What can we do? What can we do?! Dot's mind raced as fear began to creep into her, she knew that if they couldn't come up with a way to remote-detonate the bomb, Bob would insist he do it himself and send her to safety. By force if necessary. Just then, an idea came to her.
"Bob! What about this?" she asked as she retrieved her organizer and held it up for him to see.
Bob stared at it, then at her, then his eyes lit up and a grin spread across his face. "That's perfect!" he shouted. "Well, that is, if you really want to sacrifice your precious organizer?" he added lopsiding the grin a little.
"Don't worry, after what you did to it last time, I decided to start keeping back-ups." She told him.
"All right then! Let's see if we can..... hold on a nano," he stopped to look her dress up and down, "Exactly where were you hiding this, anyway?"
Dot regarded him with such an innocent expression as if to say 'What? That little thing?'
Bob got that lopsided grin of his again, "On second thought, don't answer. I'll have more fun guessing when we get home." He went back to work, connecting each of the fuses to her organizer, and setting it so that when the timer within it counted down, it would open a connection to its own power source.
"Okay, that's it!" he called to Dot. They had thirty seconds to get out of there, one more portal ought to do it. But as he stood and turned to face her, he once again noticed the AI game sprite workers who had no idea of the danger he had just put them all in. He looked down at the timer again, twenty-six,...twenty-five,... Whatever he was going to do, it would have to be fast. He ran closer to them and yelled, "Everyone, get out of here! The whole place in going to blow up in less than a minute!!" At first, they all looked up and stared at him curiously, wondering what he was talking about. He growled in frustration, "Get out of here!! NOW!!"
A few workers got up and took off at the urgency in his voice, but most of them stayed, either ignoring him, or trying like crazy to find where the problem was so that they could fix it. It seemed almost sad to Bob that they weren't going to find any mechanical problem unless, of course, they somehow found the explosive. And they were all going to die trying. He took too little comfort in the fact that they would all be re-compiled the next time the User played this game, after all, they didn't know that. Their memories were erased after every game, they would have no remembrance of anything that happened here. So, in a sense, they would all be killed.
But he had no time for pity, he had to get Dot out of there. Now. He had done his best to warn them, and if they were killed trying to save a ship that they had worked so hard to destroy, then he would secretly honor their bravery as though they were Guardians themselves.
He ran back to where Dot was standing, and took one more glance at the timer, ...thirteen,... twelve,.. He looked at her, and when he saw that she was ready to leave, he once again raised his hands and began to create a portal. This time, he could feel the strain as he tapped into his energy reserves, but it did form. As soon as it stabilized, he took Dot by the hand and pulled her through right behind him.
They both looked around and were relieved to see the open night sky above them. Bob closed his eyes as he could feel the timer counting down, Four,... three,... two,... one. Bob's heart skipped a beat, then he felt, rather than heard the explosion as it ripped through the boiler room, deleting several game sprites, tearing a hole about the size of his icon in the outer hull. Water shot into the room with incredible force, which tore the hole open wider. No one could get near enough to try and stop it, any who tried were blown away. Instead, most of them worked at shutting down the boilers and cooling them as quickly as possible so that they wouldn't explode from thermal pressures. One didn't make it in time, and the resulting explosion dwarfed the first. It shot fire and shrapnel throughout the room, flying like projectiles into more game sprites, and created another hull breach as large as an ABC tank.
Bob made it a point to concentrate on that room and "watch" as the number of lives ticked downward, and every life that was extinguished killed a small part within him as well. But he felt he owed it to them. The only comfort he took was in Dot, who had seen the pain on his face and was now leaning on his shoulder. He still held her hand, reminding himself of why he had done it, and he didn't regret a thing.
Three more boilers exploded from five times as much water pouring in. There were enough holes in the hull now to sink a ship twice this size. It's done. he thought to himself. There was no way to save the Titanic now. He just hoped and prayed that the game would end.
Suddenly, something caught his attention. He concentrated again to figure out what it was...
"No!!" he shouted, scaring Dot for a moment.
"Bob, what is it? What's wrong?"
Bob could almost see the huge metal walls falling, sectioning off the ship. "The emergency doors! No! No! Why didn't I see it?!"
Dot blinked, a little confused. "Emergency doors?" she asked.
"Watertight compartments!" he explained to her, "They're designed to keep the ship from being flooded so that only a small part of the lower decks will be filled." He had to admit, the idea had to have been a stroke of genius, but it made their task almost impossible.
"Well,... how many compartments do we have to fill before the ship will sink?"
Bob stopped to think a moment, "Five or six, I think. There's no way we could do all that in time!"
Dot stood, stunned for a moment. "Then we failed." she stated quite simply, sounding more composed than she looked.
Bob turned and stared at her, he didn't know what to say, but seeing the fear in her could only remind him of when the Web portal had been formed in Mainframe. He had looked to her and saw that same fear in her eyes, and it had torn into his heart then, just as it did now.
She went to him again and held him, and he put his arms around her as tightly as he dared. He was determined to hold her until he heard those final words from all around them, Game over: User wins.
Instead, they heard something else, a man's voice barely audible from a distance above them shouting "Iceberg! Right ahead!!"
Bob looked up to the crow's nest, uncertain if he had heard right. But Dot glanced around until she pointed to the ship's bow, "Bob!" she cried. He turned, and that was when he saw it.
They were heading straight towards the monster as it emerged from the surrounding darkness. A mountain of deadly ice. Both of them could do nothing but gape at the sight growing to take up their entire field of view. Slowly, the ship started to turn, but at the speed they were going...
"We're not going to make it!" Dot told him.
"I know." Bob said in reply. Dot pulled her gaze away from the threat to the grave expression of his features and realized that this was how it was supposed to end. They were never supposed to be the ones to sink the ship, only prevent the crew from being able to save it! Without those extra boilers, there just wouldn't be enough power.
Bob pulled Dot away from the railing of the Titanic as the threat came nearer, and they could only barely feel the ship lurch as it struck. While the floating mountain passed, large chunks of ice fell from it, crashing on the top deck at their feet, forcing them to jump back even more. The ice slid along the side of the ship for about a third of the way along until they were able to steer clear of it, by then it was far too late as more water began flowing into the lower decks.
As they sailed away from the iceberg, Dot turned to look up at him, "How bad is it?" she asked. "It didn't feel like much."
Bob could sense the damage to the ship far below the water level. The impact itself did surprisingly little damage, it merely sheared the heads off the rivets that held the steel plates together. It was the pressures of the water that opened the spaces between them. "Bad enough." he answered her, "It split open four more compartments. This ship can handle four compartments flooded, but not five."
Dot was silent for a moment, then, "What do we do now?"
He gave a sigh, "Well, the game hasn't gone away yet, it must be programmed to go through with the sinking. The only thing left to do is wait," he said, "and try to survive."
"How long?" she asked him.
"Not long... An hour, if that." he guessed. By their normal time, it would've seemed like an eternity, but this was game-time, and he knew better. "C'mon. We should head towards the stern now, we'll have better chances of getting a lifeboat."
Dot did nothing but nod as she followed him down along the length of the now-doomed ship, They walked in silence for a while until they had almost reached the first smokestack, under which was a row of boats on either side of the ship. There they had planned to wait until it was time to leave, but they never made it. As they walked, Dot suddenly felt something at her back, and they both heard a voice saying "Hold it!"
Bob stopped in his tracks, but he was able to crane his neck around to see the armed officer that had trapped them earlier, with his pistol at Dot's back. Bob froze when he saw this, there was nothing he could do without risking Dot's life. And the Gamesprite seemed to understand that he wasn't about to take that chance. He looked forward once again as the User strode towards them. "And just where do you think you're going?" he asked, fully confident that he had captured them.
"Actually, we were just taking a midnight stroll. Care to join us?" Bob answered him. Though he wasn't quite expecting the User to glare at him as if personally offended. He suddenly got that uneasy feeling in his gut again.
The User then withdrew his own weapon and aimed it at him, then he took Dot by the arm and pulled her up beside him. She tried to pull away, but she couldn't free herself. "I'm not going anywhere with you!" she insisted
"No, Dot." Bob told her, "Just do as he says."
"Yes my dear, it would be wise of you to do as I say!" the User added sharply.
Both Bob and Dot stopped and stared at the User's character with a mix of fear and surprise. The User heard him!!
This game is just FULL of surprises! Bob thought to himself while the Game sprite behind him began to place hand restraints around his wrists behind his back.
"You know what to do with him." The User said to the Gamesprite, who nodded with understanding, and Dot didn't like the sound of that at all. But then the User turned to her, "And as for you, darling," he said angrily, "you and I are going to have ourselves a little talk." And with that, he started pulling her away.
"Bob!" she called out, but the User once again yanked her up hard by the arm to face him.
"I would suggest you forget about that monstrosity!" he snarled with a fierceness that frightened her, though she refused to show it. "Otherwise you will be joining him! He won't be around long enough for you to worry about him, anyhow!"
Dot trembled with both fear and rage, "What?! What are you going to do to him?"
"Me? Nothing. He will die by his hand alone, just as so many others already have."
"No!" she shook her head, "No, you can't! Bob!" she called him again as he too was being torn away from her.
"Don't worry, Dot, I'll be all right!" he yelled back to her. I hope. he thought, then he was pulled out of her sight. He heard her call his name one more time before giving in and allowing himself to be led to whatever it was they had planned for him.
Dot called to Bob but never heard an answer. She struggled again to free herself of the User's hand, but he wasn't giving in. Instead, he gripped her arm even tighter, and she winced at the pain when she thought he wasn't looking. "Let me go!" she demanded through her teeth.
"Listen to me now, and listen well." the User hissed at her, "He chose his death long ago. You can either come quietly with me or join him in his fate. I am willing to give you another chance."
Dot's first reaction was to shout Yes! Let me join him, please!, But her common sense won out before her heart. As long as she was free, then there was still a chance she could get back to him somehow.
"All right," she said as she tried to calm herself. "I'll do whatever you say." For now. she thought as she vowed to find a way to free Bob whatever it took, before it was too late.
King led Bob through corridors and down elevators. Through each deck passengers were being rallied towards the top deck to the lifeboats. Whatever happens to me, Dot HAS to be on one of those boats. was his only thought as he was led down deeper into the sinking ship.
That was when he realized what their plan was for him, they were going to leave him down there! He couldn't say he blamed the Game Sprites for being angry at what he did. And the User? Well, that had been pretty much his agenda from the beginning, so he wasn't exactly surprised. But this officer seemed different somehow, he looked almost regretful at what he had been asked to do. Bob considered trying to break loose, but he decided not to, he wanted to talk to this officer. And besides, he doubted he would be able to do much at all with his hands tied as they were.
They finally reached their destination level, and the officer once more led Bob through a corridor, and around a corner into a small room. The Game Sprite used a key to unlock the restraint around one wrist, then quickly locked both wrists again, with the restraint around a secure pipe againt a wall before Bob could react. Then the Officer took a step back and sighed, "Are there any final requests?" he asked. "Any family I should notify?"
"No. But you could let me go." Bob replied, trying to sound hopeful. But as he saw the Game Sprite's slightly annoyed expression he reconsidered. "Didn't think so." he muttered, "Well, in that case, what's your name?" he asked instead.
"King." the officer stated.
"Just promise me, King, that she'll get off this ship safely."
King already knew the "she" he was referring to. "You should have thought of her safety long before you..."
"I told you, I didn't have a choice. She's the reason I had to do it!" Bob insisted.
"Why?" King's eyes narrowed as he asked. "Tell me."
Bob wondered for a moment whether telling him was really a good idea, "It's a little hard to explain,... but we're not from your world."
King frowned again, he seemed a little disappointed that the prisoner was either insane, or simply couldn't think of a better story.
"You've seen the things I can do!" Bob told him, "I can't offer any more proof than that. But if certain events didn't take place here, then her and I and about half the passengers on board would all be killed."
The officer stood and stared at his prisoner for a few moments, wondering what to make of it all. It was true that this persons "talents" couldn't be dismissed as simple parlor tricks, but whether their lives were in so much danger remained to be seen.
"Listen," Bob continued, "just like you, it's my job to protect people. Sinking this ship goes against everything I am, but that's why I was put here. I had to give them the best chance that I could."
King stared at him as he spoke. "I don't know who you are, or even what you are. All I know is what I've been ordered, and those orders do not include releasing you." There was the regret in his eyes once more, "Not even to save your life."
"I don't expect you to release me, and I don't really expect you to understand either." Bob assured him, "But if I can't be there for her, I need to know that someone else will. She's not the one responsible for any of this."
The Game Sprite considered for a moment. Finally, he replied, "I cannot make promises, but I will do the best that I can."
Bob gave him a slight smile. "Thank you." he said sincerely. The honor that this officer seemed to show, combined with the strength of Dot's spirit, just might ensure her safety as well as he himself ever could. That was all the comfort he needed as King turned and left.
Left to himself now, he looked down at the restraints around his wrists and thought of Dot. He loved her so much, and all he had ever wanted was to spend his life with her. He fought through the Web, through his fears, and through everything else life threw in the way of that dream. But in the end, it seemed as though fate was doing everything in its power to keep them apart.
Who knows, he thought, maybe someday she'll be happier with someone else after all. But then his mind started to wander towards what the future might've held for them. Holding her for the first time, not just as his lover and friend, but as his wife too. Falling asleep every night knowing that he would be waking up with her kisses. Co-processing the most perfect children the Net had ever seen, and that would only be the beginning!
In fact, he could almost see their eyes smiling up at him. Almost hear their laughter through the home. And he felt a strength build in his heart as he saw in his mind, a vision of Dot holding such a small beautiful child in her arms. Their child!
No! He wasn't going to give up on that. He couldn't! There was something about it that felt so real, so right! Nothing else mattered to him than to see that dream through to the very end!
Without even thinking, his arms jerked against the restraints so hard it nearly broke his wrists. He looked down at them again. This time, all he saw was another obstacle to overcome.