Author's Note: A very different take on 'My Two Bobs'.  What if…

They added a new subroutine to the Guardian protocol. Hardwired it, actually.  It's supposed to prevent infections like Daemon from ever getting hold again.

What it feels like, though, is constant doubt, an evaluation of all my actions even before I do them. My processor speed's been boosted to handle it, but I hate it. I really do.

The keytools are gone, all of them except Glitch. Between this new infection subroutine and dealing with an integrated keytool, it's hard to find time for myself. And for Dot.

Of course, the other me has no problems there.

Turbo keeps asking me to ask Glitch where the other keytools are. I know he feels incomplete without Copeland – I went through much the same in the Web – but he hasn't seemed to grasp that I really am Glitch now and I haven't the slightest idea.

I'm not allowed to be Glitch though. Dot forbids me going into games, so it's always the other one and Matrix prancing around and saving the day. I feel like a 2 in a binary system, sometimes. So I have to go down to the depths of G-Prime and keep an eye on the neo-virals.

Have I mentioned I hate neo-virals? Viral drones really have no choice, and viruses are simply coded to be malicious, but people who willingly serve viruses – they had a choice. I have very little sympathy for them. But, given I can't use Glitch's functions for anything, or go into games, I need something to do. My Guardian protocol is going spin-crazy.

So, here I am, in the warrens of G-Prime, hunting down rumors that a few viral binomes have reappeared. Given that even Hexadecimal couldn't resist the scan forever, this is troubling. Either their infections somehow carried over, or a virus other than Hex has been in Mainframe since the restart.

Mouse wants to see if the rumors are true, or just neo-viral propaganda – wants to take a look at the code of these supposed virals. Dot wants to figure out where Megabyte got his seemingly transfinite numbers of ABCs, and see if the process can be applied to CPU production, improving system efficiency. The other Bob wants me out of his way.

            So, here we are, Mouse and I, down on Level 42 of G-Prime, eyeing the foundations of Mainframe: strange crisscrossing wireframe girders rooted in the data sea. A murky reflection of the underworks can be seen in the rippling sea. Slowly moving on the rails was a platform with the wireframes of familiar structures on it.

Mouse whistled softly. "I think we've found our ABCs."

I frowned, seeing the swarms of activity on the platform. "But…they're still being built!" I glanced around, noting other platforms nestled among the rails with finished products on them. "This place is active, and I'm pretty sure that's viral work right there."

The platform reached the next stop on its assembly line and binomes swarmed over it. I frowned. "Is this just an automatic process, or is Megabyte back?"

"Could be another virus, sugah, using Megabyte's infrastructure."

"I guess…" I said. It really wouldn't be like Megabyte to lie low. The virus was really a drama queen, when all was said and done. He wanted attention as much, if not more, than he wanted power. But any virus infiltrating the system with us unawares was bad news. "Let's take a closer look."

            The closer look confirmed a viral infestation, and the presence of Megabyte's 'Doktor'. The sadistic scientist had never been one of my favorite binomes - the enthusiasm he put into his grisly work was nauseating.

            Mouse and I were on the platform now. Taking the straightforward approach, I walked up to the Doktor…and then stopped in my tracks, staring at the green and black viral icon he was sporting.

            Spam. Spam and batch. This was not good.

            The binome turned towards me, unsettlingly, with a worshipful look in his eyes. "Mein Grossenbyte…Maus?" He frowned at Mouse behind me, who drew her katana as I tackled the stunned virus. Pinning him to the ground, I looked around at the other drones. They were going about their business as if nothing was happening. Mindless automatons. I shuddered.

            "Okay, li'l fella." Mouse grinned down at the Doktor in a disturbing fashion. "Time to take a look at your code."

            The viral struggled under me, but Mouse palmed the icon. Herr Doktor looked appalled. "Nein! Nein!"  His I/O was, as usual, a bit scrambled, running on a slightly different protocol than Supercomputer standard. I wondered vaguely where he had acquired it. 

            Of course, just as Mouse was about to get a profile of the infection and run a comparative analysis, the User decided to play with us again.


I automatically pinpointed the coordinates of the game in question, coming down over an adjacent sector. I vid-windowed the Principle Office, telling them Mouse and I would handle it, then closed the window before Dot could protest. I might not be able to reboot, but I was still the best gamer in the system.

We had to take a detour, dragging Herr Doktor with us, to reach the game. It seemed to take forever for the cube to drop down to us, but it did. We, the Doktor, and the drone binomes all materialized in what seemed to be some sort of 'forest'. I accessed the gamestats…it was…a hunting game?

"The User has to shoot all the 'prey' in a time limit.  How…gruesome."

Mouse shrugged. "So, how do I work this?"

            I blinked at her for a moment, while the Doktor took his icon back. "Like so, ja?" He rebooted into a large animal, though he still had those viral eyes. I grimaced, then turned to Mouse

            "Double-click your icon." I said. "Say Reboot." A thought struck me. "You've never done this before?"

            "The Mouse doesn't do games," she smirked at me. I rolled my eyes, and then dived to the ground as a shot was fired.

As the echoes faded, we turned to Herr Doktor, who was already collapsing, and stared. Too late, it clicked – we hadn't rebooted, so we weren't valid targets.

It had all gone too fast. We hadn't even seen the User.


            And then, there was one…

A sudden power spike blared alarms. Dot stared at the readings in disbelief. "The game….what's happening? Specky, I want an explanation now!"

"Well, ma'am…" the binome blustered…but the system voice answered us first. As it began its proclamation, Dot's eyes went wide.
           "It's too soon! It can't…"


Then there was silence in the War Room. I myself was stunned for a few moments. After all this time, all the struggles…a Game? A mere Game? Before I really thought about what I was doing, I was running out of the Principal Office, jumping onto my zip-board, and heading for Ghetty Prime.

No one tried to stop me. Why would they? After all, I was their precious Guardian. I presumably knew what I was doing.

As an afterthought, though, I disabled my beacon so I couldn't be directly vid-windowed. Right now, I didn't want to be disturbed.

An aching pain spread throughout my body from my icon, which happened to be a valid Guardian protocol. I winced, but kept going. Mouse's little virus-check program was painful when it triggered, but not debilitating. Her last little gift to the Collective- and though she didn't know it, her last revenge on me.

I descended into the pit of the ruined sector. Down, and down further…to the very bottom of Mainframe, floating high above the energy sea. The true heart of Ghetty Prime: Level 42 – heavy manufacturing. The last known location of Guardian Bob, now smashed into chaos and infested by nulls. In addition, I had lost an ABC fabricator – but for some reason that seemed insignificant next to everything else.

It was not hard to spot what was left of Mouse- that unusual orange-static blob could hardly be anyone else. I felt an immediate satisfaction, followed swiftly by…regret?

Where did that come from? I suppressed the errant emotion, feeling a twinge of pain from my icon as I did so. I was stronger than Mouse's code, I knew it. None of her little parlor-tricks could contain a virus of my caliber for long.

After all, not even the Web could hold me.

It seemed like a lost cause, trying to find what was left of Bob amongst the nulls, but I was determined to do it. If he was gone, I wanted proof.

I reckoned myself far enough from the Principal Office to risk transformation. Snarling, I prepared myself to change. It was a simple matter of unfolding my true code from the shell I was using. Usually simple, anyway.

I pushed out inwardly, warping my Bob-form past recognition. I hissed in satisfaction as the claws emerged from my weak sprite fingers.

And then the pain hit. I screamed, trying to rip the offending icon off of my chest- but it burned to touch. I would beat this, I would! I put all of my power into this one, simple change…and it wasn't enough.

Exhausted, I collapsed, my skin smoothing over again, a fourth finger painlessly budding again. The cursed Guardian icon gleamed black and gold as it remade my clothing format. I grabbed it again, intending to rid myself of it once and for all, and to Dell with my charade – but I could not bear to touch it.

What was happening to me? The shell…the shell was resisting transformation. I was trapped, in this weak, useless sprite body…which did have some advantages, but…it wasn't mine.

The spammed Guardian was probably laughing his ASCII off at my plight from the Ethernet. It was just the sort of thing that would amuse him. I found it darkly funny myself – but perhaps that was just the shell thinking. I couldn't tell.

And it frightened me in a way that nothing else ever had.

I walked to the shattered code remnant of my assembly plant, stepping lightly onto the deck. It wobbled under me, but stayed intact. A flash of silver caught my eye, and I gave chase, but the blue-and-silver null took shelter under some debris that had fallen from above. I took a look under the sheet of metal, cautiously. Light reflected off something…something that lunged at me!

I shielded my fragile sprite eyes automatically, and felt whatever it was hit my arm with some speed. After a nano, I cautiously took a look.

Thrice-spammed spawn of the Great Worm…

I felt my code spooling out, and I shivered. I wasn't sure if this was some User's idea of a sick joke, or some sort of revenge from beyond the Recycle Bin – or perhaps a bad dream. Dreams were one aspect of sprite emulation that I had not yet completely adjusted to. There were many. Fortunately, the people of Mainframe seemed to overlook my occasional faux pas as just me being…Bob. Dorky grin and all. I winced, then addressed the offending object.

"You do know that I intend to crush the spirit of this system for revenge, brutally slaughter most of the city, make the rest wish they were dead, and then move on to the Supercomputer and obliterate the Guardian Academy?"

Glitch beeped and whirred, a happy face showing on its display.

            I shrugged. "Just letting you know…"  The presence of the keytool was…off-putting, to say the least. Especially linked into my code. I suspected the keytool was up to something, to be honest. I'd seen enough evidence that I believed Glitch was actually a good deal more intelligent than his Guardian.

Of course, I was his guardian now. There was a disturbing thought. My Trojan horse abilities had been disabled by the Guardian protocol, which I could not remove. It was, I belatedly saw, a good deal more potent than I had thought. In the eyes of Ms. Matrix and the others – I was Bob. I even had the spammed keytool.

My file path appeared to have been programmed for me. Mending and bloody defending this backwater system, as my least favorite sprite. I couldn't think of a crueler punishment. And I had walked right into it, blindly.

"I hope you're happy with yourself." I muttered at the blue and silver null as it slithered out from under the metal sheet. Predictably, it ignored me.