Bob and Dot followed the User out the door of the Boat deck, where the passengers were to gather near the lifeboats. But nothing could've prepared them for the chaos that met them.
Over a thousand people were gathered up on the deck, all fighting for a slim chance at survival. In a solid wave of panic, they all pushed, shouted, and cried to be the next to leave on one of the few boats remaining. Officers and seamen were rallying the women and children into the boats first, but terror flooded the deck, and was driving many passengers mad with fear.
"Stay close!" the User called back to them, as he made his way towards one of the boats.
Bob held tightly to Dot's hand while they pushed through the mob of Game Sprites and Mainframers. Suddenly, he felt something pull her back. He looked up to see a Game Sprite had grabbed Dot, assaulting her in a desperate attempt to rip the lifejacket off of her. He rushed at the crazed passenger and decked him. Then he held Dot close as they caught up with the User, who was waiting next to one of the boats.
When they reached him, the User got the attention of King, who was assisting Sprites and Binomes onto the lifeboat. Then he held up what looked like two tickets. Boat passes. Dot saw them, "Only two?" she asked.
The User looked at her, "It's time for us to go."
She turned to Bob; "You take it! I'll get one of the others."
"No way!" he said, "I'm not leaving until you're safe!"
"You don't have time for this!" King informed them. The User stretched a hand out to Dot; "You don't have a choice, come with me, NOW!"
She was about to protest, when, without a warning, a Game Sprite rushed at the boat with two empty seats, shoving the User out of his way. The User lost his balance, and Bob saw him begin to fall towards the edge of the ship.
Maybe it was the look of true fear in the User's eyes, or the terror in his scream as he fell, but something unexpectedly triggered Bob's Guardian programming. He threw himself at the railing, and snagged the cuff of the User's sleeve before he even knew what he was doing.
The User looked up at him with surprise, as Bob grasped the User's hand and started pulling him back up over the railing. Then King reached down as well, and took the User's other hand to help. When they were all standing safely on deck, the User caught his breath, and stared at Bob for a moment before asking, "Why did you do that?"
Bob glanced over at Dot, "You saved her once, I owed you one."
The User gazed sadly at Dot for a moment as well, then turned back to Bob, "My friend, you owe me far more than that."
Bob regarded the User with understanding. He was right, after all, this was the being who had given him Dot in the first place. The Guardian marvelled at the sophistication of the User's character in this game. Perhaps, with time, direct communication with the user would be possible, through the games. And he wanted to be there when it happened.
King went to the boat, and grabbed the impatient passenger, throwing him back onto the deck of the ship, while Bob went to Dot's side. "You have to go, Dot, now," he told her.
Dot shook her head. "No!" she told him, "For the last time, I'm not going anywhere without you!" She held him, never wanting to let go.
Bob nodded to the User as he put his arms around her. "All right, Dot," he whispered comfortingly to her, "It's okay, just promise... you won't give up on me." And before she even realised what he had told her, he placed his hand on the side of her head, and sent a wave that put her into a deep sleep in his arms. He smiled to himself; he didn't even know that he could do that until just now. He lifted her up, and carried her to the boat where he handed her to the User, who took her gently into his own arms, and nodded back to him.
Bob took a step back, and signalled to King to let the boat down. As the officers carefully lowered the boat down toward the water, he stood at the railing and lost himself in the image of Dot's beautiful face. She'll probably be angry with me when she wakes up. he thought, but it didn't matter. She was worth it.
She had no idea what just happened, but as Dot began to stir, she gradually became aware of a jerking sensation as though she were being moved, and of the fact that she was being held by someone.
"Bob?" she called groggily as she tried to open her eyes.
"Not even close." came the reply of only a half-familiar voice.
Dot's eyes fluttered open and she quickly realised that it was the User that was holding her. She gasped reflexively and tried to pull away, but soon she found there was nowhere to run to. She looked around her and instantly knew what had happened. Looking up, she saw Bob watching her, he seemed so content knowing that she'd be safe.
Oh, no, you are NOT going to even THINK about risking your neck alone!! She searched around for an option, and found one. Without consideration or warning, she leapt from the boat, throwing herself at the open promenade on A deck.
The User tried to catch her, but he was too busy trying to keep his balance on the teetering lifeboat. Bob saw it too, and probably would've jumped off the deck of the ship after her, but King held him back. Instead, he hurried away from the railing and fought the crowd to get back inside.
Dot held on to the railing and slowly pulled herself up. With the help of some other Game Sprites, she was safely on-board. She didn't even utter a 'Thank you.' before rushing up along the ship towards the entrance to the Grand Staircase.
Bob threw open the doors that led to the staircase, flew down the stairs and turned the corner just as Dot came through the entrance and made a bee-line right to him.
"Bob!" she cried as she clung to him. Then in the next instant, she slapped him across the face. "If you EVER pull a stunt like that again, so help me I'll...!" But she didn't give herself time to finish as she jumped up and kissed him again, harder than ever. He easily matched her passion as he kissed her back and held her tight.
Then he took her face in his hands, "Why did you do that?!" he asked her. "That was so basic, Dot! Why did you do that?"
"I'd rather go down fighting with you than just sit there and see what happens!" came her reply. "Besides," she added with a hint of a smile, "I'd rather marry you than him any day."
Bob blinked a couple times, "Really? I mean...seriously?"
She gave him a strange look, "Well of course, seriously! The game hasn't corrupted me or anything. And for that matter, why haven't you asked me yet?"
"Well... I didn't want to rush you or anything. And I thought you'd probably need time to think about it..."
Dot shrugged, "What is there to think about? Well, except maybe the planning." she grinned: her speciality.
He couldn't believe it, his dream come true, right in front of him! "This... this is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me!" he shouted, receiving some odd looks from other passengers who were convinced he was making a sick joke, but he was too overjoyed to even notice.
Dot smiled and hugged him, thinking about the happy times they would have together. He held her as well, with all the same hopes, until he heard a crash.
Bob looked up to see a table lamp had slid off it's table. And suddenly, everything in the room that wasn't bolted down started sliding off towards the bow. Neither of them had realised just how steep an incline the ship was until now. Then they heard the distinct sound of metal creaking under immense stress. Bob didn't even have to tell Dot what was happening, in unison, they both bolted up the staircase for the door.
Once outside, Dot began searching the deck, "We have to find a boat, fast!" she said to him.
"It's too late, they're gone!" Bob told her, "Looks like we're on our own."
That was when he felt a hand on his shoulder, he turned to see King standing before him, calm as the ice that hit them.
"What are you still doing here?!" Bob asked, "Why didn't you leave on one of the boats?"
King smiled a bit as he nodded towards dot and said, "I have my word to keep to you as well."
Bob sighed. Somehow, he wasn't the least bit surprised. "Well then, come on! We have to get as far aft as possible!"
As they pushed their way through the crowd, Dot noticed that the ship was inclining more. Time was running out faster by the second. They shoved their way past passengers and, slowly, they were making progress. When they reached the aft railing of the Boat deck, Dot realized with fear that they were nowhere near the stern. The deck stopped, and the ship extended a few decks below them for another hundred feet at least. But all the while, there was no sign of the ocean as the rear of the ship was being brought up out of the water. "How do we get down there?" She asked.
Bob concentrated for a moment on how to get there. The second-class stairs would normally do it, but it was already mobbed with Sprites with the same idea. Instead, he climbed over the railing down onto A deck, and helped Dot over as King followed.
Once on B deck, they headed aft and, shoving past still more screaming, frightened passengers went down a set of stairs, across deck, and went up another.
By now, they were practically climbing to get to the railing at the very back of the ship. And they weren't alone; dozens of passengers were gathered there, all of them clambering for a good grip on anything that would hold their weight as the Titanic began to slip into the ocean. The deck was swiftly becoming less horizontal, and more vertical. Dot's shoes were becoming more difficult to climb in, so Bob took her hand and started pulling her up. It almost seemed as though it weren't fast enough, however, as even Bob started losing his footing on the deck. But King, who had reached the railing before them, grabbed Bob's hand, and hauled the two of them up to the edge of the stern.
As Bob held the rail he said, "This is bad! This is very bad!"
Dot glared up at him. "I think we passed 'bad' a long time ago, Bob!"
The User looked on from the safety of the lifeboat as the stern of the great ship lifted out of the ocean. The propellers rising up out of the water dwarfed the people who had fallen, and he watched as the lights on the Titanic flickered once, then went out completely, leaving nothing but a silhouette in the night. And all he could think of was the lovely woman who, despite all his efforts, chose a death with another, rather than a life with him.
Bob climbed over the railing, and tried to pull Dot up with him. But just then, Dot's feet effectively gave out from under her as the deck rose up at over forty-five degrees, and she was left hanging by nothing more than Bob's grip. She looked down, and saw half the ship tilting on end below her, and it was a long drop to the oceans' surface, as Sprites began losing their grip and fell.
Bob checked to make sure King was still with them. The officer nodded back at the Guardian, "Helluva night." he said.
Then, throughout the shuddering, groaning ship, a horrible sound echoed over the sea. Bob, Dot and King all looked down at the ship, but couldn't see where it was coming from. Then the whole ship seemed to lurch, and the stern itself plummeted down toward the ocean. The ship was breaking in half from the weight of the stern.
The crowd around them screamed in a unified terror as they felt themselves falling with the ship. Dot quickly tried to reach Bob as the deck began to right itself, and Bob gathered her up into his arms as fast as he could. But when the stern hit the water with a thundering crash, it threw Dot back onto the deck. King lost his foothold as well, and held onto the railing for dear life.
"King!!" Bob shouted as he reached over to grab the Game Sprites hand, but he was also trying to get Dot safely over the rail and he wasn't fast enough as King's grip gave out, and he fell down the back of the ship and his body smashed into the water.
Neither of them had time for sorrow as the stern started rising again, being pulled under by the water-filled bow. "Over the railing! Quick!" Bob called to Dot. They were being thrown back up into the air while Dot climbed over the rail, which was once again going horizontal. Once safely in Bob's arms, she looked down at the other passengers, many flailing for anything to grab onto as they slid, screaming down the deck which was now totally vertical. She felt Bob hold her tighter.
For a moment, everything seemed still, then they felt the ship descend from underneath them into the water, they watched the ocean rise up the remains of the ship towards them.
"Take a deep breath and hold it right before we go into the water." Bob told her, "The ship's going to pull us down. Kick for the surface and keep kicking! Don't let go of my hand. We're gonna make it Dot. Trust me."
Dot watched in fear as the deck was being swallowed up. "I trust you, Bob." she said.
They stood on the hull as the stern sank into the depths, the vortex swirled around their feet, up their bodies, and pulled them down.
The water was so cold it burned, and the force of it sent them spinning in a hundred directions until Dot didn't even know which way was up. Her fingers became numb so fast she wasn't even sure Bob was there anymore. But for the life of her, she couldn't see a thing from the foam worked up around them.
Suddenly, the water cleared. She searched around and quickly found Bob hanging on with all his strength. A few moments later the water became calm enough to swim in.
Bob kicked furiously, but Dot's lifejacket was lifting them both on its own buoyancy. He held on as she lifted him up, but soon he became concerned when she stopped kicking. Looking up at her, he saw her losing strength from lack of air. With what little power he had left, he could keep her as warm as she needed to be, but he couldn't give her air to breathe. She had to get to the surface, and he realized he was holding her down.
She began to panic, and searched for comfort in Bob, but she found him fixing her with a stare. A look that hit her straight to the heart; Survive!! If you ever loved me, Dot, survive!! and he let her hand slip out of his. And a part of me will survive with you.
Dot's heart screamed like mad as she shot upward like a bullet. She watched for as long as she could as he slipped into the darkness. And just when she thought she would pass out, she hit the surface. Her reflexes instantly pulled air into her lungs, but it no longer mattered to her. She put it to good use by helplessly wailing, "NO!! Bob NO!! No!!" There was no way he could've made it to the surface in time on his own. But she could barely hear herself over the others. All of them crying, calling, praying...
Then she was plunged under again by a Game Sprite, driven insane by the cold, who tried to climb onto her. Onto anything to get him out of the torturous water. She didn't try to fight, as she had lost her will to even live. But somehow, the crazed Sprite got knocked off of her. She lifted her head and saw her saviour.
"My lady, are you all right?" King asked.
She was too much in shock to be surprised at seeing him again. "Bob. I lost... I lost Bob. He's gone. I..."
"Its all right." he tried to get through to her, "Come on, we have to swim. Now." But he soon saw that she wasn't planning on going anywhere. "You must fight, you must try! It was what he wanted."
This snapped her out of it, at least partially. She knew he was right. For as much pain as she felt, she had to honour him that much. She swam alongside the Sprite as he shouted to her, "We must find something to float on!"
"There!" she called when she spotted a door that had apparently been blown from its hinges. King helped her onto it, then held on from the side and threatened any Sprite that would try to take it from her. "Thank you." was all she said before falling silent.
Dot lay on the door on her back and gazed up at the stars as tears rolled down from her eyes, and froze before they could drop. She had no idea how long she was there, it could've been a few nanos, or minutes, or lifetimes. She couldn't feel her own body anymore, and she didn't even hear the voice ring out "GAME OVER" But she saw the game cube rise up back into the Mainframe sky, and what was left of her heart went with it.
"Bob." she was so cold and weakened she could barely speak. But it was all she could think, all that remained for her was his memory. Something of which she swore she would never let go.
The doctors had to work overtime to tend to all the Mainframers who had survived the game. Out of the 925 Binomes and Sprites that had been caught, only 312 survived. Dot read the numbers in her office and tried to keep her strength from failing her. She had sent CPU's to the lower levels to retrieve Bob. Mouse, Ray, Matrix, AndrAIa, and a mob of civilians, and even Hex had joined in the search, but he was nowhere to be found. This was fate's cruel joke. To bring him back to her, only to tear him away again. She had somehow managed to live without him once, she wasn't sure she could do it again.
But she had to.
Everyone went to her to offer condolences and share her grief. All except Phong, which seemed odd. But she figured he would be the only one who knew enough to just give her some time. Young Enzo had been devastated when she had to tell him what happened. That only hurt her more, but it also meant that he needed her more, and so too did the rest of the city. And once again, they came first.
Dot put her backup organizer with the report onto the desk and stood. She was about to head for the door to call it a night (not that she would be getting any sleep), when her door chimed.
"Yes, who is it?" she asked wearily.
The door opened, and Phong entered. "My child, how are you holding up?" he asked gently.
Dot collapsed back into her seat. "I should've gone down with him." her voice wavered.
"Dot, things always work themselves out for the best. You should know that by now. You survived because there is something better for you here."
She chuckled with a bitterness, "Like what?" she asked.
Phong was quiet for a moment, then he started for the door. He then turned back to her and said, "Come with me. There is something I should show you."
"Phong, I really don't feel like..." Dot started.
He ignored her. "Come." he repeated.
Dot reluctantly followed him through the Principle Office, not paying attention to where he led her, and she didn't particularly care either. She had no idea what he could show her that could possibly help right now, but she respected him too much to make a fuss about it. She just wanted to get whatever it was done with so she could go to her room and cry.
He entered a room, and she blindly followed, but where she found herself caught her attention. She was in a medical room. Wondering why he had brought her here, she looked around, and her eyes rested on the examination table.
The gleaming silver armor, the beautiful blue skin, the handsome face. It took Dot a full millisecond for it to sink in. Her expression slowly shifted from heartbreak, to surprise, to utter shock. Upon the table lay an unconscious Bob!
She trembled for a moment, her hands shaking as they rose to her lips. Then she shot to the table in a flash, throwing herself over his body as she exploded into tears.
"Phong, why... didn't you tell me?!" she choked between sobs.
He rolled up next to her. "When I found him, he was very weak and near-death. Things were rather shaky for a while there. I didn't want to put you through further grief until I knew he would survive."
"But,.. how did he...?"
"He had almost no energy left, but apparently he was able to create a stasis field, for just long enough."
Dot looked up into Bob's face as she cried, and brushed her fingers against his cheek as if to be certain he was really there. That action seemed to have an effect, he groaned and slowly started to come around. Carefully opening his eyes, he smiled as the first thing that came into focus was her.
"Dot!" he said in a halfway-conscious tone. "You're alright."
"I am now!" She told him joyously.
Phong started back to the door; "I will inform the others of the good news." he said with a smile, "...tomorrow"
Dot never took her eyes off Bob's as Phong left. "Will you stop doing that to me?" she teased him gently.
"You didn't think I'd go back on my promise, did you?"
She chuckled again, happily this time, "You'd better not!" she told him, "Not when we have so much planning to do."
He looked at her puzzled for a moment, and then he remembered what she had told him on the Titanic. "I wouldn't miss it." he assured her. She then kissed him, for a very long time, and she never let go.
She would never let go...