The Hanged Man Pub

The Hanged Man Pub is a fairly well-off hangout due to its loyal customers, despite its small size. It serves as a good hideaway in an area where the trendy NetCafe dominates for people who prefer a quiet, simple atmosphere with their drinks. Most of its regulars are just fine if the TV stays off, especially late at night.

Its visitor today is not one of its regulars; rather, the Netpolice officer, AdhesiveMan.EXE, has entered in search of a quiet bar where he can get a drink in peace. He enters to find he has the place mostly to himself. Besides a drunk passed out at a table of his own, the only people to be found this late at night in a place this obscure are the barkeep, shining a glass in his quietly content way, and the one conscious customer of the bar, a man in a beige trenchcoat currently occupied with his own drink.

AdhesiveMan remained silent as he nudged his way through the heavy weight of the bar's door. His thoughts, however, were unusually hot in his normally cool head. The Navi, exhaling beneath his usual orange glue-cap headgear, surveyed the bar with a relaxed turn of his head and was satisfied in what he saw. The glue at his feet continued to pile until he began making his way to the bar. The gliding steps of the Navi flinched momentarily as the cause of his ill mood flashed through his head, the slap-in-the-face feeling that anyone trying to forget would be familiar with...

AdhesiveMan had entered a bar considerably louder than the Hanged Man Pub in an aimless fashion that didn't warrant checking the name first. The place had passed the "Are there prostitutes in front?" check in the negative, and AdhesiveMan would take that as enough of a recommendation for the location in his desperate thirst for a drink. A hard night's work and a harder night's capture had him feeling tired.

The Navi was disappointed to see that this seemed to be a music club, but he had inferred as much from the noise outside the building. Navigating around the crowded center where fans were cheering the band, the Navi took a seat at one of the red leather stools of the bar. He began to lean back on the seat and nearly toppled over before realizing there was no back. AdhesiveMan hunched forward awkwardly, trying to pull his heavy glue gun arm in and away from the seat next to himself. The old-fashioned Navi once again found himself glancing around at all the trendy youngsters and marveling at how fashions had changed... the popular models ranged from humanoids entirely covered in fur to random glowing masses with eyes. AdhesiveMan wasn't bitter or grumpy so much as awkward around the unfamiliar faces, and his code of common "live and let live" courtesy made him tense in these surroundings.

AdhesiveMan had ordered a round and was watching two of the aforementioned "trendy youngsters" carrying on a discussion. He could do this without ostensibly staring due to the darkness of the eyeslit of his mask, and he had used this to his advantage enough times to be aware of it. The Navi, beginning to lose himself in his deep thoughts of the night, suddenly perked at the conversation as it suddenly took a personal tone.

"Doesn't that guy look like he's with the NetPolice?" the obviously drunk male Navi, a dark shape of a normal Navi with glowing red eyes located slightly off from where they would be on an actual human form, muttered to his companion.

"Yeah, it says 'POLICE' on his shoulder, what was your first clue?" the tiger-striped furry female next to him replied. The two were making a completely fruitless effort to keep their voices down, or at least the female was. The male's was more likely just a slur due to his alcohol intake.

"But what would a guy like that be doing in a place like this?" the male asked, idly putting his arm around the female. "Do the police really have staff to spare where they can let their officers take nights off?"

AdhesiveMan let out a brief sigh and took his drink. He raised it to his helmet, briefly thanking the wonders of the abstract net where he could drink without removing the mouthless gear.

"Well, you know the event a while back? The one where all those unops were gathered around and the NetPolice tried to talk em over to their side? I hear they have their SPs handling these kind of events! Their SPs!" The Navi let out a snorting laugh that rang like a spike through AdhesiveMan's head. Seeing that her partner was only laughing vaguely, the girl repeated the punchline and resumed her laughter.

"Hey, wait," the male muttered, staring at his girl blankly for a moment. "You were there? That mean you unop...?"

Ignoring the question and still giggling, the girl first turned her head toward AdhesiveMan and then leaned backward in her seat towards him. "Hey, buddy! You're an SP right?" Another chortle came out as AdhesiveMan was still processing her condescending tone, and the fact that she was addressing him at all. "Your operator know you're here?"

AdhesiveMan turned his head and hunched again, taking another sip of his drink and rapping his fingers on the desk.

"Haha, it's cool, little fella, it's probably tough working for NetPolice pricks, huh?" Her snorting laugh was stifled into more of a cruel snicker as she began to feel she was touching on the "SP's" nerves. "I understand, your op has the night off so you hit the clubs, pick up some jailbait-"

AdhesiveMan rose from his seat suddenly, nearly tilting his glass over. To those watching, the gesture probably seemed like shock due to his expressionless face. In reality, though, it was as close as he'd come to striking a civilian in hot-blooded anger. The Navi's cool head won over, however, and he slapped his money on the counter before heading out, walking with a steely gait that hid the fact that he'd just slammed his knee fairly viciously on the countertop.

"Jailbait..." the Navi muttered to himself incredulously. The very thought caused the whole memory to flash back through his head again, and he shuddered as he took his (comfortably backed) seat next to his colleague at the bar. He ordered a drink from the barkeep, happy to see his usual stocked in clear sight and marking this as a spot to visit in the future.

The Navi next to him, Chicago, was a high-up of the investigations department. In terms of sheer rank, he was one above the already prestigious AdhesiveMan. Chicago WAS a regular of this bar, and he had already taken the shots to prove it. The Navi's bowler was on the hat rack at the door, but the Navi's hard-set features couldn't be mistaken.

After mulling over the possible incompetence of DimensionMan on the trip from club to pub (AdhesiveMan typically gave the offbeat hero the benefit of the doubt, but was finding it harder and harder these days), AdhesiveMan was quite pleased to find a Navi he knew he could trust at this bar. Chicago, as a top-ranking officer of Navi Investigations, was a close colleague of Public Safety Navis like AdhesiveMan and Prosecutions Navis. AdhesiveMan couldn't help but feel a bit dwarfed in his colleague's presence, but he didn't make much of it. The Navi had long ago solidified in his opinion that all members of the police force had a place in the machine, and if it just so happened that part of Chicago's job was to decide if the target was "a disturbance" for him to handle or "a menace" for a Prosecutions Navi to deal with, so be it.

"Chicago," AdhesiveMan said with a nod, opting to avoid the usual handshake that would accompany his greeting with respect to the location. The Navi remained silent for a bit after his greeting. He couldn't decide how much he should load off on Chicago: the guy probably had such an information overload off of work that all he wanted to do was grab a few beers and hit the hay at night. At the same time, though, AdhesiveMan felt like he had to talk to somebody. Having worries could mean a slip in performance, and letting something that happened off shift like this affect his work would be an unacceptable embarrassment. With that in mind, AdhesiveMan grabbed his mug, took a swig (as opposed to the half-hearted sips of the other place's swill), and cleared his throat. "Your partner, Blacklight... I dunno how much you guys are in correspondence on each and every case you get, but tonight's case was a possible bomb threat. I neutralized that, of course. It was serious business, but a sloppy job. Anyway, I'll save the case details for the record." The Navi glanced at the bar before continuing. "It was a kid. That was no .GMO, the Navi was really designed to look like a kid. The personality, though... words like 'net-terrorism' and 'repeat offender' were very much at home for the guy."

AdhesiveMan rubbed his knee subconsciously as he continued. "You know, I can't help but think that this whole Net is crazy nowadays. We have this bar, designed to look like a real old bar when bars like this were centuries gone in the real world. Meanwhile we have Net-Terrorists disguised as kids, and somehow that still bothers me. All of this stuff, all of it artificial, and a crook that looks like a kid bothers me." He took another hard chug and brought the mug down with a clank, turning to Chicago. "It makes me think, that leader of yours, Keys?" AdhesiveMan hadn't met keys personally, but he'd gotten good looks at him. "When I see that... guy," AdhesiveMan stumbled briefly, "I don't see a fake kid. I see a kid, programmed to be a kid. Is that for real? Or is there more to him I don't see?" AdhesiveMan wasn't sure what he was hoping to hear: that Keys was a real kid organizing one of the most intellectual branches of the Net; or, that one of the top figures in the police force was an embodiment of the weirdness that was now bugging him.
A plume of smoke drifted out of Chicago's mouth as he chomped down on his cigarette, which caused a pile of ash to fall off the tip and into his drink. He looked down into his drink wordlessly, staring at the swirl of gray that now inhabited it while AdhesiveMan unloaded his worries. Should he still go for it, or just get a new drink from the barkeep? An ash-laden beer...


Whatever. He was a Fire Navi, so ash should just be a seasoning to him if he had any pride. Chicago slammed his now empty glass on the counter to punctuate the end of AdhesiveMan's tale. Before he could talk, though, he needed to relight his cigarette. The burning part fell into his beer.

"Pal... you're looking for something that just ain't there. Chief is Chief. He was made to be like a kid, sure, but he's still just another Navi like you and me at the end of the day. It's not about him being real or there being more to him than you see. We Navis just don't' have a concept of age, so if someone looks abnormal, then there's a reason why. Chief has his reasons for being a kid. Boss Liege has his reasons for being an old coot. And, lemme tell you what, that kid with the bomb was only a kid to screw with your mind." Chicago grunted another plume of smoke from his mouth with that statement as he jammed his finger into AdhesiveMan's chest.

"Criminals will come at you with anything and everything to resist arrest. If you can get derailed this easily by some kid Navi, then you're a liability." Chicago had nothing against AdhesiveMan, personally. Hell, the dude was probably one of the most clean-cut guys in the NetPolice, and Chicago respected him for that. But, damn, he was one of those bleeding heart types? Chicago took a fresh drag of his cigarette, acknowledging that he'd need another beer.
AdhesiveMan downed his drink quickly in his melancholy, listening to Chicago's response without facing him. He found himself chuckling a bit at his colleague's comment that Navis are designed the way they are for a reason. Yeah, the kind like me who are designed to impress the children? There's certainly a lot of Navi inspiration going around, but where it comes from is beyond the scope of this officer.

He gave serious thought to what Chicago was saying, though, and hearing it from someone else made it seem a lot easier. From its conception, everything hadn't fallen in place in a logical order on the Net... no more than everything was bright blue skies in the world of their operators. While he was mulling over his thoughts, his depression at the state of the world became anger with himself for getting tooled around with by a terrorist. Chicago driving the point home with a light shove wasn't something AdhesiveMan had expected, however, and he remained stiff and unyielding to it as the zipper on his suit lightly jangled.

To screw with your mind, Chicago had said. AdhesiveMan's mind flashed back to that scene so many years ago.

The gun in the hand of a small child. His mind immediately correlated the two events: the crook had obviously used a kid from his crafts class as a personal attack. No, though.

There was nothing directed at him there. There was disorder. There was petty crime and there were officers who hadn't prepared for it.

The fact that that incident had influenced everything that had happened to a simple arts-and-crafts Navi since then? Was AdhesiveMan really pretentious enough to believe that someone in this world had made a child kill just to drive the Navi to the role he now played?

AdhesiveMan's reflection came to an end as Chicago was finishing on the word liability. The physical contact, however light, combined with the suggestion of being a "liability" might have made a younger, more reckless cop fly off the hinges. AdhesiveMan hadn't become one of the most trusted figures of the Department of Public Safety by getting in bar fights, though. He felt shame, of course, but by now his nerves were fully under his control once again. Shame couldn't penetrate the mask he wore, and he wouldn't let alcohol muddle his keen mind.

Once again, AdhesiveMan's sense of duty was reinforced through adversity. He understood that he'd probably needed Chicago's help for that... or was that giving the man too much credit? Would a good night of sleep have done the same? Either way, he could see tell that Chicago had a lot of respect for him, and to AdhesiveMan that mutual respect meant a lot. Pride wasn't an emotion that the Navi had given much room for growth, for better or worse (usually for better in his line of work). Instead, he simply let the sentiment fall under the default file of A Strengthening to My Commitment to the NetPolice. Maybe when the Net started working in perfect order, he'd get around to organizing that file properly.

"Good words," AdhesiveMan said as he rose, taking the last of his drink standing. While most men would be wobbling getting up after that many drinks, the Navi's nerves had nothing to do with his composure now: stumbling and falling all over yourself were simply not issues with a Navi whose feet are glued to the floor. "Heh. You know, I'm not going to think about your boss anymore. You vouch for him? I'll assume his work's good." Adhesiveman fished out the zenny for the mug he'd bought. Rest would serve him better than alcohol now, he imagined.

Turning to leave, the Navi glanced over his shoulder. "'Department of Public Safety.' I had a Navi tell me once that he imagined a 'Public Safety Officer' as the guy who kept kids from getting in cars with strangers, or patrols the park so people can go on their merry way and enjoy themselves. I know the work I do is sometimes more serious than that and sometimes an entirely different ballpark... but I don't mind thinking of myself in that image, not one bit." As he walked out, he left his remark. "The Net may not be a simple place, but it sure is a hell of a lot easier to live in if you make it simple in your head. Maybe the same can be said of the work a man's gotta do, huh?" He let out another rare, dry chuckle before adding, "But maybe that's easier to say when you're Public Safety and not Investigations." He dismissed himself for the night with a mild raise of his arm from behind.

Protecting the peace? AdhesiveMan liked that just fine.