103 Tungsten Avenue

[Edits and slight rewrites made on Fri 26 Jan 2007.]


Marina Connell's fingers paused for a second, and then resumed their clacking on the keyboard. "I'm busy."

"I have something for you."

"Give it to me at dinner."

Regardless of her request, the doorknob rattled. However, it did not open. "Rina, it's locked."

"Yeah, I know. Dad, I'm having a bad day." She scowled, pushing some partially-dyed brown hair back out of her eyes, and resumed typing after a couple of mouse clicks. Suddenly she surged up to her feet, a binder finding its way into her hands, and then crashing against the wall as she hurled it.

"Is this because of Delano's deletion?"

"You think?"

The man on the other side of the door sighed wheezily. "As I said, I have something for you. Given how you're feeling, you'll probably really appreciate it."

Marina stood in the middle of her bedroom for a moment longer, glaring at her fallen paper-bleeding binder, and then reached across the small space and released the lock. The door cracked open a few feet. In the hall stood a middle-aged man, so weathered and stress-worn that he looked much older than Marina knew he was. He manoeuvred his tall frame into the room, looking down at her. She glared back flatly.

Silently, he held out a flash drive. Her scowl shifted down to it.

"What the hell is this?"

"Watch your language, please."


Her father paused momentarily, looking like he was sighing inside. "Just plug this into your PET."

"Fine." Marina practically snatched the flash drive out of his fingers, whipped around, and slammed herself down back into the swivel chair pulled up to the table with the laptop atop it. The PET that her father had spoken of sat on the desktop next to the machine, plugged into its recharge port. The screen was dark, and no Net Navigator could be seen on it. She could still easily recall the sight of her last one, exploding into a cloud of fractured data and disappearing into the digital ether.

"You just have to promise me one thing."

Marina shuddered, shook herself back into the real world, and glanced back at her father. "And what's that?"

"Don't push this one as hard as the others."

"So you're saying that I'm too hard on my Navis?"

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. That's why you got your last four deleted."

Her glower got even deeper. She whirled around in her seat, turning her back stiffly on the tall grey-haired man, and jammed the flash drive into the port on the top of the PET.

The screen immediately buzzed to life and brightness. A small loading bar appeared, filling with green, until it reached maximum capacity and flashed out of existence again. Then something humanoid stepped into the window, looking up at her through the glass.

"You got me a CustomNavi."

"Ah...something like that. He can explain it to you if he feels like it."

The Navi looked back and forth as they spoke. His wide silver eyes gave him the seeming of unusual innocence and curiosity, but when he finally said something, his voice was flat and flavourless.


Marina looked back down at the PET. "Uh, hi. You got a name?"

"Yes. I am Raiden.EXE, property of the Netopian National Defense Council, CTRL unit, serial number--"

"You got me an NNDC Navi?!" Marina cut in, leaving Raiden to trail off in silence. "You got me a government Navi?! A government weapon?!"

Her father looked towards the top of her head, above her eyes. She knew that pose perfectly; it was the one he took where he wanted to say one thing, but had to go with something else.

"Yes, he does belong to the NNDC, but there was an...accident on the server today. Most of our Navis were wiped out. However, I managed to save this one, and couldn't...find its owner"--Marina could see through the lie like cheap paper, but had no idea what the truth was--"so I decided that it would be best to give him to somebody I know that I can trust."

"Oh," she responded simply, staring down at the screen. The Navi stared blankly back. She had been watching him for a good thirty seconds now, and he hadn't yet gone through the blinking routine that almost every Navi with eyes underwent. "Well...thanks."

Her father brightened immediately. This was strange behaviour. Marina almost never said anything remotely polite, and he was happy to see some kindness coming out of her mouth for once. "You're welcome. I'll leave you to get acquainted, then. Remember, go easy on him until you know his limits."

The door clicked shut behind him, but the footsteps didn't lead away down the hall. Marina knew that he was listening at the door. She had no idea why he was so eager to see how she got along with this new Navi. However, that wasn't going to let it stop her.

"So," she resumed, putting her elbows on the desk and leaning her chin on the heels of her hands. "What can you do?"

Raiden brought his hand up and held it out to one side. Suddenly, the entire PET screen went greyish, and the battery bar in the corner lost a segment. Lightning exploded inward from the corners of the screen, wrapping around Raiden's hand, his arm, and then his shoulder. Then, suddenly, it was gone, and the screen reset itself to its normal colours.

"What the hell was that?"

"As a CTRL, I am able to draw on the power of the network—or as in this case, your Personal Terminal—in order to fuel my combat capabilities."

"So you channel power from other stuff."

"Yes, put simply."

"Well, fair enough." Marina leaned back in her chair. "You going to ask me something or what?"

"It is not my place to pry into a human's matters."

"Oh, that's great," she growled. "Dad gave me one with no personality."

Raiden just stood there and took it, not registering any kind of emotion on his face in response to the borderline insult. She frowned at this, and then whistled through her teeth as if somewhat defeated.

"Fine. I'm Anti. It's not my real name, but just call me Anti. That's what everyone else does, and I like it better than some girly Marina."

"All right. Pleased to meet you, Anti."

"Can you fight?"

Raiden seemed perfectly unfazed by this sudden change of topic. "Yes. I was programmed with the purpose of infotech combat. My battle abilities are superior to an unmodified Net Navigator."

"Right." Anti leaned across the counter, jerked the flash drive out of the side of the PET, freed the handheld computer from its stand, and pointed the small black infrared window at the matching square on the front of her laptop. "Let's see how good you really are."

Feet moved away, down the hall.

[If you slogged all the way through that behemoth, thank you so very much.]
"Dad, I'm going out!" Anti yelled, in Netopian, through the kitchen doorway as she passed by. Without waiting for an answer, she continued down the hall, snatching her coat off a peg and stooping to grab her shoes. There were a couple of soft steps on the hardwood floor, and then her father was in the doorway, peering down the hall with a fragment of toast still in his hand.

"Going out?"

"Yeah," Anti growled back, completing the lacing-up of one shoe and moving on to the other. "I'm going to SciLab to see if anybody's there. I'm meeting them for some...virii busting."

She didn't have to look to know that her father was smiling. "Have fun, then. Make sure to be careful."

Anti shoved her PET into the pocket of her black coat and pulled open the door. The brightness of the day outside made her eyes ache, as if it were an omen to stay in. Regardless, she stepped out into the sunlight, shading her eyes with one hand. Her father simply watched her as she headed off down the front drive. The Metro was ahead, just around the corner at the end of the street. She followed the sidewalk with her hands jammed into her pockets, her neck pulled down into the collar of her coat, and her eyes fixed straight ahead. People, huh. This was definitely something that she wasn't used to.
Anti fumbled around for her keys. Her father had taken off again. Whenever he wasn't working for the National Netopian Defense Council from home, he was off doing something in ElecTown, or perhaps one of the suburbs of Den City. She didn't even know why they had moved to Electopia, when his job was still in Netopia.

Well, since Mom left, nothing's really made much sense.

Finally she found her keys and let herself in. They had moved in a month ago, and Anti still hadn't gotten used to the house. It was far bigger than the one that they had lived in back in Netopia, but this just seemed like an empty shell.

"How about we go busting?" she asked with a sigh as she locked the door behind her, kicked off her shoes, and headed down the hall toward the stairs.

"If you believe that to be the best course of action, then we should follow up on it."

Grumbling to herself, she stomped up the stairs and stepped into her room. This wasn't anything like her old Netopian one, either. She had managed to rig up an excellent set of blinds that kept the light out when she didn't want it--which was most times--but this room seemed to be all windows. Sitting down at her computer, she simply glared at the screen for a few seconds. Finally she unzipped her coat, liberated her PET from her pocket, tossed the jacket carelessly on her bed, and pointed the little infrared window at the receptor on her laptop.

"Let's go."
Grabbing her coat again, Anti pulled it on, and checked her wallet to make sure that something was in it. Nodding to herself, she headed down the stairs and along the first-floor hall again, pulling the front door shut and locking it behind her. There was nothing to talk about, and if there was no subject, she didn't want to bother with it. Some times were made for action.
"Are you going to the upgrade store?"

Anti nodded as she pushed back her rolling chair and got to her feet. She leaned across her desk, powered off her laptop, and jammed her PET into her pocket.

"Please leave me jacked into the NetSquare. I would like to update myself on the current happenings."

She raised an eyebrow as she looked down toward her coat pocket, which contained Raiden. This was odd. Normally, he just sat back and did whatever he was told while he was in his PET, not questioning anything that was said to him. Perhaps he was staring to pick up some of the weird personality that the Net imbued him with every time she jacked him in?

"Fine. You're unOperated, though."

"I will not enter any conflicts."

"Right." With a flourish the PET was back out again, and she pointed it at her laptop. She held her arm up like that for a good minute before she realized that the laptop was off.

Grumbling, she hit the power switch again, and then ran the command that jacked her Navi in. He disappeared off her PET's screen, and she pushed the hardware back into its proper place in her coat again. Turning on her heel, she headed off, closing the door behind her. A moment or two later, the front door slammed.
Anti kicked the door shut behind her. The house was quiet again. Dad still hadn't come back. She didn't mind; when he went out, he was usually out for an awfully long time. Her coat was tossed onto the hatrack next to the door, her shoes were kicked carelessly off and tossed into a corner of the front hall, and before long she was headed up the stairs toward her room again.

Light streamed in through the huge windows. She closed and locked her room's door--just a habit--and dropped into the swivel chair that waited before the desk.

"Raiden, jack out."

Her Navi suddenly appeared on the screen of her PET again. She pulled out the two expansions and slotted them into the side of the Personal Terminal in turn.

"So how much trouble were you causing?"

"We have been registered for a delivery mission."


Raiden hardly flinched as two points of light appeared next to him, and the HP Memories ran their installation wizard. "Yes. We have been registered to deliver Recov300 BattleChips to a hospital."

"What the hell were you doing, registering me for crap?!"

"Apparently we will be rewarded with less powerful Recovery BattleChips."

She snarled wordlessly. "Don't you ever sign me up for anything without asking me first, you moron."

"Yes, ma'am. I understand."

Growling, she closed the completed installation wizard and was at the signup page that Raiden had apparently visited within a couple of seconds. Her scowl only got worse as she read over the message that Raiden had posted. Finally she slammed her fist on her desk and leaned back in her chair.

"Raiden, change your name."

"My name...?"

"The name you used to sign it. Change it."

"To what, please?"

"I don't know...right. We'll use that new .GMO. Change it to 'Thundervoice.'"

"It is done, ma'am."

"Good." She sighed heavily and stared up at the ceiling. "Damage control mode. Huh."
Anti, apparently satisfied, leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes and tilted her face up toward the ceiling. They'd done an awful lot today, and they didn't seem to have gotten to know each other any better for it. Maybe the only reason she was still keeping Raiden was because of his ability to survive a battle like the one they had faced out front of the hospital. All of her previous Navis had fallen because they were weak. Raiden was a custom, and he was an awful lot stronger than any she had owned up to this point. She suspected that he was perhaps more than just a Navi...maybe one of her dad's failed projects? Nah, that was insane, the government of Netopia would never have allowed government-sanctioned technology out into the general populace. Netopia was just like that.

She couldn't stand his mood swings. Did he have to be such a channeler of the network? What wouldn't she have given for him to just pick a personality already and settle down with it. All this going from hyperactive to sarcastic was starting to drive her a little bit insane.
And then Anti was home.

She slipped quietly into the front hall, kicked off her shoes, and went upstairs. She couldn't hear any activity in the rooms she passed, but her father might still have been around. Or he could have been somewhere in the slums ofNetopia by now. Anti never knew where her father went when he left the house.

She made it to her room without a fuss. "Check the regular things," she ordered as she plugged her PET into its dock. Raiden blinked his large, empty eyes in an impassive way. Anti hadn't made it two steps from the desk before he spoke up.

"You have one new electronic message."

"Then open it, moron," Anti grumbled. When she got no answer, she turned accusingly toward the PET. Raiden's eyebrows were slightly knitted. The small gesture showed greatperplexion for such an emotionless personality.

"The source and sender are encrypted," the Navi said slowly.

"Just read me the damn e-mail!"

"'Hey,'" Raiden intoned, although his voice took on no further life. "'I heard you were involved with that little hospital thing. Good work. We want to reward you for it. I'm in ACDC. Meet you there.'"

Anti's mouth went dry. Raiden watched her expectantly, but did not offer any suggestions.

"Encrypted?" she said at last.

"Correct. Expertly."

She shook her head absently, as if just coming out of a trance, and sat down heavily on the edge of her bed. "It's probably the cops. They must be onto us. That post on the BBS - some idiot thought we'd blown up that hospital. It's the cops."

Raiden tilted his head incrimentally. His face was still totally blank. "The NetPolice would not bother with erroneous data."

Anti spent a minute looking torn. "Maybe not," she conceded eventually. "But if it isn't the cops, then who is it?"

Her Navi just shrugged.

"I'd like to find out who this joker is, and how much he knows about us. And whether we'll need to shut him up."

Another shrug. Anti eyed the PET from halfway across the room.

"Is that a yes or a no?"

"My opinion is irrelevant," Raiden said, with a totally straight face.

"You're right, it is."