Author's note: This is pretty much just a recap of the series and the movie. Nothing very interesting... yet. I italicized and bolded the important parts - a small attempt at foreshadowing. You're welcome to skip the rest. I just figured - hey, I wrote it, so I may as well post it, even if it's unnecessary for fans of the series.
Ryoma Echizen blinked blearily, wondering what had woken him. He squinted and curled a limp hand in front of his eyes to block the bright sunlight. He shifted on the plush lounge chair. The tang of saltwater stung his nose. His short, black hair – lit with green highlights – and his dark swimming trunks swished in a gentle breeze. He blinked slowly several times, unable to form a coherent thought. Sighing, he decided it didn't matter and lowered his arm, eyes slipping closed.
Surrounding him, many passengers tanned in the glare of the sun or splashed and played loudly in the immense swimming pool less than four meters from his bare feet. A hum of happy noise around him swelled and domed. Above them, pale seagulls swooped, circled, and guffawed at the sight of a mobile, silver landmass inside a vast blue ocean, like an expensively capped tooth flashing in the open, gingivitis-ridden mouth of a scoundrel.
A hand suddenly pinched his nose shut and he spluttered, jerking upright and swiping away the hand. "What are you doing, Momo-senpai?" Hazel eyes, cleared of a sleepy fog, glared at his black-spiky-haired friend, who scowled back.
His friend retorted, "What are you doing?" Takeshi Momoshiro, affectionately known as Momo, squatted at Ryoma's right side. His muscles rippled, obvious even under the looseness of his yellow shirt, as he brought his arm back and rested his elbow on his green-clad knee. His deep purple eyes slipped past the younger boy; he raised an eyebrow conspiratorially.
Nearly imperceptibly, Ryoma's eyebrows twitched worriedly as he followed Momo's path of sight to Eiji Kikumaru. Kikumaru's fists were planted on his hips, and his usually friendly, lighthearted expression twisted now with annoyance. "Echizen, I can't believe you. We're on a cruise ship, and you're sleeping!" He shook a forefinger at the junior high freshman. Kikumaru's jaw-length, red hair, styled to curl outward and upward at the ends, was so dark that it sported a purple sheen in the brilliant sunlight.
Ryoma's face grew unreadable as he reached down to his side for his cap. "And your point is?" He slung it over his head, pulling its bill low to hide his eyes. He laid back down and folded his hands over his stomach.
"When will you ever get another chance? Look at all this incredible stuff you can do!" Kikumaru gestured grandly, following the sweep of his own hand with his black eyes, but when he didn't get a response, his arm flopped back to his side in frustration. He locked gazes with Momo. They grinned and lunged for the boy at the same instant.
"What are you doing, senpai-tachi?" Ryoma demanded. "Put me down!" The two older boys laughed, eyes sparkling in the sun. They carried his writhing body to the side of the rippling pool, and swung their bundle in preparation to toss him in.
A rich bass voice startled them. "He is correct. There are many recreational activities on this ship." They paused on the edge of the pool, still holding the twelve-year-old boy effortlessly. Ryoma stopped squirming, also, to look at the speaker.
Momo turned to the male standing next to this cigar-smoking stranger. "Who is this, Captain Tezuka?"
Kunimitsu Tezuka, the Captain of the tennis club at Seigaku, was a senior at the junior high. (There are only three years in the junior high, so no sophomores exist.) Kikumaru, too, was a senior, though Momo was but a junior. Ryoma was the only freshman allowed to become a regular on the tennis team. The other members had matured early, at least physically, and all stood at least a head taller than he. Tezuka, though, probably stood at a height better referred to as a head-and-a-half taller. He rarely smiled, yet nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, he commanded an aura of strength and leadership. His hair, brown and scraggily, swept low over severe glasses. The Captain lifted a hand, saying, "This is the owner of the ship. He's the one who invited us to play tennis here."
Kikumaru's eyes cleared. "Oh, so you're him!"
The middle-aged man nodded. He stood a little taller than Tezuka; his hair, too, was brown, but long and restrained at the back of his neck in a ponytail. A thin goatee surrounded equally thin lips. His eyebrows slung low over deep-set eyes, and his expression seemed calculating. When the man's eyes seemed to linger on the freshman's half-naked body, Ryoma, angry for succumbing – even within himself – to intimidation, felt the hairs on his nape lift. The man puffed on his cigar a few times, then lowered it to his tuxedo-clad side, apparently pretending he'd done nothing unusual. He said, deceptively mildly, "Yes, I am Hikomaru Sakurafubuki. And you are welcome to enjoy any and all of the recreations available on my ship. You should be prepared for tomorrow, however, when you play against my team as entertainment for my party-goers."
Ryoma found he had no time to consider his concerns about the wealthy man. Momo cried indignantly, "Of course we'll be ready!" He turned back with a mischievous look to the bundle in his arms, which widened its eyes. "Heave-ho!"
Ryoma gasped and clapped a hand to his cap as he was dumped unceremoniously into the pool. He came up sputtering, hair plastered to his head. He glared unconvincingly from under the brim of his dripping hat at the two chuckling boys. They dashed away, calling back to him, "Hurry up and get ready for the practice matches!"
Ryoma muttered just barely loud enough for them to hear, "And you're going in your swimsuits?"
Ryoma closed the door to his cabin and sighed. With the tips of left-handed fingers, he lowered his white cap to cover his eyes. Tapping his tennis racket on his shoulder, he strode down the sumptuous passageway, slightly ill at ease in such luxury. Lit with elegant, silver sconces that emitted a soft glow, beautiful paintings hung against the walls' mahogany paneling. The quiet clink of heel on high-glossed marble was his only accompaniment. That, though, suited him just fine – the silence. It was peaceful.
When he emerged onto the expansive upper deck, brilliant sunlight blinded him, and he blinked several times, ducking his head. The sudden warmth on his skin blasted into instant drops of sweat. He groaned quietly, "So hot!" And he was supposed to play a match in this heat?
"Echizen! Hurry it up!" The second and only other junior regular gestured at him from the far-away tennis courts, his anger clear even across this distance.
A slight widening of his hazel eyes was the only sign on his face that the numerous and obviously high-quality courts excited him. "Sure, Kaidoh-senpai," he called back. Despite his words, he merely increased his pace from paused motionlessness to walking, rather than the jog his senpai most likely meant.
His senpai, Kaoru "Viper" Kaidoh, was known for his unfaltering glare and looming presence. So, too, was he known for his ability to curve the path of the tennis balls he hit - a shot he called the Snake, or, when it was an around-the-pole shot, Boomerang Snake. He also stored in his muscular physique an impressive amount of endurance. Only fringes of his black hair showed beneath the bandana he always wore.
Syusuke Fuji stepped up beside Kaidoh's right side. "Late again, is he?" A light smile played around the senior's mouth, just as it usually did. His eyes gently closed as the muscles in his cheeks contracted. Fuji, considered a tennis genius, played nearly as well as their Captain. He could never truly be predicted, however. Fuji played tennis not to win, but for the thrill and the challenge. That didn't stop or slow him, though; in fact, that unpredictability could often be a potent weapon against his opponent. In his tennis arsenal were three powerful techniques known as the Triple Counter: Tsubame Gaeshi, Hakugei, and Higuma Otoshi.
Kaidoh harrumphed and didn't reply to his senpai's rhetorical question. Folding his arms, he glared at the freshman who was arrogant enough to keep his senpai-tachi waiting. He leaned back against the high chain link fence that encircled the courts. To his left, the small double-doored gate hung open.
Breathless, Momo and Kikumaru suddenly dashed past Ryoma on either side of his small form. They skidded to a stop in front of their two teammates. Momo pivoted, waved a hand in the air and taunted, "Hurry up, Echizen! We don't have all day!" He laughed.
Ryoma grimaced, at last reluctantly breaking into a sprint. When he reached them, Momo pounced. As he knuckled a noogie into Ryoma's skull, Momo chortled, teasing over and over, "You're late! You're late! You're late! You're late!"
"Ow, ow, ow! Stop it, Momo-senpai!" He struggled to get away.
"Oi, Echizen!" Ryoma and Momo fell motionless. Momo turned the both of them around to face the voice, his fist still poised over his friend's head. Ryoma screwed his face up even more at that presumptuous movement.
"Yeah?" Ryoma asked of the voice.
"It's your turn. You're in a match with Fuji," Shuichiro Oishi informed him, wiping his streaming face with a towel. Takashi Kawamura came up behind him, clapping a hand on the senior's shoulder. Both of them were sweating, breathing hard, and grinning tiredly at one another.
"Fuji!" cried Kawamura. "Echizen! Fight-o! BURNING!" He pumped a racket-clutching fist into the air. He, also a senior, was the main power player of the team, ruling a shot called Hadoukyuu which often blew away his opponent's racket when a return was attempted. His family owned a sushi restaurant, and when he graduated from junior high, he intended on quitting tennis to focus on becoming a chef. An oddity of his was that when he held a racket, he was aggressive, loud, and self-confident, but without it, he was much quieter and self-effacing.
Momo, too, was good at power play. His favorite move, called the Dunk Smash, was a strong shot, utilizing a high jump to smash powerfully into the opponent's court. He and Kaidoh had had a rivalry since they'd met, and they often got into fights with one anther. Momo had excellent stamina, but not quite as good as Kaidoh's.
Vice-Captain Oishi, though, was, in essence, the mother hen for the team. Always concerned for the good of all, he usually took the role of peacemaker. He and Kikumaru were the Golden Pair of Seigaku, the best doubles pair the team had. Accordingly, they were the best of friends, and worked very well together. Oishi's finishing move was called Moon Volley, a lob that hit behind the opponent, close to the baseline. He was very good at behind-the-scenes work; while Kikumaru distracted the other doubles team with his signature, unpredictable, acrobatic play, he'd be strategizing to take the next point.
Sadaharu Inui, standing next to the inscrutable Captain who currently sat as bench coach, called as well, "Echizen, Fuji!" Their heads turned to him; Inui's voice dropped low and sinister. "If you two don't hurry up, you'll have to drink this!" The senior's glasses glinted and he grinned maliciously, pointing to a beverage in his other hand that resembled the steaming contents of a lava lamp. "The new, improved Inui juice!"
Everyone's faces but the Captain's blanched. They held their hands over their mouths, muttering things like, "There's no way I'll drink that! NEVER!" Ryoma and Fuji shot toward their respective sides of the court with rackets that just miraculously coalesced in their hands.
Inui's grin widened. His specialty, besides the creation of new and more terrible variations of Inui juice, was Data Tennis. Through observation, he learned of other players' habits and calculated the likelihood of which shot they'd take and where they'd hit it. He could be frighteningly accurate, capable of getting to the next shot's location almost before his opponent connected ball with racket.
Tezuka's techniques included Zero-Shiki Drop Shot, a drop shot that didn't bounce, and the nearly all-powerful Tezuka Zone, which put a spin on the ball, forcing it to move toward himself, no matter where the opponent aimed. This meant that he could remain in one spot the entire match, returning all the balls by merely pivoting on one foot.
Ryoma commanded the Twist Serve, which, after touching down, shot toward his opponent's face. (It required him to use his non-dominant right hand against right-handed players.) Drive A, similar to a smash, Drive B, a shot that bounced quickly to create a "B" shape on the court, and Cool Drive, a powerful spin shot, were all of his own creation. He had several other impressive techniques as well, such as being able to play with his eyes closed by listening to the sound of the ball as it was struck.
Much to the delight of the passengers that wandered by, the practice matches were held with seriousness, vigor, and a good deal of friendly banter. Afterward, most of the players dispersed to enjoy their unprecedented opportunity – there was so much fun to be had on a cruise ship! But two, Tezuka and Oishi, were called before the owner, Sakurafubuki, to finalize details about the next day's matches.