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Part 5

King slowly made his way back from the lower decks up to A-deck, but he was hindered by crowded hallways full of passengers trying to get above to the Boat Deck. He, on the other hand, had to get to the User's cabin to give his report. It was true that he would regret being the cause of any man's death, but knowing the magnitude of the saboteur's crime seemed to justify the punishment. Once he had reached his destination he went inside, and found the User talking to a witness; one of the workers who was in the boiler room that had escaped before the explosion.

"It seemed impossible that anything could go wrong," The worker was in the middle of saying as King entered, "but I panicked. I ran... I should've stayed to try and help them..." The Sprite faltered in shame.

"There was nothing you or anyone else could've done." The User assured him, though his voice seemed more angry than calm. As though he were thinking of someone else entirely.

The worker sighed, "That man... whoever it was that warned us, we would've all been killed if not for him."

This caught King's attention, and he looked toward the witness with surprise. Again, he felt that something wasn't right.

 

Dot was now sitting in her room as a prisoner. The User was just outside discussing their situation with his men and making sure she stayed put. She had to find a way to get out of there! She went to the door and for the Web of it, tried the handle, and was surprised when she found it was open. As she stepped through the doorway the User immediately stopped talking and turned to her, then he motioned for the men to leave. Once they were alone Dot asked, with as little contempt as she could, "When will we be leaving for the lifeboats, darling?"

"Soon." He answered in a clipped tone. He stood, and for a moment, began looking through some papers, pretending to ignore her presence. Then the User suddenly stopped and turned to face her, "Why him?" he asked desperately. "Why you? Of all people, I thought I could trust you!" He stared at her for a moment, then he turned away, once again unable to look at her.

Dot was caught off guard by his sudden show of emotion, it was becoming increasingly more difficult to think of him as a mere puppet for a greater being who never really seemed to care about them at all.

"It's not that simple, and you know it." she answered calmly. She walked around until she was in front of him, forcing him to look at her. "Why are we here?" she asked him the questions she had always wanted to, "Why have you put us here? Why are you doing this to us?!"

The User looked at her, somewhat confused. But it seemed there was a fear in his eyes of what she was asking about.

 

King and the worker left the User's cabin into the hallways still filled with moving passengers. King watched for a moment as the other Game Sprite started walking down the hall, following the others. After a moment of thought, King followed until he had caught up with the man. He placed a hand on his shoulder to get his attention, and once the worker turned to face him, King asked, "That man you spoke of, who had warned you, who was he? And how did he know of the explosion?"

The worker shook his head, "I don't know either answer, sir. And I don't know why he was there, he certainly was no worker. Had to have been a passenger who got lost."

"I see." King thought again, "About what class would you place him in?"

"Oh, third class, if that." the worker replied with certainty. But then his features changed to confusion as he continued, "Though the young woman who was with him, I didn't get a good look at her, but she had to have been first class."

Kings eyes widened, "Are you certain of this?" he asked urgently.

"Oh, yes. The gown she wore, it looked very much like the one the User's lady wears." He shook his head in remorse, "But there was no way that either one of them could've survived. It all happened so quickly."

If King had been any less rational, he would've yelped in panic at the realisation that he had just sent a good man to his death.

 

The User continued to stare at Dot, seemingly unable to get past the strength of her as she stared right back at him. "In case you have failed to notice, I'm trying to save your life." he finally answered.

Dot gave him a bitter laugh. "How?" she asked, "You're the one who put us in this mess, remember?"

"Enough!" he turned away again, trying to dismiss her.

"What's the significance of this?" she continued, determined to get some kind of answer. "Why bring this on yourself?" There had to be a reason why the User would download a game so tragic. "Are you really that sadistic?"

The User's temper erupted as soon as she had spoken those words. "We are in the middle of a horrible event that will destroy hundreds of lives! An event that should never be forgotten or repeated, one that never should've happened at all!"

The anger and desperation in his outburst seemed so real that Dot stopped to consider what he really meant. Then realization slowly dawned on her; was this game based on an incident that actually happened? Was that the real purpose of the games? To help the User deal with situations that took place in it's own world, to learn and to deal with the past that it can't change? The implications were staggering to her. Perhaps the User wasn't a malevolent being after all, obsessed with destruction and killing. It had emotions as they did, the same feelings of frustration and sorrow that they suffered, and games simply provided an outlet for those feelings. She had never thought of it that way, but now she wondered why it hadn't occurred to her before.

She didn't have time to think about it long, however, as they both heard a knock on the door.

"Yes! Come in!" shouted the User, still irritated.

King entered, and wasted no time going to the User saying "Sir, there really is no time to spare. We must leave as soon as possible."

The User cast a glance at Dot. "Very well." he said, "I must make preparations. Stay here with her, make certain she does not leave until I return."

"Yes, sir." King agreed as the User left. The moment he was gone, King went to Dot as he took something out of his pocket and handed it to her. "I must stay with the User. Take the elevator to the very bottom, go left, down the crewman's passage, then make a right." he told her.

Dot looked down into her hand, he had given her a small key: the key to Bob's restraints. She looked up at the Game Sprite with surprise, knowing he was going against his programming to save them. "Bottom, left, right. I have it." she stated. Then she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, "Thank you." she said breathless as she anxiously went to the door and opened it, looked around to make sure it was safe, then took off at a run.

"Hurry." King whispered.

 

Dot dodged the Game Sprites as best she could, but it still wasn't fast enough. She wanted to be at Bob's side two milliseconds ago, but the other passengers seemed to be moving as if they had all day and it was starting to get on her nerves. Finally, she reached the Grand Staircase and almost on front of her opened an elevator with even more passengers pouring out of it. She got to it just as the last of them stepped off, and before the operator could close the doors she practically ran into him.

"Please sir, I need your help in a matter of life or death!" she demanded.

The young man recovered from his surprise at her abruptness rather quickly and replied, "You've got it, miss. Where to?"

"Bottom deck. As fast as this thing can go!"

"If you say so." he shrugged as he closed the doors. As they descended, he looked at her. "Say, ain't you the User's..."

"User? What User?" she grumbled. He stared at her with an odd look for a moment, then shrugged again. "If you say so."

 

Bob once again used his power to try and cut through the restraints, but once again only managed to burn himself. At this rate, he'll burn his hands off before causing any damage to the metal that held him, not at that angle anyway.

"Help!! Heeeellp!!" he could hear a panic stricken man screaming from down the hall. Bob sincerely wanted to help the man but first he had to get himself free.

From the crate he was crouched on, he looked down at the freezing knee-deep water that was beginning to fill the room. Then glanced up at the porthole where he could see the surface of the ocean from underneath it. And realised that burning his hands off didn't seem like such a bad idea at the moment.

 

The doors to the elevator opened and Dot raced out. She ignored the operator as he called after her, "You know I can't be stickin' around. I've got people up there who actually want to get off the ship!"

Dot followed King's directions and thought she was getting close. Just then, the corridor stopped at a staircase that disappeared down into water. For an instant, she thought she might've gotten there too late, but she knew she still couldn't give up. She went to the "bottom" of the stairs, dropped herself down into the now waist-deep water, and gasped. She didn't know it was going to be this cold!! But still, she had to forge ahead, "Bob!" she called, "Bob, where are you?"

"Help me!" She heard from somewhere ahead, "Help me, please!!" she waded around a corner and up a corridor into a room and took one look at who it was coming from.

"You?!" she gaped. Standing there handcuffed to a post was none other than the officer that had shot her!

The officer saw her, and his face went white as a sheet. "N-n-n-no! It...it can't be!"

"Oh, shut up!" she told him as she went to him, and with the key King had given her, tried to unlock the restraints. "Stop snivelling and hold still!" she ordered again, "By all rights, I should probably just leave you here!"

As soon as the restraints were undone, he pulled away in a panic, knocking her into the water. She screamed as she fell, and to her horror, she lost her grip on the key. As soon as she found her feet again, she tried desperately to peer into the water for it, and she thought she caught a distinctive glint on the floor. She took a breath, and dove down under the surface. She found the floor and looked around, and saw the silver glint again. But as she went to where she had seen it, what she found instead was a grate on the floor, with the key at the bottom.

No! she thought as she tried to get it with her fingers, but couldn't reach. She tried to pull the grating off, but it wouldn't give. She tried for as long as she could, until she realised she needed to breathe. Frustrated and mortified, she stood up and gasped for air.

"Dot?!" she heard someone calling, "Dot, is that you?!"

"Bob!!" She called back, and waded out into the corridor, she followed his voice into another room and found him crouched on a crate.

"Dot! What are you doing here?!"

"What do you mean 'What am I doing here'?" she responded as she waded to him, threw her arms around him and started kissing his face. "What do you think I'm trying to do?"

"Well it doesn't matter," he argued as he tried to kiss her as well, "you have to get out of here!"

"It matters to me! I'm not leaving without you, and you know it!" She held him, and he so much wanted to hold her too, but couldn't. And for a moment, nothing mattered. They were together.

"Bob!" she cried, "Oh, Bob. I had the key! I had it but I lost it!"

He shook his head, "It's okay Dot. Listen, I've gotten through a lot worse than this. You go up to the boats, and I promise I'll meet you there!"

She searched his eyes for a moment, considering. Then she kissed him one last time before heading out the door.

Bob sighed as she left. Just one more promise I have no idea how I'm gonna keep.

 

Dot waded through the rising waters around a corner and down a corridor. She didn't know what she was looking for, but she hoped she would know it when she found it. I thought flying by the seat of the pants was Bob's department! she figured. Just then, something caught her eye.

 

Bob had gone back to trying to burn through the restraints, but wasn't having any better luck. Not that it discouraged him. He tried to ignore the burning but it distracted him until he couldn't concentrate. As he rested for a moment, he began wondering whatever happened to the guy down the hall, when he sensed movement in the doorway.

Dot Matrix stood in all her commanding glory as she held a fireman's axe in her hands, and that determined look in her eye that always scared him bitless. His eyes widened with growing dread as she waded towards him, throwing the axe up over her shoulder, about to bring it swinging down...

"Uh, Dot?" he began, "Maybe-you-should-take-a-practice...

CLANG!!

"...SWING!!" he shouted a few octaves higher than normal as he lost his balance on the crate and fell into the water right next to her. Then he stood up just as quickly, "SPAM!! This water's cold!" Only then did he look down at his hands and noticed, first, that they were still there, and second, they were no longer around the pipe.

"Are you okay, Bob?" she asked.

He started laughing, "You did it! I can't believe it, you did it!" He pulled her up to him and kissed her. Then he took the axe in one hand and her hand in the other as he pulled her along in back of him, "Let's get out of here!"

 

The User entered his cabin and saw King sitting in one of the chairs. He began looking through the adjoining rooms saying, "My dear, I have arranged for one of the boats to..." until he realised that his dear was no longer there. He instantly turned to King, smouldering, "Where is she?!"

King stood and faced the User, "I have seen no evidence of any wrongdoing on her part, therefore I could not hold her against her will."

The User clenched his fists and snarled at the Game Sprite in anger, "She is an accomplice to sabotage!"

"The laws of the sea change with the tides, Sir." King countered as sternly as he dared, "And under such circumstances as these, I reserve judgement second only to the captain."

The User growled at him for a moment, and it almost seemed as though he was going to hit the officer. But instead he merely turned and stormed out of the cabin.

It was clear to King that the User wasn't used to having anyone pull rank on him.

 

Bob and Dot finally made it to the stairway that took them to dry ground but it they knew it wouldn't be dry for long. The elevators had been taken offline so they had to find an alternate route. They found themselves going up more stairways until they came to a growing commotion. Game Sprites by the dozens were gathered at a closed gate clawing to get through, but three stewards were on the other side trying to explain that they couldn't let third class to the boat deck until first and second class had been taken to safety.

"Is this the only way through?" Dot asked.

"Afraid so." he answered. The Guardian saw all this and nearly lost it. He strode towards the gate, axe in hand, shouting "Look out! Coming through!" The Sprites in the crowd saw his intentions and gladly stepped aside for him. He went right up to the gate, pulled the axe back, and practically threw it at the lock, shattering it. Then he merely stood, casually leaning on the axe, and watched the passengers rush past him to freedom.

Dot finally made her way to where he stood, and she smiled up at him. "I love it when you're subtle." she commented.

Bob grinned and threw the axe to the floor as they followed through. They soon made their way to the aft Grand Staircase on A deck where more stewards were handing out lifejackets to all the passengers. Bob grabbed one and handed it to Dot and made certain she put it on. As she did, Dot began to notice that the ship was slowly tilting, which meant they didn't have much time left. They rounded the corner at the top of the staircase, and they both froze at who they saw before them.

"You just couldn't leave him, could you?" the User asked, staring at Dot.

Dot stepped up, "No. I wouldn't go along with this game of yours even if I could."

The User narrowed his eyes, "And I couldn't let you go even if I wanted to."

Bob saw the look it the eyes of the User and finally realised what had been bothering him all this time. The User was taking this game way too personally, and he was becoming much too attached to Dot.

That thought struck him with more fear than he would've admitted to. He grabbed Dot's hand and pulled her away back down the stairs as fast as he could. He didn't look back as he flew through a doorway into a large empty dining hall. He didn't even bother checking to see where they were going while they wove between tables. And he would've kept running forever, but a gunshot from the User's pistol stopped him short. Dot ran up next to him, and they both looked up.

The User must've anticipated their movements, because he was now on a balcony on the second level of the dining hall, with his weapon trained on them both.

"There will be no escape this time, criminal!" the User called down on them. "Running would be far more dangerous for you than to surrender the girl to me now! Are you willing to take that chance?"

Bob took a step toward the User, keeping himself between the pistol and Dot. "Wouldn't you?" he challenged.

At first, there was no reaction at all from the User who still held the gun on them. Dot watched the exchange and became afraid, she darted to Bob and locked her arms around him. Bob kept his eyes on the User's again, knowing full well that he didn't have enough energy for another shield strong enough to protect them. The User's eyes narrowed a challenge of his own back at Bob.

But then, Bob saw the User's gaze drift down to Dot's face, then it seemed as though something gradually came over him. An understanding of a reality he could no longer deny. He slowly dropped his hand, and lowered his eyes. And in that moment, the User appeared more desolate than Bob would've ever thought he'd see.

Bob and Dot stood quietly and waited for the User's next move. Bob knew his hunch had been proven right, the User cared too much for Dot to risk harming her to get to him. How it was possible, he didn't know. Perhaps it was simply Dot's game character he was interested in, ...or maybe it was the way Dot portrayed her. But for whatever reason, she meant more to him than the game itself.

"Very well." the User conceded after a moment's silence, "You both may do as you will. But if you wish to survive, you must follow me." with that, he started back towards the boats.

Dot looked up at Bob, wondering what just happened. But Bob simply took her hand again, and they both followed the User.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," he replied, "but I think this just turned into a whole new kind of game."

 

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