Mazer's House

Mazer walks back to his humble house, almost completely concealed by trees, shrubs, and other foliage; he thoroughly enjoys the cool shade and outdoor-zy atmosphere. He briskly walks to the dark red front door, and enters. He takes off his shoes, hat, and light jacket and places them in their respective places in the front closet. On his way up the stairs to his room, Machman chimes in.

[[i]When we were in that StoveComp, I saw a face in the water.[/i]]
"Not your own reflection?" Mazer walks into his room and sits down in his chair in front of his PC.
[[i]No. It looked a lot like me, but slightly different. I know it wasn't my face staring back at me.[/i]] Mazer pulls the jack off the PET, unwinding the spring-loaded cord from the spool integrated into the PET. "Just remember I am always here for you. Always! Machman.EXE. Jack in!"
Mazer inserts the jack into the port, sending Machman into the PC. Machman zips across Mazer's CompSpace and through a portal, sending him to the ACDC network.
((Continued from Machman's Tragic Past))

Mazer pulls the jack out of his PC and successfully retrieving Machman and their new friend, Aera to the PET. Mazer deactivates Machman to repair his program and restore his energy, leaving Aera alone in the PET. She rubs her arm, and looks up to Mazer.

[[i]Um... Mazer?[/i]]

Mazer looks back down to the PET. "Yes? What's wrong?"

[[i]Will Machman be okay? I'm worried about him...[/i]]

"He will be fine, Aera. He is perfectly safe in the PET; he should be back to full strength in about an hour." Mazer replied. Its interesting how attached she is to him, even though she only just met him 20 minutes ago. "So, Aera. Did you remember anything before seeing Machman unconscious?"

[[i]No. I just open eyes and found myself standing over Mach. Well, I'm glad I got to wake up right next to him! I wouldn't have been able to help otherwise![/i]]

"You're right Aera. You definitely saved my friend, and I thank you."

You're welcome! Heehee. Um... I know we just met only 25.3 minutes ago, but... can I stay with Machman? I really like him, and I want to be there if he needs me again. So can I? Pleeeaaaase?]

"Of course! I wouldn't think to leave you out there in the net after you've done so much for us."

Aera squeals with delight and jumps up and down, making Mazer chuckle in amusement. What an odd and cute little friend they've made!
Almost an hour later, Machman's program is reactivated and he materializes on the PET screen. A small chime emits from the PET notifying Mazer of Machman's completed repair and diagnostic. He looks down to the PET with a smile. "How do you feel, Mach?"

Machman stretches his arms and rolls his neck from side to side.
[[i]I'm feeling pretty goo- oof![/i]]

Machman was practically tackled by an over-excited Aera and hits the ground with a loud thump. Aera has her arms tightly wrapped around his chest, pressing herself against him with all of her strength (and Machman quickly discovers she's no weakling).

[[i]MACHMAN!!! You're okay! Thank goodness! I was so worried about you! Mmm... your warm and soft, like a teddy bear!][/i]

How does she know what a teddy bear feels like? Thought Mazer.

[[i]Hrk. Yeah, I'm fine. Nice to see you too, Aera.[/i]] Machman had the same thought as Mazer, but didn't really care. Machman manages to prop himself up, Aera still firmly attached to Machman's chest, and looks up to Mazer in a large window on the "ceiling" of the PET.

[[i]Thanks for the repair, Mazer. When will we head back to ACDC Net? We didn't make it to the spot when we were out there.[/i]]

"Machman, I want to find out as much about it as you do, but you just about had yourself deleted! If it weren't for Aera, you would have become just like that spectral data we encountered a year ago. That and you would probably possess some really weak Navi and be forced to live with that for a long time! I think we should take a break from that for a while. At least until you get stronger."

[[i]I understand. I'm sorry for worrying you.[/i]]

"It's perfectly alright, Machman. We both knew we would encounter that situation one time or another. I think we should take a little vacation and some R&R. I heard of some great vacationing spots in Yoka; supposedly it's a great place for relaxing NetOps and Navis alike. What do you think?"

Aera, still hugging Machman tightly, chimes in. [[i]Yoka... Never heard of it, but it sounds like fun! Right, Machman?[/i]]

Machman knows he is clearly outnumbered in this decision and decides to submit without a fight. The more he thinks about it, the more favorable it seems.
[[i]I'm in.[/i]]

[[i]Yay![/i]] Aera jumps up and down a few times, rocking Machman back and forth since she was still attached to him. If she doesn't let go soon, she'll probably never be able to release her grip. Then again, she'd probably like that...

"Alright then," Mazer said. "I'll post on a BBS while I pack to see if anyone knows some good places to visit, or anyone who might be going there in the next few days."
Mazer continues to pack up his clothing, toiletries, day bag, and other necessities into a large olive green duffel bag. Mazer's PET was resting on the desk next to his PC as Machman spoke up.

[[i]Mazer, I have confirmed a reservation for the Yoka Sunrise Hotel. It is less than a block away from the Onsen and Recreation Center. I also have the receipt for one round-trip plane ticket for the 1700 flight this evening.[/i]]

"Good work, Machman! The plane ride will be about 3 hours, correct?"

[[i]According to the airport news feed, the flight should take around 3 hours and 15 minutes if the weather remains favorable.[/i]]

Aera walks over to Machman and puts her index finger to her bottom lip and tilts her head inquisitively. [[i]Um... What's a plane?[/i]]

Machman is struck by her question, surprised how much she needed to learn. Mazer quickly answers her question in the best way he could think of. "A plane is a form of transportation capable of carrying people, Navis, and cargo large distances by flying... Both of you can fly like a plane, but imagine a large metal tube with really big wings that can carry over a hundred people and thousands of pounds of cargo at the same time."

[[i]Oh... So kinda like a flying bus![/i]]

"Yes, but much bigger." How did she know what a bus was without knowing what a plane was?

[[i]Oooh... That sounds like fun![/i]]

Mazer finishes putting all of his needed belongings into the duffel bag and slips the straps over his shoulders. He walks out of the room, grabbing his PET as he went. He slipped on his shoes and grabbed his baseball cap on his way out the door and walks over to the local bus stop. After a few minutes, a bus to the airport arrived.

About 20 minutes later, Mazer was dropped off at the airport. The airport wasn't very large, only having 6-7 operational terminals. The building was constructed by a lattice-work of steel covered in hundreds of panes of weather resistant glass. Mazer walks in past the automatic doors and heads over to the Yoka airlines desk. He is met by a nice woman behind the desk who takes his receipt and gives him his ticket with a smile. Mazer takes his day bag out of the duffel and gives it to the woman, which she places on a conveyor belt to the planes waiting outside. Mazer thanks the woman and heads over to the terminal.

He passes by a large electronic sign covered in different flights, their destinations, arrival times, and departure times. He checks over his flight: on schedule. He looks over his ticket to find his terminal number and walks to the terminal, picking up some free Yoka brochures on the way. As Mazer continues through the airport, Machman and Aera curiously peer through the screen of the PET clipped to the front of one of the straps of Mazer's day bag. He has a single change of clothes, some books, and all of his money and IDs; just in case his luggage is misplaced or arrives late.

Mazer takes a seat at the terminal and waits patiently for his section to be called to board the plane. He waits as the First Class and Business Class passengers board and then stands as his Economy Class section was called. He hands his ticket to the terminal employee and receives his stub and a "Have a nice flight!" He walks down the hallway suspended above the tarmac and rounds the corner to the entrance to the airplane. He enters the plane and is greeted with a bow by a flight attendant. "Welcome aboard! Please have a seat and make yourself comfortable," she said. Mazer replies with a polite "Thank you," and makes an immediate right down to the main aisle in the plane. He finds his seat, and pumps his fist at the discovery that his seat was next to the window. He places his day bag in the overhead compartment, un-clips his PET from the strap, and takes a seat.

[[i]This is so cool! The airport looked so bright and pretty.[/i]]
This isn't my first time flying, but every time was in a 2 seat propeller-driven aircraft. I haven't been in such a large airplane before.
"I'm glad you are enjoying yourselves, 'cus we have a 3 hour flight ahead of us."

Just a few minutes later the last of the passengers boarded the plane and the aircraft started to taxi on the runway. While the pilots did their final checks and waited for their turn to take off, the flight attendants went through their safety briefing, notifiying all of the passengers of what they should do if the plane crashes on land, water, loses cabin pressure, etc. After the safety briefing concluded, the pilot's voice came over the plane's P.A. system. "My name is Captain Eichi Ito and I will be your pilot for this flight. I would like to ask all passengers to fasten their seat belts and all fight attendants prepare for take off."

Mazer clicks his seat belt and places the PET up against the window to let his Navis have a good view of the take off. The plane's engines throttle up and the pilot releases the brakes. The plane accelerates, pressing Mazer against the back of his seat and gains speed before lifting its front wheels and climbs into the air. Aera's excited giggling was barely audible over the sound of the engines pushing the plane into the sky. The plane continues to fly and makes a few turns to orient it towards Yoka before leveling out at 30,000 feet. Captain Ito comes back on the P.A. system.

"This your captain speaking. We have now reached our cruising altitude of 30,000 feet so I will now turn off the fasten seat belt sign. We should be reaching Yoka international airport in 3 hours. The flight attendants will be serving refreshments and we will start the movie, Terminator 6: Love and Rust I will give a flight update in about one hour. Enjoy your flight."

Mazer un-clicks his seat belt as the head flight attendant pics up a microphone at the front of the plane and addresses the passengers. "Good evening! My name is Amano Yuka and I am the head flight attendant on this flight. I just wanted to let you know the plane's new wireless network system has just been activated. So anyone with a PET and a NetNavigator is encouraged to use this free network to interact, ask questions to our staff Navis, or even NetBattle fellow passengers or flight staff. A little known fact: Our own Captain Ito is quite the veteran NetBattler. Who knows? He may challenge one of you to a Net Battle while our co-pilot, Captain Takeshi Korobashi pilots the aircraft. I hope you enjoy your flight on Yoka Airlines."

Machman chimes in from the PET. [[i]Sounds like a good idea to me. I'm starting to feel cramped in here.[/i]] "I agree," replied Mazer. "I am interested to see what other Navis are on the plane. Stand by while I prepare to log both Aera and you into the network. Acquiring the network key... there we go. Machman and Aera, log in!"
((Continued from SciLabs))

Mazer hops off the bus a few blocks from his house. He walks for a few minutes and rounds the corner to his house. He looks through his mailbox, pulling out a rather large stack of mail. He sifts through it, most of it spam and magazine subscription offers. He grabs his keys from his pocket and unlocks the door. He eases the sturdy dark red door open, taking in the familiar smell of his lodging. It smells faintly of the chicken and dumplings he cooked the night before he left, but it just smells "like home."
"Hey, we're home." Mazer said as he looked down to the PET in his hand. After not hearing a reply, he opens an observation window showing Machman and Aera sitting side by side. Aera's head rests on Machman's shoulder and Mach's head leans gently next to her head. They both are sound asleep, still exhausted from their mission.

Mazer closes the screen and smiles. "Man, those two are really getting along. I'm still wondering what happened in there... Ah well. They aren't the only ones who could use some rest." Mazer kicks off his shoes and trudges to his room. He lets the duffel bag drop to the floor with a muffled "whomp," he'll deal with it in the morning. He places the PET on the nightstand next to his bed, and heads off to the bathroom to get ready for bed. He comes back in a few minutes, teeth brushed and ready for some good shut-eye. He tosses his shirt and jeans into the laundry basket in his closet and slips into bed. "Lights off, please."

The lamp perched on his nightstand obeys, allowing a thick blanket of darkness to cover the room; the NetOp finally following his Navis' example and falling asleep.

((The Next Day))

Machman opens his eyes, everything around him getting back into focus. He looks down to see his hand holding Aera's, fingers inter-twined. He shifts his focus to his right to his sleeping counterpart. Aera continues to doze quietly, her chest rising and falling as she slowly breathes. Her hair feels smooth and warm against Mach's cheek, and her body pressed against his side feels soft and comfortable. Trying to not wake her up, he remotely activates the external camera on the PET, projecting the image in a window in front of them. The video feed shows an empty bed, the sheets made but wrinkled and the pillow still shows a large impression where Mazer's head once was.

Machman closes the window, the floating image blinking out with a quiet "blip." Aera stirs, and lifts her head from his shoulder. She looks up at him, and smiles.
How long were you up? I hope you didn't have to wait long...
Machman shakes his head and replies in a soft tone.
Only about a minute ago. It looks like we overslept; Mazer is already up and about.
Really? I hope he slept well. How about you?
Aera stretches her arms up in the air and yawns before slumping back up against Machman's shoulder.
I feel quite rested. I haven't gotten this good a sleep in a while.

Just then, Mazer walks back into the room and picks up the PET. Mazer opens up the observation screen.
"Ah, I see you're both awake. You two feel alright? You were both out like a light ever since we left SciLabs."
[[i]Really? That long?[/i]]
[[i]We both had a good long rest. I'm pretty sure we are back at 100%[/i]]
"Good to hear, Machman. I've already had breakfast, so we have the entire day ahead of us. Oh yeah, I almost forgot! On the way back, I got a bunch of upgrades for you both, and I think you're gonna like 'em."
Machman stands up, helping Aera to her feet as well.
[[i]Really? What sort of upgrades?[/i]]
"I installed them while you two were asleep. I'm activating the first one right now!"
Machman felt a strange sensation, a feeling of near weightlessness; like a 100lb weight was lifted from his body. He felt so light, that he could just float away. Aera gasps, bringing Machman into the reality that he IS physically floating. His boots hover almost a foot above the ground, supported by an invisible and completely quiet force. Machman couldn't help but chuckle at this new development.
[[i]This is amazing, Mazer! I'm not even trying, and I'm just floating along like I'm weightless![/i]]
Machman pushes his right foot forward, causing him to spin to the right and prompting laughter from Aera.

[[i]We got to try this new upgrade out! Can we go online?[/i]]
"Of course. I didn't expect any other reaction!"
Machman and Aera both cheer as Mazer pulls the jack-in plug from the side of the PET and inserts it into the port on the computer sitting at his desk.

((Logged In))
((Continued from HadesNet))

Machman and Aera beam back into the PET, somewhat disappointed in the only partial success of their previous mission.
"I know you both don't really feel you could did everything you could to complete the mission fully, but it's not really your fault."
[[i]We know, but...[/i]]
Aera tries to find the words, but just remains silent.
[[i]I think we should go do some busting. It'll help us get it off our minds, and get us stronger.[/i]]
"Alright, if you two are both up to it. Is it alright with you, Aera?"

Aera's eyes meet Machman's, and she smiles. Aera isn't the only one who can cheer people up, it seems. She turns back to Mazer, more upbeat.
[[i]Sure! Lets do it![/i]]
"Alright then. Here we go!"

Mazer hits the "Launch" button on the screen, sending the pair back into the net.

((Logged In))
((From ElectownNet))

Machman and Aera warp back into the PET, and Mazer unplugs the PET from the wall. Machman is sent directly on the Data Recovery Station's base, and the protective green transparent tube materializes around him. Machman closes his eyes, allowing a long stream of data to wrap around him and repair his programming. Aera presses her hands on the tube as she looks at Machman.

"He'll be alright, Aera. His programming is stable, but his wing data could use some repairs. You really did a great job out there."
[[i]I'm glad he's okay.[/i]]
"It will only be a few more minutes until the repairs will be complete. Just sit tight and I'll make him good as new."
After a few minutes, the stream of data unravels around Machman, his armor returning to its original polished sheen. Machman's eyes open, his pupils adjusting as small circular disks bordering his irises rotate rapidly like gears on a clock. The protective tube slides into the floor below, followed by the upper supporting ring.

"How do you feel, Mach?"
Machman looks back, his wings quickly materializing behind him and slowly rotating around his body. He squeezes his fist.
[[i]Better than ever![/i]]
"Good to hear, Mach. Aera was worried about you."
Machman extends his hand to Aera.
[[i]Thank you, Aera. I don't know how I can repay you.[/i]]
Aera takes his hand, her fingers intertwining with his. She smiles, her bright blue eyes devoid of tears.
[[i]I'll think of something, eventually. *giggle*[/i]]

Mazer flips through his email, happening on an old message from the Colosseum Admin.
"Woah, the Tournament is a lot closer than I thought!"

Mach and Aera look up at Mazer's face through a "window" to the outside world.
"Yeah, I entered you two into a NetBattling tournament a few days ago. I just didn't realize how close it really is!"
[[i]How long till the tournament?[/i]]
"We will be notified when our match will start, but it sounds like it can be any day now."
[[i]Good thing we got these chips then, we should be able to tear a single Navi apart with these![/i]]
"Um, we may have a little problem there, Mach. We cannot use our current chip folders, since not everyone is lucky enough to get these kinds of chips. We will be using a Normal Element Tourney Folder. There are other folders that are themed after the 4 elements, but I think you would perform best with the Normal Folder."
[[i]I see... So I guess all we can really do is train our skills, since we have a set list of battlechips we can use.[/i]]
"We can also get some zenny for upgrades. Those have no limit, so we can power both of you up as much as we'd like."

[[i]Hm, that tournament sounds exciting.[/i]]
[[i]I wonder how strong the other Navis will be?[/i]]
"Well, it sounds like there is a lot of participation, so we'll meet both weaker and stronger Navis, but I don't know exactly."
[[i]If going back into the net for some training increases our chances of winning, then I think we should go![/i]]
[[i]If it's alright with you, then a thumbs up from me.[/i]]
"Its settled then. Lets head over to ACDC!"

Mazer plugs the jack into his PC and presses the "launch" button and sends them into the network.

((Logged In))
Mazer stepped off the bus from the colosseum, and walked a few minutes back to his house. He didn't hear a peep from his PET, and felt they could use some quiet time. Inside his PET, Aera was out of the recovery tube, and Machman was in her place. Aera sat next to the tube, and leaned against the glass surface as she quietly sobbed, and tears trickled from her face and down the greenish tube. Mach's eyes were closed, and little floating bits of data swirled around him that repaired his programming.

Mazer made his way to the house, and pulled his keys from his pocket and unlocked the front door. He walked in, and took his shoes off in the front foyer.

"We're home."

He still didn't hear anything from the PET, and he sighed. He wasn't the only one disappointed by the results of the tournament, but he was first to remember that one learns more from failures than successes. As he walked back to his room, he placed the PET on his desk and propped it up. He walked to his closet, took off his jacket and hat, and placed them in his closet before looking back to the PET.

"Are you two alright?"

Aera wiped the tears from her eyes, and spoke up.

[[i]*sniff* Y-yeah. I'm okay... I just wish I was there to help him... I just feel so useless.[/i]]

"Don't feel that way, Aera. We defeated two strong opponents to get where we were, and Anyis did that same, so we lost to someone just as strong, or even stronger than us."

[[i]Well, I still think I could have done more to help.][/i]

The data recovery module beeped to signal Machman's full data recovery, so Aera stood up as the tube sank into the floor, and Machman opened his eyes. Aera stepped towards Machman hesitantly, hoping for some sort of response from Mach. Machman looked down to Aera, with a calm look on his face.

He immediately noticed her slightly red eyes and tear-streaked face. His facial expression changed to worry as he reached out to her.
[[i]Are you alright? Why are you crying?][/i]

Tears started to stream down her face as she fell into his arms.

[[i]Even through all of this, all you can think about is me?  バカ。 バカ!][/i]

Machman hugged Aera tightly as he moved his face close to hers.

[[i]I never expected to get that far in the tournament, let alone actually win it. You are much more important than a simple contest.][/i]

"I think we should go do something, instead of just thinking about what could have been. I bet there is something we can do to help other people out, and maybe get something exciting in return."

[[i]Sure, I think it would be good to get our mind off things and move on. How about you, Aera?][/i]

Aera wiped the tears from her eyes, and tried to recompose herself.
[[i]*sniff* Okay, I'll help.[/i]]

"Excellent! I'll post on the mission BBS and see if anyone could use our assistance."
((From NetopiaNet SP Mission))

Mazer quickly unplugged his PET from the port, and watched carefully as Machman appeared in the DRS tube. He was all there, but the cracks in his mask were still there, revealing something underneath. Mazer put in a few button strokes to cause the glass to develop a cloudy haze, which obscured Mach enough as to conceal what damage Machman sustained. Aera's program was restored, but Mazer kept both of them in the DRS chambers to allow them to completely recharge. The area they just came from was wrought with glitches, so he left nothing to chance. Besides, he would then have time to prepare his little surprise for the both of them when they wake up.

About 2 hours later, Mazer finally backed away from his PET, and slumped back in his chair with a fatigued sigh.
"Whew, finally finished. I hope they like him, since he wasn't very easy to program."

Mazer had been checking periodically throughout the past couple hours on their recovery progress, and they were both all set to go. Mazer deactivated the two DRS tubes, which slid down into the floor to reveal Mach and Aera, their bodies fully recovered, and armor polished to an impressive shine. Machman stretched his arms out, and sighed in relief as he felt his joints loosened and moved smoothly.

[[i]Man, I really needed some R&R after that one.[/i]]

He turned towards Aera's DRS tube, only to be nearly knocked over as Aera hugged/tackled him. She looked up at him and smiled warmly.

[[i]Thank goodness you're okay! I was really worried, especially since we couldn't really contact you.[/i]]
[[i]I'm just glad you're alright. I was afraid the EJO sequence might have been disabled by the lack of signal.[/i]]

Aera looked herself over and then back to Machman.
[[i]Well, I'm all here, so it must have worked okay. What was the cause of that void, anyway? Did you ever find out what happened?[/i]]
[[i]Well, that area was actually an abandoned hotel website, that was buried between the regular and rogue networks, and a Navi named Relic created the void to get to it and do research. However, his digging was causing large shifts in the network and was causing a great deal of damage as he made the area more and more unstable. He refused to cease his work, so we had to stop him by force. He was a very tough opponent, but all of us came out unscathed.[/i]]
[[i]Wow, it was all caused by an archaeologist? What did you do about the void?[/i]]

Mazer spoke up
"I can answer this one. We contacted the GNA, and reported that the cause of the void was identified and neutralized, but a repair team would be needed to seal up the void."

[[i]Oh, that reminds me, what was our reward for the mission?[/i]]

Mazer smiled as he started to push buttons on his PET to activate his newest program.
"I thought you'd never ask. Allow me to introduce you both to the newest member of our team."

Mazer activated the program, and the pair took a step back as dark blue, silver trimmed pieces of metal materialized in front of them. More and more pieces appeared in front of them over the course of a few seconds, and they seemed to float in the air without moving. After no more pieces appeared, they started to shift their positions in the air, and moved around quickly like small birds landing on invisible tree branches. The metal plates silently glided into place, which formed an angular humanoid form around 6 feet tall (net measurement). It appeared to have a head/helmet, with a single fin-like crest projected from the front. There was a dark slit where the eyes would be, kind of like an empty suit of futuristic armor. The slit started to glow cyan, and a circular red "eye" formed in the center of the slit. It shifted from left to right before recentering itself, and the angular figure lowered it's head as it dropped to one knee, and held it's right arm across it's chevron-shaped chest.

[[i]My liege, I am Vector, and my only purpose is to serve at your side.[/i]]

It spoke with a deep, bold voice, like a knight from ancient times. Mazer then addressed Mach and Aera.

"As he said, this is Vector. I created him from the Support Program base data we received from the mission. He will serve you both with utmost loyalty, and shall never leave you sides."

Machman was first to speak to Vector, he was a bit nervous speaking to the new arrival, but more curious as to how he functioned than anything else.
[[i]I am Machman.EXE, pleased to meet you, Vector.[/i]]
[[i]And I'm Aera.SP. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Vector.][/i]

Vector raised his head, his glowing eye focused on the pair in front of him.
[[i]My creator has told me much about you, Sire. I am honored to serve such a mighty Navi.[/i]]
His eye then shifted slightly to focus on Aera. He lowered his head again.
[[i]You are too kind, M'lady. The pleasure is all mine; to serve one of such beauty.][/i]

Aera blushed slightly as she heard Vector's compliment. Mach looked over at Aera and her eyes met with his, and they could both sense they were a bit confused by Vector's overly regal behavior.

"He insisted he made a good first impression, since you all will work as a team from now on."

Machman understood Vector's reasoning, and decided to respond to Vector in a different way.
[[i]Rise, Vector. We are both pleased to have you fight along side us. There will be many battles ahead, with increasingly stronger foes. Will you rise to the challenge?[/i]]

Vector rose to stand up straight, his eye started to glow brightly.
[[i]I will fight every battle as if it were my last, Sire![/i]]
[[i]Then we bid you welcome. I look forward to the adventures we will have.[/i]]
"I'm glad to see you three are getting along. I'm tired from the mission and programming Vector, so I'm going to grab something to eat and relax for a bit. After that, we'll head out to SciLabs to get some upgrades, and then maybe do some quick busting."

[[i]Understood. We'll take this time to get to know each other; and thank you Mazer, you never cease to amaze me.[/i]]

Aera turned and looked towards Mazer's vid window, and smiled before she blew a kiss.
[[i]Love ya, Mazer! Don't worry about us, you deserve a good rest.[/i]]

Mazer chuckled as he left the PET on his computer desk, and went off to reheat some frozen pre-made meal, and returned 20 minutes later with a hot plate of chicken and pasta. He ate as he listened to Mach, Aera, and Vector converse amongst themselves, and after his meal, he washed his dishes and lay down on his bed before he closed his eyes and dozed off.

The next morning, Mazer awoke to the sunlight coming through his window. His quick nap stretched into a full night's sleep, it seemed. He stretched out and went off to the bathroom to brush his teeth and deal with his probably messy hair. He got up and took a step forward before realizing his glasses were not on his face. He reached over to his nightstand, where his glasses usually were. He was relieved to find them, and they were in one piece. After a few minutes, he came back and picked up his PET. Mach, Aera, and Vector were on standby, but were roused by Mazer picking up the PET.

"Good morning."
[[i]Ah, good morning Mazer.[/i]]
[[i]Good morning![/i]]
[[i]Good morning, Mazer.[/i]]
"So, ditching the 'my creator' title?"
[[i]No sir, I just did not know your name until recently.[/i]]

Mazer smiled awkwardly
"Oh, huh. My bad, normally I don't forget things like that. I guess I was just tired."

He looked down at his watch, and then back to the PET.
"Well, the Navi shop should already be open by now, so how about we head out?"
[[i]Sounds fine with me.[/i]]

Mazer grabbed his backpack and plucked the PET off the desk as he headed out the door. He locked the door behind him as he went, and stood at the bus stop for a few minutes until a bus arrived. He boarded, and they were on their way.

((To SciLabs))
((From Scilabs))

Mazer walked into the house and went to his room before he sat down in his chair next to his desk, and plugged his PET into his desktop computer. Mach, Aera, and Vector were all still recovering in the PET, but Mazer wanted to do some more fine-tuning to Mach and Aera's programming, and he preferred the larger screen of his desktop.

It took him over an hour to make the modifications, but finished to his satisfaction and laid down on his bed for a few minutes before he went off to grab something to eat. He knew there was nothing he could do, but he still worried about Sylk, and felt guilty for leaving her all by herself in the middle of a battle. He came back with a sandwich and heard an odd thumping sound as he entered his room. The sound seemed to be coming from the PET, so he looked down into the screen. His eyes went wide upon seeing what was going on inside the PET.

Machman, still inside the recovery tube, was slouched forward, and his forehead was resting on a fracture-ridden area in the clear, glass-like tube. Mach was not fully recovered, and his body still had the signs of trauma from the last battle. His armor was cracked, and his body still bore the signs of where he was punched and shot by the pair of Navis in Yumland. His mask was completely shattered in two pieces and left a gap like a jagged, toothy smile on a jack-o-lantern. The pieces moved up and down, like an upper and lower jaw.

[[b]Haa... haa... haa...[/b]]

Machman then arched backwards awkwardly before he whipped his head towards the glass at a sickening speed.


The final blow caused the entire tube to shatter into thousands of little pieces in a loud crash. Machman, or whoever this navi was, stepped out of the chamber and crushed the shards of glass as he stumbled forward.

[[b] didn't listen to me... you ignored me... now it's my turn to call the shots![/b]]

Machman's head snapped towards a portal over in the corner of the limited PET space, a portal out of the PET and into the network. It was activated and glowing because Mazer had connected his PET to the computer. Mach's wings snapped into position and the thrusters fired. He hurled himself towards the portal like a bat out of hell. Mazer saw what was happening, and quickly yanked the jack out of his computer and effectively isolated the PET and Machman from the network. Machman arrived too late, and paused over the portal.

[[b]Grrr... WORK! WORK, DAMN YOU!!![/b]]

Machman started to slam his fists onto the portal; he initially didn't do much, but started to put major dents in the metal surface. Mazer was stunned to see what was happening to his berzerk Navi, but at first didn't know what to do. He feared that Machman could either seriously damage the PET, turn on the defenseless SPs, or both, so he quickly took action. He accessed a single function in the PET that all of that year's models had, a "failsafe" of sorts that would disable all function of the Navi. He quickly typed in the password to access the program, and activated it.

Machman's body started to spasm violently before he finally went limp and slumped to the floor.
*several hours later*

Mazer finally sat back in his chair, his fingers were almost numb from the near constant typing and programming, and sighed in fatigue.

"Whew, finished... I think."

He looked at the PET screen, and saw Mach was back in the recovery tube, which had to be almost completely reprogrammed after he broke it to tiny pieces, as well as the damaged jack-in portal. Mach and the others had reached full energy, and were ready to be reactivated. Mazer was apprehensive to reactivate him after what happened a few hours before, but he did so anyway. Machman's eyes opened as the recovery tube sank into the ground. Machman stepped out calmly, and looked over at a clock display over on the opposite wall of the PET area before he cursed under his breath.

"Machman, are you alright?"

Machman turned towards Mazer with a somewhat dejected, and irritated look on his face.

[[i]Yeah... but I can't believe I screwed up. Damn! I left her all alone out there, and I've been down for almost 5 hours. It's way too late for us to help her now...[/i]]

He turned as Aera and Vector's recovery tubes slid away. Aera's eyes were misty with tears, and Vector stood silently where he was.

{Man... one defeat after the other... And I thought I was having a hard time with this. Mach, Aera, and Vector... they must be really beating themselves up inside.}

Aera walked over to Machman and grabbed his hand pleadingly.

[[i]Mach! Is Sylk okay? I must have EJO'd before the battle ended. Was Sylk alright?[/i]]

[[i]I... I don't know, Aera. I was defeated, and the both of you were forced out with me. I have no idea what became of Sylk...[/i]]

Aera's face started to sparkle as tears ran down her cheeks.

[[i]No... we left her behind... even after I promised her; we abandoned her!][/i]

Aera started to sob and fell into Mach's arms. Mach looked down at her, and rubbed her head and back with his hands.

[[i]I'm sorry... Aera. It's my fault that we were defeated. I screwed up, and now Sylk is paying the price...[/i]]

Machman let go of Aera, and she stepped back as she looked back at him; surprised at what he was saying. Mach had a pained look on his face, and turned away. His fist clenched tightly and caused his lower arm to shake.

[[i]Damnit. It was her first time on the net, and I lead her straight to a crushing defeat. She was just a child, and I lead her so deep into the net that she'd have no chance to escape. And worse yet, I failed to protect her from the dangers that lurked there. My stupidity brought her there, and my weakness doomed her.][/i]

Machman sat on the floor of the PET, and slouched forward as he stared at the tiles of the floor. He then punched the floor with a slight thud in frustration. Aera cautiously walked over to Mach, and placed her hand on his shoulder. He didn't react and continued to stare at the floor. She then sat down next to him, and reached down towards his hand. He watched as she lifted his hand, and inter weaved her fingers with his. He felt the warmth from her hand as he closed his eyes.

He then heard the sharp, metallic clinking of Vector's metal plates as he walked towards them, before he stopped and knelt a foot or two behind them, and went silent again. He felt absolutely terrible for his failure, but could feel that both Aera and Vector understood his pain, and wanted to help share the burden. Though neither of them spoke a word, he knew exactly what they were trying to say, in their own special ways.

{Aera... Vector... Thank you.}

Aera slid slightly closer to Mach, and he leaned towards her. His head slid from her shoulder to her lap, and he placed his free hand over Aera's hand, which Aera responded by stacking her free hand on his.

Mazer watched from his desk, and sighed with sadness, with a tinge of relief.

{Looks like they're gonna be okay. I'll leave them alone for today.}
((The Next Day))

Mazer had already woken up, and had just finished breakfast as he walked back into his bedroom. He sat down on his chair and switched on the screen for the blue and orange PET. All three of them were sound asleep, and in pretty much the same position he last saw them in. He felt an active day would help them cope with what happened yesterday, and didn't want them to be in a melodramatic funk all day. He opened up his program files, and accessed a new file before he activated it.

Two floating drones, somewhat similar to Mach's Overwatch drones, materialized in front of Mach and Aera. These drones were slightly larger, due to multiple holographic projectors bristling from their small frames. The projectors started to shimmer as they warmed up, and shone brightly as they started projecting. In less than a few seconds, the drones created a hologram around each of them, in the exact image of Machman.

"Mach, Aera, Vector. It's morning, so time to wake up."

Machman slowly lifted off Aera's lap and sat up, which stirred Aera out of her sleep. Vector's single red eye started to glow brighter and brighter as he began to wake as well. Machman and Aera opened their eyes almost simultaneously, and were greeted by two identical Machmen standing in front of them. The two holograms looked down at the two, their entire holographic bodies moved incredibly naturally.

Mach and Aera's eyes went wide, and Vector's eye darted between Machman and the two standing holograms in confusion.

[[i]What the...? Am I... dreaming?][/i]

Machman reached out towards the closest hologram, and attempted to touch it, only for his finger to merely pass right through it, like an illusion. Aera watched closely, and couldn't understand what was going on.

[[i]What are these? Fake... Machmans?][/i]

Mazer piped up as he disabled a subroutine in the program.

"Holographic projections of Machman, to be exact."

The two Machman holograms started to fade and disappear as they revealed the floating drones underneath.

"While you were recovering, I purchased some process expansions and programmed in two new programs. This is one of them, and I call it: 'Force Multiplier.' What do you think?"

Machman looked over the two floating drones, and noted the projectors dotting their frames. He started to think, and tried to verbalize his thoughts.

[[i]So... these drones are capable of projecting holographic images to create perfect copies of myself. ...Decoys.][/i]

"Exactly. I was able to purchase some upgrades for your energy capacity as well, but you are not armored enough to withstand a great deal of battle damage. With these decoys, you could confuse the enemy and cause them to attack these weak, but easily replaceable drones. They would have to choose among three targets, which greatly increased your chance to avoid attacks, and even confuse the enemy enough to take them down before they get the chance to strike."

Aera and Mach stood up, and started to walk around the drones as they closely looked over them. Vector stood up as well, and approached cautiously.

[[i]Amazing! So these drones can copy Mach completely?][/i]

"Yep, and these are not only controlled by you, Machman, but they are also programmed with some limited AI, so they can theoretically just do their own thing without any guidance. This makes controlling them quite easy, and won't distract you during battle. I used parts of your appearance programs to make them run, jump, fly, and even attack just like you. I also set it up where if you were to cross, have a junction, or switch to your MachFighter, the drones would reflect those changes as well."

Aera reached out to touch one of the drones, and just before her finger made contact with it's frame, a small green spark shot from her finger and into the drone. The site where the bolt hit the drone glowed green for a moment before it faded away. The drone remained perched in the air, as if it was never touched. Aera looked down at her hand curiously.

"Oh, that is the second program I installed, and this one was made especially for you, Aera. Your body constantly creates electricity which you can use for attacking and your protective shield, but since you've been getting stronger, you can attack and still have energy to spare. So I created a program that converts that energy into recovery data, which you can use inside your own body, or stream it out of your body and use it on someone else. You can still use your IV programs, but this can provide a quicker burst of regenerative data when you need it."

Aera looked at her hands as little green bolts of energy arched between her fingers.

[[i]Oooh... This will be very useful![/i]]

"I'm glad you like it! I wish we could have had these in our last battle."

Mach could hear the uncomfortableness in Mazer's voice, and quickly chimed up.

[[i]We talked about the battle last night. We came to the conclusion that since the Navis were only fighting us out of wanting a challenge, Sylk would likely have had the chance to give up, or the Navis could have stopped the battle themselves. At least she wasn't left behind with a horde of viruses attacking her.[/i]]

[[i]Though we aren't certain, we just have to hope for the best. Maybe we'll find her again, or maybe get in contact with her via the BBS post she made when we originally teamed up.[/i]]

Mazer was relieved they didn't allow their emotions to blind them and they thought it through together.

"That's a good idea. I'll post in the BBS to see if she's alright. In the mean-time, do you want to try these programs out?"

[[i]Yes. I need to become stronger, so I can prevent that from ever happening again.[/i]]

Aera put her finger to her chin, as she mulled something over in her head.

[[i]Hm... I agree, but nearly all of the viruses we've encountered lately have been very easy to defeat, with exception to the ones we faced in that void.][/i]

[[i]You're right. The entire time we were with Sylk, the only times we didn't just breeze through was when we encountered Navis. The viruses were mere cannon-fodder. Though we could just find Navis to fight, Lau and Desperado were very tough Navis, and we may have trouble finding others with their amounts of strength. I think we should try to find stronger viruses, ones even stronger than those in the Rogue Networks.][/i]]

"Hm... stronger than even Rogue-class viruses? I don't know of any places with stronger viruses than that."

Aera's eyes went wide as she came to a realization.

[[i]The Undernet.[/i]]

Machman turned towards her, curious about this "Undernet."

[[i]Undernet? What's the Undernet, and how do you know about it?][/i]

[[i]I... I don't know why I know about this, but the Undernet is supposed to be where all viruses came from. The strongest viruses would be there. Why do I know this?][/i]

Machman remembered that Aera herself, or at least part of her, originated as a data anomaly. This anomaly was sort of like a virus, and may have originated from the Undernet, and those memories must have been transferred when she became a SP.

[[i]It may be because some of your data may have come from an anomaly created in the Undernet. That could explain why you know about it.][/i]

Aera looked down and pondered to herself as she tried to understand how she knew about this unknown place.

"Hm... I think I remember hearing about this place before somewhere. I'll look around on the net to see if I can find out more about this place."

After around an hour or so, Mazer spoke to them.

"Well, after quite a bit of searching, I found only a few articles and posts about this Undernet, but one of them had the information as to how I could get you three there. There should be a fairly isolated and barely used portal in the InternetCity hub. Shall I warp you there now?"

[[i]We made the necessary preparations, so we're ready to go.][/i]

"Alright then, I've opened up the Jack-In portal, I'll warp you through to InternetCity."

Machman nodded as he led the others through the portal, and one by one they teleported out of the PET and into the network.

((To InternetCity))
((From Hades RogueNet))

Mach, Aera, and Vector immediately materialized in the waiting recovery modules, and rested as their programs were repaired and restored to their former states. He knew they could use a few hours to recooperate, and since they got a decent amount of zenny from their battles, Mazer decided to make another trip to the Navi shop and buy some more upgrades.

He threw on his coat and placed the PET in his pocket as he headed out of his room. He slipped on his shoes just inside the door and locked it on his way out. It was just a few minutes walk to the bus station, and he managed to catch one just as it arrived at the stop. He hopped on, swiped his card to pay for the trip, and went on his way.

((To SciLabs))
((From Scilabs))

Mazer hopped off the bus at his stop, and made the quick walk back to his house. As he walked down the sidewalk, his PET started to vibrate. He pulled it out of his pocket and saw a status message popped up on the screen, which indicated all three programs were fully restored. He deactivated the recovery modules and the trio started to stir as the tubes retreated down into the floor. The trio stepped out of the modules and looked over towards each other before speaking.

Machman stretched his neck and arms as Aera looked down at her fully restored and shiny breastplate armor.

[[i]Ah, I needed that. You feel better, you two?[/i]]

[[i]Never felt better![/i]]

Vector looked over his armor, which had been returned to its former shine.

[[i]I am back to full strength, sire.[/i]]

Mazer had made his way towards the door of the house, and used the PET to unlock the door before he walked in.

"Good to hear you're all back to full power. While you were recovering, I made another trip to the shop and tweaked some of your programs."

[[i]How so, Mazer?[/i]]

"Well, I've mainly increased the energy output of some of your defenses and weapons, mainly your energy shield and vulcan cannon. I also tweaked the power output of your thrusters to allow for more frequent teleportation. As for you, Aera, I also adjusted your energy shields, and added a new recovery program. This program is made specifically for program restoration and de-bugging. That way someone like Desperado wouldn't be able to hold you in place for long."

[[i]Wow, that must have taken a lot of time to do.[/i]]

"Not really. Since they were all just adjustments, process was rather quick."

[[i]That makes sense. Thanks a lot, Mazer! <3[/i]]

"No problem!"

Mazer made his way back to his room, and sat down on his bed as he looked down into the PET.

"Mach, the largest adjustment I made was to your 30mm vulcan cannon. I doubled the ammunition and adjusted the projectile composition to provide much more stopping power. However, the ammunition will take a while to replace, and your buster will be temporarily disabled after use due to the strain on the programming."

[[i]I see, so frequent use is not recommended... noted, Mazer.[/i]]

"Well, since you're all back to full strength, want to go back out into the network?"

[[i]Sure, how about we head to the NetSquare, and see if we find anything interesting?[/i]]

Mach turned to Aera, and she replied with a smile.

[[i]Sounds good to me![/i]]

They both turned to Vector, who straightened his stance before speaking.

[[i]I shall follow without question.[/i]]

"... Alright then, I'll send you three in. Stand by for log-in sequence."

The trio turned and walked towards the outbound link portal, which activated as Mazer inserted the PET jack into his computer port. The three calmly walked over the portal, and quickly disappeared as they warped into the network.

((To NetSquare))
((From NetVegas))

The trio warped out of the network and into Mazer's PET, where they appeared at the log-in portal. Since they were still in fighting form, they didn't need to go into the data recovery tubes. Vector's armor was a bit damaged, but Aera put her hand near his shoulder, and a flurry of green sparks leaped from her hand and into his body. The regenerative energies jumped amongst the metal plates, and they began to restore themselves to their previous strength and shine. Vector turned to Aera, and bowed his head as he spoke.
[[i]Thank you, m'lady.[/i]]
Aera smiled as she replied.
[[i]You did great out there, it's the least I can do.[/i]]

Mazer put the PET on his desk, and started to pull up documents on his computer. Machman peered out the small window for the PET's external camera, and spoke to Mazer.
[[i]Mazer, what are you working on?[/i]]
Mazer looked down at Machman in the PET as he adjusted his glasses.
"Oh this? I'm looking for any part-time job opportunities to get some additional income. I don't want to spend too much of my parents' money after all."
Machman tilted his head to the side as he crossed his arms. A small screen opened up next to him, which displayed a large list of numbers and appeared to be some sort of banking statement.
[[i]Well, according to your expenditure records, you're almost self-sufficient thanks to the rewards we get from virus busting. Other than the trip we took to Yoka, which was severely discounted due to using some of your flier miles and assorted coupons, you only spend money on food and upgrades for us.[/i]]

Mazer took off his glasses and sat back in his chair as he crossed his arms behind his head.
"Yeah, the Yoka trip. Taking a plane was a stupid idea, I could have taken the bus for cheaper, and I wouldn't have wasted my Dad's flier miles. Besides, I still feel guilty for not being able to pay my own tuition in college."
[[i]If you really want to get a job, I can't really stop you.[/i]]
"Yeah, hopefully I'll find something. You three can go into standby, and I'll see you all in the morning. I'm just going to look at some of the classifieds on line."
[[i]Understood. Good night, Mazer.[/i]]
Aera and Vector appeared in the PET screen as well, and wished Mazer good night.
[[i]G'night, Mazer![/i]]
[[i]Sleep well, Mazer.[/i]]
"Thanks guys. Good night to you too."

The trio walked away from the screen as the window closed before the PET screen itself slowly faded as it turned off. Mazer continued to look at the computer screen as his fingers tapped away at the keys, punctuated by mouse clicks.

-----------------------------The Next Day-------------------------------------

The PET screen lit up again, and Machman's face appeared on the screen. Mach would have strained to see Mazer's bed, but he was greeted by the back of Mazer's head, resting on his keyboard. Machman raised an eyebrow as he spoke.
[[i]Mazer? It's almost 10:30. ...[/i]]
Mazer didn't even stir. Machman responded by raising the volume level on the PET's speakers by almost 25%.
He bolted nearly upright while mumbling something that sounded like "I'm up, I'm up" before he rubbed his eyes and looked around the room before he peered down at the PET.
[[i]It's almost 10:30. You have any luck with a job.[/i]]
Mazer put on his glasses as he rubbed his head.
"No... not a single person seems to be hiring nowadays. Gotta love this economy... The only place that was hiring was a beauty parlor, and even if I did actually know anything about that kind of stuff, they were looking for women only. Bah, I'm gonna get something to eat."
As Mazer got up, Mach quickly spoke up.
[[i]Uh, Mazer, I would recommend a shower first. You seem to have a case of "keyboard face" again.[/i]]

Mazer responded by side-stepping into his bathroom and looked in the mirror. Mach was right on the money, the right side of his face had a net-like pattern of redness, thanks to sleeping on his keyboard. He took a shower, put on a new change of clothes, and grabbed a quick bowl of cereal. He ate a spoonful as he walked back to his room and placed the bowl on his desk as he sat down.
"Well then, if I can't find a job, I guess we'll just have to get some money the hard way."
Machman grinned under his mask.
[[i]I was thinking the same thing. Where will we be sent?[/i]]
"I don't know. I'm definitely thinking one of the rogue networks, but not too sure of the location. We've been to most of the available networks, except for a few."
[[i]I saw a few people going into a network called SharoNet when we were in the NetSquare; how about there?[/i]]
"Hm... don't really know much about that place, but Sharo is way up north; the network would probably reflect the weather there, which is quite cold."
[[i]Sharo? It sounds interesting to me.[/i]]
[[i]Other than that one terrain shift in NetVegas, we haven't fought in that kind of environment recently. I'm all for a challenge.[/i]]
"Alright, I'll send you into the NetSquare, you should be able to find the SharoNet portal from there. Logging you all in... now."

Mazer pressed the log-in icon on his PET, and sent the three into the Network.

((To NetSquare))
((From SharoNet))

The three had successfully warped out of the Network and back into the safety of the PET, and Mazer gave a relieved sigh as he saw they returned with no problems. His team was pretty beaten up by the enemies they fought, but now they have a pretty impressive record: They managed to cause a flying battleship to use its trumpcard, deleted two massive viruses that he has never heard of, infiltrated a secret base, and deleted an unknown virus that was easily as fast as Mach and could use chips, and witnessed seemingly rare virus behavior. They definitely earned some needed R&R.

They also accumulated a rather hefty sum of zenny while they were in there, more than enough for some useful upgrades. Mazer made another quick check over his slumbering team before he put the PET in his nearly empty backpack and grabbed it as he walked out of the room. He grabbed his "unbreakable" plastic water bottle from the fridge and took a swig and walked out the door to the bus stop down the street.

((To SciLabs))
((From Scilabs))

Mazer stepped off the bus before it pulled away to complete the rest of its route, and he walked down the sidewalk before he turned to his house. He left his shoes in the foyer and sat down on the couch in the house's moderately-sized living room. He then pulled out the PET and checked on the three who were recovering in each of their data tubes before he pulled a jack out of the PET and attached it to the TV on the wall, before he placed the PET on the table in front of the couch.

He turned on the TV to see the PET's menu screen, and inserted the holo-projector data card into the PET's chip slot. An installation wizard appeared, and a little caricature of a Navi appeared on the screen and guided Mazer through the different steps. Using the PET like a controller, he started configuring the new hardware.

--Several hours later--

Mazer, now with a rather fatigued look on his face, flopped back on the sofa and placed the PET on the sofa cushion next to him.
"There, finally done."

He stretched out his arms before he rolled his neck from side to side, which prompted several little pops before he sighed with relief.
{After how easy it was to configure that projector, I didn't think that new propulsion system would take that much work. I just hope I didn't make a mistake, the science behind it is still pretty confusing...}

Mazer got up and stretched his back before he went over to the fridge in the kitchen and grabbed a fizzy drink. The sugar and caffeine was quite refreshing... He heard a soft chime come from the PET, and peered over the back of the couch to the PET on the cushion, and saw it was alerting him that Mach and his SPs were fully repaired and ready for reactivation. He put his hand on the back of the couch and swung his body up and over to plop down on the cushions in front of him. He reached down and pressed the button to reactivate his team.

Inside the PET, Machman opened his eyes just as the tube's glass chamber slid into the floor. He looked to his left then right to see both Vector and Aera stirring in their deactivated tubes. He stepped out and walked in front of Aera's tube just as she opened her eyes as well. He reached out to her and took her hand as she stepped down from the slightly raised platform. She looked up at Mach before she smiled and stepped closer to rest her head on Mach's chest armor. Mach then reached his left arm around her and held her tight. A rhythmic clicking sound caused the pair to turn, and saw Vector was walking towards them.

The construct-like SP stopped before he placed his right arm over his chest and lowered his head in greeting. Mazer then addressed his team.
"Have a good rest?"

The three looked over towards Mazer's pop-up window and responded.
[[i]I feel better than ever.[/i]]
[[i]I'm okay, I'm just glad everyone else is alright.[/i]]
[[i]I am back to full power, Mazer.[/i]]
"Good to hear. You all had a pretty tough fight out there."
[[i]That's an understatement...[/i]]

Vector raised his head to look directly at Machman as he spoke up, a rather uncommon occurrence.
[[i]Sire, I saw some rather... disturbing sights inside that base. I think we should obtain assistance before we attempt to assault that base again.[/i]]
[[i]I see. We'll send a report to CAG.EXE, since sent on the mission that prompted our first meeting with that flying battleship. He definitely has the manpower to mount an invasion of that base.][/i]

Vector felt a little relieved that there were others behind them in the same cause.
[[i]I understand, sire. I will give you a full report shortly.[/i]]
"I'll help you all send out your report as soon as it's ready. But since you all are fully replenished right now, how about I show you your latest upgrades?"

The three had an increased interest in Mazer and looked towards his pop-up window expectantly.
"Alright, Vector. I upgraded your bodily control functions to allow yourself to use your own body plates to provide an extra layer of protection for yourself or your allies."
Vector watched as several of his body plates moved from his body and floated lazily around his body like little satellites, before all of them rushed to a point in front of him and formed a large, circular shield in front of him. Vector nodded his head and looked back to Mazer's window.
[[i]Thank you, Mazer. I shall use this ability to its utmost potential.[/i]]

Mazer then shifted his focus to Aera.
"Aera, your healing abilities could provide gradual regeneration over time, but you lacked the ability to regenerate large areas of programming in a single burst. I created a function to overcome this."
Mazer activated Aera's new healing program, and Aera watched with wonder as little flickers of green light coursed over her body and gathered into a pulsating orb of condensed regeneration subroutines.
[[i]Wow! I can really put this power to good use. Thank you so much, Mazer~![/i]]

Mazer chuckled in response to Aera's thanks, and blushed a little bit.
"I should have given you that kind of function earlier, please think nothing of it. Now, Machman."
Mazer flipped through several different program file screens as he activated multiple routines in sequence.
"Though I hate the term 'experimental,' this is a rather unorthodox program I've added."

Machman watched as his quartet of blade-like wings disappeared and two larger structures started to materialize behind him. They quickly materialized to form several different pieces; each wing structure was made of 3 different curved parts that looped around a circular point. One of the curved structures had two wings sprouting from it, one diagonally up and back, and a smaller one that pointed diagonally down and back. The inner surface of the floating pieces were glowing a pale cyan, as if they were used to contain an invisible force housed in the middle of the ring they created.
"I have just created a mostly untested anti-gravity drive to replace your current propulsion system. The main mechanical programs are housed inside memory banks inside of the PET, so you can remain sleek and fast, while having the incredible acceleration and top speed that a gravity drive can provide. The best part is you can do even more than your previous thrusters without making a sound. Give it a try!"

Machman nodded, but he was a little hesitant to try out a "mostly untested" system. He activated it, and watched in an amused amazement as he floated off the ground without as much as a whisper. He could hear Aera inhale as she gasped in amazement.
[[i]This... this is amazing, Mazer! You've really outdone yourself this time![/i]]

Mazer grinned from ear to ear; he was equally as glad that it actually worked as he was glad that Machman liked the upgrade.
"I'm glad you like it! I'm still learning more and more about gravitational field manipulation, so I might find some even better programs for you in the future. With this anti-grav drive, you will get even higher top speed and acceleration, so I wouldn't try to reach it's maximum capabilities while inside the relatively cramped PET. Though you may think that was my 'coup de grace,' but I have one more thing that involves all three of you."

Machman raised an eyebrow as Aera canted her head slightly to the side.
[[i]How so, Mazer?[/i]]
"You know that old projector lens I had installed on the PET? I used some of my saved-up funds to splurge on an upgrade. I'm activating it now."

Machman felt a somewhat odd sensation in his feet, and looked down to see that his feet and legs were rapidly disappearing. He looked to his SPs, and both of them were in a similar state. Machman closed his eyes for a split second, and when he opened them, he was seeing a completely different world around him. He could see Mazer looking up at him from a couch, and he could even see the PET where he normally resides several feet below him. He then looked up and saw both Aera and Vector floating in the air next to him.
[[i]... You didn't happen to replace the projector with a holographic lens did you?[/i]]

Mazer looked up at Machman from the couch and grinned from ear to ear.
"I did. You three really did your hardest out there, and I think all of you deserved a fun little upgrade to give you some more freedom outside of the network. The upgrade wasn't very expensive, and it was rather easy to install and configure. It even came with a different mode installed."

Machman looked down as Mazer typed a few commands into the PET, and Mach saw Aera flicker for a moment before her overall shape changed rather drastically. Her body shrank down multiple sizes, while her head grew a few sizes larger, along facial features. She looked like a... really cute cartoon character. He was staring at Aera's proportions so attentively that he didn't immediately notice Aera's facial expression turn from a gentle smile to an almost frenzied grin.
[[i]Oh my... Mach... You are... SO CUTE![/i]]

She rushed over to Machman and hugged him with her little arms as her cheek rubbed against his. Her eyes looked like 'greater than' and 'less than' symbols, which struck him as odd, but her body language sent a rather clear message. As Aera was nuzzling up to him, he glanced over to Vector, who looked... very odd and confused. His body plates were shrunk down to very tiny slivers of metal, while the plates that mad up his head and his single red eye were comically large.

Meanwhile, Mazer was trying his best not to giggle at the comical appearances and antics of his team.
"That... *heehee* is a pre-installed 'chibi-mode' option."

[[i]It's... rather odd, Mazer.[/i]]
[[i]I don't mind. ~<3[/i]]
Mazer looked up at Mach and shrugged before he changed the subject.
"Well, do you all want to bust some more, or call it a day?"
[[i]Hm... I wouldn't mind testing out the new upgrades.[/i]]
[[i]Likewise, Mazer.[/i]]
[[i]Sure, might as well give it a shot.[/i]]

"Alright, how about I send you all to a little warmer location; I'm thinking BeachNet."
[[i]Ooh, I've never been there before.[/i]]
[[i]Sounds like a plan to me, Mazer.[/i]]
"Excellent. I'll log you three into the network now. I'll relay the directions to the BeachNet portal once you get into the NetSquare."

The trio quickly disappeared from sight before they beamed out of the PET into the TV, and connected through the device's network connection to the net.

((To Internet Square))
((From Beach RogueNet))

Mazer watched the screen carefully as he had his Navi and SPs materialize inside their respective recovery tubes inside the PET. Aera and Vector appeared normally, but Machman looked in very rough shape. One of his legs was missing, leaving a jagged stump at his mid thigh. Nearly every piece of armor on his body was shattered, and some of the slivers of metal left behind were embedded in his skin like crumbling blue thorns. His arms and chest were buckled and dented, and his face was covered in bruises and scrapes.

Though his Navi looked in bad shape, Mach's eyes were closed gently, as if he was sleeping. The tubes began to faintly glow green as the glass frosted over and obscured the programs' bodies. Mazer opened a few status menus under Mach's programming, and sighed as he saw Mach's program restoration progress, and its very long completion time.

"Man, this'll take forever to fix... I'm surprised he didn't get deleted by that fall."

Mazer synced his PET with his desktop, and started to use his mouse to navigate through the PET menus on his monitor. He opened up the code in the antigravity engine program, and started to comb through it carefully, making edits as he went.

Several hours went by before Mazer pushed away from his desk with a sigh of relief.
"Finally. That glitch went deeper than I thought. Just one line, and it all went to hell."

He stood up and grabbed some food from the fridge before returning and opening Mach's status screen. His repairs weren't even close to half done, even now.
{Damn... Mach'll be down for almost a day, and that doesn't include testing afterwards... Might as well get some upgrades while he recuperates.}

Mazer picked up the PET, disconnected it from his PC, and grabbed his coat before going out the door. It was only a short walk to the bus stop, and after a couple minutes he was on his way to SciLabs.

((To SciLabs))
((From SciLabs))

Mazer made his way back to his house, and pulled his PET from his pocket. Machman's data recovery was almost 90% complete, and both SPs were ready for quite a long time. He released them from their recovery tubes, and Aera immediately made a beeline to Mach's tube. She couldn't see through the frosted glass, and looked up to Mazer.
[[i]Mazer! Is Mach alright? Please tell me he's okay!![/i]]

Mazer looked down at her with a weak smile, showing the general amount of fatigue he's in from the hours and hours of data recovery.
"He's alright, Aera. He just needs a little more time to recover."
He made the tube nearly transparent again, which revealed Machman floating peacefully in the tube. His leg was almost completely reconstructed, with just a few bits being built around his heel, and the armor over his chest, shoulders, and forearms were restoring. Mach's face was now free of scratches and bruising, as if the incident never happened.

Aera stared at Mach's face for a few moments before she looked back up at Mazer. Vector had been standing slightly behind Aera the whole time, and was trying to figure out what happened, and why his master was still recovering.
[[i]What happened? Why did he crash like that?[/i]]
"His anti-gravity drive program glitched up and went haywire, eventually intensifying the gravity around Mach to 5-times normal gravity, straight down. We're really lucky Mach managed to alter his course enough to only graze the ship. Otherwise, he would have been in much worse shape. I think I fixed the program, but I'm going to test it for a day or so. I don't want it to glitch up again. I'm not sure if making that program was a good idea after all."

Aera smiled, and tried to reassure the troubled NetOp.
[[i]It wasn't your fault, Mazer. I can speak for all of us when I say your creativity and the resulting creations never cease to amaze us, and only make us stronger. We're indebted to you for that. We literally wouldn't exist if it weren't for you.[/i]]

Mazer couldn't help but smile back, there was no way to resist Aera's infectious optimism. Vector looked up towards Mazer before he lowered his head and crossed his arm over his chest.
[[i]Lady Aera speaks the truth. We are eternally in your debt.[/i]]

[[i]I don't know about "eternally," but they're right sir.[/i]]

Aera's eyes went wide as she quickly looked back into Mach's tube. His eyes were open, and he winked at Aera as he gave her a thumbs up. Aera giggled before she hugged the tube, pressing the side of her face against the glass. Mach glanced up towards Mazer.
[[i]That was some glitch, huh? How much longer am I stuck in here?[/i]]
"Your recovery should be completed in a few minutes. I've put your anti-grav drive offline until I can do some more tests. I thought it would be just an easy fix, but the glitches started to multiply as the program stopped responding and crashed. I do have some new upgrades for you though. I reinforced your programming to toughen you up a bit, and buffed your offensive signature attacks. Your thrust laser has a higher energy output, and I added armor penetrating cores to your 30mm ammunition in addition to a small targeting system incorporated to the vulcan itself. It uses high-frequency radar to detect enemies at long range, or those using some sort of cloaking tech."

[[i]Wow, you've outdone yourself, Mazer. Oh, did you happen to find out what happened with Bugbeard and the Strassavora?[/i]]
Mazer shook his head, he knew nothing of the status of the Strassavora and her crew. Machman looked down as he thought, then looked back to Mazer.
[[i]I think they should be alright, I managed to do a good amount of damage to the beast before the glitch, and I'm pretty sure Bugbeard heard my suggestion to attack the main body and eyes instead of the tentacles... Mazer, you look like you need some R&R to me. Don't worry about us and get some rest.[/i]]
Mazer nodded as he sleepily closed his eyes.
"Yeah yeah, you're right. Once you're done recovering, access the HighRoller.GMO file if you get bored. That'll be your main form of rapid transit while your anti-grav drive is offline."
[[i]Will do, Mazer. Thanks again, now go get some rest.[/i]]

Mazer smiled as he took off his glasses and put them on his nightstand. He rubbed his eyes and simply fell into bed without as much as removing his shoes. Mach smirked before he looked back to Aera, then nearly jumped as he saw her mouth pressed against the glass as she exhaled, causing her lips to extend in an almost perfect circle around the glass. She started to giggle, causing her lips to slip from the glass, and pulled away. Mach laughed as he realized what Aera was doing, then leaned up towards the glass. Aera stared into Mach's eyes, and he stared into hers. She then closed her eyes and planted a kiss on the glass, before she blushed and pulled away. Mach smiled as he put his forehead against the class, and Aera did the same.

Mazer very quickly succumbed to the fatigue and the softness of his bed and drifted off to sleep. He didn't wake up until several hours later, and groggily sat up in his bed. He somehow kicked his shoes off while he was asleep, but didn't really notice as he got up to grab a drink and brush his teeth. He came back a few minutes later and looked down to the PET. He started to smile as he saw Machman zipping along the floor of the PET with Aera sitting on his shoulders and giggling away. Vector was giving chase, his metal feet were sliding on the floor like skates, kicking up sparks here and there.

It seemed Machman was already used to his new form of personal transport: a new .GMO that reinforced his legs and boots with stabilization braces, and had one large wheel embedded in each foot, the axle approximately where the ball of his foot would be. Mach was slightly leaned forward, allowing him to skate effortlessly around the PET, while a pair of blade-like drag bars attached to each heel kept him from falling backwards. He moved at a surprisingly fast pace considering how small the wheels were, relative to his entire body. His circular wing structures were still there, but one could see there was no glow coming from the inner ring; only his thrusters would function.
"Looks like you like your new wheels, Mach."

Machman made a wide turn before he slowly came to a stop. Aera smiled and looked up at Mazer as Mach did the same and flashed a thumbs up.
[[i]Oh yeah, these things are awesome! The amount of torque and top speed these wheels provide are incredible! I really want to try them out on the net.[/i]]
"Sounds like a plan to me. How about we head to somewhere a little more familiar, like ElectownNet?"
[[i]Oh yeah, I remember that place! What about those magnetic panels out there? Won't they trip Mach up?[/i]]
"I was thinking about that when I designed them. If you haven't noticed, the tires of these wheels are made of a flexible material that can form into different types of treads depending on what you're traversing. They can develop large knobs for off-road terrain, hardened spikes for ice, and even paddles for traveling over sand and even water. As for the magnets, the braces and protective plates around your feet and legs are non-magnetic, and your high torque should be able to break free of any magnetic fields attempting to interfere with your movement. Just be aware you're still vulnerable to ground based attacks while using these."

Mach looked down at his new wheels and smiled as he looked back up to Mazer.
"Alright then, I'll jack you three into the InternetCity hub. Make your way to Electown from there."

Mazer plugged the PET into his computer, and the small portal in the corner of the PET's "room" started to glow. Mach started to roll there, with Aera still on his shoulders, and Vector skating close behind. They slid into the portal and disappeared as they beamed into the network.

((To InternetCity))