J.T.'s home in Bridgeton, Netopia.

((From DenTech Net))

Broadside returned to his PET for the first time in over 2 months. It was 'physically' the same as when he'd last seen it...

The hanger bay for his larger mecha frame was still there, standing silently. Broadside remembered when his Op had first slapped the coding together for it. He'd thought it unnecessary to go so far as to mimic the visual and mechanical aspects of a working hangar bay, but that's the way his Net Op had programmed it. He did notice it had changed a bit in his absence, with the 'equipment' having been made to look more... 'futuristic' was the only word that came to mind. It always ended up like that when it got an upgrade; the update in appearance reflecting the update in functionality. Still, Broadside had to admit being able to rest in suspension while his write protection's HP meter and his code were recovering was more comfortable than standing in place.

He'd never admitted that to anyone, though.

The med bay for his smaller human frame across the way was the same as it had always been... wasn't it? Broadside couldn't really recall. He'd pretty much avoided it, in favor of the hanger bay. He did note that the visual aspects of the med station were easier to pick out than they had been... perhaps more detailed? They'd most likely gotten the same treatment the hangar had, but he'd no intention of wandering over to find out.

There were other facilities and functions added to the PET's internal environment, but they all seemed rather new, and not altogether completed for that matter. Broadside figured he'd check them out in greater detail later, but first...I need to let Jared know I'm back, and report to him... He accessed his PET's external sensors, and saw....

A room he did not recognize, and his Net-Op was not present. However, he did recognize the furniture within it. For example, the desk the PET was sitting on was Jared's old, beat-up tech bench/computer desk.

Surmising that the location was likely safe, Broadside switched on the screen saver, and switched off power-saver mode. He then remembered to send the other Navi... Pianissimo was it?... contact information in case he ever decided to make good on the favor Broadside had decided he owed the other Navi. That done he then made his way back over to the hanger, shifted into his mecha form, and entered the bay. The mechanisms of the bay closed around him, and he allowed himself to rest in safe-mode while he recovered from his extended 'vacation'.

Broadside had no idea he was now in Netopia....
Jared arrived home from work late, as usual. As he closed the door behind him, he kicked off his shoes at the entrance, a habit he'd picked up while living in Electopia. He noticed a glow coming from the small bedroom he'd converted into his computer room, and wondered if he'd left the computer running by accident. Shrugging to himself, he tapped the wall to bring the lights in his small apartment on, and stepped into his small living room. The furnishings were spare, but what little there was was comfortable or useful in his opinion. And that's all that really matters.

Jared shrugged his blue jean jacked off and draped it over the back of one of the chairs as he walked into the kitchen. He grabbed a glass out of the cabinet, then filled it with ice and some Chakra brand lemon tea, and walked towards the computer room. I suppose this is another thing I picked up while traveling abroad; a taste for good teas. he thought, as he drank a little.

Upon entering the room, he noticed the computer was off... That's odd. ...Then he noticed the PET's screen was on. Curious, Jared walked over to the PET, picked it up, and started to check into why the screen was on when a familiar face appeared on screen.

"Reporting in." Broadside said in his usual deep voice.

Jared blinked, then stood up, exclaiming "whhhaaaaAAAAAT?!" He then grabbed the PET with both hands and.... stopped himself from shouting, instead making a silly sounding muffled noise to vent his anxiety so as not to wake the neighbors. Then he took a moment to breathe and quickly calmd down... then spoke to the Navi he'd not seen in almost 3 months "Where in God's name have you been? I've been scouring the net looking for you. We all thought you were deleted."

Predictably, Broadside chose to answer the most recent of Jared's questions, in a status-report sort of fashion... "Negative. While I have suffered severe damage to my Core, my code remains intact otherwise with no errors detected. All protocols are functioning normally. Core damage does not appear to affect my normal operations."

"Wait, you've suffered Core damage?" Jared thought back to when he'd been editing Broadside's code. He remembered a sealed, encrypted, and compressed module of code buried within his Navi. Nothing I did could so much as crack the encryption. It was a dense mass of data, and it didn't seem connected to any of his other functions. I never could figure out why it was there... Still, how did he manage to sustain damage to something buried so far within his code, even all the damage a netbattle could shell out couldn't touch it? That baffles me... Jared realized he was staring off into space. So he visibly shook himself, and turned to address Broadside once more... "How did you manage to sustain damage to your Core?"

"I was captured by a hostile group of Navis while experiencing multiple protocol errors. They broke my write protection, and took my Navi Emblem. With it, they gained access to my Core's coding, and proceeded to extract data from it. This process is what caused the damage to it. I estimate the Core's code integrity to be 80% compromised. Further, I am unable to reconstruct or repair the damage myself. It is well beyond my programmed capabilities for data recovery." Broadside paused for a moment, as if considering something. He spoke again a moment later... "Jared, I would like to make a request..."

Jared smiled at his overly serious Navi. He had a rough idea of what Broadside wanted... "Let me guess... You want me to try reconstructing some of the damaged data...?"

Broadside confirmed Jared's guess with a simple "Affirmative."

"Alright... I'll see what I can do. I'm going to shut you down for a while so I can work on it. OK?"

Broadside nodded, and shifted to a wait-state. Jared began working shortly thereafter....
Broadside awoke again, at what the net told him was several days later...

"Welcome back to the waking world, Broadside. his Net-Op greeted him. "Well, I've done everything that I could. I'd like to have you go onto the net for a bit so we can test to see if you're doing any better.

Broadside nodded. Acknowledged.

"Alright, we'll start you off in Sci-Lab Net. J.T. said as he tapped a few keys on his personal PC's keyboard. "Transmitting.... Now."

((To Sci-Lab Net, Via direct up-link.))
((Jared: From Yoka, Broadside: from HadesNet))

Jared arrived home in the middle of the night, dead tired after being awake for a couple of days and then a restless flight from Electopia. He'd actually tried to get a little rest on the plane, but the passengers around him had prevented that. He didn't know which he was more annoyed with... The kid in the seat behind him or the couple seated in front of him.

The kid had been a pest. The little twerp had hit him over the head with a toy mallet every couple of hours. It hadn't hurt, really, but it was enough to wake him up... Especially since it was some gimmick toy from an Electopian sentai anime he'd never heard of or cared about that made sounds and music whenever the kid clobbered him with it. Jared couldn't actually bring himself to really hate the 4 year old kid for being a kid, and he appreciated the boy's parent's efforts to keep the child in check. No, instead Jared actually wondered who exactly the sick bastard was that could come up with a toy that rewarded kids for bashing things with a hammer, toy or no... By the end of the flight, he had wanted to meet that individual so he could punch 'em.

Now... not so much.

Jared didn't bother to recall the details of the bickering couple that sat before him. He'd rather just forget them and move on with his life. Fortunately, his thoughts were wandering at this point, and he successfully forgot about them in short sleep-deprived order. Sleep beckoned, but he had just a few more things he had to do before he made good on his sleep IOUs from the last few days.

What was it he was supposed to do again? Oh, right, unpacking (Yeah right, tomorrow maybe...), a shower, a change of clothes.... He took care of both in short order, and was out cold no more than 20 minutes later.
---- The next day....

Jared, feeling quite a bit better after some much needed sleep, sat down at his PC. He plugged his PET to it, and prepared to get to work sorting out the errors that had cropped up when Broadside had activated his Cross. Admittedly, Jared had had to look up what the phenomenon known as a Cross was earlier that morning. He hadn't known what it was called or what it was supposed to do, and feared it to be another error based on what he had seen while on the plane. It was only after a couple of hours of blind searching on the net that he'd come across it. As it turned out, crosses were well documented decades ago, and the documentation had only been piling up since. And I feel just a little silly for not having read about this before now. But, just goes to show being in this field means a lifetime of learning. I made peace with that when I started working at my first job, and found out everything I'd learned in college was just the beginning.

Jared accessed the PET and was just about to fire up his diagnostic tools when a female Navigator literally walked into view on his monitor from off screen. The robed Navi turned to face him before she smiled, waved and, in a cheery voice, said: "Hellooo~♪."

What the f---?! Jared sat up straight in his chair with his head canted to one side and a look of utter disbelief on his face. How in the blazes did this random Navigator get into my PC?! Have I been hacked? Wait, act now, wonder later. The robed Navi stood there quietly and did nothing as a very determined looking Jared frantically spammed his shortcut commands to call forth and set running a full suite of security and diagnostic tools. In mere seconds, his PC's program permissions were locked down, the firewall was up and on full deny, and everything else was scanning for viruses, malware, live connections, or pretty much anything that looked funny.

Once everything was running, he looked up and stared at the screen. The robed Navi, now holding a stopwatch in one hand as she leaned upon the frame at the edge of the screen, clicked the stopwatch. She turned her head to casually look at the timer, and proceeded to read off Jared's panic reaction time like it was some kind of game to her.... "One minute, eighteen seconds." She then put the watch away and stood up straight as she looked back out at a slightly stunned Jared. "What," she began innocently, "Weren't you going for the 'paranoid computer defense speed record', just now?"

Jared sat there for a moment and stared at the absurd Navi while listening to the equally absurd things she was saying. Eventually his memory clicked, and he recognized her. "Wait... You're the anomaly from Yoka." He said as he pointed at the screen.

"Indeed." She replied simply in a light tone.

Jared raised one eyebrow and lowered the other as he eyed the Navi with suspicion. "Okay, then... What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to talk to you about Broadside," the robed Navi added matter-of-factly in the same light tone. "But first, I'd prefer you called me by my name instead of 'that anomaly'. It's rude." She neglected to mention what her name was... (intentionally).

Jared realized he was being jerked around, but decided to play along. So far she hadn't done anything destructive or malicious.... "....And what name would that be, miss?"

She smiled. "My name is Avecia. And I feel we have much to discuss, Mr. Farnam."

---- Three hours and much exposition later....

Jared sat hunched over at his old beat-up tech desk where his computer was setup. His elbows were propped on the desk top, and his the fingers of his hands were laced before his mouth, hiding it from view. He'd been sitting there, scowling in thought, for a good twenty minutes now as he stared at the poster of the galaxy he had hanging above his computer monitor. He was, quite honestly, still mentally digesting the the mass of information the Navigator known as Avecia had imparted to him. If even a fraction of what she claims to be fact is actually true, then I may have some very tough decisions to make in the future. If everything she told me is true....

Jared closed his eyes and washed his face with his hands. He really just did not want to consider some of the possibilities that last thought entailed. In fact, he was starting to develop a rather nasty headache. Jared decided it was better to deal with the head pain now, rather than let it develop. So, he got up from his desk, and went in search of his bottle of migrane pills and some tea to take it with....

---- An hour later....

Jared, now free of the headache, sat down again at his old beat-up tech desk once again. He scooted his chair forward, then turned his head to look at his PET. His current PET, that is. It was a bulky, what some would even call unwieldy, thing. It was the kind of hand-held PET of the older generations that dwarfed the new tiny models of today that adults could easily wear on their wrists. It looked like an antique.

Looks were deceiving....

The smokey gray body of this PET really was an old 9th generation PET, only customized to have six chip slots instead of the standard one. In spite of its antique appearance, this PET's old style case was crammed with current generation technology meant to inhabit the much smaller wrist-worn LINK-VI and LINK-VII PET models of today. The extra internal space had been lavishly equipped with banks of the latest solid state memory... truly excessive quantities of it, even. Enough memory to make the PET weigh over a kilo. No single Navigator should ever require that much memory to operate...

...But then, there wasn't just one Navigator inhabiting that PET. No. There had been two living in it all along from the time Jared had first picked it up. And to top it all off, neither of them was 'Normal', even by Custom Navigator standards seen today. However, it would appear nobody at my previous job deemed it necessary to inform me of this little fact. Considering who the second Navi is, I suppose it was on a Nee To Know Basis, and I didn't need to know.

Jared reached down and picked up the somewhat heavy PET. Taken all together, right now, this PET is one of Sci-Labs dirty little secrets. He held it up, and stared at the blank screen. They only let me keep the PET because they assumed Broadside and Avecia... No, let's be honest. They only let me keep this thing because they assumed Avecia was gone. Jared sat back in his chair, while still staring at the PET in his hand. Thinking back on it... They checked Broadside last time I was there on behalf of NAXA, but strangely they didn't order me to leave him behind. They let me keep what anyone else would have logically considered a top secret test model. They had to be looking for that encrypted capsule, the one Avecia was locked inside, but... Jared remembered back to when he'd first checked Broadside for damage upon the Navi's return... ...it wasn't there. I already knew that, too, and told them as much at the time when they asked me.

...But never mind all of that. Jared sighed as he switched on the PET, and went over a brief summarized time-line in his head while he waited for it to boot up. The facts of the matter are that they built this prototype AI, Broadside, to defend their servers. When they were done collecting data from his tests, they shut him down and set him aside. Later on, they removed his core, and placed the ultra-compressed stasis-mode Avecia in an encrypted file container where that core kernel should have been. They then hired me, and handed me this gutted and stuffed Navigator to babysit.

As if on cue, the screen switched to an in-PET view of Broadside, in his original Mecha form, standing silently inside the virtual maintenance hanger in standby mode; the Navigator equivalent of sleep, Jared supposed. As Jared gazed upon the Navi, he frowned in thought. This Navigator. An AI. He's been falling apart all this time, sometimes literally... Experiencing all these errors... All this because they removed the kernel his programming was built around in order to hide another Navigator from a past era. And now he's just plain degrading. It's a wonder I've kept him going this long....

Jared activated the netphone feature on his PET, and dialed his former boss. He really didn't want to make this call, but without access to Broadside's source code or a copy of the core kernel, Jared didn't have much hope of repairing his Navi. And the only people who had that data, if it still existed, were the people of Sci-Lab.

Jared took a deep breath, and hit [Call]....
---- The next day....

Jared arrived home from work, somewhat mentally exhausted. When he hadn't been working on various technical projects for NAXA, he'd been spending his idle time at work trying to code together a fix for his broken Navi. His efforts, thus far, were futile. The same observations Jared had made about Broadside's code almost two years ago held true today: It was a complete mess. However, now it was bit different. Jared at least understood why the code was so screwed up looking. He understood now that the operation calls the code was trying to make were intended to reference the kernel that just was not there.

Looking at it in that light, Jared now had a new-found respect for the man who had put Broadside together initially. If the core part of Broadside's code had been there, then his programming would have worked beautifully. With this new-found respect came new-found regret, as Jared also realized that all of the code modifications he'd done to his Navi under the assumption that Broadside was a complete and operational program may have fixed matters in the short term at the expense of severe long term repercussions.

Getting the core back now would mean it wouldn't be fully compatible with all of Broadside's programming any longer if left as is, but it would be hopefully better than nothing. Jared could still attempt to restore more functionality to his Navi once he had it, at least. However, Jared would be having to basically write the new edits from scratch, as he certainly hadn't bothered to save any of the original code that he'd assumed was just plain bad. [color-blue]Man, how about that hindsight. There's no way I could have known, and I certainly never guessed... Not that that helps me feel better about it now.[/color]

Now, on the other hand, if Jared got a copy of the source code, he could do quite a bit more than if he had the kernel alone. Perhaps even completely repair Broadside. In either case he had made only a very tiny amount of progress. The phone call yesterday had yielded little more than the suggestion that Jared go see Dame Alexander at the test lab in the Netopian Colosseum. She was apparently the director of Division 5, and that meant she was head of Security. What better person is there to grant a man access to something than the very lady who happens to holds all of the keys.

Jared would have to wait until the weekend to travel to the Colosseum, however, as it was half a day's travel to get to the city it was located in. He had to work the rest of the week, and wouldn't have that kind of time until Saturday. Until then, there were some things he'd thought of that he could be doing to at least attempt to better his Navigator's situation. And I fully intend to get started on those things in just a few minutes... Jared thought as he headed for the kitchen to make some dinner first.

---- A short time later....

Jared sat down at his desk, and picked up his PET. He looked at the screen to see Broadside, in his White Guard form, sitting in a lounge type setting with his SPs. The Navi was doing nothing in particular at the moment while the SPs sat at a table and... Are they seriously playing a board game? Jared thought as he looked at the activity the three were involved in.

Whatever it was, it was like no board game Jared had ever seen before. It involved multiple flat planes that seemed to be randomly arranged in a 3-D space over the table. Little holographic sprites, game pieces most likely, were arrayed in a presumably logical fashion upon nearly every one of those planes. There were some pieces that floated off the planes, or above them, but otherwise every sprite stood upon one of the many platforms. The SPs seemed to be interfacing with it without actually touching any of the planes or sprites, although they were reaching out and tapping at what looked like keys and menus floating outside of the edge of the playing field. This activity interested Jared on so many levels... But, I don't have time for this right now.

With that thought, Jared spoke into the PET. "Hey, Broadside." The trio of Support Programs twitched in startlement as they heard his voice suddenly. Obviously none of them had expected it. Broadside, not particularly fazed, simply turned his head and looked at the screen. The SPs at the table similarly looked up from their game. "I've got some things I need you to help me take care of in the NetSquare. Afterwords, I wanted to do some searching within Sci-Lab's network. It'll probably involve a bit of virus busting."

"Acknowledged." Broadside said as he stood up. The SPs pushed themselves away from the table, and stood up as well. Nadia spoke as the hologram above the abandoned table vanished: "Sounds like fun. When do we leave?"

"How about now?"

"Sounds good to us."

Jared smiled as he established a connection to the NetSquare.

((To: NetSquare, then SciLabsNet via the NetSquare))