Step 1: Action A

Step 2: Action B

Step 3: Action C

Step 4: Random question marks indicating a complete lack of thinking the situation through.

Step 5: PROFIT!

- The typical structure of a Spacebattles profit scheme. Local versions may vary.


It was the whole reason I was in a hurry to leave Hinata yesterday.

"That was probably the smartest thing I've seen you do since Mitoto."

It was the problem that had been bothering me on and off since day one.

"All I did was exploit something that had always been bugging me about the show..."

It was the most basic necessity of modern living.

"No really, it was brilliant!"

It was something that I hadn't had for a week.

"Come on Luna, it wasn't THAT impressive."

Money.

"I'm serious. That had to be the single best idea yet that didn't sound like an insane plot cooked up by Usagi."

I glanced at Luna, my face slightly red as she showered me with praise. The reason for this was the sack of gold coins now safely tucked into my pocket universe.

Sack. Of. Gold. Coins.

A thrill shot right up my spine at the mere thought of it. I'm not exactly clear on the value of gold. But it was clear enough to me that a few pounds of the stuff would effectively be more money than I had ever had the privilege of having in my personal possession.

Naturally, my caution, and a healthy dose of 'this is when Murphy would come kick my ass' made me immediately stuff it away. Lest I get mugged right out of it, or swindled, or otherwise relieved of my new monetary gains. The gag comedy conventions didn't exist exclusively in Love Hina you know.

"It's basic economics," I continued. "Supply and Demand. When there is a demand for a good that is in short supply, its value skyrockets. It just so happened that I remembered Those Who Hunt Elves had a something that was otherwise near impossible to get, and thus worth a fortune."

Of course, that wasn't the end of it. While the price of Toilet paper was indeed astronomical because of the scarce supply, it was that same astronomical price that had a dicey effect on the demand.

Effectively, as Airi pointed out during our first, rather unproductive attempt to sell it. It was so expensive that Celcia's comment about only the rich and powerful being able to afford it held true.

The problem is that the Rich and Powerful are not an abundant resource. You can't simply walk into a shop like in some RPG and start selling your stuff. Here in the real world, (I guess you could call it that at this point) the shops have their own budgets. The rich are rich for a reason, and there is no economic black hole from which infinite amounts of trinket money can be pulled by any random git with enough patience to go klepto on a section of the world map.

I thank the entire Sim City franchise for at least keeping my knowledge of basic economics fresh since the days if high school economics class. Especially the fourth generation of the city building simulator. Its region system allowed for limited simulation of the complex interplay of inter-city commercial systems, and the transportation add-ons allowed for some highly complicated interdependent systems.

On that same note, games of X2 and X3 in turn taught me more about a complex dynamic economy from the perspective of the burgeoning business tycoon trying to make his sales runs in a system that was changing by the minute.

While neither game was anywhere near the dynamic complexities of a real world economy, it taught enough to give me a quick solution to the problem of having an absurdly priced product with no market.

Undersell.

Celcia was mortified at the mere thought of it. I don't blame her, seeing as I was effectively suggesting something along the lines of selling a Lamborghini for the price of a Chevy Suburban. But I looked at it like this. At the current value, the stuff was worth so much gold that it might as well be worthless. Without any buyers, we'd never sell the stuff and there would be no profit at all.

By undercutting the going market price by lowering our sales price, we'd find willing buyers. It was just a matter of finding out what the 'market price' was. It just seemed so simple to me...

I worked with Ritsuko on this. We had town full of 'middle class' people as far as I could tell. Fantasy settings aren't exactly my thing. But Ritsuko pointed out the features that defined the local economy.

Airi made things even simpler. Since she and Celcia had been in town earlier that morning to check on food prices, she had a good idea of what people were willing to afford.

A sales strategy soon formed.

We selected a 'target' demographic for our 'product'. While we COULD sell at ANY price and make a profit, we still wanted to make a hefty profit for our sales. So what we ended up going with was mainly the higher end business owners in town who still ran the shop themselves. They would be the ones with enough cash to blow on a fairly expensive product, and still be numerous enough that we'd have a large selection of targets. They were also the most pragmatic. You become a high-end shop owner by being an impulse shopper. So while they would be the most profitable targets, they were also the most difficult targets.

However, Airi assured us that if she could make an entire congregation of elves willingly strip in broad daylight with a bogus story, she could convince some stingy shop owners to purchase some 'heavily discounted' toilet paper.

All I had to do was get out of the way and let Those Who Hunt Elves do their thing.

Targets chosen, we unleashed Airi upon them. I almost had a touch of pity for the poor sods. As an actress, Airi has had her fair share of commercial product endorsements, and knew how to pitch a sale. With modern commercial advertising practices being applied to a world that barely understood beyond peddling and haggling, combined with Airi's acting abilities, plus the write-off use of one roll for Free Samples...

I think it goes without saying that every last extra roll got sold at a considerable profit.

No, it wasn't really fair at all. But at least I had the peace of mind that we weren't cheating anyone. I don't think I could live with myself to deliberately cheat people. Considering how hard I've worked for my money in the past, I understand how it would feel.

"Okay," Luna shrugged, pulling me out of my thoughts. "So now you've got money-"

"We've got money," I corrected. "You count too."

Luna blinked once.

"We've got money..." she continued after a moment. "What do you have in mind to do with it?"

"Don't know yet," I admitted. "There are things I need to buy, but we can't buy them here. And I don't exactly know how much we have in terms I recognize. So for the time being, I'd like to simply hoard what we've got. A few rolls of toilet paper got us a decent sized sack of gold, but I don't know exactly how that translates into purchasing power."

"Ten thousand dollars," Senbei's voice commented into my ear.

I damn near shouted at the top of my lungs.

"WHAT?" I managed to suppress my voice.

"Well," Senbei partially decloaked to look transparent next to me. "Give or take the value of gold on the Nikkei... But last time I checked, for the weight, you'd have about a million-yen's worth, or about ten thousand dollars."

I furrowed my brow at this. Since when did Senbei- Oh I'll just ask.

"How do you know that?" I asked.

Senbei smirked and swept himself in a flamboyant bow.

"Senbei, god of poverty and misfortune... " He paused, then his normal flamboyant manner evaporated

"I deal in fortune," he snapped. "Fortune is synonymous with WEALTH. Wealth, fortune, poverty... I go on about being rich."

Then Senbei fully decloaked and floated over to sit on Luna's shoulder, glancing at her in a non-plussed fashion.

"Really," he continued. "Happiness and money are just currencies. And being a master of my trade, it would be irresponsible of me not to understand such things. Of course, nobody appreciates those subtleties. But, there you have it."

Luna fixed Senbei with look that silently said 'whatever you say' and did her best to cover up anything she might be tempted to say with a disarming smile.

"So you watch the stock market?" I asked.

"Watch?" he grinned. "I trade!"

That made my eyebrow go up.

"Trade what?" I asked.

"Stocks," he smirked.

"In what?"

"Kuriyama Beika"

Luna laughed.

"What?" I asked. Luna just laughed a little harder, covering her mouth in the process. Did I miss something? An in-joke perhaps?

"Never mind," Luna recovered. "I'm afraid it's a reversal this time. You would have to know the context to get why it's funny."

I rolled my eyes before glancing around. Our outburst had gotten the attention of a few random 'peasants' nearby.

"Senbei," I glanced at the pint-sized demonic stockbroker. "You're unnerving people... "

"Right," he sighed. "I mustn't be seen."

And he made himself semi-transparent and floated back over to me, fading out to the point where I could only just see him against an uninterrupted background.

"So I've got ten thousand dollars in gold," I continued in a lower tone. "That literally doesn't add up. I know those shopkeepers weren't THAT well off."

"Only ten thousand back home," Senbei corrected. "It's as you said. Everything is either worthless, or priceless. You've got a decent amount of gold. But from what I gather it's value is not quite so high here as it is being used directly as currency with little use in anything else."

"So here, the value of gold is weak," Luna tilted her head to the side. "But if we take it with us and trade it for cash where it's stronger..."

"MASSIVE profit," I nodded back. "If we play our cards right, we shouldn't have to worry about money."

"Hmmm..." Luna nodded. "So long as we don't follow any of Usagi's investment schemes. I've never seen so much money blown on an arcade machine before."

I nodded. I'd REALLY love to Invest in an Xbox for Usagi. If only to see how she reacts to something like HALO. Oh yes, Usagi playing HALO. Let's see what happens when she's given a game that requires more than just fast-twitch reflexes.

"That reminds me," I started walking again. The onlookers Senbei attracted were making me nervous. "Now that I know we're in a pattern as far as these jumps are concerned. It means I know where we're going next. That means I can plan ahead."

Luna turned her head.

"You know where we're going then?" she asked.

I nodded.

"Great!" Luna clapped her hands, almost bouncing in her stride. "How should I deal with the next girl we land next to?"

"Well," I took a sidelong glance to shoot a glare at a couple of bystanders who hadn't quite moved on, then continued after they quickly decided they'd rather not be involved with the strange person. "If you can, do everything in your power to keep Rei from freaking out..."

Luna face lit up, and her smile widened.

"We're going home?"

What's this 'we' stuff? I don't live in Tokyo. Hell, I'm not even a natural born citizen of that universe.

"We should start figuring out how we can teach Usagi the fighting skills you know!" Luna continued. "Maybe give her a few lessons in planning, bring her up to speed on what's supposed to happen, maybe secure a contingency-"

"WHOA! WHOA! WHOA!" I stopped and turned, raising my hand. "Slow down Luna, you're getting WAY ahead of yourself."

"I'm just planning ahead," she countered. "There's a lot I have to do when we get back."

"Rome wasn't built in a day," I countered in English. That simply got me a confused look from the felis-sapien. "Look, one thing at a time. You're not the only one who's thought of putting Usagi through boot camp. I'd love to put the whole lot of them through Sand Hill. But I was nineteen, not fourteen, and I spent three months getting screamed at by drills. Let's work with what we've got for now."

Luna nodded; looking more restrained once again.

"I understand," she sighed. "What do you have in mind?"

"Dunno," I shrugged. "Find something to eat I guess. Rice just doesn't last."

"Tell me about it," Luna frowned. Poor kitty was using her human form to wander the town with me, and she hadn't had anything really good for a feline YET.

"We need to find a steakhouse or something," I commented, glancing around at the local shops. "Or maybe a butcher. See if we can't get ourselves a few huge steaks."

MEAT. Cats need MEAT. Take care of Luna... And of course Senbei...

"What about you Senbei?" I glanced at my all but invisible shoulder devil. "I haven't seen you eat a thing."

The little demon god seemed slightly taken aback that someone actually had his well being in mind. Then he just shrugged.

"I have a snack here and there," he admitted. "Though I can recharge myself off of people's fortunes."

"Right," I commented as I scanned about. I noted as I did so how the convoluted world cross effect from the 'Those Who Hunt Elves' plot had affected things. This was a pre-industrial revolution town, but there was a coffee shop not too unlike a Starbucks across the street. It didn't jump out and scream 'wrong' like I would have expected, but the shop front didn't exactly match the old European style of many of the buildings around here. So it kind of held my glance for a second.

I wonder what they have besides coffee.

"How about we ask her," Luna tugged on my arm and nodded down the street.

I glanced in the direction the feline indicated and noted a young lady heading our way. Compared to most of the other people wandering around, she HAD to be wearing whatever amounted to expensive clothes around here.

"She probably knows a good place to eat," Luna continued. "I'm sure I could find out."

Yeah, maybe. I glanced at Luna then at the approaching girl again, then did a double take and blanched.

Maybe not.

The young lady looked about ready to kill something.

"Best leave that one alone," I frowned. "She don't look too thrilled at the moment."

"Nonsense," Luna gave me a wry smirk. "Just keep quiet and let me work."

Luna brushed past me, working to straighten out her posture and quickly approached the now notably grumbling young lady.

"Excuse me miss," Luna began. "If I can have a moment of-"

"WHAT?" the young lady snapped, causing both of us to jump. "What do you want?"

"I apologize for bothering you," Luna clasped her hands in front of herself and did a slight bow. "I was wondering if you might know of a nice restaurant in the area."

"I don't have time for such nonsense!" the girl snapped angrily, then haughtily turned to march past me, sparing me only the slightest sidelong glance in curiosity.

Sheesh, what crawled up her ass and died?

Once her back was turned, I rolled my eyes and glanced back at Luna. I told you s-

The young lady whipped about and leveled a quick glare at me.

"I know I didn't just hear you roll your eyes at me," she snarled, getting right in my face so fast I simply held my hands up. Yikes! Talk about volatile.

She held her glare for a moment, seeming confused as she glanced slightly to the side of my head as if looking for something she couldn't see. Then seemed to note my injured hand, and glanced at Luna.

"Chateau Le Blanc," she continued with a snap. Luna instantly shot me another smirk. "Five blocks over. And tell them to go easy on the Garlic."

She then glanced at Luna one more time, sizing her up, and her nose crinkled.

"And clean yourselves up before you go," she continued with a whirl as she started walking away. "You look like you rolled in a ditch."

Luna's expression melted and she started fidgeting in place.

"And you feel like you picked up an evil spirit," she shot over her shoulder at me. "Do something about it."

After a few seconds to let the lady get some distance and obstructing noises, I shook my head.

"People around here can hear your facial expression?" Senbei quietly asked.

"Just elves," I shook my head, then furrowed my brow and turned to look again. The young lady crossed the street, heading for the coffee shop. Now that I was looking, I noticed the headband she was wearing, covering her ears.

An Elf... Definitely an Elf.

Junpei, Ritsuko, and Airi are bound to find her, and strip her foul tempered ass soon enough. Then she'll have an actual REASON to be in a bad mood. It kind of sucks to be her. Maybe if I can figure out if she's got a spell fragment on her without having to get the other three involved...

I took a step towards the coffee shop and paused.

No, bad idea. You've got enough on your plate already. Let's not get ourselves any more mixed up in a typical Elf Hunting plot. We need to save resources and someone with that kind of temperament won't listen to reason anyway. Leave her to the experts.

"Come on," I shrugged, turning back to Luna. "Let's get something to eat."

We got about ten paces before I stopped and looked back again.

It occurs to me, that I can at least observe her... Maybe find out who she is and give that info to Airi. Then maybe Airi can deal with her before Junpei does. A little payback for causing them trouble.

No... Too risky.

I turned away again.

But... I paused.

"What's up?" Luna asked.

Yes... It has potential benefits.

NO. It has drawbacks if it screws up.

Gah, I can't decide!

Flip a coin.

"Senbei, pick a number between one and ten," I stated aloud.

Evens.

"Eight," Senbei commented quietly.

I turned to Luna, who was looking at me expectantly.

"When in Rome," I commented in English and turned back towards the coffee shop.

"Hold up," Luna commented before I reached the entrance. I glanced over my shoulder to find the felis-sapien patting down her dress in an attempt to make herself look a little more presentable. On that note, I gave myself a similar once over.

Once Luna was satisfied with herself, she nodded to me, and we went inside.

The place smelled like a coffee shop. I don't like coffee, tastes nasty. But the aroma isn't all that bad. However, the place had the feel of a diner. It had the bar, and then several booths I hadn't noticed from outside at the window. It was also deeper than it was wide. An admittedly cute waitress was bouncing here and there between several of the booths, flirting with several young guys who seemed to be here more for the scenery than the food. I was reminded of a cross between a Starbucks, a Subway, and a very compact IHOP.

"Welcome to McPhee's!" the guy behind the bar smiled invitingly through a huge mustache. I admit, it was genuinely odd to hear Japanese words coming out of a Scottish accent. But then again, twisted, TWISTED world.

"How's it going?" I nodded.

"Not bad," he replied, "Grab a seat and Meryl'll be right with you."

I nodded and scanned the room again, taking in the occupants while trying to find that Elf.

Bingo, towards the back corner, next to another obvious elf in a heavy coat sipping on a-

Is that JUDGE?

I glanced on then came back a moment later to take in the gray coat and hat motif covering a middle-aged looking elf with silver hair.

That IS Judge.

Well, well, well...

I let my eyes continue scanning, as not to look like I was looking at anyone in particular. I don't want people who can hear my facial expressions somehow manage to realize I was staring.

"Let's grab a booth Luna," I announced, feigning disinterest.

I wonder if finding him was a PURE coincidence, or if perhaps having Luna with me has had some of that 'Absurdly Convenient Coincidence' from her home universe rub-off on me. You don't just FIND a guy like Judge hanging around. He finds you.

I eyed the booth in the back corner. I liked to be able to see the entire room when I sat down. It was a habit I picked up from my dad. Plus it would be close enough to hear them talking.

Then again, Judge would be one to be pretty close to Those Who Hunt Elves, if only to keep them under light observation.

"I still don't see why you wanted to meet me here..."

I was getting close enough to hear them now as went straight for the booth. The up-tight elf was practically seething in her spot next to Judge.

"They have an excellent brew," the male elf commented idly. "Today's blend is especially good. You should try some."

The thing about Judge, mind you that's the only name I have for the guy, is that in the show, he acted as a kind of ultimate antagonist for the first season. Not evil. Thankfully not every antagonist was some horribly done bad guy. But rather officious, and bureaucratic.

As his name would imply, he's kind of like an elven cop, or investigator. Given the rather, dubious nature of the actions of Those Who Hunt Elves in their quest to collect the spell fragments, it's only natural that someone like this would end up opposing them.

I mean you can't just go around stripping people and expect there not to be consequences.

"I don't like coffee," the female elf snapped. "And I don't like having my time wasted."

"You should try and relax a little Miss Ayers," Judge replied. "Getting riled up only clouds your judgement."

"RELAX?" Ayers practically shouted, earning a glance from the shop owner. She glanced for a moment then hunched her shoulders. "How can I relax after what those... those, HOOLIGANS did to me?"

"I understand how you feel," Judge turned his head. "But you must calm down."

"You don't understand at all!" she hissed. "You didn't have your clothing forcefully ripped from your body by an oversized moronic killing machine! You didn't have your fields set on fire, or your property severely damaged by an iron chariot! You didn't pay money for some of the best protection available in the private sector only to have it walked over like it wasn't even there!"

That... That's that rich elf they stripped last week!

I glanced at Luna who had no idea what was going on. For a lack of giving away any audible body motions, I let my eyes flick back to the pair a few times. I was starting to feel I could risk that much with the two so preoccupied.

"If you wish to file a formal complaint like we established the other day, we can have you reimbursed for the property damage and wasted wages," Judge continued. "A compensation fund has been set up for that very reason."

Heh... I almost let myself smirk. 'Those Who Hunt Elves' insurance.

"What about my DIGNITY?" she continued. "What about my modesty as a woman? Doesn't that mean anything to you people at all?"

"I assure you," Judge took a sip of his coffee. "We have your best interests at heart."

"Then why don't you DO something about them?" the rich elf, Miss Ayers, continued.

"Tiffany," Judge sighed. "The Elf Investigative Committee has attempted on several occasions to halt the less than acceptable activities of Those Who Hunt Elves. Each an every time we've been presented with a stumbling block that has prevented us from doing so. It is not for a lack of trying that 'Those Who Hunt Elves' are still allowed to continue their deplorable actions."

"What's so hard about simply destroying them?" Tiffany asked. "You round up enough people and pay them enough money and you can bury them in numbers! Surely you can do that. I would even pay you myself if it would help!"

She doesn't have the slightest clue what she's up against.

"The Elf Investigative Committee is not your private army," Judge admonished the younger elf. "There are certain circumstances behind Those Who Hunt Elves that prevent us from taking such obvious routes as military action."

"Like what?" Ayers asked.

"I'm afraid I am not permitted to give you that information," Judge replied. "But believe me when I say that it is of dire consequence to everyone."

"Hey guys!" the waitress finally wandered over with a big smile, placing a pair of menus down in front of Luna and myself. "I'm Meryl. I'll be your waitress. Do you need any drinks to start?"

"Water," I commented without even thinking.

"Do you have any milk?" Luna asked curiously. Meryl glanced at Luna with a puzzled expression for a moment before smiling.

"I'll have them right out," she beamed, and quickly bounced away.

"-Don't want to do anything about them." I managed to just barely catch that sentence. "Then I'll just have to do it myself."

"I would not suggest you continue with that course of action," Judge shook his head. "Those Who Hunt Elves are highly experienced in dealing with the vengeful."

"I don't care!" Tiffany slammed her hand against the bar. "I'll figure something out."

This does not bode well. I mean, she's probably going to do little more than humiliate herself. But when you've got as much money as she probably does, things can get... Dicey.

"Be advised that any action you take without approval cannot be condoned by the Elf Investigative Committee," Judge warned. "Any losses you incur should you choose to continue will be solely your responsibility."

"Fine," the female Elf replied. "It's settled then. You guys won't do anything, so I will."

And she stood up with a huff, slapping a coin down on the bar before leaving in a huff. As she did so, I quickly flipped up the menu Meryl had placed in front of me and shielded my face from view.

There was a jingle a moment later, and the sound of the owner thanking a customer for their patronage.

"Didn't even finish her drink," Judge muttered to himself. I waited a few more seconds, pretending to stare at my menu. The difference between a convincing act and a hilariously obvious session of eavesdropping could make all the difference in not getting caught.

"Excuse me," he continued after a moment. "If I could get a refill..."

"Oh sure thing!" I heard Meryl's voice and lowered my menu. She was coming back with a pair of glasses.

"Thank you," Judge nodded as she passed him.

"Here you go!" the waitress smiled as she set a glass of water on the table, followed by a glass of what I believe was milk. I mean, it looked like milk. A really creamy milk... But it was either a trick of the light, or it had a slightly blue pallor to it.

"Thank you," I replied with a smile.

"Do you guys need a little more time to look?" she continued. "Or are you ready to order?"

Judge wasn't going anywhere any time soon, so I guess we were stuck here for the duration. Otherwise he'd know something was up.

"We need a few minutes," I nodded. To which Meryl quickly turned to walk away. In the mean time, Luna was looking strangely at her glass, and giving it a test sniff.

"Smells off," she mused. "And is it just me, or is it blue?"

"It's not pasteurized," I advised. That had to be why it seemed odd. "Drink at your own risk."

Luna looked again at the glass and made a face, then carefully raised it and gave it a test sip. Her eyes widened in surprise.

"SWEET!" she blinked, then looked at the milk again. "I've never heard of milk being sweet before."

I shrugged and lifted my menu up. Might as well make the most of-

I stopped.

I looked again.

"This has to be a joke," I muttered. I was half expecting to see Japanese characters, or gratuitous English lettering. Instead, the menu was covered in a series of sharp, blocky figures made entirely out of straight lines. It was... Nordic Runes?

Great... Just when I thought I had things at least understood with this world, I get slapped in the face with the obvious. No wonder Junpei constantly complains that he hates Fantasy Stories.

The fact that the Menu was written in Norse just made me want to drop my head on the table. If only I had Belldandy here to translate for me. Or Urd... That whole pantheon was based on Norse Mythology.

"The chicken tortilla soup looks promising," Senbei's voice came to my ear.

I resisted the urge to look at Judge as the little demon god reminded me of his presence. His talking was definitely louder than any of my facial expressions. But if Judge heard him, he made no signs of caring. Then again, what reason did he have to be worried? I'm unknown.

Focusing on the issue of the menu, at least someone here could read it.

"What else looks good?" I asked innocently.

After some quiet deliberation, I settled for the soup. Luna went for a Salisbury Steak.

The waitress returned with Judge's refill and took our order. Luna continued to cautiously, but enjoyably nurse her Russian Roulette of a drink. I hope she doesn't get sick. I'm not qualified to play field medic; I'm even less qualified to play veterinarian. I'd hate to have Washu on the line diagnosing food poisoning for a catgirl from another universe.

Food came quickly. And I was officially writing this world off as fucked up beyond all recognition. Between the Starbucks meets IHOP layout, with the Nordic runes, and the fact that half the menu was like a Tex Mex... Oy...

Junpei. I feel you man. I feel you.

Before long, Judge finished his refill and stood up to leave, taking only a quick casual glance around the shop and pausing on me for only a moment. The atypical clothing I was wearing had been attracting curious glances here and there. So I did my best not to tense up when it inevitably drew his attention.

After that, he left some coins on the bar, tipped Meryl for her excellent service, and casually strolled out the door.

As soon as it shut, I let my eyes flick up to watch the Elf Investigator walk past the window and out of sight. After another thirty seconds, I let my eyes drop back to Luna. The felis-sapien had a very serious look on her face.

"You heard them right?" I asked. She just nodded.

"She's going to attempt to get revenge," Luna frowned. "That might cause us some problems."

"Agreed," I stated simply, stuffing my face with a bite of chicken.

Luna then grabbed up her fork and bit into a piece of steak she'd cut off, and smiled giddily at the taste.

"Mmm... Usagi never feeds me stuff this good."

Then she turned her eyes to me, serious once more.

"So what are we going to do about it?" she asked.

I thought about it. My first instinct in a situation like this would be to warn Airi about it so she could be prepared for what Miss Ayers might be planning. My second, creative thought was cooking up the possibility of throwing a wrench in the works to cut the problem off before it could get out of hand.

However, I knew better. An attempt to interfere would increase the probability of setting off gags. Attempting to get in the middle of this would most likely result in a situation much more convoluted than I could account for. And I don't know that Elf like I knew Motoko. Without more information to work with, setting something up to divert the comedy of such a situation around me would be impossible.

"We do nothing," I concluded. Luna just looked at me with a disappointed frown.

"Conventions?" she asked.

"Conventions," I nodded. "For the time being we'll just watch and wait. The less we interfere in this kind of thing, the less likely we get caught in the side-affects."

"I could always deal with her," Senbei let some of his mischievous bearing come to the forefront of his tone. It was tempting, but... No.

"If there's an opportunity for a little luck manipulation you'll be the first to know," I advised the demon god.

"So that's it?" Luna asked. "We just let it work itself out?"

"If anything worth exploiting rears its ugly head," I pointed out. "We'll jump on it faster than Usagi on Rei's manga collection. Just keep your eyes peeled."

"Right," Luna nodded, then stuffed another bite into her mouth, and almost squealed in pleasure.

Seriously, do you get like, nothing but cat food and milk half the time? You didn't even react like this to Shinobu's cooking yesterday. I'm reminded of that episode of Red Dwarf where Rimmer did a body swap and got put into Lister's body. Rimmer, having been dead and a hologram for years had a field day. Junk-food feasts, long hot baths... Smoking... Blech!

Luna must not have realized just what having access to a humanoid form meant after being in a cat body for so long. Being able to experience LIFE from the human perspective is going to prove quite distracting for her, I'm sure of it.

We continued eating in near silence. I stopped to break off a little bit of chicken and covered it in cheese and set it aside for Senbei. He didn't eat much. But then again, he's the size of a one-dollar bill.

Meryl came by twice more to check on us. The second time around, I made to check my watch... I keep forgetting it's not a watch. Damn old reflexes.

"Can we get a to-go bag?" I asked. "And the check..."

The waitress left to deal with that and within' a minute, returned with our bill and a couple of Styrofoam boxes and cups for our food.

Styrofoam... Styro-fucking-foam. In a pre-industrial setting... The damn things better grow on trees or something. My brain is starting to rebel against the stacking number of absurdities.

Meryl gone to tend another customer, and loading the remains of my meal into my soup cup, I began to glance at the check. More Norse gibberish. I'll let Senbei read it for me. Then he can tell me how much gold-

FUCK.

I stopped and sat back in the booth, feeling a touch stupid. Luna glanced up from finishing up her steak.

"What?" she asked.

I glanced at the catgirl. To pay the bill, I needed gold. I had gold, but it was in my subspace pocket. In order to retrieve said gold, I had to open the pocket. However I can't just open that portal anywhere without freaking out the locals. Magic or no, a hole in the air might be a touch more than they can handle. I could retreat to the bathroom, but with my right hand still immobilized, I couldn't grab the sack. So I'd have to have Luna grab it for me.

If I went to the bathroom and had Luna come with me. That might look... Odd.

I drummed my good hand on the table for a moment, thinking. It's always the little problems that get you.

I glanced up at the front where Meryl was flirting with a new round of customers. If only there were distracted long enough not to look back here...

"Senbei," I nodded to the little demon god, who made himself a little less transparent. "We need a little distraction up front. Just don't hurt anyone."

Senbei put his semi-transparent hand on his chin and glanced up front, eyeing Meryl as she quickly retrieved several glasses and started filling them.

"You're not planning to eat and run are you?" Luna asked.

"No," I commented quietly. "I just don't want to open a big fat hole in the space time continuum where everyone can see it."

"Oh," Luna blinked. "The gold's still in there."

"Right," I nodded with a sigh.

"Bingo," Senbei commented quietly, and vanished.

At first, nothing seemed to happen. Then, without any warning whatsoever. Meryl, who'd been turning with a tray full of glasses for the new customers by that point, suddenly tripped up and stumbled with a surprised squeak. The tray flipped up, and the glasses scattered before she collided with a shelving tower holding several more.

That quickly came free of its spot and prepared to come crashing down on the waitress. As I watched, I realized with almost a shock of horror that it had to weigh upwards of a hundred pounds, loaded down with enough glass to put a person on the hospital for a month.

'WHAM!'

The owner managed to cross the distance surprisingly fast to slam the tilting shelving back into position, dropping only a few glasses next to the prone waitress.

"That's the last time I use that carpenter!" he spat. "Meryl! Are you okay?"

The guys she'd been flirting with quickly got up to surround her. As they did so, Senbei popped back into sight next to my plate.

"Mission accomplished," he bowed.

"I said not to hurt anyone," I hissed under my breath. "You almost crushed her."

"Non!" Senbei snapped back with an equal hiss. "I only tripped her. The shelf was not my doing."

Flippin' figures.

"Fine," I snapped, then quickly checked and raised my arm to clear the booth. "Luna..."

Luna nodded as I thumbed my portal open. The catgirl reached in and retrieved my bag of gold in only a few seconds. As soon as she was clear, I thumbed it shut before anyone could notice the dark hole at the back of the shop.

Back at the front, Meryl was doing her best to assure her small crowd of admirers that she was okay, if only soaked. As she did so, I fished out a gold coin and placed it on the table.

"This enough?" I asked the demon god, who glanced at our bill.

"Easily," he confirmed after a moment.

After a few minutes to clean herself up, Meryl returned to the table to collect on our bill.

"Was everything satisfactory?" she asked.

"Good stuff," I nodded as I stood up to leave. The waitress bent over to collect the gold coin.

"I'll get your change-" she began.

"Keep the change," I commented, causing her to blink in surprise.

"SERIOUSLY?" she asked.

"You deserve it," I shrugged. To tell the truth, I was feeling a touch guilty for almost getting her smashed. "Split it with the boss or something and replace what got broke."

"Thanks!" she blinked wide-eyed as I turned to leave. Several of the local stock of admiring males were glaring daggers. Bite me.

Once we were back outside on the street, I sighed and looked around. Probably time to head back to camp and think about what Ayers was up to.

"That was risky."

"JESUSFUCKINGCHRIST!" I about jumped out of my skin as I realized Judge was standing not six feet away leaning casually against the building. "DON'T DO THAT!"

"I thought there was something odd about your aura," he continued. "Then that really subtle, high level magic I felt a minute ago... It matches you perfectly."

He must have felt Senbei like Ayers did.

"What," I began "Were you standing here the whole time?"

"I was a block away," Judge shrugged. "The spell felt strange, so I came back to check on it."

I guess that's reasonable for someone in his line of work.

"I didn't do anything," I responded. Technically true. Senbei did it.

Judge examined my face closely before standing up straight.

"I should hope not," he shrugged as he turned. "Had you hurt someone, I would have been forced to intervene. And I generally don't hold back as a rule. You should be a little more careful about where and when you use your magic. Reckless endangerment really gets my heckles raised."

"Uh..." I began. Just nod and smile... "Sure. Whatever you say."

"So long as we understand each other," he began to walk away. "Stay safe."

I waited for the Elf Investigator to again walk out of sight before even letting myself think about what just happened. I was pushing my luck eavesdropping on him. I mean, I have nothing to fear from him because I haven't done anything. But Judge didn't get his position on the Elf Investigative Committee (Gotta' be an FBI analogue for this messed up world.) for being bad at what he did.

The guy was a brilliant tracker, intelligence gatherer, and master of golem based magic. He made copies of 'Those Who Hunt Elves' that could fight them to a stand still. When Junpei fought his golem copy, he even went so far as to compliment how it knew his every move.

Judge had a simple response.

'He IS your every move.'

I do NOT want to get into a pissing match with that guy.

"Come on," I sighed. "Let's get back to the others. We're late."

Luna nodded as we began to walk down the street again.

"Beedeedeep! Beedeedeep!"

Now what?

"Beedeedeep! Beedeedeep!"

I frowned as I tried my best with one hand to fish out Washu's little Crab-Tooth communicator beacon, getting a few more looks from random passers by. What could she possibly be calling me for NOW? She can't have expected me to have already finished the suit manual, could she?

I fumbled the device a few times trying to open it. I was really starting to miss having two functional hands with all the trouble I was having. I mean, you just don't appreciate it until it happens. And then it drives you nuts.

However, after dropping the whole shebang on the ground twice. I finally, with Luna's help, managed to get the earpiece wrapped around my ear, and hit the answer button.

"Y'ello?" I asked in a slightly convoluted English response.

"Ye-what?" the voice on the other end crackled. I furrowed my brow.

"Ayeka?"