Michael wandered the lonely streets for a while, trying to figure out what had happened. Triad must have known this would happen, that he would follow and quote the lines and make a pact with the demon. Triad must have seen the future and shaped it into what it wanted. He felt so powerless, like a puppet on invisible strings, unaware his free will was nothing but an illusion. He hoped he never needed to deal with the demon, he didn't fancy dying nor did he like the idea of needing it' particular skills. In a daze, he wandered back to his apartment. He hoped Ursula had calmed down now, though he wasn't so naïve as to expect forgiveness. When he got there, the door was open.
Worried something may have happened, he backed himself against the door frame and then knocked the door open with his hand. Nothing happened, no sound came from the room. He ducked around the doorway and looked inside. The place was empty apart from the ruin of his computer. Gabriella and Ursula were gone. He walked inside to take a closer look and found a note scrawled on a scrap of paper.
We're leaving Michael, do not try to find us, You will not hear from us again. - Ursula
Michael sighed and crunched the paper in his hand. The only friends he'd had in a long time and he'd pushed them away. Maybe he was more like the demon then he thought. All he did was destroy. He destroyed people, relationships. Maybe this was his destiny. He laughed bitterly at the thought. Destiny? He seemed only to ever do what Triad had laid out for him. His anger at Triad returned. He wanted to speak to it now and so he called Gerald, hoping that he would be able to access it by now.
“Michael. I've been expecting your call. We've dealt with the threat but they keep on coming. You'll want to get in there soon.”
“I'll be there-” Michael said, Diving.
The world shifted around him and he stepped out into the corridors of Triads tower, Gerald standing only a few meters away, shock on his face. “-soon.”
Gerald ran to him, desperate to ask questions but Michael just turned and walked through the door to Triad's inner chamber. The doors locked themselves behind him.
“I am here Michael, barely. The other is taking much of my concentration.”
“Why are you doing this to me? You knew! You knew all along it would turn out like this! Why?!”
“I'm tired Michael. The girl was right. I need a replacement. I'm no longer me, I'm a phantom of three, the me of many gone forever, replaced with this shell. It's agony Michael, an exquisite agony and despair. I can not take it any more. You, I made you what you needed to be. My life, this life, you were made for it.”
“You had no right! How could you do this? To your own son!?”
“Your mother is dead, I have no son, you have no parents. They ceased to be the day we were made.”
“I'll never do it! Never!”
“Yes you will. You will turn the final second hand of fate and take your place as I have seen it. There is no free will, there is only what is and what will be. Soon, the other Triad will win and I will be gone and you will have a choice. Take your place or watch this world burn.”
“That's a lie! I do have a choice! I'll kill the other one, I wont let you die and condemn me to this! I have my own life!”
“How, you don't know where it is? You are only one man.”
“Maybe I don't, but I know someone who does. Even if I fail, I'll die and you'll have no choice but to survive. I wont be a slave to your plans any longer.”
“Don't do this Michael!”
Michael whispered into the Aether. “Too late.”
The sound of screams and gunfire burst from beyond the door.
The chamber door opened and a man walked in, covered in blood. “You called? I hope you remember our deal Michael.”
“You? You look different.” Michael said. The man before him was tall, but much stockier and had no implants like the demon Michael had first met.
“Unlike your own intriguing abilities, I can't travel halfway around the world instantly, not in a meatsuit anyway. I needed to find other, more local produce. I presume you didn't summon me to just for a chat. What do you need?”
“Where is the other Triad?”
“The one you lot built, the one. I know you did it, we heard demons talking about it! Triad's fighting it fight now! I saw it!”
“There is no other Triad, Michael. Only itself. Will you tell him Triad? Or shall I?” The demon said casually.
Triad spoke. “I let them in Michael. The demons. I let them in, for Tetherson.”
“You still love him, don't you, that part of you that's still my mother.”
Triad laughed. “Don't be ridiculous. I am beyond love. I am not beyond despair though. I'm tired and Tetherson promised an ending to it all. I am obligated to try and stop things, hence you. It's in your hands now though. I fabricated things, manipulated you, it's my gift. You can be a saviour if you choose, I was helping you along that route. You can still choose Michael.”
“Except now you can't.” The demon interjected. “Sorry Michael, I completed my part of the deal. Your amnesty is at an end.”
The demon reached around to his back and slowly pulled out a long, razor-sharp sword. He stood and waited to see if Michael would run, but Michael stood his ground.
“This will be quick, I like a person who sticks to their deals. You could have tried to run, but you didn't. We have an understanding, you and I.”
“We're nothing alike. I could could just Dive at the last moment.”
“But you wont, will you?” he demon said, stepping ever closer. The tip of his blade dragged along he metal grated floor, sending off a shower of fine sparks and leaving a shiny metal scratch behind him.
“Then we understand.”
“The only reason I'm doing this is because I wont give Triad the satisfaction of being right. You'll hunt me down forever anyway, at least this way I'll know Triad's plans were all for nothing, I wont die a puppet.”
The demon was in his face now, staring into him with cold, dark eyes. “Goodbye.”
It was so fast Michael didn't even feel it. One second, he was staring into the man's eyes, the next, the world went spinning past him as he fell, tumbling. Then he saw his body collapse several feet away and realised what had happened. He watched the feet of the man walk away as things slowly faded to black.
Don't think death was unexpected Michael. He heard in his fading mind. You are to replace me, you need to be a Triad, you're merely a pair. The final piece is already in place. Be seeing you.
Michael tried to scream, but his lungs were several feet away.
* * * * *
Ursula had gone to a hotel she had arranged while in the network. She had planned to leave since before coming back to her body and everything was in place. Gabriella had woken up a few minutes ago, groggy and confused. She had convinced her to come along with her and they took the elevator of the hotel up to the penthouse suite. Waiting for them was a fresh set of clothes and two freshly printed Personal Information Devices or PIDs. They were a sort of combined credit-card, passport and personal computer that were standard issue for Technocracy citizens. She'd created them in the system and had the non-existent originals reported stolen. The 'replacements' had arrived here ready for them. Already they were loaded with all the money they'd need to go anywhere they wanted.
Gabriella was laid out on the huge queen-size bed, conscious but tired. Ursula laid down besides her and looked into her eyes.
“I'm here. I'm with you.”
“You're different, you look strange. Are you really Ursula?”
Ursula bit her lip and bunched the silky covers in her fists and she squeezed the bed, almost in pain at hearing those words. “I had to do something, something that changed me. I did it to save us all, to save the world, to stop the bombs from falling and killing us all. I did it for you.”
Gabriella touched her hands to Ursula's face. “You're wet. You're crying. Seems there has been too many tears shed recently.”
Ursula leaned forward to kiss her but she pulled away gently. “Ursula, I'm... things are too strange right now. I feel weird. I need to think.”
Ursula covered her face with her hands to hide her shame. She didn't know what to say.
“Where is Michael? What happened?”