phoenix

DOWNfALL: Obliteration

015: Flight [T-minus 7]     016: Talons [T-minus 4]     017: Obliterated [T-minus 1]


Post: 04.16.2000
Date: 12.29.2195
Time: Midday

Continued from [a032]: Breaking Dawn [T-minus 8]

Flight [T-minus 7]

Phoenix took one last glance at the charred hunk of metal that once was his beloved Firehawk.  Its cremated remains were scattered across a pier and a small area of the sea.  The fire and smoke that rose from the wreckage were nothing compared to the flames of anger that raged inside of him. 

Someone will pay.

He turned around and set eyes on that someone.  Even in the distance Phoenix could tell that he was an exomancer.  He wore a grey metallic-looking gearsuit that was bristling with various devices.  A yellow visor covered his eyes.  The exomancer was approaching, and Phoenix likewise, started to walk towards him. 

Phoenix noticed that the exomancer was holding something in his right hand.  It appeared to be some kind of melee weapon.  It almost looked like a club or mace of some sort.  Phoenix watched in amazement as the weapon changed shape right before his eyes.  It now resembled more of a blade-type weapon.  Glitch!  A techblade!  I thought those things were only mythical.  Phoenix had heard stories about the weapons of exomancers.  They were called techblades, and they could change shape and function as needed in combat.  It could be used as a sword one moment and a club the next. 

This is going to be a nasty fight, I can tell right now.  The only question is whether I should use guns or sais.  Before he had a chance to decide, the exomancer raised his weapon and threw it at Phoenix.  The weapon flew at Phoenix at an unnatural speed.  Ordinarily, the distance between the two would prohibit throwing objects at each other as a means of combat.  However, the techblade did not fall to the ground but kept on flying towards its destination.  Apparently it was somehow under its own power.  So, this is how that g'ekk took my plane down!  Phoenix ran a few steps to one side to dodge the techblade.  He watched in shock as it adjusted its flight path to compensate for Phoenix's movements.  Glitch!  It's following me!

Well, only one thing to do now.  Phoenix stopped in his tracks.  He seemed to be mesmerized as the techblade approached at a blinding speed.  His face was emotionless as the deadly blade descended upon him.  Suddenly, only an instant before impact, he grabbed his stomach.   Instantly, the blue glow of his personal pulse shield surrounded him.  The blade either deflected off of the shield or missed it entirely--it happened so fast he couldn't tell which.  At any rate, the blade proceeded to circle around and fly back to its owner's hands. 

Very impressive!  A weapon that can be used effectively both at a distance and close-up.  Well, that solves my dilemma over which weapons to use.  When in doubt, counter with a similar strategy. Phoenix took the sai that he was holding in his left hand hand and the pistol that he was holding in his right hand, and, after making a few adjustments to each, joined the two together to form a single weapon.  He reached in his coat and brought out another sai and another gun and quickly performed the same operation with those.  Now I'm ready.

Phoenix stood with his two gun-sais at his side.  He watched as his opponent suddenly broke into a run.  Phoenix didn't move. No sense in me wasting any energy running toward him.  He's going to be here soon enough.  In the mean time, let's check out this guy's defensive capabilities.  Phoenix raised both of his weapons and let loose with a volley of shots.  The silvery shots flashed quickly through the air toward the exomancer.  In a flurry of movement, the exomancer attempted to evade the shots.  Amazingly, the effort seemed to be largely successful.  The shots either missed him or were deflected by his armor.  In either case, he did not slow his approach, in fact, he sped up a bit and was now getting very close to Phoenix. 

He will be here any second.  Phoenix stood his ground. 

The exomancer arrived.  The fight was on.  The sounds of blade and sais clashing filled the air along with occasional gunfire.  The exomancer moved with inhuman quickness.  Phoenix was barely able to keep up with him.  The exomancer was very skillful with his techblade.  Even as they fought, it changed form to mimic many other weapons so that Phoenix constantly had to change his combat tactics.  However, thinking on his feet was one of Phoenix's specialties, so he was able to hold his own against the exomancer.

I need to finish this fight soon!  Phoenix suddenly let loose with an intense barrage of attacks.  His arms were a blur as he swung at/jabbed at/shot at the exomancer.  The attacks were successful enough that the exomancer was knocked off balance and started to fall over.  Phoenix wasted no time.  As the exomancer fell to the ground, Phoenix raised both weapons and prepared to deal the death blow. 

FLASH!!!

A brilliant blue light instantly flashed around the two of them.  Phoenix found himself knocked to the ground--seemingly by the blue light.  As he picked himself off of the ground, he looked around for the source of the flash.  The exomancer was also in the process of getting up, and was himself glancing around for the source of the light.  If he didn't do that, then who did?  He continued to look around.  The exomancer seemed to be the only other person nearby, and he appeared to be just as confused as Phoenix was. 

"That wasn't you, was it?"  Phoenix ventured. 

"Nope.  You?"  the exomancer responded with an uneasy look. 

"What the glitch?" both said simultaneously. 

Phoenix was the first to see it.  It was in the sky. It was swooping down toward them.  It had wings and a body that seemed to flap in the wind.  It appeared to be on an approach to land at their very location. 

"What the glitch is that?  A cyberdemon?" Phoenix asked. 

Phoenix watched as a small telescopic lens slid over the exomancer's visor.  The exomancer studied the form in the sky for a few moments before replying. 

"No.  It's a person...with wings." 

The exomancer continued to stare up in the sky.  I could take advantage of this moment and kill the exomancer while he's distracted.  On the other hand, that would leave me to fight this new menace all by myself.

"Hey, exomancer," he said, "what do you say we postpone our fight until we take out this freak?" 

The exomancer shrugged.  "I guess I can wait a few minutes to kill you."

Phoenix watched his new-found ally attempt to throw the blade only to be knocked down by the blue energy before he could let it fly.  Similarly, Phoenix's attack also failed.  The blue blast sent him flying through the air.  The last thing he remembered was hitting the ground.

*    *    * Distant voices. 

"I must admit, your skill with the techblade is quite impressive." 

"Aran, I'm flattered. I didn't think that anything could impress you!  Thank you very much!  Speaking of impressive, those wings of yours--" 

"You like?"  Aran asked. 

Phoenix cracked open his eyes just in time to see Aran's giant metallic wings unfurl with a snap.  So the exomancer is actually an old friend of bird-man, here?  Phoenix thought, groggily.  This is not good.  I'd better get out of here--fast!

Activate Holoemitter--Cloaking Mode.

Phoenix's body seemed to fade and then disappear.  Aran instinctively stretched out his hand and let loose with a wide blast of blue energy aimed in the general direction of where Phoenix had been.  Instantly, Phoenix fell to the ground and became visible again.  Without a second to spare, Aran grabbed him. 

"Don't try that again!"  Aran said firmly.  The tone of his voice was so powerful that it evoked a sense of awe in Phoenix.  The look in Aran's eyes was so overwhelming that all Phoenix could do was to nod his head. 

Nearby, the exomancer said, "I'll take it from here, Aran."  Aran shoved Phoenix toward the exomancer.  The exomancer grabbed him. 

At this point, Phoenix had had enough. 

The exomancer started to speak in a loud voice.  "I demand--" 

Phoenix's body suddenly went limp. 

The exomancer shook Phoenix violently.  "Hello?  I'm talking to you!"  Finally, he allowed Phoenix's body to drop to the ground. 

While playing dead, Phoenix had started charging his optical flare unit.  It would be ready in a moment. 

Aran and his friend peered down at the lifeless body. 

"I think he passed out," the exomancer said. 

"Careful.  It could be some kind of tri--" 

FLASH!!!

Aran and the exomancer both staggered back and instinctively covered their eyes.  The flash had momentarily blinded them.  A moment was all that Phoenix needed.  In an instant, he jumped up, picked up one of his guns, grabbed the exomancer, and held the gun to the exomancer's head. 

"No one move," he said firmly.  "Now that we can start talking about this like civilized human beings, I'd just like to ask one little question--WHAT THE GLITCH IS GOING ON???"

 "Let him go!" Aran shouted with that same look in his eyes. 

This time Phoenix was not intimidated.  "I think your 'canned man' friend here has some explaining to do." 

"I'm an exomancer, not a 'canned man', and my name is K'Thos." 

Phoenix's voice took on an extremely sarcastic tone.  "Wow!  Canned Man has a name.  I wonder if Manned Can has a brain, and, if he does, why wasn't he using it when he attacked me for NO APPARENT REASON???

"It was nothing personal," K'Thos said in vain attempt to calm Phoenix. 

Phoenix was irate.  "Nothing personal!!!  Are you one of those g'ekks who goes around randomly attacking people for fun?  I've always wanted to meet one of those people--so I could kill him!  If Aran does anything stupid here, I'll probably get my chance." 

"Wait.  I--" K'Thos tried to interject. 

Phoenix ignored him and looked at Aran.  "Aran, you really should pick better friends." 

Aran scowled.  "This is stupid."  Blue energy started to form an aura around his hands.  "I don't have time for this." 

Aran started to raise his hands. 

Phoenix tightened his grip on his gun. 

"Stop!" shouted a new voice. 

That voice sounds familiar.

All three were startled to see the newcomer.  She was short; she wore a skinsuit; she had blue hair; and she was running towards them at break-neck speed. 

It's the blue-haired girl I bumped into a couple weeks ago!  Maybe she can help me out.  Can she recognize me?  Probably not.  I think I had my holomask on at the time, and I don't now....I don't have my holomask on now!!!  I feel naked--exposed!

Phoenix was about to call out to her, but Aran beat him to the punch. 

"syl!" Aran shouted, "Get out of here!" 

syl?  I thought her name was Thf-oua.  Why, that little...she was using a fake name!  Of course, I guess I was too.

"No Aran!" syl insisted.  "This man," pointing to Phoenix, "was just minding his own business, when your friend attacked him.  We don't have enough time for you to be fooling around like this, Aran."  Aran started to say something, but syl cut him off.  "Besides, I think I sort of recognize him."  All three of the others were shocked at this statement. 

Phoenix once again took control of the conversation.  "Well, maybe we bumped into each other or something, but the real question is, why the glitch are you people trying to kill me?" 

"Any member of the Nation of Utopia deserves death!" K'Thos responded. 

"What?" Phoenix asked in total confusion. 

A look of bewilderment came over Phoenix's face, followed shortly by a look of total annoyance.  "You utter moron!  A long time ago I used to be a member, but I'm not anymore.  I left that bunch of g'ekks." 

"But your aircraft--" K'Thos started to ask. 

"I stole it from them.  I even painted it black in an attempt to make it clear, even to complete idiots like yourself, that the plane no longer belonged to the Nation of Utopia.  Apparently, my plan failed!" 

"Nobody leaves the Nation of Utopia.  They are brainwashed, so they want to stay," Aran growled with suspicion, "If that doesn't work, they are 'banished'...to the incinerator."

"I escaped." 

"You escaped?" Aran asked with a raised eyebrow.

Phoenix rolled his eyes.  "Yes, I escaped.  How do you think I got the aircraft?  Now, I'd love to stay here and regale all of you with the details, but in case you haven't noticed, the situation on island is worsening with each passing hour.  I'm getting the glitch out of here right now, and I suggest that all of you do the same." 

Phoenix looked down at K'Thos, still in his headlock.  "Is it safe for me to let you go now?" 

K'Thos nodded.  Phoenix released him, and holstered his weapon.  Aran seemed to relax. 

"So, you hate Utopia now?"  K'Thos asked with a confused look on his face. 

"Yeah, pretty much," Phoenix answered as he stooped down to retrieve his other weapon. 

K'Thos nodded.  "Any enemy of Utopia is a friend of mine.  I hope you will accept my humble apologies." 

Phoenix glared at K'Thos.  "Sure, whatever.  Just stay out of my way."  Phoenix turned and walked off.

*    *    *

 I can't believe this!  I could have been halfway to the mainland by now, but instead that techtrash had to shoot my plane down.  It's a good thing that my alternate plan for getting off of this island is within walking distance.

Phoenix trudged along the piers.  Normally a large number of boats floated lazily alongside the docks.  Today only a few remained.  As Phoenix walked, he noticed a group of four young men walking on one of the docks.  As they ran toward the only remaining boat on the dock, one of them made a muffled remark that caused the whole group to break out in raucous laughter.  The small boat was just starting to pull away from the dock when the four leapt aboard and went inside.  After some shouting and a few gunshots, more loud laughter emanated from the vessel which was now speeding away.  Phoenix guessed that the group had killed whoever was inside.  After the violence and chaos that Phoenix had seen in the past week or so, he did not find this surprising. 

I've never seen people so crazy before!  I really need to get out of here fast!

*    *    * Phoenix finally reached his destination.  A small building sat unobtrusively on the side of one of the piers.  Phoenix checked to make sure that nobody was looking, and then slipped inside.  The lights came on revealing a shiny black boat that seemed to fill up most of the room.  It was suspended above the floor by some sort of pulley system.  Painted on the side of the boat in small lettering were the words, "Lady Luck."

Always have a backup plan.

Phoenix walked over to the craft and gently ran his hand across the curve of the hull.  He smiled. 

What a fine boat.  I should use her more often.

He continued to walk the length of the boat, dragging his hand along the smooth underside.  He had almost made it to the stern when he noticed a large square hole cut out of the hull.  A slab of metal matching the shape of the hole lay nearby on the ground. 

What the glitch?

After a closer inspection, he discovered that not only was the hull opened, but the engine compartment was also open revealing the complex maze of workings that powered the boat.  If that wasn't bad enough, it seemed as if some of the components had been removed.  Phoenix stared at the hole in disbelief and slowly shook his head.  A sinking feeling of horror crept over him. 

This just can't be happening!  Why now, of all times, did somebody decide to break in and mess with my boat!  And, who in their right mind would take just a few parts instead of just making off with the whole thing?

Just then, he heard a noise at the door.  Phoenix instinctively sunk into the shadows. 

Maybe they're coming back for more.  Well, I'll give 'em more--more than they ever bargained for!

More strange noises came from the door, and then it suddenly flew open. 

That was a pretty good lock that he just picked.  I'm quite impressed.  Of course, I could have done it faster and with half as much noise.

The stranger stepped in.  His feet made soft metallic clanks as he walked.  As the man stepped into the light, Phoenix noticed that his feet were not feet at all, but giant metallic claws.  His long dark hair swayed with his stride and partially blocked the visor that covered his eyes. 

He walked up to the opening in the boat and raised one of his arms toward it.  The extended arm started to liquefy and mutate into a cutting tool which he then proceeded to stick into the side of the boat. 

Phoenix had seen enough.  He snuck up behind the stranger and pointed one of his guns at him. 

"Don't move!" Phoenix ordered in the most intimidating voice that he could manage.

The man flinched but, other than that, stayed still. 

"Turn around--slowly.  And don't try to change that arm into anything." 

The stranger turned around and nervously started to plead with Phoenix. 

"Please don't be angry.  I...I needed parts, and nobody seemed to be using this boat, so...I just helped myself.  I--" 

"Wait a minute.  I know you!"  Phoenix interrupted.  "You're one of those technomancers that hangs around with a guy called 'Doc'.  Your name is Ta-Kyn, right?" 

"Yes, yes it is," Ta-Kyn said looking very much relieved, "And, I remember you.  Doc patched you up when you were lying there outside of the BAT compound.  Doc loves to fix people as much as I love to fix machines.  I'm not very good with names, however.  Wasn't it something that started with an 'O'?" 

"It's Phoenix, actually." 

Ta-Kyn shook his head, "I told you I wasn't very good with names." 

"No, but you seem to be pretty good at taking my boat apart," Phoenix gripped his gun a little tighter.  "What exactly were you doing?" 

"Well, I needed some parts to repair another boat.  Specifically, I needed a phase translator, a modulation control unit, and couple of power couplers.  You see, the boat that I am working on has a LT-32 drive that produces a variance deviation distribution pattern--" 

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" said Phoenix shaking his head, "I don't care about all that technical garbage.  I just want my boat to work.  Will it?" 

"Right now,...er...no." 

"Could you fix it if you brought back all of those parts you stole?" 

"Well,...yes, but--" 

"Good," Phoenix interrupted, still holding the gun, "Then here's what's going to happen: first, we're going to go over to this other boat and get my parts back.  Second, we're going to come back here, and you are going to fix my boat.  You said that you enjoyed repairing things, so you ought to get a kick out of that.  Third, we'll get in my boat and take a little cruise off of this island.  If your patch job works, then I'll let you go when we reach the mainland.  If it doesn't, and we sink, then I guess we'll both die--just a little added incentive for you to do your best workmanship." 

"But wait, you don't understand--" 

"I have a gun.  I don't have to understand."

*    *    *

The sun, now high above them, was making a valiant effort to pierce through the ever-present cloud layer.  The temperature was rising.  The city was heating up in other ways too.  As the two walked down the street, Phoenix noticed much more activity in the streets (especially violent activity) than just an hour earlier.  The riot seemed to be picking up again. 

Phoenix once again shook his head.  I just can't believe this is happening.  Things are getting worse.  This island is really going to Eiech, and I really would like to get off of it before it gets any worse.  Hopefully, in another hour or two, Lady Luck will be all fixed up, and I'll be cruising out of here.

The two walked in silence.  Ta-Kyn never made an attempt to escape.  All this time, they were walking back the same path that Phoenix had walked earlier.  A certain thought morbidly flirted with his mind now and then.  He did all he could to push the thought out of his head, but it finally got the best of him.  I wonder if this technomancer has anything to do with the other I saw today--Aran, was it?  Knowing how this day is going, I wouldn't be surprised. 

Phoenix decided to break the silence.  "Ta-Kyn, this other boat that you are repairing, is it for Doc?" 

"Oh no.  It's for another technomancer." 

Great.  "What is his name?"  Please don't say Aran!  Please don't say Aran!  Please don't say Aran!

"Aran." 

Glitch.

*    *    *

They were presently passing the site of the three-way battle that Phoenix had engaged in earlier.  Phoenix sighed and shook his head as he passed the wreckage of his Firehawk.  Some distance away, he saw a large rust-covered structure floating by a dock.  Many people seemed to be milling about on top of it. 

"Is that it?" Phoenix asked pointing to the barge. 

"Yes.  That's the Rusted Whale," his captor answered.

Even from this distance, Phoenix could see that they had attracted some attention.  Several of the people on the barge stopped whatever they were doing and stared at the two of them. 

Phoenix took a deep breath and summoned the resolve to confront technomancers, exomancers, or whatever else might be in the way of his parts.  "Well, this is it." 

"Yes, my little sparrow, this most certainly is it," said a cold death-like voice from behind. 

In a haze of confusion, Phoenix instinctively whirled around and started to reach for one of his weapons.  Who the glitch is that!  I made sure we weren't followed!

"Who--" Phoenix froze in horror. 

The figure that approached was clothed entirely in black.  A large hooded cloak completely hid his countenance.  His hands were the only part of his body that was visible.  They were pale and had long bony fingers which clutched a long, viscious-looking scythe. 

That horrible thing in my dreams!  The one who left those bloody messages for me!  It's him!  I don't know how I know, but I do.

"Who am I?  My name is Sahris, but what does that matter?  'Names aren't important, anyway,' or so they say.  It, on the other hand, is something I've been looking forward to for a long time." 

"What is it?" Phoenix asked. 

A hint of an evil smirk flashed over the dark one's face.  "Why, you silly creature; it is your death."

With inhuman quickness, Sahris suddenly lunged with his scythe.  Phoenix barely managed to avoid the attack by gracefully falling backwards--it was a move he had practiced hundreds of times.  After doing two backwards somersaults, he crisply popped out of his tumble into a sort of kneeling/sqatting fighting stance with both of his sais ready. 

"Good," said Sahris, "If you had died then, I would have been terribly disappointed." 

Phoenix slowly stood up.  "We definitely wouldn't want to disappoint you, now would we." 

"Most certainly not," Sahris said before launching another blindingly fast attack.  This time Phoenix more or less stood his ground and deflected the attack with his sais. 

"No," continued Sahris, "I would expect nothing less from the rebellious son of The Circle of Silence." 

"What are you talking about?  What do you want with me?"  Phoenix shouted. 

"I told you, I simply want to kill you." 

"WHY!?" 

Sahris sighed, "Must a painter have a reason to paint?  Must a sculptor have a reason to sculpt?"  Sahris' remark puzzled Phoenix, but his thoughts were rudely interrupted by another sudden barrage of Sahris' blade.  Phoenix managed to dodge or deflect most his opponent's blows, but finally, he was knocked down by the blunt end of Sahris' weapon.  He started to get up but found himself staring down the business end of the scythe. 

"Ah, my young sparrow, this was but inevitable." 

Quick!  Stall!  "You were the one who left those messages, right." 

Sahris nodded his head.  "Killing an unconscious person....Where's the art in that?  Too easy." 

"Why did--" 

"Shhhh."  Sahris raised his finger to his lips. "No more delays.  It is time."  He started to raise the scythe. 

"Time for you to glitch yourself!" shouted a female voice somewhere nearby. 

A flash of blue hair that Phoenix tentatively identified as syl flung itself at Sahris.  Sahris turned and easily pushed her back in the direction she came from.  syl flew through the air and landed in a pile of trash on the ground.  This was just the opportunity that Phoenix needed.  As Sahris raised the scythe to finish of syl, Phoenix quickly hurled himself forward and planted both of his sais into Sahris' torso.  Bright flashes of energy emanated from within Sahris' body.  Finally, with a slight grunt, Sahris' lifeless body collapsed to the ground. 

Phoenix stood there for a moment and shook his head.  "This neighborhood is getting too rough for me." 

He walked over to syl and helped her up.  "I guess that makes us about even when it comes to saving each other's lives." 

"What?"  syl looked confused. 

Whoops!  That was MU not Phoenix.  "Never mind.  Let's get out of here." 

As they turned to leave, a sudden flash of light lit up the sky, and a sickeningly familiar voice stirred behind them.  "That was most unwise!"  It angrily growled. 

The two glanced back to see the impossible.  Sahris stood behind them without any sign of a wound.  As they tried to react, Sahris grabbed Phoenix and shoved him into syl.  The couple fell down in a heap.  Phoenix tried to get up off of syl, but Sahris prevented this by firmly planting his boot into his face.  Phoenix felt the cold hard boot on his cheek.  He mused at how different it felt from the softness and warmth of syl's skin just on the other side of his face.  His thoughts were disturbed by a shiny metal blade that was suddenly shoved into the ground in front of his face. 

"Yes, that was most unwise!"

Continued in [s053]: The Hammer Falling [T-minus 6]

  Post: 08.31.2000
Date: 12.30.2195
Time: Midday

Continued from [a033]: Blood Sun [T-minus 5]

Talons [T-minus 4]

I can't believe it.  Something is finally going right for a change.

Phoenix walked down the relatively quiet street, leading a half-dozen people back to his boat to fix it. 

What an unlikely troop!  First, there's the exomancer named K'Thos.  This is the same guy who tried to kill me just the other day.  Now he follows me like a dog.  Then, there's five of these "Pure".  I'm not even completely sure what "Pure" means.  They're mechanics that have been sent by Aran to fix my boat.  The fact that Aran willingly let me use these people is, itself, quite remarkable.  Then finally, there's the head mechanic named Greasy.  He's one of the Pure.  How can a Pure person be called Greasy?  I'm not even going to ask.  He sure lives up to his name, though.

Phoenix glanced over at Greasy, whose coveralls were completely covered with dirt, mud, and, in fact, a fair amount of grease.  Phoenix guessed that the coveralls might have been tan, or even white at one time.  Now they were a reddish-brown grimy color.  Phoenix smiled slightly. 

"I see they don't call you Greasy for nothing." 

Greasy smiled.  "No, sir.  Actually, this has been one of my cleaner mornings." 

Phoenix nodded.  The crew continued on.  Phoenix's boathouse was just now coming into view.  He turned toward K'Thos who was walking beside him silently, save the clicks of his boots and the occasional clinking of his armor plates when they brushed against each other. 

I guess I'll try one last time to get rid of him.

"You know, K'Thos, unless you are a mechanic like these guys," Phoenix gestured toward the Pure, "then, you really don't have to come along.  Surely you have better things to do--shooting down planes flown by people you don't know, perhaps?" 

The K'Thos maintained his emotionless expression. 

"My knowledge of vehicle repair is limited, but I will gladly lend help in any way I can." 

"Why?" 

K'Thos contemplated that for a moment before responding.  "Because it's the right thing to do." 

Phoenix shrugged.  "Well, who am I to argue with that?" 

I'll figure out a way to get rid of him later.

*    *    *

As they neared their destination, the riot started to swing back into gear.  Shouts and screams filled the air.  In the street in front of them an enormous mass of people were running towards them.  The approaching mob didn't seem happy. 

"Going against the flow isn't going to work!" Phoenix shouted.  He glanced around.  "Quick!  Over here!" 

Phoenix ducked into the entranceway of a nearby building and motioned for the rest to follow.  Somehow, all seven of them managed to squeeze in. 

"Here they come!" 

The human wave was suddenly upon them.  They watched as hundreds of people ran by the building.  The flood was close enough that they could reach out and grab part of it (if they wanted to risk loosing their hand). 

There was much pushing and shoving.  Several people fell.  It didn't slow the crowd.  They simply stepped over, around, or on the fallen bodies. 

One man was suddenly pushed into their haven of safety.  He stopped for a second, glanced at the group and then quickly shoved his way back into the crowd. 

The shouts of the people combined with sound of innumerable footfalls created an incredibly loud ruckus.  However, the group started to hear a noise that was even louder.  It was a loudspeaker. 

The sound seemed to suddenly activate K'Thos.  He looked around searching for its source.  As he found it, his face broke into an evil grin. 

"Ha!  I knew they'd be here eventually!" 

As the crowd started to thin, Phoenix ventured a glance down the street and was surprised to see an entire squad of ACCU's coming their way. 

"Oh great!  That's all we need is a bunch of ACCU's in our way," Phoenix groaned. 

"Heh heh.  Not if I can help it!" said K'Thos. 

Greasy suddenly piped up.  "What's an ACCU?" 

"You don't know?"  Phoenix and K'Thos responded in unison. 

Greasy shrugged. 

"It stands for Armored Civilian Control Unit.  They are part of the military of the Nation of Utopia." 

"Where is the Nation of Utopia?" Greasy asked. 

"Everywhere...or so they claim.  The entire world supposedly belongs to them." 

"What a bunch of lunatics!" Greasy exclaimed. 

"Exactly.  And what's more dangerous than a bunch of lunatics running loose?" Phoenix queried. 

Greasy shrugged. 

"A bunch of lunatics running loose armed with heavy weapons, which is precisely what we have here." 

"Not for long," K'Thos added as he started to step out into the street. 

Phoenix held him back.  "Patience, K'Thos.  Let's let the crowd get out of the way first." 

Phoenix turned to the Pure.  "In the mean time, what weapons are you carrying?" 

They all shrugged and held up their tools. 

"Great.  Just great."  You can't just walk around without being able to defend yourself.  Where do these people live?  Underground?

Phoenix turned to K'Thos.  "Looks like it's just you and me." 

K'Thos nodded. 

The ACCU's were closer now.  The message on the loudspeaker was almost deafening by now, "CITIZENS OF UTOPIA, PLEASE REMAIN CALM.  THIS SECTOR HAS BEEN DESIGNATED AS A UTOPIAN EMERGENCY AREA.  ALL CITIZENS MUST CLEAR THE STREETS.  ANYONE FOUND ON THE STREETS WILL BE PROMPTLY DEPORTED.  THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION." 

More screaming and gunfire. 

"Deported?" Greasy asked inquisitively. 

Phoenix shook his head.  "The Nation of Utopia claims that everyone on the planet is a citizen.  Since the whole world is supposedly theirs, there's actually no place for them to deport people to..." 

Greasy frowned "...so when people are deported, they're actually..." 

"Murdered,"  K'Thos finished angrily, "That's why we must eliminate them." 

"Agreed," Phoenix said. 

"What a bunch of wackos!" Greasy exclaimed. 

"Yeah," Phoenix responded, "Hard to believe that I used to be one of them.  Fortunately, I was able to weasel out of the daily brainwashing sessions." 

Greasy looked shocked.  "What!?  You used to be--" 

A rioter suddenly fell dead at their feet, shot dead by the ACCU's.  Shortly after, several more met the same fate. 

"We need to act now!" K'Thos shouted. 

"Yes.  Too many people are becoming 'ex-citizens'," Phoenix replied. 

Phoenix's first response to a sticky situation was always the same: talking his way out of it.  However, in this case (and, in fact, just about any case involving the Nation of Utopia), he knew that he would have better luck trying to persuade a mountain to do jumping jacks. 

"I'm going to create some confusion.  Then K'Thos, you can do your little boomerang trick, and after that, we'll just wing it.  Meanwhile, Greasy, you take your gang and find a better hiding spot.  This could get a bit rough.  Wait for my signal." 

Everyone nodded.  Phoenix reached into his coat and pulled out several small glass vials.  He chucked them as hard as he could toward the ACCU's down the street.  Almost instantly, a thick smoke appeared, completely covering the ACCU's. 

"Halt!" one of them screamed.  That was the cue. 

"NOW!" Phoenix shouted. 

K'Thos jumped out into the street followed closely by Phoenix.  By this time, the crowd had thinned out enough that they could move freely.  Without hesitation, K'Thos hurled his techblade.  It silently flew into the smoke.  Phoenix could hear the blade impact several victims before finally coming back out of the smoke and quietly flying back into its master's hand.  A few groans and curses were heard as the unseen ACCU's collapsed. 

"Not bad!  You probably took out a half-dozen of them," Phoenix commented with a grin, "but watch this." 

Phoenix leveled both of his pistols at the thinning cloud and let loose with an intense but short volley of shots.  He grabbed K'Thos and quickly ducked back into the doorway. 

Immediately, the cloud erupted into a brilliant display of laser fire as the ACCU's frantically fired blindly.  The blasts from the auto-cannons mounted on the vehicles were deafening.  Yelling and screaming followed which only seemed to result in the intensification of the barrage of energy.  Stray shots flew in every direction.  Finally the spectacle died down, and one voice could be heard shouting above the commotion.  It was the captain of the ACCU squad. 

"CEASE FIRE!  CEASE FIRE, GLITCH IT!!!  Let's not kill ourselves!" 

Phoenix and K'Thos peered out into the street. 

"Too late!" Phoenix whispered. 

Through the clearing smoke, they could see several dozen charred ACCU's laying strewn about on the ground--slaughtered by their comrades.  Only a handful were left.  Even several of their vehicles appeared to be disabled. 

"Not bad, yourself," K'Thos said, genuinely impressed, "I'll have to remember that one." 

Before the remaining ACCU's could collect their senses, Phoenix and K'Thos quietly slipped away. 

*   *   * 

It did not take them long to locate Greasy and the others.  However, Phoenix was surprised to see a new face among them.  Having grey hair, this man's appearance contrasted sharply with the rest of the guys who were in their twenties.  Despite this, newcomer seemed to fit right in.  They were all talking some kind of technical jargon that went way above Phoenix's head.  In fact, the group was so involved in their discussion that they didn't notice the arrival of Phoenix and K'Thos at first. 

"So, how did you fix it when it had so much damage to the collateral phase couplers?"  Greasy asked. 

"Ah," said the new man with a smile, "I realized that I could simply bypass them, since, in this case, the quasi-variance aspect wasn't needed." 

Greasy thought for a second, and then a look of understanding came to his face.  "Of course!  What a great idea!" 

Phoenix cleared his throat to announce his presence and also to register his annoyance at the fact that they had gotten involved with some random person on the street. 

Greasy nearly jumped out of his skin.  "Oh, it's just you.  You shouldn't sneak up on people like that!" 

"Who's this?" 

"Oh.  Um,...Phoenix, this is Jazon.  Jazon, this is Phoenix...oh, and there's K'Thos too." 

Jazon began to extend his hand for a handshake but suddenly stopped short.  He gasped in amazement as he looked at Phoenix.  "It's...it's...you!" 

Phoenix looked around to see if Jazon was referring to someone behind him.  Nobody. 

"Me?" 

"Yes!" Jazon said excitedly. 

"I'm sure you must have me mistaken for someone else." 

"Oh no," he said with a huge smile, "I'd bet my life on it." 

Phoenix started to sweat.  He absolutely hated it when he was recognized by someone he didn't know.  It made him feel the same level of discomfort as a cat would if it were thrown into a tub of water, except instead of water, the tub was filled with boiling hot acid. 

Thankfully, K'Thos interrupted.  "We need to get moving.  There are even more ACCU's on their way.  We can talk on our way to Phoenix's boat." 

"Right.  Let's go." 

Phoenix led them towards the warehouse that contained his boat.  As they walked, Jazon and the other techies continued to carry on a lively conversation about technical subjects that Phoenix could in no way relate to.  It seems like they are just throwing syllables together and using the resulting sounds as if they are real words that actually meant something.  Perhaps it is just as well.  I really want to find out more about Jazon and how the glitch he knows me, but it would be best to wait until we are alone.

After what seemed like hours of technological word acrobatics, the group finally arrived at the warehouse. 

*    *    *

The group of techies were hard at work repairing Phoenix's boat.  Jazon was even trying to help, however, his technical expertise was more in the electrical, electronic, and computer areas.  The techno-babble continued.  All of the techies were amazed at the skillful precision and thoroughness of Ta-Kyn's handiwork. 

Phoenix stood off to the side and watched as they racked their brains trying to figure out how to make the boat function without the parts that Ta-Kyn had removed.  He shook his head and leaned over to K'Thos, who was standing next to him. 

"They're of a different breed." 

"Yes." 

"But, I don't think I'd like to be one of them." 

"Me neither." 

At this point, the technicians seemed to have reached a consensus on a course of action.  Greasy spoke for the group. 

"Phoenix, we believe that the repair will be almost entirely possible using material from this warehouse, and parts from the craft's noncritical systems." 

"Almost entirely?" 

"Yes,...well, we will also need to get a regulator for the reactor's thermal coupling." 

"Where would we find one of those?" Phoenix asked. 

"Well, any sort of heavy-duty vehicle would most likely have one." 

"The ACCU's!" K'Thos said. 

Greasy looked puzzled.  "What?" 

"We, or rather, they managed to disable their own vehicles.  We might get the parts from them." 

"That would work perfectly," said Jazon, "I could go there, get what we need and be back within an hour." 

"Excellent," Phoenix said happily, "I'll go with you in case there are any more ACCU's hanging around.  The rest of you stay here and get to work." 

"All right, boys, let's get started," Greasy said, eager to begin the task of repairing Phoenix's boat. 

"I'm coming with you," K'Thos announced. 

I need to talk with Jazon privately.

"Actually, why don't you stay here and guard the premises?" Phoenix responded.  He glanced at Greasy and his crew and lowered his voice.  "K'Thos, these guys may be great at fixing things, but they they wouldn't last a second in a fight.  You must protect them--and the boat also.  That's our ticket off this island." 

Phoenix internally cringed when he heard himself offer to take K'Thos with him, but he really needed to be alone with Jazon.  He thought that the offer of getting off this god-forsaken island would appease K'Thos.  It seemed to be working. 

"All right.  I'll stay," K'Thos said.  "Perhaps the ACCU's will come by here," he added hopefully. 

*    *    *

Phoenix and Jazon started retracing their steps back towards the site of the skirmish with the ACCU's.  For a minute or two, they walked in silence.  Then, Phoenix spoke. 

"You'll have to forgive me, Jazon, but I can't seem to remember where we met." 

Jazon chuckled.  "Well, that's certainly understandable, especially seeing as how we haven't met before today." 

Phoenix was genuinely confused.  "But despite that fact, you seem to think that you know me." 

Jazon smiled.  "Well, sort of....I'll explain."  He glanced to make sure no one was within earshot.  "I knew your father." 

Phoenix stopped dead in his tracks and grabbed Jazon by the collar. 

"What the glitch are you talking about, old man?" Phoenix demanded. 

"Easy, easy!  I was one of his friends." 

"My father did not have any friends." 

"He did before you were born." 

"Oh, so now I'm the reason that my father didn't have friends." 

"No,...no,...I--" 

"Am a lying g'ekk glitcher?" Phoenix finished.  "I'd say I'd have to agree with you." 

Jazon could only chuckle and shake his head. 

Phoenix smiled.  "Why, thank you.  I didn't even think it was that funny." 

"It wasn't." 

"Then, what is?" 

"The fact that your father knew you wouldn't believe me." 

"He was right.  In fact, I still don't believe you." 

"That's why he gave me this to give to you." 

Jazon reached in his coat, pulled out a small velvet bag, and offered it to Phoenix. 

Phoenix gave Jazon his best look of skepticism and took the bag.  He opened it and pulled out a child's book.  His eyes widened.  The faded white cover was adorned with a monochrome drawing of a flaming bird.  Just above the artwork, written in red lettering was the title: "The Story of the Phoenix." 

Phoenix's jaw dropped.  He stared at the book in disbelief. 

"He said it was your favorite." 

Phoenix turned his face away, wiped his eyes, and said in a shaky voice, "He was right...again." 

"Do you believe me now?" 

"Yes." 

"Good." 

Awkward pause. 

"We'd better get going.  We still have a ways to go." 

"Yes, but that is good because there are things we must talk about, Phoenix." 

They started walking. 

"Like what?" 

"Well, about your father, for starters." 

"How did you know him?" 

"Like I said, we used to be friends, once upon a time." 

"What happened?" 

"Well, we grew distant when he joined....Well, that's the other thing I need to talk to you about.  Your father was not always a con artist, you know." 

Phoenix said nothing. 

"Oh, where to begin.  There's so much to tell you.  During all the years I've been searching for you, I've gone over and over in my mind what I would say when I found you.  Now, my words have fled me, and I babble like an idiot." 

Phoenix said nothing. 

"Well, I'll just start at the beginning.  Your father and I used to work together.  Your dad was an architect.  When he was in his early twenties, he started his own construction company.  He did all the architectural work himself.  He hired someone to engineer the site, and he also hired me.  I designed the internal networks and power systems.  I also designed the matrix access.  The actual construction was contracted out, but I got to help with that a few times too." 

Jazon smiled.  "We had a nice little business going there for a few years."  Jazon paused.  The smile was gone.  "Then, he started seeing her--your mother, I mean." 

Phoenix scowled, but said nothing. 

Jazon shook his head.  "Everything went sour from there.  Your mother was part of a secret society called The Circle of Silence.

Phoenix looked puzzled, but said nothing.  Where have I heard that name before?

Jazon continued.  "I don't know exactly what sort of incentives this secret society offered to potential members, but their delusions of wealth, power, or whatever, combined with your mother's persuasion seduced him.  Before long, he forgot all about construction and was totally consumed with The Circle.  I had to run the business.  However, to his credit, he never fully trusted them." 

Phoenix smirked slightly, but said nothing. 

"Then, you were born.  He was so excited to have a son!  I was excited for him.  He would even let me take care of you, occasionally."  Jazon chuckled.  "You made me laugh.  You were always babbling about something.  You just wouldn't shut up!"  Jazon paused.  "I guess you've changed." 

Phoenix smiled.  "Oh, I'm still talkative.  I'm just having an off day.  Actually, make that an off month or so.  That's actually a good thing, though, because it allows me to refrain from interrupting you.  Speaking of which, please continue." 

"Certainly.  Well, things changed after you were born.  I'm not sure what exactly happened, but it seemed like your parents started drifting apart.  Also, by the way he was acting, I got the impression that your father wanted out of The Circle.  Then, suddenly he disappeared one day, and you with him.  For thirteen years, I didn't see or hear from him.  I assumed that The Silent Circle had discovered his desire to leave and had killed him and maybe you as well.  It took me a long time to get over my depression.  He was a good man, and a good friend.  I missed him." 

"Then, out of the blue, I bump into him one day.  I was overjoyed that he and you were both still alive!  He said he had been looking for me.  He seemed rushed, and we were only able to talk for a few minutes before he had to leave.  He explained that both he and you were doing well, but had been living on the run all these years.  He said he couldn't stay and talk because The Circle was hot on his trail.  I wish we could have talked more.  A few days later, he was dead.  They finally got him.  I was devastated, but you were nowhere to be found, so I hoped and prayed that you were alive.  Today, I have found out that you are.  I am so thankful for that." 

"Why?" 

Jazon smiled and shook his head.  "We should hurry up and get that regulator before the riot gets going again." 

*    *    *

"I think I've got it now." 

Phoenix watched as Jazon slowly removed the charred regulator unit from the blackened ACCU vehicle.  The screams and shouts that were once in the distance were much closer now. 

"Excellent." 

Jazon examined his prize.  "It's a bit singed, but it should work fine.  They make these things tough as rocks, you know." 

Phoenix wasn't paying attention.  He was looking quickly around and listening to the riotous noises.   "Great.  In fact, I'd love to learn all about it, but I think trouble is quickly heading our way.  Let's get out of here." 

"I agree." 

Phoenix picked up the device, and the two hurriedly walked off. 

They rounded a sharp turn in the road, just in time to see three Dokks headed their way.  The Dokks raised their weapons. 

"Glitch!" 

Phoenix barely had time to shove Jazon and himself into a nearby alleyway. 

"Get out of here!" Phoenix shouted over the sound of gunfire.  "I'll take care of these guys and then I'll meet you back at my place!" 

Phoenix handed him the regulator before turning his attention back to the Dokks.  They were nearing the alley.  Can't go back out into the street.  Can't follow Jazon.  Only one direction left to go.

Phoenix produced a curious device from his coat.  It looked like a strange sort of firearm.  Phoenix pointed it at the sky and fired.  A large projectile flew up trailed by something that resembled a giant snake. 

The three Dokks rounded the corner with weapons ready, but nobody was there. 

"Where did he go?" 

"Up here!"  Phoenix shouted. 

The Dokks turned to look, but it was too late.  Phoenix fired off exactly three shots in less than a second.  They fell over dead. 

Phoenix had momentarily considered using some sort of non-lethal force, but he concluded that if they lived, they would surely find some other poor sap (or saps) to butcher. 

*    *    *

Even before he could see him, Phoenix could hear the sound of Jazon shouting in pain.  There were other voices too. 

"Ha!  Take that, old man!" 

I shouldn't have let him go alone!

Phoenix rounded the corner to see Jazon surrounded by a half-dozen teen-aged boys.  Before Phoenix had time to react, the tallest of them plunged a large knife into Jazon's chest.  Phoenix froze in horror as he watched Jazon slowly collapse. 

"NO!" shouted Phoenix. 

All eyes shifted to look at Phoenix.  The tallest one, which appeared to be the leader, spoke. 

"He's a techie.  He deserved it." 

"What?" 

"Come on, everyone knows that the techies are the ones that destroyed the matrix." 

"I didn't touch the matrix," Jazon gasped.. 

"Who asked you?"  The leader shouted as one of the others kicked Jazon's head.  "Maybe if you had been maintaining it, it wouldn't have gone down."  He looked back at Phoenix.  "Do you have a problem with that?" 

Phoenix snarled.  "He's my friend." 

"Friend, huh?  Well, I think that 'friends' of techies deserve the same fate.  What do you think, men?"  The other gang members nodded and chuckled enthusiastically.  They started to raise their weapons, but without success.  Phoenix was done with his work before the first one could even fall to the ground.  In unison, each one glanced down at the steaming hole in his chest where his heart, among other things, once was.  Then, finally they all slumped down into a single bloody heap. 

Phoenix holstered his guns beneath his coat as he walked over to Jazon and knelt down by his side.  Jazon coughed heavily and then proceeded to spew out a mouthful of blood.  The handle of the knife moved in sync with each belabored breath. 

This can't be happening.

"Look, I think I can get you to a doctor." 

Jazon shook his head.  "No time," he whispered.  "Pocket." 

Phoenix looked confused.  "You want something from your pocket?" 

Jazon nodded.  Phoenix quickly checked the inside of his jacket, but could find nothing except for a small colorful cube.  He held it up for Jazon to see. 

"This?" 

Jazon nodded once before having another coughing spell.  His coughs were extremely difficult this time.  More blood.  Glitch!  He's dying. 

"What is this?  Can it help you?" 

Finally the coughing subsided.  A weak but deliberate smile crossed his face.  He inhaled once more and uttered his final words, "It was worth it." 

Phoenix watched the spark depart from his eyes.  He could hear the whisper of the remaining air departing from his lungs. 

Phoenix watched for a few moments, hoping in vain that his chest would rise once more.  Nothing.  Phoenix closed Jazon's eyes and then leaned back to sit on the cold, wet ground.  The rain poured down on him.  He didn't care. 

I've not even known the man for a whole day, and now I feel such loss.  It's my fault.  I shouldn't have let him go alone! Phoenix clenched his fist and was about to slam it down on the ground when he noticed that he was still clutching Jazon's cube.  What is this?  Phoenix vacantly wondered. 

Phoenix looked it over.  The cube was perfectly square and was about two inches long in each direction.  Each face had a different color.  Each face also had unique geometric shapes.  Each pattern was symmetrical and had a different color from the rest of the face.  The face that Phoenix now studied was purple with yellow triangles in it. 

Phoenix fiddled with the cube for a few moments and then decided that he couldn't figure out how to activate it, if it in fact, did anything at all. 

I suppose it just must have been some sort of good luck charm or something.  He probably wanted to be holding it when he died. Phoenix placed the cube in Jazon's lifeless hand and stood up.  He shook his head and slowly picked up the regulator. 

Phoenix stopped, turned around, grabbed the regulator, and went back to pick up the cube.  Some g'ekk will probably come along and steal it.  I'll just take it with me and find something appropriate to do with it.  Poor Jazon won't know the difference anyway.

*    *    *

Phoenix dejectedly entered his boathouse.  He set the regulator down and then slumped down onto a nearby metal chair.  He put his head in his hands and rubbed his eyes. 

I don't get it.  I knew the man for less than a day, and now, I feel like part of me is gone with him.  This is ridiculous!  I shouldn't be this sentimental.  I just need to focus on the job at hand.  What is the job at hand?  The job at hand is to get my boat fixed so I can get the glitch off this island.  And how do I do that?  With this here regulator.

Phoenix bent over and picked up the charred device.  He smiled. 

"Yep, this here is my ticket to freedom." 

He stood up and looked around.  His smile vanished.  Where the glitch are my mechanics?

As if on cue,  Phoenix suddenly noticed the infopad on the ground.  As he picked it up, it automatically came to life with a gentle green glow.  Phoenix read the luminous green text. 
 

    Fenix,

    Sorry to skip out on you, but Aran ordered us back to the Rusted Whale because it was becoming too dangerous for us to stay here.  We repaired what we could.  The only thing left is the regulator.  I'm sure Jazon can handle the rest.

    It was nice to meet you.

    Greasy


"Those stupid techies can't even spell my name right."  He was annoyed, but too tired and depressed to be angry. 

He walked over to Lady Luck and inspected the hole in her side.  An intimidating set of wires and connectors dangled loosely in the empty space.  He glanced at the regulator and then back at the hole. There's no way in Eiech that I can fix this myself.

Phoenix's technical abilities were limited to subjects that directly related to conning and escaping.  He understood every inner working of doors and locks.  However, he couldn't even do simple maintenance on a hovercar, let alone perform a major repair on a high-performance boat. 

Well, it looks like there's only one thing to do.  I'm going back to Aran to get Greasy back.

Phoenix strode out the door, but immediately stopped in his tracks.  Large plumes of smoke curled slowly up from the direction he wanted to go. 

This is not good.

*    *    *

Phoenix stood atop the roof of his boathouse.  In his hand he held a small hand-held radio scanner.  He kept his head steady as his enhanced eyes zoomed in on the distant spectacle. 

The riot appeared to be going full force in that section of town.  The smoke was coming from several buildings that were on fire.  A sea of people filled the rest of his vision.  Here and there flashes of gunfire and explosives highlighted different areas of the chaos.  As Phoenix zoomed in, he could see swarms of people fighting hand to hand.  It was a giant battle with no purpose and no sides.  There was constant motion, but at this distance no sounds could be heard.  Rather eerie,  Phoenix noted. 

Phoenix noticed a legion of ACCU's off to the side.  He flipped on the scanner and tuned it to the standard ACCU frequency.  The sound of an ACCU commander barking an order crackled out of the scanner. 

Phoenix watched as the ACCU's used their heavy weapons to mow down the people nearest them.  On the scanner, he heard their loudspeaker blaring something about citizens of Utopia being deported. 

Phoenix didn't relish the idea of making his way through all that mess. This is really bad, but if I'm careful and keep to the outskirts of the action, I should be able to make it.

An intense blaze of gunfire caught his eye.  He looked in that direction.  Phoenix was having difficulty making visual sense of the cluster of dark objects that seemed to have appeared on the scene. Whatever they are, they sure are stirring up quite a fuss!

The scanner came to life again. 

"Article thirty-seven!  Quickly!" 

Phoenix was confused.  It was a long time ago, but Phoenix remembered that Article Thirty-Seven of the Constitution of the Nation of Utopia dealt with non-human citizens.  This particularly stuck out in his memory because it was even stranger and made even less sense than the rest of the constitution. 

Then, one of the dark shapes raised its head.  Phoenix had never before in real life seen one of these legendary creatures, but he could now make out the unmistakable silhouette of an eoa. 

Glitch!  There must be a dozen of them!

A voice from the scanner started reading article thirty seven. 

"Under this article, non-human citizens will be granted all privileges of human citizens, except for--uurrgh!!" 

Phoenix saw an eoa easily pick up one of the ACCU's with its giant maw. 

This must be the guy on the scanner, Phoenix mused. 

The now stressed voice continued at a hurried pace, "...The following--uuurrgf--conditions apply, however.  Number--AAAAAGGHH!!!!" 

Phoenix watched in a mixture of horror and amusement as the eoa, with a quick flick of its neck, tore its prey in two. 

I think my boat can wait until tomorrow.

Continued in [s054]: Demon Apocalypse [T-minus 3]

  Post: 07.12.2001
Date: 12.31.2195
Time: Midday

Continued from [a034]: Obliterated [T-minus 2]

Obliterated [T-minus 1]

The ground rumbled in anger, and the steel groaned in agony. The large metal structures all around the coastline struggled to resist the inevitable. To Phoenix, the people fleeing out of and away from the doomed buildings resembled a multitude of marbles being spilled out of an overturned bucket.

Finally, one of the taller buildings succumbed to gravity and began to collapse. Phoenix adjusted his binoculars. As it fell, Phoenix quickly tried to evaluate where it would land. He spotted Aran's barge, The Rusted Whale in the nearby area.

"Serves that tinwit right for all the trouble he's caused me."

However, he had no sooner spoken those words than The Rusted Whale began to move. As the building continued its deadly demise, The Rusted Whale departed at a surprisingly high speed for such a large ship--no doubt due to the fact that it's using parts that were stolen from MY BOAT.

The past twenty-four hours had largely been a wash. K'Thos and Phoenix had made several attempts to go back to the Rusted Whale. Their plan was to retrieve Ta-Kyn, Greasy, or one of the other techies and force them to finish off the repairs to the Lady Luck.

Unfortunately, the rioting had become so severe that they were forced to turn back. To make matters worse, several earthquakes had obstructed the road with debris from fallen buildings. It was now virtually impossible to reach the Rusted Whale.

Now K'Thos was attempting to finish the repairs himself. He and Phoenix went out onto the street to get spare parts from hovercars, street rovers, or whatever they could find.

K'Thos was not as mechanically talented as any of the techies, so going was slow. Phoenix could do nothing to help, so he had spent most of his time sitting on the roof with a pair of binoculars watching the general chaos.

With an ear-splitting bang, another earthquake rocked the island. Phoenix dropped the binoculars and held on, as best he could, to the boathouse roof with both hands. The deep rumbles continued for a few more seconds.

Phoenix looked upward as the nearest apartment building continued to shake and screech--even after the quake stopped. Screaming occupants were flooding out of the precious few entryways. Many terrified residents of the lower stories leaped out of their windows--some of them to safety, some of them to their death.

Phoenix raced inside the boathouse.

"Glitch it, K'Thos! We need to go! NOW!!!"

A voice shouted back from the opposite side of the boat, which was still suspended in the air above the floor. "I'm not done yet!"

"That apartment building is about to fall in our general direction. I don't know if it's gonna hit us, but I don't want to find out first hand."

Phoenix quickly climbed up the ladder to the deck of his boat.

"Glitch the engine, and just get in here!" Phoenix ordered. "We can still maneuver without it."

Without waiting for K'Thos to respond, Phoenix slid down the hatch.

His heart was pounding; his adrenaline was rushing. Phoenix usually loved the feeling of an adrenaline high. Not this one. This time, there was no excitement--just sheer terror.

On many occasions, Phoenix had used this craft to make a hasty escape. However, this was different. Instead of angry people chasing after him with some insignificant hand-held weapons, this was a very large and unfeeling building. He could no more than talk his way out than fight his way out of the situation. There was only one option left--escape.

Phoenix could no longer hear the sickening whine of twisted metal, but he wasn't sure if that was because being inside the boat muffled it, or because the building had settled without collapsing. He hoped the latter.

Phoenix scrambled up to the cockpit and slid into the pilot's seat. He flipped a few switches and the control panels started to blink to life with whirs and beeps. The boat's control system took exactly five and a half seconds to start up--he had timed it. Out of habit, he strapped himself in while waiting for the seeming eternity to pass.

Phoenix exhaled and, with nothing else to do, listened to the reactor growl to life. K'Thos had explained to him that the boat's reactor (which apparently powered the ship) was fine. However, the regulator device that Ta-Kyn had removed allowed power to flow from the reactor to the boat's engines.

Without the regulator, the boat was still fully functional, except for the fact that it couldn't move at any appreciable speed. Using the docking thrusters (which were designed for docking purposes only), there was still a chance that they could put enough distance between themselves and the potential devastation of the toppling building.

Just as the last few panels flickered into existence, Phoenix heard K'Thos behind him, clamoring down into the boat.

"Don't worry about closing the hatch," Phoenix shouted, "I'll get it. Just hang on to something. We're gonna drop in a second."

Phoenix pressed a large red button labeled "ESCAPE!" Phoenix instinctively grabbed his seat with his left hand as he gripped his seat with his right.

The hatch above and behind the cockpit instantly snapped shut. A loud rumbling came from somewhere beneath the boat. Phoenix could not see it by looking out the windshield, but he knew that the metallic floor of the boathouse was quickly peeling itself back, revealing the water below. Similarly, the wall in front of them split open to let them out.

"Here we go!"

Phoenix felt his stomach leap as boat freed itself from the chains that had been suspending it. The boat slammed into the water with a tremendous splash. K'Thos lost his grip of whatever he was holding on to and clattered to the floor. He tried to get up, but had to wait for a moment until the boat stopped being tossed by the waves that it had made.

Phoenix pressed the button to activate the docking thrusters. The boat eased forward.

He was used to shooting out at nearly full speed (after all, the Lady Luck was a high-performance boat.) Now, he was almost sickened at the slowness at which it emerged of the boathouse. However, he was glad that it was at least moving.

The boat quietly picked up speed as Phoenix pushed the thrusters as hard as he could. He had never had the opportunity to "floor" them before, and surprisingly, they were actually a bit faster than he expected (although still painfully slow).

He eased into a gentle right turn as they passed the end of the dock. He switched one of his control panels to show the rear view in its display. He could see the building. It seemed that it had, indeed stopped, at least momentarily, from collapsing.

A bright flash filled the screen for a second. Smoke was coming out from near the bottom of the building. Some sort of explosion had occurred. The building started leaning to the side, but then changed its mind and came straight towards them.

"Hang on! It's falling."

Phoenix braced for impact.

I hope we're far enough away.

The small control-panel display showed the apartment building slowly toppling over. When it landed, it not only took out Phoenix's boathouse, but almost the entire pier as well.

The impact created a large wave that nearly overturned the boat. Huge chunks of the building and pier splashed down all around them, and a multitude of smaller debris rained down on the boat, clattering loudly.

Within seconds, the splashes slowed and then stopped altogether. Phoenix's expression changed from a look of uncertainty to a smirk of arrogance.

"Heh. Even with only thrusters, the Lady can outrun a building."

CRASH!!!

To Phoenix, the shock of the impact felt like his head was being turned inside out. He now found himself practically falling out of his chair. His seat restraints were the only things keeping him from tumbling out. K'Thos was sprawled across what used to be the wall of the boat. He was soaked in water.

Through the side windshield, Phoenix could see sky.

"We're gonna capsize!"

The boat stayed suspended in this attitude for a moment or two before moving again. Fortunately, it righted itself instead of flipping all the way over.

"Perhaps I spoke to soon," Phoenix groaned.

"About outrunning the building or about capsizing?"

"Yes," Phoenix replied.

"We'd better assess the damage," K'Thos suggested.

The interior of the boat was now lit eerily by emergency lights and the setting sun. The floor was covered with water.

Suddenly, a small feminine groan came from somewhere. K'Thos and Phoenix stared at each other. The haunting sound came again. It seemed to be coming from one of the couch/beds in the back.

Stowaway!

Phoenix unbuckled himself, drew a weapon and grabbed a flashlight. He tried to be silent as he make his way aft, however, the inch or so of seawater covering the floor prevented this. He reached the bunks in the back of the boat. He guessed that the noise (and whatever was generating it) was probably in the cargo stowage area space underneath the bunk. He shined the flashlight at the small door, and, with his gun-hand, he quickly threw it open.

"(2)syl!" he gasped.

The only response was another moan.

"(2)syl! Are you alright?"

"Uhh…I…I…Uggggh…." (2)syl mumbled as her eyes rolled back.

"I'll take that as a 'no.'"

Phoenix extricated (2)syl from her hiding place and gently laid her down on the bunk.

"I'll wake her. You check on the damage," Phoenix ordered.

As K'Thos left, Phoenix covered the unconscious girl with a blanket.

"(2)syl," he said quietly as he softly touched her cheek.

Her iridescent blue hair was wet and tangled. Her face was covered with dirt, grease, a few small bruises and cuts, and a couple smudges of blood. A single large bump adorned her forehead. Her skin-tight clothing had not faired much better. Besides the dirt and grime, the already revealing outfit also sported several tears.

Phoenix gazed at her face. Even like this, she still looks like an angel--Where the glitch did that come from?

Shocked and horrified with this current train of thought, he started yelling at her. "Hey you! Wake up!" he shouted as he slapped her soundly.

(2)syl came too. "Oh…my head! Ohhh….You!?"

"Funny, that was my reaction too."

"What happened?"

"The boat got hit by a building, and then, apparently, you got hit by the boat."

By the confused look on (2)syl's face, Phoenix could tell that her mind wasn't quite up for such exaggerations yet.

"Speaking of which, what exactly are you doing on my boat?"

"Tyillion…she brought me here."

"Who's Tyillion?"

"One of Aran's friends."

Phoenix rolled his eyes. "Why am I not surprised? Aran's friends are all trouble. So, anyway, why did Aran's friend leave you here?"

"The Bleed came. Aran told Tyillion to get me to safety. She brought me here and then left."

"The Bleed?"

"I'm not exactly sure what they are either. Strange creatures that seem to consume everything in their path--people, structures…everything."

"Ah. And buildings too, I suppose?"

"Probably."

Phoenix feigned annoyance. "Well, I suppose you can stay."

"Thank you," (2)syl said without quite picking up on the humor.

Just then K'Thos clamored back in.

"You'd better take a look at this," he said grimly.

* * *

Phoenix stood on the top of the boat and surveyed the damage. A large portion of the starboard aft section was smashed. Even though there was considerable damage, it seemed as if the deadly missile had actually just grazed the boat. Phoenix shuddered to think what a direct hit would have done.

"It doesn't look too good," K'Thos said, "The maneuvering thrusters are offline."

"Great."

"Oh, and I think we've got another problem too," K'Thos added as he pointed toward the shore.

Phoenix did not need binoculars to see the thousands of people taking to the water in a desperate attempt to escape the destruction. They were all swimming…towards them!

"Glitch! It won't take 'em long to get here! K'Thos, I don't suppose you could try to fix…"

"I'm already on it."

"How can we help?"

"Well, for starters, I'll need tools." 

* * *

As soon as Phoenix was inside, he realized that he had no idea where the tools were. Hopefully we didn't leave them.

"Where are they?" Phoenix shouted up to K'Thos.

"Starboard wall storage compartment," came the reply. Whew! Thank goodness for that.

He opened one of the panels on the wall, and out tumbled a gray metallic box. It was the toolbox. Phoenix swore as he tried to keep the box from falling to the ground. He was a moment too late. The box slammed the floor with enough force to pop the lid open and scatter the contents throughout the entire cockpit.

Phoenix swore again, then quickly got down on his hands and knees to gather the tools. They were everywhere! Phoenix clumsily grabbed them by the handful and tossed them back into the box.

Phoenix started to get angry with himself, but realized there was no time for it. Okay, concentrate. In a minute, we're gonna be swarmed by people trying to hitch rides. Need to get these tools to K'Thos so he can fix the boat so we can get away.

"Hurry up down there! They're coming!!!" K'Thos shouted.

He was about to check under the pilot's seat for more tools, when something on one of the control panels caught his eye. It was a small patch of red and yellow stripes about two inches square. In the center of the square was a toggle switch that was guarded with a red metal cover. The plain black letters directly above the switch said, "Plan C."

Plan C? What the glitch is that?

Phoenix racked his brain. The "Plan C" switch seemed incredibly familiar, and yet he had no idea what it was or where it came from.

Phoenix's eyes grew wide as the purpose of the "Plan C" switch finally returned to his memory.

* * *

K'Thos and (2)syl scrambled clumsily down the steps. "It's too late!" K'Thos gasped, "They're already climbing aboard. I might be able to do some of the repairs from in here, though."

"Never mind that," Phoenix responded, "I have a better idea. Have a seat."

Phoenix pushed a button on the side wall. A panel that moments ago was just part of the wall now folded down into a small bench seat complete with safety restraints. Unfortunately, this made the already cramped cockpit even smaller.

Phoenix pointed to the collapsible bench. "Get strapped in. I'll drive." The three stumbled around each other, but finally were able to make it to their respective seats.

Phoenix felt the adrenaline flow as he settled into the pilot's seat. He had never actually used the emergency boosters before, but he had always imagined that it would be quite a rush. But will it work?

He paused for a moment and stared for a second at the switch marked "Plan C." He took a deep breath and flipped open the metal cover that guarded the switch from accidental activation.

He glanced back at K'Thos and (2)syl. "You guys ready back there?" They both nodded. "Good, because this is going to be…a blast!"

Phoenix glanced out the windshield. He was startled to see that two dripping wet men were clinging to the boat and peering inside. One was trying to smash the glass with the hilt of a dagger.

Phoenix tapped the glass, getting their attention. He waved at them and grinned, goofily. "Bye bye!" he said, and pressed the "Plan C" button.

Continued in [s055]: Obliterated [...]

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