Not sure if anybody will remember this - first posted on Eyeboards nearly 12 years ago! - but this is my AU S6, picking up from just after Mega’s death at the end of S5 and tweaking events after that. Unedited, but I’m still really proud of later chapters.
Chapter 1: What If?
‘Slade’, Amber said softly as she put her hand on the young man’s shoulder. ‘He’s gone, Slade. We have to go now’.
Slade opened his eyes and saw the face looking down at him, then quickly looked around at the rest of the room, unable to take the sympathy in those blue eyes. His own eyes found no comfort, however, as the empathy on Amber’s face was echoed even in the faces of Lex, standing by the doorway, and Ram, who was sitting against one of the red-painted walls of the Technos’ control room. Ram was recovering from the shock to his mind and body caused by his forced removal from the computer programme he had created to build a perfect world, after it had developed its own agenda. That same programme had now claimed the life of Slade’s brother, Josh - he refused to call him Mega, even in his own head. Worst of all, both had failed in their attempts to stop the computerised version of Zoot from continuing with its plan to eradicate humanity, and soon a virus more deadly than the one that killed all the adults would be unleashed on the city; a virus, Slade knew, that Josh had been manufacturing in a secret lab here in the hotel. Most of the population were now fleeing for their lives, and hopefully spreading the word as they ran. Even the rest of the Mallrats were being forced to leave their homes, unable to find a way to stop this latest threat to the city.
Only Jack, standing at the other side of the door from Lex, appeared not to be paying any attention to Slade. He stood staring at the ceiling and muttering to himself, as if thinking of something else. Slade suspected the computer buff often looked that way. His eyes came to rest on Josh once again; he looked so peaceful lying there, but he knew there was nothing more he could do for him, as much as he wished he could. He had wanted to help Josh, to save him from what he had become, but instead he had only managed to get him killed. The way things were going, perhaps that was the best for him.
It must have only been a few seconds since Amber had spoken to him, but his thoughts were racing around his head so quickly that it felt as though it had been hours. He was both physically and mentally drained.
‘Alright, let’s go’, he finally said, not realising how tense everyone had been until he felt the room relax. Their faces now showed how anxious they all were to leave the hotel before the computer released the virus. Every second counted, but Slade had been selfishly staying by his brother’s side, delaying the others, when he knew that nothing could be done. Standing up, he released the grip he hadn’t realised he held on his brother’s lifeless hand, before turning to the others. Amber had left his side, unnoticed, and was now helping Ram slowly to his feet at the other end of the room. The former leader of the Technos was obviously still in a lot of pain, but at least he was alive. As he clung to Amber’s arm he took one last, respectful look in Josh’s direction. As Lex opened the door, Slade silently fell in behind Amber and Ram and headed out.
The sudden movement had jolted Jack out of his thoughts. He looked around to see the others heading towards the door. Mega still lay slumped on the chair, the headset he had been using dangling halfway to the floor. Slade wore an understandably pained expression, while Amber looked tired from the day’s events and the weight of Ram on her arm. Ram himself seemed to be gaining strength, his steps becoming easier as they approached the door. Lex had already left the room.
‘Guys, wait!’ He pleaded. ‘We can’t just leave now, we have to do something!’
‘We’ve already tried everything, Jack.’ Amber said regretfully. ‘There’s nothing more we can do, apart from get away from here as fast as we can.’
‘But I think I might have a solution!’
‘Jack! We don’t have time for this!’ Amber really did sound tired.
'Just hear me out, ok? There are sprinklers in every room, right Ram?’
‘I…I think so’ Ram pondered, ‘But I don’t see…’
‘All we need to do is turn on the one in Mega’s lab. It should short-circuit the machine making the virus.’
‘It’ll never work, the computer has the power to override the sprinkler system in the hotel, so it’s not just a case of lighting a fire underneath it!’
‘I figured as much. Just give me a few minutes connected with that thing, I’m sure I can find a way to switch it on, just long enough to stop the virus then I’ll be out.’
‘Jack, no!’ Amber cried. ‘Are you insane? Didn’t you see what it did to Mega, and to Ram? You wouldn’t last five minutes in there!’
‘What’s stopping you guys in here?’ Lex re-entered the room, looking anxious. ‘We have to get out of here! Slade, tell them!’
‘He’s right. You can’t win them all, Jack. There’s nothing more we can do here.’
Jack held out his hands in exasperation, a frustrated expression on his face. ‘I know I can do it! Just a few minutes, that’s all I…’
‘Jack, if I thought it would do any good, I’d be the first to agree but we might not have those few minutes! Think about Ellie! She needs you alive, Jack.’ Amber took his hands in hers, willing him to drop the idea and get out of the hotel, but he shook them loose, clenching his fists in his hair.’
‘You don’t understand! I can do this! There isn’t enough time to argue about it! Please, just trust me on this one. If that thing gets out…’ He unclenched his fists and put his hands by his sides, closing his eyes and taking a breath to compose himself. When he opened his eyes his voice was calm once more. ‘Amber, if this gets out, people are going to die. You remember how bad things were the first time, there‘s no way the whole city can be evacuated, even with the CityNet broadcasts we’ve put out and word-of-mouth. If we got out of this alive, I couldn’t spend the rest of my life wondering how many people died because I valued my own life over theirs, or feeling guilty knowing that I could have at least tried something!’
The emotion in Jack’s voice told Amber that he was speaking the desperate truth. She knew it because she would have felt the same way herself, if she was convinced she could save all those lives if only she would take a risk.
‘Amber, just let him do it, or none of us will get out of here!’
‘Lex is right. You’re right, Jack. Do what you have to do. Just…be careful, ok?’
‘I will, Amber. Just trust me. Ram, can you connect me up to this thing?’
As Jack and Ram made their way over to the laptop that was the source of all the trouble, Amber turned to the other two men. ‘Lex. Slade. You don’t have to be a part of this. You can go now, while there’s still some time left. You could head…’
‘I can’t desert you guys now.’ Slade cut in. ‘Especially since you wouldn’t be in this mess without me.’ He glanced over to where his brother’s body lay, next to where Jack was being hooked up to the computer.
‘Besides,’ shrugged Lex, ‘I wouldn’t want to miss out on any of the glory, would I?’
Amber smiled and touched his arm. ‘Thanks, Lex’ she said. ‘And thanks, Slade. This isn’t your mess, it’s our mess. We’ll fix it together.
‘So,’ Lex sighed, ‘What do you want us to do?’
‘Could you come with me to the lab, so we can see when the sprinklers come on and get Jack out of there as quickly as possible?’
‘Sure. If they come on.’
‘Nice attitude, Lex.’ Amber rolled her eyes. ‘Slade, can you stay here with Ram and watch over Jack?’
‘Actually, can I go to the lab? I can’t stand it in here. I just need to get out.’
‘Oh, yes. I’m sorry, Slade, I wasn’t thinking. You go with Lex, I’ll stay here.’
Slade and Lex nodded at each other then left the room. ‘Good luck, buddy!’ Lex called to Jack on his way out.’
‘See you later’ Amber whispered to them as they left.
‘He’s ready’ Ram said. Amber turned round, her hands smoothing her coat out of nervousness.
‘Do it’ she replied.
Ram leaned over the computer and pushed a few keys. The LEDs on Jack’s headset flickered then stayed on. The monitor on the laptop also flickered into life, showing the face of the computer Zoot. It grinned inanely before simply saying ‘Jack.’ Suddenly all the monitors in the room showed the face of Zoot, grinning and repeating over and over what the first had said. ‘Jack.’
Amber looked at Ram. ‘What have I done?’ she breathed.