A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly...

Specialization is for insects.

- Robert A. Heinlein


Back to the lab again...

Wait, isn't that a song? No, it's lyrics in a song. Who sang it?

Bah! Never mind.

Suffice to say I'm relieved that at the very least, Princess Ayeka had agreed not to take out her personal, emotional frustrations on me. I mean, I like her character, and I'm sympathetic to her background. But I have no desire to be an emotional punching bag (nor a literal one either), and I actually don't like it when people get a deep-seated dislike of me for no discernable reason.

Seriously... I dealt with enough of that shit when I was a kid. So I had determined long ago to be the nice guy, giving people the benefit of the doubt. It's a simple philosophy. 'There are plenty of assholes in the world already; I don't need to be one of them.'

But when someone seems to have it on their mind to absolutely despise you no matter what merits you try to present, be that they just don't like your personality, or find something more childish, it irritates the snot out of me.

So when people start acting like they're determined as all hell to be my enemy, I eventually just roll with it. You want to be my enemy? I might as well give you a reason to be my enemy. Welcome to the wonderful world of stupid. You can be stupid. I can be stupid.

But guess what?

I win, because I'm acting the part, and you're the one actually getting pissed off.

This would actually be the way Ryoko's relationship with the princess more or less works. Ryoko knows her 'vulgar' actions irritate and annoy the princess, and gets amusement harassing her. Ayeka does not realize Ryoko specifically targets her because of said reaction... The rest?

Sibling antics scaled up to home-remodeling force. You'd swear THEY were related, instead of Ayeka and Sasami. Of course, most people saw it as true hatred.

Thankfully, having more or less made second peace with Ayeka, I wouldn't have to worry about the potential for disaster inherent in such an arrangement.

Well, second peace wasn't entirely accurate. I had been 'forgiven' for the transgressions that weren't my fault in the first place, and she wasn't going to despise my very existence. But that didn't mean she wasn't going to make absolutely sure that I adhered to her royal standards of following instructions.

When she said, 'stand in the sun until dry', she meant DRY.

Not 'dry enough not to drip everywhere', not 'mostly dry'... DRY.

This got rather boring. Well, kind of...

It took me an hour to dry, clothes and all. But fifteen minutes into this I decided to show Ayeka up in her little mind games. If I was going to stand there and look absurd, I was going to stand there and look absurd, intelligently. Don't ask me how that works... Please.

Standing around and doing nothing was an art form you just didn't appreciate until you tried an hour at parade rest. Last time I did it was a funeral for an aunt of mine I never even knew. But I was there, and I was going to pay some respect. And with a lack of any emotional attachment to this relative, I did the only thing I could really think to do at the time. Parade Rest, unmoving, unflinching, rigid...

It's not as bad as attention, which sucks more, but standing completely still with your hands placed in the small of your back REALLY tweaks the shoulders when you try to relax into the stance. One has never found doing absolutely nothing to be so damn much hard work.

This activity was both boring as all hell, and yet mildly entertaining when I caught the princess looking at me every few minutes to see if I really was standing in one place. It became a kind of game. She tried to catch me at fault, and I did my best to catch her TRYING to catch me.

Since I hadn't moved an inch, I think I was winning. I wouldn't call this the most interesting routine, but it killed time.

However I didn't really get to find out with any finality as to who would end up winning this little 'game', as the sound of Noike returning with the truck distracted the both of us.

She quickly requested the princess to help her put some groceries away.

Now, one may wonder if they aren't familiar with this household, exactly why Noike was ordering the princess around. Well, the pecking order was rather convoluted. Noike was picked by Seto, Ayeka's grandmother, to be Tenchi's OFFICIAL fiancée. That made her house boss whenever Washu wasn't acting as house mother. If you still can't make sense of it, just try not to think about why Tenchi has half a dozen girls clinging to him.

The simple version was it went sort of like this.

Tenchi/Washu, Noike, everyone else... Me.

Being the bottom of the totem pole in this scenario, it was obvious the moment Noike made her request what the princess would do next.

"You can help too."

Delegate.

Except when Ayeka turned to tell me, I was already moving. If I aimed to improve my current standings with the princess, this would be as good a start as any. Yes, I fully intended to suck up as best as I could.

Game forgotten, I quickly hopped up into the back of the truck. An ugly green single-cab something-or-other that reminded me of those trucks from the fifties. Or was it the thirties? Bah! Who knows, it reeked of 'old truck'.

It was loaded with bags of groceries labeled in characters I couldn't read...

Shouldn't I be able to read something by now? Oh well...

I helped unload by handing items down to the two as they shuttled the groceries inside. It didn't take long. It was mostly light stuff that I wouldn't have even noticed save for the constant twinge in my right arm every time I lifted something. Man, that was getting worse...

Once the unloading was done, I was allowed to return to my breakfast...

My cold breakfast.

Eh... I walked away from food for an hour. My fault really.

"Once you've finished," Noike commented while putting some groceries away. "Washu said that once you woke up, she wanted to see you in her lab."

"Right..." I nodded, then focused on what was quickly turning into mush.

With no distractions from eating the second time around, I managed to wipe out my meal, miso soup and all. That done, I quickly washed the dishes I had used and left the dining area.

Sasami was back to watching more Sailor Moon with Luna and Ryo-Ohki. Were they going to marathon those DVDs all day? Probably... There was something like thirty hours between the two seasons I had.

Shrugging the question away, I turned and walked over to the lab door. I was just about to knock when I noticed something odd. The door was vibrating, as if getting thumped on repeatedly. I hesitated, as it reminded me distinctly of what a door does in the proximity of a sub-woofer.

There wasn't any noise though... I wonder... What was Washu doing in there?

Knocking a few times, I waited. After a few seconds, I tried again.

"Just go on in," Sasami chimed from the couch.

"You sure?" I asked.

"She's expecting you," Sasami grinned.

"Okay..." I shrugged. And turned the handle, giving the door a push.

"ME AND ME MUM AND ME DAD AND ME GRAN. WE'RE OFF TO WATERLOO-"

'Thud'

JESUS H. FUCKING CHRIST! I slammed the lab door shut again, white as a sheet. What the hell was Washu. - What the flying fuck? That was loud.

I turned around to see that I wasn't the only one who almost had a heart attack. Luna was buried under a cushion, her paws over hear ears, and likewise Ryo-Ohki had been startled right out of her child form and dove behind Sasami in an attempt to escape the blast of noise.

"My WORD!" Luna began, sitting up straight. "For a second there I thought we were under attack."

"Mroew..." Ryo-Ohki nodded.

"I'm going to find out," Luna nodded back, hopping down and trotting over to me.

"You actually want to go in there?" I asked.

"I've already been in there once," Luna shrugged. I'm still wondering how she manages to pull that all-too-human body language off so effectively in a cat's body.

"Okay then..." I nodded, turning the handle on the door again, bracing for a wall of noise. Luna too, flattened her ears. I would imagine, if it were bad for me, it must be absolutely painful for a cat with a more sensitive sense of hearing.

With a quick shove, I opened the lab door.

"VINDALOO! VINDALOO! NA! NAAAAAA!"

We both ducked into the lab; the door depositing us in an area that looked similar to the one I was in last time I was here. But then again, there was no telling where you were in a place that spanned more surface area than every continent on the planet. What could she possibly need five entire planets for anyway? Did she have continent sized projects she let sit around, or did she just have THAT MANY little experiments and items the size of a city bus?

There was no telling for sure, but one thing was certain.

"This is LOUD!" I tried to shout over the din at Luna. I think the feline responded, but it was drowned out by the noise of the music that was being played. I tried to figure out where it was coming from, but it seemed like it was coming from everywhere. It was like headphones... NO! Worse than headphones... It was like it was inside my skull. It wasn't painful, but it was pretty hard to think over the sound of lots of Brits shouting 'We all like vindaloo!' in clearly understandable English.

Washu can't be too far away. Her door has a habit of depositing interlopers within' spitting distance.

A few seconds of scanning the surroundings proved me to be right again in my educated guesses. A few dozen feet to our left, Washu was sitting, back to us, on one of her floating cushions, typing away next to a table of extremely familiar items.

The reason Ryoko was missing from breakfast was also explained. As the afore-mentioned was currently a little tied up off to the side, looking quite exasperated with her situation.

Sneaking up on Washu was a cinch. Well, if you can call walking quite normally over to the scientist 'sneaking'. I don't think anyone would be able to hear anyone else if they were wearing tap-dancing shoes and Riverdancing behind her.

"Washu!" I tried to shout over the din. But my voice was carried away never to be heard from again. Oh god dammit, my kingdom for an air horn. Or maybe that thing Jim Carrey had in The Mask that said 'squeeze me Gently' and ended up not only shattering the window on the car he used it on, but blowing the radiator too. Awooooooooooooga!

Stepping closer, I reached out and tapped the scientist on the shoulder.

"WASHU!"

She jumped, turning to face me for a second, then quickly spun and tapped something on the edge of the table.

Silence! Sweet, SWEET silence...

"Hey!" She began. "You're awake!"

"How can you hear anything over that noise?" I asked, sticking a finger in one ear.

"It's only ninety decibels," she shrugged. "No damage to your hearing, so relax."

Washu then stood up from her spot and picked the object she'd tapped off the table.

"I took the liberty of going through all your things when you came back," she began. "That music player of yours gave me an idea for a little gadget and I just HAD to make it."

"Mind clueing me in on what it is?" I asked, then stopped. "Wait, no, you'll tell me whether I ask or not. And I'm betting it's some kind of super technology music player."

"Good assumption," Washu nodded. "It's a music player that utilizes gravitational resonance to make every molecule up to four-hundred meters vibrate in frequency with the music pattern. Which allows you to be right in the middle of the music no matter where you put it. Perfect for personal use, or parties."

Well, that explains why it sounded like it was inside my head.

"Anyway," Washu set the glorified MP3 player down. "I'm more concerned about you at the moment. After our last conversation, you didn't make any communications for three days our time. The beacon jumped three times as well, which told me that you must be okay... But you never call, you never write..."

"I was a little preoccupied with my situations at the time," I shook me head. "The first was dealing with a being that may or may not be on par with one of the Administrators. The second was dealing with a bunch of people who were monitoring my every move."

"The third?" Washu asked.

I blinked. Third? I didn't wake up any- wait. Yes I did. Which means I skipped- Hmm...

"I went back to sleep before anything happened there," I pointed out. Washu paused and put her hand on her chin.

"So it's definitely linked to your state of consciousness," she pondered aloud. Then, with snap of her head, she looked at me.

"Tell me," she began. "In the last world, did you pass out? Or were you knocked out?"

"I don't even remember the blow landing," I admitted. "I just saw a fist and then it was lights out..."

"I see," Washu replied almost to herself, then reached out and rapidly typed up some data. After a few seconds, she turned back to me, pondering look replaced by one of her more motherly faces.

"So how do you feel?" she began.

"Well," I thought about it. "The headache's almost gone, but I'm still stiff as a board."

"That's to be expected," Washu nodded. "You really were in a sorry state when you appeared."

"How bad was it?" I asked.

"Luna thought you were dead," Washu looked down at the feline. "It only took one look at those glasses I gave you to realize you were seriously hurt. Oh, by the way."

Washu reached over and handed me a pair of glasses. Grateful, I slipped them on, the lab around me returning to crystal clarity.

"Thanks," I nodded.

"You're welcome," Washu indicated a spot another floating Cushion popped out of one of her instant portals. I still can't get over that as I sat down.

"So anyway," she continued. "Considering how tough those were, I knew instantly you had to be in pretty bad shape. The preliminary examination I did accounted for at least a smashed nose, and a concussion. It only took me a few more seconds to determine you'd suffered a compound fracture of your skull, and a possible Epidural Hematoma."

Epidural Hematoma... Epidural Hematoma... What was? Epidural... Epi- WAIT!

"Isn't that bleeding in the brain?" I about panicked on the spot before Washu clapped a hand on my shoulder.

"You're okay," she chided rather forcefully. "Luckily for you the blow was more or less face on, and that thick skull of yours took the trauma. Most of the damage done was localized, and you were bleeding from the nose instead of into the cranial cavity."

"Okay," I nodded, trying to calm back down. Damn, good thing she really DID have Tenchi keep it low key.

"Now," Washu continued. "Considering this is ME we're talking about, the injuries were a snap to repair in no time flat. By the time I got to work, the nanites I'd given you were already reconstructing bone tissue around the fracture points. But I gave them a little boost and reconstructed your nose."

"I kind of figured the reason I didn't spend a month in a coma would be your doing," I began. "I couldn't even tell I'd been all that hurt when I woke up."

"Physical trauma injuries in primitive humans are practically trivial to repair these days," Washu waved it away. "So long as you're still alive, most injuries which leave the tissue in tact are repairable. Even getting caught on an exploding starship doesn't guarantee you'll end up dead as long as medical experts get to you in time."

"Well," I began. "It doesn't hurt that you're also a-" I paused and looked at Luna.

"She already knows," Washu shrugged.

"Goddess," I smirked.

Ryoko snorted.

"Did you say something dear?" Washu asked in a playful voice. Ryoko averted her eyes, quickly finding something more interesting off in the distance.

"Anyway," Washu continued, standing up. "Stand up, let me run some checks."

"Why do you need to run tests on me if you just fixed me up?" I asked, but complied.

"Young man," Washu began pointedly. "I may have fixed your injury. But I have yet to determine the results of the last week. You've suffered from severe sleep deprivation, physical AND mental trauma, chemical imbalance, and extended periods of stress and fatigue. On top of this, the injuries you've received have been taxing the limits of that nanobot injection I gave you. You've lost at least seven to eight pounds of body fat in less than a week, when it's considered unhealthy to lose more than three. And considering your actual active time in each world based on my beacon log, you've only experienced a combined total of about three days. I have to make explicitly certain that there aren't any harmful side effects as a result. And if there are, to treat them."

"Oh..." I didn't have anything intelligent to respond with to that. But I guess she had a point.

Washu lead me over past Ryoko to a set of equipment that looked all too familiar and began hooking me up. Once she did that, she whipped out a penlight and quickly pointed it in my eyes.

"Hold still," she instructed, switching back and forth a few times before returning it to wherever she got it.

"Dilation's normal," she noted aloud, glancing at her screen. "Blood pressure's in range of the last test but higher..."

"Point where you hear a sound," she indicated, then pushed a button. I almost didn't hear it at first, but there was a quiet tone that sounded like it came from off to the left. I pointed. Washu repeated it from multiple directions a few more times before she stopped.

"Normal hearing," she remarked. "Inhale please..."

This was starting to seem like the typical medical examination as I took a deep breath. Though, instead of a stethoscope, Washu just looked at her computer and nodded.

"Same as before," she nodded, then did a double take. "One hundred and one point five. Core temp's a touch high. Feeling sick lately?"

Was she using Fahrenheit scale knowing I'd recognize it better?

"I was getting cold flashes in the last world," I nodded. "Plus I was sore for no reason."

"Your body was having a hard time adjusting," Washu nodded. "I could read you all the symptoms on sleep deprivation, but I'm sure that after experiencing them first hand, you recognize them. The high body temperature is a bit abnormal. Usually temperature drops, but you might have caught something, probably influenza, though the nanites probably killed it off before the symptoms got bad."

Washu then pressed a button, and suddenly, a white display appeared in the distance covered in markings of various sizes, looking distinctly like a Washu Brand Snellen Chart for eye exams.

Except where the huge ass E would be, there was a rather obvious 'ka' symbol. She just gave me perfect lenses, what was she-

"Please read the chart," Washu pointed out.

"Ka," I began. "Ga. Uh... Fu-Fa?"

"Stop," Washu grimaced, changing the display. "Can you read any of that?"

"Negative," I stated curtly.

Washu sighed.

"Sleep deprivation's had an adverse affect on the language programming process," she shook her head, then changed the display. Now a giant L was at the top.

"Read," she instructed.

"El..." I began. "Oh, El. Oh, Em, Gee, Double-You, Tee, Eff, Bee, Bee, Cue..."

"Keep going," Washu instructed.

"Are, Oh, Eff, El, Oh, El, See, Oh, Pee, Tee, Ee-"

Wait a second...

"Lol, Oh my god what the fuck barbecue, and ROFLCOPTER?" I blinked in surprise.

"Cognitive recognition delay is way up," Washu shook her head.

"How'd you know I'd recognize that?" I asked. "It won't show up here for at least, ten years or so."

"You have a picture on your camera showing your computer screen," Washu commented. "It's in the image."

Oh...

"Anyway," Washu sighed, inputting some data. "Because of the sleep deprivation, your brain hasn't been able to fully process all the information it's been getting. Plus that, combined with your jumps, seems to have resulted in you experiencing more or less three days instead of a full week like you should have. So the reading portion of the language programming is way behind. Other than that, you're more or less fine. Your blood pressure, core temperature, and cognitive abilities should normalize over the course of the day, assuming you stay more or less stress free. "

"So in a nutshell I'm-" I began.

"You're in good shape for someone who just went through Chibi Hell Week," Washu interrupted. "But you need a little down time for everything to regulate. Normally I'd suggest more bed rest but..."

My brain wasn't slow on understanding the implication there. I go to sleep, Chibi Hell Week mark two. But I can't go staying awake for days on end.

"Hold out your arm," Washu advised, getting my attention again. She was holding a syringe.

"What's in that one?" I asked, remembering the last time.

"New dosage of nanites," Washu commented, injecting my arm without fuss. "After the things you've been through I decided you'd need a configuration made for handling larger scale injuries. They don't fix them much faster, but you won't have the side effects that plagued you last time. And they'll improve your tolerances to muscle fatigue by breaking down lactic acid. Not to mention neutralize all those toxins released into your blood stream by the fat loss."

"After what I've been through, you should just give me the Body Enhancement treatment," I commented. "I can live with trying to hide that I'm 'Man: PLUS' if it means I can deal with the crazy strong people I've encountered."

"No," Washu stated quite simply.

Somewhere, somehow, I know someone would just LOVE use the sound effect of a record player coming to a stop to describe just how my train of thought processed that statement.

"Run that by me again..." I stated.

"I said no," Washu stated again and then continued before I could voice an objection. "I was thinking about it all day yesterday myself. I figured you wouldn't turn it down a second time, and might even come asking for it. Frankly, I was kind of surprised you turned it down the first time. That takes some self-restraint to pass on that kind of opportunity, and your argument was rather weak considering how easy it is to hide it. I think, you were more afraid of what you would become. Not that you were afraid what might happen."

Washu smirked a bit and crossed her arms at what had to be the most obvious look of 'That's Not Fair!' I must have had on my face.

"Luna explained what you told her about the comparisons of your worlds." The scientist continued. "A full body enhancement treatment would make you neigh unstoppable in your own world. I would trust that you would use such ability responsibly, but as they say, Power Corrupts, and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. Were you to snap, you could go on a rampage to rival Ryoko and Ryo-Ohki on Jurai. Or given what you know about these worlds you arrive in, do far greater damage. And I promised myself... And Funaho. I would never create another Ryoko."

"Hello..." Ryoko commented from nearby. "Right here you know."

"So," I began, trying to find words. "Just like that, I'm disqualified... Because I COULD go nuts and rack up property damage counts in the quintillions..."

Ryoko's damages to Jurai totaled over six quintillion yen. I remember freeze-framing Misaki's bill to get a closer read. That's sixty-quadrillion dollars. Or more understandably for people who don't count that high very often. Sixty Thousand Trillion Dollars. Or if you're STILL having trouble wrapping your head 'round it:

Six, with sixteen zeros behind it...

Needless to say, my self-esteem got a boot to the face just then.

"Oh! Don't look at me like THAT!" Washu pouted, grabbing me around the neck, putting me in a headlock, and giving me a noogie. "Lighten up you! You're too serious!"

GAH!

"I'm not letting you walk around as a living weapon," she continued after letting me go. "But I'm not going to let you walk around defenseless! So cheer up!"

"If you're not going to turn me into a living tank," I began. "What ARE you going to do?"

"I'm going to give you a useful tool," Washu cackled, actually CACKLED. Oh god, she just went into mad science mode! Washu was notorious when she was like that...

"What's with that look?" she interrupted my train of thought. "Oh, come on, it's not that bad. Come here!"

The scientist dragged me back over to the table where my things were sitting and began to explain herself.

"You've been collecting items from the worlds you've visited," she instructed. "I realized that when you were fighting that demon. So I decided to add to your mix and give you a few new tools."

Then Washu reached over and plucked a case out of one of her instantly appearing acme instant holes...

Still finding that cool...

"Take a look at this."

She set the case on the table with a loud 'thud', and snapped it open. Inside, was what I could only describe as some kind of wetsuit; A solid-black one-piece ensemble that looked like you slipped into it, and then zipped it up in the back. But knowing Washu, any semblance to a wetsuit was purely cosmetic. It was a suit, but not a wetsuit. Futuristic, super science suits only came in a few flavors.

"Is this a power suit?" I asked.

"Almost!" the scientist grinned as Luna hopped up on the table to take a look. "I like to call it a Hazardous Environment Suit."

Hazardous Environment? A Hazard Suit? Oi, where's my crowbar? And I'll need a beard.

"You need something for strength enhancement and minor protection." Washu continued. "You said yourself that in the 'comedy' based worlds, slapstick violence still occurs. This will protect you. I designed it based off the GP combat pressure suit, but modified the overall design specifically for your needs."

"Such as?" I lead in. Okay, I admit, I was interested.

"It's impact resistant to a minor level," Washu began. "Not combat rated, but it protects against coincidental impacts of medium objects enough that you can only really be hurt if you walk into something deliberately. And then the suit itself is very resistant to physical damage. You can take one of Earth's armor-piercing bullets and it won't penetrate this suit. That won't protect you from blunt force trauma, but at least your insides won't be plastered on the wall."

I'm starting to like this suit...

"Here," Washu picked the suit up and handed it to me. "Put it on."

"Now?"

"Yes."

I shrugged, and started slipping my legs into the thing, when suddenly Washu stepped forward and stopped me.

"No," She began. "It goes on UNDER the clothes. For the suit to work it has to be in contact with your skin."

"What?" I gaped, realizing I was about to ask a rather obvious question. "You mean strip?"

Washu nodded, and then simply stood there waiting. I countered by fixing her with a non-plussed look of my own.

"Well?" she began after a moment.

"Is it too much to request a moment of privacy?" I asked.

Washu rolled her eyes as if to say 'you big baby', but reached out and pressed a button on her console as it appeared. Out of nowhere, a changing screen suddenly materialized between us.

"Better?" she asked, blocked by little more than a frame of wood and paper. I knew better than to answer.

After a few moments, I stripped down and started putting the suit on. The material felt odd. Almost like the texture of sandpaper, but soft like gel. I pushed my feet down into the legs, and discovered the suit wrapped all the way around, covering my entire foot. The hands were similar, and ended almost seamlessly as gloves. Only the fingers were cut out just short of the second knuckle, allowing me access to my real digits, and there was something that looked like a watch on the left wrist. The suit rose up my neck, but wasn't unpleasantly snug like a turtleneck sweater. I always hated those things. There was some kind of small tab or button right at the collarbone.

"Are you decent?" Washu asked after a moment. "I have to explain a few features."

"Yeah," I shrugged. The fit was actually very nice. "I guess."

A moment later, the changing screen dropped through an oblong hole in the floor.

Cool.

"Okay," Washu continued, looking me up and down. "Perfect fit. I got your measurements right. But if you ever need to adjust it, just..."

"Push this thing here?" I indicated the tab near my throat.

"Right," Washu blinked. "Know about GP uniforms too I take it?"

I nodded.

"Good," she smirked. "I took the auto-fitting feature from the GP uniform. The next one is something of my own design. The watch on your left hand."

I looked at it.

"There is a button on the side at the one-O-clock position," Washu instructed.

"Here?" I pointed.

"Press it."

I did as instructed and-

'BZAP!'

"AHA!" I yelped. It felt like I'd just grabbed an electric fence and got bit by the current.

"Good," Washu nodded. "That's normal."

"What was that?" I asked, waiting for the tingling over my ENTIRE body to stop.

"Calibration," the scientist answered. "The suit just established a contact link with the nerve endings on your skin. Tell me, does it feel a bit drafty all of a sudden?"

I almost yelped with modesty when I realized that it no longer felt like I was WEARING anything, and quickly looked down to reaffirm I was still decent. Indeed, the suit was still there.

"The suit is like a second skin," Washu continued. "It will pick up the same sensations you do and transmit them directly to the nerve clusters below. What it feels, you feel. It also partially regulates heat, as it absorbs body heat to recharge."

"Cool," I grinned, though I felt a bit exposed now. A few seconds later I realized the pun. Dammit!

"Next feature," Washu continued. "Also requires the nerve connections to be calibrated. If you look at the watch again..."

I did as instructed.

"You'll notice the ring around the outside with the toothed edges..."

"The ones with the arrows that point at the numbers, one, two, four, eight, and sixteen?" I asked. "Can I take a guess and say that's some kind of strength enhancement settings?"

"Very good," Washu indicated with a nod. "That is strength enhancement, in multiples of your physical strength. You twist the ring clockwise to select up the scale, and counter-clockwise to go back down. One is of course, your normal physical strength. Sixteen is, obvious."

"Right," I nodded.

"The other reason the suit has to be calibrated," Washu continued. "Is to operate those strength enhancement features. The suit, once tied in, reads your nerve impulses and when under power, provides the equivalent force scaled up."

I nodded again. That makes sense. In order to function smoothly, it has to know what I'm doing, and how much force I'm trying to apply to operate with any kind of precision. Otherwise I end up walking around like a teenager's first time in the car tapping the brakes a bit too hard. That did lead to a question.

"Does it compensate for if I'm attempting finesse with strength?" I asked. "Like, if I'm trying to pet a mouse, but accidentally crush it because I 'pet' it sixteen times harder?"

Washu shook her head.

"That's something that can't be programmed externally," she informed me. "It partially detects how you're moving, so you won't suddenly leap off the ground trying to stand up at sixteen times normal strength, but you'll have to learn to control your more extreme actions on your own, or risk hurting yourself and others."

"So," I began, thinking. "I shouldn't go right to max until I get used to operating the other settings."

"Bingo," Washu nodded. "There's one other thing too. The power system holds enough energy for four minutes of continuous operation at maximum strength. Five if you're really active and producing excess body heat."

"That's all?" I asked. "Five minutes of Hulk LIGHT, then back to normal?"

"If you need more than five minutes at sixteen times your normal physical strength," Washu smiled wryly. "You've got bigger problems."

"Well that blows," I grumbled, then looked back at her. "How do I recharge it? Turn it off?"

Washu nodded.

"It recharges over a period of about twenty minutes when it's off. You can operate it at two times strength indefinitely, but it won't recharge. The four, eight, and sixteen settings effectively consume double their previous settings so you get sixteen minutes, eight minutes, and four minutes respectively. As I said before, you can stretch those to twenty, ten, and five minutes if you're active and producing excess body heat."

Okay, so the thing has a short run time at full power, but it recharges faster than my cell phone. I've got full body protection from impact from small objects, and protection up to MAYBE large caliber bullets, though I might end up with internal bleeding there. Still, there was one thing missing.

"Does this thing have a helmet?" I asked.

Washu gave me a perplexed look.

"Why would you want a helmet?" she asked.

Okay, wait, hold up... STOP. Why would I want full body protection, except for the most vulnerable part of my entire body? Is this another test checking to see if my common sense was in tact?

"Hello?" I asked, pointing at my face. "I came that close to dying from a punch in the face..."

"Then don't get punched in the face." Washu responded pointedly.

What the? I mean... This is... How the...

"I mean it," she continued. "Don't get punched in the face, or shot at, or attacked by monsters... I'm providing this suit for your protection, not so you can go starting fights. I SHOULD provide you with a helmet, but instead I'm going to deny you one. I figure that if you're aware of such a gaping vulnerability, you'll be a lot less likely to go doing crazy things, and keep your head down like you should."

I...

I really don't know what to think. She's nerfing me. She's deliberately nerfing me. First it's the body enhancement, which I can understand. Now it's 'no helmet for you'... For what? So I don't go trying out something crazy like shouting 'ZERG RUSH!' and charging into a fight over my head?

What kind of retarded, fucked up logic is that?

"It's for your own good," Washu frowned.

I warned you to get out of my head so many times now... If you just read my mind, you deserve it.

"You managed to last this long in environments not suited to your presence," Washu continued. "And you did just fine."

"Not including the whole 'almost got killed by a cyborg super soldier punching me in the face' bit I would assume," I frowned. "Right?"

"I'm certain you won't let that happen twice," Washu snarked. "After all, your head is your vulnerable spot."

Then she reached out and flicked me in the forehead.

"It's also your greatest asset."

She then turned to Luna and smiled.

"Isn't that right?" she asked.

"I'll admit, yes," the feline agreed.

"Anyway!" Washu perked up. "There's one more feature I haven't told you about. Look at the watch again."

"Okay," I nodded.

"Below the timer, which is your current runtime for a given setting remaining by the way, you'll see what on a normal digital watch would be the illumination light button."

There was indeed, a big rectangular face button. Washu walked around to my right side and seemed to check the area around us for some reason. Then took me by the shoulders and pulled me a step back and to the right.

"Press it," She instructed.

'Beep.'

'Fwip!'

I blinked, and looked up at the sound. Right in front of my face, was a solid black circle; ringed by ripples in the air that bent the light the same way a glass of water would. I almost jerked away from it on instinct when Washu quickly grabbed my arm and held it still.

"It follows your arm," she instructed, swaying my arm back and forth.

"It's," I started to laugh just a bit as the hole in the air moved. "It's a portal."

I pushed the button again, and the hole sealed itself like it was never there. Then pushed it again, reopening the portal, then again to shut it. Cool, COOL! I was actually totally geeking out now.

"You like that?" Washu grinned at my barely contained excitement. In retrospect, I had to look like a five-year-old on Christmas day. I simply nodded with a stupid grin on my face as I played with it.

"I noticed how you behaved every time I used one," Washu continued to smirk knowingly. "I kind of figured you'd like this little feature. It's useful, and interesting from your perspective."

"No kidding," I continued to grin quite stupidly at the hole as I made it appear and disappear. Fuck a helmet, I'll just find one later. Now I've got a portal! I can conceal carry a goddamn BAZOOKA and nobody would know. I'll be a walking armory. Hehehehehahahahaha!

"I think you broke him," I barely heard Luna comment.

"He'll get over it," Washu replied.

I continued to goof off for about another minute before I finally managed to calm down. Still, it's a portal. I just need a gun that shoots them and I'd be all set.

"You about done?" Washu smiled. After a moment, I closed the hole one last time and lowered my arms, sighing in an attempt to calm myself again. Then nodded.

"Okay listen up," She snapped in a tone that made me lock up rigid as the first day of BCT. "This is your safety brief. The pocket dimension that comes with this suit is not a magical bag of holding, no matter what you may think. This is a two-dimensional storage access that connects you to a private micro-universe. This universe is a self-contained independent thermodynamic entity approximately one and a half meters across. What goes in, will come out. That means objects, life forms, air, water, heat, light, whatever. If you put it in there, it will still be in there when next you open it. As this space is so small, it will reach maximum entropy very quickly. Do not open under water, do not open submerged in magma. Do not use as a bomb disposal location. Be aware of where you choose to open the access. Be sure that the access area is not occupying the same space as the supporting columns of load bearing structures, equipment under high stress, or anyone who happens to be standing there. The results can and will be quite unpleasant. Do you understand?"

What goes in, will come out, maximum entropy, watch where I open it... It took a second, but then it dawned on me. DAMN! You have to be careful with this thing.

"Yes ma'am," I nodded, knowing the look of realization on my face told Washu before I even spoke.

"Wonderful!" Washu turned away. "I've got a few more things I'm working on, but I'm still up in the air on a few details. In the mean time you should go find something to do to get used to the two-X setting on the suit. Twice your normal strength shouldn't take too much adjusting too, and makes for a good stepping stone for four times your normal strength. And for the time being, don't TOUCH any of the higher strength settings."

I nodded. Some people might call it lame. But when someone tells you for your own safety NOT to do something, you DON'T do it.

"Everything else you need to know is in this manual," Washu continued, handing me a small five to ten page pamphlet. "It explains things in a bit more detail than what I've explained here. Read it. I put it in English for you."

"I will," I nodded. Washu then turned and pushed a button, her door appearing behind me.

Making to leave, I stopped to grab up the clothing I'd taken off so I could go and redress myself. The... 'Draft' was getting a bit unnerving to tell you the truth. Luna bounded down off the table to follow.

"Oh wait, hold on!" Washu commented suddenly. "I almost forgot."

For just a second, I was reminded of my own mother. Always remembering one more thing at the last minute. That's one thing that will drive me up the wall. Still, I stopped and turned around.

Washu was looking down at Luna though.

"Luna," the scientist continued at the feline. "I was going over your data earlier. And I noticed a string of genetic and magic type indicators that are markers for advanced biological morphology. However the markers attached to them that dealt with your ability to link those to your magical energy reserves seem to be damaged... Looks almost like cellular level frost damage."

I blinked. I got the idea of what she was saying... But likewise with the rather confused look Luna had, I was dumbfounded as to what she was getting at.

"If you'll hold still for a second," Washu explained. "I'm going to repair them, and do a test trigger."

Before either of us could question what she was going on about, Washu pushed another button, causing a small device to appear and bathe Luna in a momentary blue glow.

"Cellular reconstruction is a cinch," Washu cackled. "Now... let's see what we get. If what I was reading was correct..."

She pressed another button and the beam stopped, then emitted a brief pulse of light. For a second, nothing happened. Then suddenly, the feline began to glow. Then, there was another flash, this one from the photoluminescent cat, and an audible loud 'POP!' that forced me to shield my face.

"Just as I expected," Washu commented. "Dual morphology."

I lowered my arm as the light died off, and came face to face with, not a cat, but a blue haired young lady, blinking away in surprise.

Wait... What? What did Washu just-?

Then it hit me... Luna could transform into a human. She just used it like, maybe once... Ever.

"I forgot she could do that," I noted.

"So did I," the girl with Luna's voice replied.

Well...

That explained the whole 'human body language from a cat' shtick.

I really need to review my source materials the next time I get the chance...