Chapter 297 A Stranger's Offer
"Not from this world, are we?" said Aldrich. He stared into the unblinking green dot of the spherical helper bot. He wondered what was behind it.
An impossibly alien face too inhuman to comprehend?
Some kind of alternate reality human?
Maybe a living machine?
No way to really tell.
What Aldrich did know was that the Stranger was no pushover.
The fact that the dot did not turn from green to red meant that whoever was hacking into this was good enough not to trigger the many security measures that the Panopticon's security networks built up.
Aldrich had mentioned it in his head before, but he had to remind himself again that that was no walk in the park. If he had to give a letter rank to it in terms of pure hacking skill, then it was without a doubt S-class. Top of the S-class, even, considering the Panopticon's reputation of having an iron solid cyberspace defense.
If he made an enemy out of the Stranger, then he was making a tough one.
"No. You could say that we are, well, strangers," said the Stranger. Though he cracked a joke, his voice did not show any humor. It was chillingly stable â€“ cold in a way that felt, at some fundamental level, inhuman.
"What are you, then? An alien?" asked Aldrich. People always figured that aliens existed â€“ now more so than ever. Hard to harbor disbelief in aliens when there were literal superheroes flying around on the daily given power by mysterious cosmic rays.
"Alien. A very broad classification. Too broad to cram the likes of us into. But yes, alien would technically be correct." The lights in the room shifted from bright white to blue, indicating a 'get ready' to Aldrich. "Look at that. Your hearing is beginning soon."
"You can't expect me to make a deal if I have no idea who you are or what you really want."
"True. Then let me make it simple for now. The Trident is an ancient relic that refuses to change with the ever-shifting tides of time. It's an old boat on seas far too vast and rough for it.
It needs to sink. I have good reason to believe you want the same. Why can't we sink their ship together?"
Aldirch had to admit that it was a tempting proposition in the sense that anything that took down the Trident was right up his alley. He did not have an extreme personal grudge against the Trident as an organization, but he would not mind breaking it down either. "And what's your affiliation with the Trident?"
"You might know me better as the head of the Russian Prong."
Aldrich raised a brow under his helm. The Russian Prong? So, the Stranger was not just part of the Trident, he was literally the head of one of its three prongs. Or, to be more specific in light of new revelations, the instigator of the civil war between the Russian Prong and the Japanese and Italian ones.
That did not give Aldrich too much information. Unlike with the Italian and Japanese prongs, the Russian prong was shrouded in mystery. Nobody knew who the head really was or who the higher ups were.
"I know the innards of the Trident," said the Stranger. "I know how to poison the well and smoke out the rats. If you and I join forces, we can split the Trident apart and built it back better. We can enforce our wills upon the world. We can become the new world order."
"I see. From what I gather, then, you, the Russian Prong, want to go ahead with that revolution of yours to topple the current world order. But the other two prongs don't want to make that extreme of a move, so you want to get rid of them."
"Correct. Believe me, Thanatos, you are better off with me. We are 'Irregular'. The world will never accept us. They will try to use us, but accept us? No. Not possible. But since we are Irregular, we can clutch at their throats before they even know what is happening.
They do not know our powers. They have no way to fend against us. We can dismantle everything that this world has built up and make it ours.
All I need for you is to be my friend."
"That's not all, is it? Nobody does anything for free. You want me to do something for you to start off with, just like how you gave my support intel on Feather. A token of friendship, so to say."
"It certainly would make me feel a little easier at heart."
"Then name your price."
"The chill winds heed my call, and my eyes can read their whirlwind white dance. They blow in your favor. This hearing will give you freedom, that much is guaranteed, but beyond that, there will be offers. For you to join them, to join this world.
But make no mistake. These are ways for them to use you and chew you up, to pick your bones clean.
I only ask that you refuse. For your own sake as much as mine."
"Interesting." Aldrich started to walk towards the door leading to the hearing room. He stopped in front of the sliding door, built large to accommodate sizably built superhumans like himself.
"What do you say, my friend?"
"Why should I accept an offer from someone as incompetent as you?" said Aldrich.
Aldrich continued. "I have little to nothing to judge your worth off of, so I'll use what's available to me. You let Mad Jack's virus take over your bots.
Bots which coincidentally happened to be in my area. Tracking me, most likely. Then, they threatened my life.
That's incompetence. Especially when you're talking big about taking the Trident down. If Mad Jack can do that to you, what's to say some other techno in their leagues can't do worse?
This still doesn't rule out the possibility that you're actively malicious, that you want to manipulate me for your own needs.
So my answer is no.
I want to crush the Trident with my own hand. All of it. And if that includes you, the Russian Prong, I will gladly do it."
"Are you sure about this?" said the Stranger. "If you will not have me as your friend, I will be your enemy. And I warn you now: there has not been a single enemy that has survived crossing me. Not in this world nor others."
"There's a first for everything." Aldrich did not bother to look at the helper bot. He kept his eyes trained on the door in front of him. The lights above turned blue, indicating it was now okay for him to leave. "I've accepted that a natural part of stepping into the light is that I'll have enemies crawling in the dark.
But I'm ready.
Ready to crush them whenever they rear their ugly heads.
No matter who they are. Or how strong they claim to be."
Aldrich pressed his palm against the door, and the pressure sensitive mechanism opened. The helper bot floated away from Aldrich, the Stranger cutting off from it to prevent himself from getting outed as being hacked.