by Slack

As Bob watched the blizzard of masks, he reflected that Hexadecimal had a talent for making life interesting, and now that she was scattered across the Web, that talent was multiplied to an infinite degree. And yet, of all the systems in all the 'net, she still chose to focus her attention in Mainframe.

He sailed on his zip board past the swarm and toward the descending game cube. Of course the masks followed him. Several of them cooed, "Why, hello, Bob!"

"Hex, I have to get into that game. Talk with you when it's done, I promise."

"Aww!" A pouting mask hovered in front of his face.

He flew under the edge of the game cube with nanos to spare. And the masks were still with him. "Hex!"

"Yes, Bob?" an innocent-looking mask asked.

The game cube landed. He sighed and put a hand to his forehead. "Never mind."

Most of the masks rotated away from Bob to survey the gamespace. The floor was a grid-marked stage, and all around them neon shapes floated. As if the Web got geometric, Bob thought. "Okay, Hex. Just relax and watch. I got this one." He double-clicked his icon. "Reboot!"

When the green light disappeared, Bob was dressed in a white leisure suit with snakeskin-like patterns. His silver hair was fluffed out into a sphere haloing his head. Hexadecimal's masks turned to him, first one, then the rest. Amid many giggles, he heard "Nice shades."

"Thanks," he answered with a shrug.

One of the masks looked down. "What are those arrows?"

He was standing on a platform divided into a nine-square grid. The box in the center of each side had an outward-pointing arrow. "That's how we play the game. I have to follow the game's arrows. With a little practice and decent clockspeed, it's easy."

"Oh!" Another mask noticed a second grid platform. "Reboot!" Hexadeximal exclaimed.

Green light bathed the masks. When it faded, they were nowhere to be seen. "Hex?!"

The voice seemed to come out of nowhere. "Awww, don't I get to try?"

"Hex, where-"

Then The User appeared. It looked like a female doll costumed as a garishly-colored robot. Its face was a frozen, tooth-baring grin.

"Who is that?" Hex snapped.

"The User. Hex, where are you?"

"I don't know!"

The game finished loading, and a roulette wheel appeared and started to spin. Bob said, "Hex, I think I know what you are. Can you stop the wheel?" If his suspicion was right, then she was safe and couldn't get in his way during the game, he thought with relief.

The wheel spun for several nanos. Then she exclaimed, "Ooh! I like this one!" The wheel stopped, and a title flashed.

"I'm not surprised," Bob said, amused. He had never heard that song before, but that didn't worry him. He was a Guardian; games like this were a piece of cake.

The music started. Bob listened, finding the beat, then started tapping his feet to the rhythm. On the wall of the webspace before him and the User a flow of arrows appeared.

Except they weren't arrows. They were masks, glowing in rainbow colors and rotated to point in four directions. He hadn't expected that.

Before the first masks reached their targets they stopped, then started again. And just as they reached the top, they hesitated again. Bob, faked out, missed the first steps. "Hex!"


"Don't-" The masks were now coming in swarms, stuttering as they rose toward the top. The stuttering did not match the beat of the music in any way he could predict. He could not concentrate on that and speak at the same time.

"Good, good!" Hexadecimal cheered as he struggled to follow the herky-jerky pattern. He snarled mentally. He kept misstepping because the stop-and-start flow threw off his timing. Then the swarms thickened. The colors of the masks told Bob that they were nowhere close to the beat of the music. Not that that mattered with this mess of a song! Was she trying to delete him?!

"You're not an ordinary Guardian!" Hexadecimal sang out impishly as a burst of densely-packed masks choked the target area. Several more bursts, almost too dense to read, rose, and she cried out, "Keep on going!"

"HEX!" he yelled, exasperated.

Now the masks were so thickly packed he could hardly parse them. He fixed his eyes on the target and willed himself to just last until the end. The masks flowed smoothly, no longer stuttering. Finally they were all gone, and the targets winked out. Then the scores appeared in front of them.

Bob stared in horror. He had failed! He had missed and near-missed too many steps, not gotten enough on time to make up for those. He had barely half of the possible score! And on the other side of the judgement table, he saw that the User... had also failed. Judging from the score, it had failed at the very beginning of the song.

"Ohhh, almost!" Hexadecimal remarked.

A calm voice announced, "Game over."

Hexadecimal's masks were back to their normal state when the game left. "Oh, that was fun! But I wanted to try it too."

Bob covered his eyes with one hand. It was all fun and games to Hexadecimal. That insane pattern of hers could have easily nullified them both! But... he had told her that the game was easy. She must have taken him at his word, he realized, and done what she could to defeat a User who, she was sure, was no match for her Guardian.

"Bob? Are you all right?"

He lowered his hand, revealing a concerned mask right in front of his face. He startled back.


What could he say to her? Tell her what she had nearly done? He gave up that idea immediately; right now he was no match for the Herculean task of trying to explain restraint and strategy to Hexadecimal. "I'm tired, Hex. I need to rest."

An impishly grinning mask replaced the concerned one. "I'd tuck you in if I could."

Quickly Bob threw out his zip board and jumped on. "Thanks, Hex, but - see ya."

She watched through the many eyes of her masks as Bob retreated home. That was not the way she would have chosen to dance with him, she reflected, but she would take what she could get.

Of course the game in this story is based on Dance Dance Revolution, and the song is, what else, "Chaos."
Let me assure you, I'm not exaggerating about how mean that song is. If you doubt me,
see for yourself.

All characters are copyright © Mainframe Entertainment, Inc. Mainframe's properties are used without permission but with a heck of a lot of love and respect. The overall story is copyright © Kim McFarland ( Permission is given by the author to copy this story for personal use only.
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