AN: i am super sorry to everyone who has been waiting for this chapter. i must admit that i had an extreme case of laziness. i promise it wont take as long for chapter 7 to get posted.
i want to take a moment to thank everyone who's review my story thus far, its a big help for me to see that people really like my work. so if you want the next chapter sooner, help me out by sending me a review!
with that said, on with chapter 6!
As Ulrich slept, Jared's tired eyes scanned for any sign of an ambush. With a poor lapse in judgment caused by a haze of fatigue, the sentry nodded off into a light sleep, but he was suddenly awakened by the sound of a stick breaking. His eyes shot open, looking for the cause of the disturbance. He subconsciously clenched his weapon tighter. Fear crawled up his spine; his heart beat painfully in his chest, and even against the cold metal of his rifle, his hands became clammy because of sweat. A single thought shattered the cloudy storm in Jared's mind like a bolt of lighting across the sky; had he and Ulrich been found? His eyes searched everywhere, and after a few tense moments, Jared finally calmed and continued to scan the still darkness.
An unknown number of hours had passed since Jared heard the noise. The sun was beginning to crest the horizon. Tired, cold and wet with the morning's dew, Jared slowly stood up, stretched and began preparing to begin the long march north—towards the hills.
The forest was slowly beginning to come alive. Birds chirped quietly over the sound of rustling leaves blown about by a cool, gentle wind. Everything was surprisingly peaceful. Jared was amazed by the scene. It was like the fight for humanity's survival no longer existed in this place. It was calm; almost agonizingly so. Jared was beginning to become jittery. Peace just no longer existed anymore—constant battles with Xana had proven that. The man almost expected a Blok or Tank to appear, thrusting him once again into a vicious tango with death.
It was time to move. He couldn't take the suspense any longer.
One look at Ulrich changed Jared's mind. He was curled up underneath a low tree. His face still and innocent, much like a child's—Ulrich was still a child the older man reminded himself, letting a low, sadistic chuckle escape from his lips. The world was cruel, and Jared didn't have the heart to wake the boy up just yet. No, five more minutes would be fine, but that was all he could offer.
With his decision to give Ulrich a few more minutes rest, Jared took out the radio that they had packed and contacted the base. Now was as good time as any to check in.
At the Base
I awoke abruptly to the ever annoying sound of my alarm clock. Rubbing my temples I willed myself out of my cot. A harder task than it seemed with every muscle still stiff with exhaustion. I glanced at the that the little box that continued to beep in a harmonic monotone. It read 5:17a.m. I slowly moved my hand to the digital clock, switching the constant buzzing off. My body finally conceded defeat; sleep would not be returning. I trudged my way out of the barracks, being careful not to wake anyone else. The hall towards the command center was empty. Only essential personal were awake tending to the facility and its sleeping inhabitants. The smooth metal that made up the hallway seemed so eerie that instead of being strong and protecting, it felt as if the steel with brittle and weak. I paid little attention to my paranoia. Everyone was used to fear because long ago it had become our constant companion, thinking about it only made everything worse because it was a waste of something we no longer had, time.
Before I had realized it, I was inside a dimly lit control room. And there it was; the sight that made my heart melt. Aelita slumped over the main computer terminal, her head resting gracefully across the keyboard.
That's Aelita for you. I couldn't stop my growing smile. Even with her disheveled clothes and hair, she still looked so beautiful. I don't know how long I stood there just watching her. At that moment, the rest of the world didn't matter. It was just me and her. I didn't want this peace to end, but the world had become warped a long time ago. We could no longer escape from it, and even though I fought the urge to wake her, it had to be done.
I took my time in walking up behind her, careful not to make a sound. I was like an animal on the hunt. Every move I made was slow and deliberate, and with a grace I didn't know I had, I was soon looking over her shoulder. I saw what she had been working on. Leaning closer to the screen, I realized that somehow she had made a copy of the "Project ALMA" folder.
Why had this kept her up so late? I would have to ask her about it later. I shook my head, deciding to ignore the thoughts in my head about what she was doing. She hadn't told me about this, and the thought of that alone was enough to elicit an audible sigh from under my breath. I wouldn't get any answers from her until she was awake and out of the state of bliss caused by sleep.
"Aelita. Wake up, Aelita," I said softly as I laid my hand on her shoulder, shaking her a little.
She woke with a start, back straightening and eyes wide open, looking at me with a startled but still curious gaze. It was a little funny and I smiled in humor as she finally found her voice.
"Oh, Jeremy, you scared me!" she said with a gasp. In her flustered state. She began smoothing some of the wrinkles on her clothes. I could see as she began to get her wits straight again. A stray pink lock dangled in front of her face, but as soon as she noticed, she nimbly tucked it behind her ear. I had to restrain myself from focusing on just how cute it was.
"Sorry Aelita," I chuckled a bit, it was impossible to hold in for any longer. "I just thought you might find a bed more comfortable."
"That's alright, Jer, I'm fine," she said. Though her eyes betrayed her. I could tell she was exhausted, and she knew I that I could tell. I gave her a knowing look hoping it would change her mind, but I had a feeling it wouldn't. "Really, Jeremy I'm alright," she persisted.
I noticed a particularly funny irony to this situation, and I couldn't help but laugh.
"What?" she asked thoroughly confused. "Bad hair day?"
Though her hair was quite ruffled from her late night research, I no longer noticed. Instead I was trapped by her large emerald eyes that seemed so deep that they could swallow me whole. I couldn't move, nor even think. Time stood still to me once again, and I would've stayed like this forever if I had noticed the sound of Aelita tapping her foot loudly in irritation.
"Well, what is it?" she asked again. This time I had enough composure to formulate an answer.
"Think about it Aelita, a year ago, you would have been scolding me for staying up so late working on your anti-virus. Isn't it funny how we've seemed to have switch roles?"
She had to admit that it was a little ironic, and just like I had, giggled at the thought.
"You're right. It is kind of funny, " she said as she rose from her seat to stretch her tired body.
"Command. This is Lockhart reporting."
I was a bit startled by the transmission. It seemed to have caught Aelita off guard as well. I scanned the room and for the first time I noticed that in fact Aelita and I were the only two in the room. I quickly pulled up a chair next to the radio.
"Command. This is Lockhart please respond."
"Lockhart, this is Jeremy. I'm reading you loud and clear," I said after slipping on the radio's headset. Aelita walked over and leaned over my shoulder; I was starting to get that dazed feeling again.
"Jeremy?" Lockhart asked. "Why are you the radio? Nevermind, it's not important. Ulrich and I made it through the night. I just wanted to check in before we needed to have radio silence."
"Good, any sign of Odd yet?" I asked. I heard a slight sigh and then Jared answered.
"No," he said, "Not yet." He sounded a little solemn. I couldn't even begin to think about was going through his mind. Suddenly he spoke again, "Jeremy, what if we don't find him?" he asked, startling me.
I hadn't expected him to be so forward, and I lost my voice as I could no longer think rationally enough to respond. For the first time I realized that he had a point. What if we couldn't fine Odd?
Aelita though was not so tight lipped, and before I could answer him, she tore the headset from my ears and half shouted, "You will find him. You have to! Do you hear me?" she huffed before throwing the headset to the ground and stomping off to the barracks, probably to calm down and perhaps get some real rest.
I stood up to go chase her, but I realized it would be a useless action at this point. She needed some time to herself. Instead, I picked up the headset from the floor and dusted it off before placing it back on my head and sat back in my chair only to be greeted by a dumbfounded Jared.
"What was that all about?" he asked me. I understood the man's confusion, as I felt a little of the same. He didn't even have the benefit of knowing Odd like I had.
"I'm not sure, she's never acted like that before, I'll have to go talk to her later." I told him, making a mental note for myself.
"I've dealt with women before, that reaction only happens rarely. It seems to me that you've got some competition there, Jer." Jared said smugly, trying to lighted the mood a little.
Still, I didn't appreciate the comment.
"They aren't like that," I said a bit annoyed.
I could almost see the Cheshire Cat grin spreading on Jared's face. "Come on, Jer," he almost sang, "war changes a person, and with girls these day, you never know—"
Now I was down right mad. I could feel myself beginning to loose my composure, and I would not give him the pleasure of hearing me get angry. There was only one thing I could do: I had to shut him up. Then, I would go talk to Aelita to try to get some of the answers I wanted as well.
"Hey Jared," I began, "remember that radio silence order you requested? Well that started ten seconds ago, so I think you should move on." My voice stern and betrayed as little emotion as I could
"But, that's... I didn't— " he began before I cut him off.
"This is command out, over" I said before ending the transmission. For a moment I just sat there, feeling triumphant that I had out smarted him. Now wasn't the time to bask in my small victory, I still had to talk to Aelita and see what caused her earlier outburst.
By this point the others had begun to wake and James—as he insisted on being called—walked into the command center.
"Good morning Jeremy! " he said greeting me with a strangely cheery tone.
"Morning." I said flatly, my concealed anger was beginning to slip out. I hoped he would see my displeasure and leave me alone. Just like my luck, it didn't work. Instead he simply spoke more.
"I'm glad I caught you alone, Jeremy. I was hoping we would have a chance to talk over some strategies for the upcoming missions against Xana, " he said looking at me with a warm smile.
"Another time, I have something important to do right now." I said coldly as I rose from my chair. I began to walk to the door, with James standing in front of it, blocking my path. His face no longer held the cheery smile it once had. It was now locked into a hard frown, but it was his eyes that caught my attention. They mirrored the concealed anger that I could feel in mine.
"More important than coming up with a plan to beat Xana?" he asked in a tone that I was sure was made up of shock, anger and displeasure.
"At the moment, yes." I answered, pushing past him and walking out of the command center towards the one place I was sure Aelita would be.
After reporting into headquarters, we began the long march south. I took point, while Jared watched behind us for any tell tale signs of danger. We traversed the hills slowly, a watchful eye always scanning the surroundings.
As we approached the crest of the first hill, I ordered Jared to scan the area using his rifle scope. I watched him intently as he moved the rifle from left to right. It amazed me how the marksman could switch from being so jovial to serious. When it came down to it, Jared was just reliable. He understood when it was time to be serious and focused. I would never tell it to him, but that was the quality I liked most about him.
"Do you see anything?" I asked as Jared continued to scan the hills of the countryside.
"Nothing," he said and continued to scout the area, but as soon as he had finished speaking his head cocked back quickly. "Wait! I've got an individual at twelve o' clock. He's heading into a farm house." Jared looked up from his scope and started making adjustments to get a better look.
"Good work, let's get down there is see what he's up to," I commanded. We waited until Jared had finished checking out the barn through his scope before moving on.
We moved deftly and in unison down the hill to the farmhouse. As we drew closer, a putrid smell over took our senses.
"What is that?" Jared asked me, a hint of disgust present in his voice.
"Quiet!" I said in a hushed tone.
I worked my way to the window as Jared took a position in front of the door. I peered in, and what I saw almost caused me to lose what little food I had in my stomach.
Inside, was a man of average height, he had short brown hair, and he was also wearing green combat fatigues. At the man's feet there laid four dead soldiers. He was knelt over one of the bodies. His fingers skillfully searched the blood-stained pockets of the deceased with precise, quite motions—qualities of a man that had learned to survive in world of death and destruction. Then I noticed the one thing that could swing this encounter out of our favor—a rifle. The man was armed! That changed everything.
Thinking quickly, I devised a plan for us to enter the farmhouse and subdue the individual. Moving next to Jared, I spoke softly as I told him my plan.
"Okay Jared, this guy is armed with a rifle, but it's a bolt-action, so he'll only have one shot if he's lucky. I want you to breach the door." I told him as I readied myself, "Once the door is open, I will enter and secure the man, you'll follow behind me and make sure he doesn't get a chance to use that gun of his, understand?"
"Got it, Ulrich." he replied, he seemed a little unsure, but I knew he wouldn't miss his target.
"One more thing, Jared. We need to know what happened here, no shooting." I instructed.
"Okay," he nodded. Putting his hand on the door handle he looked at me and said, "Ready?"
I placed the butt of my rifle into my shoulder and stood ready at the door. "On my mark, Three, Two, One, Mark!" I said and charged as Jared swung the door open, then following me in as planned.
Once inside, the man attempted to shoulder his weapon. Jared quickly moved to the man's side shouting, "Arresti, metta l'arma giù! Ora!" Seeing no current alternative, the man slowly complied and placed his gun at his feet.
"Mani nell'aria, ora!" Jared shouted, again the man reluctantly obeyed the order.
I then took the rifle from the ground and pointed it at the man.
"' Non spari, non spari. Resistenza, resistenza" the man said over and over.
"What's he saying?" I asked, wanting to know what the man had to say.
"Parli inglese?" Jared asked.
"S..Sì." replied the man. "Yes…"
Satisfied with Jared's work I took over the interrogation.
"Who are you? What happened to these men? "
"My name is Gary Burt, I am with the Italian Resistance." he began "I was sent here to gather men and supplies. "
"What kind of supplies?"
"Food, medicine, weapons, ammunition." he said. I watched his eyes intently, they never wandered. He was telling the truth.
"What about these men?"
"We had lost contact with them some time age, we feared the worst, but if their supplies remained, I was charged with bringing them back. We're starving. Our children are starving."
"Children?" Jared asked.
"Not just children. We shelter entire families."
"It's clear we're on the same side. Please get up." I said extending my hand to Gary.
Once Gary was on his feet again, he began to explain everything. Starting from the attack at the train station, to taking shelter in the farm houses, to building the current underground tunnel systems.
The two boys stood in shocked silence as the grizzled old man told the story of their camp's survival. Neither could believe that a single man could accomplish such a feat on his own; let alone do so successfully.
"…And that brings us to the present you see here." He said taking a deep breath. "So now you know why I am here, now it's time you tell me why you are here."
Ulrich took a deep breath, then spoke "We are looking for someone; a friend of ours." he began. "it is very important that we find him. If we don't, we may never kill Xana." he said.
Gary thought for a moment before letting out an audible sigh. "Well, if he is that important to you, then you should speak with our resistance leader. If anyone can help you, he can. He has been keeping lists of everyone who's came to our shelters." he began. "help me with these supplies and we can be off. " he said.
The two quickly busied themselves gathering supplies from the dead soldiers first, then searching the rest of the farm house. Once the had gathered all they could carry, Ulrich peered out the window, scanning for any sigh of danger.
A very slight smile graces Ulrich's lips. 'maybe we will find him after all' he thought.
"Ok now, follow me. stay close, and stay down." Gary ordered.
"Right!" the two said in unison and began moving out toward the Italian resistance base.
Mr. Renwick was sitting at his desk looking over the latest revisions his scientists had given him on Project: Alma. He read and re-read the data displayed on his computer screen, coming to the same conclusion each time: something was missing. A critical line of code had been overlooked. A line that Renwick was willing to do anything necessary to obtain.
"Damn it!" he cursed. "Why are you doing this to me?" his words became heated as his anger got the best of him. Suddenly, he rose to his feet, fists white- knuckled and sweaty. He clenched the edge of his desk in frustration. His anger soon became too much and he cried out with rage. "Rrrahhh! XANA!" He bellowed. "XANA YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT, GET IN HERE… NOW!"
Moments later, a smoky haze filled the room. The smoke drew together in front of Renwick's desk, taking on a humanoid form. Once it's shape was clearly defined, Xana spoke softly, "Yes master?" he said obediently. "How may I serve you?"
Panting and out of breath from his earlier outburst, Renwick spoke harshly. "I am tired of waiting, Xana. I want you to find those brats, and I want you to kill them. Do you understand me? Find and kill them all!" Renwick screamed in anger.
"Yes master. My sentries have spotted them in Italy, I shall leave at once." Xana said and began floating away to begin his newest mission.
"Xana…. If you fail me again, there will be consequences."
"Yes, my master." was Xana's only reply before vanishing from the room.
As Xana made his way to Italy, he couldn't help but wonder what Renwick had meant when he said there would be consequences. What "consequences" could he inflict on a being such as Xana? 'He can't destroy me,' Xana thought. "He needs me too much to get rid of me. So then what could he mean?" he pondered.
Xana soon pushed the troublesome thought from his mind as he came increasingly close to his objective, the place where one of the Lyoko warriors were hiding. This time he wouldn't let them escape.
Italian Resistance Base
It was breakfast time for the resistance and in an attempt to ignore his own hunger, odd had taken to helping serve the refugees their first ration of the day. Though one could hardly call it a mean. a slice of bread- no butter, one scoop of beans, one slice of fruit (on days they had any), and one glass of water. This was the best Odd could do for them. It made his sick. Some days he wondered how much longer they could live on their own like this-fighting sickness, starvation, AND Xana was beginning to wear them all down, both physically and mentally.
"Here you go." he said with a smile handing a small boy his plate. Odd knew he had to hold on, it was his responsibility to care for these people, and he full-well meant to.
Once everyone had been given their share, the kitchen staff made plates for themselves and joined the rest of refugees in the dining hall. Odd however opted to eat alone in the kitchen. He didn't enjoy the solitude, not by a long shot, but how could he sit and chat with these people as if nothing was wrong? None of them would understand the pain he carried within himself. The pain of knowing that he failed to stop Xana, failed to protect all of the innocent people's lives that Xana had already claimed in his bloody conquest. The worst pain of all was knowing that he had failed his friends. Jeremy, Aelita, Yumi, Ulrich, he had let them all down, and that was something that he would never forgive himself for.
Lost in his musings, Odd didn't notice how dead silent the mess hall had become. When he finally snapped out of his trance-like state, he looked up into the crowd.
"It cant' be…." he said completely taken over with shock.
"I knew I'd find you in a kitchen somewhere."
End chapter 6
AN: there is it folks chapter 6 is done! what did you all think? like it or not, please review and tell me what you thougth.