Mahad finds out what is really going on...
By now, Mahad was sure that something wasn't right. The uneasy feeling he'd had had been growing and was now beyond his ability to ignore. The Hyperion wasn't flying like a ship. It was flying like a simulator. A simulator under a fairly complex, but standard damage program. Like one he'd flown back in school.
But that notion was absurd. How in Skyland could he have gotten inside a simulator? There was one way to find out if he was right.
"Come on, open..." Mahad tugged on the access panel on the front of the console. He'd taken it off a few times before, but there was a bit of a trick to it and he was having trouble remembering what it was.
"Just open!" He kicked the panel hard. A feat that was worth noting in such an enclosed space and one that sent Mahad sprawling over the edge of the chair behind him.
The access panel clattered to the floor.
"Ow..." grumbled Mahad from the floor, rubbing his head. He pulled himself up and saw the panel lying on the floor. "Oh... now you come off!" He crawled across and peered under the console. "Stupid sh..." Mahad trailed off. The components and wires inside were not those of a ship. "It is a simulator?!" He wasn't just being paranoid. He knew what the insides of one looked like. The joy at being right faded quickly. "So what's going on..."
Mahad looked around the small space that up until a few minutes ago he'd thought was the cockpit of the Hyperion. "Hey! Anyone out there!? The game's up! Let me out of this thing!" He went back over to the hatch and banged on it. "Hey!" Someone had to have put him in here. It must've been the Sphere, but he could think of no reason why they wouldn't just kill him outright.
"I'm not stupid; I know what's going on!" He slammed the hatch again. The view of clouds and blocks crawling past fizzled, then cut out altogether, fading to black.
Mahad stepped back as the hatch opened upwards.
"Oh, I'm not so sure you do."
"Diwan! I knew it was the Sphere! What do you want with me?"
Diwan glared down at him. "You're hardly that important. Don't flatter yourself. You're only alive because you know where your sister is."
"Leave Lena alone!"
"Like I didn't expect that response..."
Mahad glared back, and then changed tack. "Okay. How'd you get me here? And what's with the simulator?"
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to tell you. We found you unconscious in your ship. We drugged you... brought you here..."
"You drugged me!"
"We couldn't have you waking up, Mahad. It was critical that you thought you were still in your own ship. We found this simulator a few days ago. It was one specifically built to test the Hyperion prototype ship. Your ship obviously has improvements on its design, but it was close enough. And of course, yours was damaged. You see, you've recorded on that simulator the exact path you travelled. The one you thought would bring you back to wherever it is you and Lena were hiding out."
"And you thought I'd just lead you too her? Too bad I know now, I'm not flying that thing anywhere, or telling you anything! I don't care what you do to me!"
Diwan raised an eyebrow. "Dangerous words. But we need do nothing to you. You may not lead us there, but you have left us a very nice heading programmed into the simulators autopilot. It's not as good as an exact location. But it will do."
Mahad looked down at his console. Then back at Diwan. He dove on the console.
Diwan activated her Seijin powers immediately, lifting Mahad up before he could get close. She lifted him out of the 'cockpit' and dumped him on the metal deck. "Don't even think about it..." she warned.
Mahad pushed himself back up, wincing slightly, and grabbed his boomerang from his back.
"I'm warning you..." Diwan growled.
"Or what? You'll kill me? I figure you were planning on doing that already." He raised his arm to throw the boomerang at the woman, but it was snatched from his grasp.
It floated away from him slowly and into Diwan's open hand. She looked at it dispassionately then threw it into the cockpit of the simulator. "Foolish boy. Seize him!"
Two Brigs marched up behind Mahad. He had nothing to fend them off with and couldn't do anything as they each grabbed one of his arms tightly. He struggled anyway.
"I'll let you live for now," said Diwan. "Just in case the co-ordinates you programmed into your autopilot were in anyway misleading."
"I'm not going to tell you anything!" Mahad growled, gritting his teeth and struggling against the Brigs.
"As I said, you've probably given us all the information we need. But it pays to be cautious. Besides, I think your sister will want to thank you for giving her the opportunity to finally attend Guardian School. Trust me, she'll love it."
"No!" Mahad shouted, kicking against the Brigs. "Even if you put her in Guardian School she'll never be like you!"
"Really? Pity that. But we'll give her a head start. When she gets here, she can watch her big brother die! Brigs! Throw him in that cargo transport simulator. Lock the door."
The Brigs started moving over to the metal box that was the simulator Diwan had indicated.
"You can wait in there until we retrieve the co-ordinates from this simulator. Then we'll go pay Lena a little visit."
"They... they're not the right co-ordinates! They're nowhere near where we're hiding!" The Brigs threw him to the floor of the larger simulator. He got back up and ran to the door, but it was slammed in his face. "Hey! Damn it!" He kicked the door hard, but the solid metal wouldn't budge. He stared at it, panting. He was stuck inside. And Diwan had the co-ordinates to Puerto Angel.
"I just gave the Sphere the location of Puerto Angel..." he stared at the metal under his hands and kicked the door again. Then turned around and slid down to the floor, putting his head in his hands.
"There's the Hyperion!" said Dahlia, pointing to the ship stuck in the dirt at the end of the skid mark.
She and Cortes picked up their pace. They reached the ship and Dahlia climbed up on the side of the engine.
Cortes stopped. Something in the dirt had caught his eye.
"He's not in the cockpit..." Dahlia said. She walked over to the access hatch in the top of the ship and pulled it open. "Mahad..."
Cortes activated his rifle. "Heads up, Dahlia."
Dahlia quickly slid off the ship, making herself much less of a target. "What is it? Mahad's not in the ship."
Cortes nodded to the dirt. "Brigs have been here."
Sure enough, the prints from their metal boots were clearly visible.
Cortes looked around carefully. Then shouted: "MAHAD!"
Dahlia jumped slightly and a flock of birds alighted from some nearby trees.
"I doubt the Sphere is still here," growled Cortes when nothing else moved. "And neither is Mahad."
Mahad looked up towards the front of the simulator he'd been thrown in. He wiped his sleeve across his eyes. "I can't just let the Sphere find Puerto Angel..." He didn't know what in Skyland he was supposed to do, but he had to do something. The Sphere would find Lena and take her to Guardian School. And they'd kill everyone on the block for harbouring her and the rest of the pirates.
He got up and walked to the front of the simulator, looking at the console. "How could I not tell it was a simulator?!" He'd flown in them for years of his life and he couldn't tell when he was in one and not a ship. But he never would've expected that sort of mistake to cost so much. And thinking like that wouldn't help now.
"How am I supposed to do anything from inside here!" he growled and slammed the console with his fists. It whined and sputtered, the power to it fluctuating, and then turned itself on.
"Yeah! That really helps!" Well, it was one thing he could do in here. Fly a simulator. But it wouldn't help.
Mahad sat down at the console anyway. It was a cargo ship. The things were boring to fly.
Then, Mahad had a thought. If this simulator and the Hyperion simulator had the right function... "Main menu..." he said, slowly and clearly. The simulated view of a part of Skyland was overlaid by a text menu. Mahad grabbed the control stick, looking at the menu carefully. A grin played at the corner of his mouth. "Yes!"
He selected the option that would allow him to connect two simulators. He'd done it with Shoomday practically hundreds of times. Join up their two simulators so that they occupied the same program space and race or try and shoot each other down.
The image on the screen flickered to a different view of blocks. And a view of the Hyperion, looking slightly different than the real ship had turned out as. It was flying slowly along the path he'd programmed into the autopilot. It would be the simplest thing to take out, even with the limited weapons of the cargo ship.
Mahad aimed and fired.
The Hyperion exploded in his view. Now, if Diwan had yet to retrieve the coordinates...
Moments later, he heard a bang on the other side of the simulator's door and then it was thrown open.
"What did you do!?" Diwan screamed.
Mahad couldn't resist spinning his chair around slowly to face Diwan. "I take it you've discovered my evil plan?"
Diwan glared. "This is no game."
Mahad got up, dropping all pretence of making fun. "No, it's not. That's why I can't let you get the coordinates to Lena. See, when you destroy another simulated ship in a simulation it wipes all the programmed information that would be gone had the ship really been destroyed. Perhaps you should've thought of that before you threw me in here."
Diwan stood glaring at Mahad. Then she finally spoke. "You're lucky that I'm willing to try anything to get Lena. If I weren't I'd kill you where you stand. But then, perhaps you'd wish I had." Diwan activated her powers and pulled Mahad towards her.
Mahad struggled, but could do nothing as Diwan dragged him out of the simulator. He tripped over the edge of the doorway, unable to control his momentum and continued to slide across the floor behind Diwan. He tried to look around to where she was taking him without ending up sliding in a position that could be more painful.
Diwan stopped underneath a wide shaft of sunlight that blazed through one of the large skylights in the complex. "Just thought I might need the extra power," she smirked at Mahad's confused glance towards the skylights.
Mahad gulped. "Whatever you plan on doing... I don't care. I told you before; I'm never going to tell you where Lena is."
"As much as you think you have the advantage of information in this situation, Mahad, you don't. You are simply the means by which we will get what we want. You have no control. If this works, it won't matter whether you tell me or not."
Mahad looked at her. "What..." But he was cut off as he felt something like a vice gripping around his chest and lifting him into the air.
"What do you mean he's not there?!" Lena practically shouted.
Cortes really, really didn't want to have to try explaining it. Having to tell a bunch of kids their parents and family were not coming back, after the original rebellion had been destroyed, had been more than enough for him. Even if it was twelve years ago. He hated it when he had to go through it again. It didn't help that he seemed to be pretty bad at it.
"He's not there, Lena. But the Sphere has been there. They must've taken him..."
"Then we have to go find out /where/!"
"And where do you suggest we start?"
She looked lost for a moment, and then leaned back against Cheng's console. "I don't know..."
Cheng glanced between her and Cortes sadly.
"Look, Lena, I'm sorry. But I can't think of what else we can do."
Lena looked up suddenly, staring straight ahead. "Mahad!"
"Lena...?" Cheng asked.
"I thought I felt..." She lost focus again and stared off into nowhere. "Mahad, no!"
Cortes grabbed her shoulders as she started tipping off balance. "What is it, Lena?"
"Mahad... someone's hurting him..." She looked up at Cortes. "We've got to go help him!"
"Do you know where he is?"
"Cheng, bring up a map."
The display above Cheng's console flickered up a map of the immediate area.
"Lena, you need to show us where he is."
"He's..." Lena seemed to think. "I think it's that block..." she pointed to one off to the side of the screen. "I think... I'm not sure... we've got to help him, he's in pain... hang on, Mahad..." She lost consciousness and slipped to the floor.
Cortes grabbed her. "Wayan, Dahlia, set a course to that block. And keep an eye open for the Sphere."
Mahad wasn't sure what Diwan was doing to him exactly. But it felt like something was crushing his entire body. He wasn't sure how long she'd been doing it for either, because time seemed to have started to drag out and the only thing he could feel was the crushing grip she had on him. The grip that seemed to just get tighter until he could hardly breathe and he felt like his head would explode.
And as much he tried to fight it, it was getting to be more than he could handle. He just wanted her to stop. But he wasn't going to beg; he gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. He could barely even close his hands without pain shooting through them.
How much longer would she keep it up? He gasped as the pressure seemed to increase suddenly, and then he couldn't get any air back into his lungs. He just wanted her to stop.
Then he felt her brush against his mind. For moment, he thought she was going to try to find out the coordinates to Puerto Angel from his head. But he couldn't remember them exactly, and he tried not to think about it.
But it didn't seem like she was after the coordinates. Instead, he heard her talking to him. Why don't you call for help, Mahad? If you do, I might consider stopping...
He couldn't talk; he didn't have enough air in his lungs. No he thought. Who's going to help me anyway?
He must've thought that loud enough for her to hear, because he could feel her laughing. Just shout it out, maybe someone will hear you?
The pain increased again suddenly. Diwan must've been somehow convincing his mind that he was hurting more than he really was. Because it felt like it was impossible for him to physically take any more. But it still kept getting worse.
/Please just stop.../But it felt like Diwan had left his mind, leaving him alone with the pain.
Mahad couldn't take it anymore. He tried to yell, as if that could somehow help. It came out as more of a whimper. And then suddenly he felt Lena. She was close to him, she could help him. Lena...! But she was just out of his reach. Lena!
Then she was gone and Mahad blacked out.
Diwan stopped the flow of energy and let Mahad drop the few feet to the floor.
He lay there shaking and trying to breathe. She wouldn't kill him just yet. She'd wait for Lena to arrive. It was a simple matter to make Lena come running, as Diwan was sure she would. All it had needed was her to pick up that Mahad was in danger. The human mind was far more inclined to reach out for help with a little incentive. And a bit of Diwan's own powers, to 'boost the signal' so to speak, had helped. She'd felt Lena pick up Mahad's distress, and had taken her own mind away at that very moment. Lena would've been too caught up with what was going on with her brother to feel her.
Now, all she had to do was wait for Lena to arrive. "Throw him back in the simulator," she ordered two of the Brigs.
They moved over and dragged the boy up off the floor. He didn't struggle against their grip this time.
Diwan watched them dragging him roughly away. Lena would've been on that pirate ship, and when she came to help her brother that ship would too. She was, of course, counting on their foolish sentimentality to make them come and save him. If they were wise, they would cut their losses and just leave Mahad as dead. But she knew they wouldn't. They would come. Then she would have Lena, and have destroyed an entire pirate ship and its crew on top of it. Commander Oslo would have to be impressed with her.
Diwan pulled a radio out and began giving orders to the rest of her Brigs.