"Shut up! I’m done taking orders from you. Anyone who helps you out is as good as dead."
|V: Tension Rising|
|III: A Tiger In The Grass|
This is bad. Really, really bad. Not only has Aaron found us, but he finds us in a very vulnerable position. We’re stuck on the highway, in a slow van, and with very few means to protect ourselves. And my suspicions are, unfortunately, correct. He did gain super powers from a program; specifically, electricity based powers. There is no way for us to fight him. We have to outrun him somehow, if that is possible.
“Yun, can’t you go any faster?” I ask frantically.
“Des, this isn’t exactly the fastest vehicle! The acceleration sucks!” he responds. Another electric blast barely misses us. That was definitely too close.
“We’re lucky that Aaron has shitty aim. Otherwise, we’d be French toast right now,” Xena says.
“Or maybe he doesn’t know how to control his powers yet,” Ivy implores.
“Hey! How about you guys actually help me out here! We have guns in the back! Use them!” Yun yells. He’s right. There are two pistols in the back pockets of the front seats. Xena and Ivy must have been too busy staring at Aaron to notice them.
“I got this,” Ivy says with her trademark grin. She takes both of the pistols, opens the hatch in the ceiling, and jumps on the roof. She starts shooting at the robots, in the front seats, and they begin to slow down.
“Maybe they’ll just go back home now,” Xena teases. She really is an airhead sometimes. This is far from over.
All of a sudden, their car accelerates very quickly, and they rear end us hard. The impact sends Ivy flying into their windshield, and it completely shatters as she falls onto the front seats. Clearly in a panic, she shoots the robot driving their car. The robot is unfazed, and it keeps driving as if it didn’t have a bullet lodged in its cranium. The robot in the passenger seat tries to put her in a choke hold. She wiggles around to avoid getting pinned.
“Yun!” I yell. “Ram into their car now before she gets stuck in there for good!” Yun brakes until we are parallel to them. Then he swerves hard to the left, and the resulting impact smashes all the windows. Ivy is soon within arm’s reach.
“Xena. Grab her!”
“I’m trying Des! This isn’t as easy as it looks!”
Xena manages to get a hold of her, and pull her back into our car, albeit with extreme difficulty. Luckily, Ivy is completely unharmed. She even laughs a little. Unfortunately, we do not have much time to give her a warm welcome back. What we see next is horrifying. There is an incomplete road up ahead, and we have no time to brake. Because the highway we are on is elevated, there is no way we can survive a fall from this height.
“Everybody jump!” I scream with a shout that can be heard from Mars. There is no time to think. We all jump out the window closest to us. Fortunately, there is a forest next to the elevated highway, and we use the trees to break our respective falls. Aaron’s group suffers a similar fate. We see their car fly off the edge of the incomplete road soon after ours did. None of the robots manage to get out of that car. That is followed by two large explosions.
“That was too close,” I say quietly, and out of breath. “Everybody ok?”
I look around. Ivy is tending to Xena’s right ankle. It appears that her landing wasn’t too good. Yun is standing on a tree branch giving me a thumbs up, so I know he is just fine.
“We were about 10 miles from the destination before that highway fiasco,” Yun announces. “We’ll have to find a new ride.”
A sinister voice prevents me from replying. “Leaving so soon? I was just beginning to enjoy myself.”
I nearly freeze when I hear it. The robots were surely destroyed in the explosion. Why wasn’t he dead? How did he survive?! It doesn’t make any sense!
He looks at Xena, and puts on a crooked smile. “Hello darling. We have some unfinished business,” he says coldly. He charges another electric blast, but before he can fire it, he is dropkicked from behind by Yun. He falls flat on his face, and I hear Xena giggling from behind me. Can you take anything seriously? He’s here to kill us!
“If you think we’ll just sit by while you electrocute one of our best friends, then you have another thing coming,” Yun says boldly.
“Yun, I’m fighting too,” Ivy walks up and stands next to Yun; ready to fight.
“Hahahaha! Both of you must have walnut-sized brains. No one stands a chance against me now with my new powers. You all better fall back,” Aaron says confidently.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Yun replies.
The three of them are stuck in a Mexican standoff for the next two minutes or so. The tension is almost tangible. One wrong move, and those two will be fried. I think of every possible way to get out of this battle, but I come to an unpleasant conclusion: we have to fight him head on this time.
Ivy makes the first move. She pulls out both of her two pistols, and she fires away at Aaron. She shoots to kill. Each bullet is targeted toward his head and chest. Unfortunately, Aaron puts up some strange looking electric field around his body, and the bullets stop in mid air. Her eyes widen with shock. Aaron smiles a little, and, with a loud grunt, he repels the bullets out in all directions. One of them hits her in the shoulder, and she screams as blood gushes out from the wound. She drops her pistols, and she falls to her knees; clutching her shoulder to prevent herself from losing too much blood. I’ve never someone bleed so much before.
“Damn you! Have you no honor? Shooting a girl in the arm like that?!” Yun scolds.
He puts his arms up as if he hasn’t done anything wrong. “Hey, she shot at me first. I was just defending myself. If she didn’t play with guns, this shit wouldn’t have happened,” Aaron replies nonchalantly.
Yun, having quickly learned that anything he throws will be repelled back, charges Aaron. His strikes are quick, but Aaron just dodges each one effortlessly. I’ve never seen Aaron move like this before. His movements didn’t look human at all, and Yun can’t connect with any of his attacks. It’s as if someone is controlling him. The program must be.
Aaron blocks one of Yun’s punches. He doesn’t let go of his fist, and Yun struggles to break free from his iron grip. He puts on a maniacal smile, as he twists Yun’s arm far past its normal range of motion. I cringe as I hear the cracking and popping of his arm slowly breaking.
“If you think that hurts, just wait till you see what I do next”
What he does next is hard to watch. He punches Yun in the stomach, hard. As Yun leans over in pain, Aaron follows suit with a strong kick to his face. Yun falls over, and rolls around, moaning. His nose looks bent out of shape. No surprise there. I run over to both Yun and Ivy to make sure they are not too hurt. Aaron is too busy laughing to stop me, or he doesn’t perceive me as a threat.
I run to Ivy first because of her profuse bleeding. I remove her hand from her shoulder, and I examine the wound. It isn’t life threatening, but it has to be taken care of soon. Too much blood loss can put her in shock. She’s already looking paler than a newborn seahorse.
“Ivy, how are you feeling? Can you still move?”
“Yeah. I can move Des. But I need some first-aid soon. I don’t know how much longer I can stay conscious.”
In a condescending manner, Aaron walks up to us, kicks dirt on Ivy, and he spits on Yun. Xena advances toward him, but one look from Aaron is enough to stop her where she stands. I’m fuming, but fighting him would be the end of me. I glare at him. He notices my angst, and begins laughing uncontrollably.
“Is this all you got? I knew you pansies wouldn’t stand a chance, but I expected at least a little more effort. This isn’t even the pinnacle of my power. C’mon get off the ground! I can do this all day!” Aaron taunts. I used to laugh when he talked like that, but now he has the power to back it up.
“Aaron, stop! Please,” Xena pleads. “I know that you’re angry with me. Don’t take it out on them.”
“Shut up! I’m done taking orders from you. Anyone who helps you out is as good as dead,” Aaron answers with a fiery look in his eyes. Somehow, hearing Aaron say that must have lit a fire in Ivy. She gets up quickly, still clutching her wounded shoulder.
“Oh it’s this prick again. Look you little prima donna, I don’t have time to mess with weaklings like you. Just get out of my way, and I might consider sparing your life.”
“Trust me Aaron, I’m not as weak as you think I am. I’ve been training with my father ever since I was a little girl. Your hits will probably be nothing compared to his.”
“That gunshot to the shoulder must have made you crazy. You don’t stand a chance.”
“Then prove it you coward.”
“Oh I will. I hope you have good doctor.”
“I won’t be needed it, but you might. And for your sake, there better be a hospital nearby.”
Ivy gets into her fighting stance again. The gunshot to the shoulder keeps her from fully using her left arm, but she still manages to move it around. Aaron sees her as no real threat, and he ignores her as he walks toward Xena, menacingly. Ivy (who is always annoyed at disrespect) picks up a rock and throws it at his head. The rock grazes his head, but that is enough to set him off.
Aaron charges Ivy at a lighting fast pace, but she stands perfectly still in her battle stance. He throws the first punch. She dodges it. He throws another punch, and she blocks it with her good arm. After Aaron’s third punch was blocked, he starts to get frustrated. His attacks become fiercer, but as a result he exhausts himself much more quickly. When he begins to show signs of tiring, Ivy starts her counter offensive. Her strikes aren’t strong, but they are quick, precise. Aaron has trouble blocking her blows. His powers seem to give him extra resistance to injury, but Ivy is hitting his pressure points and sensitive spots. Eventually, he loses his composure, and he fires a large electric blast at Ivy. She barely avoids it, and the blast obliterates the large tree behind us. Xena, Yun, and I barely dodge all of the splinters. The large amount of energy he used for that blast depletes his energy supply. He looks completely drained afterwards, and barely has enough strength to stand up straight. Ivy notices this change immediately. She charges him, and he is too tired to react in time. She lands a solid roundhouse kick to his face, and the impact is enough to knock him out cold. We all look on in amazement.
“Holy shit Ivy,” says Yun, shocked.
“I told you I was a great fighter,” she says with a grin. “Now, let’s go. We have no idea when he’ll wake up again, and our destination isn’t too far away. Plus, I’m in serious need for some first-aid.”
One look at her shoulder is all the confirmation I need. The blood from it has completely drenched her arm. It’s a miracle that she’s still awake. Xena looks at a nearby town, and she points in its direction. “I’m sure we can steal somebody’s car from that town over there.”
“That is the first great idea I’ve heard from you,” Yun teases. “Let’s go find some wheels.”
The run over to the town lasts no more than a few minutes, but it feels like an eternity. We aren’t even close to getting the job done, and I’m already succumbing to fatigue. I suppose that is what can happen when you have someone constantly chasing you. When we reach the town, we steal the first available car we can find. I’m pleased with our choice. A blue convertible Mazda. Not bad for our limited options. I drive the remaining ten miles because Yun is in no condition to drive. He didn’t fully recover from Aaron breaking his arm yet.
“How are you guys holding up?” I ask Yun and Ivy.
Ivy responds first. “I’ll be ok if I can get some painkillers, towels, and disinfectants. This wound hurts a lot, but I’ll be ok as long as I don’t bleed out. Let’s just find the place quickly ok?”
“That motherfucker broke my arm. Painkillers won’t do shit for that Ivy!”
“What do you want me to do about it Yun? I got hurt too!”
“You could do what girls are supposed to do, and get some first aid!”
That’s cold of Yun to say. Now is not the time to be sarcastic, or sexist. Ivy is clearly hurt by what he said. She doesn’t respond. She gives him a sad look, and looks the other way.
“Look, Ivy, I’m sorry alright? It’s just, nothing today has worked out the way it was supposed to. I didn’t wake up in my own house, we got attacked by an electric murderer, and then I couldn’t even fight him. You had to. I had to let a girl do what I was supposed to do: protect the group.” he says in a low voice.
She looks at him again, and she gives him a little nudge on the shoulder, with her healthy arm. “Hey, today sucks for all of us, but you shouldn’t feel ashamed of yourself. That guy was not a normal human, and I’m surprised we made it out of that fight alive.”
The two of them start talking (which was easier for them since Yun sat in the back for once). I can’t help but notice, Xena is awfully quiet since the fight. As we approach a red light, I turn to look at her. Her eyes are very shiny, and there are lines running down her cheeks. She is . . . crying?
“Xena, what’s wrong?” I ask.
“Everyone is getting hurt because of me Des,” she says with a shaky voice.
I never have the right thing to say in conversations like this, but she needs some reassurance. “That’s not true. They’re getting hurt because they’re determined not to let anyone get in the way of our goal.” I lie.
“That’s bullshit Des, and you know it. Yun even said they were fighting to protect me.”
“Ok they were fighting to protect you. That’s the damn truth. Do you want them to stop?”
I didn’t mean to be that harsh.
“No. Yes. I don’t know.”
Her crying gets more intense. I really didn’t mean to be harsh. I’m about to apologize, but the light turns green, and I can’t speak to anyone while I’m driving. I feel like such an asshole for leaving her with those guilty thoughts, but the conversation had to wait for another time.
I feel very drained when I wake up. Thinking back to the fight, I realize that I emptied all of my energy reserves with that ball of lightning I threw at the martial arts girl. Did I hear them call her Bushido? Whatever that program is, we need to have a long chat about useful abilities. I just lost to a girl that was fighting with one fucking arm. And I must have been out cold for at least an hour. There’s no sign of those four bastards anywhere. Damn. She was within arm’s reach, and I had let her slip away. Damn it!
“Aaron, you still have no idea how to use your power, foolish mortal,” the voice in my head says, angrily. I’m in no mood to deal with this thing. Not now.
“Ok, you listen and you listen well. Your powers didn’t do jack shit against Xena and her group of friends. I still got my ass kicked, and I’m a solid fighter. You have broken your part of the deal, so unless you make some promises you can keep, I am done. You hear me? Done!”
The same extreme pain surges through my body, but this time I just laugh. Life sucks anyway. Dying won’t be bad at all. Actually, I welcome it.
“Hahaha, go ahead. Try and kill me. I’m not your puppet.”
The pain gets more intense.
“Is this all you got? Some ultimate program you are!”
More pain. So much pain. But I won’t give in. If I die, I’ll do it because I want to. Not because of some mystery program that is annoyed with me.
“It’ll take a lot more than this to bring me down. You can’t stop me. No one can.” I try to tell myself this lie, but I can only resist so much pain. I feel myself succumbing to its effects, and now it’s only a matter of time before I go to the other side.
“No human has ever resisted that intensity of pain before. Perhaps you can be useful after all. Come with me,” it says.
I pass out from the pain, and I start dreaming. I’m face to face with the pixilated person again. Joy.
“Who are you really?” I ask.
“I am the X.E.P.H.Y.R. You will figure out what the letters stand for later.”
“Ok. Why did you choose me?”
“You and I have a common enemy: the one known as Xena Modom. She is on a mission to destroy the robots that I have raised since they were little circuit boards. I cannot allow her to destroy the way of life everyone has grown so accustomed to. The effects would be devastating for humanity. Plus, I understand she has wronged you in the past as well.”
I will never forget that night.
“Yeah, she has.”
“So you see, we both benefit. I preserve the comfortable way of life for humanity, and you can get your revenge. No one loses except Xena and her friends. What do you say Aaron? Let us give this a second shot.”
“Sure X.E.P.H.Y.R. Please teach me how to use the powers you gave me.”
“I would be happy to.”
We arrive at the center about three hours behind schedule. Considering everything that had happened earlier, that’s not too much time lost.
“Come with me guys,” I say. “You’ll get to meet my dad, and he’ll show us where we can enter the Digital World without much trouble.”
“From this point on, we refer to each other by our code names only. We can’t risk someone giving us away to Aaron,” Ivy says. Everyone nods in agreement. It’s nice to know that someone else in the group can use their head.
We’re only inches from the door when three robot officers approach us. They’re wielding shock pistols and handcuffs. A bad sign for sure.
“You four are under arrest,” the middle officer says.
“On what charge?!” Xena protests.
“Plotting against humanity, and threatening world peace,” the officer replies.