"I'm crazy enough to take on Batman. But the IRS? Nohohoho THANK YOU!"
- The Joker
"One more time..."
Don't ask me how I manage to do it, but I do. Place me in a group of people and I'll find the center. Not the center of attention, but the center of rotation. The eye of the storm, if you will. With all the activity going on, with me all but quiet for the most of it, I was able to observe everything going on while continuing my now rather long conversation with Ayeka in a more subtle tone.
When we got back, things had pretty much broken into groups. Ayers of course, ended up in a serious conversation with Airi and Celcia, learning about just what Those Who Hunt Elves were really doing.
Junpei and Luna, of course, resumed practicing. The feline, after witnessing just what she could do, was now determined to milk Junpei's teaching for everything it was worth. More power to her.
Ritsuko had kind of gravitated toward the serous discussion before long, while Senbei had turned into Luna's personal cheering section for the latter. Celcia had eyed him nervously upon his return, but he refused to cloak around her any more on the grounds that he was tired of it. After half an hour of nothing but goofy conjecture from the demon god, I think she finally started to understand, and just dismissed him.
So while the groups did their thing. I found myself sitting right in the middle, leaning against one of Mike's treads, continuing my now extended conversation with Ayeka.
"So that's what Those Who Hunt Elves is about," she replied with a crackle. "That sure sounds like a funny plot."
"Well I like funny things," I commented idly at the princess. "At least I'm not into gore fests or something like some kind of psychopath. Hell. It's a good thing I'm more nice than aggressive. If I had attacked instead of run for my life that first time last week, there's no telling how nasty you would have been."
"Honestly," Ayeka came back. "I was about to... What was the word you used?"
"Barbecue," I provided the term in English.
"Yes," she agreed. "I was about to 'barbecue' you as you put it. You scared the daylights out of me."
"YOU were scared?" I chuckled. "When you started to draw power or however that works, I felt all the hair on my body stand on end. I've never been struck by lightning, but that HAS to be what it feels like to come close. It's crazy to suddenly have your universe flipped on its head. It's even crazier to have your entertainment turn out to be real... And trying to kill you."
"It's a bit strange to find out my life is entertainment," Ayeka responded. There was a brief pause at that moment. To tell the truth it was a bit awkward. It was as if something was still missing. Something that had made the entire exchange we just had feel a bit forced. Even after talking to her for over an hour, it just seemed like there was something I had to... Of course.
"I'm sorry," I continued.
"What?" the princess asked.
"I'm sorry," I repeated. "I'm sorry that what I know is more about you than I should know. I'm sorry if it seems like I've violated your life just by existing. I'm sorry that I decided you were one of my favorite characters: My favorite source of entertainment. And I'm certainly sorry that it resulted in placing you in such an awkward situation. I would have avoided it if I could have. If I had even known it was going to happen. I would have-"
"Don't," Ayeka interrupted me. It was a good thing too. Once I decide to get something off my chest, I tend to babble on. Like some kind of self-imposed need to explain my every thought to people so they know WHY I think the way I do.
"Don't..." she continued. "Don't think for a second that you have to apologize for your own tastes in fictional material. Considering some of the stuff I've found and read, I'm just as guilty as you are. We all are. I'm not going to label you a pervert or a stalker because of that."
"No," I shrugged. "I get that label from teleporting into your bed. It's kind of scary what might happen if your mother finds out. Or worse, your father..."
Then I paused. That thought went right to a very scary conclusion.
"Actually... Your father is absolutely NOT to find out," I stated pointedly.
"Wha- Oh..." Ayeka crackled. "Oh my... You're right. If father finds out, he won't care if it's not your fault."
"He'll kill me," I completed the princess' thoughts. "No questions asked. Fathers are like that."
"I don't think he'd go quite that far," Ayeka responded.
"I don't feel like risking it," I countered. "I'd rather not make your father an enemy. So the less he knows the better. As they say: 'What he doesn't know, won't hurt ME.' Or something like that."
"Okay," Ayeka crackled. "Okay, I understand. So tell me, what about these other worlds?"
"Well, last we spoke on the beacon-"
I paused and dug in my pocket for my beacon pen. Can't forget to do this now can I?
"Sorry," I replied, standing up. "Last you were talking to me, I was in the Sailor Moon world. The DVD I brought with me was pretty much what that world was like... But less animated, more REAL."
Oh so very real...
"That's actually my next stop," I continued. "Assuming nothing weird changes things... Knock on wood."
Too bad I don't have wood to knock on.
I looked around trying to think of a good place to stick the latest beacon. But considering Ritsuko slept in a sleeping bag, there would be no perfect place. Where am I going to put this thing?
"At least you beat that monster," Ayeka continued. "If you can beat the monsters in that universe, you should be okay."
"Oh it gets BETTER," I replied, then turned to look at Mike. "I accidentally got one of their magic crystals lost in another universe. Now unless I get it back, an entire PLANET is going to die."
"WHAT?" The princess asked in a shocked tone. "That will seriously mess up that timeline. Does Washu know about this?"
"Yes she does," I replied curtly. "And she told me in no uncertain terms to do whatever I deem necessary, timeline be damned."
"Well," Ayeka began again. "What are you going to do?"
"I dunno," I shrugged. "I can't do anything until I get there. But for the time being, I'm just going to have to wing it. Try and get that crystal back and get the timeline back on rails the best I can. If I can do that much, then they SHOULD be able to spin a positive outcome out of my interference."
"And if they can't?" the princess asked.
I shook my head at myself, half ignoring the princess. I'm going to have to drop this beacon inside Mike. There's no other place I can think of.
"Hello?" Ayeka asked.
"I don't know," I admitted. "Nuke the site from orbit?"
"What kind of solution is THAT?"
"The flashy kind?" I asked innocently. Then I turned and grabbed one of the hand bars near Mike's tread and yanked myself up. After a moment I paused and dropped back down. Okay. This isn't going to work.
"Whe' ih do," I began, gripping the dial for my suit in my teeth. I couldn't grip the dial with my wrapped hand. "Bo id da ell!"
Two X strength.
HEFT! I grabbed with handle again and easily leveraged myself up. Now THIS is going to work.
"I said," I continued as I carefully swung to stay balanced while I grabbed the next handhold. "When in doubt, blow it to hell."
I'm not too fond of climbing one-handed. I don't feel balanced.
"I don't follow," the princess responded.
"Sure you do," I commented as I hauled myself up to the next point. Rule of climbing is three points of contact at all times. Unfortunately, I am blatantly violating that rule with one lame hand. "When you first found where Ryoko was, you decided firing a warning shot at the ground was a good idea in the middle of a city."
Then I paused in mid climb and furrowed my brow.
"What was with that anyway?"
"Uh... oh... Come on," Ayeka faked a laugh. "It wasn't that bad."
"You blew out the windows of Tenchi's house at the time," I continued. "Considering the wide angle shot of that sequence really played up the shock wave, you must have blown out, what? Every window in a half-mile radius?"
"Okay!" Ayeka snapped back. "I wasn't thinking clearly. I had just come out of stasis and I couldn't find my brother! All I found was Ryoko. I was angry."
"Whoa," I managed to haul myself up onto Mike's turret. "Calm down okay? I'm not criticizing you. I'm just saying..."
"Are you saying I have no restraint?" the princess snapped back.
"What did I say?" I asked pointedly.
"What are you trying to insinu-"
"WHAT did I say?" I asked again. Sheesh, I'm glad I'm safely a universe away at the moment.
There was a long pause before Ayeka took an audible deep breath.
"You said I know where you're coming from," she continued calmly. "So what do you mean? If they can't fix things if you get the crystal back, you're going to blow their enemy up or something?"
"When in doubt, blow it to hell," I restated. "These are just the kind of villains that such a philosophy would work on. Textbook Evil."
"And how do you propose to do that?" Ayeka asked. "You think I'm going to let you borrow Ryu-Oh or something?"
"No," I shrugged. "That would be stupid because I know that Ryu-Oh is not fully operational yet. Though, you think if I bribe Ryo-Ohki with carrots and ask Washu nicely enough, I can drag her with me?"
"Would that be fair?"
"Perfectly," I replied in a chirpy voice. "Fair to me."
"Eh..." the princess began, but halted.
She don't know me very well, do she?
Now that I was perched atop Mike, I carefully hauled the hatch open. Now, where would I put that beacon? Some place where it would be left alone. Maybe that ammo compartment that had all the shotgun rounds. Plus I could pick up some more regular buckshot rounds while I'm at it.
The way I see it, no need to waste Washu's high power rounds where the regular rounds will do the job. Maybe grab some new grenades while I'm at it. The more choices of ammo, the more options I had. And I like options.
"Look," I continued. "If I'm going to even THINK about going head to head with Beryl, or Metallia, or any of those villains, I'm going to do more than just zap them in the name of love and justice and all that sentimental power of friendship crap. I'm going to get my hands on as much firepower as I can dig up, and I'm going to do my best to glass the place."
"What do you mean, GLASS" Ayeka asked. "What does that have to do with Ryo-Ohki and attacking them with all the firepower you can muster?"
You've GOT to be kidding me. Seriously?
"Ayeka," I paused, placing my good hand to press the crab-tooth firmly into my ear. "You don't know what GLASSING means?"
"I've never heard the term before," the princess responded. "Is it some kind of special military action?"
Is it some kind of-?
"Ayeka," I asked. "Do you know how to make glass?"
"I was never taught to do so," the princess responded. "But you just make it by melting sand and then cooling it qui-."
There was a pause.
"Wait a second," she continued. "You're referring to surface bombardment!"
"Until the surface melts and solidifies into glass," I emphasized. "Until the crust is melted, and the possibility that anything is still alive in the target area is a triple digit value with the decimal point ten spaces to the left."
"Does overkill mean anything to you?"
Actually, considering Metallia's rather metaphysical nature, I'm thinking just glassing the place wouldn't be enough. And if you consider the enemies the Senshi will have to deal with later on in their timeline, Metallia's the weakest. I can't even begin to think about how I would deal with Galaxia. She's a certified planet killer. What makes it worse is that she wasn't defeated by force, but by compassion driving out the chaos infestation. That whole universe is balanced on a knife-edge. If one thing goes wrong, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.
I paused as I slapped my pockets for that beacon pen...
Galaxia is Chaos Corrupted. How funny... With me referring to Tenchi as the God Emperor, and all the other silly Forty-K references I've come up with, it was only a matter of time. What's that make me? I'm hunting down and destroying this corruption. So am I the Inquisition? I couldn't help but laugh a little.
"What's so funny?" Ayeka asked.
"Oh, nothing." I responded. "I'm just drawing parallels to other bits of fiction I know about."
Me and my morbid sense of humor...
I slapped my pockets again and stopped laughing. Where's that pen? I just- Where the hell did it go?
I reached into the pocket I had stuffed the beacon pen into, and pulled it up empty. The GMP3K was missing too. I just had those damn things! For crying out loud, where-
I looked back over the side of the tank. Sure enough, on the ground below, the two items in question were just lying in the sun, having fallen out of my pocket while I was climbing.
"Oh god dammit," I grumbled, earning a query from the princess. I just managed to scramble my way up the side of this tank, now I've got to scramble my way back down then up again? You've got to be kidding me.
"Why?" I asked the air as I leaned back to rest against the turret.
"Why what?" Ayeka asked.
"Why is it always the little things?" I asked her. I had a hard enough time climbing up here. I don't feel like trying to break my neck twice.
"Hey Ritsuko!" I called down.
The schoolgirl turned her head curiously from the conversation she'd been participating in. This prompted the other three ladies to look over.
"What's up?" she asked.
"Could you grab that pen on the ground and toss it up to me?" I asked. "I kind of don't want to climb all the way back down just to pick it up."
Ritsuko looked over where I indicated, then pulled herself to her feet and wandered over.
"What'cha doing?" she asked. "Making a checklist?"
"It's a beacon from Washu," I informed her. "I have to drop one everywhere I go so she can study my jumps. If we're lucky, she'll find a way to either halt, or at least control my jumps."
"Oh," she nodded in understanding.
"A beacon?" Ayers asked. "From a pen? I thought you needed large torches for beacons."
"Other-worlders have all kinds of interesting devices." Celcia commented.
Ritsuko walked over and picked up Washu's beacon pen, then tossed it up to me, where I barely managed to snatch it out of the air after missing the first grab and bouncing it off my hand.
"Gotcha!" I grinned triumphantly.
"Nice catch," the schoolgirl smirked.
"Okay," Ayers commented back to Airi, spinning around. "If he's not with you, what's his story?"
"Even more strange, if you could think it were possible," Ritsuko replied, spinning around with the GMP3K in hand.
"I'm all ears," the elf responded pointedly, looking up at me. I just shrugged.
"Back in a sec," I commented, then carefully dropped myself into the turret. Once down there, it was easy to find that storage compartment full of shotgun shells again.
"I wonder how she's going to take it," Ayeka commented as I deployed one of Washu's beacons into the corner of the compartment. It looked so much like a loose pellet.
"Who, Ayers?" I asked. "I dunn-"
"Correction," I continued. "I think I'll stay here for a moment. She's a bit hot under the collar, or so I've noticed."
After a moment, I noticed there was no response.
"Ayeka?" I asked.
Then I pressed the earpiece against my head a little harder, trying to hear anything. There was still that soft background hiss that had been there the whole time, so I knew it was still connected. And, after a moment voices...
"I said you only needed to check that he's doing what I told him."
"I haven't been talking to him THAT long."
Oh, Washu's back.
"I left and came back and you're still talking. I've been gone for the better part of four hours. I doubt he's gotten anything done talking to you."
"No buts. I'm a professor, I know how studying works."
"Washu," I began. But obviously she wasn't close enough to hear.
"Now run along. I can't have you distracting him all day."
There was silence, and then shuffling followed by a click.
"Okay!" Washu's voice came in much more clearly. Well, about as clear as this thing ever gets. "I'm back. Miss me?"
"So where did you run off to?" I asked.
"Had to make a run to the Academy," Washu crackled. "Nice to see that Ayeka's wasting your time so wisely."
"Cheh," I scoffed. "She really didn't interrupt anything."
"You're supposed to be studying that manual," Washu chided. "I told you."
"I was busy earning some money," I replied. "Being broke kind of sucks."
"I guess that makes sense," she continued. "We can't survive on well-wishes and happy thoughts now can we?"
"I can't at least," I replied. "I picked up a decent amount of gold coins here. I can trade them out in the next world for some serious cash. That'll solve my money problems at least in the short term."
"Smart move!" Washu chirped. "Just be careful about the value of what you start trading. Economies can be finicky little suckers, and if you toss something of too great a value in, it could result in a temporary collapse."
"It's only gold," I shrugged. "Next world's going to land me in what is effectively Tokyo."
"I'm just warning you," Washu provided. "What you're doing is very similar to interplanetary trade. I've seen what a simple technology trade can do to a primitive world. It's not pretty."
"Part of the reason Jurai and everyone else tries to keep Earth in the dark I take it?"
"More or less," Washu quipped. "So, you said was. What are you doing now?"
"Planting your beacon," I stated honestly. I know a leading question when I hear it.
"Oh!" Washu crackled. "Very good. I got some interesting data concerning your last jump, and I'm continuing to monitor things from there. Be sure and get a good spot for this beacon."
"I've got about as good as you're going to get," I replied. "Kind of a pain to haul my ass up on this tank one-handed too."
"You've still got your hand wrapped up?" Washu asked.
"Yeah," I replied. "I don't know when I should unwrap it. And I wanted to make sure I didn't unwrap it early."
"Does it hurt anymore?" she asked. "Is it warm?"
"Not really," I commented at length. "The pain stopped about an hour ago, and as far as I can tell, it's not warm."
"Go ahead and unwrap it and test your fingers," Washu instructed. "If you can make a fist without it hurting, then you're good to go."
I did as instructed. It took a minute of fighting with my hand, but I managed to loosen the wrap and remove the makeshift splint Kitsune had made. After a few seconds flexing, I opened and closed my hand several times before balling it into a tight fist.
"Oh, SO much better," I grinned. It was a little stiff, but I could clearly tell that all my digits worked just fine, and they bent nicely without the slightest sign of pain.
"Good," Washu commented into my ear.
"I wish I had known about this five minutes ago," I continued. "Would have saved me the trouble of climbing on this tank like I did."
"Heh," Washu laughed. "Sorry I can't read your mind-"
"HAH!" I accidentally commented aloud.
"You told me to stop," she continued.
"Never stopped you before," I rolled my eyes.
"Hey!" Washu cut in. "Now at least you can put that glove on."
Nice way to change the topic.
"True," I pointed out. "Now if only that magic part of that glove actually worked like it did in Jail's base. I'd be all set."
"But it doesn't," Washu pointed out. "So remember. It's to protect your hand if you need to go and punch someone again."
"That reminds me," I continued. "I got hit with a magic attack a little while ago."
"You forgot about Medium Transfer Principle," she asked. "Didn't you?"
"More like I never had a chance to think about it," I replied, propping my feet up across the inside of the turret. "I got blind sided."
"Ouch," came the response. "Normally that wouldn't have bothered you. But I take it you quickly became aware that the suit isn't as transparent as you are."
"Painfully aware," I replied. "The guy used some kind of 'stun' spell on me. It felt like boiling water."
"Stun spell..." Washu pondered. "Brief flash of intense pain?"
"Like boiling water, or hot grease," I replied. "How's that work?"
"From the description," Washu replied. "A stun spell like the one that hit you would work by saturating the central nervous system. Or in easier terms, overload you with pain response by causing all the pain receptors in the body to fire at once. It doesn't actually do any physical damage, but it's almost always a guaranteed knockout on a direct hit. People who are conditioned for extreme pain are some of the few who can stand up to that kind of attack."
Well, that's simple enough. Use magic to trigger pain from every nerve in the body. It would be like being lit on fire, only all at once. The person being hit passes out in shock. And even if they don't, they're still dropped like a sack of potatoes.
"Since you're transparent to magic," Washu continued into my thoughts. "The only thing that the spell could hit was the suit. The suit's got tactile sensors that simulate skin. The burning sensation would have been the spell setting those off. The sensation was real. That's what that spell actually FEELS like. But since only the surface could interact with the magic, it didn't get to saturate all the other nerves in your body."
"So a stun spell feels like someone dunked your body in boiling water," I blinked. Then scowled. I can imagine what the surface sensations of being boiled alive would feel like. But to go one step further and saturate every nerve in the body with the sensation of boiling?
No wonder Judge was impressed. He thought I shrugged that kind of magic right off.
"So what happens if something nastier hits?" I asked.
"I would suggest against letting that happen," Washu commented. "The suit interacts with magic just fine. So if someone starts chucking magic that causes things to explode..."
I get the picture.
"MREOW!" Mike boomed around me. Then there was come clanging and clattering on the outside quickly scrambling up to the turret.
"Hey!" Ayers' head appeared in the hatch opening above. She was gasping. "Get out here! We need to talk."
"Sounds like you have work to do," Washu cut in. "I won't be like Ayeka and stick on the line. So I'm out."
"Later," I commented. Washu replied in kind, then clicked off.
"Come on..." Ayers stated impatiently. "This is important."
"What's up?" I asked, flexing my hand in preparation to climb out of this steel box.
"Hurry up," she snapped, and dropped out of sight.
"You said it Mike," I replied.
Now with my hand free, it was a few orders of magnitude easier to climb out of the tank. It took me only a fraction of the time my previous climb had taken. It was only a day. But DAMN I missed having both hands.
When I managed to scramble down off the possessed vehicle, Ayers was there, glaring at me. Not angrily, but like she had something important to say.
"I want to ask you something," she stated. "And I want the truth."
Okay... What's she want to know?
"Last week," she continued. "You were here?"
"Okay," she suddenly bit into part of her torn sleeve. "So, while they were busy making a mockery out of me what were YOU doing?"
"Me?" I asked. "I was acting as a spotter for Ritsuko."
I indicated the schoolgirl. Ayers immediately started pacing back and forth.
"Did you direct that... That tank?" she asked. "Were you the one that told it to shoot?"
I used a laser target designator to have Mike put rounds specifically where they wouldn't hurt anyone. I remember that clearly. Especially because I about blew out my ear drums doing so.
"Yes," I nodded. "Suppressive fire."
"Great!" Ayers, snapped, then really started chewing on her sleeve. "Just great!"
As I watched, the Elf started pacing more frantically. It was enough to catch Luna's attention. Only for Junpei to snap at her to focus on what she was doing, not what other people was doing.
"What's with her?" I turned, asking Airi.
"I'm not sure," the actress responded. "We were talking how you helped when she suddenly jumped up to talk to you."
Then the actress looked down and let off a slight smile.
"I see your hand is better though."
"Yeah," I smiled, lifting my hand up. "It's good to be back to one-hundred percent."
"Let me get this absolutely clear," Ayers suddenly turned, and grabbed me by the shoulder. "You didn't suggest it to them. You specifically did it?"
"I aimed the laser sight at an empty area and told Mike to fire," I added. "I should have run it by Ritsuko because the muzzle blast nearly drove us deaf."
"OHHHHH..." the Elf's eyes teared up and she turned away as if about to cry. "This is bad. So very bad."
"What's so bad?" Celcia asked. "What's so bad that he was involved?"
"Celcia you didn't know?" Ayers turned to the panda, tears in her eyes. "Claims to the Those Who Hunt Elves recovery fund are rejected if the damages claimed are not caused expressly by you guys."
"Rejected?" Ritsuko asked. "Over something as little as that?"
"You have no idea how many people try to claim on Those Who Hunt Funds for every little thing," Ayers shot back. "A trio of thugs comes to town, and everyone thinks its Those Who Hunt elves. So the Elf Investigative Committee looks for any way to get out of any payment situation. And considering how much money I lost... They'll be examining every last detail."
You've got to be kidding me. The EIC sounds about as anal as the IRS.
"So what's the problem?" I asked. "Just tell them Ritsuko ordered the shot. It's not like anyone can prove otherwise. Nobody here even knows I exist. Let alone that I've been hanging around Those Who Hunt Elves."
Ritsuko even nodded with me in agreement there.
I haven't seen Ayers move as quickly as she did to grab my shirt.
"You don't understand!" she snapped. "The Elf Investigative Committee are good at this kind of thing; VERY good at this kind of thing. They have psychological profiles on people. They know what people are likely to do in a situation. They'll figure out that there was an extra person just by looking at the grass. They have profiles well enough to know that Ritsuko wouldn't be so careless as to stand in front of the tank and fire like you did. They'll know she didn't do it! My claim will be disqualified on those grounds and I won't see a single gold piece!"
"Seriously?" I turned to Airi, who shrugged.
"Well," Ritsuko chimed in. "That Judge guy did say they already knew how many spell fragments were left after the second time it split. So there has to be some truth."
Sheesh... What are these guys, CSI Miami?
"Aren't you rich enough that it shouldn't be a big loss though?" I asked. "You own all that land-"
"DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH IT COSTS TO HIRE MERCENARIES?" she screamed at the top of her lungs. "Most people wouldn't hire more than three to five! I hired FIFTY!"
I shot a look at Ritsuko and clicked my tongue. Ritsuko snorted in response.
"And not just that!" Ayers continued. "They knew they would be dealing with Those Who Hunt Elves so they demanded ten times the normal payment!"
"You paid-" I stopped and dropped to the ground, poking the soil with my finger and drawing numbers in the dirt.
Fifty divided by five is ten. So she hired ten times the normal number of mercenaries. And she paid them ten times what they would normally get-
"You paid a hundred times what is normal for mercenaries?" I asked, mouth gaping as I stood back up. Okay, I'm no expert on how much cash is what around here, or how much Mercenaries go for. But a ten thousand percent increase is ten thousand percent.
"Ouch," Ritsuko made a face. "That's a lot of wasted money."
"That's only the beginning!" Ayers spat. Then raised her hand and started counting off. "There's also landscaping, carpentry, masonry, gardening, damage to antiques, medical liability from injuries during the panic, and the fields..."
Ayers fell to her knees.
"Oh GOD the fields," she whimpered. "They all BURNED! I was planning to make back on the money I spent using the income I made off the fields. I had rent fees, crop futures. ALL UP IN SMOKE!"
"I'm sorry," Celcia looked down. "The fields were my fault."
"That's not the point," Ayers shook her head. "I could have recovered my losses on that through the Fund. But now they're going to reject it. And I'm left to eat the losses. I may be wealthy, but I'm not THAT wealthy. A lot of what I make isn't actually held in cash. It's tied up in my investments for that town. For my property! Without the return from the fields and the properties, I only have just enough to pay the mercenaries. After that I'm pretty much bankrupt! I'll have to sell everything..."
Then she shuddered.
"Or worse," she whimpered. "I'll have to ask daddy for some money."
"Okay," I glanced at Airi. I'm not a Wall Street Investor but even I know...
"I don't want to ask daddy for money," Ayers whined. "I told him I could make it on my own without him. If I come crawling back to him now he'll never let me live it down!"
"All this because the Elf Investigative Committee are going to nit-pick your claims simply because I happened to be the one to tell the tank to open fire?" I asked. "Even when most of the damage done WAS direct action of Those Who Hunt Elves?"
I quickly snapped a 'no offense' look at Airi. She just shrugged.
"YES!" Ayers sobbed.
"Assholes," I shook my head. Then I turned to Ritsuko.
"How many rolls of toilet paper do we have left?"
"Cheh," the schoolgirl rolled her eyes. "I have tissues for that kind of-"
Then she stopped.
"Oh... You want to give her some rolls to sell."
"We made what," I asked. "Two hundred gold coins? Three-hundred? A few rolls should get her out of this hole lickety split."
"HAH!" the elf laughed, then stopped.
"What?" I asked.
"Pocket money," Ayers leaned forward to clasp her knees. "That won't nearly cover what you owe me."
A few rolls of toilet paper at how much they cost won't cover how much I ow- Wait a minute.
"Owe you?" I asked. "I, me, specifically?"
"Yes," Ayers turned to me, her crying having stopped, only to be replaced by a sad look. "I really hate to say this to you after all the effort you've put in to trying to be nice and help me out. But by my calculations, you owe me three thousand, eight hundred gold pieces."
Celcia made a sharp hiss as she tried to cover up an intake of breath.
"Wait," Ritsuko cut in at my defense. "How do you figure HE owes you that much? At most he's only responsible for some minor property damage. If anything, we owe you for this mess more than he does."
"Simple," Ayers shrugged. "I can't hold you guys responsible because Judge told me himself that the Elf Investigative Committee can't touch you due to some kind of binding legal agreement. He however,"
Ayers pointed at me.
"Is not part of your group, and it is his action that makes me ineligible for recovering what I lost in our little skirmish."
Then she laughed unsteadily.
"Thus, by a fluke of nature, he is responsible for the loss of investment values of what is actually six thousand gold pieces."
"I thought you said," I began.
"That was the projected profits on the field," Ayers cut in. "I cannot and will not hold you responsible for losses I hadn't even seen a return on yet."
Ayers then looked me dead in the eye.
"But I will hold you responsible for losses spent."
"You're shitting me," I gaped.
"I am not," Ayers paused, looking at me confused. "Shitting, you."
Three-thousand-eight hundred... And six thousand, gold pieces? How much is that? How much...
"SENBEI!" I snapped, turning around. The demon god looked up from where Luna and Junpei were still engaged in practice, oblivious to the conversation at hand.
"Need you," I finished, indicating our group.
The little demon god teleported over, startling Ayers, and making Celcia raise her guard again.
"At your service!" he grinned with a flamboyant bow.
"Skip the theatrics," I indicated. "I need-"
"HIM!" Ayers gasped. "He's that evil force I was sensing earlier!"
"He gets that a lot," I shrugged and then added before she could make any more statements. "He's a demon, get over it."
"You have a DEMON working for you," the elf gaped. "What kind of other-worlder are you?"
"The well traveled kind," I continued, holding my hand up to silence any more comments.
"Senbei," I continued. "Three thousand, eight hundred gold pieces. What's the value?"
The little demon god tapped his chin for a second, glancing at me like I had lost my mind, then shrugged.
"Eighty-two million, one hundred sixty thousand yen," he replied. Ritsuko went deathly white. That number was sufficiently huge to make my blood run cold.
"In dollars please," I snapped. "I'm not good with large conversions."
"About six-hundred and thirty thousand dollars," the demon god replied. "Roughly. Depends on exchange rate."
I think my brain came to a halt.
Six hundred and... Six hundred...
SIX HUNDRED AND THIRTY THOUSAND US DOLLARS? MY GOD!
I'm not even ASKING how much the six thousand gold coin value was. I expect that would be in the million range.
"That's INSANE!" I snapped. "Are you absolutely certain you can't do anything to recoup losses like that? I don't even make that much money in a YEAR. Actually, I haven't even made that much money EVER."
"From what they're telling me," she continued. "It's not like I can just force you to pay. And I don't have any more capital. So..."
The elf tuckered her head down on her knees, a tear coming down her cheek.
"Fuck," I muttered, dropping down on the ground next to her. "If it isn't one thing, it's another."
"This is a problem," Ritsuko turned to Airi. As she did so, she absentmindedly flicked my leatherman in her hand, flicking it open, then spinning it to grab it in its pliers mode. Much the same way you would do with a butterfly knife. Then she spun it again and flicked it shut.
I could sell that, but a leatherman wouldn't get jack squat around here, I'm sure.
"I agree," the actress continued. "She may be holding him financially responsible, but it's still our problem.
"Its not like I can just magic up that kind of money," Celcia commented. "I may be the Elder of common elves, but I don't personally own those kind of assets."
We sat there in silence for a second before Junpei and Luna concluded a frantic series of exchanges and wandered over. Junpei looked no worse for wear. Luna looked about ready to collapse.
"Not bad kitty!" the fighter slapped her on the back. "You're catching on to the basics pretty fast. You'll need to work on your stamina though. All those little breaks really cut into practice."
Luna just smiled wearily and wobbled over to where I was sitting, then collapsed to her knees.
"I don't know how he does it," she huffed.
"Humans are built for long term endurance," I advised the advisor. "You're not."
"I'll say," Luna huffed. Then tilted sideways to lean against me. "I feel like I could sleep for a week."
Oh, trust me Luna, I know the feeling. Tell the truth, I've been kind of worn out all day. And just thinking about it makes me-
I yawned in reaction to Luna yawning. It'll be time for sleep soon. Time to leave.
"What is she," Ayers commented from behind her knees. "Your girlfriend or something?"
"Who Luna?" I asked. I guess it looks that way with her learning on my shoulder like a pillow. But that's okay. Kitty needs her nap.
"Nah," I waved it away. "Just a traveling companion of sorts."
Then I looked at the mane of purple hair currently using my shoulder.
"Hey Luna," I began.
"Mff," she mumbled, her eyes flicking over at me groggily.
"Conserve energy," I advised.
"Oh," she sat up. "Right..."
Then after a moment, there was a loud pop that made me wince and stick my finger in my ear, and Luna was once again just a cat.
"She's a cat?"
"Very much so," I replied, picking the feline up off the ground and tucking her into my arms. I just can't resist holding a cat sometimes.
Luna responded by relaxing and purring.
I should ask her what purring's about.
"Hey!" Junpei snapped. "Why all the long faces?"
"You wouldn't understand," Celcia replied. "You'd just get it mixed up."
"Mixed up?" Junpei snapped.
Ritsuko flicked my leatherman open and twirled it in her grip, then pointed the needle-nose pliers at Junpei.
"It's way too complicated," she agreed with Celcia. "Unless you happen to also be an expert in investing."
"Oh," Junpei shot back. "And you are?"
Ritsuko just sighed.
That remark made Junpei pause. Normally an argument like that would just escalate. Ritsuko just spun my leatherman shut again.
"Hey," I got the schoolgirl's attention. "Do that again."
"What?" Ritsuko asked. "Your tool?"
She flicked it open, and spun it around in her grip.
"It took me all day to get that down," she commented.
"Here," I reached out with my free hand, careful not to disturb Luna. "I want to try that."
Ritsuko flicked it shut and handed my tool over to me. I held it like she did and gave the tool a flick. The arms got about one quarter of the way and stuck.
I frowned and gave it a second flick, and ended up just waving about.
"How the hell," I began, and gave it another shake. Ritsuko covered her mouth as I repeated this four more times.
"That's why it took me all day," Ritsuko giggled. "You have to snap your wrist really hard to do it."
"Bah!" I snapped it shut with a click. I've never been good with this sort of thing. I can't even twirl a pen.
"You other-worlders are strange," Ayers shook her head. "What is that thing anyway?"
"It's a multi-tool," I explained. "It's got pliers, a knife, a pair of screwdrivers, a metal file."
I worked my old leatherman open and showed her.
"Can opener," I continued. "A bunch of little bits that look like more screwdrivers I can't figure out the uses for. The pliers doubles as wire cutters..."
I snapped it shut and turned it over in my hand.
"Oh! And the outside has ruler markings for measuring. Makes a good straight edge in a pinch."
"Yeah," I agreed. "Probably worth a ton around here too. Though I doubt it'll cover half a million in financial losses. If I could go home and trade up some money for the gold I've got, I could probably buy hundreds and bring them back. Then you could sell them and recoup. And we'd be square."
I looked up as I set my leatherman on the ground. Ayers was looking at me hard, her brow furrowed in thought.
"They said you're traveling," she continued. "You go to places that have things like this?"
"Yeah," I nodded. "Why? You want me to bring you back something rare here? I can."
But Ayers wasn't listening to me. She was drawing in the dirt. Drawing frantically in the dirt. Runes, and numbers, and lines.
"If an item that's rare in one would is common in another," she mumbled. "It can be exported or imported for a trade in value... So if the market price is fifty gold coins for something here, and then if the market value of gold..."
Ayers looked up.
"How much does that thing cost in your units?" she asked. "And how much is gold in your units?"
"This?" I indicated my leatherman. "I'd guess about a hundred dollars."
"Gold is roughly 300 dollars to the ounce," Senbei provided.
"Right!" Ayers looked down, completely ignoring Senbei as he mentioned the price fluctuations.
"Two gold coins in an ounce," she continued. "That'll buy three of those, which I could sell here for fifty coins, which nets me value return of..."
"Thirty thousand," Senbei provided again.
"Thirty thousand of those dollars," she continued. "That's... Divide by the value of the tool, which is easy. Move the decimal two spaces... thirty-thousand percent!"
Ayers let out a rather silly sounding laugh. Like a chipmunk.
"So I can sell that," she continued. "And I just sell it for fifty gold. Convert the gold to your currency... You could turn around and buy three hundred of those. Then I could sell them again! Just having you go get them for me. I could not only recover everything I lost. I could almost triple my profits! And if I do a price markup..."
"Whoa!" I raised my hand. "Slow down. I'm not a delivery truck... er... Cart. I can't haul around metric tons of goods!"
"Even better!" The elf was damn near hyperactive now. "A common good in one world whose value is next to nothing becomes an exotic good in another. That works both ways. So I can purchase common goods here, then have you sell them for massive profits! While you purchase common goods to bring back to this world! And since you're the only one doing it, there's no competition! Objects are guaranteed to remain rare, and thus, their values high. Economic impact also remains low because of the low volume! It's perfect!"
"TIME OUT!" I snapped. "I can't just go hauling your stuff around! I have things to do!"
Ayers about tackled me, looking about as excited as Lashara from Saint Knight's Tale when she was making a money plot. It's funny. Up until now, I hadn't even thought about that future spin-off from Tenchi Muyo. I better keep that piece of future history away from Washu. I have no idea what kind of ripple effect I might be having on them as well.
"You've got to do this for me!" she grinned. "Can't you hear the jingle of profits waiting to be made?"
What is she, Teladi? I can almost imagine her dragging out the S.
"I know you know I'm right!" she continued. "You already did it with that toilet paper stuff! Just think! You have access to markets nobody else does. That's a tremendous business advantage! We could be rich... Richer than I already was, but THINK about it!"
"But I'm trying to STOP traveling," I objected. "I'm not in control of these jumps! What good is being filthy stinking rich if I can't stop to enjoy it?"
"You owe me at least one trip!" she continued. "At least one! Please! Even one trip just to pay back what you owe and make a REAL profit. After that, if you're not interested, I'll understand. BUT ONCE! Do it for me!"
I didn't think it was possible. But Ayers, as ruined as her clothing was, and torn up as she was, proceeded to level me with a puppy-dog stare.
Oh come on! That's just not fair! After the guilt trip I'd just been slapped with. Pulling that move is just LOW.
Well, think about it. The rule is to exploit any advantage you can get. And your dimensional hopping just got itself an official corporate sponsor. Even if it IS from the dark ages.
Oh, you're back again. You were there to mess with me while I was working on Motoko. I hope this isn't the onset of Schizophrenia. One of my uncles has that, and it's not pretty.
If you have to shatter your mind into a thousand pieces in order to cope, I think we can handle running things.
I am NOT a committee.
Then think about the opportunity here. Are you willing to pass up the potential to be a multimillionaire?
If I get too involved in a world like this, something's going to bite me. I just know it. I've got too much crap on my plate to add dimensional stockbroker to my list of jobs.
I am not paranoid, I am CAUTIOUS. There's a difference. CATION is what is keeping me alive here. Caution is how I'm going to get that crystal back and fix Luna's world. And this just sounds too good. I'm expecting Murphy to come around the corner any minute now and jump me for the toilet paper scheme alone. But full on dimensional trading? In case you forgot, these worlds have actual manifested phenomena for cruel ironies. This is not a case of something 'could' go wrong and I'm being pessimistic like back home. But something 'will' go wrong because that's how this world rolls. It's just a matter of WHAT.
Man, you can't LOSE. Look. At the very least, you walk away with nothing. Which is right where you started. This is one risk you can take that doesn't have a bad end saying: 'Good job! You're dead! Hit Reload and Try again Roger Wilco!' Stop being such a pussy and just accept the deal. You flirted with the Devil herself for less!
When did I start calling myself a pussy?
"Okay," I glared at Ayers. "I'll do it."
Ayers' face somehow managed to become so ecstatic it was almost blinding.
"ONCE!" I added in. "Because I'm a nice guy."
And I'm a sucker for guilt trips. God dammit.
"HEEEE!" Ayers squealed like a child. Then this time she really did tackle me, jarring the purring cat in my arms loose as she grabbed me by the face and planted a big fat kiss right square on it.
"Wha?" Luna commented in her disorientation on the ground. "Who-where?"
Ayers broke the surprise lip-lock and giggled again.
"!" she shot to her feet.
"Did I miss something?" Luna commented groggily.
"I'm going to go get my things!" she snapped. "I know just what you can take along to sell. I just need to get back to my mansion. WOO HOO!"
"And how long is this going to take?" I asked.
"Why?" Ayers turned. "You going somewhere?"
Then she put her hand to her mouth.
"Oh!" She realized. "You're not in control! That's right!"
Ayers quickly turned to Airi.
"I need to rent your... tank. It's fast right?"
"Now hold on!" Ritsuko interrupted. "Mike is not a taxi!"
"I think we can let it go," Airi cut in from around a sly smile. "She's coming right back if I'm not mistaking."
"Damn right I am!" Ayers quickly ran over to where Mike was parked. After a few seconds, she quickly managed to climb up on Mike.
"Let's go cat spirit, tank... thing!" she announced. "Uh... How do you make it go?"
"It's okay Mike," Ritsuko shook her head. "Just go where she tells you, and then bring her back here."
"MREOW!" the tank boomed. Then with a roar, the vehicle started plowing forward, ripping the ground up in its wake as all tanks do.
"That way!" Ayers commented. "Yeah! I'll show Daddy his little girl's not so helpless! Just wait and see!"
And Mike kicked into high. Frankly, I didn't realize until that moment just how fast that tank was. So I just sat there shaking my head. That girl's WAY too excited.
"Way too much energy," I commented.
"Agreed," Luna mumbled, working to curl up in my lap this time.
Then I noticed, Airi was laughing quietly.
"What?" I asked.
"Nothing," she laughed. "Just thinking about how quickly you turned that around."
"Sure you were," I gave the actress a Spock eyebrow. "All I did was say a few things."
Right in the eye of the storm again.
"How long do you think she's going to take?" I asked. "I'd like to get to sleep before I get tired.
"We didn't go far since last time," Celcia commented. "We're just a town over."
"I'll give her an hour," I shook my head, tapping my watch. "After that, if she misses the plane, tough. "
After all, an hour should be all Luna needs to be well rested.
I glanced at my watch to see what time it was.
Self-reminder: This is not a watch.
For those of you who've read Sleeping with the Girls up to this point, I hope you've enjoyed 'my' suffering and triumph as I get booted across worlds of fiction. With what has been floating at around six hundred views a day for the last few months (as of this posting), I've come to prioritize the project as a work for the fans. It started out in volume one as merely an experiment to explore how someone would actually behave if shoved into a situation similar to those we brainstorm on Spacebattles. The 'By ROB, you are _' threads. I saw so many people responding to threads like that with 'Well, I'd X', where X is some action that would more than likely be self-gratifying fantasy. I wanted to think realistically. What would happen if I ended up in the blank spot situation? The decision to use first person format was important there. A lot of what I do cannot simply be shown.
As you have read, what I think is just as important as what I do. My decisions sometimes disagree with others. In love Hina alone, I have responses from people participating in the ongoing discussion that many of them would have outright used force on Naru from the very start. I have asked myself many times while writing that segment. Is the use of force justified, really? Can I hurt a person simply because it's a misunderstanding? Can I act against my own better judgement simply for the story?
There are many places where I really feel that to understand the whats and whys, my decision making process turns into long winded justifications. While my thoughts may nowhere near as elegant or entertaining as the prose I have written in real life, the sarcasm and methods of justification are real. Whenever you see what I've written, you aren't just seeing a story, you're seeing inside my head. This is about as close to reading my mind as you're going to get without being Washu. I am aware that trying to be the ultimate good guy is unrealistic, but as you can see, I try to maintain moral standards and realistic responses to my situations.
However, in focusing on how I react and respond to situations, how I relate to everyone, how my mind works... And in using the first person format, the reader is prevented from seeing the thought processes and feelings of other characters. Unless someone voices something, you don't know what they're thinking beyond what I am capable of observing.
Such unique perspectives and thought processes can and are in themselves, very interesting to think about. But I do not believe it is my place to write about how other characters in the story are perceiving and thinking when I have such focus on a Self-Insert.
Thus, I have a challenge for those of you with the skill to write. See, I LOVE to have my readers participate in the story. Audience participation, and interactivity is just more fun. I would like to see scenes and chapters from this story from the perspective of the other characters. I want to see thoughts and interactions from their viewpoints, to read THEIR thoughts as you imagine it. This challenge goes out to any able body reader/writer who's managed to get this far.
Those that are submitted to me will be placed at the end of the volume I am on as Omake Material. You WILL be mentioned. Just like the appendix of volume one. I had participation, and I made sure every post from the virtual discussion was included, even if only a fraction of them were used in-story.
The only things I ask are two-fold.
1: Please write only sequences for a completed volume. That means only volume one at the time of this posting, but as soon as Volume II here is completed, it will be up for grabs. I don't care if there are duplicate scenes. Different writing perspective will yield different, and entertaining thoughts. The only reason I ask to hold off is because there might be details that come to light in the volume I'm working on that may result in fact errors. It's just a simple housekeeping procedure.
2: Please proof-check your work, at least once. I use Microsoft Word... Not just any Microsoft word, I use Office 97 Word. A piece of software just as old as some of the fiction I'm working with. All I do is format check, spell check, and glance over it for major typos. It's not much, but it finds errors. (I still find typo errors here and there rereading.)
For those of you who are more into visual art than written, you are welcome to do artwork as you see fit, The only artwork so far has been pieces of my own creation. It just feels empty to me. So let's see what people whom can draw (and not just shop like I do) can do. I'll try to find a way to put it up somewhere where everyone can view the collection. Perhaps find a way to post it in the TV tropes link, since it's pretty detailed.
You may submit a message to my account asking how to send me an email with any such works, and I'll do my best to answer in a timely fashion and take care of my end.
Anyway... Merry Christmas. I hope those of you who got to read this chapter when I released it on December 25th 2010 enjoy it, and have a happy holiday.