"Hey, hey, hey! Looks like we're here, you guys!" Dr. Skrenta announced with a wide grin on her face as she pulled up to the blue-painted Hikari household, "So go ahead and get your butts outta my car! You guys have some barbecue to tear into, and I've got a program to analyze!"
"You're leaving? I thought you were going to eat with us!" Lan complained. He was already growing to like this eccentric goofball of a scientist, and she was going to leave?
"Hey, hey, hey! I never
said that I was gonna eat, just that I might
be able to weasel my way into getting some grub. And besides..." Her smile turned into a disinterested sneer while she cast her gaze upon the house, "Wily's hanging out there, and last I checked I'm allergic to batty old loons, you know what I'm saying? And besides..." she added after whipping out a bar of chocolate out of her coat pocket, "I've got like, fifty Bonne Bars waiting for me back at Scilab. I'm good!"
"Alrighty then," Dex announced as he unbuckled his seatbelt and threw open the car door. "I'm gone. Thanks for the lift, Skrenta!"
"Same here, goodbye!" Lan thanked while Skrenta flashed him a thumbs up. After Lan and Chaud both left the car, she took off down the street as quickly as she came. When he turned to the house, Lan noticed Dex walking away. "Hey Dex, you're leaving? I thought you'd love to get your hands on some barbecue."
"No can do, buddy. I'm on a diet, remember? Last thing I wanna do is jack up my carb count with all those sweet sauces you use, ya know?"
"You do realize that the sauces are optional, Dex?" Chaud asked, a hint of flippant annoyance in his tone, "Grilled meat and vegetables are quite healthy, you know."
"Easy for you to say, buddy!" Dex shot back, "You can't have barbecue if you don't use sauce, you're just gobbling up normal meat and vegetables! And last thing I need is to have unhealthy sauces try to try to tempt me with their tastiness! So like I said: catch ya later, guys!"
"See ya, Dex!" Lan waved goodbye at his friend, who made his way back home. Chaud however could only glare disapprovingly at the larger boy.
"That idiot... what on earth do you see in him, Lan?"
"Hey, Dex is no moron!" Lan shot back in defense of his friend, "He's just got his own way of doing things, that's all. The guy wants to eat better and slim down, that's pretty cool in my book!"
Chaud looked quite tempted to argue, but he simply shrugged. "Well, more power to him, I suppose." Without another word, Lan approached the door to the house and opened it.
(Song: MegaMan Network Transmission, In the Room: [link]
"Hey mom, dad! I'm home!" Lan announced while he and Chaud entered the house. Already, Lan was enamored by the sound of sizzling meat and vegetables coming from the living room. "I heard you guys were having a barbecue without me?!"
"Settle down, Lan!" Haruka scolded with a laugh while she greeted her son and Chaud, "We were going to save some for you! And for you too Chaud, if you wish." she added while turning to Chaud, who nodded curtly.
"I suppose I'll eat a bit."
"Well then, how about you boys take a seat around the grill? Zero's in the middle of cooking up a batch of meat and peppers!"'Zero?'
Lan was initially confused by his mother's words, but soon came to see what she meant when he and Chaud entered the living room. Seated on the couch right beside Dr. Wily was none other than the towering Zero.EXE, who despite his intimidating appearance looked quite cute due to humbly cooking some green bell peppers and thin strips of beef on an indoor grill mounted on the coffee table. He looked up at Lan, and bowed his head respectfully.
"Lan, it's so nice to see you again!" Zero then glanced down at the floor, almost as if he was ashamed of himself. "I truly hope that you don't mind that I'm currently occupying your Copybot. It didn't feel right, but Dr. Wily was insistent that I do so."
"Considering that I'm the one who created Copybots in the first place, it makes perfect sense for me to use any I see laying around. And besides, it's not like you're going to get much mileage out of it for the time being." Wily chimed in, as blunt as always. "But anyway, It's good to have you here, Lan. Come on, sit down with your former arch nemesis and help yourself to some barbecue!"
Copybots... those were robots that could serve as a physical body for a Net Navi to interact with the physical world, created by none other than Dr. Wily to use in the World Three's final world domination scheme. Lan ended up receiving one as a gift soon after Wily's Cybeast plan was foiled, and with it he and MegaMan were able to physically interact as a family for the first time in their lives. It didn't last long due to his kidnapping, but for a few weeks Lan and MegaMan would hang out and watch TV together, they'd go on walks and talk, and would even play the occasional video game... he truly missed those days. He really did. But now wasn't the time to dwell on such things: there was barbecue to partake in.
"Alright then. Just let me grab a chair!" Lan headed over to the kitchen where Chaud had already grabbed a seat of his own and followed suit. The boys situated their chairs in front of the coffee table and the couch, while Haruka did the same with a chair of her own. And bringing up the rear was Yuichiro, who staggered into the room and yawned loudly while dragging his chair to the grill.
"Ah, Lan! Chaud! Just in time for barbecue, I see!" The bespectacled man said while fighting back another yawn, as he usually did on the days he was able to leave work. Lan was honestly surprised that he looked as youthful and handsome as he did considering the stress that comes with working such ridiculous hours almost non-stop.
"And it's nice to see you too, dad! I'm sorry for not seeing you sooner..." Lan apologized, thinking back to those few days where he became a shut-in after MegaMan's abduction. Already, he was at the point to where reflecting on such things made him cringe.
"Hey, we all understand, Lan." Yuichiro reassured Lan with a sad smile before turning away and sharing a saddened glance with his wife. "This is hardly our first rodeo, either." He then snagged a slab of beef with his chopsticks and held it over his plate before taking a bite. "Anyway Lan, your mother told me that you got your hands on a replacement Navi for the time being."
"Oh yeah, I did!" Lan remarked while Chaud subtly grimaced, "I got him on loan from Mr. Match! His name's StoveMan. He's... well, he's kind of a handful. But I like him all the same!" Lan chuckled sheepishly while Chaud gave him a disapproving look.
"Ah, one of Match's, you say?" Wily asked, the subject of one of his more faithful minions having caught his attention. He then scoffed and shook his head. "StoveMan... sounds like he's really scraping the bottom of the barrel for Fire Navi designs."
Lan cringed, glad that StoveMan couldn't hear yet another diss being thrown his way.
"Ah, so you have a new Navi, that's good to hear!" Yuichiro stated proudly. "So Lan, can you show him to us? I'd love to be able to meet him!" Having only witnessed him sucking up to her, Haruka raised no objections, but Lan and Chaud shared reluctant glances. It was a nice, peaceful meal, and neither of them were too keen on letting StoveMan's abrasive, vulgar personality ruin things, especially after thinking back to how badly Chaud's earlier scolding messed with his attitude.
"Uh, that'll have to wait for a while." Lan said with an awkward chuckle, "I dunno if you've been paying attention to the news, but he had to fight like crazy over in Elec Town, so he's busy resting right now."
"Oh yes, that's right! I did receive a news bulletin regarding chaos in Elec Town!" Yuichiro remarked while Wily and Haruka both nodded as well.
"We all did," Haruka remarked, "I'm so glad that you came out OK, honey!"
"According to reports put out by the Net Police, there were not any casualties to report, only minor injuries at worst." Zero responded after looking at a view messages broadcasted by his wrist, "I'm quite impressed. You humans certainly know how to act in a crisis!"
"Believe me, Zero: there's always something putting hundreds of lives in mortal peril. If it's not me, it's some other little whippersnapper looking to start a ruckus." Wily laughed after his response before taking a swig of sake. "But anyway, wasn't the man responsible for the Elec Town attack the same lunatic who crashed our presentation?!"
"Indeed it was: we still haven't found any personal information but he revealed that his name is Takuma Saisei, and that he's running a Netcrime group known as the Omega Initiative." Chaud stated plainly while scrolling through messages on his PET. "It was pretty plain on the night that he surfaced that he was a threat, but after today he's now considered to be among the most wanted men in Electopia."
"Can't say I'm surprised! Considering that he generated thousands, if not millions of Viruses all over Elec Town, who knows what else he has in store for us?!" Wily sighed and took another swig of sake. "It's always something in this country. Always!"
"Still though, millions of Viruses generated all across town in the span of seconds... I was aware of powerful Virus generating technology, but to this level?! How on Earth are we going to fight against such a thing?" Yuichiro asked flippantly.
"Dr. Hikari, it's alright." Chaud stated reassuringly, "The Virus generator is a simple program that can simply be deactivated and destroyed like any other, nothing to worry about. In fact, ProtoMan was able to grab the program and send it over to Scilab for research purposes."
"Yeah!" Lan chimed in, "Thanks to Skrenta, we'll be be ready with a counterattack if Takuma starts planting more!"
"Skrenta?!" Wily scoffed with a snort, "Her, of all people?! Are you telling me that you're trusting her with something as important as an Omega Initiative weapon?!"
"Well... yeah! She's a Virus expert, right?" Lan asked, to which Wily snorted again.
"Feh, she's got nothing on me. You'd best not forget that you're talking to the man who created the Life Virus! You would think that I would be the first one to consult with such a matter!"
"Well if it makes you feel any better, I only gave it to Skrenta because it was convenient at the time. Once you and Dr. Hikari are finished, feel free to help her out with it." Chaud answered in an attempt to cool the rising tensions. Wily however shook his head and set his plate of barbecue down on the table.
"No. No! Completely out of the question! I am NOT leaving such an important program in the hands of a buffoon like her! Zero, we're leaving at once!" Wily stood up and whipped out his PET, while Zero nodded and got off the couch as well.
"Whoa, wait a second!" Lan shouted as he rose from his seat, already feeling nervous due to the intense stares he received from his parents and Wily, "W-w-what's wrong with Skrenta?! She seems really cool!"
Wily's response was a moody "Feh" and the crossing of his arms. "I take it that you aren't too familiar with her, Lan?"
"Well, no. But I met her today, and she was really funny!" Lan thought back to his earlier discussions with Skrenta, and the rather dismissive way she talked about Wily. It was definitely clear that the feeling was mutual on Wily's side and that there was a definite rift between the two scientists... but why? 'What's your deal, Wily?'
"You see, my boy: in the adult world there is very little time to be spared for childish pranks or flatulence broadcasts on a workspace PA system. Trust me when I say that in due time, that you'll come to see that Barbara Skrenta is far from a serious adult. I can't fathom why they'd keep such a nuisance around at Scilab..." Wily sighed and pressed a button on his PET. "Zero, jack out!"
"Understood." The ferocious-looking Navi jacked out of the copybot, leaving a vaguely humanoid cream-colored robot behind. Wily then made his way to the door and summoned Chaud with a hand motion.
"Chaud, do you mind taking me back down to Scilab? I'd go myself if it wasn't for that pesky court mandate..." Wily shook his head and growled quietly: while he was allowed to roam free in the outside world, he could only do so with supervision from an Official, Net Police agent, or Scilab employee. And from what Lan could tell, the good doctor was quite sore about that.
"Gotcha. See you later Lan, Dr. Hikari, Mrs. Hikari." Chaud said, as cool as ever.
"Oh, but Chaud! You didn't even get to eat!" Haruka protested, to which Chaud smirked.
"Eh, I'm not much of an eater anyway. I'll live. Now come on Dr. Wily..." Chaud escorted the older man out the door, and shut the door behind them. Lan however simply sighed and leaned back in his chair. The way a nice, peaceful dinner with friends and family went from joyful to an awkward affair seemed like it should have only been the kind of thing one would see in a comedy film. But no, here Lan was: feeling quite responsible for destroying his dad's barbecue by bringing up Wily's least favorite person on the planet. He sat in silence before meekly apologizing.
"Sorry for making Wily mad, you guys."
"Oh, don't worry about that, Lan. It wasn't your fault that Albert reacted that way." Yuichiro sighed and gazed out the window, at the empty doghouse in the backyard. "Though I honestly can't say that I blame him. Barbara... well, she's kind of a handful, to say the least."
"Gee, you guys really have it out for her." Lan stated.
"Lan!" Haruka scolded, only for Yuichiro to place a hand on her shoulder.
"No need to fret, dear. Lan has every right to stick up for someone that he likes! Even if that someone is quite childish, obnoxious, and a bit of a boor..." Yuichiro sighed once again and massaged his temples. "Lan, let me ask you something: what was going on over at Scilab when you met Barbara?"
"Well, she hacked the speaker system so she could broadcast fart noises all over the building!" Lan snickered as he recalled her prank, though Yuichiro was not amused.
"Oh dear, again?!
That's what, the sixth, seventh time she's done that this week? And let me guess, when she introduced herself she zapped you with a "joy" buzzer."
"Yeah, she got me good, Dex too!" While he laughed though, Lan couldn't help but shudder at the recollection of his hand receiving that nasty zap.
"Well Lan, are you aware of how many interns she's scared off with that trick?" Yuichiro sighed yet again, cringing as if the very thought of Barbara's existence was painful. "Lan... I don't quite agree with how he worded it... but Barbara is very much not
a serious adult. Yes, she has provided all sorts of great things for Net Society in the Virus Busting field, and I will be the first to vouch for her credibility! But being a genius does not give you a license to torment and annoy your coworkers!"
"But dad!" Lan protested, "She's not trying to be annoying, she's trying to be fun! Seriously, it was hilarious when she broadcasted those fart noises!"
"Well I can imagine that the Scilab staff weren't too thrilled about it, were they?"
"Well yeah, but..." Lan wanted to argue, but the mental image of all the staff that complained and rose a fuss when the noises played kept his mouth shut.
"Trust me Lan, if I had my way Barbara would be working somewhere else. She is very disruptive in the workplace and gets under just about everyone's skin. She's really only kept around thanks to being a genius in regards to Viruses. In fact, she's one of the top consultants helping Albert and I with the Colonel and Iris project."'Oh yeah, she mentioned that!'
Lan thought back to how Skrenta said that she played a major part in the program's development. That seemed to be a sore spot with her, and Lan couldn't blame her: she wasn't even invited to speak at the doctor's conference! Maybe it was time to find out why she had been given the shaft like that...
"Anyway, I think I've said my piece." Yuichiro gave a powerful, almost roaring yawn before drowsily rubbing his eyes. "Now if you two will excuse me, I have sleep to catch up on. Sleep in a nice, warm bed..."'Or not.'
As tempting as it was to badger his dad further, Lan was still the child of an Electopian working man: he knew exactly how hard those unforgiving hours were on Yuichiro. He'd always have another time to address Skrenta's unfair treatment with him. "Alright dad, you go catch up on your sleep! And uh... sorry if I was being annoying about Skrenta."
"Hey, once again Lan you have nothing to apologize for!" Yuichiro said with a weak smile, "Barbara is a... complicated person to say the least. Once we have the free time, I wouldn't mind talking more about her with you!" Yuichiro turned towards the master bedroom, and wasted no time in getting through the door. Haruka glanced his way, and sighed.
"Oh Yuichiro... I wish he didn't have to work at Scilab, those hours are just so brutal! And that Skrenta woman... she sounds like she's really running him ragged. If he won't get her fired, maybe I ought to have a word with his higher-ups..." with an irate puttering noise, Haruka grabbed the grill, dumped the meat and peppers onto her plate, and began to messily devour them while Lan awkwardly watched.'Geez, are Dex and I the ONLY ones who like Skrenta?!'
Lan thought as he awkwardly snatched a slab of pork from Haruka's plate and began to chow down. 'Seriously, she's so cool, and so funny! I'd kill to have a big sister like her! They all need to loosen up around her!'
Lan glanced at the stairs and shrugged. There wasn't really much to do right now: dad was sleeping, mom was stress-eating, StoveMan was nursing his wounded pride... though maybe Dex, Yai, or Mayl would be up for a chat? Though considering how today really wore him out, maybe a nap wasn't out of the question.'One thing's for sure, though: I'm not gonna join in on playing "Pin the diss on Skrenta." In fact, maybe I should call Chaud and see if he can give me her contact information! I wouldn't mind introducing her to StoveMan at some point...'
Lan interrupted his own train of thought with a yawn. 'Or not. That bed's sounding cozier and cozier the more I think about it. I might try to get ahold of her tomorrow.'
Having decided to end his day on a high note, Lan ascended the stairs, more than ready for the sweet embrace of his pillow and blankets...