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Part 2

 Dot's eyes went wide as she realized the scope of what he was saying, "Bob,...Bob, no! We can't!....All these people..! There HAS to be another way!"

"I wish there were." He told her, "The game isn't programmed for the User to be deleted, this is a mystery game, not a shoot-em-up. Either he fails in his mission,.....or we do." and they both knew what that meant. "As random as it sounds, sinking the ship is our only chance to live."

Dot still seemed shocked as she thought about the dangers involved. "This ship is huge, there must be over a thousand people on board."

Bob concentrated for a moment as he scanned "Two thousand, two hundred and twenty-two, actually, not including us. And it gets worse," he hated to say it, "there are only enough lifeboats for half of those people to survive."

"What?" she said as she stared at him for a moment, "This is random!" She almost shouted, not at him, but at the predicament, trying to make sense of it, "Why would the User create such a scenario? Even if they are game sprites they're still self-aware, and if the User wins we Mainframers get nullified. No matter what happens lives are going to be lost!"

"I know." Bob told her as calmly as he could, he gently took her by the arms to let her know that they were together in this situation, and that he would do anything to keep her safe. "We don't program the games, Dot, we're just forced into playing them. We're not being given a choice here." it wasn't much comfort for them, though. "Hopefully, the game will end as soon as the damage is done, when there's no hope of the User winning."

Dot looked up at him, "Hopefully? You mean you're not sure?" she asked.

Bob shrugged and shook his head, "There's no way for me to know until the time comes. Until then all we can do is try."

"You're right." Dot admitted after a moment, she sighed in frustration, "So, how are we supposed to sink a giant ship like this anyway?

"On one of the lower decks, there's a bomb that we have to find before the User does." Bob explained, "Then, we have to attach it to the inner-hull in one of the boiler rooms. The explosion will create a hole in the hull to let the cold water in, causing all of the boilers to explode, taking half the bottom deck with it."

"So we have to be on the top deck when it goes off." Dot figured, "Can you locate the bomb?"

"Already have." Bob replied.

"And the User?" she asked.

Bob thought for another moment, then he looked up at Dot in surprise, "The User's heading straight for this room!"

"What? How did he find us?"

"I-I don't know."

"Well,-- what do we do?"

"Um......Hide!"

The two of them looked around the room frantically until Bob said, "Under the bed Dot, quick!" He helped her squeeze underneath until she was safe. (Good thing she's wearing that corset. he thought.) Then he headed for the closet, but when he opened the doors he found it almost packed to capacity with gowns. He somehow managed to shove them to the side, jump in, and close the doors just as the User walked into the room.

"Darling?" the User's character said, "Are you here?"

"Darling"? Bob thought, just a little confused. Obviously the User wasn't looking for them, unless.....

Oh,-no. he realized, not certain at first whether to start laughing or cursing, so he sat quietly instead until the User left.

After a moment, Bob poked his head out of the closet to make sure the proverbial coast was clear. "Okay Dot, you can come out now."

Dot crawled out from under the bed and brushed herself off, "What is he doing?" she asked, as curious as he had been, "Who was he looking for?"

"I could tell you but you're not going to like it." he tried to warn her.

"Not going to like what?" now she was really curious, "Bob, what are you not telling me?"

Bob got an awkward look on his face, "Well,-- you see,-- it's like this: ...yourgamecharacteristheUser'sfiancee."

There. He said it. Now he fully expected her to gape at him with that tell-me-this-is-a-joke look. And sure enough, her eyes and mouth all turned into three perfect circles.

He cocked his head to one side and grinned, "Anyone ever tell you, you're awfully cute when you're speechless?" he asked her, not really expecting a reply.

"I'm engaged to the User?" she asked numbly to no one in particular.

"Congratulations." Bob said. He still wasn't quite sure whether to have fun with this, or be royally tiffed off. Not that he seriously thought she would try to run off with anyone, he just hoped that winning the game didn't somehow depend on it. Either way, there was something about it that just didn't sit well with him, but it was probably nothing. "Well, we'll try to ignore it, in the meantime, we have to get to that bomb soon because he's heading down to search for it now."

"I'm engaged to the User." she repeated, unable for the moment to get past it.

 

Bob led the way through corridors and stairways to the lower decks using the ship's cross-sections and maps that he visualized in his mind. (otherwise he would've gotten hopelessly lost shortly after leaving Dot's room.) Dot herself was still in denial over her present role in the game, "I don't believe it. This is just beautiful."

"Not exactly the kind of guy your parents had in mind, huh?" he asked with a grin.

"No." Dot answered. She knew with his sense of humor; he was enjoying this. "But then again, neither are you."

"Ouch." Okay, he thought, I stepped in that one. He decided it was safer to try to cheer her up and make her laugh about it instead. "Good point. But look at it this way, How many women in the Net can say they were marrying the User?"

"How many would want to?" she muttered.

"I mean, come on! All I've ever done is save Mainframe about a hundred-or-so times, survive the Web, and get my car running once or twice. This guy created the Net! How am I supposed to compete with that?"

She stopped and made a show of thinking about it for a moment before she answered him, "You have a good personality?"

Bob stopped in the corridor as well and turned to give her a look that just said 'Gee, thanks.' Dot couldn't help herself, she began giggling at him for a moment, then went to him and put her arms around his neck. "Oh, Bob, he can re-program me any way he wants, but you know he can never take me away from you." she said as she pulled him down to her and started kissing him. Bob closed his eyes, wrapped his arms tightly around her, and was once again lost to her. He started wondering what was beyond these doors in the corridor, because all he wanted was to scoop her up into his arms, and carry her into a quiet, private room where he could....

No, he thought, ignoring his desperate heart as they slowly pulled themselves away from each other, we don't have the time. He gazed down at who he felt was the most perfect woman in all the Net, "Guess I can't really blame him for trying, now can I?" he almost whispered.

Dot smiled again as she looked up at those eyes, "Come on, let's get this game done and over with." she said, then she took his hand and led him down the hallway once again,

They rounded a corner into another corridor- and came face to face with the User. They both froze in their tracks, as did 'he'. In fact, he seemed to be as surprised as they were.

Damn! Bob's mind shouted at himself, he'd been so caught up in his passion for Dot the past few moments, that he forgot to keep track of the User's whereabouts. He automatically stepped forward to place himself between the User and Dot.

"Let her go!" The User's character demanded.

"Let her go?" Dot repeated. "What does he think I am, a hostage?"

"That's exactly what he thinks." Bob realized. And after considering it for a moment, he said to Dot, "Go with him."

"What?" she asked incredulously, "No!"

"Go with him, Dot." He tried to convince her, "He won't hurt you, he's trying to save you. It's me he's after."

She couldn't believe what he was asking her to do. "What about the explosive, the sabotage?"

"I can do it alone, as long as I know you're safe."

"But, Bob..."

"Dot, please!"

Dot paused to think for a moment, she had never seen Bob so adamant. But the only reply she could think of kept repeating in her head: I can't!

The User then held out a hand to her as he said, "Come with me, my darling. I won't let him keep you as his prisoner!"

She could hear something in the User's voice that sounded suspiciously like arrogance. And suddenly, all confusion disappeared as she snarled back "I would rather be his prisoner than your wife!" As if THAT could ever happen! she laughed in her mind, as she grabbed Bob's hand again and, to his complete surprise, pulled him down the hallways away from the User.

They ran together through the passageways for a short while, but it wasn't long before he stopped and pulled her into a corridor to the side, "What do you think you're doing?!" he asked her.

"I'm not going! Trust me, Bob, there's nothing you could say that could ever convince me that I'm better off with him than with you. Besides, I'd rather go down fighting with you than just sit here and see what happens."

He could see the strength and conviction in her eyes and ironically, it made him weak. He smiled and shook his head, he knew it would be useless to try and argue with her now. "Why can't you just once save yourself and let me do the dirty work?"

"And leave all this fun to you?" she asked as she took his face in her hands, "I don't think so." she added in a silken monotone and a look on her own face that left him breathless. He was about to grasp her by the waist and lift her up to kiss her, when he looked up, interrupted by a sense.

"The User is after us." he stated, "Come on!"

Now it was his turn to take her by the hand to run through the corridors, stopping every so often for him to figure where they were so they could take a turn down another. And every time they did, Dot could hear the footsteps coming up from behind them. They ran as fast as they could while dodging other passengers until they came to a vacant elevator. Bob worked at getting the gates closed, while Dot pushed the lever down. The elevator began just as the User reached them, but all he could do was watch as they descended. So, Dot decided to give him something to look at, she stood proudly with a wicked grin and flipped the User off with her middle finger. Bob burst into laughter so hard he had to steady himself against the elevator wall to keep from collapsing onto the floor. He was still trying to get a hold of himself when they finally reached the level they wanted.

Dot opened the gates and took a look around. She couldn't see much of anything, other than a corridor that looked a lot like all the others, but she could hear music and a something that sounded like a riot.

"What is that noise?" she wondered aloud.

"I don't know." Bob chuckled as he once again took her by the hand, "But we're going to find out!."

Dot didn't even have time to protest as he trotted down a stairway, at the bottom the decibel level seemed to shoot through the roof! All she could see were game sprites packed nearly shoulder to shoulder in a rather small room, they were shouting, dancing, arm wrestling, drinking, laughing, and User-knows-what-else in the shadows.

Dot gaped at the sight, "Now this is a party!!!" she found herself trying to shout to Bob over all the noise.

"Are you kidding?! This is nothing!! You should've seen my academy days!!!" he laughed and shouted back to her. "This is perfect, he'll never find us in here!! We can lose him in the crowd!!"

We could lose each other in this crowd too!! Dot had to struggle even to think to herself. But he had a firm grasp of her hand as he forced his way through.

It was extremely slow going, but they had gotten about halfway to the other side where there was another door, when out of nowhere, a large male game sprite swiped Dot off her feet and over his shoulder. She screamed with surprise and simply hung there with a dumbfounded expression as he chortled and headed back towards where she and Bob had just come from. Bob watched for a moment with pretty much the same look on his face, then he seemed to shake it off and started shoving game sprites out of his way to get to them. I am not letting ANYONE handle Dot like that! his honor demanded of him, Not the User, not a virus, and certainly not YOU!

Dot tried to kick and squirm out of his grip, but she couldn't move. She did, however, get a good view of the floor as she lay on her stomach, slung over his shoulder like luggage. Who in the Net does this thug think he is!?! As he muscled his way through the crowd, they passed another game sprite downing a drink in a thick heavy-looking glass mug. Before she even had time to think it, her hand reacted, plucking the mug right out of the sprite's hand. And without hesitating, she reached up and clocked her captor over the head with it.

The giant stopped for a moment......then fell to his knees. Dot could feel his grip on her loosen, and she scrambled away from him just as he fell to the floor on his face. The surrounding game sprites stopped partying to turn and see who it was that fell, then they simultaneously looked up at who had beaten him, they saw an angry, high-class lady with a cracked mug in her hand.

All at once, they abruptly started cheering.

It was then that Bob parted his way through the crowd to where Dot was standing (and trying to regain her composure).The first thing he noticed was that she seemed to be all right, the second thing he noticed was the sprite knocked out cold. He looked back up at her, and his face broke into a grin. Oh, I should've known. he thought to himself.

"What took you so long?" she casually asked him.

Bob put his arm around her waist and continued towards their destination. "I'd better get you out of here before you cause any more trouble." he chuckled

They didn't get too far, though, before they suddenly heard a gunshot ring out over their heads. The music stopped, the laughter stopped, whole room went silent as everyone looked up to where the shot came from.

The User stood at the top of the stairway with both master-at-arms, and about seven able-bodied seamen surrounding him, he and both of the officers had their pistols drawn.

Dot now whispered to Bob, "I thought you said this wasn't a shoot-em-up."

"Well, um, actually, all I meant was that we couldn't kill him to win the game." Bob whispered back, "Why? Did I forget to mention that he could kill us?" he asked with a sheepish grin.

For a moment, Dot wanted to bap him over the head, but it would've called attention to them.

"Thank you for your attention." The User began, "We are searching for a man suspected of plotting the sabotage of this ship. He is also holding a hostage. We have reason to believe that they are both amongst you, and we will be blocking all of the exits until we have inspected everyone and searched this room, so we expect all of you to cooperate for the sake of the hostage as well as for all of your own lives." As he spoke, a few of the game sprites with him started wading into the crowd searching for people's identification. Anyone caught without any ID were being brought to the User. Others were tearing apart the room looking for anyone who might be hiding. The rest of them guarded the doors.

"How do we get out of here?" Dot quietly asked Bob.

Bob looked around the room at the Users men, trying to figure out just that. He knew that he could simply teleport them both to safety, but he didn't really want to use all of his energy just yet. He had been in situations like this before; large, wild parties that were crashed by law enforcement (usually he was among the law enforcement), but if they were lucky,...

It was then that one of the partying sprites across the room started giving an officer trouble, apparently he didn't have any ID and was refusing to be taken anywhere. They kept arguing until the drunken partyer spun and slugged a seaman, soon the entire room erupted into a full-scale brawl.

"That's our cue!" Bob said and made a break for the door with Dot right behind him. He pulled her through the forest of bodies with their heads down to keep from being seen by the User. They kept going until he saw a commotion just ahead, two, or three (or was it ten?) game sprites were trying to see whose fist was harder. We don't have time for this! Bob thought, so he went ahead and shoved one out of the way and punched another in the face, then grabbed Dot's hand and hauled through the momentary clearing.

"Now THIS is a party!" he called back to Dot.

They had just about made it to the door when Bob suddenly stopped, he saw the User merely standing in front of the door with an armed officer, as if waiting for them. The User's eyes were locked on Bob's (was that possible?), and he was glaring at them. Bob stared him down, unsure of what to do next, he had never seen a User character with such consciousness before. It made him uneasy.

The officer took a step toward them and ordered him to release the woman, or something to that affect, Bob wasn't really paying attention, to the master-at-arms, or the fighting behind them. That was, at least, until he saw some movement coming from the game sprite, he had stepped forward to take Dot's arm. Bob's reaction was instantaneous, he grabbed the officers arm instead, the sprite reacted by drawing his pistol, and moving to aim it at Bob's chest. Bob moved out of the way to where he knew he was shielding Dot.

"No!" The User shouted, he grabbed the officer's arm, and jerked it upwards only slightly throwing off his aim before the pistol fired.

Bob heard a small scream amongst the shouts of the fight, he probably would've ignored it if he hadn't recognized it, he looked up in horror....

He had turned just in time to see Dot's head being spun around, her body twisting with it, she did a horribly graceful pirouette on the dance floor.... then she collapsed onto her back. Bob stood frozen, his mind not wanting to register what he had just seen. He saw the blood begin to trickle from her temple, her eyes remained open for a moment more, and he could see her lips move but he couldn't hear her voice as she tried to call his name. Then her eyes fluttered closed, her breath seemed to escape her and she was motionless.

Bob trembled as he went to her, and fell to his knees at her side. He stared at her and slowly started shaking his head, his mind wasn't thinking anything, but his heart didn't want this to be happening. A small puddle of blood had already collected under her head, and Bob looked up at the User. He could swear he saw sadness in his eyes as well. Suddenly Bob exploded.

Anger and anguish collided inside him as he roared loud enough to bring the fighting to a screeching halt, and the room was silent once again. When he was finished he stared back at the User with pure hatred, and he noticed that the character had taken a step back almost as if in fear but he didn't care. Instead he gently looked down at Dot, then he raised his hands.

He shimmered with light as the energy collected into his hands and was released. A portal appeared before him, and, still shaking, he lifted Dot up off the floor. Everyone stared silently as he slowly stepped through the portal.

 

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