--Chapter Six: The Tangled Web We Weave, Part One
“I’m going back on the net,” said Pants Man. “I’ll try and hack into City Hall, or at least someplace close to it.”
“But who’ll open your file attachment when you send yourself this time?” asked Aeris.
“Nobody; I can always get in there myself, though, when I have to. How do you think I usually get back here when I don’t leave by car? It’s just an inconvenience, is all, to get past the firewalls in public servers.”
“So what do we get to do?” asked Leo.
“I need help, and the police are busy, so that means you guys have to come with me.”
Aeris began, “But...” and stopped herself there; it was Leo’s job, not hers, to point out the obvious.
Leo picked up her thought immediately. “But we don’t have your superpower. We can’t just warp into the web like you can.”
Pants Man knelt and patted each of the cats on the back.
“Sure you can,” he said. “You’ve had just as much radiation as I have from the electronics in this house. Just do as I say: Close your eyes...”
The cats did this.
“Tap your hind heels together...”
“And repeat after me: ‘There’s no place like homepage... There’s no place like homepage...’”
Three seconds later, when they all still had their eyes closed, Aeris said, “I don’t remember you doing anything like this the first time you went into a computer. In fact, wasn’t there a massive explosion?”
Answered Pants Man, “Well, back then, I just clapped my hands together and said a bunch of phrases I thought were either magic words or battle cries. Y’know, like, ‘Ala Kazaam,’ and, ‘Remember the Alamo!’ I think it was “For the porno!” that did it, but I’ll never know for sure... The web works in mysterious ways.”
Aeris was still confused, but she dropped the subject and asked, “Can we open our eyes now? I feel kinda weird...”
Pants Man opened his eyes first. “Yeah, go ahead.”
The cats almost screamed when they saw each other. They were actually... humanoid! Leo wore jeans and a blue shirt with a jingle bell around the collar. Aeris also had jeans, and her top was a lavender turtleneck.
Pants man, standing next to them, was their same height. He offered an explanation before the cats even had the chance to ask any more questions. “I Made the clothes in Photoshop for ya. Hope you like ’em. We’re on the desktop now, and we’ll go online in a second. The things you see there may seem strange, but remember: none of them can harm you. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t bring you two into any situation that’d be too dangerous; I only ask your help right now because I really, really need it.”
“We understand,” said Leo.
Pants Man continued, “So remember that: the online world can’t kill you. Can it cause excruciating pain? Maybe. Tear a limb off? Happens all the time. But none of the damage is permanent, and you’ll be your old selves the second you come offline again. You must remember that.”
Aeris raised both eyebrows—then wondered for a moment, because she never remembered having eyebrows before...
“Ooh, it’s just like a videogame!” said Leo.
“Yes,” the superhero agreed. That’s a good way to think of it.”
Aeris was about to point out that their mission was not a “game,” and there were very real lives at stake... But Pants Man interjected before she could speak.
“Now, follow me, guys. We’ll have to hurry through the Internet to stop Krug.”
They ran across the desktop to where the Internet Explorer logo lay. It was big enough for all of them to stand on it, so they did this and looked down. Pants Man jumped and pounded the ground twice, and suddenly the logo turned into a vortex and sucked them in.
The world around them went black except for a computer keyboard image that hung in the air before them, easily within reach. Besides this, they could see only each other and what looked like an occasional shooting star in the distance.
“We’re in the data stream,” said Pants Man. “From here, we can access any server in the world. I’ve got to look up the number for City Hall’s connection, but that won’t take too long...”
He typed in a few search terms, and a series of possible entries appeared in white, serifed text in the space above the keyboard. Once he had what looked to be a true server number, he typed that in, and off they went to that address—it seemed a giant wind gust pushed them from behind, though actually, they were being pulled forward as if by an invisible magnet.
They came to a halt in front of an enormous (and very literal) firewall.
Pants Man: Okay, now we just have to get on the other side of that thing. Or rather, I do. You can see why I usually prefer people downloading and opening my file for me...
Leo: So if we’re not going to go with you through the firewall to fight Krug, then what are we supposed to do?
Pants Man: I want you two to find out where Krug’s hideout is. He has to have one, or else he wouldn’t be making all these monster replicas of himself.
Aeris: How are we supposed to do that?
Pants Man: Krug used a very advanced computer to override the Emergency Broadcast System when he made his speech. The City Hall computers can access that system, but they can’t do a total override of all the local networks. There has to be another system he’s working from. See if you can use the Internet to trace the source of the earlier override. No doubt it’s encrypted, but we’re so embedded in the data right now, codes probably don’t stand a chance against you. Good luck!
The hero ran off and jumped through the wall of fire. The cats could see him on the other side of the wall, rolling on an invisible ground to smother the flames.
Aeris and Leo looked at each other in confusion, neither one knowing where they should even begin...
Krug wore the “Mayor” sash over his lab coat with pride. It would go nicely, he decided, with the crown, once he got that. He sat in the mayor’s office, leaning back in the swivel chair, thinking about the feast he would have that night when all the Fleshy Ones came for the ceremony...
Little did he know, at that very moment, most Toronto residents were leaving the city as quickly as they could, since Krug neglected to close the highways and streets leading out of the metropolitan area before making his public address.
His minions, however, were beginning to catch on to this, since they had found quite a lot of entertainment recently watching a television in the City Hall lounge, tuned in to an international news station covering the breaking crisis in Toronto.
A blue minion knocked on Krug’s office door.
Van Kruglor: (taking his feet down from the desk) Ahem. His Majesty, the honorable mayor Dr. Van Kruglor bids you enter.
(Blue walks in, a jester hat atop his head. He is carrying a bucket full of plastic balls.)
Blue: Sire, there’s news you should probably know about—
Van Kruglor: Wait, stop! What did Krug tell you about job of court jester?
Blue: (sighs, puts down the bucket, picks up some of the balls, juggles, and dances.) The Fleshy Ones still don’t want to be eaten, Sire. They’re leaving the city in droves, and the monsters are complaining there’ll be a shortage of fleshy meat pretty soon.
(He does some really impressive juggling, cascading the balls through his legs, over his back, even off the wall. He drops the balls, though, when he sees Krug’s shadow loom over him as the larger red monster stands up.)
Van Kruglor: (yellow eyes aglow) Tell the minions, it is time to hunt!
“Not so fast!”
The voice came from behind, so Krug turned around. Then, out from the monitor, jumped Pants Man, wielding a belt in his left hand and his signature Super Soaker 200 in his right.
“Panty-head Man!” Krug yelled. He backed up a step and said to the blue monster next to him, “Van Kruglor take care of this... Tell others, we begin hunt together when this Fleshy One is dead.”
The blue one scurried off and closed the door behind him, leaving the bucket and balls in the room.
Krug took a pair of science lab goggles from one of his pockets, put them on, and said, “Dr. Van Kruglor have been making very special plans for you...”