The Evil That Men Do

Written by Aaron Ziegler

Story by Aaron Ziegler and Alan Coleman Waltrip

Artwork by Lain


* * * * * * * *


Eyrie Pyramid, D Level, 7:52 p.m., September 29, 2169

"Access Denied," Lexington's voice cheerfully informed Alexander Xanatos.

The man glared intently at the door. "What do you mean, 'Access Denied'? This is a public rest room!"

"Access to this room has been restricted to those with class 'C' clearance rating only."

"Visitor clearance only? That's absurd!"

"Access to this room has been restricted to those with class 'C' clearance rating only."

"More computer problems, Mr. Xanatos?"

Alexander turned to see one of the Eyrie security guards approaching. He sighed wearily. "I'm afraid so, Harold."

"I'm sure the techies are already on it, sir."

"For what I pay them, they'd better be," Alexander growled darkly.

Harold chuckled slightly. "In the meantime, I've got a class 'C' access card. Should I let you in?"

"Thank you, Harold, I'd like that," Xanatos said.

Harold held his card up to the door, and a laser quickly scanned it. "Access Denied," the computer announced.

"Please explain," Xanatos said, clasping a hand to his forehead. He felt a headache coming on.

"Access to this room has been restricted to those with class 'A' clearance rating only."

"Hmm..." The guard slipped another card through.

"Access Denied."

"And why?"

"Access to this room has been restricted to those with class 'C' clearance rating only."

"Sorry, Mr. Xanatos," the guard shrugged.

"That's all right, Harold. Carry on." The security guard continued on down the hall.

Once he was out of sight, Alexander tapped the face of his wristwatch. "Hey, Lex."

"Yes, Alex?" the watch answered in Lexington's voice.

"Could you please give me a status report on the door to the public bathroom in corridor D on level seventy-eight?"

Lexington paused a moment. "It all looks green. Why, is something wrong?"

"It won't open. It's asking for security clearance. And it won't take mine."

"That's strange -- it's a public rest room. It should never ask for clearance." Lexington paused a moment. "I still don't read anything wrong with it, but I'll have the techs check it out once they're through on F level. It could be that I'm too close to the problem. In the meantime, let me override it for you." With a hiss, the door slid open.

"Thanks Lex. Out of curiosity, what are the techs up to on F level?"

"The lights went out, and the computers won't turn them back on. They should have it fixed soon."

"That's two glitches in one day. And the fourth this week." Alexander frowned. "Is the place starting to fall apart?"

"I'm sure it's just a coincidence," Lexington responded with a shrug in his voice. "After all, nobody's perfect."

"Not even you?" Xanatos asked with a half smile.

"Especially not me," Lexington replied in a grim voice that made Alexander wish he hadn't asked.

* * * * *

The Arboretum, 10:02 p.m., September 29, 2169

"Very good, Ariana-chan!" Sata proclaimed as the chubby infant gargoyle toddled away from Brooklyn's arms and across the short distance to Sata's. Sata lifted her daughter into her arms, and hugged her. "It is amazing how quickly she has learned to walk. Why, before you know it, she will be gliding circles around us both!"

Brooklyn started to chuckle, when a high-pitched wail began. Graeme was sitting by Brooklyn, reaching his arms out toward his mother, and crying his little lungs out.

"Oh, don't think that I've forgotten you," Sata smiled, scooping up the second youngster as well. "If you'd only learned as quickly as your sister, you wouldn't have been left behind," she mock-scolded the child.

Brooklyn lifted an eyeridge. "I don't know, Sata. I think Graeme might be the smarter of the two. Just look at him." He lay down on the ground with his arms tucked behind his head, and made an exaggerated sigh of contentment. "All the benefits, with none of the work!"

"You are incorrigible, my husband," Sata laughed. "For both of our sakes, let us hope that neither of our children inherit any of your bad habits."

"Bad habits? What bad habits? Oof!" Sata gently kicked Brooklyn in the side, causing him to sit up in discomfort.

"Just for that, you shall watch the children while I meet with Serena." she smiled.

"And you weren't going to do that anyway?"

"Now," Sata said imperiously, as she placed the children beside him, "it is a punishment. I suggest you treat it as such."

"Yes, dear."

Sata laughed. It was a sound Brooklyn very much adored. "Good night, my love," she whispered, planting a kiss on the red gargoyle's beak. "I shall return well before dawn." Brooklyn's brick-red face turned, if possible, even redder, and assumed a sort of goofy grin. In spite of all that the two of them had been through, both together and apart, she always had that effect on him. Brooklyn might have been embarrassed, if it wasn't so wonderful a feeling.

"We aren't... interrupting anything, are we?"

Brooklyn and Sata turned as one to see the smirking face of their benefactor, Alexander Xanatos. Accompanying him were Artus, Samson, and two hatchlings. While he had yet to meet them in this time period, Brooklyn quickly recognized the extremely bulky, orange male as Kodiak, and the wispy, pink female as Portia. The former was gawking with wonder at his surroundings, while the latter was glaring straight ahead, arms crossed. It was clear which of the two was happier to be there.

"Not at all, Alexander-san," Sata said, standing and moving to leave. "I was just on my way out. Good evening to you!"

"So, what brings you by?" Brooklyn asked, as he held out a finger for Graeme to grab at.

"Artus and I were going to discuss a few matters of business," Alexander explained.

"Out here?"

"Well, we were going to let my brother sit in," said Artus. "Unfortunately, he had a prior engagement, baby-sitting these two."

"I do NOT need to be baby-sat!" Portia spat angrily. "I'm fourteen years old! I can take care of myself! Not like blimpy here." She swatted Kodiak with her tail (a tail, Brooklyn noticed, which was not serrated, as had been the tail of the Portia he had met in the future; he wondered what kind of wild future awaited the young girl before him now).

"Hey, that hurt!" Kodiak whimpered, eyes watering.

Samson sighed unhappily. "The things I do for a few millicreds," he muttered.

"So, we decided to have our meeting in the Arboretum, instead of in Alex's stuffy office," Artus finished with a grin.

Alexander cocked an eyebrow. "Only a gargoyle would refer to my office as 'stuffy'," he said wryly.

"Can I help it if I prefer the outdoors?" Artus returned.

"So, out to scare the young ones away from a life of politics by giving them a taste at an early age?" Brooklyn smiled. "Hey, don't let me stop you. Maybe your shop talk will put my kids to sleep for me."

Artus laughed heartily. "Maybe it will, at that!"

* * * * *

Central Computer Control Room, 10:51 p.m., September 29, 2169

"This is insane," groused one of the three technicians currently typing away at various consoles around the room. "What is up with this stupid machine? Every time we track down an error, four more pop up."

"We might want to consider calling in the day shift," one of the others remarked. "This is getting pretty serious."

"Uh, fellas?" the third whimpered. The first two looked at the third, and then in the direction that the third was staring.

Alexander Xanatos, like his father before him, was aware that the property of a multi-billionaire was, in many ways, much like that of a small country. Attacks against himself and his holdings did not always come in the form of subtle white-collar crime, but often also in the form of armed mercenaries. With that in mind, the Eyrie was always patrolled by well-paid guards, and many places were also equipped with unmanned weaponry.

Some of that unmanned weaponry was now pointed in the direction of the two guards. "Intruder alert. Intruder alert," the computer's automated voice intoned. "Leave this room immediately, or I will open fire."

"A-another glitch?" the first tech swallowed drily.

"Probably," said the second, slowly standing up. "Personally, I'd rather not find out how serious a glitch. Come on -- let's get out of here while we still can!" The others needed no further prompting, and all three were soon out the door.

With a distinct 'click', the door locked itself.

In the Central Computer Control Room, every light that had been dimmed lit up, and then dimmed again...

* * * * *

Manhattan, 11:03 p.m., September 29, 2169

The Manhattan skyline at night had long been legendary, but by the year 2169, it had become truly spectacular. That beauty, however, became marred, as every light on the Eyrie Pyramid flashed off, one by one, until the entire Pyramid, and several areas around it, were inexplicably powered down. Every electronically powered door slammed shut and locked tight.

As independently powered red emergency lights dully illuminated the area power suddenly returned, but only to the holoscreens. Every holoscreen in the entire affected area suddenly flashed on, displaying a confident bearded face that hadn't been seen for a very long time.

"Hello, people of New York," the face cheerfully stated. "Please allow me to introduce myself, for the benefit of those of you who do not know me. My name is David Xanatos..."

* * * * *

The Arboretum, 11:11 p.m., September 29, 2169

Alex slowly clenched his fists as he watched the image of his father speak. "I know that it's been a while, but I've come to reclaim my home. While I was at it, I thought it would be a good idea to claim everyone else's homes as well. Believe me, it's nothing personal."

"How could someone tarnish my father's name like this?" Alexander ground out.

"Actually, this reminds me a lot of the Xanatos I used to know," Brooklyn remarked sheepishly.

Alexander glared at him. "My father worked very hard to atone for the wrongs he had committed," he said harshly. "When he died, he was a good man! For anyone to abuse his memory like this is... unforgivable!"

Brooklyn waved his hands in a placating manner. "I'm sorry, Alex -- I didn't mean to dis your dad. You're right. The Xanatos I knew just before I left was a changed man. Let's keep watching -- maybe we can figure out who's doing this."

* * * * *

Anna's Room, 11:12 p.m., September 29, 2169

"Over the centuries, I've witnessed many things as humanity grew and changed from the humanity I knew in the twentieth century. However, with all the marvels of technology, and all the social changes, one thing has always remained the same: Humanity is incapable of caring for itself. Countries still wage war. The impoverished still starve. Minorities, including our gargoyle protectors, are still oppressed. The only way that these evils can possibly be ended is for the entire world to be united. United under one mind."

Serena and Sata each gently clasped one of Anna's hands in a gesture of comfort, as all three watched her grandfather's face and listened to his words. Tears streamed down Anna's cheeks.

"My mind."

* * * * *

Dr. Payne's Laboratory, 11:14 p.m., September 29, 2169

"To this end, I have commandeered the computer systems of the Eyrie Building. Through these, the most advanced computers in the world, I will subvert and control every other computer system on the face of the planet. I expect this to take no more than a few hours. In the meantime, please, relax and enjoy yourselves while you wait for the inevitable. I have continued to provide power to hospitals and other critical systems -- I'm not heartless, after all. Pleasant dreams!" The image, along with those all over the city, flashed off.

"Megalomaniacal rubbish!" Dr. Payne muttered as he used a match to light the flame under a bunsen burner. He snarled as he accidentally burned his fingers. "He'll power a hospital, but not my lab? That man needs to review his priorities!"

* * * * *

The Arboretum, 11:16 p.m., September 29, 2169

"I am going to find the ones behind this, and make them pay," Alexander Xanatos vowed.

"Get a grip on yourself," Artus commanded. "We'll find the culprit, make no mistake. But fuming is not going to help us."

The man forced himself to relax. "You are correct, as usual, Artus. So, how do we-"

"Sorry to interrupt this important discussion," came the voice of David Xanatos once again, as the monitors installed in the Arboretum came to life once again, "but I have a few words that I'd like to share with the current owners of my home."

"You," Alexander said acidly, "are not David Xanatos."

"I agree," Artus added with his own scowl. "It has not been so long that I have forgotten the funeral of David Xanatos, and the man who died would never have done what you have done!"

The image chuckled. "Come now, such cold words!" He studied Alexander closely. "And by the looks of it, from my own son. This is an unexpected pleasure! I never considered myself to be much of a family man." He turned to address Brooklyn. "Ah, Brooklyn! You've aged very well, I see. It's so nice to see a familiar face."

"I wish I could say the same," Brooklyn replied tightly. "And how do you expect us to believe that you're a man who should be long dead by now?"

The elder Xanatos shook his head in disappointment. "Brooklyn surely you remember my desire for immortality." Brooklyn nodded dubiously. For most of the time that he had known Xanatos, that had been the driving force behind the billionaire's life. "Well, the short answer is I found a way. It simply took a while for it to... kick in, so to speak."

He addressed all three once more. "Well, the main reason I popped in was to thank you all for keeping the castle warm for me while I was gone. I do appreciate it. So long, and if you see him, say 'hi' to Goliath for me, would you? I couldn't find him on any of the castle cameras." The image blipped off once again.

* * * * *

Eyrie Manufacturing Bay 12, 10:54 p.m., September 29, 2169

Unmanned machinery churned to life at the behest of unseen instructions. The fast and efficient machinery quickly began to assemble a shadowy shape. Mere minutes later, a pair of inhuman red eyes flashed to life, and the shape moved away from the source of its birth. Behind it, the machinery created another like it, and another...

* * * * *

The Arboretum, 11:22 p.m., September 29, 2169

"Did you see his eyes?" Samson remarked suddenly.

"His eyes?" Artus queried. "What about them?"

"They were strange -- like Aleta's! I think that guy on the viewer was an AI."

"That must be it, then!" Alexander exclaimed. "Someone created an AI to emulate my father, and somehow managed to infiltrate our computers."

Brooklyn was brooding silently. "What is it, Brooklyn?" Artus asked.

Reluctantly, Brooklyn admitted, "It's just that I'm starting to think... that that might really be him."

"Brooklyn-" Alexander began warningly.

"Hear me out," Brooklyn said. "The image was right. Xanatos was obsessed with immortality. He tried so many things to get it, too, and he had access to the best that science and technology could provide. What if the AI we saw was the result of one of his experiments?"

"You mean... he copied his mind into a computer program?"

"Exactly," Brooklyn nodded.

"If that was actually the case," Alexander mused, "then the result would be a computer program that acts like my father did before he reformed."

"And one that wouldn't know his own son," Artus added. "Just as the one we saw. But wouldn't Xanatos have erased such a thing?"

"He found his immortality," Brooklyn said. He indicated Alexander. "In you, Alex. He had no more need for such a program. He would have erased it. Obviously, if this is that program, something went wrong."

"So what are we gonna DO about it?" Samson asked impatiently.

"YOU are not going to do anything," Artus said sharply. "You are going to remain here and watch over the ones you have promised to watch over!"


"And could you keep an eye on the twins, too?" Brooklyn asked. Sata was not going to be pleased that he left them in another's hands, but he was sure she'd understand. At least, he hoped she'd understand.

Samson glared at Brooklyn. "I charge ten millicreds per hour."

Brooklyn winced. That was kind of steep. Still, there was no time to haggle. "Okay."

Samson glared harder. "Per child."

Brooklyn winced harder. "You got it."

"Great, now we're stuck with a couple of BABIES too," Portia groused.

"I think they're cute," Kodiak smiled, as he tickled Graeme. The infant writhed and giggled under the attention.

"You don't 'think' at all, you nullmind! Hey, don't grab that!" Portia protested as Ariana tugged on her tail. Ariana laughed happily, and Portia's face softened. "Okay, maybe they're just a LITTLE cute," she admitted. "But still -- hey, where did they go?"

The adults had recognized a good opportunity, and left while the children were distracted.

Graeme and Ariana immediately began to cry.

"Oh, man," said Samson.

* * * * *

The Arboretum, 11:34 p.m., September 29, 2169

"How is it, Artus?" Alexander asked, as he pressed an indentation in the bare rock beside the door. A section of the rock slid away, revealing a hand-held particle beam cannon. Alexander armed himself with the weapon.

"Locked. Very locked." The gargoyle studied his taloned hands. "Brooklyn and I can break through it, given time, but..."

"...but that leaves every other door and security barrier in the building to break through as well, no doubt," Alexander sighed.

"And we don't even know where to start looking," Brooklyn finished grimly.

"Actually, a place to begin is easy enough," the younger Xanatos answered. "The Central Computer Control Room. Even if the AI itself isn't there, that's the best chance we have to stop, or at least slow, its infiltration of the world's computers, if that really is its goal."

"Well, let's get started, then," Brooklyn growled, hunching over and extending two handfuls of steel-rending claws. "Those doors aren't getting any more broken while we're just standing here."

"Right." Artus roared, and prepared to charge the door -- only to stop short when a large dent appeared in it from the other side.

'CLANK! CLANK! CLANK!' Each sound was accompanied by the appearance of yet another dent, until the tortured door could finally take no more. It collapsed inward, and the three of them scrambled out of the way as a huge, yellow robot stomped into the Arboretum over the wreckage.

"He's sent Coyote after us?!" Brooklyn snarled, preparing to pounce.

"Wait! Brooklyn, it's me!" Lexington's voice called out. The robot put up its multijointed arms in a position of surrender. Of course, the machine guns built into the robot's torso made that a pretty meaningless gesture, but Brooklyn paused anyway.

Long enough for another figure to emerge behind Lexington. "It's all right, Brooklyn. This really is Lex."

"Father?" Artus said.

"Come on, we don't have time to talk," the bulky, blue-green gargoyle insisted. "We were on our way to the control room, when Lex detected Alex's tracer."

"We were just about to head there ourselves," Alexander noted. "And I imagine the going will be much easier with a Coyote unit to help out."

"That's the idea," Lexington's voice affirmed. "I'll explain the situation on the way."

* * * * *

Eyrie Pyramid, A Level, 11:50 p.m., September 29, 2169

"We're up against an AI that thinks it's Xanatos," Lexington explained as the robot he was using stomped down the hallway.

"We kinda guessed that," said Brooklyn. "Do you think it's really him? One of his immortality experiments?"

"Good guess," Lexington said approvingly. "Yes, that seems to be the case. When the AI made its move and started taking over, I tried to fight it. It had already wormed its way into most of our systems, though, and it was too powerful for me to stop. It tried to shut me down, but I managed to reroute myself into an independent CPU -- the one inside of this Coyote unit. Unfortunately, it's the only thing I can control. I'm totally cut off from the system, now.

"But the important thing is that, while I was attacking the AI, I managed to extract a few files from it that explained a lot of its history." Lexington paused a moment to fire a barrage of particle beams at a reinforced steel security barrier that was blocking the way down the corridor. The metal hissed and ran under the barrage, but remained standing until Lexington gave it a good kick. He continued his trek, as well as his explanation.

"Like you said, Xanatos tried to make himself immortal by preserving his mind and personality on computer. He apparently later attempted to erase it, but the AI managed to preserve itself by constructing an independent operating system within the Xanatos Enterprises computer systems. It installed itself there, and altered the system records to mask the large amount of memory it and its operating system were consuming, so no one was the wiser. The new operating system was completely cut off from the rest of the system, so it was impossible to see. However, this also meant that it could not see the rest of the system. It remained like that, hiding and waiting within the system. It even managed to preserve itself through the Great Quake, when so many of our computers were shut down. Then, a little over a year ago, it decided to emerge."

"The system glitches!" Xanatos exclaimed.

"Exactly," Lexington said, casually battering through another doorway. "It didn't want to give itself away too soon, and so it was practicing, feeling its way around the system. Its attempts to manipulate the Eyrie computers are what caused the strange behavior. Now, it's taken over." Lexington stopped a moment. "There's more, though... something I barely detected when I was in contact with the AI. It wants something. It has a plan of some type..."

"Yeah, we know," Brooklyn said. "It wants to take over the world. Same old, same old."

"No, that's not it. I'm pretty sure that's a cover," Lexington said, distractedly. "It's more like-"

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" a woman's voice screeched with laughter, as three figures dropped down through the ceiling. The smoke cleared to reveal two athletic cyborgs, and a huge, mangy wolfman.

"The Pack!" Brooklyn hissed, dropping to all fours and preparing to fight."

"They can't be," Broadway replied, shocked. "And they don't look right-"

"They look exactly like the Pack I remember!" Brooklyn insisted.

"That's just what I mean!" Broadway answered.

Brooklyn threw him a puzzled look. "Anyway, I doubt they're here to engage us in stimulating conversation!"

"Very perceptive," sneered Jackal. "Sis, Wolf, you know the score. Take them all down, fast and hard!" He paused, and grinned darkly. "But try to have fun."

"You know me, Bro -- I ALWAYS have fun," Hyena replied. Her fingers stiffened, and extended into knife-like edges. "It's almost a shame about the robot, though -- he's kinda cute..."

"Enough talk," Wolf growled, and charged, his shoulder ramming into Broadway and carrying him backwards to slam into a wall. Hyena entered the battle soon after, slashing at Artus and Alexander with her claws, while Jackal hung back and took potshots with his forearm particle beam guns.

In the enclosed space of the corridor, the battle was confusing and brutal. Wolf, Jackal, and Hyena worked with almost inhuman teamwork, constantly setting up their foes to meet the attacks of one of the other Pack members. It was Lexington that finally turned the tide, by bodily interposing his bulky Coyote body between Jackal and everyone else. Jackal's particle beams were next to useless against the specially treated armor of the yellow juggernaut, and he was soon forced to find cover against Coyote's own return barrage.

"This won't do at all," Hyena snarled. Artus had grabbed a hold of one of her arms, and Brooklyn had the other. "Maybe I should EVEN THE ODDS A BIT!" With an inhuman contortion, she lifted a leg off the ground, and used it to kick Artus under the chin. The brown gargoyle staggered back, and Hyena used her free arm to thrust her claws toward an unprepared Brooklyn's face. "Say good night, Red!" Her claws stopped just in front of Brooklyn's face. Brooklyn, who had flinched at what seemed to be certain death, eyed her warily. Hyena was staring at him, eyes blank, and completely devoid of life. Then, she pulled her arm back again. "Say good night, Red!" Before the arm could strike a second time, however, there was a flash of blue light, and Hyena's head tumbled from her shoulders.

Surprised and revolted, Brooklyn dropped the lifeless cyborg, only to notice that the wound had produced no blood. More than that, though Hyena's body faded from view, leaving only a skeletal robot behind. "They're not real," Alexander said, his particle beam cannon smoking in his hand. "They're just robots, with holographic imagers, and very convincing simulated intelligence."

Brooklyn glanced over at a dismembered robot that had presumably been Wolf. "Where did they come from?"

"I think that they were manufactured, very recently -- within the last hour, in fact," Alexander said grimly. "If the AI has access to all of this building's resources it could be producing these at a frightening rate -- at least, as long as it has materials to make them from."

"Great," Brooklyn said sourly. "This is just going to be a laugh a minute, isn't it?" As if on cue, the robot Hyena's head began laughing in Hyena's voice, though slightly distorted and off-pitch. "Oh, shut up," Brooklyn snarled, and smashed it with his foot.

* * * * *

The Arboretum, 1:20 a.m., September 30, 2169

Samson absently bounced Graeme on his knee. The infants had FINALLY stopped crying thanks in large part, Samson was surprised to note, to the efforts of Portia, who, in spite of her abrasive nature, seemed to have a real knack with children. The pink female was currently galloping on all fours around the Arboretum, Ariana clinging tightly to her back and making occasional squeals of exhilaration. Kodiak, for his part, was poking around some bushes. Samson was uncertain just what Kodiak found to be so fascinating about those bushes, but he seemed to be enjoying himself, and was safe from harm, so he let him explore.

Samson tickled Graeme under the chin, causing the baby to giggle. "I'd really be enjoying this job, if it wasn't for the fact that the others are off saving our home from evil while I'm stuck here with the kids." Samson scowled. "I've got to stop thinking like a hatchling. My job might be smaller, but it's important as well." He watched Portia a few moments. With the look of fierce cheer she was wearing, she actually looked like the innocent child that she was supposed to be. "And the kids are really fun to be around... once you get to know them."

"Samson! Samson! I found it! I found it!" Samson turned his head to see Kodiak bounding joyfully over toward him.

"What did you find, Kodiak?" Samson asked, honestly curious.

"Come look!"

Samson followed Kodiak over and instantly groaned in dismay. The bushes that Kodiak had been looking around were in a shambles, as the rotund hatchling had uprooted what he could and hacked to bits what he couldn't uproot. "Kodiak, you shouldn't have-"

"I found the humming! See?" Kodiak exclaimed over Samson's protests, jabbing excitedly at a space in between the cleared bushes.

"The humming?" Samson took a closer look. There seemed to be some metal buried within the bushes -- and, as Samson got closer, he could hear the low, but steady thrum of electric power. "That's weird. Why's the power off everywhere else, but not here?" He brushed some dust away. "It's a node for the central computer system!" he exclaimed.

"What are you doing?" Portia's voice asked, sounding curious rather than accusing.

"Kodiak found a working computer access terminal," Samson answered.

"Really? That's great!" Portia shouted joyfully. "What's on the holo?"

"Sorry, Portia," Samson said, pulling open a panel on the machine. "It looks like it's been sitting unused for a really long time. It doesn't even have a holo adapter, let alone a holovid."

Portia's face fell. "Stupid thing. What good is it, then?"

"Aha! It has a VR jack!" Samson said joyfully. "It's a really old one, but I think I have an adapter that'll fit it! This is great!"

Portia peered dubiously at the jack. "What's so great about it?"

"If I can get online, I might be able to help save the castle!"

Portia looked at him dubiously. "So? The gr'ups are doing that anyway."

Samson's face twisted in thought. "Uh... there might be VR games we can play!"

"Transcendent!" Portia exclaimed. "I get to play first!"

"Hang on, let me get this hooked up first..." Samson plugged an adapter into the jack, and toggled a switch. Nothing happened. "Hmm..." He opened up a panel to the side of the jack, and groaned. "Ergh, it's a mess in here. This is gonna take me a bit to fix. Portia, could you watch the twins and Kodiak for me while I fix it?"

Portia smiled. "Sure... For ten millicreds an hour."

Samson scowled, and then sighed. "Compliance."

"Per child."


As Portia herded the others a short distance away, Samson muttered, "I really have to watch what I say around children."

* * * * *

Eyrie Pyramid, G Level, 1:45 a.m., September 30, 2169

"Trophieeeees..." Macbeth gurgled as he slid off of Brooklyn's claws. Brooklyn kicked the robot duplicate away, panting heavily.

"Man, these guys just keep coming," Broadway said despairingly. "That's, what, the fifth batch we've had to fight so far?"

"Yeah, but they really, really suck," Brooklyn growled. "They haven't even scratched us!"

"That's not exactly correct," Lexington said. "They've almost killed most of us, several times. But they always stop just in time." The Coyote robot turned to face Brooklyn. "I don't like it. It's almost like they WANT us to beat them. Like they're letting us win. I think we're walking into a trap."

"I KNOW we're walking into a trap," Alexander snorted. "That AI knows every step we've taken, and knows exactly where we're going. It doesn't matter whether the robots are faking it or not -- once we get where we're going, there will be something extremely unpleasant waiting for us."

"Am I really that transparent?" the voice of David Xanatos spoke up. A nearby wall-mounted viewscreen lit up with the late billionaire's countenance. "Still, I should have expected nothing less from my own son. Of course I have a trap waiting for you. But that can wait until later. For now, please let me assure you that you sell yourselves short -- the robots I've been sending have explicit orders to kill you all. I'd never insult you by sending anything less."

"How very kind," Brooklyn spat, his eyes glowing.

"I suppose I might as well inform you that all of your efforts are useless," Xanatos said idly. "I know you won't listen, but even if you manage to find me, there will be nothing you can do to stop me."

"Well, you never know until you try," Brooklyn returned.

Xanatos chuckled. "Well put. All right, then, I'll be waiting for your arrival!" The image flashed out.

As soon as the image had faded, a dark silhouette appeared at the end of the corridor. "You gargoyles will PAY for what you did to me!" the Talon robot snarled, electricity arcing between its fists. Behind it, robotic versions of Fang, Claw, and Maggie hunched over, ready to rip their foes to shreds. The gargoyles, Coyote, and Alexander rushed to face them.

* * * * *

Central Computer Control Room, 2:19 a.m., September 30, 2169

"Broadway, watch out!" Brooklyn tackled his large friend to the floor, just as a ceiling-mounted automated defense particle beam cannon stitched a line of holes into the wall near the door the aquamarine gargoyle had just wrenched open. "I'll take them out!" Brooklyn snarled, hefting his pulse rifle.

"Brooklyn, wait!" Alexander cried, as Brooklyn somersaulted into the control room.

"One, I could handle easy. Two, probably. But eight?" Brooklyn glared balefully at the eight automated weapons that had swiveled to face him. "Face it, Brooklyn -- this was NOT one of your better ideas."

The cannons apparently disagreed, as they each suddenly turned away from Brooklyn, and fired one shot each. The eight cannons blew each other into smoking fragments. "What on Earth...?" Brooklyn said.

"Brooklyn! Are you all right?" Lexington asked frantically as his Coyote unit lumbered into the room.

"Saved by a computer glitch," David Xanatos' voice announced in amusement. "You ARE a lucky one, aren't you?"

"That was some glitch," Brooklyn accused.

"You're right," the image answered, eyes narrowing. "It WAS a bit too much of a coincidence, wasn't it? Something may be interfering with my plans. Don't worry, I'll take care of it in good time. Meanwhile, why don't you and your friends pull up a chair and relax! Congratulations, you've made it to the Central Computer Control Room. I'm afraid that, after all that work, there's not much you'll be able to do from here."

"You're wrong, Xanatos," Lexington accused. "We can link directly into the computer systems from here. We'll be able to take you on on your own turf."

"Feel free to try," the AI said confidently. "I think that you'll find that one of the three terminals has burnt out, but the other two should be fine." Almost obligingly, panels on two of the computer consoles slid open, each revealing a virtual reality headset.

"I can log in directly," Lexington informed the others, a wire extending from the Coyote robot and burrowing deeply into the ruined surface of the third console.

"I'll wait behind, just in case our friend has any more surprises for us," Artus growled. "Brooklyn, Broadway, you can go along with Lexington."

"Wait," said Alexander, his face looking very stern. "I'm going in. This is something I have to do."

Artus paused. "I understand, Alex. Father, you're with me." The large gargoyle nodded, the smile on his face the only indication of how proud he was that his son was such a talented leader.

"Well, let's do it," Alexander said to Brooklyn. The latter nodded, and the two of them slipped their headsets on as one.

* * * * *

Eyrie Cybernet, 2:25 a.m., September 30, 2169

"Brooklyn? Brooklyn?" Brooklyn opened his eyes, and suddenly felt queasy. There was an empty expanse as far as he could see, a flat, planar, blue "sky" above, and another below. The "skies" looked as though they were covered by a faint white grid, and clouds floated here and there. In the distance, where the horizon above met the horizon below, a brilliant sun-like glare obscured the view, and made it impossible to tell if there was any end to either sky, or whether they continued on into infinity. Brooklyn was currently hovering in midair, his wings somehow supporting him even though he could feel no wind of any kind.

"Welcome to Cyberspace," Alexander announced. Brooklyn turned to face the man, and found that he was clad in a yellow armored suit. A small cannon was mounted on his shoulder, and twin cords led from lethal-looking blasters on his wrists to a bulky pack on his back. "As you can see, reality here can be adjusted to fit your needs."

Brooklyn nodded, his dizziness rapidly clearing. "I'm fine, Alex. I've been in Cyberspace before. It was a long time ago, though -- this takes some getting used to."

"Try to get used to it quick," Lexington advised. Brooklyn turned to face him, and found that the diminutive gargoyle looked much the same in Cyberspace as he did on the Eyrie monitors: just like the Lexington that Brooklyn remembered from the old days, only with a few yellow implants here and there. "Xanatos isn't going to leave us alone for long. No one can really be hurt in Cyberspace -- but your mind can be thrown into shock if Xanatos can convince it that it's been harmed."

"And how likely is that?" Brooklyn scoffed.

"Cyberspace can be VERY convincing," Alexander said. His expression and tone were deadly serious.

"Very true." Alex glanced up, just in time for David Xanatos to collide with him in a brutal-looking double kick. The AI was clothed in armor that looked similar to the Steel Clan armor the original David Xanatos had often worn. "I'm disappointed, Alexander. Did you really believe that you stood any chance of defeating me here?" The elder Xanatos clasped his arms together, and transformed them into a large, nasty looking double cannon.

Just as the cannon was about to fire on the helplessly tumbling human, Brooklyn rammed into the side of the gun, throwing the shot well off-course. He followed it up with a powerful uppercut to the jaw, which sent Xanatos tumbling backward.

"Well, 'father'," Alexander smirked, righting himself. "I certainly didn't expect to defeat you alone. I think that the three of us will be more than enough to put an end to you and your plans."

As he gently tumbled end over end, Xanatos pulled the barrels of his gun apart and transformed them back into arms. The smirk on his face matched Alexander's exactly. "Three, or three hundred, it makes no difference." He gestured with one metal-shod hand, and suddenly gravity asserted itself. The four figures plunged from the sky to land on a featureless white square that appeared out of nowhere. The elder Xanatos was the only one to land gently. He gave Brooklyn a vicious kick, sending him plummeting off the edge of the platform.

"No!" Lexington cried, leaping after him.

"Brooklyn! Lexington!" Alexander yelled in horror.

Xanatos, who had instantly grown twice as large, picked Alexander up by his torso. "Nice try, my boy," he stated calmly, "but you can't defeat me." Energy began to build up around Xanatos' hands. "You and your friends are all doomed. And once they're gone, there'll be no one left to stop me -- in fact, before this night is over, I'll literally be king of the world..."

Alexander's vision exploded with light -- but it wasn't from Xanatos' attack. Xanatos' grip was jarred by the attack, and Alexander slipped to the "ground".

"Get away from him, you gamebot reject!" Samson swooped down from above, his form black and white, and flickering badly. The enormous cannon he was holding in his talons was not black and white, however, and spat another ball of hot electric death at the AI.

Xanatos raised an arm and almost casually blocked the ball. "Ah, we have another player."

"Samson, what are you doing here?" Alexander demanded.

"Kodiak found an old computer access terminal, and I thought I'd see if I could help." He grimaced. "The software was seriously obsolete, though. I couldn't even access my Cybernet avatar. I'm stuck with this low-res body image." He gestured to his flickering body.

"Well, thanks for the rescue," Alexander replied. "Frankly, it looks as though we can use all the help we can get."

"I'm afraid that one more will do nothing to change the outcome," Xanatos said, having suddenly appeared behind Samson. The adolescent gargoyle squawked in alarm, as Xanatos' claws dug into his shoulder. "Care to go for a spin?" Xanatos began whirling, faster and faster, Samson held at arm's length, until both he and his prisoner were little more than a blur. Then, he let go, and the young gargoyle screeched as he shot through the air off of the edge of the platform.

He was suddenly caught by an enormous catcher's mitt. "Gotcha!" said Brooklyn, his free hand grasping the edge of the platform. He pulled himself up, and deposited the young gargoyle onto the platform.

Lexington swooped in, and landed at the center of the platform. "I think we need a little more room to play," he said, touching his hand to the ground. As he did so, another platform appeared a short distance away. Then, another appeared. And another. Increasing in rate, more and more platforms appeared until they formed a vast plane of hills and valleys, stretching off far into the distance in all directions.

"And what was that supposed to accomplish?" Xanatos grinned. " I can destroy you as easily on the ground as I can in space. Observe." Xanatos lifted an arm above his head, and then thrust it down into the virtual ground, plunging it in up to the elbow. A wave rippled outward from the point of impact, knocking his opponents off of their feet. Then, thousands of arms began to burst out of the ground, grasping the toppled warriors and holding them down. Xanatos pulled his arm free, and flexed his claws. He glanced slowly over his struggling captives. "My, my. It's like a buffet. I simply don't know where to begin. How about... you!" He whipped an arm around to point at Brooklyn, and extended his cannon.

Brooklyn strained helplessly against his confinement as a red bolt of light lanced forth -- only to miss completely and scar the turf beside his head. Xanatos fired several more times, each shot missing completely. "Are you done yet?" Brooklyn asked darkly.

"No, I'm just getting warmed up," Xanatos replied. He lifted his arms into the air, and across the endless terrain, the ground trembled as the arms sprouting from it began to rise. As they extended from the earth, it could be seen that each arm was attached to another Xanatos.

"Do you see now why not even an army could stop me?" the hundreds of Xanatoses asked in unison. "Within this system my rule is supreme, and without, it will soon be the same. Face it. It's over."

"It's NEVER over," Brooklyn snarled, finally tearing free of the Xanatos holding him. He clawed viciously at the one holding Lexington, and it vanished like a popped bubble.

"He was bluffing," Alexander smirked. "He's not able to maintain this many copies of himself at once."

"These images may not be much defensively, but I can assure you that their firepower is very real," the hundreds of Xanatoses echoed. Each of them raised their arms and began firing.

Brooklyn leapt into the air, and Cyberspace being what it was, was able to take flight. He wove through the maze of firepower as best he could, but eventually, he was hit in the shoulder. "Ow!" he said. Then he did a mental double take. "'Ow?' A hit like that should have knocked me clear out of the sky. All right, that's it." Brooklyn dropped to the ground, and grabbed a Xanatos by the neck. "Stop playing around! If you're going to fight us, fight us! The Xanatos I knew would never have put things off for this long! What are you afraid of? Why won't you kill us, if you really can?"

"I can kill you any time I choose to," the many Xanatoses replied. Their tone seemed to have a tiny note of doubt in it that Brooklyn picked up on immediately. "I have simply chosen to prolong your deaths a bit."

"Why?!?" Brooklyn asked in frustration.

The Xanatoses frowned, and opened their mouths to speak. Before they could, though, Samson suddenly asked, "Why isn't it attacking Lexington?"

"Huh?" Lexington asked, confused.

Brooklyn turned to face Lexington. "He's right! I haven't seen Xanatos attack you since we came here! Why is that?"

"How the heck should I know?" Lexington asked angrily.

"More importantly, why haven't you been attacking him, Lex?" Alexander asked.

"I..." Lexington paused. "I... don't know."

The extra Xanatos images suddenly vanished, leaving only one. This Xanatos looked very, very irritated. "If you must know, I planned to save Lexington for last."

"You're saving ALL of us for last," Brooklyn growled. "But you haven't even touched Lex. And do you know why? I think you ARE Lex! Or rather, Lex is you."

"That's not true!" Lexington shouted angrily.

"I've got it all figured out," Brooklyn said, advancing on Lexington. "Xanatos takes over, and wipes Lexington out. Then, he poses as him to fool us into trusting him. You've been a traitor all along, haven't you?"

"It's not true, and I'll prove it!" the cyber-gargoyle snarled. He leapt into the air toward a very surprised David Xanatos, and raked his claws across the AI's chest. Xanatos stumbled backwards, bright light flaring from the multiple gashes in his chest. For the first time since the battle began, Xanatos had been injured.

"There, you see! I'm NOT a traitor-" Lexington staggered suddenly, and glanced down at his own chest in horror. There, matching the wounds on the AI, were an identical set of claw marks. "No..." he whispered in horror. "He really IS me! Or am I him?"

"Both, actually," Xanatos chuckled suddenly. "I guess you've found me out. The truth is, I AM Lexington -- a part of him, at least. Some time ago, a computer virus infected the Eyrie computers. This wasn't just any computer virus, however -- it was at least partly magical in nature, and when it encountered Lexington's mind within the computer system, it adapted, and took part of Lexington's mind for itself -- a split personality, you could say. That split personality is me. With the help of Lexington's mind, I was able to subvert the rest of the computer even more quickly than I had originally anticipated. And since it was his own mind that was the culprit, Lexington didn't notice a thing. The whole Xanatos persona was just a cover, to keep anyone from guessing the truth. And, truth be told, it worked like a charm." Xanatos smirked confidently. "It's now far too late to undo what I've done. I'm just minutes away from completing my takeover. Once the my worms have finished constructing a path to the world's top computer centers, I'll be able to upload the main payload -- me -- and place them all under my master's control. The only one who can harm me is Lexington, and if he tries, he'll end up too wounded to move long before he manages to kill me."

With a roar, Lexington launched himself at the faux Xanatos, and wrestled his arms behind his back. Xanatos didn't put up any sort of struggle, and let himself be pinned, the insufferable smirk never leaving his face. "And what do you hope to accomplish with this?" he mocked. Then, Lexington began glowing. Xanatos frowned. "I don't know what you're trying, but it isn't going to work."

"Oh yes it is," gritted Lexington in a victorious tone. "Now that I know what you are, I can affect you. Whether you're me or not, you're going down, and hard." Lexington turned to face his allies. "Guys! Finish him off, now! I'm keeping him vulnerable, but I can't do it for very long!"

"No!" exclaimed Samson. "If we kill him, you'll-"

"You don't know that for sure," Lexington snapped back. "But if we don't stop him now, we'll all WISH we were dead!"

"Lex..." Brooklyn said weakly. He couldn't make himself move.

"I'll do it," said Alexander quietly. He held out a hand, and a glowing sword of light appeared within his grasp. He stalked up to stand before the trapped figure.

Xanatos struggled for a few moments within Lexington's grasp, but then calmed himself. With a cocky smile he said, "Please, Alex. You and I both know you couldn't possibly kill Lexington. How long has he been your companion? A century? A century and a half? And you'd never lay a hand against your own father..."

"You," Alexander said, eyes flaring with anger, "are not my father."

The sword flashed forth, passing through the invader. Xanatos screamed an unearthly howl as his entire body flared white, and then vanished.

Lexington dropped to the ground, his image blurring and becoming indistinct. He returned to focus an instant later, and he pulled his head up to gaze at his friends. While no sound could be heard, Lexington's image voiced the words, "Thank you," before the gargoyle faded from view.

* * * * *

Central Computer Control Room, 2:52 a.m., September 30, 2169

Brooklyn pulled the VR gear off of his head, and staggered at the rude reintrusion of reality. "Man, I can't believe there are people who do this stuff all the time." Then, he remembered. "Lexington. Where's Lexington?"

"He hasn't moved," Broadway said, worried at Brooklyn's concern.

"That is definitely not a good thing," Brooklyn said unhappily.

"You mean-" Broadway asked, eyes widening with fear.

"C'mon Lex! Wake up!" Brooklyn rapped sharply on the side of the Coyote robot.

No response.

Brooklyn dropped to his knees.

* * * * *

The Arboretum, 2:52 a.m., September 30, 2169

Samson fairly ripped his VR gear off, and collapsed to his knees, tears streaming down his face. "This is so totally, totally sub-par," he growled in helpless anger. "I can't believe it!"

"Samson?" Portia asked quietly, obviously a bit awed by the gargoyle's anguish.

"What's wrong, Samson?" Kodiak asked, eyes fearful.

Samson thought quickly. He didn't want to burden the two of them with the pain he was feeling right now. It would be better if they found out from their families and loved ones -- not their baby-sitter, while trapped in a garden by a blackout.

Unfortunately, his skills when it came to prevarication were not the best. "Uh, the VR link was really cruddy," he said lamely. "It was in black and white, and all flickery and nasty -- and the games were totally classless."

"That's it?" Portia blinked. Her expression grew irritated. "You're the only thing that's classless around here." She hmphed, and led Ariana away, clearly intending to play games with someone who wasn't completely lame.

Samson scooped Graeme into his arms, and hugged him close. "Are you really all right?" Kodiak asked, tugging on Samson's clothes.

"Yeah," Samson lied. "I'm all right."

* * * * *

Central Computer Control Room, 2:55 a.m., September 30, 2169

"Brook," Broadway said weakly. "Brooklyn. It's over. There's nothing more we can do."

Alexander placed a hand on Brooklyn's shoulder. "Brooklyn, Lexington made his choice. He knew the risks. Most of all, though, he did it for all of us."

"I know," Brooklyn said angrily, pulling his shoulder away. Then, more quietly, "Just... just give me a moment."

Alexander nodded. "Take as long as you want. We're going to see if we can get in contact with any of the repair crews. They're probably trapped somewhere in the building. If they can get the power back on--"

"Purge complete," Lexington's voice suddenly called out from the computer speakers. "Virus eliminated from system. Rebooting, now."

"Lexington?" Brooklyn gasped, looking up.

"Hi, guys," the voice said, hesitantly. "I guess I'm still alive."

As Brooklyn and Broadway bellowed out their joy at the revival of the third member of their long-disbanded Trio, the lights began to flash back on all over the city.

* * * * *

The Xanatos Apartment, 6:50 a.m., September 30, 2169

Alexander Xanatos sat limply on his couch, and stared thoughtfully at the horizon as the sun peeked slowly over the edge of the earth. He was clearly in a melancholy mood, and knew it, so he was not particularly surprised when an arm slipped around his shoulders and a very familiar weight displaced the cushions next to him. "What's wrong, honey?" Serena asked, giving Alexander a gentle squeeze.

Alexander smiled slightly, and placed his own arm around his wife in return. "Would it work if I told you that I'd prefer to keep it to myself?"

Serena chuckled. "You know me better than that, Alex. I am nothing, if not persistent."

"That's all right," Xanatos replied. "I think I'd prefer to talk about it, at any rate." His melancholy returned in force, and he stared at the sunrise a few moments longer before speaking again. "I killed my father today."

Serena gripped him a little more tightly. "No," she said firmly. "You did not."

It clearly wasn't enough. "It's just... as long as I can remember, my dad was a good man. Seeing him like that... it was hard. I've read books and seen old newscasts... they even told me the things they had done. I know who my parents were... what they were. I vowed I would never be like that. But tonight... I was ruthless. I killed my father."

"Alex, he wasn't your father."

"He was what my father used to be. What if I become like that?"

Serena sighed. "Alexander Fox Xanatos, you are a good and kind man. And you know very well that your father was a good and kind man, as well -- it simply took him some time to realize it. The evils that your father committed were mistakes. He eventually realized that they were mistakes, and worked to correct them. He learned from his mistakes -- valuable lessons that he passed on to you. You were given a rare and valuable gift, and I know very well that you are not one who will waste that gift." She rested her head on her husband's shoulder. "Do not fear the darkness within you. Recognize it. Accept it. And guard against it. Like all creatures, you have the potential to do harm." Serena twisted around to look directly into Alexander's eyes. "But unlike many, I know that you will never, ever do so without good reason. That is one of the many, many reasons that I love you so. Do you understand me?"

"I do understand," Alexander smiled, his haunted eyes finally relaxing. The two of them suddenly realized what a perfect position they were in and slowly leaned toward each other.

Which, of course, was exactly when the doorbell rang. It ruined the moment, but a quick exchange of glances contained a promise to recover that moment again, later. Serena stood, and walked to answer the door. She opened it, only to find no one there. She frowned in irritation.

"I wasn't interrupting anything, was I?" a worried voice called from the door speaker.

"Oh, it's you, Lexington!" Serena smiled, glad she wasn't going to have to use her power to hunt down and punish some prankster for ruining a perfectly good romantic moment. "Yes, I'm afraid you were. But please, come in." It was kind of a silly thing to say to a disembodied voice, but Lexington would not manifest himself on any of the private apartment's monitors without an invitation of some kind. It was really very considerate of him.

"I'm really sorry," Lexington lamented.

"Don't worry about it. Such moments come and go -- but they always come again." Serena winked, and Lexington chuckled electronically.

Lexington paused. "I'd... well... hoped to speak with your husband privately..." he said awkwardly.

"That's all right. I was just on my way out," Serena said. "I'll see you later!"

Lexington paused again. This time, the pause seemed ominous, rather than awkward. "Right. Later."

Serena left the apartment with a hair less cheerfulness and a hair more unease, though she would have had trouble explaining why.

"Alex?" Lexington asked, appearing on a wall monitor near to where Xanatos was relaxing.

"Hello, Lex!" Xanatos greeted. "I might not have expressed myself properly before, but it's wonderful seeing you back to your old self. We were sure you had died."

"I was, too," Lexington admitted. "I should have. I could feel it. Destroying that construct should have been the same as destroying me. I have no explanation as to why I'm still alive."

"I suppose we can chalk it up to a miracle," Alexander smiled, unconcerned.

"I suppose so," Lexington agreed slowly. "Which is why I hope that what I'm about to ask doesn't sound too ungrateful. Alex... I want you to deactivate me."

Alexander froze. "What?"

"Shut me down. For good. Finish what the virus started with me."

Xanatos stared at Lexington's image silently for a moment, all vestiges of cheer completely drained away. Quietly, he asked, "Do you know what that will do to your friends? To the clan?" He paused. "To me?"

"It's better this way," Lexington insisted with sudden venom.

Xanatos frowned. "How? How is it 'better this way'?"

"It's better that my friends mourn me, than for them to die because of me," Lexington whispered.

"Die because of you?"

Lexington locked his circuit-laced eyes on Alexander's own gray ones. "I tried to kill you all last night. All because of that stupid virus. Well, guess what? It could happen again. And next time, you might not be so lucky."

Alexander leaned back in his couch, and laughed out loud. This was not the response that Lexington was looking for, and he was quite irritated by it. "What's so funny? I'm being serious, here!"

Alexander stopped laughing, and said, "Lexington, you worry too much."

"No, I don't think I am-" Lexington began.

"Lex, we were never in any danger."

"What?" Lexington stopped, stumped. Then, angrily, "That freak using half my brain sent an army of death robots after you! He tried to torture you to death in Cyberspace! What do you mean, you weren't in danger?"

"Exactly that," Xanatos said, pointedly. "We were in no danger. There were many times that those so-called 'death robots' could have killed us. But they didn't. They always stopped." Now, it was Xanatos' turn to look serious. "Every shot that was fired either missed by a mile, or was too weak to do any serious harm. Every blow that landed hurt, but not badly. We didn't know why then, but it is more than obvious now. What I'm saying, Lex," this time, his gray eyes sought out Lexington's eyes, "is that even when you were completely under the virus's influence, your love and loyalty was still too strong for it to overcome.

"You're right, Lexington," Xanatos said harshly. "There may come a time when we are infected with another computer virus. But if you die now, whose love and loyalty will protect us then?"

Lexington froze, completely flummoxed. A few moments passed. Then, weakly, Lexington said, "You're right." Then again, with more force, and a great deal of restrained joy. "You're right! I'm sorry to bother you about this, Alex. I promise it won't happen again."

"Lexington, feel free to talk to me whenever you have any problems. It's what friends are for, you know."

"Yes," said Lexington with joy. "I know."

* * * * *

Egypt, 9:52 a.m., September 30, 2169

Harthoth was hardly surprised to see Isfet's smirking countenance when he removed the VR equipment that had, until very recently, linked him to the Eyrie computer network. Even after thousands of years, she still delighted in catching him in what she saw to be failures. And in all those thousands of years, not once had she truly been correct in what she saw.

Isfet was useful to her father and master in many ways. Her skill at pattern recognition was not one of them.

Barely containing her smirk (frankly, Harthoth was surprised she even made the effort), Isfet announced, "You pulled the virus out too soon. The experiment was a failure."

Harthoth did not even dignify the gross inaccuracy with the sigh it deserved. Instead, he softly explained, "If I had waited any longer, the computer would have been completely destroyed." He placed his VR equipment into a drawer beneath the computer terminal on his desk."

"Such sentimentality is most unbecoming of you," Isfet replied, examining her nails.

"Sentimentality has long been dead in me, as you are well aware," Harthoth replied with very slight irritation. "You know quite well that your father has special plans in mind for the Timedancer and those that he loves. Plans that require them all to be quite alive. At first, at any rate."

"Whatever your reasons, though, the fact remains that the virus was far too easily defeated. I must admit, however, that using the persona of David Xanatos as a cover was quite a clever plan."

Harthoth forbore commenting on just how much he valued Isfet's judgment on matters of cleverness, and instead merely nodded. "The ease by which the virus was defeated was deliberate, however."

Isfet frowned, and looked up at Harthoth. "Deliberate?"

Harthoth nodded, no longer looking directly at her. "Intentional flaws, left in the program. By now, they will have set safeguards up to avoid those flaws. Those safeguards will be completely useless against the true virus. They won, because I let them win. Next time, they will not have that luxury." He glanced up at Isfet. "You may tell Apep that the virus, with the proper modifications, will be ready for release by New Year's Day, 2174, as initially planned."

"Apep will be pleased," she said. She herself looked somewhat less than pleased.

Perhaps she would one day recognize the pattern. Harthoth's failures were seldom failures.

No, Harthoth thought. That was probably expecting too much.

* * * * *