And so it ends. It's been quite a wild ride. I started this project a few years ago on a whim. Now after all this time my work is complete, and I can hardly believe it. On a more somber note, I would like to dedicate this final chapter first to my cousin Reece and second to Monty Oum, the creator of RWBY. Since the time in between my last update and now, both were tragically taken from this Earth far too soon. In different ways they inspired me to keep on writing, so I wanted this last entry of my fanfiction to honor their memory.
The surviving warriors sit in a huddle in the middle of the lab room. Behind them lies the computer monitor, which has been completely turned off. Every face gazes downward onto the floor. Almost half an hour goes by without anyone saying a word. In the middle of the huddle are eight sodas waiting to be consumed. Some of the warriors momentarily glance at the drinks and then look away. Odd buries his face in his hands, shaking his head despondently. Yumi leans on her left forearm, letting tears occasionally drip down her cheeks. Ulrich keeps his eyes closed and breathes slowly in and out. Occasionally his moments of Zen are interrupted by an outburst of sobbing which quickly cease once he regains his composure. Natalya taps her left index finger on the floor. Tear stains run down from her eye sockets. She has nothing left to cry. The shirtless and still wounded William leans back and lies on the floor to stare at the ceiling. His expression remains utterly hollow, devoid of any obvious physical or mental pain. Aelita sits next to Jeremie, burying her face in his shoulder. Jeremie keeps his head up almost against his will, refusing to give in to despair or relief. The beleaguered commander's face still retains the same intensity and inner torment as if his mind still believes that the battle has not been won. After several more minutes, William sits up, not saying anything. Another minute passes until finally, William reaches to pick up one of the sodas.
William: Alright, I think we've sat here long enough. It's time to do this. He stands up, holding the can at arms length. Let's have a toast.
Reluctantly, one by one, the warriors select their soda and stand up with him. Some refuse to make eye contact with the rest of the group. Jeremie's grip on the aluminum object becomes rigid and tight to the point of nearly crushing the can. His voice trembles as it slowly escapes his mouth.
Jeremie: You are the greatest group of warriors…and friends that anyone could ask for. He looks around the huddle, making sure to give everyone his attention. Because of your courage and dedication, we-He chokes up for a moment and for a solid thirty seconds he is unable to continue-we stopped a madman from taking over the world. He looks up at the ceiling. Tears finally start to break through the surface. No matter what pain you feel right now, tomorrow, or for the rest of your life, at least remember that what we did here mattered more than we could ever comprehend. Ladies and gentlemen…we have won. So I say-He pops open the tab, letting the soda fizz- let us toast to Moriarty's defeat and the freedom of all humanity.
Aelita slowly nods her head in agreement. She lifts her can.
Aelita: To freedom...
The others give a lackluster reply.
All Warriors: To freedom.
Everyone takes a sip. The group is quiet for a few seconds. William then steps into the huddle.
William: I know it hurts us-William quickly corrects himself- no…it's killing us, but we must toast to Christophe. Without him…well you know what would have happened. We would have lost everything. He sharply inhales through his nose and rubs his eyes. Despite his lack of experience, he knew what being a Lyoko Warrior truly meant. Was he a perfect one? No. He glances at the other warriors as his eyes start to water. But none of us were. We all failed. We all lost our minds at various points because of our selfishness, stupidity, and unbearable pain. When Christophe killed Emmanuel…or thought he killed him, he started to understand just how awful this job is. When things got tough, I think he took a cue from me and blocked out almost everything that could have compromised the mission. And he kept on doing that, right to the very end. His eyes widen after he experiences a mild epiphany. Yes... Now that I think about it, I was sort of a mentor for him. I wanted to prevent him from sharing my fate as a new Lyoko Warrior, and for the most part he listened to my advice and warnings. He…probably even looked up to me. He tried to follow my stoic way of handling things, and perhaps because of that, he became a great warrior. William falls to his knees, clearly distraught and at the point of breaking down. The tears slide down his pale cheeks. But I can't be stoic any longer. I…I just lost a comrade. I lost a friend. He begins to sob in earnest. Moriarty, in his final act of pure evil, took him from me…took him from us. William picks up the extra can of soda, the one meant for Christophe. The one that will never be consumed. He bends over with his head facing the floor. Christophe…if you can hear me, I want you to know that you died a hero. At this point, William's tearjerker speech begins to have a visible effect on the group. And so, we will forever honor you as one. He slowly stands and lifts his can in the air as far as his arm can stretch. To Christophe, the greatest Lyoko Warrior of us all!
The group of seven sadly yet passionately lifts their cans together with William.
All Warriors: TO CHRISTOPHE!
The Lyoko Warriors drink in silence, easing their pain with caffeine and the comfort of their community. It is a community unfathomably relieved by the end of their mission and yet equally burdened by the reality that an irreplaceable presence within their fold is now gone forever.
The collective campus hangover at Kadic sets in as Order and Outcast students alike solemnly return. Very few words are spoken among them. Mathias, still in his white undershirt, bears the chilly December night as they enter through the front gate. When they are assembled in the main courtyard, Delmas informs them that their parents will arrive in the morning for a much needed winter break. After everyone leaves, Delmas escorts his daughter Sissi back inside. Just as they enter the dark hallway near his office, he receives a phone call. The aged principal looks down at his daughter, wondering if it is okay for him to answer it.
Sissi: It's okay. It might be important.
Delmas picks up.
Basil: Mr. Delmas, this is Alexander Basil from Lycée Jeanne d'Arc…
Delmas: Dr. Basil, please don't tell me you are still at that dreaded protest. He turns on the lights in the hallway. If you and your students need a place to stay for the night, I'm sure I could arrange something. Jim could prepare some be-Delmas stops himself and takes a moment to clear his head.-Uh…I mean.
Basil: No. My students and I are fine…relatively speaking. He takes a long pause before continuing. Jean-Pierre, I know this is a bad time, but there's something you should know. Have you been informed that Dr. Renard has disappeared?
Delmas escorts his daughter to his room as he listens. He grinds his teeth together in hate just at the mention of that hated name.
Delmas: Yes. And he can stay that way for all I care.
Basil: He hasn't just disappeared. He's wanted for murder…
Delmas nearly drops the phone. His verbal response is harsh and demanding in tone.
Basil: Hans Klotz has been killed, and the police suspect Dr. Renard was involved.
Delmas stops walking. At the mention of this shocking news, something within him snaps. He loses all expression in his face and merely stares blankly down the hallway, leaving his daughter deeply concerned.
Sissi: Daddy? Daddy what's wrong?
Basil: He's also wanted for assault. I've heard that he injured the Spanish prince's bodyguard pretty badly. The police will probably show up tomorrow to ask you some questions-Basil stops when he finds Delmas' silence suspicious.-Mr. Delmas? Jean-Pierre? Are you still there?
Delmas wordlessly hangs up the phone. With the motion and grace of a zombie, Delmas does an about face and starts walking. Sissi cautiously follows him.
Delmas: Go on to bed dear. Daddy needs some time alone.
Sissi obeys, abandoning her father to whatever has possessed him. A few minutes later, Delmas enters the office and hits the lights. The fluorescent light fixtures flicker in protest for a few seconds, as if they have been disturbed from their slumber. Delmas sits down in his chair and roots around in one of his desk drawers. His right hand holds up a sizeable bottle of rum that has not yet been opened. He finds a glass in one of the cabinets behind him and stares at the bottle. He sighs.
Delmas: Hello my little friend. He holds the bottle up to the light. You're the only one I can rely on right now…
Eventually the campus, or what is left of it, settles down to sleep. Even the Lyoko Warriors, who arrive on campus quietly and unseen, go to sleep. The events of this last day have drained them to the point that sleep is the only possible reprieve. All of them collapse on their respective beds, from the dormitories in Kadic to the Ishiyama residence. They sink deeply into a dreamless sleep. But even within the protection of sleep, there is little mercy for the Lyoko Warriors. Shortly after midnight, Odd starts to shift uneasily on his bed. This shifting soon progresses to shaking and from there to violent spasms. Kiwi's ever alert ears pick up on the problem and soon the canine is barking up a storm. Odd's eyes open in an instant as he immediately becomes aware of his condition. He grabs his head and yells in agony, which jolts Ulrich out of bed. His groggy but deeply agitated roommate approaches him and tries to shake him out of it.
Ulrich: Odd, snap out of it! You're not on Lyoko, you're safe here at Kadic! He grabs hold of Odd's trembling hands and looks into his tormented eyes. It's all over, remember?
Odd: No! It's my head! A new spasm robs almost robs him of speech. He screams in a whisper. It feels like my brain is on fire...
Nervous sweat trickles down Ulrich's forehead while Kiwi keeps barking. The panic compels him to take out his frustration on the dog. A firm side kick forces the canine away from his master.
Ulrich: Will you shut up for once?!
Odd's spasms become more violent. His breathing sharpens and his cries of pain turn into a few muffled gasps for air. Overwhelmed by the perilous situation before his eyes, Ulrich flees the room to go get Jeremie for help. Meanwhile the epileptic episode continues much to Kiwi's alarm. Odd grabs hold of his bedsheets as if he is being strangled to death. His neck cranes backwad with his eyes locking on the ceiling in one last desperate attempt to overcome whatever is attacking him. Then, he becomes absolutely still. Kiwi moans and licks his master's hand to try to wake him. It elicits no response. Ten seconds later, the door is slammed open. Jeremie rushes to Odd's side.
Jeremie: How long has this been going on?!
Ulrich: Less than a minute. But it's bad-Ulrich covers his mouth and looks away.-It's bad…
Jeremie holds up Odd's wrist and tries to find a pulse. The boy genius' knuckles soon turn white. He looks at Ulrich in horror.
Unable to handle the information, Ulrich quietly closes the door. He promptly bangs his fists against said door.
Ulrich: No…No….No! Ulrich bangs his forehead on the door and groans helplessly as Jeremie tries to perform CPR with desperation etched on his face. We just beat Moriarty for good…We're finally done with Lyoko and at the price of one of our own. O God…don't let it be two...
After a few desperate seconds when both think that all is lost, Odd springs up in bed and gasps. The sudden movement jolts Jeremie and Ulrich out of their despair and into utter confusion. Jeremie backs up, giving Odd some room to breathe. When they become comfortable with the idea that their comrade has successfully survived, Jeremie calmly tries to ease Odd's mind.
Jeremie: Odd, you're going to be okay. You're with us now. Moriarty and Lyoko can now be distant memories for all of us.
Odd furrows his eyebrows and gives both of them a pensive look. He rubs his forehead and stammers out a simple question.
Odd: Who's…Moriarty? In a single instant, Jeremie and Ulrich find that they are the ones unable to breathe. Odd's questioning look remains. What's a Lyoko?
The next morning, Natalya helps William pack in his room for the winter vacation. The privacy provides him the opportunity to reveal the news.
Natalya: Are you kidding me?!
William motions for her to be quiet as if the walls are listening to them.
William: Yes. It's true. Jeremie told me himself.
Natalya shakes her head in bewilderment and paces to the front of the room.
Natalya: How is this even possible?
William: It was his psychological connection with Moriarty. Or at least, that's Jeremie's theory. In my opinion, it's the only thing that makes sense.
Ulrich talks with Yumi over the phone while waiting outside the front gate in the midst of slowly falling snow. He carries a duffle bag over his shoulder and a suitcase is positioned at his right side.
Yumi: So he remembers nothing?
Ulrich: No. He knows who all of us are. And he has a vague understanding that Kadic has gone through its worst semester in its history. But he is completely clueless about Lyoko and Moriarty. It's like the whole thing never happened…
Yumi: That episode must have erased it all from his mind, but how?
Ulrich glances down the street to watch a few cars pass by. He shifts a little in place, letting the ice crack under his boots.
Ulrich: We don't really know. In fact, we have no idea.
Scene shifts to Aelita and Jeremie exiting the dormitory building pulling their respective suitcases into the walkway underneath the portico. They stop there for a moment to talk.
Jeremie: But what if what happened to his memory was necessary? Like a failsafe for his mind…
Aelita: In other words, his mind got rid of all of his memories of Lyoko to prevent the psychological break from killing him, correct?
Jeremie: It's just a theory, but he was on death's door when I found him. Then, he came right back. But not his memories of Lyoko…
Aelita covers her mouth for a minute and shuts her eyes. She tries to clear her mind and think rationally about the situation.
Aelita: But there will be a bunch of holes that he can't explain. How is he going to remember Dr. Renard? What will he think of his time in the Outcasts? What will he think of what happened to Christophe? She gasps. What will happen if he tells the school we're not cousins?!
Jeremie covers her mouth to prevent her from being heard. He checks the area around them. Students silently leave the dormitories with their belongings without any joy or hurry. He turns his attention back to her, looking her straight in the eye.
Jeremie: I don't know. Maybe his mind will try to fill in the gaps. Maybe it won't. I don't know. The best thing we can do is make sure he doesn't have to face thos contradictions.
Aelita looks away.
Aelita: …That may be impossible. Have you not tried to jog his memory?
Jeremie's expression sours. He uncomfortably rubs the back of his neck.
Jeremie: Yes. Ulrich and I tried. But it didn't end so well.
An hour and a half before all of these conversations, Odd puts a shirt on while Jeremie reads a book on Ulrich's bed under the pretense of passing time until it is time to leave. With a visual cue from Jeremie, Ulrich cautiously hands Odd a piece of paper.
Ulrich: Hey Odd, I found this under your desk. Did you draw this?
Curious, Odd grabs the paper. It is a color drawing done by him displaying his virtual avatar along with a Lyoko version of Kiwi. Several trees in the Forest Sector make up the background. The artist stares blankly at his work for a moment, not recognizing it. Ulrich tries to nudge him in the right direction.
Ulrich: Does it…remind you of anything?
Odd: That's strange. I don't remember drawing this. Suddenly his expression becomes entranced. His little drawing becomes an object of extreme interest and mystery. Wait…isn't this Ly-
Odd spontaneously starts to choke on nothing, prompting a barking spree from Kiwi. His hands shake once more and he appears at the point of collapsing. Jeremie throws his book to the side and grabs him by the shoulders.
Jeremie: Quick! Get the drawing away from him!
Ulrich obeys, ripping the paper away from his hands. Jeremie holds onto Odd in an attempt to get him to relax. Following some few terrifying seconds, Odd's breathing slows down to normal. Jeremie rests him at the foot of his own bed before he emerges from his catatonic state.
Jeremie: Destroy that drawing. He turns in Ulrich's direction, his face deadly serious. And if he has anything else that might remind him of Lyoko, destroy that too. He glances back down at Odd, who is still recovering. It's far too dangerous for him to remember…
Aelita listens to Jeremie's explanation with grim understanding. She drags her suitcase closer to her feet and rests her hands on the retractable handle. Across the courtyard she notices Odd greeting his parents. The buff Mr. Della Robbia pulls his son into an embrace.
Mr. Della Robbia: Son, I'm so glad to see you. But we should have come here months ago…He glances around the school grounds, sensing the aura of tragedy and loss…this school is not the same place we enrolled you in. It gives me the creeps now…
Mrs. Della Robbia: It's all that monster Renard's doing. At first we didn't think he was a problem, but then the stories about him got stranger and stranger. But with the disease outbreak and all the terrorist attacks happening and the stories we heard all over Europe, it seemed like we couldn't even safely get to yo-
Odd: Mom…Dad, I get it. It's been a bad semester. He rethinks his words for a moment. A terrible semester in fact. I wouldn't be surprised if I get PTSD from this mess. But at least I was never bored.
Mr. Della Robbia takes Odd's bag and they start to walk towards the exit.
Mr. Della Robbia: We have a taxi ready to take us to the airport. And if you ask me, the sooner we get to Norway, the better.
Mrs. Della Robbia: Oh your sisters have been so worried about you!
Odd: All of them? Worried about me? He can't help but smile. Now that is a miracle…
They all start to laugh at the joke, but soon Odd's laughing turns to crying. He stops and bends over, covering his face in his hands. His parents put their hands on his shoulders in an attempt to comfort him. Alarmed, Aelita begins to approach them, but Jeremie grabs her by the hand.
Aelita resists his grip in protest.
Aelita: But he might…
Jeremie: He won't…
Odd stands up again and wipes his eyes. He tries to force a smile again, but he falls short of his goal.
Odd: I'm sorry. It's just….it's been too much. He inhales sharply through his nose. Too many people hurt. Too many dead. And now with Jim….and Christophe…
Mr. Della Robbia: Yes, we heard about the car accident…and the murder. That's too much for anyone to go through, no matter how old you are. You were strong to weather through it all, but now it's time for you to rest.
Their only son perks his head up at the mention of this word. He spaces out for a moment.
Odd: Rest….Yes rest would be really nice. He furrows his eyebrows in slight confusion and then returns to the original topic. Did…did they ever find his body…in the river?
Mrs. Della Robbia shakes her head sadly.
Mrs. Della Robbia: No. They're still looking. Her negative reply only worsens Odd's mood. She lifts up his chin to make him look her in the eye. But enough of that for right now. Let's leave…for good this time. You should never be forced to come back here.
Odd regards the option with an air of ambivalence.
Odd: I'm not so sure I need to, or should. The school could use me to make it like it was before. And I still have people who are counting on me.
He turns around, meeting Jeremie and Aelita's spying gaze. At first he happily waves and takes a few steps forward to formally say goodbye. But suddenly his feet stop. His expression becomes wrapped in confusion when he tries to come closer. He loses himself for a moment, as if he's just realized that he might be dreaming. Unable to shake the feeling, he merely awkwardly waves again and heads back toward his parents. Before they leave the campus, Odd's backpack shakes. A small doggy head peeks out of the bag and barks. His parents stare at the backpack in bewilderment.
Mr. Della Robbia: Kiwi?
Mrs. Della Robbia: Odd…what is your dog doing on campus?
Odd rubs the back of his neck with a typical Odd-like guilt on his face.
Odd: Uh….about that. Do you remember when I told you I left him with Elizabeth?
The happy family disappears out of earshot, leaving Jeremie and Aelita only with the sound of falling snow and passing cars in the distance. In the wake of their silence, Aelita temporarily covers her mouth with her scarf. Jeremie remains calm and strangely tranquil. His girlfriend shifts slightly on the icy asphalt.
Aelita: Should we be careful about contacting him?
Jeremie: I don't know. I think we should wait and see until after winter break to make any significant judgment call. He hugs his shoulders together. One thing is for sure. We will have to watch him closely in case he has another episode.
Aelita shudders at the thought, realizing the practical challenge of doing so.
Aelita: But for how long? For the rest of his life?
Jeremie: Oh don't be ridiculous. Just-He shrugs his shoulders-until he graduates I suppose. After that, the likelihood of him encountering anything to jog his memory will diminish considerably. And that's only if he comes back to Kadic. There are bound to many students dropping out before the break is over.
Aelita: And what about us? That wouldn't be easy for me whatsoever. Getting all the paperwork together the first time was a nightmare. I'd rather not risk my identity all over again.
Jeremie: Which is why…Jeremie takes hold of her hand, sending a wave of warmth through her body…I'm not going anywhere.
Aelita blushes and looks down at the ground in embarrassment. She avoids his gaze for a moment and then gives him a flirtatious side glance.
Aelita: Oh you…How did the nerdy boy genius at Kadic get so good at this?
Jeremie takes her other hand and gently pulls her toward him. He focuses on her bright pink lips.
Jeremie: I've had a lot of time to practice.
He moves in to kiss her, but is quickly interrupted by the honking of a horn in the distance. They turn to see Mr. Belpois motioning to him from the street.
Mr. Belpois: Come on sport! Your mom wants us to be home by lunch!
Jeremie shakes his head and smiles.
Aelita: You have a great family. They make their way to Mr. Belpois' car. I can't wait to meet the rest of them.
Jeremie: Well you already know Patrick. He'll be there…with Uncle Richie and Aunt Louise.
Aelita: And grandparents?
Jeremie: Yes, but only on my mom's side.
Aelita: And your dad's?
Jeremie frowns for a moment.
Jeremie: Both of them are dead. My grandmother died when I was four, so I didn't get to know her all that well. Her second husband also died a few years before I was born.
Aelita: What about her first husband? Your grandfather?
Jeremie: He died a long time ago during the Battle of Bizerte in Tunisia. All we have to remember him is one faded photo in our living room.
Jeremie and Aelita reach the sidewalk. Jeremie helps Aelita put her bag in the trunk.
Aelita: Oh…I'm so sorry Jeremie. I had no idea.
Jeremie closes the trunk.
Jeremie: Yeah, but I guess it's always hard to miss someone if you never knew them. He takes a long pause to look down the avenue at nothing in particular. And God knows I already have enough people to miss.
The pair's collective mood falls again, but Mr. Belpois unknowingly leaves them little time to reflect. He sticks his head out of the window to get their attention.
Mr. Belpois: Son, we're not flying to Rouen, so let's get going. This school has caused you too much trouble to be hanging around here any longer.
Jeremie lowers his voice so only he and Aelita can hear.
Jeremie: On that we can definitely agree…
Ulrich waits inside his mom's car which is parked outside the Ishiyama household. Yumi says goodbye to her family who stand just inside the gate. Mr. Ishiyama gives her a big hug.
Yumi: Thank you for letting me do this. She hugs him a little tighter. It means a lot…
Mr. Ishiyama: It's no problem. This will be a very hard winter break for him and his mother. He could really use your company. And besides, you've never had an authentic Western Christmas experience before. This could be good for you.
Yumi: I have no doubt.
Mrs. Ishiyama speaks up with the loving but slightly warning tone of a protective mother.
Mrs. Ishiyama: Yes, but just remember to…She glances not so subtly in Ulrich's direction...behave while you're gone.
Yumi avoids eye contact with her parents for a moment.
Yumi: Oh I will.
Mrs. Ishiyama: Oh you better. Her mother maintains a strict smile before delivering her threat. Or we will let Grandpa tell you all the various personal details of his…She chooses her words carefully…past that we have forbidden him from mentioning.
Grandpa Ishiyama, who stands in the doorway to the house, raises his cane in affirmation.
Grandpa: And don't think for a second that I won't do it!
Yumi's eyes widen at the warning. She quickly clears her throat and hugs her mother to get her mind off of that terrible thought.
Yumi: I promise you it won't have to come to that.
After she breaks off the hug, Yumi's gaze drifts to the kitchen window, where her brother timidly waves goodbye to her. He bites his lip and calmly walks back toward the center of the house. She refocuses on her parents.
Mrs. Ishiyama: Just be patient. He needs time to sort things out.
Mr. Ishiyama: And so do you…So do us all a favor and have a wonderful time.
Yumi puts on the happy girl façade and smiles like a typical teenage girl. She looks over her shoulder and waves goodbye before entering the car.
Yumi: I'll call you as soon as I arrive in Amiens!
Mrs. Ishiyama: I'll hold you to your word. Have a great time!
The car starts and ambles down the avenue in the direction of the nearest highway. Once her house has passed out of eyesight, she slowly turns toward Ulrich, who patiently waits for her attention. An uncomfortable darkness seems to linger behind Ulrich's smile, a darkness that does not escape Yumi's probing eyes.
She tries to speak but her tongue fails her. All at once she realizes there is much to say but not at the moment, considering that Mrs. Stern is in the vehicle with them. Sensing that the two are struggling with conversation, the tired figure of Ulrich's mother peers at them through the rearview mirror.
Mrs. Stern: Are you two alright back there?
Ulrich: We-He assumes a deer in the headlights look for a moment-I guess we are just a little bit out of it.
Mrs. Stern stares straight ahead for a moment, focusing on the mostly light traffic occupying the streets of Boulogne-Billancourt. Her eyes drift onto the snow covered parked cars fixed to both sides of the sidewalk. When the silence becomes uncomfortable, she reaches for the knobs on the car stereo.
Mrs. Stern: I know, let's listen to the radio for a bit.
She initially encounters stations talking about the Eurovision tragedies and the allegations surrounding the recently disappeared Dr. Renard. After trying several other stations, she finally finds a sports talk show on the air. Satisfied, Mrs. Stern continues driving and lets the distant dialogue fill the vacuum.
Sports Announcer: For those of you just tuning in, we're here with star ice hockey goalie Rémy Lloris, whose amazing penalty shot save last afternoon proved the deciding factor in the national team's victory over Italy. Brief pause. Rémy, thank you for joining us today.
Rémy: No, it's my pleasure.
Sports Announcer: Rémy, tell me about that moment. You're facing Italy's star forward in the last moments of the game. You know you are the only one standing in the way of him and a victory for Italy. What was going through your mind right before he started his attack?
Rémy: It's certainly overwhelming that's for sure. That kind of pressure is not something one can easily describe to someone who doesn't play the game. And of course there's always the prospect of failure in the back of your mind-He verbally recoils at the thought.-Yeah I'd rather not talk about that. In an instant, Yumi winces as if she has just been stabbed in the stomach. Ulrich turns to her and immediately realizes what just happened. He shuts his eyes, feeling a tear creep up in his left ear. But luckily I did block the shot and we were able to win in overtime…
Mrs. Stern turns down the volume almost to mute level and briefly looks over her shoulder.
Mrs. Stern: Yumi? Yumi what's wrong?
Ulrich places her hand on Yumi's shoulder. She is unresponsive for several moments and merely stares at the back of the driver's seat. Her boyfriend shakes her a little.
Ulrich: Yumi, are you going to be okay?
Her hands briefly go through her scalp and into her hair. She then buries her face in her palms and slowly begins to weep.
Yumi: You know the answer to that question.
Ulrich unbuckles his seatbelt and wraps her in a strong embrace. His mother awkwardly stares ahead, refraining from offering any sympathy that would appear cliché and unhelpful. Ulrich leans in close to her.
Ulrich: I know. I miss him too. I miss him terribly…
Yumi chokes out words between sobs.
Yumi: We..We'll never have Pencak Silat class…with him ever again. She turns to him with two rivers of tears flowing from her eyes. How much death do we have to go through? She inhales sharply through her mouth. I thought that we could make everything better once he was gone, but Kadic cannot be the same…ever. Not without Jim…
Yumi continues to cry quietly, leaving Ulrich with little to do but wipe her tears.
Ulrich: No. Kadic can never replace Jim. But we can remember him. As long as we remember-His eyes begin to water-he's not really dead. Not to us. Ulrich wipes his eyes with his forearm and glances out the back window. He then refocuses on his girlfriend, who is still a complete mess. I wonder if the others are having a better vacation…
On the north side of the French metropolis, the Dunbar family sedan waits outside a high-rise apartment building. William sits in the back, nervously and somewhat despondently waiting for her to arrive. While Mr. Dunbar casually takes a business call, his wife beams with excitement.
Mrs. Dunbar: Oh I can't believe we're finally meeting her!
William: Yeah-A touch of trepidation enters his voice-I can't either. But thank you for letting her tag along.
Mrs. Dunbar: We couldn't just let her spend a miserable winter break with her uncle. She looks out the window with clear disdain. What a terrible man! Judging by that building, he's certainly not hurting for finances. The least he could do is actually care about his niece!
William: Yes…we've been through that. He clears his throat and scratches the side of his head. By the way, have you already told Rosaire? And did he take it well?
Mr. Dunbar continues with his phone call but rolls his eyes to signal that they have told him. His wife dismisses the concern with a wave of a hand.
Mrs. Dunbar: Yes…He moralized a bit as usual, but don't you worry about him. He won't even show up until Christmas Eve dinner.
William: That will be interesting.
Mrs. Dunbar: Oh…She hones in on the staircase window-I think I just saw a young lady coming downstairs. I simply can't wait to meet your lively, kind-hearted, sweet-
Natalya storms out of the building through the ornate French doors onto the sidewalk, clearly furious and ill-tempered. A window opens on the second floor, revealing a balding middle-aged Russian man who shouts down at Natalya. The blonde beauty turns around and fires off a string of abuse in her native language, much to the shock of William's parents. His mother turns white for a second. His father drops his phone. When her uncle goes on with his tirade, Natalya responds with a certain hand gesture that delivers a powerful message regardless of the language. She then drags her suitcase to the trunk and throws it in. After a rather painful pause for William, she enters the car with a million dollar smile acting like a few seconds ago never happened.
Natalya: Hello Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar, I'm Natalya. I'm pleased to finally- The Dunbar parents are still speechless. Natalya quickly gets the memo that things are not going according to plan. She tries to laugh it off. Oh…that. I definitely shouldn't have done that last thing but-
William: It's not just that…
Natalya: Huh? What do you mean?
William shifts uncomfortably in his seat, feeling the stares of his parents grow more oppressive.
William: Well, you see my dad here once lived in Moscow for almost two years…And my mother studied Russian for four years in high school so…
Recognition of the meaning behind her boyfriend's message hits her like a freight train. She starts to turn as red as a tomato.
Natalya: So you mean…they understood…?
William nods his head. Natalya bites her lip in embarrassment. With the awkwardness level reaching critical, she flips her hair over her shoulder and buckles her seatbelt. Once she is settled she calmly looks William's parents in the eye.
Natalya: He is still a залупа (Expletive).
William checks a watch that doesn't exist.
William: Oh is it lunch time already? Because I'm starving…
In a white townhouse on the outskirts of Rouen, the Belpois family wraps up lunch. While Mr. Belpois occupies his son with casual conversation, a striking blonde woman with bright blue eyes tries to serve Aelita more sautéed fish from her crockpot. Her bright blue apron and oven mitts add a warm flavor of domesticity to the traditional French home.
Mrs. Belpois: Aelita dear, are you sure you don't want some more?
Aelita tries to politely refuse her.
Aelita: No…no…I don't think I could eat another bite.
Mrs. Belpois: Oh I doubt that. I've seen the portions at Kadic and they're so small. I can't bear the thought of you going hungry.
Aelita: Oh trust me, the portions at the school are fine. And you can get seconds.
Jeremie butts in at the right moment.
Jeremie: Only problem is Odd usually eats everything that's left…
Another helping of fish ends up on Aelita's plate in spite of her wishes, much to her chagrin. Mrs. Belpois goes back to the kitchen.
Mrs. Belpois: Honey can you help me with the dishes?
Mr. Belpois: Can I take out the trash instead?
Mrs. Belpois: You can do both. Thank you so much for offering dear…
Mr. Belpois grimaces, realizing he has fallen for one of his wife's old tricks yet again. He gets up from the chair.
Mr. Belpois: I guess we'll be in the kitchen if you need us. He mumbles under his breath as he leaves the room. Me and my big mouth.
Once they are alone, Jeremie wastes no time reaching over and squeezing her hand under the table. Aelita displays no reaction other than a faint smile. Her eyes dart away from her boyfriend to the window looking out onto the neighborhood street. A middle aged woman takes her garbage out across the street. Two kids skateboard down the sidewalk. A woman on a moped goes zooming by. Two motorists argue about their cars being parked too close together and whose fault it is. For her, the scene is almost surreal.
Jeremie: Look at it. Normal life. We can finally have it now.
She spins her head around.
Aelita: You know nothing can be normal for us…
Jeremie: I know. But the ability to pretend-He smiles somewhat wistfully-that counts for something.
They pause the conversation for a moment, listening to the clock on the wall tick away. Aelita pokes at her unwanted fish.
Aelita: Now what?
Jeremie: What do you mean?
Aelita: What should we do?
Jeremie: As in right now?
Aelita: It is a vacation isn't it? What should we do to enjoy it?
His face becomes utterly blank.
Jeremie: I…haven't the slightest clue. He looks around. I forgot that this house was more than a little…dull.
Aelita shakes her head in quiet exasperation. But at the same time, she shoots him a side smile.
Aelita: Less than 24 hours of absolute victory and you're already bored? How typical of you…
Jeremie: Okay then, what did you have in mind?
Aelita leans her elbow on the table, thinking deeply for a moment. Ten minutes later, the two are seated in the upstairs reading room playing chess. The light of the afternoon sun brightens the black and white chessboard while the two geniuses ponder their next move against their significant other. The pink-haired intellectual picks up her bishop and takes out one of Jeremie's knights. She smiles confidently, smelling a possible victory.
Aelita: Things are looking bad for you Jeremie. I'm already knocking on your king's door.
Jeremie imitates a stereotypical villain voice in his reply. For the slightest fraction of a second, Aelita thinks she hears a semblance of Moriarty's usual tone, but it vanishes just as quickly as she perceives it.
Jeremie: Oh appearances can be deceiving my sweet. But make no mistake, I will conquer you.
Aelita raises an eyebrow.
Aelita: Excuse me?
Jeremie: ….You know what I meant. He moves one of his remaining pawns forward. I heard Yumi was having a rough time. The news of Jim...His mood sours rapidly…I think it was too much for her.
Aelita: Yes…She straightens up in her chair…and what about you?
He turns to face the light for a moment, blinking into the sun. Following a brief moment's reflection, he takes off his glasses and wipes his eyes.
Jeremie: I guess I'll cry later. I've hit a wall Aelita. I can't summon any tears at the moment.
Aelita: Neither can I. She uses a rook to take out a wayward pawn of his. But I wouldn't be too worried about Yumi right now.
Jeremie: Why not?
Mrs. Stern cruises through a luxurious neighborhood in Amiens marked with ornate, large houses shut off from the rest of the world with large brick walls with entrances flanked by statues of lions, eagles, and other symbols of European wealth and power. Seeing houses at least three times the size of her own fills Yumi with childlike wonder and disbelief. She temporarily unglues herself from the window to face Ulrich.
Yumi: This is your neighborhood?!
Ulrich: Yes. When dad was still alive, he referred to them as the "peasants".
Yumi: Peasants? These people are anything but peasants. Why would your dad call them that?
Mrs. Stern pulls up to a black wrought iron gate much bigger than the others in the area. Ulrich points to his left.
Ulrich: That's why…
Upon first sight of Ulrich's "house", Yumi's jaw nearly drops to the floor of the car.
Yumi: Oh. My. God….
Within the gates lies a large courtyard with an enormous white stone fountain in the center. Behind the fountain and snow-covered lawn is the main attraction: an enormous château style mansion marked by a slightly gold colored exterior and a striking black-tiled roof. The incredible ostentatious windows boast classical façades above the glass and two large balconies can be seen on each floor of the three-story monstrosity. The edges of the east and west wings to the house rise in Victorian-style spires that can be seen from many blocks away. As they pull up, a few professional gardeners wave to welcome Mrs. Stern's arrival. She pulls up the front steps which are guarded by two lifesize stone carvings of European knights in armor. Two valets open the doors to the car.
Valet 1: Welcome home Mrs. Stern.
Yumi: Oh my God…
Valet 2: Shall I take your bag Miss Ishiyama?
Yumi: Oh….my God.
Valet 1: We have two strawberry smoothies chilled and waiting per your request Master Ulrich.
Yumi steps out of the car, still dazed while the valets take care of everything for them.
Yumi: Oh my-
Ulrich: Yumi-She lightly touches her shoulder-I know. It's a lot to take in.
The valets take their belongings inside. Mrs. Stern and the young couple follow close behind. The interior of the house doesn't fail to blow Yumi away either. The deep blue front doors open to a wide open space with a floor of spotless and exquisite white marble. A sitting area and a dining room of French aristocratic design are positioned to their right and left, respectively. Several meters above them is a crystal chandelier of priceless quality hanging from a ceiling so high the entire entrance hall might as well be a basketball arena. About half a football field length's distance in front of them are two staircases leading to opposite sides of the second floor. While Yumi still gapes at the whole thing, a butler with a neatly trimmed black mustache and completely lint free suit hands Ulrich the smoothies.
Ulrich: Thank you Craig
The butler responds in an obvious but refined British accent.
Craig: My pleasure Master Ulrich.
Ulrich in turn hands the smoothie to her. She holds on to it robotically, hardly aware that it's even there.
Yumi: How do you even find the bathroom in this place?
Craig: There are exactly 21 restrooms in the entire estate Miss. If you will allow me, I can direct you to the nearest one.
Yumi shrugs and starts to follow him down the hallway. Ulrich hangs back a little.
Yumi: Which one is the nicest?
Craig: They are all nice Miss. However the master bathroom on the third floor is the most breathtaking. But that is for the private use of Mrs. Stern.
Yumi: No problem. You still have 20 others…
Several minutes later, Yumi exits one of the bathrooms near the kitchen on the first floor.
Yumi: They weren't kidding. That bathroom was fantastic. She stretches her arms. I can't wait to take a bath here…She picks up her smoothie from a small table across from the bathroom. At that moment, the main butler happens to pass by. UhCraig? She flusters a little bit. Sorry I don't know your last name.
Craig: Last names aren't necessary here Miss Ishiyama. Anything you need?
Yumi takes a look down the hallway, still spaced out by how large it is. She takes a sip of the smoothie before asking the question.
Yumi: I just wanted to- She pauses.-Wow this is really good….to know where Ulrich went.
Craig: He retired to the upstairs indoor pool area on the third floor. He seemed eager for you to join him. He points to his right. Shall we take the elevator? I can show you your room should you wish to get changed.
Yumi: That sounds fine to me.
Craig: Splendid. They begin to walk a few steps. He suddenly stops. Oh and one more thing. He specifically requested that you were a specific swimsuit of your collection. I believe he referred to it as-He appears slightly uncomfortable for a second-"The Tigress"?
Yumi's cheeks color a little bit. She glances to the side and sucks down more of her smoothie.
Yumi: Uh…yes. Thank you for telling me that. They enter an elevator with silver colored doors which close with a slight ding before going up. I'm sorry. This must be a bit strange for you…having Ulrich's girlfriend over for all of Christmas…under the same roof as him…
Craig: Not at all…
She eyes him with sudden curiosity.
Yumi: It isn't?
He stares straight forward with a stare that is suddenly remote and almost troubled.
Craig: I have escorted many women around this estate before, often in situations that Mrs. Stern would prefer not to know about.
Yumi frowns with understanding.
Craig: …And many other unsavory characters whose identity and origins were better left unknown to me…for my own safety. In other words, Miss Ishiyama, although you have had terrible competition, you are already one of the best guests I have had in this house.
Yumi: Really? Did I really make that much of an impression on you?
Yumi: Pardon me?
Craig: My last name is Worthington. And you have already earned yourself a lot of points in my book for asking…
In a large windowless room on the third floor, Ulrich floats in the pool kicking his feet as he stares up at the ceiling. The moving water reflects onto the ceiling creating a colorful display before him. He stands up and then does a flip in the water. When he comes up for air, the wooden doors for the pool area open to reveal Yumi walk in in a white robe and a white towel on her forearm. The doors close behind her on their own. Ulrich drifts closer.
Ulrich: So…what do you think so far?
She rolls her eyes.
Yumi: "The Tigress"? Really? You're still calling it that?
Ulrich: I guess.
Yumi: I can't believe you told that name to your own butler. We agreed not to talk about that to anyone!
Ulrich: Craig doesn't count. He already has enough secrets under his belt. He knows the drill.
Yumi does not appear pleased with that answer.
Yumi: As long as that "drill" doesn't look anything like what used to happen here…
Ulrich draws close to the side of the pool and rests his elbows a few feet away from Yumi.
Ulrich: Yumi, I mourned my dad's passing. You encouraged me to. But I still don't want to imitate him.
Yumi can't help but smile.
Yumi: In that case…She takes off her robe and lets it fall to the floor. Underneath is a black bikini with dark orange lines running down the top and bottom half of the swimsuit. The bikini is more revealing than her typical one pieces that she wears at the public pools. This one is personal, private, and only for certain eyes to see. Ulrich backs up a meter or so and takes a good look at her. Well, what do you think?
Ulrich cranes his neck to the side.
Ulrich: I think you should come in.
Yumi gracefully dips her feet in the water and gradually her entire torso submerges into the water. She wades toward Ulrich with the water at shoulder length. She goes under and surfaces centimeters away from her boyfriend. She pushes her wet hair back over her scalp and stares at him. Ulrich bites his lip and comes a tad closer. His tongue stumbles for words for a moment.
Ulrich: You know that this mansion is huge.
Yumi: You've made that quite clear…
Ulrich: But I didn't take you here to impress you. He motions around them, splashing some water around. Look. There's nothing here. Just pool chairs that haven't been used in months. Only my mom and I are here now. The domestic help just fills the empty spaces and keeps the place looking nice for a family that is a shadow of its former self. This mansion is just a soulless giant. Nothing more.
Yumi touches the side of his face.
Yumi: Yeah. I think I get it now. I thought I did before but…She shakes her head…now I see it. You had everything you wanted. But nothing that you needed. In the end, this place is soulless.
Ulrich touches her hand.
Ulrich: It was soulless. She feels the warmth of her skin. Not anymore.
Yumi feels that same warmth run from her hand to her arm and then into her chest. Her breathing quickens dramatically. For a moment nothing happens between them. Then Ulrich does the unexpected. He puts his hand behind her back and lays her on her back, letting her float on the water. Yumi looks at him with curiosity and some measure of anxiety.
Yumi: What are you doing?
Ulrich: What do you think I'm doing?
She looks up at the ceiling.
Yumi: I assume you are going to kiss me.
Ulrich: I will. But what's the rush?
While she floats, Ulrich runs his index finger over the lines in the palm of her hand. He then leans close to her ear.
He lifts his head up and looks her in the eye.
Ulrich: When we separated in the heat of battle in Moriarty's zone, what were you thinking…about me?
She shuts her eyes. The question clearly perturbs her.
Yumi: I…I was terrified. I had this awful feeling that it would be the last time I would see you.
Ulrich puts a hand on her stomach, gently moving his fingers near her navel.
Ulrich: And what are you feeling right now?
She doesn't answer right away, averting his gaze for a short period of time.
Yumi: Excitement. Nervousness. She takes several deep breaths. My heart keeps pounding nonstop…now that we're finally alone.
Ulrich takes her by the hand again. She meets his gaze.
Ulrich: I swore to you that I wouldn't let Moriarty take you away from me. And I meant every word of it. But now that you are safe-He chokes up, losing composure like a little child-I almost can't believe it. He heaves a difficult breath. I had a terrible nightmare last night that I did lose you. That you were the one in the Nav Skid that exploded. He stares up at the ceiling. A few tears hit the water. And as much as I miss Christophe and Jim, a selfish part of me can't help but say, "I still haven't lost what matters most". I'm far too selfish to mourn them as much as I'm thanking God for keeping you alive. He wraps both arms around her back and moves a centimeter away from her face. Yumi's heartrate skyrockets. Just promise me one thing. Promise me…that this isn't a dream.
Yumi quakes with conflicting emotions. Her fear, guilt, and relief create a frightful cocktail of sentimental chaos within her. But amidst all the internal noise, she longs for nothing more than to feel his lips against hers.
Yumi: If it is a dream…I don't ever want to wake up.
Ulrich pulls her in for a deep kiss. Hormones flow through them like a raging fire as they refuse to let go. That fire shows no signs of slowing down as they disappear below the surface of the water, still locked together in a loving embrace.
Later that night at the Belpois residence, Patrick and his parents have settled in for the Christmas holidays. While Jeremie, Aelita, and Patrick watch TV in the den, Mr. Belpois shares a drink in the dining room with Jeremie's 'Uncle Richie'. He is a middle-aged man several years older than his brother with black hair that is steadily turning grey. Yet his smile and conversation gestures demonstrate that a youthful vigor still dwells within him. Aunt Louise, a slightly plump woman with auburn hair, descends down the staircase.
Louise: Honey, have you seen my blood pressure medicine?
Her husband slowly inhales through his nose.
Richard: No I haven't. And I'm not sure why I would have.
Louise: You didn't move it from my toiletries bag, did you?
Richard: No and what reason would I have to do that?
Louise: Don't act smart. She puts her hands on her hips. You're the one who put our things in the guest bathroom.
Richard: I didn't touch it…
Louise: Then can you not help me look? The doctor says I have to take it around this hour…
The other Mr. Belpois repeats his usual mantra that has kept his marriage healthy all these years.
Richard: Yes dear. I'll be up there in a minute. Aunt Louise slowly goes up the stairs. Uncle Richie rolls his eyes. I swear she can't remember anything.
Mr. Belpois: That's preferable to her remembering everything. He raises his glass to his lips. Trust me…
In the den, the atmosphere seems to be quite dead. Jeremie and Aelita stare at each other rather awkwardly on the couch as Patrick quietly sulks in the corner. The game show that is practically at mute volume interests none of them. Far from being the happy family gathering, the misery in Patrick's eyes and the discomfort Jeremie and Aelita share is palpable. Aelita nudges Jeremie. He turns to her. She mouths the words "Say something" to him. Jeremie sighs, clearly not liking the idea.
Jeremie: So…He starts out slowly with a strong level of caution…did your parents' trip from Caens go well?
Patrick doesn't react at all to the question.
Patrick: It's not a long trip, but how should I know? I was in Paris…
The couple exchange glances. This is not going well.
Jeremie: Yeah…um…He desperately searches his brain for something easy to discuss…Was traffic on the way back okay?
Patrick: It was fine…
Patrick stacks his feet on the nearby ottoman in a slightly aggressive manner. The two on the couch can sense the negative aura around Jeremie's cousin growing stronger. A hint of anger takes form in his expression. Aelita clears her throat.
Aelita: Do you come to Jeremie's house often for Christmas?
Patrick: Our families switch off every year. Next year we will be in Caen.
Aelita: Oh that sounds…nice. She takes a brief pause. Do you like it there…in Caen?
Aelita shifts in her seat, taken off guard by the abrupt reply.
Aelita: Excuse me?
Patrick gets up from his chair.
Patrick: Just stop…
He wanders out of the den and opens the front door without a word. The two fathers in the dining room suddenly grow quiet, respecting the troubled teen's need for space. Shortly after Patrick's exit, Aelita eyes Jeremie. It doesn't take long for the boy genius to get the message and he doesn't like it.
Jeremie: No way.
Jeremie: I'm the last person he wants to see right now.
Aelita: You're his cousin-She places a hand on his shoulder-you need to say something…
Jeremie falters for several moments. But after seeing that Aelita is not going to give up, he reluctantly puts his coat on.
Jeremie: Fine-He makes his way to the door-but I'm not responsible for what happens.
He step out and slowly moves down the front steps, unwillingly embracing the bitter December cold. Several meters to his left, Patrick stands still at the edge of the sidewalk, looking out at the rest of the neighborhood. Mustering up his courage, Jeremie approaches his cousin and stands next to him. The two are quiet for almost a minute.
Jeremie: It's really cold out. You should go inside.
Patrick: I don't mind.
Thirty more seconds pass. As the cold and unease continue to grip him, Jeremie decides that it is time to face the pink elephant.
Jeremie: Listen I know these things take time but-
Patrick: Where were you? He looks Jeremie straight in the eye. Where were you last night? Why were you and your little gang and even your little girlfriend nowhere to be found?
Jeremie searches the asphalt for a moment. Coming up with a great lie would be futile in this case.
Jeremie: I can't say.
He slowly looks up, measuring his cousin's reaction. Patrick is silent, quietly absorbing a new source of outrage. Disbelief works his way into his features.
Patrick: I never thought I'd say this, but I've lost respect for you Jeremie. He turns his back on him. I never figured you for a coward.
Jeremie considers a rebuttal, but in the end he decides against it. He bites the insult with some measure of grace.
Patrick: You helped create the Outcasts. It doesn't make sense that you would abandon us. It's not like you. And you know it. He turns back around with clear anger dripping from every word. What I hate more than anything is not that you weren't there, but that you didn't give me a reason why…
Jeremie remains firm in the face of these unanswerable accusations. He puts his hands in his pockets.
Jeremie: If I was there…if we were there…do you think Jim would have lived? Is that what this is really about?
Patrick folds his arms across his chest.
Patrick: No. Probably not. But there's one thing that you and I can't avoid. The Outcasts had two invaluable leaders. One gave his life for the sake of another. He walks up to Jeremie's side, talking close to his ear. And the other…well, let's just say he decided to stay home when he was needed the most.
Patrick goes back inside, leaving Jeremie out in the cold.
That same night, Natalya and William sit on a small balcony outside the Dunbar's apartment overlooking the 15th arrondissement of Paris. Bundled up in their coats, they listen to holiday music waft up from the street five floors below them. In the distance the two lovers can see the Eiffel Tower lighting up the city. Natalya wraps her arms around William's right shoulder and leans against it. William sits in quiet reflection as he tries to enjoy this tranquil moment. Though he enjoys having her at his side, her physical contact against his shoulder starts to hurt due to the lingering impact of his last battle. Nevertheless, he refuses to show his discomfort to Natalya. A few minutes later, Natalya slightly shifts her head.
Natalya: Is it really over?
William doesn't answer right away.
William: Yes. He runs his glove-covered hand over her cheek. It has to be.
She stares down at the street for a moment. Despite the recent national chaos, some people still walk about the city, enjoying the Christmas lights attached to stores and strung about on trees planted on the sidewalk. The appearance of normalcy unnerves her. She shifts in her seat.
Natalya: It doesn't feel like it. She shakes her head. Not at all...
William: You can't just turn off your fighting instincts in one day. This is going to be a long, long process.
Natalya's mood starts to decline.
Natalya: I'm definitely going to have nightmares.
William: Unfortuantely, that's to be expected. No doubt you will have many sleepless nights. He touches her chin and makes her look him in the eye. But you won't be alone.
Natalya suddenly turns bright pink. At first, William thinks the reaction is a natural blush, but the truly embarrassed look on her face makes him reconsider that initial assessment. Before he can say anything, she averts his gaze and laughs.
Natalya: So…you're saying I'll never be alone…on those sleepless nights?
William takes a few seconds to understand what he just said. Realizing his error, he covers his eyes with his left hand and attempts to clarify, stammering along the way.
William: I m-meant…that you wouldn't be the only…only one dealing with night-
Natalya can't help but laugh again at her boyfriend's completely failed attempt to recover himself.
Natalya: Calm down. I know what you meant. Her expression instantly sours. She leans against his shoulder again. Another spasm of pain runs up William's arm, but he endures it and doesn't say a word. Still, there's nothing worse than waking up from a nightmare and being totally alone…She looks up at him…with no one to comfort you.
William: Ye…..Yes. But I believe I've gotten used to it.
Natalya: Well…some of us haven't.
William thinks over this for a moment. Natalya monitors his facial reactions, hoping to get a peak into the inner machinations of his mind.
William: You do have a point. But I've been dealing with Xana for a long time, so I think I am somewhat prepared. Although with all the stuff that's just happened, I may be wrong. He turns to her and smiles. The slight shift delivers a sharp dagger of agony into his wounded side which he masks again with considerable effort. The…one thing I do know is that you won't have to deal with those nightmares alone. He pauses for a moment. Oh wait, did I just do it aga-
Natalya scoots closer to him and motions for him to be quiet. A heavy wind blows through the area, making both of them shiver. Her thighs brush up against his. William senses the touch and feels a lump in his throat. Because of this, Natalya is the first to speak.
Natalya: That reminds me…Is Xana still around? I mean, we defeated Moriarty. Did he decide to go on his own?
William: Yes and no.
William removes a glove from his left hand, exposing it to cold. He warms it up with a small electric spark that dances across his palm.
William: I still have Xana's powers and I can sense his presence. But he's not saying anything. Usually I don't go a day without him saying something. But ever since Moriarty kicked the bucket, it's like he's been on radio silence.
Natalya can't help but frown with this unfortunate news.
Natalya: That's so disappointing. She hugs him tightly. Will we ever be truly alone? I mean…with Xana…isn't our relationship slightly-She searches for the right words-awkward?
William tilts his head to the side and shrugs.
William: If it makes you feel better, Xana really doesn't care about us at all. He only saw you as an opportunity to force me to use my powers. He hardly even mentions it except when-He suddenly becomes uncomfortable and cuts himself off.-I uh…nevermind. So, you like the view?
Natalya rolls her eyes at his pathetic attempt to change the subject.
Natalya: William, what does he say?
He refuses to look her in the eye and rubs the back of his neck.
William: Oh…it's nothing.
Natalya: It's obviously something if you won't look at me while you're talking.
William sighs in defeat, knowing that he has been caught and there's no way getting out of it.
William: He thinks I am being…irrationally hesitant.
She looks at him quizzically, clearly not getting the message.
Natalya: Hesitant to do what exactly?
He stands up, hoping to gain some time before approaching the subject directly.
William: Um…A slight pivot of his shoulder blades finally breaks his composure. The pain is impossible to hide…AHH! He goes to his knees, his face contorting in anguish from the throbbing in his back and shoulders. He curses through his teeth. (Expletive) Dark Warriors!
Natalya immediately bends down to help him, moving some hair out of her face to get a better look. The sight of her lover in that much suffering gives her a fresh current of panic, replacing the feeling of somber relief she had before.
Natalya: William? William are you alright?! She lifts his head up to get him to look at her. Do you need to go to the hospital?!
Despite his pain, he quickly brushes the thought aside.
William: No…can't. Too many questions I can't answer. He howls again for a second and covers his mouth. Crap…my parents will hear me if I keep this up. He bites on his hand as he waits for the intense soreness to pass. Natalya stays at his side, occasionally checking the windows to make sure the Dunbars didn't hear him. After a while, William starts to relax. The pain is not gone, but it is manageable. He tries to laugh at himself. I've been trying to hold it together all day. Barely moving to avoid any suspicion. He inhales through clenched teeth. But I'm definitely still going to be sore on Christmas morning.
Natalya touches the side of his face. A large purple bruise on the left side of his face is becoming noticeable.
Natalya: My makeup is wearing off. I have some extra in one of the bathrooms if you need some more. She gingerly runs her hand over his chest. Come to think of it, let's go to the bathroom and check your injuries. We need to make sure none of them opened up.
William purses his lips with a twinge of anxiety but soon sees the reason in her suggestion.
William: Yes…Yes we probably should.
Without attracting the attention of William's parents in the master bedroom, the two amble to the guest bathroom. Natalya drops their coats and her scarf on her bed before shutting the bathroom door behind her. She rolls up her sleeves and cautiously approaches William, who is awkwardly stands in the middle of the room.
Natalya: Okay, I'm going to take these two layers off. It's probably going to hurt, but I'll go slowly.
William nods in agreement.
William: I get it. Just do what you have to do…
Natalya nods and slowly reaches for the hem of his outer shirt. She pulls the shirt up his body until it reaches his armpits. She shoots him a look that warns that pain is imminent.
Natalya: Okay, I'm going to need you to lift your arms.
William winces as he tries to obey, biting his lip to bear the pain. Gently but quickly his girlfriend pulls the shirt over his head and removes it entirely. Now he is only left with a gray undershirt.
Natalya: Alright. Time for round two.
He leans his head up against the backtub and groans in pain and frustration.
William: Uh….are you kidding me?! Do you know how painful it was to put it on this morning?
Natalya: I'm sorry. But we don't have a choice.
The process goes much more painfully than the first time. William can't help but cry out and let Natalya muffle the noise by putting her hand over his mouth. Slowly but surely, the thin shirt is moved up his chest and arms. Natalya drops the garment to the floor on top of his thicker long-sleeve shirt. With her focus on William's shirtless body, she finds herself unable to look away. The multiple wounds and bruises over his chest and back fill her with a deep sadness. Her beleaguered, handsome warrior pushed himself to his limits for the sake of every free soul on Earth. Several electric burns on his torso testify to the intense battle he had with the dark warriors. William's chest heaves from heavy breathing. He takes a moment to rest and close his eyes, not looking at her reaction. Her lips quiver at the sad sight before her. She realizes that although he will certainly live, some of the scars will never completely heal. Overcome by emotion, she cries, letting a few tears fall in between William's knees. He opens his eyes just in time to see her carefully embrace him. She leans her head against his wounded chest. The warmness of her body relaxes him. Whatever discomfort she is causing does not matter to him.
Natalya: You paid such a heavy price….to protect us.
He places his hand behind her head, holding her close.
William: I don't regret the price. Not even for a moment…They would have destroyed Lyoko and you along with it. So don't think for a second that I wasn't prepared for this.
Her tears drip down to her face and onto his chest. They sit there for several minutes, lost in the relief and agony of their collective mental and physical trauma. The victors inhale the euphoric and chaotic air of freedom as participants in a war that has taken so much from them. Natalya kisses his cheek.
Natalya: Thank you…
William: For protecting you?
Natalya: Of course. But I also thank you for paying a heavy price…and not the ultimate one.
William kisses the top of her head and sits there quietly, not eager to move in any way.
William: I was prepared to, but I am glad I didn't. A single tear drops out of his right eye. He draws a sharp breath. I wish I could say the same for Christophe.
Natalya's face becomes downcast at the mention of their lost comrade. But before she can say anything, she senses a damp spot rapidly forming near her stomach. She straightens up and notices a blood stain on her shirt.
Natalya: Oh no. She turns to William's stomach. Sure enough, a wound has opened up, slowly leaking blood through the worn out bandage. William you're bleeding!
He looks down and hardly reacts.
William: I figured as much.
Natalya: Hold on. I'll get some bandages. She rummages around the bathroom cabinets until she comes across a box of large bandages for large cuts and gashes. As soon as one of them is removed from the box, she carefully lays it on William's stomach. In addition to that, she gives him some paper towels to put pressure on the injury. There, that should do it.
Eventually the bleeding grounds to a halt, much to her relief. But William starts to focus on the large blood stain on her girlfriend's clothing.
William: Um, you should probably get rid of that.
She looks down.
Natalya: Oh…you're probably right. Natalya casually removes her shirt, revealing a small white top underneath. To William's surprise, the material is surprisingly thin and like some of Yumi's shirts, it does not cover up her navel. The form-fitting garment hugs Natalya's chest tightly, leaving little room for speculation as to what is beneath it. Despite his injuries William is momentarily entranced by her beauty and embarrassed by her close proximity to his shirtless body. When Natalya flips her hair over her shoulders and looks at him, he tries to break off his stare, but it comes too late. She looks down, resulting in color flooding to her pale white face. Recognizing the awkward situation, she attempts to brush it off. I…forgot I was even wearing this.
William tries to keep his eyes off of her, but his pupils are unwilling to comply.
William: Well I hope you thought you were wearing something under your shirt before you decided to take it off.
She giggles like a little girl.
Natalya: Oh…one can only hope William darling…Rather abruptly, her attitude changes. She examines herself and stares at him in concern, feeling almost naked in front of him. William…She reaches to the straps of her top and touches them…Am I…beautiful?
Now suddenly nervous, William decides to waste no time with a reply.
William: What kind of stupid question is that? Of course you are.
She leans in close to his ear, letting the aroma of her lovely blonde hair brush against his nostrils. His heartrate doubles as she puts on her feminine charm.
Natalya: Tell me why…
Her cheek brushes up against his, making it difficult for him to think, much less answer.
William: Every aspect of you is gorgeous….your heart, your mind-He feels her chest getting closer to him-your body. You've supported me even when you didn't know my secret. You loved me despite my past. And any girl that can singlehandedly take down the Leviathan drives me wild…
His words entice her, drawing her lips closer to his. She feels incredibly warm so close to him and has no intention of drawing away.
Natalya: You didn't judge me either William. And because of you, I found out what it meant to be a Lyoko Warrior. You taught me to be brave. You fought for me…blew up an entire island for me. I couldn't ask for anything else. She gives him a light kiss. I'm so in love with you…
William: As am I. They kiss again. How long do you think it will take my parents to realize that we're in the bathroom like this?
She gives him a sly look.
Natalya: If we're lucky, never…
Unable to hold back any longer, the two gently but passionately kiss, refusing to break it off for a long time.
Some time late in the night, Jeremie wakes up to use the bathroom. His feet hit the rug and soon wander onto the colder wooden floor. The boy genius groans from grogginess. When he enters the restroom, he fumbles for the light switch for a few moments. After some time in the dark, blinding light finally greets him, causing him some discomfort for his eyes. Once his eyes adjust enough, he looks into the mirror. Facing him in the mirror is not his reflection, but a spitting image of Moriarty himself. The instant shock of the sight physically draws air out of his lungs, rendering him incapable of screaming or reacting in any other way. He trips backwards and ends up leaning against the opposite bathroom wall. A nasty case of the shakes grips him, running up from his trembling hands to his shoulders. Jeremie manages to point towards the enemy in the mirror and directly address him.
Jeremie: You….not possible. You're dead…
Moriarty shakes his head and looks down on Jeremie with mock pity.
Moriarty: On the contrary, I am very much alive and here with you now.
Jeremie looses control of his legs and falls. His hands grip the side of the bathtub. Paralysis seizes his muscles and face, making him appear like a petrified rock.
Jeremie: No. No! I…we killed you! Put an end to you forever! He gains a little bit of confidence as he grounds himself in that fact. I watched it happen.
Moriarty's voice migrates to a location behind his right shoulder. He turns in horror to see Moriarty talk to him from the bathtub.
Moriarty: Poor, pitiful, stupid Jeremie. Do you really think taking me out in the Network is enough to kill me?
Jeremie struggles to breathe.
Jeremie: You…you're a virtual entity. His voice takes on a harsher, more desperate tone. You tied your entire existence to that Core. There's no way you could survive.
Moriarty: Oh no Jeremie. The voice and image switch back to the mirror. I was never foolish enough to do that. There's more to me than just some remains of code fragments drifting in the void.
The Lyoko general tries to stand. He heaves with increasing dread and paranoia.
Jeremie: If you attached yourself to another server, I will find it. I will hunt you in every digital nook and cranny out there. You have nowhere to hide!
Moriarty: I was not referring to anything digital. I am larger than that. I am-He lifts his hands up and smiles in that despicable arrogant nature of his-Moriarty.
Jeremie blinks with confusion. He fails to understand, and that lack of understanding drives him crazy. He slams his fist into the door.
Jeremie: What the hell…DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!
Moriarty elevates his voice to the point that the entire bathroom vibrates. Jeremie nearly loses his footing.
Moriarty: IT MEANS THAT I CAN NEVER TRULY DIE! Jeremie presses his back against the wall as his chest expands and contracts from his strained, desperate breathing. You may have destroyed my physical form. You may have even destroyed my virtual form. But that's not enough. Moriarty starts to laugh, relishing in Jeremie's rising panic. I am Moriarty. Don't you know what that means? I am no longer a person or a virtual entity. I am something more.
Jeremie: What? His voice weakens from alarm and paranoia. What…are you?
Moriarty leans forward as if he were ready to come through the mirror.
Moriarty: An idea. A dark thought. A whisper in the night, beckoning the nation of France…to come alive again.
Jeremie takes a moment to fully process Moriarty's response. After thinking it over for a moment, he forces his breathing to slow down and stands up, refusing to look weak in front of his mortal enemy.
Jeremie: A dark thought…and an idea can't use the Harbinger to take over the planet. Face the facts Moriarty. You lost. We beat you!
Moriarty: Then what am I doing here?
Jeremie dismissively shakes his head.
Jeremie: You are nothing more than a figment of my imagination. A mental representation of my fear come to haunt me…
Moriarty: If that's the case, then I have won more than you think.
The boy genius snarls in frustration and pounds his palm against the bathroom counter.
Moriarty: Maybe, Jeremie. But I'm not the only one…
In a flash, Moriarty transforms into a bloody and zombified Christophe. Jeremie's aggression ebbs away instantly. He backs away from the mirror, traumatized by the image of the fallen warrior in front of him.
Christophe starts to claw on the other side of the glass, pleading with his dead and glazed eyes for help.
Christophe: Jeremie…why? Why couldn't you save me?
Jeremie puts his hands over his ears and shuts his eyes.
Jeremie: No, go away!
Christophe: Why couldn't you fix the bug in time? I could have lived…
The beleaguered general's eyelids strain from the effort to avoid facing the apparition.
Jeremie: I…did everything I could. I swear!
Christophe continues to claw on the glass, creating an unbearable scratching sound.
Christophe: It's so cold here. And I'm so lost…How will I ever escape?
Unable to bear it any longer, Jeremie screams. He pops up in bed, delirious and panicked with no ability to understand his surroundings. It takes him several seconds to recover and realize he was dreaming. He feels his forehead and chest. Both are baked in sweat. He shakes from the intense psychological strain he was subjected to. With the image of Christophe's living corpse still haunting his mind, Jeremie closes his eyes in deep emotional pain.
Jeremie: I…I'm so sorry. He chokes up and hugs the sheets close to his body. But there's nothing I can do.
Next morning. Two days before Christmas. A late night snowfall adds another layer to the white frosty ground in Amiens. The morning starts out uncomfortably cold, but in the late morning the arrival of the much desired sun through the grey clouds starts to warm up the town to a tolerable level. Bundled in their coats, Yumi and Ulrich cross the bridge over the frigid Somme River, walking hand in hand. Only a few passing cars disturb their peace. Foggy breath follows them wherever they go, but the bright smiles they share with each other indicate that they don't mind at all.
Yumi: That was possibly the best breakfast of my life.
Ulrich: You said that about dinner yesterday too.
Yumi: It's the truth. I didn't know it was possible to live this well.
Ulrich shrugs, looking at the tower of the cathedral in the distance.
Ulrich: Well it is. I've had to deal with a lot of crap in my life, but poverty has never been one of them.
The pair stop walking. Yumi hugs her shoulders close to her body.
Yumi: Yeah. There has been a lot of crap, hasn't there? She puts a strained smile on. But it's over. And now we can enjoy that wealth without having to worry about Moriarty, Xana, or your dad.
Ulrich: Oh…Ulrich manages a laugh…so there's a 'we' involved with the family wealth now.
Yumi: What are you talking about? She acts slightly offended to defend herself. There has always been a we.
Ulrich: True, but this is the first time you mentioned the family money as a part of our relationship. What brought that on?
Yumi places her index finger near her lip and spends a moment lost in thought.
Yumi: Um…it happened about the moment I walked in your front door.
Ulrich nods in understanding.
Ulrich: Fair enough. He suddenly finds himself put in a loving headlock. Hey! What gives?
Yumi: You idiot. She gives him a slight noogie. I fell in love with you, remember? Not your money. She grins and looks up at the sky. But the money is a really nice plus. I could really use a new paint job on the moped.
Ulrich: You're impossible.
Yumi: And I could use a good update on my wardrobe.
With his head still in her grip, Ulrich spots a department store advertisement with a photo of a young woman dressed in nothing but a black bra and panties. He raises an eyebrow in questionable interest.
Ulrich: Does the update involve anything like that? Because if so I'm completely on board.
Yumi blushes and gasps in outrage. She pushes him into a pile of snow just past the bridge.
Yumi: You are awful. First the 'Tigress' and now this? Is stuff like that the only thing on your mind right now?
Ulrich pops up out of the snow, knocking some of it off his head.
Ulrich: Yumi, most of my thoughts this semester have been about you and our fight with Moriarty. He stands up. Moriarty is dead, so that just leaves you.
Yumi shyly smiles and looks away after that roundabout compliment. But suddenly her expression darkens. Ulrich scrutinizes her reaction.
Ulrich: Is something wrong?
Her gaze becomes acquainted with the ground. She rubs her left elbow with her right hand.
Yumi: How? How can you forget about it so easily? We just defeated him. How are you not dealing with any stress or trauma right afterwards?
Ulrich, seeing he has struck a painful chord without meaning to, walks forward and holds her hands.
Ulrich: I'm sorry…I didn't realize…
Yumi: I've been having nightmares. She shakes her head in self-reproach and tries to walk away. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything…
Ulrich pulls her back.
Ulrich: Hold on. He looks her in the eye. Why didn't you tell me this? She goes a long time without responding, prompting him to continue. We're under the same roof right now. You don't have to suffer like that alone.
She inhales through her nose and exhales slowly.
Yumi: I didn't want you to worry. I didn't want to ruin your…relief and happiness from defeating Moriarty. She stares at the ground again. But I've done the exact opposite.
Ulrich: Hey, come here. He pulls her into an embrace. With his head on her shoulder, he speaks softly into her ear. Let me make one thing clear. No matter what we go through, I will always be eternally relieved to be rid of Moriarty. But we have to accept that we can never be normal. He breaks off the embrace for a moment and rests his forehead against hers. That's why we need to look out for each other…for a long time to come. And don't think I'm completely healed. I still look over my shoulder. My battle instincts aren't gone, and I still miss Christophe terribly. And more importantly, I need you now more than ever.
Touched and invigorated by Ulrich's words, Yumi kisses him and holds him again. Her eyes drift off in the direction of the cloudy sky. The sun continues to peak through, appearing to shine right on top of them. Her cheek brushes up against his.
Christmas Eve. Natalya and William hold hands as they walk down the snowy streets of Paris. They maintain a slower pace than normal because William still appears to struggle with walking normally. Holiday music, sung in a slow, melodic, and soothing mood, fills the crisp air with unnatural but inviting warmth. The pale Russian beauty turns her head toward him.
Natalya: How are you holding up?
William smiles but his face is still marked with a definite grimace.
William: The pain's not gone away by any means, but I certainly feel better than yesterday.
Natalya: Do you think you're healing naturally?
He shakes his head.
William: If I was healing naturally, I doubt I would be able to walk at all right now.
Natalya looks forward.
William: It's the only explanation. It's only been a couple of days and I feel so much better than I did before. He looks up at the white cloudy sky with a slightly pensive look on his face. Huh…
Natalya: What is it?
William: I just realized something. She focuses on him with stronger interest. He meets her gaze.Xana. He fulfilled his end of the bargain. He really helped us defeat Moriarty for good.
Natalya remains silent for a while. When she does speak, her tone is far more negative than William had expected.
Natalya: So what are we to make of that? She takes a pause. That in the end, Xana showed he was capable of being good?
William: Hell no…
Natalya: Then what? That he was always evil and only helped us because if he was going to die without accomplishing his goal, then he might as well take Moriarty along with him?
William: Xana…was never evil. At least in the way we understand evil. He wanted something and he was willing to use whatever amoral means to get it. He saw how much power he could obtain and pursued it any cost because that was the only thing that made logical sense to him.
Natalya gives him a strange look.
Natalya: Sounds to me like you're defending Xana.
William: I'm not. But we have to remember where Xana came from. He was created to destroy, to fight Project Carthage and annihilate Moriarty from existence. As an AI, he was capable of learning, but since destruction and control were the only things he was exposed to, it makes sense that he wouldn't understand anything else. And when Schaeffer's use for his destructive capabilities waned, he decided to find a use for them on his own…
The couple turn a corner and walk gingerly over an icy sidewalk. To their right and left are brightly lit shops, still advertising a last minute Christmas sale for the extreme procrastinator. A police vehicle moves past them in an oddly slow patrol around the neighborhood.
Natalya: All of that was before my time, so I'm not sure what to say. She sighs. William's heart does a somersault as he takes in a glimpse of her, observing her beautifully defined features that radiate a profound quiet sadness that only he can understand. He is struck with a longing that causes him to adjust his hand grip on her ever so slightly. But if you feel that way, I see no reason why I shouldn't believe you.
In front of them, several city workers are taking down Order propaganda posters. The sight is quite a pleasant relief for the two, but it sadly does not last. A mysterious stranger clothed in a beige hooded jacket approaches two of them unnoticed. In a flash, he hits one of them in the back of the head with his fist and body checks the other against the outer wall of a store. Before they can get up, he runs off in William and Natalya's direction.
Order Supporter: THE COMMANDANT LIVES!
As he comes within range of the couple, a furious stream of righteous anger breaks loose within William. He takes a step forward.
William: Why that little piece of-
Unexpectedly, William feels himself pulled in from behind into Natalya's unusually strong embrace. After recovering from his initial surprise, he painfully struggles to get free from her grip. The Order supporter runs past them, fleeing the possibility of pursuit in a matter of moments. The cop car pulls up to the sidewalk and the officer soon emerges to check on the injured. Enraged by the sudden interference, he looks over his shoulder and reprimands his girlfriend with his unrelenting eyes.
William: Why the hell did you do that?! I could have-
Natalya: NO! She cuts him off with an unrestrained passion in her trembling voice. She stares at the sidewalk, refusing to look at him. William's harsh gaze dissipates when he realizes that the thin white hands across his chest are shaking. He touches them, and they shake even more. I couldn't. I couldn't let 're hurt. Desperation creeps into her expression and body language, becoming more obvious with every passing moment. She leans against his shoulder. What if something had happened? Did we defeat Moriarty to get killed over trivial things? No….She buries her face in his jacket...We defeated him to live…
Later that morning, Aelita and Jeremie engage in another game of chess in the upstairs reading room. But this time the atmosphere is not so joyful and carefree. Jeremie's face remains rigid, completely tense during what should be a fun match. Aelita moves her knight forward. His general instincts, still incredibly sharp from the recent climactic showdown with Moriarty, immediately examine the implications of her move and possible counters. His mind hums uneasily, unable to enjoy the moment. His girlfriend becomes perturbed.
Aelita: Jeremie, are you alright? He doesn't respond. You haven't said a word since we started.
He hardly registers her question. He quickly starts to lose himself in a mental scenario crafted from his own subconscious. Instead of Aelita, the smug and ever superior Moriarty is his opponent. The dark grey light from the window turns black with only the faint lamp illuminating the table and their faces. The family chessboard becomes a two dimensional map of Lyoko. Moriarty's pawns now become monsters and his more important pieces transform into the dark warriors. On Jeremie's side, all his pieces are different repeating versions of the Lyoko Warriors he has pitted against Moriarty's forces time and time again. The game moves at a timeless pace; Jeremie can't tell if it lasts two minutes or two months. Finally, he moves his queen, which happens to be a figure of Aelita with her wings extended. Eyeing his king, which of course must be a figure of Moriarty himself, the boy genius manages a smile.
Moriarty leans his head against his fist and frowns with a kind of false pity that always sickens Jeremie to his core.
Moriarty: Don't you think that's a tad premature?
Jeremie: You're surrounded. Ulrich, my knight, has you pinned on the right. William, my bishop, has made sure you can't escape diagonally. My rook, Yumi, has blocked you on the left. Face it Moriarty, you've lost.
Moriarty picks up his king piece and holds it up to what little light penetrates the room. He hums a tune to himself, much to Jeremie's irritation.
Moriarty: I think you should know by now that I never lose. The kingly piece of Moriarty dances in between his moving fingers. I merely change one chessboard for another.
Moriarty's words, feeding into Jeremie's greatest fears and doubts, grate on his nerves to the point of rage. He motions to the board again.
Jeremie: Can you….just take a moment…to understand a very simple fact. YOU LOST! I WON! He touches the board with his index finger. Lyoko…is mine.
Moriarty: Lyoko….Moriarty takes a long pause in order to prove his point…is only one of two chessboards. He lifts his hands and makes a circular motion over the board. Observe. The chessboard flips over. Instead of Lyoko, it is now a map of France. On his side, the monsters become the members of The Order. On Jeremie's side, although the Lyoko Warriors stay the same, they change into their regular clothes and several prominent members of the Outcasts also appear. All the pieces are facing each other, as if the game has just started, but Jeremie suddenly notices that a piece is missing. Sure enough, at the back of the board a square remains unoccupied. Moriarty holds up Jeremie's king piece, which happens to be Jim comedically dressed as a king, similar to the spraypainting masterpiece Ulrich and Jeremie crafted long ago. Missing someone?
A wave of righteous ire inundates Jeremie's senses. His eyebrows lower in outrage and his voice deepens substantially.
Moriarty: Even if I wanted to, I'm not capable of bringing him back. No one is. Yet another one of your failures.
Jeremie's fist hits the table.
Jeremie: You are responsible for Jim's death! You're the one who poisoned Herb's mind and led him to kill Jim!
Moriarty covers his eyes with his hands and shakes his head in exasperation.
Moriarty: You still don't get it, do you Jeremie? Why are you paying so much attention to Herb? He was only the tip of the iceberg. Look at the rest of the board. As if on cue, the figures of The Order move forward gradually, slowly marching forward towards their opponents' lines. In response, the Outcasts slowly back up in their squares. Moriarty laughs in amusement. And the best thing is, since I killed your king, this battle was over before it even began.
The skin of Jeremie's hands becomes icy cold. He reaches forward and tries to prevent the retreat, but his pieces won't respond. The Order turns into an unstoppable tide, an unconquerable horde that no force can stop. Jeremie's pieces start to fall off the board, having run out of space to fall back. His heart quickens and his mind becomes overwhelmed with panic, an all too familiar feeling he has come to loathe and dread. The boy genius backs up in his chair in protest of this scenario.
Jeremie: This can't be real. The Order has been disbanded. Without you they're leaderless, undirected. And Herb's crime will only scatter them further. No…Now it is Jeremie's turn to get more assertive…You're the one who's lost before the start of the match. All your pieces are gone. This is an illusion.
Moriarty: An illusion you say? Moriarty clasps his hands together and stares out the dark window, looking at nothing. No, it doesn't work that way. Look past your prejudices and your fears. What happens when someone brews a combustible chemical reaction and then is taken out of the experiment? Will the explosive reaction magically be prevented? Or will it continue without him regardless? Think about it. Jeremie eyes the board. As the chess pieces advance, the familiar black and purple insignia of The Order covers the map of France and even starts to spread eastward. It spreads like a plague, consuming everything it touches. Jeremie meets Moriarty's confident stare with one of reluctant caution. You can't put out this fire.
Jeremie, while still shaken, refuses to back down or show substantial weakness in front of his mortal foe. He leans forward.
Jeremie: Even if someone tries to succeed you in France, I will stop them. I will do whatever is necessary to kill you and everything that has to do with your legacy.
Moriarty: Of that I am well aware. Just look at what you did to your pawns.
Jeremie makes a face.
Jeremie: Pawns? What pawns?
Moriarty: Now Jeremie, don't be callous. He flips to the board back to Lyoko. Jeremie stares at it for a moment, confused. Don't you see that someone is missing?
Jeremie counts the victorious Lyoko Warriors one by one on the chessboard. One, two three, four, five, six….His eyes widen. There is one missing. His heart sinks to his stomach.
Jeremie: No…no why didn't I see it before?!
Moriarty holds up a chess piece of Christophe.
Moriarty: Looking for this one? Jeremie refuses to look. You used him to win the game, don't you remember?
The Lyoko general manages to aim a fatal glare at his foe with hatred and the pain of loss intoxicating his senses.
Moriarty: And there are plenty more where that came from.
In spite of himself, Jeremie looks. On Moriarty's side, all of Jeremie's subdued pieces are lined up. All of them bear the image of Christophe. And every single Christophe served the role of a pawn. Jeremie feels part of his soul fall apart.
Moriarty: Behold the price of your partial victory…
The site of all the Christophe pieces drives him to the breaking point. Overcome with guilt and anger, he rises from his seat and tosses the entire board off the table, scattering several pieces onto the floor.
In an instant Jeremie snaps back to reality. He is back in his parents' house, with the board and all the chess pieces scattered on the floor. In front of him stands Aelita, watching him with increased concern.
Aelita: What has gotten into you?
For a split second, Jeremie does nothing. His face and mind are frozen by shock and accumulated trauma. Then his eyes well up with tears. He falls to the floor and places his forehead on his girlfriend's knees. He begins to cry.
Jeremie: Aelita…please…He stares up at her…tell me I did everything in my power to keep Christophe alive.
Aelita kneels down to meet Jeremie at his level. She holds him close and allows him to cry on her shoulder. Her cheek rubs up against his.
Aelita: We did everything in our power Jeremie. We tried our best. But Christophe made his decision, and it was the only way…
Jeremie starts to lose it, hugging her closer.
Jeremie: But I…could have done better.
Aelita's face contorts painfully in resigned sadness. She takes a deep breath.
Aelita: You did more than any of us. So don't carry Christophe's death on your own. We all need to carry it. She kisses him on the cheek. Now try to calm down. You don't want your parents to hear you.
Hundreds of kilometers north in a small cottage on the western Norwegian coast, the Della Robbia family settles down to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, a classic Christmas Eve tradition for them. There are continuous arguments about the volume, lighting, food, and how much vodka Odd's sister Louise has pilfered from the cupboard. But somehow it always ends up working out. Odd lays back on the couch in a dreary state, letting the flurry of magic and incredible CGI battles overtake his imagination, filling him with a longing and weariness that he can't name nor understand…
Later that night. Odd's subconscious descends into a strange but incredibly vivid dream. A lush green valley opens up before him filled with forests and a few human settlements from a preindustrial time. A blonde boy from one of these villages journeys into the forest, looking for firewood. The trees are incredibly thick and the interconnected branches and leaves block out most of the sunlight. Before long the boy becomes lost and confused due to the thick tree cover. For a little while his heart gives way to fear, but that fear quickly changes to curiosity when he comes upon a single tree that is inexplicably frozen in ice. Inside a large hole in the tree lies an elf girl with pink hair. Instantly entranced by her beauty, the young wanderer resolves to free her. He prepares a torch and slowly thaws the elf girl out of the ice. When she wakes up, the elf girl regards her rescuer with modest gratitude. The blonde boy takes her by the hand, eager to take her back home to his village. But his enchantment with the frozen beauty has set in motion powers he does not understand. The once frozen tree appears to moan and then turns black and rots rapidly before their eyes. The forest groans malevolently and the branches of nearby trees sway in displeasure. To their horror, the howling of wolves penetrates the silence of the forests. Before they can run, two wolves approach them from out of the shadows, growling and bearing their teeth. Both have jet black fur but the one on the left glows with a red aura while the one on the right possesses a dark purple one. Their intent to harm and kill however, is the same. The explorer and his new elf friend flee from them and the wolves give chase. The blonde boy accidentally drops his torch, causing the forest to rapidly erupt in flames. The inferno soon threatens the nearby towns and villages scattered throughout the area. Meanwhile in a nearby clearing, the blonde boy and the elf girl are backed up against a rock face with nowhere to go. Both wolves stalk them patiently from behind a wall of flame. Right before they attack, six stone guardians of the valley positioned in different locations throughout the forest come to life. The warriors come to their rescue and drive the two wolves back. One of them, a scrawny bowman, approaches the purple wolf too recklessly, not heeding the warnings of the other guardians. The wolf stares at the bowman with his soulless eyes, overwhelming him with his dominant will. Captivated by his power, the bowman turns on his comrades. He strikes the two swordsmen in their sides and then aims another arrow at the elf girl. Terrified, the elf girl holds onto her companion. The bowman pauses. The pure beauty of this mysterious girl enthralls him as well, slowly chipping away at the wolf's control. He cannot bring himself to fire. The wolf tries to influence him again, using jealousy and bitterness as weapons to force his will upon him. For a brief moment, it seems to work as the bowman pulls back on the string. But he spins around and launches the arrow into the wolf's foot instead. The beast howls in pain and rage and prepares to pounce onto his rebellious servant. The bowman notches another arrow in anticipation of the battle.
…..The dream ends. Odd wakes up slowly and in a haze, unable to process the absurd dream he had. He looks out the window. Even though it is nearly seven thirty in the morning, the sky in the far north is still very dark. He looks to the west in the direction of the sea and sees nothing but a dark abyss. Still overwhelmed by his dream, he rubs his head.
Odd: Okay, that's the last time I mix rakfisk with gravy right before bed. He eases himself out of bed and gets dressed. The rest of his extended family is still sound asleep, resolved to sleep in several hours longer. Odd bundles up and walks out the back door of the cottage, greeting the highly unwelcoming and bitterly cold Norwegian air. He trudges across the frozen ground in his boots until he reaches the edge of a steep ravine overlooking a large fjord. A little sunlight from the east lights up the water, giving it a glistening gleam. The lost warrior looks out in the distance, deeply pensive and confused by the images of his vivid dream. A few moments later, a wolf howls in the distance, calling out to its pack. Alarmed by the sudden noise in the quiet landscape, Odd instinctively places his left hand over his right wrist and looks around. It lasts only a second, but he quickly regains himself and looks at his strange posture in confusion. He cannot explain why he grabbed his wrist, nor does he remember making a conscious decision to do so. He shakes his head, unable to solve the mystery. As he heads back to the cottage, he stops and smiles. Oh yeah, I totally forgot. He turns around, looking in the direction of the fjord. It's Christmas…
Christmas day at the Belpois household. Bright sunshine reflects off the icy snow coating the roads and sidewalks. By the time midday rolls around, the extended family has finished their large breakfast/lunch meal and are cleaning up. Most of the family washes the dishes while Uncle Richie plays the piano in the other room, enchanting the entire first floor with Christmas music. His wife berates him for not helping out with the cleanup, but no one else seems to mind the cheery atmosphere coming from the sweet melody. Jeremie shows up to the sink with a stack of plates while Patrick scrubs the dishes already in there. His cousin graces him with another unwelcoming look that Jeremie still has no response to. Aelita, who is wiping down the kitchen table, watches the exchange with quiet sadness. The boy genius starts to walk away, but then stops. He inhales deeply.
Jeremie: Whether you forgive me for what we did or not, I want to let you know that what you've done over these past few months was very brave. You helped found the Outcast branch at your school, even though you knew you would be inviting conflict in the process. Because of your efforts, other students across the country gained the courage to follow Kadic and Lycée Jeanne d'Arc's example and fight The Order. You came to the final showdown against them, knowing you would be outnumbered and overwhelmed. But you did it anyway-Jeremie looks over his shoulder in admiration-and that is something no one should take for granted, including you.
He leaves the room with Aelita following him soon after. Patrick stares out the window above the sink almost without blinking. He turns off the hot water and grips the edge of the sink. A small tear emerges from his left eye and drops into the sudsy foam below.
Jeremie enters the den, where his father is watering the Christmas tree one last time. He glances over at Jeremie.
Mr. Belpois: Oh son, perfect timing. Your aunt wanted to see that photo album of you and Patrick when you were babies. Can you bring it down from the attic?
Jeremie grimaces with obvious discomfort at the idea.
Jeremie: Do I have to? I don't exactly want Aelita to see any embarrassing photos of me.
Mr. Belpois: Sorry, but there's no getting around it. Might as well let the women in the house look over it and laugh before your girlfriend notices.
The retired Lyoko general reluctantly accepts his fate and ascends the staircase. He reaches the end of the hallway on the second floor and turns to his right. He opens the attic door from the ceiling to reveal a wooden staircase that he climbs with caution. Once he reaches the top, he is greeted with a musty darkness. After fumbling around for the light, he manages to find the switch and turn it on. Jeremie blinks for a few seconds as the light illuminates the small attic. Old boxes, knickknacks, and paintings covered in protective plastic fill the windowless space. A cloud of dust approaches his face, causing him to cough and sneeze heavily for a few moments. He steps forward with the wood creaking underneath his feet. Rubbing his nose in irritation, he glances aroud.
Jeremie: Okay, was it in the green crate or the box with the red tape? He stares at the two containers for a moment. Unable to remember which one, he shrugs and picks the box with the red tape. After unsealing it, he peers in to see a number of old framed photographs. Through a small space in the middle, he can see a photo album at the very bottom. Jeremie rolls his eyes in annoyance. Oh because of course it makes the most sense to put it at the very bottom. He starts digging around to get to it as opposed to removing the photographs in the way. In his attempt, he cuts his hand on something. Ow! He pulls out one photo frame. The edge of the frame is chipped, thus explaining his cut. Once he examines the wound and sees it is not serious, he takes a look at the photo that has caused him so much trouble. To his surprise, it is a black and white family photograph of his father and Uncle Richie as children along with his grandmother and step-grandfather. The two appear to be around seven and fourteen years of age, respectively. The entire family poses on a white deck with the image of the sea in the background, presumably the Mediterranean. Oh…how nice. But it looks like my step-grandpa was even fatter than I imagined. As he admires the family memoir, he notices that the frame is cracked in half on the right side, exposing the photo to the elements. Well that's not good. He reaches inside the frame. Mom should really get this fix-He stops. As he touches the family portrait, he realizes that a part of the photo is folded back. Intrigued, he takes the whole thing out of the frame and unfolds the hidden flap…
….Breath escapes from his lungs. His eyes lock on to a new, unknown figure standing next to his Uncle Richie. This blonde, teenage looking individual seems aloof and discontent with the others, but he is without a doubt with them…as if he was part of the family. Jeremie examines the photo again. The family is still there. His father and uncle are still smiling innocently with their fat stepfather and gentle mother behind them. But the presence of this fifth, unwanted person, reluctantly acting as a member of the family, remains there, engulfing Jeremie in a confusion and shock that is foreign even to him. Once it becomes clear that the fifth individual…this third sibling…is not an illusion, his blood starts to run cold. This sensation turns icy when he examines this possible older brother more closely. His expression, which at first merely resembles that of an angsty teenager, carries a certain darkness that unnerves Jeremie to his very core. Even more disturbing, the physical attributes of the teenager's face seem just the slightest bit familiar. For about ten seconds, he fails to identify this tinge of familiarity. Then, somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind, a primal instinct screams in horror.
Without considering his actions, Jeremie races down the ladder with the photo, nearly falling off. He stumbles down the hall, almost unable to walk. When he reaches the staircase he grabs hold of the rail. The entire house starts spinning, and only his firm grip keeps him from falling from dizziness. His heart races so hard that he can feel the pulsing of blood in his temple. By the time he gets downstairs, he pants from a fatigue he cannot understand. As he makes it to the last step, Uncle Richie enters the room as his father flips to the weather channel. The initial smile his uncle gives him turns to concern when he sees how pale Jeremie has become.
Richard: Jeremie, are you feeling alright? You don't look so good.
Jeremie doesn't answer. He continues to hold onto the rail for dear life with his eyes widened beyond their usual limit. His father turns his head, sharing his brother's alarm.
Mr. Belpois: Son, what has gotten into-?
Jeremie holds up the photo. The brothers immediately grow silent, as if they have lost the ability of speech entirely.
Jeremie: Explain…this…The two siblings share a look that the burdened boy genius can't decipher. A terrible three seconds passes, three seconds past Jeremie's patience. Explain this photo!
Uncle Richie holds his hands up as a way of calming Jeremie down.
Richard: Okay….okay. Just take it easy for a second. We'll explain everything. Mr. Belpois stares at his brother in shock. There's no going back now. He's seen too much. But we need to bring everyone together. Patrick needs to hear about this too.
Twenty minutes later the entire Belpois clan in addition to Aelita gathers at the dining table. Uncle Richie and Jeremie's father sit at opposite ends of the table. The room is deathly quiet. The only noise that fills the gap is the ticking of the grandfather clock which continues at its slow, monotonous pace, much to their unease. Jeremie sits in his chair, wearing an absolutely blank face of dread while Aelita holds his cold hand under the table. Uncle Richie rests his elbows on the table and positions his clenched fists over his mouth. His wife Louise rubs his shoulder as the older brother takes a deep breath. He looks at his son and nephew in turn.
Richard: Patrick….Jeremie…This is very difficult for me to say but….Michael and I were not the only children born to your biological grandparents. When we were children, we were actually a family of five, not four. We had a brother, an older brother born along with us in Algeria at the end of the French colonial period. He grew up with us, and we loved him like brothers should…
Patrick interrupts in a violent outburst of disbelief. His right fist hits the dining room table.
Patrick: What the hell do you mean you two had another brother? Are you telling me I have a second uncle and you didn't tell me?!
Louise: Patrick, please, let your father explain.
Richard grimaces at his son's justified anger before continuing.
Richard: As I was saying, we did have an older brother. But he had personal problems that caused friction in the family, especially with our stepfather Gautier…Jeremie silently croaks as the framework of a ghastly tapestry begins to come together…You see, this…third sibling of ours joined extreme right-wing groups in Marseille because he hated all foreigners. The reason being that…during the Algerian War…guerrillas from the other side entered our home when we were children and executed our father right in front of us.
Mr. Belpois takes over for a moment.
Mr. Belpois: I was just a baby when it happened, but Richard saw the whole thing…when he was seven years old.
Patrick starts to shake. Jeremie's thousand yard stare grows more intense and empty.
Patrick: But…you said grandpa died in action in the Battle of Bizerte.
Richard: That was a lie on our part. We didn't want you to know the whole truth.
Patrick buries his face in his hands. The weight of this drastically unexpected information begins to crush him.
Patrick: But…why? Why would you-?
Richard: Our stepfather Gautier fought a lot with our brother over this. He didn't approve of his actions. He pushed our family to the point that he was kicked out of the house, permanently. After that, despite our poor mother's protests, Gautier didn't want to hear any mention of him again.
With the tapestry growing more horrifying by the second, Jeremie finds his lips moving against his will.
Jeremie: His name….
Mr. Belpois: What was that?
His hollow eyes turn to his father, radiating a fearful revulsion that is beyond words.
Jeremie: What was…his name?
Mr. Belpois pauses for a single moment and then answers.
Mr. Belpois: André…André Belpois.
Jeremie and Aelita nearly come undone from sheer fright. Instantly the pieces of the tapestry come together in horrifying clarity. Odd's dream narratives suddenly align with this one. The execution of Moriarty's father, the fights with a stepfather also named Gautier, the similarities in the photo, the name. Every single coincidence cascades in Jeremie's thoughts until they break the seams and overflow. Just as Jeremie is about to lose it and scream, one last thread of doubt desperately holds on. He fumbles for details, certain contradictions between the two stories that he puts one final hope in. He prays for all he's worth that somehow, some way this is a horrible coincidence, that this André Belpois is not the Moriarty he knows all too well. For if not, he concludes that his heart will certainly stop. Aelita whimpers ever so slightly, unable to register anything but the nightmarish truth that is being exposed. Patrick finally breaks the silence.
Patrick: Did you ever see him again?
Richard: Once. André returned after pursuing a brief career in the French army. But our stepfather remained unmoved, and he left almost as soon as he came. The damage had already been done, especially to Michael.
A slight ray of hope pierces through the darkness for Jeremie. One major discrepancy comes into play: his father's name. Mr. Belpois' first name is Michael, not Damien. He desperately reaches for this ray of light, only to watch it vanish before his very eyes.
Mr. Belpois: Because I resented the group, Ordre Nouveau, for bringing my brother into their midst and breaking apart our family, I ran afoul of them as a teenager. At one point, they beat me up pretty badly and even threatened to kill me. Even when I went to university, I still feared them, and as a precaution, I changed my first name to Michael. Before that, my name was actually Damien.
Jeremie's stomach nearly exits out of his mouth. With that final blow, he realizes there is no hope. While on the outside he remains hollow but attentive, on the inside his mind descends into a bottomless chasm of unending terrors that rip his soul asunder. Aelita bends her neck ever so slightly. She swallows uncomfortably, trying to resist the urge to vomit. The family table is silent for a long time. Patrick examines the expressions of the Belpois elders, including his mother and aunt. Their dark but sympathetic expressions at the children inform him of one key fact.
Patrick: You knew…The adults do not respond…All of you knew this, and you kept it a secret from Jeremie and I. He rubs his temples with his forefingers. How…how could you do this to us?
Louise: Honey, we didn't mean to upset you-
Patrick: No! This makes no sense. Grandma and Gautier are dead. Why keep this a secret from us? We were old enough to handle it many years ago.
Mr. Belpois' face becomes clouded with a dark, ugly fear. The usual sense of warmth starts to drain rapidly from his features.
Mr. Belpois: No, you weren't.
Patrick grinds his teeth together as he quickly loses patience with everyone.
Patrick: Uncle, with all due respect-
Richard: There is another reason why we don't speak of it. He rubs his hands together nervously. It involves what happened to him. Or…should I say, what we believe happened to him.
Patrick suddenly becomes pale.
Patrick: You mean, our uncle is dead?
Jeremie twists his head ever so slightly to hear the response he loathes more than death itself.
Richard: More than likely, yes. Or possibly locked away in a prison so deep and unknown that he might as well be dead. You see, we never heard anything from André again after he came back from the army. But more than twenty years ago, before you two were born, several men in black approached both Michael and I, demanding the whereabouts of our long-lost brother. They said they were from a special government agency and nothing else.
Patrick: So…what did you do?
Richard: We told them the truth. We said we had no idea what had happened to André since our last encounter in Marseille. Jeremie's uncle pauses for a moment, staring intently at the table. But they proved to be rather…persistent. Before we knew it, both of us were being watched. Wherever we went, restaurants, stores, our places of business, we were being followed. After a while it became clear to us: André had become a foreign spy, and we were being punished for it. But that knowledge didn't protect us. They kept wearing us down for weeks, until finally, they went for the killer blow.
Before Patrick can ask what "killer blow" means, Mr. Belpois starts to break down. Tears start streaming out of his eyes and he covers his mouth to stifle his moans of past trauma breaking through the dam of buried memories. Mrs. Belpois tries to comfort him but it proves useless. If Jeremie were not already mentally stretched beyond his limits, he would have been astonished at the sight of his father losing all composure.
Mr. Belpois: One night in October…several months before we got married…I…they…took me by surprise when I left work and forced me into a black van and covered my head with a brown sack. They took me somewhere, I don't know where. I don't even remember how long it took. Time-He starts shaking and his voice trembles-ceased to exist. Before I knew it, I was placed in a dark room with a single light pointing directly at me. They grilled me verbally, demanding to know where André was. I repeated what I had said before…that I knew nothing. Their tones became even more hostile. They told me they could make me disappear without a trace. That the police wouldn't be able to save me. He reaches for a cup of tea on the table and drinks it slowly, letting it calm him down some before continuing. At this point I was terrified, but I stuck to my story. When the men in black saw they weren't getting anywhere with me, they tormented me by threatening to take away the one thing most precious to me-He chokes on his own sobs- my fiancée. At that point…I lost it. I broke down, cried, begged, pleaded, and wailed to not do that, not to take her away from me. I swore upon heaven and earth that if I knew anything I would tell them, that André meant nothing to me any more, that I didn't consider him to be my brother, but a traitor to his family and his country. And then…everything went dark. The next morning I woke up in bed, covered in my own sweat and not knowing how I got there. But I knew I had come this close…to losing everything.
As Mr. Belpois continues weeping, Richard delivers the conclusion of the hidden family affair.
Richard: That's why we said nothing to you. We feared these men in black and what they could do to us. So we kept it quiet and moved on with our lives. André is dead, or at the very least he is dead to us. Anger crosses this gentle man's brows. He nearly destroyed our family-He looks right at Jeremie-and he was, without a doubt, a monster.
Jeremie says…nothing. Sinking into a dreamlike state, he excuses himself from the table. No one attempts to stop him. Carrying the weight of lead on his legs, he goes up the stairs. He enters the bathroom, closes the door, opens the toilet lid, and vomits. He leans over the commode, vomiting some more. His stomach revolts so violently that for several moments he is sure he is going to die. However, Aelita enters the room and holds on tightly to Jeremie. In his state, he can feel nothing but her warmth. She trembles as well. After a while, Jeremie feels the strength to sit up and look at his hands. His eyes target them with horror as he struggles with words.
Jeremie: I…was right. He can't breathe for a second. The blood of a monster…in my veins. He gasps…Nephew…
Aelita: I can only tell you what you told me…when I thought I was his daughter. You are not him.
Jeremie: Moriarty….is a Belpois…
Aelita and Jeremie remain secluded in the latter's room for several hours. Jeremie sits on the floor against his bed, holding his hands on his temples. Aelita sits on the bed and stares out the window, observing the arrival of the early evening. Hours pass with them hardly saying a word to each other. Then, a little before 18:00, the Lyoko general speaks up.
Jeremie: Worst Christmas…ever.
Aelita glances over her shoulder.
Aelita: I disagree.
She looks out at the snow falling over Rouen. The white rooftops in the old French city glow brightly with Christmas lights that will soon be packed away for another year.
Aelita: We lived to see it, and that was never a guarantee. She sighs. This Christmas is a blessing, even though it feels like a curse.
Jeremie lifts his head up slightly.
Jeremie: I used to stay up at night, dreading the growing possibility of defeat. But I never imagined that victory would be almost as bad. Or how high the cost of it would be…
Gentle hands touch his shoulders. A sweet voice draws close to his ears.
Aelita: Without you, we never would have won the war.
Jeremie: And how did I win the war for us? By killing my uncle.
Aelita: If you had known he was your uncle, would you have hesitated?
He shakes his head emphatically.
Jeremie: No, but I at least would have a bad taste in my mouth when it was over.
Aelita hops off the bed and sits down by his side. The shock of the previous few hours has gradually hardened into a sad resignation.
Aelita: There's one thing I don't get.
Jeremie: What's that?
Aelita: Moriarty had to know he was your uncle. Something like that couldn't get past him.
Jeremie: Of course.
Aelita: So why didn't he use that against you? He used every psychological weakness possible against us. Why did he not take advantage of that?
Since the matter had not crossed previously Jeremie's mind, he struggles to answer. Before he can answer, both of their phones vibrate at exactly the same time. The timing immediately unnerves them and they exchange looks.
Aelita: It must be from the group…I mean, it has to be…
Jeremie reaches for his pocket.
Jeremie: I'll check first.
Aelita: No! You've been through enough today. She grabs her phone from her purse. Let me do-
Jeremie's reflexes react just in time as an ear piercing scream escapes from Aelita's lips. He covers her mouth as her wail collides against his right palm. After he silences her, the frightening content on her phone enters his vision. Before he can read the text message, the symbol of Moriarty burns into his retinas. Instead of panicking like his girlfriend, he swallows the new information with cold, calculating understanding.
Jeremie: I should have known. The war's not completely over yet…The text message sent to all of the living Lyoko Warriors reads: Wishing you all a Merry Christmas from the dark chasms of Carthage –M. We were so lost in grief we forgot to shut down the supercomputer.
In the nearby city of Amiens, Yumi Ishiyama runs through the icy streets. She stops at every street corner, every park, every shopping district in a mad search for her boyfriend. Weary from her constant running, she stops at a city fountain that has been shut down for the winter. Though she is bundled up, the cold is oppressive, making her increasingly more desperate every second. She howls out his name, expelling fog from her breath.
Yumi: ULRICH! No response. She looks around her. It's Christmas evening and all the shops are closed. There are hardly any cars on the roads. The city appears to be completely quiet. ULRICH WHERE ARE YOU?! She runs back to the bridge but still doesn't see him. She is almost at the point of tears. Please…for the love of God…come back.
Just as she is about to resort to her last resource and call the police for help, she hears someone slide and fall around a hundred meters in the distance. Yumi turns her head and witnesses with horror that Ulrich is slowing ambling in the direction of the highway in his short sleeves and pajama pants, determined to continue on in the cold. She nearly screams but stops for fear of alerting him. Instead she moves as quickly as she can without being spotted, trailing his every move. This pursuit continues for about a minute and a half until the two are within eye distance of the French Autoroute, the road artery to Paris. Terrified at the thought of him reaching the highway, she finally sprints and tackles him from behind. Ulrich immediately responds with violent resistance, but she holds on with a firm Pencak Silat hold.
Ulrich: Let me go! He curses wildly. I HAVE TO GET BACK TO THE FACTORY!
Yumi: No you don't! THIS IS INSANE!
Ulrich's face appears almost frozen in a coat of frost, but the crazed intensity in his eyes does not let up.
Ulrich: He's out there…plotting…waiting…I have to go back. He nods his head as if confirming the false lucidity of his absurd plan. I have to end this!
He nearly breaks free but Yumi holds on for dear life.
Yumi: No you don't! She tightens her grip so her mouth is closer to Ulrich's ear. Jeremie told us that the only thing left of Moriarty is his personality cortex in Sector Five. He's powerless. We can return next semester and finish him then. She starts to shout in order to snap him out of his madness and rabid struggling. YOU DON'T NEED TO DO THIS TO YOURSELF!
Ulrich has surpassed the point of listening. His expression matches that of a wild, hunted animal: confused, frightened, and convinced he will be attacked at any moment.
Ulrich: He's healing…getting stronger. Ulrich starts to expend all of his strength to try to get free. If he can send that text message to us, then it's only a matter of time before he can threaten the world!
Yumi: Jeremie has-
Ulrich: JEREMIE KNOWS NOTHING! He's been wrong about Moriarty before and he's wrong now! I have…to kill him…
Ulrich breaks loose momentarily but Yumi takes advantage of his weakened and delusional state and pins him on the icy sidewalk. She remains on top and leans down centimeters from his face, letting him know with her shouts and tears the pain he is causing her.
Yumi: EVEN IF IT COSTS YOU YOUR LIFE?! Ulrich stops fighting, having been jolted out of his singleminded quest momentarily. Icy tremors shoot up and down his spine as he hugs his arms together. Look at yourself! You're going to die of cold out here. She points south in the direction of the highway. You wouldn't last a kilometer, much less the entire distance to the factory! So please…She puts her face close to his, trying to share her warmth and tormented passion to save him from his suicide mission…stop.
Ulrich, blocked by his physical and emotional limits, starts to see the futility of his actions, but he remains unconvinced.
Ulrich: Moriarty…he…he will come back-His lips are becoming numb, making it difficult for him to talk-Christophe and Jim will have died for nothing. Is that what you want?!
A firm back-handed slap painfully answers his query. She grabs his shoulders and shakes him.
Yumi: Don't you…dare speak like that! If you had listened to Jeremie before running out of the mansion like a lunatic, you would have heard that the use of the Cannae Initiative has stripped him of any effective power on Earth or on Lyoko. And as for Christophe and Jim…She sheds her outer jacket and lays it on top of him…they would never want another casualty added to this war. She stands up, motioning to the highway. So go ahead, sacrifice your life for nothing. Leave me alone to deal with the trauma of everything. Add another gravestone for your mother to visit. Or come back with me where it's warm, and live another day so we can face whatever's waiting for us at the factory together.
Twenty seconds pass between them in silence. Though Ulrich is reluctant to accept it, Yumi's outer coat is a welcome relief from the beating the icy air has given him. The brutal, protective gaze coming from Yumi intimidates him, forcing him to realize his folly. Several seconds later, he gets up and lets her walk him back.
Yumi: Let's get you home.
They trudge back to the large property. The effects of exposure have begun to do a number on Ulrich, as he is already shivering violently. But Yumi is not doing much better. Having discarded her outermost layer, the merciless wind wears her down. Her teeth start to clatter as she supports Ulrich on their way back. She quickly realizes that they have wandered farther from the mansion than she thought. Ulrich breathes into his hands to keep them warm. As the temperature continues to drop, Yumi pictures warm things in the mansion to keep her focused: fireplace, blankets, a hot bath. These mental images keep her going even while Ulrich begins to lose his strength. He feels so cold his mind almost becomes feverish.
Ulrich: Yumi I'm…I'm sorry…don't know what came over me.
Yumi: Don't worry about that now. They approach the side gate to the massive Stern residence. Just keep walking a little farther. We're almost there.
They cross the snow covered grass and approach a back door. Yumi rings a bell, praying that someone will answer before they catch their death of cold. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, the butler Craig Worthington answers, immediately horrified at their present condition.
Craig: What on Earth?!
Yumi enters with Ulrich without a word, relieved to be inside. Craig shuts the door.
Craig: What were you thinking going outside dressed like that?! When Mrs. Stern finds out that you two did this she will surely have my head!
Yumi: Please…Yumi is still trembling…don't tell her about this. Ulrich-She motions to him-was just not acting like himself. The multiple tragedies have gotten to him.
Craig: Master Ulrich, is this true?
Ulrich briefly looks up at him and nods.
Ulrich: Y-Y-Yes. I…I don't know what came over me. It won't happen again.
Still not satisfied, Craig aims his strict gaze at Yumi, who pleads at Yumi with his eyes.
Yumi: Please…just let this one go. I'll take care of him. Just don't say a word of this to Mrs. Stern. That way we stay out of trouble-She manages a smile-and you keep your head.
Craig thinks the proposition over for a moment. Seeing that the two are shivered to the bone and that it is still Christmas, he relents and adjusts his posture, putting his hands behind his back.
Craig: Very well. I will fetch you both some blankets.
A few minutes later, Yumi bundles Ulrich in blankets in his large, luxurious bedroom. The two sit on his black leather sofa facing the flatscreen TV, attempting to get warm together. Yumi covers herself with a blanket and trembles.
Yumi: I…hate…the cold.
Despite his best efforts, Ulrich still can't seem to get warm. His face turns pale and almost sickly, suggesting that he is at risk of becoming ill. He shuts his eyes and rubs his feet together.
Ulrich: No good. No good….stupid…I'm so stupid!
Yumi leans forward and touches his hands which are holding onto the blanket for dear life. They are ice cold, much to her alarm.
Yumi: Your body temperature is still too low. We have to do something else to warm you up.
Yumi: You want a hot bath? Ulrich nods his head in growing desperation. Yumi turns her head to his expansive bathroom. Okay. She gets up. I'll start the hot water. Just stay there for a second.
Still clutching her own blanket, Yumi hobbles to a large personal bathroom with walls painted solid white. Ceiling lamps brighten the entire space and unlit candles rest on the counter. To her right rests a large bathtub more than twice the size of hers back home. At first the sight is a much needed comfort, but once her bare feet enter the room, the unexpectedly cold tile floor sends another unwelcome chill up her spine. She hurries to the edge of the tub and twists the faucet, turning the hot water almost to its maximum. The initial blast of cold water on her hands gives her such an unpleasant jolt that her breath stops short for a moment. Though the water gradually warms, it is far too slow for her tastes. She keeps her hand under the water to test the temperature. When it is finally up to her standards, she plugs the drain and lets it fill up. Given the size of the tub, it does take a rather long time to do so. All the while, the chill in her own body makes Yumi remember other freezing moments of her life, like the Xana blizzard at Kadic that nearly killed her or her imprisonment in a cold room by a possessed Delmas. She tries to block out the memories and focus on the hot water, which is looking more and more appealing every minute. The steam from the rising liquid intoxicates her senses. She dips her hand in and her brain reacts a wave of pure pleasure. By the time the tub is filled and she turns off the water, a strong hunger develops inside her, goading her to take off her clothes and just dive in. She becomes so lost in temptation that she doesn't even hear Ulrich enter from behind.
Ulrich: Is it r-ready?
Yumi's cheeks turn a bright shade of red when she considers what she was about to do. Feeling ashamed, she gets up from the tub and starts to walk away.
She glances at him. His eyes lock on to the tub, letting her know right away that he is not going to waste any time getting in. The thought sends a different chill up her spine. Swallowing nervously, she tries to excuse herself.
She freezes in place, feeling her heart leap to her throat.
Ulrich: There are s-some towels in the closet. Can you g-get one for me?
She nods her head mechanically and goes to the bathroom closet. As she briefly examines its contents, she notes with alarm the sound of Ulrich removing his clothing. Her blush and discomfort intensify. That sound is quickly followed by a small splash and a loud "ahh" as her boyfriend sinks into the water. Normally she might have yelled at him for not waiting for her to leave, but no words come to her mouth. Her body, engulfed by cold and embarrassment, simply leaves a towel at the foot of the tub without allowing her eyes to look in his direction. Meanwhile Ulrich is beginning to recover as the water warms his insides, but he quickly sees the folly of his rash action. Being so close to her, vulnerable and exposed, nearly makes him pass out with shame, but at the same time, a definite biological urge to make her stay bombards his mind. Yumi then goes for the door, but stops short as a sneezing attack overtakes her. The chill inside worsens and her body longs to get warm immediately. Ulrich timidly sneaks a glimpse at Yumi and senses the problem. With a mixture of desire and chivalry, he decides to take the first step onto thin ice.
Ulrich: You…don't look so good. Are you going to be ok?
Yumi's throat warms to an uncomfortable degree. She wants to leave, but her legs won't respond.
Yumi: I just…stayed out there too long without my big jacket. I'll be fine once I take a bath…She emphasizes the last words of her sentence…in my room.
Ulrich: In a house this big, that's a long distance, and you'd have to fill up another massive bathtub. The voice of reason in his mind begs him to bite his tongue, but words tumble out of his mouth before he has time to think. The hot water rejuvenates every part of him, giving him a boldness he has never experienced before. As Yumi stands there, frozen in place, instinct finally pushes him over the edge. You…don't…have to leave.
The bathroom becomes deathly quiet. Yumi doesn't move. She hardly breathes. Paradoxically, in spite of her present condition, her mind and lower half begin to burn. Her conscience lectures her, her reason warns her, but her thoughts become so jumbled that they become lost in the noise. She glances over her shoulder, looking at Ulrich. He looks at her, gaging her response. Indecision chokes her, leaving her paralyzed. Eventually she reaches the point where she believes she must make a decision or permanently freeze in that spot. At that moment, the noise inside her head is silenced. Without a word, she closes the door and turns around to face Ulrich, letting her gaze absorb all of him. First, she discards her blanket. Then, she slowly and silently disrobes completely. Her boyfriend's heartrate accelerates threefold. Once she is completely exposed, she encounters one last second of hesitation. But the warm water pulls her closer, erasing the last bit of resistance. She sinks her feet in, one after the other, and lowers herself. The heat first shocks and then enthralls her so much that she can't help but let out a sigh of relief. Every inch of her revels in the feeling. Once the initial warm feeling passes, she opens her eyes, looking at Ulrich from the opposite end of the tub. The instinct to cover herself strikes her, but she knows that is fruitless; he has already seen everything. She sinks in the water till it reaches her chin. Her mind races, yet she is strangely calm. Neither one make a move toward the other. Ulrich glances to the left and right timidly, having succeeded in one respect but unsure on how to proceed. The uncertainty drives him mad to the point that he forces himself to gain the courage to approach the matter directly.
Ulrich: I just want to let you know…you don't have to do anything if you don't want to.
Yumi looks at him from across the small pool of water as his words wash over her. Though her body has started to warm up, she wants to be warmer. Though they are uncomfortably close, she wants to be closer. Though she knows him more than anyone, she wants to know him more. In that instant, Ulrich remembers the first encounter, the first takedown from her that rattled his world and his pride. He recalls the first time he taunted her to enter the scanner, and how Xana and Lyoko changed both of their lives forever. Every moment of battle in Lyoko and on Earth against countless threats and dangers, every time they've cheated death fills him the desire to be fully alive. She reminiscences on their various moments of near passion, her frustration with his jealousy, and finally the admission of mutual attraction. Moriarty's reign of terror and the fact that it nearly destroyed them enter her thoughts, reminding her how lucky they are to have exited the flames alive. Filled with divine gratitude, she leaves aside all doubts aside and moves forward to his embrace. The two unite, bearing each other's impossible burdens as they abandon their fears and personal restraints for the sake of the here and now.
….An hour and a half later, the two sit bundled up in the same blanket on the couch, watching TV. She leans against his shoulder and he runs his fingers through her hair. She shifts with slight discomfort.
Yumi: You don't think it would be possible for both of us to be with someone else, do you? I mean at this point…
Ulrich briefly considers the question and nods his head.
Ulrich: No, you're right. We've seen too much, been through too much to get along with anyone else. No one would be able to understand and share our nightmares. For better or for worse, we can either stick together, or be alone. And I don't want to be alone…
Yumi: So, this won't change anything…will it?
Ulrich leans forward and kisses her.
Ulrich: Not a chance…
A couple more days pass. Aelita peruses a novel in the reading room in an attempt to clear her mind from the Christmas day events. Thankfully, the plot is boring enough to lull her into a state of near sleep. As she nods off on the upstairs couch, she overhears a conversation in the kitchen.
Mr. Belpois: Honey, have you seen my bottle of Sainte-Croix Merlot? I can't find it.
Mrs. Belpois: Are you sure you didn't serve it last night?
Aelita opens her eyes and sits up to listen.
Mr. Belpois: No I'm fairly sure I served pinot noir last night. What happened to that bottle of wine?
Aelita raises an eyebrow, puzzled at the mystery. She opens the book again and tries to read, but the investigation downstairs has not let up.
Mr. Belpois: I am certain I put it in the wine refrigerator a couple of days ago.
Mrs. Belpois: Well, you let Patrick have a glass last night and he went off with his friends today. You don't suppose he…?
Mr. Belpois: Now hold on…we can't accuse our nephew without any evidence. I'm sure it's around here somewhere.
At this point, Aelita's curiosity has risen beyond the point of being able to ignore it. She puts the novel back down and ponders the whole thing. No good Frenchmen would easily misplace a good bottle of wine, and they don't simply disappear. She turns her head in the direction of Jeremie's room and then remembers that he had shut himself in for several hours. A suspicious thought enters her mind, which she immediately suppresses. But the idea remains present, piquing her concern and interest until she finds herself in front of his door, knocking. Jeremie's voice, which sounds a little more cheerful than usual, quickly answers.
Jeremie: Aelita? Is that you? Come in, come in!
Aelita walks in. Her mouth drops. Jeremie is standing by his bed, holding a half-empty bottle of wine, completely drunk. His cheeks are slightly flushed and he wobbles a little bit in her direction, trying to hug her.
Jeremie: Aelita…baby…He embraces her with the stolen bottle of wine still in his right hand. Aelita remains paralyzed…I'm uh…I'm sooo glad to see you.
The Lyoko princess recovers enough sense of mind to gently close the door behind her and calmly ask the obvious question.
His head bobbles around her shoulder as he answers.
Aelita: Did you steal a bottle of wine from your dad and…drink half of it?
He eyes the bottle still in his hand, almost as if he's surprised it's there, and examines how much he has consumed. He stumbles back near his bed and falls backwards onto it.
Jeremie: Yep. I'd say so. He holds his forehead as stares at the ceiling. Oh God….now the room's spinning….
The bottle is quickly snatched from his hand, much to his annoyance.
Jeremie: Aelita-He starts to adopt the whining tone of a child-why did you do that?
She proceeds to shout in a whisper at him.
Aelita: You're drunk!
The intoxicated boy genius points upward in confidence.
Jeremie: Yes….yes I am!
She shushes him given that he has no perspective on volume at the moment.
Aelita: Be quiet! Do you want your parents to find out?!
Jeremie: I don't have the desire…or the ability to care.
The bottle appears centimeters from his face in an accusatory fashion.
Aelita: Why did you do this?!
Jeremie musters the strength to sit up and meet her concerned and increasingly angry gaze. He gives her a look to suggest that she is the fool, and not him.
Jeremie: Aelita, my uncle is a pyscho…sociopathic murderer who nearly brought the world to his knees, and not too long ago I almost followed his example. Genuine sadness break through his drunken façade of joy. So many people are dead…because of us and our fight with h-He struggles to finish the sentence-him…And I can't bring Christophe back, no matter how much I want to. He holds his hands up in surrender. So tell me, what else am I supposed to do?
Aelita lowers her arm, letting the Pinot Noir bottle hang by her side. She breathes deeply to settle her nerves.
Aelita: There are…other ways to deal with this.
The intoxicated general bursts out laughing, prompting Aelita to silence him once again by shushing. Then, as soon as it began, the laughing recedes into a cold expression reeking of bitterness and ache.
Jeremie: Really Aelita? He supports himself by resting his left hand on the edge of the bed while his head droops down. That's what you say to people who have lost loved ones to tragic but…natural circumstances. That's what you say to people who lose their jobs or who are dealing with depression. Not those who f-fight a pscyho-monstrical entity who g-grinds them down until there's nothing left. He gazes up at her, completely lost. What are we supposed to do? He places his hands over his chest, motioning to himself. What am I supposed to do? How can I for…forget?
Aelita does not answer immediately as she fumbles for an answer.
Aelita: We…we endure and help each other endure. That's all we can do.
Jeremie shakes his head, letting it fall almost to his knees.
Jeremie: No, no, no, no. If endure is the best thing we can do…endure hell with nothing substantial to ease the pain-He forces enough agility to grab the bottle out of her hands-then whatever this bottle does to me is far better than the alternative.
She folds her arms across her chest as he takes another gulp.
Aelita: That's a weak argument.
Jeremie: W-Weak argument? He points at the label. Look at this! We are F-Fr-Fre…
He trails off, confused. Aelita offers a suggestion.
Jeremie: Yes, French! Our wine is famous all over the world. But why do we make wine? What is the point of wine? Or alcohol in general?
Aelita: For the taste…or for the benefit of having a relaxing beverage…
Jeremie: That's absolutely ridiculous. He slowly counts by holding up his fingers. Tea is relaxing. Coffee is relaxing. Soda is relaxing. Wine…Sure you can use it to relax or enjoy it with food but what is its real purpose? What was its initial purpose?
He eyes her questioningly, slowly forcing her into a corner in the argument. She glances at the floor periodically.
Aelita: To..to take the…edge off.
Jeremie: Exactly. People drink to take the edge off. So-He motions the wine bottle in her direction-why don't you take off the edge…He blinks a few times and corrects himself…take the edge off like me?
She moves toward his door and groans with disbelief.
Aelita: You're absolutely crazy. Let me know when you sober up and maybe…maybe I'll hide this whole thing from your dad.
Jeremie: You're missing out…
She puts her hand on the door knob.
Aelita: No I'm not.
Jeremie: Doesn't the scientist in you want you to experiment a little? To feel what I'm feeling right now?
She opens the door and lectures him from over her shoulder.
Aelita: It's just an illusion. A drug. It won't solve your problems forever. In a few hours you'll come back to reality, and then what?
Jeremie: Aelita…He inches forward on the bed in her direction, looking at her directly in the eye…I'm under no illusion that this will last. I just want to be free for a few hours. Be free from all the heartaches and nightmares, just for a little while. Don't you? Aelita's firm gaze has not ebbed but she has also not left the room, cueing him in on the idea that she may be listening. I know you're in pain. We both are. It's our Holiday Break. Can't we just be normal teenagers, just once? Just for a little bit? As his girlfriend's unrelenting expression begins to crack, he goes in for the kill. Don't we at least deserve that?
Aelita wavers for a moment as she ponders her response. When appeals to morality seem to fail, she turns to legality.
Aelita: We're a little too young to be drinking.
Jeremie: I hate to b-break it to you, but normal teenagers our age drink. And we were way too young to be fighting all kinds of evil in Lyoko and the Network, so the-He pauses for a short period of time to find the right expression-ship is already out of the bottle. You can't put it back in.
The tired Lyoko princess, cognizant of her own exhaustion, slowly closes the door as temptation begins to take a hold of her. Jeremie creeps up on her shoulder and holds the bottle in front of her face, which doesn't help matters.
Jeremie: Come on, at least try a little bit. No one says you have to get drunk.
Aelita gazes at the dark purple liquid in the bottle. With the forbidden item so close, she growls in exasperation and takes it.
Aelita: Alright. She stands upright and faces Jeremie as a way of establishing her discipline. Okay, but only a little bit.
An hour and a half and "a little bit" too much wine later, Aelita and Jeremie are sitting against the bedroom wall, laughing to no end. The original bottle of wine is gone and after throwing most of their inhibitions out the window, Jeremie had the sense of mind to steal yet another bottle from his father. Their speech has been slowed and slurred gradually over time. Aelita's face is even more flushed than Jeremie's. She pushes his shoulder.
Aelita: No! I don't care what you think, naming any game between us "Scyphozoa" is just too weird!
Jeremie: But you made that game…
Aelita: No I didn't!
Jeremie: Uh-huh, yeah you did.
She rejects his claim in a completely overdramatic fashion that includes falling over onto his knees.
Aelita: I did not!
Jeremie: You totally did! Don't lie to me!
Aelita: I'm not lying! And if Natalya were here, she would say I'm not lying. She suddenly gets an extremely brilliant idea. Hey, let's call her!
Ordinarily Jeremie would immediately reject this idea, but proper judgment has long since abandoned him.
Jeremie: Sure, let's do it! And we can talk to William too!
Back in the Dunbar apartment in the heart of downtown Paris, William rests on a chair in his room, still recovering from his injuries. A sharp laughter echoes outside his closed door. He squints his eyes in minor annoyance as the door opens. Natalya peers in, holding her phone.
Natalya: You're not going to believe this.
William: Ah can't it wait? I want to sleep.
His Russian girlfriend tries not to crack up again.
Natalya: No. No it can't…
She places the phone on the armrest and puts it on speaker. Immediately Jeremie and Aelita pipe up with little concern for volume.
Aelita & Jeremie: WILLIAM! Is that you?!
He shoots Natalya a look before answering.
William: Um…yes. How are you doing?
Jeremie: We're doing so….grrreat. Everything is just-
William: You seem a lot happier than I would expect…considering the circumstances.
The drunken slowness to their voices filters through the phone with greater clarity.
Aelita: You know we just…can't worry about that. We'll go back to the factory one more time and-
Jeremie: And then everything will be just fine…
William moves the phone to the side for a second and whispers to Natalya.
William: Are they drunk?
Natalya: Oh yes…very much so.
William: No way…
Natalya: I've seen it too many times not to recognize the signs.
William takes hold of the phone and points to it. Natalya sits at the edge of his bed.
William: What do you want me to say?
Natalya: Ask them what directly if they've been drinking.
The injured warrior clears his throat.
William: Aelita, Jeremie, I know this question sounds outrageous but have you had anything to drink lately? As in alcohol?
Aelita gasps like an excited school girl.
Aelita: How did you know?!
William: Call it a lucky guess. What have you been drinking?
Jeremie: P-Pinot noir. Oh wait-He pauses-This one's actually a Cabernet.
William: Uh-huh. And just out of interest, why did you decide to call us?
The voices on the other line pause in silence.
Jeremie: Um…I don't remember. Aelita why did we call them?
Aelita: I don't know either. Didn't you call them?
Jeremie: But this is your phone, isn't it?
William and Natalya attempt to stifle their laughter. Natalya motions for William to keep them talking.
William: So, just out of interest…Aelita, has Jeremie moved on to boxers?
As they expected, Aelita has absolutely no filter.
Aelita: Nope! He still wears briefs!
Jeremie: Wait…you're not supposed to tell them that!
The duo back in Paris break out laughing.
Natalya: Oh really Aelita? Do tell…
Jeremie: Ignore her she's a bit-
Natalya and William stare at each other, totally confused.
William: Pardon me?
Aelita: He has pairs with stripes on them now!
Jeremie: Aelita! I don't talk about your underwear!
Natalya, smelling blood in the water, goes in for another bite.
Natalya: Could you talk about it?
The line is silent again, leaving William and Natalya to go through another bout of laughter.
Jeremie: I see…what you're doing here…You can't just mess us with us. We're smarter than that.
William, emboldened by the challenge, smiles broadly at Natalya.
William: Oh really? Aelita, how many Lyoko programs have codewords that refer to you and Jeremie's relationship?
Natalya laughs so hard she falls off the bed.
Jeremie: Aelita, you need to shut up!
Natalya: I don't think she can! She takes a moment to regain her composure. Aelita, have you ever stayed in his room past school curfew?
Aelita: Of course.
Natalya gets closer to William's armchair and speaks in a seductive tone into the phone.
Natalya: What about the whole night?
Aelita: T-Technically yes but we were…working.
Natalya: Oh I'm sure you were.
That final punch sends the two in a frenzy of laughter, so much so that it actually hurts William's side to some degree.
Aelita: Oh you think you're ssso smart Natalya. Then answer me this. How far have you gone with William?
Natalya stands up and shrugs.
Natalya: I don't have to answer that question.
Aelita and Jeremie start to whine like little children.
Aelita & Jeremie: NO FAIR!
Natalya: Tough. She gently eases herself onto William's lap. But I tell you what, send a picture of you two holding the wine and smiling and I might tell you…
There is another pause on the line. William gives her a mischievous look.
William: You're totally lying.
She kisses him on the cheek.
Natalya: I have taught you well my apprentice.
William: You're awful.
Natalya: I know. Have they sent it yet?
He checks the phone. It soon registers that a proper selfie has been sent to them.
William: Got it!
She leans over and yells into the phone.
Natalya: SORRY GOT TO GO BYE! DRINK PLENTY OF WATER! William hangs up and the pair have one final laugh at the other couple's expense. Natalya takes a look at the photo and covers her mouth. Oh we simply have to hang on to that one!
William: Yes, that may come in handy one day. Natalya tenderly leans against his shoulder. He kisses her. I love you...
He rolls his eyes.
William: 'Likewise'? Aren't you supposed to say something more profound like 'I love you too'?
Natalya: No. Too cliché for me. While she lies close to him, her light expression begins to darken. When her face becomes clouded with worry, she shifts uneasily. William grunts in pain. Oh I'm sorry, did I hurt you?
William: A little bit…The telltale signs of concern on her face make itself known to him. Is something bothering you?
Natalya: Do you think…do you think Moriarty can come back?
Out of respect for the gravity of the question, William doesn't answer right away.
William: Jeremie said he's limited to that narrow corner of Sector Five after his Network Core was destroyed. And I take his word for it.
Natalya: You trust him?
William: Yes, I have faith in him.
She turns her head away from him.
Natalya: He's been wrong before…and made many mistakes.
William: Very true. But I choose to trust his judgment. Despite his mistakes, he's the reason we've survived so many battles with Moriarty and Xana.
Tremors sneak up Natalya's spine and a single tear escapes from her left eye.
Natalya: I don't want to fight again...
William: I don't either. But if you don't believe Jeremie, believe Xana. He hasn't spoken a word to me even after we figured out Moriarty wasn't technically dead. If there was a problem, I believe he would have done something by now.
Natalya's gaze seems empty and distraught. She tries to remain strong as William gently touches her shoulder.
Natalya: Yeah, you're probably right.
Back in the Belpois household, Mr. and Mrs. Belpois confront Jeremie and Aelita while the two culprits sit on the couch. Both of them hold their heads and slump over the couch cushions, clearly hung over from their little experiment. The parents are less than pleased. Jeremie's father holds the two bottles that have been stolen.
Mr. Belpois: I know you two have been through a lot lately, but there is no excuse for this. No excuse! Since it's the Holidays I'll go easy on you this time, but it better not happen again.
Jeremie: Oh my head…
Aelita buries her face in her pillow.
Aelita: I want to crawl into my bed and just die.
Mr. Belpois: But if you ask me, most of your punishment is already happening.
Aelita: I'll never drink again…
Mrs. Belpois: Part of the reason we don't want you two drinking is that you don't understand moderation at your age.
Jeremie holds his stomach and groans.
Jeremie: Yeah…I think we get that now.
Later that night, Natalya tosses and turns uncomfortably in the Dunbar guest bed. In the vulnerability of sleep, deeply hidden fears and terrors slither out of her subconscious and terrorize her waking dreams. The vividly dark memories of Moriarty and his despotic reign over Kadic and their souls invade her mind. At one point, she finds herself drowning in the Network surrounded by Moriarty's smoke cloud which tries to swallow her. Soon afterwards, she imagines all of Russia burning in an ocean of fire that can be clearly seen from space. And behind the conflagration stands her lab coat-clad enemy, smiling and laughing despotically while everything before her dies. Next the Leviathan charges her back on Lyoko, but this is no moment of triumph for her. Moriarty's face replaces the Leviathan's two heads, staring down at her with murderous glee. She has no bow and arrows. Nothing stands in his way. She can only stand still as he crushes the life out of her. The tormented young Russian girl sits up in bed, sweating and breathing heavily. She looks around, holding the sheets close to her. The room is dark and still. Some lights from the Parisian nightlife filter through her window. She breathes easy.
Natalya: It was just a dream…
Just as she is about to relax, the curtains flutter unnaturally. Her eyes open widely. She hadn't left the window open. Before she can react, Moriarty appears on top of her bed and begins to strangle her. Natalya tries to cry out in terror but nothing comes out of her lungs. She grows desperate for air as Moriarty penetrates her with his soulless eyes.
Moriarty: Maybe right now, but it will be real soon enough! His face changes to that of one of the masked figures who took her father when she was young. Don't you know? I was just getting started!
Natalya wakes up for real this time, frantic and crying. She quakes in terror, completely petrified by her nightmare. Several moments later, a completely unconscious William snores away when he senses a light tap on his shoulder. Barely registering it, he rolls over and tries to keep sawing logs, but then his arm is pushed with more insistence. He slowly sits up, groggy and confused.
William: What the hell? It's like three in the morn-
He stops short. Beside her bed stands Natalya, trembling greatly in her white nightgown with her gaze aimed at the floor. Before he does anything else, William pinches himself. No, he is not dreaming. Yes, Natalya is standing in front of his bed in a nightgown. His mouth becomes dry as he prepares to address the obvious.
William: Natalya are you-?
Natalya: I can't…
William raises an eyebrow.
William: You can't what?
Natalya: I can't…She musters the courage to say it out loud…be alone right now. The nightmares…I can't…
As his mind clears, William recognizes the telltale signs of absolute terror.
William: You've been having nightmares?
Natalya: May I stay here with you tonight? She lifts her head and her eyes plead with him. Please…?
Now William's throat becomes very dry indeed. But in spite of his discomfort, his protective nature will not let him say no.
William: Of course…
He moves over on his queen-sized bed and lets her slip into the covers. Without delay she gets comfortable and holds onto him, not showing any reluctance. The closeness of her body makes William tense. His heart races, but to his surprise she suddenly breathes easy, relaxing in his embrace. Her proximity to him has eased her fear.
Natalya: Thank you…
William manages a smile.
William: Sure thing. His desire makes it really hard for him to think. I'm not going to let you suffer alone.
She pulls her head closer, touching her cheek to his. Now it's impossible for him to think. He closes his eyes and reminds himself to breathe. Natalya shifts her legs slightly under the covers. William cautiously puts a hand behind her back and draws her closer. She welcomes the move and smiles. But she is now close enough to sense his growing unease and shiftiness. She opens her eyes and sees that his are wide open. Natalya shakes her head.
Natalya: William, I was not born yesterday.
William: I know. Bad timing, I'm sorry…I just didn't see this coming so-
She kisses him deeply on the lips and cups his cheek.
Natalya: Why are you apologizing? Her chest rubs up against his. You are a guy. I understand. Don't you think I feel it too?
William's lower half becomes inflamed with feet gently touch.
William: Well sort of…but I don't like to assume things.
She tightens her embrace and smiles.
Natalya: You are still a terrible liar. But I like that about you. She briefly reflects on the nightmares and rests her head on the pillow close to his head. And I just want to let you know, even though Moriarty hurt me a lot, I don't regret following you into that factory. Her eyes become wet with tears. I only wish Christophe hadn't followed me.
William shifts in bed to face her directly.
William: Like I've said before, if you hadn't brought him along, we would all be doomed. He saved everyone. And so did you. You killed the Leviathan!
Natalya: Yes. That was pretty crazy. But I wouldn't have gotten to where I am today without you. Her hands lightly touch his stomach. He grimaces. Oh…sorry. I'll be gentle.
The winter winds rattle against the shutters of William's room. Natalya, still jumpy from the nightmare, holds onto William tightly, which does not ease either his physical or mental discomfort.
Natalya: Sorry. I'm still not dream…was so awful. He jumped onto my bed and choked me. She shudders underneath the covers. I had to stare into his soulless eyes…
William: I'm here now. If he tries to do that again, he'll die all over again. Besides-He cups her cheek-Moriarty has just as much of a reason to fear you as me. I never defeated the Leviathan. You did. Whatever's left of Moriarty now, he's the one who's scared of you.
Natalya: Even so, I don't think I'm going to be able to sleep the rest of the night…
Her gaze examines William's reaction. Her boyfriend's eyes lock onto the ceiling. His right hand scratches the back of his head.
William: That's fine. You can just stay here….no big deal…
An uncomfortably long silence passes between them. Neither of them make a move.
Natalya: It will be…several hours before sunrise…
William nods in silent agreement.
William: Very true. He pauses. And we have a priest sleeping in the next room. Awkward silence follows. Just thought I'd through that out there.
Natalya: Ah yes…your brother Rosaire. But I am not Catholic. I was raised Russian Orthodox.
William: Which means…what exactly in this situation?
Her fingers gently massage his back. William's heart flutters in response.
Natalya: William. Her tone becomes serious. I've never felt so strongly for a guy like I have you. When I first met you, I was intrigued by your dark, secretive nature. During the hostage crisis, I came to respect you. When I saw you come out of the water that time at the pool, I wanted you. When you saved me my first time on Lyoko, I knew for a fact that I had found the right one. She pulls up close enough to him to whisper in his ear. What I'm trying to say is that…if you want to stay here and just talk, I understand. But if you had other ideas…
The demands of human biology will not stop pounding at his cerebrum. Frustrated and conflicted, William closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He stares into her eyes.
William: When I first saw you, you automatically got my attention. But I had a mission to uphold, and I couldn't afford to get distracted or put you in danger. I tried to resist you, but I failed. I tried to suppress my feelings but I couldn't. I couldn't resist then-He kisses her passionately-and I can't now.
Natalya's eyes and face glow like the hearth of a warm, inviting home.
Natalya: I love you.
With hearts wide open, Natalya and William surrender to each other's rhythm and soul…
…Sunrise enter's William's window. The city of Paris gradually hums back to its morning routine after a slow, languid start. William blinks several times before his eyes fully open. The room remains mostly dark but retains its warmth and inviting nature. After a brief moment of adjustment, he rolls over to see Natalya sleeping comfortably by his side. His mind recounts the events over the last few hours and confirms that what he experienced was not a dream. He gingerly moves his hand through her light blonde hair. Natalya holds the pillow tighter and continues sleeping. William stretches and eases back under the covers. He doesn't want to leave the bed…until his stomach growls. Hunger wakes him back up, demanding an early morning snack. The retired warrior looks at the clock which reads 06:45. He still has at least two hours before his parents wake up. Not wanting to wake Natalya up, he quietly eases out of bed and puts on shorts and a T-shirt. The door to his room slowly opens. His head peaks out. No one is in the kitchen. Softly shutting the door behind him, William tiptoes into the kitchen and reaches for a banana. As he is about to chow down, his heart is stopped by an unexpected voice.
Rosaire: You're up early.
William freezes in place. In the living room, his older brother reads his Bible in a chair by the window. The young Catholic priest observes him with an apparently innocent curiosity.
William: Just uh…little something before breakfast. What are you doing up?
Rosaire: I always get up around 6 to spend some time in quiet prayer and reading.
The younger brother cautiously glances at his bedroom door, relieved that he left it closed. He takes a bite out of the banana.
William: Oh…that's nice.
Rosaire: Sleep well?
William: Fine. Fine. Fine…He clears his throat. What about you?
Rosaire gives him a slight smile.
Rosaire: I rested well, thank you. He places his Bible on the coffee table and stretches on the couch. I think Mom will make me stay an extra day. After that, I will go back to my own place. There are many who need comfort this time of year.
William's heartrate relaxes somewhat as his mind drifts to more somber thoughts.
William: Yeah I'd say I'm well aware of that.
Rosaire: God is heartbroken over our multiple tragedies. I can feel it. He looks William in the eye. And you're hurt too.
William turns to the side and takes another bite of the banana. The many deaths associated with their fight with Moriarty oppress his thoughts, placing a large weight on his conscience.
William: It's been rough for sure. My school, this country has gone through too much. And I had a feeling someone would die at that rally. I wish I had been wrong.
Rosaire: With so many deaths at Kadic, I'm surprised your school is still functioning. And now the police are scouring the country for that dreaded charlatan to no avail. He takes an uncomfortable pause before continuing the conversation. You were…friends with the student with the last name M'Bala, right?
The mention of his fallen comrade makes William suddenly lose his appetite. He discards the rest of the banana in the trashcan. The pain of loss gradually sinks into a numbness that he cannot shake.
Out of respect for his brother's feelings, Rosaire avoids eye contact. But the quiet solemnity of his voice exudes a genuine sympathy.
Rosaire: I can't imagine how difficult it must be for you. Life should never be cut short at such a young age. His fingers run over the cover of his Bible. It wasn't how it was meant to be…
A drop of bitter cynicism filters through William's words.
William: And yet it happens anyway.
Rosaire: It wasn't God's will for him to die.
William: And yet it happened…anyway.
Rosaire's hand withdraws from the Bible. His stiff posture slackens and he glances out the window toward the sun.
Rosaire: Sometimes mercy comes in cruel forms that we do not understand. But think about it from his perspective. Could you imagine living after you witnessed the horrible deaths of your parents? Perhaps God shortened his agony by allowing him to die in the river. He stares directly at his younger brother. You've dealt with a lot this year. But ask yourself this: In spite of your troubles, have you lost what matters the most to you?
William withdraws into a sudden silence. In a brief moment of reflection, his mind wanders back to the sleeping beauty in his bedroom. Waves of relief mixed with guilt roll over him. Though he is reluctant to admit it, the suffering inflicted on him could have been much worse. He wanders from the kitchen to the living room to face his pious older brother.
William: No. You're right. I haven't lost everything. And as crazy as it sounds-William finds himself stunned by the discovery of a hidden gem within the muck of his trials-had it not been for Renard's insanity, I don't think Natalya and I would be where we are today. A smile forms on his lips. She and I have helped bear each other's pain so well. We've gotten very close to each other.
Rosaire nods in agreement.
Rosaire: So it would seem.
The hint of a certain moralizing inflection in his elder brother's voice catches William's attention. His gaze moves in the direction of Natalya's guest room…and his heart stops. The door has been left wide open, and from Rosaire's vantage point, it is crystal clear that she is not there. William's feet glue to the floor in a horrified paralysis. Lumps form in his throat. He knows there is no way of hiding it. He starts to stammer while Rosaire observes him calmly.
Around the same time, Natalya rises from William's bed and pushes the hair out of her face. She stumbles out of bed.
Meanwhile William attempts some verbal gymnastics to pretend that he hasn't noticed Natalya's open door.
William: So…uh…heard any good confessions lately?
Rosaire, slightly amused, starts to play along.
Rosaire: Not really. Were you planning on making one?
William: Well…no of course not. Why would I-The toilet flushes in the bathroom connected to William's room. The noise is clearly audible for both of them. His tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth-um…that must have come from Mom and Dad's room.
Rosaire points in the opposite direction of his bedroom.
Rosaire: Mom and Dad's room is that way…
William completely freezes up. With no possible lie to turn to, he remains still as a statue, wanting to wish the whole thing away. Rosaire, on the other hand, takes his coat and heads toward the door.
Rosaire: I think I'm going to take an early morning walk. I sometimes enjoy this brisk weather.
Rosaire struts out the front door, placing a hand on William's shoulder before he exits. Several moments later, Natalya exits out of William's bedroom door. Her arms wrap around him.
Natalya: What are you doing walking around this early? You might have gotten us caught…
William: Right. I could have gotten us caught…
January. The beginning of the second semester draws near. The sky this particular morning is bright and clear. The roads are free of snow but a thin layer of ice remains on the sidewalks, making it rather difficult for pedestrians to move about. At the bridge to the factory, Jeremie and Aelita lean against the rails. Jeremie clutches his laptop bag, keeping it close to his side. Aelita keeps her hands in her jacket pockets. Their breathing quietly emits fog from their mouths and nostrils.
Aelita: Are they late?
Jeremie checks his watch.
Jeremie: No. We're still early.
His fingers dig into the fabric of his bag. Aelita watches the city skyline to the east.
Aelita: We can do this. You have the program ready.
Jeremie: Yes. The program has been prepared. That doesn't mean I am. He pinches the skin of his forehead with his thumb and index finger. Still, we are very lucky. The notes I had overlooked from the book I took from the Hermitage were very helpful. Those codes just might be the key for us to properly end this. He glances in her direction. I suppose it was your father's last gift for us.
Aelita's facial features retreat into a stoic expression.
Aelita: The question is…will we use it?
Jeremie: That…is for the rest of the group to decide.
The manhole cover to the sewer system opens up. Ulrich and Yumi climb out and casually approach the other couple. All four of them exchange knowing glances toward each other. Jeremie motions to the entrance.
Jeremie: Come on. Let's go inside and wait for the others. We'll attract too much attention if all of us wait on the bridge.
They approach the ropes that lead to the factory floor. Jeremie and Aelita quickly descend. The other two pause for a moment. Yumi grabs hold of the rope.
Yumi: Let's make today the last time we use these ropes. She forces a smile. I remember you used to hate swinging down from this height.
Ulrich grips the rope tightly.
Ulrich: I still do.
The warriors loiter on the factory floor. After about ten minutes, William and Natalya join them. As soon as they hit the floor, Jeremie's displeasure unveils itself in a starkly dry tone.
Jeremie: You're late.
William: Sorry, I was helping Natalya unpack her stuff.
Jeremie: You arrived on campus an hour ago…
William: Clearly you don't understand how much stuff this girl brings…
Natalya lightly slaps him on the shoulder. Before any light conversation can continue, Jeremie's phone beeps. He checks his messages.
Jeremie: He's here…
He puts his phone back in his pocket.
Ulrich: Are you sure this is a good idea? Letting him come here…?
Jeremie: Not really. But I don't exactly have a choice. I made a promise…and he did help us when it mattered the most.
William: That's true. But still…
Jeremie: Too late to back out now. It's already settled. He taps his laptop bag. I'm far more concerned about how other aspects of this day will go.
Yumi: You said you've been working on a solution. What exactly does that-?
Jeremie quickly silences her with a harsh stare.
Jeremie: No. Not a word of this until we get to the lab room.
Following a tense moment of silence, a figure from above latches onto the rope and swings down. He lets go close to the ground and quickly adds an acrobatic front flip to his landing. After finishing his routine, the royal and rather theatrical prince adjusts his collar.
César: Sorry about that. Couldn't resist.
The group gives a mostly mute reaction. William nods his head.
William: If it weren't for the fact that humanity was in danger, I might have found that thing to be pretty fun.
To the warriors' surprise, a rather large man drops down from the rope onto the floor. The ever loyal Felipe takes his place at his lord's side.
Aelita: You brought your bodyguard?
Jeremie: Whoa! Whoa…we didn't agree to this.
César waves his hands in an attempt to make them calm down.
César: I know. I know. But I couldn't just sneak away from him without telling him anything…
Felipe: I let him get away with it once-A slight shudder ripples its way through his body-and only once…
César: No sé tan dramático. (Don't be so dramatic.) Madrid is still in one piece…Besides he was attacked by Renard too. He's already seen a lot.
Felipe: It is true. He would have fried me from the inside if the police had not interrupted him.
César: And he is an expert in keeping secrets! He leans on his shoulder with a slightly guilty smirk on his face. He is really good at keeping his mouth shut about stuff.
Felipe groans uncomfortably. All the warriors turn to Jeremie, who eventually shrugs.
Jeremie: I suppose it couldn't hurt. Follow me.
The group makes its way down to the boiler room with Jeremie leading the way. The damp stillness in the air increases the discomfort of some of the older warriors, who have had bad run ins with the place. César and Felipe, having seen the place for the first time, observe their surroundings with a mixture of intrigue and unease.
Jeremie: You'll have to forgive us for taking this path. We did have an elevator. But recent events have…He coughs…put that out of commission.
Ulrich: It's a big pile of scrap metal at the bottom of the elevator shaft.
They enter the lab room through a small entrance with a ladder leading down. Aelita enters first and starts up the main monitor. She is quickly followed by the two guests, who marvel at the whole thing.
César: Unbelievable…This technology is…decades before its time!
Jeremie approaches them from behind.
Jeremie: It was decades before its time more than a decade ago. Gentlemen, welcome to the command center of the greatest quantum supercomputer on Earth. He motions to Aelita, who turns on the holomap of Lyoko. The brainchild of sheer genius…
César's mouth drops. Felipe crosses himself.
César: Santa María Madre de Dios…(Holy Mary Mother of God…) Jeremie…you were not raving like a madman after all.
Jeremie: I wasn't raving-He adjusts his classes as he circles behind the command chair-but I am definitely a madman. At least after the last semester…
César takes a step back and tries to breathe.
César: I have so many questions…I don't know where to begin.
Jeremie: Well, while you're thinking, I have something to setup. He taps Aelita on the shoulder. Aelita, if you would be so kind.
Aelita: Of course.
Jeremie hooks up his laptop with all of its new content onto the main monitor. Several minutes of setup go by. The holomap switches from a view of Lyoko to Carthage. The baffled prince spends his time taking the whole thing in.
César: You told me you would tell me everything, and obviously this is the brainchild of sheer genius. But whose genius was it that created this masterpiece?
Jeremie puts on the finishing touches of his setup.
Jeremie: It was the work of two brilliant men. One an upright and devoted scientist who worked for the good of mankind. He looks over his shoulder. That would be Aelita's father, Waldo Schaeffer or…as he was later known, Franz Hopper. The other…was a monster who did everything possible to bend the world to his maniacal whims. He faces César. The one you know as Dr. Sébastien Renard. And speaking of which…He opens an auditory channel to Sector Five…let's see if he's there. He freezes for a second, staring at the mute screen. For a few moments, his voice fails him. But he manages to steel his nerves and prepare for what he hopes to be one last unpleasant conversation. Moriarty, are you there?
One second goes by and silence continues on the other line. But sure enough, a rather familiar and agitated voice answers with raw venom.
Moriarty: Of course I'm here. I can't exactly go anywhere…
Even though he had prepared himself for this, chills go up and down César's body.
César: That is his voice…No doubt about it, it's him.
Moriarty: Oh great…you brought the buffoon and his pet gorilla.
Felipe: Cabrón. (Bastard.)
Moriarty: It's been a long time. Hello Jeremie.
Jeremie replies in an equally wry, spiteful tone.
Silence greets them for several seconds on the other line. For a brief moment, Jeremie entertains the thought of Moriarty denying the connection, but his enemy quickly disappoints him.
Moriarty: So….you finally figured it out. I was certain you would connect the dots eventually.
Now that everything has been confirmed, Jeremie suddenly becomes calm and lets the truth pass over him.
Jeremie: You knew the entire time, and you never told me. That's-Jeremie shuts his eyes for a moment-very out of character for you…Out of all the things to use against me, that seems to be number one. And yet you passed up the opportunity to torture me with it.
Moriarty: Come on Jeremie…don't be a fool. Use your head. A true master always saves his trump card for last. I was saving that for my victory. For my last gloat if you will…
Yumi: A victory that never happened-She can't help but revel in the fact just a little-Were you that confident you would win?
Moriarty seethes in silence for several seconds. His retort drips of malice and bitterness.
Moriarty: How observant Miss Ishiyama. But even I'm surprised at your callousness. The living have the privilege to boast, but your dead have nothing to celebrate…
Aelita: They are dead because of you…
Moriarty: And your point is?
Aelita's blood boils in every vessel of her body. She raises a clenched fist as if preparing to hit Moriarty in the flesh.
Aelita: You can't even imagine the damage you've done to Kadic. Delmas is pretty much broken, and Jim, the only one who could repair the disaster you created, is dead because of you!
Moriarty stays silent for a few moments. The change in the tone of his voice indicates confusion.
Moriarty: Now I know I was pretty busy the night of our last encounter and I killed or tried to kill several people, but refresh my memory. When did I kill Jim again?
William: Because of your influence, Herb went insane and tried to kill Delmas during The Order marches. Jim intervened and took the knife blade for him.
Moriarty briefly absorbs this information and then whistles. It is a whistle of genuine surprise, but there's not an ounce of sympathy or guilt in him. Rather, he follows the whistle with a slight chuckle, implying that he is actually impressed.
Moriarty: I knew he was crazy, but that…wow. I suppose the little freak had a spine after all.
César shudders to hear a former teacher to speak so heartlessly about human life, even though the great manipulator happened to be one he hated.
César: A gym teacher is dead and a student will spend the rest of his life in a mental ward. And you feel nothing?
Moriarty: Jim's death is inconsequential. I would have killed him eventually anyway. Besides, I'm not the one who took his life.
Revulsion beyond comprehension attacks the psyche of Schaeffer's daughter. Enraged by his half-hearted plea of innocence, she refuses to let him escape responsibility.
Aelita: Even if you didn't personally do it-Her tone increases twofold in aggression-you started the madness that allowed it to happen! The bombings! The violence! The fear! The hatred! She trembles with rage as she recalls everything. You caused it all…
Moriarty answers the accusations with a cold, scientific analysis of them.
Moriarty: Humans are so easily manipulated, especially if fear and prejudice is involved. If one person can ignite the fire and then watch it spread several times over until it has progressed into an inferno, then what does that say about our species? But…enough about philosophy. You already know my guilt. The question is…what shall you do to me? I loathe the idea of being trapped in this tiny sphere forever, hardly able to do anything. I can barely send a text message from this hellhole! And I doubt you'd let me stay in Lyoko forever, ready to wake up whenever some poor sap turns on the supercomputer again. So-Moriarty tranquilly addresses the group again with the question as if it will not affect him at all-what shall become of me?
Jeremie: That is what we're here to discuss. And you're going to listen helplessly as we talk over everything.
Moriarty chuckles a little.
Moriarty: A sham trial at its finest…
Jeremie: This is no trial. He reawakens the authority of a general in his voice. You've admitted that you're guilty. Now the jury just has to reach a verdict.
At this point, Natalya raises her hand.
Natalya: Um…I'm sorry, but what do you mean by verdict? We have the Cannae Initiative and Moriarty's technically still alive. Shouldn't we just get rid of him now?
Yumi: That's exactly what I was thinking. Her expression becomes firm and unyielding in her straightforward conviction. What do we need to talk about? Just send Aelita to the Celestial Dome and have her flood all of Carthage with the Cannae Initiative. We could be done with it just like that.
Moriarty absorbs her merciless advice stoically and sarcastically.
Moriarty: I do so enjoy it when she demonstrates her…unshakable moral compass.
Yumi: Preferably sooner rather than later…
César, who is still a little distraught over the whole situation, decides to interrupt.
César: Uh…he does realize you're talking about killing him, right?
Moriarty: Hey, no one said I couldn't make comments about my own execution.
Jeremie clears his throat so the group's attention returns to him. He straightens his posture and patiently explains the situation.
Jeremie: You're right Yumi. We could do that. We could just use the Cannae Initiative and wipe him out here and now…
He takes a long pause that seems to last longer for the warriors than it actually does.
William: Why do you get the feeling you're about to offer us a second option?
Jeremie: When Moriarty informed us of his continued presence in his personality cortex, I recalled that Waldo Schaeffer had left some extra information on something other than the Cannae Initiative in the book I recovered from the Hermitage before it burned down. I was curious, so I looked back at my old notes to take a closer look at this unrelated data. And what I found was some slightly encrypted lines of code that, if uploaded properly into the scanners, can reverse the state of eternal virtualization.
The warriors take a while to process this new information. Aelita, having known this information already, anxiously observes their reactions.
Yumi: Are you saying, we could recover anyone who was eternally virtualized? As in…we could materialize-She becomes baffled by her own words-Moriarty?
Jeremie: And if I can locate him in the Network, Emmanuel as well.
William: But that means-His face lights up with an abandoned hope-Christophe is not totally gone! Astonishment quickly turns to anger. And if that's the case, how could you not tell us immed-?!
Jeremie instantly slams his palms against the armrests.
Jeremie: I CAN'T SAVE CHRISTOPHE! His initial outburst of volume lowers to one of quiet despair. Aelita places a hand on her right shoulder. I…already tried. The program only works if I can find a trace of virtual DNA in Lyoko or the World Network. Emmanuel and Moriarty fit that description. Christophe does not. The Cannae Initiative ripped him apart until there was nothing left. And even if there is, even this supercomputer doesn't have the capability to detect something that small. No…Christophe is gone. The warriors accept the unavoidable truth anew in silence. César bows his head in sorrow while Felipe mumbles a silent prayer for Christophe's soul. A few moments later, Jeremie's voice regains its strength as he changes the subject. But as I said, Moriarty can be returned to Earth in his original human form. No powers. No monsters. Just a normal human being.
Ulrich stares at Jeremie skeptically.
Ulrich: And what would be the point of that?
Jeremie: So he would face justice…real justice, in a human court. When the group gazes at the general as if he has lost it, Jeremie takes a deep breath before elaborating on the idea. The world will never understand the full extent of Moriarty's cruelty, but as of right now, the Parisian police are searching in vain for Dr. Sébastien Renard for a growing list of crimes, first and foremost the murder of Hans Klotz. If we could bring him back, he would be charged and locked away forever as he deserves.
César: I see. So you're offering to let him be dealt with the civilized way.
Yumi: Civilized way? She repeats those words in disgust. No offense César, but you haven't experienced what we have. You don't know what he's done to us. What we've suffered at his hands…
The prince quickly becomes offended and responds in outrage.
César: I'm sorry, did I just imagine watching most of my security team and several Spanish nationals being blown to bits in a coffee shop? Did I imagine him trying to kill me?! Do not insult me…He points at the screen…he has done great harm to me and my countrymen as well!
Yumi: He deserves to die…
William regards the idea with enthusiastic approval.
William: Agreed. Plus, if he could send us a message, what else can he do? What if he's pretending to be powerless in order to get out and cause more destruction? Who's to say that we've already won in this situation? That thought inspires fear and dread back into the warriors' hearts. He could still be plotting against us!
William points out the response as evidence for his claim.
William: You see?
Jeremie: William, given the damage the Cannae Initiative wrought on him, that's incredibly unlikely.
William: But is it impossible?
All eyes turn to Jeremie, who admits the truth with some reluctance.
Jeremie: No, I can't guarantee that it's impossible.
Ulrich: No way. I won't go along with this unless there's no risk of him regaining power at all. We should kill him. Now.
William: Let's just be done with it Jeremie. There is not a drop of hesitation in his voice. The world will not be safe until every last shred of him is gone.
Yumi: We can't let Christophe's death be in vain.
Moriarty: That is also true. It would be a shame for such a theatrical display to go to waste.
Ulrich glowers at the screen in disgust.
Ulrich: Exactly whose side are you on?
Moriarty: My side and mine alone. But it makes little difference to me what happens since I have been drained of power-During a brief pause, Ulrich can almost sense Moriarty's insidious smile behind the monitor.-…or have I?
Ulrich curses between clenched teeth.
Ulrich: I hate it when he does this.
Jeremie: Do not bother to engage him. His true intentions at this point are inscrutable. To him, this is just one last game he can play on us.
Moriarty: Such a wise observation from my precious nephew.
The Lyoko general ignores the despicable term of endearment from his enemy.
Jeremie: Killing him is one of the two options, yes. But there needs to be a majority vote for that to happen.
Yumi approaches Jeremie, getting up close to his face.
Yumi: If that's the case, then what's your vote? Her gaze penetrates him, attempting to draw out what she deems to be the acceptable answer. You want to kill him, right?
Jeremie remains silent for several seconds. Despite her intimidation tactic, he firmly stands his ground.
Jeremie: No. I want him to be materialized.
Yumi's eyes widen with disbelief. It takes a while for her brain to believe her own ears.
Yumi: You can't be serious…
Jeremie: I wouldn't have gone to the trouble of developing this solution if I didn't believe in it.
Moriarty: Excellent Jeremie. I knew you wouldn't kill your dear uncle.
Jeremie looks over his shoulder and quickly rejects that idea.
Jeremie: Don't flatter yourself. I would have no problem eliminating you should the vote go toward your elimination. But letting you perish instantaneously seems too merciful for me.
Yumi, still shocked at Jeremie's decision, looks to the two remaining voters for a response.
Yumi: Well, we only need one more vote to get rid of him. Aelita? The pink-haired girl cautiously meets Yumi's gaze. I trust you have a more logical answer to the problem.
Aelita inhales through her nose and then averts her gaze. Yumi, already sensing her answer, shakes in barely restrained fury over her merciful stance.
Yumi: Have you completely lost-?
Aelita: I helped Jeremie develop the program, Yumi. I've already made my decision. He deserves to face the fullest extent of the law.
William rubs his temples, trying to process what he's hearing.
William: But Aelita, your father-
Aelita: Would want to see him tried for crimes against humanity. He only resorted to eliminating Moriarty when all other options were exhausted. She looks around the group. But we do have another option. And we should take it. After all, we need to be better than him.
With Aelita's position fully clarified, all attention inevitably focuses on Natalya. Understandably she nervously looks at the floor, avoiding any uncomfortable stares. Painfully awkward seconds go by with no response. Still, she refuses to make any statement. Finally, William attempts to ease her into speaking. He reaches his hand toward hers.
She immediately withdraws her hand. William is taken aback by her coldness. She rubs her left shoulder and stammers a few times before answering clearly.
Natalya: I'm sorry. But I can't agree to killing him like this. Aelita and Jeremie are right.
Ulrich and Yumi stand in stunned silence, slowly absorbing the news of the stalemate. William appears genuinely hurt by her refusal.
William: But…how? How could you-?
Natalya: I may love you. But my decision is my own. What Moriarty needs is a slow incarceration, not an immediate execution.
William: But if there's even the slightest chance that he can regain power, he'll-
She stares him in the eye and cuts him off.
Natalya: He'll do what, William? Turn the masses toward him again? In case you've forgotten, he needs the people to succeed. Even if he has some power left, it will not get him far. She faces the entire group and confidently proceeds with her monologue. It is true that there are still some in France who support him. We've all seen the graffiti that says "The Commandant lives". But if you kill him, will that solve the problem? Will that clean up the mess he's caused? She shakes her head. No. You will only make him a martyr. He will be a symbol for extremists to rally behind. If he dies here and now, we might never see the death of his legacy. But if we bring him back to our world, show him for the powerless coward that he really is, the humiliation will deny his supporters a martyr to follow. Then, and only then, will we be able to win completely.
Following her strong speech, the lab room stays deathly quiet for about half a minute. Then, Yumi trails to the back of the room, pacing in exasperation.
Yumi: Okay Jeremie. Now we have a tie…what are you going to do now?
Moriarty: Ah yes please, Jeremie. Tell us. I'm just dying to know…
In spite of the tense situation, the Lyoko general maintains his composure.
Jeremie: Luckily I saw this coming and came up with a plan to solve it. He turns to the Spanish prince. César, what do you have to say?
César's expression becomes blank. His eyes dart back and forth between the warriors, unable to comprehend what he is being asked.
César: You are asking me?
Some of the warriors concur.
Ulrich: You're asking him?
William: You want him to break the stalemate?
Moriarty groans at the thought.
Moriarty: You've got to be kidding me…
Jeremie: I'm not kidding. He leans forward and rubs his hands together. In many ways, this makes the most sense. Every warrior here has dealt with too much to make a completely rational decision about Moriarty. César, you have suffered from Moriarty too, so you are no stranger to his sociopathic violence. But you haven't fought him day in and day out like we have. However, I've told you everything that he's been capable of, so you are also aware of the risks. My point is…if we can count on anyone here to be arbitrary in this situation, it's you.
César faces his bodyguard, who sort of shrugs, not knowing what to do. The prince, now somewhat timid, walks forward closer to the command chair.
César: Are you sure you want me to do this?
Jeremie: I'm sure. He motions to the monitor. His fate is in your hands now.
César winces uncomfortably in response.
César: Right…No pressure at all.
Jeremie backs his command chair away from the main monitor, leaving César alone to face Moriarty and deliver his sentence. His breathing and heartrate increase substantially. Moriarty's taunting comments do little to ease his anxiety.
Moriarty: So…this is how it ends. I'm judged by a phony future monarch without any backbone to speak of. Tell me César, are you really capable of killing your former teacher? The prince trembles in place as his mind races. His hands shake against his will. Moriarty, utilizing the last weapon in his disposal, his rhetoric, tries to weaken his resolve. You are no Lyoko Warrior, and you know it. You fled like a coward when things got tough at Kadic. Now are you ready to have blood on your hands?
César has trouble swallowing in the face of the mounting pressure. But once he remembers the pain and barbarity of the bombing he witnessed, he recovers his resolve. He puffs his chest out with a deep breath and boldly raises his voice.
César: André Belpois, on behalf of the people of France, Spain, and many other nations affected by your atrocious crimes, I will announce your sentence. It is my firm conviction that you must face the most severe punishment possible-The weight of the dead air grows a hundredfold during his brief pause. At the last moment, César's expression softens-within the confines of the French judicial system.
A great relief passes through the room following the appointed judge's decision. Moriarty says nothing. Jeremie adjusts his position in the command chair.
Jeremie: So it's decided. We will materialize Moriarty.
The tension in the room settles down now that the decision has been made. But the peace does not last very long. About four seconds later, something resembling a hurricane goes off in William's head. The familiar presence that has been dormant for so long awakens from hibernation like a provoked grizzly bear. Inside William's mind, the essence of Xana in the red cave coated with wires makes his position loud and clear.
William bends over as the malevolent entity goes straight for his mind. He howls with a metallic edge to his voice. Felipe forces the prince to back away from the beleaguered warrior. Natalya covers her mouth in terror.
After much struggling, William manages to overcome Xana's attempt to control his mind. But the old multi-agent system instead withdraws to his right arm and takes over the nerve endings and muscles in that limb. His right arm then flails around against his will and grabs hold of Jeremie's shirt collar. Some of the warriors scream while Ulrich and Yumi try to ambush him from behind.
William: STOP! Don't come any closer! His face becomes pained as he struggles to expel Xana from his arm. If you try to interfere, Xana might kill Jeremie.
The warriors remain paralyzed as William tries to force his arm to let go. Felipe keeps the horrified Spanish prince far from the scene. Xana bombards his host with his flexible demand.
Xana: I CANNOT ALLOW THIS! My programming will override your own body if necessary in order to achieve my objective. Moriarty must perish!
William's arm muscles strain from the intense battle for dominance. Still in command of the rest of his body, he warns Jeremie of Xana's intentions.
William: Jeremie, Xana wants Moriarty dead…He groans under the mental pressure…and he's not taking no for an answer!
Moriarty: Leave it to Xana to be the most undemocratic in any situation…
While initially shaken, Jeremie quickly recovers and tries to control his breathing. He looks at William from his command chair and speaks slowly and clearly.
Jeremie: Xana…there's no need for this. The fight is over.
Xana's reply is inaudible to everyone but William, who hears it loud and clear.
Xana: Unacceptable! Moriarty must be destroyed…
William's arm lifts Jeremie in the air.
William: You're going to have to give him something better than that!
Jeremie: Just what are you planning on accomplishing here? What do you hope to gain by killing Moriarty?
William starts to sweat as the confrontation lags on.
William: He says…it will fulfill his purpose. To end the Moriarty threat once and for all.
Jeremie: The threat is over.
Xana quickly rejects that notion and intensifies his demand.
Xana: FALSE! Victory can only come through total destruction of one's enemy! It is the only logical path.
William relays this information to his captive. Jeremie shakes his head in disagreement.
Jeremie: Maybe that's the case for you, but not for human beings. Schaeffer may have created you to destroy Project Carthage and Moriarty, but that was during a time of war. Look around you…the war is over.
The multi-agent program growls within the dark recesses of his host's mind.
Xana: NO! IT'S NOT LOGICAL! He must be wiped out. That was my mission! My only reason for creation: TO DESTROY!
William tries to counter his arguments out loud for all to hear while his right arm's veins swell from the internal struggle.
William: But we've already destroyed him! We've destroyed his source of power.
Xana: Not yet! There must be no trace left! That is victory…Even you acknowledged he needs to be annihilated slave!
William: We've already reached an agreement. His left arm locks hold of his right and tries to pull it off. Why do you need to eliminate him entirely?!
Moriarty butts in, offering his two cents without asking permission…as usual.
Moriarty: Because nothing makes sense to him unless it is done 100%. His creator was an anal perfectionist. In a certain violent way, Xana is merely following his modus operandi.
Still held prisoner in the air, Jeremie attempts to reason with Xana one last time.
Jeremie: So…what I am hearing is that you want a perfect victory. Alright. Let me explain to you what your concept of perfect victory looks like. In 1945, the Allies scored a decisive victory over Nazi Germany. They forced their remaining military forces to surrender, and their population was put under occupation for some time. That was when World War II ended in Europe. However, if you were in command, you wouldn't have stopped until every last German was wiped off the face of the Earth. You would have killed them all! But the Allies didn't resort to your level of barbarity. Why? Because human civilization is better than that!
Xana stays silent for some time before mustering a response. William relays it to Jeremie.
William: He reminds you that he isn't…human.
Jeremie concurs with a nod, which is slightly difficult under the circumstances.
Jeremie: True enough. But you've changed. The old Xana I knew would have tried to kill me by now, but you've hesitated. And even now that you're sure I won't change my mind, you've still held back.
Xana, finding the claim to be somewhat perplexing, eases his determined aggression slightly.
Xana: What are you trying to say?
As soon as William finishes Xana's sentence, Jeremie nails his point home.
Jeremie: You've lived with William for too long, Xana. You've seen what it's like to be human and whether you like it or not-He gives his invisible captor a snide smile.-a little bit of humanity has rubbed off on you.
Xana snaps at the comment and slams Jeremie against the command chair, prompting some shouts of alarm from the other warriors. The enraged multi-agent program manages to slip through his host's voicebox.
Aelita: Jeremie, don't provoke him!
Jeremie pays no heed to the warning
Jeremie: IT'S THE TRUTH! Your desire to vanquish Moriarty is not just your programming, it's your obsession! You couldn't stand the thought of him succeeding where you failed! That's the real problem here. And it sounds pretty emotionally-driven to me. He points to William. And what about your host? You may call him 'slave' but you've relied on each other pretty heavily during many battles. Up until this point you've cooperated with him, at first out of necessity but I believe it became natural to you. You've come to rely on him. And now look at you. You've reacted violently because deep down, you're scared, that's right, scared that I might be right.
For a few heart pounding moments, some warriors fear that Xana will lose control. Within the dark cave inside William's mind, the conquered entity wavers between murderous rage and deep confusion. In the process, he spends less effort on keeping the death grip on Jeremie. William's right arm slackens just a little.
Jeremie: We've achieved a human victory here. He motions to the group that decided Moriarty's fate, especially César. We used democracy, morals, and justice to decide Moriarty's fate. We didn't all agree, but that's part of being human. And if you could just try to see what victory means like we do, then you might understand why we have chosen the way we have.
Sensing that Xana's rage has started to ebb, William voluntarily gives up his vocal chords again.
William/Xana: You…destroyed me. There was no mercy in your victory over me.
Jeremie: If we utterly destroyed you, then how are you talking to me? The Lyoko general pauses in order for Xana to absorb the message. If we were as committed to eliminating you as you are to kill Moriarty, we would have executed William a long time ago to get rid of you. But we didn't. Are you still a threat to the world?
Xana hesitates to answer but eventually does so.
William/Xana: No. I exist in a way, but I can never regain my true power.
Jeremie: And Moriarty will still exist but suffer the same fate as you. Life imprisonment. So why don't you let me make you two even?
After some consideration, Xana decides to withdraw. He fades into the back of his host's mind, disappearing once again without a word. William recovers control of his arm and instantly lets go. The muscle strain from those tense few minutes creates spasms of pain up and down his arm. Jeremie, on the other hand, settles down quickly while the rest of the group slowly relax.
Jeremie: I know. He begins the startup sequence for the acquired program. Now, let's put a real end to this. Are you ready to come home…uncle?
Moriarty's reply is curt and spiteful.
Moriarty: Of course not! Nothing good waits for me on the other side.
Jeremie: That's the spirit…
An hour later, the eight member coalition gathers around a single scanner that lights up and smokes heavily. Jeremie climbs the ladder from downstairs.
Jeremie: It should be any second now.
Ulrich: I call the first punch!
William: I got second!
Natalya begins to revel in the idea as well.
Natalya: I want to give him a kick right in his-
Aelita: Guys, let's just make sure he gets to the police station alive, okay?
The door finally opens, revealing a single hand groping for support. It is quickly followed by the exit of a rather feeble figure wearing a faded lab coat. His hair seems to have receded a little and his haggard face makes him look slightly older than they remember. But it is without a doubt Moriarty, albeit far less impressive than the pseudo-human form he adopted earlier. He tries to walk but falls on his knees.
Jeremie: Not easy being yanked back home after more than a decade, is it?
Moriarty's eyes glow with indignation. He glares at Jeremie and opens his mouth in preparation for a vicious rebuttal. But no words come out…only a muffled passage of air. He covers his mouth as his face lights up in terror and shock. He tries again but he remains as mute as before. The group looks at each other in surprise.
Felipe: What's wrong with him?
Ulrich: Cat got his tongue?
Moriarty desperately tries to form audible speech, but nothing happens. Desperate, he screams for all he's worth, as his strained facial muscles demonstrate. The only thing the warriors can hear is a faint wheezing noise. The defeated mastermind hyperventilates and digs his fingers into his scalp in panicked frustration.
Jeremie: No. He's lost the ability to speak…
Felipe holds Moriarty's arm behind his back firmly and leads him across the factory bridge to the car. His prisoner's face becomes fixed in an expression of bitter hate, but he puts up little resistance.
Felipe: I'll drop him discreetly at a place that the police are sure to find him. He'll be taken care of.
Jeremie: I'll go too. There are a few streets I know near the station that might be a good place to leave him.
The three take off in the car, leaving César and the rest of the warriors on the bridge. The prince appears somewhat indignant.
César: Unbelievable. I have to walk?!
Ulrich: I don't think your bodyguard wants you riding in a car with a mute sociopathic mass murderer, powers or no powers.
César: That's still no excuse!
Aelita receives a text from Jeremie.
Aelita: I know where they're taking him. She puts the phone back in her purse. Follow me.
They walk down the sidewalk next to the Seine River and factory. At the back of the group, William receives a message from his unwelcome guest.
William: Slave, I wish to speak with you.
He stops walking. His hand rests on the stone wall overlooking the river. He looks out at the water.
Natalya: You coming?
William: Go on without me. I'll catch up. Both hands rest against the wall. I need to have some words with an old friend.
Quickly understanding the meaning of his words, Natalya leaves William be. The group soon disappears out of earshot. Xana instantly fills the void of silence.
Xana: My methods in the fact-
William: What the hell was that?! He paces next to the stone wall, having an angry conversation with himself. A few pedestrians briefly notice this scene but quickly walk away. You nearly made me kill Jeremie!
Xana: I was desperate to eliminate-
William: WE HAD AN AGREEMENT! You don't use my body without my permission! After all this time of us working together, you try to control me.
Xana: I simply had to-
William: You're no better than when we killed you with the multi-agent program!
Xana: It was a mistake!
William stops his ranting, stunned at what he just heard. A few seconds are needed to process it.
William: Did you just admit you made a mistake?
William: Xana, the fearsome artificial intelligence, enemy to the free world, has the humility to admit he messed up?
William throws his hands up as a sign of surrending to confusion.
William: I give up. You're impossible.
Xana: Jeremie was right. It was foolish to try to extinguish Moriarty when the threat had already passed. I have seen him for what he is: a pathetic, powerless human. I should not have wasted my efforts attempting to enslave your body to my will.
William shakes his head in exasperation.
William: You still have no respect for humans.
Xana: André Belpois is a pathetic human. That does not mean…all humans are pathetic.
His host raises an eyebrow with interest.
Xana: Slave, I remained dormant for a while, waiting until I was sure Moriarty was no more. But when I intervened, I recklessly wasted my energy trying to fight your control. Now I…He approaches the truth with some possible trepidation. I feel like I am starting to fade.
William: As in…die?
Xana: I will more than likely cease to exist, yes. But I thought you should be informed before that takes place. This may be the last time you hear from me.
To his alarm, William finds himself almost sad at the thought of Xana disappearing. His presence, while aggravating and unwanted, has become somewhat normal for the hapless host. He leans against the stone wall.
William: Well, thank you….for informing me. Pause. Don't think I'm going to miss you.
Xana: The feeling is mutual. But I-He says the following with some reluctance-must give credit where it is due.
Xana: You were…a valuable asset. I could not have fulfilled my purpose without you. Ignoring our partnership is the reason why I shall soon fade. But it matters not. I have no place anymore. I know only destruction and control. It was what I was designed for. That time has passed.
William awkwardly taps his fingers on the stone ledge.
William: So I guess this is goodbye.
Xana: Goodbye…William Dunbar. Long pause. I will never conquer Earth, will I?
The presence within the deep cave in his mind lingers in disappointment.
Xana: Pity. Instead I engaged in a rather close up study of…human mating.
William: Yeah that's right. Wait…WHAT?! In a single moment, Xana quietly fades. William's mind is soon left only with his thoughts. Um…you want to run that by me again?...Hello?
Ten minutes later a Parisian police car patrols the neighborhood around Boulogne-Billancourt after stopping for coffee. They respond to a possible parole violation before proceeding down a narrow street on their way back to the station. But a disheveled individual leaning against a rock wall blocks their way. They stop the patrol car.
Police Officer 1: Oh great…this bum won't move
Police Officer 2: He's probably asleep.
Officer 1 opens the car door.
Police Officer 1: Better wake him up before someone else runs him over.
The officer walks up to the apparently sleeping homeless man. He callously kicks him in the shin to give him a jolt.
Police Officer 1: Hey! Get out of here. You're blocking traffic.
The man turns his head to the other side. The officer almost falls over when he recognizes the face of the suspect the police had been hunting for weeks now. His partner quickly gets out of the car.
Police Officer 2: That...that's Dr. Renard!
The stunned officers reach for their handcuffs. Moriarty offers no resistance.
Police Officer 1: You are under arrest! They move him to the squad car. You have the right to remain silent.
Moriarty inaudibly mutters something foul, no doubt a comment about the irony of that statement. Felipe and Jeremie watch the police car zip in the direction of the station from the corner of the alley while the other warriors and César hang further back.
Jeremie: It's over. It's finally over…
Felipe: He won't be able to do any more harm. They walk back to their group. But given what I've seen so far, I wonder what he'll leave behind.
During his very short walk back to the rest of his team, Jeremie's legs suddenly become limp and wobbly. Sensing that he will fall, Jeremie supports himself on the side of a building and drops to his knees.
Felipe: Are you alright?!
Months of surpressed trauma reawaken with a fury now that the threat has passed. His muscles shake tremendously as the tears of loss break through once again. He cannot stand or move. It takes time for him to form words as relief and horror do battle in his overwhelmed conscience.
Jeremie: No. I need a moment.
The warriors quickly come to his aide. Aelita kneels down and embraces him. More hugs are passed around. César offers his hand and slowly the officially retired Lyoko general regains the ability to stand up. Jeremie glances over his shoulder. Moriarty is still gone from his sight and will stay that way. The afternoon sun aboves them warms up the winter air. The remaining warriors breathe it in, letting it refreshen their bodies and souls for the first time in a long time. Jeremie lays his hands on Aelita and William's shoulders and gazes up at the clear blue sky.
Jeremie: We are free…
Aelita's Diary- June 7, 2084: 1600 hours-Final Log
Two years ago I promised to give you a complete firsthand account of the Lyoko Warriors' trials during the period of Dr. Sébastien Renard's rise and fall in France. I know your grandparents didn't like to talk about it, and frankly neither did I. But after your grandmother Natalya died and I became the only one left, I knew that I had to explain everything lest these stories be lost forever to history. I used to want these painful stories to die, but now that my own time is drawing to a close, I realize that the descendants of the Lyoko Warriors deserve to know the truth about their legacy. Your mother and uncles received only rudimentary information about Lyoko, Xana, and Moriarty from William and Natalya. Like me and the other warriors, they wanted to protect the world from the knowledge of what took place. But as we learned as adults later in life, it did not protect the world from Moriarty's aftershocks.
The imprisonment of Dr. Renard, as you may or may not know from history, caused shockwaves throughout the country and the rest of Europe.
Cameramen swarm around the police as they deliver Moriarty to prison. He makes eye contact with no one. Reports of the event is soon on every major news station in the nation. In Kadic, students and faculty who both supported and hated him watch the TV in the rec room and respond with silence. Delmas watches from his own small television in his office and breathes easily for the first time in many months.
He didn't say a word to police or the judicial authorities, because he couldn't…Jeremie explained that the materialization program wasn't foolproof. An error occurred which robbed him of his speech. Doctors tried in vain to figure out why he had become mute. Debate raged both in political and social circles in Europe and beyond as to what had happened to him while he was in hiding. Moriarty, for his part, refused to give any answers of the sort. But being the quick scholar that he was, he managed to learn how to communicate his defense in other ways.
In a French courtroom, Moriarty answers questions via sign language.
In retrospect, we might have been able to fix his larynx somehow if Jeremie had held onto him and attempted to correct the error in the materialization sequence. But at the time, having been victims of countless moments of verbal abuse and torture from our enemy, we thought it was poetic justice and decided to leave him be. Unfortunately, that proved to be a mistake.
A small crowd gathers around the police station, demanding Renard's release. Police in riot gear stand fast around the building, preventing anyone from getting in.
Because of the horrors, that had gone on at Kadic, no one there continued to support The Order. But some held on, stubbornly refusing to let the Commandant and his ideals die out. Jeremie thought that letting his pathetic uncle stroll around in chains would prevent the creation of any lasting support for him. But he was wrong.
Moriarty is dragged out of the courtroom in chains. Some Order supporters outside deride him. A few carry signs that say 'Impostor!'.
Those who remained loyal came to believe that Moriarty wasn't the Commandant at all. His inability to speak and fatigued appearance led some to conclude that he was a government impostor, sent to take the wind out of the sails for his movement. Conspiracy theories about his fate abounded. Some said he was still in hiding. Some thought he had assumed a completely different identity. Others guessed that he was under the protection of powerful politicians who believed in his mission. But they all agreed about one thing:
Order sympathizers spraypaint 'The Commandant lives' on an alley wall in Paris. Similar purple graffiti appears in Lyons, Marseille, and several other French cities.
They were convinced that Dr. Renard was out there, biding his time, waiting for the chance to return. 'The Commandant lives' became a common phrase amongst the right-wing radicals in France. Like a cancer it spread from city to city, infecting the minds of those who loved him and repelling those who hated him. By the time we graduated from Kadic, there wasn't a city or town in the country that didn't have that street propaganda somewhere in its midst. But for the time being the phrase remained an idle threat, and after a decade passed Moriarty's ideas as well as the graffiti messages honoring him had started to fade.
Several days after Moriarty's capture, Mathias Burel delivers a brief message to the students and faculty of Kadic in the courtyard. The divisions in the school seem to have melted somewhat, for Order and Outcast members alike stand side by side while they listen to what the young student has to say. Sincere sorrow and guilt filter through the words of his speech.
Mathias: As you already know, Mr. Delmas has given all students and faculty of The Order a clean slate as long as we renounce our ties to Dr. Sébastien Renard. I accept these terms, knowing I don't deserve to be treated so mercifully. And those of you who supported The Order should feel the same. We did wrong. He bites his lip and stares at the floor of the wooden stage for a moment. Terribly, terribly wrong. We blindly followed a man who turned out to be a liar and a murderer. To those of you Outcasts here, all I have to say is-He chokes up for two seconds-please forgive us. Forgive us…I beg you. If I could turn back the clock, I would…but I can't. Dr. Renard severely damaged Kadic, but if you are willing to accept us, together we might be able to undo that damage. Hope comes alive on his face. A certain charisma of his starts to become contagious for the audience. Let's rebuild this school, emotionally and physically, together as one group, not two. Dr. Renard destroyed trust on this campus, and I'm as much to blame as any Order member. But it doesn't have to stay that way. And if you could find it in your hearts to trust us again, then Kadic Academy can once again have a bright future.
Everyone applauds, including Delmas, who is standing slightly to his right.
Traumatized by Jim's death, Mathias Burel had taken upon himself to atone for The Order's sins. He voluntarily approached Delmas and offered to be the student leader to move the school in the right direction. Little did we know at the time that he had just set the foundation for a long, successful political career. And we didn't find out till later that he knew more about Moriarty than we realized. But we had other loose ends to fix back then.
To the crowd's great surprise, Angeline Maillard screams and runs toward the woods. Her brother Emmanuel walks out, extremely dazed and confused. He moves with a very noticeable limp in his left leg. Angeline grabs onto him and cries with joy while her brother still has trouble recognizing what's happening. Faculty and staff are also blown away.
Even though he was an avid supporter of Moriarty, we couldn't let Emmanuel rot in the Network. We managed to materialize him with the same program designed by my father. We avoided any complications by drugging him and then leaving him to wake up in the nearby woods. He had no memory of the events of his disappearance and couldn't answer any questions to police when asked. It became a mystery that no one ever solved. Delmas and the Maillard parents agreed to pull the two out of Kadic for their sake and for the sake of the rest of the school. They never returned, and to this day I don't know what became of them.
The Lyoko Warriors graduate together and sadly part ways, though they stay in constant contact. Jeremie and Aelita stay together in their mid-twenties, entering adulthood while keeping their relationship alive.
We moved on with our lives and struggled against the trials of the real world. Though to be fair, those trials scared us a lot less than most young adults our age. We had already been through so much…Jeremie and I became successful software developers, and I don't think it's arrogant to say we became very important in our field. Many technological revolutions in the early half of the century were due in part to our influence. Money poured in.
Jeremie stops in a park next to a fountain on a nice fall afternoon. He smiles and stares at Aelita with a certain glint in his eye, prompting her to give him a strange look. He then gets down on one knee…
Of course we didn't think money was going to give us happiness, or the ability to forget Moriarty's abuse.
Aelita covers her mouth when he produces a ring and emphatically nods her head to say yes. Some onlookers clap as they embrace.
Yumi once told me that despite the issues in our relationships, we were bound to each other. She was right. No one else could handle our problems…our history. So for better or for worse…we sealed the deal.
At a loud party in St. Petersburg, a twenty-eight year-old William motions for Natalya to join him on the balcony overlooking the city on a summer evening. He gets on one knee. She gladly accepts the ring and immediately shows it to her Russian friends.
William and Natalya moved to Russia and settled in St. Petersburg, taking jobs in the financial sector and fashion industry, respectively. All of their three children, your uncles Isaak and Nikolai and your mother Aurélie, were born there.
They celebrate their honeymoon at a Bulgarian coastal resort on the Black Sea. They toast wine glasses looking out on the water. With children things get more complicated. They are a handful. As young parents, William and Natalya return to the house to see a severely distraught babysitter and children running all over the place. They groan in frustration. On another occasion, they are awaken by their second oldest Nikolai, who complains of having a bad dream. William rises from the bed and tucks him back in, telling him he has nothing to be afraid of.
One of the problems they dealt with early on was their nightmares. All three of them complained of seeing "the metal man in the cave" who scared them terribly. But eventually, those dreams subsided.
The children sleep soundly. William watches from the doorway to their bedroom.
They were concerned at first, but whatever Xana influence that was passed on to their children did not stay long. And neither you nor your sister or your cousins have demonstrated anything that would suggest that Xana continues to exist at all.
Ulrich and Yumi hang out on a yacht in Monaco. He takes her out on the water to see some spectacular seaside cliffs and proposes there. She gladly accepts.
Ulrich inherited a large portion of his father's money and used what influence he gained to disrupt Mr. Stern's illegal empire. Unfortunately these actions angered members of his father's circle.
The couple fly to Montréal and establish themselves in a luxurious and quiet housing development.
For their own protection, they left France to enjoy a peaceful life in Montréal. Ulrich gained an important business position with the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. Yumi went on to become an economics professor at the University of Montréal.
The two pose for a photo in front of Niagara Falls together with a young son who shares the dark hair and eyes of his mother but the facial features and skin tone of his father.
They had one son, Christophe Stern, and for a while the three were very happy.
Going back in the past, Odd Della Robbia hugs members of the old gang after their graduation from Kadic.
We had to keep an eye on Odd for a while. We feared his life would be put in jeopardy if anything reminded him of Moriarty. At Kadic, that was a challenge. But we succeeded, albeit at the price of slowly…
Odd tries to catch up with some of them after science class but they continue on without him. Aelita looks over her shoulder. Her friend looks somewhat hurt. She sadly turns her head and keeps on walking.
distancing ourselves from him. We did our best to keep our connection alive with him, but it was hard.
Odd starts hanging out with Bastien, Azra, Claude, and several others later in high school. They spend time skateboarding in the woods and in local parks. Aelita watches them laugh together in the Kadic courtyard from a distance.
He really had it the best of any of us. He remembered nothing. He knew of Dr. Renard and his time in the Outcasts but thankfully his memory of Lyoko was never triggered again. He once complained of having strange dreams from time to time that suggested a very loose connection to Lyoko. Obviously I had to keep quiet.
Odd arrives in a South American airport and looks around for any available taxi services.
After graduation, Odd wanted some time to 'find himself'. For some reason he ended up in Buenos Aires.
He explores Plaza de Mayo, the main plaza area of the city. Inspired by its beauty, he returns to paint a portrait of the Mothers of the Plaza marching to demand information on their disappeared children during 'La Guerra Sucia'. As a pretty Argentinian woman walks by, the city pidgeons are suddenly disturbed and fly everywhere. One flies in her face and she stumbles backward, knocking over Odd's easel.
Odd: What the heck?!
Marta: ¡Ay Díos! ¡Lo siento muchísimo! (Oh God! I'm so sorry!)
His anger suddenly ebbs when he sees her breathtaking dark hair and olive complexion. The girl manages a smile and modestly runs her left hand through her hair.
After meeting Marta, Odd's wanderlust disappeared. He settled with her in the city, teaching art at a local university and raising two children, Ramón and Sofía. Jeremie and I used to get Christmas cards from them frequently. From what we could tell, they had a happy life together. When things got tense in South America, I was informed that they had plans to go to Mexico. I never found out if they got there in time to escape the violence. But I know Odd. I'm fairly confident that they escaped the war.
In her late thirties, Aelita enters a bar in the seedier side of Paris. She approaches the android barman who cleans a glass.
Aelita: Where is he?
The android points to a balding man with blonde hair at the end of the bar. He is hunched over drunk, sleeping on the counter. Aggravated and distraught, Aelita drags her husband out of the bar. She assists him up the stairs to their bedroom back home.
I don't want to give the impression that our marriages were perfect. They were far from it. Jeremie and I never had kids. By the time science had advanced to the point to cure my infertility, we were in our forties and he no longer had any interest. It was probably for the best. He developed a serious drinking problem later in life.
Jeremie sits on a couch in the middle of the night, staring at an empty liquor bottle. His face becomes buried in his hands. Even in his early forties, he starts to carry himself like an old man.
The demons of his youth, the fights with Xana and Moriarty had taken their toll. He never forgave himself for the deaths of Christophe, Mr. Stern, and others he simply couldn't save. Fortunately, when his addiction became unmanageable, he had the strength to admit he needed help.
A middle-aged Jeremie goes to rehab, successfully battling his old scars in the company of others struggling with the same. After a long healing process, he exits the facility and embraces his wife.
He lived out the last decades of his life in peace. But the others had their issues as well.
William and Natalya have a heated verbal argument in their home in St. Petersburg. Their three children, understanding the drill, retreat to play in their rooms.
Domestic life didn't always work for William and Natalya. At times both became stir crazy with the same routine and took it out on each other.
Natalya storms out of the house. William retreats into his home office and slams the door. Later, Natalya reenters the home while her husband watches TV. Following a brief awkward moment, they look at each other apologetically.
Though somehow, they always managed to make up every time.
A teenage Christophe Stern returns home very late at night, stumbling around in a drugged haze until he reaches the lights. As soon as he turns them on, he is greeted by his furious parents.
Ulrich and Yumi experienced the trials of adolescence anew with their troublesome son. He got in with the wrong crowd.
The concerned parents talk with him for hours, but Christophe is somewhere else, staring off into space as he slowly sobers up.
Had he continued on the same road, he would have destroyed himself. Thankfully when one of his friends died of an overdose, he suddenly saw reason.
Ulrich and Yumi struggle to get him to bed. Yumi cries as they shut the door behind them.
But whatever domestic problems we had became minor in comparison to the horror the world would soon be subject to.
A view of the Earth from space shows the Sahara Desert desertifying more and more over time, spreading to more of formerly Sub-Saharan Africa. The situation also becomes worse in other parts of the Middle East. Oil wells in Saudi Arabia are left to slowly rot.
We watched helplessly as the climate warmed significantly during the 21st century as scientists feared. While richer nations were often able to adapt to rising temperatures, most of the Middle East and Sub-Saharan was devastated. Not only were their former homes made unliveable by the onslaught of an expanding desert, the oil industry collapsed with the world conversion to hydrogen, biofuels, and other alternate sources of energy. Many economies cratered, creating one of the largest refugee exoduses in world history.
People from the region flee south to more fertile areas of Africa and to northern areas such as Europe, the United States, and Canada. More mosques pop up in every major city in Europe. Right-wing groups regard the newcomers on the streets with increasing hostility.
At the same time, rising heat waves ruined crops in India. The government soon realized that they couldn't possibly feed its enormous population. Lines for the most basic food items soon became very long and contentious.
Hungry villagers attack a UN Relief truck in desperation, overturning the vehicle in order to get bags of rice. Very soon large violent protests break out right outside the Indian Parliament.
The international community did what it could. But it wasn't enough. The people of India and the surrounding regions were reaching the breaking point.
In the Western Hemisphere, the Amazon River swells to create a small sea, swamping many square kilometers of precious farmland for Brazil. Many landless peasants are forced to retreat to already overcrowded urban centers. At a climate summit in Johannesburg, many leading nations push devastating punishments for further deforestation.
Brazil soon encountered a similar problem. As sea levels rose, the world panicked and threatened some nations with rich environmental diversity in order to prevent its destruction at all costs. The South American giant was the hardest hit. To save the Amazon Rainforest, the UN threatened incredibly harsh sanctions if any deforestation continued. But the people of Brazil had already lost land, and now the landless peasants had nowhere to go. That and successive bad harvests put incredible stress on the nation. Resentment toward their government and the world that abandoned them grew astronomically among the population.
Riots that last for days break out in São Paulo, Rio de Janiero, Brasilia, and other cities. At the UN General Assembly, the Indian and Brazilian representatives demand a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council as well as other benefits in order to satisfy their people. For the most part the pleas fall on deaf ears. At one point the Indian ambassador to the UN storms out, swearing that the rest of the world will pay for its folly.
When diplomacy failed time and time again, extremism quickly took root.
Massive crowds in New Dehli salute a towering man whose booming voice, charisma, and dedication to Indian traditions make him a natural born leader. His captivating speeches attracting thousands upons thousands of supporters begin to disturb foreign observers.
A radical Hindu nationalist emerged on the scene in the mid 2040s, one named Samir Rao, a man whose name would forever live in infamy. His aggressive message to the Indian people was simple: "Fight or Die". As the Indian military grew rapidly in size once he seized power, it didn't take long for other nations to realize the real threat of his words. Meanwhile the New Popular Party in Brazil attracted numerous disaffected individuals with the promise of Nova Terra (New Land). American power had been declining in the region for some time due to many internal problems and increasing isolationism. The new order in Brazil sensed an opportunity to dethrone the weakening world superpower. Added to this dangerous mix was the revival of ultranationalism in Europe and Russia.
Race riots break out in France and numerous other countries. Far right parties swell in size. New immigrants sometimes fight back, leading to violent confrontations that the police can barely control.
I know this sounds like a history book to you, Xavier, but for us…
Jeremie and Aelita watch the news reports in Paris with increasing concern. William and Natalya hurry their children inside the house when they see the radical paramilitary nationalists patrolling their neighborhood. Natalya cautiously watches them from the kitchen window.
it was very real…And you must understand the connection between the outbreak of the Third World War and Moriarty. While he can't be blamed for all of its origins, in Europe it was a different story. Around this time, Herb Pinchon was released from the psychiatric hospital on the condition that he remain under house arrest under the care of his relatives.
In a secluded home near the French Alps, a bitter middle-aged Herb Pinchon spends countless hours writing several hundred pages of his political ideas. He paces around his cramped office, going on long rants that his android assistant digitally records.
In 2048, he published his manifesto you now know as the Provence Papers online. He laid out his beliefs on Europe's sociopolitical situation. He argued that Western Civilization was under existential threat by the seemingly endless waves of immigrants trying to get access to Europe. He argued that Islam would soon overwhelm the continent unless the true sons and daughters of Europe fought back. Most importantly, he repeated the once dead phrase 'The Commandant lives'. Herb did nothing to physically instigate the violence, but his ideology inspired many, including the radical Arnaud Martel, the new voice of the resurrected Order.
People carrying black and purple flags once again stroll down the main avenues of Paris. Like his predecessor, Martel inspires the people with a gradually extremist form of political populism.
The Order came alive more powerful and dangerous than ever before. 'The Commandant lives' no longer referred to Moriarty, but the new face of The Order, Martel. In fact…
André Belpois, now in his early eighties, eats some soup in a maximum security prison. A much younger prisoner who has a tattoo of the sword fleur-de-lis symbol of The Order, approaches him from behind. The mute old man looks behind him just in time to witness his attacker stab him multiple times in the chest with an improvised weapon. The guards restrain the attacker, but the former master manipulator bleeds out before help arrives.
The real Commandant died at the hands of another inmate who thought he was an impostor. All that time building up a radical movement in the end proved to be the thing that finally eliminated Moriarty once and for all. Meanwhile Arnaud's power grew while other ultranationalist groups and leaders popped up throughout Europe.
At a Front National rally, now an associate arm of the larger Order organization, a bullet kills the speaker, creating mass pandemonium.
And when a mentally ill Sudanese man killed the frontrunner for the Front National party, it proved to be the final straw for The Order. The stage was set for war.
In a small airfield in Northern France, a private jet sent by Ulrich picks up Jeremie and Aelita, who carry what possessions they value with them. Aelita looks behind her, watching dark clouds forming on the horizon. William and Natalya along with their adult children fly from Moscow to New York, leaving their home behind.
We fled to North America and stayed close to Ulrich and Yumi…waiting for the inevitable.
On March 25, 2050, the tense quiet in France erupts in conflict with several coordinated attacks by The Order paramilitary units stationed at strategic points all over the country. Gunfire and mortar shells terrorize the night. Entire neighborhoods of Muslim immigrants are torched, as are their places of business and houses of worship.
Less than half an hour after the violence started, Arnaud Martel hacked television screens all over the country, proclaiming the onset of the nationalist revolution. In less than 48 hours, many allied nationalist groups across Europe followed his lead. Most of the continent fell into civil war.
On the border between India and Pakistan, the Indian air force strikes like lightning before their massive army moves in. Similarly, a line of Brazilian tanks crosses the border into Paraguay, Argentina, Suriname, and Guyana.
Sensing opportunity from the international confusion and terror in response to the conflict in Europe that Moriarty had set in motion, India and Brazil made their moves.
Far right nationalists in Eastern Europe, such as the Baltic states and Ukraine, line up some ethnic Russians for a firing squad.
And when Eastern Europe's civil war threatened the lives of ethnic Russians living in their borders, the Russian army also moved in. World War III had begun.
The old warriors watch in despair from the Stern mansion in Montréal as the world tears itself asunder. The fighting explodes on several fronts with no end in sight. While civil war rages in the west, Russian tanks roll through the east. India quickly reduces Pakistan and other neighbors to rubble. Their forces then target Southeast Asia and even China itself. Brazil expands in South America while the United States and their Latin American allies struggle to contain them.
People of my generation had long expected that a World War III would result in nuclear holocaust. But that was not the case.
In Earth's orbit, satellite grids belonging to world powers take out planned nuclear strikes, preventing the war from becoming the end of the species.
Ronald Reagan's dream of the Star Wars program became reality long before the war. With the exception of Seoul, Pyongyang, and Islamabad, nuclear weapons stayed out of the conflict. Aggressor nations didn't want to ruin potential future real estate. Resources such as fertile land were already scarce enough as it was, so even those on the defensive feared unstabilizing the planet even further. For two years the stalemate went on, and the killing continued. As nationalists closed in on Paris, many of those in the safe parts of the world decided they could not ignore the slaughter any longer.
In the mansion in Montréal, an older Ulrich checks the news of the war on a holographic screen over the kitchen counter. His hair is graying and he shows evidence of forming a gut. His tall robust son paces restlessly in the kitchen.
Christophe: I have to go.
Ulrich: We've been over this. The answer is no.
Christophe: Look at that! Buildings surrounding the Eiffel Tower are in flames. How can I ignore that?! Martel might take the city if this continues!
Ulrich turns off the holographic screen and places a mug on the automatic coffeemaker.
Ulrich: Your mother and I have seen enough suffering. We are not sending you off to war. It's not your job to save the world.
Christophe: But you did!
Ulrich: And look what the results were! We save the world from a tyrant, but it still manages to fall into chaos.
The younger Stern leans on the kitchen counter.
Christophe: You and mom did what you could. You saved the world from a monster. Now it's my turn.
Yumi: Turn? She emerges from the bedroom. You think this is about having your turn? We wanted you to avoid having to go through what we did.
Christophe: But you can't! I can't sit back and watch while the enemy you fought become resurrected in this monster that's destroying France.
Ulrich and Yumi exchange concerned looks. Ulrich sighs in exasperation.
Ulrich: We have the resources to keep you here, far from the war. Why would you intentionally throw yourself into a fight you could avoid?
In a moment of youthful wisdom, Christophe Stern tactfully gives them a hypothetical scenario.
Christophe: If your parents tried to force you to stay out of the battles in Lyoko, what would you have done? Both parents stand there, unable to come up with an answer. Let me fight.
While most of Europe fell into chaos, the Iberian Peninsula remained peaceful. Much credit was given to the actions of Spanish legislators to prevent the far right groups from rebelling, but history often overlooks the actions of our old friend.
An older César addresses the entire nation on television wearing the sash of a king.
In a manner uncharacteristic of European monarchs, César travelled all over the country, desperately urging his people not to surrender to violence. He reminded them of the horrors of the civil war more than a century earlier and the long dictatorship of Franco. Thanks to his influence, Spain was spared the fratricidal bloodshed and became one of the leading nations in Europe following the war's end.
French military units as well as volunteers are stationed near the Arc de Triomphe. Only a few kilometers away, the paramilitary groups of The Order are waging war. A government vehicle pulls up right next to the arch. A lead officer at the scene salutes.
Colonel: Attention! The President of the French Republic!
All soldiers and volunteers stand at attention. Among them is none other than Christophe Stern, who has developed a scar on his forehead. Secret service opens the car door. An older man with thick glasses and dark grey hair steps out of the vehicle. The young Stern faces an old parental foe now turned friend.
Mathias: Soldiers of France, I'm going to make this message short. I know it's…highly unorthodox for a president to be this close to the front, but I have something essentially to say. He points to the top of the arch. A century ago, fascists marched through that arch and humiliated Paris. They will not do it again!
The soldiers cheer with renewed morale.
Mathias: Don't give them an inch! On ne passe pas!
In a photograph outside the Élysée Palace, President Mathias Burel is seen shaking hands with King César.
The secrets of our time were known by very few. But they happened to be a very important few. And they made sure nothing dangerous got in the wrong hands.
Mathias Burel orders his security team to destroy the Harbinger. Its pieces are locked away, never to be seen again. At the factory a group of scientists go about a highly confidential mission of safely dismantling the supercomputer. The factory is then torn apart.
When the possibility of Paris falling became all too real, Mathias ordered the supercomputer destroyed and the factory dismantled. All evidence of our old Lyoko days vanished. As for the war, the coup against the New Popular Party in Brazil proved decisive in ending it. Having lost a significant ally, the aggressors were forced onto the defensive. The combined forces of the United States, China, and its allies eventually won the day. Russia, India, and the far-right nationalist collective could not withstand both the Western armies and the overwhelming military strength of China in a war of attrition.
French military personnel force their way into a secret Order stronghold. They find that Arnaud Martel has already put a bullet in his head. New Delhi and Moscow are almost destroyed. Silence reigns over the ashes and rubble. Back in Montréal, Ulrich and Yumi cry upon receiving a message of condolences from the front in France.
World War III came to an official close in 2054 with the execution of Samir Rao. But for Ulrich and Yumi as well as countless others, it was too late. Millions had perished. Words could not describe our pain and guilt.
In the hospital, Aelita comforts Jeremie as he sits up in bed. The war is over, but the aftereffects are still broadcasted all over the news. Jeremie closes his eyes and breathes softly in profound sadness.
When Jeremie's health declined, he began to question whether we had done good in the first place. After the violence of World War III, it became impossible to say we accomplished a greater peace for the world. But there was no way we could have prevented all of the madness. The planet's warming had contributed significantly to the disaster that unfolded. Moriarty's legacy had some part to play. But in the end, we had to let others finish the work we started. In the last years of his life, Jeremie accepted that.
Aelita holds his hand.
I stayed with him until his death at the age of 68. The other remaining warriors soon passed one by one until only I remained. Xavier, I don't tell you these things to make you depressed. I know you live in a fragile world still trying to pick up the pieces. But I want the story of us, the story of Moriarty, and the history of this latest war to serve as a warning for generations to come. Our descendants have the privilege of knowing that a group of naïve children faced monstrous evil and won. It wasn't a perfect victory, but we overcame staggering odds in order to secure a brighter future. The world needs a brighter future, now more than ever. Show them that it can be done. Give them hope. Tell them that even a group of boarding school students can save the world. Yes, that's right. I'm giving you permission to tell our story. I have saved all of Jeremie's video logs from the moment he found me in the factory looking for spare parts to the day we used the supercomputer for the last time to free Emmanuel. I also have a collection of personal stories written from memory that should give you a complete picture of what took place. I will send it to you soon. I meant to do it myself, but I only managed to get to the defeat of Xana. I would like you to fill in the stories about Moriarty and how his insidious games began. I know I'm asking a lot, but I'm sure you can do it. The stories that we have to tell are heavy and often disturbing, but they also say so much about what it means to be human. To make sure they don't become too dry and historical, I would suggest you turn them into some kind of narrative. Something to keep the readers going until the very end. Try not to leave anything out. Our story demands to be told, even though we didn't want it too. Demonstrate just how strong the human race can be. As for me…I think it's time I finally got some rest…
I can hear them, Xavier. All of them. Yumi, Ulrich, Natalya, William, Jeremie. And…Odd and Christophe! And so many others…They're all at a glorious banquet in this great golden hall and they've saved a place for me! They have seats of honor among the saints and angels. My nurse unit tells me I'm hallucinating from the illness but I know better. They're waiting for me. Soon. Very soon. Jeremie…everyone…I'm coming home!
August 20, 2084- 1950 hours-Medical update on the Android Intranet
Sir, I hate to enter your office unannounced, but I regret to inform you that family friend Aelita Stones was pronounced dead as of five minutes ago. The hospice units will be contacting you shortly.
Thank you CX-05. I appreciate it.
Do you require time to properly mourn?
No. I…have a better idea. Start an oral writing document. A big one…
Will it be a journal entry Mr. Dunbar?
No. More like a narrative….of sorts.
How should I begin?
Hmm…How about this?...William and Jeremie appear in the factory. Jeremie starts up the supercomputer. He returns to the control room while William heads for the scanner.Insert dialogue quote. Jeremie says, "William, are you in the scanner? I'm about to begin the test…"
Thank you for being loyal readers of my work. Once again I apologize for the massive delays in uploading some of these chapters. The last semester in particular has been difficult for me in several ways. However, I never doubted that I had to see this story through to the end. I hope you enjoyed the Games of Moriarty! I will probably now be moving on to other original works that I have in mind.