"Alright guys, Mick said he'd be waiting in here!" Dex announced as he threw open the double doors leading into the cafe. "Now to pick out where he's sitting..."
While Dex scanned the tables for a sign of the hooligan, Lan was engrossed with the building's interior decor. It certainly lived up to its name all right: there were flamingo decorations all over the place! There were two life-sized flamingo lawn ornaments on each end of the bar, tiny plastic figures of the birds were placed on each table, the walls themselves were a garish hot pink, and the far end of the cafe had a mural of tiny grey flamingo chicks hatching from eggs. Lan wasn't quite sure if the decor was tacky or slightly cute, but that wasn't important at the moment as Dex had just found the guys they were looking for.
"Aha, he's right there!" Dex announced as he pointed to a circular table situated over in a corner of the cafe, where indeed, Mick was seated at. He flashed a grin towards Lan and friends, then beckoned them over. And he wasn't alone either: over to his left was the slightly pudgy, friendly Tab adorned in his Asterland apron and visor, almost as if he dropped everything and ran straight from his family's shop straight to the Cafe. Over to Mick's right however was someone Lan definitely didn't expect: a rather sinister-looking redhead dressed in a rather flashy tropical shirt emblazoned with flame patterns who Lan had ran into several times over the years: sometimes as a friend, others as a foe. But there was definitely no forgetting that cocky grin of his anytime soon.
"Oh hey, Mr. Match is with them!" Lan called out as he ran over to the table and quickly plopped down on the seat adjacent to Match. "Hey! Mick, Tab, Match, long time no see, you guys!" Mr. Match gave a rather mellow thumbs up, but he wasn't able to greet him due to being interrupted.
"Actually Mr. Hikari, it's only been about three weeks since we last saw each other." Tab corrected in his usual overly-polite way, adjusting his glasses as he did so.
"Aw, cut it out Tab! You know what he means!" Mick yelled before flashing Lan that mischievous grin yet again, "Forgive Mr. Chubby over there, it's nice to see ya again, man!"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Hikari," Tab sighed, immediately regretting coming off as so insufferable, "I didn't mean to sound so rude..."
"Hey, no need to sulk, Tab! It's nice to see the both of you!" Lan felt a bit happier seeing Tab's spirits noticeably rise upon being reassured.
"Same here, man!" Dex hooted as he, Yai, and Mayl all took chairs from neighboring tables and surrounded Mick's party, "Hey, if we get some free time later Mick, ya wanna Net Battle?"
"Hey, as fun as kicking GutsMan's ass is-"
"-we're gonna have to put that on hold. We came here to get Lan that replacement Navi of his, remember? So uh... yeah. Mr. Match, if you will?"
"Oh, so you finally acknowledge me, huh?" Match snorted playfully as he gave his goatee a rather flippant flick, "And here I go thinking that we're gonna play "Ignore the redhead" all day long!" He then looked over at Lan and held out a brawny hand, "So hey, how's it going today, kiddo?"
"Ah, well... I've had better days to say the least." Lan chuckled sadly as he shook Match's hand, and winced a bit at the man's powerful grip.
"Yeah, no kidding," Match stated as he let go, "A little birdie told me that some bad dudes nabbed your little blue buddy when you guys were gassed at that conference a couple of days ago. I tell ya man, I didn't believe it myself when Mick first told me. The invincible Lan Hikari and the Blue Bomber himself seemed like two flames that were never gonna burn out, but here you are: all alone, and poor old Mega's been snuffed out. But you know something kiddo? Your pal Mick couldn't have contacted a better guy for this kind of situation! Here you are, a guy without a Navi, and here I am, a guy who's lousy with them!"
That much was certainly true: Out of all the Operators Lan had known, there were only two that operated multiple Navis: there was Mr. Famous, a well-known Net Battler who had a seemingly massive arsenal of Navis that he rotated around for various situations. And then, there was Match, who had used three different Navis throughout the years. It was definitely a convenient setup as far as Lan was concerned, though he couldn't help but wonder something that he had missed out on.
"So you're going to let me borrow a Net Navi of yours, right?"
"Yeah! What, are ya suddenly having second thoughts there, kiddo?"
"No, no!" Lan insisted, "I just didn't know that Mick was friendly enough with you to put in a word for me!"
"Well kiddo," Mr. Match explained as he looked fondly at Mick, "You remember how I was working as an assistant teacher over at Cyber Acadmey, right?"
"Yeah, you helped me learn how to use the Cross System with HeatMan!"
"Yep! And you're not the only kid I've been passing down my wisdom to!" Mr. Match then clasped a friendly hand on Mick's head and gave him an affectionate hair-tousling, "Ya see, Mick here got wind that you were taking lessons on handling Fire Navis and came to me one day after school. He's a real troublemaker, that one. But ya know what? So am I! The kid reminds me of when I was a youngster! Now, he still hasn't quite
gotten the hang of truly mastering fire and all its power, but he's getting there!"
Lan couldn't help but feel a bit proud that Mick had a father figure he could look up to, even if he wasn't exactly the perfect influence. Mick didn't really talk much about his home life back when Lan went to Cyber Academy, but the few times he did he seemed pretty on edge, so he had a feeling it was best left alone.
"But oh well, you didn't come all the way here to listen to me drone on about my little buddy, now did ya? You need a Navi, and I intend on delivering!" Match then picked up a satchel that he had resting on the ground and placed it on the table. He opened it up and dug around before producing a red and white PET. Now as you know, kid, I own about three Navis, which is a lot considering most people stick to one." Mr. Match pressed a button and projected a hologram of the first evil navi Lan ever faced off with: FireMan, a rather well-built Navi with two nasty arm cannons and a torch-like head that burnt with an eternal flame.
"Oh hey, it's FireMan! Long time no see!"
"It's good seeing you too, Hikari." FireMan droned as he gave a curt nod, "It's good to not be at each other's throats for once, you dig?"
"Now of course, you and MegaMan have quite the history with FireMan: you guys have pulverized him more than once, and even gained powers similar to his through that Soul Unison stuff." Mr. Match explained, "So it would be pretty logical if I handed FireMan over, right?" Mr. Match dug out another PET, this one being red and yellow, and summoned another hologram. This time it was HeatMan, an alarming looking Navi who resembled a cross between a demon and a zippo lighter. But despite his frightening appearance, he was the only Navi of Match's who could be considered a truly good person. Go figure.
"Hey HeatMan! It's been a while, huh?"
"You betcha, kid!" HeatMan cackled as his fingers roared to life by sending forth small jets of fire, "Gosh, I hope we get to team up again! It'll be just like the good old days where we got to run wild and burn things to the ground, hee hee!"
"Slow it down there, captain." Mr. Match chuckled, "Of course, HeatMan goes without saying: MegaMan got his cross, and you even used the guy to bail Mega out of some pretty gnarly situations. So that means he's the guy I'm loaning you, right?"
"Well um... yeah?"
"WRONG!" Match cackled as he set HeatMan's PET aside as well, "Sticking with what ya know is a pretty safe bet, but I like watching ya squirm. Putting students through the wringer is what us teachers do right? So I've been thinking about maybe partnering you up with a Navi you aren't that familiar with." Mr. match produced his third PET, a red and grey one, and Lan wasn't surprised to see whose hologram was projected from it. The quadrupedal, oddly-shaped Navi with a raging fire constantly burning around his head, FlameMan was easily the Navi of Match's Lan was least familiar with. He had been used by Match once, and it was during the Alpha Crisis where the guy tricked Lan into setting Scilab on fire, which put God knows how many people's lives in jeopardy. Lan hadn't seen him since, and he wasn't complaining due to the ugly memories it bought back. Still, he ultimately wasn't the type to hold grudges, so Lan decided to make nice with FlameMan.
"Hey FlameMan, we haven't seen each other in a while! You keeping up well?" FlameMan's only response was a cheerful sounding roar. While he only communicated through seemingly unintelligible roars and grunts, Lan had a feeling this was the Navi's way of saying "Yep! How about you?"
"So," Lan asked as he looked down at the odd-shaped Navi, "I take it you're lending FlameMan to me? That'll be interesting, his candles would be a lot of fun to play around with..."
"Oh, him? Nah, I bought him out because I felt kinda bad for neglecting him lately." Mr. Match admitted sheepishly as he set the third PET aside, "However, you haven't seen ALL my Navis yet." he promised with a sly grin on his face as he pulled out a fourth PET, this one being a combination of red and blue.
"Oh, you made a brand-new Navi?! What's he like?!" Lan asked eagerly, only to be shut down with a stern hand motion.
"Whoa, settle down there kid! It'll be a lot more fun to show you rather than just blabbing on and on about him, ya know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I know."
"Eh, no need to fret. You've got enthusiasm, and I like that! Since you're so excited to meet him though, you mind handing over your PET?"
"Sure!" Lan agreed enthusiastically. He handed over his empty PET, which Match took and linked to his own. Mick and Tab crowded around the screen and exchanged knowing glances with the redhead while he pressed a button on his own PET.
"Alright kiddo, I'm transferring him over! Just a fair warning though, he's a bit of a spitfire, that one! I only made him about two days ago, and he's already good at giving me the run around!"'A spitfire?'
Lan thought, feeling a bit cautious about what Match had said, 'What did he mean by that?'
But any doubtful thoughts were temporarily dispelled when Lan's PET screen blinked to life. He grabbed the PET and held it close, grinning eagerly as he anticipated the new arrival.
"Pft, you guys should get a load of this!" Dex chortled to Yai and Mayl, "He looks like a kid on Christmas morning!"
"Dex, shush! Let him have his moment!" Yai hushed while the PET made a dinging sound. A mass of light showed up on the screen and quickly turned into a mass of zeroes and ones. The numbers began to shift and morph until they formed a rather odd shape. The binary was quickly replaced with proper features and colors, leaving Lan speechless when he saw the new Navi Match had given to him.
(Song: Phoenix Wright Dual Destinies, Noisy People: [link]
"It's a... grill?" Lan's excitement was quickly replaced by an underwhelming feeling. As he said, the Navi he was looking at resembled a cooking appliance as opposed to something suitable for combat. He did have legs and arms at least, but his torso and head seemed to combine in the form of a large, black grill, with a dial-knob in place of a nose and two rather angry eyes. And from the look of things, he wasn't exactly thrilled to see Lan either.
"STOVE. I'm a STOVE, ya little snot-nosed brat!" the Navi replied with a very rough, crass-sounding voice, "I can't believe it, what's Match trying to pull?! YO, MATCH!"
Feeling a bit taken aback, Lan projected a hologram of the grill Navi and let him turn around and look his creator in the face.
"Hey little man, ya called?"
"Where do ya get off tryin' ta loan me to some punkass little kid?! Ya said I'd be shackin' up with an ace Netbattler!"
"Whoa, simmer down there, bud." Match warned, "That "Punkass little kid" is Lan Hikari, the guy who's saved the world at least seven times, an expert Net Battler, and my little buddy to boot, so show him some respect, why don't ya?"
"Hey, respect ain't somethin' that you're entitled to, ya know. Ya want respect? Ya EARN it, and ya don't earn my respect by calling me a grill when I'm CLEARLY A STOVE!" the Navi hollered while Lan growled in anger.
"But you ARE a grill! Just look at you!"
"Kid, Kid! Settle down, ya hear?" Match scolded while the new Navi simply glared daggers at him. "Oh boy, I told ya he was a spitfire! Lan, StoveMan! StoveMan, Lan!"
"SEE?!" StoveMan hollered, not even giving Lan a chance to let the name sink in, "I AM a stove. It's in my name, ya little punk! REMEMBER THE NAME!"
"Hey, you look like a grill, so that's why I called you one, geez!" Lan yelled as he resisted the urge to throw the PET across the room. He had known StoveMan for only a minute or so, and he already regretted taking him in.
"So, whatcha think, kiddo? It's not often ya see a stove-based Net Navi, ya know!" Mr. Match grinned, a look of pure contentment on his face. While it was tempting to complain, Lan was not about to complain. He needed a new Navi, and as jerkish as this one was, he wasn't about to be an ungrateful little brat and whine about it. StoveMan's attitude was just something he'd have to deal with.
"He's uh... he's great! Really!" Lan chuckled reluctantly, "But um... is he... is he suitable for combat?"
"Well of course he is!" Match snorted, "What, do ya think I make crap or something?"
"No! I was just-"
"Eh, it was a valid question. I mean, he IS a stove, ya know."
"Yeah, I totally didn't notice. Ya ginger piece'a-"
"ANYWAY," Match interrupted the surly Navi's insult with a glare, "Don't worry man! I'd rather he show you himself, but he's got all sorts of fun stuff he can use to roast the enemy into cinders! And what better way to save your Navi than to show your opponents just how painful the flames of vengeance are, huh?!"
"Well you've got a point there," Lan stated somewhat sadly, "But well... that's the hard part. I don't know what to do!"
"What do you ya mean by that?"
"Well, that's exactly it: I don't know how to follow up with this! Look, I have no clue who the guy was that kidnapped MegaMan, and I have no idea where he's hiding! I've got nothing to go by, and... well, that's why I've been so moody the past few days, I don't know what to do!" Lan admitted. And it was true: no matter how helpful and cooperative his new Navi was, there was still no real way he could track down MegaMan's kidnapper. However, Match wasn't too bothered by this.
"So what, you're giving up already? You're not even gonna TRY to save your pal? MegaMan must not mean that much to ya then, kid."
"HEY! Mega means the world to me, you know!" Lan shot back, his face red with anger, "He's not just my Navi, he's my brother, too! If I knew how to save him, I would! But I have no clue where to start!"
"Hey, kiddo?" Match asked him, "I saw the attack, ya know? It was all over the news. They showed that psycho's message and everything. And ya know what?"
"I know a bit less than you do, but I already have a pretty good idea of what ya can do." Lan wanted to assume he was bluffing, but that smug look on Match's face wasn't just a mere poker face.
"Yeah! Kid, I used to run with the World Three, ya know? And ya see, I've noticed things in regards to not just how my old posse operated, but other gangs like Gospel and Nebula too. And the most important thing to know is that guys like tall, dark, and psycho that night? They freaking love attention. They LOVE it, like a fat kid loves candy! This is hardly the last time your guy's gonna stir up a ruckus. I know this sounds like a dumb idea... but you might have to wait a bit. Wait, until this guy causes more chaos. I kinda get the feeling that all ya need is some patience, and all the pieces are gonna fall into place. Maybe his broadcast signals get traced, people who know him speak up, that sorta thing. You get my drift?"
Lan had to admit, now that he thought about it, Match's words were pretty logical. The more this madman made himself known to the general public, the more likely information surrounding him would surface. But yet, he wasn't too keen on the idea of basically waiting around for information either.
"Well that does make a ton of sense, but I don't want to just sit and wait for this guy to blow stuff up!"
"Well then, I suggest ya go do your homework, ya know?" Match offered, "It's a hell of a dangerous place, but the Undernet's a pretty good place to do some detective work! It's a huge place, and I bet ya some of the heels, thugs, and crooks know SOMETHING about the guy if you're willing to prod around. And when all else fails..."
"Well kiddo, you seem to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time." Match admitted with a manic glare in his eye. "For better or for worse, you always tend to find yourself right in the middle of whatever stuff the terrorist group of the week is trying to pull. All I'm saying is that if gnarly stuff is happening in your vicinity, it's definitely going to be under that guy's orders. It would be a waste not to try to get any cronies of his to spill the beans, ya know!"
"Yeah... you know, that makes sense!" Lan admitted. It was pretty obvious from what he saw that the mysterious man wasn't acting alone, as he had those FrostMan and TimeMan Navis backing him up. And from his personal experiences, terrorists that are high on adrenaline do tend to let things slip. While putting yourself in trouble on purpose was generally a horrible idea, it was pretty appropriate in this case. A newfound feeling of passion and enthusiasm seemed to warm up in Lan's chest as he looked back at Mr. Match.
"Alright Mr. Match, you know what?! I'm done sulking around. I don't have much to go on now, but I WILL do everything I can to get MegaMan back! Trust me, whoever that nutcase is, he won't know what hit him!"
"Ha ha, now THAT'S the spirit, kiddo!" Mr. Match laughed as he smacked the table with a hearty fist, "See? All you needed was for me to light a fire in your belly! So now, I think it's pretty obvious what you need to do!"
"You bet!" Lan then recited his current gameplan: "I'm gonna train up StoveMan and make sure he'll be able to hold his own once we start throwing down with that guy's cohorts. Then, we're gonna scour the Undernet for any kind of a lead! StoveMan, are you with me?!"
"Yeah, sure. I totally am." StoveMan replied, with the sarcasm and bitterness heavily obvious in his voice. However, Lan couldn't care less about his lack of enthusiasm: he had a good idea of how to get his brother back. And no surly, grumpy stove Net Navi was going to get his spirits down.
"Alright, Mr. Match: thank you so much for helping me out! Mick, Tab, that goes for you guys too!" Match simply grinned smugly while Mick and Tab cheered and exchanged high fives with Lan.
"Heh, I knew ya needed a good kick in the rear to get ya going!"
"Good luck, Mr. Hikari! If you need any help, you're always welcome at Asterland!"
After Mick and Tab said their piece, Lan turned to Dex, Yai, and Mayl, all of whom seemed incredibly proud of Lan for overcoming his bad mood. "Hey guys?"
"I think it's high time we head back home! I'm ready to get my brother back!"
Dex whooped with joy as he and his friends all left their chairs. Lan took the lead and headed straight for the doors... only to suddenly stop in place as his stomach growled, angrily reminding him that he was missing lunch.
"Well.... uh, we'll leave soon. But for now, let's fuel up with some snacks."