the torn and sparking metal. It would take the whirring noise of moving mechanics at his back to stop his stride and see his body rotated around where he stood. Ezekiel sucked in a chilled gasp as he stood there facing the monstrosity of waving tentacles hovering just above him. After taking a moment to lift his sight to the swarm that swam through the skies even higher above them both he quickly gave the beast that was his immediate host his full attention once more.
“It’s done then!” he called up to the hovering bot. “Tell me! Have I not fulfilled my oath?”
He stood there and watched bits and pieces of the body of the creature shift and slide until the numerous red glowing optic lens that covered the forward partition were dancing all around each other. Ezekiel took several steps back as he watched the body of the beast shift and unfold until a distinctive head had emerged from the upper portion and a single set of appendages came planted down in the dirt before him. Head. Legs. Arm. Ezekiel looked up at the mockery of a man-creature as it stood with its numerous squid-like appendages flailing about at its back.
“Then I hold you to yours,” he spoke to it again.
A short moment of silence lingered between them until at last one of the flailing squid arms at the towering machine’s back shot forward and clasped its clawed hand around his body. Suddenly Ezekiel felt his body being snatched forward into the air as he watched the flying creature morph back into its original shape. Looking back over his shoulder he saw one of the swarming sentinels hovering through the air above the Harbinger break away from the pack and extract a significantly smaller device from the undercarriage of its hull. The thing spun around like a vertical pinwheel until it finally released its hold on the munitions that it held. Every other sentinel in the area took that as their cue to flee the immediate vicinity. No long after that the Harbinger exploded in a rage of blue flame and metal
Apollo’s eyes sprang open wide. He had to blink a few times but eventually the ceiling of his bedroom came into clear enough view for him to recognize it. He remained lying in bed until his body surged with enough strength to allow him to peel back the blanket that covered him and swing his feet over the side of the mattress.
He stood in the shower stall with his arms stretched out before him as he leaned against the wall letting the hot water wash over him. He breathed in steam let the stimulating effects of the running flow shake him that much further into consciousness. Soon enough the concept of time returned to him and he shut down the valves just before making a reach from the handle on the door.
He stood in the bathroom doorway wearing nothing but a set of tattered trousers and the towel that he used to dry his head with. Letting the cloth drop down to the back of his neck, he pulled the two ends taut around his shoulders and let them hang there as he stared into his bedroom. It was the bed that he was paying particular attention to. Or rather the shifting form of the nude feminine figure that lay there barely covered by the blanket that he had left draped over her. The notion of time struck him again. Apollo gave her one more looking over and moved to collect his pack in the corner.
“And look at what we have here,” Dustin said as the pathway that he moved along melded into one corridor with strip that Apollo used to navigate his way through the city. “I was almost sure that you would have been dialing in with some phony excuse as to why you couldn’t make first call today.”
“You know me,” Apollo replied, adjusting the strap that he had slung over his shoulder. “Early to bed. Early to rise.”
“Loralie from the Scythe?” Dustin said.
“I swear,” Trix said as she moved along with her equipment at Dustin’s side. “If either of your minds were anymore one tracked I’d be seriously worried about the retention of all that data stored away in your implants.”
“You say that as if you weren’t a contributing factor,” Apollo said to her.
The three of them boarded an elevator that took them up to the docks. When it stopped they got off and walked a trail that eventually saw them to the broad array of landing pads that lie beneath the enormous domed ceiling of the infantry docking station. The trio stopped and stared at the vast multitude of hovercrafts ascending from their take off positions and dropping from the air towards their designated landing grids. In the end one ship in particular consumed their combined line of sight.
“Now tell me the truth,” a voice called out from their rear prompting them all to turn and look towards their backs. They stood there and watched as their operator, toting a full load of gear over each of his shoulders, came walking up to join them. “Have any of you ever seen a more sublime vision in your lives?”
He stepped between Dustin and Apollo, slapping a hand down on both of their shoulders as he passed them up, and continued on his way towards the Nexus.
“Yeah,” Apollo said, readjusting his hold on the strap hanging from his shoulder. “And if I’m not mistaken it’s still sleeping soundly in my apartment.”
The trio started up their walk again after Syntax’s back and the duties that awaited them aboard the hovercraft vessel in the distance.
“Hey. You want to take it easy?” Syntax said to him as he turned back around and went to work. “We just got those hydraulic lifts revamped. The last thing we need is for one of you knuckleheads to bust a gasket before we even get ‘em out the gate.”
Apollo craned his head back into an awkward position on his neck as he reached up and began pressing his fingers to the array of screens behind him. “You’re seriously getting a kick out of giving this boat its first tow out to sea in six weeks, aren’t you?”
“Never underestimate the power of self deluding denial, my friend,” Syntax replied. “It’s not like I wasn’t enjoying the R&R while this bucket got a complete overhaul, but now that I’m back I am curious to find out what now works, what works better than ever, and what’ll probably dislodge and fall off before we get her airborne.”
Apollo dropped his head back down into its original position and flashed a grin at Syntax’s back. “Well…while we’re on the subject…”
Syntax paused his roaming fingers and spun his chair around to face him.
The fluidity of her body’s motion saw to her limbs slicing through the air with hardly any resistance from the atmosphere surrounding her. The only evidence of the immense force behind each step in the ballet of movements that she engaged in were the thin plumes of dust that were kicked up each time that she brought her feet up from the mats beneath her or in the fluttering motion of the numerous wind whipped streaming banners hanging down from the ceiling. She had been so focused in her exercise that she hardly noticed the sound of an extra set of footsteps moving across the floor somewhere off in the shadow covered recesses of the large, dim, lantern lit room.
Trix finally put a stop to all of her movement and planted both of her bare feet squarely on the ground when she heard the distant knock of wood against wood and the scraping sound that could have only been caused by a large staff being liberated from one of the weapons rack that cradle a cache of similar pieces. She turned toward the area at her back and began a slow walk through the gaping room. She looked both ways down each corridor composed of hanging banners that passed until she came upon one that contained a solitary male figure standing at one of the far ends.
Trix gave Apollo’s sleeveless, solid black uniform a quick looking over before the bulk of her attention drifted over towards the spearhead and the bright yellow tassel attached to the staff he wielded. “Aren’t you suppose to be in the mess hall with Concent helping load the feed tanks?” she said to him.
“Swapped out with Raven in exchange for taking her first shift at watch,” he said as he started stepping in her direction.
“You mind telling me how it is that you got in my room?” Trix said. “I’m pretty sure the door was locked.”
“Then it still is. I traded Syntax a small stack of backdoor hacks that I lifted back in the city to pirate your box.”
Trix did a one eighty and began heading back in the direction that she’d came from. “I’m sure we’ll have a talk about that later.” Apollo kept moving until he was able to turn his eyes toward his right shoulder and get a look at her dark green tank top covered back and matching baggy satin leggings. “Any particular reason why you’re in here, or is just to play with my toys?”
“If I’m not mistaken a certain rematch comes to mind,” he said to her. It was enough to stop her walk and coax her into turning around to face him. “A bout that’s as long overdue as it has been eagerly anticipated.”
“Exactly how much time does it take for the average bruised ego to heal?”
Trix sucked in wind and breathed out a sigh of frustration. “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “I don’t plan on indulging either.” Once her back was to him again it didn’t take long for Apollo’s spear tip to quickly close the distance between the two of them and come planted down in the floor along the path that she walked. It was in lifting her right foot from the floor and spinning her body back to face him that she was able to barely miss being hit by that blow. In doing so she found Apollo still holding a firm grip on the staff. “Oh, that’s real cute.”
“I does get gradually more unattractive with time.”
“I’ll bet it does.”
He could see the jaw muscles on the side of her face flex as she clenched her concealed teeth together. His grin barely had a chance to blossom before she brought her leg up again. This time it was to deliver a blow to the underside of the weapon and free the blade from the groove that it had made for itself. She quickly followed the move up with a spinning sweep that snatched his feet out from under him, planting his back down on the mat. The gust of air that was knocked from his lungs came in the form of forced laughter.
“Okay then,” Apollo said to her. Readjusting his grip on the pole, he flung it around in a broad arcing circle above his body causing Trix to make a high springing leap backwards in order to avoid its promise. By the time she had touched down again he was back up on his feet and moving at her with a full on offensive with the weapon.
The spearhead and the blunt end at the opposite edge of the pole that were being twirled around on the axis made up by Apollo’s gripping hands each took their turn at trying to take the legs out from underneath Trix. First her legs and then her hands as the high stepping, spinning backpedal that Trix moved with swiftly metamorphosed into a quick series of flips. Apollo took a moment to pause his charge and allowed her to reacquire square footing on the ground. He then planted the blunt end of his staff down on the floor and used the weapon as an anchor as he hoisted his body into the air and delivered a roundhouse kick to the side of her face. He quickly followed that maneuver up with a stomping blow to her chest with the other foot that sent Trix’s body careening back towards the wall behind her.
Trix collapsed out of the indenture and dropped down into a crouching position. She rose upright and stepped over to the rack on the wall next to her. She took down three long wooden rods that were connected at two separate junctures by a set of small chains. She unfurled the piece and let a portion of it drop to the floor at her feet. Trix was quick to snatch back on the instrument and, with a hopping motion of roundabout twirls, send the business end of the trisected armament flinging in his direction. Apollo defended himself. Trix took another swipe at his legs that Apollo cunningly avoided with a leap into the air. After some careful maneuvering with the staff Apollo brought it around his body and let the stick fly. Trix dodged the tip of the spear and allowed it to continue on its flight path untethered. It managed to pierce one of the wall mounted lanterns before imbedding itself in the wooden structure behind the fixture. The flames that exploded out upon impact brushed against several of the nearby hanging banners and quickly engulfed them in a fast moving blaze.
Regardless of the rampant flame spreading at her back Trix continued with her forward advance on her opponent without the slightest sign of distraction. Apollo was able to steer clear of her assault even with the added obstacle of the blaze quickly encircling them both. Flowing banners of fire decorated the room above their heads while the walls in every direction crumbled under the weight of their weakened condition. Eventually he was able to make his way back over to his spear and pry it free from the wall. Unfortunately Trix had been swift enough in her motives to reach him and place a back spinning sidekick to his chest before he had a chance to render any more damage with the weapon.
The blow was effective in lifting him from his feet and sending his back on a collision course with one of the few remaining windows in the grand hall. It was a partition of hard paper and wood that was reduced to rubble when his body went crashing through it. Once outside Apollo’s off balance form came splashing down in one of the numerous pools of water that surrounded the enflamed structure. A flickering bolt of lighting lit up the cloud covered sky above him and a booming crack of thunder accompanied his rise back to his feet. He turned back towards the portal that he had just crashed through just in time to catch sight of Trix’s body exploding through what was left of the tattered opening. Her bare feet hit the surface of the pool that Apollo occupied and sent up a ring of water around her body. She immediately broke through the barrier with the next series of kicks that she raised up and threw in his direction. With the flaming quarters warming their backdrop Apollo effectively fended her off with his staff as the stormy weather raged all around them.
Out of the blue…
The call of a ringing telephone somewhere off in the distance had succeeded in doing what the thunderous calamity in the skies above and the flaming wreckage had failed to accomplish. The two combatants were all poised to take their next strike at each other when the ring tone sounded again. They both turned their gaze toward the charring ruins of Trix’s once peaceful school of thought.
“Well…,” she said, lowering her weapon down to her side and gesturing toward the blaze. “After you.”
Raven moved up behind Apollo’s lowering chair and extracted the plug from the back of his head.
“Sorry to cut recess a little short,” Syntax spoke out from behind his work station as Dustin and Trix slowly made their way into the ship’s core. “But it looks like the Nexus has already been handed down its first official orders of the day.”
“You’re kidding me, right?” Dustin said. “You mean we haven’t even made it out of the yard yet and command center’s barking already?”
“Gets even worse,” they all heard a voice call out in their direction. Not long after Despauna made his presence in the area known. “Turns out this is gonna be a scavenge run. One that’s taking us all the way up top,” he said. His words were quickly answered by a collection of groaning voices. “So I hope everyone remembered to pack their cold weather gear,” he said as he continued to step through the gathering and make his way past where they had all congregated. “Carry on.”
“Looks like we’re off to some kind of start,” Apollo said.
Trix moved over toward his loading chair and threw a light slap across his knee. “Stay out of my deck,” she scolded him quietly while raising a finger to point in his direction.
“Alright,” Syntax said. “You guys heard him. So get your gear stowed and your stations manned. And let’s hope the thermostat’s still up and running on this heap,” he muttered to himself.
Concent and Cara sat at the cockpit’s helm and after receiving clearance from the tower they activated the hovercraft’s pads and lifted off from the deck. Heeding the other air traffic that was coming and going, the two pilots made a quick line to their designated gate. After passing through it the ship gradually began to pick up speed as it proceeded through the tunnel ahead.
Once the Nexus touched down and its ramp was lowered Despauna, fully wrapped from head to toe in a thickly padded outfit with an armload of gear in tow, descended the incline with Trix, Dustin, Apollo, and Lex following close behind.
“Unbelievable,” Trix said as she activated the large handheld flashlight that she carried and shined it up at one of the barges hovering above their heads. She watched a small cluster of debris trickle down off of the large, damaged hover pad that a clawed crane was in the process of drawing up towards the underbelly of the ship. “What in God’s name were they doing all the way out here anyway?”
“Topography run,” Dustin answered her. “Looks like command has just been handing out cherry assignments right and left.” He paused for a moment to inspect the scattered carnage of remains. “What a mess.”
“Yeah,” Despauna replied. “And it’s not gonna get itself cleaned up. Apollo. Lex. Get with the Damocles crew. You got medical. Dustin. Trix. We’ll take mechanical. I want this site cleared and prepped for evac as soon as humanly possible.”
“Captain,” Trix called out to Despauna’s back. “Does Zion Control have any idea how this happened?”
“My guess is that’s what we’re here to find out.”
The barrage of thunderous clatter that reverberated through the cloud cover high above his head sent a shrill streak of fear rocketing up his spine. He immediately picked up the pace of his already desperate stride through the stormy downpour that blanketed the dark city street. He’d already made it another block before his senses finally returned to him and convinced him that what he’d heard couldn’t have been the sound of more gunfire. Impossible. No. He’d lost them quite a ways back. His only concern now was making it to the drop point and his contact and getting this nightmare over with.
He ran faster, splashing through one puddle after the next until the wing tip edges of his shoes stumbled upon the first rung of a staircase leading down to a subway platform. His wet palms slipped and slid along the rails as he tried to steady his rapid descent down past the collection of pedestrians moving in both the opposite and same direction as he was. Once he made it down to the platform he began to slow the pace that he moved with until his steps were nearly as steady and as surefooted as the crowd that swarmed around him. The train would be along at any moment now. He was almost there.
Unmistakable in their cut, fit, and texture. Suits that just seemed to come out of nowhere in the midst of the crowd in front of him.
Sunglasses that carefully scanned over the gathered masses in an area no broader in length than the range between their two shoulders.
Earpieces attached to communications array that allowed for the instant transmission of all gathered information from one party to the next.
Panic sent him backpedaling away from the perceived threat. Not them. Not now. He turned to make a go for the staircase leading back up to the street only to find his way blocked by a vision that made the Agents’ presence on the platform seem like only a minor inconvenience. They had clearly followed him here in the hopes of finishing the job they had started back at the warehouse. His body began moving back once more, this time in the direction away from the steps. The squeaking cry of the breaks being applied to the approaching train resonated through the air and sought out his ears. Perhaps there was still a chance that he could make it out of this.
He pushed his hand in past the inner lining of the wet coat that he had on. The noise of the train pulling up to the platform and hissing to a stop filled in the background noise of the station. Soon the pattering of moving footsteps and chattering voices were tripled over in volume as the passengers exited while others sought to claim their abandoned places. He spun his body around while at the same time removing his hand from his coat. The woman who stood facing him let out a glass shattering scream at the sight of the gun barrel that extended away from the grip of his fist. He angled it toward the ceiling and squeezed off three shots that caused a light fixture above their heads to explode and rain down a shower of sparks and glass over the crowd. Suddenly screams were everywhere and the platform was engulfed in a rush of pandemonium.
With the firearm still clutched firmly in his fist he maneuvered through the narrow space between the tunnel wall and the train as quickly as he could. He continued to keep an eye out over his shoulder for any signs of someone attempting to follow him. Once he made it past the train he was able to break out into a more intense sprint along the tracks and move ahead into what he hoped would be the safety of the darkened area of tunneling that lie ahead.
The rainy weather was once again trickling down on him through the open spaces between the steel grates above him as he scaled his way up the ladder. Smashing his way through the barrier, he quickly hopped up into the dank alleyway that his escape had lead him to. Giving the area a quick once over, he eventually spied the flickering light above a payphone unit at the end of the passage off to his left. His feet kicked up waves of splashing water as he made a mad dash across the puddle covered pavement towards the telephone. He nearly ripped the cord out of the unit with the force that he used to snatch the receiver from the hook. The numbered buttons didn’t receive any less compassion when he took to dialing in his call.
“Hello?” he breathed out harshly into the phone once someone picked up on the other end. “Yeah, it’s me. Look. I’m not gonna be able to make the drop point. Something went wrong. Something went really wrong. What are you talking about!?! Are you hearing me!?! They knew! I don’t know how, but they knew! Now I need an alternate pick up!” He breathed heavily through the flow of water running down his face as he listened into the phone. “Wait a minute! You can’t just expect…”
The bullets that broke through the side paneling of the wall mounted payphone and embedded themselves deep inside the machine put an abrupt end to his call. One look in the direction that they had come from and he quickly spotted the culprit responsible. The Agent that stood at the opposite end of the alley from him soon had company in the fashion of the two similarly looking individuals that had stepped from around the corner on both his left and right and joined him in the opening of the narrow passageway. Once he saw them reach into their jackets and retrieve a weapon similar to the one that their brother-at-arms held he dropped the receiver and swiftly made off for the corner at the end of the building.
He could see the opening that lead out to the street just ahead and it fueled him with the energy that he needed to push himself that much harder. It was his intent to dash across the road and continue headlong for the alley opening on the other side of the street. He’d just reached the halfway point when the headlights of a Lincoln Continental came barreling down on him. The hood that he rolled over was as unforgiving as the bumper that had smashed into his body. By the time he came into contact with the pavement again he was sure that he’d managed to blackout for a moment. With the rain water still pouring down on him he parted his eyelids and tried focusing his blurry vision through the haze brought on by his injury and the weather conditions engulfing the street. He had just made out the picture of the alley opening when he felt two sets of hands gripping his arms harshly and snatching him up from the wet pavement. The next thing he heard after being promptly relieved of his firearm was the sound of a car door opening and the give of leather interior as his was tossed inside and sealed in.
The car was already in motion by the time he sat up in his seat. He pressed his palm to his forehead and pulled it back to inspect for blood from any of his injuries.
“You disappoint me, Falon.”
The words that came out of the darkness that surrounded him stunned him to a near complete state of consciousness. His head made a sharp turn over in the direction of his left shoulder where he found another passenger sitting along with him in the backseat of the vehicle. He recognized the voice instantly even though he could hardly make out any physical features of the person seated next to him in the shadows on the other side of the car.
“Wait a minute, Ezekiel, you don’t understand.”
“Oh, I understand. I understand that you have something that belongs to me. Something that you were hoping to turn over to parties with even more culpability for their ignorance than you yourself. And to think…I had such high hopes for you.”
When the car stopped and the engine shut off Falon was ripped from the seat that he occupied and drug into the rickety framework of an apartment building that had last seen its last legitimate tenant ages ago. He was carted up to one of the top floors and lead through the interior of one of the apartments where he witnessed a very unnerved individual with electrodes taped to his body seated in a chair surrounded by electronic monitoring equipment. The people manning all of the equipment appeared to be oblivious to the fellow’s tension as they carried on with the work that they did. Suddenly Falon heard an agonizing grunt sound from the seated individual and he watched his body tense up in the chair just before fading into transparency and vanishing from the atmosphere of electronic noise.
Falon’s caretakers continued to drag him forward into the next room where they tossed him down into the cushions of a leather chair. He scoured the entire scene surrounding him and though he didn’t see any sign of any electronic equipment he eventually did find a sight that unnerved him to no end. It came in the guise of the two gentlemen adorned in tattered rags complete with hoods that entered the room and took their respective places on either side of Ezekiel. Had their ruined outfits not been enough to distinguish them from the other well suited men in the room then their pale and cracked complexions could have certainly compensated.
“Falon,” one of the tattered men said in a rather rough and gruff voice. “So nice to see you again.”
“Save the pleasantries for another time,” Ezekiel said. “I want to know exactly how much he knows as well as what he may have relayed to any liaisons he’s been in contact with.”
“Shouldn’t be too difficult to surmise.” One of the tattered individuals stepped away from Ezekiel’s side and moved toward Falon who flinched rather brashly when he made a reach down for him. He tossed aside the lapel of his coat and reached into the interior pocket, bringing out a small diskette. “I believe this is what you were after,” he said, turning and tossing the disc to Ezekiel.
“Thank you, Wilhelm,” Ezekiel replied.
“Ezekiel,” Falon said to him, gaining his attention once more. “You’re never going to get away with this.”
“Oh you’re quite right,” he said. “But only in the sense that there’s nothing here for me to get away with. What’s done is done. I’m just sorry you won’t be around to partake in any of our hard earned fruits.”
When Falon was next approached by one of Ezekiel’s henchmen he lifted his legs and threw the bottoms of his feet into the gut of the gentleman that approached him. He kicked off so hard that the chair he was in toppled over backwards. As two other men tried wrestling him back up to his feet Falon managed to get his hand inside of one of their coats and wrest loose a pistol from its holster.
“Get back!” he yelled at them both, alternating the picture of the large barrel between the two of them. “Get back!” Once he’d forced them back he turned the barrel in Ezekiel’s direction.
“What are you going to do, Falon?” Ezekiel said, taking a step forward in his direction. “Kill me?”
Falon held his aim for a few moments more then suddenly turned and made a desperate stride for the window at his back. After breaking through the glass barrier his body went tumbling down toward the street with the rest of the cascading rain water. The concrete street below didn’t break his fall as he expected it to. Instead, it was the open bed of a large passing semi that caught his dropping body. Falon eventually abandoned the vehicle when he believed he’d achieved a safe enough distance from his captors. Once off the truck his first priority had once again been to locate a phone.
Syntax had his eyes buried in the thick text of an open manual as he strolled blindly through the corridors of the Nexus. As he neared the ship’s core his ears were suddenly struck with the rhythmic ringing noise that was clearly emanating from his operating station. The sound gave him cause to add a bit of increase in the speed with which he moved, and with his nose still in the book that he held he hopped down in his chair and grabbed up his headset.
“What the hell’s your problem?” Dustin asked him.
“Huh?” Syntax replied, seemingly stunned to be hearing another voice in the room. He peeled his eyes away from the array of monitors in front of him and gave Dustin a quick look before turning back to the streaming green code. “Oh. Nothing. It’s just that…I just got the strangest call.”
“Really?” Dustin said, taking a seat in one of the loading chairs. He began rifling through the small metal box filled with damaged electronic components and wiring that he had walked in with. “Well just how strange are we talking about?”
“I don’t know,” Syntax said. He spun his chair around to face him. “You mind doing a little recon run for me?”
Much to the surprise of the scraggly individual leaning against the wall deep inside of the confines of the bus station terminal, the pay phone mounted on the wall next to him began ringing. After turning around to face it his first instinct was to look around for anyone in the immediate vicinity that looked as though they might have been expecting a call. Finding no one who seemed even remotely interested, he turned back to the phone and made a reach for the receiver. Just before his palm could come down on the back of the handle a hand covered in soft, black leather reached out and beat him to the punch. Jerking his head back around, his first impulse was to take a step back and give the man who was now so mysteriously standing in front of him a thorough looking over. The stoic figure seemed almost mannequin like as he returned his stare from behind the dark lenses mounted on the bridge of his nose. He finally opted to abandon his position by the ringing phone altogether; effectively turning over the task of answering the call coming in to the phone’s new steward.
Dustin picked up the receiver and placed it to the side of his head. “I’m in,” he spoke into the mouth piece.
“The staircase on your right,” Syntax’s voice came out over the other end of the phone.
Dustin pushed open the door that lead out to a parking lot filled with rows of buses. The blanket of rain water that drizzled over the area was thinning more and more with each moment that passed. The drops that beaded up on the shoulders of Dustin’s coat and the lenses of his glasses went as unnoticed by him as the puddles that he stepped through as he moved in between the buses. In fact, nothing about this dreary scene seemed to bother him until he heard the calamitous racket of gunfire reverberating through the maze of metal paneling all around him. Dustin stepped into the next intersection between the buses just in time to catch sight of a frantic figure rounding the corner at the far end of one of the vehicles that he was standing next to. Dustin halted his steps and stood there and watched as the glistening gold image of an array of coding in the shape of a man stumbled down the tight passageway in his direction. He had been so enraptured with watching this creature struggle to reach him that by the time Dustin had taken notice of the other two individuals that had stepped into his line of sight much further down the passage they had already succeeded in zinging a pair of bullets down the corridor and planting them into the back of their fleeing target.
The force of the shots knocked Falon forward and into Dustin’s arms. It was his strength alone that was preventing him from collapsing the rest of the way down to the wet pavement. Dustin stared down into the strain on his face as he looked up at him and blinked through the water washing across his digital skin.
“What?” Dustin asked him. “What is it?”
“You have to stop them,” Falon breathed out weakly. “Cannot be allowed. Stop him.”
“Who?” Dustin asked. “What needs to be stopped?” Dustin watched his eyelids slowly close shut and the crinkled features of his face gradually relax into a much smoother texture. He felt the extra weight that was applied to his grip as the last measure of strength that the body he held contained faded away.
“One...,” Falon whispered on the wet breeze. “…one for…genesis.”
With his last words spent Dustin let the golden body slowly slip from his grip as he eased his attention back up to the two individuals that remained on a steady approach. Dustin looked them both over thoroughly and there was definitely no question that they were both human; albeit unplugged from the systemic world that surrounded them.
“You guys mind if I ask just what in the hell it is you’re doing here?” Dustin said to them. “Besides gunning down my contact, that is.”
“Your contact?” one of them replied. “I’m afraid there’s been some sort of mix-up. You see, this guy can’t be anybody’s contact. What with him being so dead and all.”
Dustin looked them over again and had to admit that he didn’t recognize either one of them right off. “What is this, some sort of rookie’s day out?” he said, going under the assumption that they were quite possibly just newly assigned recruits to the fleet that he had yet to become acquainted with. “What ship are you idiots bunking under? The Varuna? Lyra?”
“What the hell is this asshole going on about?” one of the men asked the other.
Dustin frowned in confusion.
“Who cares? Just another dead battery as far as I’m concerned. Waste the prick and let’s get the hell out of here.”
He saw their guns raising and studied them with all of the perplexity that he had once applied to their persons. Neither one of them was able to get a shot off. By the time their weapons were level with his chest Dustin had countered the motion by bringing his right foot up towards the left side of his body and snatching his leg back over to the right, slapping his foot against each of their hands and knocking loose the firearms. Dustin immediately brought his foot back over in the opposite direction and slammed it into the side of the guy’s face that was standing off to his left. He used the heel of that same foot to swing back at his companion. Once he dropped Dustin reintroduced his kick to the side of his initial opponent’s face again, this time using the maneuver to hold his head pinned against the side of the bus.
“Since when did Zion start playing host to the power plant’s mentally deficient?” Dustin said.
“What the hell’s a Zion?” the guy squeezed out through a strained grunt.
Dustin’s face crinkled up once again as he struggled to comprehend the very clear language that was being spoken to him. With no more patience for his captive he drew back his foot and slammed it against his head with enough force to cause it to bounce off of the side of the bus seconds after the collision of flesh to metal. His entire body bounded back upright again and was in prime position to accept the stomping front kick that Dustin planted into his chest. He took a moment to watch his airborne body streaking back through the thin curtain of rainfall all the while trying to twist his mind around everything that he’d just finished taking in. The guy coming to on the ground in front of him and reaching through the pools of collected water for his dropped weapon temporarily gave his mind something else to contemplate besides utter bewilderment.
After he took hold of the hand grip he pulled the gun up from the water and turned the sights of the barrel on the body that had lit out for the cloud cover above, sending one shot after the next on a race toward the sky with his nemesis.
“Wouldn’t you be better off sorting through that crap elsewhere?” he said to her as he raised his bowl under the spigot and cranked the lever.
“Why?” Trix replied. “Is it bothering you?”
“It will be if you get to flinging any of that garbage in the vicinity of this fine gourmet cuisine that I’m getting ready to enjoy,” he said, moving across the room and claiming a seat across the table from her. “What the hell is all that crap anyway?”
Trix brought out another motherboard from the metal box sitting on the table next to her and wired up a set of nodes to the electronic devise that she held. “What’s left of the Harbinger’s ship’s log,” she said to him. “I’m no expert at this stuff, but I think there’s something wrong here,” Trix said as she went over the readout being produced by the component.
“No kidding,” Apollo said as he lifted another spork full of his meal up to his mouth. “That thing’s in like a million pieces.”
“I meant before the Harbinger went down.”
“Speaking of which, any idea how that happened?”
“Judging from some of the burn marks on the hull as well as some of the interior structures, our best guess is sentinels,” Trix said. “And, as if that wouldn’t be strange enough, if I’m reading this right they never even saw it coming.”
“Still…,” Apollo said as he sucked back another bite. “You gotta figure that their EPM could have at least cut down on some of the damage.”
“Well, maybe whoever got into their system and scrambled it took that small measure under consideration.”
“No,” Apollo protested, pointing the end of his eating utensil in her direction. “Don’t even get that brain of yours to working on this. There’s nothing out of the ordinary going on here. This is just some kind of terrible accident that we got stuck cleaning up after. Nothing more.”
Trix let her eyes drift away from him when she heard another set of footsteps enter the room.
“I just came in off of the strangest jack,” Dustin said as he made a go for the dispensers with his bowl in hand.
“Yeah?” Trix replied. “How so?”
“Well, first of all,” Dustin said as he shut off the spout. He took a bite of the soup as he moved over into position behind her back. “Syntax gets this wire out of Wonderland from some program that’s pitching a fit for a meet and greet.”
“Anybody we know?” Apollo asked.
“Not from a can of paint,” Dustin answered him as he continued to stand and eat at Trix‘s back. “And get this. I go in and I’m not in the guy’s presence for more than two seconds before he gets himself shot down by a couple of red pills right in front of me. Reds that then turn their pieces on me because, of course they have no idea who I am, and not only that, I mention Zion and their heads cock to the side like a couple of confused canines.”
Trix craned her neck back around and stared across the table at Apollo. “That is strange,” she said.
“No!” Apollo blurted out at her. He rose up from his seat and grabbed up his bowl with him. “There is absolutely nothing going on here.” Both Trix and Dustin followed him with a set of quiet eyes as he stormed out of the room with his meal and carried his mumbling voice down the corridor with him.
“What was that about?” Dustin said as he scooped up another bite.
“Just his allergies acting up again,” Trix said as she went back to fidgeting with the gadgets in front of her. “So what was this meeting of yours about?”
“I don’t know,” Dustin responded. “Like I said, it was weird.”
“Well did the guy say anything to you before he bought it?”
“Yeah,” Dustin spoke over a mouthful as he rolled his eyes up in an attempt to recall the exchange with a bit more clarity. “Something about stopping a genesis. A genesis for one or…something like that.”
“And that’s it?” Trix asked. “What about the two reds?”
“Other than voicing their extreme disdain for my presence, they really didn’t come off as too chatty. Afterwards, I just cracked heads and got the hell out of there. Why?” Dustin said, closing in on her back. “What are you sitting over here trying to put together in that pretty little head of yours?”
“Hopefully nothing,” she said. “Then again, we may have just stumbled onto something that’s going to keep us out of port for quite a long while.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
Dustin’s comment so close to her back succeeded in stretching Trix’s lips out into something that closely resembled a slight grin. “I don’t know about you, but I can certainly think of much more comfortable environments to pass time in.”
“Would any of those environments involve a small heated pool, scarce amount of clothing, and absolutely zero prying eyes to disturb, bother, or otherwise molest what could only wind up turning out to be an obscenely decent waste of some quality time?”
Trix slowly spun around in her seat until she was facing him. She craned her neck back and looked up at him. “I would have imagined you’d have developed more of an affinity for tight, cramped spaces by now.”
When he leaned his face down closer to her she eased her body back and up onto the table in front of him shifting aside the scattering of electronic devises that she had been working with until she had room enough to sit comfortably. Dustin continued coming forward, leaning in between her thighs and placing his palms down on the table on either side of her. “I have a tendency to be flexible,” he said to her softly. “Depending on what company I’m keeping.”
“Flexible?” Trix said back to him. “I like flexible.”
Dustin leaned his lips down towards her. They had only been in contact for a matter of seconds before Apollo found his way back into the room. “Do you two minxes mind?” he said to them, gaining him both sets of eyes as he moved over towards the counter to discard his empty bowl. “Some of us are still resigned to using this place for actual food consumption.”
“Fair enough,” Trix said nonchalantly as she pushed Dustin back in order to give herself room to climb down from the table. She gathered up the components that she had been working with and left the two of them alone.
When Dustin turned around to Apollo he found a sly grin waiting to greet him. “Don’t give me that,” Apollo said to him. “Besides. Rumor has it Despauna’s still running around with his duty roster handy so you two would have been toiling soon enough anyway.”
“Then I suppose I should thank you?” Dustin replied.
“Don’t mention it,” Apollo hurled back to him over his shoulder as he left the dining area.
Dustin eventually made his way back to the core and found Syntax still busy behind his station.
“You again,” Syntax said to him after taking a quick look back in his direction. “Don’t tell me you’re in here trying to hide out from Despauna and his ‘things to do’ list.”
“If I were what would you say my chances of success would be?”
“Honestly?” Syntax said while running his fingers over his monitors and keyboards. “Probably slim to none. I’ve been going over that recent incident that you had inside of the matrix and there’s a couple of things that just aren’t sitting right with me.”
“So what else is new?” Dustin said as he began tinkering with the display screens beside one of the loading chairs.
“You say those two red pills that whacked the program acted as if they didn’t even recognize you?”
“Total strangers,” Dustin replied. “You had the bird’s eye view. Are we sure they were even reds?”
“The readings showed that they were definitely unplugged,” Syntax answered him.
“Alright then. But how do you explain the case of amnesia when I mentioned Zion? You suppose they’re so fresh out of the power plant that whatever crew they’re with haven’t gotten around to explaining it to them yet?”
“That’s one explanation,” Syntax said. “One that I hope at least stands some chance at being right.”
“Why? You haven’t stumbled onto another one, have you?”
Syntax stood up from his seat behind the monitors and moved past were Dustin stood. “I got thinking about what that guy said to you before our two newfound reds clipped him.”
“Yeah,” Dustin said as he watched Syntax kneel over and begin rifling through an old box. “Something about stopping the one for a genesis.”
“No,” Syntax said as he continued to forage. “He said, stop one. One for genesis.”
“And I’m still not following,” Dustin replied.
“Well…” Syntax shuffled some more things around. “What if what he was trying to say was…one, one, four genesis?” He stood up, turned around, and tossed Dustin an old book as he headed back for his station. “As in chapter eleven, verse four.”
Dustin flipped open the book and navigated his way to the section that Syntax had indicated. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” Dustin groaned.
“Think it might be worth a trip to the old lady?” Syntax said as his fingers once again began scrolling across the keys in front of him.
“May we come in?” Ezekiel said to the young lady standing before them. Her only response was to pull the door open wider and step aside to make room for them. “Much obliged,” he said to her as he crossed the threshold.
The three of them moved through the apartment in an atmosphere that was alive with the sound of young, chattering voices. When Ezekiel finally reached the kitchen entrance he felt a palm come down on his shoulder that succeeded in putting a stop to his walk. He craned his head over towards his right shoulder and stared at the man accosting him.
“We don’t want any trouble,” Seraph spoke out.
“Don’t worry,” Ezekiel replied. “My friends here will wait out here and keep you company just to see to it that nothing disturbs the peace. So you can relax. Now if you don’t mind…,” he said, looking down at the hand touching against his shoulder. Seraph promptly removed it and Ezekiel proceeded forth through the veil of beads shielding entrance to the kitchen area.
“Well now,” the elderly woman sitting at the kitchen table said as he moved inside of the room. “I must say, I didn’t think I’d be getting a visit from you again. Dare say, I’m actually toying with the concept of flattery.”
“You shouldn’t be,” he said, pulling out a chair across the table from her and having a seat. “Your relevance in these matters are as poignant as they ever were.”
“For the time being, at least,” she said, removing a cigarette from the pack in her open purse.
“In either event…,” Ezekiel continued, “…it’s the reason why I’m here. They’re on their way here, aren‘t they?”
“You already know the answer to that.”
“Then tell me something I don’t know,” he said. “Like how exactly you plan on advising them.”
“Are you sure you’re more interested in the ‘how’ and not just the ‘if’?”
“Fine. Look, I won’t waste your time with a lot of pointless banter that’s sure to see either of us nowhere in the not too distant future. But what I will leave you with is this. The passing from the things that were into what will be…and I assure you it will be…can come with as few or as numerous casualties as you wish. Remember this the next time you go doling out your advise to whatever would-be nuisances that just might come your way.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said to him as she watched him rise from his seat.
“You do that,” Ezekiel replied as he turned his back on her.
“Are you sure you even deciphered that bit of cryptic nonsense right?” Apollo said as he climbed up into one of the loading chairs in the Nexus core. “I mean, how do you know that that guy wasn’t trying to tell you chapter one, verse fourteen? Or maybe it wasn’t even a reference to anything at all. Taking on a little lead weight does have a tendency to bring the babbling idiot out of some people.”
“So that’s what’s wrong with you?” Trix said to him as she started punching in commands on the monitors behind him.
“I believe my translation works out better as far as worse case scenarios go,” Syntax said.
“I’m just saying that maybe it’s a little too early in the game to start making a big deal out of this thing.”
“Well we’ll just have to see what the Oracle has to say about this,” Despauna said as he climbed into one of the chairs. “Who knows. You might just get your wish after all.”
The sound of the phone ringing inside of the vacant apartment reverberated off of the barren walls of the dank dwelling and stirred the dust that clogged the air around the small mechanism. Despauna finally put a stop to the noise when he stepped over and lifted the receiver up from the base. “We’re in,” he spoke into the phone.
Despauna, Trix, Dustin, and Apollo exited the building and climbed aboard the motorbikes that were waiting for them out back. They made short work of the distance between their building and the one that housed the Oracle. After parking their bikes near the curb and climbing off they all made a go for the for the front entrance.
“Here for a bit of council, are we?”
Despauna released his hold on the door handle moments after he’d made a grab for it when he heard the sound of the voice speaking out to him. “Excuse me,” he said, turning to look in the direction of the gentleman that approached them.
“Don’t look so surprised, mate.” Everything about him spelled shifty from the snakeskin boots that he wore to the leather jacket that covered him and the Mohawk that graced his head. “This whole place is absolutely buzzing about this soon to be powwow.”
“Any chance on you giving us a clue as to why?” Trix said to him.
“Gladly, love,” he said as he came to a stop a few feet away from them. “All it would take is you skipping out on the old miss and taking a ride with me to go see an old friend of mine.”
“Bullshit,” Dustin said. “It’s a setup.”
“I’m willing to chance it if you are,” Trix said. “We’re already flying blind enough on this thing as it is.”
“I really wish you’d make up your mind, mates. It’s not like this offer doesn’t come with an expiration date.”
“Alright,” Despauna spoke up. “Trix, Apollo, run this lead down and get to back to me as soon as humanly possible. Dustin and I will head up and see what the Oracle has to say about whatever the hell it is that’s going on around here.”
“Can do,” Trix said to him.
“I don’t like this,” Apollo chimed in. “I don’t like any one thing about any of this.”
“Relax,” Trix said to him. “If you’re right and there’s nothing going on here then this should just be another walk in the park.”
“I hate the park,” Apollo grumbled as he headed back over toward his bike.
“Hey,” Dustin called out, getting Trix’s attention. “You watch your ass.”
“That would be a nice change of pace, now wouldn’t it?”
The gentleman that had approached them crossed the street and climbed into his car. He peeled off down the street with two cycles hot on his tail. Dustin kept watch over them until they were gone and both he and Despauna stepped inside the building.
“Yes,” Wilhelm said as he placed the cell phone to the side of his head while staring down at the street from the rooftop he was perched on. He stared down at the remaining two bikes parked against the curb next to the building across the street once their owners had disappeared inside. “They’re here.” He hung the phone up and dropped it into one of the pockets of the ragged coat that he wore. He gave the scene below one more looking over before turning and stepping across the roof in the opposite direction.
“Right this way, mates,” their guide said to them as he made a grab for the handles on a set of double doors. He shoved forward and opened up the doors to the expanse of a gaping conference room. At the center of the grand spectacle was a long table that was lined on either side by a collection of dapper clothed individuals who seemed to have all convened there for the sole purpose of dealing with whatever business of the day kept this company occupied. At the head of the table there was a man whose true business dealings Trix and Apollo knew the people seated around him had no inkling of.
All eyes were on them the second that they entered the room.
“Will you gentlemen please excuse me,” the fellow seated at the table’s head spoke to the gathered crowd. “It seems that some rather unfortunate business has turned up that requires my immediate attention.”
None of them required any further coaxing in order to be made to rise from their seats and take their leave of the room. Trix eyed every body that moved around her for the door until she heard the voice of the last man left in the room speak up again.
“Well now. This is surely a surprise.”
“You said to fetch them as soon as possible, boss,” their guide said.
“Yes. I know. But it would appear that your timing is as ill-suited as your attire. Nonetheless…” Trix looked over the sneaking smirk that washed over his face and felt her stomach churn a bit. “Seeing as how we’re all here, why not have a seat?”
“I doubt we’ll be here that long,” Apollo spoke up.
“So why not just cut the shit and get to the point, Merv?” Trix said. “Why’d you send for us?”
The Merovingian looked over at him humbled employee. “Leave us.” Within seconds the three of them were alone in the room. “Alright then,” the Frenchman said, leaning back in his seat and interlocking his fingers above his midsection. “It would appear that you and your lackeys have managed to stumble upon a situation that I have been trying to get a handle on for quite some time. Naturally, I anticipated that your first course of action in a vane attempt to alleviate yourself of what I can only assume is an overwhelming abundance of confusion would be to seek out that fortuneteller’s assistance. So I cunningly intervened. Which is why, my digitally challenged associate, you now find yourself enjoying my esteemed company.”
“I suppose that’s one way of putting it,” Trix said.
“Regardless,” The Merovingian continued with an added touch of disdain in his voice. “There was no doubt the mystic, despite all of her illustrious abilities of foresight, was bound to send you away empty handed, but seeing as how you were already involved, whether it be on such a ridiculously redundant level or not, I was hoping to encourage you to turn over what little information you may have so haphazardly come across to me.”
“And why would we want to go and do a thing like that?” Apollo said.
“I would make an attempt to flatter your intelligence right now, but that would only succeed in insulting us both. So what say we simply stick with the terms of you telling me what I want to know or I can assure you that I will put an immediate cease to your enjoyment of my hospitality.” His eyes shifted over to Trix. “On whatever scale it may exist.”
“Bullshit,” she said to him.
“I beg your pardon, young lady.”
“Drop the tough guy act, Frenchy,” Trix replied. “It doesn’t look good on you. The only reason you called us here is that you were hoping we’d do you the favor of letting you in on whatever it is that we know about this situation that’s put such a monumental bug up your ass. As on as you were about the Oracle, it doesn’t look as if the great purveyor of the information age is as plugged into the pipeline as you would have us believe. So why don’t you just drop the intimidation routine and tell us what exactly it is that we just got drug into the middle.”
The Merovingian just stared at her for a moment and then huffed out a haughty breath at her. “Trust me. Your situation could only improve with the less informed you are.”
“That’s very interesting,” Trix said to him. She turned to Apollo. “You ready to get out of here?”
“Alright, damn you,” the Frenchman replied. “This most annoying…bug, as you so eloquently put it, has somehow managed to find himself bursting at the seems with power and influence from both your world and this one. Enough to garner himself the eyes and ears of every faction of relevance in this system. Even worse, he’s succeeded garnishing himself a number of followers from all walks and ilk to ally themselves with him. To what purpose, you ask? To what end? Who knows.”
“What’s his name, this little Pied Piper of yours?” Apollo said.
“I have no idea,” he was quickly answered by the Merovingian. “What I do know is that I was able to utilize an operative of mine to infiltrate their core of operations. Unfortunately he was able to get himself dispatched with equal efficiency before he could relay any vital information to me. A feat that I’m told was so good enough to accomplish while in your presence.”
Apollo looked over at Trix. “Dustin’s bus station mystery guest,” he said to her.
“Is that it?” Trix said, turning back to the table.
“I don’t know,” The Merovingian said. “You tell me. Did our mutual acquaintance find it necessary to impart some vital piece of information to you before he ran short life?”
“None that bears repeating, I’m afraid,” Trix said to him.
“Is that right?” The Frenchman’s face took on a more menacingly cold expression. “How very unfortunate indeed. Not that I’m too terribly disappointed, considering our past dealings, but I had so hoped that you would have used the benefit of time to grow at least somewhat wiser.” A door on the wall to his left and Trix’s right opened up and let in a trio of women.
“Let me guess,” Apollo said. “We’ve worn out our welcome?”
“As well as my remaining sliver of patience for your insolence,” the Frenchman said. He pushed his chair back and stood up from the table. “If you can be of no use to me then I fail to see the use in you at all.” He threw out a finger gesture that waved through the air in front of him as he walked and signaled the three women over in Trix and Apollo’s direction.
“If you don’t mind…,” Trix said to Apollo as she watched the Merovingian step out of the room and the trio slowly approaching them. “…I think I’ll skip the entertainment portion of this flight.”
“After they went through all of this trouble?” Apollo said to her as he carefully looked over each leather wrapped female figure moving their way. “Wouldn’t that just come off as rude?” He moved away from Trix and stepped around the corner of the table. “Now just hold on a minute,” he said, raising the palm of his hand up in front of him as he approached the ladies. “I believe there’s been some sort of misunderstaaaand…!”
It was the woman that grabbed hold of him by the wrist, gripped up a fistful of the waistband of his pant, and lifted him off of his feet that interrupted his line of dialog. The next thing he knew his body was whirling through the air as he was turned head over feet. His disorientation was doubled over the second that his flipped over body came smashing down back first against the top of the large boardroom table.
“Is there anybody not getting upgraded these days?” Trix said to herself over the soft moaning noises coming from Apollo. She took a moment to look over his gently squirming body, wondering about the sort of ache that a crash like that could be responsible for. When the other two women turned their sights on her she immediately went into action. Trix parried and returned in kind every strike that was coming her way. Eventually, the young lady that had downed Apollo turned her attention toward the action going on a few feet away from her. Instead of joining in, she simply walked around the fray and moved over to the set of double doors at Trix’s back. She inserted a key into the lock, gave it a turn, and then retracted it. When she pulled open the doors long gone was the building hallway that anyone having been familiar with these premises would have expected to find. In its place was the rotted out ruins of an abandoned church sanctuary. As expertly adept as Trix seemed to be in defending herself, she eventually fell prey to the double roundhouse kick to the face and sidekick to the chest combo that sent her body hurling back through the doorway. The instant that her back hit against the soot covered floor in between a the rows of collapsed pews she heard the reverberating sound of the door that she had come through being slammed shut.
“Shit!” was all Syntax could think to say as his roving eyes swept across the monitors covered with scrolling green encryption. His fingers flew across the keyboards and monitors and he was all set to start one of the phones in the pocket of either Dustin or Despauna to ringing when his ears suddenly fell under the assault of a blaring call that didn’t originate inside of the headset he was wearing. The violent alarm continued to sound until his focus was snatched away from the operating equipment in front of him and directed toward the woman that came rushing into the area at his back.
“Sentinels!” Raven yelled out to him, nearly out of breath with a look of outright panic coloring her eyes.
“I’m afraid you can’t get out that way,” a voice wafted out to her on the air from the dark emptiness all around her.
Trix slowed her stride and paused for a moment to look around. Failing to place the origin of the oddly familiar voice, she quickly started up again, this time reaching the door and snatching it open. Unfortunately for her, the only thing waiting on the other side was an even larger room that was in a similar state of tarnish and ruin as the one she had been trying to escape from.
“I told you,” the voice called out to her again. Trix turned around and looked the room over again. “If it’s your friend you’re worried about, suffice it to say, he’s simply just going to have to do without your assistance for the time being. You, on the other hand, could benefit magnificently right now by doing little else but lending me an ear.”
“What would benefit me right now is if you came out here and told me who you are,” Trix spoke out to the empty room.
“I’d much rather you came to me,” the voice reverberated throughout the hall. The strength and weight of his words on the air seemed to rustle the dark, faded fabric of the curtains that were draped over the boarded windows and shake the tapestries on the walls. “Of course, you could always opt to traipse around this labyrinth of a relic until you eventually found your own way out of here. Where you’d wind up then is anybody’s guess. Or…” The sound of creaking wood drew her eyes over to a far off corner in the room where she saw a collection of cobweb covered two by fours gradually tipping over and tumbling against a nearby wall. Some of the boards managed to make their way all the way down to the floor with a soft clattering racket. But the ones that were able to remain standing no longer hid the presence of a dulled brass door knob embedded in the wall behind them. “…we could just get this over with quickly.”
The bowing pane of glass that was being pushed outward and contorted around the indention being made by Apollo’s back suddenly began to rapidly splinter and crack. The web of veins spreading throughout the structure and the chipped fragments trickling down away from the whole ultimately gave in to the push of his body and an exploding shower of glass sprayed out away from the building. With the support of the glass wall no longer there to hold his body, Apollo and the furiously determined woman with her hand wrapped around his throat shoving him forward were free to tumble out of the shattered window and start their descent down the side of the building.
Staring up into the still menacing grimace of his attacker as she fell with him, Apollo extended his arms out beside him and pressed his fingers to the fast moving glass wall behind him. Hoping to do more to slow his back first drop toward the street below, he drug his feet back until the soles of his shoes touched against the glass and leaving a noisy streak across the polished panes racing at his back. When he slowed down enough to reach a complete stop he kicked out against the side of the building and flipped his legs out away from the glass using the roll of his body to throw the woman on top of him off of him. Positioned right side up now, Apollo spun his body around and remained poised in his grip against the side of the building. With his back against the glass, he looked down in order to catch the last few moments of his attacker’s freefall before the hard crash with the pavement below only to find that he wasn’t the only one to accomplish the task of putting a halt to his decline.
Her feet and fingertips smashed hard against the glass holding her against the wall in her crouching position, she had already been in the throws of a rapid scurrying attempt to close the distance between them when he turned around to get a look. Apollo forced his back away from the glass and came forward up onto his feet just quick enough to lift one and then the other as he stepped backwards to dodge the two sweeping throws aimed at taking his legs right back out from under him. Afterwards, his opponent was up on her feet and resigned once more to throwing her spinning kicks at his head and midsection. Apollo walked along the side of the building parrying and dodging her blows with an answer for nearly everyone of them. One turn back around towards the area above them and he was knocked loose from his position by the falling body that dropped through the air and made a hard collision with him. Jarred into another fall that carried him past his previous opponent, Apollo eventually found his footing again, rolled over, and tossed his newly acquired nemesis off of him. When he turned around again the two women that he saw approaching him from above as well as the one that he knew was on her way back up to him at his rear made it a three to one confrontation once more.
Despauna had just stepped outside of the apartment building when one of the pockets attached to his overcoat began to call out to him. He reached in for the phone and by the time it was on its second ring he had it flipped open and up to his ear. “What is it, Syntax?”
“I need you guys on a landline pronto. We got trouble out here and it’s big, pissed, and sweeping in quick.”
“Just point the way,” Despauna said to him.
“Subway station. Third and Westland.”
Raven strapped herself in the seat, turned on the targeting screen, and armed a set of dual barrel cannons attached to the hull at the rear of the ship. The screen in front of her was lit up with the swarm of incoming hostile mechanisms on a collision course with the Nexus. Taking up the two moveable levers in front of her, she squeezed the triggers attached to them and watched the swarm scatter around the rounds that she sent rocketing through the tunnel in their direction.
“Yeah. About that,” the disembodied voice called out to her again. “If you haven’t noticed yet, you’ll find that the digital acoustics in this place are a…uhm…little different than what you’ve become accustomed to. Really. Compliance is the only sure way to a speedy solution.”
Trix turned her glare back over to the doorknob behind the stack of boards and sucked in a deep lungful of dust clogged air before hissing it out through her nose. “Shit,” she uttered quietly to herself and started moving in the direction of the sealed panel.
For the better part of the confrontation Apollo was managing to hold his own against the trio of vixens assaulting him on the side of the building. He fought mostly out of a sense of bruised ego and pride now than any sort of necessity to complete a mission. And with the three of them out here with him he just assumed that Trix had to be better off wherever she was. His offensive efforts against the wiry, hard to hit mix didn’t subside until he swung the kick around that sent his immediate target leaning back to dodge the blow. She titled her body so far back that her back eventually came into contact with the panel of glass beneath both of their feet. Came into contact with it, melded with its form, and eventually melted right through to the other side. Apollo glanced down at the figure beneath his feet that was now standing on the floor inside of the building staring back at him with the smuggest of looks on her face. For a moment he was tempted to stomp down hard and send a shower of glass raining in her direction, but found the notion of such an attempt rendered futile when he saw her reach her hands out and scrape her nails across the glass before turning and heading for the door out of the room. He quickly spun around in search of her compatriots only to find that he was alone outside. Going after them would have been nothing short of a vengeful filled waste of time, because in all actuality he did have a mission to secure. And right now that mission was rooted in locating his partner and getting them both the hell out of there.
Apollo sprinted back up the side of the building. With the broken window that he had been expelled out of in his sights, he let his feet leave the solid matter beneath them for a more speedier option of getting back up to the portal. Once he was back in the conference room he hurried over to the door that Trix had been thrown out of and snatched it open, finding only an empty hallway awaiting him.
Syntax yanked the plugs out of the back of Dustin and Despauna’s head, waking them both to a world colored with the noise of blaring alarms. “I don’t mean to be a killjoy,” Dustin said, clamoring out of the chair and up to his feet, “but would someone mind telling me just what in the hell is going on?”
“Talk later,” Syntax said, rushing back over to his station. “Right now I need bodies in gun chairs.”
“Sentinels?” Despauna said, watching Dustin hurry out of the area towards one of the gun turrets. “What the hell did happen?” he asked Syntax. “We breach some sort of restricted zone?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Syntax replied. “And even if we did, as temperamental about their territory as the inhabitants of Zero One have a tendency to be, they’re usually a bit more cordial about telling us to screw before rallying the troops. These bastards…they just came out of nowhere.”
“You just make sure that EMP is operational and armed,” Despauna said to him as he started to make his way out of the area. “I don’t have any intentions on seeing this ship following in the Harbinger’s footsteps.”
Trix shoved the remaining boards out of the way and grabbed hold of the doorknob. She twisted it and gave it a push, opening up the panel in the wall that led her out into the white, corridor of doors. “Great,” she spoke to herself again. “I don’t suppose I get an address to go along with the rest of this cryptic nonsense.”
Once she stepped out into the hallway and the door closed behind her her words were the only ones echoing through the emptiness. She turned back to the door that she had just come through and tried the knob again. The fact that it was now locked barely registered any surprise with her. She just turned and started moving down the corridor. She bypassed every door that lined the wall on either side of her, not bothering to check any one of them in search of a potential exit. She continued to move until one door in particular caught her attention. So much so that she stopped instantly the second that she stepped in front of it. She stared at it for a moment, looking the panel up and down before ultimately reaching out her hand for the doorknob. Her hand stopped just before her fingers had a chance to make contact with the metal. Halted in midair by the sight of the outpouring of a bright, almost blinding light that began to trickle out of the tiny slit of a keyhole. She moved her hand forward again, grabbed the knob, and shoved forward.
The buzzing bit of electricity moving up along her spine ceased the moment that she had the door open and the all too familiar room that it concealed lay splayed out before her. She stepped inside and let her eyes crawl all over the broad array of monitors that wrapped around the singular arcing wall until they eventually fell on the back of the chair positioned in front of her. Not even the sound of the door sealing shut behind her was enough to distract her from the slowly swiveling seat.
“You made it,” he said to her once his chair was facing in her direction.
“You,” Trix spoke out, her voice peppered with a bit of confusion. She was lucky enough just to be able to get the word out what with all of the puzzlement swamping her brain.
“Not who you were expecting?”
“That’s an understatement,” Trix said to the body slumped down lazily in the seat. “Especially seeing as how it is you’re supposed to be dead.”
“Yes. Well I suppose that does deserve some considerable explaining. I’ll simply add it to the list of things that I hope to cover…while I’ve got you here.”
“The only thing you need to explain to me, Ezekiel, is how I get out of here.”
The sound of his ominous chuckling did nothing to steady her already edgy nerves. “I’m afraid that it’s going to be a bit more complicated than that.”
At first Raven thought it was all her doing. The shake, rattle, and roll maneuver that the sentinel performed as she racked its body with a flurry of rounds from the cannon she operated. She’d just assumed that the thing was coming apart as she watched its body parts shift, slide, and flail all about. Never in a million years would she have believed that in the span of a matter of seconds she would be laying eyes on a completely different creature; an all new mechanical beast born of the reorganized features of the old and now brandishing a revitalized aggression to reach the ship.
“What the hell is that!” Raven screamed out at the screen. She leaned in closer and looked on more carefully at the creature until she could make out what she thought to be arms, legs, and a head to crown the monster. Of course the flailing tentacles that were signature to the rearranged sentinel were ever present and hell-bent on doling out the same metal bending destruction as they flared out and clamped down onto the outer hull of the ship.
“How…long have you been unplugged exactly?” Ezekiel said to her as he shifted around in the chair.
“Can we fast forward to the part that explains why you’re alive and the rest of the Harbinger and its crew are scattered all across the surface?”
“Because,” Ezekiel answered her. “I realized a long time ago that this little confrontation of ours, between us and the machines, was getting us nowhere. We were never going to defeat them and after the collapse of the sky they suffered the same codependent pitfall that our civilization once brandished. The same one that eventually led to its current subterranean existence. Just a pointless feud with no clear victor anywhere in sight. Much to my surprise I stumbled upon several others during my broadcasts into the matrix that happened to be of the same like-minded belief. Others who were, shall we say, of the digital persuasion.”
Trix folded her leather clad arms in front of her chest as she continued to listen to his banter.
“And it was through them that I was eventually introduced to a breed of hardware that had grown equally despondent with the current state of affairs between our two worlds. But little did I know they were already decades into a corrective process. I wanted in and, naturally, there was a price.”
“You gave up your own crew for a fresh pod and a seat at the table of some mechanical cult?” Trix said to him with an air of disgust in her voice.
“Oh, I got a lot more than that,” Ezekiel said to her. “No doubt that you’ve already become aware of the brand new sway in the pendulum of power in this place,” he said, waving his hand around in an arc in front of his body.
“A big fish in a small pond,” Trix replied.
“A pond that’s about to become obsolete,” Ezekiel told her.
“What are you talking about?”
“The matrix power plant was created out of necessity, and once that necessity is gone there won’t be any need for this place or nothing the like. As with such things, their first impulse was to simply discard it, but I managed to convince them to let me keep it in exchange for my help.”
“You’re insane,” Trix said to him. “The machines wouldn’t just ditch the power plant. Not even one as crazy as whatever breakaway faction you’ve been brainwashed by.”
“You’re right,” Ezekiel said. “They wouldn’t.”
“Not unless…unless they’ve somehow managed to find another power source,” Trix concluded. Ezekiel just smiled back at her. “It’ll never happen,” Trix said to him. “Once Zero One finds out what you’re up to…”
“It’ll be too late,” Ezekiel finished for her. “Their world will be teetering on the brink of annihilation while mine, on the other hand, will be rising from the ashes. Not a day goes by that we aren’t waking more and more lost souls to this realization to join the legions that were already born to it years before my time.”
“Those red pills from the bus station,” Trix said, the connection having just occurred to her. “That’s why they didn’t know anything about Zion. There’s another city out there somewhere, isn’t there?”
“A new mecca of truth,” Ezekiel said to her. “And it’s waiting for you. If you want it. Or perhaps you’d prefer to stay here. Rule at my side.”
“That’s some kind of payday just to take down one hovercraft,” Trix said.
“I never said that the Harbinger was what they wanted from me. No. You see Balthazar and the others just happened to find themselves the victims of too much curiosity on the parts of their superiors. But seeing as how I was the operator of that ill-fated vessel I did have access to certain…privileges unique to my position. Crew records. Data files. The captain’s personal correspondence logs between him and Zion control.” Ezekiel spoke to her while nonchalantly looking over the fingernails that he held up underneath his face and ran his thumbnail across. “Sensitive information. Such as…”
Trix’s arms dropped back down to her sides and an icy shiver overwhelmed her body. “Access codes,” she nearly gasped out. “You gave them the codes to mainframe,” she said, hardly believing the words that were leaving her mouth.
Ezekiel’s eyes rose up to her again. “It’s over, Trix. They’re already in. When the power plant goes Zero One will be finished. And with no further need for your ilk the fields will be razed and Zion will be wiped out. It’s already begun. Your only hope for any sort of future is with me. Here. In this soon to be defunct relic of a world where we’ll be free to make of it whatever we want.”
“Go to hell,” Trix responded just before turning and going for the door.
When her hand clamped down on the knob his palm came down to cover hers. She turned to look at Ezekiel.
“That’s…not exactly the answer that I was hoping for,” he said to her.
“Then let me clarify it,” Trix said.
She snatched her hand away from the knob, turned, and drove her fist into the center of his chest. Ezekiel’s body moved across the room until the wall of television monitors brought it to a sudden stop. The glass shattered all around him as his back caved in a groove inside of the sparking collection of snapped wiring that was just wide enough to hold him in place. Trix turned back to the door and flung it open. She stormed out into the hall of doorways with the sound of Ezekiel’s echoing laughter at her back. Trix broke out into a run through the corridor and rounded several corners before coming to a skidding halt. It was the figure standing poised at the opposite end of the hallway that she had just stepped into that was responsible for her hesitation. The man standing there in a suit of rags with a menacing and unflinching look about him. She turned in the opposite direction and found another individual just like him, draped in rags and holding firm in his stance. A look back down the corridor she had just emerged from gained her Ezekiel.
“Why run, Trix?” Ezekiel said to her, his voice filled with pleasantries. “The future will still be there waiting for you when you get there.”
The two raggedy men lit out into a determined march in her direction. Trix made a go for the nearest door and raised the bottom of her foot to it, snapping it in half right down the center. In front of her now where the several startled workers who were previously busy taking the readings off of one of the hydro plant turbine generators and were now staring oddly at the woman who had just burst out of the broom closet.
“Phone!” she yelled at them as she stormed into the area.
“Uuu….upstairs,” one of the men nervously uttered to her while pointing the end of the pen he held towards the area above his head. “Manager’s office.”
She passed through the area in a heated rush and scaled a metal staircase. She had to get to that phone, any phone, and get a hold of her ship. She moved down the hallway looking at every door that she passed until she finally spotted the one with ‘Manager’ embroidered across a plaque hanging at eye level. After shouldering her way through the door she came barreling into the office only to find Ezekiel sitting on the other side of the large desk with his feet propped up on the edge near the object that she was after. She was all set to pit her speed against his reflexes when a swift moving solid object came in contact with the back of her head and turned her world to darkness.
Ezekiel watched her drop and then looked back up at the doorway where two tattered and hooded men stood. “Take her,” he said to them as he rose up from the seat.
“Shit!” Raven screamed out as she pushed away from the controls of her gun turret and lit out for the armory.
“What is it!?!” Dustin called out to the sound of pounding footsteps that he heard rushing by at his back as he occupied the seat in his own cannon chamber.
“Breach!” Raven answered him. “Tell Syntax he had better have that damn EMP up and running or we’re scrapped!” When she reached the armory she snatched down one of the cannons and bolted toward the area of the ship where the sentinel had landed. The sound of bending metal that constantly grew louder as she ran let her know that she was definitely headed in the right direction. Soon the telltale image of falling sparks were raining down all around the platform bridge that she traipsed across. Raven skidded to a halt and lifted the weapon that she held. A bright red streak of light suddenly broke through all of the tubing and wiring above her head and sliced a cut through the metal grate just in front of her feet. The jolting of the floor beneath her knocked Raven off of her feet and onto her back. When her eyes came open again she looked up and watched the metallic monster tearing its way through the ceiling as it continued on a collision course that would bring it right down on top of her. “Syntax!” she screamed out while hoisting the cannon that she still held onto up above her chest and sending out a bolt of white lightning into the air.
He could hear his name loud and clearly being echoed though the chambers of the Nexus while he sat behind the controls of his station. He could hear her screaming for a reprieve that she hoped would come in the shape of a large moving pulse of blue fire and light that would effectively dismantle the attack being waged against them. But what Raven didn’t know was that he still had a soldier in the chair and plugged into the other side. A soldier that he was currently unable to get a fixed position on inside of the matrix. So if Raven was looking for anything in the way of help then she was just going to have to settle for whatever other cards that he had stuffed up his sleeves.
The swarm of tentacles that snaked their way down through the torn open hole whipped back up in an arc and used the claws attached at their ends to clamp on to the ceiling, allowing the beast to better control its descent as it fell through the opening. Raven had used the cannon that she held to burn several gashes across its metal shell but none were enough to stop the creature completely. It kept on dropping and she squeezed her hand to near cramping around the trigger of her cannon, hoping that each shot she applied would be the one to hit home and fry the thing.
The sound of his voice caused her to drop the back of her head down against the metal grate of the floor and take a look behind her. Raven stared at the upside down picture of Syntax standing at the other end of the platform bridge. She watched him draw his arm back and then swing it forward in an underhanded tossing motion. Raven immediately tossed the cannon that she held over the side of the bridge to make room for the small palm sized object that dropped down on her chest. Once she had a hold of the oblong device she repositioned it until she was able to get a set of fingers inside of the loops on the lever running down its side. Taking one last look up at the metal raging down toward her, she pressed a button on top of the devise and then snatched out the lever, activating it. Raven dropped it down beside her head just before rolling over and tumbling over the side of the platform. The large foot that came stomping down on the platform behind her missed crushing her chest in by inches and seconds. Just as the rest of the sentinel’s body was coming down on top of the platform the devise Raven had left behind went off and released a small blast that swallowed the creature up in a bright blue glow. The sparks flew as the beast danced around inside a veil of electricity that eventually dissipated and left a limp, lifeless machine in its wake.
Raven had just hit ground in a messy heap when the creaking sound of metal drew her eyes back up to the platform above her and the limp creature that came toppling over the side after her. Once again in fear for her life, Raven scrambled to get out of the way as the pile of deactivated circuits came crashing down to the floor.
“Are you okay?!”
She took her eyes off of the sentinel lying there lifeless just beyond her feet and looked up at Syntax. “Just…fricken peachy,” she said, throwing out a stomp against one of the nearby tentacles as she pulled herself back up to her feet. “Nice going with the grenade,” she said to him. “I’d hate to come off as bitchy and unappreciative right now, but is there something wrong with the big burner?”
“I’ve got one in the chair,” Syntax answered her. “Now come on.”
The Nexus took another violent dip toward its right side as another set of pads were torn away from the hull and went dropping to the floor of the tunneling that the ship was traveling through. Apollo retrained the barrels of his cannons and ripped another member of the attacking swarm to shreds just before it was able to tear loose another vital piece of the ship. Despauna met up with Syntax as they both sped through the corridors on their way towards the ship’s cockpit.
“We’re damn near on our last leg!” Despauna said to him. “Without that EMP we’re gonna need to find some kind of way of bunkering ourselves down for a head-on standoff! Otherwise those bastards are just gonna keep shaving away at this ship until there’s nothing left!”
“If you can get ‘em off my back for a while I think I can work something out!”
“Whatever you’re gonna do, do it fast!” Despauna said. “I’m not making any promises!”
They split up down the corridors. Syntax wound up in the cockpit and took his place in the seat beside Lex. “How we doing, sweetheart?” he said to her as he buckled himself in.
“Shit’s creek,” Lex replied as she continued to fight against the jittery and hard jerking controls in her hands.
“That bad, huh?” Syntax said, going after the controls between their seats. He brought up a small holographic image of the tunneling they were moving through. “Well don’t worry,” he said. “It’s about to get a whole lot worse. Gimme the next…two hard rights and then bear with me.”
“What?” she replied. “Half these tunnels haven’t even been charted yet. Just where the hell are you trying to get to?”
“That’s going to be part of the you bearing with me portion.”
Lex complied with the order, swinging the ship into a sharp right turn down the next tunnel opening that they came to. The harsh maneuver was enough to shake free what few sentinels were left dangling on the hull that the cannon fire couldn’t take care of. The next turn was able to put even more distance between them and the following squadron. Lex took her eyes off of the road ahead for a look down at the controls that Syntax worked and she was surprised that she was able to become even more frightened than she already was.
“What the hell are you doing?!”
“Floor it, Lex!”
Lex diverted full power to the ship’s forward thrust, weaving through the coil of tunneling ahead as best she could with what remained of the hovercraft. Syntax waited until they hit the next short straight away before activating the switch that fired off a pair of rockets from the undercarriage of the ship. The two projectiles darted out in front of the ship and, against her every instinct she possessed, Lex struggled to keep up with them. The two rockets twirled and danced all around each other before finally breaking away from one another’s side and careening off in separate directions for the walls around them. The resulting blast shook the ship violently as Lex pushed the Nexus through the cloud of fire and flying shrapnel. The debris that fell from the demolished partitions succeeded in caving in the tunnel behind them and cutting off their pursuers from their path. The Nexus kept going, dipping down along the corridor until both Lex and Syntax heard the air in the cockpit become overwhelmed with a blaring alarm. One look at the holographic projections between them and Syntax already knew the source of their troubles. Lex let out a groaning strain from her mouth as she fought with the controls in an attempt to slow the progress of the solid wall that was closing in fast on the cockpit window.
“This bird is scrap, sir,” a voice called out at his back.
Despauna turned around and shined his light over in Raven’s direction. “She’s taken some pretty good hits,” he said, turning his sights back around to the ship, “but she’s still flight ready.”
“Hell of a lot of good that’s gonna do us,” Apollo said, walking over to him. “Seeing as how we’re stuck on a dead end road with the only way in or out of this pit blocked off by that brilliant cave in that Syntax orchestrated. Oh, and just in case anybody still had any lingering hopes about our chances of making it out of this shit storm in one piece, those damn squids knocked out the radio.”
“You’re shitting me!” Raven blurted out.
“Wish I were.”
“No radio? But these tunnels aren’t even charted. That means no traffic. And even if somewhere were looking for us who’s gonna think to start scouring the dark side of the moon?”
“Does our fearless leader happen to have any suggestions?” Apollo asked Despauna. “Or should we just resume our current state of panic?”
“Yeah,” Despauna answered him, still looking up at the ship. “Make another quick sweep of the area. I wanna make sure Syntax’s brilliant plan stays brilliant.”
“You know it’s only a matter of time until those bastards find their way in here,” Apollo said.
“Well then we’d better hurry up and make sure we’re not here waiting on them when they do.”
Apollo started walking again. When he closed in on Raven he removed the strap that was hanging down over his shoulder and handed her the energy cannon that he had been toting. The sound of his boots stomping up the ship’s platform reverberated off of the metallic walls of the tunnel all around them.
Trix blinked her eyes. When she was able to push further through the blurry haze that had engulfed her and move on into a clearer state of consciousness she parted her eyelids to the picture of a flickering lamp sitting on a nightstand next to her. The padding supporting her body was soft and when Trix pushed herself up and looked down she could accredit it all to the fact that someone had decided to drop her off on top of a bed. When the memory of the ambush that she had suffered came rushing back to the forefront of her mind Trix had a pretty good idea of who that somebody was. She gathered her senses and climbed up to her feet as quick as she could. She found her leather trench coat draped over the back of a chair across the room. After walking over and snatching it up she headed straight for the bedroom door.
The hallway outside of the room moved with rush hour style traffic made up of an army of red pills all carting equipment in one direction or the other. None of them seem to regard her presence in the hall with any sort of alarm. They were mainly concerned with the obstacle that she presented that caused them to have to weave and cut around her as they moved. Trix faded into the flow of traffic, hoping that their nonchalant attitude towards her would linger long enough for her to find an exit inside of whatever stronghold she had found herself in the heart of. Her journey through the corridor eventually led her into what looked to be the very large front room of an apartment. The place was a veritable storeroom of electronic equipment, most of which reminded her of the setup that her and her ilk would have relied on in the event that they had located someone on the fast track to being transported out of the matrix. But all of the components arranged in this room seemed like overkill if that was the sole purpose of this place.
Scoping around at some of the manpower tasked with operating this equipment, Trix was quick to locate a couple of ragged individuals with a familiar air about them. And it didn’t surprise her that where Ezekiel’s two top henchmen were to be found he wasn’t far behind. Trix spotted him sitting behind an array of keyboards and screens attached to some of the more active equipment in the room. Oddly enough, even after venturing this deep into the heart of whatever operation this was Trix had yet to be confronted by any measure of security. She spotted a rack of semiautomatic rifles on the wall next to one of the boarded up windows and decided to press her luck.
“I wouldn’t recommend that,” Ezekiel spoke out from his workstation, pausing her walk.
Trix looked back over her shoulder at him and then started up again. She reached the gun rack and took another look back over her shoulder. Ezekiel’s two lackeys had managed to lose some of their poise, allowing their once folded up arms two drop down from in front of their chest and hang at their sides. Ezekiel, on the other hand, still typing away at the controls in front of him, looked to be more confident that he had gotten his point across. Standing next to the gun rack, Trix decided to forsake it for a go at the boarded up window next to her other shoulder. She slipped a pair of fingers into one of the spaces between the boards and flexed them. The nails that held the wood against the window frame were ripped from their hold and plank dropped down to her feet. Trix reached her gloved hand out and pressed her exposed fingertips against the cold metal plate that she had just uncovered.
“You won’t get out that way,” Ezekiel said to her. “In fact, seeing as how I personally oversaw the construction of this place, I believe you’re going to find yourself limited in a great many ways.”
“So I’m your prisoner, is that it?” she turned and said to his back.
Ezekiel stopped his work and swiveled the chair that he sat in until he was facing her. “Esteemed guest,” he said to her with a smirk that sickened her stomach. “One that will be afford certain privileges up to and including a front row seating to the spectacle that will be the end of your world.” He spun his chair back around and went back to work. “Provided, of course, that you continue to mind your manners,” he spoke quietly.
Trix started walking towards the opposite side of the room. On her way past Ezekiel’s back she extended her hand out and laid a slap across the back of his scalp that was just hard enough to jostle his head forward. Ezekiel craned his face in her direction just long enough for him to watch her sink down into the padded cushion of a nearby chair. Trix let her eyes float all around the room. She didn’t doubt for a minute that he was telling the truth about her being limited in the arsenal of abilities that she would be able to call on in an attempt to secure her escape from this place. But just how limited was something that she definitely intended to find out. With all of the equipment floating around this place, there had to be some way that she could get her hands on something that would aid her in breaking out of here. And with Ezekiel and his mechanical counterparts in the real world having obtained the access codes to Zion’s mainframe, she really didn’t have much choice in the matter if the city was to survive.
Despite all of the madness circling her at the moment, her mind still found the capacity to reach out for Dustin. She sure hoped that things were transpiring a whole lot better on his end of this calamity.
Dustin walked past the loading chair and dropped his palm down on top of the back of Trix’s hand. He moved over and took a seat in the chair beside her and turned all of his focus on Syntax. “Anything?” he said.
“Nothing,” Syntax replied, his frustrated gaze still locked on the matrix feed streaming down the screens next to him. “Where ever she’s buried at in there I can’t get a peep from her.”
“Speaking of buried,” Apollo spoke out as he made his way into the core right along with Despauna and Raven. “I still have yet to hear any credible ideas about how we’re planning to dig ourselves out of this mess.”
Syntax spun around in his seat to face the crowd. “I’ve got one,” he said, placing the bottom of his foot down on top of a metal case next to his seat. “It’s a shot in the dark, but it might just turn out to be the only shot we’re gonna get.” He shoved his leg forward and sent the metal case grinding across the grated floor. “I’m sure you’re all aware of our communications situation.”
Despauna reached down for the case and popped the latches on the side. He came back up with several pieces of the mechanical devise that it held.
“Is this a joke?” Apollo said once he got a look at what Despauna was holding. “If you think that portable is going to get us in touch with Zion control…”
“With the range on those things and the bounce back from these tunnels, you’d be lucky to ping Lex up in the cockpit, let alone getting hold of any ships in the area,” Dustin added in.
“Which is why someone is going to have to cart that piece of crap up to the surface and make the call,” Syntax said. The atmosphere inside of the ship’s core became cluttered with disapproving groans. “I ran a scan of the area and we’re not far from a maintenance shaft that leads directly up to the surface. It’s our best bet for getting a clear enough signal out to anyone that can hear it.” His words were met by silence and upset glances. “Hey. If anyone has a better idea in mind, we’re all waiting. But I wouldn’t linger too long if you‘re gambling on the condition that the machines left our life support systems in.”
“Alright,” Despauna jumped in. “Dustin, you and Apollo take that radio and a cannon and clear on out. Syntax, I want an immediate heads-up on any sentinel activity in the area. Anybody else that isn’t already tasked with a duty of dire importance I want seeing to it that this ship stays lit.”
“Can do,” Dustin said, climbing out of his seat and looking down at Trix’s sleeping body.
The heavy cannon strapped to Apollo’s back made it that much more difficult for him to find his footing on the ladder railings that he and Dustin scaled. The heavy treading on the bottom of his boots were having a hard time keeping their grip on the icy metal. The thick gloves covering his hands weren’t having it any easier. The only thing positive that came out of all of the effort they were exerting along with the numerous layers of clothing and equipment that surrounded them was that it was working wonders to help combat against the dropping temperatures. When Apollo reached the covering lid at the top of the shaft he had to struggle with the ancient mechanics before he was finally able to get the latch turned. He shoved up on the lid and heard the noise of the creaking hinges quickly fade out into the violent clap of thunder and roaring wind. He struggled his way up out of the shaft and turned back to lend a hand to Dustin. When they were both out each one of them turned to marvel at the great ocean of cocooned infants that they found themselves in and the towering mechanical beasts keeping watch over their nursery. Even if there was anyone in range to pick up on their communications, Apollo was starting to have some serious doubts about any good that they would be able to do.