All things ReBoot are property of Mainframe Entertainment. All other things are property of their respective owners. Blah blah, etc.
Comments, criticism welcome. MiSTers too.
Timeline: This takes place sometime in November, 2499.
"It's funny. Peter attracted the wrong kind of attention everytime. I remember when he was chased by several human girls, back when he was in a hacker group. But this particular occasion, well, it definitely takes the cake."
- Remark made by Crysta Xandi, recorded in John Connelly's Alpha Nine: Perspectives on Alpha Group
"Good morning everyone!"
The cheery greeting was met with several reactions, ranging from grunted acknowledgement to muttered swear words.
Kora sat down at the table. "Why the face?" she asked.
"When you're here long enough," Nick mumbled, "you'll find out why most cadets are never at their best in the mornings."
Kora laughed. "Well, I'm a morning person myself. So what're you planning to do today?"
"Go to classes," Kathy said shortly.
Kora sidled over to her. "Having a bad day?"
"If you say so." Kora walked away, humming to herself.
"She's so cheerful," Kavi grumbled, "it's obscene."
"Relax," Peter said. "I'm sure she means well."
"I know she means well. I just want her meaning well to be put on hold for today."
After Kora had decided to join the Academy, mornings were always brightened up by her cheerfulness. Sometimes, she cooked a little something for the rest of Alpha group to eat. Other times, she just greeted them with a bright smile.
Ril walked into the cafeteria, bleary-eyed. Without bothering to get any breakfast, she simply sat down at their bench, pillowed her head on her arms, and fell asleep.
Susan raised an eyebrow at Nar. "Have you been doing anything questionable lately?"
Nar immediately turned a deep shade of red. "Of course not!"
"If you say so....."
Peter blinked, and jumped up. "Oh! I just remembered. I have to help Kora with her homework. See you later, guys." He grabbed a bun and rushed out of the cafeteria.
Kathy was the first to speak. "Is it me, or is he spending an inordinate amount of time with that girl?"
Susan shrugged. "Ours is not to reason why. Especially when it comes to matters of love." She suddenly winced.
"Headache?" Kathy said.
"Yeah. I don't suppose any of you have any aspirin?"
"Here." Nick handed her some. "I keep a few packs just in case."
"Thanks." She got up to get a glass of water. On the way, she pecked Nick on the cheek.
Nick blushed. He noticed everybody else staring at him. "What?" he demanded.
Kavi shrugged. "Ours is not to reason why," he quoted. "Especially in matters of love."
"Oh, shut up."
With the lull in missions and with the approaching holidays, the team decided to take a vacation. Earth was the obvious choice, namely Miami.
Peter had already convinced the group to let Kora join in. Now he was trying to convince Kora to join in.
Kora had been sitting in the library, daydreaming. Peter sat down beside her. "Credit for your thoughts."
Kora smiled at him. "One credit?"
"Well, I'm a bit pressed for money now."
Kora sighed. "I was just thinking about how easy it really is. How they would have kicked themselves for not realizing it earlier."
"Who? How easy what is?"
"Never mind." Kora leaned back in her chair. "So, what brings you here?"
Peter outlined the planned itinerary. Kora grinned. "Sounds like fun," she said.
Peter grinned along with her. "I don't suppose you've ever been to Earth?"
"No, not really. I haven't even been to any colony worlds. I'm system-born and system-bred." Her eyes grew misty. "What's it like?"
"It's beautiful. Blue skies, with clouds...... tiny water droplets which somehow form little wisps of white. There's green grass, and deep blue seas.... it's impossible to describe. You have to go there to really experience it."
Kora sighed. "I suppose it's all down to your point of view."
"So," Peter said, "are you going?"
Kora beamed at him. "I'd love to."
Kora inspected the ice cream shop.
"You hungry?" Peter asked.
Kora grinned. "Can you...."
"Sure!" Peter went inside, and came out with two cones of ice cream. "Crysta used to love this. That's why I always keep some credits in reserve for ice cream."
"Thanks," Kora said, helping herself to the ice cream.
It was the weekend, and the two of them were walking along the shopping district of the Supercomputer. Peter had suggested that Kora go out for a walk with him. To the others who were currently hiding in the bushes, it sounded and looked suspiciously like a date.
The spy team numbered four, namely Susan, Kathy, Nick and Crysta. It was mainly Kathy's idea, and Crysta had agreed to go along. Susan relented after an hour of persuasion, and Nick had been suckered into following.
"They're going into a movie theater," Kathy reported.
Nick yawned. "So they're going on a date. What's the big deal?"
"Just curiosity," Crysta said off-handedly.
"They said they weren't going on a date," Susan explained. "So we just wanted to know whether they were telling the truth."
"Whatever," Nick grumbled. "So can we go now?"
"No," the three girls said in unison.
"I don't care," Nick finally said. "I'm going back." He started walking away.
"Hey!" Crysta and Kathy tried to catch up to him. Unfortunately, with Nick's long stride, the effort went largely to waste.
Susan groaned. She knew that spying on her friend was largely dishonest, and that she shouldn't be doing it. On the other hand, her curiosity overrode her reason. Now, she had no idea whether to follow Nick and forget about this whole thing, follow Kathy and Crysta and get Nick back, or simply go ahead without the three.
In addition, she felt another migraine coming on.
Kora felt the presence first.
"Peter," she said casually, "I'm kinda thirsty. Can you go get me a drink? Please?"
"Sure." Peter went off to find a vending machine.
Kora looked around. The passageway was deserted. She took a deep breath. "You can come out now. I know you're there."
There was silence, then dark shapes began coalescing around her. "You have betrayed us," one of them hissed.
"The sprites have fooled you into choosing this path," another said.
Kora didn't flinch. "Well, screw you. I freely chose this path, and there's nothing you can do about it."
"Truly, you have become one of them," the first shape said.
"Maybe so. It's all down to your point of view, isn't it?"
"Why did you do it?"
"It's simple. The old way can only lead to our destruction. This way, we may actually have a chance to survive." Kora smirked. "For example, I actually got into the Academy."
"Empty words will do you no good," the second shape said. "You entered the Academy, but you didn't do anything. You had the chance to-"
"But I didn't do it," Kora finished for him. "You're all badly deluded, I'm afraid. In a way, I pity all of you."
"Pity?" The first shape's tone was ominous.
Kora ignored the implied threat. "Yes, pity. I pity you because you know of no other way to exist, except to keep to the old evil ways. It's so easy to stay the way you are.... even though you know there's no hope in that direction." She turned away from them. "For example, the only thing you can think about once you enter the Supercomputer is to corrupt it. That's why the invader controls can spot your kind without fail."
"Our kind?" The second shape grew larger. "Do you mean to imply that you have given your allegiance to the sprites?"
"Isn't it obvious by now? If you couldn't grasp that in the first place, then I'm afraid I have to inform you that you're all total idiots." She turned back to them. "Don't you see? The invader controls look for a specific code inside you. If it's there, then they attack without mercy. If it's not, then you're through. It's as simple as that. And, surprise, surprise, the code is the one that's present if you enter the Supercomputer with the intention of corrupting it. If, on the other hand, you don't care for power, then the invader controls don't see the point in attacking you."
There was silence. Then the shapes melted away. "We will be back," one of them promised, just as it disappeared.
"And I'll be waiting," Kora said to no one in particular. She glanced around, and pointed a finger at a nearby stack of crates.
There was a surprised cry, then Susan was involuntarily lifted through the air and set down lightly in front of Kora.
"You're weird, you know that?" Kora told her. "You could have just asked."
Susan glared at her. "I should've known," she spat. "You're a virus, aren't you?"
Kora shrugged. "Class 7, sprite mimic. I believe that's what we're classified as."
"Those shadows.... what were they?"
"My former colleagues. Obnoxious in every way." She grabbed Susan's arm, and started walking quickly away. "C'mon. They know where I am; we don't have much time."
"Wait, wait..." Susan held back. "Whaddya mean, 'we'?"
Kora let go of her arm, and looked Susan in the eye. "I suppose I should tell you right now. Did you know that you're a psychic?"
"Kora? Kora, where are you?"
Peter looked around, an energy shake in his hand.
After a few minutes, he finally came to a conclusion.
"I don't suppose you'd like to elaborate?" Susan said carefully.
Kora looked around. "There's a restaurant over there. I think we can have our little discussion when we're settled down."
Susan let Kora lead her to a table, and sat in the chair as Kora ordered a cola.
"I wasn't lying when I said I was thirsty," Kora explained. "Anyway, where were we?"
"Psychic," Susan supplied.
"Ah, yes. You seem to have some sort of special psychic abilities, not unlike a Zed's. It's much weaker, though."
Susan didn't show any outward signs of surprise. Inside, though, she was dazed.
"Another thing is," Kora continued, taking a sip of her cola, "is that you can't seem to be able to control where and when you become psychic. It's all down to luck, I'm afraid."
"I believe you were once controlled by.... let's see, I don't think it's a Zed. The touch is different. I believe.... it's one of my fellow viruses."
This is insane, I'm dreaming all this, any time now I'm going to wake up and find out that I'm late for classes....
"And no, it's not a dream," Kora told her. "This is real, and you just have to deal with it."
"Wait a minute," Susan finally managed to say. "How can I be sure that you're telling the truth? I mean, you could just be filling my head with lies. You're a virus, after all..."
"Notice that I haven't infected anyone yet?" Kora pointed out. "Besides, I'm sure that the Academy policy of non-racism applies to ALL races."
"Yeah, right," Susan said sarcastically. "So what am I supposed to do now?"
Kora shrugged. "Nothing. Just proceed with life as normal. You can't control your powers, so there's nothing you can do about it."
"Any more bad news to drop on me?" Susan asked morosely.
Kora shook her head. "I do have one piece of good news, though...."
Susan suddenly had the wind knocked out of her as Kora thumped her on the back. "Cheer up! It isn't as bad as that!"
Peter turned, and was immediately caught in an embrace by Kora. "Sorry to have disappeared like that," she apologized, "but I had to, um, how shall I say it.... powder my nose?"
Peter grinned. "It's okay. I was a bit worried, though."
Some distance away, Kathy nudged Susan. "So, what really went on?"
"Really? You're hiding something, that I know."
"Look, it's nothing. Really."
"Sure I'm sure."
Kathy shrugged. "Okay, if you say so."
"So what do you want to do now?" Kora asked.
"I dunno," Peter replied. "Where do you want to go today?"
"Watch a movie?" Kora suggested.
"Fine by me." Peter paused. "Oh, and Kathy...."
"Yes?" Kathy asked innocently.
"Next time, ask."
It was some time later.
Somehow, Kora had managed to persuade several others to join in the movie outing. Now, Peter, Susan, Ril and Kora were looking in dismay at the crowd near the ticket booth.
"What're all these people here for?" Ril asked in confusion.
Susan peered at a nearby sign. "Netwarriors, the latest by director Martin O'Brien."
"You mean the guy who won twelve awards at the recent Best Of Holo awards presentation?" Peter asked.
"That's the one," Kora confirmed.
"Is that what you want to watch?"
"Well........" Kora looked at the other two.
Susan exchanged a glance with Ril, and held up her hands. "Don't look at me, it's your choice."
"Besides," Ril chimed in. "We're not going into the the theater with you."
Peter blinked. "You're not?"
Kora grinned. "That's right, Peter. It's a private date, remember?"
Peter grimaced. "Well, I think I'd better get a move on, or there won't be any more tickets left." He began to move towards the ticket booth.
"I'd better go help him," Ril said, pushing through the crowds as well.
Susan sighed. What am I supposed to do now? I can't reveal Kora's secret. It'll ruin everything for Peter. After all, Hexadecimal reformed. Why not Kora? She looked at the virus, who was trying to get a drink out of a vending machine. She doesn't look like a virus, that's for sure. But isn't that what Class 7 viruses are like?
"Hey Susan," Kora called. "Want anything?"
"No thanks," she replied. Damn it. I'm even beginning to like her.
Kora came back, holding an energy shake. "I've developed a taste for cola," she confided, "but I need to stay slim, you know." She gave a wink.
Susan smiled a little forcedly. "Yeah, okay." Inside, she continued brooding. Damn it all. I don't want to reveal Kora's secret, but.... I have to. It's the only way.
It was no more than a sigh, but Susan immediately turned to Kora.
Kora was standing stock-still, not moving an inch. There were several shadowy figures surrounding her.
Not them again, Susan started thinking, but she could sense that there was something different about these people.
"Just come quietly with us," the figure behind her said, "and there won't be any trouble."
"Looks like I don't have a choice, do I?" Kora said calmly.
Susan looked around. Nobody else seemed to have noticed the shadowy figures. She started to move towards Kora, but stopped short when Kora gave her a warning look.
"Lead the way," Kora said to the figures. The lead figure nodded, and propelled her to a small doorway.
Susan gritted her teeth. Her Guardian sense told her that the world would be better with one less virus in it, but....... Kora was her friend.
And Susan never deserted her friends.
Without hesitation, Susan opened the door, and stepped inside the room.
It was a large room, a fact concealed by the small size of the door.
Susan counted four people. All were dressed in trenchcoats, and all were....
The leader stepped forward. "It's been a while, traitor."
Kora laughed shortly. "I didn't think you'd follow me here."
"We're much more persistent than you think, Kora."
"Pretty good," Kora said contemptuously. "For morons."
"And why do you say that?" the lead virus asked.
"You're all only projections. You can't be here; the invader controls would shred you to pieces."
"Are you sure about that?" another of the viruses asked.
"Damn right. And everyone knows that projections can't hurt anyo-"
Kora was cut off when the lead virus punched her across the face. She gasped, and staggered. Two of the viruses held her.
"Did that convince you?" the leader said with an evil grin. "You forgot a minor detail, traitor. One that you so nicely pointed out to us." The lead virus leaned forward, so that his face was nearly touching Kora's. "The invader controls look for people with evil intent to the Supercomputer, or to people essential to the Net. But us," the virus gestured to the others, "we didn't come for the Supercomputer. No," he held up a fist, "we came for you."
"Damn you," Kora rasped, just before the virus punched her across the face again.
"Normally," the leader said, "I wouldn't hit a woman. However," he drew his fist back, "there are always exceptions."
He didn't get to throw that punch. Instead, he was distracted by one of his fellows screaming in pain as an energy bolt went right through him.
"What the-" he managed, just before he was floored by a shoulder-charge.
"Cadet Guardian Susan Gwyndel," Susan introduced herself. "You're dead meat, virus."
"Susan!" Kora shouted desperately. "Get out of here!"
"No way, not when I'm- ungh!"
The virus Susan had floored suddenly sprang up, and headbutted her. She staggered back, and could only look on dazedly as a backhand sent her sprawling.
"You insolent child," the virus said in a dark voice. "Did you seriously think that I would be defeated so easily?"
"Go to hell," Susan managed.
"Oh dear. Partly correct," the virus suddenly gripped her throat, "but it isn't me who's going to hell today."
Susan couldn't breathe. The virus was tightening his grip, slowly choking her......
"Drop it, virus."
The virus looked up, relaxing his grip. "Ah, more kiddies come to play. I didn't know they let school out so early these days."
"Give it up," Peter said in a level voice. "You're only a Class three. And you know that one shot will probably kill you." He jerked his head in the direction of the smoking remains of the virus Susan had holed. "Like your former friend over there."
"You're forgetting one thing, sprite." The virus moved slowly towards him. "Class threes can infect people. Remember?"
"Not if they can't get close enough," Peter replied calmly. He kept his keytool leveled at the virus.
The virus grinned evilly. "Who says I need to get close?"
"Peter, behind you!" Kora shouted. Peter turned, and was suddenly knocked down to the ground by a ballistic Ril. The virus who had been sneaking up behind Peter snarled in frustration, until Ril shot several energy beams its way. It jumped out of the way, and went into a fighting stance.
"Be warned," Ril said, also dropping into a fighting stance. "I'm in a very bad mood today."
"That makes the two of us," the virus retorted, and charged her.
Meanwhile, Susan had been recovering from the near-strangulation, and was looking speculatively at the virus holding Kora.
"Not a move, Guardian," the virus said. "One false step," he extended his claws, "and your traitor friend here is so deleted."
"You forgot one thing," Kora said. "Me." With one smooth motion she got under the virus and threw him to the ground hard. He grunted in pain, but got up almost immediately.
"You're busted," he snarled. He launched himself at Kora.....
.... and was promptly shot by Susan, who had spent the last few seconds aiming.
"Two down," she panted, "two to go."
"Make that one to go," Ril announced, as she delivered a karate chop to the neck of the virus fighting her. It staggered for a second, then went down.
"I'm afraid you're all wrong," came a chilling voice. They all turned to see the leader, hobbling a bit, but still standing. "There're still two of us left. Or, should I say, one of me.... and one of you."
From the shadows, Peter emerged. And there was no mistaking the change in him.
"He's infected," Ril said disbelievingly.
"Get them!" the virus ordered.
Peter charged at Susan, his keytool at the ready. Susan dodged his attack, but failed to see the sweep kick he sent her way. She fell, and saw him standing over her, an executioner ready to deliver a death blow.
Susan began to bring her keytool up, but hesitated. I can't. No matter how he is, he's still.... my friend.
Peter leveled the keytool down at Susan, but found somebody in his way.
"You'll have to go through me first," Ril announced, standing firm.
Peter brought the keytool up, to point at Ril's face.
Then cried out in pain as Kora slammed into him. Both of them went tumbling, but Kora got up first.
"Peter," she said quietly.
Peter didn't say anything, staring mutely up at her.
"Peter," Kora repeated. "I know this isn't you. Please, come back to us. Fight it. Fight the infection."
For a moment, Peter's former self emerged. "I.... can't. He's..... too strong."
Kora nodded understandingly. "Then let me help you." She bent down, and put her lips to his.
They formed a silent pose, kissing for what could be centuries or seconds. When Kora finally disengaged, Peter stood up.
Still discoloured with infection.
"I guess you couldn't do it, traitor," the virus sneered. "Finish her now, slave."
Peter shook his head. "No," he said calmly. "She did help me. I guess this is probably the first time I'm glad for being infected...... especially if it's by someone I love."
The virus's eyes widened in fear. "No....." he whispered, as Peter aimed the keytool at his face.
"It's over," Peter said. "Lane, full delete!"
The virus gave on final scream of rage, as the energy bolt hit him in the head. He staggered back, and collapsed. Soon, he faded away, dead.
Kora slowly walked over to Peter, and laid a hand on his arm. The infection disappeared, and Peter staggered. She caught him, and smiled. "I suppose this is also the first time I'm glad I infected somebody. Especially the person I love."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Peter asked in a hurt voice. "Why didn't you tell me you were a virus?"
"If I did, would you have trusted me in the first place?"
Peter sighed. "I guess not," he admitted.
Kora bent down, and picked up something. "You dropped this during the fight," she said.
Peter looked down. "The tickets to the movie." He looked back up at her face. "I don't suppose..."
"No," Kora shook her head sadly, "we can't. It's over between us." She walked away, towards the door.
"Kora...." Susan said, uncertain of what to do.
Kora looked back. "I really did want to go to Earth," she said wistfully. Then she ran out the door.
"No!" Peter shouted. "Kora!" He ran out after her, Susan and Ril following close behind.
But Kora was nowhere to be seen.
"You can stay here if you want," Kathy suggested.
Peter shook his head. "No, nothing's changed. I still want to go have a vacation."
Nick nudged Susan. "Do you know where Kora might have gone?"
Susan shrugged. "I don't know. She's still somewhere out there, I do know that." I'd know if she's gone, she added mentally. For one thing, I can still feel her, somewhere out there.
Was it just her imagination, or did she just hear somebody laughing inside her head?