<H1>Know Me Well</H1>

A ReBoot: Project Metaverse fic

by D^Knight

All things ReBoot are property of Mainframe Entertainment. All other things are property of their respective owners.

Comments, criticism welcome. MiSTers too.

Timeline: This takes place in late March, 2500.

Rating: Normal.

"Nothing is so good it lasts eternally
Perfect situations must go wrong
But this has never yet prevented me
Wanting far too much for far too long
Looking back I could have played it differently
Won a few more moments, who can tell?
But it took time to understand the man
Now at least I know I know him well."

Crysta worked at the computer console.

As her hands flew over the keys, she thought about recent events. The disappearance of Sarah had caused a marked change in Alpha group. The change in Sarah's listed status to "Missing: Presumed Dead" hadn't helped matters.

When they signed up for the Academy, they knew that the risks were high, and that dying young was very probable.

They just assumed it wouldn't happen to them.

The computer screen flashed several warnings, and Crysta obediently stayed away from the restricted areas.

Earlier, Crysta had glanced through Sarah's belongings, and had been surprised to find an old bookdisc. It had apparently been Sarah's favourite, judging from the way it was bookmarked here and there. The bookdisc's storyline had been about a student who fell in love with her teacher.

Crysta hadn't bothered to interrogate Prime Jennings. He was probably as stressed as the others were.

There wasn't much else they could find when they searched her belongings for clues. Four sets of uniforms. Two dresses. Three sets of jeans and shirts. Two skirts, with matching blouses. Three pairs of shoes. Miscellaneous items of clothing. The aforementioned bookdisc.

And that was it.

So much for clues.

The message cube that Sarah had left behind had been extensively scanned and researched. Nothing of import could be found; Sarah had covered her tracks well.

Crysta wondered if the undelete program could be considered as a clue. Evidently, Sarah had wanted them to find out for themselves what she had discovered.

I had to do a bit of hacking...

Damn it all. Nick was the best hacker amongst them, but he got sidetracked too easily. Peter was still fuming over the fact that they had to invade Sarah's privacy to look for clues, so he would probably go ballistic at the thought of hacking. Kavi, Nar and Ril had reacted in much the same way. Kathy had no knowledge of hacking. Susan was a possibility, but Crysta had doubts as to whether she was competent enough a hacker.

That left only one person.

The computer screen flashed a warning. Crysta closed her eyes, and hoped to the powers that be that she wouldn't be found out.

She started typing.

Crysta was correct in thinking that Nick would get sidetracked easily. At the moment, Nick was supposed to be doing his homework. Now, however, he was sidetracked into doing his favourite pastime.

He typed nonchalantly, evading the anti-hacker defences almost as an afterthought. Finally, he got to something interesting.

"Turing tests... on unit RL-590? Hm..."

Turing tests were devised by a certain Alan M. Turing, during the mid-20th century. The test was simple; a person was put in a room, and given a transmitter and a receiver. In another room, another person was waiting, connected to the first by the transmitter and receiver. In yet another room, a machine was set up, also connected to the first person. The first person asked several questions; he had to decide, from the responses, which was the machine and which was the person. If he could not decide, then the machine was considered "intelligent".

Nick was especially interested in this reference to a Turing test; mainly because one had not been held for a long time.

The screen filled with words.

"A series of Turing tests were conducted, with the only F'Val on the team and the RL-590 as the subjects. An outsider, a female sprite, was to judge which was which. In the tests, the sprite not only failed to identify the RL-590 as the machine, but repeatedly chose the RL-590 as the real F'Val. These tests confirmed that the RL could indeed pass off as a believable person."

RL-590? Now this was interesting.

Nick ran a search for anything to do with an RL-590.


Even more interesting.

He contemplated the use of the undelete program, but decided against it. For one thing, it would take up too much time to cover his tracks.

Besides, the undelete program was in the possession of the Prime. And Nick wasn't up to facing charges of hacking again.

Susan had the extremely uncanny feeling that being in the middle of a pitched battle would be infinitely preferable to this.

"You WHAT?!" Ril's voice had an unaccustomed tone; a tone that promised unpleasant things happening to the victim.

In this case, Nar.

"Ril," Susan said placatingly. Normally, such stressful situations would have given most people migraines. Unfortunately, Susan's head felt as clear as a bell.

Nar made several vague gestures in an attempt to calm Ril down. "Ril..."

Ril, however, was not listening to reason. She did lower her voice. Enough to be able to grate every word out. "You. Tried. To. Keep. A. Secret. From. Me."

"It was for your own-"

"For my own good?! FOR MY OWN GOOD?!" Ril's volume went up significantly.

Susan glanced at the computer screen, which displayed the incriminating evidence.

It was an Email. It had the brevity of an old 19th or 20th century telegram; with a more ominous tone.

"Proteus after Ril. Keep her safe, and don't tell her the truth. Will meet you at Rendezvous 11 at Time C. Yan il'Tana."

The clan name was a bit of a surprise. The message itself was nearly unbelievable, though.

"Who the hell is this Yan guy?" Ril demanded. "And what's this truth I don't need to know?"

Nar shrugged helplessly. "I'm sorry, but..."

"Nar." Ril's voice was now low and menacing. She glared at Nar, who flinched under the intense stare. "I don't deserve this," she continued. "Not from anyone. Especially not from you."

She stalked off. Susan glanced at Nar, but he merely slumped in his chair and groaned.

Not much help there.

Susan ran after Ril. Perhaps an explanation would be forthcoming, once both of them calmed down.

Assuming that ever happens.

Susan found Ril in one of the various parks in the Supercomputer.

Ril was seated on a bench, staring morosely at the pond in front of her. Every now and then, she tossed a pebble in.

Susan sat down beside her. "Still angry?"

Ril sighed. "Confused. I don't know why Nar would want to keep secrets from me."

"Everyone has secrets."

"But it's so hard, when the person you love most isn't telling you something. It's... I would say annoying, but it goes deeper than that."

Susan chose not to comment on that. "So you've trusted Nar from day one?"

"Obviously." Ril flicked her wrist, and watched the pebble skip across the water.

"You never suspected something like this would happen?"

"I did, once or twice. But I always shrugged it off as paranoia." Ril sighed again. "And I thought I knew him so well."

They sat in silence for a while. Finally Susan cleared her throat. "Now what?"

Ril shrugged. "I just need to cool off for a while. I don't think I can face Nar for some time now. Not after what I said to him."

"Oh," Susan suddenly said, "I have something for you." She produced a document. "I did a bit of snooping; being with Nick for a long time tends to make you do that. This is what I found on the Yan il'Tana mentioned in the Email."

Ril took the document. "Dr. Yan il'Tana," she read aloud. "F'Val clan Tana. Occupation: Scientist, specializing in the study of Artificial Intelligence programming. Involved in classified scientific projects, including HF-372 and RL-590. Date of birth: 14th January 2457. Place of Birth: Colony world Val."

"Read on," Susan said. "I got a huge shock when I reached the third page."

Ril obediently turned to the third page. "Married: Rin al'Wathi. Children..." Ril's eyes widened, "Ril al'Tana, born 2480? You mean... that Dr. Yan is..."

"Your father? Very probably. Unless there's some part of F'Val sociology that I missed out."

Ril shook her head. "No, it should be true, but... I never actually knew my parents. The first thing I remember was living with Nar. He always said that my parents were out on business trips, but..."

"But Nar hasn't been very reliable lately," Susan cut in. "I have to be blunt. I'm sorry."

"It's okay, just... Who IS my father?"

"There's one way to find out."

Ril grimaced. "I guess I'll talk to Nar earlier than I intended."

"The sooner we get this over with, the sooner you two can patch up. Right?"

They had to convince Nar that Ril really wanted to meet her father. Ril's hint that she would hate him forever if he didn't tell them was more or less what swayed him.

"Rendezvous 11" turned out to be Dock 2 of the Supercomputer Port. "Time C" was simply 2100h.

"One thing," Nar had warned them. "He's expecting me, not you. So he probably won't be too happy to see you."

Susan wanted to know why, but Nar refused to say more.

So here they were, five minutes before the scheduled arrival time, hiding behind a stack of crates. Susan welcomed simplicity whenever it was effective, but this was a bit too simple.

She glanced over at Ril. Apart from the occasional shuddering breath, Ril looked relatively calm. At least, calm for a person meeting her father for the first time.

A sudden image of Dr. Cochrane appeared in Susan's mind. She forcefully pushed it aside.

A movement in the open caught her attention. Dr. Yan had apparently arrived.

Susan took in his features. Medium height, with a slight slouch. Gray eyes. Red fur. A faint resemblance to Ril. Looking unaccustomed to cloak-and-dagger activities, but with a certain wariness that suggests that he had been on the run.

Susan looked at her friend. Ril's eyes slowly met hers. There was a question in them.

Susan nodded.

Ril stood up. She walked into the open, and waited for her father to notice her.

He never did.

The energy beam lanced out through the night, and hit Dr. Yan il'Tana squarely in the back. He was thrown forward, and lay in a heap, ominously still.

Ril gasped, and ran towards the body. Suddenly, she clutched her head in agony, and fell to her knees.

Susan herself had other things to worry about. An unpleasant pressure to her head signified a gun barrel being wielded by a person who was obviously not afraid to use it.

The entire operation had been carried out in silence. Susan was taken aback by the efficiency of whoever had planned this murder.

She added abduction to the list of crimes when she found herself suddenly bound and gagged. Ril, still whimpering, was also tied up. The last thought Susan had was that they were probably going to knock both of them out with something blunt.

They did.

Crysta stared at the words on the screen.

Rather, the name on the screen.

Ril al'Tana.

Crysta hesitantly clicked on it, and the screen was immediately filled with various facts and figures regarding Ril.

Crysta couldn't get it. Why this obsession with Ril? Why had Sarah accumulated so much information about her friend?

Crysta scanned through the various pieces of information. Elementary school grades, high school grades, report cards, various transfer forms from system to system...

And a large highlight next to a particular link.

Crysta expected something classified. She expected something top secret. She expected something that only a hacker of Nick's caliber could get at.

What she didn't expect was the simple page of basic data, accessible to every citizen on the Net.

The screen showed Ril's basic facts, from name and age to place of birth and current residence. Crysta had no idea why Sarah had been so fascinated with it.

Crysta sighed. It had been a long day. She should probably get some rest, and try to figure out this enigma the next day.

As she stretched her arms, sore from typing nonstop, her eyes fell on a line on the page.

"What the-?!"

The first thing Susan felt was the pressure on her wrists and ankles.

Methods of restraint varied through the ages. Some have tried iron bars, which were effective but unwieldy. Others tried laser handcuffs, which shorted out at inopportune moments. File-locks wore off after a while, stasis fields lacked the required psychological effect, and steel handcuffs were picked easily by anyone with a good knowledge of locks and a hairpin.

When all is said and done, one of the more effective restraints is simply a good stout rope.

Susan opened her eyes. She was very obviously tied up to a chair. Her keytool was missing, and the only means of escape appeared to be a single door.

Not that Susan had any means of getting to it.

Her eyes wandered about the room. It was a simple cube, around five metres on each side. It was painted totally white, and was totally devoid of furnishings, except for the chair Susan was sitting on.

There didn't appear to be any surveillance devices around. Then again, appearances were mostly deceiving.

The door opened, and three sprites stepped in. Two were obviously flunkies; they had an excess of muscle, with expressions that suggested lack of brains. The one in the middle was rather more imposing; he had clear blue eyes that were disconcerting to look at directly. He had grayish skin, and bore an uncanny resemblance to the ancient Prime Guardian Turbo. What was unique, however, was the coldness and cruelty that was visible in his eyes.

"I see you've woken up," the sprite said. "Your friend recovered faster than you, but we... put her to sleep again."

Susan glared at him. "Who are you," she spat.

"Isaac Crawford. And you need not introduce yourself; I know you well. In fact, you've been a thorn in my side," he leaned in close, "for a very long time."

"Where's Ril?"

"None of your concern. Don't worry, she's still... functional."

Something about the way Isaac said it made Susan uneasy. "What have you done to her?"

"Again, none of your concern." A slow evil smile began spreading over his face. "Then again, maybe it is." He turned to one of his flunkies. "Show Miss Gwyndel here her friend's current status."

The flunky nodded, and took out a remote. He pointed it towards the left wall.

An image formed on what had been the wall; Susan realized that it was actually a well-disguised screen.

And on the screen was Ril.

She was in a large spacious computer room of sorts; the type found in various 20th century sci-fi movies. Monitors and displays covered the walls, as well as the ceiling. The room was illuminated by a single large lamp, which nonetheless provided more than enough light for the room.

Ril was unmoving, unconscious or worse. She was lying on an operating table, and there were several wires running towards it. The wires connected to the displays, which showed data scrolling at a furious pace.

"What have you done to her?" Susan repeated the question. The display hadn't told her much.

"How well do you know your friend?" Isaac asked suddenly. "Do you know her well?"

The question took Susan by surprise. "None of you concern," she threw his own words back at him.

"Actually, you're right. It is none of my concern." Isaac glanced at the screen. "I suppose you get to know people only based on how they seem. But you will learn."

"Learn what?"

"All is not always what it seems. In fact... ALWAYS all is not what it seems."

"Your psychobabble is getting you nowhere. What do you want from us?"

"You? Nothing. I might as well kill you now; it makes no difference to me." Isaac faced the screen, looking at Ril. "It's her I want."

Susan shivered. Something about the way Isaac had said it...

There was something odd about this Isaac as well. Something undefinable... something...


Susan finally pinned down where she had felt that feeling before.


And Kora had been...

"Why would you want Ril?" Susan demanded. "Especially since you're," Susan paused, "a virus."

Isaac looked over his shoulder at her. "It took you this long to figure that out?" Without waiting for a reply, he continued speaking. "I suggest you look carefully, Miss Gwyndel. Or maybe I can help you."

He motioned for the two flunkies to vacate the room. He appropriated the remote from the one holding it, and he pressed a few buttons on it.

The view enlarged, to show the wires which snaked from the walls to the operating table that Ril was lying on. Susan followed the wires until...

The colour drained from her face. "Oh my god," she breathed.

Isaac... Proteus, as Susan was sure now, looked amusedly at her. "Finally you understand. I must admit, Dr. il'Tana did a good job of programming the RL personality. Too bad he's dead now; he'd be an invaluable addition to my team of researchers."

Susan was numb with shock. The wires led into the base of Ril's skull. They didn't end with electrodes; they ended with plugs that jacked into ports.

In other words, Ril wasn't organic.

When Susan finally spoke, it was in a whisper.

"Ril's... a cyborg?"

It was a simple line on the page.

But it attracted a lot of attention from Crysta.

Normally, every person living had a personal profile that updated itself every day. This took into account all the address changes, age, and marital status of the person.

Ril's profile hadn't been updated since the first of December, 2496. And it still listed her current residence as System Ammon, instead of the Guardian Academy.

This would be considered big news.

Crysta had a very bad feeling in the pit of her stomach as she ran a certain program, secretly copied from the original.

After she cleared away the dross left by the undelete, her fears materialized.

The last update was in 2493. And it listed a major difference in Ril's status.

Namely, the line across the page which said "Deceased".

Crysta reached for the comm outlet. She dialed in a number.

"May I help you?"

"Get me the Prime. Now. Alpha group emergency."

Then again, Crysta thought morosely, the Prime probably already knew.

Elsewhere in the Academy, Nar was walking down the corridors when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

He whirled around. "YOU?!"

"It's been a while, boy."

"But... how..."

"No time to explain. You have to get your friends together, and go to these coordinates. Oh, and bring firepower. A lot of it."

"A cyborg?" Proteus smiled. "No, nothing as crude as that. An android... yes, that would be correct. Specifically, the RL-590 unit is a robot, built for stealth. It has no organic parts whatsoever; everything is purely mechanical. It doesn't show up on scanners, and its artificial intelligence would enable it to talk its way out of any compromising situation. Interesting that the late Dr. il'Tana would use the personality of his deceased daughter as a template."

Susan couldn't speak. She could only watch in horror as the wires finally detached from the ports at the base of Ril's skull. Apparently, whatever memory rewriting they had been doing had been completed.

"Ril al'Tana. Also known as the RL-590. The fruit of the Sentient Advanced Instrumentation Construct project. I believe you've met Dr. Cochrane, the head researcher; I haven't been on good terms with him, but do give him my regards when you next see him." Proteus grinned. "That is, in the afterlife."

On the screen, the thing that had been Ril sat up, and opened its eyes. They glowed red.

Proteus turned to walk out of the room. "Oh, and don't try to escape. There are armed guards at every corner." He thought for a while. "It won't make a difference, but I'm not an unkind person; I'd hate for you to suffer needlessly." He exited, the door closing behind him.

The screen went back to its original white colour. Susan, who had been surreptitiously struggling out of the bonds, finally freed herself. She immediately started looking for avenues of escape. None were obvious.

The door wouldn't budge; the walls and floor were solid. The only thing in the room that could be used as a weapon was the chair, but Susan doubted that one plastic chair would have much effect against God knows how many feet of plascrete.

The sound of footsteps in the corridor outside became apparent. Susan held her breath, already knowing who it was. They wanted Susan dead, that was for sure; it was how Susan would die that interested them.

The door slid open, and Ril stepped in. Her eyes were still that disconcerting red; in addition, she had absolutely no expression on her face. Susan wasn't sure which scared her more.

Ril looked at Susan for a moment, then brought up her arm.

In her hand was a gun, pointed between Susan's eyes.

Susan took a shuddering breath. "Ril," she said as calmly as possible.

There was no reaction.

"Ril," Susan tried again. "Ril, I know you're in there, somewhere. Please, don't do this. It's not you doing this; it's just not you."


"Please. Stop this. Snap out of it. I know what you are now, but... but you're still my friend. Robot or no, nothing can change that."

The glowing eyes still looked expressionlessly at Susan.

"Don't do this. Think, if you still can, of what you'll be throwing away. I know they may have taken away your free will, but please, find a way to fight it."


"Think about your friends. Remember the vow we took, when we joined the Academy?" Susan forced herself to remain calm, but her voice still sounded as though it was on the verge of breaking. "Remember that vow. 'I, as a Guardian, will uphold the law, protect the innocent, and do that which is good and right. I shall never surrender to evil, nor will I serve evil in any way. I pledge to lay down my life in service of the law.' Are you going to throw all of that away? Are you going to betray your friends, for this... virus?"

Still the glowing red eyes remained fixed on Susan.

"I know they made you do this. But if you carry out their orders, you'll be throwing away all that you have. Nick. Kathy. Kavi. Peter. Crysta. Sarah." Susan forced herself to look into those eyes. "Nar."

The thing that had been Ril blinked.

It wasn't much; just a simple closing and opening of the eyelids.

But it was something.

Susan pressed her advantage, slim as it was. "Nar had been keeping something from you; and now we know the reason. Don't you see? He wanted to keep you from becoming what you are now. A slave of Proteus, used for his evil means. Nar thought that by keeping you from the truth, you would escape Proteus's clutches. He was wrong, but at least he tried."


"He loved you. He still does. No matter what you are, or what you become, Nar will love you. We all do. Remember that. Always."

The door slid open, and Proteus walked in. "Beautiful speech," he complimented Susan. "Too bad it will go to waste. Kill her now."

The red glow in Ril's eyes flared, and her hand tightened on the gun.

Susan shut her eyes. So close, yet so far...

Ril fired.

Susan snapped open her eyes. Her first thought was that she was still alive; her second was that Proteus must really be a strong virus to survive a shot like that.

Ril fired a few more shots, creating a sizable hole in the wall. "Get out now!" she shouted. "I'll try to hold them off."

"But... why..."

"No time!" Already the sound of running feet grew louder. "I saw a self-destruct mechanism back there somewhere. If I can trigger it, these people won't cause us any more problems. However, I'd appreciate it if you're out of the way when I blow up the building. Far, far away."

She gave Susan a shove, throwing her through the hole in the wall. Susan, her protest dying in her throat, watched as Ril created a minor collapse to block the entrance.

Susan waited for her eyes to grow accustomed to the sudden gloom. She could hear sounds of a firefight back in the room. The sounds grew fainter, which suggested that either the firefight was dying down or that it was moving further away. Susan didn't know which it was.

Susan looked around. She was evidently in the ventilation system of the building; a draft came in from somewhere.

Which way to go?

Ah, yes. Towards the draft.

Belly-crawling as best as she could, Susan moved quickly towards the exit.

Proteus was nowhere in sight; Ril didn't know when he had escaped, only that she would most probably be seeing him again.

Is this the way it will be? she wondered, as she went through the building, systematically eliminating all opposition. Am I cursed to live a life of killing?

She found a pocket of resistance near her goal. She rolled away from their fire, and returned a few shots. Every one of her shots found its target, and soon Ril was advancing again to the center of the building.

Susan said that no matter what I become, they'll always love me. Ril dodged several blaster shots; the owner of the blaster suddenly found a large smoking hole in the middle of his chest. Is that true? I was built to be an assassin; my job is to kill people. How can anyone love a murderer such as me?

Some of the flunkies had enough sense to turn tail and run, but most of them remained behind, convinced that sheer firepower would triumph over the android. Ril snapped off several shots, and her enemies dropped like flies.

I nearly killed Susan. I nearly killed my friend. And if I had done it, no doubt Proteus would have made me kill everyone who stood in his way; which meant all of Alpha group. Including Nar.

Finally, Ril stood in front of her objective. It was a simple control pedestal, but Ril knew that the correct sequence of numbers would detonate the munitions hidden in the walls of the building.

The pedestal was shielded by an energy barrier; Ril shot out the shield generators, and stepped in front of the control panel.

I am damned to live this existence, with no hope of redemption. I can only hope this body isn't as tough as I think it is.

Ril inserted a finger into the control port. Soon, the code sequence materialized in her mind.


This is it. This is where I get a chance to end this all.

Nar, goodbye!

Susan rolled out of the air vent, gasping from the exertion. Several pairs of hands pulled her roughly out of the shaft, and towards several APC's.

Susan looked up into the face of Prime Jennings. Instinct took over. "Permission to report, sir!"

"Forget it," the Prime said shortly. "Cadet il'Wathi here already told me everything." He glanced at Nar, who was looking dejected. "At least, I hope he has."

"Sir," Nar said meekly.

"What's going on?" Kathy demanded.

"Ril said she was... going to blow up the place."

Nick adjusted his goggles. "Looks like the entire building's rigged to explode sky high. We're far enough away to escape the blast, but the debris could cause some problems."

Susan looked around. The APC's were standing a respectful distance from the building. Now and again, a few Guardians rushed in to grab those stragglers who had the sense to get out.

"These were all we could spare," Crysta explained. "It was a minor miracle that we could gather this many Guardians on such short notice."

"Some of them were bound to escape," Peter said. "We didn't have enough to surround the building, and we're damn well not going to go inside."

The building became eerily silent. Somebody coughed. "I take it the bombs have a delay mechanism?"

"We had better hope so," Prime Jennings said grimly.

Susan turned to see who had spoken, and gasped. "YOU?!"

The F'Val sighed. "I tend to have that effect on people."

"But... I saw you... at the dock..."

"Holograms are such wonderful things," Dr. Yan il'Tana said. "That was one of the best that I had ever made."

Susan, unable to make any more comments, turned to look at the building.

"What's taking so long?" Nar asked worriedly.

"Don't worry," Nick tried to comfort him. "Any moment now, Ril's going to come out, and then we can all watch the thing go-"

Susan shook her head, trying to clear the ringing in her ears.

People were running about, trying to restore some semblance of order. However, most of the panic was needless; the explosion had vaporized the building.

Which may or may not be a good thing.

Nar was already running towards the wreckage, despite the warnings from the others. Susan hesitated a moment, then ran after him.

She caught him, and was forced to use an armlock on him; Nar was struggling so much that Susan could barely keep him from the flames.

"Stop struggling, dammit!" she finally shouted.

"But Ril's still inside!" Nar shouted almost hysterically. "I have to find her!"

"You IDIOT! Didn't you see the damn shape of the cloud? That explosion was nuclear!"

Nick jogged towards them. "Susan's right," he confirmed. "It was a custom isotope, though, so the radiation should come down within acceptable levels after a while. Damn lucky of us it was a custom isotope, too; if not, we'd all be dealing with radiation burns for the rest of our brief existences." He grimaced. "Damn interference is shorting out my sensors."

Nar shook off Susan, and glared at Nick. "How long?" he said bluntly.

Nick shrugged. "Five minutes."


"You don't have to."

Susan gasped. That was...

It was becoming clear to the unaided eye now. Two glowing red spots in the smoke, which resolved themselves into two glowing red eyes. Once Ril stepped out of the haze, her eyes faded, and then they were looking at the Ril that had been their friend, not Ril the android.

Ril walked calmly towards Susan. "I think you dropped this," she said, holding out something.

Susan took it numbly. "My keytool," she mumbled. "But how..."

"Keytools are amazingly resilient. They can survive almost anything." Ril smiled a bit wanly. "And as Flash here showed, even a nuclear blast."

"Ril," Nar said, then stopped.

Ril turned to him. "Nar. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for doubting you."

"I should be the one apologizing," Nar said. "I should have told you the truth a long time ago. Then this whole mess would have been averted."

"Maybe. Then again, maybe not."

Nar reached out to hug her, but she shied away. "Don't. I just came out of that thing, so I may be a bit unsafe to touch right now. I tried to get myself detoxed as best as I could, but even these keytools have a limit."

Nar nodded. "I understand." He stepped back, and said nothing more.

Ril smiled. "Thank you. Thank you for understanding." She turned to Susan. "And thank you... for just knowing me so well. I couldn't have broken Proteus's control without you."

Susan nodded, suddenly unable to speak.

Ril's eyes glazed over. "Command Code 5283947, Charon." Then she slumped to the ground, unmoving.

"What happened?" Susan asked a bit fearfully.

"She shut herself down," Nar said. "First time that ever happened." He paused. "But I don't think it's the last."

Susan sighed. "So it's not over yet?"

"It's not over. Not by a long shot."

"I was afraid of that."

They stood and watched as several Guardians came and carried Ril away. Then they slowly walked back towards the lead APC.

There would be hell to pay for sure. A robot capable of assassination would definitely get the Council's attention, not to mention the media.

But for now...

Susan just wanted to be with her friends.

No need for talk, or discussion. Just being with them was enough.

She was silent the entire journey back to the Supercomputer. No words were needed to show the others how she felt. Knowing them, they felt the same way too.

She knew them so well.


Continued in Hellfire