Chapter 12: Opening Day
What are you doing? Put that down!
I told you to put it down! Why don’t you ever listen to me?
I’m sorry, I’m sorry!
You’re useless, Enzan. Completely useless. Why did I even think you could help me to begin with?
Father, don’t say that. Don’t say that!
“Ah!” Enzan bolted up from his bed into a sitting position, his chest heaving. He had been so little when that conversation had happened. Why would he remember it now?
“Ohayo gozaimasu, Enzan-sama!” Rockman called from the PET.
Enzan looked at the navi out of the corner of his eye. “Don’t you ever rest?”
Rockman looked taken aback. “Well, I do, but… today’s the big day!”
“The N1, that’s right…” Enzan said slowly, brushing the hair out of his eyes. He felt like all of his energy had been drained out of him, and he shook his head to clear it.
“Are you all right, Enzan-sama?” Rockman asked. “You don’t look well.”
“I’m fine,” Enzan said, sliding out of the bed. “Just a little shaken. I’ll be fine in a moment.”
Rockman wisely decided not to ask why Enzan was shaken. He watched as the netbattler dressed hurriedly and gathered his things. He grabbed the PET last, pausing to look Rockman in the eyes.
“Are you ready?” Enzan asked.
“As ready as I can be,” Rockman said confidently.
Enzan gave him a small smile. “Then let’s go!”
-- -- --
Enzan had been three when it happened. He had touched one of his father’s things, something he had been forbidden to do, and somehow it fell over and broke. He couldn’t even remember what it had been now, only that it was important to his father. His chubby, trembling hands had tried to piece it back together, but it was no use. He had thought about hiding, but that would only make things worse. As it turned out, hiding probably would have been the best choice.
He remembered the look on his father’s face when he discovered his son with the broken object. The horror had quickly melted into rage once he realized who the culprit was. It wasn’t hard; Enzan had still been holding a piece of the broken object.
“What are you doing? Put that down!” his father had roared.
“But Father…” Enzan had tried to argue. He wanted to tell his father that he could fix it.
“I told you to put it down! Why don’t you ever listen to me?” His father had snatched the piece away. Its sharp edges bit into Enzan’s hands, and drops of blood began to well on the wound.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Enzan had cried.
“You’re useless, Enzan. Completely useless. Why did I even think you could help me to begin with?” His father had been shouting, and his adult, booming voice nearly deafened the small boy.
“Father, don’t say that,” Enzan had cried in response. Even at his young age, he had mastered the Japanese language perfectly and could understand the connotations of what his father was saying. “Don’t say that!”
Then his father had slapped him. It was the first and the last time his father had hit him, but once had been enough. He tried hard to never get into a situation where his father could strike him again. That was also the last time Enzan had cried in front of anyone. It was probably the last time he had cried at all; he couldn’t remember.
“Enzan-sama, we’re at the N1 Grand Prix’s stop.”
Enzan opened his eyes and looked around. Sure enough, colorful signs advertising the N1 Grand Prix were strewn around the station, and there was an unusual crowd of people around it, larger than the normal crowd.
“Right,” he said, standing up. He caught the nearest bus heading across the long bridge and studied the other passengers on the short trip. Most were spectators, but he saw some who looked like competitors. He turned his attention toward the looming building in the distance.
The floating stadium that was hosting the N1 Grand Prix, called the Mega Float, was a large complex. It was used for many events and competitions and the artificial island it was on had many shops and restaurants. It was a popular tourist attraction, for both foreigners and natives, and currently it was the hottest place to be during the national netbattling competition.
It was a building Enzan was very familiar with. There were two domes, the main dome and the subdome. The main dome was larger and had advanced holographic equipment to please the crowd. The subdome had its advantages as well, but something distracted Enzan before he could mentally list them.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the N1 Grand Prix!” a feminine voice boomed from the speakers. “My name is Midorikawa Kero, and I’ll be your announcer for this wonderful event! The first matches will start in fifteen minutes, so I’d now like to ask everyone to take their seats and those competing to make their way to the dome floors!”
“Enzan-sama, we take part in the first match in the subdome,” Rockman said, speaking up the first time since they had arrived on the subway.
Enzan frowned. That’s odd, it’s the same as before… He turned his attention to Rockman as he made his way to the subdome. “You aren’t nervous, are you?” he asked the navi.
“I am a bit,” Rockman admitted. “This is the first non-practice battle I’ve done in some time.”
“Daijoubu,” Enzan assured him. “It’s all right. I know exactly what I’m doing. All you have to do is follow what I say.”
Enzan heard a sound to his left and turned his head. He could see a pink jet streaming its way toward the Mega Float. “That Yaito,” he mumbled. “Flaunting her wealth again.”
“Something wrong, Enzan-sama?” Rockman asked.
“Nothing,” Enzan replied. “Let’s get this over with.”
-- -- --
Fifteen minutes and thirty seconds later, Enzan was walking away from a cheering crowd. Rockman had done everything to perfection, and the logout had taken place within seconds, as it had before.
That’s what bothered him.
“Rockman, show me that list we’ve put together so far,” he said, looking at the PET.
Rockman immediately pulled the list up. It contained all they knew about the people Enzan could name. Rockman had not been able to find any information on Masa, the fish seller, nor Saloma, the flower woman. Saloma was not listed as a participant in the N1 Grand Prix either, even though Enzan remembered she had been in the N1 he knew. All members of World Three, including Hino Ken, were not listed as participants, and neither was that weird fish man, Commander V or something strange like that.
The information they had found on those that were in this reality was either nothing new, or it confirmed Enzan’s fears. Yaito, Meiru, Dekao, Tohru, Higure and others Enzan had encountered were the same, as far as he could tell. It was the information on Netto—Ijuuin Netto—that bothered Enzan. Only son of the rich president of ICP, Netto and his navi Blues had already earned a reputation as skilled netbattlers. Enzan took some smug satisfaction that Netto didn’t have the record he had, over 500 undefeated netbattles, but that was the only satisfaction he had.
I know Hino Ken is here somewhere, Enzan thought. The red-haired man was his only lead.
“Rockman, show me the list the netbattlers participating in the N1,” Enzan said.
Rockman pulled the list up, as silently as he had the last one. Enzan wondered a bit at the sudden change; normally, Rockman would make some noise indicating he had heard and was fulfilling the request. Enzan skimmed the list quickly.
“There’s less participants than before,” he noted. “A lot less. That’s a little odd for a national tournament.” He sighed. Every time he found something new, it only led to more mysteries. It was like a network of cables that he knew had to be connected, but couldn’t see how.
Enzan’s stomach growled loudly, reminding him of rapidly approaching noon. He changed directions and started for one of the restaurants. It was bad enough to work with barely anything to go on, but he wasn’t going to do it on an empty stomach.
-- -- --
“That was a great netbattle, Dekao!” Meiru enthused, greeting the triumphant boy. Dekao and his friends were in the restaurant, waiting for their orders to arrive.
“Glad you liked it,” Dekao replied, beaming as he slid into the bench at the table. Meiru moved over so he could fit. “That navi and his operator were no match or Gutsman and I.”
“Guts, guts!” Gutsman added from Dekao’s PET.
“I can’t wait for my first netbattle,” Tohru declared loudly. “It’ll be great!”
“If you’re as good as your friend, it should be.”
As one the group turned around to stare at the boy sitting at the table next to them. The brown-haired boy blinked at the attention and began to blush slightly. “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to intrude; I just couldn’t help hearing your conversation.”
Yaito gasped. “Hey, I who you are! You’re Ijuuin Netto, the son of the president of IPC!”
The others in the group looked confused as Netto laughed sheepishly. “Yeah, my father runs a hardware company,” he admitted. “I work part-time for him.”
“Ijuuin Netto, I’ve heard that name before,” Meiru said thoughtfully. “You’re a pretty well known netbattler, aren’t you?”
“Well, I’m not bad,” Netto said.
“Netto-kun, use a little modesty,” chided a deep voice from his PET.
“Well, I didn’t say I was the greatest in the world, Blues!” Netto protested, turning toward the red PET.
“Why don’t you join us?” Meiru asked. “I’m Meiru, that’s Dekao,” she pointed as she named the people in the group, “Yaito, and Tohru. There’s still some room at our table.” She cast a doubtful look at Dekao as she said the words.
“What?” Dekao asked, oblivious to the space he was taking up.
Netto managed to squeeze in between Yaito and Tohru on the bench, but it was a tight fit. He plugged his PET into a jack on the wall next to the table. There were many other jacks and plugged in PETs on the wall.
“There, Blues,” he joked. “Go socialize for awhile and leave me alone.”
“I shudder in horror to think of what might happen if I ever truly leave you alone, Netto-kun,” Blues replied dryly.
Netto made a face. “Never mind him,” he told the others. “He just acts like my overprotective nanny or something. ‘No, Netto-kun, you can’t try that new chip until you finish your math homework. No, Netto-kun, you can’t drop that bag of flour on your tutor, no matter how amusing it might be.’”
Meiru and Yaito giggled at Netto’s imitation of his navi.
Blues appeared in the restaurant’s server. It was set aside for the navis of the costumers, like many places did. He was greeted by several navis, all of various shapes and sizes.
“Hello,” a yellow and brown one said, bowing a little. “I am Glyde, Yaito-sama’s navi.” He introduced the others, ending with the only female of the group, Roll.
Blues gave them a slight smile. “It’s nice that Netto-kun can meet other netbattlers. He doesn’t get much free time.”
“What about you?” Roll asked, studying the new navi with interest. His height and long silver hair was what caught her attention the most. All in all, he was quite attractive, and she found herself blushing at the thought.
“Keeping up with Netto-kun is a full time job,” Blues said, smiling at Roll. “I’m just glad he can get out sometimes. Most of the time I’m helping him with homework or his work.”
“Sounds like a lonely job,” Iceman commented sympathetically.
Gutsman eyed the newcomer warily. He didn’t like the way his Roll was looking at the new navi. He was suddenly distracted by something small slamming into his backside with an “oof!” sound. Gutsman turned around to stare at the crouching blue navi on the ground.
“Itai…” the navi mumbled, clutching his head. “That hurt…”
“Are you okay?” Blues asked, walking over to the crouched figure. “You slammed into Gutsman pretty hard.”
“You should watch where you’re going, guts!” Gutsman added.
The blue navi looked up, and his eyes widened with horror as he caught sight of Blues.
“Rockman!” Roll gasped. Glyde and Iceman looked equally startled, and even Gutsman seemed taken aback.
“Oh, no!” Rockman cried. He scrambled to his feet and bowed. “I’m so sorry! I wasn’t watching where I was going. Please forgive me!” He scurried off without waiting for an answer, making a wide circle around the group of navis.
Blues watched go. “Who was that?” he asked, sounding confused.
“That was Rockman,” Glyde said softly. “He’s a net navi to one of Yaito-sama’s classmates.”
“I shouldn’t have snapped at him,” Gutsman said sadly.
Blues looked from Roll’s sad expression to Gutsman’s deflated one. “I have a feeling there’s more to this story,” he said.
“His operator treats him horribly,” Roll replied, looking at her hands. “Rumor has it his operator’s got some sort of punishment for Rockman if he loses a netbattle. Rockman used to be really nice, but now he’s so terrified of his operator that he’s afraid of doing anything that might displease the boy. We’ve only met him a few times, but he’s completely changed from who he used to be.”
“That’s too bad,” Blues said softly. “Netto-kun would never dream of treating me that way.”
Netto looked at his PET, catching the tail end of the conversation. “What was that about, Blues?”
The others in the group exchanged looks. Blues explained what Roll had told him, and Netto’s expression changed from concern to anger. The food that they had ordered came, but Netto ignored the waiter.
“How could anyone do something like that?” Netto said after the waiter was gone, his voice low with anger.
“I really don’t know,” Meiru said sadly, playing with her food. Suddenly she didn’t feel as hungry as she did before.
Netto looked up from his PET and saw a familiar white head. He stood up, everything else forgotten. “Hey, it’s that guy…”
Yaito moved her head to see and gasped. “It’s Enzan!”
The others turned too, jostling and bumping each other in their attempt to see.
“It is that creep!” Meiru exclaimed. “I can’t believe he had the nerve to show up!”
“You know that guy?” Tohru asked Netto, looking at the boy skeptically.
“Somewhat,” Netto answered. “He seems to know me. I met him once on the street.”
“You want to know what kind of guy could do a thing like that to a navi?” Dekao asked. He jerked his thumb at Enzan. “That’s your guy, Rockman’s owner.”
Netto paused for a moment. “I’m going to talk to him,” he said, sliding out of the seat.
Blues sighed. “And as soon as a thought enters his head, he acts without thinking it over. Just typical.”
-- -- --
Enzan sighed, leaning against the counter. He was waiting for Rockman to return with some money to buy lunch. Haruka had been so busy that morning she hadn’t had time to make him an obentou, a packed lunch, and he had completely forgotten about it. He had to send Rockman to borrow money from Haruka for a paid lunch, something he felt extremely guilty about, but he had two more matches coming up before he could leave, and he needed the money he had for the subway. His stomach growled, reminding him of his hunger.
“Enzan-sama, I’m back,” Rockman announced, appearing in the PET. “There’s something I have to tell you…”
“Did you get the money?” Enzan interrupted. He was starving.
“Yes, but listen—” Rockman started.
“Too late,” the blue navi groaned.
Enzan turned around to see a familiar face glaring at him. “N-Netto,” he gasped, jumping back a bit. The glowering look Netto was giving him didn’t leave him with a good feeling, and with dismay Enzan noticed his “fan” group was standing behind Netto.
“Is Rockman your navi?” Netto asked, folding his arms.
“Yes,” Enzan replied, suddenly angry. Who did Netto think he was, bossing Enzan around like that? “What’s it to you?”
“People like you make me sick,” Netto hissed, turning away. “You deserved to be locked up.” He rejoined the group, who each individually shot him venomous looks before going back to their food.
Enzan sighed again. His appetite was gone. “What did I do now?” he asked Rockman. The navi merely shrugged.
-- -- --
Enzan leaned back on his bed. He was exhausted, both mentally and physically. The matches he had today went the way he remembered them happening, but they had originally been spread out, not on the same day. He would have wondered about that if he weren’t so tired. He was used to netbattles, and they had all ended quickly and relatively easily. It was everything else that happened during the day that had worn him down. Netto’s angry comments—he didn’t know what they were for, but with his gang of friends nearby, it wasn’t hard to guess how he got so mad—had bothered him. Rushing back and forth from the domes and the subways had eventually taken its toll. And Rockman’s unusual silence throughout the day had left him feeling depressed. He hadn’t realized before how much he had relied on the navi’s presence to keep him going.
“Rockman,” he said, turning to look at the PET. It was sitting in the charger, and the navi wasn’t visible on the screen. “Rockman, can I talk to you for a moment?”
The navi immediately appeared on the screen, like Enzan expected him to. The way he had worded it, it would have been impossible for Rockman not to respond. It was the first time Enzan had spoken to Rockman like that without it being a command. Enzan was used to giving commands and Rockman was used to receiving them, so something that wasn’t a command was bound to catch the navi’s attention.
“Can you… talk to me?” Rockman replied, shocked.
“Yes,” Enzan said, turning to look at the navi. “If you need the recharge time right now, you don’t have to talk to me.”
Rockman opened his mouth and closed it silently. “O-of course you can talk to me,” he said finally. “I like talking to you, Enzan-sama.”
“You do?” Enzan asked. He smiled humorlessly. “Most people don’t.”
Rockman didn’t reply, unable to think of anything to say.
“You seemed distracted today,” Enzan said, sitting up. “Is something wrong?”
Rockman looked away from Enzan and studied the room. “I was just thinking a lot,” he said softly.
“About me,” Enzan stated flatly.
“Yes,” Rockman admitted. “I wondered why you were so concerned about the N1 Grand Prix.”
Enzan looked at the ceiling for a moment. “It could be my only way home,” he replied softly. “The only leads I have are focused in the N1. If I fight and win like I did before, I could discover something.” He looked at the navi. “Are you having seconds thoughts about the N1?”
“No,” Rockman said after thinking about it. “With you operating me, I feel confident in what I’m doing. I-I trust you.”
Enzan sucked in a breath. “In netbattling alone?”
“In everything,” Rockman replied, looking at his feet. “You’ve proven that you deserve to be trusted.”
“Thank you, Rockman,” Enzan replied, truly grateful. “That means a lot, coming from you.”
Rockman smiled slightly and rubbed the back of his head.
“That wasn’t all, was it?” Enzan guessed. “There was more than that.”
“I ran into Blues in the restaurant,” Rockman confessed, not trying to hide it. “He—he—I understand why you miss him. He’s confident and… everything I’m not. You… sometimes I hear you call for him in your sleep. I wanted to tell you, but I thought it might upset you. I’m sorry if I can’t make up for his absence.”
Enzan wanted to reply, but it stuck in his throat. He had been having dreams about Blues lately, dreams that ran together and made no sense. He hadn’t realized he had been talking in his sleep.
“Blues is important to me,” Enzan said finally. “Very important to me. Out of everything that bothers me here, his absence stings the most. But,” he emphasized, looking at the blue navi, “I couldn’t have gotten anywhere without you. You’ve helped me so much, and I enjoy being your operator. I want to thank you for all the help you’ve been, Rockman. Without you, I would be missing Blues even more.”
“I’m glad to be of help, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied. Enzan couldn’t read his expression, and found that he was too tired to try. “You should sleep,” Rockman added, seeing Enzan’s weariness. “Tomorrow will be a busy day.”
“Don’t remind me,” Enzan mumbled, crawling under the covers. He was asleep the minute he rested his head against the pillow. The lights were still on, and Rockman used his connection to the computer to shut them off.
I’m useful to you only as long as you’re here, Rockman thought. Enzan-sama, please forgive me. I don’t want you to go back to where you belong. Please… don’t leave me. I don’t want to be alone.
Author’s notes: While Netto calls his father Papa, Enzan refers to his father as Tousan, or father. In order to avoid confusion, I decided to just stick with father on most occasions.