Heirs to Chaos
Chapter One: A Plan
"It's just not right," Yumi said angrily, thumping on clenched fist emphatically on the surface of the desk beside her. "And it's a really big risk Jérémie, in more ways than one."
Jérémie sighed, removing his glasses in order to pinch the bridge of his nose. He could feel his friends' expectant gazes on him; Yumi, Ulrich, Odd and Aelita formed were crowded in his room, the small dorm where he would only be living for a few more short months. How he would miss Kadic, Jérémie thought, with a sudden pang of emotion. The time had gone by so quickly...
"I know," he replied, and the pain and exhaustion was evident in his voice. "I know."
There was a pause and everyone shifted uncomfortably in the silence. Their shoulders sagged and the bent their heads to stare at the shadows the late afternoon light cast over the floor, as though the air itself was so heavy with gloom that it physically weighed them down. At a glance, no one would think that this group of friends bore any huge burden on their shoulders, the youngest of them only seventeen, but the strain of their predicament left them with a haunted gaze and often twitchy disposition, characteristics that aged them beyond their years as morale slowly slipped away.
This small group of five had, after all, been fighting a secret war for four years. The entity which they fought against, the corrupt multi-agent programme known only as XANA, had evolved to match them at every turn. Worse still, with every defeat it seemed the programme's resolve grew stronger. Almost every week now, a new attack. Sometimes, however, it would draw out the pauses between attacks for weeks, waiting patiently as the Earth's defenders grew more restless and paranoid with each passing day. Then it would finally happen, and the cycle would start all over again.
Strange incident, paranoia, near-death experience, trip to Lyoko, temporary relief. The same old cycle repeated itself over and over, like one of those nightmares where the dreamer ran down a corridor with a block of light at the end perpetually out of reach.
Aelita bit her lip, unable to bear the uncomfortable silence any longer. Ever the hopeful one, she asked, pleaded, with the bespectacled boy to her right. "Are we sure there's nothing else we can do?"
"You know it's hopeless, Aelita. XANA is evolving too fast. I'm programming as fast as I can, I'm trying everything I can think of!" Jérémie's voice grew louder in frustration, and it took him visible effort to calm down. Presently, in a quiet voice he continued. "But it just keeps thinking up new ways to outsmart us. And with Yumi and William gone most of the time now, we've been even more slowed down."
A flash of hurt crossed the older girl's face and her grip on the desk tightened. Yumi, a year older than her friends, had graduated to high school the year before. Commuting for an hour every day in the opposite direction meant she was rarely available to help whenever there was an attack, and although Yumi tried her best to keep up with the gang, she had spent many a day in her classes feeling entirely helpless. On weekends, such as now, she visited her friends at Kadic and they mapped out new strategies, talked over any attacks that had happened within the week, but it just wasn't the same.
Almost as a final insult, she had stopped bearing the brunt of any of XANA's attacks. The programme had gathered from her increasingly infrequent visits to Lyoko that she was no longer as much of a threat. It was as though everything was conspiring to distance herself from the war which had dominated such a huge chunk of her life. Yet, she couldn't tear her heart away from it. Not when she had fought so hard for so long.
"It's only four months until the end of the school year," Jérémie continued. "And after that..."
"We'll have to move on," Ulrich finished. "Whether XANA's finished or not. And without anyone here to defend against his attacks, who knows what will happen."
It hardly bore thinking about.
Aelita shuddered. She knew even more intimately than the rest what XANA was capable of, second only perhaps to William, who had spent months in the monstrous entity's possession. Knowing they still hadn't managed to rescue him only added to their current sense of despair.
"Maybe we should hand this over to the authorities," Yumi suggested. It was something she had been thinking about for some time, back when the possibility of recruiting more members had first begun to resurface. It was a risk they hadn't taken since William, but when Yumi had left Kadic she had hesitantly brought it back up again. "Maybe that's what we should have done a long time ago."
"We can't!" Aelita exclaimed. "Even if we could convince someone to believe us, Jérémie will be in danger!" She clung to the blond boy protectively. "Hacking into government systems, creating me an entire fake identity... he'd be in serious trouble. And he's sacrificed so much for me." She clasped his hands together in her own and leaned against him. Jérémie barely reacted, his brow creased in thought.
Out of all of them, the guilt was perhaps the worst for Jérémie Belpois. He had started up the supercomputer in the first place after all, and as things had escalated, he had felt assured, and repeated his assurances to the others, that he was so close to fixing everything.
Aelita needed to be materialised? No problem. She was connected to Lyoko? He'd find a way around it. XANA had free reign over the entire Internet? They could figure something out. Eventually...
Lately, however, he had felt an increasing sense of desperation. Often Jérémie would stay awake long into the night, even when he was too exhausted to work on software for the supercomputer, and simply worry. Of course he had thought of going to the authorities and confessing everything, but, although he would never admit it, he was terrified of the possibility of being captured and interrogated by the French government. No matter how noble his intentions were, he knew as well as anyone that a boy with the means to hack into top-security networks, not to mention operate a supercomputer of extremely questionable origin, was nothing short of a huge threat to national security. He could... disappear. Without a trace. And no one would ever know.
He had had a taste of such a possibility during one of XANA's previous attacks but had managed to procure a narrow escape. The harsh reality was that, whatever fate was in store for him if he was properly condemned for his crimes, it certainly wouldn't be a nice one.
Yumi heaved a sigh and sat down on the bed. "I'm sorry Aelita, I wasn't thinking. We're as much a part of this as Jérémie is. We can't let that happen."
Odd had been silent up to now, which in itself was unusual. The fact that the group's resident joker had been unable to come up with a quip in the last twenty minutes of their discussion spoke volumes for the tone of the conversation. Suddenly he jumped up, agitated, and began pacing the room. The sombre mood was suffocating and he was desperate to rectify it.
"Oh come on, you guys! We're acting as though someone's died in here."
"Well forgive us for not jumping for joy, Odd," Ulrich muttered sarcastically. Odd ignored him and, hands placed squarely on hips, turned to face the group.
"We've just got to keep being optimistic. For all we know, we could stumble on the key to defeating XANA next week! Why, I can see it now... next weekend, we'll be sitting out on the beach sipping some mocktails wondering what we ever got so worked up about. What?" he added, when Ulrich let out a sarcastic bark of laughter, the others responding only with sullen silence. "It could happen."
"Odd, give it a rest will you, for once your lame jokes aren't going to cut it."
Odd's shoulders slumped in temporary defeat.
"I hate to say it," Jérémie said, "but we really are out of options. Odd's right, we could be close to defeating XANA" - Odd's face lit up again at this - "but realistically, we also might not." Odd's expression faltered again. Jérémie stood and began to pace as Odd had done, one hand poised against his chin as he thought aloud. "We need to be making long term plans, we need to be thinking three steps ahead of XANA at all times." He paused abruptly, locking eyes with Yumi, the most vocally opposed to the suggestion he had raised earlier that evening.
"We have no choice but to recruit some more students and train them to fight XANA."
"It's not fair," Yumi said softly.
And for the third time that day, Jérémie could only reply with "I know."
Each of the teenagers thought back on the last few years. The strain they had been under had been immense at times; the near-death experiences, the emotions that they had had to bottle up inside them to keep from breaking down when it all seemed too much. The underlying fear, increasing in intensity over the past year or so, that this would never be over, or even that they might lose.
Yet, because they had failed to secure the victory themselves, they had to find a group of people willing to be subject to those same struggles in their place. It was difficult to imagine anyone but themselves shouldering the burden.
"Hey, maybe this will be our best strategy yet," Aelita said. "With a couple more people on our side, we might tip the scales in our favour. This could be the turning point." She smiled around at them all. "Right?"
Odd flashed his signature grin and punched the air.
"That's more like it!" he exclaimed. "Nothing can beat the awesome power of Team Lyoko!"
His ability to be cheerful when the situation called for it was greatly appreciated by the rest of the group, and with him voicing his optimistic train of thought, and the knowledge that they at least had a plan in mind, the rest of them felt their spirits begin to lift as well.
"We'll be like Batman. A whole group of Batmans, training our new apprentice."
Ulrich snorted. "This place is hardly Gotham City, Odd."
The exchange coaxed a few laughs from the others, and bit by bit the tension in the room began to dissolve.
Only one question remained. The most important decision of all.
"So who's it going to be?"
A/N: A few short notes so that you know what to expect from this story: Short opening chapter is short, subsequent ones will be less so. Yes, the original gang will feature rather prominently, especially in later chapters when we get into the Big Story Arc. However, much of the focus will also be on the new group of Lyoko warriors, existing secondary characters. That's it I guess. Thanks for reading!