The Scientific Method

An alarm somewhere in the console screamed a short warning at Phase, which very quickly became ten screamed warnings one after the other. "What the-?" was all she had time to squeak out before spotting the horde. Her breath caught in her throat - she could feel her heartrate jackrabbit through the roof. Vincent was gone, she had no weapons, there was no way Dignity's defences would hold out against so many, what did she do, what did she do, what did she do-

She blinked. In the time it had taken her to work herself up, the viruses had ridden hopped off into the sunset, screaming their little heads off. Phase's panic deflated like a sad balloon, slow and uneven. That was the face that greeted Vincent as the call finally connected: eyes wide and twitching, looking like one good tap would keel her right over. "Phase? Dignity's collection program just started up, you alright there?" he ventured, cautious in the face of a potential full-blowner.

Instead, Phase turned to face the screen. She giggled, at first a little hysterically, but after a few seconds the mania had faded from her eyes. "You've got flour on your face," she pointed out.

With a spot of good-natured cursing, Vincent leaned away from the camera and came back with a mostly-clean space...but for a new splotch of lumpy white he'd inadvertently added. "Sorry to keep you waiting, I've got dough-hands," he held up his hands, which were covered in bits of bread dough, and grinned. "Had to make the call with my nose!" he crowed.

That upgraded Phase's giggles to full chortling. Backspacing the conversation, she did her best to explain the last thirty seconds. "-and the next moment, they've dropped what they were doing and bolted! I don't get it, they'd have had us dead to rights if they'd stood their ground," she said. Her brow furrowed as something came to mind. "Hang on, you said the collector started up? None of them were deleted, so why would there be Zenny?"

"Yeeeeeeah doesn't look like it's Zenny. Just junk data...and something that looks like a P-code? Here, have a look," Vincent's head dipped out of frame while he pecked the keyboard with his nose. He came back up just in time to see a slim card materialize into Phase's hand, peering into the screen. "What's it say on it?" he asked.

"Gambit Games...I'm guessing it might be one of these old shops?" Phase guessed. Tucking the datachip into her jacket pocket, she gently eased Dignity back into motion, slowly cantering the mech down the main street. She spoke up without looking up from the screenbank, "Give me a hand looking, alright? If the viruses were coming and going from this place, they might've left something interesting inside," She scanned the rows of storefronts for something that matched her clue, focused enough to completely miss the timeless moment of Vincent trying to get his PET-connected goggles on without using his hands.

They let Dignity carry the junk - the big girl could manage the extra weight.
It takes Phase some time, walking along the old streets, to find Gambit Games; it's at the end of a dead-end street, its once bright and cheerful storefront now faded with age, as though bleached by years of exposure to the sun. There's only one problem: The store itself is past a truly ancient piece of net-tech, a server connection that requires compression.

Visually, this means that the street's entrance narrows to truly miniscule size; at best, Phase herself would be able to squeeze her way through it, but there's no way Dignity's massive, complex data-scheme is going to fit through that narrow bandwidth intact. Helpfully, even maneuvering the mecha near the compression point gives both Phase and Vincent a pop-up, officially-sanctioned, asking whether or not they would like to install the Press program.
Dignity lumbered to a stop, her two Operators both staring flummoxed at the miniature street. "I...Phase, have you ever seen this before?" Vincent stammered, having wrestled his goggles on just in time to get a good look.

The virtual inhabitant was faring little better. "I think someone at the lab did a paper on compression in the Net? But that...Vincent, that was a Net history paper, where even are we?" She didn't dare take another step; in all likelihood, Dignity simply being unable to step across was their best-case outcome, and she didn't care to consider the alternatives. "So...what now?"

The Net itself seemed to answer her query, with a popup on Dignity's screenbanks. Rubbing his chin, Vincent took his Dignity-vision goggles off (leaving white smudges all over the casing), ran a couple searches and sighed overlong at the results. "Well, I'd give it a 95% chance that activating this isn't going to riddle Dignity with trojans. You want to make the call?" he hovered his finger over the enter key.

Phase sat back in her seat and sucked air through her teeth. "I dunno, is it really that important that we see what's in there? This might make a mess of Dignity's code, she's pretty delicate. Do you have backups of her saved?" At Vincent's nod, she closed her eyes, took a bracing breath, and gave a sharp nod. "We'll do it for Science!" she declared, and seconds later felt Dignity's engine rev anew. The vibrating rocked her clean off balance with a yelp of, "Oh jeez that's a lot of Science!!"

<(Install Press: YES)>
The program's installation seemed to go alright-- and this close to a compatible Compression Path, it activated automatically. Not only Divinity, but also Phase herself began to shrink, to shrink, to shriiiiiiiiink down. The whole world looked as though it was growing larger around them both, and Divinity only stopped shrinking once it was roughly half the size of a normal navi, and Phase, stuck inside, was about the size of a small doll. They would have no trouble crossing the path now.

...Despite the size shrink, it seems their battle capabilities are intact.

PRESS installed - 10 Navicust space used!
At the moment of activation, Phase found herself grateful for the straps of her seat harness - watching the world rise up around them was turning her legs to jelly. Caught up in the moment, she couldn't help the quiet, most un-Scientific, "Whoooa," that squeaked out.

Sitting in his kitchen, watching the laptop feed as he rolled a puffy ball of dough flat, Vincent had the opposite view. In the span of seconds, Dignity had shrunk from 'two-story cabin' to the size of a large dog. Hilariously, shrinking the engine pitched up her steamwhistle from its usual bassy glory to a delightful little 'meep-meep', as Phase demonstrated. He wiped his hands and clicked over to a diagnostic: everything was still lit up green. After reading a few he called out, "Looks like everything still functions as intended, looks like. How's it going in there?"

Once the shock had worn off, Phase gingerly tried the controls again. Aside from sounding like a steam-powered toy boat, the mech proceeded forward without incident. "It's funny, I could almost forget I'm not in the real world!" Phase giggled a little and opened the throttle a little, setting Dignity to a smooth stride towards the mountainous game store. She gestured out at the screenbanks at the faded signage, the crumbling pavestones. Rocking in her seat with the mech's wheeling gait, she mused to Vincent's window, "This part of the Net is so realistic, and I'm all weensy just like my hologram! I wonder if that was intentional? Maybe this was like an Earth-themed theme park for Navis, back when the first Links came out and holo-sprites were still new technology!"
Almost resembling a child at the mecha's current height, Dignity made its way to the game store as directed. Advetisements covered much of the front window, leaving the inside of the store dark and invisible from the outside, though there were signs that this place was far from uninhabited; there were no signs of network damage, but whenever Phase might have looked past the most obvious places, it was easy to see crumble-bits and other tiny fragments of junk data, the kind of stuff viruses tended to feed upon. They'd been hastily swept aside, like the kind of clean-job a child would do knowing their parent was coming...

As expected, Gambit Games does not have your typical door handle; instead there's a card slider attached. It's likely the card they possess is the one they need, but are Dignity and Phase prepared for what they might find inside?
Done with kneading, Vincent set to spooning out dollops of hot meat and onions across the flat pastry dough, watching the screen as he went. The teacher's eyes were sharp, sharp enough to catch the signs of activity. "Someone's been here, Phase, been here recently," he cautioned. He started cutting circles of dough out around each mince cluster, talking all the while, "Dignity's engine is good and primed, and I've got Battlechips ready just in case. Let's see what's going on in there, let's see."

Phase sent a thumbs-up through the screen as Vincent went back to his baking. Looked like pelmeni tonight; she could almost smell the garlic and horseradish blended into the mince. She tapped at the console until the card key zapped out of her hand and into Dignity's, pleased that the card's size had reverted to normal scale once outside the cockpit. Turning to the card slot, Phase...couldn't find it. Right, she thought with a grimace, Dignity would barely come up to a Navi's waist right now. Jerking the controls to try and get a better view, she heard a plasticky clatter of card-on-pavement. "Oh great," was all the cursing she allowed herself.

It turned out that somewhere along the way, Dignity's screens had ended up with a bit of a blind spot. It was an easy enough mistake to make; Vincent thought. After all, he'd certainly never imagined Phase would need to look up, but there they were. Dignity was standing as tall as her piston legs could stretch, torso bent back a solid 45 degrees so her pilot could see the card reader and maneuver the slim card in the mech's clumsy hand. From the cockpit, it was like watching a steampunk enthusiast's take on a crane game, gone horribly wrong. Vincent had Dignity's handwritten manual pulled up, eyes flicking from papers to laptop and back. "Now ease that lever there - yes, that one, feather it left. Good," he coached in his teacher-voice.

Sweat beaded Phase's brow; who knew operating heavy machinery could be so stressful? "Don't drop it don't drop it don't drop iiiit YES!" she crowed. Finally she brought her arm down, and Dignity swiped the card through to much fanfare and rejoicing.
The card reader beeped as Dignity swiped the card through. Thankfully, being virtual simulacra of real systems, the data was read perfectly despite the mech's clumsy handling.

The door to Gambit Games swung open, and somewhere in the door's subfiles a noisy, rusty 'creaaaaaaaaak' played out, emphasizing how old the building was. Within the game store were shelves and shelves, all of them either empty or worse, empty of anything useful. Old 'for display only' empty game boxes remained, classics from well before even Vincent's time alongside old entries of the few series that had survived to the modern age. Giga Man Fighting Network 3? They were up to 17 now! And that was before they'd rebooted it as Giga Man Sun Force!

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire building were several arcade machines at the far side of the store floor, still running. "Temple Trouble 4: Curse of the Boulder God", "Ninja Ninja: Now With More Ninjas", and the aptly-named "Navi Quest".

It was only while inspecting the arcade machines that Phase finally heard noise at the back of the store, coming from the employees-only area behind a closed door.
A lone piano fluttered into the cockpit from Vincent's end, one pondering chord at a time. The music added a dreamlike filter to the atmosphere, already soft with dust and nostalgia. While Phase took Dignity for a slow lap of the room, Vincent folded his dumplings, making only a few awed noises at the ancient box art. Both wore matching soft smiles.

Phase stopped a moment to peer up at the arcade boxes. "I think they used to make arcade games Navis and Ops could play together. Fancy a round of Ninja Ninja?" Vincent asked nonchalantly. Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

Dignity's mismatched arms were raised up to the mech's eye level. Phase made a show of twisting each wrist one way, then the other, highlighting how the right hand had the approximate dexterity of a forklift, and how the left 'hand' was, in fact, a cannon. "Eh, take a raincheck," Phase sniped back with the same sardonic tone. They stopped to share a snicker at each other's expense -and that was when they heard something through the wall.

The music, the laughter, everything stopped. Dumplings forgotten, Vincent held a Battlechip to the slot in Phase's PET - one crook of a finger, and Dignity would be armed. The two shared a nod, and Phase made to plant Dignity's cannon against the door. She leaned into the controls, and the mech's hand ventured up to see if it would open. A quick flick of the loudspeaker made her voice ring out from the brass chassis, a tinny call of, "Hello? Anybody home? Just a couple of harmless explorers, don't mind us!"
Bursting into the employee-only area, Phase found herself confronted with...
...More bunnies?

Yes, just like the horde she'd encountered before, the back room was packed with them, and they'd been here a while, by the look of it. The walls of the back room had been eaten through entirely, and the back rooms of several other, neighboring buildings had been linked up with it to form a kind of Bunny dorm. The entire dorm, a pack of 30 or so bunnies, went silent when Phase entered. Many of them were huddled up into corners, others frantically began to flee their way out through the gaps in boarded-up windows, or holes and breaks in the shelter.

Of the many, many bunnies gathered here, only five bothered to confront Phase, a TuffBunny leading them. "E-eep eep!" The Tuff cried out. It fired a ZapRing at Phase... only for the ring, abnormally thin, to curve and fly past Dignity's chassis. The TuffBunny began to huff and pant, but it and its compatriots refused to back down. Was it going to be a fight...?

--Aggressing?--
TuffBunny A: 5 HP (Covered in battle damage)
Bunny A: 10 HP
Bunny B: 8 HP
Bunny C: 12 HP
Bunny D: 10 HP

--Huddled to the right--
Bunny E: 30 HP
Bunny F: 40 HP
Bunny G: 30 HP
Bunny H: 27 HP

--Huddled in the back--
Bunny I: 15 HP
Bunny J: 18 HP
Bunny K: 15 HP
Bunny L: 20 HP

--Huddled in the far back--
Bunny M: 10 HP (Protecting the other three)
Bunny N: 50 HP
Bunny O: 50 HP
Bunny P: 50 HP

--NAVIs--
Phase.EXE/DIGNITY: 100 HP

--Terrain--
100% Normal INDOORS