A distant crackling hiss drifted down from the sky as it flashed rapidly in a haze-covered noise pattern. The occasional colored flash briefly illuminated the dilapidated soot-covered walkways suspended over an inky void. Twisted shapes darted between the shadows on these forsaken platforms, and ghostly cries echoed across the seemingly endless expanse of ruin and decay. There were few netnavis foolhardy enough to venture into this corner of the Undernet...
"No - look out! There's more coming from the rear!"
"Log out! Log out!"
"Wait! We've come too far! We're close, I can taste it!"
...Without good incentive, at least.
"V5, I'm sending Flameline3, target those spiders, quick!"
A white Normal Navi stuck out like a sore thumb in the smokey depths. He was thrashing madly to get the Arachy viruses away from him. He began to wave the flame-throwing weapon around haphazardly as soon as he received it, incinerating some of the oversized arachnids.
A blue navi of the same design backed away from the flames while firing quick charged-shots at the Dragrit viruses dancing around them. "Hey, watch it! I've got enough fire to worry about from these seahorse things! Geyser!"
A stream of water burst from a hole, clearing away many of the fierce creatures that plagued the embattled pair of netbattlers. The two navis that remained of a once-formidable party gave everything they had to finish off the predators and gain themselves another moment of respite.
"Good job, guys. You've earned some FullEnergy for that." One of the operators praised his soldiers.
The navis were not so upbeat. The V5 was still shivering from the sensation of giant spiders crawling over him. "Hurgh. The loot we pick up in this place had better be worth at least twice the value of all the SubChips we've wasted here! If I ever get my hands on the midget that sent us here, I'm going to shove that dumb fedora of his right up hi-"
"Well, we've already racked up a lot of Zenny and some rare chips. I'd say we've got enough for one day..." The A-Type interjected nervously.
"That little navi said there were PowerUp packets around here." The A-type's operator said. "We can get the Zenny anywhere or buy the chips, but do you know how hard it is to find a PowerUp these days? The companies don't sell them any more because they wanna push their stupid NaviCust blocks. You guys aren't leaving until you find those PMDs or the viruses delete you, whichever comes first!"
"Heads up champs, there's more incoming." The V5's operator warned.
The navis braced themselves and looked around, but there were no viruses in sight, only the dust-covered rubble of their previous battleground. Although with every flash from the overhead static, the shadows were placed slightly different, almost like the ground itself was shifting around them.
"Craaap, this better not be more of those Sunorm things." The A-Type muttered.
"With our luck it's probably a NightmareSP. I hope you still have some swords left, boss."
Just then the ground dipped beneath the startled navis. A whirlpool of dust had formed under their feet. With the aid of some DoubleJump chips, the highly-skilled and upgraded models escaped from the trap and targeted the swirling vortex with a Magnum and Quake. Upon impact they heard a strange sound in response, like a living thing growling in pain and anger, but not like any virus they had ever heard, and definitely not human-like enough to be a navi. What followed sounded to the duo like an alien language.
"Zshzshhashhrrcchrr zzrachh hrrash krurruszh!"
"W-w-what was that!?" The A-Type trembled.
The V5 was stricken cold. "Don't ask me how...but it sounded to me like...'lost chance...no pain...?"
The navis spun around. The sound came from a different unnatural voice, and this one they could see. A round figure sat in the middle of a raging inferno that was quickly surrounding them.
"That's no virus! Send me everything we got!" The A-Type pleaded to his operator and received a BubbleSpread Advance mere seconds later. The V5 pulled out a LifeSword alongside him. Valiantly, they charged into the flames.
Before the operators could prepare their next transmission, the horrific sounds of their navis' screams pierced through the speakers of their PETs, and moments later, utter silence. The connection was lost, along with the two navis.
The humans could do little but stare in shock at their blank screens.
* * *
In a more hospitable area of the net, a less menacing conflict was taking place.
"You can't do this to me, I didn't do anything!" A panicking orange normal navi screamed, edging his back as far into the corner of the room as a large drill spun dangerously close to his head.
"Is that so?" A raspy voice from the other side of the drill responded in mock ignorance. "Sorry then, I guess I just singled you out because an orange navi was recorded at all twelve of the stores hit yesterday, and you happened to be an orange navi at the last five today. Including this one."
Drillman gestured his other drill arm behind him towards the counter of the square's chip vendor where the clerk and some customers stared transfixed at the spectacle taking place in the small shop. Another custom navi in green and black was attempting to herd the lolygaggers outside while her associate handled the sole suspect.
The orange navi started to grow irate. "What do you mean 'this one'!? I just made my purchase a minute ago, you couldn't identify copied zenny right away!"
Drillman nodded. "Right, it usually takes a while to run the registry check, but thanks to you that won't be necessary now."
"What's that mean?!"
"It means you basically confessed. You're the first one to mention the counterfeiting you're suspected of."
The navi's eyes widened in shock, then narrowed in rage. "That's not-...Why you-...Damnit! Now what!?"
Overdrive, having finished evacuating the room, stepped over to Drillman's side and answered his question with a smirk. "Now you tell us where your operator is proxying from so our operators can go arrest him...or my partner digs in."
Drillman snickered and inched his weapon a little closer to his captive's face to emphasize the point.
"Grr...you can't make me talk! Go ahead and delete me, I'll just end up back in my PET and we'll escape anyway!"
Overdrive wagged her finger and shook her head. "Afraid not. For the same reason you can't jack out right now even though you've been trying. Our ops have already contacted this system's admin and got them to block all transmissions in and out of this building."
Drillman reiterated with a more sinister tone. "When I gore you, your data isn't going anywhere except all over these walls. No getting backup from that fall."
The suspect whimpered like he was just grasping the concept of "deleted" for the first time. "D-don't do it! I'll tell you, he's not far. He's in the cyber-café at...hold on, if transmissions are blocked, then none of us can get battlechips, right?"
Drillman scoffed. "Yeah, but that's more of a problem for you than us. My primary is spinning in front of your face right now, she's got a sword she can draw really fast, and as a Normal, all you got is that crappy buster on your arm that you can't even point at us."
The orange navi was unsettlingly calm once again and even chuckled a bit. "Stupid cops. What do you think I was buying in a chip store with a small fortune in illegally duped credits?"
The navi didn't even have to move as he activated the chip data he was holding. Then the room came alive. The store counter, the display shelves, the clerk's stool, and numerous boxes all lifted into the air and hurtled at the shocked Officials.
"Poltergeist! Damn!" Overdrive cursed. She used her enhanced speed to zip between the heavy projectiles until a box caught her off guard from behind and struck her dead on. Drillman couldn't dodge even if he tried so he tried to destroy the objects before they collided with him with the drills on his arms and head.
While his opponents were focused on the sudden barrage, the culprit slipped around Drillman and dashed for the door. Overdrive was just picking herself up when she noticed him about to escape. "No! If gets outside, he can just log out!"
The orange navi cackled. "You should be so lucky, bitch! For threatening me, I'll show you what my new collection can do! Give me the best, boss!"
By the time the Poltergeist attack was over, the Official navis had no time to follow their suspect outside before he activated a Meteor Shower from outside the confines of their own carefully laid trap. Multiple flaming rocks bombarded the shop's exterior, reducing it to pixellated rubble.
It was only a few seconds before a spot on the surface of the wreckage erupted and a small tank with drills forced its way to the top. As it transformed back into the figure of Drillman, Overdrive leapt out from the hole it made. Both navis prepared themselves against the increasingly confident criminal.
"Heh, you pigs had no idea who you were messing with! BigWave!"
The Officials braced themselves, but the orange Normal tripped over himself and no attack came.
"Whaddaya waiting for boss? BIGWAVE!...Boss?"
"...Take him out, now." Drillman said with some strain. Overdrive was taken off-guard by the command, but it was said with enough deciciveness that she found herself dashing in to attack without hesitation. The navi didn't even see her coming until after the sword sliced through his midsection. His face was frozen in surprise as his top half toppled to the ground and his lower half crumpled. The two pieces burst into fading colored dots seconds later.
The deed done, Overdrive grimaced and shot a glare at the exhausted Drillman. "What good did that do? Now he just lost the perp!"
Drillman was bent over. The new upgrade attachments to his armor seemed to weigh him down, but he was really just overtaxed from the quick succession of strong attacks. "I...don't think it's a problem...Moe?"
"Yeah, we got him. You two can jack out now."
Out in the real world Cyber-Café in downtown Helsinki, Moe Fortis was putting a seedy man in handcuffs and Tricia Oscar was unplugging his PET from the terminal he had just been sitting at. "Your navi stopped himself before he could give away your exact location, but lucky for us, 'nearby café' was all the hint we needed." Tricia casually explained as she dropped the PET into an evidence bag and fastened it.
"Even luckier we were in the right area to begin with." Moe droned with little enthusiasm. "But I guess this guy's stupidity helped. All the stores he used his copied zenny in were quickly accessible from ports in this town, so narrowing down the search was pretty easy in retrospect."
Drillman's voice groaned from Moe's PET. "Fat lotta help we were in there. Can't believe I let that punk get the drop on us."
"Don't worry about it. We got the guy, so you did well enough." Moe reassured his navi. He rubbed his neck in discomfort, loosening the high collar of the Official uniform he was wearing. He felt about as good as Drillman did after that long day. Neither of them were yet used to their new outfits.
Later that evening, the netcriminals were in custody at the local Official Center, and Moe and Tricia were officially off duty. The two young law-enforcement officers sat in the quiet Center lounge and refelcted on their journey thus far.
"Seems your navi forgot who was the senior officer out in the field today." Tricia remarked.
"Oh? Sorry, I didn't notice..." Moe mumbled, half-interested.
"Seems while we were nabbing the operator, Drillman gave Overdrive an order to delete the navi." Tricia recollected. "It was the right move, she admits, but she's pretty annoyed that her deputy was the one to suggest it."
Moe didn't even look over. "Oh. Well he might as well have suggested it. Overdrive may be fast on her feet but she can be slow on the uptake."
The insult to her navi took Tricia aback. "Tsk! You're lucky she's in sleep mode right now, if she heard that you'd really be in trouble."
"Eh, sorry. I'm just a little disappointed. I almost thought this lead was going to have something to do with...him." Moe clutched his recently healed arm wound at the thought.
"Oh right." Tricia leaned back and sighed. She felt sorry for what her friend had gone through, but his single-minded desire to track down the one responsible was getting to be a downer, not that she remembered Moe as much of anything else. "Well, this counterfeiting case could have gone on longer. You're lucky you only lost two days. Now you can continue the real search. Bringing the fugitive 'Blackbelt' to justice is still a highly-ranked Official mission and thanks to you, our unit is assigned to it. So we might as well put our all into completing it!"
Moe looked up and a smile appeared on his tattooed face for the first time all day. "Heh, thanks. You know I really feel like it's my cross to bear, but I appreciate all the help I can get." He skimmed through his notes on his PET, nodding. "I think we should transfer to New Mexico next. I want to follow up on the reports of chess-themed navis spotted around the area's networks."
Tricia was a tad incredulous. "Weren't there at least three different areas with such sightings?"
"Well, the ones in west Electopia check out at least. That's the original Kingman with his legit operator. The two uncorroborating strings in Netopia have me concerned, but might as well start with one of them. Fifty-fifty chance of running into Sam's Kingman, I figure."
The young woman shrugged. She didn't mind the excuse to travel. "Well, don't forget to follow up on the Acid Hacker angle either. There's a good chance he sided with them after all."
"I'd love to, if only there were more evidence of AH activity. If they're still around, they're sure laying low. I'm meeting with another Official tomorrow who's been investigating them. I think his name is 'Smith'. Maybe he can help narrow the field."
A brief beeping noise came from Tricia's PET as they were talking. She took it out to check her inbox and shook her head upon noticing the message she just received. Moe didn't like where it was going. "Another mission? Already?"
Tricia frowned. "Undernet business. Just came up. Navis are going missing right in our back yard. We'll have to start investigating tomorrow."
"Typical." Moe lifted himself up and stretched out. "Well at least it's tomorrow, because I am finished for tonight. See you in the morning." He waved his partner as he began to head for the guest barracks. She got up shortly after and followed suit.
"Yeah, we'd better rest up. I have a feeling things are going to get real busy from now on."
* * *