A/N: Hi! I’m back sooner than I expected. Actually, am waiting for a software to complete its installation. Online installers can be lightweight to download but a nightmare when your internet is kinda slow. So here’s a new chapter fresh from my smokin’ fingers. Hehe. Hope I won’t get too busy in the months to follow. >:)
The boy who opened the portal sat alone on a violet cushion. It was not what Fred had expected to see after crossing the doorway. They were in a white – he looked around. The walls, ceiling and floor appeared to blend into one.
Either this is some sort of optical illusion or I banged my head again, he thought. Fred dared to look down once more. All he could see was white and couldn’t tell the distance of the ceiling and walls. Was it even safe to walk in such a place? His eyes trailed to the boy several feet from where he stood. The boy’s a guardian, for heaven’s sake, Fred scolded himself.
Cautiously, he shuffled forward.
The young guardian didn’t seem to notice him. The boy was intent on staring at the ceiling. His arms were propped behind him with one leg swinging to and fro beneath the cushion.
When Fred was two meters away, the young guardian spoke, “Stay where you are, please.”
For someone his age, the lad’s tone was authoritative that Fred stopped. The guardian lowered his head and met the doctor’s gaze. Then Fred understood. A silver band with a single ruby set at the middle of the forehead adorned the guardian’s head. The doctor had a feeling that it wasn’t part of a national costume.
“I am sorry, doctor. Any closer and my protective barriers would have hurt you.” The boy smile sheepishly, fiddling with a pendant around his neck.
Protective barriers? Fred searched for any device attached in the guardian’s person. A sensor, perhaps? He eyed the pendant and the crown. In his opinion, inflicting physical harm was going a bit overboard. The guardian must be a member of an extremely influential family.
“Where are we?” Fred asked and looked around again. The room hadn’t changed – still the disorienting stark white space that gave him an impression of floating. The difference was his feet was firmly planted on solid ground.
“In Hathor’s Hall next to the Assembly hall. We’re not allowed inside. The guardians are discussing the Libyan matter with my Father now,” the boy explained.
“Your father’s the guardian, then?”
“Sort of.” The boy shrugged. “Oh!” He smacked his palm against his forehead. “I forgot.” Leaping to his feet, he took a step towards Fred.
“Wait.” Fred backed a step.
The boy paused.
“Won’t you trigger your barrier if—”
“Ah. No.” He shook his head, grinning. “It doesn’t work that way, doctor. The barriers are activated when an unauthorized entity – an outsider enters within a specific perimeter programmed into my protocol, according to the – a highly reliable source. I don’t understand much of what they said except that it can be a painfully memorable experience for the person. The protocol allows me to approach you, doctor. But if your intentions towards me are evil…” he shrugged. “You’re not going to hurt me; I suppose?” the boy added.
Fred shook his head, a bit overwhelmed. The doctor had never heard of a security system of its kind until now.
“I thought so.” The boy took a deliberate step forward and another. Feet close together and arms on both sides, he slightly bowed, “Prince Noriden of Uruimeth. A pleasure to meet you Dr. Williams.”
“Likewise, Your Highness,” Fred replied awkwardly.
“Noriden,” the boy corrected, good-naturedly. “Please follow me. We don’t have much time left.”
Noriden turned to his right and advance three steps then vanished for the second time. Fred had no choice but to follow than be left alone in Hathor’s Hall.
They arrived in a residential neighborhood, right in front of someone’s front door. His eyes landed on the painting around it and discovered who they were visiting. The prince knocked before Fred could pull him back.
“How – why?” the doctor demanded.
“Your friend’s methods of aiding people are unorthodox,” Noriden said. “That’s what Father says. Father approves but James is looking at the wrong direction. Somehow, he’s trying to break in to my kingdom’s servers and this has our experts worried. Father wants you to lead him to the right one.” The prince’s mouth curled up.
“What if we’re too late? What happens then?”
“Let’s hope we’re not.” The smile slipped. “It will be a violation of the peace treaties between your world and ours. The Golden Age will end.” He shook his head. “Sorry, I can’t tell you more. It’s a closed subject discussed among the leaders. Will you help?”
Fred stared at the royal prince. The words had rung ominous and with it more questions.
“The longer we delay the closer James is to breaching our servers’ main defenses.”
“Alright. I’ll help,” Fred relented.
“Here.” The prince handed the doctor a glass disk, the size of a button. “Leave it near his computer – somewhere unnoticeable. It’ll do its work from there.”
“It’s harmless, right?” Fred examined the small object more closely. He turned it, inspecting its cloudy white surface.
“Yes.” The prince muttered to himself: “What’s taking so long?”
The doctor looked from the prince to the door. He reached over the boy’s head and pressed the doorbell.
A minute later, Diana answered the door.
“You have a beautiful son, Mrs. Hydleburgh. I sometimes wish I have a little brother like him,” Noriden’s voice carried through the corridor. Fred couldn’t tell if the prince was being himself or playing a part. Noriden had introduced himself as Cheska’s young friend and neighbor. The excuse was his parents had left him to the artist while they were abroad. The painter, however, had been called away to attend to an emergency and left him under the “kind doctor’s” care. Showering Diana compliments had also done a good deal of getting into her good graces. All these were said smoothly. The prince had all but monopolized the conversation, keeping the mistress of the house from asking too many questions.
“Come in,” James’s muffled voice answered after Fred knocked. The novelist-slash-hacker sounded absent-minded.
The doctor entered. The chatter in the living room was cut off when he closed the door. James’ study was quiet with the occasional beep coming from the novelist’s computer.
“Has Cheska called yet?” James asked, not bothering to look away from his computer. He wasn’t using his desk by the window. In fact, the whole room looked different. The curtains were drawn putting them almost in darkness. Furniture had been moved aside to accommodate the hologram that showed multiple screens in the middle of the room. The computer responsible for the projection sat at the center of the room. The holographic screens formed a semi-circle around the novelist. His left hand rapidly typed on a holographic keyboard while his right swiped, swapped, resized, closed and opened screens in front of him. Command strings and protocols were predominant among the windows. Fred couldn’t understand the codes, yet he was certain that his friend was doing something illegal.
James, who had been expecting an answer for a quite some time, turned and was surprised to see Fred.
“You’re back,” the novelist said. His gaze flicked to the hologram behind him and back to the doctor. “I didn’t think you’d be back. El – Cheska was worried sick after you took off like that. Looks like you’ve recovered though.” James was a little suspicious. Fred had looked like he should be in the hospital earlier, but now he was totally fine. “Why don’t you sit down first?” James motioned to the couch closest to the last hologram.
“Thanks.” Fred sat. His hand surreptitiously went to his pocket to check that the disk was still there.
“How’s your head?” James leaned on the edge of his desk.
“The headache’s gone.”
“That’s good. Did you bring Cheska with you?” James glanced at the screen.
“No. She’s with my mom.” Fred felt guilty for the half-truth.
“She looks a lot like her, doesn’t she?” James folded his arms. “I’ve been meaning to tell you that I’ve been tracking down the person who reported Electra’s death to me.” He glanced at the holograms, checking on his work’s progress. “I found the organization he was affiliated with at the time. If I could just find a loophole in their firewalls, we could find out more about him.”
“You haven’t gotten in yet?” Fred followed his friend’s line of sight. A progress bar indicated: 92% completed. “May I?” At James’ permission, he walked closer – past the computer placed on the floor. He peered at his friend’s handiwork. Not all of them were simple commands. Several screens displayed 1’s and 0’s. Fred looked back at the hologram that displayed the progress bar. “What’s that – with the 92%?”
“About that,” James appeared flustered. He raked his fingers through his hair. “It’s a master key. I designed it to unlock security systems.”
“I thought your PC’s not equipped for hacking.”
James picked the cylindrical device resting on his desk. “This is a PC. That,” he pointed the gadget towards the object on the floor, “is a computer modified for my – other activities.”
The novelist’s off-the-cuff remark about starting a career unrelated to literature years ago and the prince’s forewarning hadn’t convinced Fred until now. The messy ginger hair, wrinkled clothing and constantly surrounded by books made it hard to identify his friend as an ex-hacker. But the confidence in James’ speech and movements from before – his hands precise and quick as he manipulated data in the holographic screens, hinted of his old life.
“What’s taking it so long?” James said, frowning. He strode towards the holograms and glared at the multiple screens.
Slowly, Fred moved back towards the computer. He crouched, keeping an eye on his friend while he slipped the disk beside the device and out of James’ field of vision.
“Ah, there it goes.”
The comment startled Fred to quickly stand and look at the screens. The progress bar had disappeared. In its place, a green flag appeared. A golden hawk with wings outspread was emblazoned at the center. A crescent moon and a star was situated on the creature’s breast. Behind the bird, two sabers intersected – their tips upward, forming an x. It was the flag of the Libyan militia government. The novelist cursed softly, then said: “How’s an Al-Saiqa officer related to that person?”
Fred gazed to the top-right screen. A picture of a dark-haired man stared straight ahead. Medals adorned his military uniform. He was the younger version of the spy currently known as Gerard Barbarossa. His jaw dropped when he read the spy’s rank: Commander of the Libyan Special Forces. The agent was declared deceased thirty years ago. The cause of death was a bomb explosion in a dilapidated building in Benghazi during a reconnaissance mission.
“When did you first contacted your tracker?” Fred asked.
“Sixteen years ago.” James shook his head, troubled. “I didn’t contact him. He sent me a message a month after my father died. The tracker didn’t name himself. He offered the same services he provided my father with. The first and last time I called him was to find Electra. When he did, that man disappeared afterwards. I didn’t get to pay him – didn’t get the chance to ask for his account number.”
Because you didn’t have to. It took Fred a moment to realize he had spoken aloud. He found James’ eyebrows raised, head cocked to the side, and arms crossed.
“Care to explain what you mean by that?”
Lying wasn’t Fred forte. He could omit a few details, but an outright lie? The doctor was stuck. In addition, James would sense Fred’s discomfort. Moreover, his best friend would sooner or later discover the Roucans’ secrets.
“Your tracker. I met him today. He’s been working for Mr. Roucan since Electra went missing,” he confessed.
“His name – or maybe the alias he’s using right now is Gerard Barbarossa. Under Mr. Roucan’s orders, he adopted Electra and gave her a new name—”
“Francesca Barbarossa,” James finished.
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: Is Gerard Barbarossa a friend or foe??
Can’t really say when the next chapter will be up, but I’ll try to have it encoded within the month of March. Let’s keep our fingers…and toes crossed. 😉
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