Route 97 seemed to stretch on forever.
“Kai, it’s nearly dark. Do you think we should find some place to have a little rest?”
“I dunno, I think it’s best we keep driving. Maybe we can make it to the Safe before dawn…”
Kai stopped and looked at Dark. Even though Dark was trying hard not to show it, he didn’t seem too well off. Maybe it would be better if they stopped.
“I’ll tell you what. We can stop for a little while. I guess I need some shuteye too.”
Dark nodded in agreement, an unsaid thanks lingering on his face.
“I’ll just check if someone managed to make some contact with me. I haven’t checked my mail in quite a while.”
Dark took out his Net-Top and began to log in, while Kai slowed to a stop.
There were three new emails for him. One was from a real estate firm with a list of realty prices. Dark wondered if he would ever be buying a house anytime soon.
The next one was some spam about Pepsi logos.
The last email was from an unknown address.
“Hmm, this doesn’t seem right.”
“What is it, Dark? Nigerian princes asking for money again?”
“No, this email. It seems to have come from an ID that shouldn’t exist. It looks like it’s been bounced off a proxy server somewhere in Asia.”
“Can’t you trace the original route?”
“I don’t know. Not from here anyway. Someone went to a lot of trouble to get this email to me without anyone finding out.”
Dark’s eyes quickly scanned the email attributes. And stopped on the three words in the Subject line.
“ ‘The Polaroid Truth’!! I don’t believe it. That was one of my stories on the Site. This has to be a Protagonist.”
Dark looked up at Kaiser123. Kai was nodding his head reluctantly.
“Kai, you don’t think so?”
“All I’m saying is it could be anybody.”
Dark thought about it for a minute. Someone wanted him to know that they knew his work. They couldn’t want anything wrong with him, could they?
Dark clicked on ‘Open’.
The email was surprisingly empty, just a line and one attachment.
“There’s just one sentence here. ‘Creators retreated after zealots in America nearly turned into xenophobes’. That mean anything to you?”
“Not really. Could be a reference to what happened in the States after the Bills were passed there.”
“Maybe, but why go to such lengths to tell me some history? The phrasing, something’s …different about this sentence. I can’t shake this feeling that I’ve seen it before.”
Kaiser123 leaned in closer to have a look himself.
“Nothing else in the email?”
“Nothing…no wait, there’s an attachment. A Zip file called nomoregoact.zip.”
“No more. Go act. ??”
“I know. It’s like they want us to do something.”
Dark was already filling in the blanks in his head. No more of the Antagonists. Go, act against them. But how?
“You think I should unzip it?”
“It could be a virus, or a mail scanner. We don’t even know who this guy is. For all you know it could be a trap. I think we should wait till we know more.”
Dark knew what Kaiser123 was saying was the smart thing to do. But his gut told him it wasn’t the right thing to do.
He unzipped the file.
Several lines of code instantly began to fill up the small screen of his Net Top.
“Where to, Commander?”
“Head North. I have one last place to visit.”
The pilot of the Sikorsky executed a smooth motion, rolling the helicopter northwards and lifting off simultaneously. Commander Smith trusted Harrison, the pilot. Harrison wasn’t an Obliterator, but he was a useful fellow, and the commander liked bouncing his ideas off of him.
The commander’s GPS tracking monitor beeped again. He took it out and began to study it.
Something had happened. One of the three tracers had initially been at the Tower and then had started heading north. But now it was headed back towards the Tower again.
“That couldn’t be right.” Smith thought to himself, “Unless…unless the person with the tracer had been captured, and was being taken back for questioning. Oh hell.”
Smith knew he couldn’t allow that. If the person had indeed been captured, he had lost one of his best chances at getting to the Protagonists. He had to do something, and fast.
“Harrison, there’s been a change of plans. I need you to take me back to the Tower.”
“The Tower, Commander? Has there been another attack?”
“No, no, I just need to check on something.”
“Affirmative. Should I radio ahead and tell them we’re coming?”
“No need, just tell them it’s Section 3 classified. They won’t ask questions.”
The helicopter slowly rotated around in a fluid arc and set course for the Tower.
“I’ve always meant to ask. Why exactly is Section 3 so important to us?”
“Don’t ask me secrets, Harrison. I don’t like to lie.”
Before Harrison could reply, the radio squawked out a general purpose alert.
“Hey Commander, you should listen to this. Looks like someone made a royal fool of Commander Patterson.”
Smith held back a grin.
“Listen to this.”
Harrison put the radio on loudspeaker so Smith could hear it.
“…and dishonor. You have chosen dishonor, and you will have war.'"
The voice disappeared, to be replaced by Patterson’s gruff voice, shouting out orders and issuing warnings.
Another voice started to speak, “As you can see, these terrorists will resort to any means necessary to disturb our normal way of life. It is up to us to pay no heed to these empty threats. We promise that we will find them and we will…”
Harrison turned the radio off.
“What was that all about, Harrison?”
“Some guy interrupted Patterson’s announcement and started going on about retaliation against the Antagonists. Sounded like he was serious about it too. Patterson was unable to do a thing about it.”
Smith frowned. What were these Protagonists up to again?
“This can’t be good. If they’re taking up arms…well, I don’t wanna fight another war.”
“Harrison, they will not take up arms. In two weeks time, there will be no one left to fight a war. Trust me on that.”
“Kai, you’re not going to believe this!”
“What is it?”
“It’s part of the source code for the security firewalls and protocols around the Antagonist database.”
“What? Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, I tried to crack these for ages. Looks like they had double firewalls, some sweet coding there.”
“But who would have access to this kind of information?”
“Looks like our mystery informer is behind enemy lines.”
“But now you can crack open their database, right?”
“I’ll need a more secure location. I’m definitely not trying to break into the Antagonist network from my Net Top.”
“But once we get to the Safe, we can break in.”
“I think so, yes.”
“I have an idea.” Kai rubbed his hands together, glee spreading on his face. “The ultimate irony. What if we can upload our version of Protagonize onto the Antagonist network? It’d spread faster than anything we could do.”
Dark smiled, the possibilities unfolding inside his mind. And then something fell into place, like a light going on.
“It was on Protagonize.com! That’s where I’ve seen it before!”
Kai was flummoxed at this sudden outburst.
“Everything okay, Dark?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. I just remembered where I saw the line in the email. It was on someone’s profile at Protagonize.”
“How’s that possible? Before the Bills were passed?”
“I don’t know how. I can’t even remember who it was. But we can find out.”
Kai smiled in realization.
“My cached pages from Protagonize. You wanna look for him there, don’t you?”
“As soon as possible.”
Commander Smith hadn’t spoken a word since he had nearly told Harrison about what was to happen in two weeks. He should have been more careful with his tongue.
Smith’s personal cell phone began to ring, bringing him out of his self-imposed silence.
“This is Commander Smith.”
A bland tone began to speak, not shouting, not screaming, perfectly calm.
“Commander, what is this I am hearing? Some terrorist tried to disrupt Commander Patterson’s speech and spread some vile comments about us? How was this allowed?”
“Antagonist Zero, you know that is not my jurisdiction. Commander Patterson was incapable of protecting his communication lines. That is not my fault.”
“Yes, but these…Protagonists”, A tiny measure of emotion crept into Antagonist Zero’s voice. “These Protagonists are wreaking too much havoc. You promised me that they are peaceful. That they would not try anything too violent. Do you see what they are doing, Commander? They are destroying our way of life. Again and again, just like they once did.”
“I couldn’t have foreseen this. It seems some of their group are a little less likely to walk in the footsteps of Gandhi. But you can’t blame me for this.”
“Maybe I can’t, maybe I can. But that is not important. Find them. Kill them. Or I’ll find someone else to hang in their place.”
Commander Smith tried to ignore the threat and said, “ Affirmative.”
Antagonist Zero’s tone changed again, this time it was brisk, a soft malice lacing the voice. “As for jurisdiction, we just got word of Operation BTL. Someone alerted the French authorities. GIGN troops were waiting for your team.”
Smith’s jaw had dropped open slightly. His mind was racing furiously ahead, his mouth struggling to keep pace.
“We’ll pass it off as an attack by the Protagonists. A protest thing. But the information, it was Section 3 classified. There’s only so many people who knew about BTL.”
The words had an absence of inflection, but the bite still managed to filter through.
“And what does that tell you, Commander?”
“Security breach. In Section 3.”
“That’s right. Your department, I believe. Your jurisdiction.”
The call went dead. Smith slowly realized that he was sweating, despite the cold.