“Forget about it, Basley.” The systems technician attempting to make contact with the stewards at the helm of the dock’s central control turned to the fellow manning the chair across the station at his back. “Damn comm-links are on the fritz again.”
“Yeah? Well Gate Three’s down and I can’t get it open from here.”
“You’ve already sent down for a manual override. Use the walkie to try and get word down to Control. Otherwise that tunnel outside of Gate Three is gonna start to look like gridlock pretty soon. I’ll call down to maintenance again and see if they can’t get somebody up here.”
“Shit,” Basley uttered quietly to himself as he pulled the headphones off of his head. “Whole damn place is falling apart.”
“What was that?”
Both men turned around in their seats and watched Commander Abner move into their station. He looked over at Basley and watched as he pulled an old small portable radio set from underneath his console.
“Communications are down again, sir,” Basley replied. “Among other things. Been happening all week. We were gonna send down for maintenance to come up later and run another diagnostic on the system.”
“Well don’t hold your breath, Corporal. Tower and Dock Control aren’t the only networks on the blink around here. The whole damn city’s been flickering like a set of Christmas lights. In the meantime, why don’t you try doing something useful like giving me a count of my ships. I just came up from the floor and I’m seeing a lot of empty spaces where I should be seeing hovercrafts.”
“Yes, sir,” Basley said, dropping the radio back down and retaking up the controls in front of him again. “I’ve got all flight crews scheduled for port present and accounted for except for the Corposant, the Damocles, and the Nexus.” His fingers worked swiftly across the keyboards in front of him. “I’ve got the Damocles in route and the Corposant hold up just outside of Gate Four, but…”
“What but, Corporal?!” Abner said to him, adding a bit of frustration to the elevated tone of his voice.
“The Nexus, sir. They’ve been out of contact for quite some time, sir.”
“I suppose there’s a very reasonable explanation for that,” Abner said. His voice was met with a stream of ongoing silence. “Damn it, Corporal, I don’t care what you have to do; I want that damn ship back online. This whole damn place is coming down around my ears and the last thing I need is some wayward crew taking holiday in the desert.”
“Yes, sir,” Basley replied.
Apollo placed his gloved hand against the smooth surface of one of the large bulbs nearest him. Swiping his palm across the glassy surface, he was able to clear away a trail of the thin layer of frost that was just wide enough for him to get a look inside of the shell at the pink viscous fluid that it contained. When he looked closer he could also see the miniature body inside. Apollo watched it give a slight twist and jerk, but even as the manufactured child calmly kicked out at the fluid that it was suspended in it wasn’t enough to shake it loose from the collection of wires that kept it linked to the pod.
“You’re supposed to be watching my back while I set up this piece of junk in one last futile attempt at saving our necks.” Apollo turned around and looked down at Dustin. He was kneeling down on the earthen floor nestled amidst several tangled lines of cable running between the pod stems tampering with the controls of the portable radio. “I seriously doubt that that prenatal poses much of a threat,” Dustin said to him.
“Says you,” Apollo replied, stepping away from the pod. “For all you know this little guy could wind up housing the Agent that finally does one of us in. Look at ‘em,” he said, glancing all around at the packed fields that extended away from them for miles in every direction. “It’s an army.”
“Then they’re on leave. Now pay attention.” When Dustin was done with the radio controls he rose up to his feet again and looked around at what was visible of the barren skies that lingered over this section of the surface world that he and Apollo had ascended into. “I don’t know,” Dustin said as he peered up through the large clusters of braches budded with the pink capsules. “We might want to take a shot at getting some height on our side. There’s a good chance that there might be two much interference radiating off of this field for our signal to get through from down here.”
“You’re not serious,” Apollo said, taking a look up at the branches above them.
“Hey,” Dustin said, picking up the radio and slinging the strap around his neck and shoulder. “This little venture’s already proven to be a pain in the ass.” He reached up for the closest branch that he could reach and pulled himself up off of the ground. “You want to make it pointless too?”
Apollo allowed him to get a few rungs higher than him before strapping the cannon that he held around his shoulder. “Shit,” he voiced to himself as he reached up and started after Dustin. “Syntax and his damn bright ideas. I sure as hell hope things are going better for them back on the ship.”
“I sure as hell hope things are going better for Dustin and Apollo up topside,” Syntax said to the screens in front of him as he busied himself at his operator’s workstation aboard the Nexus. “A few more hours and I doubt if even the backup generators will be cranking out enough juice to keep the lights working in this place.”
“What about Trix?” Raven asked as she moved further into the loading chair chamber of the ship where Syntax’s station was set up. “We can’t just leave her jacked in while this place flickers and dies.”
Syntax pried his fingers away from the keyboards in front of him and rubbed them up across his head. He spun his chair around until he was staring directly at the seat that held Trix’s body. “Tell me something I don’t know,” Syntax said to her. “I’m thinking, worse case scenario, I strip the place raw and jury-rig up some kind of stand alone generator. Might buy us a couple more hours.” He sucked in a deep breath and huffed it out while sinking down deeper into the seat cushion. “Scariest case scenario, I get with Lex over in medical, we cut her loose, and Lex pumps her up to her eyeballs with a cocktail that’ll maybe buy us the night.”
“And assuming that we are able to wake her up after that we’ll be lucky if it’s just some recognizable member of the vegetable family that we’re carting back to Zion,” Raven said to him.
“Hence the extreme level of panic marring my deceptively calm demeanor,” Syntax said, turning back around to his monitors and retaking up his typing.
“There’s another option,” Raven said, moving in behind him.
“I’m all ears.”
“I can go in after her.”
Raven managed to halt Syntax’s fingers again and get his chair turned around in her direction. “Are you insane?! Not only do you not have even the faintest clue as to where to even start looking, you’re expecting me to sign on for the risk of having two of you stuck in there when this ship dries out.”
“One of us you’ll have a line on,” Raven tried explaining to him. “After that the hardest part about your end of this will be tracking and keeping an exit on constant standby.”
“I just love the way that you love to trivialize my business back here,” Syntax said to her. “Now back to this part about where I’m suppose to drop your ass in the first place.”
“The last time you had a bead on her it was during that meeting with the Frenchman. The way I figure it, you pipe me in, I get to the Merovingian, and we’re that much closer to Trix. Once I get a hold of her you can yank back my line and pull us both in.”
“And you’re expecting this miraculous chain of events to take place before this ship goes on the blink?”
Raven could see that this was going to be a hard sell for Syntax. Hell, if anyone else had been proposing this feat she would have probably been the first one to speak up and tell them that they were out of their mind. But they weren’t exactly staring down the barrel of a whole lot of options right now and the sand was running out of the hourglass.
“It’s Trix’s life,” Raven said to him. “And we’re not going to get a better shot than this.”
Both Raven and Syntax craned their heads around towards the third voice to take the room. They spotted Despauna standing on the center rung of a flight of stairs not far from where the two of them were posted.
“As it turns out, those damn squids are nothing if not adept at the fine art of cutting our birds down from the sky,” Despauna continued to talk after starting up his walk down the steps again. “Among numerous other things, one of the first things those bastards managed to gut their way in and burn through was the mainline between the ships’ power core and the central operating system.” Despauna’s feet finally came down on the main floor of the room. “Cara and Concent managed to reroute all the remaining power from the outlying systems, but that’s only going to buy us a half a day’s tops. We switch down to life support and we’re looking at maybe twice that before we’re completely in the dark. She may not be able to find Trix in there but maybe there’s a chance that we can get word to one of the other crews through one of the drop points about the whereabouts of our position. Might just be the only chance that either of us have got in making it out of here alive.”
Syntax alternated his glance between Despauna, Raven, and the body seated in the chair just a few feet away from him. “Shit,” he finally uttered and spun his chair back around to his monitors and keyboards. His fingers instantly went back to work.
Raven immediately bounded over into one of the loading chairs and looked over at the seat that Trix occupied while Despauna started touching his fingers to the screen above her. Raven turned the back of her head back down to the support cushion beneath her. She felt the distinctively odd piercing of a metal spike moving in through the port at the base of her skull just before the view in front of her eyes clouded over with the drizzle of streaming green encoded characters set against a blanket of black.
Apollo made his way up several more rungs and then paused again. From this height not only did Dustin have a better chance of breaching the blanket of electronic interference covering this field but they also had an excellent view of the bleak horizon that lie out at the distant edge of this plantation. The bleak, empty horizon. Apollo panned his head from left to right looking over the deserted skies with an attitude that matched the atmosphere of the dark, sparkling skies above them. Once the felling of ultimate despair sweeping over him began to subside he was able to mentally return to the task that he had originally been charged with. That meant looking out for Dustin’s back while he so foolishly entertained the notion of calling down some sort of miraculous rescue from the heavens above. Apollo swung his head back around toward his left shoulder.
That’s when it hit him.
The sound that forced him to twist an even sharper turn into his neck in order to get a look back behind him. All he saw was red. A large cluster of red glowing lenses all set against a backdrop of metallic grey that moved almost invisibly against the dim picture in its background.
That’s when it hit him.
The swift moving sentinel crashing its way through the tight net of limbs and budding cocoons snaked its way through the thicket faster than Apollo was able to get a hand around to the cannon that hung at his back. When it reached him it threw a hit into him and the trunk beside him that was hard enough to knock his feet loose from the branch supporting him. On his way down Apollo clumsily managed to get the cannon out from behind his back and his fingers wrapped around the triggering mechanism. As off teeter as his aim was, it was steady enough to burn a stripe across the underbelly of the still moving beast. Unfortunately for Dustin, who had just gotten wind of the ensuing situation in time to turn and catch sight of Apollo’s freefall, the blast that had come from the cannon also succeeded in severing the limb supporting him away from the trunk. The pod tree began raining with debris; all on its way down toward the unforgiving, rocky earth below.
Apollo’s back bounced from pod to limb and all over again until he was tumbling erratically from the sky. By the time he had come into contact with the ground the cannon that he was clutching onto had been knocked from his grasp. The layers of clothing that he wore only managed to absorb so much of the pressure from each of the blows, including the one that had flattened him out on the ground. But he didn’t have time to reflect on any of that now. He knew it wouldn’t be long until the rampaging sentinel returned to reap the harvest of its pruning. Dustin managed to hit the ground with a bit more composure but the radio that he was holding onto didn’t survive the landing. Not that it mattered. He could already hear the rumbling clamor of the mechanism responsible for their fall beating a path back in their direction. Apollo scrambled around on his hands and feet before coming upright again. When he did he had the cannon back in his possession and had taken up with Dustin on his mad dash through the thicket.
It didn’t take very long for the whirring noise of electronic flight and the clatter of tentacles to catch up with them. Regardless of the slight advantage that they had in moving through the dense forest, the rampaging beast at their backs was able to compensate for its immense size by bulldozing its way right through every tight opening that came between it and the prey it was after. In all of the fray Apollo managed to turn around and get off a shot or two at the squid but even the most direct of hits was only able to slow it down a bit. What didn’t get absorbed by the surrounding pod trees only burned out annoying divots in the creatures outer armor. Before long, it was Dustin and Apollo who were on the defensive from every streaking clawed appendage that came rocketing through the brush after them. When Apollo got tripped up by an entanglement of cords that had crossed his path he took a nasty tumble that planted him face first into the ground and knocked the cannon that he carried out of play. Dustin’s feet skidded to a halt and he hurried to turn what had been a desperate attempt to escape into a heated race for Apollo between him and the machine. Apollo flipped himself over onto his back and stared down a tunnel of outwardly bending branches. The freight train bullying its way through the corridor came bearing down on him without the slightest hint of mercy or pause in all of its efforts. He dug the heels of his boots into the weathered earth and started kicking out in an attempt to scramble back away from the menace but it was no use. The machine was on him before he even had a chance to make it a few feet away from the position on the ground that had collected him when he’d fallen. All Apollo could do was make one final attempt to turn and clamor up to his feet so that he might be able to at least fool himself into believing that he had even a snowball’s chance at escaping this.
In the end he was able to make it up to his feet, but that was it. He didn’t make it a single step before he was struggling to minimize the damage of falling to the ground again. It wasn’t just the explosive sound of metal hitting metal that knocked him off balance it also had something to do with the unexpected quaking of the ground right beneath his feet. Apollo brought his face up out of the dirt again and turned around to have a look at the fading roar of thunder behind him. What he saw forced a shiver of coldness through him that penetrated every layer of clothing that he had on in order to get down to his trembling bones. The sentinel had been stopped dead in its tracks but neither anything he or Dustin had done had been responsible for it. Most likely it was due to the large spike of metal that had slammed its way down into the arid soil. The oncoming sentinel lay smashed to bits all around the crater that had been made. Letting his eyes trail up the length of the pillar, Apollo eventually came to the knowledge that it was attached at the root to one of the towering caretakers responsible for tilling these fields. The bevy of spotlights attached to the underside of its hull washed over the wreckage as well as the surrounding area. By the time one of the beams had fallen on Apollo Dustin was at his back lifting him up by his armpits. As disturbing as this act of cannibalism was, surly it wouldn’t be long until the guardian turned its sights on them. Between their awareness of their presence in this forbidden stretch of landscape as well as what other sentinels might happen to be lurking around the next corner, neither Dustin or Apollo required any more proof that this mission had been effectively scrapped. The question now was how either of them expected to escape this madness with their lives intact.
If it's that much of a pleasant pasttime for you then stay tuned for the next installment. There should be another one coming up any minute now.
But if the break between posts ever get too long for you to handle then I'm sure there are plenty of other fables in this port to keep you occupied in the meantime.
As for the newbie in the chair being plied with all sorts of mechanical attachments, it wasn’t long before Trix was watching this guy’s already jittery frame give way to spastic convulsions. The screams that he produced filled the air of the room and just as quickly began to drain out into a fading noise of electrical distortion, right along with the rest of his body. It was the same scene that she had witnessed over and over again while being held prisoner in this stronghold. One after the next, bodies were filed into the room, jimmied up with a set of technical attachments, and melted away into the digital ether only to be collected up in the basins beneath the power plant. Where they were whisked away to after that was a quandary that she had yet to put an answer to.
“So where are they all going?” Trix spoke up from the comfort of the leather covered cushion that she occupied. Her unexpected words gained her more than her share of stares from around the room. One set of eyes in particular belonged to Ezekiel, and he was the only one in the room to have acquired a look back from her.
“But I already told you,” he replied to her, turning back around to the equipment that he monitored. “The land of truth and salvation awaits all who pass through those doors.”
“Yeah, I already got the sales pitch,” Trix said to him. “But what I was kinda hoping for was something in the way of a zip code.”
“Right,” Ezekiel spoke with some measure of laughter in his voice. He spun his chair around from the console that he was sitting in front of and rose to his feet. “Why don’t we find something a bit more…practical for you to concern yourself with,” he said, stepping over in her direction. “After all, everything that you know to be reality outside of this world is about to come to a crashing halt, so we might as well get started acclimating you to some of the trappings of your impending future. Let’s say dinner. For starters. I’ll see to it that something’s brought to your quarters that’ll leave you more suited for the occasion.”
Trix continued to follow him with her eyes as he moved on passed her and ultimately out of the room. When her head came back around she cut a sparing glance over at Jacob. As predicted, his ever watchful glance was still on her, lingering suspiciously over every move that she made. No doubt that his counterpart was conducting the same level of surveillance from the opposite side of the room. Having nothing better to do with her time, Trix rose up from her seat with every intention of testing their current state of awareness. She moved over towards the console array that Ezekiel had previously abandoned and leaned over the table between a set of technicians working there.
“This stuff looks kind of complicated,” she said, placing her palms down on the table and dropping her head down lower to the screens scrolling with information. “You guys need a hand with any of this?”
Right on cue, the two sentries quickly made their way over to her position.
“I believe we have everything under control here,” Jacob said to her.
Wilhelm moved in next to her and placed a not so gentle grip on her arm. “Perhaps you’d be more comfortable back in your quarters,” he said to the look that Trix turned over to him. “Somewhere where you’re less likely to befall any calamity.”
The glowing ire that covered each one of their faces spoke volumes of their growing intolerance for her. Not that she had been all that riled about keeping company with either of them. “Hey,” Trix said, sliding her palms back across the table and rising upright again. “Anything I can do to help.” When she felt the hold that Wilhelm had on her arm slack up enough for her to pull it free she politely stepped away from both them and the workstation, leaving the technicians there in peace. As she made her way out of the area she was just glad that neither of the two watchdogs were studious enough to notice the small mechanical component that she had so cunningly slid off of the tabletop before turning and heading on her way. Perhaps it was the haste to simply get rid of her that they were consumed with that accounted for their lack of a more detailed inspection of her activities. Whatever the case, Trix waited until she had made it out of their line of sight to slip the object tucked away in her palm into her coat pocket. Maybe there was a chance that this little piece would go well with the numerous others that she had been secretly collecting in an effort to finally part their company altogether.
The grumbling engine of Raven’s motorbike reverberated heavily off of the walls of the underground parking area. Once her vehicle crawled to a stop in front of the main entrance to Club Hell the atmosphere all around her grew eerily quiet. As she climbed off of the bike she was suddenly starting to have second thoughts about undertaking such an arduous task all on her own. She moved through the front entrance and proceeded all the way down to the coat check room. The guards that were present there didn’t allow her to go a step further.
“We’re closed,” the man behind the large desk said to her.
“Guess that would explain the empty lot upstairs,” Raven said to him.
“Doesn’t exactly explain what it is you’re doing here,” one of the men moving in next to her spoke. He snatched up one of the lapels on her coat and began grabbing up the numerous pistol grips that he found hiding underneath. The fellow moving in on the other side of her opened up the rest of her coat and started doing the same.
“I’m expected,” Raven said to them. Her words gained her a very skeptical look from the man behind the desk; one that he shared with his compatriots and sent a round of soft chuckling swirling between them. “Don’t take my word for it. Check it with your boss. But be quick about it. I’m pretty sure that neither one of us has either the time or the patience to tolerate any more incompetence from his lackluster help.”
“Oh bullshit!” one of the men standing over her shoulder exclaimed.
One look from the fellow behind the desk and the slicing motion that he traced through the air in front of his neck with all four fingers of one of his hands was enough to silence his protest. That and the picture of his companion lifting up the handle on the phone next to him. He punched in a couple of buttons and listened for a while. “Yeah. She says she has an appointment. Alright.” He hung the phone back up and titled his head to the side. “Go on in. They’re waiting for you.”
Raven had taken a chance on the Merovingian’s reputation and watched her bluff fold every hand at the table in front of her. When the goons surrounding her stepped aside she made a go for the nearest door in sight hoping that her luck would continue to hold up under these conditions. The dance floor was as barren as the parking lot outside. Raven’s footsteps echoed throughout the emptiness as she made her way across the floor towards the staircase that would carry her up to the VIP section. Once there, she found the man she was looking for surrounded by a small cadre of his minions. They were all seated around him aside from the trio of women that approached her and cut off her path the moment that she entered the section. Raven was felt up for her second time that evening. Only this time the hands fondling her turned up just as empty as they were when they began.
“Oh come now,” the Frenchman chimed in with a little too much merriment in his voice for Raven’s taste. “If I’m not mistaken, this venture is more one of business than pleasure. No?” He shared his little laugh with the other gentlemen gathered around him. “I swear, if I keep running into you people in here I’m going to have to require the necessary membership fee. Either that or the nightly cover charge. But all discussions of finance aside, what, may I ask, do I have to thank for this recent visit from this, my most eager clan of aficionados?”
“One of my crewmembers went and got herself misplaced after your last meet-and-greet. Seeing as how we’re prepared to lay the blame completely at your feet we kind of figured that you might like the opportunity to clear your good name by helping us locate her.”
Aside from the three women standing around her, Raven listened to his entire group burst into hysterics. “Seeing as how that last meeting failed to reveal any means whereby any of you could prove to be of any viable use to me, I can’t see how any of this is my problem,” the Merovingian said to her.
“Well trust me on this. You do bear a great deal of responsibility.”
“And you’re here to what…? Threaten me into submission?”
“I was hoping that it wouldn’t come to that, but yes. There is a definite danger of a less than cordial meeting on our next get-together,” Raven said to him. “But seeing as how I’ve managed to make it this far without incurring any gunfire I just assumed that you might be in a mood to deal.”
“How right you are,” he said to her. “As the nature of causality would have it we seem to have stumbled upon yet another situation that could prove to be mutually beneficial. You say you’ve misplaced your friend. Well it just so happens that I too have managed to lose someone. An individual gifted with an exceptional talent for signal analysis. Surely he could be of some assistance to you wherever your own meager facilities have come up short.”
“Now all you have to do is tell me where I can find this individual,” Raven said to him.
“That won’t be much of a problem,” the Frenchmen said, reaching into the inside of his coat. He came back out with an envelop that he promptly passed off to one of his henchmen. “He’s due to board a flight in the next couple of hours. But unfortunately, what will be a problem is that I’m not the first one to stumble across this information.” Raven continued to listen to him as the envelops slowly made its way over to her. “If that flight leaves the ground with our friend onboard then neither one of us will stand a chance to benefit from his specialty. But if you bring him back to me then I‘ll see if I can‘t be…persuasive in getting him to help locate your missing shipmate.”
“And let me guess. I’m not supposed to be the least bit suspicious as to why you’re handing off the retrieval of this most effective parcel to us instead of just going ahead and taking care of it yourself.”
The Frenchman’s laughter was back. “Mutual benefit means a mutual sharing of the risk involved. Just bring him back to me safely and we’ll consider it an even swap.”
Raven suspected that there were going to be just enough strings attached to this deal to leave her swinging by the neck in the end. And if anything on the back end was going to turn out to be beneficial for the Merovingian then there was a more than good enough chance that it was going to prove just the opposite for their team somewhere down the road. But with Trix waiting it wasn’t like she was in any position to explore any other options.
“Not sure,” Dustin replied, knowing that Apollo was referring to the machine on machine violence that they had just witnessed in the depths of the pod forest at their backs. “I guess the nannies don’t take kindly to anyone disrupting the nursery.” He turned his eyes upwards and found traces of the roving spotlights brushing back and forth across the darkened sky. “We’d better get out of here before they find us.”
“And just where exactly did you plan on us getting off to?” Apollo said. “I mean, other than the mad dash of panic that was making perfect sense up until now, in which direction do you suppose we’ll find the tunneling that’ll carry us back to the Nexus?”
“Actually…,” Dustin said, still fighting to catch his breath. “…I hadn’t really thought it out that far.”
Just then one of the beams of light circling overhead dropped down through the branches and hit the ground, painting the two of them inside of a bright white circle. “Come on!” Apollo yelled at his partner just before undertaking the opening stride of yet another full on run. He made it as far as where Dustin had been standing before being halted by the arm that came hooking out and catching him up around the inside bend of his elbow.
“Wait a minute!” Dustin called to him, his eyes still on the sky.
Apollo let his body be jerked around until he was facing in the same direction as Dustin. “What is it?!” he said heatedly. “We’ve gotta get out of here!”
“Look.” Apollo craned his head back on his neck and threw a palm up to shield his eyes from the sting of the bright beam raining down on them. Afterwards, it didn’t take him long to realize what had stalled Dustin. “The Corposant.”
Apollo watched the underbelly of the hulking beast of a hovercraft slowly glide over the bushel of pink pods and branches above their heads, the flashes of lightening bursting from the pads that propelled it through the sky crawling all over the outstretched arms of the crops beneath them. The beam of light that had found them slowly began to crawl away. “Great,” Apollo said to him. “About time we got some good news.” He watched the underside of the ship continue to pass. “Any idea how we’re supposed to let ‘em know we’re down here?”
“One,” Dustin said, reaching his gloved hand into one of the pockets stitched into his coat. “So let’s just hope they’re paying attention.”
“Sir, I gotta tell you, I’m really not liking the look of all of the attention we’re attracting.”
“Duly noted,” Captain Flagard said to the pilot steering his ship. He turned his head toward the view outside of the cockpit window that held a cluster of the gigantic, tentacle armed robots busy tilling the fields that they soared over. “But that distress call that we received was coming from somewhere over in this sector. Abner was plenty pissed already about having to send us out after the Nexus. I gotta imagine it’s only gonna get worse for us when we come back empty-handed.”
“Well, from the looks of things we’re just gonna have to suck it up and…” He was cut off midstream by the sudden apparition of an intense beeping noise being emitted from the equipment on the console next to him. It was the type pf alarm typically reserved for signaling the crew to the presence of any approaching arsenal from the machine world. “Sir?!” Both he and the captain examined the holographic mechanics between them. “What is it?”
“It’s a homing beacon,” Captain Flagard answered him while his growing umbrage continued to stay on the readout between them. “Turn the damn ship around before those bastards get us all killed.”
Apollo had stood there and watched him pull the cylindrical object out of his pocket, watched as he grabbed the small handles at both ends and pulled, separating the metal casing along a suture that split the device along the middle. After the outer shell had parted Dustin gave the handles a twist in opposite directions and activated the light green LED filaments that resided beneath the outer casing. “Beautiful,” Apollo said, turning his eyes back up to the skies. “Now all we have to do is pray that they get back here before you bring every machine in a fifty mile radius down on our heads.”
Thankfully, it didn’t take too long before the skies above them were once again set ablaze by the electrical pads that lined the outer hull of the passing hovercraft.
“Captain Flagard,” Dustin said as he extended out his hand for some assistance in getting up off of the ladder that he climbed. “Guess it’s just our luck that you happened to be in the neighborhood.”
“It wasn’t luck,” the captain said to him after helping him up onto the level with him. “Abner sent this ship along with a few others all the way to hell and back trying to track down every bird missing in the count.”
“Color us flattered,” Apollo said as he made his way up the ladder.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Flagard went on. “Apparently, someone pissed on the wrong spark plug and it’s got Zion running like a solar powered skiff at midnight. He wants everyone present and accounted for by this time yesterday. By the by, soldier, you mind telling me where you came across that beacon? Last time I heard, those things had been registered on the Fleet crew contraband list ever since the Dunes in aught six.”
“Guess our ship upgrades just happened to come along with a few retro fits,” Apollo said to him. “Now if you fellows don’t mind, I’m sure we left a ship lying around here somewhere.”
Syntax had been busy keeping one eye on the streaming matrix feed that filled the screens next to him and the other on the vital statistics readout coming from Raven and Trix’s loading chairs. In the process he’d been forced to grow yet another set of eyes in order to keep watch over the instruments beneath his roaming fingertips. But in the end even with all of that to keep him distracted it wasn’t enough for him not to notice the erratic clunking and thumping of something stomping around on the layers of metal above his head. His first thought were that somehow the mutant sentinels that had chased them down into this dead end length of tunneling had somehow found a way to burrow in through the barricade sealing them in and finish off the job that they’d started on this ship. As the clunking about continued his eyes began to crawl around the floor all around him for any sign of one of the electrical cannons while he gradually brought a hand up and wiped away the headset he was wearing.
Despauna was standing on top of the grated floor of one of the skywalks on the upper most level of the ship. He had been busy applying a torch to some of the dismembered paneling on this level when the initial clanking had gotten underway. With his welding visor cranked up over the top of his head, he stared across at the landing across the way until he saw one of the wheel shaped handles on the ceiling turn and the hatch door that it was attached to come open. Soon after he was standing there watching Dustin drop down out of the ceiling to the landing floor. “Hey,” Dustin called over to him as he rose upright. “I think I found a tow truck.”
Syntax crept through the dark corridor with his eyes on the ceiling and the cannon that he held at his side at the ready. The metallic thumping noise that he was on the trail of was getting closer now. He was just about to step out into the intersection that he approached when a figure stepped out from around the corner and shook loose a yelp of surprise from him to go along with his shaky jump backwards. Syntax jutted the cannon out in front of him and leveled off the business end right at Apollo’s chest. “Son of a bitch!” Syntax barked out, dropping the cannon down to his side. “What the hell are you, the ghost of failed mission’s past? What are you doing back here? Aren’t you supposed to be freezing your ass off somewhere topside?”
“We caught a ride back with the Corposant,” Apollo said to him.
“Is that who that is banging around on the roof?”
“Yeah. They touched down in the tunnel overhead. They’ve been feeding down cables through the flooring. Despauna and the others are up there now wiring up the link. So power’s not gonna be an issue for the time being.”
“Well there’s a break when we need one.”
“Right,” Apollo replied. “And now that our side has panned out something just short of crap what have you got to show for holding up your end?”
Syntax led him back down into the ship’s core where Apollo found Two bodies sitting in the loading chairs where he had previously left one. “Behold,” Syntax said, plopping down into the seat in front of his workstation. “I give you progress.”
“Anything I can do to help make that assessment just a little less than the bullshit it actually is?” Apollo said while looking over the matrix feed screens.
“Load up,” Syntax told him over the noise of his typing fingers. “And I’ll bring you up to speed.”
That's funny. I always imagined that it was your real life adventures that carried you and kept you away from this site in the first place. And seeing as how they have managed to leave you with enough spare time to occassionally poke your head back in here for a read, I'm glad I do well enough to illicit some pride from you.Trix wrote:Hey Syntax
Really, I wish my real life adventures were as exciting as this crazy spin-off of our original fic.
You make me proud, time to get a book contract!
added pressure now
I wasn't sure that there was even a market for any more tales from this side of the looking glass, being as though I've yet to find even one more tie in to the Matrix since coming across those comic book pages on the Ultimate Matrix site.
So much for pitching that idea to anyone.
Raven practically turned the terminal upside down in her search, and from what she could see she wasn’t the only one wandering the premises with a look about them as if they’d lost something or someone valuable and had yet to lay eyes on the missing piece. It was mainly due to the brutish way that they went about their search that caused them to stick out so defiantly from the crowd around them. Deep purple and black suits, dark shades blocking out a large portion of their grimacing faces, pitch black shoulder length hair swishing every which way as they shoved their way through the gathering of human parcels waiting for transport. They shoved their way back and forth through the crowd snatching shoulders around to inspect faces and harshly interrogating other members of the mass that they felt might have the information that they possessed. Raven took this as a good sign that at least these goons had yet to snatch up her prize. She could definitely see why this guy would be eager to stay out of their reach. She just hoped for both of their sake that she could get to him first.
The Frenchman had armed her with a recent photograph of the subject as well as a name by which to address him in the off chance that they ever met. What he failed to disclose to her was just how desperate this man would be in attempting to make it onboard that flight without being accosted by anyone other than airport personnel. Desperate enough to try masking the multi-thousand dollar suited up stature that appeared in the photo with a dumbed down version of himself in a flower printed, buttoned down shirt and shorts set complete with digital camera dangling around his neck and a frumpy overstuffed carryon bag where a briefcase should have been. He was also prepared to come equipped with a dopey looking round rimmed hat and frames spectacles to complete his textbook touristy attire. It took a bit of suspended disbelief on Raven’s part and an even keener eye than she thought herself in possession of, but she did manage to pick him out of the rest of the crowd waiting for the large vehicle outside moving slowly across the tarmac to attach itself to the walkway on the side of the building. Thankfully, the two brutes tossing the area had yet to be so effective in their ongoing search. They also hadn’t picked her out of the crowd as of late and if Raven wanted to keep it that way then she was going to have to move fast.
She tried her best to raise as little ruckus as possible while snaking her way through the crowd. She shoved and sidestepped until she was right over the left shoulder of the tropical shirt. “Mr. Fogelman?” Nothing. Either he didn’t hear her or he was smart enough to have come up with some other alias to answer to in order to further avoid immediate detection. “Fogleman!” Raven said again. She was close enough now to reach out her hand and make an attempt at physically getting his attention. Her hand was just inches away from coming down on his shoulder when out of nowhere he reached out and initiated some physical contact of his own. It came in the guise of a swiftly thrown elbow darting back behind him and coming into contact with her nose. Raven was knocked back into the cluster of travelers behind her. When she hit she collapsed the small group as they all conspired to keep her from hitting the floor. Unfortunately for her they were also very heavily vocal in their disapproval of her clumsiness. So much so that her little tumble managed to gain the attention of everyone in the immediate vicinity. Staring past the palm that she had brought up to cover over the center of her aching face, Raven couldn’t find any sign of the flower patterned shirt anywhere in the crowd in front of her. Obviously, her guy had opted for whatever his plan B was. The collection of people whose arms she had fallen back into shoved Raven back up to her feet; just in time to fall into the arms of the two brutish looking gentlemen whose investigation she had just mainlined onto the fast track.
“Where is he?!” one of the men growled at her as he knotted his fists up into the lapels of her coat and jerked her in closer to his snarling face.
Her eyes were still a bit teary from the hit that she had taken, but she could still see well enough to know that this entire plan was well on its way to being shot to hell. “I don’t know,” she said to them. “You guys might want to check the lost and found.” Her last words came with the lifting of her knee that she planted squarely into the gut of the man holding her. When he buckled over in front of her Raven shoved his shoulders back and through a right cross into the jaw of the man standing next to him. The surrounding crowd collected both of their tumbling bodies and she quickly vacated the area. If she had any hopes of pulling this thing back from the brink the she was going to have to come up with some ulterior planning of her own.
It didn’t take her long to make out the funny looking brim of the hat darting through the crowd. She followed it as best she could until finally losing it once it ducked down to avoid the top of the small portal that it moved through while riding along the baggage conveyor belt. Raven shoved her way through the stunned crowd and leapt up on the stack of suitcases making the roundabout. Eventually she passed through the wall with the rest of the luggage and hopped down to the floor. The hat, the shirt, the glass; all vanished. What she did catch sight of though were a pair of baggage handlers that had stopped what they were doing just to stare blankly at the young woman that had for some reason passed into this restricted area. Raven gave with a frustrated sigh and dug into her coat pocket for her cell phone. Placing it to her ear, she found her interest suddenly peaked again when the two airport personnel standing with her in this labyrinth of moving conveyers began to tremble and shake as their bodies became horribly distorted.
The two Agents passed a fleeting look at one another before turning their attention to the rest of the environment around them. Without uttering a single syllable they each started out at a slow and steady stride away from one another.
“Go ahead,” Syntax spoke into the phone.
“I take it you’re already aware of the company I’ve been keeping lately,” Raven spoke into the phone to her head from where she hid behind a large cart loaded up with suitcases.
“Yeah. Our boy certainly seems to be popular,” Syntax said. “Fortunately for you, that appears to be something that the two of you don’t have in common. So if you’ll just holdup there for a bit I’m pretty sure that those Agents will be out of your way shortly.”
“And our guy?”
“Has really got it in for making the jump out of here,” Syntax replied. “He’s already managed to double back around for his gate. He shook the two stooges with no problem, but I’m not sure whether or not he’s aware of the new muscle on his scent.”
“What are the odds that I can still get to him before they do?” Raven asked.
“Slim to none,” he answered her. “The Agents are standing directly between the two of you, and given the volume of that crowd, I don’t even want to think about what will happen if you manage to get them worked up.”
“Well I’m open for suggestions?” she said.
“You might just regret that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…it’s a long shot, but…do you see that trunk on the cart beside you?”
A black suit made its way through the crowd in the airport terminal until it was able to push its way through to one of the large rows of floor to ceiling windows embedded in one of the walls. On the other side of the glass he had an unobstructed view of the large jumbo sized jet pulling out for one of the nearby runways. Placing a set of fingers over the bud of the earpiece attached to the side of his head, he turned back in the opposite direction and faded back into the crowd.
Raven kicked her leg up and dismantled the locking mechanism sealing the lid of the trunk closed. When she sat upright in the box she found that the bowels of the airport terminal that she was previously in had been swapped out for the interior of the underbelly of a moving aircraft. And if all of the tossing about that she had recently suffered was to be any indication, it was an aircraft that had long since abandoned solid ground. She pulled out her phone again and started dialing.
“Nice plan,” Raven spoke sarcastically.
“Well I wouldn’t go patting me on the back just yet,” Syntax said to her.
“Right. Especially since even if I do somehow manage to snag this guy I have no idea how I’m supposed to get him back to my bike now that it just so happens to be sixty thousand feet straight down.”
“First thing’s first,” Syntax said. “There’s an elevator about twenty feet over to your left.”
He accepted his cocktail from the stewardess and ordered an extra pillow from her before she went on her way again. Leaning back in his seat, he placed the set of headphone buds that he had into his ears and turned his eyes up towards the lowering screen at the front of the bay. With one taste of the warming liquid already down his throat, he was all set to get settled in and relaxed when the buds hanging from the side of his head were snatched free from his ears. “What tha…!” He looked back over his shoulder to find Raven standing there. “What are you doing here!?!”
“You need to get up and come with me,” Raven said to him.
“What?! What are you talking about? I’m not going anywhere with…”
They were both distracted by the sight of the stewardess headed back down the aisle in their direction. They became especially curious when her once pleasant looking frame broadened out into a more masculine looking perversion of itself.
“No, no, no!” Fogleman called out. “I was out!” Raven looked around the passenger area and saw several more bodies in the process of performing the same act of transformation. “I was free!” Body after body falling like dominos against the metamorphosis.
“Come on!” Raven said, crushing her fingers into the fabric covering his shoulder and snatching him up out of the seat. She used her other hand to reach back beneath her coat and draw out the pistol holstered at the small of her back. Several of the Agents that had already risen to their feet were a little quicker on the draw that she was. A few of the rounds on their way to make contact with them missed their mark and shattered some of the small panes of glass next to them. The resulting change in pressure forced a whirlwind of whipping air into the passenger bay. Returning fire through all of the resulting confusion, Raven continued to drag her quarry back with her until they rounded a corner and removed themselves from the line of fire.
“Where are you taking me?!” Fogleman screamed at her.
“Not sure really,” Raven answered him while swapping out the empty clip in her gun. Her next response to him was a kick to the chest that knocked him back through the open elevator door. “That’s for earlier,” she said before joining him in the cramped space.
When she stepped off of the elevator again she had Syntax dialed into the phone she had up to her ear and Fogleman‘s struggling body in the other hand. “Alright. We’re here,” Raven said, looking around at the large wheels attached to the landing gear. “What now, genius? I can’t imagine it’s gonna be long until they figure out where we’ve gotten off to.”
“The panel on the console on the wall behind you,” Syntax said. “I think I can talk you though a quick short circuit that’ll open up the panel doors and get that gear to drop.”
“And then what?!” Raven snapped at the phone. “I grow wings?! In case you’re unaware, I left my parachute in my other coat.”
“Time’s running out,” Syntax said to her.
Fogleman stood by pacing back and forth grumbling to himself and occasionally cutting an eye over to the woman fidgeting with the wiring behind the panels on the wall. Once his frustration began to get the better of him he sought to take advantage of the limited attention that she had turned his way by inching his way back over towards the elevator. He hit the button and when the door opened he was caught standing face to face with his reflection in the dark glossy surface of the pair of lenses in front of him. He slammed the door closed again and ducked out of the way of the burning hole that was suddenly torn out of the panel at head level. “They’re here!” he blared out as he ran back around to where he left the woman he was with. Only instead of her he found another whirlwind waiting for him as the panels beneath the large wheels opened up and the landing gear began to drop out of the plane. Raven promptly snatched him up by the back of his shirt and drug him over to the open port and carted him around until his toes were at the edge of the open hole in the floor.
Looking up from the sight of the cloud cover soaring by and the plots of land in the far off distance below, they both witnessed the emergence of one Agent after the next as they filed into the area from around the corner. When Raven saw the large multitude of cannon barrels lifting into the air and training in their direction she grabbed up her screaming and flailing package and dropped them both through the opening beneath them. She hung on to him as tightly as she could against the harsh rush of wind pushing by them as the plane sped on through the air above their heads.
Apollo was seconds away from catching up with the tail end of the streaking jet above him when he noticed the wheels dropping down from beneath the carriage and spotted the two bodies falling out through the opening. Quickly abandoning his race with the plane, he immediately turned his sights on softening the landing for the newly ejected passengers.
“You asked for wings,” Syntax commented quietly to himself while staring at the green trickle trailing down the screens in front of him and running his typing fingers rampant.
“Sit down,” Apollo said to him as he continued to walk past where he’d left his distraught guest.
“What do you people want with me?” Mr. Fogelman asked through the frown that covered his face. “You’ve already mucked things up enough as it is.”
“Actually, it’s the Frenchman that’s eager to acquire an audience with you,” Raven said to him from where she on the side of the long table in front of him with one of her feet propped up on one of the empty chairs. “We were just commissioned to facilitate the arrangement.”
“Great,” Fogelman said. “Months of planning and preparation down the tubes on account of a couple of pod borns turned hired goons. Do you have any idea as to what that maniac will hope to accomplish if he gets his hands on me?”
“Just that it won’t exactly bode well for any plans that we may have in the near future.”
Fogelman noticed, right along with the other two individuals gathered around him, that the voice addressing him now was originating from somewhere outside of their immediate circle. Raven looked back over her shoulder and spotted Despauna making his approach towards the table that she sat on with Dustin hovering just behind his right shoulder.
“But it just so happens that we may also have an immediate urge for your unique abilities,” Despauna went on. “Perhaps if this venture is successful we can work out a scenario where we both come out winners in this.”
“Is that right?” Fogelman said to the new members of the camp that approached him.
“That all depends on you,” Despauna replied, standing over the seated man now.
“Well if I’m here then I’m guessing you’re either in need of launching a signal that you don’t want being picked up on by any prying eyes or you’ve got yourselves a problem putting your hands on one that someone would rather keep out of reach.”
“More towards the latter,” Despauna answered him.
Fogelman looked around the room again taking extra special care to gloss over the crowd of very stern and serious faces surrounding him. Although he was able to quickly pick up on their extreme sincerity in wanting to get this task taken care of he had nothing in the way of evidence that told him of their intentions to keep their word afterwards. In the end it all came down to him having a complete lack of options at the moment.
“I’ll need some equipment,” he spoke once his eyes came back around to Despauna.
The emerald green evening gown that she wore hugged snuggly around her hips and every other scenic curve that protruded from the center line of her body as she moved with armed escort down the corridor toward the dining area. When Trix finally made it there she found Ezekiel already seated at the opposite end of the large table placed in the center of the room. He rose up to his feet upon her entrance and extended a hand out in her direction, politely offering up the seat that she had been led to. At the same time he bade off the two escorts with her and in moments they were alone together in the room. Both seated now, Trix glanced across the table at the bevy of dishes, platters, and glasses that covered the plane in between them.
“If you don’t see anything you like I could always have something special ordered for you,” Ezekiel said to her over the rim of the wine filled glass that he held up to his lips.
“A perk that I should look forward to as supreme empress of the known universe?”
“One of the many,” Ezekiel said over the brazen grin that she had helped to color his lips with.
“Then I don’t suppose something in the forty caliber variety should be too hard to swing.”
“I’m afraid for the time being you’re just going to have to make due with certain limitations,” he said, nearly approaching the brink of outright laughter.
“Alright then,” Trix said, reaching ahead for one of the wine glasses. “Do you mind my asking how it is that this little secret society of yours has managed to stay so secret all of these years? I mean with the entire population of the planet boiling down to exactly two cities of civilization it seems that it would have been pretty hard to gloss over the existence of a third capital.”
“Two cities with nothing but eyes for each other,” he answered her. “Two cities at war; so consumed with their futile attempt to neutralize, manipulate, and eliminate the other faction that it’s really no surprise that they lacked the capacity for any sort of lateral perspective. Plus, combine all of that with certain trade secrets in technological advancements and it’s entirely possible that certain parties wishing to remain anonymous in such a tumultuous landscape could easily do so.”
“Secrets. Secrets like the exact location of this new world order.” This time Ezekiel did erupt with a bit of laughter. “Come on. You’ve all but seal the fate of this world and the next. What harm could possible come out of divulging that meaningless bit of Intel?”
“Your obsession is bordering on outright amusement,” he chuckled. “This thing of yours with the location of that city. If one didn’t know any better, they would assume that on some level you were still harboring plans of ridding yourself of our generous hospitality. I can’t stress to you enough just how much something like that would displease me. And as for this city’s location, I’m afraid that there is only one true way that you’ll ever lay eyes on it. And between you and I, I’d much rather you didn’t dwell so much on such things. After all, you have yet to witness the full potential of what I have to offer you here.”
The rest of the evening’s meal passed under much the same level of mild conversing and dining. All the way up until the point where Trix was escorted back to her quarters. Once there she stripped away the elegant fabrics that Ezekiel had commissioned for their meal together and swapped them out for the more combat hardened attire that she had originally arrived at this hideaway with. After that she quickly located the devise that she had been secretly piecing together from various odds and ends that she was able to get her hands on while no one was looking her way. Whether or not Ezekiel knew just how right he was about her lingering plans for escaping this stronghold he was definitely about to have his suspicions confirmed for him in the very near future. She would have preferred having the location of this secret city of his to pocket with her in the off chance that she found success in this venture, but even without that she was already heavy a great bounty of vital information that was desperately needed in the outside world. So she was just going to have to concern herself with just making it out of here alive for the time being.
“So what’s up with our guy?” Raven said to Dustin upon meeting up with him in the doorway of one of the rooms in the vacant apartment that they had absconded to with their catch.
Dustin had just been in the process of leaving the room that had been newly decorated with a bulk of electronic equipment, all being lorded over by their hostage slash newly acquired accomplice, at his back when she approached him. He looked back over his shoulder at all of the goings on. “Not sure,” he said. “He seems to know what he’s doing, but truth be told it’s all looking a bit above my pay grade. He’s on with Syntax now and they say…”
“Hey you two.” Both Raven and Dustin looked over in Despauna’s direction. “Get in here. I think we got something.”
The two of them walked over to where he was huddled over the shoulder of the busy technician manipulating the equipment spread out across the table in front of him.
“Here we go,” Fogelman said aloud, speaking more to the screens, boards, and keypads in front of him rather than the crowd that had come in to witness his work. “I’ve just gotta say, whoever dug this gopher hole and dropped your friend down it certainly didn’t have any plans on anybody ever digging her up again. I swear, these lines are buried so deep and glossed over with digital mush I’m surprised the sheer perfection of all this camo didn’t turn a few heads.”
“Just tell me you found what we were looking for,” Despauna said to him.
“Sure,” Fogelman said, pointing at one of the screens. “Assuming that the signal signature that your friend coming over the headphones relayed to me was right. It’s a pretty weak read but it’s definitely there. Right smack dab in the middle of that black hole. Any signal gets pulled into that thing and it may as well have fallen off the edge of the Earth.”
“Apollo. Dustin. Raven,” Despauna said.
“Already on it,” Dustin responded with his back already to his captain as he marched for the door with his two fellow crew members already hot on his heels.
One random act of quiet distraction.
Simple. Trivial. Meaningless.
Ezekiel suddenly turned his eyes back over to Trix and found the barely noticeable traces of a growing grin mere milliseconds before the entire room was filled to capacity with a loud bang and a brilliant incandescence that left him momentarily blinded.
Syntax’s fingers did a quick tap dance across the string of keyboards in front of him. “Alright,” he spoke into the headset he was wearing while sitting behind his workstation aboard the Nexus. “This is Bo Peep on line one. Operation: Lost Lamb is ready and underway. How’s my eye in the sky?”
Apollo stepped closer to the edge of the rooftop of the building he was on and scanned the nighttime skyline across the street, all the while listening to the squawking voice calling out to him over the small bit that he had lodged into his ear canal. “I’ve got nothing up here. Either they’re not expecting company or they’re not expecting anyone stupid enough to make their way inside to have a snowball’s chance on getting back out of there.”
“Same here,” Dustin spoke across the telecom link that he had embedded in his ear. From where he stood looking down the dark alleyway at the rear of the building that had been designated as their target the only action that he had caught wind of ever since assuming his position of cover consisted of a lone custodian that had ventured out from the back of a nearby restaurant in order to make use of a couple of dumpsters. “I got nothing. But if Trix is in there somewhere I don’t imagine we should sit around waiting for the welcome mat.”
“Second that,” Raven’s voice came in over the party line.
“Aw, you’re just saying that because you drew the short straw and got stuck manning the underground railroad,” Syntax spoke over the clickety-clack of his fingers hitting against the keyboard lettering in front of him. “Now we go in on my mark. Just like we planned it. So no funny business. Dustin, I want…” The slight buzzing in the headphones that tickled at his ear and the flicker that altered the shading of the coloring on one of the screens that he caught sight of out of the side of his eye was just enough to get him to turn his full attention over in its direction. “What the hell was that? Somebody talk to me.”
Apollo threw his forearm up in front of his face and used it to block some of the bright glaring light that came spilling out through some of the cracks surrounding the metallic plates shielding a cluster of the window frames near the upper levels of the building across the street from him. The noise of the boom that he heard initially led him to believe that a bevy of shattered concrete would be exploding out from the structure and rocketing his way. Once that threat had passed and he looked across the street to find the building still intact he immediately readied himself for an alternate course of action. “I’m guessing that’s mark,” he said, rushing back away from the ledge in front of him. The treads on the soles of his boots dug up a small array of the tarry gravel that covered the floor of the rooftop when he came to a stop, and kicked up a lot more than that in their wake when Apollo pushed off and lit out in a dash for the ledge again.
“And the wolves are away,” Syntax spoke quietly to himself while he readied the instruments in front of him to assist with aiding his team in the extraction operation that had just gotten prematurely underway.
Completely ignoring the sudden arrival of a calamitous array of chaotic stumbling and panicked cadence, Trix dove fist first into the blinding display that she had triggered with the concealed device in her coat pocket and immediately started laying to waste every moving thing standing between her and her pre-calculated path towards the nearest exit. Through it all, she could clearly make out Ezekiel’s voice over all the noise. She listened to him and a few others do their best to calm everyone through the ensuing pandemonium to little avail. Having managed to escape the eye stinging effects of the blast that she had triggered from the coin, Trix could have easily used that opportunity to single him out in all of the melee and put a stop to the beat of his traitorous heart. But it was his ingenuity that had constructed this place and his foresight to ensure that the digital makeup of the structure was of such a strain that it would place a severe limit on the enhanced physical attributes that she enjoyed the full protection of while surfing any ordinary hack through the matrix. For now it was all that she could do just to hold her own against the disorganized rabble that she was stumbling over as she tried fighting her way out of there. It was probably best that she save a confrontation with their master for a much later date.
Apollo dropped out of the night sky and came crashing through wood and metal until he found himself rolling across the floor of a brightly lit room that was gradually dimming back to normal. His forward roll across the floor eventually carried his body over and brought him upright onto his feet again. Unfortunately for him, on the way up into a fully erect standing position the front of his throat was caught in the frighteningly tight clasp of an outstretched hand. No sooner than he felt the bottoms of his feet come rising up off of the floor Apollo reached up and wrapped a two handed grasp around the wrist connected to the hand holding him hostage. Surprisingly, he found jerking himself free of the grip to be an impossible task.
Ezekiel swung his face away from the intruder that he held by the throat and quickly zeroed in on some of the stewards of his work here that were slowly recollecting themselves. “Find her! Now!”
Apollo barely had a chance to take stock of the familiarity in the voice speaking before him before having to suffer the stomach churning effect of being tossed across the room into the nearest immovable object that would have him.
Dustin was in; and having already found himself stripped of his preconceived physical advantage after a short tussle with the two unconscious sentries that he left at his back he had decided to fall back on the crutch of the multitude of firearms weighing down the inner lining of his wardrobe as he cut a path through the lower levels of the building searching from one room to the next for Trix.
Raven’s feet stopped moving and her eyes darted up towards the ceiling of the stretch of damp piping that she was walking through the instant that she detected the faint sound of firework style popping in the world above her. It didn’t take her long in order to put the pieces of the puzzle together, but what unnerved her the most was not knowing just how long it would take in order for her to finish traversing the maze of sewer tunneling beneath the city streets towards a viable point of entry that would give her access to the turmoil taking hold of Trix’s prison. All she could do now was run. Run, climb, scale ladders, and stomp out a trail of splashing water and flying muck as she sprinted around every corner in front of her.
The doorway shattered into shards and splinters as the body that Trix had sent careening through the barrier opened up a brand new path of escape for her. His body hit the floor of the foyer and went sliding across the linoleum into the waiting toes of the footwear belonging to the cadre that had come rushing into the area from the opposite direction. Trix was still on the run forward but all it had taken was the sight of the rising barrels of the small arm weaponry that they brandished to veer her off towards the wall to her right. By the time the bullets came whizzing at her she had already sprang off of her feet into a dive towards a small square panel of metal embedded in the wall.
Her body came smashing up against the obstruction at about the same time that a flurry of bullets came ripping through the wall all around it. “I want her alive!” was the last thing that she heard coming from the foyer after breaking through the thin panel in the wall and falling down through the shaft that it had been put there to shield. It was Ezekiel’s voice that had stormed into the room and made that very blaring decree to spare her life, and as Trix dropped down through the gullet of the old laundry shoot she secretly hoped that she maintained the fortitude to carry out his wishes.
After smashing down back first against the bottom of the dusty well Trix threw her leg out and kicked free the panel on the wall next to her. She crawled out of the hole in the wall and was greeted to the dark dankness of the building’s basement area. She had only been on her feet a few seconds before the sound of stomping feet moving through the stairwells above her captured her attention. A quick survey of the landscape and she had a stairway in her sights. Oddly enough, this one led down even deeper into the building’s structure. Something that seemed hardly possible. Still, it was moving in the opposite direction of the militia that was coming in hot pursuit of her and that was good enough for the moment.
Dustin kicked open another door and inspected the inside of the room gun barrel first. Nothing. He had already made his way up three flights only to find his ammo waning and Trix nowhere to be found. Even with all of the ruckus that he was kicking up he still had yet to garner himself a great deal of the focus from the personnel running mad all around him; something that was slowly changing with each bullet that he fired. With no backup on the way and an ever mounting show of resistance building before him, he was afraid that soon he would be forced to cut short his campaign and beat a retreat towards the nearest exit before he found himself without any such options to fall back on.
The next doorway that Trix stepped out of had delivered her into a stretch of tunneling running beneath the building and the surrounding streets. She’d only been in the darkened tunnel for more than a few seconds but she could already feel the dulling effects of Ezekiel’s stronghold beginning to wear off. Chances were it would only continue with every inch of space that she placed between her and this place of residence. And to do that she would have to stay ahead of the captors still giving chase.
Raven winded her way through the tunnels until one turn that she made sent her shoulder colliding into the swift moving object that was headed in the opposite direction. She had already hit the damp ground and was making an attempt to scramble back up to her feet before she even realized that it was another body she had hit. It was a couple of seconds after that that she was awakened to the fact that she could probably relax the defensive posture that she was molding herself into. “Trix! What the hell?!”
“Gimme a weapon!” Trix yelled as she got herself together after the tumble. “Gun! Anything!”
“I think I can do you one better than that,” Raven said, reaching a hand into her coat pocket. When she came back out with it she tossed the object over to her.
Trix used the glowing incandescence behind the view screen and the lit up number pad keep track of the object moving through the air in her direction. By the time she had snatched it down and placed it to the side of her head it was already ringing. “Operator,” she heard spill out into her ear.
“Damn it, Syntax, would you get me the hell out of here?”
“Your exit is already up and running. Just do me a favor and don’t drop that damn phone. It’d be nice to have a voice to put back into this body I’ve been staring at for the past umpteen hours.”
Dustin emptied the last round from the pistol that he held and tossed it to the ground. The next roving roadblock that he came into contact with had to settle for him launching himself off of the wall next to him and adding a bit of extra force behind the roundhouse kick that he threw against the side of his head. By the time the body hit the floor Dustin already had another voice swirling around in his head. “Get out of there! We got her! Do you hear me?!” As if he needed any further encouragement to male a run for it, the hallway in front of him was beginning to fill to capacity with several gentlemen all eager to make his acquaintance. At the end of the corridor behind his back there was a metal plated window leading out to a fire escape. Even without his enhanced strength perhaps there was still room enough for him to take a running start and throw a shoulder blow into it that was just hard enough to shake the plate loose from the frame.
Once Dustin made it back down to the sidewalk he backed away from the building with his eyes trained upward toward the floors above him. He was waiting for any sign that the angry mob inside would be willing to follow him down. Instead the only sign that he received in the way of any impending company were the two bodies that came exploding through one of the windows near the upper portion of the building. He continued to back away from the building watching the two tumbling forms fall from the sky until they eventually slammed down into the pavement a few feet in front of him one on top of the other. Apollo slowly rolled off of the unconscious man embedded in the street beneath him. Lying on his back, he removed the dark glasses from his face and craned his neck back to look up at Dustin. “We got her?” he said to him.
Dustin turned his back to him and started moving away.
Syntax couldn’t get the sequence of keys pressed in fast enough. Once he was ready he rushed over to the loading chair and snatched the plug out of the back of her head.
The first word out of her mouth when Trix opened her eyes and sat up in the seat aboard the Nexus was, “Zion.”
“Forget about him,” Despauna said. “We’ll deal with Ezekiel later. If what Trix says is true then we’ve got to get a line back to Zion and give them the heads up that they’ve been compromised.”
“I’m afraid putting Ezekiel on hold might not be an option for us either,” Trix spoke out. Although she’d been reawakened from the sleeping state that she had previously been trapped in, Trix had yet to climb out of the loading chair. She did, however, manage to maneuver herself into an upright sitting position. “From what I remember, he didn’t seem that far off from initiating the final stages of his endgame.”
“Which means we’ve got the power plant going down to contend with as well as Zion coming under attack,” Apollo said. “Sounds like maybe you should have taken him up on his offer when you had the chance.”
“First thing’s first,” Syntax chimed in from where he sat behind his workstation. “We’re not getting anything done unless we get this ship out of the ditch.”
“Any idea on how we’ll be getting around to pulling that off?” Apollo asked.
“Well, right now we’ve got the rest of our people along with the Corposant crew out placing charges along some of the more volatile stress fractures that we were able to find in the flooring of this tunnel.”
“Why the flooring?” Dustin asked. “If you’ve got explosives to blow why not just put them to work on that wall of rubble behind us?”
“Because there’s a very decent chance that if we blew that loose the only thing we’d succeed in doing is watching that pile of crap come tumbling right down on top of us along with whatever loose slabs of metal that are being supported by that wreck. No, we figured that our best bet would be to blast loose some of the weakest joints in the flooring around the ship and hope that that along with the weight of the hovercraft could…”
“Do what?!” Apollo said, turning a shocked and confused look over in the direction of the operator. “Literally sweep out the ground beneath our feet?”
“Hey. We could just ditch the bird and hitch a ride back on the Corposant,” Syntax said to him. “But given the shit storm that we’ve got coming up over the horizon I’d wager that we’re probably gonna wind up needing every piece of arsenal that we can get our hands on. Besides. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Lex worked at the controls that surrounded her in the cockpit of the Nexus. With all of the newly applied repairs that had been made to the damaged instruments, it didn’t take her long in order to bring the heart of the operations around her to glowing life. “Alright,” Syntax heard coming over the radio system attached to his workstation in the core of the ship. “Ready when you are.” He turned around in his chair and awaited a nod from Despauna before turning back to the controls in front of him.
The charges went off like a row of falling dominoes. The explosions started in a section of flooring near the rear of the ship and moved in two opposite paths that encircled the hulking vehicle until reconnecting in the front. The tunnel that had already been transformed into an amphitheater filled with the ricocheting boom of an explosive chorus suddenly began to echo with an entirely new level of commotion. The trembling started soon after that and was accompanied by the creaking cry of bending and snapping metal. When the support beneath the Nexus gave way the landing gear that was bracing it against the surface moved through the crumbling floor. The deadweight of the rest of the massive vehicle was quickly on its way down into the hole that opened up beneath it moments later.
Every member of the Nexus crew grabbed hold of the nearest bolted down structure when they felt their stomachs flip with the sudden drop of the ship. Lex gritted her teeth and slammed her fist up against the ceiling just above her right shoulder. The crumbling debris that surround the falling ship as it dropped down into the darkened world beneath it was instantly riddled with the bolts of electrifying energy that came pouring out of the pads that covered the outer hull of the ship. The Nexus slowly ended its freefall while the rain of debris that surrounded it continued to drop out of the cloud of blazing blue lightning and fall to the tunnel floor.
“Now that wasn’t so bad,” Syntax said as he tried situating himself back upright in his operating chair.
The Nexus went full on ahead through the tunneling in front of it, whirling and winding its way through the corridor until it eventually found its way into a juncture that guided it along the same path that the Corposant was traveling along.
Commander Abner stood on the ground level of the landing docks watching the towering gateway in front of him being slowly parted. When the two halves were split wide enough apart he could see down into the tunnel that the large partitions concealed. His main concern was on the pair of hovercrafts that he could make out floating above the tunnel floor in a single file formation. Unlike the two heavily armored walking tanks standing on either side of him attempting to compensate for the failed surveillance meant to detect the immediate presence of any oncoming sentinel traffic. The commander just stood there and watched the two ships slowly pass over his head on their way towards one of the open landing platforms. “About damn time,” he muttered to himself. “I want a face to face with every damn one of them the second that they set foot off of that ship. You understand me?” The two soldiers that he was addressing said nothing in response to his command. They just continued to maintain their watch over the tunnel in front of them until the large gates were sealed shut again. By then Commander Abner had already started his march away from them.
“What exactly are you trying to say to me, Captain?” Commander Abner said as he moved around the side of his desk and took a seat in the chair behind it. Once there, he was able to look out across his office at the small crowd of people that packed the interior of the small room. Although there were two empty chairs on the other side of the commander’s desk every member of the Nexus crew present in his office chose to remain standing. “That the reason why you’ve been completely off the grid for the past several days only to come dragging back in here with what’s left of one of my hovercrafts is all courtesy of the belligerence of some damn machine splinter cell and one rogue soldier that just so happened to be the only living thing to crawl out of that Harbinger wreckage? And that this same wayward son of a bitch has also armed these militants with the access codes to Zion’s mainframe? Which could only explain why you can’t so much as plug in a coffee maker around here without blacking out half the city. Is that what you’re telling me, Captain?”
“It’s the truth, sir,” Despauna answered him.
“So you say,” Commander Abner replied. “In any event, I don’t want you to so much as set foot on that ship until I’ve had enough time to pull the logs and confirm even one word of that story that you just walked in here with.”
“And what would you have us do in the meantime?” Despauna came back with. “All due appreciation to your need for protocol, but this city doesn’t exactly have a lot of time. With our perimeter defenses down and no networking system of operations up and running then we’re no better off than a pack of primitives huddled together in a hole in the ground with nothing but a few slings and arrows to hurl at the gods that come for us. Who, for all we know, are on their way right this second.”
“What I suggest, Captain, is for you to stow your gear, report to maintenance, and hope to God that you’re wrong about whatever it is that you think you know. The Council’s already been barely able to keep this place from approaching riot levels as it is. And I sure as hell am not anxious to find out what’s going to happen to this city when I have to go and report to them that you’re right. Dismissed, Captain.”
She continued to move through the darkness of her apartment eventually finding the dim hue of light pouring in through her cracked open front door to guide her. Stepping outside, she had finally located Dustin. He was standing across from the doorway leaning down against the railing looking out at the dark, gaping chasm beneath them. Trix lifted her eyes up and let them slowly trail downward with each step that she took towards his side. What, on any similar evening around this time, would have been a brightly lit canvas of roaming life underneath a blanket of electricity had been reduced to little more than a few patches of active areas of mechanized light set against a void of darkness peppered with a spectacle of roving lantern and candle light. When Trix reached the edge of the landing and looked down over the rail she didn’t see much difference in the world below. “Jeez. It’s getting really bad, isn’t it?” she said to Dustin while still looking down into the dark pit beneath them.
“Looks worse than it is,” Dustin replied. “I heard the Council ordered a mandatory shutdown of all nonessential areas in order to conserve energy. What isn’t being rerouted directly to life support is on reserve for the military.”
“I don’t suppose that strategy’s going to go over much longer with the restless natives,” Trix said.
Dustin listened to the dull roar of muttering voices rising up from the darkened hollow below. The increasing agitation that he could hear sifting up from the shadows was enough to lend more than a little credence to the words that Trix spoke. “I suppose you’re right,” he said. Still, it’s going to have to do for now. Or at least until Commander Abner and the rest of the Council come up with something better.”
“And how long do you think that will be?”
“Seriously?” Dustin said, turning a slightly confused look over in her direction.
“Well, between my recent liberation, the threat of impending doom, and everything going on around here, I’m suddenly overwhelmed with a very deep desire to not waste anymore of the ambiance burning away at our backs.”
Dustin gave way with a quiet chuckling as he turned back to the view out in front of him. “I can certainly see how that would do it,” he replied.
“Says you,” Trix spoke as she pushed herself away from the rail and turned back towards the door of her apartment.
She’d only made it a few steps before Dustin craned his chin over towards his shoulder again, looked down at the grated floor behind her footsteps, and sent his voice trailing after her. “Hey,” he said. “Do you ever have second thoughts?”
Trix stopped moving and looked back over her shoulder. “About what?”
“You know. Taking Ezekiel up on his offer. All things considered…that option’s gotta be looking pretty choice right about now.”
She flashed a quick grin and then started her walk up again. “Don’t keep me waiting,” she said just before stepping through the doorway.
Dustin’s own lips stretched out across the lower portion of his face and he turned to take another look out at the roving candles and bobbing flashlight beams. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” he uttered quietly to himself.
“Ow!” Syntax yelled out, quickly snatching his aching fingers away from the burning sparks that leapt out from the two live wires that he handled. After sucking away the throbbing pain in his digits he grabbed up the loose filaments hanging out of each thin strip of rubber tubing and started twisting them together again. This time when the charged particles crackled and sparked they initiated a chain reaction of electrical activity that spread throughout the mechanisms attached to the hitched up wiring; the end result being a blossoming shower of power and light that rained down to fill Raven’s apartment complex. “Wah lah!” Syntax exclaimed as he rose to his feet and stepped away from the small generator that he had rigged up. The entire time he had his eyes to the ceiling admiring his own handiwork. “Here’s to a hot meal and not freezing to death. At least for one more night.”
“And once again fraternizing with the more tech savvy of our small clan has its benefits,” Raven said as she twisted a knob over a drain and watched a steaming flow of hot water come spewing from a spigot. A loud knocking at the front door stole both of their attention away from Syntax’s recent accomplishment with the power in her apartment. “Now who do you suppose that is?” she said as she went for the door.
“Hopefully not anybody looking to commission my services,” Syntax said.
Raven opened the door to the picture of Apollo standing out on the darkened platform. “This is a surprise,” she said to him.
“C’mon on,” she said, stepping to the side to allow him entrance into her home. “Now that we’ve got some juice running through here I’ll go put on some coffee.”
He found Syntax inside of the living room area still fiddling with some of the components on the generator that he had rigged up. “Don’t you ever take the day off?” Apollo said to his back.
Syntax took a look back over his shoulder at him and then went back to work on the contraption. “You’re one to talk. I would have assumed that with our forced leave of absence you would have found something better to do than skulking around down here.”
“Actually, that’s why I’m here. I was wondering if you might have any idea when that proposed leave might be getting cut short.”
“If you’re referring to that little sit down that I had the pleasure of auditing with Despauna and every other ranking member of this man’s army…,” Syntax spoke as he moved away from the generator and over towards one of the seats in the room. “…then I’m afraid you’re out of luck. I managed to make my way over towards one of the exits before they got around to any specifics about times and dates.”
“Then there’s no telling how long they plan on keeping us here in the dark,” Apollo said, turning and pacing a few steps. “In every sense of the phrase.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,” Syntax said to him. “I didn’t need to stick around in order to pick up on the fact whatever course of action that they settle on is going to have to come off in a big damn hurry if it’s going to stand any chance at all.” Apollo turned a look back his way. “Whatever those bastards up there got in here and did…,” Syntax said titling his head up and motioning towards the ceiling, “…it won’t be too long before it eats its way through every electrical system in this place. Hell, in a week or two we’ll be lucky if we still have the capacity to make fire.”
“But the generators,” Apollo said. “The emergency power cells; the generators. Won’t they…”
“They’ve got hovercrafts, APU’s, munitions, last dance EMP’s to keep charged,” Syntax explained. “And with no way to regenerate a power source big enough to sustain all of that, all the machines would have to do is wait us out until Zion runs dry. That is, if they didn’t just decide to spring a wave of attacks on us and hurry up the rundown of our batteries.”
“Which is why they’ve gotta be looking to get out in front of this thing,” Apollo uttered allowed.
“Something like that,” Syntax replied. “So if I were you I wouldn’t worry about waiting too long before that loudly intrusive knocking comes pounding against your door. And speaking of which…,” Syntax said, lifting a hand and motioning towards the door.
“Right,” Apollo breathed out and moved in that direction. After stepping out of the apartment and back out into the world of darkness that awaited, his first thoughts centered around returning to his own home and awaiting that call to arms that Syntax warned him was readily on its way. But it was the waiting alone in the silence and darkness that didn’t really appeal to him right off. And even though there was a very likely possibility that he could have used his abilities of persuasiveness to scrounge up some company somewhere along the length of his trek back to his front door he decided instead to head for one of the fleet bars near the hangar. Rumor had it that a few of the more mechanically inclined members of the citizenry, a bit bored with the enduring power outage, had managed to pool enough components together to rig up a generator with enough juice to keep the place up and running for a few hours. Apollo figured it might be worth checking up on before heading home.