A/N - To my readers: I sincerely apologize for the unearthly delay (and the fact that I left off on a cliffhanger - something I rarely ever do.) I actually had this chapter finished quite a while ago, but everytime I tried to upload it, there seemed to be a problem - hence the delay. But, seriously, it's been almost a year since my last update, and there really is no excuse. So, I hope you enjoy this long overdue chapter. On with the story!
Walk this world alone
Try to stay on my feet
Sometimes crawl, fall
But I stand, cuz I'm afraid to sleep
Open my eyes to a new day
With all new problems and all new pain
"Looking for Angels" - Skillet
Mira was eventually awakened from unconsciousness by a slight throbbing in her head, which slowly started to morph into a loud, brutal pounding - much like that of a hammer making contact with her skull. She groaned, and turned over on her side, clutching her forehead and rubbing her temples. She took a few deep breaths, and her eyelids fluttered open, letting in the harsh shine of the fluorescent lights on the ceiling of ... wherever she was. Mira winced at the brightness that her eyes were not yet accustomed to, and she lifted her hand to shield the sharp light that was piercing her brain like a laser.
As she was doing so, a gruff, yet familiar voice rang out from across the room. "So, I see you're awake. Good."
"Huh? Wha-?" Mira sat up slowly, afraid of what she would find. Her vision started to clear from a fuzzy, nondescript blur to something much more distinct and recognizable. She could now see Commander Nebula sitting across from her in a small blue chair.
"Oh, look. She can talk." Nebula muttered. Mira detected a slight, mocking edge to his voice.
"Uh," Mira scratched her head. She was so confused now, and she had so many questions to ask. Where were they? What had happened? Why had she blacked out? What was going on? So many questions with no answers - and which one should she ask first? "Where are we?" Mira finally asked, rubbing her eyes.
"Where are we?" Nebula repeated incredulously, "On Star Cruiser 27, that's where!"
"What?" Mira took a sharp intake of breath. A star cruiser? She had assumed that they were in some vacant room of Star Command that she had never been in before. But ... they were in the cruiser? Why? The only reason they would be in the cruiser would be if Lightyear ...
Suddenly, a flood of memories came crashing down in Mira's mind, like an enormous tsunami from planet Bathyos. The events came back to her in quick, little film cuts. (How cliche, she realized.) She remembered her horrible dream of her father s death. She remembered running into Munchapper in the hall and arguing with him. Then she remembered XR and the break room, the red alert, boarding the cruiser and then ...
"Ohhhh." Mira's widened as she remembered what she had done - disobeying orders and going after Lightyear herself. That would be why the Commander was in here with her. Craters.
"Yeah, 'Ohhhh.'" Nebula's voice started to get louder, and Mira braced herself for the emotionally-charged lecture that was sure to follow. "What in blazes were you thinking, Ranger Nova?"
"I don't know." Mira clutched her forehead and sighed. "I guess I was just -"
"That was a rhetorical question, Ranger!" Nebula snapped. "Didn't you realize how much you endangered your own life, along with the lives of everyone else? We could've been captured by Lightyear, instead of being able to retreat into another quadrant like we were able to! And what would he do with us once he captured us? He'd kill us! Did that even cross your mind? Or were you too blinded by your own personal vendetta against Lightyear?"
"You bet I was!" Mira suddenly blurted out in a fit of pent-up anger and frustration, "That monster killed my father! You were there! You saw it! Can you blame me for wanting to avenge my father's death?" Her voice cracked slightly. She knew she couldn t take it any more.
Nebula paused for a brief moment, as if he was letting what she said sink in. But then he shook his head and continued, "But disobeying a direct order! I never, EVER want to see you do that again!"
"Don't you see?" Mira cried desperately, "He was right there! I could have taken him out!"
"But you didn't!" Nebula was getting more and more furious with his disobedient and stubborn ranger, "You were nearly killed! In fact, you should have been!"
For once, Mira remained silent. Nebula was right - she should've been dead. But somehow, for some reason, she wasn't. And maybe ... Mira sniffed slightly as her eyes began to well up with tears ... maybe she would ve been better off dead.
Why did she have to be such a screw up? She should've seen that gun. She should've been able to carry out her plan. And Lightyear should've been dead. But he wasn't - no, he was perfectly fine, of course. Probably already coming up with another plan to attack them, no doubt. All because she didn t take him out when she had the chance.
Nebula took advantage of her sudden silence. "And because you didn't follow orders, you've been reassigned."
Mira blinked. "What?"
"We can't risk having a ranger like you out in the field." Nebula explained, his voice now surprisingly calm and firm, "You're a hazard to yourself, and your teammates. So, instead you'll be staying inside the cruiser at all times, handling maintenance in the engine room."
"You can't do that!" Mira cried.
Nebula's eyes narrowed, but he maintained his composure. "I just did."
Doors opened with a loud whoosh, as Cosmo, the head chef and owner of Cosmo's Intergalactic Diner stepped into the kitchen. He was greeted immediately by the aroma of his own special creation - Cosmic Chili. Lightyear's favorite.
"How's the chili comin' , Zurg?" Cosmo asked, in his usual, thickly-accented voice.
"Good as always, Cosmo!" Zurg replied cheerfully, as he stirred the sizzling ground beef.
"Making it just the way Lightyear likes it, yes?"
"Yes, just the way he likes it."
"Good." Cosmo said, "You know how cranky he can get if it isn't cooked the right way."
Zurg nodded. How could he forget? Just a few days ago, Lightyear was so unhappy with his meal that he picked up the bowl of chili and flung it across the diner, all before shooting a dangerous glare at Cosmo and storming out the door.
Zurg sighed as he reached for the oregano. He and Cosmo hardly got a single customer, other than Lightyear. But they really couldn't complain - Lightyear was keeping them in business, not to mention sparing their lives from his destruction of the universe.
But still ... he could be a little more agreeable about his food.
He was angry. No ... he was more than angry. He was livid.
How could they have gotten away, AGAIN? How was it possible? He had them right where he wanted them, especially that Tangean ... what was her name? Oh right, Mira. Princess Mira.
Lightyear made quite a racket as he entered Cosmo s Diner. He stormed through the automatic, airlock doors, grumbling and muttering to himself. Cosmo watched him from the back room, shivering. With each step Lightyear took, it was as if the entire restaurant was shaking. He watched in fear as the disgruntled villain plopped down at the nearest booth.
"Sweet mother of Venus," Cosmo thought worriedly, "he is not 'in the good mood,' as they say."
He popped his head into the kitchen. "Zurg, he's here." He called out nervously, "Is the chili ready?"
"Oh, uh, yes sir." Zurg replied, removing the bowl of steaming chili from the counter with pink oven mitts.
"Good." Cosmo threw an anxious glance towards the door, then leaned in and whispered to his employee, "He's very cranky today. We must be careful not to upset him. You sure this is just the way he likes it, yes?"
"Okay, why don't you go serve it to him? And remember what I said."
"You ... you want me to serve him?" Zurg squeaked incredulously.
Cosmo raised an eyebrow. "Is, uh, that a problem?"
"Oh no, no problem! Why ... why should there be a problem? Heh heh." Zurg laughed nervously.
"Yep, sure. I m fine. Just on my way to serve ... Lightyear." Zurg gulped. Why me? He thought in despair. What have I gotten myself into?
"H-Here you go, Mr. L-L-Lightyear." Zurg stuttered, clumsily placing the bowl of chili in front of the irate villain. "Cosmic Chili, just the way you like it."
"Great." Lightyear grumbled. "Now leave me alone!"
"Yes, sir!" Zurg said, almost too enthusiastically, and scurried back into the kitchen.
Buzz rolled his eyes and groaned in disgust. Sometimes he wondered why he left this shack open, instead of reducing it to space dust in his first sweep of the universe. The least Cosmo could do would be hiring people that were actually competent ...
And when he thought of competency, his mind went right back to those rangers.
He pounded his fist on the table in a fit of rage. Blast! How could this have happened? How had they possibly eluded him? He sighed in frustration and stared down at his chilli, letting these thoughts simmer in his mind. He realized that he couldn t solve anything by dwelling on his failure. It would be best just to move on and figure out what course of action to take next.
Well, he wouldn't let them get away, of course. He never settled for less than 100% success. Never. He'd get them. Yes, he'd get them - but he'd just have to figure out how.
"Uh, is everything okay, s-sir?" Lightyear looked up slowly. Zurg had appeared again and was standing above him, wringing his pink oven-mitt-wearing hands together anxiously.
"What makes you say that?" Lightyear growled.
Zurg gulped. "Oh, uh ... nothing! Nothing at all! Heh heh!" He paused. "Well, actually, uh ... it is something. You, uh ..."
"Well, spit it out!" He hissed.
"You ... haven t eaten your chili yet."
Lightyear blinked. "Oh." His eyes traveled downward towards the table as he eyed the bowl in front of him. There it was, still steaming. His nose filled with the scent of the perfectly blended spices and herbs. It was truly a culinary miracle. And he hadn't taken one bite.
"Yeah, I haven't." He said slowly, rubbing his temples, "I've just got a lot on my mind, that's all."
"Oh, okay." Zurg replied cautiously, "As long as nothing's wrong with the food..."
"No. In fact," Lightyear lifted his fork and took a bite of the chili, "It's absolutely perfect. Just how I like it. Just how I like everything - 100% perfection."
"And there s nothing wrong with that," Zurg mollified. "With wanting the finer things in life, I mean."
"No ... there isn't." Lightyear said thoughtfully, twirling his fork in his chili dish. He paused, stroking his enormous chin thoughtfully. "There definitely isn't."
Zurg noticed the subtle change in Lightyear's behavior, and began to get even more nervous. "S-something on your mind, sir?" He stammered.
Buzz said nothing. He just smirked, chuckled evilly, and ate a few more forkfulls of chili.
A/N - Yes, I just had to give Zurg an appearance ... pink oven-mitts and all.