Chapter 11: Preparations
The next few days flew by before Enzan realized it. He spent every waking moment training with Rockman, both with Higure’s practice holo and at home. At nights, he cleaned Higure’s shop with vigor. Higure claimed to be impressed by Enzan’s work, and the boy detected no evidence of a lie in his voice or on his face. With each practice session, Rockman’s skills and confidence in himself improved. Enzan had rushed him on some strategies in order to master the Program Advance, but he had faith in Rockman’s abilities to figure them out on his own.
The N1 Grand Prix was rapidly approaching, only two days away. Enzan was taking advantage of the last bit of daylight he had to train with Rockman.
“Sword, Wide Sword, Long Sword,” Rockman said, holding his hands up in a mock position of the Program Advance. “Beta Sword.”
“It’s easy to say,” Enzan said, smirking slightly. “But can you do it?”
Rockman grinned. “Bring it on, Enzan-sama.”
Enzan quickly pressed the button to start the preprogrammed battle sequence. An automated navi, one larger in size and had greater strength than they had been working with before, appeared on the screen and immediately began to charge at Rockman.
“Battle chip, Sword, slot-in!” Enzan yelled, smoothly sliding the battle chip into the input slot.
“Sword!” Rockman called back, watching his hand morphed into a glowing blue sword. The automated navi fired a missile at Rockman, who easily cut it in half in mid-air, neutralizing the threat.
“Wide Sword!” Enzan slotted in the next sword for the sequence and watched Rockman’s other arm morph into a differently shaped sword.
“Wide Sword!” Rockman repeated, dodging two more missiles coming in his direction. “I’m ready, Enzan-sama!”
“All right then. Long Sword!” Enzan slotted in the last sword and watched as Rockman’s entire body began to glow. The blue swords on his arms began to blur, and the navi held his hands up as the swords melted into each other and slowly turned purple in color.
“Beta Sword!” Rockman and Enzan yelled simultaneously. Rockman slashed the sword downwards, sending an edged, purple shockwave straight for the automated navi. It was cut in two in an instant and disappeared in an explosion of data bits.
“I did it!” Rockman cheered, jumping up and down.
“That went better then I had hoped,” Enzan admitted, trying not to laugh at the navi’s excitement. “Just remember, we’re going to have to face real opponents in the tournament. They’ll be a lot tougher than these boring, preprogrammed navis.”
“Can we go home early, now that I’ve mastered the Program Advance?” Rockman asked eagerly.
Enzan shook his head ruefully. He wasn’t sure if the navi had heard a word the netbattler had said. Rockman got excited so easily, and when he did, he acted like a little kid. I always thought Rockman was more mature than this, Enzan thought. But I guess Netto’s Rockman would have to be more mature to keep up with him.
“I’ll have to ask Higure if we can clean up earlier than usual, but if he says it’s okay, sure we can go,” Enzan replied finally. Rockman cheered again, jumping up and down like an excited puppy.
Much later, during dinner with Haruka, Enzan wondered more about Rockman’s behavior. It struck him as slightly odd, because even though he didn’t have to keep up with Netto, he should still behave with a more maturity. Instead, he reacted like a child to everything. When he was happy, sometimes he would literally jump for joy. When he was frightened, he seemed to shrink within himself, like so many children would do when there was nowhere to hide. And when he was angry or bitter, he gained his revenge in little, childish ways. Rockman did that by being as unhelpful as possible, or acting cocky when dealing with his operator.
Enzan wondered if Rockman’s behavior was a direct result of his operator. The cruelty that had been inflicted on Rockman could have warped his thinking in some ways. As a personal net navi, his programming told him that he was to be as helpful as possible and to do his job to the best of his capabilities. When Rockman was punished for things that weren’t his fault, he could have rationalized that he did deserve it somehow. The blue navi, like a child, probably couldn’t grasp his operator would punish him out of anger or hatred. Being unable to understand why these things were happening or what he was doing wrong, Rockman might have stopped trying to see the logical, mature point of view. It would have been easier to see things like a child would, until he became so used to it he wouldn’t notice when he lost the ability to deal with things logically.
It’s not Blues I have to worry about, Enzan realized as he stared down at his rice. In this reality, he couldn’t be in any better hands than Netto’s. It’s my hands that ruin everything.
He looked up in surprise to see Haruka watching him. “Yes?” he asked, fidgeting under her gaze.
“I’ve been hearing about the N1 Grand Prix lately,” she said. She paused to eat some of her yakisoba before continuing. “I’ve also heard that you’ve been spending a lot of time at Higureya, that chip shop. Are you participating in the competition?”
“Yes I am. Is that… is that fine with you?” Enzan asked hesitantly. He realized he should have told Haruka about it earlier and felt guilty for letting the detail slip. It wasn’t like him to forget something like that.
Haruka clasped her hands together. “Of course it’s all right with me!” she declared. “I think it’s wonderful!” Her expression changed abruptly to a darker one. “Do you think you can get far with that navi?”
“Rockman?” Enzan asked in surprise. “Yes. We’ve been practicing a lot.”
“I know, but…” Haruka trailed off. “That navi hasn’t done you much good in the past. Are you sure you don’t want a new one?”
“I’m sure,” Enzan said firmly. He knew Rockman could hear every word that was being said; the PET was in its carrier attached to Enzan’s belt. “Rockman and I will do just fine in the N1 Grand Prix. He’s better than any standard navi I could get, and he has experience to build on.”
Haruka smiled faintly. “If you insist. I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”
Enzan dodged the remark and quickly excused himself from the table. “Don’t listen to her, Rockman,” he said quietly he made his way up the stairs. “She’s just reacting to her own frustrations.”
“I’ve always known that, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied, his voice just as quiet. “It still hurts.”
Enzan couldn’t think of a response. Throughout the night, Rockman’s words haunted him. He knew how Rockman felt; his father would treat him the same whenever Enzan disappointed him. It only made him work harder to do better next time, but sometimes he just wanted to curl up into a ball and shut out the rest of the world. Instead, he would train with Blues or netbattle until he was exhausted. As long as he was tired, he couldn’t think about his failures and mistakes. It was a long time before he was able to close his eyes for the final time and give into sleep.
-- -- --
“Ohayo gozaimasu, Enzan-sama!”
Enzan groaned and turned over. “It’s too early for morning,” he mumbled.
“It’s 7:30 AM, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied cheerfully. “Time to wake up!”
He’s too damn cheerful in the mornings, Enzan thought irritably. I’m glad Blues isn’t like that. Normally Enzan didn’t mind getting up in the mornings, but he hadn’t been getting much sleep lately.
“It’s the day before the N1 Grand Prix,” Rockman reminded him.
Enzan shot up from his prone position. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” he demanded, scrambling out of bed.
Rockman looked sheepish. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you had such important plans for today. Are we going to do more training?”
“No,” Enzan replied as he pulled on a shirt. “We both need a break from training, and I know you’re ready for anything by now. What I wanted to do today was figure out why I’m in this reality instead of my own.”
“Oh,” was all Rockman could say.
“This is important to me, Rockman,” Enzan said softly, looking at the navi.
“Of course, Enzan-sama,” Rockman said quickly. “I want to help you in any way I can. What did you have in mind?”
Rockman’s words sounded forced, and Enzan wondered why. “Something Hino Ken said got me thinking,” Enzan said. He sat down on his bed and watched Rockman from across the room. “If I can make a list of the differences I notice, maybe that will help me find a place to start.”
“What kind of differences?” Rockman asked.
Enzan thought for a moment. “Well, there’s the obvious one. From what I remember, Rockman is Hikari Netto’s navi. His father still works for the Science Labs and is a respected expert on net navis. I don’t know much about Hikari Haruka, but I think she stays at home and doesn’t have a job.”
“And you…” Rockman put in.
“And I am Ijuuin Enzan,” Enzan continued. “The vice president of IPC, my father’s company. I took a test long ago that proved I was smart enough to skip going to school, and I spend my free time netbattling. My navi is Blues, and together… We have over 500 undefeated netbattles.”
Rockman whistled, impressed. “Really?”
“Well, that’s the rumor,” Enzan said, smirking. “We are really good at netbattling.”
“And your father?” Rockman asked.
Enzan shrugged. “He’s the president of IPC. He works so much, I’d be surprised if he even knew I was gone.”
Rockman couldn’t think of anything to say. Enzan’s words were so nonchalant, they were disturbing to the navi.
“Now who else…” Enzan said thoughtfully. “As far as I know, Meiru, Dekao, Tohru, and Yaito are all the same. I don’t know enough about them to see if there’s any difference. Higure seems the same, although Hino Ken said…” Enzan drifted off, remembering Hino Ken’s comments on how odd it was for Higure to give away a rare chip. “Higure is probably different, although I couldn’t list all of the differences. The only other person I can think of is Mariko-sensei, but I’ve never met her in my reality.”
“Is there anyone you haven’t seen yet?” Rockman asked. “Who’s missing?”
Enzan thought about it for a moment. “Well, the N1 Grand Prix should be a better way to figure that out. Many people I haven’t seen—Kuroi Miyuki or Saloma, for example—would be involved in the N1. Since World Three doesn’t seem to exist, there’s a chance Iroaya Madoi, Elec, Mahajarama, and Wily don’t exist here. Although if Hino Ken is here, there’s a chance—gah!” Enzan cut himself off and flopped backwards on the bed. “It’s too much. I can’t possibly know if anyone is or is not here.”
“That’s not necessarily correct,” Rockman replied. “I could search the web for the names you mentioned. That way, you could gain information on them as well.”
“True,” Enzan said, sitting up again. He sighed and rubbed his head. “I’m just not thinking straight. I should have thought of that possibility.”
“We still have Hino Ken too,” Rockman pointed out. “He seems to know something, and if we can find him, that could get us somewhere.”
“Yes,” Enzan said, nodding. “He’s bound to be at the N1 Grand Prix, unless he was lying.” Suddenly he frowned, remembering something. “There was someone else too… The fish guy! I haven’t seen him yet.”
“The fish guy?” Rockman repeated. “Who is that?”
“What’s his name?” Enzan wondered out loud. “It’s something like… Maesa? Masa, that was it! Masa the fish seller. I was certain he did business around Akihara, but I haven’t seen him.”
“I haven’t heard of him,” Rockman admitted. “I’ll put him on the list of people to look up. Is that all?”
“All that I can think of right now,” Enzan replied.
“Plug me in, and I’ll go searching for information,” Rockman said.
Enzan picked up the PET and grabbed the plug-in. For a moment he hesitated, remember all those moments he had plugged Blues into the Internet. “Rockman.EXE!” he said, yanking the plug out in his stylized way. “Plug-in! Transmission!”
Saying that had felt really strange, and Enzan felt something twist in the pit of his stomach as he watched Rockman’s data being downloaded to the Internet. It’s only temporary, he told himself. I’ll get my own navi back soon.
“I’m in, Enzan-sama,” Rockman called out. “I’ll start with public records, business registries, and the list of participants on the N1 Grand Prix website. That should be a start.”
“A time-consuming start,” Enzan said, sighing. “Let me know if anything comes up. I’ll be sorting through the battle chips we have.”
“Un!” Rockman said cheerfully. “Right!”
Enzan started sorting through the battle chips he had spread out on the desk while Rockman did his searching. Shotgun, Cross Gun, Triple Lance, he thought as he fingered the chips. Rockman is designed more for projectile attacks than sword techniques, although he’s good at both. Aqua Tower, Wood Tower, Barrier… all these chips have advantages, but Rockman’s better at basic, personal attacks than using chips that do all the work for him.
Enzan shifted through the chips, discarding many interesting but unpractical chips into one pile and putting promising chips in another pile. There were only so many chips he could use in a netbattle, according to the Grand Prix rules, and it wasn’t smart to carry around what you didn’t need. He ended up with many gun and sword chips, including a few defensive chips like Barrier or Area Steal. He was careful to include many Mini Bombs in his pile, knowing that Rockman was good with those, and also an Aqua Tower battle chip, just to be prepared. He could always add or discard chips in his pack if the need occurred during the competition.
He glanced at the clock and was surprised to see a few hours had passed. “How are you doing, Rockman?” he asked, looking at the PET. To his surprise, Rockman wasn’t visible on the screen. The background of the Internet area was visible, but he couldn’t see the blue navi. “Rockman?” he called, getting worried. “Are you there?”
-- -- --
Rockman carefully slipped through the hole in the Internet, entering an area that was well hidden from view. He looked around the dark, empty space frantically, but there was no one in sight. He tried to think rationally, but all he could do was panic. What am I going to do now?
“What are you doing here?”
Rockman spun around to see the tall navi he had been looking for. “Blues!” he cried. “You’ve got to help me!”
Blues stepped forward and frowned at the smaller navi. “You weren’t supposed to know about the emergency code unless something went wrong. What happened?”
“Enzan-sama knows!” Rockman said. He felt like crying and had to rub at his eyes to stop himself. “He remembers everything.”
“What?” Blues snapped. He stepped forward and grabbed the smaller navi by the shoulders. “He remembers everything?”
“He knows his real name, his old life, and even the right date!” Rockman wailed. “He even knows about Hikari Netto!”
Blues shook the navi roughly. “You fool! Did you tell him?”
“No!” Rockman cried, shaking his head in denial. “You know my programming prevents me from remembering anything but my life as Hikari Enzan’s navi until something goes wrong, and even then my full memory only returns when I’m on the Internet. He knew from the very beginning! I didn’t have a chance to get on the Internet before, so I thought he was crazy.” Rockman sniffed. “You got to help me, Blues. If he remembers…”
“All right, just calm down,” Blues said. He loosened his grip on the blue navi’s shoulders and knelt so he was face-to-face. “Does he suspect anything close to a VR program yet?”
“No,” Rockman replied, wiping at his face. “All he knows is that he doesn’t belong here.”
Blues visibly relaxed. “It should be okay then. There are too many blockers to keep him from discovering the truth. But,” he added, his voice growing serious, “Immersion can’t learn of this little glitch, or they’ll try to shut him up somehow. We can’t let anyone else know about this, all right? You have to keep it a secret.”
Rockman nodded, sniffing again. Blues smiled slightly and placed his hand on Rockman’s head.
“I’m going to place a blocker on you now, so you won’t remember this,” Blues told him softly. “That should make things easier on you, and you can be Hikari Enzan’s navi without holding back on him. I’ll keep an eye on things from now on.”
Rockman didn’t answer. His head felt funny, and he had already forgotten who he was talking to. It seemed to him like he was falling asleep, which was strange, because navi’s didn’t sleep, not in the way that humans did.
He opened his eyes to see Enzan staring at him with worry. “Enzan-sama?”
“Are you all right, Rockman?” Enzan asked. “You disappeared for a few minutes.”
“Gomen nasai, Enzan-sama,” Rockman said sheepishly. “I’m sorry. A program distracted me when I was downloading the information and I went to check it out.”
“Do you have the information?”
“Yes I do,” Rockman replied cheerfully. “Do you want to look at it? I can bring it up right now…”
Author’s notes: Ohayo gozaimasu means “good morning” and can be shortened to ohayo. Un (informal “yes” or “right”) is more of a sound made than a word, but it is commonly used in the Japanese language. It looks easy to say, but it isn’t (or maybe only I have trouble saying it.) -_-;