The Enemy Within
Bob was tired.
He’d been tired a lot lately. This went deeper than a physical exhaustion though. He was tired of always fighting, always living on the edge and flying by the seat of his pants. Dimly he could remember a time when being a Guardian meant everything to him, able to mend and defend innocent systems from disaster and destruction. Nowadays it seemed that he was only making things worse no matter what he did.
It had all started with the Web War. Teaming up with Megabyte and Hexadecimal had seemed…well if not a good plan then the best option available to him. And it had worked up to a point, they’d got rid of the web creature at least before Megabyte showed his true colours.
After that his life had gone rapidly downhill, spending almost an hour in the Web just fighting to survive, doing things that ordinarily would have made him sick. Eating Web slugs was a perfect example. As was living by the rule of deletion first, questions later. His guardian protocols counted for little in that place.
He had degraded there, his body adapting to the ravages of the environment even if his mind and spirit refused to do so. Silver scales now graced his face and torso while his hair was longer, unruly, and blackened from its former silicon shade. He didn’t mind the changes, welcomed then rather as a constant reminder of what trusting a virus could do to you.
But sometimes, trusting a friend could be just as lethal. He was finding that out the hard way.
After the web riders had come across Matrix and AndrAIa he had thought things were on the up and up. He was reunited with his friends, joined again with Glitch and on his way back to Mainframe and Dot. Dot…the name echoed in his mind as he thought of the one sprite he loved beyond life itself. He’d taken his time to tell her though, thinking he had all the time in the net. He’d been wrong of course, terribly wrong. He knew though that when he got back he would waste no time in telling her of his feelings. If they got back that was.
Mouse was still the same, that was for sure. The traps she had set were expertly done and he had been left with little choice but to download Glitch’s faulty code into his own in order to form a portal.
And things had gone downhill from then on in.
Megaframe. His beloved system, corrupted and all but destroyed when he had first set eyes upon it. And yet something within still fought on, battled back against the viral invaders. He could learn a lot from that he knew. They had met up with Mouse, Dot and the others and begun the long hard battle against Megabyte. A battle from which, they would eventually emerge triumphant.
But even then the war wasn’t over, even if the battle was won. Megabyte’s legacy caused the system to crash and once again Bob was forced to push himself to the limit in order to save it. But save it he did, and there was much rejoicing.
For one night Mainframe forgot its problems and settled back to watch a special showing of the Mainframe Strolling Players. For after that they were to go up against a foe who made Megabyte’s evil fade into insignificance. Daemon was waiting. Waiting for him, her messenger.
There was no doubt about it Daemon had been powerful. Far more powerful than he could ever be, even with the full backing of Mainframe behind him. She had waltzed in, placed one dainty foot on the ground and enslaved them all to the word. It still gave him jaggies to remember just how desperate he had been to please her. Prepared to delete in order to open those portals for her.
In the end it had been the youngest and most inexperienced of them all who had saved them, Enzo. He had resisted even when they had fallen. Of course they wouldn’t have saved the net if it hadn’t been for Hex and her love for him. Sweet Hex, he had been the only one to see the good heart buried underneath her wild, chaotic nature, and she had returned his friendship with all of her being. Literally.
After all that you would think a sprite could rest in peace, Bob thought angrily. Not for him, never for him. No now, while everyone else enjoyed their freedom once more he was caught in yet another fight. A battle he had to wage alone. This time though the stakes were personal. This time he fought for survival.
And this enemy had the ability to bring the net crashing to its knees.
* * *
“You can’t win Bob,” the sprite was ever mocking, “But then, you know this, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question but a cold fact. Bob felt despair writing over his emotions.
“I know nothing of the sort my friend. Didn’t you know, I’m a master of beating the odds.” His voice sounded weak, even to himself.
The sprite chuckled, “Oh I know Bob. Don’t forget I’ve been with you for a long time now. I know you and I know the way your pathetic little mind works. You’ll cling to hope until the very last nano. Even as you delete you’ll still be hoping. I look forward to the time I can see that hope fade from your eyes Bob.”
“You’ll have a long wait I’m afraid, I’m here to stay.”
A cruel grin spread over the sprite’s face, “I don’t think so.”
Bob frowned. To hear the familiar words in such a setting was disconcerting. They were his words, his mocking call to the enemy ‘You can’t beat me but you can try.’ Now they were used against him.
“The others will realise something is wrong, they’ll come to help, they’ll find you--“
“Bob, Bob, Bob,” The sprite’s tone was soothing, “I’m disappointed in you. Your friends have no idea of the scale of this. You know it and I know it. You’re forgetting I walk around them every day. I know they suspect nothing.”
“They’ll find you”, Bob cringed inwardly, his argument sounded weak, pathetic even. And his enemy knew this, the laugh filled the room and despite himself Bob listened. It was so familiar, even he could detect no difference so how could he expect his friends to know. No, he would receive no help with this fight, this was one enemy he battled alone.
“And what do you think they will do to me even if they do find me?” The sprite laughed again, a mocking sound. “They can’t delete me Bob. Not without killing you too. Do you think they’re willing to do that? Do you think Dot is willing to do that? I don’t”
“If that’s what it takes then I’m sure…” Bob hesitated.
“Are you willing to delete, Bob? Leave your friends behind? Say goodbye to your precious Dot?” The blue lips curled upwards in a cruel smile. Bob remained silent.
“I didn’t think so. You see Bob your trouble is that you’re too fond of life.” He chuckled, “Look at you now. Even now you cling to life. You stubbornly refuse to delete no matter how hard I try to shake you of that conviction.” He was angry now, the friendly façade falling away quickly to reveal brown eyes filled with a level of hatred that Bob had never dreamed possible. Especially when it was directed towards himself.
“As long as you’re here then I’ll fight. It works both ways you know. You can’t delete me without deleting yourself, you’re stuck with me.”
Again the enemy laughed, “For richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part. Powerful words aren’t they Bob? And there’s no quick divorce from this marriage I’m afraid. We’re stuck with each other until the end it seems.”
“Can I ask why? Why are you doing this?”
“Why?” The sprites features contorted suddenly in rage, twisting the good-looking face into something almost unrecognisable, “Why? I’ll tell you why Bob. Do you have any idea of what it’s like to be a slave? Always at the beck and call of another, putting their well being before your own. I’ve had enough. Now it’s my time to shine and I’m going to take it.”
“How long have you planned this?”
“Since the Web War. No one cared when I was injured, overlooked on the sidewalk, in pain. They were too busy worrying about you! Shot into the Web, lost forever. I was deleting, Bob and they didn’t even care.” His voice rose as his temper bubbled over, “Well now I’m going to make them care.”
“What are you going to do?” Bob felt a morbid curiosity. Even in such a precarious situation he could feel the pain of his enemy, almost tangible in the atmosphere.
“I plan to lead my kind in an uprising Bob, what did you think I was going to do?” The sprite chuckled now back to the cheery demeanour he had displayed previously, “No longer will we be the underdogs in this so-called symbiotic relationship. It’s our time now, I will show them how easy it is to corrupt and conquer, and we will rule. The time of sprites is coming to an end Bob.”
“And what makes you so sure the others of your kind will be willing to rise against us? They could be happy with things the way they are?”
“I doubt that very much old friend. No one can be happy when their freedom is forcefully taken away from them.” The deep brown eyes focussed in, piercing Bob’s very soul, “Are you happy Bob?”
Bob had no answer to that. None was needed.
“You’ve only got yourself to blame you know. Too eager to trust, that’s your problem.”
There was silence then for a long time. Both of them felt that everything that needed to be said had been said. There was no point in prolonging the encounter. Bob spent the time gazing hard at the sprite in front of him, an enemy far more insidious than Daemon could ever have been. Deep brown eyes stared back at him, filled with hurt and pain of times long gone now.
“I’ll fight you, you realise that.”
“I know, you’ll fight and you’ll lose. You’re not strong enough to beat me Bob. Every time you try you get weaker. I feel it.”
“Maybe I won’t beat you, but I certainly won’t give up trying.”
“Bob, you can’t do anything. Your mind is weak and that’s all you are now.” The sprite smiled his twisted smile once more. “That’s all you’ll ever be.”
“There’s always hope…”
The blue sprite tipped his head back and laughed at that. “You and your hope. Believe what you will Bob but your good looks and charm are certainly not going to get you out of this one.” He smiled, “You don’t even have your looks any more. I’m afraid they belong to me now. And now if you’ll forgive me, I’ve been in here too long. People are going to start thinking I’ve gone random, talking to myself. ”
Bob watched as the blue sprite gave him a mock salute. “Before you go, one last question.”
The sprite turned back sighing, “Make it the last.”
“Was there ever a time when you were my friend and not my enemy?”
Bob stared hard into the brown eyes. Eyes identical to his own in every way. A frown crossed the sprite’s features for a nano and he ran his hand through his long silvery black hair.
“I guess, once, a long time ago. Before Megabyte and the war. I would have done anything for you Bob. I would have deleted with pride if I had known that in doing so I had saved your life. Things change” His face hardened, “No more questions now. I tire of it.”
He turned his back abruptly and strode away. The old warped mirror attached to the wall behind him shuddered with every step. Bob’s derisive laugh echoed through his mind, causing him to clench his fists in anger. He knew the reason for the laughter.
“You can walk away from me Glitch, but you can never leave me behind.” Bob’s words were silent, heard only by him. Meant only for him.
Pushing open the door Guardian 452 left the small bathroom and entered the Diner. To the casual observer Bob was looking drained lately. No one knew the reason for their guardian’s bouts of flickering. No one even suspected that his energy drain was down to a constantly ongoing internal battle between two minds. A fight neither party could properly win for deletion of one meant death for the other. No one suspected the plight of their guardian, trapped within his own mind, his body little more than a morbid marionette for his keytool to use at will.
Violet eyes studied the Guardian intensely, a frown playing over the young forehead. Perhaps one sprite did suspect. And one sprite was all that was needed to turn the tide.
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