Today was a Wednesday. On any other normal day, she would have been at work, fighting digital monsters and selling overpriced limited edition shoes. But today, she was at home.
"Turn right, dad! TURN RIGHT!" Miko, the hyperactive teenager with oddly-coloured purple hair, screamed as she watched her normally-coloured brown hair father crash the car into the wall, destroying the car. The screen flashed with big letters along with a gruff announcer speaking in a demeaning tone.
"LOSER! LOSER!" The game announcer said from the speaker, not out of ill but simply because it was programmed that way. Not that it helped in any way.
Miko groaned, dropping herself onto the living room couch in despair. It was barely past noon but it felt like forever. Since she didn't have work today, she thought she could play games with her parents for the whole day. Instead, she spent the first hour helping them go through the tutorials, followed by watching them crash and burn in every game. It has been 4 hours since then.
"These controls are so confusing. Why are there so many buttons?" Her dad asked, staring at the gamepad as if it was some ancient alien tech of unknown origins.
Miko sighed despairingly. Without looking, she reached out and grabbed a soda cup from the fast-food bag on the side table. The burger she ordered for lunch was still in it, yet untouched. If there was one thing she was grateful for, it was the hardworking delivery people who spent their days sending food to the others at home. Especially in the suburbs; directions here were a catastrophe.
She then shook the cup, checking its contents. The sounds of ice rattling within was a good sign it was empty. Regardless, Miko shrugged and slurped it anyway.
"Controller designs have been the same for over three decades, dad.", Miko explained with a frown, slurping her empty cup loudly. "The number of buttons hasn't changed."
"Really? I always thought it was less..."
This day had been nothing but a disaster. She was honestly really looking forward to today. Miko had a plan in her head on how it was all going to go; she'd show them how to play, they'd do it kickass, all of them would become closer as a family and she'd get the love and praise she deserved.
Okay, that came out of nowhere. She did not see herself craving for parental attention before, so this was new. Either that or she had some pent-up negativity she never dealt with. Let's just shove that back into the dark recesses of her mind along with all the other stuff she doesn't want to deal with yet. That's what it meant to be a teenager after all.
"Honey, do you want to try? I don't think this game is for me." asked the father, lifting the controller to her mother. She immediately rebuffed.
"Oh no, I'm not touching that controller again. Not after the game called me some very mean words." Miko's mother said on the couch, a cup of warm tea in her hand. She only drank tea on free days, being the rare subspecies of humans that drink both tea and coffee.
"Honestly Miko, where did you even get such violent games? I would never have approved this!" scolded her mother, not realizing the irony that said games were bought using her money. Miko really wanted to argue but decided it wasn't worth it.
"Its fine, mom. I've got a bunch of other games you guys might enjoy. May I suggest Guitar Fighter Z?" Miko said, pulling out the game disc and guitar-shaped controller.
Miko's father baulked. "M-more buttons?!"
Just then, the doorbell rang with the classic ding-dong. Miko's father sighed in relief.
"Oh thank God." He whispered to himself. He stood up, stretched his back a bit and walked hastily up to the door. "I'll get it!"
Opening the wooden door, he was met with a young Latino teen, one with very fabulous dark-blue hair. This was Hector Nieves aka Five, Miko's almost-equally-aged work partner. Much like Miko, he too also got a free day today after yesterday's debacle. He even had a cast to prove it.
"Oh, good afternoon, sir."
"'Sir'? Hmm, I like that." He happily hummed. With an embarrassed cough, Miko's father instantly straightened himself. "U-hum, good afternoon to you too. And who might you be, young man?"
"Well, I'm Hector and I work with your daughter, Miko. I was wondering if she was home at the moment."
Father senses tingled with caution. "Miko? I didn't know she worked with a boy her age..."
"I guess...?" Five awkwardly replied. He wasn't really sure how old she was and that doesn't seem to be a thing you should ask. Kinda like asking about one's height and weight. So anything physical really. "I mean, she works with other guys too. Like Haneesh, Bergy and even, unfortunately, Mitch."
"Mitch? Who's Mitch?"
"He's the top gamer in the city. He's a jerk but after yesterday, he kinda saved my life so I have a newfound respect for him." Five answered. Sure, he still wasn't a fan but he had to admit, Mitch kicked ass and was a good leader when needed.
"Don't know why you said that but okay..." Miko's father said, somewhat confused. At the very least, that ruled out this Mitch person. No way Miko would be interested in a jerk. "So, why do you want to meet my lovely daughter?"
"It's about work stuff. Nothing bad, sir."
"I'm guessing it's about that gas leak?" He asked. Five stares with wide eyes, surprised. Gas leak? What gas leak? Was that really what Hinobi Technology went with?
"Uh... Yeeaaaah..." Five answered, stretching that last syllable, his eyes shifting with uncertainty. "Gas leak..."
"Well, why do you need to ask my daughter about that? She's just a low-wage employee."
"Miko was the one who discovered the leak. So I'm just here to check on her, that's all." He replied, making stuff up. Suddenly, Miko's voice yelled out from the nearby living room.
"DAD! WHO IS IT?!"
"It's your co-worker, Hector!" Miko's father shouted back. "He wants to talk to you about the gas leak!"
"Gas leak? Wha-" She paused. "Oh, that gas leak! I'll be right there! Just need to…"
Miko replaced her normal gamepad with the guitar-shaped controller and plugged in the game disc. The screen flashed and after a brief loading screen, the title Guitar Fighter Z lit with a 1980s neon purple aesthetic next to adorable chibi-esque animal faces. With some quick button pressed, she booted up a fairly easy level and threw the guitar onto her mother.
"Here you go, mom! Just listen to the music and press the right colours when the circles are at the line! Bye!" Miko explained, running off to the front door and leaving behind her burger. Her mother clumsily caught the guitar, almost dropping her cup.
"W-wait! Miko!" She called out, surprised. A high-pitched Japanese voice spoke from the game, enthusiastic and giddy.
"Are you ready?!"
"NO, I'M NOT!"
"Okay! Let's go!"
Meanwhile, Miko raced to the front door and pushed her dad to the side. She grabbed Five's hand and ran out, pulling him with her. Five yelped in surprise. "Sorry dad, gotta go! Work stuff!"
"M-Miko! What about your game?!"
"Ask mom!" She replied, running to the Hinobi company van by the porch. "C'mon, Five! Get in!"
"Alright, alright!" Five reluctantly agreed, getting into the driver's seat and starting the van. He wasn't expecting this kind of development but he couldn't complain. He needed to talk to her outside of the house anyway. The engine rumbled loudly as it ignited, shaking the van slightly. The air conditioning whirred to life and before Miko's father could say anything else, the duo drove off with the Japanese-American in the passenger seat. As fast as she beat Five in a fighting game, they disappeared from view.
He stared at his empty porch, just barely hinting the smell of freshly cut grass and morning dew. The brown-haired man blinked. "Huh… Well, it's nice to see she has friends. Hector, was it? Miko should invite him over sometime." He smiled with content and walked back inside, closing the door.
Many minutes later, Miko and Five were at a skatepark-slash-courtyard. It was littered with empty swimming pools for skating use, a nearby basketball court, some open space and a few metal benches and tables for people to just hang out at. Smooth and flat concrete ground lined up with trees and surrounded by large buildings, outlined by a welded wire fence. It was perfectly out of view. Plus, since it was the afternoon, people had just finished their lunches and were back to work, leaving the park relatively empty. Though as a form of insurance, the Hinobi company-issued van had a memory eraser similar to the gauntlets built-in for wiping away the memories of passers-by with a flip of a switch.
Five was honestly grateful he got to keep the van with him, despite being on off-time. Company policy stated that every employee must have a method of transportation to get to work. Should they not have one, one will be provided to them. Since Miko was dropped off by her parents, Five was given the van. This was why he got to bring it home, on condition that he cleaned it.
"So, what'd you call me for?" Miko asked, sitting on the metal bench with some wrapped candy in hand. Unlike Mitch, she actually paid for this cheap mass-produced snack.
Five checked on his gauntlet, though this one was strapped on his left hand instead of the usual right. Apparently the company had designed a few for the left-handed, something that Five noticed and Glitch Techs HQ had quite a few of them. He did a rudimentary scan of the surrounding area, making sure no pedestrians were nearby.
"You know how you're not exactly… uh… human…?" Five said as he turned around, nervous at calling Miko a Glitch. Sure, she might actually be one but it wasn't like she knew that before yesterday. It might be some kind of insult or slur.
Miko did not care and dropped a piece in her mouth and spoke. "Yrgeeah?"
"Well, I've been thinking about it last night and I had this idea," said Five. "Would you be affected by the same factors that affect Glitches?"
Miko continued to chew, staring at him with a bewildered face. Five breathed in deeply, his hands together in a thinking pose. "Like, Glitch Tech weapons are obviously designed against Plixel-based constructs like Glitches, even though some work against people. I just wondered what would happen if something similar were to hit you."
"Oh my God, you're going to SHOOT ME?!"
"What?! NO!" Five said, aghast. "I was going to give you some power-ups!"
It took a while for Miko to process that, like a ticking clock about to reach midnight. She blinked a few times and just after, she snapped her fingers in realization.
"Ooooohh…" She exclaimed, relieved.
Five pulled out a holographic screen, allowing Miko to walk up and see with him. On it was different icons resembling power-ups from various games. Some were very familiar such as the pizza slice from Five's favourite game Chomp Kitty, while others were a bit more obscure like the berry from the Bravestone series. With a few taps, he summoned a few of them into the real world, placing them all neatly on the nearby steel table. He grabbed the first specimen; a pristine red apple.
"Let's try something simple first. How about this?" He said, showing her the apple. Miko, being the super-skilled gamer that she was, recognized it immediately.
"Really? A red apple from the PouchBeast games?" Miko said, unamused. It was one of the most common items in the game; relatively inexpensive and can be found almost everywhere. In addition to that, the health recovery effect was poor but had a small health regen, the only plus side to the apple. Nonetheless, using one in a turn-based game was the same as throwing a turn.
Miko sighed and groaned, somewhat disappointed like an angry child. "Can't we try something else? Like, I don't know, an invulnerability orb from Boon 2?"
Five shook his head and crossed his arms. "No way! We don't even know if these will work! These power-ups are for Glitches, not people. We can't start off with something overpowered. Testing out the smaller ones first is vital."
"Also, I don't you to suddenly explode or something."
"Urgh, fine… Gimme." Miko surrendered, stretching her arm forward. With a smile, Five dropped the apple in her open hand and ran back. A few taps on the gauntlet, the blue translucent visor activated and from his point of view, a blinking red dot can be seen on the top right corner.
"Test 1, Wednesday…" Five said out loud, recording the event. "Miko attempts to eat the red apple from PouchBeast. Its effects include health recovery and health regeneration for ten turns."
"Alright, Miko! Go for it!" Five shouted from afar, giving her a thumbs up. Miko weakly gave her own in return.
The galaxy-themed girl stared at the Plixel-formed apple in her hand. It was all pixelated and low graphics with very strong colours to emphasize the freshness of the design. If she were to guess, the apple was probably from the third generation; Phosphophyllite, Antarcticite and Cairngorm. One of the best-selling games of the series but the ending was heavily criticized for taking place on the moon.
7.8 out of 10, too much sand.
Miko mentally shrugged and bit into the apple, not expecting much. Sure, it looked like one but at the end of the day, it was just a program. There shouldn't be any taste or texture. Instead, however, she was met with an explosion of juices and sour sweetness. It was surprisingly delicious. Thus, she scarfed down the rest of the apple like a wild animal. Unbeknownst to her, a 10-second digital timer suddenly appeared above her head, counting down.
A few moments later, she licked her fingers clean, internally thanking for the refreshing meal. "That was actually really good! You got any more?"
"Wait, wait, wait!", spoke Five, stopping her. "We need to check for effects. Tell me if you feel anything weird."
Five stared at her with strong intent, recording every second. Miko dumbfoundedly stared back, standing completely still. This went on for about half a minute in which in that time, the timer ended with a blip, one that only Miko heard but never noticed. From then on, all that was left was silence.
Awkward uncomfortable silence.
"D-do you feel anything?"
"I feel hungry. I didn't have lunch yet."
Five paused the recording and turned off his visor, checking on his gauntlet. "Maybe it's because you're not injured. I mean, health recovery items don't work if you have full HP." He looked at the items on the table and with some consideration, chose another safe option.
"Here, try this." He said, throwing at her what looked like an energy drink. The tin can had a lightning decal on it coloured a chrome blue, in contrast to the lighter shade surrounding it. It was basically a cartoonish battery.
"Speed boost?" Miko queried. Like before, she knew which game the item was from. Soundboom, a game where you play as an anthropomorphic teal platypus and race to the end of the level. It was also technically a platformer but relied heavily on reflexes since time was important.
Five shrugged. "Well, we're in a park so why not? Lots of open space."
Miko didn't bother to argue with that. She trusted Five, as young as their friendship was. After all, he did risk his life to save hers so that's a huge plus in her book. Also, she doesn't have many friends. She would never admit it though, not even if she died. Or in her case, probably deleted. Now that she thought about it, can she even die? Miko refused to think about it.
Grabbing the drink, she chugged it down quickly and threw away the empty can, dissipating in mid-air. A few moments, she heard a ping and once more, a 20-second timer appeared just above her. Unlike the apple, Miko felt a buzz in her system like she got lightly electrocuted. The drink was sweet and had a slight blueberry flavour, but what's weirder was the fact that Five was talking really slow.
"Woah, Five. Why are you talking so slow?" Miko asked, somewhat confused. His words were slurred and dragged on, making it a bit hard to understand.
Meanwhile, in Five's perspective, he saw an extremely giddy Miko with dilated blue-coloured pupils, vibrating like she was on a sugar high. In fact, she probably was on a sugar high. "Miko?! Can you hear me?"
"... What?" Five said, baffled. Before he could say anything else, Miko suddenly ran around him, causing him to spin by his heels and almost lost his balance.
Stabilizing himself, he lit up his visor and resumed the recording, focusing on Miko. Meanwhile, the Japanese-American was staring at a caterpillar. The legged worm slowly climbed a sprout that grew through the concrete, its destination unknown.
"Oooo...!" Miko awed, still staring at the caterpillar, so close to the top.
Five examined Miko, the visors helping him look for any details that would be of interest. "Test 2; energy drink. Miko seems to exhibit some semblance of super speed similar to the ones used by Glitch Techs, but it seems a bit... unrestrained. She's also super happy. Like, Miko is always happy but this is a bit more than usual."
Suddenly, Miko's head shifted to the left in speeds enough to snap a person's neck. "Lookabrownleafinsummer!" She blurted out, rushing away from the caterpillar.
Five was left surprised and hastily looked around, having lost track of her. It didn't take long however as he saw Miko at the other side of the park. Somehow, she had managed to get across about 40 or so meters in less than 2 seconds. Worried about her condition, Five ran up after her as she watched a brown leaf slowly float down from a tree. While it did take considerably more time than she did to reach her, Five at least managed to beat the leaf.
"Hah... Hah... Miko... Are you... Okay?" Five asked between gasps, panting hard. In an attempt to place his hand on her shoulder, however, the leaf finally reached the ground and Miko instantly zipped elsewhere, startling him.
Five swung his head and watched as the teenage girl zipped left and right around the park, leaving a blueish blur behind her. She was moving too fast for him to keep track, forcing him to use the visors to predict her path.
"Okay, this is actually way faster than the Glitch Tech speed boost." Five exclaimed to his recording. "Somehow, she's ignoring air resistance and friction, plus is exerting an insane amount of energy. But is the effect permanent?"
Just then, his question was answered. In the middle of the concrete yard by the table of pre-summoned power-ups, Miko suddenly stopped. She could feel her thighs burning and lungs straining as if they were about to explode. She panted heavily, her vision cloudy. She also heard a ticking noise from above her getting louder but before she could look, the ticking stopped with a loud blip. Her previous blue eyes slowly faded away, turning back to her usual black.
From afar, Five shouted to her as he hurriedly ran, his visor turned off. "Miko?! Are you alright?!"
Miko tiredly lifted her finger, silently shushing him. Seeing her respond, he sighed in relief and instead, walked calmly. Once arrived, Five stared at her, concerned. "You uh, you okay?"
No reply. Miko continued to breathe slowly and heavily, taking in as much oxygen as she could. Occasionally she'd cough harshly as if she was choking, leaving a trail of saliva on her chin. It didn't take long before her legs stopped feeling in pain and her breathing rate normalized. Undeterred, she wiped the spit off her face.
"Y-yeah, I'm good. I'm—" She gagged. "—Urk! Good!"
Her partner's eyes shifted. "Maybe we should call it a day? I mean, that was just a normal speed boost. Who knows what the other power-ups could do? I don't want you to get hurt just for this."
"W-what?! No, no, we can keep going! See?" Miko exclaimed, doing a little dance. "I'm already back in shape!" She said, followed by wheezing like before.
Five, on the other hand, was still unconvinced. "Look, I'm just saying that it might be a bit too dangerous. I'm not gonna force you to continue."
"I can do it, Five! Watch!" Miko argued, grabbing a cartoonish yellow hard-shell taco from the numerous digital items on the table. Against Five's warning, she gobbled it up with one bite, not bothering to examine it.
Five gasped in shock. "What did you do?!" he exclaimed, his eyes widened like saucers.
For Miko however, she felt some of her strength returning and the soreness in her body disappeared. She licked her fingers and this time, her eye colour changed orange and the digital timer above her head was far longer; about 5 minutes. This time, however, she noticed it.
"Uh mi amigo, hay un reloj encima de mí y cuenta atrás! ¿Cuándo hubo un reloj? ¿Siempre estuvo ahí?" Miko exclaimed. Immediately, she gasped and covered her mouth. She trembled and looked left and right before opening her mouth slightly. "¿Estoy hablando español ahora?"
Five, his eyes still wide but for different reasons, nodded. He tapped his visor, starting to record. "Si. Muy buen español en eso."
Miko screamed, in a way understandable in all languages.
Meanwhile, within the same town, Mitch was sulking in the passenger seat of a van, something very much unlike him. The one driving said van was Bergy, a fellow Glitch Tech member. For the record, this might have been the longest time the two were together in one place, a fact Mitch was not happy about.
"Urgh, I can't believe I'm stuck with you. I would literally take anyone else." Mitch loudly complained with arms crossed, not happy at all.
Bergy, on the other hand, just shrugged. "Look, you're the one who wanted to partner with me. I don't see why you're complaining."
"I didn't have a choice!" He shouted, angry that it was true. He indeed chose Bergy but it was only because there was no one else. After the debacle at Glitch Techs HQ, the Hinobi Technology Corporation gave explicit order that all members must have a buddy during their patrol.
Mitch, as skilled as he was, was not exempted from this rule. His first choice was Haneesh, seeing that they've worked together before several times and that Zahra was unavailable. Unfortunately, the short man had already found a buddy, leaving Mitch to scrape for whoever was left. If he couldn't find a buddy, that meant he couldn't go on Glitch hunts, which also meant he'd be stuck on store duty.
He still remembered the last time he worked as a cashier. Oh, the horrors he saw...
Thus here he was, following Bergy around to hunt the meagre weak Glitches instead of boss ones. The curly-haired boy was unwavering and had no problem arguing with Mitch, even though it was clear who the superior gamer between them was. So the city's #1 Glitch Tech Hunter was left in the whims of Glitch Techs' infamous LVL 1-er.
"Well, no use complaining.", Bergy replied, not caring about what Mitch saw in him. He might not like Mitch either but he knew that the man had skills way above his own. So having Mitch around might actually work out for him.
"Here we are.", Bergy said as drove up to a dollar store and parked the van just nearby. "HQ said there are a few Glitches inside. It's a small signal so it's not a boss monster like what you're used to hunting."
Mitch sighed and pulled down his visor. He checked the gauntlet and indeed, there were small and insignificant red dots on the tech's minimap. So small that it could've been mistaken with a bug from one of those social media games.
As if to mock him, Mitch took only three steps into the store and he instantaneously found one; an alien-looking purple small dog with one big eye in the middle of its face. It was drooling on the tiles and looked like it was going to fall sideways.
"Oh. My God." Mitch groaned, covering his face in despair. He hadn't hunt small fries like these since his first month on the job. At this point, he'd rather take up the cashier role again.
"Aw, it's so cute! Look at how harmless it is!" Bergy cooed, poking the purple pug's face. The virtual dog slowly fell on its face. "You sure you don't want to capture it, Mitch?"
"The EXP is not worth it. I'd rather die."
The curly-haired boy shrugged. "Eh, suit yourself." He said, immediately followed by a blast in the puppy's adorable face. Its body destabilize, turning it back to the root form, one that Bergy easily sucked in with his capture tech.
"One down, 15 more to go!"
"Please just shoot me in the face."
Just then at the corner of the minimap, Mitch saw a fairly strong and concentrated signal dashing all over the place. It was extremely fast and erratic, and was just a few blocks ahead. The best part, it was an unknown level. Who knows how much EXP that Glitch had?
"Change of plans, Bergy!" Mitch exclaimed, smiling at his gauntlet. "We're hunting down a bigger fish."
Unbeknownst to him, one signal disappeared from the store.
2 minutes. That was how long Miko was able to scream at the top of her lungs. The average human being can hold their breath up to 3 minutes, so being able to exert the air out of one's lungs for that long was genuinely impressive.
"—HHHhhh... Ack!" Miko's scream ended, coughing at such display of distress. During that period, the timer had continued to tick down, leaving only about 2 or so minutes to spare.
Five held back the urge to clap his hands. Instead, he decided to check on her. "Okay, I know I sound like a broken record right now but are you alright?"
"¿Por qué hablo español? ¿Qué acabo de comer?" Miko asked, still speaking in the one other language Five was fluent in. Internally, he thanked his grandparents.
"Okay, just calm down. And uh, what's this about a clock?" Five asked, looking above her head. He didn't see anything but Miko spoke something about there being one right there. She wasn't the type to lie so maybe it was a thing only Miko could see?
Via his gauntlet, Five projected a holographic screen and pulled out the data regarding the taco. It was from a rogue-like dungeon crawler game called Buenos Días, Mi Gato where you'd play as a classic masked luchador and travel across levels to save your cat. Despite the heavy Mexican themes, the game was actually developed in Canada.
"Well, the Taco is supposed to give you enhanced strength and attack power but it doesn't say anything about being able to speak Spanish." Five exclaimed, scrolling down the power-up's datasheet.
"¿Así que estoy súper fuerte ahora? ¡Eso es tan cool!" Miko happily said with starry eyes. "¡Quiero intentarlo!"
"Oh no, no, no! Not this time! The speed boost drink made you fatigued. We can assume that this will do the same." argued Five. "We should wait for the effects to die down. Let's go back to my grandparents' food truck for lunch. You must be hungry after all that happened toda—"
Suddenly, a Hinobi Tech company van appeared, parking abruptly just outside the fence. The doors opened and from it, came out Mitch and Bergy, both wearing their standard Glitch Tech uniforms. Their visors lit up with a schwing, though Mitch's was his iconic purple colour. The two walked into the skate park, scanning the surroundings before noticing Five and Miko staring at him with bewildered faces.
"Wha—! What are you losers doing here?!" Mitch shrieked angrily. He was already forced to partner with Bergy and now, his day just got worse.
Miko instinctively barred her teeth at him. "¡¿Perdedores?! ¡Eres el perdedor aquí, Mitch!"
Bergy turned to the purple-haired teen, blinking. "Uh, why is she speaking Spanish?"
"Yeah, well…!" Five attempted to explain but pulled back at the last second, scratching the back of his head. "I, uh… I don't know."
Mitch walked past the duo, still scanning the area. "Look, I don't care if she starts speaking French. It's already weird enough that she's a Glitch. This isn't that huge."
"Now step back and let the pro do his work."
"Work? What work?" Five asked.
Mitch scoffed. "Glitch work, duh. There was a strong signal detected and it was moving all over the place. Unknown level but it was fast."
Five blinked and shiftily turned to Miko. In turn, Miko did the same and nudged Five with her elbow, nodding at him. Five inhaled deeply and exhaled out, calming his nerves.
"Heeey, Mitch..." Five nervously called. "I just wanted to ask but, uh, in a completely theoretical scenario, what if the signal was a fluke? You know, like an error in the system!"
"I seriously doubt it. The scanners don't make mistakes, especially not dumb ones like a ghost signal."
"Yeah, but what if it was?!"
Mitch turned, his visor still scanning for any traces left behind. "If it was a mistake, I will be very angry. Is that the answer you wanted to hear?" He hissed.
"Well, too bad. I don't care. I just want to—" Mitch stopped, noticing the table full of Plixel-based items just piled up on it. "Why are there power-ups on the table?"
Five raised his arms to his chest. "Look, I can explain. So don't be mad—"
"Why are there power-ups on the table?! Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to leave them like that?! Glitches are attracted to power-ups! The only reason they'd be here would be—!" Glitch Tech's #1 hunter froze, the truth just then clicked. His head uncomfortably turned towards Miko who had uncharacteristically stayed quiet due to her out-of-place Spanish fluency.
He frowned, the face muscles twisting like a machine. "Noo..."
Mitch stomped forward, each step booming with anger. He grabbed Miko by her shoulders and squeezed his grip tight, unrelenting. "You made that signal, didn't you?!"
Miko, feeling somewhat threatened, nervously gulped. Sweat poured from her face and her eyes shifted all over the place except at Mitch. "Yo podría... tener algo que ver con eso..."
Mitch couldn't speak Spanish but he didn't need to, to understand what Miko had said. He let go of her and briskly walked several meters away. Despite there being no barriers between them, Mitch then loudly and very creatively ranted out onto the space around him. Behind him, Miko, Five and Bergy watched in horror at his vocabulary. Having been gamers for quite a while, they knew well what those words were and yet, here they were, learning new ones. That's one skill Mitch had them beat, though not one they'd want to win any time soon.
While Mitch continued to vent out his frustrations to God, a purple pug walked up to the power-up table behind them, smiling stupidly with a lazy eye. It climbed up the fixture easily and without making a peek, it started gobbling up a few of the items without thought nor care.
After what felt like minutes, Mitch stomped back towards the others, his face red and fuming with ire. He sharply breathed in and with a pointed finger, he wagged it in Miko's face. "I can't believe you've done this. I was looking forward to it too."
"Look, we're sorry, alright?" Five apologized. Beside him, Miko gave Five an unsure face, her hand doing the 'iffy' gesture. "If you want, I can treat you for some food at my grandparents' truck."
"I DON'T NEED YOUR PITY FOOD!"
"Cuando nos conocimos, literalmente robaste comida de un restaurante de comida rápida." Miko blurted out, though only understood by Five. Their first meeting with Mitch was indeed questionable at best.
"You… shut your face."
Before the argument could escalate any further, a large shadow slowly cast itself on the four Glitch Tech members and continued to grow. Mitch, noticing it was getting dark, paused his rant to look up and was instead met with shock, his mouth left agape. Five and Miko, both confused by Mitch's silence, turned around, followed by their eyes bulging out. Last but not least, Bergy also turned and had the same expression, letting out a small whimper.
Five looked higher and higher, and exclaimed, "That… is one big puppy."
In front of them was, in fact, a really big and familiar one-eyed purple puppy. It was easily taller than all the buildings nearby and its width just barely fitting the roads itself. Its tail wagged in excitement, causing minor tremors in the area, and large glops of green drool dripped from its mouth, melting the pavement below as if it were acid.
"Bork!" it barked, its voice boomed deeply and shattering any windows on the surrounding buildings.
"... Al menos no puede empeorar." Miko nervously jinxed. Just then, its eye glowed red and from there, a powerful laser blasted out of its iris, utterly destroying a nearby billboard into scraps of wood and metal. This was followed by its eye switching to blue, enveloping a car with a light blue transparent glimmer and crushing it into a ball.
"AAAAAHHHHHH!" Bergy screamed.
The sound of a high-pitched shriek startled the big-small dog. With a scared yelp, it breathed a huge fireball into the distance and ran off, leaving unintentional destruction in its wake.
Mitch, on the other hand, excitedly fist pumped. "Alright! Finally, something I can work with! See ya later, losers."
"W-wait, what about us? You can't just expect us to just sit around and do nothing!" Five argued, stopping Mitch in his track.
Not caring, Mitch waved it off. "I can and I do. First off, in case you didn't notice, this is kinda your girlfriend's mess to begin with."
"Girlfriend? What girlfriend?" Queried Miko with a blush. She then heard a blip and the digital clock above her disappeared. "Oh hey, I can speak normally again! Ooo wait, headache..."
"Second," Mitch continued, ignoring her groan. "You're currently disabled while Glitched Tech here doesn't even have a gauntlet. And while I do enjoy seeing you two fail from time to time, I actually want to do my job."
"So sit down and stay out of my way." The blonde-haired boy warned. He then turned to his temporary partner who was, at the moment, hyperventilating into a paper bag. "As for you, Bergy. If you're going to be a wuss about this, then you sit this one out."
Bergy continued to breathe into his paper bag, albeit slowing down. "No, hah... I'm good now."
Wordlessly, Mitch and Bergy both walked to their van and drove away, on a hunt for a giant one-eyed purple pug with laser vision. Thus, leaving the wonder duo alone in the empty and partially destroyed skate park.
Five groaned in his palms, frustrated. He just wanted to try out some consumables with Miko's new Glitch powers, assuming she had any. Instead, he accidentally created a giant small dog with who knows what abilities it had.
"We got to do something!" Five urged, mostly to convince himself. "Even though Mitch was right!"
Miko perked up. "You think Mitch was right?"
"Yeah. I mean, we did leave those power-ups out in the open like that. I didn't think there'd be a Glitch nearby."
"Oh…" Miko muttered, blushing a little. She couldn't understand why but she felt a bit bothered by that. It's those weird feelings from yesterday again. She honestly didn't expect to be dealing with them again so soon.
She shook her head and clasped her puffy cheeks. Now was not the time.
"So what do you have planned?" Miko asked, her head now clear.
Five stared at the scene of broken concrete and twisted metal left behind by the Glitch. He had a guess on what abilities it had based on the items eaten but that didn't make it any easier. The good news was that he didn't choose to summon anything overpowered. The bad news is the combination might be overpowered.
"Let's see... We already know it has telekinesis, laser eyes and acid spit. I'm assuming that it wasn't giant-sized by default, so that's included."
"Woah, woah, woah! Hold up!" Miko exclaimed, shaking her hands. "You were gonna give me acid spit?"
"Well, the in-game model didn't show it to be spit so I thought you'd shoot it out of your hands or something." He then stared at the large hole, melted through from the dog's drool. "I didn't think it would be this strong though..."
Five shook his head. "We're getting off track. That means it has two powers left; duplication and fire breath. We just need to figure out how to counter all of them."
He brought back the holographic screen and quickly scrolled down, scanning each item at a glance. After a few seconds, he stopped and pointed at one particular object.
"There! That's the one!" Five exclaimed, showing Miko the chosen power-up. Miko stared at the item and turned to her partner, surprised.
"I thought you said no overpowered power-ups."
"Well, this one won't hurt. Probably."
Meanwhile, Bergy was driving the van and trailing the purple dog as best as he could. By his side was Mitch, pointing his blaster with the intent to derez. The dog ran off with a skip, causing earthquakes constantly like it was the end of the world.
People nearby ran around in a panic, only to be mind-wiped automatically by the van. It was a band-aid solution at best and until they captured the Glitch and fixed the town, that mind-wipe won't have a permanent effect. Discrepancies in memories would destroy the whole effect. This was why the rewind function is important.
Despite the damaged roads and everlasting shaking, he was able to land a few shots on its body. However, a sudden turn caused him to miss the last one.
"Hey! Drive better, you noob!" Mitch complained.
Bergy, however, argued back. "I don't see you doing much damage either, Mitch!"
Mitch scoffed and ignored his remark, continuing to land 10-point hits on it. "The dog's overcharged. With all those power-ups inside of it, it might as well be a boss monster. But I doubt it'll be able to last long."
"What do you mean?"
"Boss monsters are bosses for a reason; because they're programmed to be one. Their forms are stable and last longer, not like this thing. You take a weak enemy like this and stuff it with a bunch of powers, you get an unbalanced mess!" With a tap, he summoned a plasma cannon from his gauntlet and put on aim-assist. He never liked using heavy artillery. They were too clunky and slow to use, despite the damage potential increase. But that didn't mean he didn't have one in store. After all, he's got a bunch of skill points unused.
"And messes like you..." His sights flickered as he adjusted his aim. "Get removed on a Day-One patch."
Mitch pulled the trigger and released a powerful blue blast of energy from the cannon. The recoil was huge, having momentarily pushed the car back and lifted its front tires off the ground. Though startled, Bergy tried his best to retake control of the vehicle and stabilize it.
At the same time, the bolt of energy flew through the air at immense speed. Just as it closed in on the dog, the Glitch turned around, having heard a whizzing noise. And with a deafening boom, the energy hit the giant pug directly in the face, creating a large cloud of smoke on impact.
The van skidded across the road, leaving black tire marks behind. Bergy and Mitch walked out of the vehicle, the latter throwing away in Plixel-made plasma cannon. The cannon was powerful but it took way too much energy.
Visors up, the two stared at the billowing smoke. Bergy leaned slightly towards Mitch and whispered, "D-did you get it?"
Mitch glared at the dense smoke. "No."
Suddenly, strong winds exploded from the centre and blew the smoke away, revealing the dog inside. Its size had significantly shrunk, proof of its damage, but it was still almost as large as a bus. Despite having been bombarded by Mitch, the purple pug still had the dumb look on its face. He saw a wisp of flames at the corner of the pup's mouth and shouted an order. "SHIELDS UP, NOW!"
Bergy and Mitch pulled out their blue shields and braced, as a large ball of fire erupted from the dog's breath and headed straight for them. It felt warm at most thanks to the Plixel armour but they could feel their footing loosen and were slowly being pushed back. Wanting to end the stalemate, Bergy digitized out a small metallic cylinder from his gauntlet and pressing the top, he threw it over the torrent of fire, landing a few meters in front of them. The object beeped quickly and exploded, creating an expanding foam wall between the puppy and the two boys.
The Glitch, surprised as a giant misshaped wall suddenly appeared, stepped backwards with its stupid face, watching the wall grow and cast a shadow on it. Mitch was surprised as well, only to glare at Bergy afterwards.
"Why didn't you use that earlier?!" He yelled angrily. Not that it had any effect.
Bergy only shrugged. "The foam's not fireproof. It hardens when hot and large Glitches can break it apart easily. So you're supposed to use it to capture small ones, not act as cover."
"Then why didn't you throw it at the Glitch?!"
"Hey, give me a break, man! It's huge and I can't see with all the FIRE IN MY FACE!"
While they could've continued their fight, the two suddenly felt the earth around them quake beneath their feet. They slowly turned to the foam wall, one tremor after another.
Originally an off-white colour, the foam gradually turned yellow, followed by a glowing orange and finally a bright red. The foam bubbled furiously, melting down like ice-cream and popping its fluid into its surroundings. Shields up, they easily protected themselves from getting covered in goo.
"Huh, I guess it's not acid-proof either."
"I can see that, Bergy."
With the foam out of the way, the giant dog stepped forward, panting as usual. It stepped onto the liquid foam, its paws sticking hard on it like a bug trap. However, more acidic drool dripped from its open mouth, remelting the foam and allowing the dog to move. Though, the foam turned back to its gooey mess quickly.
Staring at the two, its singular eye glowed red again and shot a laser. Mitch quickly reacted, pushing Bergy away from him as the laser cut the area between them, including the Hinobi van. The road split in half with an eruption while the van exploded into a ball of fire, utterly destroying it. Bergy looked at in horror.
"The van!" He cried out at the wreckage.
Mitch, however, snapped at him. "We can fix it, numbnuts. We have the technology."
Just then, Mitch was suddenly enveloped by a dim blue glimmer. Before he could react, his arms and legs were pushed in straight, constricting him. "W-whuah!"
Immediately after, he was thrown across and into Bergy with a painful oof. The duo landed into a nearby pile of sticky foam, covering them with a gooey sticky mess. As hard as they struggled, they were unable to pull themselves out.
"This... is so humiliating." Mitch groaned. Out of nowhere, a foot hit him in the face. "Bgah! BERGY!"
Seeing the destruction, the purple dog was content. It sniffed the ground and sneezed, only to continue panting happily on a job well done. It wasn't like it was evil or anything. Dogs were just harbingers of destruction, the symbol of the end times. Men have tamed such beasts for years as a way to control the apocalypse, to prevent it from ever happening. Think about it: Why would anyone want to tame a dog? For the emotional support, sense of safety and as a way to hunt enemies and food sources?
Bah, how ludicrous.
Before it could continue its reign of adorable destruction, Miko stepped forward from behind it and yelled. "HEY, YOU!"
The Glitch turned. "YEAH, YOU! WHY DON'T YOU PICK SOMEONE YOUR OWN SIZE, YOU ADORABLE MONSTER!"
Its head tilted at an angle. Miko coo'ed. "Aww, that's so cuuute! I just want to gobble you up—!" Realizing her error, she shook her head and stayed focus. "Calm down, Miko. It's just a dog. A really big and adorable dog."
She breathed in, calming herself, and from her pocket, she pulled out a small star, brightly flickering rainbow colours.
The Glitch stared at the rainbow star, its eye widened. The amount of acid drool increased exponentially as it giddily smiled wide open with its tail wagging in mid-air.
Miko dangled the star in front of her. "You want this, don't you?"
It leaned downwards, its back up high with anticipation.
"Well," She grinned. "Come and get it."
It did. It wasn't that hard too, not when it had telekinetic powers. Just by glaring, the dog covered Miko with a familiar blue glow and lifted her with an invisible force.
"Woah oh." She said, her body frozen in place. She flew towards the Glitch and floated just barely above it. The Glitch then opened its mouth wide opened and the glow disappeared, allowing Miko to fall into its gaping jaw.
"I hope you're right about this, Five!" Miko screamed, immediately eating the rainbow star with one bite. The taste was impactful and all over the place. It's basically what you'd get if you put everything from the fridge into an oven; a weird disgusting abomination. "Blegh!"
Much like the taco and the star, the Glitch dog ate Miko with one bite, swallowing her without chewing. Without her armour, the acid would've done serious damage on her and she'd have to visit a real hospital this time. Thankfully for her, she wasn't planning on incurring medical debt any time soon. As the Glitch licked its lips, satisfied with its meal, it suddenly felt a rumbling in its tummy. The rumbling grew louder and louder, even to the point that its entire body shook.
The Glitch stopped moving and blinked.
It then exploded in a brilliant polychromatic light.
"AWW YEAAAHHHH!" Miko cheered, her entire body enveloped in brightly shifting rainbow colours. Her eyes shined with twinkling stars while her formerly purple hair was just as chromatic as the rest of her body, now glittering. Much like before, a digital clock blipped into existence above her head, counting down from a mere 15 seconds.
Miko felt amazing. Like she could do anything and beat anyone. She was sure she could hear her very own theme song playing too. With a huge comical smile, she laughed harder than she ever did. "HAHAHAHA!"
Meanwhile, the Glitch's chunks splattered onto the roads and nearby buildings like a thick slime. The goo slid off the walls, leaving no residue behind, and from, miniature versions of the giant purple pug popped into existence. The army of small dogs or more precisely, accurately-sized dogs all swarmed towards Miko, still goofily smiling.
Miko stood still, her chest up high. Her grin just breathed out confidence and yet, not arrogance. Sure, she felt proud but she was focused. She knew what she had to do and her role was a very simple one.
All her job was to stand still.
The horde of adorable one-eyed dogs swarmed closer, creating a sea of furry purple. Miko was easily surrounded with no way out, every and all paths blocked. And yet, she continued to stand firmly in place. One brave pup leapt onto her from her blindspot, a squeaking bark with it. The moment it touched her shoulder, however, the dog instantly shattered like glass, its pixelated fragments crashing on the ground. The swarm immediately stopped, shocked.
Miko wiped the Plixels off her arm as if they were dust, barely feeling anything. She had to admit, she was a bit scared about being surrounded by an army of murderous adorable puppies. But seeing that the power-up worked, her confidence in the plan wasn't misplaced.
She lifted both arms up high and clasped her two fists together. With a toothy grin, she laughed.
"Haha YEAH!" Miko shouted, bringing her fists down like an axe, slamming them onto the road with a deafening crack. The impact caused a massive shockwave, breaking the black concrete ground and sending all of the puppies flying upwards. Some began shooting lasers in random directions, though Miko easily blocked it off.
Several meters ahead, Five jumped in and over the shockwave, his gauntlet with him. His tech flickered blue and suddenly, several foam canisters popped out. As quickly as he could, Five grabbed and threw them around Miko, the grenades clacking upon landing. Each canister burst open, covering the environment with a thick off-white foam. In consequence with the laws of gravity, the purple dogs sent flying earlier all fell down, landing safely on the foam below. A few of them started breathing fire in an attempt to escape but the foam hardened itself in the presence of heat, turning rock solid and trapping them. Others let their acid saliva do its job but instead of harmlessly melting away, it created a pool of sticky mess, further sinking deeper.
It was either like swimming in dried cement or swimming in bubble-gum if the latter was drinkable. You shouldn't do either but it's a thought.
"WOO, WE DID IT!" Miko cheered, jumping with glee, her body still going off like a psychedelic rave. With the Glitches unable to move, Five can derez them safely without trouble.
He had a hunch on how the power-ups would've worked based on video game experience and it served him well. Duplication meant that they'd multiply, but he had a feeling that the conservation of mass applied in the real world, a Glitch or not. He was also glad he read the manual on how the foam canisters worked.
"All thanks to the Rainbow Star; video games' first God Mode." Five exclaimed with a smile. Out from above, Five barely saw as a small potato-sized rock broke off a building and dropped straight towards Miko.
"MIKO!" He shouted to warn but it was too late.
Before she even noticed, the rock fell and hit Miko right on her noggin. Her teeth clenched hard, taken by surprise. And before she knew it, she heard a blip from the clock and her vision faded to black.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Be—
Her eyes opened slowly, light flooding in ever so sudden. Her lids hesitated as the brightness was too much. Nonetheless, her vision slowly adjusted itself and a few seconds later, she could see albeit somewhat blurred
She was a table of sorts. Medical, from the feel of it and the large light hanging above. Her body felt heavy as if it was new. As if it wasn't hers. Yet, she didn't know why. She was too weak to push herself up, so she stayed.
Her head shifted slightly, trying to see her surroundings. Everything was unclear and confusing. Not just her vision but also her mind. It was like a needle was shoved into her and...
She forgot. What was she going to say again?
Then, a person walked into view. A woman probably, but wearing a face mask and aged. Even blurred, she could see the bags under her tired wrinkled eyes. It was cloudy but she saw a small spark. She didn't know why.
The lady shined a flashlight into her eyes, momentarily blinding her. It took a second and after pulling it away, the lady stared at her like she was a lab rat. She probably was but she didn't believe it.
"Subject seems to be responding. Her pupils are dilating and her heart rate is within nominal range. Checking brain activity now..." The masked lady said out loud, checking a monitor nearby.
Her eyes widened, the only part expressed in full view. "Brain activity is normal... S-she's alive. It worked! Oh God, it worked!"
She cheered, his eyes full of joy. That spark burned bright, hope as it's fuel. But it didn't last. A second later, it was snuffed out, colder than ever. The woman cried in her hands as if consumed by guilt. A guilt she didn't understand.
"Oh God, it worked. It shouldn't have worked." She cried, tears staining her mask. She couldn't help but stare at the lady, her own heart feeling tight. Her own heart... She had one, right?
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry for bringing you here again."
Beep. Beep. Beep.
"Bwuah?" Miko gasped, waking up from such a dream. She immediately hissed, her head throbbing in pain. "Hah, w-where am I?"
Miko looked around and realized she was inside the back of a Hinobi van, the same one Mitch trapped her in once. Underneath her was thankfully a comfortable cot and pillow, supporting her off the metal floor. Internally, she wondered how she got there.
Leaving the van, she found herself staring at a familiar sight; an alleyway where nearby was a food truck. The same one she first met Five in person. That was oddly comforting.
In front of her were a few tables where at one of them stood Five, Bergy and Mitch. The former two were chatting it up, though too far for Miko to hear, while Mitch was silently eating a cheesy quesadilla. Noticing her walk by, Five greeted with a smile. "Hey, Miko! Glad to see you're okay!"
"Yeah, thanks for noticing.", Miko replied, rubbing her pained head. "What happened?"
"You got hit in the head. After a small scan, we found there weren't any serious damage or anything. Just a bump." Five explained, Bergy nodding beside him. "Since you didn't need to go to the hospital, Bergy allowed you to stay in the van 'til you woke up."
"Which I was against, by the way." Mitch quipped. "It wasn't even that bad."
"You were outvoted 2 to 1, Mitch. I even treated you lunch." Five argued, letting his senior grumbled under his breath.
The smell of spicy meats and pickled onions were strong. Instinctively, Miko whiffed, giving her a vibrant image of Mexican delicacies. Most of her experience regarding Mexican food was from fast-food restaurants and they weren't exactly authentic.
Her stomach grumbled loudly. From the inside of the truck, Five's grandmother peeked out. "Is that a hungry stomach I hear?"
"Uh... Yeah!" Miko answered honestly.
"Oh, you must be the girl in the van Five was talking about. Take a seat and I'll whip you up something good, on the house!" She replied, going back in and cooking something up. Miko couldn't see what was happening in the kitchen but Five grew up with the stuff so it should be okay.
The teen took her seat and looked around. "What happened to all the Glitches?"
"Glitch, really.", said Bergy. "The duplication power-up doesn't mean there are multiple Glitches. It's just one Glitch, broken up into itty-bitty pieces. So it was more like a division power-up."
"And the EXP doesn't stack with it either. So even though it blew up an entire city block, it was still the same amount as the usual baby Glitch." Mitch complained. "It's like charity work but worse."
"But...!" interrupted Five. "We still finished the job. The town is fixed, everyone had their memories wiped for the day and all ends that ends well."
"Oh, neat!" Miko said, twiddling her thumbs. "So... We're still testing out power-ups?"
"Haha no.", said Mitch. "I told Phil the situation and he's banned you from even touching one without authorization."
"Yeah! So no super-powered Miko for the time being." He said, finishing his meal and wiping his mouth with a tissue. He then pulled out his wallet and placed $20 on the table. "Tell your grandparents the food was okay. And keep the change."
"W-wait, Mitch! I was buying you lunch!"
"I don't accept charity!" He spoke back, walking to the van. "Come on, Bergy. Let's get moving."
"R-right! See you guys later!"
Miko and Five waved as they watched the van leave. Despite what it may seem, it wasn't like Miko was stranded there. Five had parked his Hinobi company van just around the corner.
"... I will never understand that guy." Five said about Mitch, though not as an insult. The past few days have been hectic and now, he was seeing sides of people he didn't even know had. Miko's a Glitch, Zahra is apparently a medical officer and Mitch wasn't a complete jerk. What a strange world this was.
"Me neither." Miko agreed, though for different and arbitrary reasons. She then groaned in disappointment, laying her head on the table. "Still, no more power-ups, huh?"
"Well, not exactly." Five exclaimed. "Phil said you needed authorization. He never said from who."
The Japanese teen slammed the table hard, hastily standing up. "So you can give me those?!"
"Only one at a time. I reviewed the recording and just as I thought, the power-ups take up a lot of energy. You get tired, dizzy, hungry, the works.", explained Five, showing the video recording. "So you shouldn't take more than needed."
Moko shrugged. She couldn't argue with that. She felt really out of shape at the moment, though not enough to drop dead. She just wanted some lunch at the moment.
As if her prayers were answered, lunch finally arrived, courtesy of Five's other grandparent. "Here ya go, kiddo! Eat up while it's hot." He said, placing the paper plate on the table.
There it was, the treasure of today; a plate of traditional authentic genuine Mexican street taco. A toasted tortilla topped with spicy beef and beans, freshly chopped onions, some cilantro and a dash of lemon juice. Very different than the Plixel power-up she ate earlier and it won't forcefully cause her to speak a different language.
Miko drooled hungrily, stars in her eyes. She felt like she was going to cry. But she did not, for it was the time to consume.
"I hope you like it! You won't find a better one in this city, I assure you—!" He froze, finding the plate completely empty. He turned to Miko who looked as clean as an angel, not a speck on her face.
"I'll, uh, go get some more..." Grandpa Five said, leaving to the food truck.
Miko nodded excitedly. Her stomach grumbled once more, looking forward to seconds.
After four or five servings, Five drove Miko home. The journey was quiet, having nothing much else to say. Miko had agreed that Five would have full reign over any Glitch-specific power-up and even though he did leave the items out in the open for anything to touch, Miko took full blame as it was about her to begin with. Thankfully, Phil was kind enough to let her go scot-free.
No plans for tomorrow, at least not yet. For now, her whole body was aching and she just wanted to sleep. She opened the front door, entering her beloved home.
Walking past the living room to reach the stairs, she noticed her parents on the couch, apparently having fallen asleep, controllers in hand. She was only gone for a few hours and checking the scoreboard on-screen, she noticed that her mom had almost taken her #1 place.
"Holy nerd, mom..." Miko lamented, surprised at such a high score by someone not her. And it didn't look like it was the first try.
She smiled, happy to see her folks had enjoyed themselves. With a sigh, she continued climbing up the steps and into her bedroom, one she could say was her save point.
Miko opened the door and immediately fell limp on her soft and bouncy bed. Her pyjamas were strewn across the blankets but she didn't care. Despite having slept so long, she still felt as if she could fall unconscious at any moment. Unfortunately for her, she was reminded that the room doesn't belong to just her.
"What are you doing?" Her little sister Lexi asked. She was by her study table, reading a textbook or a novel, probably even both. Schools had those, right?
"Sleeping.", replied Miko, her voice muffled by the pillow in her face.
Lexi scrunched up her nose. "You reek! Go take a shower!"
With a groan, Miko stood back up and dragged herself to the shower, grabbing yesterday's pyjamas on the way. Once in the bathroom, she proceeded with her usual practice; prepared herself, checked the shower temperature, took a dollop of her favourite shampoo, etcetera. Her showers never took that long: She was very efficient. A gamer skill relevant in real life.
In her pyjamas with a towel around her neck, Miko stood in front of the sink and mirror, rubbing her purple hair as dry as she could. Afterwards, she took her toothbrush and began brushing her teeth. Her toothbrush was yellow with a cat design similar to her lucky yellow shirt. The two were apparently made by the same company.
Tiredly brushing her teeth, she stared at the foggy mirror, her reflection clouded. Miko wiped away the fog with her hands and in turn, saw something unusual: Her right eye was completely green with white bits of code floating in it.
"W-whaaa?!" Miko gasped in shock. Her vision flickered as if there was static with a buzz in her ears. Miko stumbled back, feeling dizzy. Suddenly, in a blink of an eye, she saw darkness.
She stood in a dark and intimidating office. For some reason, she couldn't properly tell the minute details. All she saw was a large and heavy mahogany desk in front of some window blinds with its owner, a sharply-dressed man, sitting behind it. She couldn't see his face or maybe she couldn't remember. However, he did look very familiar, albeit older and more mature.
Beside her was the professor, looking jittery as usual. She was always so nervous nowadays and she wished she could help but seeing into her eyes, she felt as if all she would do was make it worse.
"Is this the prototype?" The man motioned, his tone deep and robust. It didn't sound at all natural.
The professor nodded. "It is. It took several tries but my team managed to get her to work."
"When will mass-production be possible?"
"I..." She bit her lip. "I don't know. The chances of success were slim as it is. I don't think a being of her complexity can be mass-produced at all."
He glared. She couldn't see his face and yet, she couldn't help but flinch, feeling deeply perturbed. However, the atmosphere quickly subsided as he sighed.
"Then forgo that for now. Continue training it while attempting another copy. We'll just have to make it worth a hundred times the cost and sell its services at the highest bidder."
"Even if it ends up a failure, the research is still valuable. I'd rather not be outplayed by our competitors." He exclaimed, swinging his chair around. "You may leave. And bring it with you."
"U-understood." She replied, bowing slightly. Grabbing her hand, the professor pulled her out of the office and immediately, she saw the scene change.
She was in her room. It was a simple square room with nothing but four walls, an automatic door but no windows. Not like it would do any good. She had never seen the outside, only whispers and talks.
She looked at her bed; her very simple metal-frame bed. There was nothing unique about its grey blankets and white pillow, all neatly made. The same could be said with the rest of her room. Boring, simple but practical. She had always used only one side of her room, leaving the rest untouched to the point of cobwebs.
"We'll continue your training tomorrow at 0800 sharp. For now, have a full rest." The professor said, walking her up to her bed. Obediently, she tucked herself in; metaphorically that is. She just laid herself on top of her blankets.
Before the professor could leave, she grabbed her lab coat, stopping her. The professor turned to her, who pointed at the far side of the room. There lied a small and yellow cat-like plush doll, crudely sown with large buttoned eyes. It looked old and forgotten as if it was uncared for years.
The professor let out a small gasp. "Her— Your doll?"
She nodded with a straight face. The professor looked distraught, though she didn't know why. Silently, she walked up and grabbed the doll, bringing it back to her, who earnestly took it.
Seeing her hug the doll, the professor smiled. It was small and full of regret but it was genuine, which was a lot to ask for. She closed her eyes, ready to go to sleep and yet, she still felt the professors kind hand caress her head, lulling her to rest.
"Goodnight, my dear."
"... Goodnight, m—"
Miko, startled, fell onto the shower floor. She grabbed the curtains, slowing her descent, but she still hit the ground hard, causing pain to flare through her body. She even had ripped the curtains off the bar.
The headache disappeared quickly but it was replaced by something else. Miko felt tears swell in her eyes, pouring out like a waterfall, staining her pyjamas. Her heart was on fire and it hurt but she didn't know why.
She forgot. She forgot something and it hurt. She wanted to remember but she couldn't.
"Mom...?" she muttered without thought. The tears immediately stopped.