Chapter 3: Decisions

Michael Houston paced in front of the unstable tear. What was taking so long to get the word to go? It was only one word; "Go", and it's not that hard of a word to say at that.

He stopped pacing and looked down at his keytool. Vault sat motionless on Houston's arm; shining in the dim light. A smile spread across Houston's face as he remembered how he had received it at the Academy.

Michael's mind snapped back to reality and the pleasant smile disappeared as quickly as it had come.

Suddenly, a vidwindow pooped in front of the Head of Net Security. Prime Jenning's face filled the double sided screen. "We've checked the system and we are unable to find any information on it. Find out what's going on and report back as soon as you can. Jenning's out." The vidwindow then shrunk out of existence.

Houston turned. "That's it, Guardians! Move out!"

The co-ordinates of their designation had already been entered into the computer, and on Houston's word, the portal was activated. The guardian security officers paired off and ran into the silver sphere.

Houston watched  the others rush into the shimmering unknown and after every Guardian had disappeared into the portal, Michael followed his charges. The portal felt soft and smooth on his face and hands, like walking into water without the wetness.

As he walked into the designated system, he quickly looked around to get his bearings. Tall concrete buildings that were near the centre of the system towered in the distance and surrounding the twenty-one Guardians appeared to be large warehouses. Birds sang loudly and carefree a ways off and the sky was a rich blue.

Directly in front of the alert Guardians were five sprites and a small cubed creature; all staring back at them in shock and horror.

They must be the ones... Houston concluded. "Freeze!" he then shouted.

But instead of stopping where they stood, the five lone sprites took fighting stances. "Suit up!" shouted a blue haired female sprite with a long braid that almost reached the ground. All the sprites clicked their triangular icons and changed their appearances.

The red female sprite with the long blue braid was now wearing a skin tight black leather body suit. Her hair had changed to a redish-brown, her skin changed into the appearance of a human and a double holster that was behind her back each containing a .45 calibre gun which she pulled out and aimed at the Guardians.

The light blue sprite with lime green hair that was tied back away from his face, now appeared to be a tanned, brunette haired male in a white T-shirt, black vest, black tight pants, and white track shoes. Over his eye were blue tinted targeting glasses that were networked to the gun that he took out of the holster on his right hip. In his left hand he held a navy surfboard which he threw down and jumped on. He took raised the gun to the Guardian group.

The two dark navy skinned sprites with the fiery orange hair changed into two blonde haired humans wearing  matching white T-shirts. The female had a animal skin skirt where the male had animal skin pants and both had matching animal skin boots. The female had a long wooden bow staff and the male had two cases of some flat brass looking darts.

The last sprite grew larger with his transformation. He wore a black bandana to covered his blonde hair, a grey tank top and camouflaged pants with knee high combat boots. Around his waist was a belt that held twenty grenades, over each shoulder were two strings of ammo for his two large plasma rifles a large bush knife on his thigh and on his back was a knapsack of more weapons if he needed them.

Their transformations took no more than several seconds but that was all that Houston needed. At his word, a jumbled mess of keytool names were shouted, followed by a chorus of orders for restraints were called. The five sprites were completely overwhelmed with the shower of containment fields, stasis locks and electronic bonds that when the bombardment had ceased, the five figures were lying motionless on the ground.

Houston carefully walked up to the quintet of sprites to read them their rights. As he approached, he heard one of them say to the other, "Told ya so Quake. 'Real intimidating'!"

"Oh, logg off, Riven!" the other snapped back. "Just logg off!"

Houston couldn't help buy smirk at the sprites anger towards each other. "You are under arrest in the name of the Guardians." he announced to the group. "You have the right to remain silent," he began. "Anything you say or do will and can be used against you in a court of law..."

"Wait!" the brunette sprite called out. "Why are we under arrest?"

"Where should I begin?" Houston asked. "Hacking into the Super Computer, tampering with a system location, threatening a Guardian, resisting arrest-"

"But we haven't done any of those things." the surfer sprite protested as he struggled to sit up. "We don't know what you're talking about."

"Sure. Whatever buddy. You're still coming with me."

"But we haven't done anything." the sprite insisted. "We live in this system."

Houston looked up at the tall buildings in the distance. "By the way, what system is this?" he asked. "There is no information on it in the database."

"Uphoria." he stated. "This is the system of Uphoria."

Houston glared at the surfer. "Do you expect me to believe that?" he shot back. "What is the name of the system?!"

"I've already told you." the sprite said finally sitting up and answering calmly. "I don't think I need to tell you again."

"He's telling the truth, sir." the brunette female sprite spoke with the same tone as her surfer companion. "You have entered the system of Uphoria."

Houston  quickly looked at the system again. The buildings were fairly old and not the modern designs that he was used to. The cars flying in the distance between the giant structures were models he hadn't seen in years. Some were antiques. The Principal Office was in the centre of the city was an enormous cylindrical structure filled with large square windows that reflected the blueness of the sky. Each detail that Houston's eyes absorbed seemed to come straight out of his grade six english reader.

"Uphoria?" Houston whispered under his breath. Could it be possible? While Houston stood pondering the idea, one of the female Guardians behind him spoke up.

"What's that behind that building there?" she asked, pointing towards a corner of a near-by wall. Peeking from behind it was a small trembling figure, but as soon as it realized it wsa being watched, it vanished out of sight. The female Guardians stepped forward and called the being tenderly. "Come. You can come out now. It's alright."

But the creature, whatever it was, didn't come back. It stayed hidden and the sound of tiny running footsteps was heard in the near silence. The female Guardian turned and faced Houston. "Should we follow it?"

Houston shook his head. "No. We must see if everyone is all right in this system before reporting back. Be ready for anything." he finished with a warning. Everyone nodded and preceeded with causion toward the Principal Office in the centre of the city.

A small group of humans were waiting outside of the Principal Office when the guardians arrived. They did not look happy. Houston addressed the crowd.

"We've captured the terrorists sprites in your system and they will be prosecuted as soon as we can get back to the Super Computer. You're save now."

The head of the group spoke up. "We are not safe. Our system has been discovered, so we're vunerable for an attack, and those sprites aren't terrorists; they are employed here in the system. Release them at once."

Houston froze and felt his face heat up with embarassment. He quietly turned to his team and ordered the five sprites to be released. The freed prisoners struggled to stand up from being tied up for so long.

"Thank you." the leader said, deeply. "I am Mayor Brad Cassidy. Welcome to the system fo Uphoria. "

"Uphoria?" Houston broke in. "You mean this is Uphoria?"

"Yes, I think we should talk about this."

"I agree." the head of net secruity replied. "I have to report back to Prime Jennings, then we can disguss what ever you have in mind."

They both nodded at each other and walked into the dark Principal office.

"You can't do this!" Brad Cassidy shouted at the figure sitting across from him. "You have no right to do this!"

Michael Huston sat calmly with his arms crossed, looking across Cassidy's work desk in City Hall. "I don't think you understand that you can't do this." He said calmly. "We have laws across the Net and you must abide by them."

"But we don't want to be part of the outter Net." Cassidy tried to explain. "This wasn't our choice of action. As soon as possible, we would like to be inaccessable again."

Huston shook his head. "Whether you want to be inaccessable, that's your choice, but you have to realize that the spites that you have employed in your system have a choice too-"

"Choice?" Cassidy interupted curtly. "They don't have a choice! They have been created and programmed to be game spri-"

"Whether for games or not, they are sprites as you said yourself, Mayor Cassidy." Huston said raising his voice in volume. "And everyone in the Net has rights including 'Game Sprites' And-".

"And they are staying here!" the mayor bellowed.

"And," Huston continued as if the mayor hadn't said anything but matching Cassidy's volume, "if you refuse to give them a choice, I will be forced to charge you with illigal employment of a sprite, holding him against his will and treatment to another living being." Huston sat back in the leather armchair. "Times that by six, don't forget." he finished serveral volumes softer than he had started. "You would also have to be arrested and court hearings about htis case will be held." he formed a fake smile. "I'm sure you don't want to get involved up to your nostrils in that legal stuff, now do you?"

Cassidy let out a loud grunt, sat back and exhaled. "No," he frowned deeply. "No I don't."

"You can't be serious!" Quake just stared at his fellow sprites. "Please tell me I've been hit in the head too many times and that I'm hearing things."

Duke looked sadly at his friend. "You're not hearing things, Butch." He frowned. "We're leaving."

"But... you can't leave!" Quake pleaded. "Uphoria is our home."

Myst quietly walked up, and gave Quake a hug. "We know it is and it always will be, but we never said that we wouldn't come back."

"Right," Riven added. "We just want to see the Net. Up until now, we've only seen Uphoria and most of our time has been just in the gaming arena. We want to explore, learn, and experience new places elsewhere."

"We will return, my friend." Genesis placed a hand on Quake's shoulder. "Do not worry, you will not be forgotten. And we will come back within the year."

"But..." Quake couldn't finish his sentence; his voice got caught in his throat.

Myst, who still had her arms around Quake's chest, gave him a tight squeeze and let go. "I hate to think of you here alone, but adventuring is in my code and everyone elses. You have the love of action and adreniline rushes - ours is to explore. We can't go against our function."

Quake sadly nodded. "I understand, but..." he paused. "But does it have to be an entire year?"

Riven smiled. "No, I guess not." He looked at his twin. "I suppose we could come back in six months, if that's alright with you, Butch."

A small smile appeared on the gruff sprite's face. "Six months is much better than twelve. Though..." he looked down. "I wish you weren't going at all."

Lara stepped forward and hugged the tough game sprite. "We'll all miss you, but this is something we have to do."

"I know. Just hurry back."

"We will old friend." Duke said, slapping Quake hard on the back. "Besides, no one is here to beat your bitmap at the games and then josh you about it. That's my job."