Chapter 25: The Last Chance
The grid field was blank and empty. To an ignorant person, it would seem like there was nothing there. That person would be wrong. There was something there, something that was everywhere in the twisted reality it made up.
The Final Scenario is complete. Any second now, the power resulting from it would send out a massive power surge that will purge this world of the Internet and the evils it contains.
Yuuhi-chan? Are you there?
Something was wrong. Yuuhi wasn’t responding to the frequency she had specified earlier they were to use. Something prickled one side of his realm, like stinging ants. Those damn Net Agents and their navis, it had to be. They had been corrupting his data with their presence ever since they had broken the code. Now that he was done with the Final Scenario, he could squash them like the flies they were.
…Was the Final Scenario completed? Ijuuin Enzan was dead, he had seen to that. Why hadn’t the energy surge happened yet?
She wasn’t answering. That wasn’t in the plan at all. He scanned all his data again, and was frightened by what he found. Many subjects were already separated from him completely. He couldn’t even connect with the machines that monitored their real bodies. Those annoying intruders were wasting his energy and keeping the Gate open—but why?
His power was fading, he could feel it. Somehow he was being shut down from the outside—where was Yuuhi-chan? Why wasn’t she helping him?
Yuuhi-chan, where are you? What’s happening to me?
He tried to scan the rest of his realm. Some areas responded, giving him blank images… and others did not respond at all. Where they deleted? Who dared delete a part of him?
He tried searching again, focusing his search away from the Gate. There, racing along one area were two Copy Navis. No problem, they were not a threat. And in another area, one he had just left, he sensed two subjects. One was Hikari Netto, and the other…
It couldn’t be. He had personally made sure that the human boy had died. How was it possible Ijuuin Enzan had escaped fate?
Data swirled in the once barren grid, and formed the body of a female. Miyuki looked over herself and frowned. Obviously this form, no matter how convincing, had not done the job. The data swirled again, coming together to form a smaller, masculine form. He looked over himself and smiled. This form would do. In this form he would kill Ijuuin Enzan and complete the Final Scenario. Then Yuuhi-chan would be happy.
The data swirled and dissipated, but the core consciousness of the NetWorld was still there. He could reach his target faster without a physical form. He was the NetWorld, the power that held everything and everyone in this reality, his realm. And now he would complete his mission.
-- -- --
Two more defense programs fell in the face of Gutsman’s onslaught, but as soon as their pixilated data disappeared, two more defense programs appeared out of nowhere to take their place.
“Gutsman… can’t take… much more of this,” he huffed.
Glyde used his cannon to strike down three of his opponents. “It’s doubtful, my friend, that we’ll last long enough to take much more,” he said grimly.
Gutsman stiffened suddenly, an unfortunate occurrence for the defense program in his hand as he clenched it into a fist unconsciously. “Roll-chan,” he murmured.
Iceman froze a few of his opponents and turned toward Gutsman. “What’s wrong with Roll-chan?” he asked.
“She’s gone,” Gutsman said in a daze.
“She’s… gone?” Iceman repeated in disbelief. His shoulders slumped as the meaning of Gutsman’s words sunk in.
“Iceman, look out!” Glyde cried, seeing the numerous defense programs sneaking up on the little navi when his back was turned.
Iceman perked his head up a bit, but didn’t try to do anything else as he was buried underneath a pile of defense programs. He didn’t even get a chance to cry out—and when Glyde saw a swirl of data emerge from beneath the programs, he knew the little navi would never have that chance again.
“Now Iceman’s gone,” Gutsman said sadly, halfheartedly crunching another program under his massive fists.
“Don’t give up!” Glyde cried. “We still have hope.”
“Roll-chan has no hope,” Gutsman said softly, looking at Glyde sorrowfully. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see one of the defense programs form a cannon and aim it at him. “Gutsman only hopes that Dekao-kun has hope.”
“Gutsman—” Glyde watched in horror as the cannon did its work, and Gutsman ceased to operate. He bowed his head. His friends were dead and his beloved Yaito was back in her world, where she belonged. He was fighting a meaningless battle.
“What a cruel fate, to be a creature that feels like it has a place in this world, but truly doesn’t,” Glyde said softly, smiling slightly at his opponents but doing nothing to stop their advance. “No wonder Blues kept the truth to himself. He couldn’t accept being nothing but a copy of someone else. But in the end, that’s what we are. Or should I say,” he added as the defense programs took aim. “That’s what we were.”
-- -- --
Elecman looked around, thoroughly irritated. “Where are they?” he asked crossly.
Magicman looked up. “Who?”
“Blues and Rockman,” the World Three navi replied. “Coloredman sent word that his team was on their way back. Why haven’t we heard anything from Rockman and Blues?”
“The job they were given is much harder than everything else,” Skullman pointed out. He grunted and braced himself against the opening more. “While you’re waiting, why don’t you give us a hand with the Gate?”
“My virii can handle that,” Magicman said in a bored tone. “Step aside.”
Elecman looked up to see Sharkman approaching. Magicman also stopped short of calling his viral hordes, noticing Glyde, Iceman, and Woodman following the fish-headed navi.
“Commander Beef said that the NetWorld is becoming extremely unstable,” Sharkman said. “Any introduction of viruses or power surges—such as battle chips—could bring it all literally down around us!”
“Didn’t you have a job to do?” Elecman asked.
“The defense programs all disappeared,” Sharkman replied. “Either the NetWorld no longer has the patience or power to fight us, or something else has grabbed its attention. What about your job?”
“We got all the humans through,” Magicman said, gesturing toward the opening. The vast blackness beyond the tear in the NetWorld’s realm was an instant way out—for the navis, it led back to their PETs. To the humans, it led back to their bodies. “We put them through, one by one, as Commander Beef said.”
“And Yaito-chan?” Glyde asked impatiently.
“She went through with the others,” Elecman said in a bored tone. “What I don’t understand is why we have to send them through one by one.”
“Fortunately, the NetWorld is set up so that anyone integrated into it can easily be separated from it,” Fireman spoke up from his position at the Gate. “It’s a failsafe in case someone has to go in manually. However, since the NetWorld is directly connected to a person’s consciousness, it can’t handle two minds trying to return through the link at once.”
“But why do they have to return at all?” Elecman asked. “Aren’t their minds still in their bodies? And how would you know?”
“It’s true, their minds are still in their bodies,” Fireman acknowledged. “However, the connection isn’t really bringing their minds into the NetWorld; it’s bringing the NetWorld into their minds. Whatever they believe happens to them here can happen to them physically, because they are so integrated into the NetWorld. So if they think they’re going through a Gate leading back into their bodies, their minds will retreat from the NetWorld, allowing our operators to pull the link without damaging them. And as for how I know,” he added. “Do you think Hino Ken-sama and I went here unprepared?”
“It’s true that this place represents what happens to them in both worlds,” Sharkman said. “That’s why killing Enzan here would kill him in the real world; the brain, thinking it was dead, would stop functioning.”
“Fascinating,” Glyde muttered.
“Creepy if you ask me,” Iceman said, shuddering.
Sharkman turned to face them. “Why don’t you two log out? I’m sure you’re operators will be conscious soon and glad to see you.”
The two agreed and stepped through the Gate. The instant any part of them touched it, they disappeared. Soon Elecman was bored again.
“Here comes Coloredman and his group,” Magicman said, pointing. “Looks like they have the rest of the Oyama clan.”
Sure enough, Gutsman was carrying a man and woman that resembled Dekao in his large arms. They both looked a little spooked (and Elecman couldn’t blame them, coming face-to-face with their son’s navi).
“Since when was it Coloredman’s group?” Woodman asked Sharkman in a mock whisper. The other navi shushed him.
“Well?” Roll asked breathlessly once she was in earshot. “Are they all right?”
“Both Meiru and Dekao have safely returned to the real word,” Sharkman assured her.
“Dekao-kun?” the woman asked tentatively. “Is he all right?”
“Yes, and so is Chisao,” Sharkman replied.
The woman gave a little shriek. “My Chisao-chan? Where is he?” Her husband quickly joined her, placing a protective arm on her shoulders.
Roll quickly intervened, explaining how they had to get back to their bodies. Because Roll was the most humanoid of the bunch, her presence had a calming effect on the Oyamas, something she knew would happen. They were overwhelmed already, and Sharkman, although good, was a frightening figure. Skullman’s leering face didn’t help things, and he tried to go as unnoticed as possible.
“Going through this… hole will take us back to our children?” Dekao’s father asked doubtfully, looking at Skullman sideways.
“Yes, but you must go through one at a time,” Roll explained. “the Net Agents and other authorities are waiting to help you once you wake up.”
The man snorted. “I don’t care much for Net Agents,” he said. “But I’m willing to take any risk to help my children. Honey, stay here. I’ll go first.”
“If you insist, dear,” she said fearfully, watching him disappear.
“You can follow him now,” Roll said kindly.
The woman nodded slowly, and she closed her eyes tightly like a child jumping off the high board and stepped forward.
“About time,” Skullman hissed.
“Interesting attitude they had about Net Agents,” Elecman commented.
“Unfortunately, most people have that attitude,” Sharkman said dryly. “Which is why we can’t bring people like you to justice.”
“How unfortunate,” Coloredman simpered, glaring daggers at Sharkman.
Magicman cocked his head. “Hush!” he commanded. “No one move!”
Elecman ignored his command and turned to face the wizard-like navi. “What is it?”
“I don’t think the NetWorld has forgotten about us,” Magicman said grimly. “Far from it.”
The world around them turned red, confirming his words. Each navi braced for an attack, but no one expected the powerful invisible force that slammed into them. Skullman and Fireman were quickly knocked into the Gate, being the nearest to it. The others soon followed, unable to fight the force that was pushing them toward the Gate. Only Magicman had followed his own advice and froze completely. It worked, for a time. Then a figure appeared in front of him.
Magicman gasped. “Ijuuin Enzan?”
“No,” the boy said simply, holding out a hand. Magicman felt something slam into his shoulder, propelling him backward. The last thing he saw before he was logged out was a smirk forming on the face of the person he had thought was Enzan.
The Gate disappeared after Magicman was gone, as if it had never been there.
… … …
Meiru opened her eyes. They felt heavy, like they had been closed for a long time. She spent a few more minutes pondering how odd that was until she noticed the room around her. It was large and metallic in hue, and it was filled with numerous coffin-like boxes. They were long and black, big enough to contain a body. She shuddered, wondering why she automatically associated the black containers with coffins.
Meiru turned her head away from the sight, and saw something that disturbed her even more. She was dressed in a skintight black suit, that covered her skin completely from head to toe. There were several niches and metallic rings on the suit, and to her horror, there were a few wires connected to those rings—connected to her. A hand reached over and yanked them out, and she turned her head to see a young woman with wild pink hair staring at her, the wires held in the woman’s hand.
“Feeling better?” the woman asked, making a face as if the words were distasteful to her.
“Who are you?” Meiru asked, thoroughly confused.
“She’s lost her memory!” the woman shrieked. “She has permanent brain damage!”
“Oh, shut up, Madoi,” another voice said. Meiru turned her head to see a familiar-looking red-haired man with a goatee glaring at the woman. “It’s just the effects of the NetWorld. It’ll wear off in a few hours. Not that forgetting you is any great tragedy.”
“Hey!” Madoi snapped. “Watch your mouth, Hino Ken! Or do you like being a Net Agent so much you’ve decided to join them?”
“Don’t you—” Hino Ken started.
“Oh, stop it both of you,” a green-haired woman said tiredly, rubbing her head. “Honestly, I don’t understand how you can be around each other for more than an hour. You certainly give me a headache.” She turned to Meiru and smiled. “Just lie still for a few moments, and you’ll feel a lot better.”
“Where am I?” Meiru asked weakly.
“That’s a long story,” the woman said, fatigue creeping into her voice again. “But I can assure you that you’ll be with your parents soon.”
“My parents? Are they all right?” Meiru asked, her eyes widening.
“They both fine and worried sick about you,” the woman assured her. “If you need any help, just call for me, Saloma.” She turned and approached one of the coffin-like devices. With a press of a button, the cover slid over, revealing a body covered with wires and tubes. Meiru watched, wide-eyed, as Saloma carefully began removing the attachments and dropping them on the floor, eventually revealing the face of Tohru.
What’s going on? she asked herself, bewildered.
-- -- --
“I see it,” Beef said grimly. He watched his PET as a badly damaged Sharkman appeared on is screen.
“We were kicked out,” Roll said wretchedly. “That—that thing closed the Gate behind us.”
“It was the NetWorld, according to Magicman,” Mahajarama said, looking up from the two PETs that were in his hand. Half of their netbattling force had gone to free the subjects as they started waking, since there was nothing else they could do but wait and watch. Beef had three PETs stretched out in front of him and one in his hand.
“The NetWorld took on a physical form and personally kicked them out,” Mahajarama continued. “That’s all he was able to tell me.”
“But it didn’t delete them,” Miyuki added, a slight puzzled tone in her voice.
“And it didn’t try to strike at the subjects while they were helpless,” Beef said thoughtfully. “I wonder why?”
“None of this matters,” Ijuuin said impatiently. “We’ve got what we came for; forget what the program does.”
“It’s not that simple…” Miyuki said softly. She stared at her PET, Skullman staring mournfully back. “My navi tells me that Rockman and Blues are still in the NetWorld. And with them, Netto and Enzan.”
“Forget this!” Ijuuin spat, slamming the PET on a table. “Using navis to solve this problem is useless! Why don’t we just unplug them from the machines?”
“Because that would result in permanent brain damage for both of them,” Miyuki replied calmly.
“I want my son back!” Ijuuin snapped.
“We all want them back,” Beef said wearily. “And right now, we have to trust those ‘useless’ navis to do what we can’t.”
“But how will they escape the NetWorld without a way out?” Mahajarama asked.
“I don’t know,” Beef admitted. “I really don’t know.”
Author’s notes: Um… er… look! A chapter where almost nothing happens! And Enzan isn’t in this chapter… either… ^^;;