"Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him. "

-Booker T. Washington


"Stockholm Syndrome?" I asked.

"That's one possibility," Washu came back. "Though given your description, it would be a very unusual case since only a few criteria are fulfilled."

Once the shock of events had settled down, it was almost trivial to placate Motoko, who nearly cried herself back to sleep. Naru had wasted no time after that in filling me in on the details between thinly veiled insults.

For at least the first day after I had jumped out, Motoko had been convinced that I had 'EXPLODED' and was understandably in such a state of shock over it. After that, her personal habits deteriorated. She had become reclusive, jittery, and prone to nightmares. To make things worse, her normal habit of lashing out violently at Keitaro had all but ceased to be. Instead of putting him through a wall on principle, she started to break down, retreat to her room, and cry.

Knowing that what she experienced probably classified as 'watching a person die'. I could understand the shock she had, as well as the panic when I had reappeared.

However, this didn't explain why she tackled me in a fit of tears. Seeing as she previously wanted to kick my sorry ass half way across Kanagawa just for existing.

Then of course, there had been the Tokyo University Entrance Ceremony held two days later. Keitaro had broken his leg when part of the building landed on him. That gave me a rough idea of 'when' I was in this whole mess. Keitaro was stuck in the hospital, which kind of told me why Naru was more agitated than ever. She didn't have her favorite punching bag, Motoko was useless, and Su was running them ragged.

Now add my carcass showing up to the mess...

Throw a rock in a pond, and you'll have ripples.

Washu had told me that the principles of The Butterfly Effect tended to be exaggerated when it came to long term temporal mechanics, but I think she was referring to world-altering events such as the issues presented by the dimensional relocation of ONE rainbow crystal... Not isolated 'family' groups such as this.

None the less, I followed her instructions once things were settled down, and had given the scientist a call just as soon as I had managed to untangle myself from Motoko.

We were discussing the issue in English, as I felt that should Motoko wake up and overhear the conversation, it would only get worse. The unintelligible discussion had gotten me a few odd looks from Luna, who sat at the table near me while Shinobu (not so scared of me since it was now obvious I wasn't anywhere NEAR as bad as first thought) cooked breakfast. To tell you the truth, I found that despite my mind being programmed to speak fluent Japanese, I was far more animated when I was speaking in English. My body knew the motions to match my thoughts so much clearer. The resulting head bobs, hand twirls and chops, finger taps... All that... It all just came so naturally. The contrast between that and the rather dull way I had been speaking the last few days was so great that I had actually noticed it to begin with.

"I'd need to examine her personally to be certain," Washu continued. To Shinobu, it looked like I was just talking on a blue-tooth cell phone. "I can't make an accurate diagnosis of her mental state from here. More likely than Stockholm Syndrome though, is that she's formed an emotional attachment to you because you undermined her psychological defenses."

"Is that even possible?" I asked. "I barely had any contact with her at all."

"Mutual high-stress experiences and underlying emotional issues can exacerbate the situation," Washu instructed. "Psychological bonds are easily formed between people in such situations even in the shortest amount of time. For example, after you fought that monster... Tell me. Did that girl, Rei... Did she dote on you?"

"Uh..." I blinked. "Yeah actually. Now that I think of it... I was so tired I didn't even realize it."

"Same thing," Washu pointed out. "Different scenario. In that case you shared an extremely stressful experience, combat, and formed a very quick bond, if only to survive. In this case, you exercised a self-defense tactic that cut through all her emotional and psychological defenses. In layman's terms, you conducted a near flawless performance of psychological warfare."

"All I was doing was trying to keep her from beating the crap out of me," I threw back. "I wasn't trying to break her."

"And you used your in-depth knowledge of her as a character as a basis for that right?" Washu asked.

"Yeeeah..." I responded slowly.

"There you go," Washu concluded. "You applied the knowledge equivalent to someone who's known her all her life. And she had no ability to reciprocate, and absolutely no psychological defense against it. As a result, you stripped away all her emotional defenses like paper machete in your attempts to weaken her resolve to 'beat the crap out of you', and confronted what I believe to be the scared, lonely girl under it all."

God dammit. I did in two minutes what took Keitaro two years.

"And then you did the absolute 'worst' thing you could have possibly done to her," Washu continued.

"What?" I asked.

"You were NICE to her," she concluded. "Just like Stockholm syndrome... You made her vulnerable and then exercised compassion and kindness. The difference though, is that your kindness was not, and is not subjective to the situation. It was REAL kindness."

"So," I learned my head into my hand. "In summary..."

"She's infatuated," Washu finished.

'Thud!'

Shinobu looked over at me as my head slipped out of my hand to bang against the table.

"Great," I continued, picking my head back up. "So now she 'wants' me?"

"Might not be quite like that," Washu corrected. "It might be more akin to a parental or sibling bond. Either way, it's an emotional attachment. The shock she received when you vanished last week and reappeared might have exaggerated her initial emotional response to your presence. Like I said, I'd need to see for myself to make any accurate conclusions. It's possible that once she gets over the initial shock, she'll normalize."

Okay, that's good to hear. So at best, she'll return to normal. But-

"What's the worst-case scenario?" I asked.

There was a pause. A long pause.

"Crippling emotional dependency," Washu finally began in a more serious tone. "Near obsessive desire for your presence at all times leading to a state of depression in your absence. If not corrected... Leads to potential substance abuse, poor decision-making with the possibility of entering into an abusive relationship. Alienation of her family, unplanned pregnancy... And that's the short list."

"Fuck." I commented flatly. Luna turned her head, seeming to recognize the swear.

"Still," Washu's voice recovered some life. "That is a WORST CASE scenario. It assumes the extremely unlikely chance that her state continues to deteriorate to the point that she is no longer psychologically capable of defending her vulnerabilities. Normally you need a seriously screwed up environment and ongoing hostile conditions to push the psyche that far. More likely she'll just try to get you into the sack. Same thing Ayeka and Ryoko tried with Tenchi."

'Thud.' I applied my forehead to the table again.

"Not encouraging Washu," I commented when I recovered.

"You can't tell me you don't like that idea," she jabbed playfully. "I've been studying your behavior around Ayeka. You hide your desires extremely well with that facade of yours, but it'll take more than that to sneak it past me. I've been around a while."

"Not funny," I quipped in a cold tone.

"Actually it's extremely funny," Washu continued. "From that whole conventions point of view anyway. But despite what you may say, your behavioral patterns are more honest than you are. You might not want to admit it, because your mind may still be suspending the thought that we're all fictional, but you have to face the facts. Everyone is real, and you like the attention."

'Thud'

"What I like is invernerial," I came back up. "I don't need to be breaking characters and settings for my own personal enjoyment."

"What benchmark do you use to decide what is broken and what isn't?" Washu asked.

"These are set stories," I replied.

"Says what? Your manga? Your DVDs?" Washu chided. "I don't know where you get it in your head that these timelines are set in stone, but your very presence has already thrown them off."

"I know," I countered. "But these are people's LIVES I'm playing with. That's why I need to do as little damage as I can and put things back the way they were."

"You might as well climb Mt. Everest in nothing but swim-trunks," the scientist admonished. "You are under no obligation to put a timeline in a specific order. There is no 'destiny', there are no time police watching you. Any who claim that are simply watching out for their own agendas."

"But-" I began.

"No buts," Washu interrupted. "You should be watching out for yourself, and only yourself. I know it sounds a touch cruel and selfish, and I can understand your moral point of view, but really... What's a few altered timelines? When you've run through these stories all the way to their ends, what happens after? Ultimately, in the end, the universe just does not care about the story going one way or another. If it concerns you so much, just worry about making sure you don't kill any planets. It is perfectly acceptable to screw around with timelines and be completely moral about it. Ruining a timeline so that person X is never born does not make you a murderer. Otherwise, everyone would be guilty of murder because of all the timelines that never were. Just be true to your moral standings in the linear sense."

"My moral standings on the linear sense include not ruining the lives of innocent young ladies," I snapped. "I'm not retroactively erasing Motoko-"

Shinobu looked over at the mention of the swordswoman's name.

"-From existence. I hurt her, mentally. And if she gets attached to me, there's a strong possibility that I'm going to hurt her MORE. I can't accept that; it's not who I am."

"Now you're being honest," Washu commented. "You couldn't care less about the timeline. Even if you see her as a character of fiction, you care about her well-being as a human being."

"I-" I began, but stopped.

"Don't let causality be your excuse," Washu instructed. "Smart as you are, you cannot even begin to grasp the complexity of it. Stay within' your scope. You do what YOU think is right."

"Well," I began after a pause. "I think unscrewing Motoko's psyche is the right thing to do."

"That's your decision then," Washu was probably nodding sagely. "I'm willing to surrender to you that having her becoming emotionally attached to you in this fashion is not healthy at all. So if you want to fix her up, you'd best provide a good way for her to rebuild her emotional defenses."

"I'm not qualified to attempt psycho-therapy." I replied. "I know her... CORRECT personality well enough, but just as likely as not I'll end up doing irrecoverable damage."

"Not all emotional issues require a doctorate in psychology," Washu replied. "Just good, caring support."

"And if I get stuck with Motoko liking me?" I asked.

"Then Motoko likes you," Washu concluded. "It's not like that's a bad thing. You were probably trying to get her to either like you, or at least not hate you. You certainly did that with Ayeka. Impressive too considering you managed it in under twelve hours. I've never seen her act quite the way she did. She might actually like you a little."

'Thud'

"You really need to stop doing that," Washu chided as I lifted my head back into my hand. "You've only just healed from a skull fracture."

"You don't see anything wrong with the princess transferring her affections for Tenchi onto me?" I asked.

"Oh she loves Tenchi with all her heart," Washu laughed. "By no means does that mean she can't grow to care for others at the same time."

"In the wonderful world of Tenchi Muyo," I began in a deadpan tone. "There is no such thing as a single mate..."

"Heh..." Washu laughed. "The family tree around here isn't the most clear-cut, is it?"

"At least you notice..." I sighed. "The controversy of the Masaki Family Tree is a topic of EPIC proportions back home."

"Hey, whatever works," Washu sounded like she shrugged it off. "Anyway, enough of that. There's a reason I wanted you to call me."

"Yeah," I continued, glad for the change in the topic. All this talk of whom I liked and who liked me was becoming uncomfortable.

"Since we know you're jumping now," she continued. "I placed a small dispenser in your pocket before you left. It looks like a fat silver pen, but it isn't."

"Hold on..." I began.

I raised my left arm and checked clearance before I pushed the button, opening the shimmering, warped little portal into my pocket and took a glance. All my things were there. It was kind of weird the way they looked to be sitting in a black void that shimmered with rebounding light from the outside. It almost made my eyes water. However, floating in the void clipped to my backpack strap, was the object Washu described. Unsure as to how it would feel, I reached in to the shimmering hole in space and grabbed the 'pen', yanking it free of the strap with almost no effort. There was no odd sensation as far as I could tell.

Once I retrieved the item, I had to stop and settle my pack to prevent it from tumbling around inside the pocket-like space. Everything was just floating as if in zero-G. Once it was settled, I finished by sealing the portal again... Okay, open once, and close again.

I still couldn't get over it. That was just so freakin' cool...

Laughing at the little fun tech-toy, I almost didn't notice I had an audience. Shinobu had frozen stock still at the sight. Gaping open mouthed at what I had just done, looking a little shaky. Poor kid was so easily frightened of anything strange... That reminded me. Maybe I should be a little more careful about where I use some of the more flashy technology. This kind of stuff could easily attract the wrong kind of attention.

Making eye contact with her, I merely shrugged.

"Don't over think it," I warned. "It's just a fancy pocket."

Shinobu nodded mutely, obviously not registering my advice.

"Never mind," I shook my head. I think I'll just let her bluescreen for a while... I've got a Mad Scientist Goddess on the line running up her interdimensional AT&T bill.

"Okay I have the pen," I commented, twirling it idly. "What do you want me to do with it?"

"It's very simple," Washu replied. "The pen contains a dozen more beacons that transmit data on their surroundings much like the first one."

"I take it you want me to drop a beacon somewhere in each universe I go to?" I asked.

"Yes," Washu stated. "Just thumb the top like any typical pen, and it'll drop and activate a beacon pellet. I can deal with the rest."

"Any particular place you want it dropped?" I inquired. "The front garden, the kitchen sink, the surface of the sun... Or does that matter?"

"As close to your landing point as possible," the scientist advised. "The girls you land next to might be acting as some sort of anchor. One of the intermingled astral patterns in your scan is actually Ayeka's. If I can get reliable data on them, I might have a hypothesis."

Hmmm... Linked to Ayeka? If I'm linked to Ayeka, and that in turn links me to the others...

"Now that you mention it," I began. "I jumped back to Ayeka, and now back to Motoko. Same order as before. If that's the case, I might just jump back to Those Who Hunt Elves next."

"I'll see if I can get any other patterns sorted out from your records," Washu advised. "Get that beacon as close to where she stays as possible. That'll get me a clear picture of her astral pattern."

"Right," I sighed. "Her room..."

"Most likely," the scientist agreed. "Oh, and don't forget to practice at your higher strength settings."

"Right." I almost broke my neck because of that.

"Catch you later," Washu chirped.

'Click'.

"Not while she's asleep in there though," I pondered aloud. I've learned quite well what pressing my luck would do. Thank you very much.

Sighing and looking up, I noticed the smell of something scorched. Don't tell me...

Glancing again at Shinobu, I discovered she was still stuck in an infinite loop.

"Hey Shinobu," I waved my hand. She didn't quite react. "Hellooo? You awake?"

She finally blinked and focused on me after I practically tapped her on the nose.

"Hey!" I continued, pointing at the stove. "What are you disintegrating?"

Shinobu 'Eeped' and spun, quickly yanking the pan she was cooking on away from the heat. Mmm... Carbonized fish. Knowing my luck, that would be designated my breakfast simply to be able to dispose of it. Nothing like charcoal to get you going in the morning. All part of a balanced breakfast...

"So what did Washu say?" Luna piped up, catching my attention. I turned to give the feline-now-girl a non-plussed look.

"She said not to make excuses for myself," I sighed, "That and typical fictional Aesop drivel: 'Be true to yourself' and all that."

"That doesn't seem all that helpful," Luna shook her head.

"I'm paraphrasing," I replied. "Long and short of it is that I've inadvertently done psychological damage. Now I get to figure out how to fix it."

"That sounds like an absolute blast," Luna responded sarcastically. "Did she at least give you an idea on how to do that?"

"Rebuild her emotional defenses," I answered.

"How exactly do you do that?" the advisor asked.

"Don't know," I admitted. "Depends on how screwed up she is. For all I know, this could be a cakewalk, or it could prove impossible to the point of needing to break out the pointy sunglasses."

"I'm afraid I don't follow," Luna shook her head.

"In-joke," I waved it off. "Never mind. Suffice to say this makes things more complicated. On top of the issues we've got to deal with, now I've got a new problem. And I might be the only one who can fix it."

"Are you sure that YOU have to take care of it?" Luna asked.

"I don't HAVE to," I pointed out. "I could always point her at a psychologist and say 'GIT!' But psychiatric care costs money. Absurd amounts of money... That could just make things worse for her. On the other hand, I specifically know the difference here between what is right, and what is messed up. That makes me the best person for the job."

"You're certain?" Luna asked.

"Considering I messed things up," I put my head in my hands again. "It falls upon me to fix it. As they say: You break it, you own it."

"You broke Motoko, so now you have to fix her?" Luna asked. "I'd have to disagree. You were just protecting yourself. She's not your responsibility."

"Maybe not," I began. "But how would you like it if I decided getting that rainbow crystal back wasn't my responsibility either? You've seen your show; you get the gist of it. Remember, without the crystal, Usagi doesn't get her silver crystal. Without that, Metallia will crush her. Game over. You want that?"

Luna fell silent.

"Didn't think so," I shook my head. "If I'm responsible for something going wrong, I'm damn well going to fix it. Mark my words."

'Clink'

I looked up as Shinobu set a plate down in front of me.

"What's this for?" I asked.

"I-I couldn't help but overhear how you want to help Motoko," she stuttered. "I don't really know anything about most of the stuff you're talking about. But I th-think it's a nice thing you're trying to do. So I figured you'd want something to eat."

She's still scared of me...

"Thank you very much," I nodded, placing a smile on my face. "Sorry if I scared you guys. It's a long story."

I've got to work on Shinobu a little. At least come across as a big cuddly teddy bear rather than a real one. I'd rather her not be scared of me. I'm not all that scary...

Am I?

Shinobu turned back to her cooking, allowing me to look back at the plate she'd set before me.

It was the burnt fish... Though it had been seemingly quickly and carefully cleaned of the scorched parts. I can't hold it against her. She's the daughter of a chef. She doesn't want to waste food, and she doesn't want to serve people messed up food. This was a go-between.

Still, all this seafood and rice. What I wouldn't give for a nice juicy steak right about now. Or maybe a burrito... Yeah... A burrito with lots of pepper-jack cheese. A nice, filling, artery clogging burrito.

Okay, stop. Wishful thinking will get you nowhere. I'm not in any position whatsoever to make special requests on food. Either I eat what I'm given, or I can starve. I can't buy food. I need money.

Money... I need to find a way to make a little cash. If only to buy a little food for myself, or help pay for food I consume. Something... I can't expect to last very long living on kindness and offers to help do things.

Turning to Luna to comment on the issue of money, I came face to face with a rather curious sight.

Luna was staring at my plate.

I looked down at the fish, then back up at her, then at the plate again. I've seen this look before. My dog does it; my dad's cat does it.

"Hungry?" I asked. Luna jumped when I spoke, then turned away looking slightly embarrassed.

"Of course not," she responded. "We only just ate a few hours ago."

Okay, I'm nobody's fool. That was a barefaced lie if I ever saw one.

"Here," I slid my plate over to Luna. "Help yourself."

"I said I'm not-"

'Grurgle...'

Luna turned beet-red at the sound, at which point I smirked slyly and raised my eyebrow. Do characters from these worlds have some kind of trigger mechanism that makes their stomach growl whenever they try to deny being hungry? It's like a 'growl on command' or something.

She was right though. We only ate a few hours ago relative. I was a little hungry, but not as hungry as she looked when she finally gave up and virtually pounced on the fish.

Hmmm... I wonder how much energy she's burning in that form. Physical strength is not free, and she's definitely stronger than a normal human like I expected, considering the way she nearly tossed Naru like a sack of potatoes. Given the likely higher muscle density, and the resulting metabolism, she'll probably need three to four times what I eat a day if she maintains that form at all times. And given the carnivorous nature of cats in general, It'll have to be more protein than starch. Which means meat or beans. And I've not seen many cats eat beans.

Man, pet sidekicks are expensive to feed.

While Luna went on to attack the food I'd given her like she hadn't eaten in three days, I pondered more on her Feline tendencies. As a cat, she was essentially just target practice. She massed too little to be even an effective projectile, and wasn't even strong enough to challenge other small animals.

In her human form however, she was strong as an all star athlete, and still had the grace and balance of her feline nature. But what are her reflexes? Motor impulse depends a lot on the time it takes for a signal to make its trip from the brain to the muscles. Luna definitely had higher reflexes in her feline form because of her small stature. Plus the advantage whiskers give in detection air current motion. If she kept even a fraction of that reaction speed despite her much larger humanoid form, not only would she be strong and agile, she'd be lethal-fast.

There was no doubt. Luna was a predator.

That being the case, she'd be one vicious fighter when cornered. Considering she'd have the speed and power of a black belt before she ever even got the training...

And if she got that kind of hand to hand fighting training...

I'd have to look into this. Returning Luna to her home universe with that kind of fighting prowess had just too much potential to ignore. I kind of feel sorry for Usagi though. Now that Luna's transformation was fixed, the blond princess won't be able to blow the advisor off. Push comes to shove, Luna's one loud pop away from dragging Usagi off to some kind of practice or training, kicking and screaming the whole way.

Heheheheh... That's a mental picture I'd almost pay to see.

"What?" Luna asked around a mouth full of fish. "Whashofunny?"

"Nothing..." I commented off-hand. "I just find a lot of things amusing."

Luna chewed for a few seconds while staring, then swallowed.

"Anything you find amusing is more than simply 'nothing'." She pointed out. "Care to enlighten me on the joke?"

"Not really, no," I smirked back. "I'm going to wait and see if my hypothesis is correct before I let you in on it."

Luna scowled at me, then returned to her meal. I continued to sit there for another thirty seconds before I heard someone moaning from just out the entrance.

"Good morning Motoko," Shinobu turned towards the entrance. "How do you feel?"

"Terrible," Motoko's voice came back as she walked into the kitchen area. "I had the strangest dream. That strange man-"

She froze when she caught sight of me.

"'Mornin!" I commented in English, waving a greeting.

Motoko's face drained of color.

Aw man... I hope she doesn't go off. Again...

"You feeling a bit better?" I asked as if nothing was wrong. In this kind of situation, it is prudent to behave with utmost care. If a person is in a borderline panic, behave as if you have everything well under control. Confidence inspires calm.

Motoko's face spoke volumes for what was going through her mind. And while she managed not to panic, it was obvious she was not exactly in complete control as she worked her mouth silently.

"You," she began at last. "Did you... Did I..."

"MEW MEW!"

Motoko didn't get to finish, as at that exact moment, Tama came flying through the kitchen. This wouldn't be too odd save for the fact that Tama is a small green and yellow hot-springs turtle. Did I mention that? Maybe I didn't. Well, I think Haruka commented on it. But still... A flying turtle, man... A FLYING TURTLE!

"Turtle!" Motoko yelped and backed away. However, Tama made no course to antagonize her normal prey. (I'm certain Tama knew quite well that Motoko was terrified of her, and utilized it for turtle-laughs.)

Instead, Tama quickly vanished out the exit. The reason why became clear a moment later. With a small roar like a lawnmower engine, one of Su's scaled down main battle tanks rolled into the kitchen. Su, and Sara, the latter of whom I had not noticed around the place until now followed it.

"After her!" Kaola announced with a flourish. "No turtle can escape the wrath of the Hinata Self Defense Force First Armored Cavalry Division!"

The hatch on the tank popped open. Out of the opening, Senbei rose up; wearing an overly decorated set of green combat fatigues with a helmet the fit him perfectly. The little demon-god was actually DRIVING the thing.

"General!" Senbei snapped. "The enemy is retreating towards the hot-springs. Requesting permission to engage!"

"Permission granted Major Catastrophe!" Su responded. Major Catastrophe? That's about as bad a pun as General Chaos... But somehow, it fit. "Head northwest to flank her while Colonel Sara and I prepare the main attack!"

"ROGER!" Senbei dove back into his tank with an overly flamboyant burst of Engrish. "For the Emperor!"

The tiny diesel (?) engine on the tank revved, and the vehicle powered out of the kitchen, forcing Motoko to dance out of the way as it moved towards the hot spring.

"I've officially seen everything..." I declared. A flying turtle being chased by a demon god driving a model tank, under the command of a hyperactive, magical, twelve-year-old girl who builds mecha. You can't make this shit up. And even if you could, you'd never be able to throw it together this way. What's next? Pink Elephants?

No, actually, Baby Acapulco back home already had one on their sign drinking margaritas. So I guess that idea's out...

I looked back at Motoko, who followed the tank with her eyes before looking back to me. I simply shrugged. The swordswoman stared back, then glanced at Luna, who simply kept eating. Then she looked back at me. Then her eyes began to widen as she connected the dots. It had not been a dream. Her face going crimson, she started to fidget in place, trying her best not to break down.

"I... I-" she began, choking before she could put out a coherent statement.

Then, with a shout of 'NOOOO!' she bolted from the kitchen. My hand found my forehead a moment later. That girl...

"Motoko!" Shinobu shouted after her. "What about breakfast?"

No answer... Only hollow footsteps thumping up the stairs.

"Great," I sighed, turning to Luna. "Now she's running from me."

"You better catch her then," Luna commented, eyeing more of the food Shinobu was cooking. "You can't fix her if you can't find her."

"Preaching to the choir," I replied, pushing myself up. "I think I know where she's going though."

Exiting the kitchen, I made my way to the stairs. This was more or less typical. Motoko had obviously gone into denial-mode. Knowing how she thinks, I'm willing to bet that she was busy telling herself that she did NOT throw herself into my arms this morning. That she did NOT cry herself to sleep. That there was no way she'd act like that around someone she barely knew. And if she was doing that, she was probably going to retreat to the rooftop clothesline to aggressively work it out with some exercise.

I paused on the second floor to think about that. That was more or less Motoko's standard defensive response to most problems she couldn't beat the crap out of. Maybe she wasn't as broken as I thought. Maybe I don't have to do anything.

Maybe... Better think on it...

Musing on it, I decided a quick detour was in order. While Motoko was on the roof, her room would be empty. That would allow me to drop off one of Washu's new beacons without having to explain myself. And if Motoko up and fixed herself, it might become hard to drop that beacon off later.

Wandering into her room, I took a quick look around as I whipped out the pen. Washu said to drop the little pellet off as close to the point of arrival as I could. This would mean her bed. However, beds get changed; futons get folded up, moved around, and beaten. If I put the thing under the pillow, or on the floor where the futon went, it would probably be found and thrown away as trash.

Some place close, but mostly untouched. Not her dresser, or her bookshelf... Nothing Su would get into.

Her armor? Maybe...

The armor was supported on a small stand just a foot from her futon. Yes, perfect... Nobody touched that armor; not even Su or Sara would dare mess with it under penalty of Motoko's wrath.

Whipping out the 'pen' from my pants pocket, I thumbed the top of it once, depositing a tiny little pellet the size of 6mm BB into my hand. Damn, the thing was tiny. Washu can get something this small to do everything she said it did?

Well, it WAS Washu. I'm wearing a suit she made that would make the Pentagon shit themselves if they ever knew about it. Even a fraction of the technology needed for any component of this thing was likely to be worth so much money, that I could be set for life if I sold it.

I wonder if Washu will let me keep the suit when this is all said and done.

Looking at the armor, I found a small nook in one of the lower pieces. I'm not familiar with the components of Japanese armor, but it was some kind of shin guard. With a quick shove, I stuck the small little pellet in place and stood up again. Mission accomplished... Now where's my medal?

Turning to leave the room, I returned my thinking to Moto-WHOA!

I froze as I caught sight of my face in a dressing mirror and quickly stopped to take a closer look.

Damn! As I ran my hand along my face, it occurred to me. No wonder I was scaring Shinobu. I look like a grizzly bear! When was the last time I shaved? Three, four days ago? It was when I had somehow managed to get back to my room exploiting Mitoto's weird translocational abilities.

That just wouldn't do! I can't walk around like this! I need a shave!

Checking clearance and opening my dimensional pocket, I fished around quickly for my backpack and retrieved my electric razor and its power cable from a side pocket, pausing only to smirk at the portal before I shut it.

With a quick glance, I found a power socket and plugged it in. Time to get rid of this shag carpet.

With a click, I turned the razor on.

And I promptly yanked the power cable out of the bottom when I realized it wasn't supposed to make 'THAT' sound.

Shit! I forgot! Japanese electrical supplies use a different voltage and frequency! Oh man, I hope I didn't fry my razor. That would be just my luck.

"Dammit," I growled, pulling the power cable out of the socket. Good thing this was designed to come apart like this. "Now how am I supposed to shave?"

"You can start by getting the hell out of Motoko's room!" Naru's voice cut into my thoughts.

I damn near jumped out of my skin, nearly knocking the mirror over in the process.

"Jesus Christ!" I swore in English before switching back to continue. "Don't sneak up on people like that!"

Naru simply glared at me from the entrance with a scowl that would have scared Hild.

"Just what exactly are you doing?" She asked.

"Trying to shave," I replied defensively, holding my razor up as evidence.

"In Motoko's room?" Naru interrogated. "You have some nerve!"

"But-" I began.

Shut up!" she snapped. "First you attack Motoko. Then you act like nothing ever happened and lounge around Hinata House like you own the place. Then you mess with her head more, and now you have the nerve to be messing around in her room! You're disgusting! If Keitaro and Haruka hadn't said you were okay, I would have thrown you out myself!"

"Hey!" I began. "It's not like I-"

"I don't want your excuses!" she snapped angrily, advancing on me rapidly and forcing me to take a step back. "You've been nothing but trouble from the moment you showed up! I don't care if you're some 'slider', or a covert government technology agent, or whatever you claim to be. Don't think I buy either story for even a second! I don't know how you're pulling off these tricks, but I'm on to you! And I will expose you if you cross me!"

What the hell? I know Narusegawa could be vicious. But this was absurd! I didn't do anything to deserve this!

"And if you so much as go NEAR Motoko," Naru continued. "I will beat the ever living shit out of you like the scumbag you are! Do you understand me?"

And without so much as giving me a chance to answer, Naru turned and stormed down the stairs. It took a few seconds before my face caught up with my mind, resulting in my mouth hanging open in a look of shocked disgust.

Kitsune, who'd witnessed the entire spectacle from just up the hall, wandered over and gave me a momentary appraising look before patting me on the shoulder.

"She's been worried about Keitaro," she commented. "She acts like she doesn't care, but I can see through that act. Just stay out of her way for the time being."

I slowly cranked my head around, face more or less stuck where I had left it.

Keitaro puts up with THAT?

I have new-found respect for the guy...