Oh My User: Chapter Three
Author's note:Yes, I finally got around to updating this. You kids all knew I would, right? I just wanted to finish this up. This is obviously an AU now, but I'm not planning to adjust it for S4. That means that there are occasional plot points that I somehow intuited before S4 ever came out, but I swear they were always supposed to be in this. The explanation for how this happened? (solemnly) I am a magical, magical fanfic writer. Yes. Question not my uncanny powers.
That said, I hope you lot enjoy this fic. Have fun! Send lots of feedback and/or chocolate!
Lost Angles - The Lair:
Hexadecimal frowned, all of her concentration on the task at hand. She reached out, hardly daring to breathe, as she made one small, but crucial adjustment. Easy…easy…there! She stepped back and beamed at the canvas. It had taken her five seconds, but the portrait was worth it. A perfect likeness!
She turned to Skuzzy. "What do you think?"
The wotsit looked over the depiction of an artistically nude Hex riding in a giant clamshell and turned back to Hex with no change of expression. Hex frowned.
"Yes, I suppose it is a bit trite. Very well, then." She snapped her fingers and the painting vanished. She floated over to her throne and summoned her mirror. "Shall we see what the rest of the system is up to?"
Skuzzy declined to comment.
Really, it was too bad that she couldn't share her art with the rest of Mainframe again, Hex mused. But Bob had explained to her that breaking into the system's paint program was Very Bad. She sighed. The Mainframers had such dull lives, really. The system had become so very tiresome since the restart.
She stared intently at the mirror and the flickering images that moved across its surface. Somewhere something exciting must be happening! One image caught her attention and she began to smile before uploading into her mask and disappearing.
Perhaps this second wouldn't be so boring after all.
Principle Office- Security:
Callista lay on her back on the bunk and stared at the ceiling, wishing that she'd asked for something to read. She was starting to memorize every crack in the plaster above her. For now, she was amusing herself by trying to see what patterns they formed. That one resembled a rabbit…that one was a cow…that one looked like a mask with glowing green eyes…
The girl yelped and rolled off the bed, landing with a heavy thud on the floor as Hexadecimal materialized above her. She groaned and sat up, rubbing at her aching limbs. The chaos virus floated down to Callista, her head cocked to one side.
"Didn't that hurt?"
"Er…yeah." The user-girl stared at Hexadecimal, her expression one of astonishment mingled with fear. It wasn't every day that a mask appeared in front of one and turned into a toothy, red woman with glowing eyes, who looked like she'd just escaped from a Frederick's of Hollywood catalogue. Callista opened her mouth a couple of times and finally managed to gasp out, "Can…can I help you?"
"Oh, I just wanted to say hello!" Hexadecimal chirped.
"Oh." Callista broke into a cold sweat. "It's just, uh, people are generally on the other side of the bars when they visit someone in a holding cell, right?"
"This seemed more…friendly." Hexadecimal floated closer. "Don't you agree?"
"Friendly…right!" Callista replied, her normally alto voice shooting up an octave. In the back of her mind, she began promising eternal gratitude to any listening deity that was willing to get her out of this in one piece.
Hexadecimal moved away and looked around the cell. "My, what a dull place…would you like to go somewhere more interesting?"
"Uh…I-I don't think the command.com would like that very much," Callista stammered. "I mean, I think she really wanted me to stay here, and-"
Hexadecimal waved a hand. "Humph! Dot needs to learn to be more spontaneous. Come with me, dear. I'll show you my Lair!"
She grabbed Callista's hand. The girl had enough time to yelp, "Lair?" before the two vanished.
Packard, on her way to visit, heard Callista's yelp and hurried around a corner to find herself facing the cell just in time to see the girl and the virus disappear. She stared at the empty cell for a moment before groaning and opening a vid-window to inform Security about Hex's latest escapade. Someone was going to catch hell for this, and she was dreadfully afraid that it would be her.
Principle Office- Communications:
"What's all the fuss, sugah?"
Dot looked up from where she was conferring with Bob and a hastily assembled security team to see Mouse walk in, Ray Tracer close behind her. "Where were you two?"
"Oh, Mouse was showing me around Floating Point," Ray answered, with a wink.
The command.com grinned. "So I see. Mouse? You've still got some grass in your hair."
The hacker hurriedly brushed it away, a faint blush crossing her cheeks. "Cain't imagine how that got there…"
Dot raised an eyebrow and nodded. "Right."
Mouse rolled her eyes. "If you're quite finished, hon, perhaps ya'd like to tell us what this 'urgent matter' is that we came over here for?"
Bob handed the sensor printouts to the couple. "Megabyte's back, and he's brought a friend with him."
Mouse blanched. "He's back? How?"
Dot shook her head and replied grimly, "Who knows? But he's already causing damage. The reconnaissance team brought this back." She held up an icon that contained a deep gouge across the front, almost cleaving it in two. Ray winced. There was no need to ask what had happened to the icon's owner.
"Who was it?" he asked instead.
Dot's expression was tinged with sadness. "His name was Neville Hewlett. We're contacting his family." There was an infinitesimal break in her voice as she added, "He was…very young."
"He won't get anyone else." Matrix walked in with AndrAIa beside him.
"Enzo?" Dot asked, quietly.
Matrix nodded, answering her unspoken question. "I'm all right, Sis."
"Commander Matrix!" One of the binomes hurried over to Dot. "Security just contacted us. Hexadecimal seems to have removed the User from her cell."
"Hexadecimal? How did she get past the sensors?" Dot shook her head and gave a resigned sigh. "Never mind. I don't need to ask that, do I? Is there any idea of where they might have gone?"
"According to the report, Hexadecimal indicated that she planned to return to Lost Angles," the binome answered.
Dot nodded. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Sir."
Bob looked over at Dot. "I'll go get Callista," he offered.
"You're not going by yourself, Bob," said Matrix.
Bob shook his head. "I'm the only one Hex will listen to. I'll be fine." He gave a one-sided grin. "After all, I'm a Guardian. We can do anything, right?"
Dot nodded again and managed a small smile. "Good luck, then. Hurry back."
Bob patted her shoulder reassuringly and left. Dot turned to the sprites grouped around her.
"Now…let's work out a plan."
Principle Office- Exterior:
Bob decompressed his zipboard and stepped aboard. He was about to leave when a voice spoke up.
Bob turned to find Packard standing behind him. "Yes?"
"May I go with you? To rescue Callista?"
"You want to go with me…to Hexadecimal's lair?" he asked in disbelief.
Bob blinked. "Are you sure about this?"
Packard shrugged. "I…uh…want to help."
"Well…if you're sure…" Bob nodded. "All right. Just stay close and if I tell you to get out of there, get moving! Understand?"
"Yes, Sir." Packard grinned. "Thank you."
He laughed. "We're going to see Hexadecimal. Don't thank me just yet."
Packard smiled in reply before decompressing her own zipboard. The two of them left, heading rapidly for Lost Angles.
Lost Angles – The Lair:
Callista looked around the Lair and smiled nervously. "Er…nice place. Do you do your own decorating?"
Hexadecimal nodded, smiling proudly. "Yes, I do, my dear! And aren't you clever to notice?" She held up a teapot. "And how do you take your tea?"
"Um…with lemon if you have it?" Hexadecimal beamed and poured her a cup. Callista took it and had a cautious sip. It wasn't too bad. "Uh…thank you."
Hexadecimal's smile widened, showing an impressive set of teeth. "Such a polite child. Would you care for a biscuit?"
Callista looked over the plate of binome-shaped cookies and blinked. If she didn't know better, she would have sworn she just saw one of them…moving? "N-no, thank you. I'm a bit…uh, queasy right now."
"Oh." The ex-evil virus put the plate down. "Perhaps later, then." She took a sip from her own cup. "Now, my dear, where do you come from?"
"Really? How fascinating! Is it a nice system?"
"It's, uh, very…friendly."
"But you've decided you want to travel and see the Net?"
"Well…the, um, traveling was a bit of an accident. I'd really planned to stay in Boston."
Hexadecimal nodded knowingly. "Ah, yes…I understand how that can happen. I'd planned to blow up the Principal Office once, but some things fell on me at the last nano."
Callista stared at her, wide-eyed.
The virus tilted her head to one side. "Is something wrong, my dear?"
"N-no…" Callista took a sip of her tea. "So…you like to blow things up? How…interesting."
Hexadecimal looked up. "Oh! I believe we have more visitors! Lovely!"
She raised a hand towards the ceiling. Callista looked up just in time to see a hole open and drop Bob, Packard, and their zipboards in an undignified heap on the floor. The sprite and the binome got to their feet, looking somewhat dazed.
"Why, Bob!" Hexadecimal's eyes glowed a happy green, "I'd so hoped you might drop in!" She waved a hand towards the table. "Would you and your friend care to join us for tea?"
"Uh…not today, Hex," Bob answered, eyeing the plate of biscuits nervously, "We just came to get Callista. But, er, thanks!"
Callista set her teacup down and stood up in a hurry. "Well, thank you, Hexadecimal. This was lovely and…a real education for me, but I shouldn't keep the Guardian waiting!"
Hexadecimal frowned. "You're leaving?" The three held their breath, waiting for her reaction. Unexpectedly, she beamed at Callista. "Then come back sometime soon!"
Callista nodded bemusedly and walked over to stand beside Bob and Packard. The three turned for the exit. Bob muttered just under Hexadecimal's hearing, "Just keep walking and don't look back. And if she starts coming towards us…run."
Callista nodded again, following Packard out. Bob stayed behind them. When they reached the outside, she gave a huge sigh of relief. "That was too strange."
"You're all right?" Packard asked.
"I'm fine. I'm really glad to be out of there, though," Callista answered.
Packard laughed. "I agree with you there."
"Come on. We've got to get back." Bob decompressed a zipboard and handed it to Callista. "Let's go."
The girl stared quizzically at the device she held in her hands. "What do I do with this?"
"You've never used one before?" asked Packard.
"Okay." Packard decompressed hers and demonstrated. "You put a foot on each of the round pads and then you can use it to fly. You steer by moving your body in the direction you want to go." She hovered a few feet over Callista's head. "See? It's easy!"
The girl stared up at the floating binome as though hypnotized. "We're going to…fly?" she asked, the final word emerging as a frightened squeak.
"What's wrong?" said Bob, noticing how pale she'd become.
"I…I don't like heights much," she replied, her voice shaking.
"You're afraid of heights?" Bob asked. Callista nodded, biting at her lower lip. He gave a resigned sigh. "It figures." The Guardian raked his fingers through his hair and looked skyward, trying to divine a solution. Finally, he looked back at Callista. "Get on behind me."
"W-what?" she stammered.
"Get on behind me and hang on," he explained patiently.
Her eyes went big and round and she turned an interesting shade of pale green. "Get on behind you…" she repeated, dazedly.
Bob raised an eyebrow. "It's okay, Callista. I don't bite."
"Uh…" Hesitantly, she stepped onto the zipboard behind Bob and put her arms around his waist. He gave her clasped hands a reassuring pat.
"You all set?"
Taking that as a "yes", Bob levitated the zipboard slowly. As soon as she felt them rising, Callista's grip tightened to a death hold. Bob patted at her hands again.
"Callista, you're going to have to loosen your grip."
"Because it's getting hard for me to breathe."
"Oh…okay," she whispered.
Bob could feel her shuddering behind him. "Callista, you can trust me. I'm not going to let you fall."
She gave voice to a slightly hysterical giggle. "Oh, I trust you…it's me I'm not so sure about."
Packard spoke up, "Don't worry, Callista. The Guardian is the best at piloting a zipboard, and I'll be right behind you."
Bob squeezed Callista's hands. "See? You've got nothing to worry about. Just close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths, all right?"
The girl took his advice. He felt her grip loosen slightly.
"That's it. Good girl," Bob said, putting all the encouragement he could into his tone, "Now let's go."
The three of them made their way to the Principle Office, Callista keeping her eyes tightly closed the entire way. When they landed, she stumbled off the zipboard and considered kissing the ground.
Bob stepped off and compressed the board, putting it back at his waist. He patted her shoulder. "You did a great job, Callista."
"Thanks," she said, with a wan smile.
"Oh no…" Bob murmured.
A small green blur shot out of the PO and streaked towards the Guardian, knocking him flat. At that point, it slowed enough to reveal itself as a small, green-skinned boy wearing a red cap, jeans, baseball jersey with "Enzo" emblazoned on the back, and sneakers. He began talking a mile a minute. "Bob! Dot said you had to go save the User from Hexadecimal! Did you have to go fight Hex? Did the User have to fight? Where is she?" The boy paused for breath, looked up and saw Callista. He cocked his head to one side. "Who are you?"
"Um…I'm Callista." She smiled nervously. "Hi!"
"Wait, you're the User?"
"Well, yes…so, I've been told."
Enzo's violet eyes widened. "Dude…random!" He got up and walked over, staring intently at her. His face fell. "You just look like a sprite," he said, disappointed.
She shrugged. "Gee, sorry. What were you expecting? Wings? Magical powers?"
"Yeah!" he said, eagerly. "Do you have those?"
"I'm afraid not," she replied, rolling her eyes. "I'm just me…whatever that is."
"Oh." The boy appeared to think about this for a moment, before finally grinning and holding out a hand. "I'm Enzo Matrix!"
"It's, er, nice to meet you, Enzo," Callista said, shaking the proffered hand. "Are you related to the Command.com?"
"Yeah. Dot's my big sister."
Callista was distracted from the small talk by a low, rumbling growl coming from behind her. She turned around very slowly to discover a large red and yellow dog eyeing her. He gave another hostile growl.
She briefly considered running for it, then realized that would probably be the stupidest move she could make. Instead, she concentrated on looking as non-threatening as possible and put out a hand for the dog to sniff; praying that she wasn't about to pull a bloody stump back.
The dog looked surprised. He sniffed at her hand, looked back up at her, and commenced to growling again.
Callista gave a small, frightened whimper. She'd been struck by lightning, dragged from home, dumped in a world full of Technicolor people, kidnapped by a psycho in bondage-gear, and now she was about to be mauled by Cujo's computerized cousin. And the day had started so well too.
"Hey, Frisket." Enzo walked up to the dog and patted him on the head. To Callista's utter amazement, the canine behemoth wagged his tail and whined up at the boy.
"So…this is your dog?" She started backing away. "And he's such a…big dog!"
She felt a hand clasp her shoulder from behind. "Frisket won't hurt you. Just don't get in his way," Bob said. Callista looked up at the Guardian who grimaced. "He's never liked me much, either. Don't worry about it."
"Easy for you to say," Callista muttered. "You're bigger than I am."
"Makes me more of a target," Bob whispered back.
"Um…will you think any less of me if I start crying again or babbling hysterically?" she murmured shakily. "This really, really has not been a good day."
Bob patted her shoulder again. "Let's go find Dot and tell her we've got you back, okay?"
"I like that plan. That's a good plan." Callista took a deep, steadying breath. "And then I would very much like to sit down soon."
The small group made their way inside.
Mainframe, Level 31:
Kali grimaced at a smear of energy on her boot. "Look at this! Do you know how hard it is to get these kinds of stains out?" she demanded.
"Then perhaps you should terminate your victims more carefully?" Megabyte replied dryly.
The female virus rolled her eyes. "I certainly didn't expect one cut to spurt that much." She let out a small, frustrated growl. "That boy should feel lucky that I've already deleted him."
"For now, that is inconsequential," said Megabyte. "I believe we have an evil plot to commence?"
Kali waved a hand dismissively. "Relax. I'm ready." She closed her eyes and concentrated. Her hair shortened, losing its red streaks in favor of dark green highlights. Her deep blue skin lightened to a pale, creamy green. Her claws retracted into short, neatly manicured nails and her outfit shifted into more sensible leather body armor. She shrank several inches in height, her frame rapidly becoming more petite. When she opened her eyes, they were a vivid violet. She studied her reflection in a nearby reflective surface, then turned to Megabyte, a deceptively sweet smile curving her bright red lips.
"Well? What do you think?" she asked, in a voice that was a perfect match to Dot Matrix's.
He nodded approvingly. "Very good. That file mimic command was a good one. Are you sure the Principle Office's sensors won't pick up anything unusual?"
She snorted. "If they actually have anything that can detect me, I deserve to get caught." She patted a stray strand of hair back into place. "Relax. No one in Mainframe will notice anything out of the ordinary. Certainly their precious Guardian won't."
Megabyte leered. "Not until it's too late anyway."