“NavSkids away!” Aelita called, pulling the four switches down with her fingers. Odd, Ulrich, Yumi and William detached from the Skid and started toward the horde of Digital Sea monsters.
“Be careful, all of you,” Franz said. “We don’t have the materialization codes from the Network, and never did, so if any of you are devirtualized, you’ll be gone for good.”
Jeremie glanced at Franz, and Franz looked back. Each saw more fear than they were showing and expressing to the five Lyoko Warriors fighting in the Network.
“Let’s split up,” Yumi called. “It should weaken the monsters…somewhat.”
“Okay,” Odd, Ulrich and William replied. All of them blasted toward the monsters and then split up in four separate directions. Five Kongres and five Rekins followed each of them, firing laser shots and blasting torpedoes the whole time.
“This is crazy,” Aelita said, sighing. She quickly took hold of the joysticks and steered the Skid away from the three approaching Kalamars. “Jeremie, Daddy, we won’t be able to fight forever, and we don’t have much hope. Unless we do something, we will lose.” She quickly fired two torpedoes backward at the Kalamars. Both of them missed and spiraled away, forgotten in the commotion.
“There’s truth in her words,” Jeremie said to Franz, with a lot of fear and depression in his expression. “You guys can’t stay there. You’re going to have to try to get back to Lyoko so that we can rematerialize you.”
“How?” asked Odd, afraid, trying to fire torpedoes at his monsters, which in turn were firing back at him. “We’re trying to fight an army five times bigger than us, and it’s not gonna go well! It’s like a battle between a strawberry and a watermelon.”
“We’ll figure something out,” Ulrich replied, fighting his own battle. But all of them heard the scared voice masked by fake confidence, which reflected all of their thoughts at the moment. There really was no hope. They were going to lose right there in the Network…and die.
“I just wish I had said something, anything, to Hiroki and my parents before I left yesterday,” Yumi said, tearing up as she continued to fire torpedoes at her monsters. “I can’t stand loosing if we can’t at least say good-bye to the people we love.”
In a clear wisp of occurrence, the thought came to Aelita and Odd at the same time about the invisible implications of Yumi, and Ulrich and William, but neither of them said anything as they focused on the battle. Nor did they want to bring it up, even though it might have been the last chance to do it.
Ulrich pushed the booster lever on his left side forward with his left hand. The engine behind him sparked slightly blue, but then died back down. The monsters still tailing him cried in triumph.
"I don't even have enough power for a boost," Ulrich said, with a highly dismayed voice. "Einsteins, we're burning all our energy. We can't keep fighting. We have to get out of here!"
"You're surrounded," Jeremie said, distraught. "There's no possible way for you guys to get back to Lyoko. No loopholes in the defense. I'm sorry…we've lost."
Instead of gasps of shock and disbelief, there were mumbles of recognition. With the almost impossible chance that they would make it through the enormous battle, the situation was bleak and hopeless.
William steered around a red shaft hanging down from the Network's databases, trying to shake off the monsters. Suddenly, as he continued forward with the monsters on his tail, he past a larger shaft with a white XANA eye upon it. "Hey!" he called, steering back towards it. "Franz, Jeremie, there's a XANA eye here."
Jeremie and Franz glanced at each other. "That's strange," Franz said, starting to type. "I'll take a look at it."
William turned back to fire torpedoes at his monsters. Yumi, Odd, and Ulrich were fighting battles of their own, while Aelita still tried to avoid the Kalamar and a few Kongres and Rekins tailing her.
The results opened up in a window. Franz and Jeremie frowned. "Hey guys," Jeremie said, "it looks like we just found something, thanks to William."
"What is it?" Yumi said, not very enthusiastically.
"It looks like it's a secret passage!"
There were gasps of amazement. "Where does it lead to?" Aelita asked.
"We don't know," Franz replied. "But it's definitely giving you a way out of the battle."
"Could it be a trap?" Ulrich asked.
Jeremie sighed. "Unfortunately, that's possible, but you all just need to get out of there right now."
“At the moment, anywhere is better than here,” agreed Yumi.
"NavSkids in!" Aelita called. Ulrich, Odd, Yumi and William quickly steered their NavSkids back toward her. The monsters got back into a huge cluster, and then followed them.
Aelita quickly pulled the four switches down. As the NavSkids reattached to the Skid, the green, lined connectors quickly lit up to keep them connected.
"I'm sending you the coordinates," Franz promptly said, typing more codes into the supercomputer.
"Okay," Aelita replied, taking hold of the joysticks. Just ahead of them, the monsters swam into view.
"Go!" she shouted, plunging the joysticks forward. The Skid shot forward, its blue rear engines behind the cockpit activated, and they barely skimmed through a hole in the cluster. The monsters cried out in frustration and quickly turned around to follow the Skid once more.
Aelita steered through the upside-down maze of red shafts, trying earnestly to avoid the monsters firing at them from behind.
"On your left, Aelita!" Jeremie called. "It's the gate! You have to activate the digital key to it before we can open it."
"Got it," Aelita said. She quickly steered the Skid in front of the huge, white XANA eye sitting on the slightly abnormally large shaft. "Rotation." The Skid rotated back to its vertical position. "Digital key activated," she called, as she pressed her hand to the keypad. The white beam flew out of the front of the cockpit.
The window opened up. Franz intently started typing, trying to crack the encryption.
Jeremie's eyes widened, focused on the radar window. "Franz…" Jeremie said, worried and on the edge, "the monsters are getting closer."
Everyone turned to the left. "Hey!" Odd called. "I can't see anything! I'm not facing the right direction!"
"Oh well," everyone replied. The horde of monsters swam past them, traveling just parallel to them, trying to locate their prey.
"I've cracked the code," Franz called. The beam immediately disappeared. The XANA eye blinked and momentarily disappeared as well, and a part of the shaft in front of them quickly rose up, allowing them to enter.
"Hurry, Aelita!" Jeremie shouted. Aelita quickly steered the Skid straight into the opening. The shaft closed behind them, plunging them into darkness.
Behind them, the monsters swam past the shaft. They glanced at the shaft, unsuspecting, and swam away, still looking for the Skidbladnir.
Franz and Jeremie sighed in relief. "The monsters didn't notice," Jeremie said. There were gasps of relief from the Skid.
Aelita straightened. "Lights on," she said, punching a code into the keypad near her left hand. The lights on the cockpit and on the sides of the "wings" of the Skid lit up, lighting up the dark space with a bright, white light.
“Hmm…” said Franz. “It appears that you’re in some sort of vertical tunnel that goes upward. Try going up.”
“Okay,” Aelita said, carefully pulling the joysticks back. “Here we go.” The Skid rose up through the virtual water.
Suddenly, they abruptly reached the surface of the water. Light red water seeped off of the Skid as they slowly rose up into a room.
“Einsteins, you won’t believe it!” Odd said. “We’re in some sort of…entrance room. It’s kinda like a lobby.”
The room was huge. Bigger than any other room they had ever seen on Lyoko, the room was structured like Carthage…except red. All of the features were cubical. The walls were lined in the same sort of square structure that Carthage was lined in. Below them, the Digital Sea they had just rose out of glowed a whitish red in a large, rectangular sort of “pond”.
The Skid rose up to what appeared to be “ground level”. A large red platform with only one side connected to a wall loomed in front of them as they hovered to a stop. On the other side of the platform, a doorway opened up, much like the one from the blue-structured Carthage to the Celestial Dome.
The Skid’s wings opened up, and the Skidbladnir continued to hover in the air.
Radar windows opened up on the screen. Franz and Jeremie gasped in amazement. “Guys,” Jeremie said, “it looks like we’ve actually found a part of the Network that doesn’t have water. It’s amazing!”
“This place has got to have some significance with XANA,” William said. “Even though I still can’t remember anything while I was being controlled.”
“Teleport,” Aelita called. All five of them quickly appeared on the red platform in front of the Skid.
“Could this be a sort of Replika or something?” asked Ulrich.
“No…not really,” Franz said, still typing. “It appears that this structure is build into the Network itself, and apparently gets energy from the Network without needing an external supercomputer on Earth to power it. It’s really strange.”
“Try following the passage in front of you,” Jeremie called. “It could lead somewhere.”
“Okay,” Yumi called. “Let’s go.” The five of them quickly ran through the entrance to the unknown and unexplored parts of the Network still waiting for them to be discovered.
“Jeremie, Daddy,” Aelita called after a while, “the passage has ended. We’re in another room of sorts.”
“Let’s take a look,” said Franz, opening up a window.
The room was still red, still structured in cubes and three-dimensional rectangles, but it was different. It was much smaller than the room they had just came out of, about the size of a normal room in the Core Zone of Carthage. They were standing on a platform, this time build into the ground, while bright red light seeped from the ground and the ceiling alike through empty spots. They were standing at a three way “T” intersection, one path leading right and one path leading left. The walls were spaced slightly far apart.
“Which path should we take?” asked Ulrich.
“Try the path to your left,” Jeremie instructed. “Franz and I are picking up high amounts of energy from it.”
The Lyoko Warriors quickly turned onto the left path and ran toward the doorway that was at the end of the path.
After a moment or so, Franz and Jeremie straightened. “You should be there now, in the next room,” Franz said. “Are you there?”
There were only gasps of shock and amazement in reply.
The new room they had entered looked very much like the inside of a tower, except with a red color scheme. Red interfaces lined the walls. The walls…there was only one wall, if it was called a “wall”. The interfaces sat in a circular pattern, much like in a tower. The room itself was entirely cylindrical, with no apparent ceiling or floor except for the platform that they were standing on. The floor itself seemed kilometers down, as it went down into a small spot of darkness. It looked completely like a very large version of the inside of a tower...except for the red.
The platform itself was still red, like the rest of the room, and it was about five meters wide and ten meters long, a bit bigger than the platform in Carthage. The platform merely jutted out into the jumble of interfaces.
Interfaces flew everywhere around them. However, in the very middle of the room, a bright white light cast itself to the walls and the entire room, almost blinding. Bright, whitish red rings were barely visible in the light. It looked much like a very larger scale on what had happened when Aelita was first materialized with the Code Earth program inside a tower. The interfaces situated themselves mostly around the middle of the room and never sitting still, moving at light-speed this way and that, almost too fast to see. Except, of course, for the interfaces that made up the walls.
All five of them still looked around, staring in amazement at the room they had just found. Aelita finally refocused to look in front of them, toward the edge of the platform. “Hey,” she said, pointing, and everyone turned. “There’s an interface here.”
“Interfaces,” Ulrich commented. Sure enough, a large blue interface had appeared about at waist level, going up. On both sides of the interface were slightly smaller ones, but still the same height, rather skinny in width. Aelita stepped forward to examine them. The interface was about an elbow-to-elbow span wide and half a meter tall, seeming bigger than the interface in Carthage.
Aelita tentatively pressed her hand to it. Windows immediately appeared on the screen, and the processes listed themselves on the side interfaces. Aelita intently began gathering data, moving, closing and opening windows here and there. “It’s…it’s amazing!” she said, her voice shaking. “There are tons of resources available to us here! Daddy, Jeremie, what is this place?”
Franz and Jeremie’s eyes widened again as they got the results. “It appears,” Franz said, “that you are in the very Center of the Network. The heart of the Internet itself.”
There were more gasps. “That would explain a lot,” Aelita said, still working. “We’ve got unlimited amounts of resources available to us! There’s even high-speed processors, databank storage and access…it’s just amazing. I wish we had found this sooner.”
“Not to rush you, Aelita,” Jeremie said, “but your father and I just came across yet another room. We don’t know what it is yet, so you guys should try to explore that as well. But first, please try to activate the rematerialization codes from the Network, so that if any of you are devirtualized, we won’t have any problems getting you back to Earth.”
“Okay,” Aelita replied. She quickly opened windows and pressed them. A purple progress bar quickly appeared on the screen, before completely loading and then blinking and disappearing. “Jeremie, Daddy?” she asked. “Have you received the codes?”
A window opened on the screen of the supercomputer. “Yes, we have,” Franz replied, still continuing to type. “Thank you. I’m activating the codes right now.”
“Okay,” Aelita said, finishing up, closing windows on the interface. “I’m done for now,” she said, with a final press to the interface. She turned to the other four, waiting patiently for her. “Let’s go.”
All five of them turned and left the Center of the Network to go back to the intersection, still marveling at the good fortune and luck that they had found this place when they needed it most.