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Part 1

She lay there, not knowing what to do.

‘This isn’t happening,’ she thought to herself in despair.

Deciding that it wasn’t worth giving up, she got up quickly, but the top of her leg had been injured so she couldn’t move very fast.

She called out for Bob, but he wasn’t there. She looked all around her, calling out to him again and again. Suddenly a blast hit her side making her fall to the ground once more. A shadow loomed over her, blocking out the already limited light. She could barely see in front of her because the pain was threatening her consciousness.

Trying to make out the silhouette before her, it grabbed her by the neck and hauled her off the ground in one smooth movement. She tried to pull the hand away but its grip was too strong.

“I should have deleted you a long time ago,” the form spoke suddenly, a cold cunning voice she knew only too well.

“Megabyte? It can’t-“ she was cut off as he tightened his grip, crushing her throat.

“Your precious Guardian can’t help you now,” was the last she heard as she neared blacking out.

All of a sudden Megabyte let go of her neck and took her shoulders with both hands. Then he was shaking her…shaking her…

 

 

 

“Dot! Dot, wake up!” Bob’s urgent voice finally broke through her sleep after nanos of trying.

Dot sat up quickly, as if to get away from the dream. It took her a while to get her bearings, and remember where she was.

“That must have been one hell of a dream,” Bob commented, startling her.

She was sitting on the couch in Bob’s apartment, and as her eyes adjusted to the darkness she could see the remainder of the party scattered on the floor. The only light that came from the un-curtained window cast eerie shadows across the room and their faces, Bob’s skin appearing a deeper pastel blue.

It looked like everyone else had gone home. Then why was she still here? Dot suddenly became very conscious of the fact that she’d been sleeping beside Bob and quickly got up, embarrassed.

“You okay?” he asked, worried that she hadn’t said anything and then moved away from him as fast as she could.

In reply, Dot gave him a half smile and nodded, turning towards the front door where she guessed her coat would be. She couldn’t deal with this now. The dream had been a little too real and had left her more shaken than she cared to let on. It had only been a couple of cycles since the restart, and things between her and Bob were just too complicated.

“Dot, where are you going? It’s three in the morning!” He asked in disbelief.

“Home,” she replied simply, her voice shaky.

“Why not wait ‘til morning? It’s dangerous out there at this time of night.” Bob protested, getting up. “You can have my room and I’ll sleep here.” He grinned hopefully.

“I- I need a walk.” Dot stammered, turning away from him.

“You don’t know what’s out there. Not all of Megabyte’s drones have been accounted for yet.” Bob argued.

Dot shivered at the name of the virus. “See you later, Bob,” and was out the door.

‘Same old Dot Matrix,’ he thought, shaking his head. He went into the bathroom for a nano, and then decided to go after her. Tapping his icon into a new casual mode that Mouse had installed only a few cycles ago- jeans and a red T-shirt that had some sort of icon related pattern to it. After a quick glance around his apartment he promised himself not to let his friends use his place as a party venue again’ and shut the door behind him.

Just as Bob reached the outside door and stepped into the cool night air, he heard a scream that sounded familiar...

 

 

 

Dot left Bob’s apartment building as fast as she could. She was so deep in thought and emotional stress that the sharp chill in the air outside startled her. Deciding to actually use her excuse and go for a walk, Dot headed towards the docks. Unfortunately, because she’d never been out in this part of Mainframe so late before, she hadn’t realised how dark the streets were. Feeling unnerved and regretting not listening to Bob, Dot stopped walking and considered going back. But that would mean the possibility of talking about... their relationship, and at the moment she just didn’t understand her own feelings, let alone his.

Suddenly there was a noise behind her and Dot spun round, violet eyes wide with panic. In the next nano, the noise came again and a null shot out from a grate in the ground. Dot breathed a huge sigh of relief. She kept walking, telling herself she couldn’t be the Command.com of a system that she was scared to walk through. At the end of the long street Dot could see the docks and energy sea and smiled in relief.

A hand gripped her arm roughly from behind, making her scream as her dream came flooding back to her in all its frightening glory.

“Megabyte...” the binome croaked. As Dot spun round to see whom her attacker was, she recognized him as a soldier who had been commanding ABC’s during the war.

“Get off me!” Dot tried to free her arm. The binome looked very much like flickering, near deletion, but his grip on her held fast.

“Megabyte...he would want...want you to know...he can survive...any system...even...the web.” The soldier finally got his message out and pushed Dot away as he fell back, flickering dangerously.

“Why- why are you telling me this?” Dot managed to stammer, hating having to watch this binome’s certain death.

“It is you...you will...will be...his first...targ-target...” the dark blue coloured binome finally fell back and his one eye rolled into his head before he could explain.

Dot reflexively put a hand over her mouth and backed away, horrified at being so close. She wanted to tear her eyes away as the binome flickered in and out for a few nanos. Her back hit the wall on the other side of the alley hard, but she was too sickened by the sight to respond.

“Dot!” she vaguely heard a voice calling. “Dot!” It wasn’t until he was about a metre away from her that the binome finally flickered and de-fragmented. Dot gave a small cry of surprise and just continued to stare at where the binome soldier had once been.

“Dot?” Bob said gently, as he reached her. He rested a tender hand on her shoulder, but she wasn’t responding at all, simply staring at where the binome had been.

“It’s okay,” Bob whispered as he pulled her into a gentle hug. Dot was trembling and even tearful, but she couldn’t take her eyes off where the soldier had been, completely unaware of Bob’s arms around her. Bob knew all too well that Dot had had to see some horrible things while commanding thee system’s defence against Megabyte, but her compassion for life had never changed. Something like this, Bob knew, would always upset her a lot, no matter who it was.

“Dot, it’s alright. There was nothing either of us could do.” Bob told her comfortingly. ”Come on, we’ll go back to mine, yeah?”

He didn’t expect her to answer, and she didn’t, but she let him lead her back down the street the way the came. Her eyes were glazed over as though she was somewhere else, deep in thought.

 

 

 

“Bob!” Dot screamed as she woke up. Yet another dream involving Megabyte. It had been a horrible night. Once Bob had got her back to his apartment, he had left her in his room, telling her to call him if anything was wrong. But she had lain there for micros, replaying the binome’s deletion in her head involuntarily. Then when she’d finally drifted into sleep through exhaustion, Megabyte plagued her unconscious, sometimes involving Enzo or Matrix, or Bob- like the last one.

In the next nano Bob came rushing in.

“Are you okay? What’s wrong?” He asked her urgently, watching with concern as Dot tried to catch her breath, now bolt upright in bed.

“Um...yeah.” Dot lied, trying to compose herself. “Just a dream.”

Bob could tell she was lying- she’d never been the greatest at that. He sat on the edge of the bed, staring at her pretty face with worry etched in his features.

“You want to tell me about it?” Bob asked gently, although he could probably guess the general topic- he’s had a few himself since returning from the web. Dot shivered, and continued to stare at the bedspread, refusing to look at him. She felt him move closer to her, reaching out to hug her.

“No, it’s- it’s nothing,” Dot replied, and in panic she moved quickly away from him before he could embrace her. “I’m- I’ve...” she tried to come up with a good excuse but as she turned to him she couldn’t help seeing the hurt in his soft brown eyes. Breaking eye contact with him, feeling incredibly guilty, Dot backed away to the door.

Bob shook his head slightly as he watched her leave. He’d considered she might be mad at him for sleeping beside her on the couch, but she was never as shallow as that. Besides, it was Bob’s fault she’d fallen asleep during an endless game of ‘charades’, and happened to rest her head on his shoulder, then he’d fallen asleep as well and they’d ended up lying next to each other. It was quite funny really. None of their friends had bothered to wake them up.

But he couldn’t understand what was going on with her. Bob had promised himself in the web that should he ever see her again, he wouldn’t waste any more time. But now he was beginning to wonder if she felt the same after all...

 

 

 

After that, Bob didn’t see her for cycles at a time, and when he did Dot made sure it was for as shorter time as possible. Luckily Bob had work to get on with as well; so he told himself to wait and see what happened instead of worrying about it. That plan only worked for about a nano after he’d thought of it, so it was back to worrying again.

"Ya missin’ her sugah?” Mouse’s voice broke him out of his thoughts as she leaned on her elbow against the wall next to where Bob was standing.

"Pity it’s not mutual isn’t it?” Bob replied, sounding slightly bitter- something he rarely was.

"Ah don’t think she’s avoidin’ ya ‘cause of that, darlin’” Mouse’s fiery ponytail flicked as she moved her head to inspect her nails.

"Has she talked to you?” Bob’s voice suddenly contained chords of hope as he looked at his friend.

"Not as such no,” she smiled and sounded sympathetic. Bob still hadn’t got used to the strong and close bond she and Dot had formed during the war. “But Ah can read her lik’ a book, sugah. She’s hurtin’, she’s workin’.”

"Mouse, I don’t know what’s wrong with her! I don’t even know if it’s something I’ve done. Dot just won’t speak to me- about anything,” Bob told her, frustrated, but not meaning to get so wound up. Mouse smiled at his outburst and replied ina sly voice:

"You got it bad, sugah. Real bad.” And flounced off after giving him a good-natured pat on the shoulder. Bob recovered enough to call after her.

"Looks like that makes two of us then doesn’t it, Mouse?”

The hacker turned round long enough to give him a look that would kill and then walked away.

Bob laughed to himself. ‘At least that’s one thing that hasn’t changed.’

 

 

 

"Dot, we need to talk.” Bob flew into her office, looking as well as sounding impatient. She stood up, annoyed that he wouldn’t even ask her, just burst in.

"Bob! I’m working. Couldn’t you at least-“

"There’s never a good time, and you’re always working- so don’t say it.”

"Alright, but I still can’t talk now.” Dot replied stubbornly, sitting down again to carry on with her work.

Bob watched her get back to her work, acting as though he wasn’t there.

"Dot, can I just ask you one thing, and then I’ll go?”

Dot looked up, surprised. “Okay...”

"What’d I do that’s so bad? ‘Cause if it’s something I’ve done then I’m sorry. But I can’t think of anything-“

Dot had stood up again and was leaning against her desk, not looking at him. “It’s not something you’ve done. I’m sorry that’s what you thought. I’ve just been trying to think everything through lately, that’s all.”

They stood in silence for a few millis, and then Dot spoke up again; “Anyway, I’ve got to get back to-“

Dot was cut off as Bob’s arms encircled her small body, pinning her against the back wall, as he locked his lips to hers.

For a milli, Dot almost gave in, but then changed her mind and pushed at his muscular chest to move away from her. Bob pulled away, a familiar cocky grin spread on his face.

"Bob! What did you just do? No don’t answer that. Bob...I...I can’t deal with this right now.” Dot felt terrible saying it, and already regretted pushing him away.

"But...?” Bob looked crushed, the grin replaced with a hurt expression. “Dot...”

"Bob, don’t. This is my fault. I have to get everything filed in my head.” She looked up at him finally, and he was surprised to see tears had welled up in her eyes.

"Dot...please. Why won’t you talk to me?” Bob knew he was pushing his luck but he grasped her hands.

"Stop it! Don’t...” Dot turned away from him, pulling her hands away.

"Maybe I should go and see Hex, then,” he laughed, trying to lighten the mood a little. He guessed maybe it had worked because she smiled, but her expression was still sad.

"Dot, please let me help.” Bob pressed on, but then regretted it as she spun round to face him. Her eyes sparkled as she glared at him.

"I’m serious Bob. Just leave it.” Her eyes seemed to burn stubbornness, forcing him not to argue anymore.

"Fine. But you can’t- “

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<WARNING: INCOMING GAME<<<<<>>>>>WARNING: INCOMING GAME>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Bob cast one last glance at Dot and said goodbye quietly. More than anything he wanted to be angry with her, thinking it might ease the rejection, but he wasn’t. He was angry with himself, but more than anything he was confused. Although he may not have ever been able to tell what she was feeling, it wasn’t like Dot was incredibly unpredictable either. But she’d changed. So had everyone else. So had he.

‘Maybe that’s why.’ Bob thought sadly. ‘She prefers how I was.’

Bob caught sight of Matrix and AndrAIa already in the cube’s path. He found himself wondering how long it had taken them to get together. Maybe he’d talk to Matrix about it later. Bob had hoped to talk to Dot some more but she seemed to be blocking herself off entirely. He didn’t even have her friendship anymore.

Trying to clear his head, Bob landed next to Matrix and then looked up at then descending purple game cube. Bob realised he must have looked miserable because he caught the look exchanged between AndrAIa and Matrix. But he didn’t say anything about it, and neither did they.

 

 

 

Back at the Principal Office, Dot buried herself in her work, in hope she could forget the incident with Bob. It didn’t work, nor was it going to. Finally she decided to break the habit of a lifetime and go home in the early afternoon. Leaving her office, she closed the door and looked up to see Mouse coming towards her.

“You look a bit flushed, honey. You okay?” Mouse asked her, sounding genuinely concerned.

“Yeah. I’m just going home.”

Mouse stared at her for a nano in shock, but knew better than to discuss it. “Ya haven’t forgotten ‘bout tonight have ya?”

Dot looked surprised, not having the vaguest idea what she was talking about. “What’s tonight?”

“It’s Hex’s tea thing.” She replied sounding sarcastically enthused. Dot smiled and rolled her eyes.

"Forgot about that,” Dot admitted.

“Well you’re goin’ whether ya like it or not. Ya can keep me from deletin’ her!” Mouse told her. They both laughed, then Mouse added darkly; “And Ah’ll keep her away from Bob for ya.” She realized too late that it hadn’t been the best thing to say as her friend’s face fell.

“Thanks Mouse, but he’d probably be better off with her anyway.” Dot replied dejectedly.

“Now what in the Net makes you think that?” Mouse linked arms with Dot and started walking towards the entrance to the Principal Office. When she didn’t answer, staring off in the opposite direction, Mouse read her expression easily, though Dot was doing her best to hide it. “Dot honey, ya gotta be kiddin’ me! Ya still blame yourself for the whole of this last hour, don’t ya?”

More silence.

“Ah cahn’t believe this!”

“It’s okay Mouse. Just leave it.” Dot said softly.

“Nope. Sorry, honey, but that ain’t gonna happen. Ya put yourself through this while we were fightin’ and Ah’m not gonna let ya carry on with it.” Mouse protested, facing Dot.

“It’s how I feel,” she replied quietly, not looking at her.

“Well that’s not how ya should feel! Ya’ve got one hell of a stubborn streak hun, but Ah ain’t about ta let ya push away the sprite ya love so much.” Mouse argued, starting to sound a little more heated.

Dot suddenly looked her straight in the eye; her violet eyes shimmering with angry tears. “You don’t understand.”

By now they had reached G prime, very close to where the game cube stood. Neither of them noticed.

“Then explain it ta me!”

Dot turned away from her, trying to will away her tears. There was no one around as the sector had been cleared due to the game, so at least no one witnessed their argument.

“Honey, Bob loves you more than anything in the Net.” Mouse told her in a softer voice. “But he doesn’t think ya feel the same anymore.”

“What?” Dot spun around, startled. When she thought about it, what signs had she given him? None. Shut him out completely. A tear slipped out of her eye, but she brushed it away quickly. “I’m going home.”

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<GAME OVER<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>GAME OVER>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The cube lifted and three figures were left in its place. Dot decompressed her zipboard and stepped on, heading towards her apartment and hoping she was out of sight in time so no on would follow her.

Mouse shook her head in defeat, then turned to see the gamers heading her way.

"Hey Mouse! Haven't seen you in a while," AndrAIa called once they were within hearing distance.

"Sorry hun. Between the new defence codes and upgrading the Net ports, Ah've been pretty busy. Ah think Phong's hoping Ah'll catch up with Dot." She laughed.

"Not much chance of that," came Matrix's low voice.

"Y'all comin' tonight ain't ya?"

"Hex's party?" AndrAIa laughed. "It should be an experience at least." She took Matrix's hand and asked him; "You're still going to come aren't you?"

"Suppose." He replied bluntly. "I'm still not sure about her though."

"Hex is okay. She's a little..." Bob suddenly piped into the conversation.

"...Random?" Mouse smirked.

"Chaotic," Bob corrected, returning her smug smile.

"Ya can say that again."

AndrAIa and Matrix decided to go back to their apartment, which happened to be near Bob's, to 'build up to' the party that night.

"Ah'm really not lookin' forward ta this little get-together, Bob. It's not like Hexidecimal to invite all of us anywhere." Mouse confided as they headed towards 'Dot's Diner'.

"Maybe she's trying to make amends with everyone. Start over," Bob suggested.

"Or maybe she's got some scheme up her sleeve that she needs lotsa people for."

"I hope not. The last thing we need is another of Hex's games." Bob admitted.

They reached the diner, and as they saw Cecil approach them on his rail, Bob spoke first.

"We'll have two energy shakes please."

"I- " the waiter began to retort.

"And we'll wait at the bar." Mouse finished, then laughed as he grumbled under his breath and headed for the kitchen.

"That got really boring hours ago," Bob laughed.

"Yep. Staff in here need some...replacin'," Mouse agreed. As their energy shakes arrived Mouse could tell Bob had something on his mind, simply because there was one topic he was trying so hard not to talk about.

"Spit it out, sugah."

"What?"

"Ya thinkin' bout her again, ain't ya?"

"User Mouse! When did you turn into a counsellor?"

"Ha! Ah'm just stuck in the middle've you two."

"Yeah, suppose you are. Sorry."

"Come on then- tell me what's up this time?"

"Em.... I was just wondering...were you two having a fight outside the game?" Bob asked carefully.

"Not really sugah. She just got a bit upset when Ah tried ta get her ta tell me what's goin' on."

"Oh. I saw her fly off- she looked a bit annoyed."

"Anyway, what ya gunna do 'bout tonight? We just gunna go along as planned?" Mouse tried to change the subject.

"Yeah, we'd better. It'll only get Hex mad if we don't show up."

"G'day mates!" Chirped a cheerful voice as he approached the bar where Bob and Mouse were standing.

"Hey Ray. You been swotting up for that repair job on my car?" Bob joked- since meeting the web surfer, he'd found out Ray was a good mechanic and Ray had been trying to persuade Bob to let him have a look at his 'classic' for a while.

"I didn't know if you were gunna let me take a look or not, mate. That mean I can?" Ray replied with a laugh.

"Okay boys. Ah'll be leavin' if we're gunna talk cars," Mouse warned seriously, which made Bob laugh and Ray sweep her off her feet into his arms.

"It's alright Mouse. I'll leave you two alone for a while." Bob replied with an exaggerated wink at Ray. He grinned in return but Mouse gave Bob another of her killer looks which didn't come off all that menacing because of her position in Ray's grasp. She wondered how long it would be before he and Dot got their act together so she could return those comments.

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