"Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea."
- Robert A. Heinlein
There was an observation I made about using Washu's strength enhancing Hazard Suit.
I felt light.
It was only two-times my normal physical strength, but it's amazing the difference in something as simple as double your own strength.
Sure, I wasn't actually any lighter. My feet reminded me of that. But the way my legs moved with a kind of eased snap as I took each step just didn't feel like I was lifting but half their weight. In fact, it felt really REALLY weird.
Ever picked up a heavy box, only to discover as you lifted that the box was in fact, empty? Remember the sensation of surprise as you nearly catapulted yourself across the room? That's what this felt like, all over my body.
Every movement I made felt like I had overestimated what I needed. Every step a kick; every swing of my arms, overthrown... It was as if every move I made was like I was going to throw one appendage or another out of it's socket, or pull muscle, or tear a tendon...
But despite the sensations, it was all illusion. I did not violently yank my arms beyond their range of motion, and when I actually did react to the sensation of an over swing, the suit's nerve connections read my muscle control perfectly. Stopping me without so much as the strain you would normally associate with trying to stop yourself in the middle of a violent throwing action.
It took a little while, but I realized that the real trick was to get used to the sensations. Once you got used to those, the true feeling was that of being lighter than air. Compensating was easy, though at first, I looked like the proverbial drunken master. Stumbling this way and that, flailing about, but somehow still in control.
Luna was getting an absolute kick out of it.
I suppose it was only fair trade for what happened.
See: After Washu had triggered Luna's transformation from Felis Cattus into Felis Sapien, we had stood, staring in shock. I had forgotten that element of the feline to the point of it not even registering. It had reminded me there were gaps in my knowledge about everything that I knew big enough to drive a truck through. Seeing as I barely remembered after the fact that she COULD transform, I then realized that I didn't remember, or didn't know the in-universe method originally used to trigger it.
Luna, likewise, had seemed to puzzle over similar for something like thirty seconds to a minute before Washu had decided to comment.
"Like what you see?"
So drawn into my own thoughts about it, I could only furrow my brow as to what the mischievous scientist was implying in that deceptively schoolgirl-tone. I had to look at her to ask her what she meant when I noticed that absurd Cheshire-cat smile of hers.
Once seeing that smirk, combined with her question and tone of voice, I had almost nonchalantly approached the situation as if I had been back home watching it on the TV. To my mind, occupied as it was reviewing trivia, it was the natural thing to do. That smirk, with that tone, with that question... It was a classic lead in to a joke. Most likely it would be used in a perverted contex-
Then I jerked my head back to Luna and realized what Washu must have been seeing. See, after turning into a 'human', Luna was no longer, or rather, had never been wearing any discernable clothing. Being a cat and all, that wasn't previously an issue. Now as you might expect of a long drawn out lead-in like this, I had been staring at her rather blatantly naked body, looking dumbfounded, for over a minute.
You know how that looks.
Now, I am very much male. And as such, I am admittedly attracted to the human female body just as much as any other guy. I'm just better at hiding it. Much better...
How much better?
Some people think I'm gay. Bah! Let them think what they want.
I'd like to blame a childhood of ridicule and torment from my peers for that one. I'll admit it; I'm defensively shy. Based on the way I behave though, you'd never actually realize it. THAT was a byproduct of military training.
Given my stunted social growth, resulting in being more introverted; I'd gained an enhanced intellectual view of the world. Apply military training here to bitchslap all the introvertedness out of me and apply a brutally practical mindset.
The result is the peculiar mindset I have. I don't 'pursue' female companionship... Not actively anyway. I'd rather just sit and enjoy their company, chat, have a good conversation. I'm more comfortable that way. Blatant attempts to flirt with me have a tendency to trigger my deeply rooted defensive response, which is rather cold compared to normal.
A bunch of guys would probably see these thoughts, roll their eyes, and simply declare that I need to get laid.
They're probably right...
But I don't care. Instead, I've actually embraced the concept that girls are not mere objects of desire, to be pursued like prizes. I've seen too much drama at home as a direct and indirect result of that childish thinking that it just didn't seem worth it.
Hell, that's probably the only reason I'm still alive. If I had acted even one IOTA like half the guys I knew back home, I'd have dug myself a grave the size of a swimming pool with a backhoe and mining explosives.
Deep seated psychological issues aside... I digress. What did this have to do with Luna?
Well, with the combination of my personality, and the understanding of how these things usually turn out in these worlds, I more or less knew just how few 'safe' responses I suddenly had. Washu might not have immediately recognized it, but there was a convention of this universe at work that very second. I had been standing right in the middle of a joke going off.
Privy to this understanding, knowing exactly what all the wrong responses were, I still almost fell right into the cliche'. I almost had a mental shutdown and panicked. But that one corner of my mind that was approaching everything from the logical 'this is fiction' perspective managed to keep me centered.
The correct response, believe it or not, is not to over react, but also not to ignore it. It was clean, clear logic that so many people placed in this situation just did not possess. Either because it was part of the joke, or because they were perverted imps anyway.
I had coughed, suddenly turning around to inspect the 'FAR more interesting' cable running across the ground a dozen meters away.
"Luna," I had said as if it were a suggestion almost below her notice. "You might want to do something about your attire."
"What do you-" she had begun, but cut off. I swear... I felt the heat behind me before she let out a rather curious sounding 'Yeep!' of modesty at her state of undress. You're no longer a cat Luna... Did you expect that body to come with a ballroom gown standard issue?
Washu found the revelation hilarious, while Ryoko had audibly grumbled about how boring this was.
In all fairness, whether I had noticed or not, I had stared at Luna, as a girl, while she was naked. Such things do not go unpunished. I had managed to prevent her from losing her dignity, but not her modesty. And as the conventions of these universes SO love to do with perverse humor, it got its revenge. Or rather, Luna got her revenge, in her own little way.
After Washu had scienced up some clothing for Luna, she'd ushered us out of the lab, leaving me with instructions to drink lots of water to flush the toxins released by fat burning out of my system.
Luna had been a touch wobbly for maybe all of ten minutes. After that, her movement quickly betrayed her feline nature. While she was indeed a very pretty girl, there was no mistaking very deliberate, predatory motions of the feline within. Where she was very human-like for a cat, she was very cat-like for a human.
And she was quiet. Unlike my crackling joints, her footsteps betrayed none of her presence as she got used to the bipedal form. No pops, cracks, thumping footfalls, nada. Even a sharp turn when Noike had called Ayeka was so quiet that Ryo-Ohki, in 'cabbit' form, didn't even twitch an ear at it.
Noike had called Ayeka because she had forgotten something on her previous shopping run that she needed for lunch, but didn't want to waste more gas on the drive just for that. Gas has never been cheap in Japan.
Instead she asked Ayeka if she wouldn't mind taking a walk to pick the ingredients she needed up.
Ayeka had agreed, commenting on a pleasant stroll before the day warmed up too much. Then Luna had jumped in, suggesting that it would be the perfect exercise I needed.
I agreed, because she was right, but I was all too aware of just how eager her voice had been with the suggestion.
Do not mistake Luna the cat for 'just a talking kitty'. Once she was the advisor to a queen. She wasn't royalty, but she was nobility. And Nobility knows how to hobnob.
As I had described, switching the Two-X strength enhancement on felt weird. And at first, it made walking awkward. Luna was lucky. Her body was magically programmed and ready to go. She didn't have to do much more than get used to the sensation with little more effort than it took to do warm up stretches.
That wasn't the best part though. What really got me was while we were walking along part of the road that had a guardrail running along our side with a shallow ditch beyond.
Luna had hopped up and started walking along it.
And I don't mean carefully balancing... I mean WALKING. She was so busy just chatting it up with Ayeka that she didn't even seem to realize she wasn't even on a flat surface. Look at guard rails some time. They're 'W' shaped metal sheets turned sideways.
I doubt she even realized she'd done it.
In comparison, my bumbling antics were downright comic relief territory. I was well aware of how I had been so easily relegated to the position of sideshow act. Musing as I had been about what conventions were going on, and how, I couldn't miss it. I was in the company of the refined princess, and the elegant catgirl, and here I was, trying not to trip over my own two feet, while trying to more or less lurk on the outer edges of a rolling conversation between two of more noble blood.
I wasn't bitter, but rather kind of self-amused at the absurdity of the situation in all its simplicity.
Ayeka seemed to enjoy the company of the Felis Sapien quite a bit too. I suppose that while everyone here was dear to her (Yes, even Ryoko. I told you, they bicker like SISTERS.), there was nobody around that had her sense of refinement.
Luna was the perfect stopgap measure for that.
Which overall, was a good thing. It kept Ayeka rather pleasant while I fumbled around like an idiot. Though, after the first mile, I started to get a feel for walking.
"I think I got it," I piped up, catching their attention.
"Really?" Luna turned to face me, walking sideways with jealousy fit-inducing ease.
I was waddling along the way I would on a slick surface, but with a bit more bounce than normal, but I was in control. Now I just needed to normalize my gate.
"I'm not so sure you have it as well as you think you do," Luna commented after a moment. "You're still twitchy."
"Where?" I asked, trying to give myself the once over. "You sure?"
"Just demonstrate by example," Ayeka commented, stepping in front of me. Then without warning, she stopped.
It was plenty of distance for me to stop as well. But that was under normal, ideal conditions. I managed to plant my leading foot firmly the way I would normally stop in such a case, but found that instead of coming to an abrupt halt, I bounced, stumbled over the planted foot, and pitched right into the princess.
Ayeka simply sidestepped my collapse as I tumbled to the ground, trying desperately to get my feet under me before finally just tipping completely over and rolling until I was on my back. At least I didn't scrape myself up thanks to the suit.
"God dammit!" I swore reflexively in English. "Now I know what physical therapy is like!"
"You over-compensated," Luna snickered as she bent over me.
"Laugh it up fuzz ball," I continued to grumble in English, completely oblivious to the fact that I had fallen out of the local language. It only bought my some looks of confusion amidst a rapidly expanding fit of giggles from the catgirl. It was contagious though, as soon Ayeka was laughing through her hand. And after a minute, even I couldn't help chuckling.
I look like an idiot.
"Stand up," the princess instructed after a moment. "We're wasting time."
"It's not like we have anything better to do today," I responded, rolling over and carefully working my way to my feet. I say working because just the act of standing up wasn't so easily accomplished. It felt like I was trying to get on my feet, while standing on a fence post trying to keep my balance. It was very tempting to shut the suit off for a moment, but I knew that would just make it harder for me to adjust later.
"I would still like to be able to have lunch prepared on time," Ayeka chided me. "If you can't keep up, we'll just leave you here and get you on the way back."
"So hurry up," Luna agreed. Great, I'm getting double-teamed. I swear. Luna gets a human body, and suddenly she thinks she can be as bossy as Ayeka.
Then again, Luna was always bossy to Usagi. She just couldn't do anything about it before.
"I'm hurrying," I complied, managing to get my balance. "This is just... Not as easy as it looks."
"Save the excuses," Ayeka continued to chide. "It's only two times your physical strength."
"Unless you'd like me to start comparing you to lazybones again," Luna giggled. Oh, she knew where to poke. Once you knew what buttons to push...
But I knew it was more a poke of fun than serious.
"Okay I'm going to try something a bit different," I commented.
And I immediately started off again, but sideways. What I needed, was to get used to sudden adjustments. So I walked sideways one direction for a few steps, then switched around, trying not to stumble. Every few rotations, I switched around to walk backwards, checking over my shoulder to make sure I didn't make any more of a fool of myself by walking right into the ditch.
"That gives me an idea," Luna commented as they caught up with me a moment later. She then turned and whispered something into Ayeka's ear. I didn't hear it, and I only saw them because I was turned sideways. But Ayeka turned her head and gave an approving nod.
Okay, what were they planning?
I found out soon enough. Ayeka decided to step towards me, forcing me to stumble away from her if I wanted to avoid getting knocked over.
Then, just when I recovered from almost falling on my ass, Luna likewise sent me stumbling by walking across my path.
"What are- Oh... I get it," I smirked as it dawned on me what was going on. "Good idea."
We continued on down the road like this for quite some ways. I'd wander along the side of the road, forwards, backwards, and sideways. And every once in a while, one of the two would deliberately get in my way. Then I had a choice. Either crash into them, stumble and fall, or get out of the way.
It turned into a kind of game after a while.
Yeah, I can be easily amused at times. But I was improving, slowly. Over the remaining course of the walk I only fell over another half a dozen times. After that, I started to improve rather quickly as my body started to get a feel for its newfound 'strength'.
The entire walk was about forty-five minutes. It was no further than the distance you'd normally drive to the nearest grocery store. But the difference between a five-minute drive, and a forty-five minute walk just doesn't jump out at you until you actually compare it.
Now, I've walked this kind of distance plenty of times, so I was familiar with it. My measurements weren't exact, but it was somewhere between one and a half to two miles.
Give or take.
"Yamada Grocers," Luna had commented idly when we arrived. I instantly started laughing, causing the two women to stare at me.
"What's so funny?" Ayeka asked.
"Nothing you'd get," I managed to chuckle. "Just some outside context humor."
"If you're referring to Seina," the princess smirked. "I believe I get it perfectly."
That made me stop as I turned to her, puzzled.
"How'd you know what I meant?" I asked.
"You think Washu didn't explain what was going on to us?" Ayeka cocked her head to the side with a slight smirk. "After what happened a few days back when you called us about that monster... Washu pretty much had to tell us. I know about how you know, what you know."
The princess then turned away, heading for the entrance to the store.
"Or do you really think I would just divulge what I did this morning to anyone?" She continued as she walked away. "I'll be out in a few minutes. Stay put."
There was a pause before Luna turned to me to ask a question.
"What did she tell you?" the feline-turn-human asked.
"I'm..." I began. "I think she meant when she explained why she was so angry this morning."
"That doesn't make sense," Luna shook her head. "Why would she not tell anyone else why she was angry?"
"It was personal," I answered.
Luna crossed her arms, looking as confused as I had been.
"Why would she tell you anything personal?" she asked after a moment. "Especially if she barely knows you."
"I think," I pondered aloud. "And this is just what I think. I think it's because she knows I already know everything about her. Secrets and all."
I looked at the feline wryly. Then with only a mild jerk whipped out the water bottle I had stashed in a pocket and started downing it. After a moment, I came up for air to finish.
"And I'm willing to bet you," I continued. "That she was warning me to be on my best behavior."
I worked to finish my water while Luna pondered that.
"What for?" she asked at length.
"Dunno..." I shrugged. "I know her personality and history backwards and forwards, but that doesn't make me a mind reader."
Leaving off with that, I continued to think about how I didn't know what Ayeka was actually thinking. And it reminded me that indeed, while I knew characters quite well based on observation, I didn't know everything there was to know. Not perfectly...
Luna was a prime example.
While wracking my brains out for details reminded me that I had known about her human form in the back of my mind. The significance it held was little more than cosmetic, with maybe a thought of how useful having the two forms would be.
The real component here was not the big differences. It was the subtleties that didn't come across looking at an animated drawing. That feline grace I'd noticed. Her refined skills around nobility, not to mention the intelligence she had. It was more than a cute face and a mane of violet hair. It was a character who had subtle physical and psychological attributes to match exactly what she was. A cat girl, with noble upbringing...
I was willing to bet as I mused, that on top of her feline grace, high IQ, and social skills. Luna probably had razor sharp fingernails, and could bench-press a linebacker. At least, in her current form. I'm not sure how much of her 'human' form was really human, and how much of it was humanized 'cat'. Her pupils were round in both forms, but she seemed to see in the dark just fine. So if she retained a lot of 'cat' in her human form, what appeared to be just regular sized muscles for a human could actually be holding several times the muscle density. Which would easily put her in the star athlete category.
Looks can be deceiving.
Of course, sometimes, looks are everything. And I'll admit... Luna had them, in human form anyway.
While we waited for Ayeka to hunt down and purchase whatever ingredient Noike had forgotten, Luna began to attract the attention of some of the young men that came by the store.
It was what I'd like to think of as the typical mooks for a romantic series. A trio of guys who were about as discrete about noticing and making an approach to Luna as nails on a chalkboard was considered pleasant. Complete with overeager and absurdly inane attempts at pickup lines that made their intent rather transparent even to a four-year-old.
These mooks were a dime a dozen. Any female with any semblance of intelligence would catch on in no time flat and turn them down without forethought. In fact, that's probably why these guys seem so rampant. All the upstanding guys have girlfriends, leaving the bottom feeders to pester everyone else.
Still, it wasn't all that serious. As far as mooks go, they were rather pathetic excuses not even worthy of thug status. Their faces were forgettable. Hell, I bet even if I learned their names, I'd be asking who they were within' a week.
So I let them hit on Luna. I figure watching how she reacted to the attention would be telling. Or funny...
Almost instantly I spotted it. Luna visibly scrunched up ever so slightly at the unwanted attention, her noble demeanor drying up as she became flustered with their attentions. It was a far cry from her usual, bossy self. I guess that being a cat most of the time doesn't allow for very much in the way of dealing with the advances of typical guys. It was kind of cute, and funny at the same time.
Still, they were starting to make Luna seriously uncomfortable as she started to back away a step, giving me a sidelong glance as if wondering if I had suddenly dropped off the face of the Earth. (Which, given my track record, isn't too far fetched.)
The trio, sensing weakness, merely closed in. One suggested lunch, while another complimented her hair for the umpteenth time. The third was making rather ludicrous attempts to look charming, flashing his well-brushed teeth.
At least they were hygienic mooks.
Every time he did however, Luna cringed, ever so slightly. If I remember my basic cat body language, that was more a threat to her than a sign of charm. If they weren't careful, I might actually get to see how strong Luna really is if she accidentally lashes out at them. Maybe I'd better stop this.
"Okay," I began, stepping forward. "Break it up. Break it up... All you're doing is scaring her. Back off."
They seemed to regard me as if noticing I existed for the first time. The 'leader' seemed to give me the once over before he spoke.
"You don't want to hang out with this chubby loser do you?" he asked Luna.
"We'll get rid of him for you if you want," another commented, trying to play the hero role. There was a subtle warning of conflict beneath the statement that I couldn't help but catch.
"I don't think she's interested," I continued, casually lacing my hands across each other in such a way that I was holding the dial on my 'watch'. To them, it looked like I was just clasping my hands in front of me. It was three on one. If this turns into a fight, I'll get creamed, even at two times my normal strength. With just two clicks, I would be strong enough to flatten one of them with a mere slap. I wasn't supposed to, I knew it. But I figure a nice example right from the get go on one of them would get the others to back off.
After all, it's not every day the chubby guy packs the strength of eight men.
The three seemed to be taking their cues from Luna though, each eyeing her for a moment then giving me suspicious glances. So they thought themselves the heroes of this situation. Or at least, were trying to make it look like they were the heroes, if only to impress the girl. Lovely... A Mexican Standoff... First one to blink loses. I really hope this doesn't turn into a fight. If I seriously hurt one of these guys on accident, I'll never hear the end of it from Washu. Not to mention Ayeka will probably take it upon herself to be my personal jailer.
Speaking of Ayeka, the doors to the store suddenly parted, depositing the princess, a sack of groceries in one hand, right into our midst.
She took just a quick glance at the group as we all noted her arrival, then smiled sweetly before asking.
"Good morning you three. Is something wrong?"
For just a moment, nothing happened, then the three seemed to turn up the charm factor up to eleven and smiled back.
"Good morning Miss Masaki," one of them beamed. "We were just making sure this young lady was okay. This guy seemed suspicious."
"It's okay," the princess returned the charm. "They're with me, so there's nothing wrong."
"Oh," one of them commented, failing to mask the disappointment in his voice. But immediately covered it up with a follow up. "Do you need help with anything?"
"No," Ayeka responded. "We're good, and I'm in a little bit of a hurry, so I don't really have time right now, okay?"
"Okay," one of them nodded as if graced by heaven itself. "We'll see you around then!"
Ayeka watched them go, giving them a pleasant smile and a wave until they vanished around the corner, heading on to whatever they were originally planning for the day. As soon as they were out of sight, the smile faded to a more non-plussed look.
"So what happened?" she asked.
I shrugged. "Teen hormones. Pretty girl."
Then I noticed that during Ayeka's exchange, Luna had quietly moved around to place me between herself and the trio. She looked just a touch anxious.
"Do the math- Not used to the attention," I continued. "Are you Luna?"
Luna mutely shook her head.
"They're not all that bad," Ayeka continued. "A little bone-headed, but I've seen worse."
"Seryio Tenan?" I asked with a cocky smirk.
"Seryio Tenan." Ayeka confirmed with a suppressed laugh.
"Who's that?" Luna asked.
"A large ham," I began. "Ego the size of a galaxy, and bubble gum pink hair. A bit of an elitist if I ever saw one. I just think of him as 'cotton candy for brains' and leave it at that."
Ayeka laughed. Full outright laughing, almost forgetting herself in the process.
"Cotton candy for brains," she smirked after collecting herself. "I would never have thought that one up."
Then she gave me the most surprising smile.
"Anyone who can come up with a description for Tenan like that is okay in my book."
"Well yeah," I shrugged in response, quietly happy that I was officially on the 'good list'. "The guy's two can's short of a six pack."
"Surely he can't be all that bad," Luna commented as we started our way back towards the house.
"Hey," I began to Ayeka. "You mind if I tell her about the duel?"
Ayeka paused, glancing at me with a most curious look. I guess knowing about my source of knowledge, and seeing me put it into effect were two completely different animals.
"Sure, go right ahead," she finished after a moment.
"Okay," I grinned.
So I explained the duel between Tenchi and Seryio. Or rather: The humiliation of the pink-haired fop. Ayeka eyed me silently as I verbally reconstructed what had happened, from the moment Misaki arrived, all the way through who was betting on whom. For me, it was a run down of episode thirteen of the Tenchi OVA. The funny thing, was the slow but steady failure of the princess to hide her disbelief as I explained what was going on, not only in lucid detail, which Luna already understood... But the fact that I was describing what was going simultaneously in multiple places. The only thing I left out was Yosho's disguise.
After about thirty minutes of this, I reached the duel itself.
"And you know what happened?" I asked with a smirk.
"What happened?" Luna asked, her attention fixed on me in rapt fascination.
"Mihoshi happened," I chuckled. "She lands Yukinojo in the lake at something like mach two. And the next thing anyone knows, Tenchi's still standing there soaked, and Seryio's vanished, only to be found floating on his back in the water, out cold."
"All that boasting and he's taken out by water?" Luna started to laugh. "He really is sad..."
"No kidding," I turned from Luna to Ayeka.
"Speaking of Mihoshi," I stopped at the sound of two gunshots overhead. "I think she's back."
"What makes you say that?" the princess asked.
"Oh come on," I began. "You mean to tell me you never notice the sonic booms?"
"I never pay attention to it," she shrugged.
"It's the only thing that sounds like that for hundreds of miles," I shook my head. "And you don't pay attention to it?"
"I heard that sound all the time on Jurai," she shrugged.
'Pop! ... Pop!'
"Second pass," I commented, looking around as I noted the increased gap between the leading and trailing booms. "She's slowing down fast."
"Sharp turns too," Ayeka furrowed her brow. "If her passes are that close together..."
"There!" I snapped after a moment, pointing to a cloud in the sky. The two followed my gaze to a light cumulus that suddenly gained a rather obvious hole in it. There was no ship in sight, but I knew Yukinojo had just gone through it.
"Is she going to crash?" Luna asked with a bit of worry.
"Nah," I waved it away. "She just lands, really, REALLY hard. Just like with Seryio's duel."
"She does that every day?" she asked me incredulously. I looked at Ayeka. Ayeka looked at me. We both turned to Luna.
"Yes," we said in unison.
This time there was the slightest hint of tremor in the ground.
"Touchdown," I indicated.