The Hydro-Terrace Relaxation Cafe

((From -> The Navi Shop))

Only a short walk from Suitachi's Navi Shop, up a spiralling escalator and across a long, high-rise walkway, the Hydro-Terrace Relaxation Cafe was a venture that sought to bring a bubble of quiet balance and peace to the otherwise busy SciLab atmosphere. As the name implied, it was situated on a broad balcony terrace that offered a fantastic view, with seating arranged amidst hydroponic vegetation growing amidst the sound of softly flowing water. Inside the entry way, sound dampening measures reduced the outside bustle to near silence, and the cool, soothing atmospherics of the cafe covered the rest.

Jenny spent about a minute just looking around at the place when she entered, marvelling at the little escape oasis; she could see a number of relaxing science-folks dotted about, though the cafe itself seemed mostly empty at this time in the afternoon. Before long, Jenny had ensconced herself in a small nook that looked out over the complex structures and walkways below, and took a moment to breath the fresh air and settled herself before ordering something from the electronic menu.

“Oh! It says they also have other relaxation options here! It says there's a health spa on the floor below, and they also do massages, inside! Hmm... the fine print at the bottom here says 'for more information on back cover massage and spa options, please ask for a discrete attendant.' What do you think that means?” She read the words again, thoughtfully, then ordered a mint-chocolate milkshake anyway.

“Nothing I think you should be asking about today, Jen. Your mum would kill me. A little hand here would be good though, if you're settled. Things just got interesting again!” Courser's voice sounded calm but still cautious and serious, and she glanced at the PET screen, hurriedly pulling out her chip case again.
It was only a short time later that Jenny found herself sipping a drink and reading up about meta-viruses, monarch viruses, and a peculiar handful of other unusual viral aberrations that were being increasingly sighted on the net. It was all fascinating and strange information, and she found herself skipping from one article to the next as she read different reports from various navigators, in between operating for Courser.

Before long, however, he gave her the go ahead for their next shop run. A quick glance at the screen, one last time, confirmed to her that he had it as under control as it could be for now and she nodded and began packing up her things quickly.

“Yep, I got the message. It's a customiser upgrade, another instalment of the barrier program, and a couple of processor upgrades. We've got just enough set aside for that. I'll be as quick as I can!” She went over the list in her mind again as she shoved her other things back into her shoulder bag and put her PET away for the moment, then headed out of the cafe at a quick pace that became a light jog once she was in the open again.

((To -> The Navi Shop))
((From -> The Navi Shop))

The afternoon was drawing on, and Jenny was keenly aware of the number of odd looks her intermittent outbursts had drawn from other cafe-goers. At the very least it wasn't causing too much of a scene really – she was more or less in the heart of SciLab, only a minute or two from the Navi shop and other facilities, and net battlers getting overly involved in their navi's activities wasn't too unusual a sight, really. She still felt a little bit embarrassed, now that the danger seemed to have passed. Courser had arrived back safely, at least. Her PET was still scrambling to make sense of what was going on, and rectify several new additions to and unexpected variations that the navigator it was responsible for was now dealing with.

She couldn't even really believe that she'd seen what she just had – and been a part of it, even, since she'd been the one steadily supplying the chips that Courser needed and suggesting quick changes in his plans as he worked on the beast. If not for one or two of her own suggestions, she was sure they would have run out of offensive material before the creature gave in... and if Courser's own capabilities had faltered at any point they'd have certainly run out.

Yet, somehow, they'd done it, and now she was watching her Navi, back in his own home space, struggling with the newly invasive data. He could put on a brave face for that Hevari navi, but his own quick thinking of diverting the changes through his other abilities to keep his mind clear had been risky and it wasn't completely safe, as near as she could tell. Courser often seemed to argue with his decoys and clones, and treat them as separate entities, but according to his internal readings, it was always just him; just an act, or something like that. This was different... there were impulses and action commands that came in conflict with everything else, and Courser was fighting hard to rectify them properly into something more manageable. It really seemed like there was a fragment of something else in there with him now, and it was going to take time before he could assimilate it properly.

Jenny caught herself biting her lip as she scanned the read outs. She wanted to scold him for whatever that stunt had been, and she'd certainly been hissing half-whispered admonishments at him before during and after the fight, but now she was really just more concerned at making sure he wasn't in any serious trouble. The navi shop was nearby if he was, of course, and she wasn't planning on leaving for home until she was sure, now that it came to it.


In the area that Courser set aside for training and practice, he stood facing an open space, eyes closed and a casually ready combat stance leading him to sway back and forth in a seemingly relaxed way. Off to his left, the shadow in the corner of the room split away, and a second Courser stepped out, cautiously looking about.

“This is a right mess... you know that, right? This is way more than you're ready for...” The clone held a grim expression as it spoke, casting its gave over the concentrating Courser, then out to look around the training space.

“It's not. I can handle this. I'm not going to let it get away from me.” Even as he spoke, Courser could see the furrowed concentration on his own brow, watched through his main decoy's senses. On the opposite side, a pool of inky black rippled and gave rise to another CourseMan, lifting up from the puddle of darkness and taking shape with a flick of his wrists. The first clone looked out across the room as the second took over watching Courser himself.

“Yeah, keep tellin' yourself that, boss, like we can't all feel it trying to snap an' bite and break and tear at everything else around. What're you going to do? Calm it down? Flirt with it? You're in over your head mate, just admit it!” In his throat Courser growled and snapped a hand out, scattering the second decoy, before allowing it to reform a moment later.

“I'm jus' saying... No sense being a fool about it. SciLab's right here. You made a mistake, but we can get it fixed.” He watched himself shake his head.

“No. I've got this. I do.” He tried to focus on the rebellious sensation that he was grappling with, and quieted his other thoughts. The two decoys dissolved for a few moments, but then Courser felt a fresh set of eyes begin giving him feedback again as a new version arose from the dim edges of the chamber. Caught off guard, he glanced across at it in turn and stumbled from the brief wave of dizziness that followed meeting his won eyes. This clone had shown up dressed in the faded out colours of his JailBird cross, arms folded as he leaned against the wall of the room, watching him.

“Whole lot of effort you're putting in. You're worried about your image, more than your own safety?” The clone shook his head and stifled a yawn. Opposite, another set of vision and sense lit up, though Courser kept himself from looking; this one he knew already was dressed in the monochromes of his Mime cross, and he felt more than saw her plant her hands firmly on her hips and lean towards him, one foot tapping.

“Idiot.” A short huff of a sigh followed the accusation, but Courser didn't need to be aware that they represented his own underlying thoughts to understand the implication. Why was he being so lone-wolf about this... It was a big deal, and he might well need help, no matter what he thought... But even so... it was a challenge, wasn't it? He had it, he was sure he had it, and he'd feel better for having to handle this new development in the future if he could truly master it on his own, without outside help. If he needed others to help him manage it, then he'd just be a danger to everyone.

“It's alright. No-one's going to get hurt. It's just you, and it, and there's more of you than it. Use that...” Behind him, his own main clone had emerged again, nodding with an off-centre glance at the other two. “Don't listen to us; just focus, and do it.”

Courser lifted his head, letting the other clones fade away, and focused instead on a point at the other end of the room. Darkness swelled to a rush of black water, before a new shape tore out of it, springing up in a thrash that threw black flecks everywhere with a vocal snarl. The shark-monster version of himself that had first appeared, back in Sharo wrenched itself free of the shadows, but a moment later a pair of hands encircled its left arm and held firm. Another set gripped its right arm, while a third clasped about its shoulders, locking in a restraining choke. The beast struggled and snarled in wordless, insentient fury, but the other versions of Courser held the wild one tight.

Courser looked across the room at it, and found wild, hungry eyes glaring back at him. He was aware of what it was seeing, but he wasn't seeing through it, not completely. He head remained clear and no echos of visual reverberation caused the same kind of dizziness or disorientation that locking eyes with his clones did. This was different, and yet... yet he could still sense what it was sensing, and be aware of what it could see. Yes... Wild and crazed, furious and hungry, perhaps, but it was very much a part of him now. Courser stepped forward, watching the illusion given form. All around it, he heard the struggles of his other decoys holding it still, their own pseudo-tangibility struggling to hold its at bay. Courser stood in front of it, holding its gaze.

“Whatever you were a part of, that is something gone. You are a fragment of a whole that is past, and now you are a part of me. Where the rest of what you were perished, you will endure. I promise you that; you'll endure with me, and as part of me... But you'll pay your rent, and you won't cause any problems. Those are the terms of your existence.” The beast snapped its serrated, jagged teeth and thrashed again.

“Hunger... Kill... Eat... Drown! Dark Water, Old Bone, Graves of Wood, Shell and Bone! Drown! All Drown! Eat All!” A wave of destructive hunger rolled back at him from the illusion and Courser shook his head.

“Not good enough!” He put one hand out, pressing his palm against the chest of the struggling beast and feeling the growths of shark bone that encased much of its emaciated form. “This is your sea now; this alone. Protect it.” As he focused, Courser took firmer hold of the clone, sending ripples of his own energy through its form. It fought back, but slowly the creature relented, then stilled. He felt the fragment of will lose its keenness, then begin to bend and flow until it started to merge with the other streams of awareness that ran constantly between courser and each of his illusions. Its body relaxed and its head dropped.

“Graves of Bone, Graves of Shell, Graves of Wood... Graves in Dark Waters.” It lifted its head and cast eyes around to the other clones still holding it, then back to Courser, and he felt its presence drawing on the senses and awareness that made up his whole, gaining the tools and words that it lacked. “Gone from the Dark waters. Gone from the Graves of Beasts and Ships. This is home; This is you; I am Home; I am You.” Courser felt the resistance blend further into his own senses, and he closed his eyes. The Shark-Courser opened them and looked around, careful not to meet eyes with himself or the other decoys. It flashed the main Courser a predatory grin, then bowed its head again and dissolved into water and shadow.

Courser opened his own eyes again and let out a sigh. He could still feel its presence, but it had begun to blend and merge more fully now. Eventually, there would be no more distinction, and he'd have another confusing layer of his own thoughts to question his sanity about... but that, at least, wouldn't be anything new. To one side, one of his clones offered a lazy salute, while across from it, another one winked at him, and one by one they faded out.


In between diagnostics, Jenny had tried to keep one eye on what Courser was doing, but the angry, violent shark-version of his clones had her on edge all the same. Everything seemed stable, at least as far as technical readings were concerned, so all she could really do was watch and trust her navi. It wasn't too long before he seemed to be done with whatever exercise he'd been doing and she ventured a question.

“So... Everything is fine on this end, no errors... I want to be mad at you for taking those risks, but I'm just more happy that you're okay. You are... um... Okay, right?” She had ordered one more cookie to go with what she was promising herself would be her last cup of tea, and now found herself nibbling it with a nervous agitation.

“I think so, Jen. I think we're good. I'm stable enough now, or at least, I think I am, but... Look, can you jack me in to an open network... Just link me back to Sharo quickly, somewhere different and fresh, far away from any of that mess. I have to make sure that I can run all of my combat routines, and get myself in a little bit of danger without anything going wrong.” Jenny ate more of her biscuit.

“I won't go far, Just two or three quick skirmishes, nothing else, just to make sure I'm safe. I'm going to have to eventually, Jen, and better we test it right now, while you're still here at SciLab, just in case.” He sounded serious, and she couldn't deny that his reasoning mirrored her own thoughts fairly well. She sighed and nodded.

“Okay, just a couple of battle though, and then, if nothing strange happens, we're both going home. It's getting later than I had meant to stay out already.”
“Thanks Jenny. It won't take long, I promise.”
“Aright, let me shuffle your folder around again before you head in, we had it set up all differently for the big fight... just give me a second.” She quickly set about putting Courser's chip folder back into his preferred configuration, then jacked her navi back into Sharo's public net.

((Courser Branch To → A Short Sharo Skirmish))
((Courser Returning From -> Sharo and his other business))

As Courser returned from the Bounty shop, Jenny's eyebrows rose at the change in his personal funds. They'd hunted a lot of the mechanical Bashers, but she'd really considered the explosives chips they'd found a very good reward for that on its own. The pay out from the wrangler was an impressive bonus. She paid her last drink and stood from the table, shouldering his bag and glancing at the clock on inside wall of the cafe.

"Okay, everything looks like you're safe and sound. One more trip to the navi shop before we head home?" She glanced down at her PEt as she spoke, and courser's voice returned to her after a moment.

"One more, Jenny, then we're done for the day. I have to say though, it's a lot of progress for just one afternoon's work. I know I only wanted to blow off some steam and get out of some bad thought cycles for a bit, but this turned into a real endeavour. I'll probably be asking you to send me to the deeper networks, for any free busting that we do from here on out." His words sounded contemplative, but after everything she'd seen she didn't doubt that he was serious about it, so she just nodded as she headed for the exit.

"If you think that's what we need to do, then sure. I'm a bit out of my depth by now, so I'm just trusting you to know what's best. you've gone on way ahead of where I'm up to, I think. I'll do some reading between now and then." Internally, Jenny was both impressed, and a little concerned at how rapidly her navi had advanced when exposed to continuing danger. She felt sure that wasn't entirely normal. Maybe Rachel would know more. She shrugged and resettled her things as she headed for the Navi shop one last time.

((To -> The Navi Shop))