The Preemptive Author's note: Well, hello! I'd like to start by thanking you for clicking on my particular little story; I, like many writers, like it when folks read (and hopefully review) my work. Furthermore, it should also be noted that this story, like my other Outlaw Star Stories, is set a few years (I haven't bothered to specify just how many, really) after the last episode. Furthermore, as a 'follow up' of sorts to 'Putting on the Ritz', and, to some degree 'Riding Fences', it may benefit a first-time Tumble-reader to take a gander at those stories first to get some of the references I've peppered throughout the story. But enough of this rambling; read on, if you please.

"Nothing good can come of this."

            The note glared up at me from the galley's table like twenty pounds of C-4; supposedly harmless without the proper detonator, but a glaring threat, none the less.  The day had started well enough. I woke up from a particularly pleasant night's sleep, pulled on some pants, and headed for the galley to make myself a pot of much-needed coffee as per my normal routine. I didn't see anyone as I did this, which wasn't surprising; Gene and Mel usually sleep in after a long night of…being Gene and Mel, Suzuka wasn't aboard, and Aisha wasn't exactly an early riser due to her feline tendencies. I thought nothing of this until I spied the far-too-innocent looking piece of paper laid neatly across the Galley's table.

            Gone to take care of a surprise. Will be back soon enough.

                                                            ~Melfina & Gene

            Though this wasn't the worst thing I could have seen in the morning (that title is reserved for the sight of waking up staring into the abysmal black barrel of a large-bore shotgun) it was pretty close. The first thing that struck my familiar sense of paranoia into gear was the single word, "surprise". In my experience, any time the word 'surprise' was put into association with Gene Starwind, a great deal of chaos followed in its wake. Whether it was caused by ninjas, pirates, androids, assassins, ninja pirate android assassins, or just plain debt collectors didn't matter- Gene had an innate ability to sniff out and attract ludicrous amounts of trouble, which I was unlucky enough to get caught up in.

            It wasn't an experience that I looked forward to.

            The second unnerving point I realized was the fact that a note had been left in the first place. Gene didn't leave notes- things became much easier for him that way. If he announced where he was going to- or even the fact that he was leaving in the first place, any number of folks (myself included) would have a vital clue in tracking him down for whatever reason cropped up. It wasn't like Gene to leave a note- no matter how terse, before leaving.

            Of course, one couldn't put it past Melfina to do something so considerate- and the words did appear to be jotted down in a flowing, female script. Then again, Melfina didn't go binge drinking, either.

            All and all, the setup stank; I wasn't quite sure why, but I resolved at that moment that I'd get to the bottom of this apparent mystery and find out just what trouble Gene was getting himself into. I wasn't sure just what I'd do once I found what was going on, to tell the truth, but I did know one thing for certain.

            I was going to need a gun.

            Aisha caught up to me at the armory. I didn't notice her presence at first- she could be surprisingly stealthy when it was convenient. Her voice cut through the relative silence in akin to a rusted chainsaw tearing through antique furniture. Even still, concern tempered her usually brazen tone.

            "Something wrong, Jim?"

            "Nothing out of the ordinary."

            "Then what's with the firepower?" She gestured to the array of firearms (in varying states of disassembly) laid out around me in a 360 degree arc.

            "Like I said-" I slid the bolt back into place on my personal sidearm. "-nothing out of the ordinary."

            With the unconscious "Mrowr?" that made whenever surprised, the catgirl peered a little closer at my private arsenal. "So what is it this time? Ninjas? Pirates?  Debt collectors?"

            "Jim and Melfina left."

            "So?"

            "They left a note."

            "So?"

            "The note said they were going to bring back a surprise."

            "So?"

            "I don't like surprises."

            Aisha shook her head and crossed the room, neatly ignoring the variety of weapons strewn across the floor. "Jim, you're overreacting. Those two lovebirds just went off for some time together- it's not like this ship's the most romantic of places."

            I quirked a brow. "Since when are you such an expert on romance?"

            "I may not be human, Jim, but I'm not blind, either." She grinned. "So why don't you put this firepower away and make the best of the situation? I'm sure the two of us could find something entertaining- I hear that they opened a new all you can eat buffet somewhere near the docks."

            "Aisha, if I didn't know any better, I'd say that you were asking me out on a date."

            The expression that crossed Aisha's face at that very moment was, to tell the truth, perfect. Equal parts dismay and confusion, she sputtered out a reply. "WHAT?" With the demeanor of a maddened, recently-soaked cat, the C'tarl C'tarl began ranting. "Why, to make the mere  suggestion of that sort of thing to a lady of refinement such as myself- not to mention the inherent impossibilities of such a course of action- both socially as well as physically! I do admit, I do appear to be no more than an appropriately gorgeous terran female with pointy ears, but I assure you that my internal biological structure is absolutely incompatible with your fragile human makeup. Besides, C'tarl C'tarl culture has far superior ways of acquiring a proper mate than blundering around in formal wear." She snorted, then crossed her arms, content that she asserted her superiority over humanity once again.

            "What, you bite your potential boyfriend and drag him back to your tree?" I couldn't help myself. Had anyone besides me said those same words to this particular C'tarl C'tarl, they would've quickly found themselves on the receiving end of a great deal of old-fashioned physical violence. But as my luck would have it, the worst Aisha could do to me in retaliation was glare peevishly and grumble one belligerent word.

            "Humans."

            I chuckled at this reply- one that Aisha fell back on in any number of insignificant arguments.  I suppose that Aisha's presence had raised my spirits from the generally negative mood that one little note put me into. My laughter was contagious, as some old saying goes, eliciting a chuckle from Aisha. "Well-" I admitted, reaching to put a box of bullets away "You're probably right. They're just off doing something romantic."

            Aisha nodded, a grin of triumph splayed across her face. "Of course I'm right. You really shouldn't worry about Gene anyway- at least he's got Melfina to look after him."

            "Last time we used that logic he blew up the most expensive hotel in the galaxy."

            "But he also wound up saving us in the process." Aisha remarked, almost reluctantly.

            "Good point. Where'd you say that new restaurant-" I cut off as I noticed what could have possibly been the absolute worst thing I could have seen at that particular moment. An item that proved that, without any shadow of a doubt, foul play was at hand. The blatant obviousness of the clue slapped me in the face, making me wonder just how I hadn't noticed it before. "Damn."

            "What?"

            I glanced up at the baffled C'tarl C'tarl, and held the item in question up to view. Even the notoriously un-subtle Aisha recognized the bad omens inherent in my latest discovery. She gaped for a few moments, expression fallen. "We're not going to be going to that buffet anytime soon, are we?"

            "Nope."

            This said, I set Gene's caster down and set about the ritual of weapon maintenance anew.