The music had stopped, but none of the partygoers in the Stelar house, human or alien alike, seemed to have noticed. Bud continued to scarf down what was left of the buffet, while Taurus continued to cheer him on, and Zack continued begging him to leave some for him. Luna continued to do her best to ignore them, and focused on telling Jack about her increasing responsibilities as Student Body President. And of course, Geo Stelar and his parents, Hope and Kelvin, continued making up for years of lost time and missed family photos, even dragging Omega-Xis in as an honorary uncle, despite his obvious reluctance.
Sonia eased her grip on her guitar, not realizing how tightly she'd been holding it. Ordinarily, she loved crowds, she was a child star, after all. Dozens of smiling faces, lively conversations, and excited cheers made her day. And these were her friends. If there was anyone she should be happy to see celebrating, it was them. And yet…
She glanced back at Geo, and saw him tightly hugging his long-lost father.
With a sigh, she slung her guitar onto her back, and quietly made her way to the front door, pulling up her pink hoodie over her red hair.
"Hey!" Jack's voice called out.
Sonia let go of the door handle and turned around.
"Are you leaving already?" Both he and Luna had turned to look Sonia's way.
Jack's face was as stern as ever, though Sonia thought she could pick up a rare hint of concern, too.
Sonia shook her head. "No. I'm just going out for some fresh air."
"Are you feeling alright?" Luna asked. "You're not feeling sick or anything, are you?"
Sonia leaned back, grabbing the doorknob without looking away from her friends. "I'll be fine. I just need a few minutes."
"If you're sure," Luna said. "If you need anything, just ask." She turned back to Jack.
Sonia stepped outside into the cool night air. A soft buzz interrupted the quiet for a moment, as Lyra appeared by Sonia's side in a flash of red. An alien made of electromagnetic waves, in the shape of a lyre with a face at the base, colored a pale blue, Lyra had been one of Sonia's most unexpected, but closest friends.
"It's so peaceful out here tonight…" Lyra said. "Even this long after Meteor G, it feels unreal."
"Yeah." Sonia nodded, and looked up. The stars seemed to shine so much brighter without the eerie red light of Meteor G hanging in the sky. It had been a hard-fought victory for all of them, especially Geo, but working together, they had pulled through, despite the odds.
And then, as if fate was rewarding him for his efforts, Kelvin had shown up, alive after all these years…
Sonia shook her head and glanced around the neighborhood. Not a human in sight. Any house with the lights on had their curtains drawn. With the noise from the party inside muffled, the only sounds Sonia could hear were distant traffic, crickets chirping, and the soft whistle of the wind.
Content that there was nobody around to watch her, she whispered: "Transcode 04: Harp Note."
Ordinarily, that phrase would have prompted Lyra to begin their wave change together, ready to leap into action. But tonight, she hesitated.
"Sonia, is this really just about getting a little fresh air?"
"I wanted to take a walk on the wave road. It's got a good view."
Lyra did her best impression of raising an eyebrow, obviously not convinced. But, with the closest she could manage to a shrug, she floated over Sonia's head, and set to work.
Sonia felt a tingle as she was engulfed in bright light. Lyra's energy poured into her, transforming the two of them in seconds. When the light faded, Sonia's hoodie had been replaced by Harp Note's red dress and helmet. Lyra, meanwhile, had fused with the guitar, her face appearing on its head, while the rest of its surface had taken her shade of blue.
Looking into the night sky again, Sonia saw the dozens of glowing yellow paths crisscrossing above, reaching into nearly every building. These were the wave roads, the normally-invisible network of radio waves that linked the people of her high-tech world together.
She teleported up to them, Lyra's wave change allowing her to stand on them as if they were solid ground. She walked down the path, looking at the rows of houses below her, little dots of light coming from dozens of windows.
She wasn't lying when she said that the view up here was good.
She didn't see many AIs up here tonight. During the busy hours, there could be hundreds of net navis, wizards, and hertz delivering messages and files, inspecting network integrity, selling programs and data, and more. But tonight, the traffic was limited to a handful of browsing navis.
Still, Sonia kept her eyes peeled. She knew you could never be truly alone on the net as long as there were-
"Viruses," Lyra groaned, as three of the digital creatures surrounded them. "What a bother."
A red, salamander-like virus with a flame on the tip of its tail stood in front of them, a floating, ghostly, orange head, carrying a ticking bomb in its floating, armless claws was on their right, and to their left was the net's most common virus, the mettenna, a little black ball with eyes, half-hidden under a yellow hard hat with an antenna sticking up from the top.
"These weaklings are hardly a threat," Lyra said. "Why don't we just run past them? I doubt they could keep up."
Sonia readied her guitar and planted her feet firmly on the road. "No, this won't take long."
She strummed on her guitar, firing off a loud, harsh note toward the salamander, which reeled back. She heard metal striking the ground, and moved out of the way of Shockwave fired by the mettenna just in time. Sonia retaliated with another harsh wail of her guitar, but the mettenna had already ducked back under its infamously impervious helmet.
"Getting sloppy," Sonia growled under her breath. She heard a ticking sound behind her, and turned around, letting the strings of her guitar extend from the base and reach out, aiming to snatch the bomb-carrying virus out of the air before it could drop its payload. Unfortunately, she missed, and the bomb was laid at her feet, counting down from three seconds, while its carrier rushed off with the salamander to take cover behind the mettenna's helmet.
Thinking fast, Sonia used the extending strings to grab the bomb and swing it around, back to its sender. She launched it over the helmet, to the shock of the hiding viruses, before just barely leaping out of the blast zone herself.
When the smoke cleared, only the helmet remained. Beady eyes poked carefully out from underneath, checking that it was safe to attack.
With a tug on one of the guitar's strings, a loudspeaker appeared in front of the mettena. With another harsh riff, the speaker's screeching threw the mettena off the road, where its data destabilized and dissipated.
"A bit much at the end, there," Lyra said. "Are you certain you don't want to pulse back down? The view may be pleasant, but it would be so much easier on the ground, and I feel that neither of us is at the top of our game, tonight."
Sonia shook her head. "No, I just need some time to think."
"You should be perfectly capable of thinking on the ground, Sonia. If anything, the need to watch for viruses up here would make it harder to focus."
Sonia set her guitar, and Lyra by extension, on her back. "It'll be fine, I promise."
There was a pause.
"If you say so, Sonia. Let's just try not to get into any more fights, understood?"
"I'll be careful," Sonia assured her, continuing down the path.
It hadn't been that simple, of course. Sonia continued to run into viruses, and insisted on fighting each one, even when there had been a clear path of escape. On and on she went, attacking more and more aggressively, ignoring Lyra's growing agitation, until, after a battle with a pair of crab viruses above the Big Wave shop, Lyra finally had enough.
"Sonia, what is this really about?" She asked. "You can't tell me you're doing this to relax, I haven't seen you this tense since we thought the world was ending! You seem to be going out of your way for a fight."
Sonia took a moment to catch her breath, then mumbled; "It's nothing. I'm fine."
"If you're feeling fine, then there's no reason not to go back to the party, is there? So let's go!"
Sonia looked away. "I don't want to right now."
Lyra frowned. "Why not? We've been out here for some time now, and I'm sure the others are starting to worry."
Sonia set her guitar on her back, and crossed her arms. "They were doing just fine without me. I just need some alone time."
"Sonia, this isn't like you. Please, I can tell something is bothering you. I want to help, just tell me what it is."
"I'm fine! There's nothing to tell!" Sonia spat. "I'm just fine here, and they're just fine over there."
"Sonia, your friends are all celebrating. I know that they want you with them. Geo, especially. I can tell that boy wants so badly to introduce you to his father properly, and-"
"I'm NOT going back!" Sonia shouted, clenching her fists. "I just want to be alone for a while, okay? I'm gonna stay out here until I'm ready to go back!"
Lyra sighed. "Hm, very well. We'll stay put until you feel better."
There was a flash of light, and Sonia suddenly felt herself falling. Lucky for her, the wave road was only a short distance above Big Wave's roof, and she managed to catch herself without landing on her guitar.
Wincing, she stood up, and looked over herself. She was back in her usual hoodie, her wave change with Lyra abruptly cut off. She looked up at Lyra floating above her.
"Why'd you just drop me like that?" Sonia shouted, glaring daggers at Lyra.
"You wanted some time alone, so I separated us." Lyra called down to her. "You wanted to stay out here, now you can."
"You know that's not what I meant."
"Oh, it wasn't? I apologize. You've been so busy insisting that nothing is wrong when that clearly isn't the case, I couldn't be sure what you meant any other time."
"Ha ha, very funny. Now let's get back together and get off this roof!"
"Of course. After you tell me what's bothering you."
Sonia turned away with a huff, and the two stood there in silence.
After several long minutes, Sonia finally spoke.
"It's stupid," she whispered.
Lyra drifted down closer. "Stupid is picking fights when you don't need to. Whatever you're feeling, telling me is probably a less stupid way of dealing with it."
"You'll think I'm being selfish."
"Sonia, we've faced off against horribly selfish monsters since we started working together. And I've seen even worse during the wars back home. I doubt anything you could say could match them."
Sonia turned to face Lyra,and sat down.
"It's just… it's not fair…"
"What's not fair?"
"Geo's dad is alive, after all this time. But my mama…"
Lyra's eyes widened. "Oh dear. Of course, I should have seen it sooner."
"It's just…" Sonia was tearing up. "We both met after our parents… after we thought our parents died. We bonded over it. It was the reason we'd become friends. And then we both worked together, fighting the FM invasion, the forces of Mu, and now Dealer and Meteor G. We both worked to save people, to stop evil. And now…"
Lyra floated closer in. "Now it's like he got rewarded for it, and you didn't."
"Yeah. It's like God gave Geo back his dad, but kept Mama back."
"You know it isn't like that."
Sonia nodded. "I know. There isn't a chance that you had secretly wave changed Mama before she died, is there?"
Lyra shook her head. "Even if I had met her before then, I don't know if it would have helped. If I'd done to her what Omega-Xis had to Kelvin, at best, it would probably have just delayed the inevitable. All the while, she wouldn't be able to so much as hug her beloved daughter."
"Yeah. I just… I miss her. I want to sing my songs to her while she's right there with me, not just listening from up in Heaven."
"Yes. I understand. You know, back on planet FM, it's said that when we die, our lingering waves will be drawn like magnets to those important to us, giving them strength, and allowing us to always be together. Perhaps your God, if he truly wishes, can make a human soul do the same. It would explain why you have been one of the strongest human's I've known, even as a child."
Sonia sniffed. "Thank you, Lyra. I… I still wish I could see her myself. Hug her. Sing to her. Tell her about my adventures with you, and Geo, and everyone else. The way Geo can with his dad. It's still… not fair…"
Lyra landed by Sonia's side, and her strings let out a soft, melancholy tune. "My body isn't made for hugs, so this is the best I can do. Another way life isn't fair, I suppose."
Sonia giggled softly through her tears, and gently leaned on Lyra.
"You're quite right," Lyra continued, "that life's not fair. Sometimes, bad things happen to people who don't deserve them. Other times, good things happen to those that don't deserve them… Like my meeting you."
Sonia blinked. "What do you mean?"
"I was part of planet FM's invasion force, remember? I've done terrible things to so many creatures… I tried to use you and your music to do the same, and almost set you on the same path I'd been on. Even when I'd stopped, it had only been to save myself. You ought to have wanted nothing to do with me. And you forgave me anyway. I can't thank you enough for that, Sonia."
Sonia wrapped her arms around her. "Oh Lyra."
"I really did mean it that day, when I said I found your music beautiful. And, even if I didn't mean it back then, I do mean it now, when I say I want to protect you and your songs from selfish humans who would exploit you."
"Thank you, Lyra." Sonia smiled slightly. "But I think you still meant it back then. Just a little."
The two sat there a little longer, just letting the music play.
Eventually, Lyra spoke again. "Do you think it's time to go back?"
Sonia sighed. "I still feel… out of place there, I guess."
"Why is that?"
"I… Like I said before, it felt like Geo and I really became friends after he'd told me about losing his dad, like I'd lost Mama. And now, we don't have that, anymore. And all the others… I met them all through him. If I don't have a connection to him anymore, do I even have a connection to any of them?"
Lyra laughed. "Tell me Sonia, when he was pursuing us through the Bermuda Maze, trying to bring us back home, even after we told him we were working with Hollow, do you think the only thing going through Geo's head was 'I need to get her back because she is the only other person I know with a missing parent?'"
"That may have been the start of your relationship, but it certainly wasn't the end of it! It's much the same with Luna. You may have met through Geo, but I can tell she's come to see you as a true friend, too. With maybe a hint of rivalry." Lyra winked. "And Bud and Zack, both of them had been fans of your music even before you'd met Geo, even if they didn't meet you in person before. As for our new ally, Jack, I'd heard he and his sister have been dealing with the pain of losing their parents for quite some time. Perhaps that will open a door to a new friendship. I think you'll have plenty of friends for years to come."
Sonia took a deep breath and stood up. "You're right, let's go."
She looked down at the device on her wrist, and saw a blinking light, notifying her of new text messages. The names of her friends all popped up on the screen, asking where she'd gone, and if she was okay.
She smiled. It was time for the music to start again.