Mission: Sharo Military Facility

"G-G-Guys! W-What on earth did you do that for! I c-can't believe you d-did something like that when I was asleep!" shouted an incredulous Rass, having heard about his newest assignment by the NetPolice.

It's not like you were using your body at the time, Rass said Tem simply, ...and quit whining. You should be thanking us for taking initiative to protect our mutual interests.

"N-N-No! I mean... regardless of what you were d-doing to my body while I was asleep - which I'm still not okay with, by the way - why the h-heck are we going to SHARO?" protested Rass, far too agitated to be aware of the upgrades that were being transferred into his body, "W-We were supposed to N-NEVER go back to Sharo, remember?"

I dunno, Tem — Rasshole might actually be right about this one. muttered Argo, I mean, keep in mind that we're still stolen goods, ya know? Damaged, yeah, and definitely outdated, but still stolen. A green patch swirled into existence on Rass' shoulder as he spoke, I mean, I've still got the best melee O.S. there is, and I remember them researchers talkin' about how the Tempo series was gonna be all revolutionary and stuff. I bet some Sharo R&D types would love to come pick us apart if they got half a chance. Are you sure this is a good idea?

Tem paused to consider Argo's protests as Rass winced at the prospect of being dissected. While this definitely changes the manner in which we must conduct this operation, this could be our best chance at getting what we deserve. she said finally, moving from Rass' shoulder to his chest and glancing at Argo with a pair of piercing blue eyes, True, we will have to take pains to limit the amount of exposure we attract, but if my calculations are correct — and they usually are — the expected payoff of this mission should far exceed the potential dangers involved with operating in Sharo's network. In short, the benefits here are definitely worth the risk.

"Worth the r-risk?! What on earth c-could possibly be worth the risk?!" demanded Rass.

Tem's eyes seemed to sparkle as she glanced upward toward Rass' face. What could possibly be worth the risk? she repeated cryptically, To be perfectly honest, I cannot expect you to fully understand. However, you should know that this is something the three of us have been seeking for a long time now. What surprises me most is that Suien is going along with this so fully. The blue presence darted to Rass' back and looked up toward the sky, So what's your angle, Suien? Normally I'd expect you to start lecturing us about how we need to listen to Rass and not run off and do things on our own, she asked, Could it be that you've finally acknowledged my superiority as a tactical planner and decision maker?

"To be honest, Tem, you four should start making more of your own decisions — our busting run in NetVegas demonstrated that maybe I need to give you three a little bit more autonomny. While I would have preferred it to come from Rass himself, we both know that he has the capacity to override you if he really wanted to. I suppose you could call this a trial by fire for the new, more independent Rass.EXE." he mused, eliciting a scowl from Tem and a groan from Rass, "That, and I admit I am curious as to the technical applications of this SP module you three are seeking. I suppose I'll have to read up on them when I get a chance. Nevertheless, what you three did was exceedingly reckless. You've got to be careful about what missions you accept, since you never know who the client is going to be. What if that NetVegas motel decided to post a request for us to investigate a hacking, for example? All that I ask is that you be careful in the future about what missions you go about requesting.

Tem's eyes narrowed suspiciously as she addressed the netOp. Really now, she asked, a hint of distrust leaking into her tone, You're not angry that we went ahead and requisitioned a task on your behalf that could potentially subject you to criminal liability?

"Well... it's not like I haven't done the same to you four on numerous occasions... and to be fair, I don't understand you any more than you do, so I'm prepared to give you a bit of deference when it comes to decisions on what's best for your growth." laughed Suien, adjusting his glasses and fiddling with a few controls on his complicated PET. With a teasing smirk, he nodded at Tem through the PET camera, "Besides, I know you've strongly considered my legal culpability when taking this mission... given what would probably happen to you if somebody *else* was your operator."

Tem scowled again, returning to her gemstone in a huff. Point well taken, Suien, she said dryly, Let's not dilly-dally here — we should get this finished as soon as possible. It *is* Sharo, after all.

Suien's smirk widened as he uploaded the final set of upgrades. "Glad you see things my way, Tem," he said, "Whoops, looks like the plane's almost landing, so sit tight."


Sharo... geez, it's certainly been a while, thought Suien, stepping out of the taxi into the frigid weather of his homeland, Never thought I'd be going back here anytime soon... and heck, never would have thought it'd be a military facility of all things. To be honest, I'd have preferred a less rigorous assignment... and to think the taxi service only takes me out to here. It's a good... 20 miles or so from the coordinates!

He quickly paid his fare and began the long walk off the beaten path toward the facility. Despite his long absence, Suien was dressed for the occasion, clad in a dark gray trenchcoat, boots, and a pair of black wool gloves. A Sharo-trooper-style cap, a dark blue satchel, and a black scarf completed the ensemble, making him look for all the world like a Sharo native despite his Electopian descent. Suien's coat rustled in the chilly wind as he trudged off the sidewalk toward the designated location. The dark-haired netOp hesitated for a moment as he checked the coordinates once more, muttered something about how stupid it was to have secret research facilities when everything is connected via the networks anyway, and began the long hike.


Geez, it's freaking COLD, thought Suien, breathing into his gloves and sinking deeper behind his scarf, Whatever this stupid SP thing is, it had better be worth this hike. Carefully checking his PET for the coordinates, he glanced around the rocky terrain but was unable to find any distinguishing markings. Suien frowned, taking a concerned look back along the path, but ultimately deciding that it was best to trust the coordinates. Suppose I should focus on something else to distract myself from the cold, he thought, continuing his trek through an icy pass, I mean, anything will do so long as it's enough to hold my attention. Suien glanced around from side to side, taking note of the meager foliage and rocky crags as he walked. Okay, he thought, Time to count the rocky peaks I pass. One.... Two...


...Ninety four... ninety five... Son of a motherboard, where the hell IS this place?!

Suien was growing concerned. The wind had begun to pick up, and the sun was threatening to fall below the horizon... and a Sharo winter night was not something that he was particularly interested in experiencing. Worse still, his frustrated mental outburst had shattered his focus, causing the fatigue of trudging through the Sharo mountains for hours to come rushing back to his body. Perhaps most distressing of all, however, was the fact that according to his calculations (which he had done numerous times in between counting mountains), he was still a fair distance away from his destination. This. Is. So. Freaking. Stupid. he thought, I'm going to die in the f*cking mountains because the stupid Sharo government is too cheap to provide me transportation to the stupid research facility so I can fix their stupid problem.

Suien considered briefly the idea of trying to build a shelter in the snow, but realized that he would probably just end up freezing to death given his lack of experience in the matter. Reluctantly, he continued to trudge through the mountains, fishing a half-frozen granola bar from his satchel and clumsily unwrapping the plastic. He shoved the wrapper into his pocket, briefly noting the irony of caring for the environment that continued to brutalize him, and slogged onward. The air was freezing, the ground was slick, his feet were fatigued, and lo and behold the only recourse the dark-haired netOp could find was in the most distracting thing he could think of at the moment.

Huh, wonder what Rania's doing?


...nah, she's probably not thinking about me, he thought bitterly, a girl like her is probably sitting on a beach somewhere, locked in some sort of lusty embrace with a more appropriately-aged guy and completely forgetting about the creepy older guy who is currently freezing to death in the Sharo wasteland. F*ck, it's COLD!

Night had swiftly fallen and Suien continued to trudge through the mountains, guided by the light of his PET. Suddenly, the small device gave a series of beeps, alerting the netOp that he had, in fact, reached the coordinates. Suien frowned as he squinted through his frost-caked glasses at the Sharo wilderness.

Motherboard F*cking... these are the coordinates, but where the hell is the facility?! he thought, turning around in place. Frustrated and half-crazy with hunger and fatigue, Suien tore off his glasses and frantically cleaned the lenses before replacing them. I swear, if those sons of binomes sent me the wrong coordinates, I'm going to...

((Coordinates Arrived))
Just then, Suien found his saving grace: the research building. His PET coordinates definitely confirmed it, and he was looking in the right direction. You could practically hear the angel choir right now singing above the building itself.

Then, a door opened to the building, blasting out a ray of light, a blast of shining hope towards him. A voice could be heard, though it was getting fainter and fainter due to the fact that Suien was on the brink of unconsciousness. Then, just as his vision was failing and he was slowly falling to his knees, he could see a figure run towards him and pick him up as he fell to the snowy ground and fainted.

Can you hear me? Can you hear me, mister?


When Suien came to, he found himself sitting on a sofa, wrapped in many layers of blankets, a hot water bottle somewhere inside the folds of the blankets, his feet dipped in near-boiling water, and a cold greeted his entrance to the real world. Looking around, a woman sat in the chair near him, bent over a steaming bowl of water on the coffee table in front of her. She was dressed surprisingly thinly for such weather, in a simple white lab coat, greyed shirt and trousers. Her figure couldn't be seen much from the large coat, but it's obvious that this female wasn't too lacking in endowment. Noticing that Suien had woken up, the woman greeted him.

Oh, you're awake. You must've been lost or something, sitting out there in the cold! she said, turning her head and picking up a mug on the table in front of her and offering the mug to Suien, which he saw was full of hot chocolate. Her long and glossy black hair fell to the front of her face as she did so, prompting her to slide it back away from her stunning blue eyes.

Waving the mug in front of Suien's glasses, which were slightly askew on his face, the woman said, Hellooo? Anyone home? Helloooo? Ah well, you can have it when you're good n' ready. She then placed it in front of the freezing programmer on the table.

So! I'll start introductions. Karen Ezarith, and you are?
Am I... dead? thought a groggy Suien, looking around on the balmy tropical island he found himself upon, I remember being freezing cold, and then seeing a bright light... sh*t, did I walk toward it? I'm pretty sure I would have remembered to not walk toward bright lights when my life is on the line. I should have just walked away and kept moving through the mountains... but it's so nice and warm here though... is this what heaven is like? The dark-haired netOp looked downward, noticing that he was no longer clad in his winter gear, but a black pair of swimming trunks and flip flops. As he glanced around, he quickly realized that he was not alone. As a matter of fact, he saw several familiar faces populating the beach. The charming elementary school teacher instructed a group of first-graders as she stood in a rather revealing two-piece green number that caused Suien to stare perhaps a moment too long. The Electown bartender stood in a beachside shack, wearing a floral-print shirt and serving up colorful drinks to a bikini-clad Kenna and the two cute Electopian girls he had passed on the way to the Yoka hot springs. To his right, A shirtless, but not makeup-less Chuckles clinked beer bottles with Joey Gigz and that creepy old operator from the Coliseum as they sat around a barbecue. This is amazing! This is paradise! thought Suien, glad to be surrounded by familiar faces as he took a few steps toward the ocean toward the setting sun. He brought his hands behind his head and stretched his back out, contentedly...

...only to find himself face to face with none other than Rania Firebrand.

Suien fell over onto his backside in surprise as the swimsuit-clad, underage girl leaned forward and gave him a smile that suggested a rather risqué intent. "R...Rania," he stammered, scooting backwards in shock, "W...What a surprise! It's nice to see you're doing well... wait, what are you doing?" The red-haired girl was dressed in a rather outlandish swimsuit with MeleeMan's face on the bikini bottom. All things considered, it was a rather strange encounter.

Suien gulped as Rania continued moving closer to his face. "I... I really don't think this is entirely appropriate. In fact, I'm pretty sure this is entirely inappropriate. You're seven years younger than me, remember? That makes this not only illegal, but incredibly awkward," he protested, shuffling backwards as he spoke, "Besides, this is a public beach — you wouldn't want anyone to up and see something like this happen, right? I mean... you're a cute girl and all, but... but if you're planning on doing what I... what I think you're planning on doing, I'm going to have to protest. Strongly. Seriously. Really."

Rania smiled coquettishly, and quickly brushed a lock of crimson hair away from her eyes as she leaned in. "Well" she said, poking him in the chest and continuing to smile, "you can have it when you're good n' ready." Suien could only seize up in horror as she wrapped her arms around his body, pinning him to the sand, and looked upward at the stunned operator's face. N...No! This isn't what I want! he thought, vainly attempting to address the powers that be that had landed him in this situation, It's not about the sexual appeal, it's about some legitimate mental connection that drives the attraction! It's her personality! Why doesn't anyone understand that?! She's seventeen, for binary's sake! The lithe female crossed her arms across his chest to support her body, arching her back and leaning in close to the nervous netOp's face. "I'll start introductions," said Rania, her nose nearly touching his own, "Karen Ezarith, and you are?"


"GAH!" shouted Suien, as reality came crashing back to him. As the frazzled operator adjusted his glasses, he quickly attempted to orient himself to his surroundings. Far from being on a balmy beach, he was seated in a rather inviting, if somewhat sterile sitting room. Rania's warm embrace turned out to be a set of heavy blankets, and the tropical sands turned out to be a rather comfortable sofa... and Rania Firebrand turned out to be a rather attractive black-haired, labcoat-clad female. Deducing that he had made it into the airport facility, Suien coughed, cleared his throat, and attempted to address his presumed savior. Reminding himself that she was likely a Sharo government scientist with her own agenda, he smiled politely and did his best to keep himself from being drawn into her beautiful blue eyes.

"I'm uh... charmed to meet you, Miss Ezarith. The name's Suien, Suien Matsumoto, at your service," he said finally, making a conscious effort to suppress the effects of his sore throat, "I was directed to these coordinates by the Global Network Administrator with regard to certain issues with some of your experimental servACHOOO!" He sneezed, feeling a rush of the chills move up his body as he reached for the mug of hot chocolate on the table. Taking time to adjust his glasses and smile graciously, he turned to Karen and nodded his head. "...servers, experimental servers," he said finally, "I realize that this is a little bit awkward, but I'm the one who's here to fix your problem."

With that, Suien took a long sip of the hot chocolate, fogging up his glasses in the process, before continuing. "I should also apologize for my present condition — I took a taxi from the Sharo International Airport and it dropped me off at Rhinestone Alley... and since I figured this was a secret research facility, I decided to hike through the mountain pass to the coordinates... guess I'm not in as good shape as I thought," he laughed, shaking his head, "I'm assuming it was you who took me in and provided for all of this. I really can't thank you enough — a few more minutes out in that weather and I'd probably be a popsicle right now." Suien coughed, reached into his coat pocket, and withdrew his clunky PET. "Anyways, if you could direct me to the damaged servers, I'd be happy to do what I can to patch things up," he said, "I may look like slag, but can I assure you that I've successfully operated my navi under worse conditions."
Suien Matsumoto, then. I'll just call you Suien, if that's okay. Anyway, we've got some problems with our latest experiment, the Reversal Backup System, the scientist explained.

The reason we requested high-level assistance is due to the fact that the system is highly unstable, and would require two separate fixes at two separate locations to be made at the same time. Now, before you go off saying we should have just requested two Navis, there's a reason to why we requested only one. Let's walk there while we're at it, shall we? she said as she stood up from her chair and walked to a metal door nearby. She tapped some keys on the door, and the door slid silently open, allowing them both entry.

The room beyond the metal door smelled of alcohol, the kind of smell you would expect at a hospital. In it were gigantic blinking servers, giving out thousands of beeps and whirrs and clanks a minute. Turning to Suien again, Karen continued, Well, this is the server. Now, why we requested high-level help. This 'Reversal Backup System' works by collecting junk datastreams from various determined network locations to assimilate something that you could call, a perfect 'snapshot' of an instance in the network's lifetime, no matter how far behind. The server has two main entrances, the input datastream and the resultant output datastream. The problem with sending 2 separate Navis to fix it is that the server outright rejects it. For some reason, it requires that both Navis entering the server have the same core data signature.

That wouldn't be possible usually, unless you split the Navi in half, which can only usually be withstood by a strong program, otherwise deletion would be imminent. Even if successful, the split Navis would not be able to become whole again, and the separate personalities would eventually run insane. However! I took the liberty of analyzing your Navigator in the PET you dropped in the snow earlier, she said, holding up Suien's PET, which she had tucked in one of her coat pockets. That piece of trash you were holding a minute ago is one of my old trashed PETs I used in my experiments. Keep it as a souvenir or something, I don't really care about it.

Looking back at the blinking servers, she went on. Anyway! It seems that your Navi has four different core personalities. While a Navi of this strength would normally not survive the splitting process, this... 'R.A.S.S' Navi of yours would do more than that. This Navi would be able to reverse that process, given that the four personalities share the same core signature AND that they are in perfect synchronization with each other.

After taking a slight breather from her long explanation, Karen inquired, Well, Suien? Would you agree to this?
I knew it! I knew I couldn't trust her. thought Suien, biting his lower lip as he eyed his PET in Karen's hands, Those government scientist types never show enough consideration for what they do. What would have happened if they hadn't gotten Rass for this mission? Would they have sacrificed some kid's navi for the sake of this project? Tricked somebody into giving up their navi, splitting it in two, and driving both sides insane? That's monstrous!

The dark-haired netOp took a few steps forward, moving past Karen and approaching the server with a look of apprehension. The numerous clicks and beeps resounded ominously in the sterile-smelling room as Suien suspiciously scrutinized the network's workings. What's more is this doesn't make any sense, he thought, This device is being housed in a military facility, yet it's operating only as a backup module for network conditions? There's got to be a catch —damaged networks tend to fix themselves after a certain amount of time, so why would they need such an advanced server to perform a task like that? There's probably some sort of military application of this technology, but what could it be? It doesn't make any sense!

Suien began to pace back and forth, bringing his hand to his chin as he slowly walked the perimeter of the room. Ignoring Karen for a moment, he mentally addressed his most pressing concern — the risk to Rass himself. The reconstitution process is contingent on their ability to work together, which means that even if the splitting part works as planned, their ability to return to normal would be severely jeopardized. They've been getting better at synchronizing since I got that issue with their subtype designation resolved, but the Sync rating is nowhere near 100%, even at their best. thought Suien, Regardless of what happens, the probability that Rass will remain fully complete pursuant to this encounter is... remarkably low. On the other hand, given that little Miss Ezarlith over there stole my PET, ran scans on it, and analyzed him without my consent, I doubt the Sharo government is very keen on the protection of their independent contractors. They'd probably go and hire a bunch of other navis who could suffer far more serious consequences... and even then, their success parameters would be lower than ours. What's more is that the amount of cash invested into this project would make its cancellation on account of civilian safety a non-option for them. No, they would keep finding more subjects for this job... and as much as I hate to admit it, Rass is the only one who CAN do this job.


I don't like it, said Argo flatly, I don't like it at all. First of all, I don't trust that scientist chick to be splitting us apart. There's no way a scan like that could tell her all that stuff. Heck, Suien's a friggin genius and even he can't figure out what's up with the fusionist protoplasm half the time... it'll probably get us killed! Suien should just walk away.

I'm not so sure he's able to, given that she is still holding the PET right now. Besides, I think Suien would probably die if they made him walk all the way back through the mountains. Like it or not, we're stuck here... replied Tem, sounding uncharacteristically hesitant.


I never said I favored splitting, Ishamel. Don't go putting words in my mouth, snapped Tem, You're leaving a very important variable out of the equation — the possibility that we won't be able to reconstitute ourselves. Anyone who has been paying attention to our vital statistics during battle — by which I mean "probably only me" — knows that the four of us have NEVER achieved complete synchronization. I'm concerned that once we split we... we won't be able to go back.


I heard you the first time! Try listening for once! interrupted Tem, Look, think back to all the times we've been split from the protoplasm — it's when the core system actively gave the command for us to be removed from the body. ITEM-2? S.A.S.S.? Both of those were fusionist protoplasm-based orders that temporarily removed us from the core system. Hijacking that balance with some external force could lead to some rather unpredictable results with the synthesis system that I'm not entirely comfortable with... and prolonged exposure to that state might exacerbate any negative effects to an unacceptable level. We're perfectly capable of acting autonomously from the central unit — that much I'm sure of... but... she trailed off.

Wait, if you're sayin' we can survive outside of the fusionist protoplasm then why don't you think this is a good idea?

...I know we can survive outside of the fusionist protoplasm... said Tem slowly, ...but I don't know if the fusionist protoplasm can survive without us.

"Let's do it," said Rass suddenly, causing all three subsystems to turn upward in shock, "I'm g-going to tell Suien to give the go-ahead."

There was another awkward pause as Rass' words sank in. As the fusion navi started to get up and move, however, Tem exploded. Rass, did you hear what I just said, or do I need to spell it out for you? shouted Tem, We can't even achieve full internal synchronization when we're fused TOGETHER, so the chances of it working when we're APART are slim to none! Worse still is if we can't reconstruct ourselves, we don't know what's going to happen to you, the core system, when your body tries to seek out an appropriate function but can't resynch! That means you could face file corruption, you could experience loss of functionality, and for a lack of a more innocuous term, you could die!

Rass took a deep breath, then nodded his head. "There are two g-good reasons to go ahead," he said, mimicking Tem's usual style of talking, "F-First, like you said, Miss Ezarlith has control over our P-PET, and I don't want to p-put Suien in danger." Tem tried to stop Rass' arm as he brought it up to his helmet to open up the communications link with the real world. "Override T3M, right arm," he said simply, as the blue subsystem was forced from his arm back into her gemstone on his back. "...and second, you guys are always s-saying that you'd be b-better off without me. Here's your chance then."


"I'm willing to go ahead with this," said Suien finally, turning toward Karen but crossing his arms across his body, "but before we do, I'll need to get input from Ra..."

We'll do it, interrupted Rass' voice, projected through the PET, Just plug us in and tell us what we need to do.
Alright then. I'm glad we have a deal, Karen said, twirling around the PET in her hand playfully with a smile. You don't really have to worry much, really. My analysis never fails, and it says that your Navi's separate subsystems are in higher sync than they realize... So! Moving on to the splitting process. From the data I got analyzing the physical structure of R.A.S.S, I can manipulate the splitting process to a certain degree of accuracy.

Karen then went over to a large console in the server room, starting up the enormous server. The screen lit up, and she tapped a few keys before a program popped up on the screen. She turned back to Suien to explain further, For instance, I can retain maximum HP integrity, but the process will need to split the initial integrity. We can control however much we need to split. Other statistics such as processor frequency, integrated attack systems, energy acceleration subroutines, as well as Battlechip input processes can be controlled as well. Heck, I can even allocate combat data collected from other Navis, those kinds you use in 'Crosses'.

She then took Suien's PET and plugged it into the console. A graphic of Rass appeared on-screen, along with some parameters to the side. Of course, I'd need some input from you, being the operator for your Navi. Here, I think you can have a go at it, since you're familiar with this kind of stuff. Allocate the stuff you need into each split. Confirm the process when you're done, and the output splits should be automatically jacked in to the server. Good luck, she finished with a small wink.

< NetNavigator: Rass.EXE >

Output Quantity: 2 (A, B)

Personality Allocation:
OutputA: [..........]
OutputB: [..........]
; (Personalities to put in each split.)

HP Integrity:
OutputA: [..........]
OutputB: [..........]
; (Current HP to give to each split. Max HP is retained at 100 for both.)

Energy Acceleration Subroutines:
OutputA: [..........]
OutputB: [..........]
; (How many Speed Upgrades for each split. Default Speed for each split is 3.)

Integrated Attack Systems:
OutputA: [..........]
OutputB: [..........]
; (Which Sig Attacks to each split.)

Battlechip Input Processes:
OutputA: [..........]
OutputB: [..........]
; (Which Chips to allocate to each split.)

Combat Data Allocation:
OutputA: [..........]
OutputB: [..........]
; (Which Crosses to give to each split.)

[Confirm Process] [Abort Process] [Exit Program]
Suien frowned as he walked over to his PET, taking the clunky device into his hands and reading through the interface that the government scientist had taken the liberty of uploading. As he glanced over the schematics that appeared on the screen, he caught a glimpse of Karen's wink out of the corner of his eye. The gesture was relatively small, but it caused Suien to feel a little bit bad for his suspicions. Government hack or not, the girl was clearly smart enough to analyze the physical structure of the R.A.S.S. to an extent comparable to his own... while at the same time, understanding the general principles behind Rass and his three subsystems. On top of all that, he *did* technically owe her his life, despite the remoteness of the facility having placed him in peril in the first place.

Realizing that he was staring, Suien broke eye contact and adjusted his glasses quickly. "I'll uh... get the battlechips allocated" he said quickly, sorting his menagerie of chips into two piles and stacking them neatly alongside his PET. He then withdrew the spare PET that Karen had given him, attached it to his own with a network cable, and typed out a complicated series of commands, attempting to synchronize the operating system between the two devices. "Given that I'll be essentially operating two netNavi's at once, I hope you don't mind me using this spare PET as a second battlechip transmission module," he explained, "With roughly a 150% increase in net system resources, I might need the spare memory to get the chips to Rass... and an extra set of screens couldn't help with monitoring."

Oh who am I kidding? This is a precaution at best... my PET alone should be able to take the additional strain, and we've got a huge display up here to monitor the battlefield, he thought, still, I feel like I've got to do everything I can to minimize risk to Rass and his subsystems... even if Karen ends up thinking that I'm some sort of paranoid operator.

...Wait, when did I start caring about what she thinks?

Shaking his head and bringing the PET microphone to bear, Suien addressed the four personalities from the real world. "I'm going to let you guys make the final decision on the split," he said, swiftly programming in a backdoor function for the predesigned input form and granting Rass access, "Just make your decision and fill out the form. I'll be ready to operate... both of you when you're all done with that."


I'm going with Rass, said Tem stubbornly.

W...What? Tem, that doesn't make any sense! protested Argo, I mean... Rasshole's the core system, and he's got Suien to back him up. Wouldn't it be better to have him go with Ishy and let you take care of the tactical voodoo on my end?

Argo, Suien's attention is going to be split between the two of us. If we're going to make it out alive, we've got to ensure that we have the most efficient allocation of resources possible. Your melee routines are, whether you realize it or not, a superb compliment to Ishamel's ranged capacities, and you managed to operate the entire fusionist protoplasm on your own during the Cybeast incident... you're the most logical choice to be split off, she said, swirling into existence on Rass' chest, Also... in the event that the resynchronization fails... well, I've gotten used to the 3L3M system operations, I'm decent at melee-and-ranged attacks, and I think I'm the best suited for multitasking. Thus, I believe I can operate as a support system for all of Rass' functions to an extent sufficient for his continued survival.

Rass and Argo looked stunned. Tem, you've been wanting to get free of Rass more than any of us, replied Argo, You don't want to be stuck in Rasshole's body if we can't get ourselves unspliced!

This is a tactical decision, Argo. Stop questioning it, growled Tem, Rass, I believe Suien has completed the majority of the fields and is awaiting your input. It's best not to keep him waiting at a time like this, since you've decided to go through with this.

Rass nodded his head, materializing a translucent control panel in front of him and beginning to type away. Truth be told, he WAS a little bit nervous about the entire undertaking. There had been numerous times in the past where sharing a body with three other entities had been an awful liability... but as he understood it, all of that was about to change... and even though the procedure had not yet begun, he found himself experiencing a tinge of regret. The fusion navi gulped as he entered in the final commands and pressed the luminous "submit" key at the bottom of the display.
As though taunting him and playing upon his uncertainty, a second screen popped up near his face. "WARNING" it read, "SUBMISSION OF THIS FORM WILL INITIALIZE SPLICING SEQUENCE. ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO PROCEED?"

Rass hesitated, his finger hovering above the conspicuous "YES" button that softly glowed in the darkness. He took one final nervous glance at the three subsystems that had assembled on his chest, took a deep breath, and...


"...Alright, Rass.EXE, Argo.EXE... Jacking in, and executing," said Suien, "Take care of each other... and godspeed."

Quote ()

< NetNavigator: Rass.EXE >

Output Quantity: 2 (A, B)

Current Combat Index: 18

Personality Allocation:
OutputA: [Rass.EXE, Tem.EXE]
OutputB: [Argo.EXE (PRIMARY), Ishamel.EXE]

HP Integrity:
OutputA: [70]
OutputB: [30]

Energy Acceleration Subroutines:
OutputA: [two upgrades (5 Actions)]
OutputB: [one upgrade (4 Actions)]

Integrated Attack Systems:
OutputA: [Fusionist Physics, RassBoard]
OutputB: [Fusion Restorer]

Battlechip Input Processes:
OutputA: [RockCube, Airshot, Widesword, Shotgun, ElecReel1, Sensor1, Discord, Wind, Guard1, DblBeam2, MachineSword, MiniBomb, HiCannon, SeaZone, Thunder]
OutputB: [Boomerang1, Vulcan2, MarkCannon1, Sword, Areagrab, Guard2, Wind, AuraHead1, ElecSword, CornShot1, Cactiball2, Bubbler, SideBamboo, FireHit1x2]

Combat Data Allocation:
OutputA: [SeraphimCross]
OutputB: [MeleeCross]

[[color=green]Confirm Process[/color]] [Abort Process] [Exit Program]

[>> Mission: Sharo Experimental Server]

"Bros! Bros! Bros!"

The robotic sound of the amalgamate's voice could be heard from the speakers of one of the PETs in front of Suien, signifying its successful extraction. The other would contain a reassimilated Rass, no doubt a little winded from the personality splicing being reversed in the midst of their jackout.

Ema's sigh was just as loud as the amalgamate's enthusiastic cheers, as she checked on the server's processes as best as she could. She then hurried over to a nearby cardboard box, and fished out another beaten-up PET out of it, connecting it to the terminal. From the look of the rapidly filling green progress bar on the screen and the relief on her face, it seemed that things were now going smoothly.

"Finally done?" asked Karen.

"I need a drink after this..." murmured Ema in response, though the grin on her face never seemed to leave, as Karen flashed a thumbs up. "Thank you so, so much, Suien, it's such a relief that this is done."
As his PET’s speakers emitted a ding, signifying the safe return of Rass and company, Suien breathed a sigh of relief. His fingers flew across his keyboard as he initialized his menagerie of diagnostic and scanning apps, setting them all to work on detecting any lingering system anomalies in his unconscious navi. As a multicolored array of progress bars adorned his display, plodding along at a painfully slow rate, the dark-haired netOp gradually came to the realization that, for better or for worse, there wasn’t much more he could do for Rass for the next few hours except sit and wait.


"I need a drink after this..." murmured Ema in response, though the grin on her face never seemed to leave, as Karen flashed a thumbs up. "Thank you so, so much, Suien, it's such a relief that this is done."

Relaxing back in his chair, Suien smiled wearily in response. “Likewise, I really owe you a lot for going along with our idiotic plan. Seriously, thank you for being so accommodating,” he said, “at the very least, let me buy the first round. Or, uh…”

Suien paused, eyes scanning the room in vain for a clock. “I’m not sure exactly what time it is, come to think of it. If the bars are closed, there’s a decent bottle of Netopian whiskey from the duty-free store in my bag,” he offered, gesturing to the metal doorway to the living area he had awoken in, "Either way, I'll clock out with the GNA and leave it to you. If you'd rather me get out of your collective hair, I can do that too. I just need a ride back to the airport."
"Hmm," murmured Ema, shifting her focus away briefly from the progress bar on the terminal's screen to check the time. "It does look like it's getting a little late. The bars should be open, but probably not for very long. I think we do have some vodka left in the pantry... though, what do you mean by duty-free store? I've never heard of it." she asked, looking a little confused.

"The airport has a few shops after check-in where you don't have to pay any tax, though from what I saw, everything there's pretty expensive anyway," chimed in Karen. She stood up from her chair and stretched out for a moment with a big yawn. Still looking a little sleepy for the count, she idly scratched at her cheek as she walked out the door. "I'll go get the vodka," she called from the doorway, waving her hand as she left.

"Wh--hey, you haven't even brushed your teeth yet!"

Reaching out to stop her sister didn't quite work out, as she sighed to herself. "I am kind of curious what Netopian whiskey would taste like, admittedly," she said, turning to Suien. "When is your flight scheduled to leave? Are you planning to stay in Rhinestone Alley tonight? Don't really want to keep you here if you're in a hurry to leave."
Suien paused, mulling over Ema’s words. Sure, every minute he spent in Sharo only increased the risk of complications vis-a-vis the Sharoan government. Sure, he was currently in a government - or at least government-adjacent - research facility with connections to Sharoan Black Ops. Sure, he had just strong-armed a Sharoan scientist into downloading and preserving a viral anomaly presenting, at least in part, a global catastrophic risk to networked society.

On the other hand, chicks and booze.

He glanced thoughtfully into the air before turning to Karen. “Honestly, I’m not on any strict itinerary, since I wasn’t sure how long this job would take. I flew out here in a bit of a rush and didn’t plan for any accommodations - figured I’d play it by ear,” he said, getting up from his chair and walking over to his duffel bag, “I know how fickle research servers can be, and I didn’t want to do a rush job that ends up compromising whatever it was that you were working on. Worst case, I had planned to just lay out a travel pillow and continue working through until I finished the debugging process.”

A moment later, Suien returned, holding the Glen Nanska gift set under his arm. “Suffice to say, I’m not really in any rush - just need to make my way back to Electopia in the next day or so,” he said, unboxing the garishly-decorated bottle and setting the two commemorative whiskey glasses between him and Ema. Taking in the black-and-gold design of the label, Suien smirked. “Your sister has a point. A lot of this stuff is pretty overpriced,” he remarked, uncorking the bottle, “Still, it’s the only place you can find certain promotional releases from distilleries. It’s kind of stupid, really.”

As he poured a dram for Ema and pushed it forward, his eyes locked with hers for a lingering moment. Regaining his composure, Suien continued quickly. “I uh… was a little surprised though. Figured most people who have traveled internationally have at least some experience with duty-free shops,” he said as he poured a measure of the golden-brown liquor into his own glass.

Suien was about to take a sip when he realized he had forgotten Karen. He paused for a moment, set the glass down, and started to stand. “Um… this set only came with two glasses. I think I saw a kitchen on the way in - should I grab another?”
"Really? You were planning on sleeping in here?" exclaimed Ema in surprise, leaning back against the terminal and crossing her arms. Looking up at the ceiling, she suppressed a yawn. "Then again, not really my place to say much with my sister doing the same, I guess."

As Suien left momentarily to retrieve the alcohol, she glanced towards the two PETs on the table. The one that was left to run diagnostics, she left well alone, picking up the one that was emitting a mix of excitement and static from its speakers instead. Inspecting it for a moment, she then deftly flicked the mute on the speakers, and tossed it into the earlier cardboard box. The aged plastic casing rattled about as it crashed into a few other PETs, and a complicated expression crept on Ema's face.

When Suien arrived back on the scene, however, she managed to hide her previous expression, instead focusing her attention on the luxurious-looking drink he had brought with him. "Wow, that looks expensive," she whistled. As he uncorked the bottle and poured one out for her, she peeked at the box that the bottle came in, her eyes widening as she spotted the price tag. When Suien handed her a glass, she noticed him staring at her and froze for a moment in uncertainty. Had she done something wrong? Was there a proper way to drink expensive liquor like this?

Her concern was dispelled quickly as Suien made his observation about her, though it still made her lower her head into her shoulders, trying to reduce her profile. "Ah, um..." she laughed nervously, averting her eyes away from him. "I've... never left Sharo. Only ever came as far as the departure hall at the international airport."

She looked down at the glass, and was about to down the glass, when Suien interrupted himself from doing so, causing her to jump and stop herself as well. "Oh, Karen should be getting the glasses-" she started, right as the devil herself sauntered into the server room. Karen cradled two large white bottles around one arm, and clawed three shot glasses in the other hand. The shot glasses clinked slightly as the bottles thumped down next to them.

"Here you go."

Ema smiled. "Thanks, Kare-- did you drink half of this already?! I literally just bought these yesterday!"

"I don't know what you're talking about," came the reply with an impish grin, as Karen merrily poured herself a shot from one of the bottle, clearly already half-emptied. She then pulled up a chair, set it down next to Suien, and plopped herself down. "Wanna do a toast or something?"

Ema pinched the bridge of her nose. "Ahhh, I don't care anymore. Er, thanks for the drink," she said, making sure to express her thanks to their guest, before downing half the whiskey he poured for her. She would regret her hasty action as she began to cough, but it only took her a moment to hold it down. Laughing at her sister's misstep, Karen then downed her own spirit in one go, setting down the shot glass with a thump with a satisfied sigh.

"Sorry. Feels like I got punched in the chest. Did I drink it wrong?" said Ema, clearing her throat in between sentences.
“Whoa, easy there. Are you…” started Suien, his eyes widening in concern as Ema sputtered and coughed. The dark-haired netOp instinctively leaned forward and extended his arm to support Ema’s body, placing his hand gingerly on her shoulder. This gesture of concern proved unnecessary, however, as the Sharoan researcher seemed to regain her composure with almost uncanny speed.

Quote (Ema)

"Sorry. Feels like I got punched in the chest. Did I drink it wrong?" said Ema, clearing her throat in between sentences.

“Oh… ah, no, don’t worry about it,” he said, quickly moving his hand to the back of his neck and scratching it sheepishly as he sat back down, “Truth is, I’m not exactly what one might consider an expert on the topic. The bottle is at cask strength though, so the proofage might be a fair bit higher than what you’re used to.”

Glancing toward the newly-arrived half-empty bottles of Sharoan vodka that Karen had brought in, Suien paused. Then again, maybe not, he thought.

“Anyways, I’ve heard it’s best to take it slow and enjoy the experience. Enjoy the aroma, let it linger on your palate before swallowing, allow the flavors to develop a bit before taking another sip,” he said, gently swirling his portion of the amber-colored liquid in the commemorative glass and lifting it to taste, “try to distinguish the flavors of peat, citrus, maybe a little caramel...” Suien trailed off as he noticed that Karen had already poured and downed her shot in a single gulp.

Shaking his head, he smiled. “Or, you know, just toss it back and let it ride, I guess,” he said, taking a long sip of his drink, “Seems like you’re both no strangers to booze anyways, so far be it for me to try to prattle on about the ‘right’ way to drink.”
With Suien's assistance retracted, Ema gulped down some saliva. "Ah, that's just how I'm used to drinking. I'll try sipping it a bit. It definitely does feel thicker than the usual vodka," she said. Taking the bottle, she poured in a small amount into the fancy glass that she had been given, watching the amber liquid swirl about in her hand.

"Hey, I wanna try some," said Karen. She received the bottle and poured some into her own shot glass. She also wasted no time in taking a quick sip of the liquid. From the surprised, approving murmur, it seemed like the second sister was receptive to it.

Ema decided to sniff at her glass. "It reminds me of movie theater popcorn, kind of," she said, sipping the alcohol slowly. Warmth started to rise to her cheeks as she saw Karen switch back to pouring out the vodka. A sigh escaped her lips as Karen threw back one more shot, before she turned to Suien. "Oh, uh, if you want to try the vodka, you can go ahead, but I'd probably say that it's probably not as good as the whiskey."


"Na--mtellin' ya, why do we even useese Progs? F'crying out loud, we put 'em everywhere! Like, in toilets! Even slack off, feffucksake. When yer trying to drop a load bigger than Electopia's third impact, I'd 'preciate it not givin' out on me!"

Her speech slurred heavily and slumped over the desk, Karen had just about started on the second bottle as she turned to Ema briefly, then Suien. "Fuckin'... you guys got no idea... Network techs ain't know shit about Hikari AI blackboxes 'n octodimensional synapse parameters 'n all that... Heh, betcha old man Tadashi Hikari's spinning in's casket now'at we put his shit in a goddamn coffee machine."

Next to her, Ema was still nursing her own glass, sipped from at a snail's pace, every minute or so. Her expression was looking a touch more rosy, and her body was gradually wobbling from side to side, but otherwise, she seemed to be holding it in well. For the moment, it seemed like she was watching over Karen.

"Ahaha, sorry about this," she said, for what seemed like the fifth time Suien had heard it. "It's not often I drink with someone other than family, though, so it's pretty fun. You got anyone you usually drink with?"
Suien’s face felt warm, though whether it was from Ema’s attention or the alcohol, he couldn’t quite tell. “Oh, me? Nah, it’s been a while, to tell you the truth.” he responded, conflating drinking partners with romantic partners in his inebriated headspace, “I mean sure, there was a couple.. Okay maybe just one, but… well, you know how it is.”

The dark-haired netOp gazed up at the ceiling for an awkward moment, before shaking his head and adjusting his glasses. “It’s just such a pain to meet people these days,” he said finally, taking another sip from his glass, “I mean sure, you meet loads of people every day, but it’s so difficult to make a meaningful connection. Even if you’re lucky enough to start a conversation, nobody wants to make an effort to meet up again, much less develop any sort of relationship....”

Realizing how inconsiderate his words must have sounded to the cloistered researcher, he quickly backpedaled, “I mean, I really shouldn’t complain about this sort of thing” he said quickly, “really, it’s just that I haven’t really found fulfillment in my professional life like you seem to have, so I’ve been trying to find fulfillment in… well, whatever I can get, really...” He trailed off again before taking another sip. “Er… sorry” he apologized sheepishly, “didn’t mean to be such a downer. I do appreciate the company this evening though. Really, I do.”
"It's hard to keep in touch, right," nodded Ema slowly, swirling the drink in her glass around. Her eyes glanced to the side at Karen, who was now face down on the table, murmuring out an inaudible mess. She listened to Suien muse about his inability to keep a connection to people; shortly after he drew back from his short complaints, she giggled. "Isn't pouring out these kinds of worries the point of drinking? Don't hold back on my account."

She sighed. "Fulfillment, huh..."

"I mean, it's something I get to do at least somewhat well, and I've got the good fortune of riding on my dad's coattails, so I get the luxury of being able to research as a living... Nothing I've really worked that hard to get, so I sort of feel like I don't really deserve it sometimes. Especially trying to live up to my dad's legacy," she said, taking a sip of the whiskey at the end.

Ema looked over at the enormous server racks that they had just been working on with a wistful expression. "It's funny how connected we are thanks to all this technology, and it feels like we're getting more isolated instead. It's been some time since I've even met anyone in the same field since... college? Man, it's really been that long."

A moment of silence passed. "Ah, I guess I'm keeping the conversation down too now, haha. Let's switch tracks; you've got any stories doing work out in the field? I'll bet there's got to have been at least one," she smiled.
“Stories from the field? Sure, I’m happy to share one or two” began Suien, grateful for the change in conversation as he leaned back in his chair. However, as he mentally ticked through his misadventures, his small smile slowly transformed into a grimace as he realized the distinct lack of any acceptable stories to share.

There was the time he brutalized some heelnavis in front of an elementary school class

There was the time he got drunk and jacked into a broken TV at a bar

There was the time he had that weird… not-date but also not-not-date with Rania and the weird old guy.

There was the time he hung out with two underage girls in a shared bath

There was the time he navigated Rass into an active combat situation while hungover

There was the time he hacked a NetVegas security feed after a night of debauchery

Suien shook his head. “Um…. unfortunately, I think I lead a pretty boring life.” he said, swirling his drink. “That’s part of my professional rut, so to speak. I’ve been mostly surviving overseas through contract work and odd jobs here and there.” After a moment’s hesitation, he continued. “You know, teaching, maintenance work, security system uh.... vulnerability testing,” he said, somewhat unconvincingly.

Taking another sip, he glanced over toward his PET, refocusing his blurring vision. “If I’m being honest, taking care of Rass has been my main concern for the past few years,” he admitted, the words flowing easily from his slightly inebriated state. “I know it’s a bit strange to be tinkering with navis at my age, but I want to make sure that he… they... are self-sufficient and, well... happy. I owe the three of them that much after what happened.”

After another pause, Suien realized his error, “Sorry, four,” he said quickly, “I meant the four of them.”