Lyn had the sidewalk mostly to herself today on Beach Street: the location lost a lot of its luster as soon as the first dark cloud loomed on the horizon. As it so happened, today they were out in droves. Water sloshed around in Lyn's shoes and threatened to ruin her already threadbare socks. The cold and miserable feeling made Lyn's teeth chatter, and she didn't have the comfort of her pipe. She hadn't thought to bring an umbrella, and thus lighting up was impossible.
In this kind of weather, Lyn had to admit to herself that she wasn't happy with her decision. She was here to return Ship, and she'd kept her PET off for the trip. She wouldn't fool herself into believing that Ship would be happy with the arrangement, but the operator figured that she'd always had a knack at breaking sudden and horrible news to people... or rather, she admitted, just completely dismissing their reactions to it. None of this was out of cruelness, Lyn told herself: she'd make sure some arrangements were worked out to get Ship back to...
"Crap!" Lyn exclaimed, suddenly remembering the appointment she'd made with the man in the colorful tie at the beginning of this mess. "I never even showed up to that meeting a month after that... if he held that as a binding agreement, I can't get her back to him." The more Lyn thought about it, the more she became unsure. Was that guy actually even Ship's owner? He certainly didn't look like the kind of guy who'd come up with that design, although he spoke of her proudly. It might be possible that she wouldn't be dealing with him in this arrangement. Regardless, Lyn figured if Ship was as big of a character as the man had implied, they'd be chomping at the bits to get her back within the company.
Lyn briefly considered the possibility that she would face some sort of punishment for taking the company's trademarked image and using it as her own personal Navi for a time. That was just a consideration, though, not a worry. Lyn felt fully prepared to argue or fight her way out of that particular hole.
Having reasoned the details out in her head, Lyn felt a bit better about her decision as she entered the door leading to the Electopian Cruiselines office. The building wasn't actually located seaside, and there weren't any boats around. It was part of an office complex where a number of administrative offices were located. Lyn got the idea that this was the right place to turn the Navi in, but in truth she would have preferred to get to see the place Ship most likely stayed and did her work.
Lyn opened the glass door and stepped into a very plain-looking room with slightly faded red carpet and drab white wallpaper. A few prints were hung around, but that only served to make the setting pick up a bit of the atmosphere of a doctor's office. That impression seemed to stick with Lyn as she noted the mounted TV in the corner of the room and the large number of sitting chairs in the lobby, arranged in back-to-back rows.
The operator couldn't stand egghead doctors, of course. For her, they were even worse than sales people. Seeing no reason to start off on a bad note, Lyn reminded herself of who she'd be dealing with and focused on the desk attendant. The lady, a young woman only a bit older than Lyn herself and with dark hair pulled back in a braid, was already staring at Lyn, giving the operator her best business smile. Whatever thoughts she was having about the drenched and aggravated looking woman dressed as a ship captain before her, they wouldn't betray themselves on her face.
"Oi," Lyn said, walking up to the counter and leaning over its polished surface to rest her drenched coat arm. She'd initially intended to be friendly, but she couldn't shake the feeling that the white-bloused woman sitting behind this desk looked uncannily like a nurse. "This is the office of Electopian Cruiselines, right?" the operator asked, fixing her stare on the seated attendant from an elevated angle as she often did.
"Indeed," the woman said, looking up at Lyn with a bit of confusion creeping into her smile. She didn't read violence in Lyn's expression as others might have, but she got the feeling she was already off to a bad impression in this potential customer's mind and she couldn't tell why. Maybe she was just in a bad mood from the rain? "I'm Cathy, and I'll be helping you today. Are you here to inquire about our Princess-class-"
"Yeeeah, speaking of princesses," Lyn said, leaning off of the desk and beginning to clean out her ear as she often did when other people were talking, "I've got something that I think belongs to your company. This." Lyn had intended to be more formal about this, but the situation and the dampness seeping through her coat were beginning to grate on her nerves. She held her PET up to the attendant's face and tapped a button on the side. The dark screen became a few shade lighters and revealed the Navi inside, still in sleep mode. Ship rested with her head propped on her crossed arms, which themselves laid atop the rim of her smokestack.
"Ship?!" Cathy gasped, clapping a hand to her collarbone and leaning in closer to the screen. "Wait, is this some kind of practical joke? Ship should be with Ms. Salem..."
"Eh? Ms. Salem?" Lyn began, before noticing a person walking out of the back room who had reacted to the name.
The woman was almost as tall as Lyn herself, but had an immediately stylish air. Her hair was done in frizzy curls that looked painstakingly permed, with bangs pulled back from her forehead by a headband. Oval-shaped spectacles and her look of surprise made her look somewhat mousy, but her fair skin and the obvious care (and probably expense) put into her looks lent an attractiveness by themselves. She wore a black suit jacket, skirt, and stockings, which would have looked formal and stuffy if not for the rather garish windbreaker she wore along with it. The design was white with a blue wave design along it. She also wore an expensive looking white belt and sapphire earrings. Lyn could only assume this was a daring attempt to keep that windbreaker from looking tacky.
Not that Lyn was any judge, but she didn't think it was working. "Oi! You 'Ms. Salem'?" The operator rubbed the back of her head as she turned to address the woman. Glancing her over, Lyn couldn't help but think that the woman didn't look too much older than herself.
"I am," the woman said, smiling briefly and extending her hand. As soon as Lyn had given it a half-hearted shake, the woman withdrew it and her face returned to its former look. Her frown suggested boredom, but her eyes suggested thoughtfulness... Lyn got the feeling that she was constantly being evaluated and examined. "Wendy Salem, I'm Ship's creator and former talent agent. You have her for me?"
Lyn was a bit surprised to learn that Wendy was Ship's designer, but not too surprised. Wendy had both an artsy air and a palpable aura of bad taste radiating from her bizarre ensemble, and both were things Lyn associated with Ship's design. "Yeah..." Lyn responded absently, handing Wendy the PET.
Wendy took the PET much as she'd taken Lyn's hand before, in a way that suggested she had just barely reminded herself it ought to be grabbed with the whole hand rather than pinched between two fingers. She seemed intent to only use her right hand, keeping her left in what she must have thought was an introspective looking perch beneath her chin. "Very good. You've done the right thing, returning this. It's a praiseworthy decision."
Wendy wasn't speaking a lot, but Lyn couldn't help but feel like she was rambling or wasting words. "All right, great. Pats on the back for me. Now-"
"A question," Wendy said, raising her voice to talk over Lyn. "Did you find her moe?"
Lyn had no idea what the question meant, but she was taken aback all the same. "The hell is 'moe'?"
Wendy chuckled a bit, revealing a straight top row of teeth. "You don't know? Ship is the ultimate form of moe. I studied moe for an entire month before I thought of the first piece of her design." Like clockwork, her laughing smile fell back into her contemplative frown. "Frankly, I can't stand it. Moe is primarily appealing to naive young children and perverted young men."
"Why the hell would you design a Navi a way you didn't like?" Lyn responded, getting more irritated with Ship's designer.
"'A way I don't like?'" Wendy replied, raising an eyebrow. "Ms... your name?"
"Lyn, Lyn Clarke," Lyn barked in reply, trying to hurry Wendy along.
"Ms. Clarke, I would never release a design I didn't like. I like a design because it meets the needs of a certain clientele. Ship's design is a perfect mix of a moe mascot and a functional advertisement. As much as I hate to admit it, though," Wendy said, her brow furrowing as she talked more to the wall behind Lyn than Lyn herself, "the design was very experimental. It didn't work. Ship ended up performing poorly at her work. Tragic, to see my great ambition was a step ahead of the times..."
"Didn't work?" Lyn repeated. "I heard Ship was some big commercial star or something. She acts like it, anyway... wasn't she in commercials?"
"She was in very ambitious, very expensive, very unsuccessful commercials," Wendy said, placing her right hand to her forehead. "The commercials got pushed to later and later time slots as we learned that people were confusing the image of innocence we intended to project with Ship. When the late ads weren't even drawing," Wendy coughed, "that crowd, we had to can her. I get the impression that you're not the type of person who watches much television, but you should know that we gave her a very long run."
"You didn't try, I dunno, changing her design or something?" Lyn asked, shifting her standing position on the floor. She hadn't intended to get into a discussion about Ship here.
"Frankly, the design was only half of the problem. When we placed Ship on the later time slot, we intended to slip some subtle sexual suggestion into the lines she was to present."
Lyn blushed a bit at that idea and clenched her teeth, but Wendy continued delivering without mentioning a beat.
"Ship turned out to be more unpredictable than I expected. She tried it briefly, and then suddenly decided that she wasn't up to that kind of performance. She had some standards further than what I programmed or intended? I find that somewhat difficult to believe... Regardless, it wasn't working out, and so I intended to retire her to our sales museum as a tour guide of some sort..."
"Oh, that's kind of cute," Lyn said, smiling from a tilted angle with some of the distaste she'd been feeling and not expressing up to this point. "She wouldn't dance to your tune so you had to cut her loose?"
Wendy raised an eyebrow at the operator. "I had taken you as a woman of reason, Ms. Clarke. At the very least, your excellent taste in fashion seemed to suggest as much. When a programmer designs a program that doesn't work, she retools it. We put a significant amount of effort into fixing Ship's attitude problem. When a program can't be fixed, you start from scratch. That is-"
"'Attitude problem?'" Lyn responded, clenching a fist. "It sounds to me like Princess had 'standards,' not a f*ckin' attitude problem!"
"I'll advise you to watch your language around me," Wendy said, finally opening her mouth wide enough to show her bottom teeth as she raised her voice. "We thank you for bringing Ship by, and will be happy to recompense you if you feel that it's necessary. But I'm afraid our speaking has come to a conclusion."
"And what, you're going to take her to some kinda dusty tour guide computer where she'll give people some spiel about the first time your founder played with a toy boat in the bath as a kid?" Lyn was actively picking a fight at this point, nearing Wendy with her teeth clenched. She really wished she'd had the pipe in her teeth to complete the effect. "Do you have any freakin' idea how much battle potential this Navi has?"
"'Battle potential?'" Wendy said, folding her glasses and placing them in a case in her pocket. "You bought her some Navi Customizer Programs or something, Ms. Clarke? Are those the battle potentials you're referring to? We'll be happy to recompense you for such things-"
"I'm talking about grit, guts, fighting spirit, whatever!" Lyn shouted into Wendy's face.
At this point, the two were giving each other death glares from their respective vantage points, Lyn's sharp eyes focused from above and Wendy staring from below with her furrowed brow, as if to convey her pity for a creature that would never understand spoken word. Cathy got the idea that things were escalating, and with her same business smile she reached for her phone and began dialing while keeping her eyes on the scene.
"I refuse to sit here and listen to such inane concepts. Fighting spirit? Grit?" Wendy said, practically spitting out the word. "Ship is a sales tool. Do we design billboards with guts? I don't know what crazy ideas Ship's given you or vice versa, but Ship was never intended to be operated as a battle Navi. The current technology of the age demands a certain advertising solution, and that was the bill Ship was designed to fit."
"Don't tell me you're one of those dumb*sses that thinks Navis are strict programs? Navis are practically like... living, breathing things now, you know? They do sh*t we don't tell them to..." Things we really wish they wouldn't, Lyn thought, remembering some of her past embarrassments with Ship's busting practice.
"I'm not here for a philosophy discussion, and I think that sort of thing would really be better left to you and your circle of pot-smoking friends." Wendy interrupted raising her voice to a commanding projection. "You're not authorized to walk through that door and suggest considerations I should have for an obsolete piece of software. I will thank you for returning Ship to us and for not dragging the name of Electopian Cruiselines through the mud by engaging in prolonged buffoonery with our label stamped across it. We will be willing to provide you with compensation if you desire, and I will be gratified to send you on your way and return Ship to duties appropriate for our .01 version advertising age-"
At this point Lyn decided she'd had enough. Wendy clearly wasn't reading her killing aura right, so the operator decided she'd go ahead and make that apparent. Lyn grabbed Wendy by the shoulders before raising her knee and burying it between two rows of buttons of Wendy's suit jacket.
Cathy had high-tailed it at this point and sat watching the fight play out from the office in the back. She wasn't going to step between the two... she'd leave that to the authorities she'd just called.
Lyn had intended to swipe her PET back at this point and run for it. She wanted to make a show of driving her points home with this b*tch, but she wasn't going to sit around and get arrested for it or anything (Worth noting, Lyn was 100% confident she could flee this scene without expecting any legal retribution).
Wendy changed her plans a bit, however. Clenching her own teeth, Wendy immediately reeled back with a strong right arm, landing her fist squarely on the tattoo beneath Lyn's eye and sending her sprawling back across the room. The left hand held Lyn's PET clutched to her stomach. "You'd dare to assault me in my own office, you piece of garbage?!"
Lyn was definitely surprised by the hit, but she was a natural fighter and reacted quickly. She braced herself to prevent further staggering and leapt forward, landing in front of Wendy. Wendy took another swipe at Lyn's face, but the operator ducked. At her lower point, Lyn rammed her head into Wendy's gut, driving Wendy against the wall and the PET into her stomach.
Dropping the PET (which thankfully had a cushioned fall due to the carpet), Wendy grabbed beneath Lyn's arms, hooking her arms into the armpits. She brought her own chin to Lyn's back, preventing her from raising her head. With that, she jumped up and fell into a sitting position, driving Lyn face-first into the carpet with an audible thud. "Ha! Is that the kind of 'battle potential' you were going on about, you neanderthal?"
Lyn could taste blood in her mouth at this point, and felt a pounding headache. She ran her tongue along her teeth and was pleased to find they were all still in place. She couldn't stand up straight after the blow, though, so tried grabbing onto Wendy's skirt to leverage herself to standing. In the midst of her gloating, Wendy wasn't quick to react. Lyn's attempts to pull her weight up by this method began to tear the skirt...
... Which, with a horrible muffled tearing noise, separated first at the seams and then came clear off. The belt hadn't managed to save her dignity any more than it had her fashionable image, and her underwear was on full display. Ironically, it was a white piece with sea-blue stripes in a similar shape to Lyn's own.
Lyn and Wendy stared at what had happened for a while before, with her contemplative frown fixed on her face, Wendy grabbed Lyn by the damp scruff of her collar and drug her into the back room with Cathy.
Wendy removed her glasses from her pocket and donned them, seeming to magically gain a glare across them from Lyn's point of view that hid a slight blush that had spread across her face. "I have come up with an agreement I think both of us may find favorable." She spoke quickly, and Lyn couldn't tell whether she was looking at her face or not. "I am going to go out to my car, which is parked in the first spot and which I will reach without being seen. I am going to drive home, and I am not going to have anyone spreading any rumors of this. You, in turn, are going to return to your place of residence with Ship, and you are going to devise some way to remove our logo from her. Or, if you so choose, you may simply delete her, or hand her off to some other miserable ruffian in a ship captain's coat. And you are not going to say anything of what happened today to anyone, or you are going to suffer the fullest measures of prosecution a legal team can provide. These things are going to happen now. With any luck, we will not meet each other again in this life time. Are we clear?"
"F*ckin' crystal," Lyn muttered in a muffled voice. She was retaining some blood in her mouth now. Her impulse was to spit it on Salem's damned carpet, but she didn't want to give Wendy any more reasons.
Wendy smiled. It was the first genuine smile Lyn had seen from her, possibly one of satisfaction or relief. Still smiling, Wendy grabbed Lyn off the floor and threw her over one shoulder like a bag of grain. Wendy walked in a quick yet professional sprint to the back door. Opening it and facing the hot humidity of the drab weather outside, Wendy stood in the doorway in her ridiculous underwear. Hooking one hand under the scruff of Lyn's jacket and another around the back of her belt, Wendy made a great effort to toss Lyn out into the rain outside.
Smiling with satisfaction and dusting off her hands, Wendy turned back to Cathy, who was still onlooking with her business smile (although more confusion had crawled into it than ever). "Cathy, can I trust you to clean things up here quickly? I know I don't need to ask if you will keep appropriately tight-lipped about this."
"Of course, ma'am." Cathy responded, hurrying to collect Wendy's torn skirt in the other room.
"Lyn!" Ship exclaimed, looking at her operator's face as they engaged in two-way communication walking down the street. "What on earth happened to your face? What kind of early morning work are you getting yourself into?!"
"Shut up! We're going underwear shopping today, okay, Princess?" the operator shouted, regardless of who might be listening. "I've had a f*ckin' revelation about the kind of underwear I'm wearing, and I'm changing it today, comprende?!"