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Memories Are Made of This

Chapter 11 – Collisions, Sabotage, and Deletion

 

 

 

The setting was dark. Fog rolled around on the ground and all was quiet. The buildings around were eerily quiet as well, as though no one lived in them. This was the time of night when people didn’t want to be out. Not when he was lurking about. But, despite warnings and protests, various game sprites were out, doing what would be characterized as their “profession”. Among this group of people stood two other sprites, one adult, the other a child.

“What kind of game is this?” Ray asked, looking around at their location.

“It’s something called ‘Track the Ripper’.” Sabrina supplied.

“You’ve played this before?”

“My dad has.” she responded. “It’s something about a serial killer on the loose and our job is to either stop him or figure out who he is.”

“Oh yeah, sure.” Ray replied, sarcastically. “That should be fairly easy.” Then a thought struck him. “It should be easy. After all, if Matrix played it…”

“Sorry, Surf boy.” Sabrina said, her hand hovering over her icon. “In this game, the killer could be anybody. That’s why it’s so popular. Dad played it twice and the outcome was always different.”

“Great.”

The two rebooted and let the glow lift off from their bodies. Ray was dressed in detective digs, a long winter coat on top of his clothing to keep him warm. Sabrina was dressed in fancy dress for the time, but when she closed her eyes, she realized why. “Looks like I’m bait.” she said, plainly.

“Bait?” Ray asked.

Sabrina nodded. “I’m to lure the killer into the open and you’re gonna have to use your supreme good looks and charm to stop me from being killed.” The girl looked up at Ray’s ashen face. “Hey, it could be worse.” she continued, walking a couple of steps. “Just think what will happen to you if anything happens to me.”

Ray gulped.

A short time later, Sabrina was walking the streets, looking for anyone suspicious. Ray was only a few feet behind her, trailing her slowly. Sabrina hated games like this, the old fashioned games where basic communication hadn’t been invented yet. There was no way she could tell Ray if she sensed danger or not.

And she was.

She was sensing a lot of danger right now. That she had gotten from her mother. AndrAIa was good at picking out when something was not right and the girl was glad she had inherited the skill. It had saved her from a lot of father-daughter discussions.

She really hoped it would save her this time, too.

She couldn’t even pinpoint why she wasn’t liking this. Normally, she loved games and playing them. Aunt Dot had said she had gotten that from Matrix. It was good having the big lug for a father. He and AndrAIa had tried to teach her everything about survival in the games.

Dad was all about training, Mom was all about senses and having fun. Not a bad way to train. Sabrina regarded herself as a very good and serious game player. She knew they weren’t just for playing, a lot of things rode on a game if it wasn’t won.

Her parents found that out the hard way.

She couldn’t even imagine being trapped in the games by herself. True, her parents had each other and Frisket and User knows what would’ve happened if they hadn’t lost that game. She probably wouldn’t even be here playing this game.

Not that this was a good game or anything. She wished she had Frisket here right now. None of these game sprites would even think of trying to do anything to her if Frisket was by her side.

Stupid dog. Probably left on the Saucy Wench with everybody. If he wasn’t so loyal…

Sabrina stopped when she heard a noise to her right. Looking around, she realized she was now lost. She turned behind her, hoping to see Ray. Nothing.

“Great.” she mumbled, looking around in her area. She must’ve wandered into some back alley. There were apartments on either side of it and an old fashioned clothesline hung above her.

“Good going, Matrix.” she chastised herself. “Mom’s always saying you think too much and what do you do? Think yourself right into a dark alleyway, on a dark street, in the dark night. I might as well scream ‘Next victim, right here!’ Basic, basic, basic!”

Before Sabrina could yell at herself some more, she heard another noise, this time behind her. That overwhelming sense of danger was knocking on her head like a ball pin hammer. She quickly made a note of the apartments around. None of them had an opened window.

And why should they? It was freezing outside! The only sound she could hear was breathing, though she was so scared, she wasn’t sure if it was hers or the person who probably creeping up behind her.

The girl readied herself for an attack. No kid of Matrix’s was about to be attacked from behind! She held her breath. Quiet. Just quiet was met all around her. What kind of sick freak is playing this game?! her mind screamed. The User was obviously the killer and he obviously was right behind her, so why wasn’t he doing anything?

Why wasn’t he making a sound? Sabrina wanted to scream, but somehow couldn’t. It was like fear had totally shut down her defenses. She looked around once more, looking for an escape. She did see a broken mirror on the ground.

In the reflection, she could see the knife coming at her!

 


 

Ray could’ve kicked himself.

He couldn’t find Sabrina anywhere. This was not the kind of place he wanted to lose her in. He had been reluctant to let her be the bait in all this. He wasn’t even sure what his duty was. Ray Tracer was not a gamer by choice, but necessity. And he quickly learned he didn’t like playing them one bit.

Sabrina had said all he had to do was follow her, keep an eye on her and when someone or something showed up, attack it and save her. That did seem relatively simple, especially when the next hand showed an angry Matrix and Ray being put into the hospital or worse. He would do anything to avoid that, even this. But now, he had lost her.

Some savior.

Things had been going okay, too. His eyes never left the girl as she walked far ahead of him. She said he was doing a ‘tail’ and hopefully, they could get to the killer before he got to them. But Ray got distracted.

Some attractive game sprite had caught his attention. Now, Ray was never one to disappoint a lady, so he gladly chatted her up, still seeing Sabrina in his sights. He nodded at one of her jokes and then politely declined to have a drink with her.

He may be a flirt, but he was faithful.

Though he and Mouse hadn’t made the written commitment the other couples had, they had their own reasons for keeping things simple. And it suited both of them just fine. Ray loved Mouse with all his heart. She was the adventurer he had always been looking for and had found in the most unlikeliest places and under the most horrendous conditions.

So, he stayed in Mainframe. It was a nice system, with nice folk, why wouldn’t he like it there? And in becoming a Mainframer, he had guaranteed he would always watch out for one of their own.

Until now.

When the surfer had finished his conversation with the game sprite, he turned and couldn’t find Sabrina. He ran the down the street where he had last seen her and couldn’t see hide nor hair of her. He desperately started calling her name, hoping against hope that she was all right.

All Ray could think about now was what would happen if Sabrina were to be deleted in this game. What would that mean for him? Would both live out the same fate that had beseeched her parents?

Or would Matrix just delete Ray with one single shot?

In all likelihood, that was probably what was going to happen.

 


 

Phong watched the game cube on the large monitor in front of him. He was worried and with good reason. He knew Sabrina could take of herself and Ray if need be, but the mere fact that the only thing stopping the system from a city wide crash was in that cube frightened him.

He hadn’t heard anything from Turic since AndrAIa had called him. He was trying to remain positive. No news meant good news right? They would certainly call if something really bad had happened. He had told AndrAIa the truth when he talked to her.

He was extremely worried about their welfare, not just Dot’s, but everyone involved. If anything happened to Dot, the system could likely crash. The city itself would more or less be fine and he could always take up command again, but it was those who were closest to Dot that would suffer.

And the fact that those just happened to be the city officials didn’t look good either.

The very sprites that Dot considered family were also those who oversaw the majority of Mainframe. Dot was the Command.Com. Bob sat to her left, as the system’s guardian. Not to mention that he was married to her and the father of their children. Matrix, her brother, was the Security Chief, in charge of all the CPUs and any other military presence.

AndrAIa Matrix, Dot’s sister in law, was the System Engineer, put in charge of the system’s shields and maintenance. Enzo Matrix, her younger brother, had just been appointed the system’s newest guardian. His orders came directly from Bob and Dot. Mouse, Dot’s best friend, headed up the Web Team along with Ray Tracer. Both were skillful when it came to Web intelligence and this way the two could go on their adventures without having to be stuck in the P.O. all second.

Already, that was practically the whole staff.

Though Phong could easily regain his position as leader, losing Dot would be unbearable to him. Phong was the System Administrator and therefore was Dot’s right hand sprite, if you will. Phong had not chosen Dot to succeed him merely on fondness.

Dot was a leader. She had picked up after her parents deletion and raised her younger brother not once, but twice. She owned just about all of Mainframe anyway and had deals in many different systems, thanks to her business partner, the Crimson Binome. Her strength and devotion to the system had long since proven she was the right person to run Mainframe.

The wise old sprite had come to regard her as his own. Losing her would truly be like losing a child.

Phong again looked at the purple cube that sat in Beverly Hills. The people of Mainframe were already anxious as to why Dot had not returned. If anything were to happen to Sabrina and Ray while the condition of their Command.Com was to be uncertain, there would be anarchy.

Phong didn’t think he could go through that again. It truly saddened him when they had lost Matrix and AndrAIa to that game. It would delete Matrix should, User forbid, Dot deleted and then for him to come home and find his only daughter had been taken with the games…he would not take it well, to say the least.

Phong hoped AndrAIa had kept her promise. If Matrix and Enzo were swept back into the void they had after their parents’ death, he seriously doubt they would come back. He was still unsure what had happened exactly.

The official word was the boy had caught the Melissa virus and with his current shock and depression over his parents, his defenses shut down and the virus started a winning battle. The young sprite lay critical for two cycles before he returned, not remembering anything that had happened. Phong read the schematics once more. Everything seemed to be normal, or so he hoped.

He hoped his friends were fine. If not…User help Mainframe.

 


 

The Saucy Wench had been beached.

The crew and the ship were now in some system not too far from Turic, a place called Symmons. The system looked all right, seemingly saved from all the bug business that plagued the neighboring system.

Gavin walked the docks for the hundredth time. He just couldn’t understand what had happened. When they left Turic, the ship seemed to be fine, but as soon as they portalled out, Mr. Andrews had noticed a breach in the side.

The hole was now causing damage to the interior of the ship. Making an emergency stop, they landed in Symmons. The Command.Com had welcomed them and said they would look in to fixing their transportation, but the mechanic said the repairs would take some time.

Time that the crew didn’t have.

The hole was large enough for it to be an extra doorway leading inside and out. The mechanic explained that whatever happened, it looked as though something had eaten its way through. It would take at least a couple of millis, maybe even a second for the damage to be repaired.

Gavin sighed, nodding his head. That’s when he started walking the docks. It didn’t make sense. Something wasn’t quite right to the captain. He suspected sabotage. That hole wasn’t there when they arrived in Turic and the crew had been inside the ship the whole time.

An inside job, maybe?

Gavin shook his head. This crew would give their life for the lass Dot Matrix and to hear she had been attacked had got the crew up in arms. It was something else. Someone or something had deliberately put a hole in the side of Wench, almost insuring they wouldn’t be able to make it back to Mainframe in order to retrieve the medicine Dot needed so much. Capacitor didn’t like it. Not one bit. It was almost as if someone wanted to keep Dot hanging on for dear life. Gavin stopped in his tracks.

He had a few suspicions about that.

 


 

Sabrina had never been so scared in her life. She valued her gaming experience and felt that surely nothing would ever happen to her in a game. But now, as her eyes transfixed on a very large and shiny knife looming over her head, she wasn’t so sure.

She had heard the story. Dad thought he was a big shot guardian until he got into a game that he couldn’t win. That’s how he had lost his eye. He was the one who had been dead set against her playing the games.

“This is something that a little kid can’t handle” he had said.

He had been worried, as any father would be, but something in him changed and he let her go, as long as she was with him or AndrAIa or Bob or Enzo. Now that she thought about it, this was really the first time she had been in a game by herself. Yes she had Ray and Ray was an adult, but she had never been in with someone who didn’t have as much experience as she did.

And right now, she didn’t have Ray.

Where is he? she thought. Wasn’t he right behind me? What a time for the dashing surfer to be flirting with some girl. Ray wouldn’t let her down though. She knew that. He’d be coming soon. She hoped. Time seemed to be stopped as soon as she saw that knife. No one moved. Not her, not the killer, no one in the apartments surrounding her.

She wanted to turn around, look her murderer in the eye, but gravity held her still. She wondered if this what it felt like before you deleted or at least in her little Net, what happens before you get carried off by a menacing game.

She couldn’t help but think what was going on in Turic. She knew Dot had been attacked and that was about it. She wasn’t basic though. She knew exactly what happened when a sprite or binome was attacked by a bug and she knew the hope wasn’t going to be good for her aunt. And things weren’t looking up for her either.

She couldn’t imagine what would happen if she lost this game and was trapped on the Net with Ray, just like her parents. Of course, she and Ray wouldn’t be falling in love (wouldn’t her Dad just love that?), but at least she wouldn’t be alone. And of course they would come back, wouldn’t they? Matrix and AndrAIa did, so what said that she and Ray wouldn’t return to their normal lives back in Mainframe one second?

But then, when or if they returned, things would probably not be the same.

Kit would probably be all grown up and married with kids, living out of the system he was born in. Or aiding Phong in some way. He was good at stuff like that, science and all. Must take after his doctor grandparents. His parents would be aging, getting up the hours. AndrAIa would probably look like she did now, only older.

Matrix though…Sabrina knew he wasn’t playing with a full deck. He hadn’t since he lost that game when he was little. If she were to become lost in the games, he’d probably crash for sure. The girl hated knowing she would be the reason for her father’s deteriorating sanity. Especially if Dot deleted.

Sabrina’s eyes got big as the knife came at her.

 


 

Kit woke up alone on the little bench in the makeshift waiting room. Looking at the clock, he saw that it was well after 2400. The boy yawned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. That was actually the best sleep he had had since landing in Turic. With everything that had been going on, he was a wreck. He couldn’t bear the thought that his mother wouldn’t be okay. She had to be!

Looking around the room, he saw why he had been awaken. His pillow was gone. He remembered he and Enzo had been playing cards and then they went and sat on the bench he now called bed. He must’ve fallen asleep in his uncle’s lap. But now his uncle, not to mention his father, his aunt, and other uncle, were now gone. He did notice Kalyle Daniels was nowhere in sight, a fact which slightly annoyed and worried the boy.

If the cadet was gone, that could only mean trouble.

Kit stood from his ‘bed’ and stretched. He decided he would go and find the cadet and bring him back to the waiting room. Kit wasn’t sure if it was a wise idea to go and talk to the young guardian. He did after all attack him earlier. But Kit didn’t mean to do it (well, in his heart, he knew he did).

It was just when he got mad, he really couldn’t control his powers that well. Other than that, he didn’t even use them. Sure, he thought they were cool when he first realized he had them, but he didn’t really have a use for them. Matrix, Enzo, and his Dad were guardians. Kit didn’t need to make a portal or do things of that nature.

So he didn’t use them. Unless forced to.

That cadet had almost guaranteed Kit would use them on him. The boy sighed, shaking his head. He probably wanted me to do that, he thought. Kalyle Daniels was everything that spelled trouble to the boy. Not just his personal safety, but that of his family and his system. Kit couldn’t wait until this bug problem was solved, then Daniels would be gone for good. Continuing his thoughts, Kit started walking towards the little kitchen that was down the hall. He immediately stopped though when he heard voices.

“I just talked to Del Centro, the Command.Com.”

Kit perked up. That was definitely his Dad he heard. So all the adults, minus one, were standing here in the hallway. But what was so important he couldn’t wait to tell everyone? Kit crouched down around the corner and continued to listen.

“The news isn’t good. There’re still more binomes and sprites coming in and no antitoxin. She’s fighting it some way. I’m surprised she’s still holding out.”

No antitoxin? Kit had not heard about this. Without that antitoxin, his Mom was gone for sure. Maybe his Dad had gathered everyone because he had a plan of some sort. That had to be it!

“But how?” Uncle Enzo, Kit determined.

“I don’t know how she’s doing it, she just is. Thank the User for that. If she can hang out for a little longer…”

Kit couldn’t believe his ears. His Dad was actually doubting that his mother, the guardian’s wife, could hold on. Kit didn’t know much about these bugs, but he knew nothing could stop Dot Matrix. That was just a given.

“Bob, we don’t got that kinda time!” Matrix exclaimed.

And now Matrix. His mother’s own brother didn’t believe she had a chance either. What was wrong with these people!? This was Dot Matrix they were discussing. Of course she would be okay!

“Remember, we have our own problems in Mainframe, and it isn’t looking too good either.”

That had been AndrAIa. What was that about Mainframe? Kit wondered. He listened closely as AndrAIa related back everything Phong had told her. So, Mainframe was being hit by bugs too. They had to do something, but surely they weren’t about to leave until his Mom was okay. He continued his eavesdropping and found that everyone planned to stay, to his relief. When it sounded as though the conversation was winding down, Kit quickly walked away and back in the waiting room.

What a stalemate indeed! Even if they wanted to, they certainly couldn’t go back to Mainframe, at least not right away. But what kind of shape was Mainframe in? They had already been in Turic for two nights straight and it didn’t look as though they would be leaving tomorrow either.

Where the Net were the pirates? They had left soon after word of Dot’s condition reached them. They should’ve been back by now. Kit didn’t like the situation they faced. Things were going from bad to worse in a big hurry.

Kit sighed again and looked across the hall at the door of his mother’s room. He headed for it. He was in a jumble of confusion and whenever he felt that way, his mother would be there for him. Stopping at the door, he wondered if this would be the last time he could confide in her.

He shook his head. He was sounding just as bad as Bob and Matrix right now. He opened the door quietly and slipped in. He noticed Mouse sitting in the nearby chair, eyes closed, head back, and snoring softly with her mouth opened. If he hadn’t been in here for a reason, he would’ve had some nice blackmail material.

Walking over to the bed and trying not to disturb Mouse, the boy knelt down next to his mother’s bed. She wasn’t looking good! His mother’s beautiful face was now pale and little beads of sweat dripped onto the pillow. Kit could’ve cried right then and there. He wouldn’t be able to survive if he lost her.

He couldn’t imagine how Enzo and Matrix survived without any parents. Just his mother. Not that she did a bad job. Matrix and Enzo were the best, any kid would be proud to have them as uncles. “Mom?” he whispered, watching her face for a reply. When he didn’t see one coming, he continued.

“Mom, I don’t know what to do.” he said. “Everything’s all random and stuff and we got so many problems right now.” Kit sniffed, blinking back the formation of a tear. “You can’t delete, Mom. You just can’t. What’ll happen to me and Dad and the twins? We need you. And what about Matrix and Enzo? They’ll totally go offline if you go.”

The boy wiped a stray tear from his eye. “Tell me what to do, Mom.” he said, determination in his voice. “Tell me what I can do to make you better. You say it and I’ll do it. Anything. Anything at all!”

“You could try cleaning your room once.” came the soft reply.

Kit sobbed out a laugh as Dot turned her head to look at him. “Done.” he said, gulping. “I’ll clean the Diner too if you want. Anything.” Dot reached up and touched the side of his face. The very action caused pain, but as soon as she made contact with her son’s face, she forgot about it.

“You’re so sweet.” she whispered, cupping the side of his face. “It’s sweet of you to worry. You’re a lot like me, you know? And Bob too. You have both our qualities. We’re so proud of you.”

“Mom, I’m sorry I snuck aboard the Wench.” Kit sobbed. “I just wanted to make sure you and Dad were okay.”

“I know, sweetie.” she said, looking into his eyes. The boy had a lot of qualities about him from both parents, sometimes it was hard to distinguished them from each other. He was caring and compassionate for the well being of others, something he had gotten from both parents. He wouldn’t hesitate to put someone else’s needs above his own.

“Don’t delete, Mom, okay? Don’t!”

“You know I love you, Christopher.”

Even talking was getting hard. Dot wasn’t sure how much longer she could fight the venom that invaded her system. Every fight only caused more pain and sometimes she had just wanted to give up. To stop fighting. She was always fighting in some battle. First Megabyte, then Daemon, then Megabyte again, and now this.

Every time she went to sleep, she hit that line between life and deletion and so many times she had wanted to cross it, but thoughts of her life and her family kept her holding on, wanting to fight her way out of this.

Even now as she looked in the eyes of her son, she was in a losing battle.

Kit watched as Dot closed her eyes and her hand went limp from his face. “Mom?” Her hand was warm and she looked peaceful. Kit thought about leaving, letting his mother rest, but at this stage, he had to be sure she was indeed resting. “Mom?” he asked again, squeezing her hand. When he didn’t feel a squeeze back, he panicked.

“Mom, wake up.” he said, shaking her shoulder. Nothing. Not even a murmur in protest. “Mom, wake up!” Kit called, this time shaking her a little more roughly. That had awoken Mouse, who nearly fell out of her chair. Kit was calling and he wasn’t getting any answer.

“Mom? Mom? MOM!”

 


 

Ray was panicked beyond belief. He had been down several streets looking for Sabrina and each time, he came up empty. Where was she? She couldn’t have gotten that far. A horrible reality set into his processor. She had gotten five steps and the killer could’ve taken her. Ray hadn’t heard that familiar, ominous voice ring overhead, so at least he could be thankful she was still processing.

But for how long?

The surfer decided to back space to places he had been through before. He just hoped the killer wasn’t smart, that would enable him to find the bloke and off him and end this horrible game. Ray did not like this at all. His only source for this game was now gone and he didn’t have a clue where he was going. Soon, he ended up lost.

Ray looked around, hoping to find something that was open or someone who was still up, but he didn’t see anything. He was in some back alley, surrounded by at least three apartment buildings. And none looked like they were the kindly, friendly type that would let a guy in for some hot tea and biscuits.

The more he looked around, the more frightened he got. Ray was not one to be intimated by anyone (save for Mouse, Dot, and Matrix when they got their dander up) and he certainly wasn’t afraid of anything (save for Matrix. Just an every second occurrence), but now he was just plain scared.

He had lost an 8 hour old girl in the dark, dank creepiness of a game, with a serial killer, could turn out to be anyone.

This was not good. This was most definitely not good.

 


 

Phong once again raised his eyes to the large screen that was in front of him. A fresh cup of cocoa in his hands, Phong held the only thing that gave him comfort right now. He had just received a vidwindow from Gavin Capacitor. The Saucy Wench and her crew had been detained in another system, still far from Mainframe and now, far from Turic as well. Capacitor had said they were grounded and would be for some time, as the mechanic had told him.

Phong didn’t like it.

Too any things were happening all at once. The boys in the lab were still working on a possible solution to their problems and it looked as though the Matrixes’ work was not working. The work was in the theory of course. In the old seconds, systems didn’t have problems with bugs. They weren’t the huge threat they are now.

And to know that the super virus Daemon was somehow controlling them… Phong had merely nodded, deep in thought. The captain had mentioned possible sabotage to the ship. It certainly left them in a bad predicament.

Just one problem after another.

If the pirates were stuck in another system, that mean help for Dot would be slowed by at least a second, time Phong was sure the Command.Com didn’t have. He still hadn’t heard any word from Turic and the citizens of Mainframe were antsy.

Worse yet, word had come that Cyrus, one of Megabyte’s drones, had been seen in the system. If that didn’t make Phong uneasy, the fact that the game still stood in Beverly Hills had him down right scared.

If anything should happen to Ray Tracer and Sabrina Matrix…

Phong didn’t even want to think about it. He had faith. He had faith that the game was going well and that it was apparently an extended game that wasn’t so easy to solve. He had faith in Sabrina’s abilities as a gamer, despite the fact she was a child. She had AndrAIa’s spirit and Matrix’s determination. If anyone were to survive this, it would be Sabrina Matrix.

Phong also had faith that the staff would be coming back from Turic at any nano. Dot had been attacked, yes, but this was Dot Matrix. Phong had never known a sprite as strong and persistent as Dot. She would fine and she and the others would return safely. And they would plan an attack as soon as they returned.

Things would be fine in the system again, just as they were whenever they had been faced with danger. The viruses they had tangled with had found out Mainframe wasn’t a push over system. Things would be all right.

Phong was counting on it.

 


 

Sabrina screamed.

As loud as she could, she screamed. She was not going down without a fight. She turned and faced her attacker, nails extended and all ready for a showdown. If she hadn’t been screaming for her safety, she would’ve screamed at the sight of her would be killer. She was sure he was rather handsome and cute by day, but in the dark of night, he was all but. His face was expressionless, even as she screamed, he showed no emotion.

Ray knew that scream and it wasn’t very far from where he was.

Tracer took off in the direction the scream was coming from. He may actually have a chance at saving the girl before things got terribly out of hand. He turned at a corner and ran down a similar alley. Towards the end, he stopped. He could see her and the killer. The User he assumed, had her by the neck and was brandishing a knife in her direction. Sabrina was trying to fight him, having actually used her nails, but the killer wasn’t showing any signs that the trick had worked.

Ray ran towards the scene, searching his pockets for anything that could possibly help his young friend. The surfer had to actually stop and look through his pocket carefully.

“Ray, help!” came the cry.

Ray looked up to see Sabrina losing her fight and worse, no one in the area had even thought to check out their windows to see what was happening. His hand came across what felt like a gun in his hip pocket. Taking it out, Ray aimed for the killer.

GAME OVER!

The purple cube finally lifted from the sector. Phong finally expelled the breath he had been holding since it’s arrival. He quickly sent a vidwindow to Ray and Sabrina to see if they were all right. Meanwhile, Ray stood looking around at their surroundings. He’d done it. He had actually gotten out of there alive and best yet, he had gotten Sabrina out as well. He would have been content at his thoughts, until something knocked him backwards to the ground.

“Ohwow,Ray,thankssomuchIthoughtIwasagoner! WhatintheNettookyousolonganyways? Wereyou flirtingorsomething?Don’tmakemehavetotellMouseoranything,causeyouknowshe’dbemadand…”

The celebration was interrupted when a vidwindow appeared in front of the duo. “Oh hey, Phong.” Bri said casually, forgetting her barrage of questions to Ray.

“I take it that everything went well in the game?” the old sprite asked, chuckling to himself.

“Ah yeah.” she said. “Easy as pi. Right Ray?”

The surfer shook his head clear. “Phong, promise me one thing.” he said.

“What is that?”

“Don’t ever let me do something like that again!”

 


 

Kalyle was once again standing on the steps of the Principal Office when he heard people come up behind him. “What’re you doing out here?” Matrix asked, coming up along side the young sprite.

“We’re in big trouble.” he simply said, not addressing anyone in particular and not looking at any of them.

“And how do you figure that?” AndrAIa asked, sarcastically.

“For a game sprite, you’re not very smart.” Kalyle started. Matrix instinctively had the sprite by the shirt as soon as he said it. Kalyle wasn’t intimated as he had been when he first met the sprite. They were doomed and quite frankly, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to stop fate.

“I hope you can show your ugly mug to those soldiers that start coming by.” he continued, staring the large sprite in the eye.

“Matrix, let him go.” Bob said. Matrix relinquished the boy, but still held him in suspicion.

“You four have no idea what we’re up against, do you?” Kalyle smirked. “It’s laughable really. Here you are, worried about one sprite, when the whole Net, every system, every city, is in grave danger. You think that after we fight one big battle, the war’s over? Hardly, kiddies. While you four have been boo hooing over some nameless data sprite, I’ve been out here, watching. Waiting. You think some bugs gonna by pass here cause you’re three guardians strong? HA! I told you when that solider attacked her, we weren’t safe. Not safe at all. Don’t blame me when everyone in this system deletes cause of your little problem.”

“Just where do you get off, ‘our little problem’?” Enzo huffed, standing up to Kalyle. “If it wasn’t for my sister, you wouldn’t have any plan of attack. You wouldn’t even have something that was close to a clue for all the victims. But no. That doesn’t interest you. As long as your little situation is handled, to the Net with everyone else.”

“You think I’m joking, Guardian Matrix?” Kalyle asked, making his advancement on Enzo. “Maybe you don’t need me to help get rid of these bugs, huh?”

“Maybe we don’t.”

It definitely looked like another fight was brewing between the two young guardians. Bob stepped in to try and intervene. This was not the time nor the place for the sprites in their group to be self destructing. Bob hadn’t been joking. He did plan to have a talk with Turbo as soon as this thing was over.

Bob knew they could handle Daniels if need be, but to let him out to do this to other systems and sprites was totally out of the question. Bob had never met someone who was so condescending, so wrapped up in their own little Net…

Oh wait. Yes he had known someone like that. Some virus by the name of Megabyte.

A noise in the distance stopped AndrAIa’s involvement into seeing another fight between the two. After a few nanos, the whole group heard the noise. Everyone’s movements stopped, as they trained their ears to the sound.

“What was that?” Bob asked.

“They’re coming.” Kalyle said, backing down from Enzo and walking to the front of the steps.

And then they were everywhere.

Workers scurried out from hiding places where they been observing, where they had been waiting. At first there was about twenty, then it grew to fifty, then ninety, until the group of five were totally surrounded. AndrAIa had taken out at least sixteen with her nails alone. Quickly extending her trident, she set about taking out ten more.

Matrix had a little more luck. He just stood and fired at the bugs that dared to come near him. But as he shot down five, seven came. Then he shot those seven and ten more came at him. Quickly checking the energy cell, he realized he’d be out of ammo soon.

Enzo and Bob were backed against the doors of the P.O. Even if they wanted to get inside, the chance these bugs could follow was very high. So they blocked the door, Bob shooting energy beams, Enzo using Deco to shot. Kalyle was up front, taking on as many bugs as he could.

With his keytool, he just kept aiming and shooting, then he retrieved his sword and began slashing at whatever came at him. Finally, the odds were at least even and pretty much taken care of. Kalyle backed up the steps to join the others.

“Is that it?” AndrAIa asked, surveying for more.

“I hope so.” Matrix said. “I’m out of ammo.”

“Crover, stats.” Kalyle said, glancing at his keytool. He looked at it in confusion, then at his companions.

“Well?” Bob asked. “Any more?”

Kalyle shook his head. “Looks like we’re in the clear, but…”

“But what?” AndrAIa asked.

“This is random.” Kalyle said. “Totally random.”

“What?” Enzo exclaimed.

“That was the last of them.” the cadet replied, his face reflecting his disbelief. “I mean, there’s still some workers in the area, but the soldiers are gone. It’s like they just…”

A vidwindow popped in front of the quintet. Mouse had a worried look on her face as she saw the others. “Mouse, what is it?” Bob asked. “What’s wrong?”

Mouse struggled with her words. She didn’t know how to say it. “It’s Dot.” she said. “I think she’s…”

The boys didn’t wait to hear the rest.

 


 

Kit couldn’t believe it. He just couldn’t.

There was no way his Mom as deleted.

She had been fine until he came in. Now, she was flickering. He had never seen anyone flicker before, not even in a game. The boy was inconsolable. He lay by his mother’s side, holding on to her, desperately trying to bring her back. He knew that one of the doctors had come in and was talking to Mouse about something. She had left, probably delivering the news to the family…but it wasn’t true.

She was flickering, yes, but she wasn’t gone. She wasn’t gone.

“Kit, honey,” Mouse said, touching the boy’s shoulder.

“Leave me alone!” he cried.

Mouse hated seeing him like this. He was just a boy and now he had to go through something only his mother and uncles knew about. The death of a parent. Mouse had experienced that, too, but she had been much older when that happened and she had dealt with it, but she knew this family wouldn’t be able to. Especially not Bob. He would have to raise three children by himself.

One of the doctors came by the bedside. The sprite was leaving as quickly as he moved. “Come on, son,” he said talking to Kit. When he tried to touch Dot’s hand, Kit kicked it away, screaming

“Don’t touch her!” The boy looked into his mother’s face. She was fading away, he could see it now. But surely she could hear him somewhere. Could tell she was about to leave and she would come back.

“Mom, wake up please.” he begged, tears falling from his eyes. “Mom, you gotta wake up.” The boy sat up, his hand on his mother’s icon. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true.

“Kit honey, why don’t…” Mouse tried another attempt.

Kit actually aimed a fist at her. “Get away from me!” he exclaimed, his little face contorted with rage and sadness. She wasn’t gone. She was still there.

The doctor shook his head. It was always hardest on the children. He had seen too many cases like this. The children always believed their parent would come back, but it was never to be. Dot would be flickering out and the bed would be empty.

No trace of it’s occupant. The doctor watched the boy, still pleading for his mother’s return. The boy was so upset, he was actually shaking with grief. He hoped the boy’s father would come in soon. He had to remove the bed and clean it thoroughly. He had other patients to attend to as well.

Kit was about to explode. How could she do this to him? How could she just leave like that? Those stupid bugs. They were going to pay. They had deleted his mother, his loving, wonderful mother. Just think what he was going to do to them.

He didn’t care if it took all his life, he was going to find the exact bug who did this. It didn’t matter what it took to do it, but he would do it. User, he was so mad right now, he couldn’t think straight. As he could see were images of his family, laughing and playing.

They were playing at Floating Point Park. He and Sabrina were chasing after Frisket, his parents were having a picnic under a tree. The twins were to the side, giggling like babies do as Dad made faces at them. Then Mom would smile and kiss him on the cheek.

Kit had been trying to control his grief, his anger, but it all turned into a big mess. His emotions were banging against his body, each one demanding to be heard. With a curdled scream, he let out his emotions. Before he knew what happened, Bob had grabbed him and was holding him in his arms.

Kit looked over at Dot, her body had risen slightly from the bed and settled back down again. Kit realized his actions. He had shocked her. He had shocked her and had deleted her. She flickered again, stronger than the previous times before. He had just sealed his mother’s fate.

“I deleted her.” he said in a hushed and awed whisper. He then began to cry again, truly understanding what he had done. “I just deleted my own mother!”

The room was silent.

Mouse surveyed the hushed crowd. Kit was hysterical, exclaiming he had just murdered his mother. AndrAIa was trying to get some response from Matrix and Enzo. The two seemed to be shell shocked. And Bob. Poor Bob could only just stand and watch as the love of life flickered in and out, probably for the last time.

Mouse, too, was crushed. It would be hard going back to Mainframe and telling everyone about Dot’s deletion. The system was pretty much doomed. The doctor again shook his head. He just waited for the final flicker.

But it never came.

In fact, Dot was growing stronger. The doctor checked her again, to make sure things were all right. She was still slightly pale, but seemed to be regaining her color. “I don’t understand.” he muttered, causing Bob to look at him. The doc turned and faced the guardian. “She’s still weak, but I think she’s actually pulling through.”

“What?”

Bob smacked himself in the forehead. How could he be so basic! “That’s why she’s still fighting the infection.” he murmured, shaking his head. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of this before.

“Whatcha talkin’ about, Bob?” Mouse asked.

“Dot has part of my code.” Bob stated to the confused looks.

“So you mean there’s something in the guardian codes that stops the infection?” AndrAIa asked.

“It doesn’t stop it, merely takes a defensive stance.” Bob turned to look at Kit. “Though I’m not sure how…”

“You mean I saved Mom’s life?” Kit asked. He had gone from his mother’s killer to his mother’s savior all in the span of five nanos.

“Well, you certainly gave her a wake up call, sugah.” Mouse said, patting the boy on the back.

“Then she’s gonna be okay.” Enzo said, a smile coming to his face.

“Not for long.” The doctor jumped in. They were all getting way too excited. “She’s in the same shape as before, only a little stronger, but don’t count on her surviving without…”

“Guardian!” came a cry. Del Centro burst in through the doors and smiled at everyone. “You’ll never guess what I found.”

“An extra amount of the antitoxin.” Matrix said, dejectedly.

“Exactly.” Del said, raising his hand. In it was a small vile of a pinkish-blue substance. “I had to search around, just to make sure, and found just enough for one sprite. I figured you guys were sick of being stuck here.”

A joyous noise rang in the room. It looked like Dot would be okay. “Dude, do you know what this means?” Enzo asked, already excited at the prospect.

“We’re going home.” Bob replied. “We’re going home!”

 

 

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