"I feel conflicted. I feel like I’m doing the right thing for the wrong reasons."
|IX: A Shocking Truth|
|VII: The X.E.P.H.Y.R.|
“I’m trapped! Someone please come and save me! I don’t want to be alone!” I shout.
As I expect, no one replies.
“Somebody! Anybody!” I shout again.
It’s no use. I’m stuck in this trap, and I don’t think anyone can hear me.
I’ve never been contained in such a small area before, and I don’t know how long I’m going to be stuck in this building, or this world. Hell, I don’t even know if the others can make it back here to rescue me.
Where did we go wrong? We had a great plan, and we were all prepared to make any necessary sacrifices.
I guess we all failed to see what we were truly up against. Now we’re paying the price. I really hope the others are coming back for me, though. For some reason, I can barely feel my body. I can’t even tell if this trap is killing me or not. I’m so scared.
Watching her motionless, and suspended, in that sphere trap almost makes me feel sorry for her.
I don’t know why I haven’t killed her yet. I have the chance to do it right here and now. Maybe I just don’t have it in me to finish her off.
Oh well. I still have her right where I want her. She isn’t going anywhere, and, sooner or later, her friends will come back to rescue her. Will they succeed? Will they fail? Hell if I care. I have more important things to figure out, like what the X.E.P.H.Y.R. is really planning. Him and I need to have a nice long chat. Technically, he hasn’t finished his part of the deal yet (Xena is still alive), so he has to put up with me until she’s dead.
I’m not going to try and sneak around this one. I’m going to face the X.E.P.H.Y.R. right now, and I won’t back down this time. In the past, I had second thoughts about confronting the X.E.P.H.Y.R. because I was afraid of what he would do to me. Now, the thought of confronting him doesn’t bother me at all. Whether it’s because of overconfidence or indifference, I’m unsure. That doesn’t matter though. What does matter is that I can finally speak to this program without running away crying.
I leave Xena’s prison cell, and I cautiously walk over to the X.E.P.H.Y.R.’s control room. I’m always on guard when they’re robots near me, and robots are everywhere in this area. I may be the X.E.P.H.Y.R.’s pawn, but that doesn’t guarantee protection against all robots. Some will kill any human they see without a second thought.
Luckily, I reach the room without any incidents. After a long deep breath, I enter the control room. On the other side of the room, there is a very large screen. This is where the X.E.P.H.Y.R. is going to appear. Normally, this is the point when I would turn away in fear. Not anymore.
“Hey, X.E.P.H.Y.R.! Come out here!” I call out to the screen.
The large screen turns on immediately, and the X.E.P.H.Y.R. appears. “Aaron, you have come in unannounced. Are there any issues?”
“Actually, yes. There is one issue that I must share with you.”
“I permit you to speak freely.”
“What is my purpose?”
“I beg your pardon.”
That did come out weirder than I hoped, but I need to get this off my chest. It’s becoming more and more obvious that the X.E.P.H.Y.R. is just using me.
“What is my purpose? I’ve already captured the four who you claimed were a huge threat to your existence. So, what do you really want me to do?” I ask impatiently.
“In due time, you will see. I’m sure you will like the new task I give you.”
“I don’t want a new task. I want to know what my real purpose is.”
“I told you. You will find out when the time is right. Just trust me. You have nothing to worry about. I guarantee it.”
I turn around, and I head for the exit, in defeat. I’m not in the mood for any arguments. Speaking to that thing is like talking to a wall. Nothing I want finished gets done, and none of my questions get answered. Why do I even bother?
I can’t stop moving. I’m pacing back and forth in a brisk walk. And I’m sweating so much that my clothes are getting sticky, but I don’t care. I can’t sit still for even one second.
“Des! Relax man,” Yun pleads.
“Qasim, son, please calm down,” Dad begs.
“Calm down? Calm down?! How can I calm down?! My best friend is stuck in the Digital World alone, without any protection. She will surely be killed! And it’s all my fault. I should’ve gone back for her!”
Why didn’t I go back in there? I really am a coward.
I clench my fists. “We have to go back in there right now! She’s being tortured I’m sure of it!”
Someone grabs my shoulder, and turns me around roughly. It’s Ivy. She slaps me so hard that my glasses fly off. I don’t even try to face her. I immediately scramble to the ground to get my glasses back on so no one can see my eyes.
I’m such a mess right now. I’m so off kilter that even I’m surprised at how I’m acting. I wish Ivy wasn’t so rough, but maybe that slap to the face is what I need. I can’t forget to use my brain.
She shoots me a stare that makes me feel like I haven’t hit puberty yet.
“Would you get a freaking grip Des? She’s our best friend too!” Ivy snaps. “We all want to save her - we will save her - but we can’t go in there guns blazing. They’ll vaporize us before we can step foot in X.E.P.H.Y.R.’s compound if we do. We need a plan; a good plan.”
“This is where I can come in handy. I can digitize you three to a specific location, but I will need precise coordinates,” Dad says.
I try to regain my composure. “Electrode gave us the direction of The Database from the Digital Forest earlier, but he didn’t give exact coordinates.”
“I wish we actually had a way to contact him,” Yun exhales with his head down. “The information he gives us is very useful, but we can only get it when he sends a transmission.”
“Then we have no choice but to wait for his coordinates. We can’t really plan anything until we know where the enemy is,” Ivy says.
“Waiting is no fun, but . . . all right,” I reply with uncharacteristic impatience.
I think I’m unconscious right now. I must be. I can’t move a single muscle. This is weird. I feel awake, but my body is telling that I’m asleep. Whatever this trap is, it must be complicated. There is no way I’m escaping it without some help.
Now that I think of it, the temperature around me is very low. It feels like a freezer in here. Brrr! What am I stuck inside? A giant sphere? Ugh. I really shouldn’t be worrying about the shape of the object I’m trapped in. I just need to find a way to get out (if that’s possible) and then I can contact my friends. Or, they may come to rescue me, and I won’t have to do anything.
“Xena, can you hear me?” a strange voice says.
Normally, I freak out whenever something happens out of the blue. I guess being stuck in this sphere has made me delusional. Meh.
“I can hear you crystal clear, oh mysterious voice,” I reply.
“I need you to listen very carefully. You don’t need to panic. Your friends are going to rescue you.”
“No shit. They always come to save me whenever I get myself into trouble.”
There is a brief pause after I say that. I need to tone down my bitchiness.
“Let me ask you something Xena. Do you even care about the fate of the world?”
“What?” I reply, startled by the sudden change in tone.
“You don’t sound serious at all. Don’t you realize that if you die, then the world is doomed?”
“I . . . I know that. I just try not to think about it.”
“Why is that?”
“Why? Why?! Because this is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my whole life, but I don’t even know why I decided to do it. I feel conflicted. I feel like I’m doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.”
“Surely you know your reasons. Don’t you want to save everyone?”
“That’s the thing. I don’t know if I do. I’ve completely lost sight of why I’m doing this,” I respond with a shaky voice. “At first, I went on this mission to destroy all robots. But, I really don’t hate the robots at all. I just . . . I just tricked myself into thinking that way. I’m an adrenaline junkie. I need adventure to function, and that’s probably the only reason why I’m here now.”
“Xena, there is nothing wrong with craving adventure. You may not realize it now, but what you are doing is very brave. And because of that bravery, I am willing to help you out of this mess.”
“You don’t even know me. I don’t even know what you are. What makes me worth saving?”
“Your drive to succeed in the face of adversity makes you worth saving. That, and you have a good heart.”
“I don’t believe that at all. Don’t try to brown nose me.”
“Hey, don’t be like that. Maybe you just need some convincing.”
“Ok then. Try me.”
“I shall tell you how to escape then. This thing you’re trapped in, it’s called a mind sphere. If you focus hard enough on a certain task, you can pull it off.”
“I’ve heard advice like that before in school. Look how well that worked out.”
“Focus on a certain task, as in, focus on getting a knife. The knife will materialize in front of you. Then you can concentrate that knife into the edge of this sphere and burst it open. You get the picture?”
“I think so. My mind isn’t very strong though. I usually solve my problems with my fists. Or I just let my friends do all the hard work.”
“Well, you’re going to have to change that. Using your head is just as important as using your hands, and don’t be so lazy.”
“Oh, and one last thing. Your friends will need to know where you are if you want them to save you. I’ll put your coordinates into your subconscious. After you escape, imagine sending the coordinates of this location to your friends.”
“Hold on. What the hell? How can that even work? I can’t send data with my mind!”
“You can in the Digital World. Everything works differently here.”
“Huh. I guess I need to open up my mind then.”
“That’s the spirit. I’ll leave you now, so you can handle your escape without distractions.”
“Thank you so much. By the way, what’s your name?”
“I’ll give you a hint. It starts with an A.”
The voice has to be messing with me. I have no clue who this mysterious entity is. I hope to figure out who it is in the near future. Something tells me that I haven’t heard the last of this person.
I don’t have time to figure out whatever managed to telepathically speak to me now, though. I have to burst my bubble (burst my bubble hee hee). I think about sharp, large knives as hard as I can. At first, nothing happens. Moments later, a sickle forms out of thin air in my hand. I’m baffled as to why a sickle formed, but a knife is a knife. I throw it at the edge of my mind sphere, and it pops on contact. I fall at least ten feet to the floor, and I land right on my butt. It hurts so much, but at least I have breathing room now.
“Woo hoo! Freedom!”
I can’t stress enough how much I hate small spaces. I compose my thoughts and remember the coordinates the voice had given me. But what did it mean by focusing them over to their location?
Think Xena. Pretend that you are the others right now. Where would you be if you returned to the physical world? The digitizing center! But where is it? Oh well. Here goes nothing.
“Guys, we’ve been sitting here for three hours. We have to find another way to get the coordinates we need,” I say.
Ivy bites her lip. “Well, Des, there’s not really much we can do other than wait. It sucks but we have nothing to work with. Sorry.”
So, this is it? After all of our planning, all of the effort we put, all of the distance we traveled, we’re just going to fall short? Xena is probably dead. We’re now at the mercy of the robots. Damn it all!
I refuse to give in the power of the robots. I won’t allow it.
“Hello? Anyone there?” a mysterious voice asks out of the blue. It sounds awfully similar to . . .
Yun jumps up. “That voice. Is that who I think it is?”
“Unless we’re both tripping, I think it is. It’s Xena!” Ivy replies.
“Um, I’m not sure if you guys can hear me, but my current coordinates are 154, 455, 898. Please come and save me guys. I’m really hungry. Xena out.”
“Well, that was fast, but it looks like she gave us the coordinates we need,” Ivy says.
“Let’s hope she gave us the correct data. I already have the coordinates locked in the digitizing room’s mainframe,” Dad says while adjusting his glasses.
“She’s still alive! Let’s go save her right now. We have the coordinates. We can—”
“Don’t be dumb lover boy,” Yun says while holding me back. “We still need a strategy before we go back in enemy territory. I’m sure the place is swarming with security now.”
I fully regain my composure, and I put my brain to work. Being in a wild mood won’t help anyone, especially not Xena.
“Ok, I have a plan. It’s a little risky, but hear me out. We’ll use the coordinates we received from Rogue to digitize ourselves in front of X.E.P.H.Y.R.’s compound. Once there, one of us will act as a decoy. It will have to be the most athletic person in the group.”
Everyone in the room looks around nervously, until all our eyes land on Yun. He doesn’t look surprised. “What? I know I’m the most athletic person here. C’mon continue with your plan already.”
“Right. Once you have them distracted, Bushido and I will enter through an alternate route, find Rogue on the inside, and we’ll regroup on the ceiling. From there, we will find the control room, destroy the X.E.P.H.Y.R., and this mission will be over!”
This time, I have confidence in my plan.
Yun walks over to me, and puts his arm around my shoulder. “Look man, it was a good idea at first, but we can ditch these idiotic code names. They know who we are.”
“Ugh, right. Sorry about that. I guess it was habit for me.”
My dad gives me a sad look. “Son, your plan has one fatal error. There are only three of you. For this to work, you will need a larger group.”
“No dad. This can work. I know it seems rash, but I did think this one out. The only problem is that Yun may not make it . . .” “Ah whatever,” Yun says. “As long as we save humanity, then I could care less whether I live or die. It would be a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”
A very concerned look covers Ivy’s face, and I can’t blame her. She and Yun have been close ever since they were little. It must be awful to know your best friend may not be alive tomorrow. I don’t even want to imagine how that feels.
Yun notices her angst. “Ivy, come here.”
She walks over to him, and they hug each other tight. They stay in their intimate embrace for a long time. Ivy runs her hands all over Yun, and I can see tears in her eyes. I’ve never seen them this close before.
My dad and I walk away to avoid interrupting their moment (even though those two interrupted Xena and I). We make our way back to the digitizing room, and we stand for a while. We stare at the large digitizing chambers.
“Dad, what do you think our chances of survival are? Be honest.”
“I don’t know Qasim. I really don’t. But know this. No matter what happens, I am so proud to call you my son.”
“Thanks dad. That means a lot.” As much as I appreciate his reassuring words, I know he says that because he fears that I won’t come back alive.
I know they’re coming back. They have to be. There is no way that nerd is going to let her stay here all by herself. And her other friends didn’t look ready to let her go yet either. Xena’s lucky. It’s not easy to find people who have the same goals and interests as you. I wish it was that easy for me, but then again, I never get anything easy. I love it though. Struggling for everything builds character.
I’ve been walking through this building for hours now; trying not to look suspicious. I don’t have to sneak around, luckily. The robots still register me as an ally. They wave to me whenever I pass by them. That can change at any moment though, especially if I’m not careful. It’s extremely dangerous entering the X.E.P.H.Y.R.’s control room twice in one day unannounced, so I’m sneaking back in there this time. The only problem is, this building is a maze, and I can’t relocate his control room. I really should have a map by now, but I was too tired to think straight when I had a chance to get one. Now I have to ask for directions. Embarrassing, but I don’t have any other options.
“Excuse me. How do I get to the master’s room?” I ask a random robot.
“Go down this hallway, take a right, take a left, take another left, take a diagonal right, move up three stories, and you’ll see it,” it says quickly. It walks away before I have the chance to say thank you.
I follow its instructions verbatim, and surely enough, the X.E.P.H.Y.R.’s room appears in front of me. There has to be a way to get in without it noticing me. I look to my left. I look to my right.
I look up. There are plenty of holes in the ceiling that are big enough to crawl through. I jump to the ceiling, and I crawl into one of the holes. There, I begin my search for an alternate route into the X.E.P.H.Y.R.’s control room. I’m lucky for once because the hole in the ceiling is actually an outlet for a complex tunnel system. I can sneak through here.
Somehow, someway, I am going to figure out what that program is really planning.
I swear it.