3746 Boykin Road, Lower ACDC

{EAX011}

[<<< From ACDC Town: NetPolice Precinct, ACDC Central <<<]

=== CHAPTER 3 - The More You Know ===

"I still can't believe you didn't know what the Hologen function was. You seriously never saw it on TV?"

"...I don't want those kinds of shows..."

"The kind that have PETs in them? They exist?"

"You know what I mean. I prefer crime shows. You know, 'who-did-it-and-why'. Oh, and spy shows. Navis rarely show up in those, and if they do it's usually a minor role. It'd take away from the mystery if they had a navi, they observe everything in detail with a near-perfect memory."

"Huh. I thought you still watched those eastern cartoons?"

"No, I haven't watched those in years. Matt still watches them though..."

"Matt! He would've used-" Stacey stopped mid-sentence, remembering that Matt didn't use a PET either. "What about at sc-" That thought also stopped her mid-sentence. After the incident, Matt was the only person that Eric conversed with, besides herself of course. If he didn't talk to anybody, it stood to reason that he wasn't paying any attention to what they were doing either.

Stacey raised the car's turn indicator as they pulled closer to their driveway. The garage door opened automatically, allowing entrance into the car bay with minimal effort. The small white car crept to a stop as the garage door moved back into place.

"I can't believe you. How can you spend so long on the TV with just those two genres?"

"There's a lot of old shows on the archives. But most don't have PETs either."

As Eric got out of the car he noticed that there was a large box on the front seat, but it had been covered completely by her officer's jacket. It couldn't have been important as Stacey left it in the car and headed into the house. Eric followed suit, passing through the internal garage door to enter the house. It connected to the hallway that led to the spare bedroom and combined lounge room, dining room and kitchen. Eric's and Stacey's bedrooms both connected to the dining room portion; Eric's from the west, and Stacey's from the east. Stacey had taken up residence in the master bedroom, so hers had access to an ensuite and walk-in robe, but quite often she would still use the main bathroom as it had a much larger shower and basin to prepare for the day.

Stacey had gone to the kitchen to begin preparing some food. "Eric, if you and Amy want to occupy yourselves for an hour or so, I'll cook up some steaks, potato and greens from the freezer. Do you have any preference on the gravy tonight?"

There it was again. 'Amy'. Not Amity. It wasn't a coincidence, she had done it intentionally both times.

"Eric?"

When Eric didn't respond, Stacey came back out to the dining room. "Are you okay?" she asked. He had an unusual look on his face, like he was trying to decide whether to speak or to run. That's because the two voices in his head were trying to sway his next words.

Don't do it. DO IT.

"Amy."

"...Yes, you and Amy." Stacey was now confused. "...Eric?"

"You called her Amy."

"That's her name, isn't it?"

"No, it's Amity. Who's Amy?"

Eric's heart was racing from an andrenaline rush. You idiot, what are you doing?! She's going to think you're attacking her! Ignore him! Remember what Amy said! 'You are stronger than you think'!

"Sorry, my mistake. You're right, her name is Amity. It's been a long day. Days, actually; that was another triple shift," she moaned while turning around and heading back into the kitchen. "At least we'll have something nice to show for it when my pay comes in."

No. You knew it was Amy, didn't you. What else are you hiding...? We don't know that she's hiding anything, you know. No? Well there's one way to find out, isn't there?

With gravy being the last thing on his mind, Eric ducked into his room and closed the door behind him. He removed the PET from his pocket and placed it beside himself as he sat down on his bed. "Do you believe her?" he whispered.

Amy was confused. "Believe her about what? No, wait, hold that thought..." she replied as she disappeared from the screen. Moments later, her image took shape on the bed, a glowing silouette in the otherwise dim room.

"Okay, I love this," she remarked. "I'm never using the 3D camera again unless I absolutely have to." As she looked up to her operator from the sheets, she noticed that he seemed dejected, like he'd been betrayed. Something was definitely wrong.

"Eric? What's the matter?"

Eric shook his head. "Stacey's always the one who says we shouldn't keep secrets from each other. I even felt bad about... well..." He let his words hang in the air, unable to speak the thought. Amy knew he was talking about the little girl clung to her side. She needed to do something about that; her waist couldn't become the child's permanent home.

"She knew your real name. How?"

Amy tried to come up with a reasonable explanation, but was unable to do so. How did she know to use Amy instead of Amity? The first time she'd used the name out loud was when she was leaving ACDC Net. It was highly unlikely that one use of the name in Crony's presence would lead Stacey to start using it over the name printed on her bio file, or the name she'd responded to during the entire testing run. From what she'd seen so far, Crony would have corrected her if she'd used the wrong name, being the kind that unashamedly sticks to law and order, but there was no resistance on his part either. Eric was definitely on to something: Stacey knew something they didn't.

A four-tap knock on the door was followed by Stacey entering the room. "You didn't tell me what gravy you wanted," she explained, like she needed an reason to enter.

Eric turned to face Stacey as he pointed to Amy's image. "Who is she? Really?"

Stacey sighed. "Look, I'm sorry I got the name wrong. I won't do it again, promise."

"Please." Eric gripped the sheet with his other hand as he maintained his focus; he couldn't afford to look weak right now. "I thought you said that family shouldn't keep secrets from each other."

"And what secrets am I keeping from you, Eric?" he questioned.

"How did you know her real name was Amy before I did?" It wasn't an accusation, just a request for an explanation.

Stacey bit her lip. The silence that followed was only brief, but it was long enough to destroy what was left of Eric's resolve.

"Can we talk about it after dinner?" she finally responded.

Eric's determination had run out, buckling under the sheer exhaustion of standing up to his sister. He knew that tone; he wasn't going to get anything out of her. His head sank into his legs as his hands covered the back of his neck. "Okay. Mushroom gravy," was all he could respond with. His external bravery may have lost out, but internally, that was a different story. Fine. I'll get my answer, with or without you.

As Stacey closed the door, Eric got to his feet and walked over to the PC. He pressed the power button and waited a few seconds for the terminal to reach the main screen.

"What are you doing?"

Eric was surprised by the sudden appearance of Amy on his desk. It was a little unsettling to have her so close to his arm; he wasn't used to this kind of company.

"If Stacey won't tell me who you are, maybe we can find out ourselves," he confirmed as he navigated to the worldweb search engine. "I don't know if we'll find anything though."

Amy hadn't seen this side of Eric; determination despite showing an appearance of defeat. Curiosity was getting the better of her as well; she too was keen to learn the missing information. "Okay then. What are you going to search for?"

That was a good question. "We could start with 'Amy', I guess."

The search took mere seconds, and the results were good. A little too good; over 830 million results.

"Yeah, we probably should have seen that coming."

"Alright then. How about... 'Amy navi'."

The result was smaller, but 14 million search results didn't seem like much progress was being made. The first hundred results only brought up links and images of a cartoon series; nothing that seemed to relate to what they wanted to know.

"This is the problem with too much information. We won't find what we're looking for unless we're incredibly specific, will we," Amy surmised.

"What would narrow the search? A lot of these Amys are blue, and wearing dresses as well." Eric wasn't confident this was the smartest way to go, just listing random attributes and hoping for a match.

"Heather Dougherty and Amy, Electopian Neo Dimension Battle Systems Gala. That specific enough?"

Both Eric and Amity spun around to find Stacey standing in the doorway, the door wide open again. That ability to stealthily slip in and out of anywhere really was handy. For Stacey, of course; not for them.

"Wh... what?" Eric stammered, fretting he was about to get a tongue-bashing from his sister.

"Heather Dougherty. Amy. Electopian Neo Dimension Battle Systems. Gala. Try it."

Eric obeyed and typed the words into the search engine, not knowing how a gala would hold the answer. Electopian Neo Dimension Battle Systems was a familiar name, but most people just called it ENDBS, the same letters that appeared on their oval-shaped logo.

The first result was nothing more than a news report about a somewhat recent gala to support a charity organisation. The second result was about the speech that this 'Heather Dougherty' gave on the night. But as they moved to the image results, a photo from the night was shown as a result. It was a large media print of a photo of this Heather lady. A lady of age, her body was dressed in a ballgown that looked to be made purely from jewels, magically held together by some invisible force; the white and yellow lights seemed to sparkle off every single edge and surface. She had a beaming ear-to-ear smile as she laughed and draped her arm around a much younger lady in a fancy lime green dress. A lime green dress with yellow frills. Four layers at each end. This lady too had a wide smile and matching laugh as she curled her arm around Heather in a reciprocating manner. The two ladies seemed to be intimately close with one another.

"Eric, install this onto Amy please," Stacey directed, holding out an upgrade chip.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It's a Graphic Model Override, or GMO for short. These files change the looks of a navi depending on their programming. This one is named 'Spring' and was designed for Amy specifically. Amy, once you've installed it, please activate it."

Amy was a little concerned about Stacey's sudden interest in her appearance, but as Eric installed the upgrade to her PET a new option appeared in the schematics menu titled 'Styles'. Two options were present; 'Standard', which was selected, and 'Spring'.

"So you want me to load 'Spring'?" she asked.

"Yes."

As she confirmed the action, a wind blew sharply from underneath her and began a rapid chain of events. Amy's hair was swept upward by this wind to meet at the back of her head as it twisted in a clockwise motion, tightening and tucking this new mess of hair in such a way so that it ended up as a large and neatly arranged bun. The blue flower that had sat atop her head changed into a ball of white light as it moved towards the new bun, stretching itself out to become a long tube that circled itself around the bun edge where it joined her head. The ring of light slowly faded as it took the form of a ring of numerous small yellow flowers.

Next, Amy's skin shifted in tone from her normal pale pinkish tan to a pigment typically seen in light-skinned Electopians. The dress itself changed from cyan to lime green while the fringes changed from white to yellow, and her hair faded from its vibrant violet colour to a golden blonde. Her eyes shrunk in size from their normal larger size to a natural human size, which accompanied the shift to a human skin tone nicely. The eyes themselves also changed colour; instead of being a deep blue pupil on a slightly lighter blue iris, her pupils shifted to pure black while both irises transformed into a bold green colour with only the slightest hints of hazel towards the edge of the pupil.

The emblem atop her chest was the next thing to change; it began to glow white as it split into two smaller versions that then moved into position over Amy’s ears. They could barely be seen as the new hairstyle obscured them mostly from view, but if you looked hard enough you could still make out the insignia. The colours had changed too; instead of being a white head with cyan petals on a violet background, they were now a yellow head with green petals on a light brown background, and the two stripes that signified her antenna had disappeared completely from the head. All in all, it would be easy to mistake them for parts of a set of headphones or earmuffs. The final visible cosmetic change was her shoes. Her normal violet boots were replaced with a most peculiar set of white shoes she'd never seen before, with her toes almost exposed to the environment around her.

As if all of that hadn't been enough, Amy could feel a slight twisting now inside her as well. She didn't know exactly what had happened, but her gel disruptors had briefly arced as if they were making changes of their own; hopefully those changes wouldn't impede her ability to battle. Her worries were allayed somewhat by a small puff of aegis gel that leapt off her dress like a final breath, but instead of being cyan in appearance, it was the same lime green shade as her clothes.

"Well THAT was weird," she commented. "Well, Eric, what do you thin-"

Eric's face had turned a number of shades whiter, his eyes about to pop out of his head. Amy didn't understand the expression; at first she thought that the hidden package may have fallen out, but no, despite all that had just happened, she was still latched to her midregion. That girl was the epitomy of obedience.

No, it wasn't until Amy turned towards the PC monitor again that the full weight of what she'd just done dawned on her. You see, the lady that was standing next to this... Heather Dougherty... had the same lime green dress. The same shoes. The same hair style. The same skin colour. The same eyes. And... the same fake headphones sitting under her hair, because they weren't headphones, they were emblems. Just like the ones on her head right now.

"Heather Dougherty... and Amy."
"H-h-h-h-h-h-how???"

Amy was speechless. There was no doubt in her mind; the lady in green was indeed her. But how should she possibly have been in the real world, at a party with a human?

"I don't know," Stacey admitted. "To be honest, I wasn't even the one who recognised you."

"I was the one who recognised you." A small holographic image of Crony appeared on Stacey's shoulder.

"Hey, you can do that too!" Eric marvelled at Crony's unexpected appearance. He got up from the chair and took a step forward to take a closer look. "How come he's never done that before?"

"Eric, sit down." Stacey's serious expression cut through his fascination. He'd allowed something new and shiny to distract him from the conversation at hand. He stepped back and retook his seat on the office chair as instructed.

"You need to understand that... I think what I'm about to do is a mistake." She gripped her right arm with her left hand as she looked to Crony. "We weren't going to tell you this... but I didn't expect you to do so well in the busting tests yesterday," she added, looking at Amy. "Or that you'd do it again without supervision."

"I'm still against this, for the record," Crony also noted.

She stepped out of the room without saying another word. After a few moments passed, Eric was about to stand up and find her when Stacey returned with a violet box that matched the colour of Amy's PET. It was a stylised rectangular box with a custom design, soft rounded edges and corners; it was three hand lengths long, half as wide and half as tall, with a diagonal slit on the top. A fancy corporate logo was at the centre of the angled scizzor lid joint, with the letters ENDBS.

It was impossible not to notice the similarities in design between Amy's PET and the box itself. So; the PET was made by ENDBS. That explained why the PET hadn't been damaged when he'd dropped it the other day; while he didn't know much about PETs themselves it was common knowledge that ENDBS, combined with five other corporations, were responsible for most of the PET hardware manufactured around the world. ENDBS only produced expensive technology. Not necessarily the best technology, but expensive and fancy technology nonetheless.

"So these are Amy's spare parts, right?" Eric asked.

"No, not exactly." Stacey tapped the ENDBS logo, which caused the lid to split open by itself and retract the flaps into the box once they'd raised to vertical positions. There was a lot of compartments, including chips, components and a large cube, most of which Eric didn't recognise. Something he did recognise was a slot containing chips similar to the one that Stacey had just handed him.

"Are they more geeamoes?" he asked.

"G-M-O," Stacey corrected. "And yes. There's another three in there, but two don't have the necessary GMO core file. I'm guessing they were stripped when SRD took out the parts they could."

"Oh," Eric responded dejectedly, a little disappointed. As he flipped through the GMO chips he noticed that they all had an unfamiliar custom logo printed on the front. The logo was made up of two pink letters 'H' and 'D' written in a fancy handwritten font that sat on a white circle. A number also accompanied the letters, positioned just below the H and D. The chips in the box were labelled 2, 3 and 5, whilst the one still in his hand, 'Spring', was labelled 1. He glanced across the box to see if the one numbered 4 had been placed somewhere else incorrectly, but no similar data chip was anywhere to be seen.

"Wait. You said two didn't have cores. If this is one of them, does that me-"

"Yes." She pulled out one of the three chips, the one labelled with a 3. "This one is called Autumn. I think they couldn't remove the GMO cores on those two due to repeated usage warping the data construct; separation would have broken the GMO core itself, so there was no point in trying. Which makes sense in the case of Spring, I guess; Spring was the one that Amy had on when she did her commercials."

"Commercials? What's a... commercial?"

Ignoring the question, Stacey pulled out another larger, unknown chip from a separate section. "Crony still has his reservations that you're ready for any of this, and I guess I do too. It may have been a mistake even letting you see this," she said as she tapped the edge of the box. "Why'd you do it, Eric?"

"Why did I do what?" Eric asked.

"Virus busting. Back at the safehouse. You could have done anything you wanted to while I was finishing my job."

Eric turned his attention to the navi that was standing on his desk. He didn't even know for sure himself why he'd let Amy talk him into doing it. If he didn't want to, he had had all the power to say no, and that would have been the end of the discussion. He could've enjoyed the peace and quiet, and nobody would have challenged him about his desire for rest, except possibly Amy herself. But instead, they'd gone onto the internet, and as a result he felt more connected to his new partner than before. Hopefully she felt the same way too, although he couldn't be sure.

Maybe that was the answer; because he wanted to get to know her better. She'd seemed confident she'd be okay, so letting her do something she wanted to do was a nice thing... right?

"Amy wanted to go virus busting to keep working on her abilities. She was confident she'd be okay, and I had my battechip folder with me, so there was no reason not to, I guess...?" He didn't look away from Amy as he answered Stacey's question. It might have only been half of the truth, but it was all he could admit to out loud.

"And how did it go?"

"We found some new chips, and we both saw some things we'd never seen before," he replied. Reaching over to his backpack, he pulled out the sizeable NetPendium. "I was able to use this in a way that helped Amy win her battles. If I keep studying it, maybe I can be a good partner..." The idea of being a reliable partner that could anticipate her needs in battle, the thought excited him a little as he thought of the possibilities. Net trading wouldn't be as scary any more, and maybe they could start doing remote call outs jobs at work...

His daydreaming was distrupted as a rustling noise brought his attention back to Stacey; she'd placed the two chips onto the bed and was now lifting the small purple unit out of the box. It was about twice the size of his PET from top to bottom, and cubic in shape with softly rounded edges and corners. Stacey took it to his bedside table and, after moving the clock and photo to one side, placed it firmly in the centre. It had a power cable attached to the back of the unit, which she threaded underneath the bed and into a power socket. After turning on the power at the wall, Stacey pushed a few buttons on the centre display on the top of the unit, which seemed to activate a variety of different lights and screens both on the top and the front of the cube itself. Convinced her actions were correct, Stacey returned to the bed and picked up the two chips she'd placed down earlier.

"I'll give you this..." as she handed him the second GMO, "and this..." as she handed him the unknown chip. "That one is actually a knowledge depository that contains one of your old friends, Amy. I don't think they will remember anything, since the protocol for SRD is to wipe all memories before deletion... you know, in case something goes missing." Stacey looked a little embarrassed as she made the comment regarding deletion. What reason would she have to be embarrassed though...?

"'Knowledge depository', huh?" Eric repeated. "So how do we activate it?"

"You can't. Not yet, anyway," Stacey added. "You'll need to obtain a Category 1 SP core to be able to activate it. SP cores can be a bit tricky to come by, which is why SRD stripped it out of that unit. SP cores can only be attached to netnavis that have demonstrated the neural ability to sideload a companion into their own core coding, but..." she trailled off as she handed Amy's PET back to Eric, "...theoretically... you're ready."

"Okay, so where do we go to buy one then?"

"If only it were that simple," Stacey sighed. "Most companies that have ones to spare won't just give them away or sell them. You'll probably need to do something for them to earn the core. Think of it as a freelance job."

"'Freelance'?" Eric replied, alarmed he'd be asked to do such work. That was a word he'd heard quite often while watching 'The Inner Circle'; he wasn't going to be doing spy work, was he...?

"Think of it as a one-time-only request for work. No strings attached; you do the job, you get the reward. You can post a request for that kind of work in the NetSquare."

Maybe not then. His excitement at getting something new was waning now that he was getting a better idea of the work involved in obtaining all the needed parts. "That sounds like a lot of effort..." he groaned as he fiddled with the chips. "Maybe we'll do it la-"

"Hey, we've got this!" Amy reassured him, walking across the desk to his arm and gently rocking it, like a child wanting something from its parent. "Come on, it can't be that bad, right? Besides, we'll be doing it together!"

That same reassurance, that everything would be alright, gave him a needed confidence boost. "...I guess we can give it a try..." he finally agreed.

An amused smile crossed Stacey's face as she watched the exchange, like she'd just discovered something new.

"How do we get to this... NetSquare?" Amy enquired.

"Through that," Stacey confirmed while pointing to the purple box. "Eric, that is now your new home network server. It can serve as a base of operations for Amy and anybody she meets." Eric knew what a homepage was; that part she didn't need to explain. Homepages caused at least a quarter of the problems he dealt with for work. Stacey then removed a large paper book from the box and dropped it on the desk in front of him. "Have a read of this, it'll explain all you need to know about how to connect it to the internet and how to point a connection to the NetSquare."

As she turned to walk out the room, she stopped at the doorway and glanced back a final time. "Oh, and two more things. First, if you do decide to go to the NetSquare, under no circumstances are you to go there in the Spring style. Amy, either go as your normal self or install that Autumn style I gave you and use it instead, you understand? I promise that you will only cause trouble for yourself if you use the Spring style anywhere there's people around." When she received no rebuttal, she continued. "And second..." she hesitated briefly before continuing, "...second... if you do manage to get an SP core and install it correctly, I'll tell you everything else I know about Amy." And with that, Stacey was gone, closing the door behind her.

[>>> To Homepages: {Amlipeda} - Homepage of Amity.EXE >>>]