When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
- Hunter S. Thompson


"You're kidding, right?" Ayeka asked as she washed the remains of Tenchi's lunch dishes. "Just like that?"

"Just like that," Washu nodded between bites of her own, late meal. "He started calling the shots one after another. I didn't believe it until it was too late."

News of what happened in the bath had gone around rather quick. Not from Mihoshi, but rather by Washu herself. My suggestion of course... Head off the whole thing before Mihoshi got a chance to open her big mouth. That was damage control.

To my relief, the story was met with a few chuckles and some minor disdain overall. Not that anyone would really think so poorly of Washu as to actually believe what viewpoint Mihoshi might have had of the whole mess. But as I had pointed out, it was best not to take chances. This was Mihoshi we were talking about. The scientist agreed.

Ayeka was the exception of course. A bit more curious than the others, courtesy of my retelling of her mother's visit during our walk back from the store. She slowly pried me more and more with little questions about what I had seen, what I thought about it, and what actions of her had been a result of the gag.

One I pointed out was the entire routine she and Ryoko had gone through starting with Sasami reading a manga. Of particular I pointed out why I had cracked up last week when Washu had teleported her into the lake. The setup of the joke beginning with Ryoko's suggestive comment going wrong thanks to the trap built into the door, culminating in the both of them falling for it when they overreacted to Washu's presence in Tenchi's room.

Ayeka had started to laugh as she connected the dots, but suddenly stopped and looked at me sternly.

"How much of that argument did you see?" she asked.

"The whole thing," I replied. Then I realized why she'd asked, as she suddenly turned a touch pink and tried to find words amidst a fit of stuttering. Sure, she knew I knew her secrets, but her mind was only just now realizing I might as well had BEEN there. The conversation between her and Ryoko wasn't exactly child safe material. And the princess wouldn't be caught DEAD admitting to that. At least, not yet.

"What about when Mihoshi first showed up?" she suddenly asked, almost conspiratorially. Washu paused in mid-chew. "Did you see all that?"

The whole Hot Springs episode? Well yes, I saw-

Oh...

Oh yes, that's right.

I HAD seen all that... ALL of that.

I looked away, at a loss as to how to respond to the subtext of the princess' question. In the corner of my vision, I saw her flush an even deeper shade of red as I pretended to find something interesting about the clock.

"You..." Ayeka began at last. "You actually s- saw."

"Yes," Washu cut in. "He saw you naked."

About as subtle as a train wreck Washu! Jeeze...

"Or more accurately," the scientist corrected. "A cell-shaded two dimensional representation of your naked body. Nothing to get worked up about."

"W-w-w-WHAT?" Ayeka turned, gawking at the scientist. "What do you mean, 'nothing to get worked up about?' It's still my body! I'm not like Ryoko! I don't just go showing off to anyone!"

"And what will you do?" Washu asked. "Do you realize he's but one in millions?"

Ayeka froze, another rant dying in her mouth.

"What?"

"We're FICTION in his world," Washu emphasized. "Fiction, reproduced for the masses. There are probably hundreds of thousands of copies distributed there. Chances are it even aired on a national television network."

Ayeka went from beet-red, to ghostly white in a matter of seconds. I could hear her voice catch in her throat in that familiar sound I had first heard when this all started. The sheer scale of what Washu was implying, while true, might be just a bit too much for Ayeka to handle. Washu, don't make her crack.

"Hell, knowing how people behave with the fiction we have," Washu continued. "You probably have your own fan clubs."

Then Washu looked at me.

"Am I right?"

I threw my hands up immediately as Washu brought the attention of the conversation, and a spooky glare from the princess, back to me.

"I respectfully plead the fifth," I stated defensively. "I just managed to get on her good side. I don't want to start over from scratch... Again."

I held the posture as the princess cast a withering glare in my direction. After several seconds of looking between my 'please don't kill me' look, and Washu's look of 'whatever', she finally closed her eyes and took a deep, calming breath.

"Very well," she commented in her regal tone. I was finding that Ayeka fell back on that tone of voice whenever she was controlling her temper. She was Misaki's daughter all right, temper and all. It was her idolization of Funaho that had given her that dignified manner. Even if it was only a means of self control.

"We shall never speak of 'those things' again," she put special emphasis on her words before she leaned in very close to my face. "Because if Ryoko finds out about it, I'll never hear the end of it from her."

"What things?" I commented in a faux innocent tone, lowering my hands.

"Exactly," Ayeka winked, understanding the way I meant it.

"See?" Washu commented. "Nothing to get worked up about."

Yeah, sure... Nothing. Nothing except a princess with realistic modesty issues, and a hair trigger. Good thing you can talk some sense into her.

"Do me a favor," Ayeka interrupted, changing topics with a determined snap.

"Yes?" I asked, as eager as she was to quickly change the topic.

Ayeka wandered over and picked up a basket full of folded laundry, then calmly walked over to me.

"I need you to take these up to Tenchi's room," she instructed. "Just put them in his room. He'll put them away himself later."

I nodded, receiving the basket. Almost immediately, I winced as my arm protested. Man, what did I DO?

"Oh," Ayeka continued. "Remember to knock first..."

"Yeah," I nodded. "Lake."

Ayeka left me to this task. Easy enough... I practically flew up the stairs on the two-X strength setting. Then down the hall. Knock a few times to ensure I didn't end up underwater with a load of laundry. Set the basket down on Tenchi's bed. Have a momentary look around because I'm nosy...

Eh, nice room. Awesome view of the countryside around the house. He had that old computer from OVA three sitting on a desk. From the looks of things, it was an old 486 or early Pentium system. The room was typical of the stark contrast I'd seen around the rest of the house. The simple, everyday items sitting in the room betrayed none of the extra-terrestrial or even extra-dimensional nature of the guests. Let alone the abilities Tenchi had. It was, if you could put it this way, refreshingly normal.

Not to stick around and snoop for very long, I finished my assigned task and bounded back down the stairs, aware as I did so this time around, of the spot where I had nearly taken the fall when I had been running blind and afraid in the dark. It seemed like years ago. What I had already been through. But really, it had only been a few days.

Pausing on my return walk, I noticed that 'Team Cute' was still at it concerning the Sailor Moon marathon. Though, with the exception that Luna was no longer a cat, and passed out next to Sasami. In fact, she was learned up against Sasami, with Ryo-Ohki parked in her child form again right in their lap. Who was in turn, cradling Senbei, who was still wrapped up in a dry hand towel.

Mihoshi sat slightly apart from the group on the couch, giggling at a humorous scene showing Artemis being chased by dozens of angry, red eyed animals. I wonder what episode they're on.

Upon reporting back to Ayeka to confirm I had completed my task, the princess smiled approvingly before instructing me to fetch another basket of clothes that she was going to go wash in the bin outside.

A rich, super powered, technologically advanced family descended from the most powerful galaxy-spanning empire in the universe...

And they don't even have a washing machine.

No wonder Ayeka always seems to be busy doing laundry...

If she asks me to assist in that particular task, I'm stealing the truck and heading to the nearest Laundromat.

Finding my target basket, I crouched down and picked it up.

Dammit! This tweak in my arm is really getting out of hand.

"Hold up," Washu indicated from behind me. "Stop. Put it down."

"What's the matter?" Ayeka asked, puzzled. Washu left her spot and wandered over to me.

"You okay?" she asked, examining my arm. "This is why I wanted you to try and take it easy after all."

"Just my arm," I shrugged. "It's been sore for a day or two now. I thought it was just from everything I've been doing."

"Hmm..." Washu pondered for a moment. "Well, to start, turn the suit off. Now that you seem to be used to it, you should keep it off unless you need it, or your muscle mass will start to atrophy."

"Done," I clicked the watch, feeling my weight settle back in. I don't need to get proportionally weaker now do I?

"Now," Washu continued. "Do this."

She reached out with her arm, palm up. I followed suit.

"Now this," she continued, flexing her arm into a curl.

I did and-

"OW!" I snapped, wincing at the shot of pain like little needles from my elbow to the tips of my fingers.

"Where'd you feel that?" she asked.

"From my shoulder down to the tip of my pinky," I winced. Washu nodded thoughtfully.

"Little sharp pains like that when you lift anything?" she tilted her head. "Burning sensation behind the elbow? And, how about the feeling of pulling in the upper arm when you cross over?"

Check, check, and double-check. I nodded as I tried to work it out rotating my arm.

"You've got a vertebrae out of alignment," she smirked. "Probably the T-One. One moment."

Washu walked over to where she'd left her plate and quickly dealt with the dishes, informing Ayeka that she would be hauling me away again, just when the princess was starting to turn me into a personal assistant.

Ayeka took minor offense to that comment, denying that she was making a servant out of me. Inwardly, my brain spotted an inconsistency. Washu said 'assistant', Ayeka said 'servant'. I couldn't help but point it out.

"Quiet you," Ayeka commented in a non-plussed fashion. But it wasn't the mean look she'd used with any of her previous admonishments, but more one I'd seen on many people I knew. A kind of offhand playful rebuttal that only seemed serious if you weren't really paying any attention at all... She was acknowledging that I was picking on her the same way that I'd pick on my friends back home.

Could it be possible that I was not only on Ayeka's good side, but she was relaxing around me enough despite the previous near-setback that was actually, dare I say it, toying with me?

I really didn't get to investigate that much further, Washu instructing me to follow her into her lab again. Walking through that door never seemed to get old. I shit you not. Even with my new 'portal watch', I couldn't help getting just a bit giddy walking through it. And having been in the lab several times now without anything inherently 'bad' or embarrassing occurring to me, the subtle sense of foreboding was going away.

The door deposited us in yet another area of the lab. This one seeming to be parked in the middle of a field, fair weather blue skies stretching into the distance in all directions. It was a rather odd contrast to the areas I had been in before. But then again, five Earth-sized planets have a lot of room. The only things out of place for this setting seemed to be the kind of 'base' set up in the 'middle' of the 'room'.

Which strangely enough, included Ryoko. Washu must be moving her around.

"You still here?" I prodded verbally, coming to a stop as I noticed her presence. "What the hell did you do?"

Ryoko just grumbled dejectedly about being stuck in the lab all day.

"I just have her in here to keep her out of trouble," Washu commented as she wandered past me. "I didn't want her getting Ayeka riled up with you in the condition you were in, as fragile as you already are."

I looked at the tied up former pirate again. Out of everything Ryoko hates more than anything in life, it would have to be locked up, immobilized, and deprived of contact. You try spending seven hundred years locked in a cave, fully aware the entire time and see if it doesn't leave you with a few mental scars some time. Even more so after her mother locked her up just like this and left her in the dark for hours.

"I think you can let her go now..." I commented sympathetically. "I'm not exactly cripple."

Washu took a glance at Ryoko, an ever so slight look of Mischief playing on her features.

"I know about THAT too," I threw the comment out. "Don't do it to her again... You know she hates it."

Ryoko looked back and forth between the two of us, slightly confused. Washu shot me a brief glance of shock again before masking it with an amused smile.

"There's just no end to the secrets you know is there?" The scientist commented as her console appeared. With a flick of the button, the restraints on Ryoko loosened, allowing the former pirate free. Ryoko instantly teleported out of the spot and onto the ground next to me.

"Thanks," she commented shortly, then looked at me curiously. "How do you know about-"

"Long story," I rotated my arm again trying to work on that pain. Ryoko looked around for a moment.

"Well," she began, looking a little nervous. "Just between you and me, don't let Ayeka find out. She'll laugh me into the ground."

"Done," I commented, raising my eyebrow. "Just try not to roughhouse with her when I'm around. I'm breakable."

Ryoko eyed me for a moment, then half-flew, half-teleported to the exit and then quickly left the area.

The old secret keeper routine... Is that what I'm becoming now? You know... I'm just going to pretend it's not a big deal. The chain of events that routine can spawn are not worth the headache. Though, if you ask me, there's a lot of blackmail potential from all these personal secrets if I really need it. Not that I'd sink that low as to do such a thing-

"Over here," Washu interrupted my thoughts, standing next to what appeared to be a towel. "Come lie on your stomach."

Now what's she planning? Better not be something perverted or mischievous. Though at this point, I trusted it wasn't. Washu hadn't really been all that mischievous to me beyond teasing a little. And I doubt she'd try anything perverted. Especially after the example I had pointed out earlier.

"Hurry up," she instructed impatiently. "The sooner you do, the sooner your arm will feel better."

Oh! I see...

After laying down on the towel, or whatever this thing was because it had a rather strange texture for a towel, Washu continued with a few more instructions.

"Arms at your side," she began. "Turn your head, try to relax."

After a moment of silence, I suddenly felt the presence of her hands pressing against my back.

"Talk about tense," she commented, voice slightly deeper in thought. "What exactly did you go slamming your back into to get it all knotted up like this?"

Washu worked her hands right in between my shoulder blades in a rolling, upwards motion, seeming to be looking for something by touch, rather than by sight. While she did that, I thought about the question. What have I hit? I haven't... Wait

"I got slammed into a tree," I provided, remembering that raging firefight with Zoicite. "Thrown through the air by a magic blast."

"That would do it," the scientist intoned behind me. "I had no idea you'd been walking around like that or I would have taken care of this sooner. My medical scans were focused on vitals and physical damage. Not dislocations."

Then her hands stopped just short of the base of my neck, seeming to find what they were looking for.

"Okay, relax," she instructed, and began to push, applying that same rolling pressure, but this time seeming to pour her weight into it. Then, just when the pressure was reaching the point where it would start to hurt-

'CRACK!'

There was a brief moment where my mind literally blanked.

Then...

Oh. My. GOD!

It's as if someone suddenly took all the happiest moments of my life, forged them into a hammer, and struck me upside the head. For just a second, my vision seemed to spin, and I could almost feel the drool in my mouth. But this was all overpowered by this sensation of absolute giddy relief that almost made me start to laugh like a deranged lunatic right then and there.

"Wow," I barely registered hearing. "That was a big one."

Washu continued in a few other spots, eliciting a few smaller, but no less satisfying pops from my shoulder blade and ribs in my back.

"There," she commented after taking a moment to slowly twist my head and neck one way, then the other, though we weren't rewarded with any pops. "All done... How's that feel?"

Feel? You mean there are sensations OTHER than that of a blob of purely content meat paste?

"How's what feel?" I asked, with a slightly unhinged, lethargic smile. For once in my life, I could have just laid there and died a happy man.

The general sensation of every nerve in my body thanking me for releasing it from centuries of torment slowly faded away after a minute or two. I could feel now this warm sensation in my right arm, as of circulation being returned, and a pulsing relief, right to the tip of my finger.

"Wow," I laughed, slowly pushing myself to my knees. "Was that just my back, or did you do something else?"

"I just popped your back," Washu commented as I turned around. "Nothing special added."

I froze once I realized what had been different. Washu wasn't standing at her four-foot high child form, but a good five-ten or so full adult size, arms crossed with a smirk.

"Why are you like that?" I asked, trying not to act shocked or surprised. I mean, I knew Washu could change her apparent age at ease. But seeing it for real, well...

"I needed more weight to pop your back effectively," the scientist explained. "Applying some super strength would have just hurt you if I didn't estimate your durability correctly, so I opted for this instead."

Oh... Logical, I guess.

"Also," she continued. "Using this form will make it a little easier to instruct you in the modifications I did to your weapon."

Modifications? Weapon?

"Is that why we're in an open field?" I asked, looking around. "I was wondering what the scenery change was about."

"Yes," Washu nodded, wandering over to a portable gazebo with a table beneath it. "I was working on it earlier when you showed up, but I hadn't quite determined how far I was going to take it. I needed a little time to figure your personality out, so I watched your interactions all morning."

Figures she'd be spying on me.

"From the looks of things," she continued. "You seem to think and act rationally, so I have no concerns about the equipment. Just think of it as my way of doing a brief background check on you."

She must be in her adult form so I would take her a bit more seriously.

"Given what you had on you when you returned," Washu pointed out, turning to the table, which had all the items I had collected on it. "It looks like you picked up a small arsenal. An average mix. The slug thrower and the trigger mine are standard Earth fare. The dagger, I guess that's what you used on that demon..."

I nodded.

"And then there's this glove," the scientist pointed. "And this magic powered beam saber."

The glove... Jail's power glove.

JAIL'S POWER GLOVE!

Wait just a cotton-picking minute!

"Duh!" I snapped, interrupting the scientist in the middle of her commentary, earning a sour look. "That's what happened!"

"What happened?" Washu asked.

"The whole reason I got punched in the face in the first place," I snapped, stepping forward to scoop up the glove. "I used a magic attack."

"But you can't use magic," Washu pointed out.

"I know," I replied. "I didn't... I mean I did, but it wasn't me."

Slipping the glove over my right hand and giving it a test grip, I turned to Washu.

"It had to be this glove," I continued. "It's Scaglietti's power glove. Like all the devices in that setting, it's got built in operational AI. I was only faking a spell for a distraction for Senbei, but it must have read my intent and made a real attack out of it."

"Magic can be finicky like that," Washu pointed out. "But reading your intent and building a functional spell out of it is not a simple procedure."

"Washu," I stated. "I know what I saw. I was standing right there when it blew the girl through the wall."

Then I realized... Best show by example.

"Here," I turned to face open field. "I'll show you."

Washu crossed her arms, looking a bit smug. She'd at least give me the benefit of the doubt.

"Zazoom zazamoor..." I began. Almost instantly I inwardly winced at how stupid it sounded. Without the driving wind and flanging voice reverb effect, it sounded so pathetic. I felt kind of silly doing it in front of Washu at this point.

"Let the fires become my sword and strike you down!" I finished. "VENOM!"

Nothing...

I glanced at the glove, and then where I was holding my hand.

Still nothing...

"Dammit," I grumbled, lowering my hand.

"There was probably more at work than the glove," Washu pointed out. "You were in a base of some kind right?"

"Right," I nodded.

"The glove might act as a control for external support, or an amplifier," she continued. "You probably just redirected an automatic magical defense system."

"Yeah," I sighed, remembering how the strings Jail called upon seemed to come out of the ceiling and floor. "Bummer. Being able to cast VENOM, or Fireball, or even maybe Dragonslave-" I stopped and chuckled at the thought of being my own pocket nuclear weapon. "Still. I've got the Doc's glove, which means he doesn't have-OH... FUCK!"

"What?" Washu asked as I cupped my head in my hands and paced in circles, lapsing into English.

"Oh, fuck-fuck-fuck..." I continued. "Fuckity fuck-fuck. Shitcakes and FUCKSHROOMS!"

"WHAT?" Washu asked in an elevated tone.

"He's got the fucking Crystal!" I snapped. "God DAMMIT! Why didn't I give that thing to Usagi when I had the chance?"

"Is that bad?" Washu asked. "I take it that's bad."

"The guy's like Doctor Clay with Seryio Tenan levels of batshit," I pointed out. The scientist instantly blanched. "And I practically handed him the keys to a reality hacking plot device. He may not have all seven, but that's still a lot of raw power."

Do I need to go over just how BAD it is for the 'Good' Doctor to have his hands on a rainbow crystal? There are just about a dozen ways I could imagine him using that based on story context alone, and that's BEFORE getting really creative with it.

"Now shit's really going to be fucked up," I shook my head, pacing. "As long as he has the crystal, he could cause all kinds of problems in that universe. AND, as long as he has the crystal, the good guys in the Sailor Moon universe DON'T have it, which means they won't have their Deus Ex Plot Crystal when they need it, which means Metallia's going to rape-stomp them, which means... GOD DAMMIT I'VE FUCKING KILLED THEM! GOOD GOING ME! I AM BECOME MIKE NELSON! DESTROYER OF WORLDS!"

"Now..." Washu began.

"But wait, THERE'S MORE!" I continued, my mind continuing to draw up bigger-and-badder scenarios. "We have a two for one special going today! Destroy the world of your choice; kill another at no extra charge! You can't FIND a better deal!"

"If you'd just-" Washu tried again.

"And if you call now!" I interrupted, my mind now flying on the implications of what no Sailor Moon would mean in the long run in that reality without someone to check Galaxia's activities. "We'll throw in the end of all life in the universe! A fifty dollar value, ABSOLUTELY FREE!"

"AT EASE!"

I froze; stiff as a board, on reflex alone before looking at Washu.

"How did you," I began. Washu slapped her hand down on the table, right next to my IET Handbook.

Oh...

"Calm down," she instructed forcefully. "You haven't killed any worlds yet."

"I might as well have," I shook my head. "Without their plot-crystal, the Sailor Senshi WILL die at the hands of Metallia, and then she'll consume the Earth, killing all life. And it only gets worse from there."

"Then you'll just have to fix it," Washu admonished. "Won't you?"

"Cheh..." I scoffed. "I need to somehow get back to Jail's lab, recover, the crystal, and return to Sailor Moon's world in order to fix things up. That is, if my actions haven't made things worse than before. I'm no metaphysicist, but even I understand the implications when you said I have high temporal mass. Set events are now FUBAR."

"And what exactly is stopping you from doing just that?" Washu asked. "You seem to know what needs to happen."

"I need to get back to Jail's lab," I pointed out. "So far, I'm not exactly in control of where I'm going."

"You came back here," Washu pointed out.

I paused to think about that.

Yeah, she's right. I DID come back here... Random Hops only SEEM Random, but like I mentioned before SOMETHING is pulling the strings. If I came back to a world I had been in previously once, chances are I'd be revisiting other worlds. If that's the case, then it's just a matter of waiting until I hit the right worlds. I just have to play my cards smartly, and wait.

I sighed, relaxing a little.

"That's better," Washu nodded approvingly. "Your temporal mass is high, but that doesn't mean your every action is significant. The butterfly effect, which you seem to be thinking about, likes to overplay the significance of minor temporal branching in a timeline. Truth-be-told, minor causality stutters are quite common, and major events don't get shifted around as badly as the theorem would like you to think. It takes a lot more collective temporal upsets to alter major causality branches. Statistically speaking, a minor stutter rarely effects a critical branch point."

"In passing," I filled in. "I worry too much."

"Precisely," Washu winked.

"Yeah well," I began. "Considering my knowledge of events in these worlds pretty much consists of nothing BUT critical branch points..."

"Then all you have to do is make sure you don't alter those critical points," Washu countered. "Easier than you think. Trust me. I would know."

You would, wouldn't you?

"Yes," she commented.

"Can I at least have some mental privacy around here?" I asked. "I've pretty much given up on physical privacy."

Washu smirked, but otherwise didn't acknowledge my request. Instead, she turned to the table.

"You can think about how you'll clean up that mess later," she continued. "Right now, let's look at your shotgun."

The scientist led me over to another table where Mossy lay. The shotgun looked the same, save for what seemed to be some kind of reflex sight. The real difference seemed to be the odd colored shells lined up next to it.

"I figured you'd be most comfortable with a weapon you more or less understand," she continued. "So I didn't modify the shotgun here beyond adding a smart sight. Standard issue on Galaxy Army rifles. This is better than giving you any real GP gear, since it may require service while you're out of contact, and it would be rather annoying if you had to try and service parts that can blow your torso off if mishandled."

Yeah, she has a point there.

"So," I began, looking at the shells. "You modified those?"

"Yes," Washu nodded. "Well actually, I fabricated them. They're based off hunting rounds that were formerly used on the planet Abason. Before hunting was banned there, the planet was known throughout the galaxy as home to some of the largest, most dangerous game imaginable."

Why did 'Abason' strike a chord?

"The original rounds were much larger, intended for taking out predators such as the Doduos," Washu continued. "These are scaled down to about half their original size to fit your weapon."

Half size! How big was the gun?

"This one," Washu picked up a round with a striped, black and yellow casing. "Is a scale version of the Eight-Double-D 'Yellow Jacket' round. It's similar to your buckshot round. Except instead of shooting eight thirty-three caliber steel balls at target, it fires eight, razor-sharp darts in a complicated sabot casing. It'll shred just about anything short of armor like tissue paper."

I whistled. What kind of game would you need to be hunting to need what amounts to a shotgun-fired hail of supersonic knives?

Washu set down the 'yellow jacket' (fitting name) round and picked up the next round. This one had a solid case, with a single red stripe near the end.

"Backlash," she advised. "Zero-Zero-Double-D. Named after the rather touchy recoil it has. This is a two-stage saboted gyrojet round tipped with super-compressed tektite. Just like the columns on board the Souja."

I know nothing about that material. Is it like depleted uranium? The way I remember it, there was a comment tossed out during the fight with Kagato that implied it was supposed to be absurdly strong.

"It has a muzzle velocity of one thousand meters per second, but will reach maximum speed at three hundred meters, going about two thousand meters per second. Hunters used this against the Doduos, since it allowed them to hunt at standoff ranges of about a kilometer without being too heavy. Trust me, you want to be at least that far away when hunting something like a Doduos."

"Rip and tear?" I asked. Why was that name so familiar?

"Rip and tear," Washu nodded.

Washu placed the round back on the table. Huh... Gyrojet. Just like a Warhammer bolt round... Heh. There's a nickname already. A Bolt Round. I guess that means Mossy just got reclassified as a 'Bolter'.

"What about this one?" I indicated the yellow and red striped shotgun shell. I knew better than to touch.

"Goodfellow," Washu answered.

Goodfellow? Why did I have the feeling that I was about to see the law of inverse lethal magnitude go into play?

"This is something of a personal design," she continued. "I figure, if you really need some firepower at some point, having a few of these on you will bridge the gap without making you 'too powerful'. They're mechanical analogues of Masu physiology. Material casing, with a gel layer of the neutral material, with a filament core of the anti-material."

So it was an antimat- Oh HOLY-

"DAMN!" I gaped. Law of Inverse Lethal Magnitude, right to the letter!

Washu seemed amused at my reaction. Well, yeah, she just told me that I was getting an antimatter-round.

"Yes," she interrupted my thoughts. "It's powerful. Like I said 'to bridge the gap.' It's only a tiny filament of the anti-material, but it'll pack a wallop to match a tank."

You know what? I like Washu. I really like Washu. She may nerf me to keep me from being a galactic threat, but she still knows what a guy likes when it comes to firepower.

"Now," the scientist continued, materializing two sets of earplugs and handing one to me. "Familiarization with round effects. Both shooting characteristics, and damage."

I stuffed the small foam plugs into my ears as Washu did the same. Then she quickly snapped up the Mossberg, making it obvious why she wanted her adult body for this. In her younger form, with its shorter arms, it would be awkward to handle.

Washu snapped the action open and inspected the chamber through the ejection port as if she had done it thousands of times before. Then with a deft motion, handed the weapon to me. I parroted the routine, inspecting the chamber to make sure there wasn't a round in it before she continued.

"First fire a regular buckshot round," she instructed, handing me a regular red shotgun round. "Just so you have a benchmark."

I slid the round into the chamber through the ejection port, then snapped the action shut. Washu nodded and pressed a button on her suddenly appearing console. A few meters away, a target dummy with the likeness of doctor clay suddenly appeared.

Taking the weapon off safe, I raised it to my shoulder and took aim. Then with a loud 'crack', fired.

The clay... Clay, splintered from the hail of steel pellets.

"Okay," Washu nodded, pressing another button, which moved the damaged target to the side as a second appeared. While she did that, I opened the action, ejecting the used casing.

"Now the yellow jacket," she instructed. I nodded, picking up and chambering the yellow and black round.

Aim... FIRE.

Mossy kicked, and the likeness of Clay in front of me practically shattered.

"More penetration and higher damage for the same amount of kick," Washu instructed. Next to her, a screen showing a high-speed camera replay of the shot appeared. "It also actually hits twice."

The individual 'darts' of the round sliced into the figure and ripped right through it, and were followed up by their sabot petals, which acted to aggravate the damage, causing the whole figure to shatter. I ejected the spent casing.

"Backlash," she continued.

I chambered the black round. This time the next figure looking like clay appeared quite some distance away. I took aim, intending to try out the sights.

"Wait," Washu interrupted. "Set your strength enhancement up to Two-X."

I looked at her once confused, but followed instructions before taking aim again. As I learned into my aim and started to squeeze the trigger, I wondered. Just how much extra recoil did the-?

'BA-BAM!'

"Holy-" I stumbled backwards before falling flat on my ass. "What the hell?"

"BACKLASH," Washu pointed out. "You think they named it that because it sounded cool? You need to brace correctly when firing that round. Plant and lock your rear leg. Lean in to just before where you would lose balance. Rest your cheek on the stock; cradle the weapon more. It's like having a much larger rifle, and it's going to kick like one."

"No kidding," I replied, stopping to rub my cheek where the stock had slapped me. "With a kick like that, I doubt anything on the receiving end will survive."

"See for yourself..." Washu picked up the binoculars I'd forgotten I'd packed and handed them to me.

"Ouch," I commented once I adjusted them for focus. What was left of the 'Clay' was not much. The 'upper torso' section was gone, leaving only a scattering of debris all around it. Over penetration would be an issue too.

"If you have problems bigger than what the backlash can deal with," she continued. "That's what the Goodfellow is for. Though I don't expect you to have very much trouble of that nature, and I don't expect you to go looking for it either. But as I've learned around Mihoshi, expect the unexpected. Now, pick up the Goodfellow."

I did as instructed while Washu prepared another target. This one just as far away as the last, if not actually a bit farther.

"Load," she instructed.

"Loaded," I commented after a moment.

"Aim," she continued. "But DO NOT fire."

I sighted up my target.

"Now turn your head," She continued. "Do not look directly at the blast."

I did so. Yes of course, antimatter annihilation. Pure radiation... Just like a nuclear flash.

"Fire," she instructed.

'Crack!'

There was brief pause, which ended with a blinding flash of light reflecting off my leatherman. I hadn't even noticed it was sitting right in front of me as I stared at it. The flash was followed a moment later by a loud boom and a burst of wind blown dust.

"Gah!" I snapped, big red and green blobs now dancing right in the center of my vision. "Dammit!"

"What?" Washu commented. "You okay?"

"I'm fine!" I returned, trying to blink the blobs away despite knowing that blinking had nothing to do with it. "Just caught the reflection."

After a minute of waiting for the obnoxious colors in my vision to fade, Washu once again handed me my binoculars.

"Oh yeah," I commented after getting a good look. "It's dead."

The spot where the last target had been was nothing but a small, smoldering crater.

"You get three of those rounds," Washu informed me.

"Just three?" I asked. The scientist nodded.

"If you need more than three," she advised. "You've got bigger problems. Three of those, and thirty each of the other two rounds."

"Fair enough," I nodded. Enough firepower to, hopefully, keep me safe. But limited enough that I couldn't suddenly turn into a one-man-army.

For the next hour, Washu continued to drill me on the use of the rounds, quizzing me on round selection to match a threat, as well as correct posture for utilizing the Backlash rounds without suffering a potential broken arm. Her instructions were clear and reinforced by everyone's favorite teacher: Pain.

Do not fire a backlash with any less than two-X suit reinforcement to my strength. Do always assume the correct postures for standing, supported, and prone. Do always double-check the backstop area behind a target. More so than normal...

The warning she gave me about the Goodfellow round was much simpler. Everything within' twenty meters is toast, and anything out to fifty is probably not getting back up. Do not look at the blast, and there is no minimum arming distance. So be aware. When she handed me the rounds, they were in a small, armored case that reminded me of a glasses-case. Aside from a small symbol of a crab superimposed over a radiation symbol on the ends, it was unmarked. The case itself would be capable of withstanding explosions, but she warned me not to go testing it.

I don't exactly plan to.

When we finally finished my little training and instruction session, Washu escorted me out of her lab, returning to her child-like form while I had my back turned at some point.

Despite the noise and mayhem of weapon training occurring inside, it was plainly obvious that not a single person was the least bit aware of what I had been doing the last hour. The Sailor Moon DVD Marathon looked to be nearing its end, with team cute still parked in place, heavy one former space pirate.

Then, there was Luna, head lolled to the side, mouth open, almost drooling.

"She's STILL out?" I asked, shaking my head.

"Well, she's been through a lot too," Washu pointed out. "And she was keeping an eye on you non-stop yesterday."

"Nonstop?" I glanced at the scientist. Washu nodded.

"She was worried you were dead remember?" she advised. "She was so strung up and nervous that I swear she was going to start pouncing on shadows if I hadn't kicked her out of the room and assigned Tenchi to watch you. It's kind of amazing she managed to stay awake that long. Cats, even sapient cats, normally sleep between thirteen and eighteen hours a day. She did an amazing job of hiding her fatigue as well as she did... Though I think she caught a few naps here and there."

"Yeah," I heaved a sigh, suddenly feeling a bit sorry for Luna. "I guess she needed to get some sleep some time too."

I wandered over to the couch, careful not to bother the others, smirking as I pushed some of the human-feline's bangs to the side so they wouldn't hang in her open mouth. It was both silly, and cute.

You know... For a bossy, paranoid, self-important imperial advisor turned superhero babysitter... Seeing her zonked out like this, in this form, really struck home with my inner sympathy. Luna's actually pretty smart and easygoing when you can relate to her from a mature perspective. Stuck stressing over a bunch of children trying to do the job of an entire nation's military, at the risk of the end of all civilization. And knowing that every time Usagi blows her off, that the message that 'This is SERIOUS BUSINESS' just doesn't seem to be getting through. Poor thing was one hell of an underrated character in her world, and she deserved more respect than that.

That was going to change, starting right now. She saved my bacon almost half a dozen times now that I thought about it. Given all she's done for me already, I'd have to make sure I return the favor and get that crystal back where it belongs. I owe her at least that much...

Speaking of... I paused, turning to Washu.

"Hey. Do we have any canned tuna?"