Everyone, aside from Emma, was now seated at the center table. Thomas and Jerry sat across from Adam, Charlotte, and Muraco while Roy and Roger were off to the right. Travis sat on the left side of the table, writing down something in a notebook he had.
Thomas tapped his fingers on the surface in front of him, pondering how to begin. “How about this? What questions do you have, Adam? I can answer all of those and then fill in what’s leftover.”
“Questions… I have a lot of them.” Adam scratched his head. “Let’s start with… Why Emma? How is she involved in everything?”
“I figured you would want to start around there.” Thomas chuckled. “Let’s see… You know about her spine, I assume?”
“Yeah…” Adam nodded—a somber expression forming on his face. “I remember it well. Those were the days I kept Faith company all the time since she couldn’t see Emma in the hospital. If a visit was possible, it was sporadic.”
“They didn’t want outside interference, in any shape or form.” Thomas sighed. “Her title, ‘The Miracle Girl,’ came from those days of solitude. For the first time, we were able to create something as complex as a spine entirely out of phantonite.”
“Wait—’we’?” Adam seemed astonished at that statement.
“You didn’t know? I was on the team that helped design it. She goes to me specifically for checkups due to that.”
“Huh. And here I figured it was easy to do, with your office being in Prelude and everything.” Adam leaned back in his chair, eyes still on Thomas.
“My wife—Jerry’s mother, Phoebe, passed away from cancer shortly before all of this. Despite my recent success with school and my studies in phantonic technology, I couldn’t do a thing to help her. I… desired to learn more. Luckily, I was blessed with incredible talent. Like Jerry, I’m able to absorb knowledge with ease. I had started my journey in medical school, aiming to merge what I had already learned with the things I planned on learning.”
“So that’s how Jerry’s mother…” Charlotte trailed off with her thought.
“I got something along the lines of an ‘internship’ early on. With my status in the field of phantonic technology, they wanted my assistance. A girl had recently been injured in a fire. Her spine was utterly shattered, and things didn’t look too good for her. Thanks to her mother being in Unity, they granted her access to specialized technology to keep her stable. This wouldn’t last, however…”
“I get it. That’s how you got involved in making a brand new spine for her…” Adam stared at the table in front of him, processing the information he was starting to receive. “So, what does this lead us into?”
“Although we managed to form a spine that was capable of replacing her lost one, we ran into quite the predicament. As we used phantonite—which is highly sensitive to phantonic activity—to structure it, Emma’s own phantonic activity could potentially reshape the spine. Obviously, that wouldn’t be good. So, we had to work extra hard to formulate a method to keep that potential flaw in check.”
Thomas leaned forward. “We formed a shell. Again, this was formed out of phantonite. This time, however, we made sure this shell was set to react to particular values, to keep the majority from interfering with what was inside.”
“I can branch off of that, Dad—” Jerry chimed in. “From what you know about Phantonics, Adam, I assume you can deduce that phantons interacts with the world as if they were sort of a ‘code,’ like something in a computer. Emma’s spine was capable of working initially due to syncing with specific values that only she possesses. This shell built around it aids in keeping those values in check while preventing other values, or ‘code’ from the outside messing with the spine—like my dad mentioned.”
“So… I suppose this shell can kind of be like a firewall of sorts?” Adam asked.
“That’s pretty much it, yes.” Thomas nodded, happy Adam came to that conclusion as quickly as he did. “Now, with that in mind, let’s assume Emma’s entire spinal structure is sort of like a computer… this ‘firewall’—the shell—is keeping things inside pretty safe, right? Well, what if something were to take advantage of that high-level security, especially when back in those days, actual computers couldn’t even be considered that safe?”
“What… are you saying? They’re using Emma to store some kind of phantonic code? But, that doesn’t make any sense! Wouldn’t the spine change shape upon reacting to it?” Adam questioned, showing unease with his confusion.
“It’s true—any sort of code would have to phantonic based for it to be stored—one would think.” Thomas paused. “However, what if it’s not?”
“Huh? What do you mean by that?”
“I’m saying… the code that’s currently placed inside Emma is like a phantonic one, yet it is not a phantonic one. It’s capable of mimicking similar values as to where it can be stored, but it doesn’t have values as to where it would mess with the spine’s structure like phantons would.”
“I can recall…” Charlotte began to speak. “What I felt when Emma went berserk… It was like nothing I’ve felt before. I mean—at least what I believe I haven’t felt before. That green, twisted energy... It was incredibly powerful. I’m surprised I was able to suppress it, actually. And—”
“I’m glad I got down there when I did—” Jerry interrupted, reaching into his pocket, taking out the remote that had stopped Emma. “When we got the signal that it had been unleashed, I ran as fast as I could. Let me tell you… I’m not one who should run. I thought I was going to pass out.”
“You guys were clearly aware of this thing inside Emma,” Adam noted. “I can figure out why you hesitated in doing anything about it, all things considered. But—”
“We have done things, actually. Lots of things.” Thomas motioned his hand around the room. “This is a result of all those things…” He sighed heavily. “...They initially hid their plan of storing this strange code inside Emma from me, even though I was on the team that helped design it. I figured it out pretty quickly. Then came the tricky part.”
“Figuring out what Unity was planning on using it for, and to stop them. We had to take things very slowly, covering our tracks, so we didn’t get caught. Eventually, we gained access to the Nexus Network, sneaking our way through all the hidden data we could come across. And… Well…”
“What did you find out?”
“Well, when it comes to Emma… They’re using the storage space within her as a sort of backup for something… Something we currently cannot comprehend.”
“Huh?” Adam crossed his arms. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Elliot Rizzo—” Thomas leaned forward. “When you had your scuffle with him, was there anything you noticed that was strange? That might be an odd question since you’re not that used to combat. Yet… What were your thoughts on his Ability?”
“His Ability? I couldn’t do any damage to him at all. That is until I actually used my Ability.”
“If you remember, The Brown Suits used Code 2819 on you, concluding that your Ability wasn’t phantonic based. Even though it caught him by surprise, it actually managed to work on him due to that fact.”
“What my dad’s trying to say—” Jerry continued. “—is whatever this strange power is that’s hidden within the Nexus Network, and using Emma as a backup… it knows all about phantons. That includes how to cancel them out.”
“So… is Rizzo using this power himself!?” Adam asked growing concern. “Is that why nobody can touch him? He just nullifies any Ability he faces?”
“It’s a precaution against Abilities themselves,” Thomas explained. “His actual Ability… well, he hasn’t officially named it, yet it’s basically him enhancing his body in multiple ways. Such as durability to withstand blows from a sword, like you faced.”
“Right… That does explain why I managed to slash at his clothing, yet couldn’t put a scratch on his body.” Adam recalled. “What… What else can he do?”
“Super strength, super speed, even heightened senses—that sort of stuff,” Jerry answered. “Even if it’s all simple on paper, actually using them together, with this unknown power aiding him, you can see why he’s such a monster.”
“Charlotte originally came back to Prelude earlier cause you guys felt that huge tremor, correct?” Thomas questioned. “That… was Alexander Strauss’ doing.”
“Huh? That guy again!?” Adam sprung up from his seat.
“Yeah… He tried to rebel against Rizzo. This is something that has actually happened a few times—and just like this time—he’s always been stopped by Rizzo.”
“Is he okay!? How did…” Adam paused, falling back into his chair.
“What is it, Adam?” Charlotte asked, noting Adam’s sudden shift in behavior.
“Alexander… He uses Psycho Matter, which he said wasn’t of this universe. That means, at least in terms of mystery, we’re in the same boat. There’s this thing though—his Psycho Matter could scan things and learn about their properties. He stated he could use it to completely shut down an Ability if he wanted. It couldn’t work on mine, though. From the sound of it, it seems like he can’t use it on Rizzo as well, due to this unknown power?”
“That makes sense, considering he’s tried multiple attempts at Rizzo’s life. You’d expect a power like that to eventually analyze how things work, yet it doesn’t seem to be the case.” Jerry said, starting to fidget.
“That explains why he was so desperate to figure out how mine worked… He wants to learn how to scan unknown things so he can get at Rizzo, huh?” Adam noticed Jerry’s behavior. “What’s wrong?”
“Just so you know, I-I… didn’t keep everything a secret from you. There were things I legitimately did not know about until I went to dad to ask him. Alexander Strauss, however, I learned about from someone else. Unity has kept info about him under wraps, but turns out he’s actually the older brother of a friend of mine.”
“Laura, right?” Thomas asked his son. “I knew about her connection to him for quite a long time. I didn’t think it was something that you needed to know, yet—being my son—you managed to figure out things on your own. There were… lots of things I didn’t think you needed to know about, but I should have known better than to keep them from someone as talented as myself.”
“Well, I shouldn’t have tried to hide things from you, seeing as though you found out what I was trying to do the second I began attempting to hack into the Nexus Network.” Jerry chuckled. He turned toward Adam. “I had no idea that my dad had this thing going on down here until that point. Then, he told me everything. I’ve been helping him ever since.”
“So that’s what you were actually doing every day on your laptop?” Adam questioned, glaring at Jerry.
“Y-Yeah… I was telling you the truth when I said I currently lack the skill to get any information myself. My dad’s been teaching me various things as I help him out with the development of his software.”
“That software—” Thomas raised his finger. “...is why Emma is still with us.”
Charlotte shifted around in her chair. “What does it do, exactly?”
“I can explain that!” Travis leaped out of his chair, eager to discuss it. “It has several layers to it. First, it blocks off the signal sent to Emma’s spine in case of emergencies, which is what happened earlier today. This raises a lot of issues, however.”
“I assume it has something to do with Unity finding out you’re blocking the signal?” Adam asked.
“Exactly!” Travis answered, nodding fast. “We have to create false data to send back into the Nexus Network, indicating that things are all okay. To be honest… we don’t know how this unknown power operates, so it could all be undone at any moment. We still have to try, though. And even if that doesn’t end up being an issue, we have the Brown Suits to deal with. Luckily, there’s a loophole involving them—”
“Is it because they’re not human?” Charlotte asked. “It helped to know that fact, so I… I didn’t hesitate to slash those two down that… that did that to the boss…”
Roy looked down at the table, cursing his own weakness.
“How do you know that, Charlotte?” Thomas questioned, surprised that she would have that knowledge.
“I…” Charlotte wanted to answer, but a quick glance at Adam halted her words.
“Wait, what do you mean they're not human!?” Adam was astonished. “They-They act just like them, though—”
“Artificial humans.” Jerry blurted out. “We’re not sure if they’re clones of someone, as they have slightly different features between them, but they were certainly manufactured. Their minds are all linked up to the Nexus Network, and although it isn’t perfect, they can replicate human emotions due to data gained from the network.”
“That makes sense… The network’s run off of phantons after all and those can carry human emotions within them. But… seriously? Processing that kind of thing into data? What kind of backward bullshit is that!?”
“What do you mean, Adam?” Charlotte turned to him as he stood back up.
“Emotions are something that people gain living day-to-day, experiencing the good and bad that faces them. Just taking all of that and shoving it into some kind of processed crap? I hate that! God damn Rizzo…”
“As you can probably guess—” Thomas continued the main topic of the conversation. “The Brown Suits are made specifically to follow Rizzo’s orders. That’s another thing he has under his belt. With them, he can expand his control far beyond his physical reach.”
“However, we can take advantage of the fact that they’re linked up to the Nexus Network. By creating false data, we can throw them off. Like today—none of the Brown Suits or members of Unity know what occurred in that basement, as it had been blocked by the technology we currently possess. The last update they are aware of is what occurred with Alexander. In fact—luckily—the original reason Monica Teske dragged your boss into that basement wasn’t even officially registered. We could have blocked it, however.”
“But wait—that doesn’t make sense.” Charlotte stood up next to Adam. “The Brown Suits were the ones who… who shot him… even if you can block things from being registered, they must have had an order given to them for them to do that! Or do they have enough free will to carry out that act?”
“They may—they may not,” Thomas answered. “The act of shooting Brian Carpenter was, in fact, an order, however.”
“That goddamn Rizzo! I’ll kill him—”
“...Not from Rizzo.” Thomas raised his hand in front of him. Adam grabbed Charlotte’s shoulder to help calm her down.
“Then, who did?” Adam asked.
“It wasn’t a command from an outside source.”
“Huh?” Adam and Charlotte were perplexed.
“Inside the Nexus Network…” Thomas paused. “Inside the Nexus Network… This unknown power… We think it’s some sort of living thing.”
“Like… some sort of ghost?” Adam asked. “I mean, that would make sense, seeing as it’s made up of phantons after all—”
“So that thing was…” Charlotte whispered although it was loud enough to be heard.
“What thing?” Adam turned to her.
“I tried to possess Emma’s body to kick whatever it was out of her. I could have—be it a spirit or a mere form of energy. Yet, there was this figure… It was green, like the power Emma used. It moved me right out of her before I could even register what was happening.”
“Yeah… That green energy was something I certainly haven’t seen before.” Jerry commented. “I’m gonna assume then that’s what it came from—that strange thing you saw.”
“I see…” Thomas got up from his chair, beginning to pace around the room. “Phantons usually give off blue energy, with the exception of whatever Ability the person uses, of course. Chaons give off red energy, except for a strange black aura they sometimes create we refer to as 'phantom energy'. I can talk about that another time, but… Green, huh? This doesn’t sound familiar to me. Unless? Maybe…”
Thomas began muttering to himself, off in his own world. Jerry sighed, turning back toward Adam. “Hey, there’s also a reason why I sent you to Minuet specifically…”
“And even more specifically, the tunnel area?” Adam scratched his head. “Yeah, there’s something down there, blocked by some kind of barrier that we haven’t been able to break yet.
“A barrier?” Thomas moved back toward the table, almost hopping. “I figured those phantonic signals were something along those lines… They’re really protecting that, huh…?”
“Wait, do you actually know what’s down there, Dad!?” Jerry asked in surprise. “You just told me it was important for Adam to go investigate it.”
“Yeah… I figured I would use Adam’s peculiar exile to have him fish it up. I don’t know the exact nature of what it is, but I have a vague clue…”
“Is it the seal those guys have been looking for? I assume Jerry told you about that?” Adam questioned. “Although, if you say it’s just phantonic signals, I find it hard to believe they’re having difficulties in locating it…”
“No, I, unfortunately, do not know where this seal is they seem to be searching for, but what’s being protected by that barrier must be—”
“Something related to the Night of the Half Moon, right?”
Thomas nodded. “Now that I know it’s a barrier, it’s even more important for you to break it and find out the contents. This group that seems to be looking for this seal may want it for themselves. I… I was hoping, actually, that the two—rather—three of you now, could actually tackle this group, and at least figure out what their true goals are. I ask this of you, now in desperation…”
“You see… The false data we generated today… It’s not going to fool Unity for long. They’ll find out what’s happened here, and make their move. I figure once the orientation is over, actually.”
“Dad? Is that why you…?”
“While Jerry was jamming the signal, I was above ground… disposing of the Brown Suits that currently walked Prelude’s streets. It was difficult—I’m not the stealth-type. But I had to. Now that there are none left simply using the false data will keep us safe. When Pam and the others come back though…”
“I get it, I think…” Adam sighed. “You’re definitely on a timer right now. But what does that have to do with me getting into that barrier?”
“Well—remember—that was what I initially wanted you to do before the events of today occurred. As you have some sort of ‘freedom’ at the moment, I figured you would be the best bet in handling these guys outside of Unity’s way of ‘handling’ things.”
“I know we have to stop this group, obviously, but don’t you think we should work together to handle the Unity situation right now?”
“It’s all about honor, Adam,” Thomas stated. “Rizzo, despite everything, is a man of honor. If you do something as heroic as stop this dangerous group, you should get some kind of bonus points not only from him, but from the public eye. Unity can't censor everything, and if the public were to know about overcoming such a foe, Rizzo will have to acknowledge you in a positive light, for the sake of his credibility with the people. While you do this, we’ll try our best to cover our tracks. Maybe we can make this whole Unity thing blow over?” He shrugged.
“...I think I see another reason as to why you want me to do this.” Adam clenched his fist. “You want me to get stronger, right? So I can eventually take down Rizzo? You know my power can reach him, after all. You saw it in person. It makes sense to get stronger by fighting guys like this.”
“Amazing…” Travis stared at Adam in awe. “You’re just as sharp as your mother…” Adam glanced at him, unable to process the compliment.
Thomas laughed. “Well, you got me there. That’s not a problem, though, is it? Isn’t that what you want as well?”
“Yeah, of course, it is.” Adam slammed his hand on the table, leaning in. “Jerry suggested I do it, to begin with, so I’ll definitely do it.” He walked around the table to the other side—Jerry standing up to face him.
“Adam—you know I’ll support you with my brains. So, in return, support all of us with the power you have. I know you have it in you. After all—” Jerry grinned. “I remember you always boasting about wanting to be a superhero when we were kids.”
“Are you for real…?” Adam muttered to himself, letting out an enormous sigh. “All right, I can do that.” He held out his fist in front of Jerry.
Hesitating for a moment, Jerry gave Adam and smile, pressing his fist against his friend’s. “Let’s get through this!”
“We will,” Adam stated, turning to Charlotte and Muraco. “Let’s head back to the hotel, for now. We’ll rest up and get whatever’s down there first thing in the morning. Then, we’ll come back to report what we’ve found.”
“Why not right now?” Charlotte asked, almost tripping over her own feet as she stood there.
“That—that’s why. You’ve been through a lot today. I want you to get some rest. I won’t be able to do this without you.”
Charlotte looked at Adam in wonder. She quickly turned her head away from him.
“Saying that kind of stuff, huh…? Dammit…”
“Huh? What’s up?” Adam approached Charlotte as she spun back around with a straight face.
“Nothing. Let’s get going.”
“Hmm? Well, hold on…” Adam walked back toward the area with the beds, standing next to Emma, who was still asleep. He reached out his hand, gently touching her own.
“Don’t worry… I’ll make sure to handle whatever happens..”
Emma suddenly rustled around in her sleep. Although she remained in that state, she happened to speak.
Adam’s eyes widened. He retracted his hand, forming it into a fist. Fueled by a sudden rush of emotions, he could feel the pressure he was putting into his grip.
“Yeah… I have to handle whatever happens.”