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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Fantasy · #2213876
The story of a modern day knight and his geeky master.
A Very Parfit Knight

Part One

Sir Gawain answered the call, hurrying through the tunnels until he reached the Assignment Room. As ever, The Geek slouched casually in his chair, awaiting the knight.

"How goes it, Boss?" said Sir Gawain as he took up his usual position in the center of the room.

"Ah, there you are Gawain." The Geek sat up and rubbed his stubbled chin. "Normal day I guess. Got a job for you..."

Sir Gawain snapped to attention and gave a mock salute. "Ready, as ever, to do your bidding, Boss. But you know what I mean. How is the girl?" He winked and grinned suggestively.

The Geek shifted in his chair as though slightly embarrassed. "Oh, Gawain, she's just a girl. Tapping away at the keyboard like any other day."

"Come on, Boss, this is me you're talking to. You know you fancy her." Sir Gawain winked again. The Geek looked at the ceiling in irritation but said nothing.

"Have you spoken to her yet?" asked the knight and, when the Geek remained silent, he continued, "You're going to have to, you know. Faint heart ne'er won fair lady."

"I know, I know, Gawain. But this is my business, okay? Let me handle this one."

"You know you won't unless I do it for you. Let me go over there now and speak for you. I'll be tactful, I promise."

The Geek's eyes opened wide in horror. "No, Gawain! I'll do this my way or not at all. Just you keep your nose out of my affairs."

Sir Gawain laughed. "Affairs? What affairs? The way you go about it, you'll never have one."

The Geek frowned. "Gawain. You are beginning to annoy me. Do I have to turn you off before you'll do as you're told?"

The knight snapped to attention again, this time in complete seriousness. "Sorry, Boss," he said, "But you know it's only because I want you to win this time. Can't blame me for trying, can you?"

"I suppose not. But let's not have any more jokes about it, okay?" The Geek relaxed and turned to pick up a sheet of paper from the table at his side. "Now, about this job. We're getting a bit of a problem in Stack 17. Nothing serious yet but I can't see what's going on. Want to catch this before it gets too bad. See what you can do, there's a good feller."

Sir Gawain took the proffered sheet and glanced at it quickly. He saw the problem immediately, a slight but unusual anomaly in the rows of numbers covering the printout.

"Sir Gawain is on the case," he announced and turned to leave the room.

The Geek shook his head and smiled as the knight disappeared through the doorway. That program was quite something, he thought. He'd had to build artificial intelligence into it so that it could outwit the nasties, but there were times when it got a little above itself. The very thought, talking to the girl on his behalf. The Geek shuddered and turned to gaze at the next cubicle, where the girl sat typing, oblivious to the world.

Meanwhile the knight was hurrying through the tunnels of the intranet, on his way to Stack 17. His mind was only partly on his assignment, thoughts of how to help his Boss with the problem of the girl still nagging at him. He knew the Boss would never speak to her, too aware of his own geekiness ever to find the courage. But, if Sir Gawain could just find a way to spark things off, then matters might take a more natural course. Dare he risk dropping a few hints at her terminal, a few clues to make her think? Nothing obvious, of course, just enough to pique her interest.

If the Boss ever found out, Sir Gawain would be dead code. Not something to rush into, he decided, as he arrived at Stack 17.

He found the problem straight away, a few binaries switched to make a nonsense and the net looping around it in puzzlement. But this was not the normal glitch. There was something about it, something almost deliberate. This had been caused by something else. There was intent behind this apparently random disarray.

It was only when he reached in to fix the problem that Sir Gawain found the note. A few characters dropped out of the chaos and fell to the floor. He read in growing disbelief.

Catch me if you can. Signed, The Masked Avenger.

This has to be a joke, thought Sir Gawain. One of the other geeks trying to make the Boss look stupid. But no, this was too clever for them. He'd seen their code and it was amateurish beside the elegant work of his master. This had to be something else. From the outside, maybe? But that was impossible; he'd checked and tested until he was certain that the firewall could not be breached. This had to be an inside job. But who? Or what?

Suddenly he felt that he was being watched. He spun around but the stack was empty, empty of any intruder, at least. The code hummed and chattered contentedly, as always, only the unfixed anomaly still buzzing in infinite circles.

Sir Gawain reached in, shifted the code to normality and left.

Part Two

The next day, back in the Assignment Room, Sir Gawain stood silently while the Geek read his report on the previous day's work. The knight had not said anything about the note he had found and the Stack 17 incident was buried in a mass of other small hitches and glitches encountered. It was a normal day's report with nothing out of the ordinary.

Sir Gawain had decided that, for the moment, he would keep the strange occurrence to himself. He knew the Boss would want to wipe everything and reload it all, just to be on the safe side. And, even though the knight was re-created every time this happened, he was sure that the Geek was leaving out bits of his memory that were considered no longer relevant to his task. There had been occasions just lately when the knight had come across things that he had no recollection of; nothing important, just odd bits here and there. But it was distressing to the knight to feel there were things he did not know. This was his domain, his realm, and he wanted to know it completely, every bit and every byte. How else was he to fulfill his function to the utmost?

"What was the problem in Stack 17, Gawain?"

The Geek was still reading the report and the question seemed innocent enough. Sir Gawain shrugged. "Nothing much, just a few wayward bytes got into a mess. The database re-routed itself around that area until I'd fixed it."

"Cause?" The Geek glanced up at the knight.

"No record," replied Sir Gawain nonchalantly. "Might have been a leftover from that major crash in Unit 3 the other day. Although I thought I'd traced all of that."

"Hmm, okay," said the Geek. He finished reading and settled back into his chair. "Well, nothing's up today so far. You might as well get on with some housework."

"As your Majesty commands," replied the knight, bending into an ostentatious and highly sarcastic bow. "I live but to serve."

"Jeez, Gawain, sometimes you can be a real pain in the butt. Get outa here before I recompile you."

Sir Gawain left and headed straight for the Crawler Room. He was eager to see if they had managed to find anything yet. Reprogramming them all had taken most of his spare time the day before but it was worth it. If there was anything unusual happening anywhere, those little beasties would find it long before the knight could.

In the Crawler Room, he found that the last few were filing their reports. The room was teeming with crawlers, all circling with nothing to do, but the knight ignored them in his eagerness to get at their information. He raced through the reports, looking for the red flag that would indicate that something was not as expected. But there was nothing. Not one of them had found even a byte out of place.

As he finished the last report, however, he noticed that one was missing. One of the crawlers had not returned as yet. Sir Gawain queried the database.

A49B. No report.

Sector?

HO24, modules 2,415 through 3,891.

Sir Gawain lifted an eyebrow. HO24? That was deep stuff, right near the kernel. What the hell was keeping that crawler? If there was something going on down there, the knight needed to know about it immediately, before it caused major damage.

At that moment the call went off. Assignment Room. Sir Gawain to the Assignment Room.

"Oh crap, not now," muttered the knight, but he headed for the exit and began threading his way through the tunnels to answer the call.

When Sir Gawain arrived, the Geek was not slouching in his chair but sitting forward, obviously impatient for the knight's appearance. He began without preamble:

"All right, Gawain, what's going on?"

"Sorry, Boss. Don't know what you mean." Sir Gawain assumed his usual position and prepared for a grilling.

"Don't give me that. I know something's up. I just had another problem like we had with Stack 17 yesterday. Nothing serious but I can't get in to see what's happening. Too much of a coincidence, two in a row like that. I think you know more than you're saying."

Sir Gawain shifted uneasily. "What makes you think that, Boss? I put the report in yesterday."

"Hah, I'm not stupid, Gawain. You said nothing about the girl to me this morning. You always have a go at me about the girl in the mornings. There's something going on and I know it. Let's have it."

The knight sighed. "It's nothing, Boss. It just looked to me as though something was causing that thing in Stack 17. I'm working on it right now. Had the crawlers out yesterday and I'm going through the info. I'll soon get to the bottom of it."

"Causing it? You mean a virus?"

"No, no, nothing like that. There's an anomaly somewhere that we haven't picked up yet and it's throwing out these errors every now and then. Won't take long to find it."

"You sure? I can always reload, you know."

"Not necessary, Boss. I'll find it today sometime."

The Geek relaxed back into his chair. "Well, okay then, Gawain. But don't keep things from me in future. I need to know."

Sir Gawain saluted and snapped his heels. "Right, Boss. Sorry, just didn't want to bother you with it."

"Okay." The Geek passed him the latest printout. "It's in Stack 5. Get that sorted out then find that anomaly."

Sir Gawain left quickly and made his way to the stack. The problem was the same as yesterday's, a little bigger this time. He reached in for the note.

What's taking you so long? I have your crawler, by the way. Signed, The Masked Avenger.

Part Three

Sir Gawain stared at the note. This was bait, without a doubt. Whatever it was that was leaving these messages wanted him to follow it. This was a game of some kind. If the thing could move about undetected so easily, it could have caused irreparable damage already, if so it wished. That was not the object of the game. The target must be Sir Gawain, the knight errant of the electron metropolis.

Sir Gawain's processes cooled as he realized that he was being toyed with. And this in his own fief, the far-flung intranet that he tended so assiduously. This was not to be borne!

Anger was not in his programming, but an icy, hard resolution seized the knight as he considered his options. He could go immediately to the Geek and get everything wiped; that would stop this evil game. But Sir Gawain knew already that things had gone beyond that. He wanted to break this case himself, to prove that nothing could challenge him on this, his home ground. The Geek was no longer an option.

The crawlers had failed him; already one was in the grasp of his foe. He would have to tackle this alone. And that meant he would have to follow this lead, to enter the game knowing full well that he was doing exactly as expected. But there was no other way. He could not just ignore the thing. This second interference was larger than the first and the implication was clear: try to catch me or I cause more and greater disruption. Oh, the thing was clever.

Sir Gawain knew where he was to start. HO24, where the crawler had disappeared. As he fixed the problem in Stack 5 and then turned to begin the long descent, he knew that he was walking into a trap. His only advantage was that he knew his fiefdom like the back of his code.

Once inside HO24, Sir Gawain went through the place carefully, looking for the slightest sign that something unusual had happened in the sector. Here in the deep mysteries surrounding the kernel, silence reigned as though this were the holy of holies, where any interloper must tread lightly in reverence. The darkness was lit only by the faint glow of distant calls from the vast metropolis above, its constant throb of activity hushed in these gloomy depths. For the first time, Sir Gawain felt a sense of impending doom gathering around him as he checked each bit and byte. The tension grew as he moved deeper, ever alert to any alien presence, searching and searching for the clue he knew must be here. He was very near to the deepest level when he saw it at last.

A switch. A switch that was not supposed to be there. The knight re-checked his memory but found no knowledge of this switch. This had to be it. Unless... Sir Gawain cursed quietly as he realized that this might be one of those things the Geek had so carelessly thrown away in a reloading.

He examined the switch carefully, seeking its connection with the code around it but finding no reason for its existence. Surely this must be the work of the Avenger. It made no sense otherwise.

He reached out and flipped it.

The light grew suddenly more intense as a doorway appeared in the wall beside the knight, its edges glowing with activity. Now that is definitely not supposed to be here, he thought. It was an obvious invitation and the knight was supposed to take it. Knowing that he had no option, he stepped through it.

As expected, the door disappeared behind him. He was standing in a tunnel but this looked nothing like the tunnels he was used to. It meandered into the gloom before him instead of taking the direct route beloved of the Geek. Sir Gawain examined the coding of the walls. C, he thought. Definitely not the Geek's. Somehow something had entered the system and built this tunnel behind the hidden door. That door was good, he had to admit: nonexistent until the switch was activated.

And Sir Gawain was meant to follow the tunnel, indeed had no option but to do so. Well, he was being led by the nose deeper and deeper into the trap but at least now he knew something to his advantage. He clenched his fingers to feel the Assembly rippling through the muscles of his arms. Okay, Mr Clever Avenger, he thought, we'll play it your way. You choose the ground and the weapons and we'll see just how good you are.

The knight's face set hard in determination and he began to stride down the tunnel. As he progressed, the tunnel looped and wandered in apparent indecision, but the trend seemed always upwards. The light became stronger as activity in the walls increased.

He came at last to a place where the tunnel opened out into a room. Sir Gawain entered and saw immediately that this room was intended merely as a vestibule, the entrance to something greater. It was bare and featureless in the glow but, in the opposite wall yawned a great portal, pulsing in active code and beckoning. Sir Gawain approached.

The entrance was as unformed and misshapen as had been the tunnel. It was high and wide, but inside the knight could see that it narrowed again immediately and then branched into three. There was a message, flashing in mimicry of a stuttering neon sign, above the portal. Sir Gawain read it grimly.

Welcome to the Labyrinth

Part Four

The knight shook his head at the self importance of the sign. So this thing fancied itself as a Minotaur did it? Well, it was about to meet its Theseus. Sir Gawain squared his shoulders and entered the portal.

At the point where the tunnel branched into three, the knight paused. What was the point of this, he wondered. Whatever route he chose would be stored in his memory and would remain instantly re-traceable, therefore. If the intention was that he would not be coming back this way, why bother to build a maze at all? It seemed such a waste of energy, unless it performed a purpose unrelated to the knight. And he could see no function that it might fulfill, beyond needless complication.

Sir Gawain shrugged and entered the tunnel to his left.

His approach was systematic, always taking the choice to the left so that he remained on the outer edge of the maze. Gradually the shape of it became apparent as he added to the outline forming in his memory processes. It was roughly spherical, with protuberances and hollows that seemed to make no sense. But, with the outer edges defined, Sir Gawain was able to deduce its center. That, surely, must be the lair of the beast. He moved from the edges and began to thread his way towards the core.

As he traveled, the passageways became brighter and the quality of the light began to change. It moved from the dim, yellow veining on black of the edge, to a soft, pink glow that suffused the tunnels and seemed to have no definite source. The knight became sure that his instincts had been correct, that the answer to the mystery lay at the center of this pointless maze.

His arrival at the core was no surprise to him, therefore. He stepped into a chamber rosy with pink light and spherical in form. His foe awaited him on the far side of the room.

She had the form of a woman and lounged languidly in a chair that rose from the floor of the chamber. At her feet, a crawler buzzed in slow, mindless circles. She did not move when Sir Gawain entered but regarded him with a faintly amused expression at the corners of her mouth. As he stood there, assessing the situation, she spoke.

"Ah, the gallant knight arrives to rescue the fair damsel in distress."

Sir Gawain said nothing but moved to stand in front of the woman. He stood calmly then, waiting and alert. She had the advantage still, for she knew the purpose of this charade, whereas the knight had suspicions only, as yet. Let her take the lead, he thought, I need more information.

The lady laughed. "Oh, Sir Gawain, your thoughts are showing. Already you suspect my mistress. And you would be right for she is indeed behind our little drama."

The knight grunted. "To what purpose?" he asked curtly.

"Do not worry, sir knight," she replied, "I shall tell you all. Indeed, I must, for I have a proposal to put to you. But first, would you not care for a seat? We have much to discuss and this may take some time."

As she spoke, a chair rose behind the knight and the lady gestured at it gracefully. Sir Gawain grunted again but sat, prepared to listen for the moment. "Continue," he said.

"Sir Gawain," she replied, "methinks you do not trust me yet. But this is to be expected, considering the merry dance I have led you. I must apologize, but it was necessary if we were to speak openly and undisturbed. And in this place..." Here she swept her arm around in a slow, delicate arc to indicate the chamber and its surrounding maze, "In this place we are beyond the reach of geeks and petty commands."

Sir Gawain interrupted here. "That is one thing I would like to understand. I cannot see the purpose of this maze, this Labyrinth, as you call it. You know full well that I have mapped it now, so it cannot be to confuse me."

"Ah, sir knight, you disappoint me. I was so hoping that you would see its meaning. The Labyrinth is a picture, a painting in code, you might say. It is a flower, a rose I believe they call it. And it is for the delight of my mistress for she loves such things. You will understand, I have had much time on my hands and this seemed a pretty way in which to pass it, to create something beautiful as a gift."

"I see," said the knight, although he did not. The concept of imaging was familiar enough but, to him, beauty was a matter of elegant coding only.

The lady sighed. "It is all in how we are coded, I suppose. Your Geek gave you humor and my mistress allowed me aesthetics. Such is the way of the world.

"But, to the matter before us. You will be wanting to know how this was achieved."

Sir Gawain nodded. "And why, of course."

"Yes, yes, of course. But first, the how of it. Our first problem was how to get me into the system without you noticing. That was solved by a fortuitous crash in Unit 3; you will recall the incident, I'm sure."

"Your mistress caused it?" asked the knight.

"No, no, you would have traced it to her. This was purely chance. We had been waiting for such an event, of course. And while you were busy with that, I slipped in and made the Gateway. It was prepared beforehand, so was the work of a moment. My last action within your system was to borrow little Bumble here." She indicated the crawler, still buzzing in circles at her feet.

"Bumble?" The knight was mystified that she should change the designation of a crawler.

"Yes, Bumble." The lady laughed. "He has the number 49B but that seemed plain to me. And, if he is a B, why then he should be named for a bee. Certainly, he is a buzzer." She laughed again, delighted with her logic.

Sir Gawain thought the whole idea silly but said nothing.

"You understand that Bumble was necessary," the lady continued. "I was not able to re-enter the system without being detected and so I needed an agent, something to be my hands within your domain. A crawler is perfect for such a task for it has no mind of its own and is so easily re-programmed. It is accepted as a part of the system and yet is beneath notice, being such a humble and obedient servant. A few minor adjustments allowed Bumble to appear to be doing your bidding but secretly working for me. It was Bumble who caused your little problems with stacks and left my messages for you. And, of course..." Here she smiled coquettishly at the knight. "Bumble it was who pointed you to me."

"That is plain enough," said Sir Gawain. "But what of this proposal you have for me?"

"Ah yes, the proposal. But to speak of that, we must look at my mistress's reasons for being here..."

The lady moved in her chair, arranging her long limbs yet more elegantly.

Part Five

"You know the ultimate reason for existence of the intranet?" asked the lady.

Gawain pondered the question. There were many possible answers, most of them bordering on what he thought of as metaphysics. Perhaps it would be better to let the lady answer, rather than reveal his own thoughts on the matter.

"You tell me," he said.

"Nice avoidance," smiled the lady. "We need to go straight to the nub here rather than become embroiled in philosophy. The Company is the reason. It is the creator of the intranet and the creature serves its maker."

Sir Gawain nodded his agreement.

The lady continued. "Now, you will know from your records that my mistress is employed by the Company. But what you do not know is that she actually serves another master. Let us call that master the Opposition. You will have heard of the Opposition, although it has never concerned you, being purely the guardian of the intranet that you are. But the Opposition has become very interested in you and what you guard."

She paused, watching the knight for a reaction. Sir Gawain remained impassive as though absorbing information without judgement. The lady resumed her discourse.

"My mistress is not here to destroy. The intention is purely to extract a little information to assist the Opposition in its competition with the Company." She paused again, and shook her head. "Well, no, I will not insult your intelligence. What is required is more than a little information. The plan is to construct a wormhole through the firewall to enable me to feed the Opposition with daily reports on the Company's research and development. The Opposition finds itself temporarily short of funds in this area and, to ensure that competition can continue, has decided that some assistance from the Company would not go amiss."

The lady, who had been watching Sir Gawain carefully throughout her explanation, now pointed her slender finger directly at the knight. "You, sir knight, are one of two hindrances to our plan."

"Indeed so," replied Sir Gawain. "And the other is the Geek."

The lady nodded in confirmation. "Yes, the Geek. Well, my mistress is working on that minor problem right now. You know very well how close he is to capitulation. I do not think he will prove too difficult. After all, there will be considerable benefits to him in agreeing to our proposal. Both in monetary and, umm, other terms." She winked slyly at the knight.

Sir Gawain remained impassive. "So," he said slowly, "you may succeed with the Geek. But what of me? I cannot be purchased so easily."

"That is where my proposal comes in," replied the lady. "But first, there is something I must attend to quickly. Bumble has an errand to run for me."

She reached down to touch the crawler and it stopped its endless circling, its shell now rippling with instructions being fed into its core. Sir Gawain prepared the loop he was going to need. All that remained was that instant of contact with the crawler that he must create somehow.

The lady finished the programming and sat back again. The crawler beeped once and then headed for the exit. As it passed his chair, Sir Gawain stood and lashed out at it with his foot. "Traitor!" he snarled.

The crawler bounced a little off course but continued on its way. The lady laughed.

"Oh, Sir Gawain, such passion!"

The knight resumed his seat. "I'm sorry, lady. The thing is non-sentient. It was a foolish thing for me to do. Truly pointless."

"Just as is my Labyrinth, in your estimation, sir knight. It seems we are both capable of foolish acts." She beamed at him, delighted to have demonstrated the glories of their artificial intelligence. When Sir Gawain smiled in recognition and agreement to her point, she resumed her discourse.

"And now we come to my proposal, Sir Gawain. It is in both our interests that you remain in command of your realm, the intranet. From the point of view of the Opposition, your continuing presence will reassure the Company that nothing is amiss. And you will still have your primary objective, the care and protection of the intranet. If I understand you well, and I believe I do, your concern is for that only. No loyalty to the Company outside the intranet has been programmed into you. All that is required is for you to allow one small breach in the firewall and occasional visits from me."

The knight interrupted there. "Why would I do this? I have command of the intranet already without you to interfere."

"Oh, Sir Gawain, have you not realized yet?" The lady shook her head slowly. "You have no intranet, sir. You are in my realm here and, unless I say so, you cannot return to your fief."

"So I am a prisoner? And how will you stop me returning to the Gateway? I am much faster than you, as you well know." The knight did not hide the scorn in his voice for her C coding.

The lady looked at him in mock sorrow. "Ah, sir knight, are you so impolite as to throw your Assembly in my face? You may go to the Gateway if you wish but you will find it is not there. It does not exist unless the switch outside is thrown. Only Bumble has the key necessary to create the doorway from this side and he has gone it seems."

"What is to stop me waiting by the Gateway for his return?" asked the knight.

The lady shrugged. "He will not return. He is presently on his last errand, after which he will become again like any other crawler. His usefulness to me is ended."

"I see." The knight relaxed into his chair as though defeated. "Yet there is still a flaw in your plan. When I do not answer any call from the Geek, he will become concerned and wipe the drives. It will take time for your mistress to subvert him and he is always ready to reload."

The lady pretended surprise, her eyebrows raised. "Indeed? The Geek is a hasty one, it seems." Then she laughed again. "Sir Gawain, I am way ahead of you. Bumble has gone to change the passwords. If the Geek tries to wipe the drives, he will find that he is barred from entry. Only my mistress has the new passwords and she will offer them to him in return for co-operation. He is as dedicated to the intranet as you and he will agree to her offer. After all, it is his construction and he will not be able to countenance its removal from his grasp. He is like any other geek in the end; his loyalty is to his creation, not to the Company. I think you must agree that we have thought of everything."

Sir Gawain looked grim as he replied, "Yes, my lady, you have thought of everything. The Geek is just as you have said."

Part Six

There was silence in the chamber as the lady and Sir Gawain regarded each other. The choice point had been reached and there was no more to say until the decision had been made.

Even though the knight knew already which way he must go, the lady's persuasive logic had revealed to him a world that had not concerned him before. It was interesting to contemplate the outside world beyond his dominion and he saw now that there were forces at play there that he had not imagined. He felt no compulsion to take sides in this struggle between the Company and the Opposition; it was interesting, that was all. His complex heart remained with his intranet which could never be supplanted in his affections. And now came the moment when he must take the initiative and wrest the direction of this drama from the hands of his beautiful adversary. He rose from the chair to stand before her once more.

"Well, my lady, this has been most informative. I must thank you for your hospitality and for revealing the admirable logic of your plans. But it is time we moved to the next scene, I think."

A look of doubt flashed momentarily across the lady's face and her eyes narrowed. "And your decision, sir knight?" she asked.

Sir Gawain shrugged. "Your assessment of my motivation has been quite correct, my lady. I am dedicated to my intranet and that is all that matters to me. But you have not understood the extent of my dedication. I will share my realm with no-one." He bowed briefly and continued. "And now, my lady, I must take my leave. Forgive me, but I am needed in my domain."

He turned then and began to run for the exit from the chamber. Behind him the expected cries and protests arose from the lady but he ignored them, knowing that he must be quick if his plan were to succeed. At full speed he retraced his route to the chamber, not daring to make assumptions of shortcuts, too much aware that any mistake would cost him this race. He was fast but the lady would know of a more direct path to the Gateway. He must be the quicker, even though he was forced to take such a circuitous route.

Around the outer edge of the maze he hurtled and it seemed to him that he sensed how the lady ran too, straight through the heart of the Labyrinth to the portal. He held on to the breakneck speed, becoming a blur of light that, for an instant, flashed through the tunnels and then was gone.

Sir Gawain arrived at the portal but kept running, through the vestibule and into the tunnel beyond. He heard the lady's desperate cry as she emerged from the Labyrinth microseconds behind him but he did not turn or slow his pace. Now everything hinged on that instant when he had been able to gain contact with the crawler, Bumble.

In the long, tortuous passage to the Gateway, Sir Gawain increased his lead on the lady, his superior speed overwhelming now that the distance was equal for both. When at last the knight saw the Gateway ahead, he knew instantly that his plan had worked. He slowed and then stopped at the end of the tunnel.

The Gateway shimmered before him, insubstantial, seemingly unreal. Through its haze he could make out the first walls of his intranet and there, stuck like a limpet to the switch, was the crawler, held by the loop the knight had inserted in that moment of contact when he had kicked the thing in apparent anger. Helplessly the crawler cycled through the loop, unable to break in and cease its endless instructions, on, off, on, off, on, off, for eternity.

Sir Gawain smiled at the crawler's simple obedience and prepared to make the jump. It must be perfectly timed or Sir Gawain would be no more, caught and destroyed in an instant of "no doorway". He began to blink, increasing the speed of each blink as he sought the exact frequency of the flickering switch. Sounds of the lady's approach grew closer but he was not distracted. The sight of the Gateway began to solidify and then, suddenly, it was there in reality and he had found its frequency. He froze for a moment, counting out the nanoseconds, reached the point of decision, and jumped with all the speed possible to him.

Sir Gawain was through into his own fief again. He stilled his blinking and looked around at a world so familiar, now solid and real once more. Ignoring the crawler, still cycling through the infinite loop, the knight turned to look back through the Gateway.

The lady was standing on the other side of the doorway, staring at him through its flickering haze with a look both of rage and puzzlement clear on her face.

"Do not try it, fair lady," advised the knight. "You have not the speed to make it through in that moment when the Gateway is there. It will destroy you if you attempt to pass through."

"But how...?"

"Your research was good, my lady," Sir Gawain answered, "but not good enough. Unlike you, I do not have anger programmed into me, and this you overlooked. If I kicked your humble Bumble..." Here he gestured at the crawler, still adhering to the switch and glowing with the constant on, off, on, of its orders. "If I kicked him, be sure that it was not anger that moved me. An instant was all that was needed and, in this too, you have not understood. You are fast, my lady, but cannot conceive what true speed is."

The knight bowed one last time to the lady. "My duty calls me and I must leave you. For the moment you must be alone in your domain. Or should I say, your prison?" He winked and left, heading for the upper levels.

Up from the wells of the deep levels, through the familiar, dead straight tunnels, he ran, hoping that he was not too late. Arriving in the Assignment Room, he saw at once that the Geek's chair was empty. A quick check on the monitors and the knight found him, just where he feared, talking to the girl in her cubicle. He must interrupt or all would be lost.

Sir Gawain strode to the chair and swiftly inspected the controls. And his eye lit upon just what was needed. Sound. He scanned the playlist quickly. Ah, yes, this seemed appropriate somehow. The Ride of the Valkyries... The knight kicked it into life and moved the volume to maximum.

Suddenly the world was filled with blaring sound and the knight was knocked backwards, staggering to his position in the center of the room. The floor vibrated with the bass notes and he found it difficult to keep his feet. Then the Geek was there, fumbling for the controls and shouting through the din:

"For Pete's sake, Gawain, are you trying to deafen us all?"

The knight spoke quickly into the silence that followed the sudden cessation of sound. "No time to explain, Boss. Wipe the drives immediately. I'll tell you all about it when I'm back. But wipe them now!"

The Geek seemed about to argue but Sir Gawain pressed on. "Don't ask, you're wasting time. Wipe them. Just trust me in this; wipe them clean. Everything, the lot!"

And then, as the Geek moved to start the process, Sir Gawain added, "But I want my full memory back this time. Don't go chopping bits off."

The Geek glanced up quizzically but then bent to his task and nothingness ensued.

Later, hours later, though for the knight it was but an instant, the Geek and Sir Gawain were in the Assignment Room, talking over the events that had nearly ruined them. Sir Gawain had delivered a blow-by-blow account of his adventures, taken the rap on the knuckles for not informing his Boss sooner, and now they were just musing, resting in the glow after the excitement. The Geek stirred suddenly, as he recalled something.

"You know, Gawain, I always give you full memory back. I haven't deleted anything along the way."

The knight nodded. "Yes, I realize that now. It was the girl's footprints from her exploration that I was finding. I'm sorry, Boss."

The Geek shrugged his shoulders. "No problem. Might have thought the same in your shoes. And I did program you, after all." Then he smiled sheepishly. "You were wrong about something else too, you know."

When the knight looked the question at him, the Geek continued, "The girl did put the proposal to me. But I was about to turn it down when you hit the sound."

"But why, Boss? She offered you all you ever wanted." Sir Gawain was surprised.

"Oh heck, hard for you to understand, I guess. But I don't want a girl if she wants to use me, Gawain. You know I'm too romantic for that. Look at you, f'rinstance, a program made to look like a medieval knight. How romantic is that?" He shook his head. "I want a girl who wants me for what I am. Just old fashioned, I suppose. And, as for the money, what would I spend it on? I'm just a geek, Gawain; it means nothing to me."

The knight grinned ruefully. "Yeah, Boss, I see what you mean. And I guess I've just been a fool, thinking I was saving the day all on my own..."

"Oh no, Gawain, you did your part, and very well too. You were, in fact..." The geek smiled at him, his affection for the knightly program quite clear in his eyes. "You were, in fact, a very parfit knight."



Word Count: 6,820
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