"When you look back on your life, it looks as though it were a plot, but when you are into it, it's a mess: just one surprise after another. Then, later, you see it was perfect."

- Schopenhauer


"I hope this doesn't become a habit of yours..." Haruka commented around her cigarette.

I turned a nonplussed look on the manager of the Hinata teahouse as I once again occupied a table. I wanted to say something sarcastic to her, but simply settled on a look that pretty much described how annoying this situation was becoming.

"I'm just saying..." she shrugged. "I know you understand I'm trying to do business here."

You might wonder how the hell I managed to escape the situation that had snowballed beyond my control so unbelievably fast... I could give stories on my cunning, skill, charm, wit, whatever... But sadly, none of that had anything to do with the fact that I was now safely back at what I had dubbed 'home base' here in the world of Love Hina.

Truth be told.

I was saved from 'Naru's Righteous Vengeance' by Kitsune, of all people...

That's Mitsune 'Kitsune' Konno. The mischievous trickster character who I could easily apply the battle buddy trust rhyme to.

'Trust your buddy with your life, not your money, or your wife.'

Which, comically enough, was indeed my life that was saved, so...

Yeah...

SHE saved me from Naru. How? Well, I almost didn't believe it myself. After walking right into that comedy-gag thinking Luna was going to be hurt by Motoko, the entire thing snapped shut on me as if it were planned all along.

There's a R.O.B. out there who I'm going to enjoy punching... I should start keeping a list of 'that was for-' phrases, in case one punch isn't enough to satisfy me.

Naru caught me exactly at the moment I should have expected. 'It's Not What it Looks Like' in full force, with me staring down a well armed, naked Motoko. I had frozen up, unable to decide what I should do. I knew that if I moved, she'd punch me. If I tried to talk, she'd punch me.

If I did ANYTHING, she'd punch me. I had no course of escape, no exit strategy at all. Sure, I knew the fact that the coup-de-gras for the whole thing might be averted by not overreacting to the punchline...

Problem with that was, I had already reacted... Retrospectively, I was screwed the moment I suggested that we forget what was happening. That would have been the moment that I would have broken down laughing at this situation. Provided it wasn't my ass that was about to get handed to me...

Motoko had bluescreened, so it seemed. Her mind was still at war with itself as to whether she should defend her modesty, or flee. But the entire time she kept her replica sword trained on me. And the entire time she was blushing furiously.

The damned stalemate lasted for what seemed like forever. I think it was twelve seconds though...

But through all this, even with Naru literally breathing down my neck, the killer blow never fell. I couldn't figure out why. The gag was complete. The only thing missing was the slapstick violence.

Even as I noticed that, I started weighing my options for preemptive counter-attack. Could I really do that? On one hand, I'm in deep shit, and I need to defend myself before she kills me. On the other hand, if I hurt HER, whether she actually intends physical harm to me or not, I could land my self in deeper shit. Or a violent reaction on my part could snap Motoko out of her mental funk in a manner not conducive to my survival in the next forty-five seconds.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't...

I was saved from that decision when Kitsune interrupted forcefully and told Naru to knock it off. Part of me practically shouted in joy the moment I realized she was in the room too. Because my mind instantly understood...

I had an alibi!

Friggin' SAVED!

Kitsune pointed out to her best friend in a surprisingly sharp tone that I hadn't done anything wrong here, and that I was simply trying to protect Luna.

"But he's-"

"No buts Naru! I was standing right there when it happened."

Kitsune calmed her friend down, pointing out the cat cowering on my shoulder, once again reminding Naru of my strange story. Again faced with overwhelming evidence in my favor, Naru backed down. But she wouldn't leave the room. Not while I was still there. Not with Motoko 'vulnerable'...

"Motoko, dear..." Kitsune began in a well-acted conversational tone. "You can go back to your bath now."

At the same time, Kitsune interposed herself between the swordswoman and myself, grabbed me by the shoulder, and forcefully turned me around.

"Let's go," she directed. "Nothing to see here. Move along..."

One step... Not dead; not killing anyone. Two steps... Past Naru. Do NOT make eye contact. Three steps... Four, five...

Out of the changing room. Out of sight. Out of danger.

Five minutes later, I was staring at Kitsune across the table from me; Luna was curled up in a chair nearby passed out. I was saved, but at what cost?

Yeah, I should be grateful, but my understanding of Kitsune's character had me just a bit on edge. She had some ulterior motive, right? Kitsune never did anything for free...

Or was I just being paranoid after what had just transpired?

"So tell me," she continued as Haruka walked away to tend a customer. "How's that thing work?"

"The suit?" I asked, looking at the part that was exposed on my arms.

"Yeah," she nodded. "We got interrupted before, but I figured out you did that jump using that weird suit. You weren't wearing it last time. Is it one of Su's?"

"No," I shook my head. "Something Washu made for me to help protect me from comedy routines in these worlds."

"These worlds..." Kitsune furrowed her brow. "What you said this morning, you were serious?"

"It's complicated," I sighed. "But yes. The long and short of it is I'm spontaneously hopping from world to world. And every world I land in is a world of fiction back home."

"Hmph..." Kitsune snorted what sounded like a suppressed laugh. "I don't see what's worth watching or reading about around here..."

"Seriously?" I cocked an eyebrow. "No really, seriously? With all the entertainment you get just watching Naru pummel Keitaro daily, you don't see the entertainment value for people in another world?"

"Okay," Kitsune shrugged. "You have a point there. I can see why people would find us entertaining."

Then she paused and leaned in conspiratorially.

"What genre?" she asked.

"Isn't it obvious?" I replied. "Romantic Comedy."

"Hmmm..." She nodded. "Fanservice?"

"Butt-loads," I responded. Wait-

Whack!

Kitsune blushed a bit as she shoved me away, causing my chair to tip backwards. Luckily, I caught the edge of the table with my knee and kept from being bluntly dropped to the floor.

"You naughty boy!" she grinned mischievously. "I didn't realize..."

"Oh grow up," I interrupted, shaking my head. "That's the second time someone's realized that little point. And I'm not in the mood for it. Not right now..."

"Okay," she dropped the act, but was still a bit flushed. "So we're a world of fiction to you, is that how you seem to know what you're doing?"

"Yeah," I nodded. "Last week, I was doing my best not to get killed."

Kitsune's flush faded as she stared at me puzzled.

"You mean Motoko?" she asked.

"Yeah," I nodded. "Remember when I commented about a hand grenade?"

Kitsune nodded, totally engrossed in what I was telling her.

"You mean her little sword technique right?" she began. "You weren't speaking as well as you seem to do now, but you commented on a hand grenade..." She paused, then looked me in the eye. "Comparing it?"

"Yeah..." I nodded, emphasizing it as an understatement. "The details are complicated, but you guys can take that blast easy... Me? Well, Zan-Ma-Ken will do to my body what it normally does to the walls, the rocks, and everything else."

Kitsune winced.

"And the entire time Motoko was just itching to beat you up," she concluded. "You must have been terrified."

"Somewhat," I sighed. "But then I got really pissed off at the unfairness of the universe and took her up on it."

"You WHAT?" Kitsune blinked. "I'm no expert, but you barely beat her unarmed. How did you manage to win?"

"I didn't," I pointed out. "Motoko pretty much had me owned in the first few moves, so I just gave up. She didn't like that, and threw a tantrum because I wouldn't fight back."

Kitsune blinked.

"You're kidding..."

"I shit you not," I rested my elbows on the table. "And she REALLY didn't like it when I called her out on it... Called her a bully. In case you didn't notice, there's a missing tree out front where she blew a gasket."

There was a pause.

"Wait a minute," Kitsune began at last. "You mean to tell me that Motoko's been moping around for a week because you called her out on her attitude?"

"I wouldn't say it's that simple," I shrugged. "But, yeah. Plus my sudden vanishing probably didn't help. I keep getting told it sounds like a large balloon being popped."

"Okay..." she sat back, placing a hand on her chin in thought. "But then, why did she throw herself at you this morning like that?"

I shrugged. I don't really feel like going over the psychological issues laid-bare this morning. It presented too many uncomfortable issues for myself. I was in control of the situation, and she was emotionally vulnerable, so she latched on to me in her shock as a result. I'll leave it at that.

Kitsune seemed to decide on something, and looked me dead in the eye. Oh damn, her eyes are open.

"Okay," she began. "I'll help you deal with Naru if you can deal with putting Motoko back the way she belongs."

That was out of left field... Kitsune doesn't just offer to help. What's-

"What's your angle?" I asked suspiciously.

"What?" she asked.

"You don't have the nickname 'fox' for nothing," I tapped the table. "Remember my perspective here..."

"Oh," she blushed. "Right... You would know how we are that way wouldn't you?"

"Exactly," I nodded. "So just give it to me straight. What are you getting out of this?"

"Well," she began, her eyes returning to a squint as she cast a glance at the ceiling. "With Motoko back to normal, Su won't pester us so much so-"

"Quit lying," I interrupted in an annoyed tone.

"You're kidding!" she snapped her look back at me. "I wasn't-"

"You had to think about what you were saying," I pointed out. "And you failed to make eye contact while doing so. I KNOW how you are, so I'm on my guard. Trust me, I've already dealt with someone who makes your skills look like tinker toys. Now give it to me straight."

"Okay!" Kitsune seemed a bit rattled. Yeah, after dealing with Hild, Kitsune's fibs were rather obvious. This time, she cast her eyes down, not quite making eye contact, obviously embarrassed to be caught so easily.

"I was going to hold you to a favor," she began. "A person who hops worlds HAS to be coming across some cool stuff."

That's what I thought...

"So," I began. "You want me to grab you a souvenir, is that it?"

"Nothing much!" she replied defensively. "If you happen to find some priceless jewel, or some neat magical artifact..."

"The only priceless jewels slash magical artifacts I've come across can be considered super weapons," I advised. "I'm not giving you, or anyone else for that matter, any objects that would allow you to run around conquering planets."

Great, now I sound like Washu's argument for not giving me that body enhancement. Gotta' love playing the part of the Responsible Adult don't we? As that thought struck me, I noticed Kitsune seemed to take pause at my statement. Probably imagining herself as Queen Kitsune, Master of the Universe.

"Forget the world domination fantasy," I stated nonplussed. "Conquering the world is the easy part. Running it however, is way too much work for what it's worth."

"Yeah," Kitsune nodded. "You're right about that. Just being in charge of Su is hard enough. What worlds have you hit? Would I know any?"

"Let's see," I furrowed my brow. "Tenchi Muyo, Those Who Hunt Elves, Sailor Moon, Ranma-"

"Ranma?" her face brightened.

"You've read that manga?" I asked.

"Used to swipe copies from a friend of mine," she shrugged. "Always enjoyed how Nabiki manipulates everyone for money."

Figures...

"Maybe you can get your hands on one of those ancient Chinese artifacts," she continued. "They seem to have an endless supply of them turning up all over the place. Just one of those would be worth a fortune here."

"Deal," I stated, realizing something important in what she just said. "But nothing dangerous."

"Deal," she replied back. "I'll take care of Naru, and you promise to bring me back a cool Chinese trinket. Nice doing business with you, you hungry?"

"I don't think Shinobu's done with Lunch yet," I pointed out.

"I was thinking more of something Haruka can whip up." Kitsune snapped up a menu.

"If you're trying to get a free meal out of me," I began. "I'm broke. Hopping worlds is not exactly compatible with my bank account."

"Oh don't worry," she shrugged. "I figure you would have seen through that anyway. This one's on me."

"Aren't you normally broke most of the time too?" I asked. "I doubt freelance writing pays much beyond the rent."

"It's okay," she waved it away, now hidden by the menu. "Haruka'll just make me work it off like she always does. I'm not afraid to work. I just hate sticking to the same old routine day in and day out. It's boring."

It clicked, and I smiled knowingly at the menu in front of me. Little Fox...

"And you get an extra favor out of me for the meal too..."

"What EVER made you think I would go and do something like that?" she asked in a completely faux innocent tone. Yeah, she knew what she was doing. She wasn't about to walk away without the upper hand if she could help it.

"I'll let it slide," I picked up another menu, and immediately frowned. I still couldn't read it. I'll have to ask Haruka if she can whip up a burger and some fries if it wasn't too inconvenient. All this Japanese cuisine was really starting to make me miss home.

"Just one thing," I realized. "Pick something that's quick to cook. I don't have all day, and I mean that in a literal sense. I want to be attacking this problem as soon as I can."

Okay, so Kitsune isn't as bad as I had imagined. But then again, she still behaved true to her character. I'm going to have to watch people more carefully for this kind of thing. Humans are not personality templates. Even Kitsune has a logical reasoning behind her actions.

That means Naru does too...

Naru thinks I'm dangerous, that I'm a threat. So long as she perceives me as a threat, she's going to 'protect' anyone else who's vulnerable.

So if she DIDN'T see me as any kind of threat...

I think I'm sensing the beginnings of a plan here.

Yes. If nobody considers me a threat, if I'm buddy-buddy with everyone, then she'll probably relax. Considering how things are around here, I'm already half way there. Kitsune's on my side. Su's already filed me away as a plaything. (Thank GOD Senbei's keeping her busy... Or should I be thanking Hild?) Haruka... Haruka's Switzerland -neutral... Motoko is the primary objective, and any approach I make to her will set Naru off all over again. That just leaves...

Shinobu...

Little miss timid girl herself. If I've got HER on my side, Naru should back off considerably.

Or she'll suspect me more than ever of being up to something... So I could just be wasting my time with this idea.

No, stop, that's the Paranoia talking. I should remember Luna's advice and not let it reduce me to inaction.

Luna's advice...

Oh yeah! That's right, Kitsune isn't just useful for distracting Naru, she's Naru's BEST FRIEND. That makes her the perfect 'diplomatic go-between' here.

So how can I use that on top of things? It's not like she can just tell Naru to stop hating me. The world doesn't work that way. Even the strange romantic comedy worlds...

Now I wish I had a pen and paper. I need to write things down, or sketch it, or SOMETHING to visualize this...

So I need to get Shinobu on my side, and distract Naru with Kitsune... Preferably with Kitsune making with the sensible talk. Using the good ol' fashioned functions of peer pressure, I can tone Naru's hostility down, and have a chat with Motoko.

Now, the fun part is, I only have a few hours to get that done. How am I going to get that kid to side with me in that short amount of time? She's not like Skuld, and can't just be bribed with ice cream and a little attention...

My eyes wandered back to the menu Kitsune was holding. A plate of... Something... Something with fish on it...

Bingo.

Twenty minutes and a cheeseburger (Haruka laughed when I asked.) later and it was time to put 'Operation Suck-Up' into action. If I could get on the good side of a princess in less than twelve hours, I could handle one timid middle-schooler.

"So I just have to keep Naru out of the kitchen?" Kitsune asked.

"Exactly," I nodded. "Use whatever means you see fit, just keep her occupied."

Shinobu was in the kitchen, working hard on lunch. She'd cooked almost all the meals, being the only one with the skill to do so. That must be a lot of work for a kid her age, even if she did enjoy it. That left me with a simple option that would help gain her trust.

Now, being that she was all but an expert cook sans the actual training, what could I possibly do to help the kid? Well, an extra pair of hands never hurt in the kitchen... Not competent ones anyway. Naru and Kitsune were dangerous in the kitchen, and Su's idea of a meal involved enough spice to make a chili cookoff seem tame.

So we I kicked off the plan by letting Kitsune go in first. While she went and hunted down Naru for whatever crackpot reason she could come up with, I waited outside.

And waited...

And waited some more...

Okay, how long is this going to take? I know that you can't rush this kind of routine or it'll look suspicious, but it doesn't take ten minutes to interrupt someone.

Then came the shriek.

"KITSUNE!"

"Sorry Naru! I didn't see you there..."

"UGH! You got bleach all over my dress!"

About damn time... Though, maybe I shouldn't have said 'By any means'.

"Hurry! Let's go wash it out before it stains..."

"It's BLEACH! It doesn't stain, it fades colors!"

"Well, let's hurry and go wash it out before it FADES your dress."

"You can't wash out ble-"

"No time to waste Naru! Come on! Hurry up!"

"But- Kitsune!"

"No buts!"

And that was that...

Well, Kitsune sure knew how to distract Naru. Now it's my turn to do my job.

Indeed, Shinobu was working quite hard on lunch. I don't exactly know what was cooking yet, but it smelled as good as the meal I missed last week. I almost regretted chowing-down earlier.

My approach was soundless thanks to my boots keeping my ankles from popping. It was a mistake I realized when I openly greeted Shinobu, causing her to visibly jump.

"Oh," I began. I should have made let my boots thump a little. "Sorry... That looks good. Need any help?"

Don't mince words; just be direct, serious.

But not 'too' serious. It's hard to convey in words exactly how to pull it off. It's a strange cross of appearing confident, but gentle while seeming to allow someone else to lead. It's part acting I'm sure. A lot of tone control is important. Don't pay enough attention and you'll sound harsh instead of firm. Or stupid instead of goofy. Or even worse, you'll sound flat, and then EVERYONE's on to you.

Six years of experience working on this vocal routine more or less paid off with Shinobu rather quickly. My seeming pleasant desire to help her with meal preparations at least got her to assign me to stirring something. Once I had more or less broken the ice, it was almost trivial to get her to open up. I just had to talk about the food.

Common social practice. You want to get someone to talk to you? Find out their hobby, or favorite subject, and make a few random remarks. As long as they don't feel embarrassed, they'll chat away so long as you feed the conversation a little.

Shinobu was actually quite interesting to listen to when she was talking confidently. So long as it was about food, or instructions about the stuff that I was handling, there wasn't the slightest sign of the shy little girl she was half the time.

Now that I was actively looking for subtleties in the characters, her confidence as a chef was definitely her strong point. Strong enough that I was actually willing to ask her a few points on cooking. Points she seemed to enjoy explaining quite liberally in detail.

It was like when I gave Skuld the extra attention. Only difference being that Skuld's aggressive where as Shinobu's quite passive. But you get them going in their field of expertise, and you almost couldn't tell the difference.

Of course, I think I just about had this situation well in hand when somehow, fate decided to test me.

"YEEK!"

"WHAT!" I snapped around to find Shinobu cowering away from the counter.

"C-c... COCKROACH!"

ROACH? IN MY KITCHEN?

HERESY!

Did I not already mention my territorial kitchen habits? Well, in case that bit was forgotten, I start to take mental possession of any kitchen I'm working in. Even though I have no claim whatsoever to any property in the entirety of Hinata, this was currently MY kitchen.

And in MY kitchen, I will not tolerate nasty, disgusting, disease-ridden pests. There was only one penalty.

EXTERMINATUS.

My hand found the handle of a frying pan I had been about to put some butter in but had halted at Shinobu's yelp. And in two swift steps, not even thinking about it, the scorching hot pan left the stove, swooped through the air, and cracked into the counter with the sound of metal on wood. As well as a satisfying crunch...

"Not anymore..." came my almost automatic response to dealing with Class Insecta... What was once a cockroach, was now a crushed and burnt mass of roach goo on the underside of the skillet.

And my mind was officially off-task. When confronted with one fully-grown cockroach as I had just so violently terminated, one cannot help but realize the follow up learned from dealing with them in the past.

Where you saw one, there were hundreds you DIDN'T see...

Ugh... The neat freak in me reeled. Hinata was a building made with paper, and wood, with lots of moisture, and certainly some nice warm places since it WAS settled on a hot spring. Add some food and...

Roach HEAVEN.

As I turned to Shinobu, who'd blanched a little at my vicious bug-handling method, I couldn't help but have a sudden running desire for some 'Combat' roach gel. That stuff was the SHIT when it came to long term roach control. Last time I used some was ten years ago.

I haven't seen a roach since.

Not at home anyway.

"Just kill it," I continued once I realized the look on Shinobu's face. Then I turned to the sink and started washing the contaminated cookware with a hiss of steam.

"Hey Shinobu! What was that?"

Su came bounding into the room, still dressed in her 'General' uniform

"I heard you scream so I came to see what was so scary."

"Just a roach," Shinobu's voice was back to its timid self. I must have scared her. DAMN! Now I've got to start all over. That's going to set this plan back by twenty minutes or more. What's more, Su was a blatant distraction. I hadn't counted on her interference.

"Did you SQUASH it?" Su grinned. "They make a cool 'squish-CRUNCH' sound when you do."

Shinobu made a face that illustrated her opinion of roach murder as a form of entertainment.

"Yeah," Sara followed in a moment later. "You just have to get mean with bugs. Or they'll take over."

The little blond girl glanced at me and grinned.

"Of course Keitaro would scream too," she cackled in English. "He's a wuss."

Ah yes, Sara was actually bilingual at her age because of being dragged back and forth by Seta.

"Be careful," I smirked at the blond girl in my own flawless English. "You might just put your foot in your mouth..."

I got a funny reaction out of that. Sara gaped, then hid her gape, but decided it was too late and gaped again. Yeah, there are still English speakers in the universe. Then with a 'hmph!' quickly turned to Shinobu and changed the subject.

"So when's lunch going to be ready?"

Reminded of the food that was currently untended, Shinobu snapped around and quickly checked on something as I returned my now-clean pan to the stove. Little Meahara almost went into overdrive as she finished what she had been about to do before that unwanted pest had shown up. While she did that, I likewise, added butter to the pan I was re-heating.

Then my brain caught up with me.

"Where's Senbei?" I spun around to ask.

"Hmm?" Su looked up from where she was just about to get into the rice, and jumped back as Shinobu absent-mindedly swatted at her with a ladle. (Whoa... File that one.) "Oh, Major Catastrophe? I've got him guarding the laundry room. If read Tama correctly, she'll go after Motoko's clothes, and then we'll have her!

Tama's over there," Shinobu commented without so much as turning her head, but indicated with the ladle she'd swatter Su away with. "She's been watching me cook for the last twenty minutes."

Wait, she has?

"She has?" Su asked.

All eyes turned where Shinobu indicated. And yes, Tama was parked on the corner of the dining room table, watching the kitchen.

"AHA!" Su shouted. "Now I have you!"

"Mew?"

Tama took off from the table. A feat that my brain was still having trouble registering for an otherwise 'normal' creature. (Senbei was excused for NOT being normal.) With a quick loop, she eluded Su's grasp and swooped into the kitchen. Looped around Sara, and zipped right past my face.

The little turtle seemed to be accessorizing lately. Having a little dark purple band wrapped around her-

Wait...

Isn't that Luna's collar?

I turned again as Tama floated over to the counter and settled there tauntingly. That little purple band was indeed Luna's collar. Ah, crap. Luna must have taken it off when she went for her ill-fated bath. I'm not even going to go into the problems this could cause.

"Hey," I began at the turtle. "That's Luna's..."

The fact that I didn't even think about how absurd it was to talk to a turtle like it could understand aside, I turned to grab Tama with about the same predictable results as anyone else.

Tama sportingly took off again.

"You'll never catch her like that," Su commented idly. "You've got to be faster."

Okay, I don't have time for this.

"Come here Tama," I ordered in a much stronger tone. Unfortunately, Tama was not a dog, and didn't feel the least bit obligated to listen as she floated out the door with a parting 'mew'.

"You can try and catch her if you want," Su grinned. "Maybe if you drive her towards Major Catastrophe..."

I shook my head, becoming irritated as I turned to follow the turtle out of the kitchen.

Tama wanted to play, but I refused to chase the turtle at anything resembling a run. I'm not going to wear myself out chasing something that I know can out-run me in a pinch.

I followed the turtle around the inside of the building for five minutes, the little floating reptile never quite leaving my sight, as if taunting me. Then she swooped outside and around towards the back.

Finally, Tama landed on a small stone lantern and mewed at me, tempting me to try my luck.

"Okay..." I began, stopping just out of arm's reach. "You want me to dive right at you and bash myself on solid stone."

Tama just elevated her head and blinked innocently.

"Well I'm not going to play your little game," I glared back.

No sir... I'm not falling-prey to that. I'm going to make my own solution to this problem. In fact, it was around that moment that a rather interesting idea popped into my head... What if I...

My hand fell on the button of my 'watch' and the portal snapped open with a small 'fwip' sound. Tama paused to look at the sudden hole of darkness.

And I pounced.

My arm swept around, the half-meter wide hole scooping the turtle off the lantern like an interdimensional bug-catching net. Another button press and the portal closed with the critter trapped inside.

"Ha!" I grinned, then paused as I stared at the stone lantern. There was a large chunk of it missing now, a smooth, circular section of it scoured perfectly out of existence. Right where I had taken my swing.

I tapped the lantern with my foot. Solid stone...

Ouch... Now I had a visual to go with why Washu told me NOT to open it part way through people or load bearing structures. I mean, damn! I hadn't even felt resistance, and the portal just cut through that lantern like I was taking a swing at thin air. I could take a swing at a support column for an office building and drop the whole thing on my head more efficiently than the best demolition teams on the planet.

I quickly brought my arm up and snapped the portal open again, noting the perfectly carved-out piece of lantern now sitting in there, and one very confused turtle.

"Good thing you stayed put," I commented as I fished the turtle out of the pocket. "Now, I'll be taking that collar."

As I did so, I tried turning my arm and giving the portal a shake, trying to dump the excess junk I had inadvertently picked up. To my dismay, even when I faced the portal straight down, nothing fell out.

Pocketing Luna's collar with my 'free' hand, I turned to let Tama go.

"Run along and find Mutsumi or something," I instructed. "It's getting a big crazy around here."

"Mew mew!" the turtle exclaimed. A lot of absurdly smart animals in fiction, I swear she understood. A moment later, the turtle took off.

"As for this," I reached into my portal and pulled on the chunk of stone. It was weird to describe pulling it out. It felt like sliding it off a shelf. And as I discovered, it was-

THUD!

...Heavy.

"This is why I wear steal toe boots," I gulped aloud, working to dislodge my boot from the object I'd dropped on it.

Mental note: While I hadn't noticed in the instructions, or thought about it. I can carry absurdly heavy objects in my portal at no expense to myself. I however, cannot dump them out. Objects must be retrieved or moving already as Washu's safety brief implied.

Hmm... But Newton's first law states that an object in motion will stay in motion. And an object at rest will remain at rest. Or, in more accurate terms, mass will maintain its momentum until acted upon by an outside force. As GlaDOS said in Portal... "Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out."

Therefor, why did Tama and the slab of stone not come flying back out of the portal the moment I reopened it? I took a swipe at that thing pretty damn fast. In relation, if you fixed your frame of reference on the portal instead of the Earth, the statue went flying through at the speed of a slow moving car. At a minimum, it should have come rocketing out almost immediately after it cycled the two-meter space.

Maybe closing the portal syncs momentum with the user.

Or maybe Washu has a safety feature built in...

Or maybe it's because I didn't continue moving, but stopped before it could reach the 'limit' of the pocket, so the pocket universe stopped in relation to the mass.

That makes more sense to me...

Hmm... If I closed the portal while I was still moving, I wonder if I could use that as a way to translate the momentum of a heavy object to a new vector and then throw it. After all, you're not expending energy to change the momentum of the mass; space-time is simply being rotated so that the vector is realigned.

I'll have to experiment with this portal a little more and ask Washu about its affect on momentum from different angles. There's some crazy ass shit you can do with this thing. Right now though, I had other things to do.

Turning to head back to the kitchen, I stopped as felt my foot land on something. Looking down, I noticed something else had fallen out with the lantern bit.

"Hello..." I commented as I bent down, picking up the small disk-shaped object. "Did Washu leave you with me too?"

Of course the gravitational music player, I guess that's what you'd call it, didn't answer me. Though, rather than opening my portal up and getting tempted to play with it some more, I just stuffed the small uber-tech device in a pants pocket and turned back towards the front.

As I approached the entrance, I heard it.

"-was all he did? Just bashed a cockroach?"

Naru...

"Yep!" Su's voice replied. "And then he went chasing after Tama. I doubt he'll catch her though."

Good grief! I thought Kitsune was supposed to keep Naru AWAY from the kitchen so I could do fulfill my plan. It's not like it's that hard for her to come up with crazier and crazier Wile E. Coyote styled schemes to keep Naru busy... And Naru would fall for every one of them. Just like the time she kept Naru away from Seta...

Just like...

Wait, that plan failed in the end. That kind of plan ALWAYS fails in the end. These plans were created EXPRESSLY for the purpose of failing, as hilariously as possible. That was the whole point! I could have slapped myself in the face.

It's not that the plan itself was poor, it's the nature of the plan itself. In a comedy setting, if plan X is designed for a specific outcome, you can expect the exact OPPOSITE of the desired outcome to occur. Usually after some absolutely silly actions and activities...

So if my plan was to keep Naru away from the kitchen, then Naru would invariably end up gravitated to the kitchen. It was as inevitable as the heat-death of the universe. And looking at it like that, it was obvious what was going to happen.

Peeking around the corner into the entrance as Naru continued to 'interrogate' Su and Shinobu, I noticed Kitsune back away from the entrance, looking nervous. I caught her attention with a quick wave, getting a look of relief when she realized I was aware of Naru.

In response, I made a slash at my throat.

Abort!

Kitsune looked in the kitchen again, then back at me, and nodded. And without taking so much as a second longer, I turned away and headed back towards the teahouse.

My plan was doomed to failure from its inception. Just like how my plan with Urd had been doomed from the start, now that I realize it. That means I needed a new plan... Something that WOULD work... There was a reason to how my plans had been working, or failing. And now that I saw it, I knew I needed to account for it. I needed a plan better than before.

Entering the teahouse, the idea hit me.

"Hey Haruka," I began, catching as sidelong glance from her. "You're going to help me."

Haruka just gave me her blank stare around yet another one of her near ornamental cigarettes before she went back to sweeping.

"Why are you asking me for help?" she began. "I already told you that Naru was your problem-"

"Perhaps I didn't make myself clear," I cut in, voice going wildly sarcastic. "I'm not asking you."

And then I did something I rarely ever did. I lowered my head and glared over the top of my glasses.

"I'm ordering you, and I won't take your apathetic 'no' for an answer this time."

Now I had her attention.

"You're helping me," I continued evenly. "Or I blow all your secrets..."

Her cigarette fell right out of her mouth.