Part Two: Uphoria

"Welcome to the Monty Carlo Grand Prix, ladies and gentlemen!" the loud speaker greeted the multitude of spectators that had crowded into the giant stadium. "It's a beautiful day for racing, and I'm sure that this race will be one to remember for years to come. If you are in need of refreshments, they are being served outside the coliseum.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the drivers today are the best in the world! In the blue car, we have Bobby Malone!" The young driver waved an arm outside of the car window to the cheering crowd.

"In the red car, Mike Collins!" The second driver smiled, extremely please with himself that he made it to the finals. The eleven other drivers were named off one by one. An unnamed male figure in the white car behind the all thirteen cars remained stone faced as he stared straight ahead of him and down the track. The female driver in the black car beside him, checked her gages, gas and oil lights.

"Drivers! start your engines!" the loudspeaker boomed. The engines of all fifteen cars roared to life and all thirty hands were placed firmly onto the steering wheel. The pair of starter lights glowed like two red eyes, staring at the fifteen racers; waiting.

Suddenly over the speakers "On your mark! Get set..." The lights began to change from red to yellow. The drivers revved their engines, eager to begin the race. Finally, the last light turned green. "GO!" The race started with sixty tires squealing and exhaust exploding out of the tail pipes.

Faster and faster the cars made their way down the track and to the first turn. The two unidentified cars were slowly making their ways up the ranks. The two lead cars driven by Bobby and Mike were having no problem staying ahead; so far.

The nameless male driver worked his way through the maze of cars; getting faster with every passing moment.

"He's coming up on your tail, Bobby!" Mike's voice crackled in Bobby's head-set. The young driver looked in his review mirror. Sure enough, the dark figure was creeping closer.

"I see 'im, Mike. Thanks." Bobby carefully shifted gears and began gaining speed. 'Mr. X' changed gears, mirroring Bobby's actions, and stayed right behind the lead car. The group of cars whipped around the third corner and the faster cars were easily separated from the slower ones. 'Madam X' slowly crept into the leading group of cars.

Suddenly, the stands and spectators disappeared, leaving a grid wall, then re-appearing again; cheering and waving. The four head drivers all did a double take but continued on with the race. Further down the track, serveral members of the pit crew disappeared then flickered back into existence. 'Madam X' shook her head, thinking she was seeing things. Was she?

As the cars came around the final turn of the first lap, the racing track disappeared right from underneath the group of cars, sending the vehicles and their drivers spinning out of control. After the cars came to a full stop, all fifteen cars, eleven drivers and the surrounding stadium vanished, leaving a gridded room and four figures sprawled on the floor.

Madam and Mr. X painfully stood up and walked to the other two lying a short distance off. "Bobby! Mike! Are you both alright?" Madam X asked.

Bobby took off his racing helmet and nodded. "Yeah, I'm ok, Lara. The padding of the suit took most of the beating. I'll have some bruises though..." he said rubbing his tender back side.

Mike took off his helmet. "What happened, Lara? Why did the game do that?"

Lara Entrix shook her head. "I don't know, Mikey." She turned to a window that was incased within one of the four walls of the room. Behind it stood a young female sprite with short spikey hair. "Genesis, what in the system happened?" Lara called.

Genesis checked her instruments and reviewed the data from the game. "The data shows that the game lost quite a lot of energy near the end. That is why it acted that way."

"But what caused the power drain?" Lara asked as she yanked her helmet, letting her long braid fall down her back and stop at the tip of her boots. "Bobby, Mike, Duke and I could have been deleted."

"I know Lara, I am checking it."

"Come on guys." Duke said taking off his helmet, "Let's just check to see if you really didn't hurt yourselves and just don't know it yet." The two ten year old boys nodded and followed the tall male sprite out of the holo-game deck.

Lara clicked her icon, changing her racing suit to her regular white half-sleeved shirt, blue shorts with a pink stripe and high black boots that came almost up to her knee. All her aches that she had received during her tumble vanished as she transferred from her gaming mode to default mode. Her body just healed itself; that was the one advantage of being a game sprite that Lara loved.

Lara opened a well concealed door in the wall that held the window and into a poorly lit stairwell. At the top of the stairs was another door, which Lara opened and walked into the holo-game control room, to join her Genesis. "What happened Gen?"

Genesis looked up from the flashing control panel. "I have been monitoring the power input levels. Each time a portion of the game disappeared, there was a significant drop."

"A drop in power?" Lara was confused. "But we've never had a power shortage."

"Not true." Genesis said calmly. "We had a short when the founders cut the connection to the Net at the very beginning of Uphoria."

"Okay...that's the only time...but that was decades ago. We've never had any problems since then. Why would one happen?" Lara sat down in a chair and sighed.

"Relax, my young friend." Genesis spoke with quiet authority. "We have never had problems, true, but there is always a first time."

Genesis was viewed as the elder of the group of sprites because she was the oldest of the six. Uphoria sprites never aged because of their special programming. Her deep purple skin shone youthfully, as her dark green eyes sparkled from underneath her silvery white spiked hair. Her appearance mirrored the ‘punk' look from the late 1980's which was her programmer's favourite time in history. Her sleeveless shirt was a blinding flourescent neon yellow and her pants were a painful colour of bright green. Her belt was a fusha pink and her knee-high boots were white with multi-colored dots covering them. She wore three silver bracelets on each wrist and long silver chain earings that touched the collar of her shirt.

Lara shook her head. "How do you do it, Gen? How can you keep your cool?"

"I simply keep my head." Genesis smiled calmly. "That's how I keep my cool."

Lara took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It was probably just a small glitch and over with by now. There was no need to worry over nothing. Lara placed her hands on her knees as she stood up. "Well, I'm going to get some energy. Care to join me?"

The respected sprite shook her head. "I am going to wait until the diagnostic has finished, but save me one though."

"Can do." Lara waved at her friend and left the lofted room.

"It was completely weird! The game just halted in the middle of the first lap."

When Lara drew closer to the small group of game sprites sitting in a round booth in the game arena's restaurant, she heard Duke telling the others of what happened in the holo-game deck. As Lara sat down beside Myst PC, she smiled a greeting and the others made room for her.

"Really?" Riven took a sip of his energy shake. "That is weird."

"Out in the lobby, the lights dimmed several times. They almost seemed to be turned off at one point." Myst said softly as she pushed her bright orange hair away from her eyes.

"What were you doing in the lobby?" Quake asked.

"I was trying to rest after a six hour game marathon. My feet were killing me."

"Then why didn't you change into default mode?" Lara asked, joining the conversation.

"Because I was too tired." Myst grinned and her response cause everyone to smile.

"That's my sister," Riven jeered. "Always too lazy to do what's practical."

"I wasn't too lazy." Myst said as she punched her twin. "I was just tired, that's all."

Lara turned to Duke who was sitting across from her. "How are Mikey and Bobby? Were they hurt?"

Duke gently shook his head."Bobby was right, they'll probably have a few bruises but they'll be fine." Lara gave a sigh of relief as she leaned back in the padded bench and looked at her friends.

Duke Racer's long, faint, lime green hair was tied tightly back in a ponytail and stopped just below his neck. His personalised red and white sports jacket was unzipped, revealing a white tank top underneath. His wine coloured pants was a contrast to his orange socks, while his white track shoes squeaked on the floor.

Quake Conquer's yellow hair was cut military style and stay close to his head, while his bright blue eyes shone though a turquoise face and his silver id tags jingled with every move he made. His white tank top looked brand new and went well with his camouflaged pants. His black boots were very much like Lara's because they went up to the shin, stopped before the knee and laced all the way up.

Myst and Riven PC, who were still punching and poking each other sat beside one another. The Twins' bright orange hair was often hiding their purple eyes and hanging around their navy faces. Their clothes even matched from their purple t-shirts and green pants to their dark green shoes and bright yellow double crossed belt and socks.

Lara felt like she was sitting on something and when she stood up, she realized she was sitting on her long blue braid. She smiled and moved it to her lap. She liked having long hair, but it got in the way a lot of the time. As Lara took another drink of energy, Genesis quickly walked up to the booth.

"Sprites, I have something to tell you." She didn't get to finish. A double-sided window popped up in the middle of the table, startling Duke and causing him to spill his drink. Mayor Cassidy's face filled the window.

"Sprites, come to the Principle Office immediately. It's important!"

"What?" Quake asked. "And leave the game stadium?"

"All games for today are cancelled as of now." the human informed them. "Get here now! Cassidy out."

The vid-window disappeared with a ‘ping' and left the sprites staring at each other. "Games are cancelled?" Riven spoke what was on everyone's mind. "And this not even a holiday!"

Genesis took control of the situation; as usual. "You heard him , sprites; let us go to the Principle Office." Quickly the six game sprites were walking out of the game stadium. The brightness of the outside caused them to blink several times. They threw down their zip-boards, jumped on and off they flew to the centre of the system.

"Hey Lara!" Duke called to the young sprite with the long braid trailing behind her. "Race ya!"

"You're on!" she called back and took off.

"Hey! CHEAT!" Duke yelled after her as he tried to catch up and hopefully pass her. The four remaining sprites just shoot their heads at their companions and continued on.

"I win!" Lara smiled victoriously as she jumped off her board and turned to gloat to Duke.

"Only because you cheated." Duke frowned as he jumped off his board and reduced it to fit on his belt.

"Oh yeah?" Lara put her hands on her hips. "This coming from the sprite who thinks a fair race is you in a Mach 5 jet and me walking on my two feet."

"Well..." Duke raised his hands. "...yeah!"

Genesis' voice floated over to the pair. "Alright you too, that's enough. Just get in side."

"Yes, Gen." Both sprites said meekly as they headed for the large doorway. Mayor Cassidy met them at the door but didn't say anything. He began to lead them toward an inner room that hadn't seen many visitors since the origin of the system.

The silence was broken by Genesis. "Mayor Cassidy, did you discover what I have about the power fluctuations?"

Cassidy simply nodded. "Probably."

"What did you find out Gen?" Lara inquired.

"Something that, if I am correct, will change the system and probably our lives as well."

"That doesn't sound good." Myst whispered to her brother. Riven agreed.

"I don't like the sound of that either."

The seven figures entered a small room that had computer panels built into three of the four walls. Several young human security enforcers sat at the computer, monitoring something on the screens.

"I'll get straight to the point." Cassidy spoke with purpose. "We have checked and double checked out findings and we're sure of this fact; we are no longer disconnected from the Net."

"You mean...we can be found now by outsiders?" Duke asked.

Cassidy nodded slowly. "It's true and our scanners show that we've been located."

Glances were exchanged around the room. Everyone was thinking the same thing. Were they located by people with peaceful or evil intentions?

"What are we going to do?" Myst was worried. "The system isn't a war-loving socitety. If we're attacked, there's no way we can defend ourselves."

"But we do have a small line of defense" Cassidy looked at the six game sprites.

"We have a first line of defense?" this was news to the five game sprites, but not to Genesis.

"That we do." she agreed with the mayor. "The five of you." she said as she turned to her fellow sprites.

"Us?" Lara didn't quite understand the statement.

"Yes, you." Genesis said calmly. "What do you think you do all day?"

Duke was beginning to understand. "We play games."

"Right. Which is like..." Genesis prompted.

"Training." Quake answered.

"Boy for game sprites, they're pretty slow on uptake." Cassidy muttered under his breath to his co-worker.

Genesis overheard but chose to continue talking to her charges. "Therefore, are you ready to defend the system?"

"No," Riven said plainly. "But we really don't have a choice."

"You're right, you don't." Cassidy growled. "We humans created you. You have to obey us and do what we tell you. Meaning...get your ‘ascii's' out there and do what you can!" Before Duke, Myst, Quake, Lara or Riven knew it, they were out of the principle office, on their zip-boards and heading to the portal gate at the edge of the system. After they dismounted their boards, they stared at the round gate than may open from who know where.

The portal gate was a giant black iron ring that was held up with several thin iron rods. Strange symbols were etched into the black metal for decoration or were they actually words; the designers who had created it long ago had never said what they were and had died, taking that information with them. The gate actually resembled a fictional stargate from a twentieth century movie and later, a television show, but none of the sprites knew that; they had never seen the movie nor knew what a television was. All they knew was that this gate was never meant to be used again, even though it was made to last; that was going to change today.

"So," Myst shuffled her feet. "What do we do now?"

"I say we suit up." Quake suggested. "That way, we can look intimidating to whoever or what ever comes through the portal."

"Oh yes," Riven said sarcastically "and if a thousand invaders enter Uphoria, we five can look very imitating. Good plan Quake."

"Well," Quake defended "as least we'll have weapons to protect ourselves and the system for the two whole minutes we'll be processing..."

"Alright guys, knock it off." Lara stepped between the two fighting sprites. "Quake is right; we should suit up. It's the only practical solution we have."

"Hey sprites." came a small voice behind the group. "What's going on? Why aren't you are the arena?" All five sprites spun around to face the voice. The voice that had been thrown the questions out came from a very small being. That being was a binome. The binome stood blinking it's one eye at them, waiting for an reply.

"Never mind us," Duke frowned. "What are you doing here?"

"I work here." The binome said simply. "Why else would I be here?" he snapped.

"Is Cassidy completely random or is it just me?" Lara threw her hands up in frustration. "He didn't even evacuate this part of town! This is completely ludicrous!"

"Evacuate?" the binome was taken aback. "Why evacuate?"

"You know the power fluctuations earlier this afternoon?" Quake began but Myst and Riven both stopped them.

"We can't say exactly," Myst said covering Quake's mouth and receiving a glare for it. "But we need to evacuate this part of the system."

"In the risk of sounding redundant," the binome put his hands on his waist where his hips would be located if he had hips "but ‘why evacuate?'"

Just as Riven was about to attempt an answer for the snooty binome, the portal gate activated behind him. The binome's eye widened in surprise, shock and all ‘round curiosity. All five sprites turned one hundred and eighty degrees to stare in horror at the shimmering, silver portal.

"Oh no..." Lara's voice was hushed, but loud enough for everyone to hear. "They're here...."

Chapter Three