A buzz and a snap woke Mackenzie up.
"Aaaugh," she growled, digging the heels of her hands into her eye sockets.
What time was it? She shifted one hand to look, but sunlight hit her eyes like a nuclear blast, and she covered them again. It was daytime. Good enough.
She gathered up the pieces of the previous night and haphazardly fit them together. There had been a show, right. They'd been the opening act again. After that, there had been a lot of beer.
A lot of beer.
Mackenzie lay on her bed in her scratchy pyjamas — these things really needed a wash — for a little while as the pressure built up in her brain. She had been awake for a good five minutes before she realized nothing in her room could actually buzz.
Her computer and her PET were both off or on standby. She even got up, shielding her eyes with her tattooed arm, to check and make sure that the sound hadn't come from them. That was it. Nothing else in her little second-floor room could have made the sound.
"Ian!" she shouted, and immediately doubled over with her fingers pressed to her temples.
"What?" came the groggy snap from the next room.
"You hear some kind of buzz a second ago?"
Mackenzie sat back down on her bed. A memory swum up through the hangover.
A safe. In her closet.
Not hers. She'd found it in their yard when they'd moved in two months ago, lodged in the dead grass like it had been thrown over the fence. She'd tried to open it, but it had been sealed with some kind of unbreakable lock. Even the crowbar she'd taken to it hadn't done anything more than dent it.
Mackenzie pulled open the closet door and dug through the dunes of clothes and crap. The safe was at the bottom, lodged in the corner. It was a square that was the size of her head and the colour of gunmetal. It weighed about ten thousand pounds. She'd had to make Luke and Ian help her get it up the stairs.
And the door was—
The realization that it had been a time lock dribbled into her addled mind. She pulled the door open.
Inside was a memory stick, and nothing more.
Zenny signs danced in her head as she grabbed it and scooched over her bed to her computer. Luke had built it for her years ago. It was junk. She booted it and bounced impatiently on the bedsprings, waiting for the piece of crap to start up.
Activating the computer woke up the PET that was docked with it. "Morning," said Sapperman as his metal grill of a face filled the screen. "What's up?"
"Found this." Mackenzie waved the memory stick in front of the PET's camera. She told him about the safe.
"Think it's got money on it?"
"Hope so. Let's see."
Mackenzie plugged in the memory stick and opened its folder.
"What is it?" Sapperman needled.
"One file. Not in zenny format." She squinted at it through her brain-haze. "Raiden.EXE."
"A Navi file. What's that doing there?"
"Beats me. Must be important, though. Was in a safe."
Mackenzie eyed the PET in its dock. Before Sapperman could protest, she shut it off and plugged it into her computer. She opened the PET's folder, grabbed the file called Sapperman.EXE, and switched it with Raiden.EXE.
"What the hell!" Sapperman yelled as he leapt out of his memory card prison and onto her desktop.
"I'm testing something."
"Testing something!? You're just putting some Navi you found in your yard into my PET!? What if he's bugged or something? Let me back in there!"
Mackenzie turned down the volume on her speakers and watched Raiden.EXE's unpack progress bar. It crawled along at an incredibly slow pace. Either there was already something wrong with her PET, or the file was huge.
A Navi appeared on the screen.
"Oh, wow," Mackenzie said.
The Navi slowly looked down. The emblem on his chest was dented and cracked. He lifted a hand and touched the black, infectious-looking crap that surrounded the emblem and radiated across his chest in tendrils.
"Uh." Mackenzie managed to recover. "Hi, Raiden."
Raiden dropped his hand and glanced up at her. His face was completely blank. "Hello," he said.
"I'm Mackenzie. Nice to meet you."
He nodded. Mackenzie saw Sapperman flailing around on the screen out of the corner of her eye, but she ignored him.
"I found you in a safe in my yard like two months ago," she told Raiden. "It just opened this morning. I dunno why."
"Who d'you belong to? I can send you back."
Raiden's face stayed totally flat. "Someone who technically doesn't exist anymore."
"What happened? Uh, did they die?"
"No. She is still alive, but she was eliminated." He heaved a sigh. It was the first sign of emotion Mackenzie had seen from him yet. "It's a long story."
"So nobody owns you."
"You found me."
"Yeah, but—" Mackenzie rubbed at her face. This was taking a lot more thinking than she was ready to do this morning. "Sapperman wants his PET back. And Luke's going to kick my ass if he finds out that I just loaded my PET with some Navi I found in a safe."
"Would you shut up in there?" came Ian's muffled bark through the wall.
"Can I ask you for a favour?" Raiden asked.
"Yeah, what's up?"
"I would like to step onto the Intenet for a moment. Two months is a long time. I want to find out what's happened while I was gone. I have Battlechip data in my memory."
"I won't be long. I—" He hesitated. "I have to find my Operator."
"But you said she got nixed, right?"
Raiden gave her a particularly searching glance. "I'll tell you the story while I'm on the network. Please."
Mackenzie leaned forward across her desk and jacked the PET in.