Alternator Heights

0130 hours.

Rapid clicking and typing sounds echoed throughout the dark single-room apartment, its source being its lone inhabitant being hunched over the sole source of illumination in the corner. Charles Arkour, the tenant of Alternator Heights unit E3-23-A, tapped away idly at his keyboard, as the distasteful odor and dank atmosphere in his room went mostly unnoticed. In this corner, a small desk housed a medium-sized personal computer, accessorized with various bits of discarded food, old containers, and balled up tissues. A musty-looking towel padded Charles's otherwise bare, unnaturally lanky frame as a host of lurid images scrolled by on his single dimly lit monitor. Despite their extremely explicit nature, the 29-year-old man's face showed an almost uncharacteristic lack of interest, though a keen eye would spot the fresh murky yellow stains on the floor next to the suspicious-looking yellow fluid-filled bottles.

With the way his fingers fidgeted every so often above his dirt-caked keyboard, it seemed that he was also strung up about something. In the corner of his monitor, every so often, he would glance at the icon of his e-mail client. The icon sat idle, indicating an empty inbox -- as it had been for the past few hours, save for an angrily deleted spam email. Eventually, after half an hour of fruitless waiting, Charles slumped over at his desk and fell asleep, though more out of frustration than any semblance of sleepiness, as he generally didn't retire until well into the early morning hours.


Some time later, Charles felt himself quietly rouse from his nap, mostly from his sore back complaining about his bad choice of sleeping posture. Groaning in pain, he slowly rose up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. With the room pitch black now, Charles nudged his mouse with a lazy tap to wake his computer from its sleep. The red light blasted his sleep-addled vision as he tilted his head to squint at the tiny clock display in the corner.

Wait, red?

"Oh, you're finally awake!"

The unfamiliar voice hitting his mind, Charles blinked a few times blearily, slowly adjusting to the new sight on his screen. The first thing was that the red that had been dominating most of his screen space was someone's body. Staring directly at him through his monitor was a green-eyed red-skinned girl, with long dark red hair. The girl was bent over slightly, peering through the monitor as if it was a portal to a different dimension. His eyes were led down, to where the girl's attire was revealed to be a deep maroon tube dress. With her current posture, she was also showing a sizable amount of chest area.

"Um, Master? Why did you close the screen again? Master?"


When Charles turned the monitor back on again, he was slightly more dressed, with a dirty cartoon-emblazoned T-shirt and the least stained pair of boxers he could find from his pile of clothes. "Oh! You're back, Master, I was worried," the girl said. Charles' heartbeat skipped a beat at his new designation, to the point where he clutched at his chest for a bit. It was everything he had asked for from the customizer -- the exact looks, personality, even how he requested to be called. Stay calm, he told himself. This is what you've been waiting for, so don't screw it up. Still, it took him a good few seconds to catch his breath, with the redhead girl's worried expression complicating matters even further for his composure.

"H-Hi, um," he gulped. "I-uh, I assume you're my new Navi, then."

Instantly, the girl's expression took a change for the better, turning into a huge beaming smile as she clapped happily. "Yep! I'm Eris! It's great to finally meet you, Master!" she exclaimed. Having heard that, Charles covered his face with his hand, and for a brief few moments, the room was silent, save for the low whir of the computer's fans, as well as a single sniffle.

"M-Master...? Are you okay?" said Eris, attempting to reach out with her hand, before she realized what she was doing and let her hand to fall to her side. Fortunately, Charles slowly nodded, allowing a smile to return to Eris's face as she waited for her operator to compose himself once again. Not long afterwards, Charles wiped away a small streak from his cheek. His eyes wandered over to the side, where a very worn-looking PET sat, connected to the computer via data cable, along with a small box of Navi upgrades he had purchased a little while ago.

He took a deep breath. "Alright, let's get started on installing your upgrades. Could you transfer to the PET and activate standby mode for me?"

"Right away, Master!"


In the far past, standby mode would have meant shutting down the entire PET to install upgrades through a cryptic interface, which required hours of fiddling, and often introduced bugs if one didn't do it within some extremely strict rules. Now, it was just a matter of the Navi briefly entering a state of low activity, with an extremely simple installation process. The Navi didn't even necessarily have to shut down at all -- the process even allowed them to continue being aware of their surroundings if need be.

However, installing upgrades wasn't the only thing Charles was doing. Being an unapologetic pervert, the fresh operator took it upon him to rotate Eris's holographic model several times as she was inactive. Black horns and face tattoos, as well as a pointed tail showed off her obvious theme, as if the deep red skin wasn't any indicator at first. Her bombshell curves were clad in an extremely low-cut tube dress, which pretty much went up right to where it was impossible for her to bend over without giving anyone behind her an eyeful.

"That said..." muttered Charles to himself.

Gulping down his saliva, he set the tilt slider on the holographic viewer as far as he could manage before bending down to view the forbidden garden underneath Eris's tube dress.

-- Or so he thought, as the space he was trying to view stared back at him with a full row of sharp teeth. Time seemed to stop as Charles's train of thought crashed, and his eyes widened. The room's musty atmosphere suddenly became evident to him as a trail of cold sweat traced the side of his neck. Slowly drawing away from his desk, he observed in abject horror as the true nature of his newfound companion began to reveal itself.

Charles's breath caught in his throat as he watched the holographic model's graphics crackle and shift, and his new Navi began rebooting from her standby mode. Eventually reaching the opposite end of his room, he watched slack-jawed as Eris opened her eyes in confusion, seemingly unfazed by her entire lower body being vertically split in half from her pelvis all the way up to the middle of her ribcage. Rows of incisors lined the insides of her body as Eris reached out towards her operator.


The inky black maw bisecting Eris's torso breathily exhaled as Charles shrieked in fear, collapsing backwards against the wall of his room.
Over the next couple of days, Charles spent all of his effort in tracking the custom Navi builder that he had contracted, but to no avail. The e-mail that he had used to contact the builder was reported as nonexistent by the mailer daemons, kicking back his messages unceremoniously. The payment he had used was a secure, anonymous service, so there was no way of tracking the recipient. The BBS post where he had found the builder advertising his services was missing, and there seemed to be no trace of anyone else ever having used their services prior.

Of course, the entire time, he had been avoiding the clearest path towards his goal, which was simply to ask Eris herself. The night of his extraordinary encounter, he had fainted against the wall, and woke up several hours later to find the PET's screen inactive, but with the indicator lights showing that Eris was, indeed, still inside. Seizing the chance, he proceeded to disconnect and shut down the device. He had also almost considered throwing the terminal away, but decided against it at the last second.

As his latest bit of effort turned up another dead end, he looked over to the side, where the yellowed PET lay dormant. Trying to reach out to it only caused his hand to shiver uncontrollably, as vivid memories of two nights ago came to mind. Retracting his hand, he curled up into a ball on his chair and retracted into his mind in silence. Try as he might, he wasn't able to stray his mind from Eris. He recalled the past six years of social isolation, and the years before that, and how ecstatic he had felt when he'd heard a human voice talk to him -- or at least as human as Eris's Navi speech function was.

"Next year, huh..." he muttered to himself, mentally counting down the months until his thirtieth birthday. "Wizard powers sure sound nice."

Eris's beaming smile came to mind. Thinking about it, he hadn't seen a happy face in a while either. As he was contemplating, he idly reached for the PET again. This time, his hands were no longer shaking as he mindlessly fiddled with the buttons on it. In particular, he toyed with the power button sunken on its rear end. At some point, he pressed the button exactly enough for it to register, and the PET's boot sequence stared back at him in the darkness, before Eris's face appeared on the display screen.

The Navi looked rather listless, taking a little bit before realizing that she had been booted up. "M-Master...?" she said, her expression looking rather surprised.
"Eris... Uh, look... I--"

"I'm so sorry, Master!" said Eris, cutting him off as she bowed deeply.

Now it was his turn to look surprised, as the Navi continued. "I'm really sorry -- it looks like you were really scared by me. I-I was just told I would have a new operator, and I was really happy, but then I just ended up doing something bad... I'm really sorry! Please let me make it up to you! Don't throw me away!" she pleaded.

"E-Eris... Look, just-- could you stop bowing?" he said, with Eris complying not a moment later. Her face was fraught with distress, only serving to tug at his heartstrings further. He took a deep breath, and continued. "Look... Sorry, I don't know what happened, but I contracted you to be built from this guy, and he did an amazing job, I'm sure, but-- I don't know, do you think you got infected by some bug or something on the way here? Like... I don't know, whatever that mouth was, it can't have been your design, right?"

Eris tilted her head in confusion. "... That mouth?" she thought aloud, biting on a finger slightly as her tail swished about in the background. As she did so, Charles spotted something -- the tail began to split apart, revealing a set of sharp teeth. His throat went dry as he recognized the dripping black ink that began to drip from them.

"That! That on your tail! Those teeth!" he yelled in a panic, pressing down on the PET screen as he pointed towards the culprit of his nightmares.

Eris turned around to look at her tail, still looking bemused. "...? But that's always been there," she said, extracting the stump from her mouth as she chewed idly.

"... What? Wait, what happened to your--" said Charles, suddenly cut off as he watched a trail of black ink drip from between Eris's lips. The ink splattered onto her stump of a finger, tore off at the knuckle, and dripping with the same blackness. Then, before his eyes, the stump began to twist and curl, before a lump of blood-red flesh rapidly burst forth from it, replacing what had originally been there. Seconds later, the skin from the stump end rapidly began to wrap around the regenerated phalange, eventually restoring it completely, as if nothing had happened.

"Wha-- What are you...?"

"...? I'm Master's servant, Eris."


Though Charles was still physically a few months away from being counted as a thirty-year-old, his tired face might as well have belonged to a man facing his mid-life crisis. In front of him, Eris was standing happily in holographic form on his desk. "I'm so happy Master decided to keep me! I wish I could hug Master right now!" she said, spinning in place slightly with a little dance. All Charles could do was crack a weary smile, and hope he could keep his stomach's contents intact from what Eris had divulged to him.

Apparently, she had been programmed by her designer with some form of self-cannibalization process, which was their grotesque manner of visualizing her code self-repair process, though there might have been more. She also had an insatiable appetite for whatever data was available in general, since her first reaction to him showing her how a Battlechip worked was asking him if she could eat it. Thankfully, Battlechip data was often nothing more than copies of the stored data in the physical chip, but it was still jarring to see Eris consume an entire Totem pole by breaking off chunks of it with her bare hands.

Most importantly, however, she had never seen her designer's face during her construction, and the network path that she took during delivery was a secure tunnel that did not reveal anything about its origin. It was all suspiciously airtight.

"So, Master wants to see me try out this 'virus busting' thing, right? So I can be useful, right?"

"Y-Yeah, I guess, haha. I'll send you into the SciLab network, so just walk around until you find some viruses that look hostile to you. I'll send you those chips so you can fight them off."

"Understood! Let's go, Master!" said Eris, twirling in place as she vanished from view, sending herself into the wide open world for the first time.

[>> Asymptote's Hunting - SciLab Net]
[>> Asymptote's Hunting - SciLab Net.]

Staring at the cup of instant noodles on his desk to the side, with the unbroken pair of chopsticks still resting on top of the cup's flap, Charles cradled his head in his hands by his temples. His fingers pressed into his scalp as he stared at the PET in front of him. Inside the terminal, his Navi was quietly resting after her first excursion out into the open network. Thinking about how Eris had easily interacted with her "friend" from the SciLab network, he couldn't help but feel slightly jealous.

Thankfully, she had exited before it got anywhere too close for his comfort, and she had dealt with the attempted contact, albeit somewhat creatively. Now, she had been resting for several hours, and the clock on his monitor showed that the sun outside was starting to set. He sighed, and withdrew his hands from his head. With a lethargic movement, he pulled over the cup and turned up the flap with his chopsticks to release a plume of steam from the boiling water inside.

The paltry meal wasn't because he couldn't afford to purchase much else; it was mainly because he hoarded his finances like a ridiculous miser, which led to him being able to make his normally exorbitant recent purchase of a Navi. Still, slurping up the nutritionless dish filled his stomach, and he could spend the money on more important things, like online games. Having trained himself to be ambidextrous for... less than useful purposes, he easily clicked through his favorite online roleplaying game while his chopsticks emptied out the noodles in his cup.

"What're you doing?"

However, just as he was about to login, he was interrupted by the now-familiar voice, causing him to nearly do a spit take with his dinner, followed by some heavy coughing. "M-Master?! Are you okay?!" yelled Eris with concern.

"I-I'm fine... Cough... Y-You're awake?" replied Charles, slightly irritated that he had been interrupted just before he was about to log in. Wiping the noodle broth dripping from his mouth, he grunted, "What do you want? I'm busy."

"O-Oh, you're busy, Master? I just woke up, and I was curious to see what you were doing... Sorry," said Eris, looking slightly downcast as she twiddled her fingers together.

Charles's irritation mounted further as he saw Eris's reaction. That kind of act was exactly his weak point, but he really wanted some time to himself. It had been a while since he last logged on to see his teammates in the online game, and he was starting to worry about his in-game ranking. He didn't have enough confidence to be able to multitask operating Eris with playing the game, either, and he didn't want to see Eris getting hurt anytime soon.

"Look, why don't you just... go find something to do that's not virus busting? There's a virus-free zone in the Netopia network called the NetSquare, I've read. You can look around there for something to do. If you want, you can use the zenny you've earned in the last battle," explained Charles. It hurt him to delegate the zenny earned from those battles, but it was very much a paltry sum, barely more than a week's worth of deluxe instant ramen, and Eris had earned it herself anyway. If it kept the girl out of his sight for a moment so he could clear his head of the problems she brought to his mental health, then all the better.

"Oh! Is that okay, Master?" said Eris excitedly with stars in her eyes, causing Charles to be taken aback slightly by his Navi's enthusiasm.

"Y-Yeah... Just don't get yourself into too much trouble. I'll send you there--you can take care of yourself, right?"

"Okay! You can count on me, Master!" said Eris, punctuating her statement with a springy salute. Picking up the terminal, he navigated through the menu on its small screen, selected the NetSquare entrypoint, and began the jack-in sequence, whereupon Eris's hologram disappeared from his desk. His fingers returned to his keyboard, and began typing out his login information for the game, but his eyes still lingered to his side.


Before he realized it, he had picked the terminal back up, and propped it against his monitor, such that he would be able to glance at its screen at a moment's notice, before returning to his game.

[>> Phero and Boil, as well as...? - NetSquare.]