"MR. NANA KOFI. MUM. NATE SANDERS. ALAHAJI ISA. WILLIAM SMITH. PHILIP HAMPTON. CAW. BILL KILLER. STACY REED."
Beth frowned. "So who are they?"
"I'M SURE YOU'VE RECEIVED A NUMBER OF E-MAILS FROM PEOPLE WHO DON'T EXIST." The Postmaster began. "I HAVE SOLID EVIDENCE THAT FLYTE HAS MANAGED TO CREATE PHYSICAL BEINGS FROM SOME OF THESE FICTIONAL CREATURES."
"IT GETS BETTER."
"Oh good, I was hoping it wasn't going to be, you know, dangerous or anything."
"SARCASM NOT APPRECIATED. ANYWAY, IF GALDUR'S INFORMATION IS RELIABLE, WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO PREPARE THE BASE FOR AN ATTACK." Beth started.
"An attack!? Wait a minute, I'm the only one here! Chaucer, Louis, Zuberi, and Fima are off on more missions, and Nou is most likely lost in the storage room. And if these are physical beings, you aren't going to be able to do anything against them, and that leaves me to do all the work!"
DON'T PANIC, FOR GOODNESS SAKES! NOU HAS A GPS, HE'LL BE BACK UP FROM THE STORAGE ROOM IN A FEW MINUTES. AND THE OTHERS ARE ALL BUSY GATHERING IMPORTANT INFORMATION ON A NEW WEAPON OF FLYTE'S.
"Oh, GREAT, so we have fake e-mail henchmen and a new weapon. What is it, chain letter soldiers?
HOW ON EARTH DID YOU FIND OUT?!
"Oh, wow, you're being serious. Lucky guess."
"Aaaaaiiiieeee!" A drawn out scream brought their attention to the door of the storage room. Nou burst through it, covering his eyes.
"Hey, watch it! You're going to break something." Beth said, stopping Nou before he could crash into a stack of crates.
Nou tentatively uncovered his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank goodness! Nou almost get trapped! Very scary down there."
"You lost your flashlight, didn't you?"
Nou nodded shamefully.
"You did remember to get the package for the Postmaster, though, right?"
"Yes! Almost got squashed for it, too!" Nou pulled a small box from one of his pockets and handed it to Beth.
"So what does it do? And what's in the crates? I didn't even notice those."
"GLAD YOU ASKED. BOTH OF THE ITEMS TO WHICH YOU ARE INQUIRING WILL BE USEFUL WEAPONS AGAINST THE INVADERS.
"Yeah, but what are they?"
"ALWAYS ASKING QUESTIONS, AREN'T YOU...? IF YOU'LL INSTALL THE DEVICE IN THE SMALL BOX, I'LL EXPLAIN ALL OF IT."
Beth opened the box, dumping out a small metallic cube. "Install where?"
"MY CENTRAL PROCESSING UNIT, OF COURSE."
Beth frowned, but approached the large consol that served as the Postmaster's CPU at base. "I don't even know what I'm installing."
"IT'S QUITE SIMPLE. OPEN THE MAIN PANEL, AND LOCATE A NICHE ABOUT THE SAME DIMENSIONS OF THE CUBE. GOOD! NOW, PUT IT IN, CAREFULLY, AND-PRESTO!"
Beth stepped back, close to the main panel. "Mind telling me what I just did?"
"YOU'VE INSTALLED A NEW COMBAT PROTOCOL IN MY PROCESSOR."
Beth brightened. "Cool! Don't tell me-the crates have turrets or something like 'em, right?"
"YES, SOMETHING LIKE THEM. IF YOU AND NOU WILL INSTALL THEM ON THE PERIMETERS OF THE BASE, I CAN PROMISE A DECENT MARGIN OF SAFETY AGAINST THE...HMMM...WE NEED SOMETHING TO CALL THEM.
"Fake-Wakers!" Nou called out cheerily. "Fake because they not real, wakers because they walking around like zombies or something!"
Beth smiled. "All right! You like, Postmaster?"
Though nothing happened at first, the Postmaster managed to give the impression that he was chuckling. "FAKE-WAKERS INDEED. RIGHT, THEN I CAN PROMISE A DECENT MARGIN OF SAFETY AGAINST THE FAKE-WAKERS USING THE TURRETS, BUT YOU'LL NEED WEAPONS IN CASE THEY BREACH THOSE DEFENSES."
"Cool! What do we get?"
Beth opened one of the crates, rifling through its contents. "Aha! This thing?" She held up a small prism.
"YES, THOSE THINGS. IF YOU HIT ONE OF THE FAKE-WAKERS A SUFFICIENT AMOUNT OF TIMES WITH ONE, IT WILL BE DIGITIZED BACK INTO THE E-MAIL FROM WHENCE IT CAME. NATURALLY THAT E-MAIL WILL BE UNDER MY CLOSE SURVEILLANCE TO PREVENT IT FROM ESCAPING. MY TURRETS ARE OF A SIMILAR DESIGN, BUT WITH A LITTLE MORE...PUNCH TO THEM.
"What you mean by punch?" Nou asked, his curiosity piqued.
"LET'S JUST SAY I DON'T INTEND ON TAKING ANY PRISONERS IF I CAN HELP IT."
"What are you going to do with the prisoners if we do take any?"
"OBSERVE THEM, AND IF THEY SERVE NO USEFUL PURPOSE, DELETE THEM."
"I like this side of you, Postmaster. Now how do I load this thing?"
Several hours of preparation had transpired, during which the turrets were installed, the Digitizers primed for battle, and the base fortified for combat.
"This is like a movie or something!" Beth exclaimed cheerily. "When do we get to bash some brains?"
"WELL, I HAVEN'T HEARD THAT ONE IN A WHILE."
"Don't mock my terminology! Answer the question, Postmaster."
"VERY SOON, UNFORTUNATELY. I'M PICKING UP THEIR UNIQUE LIFE SIGNATURES. I ESTIMATE WE HAVE FIVE MINUTES, PROBABLY LESS, BEFORE THEY REACH THE OUTER PERIMETER."
"Good! Nou want to get some shooting done!"
"Hey, watch it! Don't Digitize anything important!"
"Sorry-Nou just excited!"
"Me too-but don't get careless!"
A loud siren cut the conversation short.
"OUTER PERIMETER BREACHED." The Postmaster declared. "BRING THE RAIN!"
Beth trotted over to a security monitor, waiting eagerly for a glimpse of the invaders.
Someone skipped into view. He had a large beak-like nose and small beady eyes.
"I assume that one is Caw."
"CORRECT." The Postmaster announced, before nonchalantly firing a large blast of glowing blue energy at the attacker. Caw exploded in a flash of pixels.
"Cool!" Beth exclaimed. "When you said they had punch, you meant PUNCH!"
A flurry of motion drew her attention back to the monitor. "Holy crap! They're going to run it! Hope you give them quite the gauntlet, Postmaster."
"I INTEND TO."
The surviving invaders ran towards the base, many of them bursting in a flash of pixels as the Postmaster sniped them.
"TOO CLOSE TO BASE NOW-IT'S UP TO YOU GUYS!"
"Postmaster count on us!" Nou chirped, holding his Digitizer at the ready.
"Just one question, Postmaster." Beth began. "How are they going to get in?"
The Postmaster didn't need to answer. The air shimmered around the front wall of the base.
An invader leaped through the wall, followed closely by two others.
"IT APPEARS TO BE MUM, BILL KILLER AND MR. NANA KOFI." The Postmaster announced. "GIVE IT TO 'EM!"
"With pleasure, Postmaster." Beth aimed her Digitizer at Mum.
Mum screeched horrifically, lunging forward. Beth fired several blasts at her. The small lances of white energy that flew from her Digitizer hit Mum square in the chest. With a drawn out wail, she faded away. An image of her appeared on a monitor.
"ONE PRISONER." The Postmaster commented. "MAYBE THEY'LL HAVE A USE."
Bill Killer leaped towards Nou, shouting something nonsensical.
Nou stepped aside just as Bill Killer was about to ram into him. "You stupid fake-waker! Nou not get beaten by you!" He fired several blasts at Bill Killer, sending him to join Mum.
"THAT JUST LEAVES MR. NANA KOFI. BE CAREFUL WITH HIM-HIS BRAIN SCANS SHOW FAR MORE ACTIVITY THAN THE OTHERS DID."
"Got it, Postmaster. Nou, let's scrap this guy!"
"Pincer formation." Beth instructed. The two moved to take their positions.
Mr. Nana Kofi let out a long cackle, taking something out of his pocket.
"Get 'im!" Beth declared. She jumped out to fire.
Mr. Nana Kofi fired the device he held. A bolt of red energy screamed out, slamming into Beth.
She stumbled backward into the empty crates. "Sheesh! That thing has a kick to it!"
"BETH, BE CAREFUL!" The Postmaster admonished. "THE DEVICE HE IS USING IS CAPABLE OF DIGITIZING YOU!"
"But I'm real!"
"THAT'S THE POINT! HIS DIGITIZER IS CORRPUPTED! IT’LL BLOW YOU TO BITS!
"Okay, okay, I got it!" Beth prepared to fire again.
Mr. Nana Kofi lunged at the Postmaster's CPU, plunging a small device into it.
Beth and Nou fired a barrage of Digitizer beams at him, sending him to the same holding cell as the others.
Nou ran up to the CPU, pulling out the device Mr. Nana Kofi had inserted. "What is?" He asked.
"I'M...NOT SURE. HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN TRYING TO PLANT A VIRUS. I'LL HAVE TO RUN A SYSTEMS CHECK."
Beth frowned. "Is something wrong? Like permanent wrong?"
"I TOLD YOU, I'M NOT SURE."
Beth looked over at Nou, concerned.
Nou frowned and shrugged.
Beth turned her attention to the captive fake-wakers. "You little blips." She muttered derisively. "Try doing any damage while the Postmaster has you his prisoners!"
Mum scowled. "We're disposable anyway!" She cackled.
"Our real mission has been completed." Bill Killer hissed gleefully.
"And there's nothing you can do about it!" Mr. Nana Kofi finished triumphantly.
"You worms, what were you trying to do?" Beth demanded.
"Not trying to-succeeded!" Mr. Nana Kofi exclaimed. "Since we're going to win this anyway, I suppose there's no harm in us telling you."
"We can be mass produced." Mum began.
"We're just the front-liners. We take the fire power so the important ones can get through." Bill Killer continued.
"And I had a special job." Mr. Nana Kofi said smugly. "Once the others got me through, it was my job to..." He waited, relishing every word. "Kill the Postmaster!" He finished with a gleeful cackle.
"You failed!" Beth said sharply, glancing over at the Postmaster.
"Oh, that's what you think!" Mum chirped.
"We just had to get him in to give the poison." Bill Killer continued.
"And give it I did! You can't stop Mr. Flyte now! The Postmaster will crash in a matter of hours, and then Mr. Flyte's Chain-letter soldiers will be free to wreak all the havoc in the world!"
"You're even crazier than I thought if you assume for one minute that we won't stop you." Beth declared resolutely.
"Crazy? Yes, we're crazy! But we'll still be alive tomorrow!"
Beth turned away from the fake-wakers. "Postmaster...is it true?"
"UNFORTUNATELY, YES. BUT DON'T WORRY. MY VIRUS KILLING SOFTWARE IS BEYOND SOPHISTICATED. DON'T GIVE MUCH CREDENCE TO THEIR CLAIMS."
Nou shifted his weight nervously. "You sure?"
"...OF COURSE I'M SURE."
"You hesitated, Postmaster." Beth folded her arms assertively. "We're a team, and we expect to be kept in the loop. Now give it to us straight."
"...YOU WON'T LIKE IT, BUT I SUPPOSE YOU HAVE A POINT. THE VIRUS IS UNLIKE ANYTHING I'VE ENCOUNTERED OR EVEN HEARD ABOUT, AND THAT IT SAYING SOMETHING. I HAVEN'T THE FOGGIEST IDEA HOW TO COMBAT IT, BUT REST ASSURED THAT I WILL NOT GIVE UP. AS TO THEIR OTHER CLAIMS, I DON'T HAVE A DOUBT IN MY MIND THAT FLYTE IS UP TO SOMETHING BIG. THE OTHERS WILL REPORT BACK SOON WITH INFORMATION ON HOW TO STOP THE CHAIN-LETTER SOLDIERS."
"What if they aren't here soon enough, though?"
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN SOON ENOUGH?"
"I mean...well, what if the virus crashes you before they get back...?"
The Postmaster did not respond at first. After a lengthy silence, he replied. "YOU'LL CONTINUE THE MISSION WITHOUT ME. ANY HESITATION, ANY PAUSE IN OUR EFFORTS WILL BE GIVING FLYTE WHAT HE WANTS. I EXPECT YOU TO PREFORM ADMIRABLY SHOULD THE WORST HAPPEN. UNDERSTOOD?"
Beth nodded numbly.
"Got it, boss." Nou answered quietly.
"GOOD. NOW. I SUGGEST WE FORMULATE A PLAN."
Beth shivered, a deep sense of dread coming over her. She had been on dangerous missions. She'd gone to incredible places, seen incredible things. But somehow, this event seemed to make all of them seem like child's play. It was going to get worse. Much worse.
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