Warning: Java compilation error. Insufficient coffee. Due to this, none of the characters, situations and sites belong to the authors of this story. They are currently just used to explore the effects of sleep deprivation.
"Our vacation was cut rather short, due to the destruction of the minivan. Father was most unhappy, but at least he took it out on the rental agency - he believed it was a maintenance failure. However, after our encounter with Akito by the lake, I don't think any of us were in the mood for vacation.
"Trouble continues to find me, no matter where I go. Is this some sort of conspiracy against me?"
Magical Girl Pretty Ruri
Twenty-Three: Change Of Fortunes
"Ruri! Wake up!"
"Mfh?" Ruri sat up slowly, and shook her head. "Wha--"
"Get up! Sleepyhead."
"Mom, it's still break. I don't have school." She blinked at her clock. "Oh, it's nine thirty. Okay, I'm getting up."
"I know that yesterday was really trying for you--"
You have no idea.
"--so I talked to Ai and Yurika, and they're coming over to pick you up."
"What for?" Ruri scratched between Omoikane's ears - more to stay in character than because she felt any real affection for the fat lazy slob - and picked up a skirt. "I'd think that they'd want to rest."
"Well, Yurika is a bundle of energy at any time, and that Ai girl..."
Ruri turned to face her mother. It was time to get this out in the open. "Mom. You seem to have a problem with Ai."
Usagi raised her hands. "I just think that someone...well...more..." She dropped her hands. "Okay. I'm trying very hard not to disapprove, but that girl--"
"Is white?" Ruri allowed a touch of frost to enter her voice.
"No! That's not my problem at all!" Usagi shook her head, her ponytail flying wildly. "It's not that she's white, or that she's Spanish, or any of that! I think it's great that you have no problems with non-Japanese friends. But she's...well, kind of cold and mechanical. And I'm afraid it's rubbing off on you."
Ruri blinked. "You mean I haven't been...reserved...in the past?"
"After your fever, you seemed kind of distant. But you were starting to come out of it. Then that Ai girl showed up, and she's practically a robot! And you used to be such an affectionate child!"
"Oh, a quiet child, to be certain, but you were always ready with a hug, you had no problems making friends...But the only friends you've had over for the last three weeks have been Megumi, Ai and Yurika. And Megumi hasn't been around in almost a week. It's like you're abandoning all your friends for these two new ones."
"Then why don't you mind Yurika?"
"Because she's a lot like you."
Ruri tried not to gag at the thought of being compared to Yurika, even in the most positive light.
"I've also made friends with Akito. You don't seem to mind him."
"He was a very nice boy." Usagi shrugged. "A bit old for you, but a few years down the road..."
"And earlier this week, I was out with Yukina."
"Are you trying to tell me not to worry?"
"No, Mom." She smiled faintly. "I'm trying to say...thank you for worrying."
Ruri launched herself across the room and tackled her mother in a bone-crushing hug.
"So what exactly did you tell my mother that we were going to do today?" Ruri glanced around the park, but luckily, it was deserted. Soldier business could stay private here, for the moment.
Ai smirked. "I told her we were going to karaoke."
"We're not going to karaoke, Yurika."
"Oh." The hyperactive teen drooped, collapsing into a swing. "Why not?"
"We have rather more serious things to discuss." Ai sighed. "Such as the fact that Akito appears to be working for our opponents."
"I cannot believe that," said Ruri. "Everything that I know about Akito seems to hold that he is unwilling to cause harm to anyone without sufficient provocation."
"I gotta agree with her, Ai," said Yurika. She suddenly seemed much calmer, much more mature. It was a transformation that Ruri had seen often enough on the bridge of the Nadesico. "Akito is remarkably brave, and has always tried to do the right thing. I cannot believe that he would harm me, or either of you. He's always tried to protect us."
"The Dark World has been attacking people, causing great harm, and at least one known death," said Ruri. "That Akito would be working for them, given their past, seems unlikely."
Ai paused, then sighed. "Allow me to examine your arguments." She pointed a finger at Ruri. "You say that he is unwilling to cause harm without sufficient provocation. Perhaps the Dark World has offered him such provocation."
"I don't see how."
"We still do not know what their true intentions are," said Ai. "What we know is that they are draining energy from people, without actually killing them. They have on occasion transformed people into fighting machines, but in every case, said individuals were rescued by us without harm. And while Genichiro did kill Tsukumo, we still do not know the details of that particular power struggle."
"I agree with that assessment," said Ruri.
"And while none of these actions are particularly moral, there may be some very good reason why they need this energy."
Ruri considered that, then asked, "Can you think of any such reason that would cause Akito to assist them?"
"This fantasy world must take a remarkable amount of energy to maintain," said Ai. "If Akito's memory is sufficiently damaged, he may believe that this world is the real world."
"That is logical," admitted Ruri. "But Akito has never believed that the ends justify the means."
Ai turned to Yurika. "You state that Akito has always tried to protect us. Even you and I, who have caused him no small amount of stress in the past. I would agree with this. However, note well that he has been protecting us from an alien threat."
"So?" Yurika shrugged. "Not much has changed there."
"Except that in this world, we are the aliens. We are Martians."
Yurika blinked. "Oh. Didn't think of that."
"Akito is also a Martian," pointed out Ruri. "In fact, he is more Martian than I am, as he was born on the planet. I was born on Earth."
"But your nanotechnology is based on the same technology found on Mars," pointed out Ai. "The same nanotechnology that Yurika, Akito and I were implanted with. And this world is a fantasy world, where all four of us are reincarnations of Martian military forces."
"You mean we're space invaders?"
Ai rolled her eyes. "In your case, Yurika, it's more like a spaced invader."
"Setting aside the banter," said Ruri, "I still find it difficult to believe that Akito is working for the Dark World. Voluntarily or otherwise."
"He might be doing it to protect you," pointed out Ai.
"Why would he protect her?" asked Yurika indignantly. "He's always been my Knight in Shining Armour!"
"But in this world, he's been protecting her," said Ai. "More, he seems to have developed romantic feelings for Ruri."
Ruri blushed mildly. "I'm certain that you are reading too much into his actions. Or more likely mine."
"Your own actions have been most transparent," said Ai. "If he does have any such feelings for you, I doubt that you complain."
Her blush deepened.
"And I refer not only to this world," continued Ai, "but to our own as well."
"In our world," mumbled Ruri, "I was the last person...that he might have considered..." She looked down and kicked at the soil. "But here...I was the first. He didn't remember Nadesico, didn't remember Megumi, or Yurika...or even you."
"Here, you were number one." Ai nodded.
"You mean that, back on the Nadesico, you..." Yurika blinked. "I had no idea!"
"Of course not," said Ruri drily. "I wanted to keep it from you. And everyone else, including him."
"Because I had no chance!" She felt herself growing angry; all of her emotions seemed magnified in this twisted place. "Between you, and Megumi, and Ryoko, and Inez, and whatever other girl wandered onto the ship, why would he choose me? I was half his age--"
"Two-thirds," pointed out Ai.
"Might as well still have been in diapers!" She scowled. "I could be fifty, and he'll always think of me just as a little girl. You saw how he changed when he found out who you were, Ai! He met me when I was eleven years old, and he was eighteen. He will never see me as anything but eleven." She sighed, and looked off, towards the horizon. "But here...we were closer in age. At least, as far as he knew. From fourteen to sixteen is a much smaller jump, and it's teen-to-teen, not child-to-adult."
"I think you do him a disservice," said Ai. Then chuckled. "After all, he referred to my adult form as 'a sour old hag.' And I'm only twenty-six."
Akito stepped into the throne room and bowed.
The walls were hung with red tapestries, each bearing a silhouette of an insect. Before him was a massive marble scarab, carved to accomodate a person, as a throne. On either side of the throne was a brazier.
Akara gazed down from the throne at the small golden pedestal that supported the Golden Eye of Harmony.
"Magical Girl Pretty Ruri appeared at the site of the Gekiganger unit attack, within seconds of it beginning," said Akara. "A quick investigation of all residents near the attack site turned up six families, all of whom own the cottages."
"You think that Ruri may be part of one of these families?" asked Mie. She was seated on a bench on the left-hand side of the room, but despite her distance from the throne, her voice carried clearly to Akara. "Certainly, a Princess' wealth would make it easy for them to afford such a cottage."
"No," said Akara. "All of the families that own the cottages are from either Yokohama or Kyoto. All of Pretty Ruri's activities, with but a few exceptions, have been centered on Tokyo. Nerima, to be precise. However, one cottage was leased on the day of the attack. To a Nerima family, named Hoshino."
"Hoshino Ruri," mused Akito. "Rings a bell, somehow."
"They do indeed have a daughter named Ruri," said Akara. "She attend Yurinoki Middle School. And her actions threaten the very existence of this world."
"Now that we know who she is," said Mie, "I will be more than happy to kill her."
"No," said Akara. "Forgive me, but your combat abilities are understrength compared to Tuxedo Ken. He will destroy her."
"If I catch her unawares, before she can manifest her powers, I can kill her easily!"
"Must I repeat myself?" Akara scowled, then turned to Akito. "Go. Prepare yourself. And remember that she is not a foe to be taken lightly."
Akito bowed, and left the room.
Mie stood slowly, and stalked towards the throne. "I could handle her easily!" she snapped. "How dare you belittle me in front of that...that human!"
"Yes, you could easily destroy her," mused Akara. "However, there is a slight chance that you could lose. And we cannot afford to lose you. You and I are the key to the Marshal's plan. If either of us are destroyed, the plan fails." He smiled slightly. "If Tuxedo Ken falls to Pretty Ruri...we lose simply another human pawn."
"Maybe it's because of Gekiganger," offered Yurika.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Akito really likes Gekiganger, right? And those two Dark Generals we already killed off look a lot like Tsukumo and Genichiro, the Jovians. And Jovians like Gekiganger. Maybe they have a common interest."
Absolute silence reigned for a few seconds. It was Ruri, as usual, who broke it.
"What? You have to admit it makes sense!"
"No, it does not." Ruri sighed. "Both of those two are dead and gone. And the third Dark General that I saw looked like a villain from Gekiganger. I doubt that Akito would be working willingly for the villains."
"Then we must assume that something has happened to his memories," concluded Ai. "Which is par for the course for him."
"If that is the case," said Ruri, "we might be able to persuade him to come back to us, just by reinforcing those memories."
"His memories can be very stubborn," pointed out Ai. "You might have to do something drastic."
Yurika pointed across the park, at the figure that stood at the edge.
"Akito." Ruri stood, and walked towards him.
"You said we have to try something drastic." She quickened her stride.
"Ruri, we don't know if--"
Akito smiled. "I was certain that it was you. The trace led me to this park, and you are the person with the highest Kirlian Aura here."
He drew his sword. "You're a threat to the entire world. As much as I hate to do this, I am afraid that you must die."
Her hand fumbled in her pocket, and drew the Henshin.
"Mars Guardian, Make-Up!"
The light seared her eyes, all blue and gold. The air around her rippled, and she felt waves of incredible heat pounding her. Her clothes shredded and re-formed into the blue skirt, tight-fitting golden bodysuit and long blue boots and gloves. The tiara formed on her brow, and the Henshin lengthened to quarterstaff proportions.
"You two, get out of the park now. Call the police, or somebody. I'll do my best to hold this guy off."
"You heard her, motor-mouth." Ai grabbed Yurika's arm with one hand and slapped the other over her mouth. "Let's go."
Ruri turned back to face Akito. "I do not want to fight you."
"Nor do I wish to do this," said Akito. "But the fate of millions is in my hands, and you are the one who can destroy them."
"Millions of phantasms!" yelled Ruri. "They're all phantoms, all fakes! You and I are real, but none of the others!"
"My God," mused Akito. "They were right. You are psychotic."
"What the hell are you doing, Ai?" Yurika was gasping for breath.
"He knows who she is," said Ai. "But he didn't seem to recognize you or I. Ruri recognized that. She gave us an out so we could keep our identities secret."
"So what are we gonna do?" Yurika was starting to come unglued. "Call the police?"
"Don't be stupid." Ai glanced around, to ensure their continued privacy, then pulled out her Henshin.
"Distortion Field!" Ruri spun the staff in front of her. A glowing blue cloud formed all around her, then stabilized into a light blue sphere. Akito's lunge skidded harmlessly off the field, and she countered by simply stepping forward, bouncing him backwards off the globe.
He stabilized himself, then touched his visor. "Gravitational distortion..." He lifted his sword again, and the blade glowed red. He lunged again, and her field collapsed like a soap bubble. She parried his sword with her quarterstaff, then swung it around to try to knock him off his feet. But he danced back out of her reach, then lunged again with the sword.
"Akito, you need to stop!" She was close to tears now, and barely managed to dodge the sword thrust. "They're using you, forcing you to do these terrible things--"
"I'm sorry, Ruri. I really am." He swung again, and she was forced back another step.
"So am I." She held the quarterstaff in front of her, eyes closed. A wind began to swirl around her, and her hair fluttered, drawn out to its full length. She opened her eyes, swept the staff around her and brought it to rest, pointing directly at him.
A black field of energy formed around the tip of the staff, then flowed down to encompass Ruri completely. It swelled outward, and exploded into a cone of black energy. Frost formed along the grass beneath it, and fog sprang up from its passage.
The fog cleared, and Tuxedo Ken, shielded by the Armour of Nergal, strode through the dissipating wisps.
He leaped forward, an armoured fist catching her across the face and knocking her down. She screamed, and tried to stand, but a metal-shod boot landed on her stomach, causing her to gasp.
And the diamond-tipped sword came to rest directly above her head.
"For the sake of millions of people, I must do this. I hope you can eventually forgive me."
A brilliant crimson arrow slammed into the side of his armour, staggering him. Ruri rolled away and sat up, to see Yurika and Ai approaching, fully transformed.
"Flare Arrow!" Yurika raised the bow, and pulled back the string. Another flaming arrow appeared at her fingertips. She aimed at Tuxedo Ken, and let it fly. He dodged it, and charged towards them, sword raised high.
"Particle Blast!" Ai swung the hammer, as though to throw it, and it blazed a bright golden. A crescent-shaped beam of energy formed, and flew across the room to slam into the armour. It faded, and a battered Tuxedo Ken dropped to one knee.
"That will teach you to stop and give speeches during fights," chuckled Ai. "Make a note of that, Shugotenshi."
"I'll remember for the future," chuckled Akito. And vanished in a spray of golden glitter.
"We had him beat!" Yurika stamped a foot. "We coulda freed him from the mind control of the Jovian Lizards, or the Gekigangers, or whatever the heck they are!"
"Calm down, Yurika." Ai was working with her palmtop computer. "I'm getting some readings from his Boson Jump." She looked up and grinned. "With any luck, I should be able to analyze these readings, and then we can follow him back."
Akito materialized in a spray of golden glitter, and collapsed to the floor.
Akara looked down at him. "I see that you failed."
Akito managed to sit up weakly. "The other two arrived...against all three, I could not win. I decided it made more sense to withdraw--"
"Thus preserving your worthless life?" Akara sneered. "Better that you die, if it means taking Ruri with you."
"I know--she's endangering all those lives--"
"Idiot!" Akara stood angrily. "What do I care of those lives? It is my own existence that she threatens!"
"If this world collapses, I will die! Yes, those millions of other humans as well, but if I die, they are of no use to me anyway!"
Akito's face twisted. "I trusted you. I believed that what you were doing was right. And you--" Words failed him. He charged forward, sword drawn.
Akara waved his hand, and Akito collapsed, screaming, as pain wracked his body.
"For once, I should have listened to Mie. She did not trust you, did not believe that we could control you with lies. Even when the lies were actually truth, though presented to deceive. For once, she was right." He kicked the boy, relishing in the pain inflicted. "Well, fortunately, we still have a chance to correct this...oversight."