Osanajimi Plaza


{<<< From Science Labs: Navi Shop: In the shop <<<}

=== CHAPTER 5 - A Different Perspective ===

The sidewalk was heavily trafficked as the going-home rush was setting in on the downtown streets of Kotobuki. One life was ending as another was reborn; the rush of businessmen and businesswomen heading home mixed in with those of the entertainment and hospitality sectors moving quickly through the crowds to avoid being late for the start of the nightlife. A bizarre sight; the suits and uniforms moving one direction, casual wear, bright vests and the occasional costume moving the other.

It was in this environment that a bus of no particular interest stopped in front of Osanajimi Plaza, one of the smaller shopping malls in downtown Kotobuki, and ejected one nervous Eric Bauersox with a group of brightly dressed ladies. Eric was already on edge from the swarms of people pressing in on him, but his feet led him across the sidewalk and through the main door of the plaza, its neon signs a little less bright than the surrounding shops. His nerves calmed considerably once he was away from the bustling crowd; this mall was familiar to him.

"Why did you agree to meet here?" Amy pondered. "Seems to me that this place doesn't exactly fit your description of him." She'd been advised the person they were meeting was responsible for the management of a number of high-profile shopping malls, but upon seeing storefronts with aging fixtures and dim or gently flickering lights, this centre didn't seem to match the profile of 'successful property owner'.

"That's why it's perfect. The people who run businesses here aren't as interested in earning his favour as the storeowners in malls like Yutaka Plaza. It's a safer place for him to meet clients, apparently."

"I'm getting a little nervous about meeting this man."

"I have to admit, so am I."

Eric brushed off their concerns as he walked past multiple storefronts and used the escalator in the centre of the mall's thoroughfare to rise to the higher level. Upstairs and only a few steps away from the top of the escalator was a restaurant he'd frequented a few times in order to catch up with his old friend, and as it so happened, it had a network connection to Kotobuki Net that was somewhat close to the sector that Meep had last been seen.

The store owner appeared to recognise Eric as he walked in, an older gentleman wearing a white shirt with a green waiter's apron. The man gestured towards a table at the back of the shop without a word, but Eric knew the table in question. He bowed in response to the waiter's gesture and slid into the table booth at the end of the dining area. The olive-tone seats were aged, but didn't show any signs of tearing around the foam edges, and the rectangular table was neatly polished, with only a napkin dispenser and menu holder pushed up against the wall.

"I think we're a bit early," Lily commented as Eric looked at the wall on the clock.

"We're very early. He won't be here for at least another hour, I guess." Eric had planned for the worst (as usual) in making plans to travel from ACDC to Kotobuki via Science Labs, but in doing so they had certainly arrived ahead of the agreed time.

"Perfect. Let's do it now," Amy suggested, eagerness filling her words. "Eric? What do you think?"

Eric was thinking about ordering a drink, possibly a slice of cake; their planned rescue hadn't been his priority yet. Meditating on the possibility, it didn't seem like any harm could come from their rescue mission going first. "You're right, we have time. He's often late anyway."

Eric's eyes looked up to the network sensor on the wall a few paces in front of them. Eric had never had a need to use it before as his navi adventures had never resulted in a long-term partner, but a part of him had watched other patrons use it for various purposes, and perhaps he had been a little jealous to be the odd one out.

Not anymore. Virus busting was slowly becoming a normal thing to Eric. "Here we go," he advised as he lined up the PET with the network relay and tapped 'Transmit'.

{>>> To Kotobuki Net: A Meep of Faith >>>}

{<<< From Kotobuki Net: A Meep of Faith <<<}

The trio re-entered Amy's PET to find Eric packing up his chip folder and placing it back into the satchel. It was a little more cramped in the PET with four entities taking up space, but given their mission's success, Amy didn't mind at all.

"That was FUN. Let's NEVER do it again," Lily scoffed as her wings disappeared from the screen.

"Agreed. How did we go from being in a city to being in a cramped tunnel anyway?"

"Beats me. Either way, NEVER doing that again."

Amy stifled a snicker. Listening to Lily act like a child was a clear contrast to her normal reasonable manner.

"If Meep hadn't led us into the tunnel, we wouldn't have had to deal with that nonsense," the attitude continued, as Meep seemed to understand the curt remark and looked up to Amy in protest.

"In all fairness, it did save us from a potential stampede of virii. I'm pretty sure I dealt with only a small portion of it in the tunnel." It was a reasonable conclusion; after all, the tunnel had opened up upon hearing the rumble, and closed up moments after the vibrations moved on.

"If that stupid navi hadn't attacked us in the valley, we could've logged out there," Lily complained.

"I wonder why that cloaked navi tried to attack us?" she wondered out loud.

"I can't think of any reason. Some navis are just jerks."

"I guess... but to attack us and then run away? That doesn't strike you as odd?" The idea didn't make sense to Amy.

"Who cares. We'll probably never see it again anyway."

The conversation wasn't going anywhere constructive so Amy turned her attention to the world of her operator. Amy could see a cup sitting on the table in front of Eric, but from the current angle she couldn't tell what was in it, or if it even had liquid at all.

"Did you order a drink after all?"

Eric nodded. "Yeah. Hot chocolate."

Lily laughed. "Isn't that a children's drink?"

Eric didn't look particularly happy at being called a child and shook his head. "No it's not," he rebutted in a child-like manner.

"I feel like it is. I mean, I vaguely recall that adults drink coffee and children drink hot chocolate." Lily did a quick internet search and was satisfied with the results. "Yep, kid's drink," she replied with too much satisfaction in her voice.

"Eric drinks coffee too," Amy interjected, not wanting a fight to break out over a choice of drink. "I've seen him drink a latte before."

"Yeah!" Eric responded a little too enthusiastically. "And you can even get coffee with chocolate in it."

"Now you're just making things up."

"It's called a 'mocha'. But I don't think I've ever seen 'Ric drink one."

Eric's head turned to his left to meet the source of the voice. To his left was a vacant circular free-standing table with four chairs surrounding it, and on the other side of that was a booth similar to the one he was sitting in. Sitting in that booth was a male that looked to be of similar age to Eric, wearing a navy blue formal business suit and vest that covered over a light blue shirt and wide satin red tie with a mild checkerboard design.

"Matt!" he exclaimed, his face lighting up with a wide smile. "How long have you been sitting there?"

"Long enough," the gentleman replied as he slid his body out of the booth and walked across the room. Amy noticed that he was an average height for a male, probably a few centimetres shy of 6 foot, making him noticeably shorter than her operator. In spite of this, it was likely his weight was much higher than Eric's as this new person's body was well-built, further accented by a clean-shaven appearance and no acne to be seen, at complete odds with her operator's lack of proper hygiene. While she'd seen Eric shave every day, he never looked as well-kept as this man. His hair was dark brown in colour and thick, styled into an outgrown buzz cut; this, along with his powerful strides across the room, caused Amy to wince. Eric looked to be happy at his arrival, but Amy's first impression of this man was that he was potential danger.

"I saw you as I walked in. I almost called out to you, but what did I see?" In a blur of speed his hands swooped in and snatched the PET off the table before Eric could stop him. "A PET! You, netbusting! I thought maybe someone was impersonating you, but no, my 'Ric is *actually* directing a netnavi! Willingly!"

'Matt' slid into the other side of the booth as he inspected the PET with more curiousity. He easily dodged the attempts by Eric to get the unit back, moving left and right to dodge the extended hands desperate to retrieve the PET, and once his curiousity had been satisfied he handed it back to the agitated red-head.

"This is great! Tell me everything!"

At first Eric's face was bright red with embarrassment as other customers in the cafe had been drawn to the sudden commotion, but their interest wore off quickly and the patrons that had been distracted by their shenanigans turned back to their food and drinks. As Eric felt less eyes directed at him, a prideful smile appeared on his face as he thought of what to say.

"One of Stacey's navis turned out to be good for me," he explained, shifting a little in his seat as he spoke. "At first things were a bit weird, but... we worked out some issues, and... I guess we're still figuring out the rest."

Eric looked down to Amy's screen and smiled. They'd already been through a number of trials that tested their relationship, but despite the odds (or perhaps because of them?) they were quickly becoming a good team, Lily only further solidifying their bond.

"Wait, that's it?" Matt replied. "Nuh-uh. More please."

"What do you mean?" Amy responded, the PET still in Eric's hands.

"I don't want the 30 second recap, thank you." Matt took a sip of the coffee Eric thought had appeared out of nowhere. "Eric, be real with me. I've counted, what... 21...? 22 different navis your sister suitored you with?"

"Umm... something like that."

"Oh don't give me that rot. We both know you know the exact number, don't act like you don't," he added with a grin, his right arm reaching across the table to throw Eric a shoulder jab.

"24. Amy is number 24," Eric admitted.

"Exactly. 23 failures, and now, you finally have a winner." Matt's chin rested in his hands as she propped his arms onto the table. "So don't give me the cliff notes. Come on, I want to know EVERYTHING."
"That's madness! No way you just leapt off a building hoping for the best!"

Matt's laughter was making Eric nervous again, but this time it appeared that the patrons in the cafe had become used to their boorish banter and paid them both no attention. Of course, it was Matt who was making most of the offending noise, as his shock, anger and laughter accented Eric's recounting of the last week, after Amy arrived on his dining room table.

"You've got some guts, you know that?" Matt laughed as he stared at Amy.

"I've just been doing what I need to to stay alive. Nothing special," she remarked, a little nervous about the praise that was being thrown her way.

"Don't be modest. Anybody who can survive even a day of this boy's troublesome nature deserves a pat on the back! If you had a physical back, anyway," he jested as his coffee cup was hoisted into the air, draining out the last of its stored cappucino.

Amy's impression of 'Matt' was still uncertain. It was clear that Eric didn't think of him as a stranger; Eric trusted him enough to describe their history together, but thankfully he'd left out the parts that tied Amy to 'Heather Dougherty'. At first she thought it might have been an oversight, but Eric had somehow managed to bumble his way through the story without revealing that information. Amy's wanted to ask more questions about who Matt was, if only to put her mind at ease and get some background information on her operator's life, but hesitated before entering Hologen mode. Stacey had commanded her not to appear in public in her normal form, and while Stacey wasn't around to enforce it Amy felt this instruction wasn't for Stacey's benefit. On the net was okay, but in the real world she was to hide her true form, it seemed. She also remembered Stacey's order to use the Autumn GMO if she needed to be in the real world, and that is what she did.

Amy's image appeared above the PET as it rested on the table. Eric and Matt were still talking about her descent into the Kotobuki wilderness when her silouette took shape, her normal form being replaced by a black-haired ponytail and the blue dress switching to its red variant. Amy remembered Stacey's order not to use the Spring variant in public, but the Autumn GMO did have an air of superiority in her mind anyway. The red dress made her feel older, somehow, like a lady that was stepping out into the world for the first time. She seemed satisfied with the transformation, the red dress being a welcome change and altering her aura, as it were. She felt... important.

Or, at least she did, until Matt glanced towards her projected image. His eyes focused on her with an intensity she hadn't seen yet, and as Eric continued talking his eyes continued to be glued to her image. As the minutes continued, a feeling of anxiety beginning to creep into her mind. His expression slowly changed as he observed her Autumn GMO. He'd already seen a glimpse of her normal style earlier, and eventually his browline lowered, the puzzled look on his face suggested something was wrong.



"Why is your navi dressed like that ENDBS senior advisor?"

Oh no.


"The woman at ENDBS that's always near that senior lady that passed away last month. You know, the one that even did some commercials?"

You need to think of something, quickly.

"...Uhh, what commercials?"

Matt took out his own PET and began tapping the screen. "You know, the ones about their new robust but snazzy PETs. She looks like that chick that advertised the new Phaser models." His hands continued tapping until a look of elation on Matt's face indicated he'd found what he was looking for. He turned the PET around so that they could all see.

The video appeared to be a recording of a fancy gala. There was no doubt in Eric's mind it was likely an ENDBS gala, as the logo and name was splashed across multiple banners, posters and table accessories.

"Did you forget who my dad's biggest customer is?" Matt spoke in a lower voice as two familiar faces took to the centre podium. Eric recognised the left face from the video that Max had shown them the night before, but to the lady's left... was Amy... in her Autumn GMO. A perfect match, right down to the edges of the dress and the position of the ponytail. Amy appeared to be handing out awards of some variety to different guests while Heather read out the accomplishments meriting the awards.

"That's not a commercial," Lily pointed out. "That's an awards night."

Matt sighed as he turned the PET back to himself. A few more button presses followed as Matt was again searching for something. He then turned the PET back to them as a new video played. Eric could see the video, but the sounds coming out of the girl in the lime dress were inaudible as fear set in. Sure, the dress was different, the hair style and colour were different, but these two girls were definitely the same person.

"I... I... I..." Eric stammered, trying to find the right words.

"So I stole her looks for my GMOs. So what?" Amy responded, hoping to defuse the situation. "It's not a crime to want to look like someone famous."

"Nice try. You said your name was Amity, correct?"

"That's right."

"Sounds a lot like 'Amy'. You know, the name of the advisor. Amy... Moore, I think."

"So what? Just a coincidence."

"Uh-huh. So you're saying you're NOT the person in these videos?"

"I have no memories of ever being in any situation like those," Amy confirmed with confidence. The fact that her memories had been wiped didn't make this fact any less true.

Matt's expression shifted to annoyance as his gaze returned to meet Eric's eyes. He leaned in closer, which only worried Eric further.

"'Ric, as I said, that older lady passed away only a few weeks ago," Matt whispered. "Don't tell me that Stacey somehow came into possession of a millionaire's property and just gave it to you as a hand-me-down. I know some of the PETs you've gotten have come from people who passed away, we've talked about it before." His hand motioned to the PET. "It doesn't look like a cheap PET either."

Eric tried multiple times to refute the accusation. A lie. A fib. Something. Anything. Anything to prevent more questions about Amy's origin. He shifted in place in the booth as the answer he desperately sought evaded his mind. Nothing he could conjure seemed sufficient to prevent the inevitable. How had Matt been able to piece everything together so quickly...?

"Just say it, 'Ric. Tell me I'm wrong."

His mouth opened, but the words wouldn't come out. He'd thought that his perfectly crafted story would be enough, that he could introduce his new partners to his long-time friend without any risk of the secret being exposed. He was going to tell Matt eventually, when Stacey had figured out what they were going to do about the issue of ENDBS, but... what would Matt say to all of this...?

Matt didn't need an answer; Eric's panicked expression was all the confirmation he needed.

"Are you KIDDING ME?!" Matt hissed, his tone still low but very much capable of conveying a strong combination of anger, frustration and disbelief.

The cafe was no longer a welcome zone for Eric. The instinct to run had returned, and his hand snatched the PET off the table before attempting to slide out of the booth. Matt predicted this move; before Eric's feet had even hit the ground, Matt's left hand was firmly locked onto Eric's right arm. Eric couldn't twist it out of Matt's grip, his PET being locked in his right hand. Matt raised his other hand to the waiter, and with a brief bobbing of two fingers he pulled Eric towards the shop front.

"Don't resist, 'Ric," he warned as he pulled the PET out of his pocket and used the digital wallet to pay for their drinks.
Thanking the waiter for their service, Matt left the shop with Eric in tow. After a few paces Matt released his grip, and Eric meekly followed him by a few paces, an amusing sight given that Eric had the height advantage over Matt. The pair walked towards the back of the second floor to a section that had a sign with the words 'Centre Management' hanging from the roof. They approached a door marked 'STAFF ONLY', but Matt waved a badge at the security scanner to the right of the door knob and the door acknowledged it with a green light and a shrill beep. The door lock clicked, and Matt pushed through the door without turning the knob, leading them into a narrow corridor lined with the occasional exit. It was the second door on the left that Matt approached, opening it and gesturing to Eric to enter.

The rectangle room seemed like one of those rooms he saw in the crime shows, the ones with solid grey walls and a solitary table with two seats. The air wasn't stale or cold, but as Matt closed the door the remainder of sounds from the hallway went silent, leaving only the air conditioning and Eric's rapid heartbeat being the only things he could hear. Eric's entire body had begun sweating profusely as his behind almost missed the chair whilst trying to sit down.

Matt sat at the table directly opposite Eric. "This is a secure room. We use it for meetings where NDAs are necessary. Although I never thought I'd need to bring you here."

"Matt, you have to underst-" Eric pleaded, but was cut off by Matt raising his hand as a gesture for silence.

"'Ric, I'm sure you have your reasons. You always do. But right now, you need to listen."

Eric's mouth closed in obedience, but the rest of party weren't so compliant. "What, and we're supposed to pretend that this is all okay?" Lily growled in response, his pocket muffling her response. "Who do you think you are?!"

"Take that PET out and put it on the table. This concerns them too." It wasn't a request; the words were issued as a command, cold and direct.

His hands did as directed and the violet PET took centre stage on the table. Amy and Lily appeared via hologen as Matt's face tried to find solace in his hand.

"We've been friends for a very long time. And I've seen you do some dumb things. Some REALLY dumb things," he added in retrospect. "I know you never do anything wrong on purpose. But THIS. This is HUGE."

Matt's hand fell back to his side as he began pacing alongside the length of the table. "Did Stacey give that PET to you?"

Eric nodded, not daring to add anything further.

"So she's aware of this too?"

He nodded again.

Matt half-growled, half-sighed in disbelief. "That IDIOT! What on earth was she thinking?! No, I can answer that; clearly she WASN'T thinking! She was so desperate to pair you up with a good match that she didn't care where that match came from!"

"I have a feeling she found out after we'd been together for a few days," Amy remarked, not quite believing she was the one coming to Stacey's defence.

"That's not the point!" Matt seethed as his anger increased. "Most people wouldn't even recognise your normal style. Heck, I wouldn't have figured it out had you not put on that red dress. I remember seeing it back in the day and thinking 'damn, that girl is HOT'. I tried to find you after the awards ceremony, thinking that maybe I could, you know, ACCIDENTALLY run into you, take you to the bar, buy you a drink, the usual stuff."

"'The usual stuff'?" Amy echoed, knowing what the words implied and feeling a little nauseated at the suggestion.

"Do you normally take videos of girls you find attractive?"

"Hey, don't make me sound like a creep," Matt argued. "I was recording the awards portion for an associate who couldn't be there that night. His wife accepted one of those awards, so I'll accept that apology any second now."

"Not going to happen," the butterfly dryly retorted. "So what, Amy's good looks are what gave her away? Is that what you're trying to say?"

"As I said, you were an attractive-looking lady. Not all guys care about a curvaceous body, if you know what I mean," he winked, but when three sets of blank stares was all he received Matt continued. "Look, that dress isn't exactly a common piece. It's a unique gown I've never seen again, a fashionable dress that screamed elegance. THAT was your downfall. But most normal people wouldn't associate you with the red dress, you did most of your ads in that green dress. That was you as well, correct?"

At this point Amy figured that there was no point in denying the link, and so she enabled the Spring GMO, hoping that perhaps that would calm him down.

"So you're a navi," he asserted, gaining him a puzzled look from the navi staring back at him.

"Uhh, yes...? What kind of question is that? Isn't it obvious?"

"But you were in the real world. You were at that gala."

"We've established that already."

"Explain. Robotics technology? Hologram? No, it couldn't have been a hologram, you handed out awards. And here I was thinking..." Matt's words trailed off as his expression went blank.

"It's... complicated. If you come to Eric's house, I can show you," the navi offered.

"No," Matt rejected the notion as his composure returned. "I'm not sure I should complicate myself in this matter any more than I already have." Matt raised his head in order to focus on Eric. "Eric... what you've done is a crime. You may even go to jail if they feel really cheesed off about it."

"They wouldn't do that. It's not like he killed someone," Lily rebutted.

"ENDBS is a big corporation. Big corporations have no issues making examples of little people to scare off potential threats from the bigger fish. Believe me, I've seen it happen."

Jail time...?

A criminal record...?

Stacey and Huxley had told him about the implications of having a navi like Amy, that someone was trying to take her back. They'd discussed the issue that somebody had tried to possibly kill Huxley to recover Amy and her gear. They couldn't risk exposing who really did have it, in the event that they decided to become hostile and take revenge for the act of stealing what they believed was theirs. The decision was made that Eric would take care of Amy and Lily until it could be determined if a solution could be found that worked for all parties.

{{{ Big corporations have no issues making examples of little people to scare off potential threats from the bigger fish. }}}

But this was different.

Nobody had said anything about it being a crime. All the PETs from the past were to be disposed of; Stacey had assured him of this. If a PET had ended up in their care, then surely that was somebody's fault and not their own; they were free of guilt if someone hadn't taken the necessary steps to keep hold of what was important to them. Somebody wanting to recover a lost friend was one thing, but that didn't make what he'd done a crime... did it...?

Eric's eyes glassed over as the room and its contents became invisible to him. His mind wandered to a moment lost in time, one of importance but for all the wrong reasons. He'd been to a jail once. It was one of the worst experiences of his life... and he wasn't even a prisoner then. To be on the other side of those walls, to be locked in an institution with people whose desires and behaviours were so far separated from his own, to be forced to live with people like Wellcamp...

His navi had noticed Eric's silence, and had seen this particular expression enough times in their brief history together to know that something was not right. "Eric, talk to me," she ordered, but as she expected there was no response.

Matt also noticed Eric's change of stature. It softened his glare as he walked around the edge of the table to Eric's side and knelt down to the ground, bringing his eyes level with Eric's despite the gesture not being reciprocated. The redhead was lost in a sea of negative thoughts about his new future, and Matt had also been around Eric long enough to recognise one of his depression spirals. All the anger in his voice disappeared as he clasped Eric's arms with his hands, the action causing Eric's body to jerk in response to the touch of another body. "I don't know how I'm going to help you out of this one, buddy. Surely even you know that this is all going to go pear-shaped eventually."

This time the nodding of his head caused a single tear to spill over and run down his cheek. Until now Eric hadn't considered the full weight of his actions, and now, he realised, it was too late to go back. To make matters worse, he'd dragged Matt into his problems. Again. Eric couldn't bear to look his friend in the eye, his gaze remaining forward despite Matt being at his side.

"I was there for you when your parents passed away. I helped you deal with the fallout from Linkstone when they almost expelled you from school. I even went toe-to-toe with dad to get you into DJ. But I don't have any kind of pull with the legal powers that will destroy you for this. I don't even know where to start with how to make this right again."

"I think you're making a big mistake."

Matt turned towards Amy whilst still trying to comfort Eric. "And what's that?"

"You think that I don't have a say in this? That I don't get to decide who my new owner will be?"

"You're the property of ENDBS. You don't get a choice."

"Wrong!" Amy almost yelled in frustration. "I belonged to Heather. She died. I get to pick my new owner, not some moron in a corporation she worked for."

"That's not entirely true. Sure, you may get to make the final choice, but they would've given you a list from senior-ranking employees to choose from."

"And that's your big mistake." Her mind raced back to the memories she no longer believed, memories she'd originally held onto as an example never to return to. Huxley's truths had revealed their true intention, that they were only planted memories designed to hold her back from her full potential. In this moment, they reminded her of the type of scum that would tell her what she could and couldn't be, and thanks to Matt, she was beginning to realise that ENDBS may have even been the type of company to have installed the offending memories in her, only adding to her anger. "It's MY CHOICE. *I* will decide who becomes my partner. No corporation is going to decide for me who would make a good operator and who won't."

Amy's defiance cut through the sorrow in the room and brought a smile to both men's faces. Amy was correct; it was her choice who her operator would be, the same choice presented to every netnavi.

"You're right, you're right. If you protested the situation, ENDBS would have a hard time fighting the publicity. But Eric may still face crimes for acquiring you in the first place. Whether you choose him or not is irrelevant after that." Matt couldn't deny this fact, but it didn't help Amy at all.

"So help us then."

Matt chuckled in disbelief. "Did you not hear what I said?"

"I'm not asking for help to avoid the authorities. I'm pretty sure that's what Stacey and Huxley are doing. What I'm aski-"

"Officer HUXLEY knows about this too?!" Matt's gaze franctically darted back to Eric's as his eyes grew bigger and bigger. "And you STILL have her?!"

More nodding followed.

"Alright Eric, no secrets this time; tell me EVERYTHING."
Matt stared blankly at Eric across the table. Neither of them were capable of uttering a word at each other, the silence only adding to the unease of the small room. It wasn't until Lily finally broke the silence that Matt was able to resume articulating his thoughts.

"So how do we work out what to do when we need to stay under the radar?" Lily's earlier sarcasm had disappeared, an honest question being asked to determine how to proceed with this new reality.

"I have no clue. First things first, we need to get you a new look."

"There are other GMOs in the box," Eric advised, remembering there were two other GMO configuration chips just missing the necessary cores.

"And I bet they're more of Amy's past designs."

A fair assessment. "...Yeah, you're probably right."

"Exactly. So let's do a quick reading of your metrics and I'll design something over the next few days."

"What?" The idea of another person sizing her up was distressing enough, but the idea of it being a male was even worse. "That's not necessary, I don't need a guy looking at my sensitive areas." The words slipped out of her mouth before she could stop them; with everything she'd now seen from Matt, he didn't seem like the pervert kind.

Matt gagged at the mere suggestion proposed to her. "Do you really think that little of me?" he responded somewhat bitterly. "My navi will do the sizing, thankyouverymuch."

As if on command, a new figure appeared on the table in front of Amy. If Amy was expecting some form of professional navi to greet her, what met her was indeed a surprise. A navi of similar height to her appeared in front of her, with long neon-pink pigtails almost as long as her arms. It was impossible to miss a sizeable bust poorly hidden beneath a long flowing black dress that ended halfway down her shins, accented by multiple seams of neon-pink lines and frills that matched the lady's hair colour and two lines of white buttons that ran evenly spaced down the top half of the dress. The hands were covered by comically rounded white mittens, the feet covered by matching white heels. A cheeky grin filled her face as the yellow-pupil eyes beamed in excitement.


In an unusual turn of events, Amy's expression matched Matt's in a look of confusion. Who on earth was this, and what dialect was that?

「あ!かわいいお姉さまを見つけましたねー!」 it spoke as it closed the distance between herself and Amy. 「お名前は?」 it continued, grasping Amy's hands with her mittens as if it was waiting for a response, but Amy was still too dumbfounded to have any sort of response as the navi stared into her eyes.

Matt regained composure first. "Nat!" he hissed at the new female navi.

「はい!」 it responded back, dropping Amy's hands and turning to face Matt.

"Ix-nay the ope-tay!" he ordered, embarrassment dripping from his voice.

「え?」 it replied, confused until it looked down at its dress. A high-pitched squeal followed, and its image disappeared from the desk.

"Urgh... please hold," he muttered as he pushed a few buttons on the PET, notably harder than before.

A new navi reappeared on the desk, but the only similarity it had to the previous navi was her height. A flow of amber-yellow curled hair ran down the lady's back, stopping at the lower edge of her shoulder blades. Orange glasses framed her face, the solid black lenses hiding any sign of her eyes. The frames perfectly accented a business blazer that was also of the same shade of pumpkin-orange. The underlying skirt fell to just below her knees, the finishing touch being a pair of pointed low heels in a bold crimson-red.

"Very sorry about that," she blushed. "I was trying out the new style changes, and... well... I guess I forgot to take it off."

"'Style change'?" Lily quipped. "You were a whole different person."

"That happens," she admitted.

"How did you not notice? It was obvious to us, how did YOU not realise?" Lily's question bothered Amy, but she too wanted an answer.

"The style change not only affects your looks, it also modifies your personality matrix. I didn't realise because I don't notice the personality change, it affects my speech and thoughts right down to my core. It wasn't until Master Matthew mentioned it that I observed my outer dress and realised I wasn't wearing the expected attire."

"Changing your core functions? You... you can do that...?" Amy asked. Such a feature seemed impossible, a protection to prevent navi-tampering.

"Normally no, but thanks to Master Matthew I'm not a normal navi." Her right arm moved in front of her chest as she took a small bow. "My name is Natsu, and I cannot express how happy I am to meet a navi that's becomes friends with Master Eric."

Amy didn't know whether to trust this person, but given that she had been greeted with proper respects, it would be rude not to return the gesture. Everybody knew who she was, so her fake identity wasn't necessary either. "My name's Amy," she reciprocated, "and this is Lily," she added, gesturing toward Lily's wings.

"Alright Nat, enough showing off," Matt reprimanded. "Just do a deep analysis of both Amy and her partner."

"Yes sir," 'Natsu' replied as her hands waved in front of Amy's exterior in a co-ordinated manner, starting from the top and slowly moving downward. Although nothing was visibly changing in the air between the two navis, the duo were certain some rather pervasive scanning of their beings was being done without their full consent.

"Oh my," Natsu added as her hands fell back to her sides. "You ARE a unique pair, aren't you."

"Nat, enough, it's been a long day for everybody here," Matt sighed as his fingers ran across a few more buttons on the PET.

"On that note, your meeting tonight with Mister Riuso has just been cancelled. He sends his apologies but his wife has fallen ill again and requires a trip to the hospital."

"That's rather inconvenient, but we know Ben's wife isn't handling the new baby well," he surmised as Natsu's image disappeared from the desk. "Did I ever introduce you to Ben Riuso?"

Eric shook his head.

"He's one of my more favoured businessowners. Not a pompous jerk like some of the key stakeholders in these setups." Matt's hand returned to his face in disgust. "Man I get sick of these meetings. 'Rezoning' this and 'agreement' that. I'd rather just go back to managing the DJ outposts, everything was much simpler. But that's not part of 'dad's plan', is it," he finished in a resentful tone.

Amy was about to ask what that even meant when an incoming call broke her train of thought.

"Eric, Stacey's calling. How do you want me to answ-"

Matt's hands once again demonstrated their lightning speed as he ripped the PET away from the table and pushed a series of keys. "Stace, long time no speak."

"Matt. I suppose you're with Eric right now then."

"Yep. You alone?"

"I can be. Why?"


A pause as some echoey sounds suggested a door was being closed to an empty room. "...What did Eric tell you?"

"Nothing useful at first, but I worked it out on my own."

"Worked out what?"

"Amy Moore. Remember her?"

Silence followed, but then Stacey spoke again. "Look Matt, you need to under-"

"Funny, 'Ric tried to say the same thing. Didn't want to hear it from him, don't want to hear it from you. But I expected better from you, you're supposed to be the rational one."

"Master Matthew, I don't believe you're giving madam credit."

"Crony, hush. I don't want to hear from you right now, you're just as culpable with this."

"He's right though. You need to hear my side."

"Fine then. Where are you?"

"...Actually, where are you both right now?"

"Osanajimi Plaza. Kotobuki district."

"I know where Osanajimi Plaza is. Are you working tonight?"

"Not anymore. My 8pm appointment cancelled due to family troubles."

"You have 8pm appointments? Your dad really IS working you harder."

"Stace, don't pull a 'Ric on me."

"Sorry, you're right. So you're free tonight?"

"Didn't want to be, but it sounds like I have no choice now, doesn't it?"

"Hey, don't get all bent out of shape becau-"

"Shut up Stace. This is all your fault and you know it. Don't you DARE start acting like you have the right to protest MY anger. Once again I'M having to fix YOUR problems."

"That's uncalled for!"

"No it's not. What's the address?"

A brief pause. "Sent it now. Be there in an hour."

"Not possible. We'll be there in two."


"FINE." Matt's fingers furiously hammered the necessary keys to end the call.

Amy was finding herself liking Matt more and more by the minute. He'd completely shut down Stacey's domineering nature and wasn't allowing her to dictate his own thinking. His actions indicated he genuinely cared about Eric's future, but the comment about wanting to spend time with her at the gala... that was still a little creepy.

"Do you think we can trust him?" Lily whispered.

"Don't know. Maybe," Amy whispered back.

Matt's knuckles were bright red as his fingers relaxed and the PET was placed back onto the table. Eric immediately grabbed the PET to check for damage, but Matt's strong grip appeared to have left no marks.

"Relax, 'Ric. It's ENDBS tech. Not the best, but not by much." He moved towards the door and turned the knob, inviting a wave of cooler air into the office.

Eric was distracted by the change in temperature, but Matt's voice brought him back to reality.

"Come on. I bought us half an hour to grab something to eat, let's not waste it."

{>>> To ACDC Town: 77 Press Street, ACDC Heights >>>}