The Bauble

"Only real friends tell you when your face is dirty"

Sicilian Proverb

Harlock clenched his hands at his side as he covered his "six," while he marched resolutely down the main street of the single large town on Gun Frontier. His wrist com bleeped at him again and he gritted his teeth. Tochiro had gotten himself into some situation again and he was going to have to drag the brilliant engineer out of whatever nonsense he'd gotten himself into.

He furrowed his brows; more than likely, it involved someone of the feminine persuasion given Tochiro's love of the ladies. While he was happily married to Emeraldas, that didn't seem to stop him from window shopping, now and again. Harlock sighed to himself. Generally, whenever Tochiro got into more trouble than he could handle, Harlock had to deck someone, or worse. Fine. He was currently in a foul enough mood to do just that; hopefully it wouldn't involve the lady herself. He hated that.

Harlock was armed to his teeth and in full pirate attire. He wanted no one to miss who he was, nor that he was on a mission. Nor that he was a dangerous man to waylay. His spurs jangled as he all but stomped down the dirt street with a grim, narrow-eyed look about him. He was not pleased and this was evident from his thunderous expression. Everyone in his path scurried out of his way, noting the widely notorious, fully armed pirate striding down their main street, bold as brass. As he passed by, they clumped together in small groups, wondering what could have brought him down off of the Arcadia and what in heaven had him in such a dudgeon.

Whatever it was, each of them was glad that they weren't on the receiving end of his obvious ire.


Harlock reached the swinging doors of the best saloon of Gun Frontier. To the left of the doorway, he noted an outdated poster with his face, price for capture or death, and who was to pay the reward. He snorted. Anyone trying to cash in on that one would be disappointed for certain. The Illumidas were no longer relevant, nor likely to be able to give a bounty hunter six million credits. Others might be able to do that, but certainly not the Illumidas.

He ripped the poster off of the wall, enjoying the sound of the tearing paper. He balled it up, and lobbed it toward the only, very beaten up trashcan in the street. It made it into the can. Two points, he thought, distractedly.

As he pushed open the saloon doors, everything inside of the saloon stopped. It was as if he had pointed and fired a stasis gun at everyone. He stared back at them with his narrowed eye(s). They all dropped their gazes, not wanting to challenge Harlock, especially when he held the commanding position at the door. Having their gazes averted did not mean that they were not acutely interested or not seeing what he did next. The tensions in the saloon heightened considerably.

Harlock strode up to the bar, the noise of his spurs being the only sound in the room as everyone studiously ignored him. He noted the positions and weaponry of all beings in the room. Without even thinking about it, he calculated trajectories, shielding areas, and firing pathways if such became necessary. It was a well defined survival instinct in him by this point and he barely gave conscious thought to the planning.

He knew some of the life forms he saw, however there were others he did not know at all. That did not bother him in the slightest. What did bother him was the table where his best friend, Tochiro Oyama, was seated, also held two very beautiful dark-haired women who looked alien, but somehow vaguely familiar. They were obviously sisters, given the strong family resemblance.

While mulling this over in his mind, he clinically noted - with some amusement - the reason for Tochiro's panicked call to him. His best friend was sitting in a chair, nursing his Brandy, and apparently losing more than just his shirt to the two ladies who were hustling him. Tochiro held a hand of cards and Harlock could tell even at this distance that his friend was losing quite badly. It was not rocket science, for Tochiro had on his boxers and nothing else other than his large pancake shaped brown travelling hat.

"Barkeep, get me a Brandy." Harlock stated in his best subterranean growl.

Behind the counter, a large multi-armed alien silently poured his brandy and slid it down to him on the bar counter. It stopped precisely in front of him. Good shot, Harlock thought. He picked up the glass and saluted the bartender with it and walked with measured tread over to Tochiro's table. He picked up a chair from another table and placed it so that he could see the door, the window and everyone else in the saloon. He held each of their gazes for a brief moment so that they would know he was aware of each of them. He sat down and plunked his glass down on the table firmly.

The two ladies looked up from their cards and assessed him frankly and quite thoroughly from head to foot. He returned stare for stare and assessed them in return. He had to admit that they were indeed lovely to look at. However, beautiful is, isn't necessarily beautiful does, he reminded himself.

Two almost identical faces, pale white skin with a slight golden cast to it, raven dark locks down to their rather shapely bottoms. Long legs with delicate ankles, and long hands with delicate long fingers. Both of them had eyes the color of a Caribbean sky, with golden flecks in the iris, guarded by long dark lashes.

Truly lovely, he thought somewhat dispassionately, it was no wonder Tochiro had gotten caught in their little web. "Deal," He commanded them.

As the one sister dealt him five cards, he watched her tightly as she did so. She hadn't cheated that he could tell. Okay. He then looked at his cards in best non-reactive mode. Interesting. Without reaction he calmly asked the stakes. They told him. He looked at them to see if they were using anything that would denote cheating. Again, not that he could tell. They were either really, really good, or they had Tochiro entirely hoodwinked.

He then allowed himself to look over at Tochiro, who was obviously shivering in the cool room. Harlock showed absolutely no expression, although if one looked closely, you would have seen a slight gleam in his eye(s).

Or, he thought, perhaps Tochiro, the best engineer Earth had ever produced, was simply the worst poker player ever. Whatever. He couldn't allow his best friend to return to the Arcadia in such a state. News of that would definitely reach Emeraldas's ears, he mused, and that might not bode so well for his friend. So, he needed to rescue both his friend and his friend's dignity.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out several items for bargaining. He put out a miniature device for bugging an area, a small explosive device, and a very advanced data crystal Tochiro had designed and given him, which he had since forgotten about. He put them all in the center of the table. He watched the reactions of the others as he sat back without exchanging any cards. He knocked on the table.

Tochiro looked at him in astonishment, for some of the items now on the table were items he had made and were well beyond the capacity of anything else currently known. It was an expensive pot. Tochiro bravely placed his well worn hat in the center after exchanging three cards. He sincerely hoped Harlock wasn't bluffing.

The ladies looked at Tochiro and then at Harlock. One of the ladies placed Tochiro's clothing and trade goods on the table and looked at Harlock after she traded two cards.

He responded by placing his Cosmo Dragoon on the table. In the entire house a collective gasp rose from the others nearby in the room. Harlock was wagering his own signature weapon!

The other lady smirked and placed a large sum of universal credits and techno-jewels in the center after exchanging one card. She looked at Tochiro, who quietly folded his hand and looked at Harlock in a mute plea.

She then looked at Harlock, who stood to his full height and calmly removed his Gravity Saber, raised it up high over the table, opened his hand, and let it crash onto the table in open defiance. He raised a brow back at her. "Raise." He said, while sitting back down. The entire room grew very tense. Harlock had seemingly given up all of his weapons and they were all waiting the outcome of this hand in true suspense.

She looked at him for a full two minutes and then reluctantly placed on the table a truly beautiful orb. It glistened iridescently in the light of the saloon. It swirled with the colors of the rainbow and many others as well, each morphing into the last. The woman looked at him again and noted his face which stated that he doubted the value of the Bauble.

"It has great value," she said.

His response was to raise his eyebrow again and say, "Call."

First one, then the other lady laid cards on the table.

The one had four eights.

The other had a full house, two fours and three nines.

Not bad, he thought. He calmly started to gather the things in the center of the table. The two women's eyes flashed dangerously. "Call!" They both said in unison.

With a half-smiled smirk, he laid out his cards one at a time for them to see. Royal Flush, Aces high, all in Spades. He sat back and looked at them, arms crossed, ostensibly unarmed. He cocked his head. Not that they would have known it, but his hands were well in position to retrieve his throwing daggers, did he need them.

They looked at each other, somewhat crestfallen. The lady who had laid out the beautiful bauble looked at him with tears in her eyes. "Take care of it." She said softly.

Harlock stood up, rearmed himself, and shoved Tochiro's clothes back at him. Tochiro gratefully pulled on his trousers, undershirt and shirt, his jacket and gloves. His round glasses and DataCom were returned to him, in addition to his Cosmo Dragoon and the trade goods he had been sent down to Gun Frontier with. Finally, he put on his geta sandals, along with his katana and sheath.

Feeling a bit more dignified, Tochiro leered at the two women with his toothy grin. "Can I buy you two a drink?" He asked cheekily, motioning to the money on the table.

Harlock wanted to head off any more contact with these two. "We need to return," he said to Tochiro. "There is much to be done." Harlock then turned to the two ladies. "He needs to be returned to his family; his wife and two children." He said firmly, letting them know there was absolutely no chance for them with the little engineer. Tochiro visibly wilted.

The two ladies smiled sadly and turned to leave. Harlock sighed; these were not locals and this would trap two beautiful penniless women on Gun Frontier. There would be but one alternative for them. Far be it for him to take everything they had, and force them into a trade that would degrade them both. It would not be gentlemanly to allow it.

Drat the knightly training that his Grandfather, Mother, Father, Sergeant Major Miles and Father Anselmii had all but pounded into him! "Protect and serve the defenseless in all circumstances." This tenet of Knighthood was primary in his thoughts, despite the fact that the two women had obviously marked Tochiro. He didn't need their money, he just wanted Tochiro back in one piece. He made a decision.

"Wait. Take these back," he said. He pushed the credits and the bauble back at the ladies as they turned back to face him. They quietly gathered the money, but left the little orb and the more valuable of the crystals. He then went around the table, scooped up the remaining items save one crystal, which he tossed over to the barkeep. The remainder, he strode over to the two women and grabbed one hand, deposited the orb in one and the crystals in her sister's hand. He nodded and then went back over to Tochiro.

He turned to watch them leave, noting that they did sway most enticingly. Quite lovely, both of them. The one on the right looked back over her shoulder at him and winked. His mouth grew a bit dry and he swallowed. He shook his head at himself; whatever was he thinking? He slowly shook his head no, while his body was screaming other things at him.

He looked over at Tochiro to distract himself and noticed with amusement that Tochiro was positively spellbound at the two women's retreating forms. Especially the lovely rears and softly swaying black hair. He had told Tochiro, vocce sotto, to stop gawking.

At that moment, the one thing happened that Harlock had been hoping would not happen.

A bounty hunter by the name of Diesel Jones burst through the doors and roughly pushed the two women back into the saloon, who then fell into the tables and then to the floor, while he raised his shoulder cannon against Harlock and Tochiro.

"Down on your knees, you pirates!" He thundered at them. The man was a veritable giant, huge, bulky and scarred. He was well positioned and well armed.

The entire room hit the floor on their knees, except for Harlock and Tochiro.

Both of them simultaneously went in opposite directions, pulling tables down in front of them and using them as shields. Not that mere wood could stop a blast from a shoulder cannon, but the confusion should help with not giving the hunter a clear direction in which to aim. They both hit the floor and rolled behind the bar and the coat-check, respectively.

Both had their Cosmo Dragoons out and were in position to fire at the bounty hunter when the one of the black-haired beauties made a mistake. She got up off of the floor and tried to run for the door in a panic. The bounty hunter slammed his arm against her throat and she fell to the floor like a dropped rock. As she did, the beautiful orb and the crystals fell from her bag, rolling around.

"Well," the bounty hunter said, "What have we here?" He kept his eye on where he presumed Harlock and Tochiro were hiding and crouched down next to the girl. She was unconscious at the moment. He touched her face and started to trace a line down her cheek to her body. With that, her sister sprang out of hiding and leaped onto the bounty hunter's back, straddling him and started to beat on his head.

"Don't touch her! You lousy oaf! Get your dirty paws off of my sister!" As she rode the back of the angry bounty hunter, demanding that he let her sister go, he in turn was attempting to remove the small furious burr stuck to his back, who was also pounding on his ears, which caused him great pain and general confusion. This in turn made him lose sight and sound of Harlock and Tochiro, along with the rest of the buccaneers.

The other pirates oozed out of the bar without so much as a backward glance. They left by window, the front and back doors and even up the steps and out through the upstairs windows. There was a lot of screaming going on both levels, creating further chaos. Harlock looked at the scene in total bemusement. He caught Tochiro's eye and they both grinned. A fight!

The bounty hunter was moving in circles, trying to avoid the blows on his ears by the smaller but very active and determined young lady on his back. The shoulder cannon was engaged, but not aimed and started to fire randomly around the room. The few left in the room, hit the floor again in order to try to make themselves not be unintentional targets. The cannon pulverized floor boards, walls and ceiling with no pattern.

Diesel wound up stepping on the orb, which threw him completely, still firing the cannon. He crashed heavily into the coatroom door opening , trapping Tochiro. The girl was thrown off of Diesel's back and onto Tochiro, who was bowled over and wound up on the bottom of the pile with the lovely girl draped over him gasping for air with heaving gasps, under the bulk of the huge bounty hunter, whose shoulder cannon was now making splinters out of the ceiling above.

Harlock, who was behind the bar with the barkeep, sprang up to get the shoulder cannon away from the idiot bounty hunter before he killed someone with it. He approached the pile somewhat cautiously, for if the bounty hunter got his senses back before Harlock disarmed him, he could be easily killed with that weapon. He came in low and fast, tackling the man under his arm, pinning the shoulder cannon into firing straight up. It blasted a huge hole in the ceiling above, resulting in more alarmed screaming from that room's occupants. Harlock then raised the butt end of his Cosmo Dragoon and bludgeoned the idiot into insensibility with a sharp rap to his skull.

The Barkeep heard the resulting "thunk" as Cosmo Dragoon met cranium from where he was hiding under the bar counter. He peered out to see Harlock lower the gun, while wrestling the shoulder cannon away from the now inert bounty hunter, disarm it entirely and drop the massive weapon to the floor. He saw Harlock lift up the large bounty hunter, who was at least twice Harlock's weight, off of the slight woman and Tochiro with a low grunt. Harlock staggered somewhat under the weight of the man, and then heaved him onto the nearest upright table. The table collapsed under the weight of the man.

Harlock stared at him for a moment to make sure he didn't move, and then turned his attention back to the smaller pile containing his engineer. The lady was still in Tochiro's arms, clothes all akimbo, and gasping for the now plentiful air. This had the effect of mesmerizing Tochiro with the heaving bosom in his face. He was in no hurry to dislodge himself. Harlock raised a brow and sighed.

"Come on Toch, let's get out of here." He said as he gave a hand to the disheveled young lady clinging to Tochiro. He helped her up and then assisted Tochiro up off of the floor. They then turned their attention to the sister. She was still out cold, but did have a pulse. She was breathing which was also good. She should awaken in time, however, this was not the best place to leave her to recover. Diesel was not likely to be happy with either sister when he awakened. And they had been helpful in distracting the bounty hunter from his targets.

Harlock swept off his cape, wrapped it around the unconscious woman, picked her up carefully and strode to the door. Tochiro assisted the other young lady in picking up their belongings. Harlock nodded to the barkeep as Tochiro lofted a few more crystals to him. The barkeep nodded back, caught the crystals and said, "Nice to see you, too, Kid; See you around Tochiro. "

Tochiro smiled and waved at the barkeep, while Harlock scowled at him. With a harrumph, he strode out of the saloon without another word; Tochiro, unconscious and conscious sisters in tow.

Tochiro scrambled to keep up with his Captain and asked, Vocce Sotto, what they were going to do with the young ladies. Harlock told him perfunctorily, "We're taking them to your mother." Tochiro stopped dead in the street with a stricken look on his face muttering, "My mother? She's here?" Harlock nodded and strode quickly out of town with his strange ensemble. No one did anything other than track their progress out of town. There were times he was glad for his notoriety; people tended to leave him alone.

They got to where he had the Space Wolf, cloaked into invisibility. Tochiro uncloaked it with his remote and they helped get the two women in the cramped quarters meant for two, which would now serve four.

Harlock laid the girl on her sister's lap and buckled them both in. The awake woman gave him a slightly watery smile. Tochiro sat on the bulkhead, while Harlock got into his pilot's seat. He closed the canopy without doing any real checks, and took off very fast, headed for a largely undeveloped part of Gun Frontier.

On the way, he explained to Tochiro how he had managed to spirit Mrs. Oyama out from under the noses of Earth Government to Gun Frontier. He hadn't had a chance to tell him about it yet. Tochiro cackled at some parts of the tale and then asked why Harlock hadn't told him about it. Harlock told him it was to be a birthday surprise for Tochiro, but now it was an early surprise. Tochiro grinned at his friend from ear to ear. The woman in the back listened carefully to the tale and nodded to herself.


Mrs. Oyama was sitting on her front porch in a rocking chair knitting, when the whine of a fighter came overhead. She guessed that Harlock was coming in, as he was the only one who knew where she was located. She went in to put the kettle on for tea. She set out two cups and cleared the chair meant for a man's bulk and length.

She was surprised to see him come through the door bearing a very beautiful young woman wrapped in his cape, followed by a woman who was obviously the first woman's sister. Then, joy of joys, her son Tochiro followed behind them all! She ran to her son and they hugged each other tightly.

"Mother!" Tochiro cried, "I didn't know you were here! I am so glad that you are safe!" They hugged some more, while Harlock patiently waited to be told what to do with his shapely burden. After several moments of life stories being exchanged, leading up to her move to Gun Frontier, courtesy of Harlock, that she remembered that they were not alone.

She turned to Harlock and smiled up at him. "What happened to her?"

Harlock sighed. "She made a bad choice in an urgent situation involving a bounty hunter after the two of us. She got in the middle and he knocked her out. The sister kept him busy while I knocked him out. We won. Now we're here. May I please put her down somewhere?"

Mrs. Oyama chuckled. She was certain that that had been quite a scene despite Harlock's brief summary! "Certainly, Franz. Here, put her on my bed." She went with him as he put the girl onto her bed; most gently, she noted. The sister stayed with her as Harlock and Tochiro left the room and closed the door.

They went back out to the living area and Mrs. Oyama poured another cup of tea for her son. They sat by the fireplace and talked of their adventures since they had last seen her. She laughed with them, cried with them, and was very happy when she was told that she was a grandmother twice over. Harlock had told her nothing, wanting Tochiro to tell his story to his mother.

They talked into the wee hours of the night.

Harlock fell asleep on the floor near the fire, on his back with his right arm and leg out in a fencing pose, while Tochiro slept in the large chair, laying crosswise on the chair; head and feet across the chairs' arms, snoring. Mrs. Oyama put a pillow under Harlock's head and covered him with an afghan - he didn't move, other than to turn his head a bit to the right. She then curled up on the couch with another afghan and went to sleep herself.


The next morning found the two exotic sisters fully awake and ready for the breakfast of pancakes, butter and syrup with thick slabs of bacon that Mrs. Oyama had prepared. The smells of the meal brought them out of the older woman's bedroom to the table with growling stomachs. The two men were wakening, but still somewhat groggy.

The sister who had been unconscious went over to the barely awake Harlock, knelt down next to him and kissed him full and hard on his lips. Vastly surprised, his eye(s) flew open, he sat bolt upright and she fell into his lap and went back to kissing him rather thoroughly. He tried to figure out what to do with his hands. Harlock settled on having his hands, palms flat on the floor slightly behind him, balancing him to sit upright under her pleasant ministrations. She settled his cape back on his shoulders and then slid her arms around his neck to keep him close while she kept him otherwise busy.

He had to admit that being kissed by an exotically beautiful and grateful woman was more than just a little bit nice. And he didn't get kissed very often. He decided to let her kiss him until she was done.

When she had determined that he had been thanked enough, she leaned back from him and said simply, "Thank you. Without you, my sister and I would be dead, or worse by now." Harlock helped her up and got up from the floor himself. His knees were a bit wobbly. Probably from being on the hard floor all night, he assured himself, it couldn't possibly have been the kissing.

Tochiro had watched the entire process absolutely stunned that Harlock had permitted an unknown female kiss him and very thoroughly at that! He didn't know whether to be happy or jealous of the attention Harlock had received and decided to be happy for his friend. He'd tell him later he had lipstick on his face. Mrs. Oyama was over at the stove making breakfast, but she was also grinning. It was about time that boy had a new female in his life! Maybe this could lead to something for him.

As they all sat to eat breakfast, Mrs. Oyama spoke to the two younger women. "So, where are you both from? And what are you doing on Gun Frontier? Not a good place for two young ladies!"

She shook her head about that as she unloaded eight pancakes onto Harlock's plate. The boy was entirely too skinny. She dumped two tablespoons of butter on top and then about a cup of syrup. She completed the mountain with five thick slices of crispy bacon. He stared at the huge pile and then up at her. He started to speak and then stopped when he noted her expression and the fact that her arms were crossed on her chest. He meekly began to eat his allotted mountain.

Tochiro, looking down at his pile of four pancakes, wondered at the disparity. He had a good appetite and Harlock didn't. Ah, well, he'd get more soon! He was amused to see Harlock manfully shoveling in the pancakes. Tochiro grinned. He wondered at the war of wills sure to come when Harlock didn't finish his pile.

The two girls daintily cut their pancakes and took a few moments to reply to Mrs. Oyama's question. "We're from really far away and are on our way to really far away in another direction." The one sister replied rather nebulously. Her sister elbowed her in the ribs.

"We are taking something to someone who needs it, but doesn't know it." She added enigmatically. That was all the two sisters would say on the subject. Harlock was strangely very quiet, even for him.

After breakfast, Mrs. Oyama cleared away the dishes and sent the two boys on errands that she needed to have burly backs perform. Firewood needed to be cut and stacked, her roof needed some shingles replaced after the last solar storm, and the garden needed to be turned and readied for planting. She also needed posts to be set for the one fence on the west side of the house. There, she thought, that ought to keep them busy and out of her hair for a while.

She returned to the house and spoke with the two women, ensuring that Harlock and Tochiro had treated them properly. She had laughed when they had told her of the game, Tochiro's predicament and Harlock's heroism in the ensuing melee after the bounty hunter had shown up. The one sister looked at the other and then at Mrs. Oyama.

"We were to leave this orb with Tochiro to give to Harlock, but not let him know that it was intended for him." The one sister said. "Things got a little out of hand," the other added. They giggled. "We're sorry, but we rather enjoyed twitting your son. He has such a readable face. We were going to let him win, soon, but then Harlock entered the game, winning the pot."

The two girls looked at each other. "We really enjoyed being with Tochiro, but when Harlock showed up, we were kind of wishing we had been playing with him and then have him be rescued by Tochiro." They giggled. "Tochiro is cute, but Harlock in his under clothes would have really been fun. And quite a sight!"

Mrs. Oyama smiled gently. Children were the same, no matter where they originated from, she thought. "Now, ladies, that would not have been very good at all. He is rather attached to his clothing and I suspect that he would have called you out on your plan sooner than later, and that might not have been as pleasant as you might have wished. He's very shy with ladies. And he is a very, very fast draw."

The two women goggled at this information. The most feared pirate of all space, shy? Attached to his clothing? They looked at each other and grinned some more.


Harlock and Tochiro had finished their lengthy list of chores and decided to take a quick swim in the lake near Mrs. Oyama's home. She would keep the two younger women busy and that meant that they would have time to indulge themselves. There was no one else within fifty kilometers of the house, so it was as remote as it could be and therefore, quite safe.

They raced to the water's edge, stripped down and dove naked into the cool water. They charged around in the lake like two young fish set free for the first time in a long time. An overhanging tree made a very nice diving platform. After about an hour of splashing around they decided that they ought to return to the house.

They got up out of the water to where they had left their clothes.

They were gone.

Their eyes grew wide as they looked around frantically. They had indeed gotten out at the right place. They looked at each other in stunned disbelief. There could only be one answer. They set off at a fast barefooted and bare bottomed run back to the house, dodging low lying branches and trees.


The two young women had quietly left the men's clothes on the porch of Mrs. Oyama's house. They had also left the resplendent iridescent orb on top of Harlock's clothing pile. Then, giggling almost hysterically, they whispered to each other about the two men, the glorious unexpected bonus of their unclothed condition, and the probable reaction to their delaying tactic.

They bid goodbye to Mrs. Oyama and told her to send the men to town when they got back. The one who had bussed Harlock winked at the older lady and smiled from ear to ear as she waved goodbye. They turned and ran to where the Space Wolf was parked.

They took out the purloined decoder for the Space Wolf, popped it's canopy, then started it up and flew back to the space port outside of Gun Frontier. The one sister relocked the fighter and cloaked it again. She then walked into the saloon from the day before and walked up to the barkeep.

"Do you have an envelope?" She asked sweetly.

The barkeep handed her an envelope without a word with one of his secondary hands. He was polishing the remaining glassware with two others, and a fourth hand was writing down the damage on a report for the insurance company. The other two were out of sight behind the counter. The women would have been discomfited to know that one of those two unseen hands clutched a blaster.

The woman wrote a note, put the decoder for the Space Wolf in the envelope with the note, sealed it with a tongue the same shade as her beautiful Caribbean blue eyes. She then handed the note to him. It said simply, "Harlock."

"Please see to it that he gets this back, will you please?" She said. The barkeep nodded.

She walked out of the saloon, hips swaying and hair in counterpoint motion. Yes, he thought, she's a looker! He admired the view of her leaving and then put the note under the counter after her departure. Bob went back to polishing his remaining glassware.

The women went to a locker containing their other belongings at the spaceport, picked them up and walked out onto the tarmac to a large Space Liner headed to Antares. They boarded and went on to where they had been sent to go. It was all timed perfectly.


Several hours later, Tochiro and Harlock stopped by the saloon in Mrs. Oyama's battered old flyer. The barkeep raised one of his eyebrows. The saloon was still in a lot of disarray. The two men looked more than a little harassed and upset. Harlock in particular. They all but ran into the saloon.

"Have you seen them?" Harlock blurted out as he reached the bar counter, his hair was still dripping wet and he dripped water onto the pristine bar counter, Bob noted. He wondered what that was about.

"Seen who?" the barkeep replied calmly.

"The girls! They have MY Space Wolf!" Harlock gritted out.

"Ah, them." He said and nodded his head. "Yes, they were here."

Bob paused and held a glass up to the light. It needed more polishing on the one side, he thought. He polished it some more. He kept an eye on Harlock, who looked about ready to burst.

"Well, where are they now? Where did they go? How long ago?" Harlock flung his questions like popcorn at the barkeep, who was having trouble keeping his composure, but he knew better than to laugh. Harlock may be a bit upset and overset at the moment, but he was still the Pirate Knight of Arcadia and the fastest draw Bob had ever seen. He calmly set the glass down and reached below the counter.

"Here," Bob said, "she left this for you." He went back to polishing another glass after handing Harlock the note.

Harlock dove into the envelope and found his decoder and a note. He pulled the note out and read it. When he got to the end of the note, his cheeks began to burn.

Bob saw the response and thought, he's blushing! He wondered at the content of the note.

Harlock pocketed the decoder, crumpled the note and shot it into the trashcan by the bar, and turned on his heel to leave. Tochiro followed quietly behind.


As they left the saloon Tochiro was pouting that Harlock had spoiled his fun with the ladies, telling Harlock that he was only playing the girls during the game, he wasn't flirting with them. Harlock gave him a stern look and Tochiro had lowered the brim of his usual travelling hat, hiding his embarrassed but still smiling face. Their loveliness had been enough for him. He wondered what Harlock had thought of the lengthy thank you he had been given, but Harlock was silent on that subject.

Harlock wanted to drag Tochiro back to the Arcadia to look at his intriguing prize. He took it out of his pocket to look at it. Tochiro peered up at it as well.

"Harlock, what do you think it is?" Tochiro asked, looking at the small orb in speculation.

"I have absolutely no idea, and we won't know until we get it looked at. I want to get back as soon as possible and run an analysis on it. It's obviously of alien design and origin." He looked over at his small friend. Tochiro was looking up at him a bit forlornly and a bit sheepishly as well.

"Are you going to tell Em?" Tochiro asked in a small voice.

"No, but you will." Harlock firmly replied. "Secrets are relationship killers, Toch. You need to tell her yourself."

"Yeah, but it was only a game of poker," Tochiro protested.

"One in which they somehow managed to divest you of both clothing and goods," Harlock retorted. "Are you tired of being married to Emeraldas? Or do you perhaps have a death wish?"

"Of course not!" Tochiro indignantly replied. "It's just, well, we don't get to see each other as much as I would like." Tochiro dropped his shoulders.

Harlock's gaze softened. Yes, distance in a relationship was hard; he should know. He and Maya had been separated for almost five years during the war, with infrequent but joyously intense reunions. While the reunions were wonderful, they were also painful because they had to separate again when his leave was over.

He understood Tochiro's frustrations, but Emeraldas would gun him down if she thought he had been unfaithful. And while he had not been unfaithful physically, well, his frustrations were obviously getting the better of him. And he wanted his friend alive, so he was going to go where he usually did not.

"Tochi, you invented the String Drive to overcome that problem. Why aren't you using it as much as you could?" Harlock asked carefully, aware he was treading in very personal waters.

Tochiro looked up at his friend. "Em loves me very much, I know that, but she also needs her alone time. I try to give her what she needs." He softly and sadly replied.

Harlock considered this a moment and then asked another question, "Have you asked her if this is what she wants you to do, or are you assuming that this is what she wants?" He awaited Tochiro's response.

"I ... I just know she would want this." Tochiro stopped walking; Harlock leaned across from him against the bulkhead wall of the Spaceport with his arms crossed to listen and then he spoke thoughtfully.

"You need to ask her, Toch." Harlock replied, "You really don't know her thoughts on this subject. She may think you want the time because of all the inventing you do. She may be trying to save you."

Tochiro nodded slowly. Harlock did have a point, but he had another one of his own. He had been thinking about it for some time but there hadn't been an opening for him to discuss it with Harlock. This seemed like a good opening for it.

"Harlock, we need a place other than the Death Shadow station where we can all rest, and remain safe from time to time. The station is now too small for all the people we need to support. Bounty Hunters are constantly prowling around on Gun Frontier. We need a home." Tochiro voiced the concern that had kept Harlock awake some nights.

"I know, Toch, I know. I've thought about it, but have no idea where that someplace might be. I had hoped that Earth would welcome us home after we healed her, but no, we appear to be eternal wanderers." Harlock nodded to his friend, who looked up at him and nodded in return. The two men had walked on in deep thought, each concerning his own worries.


Bob waited until they had gone and then looked into the trashcan. He wanted to see what could possibly be in a note that would make Harlock blush. He smoothed it flat and read it. The first part had him curious, the last part was fodder for twitting the Kid the next time he saw him. Bob smiled.

Dear Harlock,

Thank you for both rescuing and being kind to us, when you didn't have to do either thing. We did intend to trap Tochiro and bring you here; you were right to be suspicious of us. The jewels and the prizes were intended to test you, and you passed the tests better than we had hoped. The orb from the game belongs to you, and our Lady is right, you are a man of integrity, honor and trustworthiness. This orb is given to you by she who knows your heart and desires. Use it wisely. May you find your Arcadia.

Alieadeara and Arashenda

PS. You are really a nicely put together male; you don't have to hide behind the pirate facade.

PPS. I enjoyed the kiss. A lot.

Until next time,


There was a perfectly formed lipstick kiss at the bottom of the note. He hadn't seen her do that and he smiled. A kiss, eh? He would have to get the rest of the story out of Mrs. Oyama the next time she came into town. He was certain she would regale him with the entire tale from her end. He would enjoy filling her in on his side of the story as well. He picked up several more glasses to polish.

Hmmm. He would have to order more glassware. He wondered if acrylic would hold up better with Harlock around.

He idly wondered if they had seen the last of the two lovely women, one of whom had dared to kiss the most feared man in all of space. He smiled. Heh. He hoped not, a kiss for the boy was a good thing now and again. It would keep him human and maybe a little less grumpy.


Author's note:

The crew of the Arcadia and the mecha that are a part of Leiji Matsumoto's universe are of his creative genius. We all love them dearly.

Obviously, Bob is Aerandir's character, the Octodian barkeep. You are right A, he shows up in the oddest places... I hadn't intended for this barkeep to be Bob, but he caught me at a weak moment! Sneaky Octodian!

Oh, and for Miss Kei and Stained Lace, Harlock does come out of his clothing every once in a while! And he's still having Trouser issues. (;-D)