Vaccine Antiviral

Vaccine Antiviral runs out of a modest storefront on one of Netopia Net's business thoroughfares. The awnings and street signs are a pleasant shade of dark teal and white lettering, with the faction's leader/mascot, Calcinatio's flaming emoji-face serving as advertising. The interior of the store resembles a classic real-world pharmacy, with a few allowances for its virtual patrons: the aisles and ceiling are very wide and high to accommodate as large CustomNavis as possible within the homepage's lease, a jack-in panel rests in a corner alcove as a 'back door' for patrons requiring discretion, and the many rows of digital medicine are sorted according to common bug types, Navi elements, and so on. A service counter is spread across the back of the store, with Vaccine members taking shifts manning the store, while a small examination room is set off to the side for ailing Navis to consult Cal, or one of the other medically-capable Navis present on-site.

Some of the creation of pharmaceuticals happens behind the counter, generally simpler prescriptions and the odd one-off request, but the majority of Vaccine's work happens behind the store. Behind a members-only P-Code in a privatized section of the building is the faction's main lab, where all the serious experimentation and treatments occur. Thanks in large part to co-founder Jenga's talents, the lab is modular in nature; the centre room is square, with rows upon rows of tables containing bubbling beakers, specimens in large glass boxes, test tubes of viral root codes, and any number of other such scientific oddities - in short, Cal's playroom. Jenga's environment-shaping abilities come into play with the many doors set into the lab walls, which she can link to a created-on-request room for whatever specific experiment the researchers and doctors might decide to run. A simple green and red 'Vacant/Occupied' sign beside each door indicates whether a lab has been linked or not.
It was a slow day just finishing up at Vaccine Antiviral, the cozy little store empty but for a couple of HeelNavi browsing the shelves. Slow, smooth jazz played from hardcoded speakers, combining with the dim twilight filtering through the windows to create an almost smoky, sleepy atmosphere within the store. A beautiful, dark-haired Vaccine member by name of Jenga leaned against the cashier's countertop, clad in a forest-green bodysuit and resplendent white labcoat, whiling the night away on a game of solitaire. She'd drawn the short straw for late-night closing shift, but thankfully the lack of traffic meant it was just a matter of waiting for the clock to tick down before she could shoo the loiterers out and lock up for the night. She hummed along softly to the music, resting her generous bosom against the counter and keeping an occasional eye on the HeelNavis (who, thankfully, just seemed to be inside for want of anywhere else to be, rather than anything nefarious), all the while mindful of the world-clock in her system, and the Netopia-time analog clock on the wall as it ticked on towards closing time.

*vwoop-diding!*

The telltale sound of a jack-in through the internal port and the store's bell chiming, so very close to closing time, was almost enough to make Jenga sigh audibly. Instead, the voluptuous scientist painted a smile across her alabaster face and started in, "Good evening, how can we...help..." her voice trailed off and her jaw dropped, unable to comprehend who had just entered.

The teal-haired schoolgirl had clearly seen better days as she stepped off the jack-in port; her sera-fuku, normally pristine, was stained with dirt and torn in several places, and her elfin face was inscrutable as she locked eyes with the elder Navi. "PHASE!! Oh, we've been so worried!" Jenga exclaimed, vaulting over the service counter with the casually-inhuman grace only a Navi could manage. She bustled over, arms thrown wide to embrace her friend, but was rebuffed as the battered youth shied backwards, panic flashing in her turquoise eyes.

Alarm bells of every make and manner rang off in Jenga's head; she'd known Phase for years, and there was zero precedent to this sort of behaviour from her. "Phase, hun...you all right there?" she murmured, slowing her approach to a gentle walk and lowering her voice.

"I'm fine, don't worry about it," came the reply, so utterly devoid of reassurance that it only reinforced the look that Phase would rather be anywhere but under the elder Navi's scrutiny. Jenga's worry only grew from this; this was beginning to feel awfully like bringing in a fresh face to the therapy group she hosted, and the fact that it was Phase of all people causing the deja-vu was just wrong wrong wrong. Phase's panic burned low, twin embers in eyes that were otherwise dead. "Ex...excuse me," she stammered, squeezing her eyes shut as she barreled past her colleague, and darting through the P-Coded lab entrance without another word.

Jenga took a long breath, and wasn't surprised to find it shuddering. "Oh hun, where have you been?" she bemoaned to nobody, before setting to work closing up. Clock forgotten in the face of her friend and those too-dead eyes, the doors were locked, the lights were killed, and the books were slapped together with a haste rarely seen from the matronly scientist. Everything up front finished, and the sense of urgency cooking a slow-burn in her belly, Jenga stepped into Vaccine's private laboratory...and into chaos.



The young girl had done her best to keep it together. RiderMan had been so radiant, so complete a saviour that in the almost cartoonish rush of heroic deeds that had followed her rescue, the past week had been effectively flushed from her memory...for the moment. Now, with the worry written all over Jenga's face (oh god oh god it really was that obvious they could probably smell it), she was being reminded of every last little detail that her too-perfect virtual brain had encoded, and would not let her purge. Her head was running itself into a dozen logic loops at once, and her traitorously-human body was beginning to feel like bands of iron were tightening around her chest and forcing her breath out and somehow the hum of the AC sounded like the undertone of a scream...she shook her head, bit her lip hard enough to hurt, and continued her blind run.

Phase stumbled into the lab, and immediately wished she hadn't. The head of Vaccine himself, the eminent Calcinatio, turned his comical emoji-head to face the entrance. "Jenga, you know it's too early to be clos...Phase?!" His assumption of who had just entered was torpedoed the moment his optics took in the arrival; his body followed an instant later, oven-torso dodging beakers and other such apparati as he maneuvered the crowded central lab. Unaware of the girl's unconscious recoiling, his bulky robotic arms came up to hold her shoulders while his head hovered all around her, scanning from every angle. "You've sustained damage! Ohhhh, I told you going out on your own was a bad idea! But you're safe, yes? Did you find some assistance? Perhaps you met with WakeMan after all?"

Through the rambling, the world began to fall away around Phase's ears. The metal arms restraining her felt like vices...or chains, holding her down, keeping her locked down and unable to escape. Her hands attempted to pry Cal's grip off, but her fingers weren't working right and jerking and shaking strangely and oh god nothing felt right anymore. "Phase, are you responding? Phase, please respond!" Cal's voice sounded far, far away, too far for her to even consider trying to shout back, not when she was alone and in the dark and someone make it stop PLEASE!

Calcinatio was a simple-minded Navi by design. He'd been created for virtual scientific pursuit, and the majority of his time was spent in the sort of blithe happiness that accompanied most workforce Navis, happy in their somewhat lesser sentience to exercise their neural pathways to the fullest extent. Emotional problems, such as the trauma bubbling up to the surface behind Phase's eyes, were beyond the scope of Cal's staggering intellect...and when Phase began to scream, a primal, incoherent sound that echoed through the modular lab, the comical-looking Navi was struck with the realization that he had no idea what to do.



"Leif! LEIF, WHERE ARE YOU?!"

In a darkened basement suite somewhere in Netopia, a scrawny, scraggly nerd started at the sudden noise, and seconds later unleashed a muffled curse as the just-boiled water for his ramen spattered onto his hand. "What on...alright, Ion, keep your ears on, I'm coming!" He retreated from his kitchen, college-boy dinner special in hand, and sat down in front of his computer setup. Standing in front of an opened window was his Navi, his jaw clenched into a worried grimace. There was some sort of commotion going on behind him: he recognized several Vaccine members, and several voices all talking over a constant high-pitched squeal, but couldn't make heads nor tails of the situation. "What's going on, Ion?" Leif asked around a hearty bite of noodles, holding the bowl to his face as he watched the feed.

"It's Phase! She's freaking out and nobody knows what to do and can you PLEASE help, or at least help us figure out what's going on?" Ion's voice was pleading where it should have been strong and confident, completely at odds with the powerful defender of Vaccine Antiviral Leif had coded. The skinny man set his dinner aside, nodded, and set the window to follow his Navi into the crowd. Other Navis parted around the pair, looking to them for protection from this new, frightening unknown variable; such was the relationship between Ion and his peers, as their one combat-ready element. Only, in the jostled lab, the only danger present was one remembered, and still fresh with horror.

Leif's blood felt like it was slowly icing over, like a river over a long winter. Phase was sobbing - no, wailing at ear-splitting pitches, wrapped into the tightest ball she could manage beneath a lab table. All around her was chaos, with paradoxically-simple science-Navis and Mr. Progs shouting at each other and panicking and generally being as unhelpful as possible for the situation. The wave of panic washed over the man, threatening to sweep him right off himself into old, still-raw memories. Instead, he reached for that wellspring of guts that so rarely showed itself, and brought the clamour to order with a shouted, "QUIET!"

The lab went quiet, save for Phase's unending sobbing. "Better," Leif grunted, setting down his noodles and leaning forward. "I want everyone save for Phase and Ion to clear out of here - yes, Cal, you too. No, Jenga, save the NetPolice calls for later. Yes, someone get a hold of Vincent and let him know Phase is back. Good? Good, now out." The commanding tone of voice took root in a great many Second Law Precedents, and the crowd evacuated Vaccine's lab in mass exodus, beaming out or sequestering off in spare rooms to ride out the storm. Room mostly empty, Leif sighed and observed his own Navi. It was truly a day of opposites: Ion was scared instead of confident, Phase was a bawling mess on the floor completely at odds with the teal ball of sunshine he was so familiar with, and hell, even he was chafing under the weight of being the One In Charge. "Okay, Ion, listen very carefully..."



(there were chains holding her down and she couldn't jack out and those two purple nightmares with glowing leers just wouldn't leave and and)

('C'mon, Jumpy, get in here and gimme a hand! She's a kicker!')

(cold hands were on her and hacking through the border that kept her insides insidethey were in her code changing her making her feel weird hot wet cold exposed)

('B-Boss ain't expuh-puh-expecting our quota for a week, right? Let's k-keep dis one awhile!')

(dirty dirty dirty screaming forever no help someone please Vincent Cal Ion Jenga anyone please please help so wrong so dirty)

(please help)

(anyone)


"Phase? I'm here, Phase, I'm here with you. You're safe here."

(...safe?)

"That's right, you're safe. None of the bad guys can get you here; you're back at Vaccine, remember? This is the safest place you'll ever be, save Vincent's PET."

(safe...)

"Can you breathe with me? Deep breaths, that'll help you smooth out, refresh a little. Like this: in.....out.....in.....yeah, that's it, dewdrop."

(dewdrop...)

'Dewdrop' was something concrete, something that only Vincent and Ion ever called her. It was a silly nickname, but it radiated comfort; there was nothing bad it could be attached to. Gradually, painstakingly, Phase's mind began to recover from the self-induced memory loops, terminating the playbacks just as they were about to fast-forward her through another retelling of the worst week of her life. Her turquoise eyes were stained with red when she finally cracked them open, her face a mess of snot and tear tracks and all the myriad other things her unwanted 'upgrade' had granted her. She hiccoughed a moment, arms still wrapped around her sore, bruised chest; now that the panic was over, the exhaustion was settling in, and the pain of her ordeals were making themselves apparent.

Finally, she was able to accept Ion's warm metallic hand, letting the familiar digits pull her unresisting from the floor. She came to rest against a torso that was half-flesh, half-machine, and all warm and welcoming and hugs that felt good regardless. The Navi that was like a big brother to her held her close, both to keep her shaky legs from being forced to bear all the weight, and simply because he'd been so very worried for her. They rocked back and forth slightly, siblings that adopted each other in the name of wanting a family and people to love, code-based sentience be damned.

The moment was only interrupted by Leif's window hovering into view again. "Hey, uhh, Phase? I got in touch with Vincent; the PET's ready anytime, if you want to head home." His voice was soft, bass tones affected as though dealing with a scared animal. But the schoolgirl was resilient, already thinking to the man that was Father in all but blood. Yes, she thought, it was time to go home. And without even moving from Ion's hug, she gave him one last wan smile before beaming out, wordless but conveying all she needed to with a look:

(I'll be alright.)

<(To Vincent's PET)>