Tucked away in the darker corners of the Undernet sat a single, solitary white building, surrounded by small towers with what looked like Trumpy viruses sitting on top of them, tooting their horns soundlessly at all hours. While navis and SPs couldn't hear it, they were tooting a melody which drove viruses crazy enough that most all of them simply ran off. There were always ones that wouldn't, and those were a problem, but they were few and far between; most viruses preferred to simply take the path of least resistance, which meant leaving the seemingly empty area.
And an empty area is exactly how this building appeared to the uninitiated; the entire place was invisible, cloaked with several passive object illusions of a stretch of missing terrain, so most people wouldn't even try to step over it anyway, having the good sense by the time they tried to plumb the Undernet's riches to not leap to their death at every opportunity.
Then again, entering the Undernet could be a death in itself, so there was the occasional crazy-- or unlucky thrillseeker-- who would either jump inside the illusion, or get knocked inside, or whatever. Such was the case of JouJou.exe, an altogether free-spirited little bruiser of a navi that had a penchant for the curious and a curiosity for things and places that used words like 'penchant'.
So, against her Operator's warnings, the cute, blonde-haired little bruiser ventured toward the building and its' only door. The door was old-looking, skinned with a wood texture at a resolution that smacked of it being far more than 5 years old, which in itself was curious. Jou gave it a once over with a cute little 'hmmm~...', and then paid it no heed and opened it, revealing a matte-textured set of stairs.
The stairwell was brightly lit; too well so, in fact, revealing that the room simply generated no shadows. Anyone familiar with net architecture would pass it off as a lazy creator or an area that had fallen into disrepair over the years, but Jou had a gut feeling that it was deliberate, and a way to unsettle visitors.
"Are you sure about this Jou? Coming to the Undernet was bad enough-- I mean we barely survived those Metools back there! And that was because you ran! But... now a creepy building that wasn't there five minutes ago? Are you sure you want to go in there?" Sharon, JouJou's operator, cautioned her over their connection. JouJou was just a little shamelessly modeled after her operator; the young woman sitting on the other end of the viewscreen shared her cheekbones and her sandy blonde hair.
"You bet! I wanted to explore all the weird and crazy places on the network, remember?" Jou grinned, putting a hand on her hip. "Don't tell me you're getting cold feet just 'cause it's a little scary?" She teased.
"W-well, no, I'm just worried about you--" Sharon responded, nervously biting a lip as JouJou gleefully began to tromp down the stairs and make all kinds of noise in the process. "Ohhh--!!" Sharon fumed. "Fine, just don't cry later if it doesn't turn out well!"
"Ehehe, success!" JouJou tittered to herself, landing at the bottom of the stairwell and opening the door. "Hellooooo...!" She called out, rushing headlong into the next room.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust; this room was dark moreso than even the Undernet as a whole, and the only sources of light were these green lamps lining the walls. JouJou rubbed her eyes in an attempt to make them adjust to the dark, then looked around again.
That was when she realized it wasn't lamps that were on the wall; every single green-lit protrusion was, in fact, a navi-sized test tube. Some of them were empty, but the others were filled with navis. At least, JouJou thought they were navis. She wandered closer to get a better look at one, and quickly glanced over its' features.
Its' head was gone, firstly. Second, it was dressed in just a simple, default bodysuit. Third, its' right arm-- JouJou's eyes opened a bit wider with curious wonder as she saw it. Its' right arm had been twisted, and turned, and had a wickedly-clawed, oddly-jointed hand that didn't quite fit the rest of the navi. Most striking of all, however, was the appendage's color scheme; a bright, ruby red offset by the claws themselves, which ran gold.
"Oh god--" Sharon started, gurgling. JouJou could hear her running off to the bathroom in the background. Ah, right. She had forgotten Sharon had a bad time handling gore of any sort... even digital, blocky gore. She glanced down at the navi's legs; one was missing, and the other was a fragmented mess of buggy, red-and-green metal data.
By the time Sharon returned from her second meeting with her lunch, Jou had already moved on deeper into the lab. It seemed as she went on, the corpse--- the navis in the tubes, rather, got more and more "complete", more shifted toward that strangely bestial format.
One floor, two floors, three floors down JouJou advanced, Sharon occasionally having to turn away from the PET to retain her dignity, if nothing else. On the fourth floor, the scenery changed entirely.
The navis on this floor looked, at first glance, to be completely shifted; no longer were they half-corrupted, partly-formed protoshells of what could have been a navi at one point, but now they were something... sicker looking, somehow. The style of each navi, each program that Jou passed was different, but they all shared similar traits, now. Red armor. Clawed hands, with talons that put Rageclaws to shame. yellow-visored helmets, tapered off to the point of a beak. Feet that reminded her of a bird, more particularly a hawk of some kind. And then there were the wings.
Big, red, metal-feathered birds' wings, sprouting out of the back, or the legs, or sometimes the arms of the navis surrounding JouJou. Fringed with green near the edges and tipped razor-sharp, they seemed just as fit for a fight as their owners. But... what was all of this, exactly? Was someone making virus-navi combinations or something? And further still, they seemed... incomplete. Dead, somehow. Jou couldn't reeeeally put her finger on it.
"Uuuugh..." Sharon returned, looking green as ever. "We should-- you should really get out of there, Jou. It was a stupid idea to come to the Undernet in the first place, and now I just feel sick. Leave whoever is there to whatever they're doing, and just go report it to the Netpolice." she urged.
"Awwww." Jou pouted. "You're no fun, Sharon! Come on, I bet you there's some eeeeevil looking guy with a big voice that goes Fahahahaha down there for us to fight! I mean, we've always tried to stop wrong stuff, right?" Jou cheerfully replied, pressing on and heading down another shadowless stairwell to what was now technically the sixth basement floor.
This room was smaller than the rest, but no less important looking. In addition to the test tubes lining the walls, there was a big operating table smack dab in the center of the room; and behind that sat the largest tube in the lab. This one dis not house a navi at all. This one held some sort of sickly, half-corrupted, fleshy looking mass of step-below-bugfraggy data, patterned with the same red, green, and silver colors that had touched the armor of all the navis Jou had seen prior to this point.
Moreover, it was pulsating. Jou instinctively took a step back, and another look around the room. Finally, what had seemed off before sank in. These navis... they hadn't been armored. They hadn't been amplified by some experimental upgrade, or hybridized like she had wondered before.
They had been infected with that... that thing in the tube behind her.
"Ooookay Sharon, I'm ready to jack out now, I think~!" Jou said, beginning to move for the door anyway. In the real world Sharon thumbed the jack out button-- and met with an error about data corruption or something or someother. So she tried again, with the same result.
"It's not working, Jou. You'll have to get out of there on your own." Sharon responded, fiddling with the PET some more. At that, Jou heard a warning klaxon fire, the colors of the tube lighting turning red. She sat still for just a moment, just a moment, surprised, when a door on the side of the room suddenly opened and a navi in a white labcoat burst out, looking uppity.
"You!" He shouted angrily. "What are you doing in here? How did you get in here?!" Jou didn't wait for him to ask again; she turned and bolted for the door, slamming it shut behind her as she dashed up the stairwell. She could've sworn she heard the labcoat navi shout behind her...
As Jou arrived on the next floor, running by she noticed movement. Just there, just out of the corner of her eye. She whirled, frightened, and found one of the test tube navis staring at her. Her head spun to look at another, and found it too was staring. As was its' neighbor, and its' neighbor, and all the rest of the navis in the tubes in the room. With renewed purpose, Jou turned to continue her sprint--
And the world turned black. For a while, her system shook with the flood of information that had just simply... ceased. It wasn't until an eternity later that she was finally able to hear Sharon again.
"Jou!" She heard Sharon screaming. "Jouuuuuu! No, no no no no no!" Why... why was Sharon... was Sharon crying? Why...? "Get up, Jou! Don't-- don't just-- you can't!" Sharon yelled, incoherent. Jou could feel her cache being pumped full of recovery chips; Recov200s, no less, but they didn't seem to be...?
She turned her focus to the raw data that her navi shell was outputting, and immediately everything became clearer. Her head had been separated from her main shell. And she was at... 0... HP? When did...
Distantly, she could still hear, hear something. It sounded far away, as though she was hearing it twice-removed, from someone who was hearing it from another someone who was hearing it from someone hearing it directly. At first it was garbled, the connection, the sound, but Jou traced it, did her best to follow it, and found herself hearing.
"Yes. Yes sir. No, no, it's been dealt with. Yes sir. Yes. We will, sir. Yes, everything is still--" The voice paused. "Look, sir, without the original there's just no way to-- yes, I know sir. Yes. We're still working on that, sir, but I'm telling you that this base is doing us more harm than good!" The voice was loud, and angry. What... what was it talking about?
"Sir, sir, look, we have all the research. We have. All. The research. My research. I have it all. I can take that and a prototype and, well, that, and I can liquidate the base and start up again somewhere else." Another pause. "...About a month, sir. ...About 3,000,000 zenny, sir. Yes. I realize the Undernet is a good ward for potential investigators, sir, but they have-- ...Yes, sir. Fine. You're in charge, sir."
The voice's conversation over, the broken puppet that had been Jou heard a set of footsteps draw closer, and then a sigh. "Bring her to the lab, Crux. We'll see if we can get a prototype out of her, along with whatever information we can pull from her core. We'll have to find out who her operator is, too, that should be in there. I'll tell HQ to send out a squad."
The data input from her limp body told her that she was being moved, both pieces of her. She swam in the nothing, the lack of focus that came with everything that had transpired, until finally, her destroyed body produced one final thought:
I hope Sharon... can't... see. She can't handle... gory stuff...