Please note that this story was written ages ago – just as season three had finished, actually. I guess you can consider this an AU, since it deviates wildly from what actually happens in season 4 and after. In case these first seven chapters seem a little rushed, it's because I wrote them one a day for a week, in between school, work, and general housekeeping stuff while my mom was out of town. Anyway, sit back to enjoy the ride, because this is going to be a very long bumpy drive, folks. Don't forget a cushion and some Tylenol.



Part 1

"Well... at least that's over..." Bob looked up at Mainframe's sky as if the portals to the SuperComputer were still visible. Bob, Dot, Matrix, Andraia, Mouse and Tracer had just returned from there after defeating Daemon and cleansing the Guardian Collective of infection.

It had taken quite a while, and Mainframe had been damaged slightly, but on the whole, they were in better condition then the SuperComputer was. Daemon hadn't gone quietly, she'd gone down fighting all the way, and the Guardians' ranks had been thinned as she used them to try and stop Bob from getting to her. Turbo had taken control of what was left of the Collective, and had started rebuilding the SuperComputer and reclaiming the Net from Viral control.

The news media had wanted to know everything that had gone on, and while the Mainframers had told them everything they could, the newsies hadn't thought it was enough. They had started harrassing them, even attacking them, claiming that there was a Net-wide cover-up going on, and that maybe this new order was just another virus taking control. After all, if it could happen once, what was stopping it from happening again? Bob had talked to Turbo about the media, and Turbo had sent the Mainframers home without informing the newsies until after the fact.

So now they were home in Mainframe, and they were more then happy to be there. Matrix and Andraia had their arms around each other's waists, and were smiling, happy just to be there; Bob and Dot were sharing an embrace, and Tracer was consoling Mouse on her loss. Mouse had discovered that her original home system had been destroyed by Daemon. The sprites there had managed to discover Daemon's viral background and had informed the entire system, hoping to spread the word to the Net and discredit Daemon. Daemon, however, found it easier to simply chop off Net access and drop a bomb through a portal. The entire city had been demolished. A large number of Mouse's friends had been there at the time, and none of them had gotten out. Losing so many of them all at once had actually caused Mouse to cry, a loss of her famed control.

Matrix and Andraia looked at each other, recognizing Mouse's feelings of pain and guilt. Andraia gently touched Mouse's shoulder, and her dark blue eyes radiated sympathy for the hacker. "I'm so sorry Mouse, I know how you must feel. I-"

Ashamed at her moment of weakness, Mouse lashed out in anger. "What in the Net would you know about it? You've never lost anyone close to you... you've got Matrix, who would you have to lose? How could you EVER know how it feels to lose anyone? You're a Game Sprite - you're not even real! Don't tell ME you know what it's like!" Mouse smacked Andraia's hand off her shoulder, shouting at the younger woman, and part of her felt good at causing the sudden bloom of pain in Andraia's eyes. Mouse's outburst had caught the attention of everyone within earshot, and she felt a savage satisfaction at seeing Andraia pale.

The young Sprite stepped back, tears in her eyes. She choked back a sob and spun around even as Matrix stepped over and embraced her. Mouse turned her glare on Matrix, but was shocked at the hatred she saw, and all of it was directed at her. To her amazement, she saw his golden eye glow and target her, and Mouse felt a shiver of fear run down her spine. She'd seen all too well just what Matrix could do when angry, and her sorrow was a thing of the past as she realized she might not live another 5 nanoseconds. She made herself keep her gaze locked on his, hoping it might unnerve him. No such luck...