A Suburban Two-story

The afternoon was way too warm. Jenny climbed the stairs to her room at a languid pace, book satchel dragging at her shoulder as she contemplated the thought of having to work on her assignment for the week. Ugh. Once she reached her room, her book bag received it's usual dismissal, dropped by the door as Jenny herself switched on the ceiling fan and sprawled on her bed. Why'd it have to be such a muggy day?

After a few more moments settling, she reached under her back with one hand to unhook her personal torture device, pulling it out from under her shirt to drop unceremoniously on the carpet with a sigh. None of her bras had fit comfortably for months now, and she really needed to go and get re-fit, but they were expensive, and the whole process was embarrassing. Which just meant putting it off and dealing with the discomfort a little longer. Oh well. The fan wasn't really doing a good job of getting the air moving yet and she could feel the beading of sweat on her forehead. Her phone rang just a she kicked off her shoes and started working on getting her socks off with her toes.

"Ya? Hey Rach! Yeah, yeah, home now... I haven't started yet either, hehe. Just don't feel like working at all today." She shifted on the bed, spreading out a bit more for comfort as she chatted, and began to unbutton her jeans with her free hand. "Oh, you think? What do you think they'll do? I'm not sure I'll be able to pay attention though, he's just so gorgeous, isn't he?" Both ends of the line were engaged with stifled giggles for a few moments as Jenny finally managed to kick off her jeans onto the floor. That was better. The blissful cool of the air on her skin began to wash away the over-heated lethargy and jenny stretched, propping up her pillow and resettling herself.

"Hmm...? No, I've not taken him out anywhere yet. I've been meaning to, but I've been nervous. I've watched him a bit, but we've not spoken a lot yet." Her free hand rubbed for a moment in the centre of her chest, and she undid a button on her shirt before dropping the hand to rest idle on her middle. "Wha— Hey, I do not! I have not!! I wouldn't just... I mean..." Even though no-one could see, Jenny felt her cheeks pink bright hot. "Maybe... maybe once or twice..." she mumbled in a voice so tiny it was a surprise Rachel heard her at all. The raucous laughter on the other end, however, confirmed that the other girl had made it out clearly enough. Jenny wanted to change the subject, but she knew there'd be no escaping it now. "Oh quiet you! What did you expect? You know what, fine, fine, I'll take him out for a real test now then, satisfied?" She tried to sound affronted at her friend, but she was giggling again as she spoke. "Oh I will not! Shush! Shut-up, Shh! I won't, I won't! Goodbye Rachel. Goodbye! I'm going now. Shut-up!! I'll see you tomorrow, ok?"

With a long-suffering sigh, Jenny stretched out her arm and let her phone drop to the carpet as well. Her cheeks still felt hot. It was Rachel's fault for making him so dreamy in the first place. Sure, she'd given her the description, but why did the other girl have to do it so... well. Mmm. Jenny shook her head and turned around on her bed, reaching out to snag the end of her discarded jeans and pull them closer. She fished her PET out of the pocket then rolled back. Pulling her glasses from their place on her top, she pushed them on then looked at the screen, able to actually read it properly now.

"CourseMan, are you there?" She caught herself biting her lip and stopped. The navi in question seemed to... fade, onto the screen a moment later with a grin showing perfect teeth and a twinkle in his eye.

"Always, for a pretty lady, but please, I've told you before, I'd be most pleased if one as beautiful as you would just call me 'Courser'... no need for formalities, after all." He inclined his head, one hand crossing his chest to shoulder as he did, then smiled again as he raised his eyes. "So, Jenny, what can I do to please you today, hmm?" It was all she could do to fight off the nervous giggles and heart flutters. His voice was smooth and commanding, and it gave her shivers. And he was so pretty, too. The way his eyes fixed on her for an answer was just so.. so... She felt her nervous blush returning.
"Miss Jenny? Are you alright?"
"Uhh, ah.. yes! Um, I mean, ah, I-I'm fine, um, sorry.... I was going to ask about maybe going out for some virus busting...? I'm not very experienced, I mean, I know the theory, but I've never actually... you know, done it... but, I'd like to, you know, with you, and thought we might..." Oh gods, how had it ended up coming out like that? She wanted to hide her face in horror. Courser laughed and stepped back from the screen, so she could see his whole body as he bowed slightly to her.

"Why of course. I would be a pleasure and an honour, my lady. I assure you I'll take good care of you and help you through it. I can promise to make your first... experience," oh gods, the way he smiled and arched his eyebrows as he said that... "one well worth remembering. Tell me, did you have a place in mind for our little date?" He stood straight again as he continued, one hand settling behind his back while the other drifted out to the side slightly, open-handed and palm up adding invitation to his question. Jenny mentally instructed herself, very firmly, to get herself under control.

"Ah, probably somewhere, um quiet, and simple... I mean, somewhere where there won't be too much danger. I'm just starting, you know, and I don't want to risk getting you hurt because I don't know what I'm doing." She nodded to herself, as though confirming her train of thought, while courser inclined his head graciously.

"Of course. Perhaps I might suggest the ACDC Net, in that case. Virus activity there is usually very low. Never fear though, I'll take care of any situations that do arise. Perhaps I'll think of it as... putting on a good show for a fair maiden, hmm?"
"O-ok, sounds good. Oh, one second, let me just grab my folder too." She leaned over the bed, fumbling around underneath for a few moments until she found the small folder that contained the initial chips Rachel had given her, along with CourseMan's PET. "Right, got it. All set now." She reclaimed the PET, dropped on the bed spread while she'd searched, and found courser with a small grin and appreciative eyes. She bit her lip, wondering what the screen had ended up showing him, to give him a look like that. Eager not to give him a chance to comment either way, she cleared her throat. "Are you all ready?" Courser nodded but when he raised his eyes he was grinning again.

"Indeed, but, well... call me a man for tradition if you must. I know it isn't really necessary, but I do so love it when you say the words to me, Jenny." His voice had deepened for a moment, richer as he spoke, and his eyes were closed as though imagining some pleasure and Jenny bit her lip again, blushing anew.
"S-sure. Jack In! CourseMan, Execute!"

((CourseMan Jacking-In => ACDC Net))
((CourseMan Returning from => ACDC Net))

Later, lying on her bed still, Jenny stared up at the ceiling, panting as her heart continued to race. The hand holding her PET was still pressed into her chest and she could feel the hot flush that pinked her skin not only in her face, but all the way down her neck and across the tops of her breasts as well. Her shirt was fully open now and the blowing of the ceiling fan was only making her more aware of just how sensitive her chest was feeling right now. She swallowed and gasped another deep breath. The tingly warmth suffusing the rest of her body, and certain other places in particular, was only just beginning to subside, and she wriggled a little. At some point she had propped up one leg with her knee bent and angled outward, but now she let it slide down again, relaxing as a satisfied slackness wove its way through her muscles.

Her other hand was still pressed firmly to a place that continued to tingle, hidden from the wrist down by the soft white cotton of her underwear, but she left it there for now, arm muscles lose while her fingertips made slow, relaxed circles. More and more she found herself wondering what it would feel like, inside, but the thought of actually going that far, even with someone completely perfect and dreamy, was more than a bit frightening.

With a slow sigh she lifted her other hand to look back at her PET and the realisation of what she had done sent an unpleasant jolt through her. She'd just kind of left him there as she... got caught up in fantasy. She hadn't blanked the screen or muted the channel or anything. He would have seen, he would have heard everything. Oh gods. With a small cry, Jenny very nearly threw the PET across her room in horror, but instead, her eye caught the blink of a waiting message. A second look showed her a text only message from CourseMan, with their normal communication channel muted on his end. Oh Gods that was even worse! He wasn't any more damaged or in trouble, it seemed, he was just... waiting... waiting for her to... finish. Oh gods, she felt like she was about to die from the embarrassment of it. She forced herself to sit up, pulling her other hand free and balling her fingers in the bedsheets behind her as she refreshed the channel.

"CourseMan? A-are you there still?" She was less aware of the quaver in her voice as she was the burning of her cheeks, now coming from a completely different, and much less pleasant, source. He responded right away, of course, and in such a calm, understanding voice. For a moment she wished he wasn't quite so perfect as he reassured her in the most tactful manner imaginable. Of course, he had needed a rest and had chosen to pause for a break, nothing to do with her of course, and sorry for the inconvenience. It was so honest she could almost believe he really didn't know otherwise. Almost. Oh gods. And the way he stood back to make such a dashing leg to her as well, on top of everything, such graceful movements, and that smile.
"Whatever most pleases you." He had to know how his voice sounded to her, and saying that... The moan that passed her lips was out before she could stop it.
"You're doing that on purpose"
"I aim to please." It was just too much, really. He had no right being so charming and so naughty at the same time. It just shouldn't work. That voice just made her quiver all over again. She pushed the button to jack him out again, then dropped the PET to her carpet beside her bed. Well, if he was 'just her navi', and she 'shouldn't fret', he'd better mean that. A vindictive smirk crept across her lips as an idea nudged at her. Damp as they were, she was going to have to change them anyway so... In one swift motion she lifted her hips and whisked her underwear off altogether, then rolled over to look down at the screen again. She caught sight to her navi's face for a moment, before she dropped the garment over the screen to cover it. Stretching once to resettle herself, she rolled back and let her hands start exploring again. Rachel was going to have a field day if she ever found out about this.
Much later again, the sound of the shower slowed to a stop, followed by the clunk of the glass roller door opening and closing again. A few moments after that, the handle of the bathroom door as Jenny opened it a crack. The extractor fan in their bathroom wasn't quite as efficient as it ought to be, and it helped clear the steam. CourseMan opened his eyes from his quiet meditation and glance out at what ought to have been a view of the girl's bedroom, but was still, as she'd left it, just an obscuring field of white cotton.

It was another few minutes before he heard the sound of her bedroom door opening and closing again, and soft footsteps on the carpet. Without much else to do, he listened to the small sounds, identifying them as all the normal little post-shower actions. That was Jenny towelling her hair more thoroughly, for example, and that, re-wrapping it in her second towel. The creak of her desk chair as she put one foot up to re-towel her legs one at a time, even though she'd already dried off more or less completely in the bathroom beforehand, like usual. Little behaviour quirks like that were things he liked to noticed, and he was quickly learning all of his young operator's peculiarities. And of course, that was the sound of her dumping her main towel on the floor and forgetting about it, where it would probably make a slightly damp patch on the carpet again.

"Hey CourseMan, are you still awake?" At least she sounded more relaxed now. A boiling hot shower would help with that though, especially after...
"Of course, Jen. Though, I'm afraid I can't see a thing at the moment." He could always slip out into his holographic platform, of course, the PET came equipped with a short-range projector that gave him about a foot of distance, but he'd found so far that he really didn't like it. It divided his senses in a strange way, since he, himself, never actually left the PET, so he had to deal with a dual feed of sense data, both his own, and the relay from the hologram. It was uncomfortable.

"Let's just keep it that way for the moment. You are in a young lady's bedroom after all." Now that she'd gotten the immediate needs of a teenage body out of the way, she seemed to be back to giggling about such things again. Well, so long as she was content.
"As you wish. Feeling refreshed?"
"Much better, hehe." As she spoke there was a luxuriant sigh in her voice, and the sounds of her stretching out and flexing in the middle of the carpet. Probably going through her basic pilates exercises, like she did most evenings, though he still hadn't hear her cupboard open, or the sounds of her putting on any night clothes, and he cast an eye at the obscured screen again for a moment before catching himself. She continued to chat as she stretched.

"So, before, you were saying... ahh... There were other things you could do as well. Besides virus busting, I mean. Hahhh... I know you handle all my emails and contacts, and the timetables, and all that, but... Mnnn... What were you meaning?"
"Oh, well, most navis can bust viruses as a matter of course, and with some training can get better and better at it, but there's other things we can do to help out too. The GNA always needs more hands for all the requests and problems they get forwarded. that's work we navis can do, and they reward it well, though sometimes they get work that needs a lot of input from the operator as well. It all depends. You know how they stress that they are absolutely neutral, right? Well, there's a bunch of other groups and organisations that aren't; they're the ones the GNA are being neutral in relation to, most of the time. If I hook up with one of those factions, they'll also have a lot of work for me to do, and that'll pay fairly handsomely too, if I do it well."

Jenny let out a long breath and he heard her jumping up from the carpet, moving to stand in front of her mirror.
"Hey, Courser... do you think I'm hot?" The question made him flinch, and for once he was glad that they had no visual contact.
"You're very beautiful Jenny, don't doubt it... For whatever the opinion of your personal navi is worth."
"These braces are ugly. I can't wait until I can get them off. Only a couple of months now."
"They're like having a rainbow embedded in your smile, I think. But, if you'll smile more once they're gone, then how could I not look forward to that?"
"Stop it, I just got cleaned up." Her footsteps went to her desk, then returned tot he mirror and he could hear the soft whisk of the girl beginning to brush her hair out. "Hmmm... Katie says she's been getting a full wax down below lately and loves it." Courser looked at his obscured screen, wondering how exactly he was supposed to respond to that, but she went on after a few moments.
"I mean, at first she only did it because she's been letting her boyfriend slip a hand in her panties whenever they've made out lately, at least that's what she told Sam, and I just know she's going to end up doing it with him sometime soon... but she says she really likes the way it feels anyway, and she's going to keep doing it, so I was sort of wondering."
"I'm afraid I really have nothing to base any sort of opinion on, on that score, Jen. Have you ever done any sort of grooming there before?" Courser only realise what he'd asked after the words had were out and he bit his tongue even though it was already too late to get them back, but Jenny didn't seem fazed, still caught up in looking herself over in the mirror.
"No... I mean, I've never really seen the point, since I'm not exactly showing anyone. Thought I might do something when I get a boyfriend, but, if Katie's saying it's great for comfort too, maybe I should? At least if I did I could skip the question on whether to match it if I change my hair colour. I've been thinking of going red-head. Just to try it out. What do you think?"

A realisation came to CourseMan as his operator jumped from one fashion topic to the next.
"I think I've just worked out what you're doing." He chuckled. "Assignment time, Jen. No more evading."
"Aww, busted. Ok, ok..." Footsteps moved about the room as she scooped up the dropped towels and discarded clothes, including the undergarment covering the screen. In the same motion she scooped up the PET as well, setting it on her desk as she cleaned up quickly. Courser tried not to look, but the opportunity was too tempting. Despite the fact that she still hadn't dressed, however, the bundle of towels and clothes she was acquiring kept everything interesting out of sight, up until she stuffed them all into the laundry hamper by her closet. There was a brief moment of far more exposed skin than she probably wanted seen, then the closet door was open, creating afresh shield between his line of sight and her.

"So, do I have to do anything in particular for the mission things you were talking about?" Courser found his desire to be polite tugging him in two different directions. At once he felt he ought to look towards the woman he was talking to, at the other to look away. Occasional flashes of bare skin or an exposed behind peeked out from behind the door as Jenny pulled on fresh underwear and donned her usual night shirt.
"Ah, no, not really. I can just put in a general request on their BBS, and they'll let me know if something I can handle comes up, that's all, and if you'd be expected to do anything alongside or not." By the time he finished, Jen had emerged from behind the door and closed it again. She was wearing the pale blue night shirt she usually wore to bed. It was soft and thin with age, and apparently she'd worn it for many years now. It used to come down to well below her knees, but now it only barely covered her underwear when she stood straight, and didn't at all if she bent or sat down. It was also worn enough that he could see the darker circles of her nipples quite clearly through the fabric, and on the whole it was a good thing that she only ever wore it to bed, given how little it left to the imagination these days. She reclaimed her bag with a sigh then dropped down in her desk chair to begin pulling out the books she'd need.

"That sounds good. How about you put something up now then, and I'll get to work, then if something comes up that you need me for, you can let me know?" She stretched, rubbing again for a moment at the tender spot in the centre of her chest. She'd complained a few times about her bras not fitting right, and pressing in there, and Courser wondered how long she'd put up with it before she got a proper re-fit. She groaned and put her head down against the slightly intimidating collection of books she'd pulled out. "I need tea for this. Put the request up while I go make some, ok?"

She was already out of the chair and heading to her door before he could answer.
"Hey, this doesn't mean you can shirk the homework!" The call chased her into the hall, but he couldn't tell if she'd heard or not.

In truth, CourseMan felt a little bit guilty about the way he posted the mission request, but in the end, tonight was not the night for her to be learning about missions, so scaring her away was probably best. The sounds of tea being made downstairs served as a short distraction, but as usual the GNA proved prompt in putting forward an offering. Courser found himself rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he read through it. Looked shady enough to scare her off, certainly. He nodded to himself.

"Jen, We've got a response. They're usually pretty prompt like this. Here, have a look!" Jen was just returning with her mug of tea cupped between her hands and leaned over the desk to glance at the screen. Courser carefully kept his own request posting off the screen, showing her only the offering itself, and hid his relief as he watched her bite her lip.

"CourseMan... Are you sure these are the sorts of things we're supposed to sign up for? It sounds, uhh... shady." She read it again, then set her tea down and moved to her wardrobe again, pulling it open. Why was she doing that? He winced as she began flicking through different outfits. Briefly he wondered what his chances were of convincing her parents to keep her in, but discarded it. There were very few things Jen couldn't convince her parents to allow, and going out on a Friday night wasn't one of them.

"Yes, I'm sure Jen. It is what it is, and you did ask me to, but you shouldn't feel obliged to take it just because they offered it, alright? There's a lot of freelance pairs out there doing mission, so it's alright to decline. Don't worry about it; your tea's getting cold and the homework won't do itself, I'm afraid." He waved her back over to the desk, giving his best apologetic smile in the process. "Besides, if the poster is specifically asking for no children, then this one probably isn't something you want to get caught up in." He knew it was exactly the wrong thing to say even as the words left his mouth and it was a struggle not to hit himself for it. He might still be learning about Jenny, but he ought to have known not to say something like that.

"Hah! Really now? Well, it's a good thing I'm almost sixteen then, isn't it? No children here any more." She pulled out one top and threw it on the bed, then another, then a skirt, then another and another. Courser covered his eyes then rubbed his face, exasperated.

"There's no chance I'll talk you out of going now, is there, Jen?" She didn't answer, wrapped up in picking an outfit. "In that case, you should at least give them an acceptance, so they can give us both details." The girl paused with her night shirt pulled halfway up and glanced towards the desk with it still pulled partially over her head.

"Oh, right!" She darted over, grabbing up the PET and quickly sent her answer, then threw it onto her bed and pulled one of her pillows over it. "Now, no peeking, I need to change!"

Courser just shook his head and sighed, surrendering himself to a more complicated evening that he had hoped for.

((To -> The Alvis Wiseman Memorial High School))
((Returning from -> The Alvis Wiseman Memorial High School))

By the time Jenny got home, all she really wanted to do was get into her night clothes and curl up in bed. She vaguely wanted another shower, but she'd probably get in trouble for hogging all the hot water if she did. It wasn't like anyone else was going to be using it before the morning anyway, but... parents would be parents. Instead, she flipped the kettle on, then climbed the stairs to her bedroom. A few moments later she was sprawled on her bed, PET brushing close to the floor in one hand that was hanging over the edge. She closed her eyes enjoying the soft comfort for a few minutes.

"You know, that actually went alright, I thought. I even made a friend. Hey CourseMan... What did you think about—" A light tap on her door cut off the train of thought as her mother opened it and peeked in without waiting.

"Kettle boiled, Jenny, would you mind making tea for your father and I as well, while you're doing yours?" The older woman's eyes drew down for a moment as she looked at her daughter, and in particular, her less than modest attire. "Is that what you were wearing when you went out? What one earth were you doing, dressed like that, young lady?" She stepped all the way into the room, and leaned against the wall with her arms folded. Jenny sat up and glanced down at herself. Right. That. Her mum wasn't angry, exactly... the look on her face was much more "this should be good", rather than "So much trouble", but the girl caught herself wincing anyway. She peeked up, pulling her glasses out of her top and slipping them on so she could see her mother clearly.

"Ah, I was actually visiting another school to see what kind of extra curricular classes they had on at night?" The fact that her explanation came out more as a question probably didn't help the believability of it one bit. her mum raised an eyebrow and tilted her head.

"Realllly..." She sighed softly. "Anything you want to tell me about, honey?" There was no avoiding her mum's questions at this point, but Jenny held up her hands, helpless.

"No, it's true, really! I met a girl called May who goes there, and we spoke about all the things they run as night classes. Courser, tell her." She held up her PET for the other woman to see, and CourseMan offered the lady an apologetic shrug.
"It is the truth, Ma'am. I spoke to a professor of language about the potential of her taking a foreign language course a few evenings a week." Jenny yanked back the display.
"You didn't tell me that!"
"You were busy. It's a real option though. It would do you well."
"But I was thinking I could..."

"Alright you two..." Jenny's mum cut in, looking between the girl and her navi. "Thick as thieves, the pair of you, I see. Well... How about this: "You..." she pointed to the PET. "I don't want you covering for my daughter to me. I'm her mother and I need to know things. Understood?" CourseMan nodded. "And you, change out of all that." Jenny nodded. "And I will make the tea and bring you a cup, and I won't tell your father that you went out at night dressed like that... and you will stay here and do your assignment. Sound fair?" As much as she wanted to protest, Jenny just nodded again.

"Yes mum." She fell back on her bed with a sigh as the older woman disappeared again. By the time she heard her making the tea downstairs though, she motivated herself enough to get up and begin changing into her night things. Courser found his PET placed upside down on her desk until she was done, so he busied himself collecting their mission rewards and getting the fiscal side of matters cleared up. by the time she picked up the PET again, it was to set it against the wall and begin spreading her various books out over the desk space.

"Before you begin, Jenny? could you grab three blank chips for me? Our mission contract was quite generous in their payment for the work, and I've got three new sets of chip data." Her eyebrows jumped as she looked at him, but didn't hesitate in the chance to put off work, even if was just for a few more seconds. Once the three new chips were transferred and filed away again, Jenny finally managed to start focusing on her books. It was going to be a long night.
Saturday morning dawned with a long groan from Jenny. Rolling over, she winced, then mumbled a distinctly un-ladylike curse through the insulating blankets. Groggy, she dragged herself out of bed, grabbed her robe some clean unders, and stumbled down to the laundry to strip off her night things and bundle them directly into the wash, then made a bee-line for the shower.

Nice as the hot water was, her mood wasn't much improved by the time she returned tot he bedroom and began dressing slowly, for once completely ignoring the fact that Courser's PET was face up on her desk and offered full view of her. The navi in question disciplined himself to look away after he realised he'd been watching her more closely and for far longer than was decent.

"Are you alright Jenny? You sound unwell." He cleared his throat before speaking, and did his best to make it clear that he was not, in fact, watching her. Jenny just groaned softly.

"'m fine. Need Advil."
"You don't sound fine, Jen. What's the matter?"
"Nothing. Everything. I hate my body. Just be quiet." Her tone was less sleepy now, but she did sound uncharacteristically irate. Rather than any sort of day or weekend outing clothes, Jenny was dressing herself in thick track pants and a couple of her comfy around-the-home shirts.
"Weren't you planning to meet a couple for your friends for coffee this morning?"
"Was." A moment later she winced again and put a hand to her middle, and courser finally put the pieces together. His next course of action was probably the wisest he'd had all morning; he closed his mouth and kept it that way.

A little later in the morning, after something approaching breakfast and some painkillers, and some tea, Jenny was back in her room, crawling back under her covers with a warm heat pack. She fumbled her phone for a bit and called a few friends, telling them that she was feeling under the weather and had to rain-check, then curled up and hugged her pillow.

"Hey Courser? Can we go kill something? I need a distraction."
"Sure thing, Jen. Where do you want to send me?" The lump under the covers shifted and turned around, then burrowed its way up to the end of the bed near her desk. A hand reached out, groping for the PET and her chip case, dragging them both with it as the girl turned again and retreated to her pillows.
"Wherever. 'slong as there's things to shred."
"Alright, send me in and we'll get started then, ok?" Now that the penny had dropped, Courser spoke more softly and did his best to be accommodating for the girl. He weighed the risks and decided that making the effort to be extra fancy and hopefully more rewarding than usual for her was worth the, admittedly, rather likely risk of large amounts of pain to himself. He braced himself and tried to focus as much as he could on being careful. Jenny pressed the button to jack him in, and Courser followed a series of by links to make his way to a network that he knew was likely far too dangerous for him.

((Courser, jacking in To -> Hades Net))
Despite her best intentions of staying in bed and feeling sorry for herself all day, Courser's bloody-minded determination to stick out something that was far too dangerous and far too painful for him had managed to drive the girl to something vaguely close to functionality herself. So it was that an hour or so later, with her navi struggling but determined and her own insides feeling at least a little bit like they weren't being torn apart by gremlins, Jenny found herself taking a few more advil for good measure, making another quick bathroom stop, and pulling on her jeans and a shirt.

Courser was right. It was stupid that she couldn't just make an online download of the things she planned to get, but, maybe some fresh air and a walk would help, now that she could stand up without pain. Whatever.

She had to leave Courser himself on his own, while she went, otherwise the connection would untether, so she grabbed her shoulder bag and her purse quickly, and shouted a brief goodbye to her mum as she headed out the door as swiftly as she could comfortably manage.

((Branch To -> The Chip Shop))
((Branch Back From -> The Chip Shop))

In all honestly, the fresh had done her some good, and while she still felt a little cramped and generally yucky, Jenny was nevertheless content that her brief outing had gone as well as could be expected as she darted up the stairs back to her room. She paused to pull the chip shop back out of her satchel and dropped the rest unceremoniously on the floor before grabbing her PET and dropping back to her bed with a sigh.

The link was still good, Courser wasn't looking too worse for wear, and it looked like the battle was over, if he was lying about waiting for her. She blinked and scanned over the screen again. All of the battle alerts were still engaged, and there was a virus still present. the structures her navi had been fighting around before were gone, but the worrisomely resilient Shadow virus was still there, and Courser seemed to have forgotten it.

"Courser, I'm back. Courser? CourseMan, get up! There's still something there!" The moment of shocked worry faded again when her call seemed to prompt him back to action and he kicked to his feet. With a small sigh of relief, Jenny grabbed her chip case and read in two more chips for him quickly, before unpackaging her purchases and filing them away.
((Courser Returning from -> Hades Net))

For her own part, Jenny was more than willing to pretend the sudden high-volume freak-out that had occurred when CourseMan's status went from 100% to a single Hp in an instant, had never actually happened. Instead she used the opportunity of her navi pretending to be all sciency, to nip to the bathroom and change her essentials. She knew he didn't really have a clue what he was going on about any more than she did, but it was kind of cute.

Once he was safely extracted, and the whole frightening Hades experiment was done with, Jenny finally let herself relax and snuggle up in her blankets again. then she found herself wishing for more tea, and groaned. Tea was good. Getting out of the cosy blankets again was bad. It was such a dilemma. With a sigh she unearthed herself again; she could reheat her water bottle at the same time, at least.

"What next, Jenny? How're you doing?" Courser's voice sounded less tired and more simply concerned, now that he was home in his PET again, and restored to full status. Jenny grumbled something about tea and heat, before answering properly.

"No more for now... I think I'm just going to read for a bit, alright?" She waited long enough to hear his agreement, then headed down stairs to put the kettle on.
The next few days had passed more simply; Jenny hadn't felt like doing much with her weekend, understandably, and Courser hadn't ended up with any pressing needs to jack in or bust viruses at all. More than anything, he'd simply found himself keeping the girl company and chatting to her about various topics while she occupied herself with schoolwork, reading, and the occasional bout of sketching.

In the quiet moments, he'd found himself practicing splitting has awareness more and more and noticed, just as much, the unnerving tendency he seemed to have developed for... well, it was hard to describe really. Each clone he made was just a puppet. It was a heartless, soulless decoy, that would do nothing on its own save exactly what he controlled and commanded it to do, directly... and yet the more he practiced with them, the more he caught... himself... saying surprising or even hurtful things to himself. He hadn't spoken to Jenny about it, but it was worrying. It wasn't though his decoys were wrong, not completely... nothing that they... he... said at those times wasn't any thought that he hadn't had, at some point, but he... they... seemed to often come out with things that he then found to be completely unfair to him.

"What, like keeping it from Jen? 'Course that's smart! Can't have her thinking you're a bloody nut-job now, can we boss? Nooo..."
"Shut-up!" CourseMan snarled and dispelled his clones, breathing harder than he ought to be. That was enough practice for now. Instead, he closed his eyes, sitting with his back against one wall of the small, simple quarters that made for his home inside the PET, and closed his eyes to meditate. Stillness came easily to his body, but less so to his mind. It wasn't as though there was anyone he could actually talk to about the... issue. It wasn't exactly causing a problem, or endangering him in any way, and it wasn't as though he couldn't control it, if he focused... He opened his eyes determined to prove the point to himself, and called up a decoy sitting opposite him in the same relaxed pose. With his awareness split, he as looking back and forth at himself, like being on both sides of a mirror, but it was something he was getting more used to.

"When I make a decoy... it is just light and shadow. It doesn't have personality. It isn't me." He spoke to it, and formed some more words to speak through the clone instead.
"This image does not act, unless I tell it to. It does not speak, but for the words I give it. It is not real." The clone spoke the words back to him neatly.
"So said every crazy person ever." There had been the barest whisper of that thought before, when he'd formed the words to speak, but the clone spoke them, adding onto the words he'd consciously given it with a healthy dose of self-mocking in its voice. Courser flinched and banished the image, then closed his eyes, teeth clenched. What was wrong with him? He needed a distraction, more than anything else right now. Enough being alone with his thoughts.

He was about to send a message to Jenny, but realised part way through that it would still be second period for her, and class wouldn't be out for another thirty minutes. He paced, trying not to think overly much, for what felt like the longest thirty minutes he could recall, before the bell rang and a glance at the screen told him Jenny was collecting her things.

"Hey Jenny, how was class?" He looked up to see her glancing at the PET a moment later, while still sliding things into her bag. She sighed and rolled her eyes.
"I swear, if I have to sit through another one of these 'Personal relations' classes, I'm going to lose my mind." Her choice of words could have been better. "Weren't you listening in?" Courser started, blinking. He often listened in on her classes, so why hadn't the thought occurred to him? Instead of answering directly, he just shook his head.

"No, though maybe I should have? I'm feeling a bit bored, and you've got gym next up, so not much for me to do there... other than reminding you that you used the 'girl stuff' excuse to pike out of swimming last week, so even if it's still a little bit true now, you can't do it again. Your instructor might not want to question it, but he's not stupid either." He was rewarded with a long-suffering sigh, followed by a half-hearted agreement. Once they were moving through the halls, CourseMan picked up again. "Actually, I was thinking about posting up to see if there's any quick errand running or other payable work the GNA might have for me, just while I'm waiting. Mind if I make a post and see?" Still quietly dreading gym class, Jenny shrugged and resettled her bag.

"I guess, but be careful, and make sure you come back if anything gets hairy, ok?" She held the PET up enough to look at him once, before letting her hand drop again, after he nodded to her.

((CourseMan Jacking in to -> Teksqp Jail House))
((Returning from -> Teksqp Jail House))

By the time he arrived back in his PET, Courser wasn't really sure whether the outing had been a good break, or just made the whole problem more worrying for him. More than ever he felt like he was barely in control of himself, but something about meeting a room full of other bona fide lunatics was... oddly comforting. If they were cases of true net navi insanity, then he still felt relatively safe that he wasn't quite in that category yet.

Still. It wasn't supposed to be any of his business, but his mind was still gnawing at the questions that had risen up around him while he casually probed the situation that had led those three women to their cells. He'd promised to look into it, too, and even if he'd only been playing a game and spinning words, a small part of him was curious enough to ant to hold him to it.

"Courser! There you are! What happened!?" Jenny's sudden shout was a mixture of relief and worry. He caught himself wincing sheepishly. "When I got back to the change rooms after swimming, there was a warning on the screen that said your jack-out functions had been cut off! Are you alright? What was going on?" It was at that particular moment that Courser realised he hadn't even thought about how to tell Jenny that he'd effectively just been doing a sanctioned mission for organised crime. He wasn't entirely sure about how he felt about that himself, but one thing he did know for certain was that he didn't want any of that business going near Jenny with a ten foot pole.

"Ah..." He looked up and found himself facing his operator's wide-eyed, worried expression. Her lips were slightly parted, forgotten in between wanting to say something more and waiting to hear if he was alright and her pupils were dilated well beyond the light level of the school's hallways. What could he say? "Ahh, Jen... I'm fine, it was..." In the end, for whatever reason, he couldn't force a convincing lie to his tongue. Something in him couldn't fib to that face. "The mission wanted me to watch some criminals. One of them tried something and I had to trigger a lock down on the prison. It cut everyone off, but I wasn't ever in any danger, alright?" she licked her lips and nodded to him, resettling her satchel on one shoulder as she stepped out into the open air between buildings.

"You're sure you're alright? You didn't get hurt or anything?"
"I'm sure. Sorry for worrying you. I did learn some strange things though, and I want to look into them a little more." Some element of his guilty conscience came to the fore enough to make him shuffle and fidget slightly as he spoke to her, but Jenny didn't seem to notice. Instead, she nodded and grinned.
"Oh, neat, what is it? I've got study hall for last period, so maybe I can help." Courser winced, then quickly schooled his expression into something less likely to rub her the wrong way. When he answered it still came out hesitant.

"Ahh, no Jenny... It would be better if you didn't. I have a feeling some of it involves... well it may involve some less than savoury elements, and even researching it too deeply could draw an eye or two. It's one thing is net navis want to hassle me about what I'm prying into... but I'm not going to have any of that run the risk of coming back to you."
"Is... Is it really that serious? Just from a little short mission from the GNA boards? Really?"
"I think it might be. I don't want to risk it for you."
"Oh I'm not a child you know." He recognised that petulance, but this time, at least, Courser had the answer he needed to fend it off.

"I know, Jen, but answer me truthfully, do you think your mother wouldn't back me up twice just so she could delete me three times, if she found out I'd gotten her daughter associated with organised crime?" Jenny moaned and rolled her head back and forth in irritation.
"Ughh... alright, alright. I won't ask then, but if anything actually happens, I'm not going to let you go and do dangerous things all alone. I'm almost sixteen, I can take care of myself." The bell sounded across the courtyard just as Jenny stepped through into the study hall's entry way and found a place. Courser didn't answer; how was anyone supposed to answer that kind of statement truthfully without also causing offence?
Courser ended up spending what time he could trying to scour the nets for more information on the events he'd heard about, but it was very little surprise to him that he came up mostly empty by the time Jenny was finished with school and heading home. It was mafia business, for one thing, and it sounded like a fairly sordid internal affairs issue to boot. He found himself having to reluctantly admit that, if he wanted to sate his curiosity, talking to mafia navis directly was going to be the only option he had. The question then was how to keep Jenny clear of it. under normal circumstances, he'd do the wise thing and simply put his curiosity about the business away; it wasn't his problem after all. In the end, though, it was a small part of his conscience that was busy wondering what would happen if some of the things the prisoners had said were true. If it was in his power to do something about it, and maybe save a few people from unpleasant fates, then he couldn't really just walk away, now that he knew about it. He glanced out to see that Jenny was already making swiftly for the line that would take them home. She'd flagged badly through the last period and he could tell that she was tired. It made him feel a little bad as he cleared his throat when they entered the station.

"I know you're exhausted and just want home, Jen, but do you think we could make a small detour on the way? I'd like to pick up another chip on the way. I was going to ask for a stop by Scilabs, too, but I can see you're not up for it." He heard her sigh, but she nodded as well and changed where she was walking, head down slightly. No answer, but she usually went quiet when she was feeling worn out.

((Heading To -> The Chip Shop))
((Back From -> The Chip Shop))

Her parents still weren't home when Jenny got in, fumbling with her keys and shambling to the kitchen to put the kettle on. She pulled her feet out of her shoes at the edge of the kitchen tiles without bothering to undo the laces and was already beginning to undo her clothes as she made her way upstairs to her room. Courser had gone quiet on the way home, and hadn't spoken up at all since they were in the shop, but Jenny herself was feeling too worn out to really pay it much attention. She paused at the top of the stairs to pull her socks off and rub her feet luxuriantly in the carpet.

There was more assignment work she ought to do, of course, and she really should study her science, too; there was going to be a test on transitional states on Friday, and she still hadn't fully grasped some of the finer points of it, but all of that could wait for a few minutes at least. By the time she closed the door to her room and let her satchel slip to the floor by her desk, Jenny was already pulling at zips and buttons, lazily shuffling out of her dress and tossing her underthings into the laundry hamper. For a change she barely noticed having left her PET on the desk where the screen had good view, but Courser wasn't watching anyway. She could rest for a few minutes, then do her work. With a long, finally relaxed sigh, Jenny spread out on her bed, enjoying the feel of the sheets against her skin, then with drowsy clumsiness worked her way under the top sheet and curled up with her pillow.

Downstairs, the kettle eventually boiled and clicked off, but no-one came to make the tea.
A couple of weeks had passed with relative calmness. School, study, assignments, complaining about each of those with friends in between. Jenny's day to day routine wasn't too scintillating, really, and most of her days were filled with thoughts about what work she had to do, what book she was reading, and a reasonable amount of inter-friend gossip that theorised and giggled, but didn't take things too far. It was a bright morning that saw Jenny up and showered earlier than usual, even for a school day. Couser had noticed that a few more weeks of his company were swiftly beginning to erode the young woman's extreme shyness around him, at least when she was in her own room.

This morning, for example, she had returned to her bedroom after her shower, mostly dried but still with her hair up and a large peach towel wrapped about her. Once the door was firmly shut, however, she hadn't bothered to avert the PET's screen like she used to before unfastening the towel and drying herself off the rest of the way. For his part, Courser did his best not to look, but his eyes still ended up wandering whenever she chatted to him. Now she paused with one foot up on the end of the bed, towelling down her leg, to glance across to her PET thoughtfully.

"I'd really hoped they'd let event assistants go in free dress today. I mean, I know all the athletes are representing and everything, but, we're not, not really." She continued drying off for a few moments, switching legs. "Though I suppose we are... I guess if someone was really rude to me, or something, I'd want to know what school sent them." Courser looked up just as Jenny switched to drying in between thoroughly and immediately looked away again.

"Well, um. At least your dress uniform is light and breezy. Looks like it's going to be a warm one out today. Forecast says it'll be a hot morning, and get humid later. Maybe break to rain in the evening, but you'll be home by then. Make sure you take a drink bottle." When his eyes drifted back again, Jenny was looking at herself in the mirror, with her back to him. He was caught between looking at the girl's rather too aesthetically pleasing rump, or trying to look past that to the mirror, where he was just as likely to end up accidentally staring at her chest instead. Jenny had her hands on her hips and was examining herself critically.

"I need to buy more razor blades. The blade was about done, in the shower, and it's my last one. Maybe I should call up Ella Baché and make an appointment... What do you think? It's as good a time as any to give it a try at least, don't you think?" Her hands shifted and Courser couldn't help but be aware that she was toying with some of the soft down at her groin, even if she still had her back to him. "Still kinda worried about it hurting a lot though. It's coming into summer, and I'm really starting to like what Katie was saying about being breezier, you know?" Just like the last time that line of questions had come up, Courser really had no solid answer to give. Instead he shrugged, though he knew she wouldn't see.

"It's your body, Jen, but you know your mum is going to put you to the question if she knows. She'll believe you if you say it's just for comfort, but you know she'll still worry that you're fibbing." She laughed. Halfway towards lying out on the floor to do her morning stretches, she paused to adopt a more suggestive position on her hands and knees, facing towards courser's PET and making a few lewd back and forth rocks. She'd faced him, so as to only really show off what could be seen of her breasts, from that angle, but had forgotten about the mirror, which was where Courser's gaze fell before he realised what he was staring at. Jen was still giggling.

"Oh? And what if she's right, huh? Grr!" Despite herself, the girl bloomed into a very fierce blush a few seconds later, then rolled onto her back and covered her chest with her hands. "I'm nearly sixteen, I'm ready to stop just looking from the sidelines, you know?" If he thought she'd see, he'd have raised an eyebrow to her; as it was he just waited the claim out. Sure enough she bit her lip a moment later. "Well... almost ready. Maybe. Sometimes I think I really do want to do more, but... it's not like there's anyone on the horizon or anything. And I'm totally not going to just throw it away at some party or anything like that." She sat up, back to him again, and grabbed her brush to begin doing her hair. "It's got to be romantic, and intimate, and private, and secluded.... and he's got to be cute, and strong. Tall, broad chest, and smiles a lot, but an honest smile, you know? Like you know he'd be grinning anyway even if you weren't there, that kind of smile. And he's got to be gentle, and considerate. The kind of guy who wants to look out for others and stuff. Like, a fireman or something." Here she giggled again, since that line of thinking was getting just a bit too absurd. "Oh I don't know... but I know I'm not going to just wait by the sidelines a stare at pretty boys forever. Mum knows that, doesn't she?" She finished with her hair and gathered it in a loose band to leave it until it was fully dry. Courser sighed and nodded.

"She does. She was your age once, as well. Honestly, Jen, I think you're lucky. You know what some girls' mothers are like. You should count your blessings; I think your mum will be happy for you just so long as it happens when you decide it's going to happen, and your own choosing, and you're not in any danger." He saw her head nod softly before the girl moved to actually begin her stretches this time.

"Now your dad... well, probably just better to let your mum handle your dad, when the time comes, right?" That got a small laugh, though it sounded strained while Jenny held a pose.
"I think I'd rather dad believe I'm a virgin right up until I've got grand-children."
"Good luck with that." Courser paused, picking his words more carefully. "Seriously though, Jen... don't rush into it, alright? You're a smart girl, and you understand that you're all hormones at this age. Just be careful, and be sure that you are, really, sure about it." This time his response was a derisive snort as she relaxed from a different pose.
"Yeah, I know. I'm not silly. It's all fantasy for now anyway... you know it's probably not going to happen until I'm, like, twenty something, right? I'm not just going to bed the first pretty boy that flirts to me, and you know how I am with actually talking to cute boys, so... yeah, let's be realistic here and admit it's never going to happen." He wanted to encourage the girl after a statement like that, but a part of him felt like doing so would be going against his previous advice.
"Don't go fishing now, Jen... you're a beautiful young lady and you know it. When it's the right time for you, and you find the right person for you, just make sure you enjoy yourself. For now, though, you should probably hurry up and get dressed. You got up early for a reason, remember?"

To her credit, Jenny wasn't exactly being lazy while she chattered. Done with her morning exercises, she had jumped up and pulled on some underwear, followed by her sport bra. She still hadn't gotten a new fit, and today was going to be a long day and comfort was important. Next came her school dress, and finally her pop socks and running shoes. The school summer dress was simple and came down to just above her knees, with a zip back. It was light and breezy, but Jenny often resisted wearing it because, on her shoulders, it paid an unfortunate price for its comfort; if the zip at the back came down, the dress would fall right off her with very little warning. The top of the zip was covered with a flap, of course, but there had been several times were pranks had been pulled. Jenny herself had never fallen victim to it, but she was cautious all the same. Still, everyone was going to be on their best behaviour today, and it was going to be a very hot day besides.

"Less than two months now..." Courser didn't need to look to know that Jenny was looking at her braces in the mirror again.
"What will you spend your time and energy fretting over and day counting for when they're gone, I wonder?"
"Oh shut up..."
"Just saying..." It was all in good humour; Jen was humming to herself as she brushed and set her hair properly, now that it was more dry. She opted to leave it out today, but slipped a couple of bands into a pocket of her satchel in case she wanted to put it up later. Even if it only reached her shoulders, it still got very hot on her neck when it was down on a warm day. Talk because more check-list oriented while she put together the rest of her things; a book to read, since it wouldn't be all marshalling and watching cute boys all day, a two litre water bottle filled with fruity cordial and stuffed with ice cubes, all safely wrapped in a cloth to help insulate an stop it sweating everywhere in her bag, lunch and snacks that she'd packed up the evening before, her signed day pass as a helper, purse, keys, PET, and a short list of other essentials, and then she was about ready to head out the door. The earlier rise had left her enough time to have a proper breakfast and say goodbye to her parents before she headed out.

((Heading To -> Dentech University All-School's Athletics Meet and Open Day))
((Returning From -> Dentech Uni, via the Navi Shop))

Steam curled out of the crack in the bathroom door on the upper story of Jenny's home while the over-bright glow of the heat lights filtered out into the hall. It was only mid afternoon, but the shower had been Jenny's first top after putting her things down and getting her damp gear in the laundry. Courser hadn't bothered to ask what was on the young lady's mind on the way home from the navi shop; she'd been staring out the window without really looking, a slight smile at one corner of her lips and a blush on her cheeks. She hadn't taken the time to actually install the upgrades she purchased yet either, but there would be plenty of time to ask her about it once she was ready and more relaxed.


It was substantially later that saw Jenny sitting on the side of her bed wrapped in a large, fluffy towel with another holding her hair, sorting through the upgrades and working out which order they needed to be done in. Courser was keeping his eyes closed for the most part, in case she decided to get dressed, but he couldn't help giving a small prod anyway.

"So. Should I ask? Did you enjoy the volunteering today?" He was resting against the wall of the space he used for practising in, arms folded and legs crossed, but rather than look down at the PET, Jenny paused what she was doing and looked up instead, glancing at herself in the mirror, and then blushing furiously all over again.

"I.. Ah, I had a, a um good time, yeah. I met some," There was a very slight hitch in her words, though she didn't actually stumble this time, but it was enough for Courser to hear it. "Nice people. I twisted my ankle, but they helped me take care of it." Inside the PEt, Courser smirked to himself.

"Oh? Is that why you were wearing someone else's swimsuit when I came back?" The girl gasped softly, and he heard her drop the packet for the upgrade she was holding and grab the PET looking into it more directly.

"N-No, I mean, yes, but, ahhh! It's not like that, I mean, well... oh gods... No, look, I slipped and fell in the pool, and they had to give me something to change into, ok, that's all." He looked up at her, opening one eye enough to raise an eyebrow at her.

"That sounds like an answer you'd give your mum. Come on Jen, what happened." He as rewarded by more furious blushing and the PET being thrown back onto the bed beside her. there was quiet for a few more moments as she busied herself opening several more packets and laying out the upgrades more neatly in an effort to buy time.

"So, uh... I might have gotten changed in the same change room as a guy. Uhhh... he might also have been naked at the same time." He couldn't see it, but he heard the sound of Jenny covering her face with her hands. "There was another girl there too, so it was ok. Well, sort of. She was still fully dressed, it was jut me and him, and... that doesn't make it nay better does it? Oh gods, I don't really know, why, I just... it felt like.... I shouldn't have done that, I know I shouldn't have. I don't know why I did." As more of the story unfolded, courser frowned to himself, a bit more concerned than he had been.

"There wasn't pressure was there Jenny? Who was the other girl?" On the bed, Jenny lowered her head and mumbled something into her chest that Courser couldn't hear clearly. "Jenny? I'm serious, if anyone was trying to pressure you to do things you didn't want to, that's not on." she shook her head and mumbled more, and only managed to speak clearly after further prompting.

"It was all me. The other girl was really nice. I think I made her uncomfortable. We didn't, you know, do anything, or anything. He didn't even see me, I don't think. We were just there, and I had to change, and I made him strip off, so I could get a peek, and said it was only fair. Gods that was so mean. I'm terrible... I don't know why I was thinking any of that!"

"Let me ask you a question then. Be honest. Was he pretty?" Without really thinking about it, Jenny bit her lip and closed her eyes, leaning forward slightly with a soft moan.

"Mm, gorgeous..." She put a hand to her mouth a moment later, but Courser was already chuckling.
"Let's call it hormones then, shall we?"
"Hey! I... well, what did you get up to then?" The sudden switch aught him slightly off guard, and when he took a moment to think about exactly what he had gotten up to, Courser hesitated.

"I... Had a good time, and I met some nice people." The PET flicked around as Jenny brought it to her face again, looking at him much more squarely.
"Really. And just what did you do with these nice people?"
"Ask me no questions, Jenny, and I'll tell you no lies." She made a small indignant sound, and bounced on the bed briefly, slapping the quilt beside her with one hand in frustration.
"That's no any answer! Come on, tell me!" Courser sighed and shrugged his shoulders.
"Suffice to say there's a couple of ladies who would probably very much welcome me writing them a note."
"So will you?"
"Don't know. Maybe. It was a fun game."
"You're no fun."
"I'm glad you had a good day, Jenny, and I'm relieved that nothing got out of hand." The more quiet, serious tone settled her back down and she nodded, still blushing delicately.
"You won't tell mum?"
"Of course not. Just, be careful, alright?" She nodded to him, then finished installing the last upgrades.
"I'm going to have some afternoon tea, then give Rach a call." As with other recent times, she only checked that the door was properly closed before shedding her towel and finishing drying off, without taking any measures to prevent courser himself from seeing. Even so, Courser didn't watch as she got dressed again into some light afternoon clothes then headed downstairs.
"Oh, shut up, that's not true! Hey, I don't! No, but seriously, I don't. I haven't ever... I mean, I've though about it, and you know, I guess I... Hey, no, no, be serious, come on, that's not fair. Everyone's done that, but I don't... Oh hush... Not like that! Ok, ok, so you're going to tell me everything, right? Like, tell me about the shop first, I've only ever looked at it down the street when I go by..." Courser listened to Jenny lying on her bed, phone to one ear while she squirmed and rolled in embarrassed glee over whatever conversation she was having with Rachel. It sounded harmless enough, from what he could gather, but the ever flirtatious navi had more than the tittering of teenage girls on his mind at the moment.

He was resting in the homespace of his PET for now, but small moments to do extra reading and research in between his other responsibilities had left him more certain than ever that whatever iceberg he'd scraped the tip of a few weeks earlier, people were suffering because of it, Mafia or not. He was sure enough of that, at least, that he was finding it harder and harder to justify doing and saying nothing, and contenting himself with the excuse of looking for more information. He knew full well the only way to get better information was to go to the source.

"Ok, ok, here's the deal; Movie night. Thursday, your place, and I'll bring the snacks, deal? Your folks are going to be away until next Tuesday, so it's perfect, and you can even show me." When he glanced her way, Courser could see Jenny had blushed a scarlet shade across her cheeks and he couldn't help a small smirk to himself. While the two worked out the extra details, Courser began drafting a quick posting for what he wanted to do, then cleared his throat as Jenny hung up.

"All planned out, Jen? Might I suggest you be sure to pack your classic lit. books, and I'll clear it with your mother. That's a class you and Rach both share, and you're moving towards the end of your current module in it, so I'll let her know that it will be a study evening, and promise to make you both stick to it, if she'll let you make it a sleep-over without a fuss." Jenny sat up, still trying to hide her blushing, and fanned at herself.

"Hey, you make it sound like I'm planning something naughty. It's just a movie night!" Courser looked back at her and raised an eyebrow silently. After a second she sighed and fell back on her bed looking at the ceiling. "Do you have to come? No offence, but... kinda hard to have a girls' movie night if..." He chuckled softly.

"Who said I was doing this out of the goodness of my heart? I haven't had a chance to talk with Nara in weeks." Jenny pushed herself up enough on an elbow to look across at the desk where the PET was propped up. She was smirking now, which told him he'd won.

"What ever do you mean? You can email her whenever you want to."
"And of course, by 'talk' I mean, in person, in Rachel's PET. In private. Without being disturbed."
"Right. Talking. Alright, alright, fine."
"So, Jen, that means you're not doing anything tonight, right?"
"Bit more serious, but I want to be sure you're home and safe tonight, and not doing anything you might need me for." He'd been wondering how best to ask, but just going ahead and saying it was best, now that he'd promised to cover for her with her mother. Jenny rolled over and turned around, sitting up to look at the screen properly once she caught his more serious tone. Courser continued once he had her attention.

"You remember, a few weeks back, I mentioned that I'd accidentally stumbled on something that I needed to look more into, but I didn't want you involved? Well, knowing what I know, I can't put off not doing anything, when other navis are getting hurt. I'd rather I hadn't found out, honestly, but now that I have... Anyway, I need to speak to people who are associated with net crime, and I am absolutely not going to involve you in it, so, I need you to jack me in tonight, and leave me be until I let you know I'm done." He watched as her expression shifted through a few feelings, settling on a dissatisfied pout.

"I guess I did promise. Alright. I was thinking of catching up on that series Rachel wanted me to watch. The one about the sports school for girls that has the werewolf cult in it?" Courser rolled his eyes.
"I still think that that's nothing but a thinly veiled excuse for soft core girl-on-girl material, you know."
"There are a lot of bedroom and change room scenes... but, I mean, it's a private boarding school for sports, so dorms and change rooms are going to take up a lot of it anyway, right?"
"If you say so. Happy watching, and ah, Jen? Lock your door. Just trust me, even if you don't think it's questionable, I'm sure your mum will." Now it was his operator's turn to roll her eyes at him, before she clambered off the bed to close her door and retrieve an external drive from her bag. She took the extra moment to jack him in as requested before settling down to her show.

((CourseMan jacking in to -> Teksqp Jail House))
((Courser Returning From -> A Rather Strange Diplomatic Mission))

Courser returned to Jenny's PET to the sounds of two female voices speaking in husky tones and sounding both confused and out of breath. It was coming from a computer screen, displaying the suspect anime that Jenny had been recommended by Rachel, and Courser glanced out to see what looked like a locker-room, half full of steam from the adjoined showers. Jenny was watching in rapt fascination, her cheeks bright scarlet. Courser arched an eyebrow towards no-one in particular, and kept silent, muting the sound on the PET from his side as he left the silly girl to her show. Yes. Totally innocent show about young teens at an all-girls school. Of course.

Several excessively flesh-toned episodes of young girls investigating werewolf cults and 'accidentally' exploring their budding sexuality with each other later, Jenny retired for a shower that Courser wagered had only a tangential relation to getting clean, and then sleep while he continued to ponder exactly what he was doing messing with Mafia affairs and potentially altering the course of several navi's lives with his meddling. He wondered if Mime would thank him, or resent him, for his actions, and he wondered the same about Shok. When he rested at last it was with the sneaking feeling that some of his decisions were going to bite him, somehow.


Life continued with the same sense of comfortable normalcy it had taken on for the next few days as he put the more complicated matters out of mind and settled back into school routines with Jenny. The evening of her arranged sleep over crept around and he made the requisite promises to her mother and ensured that all of the various study books they'd almost certainly not end up using were packed in her bag. As they left the house, he thought to ask the girl to swing by SciLab on the way, and work through some of the previous mission rewards; the chance to do so hadn't yet come up, but he knew he might as well, once they were out of her mother's supervision.

((To -> The Navi Shop))
((From -> The Navi Shop))

By the time Jenny arrived at her friend's house, she was feeling sorely tempted to make an immediate start on some of the snacks she'd brought with her. There was enough movie food in her back pack to last both of them all night and ensure that neither of them wold really be interested in eating anything substantial all evening. More responsible people would disapprove, but they weren't here. Well. One was, but he was going to keep his pretty face quiet anyway.

Rachel's home was very similar to her own. Beyond a certain stage, the suburban sprawl led to sets of houses that were functionally carbon copies of one another, at least at a basic level. Rachel's family had opted to focus on the hyper modern design aspects, and the facade of the home was all white panels and silver fittings, with a sleek modern feel, even if it was structurally not very different from her own. The garden had been replaced with a raked gravel bed, with artsy rocks dotted about it in various places, and the steps led up to a broad verandah that jutted out above the two-car car port with its sliding door closed, beneath.

The doorbell was a simple buzzer that replicated the sound of an old pull-ringer, complete with the ratcheting sound behind the rotary clapper and the retraction of the cord; it was an odd piece of 'ye olde' juxtaposed with the refined, modern design of everything else.

Inside the house was more of the same, and Jenny had never ceased to find it amusing. Smooth, clear, almost futuristic settings, remarkable for their minimalism, dotted about with the occasional ancient brass or steel relic from ages long past. Rachel followed after her father in terms of tech smarts and a fascination with the marvels of modern design and programming, while her mother enjoyed mocking them both with her tinkering projects, pulled wholesale out of some hidden time portal.

Today was not the time for tours, however, and before long Jenny and Rachel had ensconced themselves in the latter's bedroom, surrounded on the bed by bowled-up selections of corn chips, jelly snakes and a half a dozen other foods that they both knew they really oughtn't eat in the amounts they were probably going to. Between them a spread of cases for different movies made a messy nest of titles.

“...and I hung them on a peg at the other end of the change room! It was hilarious. I really don't know what came over me, hehe!!” Jenny was already working up a blush from simply sharing the embarrassing story, bouncing slightly where she sat cross-legged on the bed, but Rachel only waved a hand at her as she smirked back.

“Yeah, but did you at least get a good look... you know? Don't tell me you did all that but you didn't end up peeking?” Rach had leaned in, eyes dancing and grin bright as she hung on the details.

“No! Of course not!! I mean... Well, I thought about it, but...” She waved her hands in a futile attempt to communicate the feeling. “No! Anyway, that was it! I got dressed after hat and we got out of there!” More laughter filled the bedroom as their chatter moved on. Eventually a movie was selected and started, while neither girl paid too much attention to it in reality. After about half an hour of snacking nad chatting, a lull in the conversation prompted Jenny to throw a jelly snake at her friend.

“So, come on. You went to a sex shop. And you bought something. I want you to tell me everything. Properly, this time.” It was during the nervous giggles that courser finally decided it was time to clear his throat.

“Ladies, as much as I'm aware you aren't going to be studying much, I did promise you mum that I would be sure to remind you to do your work. So. I'm reminding you to do your work. Promise discharged. I think it's about time I left you both to your girls' night though, don't you?”

At the sound of a male voice in the room, both girls jumped and gasped, and Jenny rolled her eyes while Rachel giggled. Jenny rolled over and fussed with her bag for a bit, retrieving the PET and tossing it across to Rachel, who snagged it out of the air.

“Right, right, I'll send you over. Have fun with Nara, she knows you're coming!” Rachel pulled her own device out of her bedside table and quickly fiddled with both of them to handle the transfer, before dropping both into the top drawer and closing it again. She turned back and bend over the edge of the bed, searching for something else, before she returned with a small black bag, bearing a stylish red logo, a mischievous grin plastering her features. “So...”

As fascinating as it might be listening to his charge and her equally teenage friend giggling over naughty excursions into adult shops, Courser himself was somewhat relieved to find himself landing at the entrance to Nara's personal homespace, inside Rachel's PET.

It was a familiar space; softly lit aquarium-lights showing a myriad of platforms of different heights and shapes, each with their own functions. There were no walls here, and the floor was make of gently flowing spring water that seemed to come up from below in the centre of each platform, connecting back to the ground via thin, gracefully curving conduits.

The navi herself was waiting for him, leaning with her arms folded and a small smile, in the curve of one of the supporting curls of water. Nara was the first navi he'd ever met, and his most formative memories were of spending time with her, getting his bearings and testing his capabilities. Today, she was dressed in a short jacket made of damp material that slipped easily across the dark brown of her skin. A chest band preserved her modesty, while still showing off the impressive definition of an athletic, slim build. A thin sarong was tied about her waist, sheer enough to show short, blue swim shorts underneath, but revealing the rest of her otherwise bare legs.

“Hey there, pretty boy.”
“Hey, scary lady.” Courser shrugged and let himself glide across to her with a small bow. “My thanks for allowing me to visit you in your most elegant abode.” A short peal of laughter was followed by a hand down to shove his shoulder lightly.
“Shut up, you...” He stood and spread his arms in helpless gesture, before Nara grabbed him into a brief hug. He gripped back and they laughed for a moment before parting. Her expression turned serious and soft as they calmed. “How you doing? I heard you were getting into some serious business...” She tilted her head and raised an eyebrow, and Courser just nodded back.

“Yeah... Got some real worries.”
“Boss-man's been tweaking the nose of organised crime!” A decoy hung off his shoulder, smirking as it piped up.
“And joining them too!” Another slipped out of shadowy curls on his other side. courser grimaced and waved the errant thoughts away.
“That's not even the big news!” A clone slipped up from the waters, lying on its front and kicking its heels behind it playfully.
“Hush you!” He banished it, but Nara was already looking at him with a measuring eye.
“You sure you're okay?”
“It's complicated.” She nodded and walked with him back to the centre of the main platform before making a small gesture with her hand. The water rose, swelling at first, then splitting into rising streams that carried the two navis up and around to one of the smaller platforms set with furniture. Courser let one hand slip into the column as it guided him, the rest of his body free, until he could drop down into one of the watery cushioned blob-chairs. Nara slipped down beside him, one hand on her chin as she watched him. It took him a few moments of of focus to pick his words and ensure no errant thoughts became mouthy decoys.

“I'm worried. I don't know if I'm keeping this together as well as I'm pretending to.” Beside him, Nara ran a spare hand through her hair, flicking water out of the long blue-black strands as she pulled two cups of a faintly blue-green drink from the ether.

“From the beginning then...” She handed him a mug and Courser took it, along with a deep breath.


Talking to Nara was always calming for him; it made talking about the honest things easier, when he couldn't with others. As much as Jenny and Rachel both assumed they were spending the time in intimate activity... and they were... but their relationship had never actually been like that, and courser felt strangely more comfortable that both girls thought he was just making a house call for sex. It was an illusion he and Nara both maintained.

Despite his best efforts, frequent slips from decoys rushing ahead in his story, or spilling indelicate descriptions of things that he had wanted to explain more tactfully. It was a comfort, in way, that her eyes never wavered from him as they spoke, and she never paid his clone slips any direct attention. A few times, they even complained of her ignoring them, which was new since they'd last spoken, but she kept a straight face all through it. Eventually he reached the end of his story.

“I don't know what I'm going to do about this 'blesser' problem, but I'm involved in it, and the mafia, now beyond any really getting out of it.” He shook his head, “and beside that, I... there are people who will get hurt if I step away now.” Here, Nara leaned back and contemplated him with a turn of her head.

“This isn't your normal flirt-and run behaviour, is it? You like these girls? It sounded like you got quite serious about it.” Courser let his head drop and looked down at himself for a few moments.

“Navis bond quickly, I know. I've known them barely any time at all, but... it's been fun, and I've enjoyed spending time playing with them, teasing them, flirting... but... but I think I would be upset, if something were to happen to them.” He stood and stretched, rolled his shoulders and took a walk around the platform they'd rested on. “I've actually...”

“Pretty-boy's got a Daaaate!!” From off to the side, a clone lounged in another chair, holding both hands under his chin as he teased. Courser ignored it.

“There's a celebration, for Mime being exonerated and free. It's tonight.” Here, Nara just grinned at him.
“Well you'd better get going then, sport! You don't want to be late, do you?”
“It's... also where I'm supposed to get formally accepted into the net mafia...”
“Yeah...” Courser ran a hand through his hair and focused on straightening his already straight jacket. Nara stood and stepped in behind, putting her arms around his shoulders. He relaxed and closed his eyes, leaning his had back against the woman's shoulder in response.
“Listen... you'll be fine. Just be you. All of you. I know it's gotten worse, and I know you're scared, but you're going to be okay.” She gave him a squeeze then stood back and turned him around.

“Now go be dazzling, pretty boy. I can handle the jack-in from here, and as long as you're back before tomorrow morning I doubt the girls will notice.” She winked at him and courser grinned back.

“Right. How do I look?”
“Roguish and dangerous, you tall glass of water.”
“Thanks Nara. See you later!” He straightened properly and gave her a last salute as she brought up a touch screen and managed the permissions, before the navi sank back into the shadows and disappeared.

((To -> TaxidermyMan's Museum))
((Returning from -> TaxidermyMan's Museum))

Courser felt mentally and emotionally exhausted by the time he returned, first to Rachel and Nara's PET, and the soft, water-bed cushions of her living area. The other navi was nowhere to be seen initially, but after a moment she arrived, sliding down one of the curving water columns from a platform above. She dropped into a seat across from him and folded her arms, raising an eyebrow.

“You look wrecked. Rough couple of hours?” Courser nodded, then sat up and stood, rolling his shoulders and shaking himself out.

“Yeah. Everyone is safe, for now. I'm... 'accepted' into the mafia now. It certifiably is a mess, but I think I understand more about some of the angles. My new boss thinks I'm mouthy. Don't know where she gets that impression from.” Here he paused and glanced to Nara with a weary, but wry expression while she smirked. She stood again as well after a moment.

“Well, you can tell me more about it later. Right now, a certain someone is desperate to talk to you about an odd message you sent her, so you'd best get going.” Courser just nodded back, then hugged the other navi when she stepped in closer. After a few more seconds, they parted and courser gave her a lazy salute, before stepping off the platform and disappearing into shadows.


He arrived back in his own PET a moment later, and was immediately treated to a sudden swing in view as Jenny scooped it off the table it had been resting on. Out of the drawer, then, he noted. Her face appeared before the screen, eyes bright and curious, with with a false suspicious narrowing that he tried hard not to be amused by.

“There you are! You didn't tell me you were going out! What was with that message? Nothing happened, after it anyway, and Nara wouldn't tell us where you were!” Edging in beside her, though less obviously energetic, Rachel cast him a more amused eye over her friend's shoulder. Courser just shrugged.

“Well, Jen, a person has to have their secrets, don't they? Do you think you dad would like it if he knew what sorts of movies you two were watching tonight, while not-studying?” Jenny pinked in the cheeks very quickly, but he raised his hands to placate her before she could object or take his comment poorly.

“Don't worry, don't' worry. I'll tell you some, but not all. It was more of that business I told you about, which I can't get you involved in... and that goes for you as well, Rachel... I know Jen's probably told you everything by now, enough to know it's serious stuff. I'm not going to put either of you at risk.”

“And what about you, hmm?” Rachel has crossed her arms and sat back on the end of the bed, with a frown. “The mafia uses jack out barriers, you know... you need to be careful, and someone else needs to know where you are and what you're doing, just in case.” Here, Jenny turned to look at her friend with a startled expression.

“Barriers? You mean, like, so he won't just zip back if he gets zapped or something?” The other girl nodded.
“Murder is a bit harder in the net world, but the criminal element has its ways... and looking at your expression, CourseMan, I'd say you're very aware of that already. Just what were you doing? Come on. Answers, now.” There was a more serious sense of command in Rachel's tone, and it was hard to directly deny the one responsible for his existence. Courser shook his head and sighed.

“Alright, alright. Just settle, both of you, and I'll tell you what I can. but you've got to promise me, neither of you are getting involved, and neither of you are going snooping on my behalf. Understood?” When they both nodded in response, Courser relented and began to fill in the details of his excursions for them.


It was a few days later before Courser took the opportunity to actually use the reward payments he'd been given.

((Courser, Branch to -> The Navi Shop))