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Part 4

Bob sat back on the comfy blue sofa and sighed. When he'd decided to surprise Dot by appearing unexpectedly in her living room, he'd assumed that by ten in the evening she'd be there. Now past midnight, Bob scanned the immaculately clean room for the hundredth time, then continued to stare at the fireplace opposite where he was sitting. He ran through all the places she could be at that time of night, and dialled the Principal Office. After only two rings, Phong's face appeared in the vid-window.

"Hi Phong. Can I speak to Dot please?"

"She's not here, my son. I have not seen her all day."

"Okay, she must be at the diner then. 'Night."

Bob closed the connection and got up to leave. He was about to make a portal when he thought that maybe Dot was already on her way home, so he left a note on the coffee table in case he missed her and left the apartment on foot.

It was only a short walk to the diner, and Dot had told him many times she didn't need to be walked home when he'd offered because her apartment building was so close by. It was also her way of justifying working late on a regular basis, with no one around to make sure she took some breaks.

The way was well-lit until Bob got to the diner itself, as all the outside lights had been shut down for the night. He smiled to himself as he spotted the few dim lights inside that illuminated a small part of the diner towards the back. Bob slammed the doors open like a saloon- Mouse style.

"Hey babe, you've really got to stop working so-" He stopped mid-stride as he took in the scene in front of him. A pile of papers had been upset and were now strewn across the floor along with a spilt energy shake.

"Dot?" Bob called out anxiously, a feeling of dread beginning to knot in his stomach. The feeling was heightened when he noticed her organiser, still on-line, lying on the table with several 'missed calls' flashing on screen.

'She would never leave that...' Bob realised immediately. Trying to think of perfectly innocent reasons why the diner could be left like this, he ran into the back, checking the small office she sometimes used to work.

Nothing.

Not even a clue as to what had happened either. 'Come on, got to stay calm. Maybe she was called away by Matrix or...' Bob told himself, although he knew that wasn't likely. He walked slowly to the front of the diner again. 'There'll be some perfectly reasonable explanation and Dot will laugh at me because I got so-'

He felt his heart almost stop in fear as he spotted something on the bar that really shouldn't have been there. A tiny pool of blue next to some sort of card that had been left there deliberately for someone to find. Bob picked it up carefully and turned it over in his hand, only to see a single word scrawled crudely:

'Pay back'

Bob stared at it in disbelief, then touched the blue liquid and his fear was confirmed when he realised what it was.

Blood.

 

 

 

Dot struggled half-heartedly in his grasp again, but she knew it was useless. Her captor had taunted and teased her until she'd blocked his voice out and ignored him, at which point he'd gotten bored, finally leaving her alone. She refused to cry, although despair was beginning to make it difficult to not to cry, as it was to believe she'd escape.

At the diner, Damien had told her she was 'going for a little walk' and promptly shoved her forwards against a table, sending papers and what was left of her shake to the floor. Then he'd pulled her arms painfully tight behind her back and tied her wrists. It wasn't rope or cord though. Some sort of thin metal wire that dug deeply into her skin, leaving trickles of blood running down onto her hands. Dot thought she saw him take something out of his pocket, but before she knew what was happening she felt a searing pain in her right upper arm. Damien had forced her sideways so her injured arm hit the bar, making her cry out angrily. A few drops of her blood were now dotted on the bar-top, and she watched as Damien pulled a small card out of his pocket and threw it down on the counter.

After that he had pushed her out of the diner and along deserted alleyways until they'd come to a building Dot recognised as somewhere near Level 31. All the way he'd made comments about her looks or her job, provoking her to respond snappily, which only seemed to fuel it all the more. Damien had opened the door and pushed her in roughly after him, but not before whispering harshly in her ear:

"Try to call for help and I'll slit your pretty little throat, understand me?"

Dot turned to glare at him in return as he pushed her into the room. It was an open-plan one-room warehouse building, with a large coffee table placed between two dark red sofas in the centre of the room. A desk was at the far end of the room, almost hidden due to the bad lighting.

Keeping a firm grip on her, Damien locked the door behind him, then stared at her.

"You were more trouble than I expected."

"Good."

Damien laughed, then shoved her violently to the floor. Landing awkwardly because of her tied hands, Dot let out a gasp of pain. Suddenly she felt Damien circle an arm round her thighs and she screamed. Her wide, frightened eyes met his as he glanced at her in amusement.

"No one can hear you. It's not worth the effort."

Damien held tighter to her legs and Dot felt the uncomfortable tightness of the wire binding her ankles together. When he was finished he leaned his face close to hers.

"I'm not going to hurt you, baby." He stroked a fingertip across her cheek. "Not yet anyways." Damien laughed and squeezed her waist cruelly, then got up and sat on one of the couches.

Dot pulled herself into a sitting position.

"Why am I here? What do you want?"

"I'm just following orders. Boss wanted you so I got you. End of story." Damien lay back, hands behind his head and closed his eyes. "How's Bob by the way? I heard he was web-bound not so long ago. Poor guy." He laughed again, emphasising his sarcasm.

"If my brother or Bob finds you-"

"What? I'll wish I'd never been born?"

"You haven't met Matrix. Trust me he'd-"

"Look baby, I don't care, okay? Now just be quiet like a nice little girl and-"

"Damn it, Damien, I'm not twelve! Stop treating me like-" Dot gasped as Damien was suddenly out of his seat and forcing her shoulders down again.

"Maybe I'll bring forward the fun part. You sure as hell deserve it, that temper of yours." He squeezed her thigh and ran a hand up her side, round the curves of her leather-clad body. Dot screamed again and tried to wrestle him away, but she could barely move with her arms and legs bound.

"No! Stop it!"

Dot felt his hands stop just below her chest and he brought his face close to hers again.

"Be quiet, then I won't have to... shut you up, shall we say." He sat back in his place again and Dot lay there, fighting back tears.

 

 

 

"This is all my fault. I should've sensed something was happening. I should have gone to the diner earlier. I should've-" Bob was pacing the War Room, frantically pulling a hand through his long hair and speaking more to himself than any of the sprites that were also present.

"Sugah, just stop. We'll find her. Chances are it'll be a ransom demand, she'll be okay." Mouse assured him, barely turning round to stop him pacing.

"What if whoever she's with doesn't want units?" Bob challenged, only vaguely aware of his misplaced anger.

"Well...if it's anything else..." Her eyes met Bob's and she left the sentence abruptly, turning to Phong instead. "Don't suppose anythin' came back on that lil' message, did it Phong?"

"Not as yet, Mouse. But Specs is still working on it."

"I should have been with her. Why didn't I think waiting for two whole micros was odd? User, I'm so basic!" Bob was saying, starting to pace again,

"Bob, sugah, she was in the diner. Her diner. There couldn't have been a safer place, but it still happened. Now we hav' ta find her."

"Dot could be anywhere! What if they... what if they..." Bob faltered, wishing he hadn't thought along those lines and afraid finishing what he was going to say would make it real. He took a deep breath and his eyes darkened. "If they touch her, hurt her in any way I'll-"

"Bob! What the hell is going on?" A looming great frame demanded as he entered the room.

"It's Dot. She's- she's been taken from the diner."

"She's what? Why- how did this happen? When did this happen?"

"The diner- there were signs of a scuffle when I got there last night and I found... there was blood on the counter."

"What does my sister have to do with anything? Why'd they take her?"

"There was something left at the diner, Matrix. A piece of card. It said 'Pay back' on it," Mouse interjected, saving Bob from any further questions. "Maybe this has ta do with Daemon's destruction. Some stray followers we don't know about?"

"But why Dot?" Bob asked her helplessly.

"Mainframe was named as one of the main instigators in the battle against Daemon. Word probably got round nearly the whole 'Net that we were a major part in that virus's defeat- and I hate to think maybe Daemon actually gained some voluntary followers but Dot's in charge of the system." Mouse explained, looking weary now after hours of constant work.

"So they took her as revenge... for stopping Daemon?" Matrix echoed in disbelief.

"But that means they won't want a deal. If it's revenge they'll... User Mouse, I hope you're wrong!" Bob exclaimed, the uncomfortable knot of panic within him becoming harder to repress.

"So do I." Mouse replied solemnly.

 

 

 

Dot awoke slowly, finding it hard to break through to reality. It was almost like being under the spell of sleeping pills or drugs... had he drugged her? If he had she couldn't remember it, although she couldn't remember falling asleep either.

"Ow," She murmured aloud when she moved her head. After being tied up for so long her limbs ached and her head throbbed. There was light coming from a window nearby that hurt her eyes.

"What the hell is going on?" Dot asked irritably to the empty space around her. She struggled against the wire, only to feel the sharp, stinging pain again as the skin was broken. The sudden feeling of helplessness was completely foreign to her- and she hated it. Even in the war against Megabyte she hadn't felt like this. But then she'd been surrounded by people who could help her, trusted her, and she had been in control. Now that control had been taken away from her and she felt... helpless.

The warehouse was the same, so at least he hadn't moved her. 'If we don't move from this building, they could find us. I'm sure they will...' she took a slight comfort in that hope. CPU's would search the entire system at daylight as a first in a missing sprite case. 'When will they notice I'm not where I should be? I usually check in at the Principal Office before mid-cycle... mid-cycle? That's so far away! Half the cycle will be gone, they-'

"Hey it's about time you woke up!" Damien told her impatiently, suddenly standing in front her.

"It's not like I'm going to make any of my appointments today, is it?" Dot retorted.

Damien laughed at her anger. "You just can't control that fiery temperament of yours, can you?"

"When are you going to let me go?"

"Let you go?" Damien laughed again. "What in the 'Net makes you think you're getting out of this in one piece?" He took a threatening step towards her for effect.

"Why me, exactly, Damien?" Dot asked, keeping her voice level. "Because I hate to break this to you, but Daemon's been deleted, Megabyte is web-bound as you put it, and Hexidecimal is a reformed virus. So if you're thinking of a deal with the enemies of Mainframe, we're fresh out of evil at the moment." Dot smiled sweetly at him, feeling strangely empowered by her words.

"Jeez, you think you're so clever, do you? Well I'm going to be able to prove that evil is a lot closer than you think."

"Oh, don't tell me. Your boss is the new supervirus that's going to take over every system, city and person there is. Right?" Dot replied sarcastically.

"If you want to look at it that way..." Damien replied, barely sparing a glance in her direction as he started sifting through the papers and magazines on the coffee table. Dot rolled her eyes.

"How original." She commented aloud. Damien was still shuffling through the contents of each magazine, obviously searching for something.

"That damn Guardian is taking forever!" Damien cursed to himself, barely loud enough for Dot to hear.

"Guardian?"

She didn't receive an answer so she assumed that he hadn't heard her or ignored her question. 'A guardian? Surely that isn't who Damien is working for?' Dot's thoughts began to produce an onslaught of unanswerable questions that she would prefer not to think about. Dot found herself thinking of Bob, and what his reaction to this would be. She felt so sorry for him- if this was the beginning of some sort of Guardian rebellion, he wouldn't take it well, especially after the entire Daemon situation.

'Why can't they all be loyal to their protocol like they're supposed to be? Like Bob is?'

 

 

 

"What d'ya think it means, love?" Ray asked, hovering behind her as Mouse re-examined what she was working on to, be sure of her previous conclusion.

"It means we've got a big problem, sugah." Mouse replied, turning round and leaning back against the console. She scanned the empty Command Room with slight relief. "Did Bob finally leave?"

"Yeah. It's about time you did too." Ray replied, suddenly scooping her up to carry her to the door- his attempt at lightening her mood. It didn't work.

"Ya had better put me down, right now or-" Mouse warned him, stress and worry for her best friend making her irritable.

"'Kay, okay. Relax Mouse. At least for a while? You need rest, love." He backed down quickly, having learned the warning signs of Mouse's temper already, even in the short time they had known each other. Instead he put his arms round in a supportive hug, and felt her head rest on his shoulder in exhaustion. After a few millis she pulled away, the same tense expression on her lavender face.

"But what about Bob? How's he gonna take the news that a Guardian's responsible for his girlfriend's disappearance?"

 

 

 

"You're going to wear a hole in the floor, Sparky." AndrAIa teased him gently, getting up from her place on Bob's couch to lay her peach-coloured hands on Matrix's wide shoulders.

"It just follows us," Matrix told her cryptically.

"What does?" The pretty game sprite asked as she clasped her hands behind his neck, wondering if using her nails would be a good idea after her boyfriend's sleepless night.

"Trouble. Follows us everywhere we go. And now Dot's missing and I can't do anything about it."

"We'll find her, Sparky. I just wish I'd stayed at the diner longer... maybe then-"

"No! If you'd stayed longer both of you might be gone." Matrix told her firmly, his pale green face flickered with a mix of anger and relief.

"Have the search parties been sent out?" AndrAIa asked softly.

"Yeah, but the distorted energy reading Mouse found could be anything and from anywhere. And it's been scrambled," Matrix replied with an infamous scowl. "She could be anywhere in this system or anywhere in the 'Net if the reading's a fake- according to Mouse."

"Sssh Sparky. We'll find her. Don't give up yet, okay?"

 

 

 

Bob had walked in, around, and out of his girlfriend's diner more times than he could count in the last micro. He was feeling guilty, worried, restless and any other emotion that could be connected to frantic searching for clues and trying to find a shred of hope at the scene.

It wasn't helping him. in fact it was probably making things worse, seeing the blood on the counter again- however small the drop was- almost made him sick.

It wasn't fair. Why was it always Mainframe? Always them- the group of friends now known 'Net-wide and hailed as heroes. Why Dot?

A vid-window popped into existence next to him as he was walking, displaying Mouse, and Ray- he noticed- behind her.

"Bob sugah?"

"Yeah Mouse. What's happening?" He greeted in a dead-pan tone.

"Ah think we got somthin'-" Mouse started to explain.

"You've found her?" Bob's azure face lit up as he dared hope...

"We may have a possible location, sugah," She told him carefully, making sure she didn't give him any false implications. "Level 31, near Al's old place. We tracked it by-"

"Where Mouse? Give me the co-ordinates!" Bob interrupted impatiently, already maximising his zip-board.

"Bob, I think ya might wanna hear this mate." Ray informed him anxiously. Bob glanced back at the window again in time to see Mouse's grateful smile at her companion.

"Sugah, we found traces of a Guardian-based key tool on that little message ya found." She explained, dreading his reaction to the news. "And Ah managed to hack inta Turbo's new system ta find a match on that scrambling device. It belongs to a key tool as well, which kinda confirms it."

"This is happening because of a Guardian?" Bob cried in disbelief.

"Looks like it, sugah."

"I've got to help her, Mouse. I need those co-ordinates!"

"We'll be there in a nano." Mouse assured him after reciting the location. "Wait at-" As she looked up she realised Bob had ignored her plea to wait, seeing the increasingly small figure of Mainframe's Guardian disappearing into the midst of the city.

"You're starting to annoy me, girl." Damien warned her, his black eyes flashing angrily as he held her violet ones in a challenge.

"Tell me what you're looking for." Dot replied, her stare not faltering.

"Just be quiet!" He told her for the fifth time. She knew she was pushing her luck, and that it would run out pretty soon. Damien moved across to the desk at the back of the open-plan room, an obvious effort to ignore her.

Dot obeyed his request for a while, tired of the constant confrontations and the cramps in her arms and legs. The half-healed cuts were painful as the wire relentlessly dug into her skin again.

Suddenly Damien laughed triumphantly from the other side of the large room and murmured something that sounded like a command.

"Does that mean your Guardian friend's coming now?" Dot asked wearily.

"I wouldn't call him a 'friend', baby," Damien replied, throwing a bundle of things onto the table in a heap. "But you're pretty close aren't you?"

"What?"

"You and blue-boy Bobby." He laughed. "He'll come if he can ever figure out what's going on."

"You're setting him up? What are you going to do?"

Damien ignored her and picked up something from the table, making Dot's breath catch in her throat.

The knife.

"This- this- it's a trap?" Dot stared, seeing something that wasn't there. She reeled back at the glimpse of an old enemy. For a second Damien had changed to... no, must have been her-

Dot heard her name called a few times from a distance, maybe just next door and it was Bob's voice! From then on, Dot lost track of what was happening because it happened so fast.

Bob appeared at the door, Damien grabbed her up off the floor and she realised he was holding the knife in his other hand.

"Damien? What the-?" Bob started in disbelief, unsure whether he was imagining this or not.

Dot's short scream reassured him of the reality of the situation in the next nano, as Damien pressed the cold metal against her throat, dangerously close to deleting her...

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