Disclaimer 1: I don't own ReBoot. I don't own the ReBoot characters in the story. And sadly, I'm making no money off of this. So you have no good reason to sue me, unless you want my Megabyte t-shirt.
Note and Disclaimer 2: This fic is a kinda-sorta crossover with the comic book "Nightwing". I don't own that comic book or the characters in it either. So, once more, don't bother suing me. As for the crossover, I worked really hard to make so you could read this fic without picking up a comic book. I think I've succeeded, but if you have any questions, contact me. You could contact me with comments, too.
On with the fic!
Dot Matrix ran as fast as she could, and although her legs were shorter than Mouse's or Bob's, she could move very fast.
"Cursors," she muttered in between gasps for breath, lamenting the absence of her zip board. Her boots slammed against the ground as she dodged the few binomes who were running in the opposite direction. Determined to make it, Dot summoned up one more burst of energy, making it under the game cube.
Normally, Dot would have waited outside the cube for Matrix and AndrAIa or Bob to play the game. Today, however, she hadn't seen anyone heading towards the cube, so she had made a dash for it.
While she was sucking in deep lungfuls of air, trying to restore lost energy, she spotted Bob glide easily under the game cube on a zip board. The cube hit the ground a moment later.
Bob grinned and looked at Dot, who stood up straight and looked at the guardian coolly, attempting to not look winded.
"Ah, Ms. Matrix. I see you made it in okay."
"Shut. Up," Dot replied. She offered a smile to show she wasn't completely mad.
Bob already had his eyes closed while he concentrated on getting the game stats. "Gambling."
"What?" Dot looked at Bob quizzically. She had been looking around. She was surrounded by tall, dark buildings. The sky was quite smoggy, and Dot saw many factories in the distance emitting clouds of dark smoke into the night sky. It wasn't very appealing. .
"Gambling. Apparently, the User is in the gambling scene. His bookkeeper has been cheating him. So, we have to make sure the User doesn't get to the bookkeeper."
The woman made a face. "So we get to protect the scum."
"Guess so. You ready to reboot?"
Dot nodded. "Yeah. Reboot!"
"Bob?" The sprite was nowhere to be seen. Dot was in completely new surroundings. All around her were computer consoles, keyboards, and tons of other electronic equipment. The table she was sitting at had two monitors and keyboards to go with them. The table to her right held a laptop, a fax machine and a large cup of coffee. There were computers and consoles all over. Behind her were various pieces of exercise equipment, including a punching bag, parallel bars and weights.
Dot tried to stand, but her legs wouldn't move. Looking down, she saw the chair she was sitting in had a large wheel on each side. At the bottom, these wheels were angled slightly away from the chair. Dot's feet were placed on foot rests at the base of the chair. Experimentally, the sprite gripped the wheels and pushed them forward which allowed the chair to move too. Why her game character couldn't walk was beyond her, but not worth pondering at that moment.
"Wha-" Dot's hand flew up to her right ear where there was an earpiece similar to the one she usually wore as Mainframe's command.com. "Bob? That you?"
"Yeah. Where are you?"
"I haven't the slightest clue. Some room filled with computers. What about you?"
"I'm on the roof of some building. I'm seeing three people walking below me in an alley. Possibly armed."
Turning back to one of the computers, she felt the game character kick in a little. "You wearing a mask?"
"Yes. How'd you - "
"Try touching the right side, by the corner of your eye."
The heck it didn't, Dot thought. One of the monitors was displaying the alley Bob had described. She saw the three men, two of which were talking quietly while the other glanced around and then began to depart. "There's some kind of vid link here. I can see what you see."
Suddenly, the view on the monitor changed to an apartment window where one could clearly see a man in his fifties. Dancing. In boxers. "Can you see that?" Bob asked. Dot could hear the grin in his voice.
"I see it all right," the sprite said laughing slightly. "But shouldn't we be figuring out where this bookkeeper is? Try following that guy who just left."
"Why am I taking orders from you?" Bob jokingly grumbled. Still, he followed her suggestion and kept track of the man by hopping from rooftop to rooftop with surprising agility. His game character felt no vertigo as he discovered a grappling hook and used it and the cord attached to swing several blocks ahead of the man on the ground. "Cool."
Dot took off the reading glasses and rubbed her eyes. She could definitely appreciate this character's sense of clothing. Dot was dressed for comfort in jeans, sneakers, and a large sweatshirt with the letters "G.C.P.D" on it. Dot enjoyed the coziness of being in clothes that weren't as tight-fitting as her command.com uniform.
Dot brushed a lock of hair from her face. Unlike the clothes, the shoulder-length mass of red hair something she didn't think she'd get used to.
"I'm here, Bob."
"This is incredibly, cool, Dot!" Bob laughed. "You've got to try this."
"Not this game, I don't think. Have you got our man?"
"Sure. But nothing's happened, Dot. I don't think he's who we're looking for."
"Hrm. I've been messing around with these computers."
"I got some info on the guy you're watching." Dot placed the reading glasses back on her face.
"We don't even know his name."
"I've got his face. His name is Roger Rogers."
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah. He's got a police record, but it's from years back. Apparently, it was deleted from recent files."
"Is that allowed?"
"I don't know. This isn't Mainframe."
Bob fished around compartments he founf inside his boots and discovered a small pair of binoculars. He used them to get a better look at the man he'd been watching. "How'd you get the old files?"
"I'm no Mouse, but with all this equipment...well, I'm getting the hang of it. It's all hacking work though; my game character has no authorization to be in these files."
"So what's with this guy that makes you still think he's the one?" Dot didn't say anything, and Bob answered his own question. "What innocent guy would be standing in front of the same building in a trench coat for three hours?"
"This late at night," Dot added.
"I don't think he's the bookie, though. I'm betting he's waiting for the him to come out of that building."
"You're probably right. But what do we do now?" Dot bit her lip.
"We can't wait for forever. I'm thinking we get to this guy and get in the building."
"But we haven't any proof that he's in there," Dot protested.
"Well, we won't know just sitting there."
Dot sighed. "You're right. Drop in on him from behind."
Bob rolled his eyes. "That's what I was planning."
Bob glanced around, looking for a drainpipe, flagpole or something to latch his grappling hook on to.
"You're on a second floor roof. Try jumping."
"No, I'm not crazy. You know how to absorb the impact. And I'm willing to be that those boots won't make a sound."
Bob grinned to himself. Dot had always been bossy, but nowadays it had been fine-tuned to...Bob couldn't quite describe it. She was bossy in a way that made you forget she was telling you what to do.
The man was about five feet from the wall. Luckily, his back was to it, so Bob wouldn't have to jump over him. Taking a quick look around, Bob made sure there'd be no shadows cast where the guy could see. Then he jumped. Dot was right, the boots didn't make a sound, and a little bit of Bob and a little bit of the game character made sure his knees and feet were in just the right position for impact.
Silently stepping up to the man, Bob put his hand over the guy's mouth and pulled him deeper into the shadows. "The bookie in there?" Bob whispered.
The man nodded furiously. Bob released his hand and started towards the door.
"Bob!" Dot hissed. She had caught the smirk on the no longer frightened man's face. "Get out of there!"
The guardian didn't waste a second. He bounded past Rogers. Unfortunately, his fast action just wasn't fast enough. Three men had emerged from one end of the alley - armed. Their faces were hard to see, because they had the light behind them. Rogers stepped from behind Bob with his own firearm, his form shrouded in shadow.
"Cursors," Bob muttered, glancing around frantically. Then inspiration hit. Bob let the game give him clues, as he held out an arm and touched a section of his gauntlet. A grappling hook with a line attached to it - just like the one he used to swing around earlier, Bob noted - shot out towards one of the gunmen. The edge hit him hard in the stomach, bringing him and his gun to the ground. One of his partners turned to gape at the downed man while Bob rushed the third. The one left gaping was knocked over and didn't get back up.
"Have you gone 8-bit!" Dot practically screeched. Dot stopped herself and shut her mouth. She knew yelling at Bob wouldn't help him get out of this. She also knew Bob rushed into things like this a lot, but usually could pull them off. She glanced around as if looking for some kind of clue in the dim room. She tried to see if her game character would give her anything - it didn't. A gunshot brought her eyes back to the screen.
Bob was still alive, but he was dodging bullets from two people - two who had gotten up from Bob's attack. He had dropped the line attactched to the grappling hook he had launched and was now trying to search his costume for something else useful, all the while trying to stay processing. He discovered a handful of marble-sized balls.
"Smoke pellets," Dot supplied from her place at the computers.
Bob threw some at the ground in front of the third gunmen and the rest in front of the second man. He quickly turned the corner, and discovered a second line in his suit, identical to the cord attached to his dropped grappling hook. He used it to get back onto the roof just as the two men rounded the corner.
Dot breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't like just sitting at this workstation at all. As command.com, she often got to go out in the action, but there were other times when she was forced to stay behind and direct from the P.O. Or wherever they were stationed. She hated that helpless feeling. Putting her soldiers out there to take the risks while she watched. It was exactly what she was feeling right now.
"You okay, Bob?"
"Yeah. Just a bit shaken up." The sprite was now leaning over the edge of the roof. The two men left standing were there, quietly conferring. One left, leaving Rogers alone. Bob waited a few moments for the one man to leave and then leapt from the roof once more to grasp the trench-coat clad character.
This time, Rogers was expecting it and spun around, delivering a kick to Bob's side. Bob tried not to stumble and retaliated with a swift uppercut. Rogers' head snapped back, and he teetered. Bob kicked the legs out from under the injured guy and before he knew what he was doing, he grabbed the guy by the collar.
"Bob!" Dot snapped, surprised.
Bob himself was surprised and loosened his grip. "Where's the bookkeeper?" he asked, still a bit shaken by his actions.
"Graham? Eh...I don't know."
"What were you doing here?"
The man swallowed hard. "Guh-Graham sent me here. Wanted it to look like he was here. Thought the Tiger was going to look for 'em. Take 'em down."
"The Tiger. That Graham's boss?"
Rogers managed a smile. "Not anymore." When Bob looked at him sharply, he added. "I really don't know where he is, I swear it!" Bob released him and the man took off.
"What exactly were you doing?" Dot demanded. "All these game sprites are AI; act like it!"
"I...I don't know. It was like I lost control there for a minute. I didn't mean to be so rough with him."
Dot sighed and rested her arm on the desk. "The game character, I'm sure. Their coding's getting more advanced. I don't like it."
"Neither do I. I should've noticed it before, but thinking back, it has been harder to control game characters. I should have been able to stop myself from grabbing Rogers like that." Bob shook his head. "What now?"
"You should come to where I'm set up. We need to figure out who these Graham and Tiger guys are, and more importantly, where they are."
Dot sighed and reached for the cup of coffee she had seen earlier. She was really tired. Before the game cube had dropped, Dot had been working on strategies with CPUs for hours. She hadn't had much sleep the night before, because there was an emergency drill and consulting with technicians for Dot to deal with.
She took a sip and almost gagged. It was ice cold and bitter. Grumbling, she decided if there wasn't any good coffee to keep her up, she should do some exploring. The room she was in could be exited by a door space that opened into an apartment. She went past the exercise equipment. Only a few minutes before, she had been trying it out, but she only got about three hits into a punching bag before her eyes began to droop again.
Once past all the equipment, she could go out through the entrance and into the rest of the apartment. It's soft coloring and simple design contrasted sharply with the dim, brick room she had just been in. Dot went past a bedroom and quickly averted her eyes from the cozy-looking bed. It was a big reminder of her fatigue.
The place had very few chairs, but many low tables and wide doorways. Perfect for her game character. Dot spotted the entrance to a kitchen and maneuvered in there.
Aha! The woman grinned when she saw a coffee pot. Placing her hand against its glass side, she realized it too was cold. She hunted around for more grounds and began to brew another pot. Dot smiled inwardly. This was a dumb game, leaving her stuck in some building, she thought, but it had coffee.
Dot was pouring the coffee when she heard a voice call out, "Dot?" She very nearly spilled the hot drink, but recovered and replied to the voice.
"I'm out here, Bob."
Bob took the same way Dot did into the kitchen. When he caught sight of her, he flashed a grin.
While Dot was dressed in loose-fitting clothes, Bob was in a tight, black suit with blue trim. The black, angular mask that had allowed Dot to see what Bob saw had white lenses that didn't let her see the guardian's eyes. Just his eyes, nose, and immediate area around them were covered.. Two fighting sticks of some sort were holstered in the back of his outfit.
Smiling back, she asked, "How'd you get in?" She had been a little startled to discover he was inside.
"It took me a bit to find the place. It's a little farther than I thought. This place is in a different town than where I was. But I saw the huge clock outside and figured that equaled the clocktower you named." Bob sighed. "I landed on the roof and just missed triggering some kind of shrapnel thrower."
"You're kidding me. What kind of nut puts that on their roof?"
"A paranoid one. I also had to use a mirror to deflect about a million hidden laser sensors and get past some kind of glue substance that was spread over spots in shadows."
"But that was the end of it?"
Bob thought for a moment. He ran through his rooftop jaunt again. After deflecting a laser sensor, there was a motion detector he had spotted. For ten minutes, he had struggled to sneak around it. That was rather hard to do, seeing as a motion detector detects motion. He'd finally figured out that he could jump onto the detector from above by using one of his grappling hooks and lines. Sadly, there was another motion detector that he narrowly missed setting off. He also had to stay out of the street lights and avoid disturbing a video camera that had been set up. He'd finally succeeded in opening a trap door and landing in the work room.
"Yep, that was all. And you're sure nothing's happening out there?"
"I seriously doubt anyone can make a move, yet. You've played games like this, the User and his flunkies patter around forever."
"You want some coffee?"
Dot nodded and took a sip of hers. "Come on. I want to show you some stuff I found." She led the way back into the computer room and Bob followed closely.
"Nice wheels. Very sexy."
"Can't figure 'em out," Dot shrugged. She went over to one of the tables and messed with a keyboard. Pointing to a screen, she said, "Look at this."
Bob leaned over and peered at the screen as Dot narrated.
"I ran a search for the keyword Graham. On this database, and several government ones I got into. There were thousands of matches and I narrowed them down to this local area. Of those, there were four with mob, international crime or gambling connections. The problem was, all four were involved with more than one of those. But then I remember that guy mentioned "Tiger". Only one guy had any associations with a Tiger -," she pointed to a picture of a man "- that's him there."
"So that's the guy we need to find. He's been associated with this Tiger person?"
"Yeah. I'm running a search right now to see what his previous hideouts were. Hopefully we can get an idea as to where he's hiding. I can run a program to pinpoint a few likely locations."
"Wow, Dot. I think you just outdid Mouse."
Dot hid her blush. "I'm just using what the game's given me. Mouse is an artist; I'm just painting by numbers."
"So what do we do now?"
"Hopefully, the search will be done in a few minutes. Then you can get back out and go hunting."
"You're not coming?" Bob asked, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Dot probably couldn't roof hop with him.
Dot wondered if he was just asking out of courtesy. She then realized Bob was serious and shook her head firmly. "I'd be no help, and you need someone here to get the information you'll need. Your high opinion of a person who can't run is flattering, though."
Bob refrained from making a face.
Bob put the heavy gloves back on his hands and checked that he had replaced the tools he had taken from the gloves and boots. "All set, Dot."
"Okay. You've got the first address?" Dot glanced at Bob.
The guardian nodded. "Yep."
Dot looked back at the computer. "Good. I've got three others for you to try if we don't find anything with this one. I think...Bob?"
The sprite had already left.
"Hey, turn the vid link back on," Dot said, and settled back as Bob complied. The sprite had turned it off when he entered Dot's workroom.
"The place looks abandoned, Dot. Not a soul in sight. I'll check the windows just in case they're hiding in the shadows, though."
Dot kept her eyes glued to the monitor as the vid link relayed everything Bob saw. Bob carefully checked each window. He didn't have to worry about being seen; the closest working street lamp was three blocks away.
Dot sighed. "Don't see anything?"
"Why don't you go in?"
"It's not worth it. This building is way too small, with all these huge windows to look through. If I can't see him, he's not here."
"Well, that's one down. Let's try the next address." Dot tried to sound upbeat.
Bob laughed. "You're not very good at that perky thing"
"I guess not." Dot did her best to shift her weight. She noticed Bob had stopped. "Need directions?"
Bob paused. "Um..."
"Oh, that's right. Men don't ask for directions. They just get hopelessly lost."
Bob grinned. "I don't have that much pride. Where do I go from here?"
"Head for that building with the row of windows. Go South down the street it's on, and turn left at the second intersection. It's the old factory."
"Be a little more specific, Dot. I've passed hundreds of old factories."
Dot typed furiously for a few seconds and studied the monitor's screen. "This one has a really short smokestack."
After a few more minutes of traveling, Bob nodded. Then he remembered to speak. "I see it."
"Perfect." Dot cupped her chin in her hand and watched the screen.
"Someone's definitely been here. There's some kind of spilled drink in there...can't be too old or it would have evaporated. The floor's dirt and I see some tracks in it."
Dot raised an eyebrow. "You'd think they would have taken the care to cover those."
"You're right. Unless they left in a hurry...think they expected me?"
"Could be. May also be a trap."
"What do you suggest?"
"You're the one with his butt on the line."
"I'm gonna go in." Before Dot could open her mouth he added, "I'll be careful."
Bob tested a window - it didn't budge. Moving down the side of the building, he got up on a crate and tried a second. This one popped open and Bob attempted to get himself through it as gracefully as possible. Landing on the loosely packed dirt floor, he held his arms out as if he expected the shadows to attack him. Nothing happened, but he still felt wary and kept his arms up.
Bob scanned the ground at every step he took, making sure he didn't trigger anything. "Nice."
"What?" Dot held the stuffed toy she had found on one of the desks and had been holding close to her chest. Stingily enough, the little toy had clamed her nerves. Looking at her screen, she made a face. "Ugh. Is it fresh?"
"Getting a bit morbid there, Dot?" Bob stepped around the second puddle. This one was dark red, definitely not a drink, and hidden from the windows by a table. "But yeah. I think it is."
"Check out that plastic cup."
Bob picked it up. "This must be what the drink spilled out of."
"Hmm." Dot was copying down the company name on the cup. "See anything else?"
"No map leading to where whoever was here went, that's for sure." Bob looked ahead. "Hey, candy!"
"It looks like it's all gone." She took note of the brand name of the wrapper, just as with the cup. "See anything else?"
"I'm looking for more candy, but no luck. There aren't any footprints leading out of this room, except for the front door. I probably should check the others just in case though, huh?"
After a few more minutes of searching, Bob declared, "Nothing."
"All right. I'm going to look for a few likely places they may have went."
"How?" Bob started back towards the window he had gone through.
"We have a plastic cup and a candy wrapper."
"And a newspaper," Bob added suddenly, picking up the newsprint.
Dot sighed. "It's not much. Hopefully all these computers I've got at my disposal can give us a clue."
"Ah, wise Dot. You haven't failed me yet."
Dot let out a sound that was as close to a giggle as she could get and set to typing.
"Oof!" The air was knocked out of Bob as a kick came out of the darkness and knocked the guardian backwards. The attack came just as he had left the building and stood in the dark alley. Recovering as quickly as he could manage, Bob spun around and threw the best right hook he could muster. His attacker's head whipped to the side, and Bob used a low kick to knock the legs out from under him.
Bob whirled around, sure his one attacker wasn't alone. He was right; a tall woman in sunglasses was waiting to hit him on the side of the head. Dizzy, he tried to block another blow, but didn't have any luck. The woman managed a blinding kick to Bob's head. He held his arms up weakly in front of himself. He got a blow in, but he was too dizzy for it to have any effect.
"Come on!" Bob heard Dot yell through their connection. If she could have, Dot would have leapt up and through the screen.
Bob's head was fogged from too many hits. Barely deflecting a kick, he tried to sort his brain. And remembered the two sticks attached to his costume. He reached back a grabbed the long, narrow and sturdy sticks.
The guardian had only a split second to sort out how to hold the weapons, and they felt awkward in his grip. He used the one in his left hand to aim for the woman's arm, barely grazing it. He tried again and was easily blocked. However, his left arm was already swinging in an graceful arc towards her waist.
Caught off guard, she took a step back and tried to deliver a high kick. The guardian jerked and dropped one of the sticks. His assailant knocked him down when she saw this.
The blow worked to Bob's favor in the end. He grabbed the dropped stick and jumped up in time to dodge another kick. He attempted to get another hit in, this time using his right hand to strike the female's wrist. Hard.
His attacker's hand now hung limp and Bob had an easier time fighting the woman into a corner, now that she was alone. He suffered a harsh blow to his side, but when the scuffle was over, the rogue lay on the alley ground - only unconscious. She was AI, like all the other game sprites so far.
"You there, Dot?"
Bob left the alley, not wanting to have to fight anyone else off for a bit. On the roof of a building, he asked, "Do you have a place?"
"I'm working on it." Dot crinkled her nose. "Really working on it. You can probably have a seat, while I figure this out...shouldn't be too much longer."
Bob sat down cross-legged on the roof of the building. To any passerby, it would have been a rather amusing sight. Bob closed his eyes and sighed. "Games just get less and less fun."
"You don't think flying around hunting down scumbags is fun?"
Bob thought for a moment, put on a cheesy grin, forgetting Dot couldn't see it, and replied, "I'm having fun because I'm with you, Dot."
"Oh brother," the woman smiled slightly. "I'm glad to hear it, though. With all the Daemon business, there's not too much time to work together like we used to. Back in the day, I mean."
"When did you ever like doing this kind of work in the games? You don't like games, either."
"I've never liked going in games, but playing them with you is always better."
Bob grinned. "Too bad games have turned into the only opportunity for a date."
"Ah, so that's why you let me run under this game cube!"
"You wound me, Commander!"
A few minutes later Dot spoke up once more, "I've got a location. A gas station. Still operating, still open, and I'm going to go with my gut and say these guys will show up there. This place is where the candy, cup and paper probably came from. This game city has a bad shopping selection. This is the only store that sells that kind of candy."
"Great." Bob stood up. When Dot gave him the location, he nodded and took off. "I'll contact you when I get there, earlier if I run into anything."
"Got it. I'll be here. I want to find some alternate locations."
"Go!" Dot held back a laugh.
Dot felt another wave of sleepiness roll over her. Sighing, she took the last gulp of her third cup of coffee and set out to get yet another refill.
Dot out her hand up to the ear with the receiver. "Hey. You there?"
"Yeah. I'm staked out just across from the place, waiting to see if anyone comes by."
"Great." Dot made her way into the kitchen and poured a cup of the very strong, black liquid.
"You know, Dot, I hate to sound skeptical, really. But, how's this going to work? Tons of people go past these stations and we have no way of knowing who's who."
"Ah, but we do." The woman smiled. Bob couldn't see the smile, but he knew exactly what it looked like. "I'm way ahead of you."
"Really? Enlighten me."
"First off, we have the several people you saw and can recognize. Also, I've been compiling a list of Tiger's known associates and those working or who have worked for Graham. Or those who might be likely to be working for either party. I added the ones you saw to this list, just in case. I've also added those who used to work for Tiger and former "employees" offed by Tiger. They just may not be really...dead."
"Dot, you're scaring me." Bob joked.
"I'm not done yet. With this list, I've noticed several characteristics, trademarks and generalities among these people that can pretty much be applied to any person in question you come across. They usually have some kind of mark or item of clothing to identify themselves when they come across each other." Dot flipped open the laptop she had brought into the kitchen with her. "Turn your vid-link on. Keep it on this time, goofball." When the guardian complied, she continued. "So the program I've got running can recognize these things when it gets information from the vid-link and can let us know if that person is a likely suspect.
"Plus," Dot concluded, "we have both our noggins and common sense. We see someone acting strangely, recognize a characteristic or notice anything out of sorts...we're covered."
Guardian 452 shook his head slowly. "Dot Matrix, let me tell you. You're phenomenal."
"I said it before. I'm just using what the game's given me."
"Yes, but you always do. Outside of games, too. You adapt to situations and take control."
Dot thought for a minute before speaking, trying to hide the embarrassment in her voice. "You're pretty amazing yourself, my friend."
"Is this where we hug?"
"Or hold hands and walk down a long street into the sunset before the credits roll."
"I'd - hey!" Bob jerked. "A person."
"Hrm. I'm not getting anything from the program." Both sprites watched the character walk into the gas station and exit again with a large coffee.
"Dot, it's your soulmate."
The two sat in silence for quite awhile, watching people come and go, checking to see if they were worth following. Just as a giggling teen couple exited, a short woman in blue sneakers went into the station.
"Woah!" Dot's voice made Bob jump once more. "That woman's sneakers...follow her!"
When the woman exited with a bag of candy bars and some drinks, Bob was ready to swing from rooftop to rooftop again in pursuit. As he did that, he spoke.
"You know, we've gotten leads, but we haven't seen the User. We're obviously assuming the User is Tiger, but we don't know for sure. We've talked to one person, and I now really regret not pressing him for more information."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
Bob sighed. "I'm going to follow this lady. I'm just venting. And I'm kinda mad you're not up here with me. I do kind of like the...mystery of it all," he admitted.
"Shh," Bob stopped roof hopping, as the woman stopped walking.
Dot stared. Quietly, she said, "She's not going to lead you anywhere, I don't think."
"Wait." Bob watched the woman slip into a shadow, fear clear on her face. Another woman had come out of the station, with a bag. The first female began to slink away and Bob wasn't sure who to follow. Sighing, he stayed with the newcomer. He tried to get closer and into earshot as the woman dialed a number into a phone.
"I got the Dershey's bars but there were no Smittles."
Dot almost sprayed her coffee.
The woman listened to the phone for a moment and replied, "Yes. I did get those...no, I didn't think...yes. Yes. I'll find Tiger the Smittles."
Dot grinned wickedly. "You said you we only talked to one person..."
The woman's jaw slackened as the dark figure leapt in front of her. Bob wasn't exactly sure what to say, so he blurted the first thing that came to mind.
"Come here often?"
Dot rolled her eyes.
The woman dropped her bag and shook. She clearly was just a lackey, not a higher up in the organization. But like all the sprites in this game she was AI - she could give information.
"I'm going to ask you a few questions. You're going to answer them. But you knew that, right?"
The woman nodded her head.
"Good." Bob jerked his head towards a deeper shadow, indicating that they step into it. "You work for Tiger?"
"Tiger's looking for this Graham guy? Girl?"
"Guy. Tiger wants him bad. He cheated her and - "
"I know. Let's move on. Does Tiger know where Graham is?"
The woman squinted. "Yes. The old station down by the docks."
"Okay. How about -"
"Bob!" Dot hissed. "She's lying."
The woman stared at Bob expectantly. Meanwhile, the guardian was listening to his partner. "She's lying. Who'd give up something like that so readily?"
Bob didn't acknowledge her, but continued. "How about -"
"Bob!" Dot interjected again. "They already have Graham!"
Bob gritted his teeth. "How about you go back to Tiger. Forget the Smittles." Bob picked up the dropped bag and handed it to her. "I never saw you. Tiger won't know you led us to Graham."
"Tell Tiger too much junk isn't good for the skin." The sprite made his way back to the rooftops. Once out of her sight, he said, "So. You think they've already got Graham."
"Hmm. Keep on following her."
"Got it. Care to share?"
Dot pushed the glasses up the bridge of her nose. It was something she did so often during the day, it was strangely comforting in the game. "Like I said, why would a lackey like her be trusted with real information? Either she's full of it or was given specific instructions. And why would they risk sending you off to a place where you could potentially just come back and continue looking for Graham if they didn't already have him?"
"Or maybe they had a trap set up there and they don't really have Graham. Or that lady just got scared."
Dot sighed. "Might as well follow her anyway - she thinks you're heading for the docks. I'm assuming now that they don't need to just get Graham, but have to kill him too. So you're not saving him from capture, but from death."
"That other woman..." Bob paused as he swung ahead of his "quarry". "She was one of Graham's men?"
"Must have been." Dot shook her head. "Weird that they ran into each other like that."
"Maybe a little too coincidental. Maybe she really thinks I'm heading for the docks."
"In any case, I'm following this one."
"Works for me. I don't really any better option." Dot pushed against the edge of the desk to move her chair backwards a little, and leaned back in the chair as best she could. "So."
"So," Bob said, a slight gasp in his breath. Dot figured he was working his lungs too hard to talk, so she didn't continue until Bob said, "Well?"
"Oh, nothing. Just wondering what you thought of this game."
"All the sprites are AI so far. It's a little unsettling. I can't delete them...I think of AndrAIa. They may be restored after every game, but it still bothers me."
"I agree. The games are getting pretty advanced, huh?"
"The pull of the game characters is pretty heavy. I think - hello!" Bob stopped and looked at a rather decrepit warehouse with a grin. "And here we are."
Crouching silently, Bob remained as still as possible as he watched the woman take the bag into the building.
Bob found the pair of binoculars, silently leapt to the next roof and slunk across it to get a good look inside one of the windows. Inside, he could make out only shapes and struggled to count them. "Cursors," he muttered.
"What?" Dot had started to whisper, without even noticing it or realizing it was unnecessary.
"I can't see in there."
"That suit's full of stuff...let's see if there's something about it in this database." Dot searched the files and tried to keep on eye on the screen at the same time. "Aha."
"What've you got?"
"There's another control on that mask besides the vid-link. Press it."
"Very cool." The clear lenses now showed the world in a greenish tint, penetrating the shadows. It wasn't anywhere close to day vision, but Bob could now see the dark shapes as two people. They were not standing far from the window. "Can you identify them?"
Dot reached for the keyboard, a half smile forming on her lips. She wasn't out there doing the spying, but she was getting a rush from the work.
Dot went into one program, a special search engine and imported images of the two figures' faces into it. She estimated their height and weight and added that in. She was ready to begin cross-matching them with police reports and files from other organizations she had at her fingertips, when she realized she could now also add who they were working for. That done, she sat back for a moment and tried to think if she'd left anything out. Satisfied, she started comparing the description to police reports, the computer going through all the files that the game had provided. No dice.
Another search through what the game called Interpol came up negative, too.
Then another database, high security, lots of scientific information. "Whoa."
"The guy on the left. His name's Randy. I'm looking at a report on him, and you're going to need more than fists for this guy, my friend."
"He can burst into flames." Dot said this like she was commenting jetball game, and Bob almost laughed.
"This is -"
"Don't say it."
"I was going to say, 'this is a heated situation.'"
"That's not much better."
"I've got an idea. A fire extinguisher."
"Great idea, but where're you going to find one?"
"All these buildings, there has to be one in one of them."
Bob glanced around him, still trying to be as silent as possible. "I'm going to take a wild shot and say that the burned-down building doesn't have one."
"I think you're right."
"Hmm. That one's in the best shape." Bob was eyeing a three story building with a low number of broken windows and still-intact fire escape. Staying as low as possible, the sprite took a line to the building, landing on the fire escape. The exit window was unlocked, and Bob slipped inside easily.
It was the guardian's lucky day, because there was an unused extinguisher, and he didn't even have to break a sweat looking for it, because it was in the first hall he entered. He exited with his spoils and returned to his original spot watching the warehouse.
He checked all the windows he could and tried to estimate how many people were in there. He counted four, but that didn't mean there were only that many. He remembered to add Tiger and the woman he had followed. That made six. Or five, he said silently as the woman he followed exited the building and left. On the other hand, he couldn't spot Graham, and wondered if he was even here.
Meanwhile, Dot chewed on her lip slightly as she searched for any information about the other people Bob had spotted. No more fire-guys, just regular baddies.
Stabbing at the keys, she tried to bring up blueprints for the warehouse, but they had been lost in some sort of disaster.
Dot racked her brain, trying to think of another way she could be useful. Sighing, she went back to Randy's file. She read through it, her eyebrows raising as she reached the end of it. "Huh."
"What?" Bob's voice came up suddenly, making her jerk.
"This guy's body will build up an excess amount of heat, right before he...combusts. You can't feel the heat come off of him, but it can be spotted with infrared goggles."
"Well, sure. But where am I going to get those?" Bob stopped. "Oh, wait. I think I know.
Dot flipped back from the information on Bob's suit. "You got it. Press the button that turned on the night vision twice, and you're ready to go."
"Cool. I'm going down, now."
The woman at the computer rubbed her forehead. "I'm not at all liking you're taking too many chances on too little information."
"Sometimes, you just gotta jump in and hope it works out."
Dot held back any pessimistic remarks. "Good luck."
As gracefully as possible, the dark figure otherwise known as Bob leapt from the building, used a jumpline to catch himself, and swept to the ground soundlessly. He didn't make any smart comments to Dot, because he was in earshot of the warehouse now.
Holding the extinguisher was going to make fighting awkward and Bob decided he had better take out the fire-guy first. Bob held the extinguisher under his left arm, stopped a few feet from the window Randy and the other guy were spotted at, and prepared to do something really reckless.
One, two, three. Bob made the steps closer to the window, jumped and used the force to go through the window head first, flipping over and landing on his feet - a move that was part Bob, part game character. The glass made a rainbow shower around him, and the sound of the glass shattering was almost musical.
Crunching in the glass, the two men who had been near the window attacked. The guardian twisted to the right, raised his leg and swung it into the side of the "normal" man. The man stumbled, and another kick from Bob, managed to reach the shorter man's temple and knock him down.
The sprite's original plan of taking down Randy first was no more, as Bob turned rapidly to face the man who was now rushing him. Fast.
Whump! Bob heard the impact a split second before he felt the kick in his chest. Managing not to stumble, Bob struggled to maintain hold of the extinguisher and use his other hand to throw an uppercut to Randy's chin. He tried to get a hook in, but Randy dodged it.
Through the infrared lenses, Bob saw no sign of his opponent building up excess heat, so he rushed Randy, jumping and executing a high kick to his face.
Randy's eyes glared at Bob over his mashed nose, and here Bob saw in his mask that Randy's body heat began to increase. The now very angry game sprite threw near-perfect left hook that almost got the Mainframer. Pivoting on one foot, Bob turned, avoided a second punch, and delivered another kick.
"Next time the readout spikes that much, wait five seconds and spray him." Dot's calm voice broke into Bob's thoughts and he prepared to use the extinguisher.
"Yikes." Bob saw the colors of his goggles turn very bright, very quickly. In his head he counted up to five, trying to back away from Randy. At three he had the pin pulled and at five the nozzle was aimed and ready to spray - with perfect timing as Randy turned into a campsite's worst nightmare.
Bob dropped the extinguisher. Randy himself dropped to the ground, knocked unconscious from being...extinguished. Bob turned around the room, scanning it. It was a little room, with a door leading out of it.
"I'll bet that the next room is the main room - this is where the calvary was supposed to be. And was."
"And I take it you want to storm the main room without a plan?"
"Yep. That's why I have you, Dot. You're my sentinel."
"Just don't get your ascii too far into the fire, Bob."
"Hey, I'll be careful," Bob assured Dot. Before she could snort, Bob added. "Let's see if we can't hear anything in there."
Dot took advantage of all the computers around her and turned on a recorder that enhanced the sounds that were heard. The enhancer also saved them. Dot prepared to listen in as she noted that the door was wood, and that the hideout Bob had entered hideout probably wasn't all that well defended technology-wise. She hoped that it wasn't well-protected people-wise, either.
Having brought the pot into the room earlier, Dot refilled her coffee for the fifth time and tried not to laugh when she heard Bob making fun of one of the voices in the other room.
"That pajama boy's been givin' us all hell," a voice muttered.
"Pajama-boy? Why do I have a sudden image of a little kid in booties beating people up?" Bob asked, his voice as low as possible.
An even lower voice replied, making sounds that the enhancer couldn't decipher. Footfalls were heard, and Bob tried to estimate how many different footsteps there were.
Dot listened to the guardian's voice when it came over their connection. "I'm guessing there are four people in there. Graham could be in there, too, and I'm assuming Tiger is either in another room, or not here at all, judging from all these guys' small-talk."
"I wonder if you could get in there less...unannounced if you went through a window outside."
"I don't think so," Bob answered. "All those windows were shut. I'd have to open or break them. I'll just take this door out." There was a pause, then Bob whispered, "Wow, you didn't say 'be careful'!"
"Ha. Be careful."
The vid-link's view changed for Dot as Bob stood up, concentrated on the doorknob and tried to look at the crack between the door and the wall. Not locked. Bob listened to the footsteps again as he reached for the two fighting sticks holstered at his back. When the footfalls all sounded farther away from him, he turned to knob and opened the door a crack, as silently as he could manage.
The door opened into the room Bob was already in, so as he swung it open further, he stepped around it and glanced around. The sprite had about three seconds to look as he noted that there were, in fact, four men. Two were seated next to a bound and gagged man Bob assumed was Graham. The other two were each looking out a window, which were directly ahead of Bob. The floor of the room had various crates strewn and stacked about, as well as four metal support columns.
At the end of that two seconds was when one of the men by Graham glanced up from the ground - Stupid, Bob thought - and saw him. Thinking quick, Bob threw a discus-type weapon he had discovered in his the suit at the man. The blunt end hit him in the head, making him drop with a thud.
Drawing the attention of the other three.
Dot smacked her forehead as the other three got ready to attack, and tried not to take another sip of coffee.
When he threw the weapon at the man, Bob had dropped one of the fighting sticks. Now, moving as quickly as possible, he swept it up off the ground and tried not to back himself into a corner as two of the men approached him. The third disappeared from Bob's line of sight.
Bob quickly realized that picking up the dropped fighting stick was a good idea, because both men had large pipes. Unfortunately, they looked like they knew what they were doing with them.
The one on the left was wearing a red flannel shirt and made a move towards the guardian. He swung the pipe in an expert arc. Thinking as quickly as possible, Bob moved forward and put both of the sticks together to deflect the hit. The sound of metal hitting metal echoed in the room.
Turning instinctively to the guy on the right, Bob swung the sticks again, this time directed to the end of the man's pipe, with the hopes that it would be knocked out of his hands. This did not happen, but the force Bob exerted did knock the man off balance.
Once again turning to Flannel, Bob made an effort to deflect several more blows. Frustrated that he was on the defense, he tried to channel his emotions into energy, but was still having to switch from Flannel to the other guy to avoid being hit.
"Where's the third one?" Dot's voice came into Bob's ear just as he succeeded in landing a lucky shot to one of the men's arms. Flannel still stood ready to fight.
Making an effort not to back himself into a corner, Bob continued to spar with Flannel, and try to see where the third man had gone.
As the guardian did a flip backwards to avoid getting struck, he remembered his way of travel earlier. Look up, his inner voice told him. His outer voice muttered an expletive when he did.
Acting on impulse, Bob moved away from to man dropping from above, went into a roll, leapt up and assumed a fighting stance several feet away from the two. He heard the muffled noises of Graham behind him, but ignored them.
Rushing forward, the man who had drooped from above, came flying at him with an aluminum bat. Rushing forward himself, the sprite leaped over the man, dodging the blow and landing to hit the man from behind.
Dot, who had been watching tensely, couldn't hold it in any longer. "Watch your back, Bob! That other guy's not in sight!"
Bob ignored the voice, swinging around to hit Flannel's pipe once more. Indeed, he needed to watch his back, but Bob did not need someone sitting in room elsewhere to tell him that.
Although Dot knew that just as well as Bob, her Commander side, her bossy side and her paranoid side was watching the fight going down, and she couldn't do anything about it. "On your left!" she burst out.
"Dot," Bob growled, striking Drop-guy once more. "Shut up."
Slamming her fist on the table when she realized she wasn't helping, Dot yelled a word she didn't use around Enzo. Ignoring the pencil cup that turned over from her force, Dot tried to find a different way of being helpful, still a little shocked at her outburst that the game character felt the need to make. Once again, she consulted the computers.
Working quickly, and trying to block out the sounds of the fight she was hearing, Dot started looking for the plans of the building Bob was in. Wondering why she hadn't thought of that before, she realized it wouldn't have mattered. Any information on the building was either non-existent or very well hidden.
Ready to hit something else, Dot grumbled in frustration, turning off her microphone for the moment.
Hunting through some building reports for structures built by the same company as the one Bob now fought in, Dot noticed a similarity between them.
"That's how that game sprite got up there..." Dot turned her microphone back on and smiled as she looked at the screen. Bob had already discovered the pipes above.
"Let's see about Tiger," the woman muttered.
Bob jumped up, landed on a nearby crate and jumped off that to grab one of the pipes up in the ceiling. Swinging forward, he let go of the one, flying into a mid-air turn. He managed to grasp the next pipe and grinned. "Coolness."
Below him, Flannel was preparing to leap up and grab onto a pipe, but Bob had already swung and moved away from where the game sprite was. Swinging and letting go of the pipe he currently had a hold of, the Mainframer landed his on feet on a lower, wider pipe. From there, he threw one of his flying weapons at the man still below, knocking him unconscious. Flannel was now only two pipes away, and Bob used another one of the boomerang-like weapons to knock the man's hands free.
Bob jumped and landed gracefully, grabbing his fighting sticks from where he had holstered them. Flannel landed hard, took a minute to climb back up to his feet, a crowbar in hand. Flannel was weakened, and Bob found it easy to use his sticks to hold the crowbar back, and knock the gamesprite out.
"And we still haven't seen the User," Dot added.
Sighing, Bob flopped down next to Graham. The bookie was still bound, gagged, and looking at Bob. "Hi," Bob waved.
"So, here's the big question: Do you just have to free Graham, or defeat Tiger?" Dot wondered.
"Let's find out." After wiping the sweat off his forehead, Bob moved onto his knees and examined the ropes, handcuffs, and gag. "It's occurred to me, Dot, that we could leave Grahamie here tied up and ask him about Tiger."
Graham glared at the guardian.
"Even if he won't tell us anything, I'm more comfortable with leaving him tied up anyway. It's not like he's completely innocent. Which answers my earlier question," Dot tapped a few keys on one of her keyboards. "As for Tiger, I managed to dig up a little information. Key word being 'little'."
"Great. What do you know?"
Dot started reading off from her screen. "Tiger's not the head honcho. She's a frontwoman for an organization that works for the real power here. Some big guy. "Is he the User?"
Dot shook her head. "Doubtful. It's just that Tiger has a lot at stake here. If she doesn't take Graham down, and you for that matter, she's toast. She's going to be desperate."
"Great. Thanks, Dot." Returning his full attention to Graham, he worked at the gag that prevented the bookie from speaking. "So, what would you know about where Tiger's hiding?"
"I'm right here, vigilante." Bob spun to meet the voice.
"We should have anticipated that," Dot muttered from her computer.
Tiger, brunette in a blue business suit looked like she might have been on her way to some office. Except for the fact that she had a gun pointed straight at Bob. "You made a mistake in coming. I didn't expect your interference. An error on my part. I had forgotten about your boy scout morality."
"She talks a lot," Dot noted. "She's your soulmate."
Bob tried not to laugh, and concentrated on getting out of this fix without gaining any new holes.
"She also seems to know your game character. Hopefully not too well."
"Don't you just love games full of AIs and characters that interect so much?"
Dot laughed. "No, but you do."
Bang! The gun went off, and Bob's hand went for his rib, ignoring Dot's yell that was flooding his ear. The suit had stopped the bullet, but hurt his ribs.
Blinking, Dot went back to check her notes on Bob's outfit. Some special-weave lightweight fabric had protected the guardian.
"Bullet-proof. Just checking," Tiger laughed. "I'll have to aim for the head."
"Like I'm at fault for whatever my game character's done to her," Bob muttered with a laugh.
Now concerned about being attacked from behind, Bob kept his back to the wall, but not touching it. At the moment, Bob wished for a cape of some sort to hide his hands while he reached for another throwing weapon. At this point, he couldn't grab one without Tiger seeing him and killing him first. But an opening presented itself.
Bless his little money-stealing heart, Bob said to himself as Graham, now free of his gag, suddenly gasped for breath. Tiger turned her attention to the bookie for a split second, giving Bob that much time to grab another discus and throw it.
"Argh!" was all Tiger had to say as she saw her gun drop and skid along the floor.
Now prepared, Bob rushed her, throwing a punch and a kick, then flipping away as Tiger tried to retaliate. Dropping into a somersault, Tiger made a grab for her gun and fired off three shots as Bob used the game character's leading to help him flip, turn, leap around the room. Bob felt shot number four hit him in the side, but be stopped by his suit. Shot five richioted off a metal column. Then there were no more shots. Five plus the first shot was six. The game told him that meant her piece was all used up.
"Oops, eh, Tiger?" Bob jumped towards the woman again, landing a punch that knocked her to the ground. Bob flipped her over, held her arms down from behind and put a knee in her back. Remembering all the AI sprites, and feeling a tug from his game character, Bob realized this wasn't a game that you killed the User in. The sprite went to work, tying Tiger up.
"I've notified the police. I'm sure they'll want Graham, too."
Bob heard sirens in the distance, as he climbed out a window and took off. The sun was beginning to light the smoggy sky, and Bob sighed with relief as he heard the words, "Game Over.
Bob glanced around himself as Dot came up from behind him. "Not bad, Guardian."
"Not so bad yourself, Commander."
"I know," Dot said with a smirk. "I guess I owe you an apology for...,"
"Your excessive yelling?"
"Being a little more worried about your well being than was necessary."
"Well," Bob said, steeping to Dot's other side, "I know it's just 'cause you love me."
"You wish," Dot laughed.
Bob decided to try a question safer on his ego, "How 'bout some coffee?"
"How 'bout not. Let's head to the diner," Dot said. Before Bob could look surprised, added. "I can do my work from there."
"So," Bob started as the walked towards the landmark building. "Want to take care of my bruised ribs? You get to see me with my shirt off."
"Tempting, I must say."
"But I think Phong is more qualified."
"That hurt worse than the ribs."