Chapter 16: Fireman… a True Net Navi?
Enzan slammed his fist against a wall, glaring at the door in front of him. “It’s like he disappeared into thin air!” he snapped. “No one even remembers seeing Hino Ken!”
“Maybe he lied about being an official,” Rockman suggested.
“But why do that?” Enzan asked. “He had no reason to, unless I’m not supposed to trust him either… argh!” Enzan moaned in frustration. “None of this makes sense!”
“Enzan-sama, the match starts in fifteen minutes,” Rockman said. “I’m just as worried as you are, but can’t we look for him after the match?”
“We might have to,” Enzan said grimly, starting toward the main dome. “I don’t feel right facing off against Fireman without knowing where his operator is. It’s too much of a coincidence.”
“What about the match itself?” Rockman asked.
Enzan thought for a moment. “I don’t care about what happens to Shiningman, but I want to be cautious around Fireman.”
“Blues and Netto might not see it the same way,” Rockman warned.
“If they get in our way…” Enzan trailed off. What was he saying? This was Blues, his Blues, he was talking about. “If they try to take Fireman out, we’ll have to stop them. I need that navi, Rockman. He’s my only link to Hino Ken.”
“Understood,” Rockman replied, his expression serious. Like Enzan, he knew that Blues was formidable, either as an opponent or as a teammate. As they neared the dome, the cheering of the crowd grew louder.
“Are you ready for this, Rockman?” Enzan asked.
“I’m ready for anything if you are,” Rockman replied.
“Right,” Enzan breathed. He walked calmly onto the stadium floor. Netto was already at the terminal, waiting for him.
“What took you so long?” Netto asked, smirking. “Blues and I have been here ten minutes already!”
“Had a little date,” Enzan replied. He looked Netto in the eyes. “Listen, there’s something about Fireman you need to know.”
“And the match is about to start!” Kero announced.
“Better plug in,” Netto said.
“I don’t need you to tell me what to do!” Enzan snapped. “Plug in, Rockman.EXE! Transmission!”
Rockman appeared next to Blues on the battlefield. Across the field, Fireman’s top torch burned brightly, obscuring his face, and his arms ended in a similar design, resembling cannons. Shiningman bounced from one foot to the other, looking eager to get started.
“Looks like this’ll be easy,” Blues commented.
Rockman didn’t look at Blues as he spoke. “Stay away from Fireman. He’s mine.”
Blues looked at Rockman oddly, startled by the blue navi’s sudden behavior change.
“Battle start!” Kero yelled. The words flashed across the screen and the crowd roared their approval.
Shiningman shot forward, both hands warping into swords. He headed straight for Blues, crossing the swords in front of him like open scissors.
“He doesn’t have to wait for an operator to slot in the chips,” Netto said. “Blues! Shake him up a bit!”
“Rockman! Get as close to Fireman as you can!” Enzan called.
Rockman took off like a shot, leaving Shiningman for Blues. He formed his Rockbuster and kept his hand on it, his eyes focused on Fireman. His opponent never made a move, watching the smaller navi approach.
“Are you crazy?” Netto cried, turning to Enzan. “Your navi is better at far range attacks then close up.”
“Don’t tell me how to fight, Netto,” Enzan replied crossly. “I’m been doing it longer than you have.”
“Want to bet?” Netto challenged, turning to face Enzan.
“Netto-kun, the netbattle,” Blues said pointedly. He was trying to fend off Shiningman with one sword, his standard weapon. “A little help would be nice.”
“Idiot,” Enzan hissed, turning his attention back to the battle. Rockman was still running straight toward Fireman, focused only on his goal. He was closing the gap between them fast, and Fireman had yet to blink.
“Flame Tower!” Fireman yelled, slamming the ground with his arm cannons. A huge wall of liquid fire appeared in front of him, rushing straight for Rockman.
Netto decided to copy his opponent’s strategy. “Aqua Sword!” Netto called, slotting the chip in.
Blues crossed his swords and eyed the caped net navi. “Looks like we’re even,” he said.
Shiningman swung his swords toward each other, smashing them together. A blinding light flared from his hands as the swords broke.
“Cheap trick!” Blues snapped, rushing forward with his sword poised for the attack. His visor shielded his eyes from being blinded by such techniques. He slashed the Aqua Sword through his opponent. Shiningman faded from view, like a ghost in candlelight.
“What?” Netto cried.
“He was an afterimage!” Blues yelled, looking around frantically. “He used that light so I couldn’t see him make a break for it!”
“Area Steal!” Enzan yelled, slotting in the chip.
Rockman’s shape blurred and disappeared right before the Flame Tower rushed over the spot he had been in. He appeared behind Fireman, his Rockbuster pointed at the navi’s back. “Gotcha!”
Something painful slammed into the side of his head and knocked him sideways. Rockman recovered quickly and scrambled to his feet, unable to believe his eyes. Shiningman was standing at Fireman’s back. His arm was morphed into a shotgun and he was pointing it at Rockman.
“No deal!” Blues snapped, running up to the caped navi. He took a swipe at Shiningman with his standard sword. The navi disappeared using the power of Area Steal, appearing several grid-squares away.
“What are you doing?” Rockman cried. “You were supposed to be taking care of Shiningman!”
“You should be more aware of your surroundings!” Blues shot back. “He could’ve run you right through!”
“Can’t handle your own battles, Netto?” Enzan mocked, angry at the turn of events. “Maybe you should just sit it out and let us deal with it!”
Netto snarled at Enzan silently, not bothering to respond.
“Where’s Fireman?” Rockman asked, looking around. Blues whirled, but he couldn’t see the flame-spewing navi either. He had disappeared while his opponents were dealing with Shiningman.
“Netto-kun?” Blues called, raising his sword.
“I can’t see him,” Netto replied, scanning the field. “It’s like he disappeared.”
“Fire Sword, slot in!” Enzan called. “Rockman, I don’t want Shiningman interfering again.”
“As you wish, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied. He ran toward Shiningman, holding the sword in a guard position.
“Wait!” Netto cried. “The direct approach won’t work!”
“Who said I was taking the direct approach?” Enzan asked grimly. “Area Steal! Mini Bomb! Slot in!”
Rockman faded from view. Shiningman immediately ran forward, but a Mini Bomb exploded at his feet, stopping him in his tracks. Rockman appeared behind him, his Fire Sword poised for the final blow.
Shiningman’s upper body was sliced in half and he disappeared in a swirl of data, which formed the words Log Out before it disappeared.
“That takes care of one of them,” Blues said. “Now to find the other one.”
“That was my battle!” Enzan exploded, turning toward Netto. “You should have stayed out of it!”
“We were only trying to help you!” Netto shouted back. “This is supposed to be a team effort, remember?”
Rockman sighed loudly. “Enzan-sama has a point,” he said.
“Do you have a problem—” Blues started to say.
Rockman and Blues spun to see a wall of red lava rushing toward them. It covered the entire battle field, leaving no space for escape.
“Fireman has come up with a brilliant strategy while his opponents were distracted!” Kero cried. “This looks like it could be the end!”
“Does she ever shut up?” Enzan mumbled, searching his chip pack desperately.
“It does get annoying,” Netto agreed, doing the same. “Aha!” He held up a chip almost the same moment Enzan did.
“Aqua Tower!” they shouted simultaneously.
Rockman and Blues slammed their hands down on the battleground. Twin towers of water shot up from the ground and rushed forward, merging as one. They smashed into the middle of the fire wave and cut straight through it. Rockman and Blues braced themselves against the ground as the two halves of the Red Wave rumbled passed them. The heat was scorching, but it was mercifully brief as the wave passed quickly.
“That was close, Enzan-sama,” Rockman commented, wiping his forehead. Blues stood up from his crouching position next to the blue navi.
“Jus—look behind you!” Enzan cried.
“Blues!” Netto shouted at the same time. “Duck!”
Rockman whirled to see Fireman standing behind him. Blues ducked low, but he saw Rockman’s vulnerable position and moved to shove him out of the way.
“Fire Boom!” Fireman called, bringing his flaming forearms up. Two balls of fire shot out of his arm cannons and hit the two navis dead on. Rockman was hit in the chest and knocked several feet backwards. Blues was hit in the side and sent rolling. His Aqua Sword had shattered from the impact of the fireball. He managed to skid to his knees close to Rockman’s prone body.
“Direct hit!” Kero yelled. “Both Blues and Rockman have lost considerable hitpoints!”
“Get up, Rockman!” Enzan yelled.
“I-I’m trying,” Rockman moaned, getting on his hands and knees.
“That does it!” Netto snapped. “Paladin Sword, slot in! Blues, show him our whirlwind!”
“No!” Enzan cried, grabbing Netto’s arm. “You don’t know what you’re doing!”
“Right, Netto-kun!” Blues called. He froze as Rockman latched onto his leg. “What are you doing?” Blues cried, trying to shake the blue navi off.
“You don’t understand,” Rockman gasped. Blues reached down and hauled Rockman to his feet by the pack on his back. Rockman blinked and looked up at Blues sheepishly.
“Stop messing around,” Blues told him.
“We have to be careful about Fireman!” Enzan snapped. “There’s something not right about this battle, can’t you see?”
“Yeah, there’s something wrong. You!” Netto yelled back. “What do you want me to do, let Blues lose?”
“If anything, we can hit him together,” Enzan replied.
“How?” Netto asked skeptically.
Fireman slammed his arm cannons against the ground again. “Flame Tower!”
“Doesn’t he get tired off that?” Rockman wondered.
“Mini Bomb!” Enzan and Netto yelled.
Blues and Rockman pitched a handle of Mini Bombs at the Flame Tower. The bombs had their intended effect and destroyed the chip attack. Smoke covered the battlefield, hiding Blues and Rockman from view. Fireman looked to his left, hearing someone approach.
A sword appeared out of the smoke. Fireman caught it in his hands and pulled the attacker out into view. Rockman’s free arm flailed in the air, and he tried to kick Fireman. The taller navi snapped the sword in half in his hands, but that allowed Rockman to slip from his grip. The blue navi immediately scurried out of the way.
Fireman whirled around to see Blues standing behind him. “Aqua Tower!” Blues called, sending the shaft of water toward Fireman.
Fireman had no time to move. The Aqua Tower hit him straight on and knocked him backwards.
“Yes!” Netto cheered.
Fireman screamed. For a moment, his scream changed in pitch, and his face flickered like it wasn’t really there…
And Enzan saw the face of Hino Kenichi.
“Hino Ken!” Enzan cried. Now he knew what Fireman was doing in the tournament as an independent net navi. The white-haired boy wasn’t sure if it was even possible, but somehow Hino Ken was either in his navi’s body or directly connected to it.
“Now all we have to do is wear him down!” Netto cried. He had been watching Blues and hadn’t seen what Enzan had seen. “Blues! It’s time to finish this!”
“Rockman, no matter what, you can’t harm Fireman!” Enzan cried.
“Blues, no!” Rockman cried, seeing the red navi run passed him, sword raised. Fireman was slowly getting to his feet; Blues wasn’t going to let him complete his goal.
“No!” Rockman tackled Blues from behind, knocking the navi to the ground.
“Rockman, have you gone mad?” Blues snapped.
“Enzan!” Netto cried.
“And Rockman has turned on his partner!” Kero cried. “What can his operator be thinking? This betrayal is unforgivable!”
The crowd hissed and booed, and Enzan heard several insults aimed at him.
“I hate that announcer,” Enzan growled. “Netto, just hear me out.”
“Rockman, what are you doing?” Blues cried.
Rockman wrapped his arms around Blues’ body, pinning the taller navi’s arms to his sides. “Blues, please stop,” Rockman begged. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Hurt me?” Blues sputtered.
Fireman began to walk toward the two, his eyes glowing. “Delete,” he hissed.
… … …
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Saloma muttered. “Who would have thought I would stoop this low? Me, Saloma, just trying to do her duty. In broad daylight, without my disguise at that. What has this world come to?”
Things were getting desperate, Beef had said. They needed all the help they could get. Immersion was planning something big. The Science Labs weren’t the only place under attack. All over the world, important government facilities and private companies were under fire. The puzzling thing was that once the defenses were smashed, the place was left alone. No data was stolen or tampered with. It was like they were mocking the Net Agents.
Saloma stopped in front of a small business front and looked at the sign. “I must be insane” she said out loud. With a sigh, she entered.
“Welcome to our curry house!”
Saloma turned to her left to see Jack Elec, better known as Count Elec of World Three. His blond hair spiked out in very distinctive directions and he had two rounded things (Saloma wasn’t sure what they were) covering his ears. He wore a white apron over his brown suit.
“Madoi! Mahajarama! We have a costumer!” Elec bellowed.
“I know,” commented a dry voice. It came from next to Saloma’s ear. She gave a small shriek and jumped to the side, whirling to see a brown-skinned man standing behind her.
“I’m not exactly a costumer,” Saloma began.
“Oh?” Madoi said, sticking her head out from a corner. “Then you’re not welcome.”
“Madoi, don’t be hasty,” Mahajarama warned.
“Aren’t you all worried about Hino Ken?” Saloma spoke up. It was like she had spoken a magical word. Madoi and Elec walked closer to her, and Mahajarama moved to block the door.
“What about Hino Ken?” Elec asked suspiciously. “You know where he is?”
“Yes and no. Let me explain,” Saloma said. “I am a Net Agent—”
That was as far as she got.
“Net Agent!” Madoi cried. “You can’t arrested us, we haven’t done anything!”
“That’s not exactly true,” Mahajarama put in.
“They must have snatched up Hino Ken and have now come for the rest of us!” Elec cried. “Oh my God!”
“We haven’t done anything recently!” Madoi protested.
“That’s not exactly true either,” Mahajarama replied.
“We’re going to go to jail! I’ll never see the light of day again!” Elec continued to yell, waving his arms.
“No, no, no, no, no!” Saloma yelled. “Shut up and listen to me for a second! I’m not here to arrest you. I was sent to ask for your help.”
“Us? Help Net Agents?” Elec snorted. “You have to be kidding!”
Madoi laughed. “Why would we do that?”
“Because Hino Ken was willing to do it, and for that he paid a price,” Saloma said grimly. “He saw the writing on the wall and decided to do something about it.”
The three feel silent and stared at her. Saloma saw her chance and quickly explained the situation, starting with the abductions, and ending with Hino Ken’s sacrifice. “We believe he’s still alive,” Saloma said. “However, we don’t know how long they are planning to keep him that way. Everyone Immersion has sunk their claws into is in great danger, and if we let them get their way, the rest of the world may follow. If not for anything else, please help us rescue Hino Ken.”
“Please give us a moment to discuss this,” Mahajarama said politely. When Saloma nodded her head, a bit confused at his good manners, Mahajarama grabbed both Madoi and Elec and dragged them into the kitchen. Saloma leaned against the wall and waited, catching snippets of their conversation.
“…must be crazy, even considering…”
“I’ve heard bad things… Hino Ken had good reason…”
“Oh my God!”
That last one was Elec, using his crazy mixture of Japanese and English again. Saloma found it extremely annoying, but she remembered that like Mahajarama, Elec was from a different country. His lapses into his native tongue were only natural.
“But helping the Net Agents…”
“We may not have a choice… and Hino Ken…”
“This is crazy!”
Silence reigned for several minutes. Saloma had to resist the strong urge to peek around the corner into the kitchen to see what was going on. Just when she had lost her patience and was about to do just that, Mahajarama stepped around the corner and nearly collided with her.
“Yeaaargh!” Saloma screamed, jumping back. She held a hand against her chest to calm her pounding heart. The members of World Three stared at her.
“We have come to a decision,” Mahajarama announced gravely. He always spoke in the same monotone voice, making it impossible to read his true emotions.
“We’re going to help you,” Madoi said. “Not because we want to, but because we have to. We can’t let Immersion try to take over the world. That’s our job!”
“Besides, we can’t leave Hino Ken in their hands,” Elec added. “No one does that to one of us and gets away with it!”
“Great,” Saloma said, flustered. She forced herself to smile, but her true feelings were anything but happy. What have we just gotten ourselves into?
Author’s note: This chapter was a bugger to write. Switching points of view in the netbattle is hard for me to follow, and I hope it’s easier to read than to write.
I believe Elec’s “Engrish,” as it is called, can be explained by his country of original, which is obviously England (or somewhere in the British Isles), even though the creators refuse to call it that. What I don’t understand is how Japan can keep its original name but other countries can’t. Only in Princess Pride’s cause is it necessary to create another country for her. Never mind my ranting, it’s just a point of frustration on my part.
Yes, I know Shiningman doesn’t sing his theme song. He does that for a very good reason, one which I won’t bother to explain. It’s a very good reason. It’s not because I was lazy and didn’t feel like writing it in. Not at all. Crap.