Chapter 4: School Blues
“So, if I’m in school, where do I go to school at?” Enzan called over his shoulder. He was digging through the clothes drawer, looking for a shirt.
“Akihara Elementary School, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied. “You are in the fifth grade.”
“Fifth grade?” Enzan repeated, looking up from the shirt in his hand. He made a face, remembering yesterday’s conversation. “Oh, right. I was held back a year.”
“I didn’t think they did that kind of thing unless the person was completely hopeless,” Enzan said as he pulled the shirt on. “Are my grades really that terrible?”
Enzan nearly tripped as he got to his feet. “Well, you don’t have to be that blunt about it,” he complained.
Rockman cringed, but he seemed to remember he wasn’t dealing with his ordinary operator. “Your grades are quite terrible, I’m afraid,” he confessed. Enzan could have sworn the navi was almost cheerful about it.
“How terrible?” the boy asked cautiously.
“You managed to get a failing grade in everything, even gym,” Rockman replied. “You were very pleased with yourself at the time. They tried to put you in remedial classes, but you wouldn’t show up for them. You somehow ‘lost’ your summer homework and started the year of by flunking three tests, writing the answers to an English pop quiz in French, and making up your own formulas in math class.”
“Wow, that’s… quite a record,” Enzan said. “I do all of that on purpose?”
“You’re very intelligent, as your teacher has said many times,” Rockman replied quietly. “Not many can translate English to French without preparation. So yes, most people think that you do it on purpose. You seem to enjoy it.”
“I’m intelligent, but I’m not too smart, am I?” Enzan muttered.
Rockman looked cornered. He obviously didn’t want to say bad things about his operator in case they came back to haunt him later.
“It’s all right, Rockman,” Enzan said with a sigh. “You can say it. I’m crazy in the head, remember? I’m not who you know me as.”
It was early morning the next day and things hadn’t changed much for Enzan. Rockman still thought he was crazy, he still wasn’t closer to any answers, and his hair was still annoyingly solid black. At least he still had his blue eye contacts, which he had checked on the previous night. Enzan tugged on a lock of his hair, as if reminding himself of the change. He had dyed it white a long time ago, around the same time he had first created Blues as his custom net navi. He had liked the look so much that he had kept it since. His father hadn’t approved.
Enzan shook his head in an effort to forget about his father. “Where’s Hikari-san?” he asked absentmindedly as he searched for his red vest.
“Your… mother?” Rockman tried.
“Well, what should I call her?” Enzan said, slightly exasperated. “She isn’t my mother, or so I believe. I don’t have a—” He cut himself off.
Rockman wasn’t slow or stupid, and his time dealing with his operator had taught him a great many things the hard way. One of them was caution, which he decided to throw to the wind at the moment. “You don’t have a mother?” he said, surprise in his voice.
“No,” Enzan said sharply. “I don’t. End of discussion.”
“Sorry,” Rockman said quietly.
“Never mind, I shouldn’t have said anything,” Enzan replied. “What do I call ‘my’ mother? Hikari-san?”
“You’re all named Hikari,” Rockman pointed out.
“You call her Hikari-san. How about Haruka?” Enzan tried. He grabbed a backpack from the corner and looked through it. The books seemed hardly used, and Enzan found he wasn’t surprised at their lack of wear.
“I’m not a Hikari and not to her face,” Rockman warned.
“Of course not,” Enzan said. He put the bag strap over his shoulder and picked up the PET from the charger. “So where is she?”
“She’s at work,” Rockman replied. “She left early this morning.”
“Guess even she can’t stand being around me,” Enzan muttered as he left the room.
Yesterday had been a trial after Rockman had revealed what had happened in the recent past. Even though Enzan felt he had made progress with the blue navi, Rockman had felt so uncomfortable he had barely said a word for the rest of the day, and when Haruka came home, things got even worse. She treated Enzan like he was a baby, making sure he finished all his dinner and checking his temperature. The attention would have been nice if Enzan didn’t feel so nervous, afraid that Haruka would notice her son wasn’t really her son anymore. Strangely enough, Haruka had seemed almost hesitant to declare Enzan fit to go to school the next morning.
“Doesn’t Haruka mind that I don’t get good grades?” Enzan asked as he reached the bottom of the stairs. He turned for the door.
“Don’t forget your obentou!” Rockman reminded him, referring to his lunch box.
“Oh,” Enzan said, turning toward the kitchen. “She made me one?”
“She always does, Enzan-sama,” Rockman sighed, remembering Enzan’s original question. “Your mother does mind that you get horrible school grades, but she’s so busy with work, she barely has time to worry about it.”
“Does she have to work hard?” Enzan asked softly as he carefully placed the lunch box in his bag. It felt full, and he was suddenly grateful for Haruka’s thoughtfulness.
“Her work doesn’t provide much job security,” Rockman said. “She usually works overtime, because it doesn’t make much money either.”
“And your operator has the nerve to act like an idiot and flunk out of school?” Enzan growled. “I think I hate the guy already.”
“He has his own problems,” Rockman said weakly. It was hard to defend his operator from what he thought was the operator himself.
“He should be grateful for what he has,” Enzan snapped. “Don’t try to defend his behavior.”
Complete obedience. It was something Enzan was used to coming from Blues, but when it was from Rockman he just found it unnerving. It just wasn’t natural for the navi, anyone could see that. It was something he had to try hard at, something that he had to learn… or be taught.
Enzan had walked out the door and onto the sidewalk before he realized he didn’t know where he was going. “Rockman, you wouldn’t happen to know how to get to Akihara Elementary, would you?”
Rockman sighed. “Follow my instructions, Enzan-sama, and I’ll lead you there.”
And like that they were off. Enzan looked around the neighborhood with interest as he walked, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings.
“Rockman,” he said as an idea struck him.
“You don’t think this another one of my stunts, do you?” Enzan asked. “Just to get attention?”
Rockman was silent for a moment. “I had considered the idea,” he finally confessed. “However, it doesn’t make any sense. If you were trying to attract attention, you would tell more than just me, not keep it a secret.”
“So you think I’m just crazy,” Enzan said flatly.
“I don’t know what to believe,” Rockman replied softly. “But I’m starting to think you’re not my operator.”
Enzan was silent, letting the comment sink in. “That’s right,” he said slowly. “If I’m not your operator, then where is he?”
“I don’t know, Enzan-sama.”
Enzan sighed. Rockman’s voice had no real emotion in it. “You’re just playing along with me, aren’t you?” he asked, feeling angry. “Fine, be that way.”
“Enzan-sama, it’s not like that,” Rockman protested. “I just… I’m trying to understand.”
“Well, try harder!” Enzan snapped. He knew his words would send Rockman cringing, but he didn’t care. He was getting tired of being treated like a little child blathering on about an invisible friend. Rockman was humoring him as much as the navi dared, and Enzan didn’t find it amusing.
The rest of the trip was spent mostly in silence, except for the moments when Rockman told Enzan to take a turn. Rockman seemed to have realized Enzan was angry with him and had melted back into his careful self once again. That only irritated Enzan more, because the unnatural quietness Rockman reminded him of Blues, whose quietness was part of his nature.
Or is it part of my nature, and Blues picked it up? Enzan wondered. Blues isn’t faking it like Rockman, is he? He wanted to reject the idea immediately. It was obvious that Rockman’s operator had been extremely cruel to the navi in order to make Rockman so fearful. Enzan would have never done anything like that to any navi, and he had always treated Blues… like data.
I’ve always treated him like mere data, he realized. It wasn’t until recently that he had learned navis were more than data, and the deletion of a navi was more like the death of a friend, rather than a loss of data. Watching what Hikari Netto had gone through when his navi had been deleted had taught Enzan how important Blues was to him. Half his shock at his new surroundings was that Blues was no longer at his side. I hope nothing has happened to him, Enzan thought, suddenly worried. If I lost Blues, things would never be the same again.
Blues had changed Enzan’s life. Before, he had just lived in his father’s shadow, with nothing to make him unique. When he got Blues, he realized he had a chance to become someone other than a copy of his father. He distinguished himself in netbattling, and won the N1 Grand Prix, but he could never have done it without the silver-haired navi. Blues was always there for him, and now he wasn’t. Enzan realized he was missing the red-toned navi’s silent companionship more and more.
Enzan turned the last corner and froze. The building before him was obviously the elementary, and several groups of schoolchildren were streaming into the building. Enzan felt panic well up inside of him at the sight.
“Rockman,” he hissed. “You have to help me!”
“With what, Enzan-sama?” Rockman asked innocently.
“You know perfectly well with what!” Enzan snapped. “I’ve never been in a school before. I don’t know where to go, or what to do!”
“You’ve been going to this school all your life, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied dully.
Enzan pulled his PET out of its carrier and glared daggers at the navi. Rockman’s face was blank and his eyes unreadable, but Enzan knew he was doing it on purpose. “Please, Rockman,” he begged. “I really don’t know any of this. If you do think I’m your operator, then you’ve got to help me!”
“I will try, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied, his voice flat. “However, you’ve been trying to convince me that you’re not my operator, remember?”
Enzan gritted his teeth, resisting the urge to yell at the blue navi. “Just tell me where to go, please,” he mumbled.
“Of course, Enzan-sama. Your classroom is in 5A, on the second floor.”
Enzan sighed. Rockman was using a tone of voice Enzan had quickly learned to recognize as his “I’m only doing this because I have to” tone.
“Enzan-sama, if you don’t hurry, you’ll be late for school,” Rockman said.
Well, at least the blue navi was trying to be helpful, no matter how reluctantly. Enzan walked toward the school, keeping the PET in his hand. Rockman was easier to deal with if he was looking the navi in the eyes.
As he got closer to the school, Enzan noticed that the groups of kids in front of him seemed to move out of his way. It was like he was “parting the Red Sea,” as the English expression went. He turned to look at some of them, but they all refused to meet his eyes. Some of them even back away, as if they thought Enzan would attack him.
Enzan opened his mouth to ask Rockman about it, but the thought of giving the blue navi more fuel to thinking his operator was crazy stopped him. He decided to ask the navi about it later, when Rockman was in a better mood. The kids in the halls continued to avoid him after he had entered the building, even when he didn’t spare them a glance. Even some of the teachers he saw seemed to avoid him, although they were better at covering it up than the students.
What exactly is my reputation here? Enzan wondered. Rotten grades shouldn’t have this much effect on others. There must be something Rockman didn’t tell me, but what?
He came to the door of classroom 5A before he found the answer. He hesitated, stopping in his tracks.
“Enzan-sama, is something wrong?” Rockman asked, a note of concern in his voice.
“Rockman, what’s that name of my instructor?” Enzan asked, trying to bury the feeling of nervousness he could feel in the pit of his stomach. This didn’t make any sense; he had won countless netbattles without breaking a sweat, negotiated several highly sensitive contacts with CEOs five times his age, and yet he was nervous about entering a classroom.
“Mariko-sensei,” Rockman replied.
Mariko-sensei? Enzan frowned, the name striking a cord in his memory. Why does that sound familiar? He felt like he should know why, yet the answer escaped him.
Enzan jumped and spun around, his heart pounding. The words had sounded like they were shouted in his ear. Standing behind him was a woman, her arms crossed in front of her and a very annoyed expression on her face. Her brown hair had large curls on the ends, framing her face, and she was wearing a short dress.
“Hikari Enzan,” she repeated, her eyes narrowing. “You wouldn’t be thinking about skipping class again, would you?”
“What? Of course not,” Enzan replied, bewildered at the woman’s hostile manner.
“That’s Mariko-sensei!” Rockman hissed from the PET.
“Good,” Mariko said. She grabbed onto Enzan’s vest. “Then you won’t mind if I escort you into the classroom. Class is about to start, after all.”
“What?” Enzan gasped. He tried to pull away, but her grip was surprisingly strong. “Let go of me!”
“She’s your teacher, Enzan-sama!” Rockman said in a louder tone.
“I don’t care who she is—” Enzan was yanked into the classroom’s door, his sentence cut off. He struggled against her hold without much success. What is it with all these psycho women I keep meeting? Enzan thought with disgust.
“Class, your fellow student has decided to join us today,” Mariko said brightly, releasing Enzan.
Enzan pulled away from her, glaring at her over his shoulder, but he was distracted by snickers coming from the rest of the classroom. He turned his head to face the rest of the students, and his eyes grew wide. Most of them were strangers, but three hauntingly familiar faces jumped out at him. They belonged to Sakurai Meiru, Oyama Dekao, and Ayanokouji Yaito, all three good friends of Netto and were often seen with him in one group. All three were looking at him with various expressions of hatred.
“Now, if Hikari Enzan would proceed to his desk, we could start class,” Mariko said pointedly.
“W-What?” Enzan asked. He hadn’t heard a word Mariko had said.
Mariko pointed at an empty seat near the back. “Go sit down, so that we may start class.”
Her tone had been harsh and commanding, and Enzan started walking toward the seat automatically. He heard more snickering, and his face flushed red. She didn’t have any right to boss him around like that; he hadn’t done anything wrong. He sat down heavily on the desk’s chair and plugged Rockman’s PET into the jack almost by instinct.
“Man, I hate that guy,” someone muttered. It had sounded like Dekao’s voice.
Enzan stared at his desktop, feeling like he didn’t have a friend in the world.
… … …
“Phase Two, the Second Day, is commencing as planned.”
Miyuki heard the words echo in the small room, and she wondered briefly of their true meaning. As for most of the black suits, the scientists running the project, were concerned, it meant that the subject was experiencing the second day as it had been programmed. As for her secret identity as a Net Agent, it meant she had less time to figure out the project’s true purpose and put a stop to it. This new organization that had suddenly appeared had been around in less time than the fallen World Three had, yet they already were causing more havoc than World Three had ever achieved.
“Very good,” a voice said from behind Miyuki. The Net Agent had to try very hard not to jump. The only woman in the group—which wasn’t technically true, but Miyuki was disguised as a man for her cover—leaned over Miyuki’s shoulder and studied her computer screen.
“Everything is running smoothly,” Miyuki said, wondering what woman wanted.
“Of course,” the woman agreed. “Just like you predicted.”
Miyuki had gained an intense disliking for the woman, and it was increasing in the past few seconds. Everything about the woman seemed oily, even her voice.
“May I speak to you?” the woman asked in a polite tone.
Bad sign, Miyuki thought. She touched the small communications device in her pocket, but there was nothing she could do. Help was nowhere to be found. Still, she kept her hand on the communicator, hoping that if something happened, she could warn her fellow Net Agents.
“Yes, of course,” she replied. She followed the woman out of the room, her bad feeling getting worse.
“You’re one of our brightest scientists,” the woman said as they walked down the hall.
“I’m just doing my job,” Miyuki said honestly. Actually, she was failing miserably at her job, which was to discover the true purpose of the project.
“Yes, well, the truth is, you are the best we have.” The woman stopped and turned to face Miyuki. “And that’s part of the problem.”
“Excuse me?” Miyuki asked politely. Inwardly, she was panicking. They had entered a dark, secluded area of the building. The corridor ended not far away, and Miyuki knew if she turned and ran she would not get far.
“You see, we need people smart enough to run the project, but not smart enough to discover its true purpose,” the woman said, smiling coldly. “You’re too smart for your own good, Kuroi Miyuki.”
Miyuki gasped and backed away. Several hands grabbed her from behind, preventing her from moving or even seeing who it was who grabbed her. He hand had been in her pocket when she was grabbed, and the jerking motion her body went through had knocked the communicator out of her pocket. It clattered on the floor as the woman reached forward and ripped Miyuki’s mask off her face.
“You see, we can’t have Net Agents discovering our plans before they take action,” the woman said sweetly.
“Who are you?” Miyuki gasped.
“You will find that out with the rest of the world,” the woman replied. She seemed to think for a moment. “Or maybe you won’t.” Her gaze rested on the communicator, which had words flashing across it. “I see your fellow Net Agents have learned of the recent abductions.”
Miyuki raised her leg, the only thing she could do, and stomped on the device. It fractured under her foot, making it useless. “You won’t use that to track our signal,” she said grimly.
“Whatever,” the woman said, looking bored. “Put her in the—”
That was all Miyuki heard, for something was pressed against her mouth and nose. She remembered smelling something sweet, and hearing the woman speak again. Then she could remember nothing.
Author’s note: I’m a little ignorant of Japanese school systems, and I don’t know if they actually hold students back for poor grades. However, for the sake of the storyline, I’ll just pretend they do. Besides, how else was I going to get Enzan in Mariko-sensei’s class? Sensei means “teacher.”