BOOM Mart Net

When Stranger arrived, she would find herself, first, in near pitch darkness. She wouldn't be able to sit still and let her eyes adjust, though: a few seconds after her arrival, she would hear sounds that made it easily apparent a fight was going on nearby. Loud blasts rocked the air in succession, accompanied by flashes of light.

The flashes of light, whether Stranger liked it or not, would be how she'd get her first clear glimpse at the area she had arrived in. As they lit the area, she could see that whatever was causing them was blocked by a row of shelves, lined with thin plastic cases. From this distance, it was impossible to tell what was in them or read any labels, but the imagery would likely immediately call to mind a display in a store.

The other thing that appeared in the flashes was a group of programs, probably involved in the caretaking of the NetSpace in some fashion. These Progs, however, looked like they had seen better days. It was hard to tell in the dark, but they were clearly covered in some sort of substance, and dark in color. The group was all huddled at the edge of the shelf, almost as if they were discussing something while watching whatever was causing the flashes. Whatever the case was, they were moving a bit, so they weren't inactive, and they weren't going about the usual business one might expect a Prog to tend to. They didn't seem to have noticed Stranger yet.

If Stranger took any time in considering her first move, she would continue to see the floor of the area beyond the shelves light up with each explosion, and eventually hear a woman's screams intermingled. The flashes, at least, were providing enough light that she'd be able to tell where she was going if she went forward. If she were to turn around and go in the other direction, she'd probably want to take it slow or bring a light source...
The complete darkness would only last for a second before bright flashes lit it up. Flashes accompanied by the noise of explosions, or at least heavy impacts. It was clear that there was a fight of some sort going on. Not quite what had been in the mission description. What she had heard suggested a haunting, or even random attacks on the 'BOOM Mart' staff. This seemed more like she'd been deposited just out of sight from an active battlefield. "You didn't tell me I was going to be walking into a battlefield," she remarked, as though this AshMan would be around to hear her. No, if he was around, he was probably doing the fighting. The only ones Stranger could see were a few Progs. Everything else was hidden behind the shelves she'd appeared near.

The Progs were probably the best place to start. Going forward meant walking right into crossfire, and going back meant going into complete darkness. Neither one was a wise course of action at the moment. No way was she going to take any meaningless risks. Certainly not for these people -- the only reason she was doing anything for them at all was because she was getting paid. So first, she'd get what information she could. Maybe a light source that wasn't explosions, if she could find one.

"You three," Stranger said, approaching the idling Progs. They would likely notice that there was some unnatural noise in her voice, like radio static. "What can you tell me about the current situation?"
The Progs appeared to jump at the sound of Stranger's eerie voice, but didn't let out any noise. Instead, they slowly turned, appearing to pause to look at each other. After a moment of silence, they then turned to face Stranger. Even while the flashes weren't going, it was possible to see their faces from the glow of their round eyes, which seemed to glow with an unnatural, dead light.

"Uuuh... Brains!" the one on Stranger's left suddenly shouted.

"Sssh," the middle seemed to whisper to the the left before turning back to Stranger. "Uuuh... uuuuh... braaaains," he repeated, in a notably lower volume.

"Braaaains, Net BOOM Mart's operating hours are 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM, please visit us again tonight or have your operator pay a visit to one of our many physical retails outlets! Braaaaains," the one to the right droned quietly.

"Leave this store quietly, or else, we will have your braaaaains! Uuuuh..." the left spoke again.

The three began advancing towards Stranger very slowly and very quietly. It was easier to see now that the Progs were slick with what looked like particulate data, the Net Navigator equivalent of gore. The substance sparkled as it occasionally caught light.

Meanwhile, the blasts kept going off in the background. With a bit more time to observe, Stranger was able to tell a bit more clearly what she was looking at and hearing. The sound of a clink on the floor, together with a tight volley of shot that first hit and then lit a display cabinet ablaze, made it apparent that she was hearing some sort of weapon discharge. The sound of the woman screaming continued, and Stranger thought she could hear a man's voice speaking in an urgent, commanding tone. The words were impossible to make out, though, echoing around what seemed to be a large space and being drowned out by the repetitive gunfire. A soft glow behind the case ahead served as evidence that whoever was firing their weapon was probably lighting more fires like the one Stranger could now see.
"'re not helpful." Stranger's dull, noise-backed tone stated the obvious as she edged back away from the progs. They were...damaged, to be sure. Possibly even worse than she was. Either that or acting like zombies, moving at an utterly sluggish pace, and being covered in particulate data was normal for them. In which case, whoever designed them was a sick bastard who needed a knife to the gut. As many times as it took to stop providing resistance. The fact that they were moving towards her just made things worse. Because, of course, if they weren't damaged, then the 'help' was actively trying to keep her from carrying out their mission.

How much was she getting paid for this again?

"Nothing left to do but get closer, I guess," Stranger commented, pulling a thin blade from the umbrella she carried. She started to circle around the progs, taking care not to get too close lest they decide to do something suicidal rash, and tried to make her way around the edge of the shelf towards the source of the explosions.
The three Progs continued to drone on impassively as Stranger considered her options. She might have seen one of them flinch at being told they weren't helpful, but then again, it might have just been a spasm. Stranger wasn't going to stick around and find out, as nobody was ostensibly paying her to do so...

As she began making her way around, wielding a weapon in self defense, one of the Progs suddenly hissed, "Wait!"

Whether or not Stranger decided to wait, she had moved to a point where she could now see around the shelf. With the benefit of a better view, she could now see the only two other Navis that seemed to be in the place:

The first was a Navi garbed in a red, soot-covered cape with tattered edges and a pitch-black Navi suit. The fabric of the cape was thick around his neck, hiding his mouth, and a red turban on the top of his head hid his hair, making his only discernible point of character the large, red-pupiled eyes staring from the visible bit of his pale face...

At least, that should have been the case. Instead, two other odd factors stood out about the Navi. In addition to what must have been his ordinary outfit, he was also wearing what appeared to be a store clerk's apron, orange with a pink explosion and red letters spelling "BOOM" across it. More importantly, he was holding an elaborately designed double-barreled shotgun with thick smoke and fire belching from the edges by the handle. He was firing it in quick succession, desparately, and deftly reloading with dark black shells as soon as he emptied his gun. As for what he was aiming for... there didn't seem to be any threat. Most of his shots whizzed off into the distance, lighting random corners of the store's stock on fire.

The other person was wearing plain purple armor, looking nearly like a NormalNavi. The ambiguity was so much that it was initially hard to tell she was a woman, until she began shrieking. The only stand-out features of her would likely be her apron, which matched the one worn by the man protecting her from nothing, and a dark, shaded visor over her eyes. Otherwise, her features were nondescript: even her mouth was covered by the fabric often worn by those in the middle of battle operations.

"Wait, please!" the middle Prog pleaded with Stranger again. "You can't go out there until you give us a chance to explain!"

Stranger might want to get an explanation for the bizarre scene unfolding before her. Then again, it was likely that the man who seemed to be in the process of lighting his place of employment on fire was AshMan. She might not want to waste any more time talking to the middle men than she had to.

Well, that was a surprise. She expected the progs to try and stop her, but that wasn't the same sort of detaining direction as they had given before. It was more like a plea. That caught Stranger's attention...just for a second. The weapon fire pulled it right back away again, towards the battle erupting on the other side. She could see two navis fighting...well, one fighting and one shrieking. Whatever was going on, only one of the two seemed particularly capable. Which meant that if she was going to get paid, she didn't want to waste more time than she had to.

That was when the Prog finally offered an explanation, asking her not to go out until they'd given it.

"Now you want to tell me? Why couldn't you give it a minute ago rather than wasting my time with that spiel when I asked?" Stranger hissed. "Make it quick, I'm losing time just standing here."
The middle Prog shrunk back again, giving a small bow. He glanced to the others at the his sides, then bowed again, probably calling for the others to go ahead and reveal they were in their right minds. The others complied, and the middle began to explain himself in a whisper. "I don't know why you're here, but the mall is normally closed during daytime hours."

"Net BOOM Mart's operating hours are 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM, please visit us again tonight or have your operator pay a visit-" the one to his right chirped.

"Sssh!" the middle interrupted. "We're trying to help out Fell, the young woman in purple you see out there. She has a plan to try and win the heart of her one true love, AshMan, by using her illusions to create a night of terror. When AshMan protects the two of them from the creatures of the night, having survived their heart-pounding adventure, it'll end in a kiss. A happy, romantic ending!"

"... Only it kind of hasn't gone that way," the one on the left pitched in, after what would likely be a patience-testing bit of silence from the trio. "AshMan is- eep!" the Prog cried, hopping in place as another explosion blasted from AshMan's location, followed by the sound of something heavy slowly falling over, then a smattering of scattered, plastic reverberations from the floor. "Uh, AshMan is normally a good employee, and we felt sorry for Fell as a new employee since she couldn't get her feelings through. But her illusions are, um, apparently pretty convincing! And pretty bad at haunting employees while, I guess, floating right in front of store stock. I guess they're floating, we can't see them. Anyway, our store stock is getting wrecked."

"And then there's, uh, the problem of us," the middle added. "I mean, we were supposed to appear and pretend to terrorize those two, but whatever Fell promised us about getting AshMan to run or reign it in... she either forgot it, or she couldn't convince him. So, if we go out now, we're kind of thinking it might be a bit dangerous..."

"But think of the damage AshMan is causing! We gotta call it off," the one on the right wailed.

"But if we go out now and say 'sorry, AshMan, you were tricked! There's no ghosts at all,' Fell's relationship will be ruined! Her heart is in the right place... but her illusions are in the wrong places," he admitted, hanging his head.

"Well, we're in a bind, but why are you here?" the right Prog spoke up again. "Unless you're a passing helpful stranger, we're going to have to ask you to come back during regular store hours... and hope the store is still here," he added in a dry tone.

Stranger would probably want to carefully consider her situation, since it was more complicated than AshMan's message had let on. Depending on how things played out, she might have a tough time collecting payment from the GNA.