Chapter Four: 'Best Laid Plans...'

Jonny stood in a dark room. Intermittently, streaks of neon colors would trace imaginary paths across the walls. Jonny watched them, fascinated. Gradually, he felt a presence in the room. Watching him.

He spoke.

"Where am I?"

"It doesn't matter." a warm, feminine voice answered.

Jonny mulled over the reply. Hesitantly, he spoke again.

"Who am I?"

"You are Jonny Quest."

After a short pause, Jonny continued.

"What does that mean?"

"You are a special individual. An important one."

A rush of images flashed into his mind. A bearded man. A pretty blonde woman. An island home. A snow-covered mansion.

A young blond boy staring back from a mirror.

"Why do I feel...why do I look so different from what I remember?"

"You have grown. Into a fine young man. Eight years have passed since the time of your memories."

"Where have I been the last eight years?"

"Let's just say, sleeping..."

Jonny mulled that over for a minute. He continued:

"Where are my parents?"

"You will see them in time. Other things need to be done first."

Jonny accepted that. He spoke with conviction. "Then let's begin."

Benton blinked the sleep out of his eyes. So that the emotions and mental ability of the new artificial intelligence matrix would be developed fully, it had to be taught. Meach, one of the more advanced intelligences, was handling the tutelage. She might be a little dramatic, but she was best for the job. Even with the teaching being done at a speed much faster than real-time, it was a time consuming process.

A process that wasn't being helped by him interrupting it every few minutes.


"Yes, Dr. Quest?"

"How is it coming along?"

Suze analyzed the use of the indefinite pronoun "it" and used the previous twenty-six queries to formulate its meaning. "Meach has filled in Jonny on the history of this household of the past eight years. She has thus moved on to world events. Tutelage, limited to standard elementary and junior high level, as per your request, in English, Mathematics, History, and Science will commence in three minutes, fourteen seconds. Upon completion, any fields of interest of the newly evolved intelligence will be pursued. Emotional stimuli have been added to program. Proper responses are being rewarded, improper are being punished in manner referred to in latest parenting journals. Interaction with programmed peers a little below 'normal' but within acceptable parameters."

She added with some affection, "Jonny is learning quickly. He's a little shy, but his emotions are also coming along at a rapid pace. In fact, his emotional core seems to be slowly overpowering and encompassing his logical one. It's amazing, doctor."

"Yes, it is..." Benton wasn't only referring to his resurrected son. He had noticed that his AIs had been of late more expressive. Less clinical. Upon poring over the Questworld logs, he had noticed a gradual evolution in all of the AIs, except Iris, the original. The newer ones had less restrictions put on them, in regards to their programming. They had slowly started modifying themselves, in accordance with the observations they had made of the residents of the Quest compound. In short, they had learned emotions. This newfound revelation was what made him think Jonny's return would be possible.

"Suze? Continue program."

Pasha screamed as his assailant burst out of the shadows of the city.

More accurately, he screamed like a sissy little girl.

Fortunately, the subsequent hysterical laughter from his would-be attacker allowed Pasha to quickly dispatch him in a semi-violent manner. Suddenly, the surrounding area started to flash red, with a voice blaring a countdown from five seconds. Five... Four... Three... Two... One... And Pasha came into the real world, lifting the Questworld earpiece from his head and glancing sheepishly at his young friend.

"Pasha... I thought we agreed that I was still going to do things for the system before you used it..." Hadji said, trying, but not altogether succeeding, to keep a serious look on his face. He had heard that scream, after all. He decided to give up and started rolling on the floor, laughing wildly.

"Well, I was giving it a test run, y'know, so that it's up to spec and all. Don't want to have been dealt shoddy merchandise, you understand?"

"Of course, my friend..." Hadji replied skeptically. "I'm also sure you didn't ruin my image by using my avatar in Questworld, with that," Hadji stifled a giggle, "uh... outburst..?"

"But...but... You should have seen that guy" Pasha sputtered, "he was a monster! Plus this thing is just so freakin' realistic..." Pasha decided to "hide" the fact that the so-called "monster" was, for all intents and purposes, a Teletubbie. 'I must have gotten some game files crossed somewhere...'

Hadji eventually got control of himself (as Pasha fumed) and politely ushered his guardian out of his room. He had set up a virtual floor plan of his latest target, the compound of a fairly profitable little drug ring operating out of a small area in the south side of the city. By the time he finished, he could breeze in and out as if he had a key, with no one being the wiser. Things would be a bit lighter for quite a few needy families in the city this week.

Now if he could only think of a cool name that could be passed around as his "superhero" name. Robin Hood Jr.? Turban-boy? He'd have to work on that.

The exploits of the identity challenged young thief is far from the mind of one blonde woman in Rockport, however. No, Rachel Quest was more focused on one thing much closer to home.

Coffee, and lots of it.

However, Abigail Rage noted with some sadness that no matter how much of the stimulant Rachel ingested, it never seemed to get rid of the tired look in her eyes. Still, Rachel smiled somewhat warmly at her friend's approach. Imagine, only a few years ago she was just "their bodyguard's wife."

"Morning Abby."

"Morning Rache."

Abby puttered around the kitchen in comfortable silence, preparing things so that Iris could prepare breakfast for the household. As she entered the commands for Iris to start cooking, she got an error message that not enough processing power was available for the task.

"Hmm... Strange..." The error message quickly disappeared however, and Abby put it out of her mind as the robotic chefs activated.

"So Rache, what are you up for today? A little shopping, methinks? A girl's day out? Karla's been haranguing me to spend some of that salary you pay Zeke."

Rachel grinned. Having Karla's infectious teen ...ebullience around was therapeutic. Rachel could feel her emotional wounds closing just seeing Karla grow up, but Benton's problems tended to tear them open every time she saw his hangdog expression and inner fears peek through his brave face. She couldn't talk to him about the problem, either, no matter how hard she tried. He tended to clam up and it hurt her too much to see him hurting. Shaking herself out of her reverie, Rachel responded. "Sure, I'd like that. I need to pick up some more supplies, anyway."

Rachel had recently taken up painting as an outlet for her feelings. She was still learning, but her works had so much raw emotion worked into it that she was getting quite a few compliments (although usually paired with a sympathetic or worried look.) Being independently wealthy and finding herself lacking the passion for her work that she had before the ...incident, she no longer needed to do the research she was educated for, and she could devote more time to her hobbies.

Karla soon drifted into the kitchen (and I mean drifted quite literally. She was lying down on on oversized hoverboard and pushed herself in the general direction of the kitchen.) She yawned as she rose from her position, giving her mother a quick kiss on the cheek before punching her breakfast order into the computer. Rachel and Abby looked on with amusement as she punched in a number of less-than-healthy selections, each rejected by Iris, until she finally ordered something nutritionally acceptable.

Karla sat down at the table, giving a disdainful look to the simple glass of milk that was set before her instead of the coffee she ordered. They ate in silence for a few minutes, letting Karla fully awaken (not to mention giving them a few minutes of calm before the teen shifted into overdrive) before telling her their plans.

Suffice it to say, by the time Zeke and Benton trickled into the kitchen, they had decided that caffeine had nothing on the attitude of a teenage girl promised a shopping trip.

< author's note: No offense to any females out there, but I have a teenage sister, so any story devices are from personal observation >

The city was dark, and the lamps positioned sporadically along the streets did little to pierce the inky blackness. If anything, their flickering bulbs just lent to the forbidden atmosphere surrounding that particular section of the city.

Hadji swallowed nervously in spite of himself as he approached the wall furthest from any light source, however ineffective. When he was safely ensconced in the shadows, he slipped the lightweight mask from its resting place under his turban and fitted it snugly over his face. He retrieved a pair of climbing claws from his backpack and slowly and silently started to scale the wall.

He glanced over the top of the roof before he scrambled over the edge. The soft pads that covered his feet allowed him to sneak silently across the rooftop to the makeshift skylight that the drug-dealers that inhabited the building had cut to allow some air into the building. Several high tech motion detectors ringed the hole in the roof, belying the crude appearance of the skylight. Safely out of the range of the motion detectors, Hadji started to methodically assemble a tall, disposable frame composed of two support frames with a pole in-between. Grasping the pole firmly, he swung upon it like a gymnast would upon parallel bars, until finally he let go, casting himself into a high arc that dropped him exactly in the middle of the skylight, a scant inches from the sensor range of the motion detectors on each side. He cast a rope from his belt that safely caught a wooden beam, and slowly lowered himself into the cavernous room that served as the dining hall for the wealthy criminal that resided here. He set down without a sound, and made his way out of the moonlight that his entrance point allowed into the room. An expert tug dislodged the grappling hook and he caught and stowed it in case he needed it later.

He made his way from the dining room, dispatching any guards he encountered with a few incapacitating, but not lethal, nerve pinches. He finally reached a heavily-guarded room that he knew was the treasury. Unfortunately, two burly guards, armed with very-lethal submachine guns stood guard. Deciding discretion was the better part of valor, Hadji used two well-thrown gas pills from afar to put them to sleep, rather than attempting to knock them out by hand. He walked cautiously into the room, and breathed a sigh of relief when no guards were actually stationed inside.

That sigh quickly became a gasp when he realized just exactly how much money was in the room. He started filling his pack with as much as he could, leaving the bulkier items in favor of cash and small jewelry. When he had filled his pack, his take enough to finance a food kitchen for almost a decade, he noticed that what he originally took to be a table was actually a locked box, shrouded by a white linen table cloth. Lifting the cloth, he looked curiously at the ornate decoration on the chest.

Hadji's curiosity got the better of him, and he quickly got to work picking the lock. He heard the telltale click and lifted the lid eagerly. What he found caused him to freeze in horror. It was a pile of bones, assumedly enough to form a complete skeleton, with a gaping skull set atop it. That horror only deepened, however, when an alarm started sounding, and the shouts of a large number of criminals scattered throughout the house reached his ears. He quickly ran out of the room, leaving the skull leering after him.

Jonny gave out an excited whoop, pulling a loop to loop through the air before evening out and diving to the ground. He pulled out of the dive, attempting to rise above a nearby cliff. He underestimated his momentum, however, and was about to smack headlong into the rocky outcropping. Thinking quickly, he circumnavigated the Questworld security protocols that maintained a consistent environment and deleted the cliff from the landscape.

Benton gasped, as he sat unseen a short distance away. "Meach? How did he do that?"

"Well, Jonny is basically a program in here. A highly evolved artificially-intelligent program, but a program nonetheless. Because of that, he has an intuitive control over all the code and processes in Questworld. His AI 3.0 status allows him greater control than the AI Two's, like Suze and I. Adding in the fact that he has a very good imagination..."

"I see. Do you think he's ready to see me?"

"Absolutely. He's been wondering when he could see you and Rachel." The volume of Meach's disembodied voice rose until Jonny could hear it from his place in the air. "Jonny, would you mind heading to the plateau about three o'clock from your position?"

"Sure, Meach. Does Suze and Iris have more exercises for me?"

"No, in fact. You'll see..."

Jonny landed, his feet bouncing slightly as they touched the ground. Flying without a plane really agreed with him. When he saw the lone figure standing under a tree on the plateau, his face broke out in a large smile.

In an instant both father and son ran for the other, culminating in a deep hug. Both of them were hanging on to the other for dear life, tears of joy streaming down their faces.

They stayed like that for a long time.

Hadji dodged down another hallway, avoiding yet another group of thugs. He finally reached the outer part of the building, which means now he might finally be able to find a window. Spotting one, he veered down that hallway.

And, true to Murphy's law, a door opened between Hadji and the window, spilling a half-dozen sleepy-eyed drug dealers into the hall.

With a rather un-Hadji-like curse under his breath, Hadji tossed his grappling hook as hard as he could against the plaster ceiling. Fortunately, the sharp point embedded itself into the plaster and the thief was able to swing his body into the mass of people, feet first, knocking them all down. Unfortunately, plaster isn't all that suitable to anchor a large weight, and the hook broke free, sending Hadji out the window with very little to slow him down.

Fortunately, true to action movie karma, a truck full of hay just happened to be passing by underneath that window. Hadji landed with a whoosh of expelled breath as his spine impacted with his full backpack. He pressed a button at his belt, detonating the small incendiary device attached to the frame he used earlier. Thus, any physical trace of his presence erased, Hadji quickly rolled off the truck and fled into the streets.

A number of neighborhoods in the less-fortunate part of town would find a package on their doorsteps in the morning, each family the happy victims of a beneficial round of ding-dong-ditch.

< ding dong ditch: n. A juvenile prank which involves the ringing of a doorbell (or otherwise summoning a person to the door) and then running away, leaving the victims standing there dumbfounded >

To be continued...

[ Prologue 1 2 Interlude 3 4 5 6 ]

[ Home | Contact Author | JQHQ ]

Date: 4/3/2000

Category: ALT, RE, Some H, FAM (Definitely), Sorta ML

Disclaimer: Don't own them. At least, not yet.

Upon writing this chapter, I've found that writing my version of Rachel is really hard, since I have no basis for the character (mannerisms, phrases, etc.) so she seemed pretty generic at first.

Hmm... Very slim on Jessie and the Bannons this time around, but I promise they'll be in the next one. Much more on the residents of Rockport, Maine, and a bit more of that digital wonderland we know as Questworld, commercialism and ads included. Maybe some more cameos from some of our favorite JQMLers, and maybe, just maybe, some of the threads will finally start to come together. Like putting together that wonderful Quest team we all know and love.

Oh, and if any plot device seemed a little too convenient to you, I sincerely apologize. I wrote myself into a place where I didn't know where I was going and how I got there, and this is what was used to resolve it. Oh well. And if the teletubbie reference seems a bit dated, I wrote that way back in December. The perils of an active social and academic life, I guess.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed, and send in those comments!

Francis "Feyjin" Escuadro