Pelagius Aquatic Research and Study Eco-centre

Mind made up, Amy began to move back through the central area, towards the back of the complex again; quick and quiet steps let her hear the rapid, yet erratic padding of Reti about the chamber as she presumably delighted in her distraction – fortune stayed with Amy long enough for her to reach the door without running into the well-meaning shark girl. The first code appeared to work for her as easily as it had for Reti and door opened with a soft hiss that probably felt far to loud, given the circumstance, then closed behind Amy a moment later. So far so good.

Alone for the moment in the domed hallway, Amy could see the mid-way hatch dead ahead and, if she looked up, clear ocean between its external side and a similar hatch on the vertical shaft leading to the upper dome – it looked like it would probably let her in about halfway up the shaft, on a small landing half way up the spiral stairs.

For now, everything was close to silent – just the background sounds of water moving and the distant passage of external currents and marine life. Moving on to the lab was still an option, but her own plan was already made and it only took a few more seconds too reach the exit hatch. It seemed simple enough – a sealed, circular door, with a digital keypad on one side. Entering the second code, however, caused a small series of lights to illuminate around the outer seal, while a small warning text displayed on the keypad's screen, cautioning Amy to stand near to the door, and to keep all extremities within the airlock exclusion zone – a subtle yellow line that she now noticed was marked on the floor around the hatch. A soft sound of magnetic reverb followed, before a pale blue force-field encapsulated her. A light scanned the interior of her little bubble, before a green check mark lit up on the small screen on the door. Then the bubble began to fill with water.

Had Amy been an individual less accustomed to breathing under water, the process might have been a little nerve-wracking, but as it was it only took another thirty seconds or so to fill up entirely, leaving her floating gently for an extra moment, before the hatch slid open and a firm current expelled her out into the surrounding reef once more. The hatch closed behind her and the interior bubble of water started to drain away again.

This left our heroine swimming amidst the natural and wild reef that the complex was situated in – her path to the other hatch was clear, through the open water, but she could also take a moment too swim up to the upper dome and case it from the outside first, if she wanted. Out in the open water again, though, the option to simply bail out and flee for the beach before anything had a chance to go wrong might also be tempting.
The rush of ocean water was welcoming to Amy as she allowed herself a second of pleasure just floating upwards. Her first instinct had been to tuck her legs in again in preparation for swimming, but the thought was rejected almost as fast as it had entered her mind. For the penalty of a little less swimming speed, she needed to be nimble in the event of any danger and her fish form wasn't the most suitable response for that.

Amy's dress was still capable of the ripple vibrations even with her legs and arms not gelled against her body, but it did prevent them from giving her the same speed she'd enjoyed earlier. Her body instead had to swim in a human-like manner, making Amy nervous as she crossed the gap between the emergency exits.


Amy had wondered how long it would take before Eric realised her behaviour, if at all. He hadn't noticed during the first part of the mission, but maybe that was because they were both still unaware of what was coming, and their attention had been too focused on what to do than each other.

Most aquatic navis felt right at home in deep lakes and oceans; they were usually able to consume water and exhale oxygen-deprived liquid, or use some form of gills to the same effect. Amy's mouth had remainded close whilst she swam, her nostrils were not pulsating as if they were taking in or expelling water, and no gills were visible on her being.


A simple, direct answer.



Amy waited for the obvious follow-up question, but to her surprise, it never came.

Instead, she debated her original plan. Things had gone well so far, but the temptation to attempt to gain entry at the second exit was starting to interfere with her desire to simply observe and run. Curiousity was one of Amy's achilles' heels, and had she not already been bombarded with the events of the day, her sense of exploration may have won out. However, mental exhaustion was beginning to set in as the mission's potential end continued to pull her attention away from the final tasks needing completion. She could see the surface of the ocean again, and as the light danced on its surface, it was as if the sky was calling out to her.

Breathe. A reset was necessary to quell the emotions trying to get the better of her.

You've got this.

Two of her options were causing Amy to hesitate, each with their own risks. She knew that the final piece of the puzzle was just in front of her. The question was, would she attempt to gain access immediately, or observe the rooms from the outside first?

Assuming the access code even worked on the second door, going in first would leave her blind to any hazards in her way, and could lead to a situation in which she was trapped. But, if nobody was home, she would have the element of surprise.

On the other hand, if she cased the upper rooms from the outside first, not only did she lose that element of surprise but the extra time taken to swim the perimeter and return to the entry point was just another opportunity for her guide to realise she'd been left alone for too long, or for some other force to find her outside and cause trouble of their own.


The anxiety and concern from calling the shots was causing her to lose focus again.

You already decided this. Forget about going inside, just observe from outside. Your original mission was just to observe. Less danger, less risk. Look, observe, and...

A smile returned to Amy's face.

...and maybe you can go home.

The image that appeared in her mind wasn't that of her former testing security box, nor of the PET she'd been confined to for as long as she could remember. Instead, it was of her bed in The Stem, with a certain navi to keep her company.

Alright, she reassured herself as she swam upward. Let's do this.
Without wanting to risk entering again, at least for now, Amy was able to swim up towards the highest dome with relative ease. Above the tops of the surrounding reef, her form would be far more visible but for now it didn't seem to raise any alarms.

As she'd initially seen from afar, this raised dome was connected by a single spiral stair corridor to the facility below, and looked to be private quarters of some description. The stairs, she could see through the glass, terminated at a simple landing with soft, algae-green carpets and sea-green wallpaper. It was lit by a pair of small drop lights from above the door-frame, which itself had a brass placard on it – though no matter where she swam, Amy would fine that it was a bit too difficult to read from outside. She could see, however, that the black-veined coral had continued all the way up the stairs and ended here in another spreading branch of feather orange feelers that extended part way from the hand rail, into the landing space – though it didn't penetrate into the chamber beyond.

One advantage to swimming around outside, of course, was that the door provided no real obstacle for Amy; the divide itself wasn't very thick and, on the other side, the rest of the dome was easy enough to peer into, depending on how close she wished to get. It was, indeed, set out like a luxurious and lavish master bedroom; thick green carpeting covered the floor, and a nautical, antique-style wardrobe and dresser were set at one edge of the room, decorated with gilded shells and coral. A small chandelier hung from the peak of the dome, casting a soft fractal dance of light about the chamber that created an impression similar to being underwater. The central piece in the room, however, was an almost excessively large four-post bed, that looked thick and soft in its seaweed and anemone-themed bedding.

The bed contained one figure, though Amy couldn't see too much of them for the time being – what she could see looked less like a navi, and more like a navi-sized puffer-fish, with grey-ish body colouration and a dense mesh of spines, currently lying flat, while the individual slept; they appeared to have been in the bed some time, or else were a very restless sleeper, since most of the thick bedding was dishevelled and cast off them, or twisted up in various ways. There wasn't too much else to see from the outside, but it might be enough to satisfy her employer. So far there hadn't been any other sign or sound from the complex – if Reti had noticed her absence, it hadn't been enough to raise an alarm yet... if one would be at all; it was hard to guess.
Is that... PufferMan...?

Amy's doubts about the safety of her entrance had been confirmed upon seeing the network of coral extend up to the entrance zone of the highest dome, but her attention to the room's contents and its somewhat extravagant-looking furnishings were brushed aside upon sight of the lone navi on the upper floor. She could see into the room, but the nature of the ambient lighting, the room's glass and the ocean itself was making it difficult for her to make out the more defining features of this navi, although it did seem similar from what she'd seen in the portrait downstairs in the history room.


Amy felt that Eric was right, and she certainly agreed that they were exposed now that the external coral fence was beneath her and not surrounding her, but the identity of this new entity bothered her. She didn't really get an 'Albert' or 'Gigi' vibe from it, but if a long name already forgotten could be condensed down to 'Aunty', perhaps 'Gigi' was a shortened form of this navi's real name. 'Albert' didn't sit right at all, but again the nickname argument could be the answer.


Amy's instant message, unbeknownst to her, further bruised her already-distressed operator's mindset. Her focus was still on the matter at hand, and she wasn't paying any attention whatsoever to Eric's lowering self-esteem in the real world. Although her last message hadn't been sent with as much hostility as her human counterpart interpreted, Amy didn't realise or didn't care that instant messages, lacking tone and pace, are open to multiple interpretations, and it was only natural that Eric interpreted this one with the same tone he was used to hearing from his sister.

Despite Amy's best efforts, there was certainly no further information she was going to glean from the outside. She wasn't willing to risk entering the upper shaft's emergency exit; a reminder of the verse 'a welcome on the lower floor; upstairs it's the reverse' compounded Aunty's visible influence in the stairwell itself. Amy had a nagging feeling that something wasn't quite right with this new scene she'd been introduced to, but couldn't quite put her finger on it, and Eric's message had broken her concentration. She ultimately decided this particular puzzle wasn't worth solving; it was time to throw in the proverbial towel.

I really hope I've done enough for CrypticMan. I may have slipped past Reti's security concerns the first time, but I doubt that'll happen again if I have to come back...

Her arms and legs thrust outward repeatedly as the dress hummed and vibrated against the current to give her a boost back to the ocean surface. Amy's intention was to then read the book one final time, hoping to get some form of assisted transport back to the beach she'd originated from, but if no such luck was found, she'd have to swim back to the beach under her own power.

Assuming, of course, she could figure out which direction it was in.
A final decision was made; with the interior seeming like too risky an option to return to, Amity began to make her way away form the research centre and back towards the beach. Nothing followed her retreat and as she broke the surface of the water and bobbed for a moment or two in the bright sunlight, the book filled in a last few lines for her to see.

“Secret spies on guided tours,
All far field from distant shores;
If you've looked as far as you can reach,
Then just relax and hit the beach.”

As she read the line, Amy felt the same tugging sensation from the beginning of her mission, this time accompanied by an odd sense of increasing pressure, almost like some unseen force was squeezing her. A moment later, the pressure vanished in a sudden burst of forward movement that sent her jetting across the surface of the water and skipping off it like a stone for long stretches while the glittering water raced by beneath her.

The white sand of the beach approached with an almost terrifying pace, before one last skip off the surface near the shallows propelled her up in an arc that crested more than a dozen feet above the sand and dropped her down again, surprisingly softly, in second low-slung beach chair that was now set up alongside the one that her original employer was still reclining in. He took a long sip from his coconut drink, making a protracted sucking noise through the straw that disappeared into his hood. A moment or two passed, and CrypticMan stretched with several of his too-long arms and gave a yawn.

“All done then? I hope you had fun. Maybe you learned something interesting as well; that's the greatest prize.” Here a small chuckle emanated from the figure, and one of his tendril-like arms reached across to carefully pluck the book from Amy's keeping, the too-many-fingered hand curling around the spine one finger at a time in a rapid, but still disconcerting way. “But maybe not to some. We'll sort out your payment in just a short while... first, though...” The amusement in his voice was clear, but he didn't seem ill-intended at all. “I do love a good quiz...” Two of his hands formed a steeple above his chest, while another pair flipped casually through the book he'd retrieved. If Amy glanced his way, she'd be able to see the rapid scrolling of fine text and code across his eyes, glowing beneath the hood.

“So tell, me, Amity... What have you learned, today? Tell me as much, or as little as you want... but I may ask questions when you're done.” One hand lifted up to flick at the tiny umbrella in his coconut, and the drink refilled itself. A second hand curled around, sneaking in behind Amy to present her with a matching beverage from the opposite side. “Drink?”
Amy was not amused. Although it was surely a much easier journey back to land than having to swim using her own power, she'd somewhat hoped that maybe, just maybe, that the transport back to the beach would be a little more delicate than her original voyage. Having landed in a chair right beside her current employer, she was reminded of his particular flair for theatrics as... he?... she?... extended the girl a drink. In a similar way to the offer of a swimsuit, Amy felt convinced that this too may not be in her best interest to accept.

"Uhh, no thank you," she gently countered as she held up an open palm to reject the offer. Amy considered asking how she should address CrypticMan, but the urge was negated by a thought that perhaps asking someone about their preferred pronoun was just asking for unnecessary drama.

A quiz? In a way it made sense. After all, CryticMan did have a reason for summoning Amy here, and venturing her into the aquarium wasn't it. Time to recount all of the day's events thus far.

"So the name of the place was 'Pelagius Aquatic Research and Study Eco-centre," she began, but realised CryticMan likely knew that already. "When I got there there was a weird half-human, half-shark... woman, I guess...? swimming around the front door, so we used the coral bordering the facility to keep ourselves hidden as we swam around the sides. At first we thought it might have been to keep people away, but after having been inside I'm not so sure."

"We found the back door, but it also looked suspicious, so we tried swimming around further and found some pipes a small distance away from the facility that was ejecting and sucking in water. We used the exhaust pipe to go into the facility, but when we entered this giant tank there was another navi there waiting, and he called himself Hoodwink. I thought he might have been part of the staff there, but it turns out he wasn't. Your book didn't seem too fond of him though."

Amy had considered skipping the next part, but figured that honesty may be key here. "Hoodwink asked me to get something from a room in the upper chambers. I'll get back to that later."

"The back room had multiple reports written by a person who called herself 'Antarpia'."
That name was wrong, and Amy tried again. "No... 'Auntypatharia'." She shook her head in frustration; that part might be important, and she just couldn't get it out. "Whatever; the security guard called her 'Aunty', anyway. She seems to be a creature that stretches throughout a large part of the facility in the form of black coral, with feather-like feelers that extend from that coral. In particular, the main lab area had one sizable tank containing a large mass of that black coral that she was then able to flow out from and take a humanoid shape."

Amy paused for a moment as she realised something she'd missed earlier. "What I don't know is how she was able to get to the back of the facility where all those notes were kept. When Aunty took human form she was still bound to the large mass in the tank, and there was no coral down that access tube or in the back room. That I could see, anyway. Unless someone moved those documents there, I can't explain how she could be in there at all." Another pause while she contemplated a reason. "Unless one of the other staff moved them there, I guess..."

"Speaking of which, the security guard swimming outside the facility when we first arrived. Upon being discovered by Aunty, the shark-form lady came inside and took a... more humanoid form."
Amy wasn't disturbed particularly by the incident, but also tried to gloss over it in order to avoid being asked for more intimate details. "Her full name is Scyliorhinusretifer, but she goes by Reti instead. Unless she's in trouble." Which, judging by both Aunty's tone and Reti's confession, could happen often, she recited to herself. "I think she was a little suspicious of how I'd gotten into their facility without using the front door, but I was able to steer that conversation a different direction. Reti was the one who took me from the lab back to the main observation area, and then into the history dome. There was a lot of animals and plants to see, but this 'Reti' seemed to be attracted to the more vibrant and unusually shaped ones."

Another pause. "It was due to those distractions that I was able to get away from her and back to the hall between the lab and the main observation area. It looked like there were two ways to get to the upper room; either using the stairs from the lab directly, or by accessing a security door halfway up the hall connecting the lab and the upper room. My plan was to use the security code given to me by Reti to go between the airlocks in the connecting hallways, bypassing the lab entirely, but when I saw that Aunty's coral extended up into the stairwell as well, I couldn't take the risk that I'd land myself in danger. I'd seen her coral and feelers absorb a fish downstairs, so I know it's not just part of her body." Amy realised that this particular explanation made it sound like Reti had given her the code willingly, which wasn't wrong, but to state that she'd done so without any consideration to the fact that she was one of the facility's guards felt unnecessarily cruel.

Amy was not a public speaker. Having to recite all of this information was zapping the final energy of the day from her, her voice wheezing slightly as she continued. "Hoodwink asked me to take something from the upstairs room. I had agreed to help originally, but it didn't occur to me what I'd agreed to until much later. When I saw the room, and realised this was a private area, I knew I couldn't just enter and take whatever I pleased. I hope Hoodwink understands," she added as she took a glance down the beach in both directions. She couldn't see him, but part of her mind doubted she'd see him until he was ready to be seen. The fact that he had disappeared out of the facility through a non-existent door spoke volumes about his abilities. Which did raise the question Amy though of as she sat there; if Hoodwink had the ability to slip in and out of areas, why didn't he just go up there himself? Surely a sheet of glass wouldn't stop him from passing through...

"The room at the top seemed to be a bedroom for a navi I didn't get to meet. It had similarities to a navi mentioned in the history room named PufferMan, but I couldn't get a good view of it from outside. The history room made mention of an original facility that had been built, and that the building that is there now is not the same one, but it didn't say much about what happened or why... or even if PufferMan survived whatever happened."

"I will say this; the book was very helpful,"
Amy reassured CrypticMan as she half groaned, half sighed. "And that's my thoughts on the place, I guess. At first I thought it was suscipious looking, then once I got inside I thought it looked like a research facility like the name suggested, but after having met Aunty, seeing the history room and seeing Aunty's presence in places I wouldn't expect it, but not in places I *would* expect it, I feel like something suspicious *is* going on there."

"Or maybe not. If it had a secret that needed to be kept, I don't think Reti would have been Aunty's first choice of guard and tour guide,"
she smiled in summary as she waited for her employer's feedback.
The strange techno-centric figure alongside her only listened and nodded, occasionally sipping from his drink in between Amy's descriptions. A light breeze ruffled the umbrella, and overhead the sounds of various sea birds accompanied the soft roll of waves; it was, on the whole, very pleasant, if not for the strange conversation. By the time Amy finished her report, CrypticMan had finished slurping noisily at the end of his coconut drink and started on the one he had offered to her. When it was clear she was done, the hood looked in her direction, and she got the impression of a broad grin and a flash of multi-hued colour from his eyes.

“Well, you've certainly seen much...” Several of his arms stretched and flexed, before he stood up in the same uncomfortable way she'd seen him move before; his feet moved first, stretching out from the beach chair to plant themselves in the sand, before the rest of his body caught up with the motion in an eerie, physics-defying stretch and slide that left him upright and looking out across the waves. “Much indeed... And you shut that charmer right down, too. About time someone put their foot down and didn't just melt into giving him what he wants. You almost did though – careful around that one, dear Amity...” Still with his back to her, CrypticMan shrugged, and several of his arms rose up to the sides in a palm-up gesture. “But you told him no, and didn't give him what he wanted, today, so I'm in a good mood!” His head twisted, looking at Amy side-on, before it shifted again, zipping across the intervening space to hover directly in front of him. His body flowed after it a few moments later while he peered at her, and held up a small faintly shimmering crystalline disc.

“I think you've earned your reward for this outing Ami-Ami-Amity... One support core, clean and primed, ready to be configured as you choose, and no funny business...” As the many-fingered tendril floated it across to her, CrypticMan's grin was back and broader than ever.

“But... If you're interested in a little bonus... Say, a cache of fragments to help get your new support off to a strong start... Maybe you could try and answer another question. It won't take long, just take what you know, and extrapolate...” He drew back, his form sliding away from her until it settled into a neutral stance a few feet away. Two of his arms were folded, two more were pressed together in an excited palm-press, while two more had produced a small blue diamond crystal that hovered between them spinning slowly.

“For a bonus... What, Amity, do you think, happened here; what is happening now; what is amiss? What, Amity, is going on at PARSE? What is your theory, and,” here he paused and one of his eyes seemed to wink for a moment beneath the hood. “What more would you need to know, to be certain?” There was a pause for dramatic effect, before the figure laughed and relaxed again – as much as that was easy to read on him. “If you'd rather not play, there's no harm in that – just a little post-mission game, if you want to try your luck. If not, then it's been a pleasure, dear Amity, a pleasure to meet one as surprising as you indeed. Hoodwink will be so sour to have this fish slip his net... today was worth that alone, and you can know that for truth.” As he waited to see if she'd make a guess, several of his hands began to lightly toss the extra reward cache back and forth between them.
Commendation; not something that Amy was used to hearing. At least, not when she was the topic of conversation. Try as she might, the navi could not stop the corners of her mouth from curling upward, especially as the reward of an SP core was dangled in front of her, the prime directive of their adventure within her grasp.

CrypticMan was right; the fact that she'd almost been coerced by Hoodwink into doing something she wouldn't ordinarily do was something she'd have to address later on. Amy's training was still somewhat limited, but it seemed that her ability to properly interact with others was also in need of attention. That was another problem for another day.

Or maybe not. It was CrypticMan's next round of questions that drew her mind back to the underwater facility. A pertinent question indeed; what exactly *was* going on down there...?


Eric's message inserted itself into her thought processes. His line of thinking reflected her own celebratory mood, but a new challenge had been posed to her. A new energy charged through her mind in response to the next query; celebrations (and rest) would have to wait just a little while longer.



Amy was about to reply, but rather than keep CrypticMan waiting for a response, she ignored Eric's question. Yes, we got what we came for, but... But the question posed to her had piqued her curiousity. The potential reward for a little guessing work was not on her mind as much as finding out what was going on in the facility she'd just toured. It sounded like CrypticMan knew more than he was letting on, and the idea that he may be willing to share said knowledge in reciprocation was too enticing to just walk away and call it a day.

But to answer the question properly, Amy first had to meditate again on everything she'd just said. As she'd already stated, her opinion of PARSE had changed frequently as more and more pieces of the puzzle had been shown to her. Having said that, there were still some large gaps that needed filling, and without those, it was hard to concretely decide what she thought may have been the true nature of the facility.

"Honestly...? To me, there's still a lot of mystery surrounding that place." Her chin came to rest on her right fist as the meditations continued aloud. "What was the back lab for if Aunty couldn't get in there herself? Was someone else assisting her with the research? Reti made mention of two other people, but I never got to meet either of them."

"On that note, I didn't get to meet the navi upstairs either. What was it doing up there? And why did Aunty's coral go all the way up to the edge of its room? Was it for protection? Was it the one in charge of the facility?" Amy's eyes suddenly grew in alarm, a small gasp as she deduced a new possibility. "It... it wasn't a prisoner... was it...?" *That* conclusion would certainly fit the bill of why the upstairs room was off limits as well. It wasn't to do with privacy, it was to do with security. "But then, if that was the case, Hoodwink wouldn't have cared about a marble in the room..." but her voice trailed off. She knew nothing of the navi, and based on the impression given to her by both the book and now CrypticMan, maybe such manipulative behaviour was a little too out of step with his character. Besides, if the navi really was a prisoner, she'd already surmised the possibility of Hoodwink sneaking in and out through his own powers. And then there was the similarity between the navi upstairs and the picture downstairs.

"The history room," she blurted, turning to CrypticMan. "It made a passing mention about the original building being replaced, but nothing as to when, why or how. If that was done maliciously, it might add further meaning to what's happening now. I don't even know who controls the complex..."


The message sent a chill down her back. She'd purposefully left him muted for the duration of their conversation, as she'd done for a large portion of their tour. Amy's instinct was to ignore him again, but perhaps some part of her recognised that she didn't have the right to silence him when the question wasn't aimed solely at her, but the pair of them, operator and navi combined.


She could hear Eric clear his throat before speaking. "Uhh... hello. I didn't introduce myself properly before. My name is Eric, and I'm Amy's operator." Amy's eyes bulged and her teeth clenched as she heard the word leave his mouth, but it was too late to stop him now.

Eric didn't realise his mistake and continued. "I think... that the facility is being used for research, just like the name suggests, but I also think they're hiding from someone. Nobody seemed hostile, but it did seem strange to me that we were able to navigate so freely once we entered. Therefore, the security that we saw seemed more like protection for them than it did for the facility itself."

Amy felt perplexed by his assessment. She'd been so focused on the people and their behaviours that this version of events might actually be true as well. On the other hand, there were enough things wrong with this conclusion that Amy brushed it off as unlikely and focused her attention towards her hooded associate.

"Well, I guess... that's a possibility too," she admitted, the tone of her voice giving away her true feelings. "You asked us 'What would we need to know to be certain'? I think that for both of our assessments, having a chance to talk to the navi upstairs without interference from any of the other staff would probably give us the answers we needed. One way or another."
Amy's employer just listened, two of his arms folded while others toyed with the data crystal as he listened first to her thoughts, and then Eric's. If her operator's use of a shortened name caused him any surprise, the cryptic navi didn't give any sign of it. At the last he nodded, then flipped the small cache across to her as well.

“Interesting theories, interesting thoughts. You answered my question, which was all I asked you to do... but were you right, I wonder?” Again, that amused laughter, and a flash of multicoloured hues swirling about his eyes beneath the hood.

“I'll tell you this much; PARSE has a prisoner alright, but it's not the navi in the bed... or at least, it's not meant to be. Your little excursion has taught me much, and for that, I'm grateful... So I'll give you an extra reward as well; information. One of his spare hands lifted up counting off fingers one at a time.

“ScyliorhinusRetifer.Exe, TridacnaGigas.Exe, TorquigenerAlbomaculosus.Exe and Antipatharia.Exe... These are the four programs who reside at PARSE. Their names are enough to tell you more, if you seek knowledge yourself.” The four raised fingers on the lifted hand waggled at Amy, before his attention seemed to shift; his eyes flicked to the collection of beach furniture, before several hands zipped across to begin packing them up into small crystals. His body flowed over to settle into the space between his working hands a moment later, but he turned his head to regard Amy side on as he put things away.

“Talking to Albert might tell you much; he is supposed to run things, after all. Who do you suppose picks up the slack when he's asleep... and what did dear Reti say... he's been asleep for months now? Curious.” With all sign of his beach-side stake-out cleared away, CrypticMan turned back to Amy, or, at least, his head twisted about to face her properly, while the rest of his body took a few moments to catch up. He bowed his head and spread several hands out to one side in a courteous motion.

“Still... I've learned what I wished, and you have your prize. More knowledge is there, if you choose to seek it, Amity, and you, Eric... but that will be up to you. Enjoy the fragments – those are a particularly potent little batch of shards, just perfect to get your new friend started. Maybe we'll meet again.” He stood straight again, as much as thee peculiar navi ever truly did, but paused as he was about to leave. “And thank you, so much, for giving Hoodwink the brush off. That alone made my day. Until next time, Amity.” With the last impression of a grin, CrypticMan's form seemed to dissipate into a refracting shimmer of multi-hued light and a moment later he was gone, Leaving Amity alone on the beach with her rewards.

((Amity Gets: Support Program Base, + 150 BugFrags as a bonus.))
((Amity Gets: 7 CrypticMan FXP, 2 Hoodwink FXP, 1 Antipatharia FXP, 9 Reti FXP))
Amy had to blink a few times to catch up with the events that had just unfolded. Or folded, up, technically, as now the only sign that CrypticMan had been on the beach were the holes in the sand where the chairs, table and umbrella had been posted into the ground.

CrypticMan had certainly been an unusual character, but he'd been a man(?) of his word and followed through on his side of the deal. Perhaps there was an opportunity for them to work together again at another time... although Amy was still convinced she'd made the right choice by refusing the swimsuit GMO.

Amy heard a sigh of relief from Eric's end as she inspected the rewards. All the day's efforts had been in regards to obtaining one of these discs, and now, it was sitting in her hands. The urge to triumphantly thrust it into the sky as a trophy crossed her mind, but the thought was quickly squashed as the value of said reward reminded her not to treat it as a toy. If someone or something decided to snatch it away from her, she'd have to do something equally as arduous, or possibly worse.

"So... are you ready to come back Amy?"

The mention of her name reminded her of the previous mistake, and with CrypticMan gone, she had an opportunity to address it.

"I thought we agreed that my name was Amity during this job." The critique wasn't uttered with maliciousness or bitterness; the words were mostly flat. Amy wasn't looking for another fight after everything that had happened, but she wanted a reason.

"I'm sorry... I forgot about that."

Amy's head drooped a little upon hearing the answer, but it didn't surprise her as she tried to hide the disappointment.

"Please remember. Next time might be different."

Her attention returned to the stash of rewards. The disc had been explained, but Amy couldn't work out how a packet of numerous purple shards were supposed to help them.

"Eric, what are these?"

Eric's monitor focused on the purple packet, but the image shown to him was not familiar. "I'll grab the NetPendium," he advised as his monitor image disappeared. Amy could hear sounds of movement, followed thereafter by a distinct crashing sound and a small outcry that was unmistakably Eric's voice.

A couple of minutes later Eric's voice filled her ears again. "I can't find anything in the NetPendium, but I'm probably looking in the wrong section. What does your scanner call them?"

"Nothing," she replied, ignoring whatever had just happened. "I get a checksum of garbage data, but nothing useable."

"We might have to ask Stacey about it then..." Eric concluded, closing the book. "Once we know what they're called, I'm sure it'll be in here..."

"Agreed." Amy's gaze drifted back to the ocean, in the general direction of where she believed PARSE to be.

"Should... should we go back...?" she wondered out loud.

Eric didn't respond. The concept of going back hadn't even been an afterthought, and now his mind was searching for a reason.

"Did... did you leave something behind...?"

Amy pulled up the monitor again so she could talk to Eric face-to-face. "Didn't you hear what CrypticMan said? Something very wrong might be going on down there. I was worried about myself, but you're right, maybe they're hiding from something. We both agreed that 'Albert' was the key, didn't we?"

Eric didn't feel comfortable about this. He hadn't signed up for a rescue mission, they were just getting the SP core. With that directive completed, there was no longer a need for them to be there.

"Do... do we have to go back...?"

The hesitancy in his voice may have upset Amy a little more than she initially realised. "'Do we have to go back'? Of course not! But if there is someone there against their will, and we know this, shouldn't we do something about it?"

Eric tried to formulate a response, but the words kept tangling in his mouth as he tried to find the right way to explain his feelings. He didn't want to upset Amy or imply that she was wrong, but what she was suggesting was much bigger than just the two of them. With that in mind, he didn't want her risking her life over people they'd just met.

"We know the location of this place, right?" Eric finally responded. "We used a link to get here, to the beach. PARSE isn't going anywhere. Why don't we come back once we know a little more?"

The words sounded agreeable to Amy, but would Eric actually follow through with them? That was the thought in her mind as she tried to think of a counterargument that didn't end in her just deciding things on her own again.

"Promise?" was all she could come up with.

Silence. She sound see the indecision in his eyes, trying to find an alternative.

"Eric." Her head tilted ever so slightly as her eyes began burning a hole through his.

"Okay." A single word response.

"Okay what?"

"Okay. Promise."

Amy couldn't take another moment of these conversations. The day's events finally overtaking her, she collapsed onto the beach, her back to the sand and her head to the sky as she firmly grasped their spoils.

"We did it, Eric."

A small chuckle followed as the meaning of those words sunk in. They'd been given a mission, a directive, and they'd pulled it off.

As she raised the disc to her face, she realised her work wasn't done yet. The core still had to be installed, interfaced with the existing data and then loaded into her PET. For that, she'd need to head back to the Steam.

"ScyliorhinusRetifer is Reti. TridacnaGigas is Gigi. TorquigenerAlbomaculosus is Albert. And Antipatharia is Aunty. We can't forget those names again."

That information may have been important, but for a brief moment in time she could now fully appreciate just how beautiful that bay was, as the pure blue ocean lapped up against the sparkling white sand. Sand that would no doubt be stuck to her dress for days, but the care factor right now couldn't be lower.

Answers. Answers are coming.


Mission Successful!

Primary Directive: PASSED
~ Obtained level 1 .SP core

Secondary Directive: PASSED
~ Completed CrypticMan’s request

Tertiary Directives: FAILED
~ Did not complete Hoodwink's request

--- Results ---

1x SPcore1.dat: Acquired
Bugfrags: +150 (0 >>> 150)

FXP Gained:
CrypticMan: +7 (0 >>> 7)
Hoodwink: +2 (0 >>> 2)
Aunty: +1 (0 >>> 1)
Reti: +9 (0 >>> 9)

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