Feedback: Please be gentle.
Distribution: Gimme credit and a link.
Rating: Violence, harsh language, the usual.
Spoilers: Up to Chosen, Red Eye's, Possession, and Return of the Joker.
Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to a bunch of other people. I'm just borrowing them for a while.
Summary: The fate of the human race hangs in the balance... again. Sequel to Fifth Knight and One Eye's.
Author's Note: Here we go.
"Good morning, Andy."
Andrew Jones scowled at the slender blond man who had spoken. James Gilford was one of the many people who had been jockeying for the position of Special Assistant in the aftermath of Mason's death, and one of the few who did not hide his displeasure when Jones had been recalled to the Tower to take the position. The animosity between Jones and Gilford had grown quickly when Jones refused to bend before the more experienced exec.
Jones could have eliminated Gilford -- that much was within his power -- but that would have meant stooping to playing Gilford's game, the same game Mason played before he died, the game that seemed to rule the upper echelons of corporate Genom. Jones refused to do that. He was not an ambitious man. He just wanted to do his job -- whatever it was -- and retire to a reasonably comfortable life, and while his new position had put a kink in those plans, he wasn't about to give them up. In his mind, engaging in such petty power games would be the final surrender.
"Good morning, Gilford," Jones replied, stressing the name and emphasizing the formality.
Gilford bowed apologetically, "Mister Jones, there are rumors regarding the meeting yesterday afternoon. If you could shed some light on the matter, it would go far to quell them."
"The Chairman's business is his own, Gilford," Jones said evenly, "and I have been taken into his confidence. I cannot say more."
"I see," Gilford bowed again. His eyes tracked Jones as the Special Assistant continued on his way.
It was only a matter of time before Jones slipped up, and when he did, Gilford would be there to reap the rewards.
For his part, Jones continued along on his task. It had been easy to reduce the list of likely perpetrators. Only a handful of the representatives even had the technology or resources to acquire such a nanovirus, and of those, some could already be eliminated.
Zone/Omni was an unlikely candidate. While they might have been desperate enough, getting the two corporations' to both agree to such a drastic measure was unlikely to occur so soon after the partnership began. Furthermore, Zone Corporation was based in Japan, and they were unlikely to want to infect their home country.
Wayne-Powers was also unlikely, albeit for different reasons. Had Derek or Paxton Powers still been in charge, Jones would have suspected them in a heartbeat, but Bruce Wayne was a man who had spent decades building an impression of corporate respectability... if not personal respectability. Despite the persistent rumors linking Wayne to the HARDAC incident decades ago, his gut told him that Wayne wouldn't have done something like this, and he had long ago learned to listen to his gut.
Gulf & Bradley was near the top of the list of suspects. For all the interest they had shown in a partnership with Genom, it was awfully coincidental that Chairman Bradley had claimed illness instead of arriving personally.
Xanatos Enterprises was another prime suspect. By all accounts, David Xanatos was just as ruthless and self-serving as any of the corporate sharks within Genom, and he certainly had the technology to do so. Like Wayne, Xanatos's company was one of the first in the fields of robotic technology. That Alexander Xanatos had inherited Cyberbiotics -- another early robotics giant -- and subsumed it under Xanatos Enterprises added to the suspicion.
He couldn't quite pinpoint why he suspected Nightstone Unlimited. It was a relatively small company, and while it did engage in bioengineering, it didn't really have the nanotechnology necessary to create the nanovirus. Still, his gut told him to watch out for them.
He was not about to dismiss any possibility out of hand, though. He had assigned a 33-C to monitor each of the representatives who had been present -- no matter how unlikely -- and had assigned the more likely suspects a pair of 55-Cs as well.
Elsewhere within the monolithic Genom Tower, Victor Smith was overseeing his own task. He noted with satisfaction that the trio of Bu-12B battle boomers "released by terrorists" at MegaTokyo International Airport last night had done sufficient damage to require a minimum of two weeks before enough repairs could be made to begin even partial use for international flights.
That one of the boomers had just happened to get into the city and wreck a bioresearch lab, unleashing on the city a new strain of influenza that was being studied there... well, that was simply unfortunate. The AD Police and JSDF had, of course, instituted quarantine measures immediately.
He rose and looked out his window, overlooking the city he had just infected with a deadly virus, and he felt a faint twinge of regret at what he had had to do. One day, this city would be his, and harming his own property went against his nature.
But, in the end, it was only one city. Genom ruled the world.
Katherine Madigan growled in frustration. The nanovirus remained stubbornly inert in the samples they had acquired. All it seemed to do was replicate to a certain concentration, spread, and then replicate back to that same concentration. That the nanovirus had surely already spread throughout the Tower -- that she herself was probably already infected -- made her skin crawl. She hadn't had herself tested yet: partly because she didn't really want to know, and partly because she was unsure what else the test might reveal.
Either it was programmed to respond to some sort of activation signal, or there was a timed program embedded in the nanovirus. If it were the latter, there was nothing she could do to learn more from it until it activated, so she focused on the former possibility instead.
"Why don't we have something like this, Boss?" Terry asked.
"Because," Bruce replied, "we don't need it."
Behind them, Xander pressed his lips into a thin line disapprovingly as Anri stepped into the combat chamber. He had tried to be supportive -- the last thing he wanted to do was keep her from making her own choices -- but it was hard to stifle his own protective instincts, especially with the memories of last night's boomer rampage still fresh in his mind. Although Nene mentioned that the ADP had handled two other Bu-12Bs earlier before the Knight Sabers got there, by the time they arrived, third one had left a real mess; a lucky hit from its 46mm railgun had crumpled his new hardsuit's breastplate and left his chest covered in a massive purple bruise.
So he tried to stay in the background and held his peace.
His concern did not go unnoticed, though. Sylia shot him a concerned look before smoothing the worry off her face and turning to the control console, "Anri, we'll start you on Level One and go from there. This won't be an accurate test, since you'll be tired by the time you approach your actual level, so we'll need to repeat this later. Your objective is to avoid being struck by the projections and strike the target when it appears. The target will appear three times, and you will have three minutes. Do you understand?"
Anri nodded wordlessly.
"She'll be fine," Linna murmured from beside him, placing a hand on his arm.
"It's not the test I'm worried about," he said bluntly.
"Arm strength, five point three. Leg strength, seven point two. Perception, eight point four. Reflex speed, three point two eight." Sylia looked up from the results and added, "As I said, your reflex speed rating will need to be retested later, when you've rested, but overall, you've done well. I'll have Linna or Xander train you further."
"I'll do it," Linna said hurriedly. Sylia cocked an eyebrow at her, and she shrugged, "Uncle Xander can't even spar with anyone except Slayers."
"She's right," Xander finally spoke up. "I'm either holding back too much or going all out. There's no in-between for me."
"Yeah, I sorta noticed that," Terry grumbled.
"Bruce, I didn't know you still accepted apprentices that whined like five year old girls."
"I am going to tell Barbara you said that, Xander," Bruce shot back. "You do realize that, right?"
Xander shrugged, "So?"
"She still has the photos," Bruce replied, cracking a small smile.
"Can't be," Xander replied. "I swiped the negatives not two days after they were taken."
"Two days is hardly soon enough when dealing with her," Bruce pointed out. He suddenly doubled over in a coughing fit.
"You okay, Boss?" Terry asked, concerned.
Bruce cleared his throat and straightened, "I'm fine." He looked at Xander and smiled, "You may have the negatives, but she has copies. I've seen them."
Priss stared at the bantering pair and looked at Linna, "What...?"
"Don't mind them," Linna replied, rolling her eyes. "It's the evolved equivalent of grunting and flexing their pecs."
Xander looked at Linna, "You, missy, need to remember that I still have all kinds of photos of you that your mother gave me to use to embarrass you, got that?"
Linna blanched, "I'll be good!"
"By the way," Bruce said, "Terry and I will be extending our stay in MegaTokyo a little. Last night's boomer rampage shut down the airport, and the quarantine is making no exceptions."
"Well, I guess MegaTokyo has nothing to worry about for a while," Xander quipped.
Sylia looked over at him, "What do you mean?"
"Well," he shrugged, "Bruce here represents the height of American industry, still going strong despite what happened in oh-nine. You have access to your father's most cutting-edge technology. And me? Well, I wasn't gonna bring it up until later but... I've had some of my contacts funnelling some 'destroyed' weapons from Her Majesty's Royal Marines to me."
Sylia's eyes narrowed, "Like what?"
"Mostly small arms, heavy weapons. A half-dozen anti-armor particle accelerators."
"And?" Bruce prompted.
"Well... there might be a couple of..." Xander coughed, "...CE-101B combat exoskeletons."
"And?" Bruce prompted again.
"Well, just possibly... there might be..." Xander coughed again, "...anextgenerationbattlemoverprototype."
There was a moment of dead silence.
"I'm impressed," Bruce said quietly. "It takes a lot of guts and resources to smuggle something like that into MegaTokyo without Genom finding out."
"A... battlemover?" Sylia asked, her eye twitching. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? Fielding that kind of firepower is not only reckless but irresponsible. The kind of response that would provoke could very well destroy half the city."
"Hey! It's just for emergencies!"
"So what's up, Sylia?" Xander asked. As everyone had started to head out, Sylia had asked him to stay a few minutes longer so she could talk to him.
"It's about Anri," she said. "You're worried about her."
He sighed, "Of course I'm worried about her. Aren't you?"
Sylia was taken aback, then nodded, "Yes, of course. But I'm more worried about what she might do if I don't let her join."
"So am I," Xander said quietly.
"There's one other thing."
"I was comparing Anri's results to the 33-S normal ranges in the data files Sylvie acquired from GPCC, in case there was something wrong."
"I ran into another piece of data. The 33-S uses a volatile organic memory matrix. The repairs we made to Sylvie shouldn't have worked," Sylia said bluntly. "Her memory should have been corrupted or erased after that long without power. Did you do something? Something... magical?"
"Short answer?" he shrugged. "Yes. Long answer? It was mostly her. I cast a spell. As long as her soul wanted to stay in her body, it could. That's all I did. The rest was her having the will to stick around -- blind, deaf, and mute -- while we fixed her."
Sylia rocked back on her heels, "So... boomers have souls."
"Not all of them, I don't think," Xander said. "I couldn't tell you what qualifies something to have a soul. It's not brains. Plenty of very smart critters out there don't have souls. Vampires, for example. It's probably the same with your average combat boomer. But Sylvie? Anri? Yes. Most definitely."
"It's... hard to take in," Sylia said hesitantly. She lowered her head, "My father created them. He made them in humanity's own image." She looked up at Xander, "Does that make him a god?"
"No," Xander said quietly, reaching up to brush her hair out of her eyes. "It makes him a father."
Whee! --does the Snoopy dance over his new copy of BGC EX--
Also, I finally came up with a title for the overall series this 'fic is part of. The series shall henceforth be known as Knights in Crisis.