Chapter Thirty-Three
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Chapter Thirty-Three

Zella - The Abandoned Ball Court

The cloudy season in Naguela had arrived. The sky, an endless canvas of grey, seemed to weigh heavily upon the earth. Zella’s eyes were set on Chi, yearning for revelations untold.

“Z, everything I said before is still true. The Phantoms and I, we still respect you and what you stand for. You’re still an underground icon.”

“Don’t worry about what I am and what I’m not. Just explain why you did what you did, and why I didn’t get a heads-up. You’re the one who said you wanted to work together and share information, remember?”

Chi's gaze drifted downwards, pulled by the weight of the moment. She reached for her energy drink and took another sip before speaking again. “Do you recall when I told you I’m a Xopren outcast because I leaked information on a new weapon they had in production? That same weapon is being set up to work with the prototype. Because I broke the story, I felt tied to it. I had to get my hands on the prototype to learn what kind of tech they’re dealing with. I knew all about your connection with Raul ahead of time. I knew he was going to have you stand watch over the exchange. My plan was to steal the prototype when it was out of your line of sight, so no blame could fall on you for what happened. If I told you what I intended to do, your loyalty to Raul would have forced you to stop me.”

Chi took a few more sips from the can before placing it back down on the bench. “The Seers showing up changed everything. Raul panicked about the prototype ending up in their hands, and so did I. Because The Seers are COG. Xoprens having the prototype is one thing, but COG can never get the EnigmaCore. I had to act fast. Without even knowing that their appearance was unsanctioned, I snapped those photos and leaked them to Elaine Row, telling her she needed to publish them immediately if she wanted to save your life. I hoped America would be forced to pull them out.”

“That was smart,” Zella said. “It was a good call. Stealing the tech wasn’t, though. I have people in my team who also don’t want the prototype in the wrong hands. They wanted us to snatch the prototype, too. But this person would have never done it without my say-so. There’s always another way to solve a problem, Chi. Sometimes hacking and theft is a last resort.”

“Not to disrespect you, Zella…but was there another way to deal with Zip?”

Zella drew her palm slowly down her face. She had no answer.

“I’m sure killing him was personal. My situation with the Xopren regime and the five families is also personal. It’s important to me. Enough to cause me to make irrational decisions from time to time. This prototype also has the potential to help me locate the five families and learn more about my parents.”

“Fair,” Zella said. “So, what have you learned about the prototype so far?”

Chi folded her arms and leaned her body so that her weight fell onto her left hip. Slowly, she shook her head. “Nothing so far. The code is impossible to decipher. They’re using some incomprehensible encryption and syntax methods. I’ve sent the source code to some Phantoms, and even they can’t crack it yet.”

“You’re a hacker, Chi, so I know you’re familiar with a Trojan Horse. In your terms, it’s malware that poses as a legit piece of software to deceive users. When I was a lonely young teenager, I remember reading the origins of a Trojan Horse. It’s a Greek story where enemies of the city of Troy gained entry into the city using a horse they pretended was a gift.”

“What’s your point?” She drank from the can again, this time raising her chin high as if draining it. She placed the hollow can back down onto the bench.

“My point is that you stole that tech, and now you’re hitting a wall. Chi, Raul trusts me…that means something. He’s talking about putting me on a committee that oversees the use of the EnigmaCore. You know me, and you know my character. I won’t stand by and let them use that thing to do anything that will harm innocent people. And if I get that tech back into their hands, and they should decide to go against my word, then I’ll have the leverage to kill their plans from the inside. What I’m saying is that sometimes the best way to dismantle the threat is by getting on the inside.”

A sharp wind swept through the court. The empty can fell and rattled across the concrete. “Look, I know you’re looking out for your friend, but can’t you give me more time, Z?”

“I can’t. Your actions could have put me and my partner’s lives at risk. You did all of that to steal the tech, and even your team can’t crack it yet. I’m sure you have a copy of the source code already. With that code, you have more than enough to keep digging. The tech has to come back, Chi. Besides, I’m sure we’ll learn more about it just by monitoring what they do with it.”

Chi stood watching Zella for a moment, her hands and feet twitching. “The festival,” she said. “I’ll hand it to you somewhere a few blocks away from the main festivities, where there won’t be much foot traffic. But I’m not handing it to anyone other than you. I’m trusting you on this, Z. If you pull any shit, I’ll know where we stand.”

“Right. I’m counting on you to be paranoid, and that’s fine. It’s not in my interest to snake anyone.”

“Good,” Chi nodded.

Zella closed the distance between them, her feet kicking the empty can on the way to Chi. She offered Chi her hand to seal their verbal contract. Chi took her hand and shook it.

Zella did not let her lose after the handshake. She tightened her grasp on Chi’s hand and stepped closer to her, looking down at her. “You know, I’ve had to vouch for you a few times already. It’s hard to trust a member of the Phantoms, but I keep giving you chances. Don’t let me down again, Chi. If you want to work with Solace, then act like it.”

Chi forcefully retracted her hand. “The second day of the festival. I’ll call you with the details.”

Zella made her way back to the truck. The time had finally come for Solace to take a break. At least until the second day of the festival.

As Mere Immortal nears the final phase of Season One, some extra time may be needed to perfect the next wave of chapters. Apologies if there are delays.

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