Ezarith Research Facility

[>> Science Residence - SciLab.]
[>> Visiting Home - Sharo Rogue Net.]

"Hey, wake up, we're almost there."

Stirring in his seat, Harke roused from his sleep, just in time for a bump in the road to jolt him slightly more awake. He stifled a big yawn as he squirmed in the uncomfortably small seat of the train, having been in it for the past hour or so. Even then, he counted himself lucky, as it had been the only available seat when he had boarded at a crowded changeover station, though now that they were at the end of the train route, the train was much less crowded. Looking out the window, he saw the same sparse Sharoan scenery pass him by for the umpteenth time, and nestled himself in his layers of clothing, waiting for the final destination announcement over the train's loudspeaker.

"Next station, Korolensk. Next station, Korolensk. This is the final station."

After the robotic voice echoed throughout the train coach, Harke rose from his seat, with Karen following suit shortly after. They found themselves at the arrival platform, which was plainly empty, save for a black-haired young woman dressed in a thick white coat sitting on a nearby bench. Her long ponytail fluttered behind her as she turned to see Harke and Karen dragging their rolling suitcases behind them.

"Oh! You're finally here!"

"Been waiting long, Ema?" said Karen, immediately moving forward to greet her sister with kisses on both cheeks.

Ema responded with a tight hug of her own, before looking over her sister's shoulder. "No, just got here, actually. Hi, Harke! Slept well?"

"Hey, sis. No, but I tried, at least," said Harke, raising his hand with a tired-looking smile to return the greeting.


The ride to the Ezarith research compound was a short one, though the ride wasn't at all unpleasant, with the heater in Ema's car making it quite toasty. While his sisters caught up with each other, Harke found himself drifting off in the warmth of the back seat, even as they pulled into the compound's parking lot. A prod in his sides quickly brought him awake with a start before he exited the car with a big yawn.

As he surveyed his surroundings, he was filled with a sense of peace. Though the landscape was as barren as could be, the town of Korolensk was the place where he had spent the majority of his childhood. The living quarters that he had called home was integrated into the research facility, allowing the researchers employed there to fully focus on their research while keeping their family close by. At least, that was the theory. In practice, most of its residents weren't researchers, but regular government workers, especially unmarried ones. They preferred these quarters for their relatively low cost; their small size made it particularly hard to raise a family in.

Still, his family was more fortunate, as their facility was a building all on its own, built later than the rest. Thus, it had much better living amenities, and provided them with more of what could be called a house, rather than a 'hole in the wall', a moniker that the typical quarters had received. This was mostly thanks to the fact that their family had a history of serving the Sharo government through less than savory means, not limited to research. Ezarith buildings were scattered throughout Sharo, though their reputation was usually restricted to local talk. Now, he was stepping through one of those buildings' doorways, returning to his birthplace once again.

A quiet series of beeps preceded the sound of sliding doors opening with a pneumatic hiss. "Mom, we're hooome!" yelled Ema, carelessly stepping through the entryway while kicking away her shoes, followed closely behind by Karen. A light could be seen through the doorway to the side as Ema strolled through it, while a homely-looking older lady passed by her, dressed in a simple floral print purple dress and blouse, with a dirty apron over it. Wrinkles could barely be seen on her cheeks as she beamed at the sight of her new visitors.

"Welcome home, you two," said Serena as she received a hug and a peck on the cheek from Karen.

"Hi, mom," said Harke, who received a similar welcome from his mother, along with a brief tug on his cheek.

"Come in, come in. You look like you've aged five years! Goodness, your father isn't giving you any breaks, is he?" said Serena, leading the way into the brightly lit living room, which shared a space with the dinner table, where Karen was bent over, inspecting a pot that had been set on top. Ema was nowhere to be seen, though from the sound of a sealed door opening, she was presumably further in, peeking into the refridgerator.

"No, it hasn't been too busy... Dad's doing most of the work while I just try to help him here and there. Just a few things happened, is all."

"Well, that's a topic for lunch, then. Come on, let's eat, I just took the soup off the stove."

"Ooh, I'm hungry," said Harke, setting his luggage to the side. However, before he started towards the table, a beeping noise drew his attention. "Oh, hold on, my PET..." he muttered, as he pulled out his beeping terminal from inside his coat. On top of the screen, a hologram started to materialize, eventually shaping itself into Eternalis's blue form. Beside him, another one also apparated, forming itself into Aurora's body.

"We're baaaack!" said Eternalis cheerfully.

"Oh, hey, Eternalis, Aurora, welcome back. Had a good break?"

"Excellent! There's no place like home, though."
"Mm, it was good."

Their enthusiastic responses brought a smile to Harke's face as he continued. "Glad to hear that! Oh, yeah, I don't think you've met Mom yet, say hi."

"Oh, sure. Hey, Mrs. Ezarith! Nice to meet you!" said Eternalis, as he turned to raise his hand up in the air in an energetic gesture. However, his bright greeting was met by silence. A surprised-looking face seemed to stare past him--towards the partner by his side, who was struck by a similar expression.

"... Aurora?" muttered Serena.
"I see..."

With all of them seated at the table, Harke and Aurora took turns explaining the turn of events that had occurred, from Aurora's resurrection from hibernation, to her memory restoration, to the recent glitching incident. As Harke had already been made aware of it, with Serena's go-ahead, Aurora also went into her past with her previous operator. Expressions around the table were varied, from surprise on Ema's face, to concern on Karen's, to a sad-looking smile on their mother.

"Wow, I didn't know you used to do that sort of business, Mom. I thought you were just Dad's assistant," said Ema.

"Mm, you two were a bit young back then, it's not surprising. I'm sure my skills have rusted by now, though, since I don't have a Navi," replied Serena, letting out a small giggle.

"Serena, again, I'm sorry about... him. I wasn't strong enough to do anything. But I decided I want to live on from now."

Serena shook her head. "I've never blamed you, Aurora; in fact, it's a great load off my chest that you've forgiven yourself. I might be able to move on too."


As Harke voiced his concern, the chair behind Serena creaked as she stood up slowly, picking up the apron that she had draped over the chair adjacent to hers. "I'm getting a bit tired. Ema, could you clean up? I'm just going to take a little nap," she said, strolling back through the living room doorway and heading up the stairwell in the main hall. Ema took to her assigned task as she collected the cutlery and flatware, hauling them off to the kitchen. Harke, Karen, and the two AIs watched the two leave. A sad smile came across Karen's face.

"Karen?" queried Eternalis, as he noticed the middle child of the Ezariths had been relatively quiet during the conversation.

Karen continued to watch the empty doorway that her mother had left through, resting her head on her hand as she scratched it idly. "Man, that was some bombshell. I had no idea... Hard to say if I should be pissed, or sad, or guilty right now," she said, her half-lidded eyes lingering over to Aurora's projection on the table, next to Harke's PET. "Caused a fair bit of grief for you with that memory restore, didn't I, Aurora?"

Aurora shook her head. "I don't regret getting my memories back. I've gotten back my strength now thanks to that. You helped me out a lot afterwards too, Karen, I can't thank you enough."

Her eyebrows raised slightly as her lips curved into a smile. "Heh, yeah, I guess. Thanks, that means a lot," she murmured. Standing up from her seat, she stretched out slightly and yawned. "I think I'll be taking a nap myself. We've got that thing to do for Dad tonight, after all, so you might want to get some rest yourself."

"Alright, have a good rest," said Harke, watching Karen leave to her room as well and finally leaving him alone in the room with his Navis.

"Man, what a downer this trip started out," said Eternalis.

"Sorry, it's kind of my fault," Aurora's eyes were downcast as she apologized.

"Well, we're going to be here for the next three days or so, better to have this happen earlier than later," said Harke, a sympathetic smile on his face, before he yawned in his seat. "That said, that trip took a lot out of me, so I'm gonna crash, too. See you guys in a couple hours. Oh, say hi to Sparky, he's been pretty lonely!"

As if on cue, another hologram appeared on the table and jumped at Aurora, bowling her over as Sparky showed himself gleefully. "Whoa! Hey, Sparky!" she exclaimed, as she received a few enthusiastic licks and barks, while Eternalis stood to the side and started to laugh. The two welcomed the third member of their party with an appropriate amount of pats and hugs, while Harke laid his head on the nearby couch and promptly fell asleep.


The last light disappeared from the sky as Harke and Karen left the house, dressed as warmly as the moment they came in. Harke was toting a small backpack, but his sister was mostly empty-handed. The car parked in front of their building hummed to life as Karen pulled out of the driveway and zoomed off into the night.

[>> Strelka Bar - Sharo.]
[furl=9035246,2,10005688][>> Strelka Bar - Sharo.][/furl]

The drive home was mainly uneventful and the car was silent, save for the almost-quiet sound of the radio squeaking out a Sharoan pop music station. The reason for why the volume had been turned so low was sitting next to Harke, slumped in the passenger seat and dreaming away. The illumination of the PET's holographic light was the sole source of light in the car, depicting Eternalis and Aurora sitting on the edge of the dashboard, now changed back from their beach outfits into their normal appearances.

"Sorry we went off like that without telling you, Harke," said Eternalis.

Harke's eyes glanced over to the dashboard momentarily. Eternalis was hanging over the edge facing him, while Aurora was staring out the window. "It's fine," he muttered, exhaling briefly. "Though I'd be lying if I wasn't a little jealous, it's a little over 5 degrees outside the car right now, I think. It's nice to be home, but after living in Electopia for so long, I really don't miss the weather." Downtown Korolensk went by quickly, while the song on the radio switched over to the sound of a DJ talking. The conversation stalled for a moment, before Harke piped up again.

"... Well, how was it? Aren't you going to tell me about it?" he said.

Eternalis looked a little surprised, before he responded. "Oh, uh... I don't think it was really that much, we just went to Beach Net and swam for a bit, before we went to a food place. It was pretty amusing to see Lyntael scarf down what looked like several plates of food. All in all, it was pretty fun," said Eternalis, laughing a little as he recounted the event. As a result, a little smile crept across Harke's face as he turned into a side road into the living quarters area, where apartment complexes spaced out fairly generously from each other passed him by. His eyes wandered over to Aurora, who still seemed to be intently staring out the window.

"How about you, Aurora? Did you have fun?"

Aurora jumped slightly at the mention of her name, and turned around quickly. "Oh! Yeah, I did. It's nice to go out like that with nothing really in mind sometimes," she said. Then, something came to her mind, and she added, "How was your meeting? Did it turn out all right?"

Harke's smile turned distant at the question, and his eyes lingered back towards the dark road in front of him, which showed a street sign that said "Korolensk Research Living Quarters - Area F". "He wanted to know something about a few dealings with people doing some unofficial reseach, so I pointed out what I thought about it. I think we helped him out, but I'm still not sure what Dad wanted us to help out with; still, I think I did my best. Hopefully it'll make some sort of difference," he said, turning into the road. The driveway up to their home was not far off, and soon Harke pulled to a stop, and exhaled briefly. He turned to his side, and shook his sister's shoulder roughly.

"C'mon, sis, we're home," he said, to unintelligible mumbling.
Dragging himself through the entrance with Karen in tow, Harke managed to get his sister over to the living room couch before he roughly lowered her onto it, and plopping himself down next to her with a heavy sigh. The clock read at only 9pm, despite the total darkness outside--it had been a while since the sun went down, yet there was still plenty of time until the date rolled over. Even so, he was dead tired--both from exerting himself carrying his sister around, and the recent conversation that he had. The physical exertion did let him take his mind off of the latter for a little while, as he caught his breath for the moment. The house was quiet and peaceful, and despite still wearing his jacket, Harke himself started to feel drowsy as he began to slump over on the couch.

Then, suddenly, he felt a weight begin to smother and grope him, along with the distinct smell of alcohol. Jolted awake, he realized that the other person currently on the couch had scooted over to his side, and began reenacting what had happened earlier at the bar. While normally, Karen's body nestling up to a man would cause them to lose their sensibilities partway, Harke had other ideas, with a swift right hook landing on the offender's sternum. This took the wind out of his sister enough that he was able to release himself promptly, before letting himself off the couch, which Karen proceeded to groggily take for herself completely.

Scratching the back of his neck with a grumpy expression on his face, he recalled the incident at the bar earlier. It wasn't the first time he had had to extract his sister from something she would certainly regret later, but it was the first time that it wasn't by some other bar drunk. The way Rogan had acted had only made him fume more, though he had no real reason as to why. Perhaps he was getting lonely. As his thoughts began to wander, he wondered what Camillia was doing. He hadn't seen the wheelchair-bound girl in a while; maybe he could call her up when he got back to see if she wanted to get some coffee.

Moving on with his daydreams, he gathered his things, and wandered up to his old bedroom. Flicking open the light switch revealed that it hadn't changed much. Alongside the single bed and wardrobe, an old plywood desk and chair with a small PC was all that was inside the small room. Pulling up the chair, he turned on the PC, after having left it for a year or so and logged in.
While his old desktop was well and good for prompting a nostalgia trip, Harke's mind was still elsewhere even as the computer booted up. Rogan's words continued to echo inside his mind, it was times like this that he hated coming back home. The thoughts that came to him while in his former home weren't at all pleasant--there were definitely times when he was asked to do nothing more than what he was required to do without question. One incident in particular stood out, now that he had Aurora's story as background information. The fate of his mother's Navi--

Suddenly, he heard a series of doubled beeps that tore him out of his fugue, and he turned to the source: his PET in his jacket pocket. Fishing it out, the holograph display immediately activated, finding the closest flat surface that it could find. Eternalis and Aurora appeared before him on his desk as they were sitting together, hunched over a display console of some sort. Next to them, a tiny figure of Sparky laid on the floor, happily spread out on a rug fast asleep. Around them were projections of several odd pieces of furniture, each with wildly differing designs. An orange goldfish statue stood upright such that its mouth appeared to hold several umbrellas, a strange folding table/sofa hybrid which appeared to even have a small pot filled with flowers built in, a strange-looking grey obelisk that appeared to split itself in intervals to house differently-shaped shelves, a scattered mess of hollow hexagonal pieces that seemed to hold no real purpose... there were more still, but he figured he'd get right to the point of why he had been notified.

"Um, you guys wanted me for something?" said Harke, raising an eyebrow at the mess their PET seemed to be in.

The two of them looked up from the console, and Aurora was the first to answer. "Oh, Harke! I was going to ask you if you were free at 1500 hours on Monday. We set up a meeting with Lyn, since she wants to try busting somewhere a bit less harsh than Sharo," she said.

Harke's eyebrows furrowed a little. "You mean she herself wants to go virus busting?" he said. He held his tongue on mentioning his earlier deductions on how Lyntael wasn't meant to be a battling-type Navi at all, but if his Navis endorsed it and they were willing to help her out, then he figured it would be fine. At the very least, he didn't want the girl to go out on a lack of battle experience. "You sure she's fine with it and it's not something her operator told her to do?"

"She herself suggested it first--we were about to just ask if she would be fine with going around virus-free areas," said Eternalis.

Aurora nodded, and continued, "We were thinking of going close to the area where Eternalis and I went for the day, in Yoka. It shouldn't be too bad for her, since she seems to be electrically aligned."

Harke shrugged in response. "Sure, I guess that's fine. Still, what are you guys doing? That's a huge mess," he asked.

"Oh! When we messaged Lyntael, she was in the middle of redecorating her PET, so we figured it'd be a nice idea to do the same. We were just starting out and we kind of lost track with how much Eternalis had apparently stocked away. I'm not sure what half of these are supposed to be, honestly..." said Aurora, picking up one of the hexagonal pieces out of the furniture pile.

"I think they're supposed to be some kind of shelf, but I can't find the assembly instructions... I think I might have forgone downloading them, actually," said Eternalis sheepishly, though there seemed to be a hint of tiredness in his voice as well.

Harke's expression mellowed out a little, and a little smile crept onto his face. Perhaps he could take a load off of his mind for a while. "You guys want some help? I think I can at least help organize or something, maybe pick out some matching designs off of the internet," he said. Immediately, something like a look of relief could be seen on Eternalis's face, though he quickly hid it.

"Oh, sure! I'm just going to reply to Lyntael real quick, then," said Aurora, turning back to the console. Eternalis looked at Harke, and mouthed a "thanks for the assist" towards his operator. Harke couldn't imagine the reason as to why, and mentally made a note to ask the Navi about it later, before returning to his computer to plug in the PET and access its functions directly.
Having found just the thing to keep his mind off of intrusive thoughts, Harke busied himself with the PET's interior design late into the night; his Navis seemed to happily oblige him at least. Though the activity was benign by any standards, he couldn't remember the last time he simply wasted the time away with his Navis doing not much of anything. The sight reminded him of constructing little creations with his play blocks when he was a child, though the way the various pieces of furniture were programmed were, of course, much more advanced than anything he ever made with toy blocks.

Soon, after much debate and discussion about it, they managed to piece together a nice-looking living area. A few low-care green plants interspersed throughout a spacious area filled with comfortable sofas and couches of various crazy designs, most of which Harke jealously observed were far bigger than anything two people could ever need, organized radially around the shelf-housing obelisk he saw earlier. The obelisk had been reshaped slightly to accommodate a bit more space, housing a myriad of screens and equipment to project any amount of visual entertainment from. On the walls around the area, some interactive displays simulated little "windows" out into a variety of locales, which were currently set to a nighttime view of Internet City's central area.

"Gotta say, this all looks pretty good," said Harke.

"I'd like to start on the dining area next, but um," said Aurora, worry creasing her brow as she glanced over to a clock mounted over one of the "windows". The large analog clock showed that it was quite late into the night indeed, at about half past three in the morning. "Shouldn't you be getting to bed, Harke? We can get back to this together later if you'd like," she said.

Harke started at the mention of going to bed. True, the time had indeed slipped by without him noticing, and he confirmed Aurora's sentiment as an unexpected yawn escaped him. "You're right, I should probably head off. Think I'll get some water before that, though," he said, getting up from the desk and stretching out. Making his way downstairs, he noticed that the lights were still on. "... Oh, right," he muttered. A peek around the corner to see a certain someone's leg poking out from the side of the couch confirmed his suspicions, and he sighed slightly before heading back into his room. One quick search through his wardrobes later, and he came out with a pillow tucked under one arm and a blanket under the other.

His sister was still quietly sleeping in the same position which he had left her in earlier, disheveled clothes and all. After spreading out the blanket over her, Karen began to rouse as her eyes fluttered open, though they only stayed open through small slits. Noticing her activity, Harke stopped for a moment, before she mumbled something out. "What time... is it?" With such a low mumble, Harke could barely make out the words, but he heard it nonetheless. "After midnight. Want to get up?" he asked, to which she shook her head briefly. He responded by lifting her head and tucking in the pillow he had brought along, which Karen was happy to nestle into with a smile. Closing her eyes shut again, she whispered again, even lower than before. "Thanks, ... ya," was all Harke could make out, with an unintelligible mumble towards the end.

He sighed to himself, before getting back up towards the kitchen, and eventually back up to his room to retire for the night.
The morning after, Harke woke up to find his sister had left the couch at some point and went back to her room, and that Ema and his mother had also left the house for some emergency pressing business in the next state, leaving a note for them to find where all the essentials for the next two days while they would be gone. The almost-empty house was quite lonely in an already lonely area. Harke didn't seem to mind all that much himself, however, looking forward to continuing the activity from last night through the two remaining days that he would be in Sharo.

Time seemed to flow by quickly as he spent the time with his Navis redecorating the PET's living space, though oftentimes the bulk of effort was spent undoing and redoing the work, since they couldn't seem to decide on a layout that would fit. He found himself being completely engrossed in the activity, with only small breaks for food and such. Even then, the house was still eerily quiet, though he could see the light on in Karen's room. Eventually, even the living area that they had worked towards last night was now completely different again, and still had a pile of unused furniture designs tucked into a corner. However, it was clear that they were eventually settling on some things. In the middle of the space stood the slotted obelisk, with the console the Navis had been using tucked into one of its spaces.

Aurora was standing next to a disassembled semi-circular sofa set, on top of which an exhausted-looking Eternalis was laying on, with Sparky running around the area and hopping between furniture. As Aurora was about to say something, Harke's PET beeped briefly. The programs, as well as the operator, all started in attention, as a notification that detailed something on "1500 hours, Yoka" popped up on each of their respective displays.

"Oh, that's right, weren't you guys meeting with Lyntael there?" said Harke, recognizing the time and date as the one proposed two days earlier.

"Is it that time already? It didn't really even feel like two days had passed," said Aurora.

Eternalis opted to keep quiet as he sat up in his seat, onto which Sparky leapt onto with gleeful abandon. He picked up the rambunctious pup and sighed. "I guess we should get going, then? I think you sent her a waypoint, so she should be there too," said Eternalis, with Sparky joining along with an affirmative bark.

"Yeah, I suppose so. Harke, ready to operate now? I'll send you the waypoint that I gave to Lyn," said Aurora, looking up at the video link, where Harke flashed them a thumbs up, and began the jack-in sequence, whereupon all of them began to shimmer in a brief light, before disappearing into thin air.

[>> Sneaking out with friends - Yoka Rogue Net.]