Chapter 11: Operation: Demon's Run
Author's note: I have no idea how you people put up with me an my super erratic update schedule (or lack of schedule, as it truly is). I want to truly thank each and every single person who has been with me to this point; your continued patronage keeps me coming back to this story, which I enjoy writing very much. Too bad real life keeps me stupidly busy. Anyway, we're about 2/3 through this bad boy right now, so I've reeeeally got to crunch it if I want to make my deadline of finishing before August, right? So here's to a more productive release schedule (hopefully)! Apologies for this update being shorter than usual. Chapter length is determined by what point I find appropriate as a stopping point based on theme and overall mood.
Doctor Quote of the Day: "I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams." – 11th Doctor
Lyoko Quote of the Day: "It's not fair! I'm the only one who looks like a nitwit on Lyoko!" - Odd
Chapter 11: Operation: Demon's Run
Collectively, eyes were bursting open and jaws were on the floor. The revelation of X.A.N.A.'s identity was more shocking than a million volts coursing through a body. Each individual expressed themselves differently, from Yumi's subdued dull surprise, to Odd's over the top arm flailing. The first one to vocalize was Rory.
"Doctor. Do you think this means that there's another?"
"I… Don't know, Rory." The Doctor kept his head down as his mind raced with the possibility, simultaneously exciting and terrifying. Images of the past were brought to the forefront of his thoughts. Susan, how he missed her. The Corsair, such an exciting chap. The Master, a shadow that has haunted him for so long. Rassilon, how the great became so vile. The Valeyard… The Doctor shook with chills.
"But how can X.A.N.A. be the soul of a TARDIS?" Aelita inquired. "That doesn't seem possible to me."
"As freaky as it is, it makes sense to me," Odd interjected. "If these ships are alive, then their minds exist in wires and computers and stuff, right? So you'd just move it from one system to another." The boy shrugged.
"Actually, Aelita is closer," Jeremie started. The Doctor nodded and continued the explanation.
"A TARDIS consciousness exists in eleven dimensions, and is far more sophisticated than being mere coding that can be transplanted between machines. It lives, it breathes, it experiences every single point of space and time simultaneously. A TARDIS chooses its Time Lord as much as a Time Lord chooses his TARDIS. If it could be converted into a human computer system, the process would be… Nothing short of barbaric. So much would have to be amputated; it's the kind of torture that sickens me to even think about."
Odd spared a glance for Aelita. Her eyes were as wide as they could be, watering, threatening tears. A hand barely covered her quivering lips. She was realizing the full implications of X.A.N.A.'s creation.
"But… My father… He… He wouldn't…"
Aelita stopped when she felt a hand firmly pressed to her shoulder. Yumi gave the smaller girl a smile of reassurance, and Aelita felt the warmth of her friend's support.
"Speaking of your father," the Doctor interrupted. "Why don't you tell me a bit about him?"
"Alright," she replied, more confident than previously. As she began, Jeremie turned back to the keyboard of the super computer, tapping away.
"The world primarily knows him as Franz Hopper, but his birth name was Waldo Schaeffer. He wanted a fresh start, so he began going by his middle name, and my mother's maiden name. I was very young when we were separated, so there's a lot about his past I don't know about, but… He started out as a scientist working on something called Project Carthage. We still don't know everything about it, or even what it was supposed to be for, but my father decided that it was a bad idea and left the organization that was making it.
"We came here to France, when he changed his name. He was a very loving father. He cared for me greatly, read me books, told me stories of my mother, and took a job as a teacher at Kadic. What I didn't know was that he spent his free time here, in this abandoned factory, constructing the super computer. Here he made Lyoko. And… X.A.N.A.
"From what we've gathered from my father's video diaries, X.A.N.A. was designed to help his destroy Project Carthage, but as you can easily see, something went wrong. One day, daddy and I were found by men in black suits, likely from Project Carthage, so he brought me here to escape. We went to Lyoko together, to wait out the storm. Unfortunately, that's when X.A.N.A. turned on us. Turned on humanity, and on its… Creator."
Aelita looked away, her eyes filling with sadness again. "Or so I thought. If X.A.N.A. existed as a TARDIS before, then my father didn't create X.A.N.A., he brutalized it."
"I'm sure your father had no idea what he was doing," Rory comforted. "It's not readily apparent that a TARDIS is a living thing." Aelita appeared somewhat relieved by this reassurance.
"Actually, that raises an important question," Yumi added, all eyes darting to her. "So the soul was in this super computer, and now the Internet, but where did it come from? Where was the original TARDIS that X.A.N.A. was harvested from? Where is it now?"
"That's nearly impossible to determine," the Doctor advised, shrugging his hands up. "As you can clearly see from my fantastic machine, a TARDIS comes equipped standard with a Chameleon Circuit, automatic camouflage designed to make the ship indistinguishable from its surroundings, wherever you go."
"Indistinguishable?!" Odd scoffed. "It's a big blue box! Where around 21st century France are you going to find a big blue box just sitting around?!"
"Hey, don't dis the box. I love this box. It's a brilliant box." The Doctor resisted, a hint of whine in his voice. He gave a pat on the side of his TARDIS, comforting the ship. "Don't worry, Old Girl, I don't mind that your circuit is broken, you're still the best ship in the universe."
Yumi rolled her eyes, but the Doctor spun round and went into another explanation. He sure did enjoy talking, didn't he?
"There's a second half to the camouflage, so you know. A TARDIS is also partially concealed by a Perception Filter, providing a bit of a psychic defense in addition to the mundane protection of a Chameleon Circuit. Unless you are already aware of the nature of the ship, your brain tends to just ignore it, as part of the background."
"In other words, we're not likely to find the original vessel," Jeremie concluded. "Now if I could bring your attention to the main monitor, Doctor, I took the liberty of pulling up an image of Franz Hopper for you."
The Doctor and Rory flanked either side of Jeremie's chair to get a good view of the screen, whilst the kids hung in the back. The image they saw was fairly unimpressive. Rory would have compared Hopper to Einstein, with a fuller head of hair and glasses. The man was white, with a white lab coat and red turtle neck sweater. His hair was a dark gray, just beginning to show the signs of his age. His face was adorned with a full beard and mustache, both quite thick. Concealing his eyes were glasses with round, circular lenses. Maybe it was just because he couldn't see the man's eyes, but Rory felt something ominous about this man.
As the Doctor looked deeply into the man's features, he took in something other than his physical appearance. The Time Lord couldn't identify the feeling he had, but it was a strange one. Somehow, the image of the man before him felt… Familiar.
"Doctor? What are you doing?" Jeremie's voice roused the alien back to his senses. He had reached out, physically touching the monitor with his right hand.
Pulling back his digits embarrassingly, he dismissed it. "Saw a smudge on the screen, couldn't help it. Sorry 'bout that. Anyway! We have a plan to come up with now, right? Come on, let's focus! You're like a bunch of children, getting distracted by every little interesting thing that comes up. It's time to get serious!"
"But you're the worst of-" Yumi began, but she was cut off by Rory.
"It won't help. Really."
"Right, so here's what I've developed for the plan so far," Jeremie began, spinning his chair to face everyone again. "This will be a three stage assault, and we'll need everyone to be at their absolute best for it to work. We're down one, and fighting against one of our own, so this will not be easy in the least. Not to mention, we're running short on time. We need to enact this plan before X.A.N.A. can enact whatever plan it has now that it has access to Amy's memories and causes the end of the world."
"Right!" shouted Odd. Nobody reacted to his enthusiasm.
"Stage one will be navigation. We need to find which of the replikas X.A.N.A. has stored Amy's information in, just like we did with William not too long ago. If we destroy our enemy before we liberate her coding, she'll go along with it."
"But how are we going to get to the replika or traverse the Net?" Yumi inquired. "I can't be the only one that remembers the Kolossus destroying the Skid."
"Jeremie's been working around the clock coding a new ship for us," Aelita answered. "And I've been contributing too. It's the only way I can get him to sleep."
"Never underestimate the power of genius," Jeremie gloated, adjusting his glasses.
"Aaaah yeah! Up high, Einstein!" Odd initiated a high five with his bespectacled friend, and received a strong response for his effort.
"Once we've arrived to the correct replika, it's stage two, the rescue. Odd and Yumi are familiar with how this works, so I'll explain for the benefit of you two. I have developed a program that removes X.A.N.A.'s influence from someone that has been reprogrammed on Lyoko, but initiating it is very tricky. The program has to be input in the real world, on the computer where Amy's information is being hosted, and run at the same time as she is devirtualized. That means that we need to not only defeat her in battle, but have perfect timing in the execution."
"How do we run the program in the real world?" Rory inquired. "If we have no idea where the computer is and we're searching through the Internet?"
"Teleportation," Jeremie answered. "Well, I call it that, but it's really something different entirely…"
Jeremie paused a moment as he realized what he had just said. He contemplated momentarily that the Doctor must have had more influence in that mental download than he initially thought.
"Much the same way X.A.N.A. manifests spectres in the real world, I take your Lyoko avatars and-"
"And create a dynamic electrical field manifestation localized at the computer source, brilliant!" the Doctor cut in. "Oh, smashing Jeremie, really smashing. I cannot tell you how impressed I am. You are so many centuries ahead of your time. I know, I've checked."
"Well, I," Jeremie stammered, embarrassed but obviously quite happy with the glowing praise.
"You must be sooooo lost right now, huh?" Odd asked, nudging Rory.
"Not really. He makes stable copies of our Lyoko versions in real life," Rory replied, almost uninterested. Upon seeing Odd's surprised expression, he followed up with, "After I first met the Doctor, I invested a lot into theoretical sciences and science fiction. It really helps."
"Right, well since that's understood, enough detouring and back to the plan," Jeremie said with his greatest authority, drawing attention once more back to himself. "Once stage two is complete and we've gotten Amy back, we begin stage three, taking out X.A.N.A. once and for all. Now that I understand its source code, I can complete the necessary tweaks to my own multi-agent program, once specifically designed to seek out and destroy all traces and influence of X.A.N.A. and its coding, once and for all. I'll be making the necessary adjustments while you're all completing stages one and two, and should have it done once it's time to initiate. Any questions?"
"Yeah, I've got one," Yumi spoke up, uncrossing her arms and lifting her hand up lazily. "If this mission is so dangerous that we all need to be present and at our best to work it, how are we going to guarantee your safety, Jeremie?"
"Because I'll be staying behind," the Doctor spoke up, stepping into the middle of the group and spinning around. "There's no place safer than by my side. Well, sometimes. Other times there's nowhere less safe, but I always make it out on top and I always win. Long story short, you're welcome."
"But with your knowledge, you'd probably be the greatest asset we could possibly have on Lyoko!" Rory reasoned.
"Sorry, can't go," the Doctor shrugged, leaning on Odd's head for support. "The scanners were designed for human biology, making me completely incompatible. I know, I checked, mostly while I was running around being chased by your psycho principal. It's not really that non-humans can't be scanned, it has more to do with how wonky Time Lord DNA is, being partially energy based and whatnot. Besides, this whole system was essentially designed by mutilating a creature linked to time, and I'm in no hurry to see how exactly that would affect me. I know you were hoping to see a Digital Doctor with this whole zany adventure, but no. I'll stay here with little Jeremie and we'll be two big brains in some sort of… Big… Brain… Soupy thing."
Aelita smiled. "Well, that solves that, then. Unless anybody has anything else to say, it's time to get started."
"Yeah!" Odd cried out, with a jump. "It's time to start Operation: Kick Butt and Save the World!"
The young boy received numerous groans in response from his friends. The Doctor smiled with a thumbs up, encouraging him, but Rory stepped forward and offered his opinion.
"Actually, I was thinking of a different name for this mission."
The group listened to Rory's suggestion. Once he gave it, nods of appreciation went around. It was met with unanimous approval. From the corner of his eye, Rory noticed the Doctor giving a solemn smile himself.
"Alright then, it sounds like we're all ready," said Jeremie. "Then let's get down to it. Operation: Demon's Run is go!"
"Transfer: Yumi. Transfer: Odd. Transfer: Aelita."
The three youths stepped inside the three scanners, ready to be taken to Lyoko. As they did so, serious and composed like they had done so many times before, Rory stood to the side waiting his turn. At his flank stood the Doctor, arms crossed and leaning back against the wall.
"What's your real reason, Doctor?" the man asked his longtime friend.
"Sorry, reason for what now?" came the alien's reply, sounding completely confused. Too confused. He had practiced it. Rory knew him too well to be fooled.
"For not wanting to be scanned into Lyoko," retorted the Englishman. "I may not know you as well as Amy, but I do know you. If the danger was purely technical, you'd find a way to go in. No danger on any world will stop you from going after my wife. None but what exists in your own mind."
"Scanner: Yumi. Scanner: Odd. Scanner: Aelita."
The Doctor chuckled nervously, shaking his head. "Oh Rory. Rory Rory Rory. You don't know how right you are."
"So what is your reason, then?"
"Well, how do I put it?" The Doctor looked upon the great machine before him wistfully. "Your avatar takes the appearance of your subconscious, right? How you think of yourself? Truth is, Rory, I don't think I'm strong enough to face myself in that way."
"I don't think that's it," Rory shot back. The scanners were now emitting a great deal of light, and a soft humming sound was emanating from them. "You've been alone for so long, now there's a chance that there's another out there. I saw this before, when we found that House thing. You have hope, and you're afraid that it'll be taken away again. Or that it's gone sour, and you'll be forced to take out a tie to your past."
The Doctor gazed mournfully into Rory's eyes. His face, so young, but his eyes… So unsettling. "Nobody knows how dangerous my people and their technology are better than me, Rory. Entire civilizations, gone in a single Moment. Your answer and my answer are actually the same thing."
The scanners each opened back up, all at once. Air rushed into the tubes as they repressurized, and a thin bit of smoke escaped to the outside floor.
"Now get going, Rory. It's your turn. Go help save the world." The Doctor enthusiastically gestured toward the nearest scanner. Rory nodded and began to climb inside.
"And my wife," he added.
"Silly Rory. Same thing." The last thing Rory saw, before his vision was cut short by the automatic door of the scanner sliding shut, was the sly grin of the Doctor. He couldn't help but feel as though the ancient trickster had something else up his sleeve. Rory didn't know if he should be reassured by this thought, or bloody terrified. As the machine began to work its magic, a final thought echoed through his mind as his body vanished from this reality.
Silly Rory. Same thing.