{Amlipeda} - Homepage of Amity.EXE

[Amlipeda] - "Protection through unity, leave no opportunity."

{Server Config} PUBLIC
{Server Status} ONLINE - Not Broadcasting

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The server that hosts this homepage is not part of a 'fixed' server network, and instead is part of a remote node. As such, it has the advantage of having a domain broadcasting transmitter that can be turned on and off at will, and can be moved around the real world as needed to keep the portal on the move (within reason, of course; it cannot broadcast a portal connection to a network on the other side of the world). If you are successful in obtaining a secured 'Amlipeda.gps' access token from the page's administrators, you will always be able to see any active portal that links to this homepage at any time, but without one you will be at the mercy of finding the current active portal across the vast space that is the internet (if one is even active at the time), although more often than not, the portal will be located somewhere within the ACDC networks.

If you step into the correct linked portal, you will be sent to a terminus that, from an observer looking down from up on high, looks like a six leaf flower, and can be broken down into two areas; the inner circular region of the flower, and the six 'petals', or pads, that make up the outer regions. An inpenetrable wall of trees border the edges of the pads, and a highly dense canopy prevents any navi from flying above these impossibly tall trees, which would be at odds with the high level of sunlight; it's almost like both the trees and canopy are somewhat transparent at a cellular level, acting as a forcefield to all passable matter while only allowing sunlight through. The bordering trees, canopy and floor seem to be impervious to all types of attacks and block all teleportation attempts. The sky obeys the same day and night cycle as the geozone the server is currently situated in.

The inner region can be further broken into three rings, starting with the smallest ring in the centre of the room, which houses the transmission portal and is 4m (13ft) wide. The next ring extends out an additional 4m (13 ft) past the edges of the inner ring and is slightly lower than the inner ring (around half-a-step's distance). The outermost ring, which extends yet another 4m (13ft) past the edges of the middle ring, is again slightly lower than the middle ring (another half-a-step's distance). Both the outermost and central ring are white in appearance with a gentle hexagonal tile pattern that overlays the entire area, and a warm white light glows from the gaps in-between the three rings; bright enough to light up the area, but not bright enough to be an eyesore or blinding to any visitors. The inner ring consists purely of the purple portal that acts as the bridge between networks; it remains a shade of indigo while inactive, however it continuously cycles and pulsates every three seconds between indigo and violet when activated for local domain access only, and between indigo, violet and white when connected to a portal on the internet as well.

From the edge of the outermost ring lie the six pads of the outer zones. Each of these are evenly sized around the edges of the outermost ring of the central zone, forming six perfect semi-circles off the edge of the outermost ring. As such, each pad has a 5m (16 ft) radius. The flooring in these areas matches the floor height of the outermost ring of the central zone, along with the same gentle hexagonal tile patterns, but not the same colour. Each pad sports its own colour, which matches the theme of each floral garden that outlines the edges of each of the pads. The flowers, shrubs, bonsai, cactii, and many other exotic plants are neatly arranged in what can only be described as a pattern of unity, a celebration of nature in the many forms it takes, organised only by the colour in which they can be found in the wild.

To continue to describe the contents of each pad, one must first name them to allow for orientation. Along with naming them, the coloured 'theme' of each is as follows:
NW pad: cyan blue
NE pad: golden yellow
E pad: lime green
SE pad: black
SW pad: white
W pad: neon red
This is necessary, as the NW, NE, W and E do differ from their SW and SE counterparts in the remaining contents of each pad.

Towards the back of the NW, NE, W and E pads can be found a long rectangular wooden table, placed perpendicular to the entry of the pad itself, with two equally long wooden benches positioned on each side of the table, capable of comfortably seating four people each side. Near the centre of the pads (but closer to the front) is a ceramic water fountain, again taking on the theme of each zone they are positioned in with different water jets protruding from the centre to accent each of the different themes.

The SW pad is occupied by a large screen that poses as the 'BBS' of this homepage. It's less a 'BBS' and more just a space that any visitor can leave their mark on the network. What is more intriguing is the SE pad, as it has another purple portal at its centre. This portal remains indigo, but is voice activated and will accept transmission commands from authorised personnel.

If you were one of the lucky few to find the homepage, you will land on the central portal facing the NW and NE pads. There are five system maintenance programs (or 'Progs' as they're more commonly known) that each patrol a pad (no Prog patrols the SE pad) and are coloured in shades of the same colour as the pad they patrol. If the network detects that this is your first time visiting the network, or you have not visited for an extended period of time, you will be greeted with a pre-recorded message from the administrator's navigator and its team. Otherwise, this video will not play again unless you speak to the SW Prog, who thinks that the pre-recorded message is majestic (possibly because it's infatuated with one of the support programs; which one, however, it won't say).

If you approach one of the Progs, you are likely to be told the following:

NW Prog: AMY LOVES LOBELIAS! BETWEEN YOU AND ME THOUGH, THE ONLY ONE THAT STAYS ALIVE IS THE ONE ON HER HEAD. DON'T TELL HER I SAID THAT THOUGH, OKAY? SHE TRIES SO HARD!
NE Prog: DID YOU KNOW THAT YELLOW LILIES SYMBOLISE THANKFULNESS? I'M THANKFUL THAT LILY TALKS TO HERS; THEY ALWAYS SEEM SO HAPPY AND VIBRANT!
E Prog: WE'VE STARTED GROWING GREEN TREE PEONIES! I THINK PEONY HOPES THAT SHE CAN LEARN FROM HOW THEY SPREAD SO WIDE FROM SUCH A SMALL BEGINNING. SHE REALLY IS PATIENT.
SW Prog: HELLO! PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT ON THE BOARD, WE APPRECIATE ALL FEEDBACK! OR, DID YOU WANT TO WATCH THE GREETING VIDEO AGAIN? [YES/NO] [NO:] OH, NO PROBLEM, BUT PLEASE, LEAVE A COMMENT! [YES:] EXCELLENT! I'LL GET RIGHT ON IT!
W Prog: I HOPE THAT THESE FLOWERS HAVE AS MANY LAYERS AS DAISY DOES. I MEAN, SHE ALWAYS SEEMS EITHER ANGRY, AGITATED OR PERTURBED; THERE'S GOT TO BE A REASON, RIGHT?

If you approach the SE pad and attempt to transport, you will be greeted with the following:
[Denied] - the portal will flash red, and nothing further happens
[Passed] - the portal will flash white, and the user is teleported to the next destination

If you are authorised to enter The Stem...
The upper layer of Amlipeda is referred to as 'The Flower', and while being a little harder to access due to the floating network entry point, it is still considered public domain and accessible by all. 'The Stem', however, is locked away in a highly-encrypted section of the server, and is the home of the administrator's navi and support programs, as well as any other authorised visitors. Any pre-approved navi connecting to the server locally through a pre-approved PET can bypass The Flower and transmit directly into The Stem.

While still retaining the general shape, sizing layout and colours of The Flower in the same positions, The Stem is different in that it is half the physical size of The Flower and has no garden features. Additionally, there is no trees or canopy that borders these areas; instead, solid walls line each of the areas, the colours a muted version of each of that pad's colours. Sunlight does not shine through in this area because of this, unless a skylight is opened up in one of the six pads or over the main area, but doing so only provides light to that associated area, and again, the normal day/night cycle applies to this area as well. There are small white domes roughly a handspan wide that line the tops of the walls that glow a very gentle white light at night when they detect a navi or support program's presence.

Four separate living quarters can be found in the NW, NE, E and W pads. The NE, E and W pads are clearly designed for support programs, and the NW pad is suited for a navi. Each of these quarters can also project a wall that acts as a large 'door' to close off that pad from the rest of The Stem (useful for those that want privacy or to sleep). The wall lights will turn off if no major motion is detected while any room's door is closed. The entry/exit portal again resides on the SE pad, and retains its indigo colour. The SW pad is set up with only a large semi-circular desk that faces the entrance of the pad, is large enough to facilitate operations by a single navi at its centre, and has three screens that project at an 80% holographic efficiency. The left screen acts as a monitor and analysis of the network above, the right screen acts as a monitor to both the status of the floating server itself and the administrator's PET when it is connected to the server directly, and the middle screen is for any other program or process required for operator/navi perusal.

In the centre of the room is a large circular table. It has 12 seats equally spaced around it, and is capable of projecting a 3D monitor that is designed in such a way that all 12 seats have the perfect view to see the same 2D image at the same time, without any loss of quality to the image itself. This is useful for conferences between navis and support programs.
{EAX012}

[<<< From ACDC Town: 3746 Boykin Road, Lower ACDC <<<]

A glowing tunnel of red, yellow, green, cyan and purple directed the navi through the gap in cyberspace between her PET and the not-yet-known destination. This was the eighth time they'd tried to establish a connection, but the pathway had been distorted by unknown errors preventing her transmission. Eric had consulted the manual to deal with the errors and had followed the instructions one by one based on the error codes presented, but this was a promising improvement to their prior attempts.

The warning of a large presence coming at her resulted in the same mid-air somersault she was becoming accustomed to performing. With a graceful landing, the slipstream dispersed to reveal the new area she'd ventured into.

"I think we did it, Eric! I can-"

{Hello, friend!}

Amy had landed on the centre of a three-tier circular platform arrangement. The centre was slightly higher than the lower two parts, and the middle platform being slightly higher than the outermost layer. There was a dim white glow that seemed to emanate from the edges between each platform, but that was not what had caught Amy's attention.

She was too distracted by the appearance of... herself. Standing right in front of her.

{Welcome to Amlipeda!} the other Amy replied as she raised her arms up with palms extended. {We hope you'll enjoy your stay!}

Eric had been reading through the remainder of the server troubleshooting notes, but hearing Amy speak up turned his attention back to the PET screen. When he saw that there were now two Amys, he sat there with a confused look on his face. "Amy...?" he asked waveringly.

"I think it's a hologram, Eric." But how...?

{My name is Amy, and these are my friends!} As she spoke those words, three creatures appeared from behind the fake Amy and took their positions around her; one above, one to the left and one to the right.

"They almost look like butterflies..." Eric commented.

Really? So that's what a butterfly looks like... she pondered to herself. Her earlier mental encouragement chant now made sense, adding to her confusion.

All three creatures were styled in the shape of a butterfly as they hovered in the air with semi-transparent wings, but the wings themselves were not the typical butterfly shape. The one that hovered above Amy was larger than the other two at almost twice their size, was yellow in appearance and had four wings shaped like long semi-narrow leaves of a tree, positioned in a cross pattern. The wings themselves didn't seem to attach to the body of the yellow butterfly at all, only adding to the mystery of its appearance. The butterflies to her left and right had wings that looked like someone had stuck two bowties in an overlapping cross formation across their backs; the butterfly on the left had red wings, and the one on the right had green wings.

{My name's Lily! Everything here is for your enjoyment!} the yellow butterfly cheerfully replied.

{My name is Peony. It is an honour to make your acquaintence,} the green butterfly responded, bowing its head gently in mid-flight.

{And I'm Daisy. Break anything and we'll know,} the red butterfly snapped.

The fake Amy gave 'Daisy' a quick glare whilst briefly grunting under her breath before returning her attention back to the real Amy. {We are the ones who look after all of this,} she informed whilst twirling in place with arms extended. {This homepage was designed by my operator to promote peace and harmony between all. We do our best to make that vision a reality, so please, enjoy yourselves! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment on our board, we really do value all your feedback!} Amy turned in the direction that she'd been motioned toward to see that there was in fact a BBS-style board in the white-floor area.

{Thank you for your time! And remember, here at Amlipeda, we believe in peace and harmony by looking out for each other!} As if on cue, all three of the butterflies flew onto fake Amy through the slits on her dress; one on the back and one on each forearm. In an instant, their appearances changed to embrace themselves as new additions to Amy's makeup. The red and green bowties changed in hue to the same white as her dress frills as they both took a place on her left and right shoulder, while the wings of the yellow butterfly turned into a transparent cyan that matched her dress as they grew exponentially in size until the fake Amy almost looked like a butterfly herself. These giant wings also seemed to be detached from Amy's body, but as the now-oversized wings fluttered twice the navi was able to hover off the ground gently.

{United we stand, divided we fall!} the four voices shouted out in unison. {Protection through unity, leave no opportunity!} At that, the image disappeared completely, leaving the real Amy alone to collect her thoughts about what she'd just seen.

"What... what was that all about?" she wondered out loud.

Eric was silent. He'd been watching the little show as well, but as to its meaning he had no clue, no advice to offer.

{MASTER!}

Amy noticed that an unusual creature with misshaped ears had detected her presence from one of the outerlying areas and was now making its way towards her. There were four other creatures of the same build, each one in a different gardened area, that turned around at the sound of their comrade. They too shouted out {MASTER!} and began approaching her.

"Ugh, there are Progs on here..."

Amy was taken aback by Eric's lack of enthusiasm; Progs were everybody's friends, were they not? Even though they were simple programs, maybe they could be of use to her.

"Hello!" she responded once they had all arranged themselves in front of her. "Do you know me?"

{NO WE DON'T, MASTER!} they all replied as one.

"You don't...? Then... how do you know that I'm your master?"

{MASTER HAS THE SAME BIOSIGNATURE AS MASTER, SO SHE MUST BE MASTER!}

Amy moved her hand to her face to hide her disgust. Eric's lack of enthusiam suddenly made sense.

"Well... I guess it's true," she replied. "Can I help you?"

{WE ARE HERE TO SERVE MASTER BY PROTECTING THE FLOWER!} they replied.

Amy frowned. She hadn't asked them what they did, she'd asked them if they wanted her help. Why else would they have run up to her? "Okay, but do you want something from me?"

{WE ARE HERE TO SERVE MASTER BY PROTECTING THE FLOWER!} they repeated.

"Eric, am I saying something wrong?" she whispered in confusion.

"No, I think they just watch the different zones," Eric sighed. "That's what Progs are designed for, after all; basic analysis and instructions. Just tell them to go back to work, I think they'll leave you alone."

"I can do that." In a louder voice she spoke to the group. "Please go back to work." Like a pack of obedient dogs, they all dispersed back to their original stations. "Perfect, thank you Eric."

A grin appeared on Eric's face; he'd done well. "You're welcome."

Talking about work reminded Amy of the job they needed to do. "Now that we've taken care of... all that stuff... how do we connect to the NetSquare?"

"I don't know about your homepage specifically, but most homepages we've offered tech support have a console that allows them to access other networks. At least, that's what we tap into remotely to do our work. Do you see anything that looks like a terminal?"

Amy looked around the area. Of the six pads that extended from the centre region, four were gardens and one was home to the board mentioned earlier. The last one had a small teleportation pad, which caught Amy's eye. "I think there may be another area to this homepage," she pointed out.

Eric saw the teleporation pad through the PET display. "Try it out, maybe?" he advised.

Amy took a step onto the dark pad. A second later, the pad lit up in a bright white light, and Amy was transferred to a new area. It was smaller than where she'd been previously; it almost looked like the equivalent of a navi home, with sleeping areas taking up four of the six zones. The last zone, however, had what Amy was looking for; a computer-like terminal for operations. "Found it!" she replied as she walked over to it. She attempted to sit in the chair before realising she'd squash her partner in the process.

"Alright, time for you to come out again. It's safe here, there's nobody around," she reassured the girl, but there was no response.

Amy reached behind her back with both arms to try prying her off. "Relax, there's nobody to... to..."

She patted her back. Nothing.

A quick glance left and right. Nothing.

"Eric!" she gasped. "She's gone!"

"She's gone...? Wait, she's gone?!"

The girl was not on her back, and there was only a limited number of places she could have hid in this small region; she definitely wasn't there.

"Dammit dammit DAMMIT!" Amy shouted. "What happened Eric?!"

"I don't know! Maybe she didn't come through with you?!"

Amy dashed back to the teleportation pad and was greeted with the same white light. She was only on the receiving pad for a second before two small arms wrapped themselves around her dress.

"I'm so sorry! I didn't know it would do that!" Amy knelt down and picked her up off the ground, giving Little Miss a proper hug in her arms for reassurance.

Eric watched the scene unfold. It was a little concerning for him, as the two had only been together for a day, and it was unlikely that Amy could take Little Miss everywhere she went. At some point, they were going to have to separate, but would this be the result each time? Something would need to be done about this.

After calming her down, Amy put Little Miss back on the ground. "I don't know if you understand, but I have to go back down there, okay?" she explained as she pointed to the pad. "I think I may be able to program it so you can come down too, but you have to let me go down alone for now, okay?"

The girl gripped Amy's dress with both hands and shook her head. Whether this was because it didn't understand or because it didn't want Amy to go, she didn't know. "I'm sorry, but I'll only be a few minutes, okay? Promise." She patted the girl's head as she stepped back onto the pad. Little Miss was dragged onto the pad as a result of her vice-like grip, but the pad still didn't allow her passage, taking Amy away and leaving her standing alone.

Amy landed in the dark zone again and headed straight to the console. "Okay Eric, tell me how to add her so she can come down here too."

Eric hadn't the slightest clue how to do that. "Umm, my knowledge is limited to fixing broken networks and establishing and maintaining connections between domains and servers. I don't know how to modify security kernels, but..." He looked at the manual. "Let me see if there's anything about it in here."

"Please, be quick," Amy urged.

Eric was beside himself to hear her using her pleases, but Amy was right, this was important and needed his attention. He turned back to the table of contents to see if there was a tab for security, and sure enough there was a whole chapter dedicated to the addition and removal of security access, including access to 'The Stem', the name the manual gave to the dark zone.

After relaying instructions to Amy, she was able to add Little Miss' biosignature to the database. The terminal made a satisfying tri-tone dinging sound as it confirmed the changes had taken place. At the same time, the teleporatation pad lit up as Little Miss appeared.

"You didn't even leave the pad, did you. You knew I'd come back again the same way," she chuckled to herself.

The little girl's head turned to the sound of Amy's voice, and upon spotting her she ran across the room as fast as her legs would carry her. This time Amy had both arms open and caught her in mid-leap, rotating her into place on her lap as she sat at the terminal. "I'd ask if you missed me, but I think the answer's obvious..." she laughed as she lowered the girl back to the ground. It gave Amy a warm and fuzzy feeling to be needed in such a manner. "I'm not going to leave you behind, okay?" she reassured the girl as she stroked her hair.

"Okay Eric, so how do we connect to NetSquare?"

[Parallel Post] {EAB002} Internet City: Mission BBS: Mission Request: SPcore(1).dat
"Okay, I've placed the message on the board," Amy advised. "I wonder how long it will be before we get a response?"

"I don't know. Stacey didn't say."

"So what do we do now?"

Eric looked back to his PC. He knew the answer, and it wasn't going to be pleasant for him. "I actually need to get some work done. I'm very far behind on my quota for this week, and if I don't get it done I could lose my job."

"You know, I've asked you this question a couple of times now but I kept getting interrupted. What exactly do you do for work?"

Eric clicked on a few icons on the desktop to launch some programs. "What was it called? Hologen?"

"Hologen, yeah."

"If you do that right now, I'll show you."

A moment later, Amy appeared on her desk, with Little Miss by her side as the girl's right hand firmly clutched the lower part of Amy's dress.

The program being run on Eric's PC monitor was split into two halves. On the right side was a complicated entanglement of brightly coloured neon lines, with white pulses moving backwards and forwards down the lines themselves. Occasionally the lines themselves would separate and join to new lines, or existing lines would suddenly retract and disappear. On the left side was an ever-expanding list of lines of text, with anything from three to five lines of text appearing per second, which pushed the older lines up in the list until they disappeared from view.

"What... what am I looking at?"

"This is a small subsection of the network grid for Lower ACDC. My job as a DJ contractor is to monitor the networks in the area and make sure any irregularities are identified and dealt with accordingly."

Amy looked to the screen again. "'Subsection'? 'Network grid'? 'DJ'? What are you talking about...?"

Eric smiled. He was used to that sort of reaction when he had to explain what his job entailed. "I work for a company called Dentech Junipers, or DJ for short. It's one of many companies around the world that make sure that all the servers that make up the internet keep talking to each other."

"...And how do you do help do that?"

"See these blips?" he asked as he pointed to the white flashes travelling along the neon lines. "That's data. Each transmission of data has a source and a destination. My job is just to make sure that data gets to its intended destination. That's it. That's what the left side is for, it shows me what is supposed to go where, while the right side helps to visualise the physical paths being taken."

"You say 'that's it', but I don't understand anything on this screen. How can you tell that the data is doing that?"

Eric laughed, making Amy blush in embarrassment. Was the answer that obvious?

"I've been doing this for many years, so I guess it just comes naturally to me now. I remember when Matt first showed the program to me though; my brain almost melted out of my ears."

"Who's Matt?" Amy asked. She'd heard that name earlier in the car ride home as well.

"Sorry; Matt is... probably the only friend I have," Eric mumbled.

"'Only friend'?" Amy echoed.

"Only 'human' friend," Eric quickly added.

"Will I get to meet him?"

"Absolutely. He normally comes around once or twice a month to visit. Officially, it's to check up on my work since he is technically my boss, but we just end up hanging out."

"Won't he get in trouble for not doing his job?" Amy didn't like the sound of that.

"His dad is the CEO of the entire company."

"Ah."

"So yeah, while I got a good job out of this, I still have to meet the required hours. I didn't log in over the last few days because..."

"Because of me, right?" Amy was shocked; she didn't mean to say it bitterly, but the words had slipped out with emotion.

"...no." Eric's eyes turned away from Amy. "It's not your fault. I didn't exactly make your first few days here enjoyable."

"The same could be said of me. I turned on all three of you pretty quickly."

"We didn't give you a reason to trust us. But you stuck around. And you were willing to put up with me. You could have given up on me just like the others."

"No way! That's what friends are for, right?"

Eric turned back to Amy. "So..... we are..... friends?"

Amy nodded in agreement. "Duh," she bantered back, like it should have been obvious.

A double-tone shrill beep from the computer snapped Eric's head back to the computer screen. "Oh great, there's a server going rogue in ACDC Central."

That was her cue to disappear before things got too emotional. "I'm going to head back into the server with Little Miss and shut down for the night. Will you be okay?"

"Is that her name? Little Miss?"

Amy stared at the little girl who was bound to her side. "I don't know her name. She doesn't speak, she just makes the odd squeal and grunt," she noted. "'Little Miss' is more of a description than a name, I guess."

"I hope she's okay..." The thought that 'Little Miss' may not be able to speak at all concerned Eric. "Don't worry about me though. I'll be fine; I'll probably log as many hours as I can and head to bed. It's been a long day." Eric's stomach growled, reminding him of his need for food. "Oh yeah, I'll stop for dinner once Stacey's finished cooking; it shouldn't be long now."

"Alright then. Good night!" Amy and Little Miss disappeared from the desk, leaving Eric alone to deal with a green line that was waving constantly between a red line and a blue line.

Back in The Stalk, Amy walked over to the only zone that seemed to have a recovery station her size. It had been positioned horizontally like a human bed and not vertically as expected. The idea of sleeping like a human amused Amy, but she could make it work. Before she could go to sleep, she first had to take care of her little partner. The joining section had a 'bed' similar in size to Little Miss, so Amy picked up the girl and placed her on it. She was resistant at first, but once the healing aura began to glow from the pad, the resistance stopped as her eyes began to close and her body curl up. Pleased with her actions, Amy returned to her own bed and laid herself out.

She expected the same healing aura to begin, but instead a small holographic prompt appeared above her head.

(Play Music? Yes / No)

Amy's hand moved towards the No portion, but a thought crossed her mind which stayed her hand. This was her server. If it was offering to play music, who had selected it? Logically speaking, it would have been herself, no? This reminded her of more important questions; who was the fake Amy, and who were all the different creatures flying around her? As much as she wanted to call them fake, she knew she had to face the very real possibility that it wasn't a fake Amy, that it was a recording of herself. From a past life that she had no memory of.

Who was she?

This one question opened her mind to the others that had started building up in the background. What was this place? How did the Progs know she belonged here when she'd never set foot on this server before? How could someone have recorded her in such detail, and yet leave no trace in her memory? And who was the voice that kept telling her all she needed to know to be a stronger, more capable person?

This led to another chain of questions. Why were the memories that remained only of a time of misery and defeat? Why could she clearly remember a neverending chain of disappointments and discipline, and not a single memory of this delightful place?

That last question wasn't correct. Even though today was the first time she'd seen a butterfly, she'd chanted to herself about them to get across a cracked field the day before. Which meant...

Which meant... what?

She needed more information. Which meant the only way to get some answers was to find this 'SP core' as proof of her strength and show it to Stacey. Stacey held the keys, keys that she needed to unlock memories.

(Play Music? {Yes} / No)

The calming music that followed helped to put Amy's mind at ease. Answers were coming; she just needed to be patient. As the glowing aura filled her vision she felt herself slipping into standby. She closed her eyes, but a moment later she felt something rub up against her chest. She opened her eyes again to see that Little Miss had joined her on her pad. Even though the healing aura of her own bed should have put her to sleep, her need for rest was not greater than her need to be with Amy. The cyan-clothed guardian knew she should have taken Little Miss back to her own bed; it was dangerous to let this bond get any deeper. She tried to get up, but her body was now at the point where it refused to listen to her commands. The bed held her captive, her lingering energy not enough to overcome the warmth that was now surrounding her. At this point she was too tired to care about the problem; cocooning herself around the unexpected guest, she finally gave in to her fatigue and slipped into recovery standby.

----------

Back on the world wide web, it was entering twilight hours in ACDC Net and the network sky was a stunning mix of orange, red, pink and purple as the digitised sun set on a fake horizon. Faint rays of light beamed through whatever holes they could find in the landscape as long shadows were cast onto the ground, creating zones where one could easily hide from unwelcome eyes.

In one area of the network four grandstands surrounded a small playing field. The network repair feature had fully restored the area to its natural state, despite the disruptions incurred to the area due to the actions of a certain miss, and was ready to be used for whatever functions one would think would be suitable.

Behind the southernmost grandstand, however, a cloaked figure moved back and forth behind the seating, using both the natural shadows and the hours of twilight to assist in masking his presence. There was not a lot to be said for the cloak; it looked to be a simple dark grey sheet that had been cut and sewn in the right places to hide all identifiable features of the creature except for its purple boots. Given the creature's stance and shape, it was possible the creature was of a humanoid build.

"I've found the source of the signal," an unknown male voice responded from beneath the cloak. "It definitely started here." There was a brief silence before the voice continued. "Yes, I'm sure. I know our frequencies." Another brief silence followed. Was this person talking to someone? There was no way to tell for sure, but the regular pausing indicated a coversation, not delusional meditation.

"This isn't like that. That was a fluke, and you know it. Someone tried to take advantage of the bond we have; someone who knows what we're up to." The male navi took a few steps to the other side of the grandstand's shadow. "I know it's risky, but you said it yourself, we need her missing half. The current setup can work without it, but together it wil-"

His speech trailed off as a long silence followed. The male began to dig his boot into the ground, harder and harder as the silence continued.

"Look," he finally hissed. "I told you, I'm taking all the necessary precautions. If it's her, I'll keep my distance and report back to you."

His attention was diverted away by a trio of Spikeys charging through the empty field. He had no intention of being baited into a battle, and slinked further into the grandstand shadows to avoid detection.

"Listen, I've got company," he whispered. "I'm going to follow the trail, whether you want me to or not. I'm telling you, she tagged something with gamma gel. All I have to do is find whatever she tagged and keep an eye out for her return. If she's tracking something she's definitely coming back for it." With that the cloak disappeared into the shadows completely, but it could still be heard as it faintly muttered to itself.

"I bet you tagged a friendly, didn't you? That would be just like you, wouldn't it? All I need to do then is make sure it stays alive for your return."

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{{{Nothing lasts forever dear. Eventually, we all share the same fate.}}}

Amy was awoken by something small tapping her on the face. She brushed it off with her hand, but the tapping resumed. She brushed it away again, but the object returned just as fast. Irritated, Amy opened her eyes in preparation of beating whatever was causing the problem, but when she saw it was a hand attached to a small girl in a pink and white dress, she remembered where she was and how she'd spent the night.

"Ugh, there are better ways to wake me up," she groaned as she accidentally rolled forward out of the bed, falling to the ground below. It was only a small distance, but the landing was enough to finish waking her up. Getting back to her feet, she turned to Little Miss. "So what do you want?" she grumbled, not wanting to yell at the girl but also not happy she'd been woken up before she was at 100%.

Little Miss grabbed her dress with one hand and pointed to the terminal with the other. That's when Amy noticed a blinking light on the main monitor. Walking back over to the screen to investigate while Little Miss gripped her dress, it dawned on her what the blinking light was for.

"Someone responded." Amy bent down to pick up the girl and did a quick pirouette in the middle of the sector while holding her to the sky. "Hah! One step closer!" she shouted in triumph.

Sitting down in front of the console, Amy read the message left for her.

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Well well, what have we here?

Looking for a support core, are we? Some free knowledge for you and your operator; thank me later... Most people who want to get assigned an official mission from those paper-clips up n the GNA usually submit through the actual mission request system. Tickets and threads sent into the wilds down here often get lost.

----------

"Wait, there was more than one...?" Amy pondered. She'd been so giddy about getting to see the boards section of the NetSquare that she didn't remember there being more than one board for requests. "Oops."

----------
And then, dear Amity, they get found again.

So, here is my offer: you need a support core, and I can certainly pay you with one. I have a little excursion I'd like an innocuous navi to make for me. It's not dangerous, unless you want to make it that way. A stroll across a beach, and a swim beneath some waves. Don't tell the fish I said hello or breathing might get more difficult. You just need to look; what we see and what we learn is often far more valuable than what we take.

----------

"That sounds like an amazing offer," Amy remarked, turning to Little Miss with a smile. "Doesn't sound hard at all! I don't understand why I can't say hi to any fish we meet at the beach, but if that's their only request, I don't think I care!"

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If you're game, Little Miss Amity, I have a core ready and waiting for you. Message back, and if you're in, we'll talk more in person. Somewhere safe, don't worry.

-CrypticMan.exe

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Done, she decided as she left her response.
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Excellent.

Here's a link to a public location we can meet and discuss further details.

Beach Net

See you soon
-CrypticMan

----------

A network link to the mission site. This was really happening.

"Eric! Wake up! We have work to do!" she yelled, knowing full well that he couldn't yet hear her.

Eric was fast asleep, which didn't surprise Amy at all. On their first morning together she'd been his alarm clock, and he'd been just as moody about being woken up early as she had been only moments ago, so it was probably going to take a similar motivation of jabbing or stirring to get him to wake. Amy pulled up the 'Transmission' menu in preparation of entering Hologen mode, but interestingly there was a new option available. Alongside 'Transfer', 'Interface' and 'Hologen', a new option was listed: 'Augment'.

Amy knew that Eric had stayed up later than she did; he said he was going to work as many hours as possible. Was it possible he'd also played with the server last night as well? One way to be certain; with a slight hesitation, she activated the 'Augment' option, not sure what to expect next.

With a blinding flash, Amy opened her eyes to find herself in Eric's room again. Not the miniature size she'd been in Hologen mode, but full size. At first Amy thought it may have been a simulation, just a replica of his room, but when she turned to her right Eric was fast asleep on his bed, sprawled out in a starfish formation.

A wide grin slowly crossed Amy's face. It was rude to assume Eric knew what he'd done, but Amy couldn't resist the opportunity that had been presented to her. He'd been so bashful about her possibly seeing him half naked; he'd probably freak out if he woke up with an unknown female next to him.

First, she had to know whether she was just a hologram or if she was real. She reached for the photo frame next to the server, and to her utter glee she was able to pick it up. Placing it down as delicately as she picked it up, she proceeded to gently pick up Eric's right arm and fold it back across his body. When Eric didn't stir, she nudged his body ever so slowly across the bed so that it occupied the left half only. With everything in place, Amy lowered herself onto the right side and laid down next to him.

"Eric. Errrrric..." she cooed into his ear.

His eyes fluttered as his consciousness began to return. A chain of groans, grunts and whines followed as his arms rotated to the wall so he could stretch out. It was too perfect; she giggled as the moments drew on.

That same giggling finally drew Eric's head back towards the source of the sounds. In a drunken-like state, his blurry eyes opened to stare directly into Amy's.

"Good morrrrning, precious..." she cooed further.

The reaction was swift and immediate. Eyes jerking wide open, Eric flew back in a panic towards the edge of the bed that met the wall. Such a strong thrust caused the bed to shift as well, opening up a gap between the bed and the wall which Eric's scrawny body was all too suitable to fit into. Tumbling into place, only his arms stuck out from the resulting gap as the rest of his body sank into it, further fuelling Amy's hysterical laughter.

"Oh my goodness!" The prankster was wiping back tears of joy. "That was PERFECT!" She may have to apologise for that later, but it had definitely been worth it to see his reaction.

Amy had to take a minute to compose herself before she finally decided to help Eric, who was too tightly jammed in the new crevice to be able to get out under his own power. Leveraging herself against the wall, Amy was able to give him a boost that allowed him to roll back onto the bed.

Eric rubbed the back of his head; he'd hit it against the wall in his bout of terror. "That really hurt..." he complained.

"Well, you shouldn't have let me find out the hard way that you'd been playing with my stuff without me!" she joked.

Eric had a supremely unimpressed look on his face, but as he stood up he took a look at his partner and squinted at her new form. "So. I guess I was right," he remarked.

"About what?"

"The 'Augment' function. It does make a real-life version of you after all."

"Are you... saying I can exist in the real world now...?"

Eric pointed to four small objects that were stuck to the corners of the room where the wall met the ceiling. She hadn't noticed them earlier. "According to the manual, they are wireless relays that allow you to 'augment' inside the field they create. But only inside the field; apparently you can't step outside of it," he added. "But... I think it might have been a bad ide-"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" she appealed to him like a little child. "I couldn't resist! Please don't be mad! I won't do it again, promise!"

Eric just rubbed the back of his head again as he sighed and sat back down on the bed.

"In that case, let's try this out..." Amy remarked. A style change later and Amy now stood in front of Eric in the Spring style. She stole a glance at the full-length mirror that covered the doors of Eric's cupboard to see the same lady that had been holding her arm around Heather Dougherty.

"That was definitely me, wasn't it."

"I guess so." Eric looked a little embarrassed as he turned away.

"...What?"

"It's kinda weird, seeing you like this. You look... human. Like someone I'd avoid at the mall."

It was true, she looked like a normal woman in her late teens or early 20s. Whoever had designed this style change had done an impeccable job of creating the illusion of a real lady, complete with clothing hues and textures. So much so that it was also disturbing Amy, who decided to return to her regular style. "There. That better?" she queried as the regular blue and purple returned.

"I didn't mean any offense, it's just..."

"...Yeah, I know what you mean. It is a little weird, isn't it."

'Weird' was a mild word compared to how Eric was feeling at present. There was another woman in his room that wasn't his sister. He knew it wasn't human, but somehow it still felt wrong to him.

"That's going to leave a bump, I just know it," he grumbled as he rubbed his head a third time. This kind of treatment had better not become a regular thing, he thought to himself.

"Aww, come on! Those kinds of moments don't come often! I told you; you need to loosen up!" she laughed as she threw herself back onto his bed.

Eric stood up and started moving toward his computer desk, but instead decided to pick up the PET from the top of the server. That way, he could continue making minor changes while reading the manual. As he raised the PET, Amy's image flickered on the bed and disappeared completely.

"...Amy?" he spoke to an empty room.

A moment passed before Amy reappeared on screen. "Whoo! That felt weird," she commented. "Why'd you do that?"

"That was my fault? I didn't mean to..." Eric looked back to the server. "I didn't tap anything, I just picked up the PET. Try doing it again."

"The option is gone. I can't Augment now."

Eric leaned over the server. On the top screen, a weird symbol was flashing with a red cross over it. The symbol itself looked like an upside down Y, but the lower half of the symbol was more like a rectangle than a V. An upside-down cubic Y.

"It looks like we might have disabled something," he advised as he picked up the manual. After reading a few lines on the troubleshooting page for Augmenting, the answer became clear. "Oh. It can only Augment a navi that's in a compatible PET that's 'connected to the relay pad'. I guess that means sitting directly on top of it, not wirelessly..."

"You need to put my PET on top of the server for it to work; okay. Okay, so just put it bac- wait, we have more important things to be doing!"

In her push for fun and games Amy had forgotten the reason she'd woken him up. "We got a response on the NetSquare post! Someone wants us to do work for an SP core!"

"Wait, already?" Eric didn't think such a request would be responded to so quickly, not after what Stacey said about SP cores being hard to obtain. "What's the request?"

"Someone wants us to go for a walk on a beach and swim in the ocean."

Eric's head instinctively tilted to the right with one eyebrow raised. "Huh? That's it?"

"That's all it said. Oh, and something about not talking to the fish while I swim."

"...Can you read me exactly what they said?" he asked with a hint of disbelief in his voice.

As Amy read the response out to Eric, he began shifting in his seat. He didn't like what he was hearing at all.

"I think it sounds like a trap..." Eric admitted as Amy finished talking. "...I mean, 'innocuous' is a strange word to use with someone you haven't met, and... I think 'fish' is a loose threat about talking to the police..."

"I think you're reading too much into it," Amy rebutted.

"...maybe let's just wait and see if anybody else has a better request?"

"Too late; I already accepted their offer," she countered. Eric opened his mouth to reply, but Amy cut him off. "They didn't say how long they'd wait, so hurry up and get ready." Amy was confident this would be over with quickly, and wasn't about to take no for an answer because of some shaky reasoning.

His many years of watching crime shows on television told him this was an obvious trip for something far more sinister. However, Amy seemed pretty keen to get the job done, and without any concrete proof, all he had were theories. His busting partner didn't want to let this opportunity go, it seemed, and he was about to be dragged along against his will.

Well, off you go then. I hope this doesn't get us into trouble.

Every part of him wanted no part of this mission. He should have said no and asserted dominance, like Stacey always did. Instead, he found himself walking towards the bathroom.

After a quick inventory clean-out, he came back to find Amy waiting for him on his bed in Hologen form. Only now did Eric remember an extra person notably absent from the room.

"Are you hiding Little Miss inside?" he asked, not pleased with himself for following directions like an obedient dog. Regardless of his reluctance to participate, he certainly didn't want a third potential victim being needlessly involved.

"No," was the kurt answer that followed. Amy turned and patted down her back to prove her statement.

"Oh. Wow. Okay. ...What did you do t-"

"I don't want to talk about it," she quickly interrupted.

Eric decided not to probe any further. Instead, he needed to best ensure their safety by being prepared. 'No half measures,' he reminded himself as he opened his backpack to remove and prepare the essentials; the battlechip folder, some blank chips, should the need arise, and of course, the NetPendium.

"Alright then," he half-confirmed, half-sighed. "Let's do this..."

[>>> To Beach Net: Pelagius Aquatic Research and Study Eco-centre >>>]