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Bytes of Passage

 

 

The second was lovely in the hustle and bustle of the Super Computer. In the system itself, sprites and binomes rushed to and fro to businesses or other activities. On the campus of the Guardian Academy, a couple of the cadets were taking a break before class, sitting around a huge water fountain.

Among these cadets was Enzo Matrix. It was his last second as a cadet. That night, he’d be graduating from the Academy and would choose his system to mend and defend. It was an exciting transition, his whole life had been geared toward this second.

But for now, it was break time.

“So Enzoli,” asked a young cadet, sitting on the base of the fountain. He was about Enzo’s age, if not a little younger, with burgundy skin and hazel eyes. “You still gonna remember us when you become a big hot shot guardian?” he asked, with a hint of an Italian accent.

Enzo looked up from his spot in the grass. “Luigi, you guys are my friends.” he said, grinning at the sprite. “I can’t forget you guys.”

“Better not.” replied a good looking girl, with red skin and green eyes. “I don’t think Alex could stand it if you forgot her.” The group of cadets laughed.

“She’d delete him!” voiced one cadet.

“No more Matrix getting good grades, that’s for sure!” said another.

Enzo grinned at the comments. How could he forget these sprites? After living in a system where, up until his niece and nephew were initialized, he had been the only small sprite. And even with his enlarged family, he was much older than Sabrina and Christopher, but still too young to partake in some of the adventures of his older siblings and friends. When his sister and brother in law gave permission for him to join the Academy, all his troubles seemed over and his dreams a reality.

It had been hard on him after the restart. Only his family and closest friends knew he wasn’t the real Enzo Matrix. That Enzo Matrix had been basic enough to leave his icon in game sprite mode during the initial system crash and then glorious restart. That Enzo Matrix was the reason he was here now. He was Enzo Matrix’s back up version. His copy. With him in game sprite mode, the system thought he was gone and had replaced him…with Enzo Matrix.

Confusing? It had been for all those around him.

How do you explain to a small sprite that he is the second version of himself?

How do you explain to a larger, bigger, meaner version that the little sprite he once was, was now back to haunt him?

How do you get two versions of the same sprite to learn to live together in the same system?

It had been awkward, especially during a time when the super virus Daemon wanted his older self brought to her door and infected. He and Matrix faced some hard decisions. If Daemon infected Matrix, what would happen to him? What if Matrix was deleted? Wouldn’t he be deleted too? The two had a stormy relationship those first couple of cycles, trying to adjust with the other around.

The two were viruses to their friends, the worse actions being directed towards AndrAIa, Dot, and Bob. The brothers were relentless. Who do you like more? Me or Matrix? Or who do you love more? Me or Little Enzo? The two finally had to sit down and talk, only to find what everyone else realized.

They had a lot in common.

More than that, they shared a bond that no one else that was close to them shared. Matrix was Enzo. Enzo was Matrix. They had the same feelings, the same mannerisms, the same thoughts. Matrix knew how Enzo was feeling and vice versa. When the two stopped to process what the other might be going through, they reached a truce.

And things had gotten better after that. The two were brothers, best friends even. Matrix saw Enzo as a way to right the past, give his little brother the future he couldn’t have. Enzo saw Matrix as the older brother he wanted, the friend he needed now that he was, again, the only small sprite in the system.

And being the only little sprite had definite drawbacks, especially during the Daemon conflict. Small sprites and their families left their ravaged systems and came to Mainframe for refuge. Everyone figured this would be great for Enzo. More little sprites in the system meant he wouldn’t be alone so much when the adults had planning to do. But Enzo was more alone than ever. The Guardians were under Daemon’s rule, except for the two that alluded her. Guardian 452 and the Field Cadet.

Bob and Matrix.

When those kids found out who Enzo was, he was a target. He was in a fight just about every second. They were scared, who could blame them? The Guardians had destroyed their way of living and when they sought help, they ended up in a system that had two of them. Enzo’s older sister was dating Mainframe’s Guardian. His brother Matrix was a Guardian Cadet, despite protests from the green giant himself. It was the one time since Enzo had met Bob that he didn’t want to be a Guardian.

But then he remembered the Guardians in his life.

Bob had done wonders in Mainframe while he had been there. And even when the system thought he was lost in the Web and probably deleted, Bob returned and helped in the system crash and subsequent restart. Matrix had been young when he was field commissioned, but he still was a good guardian. He survived being trapped in the games, he brought Bob home from the Web, he defeated Megabyte. No matter what those refugees said to him, Enzo knew what he wanted to do.

He was going to be a Guardian and straighten things out.

And it had been a great experience for him. He met tons of people and met tons of friends, the very circle he sat in today. Louis “Luigi” Reso, Decima “Deci” Syples, Johnny Prose, Alexandria Hewlett…the one sprite Enzo wanted to see wasn’t there yet. He and Alex had been dating for a little over an hour and were usually seen together. She had made the transition for him so much better, even though she was a semester behind him. Enzo had never been outside of Mainframe until Bob and Dot uploaded him to the Academy. If it hadn’t been for her, for any of his friends, he wouldn’t have lasted a minute in the place.

And tonight he’d be leaving it.

And early, no doubt. Despite all the help he could’ve gotten, being linked to the very Guardians that saved the Net, Enzo had been able to get through four hours of the Academy. All the teachers liked him, said he was just as eager as his brother in law, Bob, had been when he was a cadet. And Enzo got good grades, made the honor mention a dozen times.

He was committed to being a Guardian and helping put the name and word of the Collective back to it’s good standing. For all his hard work, the young cadet managed to complete all his training ahead of schedule and would be graduating early, along with his friends Johnny and Paige Down.

“Hey, don’t forget about that party later, Zo.” Johnny replied. “It wouldn’t
be right if the guest of honor didn’t show up.”

Enzo sighed happily. His friends were throwing him a graduation/birthday party for him later that night. Enzo would be going home to celebrate his up coming upgrade, so this was the last chance his friends got to bug him over getting older. He was about to reply, when he heard Deci say, “Well, it’s about time.”

Enzo turned to see the sprite he had been waiting for. Medium length brown hair hung about the girl’s shoulders, her tan skin a shade darker due to hanging out in the sun for too long, her deep blue eyes focusing on the guardian to be.

“What took you so long?” Enzo asked, standing and bringing the girl into his arms.

“I have class, you know.” Alex responded, putting her arms around her boyfriend. “Be surprised old Nullzilla Newton even let us out early. You know how he loves those Ancient Languages.”

“Newton’s like that, you know.” Enzo replied, smiling down at the girl. “He’s from the FORTRAN seconds. I swear he’s a thousand days old.”

“Oh, he is not.” Deci said.

“Dude, he is.” Luigi corrected. “I’ve seen his file. He’s actually over a thousands days!”

“Oh stop. You guys are making that up.”

“Hey,” Enzo said, smiling at Deci. “Would a guardian lie to you?”

“You’re not a guardian until tonight, Matrix.” Deci replied, pointing her finger at him. “So until then, YES!”

Enzo feigned hurt and said, “That hurts. Hurts me deeply.”

The bell sounded for the students that their next class was starting. The friends waved goodbye and headed to different sectors of the campus, thus leaving Enzo and Alex alone as they walked to their separate classes.

“Hey, try not to stay so late at the party tonight.” Alex said, as the two stopped in front of her classroom.

“Why?” Enzo asked. “Aren’t you coming?”

“Yes, but I have a little party I’d like to give you myself.” she said, giving Enzo a seductive smile.

“Really?” he asked, going in for a kiss.

Alex moved from the oncoming kiss, telling him, “No sneak previews, Scooter.”

Enzo winced at the nickname she gave him. User, he hated that name. “Why do you call me that when you know I hate it?” he asked.

“Because you hate it.” She replied, moving from the doorway so her classmates could enter. “Besides, I like the little face you make when I do.”

Enzo shook his head. Girls, though he knew plenty, were still a mystery to him. Alex glanced inside and realized class was about to start. “I’ll see you later.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek and waited for a young man to go inside before she did.

“Ta ta, Scooter.” She waved to him as the door closed behind her. Enzo smiled and headed off to his last class of the second. His last class ever.

 


 

“Where are they?”

Enzo paced up and down the grassy knoll of the main entrance to the Guardian Academy. He had gotten a lot of errands done after his last class. He had gotten his boots polished, his hair cut with the exception of the small, thin braid that now hung over his shoulder. He’d even had his dress uniform cleaned. Twice. Only one thing kept him from having a relaxing afternoon with his family.

He couldn’t find his family.

“Calm down.” Alex said, sitting on a nearby bench. She had watched Enzo pace since her last class a millisecond ago.

“I mean, they should be here right now!” he exclaimed, looking up at the large clock on the school’s tower. The young sprite continued his pacing, mumbling to himself about the lateness of everyone, “Something that just doesn’t happen, I tell you!”

Alex shook her head in pity. Enzo Matrix was going to wear a hole in the ground if he didn’t stop pacing. “Sweetie,” she called, watching the sprite she loved talk to himself about a number of reasons on why they were late. “Baby…”

“I mean, what if they were attacked?” Enzo ranted. “They were coming over and they were attacked by some large, out of control virus? Yeah. Yeah!” His ramblings were soon getting louder and more excited. “Oh no! They were attacked by some all powerful, all mighty virus! He probably devoured them all. Oh no. And like Bob tried tostophimanditdidn’tworkandMatrixprobablyshotathimanditdidn’tworkandthenthevirusatethemthen…”

“ENZO!” Alex exclaimed, stopping her boyfriend in mid ramble. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!”

Enzo calmed down a bit and looked at her. “It could’ve happened you know.”

“Right.” she said, leaning back against the bench. “And I could be your father.”

“Funny.” Enzo muttered, sarcastically.

“Now, will you just sit and calm down?” Alex continued. “Your family will be here any moment. Just you watch and see.”

“Yeah, well…” the young guardian continued to pace back and forth across the lawn.

“And over there is Norton’s statue.” replied a sprite’s voice.

“Wow.” came the voices of two others, children by the sound of it. The very very familiar sound of it. “What he do, Uncle Bob?”

Bob was giving a tour of the Super Computer to his son and niece. Both had begged and pleaded with him to show them around, even bringing in the other three sprites that accompanied him. The guardian complied, of course. It was hard to refuse the youngsters anything, more less a tour of the very place Bob
had grown up and where Enzo Matrix would be graduating.

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN??” shouted Enzo, when he saw the seven sprites he’d been waiting for.

Actually, he had only been waiting for six of them and was quite surprised to see his sister Dot in the group. “We have been worried sick! Poor Alex over there thought you all had been eaten by a dangerous virus!”

“What!?” exclaimed Alex in surprise.

“Calm down.” replied Matrix. “You’re going to excite yourself, then you’ll need a nap.” Enzo’s older self smirked at the last remark.

“You know what I love about you, bro?” Enzo asked, grinning at his older brother. “Absolutely nothing.”

“We’ve been in the Super Computer less than a millisecond and it’s started already.” AndrAIa Matrix quipped.

“I was just showing the kids around the Academy, that’s all.” Bob replied, coming to the defensive of everyone.

“I bet.” Enzo replied, bending down to talk to his niece and nephew. “You little troublemakers enjoying the tour?” he asked, poking Christopher ‘Kit’ Lan in the stomach and causing the boy to giggle. “Love keeping me waiting, huh?”

“Uncle Bob said he’d show us around.” piped Sabrina Matrix.

“Yeah and I just bet you were the ringleader, huh, Princess?” Enzo began to tickle the girl, making her squirm and laugh.

“Don’t be mad.” she replied, putting her arms around his neck. She then delivered a kiss to his nose and smiled. Enzo grinned before picking up the girl.

“I’m not mad.” he said. He then looked at his grinning ~and very pregnant~ sister. “Actually, I am kinda mad.” he replied, speaking to Dot. “What’re you doing here?”

“You think I’m going to miss my baby brother graduate from the Guardian Academy?” she replied. “I don’t think so.”

“Dot, I think you could’ve missed it just this once.” Enzo insisted. “First of all, you’re pregnant.”

“How very observant of you.” Dot joked.

“Those four hours certainly paid off.” Matrix chuckled.

“Secondly,” Enzo continued, ignoring the jokes. “You’re the Command.Com of Mainframe.”

“Another point for you.” AndrAIa quipped.

“The point is…” Enzo said, now growing frustrated with the lack of concentration here. He finally sighed and said, “Nevermind. I have no point.”

“I’m glad you could finally admit that to yourself.” Alex replied, leaning on his shoulder.

“Et tu, Alexandria?” he asked in mock hurt.

“I gotta go with the majority.” she replied with a shrug. “Sorry Scooter.” The girl delivered a kiss to his cheek upon seeing the look of annoyance on his face.

“Hi Alex!” called Kit, tugging on her pants leg. Alex bent down and gave the smaller sprite a kiss on the cheek.

“Hey Chris.” she said, causing the boy’s smile to get wider and his heart to soar. “Keeping everyone in line?”

“Yes, sir.” Kit replied, dreamily. Enzo rolled his eyes. He had realized a while back that his nephew had somehow developed a crush on his girlfriend.

“Hey, I got an idea.” she said, standing. “How bout I give you little tikes the rest of the tour? I know some of the cool places Bob doesn’t.” Alex winked at them and gave a smile to Bob.

“I’ll go too.” AndrAIa said, taking Sabrina from Enzo. “That way the balance of power is at least equal.”

“Bye Scooter.” Alex said, giving Enzo a quick kiss on the lips. “See ya later tonight.” With that the two women and two children went off to continue their tour.

“So, did you plan on having a system crash, Scooter, or did you just think that up for our benefit?” Matrix asked, giving his brother a small shove.

“I’m warning you, Sparky.” Enzo replied, shooting back his brother’s own embarrassing and annoying nickname.

“Come on, baby brother,” Dot said, linking arms with him. “You’ve got a tour to show us.”

The four sprites walked back to the dorms, so Enzo could show them his room and meet his roommate. Along the way, Bob pointed out some things, to which Enzo elaborated on. Heading towards the dorms, they stopped so Enzo could show them the field where the ceremony would be held that night. Staff was already putting up the stage and setting up the chairs for the event, the lights going up and being tested, microphones being hauled onto the stage.

“The Prime Guardian gives a speech about upholding the guardian name and then he reads the names off, I guess.” Enzo was saying, as the four walked into his room. It was oddly clean, something very rare for Enzo. But his roommate was a neatnik and had forced the young sprite to do the same as they grew up in the Academy.

“The way it looks, you guys can sit in the front, if you get there early.” he continued. “I know Alex will there, so she can save your seats.”

“She can keep Kit quiet then.” Bob joked.

“Oh, Kit would just love that.” Enzo replied, rolling his eyes. To Bob’s look of confusion and surprised, he asked, “Haven’t you noticed that your son has taken…a liking…to my girlfriend?”

“Now, who does that remind you of?” Matrix quipped, getting Enzo in a loose headlock.

“That wasn’t my fault.” Enzo protested, knowing exactly what Matrix meant. “I wasn’t the one who stupidly left his icon in game sprite mode, now was I?”

“Let’s stay frosty, boys.” Bob said, grinning at the two. It was great seeing them like this. It was different than seeing two friends fighting. Enzo and Matrix meant more to him than that. “Are you planning on packing later?” he asked, looking about the room. Various pictures of them hung on Enzo’s side of the room, his organizer lay on the bed, and he had some trinkets on the desk.

“I was thinking we could do it now.” Enzo said, sheepishly. He’d been so busy with graduation duties and class, he hadn’t really gotten started on packing yet. He had figured on doing it that night, but with his pre-birthday party happening and Alex’s own party for him, he wouldn’t have the chance. And he was leaving tomorrow.

“I figured you’d say that.” Dot said, smiling at him. He never was the plan ahead sort of sprite. “We’ll get started now. And Enzo…” she cupped his chin her hand and felt the second old stubble on his face. “You might want to shave before the graduation ceremony.”

“I just shaved!”

“She means with the sharp end of the razor.” Matrix said, and was quickly swatted in the chest for his joke. “Ow!”

“Boys…” Dot warned, making both stop. “Work now, fun later.”

 


 

It actually didn’t take long for Enzo to pack, not when he had three other people helping him. The second was pretty fun, the four of them talking, reminiscing about when Enzo was smaller. He certainly wasn’t small anymore. Almost the size of Matrix and just as strong. Dot would sometimes catch herself staring at one or the other, amazed at how much they were starting to resemble their father.

It was times like this and other milestones that she wished their parents could be there with them. They would be so proud of Matrix and now Enzo. She thanked the User every second for the chance to have a brother like Matrix and then to get the chance of having two brothers to watch over, to get to know all over again, to be proud of again.

Dot knew that Bob was proud of them, too. He had been the friend both had desperately needed when they were younger. Dot, too, liked the way Bob could make her forget all her responsibilities in the Net with one look or a smile. She didn’t realize until after Matrix had brought him back and after the restart, that Bob loved Enzo more than just a friend, a confidant.

For Matrix, who was now only a few hours younger than the guardian, Bob was the brother he had always wanted. For Enzo, the father he needed and had missed for those hours before Bob had come to Mainframe. When Bob and Dot had gotten married, they had talked about how to include Enzo in their family. Bob wanted to adopt him, make Enzo his own. But it was Enzo’s decision. Dot wasn’t sure what the two had decided, only knowing the subject hadn’t come up again.

She wondered if Matrix would feel a little envious tonight. Enzo was living out both their dreams. After Daemon had been defeated, Turbo had given Matrix full guardian status for his help and for his hours of game hopping and for bringing Bob home. Though Matrix was a guardian, his dream had come true, he wouldn’t get the same experience Enzo had over the course of four hours.

But maybe it was better that way.

Dot would rather Enzo spend four hours of his life in a classroom, then the ten hours Matrix and AndrAIa spent in the games. It took minutes, hours for Matrix to come back to his once happier self, the pain of the past slowly melting away. It had taken them all sometime to get away from the pain that had haunted them so long ago.

It was happier times now.

Dot listened as Bob told the boys some wild tale about a multi-player game he had played. Yes. It was happier times now. She and Bob had Christopher and were expecting their second child in a couple more minutes. Matrix and AndrAIa had Sabrina and a newborn son, Chip. Enzo was in love, his first girlfriend.

Dot could tell from the moment she had met Alex she’d be a part of the family one second. All she was waiting for was Enzo to announce their engagement. Dot hadn’t realized she’d been staring at three of the most important men in her life until she heard them calling her name.

“What?” she said, blinking her eyes repeated.

“Is something wrong?” Bob asked, worriedly.

Even though the two had been through one pregnancy, Bob still made a point to ask if anything was wrong, so he’d be prepared for the unexpected. After all, Christopher had been born on the Saucy Wench, the pirate ship headed by Capt. Gavin Capacitor.

“Nothing’s wrong, you big worry null.” Dot said, laughing at the look she produced on Bob’s face. “I was just thinking, that’s all.”

“I’ve heard about this.” Enzo said, setting down a box he was moving. “Pregnant sprites sometimes zonk out before they go into labor.”

Matrix and Bob looked at the young guardian, then looked at Dot, intensely watching to see if the young sprite was going to go in to labor at any moment.

“Enzo!” Dot exclaimed, looking at her baby brother and ignoring the looks from her younger brother and husband. “Where in the Net did you get an idea like that?”

“I saw it on TV.” he replied. “On Nomeprah Whitley.”

“I can’t believe you actually watched that show.” Matrix said, looking at his brother in slight disgust.

“I wasn’t.” Enzo defended. “Alex was. And I usually watch whatever my girlfriend tells me too. Besides, it wasn’t a totally bad show. I learned how to make a chocolate upside layer cake, with white frosting.” Enzo smiled with the knowledge of his new found talent.

“Well, I’m sure that’ll get you through a lot more tougher things than Dot having your other niece or nephew in your dorm room.” Matrix replied.

“You’re just jealous.” Enzo retorted, picking up his box.

 


 

Nighttime soon fell upon the Guardian Academy. The campus was dark, except the large spotlights beaming from the stage and on the young cadets that were graduating. Enzo was seated on the side, in the third row, but he could see his family from where he sat. Kit and Sabrina were stretching in their chairs in order to see him. Spotting their favorite uncle, the two waved furiously at him, to which Enzo responded with a smile and small wave to make them happy.

“Tonight, the cadets you see in front of you have earned the right to claim themselves as Guardians.” said the Prime Guardian. The leader of the Guardian Collective stood behind a podium where he spoke into a microphone.

Enzo’s graduating class was rather small, about fifteen people compared to the graduations Bob had been to and even his own. It was mainly due to low enrollment when the Collective come back to their senses and the infection of Daemon had been taken from them. It had taken a good hour after Daemon had been destroyed before people were willing to train as Guardians.

Most young sprites did it in order to exact revenge on what the super virus had caused. Enzo knew a lot of cadets came because they wanted to bring the Collective back up to its standing. Others, like Alex, wanted to do it in honor of a parent or sibling or loved one that had been lost to the Guardians.

Many of the original Guardians couldn’t stand to be labeled as ‘guardian’, the guilt of their actions causing many to take their own lives, many to move to another system and change their identity. Some had come back to the Academy to teach in various courses, only because no other system wanted them around.

Restoring the trust of the citizens of the Net would be hard to come by. Enzo had been on a recon team during training and the three systems he had been to hadn’t been very receptive to having guardians, regardless if they were cadets, in their system. As it looked, it seemed only Mainframe was excepting. But then again, they had two…correction. Make that three guardians whom they looked to for protection.

“Would all the seated cadets in front of me, please stand and come to the stage?” the Prime Guardian asked.

The seated cadets all rose and started to head to the stage. As they got there, the P.G. would say their names and give them the Guardian Oath. To Enzo, it seemed like forever as he watched his classmates walk up the steps of the stage and stand in front of the Prime Guardian. The cadet’s family and friends would applaud and yell, happy their loved one and had made it through the Guardian process.

Enzo kept glancing at his family, seated, and watching him. He had so many things going on in his processor, a queasy feeling in his stomach. He was so nervous. He had this reoccurring dream during that last cycle. He stood just like this, waiting for his turn, his family seated and watching proudly.

As soon as he reached the stage, though, his nightmare began. He would stand before the Prime Guardian, who would look and try to find his name on his list, but couldn’t find it. “Sorry.” he would say, shrugging his shoulders, while Enzo stood there, looking dazed and confused.

The audience would then break out in laughter, but the worst thing…the worst thing of all…Enzo would turn and see the disappointed and even disgusted looks his family and friends would give him. Seeing Dot and Bob just shake their heads, too embarrassed to even look at him. Matrix and AndrAIa looking dumbfounded at him and then Matrix getting his trademark scowl across his lips, before telling Sabrina, “You are to never talk to him again.”

Enzo snapped back in to the reality that he was now in. He was only a few sprites away from getting to the stage. His stomach felt tight and knotted and he felt very sick.

Oh, would that be rich! he thought, as he got closer to the stage. Me, loosing my energy shake on the Prime Guardian of the Collective. I might as well delete myself right here, right now.

Finally, it was Enzo’s turn.

He walked slowly up the steps and faced the Prime Guardian.

“Enzo Matrix-Lan,” he replied, as Enzo stood at attention. “Do you take the oath that is given before you on this night?”

“I do.” Enzo said, feeling like he said the right thing for the wrong occasion.

“Do you solemnly swear to uphold the laws and guides that the Guardian Collective has set out for its members? To mend and defend?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Cadet Matrix, you have gone above and beyond the call of this select group.” The P.G. said, a smile coming to his face. “You have proven yourself to be one of the most gifted cadet graduates that I’ve seen in a long time. I know you will go out into the Net and proudly represent the name Guardian as it should be and as it will always be from now on.”

The leader let those last words settle over the crowd. They hadn’t forgotten the destruction caused by Daemon or what he had done. He knew some families in the audience had not been, or still weren’t, happy to learn their son, daughter, cousin, husband, etc. wanted to be a Guardian.

“Cadet Matrix, your icon.”

Enzo removed his black and gold icon and handed it to the Prime Guardian. The leader also removed his icon and held the two about an inch apart. A light came from the icon and transferred into Enzo’s. After a nano, the Prime Guardian handed back the icon to Enzo and said, “With this is icon, you are hereby a member of the Collective. Welcome, Guardian Matrix.”

 


 

“Alex, where are we going?”

It had been some night. Enzo had been bombarded with friends and family after the graduation ceremony, saying their congratulations to him for becoming a full fledged Guardian. Enzo had waited for this moment all his life. Ever since Bob had come to Mainframe, this was all he wanted.

And now, to see his family there with him as he completed Guardian training and was now what he had always wanted to be. There were no other people he wanted to prove himself to than the adults that surrounded him that night.

Dot.

His big sister, his second mother. A woman he loved more than life itself. She had always protected him, even babied him through his life, but now that he was older, he realized why she did the things she did to keep him safe. She was looking out for him. After their parents had been deleted, they were all alone in the system, in the Net. He was the only family Dot had left.

And then after Bob and Enzo were lost to the Web and the Net, Dot was very overprotective of him, wanting him to stay out of games. Not wanting for the past to repeat itself again. But as she hugged him and told him how proud she was of him, Enzo wanted to thank her for everything. She had been the brightest spot in his life, but no words could probably tell her.

Bob.

The guardian who was a father to him. Enzo barely remembered his own father, being so young when the accident had occurred, but if he had to have a makeshift family, Dot would be his mother and Bob would be his father. He remembered when Dot had been pregnant with Kit and he had gone to stay with Matrix and AndrAIa for a while. He had been convinced Bob and Dot weren’t going to love him anymore when he left for the Academy.

He had a talk with Bob, who assured him that he and Dot loved him more than anything and always would. That’s when the topic of adoption came up. Bob wanted to make Enzo his own, their own, but it would be Enzo’s decision. If he wanted it, it could be arranged. Even though he would always be Enzo Matrix, for one of the most important nights of his life, he could proudly say he was Robert Lan’s son.

Matrix.

The one person Enzo needed to be proud of him. It would’ve hurt him beyond belief if Matrix hadn’t been proud of him. It was one thing to be rejected by someone, but your older version…it was a hard pill to swallow. But somehow the two had gotten use to each other, had managed to see eye to eye. Enzo felt sorry for the big sprite.

He had lost his childhood to Megabyte and the games, he was too old to join him at the Academy, and he still felt responsible for what had happened to Mainframe until Megabyte’s rule. This night was as much Matrix’s as it was his. He wanted so much for Matrix to be happy and after the hours of the restart, it seemed he finally was.

Enzo had said his goodbyes, watching as his family left, saying he would see them in a few seconds for his homecoming and birthday. But for now, Enzo’s friends were throwing him a party at one of the local clubs on campus. It was great seeing all his friends and their families, wishing him well, asking what would be next and what system he’d be protecting.

He did get some ribbing when he said Mainframe, those that knew him knowing Mainframe already had two guardians in it. But they knew the system meant a lot to him and it had helped put the Collective back in business, so to speak. Towards the end of the party, Alex had told him they needed to leave in order for her to give him his present.

So now, there he was, zipping through the skies of the Super Computer, following his girlfriend to who knows where. They passed over the city and up into the nearby mountain range. This is was a good place for hikers and campers. He had camped out here as a training exercise with some members from his Survival Class. He was surprised Alex knew where she was going. The two headed toward a clearing over looking the bright lights of the Super Computer.

“Okay, Scooter.” Alex replied, slowing her zipboard and hopping off. “We’re here.”

Enzo stopped behind her and jumped off his board as well. It was a grassy clearing, a proportion covered by a large blanket. On the blanket were two glasses, a bottle of chilled spirits, and a small frosted cupcake with a candle in the middle of it.

Alex giggled, seeing the surprised look of his face. She grabbed his hand and lead him to the blanket, where they both sat down. Alex picked up the cupcake, lit the candle, and then handed it to Enzo.

“Happy Birthday, Enzo Matrix.” she said, smiling. “Make a wish.”

Enzo smiled, before closing his eyes, and blowing out the candle. “What’d you wish for?” Alex asked, watching as he removed the candle and the wrapping foil and began to eat the cupcake.

“If I told you, then it won’t come true.” he said, chewing his cupcake.

Alex stifled a laugh. She grabbed the bottle of spirits and opened it. Grabbing the glasses, she handed one to Enzo and began to pour.

“And just how did you get your hands on this?” Enzo asked, with a raised eyebrow.

“I have my own little ways.” she said, pouring some for herself. “To you.” she said, raising her glass for a toast.

Enzo shook his head and replied, “To us.” Clinking their glasses together, the two took a sip from their glasses.

“So, how’s it feel to be a full fledged guardian?” Alex asked, resting her head on his shoulder.

“So far, it kinda feels the same, you know?” Enzo said, staring out at the city below them. “But I know it’ll be different. Just like when Bob gave me the protocol, I didn’t feel anything until a game cube dropped. Then it was like, I had to be in there. I think it’ll be the same, but I’ll have more of a responsibility to everyone in Mainframe.” He turned to look at her.

“Still think I’m random for choosing Mainframe to mend and defend?”

“No.” she said. “In fact, I kinda want to apologize for everything I ever said about you going back home.”

He placed a finger on her lips. “You don’t have to.” he said, removing the finger. He then grinned at her. “In fact, I think you already apologized.”

“When?”

“When we were in the hospital.” he said, winking at her.

She scooted closer to him, her fingers playing with the buttons on his shirt. “I was hoping I could do a little more apologizing.” she said, a seductive look in her eyes.

Enzo leaned over and kissed her gently on the lips, then fell prey to the moment, making the kiss deeper.

Breaking the kiss, he asked, “Hey, where’s my present?”

She gave him a look that clearly said what she had in mind.

“Are you sure?” Enzo asked, catching the suggestive look.

Alex leaned over and delivered a quick kiss. “I’m very sure.”

 


 

Enzo and Alex walked hand and hand down the dormitory hall towards his room. His roommate was probably still at the graduation party, whichever one he went to. The stopped at the door and engaged in what Alex figured would be a good-bye kiss. When they parted, Enzo on the other hand, didn’t want the night to end.

“I’d hate for you to walk all the way back to your room at this time of night.” he said, delivering a kiss to her neck.

Alex giggled and said, “I don’t think your roommate would appreciate me in there.”

“He’s not even in.”

“Enzo, you know I can’t spend the night in there.” Alex protested, trying to stop herself from getting wrapped up their previous encounter.

“I certainly won’t tell.” Enzo replied, going in for a kiss.

Alex moved out of the way of the oncoming kiss. “Scooter,” she purred, stroking his cheek. “Am I…?”

“Yes.” he said, kissing her lips. “In everything. I love you, Alex.” He kissed her again.

“Maybe I can stay for a little while.” she said, moving towards the door, Enzo following her inside, and shutting the door.

 


 

Enzo awoke to the sun shinning in his dorm room and movement on the side of the bed. He yawned and stretched before opening his eyes. The room was basked in the light coming from the window and a figure was sitting next to him on the bed, putting on her shoes.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Alex smiled, but continued to tie her shoes. “Getting my Guardian Cadet bitmap out of here.” she said, turning to face him.

“Come on, Allie.” he said, taking her hand in his. “It’s really early. Come back to bed.”

“Have you forgotten you’ve got a boat ride back home today?”

Enzo was instantly sitting up in bed, looking around for his stuff. “Oh User!” he cried. “What time is it?”

“Calm down.” she replied, putting a piece of lose hair behind her ear. “You’ve got a good two milliseconds before it leaves. I just wanted to make sure you were up, awake, and alert.”

“I’m up, I’m up.” he muttered, laying back down. “Hmmm…two millis, huh?”

“Don’t even think about it.” Alex replied, moving away before Enzo could grab her. “I need you to be aware and in control of your faculties. Besides, what kind of girlfriend would I be if I kept seducing you every chance I got?” She gave him a quick goodbye, before leaving the room through the door.

 


 

Enzo left with his backpack on one shoulder and turned to take one last look at the Guardian Academy. His goodbye felt like his first hello. He remembered standing in that same spot, with Bob and Matrix on either side of him, looking up at the large clock tower. He didn’t think he had ever been so scared in his life.

“You okay?” Bob asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“You know we can always go back, Enzo.” Matrix suggested, seeing the terrified look in his brother’s eyes.

“N..n..n..no.” the boy stuttered. “I’m fine. I’m fine.” But he wasn’t fine. This was the most scared he had probably ever been. He had lived all his life in Mainframe and now he had left his home to attend here. The Guardian Academy. For the next four hours. Four hours of training and working to rebuild the name of guardian. Four hours of studying and meeting new people…

Four hours away from his family and friends.

The second before had been the last time he would see Dot or Mouse or Ray or AndrAIa for the next four hours, with the exception of small holidays. He didn’t know if he could do it. True, he was the only teenaged sprite in Mainframe and this would certainly help with his growing onslaught of puberty, but still. He was leaving everybody behind.

Enzo had to beg and plead for Matrix and AndrAIa to teach at least ONE game class while he’d was there. Even Bob volunteered to do teaching duty again. But not because Turbo had asked after they had been freed from Daemon’s power. They were doing it because Dot wanted to make sure Enzo would be okay and that was the feeling of the other three as well. So Matrix and Bob had accompanied the young cadet.

Enzo sighed, looking around one last time. The tower, the fountain, the buildings. The last four hours had been incredible and he wouldn’t have traded them for anything. He had gotten more confident about himself, had made a ton of friends, and had even gotten a girlfriend, his first ever. He’d miss this place and the friends that were still there. This place had been a home when home was so far away.

Enzo snapped from his thoughts when he heard a loud whistle come from behind him. He turned and saw a silvery woman standing at the front gates. She had blond hair and blue eyes and was smiling at the young Guardian. Enzo smiled back and nodded his head.

It hadn’t been easy to book passage on Maxine’s ship, but she owed Matrix and AndrAIa a favor, not to mention Ray practically begged and pleaded with the search engine to give Enzo a ride back home. She relented and reworked some things, so she could drop Enzo by Mainframe then continue on with scheduled routes. Mouse and Ray had wanted to picked the young sprite up, but something came up in one of the other systems that Dot wanted them to check out, therefore Ray had asked Maxine to do the job.

Enzo took one last look, before turning and following Maxine towards her ship. He’d be going home today. He was going home.

 


 

“So he’s coming back when?”

Matrix paced the floor of the command room for the fortieth time that second. Enzo was supposed to be arriving around that time, but they hadn’t heard anything from him yet. It had been about two seconds since they last saw Enzo at graduation and they were now expecting him home.

“Will you calm down?” Dot replied, sitting in a chair near the large round table in the center of the room. “You’re going to wear a hole in my nice polished floors.”

“I don’t see why he didn’t just let me portal him out.” Bob said, sitting on the table next to Dot. He had offered to just make a portal for Enzo, but he refused, saying he had something he wanted to try and it required him going on ship.

“Perhaps young Enzo wanted to come by himself.” replied Phong, as he rolled into the room. “A mark of…”

“Hey!” AndrAIa interrupted, staring at her computer console. “We’re being hacked!”

“Raise the shields!” Matrix exclaimed.

“Wait a minute.” Bob said. He hopped from his seat and walked over to the larger sprite. “It might just be Mouse.”

“It’s not Mouse.” AndrAIa replied, trying to combat the incoming sequences. “I know Mouse and this isn’t it.”

“Do we have a cause to be alarmed?” Dot asked.

“Um…yeah!” Matrix insisted.

“I don’t think so.” AndrAIa said, still typing away. “It’s not Mouse, but it’s kinda like her style. You know, if I didn’t know better…”

“Open a channel, Specky.” Dot replied, standing. She raised her hand to stop the protests from Bob and Matrix.

“Channel opened, Sir!” The one binome replied, turning to look at his commanding officer.

“This is Dot Matrix, Command.Com of system Mainframe. State your name and function.”

The room was silent until a familiar sound of laughing could be heard. “You guys saw me not more than a second ago and you’ve already forgotten me?” Enzo quipped. “I’m hurt. Truly hurt.”

“I knew it.” AndrAIa muttered, shaking her head. “Little wench.”

“I heard that, AndrAIa.” Enzo said, still laughing. “And I know you don’t mean it. Just trying to keep you on your toes, Sis.”

“All right, you troublemaker,” Dot said, grinning. “Get your bitmap in bay seven. We’ll meet you out there.”

“Fine.” he replied, still laughing slightly. “Enzo out.”

Enzo was at least chuckling when Maxine’s ship pulled into bay seven, where a waiting AndrAIa, Matrix, and Phong stood to greet him.

“Ah, young Enzo.” Phong said, as the young sprite stepped down and stood in front of the wise one. “It is joyous to see you again.”

“Believe me, Phong,” Enzo said, extending his hand to shake Phong’s. “The joy is totally on my part.”

“I should’ve know you’d do something like that.” AndrAIa said, hands on her hips, as she stood with Matrix by Phong’s side.

“Hey, I’m just trying to keep you sharp and aware, Dre.” Enzo said, opening his arms.

The game sprite shook her head, before giving her brother in law a big hug. “Annoying little null.” she said, ruffling his hair. When she pulled back, she noticed the new addition on her little brother. “Oh, Dot’s just going to love that.” she laughed, flicking the small studded earring that was now in his right
ear.

“Be careful.” he said, wincing slightly. “I just had it pierced. Call it an early birthday present from me to myself. Besides, don’t you know, Dre?” He winked at Matrix before turning back to her and saying, “Chicks just love guys with earrings.”

AndrAIa rolled her eyes as Matrix nodded in agreement. Enzo grinned as he saw Dot and Bob join them. He shook hands with Bob before giving his sister a big hug, best to his abilities in order to avoid her rather large stomach.

“Sorry about the scare.” he said in her ear.

“No biggie.” she replied, squeezing him tighter. “I’m just glad you’re finally home.” She pulled back to look at him. “That’s not an earring in your ear, is it?”

AndrAIa choked down a laugh, saying “Told ya.” as the group walked back towards the command room.

 


 

“And I said, ‘What? Don’t you know guardians always keep their word?’ I’ve never laughed so hard…”

The group had ventured back inside to the command room, where Enzo was greeted by the rest of the Principal Office staff. The young guardian was now telling tales of his adventures at the Guardian Academy.

“Oh!” he said, catching his breath. “And then there was this time…”

“Oh no, he’s getting as bad as Bob.” AndrAIa quipped.

“Trust me, Andri,” Dot said, throwing an arm around her husband. “No one is as bad as Bob.”

The room exploded into laughter, as Bob feigned a look of hurt. As the group laughed, no one noticed how Enzo seemed to be flickering in and out suddenly. When Matrix did spot the change…Enzo just vanished.

“Great.” the green giant muttered. “Can’t we have a peaceful family moment without any interruptions?”

“Apparently not.” AndrAIa said.

“Should we go get him back?” Dot asked, a worried look on her face.

“He’ll be okay.” Bob assured her. “Like it or not, we’re obviously not the intended audience here.”

 


 

Enzo found himself in a darkened room with only a light coming from the opposite wall. As he walked towards it, he knew exactly where he was and how he had gotten there. Sure enough, as he approached the light, he saw a large throne near the wall and a small table placed in front of it. On the table was a tray of sprite shaped biscuits and a silver pot of tea.

“My, my,” said a sweet voice. It seemed to be oozing from the walls and surrounding him as he stood. “What do we have here? Why, it’s a guardian! And a big, strong one at that.”

Enzo noticed the white hand slowly move across his chest and the presence of a body behind him. He could feel the hot breath of the being on his neck as it moved in closer to him. “Hello, Young Guardian.” it whispered in his ear.

“Hexadecimal.” Enzo replied, not particularly in the mood for the show he was now participating in.

The ex-virus cackled, letting Enzo go and walking towards the table. Enzo noticed nothing about the virus had changed much. No matter what happened during or after the restart, Hexadecimal would always be a virus to him and nothing more or less.

He did notice that she was incredibly beautiful and had even thought about her early on while growing into sprite hood {if he could erase those seconds of puberty when all he could think about were girls…}

“This is certainly a surprise, Hex.” Enzo said, taking cautious steps toward the chair offered to him. “Something on your mind?”

“Must I have something on my mind to have company?” Hex asked, sweetly. She poured two cups of tea for the both of them and pointed to the biscuit tray.

“No thanks.” Enzo said, quickly. Hex was known for her rather…odd concoctions of bakery. “And to answer your question, you usually do. That’s why I asked.”

Hex laughed again. “You are a clever boy.” she said. “Must come from Bob’s side of the family. Speaking of which, how is Bob?”

“Fine.” Enzo replied, sipping his tea. “Happily married, father of a great kid, expecting one more. Really alphanumeric.” Enzo gave her an evil grin as he remind the virus that Bob was not hers in any way.

“Hmm, yes.” she said, waving the conversation away. “Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice you’ve come back to our little system and this time as a guardian no less. Tell me, how was your training?”

Enzo looked at her. She was up to something, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. But he was going to take Bob’s approach to the ex-virus. Keep her happy, until she makes a slip.

“It was fine, Hex.” he answered. “Learned a lot of things there. But I’m happy to be back home.”

“I hear your birthday is tomorrow.” Hex said, crossing her long legs. “That must be exciting.”

Enzo put his cup on the table and stood up. “Cut the games, Hex.” he said, glaring at the virus. “What do you want?”

“Some show of respect to your elders would be appropriate.” Hexadecimal shot back. The two locked into a deadly stare. Just when it seemed Hex would blow her processor, she calmed down and went back to drinking her tea. “I just wanted to wish you happy birthday, that’s all.” she said.

“I bet.” he said. “Goodbye, Hexadecimal. Our meeting has been interesting. As usual.”

“I never said you could leave, guardian.”

As Enzo turned, Hex stood before him, blocking his way. “I may have been a little harsh, young guardian.” Hex purred, embracing Enzo in her arms. “Surely there’s some way I can make it up to you.” She ran the back of her hand across his cheek, but was caught by Enzo’s hand.

“Sorry, Hex.” he said, coolly. “But I…” He debated about telling her he had a girlfriend, but then he smiled and said, “But I don’t think I’m man enough for you.” He made his way from her arms and stood, back towards her.

“The door, Hex,” he said, looking over his shoulder at her. “Or do I make my own?”

“You wouldn’t dare.” the virus spat, glaring at Enzo.

“Try me.”

Hex glared at him, before smiling and saying, “You’re more like your brother Matrix second after second.” With a wave of her hand, Enzo found himself standing outside of her lair in Lost Angles. Shaking his head, he got his zipboard and headed towards the Diner.

 


 

“AndrAIa, I can’t see.”

The next second, AndrAIa had stolen Enzo away from everyone in order to show him something. They had zipped back to the Eight Ball apartments where she and her family lived, but as soon as they hit the ground, she covered his eyes and told him to walk straight.

“Now, you’re sure you can’t see?” she asked, leading him towards the garage.

“AndrAIa, I can’t see a…OW!” Enzo exclaimed, as he tripped over the curb.

“Watch your step there.”

“Yeah.” he replied, sarcastically. “Thanks.”

The game sprite giggled at his complaints and lead him through the garage doorway, before stopping him. “Dre,” Enzo asked, still unable to see. “Is there a reason you wanted to see me?”

“Yes.” AndrAIa laughed. “I wanted to give you your present early, that way we could have some fun before the party.”

“What exactly are you planning?” he asked, suspiciously.

“Why don’t I show you?”

She uncovered his eyes and Enzo was once again greeted by the light of the second. “Dre,” he said, looking around. “What exactly…” Then he saw it. He couldn’t believe his eyes, it was beautiful. He took a couple of steps forward, wanting to reach out and touch it, see if it was real or a dream.

“So, little brother,” AndrAIa asked, putting an arm around his shoulders. “Do you like it?”

His response was to grab her in a big bear hug, causing her to shriek and laugh in surprise. “Do I like it?” he asked, swinging her around. “I can’t believe it!” He sat her back down and hugged her again. “It’s great, AndrAIa. It really is.”

“I hoped you’d like it.” she said, smiling at him. “It’s a present from both Matrix and I, but it’s more my present than it is his.”

“It’s great.” Enzo replied, slightly out of breath. “It’s great. It’s just like you to get me this.” He grinned before saying, “What is it with…?”

“Yeah, yeah.” she said, rolling her eyes.

“I said it before. It’s like fate. Kismet. You are meant to be a biker babe. What else can I say?”

She laughed and he looked at her for a moment, remembering the crush he had on her. She still had that pull on him, but at least he was older and wiser to know when a crush was a crush. Besides, he’d proven his love for Alex before he left. Speaking of Matrix, his brother actually owed him a favor.

“Hey… can we…?” he asked, a mischievous look in his eye.

“I thought you’d never ask.” AndrAIa said, tossing him a helmet.

 


 

Matrix walked through the door of Dot’s Diner and saw the decorations had been set up just fine without him. He had been looking for AndrAIa, but couldn’t find her any where. In fact, he couldn’t find Enzo either. Dot would not be happy if their brother missed his own birthday party. He scanned the Diner, looking for Dot and/or Bob, and found them both behind the counter.

“Hey.” he said, walking over towards them and taking a seat on a bar stool.

“Hey.” Bob replied, ducking underneath to retrieve something. He popped back up and asked, “Where’s Enzo?”

Matrix shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno.”

Dot popped up from the other side of Bob and looked at her brother. “What do you mean, you don’t know?” she exclaimed. “You were supposed to keep him occupied until the party then bring him here!”

Realization set in to Matrix, as his mouth formed an “oh” and he closed his eyes. “I knew I was supposed to do something today.” he said, grimacing. He opened his eyes and looked at Dot. “But don’t worry. He should be in good hands. I think he’s with AndrAIa, but I have no idea where they are.”

“That’s just great.” Dot muttered, throwing her hands in the air. “The birthday boy is lost.”

“He’s not lost, Dot.” Bob corrected. “He’s with AndrAIa. He’ll come back sooner or later.”

“Sooner than later.” Matrix replied, stressing the “sooner”. Bob looked at him in amusement. “You’re married to the girl, along with having two children with her and you’re still afraid your brother is going to still her away from you?” he asked, a small grin on his face.

“No!” Matrix exclaimed, a characteristic scowl appearing on his face. “Besides…he IS me, you know.”

Dot looked at both sprites, an unhappy look on her face. A look that both Bob and Matrix were familiar with. Both stopped their conversation immediately. “Where do you think they went?” she asked Matrix.

“You mean Enzo and AndrAIa?” he asked.

“No, I mean Phong and the Mainframe Strolling Players!” Dot exploded. Though Bob and Matrix were used to Dot’s temper while she had been pregnant with Kit, it was still a bit intimidating when the young business sprite was yelling at them. “Of course I mean Enzo and AndrAIa!”

“Um…” Matrix said quietly, stuttering a bit. “I…I um…I think they went to get AndrAIa’s present.”

“Oh.” Dot replied, much calmer than before, seemingly unaware of the hostility she had just let lose with. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“Baby, maybe you should sit down for a while.” Bob suggested, hoping she would do that very deed.

“Good idea.” she said, walking around the counter to sit down in one of the booths.

Bob and Matrix exchanged a look, one of many that hoped the last minutes of her pregnancy would be coming soon.

 


 

The Diner was filled with various inhabitants of Mainframe, including Phong, who had made his way from the Principal Office just so he could attend the celebration. Various gifts were stacked on the counter waiting to be opened, a small group of the Mainframe Strolling Players, led by Mike the TV, stood in a corner rehearsing their song, Binome Traveler, a local band, sat in a booth having energy shakes. The party seemed to be in full swing, except for one thing.

The birthday boy was no where to be found.

Cecil, the Diner’s waiter, was busy moving around getting orders from patrons and muttering about how they were losing business because much of the food was free. Dot just rolled her eyes as the server came past, muttering about how many units they were losing to the disreputable clientele they had in their mist.

Dot talked to Phong, while looking at the large window for any sign of her brother and sister in law. She did spot Capt. Capacitor and the rest of the pirate crew coming towards the door, presents in their hands and singing a song. Bob greeted the group at the door and told them to have a seat.

A few microseconds later, the guests heard a loud rumbling coming their way. Some panicked, thinking the worst. Mike dove under a table and cowered in fear. The tension seemed to ease when Matrix muttered, “About time.” as he looked out the window. The guests rushed to the window to see what the noise was.

A motorbike pulled up to the curb, with a rider on the seat. The bike had been restored to its original stylings, but a few extras. It was now black, with a long green stripe going along the side of it, ending at the name MATRIX. The rider wore a helmet that clearly stated who the rider was. ENZO was written nicely on the black metallic helmet in purple.

Another bike pulled up behind the first, this one was metallic blue, with a black stripe going along the side, also stopping at the name MATRIX. The rider’s helmet was also black, but had the name ANDRAIA written in blue. Both riders removed their helmets and broke into a fit of laughter.

“I beat you, Dre!” Enzo exclaimed, still laughing. “Fair and square.”

“Fair nothing.” The game sprite laughed. “You know you cheated, Zo. Playing tag is not a way to win. New rule!”

The two stopped laughing when they noticed the people on the Diner staring at them. Matrix was pointing to his wrist, complaining behind the window about their lateness, while Bob chuckled softly.

“Were you guys waiting for us?” Enzo asked innocently.

 


 

Enzo had never been happier. His birthday was spectacular, just like his others. Dot had gotten one of his favorite bands, The Binome Travelers, to play. Mike had led the MSP in a wonderful song written for and dedicated to Enzo himself. Bob had given his first guardian pins to the young sprite and Phong had given the boy advice…along with a tree in the conservatory.

Though they were odd gifts, Enzo appreciated them. Anything Phong gave or said always had a double meaning to it and the answer would only come when you weren’t thinking. Capt. Capacitor and the crew made Enzo an honorary pirate, because the boy spent some of his time on and around the Saucy Wench during and after it had been built.

But the biggest surprise came from Dot.

During the celebration, Dot had led Enzo away from the noise and chatter, so she could talk to him alone. “You’re all compiled up.” she said, softly, trying to hold back the tears that were coming to her eyes.

“Dot…” Enzo said, trying to save his sister from some emotional scene.

“No, I’m serious.” she said, cupping the side of his face with her hand. “You’re an adult now. Do you now how long I’ve waited and wanted to watch you compile up? You’re big and strong, just like your brother. And a guardian. I know how long that’s been your dream.” She smiled up at him. “I’m proud of you, Enzo.”

Enzo sighed and wrapped his arms around her, resting his cheek on the top of her head. “Dot, you delete me.” he said, giving her a squeeze. They stood like that for about nano, before Enzo pulled back and looked at her. “Was that what you were going to tell me?” he asked in confusion.

“No, that’s not what I wanted to tell you.” Dot said sarcastically, but with a hint of laughter in her voice. “I wanted to give you your present and talk to you for a nano.”

“Okay.” he said, letting her go. “What’s processing?”

“I know that with Kit’s arrival and you in the Academy, we really haven’t gotten a chance to sit and have a talk.”

“Am I in trouble?” he asked, suspiciously. Dot laughed.

“No, you’re not in trouble.” she said, giggling. “I just…I just wanted to let you how proud I am of you.”

“Oh Dot,” he said, blushing. “I know that.”

“I wish Mom and Dad could see us now.” Dot replied, quietly.

“Yeah.” he said, his voice matching hers. “Me, too.”

The two were quiet for a micro, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally Dot said, “But enough of that. I’ve got to give your present.” She reached into her pocket and handed him a key code. Enzo took it and looked at it in confusion. He then looked at Dot again.

“And this is the key to…?” he asked.

“Your new apartment.” she answered.

“My what?” he asked in surprise.

Dot smiled at him, watching as recognition set in. His sister was giving him an apartment. His very first apartment. “It’s actually a place you should be used to.” she continued. “It’s Matrix and AndrAIa’s apartment. You know when they moved out after Chip was initialized, that left a vacancy in the Eight Ball Apartments. So I thought it was only fitting that…” her sentence caught off from the sudden and joyous hug she received from Enzo.

“Ohmygosh, Dot, Ican’tbelieveyouactuallygotmeanapartment!Andnotjustandapartment, but…” his words ran over each other, memories of his younger seconds present in Dot’s ears. She laughed at his ramblings, knowing how excited he was at having his first apartment.

 


 

It was well into the night before the party begun to wind down. Bob and AndrAIa had left to make their children weren’t destroying something or themselves, leaving the Matrix siblings in the Diner cleaning up. After the majority of clean up was done, Matrix put an arm around his baby brother.

“Hey, Dot. Mind if I steal Enzo for a few micros?” he asked.

“I thought you were going to help me clean up.” Dot said, sitting in her favorite booth.

“We’ll come back.” Enzo insisted. “It’ll only take a milli at best.”

Dot looked at them suspiciously. “What’re you two up to?” she asked.

“I have to give Enzo my present, don’t I?” Matrix asked.

“I thought that piece of junk out there was his present.” Dot said, motioning with her head to Enzo’s bike.

Both brothers got a deadly look on their faces, causing Dot to burst out laughing.

“Okay, you troublemakers,” she said, trying to calm down. “But I expect you back in a little over a millisecond. Got it?”

“Yes, sir!” they chimed, each giving her a salute, making Dot laugh again. The two brothers said goodbye to their sister and walked out of the Diner.

 


 

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

Matrix and Enzo stood on the sidewalk of Sector 31, famous for Al’s Wait and Eat that was only a block from where they stood. The two stood in front of a small building complex, featuring three stores all lined together. They looked at the middle building.

“Yes, I’m sure.” Enzo said, his heart racing a mile a microsecond. “I’ve never been so sure.”

“You got the earring.” Matrix said, glancing at his younger self. “You really don’t have to do this, you know.”

“Hey, when I was little you promised that when I turned 1.8, you’d do this for me.” Enzo challenged. “Are you going back on your word?”

“No.” Matrix replied, looking at Enzo. “I’m just saying you don’t have to do this.”

“I know.” Enzo said, meekly. He took a deep breath. “I love her, Enzo.” he said. “I really do want to do this.”

Matrix looked at his younger brother in surprise, then in sudden realization. He nodded and smiled. “Early birthday present, huh?” he asked, chuckling. “I figured this was the reason. I knew you’d do this sooner or later.”

Enzo looked over at his brother in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“I got mine the second after.” Matrix replied, rather smugly. Enzo looked at his brother and a role reversal happened, as Enzo slowly come to the conclusion to the statement.

“How old were you?” he asked, in awe.

“2 hours younger,” his brother replied, again looking up at the building sign. “But I knew AndrAIa was who I wanted to spend my life with. We’d already shared so much and I wanted to show how much I loved her.”

“You know,” Enzo said, a hint of mischief in his voice and dancing in his eyes. “You could’ve just gotten her flowers.”

“Touché.” Matrix replied, sarcastically. Again the two looked at the sign. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah.” Enzo said, nodding. “I’m sure.”

“Okay.” Matrix said, shrugging his shoulders. The two walked up to the door and started to walk in. “You’re a lot braver, I’ll say that. All in the same second. First an earring, now a tattoo.”

 


 

“What’re you doing here?”

Enzo and Matrix sat in a little booth in Al’s Wait and Eat when Dot came to stand next to the table.

“I had been wanting to talk to Al, but I found you guys first.” she replied, sitting down next to Matrix. “And what do you think the two of you are doing here?”

Her brothers looked at each other and then at their sister. Neither said anything at first, until a look from Dot prompted them to say something.

“We were in the neighborhood?” Enzo said, meekly.

“Hmmm…” Dot said, suspicious of the whole set up. “That’s good to know. Because I know your brother wouldn’t take you down here for a drink, knowing I don’t condone underage drinking.”

The boys took a combined gulp. “Now even for a special occasion?” Enzo asked.

“What special occasion?” Dot asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Ah, come on, Dot.” Matrix pleaded. “Just this once. I’ll take full responsibility if he gets out of hand.”

“Which won’t happen, Dot!” Enzo piped up. The skater sprite brought over two I/O shots and set them on the table, avoiding Dot’s look, and skated away.

“Besides…” Matrix said, also avoiding Dot’s look and taking a glass. “We already ordered.” Dot rolled her eyes and looked at Enzo, who was looking at her expectantly.

“Oh, go ahead.” she replied, waving him away. Enzo smiled and picked up his glass. “Just this once, Enzo.” his sister warned. “I shouldn’t even turn a blind eye to this, but I guess as long as I’m here, you should be okay.”

“Thanks, Dot.” Matrix said, taking a drink.

Enzo followed suit, relishing the sweetness of the drink. He also counldn’t believe Dot was letting him do this. It didn’t even take much to talk Al’s Waiter into letting him have this one drink. The rest of the night was spending having kinda of a Matrix family talk.

It had been a while since the three siblings had spent sometime together, just the three of them. Enzo enjoyed it. He hadn’t spent much time with Dot and Matrix since he left for the Academy. It was nice to just sit down and talk to his older siblings. Dot and Matrix both restated that they were proud of him and they were glad that he was home.

“It wasn’t the same around here without you, Sprout.” Matrix replied, grinning at his younger brother.

“I’m glad you’re staying in Mainframe for a while.” Dot said.

“I wouldn’t feel right if I defended some other system.” Enzo admitted. “Besides, you guys just can’t stay out of trouble.”

“Trouble, huh?” Matrix laughed. “I seem to remember a time…”

“Now, wait a nano…” Enzo protested.

The three laughed and joked about the past. After a couple of milliseconds, the siblings said goodbye, Matrix going with Dot, while Enzo headed to new apartment. Located in Kits, the 8 Ball Apartments were all nestled in bed when Enzo walked down the hall to his apartment. Matrix and Bob had set the room back up, most of Bob’s furniture still there from previously.

It was Enzo’s furniture now. He stumbled to the couch and laid down. The cycle had been exciting. He’d have to wait a little while before he’d know for sure if he was the new guardian of Mainframe. Until then, he’d just enjoy this free time. He’d have to move somethings around, of course, and move his stuff in. Things seemed to be going right this time.

But would it stay that way?

Enzo drifted off to sleep that night, unaware that anything bad could happen now. They had defeated all the bad and it could get better.

Right?

 

 

END

 

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