Annihilation

Ambitions

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The infiltration did not go completely unnoticed in the real world. Blackbelt merely ignored the alert, believing it to be a simple prisoner uprising that Mistman would handle as he had done plenty of times before. There was more important work the spiky-haired young terrorist preferred to concentrate on in his dimly-lit underground lab. He was getting used to letting the various navis under his command deal with their own problems. There were certainly a lot of them as he reached closer to his goal, but at the same time it was becoming less important to worry about the little things when the major push was only a couple hours away.

It was a different alert beep that finally took his attention away from the mechanism on his workbench. He turned to the monitor that displayed the status of his test navi storage directory. "Mistman is down? None of the other subjects could do that..." Then another alert on a different monitor came just as quickly, followed by another. "Oh, hell. Hackers."

Blackbelt moved quickly to put his systems on lockdown. He summoned Archer and Dragoon to hunt down the navi intruder, but the navi was about to be the least of his worries. When the exterior security camera footage alerted him someone walking up to his front door and effortlessly opening the electronic lock, Blackbelt had to move to prepare a different kind of defense.

"Knock knock." A smug young man burst through the door at the top of the stairs leading down to Blackbelt's hideout. The side of the landing looked down into the work area where Blackbelt crouched, partially covered behind his workbench, pointing a pistol over the edge of the table at the unarmed intruder. For his part, the intruder made no move from the landing while looking down confidently at the other man. He merely smiled and held out his hands to indicate he came in peace.

Blackbelt glared at the unexpected visitor, refusing to let him out of his sights. The light was stong enough at the top of the stairs that Blackbelt could examine the brazen interloper. It wasn't anyone he recognized. His appearance was unassuming enough, a white guy of average build with a green hoodie raised over a heavy mass of brown hair. There was a knowing look to his eyes though, like he was a step ahead despite being the one with a gun pointed at him. Blackbelt was incredulous -- this was the hacker that blew past all his security?

"How many are with you?" Blackbelt finally asked, breaking the tense silence.

"Other than my navi in your security system right now, I came here alone." The intruder answered clearly, then turned the interrogation around. "How many are with you?"

"Enough." Blackbelt bluffed.

"I doubt that, even if you're counting your navis. Mine happens to be very adept with optical systems and you have cameras everywhere. I know we're the only two humans anywhere close to this building."

Blackbelt started to get more irritated. He stood up, still with his pistol trained on the hacker. "Yeah, nobody around to hear me shoot you or see me dispose of the body. So why don't you explain why that scenario doesn't seem to concern you?"

The man at the top of the stairs calmly cleared his throat. "Admittedly, I tend not to deal with too many people who exercise that option of self-defense as opposed to, say, challenging each other to a netbattle. Nonetheless, I can tell you don't want to deal with a large opposing force right now, and even though I'm currently alone, harming me would prompt my navi to bring the Police and Officials down on this place instantly. Moreover, I think you're interested in what I've come here to discuss with you, or at least finding out what I know about you."

The silent tension returned as Blackbelt stared daggers at the mysterious individual, attempting to figure him out before leaving himself open to a potentially fatal mistake. He was too far into the operation for unexpected factors like this to come into play. He only needed a few more moments to decide...or alternatively to stall.

A window popped up on one of Blackbelt's monitors to put an end to the dilemma. It showed a view of his server's cyberworld with the diminutive cloaked Archer in the foreground facing the camera and the massive armored Executioner visible behind. A wounded blue navi was face down on the ground, held down by Executioner's heavy metallic foot. "We caught the hacker, boss." Archer reported. "He was a slippery bastard. Short-range teleport capabilities. We managed to shut him down though. Can't tell how much he did to the system before that though. Figured you'd want him undeleted in order to figure that out."

Blackbelt noticed the other operator's expression shift to one of disappointment and irritation. Finally relaxing his guard enough to take his eyes off the intruder, Blackbelt turned to the monitor. When he noticed the navi under Executioner's boot, his mind clicked for a second, and then he finally lowered his gun. "Flashman. Heh." He turned back to his visitor, completing the trade by greeting him with the devilish smirk that was originally staring back at him. "You're lucky. It turns out I do have some questions for you. Come down. Sit."

"Hmph." The man pulled back his hood and descended the staircase, maintaining his confident stature despite knowing he had lost an advantage. "I'm fine with standing for now. We don't need to be here very long."

"Really." The black-haired antagonist scoffed. Now that they were on the same level, he could tell they were about the same age. The intruder may have even been a little younger. "Why don't you start by telling me who you are."

The green boy sighed. "You can call me Smith. And you?"

"Hm. I think you already know who I am. That would be the Official L Smith, correct?"

Smith's eyes widened momentarily, but he quickly regained his composure. "Samuel Jeffries, a.k.a. Blackbelt. To be fair, I didn't know that the subject of an ongoing manhunt was who I was going to find here when I tracked down your navis. What an amazing coincidence."

Blackbelt walked slowly around the room, circling his guest. "You might be surprised. Now please tell me why you are here, starting with how you acquired Flashman."

"Oh? What makes you think that's relevant to anything?"

"Because I may have had a hand in it, which you must have already suspected."

Smith smirked and shook his head. "If you know this story already, why do I have to tell it?"

"Because I have a feeling our versions of the story differ in some key areas. I'll tell you right now that when I lured Flashman into your grasp, I expected one of two outcomes: Flashman gets away, or Flashman gets arrested. I did not anticipate this." Blackbelt getsured to the subdued navi on his monitor. "Now, stop responding with questions and give me some answers."

"Well...fine." Smith took a deep breath. He wasn't used to giving up his own secrets, but he also wasn't used to losing the upper hand. "As you can tell at this point, I'm not a by-the-books type of Official. ONBA's access and resources serve me well for my own projects. I'm sure you can understand the benefits of a good front when it comes to activities like...whatever all this is."

"Yeah yeah, I get it, we're all in the same boat. Get on with the exposition." barked Blackbelt, gradually losing patience.

Smith glared back, but continued nonetheless. "So...when I got information from the Officials that the Acid Hackers' Flashman could be found in a certain area of the Undernet, I took the opportunity to pursue a personal vendetta...Matthew Gemini once slighted me back in the day, it's not worth getting into any more."

"You went to the same academy as him, Jeremy, Vidal, and David, right?" Blackbelt inquired casually.

Smith seethed at the mention of those names. "Okay, you definitely know more than you're letting on."

"That was a guess." Blackbelt chuckled. "Mainly based on you saying 'back in the day' when you're, what, 18? Also, knowing what I do about those guys, I wouldn't be surprised if that school churned out even more hackers with more ambition than sense."

"Well that's rich coming from you." Smith sighed, forcing himself to calm down again. "Anyway, it's not important. I got back at Matty-boy, end of story. Or at least it should have been, except then I learned from the navi I stole from him that he was only in that part of the Undernet searching for one 'Fate', and that he expected a jester-like navi he was chasing would lead to him. It seemed a little too coincidental to me that I successfully trapped a navi based on intel that said he would be in that place all the time only to find out he was actually there for the first time ever for entirely different reasons than my intel suggested. So I started my own investigation off the books. I looked into this Fate nonsense, finding no traces of him but plenty of traces of Jester and your other Undernet agents. By tracking their movements I located your server and your base and...well you know the rest of the story from there."

"Not bad. Not bad at all." Blackbelt nodded. "So I guess you're here looking for answers of your own?"

"Well thanks to the other Officials I found out that the case that led me to Flashman was the work of Darkloids all along. That also happens to be relevant to my personal interests. I expected this little visit to lead to them, or someone connected to them."

"And what if it did?"

"Then I would have had a mutually beneficial business proposition to offer." Smith took a few steps toward his host. "Why, am I not far off?"

Blackbelt glanced to his workbench, then stared up at the ceiling as he considered the new developments. "Like I said, you have me to thank for Flashman. I've had Moe Fortis' PET bugged since before he rejoined the Officials. I've been privvy to all your conversations with him. When I found out from one such phone call that the Officials would be looking for the Acid Hackers in the Undernet, I arranged for that to happen by baiting Jeremy and Matt with a phony message from Fate. The Officials were supposed to see Flashman running around -- maybe capture him, probably not -- either way they would keep chasing the AH lead, distracting them from what was really going on in the Undernet. Except you messed it all up by capturing Flashman on your own and not reporting anything of the encounter to ONBA. Now the Darkloids have targets on their backs, despite my best efforts to keep them hidden from public knowledge."

"So you are the one controlling them after all."

"No. Not yet at least. It's still in my best interest that they remain active and grow in power...Is that relevant to your personal interests?"

Smith grinned. "Definitely."

"Then I'm open to your offer. First of all, here's what I actually want from you: Access to the ONBA Data Archives."

"What a coincidence. That's what I'm offering."

"Again with your 'coincidences'." Blackbelt scoffed. "So what exactly are you looking for in this alliance?"

"For now, I'm happy just to see whatever you're planning play out." Smith waved his hand dismissively. "Though I would accept my navi back as a show of good faith."

Blackbelt turned back to the monitor where Archer and Executioner were patiently awaiting orders. "Let him go." As his navis disappointedly released their captive, Blackbelt moved to a drawer near his workbench and pulled out a pair of sunglasses, which he immediately put on.

Smith confirmed Flashman's transfer back to his PET, then looked back at Blackbelt with some confusion. "What are those for? I didn't hear a pun."

"Just insurance. You don't think I wouldn't be prepared for the operator of a navi with the HypnoFlash ability, do you?"

"You think I would stoop to that!? So much for good faith..."

"Well there had to be some other reason you weren't too worried about a gun pointed at you earlier. Now..." Blackbelt set his hands back on the machine on his workbench. Why don't you get comfortable. I still have some work to do."

"That's fine. I'll give you a way to contact me when you're ready to -"

"That's the thing." Blackbelt cut his newfound ally off. "I'm ready to cash in on our deal today. You're just in time to help me with the next step..."

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