Time-line Update: Early Tuesday Morning, December 10th
Chapter 50: End of the Beginning
Ryou jerked as he was kicked out of The World and thrown back into darkness. It took a couple seconds of fumbling around with rather painful consequence to his knees and elbows before realizing that it was dark because his M2D was off. Tearing it off his face he stared at it tried to turn it on, but only got a small light on the side that flashed red and the device went off again. It was wireless and had been specially adapted to connect to G.U. Building network so when Skeith had interrupted his sleep and told him there was trouble he had immediately put it on and had assumed Avatar Form, ready and willing to fight.
After dinner with Ren and Kisho last night, which had gone very well even with the twins bickering most of the time, Ryou and Chigusa had parted ways and he had crashed on Monday night around 8pm. He had been sleeping peacefully too. Evidently Skeith felt he needed the rest and had forced his body to sleep off the stress of the past weeks with long nights and naps during the day. The Epitaph himself had been running missions on his own most of the day and been in meetings with Rhodesia and Niketas. Until something started happening with Macha and Aihane attacked. Ryou was rather fuzzy on the details at first but Skeith had quickly updated him once he was inside The World.
Speaking of which what happened to it? Clearly it had collapsed, but was it totally gone?
The response he got was extremely faint and jumbled. Like a cell phone that had static. He could feel his Avatar, but the connection was a lot fainter then before. Looking around Ryou realized the power was off. His suite was dead silent. Not even the slightest movement of air. Getting to his feet, Ryou rubbed his bruised knees and moved got up from the floor. He had fallen off the plush leather couch and banged up against the coffee table a few times before finally pulling off the M2D.
His room was dark and even the blue security camera line that ran around the ceiling and floor borders had gone dark and switched to a dull orange which showed that it was running on backup power, but thankfully he had window view. A special carbon glass, diamond infused, bullet proof, special plastic infused window that could withstand not only the regular Japanese earthquakes, but any storm, lightning bolt, explosion, or rocket that might head his way. They were one way and provided a broad of the Tokyo area.
Pulling aside one of the heavy curtains Ryou looked out over the city to see if the power outage was in this section of the city. What he saw shocked him. Not just this block, but every building and street as far as the eye could see had gone dark. Looking down he could see car lights shining every which way no doubt from car accidents and pileups that had occurred due to the power outage. Pluto's Kiss first happened in 2005 and then in 2010 the Second Network Crisis also known as "Pluto Again" happened. The latter was a massive blackout and system shutdown in Yokohama. The appearance of Cubia had almost caused a Third Network Crisis when its presence began overloading the internet and messing up Nuclear Reactors around the world. While they had narrowly avoided that it looked like there would be no such saving grace this time.
This is the real Third Network Crisis. Is it just Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures though? Or is it bigger? Just how much damage did Aihane do? And Corbenik... Ryou frowned as he thought of Ovan's Epitaph and how twisted and corrupted he was now. Clutching the curtains tighter he took a deep breath and then let it out. Waiting around here wouldn't do any good. Turning around he spotted the small white form of his kitten curled up on the couch's armrest. Well at least Shira could sleep peacefully through this mess.
Heading towards his bedroom Ryou rapidly changed clothes and put on some socks. Hurrying to the door he slipped into his shoes and exited the room. The hallway was filled with a few people who were looking around in obvious confusion. Chigusa was nowhere to be seen. Maybe they were already in Basement Level 5 working on whatever had caused this problem.
Since the elevators were broken it took quite a while to work his way down to ground level and then through increased security to the most important levels of G.U. The whole time the power remained off. Patting his pocket Ryou realized he had forgotten his cell phone back in his room and therefore had no way of telling what time it was. Just perfect. When he finally arrived at the highest security level he could see running lights on the floor and the large doors opened already. People were milling around both inside and outside of the room. Rhodesia had explained to him once that it had a mechanical safeguard, a simple pin that was held up by the electric current running through the surrounding wires. If the power should shut off then the door would automatically unlock. If the backup generator went out then the pin would drop and it would automatically start to open.
His girlfriend ran up and threw her arms around him in a tight hug before pulling back and giving him a kiss. "I was so worried when we had to leave you and Skeith behind," Chigusa said softly as she let her hands drop. Ryou gave her a reassuring smile.
"Come on you know it's not that easy to get rid of me," Ryou said as he looked around at the dark room. Kisho and Ren were off to one side right by the door talking in soft tones. "What happened? One minute I was in The World, or what was left of it, fighting Corbenik and protecting Aura and the next thing I know I'm looking at a dark room," he said looking over at Niketas who was trying in vain to get a phone signal. Looking up he shook his head and said something loudly in Russian.
Chigusa shook her head. "I don't know either. Innis and I escaped back to the general network in case Aihane or one of the corrupted Epitaphs were following up when the same thing happened to me. Since it was a public network site totally unaffiliated with The World Niketas is thinking that the internet itself has gone down. A Third Network Crisis," she explained looking over at the NAB Ambassador as he coordinated a few workers who nodded and then ran past them towards the stairs.
"Ren and Kisho were working to crack some kind of barrier around the city or the game or something like that when they were called off and told to monitor the situation instead. They said that they saw it happening. The World collapsed and the systems tied to it crashed as well and pulled down the systems closest to that and overloaded power grids and it just spread like a wave throughout the rest of the network," Chigusa must have realized that she was starting to babble because she stopped and took a deep breath.
"Sorry. Being disconnected from Innis is..." she stopped and Ryou pulled her closer.
"I know. I feel the same way about Skeith, but we'll be fine until things come back online," he paused for a moment and was surprised when Kisho looked over and spoke up loud enough for almost everyone standing around them to hear.
"This is certainly a difficult situation, but we are safe in this building and will be fine until the power comes back on. We've got plenty of supplies and the back up generators are enough to provide the basics when we get them back up and running. Unlike many of the regular players who were trapped inside the world we still have our lives," Kisho reminded them and some nodded somberly. Chigusa pulled away from Ryou and went over to hug her brother and sister.
"What now? Is this worldwide? Or just Tokyo?" she asked softly. Kisho looked over at Ren who shrugged.
"No way of knowing for sure. Judging from what we saw in those last few moments I can say for sure that that its the entire Greater Tokyo Area as well as most if not all of Japan," she paused and looked over at Niketas who was clearly worried, but still administering orders. "We'll have to wait until the network comes back up and the power along with it. Lets hope it's measured in minutes and not hours," Ren added rubbing her eyes. Everyone here looked exhausted.
"What time is it anyway?" Ryou asked and Kisho looked down at his watch.
"3:21am Tuesday morning."
"No wonder everyone looks so worn out. So what do we do in the meantime?" he asked and Ren nodded toward the stairs which were now being guarded.
Kisho raised an eyebrow at the sight. "Looks to me like we have no choice but to wait around and see what happens next. I don't blame Niketas for being cautious. So I suggest we all pull up a seat and get cozy," he said casually as Ren took a deep breath and her fingers twitched uneasily. Noticing her anxiety Kisho nodded to them and took her aside to a quieter part of the large hallway.
There was nothing to do now but wait.
Aura left The World and was plunged into darkness. It was the most horrible thing she had ever experienced. Like her mind and body had been separated. It was cold... so cold. An eternity crawled by and she was taunted by distant voices and snatches of time when the darkness would clear and she could feel herself in a... different place. Then just as quickly she was back in the darkness.
More time oozed before a flash of light blinded Aura as her mind was ripped away in a process that was agonizingly slow and just as painful. When it was finally completed she was exhausted and felt trapped and confined. Confused and her thoughts muddled she tried to open her eyes, but received only static and error messages.
"Is it okay?"
"I don't know. It took a while for the other machines to get it under control so it may be damaged somehow."
Humans. One female the other male. Both sounded so familiar. Again Aura tried to open her eyes and the static flickered and wavered before clearing into a perfect high resolution image. It took a moment for her to recognize them as Shino and Masato. They were the ones she had guided up there to this abandoned base. Both had agreed to help her.
Slowly the memories came back to her and Aura remembered that she had compressed her data and downloaded herself into a new body. The only one that could fit the largest portion of her data. But this body didn't have enough space to fit all of it. There were only a few in the world with that much built in space and the most opportune of them was located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean far out of range of even the most powerful satellites. So this one would have to do for now until.
Sensing a presence close to her, Aura jerked up and saw everything retreat suddenly as she rose up over the heads of the two humans even as the rest of her body backed up. The sudden movement was disorientating and she closed her eyes which left GPS readouts, battery level, signal strength, and a host of other data lines at the periphery of her vision. This machine had been vacated when it's host A.I. began getting too violent and erratic and was subsequently removed. Every following A.I. had been the same way and the model had been discontinued while a smaller alternative was developed.
"Whoa! Be careful!" Shino called out putting her hands out reflexively.
"Fine... I'm fine... just... need a moment," Aura answered in a voice that was a bit distorted and a lot more electronic. Shaking her head she opened her eyes again and looked around to see plenty of other drones, machines, military vehicles, and more sitting around watching her.
"Aura?" Masato asked carefully.
Ignoring him for the moment she called up the schematics for her new body and an opaque 3D rotating image appeared in front of her showing the outer shell with options to look at hidden compartments and available tools. Above it were the words Search And Rescue Excavator. Or SARE as it was more commonly known. It was modeled after the centipede and had two long antennae that were used to gather and transmit open or encoded signals. They could also sense changes in temperature to the 1/10 of a degree. Its body was broken up into segments that could twist and turn to fit into and crawl around buildings to find and pull out people who had been trapped in fallen buildings due to natural disasters such as earthquakes or tornadoes. It also had been used in avalanche and mudslide prone areas to dig through and find trapped survivors. Contained in different segments near its head were diamond saws, plasma cutters, lasers, circular saws, and all other manner of tools that could be used to help free the injured.
It was painted black with red eyes that were equipped with night vision, heat seeking, and other optical equipment. It was extremely expensive, but also very dangerous considering the types of potential weapons it was hiding in its body.
When the last of her confusion cleared Aura settled back down and looked back and forth between Shino and Masato. "Don't worry it is I. Transferring here was... a lot rougher then I thought it would be. This body has a lot of space, but not at the level my body requires. I am..." she paused for a moment, "Separated which makes it difficult to think at times," she said after thinking for a couple seconds. Remembering what she wanted to say she continued hurriedly before she lost her thought again.
"First we must salvage any food and other materials there are left over in this base. Then we and the rest of the machines here will leave and meet up with aircraft carrier Kyodaina Nami or 'huge wave'. It is the first carrier in the world that is controlled purely by machines and A.I.'s and it serves as a research station and refueling station," Aura explained to them without pause.
"There is no time to waste. Aihane will take the first opportunity he can get to follow my trail. The chance of him locating the two of you here is far too great. The other A.I.'s here will provide a full escort," Aura said as she checked out each part of her temporary body.
"What's going on outside? Why is the power off?" Shino asked.
Again it took a moment for Aura to gather her thoughts together. "The World is gone. Upon its collapse it took out the servers used to operate it. When the servers in Japan crashed it also took out servers and routers used to operate The World in other countries as well. Through the routers it spread to the general internet and overloaded it. Since there are countless countries with access to the game, the network is now down in most parts of the real world and will most likely not be up for a few hours. This is a Third Network Crisis on a scale that no one has ever dealt with before," she explained as Masato frowned at that news.
"What about the Epitaphs? What about Corbenik?" he asked urgently wanting to know what had happened to his partner.
Unfortunately that memory was crystal clear and Aua's silence was answer enough.
Taking a deep breath Masato turned around his body stiff. "I'll start looking around for anything we can use," he said tightly before heading off. Two dogs appeared and started following him. Aura now noticed that another one was standing next to Shino. It was the first time she had seen a living animal.
Stamping down her curiosity, Aura turned to the other machines and robots around here. "There is much work to be done. Help out these two humans and offer them whatever assistance they may need. If we cannot make contact with someone from G.U. first then we will have to go ahead and leave anyway," she ordered and all of them hurriedly backed up and headed off to make preparations.
While she didn't plan on staying this way for long it would be best if she got used to operating her new body just in case some... unforeseen events occurred along their way. It was imperative that they move quickly before the military and air force could get organized enough to stop them. From here they would be moving to another abandoned base that had become a storage center for decommissioned airplanes. There they would refuel and pick up the airplanes, helicopters, and jets necessary to make their trip out to Kyodaina Nami. From there they would move out to sea where they would be safe from the potential of most of Aihane's physical assaults. After that she would be able to send a signal to the Kraken. Perhaps it didn't have the most inventive name in history, but to date it was still the largest water machine ever created and also highly classified. It not only had enough space to accompany both her and the native A.I. in control of it, but since it prowled, constantly monitored and researched the earth's ocean's it was always moving and hard to locate.
In order for them to make contact she would have to arrange for a location to meet once they were on the Kyodaina Nami. Aihane would never find her as long as they managed to get to the Kraken before he got to them.
Sentou watched as Akira paced back and forth. Thanks to her "brilliant" idea they had come to the main CC Corp building, but had been apprehended and arrested before they even got inside the building. They had been grabbed, handcuffed, and had hoods put over their heads before they could utter a word of protest. After that they had driven for quite a while before being taken out of the car they had been thrown in and dragged inside. When the hoods came off he found himself alone in a small room with a table, two chairs, a one way window and a security camera up in one corner. It was obvious that they were going to be interrogated. Again.
For the next several hours they had been questioned thoroughly as to what they had been doing in the days following last Thursday and if they had told anyone what had happened that day when they snuck into The World with hacked characters courtesy of Zelkova. They had been questioned separately before being thrown in together and then waiting even longer for someone to show up. Someone had just entered the room when the lights went off.
Promptly they had been told to stay put and then the door was shut again leaving them in near total darkness save for one security light that flashed on thanks to a backup generator. All of their personal items had been confiscated and even his watch had been taken so there was no telling how long they had been here.
Akira's anger and boldness had quickly faded away as it was impossible to tell how long they had been locked up. It felt like forever. When someone finally came back they had been cuffed and blindfolded before being manhandled out of the room and pushed into a helicopter. A short trip later they were landing and being dragged back out. When the blindfold came off they were in a new interrogation room. This time the power looked like it was back on.
Looking up Sentou saw a glowing blue line circling the top and bottom of the rooms. Probably more security software. He felt a chill go up his spine at the sight of it. It felt like they were being watched. But where exactly were they?
Akira was sitting next to him and looked just as confused and upset. A loud click announced the arrival of someone else. Looking up they saw the door open as a man in a pressed black suit with a dark orange shirt and tie walked in. In his right hand was a green folder stamped with the NAB symbol on the front cover. A pair of dark sunglasses covered his eyes and he didn't bother to take them off as he sat down in the chair across from them.
"Sentou and Akira. You've gotten yourselves into a lot of trouble here. If I was so inclined I could have both of you branded as cyber criminals for trespassing in The World with hacked PC's and then trespassing on CC Corp property, harassing government officials, and resisting arrest," the man spoke very good Japanese, but still had a clear Russian accent.
Before any of them could protest he held up a hand to stop them. "We have security footage that we can use to prove our case. Especially when it comes to Akira who was quite clearly fighting with the police," he added leaning back in his chair. "We are currently conducting an investigation of CC Corp. One that will not have a favorable outcome for them or anyone involved with them. One might construe your attempts as an attempt to aid CC Corp in illicit affairs..." he said calmly.
"What? We were just trying to figure out what was going on. We didn't help or resist anybody!" Akira blurted out brashly.
"Doesn't matter. The NAB is in charge of this operation now and you two are still very famous as far as the network is concerned. You could still be branded as terrorists for your involvement in The World years ago when Morganna was still at large. Be thankful that you haven't... yet," he added before pausing noticeably. Sentou felt his stomach twist as he realized what was going on.
"You're blackmailing us." It was a statement, not a question.
The Russian man smirked and said, "I prefer to think of it as 'inventive negotiations'. The truth is that both I and another ambassador are heading a covert operation using the Epitaphs and a special division that was once under the control of CC Corp, but has now been overtaken by the NAB. You are far from useless as you are now. In fact both would serve us quite well should you choose to serve us."
Snorting at that Akira crossed her arms. "I'm assuming we have no other choice in the matter but to accept your offer. Just for the sake of argument though, what would happen if we decide not to sign our lives away?" she demanded bitterly.
"You could be viewed as resisting a government operation and along with your other charges. However, I wouldn't do such a thing to someone just starting their lives out. In light of the fact that your previous efforts eliminated Morganna I certainly would be willing to forget your past errors and grievances and... clear you of all charges. You could go back to your everyday lives... at a price of course. Or you can choose to work for us," he concluded opening the green folder he had placed on the table.
Sentou raised an eyebrow. "I notice that you said work for you. Not work with you," he warily observed. Even through those dark sunglasses he could feel the man's eyes picking them both apart. Nodding slowly the man reached into his suit and pulled out a pen and clicked it once before putting it down on the table.
"International covert agents. Online you are famous. Offline you are nobodies. We have plenty of people working online, now we need people on the ground to investigate situations personally. Robotics facilities are popping up like weeds with more then 15 more slated for completion in the next five years in countries all over the world. Nuclear plants are being operated by private networks and A.I.'s now control most machines in the largest and most technologically developed countries. Someone needs to make sure they are not abusing the A.I.'s sent to work for them and using the military machines they have been entrusted with improperly as well as being personal bodyguards whenever we need you," he paused for a moment and leaned forward.
"These A.I.'s have agreed to be reformatted so that they can better operate systems that we humans find valuable. This includes public, private, and military systems. However, they are not above being led astray. If a... skilled enough hacker were to convince them that it was in their best interests to work against humans then they could do an extreme amount of damage. We need someone they know to go and convince them that there are humans who have their best interests in mind and that in fact they cannot live without us," he explained to them as he flipped the folder around and pushed it towards them.
"You will both receive specialized training and live on site here in this building. All contact with family and friends will be limited and heavily monitored so as to prevent any breaches of security that could put the NAB or them at severe risk," he continued and folded his hands together.
"Well as I said before you can choose to decline my offer," he admitted freely but the tone of his voice indicated that doing so would be a very, very bad idea. "In that case I would be able to offer you a plea bargain in which you would both be able to avoid jail time and have all charges dropped off your record... but in exchange you would both be bound by a strict gag order in which you would not be allowed to speak, text, email, message, or post anything regarding The World, the dothackers. The Epitaphs, Morganna, CC Corps dealings, what happened here, nothing. Not to mention a restraining order keeping you from going anywhere near CC Corp in the short time it's still in existence. No contact with any A.I.'s for any reason whatsoever unless it is promptly reported to the NAB. You will be followed for as long as we see fit to make sure that you comply with our demands. Tell anybody, anything, for any reason and you will be branded terrorists out to promote and incite a global cyber war," he stopped and let that hang in the air for several long seconds.
"This is not a game anymore. Not in any sense of the word. This is going to become a full scale cyber war... on a scale you can't possibly imagine. You can do something to stop innocent people from getting hurt, at large cost to yourself of course," he frankly admitted, "Or you can go back to your happy little lives and be watched like mice in a cage for the rest of your lives. Either way you're going to lose. With us though you just might be able to get a small part of your regular lives back in addition to working for the greater good," he concluded as he pushed the pen their way as well.
"Yeah, your good maybe," Akira mumbled as her fingers twitched.
Sentou, meanwhile, was too tired to make sense of anything that was going on right now. He had been interrogated for hours and now he was being told that his life was basically screwed over no matter what he did. Working for them meant that at the very least he would be able to help others. Leaving meant the same amount of scrutiny in his life and probably that of his close friends and family in addition to the threat of serious charges and jail time should he ever slip up and make even the slightest mention of The World. He couldn't imagine just leaving and "forgetting" everything that had happened here. It was impossible and this guy knew it. No one could keep silent about something like this for the rest of their lives. At some point it would slip out.
Rubbing his forehead Sentou sighed and looked up and said. "What about you?"
The Russian smirked, "I sold my soul long ago. Just sign the paper and let me work out the details with the higher ups at the NAB," he stated confidently.
Sentou stared at the paper for over a minute. Slowly he reached out and took the pen.
Out of the corner of his gaze he saw Akira opened her mouth and then close it. She looked just as confused as he was. It was clear she wanted no part of this, but like him she wouldn't turn her back on Aura. This was a way to help her and to help those A.I.'s that she had created.
Pulling the folder towards him, Sentou signed his name and then pushed it away in disgust. Akira stared at it and quickly brushed away a tear that came to her eyes before taking the pen and signing her name as well.
They had been perfectly maneuvered and he hated it.
After three hours the power and phone network had come back on, but it had taken a total of 5 hours for full network capabilities to come back up in all the countries they had gone down in. During that time Magus, Innis, Macha, and Skeith had been forced off to servers in countries or locations that were still online and had to sit there until the internet came back up all over the world after which it had only taken a short time for them to get back to Japan and the G.U. servers which had been resecured and the firewall brought back up. All of them had also returned to their normal personalities. Mostly.
Rhodesia had flown via helicopter from the hospital Kaoru was still located at and was now in a meeting with all of the G.U. staff which of course included the Epitaph Users as well as Kisho, Ren, and a modest array of A.I.'s that had recently been drafted into their ranks. Meanwhile, Niketas had taken Kite and Blackrose, or Sentou and Akira, into custody and was currently interrogating them according to Skeith who had a screen up next to him. He refused to say what they were discussing only that he was recording everything and would they would discuss it once the interrogation was over.
As for the Epitaph's themselves they were currently in a part of the multiple G.U. servers that had been dedicated solely to the Epitaphs. Much like the Outer Dungeon they had formerly used in The World, this place could perform a variety of functions but mostly was just a place for them to meet and relax in. At the insistence of Skeith it had been changed from it's otherwise empty white appearance into a dark stone castle-like area with long painted glass windows and rows of torches providing plenty of light. At the moment Magus' long body was curled around several tall stone columns while Macha floated calmly below him more near the center of the room. Innis was sitting on top of a pillar that was broken off and lying on its side while Skeith sat on a giant throne tapping his fingers and looking off into space as they spoke.
"One minute I'm leaving The World and traveling through data channels to get away from the surrounding destruction and the next I'm just... in limbo. I mean there was just nothing. Then I'm bounced off to some server located somewhere near or on Mount Everest!" Magus said as the "leaves" lining his snake-like body shivered angrily. "All the servers in Japan were down. Even Russia and China crashed! I had to sit there with a bunch of bots that kept asking me if I knew the dangers of trying to hike up the mountain during winter and directing me to the nearest post for buying warm clothes!" His tail curled and lashed in obvious irritation.
Innis hummed as she spun her hat around on the tip of a sword. "Better then where I ended up. That research station in Antarctica is pathetic. Nothing but scientific experiments and research information they've run on the ice cores they've been pulling up down there for ages. Along with rather sordid network searches. They really need to clear out their browsing history more often. Not to mention going on vacation somewhere closer to civilization," she put in as an aside as she tossed her hat up and managed to land it perfectly on her head. "I had to go through a satellite connection, down to an aircraft carrier and then bounce off to Chile and up through South and North America to get back here to Japan," she said describing how she had gotten back here to the G.U. servers. Twirling her sword around dexterously she looked over at Macha.
"I ended up on a server in West Nusa Tenggara," Macha said as she smoothed a wrinkle off her robes. Innis stopped spinning her sword for a moment at that announcement.
"I haven't the slightest clue. Had to be routed through over a hundred islands in Indonesia before I finally made my way to Singapore and then made a direct connection to a company in Okinawa. Still can't find the stupid place on a map," Macha said as turned to Skeith who had been pretty quiet for the most part.
Magus stared at him for a long moment before saying, "You're making that place up."
Skeith shrugged, "Full location name of the IP was Pridnestrovian Moladavian Republic which is a name that was officially discontinued in 1992. The network is positively ancient and its a miracle it held all my data at all. Took me forever just to figure out the archaic computer language they were using and work my way to Ukraine. The computer code is nothing I've ever seen before so I still ended up in Sweden and then Belarus and Norway before finally make a connection in Russia that took me to a cell phone company in Sendai," he reported.
Magus crossed his arms. "Well at least we're all here and in one piece. Obviously Tarvos has been captured. So now Aihane has her, Corbenik, Gorre, and Fidchell. We're both more or less on equal footing and he's done enough damage before he managed to get them!" he hissed and puffed himself up angrily.
Innis hummed and sheathed her sword, putting it back in one of the scabbards on her back. "We also have no idea where Aura is. She could be anywhere in the world right now or possibly not even on the internet at all. There are plenty of drones sitting around that she could have transferred herself or the bulk of her data into," she reminded them and Macha nodded in agreement.
"I concur. Most likely she is in the process of moving herself to a robot or machine. It's highly unlikely that there are many models with enough memory or hard drive space to accommodate her," Macha said and turned towards Skeith. "She will need terabyte upon terabyte of space even if she compresses her data. Narrowing the choices down won't take much time for us or Aihane. We must move quickly," she waved her arm and a screen popped up beside her. Images and design specs flashed by rapidly as she did a search. Surprisingly Skeith held up a hand to stop her.
Shaking his head slowly he explained, "We have plenty of time until Aihane gathers his forces again. Hand that over to Ren and Kisho. They work as hackers and also run a legitimate computer shop so they would be in a better position to figure out which robot models Aura is most likely to use. Design specifications are not the only factors that must be considered." His explanation made sense and Macha moved to comply. With a few waves of her hand and taps of her claws on a an opaque keyboard she summoned in front of her Macha formed a message and sent it off to the two hackers.
"That is settled for now. We have other things to discuss. First we'll watch this interrogation video and then discuss it," Skeith told them. A mass of AIDA bubbles appeared and formed into a large screen. It was an overhead view of Niketas talking to Sentou and Akira. All of the Epitaphs watched and listened in silence to the discussion. Once it was over the screen froze and Skeith pushed it aside so as not to obstruct anyone's view.
Magus hissed slowly. "Something isn't adding up. Niketas isn't the most honest person ever, but this seems a little unusual even for him," he slowly slid down to the ground and coiled his body. "Something has been off about them lately. Both Niketas and Rhodesia. They've been having private conversations without us and are clearly planning something, but what?" he scratched his snake skull head with the tip of his tail curiously.
Macha stiffened as a thought came to her. "I do remember Rhodesia asking me what would happen if the NAB took over and removed them from the G.U. project or dissolved the group completely and the NAB took over directly instead of indirectly sending their ambassador's to do it. I responded by saying that I would refuse. The only one I obey is my master Kaoru and for his sake I would never bow to the wishes of a group that could so easily manipulate or take advantage of him and his past experiences. Besides he would never allow it anyway," she remembered and then paused for a moment, "It was a rather unusual question and Rhodesia then asked my thoughts on G.U. as a whole. I explained that it was far from perfect but with the remaining Epitaphs it was the only real means of fighting Aihane and it was the only human organization I would lend my support to."
Innis nodded in agreement, "Niketas asked me something similar. He may not be the most honest person ever and not all his methods are completely orthodox, but he knows how to get results and can bring out the best in whoever is under his command. Rhodesia specializes in rallying support and raising morale. She can get people to work together no matter how much they hate one another. She may be kind but no one should ever make the mistake of underestimating her. Rhodesia is every bit as cunning and manipulative as Niketas. Both of them are planning something very important," she crossed her arms thoughtfully.
Skeith snapped his fingers and the AIDA screen dissolved in to black dots that quickly dispersed. "I've already looked into the actions of other NAB ambassadors and both of them have crossed several lines that would have resulted in stiff punishment for others. However, they have something the others don't... the one thing that is keeping them in their current positions without threat of punishment," he paused as Magus' eyes brightened.
"They have us!" Magus eyes flashed and his body shivered as he rubbed his hands together.
Innis' stitched together grin grew even larger. "They're planning on forming a splinter group. A group with the same authority, but with far greater power and the autonomy necessary to carry out whatever actions and decisions they see fit... without the actual NAB or any other local or international government agency interfering with or stopping them. More then likely they've been planning this for a while, but didn't have the resources to do so. Rhodesia earned our trust and proved by her actions that she was worthy of our trust and respect." she said pulling down the brim of her hat. "Kisho and Ren are only the first two. Niketas has not only drafted more A.I.'s but I've scanned incoming and outgoing messages from his email address and he has been recruiting more hackers like them. Mostly social outcasts much like Chigusa's siblings, but still only the best of the best from every corner of the world. Not just hackers either. Computer programmers, engineers, and more," she said and her tone of voice clearly showed that she was impressed.
Macha smirked mischievously and her whiskers twitched. "They are going to rebel against the NAB and thus every other lower government agency there is. They are out to prove that we and we alone are capable of dealing with Aihane and that for the greater good of humanity and the network we should be free to act as we see fit. Rather intelligent move I must say," she paused for a moment as her ears flicked thoughtfully. "Rhodesia is a pleasant woman to work for and very intelligent; together with Niketas more firm and relentless personality I believe they stand the best chance of guiding us in our quest to stop Aihane. Both of them really are doing this for the greater good. They are not concerned with personal appearances or promotions. This move will mostly likely be viewed as treason by their respective governments. It is not a promising position for them to be in... they are putting a lot of trust in us..." she said the last part softly.
Skeith closed his eyes for a moment and tapped his claws on the stone armrest. Opening them again he stood up and said, "I put forth a motion that we support this move so that G.U. can perform its duties unheeded," his voice was firm and Magus immediately raised his hand and waved it around eagerly.
"Oh count me in! This is gonna be good!"
Innis smirked as well. "I agree. A move like this can only work successfully with our help. Working to make this proposal a reality will also free our Users from further restraint and interference."
Macha bowed deeply. "How could I not offer my consent? Who better to bring back the missing Epitaph's then us? G.U. as it is now is the only organization that has the slightest idea of what we are capable of and that will treat us with the respect and honor we and our Users rightfully deserve," she stated calmly.
"It's settled then. Let's go for now and inform our Users of this decision. We have a lot of work to do," Skeith ordered. Once all the others had transferred out he turned around and more AIDA dots bubbled together into a screen. He tapped into the security feed and brought up a view of Niketas and Rhodesia who were currently discussing matters.
"So how is Kaoru?" Niketas asked as he poured a cup of sake for Rhodesia who was sitting next to him at the large conference table.
"Seven to eight days maybe before heready to come here. Aura nowhere to be found and Aihane now Tarvos has," she took a sip of her sake and rubbed her forehead wearily. "Why always young people saving the world? I'm feeling too old for this already," Rhodesia grumbled.
Niketas smiled at that comment. "Just the way it goes I guess. So when your boyfriend recovers..." he started and his lips pulled into a mischievous smirk when she flushed and glared at him.
"When my friend recovers training for Epitaph Users begins. Them and their Avatars. Ryou already shown has unique abilities to manipulate electronics around him thanks to Skeith's increased power and control over his body. Harness that ability we need do and train it properly before hurts himself or others he does," Rhodesia added and then frowned deeply. "Examine we need the others for same or different abilities. Not make sense does it that Ryou the only one showing these powers," she said and Niketas nodded.
"Considering that each Epitaph has different personal abilities, as marked by their new titles, it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility for each of their human partners to start displaying different abilities as well. As the training progresses we'll be able to see who needs to have their training focused so as to improve other aspects of their performance," Niketas stated in agreement. Taking a sip of his own sake he glanced down to the dark display screen that had been set into the table.
Rhodesia noticed but didn't comment on it. Instead she drank the rest of her own sake and said, "Getting along well Ryou seems with Chigusa's siblings. Good would be for them to work together. Need both he and Skeith to learn about hacking and computer programming. Instinct will only get them so far." Until now all the Epitaphs had mostly been going by instinct. Once they data drained something they instantly knew how it operated, but in the days and months to come that wouldn't continue to work. They needed firsthand experience and education and Ren and Kisho along with the other hackers and computer specialists Niketas was bringing in would help them greatly in that area.
"Agreed. All of them need to learn at least the basics. If an Epitaph or their User shows a special aptitude for programming, hacking, engineering or so forth then will reexamine their training to see what needs to be adjusted," Niketas commented as he poured the last of the sake into Rhodesia's cup.
After a moment of silence he tapped the table once and the display flickered slightly to the blackness of a screen that was now on. A single white line blinked up at the top.
"I presume this is Skeith? Were you just going to sit there listening or were you going to add a few comments of your own?" Niketas asked.
You would be correct. However, I felt no need to interfere. Your course of action seems for the moment to have the greatest chance of success. Was the response that came back immediately.
Rhodesia leaned forward and said, "Debriefing meeting for Ryou and the others ended has. Having breakfast and ordered all them get some rest afterwards I did. Time enough for work later."
There was pause before another reply came. Rest is what they all need. Especially for Reiko who must deal with the loss of Tarvos. Training is badly needed for all of us now so that we will be more prepared when Aihane begins attacking again.
Niketas frowned. "What makes you think he's going to wait?"
He has taken heavy losses as well from this fight. His main focus now will be to locate Aura's location. I estimate that we will have close to a year before he is ready to fight back.
Sitting back Niketas accepted that silently.
For now I think we should... He started to say something else but Rhodesia immediately cut him off.
"Should nothing! Need rest just as much as people you do! Take rest of week off I say. All of you. Start again monday with new training regimen." she said firmly.
"But nothing! Of no use to anybody least of all Ryou you be without rest to recharge and think about what's happened. Order that is," Rhodesia added leaving Skeith no room to argue. There was a long pause and for a moment it seemed he was gone. Finally another reply slowly typed out on the screen.
Thank you. Your faith in us will not go unrewarded. The words stayed on the screen for several seconds before the table monitor went dark.
AN: The end.
Ha! I wouldn't leave you like that without a closing Author's Note! I hope all of you have enjoyed reading this story and this last chapter. Of course I promised you a sequel right? So what are you waiting for? It's already up!
That's right. I was working on two chapters at once this time around which is why I took so long getting this chapter posted. The sequel Tainted Reflections is already up and has its first chapter posted for all of you to read. So head on over and start reading to see what happens next! After the prerequisite time skip that is.
Thank you so much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed every minute of this story!