Disclaimer: Reboot belongs to its creators and producers, etc. It is not mine. Notes: An AU look at Bob and Dot written for Thursdaynext's request in the 2011 Yuletide Rare Fandom Exchange.

"Tripping the Light Fantastic" by karrenia

If their roles had been reversed, if she had been the one lost in the web, stranded far away from Mainframe she knew that he'd dive right in to rescue her. And he wouldn't do it because he had too, not he'd do it because it was the 'right' thing to do.

Of course, that's what heroes did and though there were times when she and her brother Enzo were growing up that he'd adopted a kind of implacable ability to know what was right, and there had been times when he'd exuded a certain amount of, well, arrogance was not the word she'd been looking for, maybe a kind of smug know-it-all vibe.

Until this day Dot Matrix had felt, in a word, ambivalent about it, she liked it that he had confidence in himself and his mission, to be the protector of Mainframe, at other times it had grated on her last nerve. On the whole, Bob was sweet, and kind, and perhaps a little bit naïve.

Now, Dot felt that given the right circumstances and if she hadn't been the one left to hold down the fort, she sometimes that Bob might feel for her the same way that she felt for him.

Dot had a plan, not one of her better ones if she were to be honest with herself, but a plan that stood a chance of succeeding, that is if she could convince a certain mercenary to come along. Mouse, while she had proven herself a good friend to have standing at one's back whenever you were pressed into a tight corner, was also mercurial.

She found Mouse in machine shop at the far edge of town, negotiating the price of a replacement exhaust manifold with a crusty old sprite who seemed on the verge of coming down on the quoted price to judge by the smug half-smile plastered on Mouse's face.

"Come on, old man." Mouse was saying as Dot walked over. She had leaned over in such in a way that he could look nowhere else but at her. Watching the transaction, facial expressions and postures of the principal participants in the tiny drama unfolding before her eye Dot could only shake her head and hope that Mouse at least left the old man with enough credits to make it through the next cycle.

Mouse offered him one of her trade-mark grins and "Honestly, I'd call it highway robbery, but that would be an insult to highway robberies everywhere. Agree on a price already, or I walk!"

"5,000 and that's my final offer."

"3,000 credits," Mouse replied.

"2, 500," he hedged.

"Agreed and only because I'm in a hurry." She replied and reached into her scrip bag that she carried slung over her shoulder and paid over the agreed upon price. While she waited for her fuel component to be delivered she began to whistle and then looked up to notice Dot where she stood at the fringes of the equipment yard. "Well, well, as I live and breathe. If it isn't Dot Matrix."

"The same," Dot replied. "How have you been Mouse?"

"Can't complain," the other woman replied. "Except when it comes to being cheated of a fair price for decent goods."

"So, I saw and heard."

"What brings you around these parts?"

"I'm in need of a ship."

"Where to?"

"It can wait until the delivery of your equipment. I'd like to discuss this, "Dot glanced around, suddenly conscious of the curious eye-tracks and muttered whisperings of other Mainframe citizens as they went about their day-t0-day lives,' and added: "Somewhere a little less noisy."

"Sure, I got the time."

Mouse didn't think that Dot would take her to a teahouse, but if she had wanted someplace less noisy than a busy street or an equipment seller's yard, then she definitely picked the right place. It was so quiet in here that she could almost hear her pulse beating underneath the skin of her wrists.

"So what's up" Mouse said loudly enough to make the display dishes mounted on the well thump.

Dot sat down in the chair opposite her and heaved a sigh. "You see, it's like this, I need a ship that is capable of navigating the Web, and yours immediately came to mind."

"Whoosh!" Mouse said. "You don't mess around. Would you mind very much explaining to me exactly why this sudden desire to visit the Web. You that it's dangerous, not to mention proscribed to sprites like us, right?"

Dot shook her head and then pulled out a thick iconic blue and silver chip that had been sealed in a cellophane cover. She carefully unwrapped it and then turned it around to show the symbol etched upon its surface.

Mouse began to reach for it, figuring at first that it was simply a pretty relic, or something that had been left over and collected from one of the Games that periodically visited their system. She had just placed the three middle fingers of her right hand on the crystal when it hit her. The realization hit with all the force of a sucker punch to the gut. "Oh, for the love of a user name! Dot, do you even realize what you have here?"

"Of course, I realize what I have. And will you keep your voice down!" Dot exclaimed in a hushed undertone.

"It's a Guardian's emblem." Mouse replied, tearing her fingers away from the smooth ice-blue crystal.

"There have only been three of these ever made in the entire history of Mainframe." Mouse said much quieter than before.

"I know," Dot replied.

"Do you have any idea how much this would go for on the black market?"

"It's not for sale," Dot said in a frosty tone of voice. "I didn't show it to you intending that you'd make a heap of money off of it. I showed it to you, because it's the first piece in the puzzle to finding…

Mouse held up a hand. "Stop right there, and hey, I'm sorry for the immediate reaction of making a ton of money off it. You know me." Mouse shrugged. "That comes as almost second nature to me."

"I'm going after Bob," Dot replied and there was an icy light of determination in her eyes that Mouse knew from previous encounters to never question.

"Okay, okay, I get in. I'm in. What do we do next?"

Thanks, Mouse, I mean it." Dot replied. "The first thing to do gather whatever supplies we'll need for your ship and for us while we're in the Web. Once we're in, then you can call the shots because you know what's it's like. Do we have a deal?"

"Deal,. Mouse reached across the expanse of the table and grabbed the other woman's hand in her own and they shook on it.

A short while later Dot stood up and turned to leave the teahouse. "Where is your ship docked?"

"Just beyond the Port Infinity."

"Figures, you always did like to be dramatic." Dot smiled. "Thanks, Mouse."

"What say we met back there in twelve hours, that will give me time to gather up the rest of the supplies and equipment and weapons that we might need." Mouse grinned. She didn't really care one way or the other what Dot's motivations were on this venture, but she had a pretty good idea and she had been only partially kidding about selling the Guardian emblem.

If Dot wanted to risk life and limb in the Web chasing after Bob, that was her business. In point of fact the sheer bravado of the adventure sort of appealed to her. She had once been sweet on Bob herself once upon a time. Now, Mouse suddenly found that she would like nothing more than to find him and bring him home. Not because she was still carrying a torch or anything like that, but because she wanted to.

And as for Dot, this meant a lot to her; maybe more than the other woman was willing to admit. In the back of her mind Mouse thought: ''Well, que sera, sera. To each their own, I always say.'

"Weapons?"

"You said yourself that it's dangerous in the Web. I like to be prepared," Mouse said.

"I understand. See you then."

Elsewhere

Bob did not know where he was or even when he was, the where at the moment was of less importance than the when because no matter in which direction he glance happened to fall it was pretty the seeming boring vista, an expanse of layer upon layer of the same silvery-gray blahness.

His head hurt and there was a taste in his mouth like he'd been force-fed an entire bag of cotton balls and his heart felt like a lump of lead inside of his chest.

He tried to move, to relieve the pressure bearing down on his legs, chests, and arms, and the results were less than stellar, for he could feel absolutely no slack whatsoever on the restraints that kept him tethered to this 'place,'

After a moment of attempting less obvious attempts to free himself Bob eventually tried a subtle approach and the pressure gave way just a bit, so he tried it again and again, when at last he could actually feel his extremities. He wiggled his toes inside his leather boots and reassured on that score began to launch cautious forays against his as yet unseen restraints. The thought it this immobility might just be accidental rather than the work of an enemy or an unknown assailant never entered his mind.

The overall grayness of his surroundings eventually gave way to a bruised blue and grey metallic landscape laid out like the pieces of a chess board, and Bob, idly wondered if he was supposed to take as a literally as whomever had designed it, seemed to think that he should.

It was a good thing, Bob thought, that he'd learned to play the game as a young sprite, and could still recall a few of the strategies he'd picked up back then. The idea that someone or something had gone to all this effort to captured and restrain him and then put together this gigantic chess board, well, it was too much of a coincidence.

In the distance from the far side of where he lay, he could hear someone approaching. He waited.

"So, come out and show yourself, why don't you?" Bob causally remarked. "It's not like I have any pressing engagements at the moment. Ha-ha. Small joke.

"Very small joke," a dry, rather cynical voice replied and soon a figure whose dry and rather attenuated appearance more or less matched his voice appeared in his immediate field of vision. Soon a high-backed chair appeared at the far end of the chess board and the man sat down in it.

"Greetings, Guardian."

"You know who I am?" Bob demanded a bit disconcerted, that this stranger would know to call him by his title, for he had imagined that not many people outside of Mainframe would know to do that.

"I can tell by the expression on your face that you're startled that I know what you are. Don't be, this is the world wide web after all, information, especially vital information such as that, travels faster than the speed of quantum particles out here in ether space."

"Who are you?"

"Impatient, are we?" the other remarked and then offered up a grim but not entirely without humor tight-lipped smile. "The young often are. You must apologize for the accommodations, but you see I had a very narrow window of opportunity," he paused and then spread his hands out in a fan-shaped and then slammed them closed in an instant, "I had to grab onto it before it speed by me."

"I see. But what does that got to do with me?"

"Everything, dear boy, everything. You see, you are the key. And thanks to you and your compatriots for eliminating Megabyte and his nefarious sister, from the equation, my path is clear."

"Hey, I don't supposed that while we're having this conversation, you might want to, oh, I don't know, let up on these restraints?" Bob demanded.

The man nodded. "I have been a terrible host, but I could not take the risk that you might escape my sanctum before we had a chance to speak with one another."

Just then the man reached forward and thumbed a button on the nether edge of the chess board and Bob flexed his arms and legs and discovered that he was indeed free, the only problem now was that weightless he ha felt while suspend in mid-air was about to give way.

He stole a glance down to the chess board that was also suspended about four or five feet below, and sighed, figuring that there was nothing left to do but surrender to inertia and hoped that he would land on target.

He did, barring a margin for error, the stranger waited patiently, as far as Bob could tell while this was going on.

"Sir, you have the advantage of me. Who are you?"

"I've gone by many names, but the one I prefer to use here is the Black King."

"Not entirely helpful," Bob remarked, but it's better than nothing, I suppose. So what do you want with me?"

"I brought you here, I'll admit at first for my own purposes, but I also have come to understand that you are lost in the ether and wish to find your way home, back to Mainframe."

"I don't see the connection," Bob replied, thinking even as he did so that while the gentlemen who would only identify himself as the Black King and seemed to be able to control the virtual effort with the ease or at the merest touch of a button, either was highly skilled or obviously originated from somewhere within the system, just farther afield the systems that touched upon Mainframe.

Or, even as his mind added up two and two together and came up with four. That, or the man was a User. Even back in Mainframe, the Users were the enemy, each time a Game cube descended. If the Black King intended to enter Mainframe, then he could he really afford to take anything he said at face value.

No, not really, and as much as Bob wanted to return home, he was not at all certain that the price he would be asked to pay would outweigh the potential risks to his home, his friends, and loved ones.

"You're skeptical, I can appreciate that," the Black King replied. "This is much to take in at a first meeting. Tell you what, why don't you and I play a game and we'll pick the discussion at a later date."

"Sure," Bob replied. "Let's do that."

Mouse and Dot enter the Web and find unexpected allies. The man who had begun tapping on the view-screen of their ship and communicated a request to come aboard identified himself as the Surfer and once they learned that he had also been searching for the missing Guardian it was soon decided that it made sense to join forces.

"Any idea about where to go from here," Dot demanded.

"Your guess is as good as mine," the Surfer shrugged, and then settled into a nearby chair, spreading out into a loose-limbed sprawl.

"Why are you looking for the Guardian? Mouse asked, never one to beat around the proverbial bush.

"Because, I need him just as much as I think you shelias do, if you'll pardon the expression and the obversation," the Surfer replied. "And for another matter, there's a rumor travelling the network that someone is looking to make his mark on the systems by using the legendary Key of the Guardians to take the whole shebang by storm."

At that last remark about the key Dot and Mouse exchanged significant glances with one another and Dot squared her shoulders and tried to look at the Surfer, at the consoles, out the view screen, but by at all costs, to avoid looking anywhere else than at the duffel bag stuffed under her chair. Inside that bag wrapped in tissue paper and in a crate was the Key, in more ways than one. It was the only lead she had to finding Bob, and it was also that very same legendary Key, the talisman of the Guardians.

If someone else was indeed searching for it then she and Mouse had to be doubly on their guard to ensure that nothing happened to it.

'Does this stranger have a name?" Mouse pressed.

"Never heard tell of his right one," the Surfer remarked, "But I've heard tell that he styles himself the Black King, and he's got a fondness for games, especially something antiquated and old-fashioned.

"Go on," Dot encourage with a nod of her head.

"I think it's called chess. Ring any bells?" he asked.

"No, but we'll find him, and he'll lead us to Bob." Dot stated.

"Sounds like a plan to me," the Surfer agreed, slumping a bit further down into his chair, "I thank you ladies, for the ride and for agreeing to take me on. But, it's been a long day and night, so if you don't mind I'll just be taking a little snooze."

"Of course not," Mouse remarked.

When he had his eyes closed and his breathing had become slow and regular, that was when Dot and Mouse stepped into a corridor adjacent to the pilot area, placing the ship on auto beforehand so they could talk in private. "Black King or no Black King, this Surfer knows the web better than we do, so it makes sense to join forces."

"That's that what worries me, "Mouse stated as she folded her arms over her chest. "Look, the Surfer may be a bit on the odd side, but I think he can be trusted, what worries me is this Black King and what he wants with the Key."

"Me, too," Dot replied. "The key is the only link we have to finding Bob, and I was hoping that the closer we got to him, it would light up, or give a sign, or something."

"Not much of a plan," Mouse remarked.

"Did you have a better one?" Dot demanded.

"No, not really, so don't ya'll get your knickers in a knot," Mouse replied.

"I agreed, for now on, we'll play close to the vest, agreed?" Dot asked.

"Agreed," Mouse replied.

Confrontation/Fight Scene

When they found Bob at last, the key, as Dot had long suspected lit up like the warning lights on Mainframe's proximity alarm force field screen. The glow was almost too bright for her to see much beyond its lurid red and blue glow. Still, once she had shielded her eyes with her forearm and looked out the view screen what she saw was not at all what she had expected.

The Surfer and Mouse joined her and they landed on something that was square and laid out in concentric black and white marble squares. "I guess now we know he calls himself the Black King."

"I don't like this. According to our ah, sensors, "Dot said. "We should be right on top of them. So where is he?"

"You didn't think it would be this easy" Mouse chided.

"No, but…" Dot began but before she could complete her sentence or even think to do so suddenly the three of them were surrounded by chess pieces that were taller than they were, an on each were mounted laser-beam ports.

"I think this answers the question of whether or not the Black King is hostile," the Surfer remarked.

"You think!" Mouse exclaimed, never one to exhibit much in the way of patience under the best of circumstances her limits on that score were nearly exhausted.

"Welcome, we've been expecting you."

"Oh, hell," Dot whispered.

"Dot Matrix!" As I live and breathe," Bob exclaimed, relieved to see here, and feeling both angry that she had deliberately placed herself in jeopardy for his sake, but full of admiration at the sheer grit and determination, and ingenuity for coming out here to the Web in the first place.

"Bob, you are a very difficult person to find," Dot replied.

"I do so love a happy reunion, but I digress." The Black King said as he appeared standing beside his chair with one hand resting on the back of the chair and the other holding a remote control device in the other trained on the gigantic larger-than-life chess pieces. "Where are my manners? Allow me to introduce myself, I am the Black King. I am also known as Viktor Kasparov, in other circles. I am certain, however, that that former name will mean little or nothing to you."

"What do you want?" Dot demanded.

"An exchange."

"I will free the Guardian in exchange for the Key."

"And if we don't?" Dot pressed.

The Black Kings's reaction was not at all what any of them had expected. In fact his eyes widened in an expression that could not have been studied or fake, and let his grip on the remote control device slacken to the point where he nearly dropped it onto the floor. "You know, that scenario had never occurred to me."

"Just out of curiosity, what do you want with it?" Bob asked.

"What does one generally do with a key?" The Black King replied. "Open doors. Despite however luxurious and comfortable this niche that I have carved out for myself here in ether space, I want to find a portal home and the only way I can do that is by going through Mainframe, with or without your willing assistance."

"I see," Bob remarked.

"Where is home?" Dot asked.

"Oh, outside the system, as I believe Bob here has already surmised. I must admit, you have turned out to be a much better opponent than I had expected."

"Thanks," Bob muttered.

"How about we make a deal?" Mouse suggested.

"What kind of deal," the man asked.

"We take everyone on our ship, and once we're in Mainframe, and Bob can use the Key to get you on your way to wherever it is you're going, then and only then, do we hand over the Key.

"Mouse!" Bob exclaimed.

"What, it's a win-win situation," Mouse remarked.

"Bob, as much I hate to admit it, Mouse might be onto something here, and it would get, everyone, the hell out of wherever Here, is," she said.

Bob sighed. "You're right; it might be our only chance. Mr. Black Knight, or Kasaparov or whatever name you want to go buy, you have yourself a deal, but one on condition."

"Name it," the other man replied.

"You had best play it on the up-an-up until we reach Mainframe, but you even twitch the wrong way on the voyage home, the deal is off."

"Agreed, but only because I am weary of this niche, weary of playing countless chess games against the computer or myself, that is, until you came along, and I want to go home very badly."

"Badly enough that you'd threaten to kill people?" Mouse griped.

"You have a suspicious nature, my dear," the Black King remarked, "I like that, but yes, as they desperate times call for desperate measures."

Mouse uttered a low chuckle. "I heard that."

Dot heaved a deep sigh and felt an unnamed and up until now unnoticed tension that had been building up in the muscles of her back and shoulder subside and glancing said. "Let's go home."

Conclusion

"You know, there's one thing that I don't understand," Mouse remarked, glaring at her friends in order to stem any thoughts about making exclamations at an inopportune moment. "How come this Black King fellow was so desperate to get into Mainframe? I mean, just look at the place, run-down, and still undergoing repairs after the battles with Megabyte and sundry."

"What's your point?" Dot demanded.

"My point, is that, if he had had his pick of any system in the Web, why this one?"

"I think he wanted to the Guardian Key, "Bob murmured softly and mostly to himself.

"You really don't think that's the only reason. "If you'll recall it was the only piece of hardware powerful enough to cold boot the entire system at the eleventh hour."

"I realize, that, Bob, and I don't think that I don't appreciate what you're saying, "Dot replied. "But its power may have been over-taxed by that effort."

"Maybe, maybe," Bob replied. "But the Black King could have had no way of knowing that."

"So, how in hell did he get into the system in the first place?" Enzo Matrix demanded a touch of disgruntlement evident in his tone of voice of having been left out of the rescue mission and subsequent fight. Andria stepped over and placed a slender but strong hand on his shoulder.

"I'm still working out the details," Dot replied, "And admittedly it's a still a theory, but we think he's someone from outside the system who ended up in a situation similar to yours a while back. Stuck between systems with no way back, and it got his code all messed up."

"If his code was corrupted, as you suggest, Dot," Mouse added, "And we'll never know for certain, do you think it happened before or after we encountered him in the Web?"

Dot sighed and glanced around at the circle of faces, who wore a variety of expression, relief, anger, expectation, joy at being reunited, and everything in between. "I honestly don't know what to tell you. I'm just very relieved that it's all over and that we're all home safe and sound. Now, could you all give Bob and myself sometime alone?" she added, hoping that her face or body language sounded appropriately authoritative yet reasonable.

The others nodded and Bob, for his part, waited for her. He could not help but notice the merest tremor in her voice and wondered what it might signify. He would not have to wait long for as soon as the Principal Officer emptied of occupants except for the two of them he found that he was suddenly holding Dot Matrix in his arms and her lips were pressed to his.

"You know, It think I owe you a profound amount of gratitude, for saving me," he managed to get out before there were both kissing each other in earnest and then stood locked together like that for some time.