Mission: Sharo Military Facility

[>> 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.”