‘Elion Status Upgraded,’ the computer voice echoed around the Black Hole Room. ‘New Status … Link God.’ ‘YES!’ Elion whooped. ‘YEAH! WOOOOO!’ He continued, thrusting his arms in the air whilst performing an impromptu victory dance. ‘Curses,’ Totoro said, laughing as he collapsed through the doorway. ‘I believed for certain that I would return here first.’ ‘C’mon,’ Elion smiled, ushering Totoro forward. ‘You can be the second Link God that ALLUC has.’ ‘GET OUTA THE WAY!’ The door had swung open again and Jeebus had combat rolled through, throwing the contents of his large Link bag into the infinite depths of the Black Hole. ‘Save Me Jeebus Status Upgraded,’ the computer chimed. ‘New Status … Link God.’ ‘SACREZ-BLEU!’ Totoro frowned. ‘Nice going Jeebus,’ Elion nodded warmly. ‘Yeah,’ Jeebus nodded. ‘You can’t relax for a minute in this game boys. One minute you’re stood around patting eachother on the back for doing what you’re supposed to be doing and then BAM! Some filthy feathery bastard creeps up from the undergrowth and steals your nipples! There’s no depths those evil blighters won’t sink to!’ ‘ … Okay … I’ll try to remember that,’ Elion nodded as Jeebus checked the coast was clear before throwing Waldo out into the corridor as a decoy and disappearing off into the Index, gun in hand. ‘Do you sometimes wonder at Fink’s mentality when he hired Jeebus?’ Totoro questioned as he poured the Links he had collected into the Black Hole. ‘I try not to think about it too much,’ Elion admitted. ‘It’ll only cause me distress.’ ‘Totoro Status Upgraded,’ the computer voice announced. ‘New Status … Link Guru.’ ‘Link Guru?’ Elion frowned. ‘Hmmm,’ Totoro said, standing up. ‘That is not right. ‘I ascended to the level of Link Guru yesterday.’ ‘We’d better tell Fink about this,’ Elion mulled. ‘There could be a serious problem.’ ‘Or merely a glitch,’ Totoro shrugged. ‘I intend to continue my Link Hunter position regardless. My titles are not important.’ ‘Still though,’ Elion replied, heading for the door. ‘That’s a bad omen at no mistake.’ * ‘…and that’s basically what we do here,’ Red shrugged as he, Beakedbard and Will-ko wandered through the Index Section. ‘So, what happens when you’ve collected all the Links together then?’ Will-ko inquired. ‘Well, once we’ve got a decent amount, Fink’s going to open The Mercury Rooms up to the Internet so everybody can come in and use the Links to transport them to the Videos they want to find.’ ‘… Cool …’ Will-ko surmised. ‘Hey, thanks again for putting us up. I really don’t know where we’re going to go.’ ‘I wouldn’t worry about it,’ Beakedbard said, blowing out a cloud of smoke. ‘Fink’s cool with you guys sticking around for the time being.’ ‘Thanks,’ Will-ko nodded appreciatively, examining his hands closely for a moment before snapping back to reality and finding himself staring down the lengthy expanse of the Index Section. ‘So … is this place just for Links then? People come in and use them and then … that’s it?’ ‘Not a chance,’ Red replied. ‘The Links are here yes, but that’s the ALLUC portion of the place. The Mercury Rooms has loads of different sections where people can hang out and

chat. Discuss TV-shows and movies, request Links they want, give us Feedback etc. It’s a massive undertaking. Fink and the others have put a lot of work in.’ ‘So, say that I wanted to go into a room just to chat about stuff,’ Will-ko proposed. ‘How would that work?’ ‘Simple enough,’ Red replied as he strolled off down the Index, beckoning for them to follow. ‘Something like that would go in …’ ‘Off-Topic,’ Beakedbard prompted. ‘Yeah,’ Red nodded, coming to a halt outside a large building with a sign outside saying: “OFF-TOPIC”. Red ushered them inside to find a long, deserted corridor. ‘There’s nothing in here just now,’ Red explained. ‘But that’ll soon change once we get people coming in.’ ‘So, how do you make a room then?’ Will-ko asked curiously. ‘Simple,’ Beakedbard replied, striding over to a computer terminal by the doorway. ‘I’ve been on other forums before, it’s simple. You just press this button,’ He indicated a large orange key on the terminal labelled CREATE NEW THREAD. He pressed it. The screen on the terminal blipped into life and displayed a blank box. ‘This is where you put in the Room name,’ Beakedbard continued. ‘So, we’ll call this one … Will-ko … It’s going to be a … Discussion Room … because that determines what’s going to be inside,’ he explained. He typed in the name and clicked ENTER. Immediately, a door blinked into existence next to them, sliding open to reveal a large room full of comfy sofas. The three of them poked their heads inside to look around. Red and Beakedbard exchanged similar looks. Beakedbard nodded to himself. ‘We gotta stop being this random,’ he said. * ‘HMMMM,’ Fink replied as Elion recounted the glitch in the Black Hole Room to him. ‘WE HAVE DETECTED NO SYSTEM ERRORS ON OUR END. WE SHALL SEE IF JASON CAN DISCOVER ANY FAULT WITHIN THE HARDWARE. BUT THANK YOU FOR BRINGING THIS TO MY ATTENTION ELION-’ ‘Brown-noser,’ Jason commented under his breath as he examined the inside of the Black Hole Generator. ‘I WILL COMPLETE A FULL SYSTEM DIAGNOSTIC OF THE MERCURY ROOMS AND REPORT ANYTHING OF CONCERN TO YOU AND THE OTHER MEMBERS OF STAFF.’ ‘Okay,’ Elion said, casually saluting the ceiling. ‘I’ll stick around here in case I can be of any help.’ A derisive snort came from the upper part of Jason’s body, now obscured by a mass of wiring and cables as he made his way deeper into the control panel. If Totoro had heard it, he said nothing. ‘… And this is the Black Hole,’ Vash said as he and Danny wandered into the room. ‘This is where our Link Hunters deposit all the Links they gathered.’ ‘What?’ Danny frowned. ‘They just chuck ‘em into a Black Hole?’ ‘It’s a special kind of Black Hole!’ Jason’s muffled voice came from deep within the conduit. ‘Indeed it is,’ Vash continued, raising an eyebrow at the legs protruding from the open panel. ‘Once the Links are processed, the Links are added to our New Links and Movie Links Sections. Either a New Room is created for a Link or they’re added to an existing one for each different show and Movie.’ ‘It sounds more complicated than it is,’ Elion chimed in. ‘I didn’t think it sounded complicated,’ Danny replied contemptuously. ‘It’s really simple if you think about it properly.’ ‘How are his people?’ Totoro asked Vash, nodding towards Danny. ‘They’ll live,’ Vash replied simply. ‘But if nothing more the incident has confirmed that the Administrators need to hire a Medic of some kind. The Infirmary is operated automatically, but we really should have an on-site Medical Practitioner.’ ‘Did you hear that Fink?’ Elion called towards the sky.

‘FINK IS CURRENTLY OCCUPIED,’ Vatex’s voice said. ‘THOUGH DO NOT TROUBLE YOURSELVES; WE SHALL RECTIFY THE SITUATION BEFORE THE SITE OPENS TO THE PUBLIC.’ ‘YEAH, WE’LL ADD IT TO THE MILLION-PLUS OTHER THINGS WE’VE GOT LEFT TO DO,’ Krizzo added bitterly. ‘Sorry,’ Elion said, abashed. ‘Sorry about what?’ Mooney asked as he fluttered into the room. ‘Elion’s harassing the Administrators,’ Jason said as he clambered out of the control panel and dusted himself down. ‘I wasn’t harassing them,’ Elion said incredulously. ‘I was only trying to be helpful, that’s all.’ Mooney didn’t seem to be listening and instead flew over to Jason. ‘Did you find anything?’ ‘Well,’ Jason said, wiping his mouth. ‘If I had to make a guess … and since I can’t be certain, a guess is all you can really get from me … I’d say that something nasty has passed through the system. Gave the poor girl a bit of heartburn as it travelled through.’ He patted the wall affectionately. ‘Whatever it was is gone now though. At least for the time being.’ ‘Is this something we should be worried about?’ Vash asked, unfolding his arms. Jason shrugged his shoulders. ‘Until I know what it was exactly, I can’t say anything for definite. I could have merely been a corrupted piece of data in one of the Links; it could have been something that’s infiltrated the system independently. I can’t be sure of anything. Fink’s Analysis might be able to tell us more. But for the moment there’s nothing wrong with the circuitry. Whether that stays the case or not is another matter. ‘Though I’d say it’s probably better not to add any more links for the time being!’ Jason added quickly as Jeebus commando-rolled into the room again with another bagfull of Links. ‘Awww!’ Jeebus said disappointedly, letting the bag drop to the ground along with Waldo. ‘How come?’ ‘Possible system error,’ Elion explained. ‘Fink’s checking into it.’ Jeebus nodded sagely and quickly inserted a fresh magazine of bullets into his assault rifle. ‘If those mangy … good for nothing … flying rats have been messing around on my turf …’ He grumbled as he tested the sight on the gun. ‘ … Blow them to Narnia … Feathers and blood everywhere … Pie for lunch …’ ‘L-lets find out for definite what’s going on before we start shooting up the place though, shall we?’ Elion spluttered, holding his hands up and manoeuvring himself further away from Jeebus. Jeebus narrowed his eyes at them. ‘Alright,’ he nodded. ‘Play it your way matey … but if it is an invasion of Feathery-Death-From-Above, then you’ll be getting one big-fat “I-told-you-so” from me and Mister Bang Bang …’ he said icily, patting his gun. ‘And this … is the Black Hole room … where … Jeebus seems to be … holding … everybody … hostage,’ Red said as he and Beakedbard showed Will-ko through the door. ‘Why is Jeebus holding everybody hostage?’ Red asked unsurely, edging back through the door. ‘He’s not,’ Danny shook his head. ‘But there’s a system fault or something and he seems to think that … … … well, actually, I don’t know what he’s talking about … and I think his dog might be dead …’ ‘HE’S RESTING!’ Jeebus spat. ‘As per usual, lying down on the job.’ ‘Okay,’ Mooney said sympathetically, fluttering over towards the exit. ‘Let’s keep him away from the members once we open,’ he whispered to Vash and Jason who nodded in agreement. ‘EVERYONE!’ Fink’s voice suddenly boomed. ‘THE SYSTEM DIAGNOSTIC HAS UNCOVERED A FOREIGN BODY WITHIN THE MERCURY ROOMS.’ ‘Dirty pigeon freaks,’ Jeebus snarled to himself, cocking the assault rifle. ‘NO …’ Fink replied. ‘THE READOUT CONFIRMS THE OBJECT IS DIGITAL IN NATURE.’ ‘Where is it?’ Jason asked, pulling on a pair of gloves and grabbing his tool belt.

‘ONE SECOND,’ Krizzo’s voice chimed in. ‘I’M TRACKING IT NOW …’ ‘THIS TYPE OF INFILTRATION CAN ONLY MEAN THAT THE FOREIGN AGENT IS HOSTILE,’ Vatex said sternly. ‘IT HAS TO BE REMOVED FROM THE MERCURY ROOMS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE BEFORE IT CAN CAUSE SERIOUS DAMAGE.’ ‘We’ll take care of it,’ Elion said determidly. ‘Indeed,’ Totoro nodded. Jeebus cocked his gun and grinned. ‘I’ll help if I can,’ Red said surely. ‘Count me in,’ Vash said, unsheathing his two swords. ‘We need to determine if it’s the same entity that passed through the Black Hole Generator before you lot do anything rash,’ Jason said, grabbing a hand-held scanner from his tool belt. ‘So I’d better check it out too.’ ‘Urgh,’ Beakedbard grumbled. ‘This sounds like effort to me.’ ‘But …’ Jeebus frowned. ‘You get to shoot at stuff. There might even be explosions.’ ‘Oh, I’ll come and watch,’ Beakedbard said quickly. ‘Just … y’know … no heavy lifting or shizz.’ ‘Don’t worry yourself Administrators,’ Mooney said, puffing out his green chest. ‘We shall destroy this interloper and … no … wait … we’re going to war … I’ll need my big-boy voice … ah-hem!’ Mooney cleared his throat. ‘FEAR NOT ADMINISTRATORS! WE SHALL DESTROY THIS INTERLOPER BEFORE ANY MORE HARM COMES TO THE MERCURY ROOMS! VERILY, WE SHALL SMYTE THIS DEMON AND REPEL ITS MONSTROUS VISAGE BEACK TO THE DARKNESS FROM WHENCE IT CAME!’ ‘ … … … Well … … …’ Danny puffed. ‘That was a little bit dramatic.’ ‘LUCKILY, I FORSAW SUCH AN EVENT AS THIS,’ Fink spoke again. ‘NATURALLY WE WERE GOING TO FACE OPPOSITION, SO I HAVE EQUIPPED THE MERCURY ROOMS WITH WEAPONARY FOR ITS DEFENDERS TO USE IN TIMES OF CRISIS.’ A large panel on the wall slid open to reveal a rack full of assorted weaponry. ‘JACKPOT!’ Jeebus said gleefully, dashing over and quickly selecting the largest of the guns. ‘THESE ARE DIGITAL-BASED WEAPONS,’ Fink continued. ‘WE CALL ‘EM ZAP GUNS,’ Krizzo interrupted. ‘NORMAL BULLETS WILL NOT WORK ON ELECTRONICLY COMPOSED ADVERSARIES,’ Fink said, unabated by Krizzo’s interruption. ‘BUT THE AMMUNITION DISCHARGED BY THESE GUNS WILL DELETE VIRUSES, SPAM BOTS AND ANY OTHER INTERNET-FOUNDED CREATURE.’ ‘What if we come up across human bad guys?’ Elion queried as he took one of the guns that looked like a revolver. ‘YEAH,’ Krizzo replied. ‘THOSE THINGS FIRE CONCENTRATED ELECTRICAL ION SHOTS,’ he said with what must have been a smirk on his face. ‘A FEW HUNDREDTHOUSAND VOLTS.’ ‘Yikes,’ Jason said as he gave an impressed whistle and dropped a pistol-shaped gun into one of the spare pockets on his tool belt. ‘So, these things should send whatever it is out there to crispy-ville whatever its made of,’ Danny said as he took a weapon. ‘Hey, woah there!’ Red said sternly. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m helping,’ Danny said evenly as he gave another gun to Will-ko. ‘You guys took us in. We’ve got nowhere else to go. This is place is sort of our home. It’s the first one I’ve ever known that wasn’t a lab of some kind. If something’s trying to mess with my home, then I’m going to help to take it out.’ ‘That’s double for me,’ Will-ko nodded determidly. ‘I’d say that was fair enough,’ Beakedbard nodded as he examined a gun that resembled a sawn-off shotgun. ‘I thought you weren’t doing anything strenuous,’ Totoro frowned. ‘I’m not,’ Beakedbard shrugged. ‘It just looks cool to carry it.’ ‘OKAY GUYS, I’VE FOUND IT,’ Krizzo said hurriedly. ‘ITS IN THE FEEDBACK SECTION!’

‘Come on!’ Mooney shouted, flying out of the Black Hole Room into the Index, raising his broadsword aloft. ‘No … wait … hang on … ... … COME HITHER VALIENT FRIENDS! ONWARDS TO BATTLE! ONWARDS TO VICTORY!’ The ten-strong group filed down the Index, with Mooney leading the way, flapping his tiny wings violently to keep himself aloft. Jeebus along with Waldo followed with a combination of sneaking, commando-rolling and army-crawling. The rest brought up the rear … walking. They reached the door to the Feedback Section and pressed the large button on the panel beside the doorframe. The dark-grey metal door slid open to reveal an empty corridor, much like the one that had lay behind the Off-Topic Door. ‘I don’t see anything,’ Will-ko commented, edging forwards, gun raised. ‘Don’t be fooled, boy,’ Jeebus glowered. ‘Those filthy buggers can hide anywhere. You think you’re alone … and the next minute you’re head’s missing. They descend from the rafters, like silent bats! Silent … sneaky … evil!’ ‘I volunteer Jeebus to go check it out,’ Jason muttered, standing back and folding his arms expectantly. ‘Gladly,’ Jeebus replied, grabbing Waldo roughly around the neck and tossing him into the room where the dog flopped with a wet crunch to the grey floor. ‘Not really what I had in mind,’ Jason mulled as he held up his hand-held computer towards the shadows at the bottom of the corridor. He took a few steps forward and came to a halt next to the Section Doorway. His hand-help blipped abruptly several times. ‘Whatever it is … it’s been here alright … and it’s definitely the same thing that passed through the Black Hole Generator. It’s got the same IP Markings.’ Suddenly, a low growl emanated from the darkness of the corridor as something bulky took a step towards the light of the entrance. Its bulbous head brushed against the ceiling. It was completely out of proportion with itself. While the head was huge, the neck was tiny, like a matchstick holding up a beach ball. Likewise, the spindly shoulders and thighs supported obese forearms and shins. Its giant gut permeated the light of the Index section, showing a dull grey-white skin. It looked like dead flesh that had been underwater for sometime, with deep blue veins across the surface of the skin. ‘Errr … guys,’ Danny said unsurely, grasping the hilt of his Zap Gun with both hands. ‘What the hell is that?’ ‘I have travelled to the four corners of the Kingdoms,’ Totoro said. ‘Never have I seen such a beast.’ ‘I have,’ Jason frowned vehemently, taking up his Zap Gun and licking his lips nervously. ‘Well … try not to keep us in suspense for too long won’t you,’ Elion clucked angrily. ‘What is … it?’ ‘Well,’ Jeebus commented. ‘It’s certainly no pigeon.’ ‘Y’think?’ Red frowned. ‘It’s a type of DDOS,’ Jason said angrily. ‘It’s a kind of virus that slimes its way through operating systems and shuts everything down, damaging the hardware so much in the process that it’s almost impossible to repair …’ ‘A Virus?’ Mooney glowered, swiping his sword. ‘VILLAIN! THOU HAST ENTERED THE REALM OF ALLUC! YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE! RETURN FROM WHENCE YOU CAME OR WE SHALL DESTROY THEE … … … VERILY!!!’ ‘It can’t understand you,’ Jason said quietly. ‘They’re manufactured in Japan.’ ‘OH … … …’ Mooney contemplated this. ‘I only know the Japanese word for Sushi.’ ‘Then I guess you won’t be having an in-depth chat with it any time soon,’ Elion remarked. The creature crouched low to the ground, its giant snout oozing black slime as it shifted even further forwards. ‘Is it doing what I think its doing?’ Beakedbard asked uneasily. ‘What do you think its doing?’ Vash asked in a hoarse whisper. ‘ … … … Shitting … … …’ Beakedbard said plainly. ‘I’d say it was getting ready to attack more like,’ Jeebus shrugged.

And then it did.

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