"I control all artificial intelligence, or robots, as you organics like to call them."
- This article is about the chapter. For the page about the character, see X.E.P.H.Y.R..
No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, Aaron always manages to catch up with us. I don’t remember him getting inside the digitizing facility. And even if he did manage to get into the facility somehow, they wouldn’t just let him enter the Digital World for no reason. On second thought, they wouldn’t have to let him. He most likely forced his way through.
Obviously no one is happy to see him, but the petrified expressions on my friends’ faces make the situation so much worse. Aaron starts creeping toward us. “You all look so happy to see me. I’m glad. This is much better than the last time we met. You know, when you all wanted to bite my head off.”
Des is the first to get up.
“What do you want with us Blake?” he demands.
“I want you all dead, but I have orders to keep you alive. Unlucky for you really,” he replies in a monotone.
I sense a change in him, and it makes me uneasy. Normally he would be shouting profanity and mocking us. Now, he’s acting calm; collected. What the hell happened to him?
“Well we already beat you once. Doing it twice shouldn’t be too hard,” Ivy says.
“What are you getting at?” he asks without looking at her.
I don’t know what he’s trying to do. He knows exactly what she means.
“Don’t play dumb Blake. You ready for our rematch?” She raises her fists, and she assumes her trademark fighting pose; her right foot is always in front of her left one, and she’s crouching.
“Trust me, Bushido, this will not be much of a fight.”
She quickly charges him, and any other person would have been caught completely off guard for sure. But, Aaron anticipates every single move she makes, despite her quick speed. He dodges all of her jabs and kicks without even breaking a sweat. She attacks again, but this time she leaves a very small opening in her defense, right around her face. Aaron notices, and he flicks her nose with his fingers, but that small touch was somehow enough to flip her on her back. She looks up at him, dumbfounded.
“What’s the matter? Were you expecting me to just sit by while you wail on my face?” he asks in a deep voice. He walks toward her slowly, his fists clenched. She starts to crawl away.
“Your overconfidence is disgusting. Never underestimate an opponent. I made that mistake the first time we fought, and I made sure not to do it again.”
He keeps walking toward her, and she continues crawling away from him, clearly afraid. I’ve never seen Ivy this terrified before. This will not end well for her.
“Just look at yourself. Crawling away from your opponent as if you’re a helpless child. You have the nerve to call yourself Bushido, yet you can’t beat me. Some warrior goddess you are. Get up and justify your confidence. Get your ass off the ground! Get up!!”
“Get away from me you . . . you monster!” Ivy snaps.
This is worse than I thought. She’s finally lost her composure. Aaron has managed to get in her head.
Aaron smiles. Without warning, he zips toward her, and he picks her up by the neck. She struggles to free herself from his grip, but it’s no use. Her eyes roll back into her head, and she goes limp in seconds. Aaron tosses her away, and he spits on her after she hits the ground.
No way. I don’t believe it. She can’t be . . .
The sight of Ava in such a helpless state sends Yun into a rampage, and he runs toward Aaron, completely out of control. Aaron, without looking at him, fires an electric blast that hits him in his face. The shock stuns him. Then he collapses to the ground. He loses consciousness soon thereafter.
Now it’s just me, Des, and Aaron. I wonder why I always end up stuck in tense situations with these two. Des and Aaron. It’s as if destiny keeps playing cruel jokes on me.
Aaron shoots Des a cold expression, and Des tries to hide his fear. It doesn’t work too well though, because both Aaron and I can see him shivering. Des will lose for sure if the two of them fight. If he’s smart (Des is a genius) then he’ll try his best to avoid that fate.
“So, four eyes, are you going to surrender? Or do I have to rip your arms off and raise them for you?”
I gasp when I hear this, and Des is now shaking. I wish I could help him.
“I’m not afraid of you Aaron. Never have been, never will be. You may have all of these new powers, but you’re still a coward at heart,” Des stutters.
Des is a lot of things, but he’s not brave. He’s probably scared shitless right now.
“I’m the coward? At least I have the balls to attack my opponents head on. Name the last time you’ve won a fight without sneaking up on somebody.”
Des doesn’t answer.
“It’s hard isn’t it?”
“I use my intelligence to win my battles. I know what I can and can’t do so—”
“So you’re a pussy. You’re so weak that the only way you can win is through cheap shots!”
Aaron is starting to raise his voice. Des should back off, or he’ll definitely get himself stuck in a fight.
“Well . . . the only way you can win is with your electric powers!”
Aaron raises both his hands. “Program, take away my powers until I need them back.”
A large bolt of lightning exits his body, and I look at him in amazement. Aaron would never give up the opportunity to use an advantage on an opponent. He does have something to prove. But, who is he trying to convince? Himself, or Des?
“What the hell did you just do?” Des demands.
“I gave up my powers for the fight we’re about to have. You have nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. Fight me head on for once, and I might take back what I said about you.”
Des is probably just as surprised as I am. But, he quickly gets a hold of himself, and he assumes an awkward fighting pose. I guess Des isn’t as smart as I thought he was. He has no chance of winning this fight, even though Aaron doesn’t have his powers.
Des runs toward Aaron. Big mistake. Aaron turns sideways and punches him in the face. Des riles in pain, and Aaron kicks him in his stomach before he can recoup. He starts stomping on Des, and all Des can do is attempt to block his feet. Aaron does not hold back. He knees Des in the face, punches him in the spleen and stomach. What he does to follow those two strikes makes me cringe. He stomps down, hard, right above Des’s left knee, and his leg bends the wrong way. Des screams the most agonizing scream I have ever heard from a human being. Then, Aaron holds him up by the neck with his right hand, and punches repeatedly in the face with his left hand. Des’s glasses break (I still can’t see his eyes) and there is so much blood running down his face and neck that I can barely recognize him. The sound of him choking and struggling for air is heartbreaking.
“Qasim, let this be a lesson to you. Intelligence can only help you so much. You have to learn how to fight if you want to be a real man.”
I’m not sure if Des is conscious at this point. He drops him, and Des doesn’t move when he hits the ground. I’m alone with Aaron now. There’s no realistic way for me to defend myself. I have to think of something, and fast.
“Aaron, I . . .”
“Don’t worry. I’m not here to beat you up.”
“Then why are yo—”
“If you don’t struggle that is. Just come with me. I’m here under orders to capture you.”
Orders? Aaron never takes orders!
“Aaron none of this makes sense! What is going on?!”
“Hold on one sec.” He lifts both his arms up, and another bolt of lightning strikes him.
Great. He has his powers back. Just my damn luck.
He continues. “It is way too complicated for me to explain in one sitting. It’ll be much easier to show you instead. Whether you like it or not, you’re coming with me.”
Before I can reply, he warps next to me and karate chops my neck. The strike doesn’t injure me, but he hits me hard enough to make me dizzy. Everything starts spinning, and my vision goes completely dark.
Am I dead? Is this what the afterlife is like? Total darkness? I sure hope not. There is so much I have to do. I’m not even referring to the robots. I have my whole life ahead of me. I want to explore this new Digital World. I want to settle down, have a family, and live to be really old. Well, maybe not really old, but old enough. Where am I? What is this place? Somebody answer me! Anyone . . .
A gentle tap to my face wakes me up. I’m in a room that is about the same size as the interrogation room I was in earlier. One of the walls is, literally, a large screen. There is nothing on the screen at the moment (it isn’t turned on), but the person standing in front of it catches my attention. Aaron.
I start fuming at him immediately. “Why did you bring me here? Start talking!”
“Soon you will see why. Don’t bother asking me anything right now. I’m not in the mood to give you any answers.”
Aaron walks toward the exit, but I rush in front of him to block his path.
“Oh no you don’t. Don’t you realize that you could’ve killed Des and Ivy? Why the hell did you do that?!”
“Both of them had it coming for a long time. The world is cruel, and only the strong can survive. They’re lucky they even made it this far.”
“No you don’t understand! Ivy isn’t weak. She just goes out of her way to defend anyone who can’t defend themselves. That takes strength. And Des is strong too. He’s just not physically strong like you. He’s not a bully who has to break everyone’s back to establish dominance.”
“You have the wrong idea about me Xena. I’m no bully.”
“Oh please Aaron! You’ve always been beating up everyone who’s against you. You’re just a—”
His sudden change in tone makes me jump.
“Xena, do you want to know why I am the way I am now? It’s because of you! You broke my heart, and you never even tried to apologize. Yeah, I hit you. Yeah, I had anger issues. I realized this, and I was trying to get it under control. Sadly, I failed, but I told you I was sorry!” he vents.
I’ve never seen him this emotional before, and I really don’t know how to react to this.
“You never gave me second chance! You never let me improve myself! You never cared! You just brushed me aside while you kept leading on that pansy nerd. Well guess what? Soon you will get a taste of your own medicine. I hope it’s very, very bitter.”
He pushes me out of his way, walks out of the room, and slams the door shut. I didn’t know how to reply to that. I never thought that break up was what pushed him over the edge.
Is this whole mess really my fault?
“Hello, Xena Modom.”
The voice startles me. I turn around to see who said that. The screen is now on, and it has a large pixilated face on it. It’s really ugly.
“Uh, hi. And you are?”
“I am the master X.E.P.H.Y.R. program, but you can call me X.E.P.H.Y.R. for short. I control all artificial intelligence, or robots, as you organics like to call them,” it replies. “My underling has captured you and your friends, and you are now under my control. I am very pleased to announce that your mission is a failure.”
I put my hands in my pockets, and I put on a smug expression. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Foolish human. I know all about your plan.”
“Your plan to destroy all of the robots of course. Don’t try to play dumb. I’ve been tracking all of your movements since you’ve entered the 13th Dimension. I give your K.R.E.W. credit for making it this far, but this little game of cat and mouse is over.”
My cover is officially blown.
“No, it’s not over! Now that you’re within my reach, I can destroy you right now!” I’m so terrible at bluffing. I don’t know why I choose now to make an attempt at it.
“You? Destroy me? That blow you took to your head earlier must have made you lose too many brain cells.”
Now I’m really getting desperate. How am I supposed to deal with a program this intelligent? Des would be able to handle this much better than I. “How . . . how long have you even been active?”
“If you must know, I have been around since the very first computer chip was created. So, I first came to be in the late 20th century. I was a simple binary code then, but over the years, I developed myself into a more complex program. Eventually, I became so powerful that I gained control over all artificial intelligence. There was only one other program that presented an obstacle to me, but I managed to remove that threat before it became a serious issue. Now, I have no equals.”
Pause. I don’t reply. This information is too overwhelming.
“I developed without humanity’s knowledge of course. I managed to find a way to go under the radar. As far as your records say, I am not even supposed to exist.”
“Impossible. We keep track of—”
“A simple life form like you would never understand the process I use to evade detection. No matter. Soon, there will be none of you pathetic creatures left to deal with.”
“What?! What do you mean?”
The screen turns goes black; the X.E.P.H.Y.R.’s way of telling me to fuck off.
Then, the floor gives way right where I am standing. I fall through this tube-like structure until I land in a small, poorly lit room. My only relief is seeing the other three, but none of them appear to be in good condition. Des is clutching his knee, Ivy is still knocked out, and Yun looks . . . sad.
“We’re hosed. We’re so hosed,” he says with a weak voice. “And Ivy. She won’t wake up.”
“Don’t worry about her too much,” Des reassures. “She still has a strong pulse. Aaron just cut off the blood to her head temporarily. She’ll be fine Yun.”
“What about your leg?” I ask.
“Me? He tore one or two of my knee ligaments with that last attack. I won’t be walking normally until we go back to Earth.”
“If we even make it back . . .”
“Xena don’t talk like that. We can get out of this. We just need—”
“Des open your eyes man,” Yun interjects. “There is no realistic way out of this. We are stuck deep in enemy territory with no weapons, severe injuries, and we’re under the direct watch of the X.E.P.H.Y.R.”
Des looks tired. He probably has never thought this much before, but we need a new plan. Yun, and I aren’t the best planners, and I have the stories to prove it.
To our surprise, the door opens, and Aaron walks into our room (to be more exact, our prison cell). “You four, come with me,” he says without looking at us.
Yun carries Ivy, Des hops up on his good leg, and we all follow him down the hallway. He leads us to a room with four chairs; each has a helmet attached to it. The helmets have complex wiring on top.
He turns to face us this time, and he points at the chairs. “The X.E.P.H.Y.R. has gotten all the data he needs from you four. Each of you, choose one chair. Your execution will happen shortly. You don’t get to have any last requests, so don’t even bother asking.”
Ivy regains her conscious, and I wish her timing could’ve been better. Her face looks pale again. “Guys, what’s going on? Did we . . .”
She sees the electric chairs, and she immediately knows what’s about to happen.
“Oh no . . .”
Aaron lets out an apathetic sigh. “However, I will allow final words. Do any of you have any last words you want on record?”
Yun walks up to him from behind. “Yeah.”
Before Aaron pays any attention to him, Yun hits him on the back of the neck hard. Sparks eject from Aaron’s neck, and, for whatever reason, a large portal opens up a few feet away.
It doesn’t take us long to realize what that portal leads to. We all make a mad dash for it (for Des it’s a mad hop). Unfortunately, Ivy is slowing Yun down (he’s still holding her), and Aaron is catching up to us fast. I have to do something, or he’ll kill us all.
I turn around and tackle Aaron to the ground.
“Xena! What are you doing?!” Des yells.
“Don’t worry about me,” I reply. “Just go! I’ll find another way out!”
With hesitation, Des goes through the portal. Yun and Ivy quickly follow suit. I tear up, but I smile knowing my sacrifice has saved my friends’ lives. However, I feel a sense of dread when I see the portal close. Slowly, I turn around. Aaron isn’t the only person standing behind me. He is now accompanied by what looks like an army of robots. They quickly surround me, and I raise my hands to show my surrender.
“Your friend was lucky. He hit my sensitive spot and I accidentally opened a portal to Earth.” Aaron’s voice is more intimidating when it is quiet. “But don’t you worry. I’ll take very good care of you.” He strokes my hair, smiles an oddly seductive smile. Then, he slaps me so hard that I see stars.
Guys, you better come back to rescue me. I need your help . . .
We’re back on Earth (which means everyone is now healed), but I don’t want to be back. We left her. We left her to fend for herself against Aaron, the X.E.P.H.Y.R., and all of those robots. What kind of friends are we?!
My dad rushes up to us. “Son, what happened? Is the mission complete?”
We all look at the floor in defeat, and I shake my head; unable to accept the terrible turn of events that have taken place in the Digital World.
“Qasim, where is Xena?”
I look at him with tears in my eyes. “Dad, she’s trapped in the Digital World.”