Light of Day


#1

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. :slight_smile:


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.’

‘Jack.’

‘Jack.’

‘Jack.’

‘Jack.’

Amber looked at Ram. ‘What have I done?’ she breathed.


#2

Great so far., Cant wait for more! Excited for more!


#3

Thanks littlezandra! By the way, were you on Eyeboards? I remember the name. Here’s chapter 2!


Chapter 2: Systems


‘Jack…Jack…Jack…’ The room echoed with the sound of dozens of computer Zoots saying the intruder’s name.

‘Can’t you make it stop?’ Amber pleaded with Ram, her hands placed over her ears in a desperate attempt to cut off the relentless drone of those computerised voices.

‘There’s nothing I can do from here. I suppose I could patch myself in again. If I told you what to do…’

‘Never mind’ Amber replied. ‘That would be dangerous enough even if you were fully recovered from the last time you were in that thing, which I doubt.’

‘I am still a little sore.’ Ram admitted.

‘Thanks for the offer, though’ Amber said, surprised by her former foe’s generosity. He just shrugged in reply. Amber thought he was still upset that he hadn’t been able to beat the programme himself, especially since it was supposed to obey him, its creator, in the first place. She decided not to say anything, and just watched Jack instead. Her friend just sat there, still completely calm and motionless. She wished she could see his eyes behind that headset, just to make sure everything was alright. Whatever he was facing in there - wherever there was - he was showing no signs of any struggle. No signs of anything, in fact. Amber wondered how he could concentrate with the voices repeating over and over. Could he even hear them? Did he know what was going on in the real world? She remembered that Mega - she had to stop herself from looking over at the body - had known what was going on around him when he had been hooked up; he had asked for the headset to be left on after Ram had been removed by the programme. That memory only increased her fears for Jack. ‘If he can hear what’s going on,’ she thought to herself, ‘how can he be so calm?’

‘He must have found something.’ Ram said, obviously thinking the same as Amber. ‘That’s the only reason I can think of - the only one I want to think of - as to how he can just sit like that. He must be concentrating so hard that he’s blocking out the sound.’

‘I hope you’re right.’

‘He’s…he’s our only chance now, isn’t he?’

‘If anyone can do it, Jack can. Let’s just concentrate on keeping him safe. We can worry about the rest later if we have to.’

The pair stood, helpless, watching a motionless Jack, the occasional blinking of the lights on the headset the only indication that anything at all was happening. Amber made herself concentrate on Jack, however difficult it was seeing him like that. If she didn’t, the only other option would have been to look at the seemingly never-ending wall of Zoot faces, staring and grinning, and she thought that if she did that, she would go mad for sure. All the while, the voices continued their hypnotic mantra.

‘Jack…Jack…Jack…’


Frantically running through the busy city streets, Jay had no time to apologise to anyone he pushed past in the throng of city dwellers. Neither did they. They were all moving in the opposite direction, trying to escape the city and not caring about some fool Techno trying to go the other way. It was all Jay could do to keep moving against the tide of people. Twice now he had nearly been knocked to his feet and trampled by the crowd, after a particularly burly citizen had run into him. He had heard the screams of the unlucky few who had not kept their balance, but he knew that by the time he got to them there would be nothing he could do, and so kept running. He had to reach the hotel. He had to find Amber and bring her back to the boat. The others too, of course, but her most of all. He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he didn’t notice the girl running straight towards him until it was too late. They collided, but thinking quickly Jay dragged her into a nearby alley before they both ended up dead. The girl let out a high-pitched squeal as they careered into the alley, and only then did Jay realise who it was he held in his arms.

‘Gel?!’ he panted, half surprised, half glad to have run into someone he recognised. ‘I thought you were with the others?’

‘I went to pack a few more things, and when I came downstairs everybody had gone!’ Her voice became more and more shrill, until finally the young girl broke down in tears. ‘Oh, Jay! I thought I was going to be on my own again!’ she sobbed.

‘Hey, hey! Shh! It’s alright!’ Jay tried to comfort her, lifting her chin up so she could see the sincerity in his eyes. ‘Now listen, do you know the way to the quayside?’

‘Mmhmm’ she nodded, sniffing. ‘I think so.’

‘Then go there. That’s where the others were heading when I left them, they should still be there. May said she had a friend with a boat. It’ll be the quickest way out of here.’

‘What about you? Aren’t you coming?’

‘I’ll be there’, he reassured her. ‘I just have to find Amber and the others at the hotel first. I promise I’ll be there as soon as I can, ok?’

Gel nodded again, drying her eyes with a handkerchief. ‘Good luck’, she said, as Jay led her out of the alley. He watched her trailing her packed suitcase behind her, then continued on his way to the hotel. Exhausted though he was, he had to make it.


If it wasn’t for the headset he was wearing, Jack felt as though his eyes would pop out of their sockets. Being a part of the Technos’ computer network was exhilarating. From the moment Ram had patched him in, he had felt like he was on a speeding roller coaster, zipping thousands of miles in a heartbeat as he desperately trawled through the computer’s systems, trying to find the information he wanted, the right path to go down. Physically, he saw nothing at all, but in his mind’s eye he was floating above a highway of pure light, blazing bright in the darkness and stretching out beyond the horizon. He imagined paths leading out from the main highway in all directions, but he couldn’t see where any of them were leading to. The whole thing seemed to pass by underneath him so quickly that his brain didn’t have time to process the information. His inability to keep up with the speed things were going at inside the system was one of the only things that reminded him that he was himself, a human, not just another part of the network. It was one of the only things keeping him sane; that, and the sound of his own name reverberating inside his head. Jack. He thought that was his name, anyway. Vaguely, he remembered thinking that the noise was coming from outside. Outside where? There is no outside. Consciousness is all. He had to concentrate. The information was passing by too quickly, slipping out of his grasp. He had to forget himself. He had to be assimilated fully into the systems. My systems. The thought flickered through his mind, barely noticed, before being stored away. The voices. The only thing keeping him from being complete. The only way he could find what he wanted in time. What do I want? Have to be complete! Concentrate. Forget himself. Get rid of the voices. Concentrate. The light shifted. He was following one of the paths, or rather what he wanted started moving towards him. He was sure he stayed in the same place, despite being nowhere at all. Things made no sense, then they made perfect sense. He couldn’t have made the paths move, could he? Of course he could, they were his systems. He could do anything. He felt the end of the path approaching. Information washed over him, his mind processing it all and discarding what was useless, until he finally found what he had been searching for. There! Stop the voices! Be complete! Everything fell silent.


Walking down the corridor, the only sound Lex heard was the clump, clump of his and Slade’s boots on the floor. Since the two of them had left Amber and Ram looking after Jack, it had been one of those awkward silent times. Whenever he tried to start a conversation with Slade all he got was a nod or perhaps a grunt if he was lucky. This is doing my head in, he thought to himself. Can’t he just talk about something? Anything, so I don’t have to think about what’s going to happen to us. Thinking of another random question, he opened his mouth to ask it.


The short trip with Lex had been a nightmare for Slade. The guy just wouldn’t stop talking! He was obviously freaking out about the whole situation, and wanted to take his mind off things. Slade was trying to keep a clear head, thinking of how they could escape if Jack was unsuccessful. So far he had come up with nothing. As Lex opened his mouth to speak again he ground his teeth in frustration, before interrupting.

‘Lex, just shut up!’ Lex’s mouth worked, probably partly out of both surprise and anger, Slade thought. Slade mentally berated himself for letting his temper get the better of him like that, no matter how much stress he was under. He decided to try again, a gentler approach this time. ‘Look Lex, I know you’re just trying to get me to stop thinking about Josh, and I thank you for that, but I’m fine, really!’

More surprise, and confusion, appeared on Lex’s face for an instant. ‘Um, yeah. Right, ok.’ he replied.

That should give him something else to think about, Slade thought. And hopefully calm him down. His thoughts were distracted as they approached the last turn before the lab by a whirring noise. The lights flickered momentarily, then everything was back to normal again. I guess I spoke too soon, he thought.

Both men had stopped in their tracks when the noise started. Now they just stood looking at each other, bodies braced to spring into action if any was necessary.

‘What just happened there?’ Lex asked, looking slightly worried.

‘I don’t know,’ Slade answered him. ‘But we’d better be ready for anything around that corner.’ With that they ran into the corridor leading to the lab.


#4

Chapter 3: Warnings

Amber stood in the middle of the room, directly opposite Jack. Her hands were clasped together by her stomach to keep herself from fidgeting, but occasionally she found herself repeatedly smoothing her coat and had to force her hands back into position. From time to time she watched Jack’s chest, to make sure he was still breathing, then realised she was holding her own breath. It was at these times, when she had to remind herself to do as simple a thing as breathe, that she once again became aware of what else was going on in the room around her. It wasn’t comforting. The first thing she noticed of course was the awful sound of those Zoot voices; they were enough to drive someone insane. She had managed to block them out eventually, each time she became aware of them, but they were still giving her a headache. She turned around, so she wouldn’t see the monitors out of the corner of her eye, turning away from Jack at the same time - she felt guilty but there wasn’t much she could do for him right now - and saw Ram. He was vigorously pacing the floor in front of her, from wall to wall, apparently lost in his own thoughts, as she had been. Amber wondered how long he had been doing that, how long they had both been doing that. Neither of them had spoken since they had both been concerned about how calm Jack appeared, but she didn’t know how long ago that was. It seemed like hours had passed but it must only have been a matter of minutes. Still, it was a wonder they were here at all - she had expected the computer to have finished making the virus by now. Hopefully the fact that it hadn’t was down to Jack. That would mean that he was doing something, that he was still there and not trapped in cyberspace somewhere. She turned her head to check on Jack, hoping for even the smallest sign of activity, but he was still the same.

As she turned back, she noticed that Ram had stopped pacing and was now looking at her. ‘Any change?’ he asked. She shook her head, and Ram went back to pacing the floor. Thinking he had finished, Amber started to turn back to Jack, but the Techno still had more to say. ‘I don’t like this!’ he snapped, still pacing and making angry gestures with his hands. ‘Something’s not right! I just…there’s nothing I can do!’ Clearly frustrated, he stopped pacing, coming to a halt by a desk. He banged both of his fists down on the desk and then just stood there, leaning against it, with his head down.

Amber jumped at the sudden violent outburst. ‘Keep quiet, you might disturb Jack!’ she said irritably. ‘Besides, violence isn’t going to solve anything here!’

‘No?’ Ram replied, dragging a swivel chair out from under the desk and sending it careering into the wall as hard as he could. ‘It seems to be working pretty well for me right now!’ The chair bounced off the wall and rolled back towards him, toppling over at his feet. He stood staring at it for a moment, then picked it up and sat down in it. ‘I’m sorry’ he said, pushing his palms against his knees and closing his eyes in an effort to remain calm. ‘You’re right, I shouldn’t have done that. I just can’t stand all this waiting, you know?’

‘I know’ Amber said. ‘It’s getting to me too. We just have to try and stay calm.’

‘Like Jack?’ Ram quipped. Neither of them laughed.

Just then, Amber caught something moving out of the corner of her eye. Looking towards the door, she saw through the small glass panel that the lights in the corridor outside were flickering, just for an instant then it was as if nothing had happened.

‘What is it?’ Ram asked, noticing the look on Amber’s face. ‘Are Lex and Slade back?’

‘No, nothing like that. It was just the lights outside flickering. Do you think it means anything?’

Ram opened his mouth to reply but nothing came out, as the lights in the room they were in suddenly went out. The monitors on the wall crackled and went dead one by one, silencing the Zoot voices and plunging the room into darkness apart from the light from the corridor coming through the glass panel, and the computer Jack was hooked up to - the only one still working. That monitor too had lost its Zoot face, and its blank screen created an eerie pool of light, with Jack in the middle, the flickering red lights on the headset increasing the creepy effect. Worse, Jack was now smiling. Amber felt butterflies in her stomach when she saw that smile. It reminded her of the grins on the Zoot faces. She felt Ram rising out of the chair and looked up into his face, just about noticeable in the poor light. He looked worried.

‘I, er, I think this means something’ he said.

‘Yeah, I can see that, but is it good or bad?’ Amber mused.

‘I wish I knew.’

At that moment, the lights in the room came back on. Amber and Ram both blinked, adjusting to the light. The monitors on the wall flickered back into life, but now showed only a fuzzy grey screen, not the Zoot faces.

‘Did Jack do all that?’ Amber asked incredulously.

‘It certainly seems that way.’

‘So…that’s a good thing, right? He’s got control of the system, he can activate the sprinkler in the lab now.’

‘Perhaps’ was all Ram would say.

Amber went over to her friend sitting in the chair and knelt in front of him, taking one of his hands in hers. ‘Come on Jack’ she smiled, her eyes tearing up. ‘You can do it.’

‘Look!’ Ram said, pointing at the wall of monitors, where a picture had appeared on each of the screens. Amber got up from where she was kneeling and went to stand next to Ram, blinking away the tears so she could see more clearly what was going on.

‘At least it isn’t the Zoot faces again’ she said, as her vision returned to normal. ‘But what is it?’ The screens seemed to show another part of the hotel, an empty corridor.

‘Usually these monitors would show images from the security cameras. Maybe they’re just starting up again now that the programme is no longer in control’ Ram said, sounding doubtful.

‘Wait, there’s something there!’ Amber exclaimed, as a figure made its way unsteadily halfway along the corridor before collapsing on the floor.

‘It’s Lex!’ Ram sounded shocked.

‘Something must have happened in the lab!’ Amber cried. ‘Jack’s trying to warn us, he must be!’

‘Maybe. Listen, I’ll go check it out, you stay here and keep an eye on Jack.’

‘But I don’t know what to do!’

‘You don’t have to do anything. I didn’t want to tell you this before but, if he fails, there’s not much point taking that headset off. If it looks like he’s in trouble you can take it off if you really want to, but it’ll be kinder to let him go the way Mega did than to let the virus get him.’

‘Well, in that case, it’s a good job he’s not going to fail, isn’t it?’ Amber stood looking at him defiantly.

‘Yeah, whatever, look I’ll be back soon. Just don’t touch anything, ok?’

Amber watched Ram leave the room, and waited until she could no longer hear his footsteps running down the corridor, before sitting down at one of the desks with her head in her hands, and beginning to cry.

Neither of them had noticed that Jack’s smile had softened since Amber had touched his hand.


Since shutting down the voices, Jack no longer felt that everything was passing by him too quickly. It had taken several tries, searching for the right room, and then locating the source of the voices, but now he felt as if he could do anything. There was still a part of him, tucked away somewhere, that kept telling him that something was wrong, that he should be concentrating on finding…something, but he ignored it. There was also something else. Something that felt like him, but somehow wasn’t. Every now and then, this third part kept blocking him, whenever he tried to follow a path. Sometimes he could force his way through, but increasingly he found that he had to find an alternative route. It was as though he was somehow fighting against himself, but he kept sensing anger from the other part, as if he was somehow intruding, but that couldn’t be possible, could it? Every time he felt something, whether doubt from himself or anger from the other, the second part of himself - the part that was tucked away so he could be free to explore his systems - seemed to grow stronger. Whatever it wanted, it seemed important, but he didn’t take orders.

Suddenly, he saw something, like a window to somewhere else. A corridor. About to discard the image, he paused, as a figure started moving in from one edge of his vision. Intrigued, he continued watching. The figure had long, dark hair and seemed vaguely familiar, even though that couldn’t be possible. As the figure fell to the ground, he prepared once more to delete the image. All of a sudden he felt a connection with something else and everything changed. Startled, he could no longer hold on to the image and it disappeared. He remembered everything. He was Jack, and he was inside Ram’s computer programme. The connection he had felt was Amber. She was holding his hand and talking to him, but he couldn’t speak; he felt trapped within his own mind. The image! That was Lex! He was in trouble, somewhere in the hotel. Somehow, Jack realised he must have stumbled across the hotel’s surveillance system. Now, if only he could find that image again. Concentrating, he trawled through the files until he found what he was searching for. He hoped it wasn’t too late. He sent the image to the screens in the room he sat in, outside wherever he was now. That was all he could do for Lex, but hopefully the others could still help him.

It was then that Jack realised that Slade had been with Lex. Where was he? He knew he didn’t have much time. He still had to find the sprinkler system, and turn on the one in the lab, but first he had to check on Slade. He began to search through the files in the surveillance system once more.


#5

Nice to see this has a place some where on the web to call home. Still love it!:slight_smile: And yes I was on eye boards with the same name by the way!:slight_smile:


#6

Chapter 4: Visions


A pale light came from somewhere, yet there were no lights on in the red-painted corridors. Amber stood at the centre of a crossroads, with each of the four routes before her stretching into darkness. The light didn’t penetrate everywhere, it seemed. She turned to look back down the corridor she must have come down, brushing the leaves of a potted plant on her left as she did so, but it looked identical to the other pathways. She hoped she would be able to find her way back, in case Jack needed her. Not yet though, she had to keep running. As she began to search the corridors once more the light seemed to move with her, but she didn’t notice; she had more important things to concentrate on, like finding Jay. She had first heard his calls for her, sounding far away, what seemed a long time ago, and he still wasn’t getting any closer. He wasn’t going to find her at this rate, so she would have to find him instead. Stopping again to listen for his call, she realised she was at a crossroads once more. Behind her and to her left was a tall potted plant, and in each direction the corridor stretched ahead into darkness. Had she been here before, or were all the corridors like this? Taking a right turn, she found herself at yet another crossroads, with all four paths leading into the darkness. This was impossible! Where was the turning she had just taken? Panicking, she headed back the way she thought she had come, passing another potted plant. Nothing. In desperation she ran her hands along the walls, but they were solid. This couldn’t be happening.

‘Amber! Where are you?’

‘Jay!’ Amber half screamed. ‘Jay, I’m here!’ As fast as she could, she ran in the direction of where she thought Jay’s voice was coming from. She turned countless corners at the same crossroads, tears streaming down her face, but Jay’s voice never got any louder. She screamed his name until she was hoarse, and had almost given up all hope of ever seeing him again when at last she turned a final corner and there he was.

‘Jay! I thought I’d never find you! We have to help Jack!’

‘Amber! Where are you?’ Jay’s lips moved but the voice still sounded like he was in the distance somewhere. His eyes looked straight through her, looking for her but not seeing that she was standing right in front of him.

‘Jay?’ she asked tentatively, taking a step backwards. As she did so, something got in her way and she fell to the ground, grasping for whatever she could in a vain effort to steady herself. Something broke off in her hands. Leaves. They, and the crash of pottery she had heard as she hit the ground told her what she had tripped over. The potted plant. Jay still stood in front of her; her eyes moved back up from shin level to his face. With a gasp she crawled backwards, scratching her palms on the broken bits of pot on the floor. It wasn’t Jay’s face she was looking at, it was Zoot’s, and he was no longer looking through her but straight at her, and grinning.

‘Here, let me help you up’ a familiar voice said, as she felt herself being dragged to her feet. She looked around to see who had aided her, not expecting to see the face she saw.

‘Pride!?’ she whispered, then felt the presence of others around her. She was still standing at the intersection of the corridors, facing Pride and with her back to Jay. At the mouth of the corridor to her left was Sasha, and on her right, Bray. Suddenly all three of the newcomers also wore Zoot’s face. She was trapped, and they were moving towards her, grinning like the monitors in the control room. Walking backwards, she felt Jay’s arms around her.

‘Amber! Where are you?’ That distant voice again. There was nothing she could do. She screamed.

‘Amber! Where are you?’


‘Amber! Where are you?’

Amber woke with a start, her head shooting up and hands spreading out on the desk in front of her, not knowing where she was. Wide eyes, red-rimmed from crying, surveyed the room around her and soon everything fell into place once more. Her exhaustion had caught up with her and she had fallen asleep, but it had not been restful. At least it had only been a dream, if a bad one. She was still in the control room with Jack, who thankfully was no longer grinning like a Cheshire cat. Breathing a sigh of relief, she stood up and moved away from the desk, leaving behind sweaty handprints that at once began to evaporate. She had never thought of herself as a fragile person before, but now she was a wreck. Everything seemed to be getting on top of her, and she felt helpless. Serious rest would be needed if she ever got back to the mall.

‘Amber? Jack? Is anyone still here?’

Amber froze in panic. Jay’s voice from her dream. She was awake, wasn’t she? A flicker of motion caught her eye and she looked towards the wall of monitors. It was Jay, running through the hotel corridors. She wasn’t trapped in her dream still; this must have been what had made her dream about Jay in the first place, that and the growing feeling of hopelessness inside her. She wondered how long he had been here.

‘Amber!’

‘I’m here, Jay!’ she shouted, then laughed at her silliness. She was talking to television screens now. On closer inspection, however, Jay had now stopped and was looking around him as if trying to listen for something. Had he heard her? He must be closer than she thought. She beamed at Jack, to thank him for showing this to her, even though she knew he couldn’t see her.

‘We’ll be right back, I promise.’ she said, before dashing out of the room, calling for Jay.


Ram slowed to a walk as he approached Mega’s lab. He grudgingly admitted to himself that the whole thing was very impressive, especially when you considered how short a time he must have managed to set it up in. The room had been a lowly storage cupboard when Ram had been leader of the Technos, and that equipment was not easy to come by. Ram had been thinking about it a lot, and had come up with only two possible explanations. The first was that Mega had brought it all with him during the initial invasion, in which case he had planned to overthrow Ram from the start. Had Java been in on it the whole time as well? Ram made himself move on from that thought. It wasn’t something he wanted to dwell on. If Mega had planned this all along, he would have had to hide all the equipment somewhere in the hotel, which just wasn’t possible. Jay was in charge of checking the storeroom inventories at first, and he had definitely not been in league with Mega. This made the second explanation much more likely. Mega must have had the equipment shipped in from headquarters sometime after Jay had left the Technos. That was the earliest he could have hidden something without Ram knowing. Both explanations, however, led to one undeniable fact - at least one high-ranking Techno back home was against him. As much as he hated to admit it, he was safer here, with the Mallrats. There was no way he could ever go back.

Stalking quietly along the last corridor, he listened out for any signs of danger, but he heard nothing, nothing at all. He turned into the lab corridor, unsure of what he would find there. What he saw was the last thing he expected. Slade and Lex whirled around, startled, from looking through the panel in the lab’s door. Neither of them had as much as a scratch. Ram’s brain worked to find an explanation.

‘Ram?’ they both said in unison.

‘What are you doing here?’ Slade asked. ‘Is something wrong?’

‘Lex, are you alright? We saw you on the screens in the control room. You were virtually at death’s door.’ Both Ram and Lex realised at the same time what Ram had just said.

‘“Virtually” at death’s door’ said Lex, knowingly. ‘Now why does that sound all too familiar?’

‘I don’t get it’ said Slade, confused. ‘What’s going on?’

‘The reality space programme Mega used on me, to make me think the Mallrats had been deleted.’ The lights flickered again.

‘That’s the second time that’s happened. What does it mean, Ram?’

‘It means Jack’s in trouble. We have to get back there quickly, I’ll explain everything on the way.’


Slade watched Ram disappear around the corner, still unsure as to what exactly was going on. He nodded to Lex and the two men set off after Ram, slowing a little when they had caught up to him. Ram had a determined look on his face, he wasn’t going to be beaten on this one if he could possibly help it. Slade couldn’t help but feel partly responsible for what was going on. If only he had not taken Ram to Liberty. If only he hadn’t left Josh. Shaking his head he reminded himself that what was done was done and it was what he did now that mattered.

‘So let me get this straight’ he spoke up. ‘This computer programme, it used some sort of… virtual Lex, to trick you into thinking the real Lex was in trouble? Why would it do that?’

‘Well, first of all’ Ram replied. ‘We don’t know that it was the computer programme.’

‘Jack?’ questioned Lex, incredulously. ‘Baloney! Jack wouldn’t do that.’

‘Ordinarily, no, but how much of Jack is actually left?’

‘Stop being cryptic, Ram! What has your programme done to him?’

‘But we don’t know that it was Jack either?’ Slade said, changing the subject. Lex looked furious.

‘That’s right’ Ram said, waving his finger to note Slade’s point. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before, it’s fascinating!’ he laughed.

‘Jack isn’t one of your twisted science experiments, you know!’ Lex grabbed Ram’s arm, twisting him round to face him and bringing the group to a halt.

‘Look, the only person who knows…possibly…is Jack himself. My guess though,’ Ram said, going back into lecture mode and showing no sign that Lex was restraining him, ‘is that the programme is trying to trick him.’

‘Why would it do that?’ Slade asked, repeating his earlier question.

‘Who can say? I’d like to talk to Jack about all this once we get out. The most likely reason is to get him alone so we can’t help him, which is why,’ Ram said, narrowing his eyes at Lex, ‘we have to move quickly!’

‘Amber.’ Slade said.

Lex grunted and released his grip. Ram rubbed his arm and the three continued their journey in silence, the tension between Lex and Ram still evident.

As they reached the control room, Slade saw what looked like a sack of something on the floor, leaning against the wall opposite the door. As they got closer he realised it was wearing Amber’s coat.

‘We’re too late.’ he said softly.

‘Amber!’ Lex shouted at the same time, dashing towards his fellow tribe member. Ram and Slade increased their speed to reach her soon after him.

‘Is she alright?’ Slade asked.

‘She’s not hurt’ Lex replied after checking her over ‘but she’s in a right state.’

Amber lay slumped against Lex, sobbing. Her hand reached up to grip on his shirt, while she lifted her head up to say something. Nothing came out but more sobs. She shook her head and tried to wipe away some of her tears with her free hand. Slade had never seen her like this before. From what he’d heard about Amber, she’d been through so much and still remained strong, but whatever had happened while they had been away had obviously been the last straw for the girl.

‘It’s going to be alright’ he told her, hoping that he was right.


While Lex and Slade were fussing over Amber, Ram was observing the scene inside the control room through the glass panel. It had come as no surprise upon trying the door to find that it was locked. Finding Amber outside had confirmed his suspicions that Jack did not have as much control over the system as they had first thought, and that the programme wanted him alone. Inside the room, Ram could see that the Zoot faces had returned and were laughing wildly, while Jack writhed in his chair, gritting his teeth and gripping the arms so tightly that his knuckles had turned white. That programme was the best thing he had ever written - he felt a mixture of pride and guilt at that thought - but it had to be stopped, and he would be the one to do it.


#7

OOOOH thank you for reposting this! :purple_heart::purple_heart::purple_heart:


#8

One day I might even finish writing it, haha.


#9

Chapter 5: Light of Day


Lex was bent down on one knee holding Amber, who continued to cry softly against his chest. Feeling uncomfortable, especially with Slade standing there watching him, he addressed the two men standing in the corridor. ‘So does anyone have any bright ideas as to how we’re going to get Jack out of there?’ Slade shrugged unhelpfully, while Ram just stared into the control room. ‘Ram? Hello? Earth to planet Ram!’

‘I heard you the first time, Lex’ came the reply.

‘Could’ve fooled me. So what are we going to do?’

‘If I head back to the generator room, I might be able to find a way to turn on the sprinklers manually.’

‘But what about Jack?’ Lex asked again.

‘We leave Jack where he is. I need the programme to be distracted if this is going to work.’

‘No way!’ Lex argued, extricating himself from Amber, who had stopped crying and was now listening intently to what Ram was saying. He stood opposite the Techno with one hand on his hip and the other making a jabbing motion with his finger in Ram’s direction to emphasise the rest of his words. ‘There is no way we’re leaving him in there like THAT,’ his finger jabbed further right this time, in the direction of the door, before returning to Ram again, ‘while you waltz off to the other end of the hotel, trying out some half-baked scheme that might not even work!’

‘Oh, and Jack’s idea was foolproof?’ Lex lunged at Ram, but Slade had anticipated this moment and swiftly moved in between the two, flinging his arms out so that they both got a chestful of fingers. Lex grunted and Ram rubbed his chest where it hurt, shooting an accusatory look at Slade. ‘Come on Slade, surely you can see that Jack’s as good as dead anyway?’ He staggered back into the door as he received the full-armed slap of Amber, who had risen unnoticed during the argument.

‘Nice shot, babe.’ Lex said, looking at Amber admiringly.

‘Oh, grow up Lex, or you’re next’ Amber snapped in reply, soon wiping the smile off Lex’s face. ‘I’ve had enough of this, Ram!’ she said, before turning to Slade, who had not yet answered Ram’s question. ‘Well?’ she asked angrily. ‘Do you agree with him? Do you think we should just leave him in there?’

‘I think we all need to calm down. Fighting with each other won’t get us anywhere. Of course I don’t think we should give up on Jack’ he added, noticing Amber’s open hand.

‘I’m surrounded by…’ Ram broke off as Amber’s arm twitched. ‘Can’t you see this could be our only chance?’ he cried.

‘We’re not leaving him!’ Lex stated firmly.

‘Then you’re all fools!’

‘Look Ram’ said Slade. ‘I know how much beating this thing means to you, but from what I’ve seen of it so far, I don’t think Jack would be enough of a distraction for you to do anything anyway. That laser didn’t stop when you and Josh were in there did it?’ Lex looked at Ram triumphantly. Ram just scowled at everybody.

‘Now can you three wait here a bit without killing each other? I’ve got a plan to get Jack out of there. Amazing what you can do when you give your mouth a rest and let your brain get some of the oxygen.’ And with that, he walked off.

‘Hey! Where are you going?’ Lex called, but got no reply. He stood there in silence with Ram and Amber, all three united in that they resented Slade’s last comment, but none of them willing to admit to any sort of common ground at that time. By the time Slade returned, wielding a metal stand that had once held an ashtray, the animosity in the room had mellowed, although there was still silence. The silence was broken when Slade hefted the stand like a javelin and rammed it as hard as he could into the glass panel in the door of the control room. This sent shards of broken glass flying out and Ram, who had been standing next to the door, fleeing to the other side of the corridor.

‘I don’t think this is a very good idea.’ Ram said as Slade shoved his arm through the newly-formed hole and attempted to reach the handle on the other side of the door.

‘We all know what you think about rescuing Jack, Ram. There’s no need to tell us again’ said Lex.

‘No, I mean…’

‘ARGH!’ Slade cried, jerking his arm out of the door and cutting his hand on the remnants of the window as he did so. ‘Stupid thing shocked me’ he said, shaking his arm out and flexing his fingers.

‘Here, let me have a look at that.’ Amber said to him, taking his hand and trying to extract the fragments of glass while dabbing away as much of the blood as she could with her handkerchief. ‘Don’t worry’ she said, smiling. ‘It’s clean.’ She shook her head at his winces. ‘And don’t be such a baby! There, that’s the best I can do for now. A dressing would help but I don’t have anything on me, sorry.’

‘That’s fine, thanks for this.’

‘No problem. So what just happened there?’ Slipping back into her mother hen role had given Amber back some of the strength she had lost during the day.

‘The lock is computerised, controlled by a keypad and swipe card system’ Ram explained. ‘So the programme has access to it.’

‘Which is why the door locked behind me and how Slade got the electric shock.’ finished Amber.

‘That’s correct. By the way, you never told us what made you leave the room.’

‘Monitors again’ was all Amber would say, while looking at the floor.

‘Don’t you have a swipe card?’ Lex asked Ram.

‘Yes, but the computer’s hardly going to let me in now, is it?’

‘It’s worth a try’ said Slade. Ram shrugged, dug out his card and slid it into the reader, punching in a code at the same time. Nothing happened.

‘I still say we try and get to the generator again’ he said.

‘And you’re still outvoted’ said Amber.

‘Then the only thing left is to break down the door’ said Lex, a touch of pleasure in his voice. Just then, there was a loud hissing noise and the four people standing in the corridor suddenly found themselves getting very wet. A look of recognition dawned on all of their faces, and it was as if a red alert had gone off in their heads. Jack had done it, the sprinklers were on. It was time for action.

‘Slade, go to the lab and make sure that equipment isn’t working.’ Slade nodded and left at Amber’s command. ‘Ram, I thought he was only turning on the one in the lab?’

‘It’s probably all he can do to get them on at all,’ Ram replied, sounding impressed. ‘It would take more concentration to specify which room to activate the sprinklers in, which would leave him open to attack from the programme. I doubt he’ll have much time though, so we need to be ready to get him out of there once Slade brings us the all clear.’

‘So you want to rescue him now, do you?’ snorted Lex, gaining him a reproachful look from Amber.

‘Now that we’re safe…hopefully, anyway…then yes.’ Ram said, in a tone that seemed to dare Lex to threaten him. As if to prove his point, he was the first to throw himself at the locked door between the three of them and Jack, with Lex close behind.


As Lex moved out of the way, Ram threw himself at the door once more, grunting as he hit it. Maybe he hadn’t shown enough faith in Jack at the beginning, but perhaps there was still a chance for him to redeem himself, by helping to rescue him. If he was going to find a home with the Mallrats he didn’t want to start with them all hating him; plus, it would be a shame if Jack died in there, he didn’t see any of the other Mallrats being great company for him. They were going to have to work fast, though. If the sprinklers caused the headset to short-circuit while Jack was wearing it…well, it wouldn’t be good that was for sure. They had been designed to repel a little water but soon it was going to be drenched. Hearing Jack’s groans from inside the room, he moved aside to let Lex have another go at trying to get through. Amber was alternately watching them and keeping a lookout for Slade. Lex fell upon the door with a thud and a creak of wood, before moving out of the way for Ram. Putting himself into position, he paused when the sprinklers in the corridor, and more than likely everywhere else as well, suddenly spluttered and died.

‘What’s happening Ram? Has he done it do you think?’ asked Amber, wringing out the hem of her coat.

‘It’s more likely that he’s lost control of the sprinkler system. He might be able to get it back but he won’t be getting any stronger. It’s only a matter of time before the programme gets the better of him. He’s only human, after all.’

‘Very optimistic, Ram.’

‘You did ask.’ He charged at the door again, banging his elbow in the process but otherwise having little effect. He and Lex continued to throw themselves at the door unsuccessfully, with the sprinklers occasionally coming back on for a few seconds, until finally a loud snap was heard. Lex, who had produced the breakthrough, stepped back for one final effort. Putting all of his weight behind him, he launched himself at the door, which came right off its hinges and fell flat on the floor inside the control room, taking Lex with it.

‘Slade’s back!’ cried Amber, pointing. Looking down the corridor, Ram saw that Slade was indeed on his way back, with his thumbs up, giving them the all clear. He noticed that Slade’s right hand was now bandaged; he had probably picked up something from the storeroom next to the lab. Seeing the signal that Jack had accomplished his task, Ram instinctively ran into the control room, past Lex who was just attempting to get back up. Some of the monitors were already flickering dangerously; he had to get Jack out of there now. Running towards the central table, in front of which Jack was sitting, he reached out and yanked off the headset the Mallrat was wearing. He had done it! He had proven himself.

Suddenly he felt a tingle in his fingers as he held the headset. Knowing what was about to come he simultaneously tried to let go and shout for help, but his mind was working much faster than his body and his reactions were not quick enough. A massive surge of electricity flowed through the headset and into him, causing him to drop it and at the same time emit a sort of gasping noise. The pain of the electric shock caused him to stumble backwards clumsily and he lost his footing on the now wet floor. As he fell, the back of his head collided so hard with the corner of a table that it rebounded with a loud crack. He finally came to rest with his back against the table leg, his own legs sprawled out in front of him and his head on his chest. Darkness enveloped him.


In the middle of standing up, Lex had missed the whole incident, but Amber had seen everything. It must have taken only a few moments, as Slade was still only halfway down the corridor. She rushed into the room, heading straight for Ram. At the same time, Lex finished staggering to his feet and went to check on Jack. She noticed a smear of blood on the corner of the table and noted that he must have hit his head with quite a force. Kneeling down beside him on the wet floor she saw more clearly the wound on the back of his head. Blood was matting his dark hair and dripping onto his black uniform. Carefully, she lifted his head up to try and rouse him, and gasped in shock at the wide, lifeless eyes that stared back at her.

‘He’s…he’s dead, Lex!’

The little strength she had managed to gather out in the corridor suddenly shattered like glass and she found herself desperately trying to fight back the unbidden tears.

‘Amber! AMBER!’ Lex called to her, trying to support Jack’s limp form on his shoulder. ‘There’s nothing you can do. Come and give me a hand with Jack.’

‘What happened?’ Slade asked as he came into the room. ‘I heard something.’ Amber watched him through her own shining eyes surveying the room before he rushed to help Lex with Jack. ‘Amber…we have to leave him for now. We need to come back later anyway, to get rid of the stuff in the lab. And for Josh.’ he said.

With a sigh, Amber ran her hand over Ram’s eyes, closing them, and stood up. She let Slade and Lex through the empty doorway first, each with one of Jack’s arms around their shoulders, before following them out, taking a last look back at the chaotic scene that was the control room.

It was soon after that the four figures made their way tentatively out of the old hotel, blinking as their eyes adjusted to the bright light of day they never thought they would see again, and that not all of them had. Even after all they had been through with Ram, Amber hated leaving him in there after what he had done for them in the end. She knew it wasn’t over though, as she walked down the steps into the street; Slade had been right. They would have to come back to dispose of the virus, only then would the city be safe. The end was in sight at least, and the city might finally have some peace.


Jay was within sight of the hotel when he finally saw them approaching. Slade and Lex were supporting someone, probably Jack judging by the jacket, between them. He wondered how he had been injured, and pretty badly by the look of things, inside the hotel. Had they been attacked? Amber was walking alongside them looking very upset, and he couldn’t see Ram or Mega anywhere. Slowing to a walk he waved at his friends and called out to Amber. Her head shot up to look in his direction and he was sure he had seen a look of pure terror on her face before it softened and she ran to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face in his chest. Instinctively he spread his own arms protectively around her.

‘It’s alright’ he told her. ‘You did your best. Let’s just get out of here as quickly as possible, ok? The others are on a boat but it won’t wait forever.’

‘No Jay, we’re safe. The city’s safe. I’m just…being silly, that’s all.’

‘Did something happen in there?’ he asked her. ‘Where are Ram and Mega?’

‘They didn’t make it’ Slade said, looking at the floor. ‘But the rest of us are going to be fine.’ Jay caught Lex giving Slade a look that suggested that his statement was perhaps a tad optimistic.

‘But…’

‘Jay, there’ll be time to explain everything when we’re back at the mall. First you need to go and make sure that boat doesn’t leave. We’ll take Jack home.’

Amber immediately pulled away from him. ‘Slade’s right. There’s no time. We’ll meet you all back at the mall, ok?’

He nodded. ‘Be careful.’

‘You too. Oh, and if you see anybody, spread the word. The city’s safe.’

They moved apart until only their fingers were touching, then Jay turned and headed back the way he had come as fast as he could. He had so many questions buzzing in his head. What had happened to Mega, Ram and Jack? Why had Amber looked so afraid when she first saw him? He would have to wait a little longer for the answers, but at least she was safe. He only hoped that, tired as he was, he could get to the quayside in time to stop the others from leaving.


#10

That was really interesting to read :smiley: