The Rebound Effect: Again!
Disclaimer: Characters and setting are the property Ken Akamatsu and others.
Author's notes at the end of the chapter.
The icy expanse of space slid silently past the hull of the military frigate, though the majority of her passengers could care less about the goings on outside the vessel. The ship's crew was comprised of hardened spacers and generally had more important things to do than watch the vacuum go past. Those passengers that were not veteran spacefarers had already grown bored with looking out the chilled portholes at the slowly changing expanse of nothingness. Even at the speeds which the ship traveled, it took days for even the closest stellar body to shift to any degree detectable with the naked eye.
The passengers were a mixed lot, the majority of them being soldiers moving from post to post while the rest were a cross section of the social strata. Closer to Sol, civilians would likely have been aboard a passenger liner or a transport of some kind, but this wasn't close to Sol, not by a long shot. Out here in the depths of space, anyone who didn't own their own ship took a slip where they could find it. The Imperial Navy wasn't above taking on passengers for a nominal fee and acceptance of the fact that there was a very real chance of getting fired upon before reaching their destination, so many folk found themselves bunking down between ration crates at one point or another. Of course, the dangers on a military frigate were no worse than faced on more private vessels, they were simply different.
One of those passengers had taken up a position in a darkened corner of what served as the passengers' meal hall. Passengers and crew did not officially mix, though they came closer to doing so inside the confines of the meal hall than any other area. Here, a crude form of alcohol was sold along with the slightly substandard rations which were the best passengers generally could hope for. Alcohol, however, served to equalize the different social tiers within the ship, and virtually everyone aboard could be seen in the meal hall eventually. Given the large load of personnel and passengers, that made the meal hall a busy place.
The figure in the corner took a long, slow sip of his beverage, some of the aforementioned alcohol, and sighed. Had he been in better light, his purely Asian features would have been obvious as well as his slight build, far smaller than any of the soldiers and almost all of the passengers, as well. One of his hands rested innocently against his hip where a worn pattern in the material of his belt showed that a holster of some type normally rested. Passengers were not, of course, allowed to carry weapons aboard ship. Other blank spaces on his belt indicated more items which had either been relinquished to the soldiery or hidden so as not to attract the avarice of other passengers or even crew members. It was not unknown for a traveler to find himself beaten and robbed or worse as part of the passage from star to star.
Sighing again and taking another drink, the passenger settled back into the shadows, his eyes slowly but methodically watching the other people in the meal hall. When one of those figures appeared before him, all his vigilance served to do, however, was make the appearance all the more surprising. In a maneuver half born of reflex and half of clumsiness, he found himself falling backwards from the chair. His flailing arms managed to maintain his balance just long enough for the other figure to seize the front of his tunic and pull him forward again, forcing the chair's legs to the floor.
"You should be more careful," the newcomer said, her lilting voice pronouncing the garbled Indo-Chinese of Imperial Basic in a clearly feminine manner, though the baggy dark clothing and tied back hair could have hid either gender in the dim light. "I do not believe you have changed at all since last we saw each other."
The original lurker laughed nervously. "I..." he started, but seemed to give up on whatever he was thinking about saying. "I've been looking for you for quite a while. I knew you were in the sector... but I had only hoped you would be aboard this ship." He took another drink of the caustic liquor, seeming to take some courage from the fluid. "I wish you would come back with me. Things are growing more dangerous in the galaxy, especially for our kind. The children..." he trailed off as he realized that the female was staring at him intently. "What?"
"You did not chase me out to the edges of known space just because a few witch hunters have gained in power," she said very matter-of-factly. Her eyes scanned his face, seeming not to notice the relative darkness of their corner. "You have changed so much since we first met. Am I so changed as well?" It was the woman's turn to sigh. "How many years has it been since that day? I no longer count..."
"Six hundred, seventy four years and six months, give or take a few months. Calendars are not so reliable in space, particularly with recent... events." He shrugged. Keeping track of the years had apparently been one of his few vices and the apparent lapses were a bit of an embarrassment. "Fifteen years since your last departure from home," he added levelly, though it was clear from the tone of his voice that the passage of time had cost him an emotional price.
"So long... I..." she sighed, the calm confidence of her voice wavering a little. Her eyes no longer met his face, though she did address his accusation in her own way. "How are the children?"
"Tamago is married now, though I thought he would end up a spinster. He is almost fifty. And our first great-great grandchild should be turning twelve any day now." The oddity of the situation made him laugh, though a slight tinge of nervousness still crept into his voice.
"Are they... pure?" she asked, the odd way in which she twisted the word 'pure' made it seem more an epithet than an adjective.
"As far as I've been able to tell, yes," he said, his own lips turning in distaste. "They will be safe from the Inquisitors, if they come. We have not passed on our legacy, it seems, though I fear that one day the genes may reappear and they will face danger."
"There are so few of us left now. We might be the last..." Her voice sounded melancholy, almost wistful at the prospect. "If only we could rest as well. Sometimes, I think that death has left me waiting for too long."
The woman may have been smiling a grim smile in the darkness, though in the dim light there was little the man could make out. He pressed on, "Look, I know how you feel about everything. We shouldn't be here. It should be one of them. They shouldn't be dead or we should be or something else entirely. We didn't know. We couldn't have known," his voice wavered, indicating that this was a topic that he was struggling with as well.
"If only I had been... stronger," she said, softly and almost timidly, "I should have known."
"That's not true. You couldn't have known what was going to happen..." he took a deep breath. "They are avenged. There is nothing more we can do. Please, just... come home with me. Let's forget about them for a little while." The suggestion hung heavily in the air between them. "I don't mean forever, it's just that... I love you. Nothing is going to bring them back, but we can be together for a while, if nothing else."
The female turned from him as though to hide her face. "I... love you, as well, but I don't think that I can-"
Suddenly, the ship lurched violently and the lights went out for an instant as the gravity failed. Warning klaxons sounded as the pair were thrown violently from their seats and rebounded off of a bulkhead. They clung together as they impacted and rotated. Everywhere around them, people were screaming and drifting out of control in zero-g. Soldiers scrambled to their stations in the null gravity, and passengers did their best to avoid floating freely. The ship shuddered violently again and the floating pair slammed hard into what had been the floor, with the female on the bottom.
"I... love you..." the male figure gasped out as the taste of his own blood welled up in his mouth. The female form did not stir.
And then a third violent shiver struck the ship and everything went black.
Urashima Keitaro gripped the bus transfer in one hand and gulped. He hadn't seen his grandmother in years, but with his parents kicking him out of the house, she was his only hope. Sighing deeply, his mind raced over what had gone wrong at the last entrance exam for Toudai but he cut it short. "No, that was last year. This year I will make it in for certain."
During his walk through the last few blocks, to the long and winding staircase of the inn, he ran over what he was going to say to his grandmother a few times. The promise he had made 15 years ago still gave him strength, but it was all he could do to keep desperation out of his thoughts. This was truly his last chance of attending Toudai and avoiding his "destiny" as the successor to the family bakery. With the way the economy had been flagging, he did not think that a part time job would be able to support him well enough for him to study properly. Second year ronin or not, this time he would succeed.
At the top of the steps, the sprawling complex of the Hinata Inn was revealed. The building looked to be in failing repair, though not abandoned which caused Keitaro's hope to swell slightly. A lack of visitors would mean extra rooms, which might be all he needed to convince his grandmother to let him stay. However, as he entered he was surprised to find the building empty. Several pairs of slippers were laid out on the floor, and the place looked clean enough, though no one appeared to be home.
The rough bus trip started to take its toll and Keitaro ventured into the room marked "landlord" assuming it was his aunt's. After a little rest and a brief pity party for his plight, the knotted muscles in his back got the better of him.
"Isn't there a hot springs here?" he asked the room in general. No one answered, of course, but his memory indicated that there was, indeed. He stretched and rose to go find it. There was nothing better for an aching back, after all.
"Is he dead?" a soft, almost childish voice asked, almost sounding frightened.
Struggling with the fuzziness in his skull, he sat up, his hand going to his throbbing temples. "Gajaka vosh," he spat, a choice curse he'd picked up on a mining colony some time back that translated to an anatomical impossibility for most sentient creatures. "What happened... the ship..."
"What is he saying?" a voice asked and the sound of several feet backing away could be heard.
"What the hell happened? Were we attacked? Was there a woman found as well?" He asked, looking up for the first time and realizing that the bright lights overhead were not those of a medical bay, or even the haphazard lighting of a pirate vessel. Instead, the bright light was a pure golden sunlight streaming through an open window. This fact sank in at approximately the same time as the realization that the voices had been speaking Japanese, a language three hundred years dead.
The final shock was seeing them. The girls he had lost that fateful day six hundred years ago, all standing around him and staring.
"Gajaka vosh," he muttered again as the darkness came surging back and he fainted, falling backwards.
So, what is this, exactly? It's a kind of amalgamation of a fic idea I had about 6 years ago and Love Hina. It's not necessary to read the original fic (it was Sailor moon based) in order to understand what's going on here. To a large extent, the science is just a setup for the real story, so don't worry about it making sense (it makes BS sense unless you really think about it, then it's obviously BS).
In any case, if you read this, drop me a line. I'm interested in getting feedback so that I can decide how to continue this one. Positive or negative feedback is welcome, it all helps to make a better story. Currently, I'm considering this version of the fic a working draft. Serious changes might or might not happen.