Chapter 16: Because Teleporters Are Hard To Carry

Nikki knocked on the Moderator Board door.

"Who is it?" Schrodinger asked.

"Nikki. I need your help."

"With what?"

"We found Arancaytar."

Schrodinger opened the door. "So what do you need my help for?"

"He's been turned into one of his bots somehow. And then he got damaged pretty badly. You need to repair him."

"How badly is he damaged?" Schrodinger went back to the table and got out a fresh sheet of paper and a pen. He had taken one bot completely apart and started on a second one.

Nikki stepped inside. "Um. One of his arms doesn't work. He can't fly and I don't think he can see very well."

"Where is he now?"

"SoT's got him. I think they're probably still at the Google station."

"All right. I will be ready when he gets here." Schrodinger finished his new notes. "Anything else?"

"Not that I can think of." Nikki looked around. The new mods had made a few additions since he had last been inside. There was a gigantic Nethergate poster over the door, several potted plants, and a few dozen new books on min-maxing on the bookshelf.

Stareye, Drakefyre, and ***** entered.

"Schrodinger, do you need Nikki in here any longer?"

"Not anymore."

"Good." Stareye pushed Nikki out and shut the door.

"This is *****. The rats from Bots Aplenty will be staying with us for a while and since he was the admin there, he will be a mod here to deal with minor issues." Drakefyre entered the relevant information into the admin panel.

"Pleased to meet you." Schrodinger held out his hand.

"Likewise." ***** shook it.

"If you would come over here so we can get your pawprint into the security system," Stareye said.

Schrodinger began clearing the table. "I've just about completed my inspection of these bots. They've both got the same programming and armor, but underneath that one is a regular spambot and the other is a new kind I've never seen before."

***** looked at the notes while Stareye messed with the handprint scanner. "I have. That's one of ours. The armor and most of the programming is ours too."

"That makes sense. I noticed that a few bits of programming seemed tacked on and not as well-executed as the rest of it."

"Did you find any bugs we could exploit?" Drakefyre asked.

"I'm afraid not."

"What about weaknesses?"

Schrodinger shrugged. "Just the gaps in the armor."

"Well, at least we know exactly what we're up against now. Thank you." Stareye pressed *****'s paw against the scanner. "There. You may bring your rats here now. Drakefyre, could you deal with Alorael before they arrive? We don't want him sniping any rats by mistake."

---

Student of Trinity returned to the Google vehicle. With only a few purple rats and all of them very low on mana, most of the injured rats had to be treated with first aid.

Arancaytar tensed when he saw someone enter. "That is you, right, SoT?"

"Yes. How are you doing?"

"I... I think I've got it all figured out now. How... how are the rats doing?"

"Better. Not good, but better."

Arancaytar sighed. "This is my fault. I believed what Ecksian told me. I believed what a flamer told me. I... I let my emotions get the better of me. And just look what happened!"

"Don't be too hard on yourself. Ecksian is good at manipulating others. He got into Spiderweb without raising suspicion and the rats say he did the same at Bots Aplenty. If he was messing with your memory too, well, you didn't really have a chance."

"I know, but I should never have gone along with their plan to attack the rats. It's just that, when they told me the rats had attacked Spiderweb and killed... uh, everyone, I wanted to... well, I... um... oh, never mind."

"What?"

"Forget it."

Attorukkip's return to the station prevented further questions. "Anyone need healing? I've got full energy again."

Student of Trinity stepped out of the vehicle to see what was happening. Attorukkip was surrounded by rats with minor injuries. Dikiyoba stood beside her, handing out healing potions. Ephesos stood well back, still weak even after two energy elixirs.

Student of Trinity approached him. "What happened to you?"

"Just a side effect from a spell. Att, hurry. The sooner we get there, the better our chances will be."

"Get where? What are you planning?"

"To revive the dead rats, of course."

---

Safely hidden in a nearby building, a yeti watched the flamers leave. A smaller yeti watched several ninjas chain two blue rats together with the young wererat. All three were unconscious.

Three 1337 h4x0rs lurked in a corner. "7|-|3 |-||_||\/|4|\|2 \/\/3 453 4|=735 453|\|7 |)0\/\/|\| 7|-|353," one said.

The larger yeti growled something. One of the ninjas waved a hand around. The smaller yeti growled in response.

"600|) 914|\|."

The smaller yeti pulled out a recall crystal. She picked up the rats' chain and activated the crystal. There was a flash of light as they vanished.

---

Yeti Mountain was very close when Andraste let the group take another break. "All right, everyone, we'll rest here for a while. Stick close and keep your weapons with you at all times. Some yetis are friendly, but others are not. Also, if we meet any, don't try anything clever and call them Bigfeet or abominable snowmen. They don't like that. And should you dare to call them Wookiees, well, you deserve everything that they will do to you."

"Sounds dangerous. Can we see Troll Mountain yet?" Goldenking asked.

"Yeah, it's right over there." Andraste pointed.

"Where? I still don't see it."

"Huh. I can see it just fine," Salmon said, "Maybe when we get a bit closer, then."

---

The crickets gave Chatter a quick tour of the forums. He was very impressed, especially by the luminescent fungus. On the way back, they stopped to watch Nalyd guide a rat skeleton around the Geneforge 4 Forum. The crickets chirped in displeasure.

Azuma jumped when he heard them. "Er, um, hello."

"Are you sure you're allowed to do that?" Chatter asked, "The crickets don't think--"

"Of course. It's perfectly safe and I've got everything under control."

Without Azuma to help him, Nalyd couldn't get the skeleton to listen to his orders. It marched directly towards a boulder. "No! Turn! Turn, dang it!"

It walked into the boulder and spent several moments attempting to keep going before falling apart.

"Azuma, Nalyd needs help!"

Azuma sighed. "I don't suppose we could take a break now? It's almost lunchtime, you know."

"No! We must keep going! Er, please?"

Azuma blinked helplessly at Chatter several times before turning to reanimate the skeleton.

---

Squeak and Terry led the way down an abandoned street. The rest of the rats planning to join the Attorists followed closely behind.

Finally, Squeak stopped. "This is it."

"This is it? But... but it's a dump!" Terry said.

Pile after pile of spam, broken equipment, old threads, worn-out memes, and all sorts of other garbage stretched out before them.

"You're telling me the Attorists live in this?"

"No, not in it. But they live close to it and scavenge in it. Mostly, though, I wanted to let the Attorists see us coming," Squeak said.

A few minutes later, several filthy mung rats scampered across the dump and approached the group.

Squeak stepped forward and addressed them in Scritch. The mung rats answered.

"They say they've got plenty of room to take us in. They'll take us to a good spot," Squeak said.

"If anyone is having second thoughts, now would be a good time to speak up," Terry said, "You can always go to Spiderweb."

A few rats nervously left.

"What about you?" Squeak asked.

"My first priority is to make sure everyone under my protection is safe. For now, I'm staying with you," Terry said.

Squeak said something to the mung rats. The mung rats nodded and set off back through the dump. The other rats followed, with Squeak in front and Terry at the rear.

---

Litter Locator jumped as the chair Filth Finder had kicked clattered across the floor.

"What do you suppose that music means?" Dreck Disperser asked.

"I don't know, but I don't like being here," Litter Locator said.

"Yeah, me neither."

Both nymphs shrieked when a trapdoor by them opened and a rather small GIFTS climbed out. "Hi! You're--oof!"

Filth Finder tackled the GIFTS and pinned him to the ground. "Nymphs, get back!"

Litter Locator and Dreck Disperser huddled together with the other nymphs.

"Hey!" The GIFTS struggled ineffectually for a minute.

Just then, the GIFTS that had been with Trrrch climbed through the trapdoor. "Spider, you idiot, you know you aren't supposed to come here alone. Er--you know, I don't think you ever told me your name--I'm terribly sorry. I realize it must look like we're playing a terrible prank on you, but we're not."

Filth Finder stared. "How did you get here so quickly?"

"Oh, a recall crystal. I meant to be here waiting for you, actually, but Trrrch caused some difficulties."

"And the Rickroll?"

"It's our first line of defense. It keeps us from being listed by Google and confuses any spies who do discover this place."

"Spies? For who? You said this was a safe place. Exactly what is it?"

"Hmm. Where to begin? Actually, when was the last time you were at Bugtopia?"

"Almost four years ago, I think. We left not long after Chief Spider announced the Cute Edict."

"Wow. You've missed a lot, then. Did you leave before or after Slime Lover and Chchrrt started arguing with each other over the Cute Edict?"

"Practically everyone was bickering over the Cute Edict. That's why we left."

"Before, then. Trust me, their argument was on another level entirely. It got so bad Chief Spider eventually banned them and told them not to come back until they had sorted things out between them. Incidentally, he ended up repealing the Cute Edict too."

"Two admins got banned?"

"Yeah. Of course, by that time it was too late. The mods had already taken sides and ordinary members were getting involved as well, so the fights continued. Plus, it left Chief Spider as the sole administrator and... well, he just wasn't that good at it."

"So what happened next?"

"The fights kept sucking more and more members in. Trolls started to show up. Bugs got 'accidentally' left behind on feeding trips. Plenty of members just got fed up and left. Eventually, one flamefest got completely out of control and burned down the archives."

Filth Finder winced. "And then?"

"Slime Lover showed up one day. She said that her argument with Chchrrt was behind her. Chief Spider unbanned her and reinstated her as admin. Of course, it only took about five minutes for the rumors to start that she had killed him and another huge flamefest ensued. Rrrcht tried to stop it. No one knows exactly what happened--whether it was an accident or intentional--but he ended up dying in the flames. The Chchrrt supporters blamed it on the Slime Lover supporters and vice versa. From there, it was a full-fledged civil war."

"Civil war? Over a personality conflict? But... but... how could...?"

Spider interrupted Filth Finder. "Excuse me, do you mind letting me up now? I'm losing feeling in three of my legs."