- Thank you for being patient, my dear readers. A day late, but hopefully worth the wait -
Zack was back working at his console. He was diligently trying to figure a way into the NBs. He seemed to be locked out. No doubt the Valarians had taken monumental steps to take down the system in order to prevent the virus infected NBs from doing any further damage, but the news was not good. Everyone was finding that a verse without the beacons was almost impossible to navigate. Regular shipping lanes were backed up. Ships had run out of fuel while trying to make their way independently through the verse, creating a hazard to the ships still trying to navigate their way. It was like having a planet bound airstrip without a control tower.
But, try as he might, the way Zack got into the NB to begin with was blocked and with every new possible breach he ran into another wall as though something was tracking him from the other side just waiting for him to virtually walk in.
He heard the rollers of his front door start to move behind him. He had time to think that it was not Henry’s day to clean and Emery came yesterday, before he turned to find himself looking down the barrel of a Class III Blaster.
Coal, Daniel and I stood outside the door of Zackary Taylor’s apartment. It was on a planet called Luminx in a huge industrial city, in a neighborhood I would not have chosen to visit, much less live in. It was almost a ghetto. Coal had pulled his sidearm far before we reached the door to the apartment. We had obtained the key from the local apartment manager. Coal motioned for Daniel to move back from the door after all he was the precious one among us. We were still in hopes he could stop the NB madness once he got the facts from Zack. Coal handed me the card key and taking a stance low, in front of the door, he nodded for me to slip the key though the latch entry. I slipped the key, the door slid open and Coal rolled into the room coming up with his blaster pointed at a young man in a Servo-chair.
“I did it,” Zack confessed as he raised his hands in the air. The guy behind the gun was wearing a Galactic official’s uniform. When he stood up from his kneeling position on the floor (he had obviously expected opposition) he was well over seven feet tall with lavender hair and a tattoo of a hoofed, winged demon of some sort prancing across his cheek. He was of an alien type Zack had never seen before. “I didn’t mean it to go this far. I have been trying to fix it.”
Zack’s voice was almost unrecognizable. I had heard the voice of the avatar, Matt Milestone, many times and almost swooned over the velvety baritone, but that was all synthesized. This man’s voice had been damaged by fire or a chemical burn. It was raspy like sandpaper on a chalkboard. When I peeked around the door frame I could see the rest of him had been in that chair a long time even though the voice still sounded like it would be painful to speak.
“Zackary Taylor?” Coal asked for conformation.
“Yes, I am Zackary Taylor,” the man confirmed.
Coal, seeing no immediate threat holstered his weapon and motioned for Daniel and me to enter the room.
“I am Coal, CE of The Galactic Forces vessel MT 2424. You are under arrest.”
“Zack?” Daniel said. I could hear the shock in his voice. Why is it that we expect everyone to resemble their online personas? The NET is so easy to trick. “It’s me Daniel.”
These guys had played together for years. They were NET buddies before I met Daniel, and Daniel and I went way back. Yet what did they really know about each other? Here sat a ‘shut-in’ guy in a Servo-chair with only the bare necessities in a room, trapped in an apartment, in an environment that was as hostile as one of their make-believe worlds of their games.
Tears started to roll down Zack’s cheeks. “Daniel?” he choked. “You don’t know how long I have wanted to meet you.” He inhaled a shuttering breath. “For years you were the only one who kept me going. I admired you. You were so good at the games.” He thumbed a tear from his cheek. “Why did you turn on me?” he demanded in anger. “I thought we were friends. You turned into such a prick!” His eyes dropped to his lap as he mopped his face of his tears.
Daniel started to move toward Zack. Coal threw out a restraining arm. I was standing to the other side of Coal and I reached out and touched him. I nodded. I knew these two. Even if I only knew Zack through the games as Matt, I knew he had a good heart. He was always the good guy in the games. Like Daniel, he was a man who had lost his way. Only trouble was, he hadn’t had anyone to rescue him.
Coal let his arm drop and nodded to Daniel. Daniel moved closer and knelt at Zack’s knees. The man in the chair was a mere husk, a shell with tubes bringing things in and taking things out. Daniel reached out and put his hand over the young man’s own on the arm of his chair.
“I’m sorry, Zack,” he said. “Money combined with drugs is not a good combination. I needed help and luckily 3su was there for me, like I should have been there for you.” He squeezed Zack’s hand. “But I’m here now and I’m clean and thinking straight for a change.”
Zack looked up into Daniel’s face and I saw two lost souls connect – two kindred spirits who hopefully could correct their flaws and bring this insanity to an end.