Mainframe was at peace again. Bob, Dot, and her little brother Enzo were back in the diner where they'd spent countless seconds before the war. Now, however, sitting there seemed different. The booth was the same, the waiter was the same, even the food was the same, but the sprites had changed. Bob had grown wiser, and he was looking more battle-worn than he ever thought he would be. Across from him was Dot Matrix, and the owner of the diner. She'd had this place since she was old enough to own it, but now the small business market seemed tame. The violet-eyed, green skinned, black haired young woman had changed, herself, as a result of the war. She now had the whole system to look after, a system she'd guided through battle, death, and Megabyte's bane. She had little time for the Diner anymore. The only one who WAS the same was Enzo. And even though this young green-skinned, black haired boy had missed the terrors of the war, he'd lived through the Hunt, but he'd missed the majority of the war. The Enzo sitting with Bob and Dot was re-created when the system restarted, but the original Enzo, calling himself just Matrix, was twice as old and a scarred renegade with a robotic eye. The boots of the latter clomped over to where they were sitting.
"So," He said in a voice more suitable to his age than his looks, "what's going on?"
"Not much," Bob answered, slouching in the booth. "Just trying to adjust to peace"
"It doesn't look like you're having a hard time of it.." Matrix replied. "This scene reminds me of old times."
"Enzo?" AndrAIa, the marine game sprite, followed her boyfriend into the building, her high-heels clip clopping on the black and white checked floor. She was referring to Matrix. She was the only one who called him Enzo anymore. She came up next to him standing about a head shorter but possessing a personal strength to match his physical power. "I thought I'd find you here."
"Do you remember, AndrAIa?" Matrix asked, still dwelling in the nostalgia. "All the time we spent here?"
"Yeah, when we were both just kids." She answered. "Back when it was peaceful."
"Hey, it's peaceful, now!" Little Enzo reminded them. "You guys act like you are still fighting."
"I guess we've been doing it for so long," AndrAIa shrugged her scaly shoulders, "it's hard to believe that we AREN'T fighting."
"I hate to say it," Matrix shook his head, "but somehow I wish we still were. I'm so bored."
Bob sighed. "I kind of know what you mean."
Jut then, Ray Tracer, the web-surfer, and Mouse sailed down from the sky and stopped by the door, Mouse jumping off the back of his board. The surfer propped the vehicle against the wall outside and he and Mouse headed in. The purple-skinned woman was first. "Why, if it ain't an old-fashioned pow-wow in here?"
Her boyfriend came in. "Handy that you've got a place you all like to meet up." He said in his Australian accent. "Sure makes my life less complicated."
"It's kind of missin' that old charm, though." Mouse observed. "But I guess we can't really fix that. What with you all decked out like ya are." She was referring to the change of outfits Dot and Bob had made recently.
Dot looked around. "I guess you're right." She shrugged. "Maybe it'll all fall back into place in a little while."
"Well, what I need is some excitement!" Matrix said again, pounding his fist into his hand. "I'm suffering over here."
"Hey, Big Me! You wanna go Circuit Racing!" Enzo suggested, jumping up in his seat.
"If I was your age, I'd probably enjoy that." Matrix said. "Sorry, kid, but I want some REAL action! Where's a game cube when you need one?"
"But, Surfr can't go into a game, can he?" Enzo asked.
"I can." The search-engine answered. He tapped his non-formatted icon and it folded over to form two waves, a black one and a white one, that resembled the reboot icons the others had.
"Whoa! Alphanumeric!" Enzo cried. "This is great! The next time a game comes, we'll all go! It'll be fun!"
"Now, Enzo, take a look at Matrix." Dot directed. He looked over to the muscular form standing by the table. "Games aren't for fun, they can have serious consequences!"
"But Dot! Big Me ended up so cool!" Enzo pleaded.
"He had to fight for his life in the games." Dot insisted. "I never want you to go into games by yourself, and if a game-cube is falling, I want you to stay away from it, understand?"
"Aw, Sis!" Enzo moaned.
Matrix laughed. "It's like watching my childhood all over again."
"It is watching your childhood all over again." Bob stated then he leaned forward. "Well, I know what would get me relaxed, I wonder if my car was re-created?"
Dot rolled her eyes and shook her head. "It's nice to know that some things never change."
Bob shoved himself up. "Let's go. I'm interested, now."
"A party at Bob's?" Mouse asked. She smacked her surfer in the arm. "I could go for that."
The seven of them moved out of the diner and popped some zip boards. Ray got his surfboard off the wall. Mouse used her own zip board this time. Bob glanced over his shoulder and they all took off across the sectors of the city.
Dot looked around. "Wow, this place is really beautiful. I'd forgotten how pretty it was before the Megabyte infection."
"Yeah, Yeah, enough already!" Enzo whizzed up next to her. "You all are so boring! All you do is talk about how great this place is, and how bad it used to be! Man, Frisket's the only one I can have fun conversation with and he's a DOG!"
"Whoa! Whoa!" Bob called back. "Don't get so excited, Enzo."
"Why not? I feel so compressed!" Enzo replied. "For all the cycles you guys have been here, all you do is sit around!"
The system voice echoed throughout the city. "Warning. Incoming Game."
Enzo's head snapped up as the data-sky purpled and a hole opened in it. "Alright! A game! Pixilatious! Let's go!"
"No, Enzo, what did I just tell you?" Dot cried. "Stay away from the Games!"
"But Dot!" Her little brother pleaded. The game cube was already coming down. Matrix nodded to AndrAIa and the two of them swerved off to catch the cube before it hit. Enzo got angry. "It's no fair! All you guys get to go and I don't!"
The cube continued to descend. Time was running out. Matrix turned and called over his shoulder. "Bob! Hurry up!"
Bob looked at the others, shrugged, and left. Dot turned to watch him go. "I'm coming too! Just a nano!"
"What am I supposed to do while you're all gone!" Enzo cried.
"Why don't you head to the Principal Office and give Dad and Phong some company?" Dot suggested, leaning forward and patting him on the shoulder. "Perhaps you'll learn something."
"Snore! Sis!" Enzo replied.
"Dot!" Bob called. He, AndrAIa, and Matrix were hovering under the cube. Dot flew off.
"I'll stay if you want, Mate." Ray offered. Mouse shot a surprised glance at him.
"Thanks, Surfr, but you don't have to," Enzo hung his head, "It's better that one of us is having fun."
"What, Sugar? You tryin' to back out on me?" Mouse growled. "Come on, it's the first team game." She grabbed her Search Engine and drug him nearly off his board. "Let's go!" The two of them made it into cube just as it touched down. Enzo waved as his older friends disappeared from sight.
Inside, Bob, Dot, Matrix, AndrAIa, Mouse, and Ray found themselves on a desert planet. Two suns hung high in the sky, and scorched the sand below their feet. In seconds, a stadium appeared, the rows of strange-looking creatures soaring up on either side of them. The game-sprite audience was cheering in several alien languages.
AndrAIa looked around. "What kind of place is this?"
"Glitch, Game stats" Bob requested. His keytool responded though a read out screen. "I've heard about this game before." Bob announced. "It's called Alien Pod Racing. The idea is that aliens from all over the universe have gathered to take part in this high-speed race through tons of dangerous courses."
"For Real?" Ray's eyes lit up.
"Settle down, honey." Mouse warned, then turned to Bob. "Just how dangerous is this game?"
"Well, with machines moving at super-high speeds, it will be real dangerous. And according to this the courses are programmed with multiple types of obstacles to crash into."
"We're all going to have to be really careful." Dot summed up. "There might be a chance that we won't come back from this one."
"Don't worry, Dot, we'll handle it." AndrAIa assured. "We've been in racing games before."
Ray was growing more excited. "This is perfect! Let's get started!"
"Yeah, the sooner we reboot and start this race, the sooner we finish and go home." Matrix agreed. "I was looking for a fighting game, not a racing game!" He stepped up and tapped his icon twice. "Reboot!"
The others followed his lead, rebooting to assume traits that would help them in the game. Bob transformed into a desert boy, dressed in light-colored wraps with dusty-colored short hair, he had with him a vehicle which was composed of two long, hovering engines connected in the middle by an energy coupling. The cockpit of the vehicle floated up over the engines by two long, thick cords. The others took on more unusual forms. Matrix had become a squat alien with a bulging jaw, two big rabbit-looking ears, and a long, twitching tail. His racer was bigger than Bob's with a doughnut-shaped cockpit. Mouse was nearly human, with purple fur and a goat-looking head. She was taller, and lankier than she'd previously been, with a red and white pod racer. AndrAIa had grown tall and her face elongated into a long, narrow snout. Her neck extended up in an arch and her arms became very long and slender, extending nearly to the ground past the knees of her very short legs. Her pod-racer was blue with two engine spouts on each side. Ray's neck had grown long, his face small, and his knees had reversed direction. His engines were the biggest of them all, with six spikes sticking out the sides of each one. Finally, Dot was the strangest with a normal-sized head, shrunken body, and six spider-like arms. Her pod-racer was green in color and round in shape.
Bob checked himself over, then looked to Dot, letting out an initial scream and taking a step backwards. "Ahh!"
"What?" Dot asked, shrugging her set of four shoulders and moving her arms independently.
"Ug!" Mouse cried. "Dot, honey, if you don't mind me saying so, you are a frightening sight to behold!"
"I can't be that bad." Dot said. "I mean, you've got goat ears, Mouse."
She reached up to feel her ears, but then looked back to Dot. "Perhaps, but at least that's ALL I got!"
"We're aliens." AndrAIa observed. "We shouldn't be surprised that we look a little odd."
"A little?" Matrix huffed, crossing his arms and twitching his long green tail. "We're freaks! All I'll say is, thank goodness we'll be in CARS for this game!"
just figured out how to walk on his new legs, and now was inspecting
his racer. "This is amazing!" He gawked. "They look like they
go fast! When's this race start?"
"Surfr, honey," Mouse called to him, "you're cute and all, but if you get too excited I'm going to have to start worrying about you."
"Don't worry, I'll be fine." Ray assured. "Taking risks is what I do best. Besides, I should be saying the same thing about you."
"Hmn.." Mouse put one furry hand on her hip, amused.
The game-announcer's voice echoed throughout the stadium. "Racers to the line!"
On cue, the User showed up in a red racer with two flared engines. He turned to the other six racers and spat at them. "Yousa Bantha Poo Doo!" Then with an arrogant chuckle, he pulled up to the starting line.
"What'd he say?" Dot asked.
"Whatever it was, it sounded like a challenge!" Matrix cried, his golden, artificial eye rotating in its new socket.
"Cool it, Enzo," AndrAIa warned, turning her long head in his direction.
Dot laughed a little. "At least he's into it now."
"That would be the User." Bob announced. "And there are four game sprites. The race is about to start, so we'd better get ready." The others nodded and climbed up into the cockpits of their vehicles. Bob pulled on his driving goggles and observed the levers on the panels in front of him. There was one he noticed next to a speaker. He pressed an adjacent button and his voice was heard in the other Mainframers' pods. "I wonder what this does."
"I can hear you, Bob." Dot said amused, reaching out with one arm as the others toyed with the controls. "This cockpit's so cluttered! I don't know if I'll figure out how to get it going."
Ray's voice was heard. "This is nothing! Everything looks well labeled. It's really simple if you ask me."
"What labels?" Matrix said. "There's nothing but rusty knobs and touch screens on mine."
"Really? Yours must be different, I don't have any touch-screens." Ray answered. "Just the button that says 'Ignition' and two steering grips. And the intercom of course."
"I feel like I'm sitting in a tire swing." Matrix said. "I can't see out the front except for a dusty screen in front of my face."
"That'll save the bugs in your teeth." Bob grinned.
"You guys are lucky to have teeth." AndrAIa said. "I feel like a seahorse, but I like my pod. The end looks like a fish tail! It's perfect for me!"
"Countdown's starting, gang," Mouse announced. "Remember, it doesn't matter who wins as long as it's not the User."
"Right!" Bob agreed. He reached out and grabbed the controls, revving up the pod's twin engines. "Stay Frosty! Let's do this!"
The twelve racers, one of them a User, four of them game-sprites, and six of them Mainframers, braced themselves, their hands/feet/flippers on the accelerators of their pods. The starting light glowed red, then red again, then green. On green, they all took off. Mouse had the superior accelerator, with Ray close behind. Dot's was the poorest and she fell in with the computer-players at the rear. The track took a sweeping turn to the left straight off. The User began pulling steadily up the ranks. Matrix spotted Bob out his side window and established communication. "Bob, these things are impossible! How are you supposed to drive them!"
"Find a way to tilt the engines!" Bob called back. "And be quick! You're headed toward a wall!"
"Huh?" Matrix punched his dashboard and the malfunctioning screen revealed the wall of the stadium rushing swiftly at him. "Yeeah!" By second nature, he grabbed two knobs and pulled. They ended up being joysticks and he was able to steer himself out of danger.
AndrAIa's voice came over the link. "Matrix, are you alright! That was close!"
"I'm fine, AndrAIa, I guess my character knows what he's doing, even if I don't."
"That's all fine and dandy," Mouse called as she whizzed out of the stadium and across a flat plane of desert, "but the User's made his way up here! My acceleration is great, but my top-speed is awful! He's gainin' on me!"
"Don't worry, love! I'm on it!" Ray cried. "Wah-HOO! These things are FAST!" His pod moved in front, soaring across the sand at a breakneck speed. The wind rushed past as a canyon wall appeared in front. There was a crack in the side where the track entered. The web surfer clicked on his com-link. "There's a tight squeeze up here! You all'd better watch out."
"Thanks, Surfr, be careful." Dot responded. She pulled up closer to one of the game-sprites. "It's getting awfully cozy back here. What places are you guys in?"
"Third." Mouse replied. "And falling. I'm trying to keep on the User's tail, he's right ahead of me! I'm headed into the cave, now."
"I'm forth!" AndrAIa called. "I can see Mouse, but Surfr and the User are too far up. I'm gaining speed, though. I think I'll catch up before long."
"I'm though the wall with only a scratch." Ray announced. "It's close in here, with tons 'a turns."
"I'm on my way in!" Mouse called.
"I just passed Matrix." Bob said. "I've taken fifth position."
"I'm not far behind." Matrix said. "I'm not looking forward to that cave, though. I'm having a hard enough time as it is."
"The doorway isn't that hard if you line it up right!" AndrAIa announced.
Dot saw the canyon wall come into view. Matrix's pod was seen ahead as it pulled in tight for a better chance at the crack. One pointed, blue, computer-controlled pod pulled up right next to her and battled for airspace. She tried to hold her ground as the entrance came rapidly closer. "It's getting crowded back here."
"Find an opening!" Bob cried. Dot could hear the sides of his engines banging into the entrance walls. "Ugg! There's barely enough room for ONE racer to get through there!"
"Oh great." Dot eyed the combating racer, angrily. "Get away from me, game-sprite!" The doorway was racing toward her and she was off-center, with the blue racer right there. The desert flew past, a sandy-colored blur. She clenched her teeth, tightened her grip on the two steering pivots, and prepared for the immediate danger. "I'm getting through that door, whether you want me to or not!" With the narrow throughway up ahead, she swung hard right, and slammed into the enemy pod-racer. Her pod graced the walls of the entrance, but the other's didn't make it, exploding on impact in a scattering of debris. She glanced backward to see the cockpit of the pod go spiraling through the air, the pilot screaming. "Guys! Be super careful! Crashing isn't pretty and I don't think anyone will survive hitting a wall like this."
Matrix was getting tired of the warnings. "We'll be careful, already!"
"No! But I just SAW a crash! There's fire and smoke and the whole ship gets blown apart!" She cried.
"Thanks, Dot, you're making me nervous!" Bob said. The path around him twisted and turned, his racer rubbed against the left wall. He watched as sparks flew. "This is bad..."
Ray's voice came on again. "I just got past the end of the cave! It's just as narrow as the front! Now I'm dodgin' rocks on another desert space."
"This cave should have been avoided!" AndrAIa cried. "With these narrow spots and snaking walls, it's a health hazard!"
"I think that's what they were goin' for when they built it, Sugar." Mouse called back. She looked ahead as the User squeezed thought the exit, his flared engines sparking against the rock. "I'm still fallin' behind! Someone needs to get up here and help me take care of the User!" She whizzed though the crack, her left engine banging hard against the stone. "Cursors! I hate this car!"
"I'm on your tail, Mouse!" AndrAIa announced. She clanged her way out of the cave. "Whoa! That was a tight fit!" She looked up to find the field ahead of her littered with jagged stones. Most were small, but the medium-to large ones had to be avoided. Some of the bigger rocks were like icebergs jutting out of the water and appeared in random places in the sand. AndrAIa scanned the area, Mouse's red and white racer was just ahead of her. She reached out her long, alien arms and hit the thruster to pull up beside. Mouse saw her two blue engines appear out of the corner of her eye.
"You're a welcome sight, Sugar, I'm holdin' steady here, but the User is up on Surfr and this is as fast as I can go! With Ray in first this game's won but if he crashes or the User takes him out we'll have one heck of a mess on our hands."
"I'll take care of him!" AndrAIa assured. "I've found how to give my pod extra speed. It really fries the engines, but my cooling system's okay, and as long as I don't overheat, I'm fine." The sprite's cockpit wheeled up near Mouse's. They glanced to each other sparingly.
Mouse waved. "How'd you get it going so fast?"
"Press the handles all the way down!" AndrAIa cried over the whirring of her engines
"Is that all there is to it?" Mouse asked, amazed. "Well, hurry and get up there, I'll see if I can get it to work!"
"I'm on my way!" AndrAIa shoved the throttle forward, then stomped on the gas and her racer shot ahead, a long trail of flame and steam behind her. Bob emerged from the cave and Matrix pulled in front of him.
"You know," the renegade called. "Once you know how the controls work, this game is pretty exciting."
"Too exciting if you ask me!" Bob called. "What kind of game is it that has you risking deletion at every turn?"
"My kinda game!" Ray cried.
"Stop eaves-dropping and focus on winning!" Matrix snapped.
"Hey! It's lonely at the top!"
"Idiot" Matrix shouted to Bob out his cockpit. "I'm gonna try and catch up with him. I think he's gonna need backup."
"I'll come too," Bob agreed, "the turning on this thing is terrible, but in the open I shouldn't have a problem."
"Just watch out for those rocks." Matrix warned. "And stand back, I'm cutting in the after-burners!" Bob watched as the other's engines flared and he moved slowly ahead of him. Bob used both hands and thrust the engines forward, weaving among the crags.
Upon emerging from the tunnel, Dot found herself passed up by two of the four game-sprites that had been following her. One, in particular, was going extremely fast. "Wow! Where'd he come from?" The creature yelled foreign words at her as he passed with a chuckle. "Hm...healthy attitude for a game-sprite." She flipped on the communicator. "There's a really fast game-sprite headed your way!"
"The game-sprites don't bother me." Bob said. "Right now, I'm worried about the rocks! These pod-racers go so fast!"
One of the computer players swung in front of Dot just to smash into one of the megaliths. She flew aside to avoid crashing herself, and was paltered with debris. "I can't WAIT until this game is over."
"I bet you're glad Enzo listened to you and stayed home for once." AndrAIa laughed.
"What, exactly do you mean by that?" Matrix challenged.
"Hah! Nothing, Matrix, Nothing."
"I wonder what the little chappo's doin'" Ray mused.
"Stop getting distracted!" Matrix cried, sounding aggravated and impatient.
"Cool it, Mate." He replied. "I've got it covered. The finish line's right up ahead. It'll only take a nano."
After flying twice around the city, Enzo was bored. He couldn't find Frisket anywhere, and he kept staring back at the purple game cube. "I wonder what kind of game it is." He sat down on the lip of the Principal Office's outer wall. As he watched, the cube rippled with the compressed data fluctuations in white patters across its surface. Several binomes went about their business, safe as long they stayed away from the cubes. Data sprites were there to protect them from being nullified in the games. There were once tons of sprites like Enzo and his friends, but they'd been nullified when the twin city was destroyed. Now, they were nulls; bodiless, mindless blobs of random data that would snake around the alleys of the city. The twin city made him think of his father. He glanced over his shoulder, back at the spherical principal office and recalled Dot's suggestion that he visit. Shaking his head, he pulled himself up and popped open a zip board to ride. "Crash it all."
Jumping on and swinging the hover-board around, he made his way to the PO's front entrance. The binome guards recognized him immediately and opened the gates. Inside, the principal office was made of shined white marble. It was brightly lit and very clean. He maneuvered his way through the halls until he arrived in the war room. This was where the Mainframe forces had held their defense against Megabyte, but now it was just a room used to check on the status of the system. Phong was there with Wellman Matrix, Enzo's father and a semi-restored Null. Wellman was scrolling through statistics by pointing with his robotic arms. Phong noticed the boy as he entered.
"Ah, young Enzo, what a surprise."
"Hiya, Phong, Hiya Dad." Enzo eased to a stop and hopped off the board, collapsing it into one disk, which stuck to his belt. "What's processing?"
"Nothing too interesting, my child." Phong answered. "There are no more crises to face. I am trying to remember what I would fill my time with before the war."
"Ugg! Again with the war!" Enzo cried. "What's wrong with all of you? All you ever do is talk about the stupid war! Get over it!"
Phong bowed his long, flat head and straightened his glasses with this three-fingered hand. "My son, the war was a very important event in the lives of your friends. It was a turning point for them."
"Okay, Okay, Phong, I get it." Enzo complied. "I lived through 'the Hunt'. But I'm still sick of hearing about it."
"Peace is very good in my opinion." Wellman said, his voice a little muffled by his nullified form. "It gives me a chance to catch up on all the history I've missed while I was away."
Enzo walked over to the screen. "Whatcha reading Dad?"
Wellman looked down at his son and closed the window quickly. "Nothing you'd be interested in, Son. I was learning about how the Web World War started."
Enzo groaned and marched off to take a seat on the stairs. "Of course you're learning about THAT."
Phong sighed. "Enzo, bear in mind that you do not have to be angry at the others. They are adjusting, just the same as you are adjusting, and soon everything will even out."
Enzo thought a moment and found the old sprite's words contained a lot of sense. He and the others were very much the same, unaccustomed to the tranquility of a crisis-free life. He was just coping by being apathetic. "Heh, Dot was right. I did learn something.""Ah, yes, how is that game progressing?" Wellman asked Specky, the head
"It is stable, sir." He answered. "No variation in energy output."
"Ah, it's either a very long game or a very detailed game." Phong said.
"What?" Enzo asked.
"Either they are moving through hundreds of levels or suspended in very complex game graphics." He explained. "Who is in the game?"
"Everyone!" Enzo cried. "They ran off and left me!"
"Ah, this game is surely won if all of them are against the User." Phong announced.
"I really wanted to go with them!" Enzo cried.
"You are too young, my son." Phong told him. "You are unprepared for the games."
"But Big Me went into the games when he was my age!" Enzo insisted.
Phong sighed again. "Perhaps Dot will let you into one in time. For now, she has her own reasons for keeping you out of the games. She already lost you once. She doesn't want to risk you being deleted."
"And now we are back in the war again." Enzo said. "Listen, I understand why she doesn't want me to go. But that won't stop me from wanting to anyway!" He crossed his arms. "It would be better if there was someone my age, so that I could talk to them when everyone's gone in a game."
"You can talk to us." Wellman offered. "And Frisket."
"Thanks, Dad, but its not the same. When Big Me was little, he had AndrAIa to play with. I've got nobody." Enzo hung his head.
Wellman looked to Phong and shrugged his automated shoulders. This gave the gold sprite an idea. "Listen, my son, I may have an answer. It isn't having another sprite around, but it may help a little." He wheeled out of the room. "Wellman, would you come?" The nullbot and Enzo followed, hope restored.
The three of them found themselves in a chamber full of nulls in glass cases. Phong came to a stop by the tank. "This is where we are conducting experiments in saved games and the effects on nullified sprites." He looked up to Wellman. "Wanted to make sure this was all right with you, old friend, before I suggest it."
"If you're saying what I think you're saying, Phong…" Wellman said, his green body moving from he to Enzo, "the I guess its all right."
"What?" Enzo was getting interested, now. "What are you guys talking about?"
Phong fumbled with his glasses again. "Back when your father was a little sprite, the biggest craze was having a pet null."
"Pet Null?" Enzo asked. "Why?"
"You have to understand," Wellman explained, "when I was a young sprite there weren't so many nulls running around. Finding a null was exciting. You were considered pretty cool to have a null as a pet."
"It is not another sprite," Phong said, "still, it may help you with your longing for companionship."
"I'll give it a try," Enzo agreed, "although, having a put null sounds sorta basic." He walked over and looked into the box of multi-colored nulls. "No offense, Dad."
They were all different, most were two-toned in greens, reds, blues, and yellows. They squirmed around as he approached. "I get to pick my own right?"
Phong nodded. "Any one you want. I am sure the experiments will continue undeterred with the absence of only one null."
He and Wellman watched as he sifted through the box, "I want one that's special, one that's not like any of the others." He got zapped by one and jumped back. "Ow."
"Be careful." His father warned.
"At least I don't want that one." He answered. In the corner he spotted a small, slow moving white null. It was almost like porcelain with silver marbling and delicate nose movements. Enzo was drawn to it. "That one's different." He reached in and scooped it up. It did not suck his energy or make any move in protest. He handled it easily and it sat calmly in his green hands. "I think I want t his one."
"Why, he seems almost shy!" Wellman mused. "It's a cute little thing."
Enzo stared down at it, it turned its little nose to face him. "I think I'll call him…" Enzo took a second to think, "Boolean! I like it, Boolean!" He watched as the null scooted its way up his arm. "He doesn't go really fast, does it?"
"That is good. It will not run away from you." Phong observed. "And you will not lose it."
Enzo grinned. He looped the thin Boolean around his neck and popped open his zip-board again. "I'm gonna go wait for Bob and Dot by the game cube. I can't wait to show them Boolean!" With that, he turned and flew from the room.
"What gives?" Ray demanded. He sped past the starting line and followed the path on which the had begun. "I won! Shouldn't the game be over?"
"There is apparently more than one lap." Bob answered "Most likely there're three. Just keep up your pace."
"Hey! AndrAIa! I figured out how to use a speed boost." Mouse announced. "I'm gonna try it out once I get around this corner!"
"We're catching up with you, Mouse." Matrix announced. "How are you doing, AndrAIa?"
"I'm okay, I am pulling up on the User, now, but my brakes stink, and I'm going to have to take some wide turns. I'm not looking forward to going back in that tunnel."
"We're coming in for backup." Bob said again. "How is it going back there, Dot?"
"I've got one game sprite here behind me." Dot answered. "The other's just in front. Where'd that speedy one go?"
As if on cue, the computer player cut in between Bob and Matrix, traveling at an insane speed. The two of them were just crossing the finish line, and Bob had to veer left to avoid being run over. His racer clipped the wall. "Whoa! What WAS that?"
"That sprite," Matrix gawked, "how'd he get so fast?"
"I dunno, I can't go much faster than this," AndrAIa answered, "that racer will overtake Surfr and the User in no time at all!"
"Good, that's one more person in front of the User." Matrix said. "As long as he doesn't win, we're good to go."
"I've got the burners on on this straightaway, but my cooling is terrible. I can't fire 'em for long before I get a warning signal." Ray called up.
"I'm catchin' up to yeh, Sugar!" Mouse cried. She sent her own engines into 'burn' mode and dashed over the open desert.
With her burners on as well, AndrAIa was catching up with the User. "The User's pod is small." She observed. "Next to those monster engines Surfr has."
A blaring noise was warned Ray that his engines were overheating. He switched off the burn to sink back into his normal top speed. The User crept up alongside him. "My lead's in danger up here!"
"Don't you DARE let the User in front of you!" Matrix warned.
"I don't have much choice!" He defended. The User's engines were making a loud "bang bang bang" sound next to his head. It was nearly deafening. The entrance to the cave was just ahead.
The quick game sprite whizzed by Mouse. His engines were turning red from the heat. "That super fast sucker is up here with me." She announced. "He looks like he's gonna have engine trouble from all the friction he's got built up." The engines of the other burst into flames, spewing fire out behind them. The pilot let out a cry before he was erased. Mouse's jaw dropped. She punched the comlink. "Note; Overheating's BAD! That sprite just exploded right next to me!"
"Noted!" AndrAIa called back. She'd turned off her burners to line up with the canyon entrance again. Ray was busy fighting for open space to enter.
"This doesn't look good, mates." He warned. "He's blockin' me out! I can't get lined up!"
"If you blow up, I'll kill you!" Mouse stated.
"I'll see what I can do." He answered. With the entrance rapidly approaching, the User turned down his burners, but still hung just off to the side of the leader's pod. Ray decided to take a chance. "Here goes nothin'!" He stomped the thrust and shot through the cave door like a slingshot, his right engine banged heavily on the wall. Two of the six spikes broke off and a huge gash was torn open in its side.
Dot's voice called out. "Surfr?"
"I'm through." He answered. He took a second to survey the damage before the first hairpin turn. "A little worse-for-wear, but I'm still going."
"Just watch your back in this tunnel." AndrAIa warned. "He's right on top of you."
Mouse sped in, addressing AndrAIa and just killing the thrust. "I'm right behind you, honey, so don't be surprised if I come in the side."
"Okay, thanks Mouse."
"So far, out of twelve racers, three have been destroyed." Dot informed them. "Now there are only nine places."
"So what's your point?" Matrix asked.
"I'm just giving you an update!" She answered. "Don't get so tense."
"This game is no picnic." Matrix shot at her. "From now on, don't give information unless it's urgent." Matrix and Bob were racing across the plane en route to the tunnel again. The game sprite in front of Dot was pulling in behind them. Dot was doing her best, suffering from a very poor top-speed and ignorance of how to use the burners.In the winding cave, Mouse was having a hard time making the turns. Her pod banged against every outside wall as she wove through. AndrAIa was right in front of her doing the same thing. "We stink, Sugar!"
"You've got that right!" AndrAIa answered.
"Can you see them up there?" Mouse asked.
"Yeah, the User always turns the corner right ahead of me."
"Man! He keeps scrapin' my rear bumper!" Ray reported in frustration. "I think he's getting edgy and he needs to leave me alone."
"Once you get onto that plane, pull out all the plugs." AndrAIa advised.
"I can't," he said regretfully, "my right engine took a beatin' back there. If I turn on the burners, I'll go up for sure."
"We're catchin' up." Mouse said. "Don't worry."
Bob and Matrix entered the cave. Matrix's handling was tighter and he slowly moved farther in front. "I hope this is the last time we make it through this place."
"I hear ya!" Bob agreed. His racer jammed into the stone wall, throwing sparks. "At least we made it in okay. The entrances and exits on this course are the worst part."
"You're right, but we've gotta keep going," Matrix said, determined, "we've almost caught up with Mouse and AndrAIa."
"We need to find a way to wreck that User!" Bob suggested. "If he crashes, the game might as well be over."
"Unless he's got multiple lives." Matrix concluded. "That would byte."
"Exit approaching." Ray updated. He lined himself up, the sound of the User's engines still loud in his ears. He shot out the doorway without much damage. Once in the field of stones, the User switched into overdrive again, pulling up next to the surfer and slowly creeping his way into the lead. "I'm fallin' back!" Surfer called. "I could really use some help up here! There's no way I'm pulling in front of him, now."
"Try!" Several voices pleaded.
Ray left the link open as he updated them all step-by-step. "He's pullin' in front. His cockpit just passed mine. He's just barely in front of me, now. I don't know what he's thinking, he's totally on top of me." He forgot the link was open as he yelled at the User. "Why are you so close! We've got a whole DESERT!" Is clinginess had a purpose. Laughing maliciously, the User pulled a lever on his control panel and flames shot out of his left engine to bathe Ray's right flank in fire. The pilot took a start. "Shoot!"
"What!" The others sensed the urgency in his voice.
"What in the Web? He's got a FLAMETHROWER!" The User pulled off into the lead as Ray's warning blared and the status monitor flashed red. Smoke and flame were pouring out of his right engine. He stared disbelieving at it, then launched himself into action. "I-I'm on fire!" He punched buttons to try and put himself out. "The right engine's gone totally up!"
AndrAIa exited the cave and saw the pod just ahead, the trail of black smoke billowing behind. Mouse came out right behind her. "Surfr?"
He desperately attempted several fire methods. The emergency cooling hatch closed and the flames died down. "My cooling stinks! I'm falling off, guys I can't concentrate!" Just then he looked up and saw he was headed for a large, jutting rock. The engine fire burned. His steering failed. It was too late. With a scream, the vehicle smashed against the boulder with a violent explosion. The pilot was blown from the cockpit.
AndrAIa and Mouse whizzed past, unable to do anything to help. Everyone had heard his scream on the intercom just before the line went dead on impact. Dot's voice entered. "Matrix, Surfr just blew up. Is THAT urgent enough for you!"
The renegade furrowed his brow and looked away as he and Bob flew past the charred stone that had become a grave-sight. Once beyond, however, he forced himself back to business. "I hate to sound insensitive, but now the User's in the lead, AndrAIa, can you take 'im?"
"Uh, sure, I'll catch him!" AndrAIa shook herself out of a haze. "Mouse? Are you with me?"
"Let's barbecue that null-spawn." She replied. They turned on the maximum thrust and sped up, dodging rocks on their way to the User. AndrAIa pulled steadily ahead, but she wasn't fast enough, the finish line was right up ahead.
Dot moved out onto the rocky path. The game sprite was just behind her. It moved to the right side and edged its way up beside her pod. She ignored it and stole a glance at the remains of the crashed pod. The game sprite body-slammed her to jar her awake. Her green-painted racer raked across the smoking boulder, buckling some of the exterior plating. "Whoa!" She moved her four arms and hit a thrust to bang the sprite back. "You basic-! Stay away from me!" Pieces of her broken side flew down around an unconscious, podless, Ray. Sand flew up into his face. Dot raced on.
The race was still going. AndrAIa chased the User into the third lap. Flinging wide around the first turn and hitting the straightaway at top speed. "We're nearly neck and neck!" AndrAIa announced.
"Your neck is pretty long, so I'll take that as a good sign." Matrix said.
"Let's learn from experience here, though." Dot voiced. "Don't pull up too close to him!"
"We've got that on our minds, Sugar!" Mouse said, bitterly.
"I can see you, Mouse!" Bob announced, taking the first turn with Matrix just ahead. "We're comin' in!"
"What place are you in, Dot?" AndrAIa asked.
"I'm last." She answered. That game sprite just pulled in front of me. He nearly made me crash into that same rock."
"But you're okay?" Bob asked.
"Yes, I'm fine." She assured.
"Stay frosty, people, this is probably our last time around." Bob announced. "Let's make it count, or we'll all be deleted." Kicking in the burners, Bob let loose on the straightaway. Bob pulled up alongside Mouse, going maximum speed.
"Don' worry about me, Honey!" Mouse shouted back, harshly. "Focus on the task at hand!" She pulled in front of him to enter the canyon.
Dot kept tabs on the sprites in front of her. She wasn't too far behind the others. On the straightaway, she could nearly see Mouse on her way into the cave. She was gaining ground steadily, as were the two game sprites. One was going exceptionally faster at full burn, and was gaining on Matrix and Bob. Matrix lined up and shot into the cave first, practically a pro on this, his third time in. Bob was right behind him, scraping against the wall with his already-damaged pod.
Up ahead, AndrAIa was right behind the User. "You're gonna get it, you!" She pulled up dangerously close to his cockpit, the power coupling holding her engines together threatening to slice through the metal. Her target took a turn and escaped. She persisted, hitting his cockpit with her engines at every opportunity. "Nobody deletes my friends and gets away with it!"
"AndrAIa?" Matrix's voice: "You okay up there?"
"Just a little anger management, Enzo, it's okay" she answered. "I'm channeling my emotions into the game. It's useful, you should try it." She took a wide turn and attacked the User's other side. The exit was approaching. She stopped the barrage to line herself up. "Heh, maybe I can crash you in the same place."
"It would be nice to see the User a flaming spot on some rock!" Mouse agreed. "Go for it, Sugar!" They took off out the narrow exit, some ricocheting resulting from glancing blows. AndrAIa quickly pulled up so that her engines were next to the User's head. He charged, his flared engines sparking with the burst of energy. Mouse exploded out of the exit, kicking in her thrust as soon as open ground was in sight. She purposely avoided looking at the landscape and focused on catching up with the User and AndrAIa. She was at top-speed and on their tail in seconds. "This better not be the last lap, or we're all toast. Get your rear in gear, Honey!"
"I'm working on it!" AndrAIa called back. "I can't help it if my top speed is less than his!"
Inside the tunnel, Matrix and Bob were snaking along, hitting walls. Matrix kept glancing back to the Guardian's racer. "You're a little close for comfort!"
"Sorry, but we can't slow down. I'm keeping a steady pace."
"Then I'll speed up." Matrix resolved.
Suddenly, Dot's voice blasted over the link. "Guys! Watch it! Behind you!" They didn't even have a chance to think before the sprite that was tailing them plowed through at top-speed. It was a tight squeeze that forced Bob and Matrix hard into the walls. Bob's already damaged engine exploded as it hit rock. Its twin did the same after spinning out and hitting the floor. The cockpit slammed hard right, dislodging the pilot and sending him flying. Bob was lucky enough to avoid hitting the opposite wall, but shot straight through the doughnut hole of Matrix's cockpit to end up draped across his lap. Matrix was very surprised to find him there, and was stopped in the middle of lining up for the exit to gape. "Bob!"
The sprites looked up and saw the door coming. They threw their hands up to protect their heads as one engine was blown to pieces on the jagged lip of the crack. With only one engine remaining, the pod began a death-spiral that took them around in circles before the remaining engine exploded on the ground. The cockpit with the two sprites flew over the wreckage and rolled end-over-end across the sand, bouncing off rocks like an old tire. The contraption finally came to rest as it ran out of speed and flopped to the side, skidding through the dirt.
Both sick and extremely dizzy, Bob and Matrix stumbled out of the seat to fall onto the sand like they'd walked off an amusement-park ride. From above them they heard a voice. "Well, that was a show."
They both looked up. "Surfr?"
He put his hands on his hips. "The one and only."
Bob gaped at the sprite, Ray was practically unscathed from the crash. "Y-you're alive?" He shoved himself to a sitting position. "How?"
"Probably the same way you are." He answered. "Luck."
There was a scratchy, static-y sound as the radio in the crashed cockpit switched on. "Bob! Matrix!"
Matrix jumped up. "The communicator!" He dashed, uneasily over.
"Now there's luck!" Bob grinned. The three of them crowded around.
On the other end of the connection, Dot was in a panic. The game sprite in front of her had just wiped out trying to avoid the two wrecks near the exit. It hadn't taken her long to figure out who had crashed. "Bob! Matrix! Answer me!"
"What's happened!" AndrAIa demanded, urgently.
"Bob and Matrix just crashed." Dot said, shakily. She moved past the wreckage and onto the stony plane.
On the ground, Matrix was leaning sideways into the upset cockpit where the radio was blaring. He quickly dusted off the sand and jammed the button on the touch pad. "Dot!"
"Enzo?" She cried. "Where are you?"
"We crashed in the cave, but we ended up out here."
"We?" She asked.
"Me and Bob. Don't ask, I'll explain later, but guess what? We found Surfr! We're all okay down here!"
"You did?" Mouse cried.
"You are!" AndrAIa called. "I don't believe it!"
"We're fine, but we can't help you win the game." Bob said.
"So don' worry about us an' get that User!" Ray finished.
"Heh, right." AndrAIa grinned. "It's good to hear all of your voices, for a second there...nevermind." She set her eyes ahead at the User's tail. The finish line was in view. "It's gonna take some real engine power to win this!"
"Gun it!" Mouse cried. The two of them threw all they had into the end of the race. AndrAIa's engines were revving as she raced up behind the User. It was a matter of seconds before he was in the stadium and across the finish line. The engines of her blue pod were glowing red. She was close to overheating, but she had to win the race. Mouse was up there with her, the heat and smoke coming of her own engines striking her face.
AndrAIa saw the final curve race toward them. "I'm not going to make it! There's not enough time, not enough speed! My engines are overheating!"
"I'm comin' up fast, Honey!" Mouse said, her engines nearly flaming. The remaining game sprite rushed at them as well. They entered the stadium, creatures rushing past in a grayish haze. The smell of brimstone was rising from the superheated mechanics of AndrAIa's pod. The User was making the turn. Mouse's voice shouted over the link. "Head for the inside! You'll cross faster on the inside!"
AndrAIa gripped the controls, but as she tried to turn, her 'overheat' warning began to blare. The breaks failed, one engine began to shoot flames out the back. "I-I can't turn! I'm out of control!"
"I'm on your tail, Honey, I'll make it!" Mouse answered.
The User had to slow down to turn. He was nearly over the finish line when AndrAIa, enflamed and going mindlessly fast, plowed into his cockpit. Her pod broke apart and crashed into the far wall at varying places, the cockpit was launched into the stands and stuck halfway up, its nose buried in the seats. The User's pod was thrown around on a pivot until it swung in to face the oncoming traffic. Mouse was taken by surprise and crashed headlong into the flared engines, their two fuel tanks causing a humungus explosion. Through the smoke of the destruction, Mouse flew into the bleachers to land on some innocent binomes and game-sprite bystanders. AndrAIa leaned out of her cockpit to see if she was okay. The computer pod couldn't see where it was going in the midst of the wreckage, flew through the smoke, and collided with the wall. The smoke cleared as the last racer arrived. Traveling no faster then she had been at the beginning, Dot swerved, unchallenged, over the finish line.
"Game Over" The system voice announced. The game cube stretched and left the system, leaving behind the six sprites, standing on the ground where they'd been in the game, and a crowd of cheering binomes. AndrAIa and Mouse fell from the sky.
Everyone took deep breaths and stared at each other, Ray kicked his board up and set it upright next to him. "Well, that was fun."
"FUN?" Dot cried. "That was terrible!"
"We all made it out alive, that's the point." Bob concluded. "And when we weren't blowing up, you gotta admit it was exciting."
"You're right about that." AndrAIa walked over to Matrix. "Still, there was a point in the middle of that where I thought I'd lost everything."
Mouse frowned and moved to Ray, grabbed his face. "You sure know how to scare a girl."
"Sorry." He replied
She threw her hands up around his throat. "I told you I'd kill you if you crashed!"
"Ack! What?" He stepped back, but she moved from attack to embrace with a sigh.
Dot seemed to like the idea and hugged Bob. "I never want to win another game where I'm the last survivor!"
"Dot! Bob!" Enzo swung down to where they all were and hopped off the zip-board. He took his new pet from around his neck and held it out for all of them to see. "Look at what Phong gave me! Isn't he neat?"
Everyone walked over to look. Matrix cocked an eyebrow. "It's a null."
"It's not just any null, its my null!" Enzo shot. "His name is Boolean. Dad said it was cool to have a pet null when he was little. Isn't he alphanumeric?"
"I guess," Bob said, a little baffled, "but, Enzo, your Dad IS a null."
"Duh, Bob! I know that! But he said it was okay with him." Enzo continued. "I think it's great, Sugar." Mouse grinned. "I just hope he and Frisket get along."
Enzo turned. "Sis? Can I make a house for him at the diner?"
"Uh, sure, but don't make it in the way." She agreed. "You don't want anybody to knock it over."
"Alphanumeric! Thanks!" The boy and the null sped off excitedly.
Dot put a hand on her hip. "I don't understand."
"Don't understand what?" AndrAIa asked.
"Why would Dad give Enzo a null? I mean with all we've learned about nulls recently its like giving Enzo another sprite as a pet." Dot said.
"You've got a point, there." Matrix agreed.
"I don't see what the big deal is." Mouse admitted, stepping forward. "Nulls are great for pets. What's wrong with keeping one?"
"It's just, I don't know, inhumane." Dot explained. "That null Enzo has still has the code of the sprite it used to be, someone with a face, a name, a family….Is it right to own that?"
"But there's no way to restore all that." Mouse replied. "Until we find a way to bring a null back it might as well be taken care of by a little boy. We should be happy for it."
"I guess, but I can't seem to shake the feeling." Dot insisted. "It's like keeping Dad as a pet again."
"Didn't Megabyte keep Dad as a pet?" Matrix recalled. "Maybe you're right, sis."
"Maybe we should ask Wellman." Bob suggested. "He's got a little more of a personal angle on this debate. Perhaps he can tell us why he thinks its okay."
"Let's go." Dot nodded.
"I'm coming too." Matrix announced. He hopped on a zip-board and took off after Bob and Dot.
AndrAIa looked over to the other two. "So, who's up for a control array?"
"I am." Ray grinned.
"You two go on." Mouse declined. "I'm gonna give this a little thought."
"You sure?" Ray asked.
"I'm sure, Sugar." Mouse affirmed. "I'll sort myself out and find y'all when the array's over."
"Okay." He hopped on his surfboard and left with AndrAIa, Mouse headed in the other direction. The theatre was just off Baudway, near Dot's Diner. There, the control arrays were shown for the public's viewing pleasure. The two of them stopped and dismounted in front, then headed in, Surfer bringing his board along.
AndrAIa looked around the lobby of the theatre, binomes were spread around, enjoying themselves. There were a couple binomes behind a snack bar up ahead. She turned to the Search Engine. "You up for an Energy Shake, or some Flavo 5s?"
"Nah, Ah'm fine." He answered.
She took a nano to think. "Yeah, me too. Let's go wait for the show to start." She grabbed his wrist and led him toward the theatre doors. "I hope its one I haven't seen yet, Matrix and I come here all the time."
They moved through the doors and down the isle of seats. Many binomes were there to see the movie as well. The theatre was mostly full, but the back three rows were nearly empty. They sat in the very back, Surfer stowing his board behind the seats, and AndrAIa taking the isle. They stared ahead at the screen, which was rotating images of still advertisements in preliminary to the movie. A couple more binomes came in. The teenage ones glanced over and giggled. The older ones took a double take upon seeing them there. The sprites were like celebrities in Mainframe because there were so few of them around. This became evident in the crowd as the word spread; and more and more people turned to look at the back row. AndrAIa crossed her legs and leaned in to say something to Surfer. One of the teenage one binomes became outraged at the sight. In a moment, she had worked up enough courage to march over to them, much to the dismay/delight of her friends. She stood next to AndrAIa and crossed her stick arms. "Ahem." AndrAIa stopped laughing with Surfer and the two of them looked over. The three stacked blocks of the girl shifted to the side as she tapped one of her feet. "Don't you two already HAVE dates!"
"What?" AndrAIa was still chuckling, and found her amusing.
The binome wasn't being funny. "Did you forget about Matrix? What are you doing at the arrays with another guy?"
Surfer began to laugh again. AndrAIa took a start, but soon joined him. "No…It's not what you think."
"Oh no?" The teen said and a nagging high-pitched voice.
Her friends were giggling over the seat backs and speaking excitedly among themselves.
"Ray and I are just friends." AndrAIa insisted. "Matrix knows that."
"It doesn't look like you're 'just friends', it looks like you're flirting with each other!" The binome cried.
"Hey, listen, it's none of your business." AndrAIa stated.
One of the binome girls in front popped up and called over the seats. "Ray! You're Gorgeous!" Then vanished with her friends behind the seats in a huddle of giggles. Surfer grinned and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Would you girls be quiet!" A male binome called from further down. "The array's starting!"
The girls settled down. The stern one returned to her seat in a huff. AndrAIa leaned to Surfer again. "Geez, are we all they have to gossip about?"
"Seems so." He answered. The lights dimmed and the animation began rolling on the far screen. The array was made of a cast of binomes and outlined a horror/action/thriller story. The title was 'If…Then…Else' Surfer leaned to her. "Cheezy title."
"'B'-platform film." She agreed. "It's probably the exact same as the one me and Matrix saw the other day."
"And what was that one?" He asked.
"It was called 'The Infinite Loop' or something." She whispered back. "It was about a guy who can never get away from deleting people. He kept doing it over and over and over and he couldn't stop."
"So how'd it end?"
"Ah, like most 'B' arrays." She answered. "It ended up being part of his code and they had to blow him up."
"Pleasant." He said.
"Oooh! Look, its starting!"
Mouse was zooming around the city. She'd had a chance to clear her head, but was still in a sour mood. She took a look around Sector 31, thought about popping into Al's Wait and Eat diner for an energy shake, but decided not to. She took a wide lap around Sector 12, then sped over to the dock. The hustle and bustle was appealing so she dismounted and proceeded to look around. As she wandered, she saw ships pulling in from the net port of shore. Just then, she heard a familiar bark.
Frisket, Enzo's best and most loyal friend, was assaulting a sea-faring zero binome who was loading cargo onto his ship. She rolled her brown eyes and headed over. The zero binome was obviously not a native of mainframe. He had a curly black mustache and spoke with a French accent. "Zuit! Zuit! Back virus!"
Frisket kept barking until Mouse arrived. "Hush, Frisket, what's the matter?"
"Whas ze matter?" The binome roared. "WHAS ZE MATTER! That virus was trying to delete me!"
"Who Frisket?" Mouse asked, looking down at he canine, who was still snarling. "He's a dog, honey! This city is virus free."
"Whell, this iz ze first to make such a claim." The zero answered. "I wouldn't be too quick to say zat, mademoiselle, Viruses are everywhere. Zey are tricky. One minute you sink you can trust someone, ze next, zey are trying to delete you all!"
"Thanks for the vote of confidence." She replied, growing impatient in her surly mood. "What's you're deal in Mainframe anyhow?"
"Pit Stop." He answered. "We are re-stocking ze ship for our long voyage."
"Well, if I were you, I'd get out of this system as fast as I could." She continued.
"And why wout zat be?" He snapped.
"Well, with all your squackin' about viruses, I realized that we can't be sure that YOU'RE not a virus." She looked down to a growling Frisket. "Plus, Frisket here doesn't like you."
Frisket bared his teeth and crouched, the hair on the back of his neck rising in ferocity. The French binome realized his plight and rushed himself into his vessel crying, "Load and cast off! Tout Suite! Aller! Aller!"
Mouse, satisfied with driving him off, turned to Frisket. "C'mon, boy, we'll go hook up with Enzo at the diner. Maybe I can drop in on Surfer and AndrAIa and catch the end of the flick."
Frisket perked up his ears on hearing Enzo's name, then wagged his stubby tail and followed her back toward Sector 1 and Dot's Diner
Dot led the two guys down the hall to confront Phong. He had returned to the central block to oversee the power fluctuations of the city. For some reason, it was remarkably unstable. Hex was still around, this time with a Null tagging along for entertainment. Specky looked up from his monitor, the tape on his glasses flapping. "There's another energy buildup. We may have another game coming in!"
"Already? But we just had one leave." Phong recalled
"I know, sir," the binome assured. "But I can't explain these readings."
"Phong!" Dot cried as she and the others stomped in.
"Ah, what's wrong, my child?" He asked.
"Did you give Enzo a null?" She demanded.
"I – saw no harm in it." He complied.
"Didn't you consider the moral issues before hand him someone's REMAINS as a PET!" She roared.
"They were the nulls you and Bob were experimenting on." Phong offered. "I supposed that if it was alright to run tests on them, then it was alright to give him one. Wouldn't you think so, Dot?"
"Yes, well," she thought a second.