"We CAN be together." She protested
"How?!" he challenged. "You're a game sprite! You leave with the game! Win or lose."
It was happening again, and there was no way of stopping it. It all felt real, but subconciously, she knew.
With only a moments hesitation, she snuck her hand behind his neck, and he realized all too late what she had in store for him. He shouted in protest, but she didn't even hear his cries of betrayal. He slumped to the ground.
She removed something from her belt. An icon. Had her unconcious companion thought to look at it, he would have noticed that unlike his, it consisted of a large triangle and a circle within. The circle contained two simple letters. AI. "Artificial Intelligence" she mused. Well, time to show them what something artificial could do. She placed it on his icon, and with a few muted whirs, and flickering lights, it had done it's work.
The other was getting closer. The one he had called "The User". Within moments, it would pass them, and there was no way to outrun it in such a rickety sub. They still had one torpedo, but it would do them no good. "Multiple lives" her friend had said. "The User" could simply regenerate. Then she had a thought.
If her friend could reach the objective before the user, he would win. But in order for him to get there first, she would have to... But there was no choice, no alternative, and certainly no time to process it any further.
Within moments, she was watching the torpedo, her icon, and her friend zip right past "The User", and perfectly on course for the objective. For an instant, she felt a twinge of fear. What if it didn't work? She had no icon, and the game was about to end. There was no way to know what might happen.
"Goodbye... my friend." she whispered. Then a voice, not her own spoke.
And the world around her began to change. The sub was disintegrating. The water turned a stormy, chaotic purple. And then the world began to lift. All she could see were two figures that she could not quite make out, and that of the one she had come to know so well in such a short time. The Guardian. He was not lifting with the rest of the world. Instead, he seemed to sink through the ocean floor. Her eyes remained fixed on him until he disappeared completely.
And then reality itself began to crumble. The world became a violent swirl of purple and black. It was lifting at breakneck speed. This wasn't the first time she had experienced this, but it always scrared the hell out of her none the less. She fell to the ground and braced herself. This was wrong. All wrong. She kept repeating it to herself. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Something had gone wrong. Her plan hadn't worked. The world had a top. A solid top. She crashed up against it with such insane force, that her small body could offer no resistance. And it burned. God, how it burned, and her last thought was a prayer that she had enough time to scream. Her prayer went unanswered...
...And yet scream she nearly did, as AndrAIa bolted upright from her nightmare.
(Historian's note: Part one takes place sometime after the episode "Gigabyte" and just before the events described in "Trust No One")
She was shaking from head to toe. It wasn't the first time this had happened. The nightmare was recurring. Every night it was the same thing. It seemed to be fate's way of punishing her for toying with it. It reminded her of what could have happened. After all, she had escaped the game. In reality, that isn't even an option. She had defied reality to be with the only friend she had ever known. But now that she was here, Mainframe, she seemed to be aquiring more. The dog, Frisket for example. She had met him at the Diner. AndrAIa had never seen anything like him. She had given him a friendly pat, and he had replied by licking her face, and wagging his tail. She could still vaugely recall Enzo's friend, Bob, saying "Unbelievable..." or words to that effect.
Still shaking. She had to clear her head. In a nano, she was wide awake, dressed, and on the front steps of the Diner, just sitting, and staring at the sky. Any passer-by may wonder what she found so fascinating. That was because Mainframers took the sky for granted. To them it was always there. AndrAIa had never seen the sky before arriving in Mainframe. The sheer magnitude, the fact that it just went on, seemingly forever, boggled her mind. She loved it.
The stillness of land, however, without the calming lull of the ocean, that was what she missed most of all. It yielded no comfort, and she could no longer simply let the water rock her to sleep. Not that she had been given much time for that anyway. More often than not, she was seeking out, and distroying the enemy. That was her basic function. But as an Artificial Intelligence game sprite, she aquired a personality as time went on, and that personality became something of a free spirit. Mainframers were ignorant, in a way. To them, if something was there, that's where it stayed. The world, the people, the sky, everything was so constant to them. If they had only known a life where every moment was precious. Where the end of a game, or a stray shot marked the end of life, until some unseen force saw fit to create it all over again.
"Up again?" inquired the now familiar brisk, yet gentle voice of Dot Matrix. Dot was the owner of the Diner, and the sister of her friend, Guardian Enzo. As far as she could tell, Dot never slept.
AndrAIa didn't respond. What was there to say? Obviously she was. Instead, she returned to her sky-gazing.
"You need to sleep." Dot pointed out. "I don't suppose you want to tell me what's wrong this time?"
"No." she replied, a little too quickly. "It's noting important. Just a silly dream."
"A dream, huh? Now we're making progress." Dot sat down next to her. "What happened? Maybe I can help. New system jitters? Things getting a bit too random? I know that whole thing with Nullzilla and Gigabyte must've been rough for a little sprite, but things will get better. They aren't normally this bad. You should tell someone what you dreamed, it might make you feel better."
"Maybe..." AndrAIa murmered in response. "Maybe I should tell Enzo when he gets up. He's a Guardian, maybe he can help."
Dot got that funny look on her face she always seemed to get whenever AndrAIa talked about her friend's format. It quickly passed as usual. AndrAIa was begining to wonder what it meant.
"So this dream, what was it about?"
For an instant, it seemed like AndrAIa would tell her, but she stopped herself and looked away. She almost seemed to be on the verge of tears. Dot backed off.
"Ok, ok. You don't have to say anything. But remember, I'm here if you need me."
Dot got up and headed back into the Diner. There were two things AndrAIa couldn't get used to. One was people always "being there". The other was... it had slipped her mind for the moment. It would come back to her. She decided to return to bed. She got up and thrusted herself forward.
And fell flat on her face.
Right. Standing. That was the other thing.
I live in the games
I search though systems, peoples, and cities for this place
Mainframe: My home
My format... I have no format
I am a renegade
Lost on the net
(Historian's note: Parts two, three and four take place a good long time after the events described in "Game Over" But quite a while before "Icons")
"Game Over." announced a deep, rough voice, in a way so that it would have shocked no one if it had added "and about time too".
The sky engulfed the gigantic purple cube that had nanoseconds ago sat quietly, and patiently in the middle of highway 32. The game left behind six binomes, a dog, and two sprites. All of whom were promptly met with angry honking, and shouting. The binomes ran one way, the sprites and the dog ran the other. The larger of the two spites spoke.
"Friendly, charming." he observed.
There was a time when his counterpart would have asked what he was talking about. The residents of this system seemed crude and impatient. But of course, there was also a time when she was taller than him. Things change, and that time was long ago, when she was another person. Before she understood sarcasam and humor. Before she understood many things. Now, she just gave him a lopsided grin and let it pass.
Before long they were out of the traffic, and taking in the local scenery. The entire system looked as though it had been attacked by a mad abstract artist. Buildings were built in every shape and color imaginable, and apartment rooms were stacked inefficiently on top of each other.
"Where in the 'net ARE we?" AndrAIa inquired
"When I find out, I'll let you know." Matrix responded in that all-business voice that AndrAIa was getting real sick of hearing. "Glitch: scanner."
Glitch gave a high-pitched whine of annoyed defiance, and spat a readout onto its screen.
"I can't make out much, but I CAN tell you it isn't Mainframe, and there's no ports to the net."
"Be still my heart." AndrAIa replied expressionless.
"You don't seem to care." Matrix pointed out.
"Maybe I don't. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to look around." She began to walk away, but Matrix grabbed her arm, and spun her around. "Let me go Enzo." she warned. Frisket barked, and tried to position himself between them.
"Stop calling me that! I wish you wouldn't call me that." His eyes slowly softened. "AndrAIa, what do you mean you don't care? I've worked hard for this. I'm trying to get us home."
"Trying to get to YOUR home you mean."
"Now what is THAT supposed to mean?"
"Maybe it means I'm tired of looking for someone else's home."
"Mainframe IS your home!"
"Why?" she challenged. "Why is it my home?"
"If it isn't, then where IS your home?"
Matrix regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth. AndrAIa just stood there for a moment in shocked silence. "That was low, Matrix." she said finally, in a whisper. Her eyes burned with rage. "Real low." She squirmed out of his grip, and stormed off. Firsket whimpered in protest.
But when Matrix and Frisket entered the next game, they went alone.
While the cube was still down that night, AndrAIa had a dream. One that terrified her, both in its content, and in that she knew she'd had it before. But why now? She hadn't had that dream since she was a small sprite. When she awoke, she saw that, thankfully, the game was still in the system.
The game rested threateningly, bathed in its bitter, purple glow. Lifeless yet parasitical. It sat proudly, like a king on his throne, daring anyone to defy it. The hypnotizing colors swirled and flowed like water, but differently. Thier movements were preset. Artificial. Cold. AndrAIa had always seen games this way, unlike Matrix. He had learned the hard way exactly how fragile his life was when he was inside one. Then again, so had she.
AndrAIa thought, as she often did, of Enzo. Not the bulked up sprite inside the game. The scrawny, eager, hyperactive little boy she so long ago fell in love with. Of course, back then, "love" meant something different to her. She had "loved" the sky as well. It was new, it was open, warm, bright, friendly, and inviting. Enzo had been no different. Enzo was the sky. Like the sky, he had shone with a new light, and a promise of a better life for her tommorow. In his eyes were the oath that he could show her wonders that her manufactured sea world had denied her. Everything was different now. Her view of the sky, and of Matrix had changed. The sky had turned troubled, and contained. It had built up its anger, and was always looking for a place to strike it. Enzo was still the sky. And ever since her sky had lost an eye, the storm had raged.
AndrAIa left this mindset with too many questions she could never answer. How much had SHE changed? What had the travels done to her soul? If she was different, how many times had Matrix turned to her, wishing he could still see something in her that he had seen so long ago in his best friend? How many times had he wept for the girl who no longer was by his side, replaced by some stranger, bearing her name and resemblance?
AndrAIa was there when the cube lifted, and it came as no surprise to her that Matrix and Frisket were still there. They hadn't downloaded into the game. Good. They had hardly parted on the best of terms.
"AndrAIa..." he began. "I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to imply that-"
"No, look, it's alright. And for what it's worth, I'm sorry too. It's just that... we've been doing this for so long, and who knows how much longer we'll be game hopping? I know I have... somewhere I belong. But it isn't Mainframe. And maybe I can find it without using games." She took a deep breath. "You were right you know. Besides my old game, I don't know where my place is." Matrix didn't know what to say.
The sky began to turn purple again. "Warning:" announced the voice from the heavens. "Incoming Game. Warning: Incoming Game"
"Geez, the User is an addict!" Announced Matrix.
It was dropping on himself and AndrAIa. She slid a bit closer to him. "One more time partner? For old times sake?" she asked. Matrix just smiled. "Remember though," she added "I'm not leaving with this game."
Matrix had no time to respond. The game was upon them, and he couldn't breath. Crash it all! Another underwater game. Matrix hated those. He also hated entering a game, only to end up free-floating in space.
He spun around to look for AndrAIa, and found himself looking into her eyes. But they were different. They were wider, younger, and more innocent than he remembered them. It was only after his eyes adjusted that he finally realized what he was seeing. He turned further around to see that AndrAIa was no less shocked.
The young game sprite spun quickly, looking from sprite to sprite. When she saw AndrAIa, her eyes grew wider still. Her mouth moved and Matrix could have sworn she was saying "Mother?".
That's when a little voice inside Matrix's head cried "AIR!". AndrAIa and the young sprite may not be having any problems, but he and Frisket needed to breath.
"ReBoot!" he gurgled, and in a moment he found himself and the three others inside a submarine he had not seen in what felt like minutes. AndrAIa's eyes were still fixed on her younger counterpart, her mouth gaping.
The small game sprite went dead serious. She quickly took the controls, and began to pilot the sub. Only then did she turn around and adress the others.
"Who ARE you?" she asked in astonishment. She turned to Frisket. "I don't know you. But you..." she turned to Matrix. "Enzo? Is that you?"
Matrix felt the breath go out of him again. It was the same one. Until now he could simply pretend this was some other version, some other copy. Anything. He couldn't speek.
"You look... bigger." frowned the game sprite. She turned to AndrAIa. "But then you must be..." and then she understood.
AndrAIa finally began breathing again. "Oh... my..."
"AndrAIa?" Matrix finally managed to say.
The game sprite looked back at him. "You're back!" she said, her voice full of joy.
But then her ears perked up, and she turned to the screen just in time to watch the User cruise past. The game sprite showed her fangs, and howled in such hate, that it was hard to beleive so much malice could exist in such a small creature "How many times do I have to distroy you before you LET ME BE?!". She fired all cannons, and the enemy boat fell to the ocean floor. The game sprite began to accelerate the sub, and was navigating turns impossibly well. She had done this before. In moments, the user was too far behind to catch up. They glided past the sharks, and made a bee-line for the treasure.
"Wait!" AndrAIa called to her younger self. "How could this happen?"
The young AndrAIa pointed to Matrix. "I downloaded my icon to his." That's when they realized the game sprite had no icon. She looked down, and simply said "Something is wrong."
The game sprite lifted her arm, and Matrix saw that her hand was "fading" in and out. Then she began to shake, and collapsed to the ground. Her entire body was slowly becoming transparent. They were about to hit the treasure.
"Don't change your icon!" AndrAIa cried. "We have to help her!"
"I know! But how?"
AndrAIa picked up the small sprite, and pressed her against her own icon. She breathed a silent prayer.
It wasn't untill the game was long gone before AndrAIa dared to open her eyes. The young sprite was still in her arms.
"But... how?" asked Matrix in disbelief.
"Technicaly, we're the same person." explained AndrAIa, hardly believing what she was saying. "Since we were both 'wearing' my icon, the game thought we were one sprite."
Matrix spotted a nearby house. "Let's get her inside. Her code seems to be degrading."
"Help." called the small sprite. "Help me..."
Matrix picked her up and they knocked on the house. The binomes who opened the door seemed suspicious, but when the saw the fading sprite, they moved aside to let them in.
As Frisket led the way upstairs, Matrix couldn't help but be reminded of how his sister had looked when she had been partially erased. But this wasn't the time to think of that.
"We have to help her." AndrAIa pleaded. "She... made me. Even though I remember doing it myself it was really her."
"Actually, it was both of you at the time." replied Matrix as he reached the top of the stairs. He wondered why he had bothered to point that out right now...
They laid the young AndrAIa on a table. She continued to cry for help to no one in particular. She didn't even know where she was. "What can we do?" asked a binome.
"Get her something to eat. Hurry!" ordered AndrAIa. The binomes retreated downstairs. When they were gone, she turned to Matrix. "What CAN we do?"
The young AndrAIa was begining to fade faster.
"I... I don't know..."
"She's like my single parent! My only relitive!" AndrAIa was begining to really freak out. "Is it the icon? Does she need my icon?"
"That could be it, but so do you!"
AndrAIa wasn't listening to the last part. She removed her icon and attempted to attach it to the game sprite's belt. It didn't seem to want to go on, and it certainly didn't seem to want to stay. AndrAIa continued franticly to try to attach it, and when she failed again, she threw it down with such force, Matrix was afraid she may damage it. Frisket picked it up and offered it back to her.
The young sprite suddenly flickered and seemed to regain awareness. She looked up at Matrix. Her voice was barely recognizable as her own now. "I... missed you Enzo..." she said as he watched her slowly vanish before his eyes. "I didn't want you... to miss me..."
"Say something!" his mind screamed. "Tell her what she meant to you as a friend! Tell her how pitiful your life would be without her!"
All he finally managed to blurt out was "Thank you..."
"Thank you?" his mind said in disgust. "Thank you for saving my bitmap countless times? Thank you for being the BEST FRIEND I EVER HAD, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!"
But he could tell by her face that something had happened. Her mind had gone blank, her memory wiped clean. She looked as though if anyone touched her, she would break apart into the wind. She turned to AndrAIa.
"Mother?" she said, her voice now almost impossible to hear.
AndrAIa choked back a sob. "Yes." she replied. "You certainly are..."
A look of final, total understanding came over the small sprite's face.
And she was gone.
Matrix had quickly figured it out. When he left the game with AndrAIa's icon, the game realized it was missing a sprite. It compensated by allowing AndrAIa to stay with the game, even without her icon. But when her icon was re-introduced, the game was satisfied that it had found its missing piece, and stopped supporting the other AndrAIa. He wasn't sure if SHE had it figured out yet, but he wasn't going to say anything. She didn't need to hear that, not after what she'd gone through. It was just one of those things, and what AndrAIa didn't know couldn't hurt her.
If glitch was right, another game would be dropping on his location soon. "Wait!" he heard her call from behind him. He turned, and she ran up to him. Frisket greeted her loudly. There was a moment of silence. Should he tell her what he had figured out? No, this was not the time. Should he try to convince her that the other AndrAIa wasn't supposed to exist anyway, and it's better this happened? Dammit Matrix! How cold-hearted can you get? Besides, he didn't believe it himself. That little girl was as real as the one standing before him now. He chose his words carefully.
"You know, she's not gone. She has an immortality. You."
"I know." she said, not very comforted by that. "And she also got me thinking."
"Warning: Incoming Game." The cube began to fall
"I thought you were going to look for a home."
"No need. I may have forgotten it. But that little sprite reminded me."
As the game fell on them, she added, hoping she would once again see her sky smile upon her "My place is with you."
The storm momentarily subsided, and if only for an instant, they were more than companions. They were friends again. No matter what happened from then on, no sprite, binome, or User could ever take that away from them.