<H1>System Error</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. So sayeth me.

Comments, criticism welcome. MiSTers too.

Timeline: This takes place sometime in mid-September, 2499.

Rating: The usual.

"Two hundred and fifty seven."

"Checking..... no."

"Two hundred and fifty eight."

"Checking..... no."

"Two hundred and fifty nine."

"Checking..... no."

"Two hundred and sixty."

"Checking..... no."

Susan sighed. "This is getting fairly predictable."

Kathy smiled wanly. "With over six thousand fields to check, we'd better get used to it."

The two of them were debugging the entire Academy's computers. Normally, this would not be their job. But a curious turn of events had landed them the responsibility.

"Tell me again," Susan said wearily, "why we were picked for this job."

"Well," Kathy thought for a while, "the programmers are all sick with the cold or something, so they didn't turn up. So were all the other people who were supposed to replace them. Prime Jennings is at a Council meeting, and so are Sarah and Kavi. The other Guardians have their own duties to perform. The Archivists are currently revamping the entire Archives. The students aren't really trustworthy enough, so that leaves us, Alpha group. Nar and Ril are nowhere to be found, Peter and Crysta are busy with their projects, and Nick swears that he'll cut off his hand before he gets tempted to hack again."

Susan sighed. "And we have to do this for the whole weekend?"

Kathy shrugged. "Aht-serat," she said.

Susan grimaced. "Your accent needs a lot of work. Okay, break's over. Let's get back to work." She looked down at her clipboard. "Two hundred and sixty one."

"Checking..... no."

The Council Meeting Hall was large.

So large, in fact, that a snore would echo for several minutes.

Prime Jennings had no intention of disgracing himself in public. Thus, he had brought several packets of instant coffee for this occasion.

Now, improbably, he was running out.

"The point is," Marvali, the Khatran representative, intoned, "is that all of the aforementioned so-called 'refugees'..."

Get on with it, Prime Jennings thought fiercely.

"... may in fact not BE actual refugees, but, in fact, mere good-for-nothings looking for a free handout..."

Off to his left, Sarah was quietly typing into her laptop. She was also consulting a textbook, so Prime Jennings assumed that it was her homework.

Off to his right, Kavi was gritting his teeth. Prime Jennings had told him in no uncertain terms that dozing off was not, repeat not, allowed. Therefore, the burly Khatran was currently trying to think of alarm clocks.

Back in front, Marvali had paused to organize his notes. Prime Jennings could see several people being nudged awake by their companions.

Obviously, the Prime thought acidly. They hibernate for a year, then get dragged here for a day. After that, they go back into a coma.

"In conclusion," Marvali began. There was a faint undercurrent of sniggering.

Prime Jennings tuned out the rest of the speech. The topic for this year was the refugee problem. Why didn't these damn bureaucrats see the real damn problem....

"That will be all, Marvali," Stephen Farlowe, the representative for the humans, interrupted. Evidently he was also tired of these overdrawn speeches. "Next time, people, please try to summarize your speeches. Make it easier on us all."

Nobody protested. Although that statement would have been totally out of line at other times, everybody was inclined to agree now.

"Prime Jennings," Counselor Farlowe said. "Do you have any closing comments?"

Damn right I do, the Prime thought. And hallelujah, it's short. Relatively. "I believe that all of us seem to fail to grasp the root of the problem," he announced. "Simply put, it is this: Refugees come about through hate attacks. I am sure that these refugees would not like to be thus termed. Therefore, I think that the only solution would be to stop these hate attacks once and for all."

"There is a slight problem with that solution," Farlowe said.

Good old Steve. Always looking on the dark side. "I know. For it to be a solution, it must first be feasible. But trust me. My associates," he gestured towards Sarah and Kavi, "are currently trying to find out the source of these hate attacks. I am sure that they will succeed."

There was a general murmur of agreement. Prime Jennings wasn't sure if the people were agreeing with him, or merely doing so because they wanted to get out of there.

"One more thing," the F'Vali representative said. She looked the Prime in the eyes. "Remember that there are two sides of the equation."

Prime Jennings nodded. "I understand."

"Five hundred and ninety eight."

"Checking..... no."

"Five hundred and ninety nine."

"Checking..... no."

"Six hundred."

"Checking..... no."

Susan leaned back in her chair. "I don't know whether to be relieved that there aren't any bugs so far, or to wish that there WERE bugs."

Kathy groaned. "Can we take a break?"

"Sure. I'll go get some refreshments." Susan got up painfully. "Ow. Not moving for several hours certainly hurts."

"It does?"

"At least, when you move again." Susan walked out of the door, stretching her limbs. She turned a corner while extending her arm. There was a muffled cry of surprise.

"Oh!" Susan blinked, and focused on the face of the victim. "Oh, Crysta. Sorry about that."

"'S okay," Crysta mumbled, wiping her mouth. "It's just a bit surprising to suddenly get a mouthful of arm."


"Right, whatever." Crysta grinned. "Oh, if you want to get to the vending machine, don't bother. Nick already emptied it out."

Susan raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"He's suffering from computer deprivation. And I think he's going to be suffering from a sugar high in approximately..... ten minutes."

Susan laughed. "Right."

"Come on, I'll join you two. Having troubles?"

Susan grimaced. "We finished only a tenth of it."

"Don't worry, you're not supposed to do the whole thing. Actually, I think the programmers were betting how much you two could achieve in one weekend."

"And the odds are?"

"392 to 1 against you two finishing eight hundred fields."

Susan grinned wickedly. "And the betting pool?"

"Somewhere around the vicinity of five hundred credits."

"I think they're going to be sorely disappointed."

Crysta shrugged. "Whatever you say."

"Hah! ONE bug!"

Susan peered at the screen. "And this is?"

"Field number seven hundred and thirty four. A colon instead of a semicolon. Small error, but still an error all the same."

Susan noted it down. "And are we supposed to correct it?"

"Uh-huh. I already did."

Crysta looked at her watch. "I'd say those five hundred credits are going to go to the one guy who betted for you."

"Remind me to thank him later," Susan said. "Now...... seven hundred and thirty five?"

"Checking..... no."

"Seven hundred and thirty six?"

"Checking..... no."

"Seven hundred and thirty seven?"

"Checking..... no- WHAT THE HELL?!"

The screen had gone blank. Crysta stared at it. "That's strange," she commented.

"I'd say..... eh?"

A letter had appeared on the screen.


Susan blinked. "I don't think that's supposed to happen."

Another letter appeared.


"Is anyone thinking what I'm thinking?" Kathy wondered.

"I think I am," Susan replied.


"I think I know where this is going," Crysta said grimly.


"Thought so."

Slowly, a message formed on the screen.

"'Help us'," Susan read. "'System Draneese, under attack. Need assistance now.' Now this sounds like a bad movie."

Meanwhile, Crysta had accessed another console. "System Draneese..... population two hundred and seventy three, mostly sprites, with a few Khatrans. Current status...... hang on. This was last month's information!"

"But I thought they updated everything once a week?" Kathy said dubiously.

"Yes, it's all automatic. But if the system information isn't updated, then that means that it's incommunicado."

"Who's leading the Guardian detachment there?" Susan asked. "Maybe he or she can give us some light into this."

"Hang on..... waitaminute. I don't believe this."

"Who is it?" Kathy asked impatiently.

"It's.... Uncle Angus?"

Back outside the Council Meeting Hall, the Prime looked at the information displayed on the screen with dismay.

"Nearly all transports delayed..... damn."

Counselor Farlowe pulled up in his hoverlimousine. "Care for a lift, Max?"

The Prime shook his head. "No thanks. I'd rather walk. But these two...."

"I'll stay with the Prime," Sarah said.

Farlowe raised an eyebrow. "And you?" he asked Kavi.

Kavi turned to the Prime. "With your permission, sir..."

"Go ahead, cadet. Seeing as there aren't any convenient tears around, I think you'd best be going now. Especially since you didn't bring your assignment along."

"Well, yes, there is that," Kavi admitted. "Thanks for the lift, Counselor."

"No problem," Farlowe said. "Max always refuses to travel in style. So I guess I'll settle for one of his proteges."

Kavi blinked. "But sir, I'm not his-"

"You're in Alpha group, correct?"

"Er..... yes."

"Then you're his protege. Understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Lieutenant Angus Winsland, of Squad 523," read Susan. "Comprising of twenty Guardians, including himself. Assigned to System Draneese, to help the police force there, and to establish a Guardian presence."

"Uncle Angus was the reason Peter and I joined the Guardians eventually," Crysta explained. "He's the loner in the family."

"Says here that he nearly got himself demoted several times." Kathy pointed at the screen.

"Yes, well, his antics are always told and retold during Thanksgivings," Crysta said, smiling wistfully. "How he rammed into the Principal Office of a rebellious system using a Heavy Armoured Battle Tank, and how he threatened a command.com of a system with a grenade launcher simply because the command.com was too arrogant."

"Sounds a bit like us, actually."

"So what's he doing in system Draneese? And why the help message?" Susan asked.

"I don't know," Crysta admitted. "But Uncle Angus always has a reason for everything. In fact, he.... er...."

"What?" Kathy prompted.

"Well..... he also used to be a hacker. Don't tell anyone."

"We won't," Susan said dryly. "Group or freelance?"

"Freelance. But it's all behind him now."

"Whatever it is," Susan continued, "we have to tell someone. Unless you want to handle this yourself?"

Crysta sighed. "I think we'll wait until the Prime gets back. For all we know, this could be a prank."

"There is one way to find out," Kathy pointed out.

"And what's that?"

"We'll be watching you!"

Nick grimaced. "Yeah, yeah, whatever."

"Just find out where this message came from, and whether it was tampered with," Kathy said.

"Sure, whatever." Nick did his Wizard-of-computers number, while Susan looked at Crysta. "You sure you want to do this? We can wait until the Prime returns, you know."

Crysta shook her head. "No, I'm sure."

"Got it," Nick said. "It came from...... Principal Office of System Draneese. And it's a real message. A bit garbled, which means that it could have gone through ECM. But it's definitely done by someone with an extensive knowledge of computers. As well as suicidal."

"Why?" Kathy asked.

"Well, ECM means that messages or signals in or out aren't allowed. So, whoever managed to get this through must have done it at great risk to him or herself."

"Sounds like your Uncle Angus?" Susan asked quietly.

Crysta nodded.

"So now can you fill me in on what's happening?" Nick asked peevishly.

"Nope, sorry," Kathy said.


"Let's go to the library," Crysta said quietly. "I don't want to involve more people than I have to."

Susan gave her a surprised look. "Is it that serious?"

"I hope not."

"Mind telling us what this is about?" Ril asked.

Crysta sighed. "I don't want you to get involved," she said.

"The hell I don't. I've seen that look before. You're very worried about something, and I want to know what."

Crysta sighed again, and outlined what they had discovered. Ril listened in silence.

"So what you're saying," she said, "is that Lieutenant Winsland is probably the only one there who can get a message through ECM?"

"That's the most likely answer," Crysta said.

"But what if it is a hoax?"

"I..... don't know. I just get the feeling that we have to get to System Draneese as fast as possible."

Susan nodded. She also had the same feeling, with the same lack of reason.

"There is a small hovercar we can use," Ril said thoughtfully. "Since it's the weekend, we can just say that we're going out to visit your uncle in Draneese."

"Good enough." Kathy smiled. "After all, it's true, isn't it?"

There was an almost festive mood about the trip.

Susan had convinced Kathy to stay behind. At first, Kathy had protested mightily, but Crysta reminded her that the programmer who had bet for them would owe them a large one.

Besides, she privately thought, the less people on the trip, the less lives would be at stake.

Now, they were pondering the words the traffic controller had given them.

"'Nobody from Draneese has come in the last month,'" Ril repeated to herself.

"I hope this doesn't mean anything bad," Susan mused.

"Where's Crysta?" Peter asked.

Nar grunted. "She left with Susan and Ril."

Peter chuckled. "Got dumped, huh?"

"Shut up."

The hovercar was suddenly buffeted by unknown forces.

"Damn!" Susan swore. She tried to struggle back to her seat, but the car was shaking too much.

"Looks like the system's been blocked off," Ril shouted over the noise.

"A Mousetrap?"

"I think so."

Crysta gritted her teeth as she strained to keep the hovercar in control. "I suddenly get the feeling that history is going to repeat itself," she grunted.

"The Saucy Mare?" Susan asked.


"But this time," Ril said grimly, "we don't have a Guardian with a keytool downloaded into his system, nor a Web Surfer."

The car gave an ominous rumble.

"Uh oh," Crysta said.

Susan blinked. She felt lightheaded. This was certainly not the time to be lightheaded, but she felt so all the same. She tried to keep her mind on the situation at hand.

We will get through, she thought to herself. I just know we'll make it....

"We're through!" Crysta shouted.

Susan blinked again. That was fast.

The inside of the car was dark, as the windscreen had shut itself off against the glare of portal travel. Apparently the buffeting had taken its toll on the car, because the windscreen glare adjuster was currently dangling at the end of its cord.

"Right," Ril said, doing a bit of basic repairs to the adjuster. The windscreen suddenly cleared.

The three of them looked through it.

Susan was the first to speak.

"The Saucy Mare, indeed."

Susan tripped over a piece of debris, and she cursed.

Ril helped her up.

"Thanks," she said.

"No problem. What is this place?"

Crysta looked through the rubble grimly. "It appears that Draneese has suffered a massive attack."

Susan walked through the remains of a house. "But who would want to attack a small defenseless system..... oh."

The object of her attention was a small transmission kit that had obviously seen better days. As of now, it consisted of half the casing, and a few wires and components.

The strange thing was the logo on the side.

Ril put a hand on Susan's shoulder. "Steady," she murmured.

Susan tried to follow her advice. "The Apocalypse," she said through gritted teeth.

Crysta shook her head. "I don't think so."


"Think about it. This system has practically no humans. Why would the Apocalypse want to attack?"

Susan relaxed. "I suppose you're right. But this..."

"Is probably a spy's," Ril finished for her. "God knows why they want a spy in Draneese."

"Where's the owner anyway?" Susan looked around. Then she saw the Khatran, and immediately looked away. "Never mind. Forget I asked."

Ril knelt down beside the body. Rather, the remains of the body. Currently, an arm lay some distance from the shoulder, and the head was spread over a wide area.

She picked up an object. "This is interesting," she said.

"What?" Crysta said, her back resolutely turned to the grisly corpse.

"This's a Mysadt probe. Modified in some way."

Crysta blanched. "The Elite," she muttered.

"What?" Susan was confused.

"The Elite are the stormtroopers of the Apocalypse, so to speak. They're the only ones who have actually seen the Triad, and are totally devoted to them. The Mysadt probe modifies their thought patterns such that they can think of nothing else but the Triad."

"You seem to know a lot about the Apocalypse," Susan noted.

Crysta didn't look at her. "It's a knack."

Susan peered into the distance. "I think the Principal Office is that way."

"Obviously," Ril said. "For one thing, it's the only thing standing."

"Maybe our answers can be found there. Let's go."



"Picking up movement in Sector 3. No idea whether they're friendlies or hostiles."

"Okay. Keep an eye on them."

"Yes sir."

"And stop calling me sir."

Susan was thinking back to the old legend.

Megabyte had taken over Mainframe. Bob and Matrix had returned from the Web, and found their old home in ruins. They had gone to the Principal Office, and had nearly gotten killed by the security forces. It was only through Bob that Matrix had even managed to escape alive. Then they had met Hack and Slash, and then the rebellion....

The thing which worried her was the fact that the Principal Office had not been the right place to go. Now, she was hoping some present-day version of Hack and Slash would pop up, and show them the way to the survivors....



"I was just thinking something." Ril's tone was carefully neutral.

Susan noticed it as well. "I know. Shall we?"

"Why not."

The three of them suddenly whirled around, and aimed their keytools at the person who had been tailing them.

The sprite raised her arms. "Woah, steady on."

"You have ten seconds to tell us who you are and why you're here," Crysta informed her.

The sprite cleared her throat. "Callie Maxim, Command.com of System Draneese. At least, what used to be Draneese." She offered her PID.

Ril scanned it. "She's telling the truth," she announced.

"Glad you all believe me. Are you here to rescue us?"

Susan blinked, then realized what she was talking about. "Uh, no, Miss Maxim-"

"Call me Callie."

"-okay, Callie, we're only here to investigate a message we received back at the Academy. One that said you people required help."

Callie frowned. "Yes, Angus sent that. You mean you people aren't Guardians? But the keytools...."

"We're only cadets," Ril explained. "We didn't want to bother the others with what could possibly a hoax, but we were worried that something really might have happened."

Callie's expression grew grim. "Something did happen. A hate attack."

"Are you sure?" Susan asked.

"I'm sure. They painted racist slogans all over the system, and they killed everyone they could find. They left a few days ago, but left a Mousetrap and an ECM field over the system."

"Then we may be in a bit of trouble," Crysta said quietly. "I'm not sure our hovercar can even get off the ground, let alone go back to the Supercomputer."

Callie sighed. "I guess you're stuck here, then. I don't know what we can do, but maybe Angus already figured out a way to circumvent the ECM field."

"By 'Angus'," Crysta said, "do you mean Lieutenant Angus Winsland?"

"Sure." Callie grinned. "He's a nice person. A bit dull, though."

"He hates women," Crysta informed her.

Callie's grin grew wider. "Is that so? That explains why he kept refusing my offer of a date."



"Where's Callie?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Stop calling me sir. Can't you find her on the scanners?"

"Checking...... right, I found her- WHOAH!"

"What is it?"

"Miss Maxim has accosted the newcomers. They're now heading here."


"Further orders, sir?"

"Corporal....... please do me a favour."

"Yes, sir?"

"When Callie gets back....."


"..... remind me to kill her."

Callie saw the ambushers first.

They came without warning, small robotic drones jumping out of the various piles of debris. Immediately, they started shooting at the four.

"Mark 5 attack drones," Ril supplied, holing one of them with her keytool. "Modified. Their stun weaponry seems to have been replaced with lethal stuff."

"Spare us the lesson," Susan gritted, as she dodged a green laser blast.

"If they're drones," Callie shouted, using a laser pistol to its full potential, "doesn't that mean that they're controlled by someone?"

"Unless they've got a program in them," Crysta shouted back. "Looks like whoever supplied these drones gave them orders to attack anyone in the vicinity."

As quickly as the battle started, it was over. Susan looked around at the smoking remains of the drones.

"That was interesting," she commented. Then she cried out in surprise as Ril barreled into her. the laser beam meant for her blasted apart a wall instead.

The half-functioning drone leveled its weapons at the two. Crysta and Callie attempted to aim at it, but it sent them running with a few well-placed bursts of laser fire.

It jumped high in the air, preparing to land on top of Ril and Susan-

-and promptly blew apart.

Pieces of the drones rained on Susan. She got up, and looked around for her saviour.

She found him.

"For this you stood me up at the library?" Kavi said testily.

Susan didn't say anything. She simply hugged him as tightly as possible.

Ril walked over to Callie. "Meet Kavi, another one of our friends."

Callie gave the Khatran a critical eye. "If Susan doesn't let go soon, she'll break a few of his ribs."

Susan immediately disengaged, and looked at Callie sheepishly. "Kavi, this is Callie Maxim, Command.com of Draneese."

Kavi inclined his head. "Pleased to meet you." He turned back to Susan. "Mind telling me what's going on?"

Susan quickly outlined the circumstances that brought them there. Kavi accepted it silently. "I went through the Mousetrap too," he told them. "Totaled my hovercar."

"So you're stuck here too?" Crysta said.


"Now what?" Ril demanded.

"Now, we continue going to the Principal Office," Callie said. "It's imperative that we get a message to the Academy again. And this time, pray that nobody treats it as a hoax."

"Uncle Angus!"

The lieutenant winced. "Don't call me that, please," he said in a pained voice.

Callie chuckled. "Looks like you got yourself a woman, Angus."

Angus gave her the Glare Of Daggers. "I don't mean to sound rude," he said to Susan, "but I was kinda hoping for more Guardians to back us up."

"What's the situation?" Ril asked.

"Out of the two hundred and seventy three citizens, twenty eight are dead, including all the Khatrans. Fifty three are badly injured, and the rest are barely able to fight as it is. I lost four Guardians."

"Are you expecting a battle?" Susan asked confusedly.

Angus nodded. "We have reason to believe that the humans who attacked us will be back. I don't think they'll leave a job half-finished."

"We can't do anything much here, can we?" Kavi asked.

Angus sighed, and shook his head. "What we need right now is a miracle. Someone to come with a transport convoy, to take us someplace else."

Crysta looked at him. "That doesn't sound like you."

Angus shrugged. "I've been here for a while. Gets to you eventually."

The four cadets had a simple task. They were to care for the injured, and assist the Guardians in giving the able-bodied fighting lessons.

Susan applied a file patch to an unconscious sprite. If she were at the Academy, she would be able to fix everyone up in a short time, using the equipment there. The Supercomputer had the best medical equipment in cyberspace.

But, as Phong used to say to Bob, this is not the Supercomputer.

She felt eyes on her. "Excuse me," she said without turning, "but it's not really polite to stare."

The person behind her laughed, a very feminine sound. Susan turned to see a young woman, not much older than herself. Green eyes, long red hair, gray skin. Beautiful in a strange sort of way.

"I'm sorry," the sprite said, "but I was just thinking about something." She held out her hand. "I'm Kora."

"Susan Gwyndel," Susan replied, shaking the proffered hand.

"I noticed something about you," Kora said. "How shall I put this..... you often get headaches, don't you?"

"Yes," Susan said cautiously. Now what was going on?

"And..... you get slightly paranoid when these headaches occur?"


"Thought so. Have you been in contact with a Zed recently?"

"Yes again. What's all this about?"

Kora smiled. "I thought you'd have guessed by now. You're a smart girl."

Susan began to grow angry. "Excuse me?"

"No, don't be angry. I was just commenting about your unusual talent."

"Explain. Please."

Kora looked at her for a moment. "Do you want it quick and painful, or slow and suspenseful?"

Susan gritted her teeth. "Just tell me," she got out.

"Never mind. You'll find out." Kora left the room.

Susan bit back a curse. First this girl asks her personal questions, then she gets condescending. This was nearly too much.

"I see you've met Kora," Callie said from behind her.

"Who is she, anyway?" Susan asked.

"I.... don't think I should say. If I did, you might have an even worse impression of her."

"I don't see how that's possible."

"It's possible. Believe me, it's very possible."

The attack was something of an anti-climax, a nonevent.

First, several portals opened on the edges of the system. Several transports appeared out of those portals, and then the attackers poured out of the transports. From the Principal Office, Susan could see that they were human.

"We fought the Apocalypse," Ril said quietly. "Now we're seeing the other side of racial hatred."

"They're certainly well-funded, though," Crysta pointed out. "I mean, that was a portable portal generator. They're at least as rich as the Apocalypse."

The humans moved some distance into the system. Then they stopped.

"Now what?" Kavi asked.

"I think they're formulating a strategy of some sort," Callie suggested. "Look, those are the commanders."

"Well organized," Angus commented.

They watched the attackers for a few minutes more. Susan sighed. "I don't think they're going to attack today."

"Why not?" Callie asked.

"For one thing, they're setting up camp."

It was true; the humans were erecting tents and shelters. Obviously they were planning to get some rest first before attacking.

Angus turned to go. "I wouldn't let my guard down," he advised. "It may only be a ruse. They know damn well that we can see them."

Kora entered the room. "Are those the humans?"

"Yes," Susan said shortly.

"Right. Hopefully I can get something done before they attack." She left the room.

Susan stared after her. "What is she doing?" she asked.

Callie smiled. "You may not believe this, but Kora is our most effective fighter."

"You're right. I don't believe it."

"Just wait and see."

Exactly twelve hours later, the humans began advancing.

"They're moving," a corporal shouted. Angus was immediately by his side.

"ETA to the Office?" he demanded.

"Seven minutes. They're moving fast."

"I don't get it," Ril said suddenly.

"Don't get what?" Crysta asked.

"I don't get why they want to attack this system like this. I mean, they can afford to put an ECM field over the system. Why bother to come here when they can just drop a system bomb through a portal?"

"They're here for the kill," Susan said quietly.

All conversation stopped. "What?" Kavi asked carefully.

"They want to feel the pleasure of killing their enemies. I know that feeling." Susan glared at the screen. "I used to feel it too. When I shot an Apocalypse member, it felt.... good."

The silence in the room was unbearable. It was broken only several minutes later, when Kora burst into the room. "Anyone got a drink?" she panted. "I winded myself on that last stretch."

Callie passed her an energy shake, grateful for the diversion. "How did it go?"

"Got quite a few. I must be getting rusty, though.... they saw me in the middle of a job."

Ril glanced at a screen. The attackers were definitely moving fast, but....

"Is it me," she said, "or are there some still back at the camp?"

"No," Crysta said, checking the readout, "the camp's empty."

"Then why is it that the number of people attacking is less than the number of people who arrived?"

Kora grinned widely. "Courtesy of this wonderful job I took on."

In the end, it's people fighting.

In this case, it was the attacking force of humans versus the ragged force of survivors.

And things did not look good.

"They're getting slaughtered," Angus muttered. "I'm going out there. Hopefully the Guardians can turn the battle around." He didn't sound too hopeful though.

"Please be careful," Crysta told him.

Angus gave a lopsided grin. "Of course I will. If I don't, then you won't have any more Thanksgiving stories to tell, right?"

They watched as he left. Callie sighed. "I wish I can go out there too, but Angus told me to stay here." She looked at Kavi, who was furiously working at a console. "Any progress?"

Kavi sighed. "It's slow going. I managed to get a general message out, but I don't know if it'll make it to the Supercomputer."

"In the meantime," Crysta said, "we need to find a way to keep those humans from totally destroying the system." Then she realized something. "Sorry, Susan," she apologized.

Susan kept her eyes on the screen. "No offense taken."

Things looked very bad out on the streets. Here and there, various groups of sprites were being systematically annihilated by the humans. The humans had superior training and firepower; the sprites only had old laser pistols and rifles. In fact, the only bright spot was the small group of Guardians who were going through the city, neutralizing all opposition.

But it didn't seem enough.

Crysta felt it first.

"Uh oh," was all she said.

The source of her concern soon materialized on the edge of the system, near the human camp. A large portal, out of which poured several troop transports with an ominous logo painted on the side.

"Why does this have to happen?" Ril groaned. "We already have our hands full with the humans. Why do the Apocalypse troops have to arrive now?"

"We're doomed," Kavi muttered. He got up from the console. "I guess we'll have to go out there and fight."

"Why do that if we're doomed?" Callie asked.

"Just because we're going to lose doesn't mean that we can't take them with us."

"I don't think we have to do anything," Susan said quietly.

Everyone stared at her. "What?" Crysta asked confusedly.

Susan pointed at the screen. "Look there."

If the situation was any less desperate, they would be extremely surprised. As it was, all of them believed that they were dreaming.

"Saved by the cavalry," Ril finally said disbelievingly.

The Apocalypse were totally ignoring the defenders. Instead, they were busy fighting the humans. In a few minutes, it had turned into a complete rout.

A cheer rose up among the defenders outside the Office. They watched as the Apocalypse members ran back to their transports, and started to open a portal.

Inside the Office, though, there was complete silence.

The outside view had been cut out a few moments ago. All that they could see now was a single line of text.

>>Let me speak to Kavi.

Kavi slid back into the console seat. >Who are you?< he typed.

>>It's been a long time, Kavi. Remember 2496?

>I'm sorry. I don't.<

>>You used to tell me that you would never forget me. Has that promise been broken so easily?

There was a pause. Then: >Lucia?<

>>It's me, Kavi. I sent the troops there to aid you.

>But how, why?<

>>I cannot tell you more. This conversation should not even be happening. But I had to talk to you one last time.

>Where are you? Tell me everything.<

>>I'm sorry, Kavi. We of the Elite live for the Triad, and only the Triad.

Kavi started to type a reply, but the screen flickered, and another line appeared. >>I've removed the ECM field and the Mousetrap. You can rescue the people of the System.


>>Goodbye, Kavi.

The outside view came back. Susan could see the Apocalypse transports going through the portal they had opened.

"What was that?" Crysta asked in amazement.

Kavi sat back heavily. "That was Lucia," he said numbly. "We..... used to be friends, when I was in a hacker group. We were nearly something more, but..... she disappeared three years ago. I never thought...."

"Kavi? Kavi!"

The screen had changed to show Peter looking at them concernedly. "Are you alright? We got a distress signal from you."

"Yeah," Ril told him, "we're okay. Relatively."

"We caught some Apocalypse members going out of the system. I was wondering if they were the ones who-"

"Let them go," Susan said.

Pause. "What?"

"I said let them go. They're...... they're not the enemy."

Peter stared at her. "I'm sure that there'll be a good explanation for that."

"You'll get one. Trust me."

"In the meantime," Crysta told him, "we need medical supplies. Transports, medics, everything. We're in pretty bad shape system-wise."

"Okay," Peter said dubiously. "I'll patch you through to the Prime. He just got back, and he's not very happy to find out that the three of you went-"

Kora walked into the room. "That was interesting," she said. She noticed Peter staring at her. "What?" she asked.

"Um," Peter stammered, "that is...."

"You want me to go to the Supercomputer? There's nothing left for me here, anyway."

Now it was the others' turn to stare at her.

"What?" Kora asked.


Continued in "Kora"