Chapter 8: Chance Encounters
Enzan tapped the desk impatiently. It was finally the last day of class, two weeks after the “punishment” incident at Higure’s chip shop. He had completed the final exam fifteen minutes ago and had at least thirty minutes left before he could leave. The clock on the far wall was moving slower than molasses. For the testing, he had not been allowed to put his PET in its normal place. Instead, Rockman, contained in the PET, was forced to stay in the PET’s carrying case on Enzan’s belt. Enzan made an irritated noise, frustrated with it all, and began doodling on a piece of scratch paper.
The last two weeks had been agonizing for him. School inched by like the building was stuck in a time warp (the students still hated him, especially Netto’s band of friends). He had started passing tests and turning in completed homework, but that only got him sent to the principal on the accusation of cheating. With no evidence, they had no choice but to let him continue, yet the whole experience had dampened Enzan’s spirits even more. Still, he kept getting good grades and passing tests. It would have been even more demeaning to fall into the trap of giving up.
His relationship with Rockman had improved, but only slightly. The navi still humored him most of the time, and although some of the fear was gone, it was not replaced by trust. Rockman had been hurt too deeply to trust so easily. Enzan couldn’t blame him; however, Rockman’s unwillingness to cooperate left the boy no closer to solving the mystery of how he got here. He wasn’t even sure of where “here” was. This place wasn’t surreal at all; instead, the realness of this place was so stark, it was painful at times. Enzan had gone over theory after theory in his mind, and the only thing he could come up with was this was another reality, one that had a single major difference than his, beginning and ending with his family name.
Enzan sighed. The reality theory, as he called it, was too close to science fiction for his comfort, but he had nothing better to explain his current predicament. And it didn’t explain why he was stuck two months in the past. The N1 Grand Prix had come and gone already; it made no sense that it was still to come in this reality. He should have known something was suspicious about the time when he was forced to attend school, but he never paid attention to when schools got out and when they were in session. He didn’t have to in the past because he didn’t attend school.
The time was the one major flaw in the different reality theory. He could possibly accept the idea of another reality, but the time difference was something he couldn’t logically grasp. That and the way he had seemed to be in his counterpart’s body.
Enzan felt like slamming his head against the desk, and settled for glaring at it instead. He spent his time reading company reports, not science fiction books or manga, comics. If he had, maybe this would make more sense to him. No wonder Rockman thinks I’m crazy, he thought.
That thought brought him to another topic. Enzan had spoken more over the past few weeks then he usually did in a month. It was out of character for him, but he needed to ask questions of Rockman in order to get the answers he sought. The blue navi certainly wouldn’t offer the information. But then, how would he know to offer it? Enzan asked himself. A part of him still believes I’m his operator, just gone strange in the head.
“All right, class,” Mariko said brightly, startling Enzan out of his thoughts. “You may put your pencils down now. I’ll have your results sent to your parents by the end of the day, and I’ll see you next year!”
The class erupted in cheers—except for Enzan, who was covering his ears at the unnecessary noise, and Yaito, who was frowning.
“Doesn’t school usually end differently then this?” she asked Meiru over the roar.
“What are you talking about?” Meiru replied, looking confused. “Of course the school year should end this way.”
“I guess so,” Yaito said, but she still looked doubtful.
Enzan got up from his seat, quickly shoved his things in his bag, and crept out of the classroom. The last thing he needed was to be caught by a teacher to do some after school cleaning.
“Free at last!” he declared as he bounded down the elementary school’s steps.
“Well, you’re in a good mood,” Rockman commented.
“I’ve been to business meetings more exciting than school,” Enzan replied, slowing down. “If I had to stay there any longer, I think all the brains I have would’ve dribbled out my ears.”
“School is important, even if it’s not exciting,” Rockman chided him.
Enzan sighed. Rockman had missed the point of his statement completely, and he wondered if the navi had done it on purpose. “Rockman, how many days until the N1 Grand Prix?” he asked, pulling the PET out so he could look Rockman in the eyes.
Rockman looked startled. “In about week… but why do you want to know?”
“I did sign up for it, didn’t I?” Enzan winced as he said it. The experience had not been very enjoyable for the both of them. “Look, things are different here than where I’m from. Being in the Grand Prix could…” He stopped, realizing that argument wouldn’t affect Rockman much either. “Why shouldn’t I participate?”
“You haven’t netbattled in a long time,” Rockman said softly. “You swore you would never do it again after your last loss.”
“Well, this is different,” Enzan replied. “I’m different. I would never punish you for losing a fight, Rockman. That I can swear.”
“And why should I believe the one who started punishing me to begin with?” Rockman shot back. His eyes went wide at his words. “Enzan-sama, I didn’t mean it…”
“Yes, you did,” Enzan said softly. “You don’t have to apologize for anything. I’ve given you no reason to trust me.” He took a breath. “If anything, I’ve given you less reason to trust me, since you now think I’m crazy.”
Rockman said nothing. His eyes were downcast, and he seemed reluctant to look at Enzan.
All right, Ijuuin, Enzan thought. How do you solve this problem? You can’t get anywhere without Rockman’s help, and at the rate you’re going, you won’t get his help anytime soon.
“Give me another chance, Rockman,” Enzan said softly. “I know I don’t deserve it, but we can’t stay like this forever. In order to accomplish anything, we have to work together.”
“Another chance?” Rockman repeated. He seemed to be thinking about it, judging by his expression.
“Yes,” Enzan replied. “And if I blow it… treat me however you want. I’ll deserve it.”
“Enzan-sama,” Rockman hesitated. “Even if you… ‘blow’ your chance, nothing changes for you.”
He means he’s at my mercy, whether or not things change, Enzan realized. It was a good point, one that Enzan hadn’t thought much about before. “Rockman, would you prefer a different operator?” he asked softly. “One who would treat you better?”
Rockman looked surprised. “No! I just want… I only want…” Rockman sighed, looking away. “All I want is to be your navi, Enzan-sama. That’s what Papa made me for… and I haven’t been doing a good job at it. If you would like to replace me…” His voice fell to a whisper. “You can.”
That’s why he was so upset when I talked about Blues! He thought I was planning on replacing him, Enzan thought. “Rockman, I won’t replace you or abandon you. I promise. I can’t make you believe me, but I swear I won’t ever abandon you. All right?”
“All right,” Rockman whispered, smiling slightly.
“Good,” Enzan said, smiling back. “Now let’s go home so we can prepare for the N1 Grand Prix.”
-- -- --
Hino Ken hummed as he walked down the street. His instructions from Immersion, the organization behind all this, had been vague. He had been told to keep an eye on things, but to not interfere unless it seemed necessary. With the job they had given him, that wouldn’t be too difficult, but he found it amusing that they didn’t tell him when it would be necessary. That only allowed him to be more independent. His instructions from the Net Agents, Commander Beef in particular, had been more specific. Find the subject. Well, with the freedom he had, that wouldn’t be too hard.
“So, Fireman,” Hino Ken said, speaking to the navi in his PET. “We’re supposed to help foil Immersions plans, but we don’t know how.”
“Hino Ken-sama, don’t you think we should be quiet about this?” Fireman replied.
“Don’t worry, they can’t hear us,” Hino Ken assured his navi. “They can only track those in the NetWorld by where they are and what they accomplish. I wonder where the subject is, though. The sooner we find him, the sooner we know how hard are job will be.”
“According to my data, we won’t find him here,” Fireman replied.
“I don’t trust the data Immersion gave us,” Hino Ken said. “They’re not trustworthy to begin with. Although—what’s this?”
Hino Ken gestured for Fireman to be silent and ducked behind a corner. He peered at the approaching figure and positioned his PET so Fireman could see.
“That’s Ijuuin Enzan,” Fireman said softly. “Vice president of the IPC Corporation and winner of the N1 Grand Prix.”
“Not here, he isn’t,” Hino Ken replied grimly. “Here he’s Hikari Enzan, son of the ‘great idiot’ who nearly blew up the Science Labs. He’s supposed to be a real piece of work.”
“So why are you surprised to see him?” Fireman asked.
“Because he’s smiling at his navi,” Hino Ken answered.
“Should he not be?”
“No. I’ll explain later,” Hino Ken replied, pulling away from the corner.
“We aren’t going to follow him?”
“Not yet,” Hino Ken said. “For now, we’ll just keep an eye out for him. I think this job just got more interesting.”
-- -- --
Enzan dug through the dusty clothing, broken toys, and books in the closet. “Where is it?” he complained
“It’s tucked in the back corner, I’m afraid,” Rockman called from the desk. “You’ll have to do some more digging than that.”
“A blue box or a red one?”
“A blue box—That’s it!”
Enzan pulled out the dust-covered, cardboard box in his hand from its spot in the corner, causing the books and junk stacked on top of it to fall to the ground. Enzan tripped in an effort to get away, and he landed painfully on his backside. The heavy box slipped from his hands and hit the ground with a loud thumping noise.
“Itai…” Enzan complained, getting on his knees. “Ouch...”
“I’m sorry, Enzan-sama,” Rockman said sheepishly. “I didn’t realize how messy it was in there.”
“This box is heavy,” Enzan commented as he unlocked the clasps. “How much stuff does he—”
Enzan cut himself off as he removed the lid of the box. Several battle chips fell out of the box as he pulled the lid away. The box was filled with so many battle chips it was overflowing.
“That’s a lot of battle chips,” Enzan managed to say. “What does he do with them all?”
“I can’t say, Enzan-sama,” Rock replied carefully.
Enzan was so busy shifting through the chips he didn’t notice the hesitancy in Rockman’s voice. “Shotgun, Wide Sword, Mini Bomb, Long Sword… he doesn’t have very many high level chips, but he does have a good variety. How did he get so many?”
Rockman didn’t reply.
Enzan looked up. “Rockman? How did he get so many battle chips?”
“He…” Rockman trailed off, looking uneasy. “He got them from other students.”
For a second, what Rockman had said didn’t register in Enzan’s mind. Then it hit him hard. “He stole them?” Enzan exclaimed.
“Some of them,” Rockman admitted, wincing slightly. “I didn’t want him to do it…”
“He’s a thief,” Enzan spat, glaring down at the battle chips. “I can’t use these to netbattle with… Who do they belong to?”
“I don’t know, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied. “He’s… taken them from so many people…”
“And he never got caught?”
“No. He didn’t start stealing them until he quit netbattling, so most people didn’t suspect him,” Rockman said with a sigh. “I know how you feel, but there’s nothing you can do.”
“This just gets better and better,” Enzan mumbled. He sorted through the pile and picked out some of the chips, trying to ignore the guilt he felt at them being stolen. “Well, I guess you’re right. There is nothing we can do for now.” I’ll make up for it somehow, he told himself mentally, trying to ignore his inability to think of a way to do so.
Enzan placed the battle chips in a chip pack and picked Rockman’s PET up from the desk. He slipped both the PET and the pack into the carrier and double-checked the room to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything.
“Enzan-sama, where are we going?” Rockman asked.
“We need practice, Rockman,” Enzan replied. “In order to get that, we need to find a place to practice at.”
“That will require some money,” Rockman warned. “There is some you’ve been saving up. You could use it for that, but I thought… I was thinking…”
Enzan pulled the PET out and stared down at Rockman. “Yes?”
“You have just enough to get a new dye job,” Rockman said shyly. “If you would like.”
Enzan slowly reached up and tugged on a lock of his hair. Again an unusual smile was tugging on the corners of his lips. It was odd; he was lost in a reality that was nothing like his own and severely disadvantaged by many circumstances, but he had never smiled more in his life than he had here. “I think I would like a new dye job,” he said. “Thank you for suggesting it, Rockman.”
Rockman rubbed the back of his head with embarrassment. Enzan nearly laughed, but he caught himself in time. He rarely laughed for several reasons. One of them—the main one—was that his father hated hearing him laugh ever since Enzan was young.
Enzan frowned. For some reason, his mind kept circling back to his father. He blinked, trying to concentrate on the matter at hand.
“Enzan-sama, is something wrong?”
Enzan looked down at Rockman and was surprised to see the navi looking at him with worry. “It’s nothing,” he assured Rockman. “I just got distracted by something.” He smiled to show that he was still in good humor. “Let’s go.”
Rockman seemed satisfied with the answer and Enzan put the PET back in its carrier. As he made his way down the stairs, he wondered briefly why he had been thinking about his father so much lately. Maybe it was because his father represented something else that was missing from his life in this reality.
Enzan stopped at the bottom of the stairs and stared at Hikari Haruka, who was beaming at him from across the room. “Haru—Hika—I thought you were working,” he finished lamely. He had caught himself from calling her by her name, but he had almost blown it.
“Enzan, come here,” Haruka said, beckoning him. Enzan walked toward her slowly, unsure of what to expect. He did not expect to be engulfed in a hug. “I’m so proud of you!” Haruka declared. There were tears in her eyes, and she wiped them away with one hand.
“What did I do?” Enzan wondered out loud.
“Oh, of course you don’t know,” Haruka gasped, releasing him. She brushed the hair from his face as she gazed at him with pride. “You passed fifth grade, Enzan! You barely made it, but you did.”
Enzan blushed at her touch and looked away. He wasn’t sure why, but she was embarrassing him. “It wasn’t much,” he mumbled.
“It’s the best news I’ve heard in some time,” Haruka said. She released Enzan, and stood back. “Were you going somewhere? I was planning on making your favorite dinner.”
“I… I was going to go out to… dye my hair?” Enzan said hesitantly, deciding to tell the truth.
Haruka looked at him for a long moment, her eyes shining. “I’m so proud of you, Enzan. I know this hasn’t been easy for you, and I’m glad to see you getting back to your old self. Go ahead; I can make dinner when you get back. Take as long as you want; I’m sure there’s something else you would like to do.”
Enzan nodded, unable to reply verbally. Haruka gave him one last smile before going to the kitchen. He could hear her humming a tone as he walked out the door.
“That’s good news, Enzan-sama,” Rockman said.
“I like her,” Enzan said wistfully. “I didn’t know mothers were so nice.”
“Well, you are her son,” Rockman reminded him. “She loves you.”
Enzan thought about that for a moment. He was hated by almost everyone; he was a thief, a delinquent, and a liar; but suddenly, this reality didn’t seem so bad after all.
Author notes: Um… hi?