Now it begins, now it starts

"... Because I'm the stronger NetBattler, and only one of us can work the PET at a time! Is that so complicated?"

Guy Tholmes cringed imperceptibly at the sharp tenure of his sister's voice as she spat back at him for what he thought had been an innocent question. It had been a strange day, what with the mysterious parcel that morning, so Guy understood his sister's irritability.

"I was just asking, you didn't have to yell," he sighed irritably.

"I'll stop yelling when you stop whining."

"Oh for God's sake..."

"All right, I'm sorry."

"Whatever, Rachel."

"Look, all I'm saying is that I think you need to learn a few more--"

Only a small portion of Rachel's attention was directed at following the concrete path and talking to Guy; most of her focus was scattered about the different objects at hand, most of which were only vaguely familiar to her- an old and battered folder full of plastic BattleChips, a crinkled letter written in an unfamiliar scrawl, and a brand new headset wired to the most curious item of all, the small, handheld device that demanded the most attention of all.

Even as he argued with his sister, Guy, too, found himself staring at the object holstered at Rachel's hip, the black leather contrasting sharply with her clean pants. It looked for all the world like she was armed, he thought. Other people must have looked at them funny, two kids walking alone down Beach Street, one of them apparently carrying a gun. Guy's gaze broke from her sister and darted nervously around at the other tourists and shopkeepers around, none of whom seemed to be thinking anything like what he had been afraid of.

"Here we are. This is the place."

"Oh come on, Rachel, you can't seriously mean you pay money for access? We should've stayed home?"

"What did I say about whining?" Rachel replied, with significantly less of an edge than before. She folded her arms and nodded approvingly at the small Net-Cafe. "If you'd actually bothered to get a good look at this thing," she said as she started to press buttons on the PET, "You'd know that it can-"

"I didn't get a good look at it because you haven't let me have a good look," muttered Guy.

"Whatever. There's a splitter, so you can plug your own headphones in and listen, if you want."

Small lights came up on the PET as it did its questionably legal work on the NetCafe's connection and the two young NetBattlers prepared themselves to hear their Navi's voice for the first time.

Thus it began: Brother and sister taking their donated PET and their mysterious dual Navi to delve for the first time into the infinite grid of data... and the infinite flow of History.
Rachel flipped out her hair in indignation as she pulled her headset off and handed it to her brother, who took it with visible apprehension. "Here. You want to operate them so badly? Just don't get them deleted while I go spend the Zenny that Aunty Jean gave us. I have enough for a major upgrade."

Rachel dropped the headset in Guy's lap, ran her hand through her hair one more time, and strutted off, leaving Guy fumbling frantically with the headset, chip folder, and PET.

Trenn pushed open the glass door to the netcafe to the sound of a tiny, ringing bell-- namely, the one on the door-- and entered. Unfortunately it seemed he had come at a bad time; most of the tables (or in some cases, computers) were occupied. One table in particular caught his eye, however, that of an operator fumbling with chips and reading off various names. Quirking an eyebrow, Trenn plodded over to the table.

"Is this seat taken?" Trenn half-asked, snagging the empty seat opposite Guy. Without waiting too long for a response, he mustered a cheerful 'Great!' and sat down across from him.

"I couldn't help but notice you seem to be having a bit of trouble there." Trenn said with a smile, glancing at Guy's PET. "What are you up against?"
"... TwinFang. Two AquaNeedles. Wha!?"

Guy's head snapped to attention for just a second before he looked down at his folder again, breaking eye contact almost before it had even been fully established. "Viruses. Lot of them," he muttered, answering Trenn's last question first. "And the seat... it's okay." Guy flipped hair out of his eyes with a quick flick of the head, managing to remain staring at the PET screen throughout the entire movement.


Through the front door of the NetCafe walked a young woman wearing clean tan shorts, a white blouse, and a ponytail that looked like it might stretch her forehead if it were any tighter. "Who's your friend, Guy?" She asked, in a tone that only the naive would mistake for genuine caring.
"Trenn Hiyazaku." Trenn leaned back in his chair and held a card up over his right shoulder, then glanced back with a slight grin. "My card."

"I couldn't help but notice that your... boyfriend? Brother? Friend-who-just-happens-to-be-a-guy? ...seemed to be in a bit of a pickle, and reading off a bunch of chips. I was wondering what we could do to help." As if to answer the expected question, Trenn held up his left hand, his PET grasped tightly. "Me and Soundman, that is."

((On the card:
Trenn Hiyazaku (, 1-888-2415
"In trouble? Can't figure out how to get your navi working? Want a custom look? Need an experienced opinion? Come to us."))
"Twin brother," answered Rachel, shooting Trenn an appraising look. "And, no offense, but I've been NetBattling for quite some time, and I never needed help." She then turned her attention from Trenn to her brother, with a flick of her ponytail.

"... AreaGrab. Pulsar." Guy didn't even look up at his sister.

"Guy, what the hell are you doing?" Rachel folded her arms, but declined to look at the PET or even wrench it from her brother's hands as he suddenly started to frantically stick chips into its multiple inputs seemingly at random. She looked at her brother and her PET with disdain, seemingly still slighted from Titania ordering her around.
"Winning a fight, from the looks of things. From what I'd wager, your brother over there isn't nearly as..." Trenn paused, glancing at Rachel, "...experienced... as you are, so I'm betting he's got a little someone in there telling him what to do."

"One thing you have to keep in mind is that most navis are programmed with a large repertoire of combat experience-- except in a few hack-made custom jobs-- if they don't have some already. So I'm betting..." Trenn trailed off, thinking for a minute. "Wait, whose navi is he using? I don't see a PET on you, and most netbattlers-- hell, most people-- carry their PETs with them everywhere."
"That is my Navi that he's operating," stated Rachel matter-of-factly. "Well, ours." She took a seat next to Guy and rested her forearms neatly on the table as she peered over the tops of her lenses at the screen. She seemed somewhat surprised at what she saw, especially after Trenn's assessment that Guy was winning.

"They're going to get torn up," she muttered as she saw the Navis walking calmly into the teeth of the enemy group. For a moment, the look in her eyes said that she might yank the headset off of Guy's ears and start barking orders to the Navis behind the screen.

"Oh," she said, without looking, "I'm Rachel Tholmes. This is Guy."
Trenn waited for a short while, perking up his ears and listening in on the fight from his position across the table. When he heard a lull in the action, he spoke again. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Rachel, but that sounded like a lot of viruses being deleted... and no navis." Trenn grinned. "Or at least, it would seem that way from the fact that neither of you have that pained expression every operator worth their salt has when their navi loses a battle."

Trenn paused, lost in thought for a moment. "Come to think of it, would you two like to team up?" Trenn picked his PET up from its' clipped-on place on his belt, and gave it a small twirl in his hand. "I know Soundman wouldn't mind, the question is if either of you two would...?"
Guy's expression, while not pained, certainly didn't look very self-assured. He continued to click chips frantically into the PET, accidentally knocking one so that it spun and slid to Trenn, whereupon it was swiftly snatched up by Rachel: the ElecSword.

"That's our most valuable chip, dumbass," she muttered darkly at her brother. Her expression brightened, however, into feigned interested at Trenn's offer of a team-up. "Oh, well, maybe after this session we could work together," she said, thumping the chip back into Guy's hands, "But Guy and I are still learning our way around how to operate this particular Navi, you see..."
Trenn browsed through various forums and websites on his PET as he sat across from Rachel and Guy. It was a bit boring, but...

Trenn looked up over the top edge of his PET at the two operators sitting across the table from him, and smiled. I remember when I was that new at operating... He suppressed a chuckle.

For a while, this continued until Trenn broke the silence. "So, what is your navi like anyway? I don't think I've ever met him... or is it a her? I think I've heard both from your PET, but I'm not sure."
Trenn's words came in the middle of a small bout of panic from both Operators, but after a few moments, Guy looked away from his sister's operating and at the boy sitting across from them. Rachel didn't seem to notice when her brother glanced over at her, wondering if she could hear anything through the sounds of combat blaring through her headset.

When his sister failed to look up and notice him, Guy leaned across the table, and muttered, "Our Navi has two bodies and two faces. Titania and Oberon. You know, like in A Midsummer Night's Dream. I don't know what's up with that, but they've been around for a while and..."

Guy cut off his sentence and flopped back to the sitting position he'd been in before, as Rachel tore the headset off her head and let out a slow breath of what seemed to be relief. "There," she said matter-of-factly. "That's done with." As she busied herself with transferring the spoils of the battle to a blank BattleChip, Guy took the liberty of peeking at the PET screen, and promptly gagged at the grisly scene.

"You said just now that you operate a Navi named Soundman?" She asked, glancing up from her work for just long enough to give Trenn another oddly evaluating look. "With a name like Soundman, he's obviously a CustomNavi, if not a real SciLabs original. I would be interested in some team busting, if you wouldn't mind accomodating us."

Her speech over, her eyes flicked back down to look through her eyeglasses, to see that Titania and Oberon were escaping certain death without any input from her.
Trenn laughed a little. "A Scilabs original? No, I wouldn't aspire to that title for him just yet." He glanced down at the PET, sharing an amused look with Soundman, and then spoke again. "How about we go busting on the Netfrica networks? I've heard there's a lot of fire viruses there."

Trenn paused, waiting for a reply while he started connecting to the local wireless networks. Might as well be ready for when they made a decision...
"Fire chips are good. We don't have any Fire chips right now. What do you think, Rachel?"

Rachel was already re-organizing the chip folder, with all the Aqua chips in one place. "Netfrica is fine," she said simply. "Heard that, Oberon? Is there a pathway nearby?"

There is. The travel time will be short. replied Titania.

"Is Netfrica dangerous?" Asked Guy, looking from his sister, to Trenn, then back to his sister again. "We're sort of new at this... it's only because of Aunty's chip folder and their skills that we're doing so well so far."
"We should be fine, the two of us." Trenn mused, fiddling with a few settings. A holographic display popped up in the space between him and his 'partners', and Trenn quickly got to work manipulating it. A setting here, a tweak there...

"You're going to see a prompt coming up on your PET about now, something about an access request. Go ahead and accept." Trenn waited for a few moments, then continued. "I'm going to route a trace through your PET so I can jack Soundman in directly where your navi is; that way we don't have to start out split up."
"I see the prompt. Accepted."

Rachel tapped her PET without flourish, allowing Soundman the access he would need, while her brother kept a watchful, apprehensive eye on their Navi's status as it traversed whole areas of the Net at high speeds.

"So-- Trey, was it?" Asked Rachel, unabashed at her forgetfulness. "I'm terrible with names. And I take it you've been NetBattling for a while."
"Trenn, and yes, I have. I've had Soundman for- I think it's 7 years, now, ever since I programmed him from scratch. I was 14 then, I think. It's been a long while." Trenn chuckled. "What about you two? You said you're kind of new at this-- how much experience do you two have, exactly?"
"I don't have any," said Guy, slightly embarrassed, looking over Rachel's shoulder. "And Rachel's only ever operated normal-"

"I was an expert with NormalNavis, which was more than my brother can say," interjected Rachel indignantly. "I know how to Operate. The rest is just combat experience. The main difference is that they have extraordinary abilities that I have to-- hmm."

An annoyed hmph sounded through Rachel's voice-link, cutting her off.
Trenn chuckled softly, trying unsuccessfully to hide the noise under his breath. "Combat experience, hm?" He shook his head. "And what of synchronizing with your partner? Learning all of their quirks and peculiar bits just as sure as they learn yours?"

Trenn paused to let that sink in, then continued. "The reason I never liked Normalnavis is because half of them never even had unique personalities. Oh, sure, you can buy one of a dozen or so stock personalities, but I cringed every single time my dad met someone who had a Normalnavi with the same personality as his. So I built a better Normalnavi, so to speak."

Trenn scratched his chin as he remembered, lost in thought. "That one took a long year of tweaking and reading up on codework on the internet-- when I was supposed to be studying for school, of course." He smiled. "But I managed to have it done in time for my Dad's birthday. Not just a personality for the thing that was unique, but a skin for it, too. I remember him telling me how all his friends kept asking him where he'd gotten the skin, or the personality profile, and he said it was sort of distracting bursting out into laughter every time one suggested 'scilabs', or any of the many independent navi dev companies."

"My dad still works with her to this day; unlike Soundman, whose code is a bit more advanced than hers--" Trenn glanced down at the PET and the conversation taking place there, "--she hasn't 'evolved' too much, personality-wise. There have been some changes, but she's never had any great epiphanies, or wondered about the meaning of existence or anything like that." Trenn frowned.

"I would upgrade her code structure to resemble something like Soundman's, but she herself said she likes the way she is, so there's not much I can do about it." He shrugged.
Guy's face stretched itself into an openmouthed stare starting from the beginning of Trenn's speech, until at the very end he resembled a fish gasping for air. "You.. programmed a Navi? From scratch? Like, no help? That's... that's impossible! Like, that would take sooo much training and study, and if you made a single error it would take you, like, a year to go back though everything! And how can you even make custom Busters, and a personality? Like, the personality! It's like... it's like you're some programming prodigy!" His words started to mush together as his jaw slowly dropped lower as he spoke, until by the very end he was less exclaiming and more mumbling, a string of "Wha... Bah... Peh... Uhm..."

"Synchronization with a NormalNavi is a one-way street," said Rachel over her brother's monosyllabic disbelief. "With a NormalNavi, you stick chips in, tell them what strategy to follow, and they do it."

"I learned to think fast and how to slot-in even faster. Those skills help me with everything I do. But..." Rachel grimaced, apparently reluctant to show weakness. "It's an interesting role reversal. Visually and strategy-wise, this Navi is quite unique. I can't even begin to make the best use of their abilities. They know what they can do; I don't. Sometimes I'm still irritated that the're the ones giving me orders. I can't help it, after all this time."

Rachel exhaled deeply, as if admitting her frailty was a release of some kind.

If I were a human, with human imperfections, I would be insulted, replied Oberon. Is this what humans call 'racism?'