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Part 9

“You’re not welcome in this system.” Dot informed him frostily.

“I would’ve thought that would be obvious to you,” Bob added, glaring angrily at him. He couldn’t believe Damien would have the nerve to show up in Mainframe after what he’d done, let alone with the Prime Guardian.

“It’s lovely to see you again, Ms Matrix.” Damien told her in a sincere tone – solely for the benefit of Turbo, but favoured her with a cruel grin once the Prime Guardian’s back was turned.

“Turbo, there’s no way I’m working with him. Damien’s wanted in this system on criminal charges.” Bob informed his past mentor, who was looking surprisingly unconvinced.

“Should we take this to a conference room, Ms Matrix?” Turbo asked coolly.

Bob opened his mouth to protest letting Damien any further into the Principal Office without arresting him, but Dot beat him to it.

“I can’t let Damien any further into the system. He is a threat to the citizens of Mainframe.”

“Until I know just what is going on, Ms Matrix, Damien has done nothing wrong.” Turbo snapped at her.

“Turbo that’s not fair. Dot – Ms Matrix -” Bob jumped in, slipping on her professional name.

“Bob we can’t discuss this matter anymore in such an informal setting.”

Bob started to protest further but Dot stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“Follow me,” she said quietly, also not liking being out where anyone could overhear their conversation. As they all began to walk Bob subconsciously placed one hand lightly on the small of Dot’s back protectively, noting as he did so the smirks exchanged by the two Guardian escorts he had know at the academy.

One thing Bob hadn’t really thought about was his relationship with Dot affecting his ability as the system’s guardian – from Turbo’s point of view anyway. Bob knew he would be able to carry on defending Mainframe and its citizens, and that his friends provided a stronger resistance with the strengthened bonds between each of them, rather than a weakness. But convincing Turbo might be another issue.

Right now Bob was trying to work out a conceivable explanation for Damien’s presence here, and also Turbo’s defence of him. They entered the room where Mouse, Matrix and the others were already seated. As the visitors passed them, Dot sought out Bob eyes for a nano, the silent question: Should I be letting this happen?, passing between them. Usually so confident with commander duties, it was either Damien or the Prime Guardian causing her resolve to falter. Or both, Bob concluded, squeezing her hand and smiling warmly before they both took their seats.

“Okay people, let’s get to business now we’re here,” Turbo’s southern accent resounded through the smallish room, equipped solely with a large table which they were seated round.

“What can we do for you?” Dot asked civilly.

“As I’ve said, I have an assignment for the two of you,” he continued, gesturing to Bob and Damien. Bob glanced across the table and saw Mouse glaring at Turbo. If he was honest he was surprised Mouse hadn’t said anything to Turbo yet. An equally that he hadn’t to her as Mouse the infamous hacker was still not one of Turbo’s favourite people, although after defeating Damien all charges against her for past crimes were forgotten. “I could also use your help, cadet.” Turbo went on, this time talking to Matrix, and surprising everyone by addressing him as ‘cadet’.

“It’s Matrix,” he corrected him with a scowl.

“The collective needs information on the whereabouts of a virus that is becoming a potential threat.” Turbo explained, ignoring the renegades comment.

“What do you want us to do?” AndrAIa piped in, including herself in the equation as it involved Matrix.

“It would mean a trip to his last known location, which is in… well its in the web.”

“Ya want ta send ’em inta the web again? After what ya put this syatem through?” Mouse exploded immediately, the only one able to find words.

“Mouse, that was an unfortunate solution to the problem. But a solution non-the-less.” Turbo answered coldly.

“Why you little -” Mouse jumped up and lunged for him, unable to control her anger any longer. Thankfully Ray was quick enough to hold her back.

“I think we should go for a walk, love.” Ray suggested quietly, leading her from the room. Muttering several unrepeatable phrases under her breath and pinning a death-glare on the Prime Guardian, she left the room. Bob had to suppress a smile at her actions and glanced at his girlfriend in the chair next to him to see whether she was in the same situation. Her face was blank, staring at something on the desk in front of her. Bob reached under the table to rest his hand atop hers, and then intertwined his fingers with hers once she broke out of trance and looked at him.

“So you want us because we’ve experienced the web before?” Bob asked, wondering when Turbo had become so cold and seemingly uncaring all of a sudden.

“It would shorten the investigation time if experienced riders were on the team.”

“Does this virus have a name?” Matrix asked, his hatred for viruses showing clearly on his face.

“Not that we know of. Information has turned up several names so far.”

“How do you know it’s the same virus?” Bob asked the obvious, noting with concern that Dot was now staring at him, looking pale and glassy-eyed.

“Descriptions and a mark left behind at each location.”

“Why is he needed?” Bob asked, referring to Damien and catching a smirk sent his way.

“To cover as guardian of this system while you’re away, and also act as liaison between you, the collective and Mainframe.” Turbo informed them all. Bob glanced straight at Dot then as he saw her look decidedly ill.

“I’m sorry, excuse me.” She blurted out all of a sudden, getting up in a rush and leaving the room. Since the beginning of the awful meeting she’d been feeling increasingly claustrophobic – worse than that – trapped. Her head continued to spin as she practically ran through the corridors, nothing but panic filling her senses.

She stopped, trying to calm down. Dot stood facing the wall, gently resting her forehead against the cool surface. Closing her eyes, she tried to mentally force the feelings away, the lack of control over them scaring her more. In the back of her mind she vaguely registered the sound of hurried footsteps approaching from behind, but wasn’t aware of Bob coming after her until she felt comforting hands on her shoulders, gently turning her round.

“I can’t do this Bob! It’s going to happen all over again! You’re going to -”

Stopping her frenzied panic the only way he knew how, he kissed her until she reciprocated, then pulled her into a hug.

Following Bob a few millis later, Guardian Raspen – ‘Ras’ to those who knew him, caught the scene which confirmed what he’d expected since he first saw the two together.

“It’ll be okay. There’s no way I’m going to leave the system with Damien in charge. I won’t leave - I promised, remember?” Bob was saying in a hushed voice, right up close to her as she stood with her back against the wall. He had placed one hand on her hip and one on her arm, having just pulled back from a hug. “I’ll go talk to Turbo about this and then we could get out of here for a while.”

“I can’t not be there, Bob. This affects the system and I have to know what’s going on.” Dot replied, saying it quietly but her voice held confidence. Ras watched as Bob moved the hand on her arm to the side of her head, closing the distance between them as he enveloped her in a tight embrace.

“Matrix and I can take care of it for you. You shouldn’t have to go through seeing that guy again until we get some answers -”

Ras was surprised when he saw the Command.com suddenly look up at Bob, anger flashing visibly in her eyes.

“I’m not scared of him! This is my system and that man is a threat to -”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean you were afraid to face him. I just don’t like that you had to run into him again.”

“Well let’s do our best to get him out of the system as quickly as possible then shall we?” Dot smiled decisively.

“You’re too stubborn for your own good, babe.” Bob grinned back, brushing his lips across hers in a quick kiss before taking her hand and leading her back towards the conference room.

By this time, Ras was heading back already, having had his suspicion confirmed he didn’t want them to know he had been there. This information would suffice to be very useful, and would improve his reputation with Turbo no end.

The two got back to the meeting room just as everyone seemed to be leaving. Matrix approached them as Turbo, Damien and the others left in the opposite direction.

“Are you okay, sis?” Matrix asked, a note of uncharacteristic tenderness in his voice.

“Yeah, I’m fine, Enzo. What’s going on?”

“Turbo said he’d give us ’til next cycle to talk it over. Nice of him to give us such a long time.” He told them sarcastically.

“Talk it over? After coming to Mainframe to discuss this, that seems odd.” Bob thought aloud.

“Maybe it’s not an urgent matter.” Dot suggested, looking up at him.

“Maybe.” Bob agreed, smiling at her.

“Have you seen Mouse or Ray? I think we should have another meeting – just us.” Dot told them, looking for their agreements.

“I haven’t seen either of them.” Matrix replied.

“Can we have this meeting at the diner?” Bob grinned, realising how late in the afternoon it was.

“How about we meet there in 2 micros? Could you find Mouse and Ray, Enzo?” Dot explained, then continued, “I’ll have to see what Turbo intends to do about accommodation tonight.”

“Dot, shouldn’t we do something about Damien?” Bob asked carefully, aware that Matrix nor anyone else knew what he was responsible for.

“Oh, Turbo said to tell you that he’ll vouch for Damien in this system and its non-negotiable.” Matrix told them. “Is there a reason he needs to be vouched for?”

“I’ll sort it out. See you in two micros.” Dot replied, deliberately avoiding giving a straight answer, and walking away in the direction they had left.

“Bob, what’s going on?”

“I would tell you, Matrix, but I better go help your sister. Turbo can be… difficult. Stay frosty!” And with that he took off after Dot, leaving Matrix standing with a suspicious feeling something bad was going on. His gold eye rotated and the M glowed red as he placed his hand on Gun.

“Hey Dot! Wait up!”

She spun round, only just realising she was being followed. ‘Too little sleep and too much caffeine,’ Dot berated herself.

“Sorry Bob. I thought you stayed with Enzo.”

“I didn’t want you running into Damien,” Bob confessed, looping an arm round her waist as they walked.

“I can look after myself, Guardian.” She replied seriously, but smiled and added; “Thank you.”

“Hey, I’m in the hero business what can I say?” He replied, receiving a light hearted thump on the chest for his efforts. “You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine! People keep acting like I’m going to break or delete or something!”

“Dot, don’t shut me out. It is okay to be upset, you know.” Bob told her softly, pulling on her arm to stop her walking and face him.

“I just freaked out a bit before, I’m fine now. I promise.” Dot told him solemnly, and then hugged him.

“Two micros is more than enough time to sort Turbo out. How about we go to your office -” Bob said suggestively, a predatory grin adorning his face.

“Bob! You’re terrible!” She laughed as he swept her back in his arms and trapped her against the wall. “What if someone comes along here?”

“Enough worrying, gorgeous,” Bob silenced her qualms with a kiss, becoming more heated.

When Dot managed to pull away, breathless, she burst out; “Do you hear that?”

“What?” Bob listened, and then heard the faint sound of voices. They must have been in a room as they sounded close but muffled.

“They sound familiar.” Dot replied, frowning, an uncertain knot forming in her stomach.

“It’s probably Turbo. You want to see him now?” Bob asked her.

“Yeah,” she replied absently.

The voices were more audible further along the corridor, and they both caught the conversation going on inside before either of them had the chance to knock.

“That went well boss. I think this will go work.”

The voice was Damien’s; Bob realised immediately, and mouthed it to Dot, who nodded. “Boss?” she mouthed back, unsure if that was the usual address for the Prime Guardian. Bob shrugged his shoulders and listened for Turbo’s reply to the strange statement. It never came.

The voice that answered was distinctly familiar but didn’t belong to the Prime Guardian. A distinctly sinister British-accented voice. Distinctly viral.

“And Megaframe will once again rise from the ashes.”

 

To be continued....