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Part 3

"You alright now, babe?" Bob asked her softly, whilst combing a hand absently through her hair. Dot lifted her head from its place on Bob's chest to give him a disapproving look.

"Don't call me that," Dot moved in an effort to make herself more comfortable. Bob gave her a quirky smile.

"You worried I prefer you with a tail?" Bob asked her, his face now a cheeky grin. He yelped as Dot whacked him on the chest playfully.

"And why would I care what you prefer?" Dot countered.

"There's just something about you as a mermaid..." Bob went on, deliberately trying to provoke her. Dot smiled, refusing to take the bait, then checked the time.

“User! Look at the time! I’ve got so much that needs doing before tomorrow!”

“Dot,” Bob took her shoulders before she got too carried away. “Calm down. I’ll take you home now and you can get an early start in the morning.”

“But what about- “

“Just think about yourself for once will you? You can’t run Mainframe if you can’t keep yourself awake tomorrow can you?”

“I suppose,” Dot agreed stubbornly. “Come on then.” Bob caught her hand as she began to walk away and turned her back to him.

“Wait,” Bob grasped her other wrist, “Another couple of nanos won’t matter, will they?”

 

 

 

The darkness shifted again and the stranger chuckled silently to himself. The young couple were still there, and the blue skinned one in the silver armour was at it again.

‘His taste in women has changed though,’ he thought as he stopped walking. He watched in amusement as the Guardian pinned the beautiful sprite he was with against the wall. ‘Yes,’ he thought lustfully, a cruel smile forming on his face. ‘She does look rather tasty.’ He pondered whether or not he would have time for a... detour... before completing his mission.

The figure slunk further into the shadows when the dark-haired girl laughed as she escaped her companion’s grasp.

“Dot Matrix get back here right now!” The Guardian moved like lightening, grabbing her around the waist and lifting her up. A portal opened all of a sudden and the young couple stepped into it, the woman still on his shoulder, screaming and laughing.

In the next nano, they, and the portal, were gone. The stranger smiled smugly. So Dot Matrix happened to be the lovely sprite in front of him only a few moments ago. His smile became a grin. Maybe this mission would be a lot more fun than he had first thought...

 

 

 

A tall building loomed in front of her, one she knew all too well. The navy under-belly of the snake shaped tower had been replaced with gold and there were the navy coloured letters M and F vertically engraved into the metal wall.

“Megaframe, Miss Matrix. You’ll learn to love it,” Megabyte suddenly appeared in place of one viral imprisoning her.

“I doubt that,” she heard herself say, trying to stand defiantly but failing due to the pain.

“My dear Miss Matrix, are we missing our friends?”

Dot ignored him. She’d been basic enough to check on Hack and Slash, who hadn’t checked in when they were meant to, and ended up further from base than she’d meant to be. But she also knew that her capture had not given away the location of the base, so Mouse and the others were in no immediate danger.

“Now, what do I do with you?” Megabyte was beginning to sound eerily like his sister. He tapped a claw against his mouth and looked at her. Dot had stopped fighting her restrainers- she was too tired. The battle had been won. Her friends and family were lost. Megabyte was ruler. Why bother?

“You know Miss Matrix, you look all grown up in that black leather.” By now it was as if Hexidecimal’s voice was coming from Megabyte’s mouth.

“Don’t patronize me, virus,” Dot shot back, then the effort caught up with her and everything started to fade in and out in front of her eyes. The pain was unbearable now, but the aching in her heart was still worse. The darkness seemed the most welcome thing in the world just then...

 

 

 

Dot gasped as if in pain as she tried to calm her racing heartbeat. Cold fear gripped her emotions. Barely being able to remember the dream didn’t matter, the feelings it provoked were very real. Dot responded to her fear by pulling the duvet up more and one side of the bed seemed warmer than the other...

“Oh my user,” she whispered.

Next to her, sound asleep, was Bob, one arm wrapped protectively round her waist and a leg entangled with hers. Before she could think of what might have happened she realised they were both fully dressed.

‘Great,’ she thought sarcastically. ‘Between this and being frightened to go back to sleep, how am I meant to survive a sixteen micro second tomorrow?’

The timer window next to her bed read 5:10 in the morning. Dot decided it would be better to spend her time working than try to sleep. Rolling away from Bob proved to be a lot more difficult than first anticipated though. First Dot heard him murmur something and then her name, but she ignored it, knowing he was talking in his sleep, and tried to lift his arm without waking him.

His dream caused him to murmur something, this time sounding more urgent and along the lines of ‘don’t hurt her’. Before Dot could stop him, he pulled her close and pressed himself against her whilst mumbling her name.

“Bob, what the hell are you dreaming about?”

Attempting to free herself did no good and she was beginning to suspect he wasn’t quite as asleep as he should be.

“Let go! Let me up!” Dot whispered, mainly to herself.

“It’s too early to work,” a sleepy voice complained, making Dot jump a mile. She felt a nose brush against her neck.

“And explain to me why you happen to be in my bed?”

“You look gorgeous with morning hair,” Bob said as Dot sat up, still sounding tired.

“I need to get to work. Now let go!” Dot demanded firmly. Her tone didn’t affect Bob at all.

“I was having the nicest dream...about you actually.”

“Bob! Let me-“

“You had another nightmare, didn’t you?” Bob suddenly seemed wide-awake and serious as he held her arm and sat up next to her. Dot stared at him, not sure whether to be pleased or nervous about his prediction.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes it does. What happened?”

“I can’t remember now. It was nothing.”

Bob sighed. “Do you have to be so stubborn all the time?”

“Go back to sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.” Dot forced her way out of his grasp and stood beside the bed.

Bob gave her his best wounded-puppy-dog look but she ignored it.

“Night!” Dot called over her shoulder with a wave, as she left the room, leaving Bob to sigh and stare up at the ceiling.

 

 

 

When Bob got up the following morning, he found Dot curled up on the sofa in her dressing gown, fast asleep. Her organizer lay on top of a vast array of papers that were scattered over the coffee table. It was amazing how different she looked when she slept. Her face was completely devoid of the tense, on-edge look she’d accustomed herself to lately. Bob stoked her arm gently as she murmured something incoherent in her sleep.

After about ten millis Dot was still asleep, and Bob decided she deserved to rest- even though she herself wouldn’t admit it.

‘She going to delete me later,’ Bob thought as he kissed her forehead and crept out of the apartment silently.

“Bob!” A vid-window snapped open suddenly in front of him, just as he got to the stairs of the apartment building. “Guardian, you are needed at the Principal Office immediately.”

“Okay Phong. Be there in a nano.” Bob replied. “Who else have you contacted?”

“Only you so far, my son. I would like you to assess the situation before involving any others.”

“Is it serious?”

“Potentially, but nothing is certain yet.”

Bob closed the vid-window and hopped on to his zipboard. He passed over Floating Point and saw Matrix and AndrAIa walking in the early morning bustle of joggers and dog-walkers. Bob was tempted to inform them that there may be a problem at the P.O., but decided he didn’t know enough himself to involve any others, as Phong had said.

Bob found his mind wondering back to the night before, and hoping that Dot wouldn’t change her mind again about their relationship. And she was making a habit of falling asleep on him, first at the party and then during a film Phong had asked her to watch on responsibilities in the P.O.-it was no wonder she’d fallen asleep really. But Bob hadn’t trusted her enough to simply watch the video and then go to bed, so he’d stayed and watched the tedious film with her, just to make sure she didn’t try to do anymore work that night.

“Alright Phong, what’s up?”

The gold Hoover-shaped sprite turned from his console as Bob strode in. “It seems there was some strange energy levels near Lost Angles yesterday evening.”

“A portal?”

“That was my first assumption also, my child. But there is no sign of an illegal entry even though the levels seem to indicate that.”

“Could it be a fault in the system? Or maybe Mouse was-“

“Was what, sugah?” Mouse appeared in the doorway suddenly, casually moving over to her usual workplace in the war room. “Ah can assure you that ya will not find anythin’ wrong in the system either. Not ma style to work on second-rate equipment now is it?”

“Actually Mouse, I was going to say experimenting with the Net ports again.” Bob reassured her with exaggerated innocence.

“Not me sugah. I was at that damn tea party all night, remember? Which reminds me, Ah want to know whatcha did with me best gal last night,” Mouse asked, grinning, obviously aware of his high spirits compared to the last couple of seconds. “And jus’ remember who carries a katana everywhere with her in case ya don’t wanna answer me.” She added before Bob could reply.

“I might have talked her round...” He replied vaguely, grinning happily.

“It’s about time, sugah. An’ ya better treat her nice, Guardian or ya’ll have me ta answer to,” Mouse warned him without looking up from where she was now working.

“I never would’ve thought I’d hear you say that, Mouse- about anyone. How come you’re so protective of your ‘best gal’ anyway? Don’t you trust me?” Bob pressed, only half kidding.

“Bob listen, Dot’s not had the best time of it recently. Vulnerability is something she’d never admit to, but she is. So look after her okay?” She’d turned to face him now, very serious about what she’d said. Bob was taken aback. It wasn’t like Mouse to worry about her friends so much as that.

“I will, Mouse. You’re a good friend.” Bob gave her a quick hug before she pushed him away irritably. Bob ignored her and folded his arms across his chest and grinned mischievously at her. “So you and Ray...”

“Don’t go there, Guardian. Ah can retaliate now cahn’t ah?”

 

 

 

“I’m going to delete that Guardian!”

She’d said it so many times over the last fifteen milliseconds it was beginning to imprint itself in her mind. ‘I’ll have to make sure I don’t,’ she thought with a smile for the first time that afternoon.

By the time Dot had gathered her Command.com papers from the night before, and reached the diner, it was early evening. She had to admit she felt better than she had for a long time. More alert, rested.

“Evening, Madam,” Cecil greeted her at the doors to the diner. The waiter didn’t seem at all bothered about politeness, as the sneer was evident in his voice.

“Hi Cecil. Everything okay here?” Dot asked. Scanning the length of the diner, she was surprised to see it was only half-full. But then again, it was early evening, rather than early morning when she usually checked on the place. Dot felt guilty that she was leaving Cecil to run the diner by himself so much lately.

“Everything is perfect, Madam,” Cecil replied, then spotted some binomes who needed refills.

Dot ignored his attitude- he was a good waiter really. ‘Maybe not so much on the charming side though,’ she thought as she remembered his dislike for nearly all of her friends. The only exception had been AndrAIa, which Dot put down to her patience and good nature.

Setting down her papers and organizer at a table near the back of the diner, Dot got straight to work, hoping to recover some of the lost time from earlier in the day.

After completing a mountain of paperwork concerning building upon one of the islands by Floating Point, Dot looked to see Cecil clearing up and not a customer in sight.

“Hey,” a voice greeted her suddenly.

“Hi Andy. Sorry, I didn’t see you,” Dot gestured for her to sit down opposite her.

“You working hard?” She asked, and then thought better of it. “Oops, stupid question.” They made polite chatter for a while, as AndrAIa informed Dot that the two Enzos were engrossed in a mini-circuit racing competition.

“They’re both big kids really.”

“Well one of them has a good excuse and the other sort of has because he’s the same person. Something like that!” Dot tried to explain.

“I know what you mean.” AndrAIa laughed. “Anyway, I guess they’ll both be fast asleep when I get back so I’ll make sure Enzo Jr. gets to school in the morning okay?”

“Thanks Andy. I might have to pull an all-nighter on this lot anyway.”

They talked a while longer, then AndrAIa realised the time and went home. Dot continued with her papers, determined to finish them before going to bed.

The next time she looked up, Dot read the time above the counter as half past midnight. Sighing, she got up to get herself an energy shake, more out of thirst than lack of energy. Sipping the warm liquid, Dot grasped her cup and went to stand by the full-length windows so she could stare out into the pitch-black night. She smiled, wondering if Bob’s failure to appear that night had been down to him leaving her asleep that morning. ‘It’s not like we arranged anything though,’ she reasoned quickly.

Looking over at the stack of papers on the table, and seeing the diner half darkened now that only a few lamps had been left on for her to work, Dot sighed again. Pressing her forehead against the cool glass as she closed her eyes. ‘It’s going to be a long night,’ she thought, but smiled at the thought of her brothers both playing with the mini car-racing track.

Dot opened her eyes and screamed loudly as her gaze met a gleaming pair of eyes on the other side of the glass, watching her. “Oh User!” She exclaimed, a hand on her chest, trying to calm her racing heart. Forcing up courage, she turned to see whom the eyes belonged to.

There was no one there. No eyes. No figure. Nothing

“I’ve been working too hard!” she said aloud, cursing her jumpiness. “I’m okay, I’m okay.” Her back now to the door, a shiver ran over her delicate frame, and she tilted her back, breathing deeply.

‘Right!’ Dot thought, making a snap decision. She set down the pile of ‘finished’ work on one side of the table then started to gather the rest to form a separate ‘half-done’ pile. Dot took the ‘done’ pile into the little room at the back that she so often used as a second office. She came out of the room, rounded the bar and was almost back at the table when she caught sight of the figure in black sitting at the table opposite the one Dot had been working at.

He stood when he realized Dot had seen him. She immediately recognized his black eyes as those she’d thought she’d imagined only nanos earlier. The sprite stood over her, almost a head taller, all in black- including a threatening looking trench coat down to his ankles, but he had eyes that pierced the darkness with a harsh, cruel stare.

“Hey there,” his voice came in a low growl as he advanced slowly.

“Who- who are you?” Dot stammered, backing away but unable to break eye contact.

“Me? I’m Damien.” He answered simply, watching her try to subtly retreat to the back of the diner. “You’re not going to run away from me are you?”

“What do you want?” Dot asked, keeping her voice even but still backing away.

“Now Dot, that all depends on how well behaved you are. And how bored I get...” Damien replied seriously

“I didn’t tell- how...how did you know my name?” Dot gasped. He smiled, pleased he was frightening her. Dot continued to back off. He had got to be one of the most intimidating people she had ever met, and he was cornering her, alone, in the middle of the night.

“You’re not the sort of person who fades into the background, Dot. Especially in an outfit like that...” The stranger leered at her, gesturing towards her black leather bodysuit, and reached out to grab her. Dot jumped back quickly, but realised she’d misjudged the how far away the end of the counter was as her hip hit the bar.

“Come here!” Damien demanded, anger tainting his voice. He grabbed her by the waist and she screamed in fear as she tried to struggle free.

“Shut up!” He hissed in her ear as he covered her mouth with one hand and easily overpowered her attempts to break away. “What a feisty one you are!” Damien stated, sounding slightly impressed. “I’ve been told that you’re quite influential round here. I wonder whether they’ll cope without you...?”

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