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Chapter 2: Second Visit
(In Which Bob Is Formally Introduced To Hex)


"Of all the basic, no good..."  Bob sat in his dorm grumbling, "They
actually think Zero is qualified for this sort of thing!  I can't
believe Turbo turned me down."

"Get over it," Carden told him, "You're a cadet with weird ideas.  You
might as well ask the User why games.  Why not just let odd looking
killer bugs loose in the system."  He thought about what he had said,
"Never mind, we already have those."

Bob growled and decided to ignore his play by rules roomy.
Carden started to chuckle as he set the vid window alarm clock.
"What?" 452 asked as he closed the read me file he'd been pretending
to study.
"You," his roommate replied, still laughing under his breath, "'I need
to stay'. Oh brother!"
"Carden, those people need help," Bob defensively responded, "You know
they've been using an ancient erase command to win games."
"And the fact that one of Mainframe's chief citizens is a babe has
nothing to do with it?" he asked suspiciously.
Bob tried not to smile.  "C'mon, she's not even my type."
"Then why didn't you tell her the truth.  You're not a Guardain, not
until you pass your finals."  Bob didn't reply.  Carden went on, "Don't
get me wrong.  I would have lied too."  He picked up a rubber ball off
the desk and tossed it directly at Bob.  "To sum up what I'm trying to
tell you I repeat my earlier phrase."  He stood up and firmly stated
with a teasing expression, "Get over it. She probably wouldn't date you
anyway."

Bob threw the ball back at his roommate with another growl.  Carden
just let out another laugh.

*************

The cadets all hung out in a nearby bar where they'd fill up on energy
shakes while they studied game techniques and the best ways to approach
a tear.

Bob entered carrying an envelope he'd picked up from his mailbox
before heading to the bar.  He sat down with a group of sprites who greeted
him cheerfully.

"What's that?" Molly, who was youngest of the group, questioned.
He overlooked the envelope.  "Don't know."  He opened it and a
hologram of little Enzo appeared.

The young sprite spoke in tone that sounded rehearsed.  "Dear Mr. Bob. 
This is Enzo Matrix."  He paused when a bark sounded from the
background.  "And Frisket.  We were just wondering when you were coming back. 
This other guy is a real..."  His voice lowered to a whisper,
"Dipswitch."  He went back to his normal volume.  "Dot can't stand him.  He won't
even let her go into games.  I know you'd be a better Guardian.  I'm
going to be 01 soon, you could come for my birthday."  He paused and with
a little gasp he finished quickly.  "Uh oh, Zero's coming.  Bye Bob."
The message closed and Bob couldn't help smiling.  His friends had all
been taking his "obsession" with Mainframe as a joke, but for once they
didn't tease or snicker.  Carden gave him a pat on the back and they
all went back to studying.

The blue cadet stared down at his keytool and wondered about what
Dixon would have said if she were there.  "What am I saying?" Bob thought,
"I know exactly what she would've said.  'Listen cadet, you better use
your energy for finals because there is no way Turbo would send you to
Mainframe.  By the way, I agree with Carden.  If she's smart she won't
date you.  Now get to work before all the stuff you do know leaks out
of that hole in your head.'"  Although he considered Dixon his friend,
she had never been one for inspiring confidence.

A click from Glitch brought Bob out of his thought and he realized
that Molly was waving an energy shake in front of his face.  "This goes in
your mouth, Bob," she said with a laugh, "Just thought I'd let you
know."

*************

Finals were approaching swiftly.  With them was Bob's hope that if he
scored high enough the Guardians would rethink their decision about him
and Mainframe.  They knew he was in steady contact with Enzo, who
constantly wrote about how Dot was going to delete Zero next chance she had. 
Zero never did much in the system and binomes were being infected by
Megabyte by the dozen.  Most of the data sprites who had survived the
accident had left the city to find out what was in these other systems
they were suddenly hearing about.

Bob couldn't concentrate the closer time came to his test.  He sat in 
a scanner room, trying to keep his eyes on the nearby readme file. 
Suddenly, Glitch began chattering as Zero entered the room out of breath.
"Mainframe really drains the energy," he complained sitting down
across from Bob, "Especially that Matrix kid.  He never shuts that input of
his.  And his sister is worse.  I swear she has a hand in everything in
that city.  You have no idea how lucky you are, Bob."
Bob tried to restrain his brown eyes from glaring at Zero.  The two
had compiled up across the street from each other, so their "friendly"
rivalry was nothing new.  "You just love that you got the post I want."
Zero rolled his eyes.  "You're pathetic, you know that 452.  You're
just upset that you can't go to Mainframe and check up on all your new
buddies."
"Who says I can't go there?" Bob questioned leaning back in his chair
and crossing his arms over his chest.
"It's a rule," Zero argued, "No cadet can leave the Academy grounds
this close to finals...unless they have permission from Turbo."  A vid
window announcement interrupted him to report another problem in
Mainframe that needed Zero's attention.  "Oh, the kid probably swallowed a
magnet or something," the cadet grumbled and glanced at Bob, "You like
them, right?  Why don't you go?"
"Oh yeah, I go and you tell Turbo," Bob scoffed.
Zero rolled his again.  "I'm serious.  I really don't want to go and
if I told Turbo that he'd kick my ASCII."  A portal to Mainframe opened
and Bob stood in front of it suspiciously.  Before he could answer,
Zero had pushed him through.
Bob frowned at the way he had just come and almost thought about
jumping through again to push Zero back.  His final decision was "as long as
I'm in Mainframe..."  He was in the Principal Office.  It was amazing
the differences between this place and the Super Computer.  It was so
much slower and laid back.  Even if he ever did manage to have a post in
Mainframe, he didn't think he could ever call it home.
An excited voice shouted, "Bob!"  The cadet turned just as a young
green sprite bowled him over.  Enzo sat on his chest and began to rattle
on a mile a minute.  "Hey Bob, you came back just like you promised! 
Are you our new Guardian?  No more Zero!  Wait until Dot hears.  She's
sick of all the useless busy work he's been giving her.  It makes her
swear a lot, which she thinks I don't hear.  You know she didn't believe
you'd come back."  He took a deep breath and called over he shoulder,
"Dot!"
Bob tried to sit up, only the little sprite on top of him made this
difficult.  Glancing up, he saw that Enzo was older with a sideways cap
instead of his beanie and a baseball shirt decorated with his age- 01.
Dot's voice yelled, "Enzo, who have you trampled now?"
"It's Bob.  Dot, he's here!" Enzo exclaimed as he climbed off the
cadet.
His sister scoffed.  "Right Enzo.  Is this like the time you saw
Megabyte under your bed?"  She came out from a door and saw Bob groan as he
picked himself up off the floor.
Bob came face to face with Ms. Matrix who held out a hand to help him
stand the rest of the way.  She was different also.  Her hair was no
longer streaked rainbow colors.  It was black, still in her face, but now
he had a better view of her violet eyes.  The pink dress was replaced
by a sensible red pant outfit.  Okay, so Bob wasn't there just to see
Dot, but the fact that she was there didn't hurt.
"You okay?" she asked, "You've got to look out for Enzo."
"Thanks for the warning," he replied sarcastically, then cleared his
throat to get down to business, "I was told there was a distress call. 
Zero sent me in his place for the moment.  What's the problem?"
"No one sent out a distress call that I know of.  If there's a problem
we usually prefer it if Zero isn't around," Dot confided.
Bob grinned.  "I know how you feel.  For me, most of the time Zero is
the problem."
The two sprites laughed a little, until their concentration was cut
off by a purple null sliding through the room and into a door.
"Hexadecimal," Dot moaned.  Bob stared at her with confusion.  "The
other virus.  She has this power to control nulls and well...C'mon."
They followed the purple null, all the while Enzo went into stories
about how nuts Hex was.  "  She made her home at Lost Angels, which is an
island that used to be the twin city.  She's really crazy, Bob.  Once
she used a program to type on everyone's clothes."
Dot added, "We were all wandering around with pieces of the great
viral novel on our shirts.  It took a lot of talk for her undo it."
The journey ended in a large white room where dozens of nulls covered
the floor.  An old, distressed voice came from overhead, "Excuse me, my
children, but HELP."  Phong was suspended from a light fixture in order
to be away from the energy draining creatures.
Bob pointed his arm towards the ceiling.  "Glitch Power line."  A wire
shot from the keytool and wrapped around the chandelier so Phong could
slid down.
"Thank you, my son," Phong said with a bow of his yellow head, "Now
may I suggest that we run."  He almost shouted the last word before
dashing from the room.  The others were close behind, slamming the door shut
before they were overtaken by a sea of nulls.
"That was close," Bob muttered with relief.
"Finally, one of you Guardians admits he was scared," Dot said with a
smirk.
"Scared?  I never said I was..."  He rubbed the back of his neck and
noticed a silvery object laying at their feet.  He leaned down to
retrieve it and no sooner had he touched it than he was being shot into the
sky towards Lost Angles.
Yelling for help, Bob began to fall right into a hole in the ground. 
Landing on a floating platform in a round room, he realized that the
only light source was a hovering spotlight that cast everything in
shadows.  It reminded him of a room he had seen at the Mainframe Principal
Office only very purple.  A chair with a twisted back almost like some
kind of demented throne sat in the center beside a glided mirror.
Bob commented aloud, "Nice place.  Cheerful."
"I'm so glad you like it," screeched a voice.  From the ceiling came a
slender female virus with a white face.  She wore a huge smile as she
reach for Bob.  "Shall we dance?"
"Whoa!" he gasped jumping out of her reach, "Shouldn't
we...um...introduce ourselves first."
The long hand passed over her face and the expression changed to a
thoughtful one.  "I suppose."  Her hand moved again and the mask returned
to a smile.  "I'm Hexadecimal, the Queen of Chaos."
"Uh...I'm Bob," he stated, trying to keep his cool.
"I know!" she beamed, then the her mask became an angry frown. 
"Skuzzy!" she screamed.
Her smile returned when a round creature zipped in.  He drifted in
front of Bob and wagged his tail as an image of the recent past was
revealed in the stone on his head and body.
First was Bob introducing himself to Dot.  "I'm a cad...I mean, I'm a
Guardian.  I come from the Net."
The image changed to a time shortly after he had left.  Enzo was still
a toddler who had jumped off a park bench and into his sister's arms. 
"Dot? When do you think Bob's coming back?"
She sighed.  "We've been over this.  He's not.  He's probably off
doing...whatever it is that Guardians do and forgotten all about us. 
Besides, we don't need two of them.  Zero is bad enough."
Enzo began to whine. "But he's not like Zero, Sis, and he says he
wishes he could be here, but he has finals and..."
"Enzo, when did he say that?" she cut in with a laugh, thinking her
brother was making up stories.
"In his last message," he told her simply.
Dot's mouth fell open.  After shaking away her shock, Zero called,
"Ms. Matrix, what are you doing playing in the park? Where are those
chips?"
Dot growled, "Get them yourself, you low density son of a null."
The image faded.  Hex's infectious smile repeated, "Shall we dance? 
We know each other so intimately now."
"Well, I really should be going," Bob replied.
Hex's face turned to a menacing, sharp toothed shout.  "DANCE!"
In a panic, Bob shouted, "Glitch anything!"  The keytool became a
chopper which flew him out of Lost Angles, way from Hexadecimal's angry
screams.
 

On to Chapter 3.....