Off Topic > Fan Fiction

Being You is Suffering

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BlackAeronaut:
I don't want to spoil this too much.  But if you've read AdmiralTigercla's Sleeping with the Girls... then you should expect something of a similar flavor.

Fair warning, SI fic, but very respectful of Tenchi and the other denizens of the Masaki Household.

Also, comedy won't be the point here, though there will be some.  This won't be darkfic, either.  We will brush up against some dark territory, but we're not gonna go wading in it - consequences of space opera.  Mostly, though, there's going to be FEELS.  Lots and lots of FEELS!

Enjoy!

EDIT: BTW - I already got a whole bunch of this written out already.  I'd just like some serious criticism.  So here's four chapters right off the bat.

By all means, tear this sucker to pieces in the discussion thread, folks!
CHAPTER ONE:
Dead On Arrival

So, there I was, driving down Interstate Ten, bound for one of the most miserable places on Earth – Seattle.

Now, don't get me wrong. Seattle actually has some pretty awesome sights, like the Space Needle, the ferries of the Puget Sound, the Fremont Troll, the Pike Place Market, and a more than a few metric tons of art. It had a lot of the industries going on over there that were right up my alley. But it rained there. Frequently. Not a lot of actual rainfall, mind you - less than many East Coast cities, actually. But the frequency and duration of the rainfalls... Let me put it this way, Seattle usually only see about fifty-eight sunny days out of the year. The rest are covered by an iron curtain of overcast skies.

They say that Seattle is the Emerald City, but that’s just because all the moss that grows there makes it looks like that from a distance. It was also known to be the leading major metropolitan area in suicides year after year without fail. I knew for sure that I was going to be on antidepressants within a year.

The thought itself was so depressing that it made me drowsy, causing me to doze at the wheel. Not even the Über Monster energy brew that I finished off not even ten minutes ago seemed to be helping. I was considering stopping at the next rest stop when I dozed again, imagining pulling onto the off-ramp and letting myself blissfully zone out to the tune of my faithful little truck's engine purr softly while blowing warm air over my cold–

The sudden jarring of my truck jolted me right out of my doze as adrenaline began flooding my system, augmenting the energy supplement I had earlier. I reacted instinctively – foot off the gas, clutch in, pump the brakes, keep the wheel under firm control and try to get the truck back on the shoulder!

Where's the road!? TREES! AVOID AVOID AVOID! HOUSE! STOOOOP!

My truck was heavily laden with the cargo bed filled all the way to the top of the camper shell, and was towing a UHaul 5x10 enclosed trailer loaded to it's full capacity as well. But my truck, a well used and well cared for 1998 Mazda B2500 which I had lovingly named 'Scrappy', had front wheel anti-lock brakes and the rear axle had enough weight on it to really dig in. And the trailer itself had UHaul’s amazing reactive brakes.

I was shocked when all I did was just bump against the house with a dull thud.

For a moment, all I did was sit there and have a moment of BSOD. My limbs shaking, I almost forgot to put Scrappy into neutral before letting off the clutch, applied the emergency brake, and shut the engine off. Leaving the headlights on, I opened the door and clamored out of Scrappy. The first thing I checked was how badly damaged the house was. I wasn't worried about my vehicle because I was driving a truck – albeit a small one, but still a truck.

Looking around the front end, I saw that I had done nothing more than scuff the paint. Probably about ten bucks to get the right color of paint and touch it up. The most troublesome part would be the color matching.

With a huge and explosive sigh, I then went on to inspect my vehicle, then the trailer, and finally their respective loads. Scrappy's rear axle didn't have ABS like the front axle did, and so the rear wheels locked when I firewalled the brake pedal and had carved furrows into the soft earth of the driveway. Which was probably my saving grace. So long as you're keeping it in a straight line, the quickest way to stop in soft earth was to just floor it.

But how had I wound up on this driveway? Interstates, even in Texas, did not usually have residential drives right off the highway itself – that's what the frontage roads are for. Did I somehow take a highway to heaven and wind up here?
There was also something off about this place. I couldn't place my finger on it, but it sure as hell didn't feel like West Texas. Or even New Mexico.

“Oi! Nan-des'ka?”

I just about jumped out of my skin. I never heard anyone approaching, and the odd pitch of the voice threw me as well. I snapped around and was confronted with a child-like figure with a massive, barely organized mess of pink hair. She was wearing the sort of tired look that only people woken in the middle of the night by strange travelers would wear.

“Whoah! Jeeeeze, you startled me there,” I said. I hate being keyed up on adrenaline like this. I kinda like being on the jittery side, but not this much. “Ah, sorry about this mess,” I continued lamely.

“Heeeehhhhh?” said the girl as she leaned in to inspect me more carefully.

That sound, combined with the odd pitch in her voice raised a flag in my head. It was a sound I had grown familiar with, and even loved triggering in the people of Japan.

“Anatawa Nihon o shitte imas'ka? ” she said, which cinched it for me.

“Ah... Iie,” I replied. “Choto-choto Nihongo. Very few words.”

“So you are an American then,” she said in surprisingly clear English that smacked of something either Brooklyn or Jersey – I could never tell the difference with those accents. This was getting very weird, so my next question was very much to the point.

“Uhm, pardon my ignorance, but could you tell me where I'm at, little miss?”

“Sure. You're in Japan. And if I'm guessing right you were someplace else before hand.”

“Texas,” I confirmed. Was this some sort of crazy put-on?

The girl nodded her head with a smug, satisfied smile. “Well, why don't we see if we can get you sorted out?”

“Ah, mind if I use the toilet first?” I asked. If I really was in Japan, then this would tell me for sure.

“Sure sure,” she said breezily. “Go around the side, through the sliding door, up the stairs and it's the door at the very end of the hall. Can't miss it. Just don't go stomping around and waking anyone up.”

“Thanks,” I said as I pocketed my keys and anything else that might jangle. As I made my way inside the house and up the stairs, I couldn't help but notice that this place seemed insanely familiar to me, but I just couldn't quite place it.

Just as I reached the top of the stairs I heard a sound like static, drawing my eyes to the source. To my shock, a woman walked through the wall to my side, just inches from me. I yelped in surprise, startling her into yelping and punching me in the face. Stars flashed in my eyes and the next thing I knew I was weightless and looking up at the timbered ceiling.

I had just enough time to think to myself, Oh fuck, this is gonna be bad.

My neck hit first, and a horrible, wrenching pop sounded throughout my head.

Then I felt nothing more. Just a terrifying numbness that overcame me. I couldn't move or speak, and my breathing was starting to slow down... I could tell because I could still feel it in my nasal passages. But I should have been hyperventilating right then!

And then it hit me.

Oh god... my neck is broken! I'm going to die in a few minutes and there's nothing I could do!

Feet came pounding my way – the girl from before.

“Hey! Are you alright!?” she cried out in alarm. “Say something, will you?”

I could only give her a helpless look.

“Oh hell no!” she breathed and proceeded into outright crisis mode. “RYOKO!” she cried out. The woman that startled me before appeared overhead. Apparently she knew that if this girl was that upset, then she should be concerned as well. In fact, she had an expression of 'Oh crap, I fucked up this time, didn't I?' on her face.

She made some terse instructions in Japanese that I had no way of catching with my limited vocabulary as she opened... some kind of... hole in the air? And began to rummage through the unseen contents. With a short crow of success, she removed some unremarkable oblong device that fit neatly in the palm of her small hand.

“Boy I am so glad I never throw anything like this out. Hang on, mister, we'll get you through this.” She then looked to the woman she called Ryoko and nodded. The woman then gestured and I was somehow levitated up off the stairs. Before I could really start to wonder how the hell that was happening, the smaller girl pushed my shirt up and planted the device at the very bottom of my solar plexus.

Suddenly my breathing picked up.

Right away I knew that the device was somehow stimulating my diaphragm muscle to keep working, even though it was no longer receiving commands from my brain. Who the hell are these people?

And now, more were showing up. A girl with cerulean blue hair and crimson irises. Another with impossibly long vividly violet hair, equally violet eyes, and a wooden headpiece around her brow. A cat... rabbit... thing... A dusky-skinned, blue-eyed blonde with hair cascading in tight ringlets, and a Japanese teenage boy with short-cropped black hair and brown eyes.

A sudden surge of questions, imprecations, and explanations, suddenly ensued and all in rapid-fire Japanese. The girl with the messy pink hair had to verbally beat back the violet-haired one, and seemed to imperiously command the young man to usher everyone back to their rooms. Reluctantly, they all left except the tall woman with cyan-hair and amber eyes who sucker-punched me earlier.

“Okay, now that the riff-raff are dealt with, that muscle stimulator should keep you alive for the moment,” said the girl. “Let's get you into my lab.”

LAB!?!?
Within minutes, the tiny woman that could only be Washu Hakubi had me on a medical table, my neck set, and my spinal cord and vertebra swiftly being mended by the medical nanomachines she had injected me with.

The were no jokes, no slapstick, no pratfalls, not even any whimsical retorts. Washu remained professional, alert, and competent throughout the entire process, and Ryoko simply stood by watching for any sign that she needed any help.

“I apologize for my daughter's sudden reaction,” Washu said as she sat back to relax, wiping what little sweat had accumulated on her brow. “You should be able to talk now. Give it a shot.”

Tentatively a muttered a few vowel sounds. Wonder of all wonders, I could talk again.

“It's okay,” I croaked. “She saw a strange person in her home in the middle of the night. What scared me was that she came through the wall. By the way... is your name Washu-chan?”

“It is,” said Washu slowly. “Who are you?”

If I could have shaken my head, I would have. “Nobody,” I said. “Just someone who's lost in more ways than one.”

“Hey, you got a name, don't you?” growled Ryoko. I heard something go thunk in the background which caused Ryoko to grumble indignantly.

I sighed. “She's got a point. I'm just feeling sorry for myself. We'll get into it later, but for now, my name is Garrick Grimm.”

I froze in surprise. Where the hell had that come from? Washu and Ryoko said nothing as they looked at me expectantly.

“Uh, no, that's not right,” I said, feeling oddly uneasy. I must have hit my head harder than I thought. Really, my name is Garri-” I froze again as the unwanted monicker tried to come out of my mouth once more.

“Is something wrong?” asked Washu as she leaned over me with a concerned expression.

“That's... that's not my name,” I said in horror. Really, I decided I was going to try and force it out – strange compulsion be damned, I liked my name! But the more I tried to think of it, the more it eluded me. It was like as though my old name had been completely blanked out from my memory and replaced with something else. Is this what a memory checksum error felt like!?

“My name... it's gone.”

Washu and Ryoko exchanged worried looks. They had heard of all kinds of terrible things being done to a person, but transporting them across continents and then altering their minds to fit some twisted scheme... it was the absolute worst sort of crime.

I suddenly felt Washu's hand lay gently on my head. “Don't worry,” she said gently. “Garrick Grimm is a good name. Garrick means He That Rules With A Spear, and Grimm is an ancient surname that means The Fierce One. Whoever gave that name to you was not thinking lightly of you.”

“I don't feel very fierce now,” I muttered. “Just hurt... and so far from home.”

“Where is your home anyhow?”

“I was in the middle of moving when I arrived here, so it doesn't matter really... but in spirit, my home has always been the City of San Antonio in Texas.”

Washu nodded. “Home of the Alamo... and one of the most famous Pyrrhic victories of Earth's Modern Age.”

“Pyrrhic victory?” asked Ryoko.

“A hollow victory,” I replied. “Named for a general who led a siege against another city-state. He successfully sacked the city, but his entire army had been reduced to but a handful of men. In the case of the Battle of the Alamo, General Santa Anna led about 2,000 men against the 200 in the fortified mission. However, Santa Anna’s army was ill-prepared, poorly trained, and poorly supplied. After six days, the Alamo did eventually fall, and all but two of the defenders were tortured and slain – those two were sent to warn the rest of the Texian Army that Santa Anna was coming and would not take any prisoners. However, the battle was a hardship for his army. It was reduced in effectiveness, and the message brought by the messengers to the capitol, located in what is now called the City of Houston, galvanized the entire population. The messengers also warned everyone they came across, causing everyone to flee to the capitol. The end result was a massive surge of volunteers for the Texian Army.  This army was poorly trained and prepared as well, and there were communication issues.  However, they knew who their enemy was, and they knew their land well.  Santa Anna's army was completely overpowered by the smaller Texian Army.  Santa Anna himself was humiliated – found trying to flee through a marsh in a dragoon-private’s uniform, of all things!”

Ryoko made an appreciative whistle at that. “Sounds like you guys don't put up with much.”

I smiled. “We've had a long-standing slogan in my home – 'Don't mess with Texas.'” Ryoko cackled and Washu shook her head, but she was smiling regardless.

“Okay you two,” said Washu. “I can see now that the healing process is going well, so we're going to put you in a bed and sedate you so you don't move while you heal – the new tissues being constructed are very delicate at this stage.”

“Alright then,” I sighed. “But can someone turn off the headlights in my truck before they drain the battery? I'd hate to have to ask for a jump-start... Oh, and get my cat. He's probably pretty shaken up by now.”

“A cat?” asked Washu. “Is he...”

“He's a big, sweet natured guy... but he's something of a bully with other cats. If you leave him in the room with me with a litter box, water and food he'll be okay. He'll just curl up on top of me and go to sleep. He doesn't even knead his claws on me.”

“That's... impressive.”

“Not really. He found out the hard way that I don't like feeling claws in my skin.” I smiled. “He knows that if he wants my attention he can meow or even put his paws to my legs... without the claws. I reinforced that behavior with positive attention.”

Washu chuckled. “Okay then. So, headlights and cat. Anything else?”

“Nah, not unless you guys need my truck moved right away.”

“It'll keep.”
So, in short order, I was placed in a small but comfortable room in Washu's lab, left with my cat purring deeply at my side, and whacked up on enough sedatives to knock out a horse. I was, for the moment, content, but I knew that would not last forever. I was in Tenchi Muyo and here Murphy's Law ruled with an iron fist.

BlackAeronaut:
CHAPTER TWO:
New Features

 When I woke up, Washu was there.

“Good morning sleepyhead,” she chirped cheerfully. There was something odd about the words coming out of her mouth, but I couldn't quite place my finger on it.

“Mornin' Washu-chan,” I muttered as I began to stretch out my oh-so-sore muscles, which were stiff after not being used for God knows how long. My cat, René, began meowing intently right by my head. With a grumble of, “get over here you big lug,” I pulled the hefty feline – a solid twenty-five pounds, of which only a slight minority was fat – up onto my chest and gave him the attention he wanted. “Any chance I can get an anti-inflammatory? Like some Ibuprofen? Not sure what the Japanese name for it is.”

Washu chuckled. “Oh, no worries Garrick. I know exactly what you mean.”

I blinked at that. “You're speaking Japanese.”

“Yup!” said Washu happily.

“And evidently so am I.”

“You got it.”

“You did something to my language centers while I was out.”

“You're on a roll now.”

“... What else did you do?”

“Not much else, really,” said Washu.

“Washu-chan. I don't know if you ever took the Hippocratic oath, but I am your patient, and this patient has some very serious questions he'd like answered.”

Washu huffed. “Oh, fine. Spoilsport. Basically, I fixed a few things that could become serious problems for you later on. Stuff like Alzheimer’s Disease, Cancer, Diabetes and one of the mildest cases of Dyslexia I've ever seen.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You didn't fix anything else?”

“There was a couple of other things I wanted to fix, but I thought better of it.”

“These things being?”

“An odd combination of ADD and Asperger's Syndrome. That's kinda weird – you're capable of being distracted real easily when your bored, but you can also hyper-focus to the point of starvation. Being you must be painful sometimes.”

I snorted. “C'mon. You're Washu Hakubi, intergalactically renowned supergenius. Surely a defect in brain chemistry isn't that exciting for you?”

Washu sniffed disdainfully. “It's one thing to read about it. It's another to observe for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Besides, we never really got to discussing how you seem to be so knowledgeable.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry about that tangent back there. If you thought that one was bad, you should have seen my brothers and I on a good night – one of us would start a debate over some matter, and the towards the end of the night we can't even remember what we started out on.”

Washu laughed. “Yes, nice try just now, too. So spill it.”

I shrugged. “I'm a dimensional displacee through some means not of my knowledge or power. In my home universe, someone created an animated short-run TV series called Tenchi Muyo which chronicles the misadventures of a young man named Tenchi Masaki who has unwittingly gained the attention and affections of five powerful women... Six, if you include Ryo-Ohki.”

Washu raised an eyebrow. “Pretty smooth delivery there. How long have you been working on it?”

“Honestly, I'm kinda surprised myself. Are you sure you haven't fiddled around with anything else in my brain?”

“I assure you I haven't. Anyhow, if it weren't for you being plugged into all my medical diagnostic equipment I'd say you're lying to me. But you're not. And even if you could fake that somehow, I have other methods. But you can't, so I won't resort to it.”

“So, what happens now?” I asked.

“Good question. We don't exactly have room for you here unless you started living up in the shrine. Pretty sure old man Yosho's got a few extra rooms there.”

“Sure, have me just stay put. I'm pretty sure I can pull my own weight around here by fixing the tractor whenever it breaks down. Oh wait, there's no tractor.”

“Quit being so passive aggressive. Really, what did you have going for yourself back home?”

I sighed. “I was taking an aerospace engineering program at a prestigious university back in the USA. But my mother wound up passing away and I lost my job, which killed my tuition, which killed my education, so I had to start over again.”

“Surely you could have transferred your credits over to another school,” said Washu.

“Sure, but the last semester is shot – I've lost those credits. And then there's the whole new-school bit that I wasn't looking forward to – you know, adjusting to the new staff, new curriculum, new schedules and new settings... It's all just a real punch to the gut after everything else I've been through – you know the drama, who gets the family bible and whatnot. I just count myself lucky since everything I own is in my truck.” I suddenly had a horrifying thought and asked, “My stuff is still intact, is it?”

Washu p-shawed. “Of course it is. I just shifted it all here into the lab so it'd be safe.”

I breathed a sigh of relief at that. “Thanks, you have no idea how much that means to me. Some of the stuff in there... it just cannot be replaced. I mean... computers and electronics, sure. No problem... but a picture of me with my sister and all my cousins when we were little, sitting with my grandparents...”

Washu smiled. “Yeah, something like that you can't put a price on.”

“No, you can't.”

Washu sighed. “Well, at any rate I know that Tenchi will be glad to have a truck around here and someone to drive it.”

I snorted. “As if I could take it out on the roads here.”

“You might be surprised,” said Washu as she handed me my wallet. Perplexed, I opened it up...
...And found a Japanese driver's license. “WHAT.”

“We also found an American passport with your visas all in order, a Japanese resident alien card, and your truck has the proper plates and inspections. Even your road tax is all paid-up.”

“Oh, c'mon! You seriously mean that you didn't do all this?”

“Nope,” said Washu artlessly. “Honest promise! I did not hack any government systems and I did not make any false paperwork and/or IDs.”

“Well if you didn't then who did?”

“Not anyone here,” she said matter-of-factly. “I'd have noticed.”

“Well fuck. Washu, we got a ROB.”

“A rob?” she parroted.

I nodded. “A Random Omnipotent Being.”

And now she scowled. “So that's how it is then?”

I nodded. “That's how it is.”

“... Garrick, with your permission I would like to fit you with a device that will let me track you wherever you are, even if you get sent to another universe. I'll even give you a communication device so you'll have some kind of life line in the event you do get transported again. Do you agree?”

“No argument here, Doc. I'll take every advantage I can get.”
Washu performed the procedure with little fanfare. A simple injection was all it took. As for the communication device, it came in the form of something like my Apple Watch. The coolest part about it was the tiny little dimensional pocket it had – just big enough to carry the earpieces. I would never lose a headset again.

The maraschino cherry on top was that it was disguised as an Apple Watch... complete with the music playback functions. It even worked with my iTunes software, only I could put as much music as I wanted on there. Sweet!

On the downside, my iPhone was all but useless. The first generation iPods were just debuting in this time period, so my iPhone working here was right out.

As for my rooming issues... Washu assured me that could be worked out. I'd hoped she was serious on that matter.
What happened next was like a scene straight out of a manga. Everyone was gathered for a traditional Japanese breakfast and they were all staring at me with fascination despite the delicious smell of fish, miso soup and rice hanging in the air.

This felt more like the introduction of a new student in a Japanese school.

“Okay everyone!” said Washu cheerfully. “As you all know we have a new visitor that will be staying with us for a while. Now, I know that when he first arrived it gave everyone quite a scare, but thanks to my superior medical technology, he's as good as new. So, I would like you all to meet Garrick Grimm.”

I mentally shrugged and then bowed to the company of the Tenchi Household seated at the table before me.

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance. Please take good care of me.”

“Great!” chirped Washu. “Sasami prepared an extra spot for you there at the end of the table. Get yourself situated. Now, does anyone have any questions for our visitor?”

“What can you do around the house?” asked Ayeka as I settled in, followed quickly by Washu. That seemed to be the signal for everyone to dig in. I shrugged at Ayeka as I picked up my chopsticks and got them properly positioned in my fingers.

“Pretty much anything,” I said as I began to dig into the roasted fish. In Japan, conversing during a meal was just fine, so long as you didn’t have your chopsticks in your mouth as you did so. “Being the oldest out of all but one among my generation in my family, I had to learn how to do a myriad of tasks. I do dishes, laundry, windows, carpets, hardwood, bedding, cooking (as long as I have a recipe to go by), and I can even balance the checkbook and the budget. I can also fix things. I can replace windows and doors, patch walls, paint, hang pictures, as well as repair, replace, and even install electrical and plumbing fixtures. My technical skills are not to be overlooked, either. I can troubleshoot and repair computers (of Earth origin), or even build one out of parts, with your choice of Apple, Windows, or Linux operating systems (sometimes even combinations of any). I can even set up home theater systems. I'm also a shadetree mechanic. I do all my own maintenance on my pickup truck, from oil changes and tire rotation all the way down to engine overhauls and transmission rebuilds. I have also been military trained as a maintenance technician, munitions handler, hazardous materials manager, firefighter, security sentry, and safety watch. And yes, I know how to use a gun, and I'm not too shabby at it.

“Oh, and I know first aid for trauma, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and the Heimlich Maneuver.”

Everyone blinked at me. I just smiled back as I sampled the miso soup.

“Okay, we're keeping him,” said Ryoko.

“Do you like the miso soup?” asked Sasami, her having caught my eyes rolling into the back of my head as I savored it. She seemed to realize, though, that the question might as well have been rhetorical. So, she then asked, “What kinds of food do you like?”

I grinned. “It’s been so long since I’ve had really good miso, it was almost a shock to my system. Anyhow, I have been called a human garbage disposal in the past. While I may not eat as much in one sitting as some might, I will pack away more food over time than most. And I'll eat just about anything, as long as it's not alive and is safe for human consumption. Although I will say this: I hate wasabi and horseradish. Bleagh!”

“Oh! Thank you for saying so,” Sasmi replied happily. “It shouldn't be a problem, Mr. Grimm.”

“So, where do you come from Mr. Grimm?” asked Mihoshi.

“I'm from the United States of America – on the northern continent east of the Pacific Ocean.”

“Oh? An American?” said Ayeka with interest. “I've heard about your people. Is it true that you always get drunk and make a lot of noise?”

I shrugged as I dug into my rice. “Some do. A lot don't. I won't say the stereotype isn't deserved, but many of us despise the people that earned it for us. Really, a lot of us are as normal as can be. Our culture just differs because we have no issues with looking people in the eye.”

“That's something I've never really understood,” said Tenchi. “I mean no offense, Mr. Grimm, but why do your people do that?”

I shrugged. “For us, it's sort of like acknowledging the other person. Of course, the trick is not to stare... unless you want their attention. It's like knowing exactly how deep your bow should be.”

“So... it's like greeting everyone you see?” he asked.

“Pretty much. Granted, a lot less of it happens in the really busy cities, like New York or Los Angeles. Another reason, though, is trust.”

“Trust? How so?” asked Ayeka.

“Have you ever noticed that someone that is hiding something from you has trouble looking you in the eye?”

“Oh?” said Ayeka thoughtfully, and then her eyes suddenly widened as she made the connection. “Why, yes! I see what you mean, now. You confront people immediately to determine if they're trustworthy. But even so, isn't that a bit rude?”

I shook my head. “It's a holdover from our frontier days. If you came across somebody back then, you wanted to be sure they weren't going to pull something on you because you could literally be hundreds of miles from any sort of help. And, as you know, old habits die hard. It probably doesn't help that with our level of development we have extremely low overall population density.

“But at any rate, I think the most important things to keep in mind about us Americans is that even though we can be ill-tempered and ill-mannered at times, we tend to be fiercely loyal to our friends. We often put ourselves into danger for each other. Sometimes we even do it for people we don't even know.”

“Ahh... you certainly seem to know how to use chopsticks,” said Mihoshi nervously.

“Thanks. It took me a while to get it just right. I've had a few years experience just trying it on my own. Then I came to Japan while I was in the Navy, and a girlfriend I had there taught me the proper way.”

“You had a girlfriend?” remarked Sasami. “Here in Japan?”

I chuckled. “The Japan of my world, yes. Though she might exist in this world as well... but she'd probably be too young. In my world, she was five years younger than me – it was okay because I was thirty and she was twenty-five. But here? She'd be about fifteen, sixteen years old. Very inappropriate, don't you think Sasami-chan?”

“Oh, but that's so sad,” pouted the cyan-haired cook.

“It wouldn't work out regardless,” I sighed. “At the time, I was more in love with the ideal than with her.”

“What ideal?”

I sighed. “Oh, a sweet and loving wife that does everything she can because she loves you with all her heart. Someone with those Japanese eyes that are so exotic by American standards. The grace and the beauty of the yamato nadeshiko. Someone whose faith in their husband is backed not just by their love, but by the cultural mores of a warrior society. Someone that, once I ask for her honest and unabashed opinion of me and how I do things, will give me a straight answer even if it hurts me to hear it.

“It also doesn't hurt that I saw geisha on an educational program when I was very young... I thought they were the prettiest women I had ever seen.”

I smiled as I noticed that Sasami had gone all googly-eyed. “Earth to Sasami. Come in Space Cadet Masaki!”

Sasami blushed as she came back to us and I laughed. “Don't worry, Sasami, it will come to you eventually.” I then sighed. “You're all very lucky, you know that?”

“What do you mean?”

“If all of you play your cards right... you won't have to have your hearts broken over and over again like I have.”

“Speak for yourself,” grumbled Washu.

“Yeah, well the light at the end of your tunnel isn't an express train this time around.” Washu snickered despite herself. I sighed and went on, “Look... Tenchi, I don't know what Washu has told you guys, but I'm literally someone who's been on the outside looking in. Don't bother asking why or how – it's too complicated to explain and it will only give you guys migraines. But I know that you've got room in your heart for all these wonderful girls. You just need the time it takes to realize that love. Though in the meantime, I'd highly suggest you make a trip to Jurai at some point in time here and see if one of those trees in the Royal Nursery doesn't take a shine to you. Because at the rate you're going you're gonna look as old as your grandfather before it finally hits you.”

You could hear a pin drop in that place. I simply polished off the last of my rice, leaving a clean bowl on my place setting.

“Thank you kindly for the delicious meal. If you folks would be so kind as to excuse me, I'm going to go for a run – been laying around in a bed for too damn long.”
The hills that surrounded Tenchi's home were anything but an urban landscape... but that didn't mean a whole lot to a free runner.
Known also as Parkour, free running is a fun, fast-paced sort of running that focuses entirely on getting from point-A to point-B in as much of a straight line as possible, no matter what obstacle is in your way.

It was also very physically demanding – an energy intensive workout that taxed every part of the body. For someone whose favorite parts about childhood was climbing trees, this was ideal.

I had only been doing it for about a year and a half. I was... decent. I'm not as flashy as some of the people you might see on youtube... but what I lacked in flair I more than made up for in speed. I usually would go by so quickly that the only response elicited was a fervent WTF.

The grounds of the Masaki estate and shrine were beautiful beyond compare. The only thing I had in my memories that came close was the Olympic Rain Forest of Washington State.

Having my music available to me just made it all the better.

After a few minutes of not-too-much-fussing with my laptop, the C-Pod, as I had taken to calling it, now had my entire music library on it, fully arranged as I had it on my computer. As I ran, jumped, and swung through the woods, I enjoyed the sounds of one of my Movement playlists.

Was I bothered that I was here?

A little bit.

But I had to admit, I had gotten off pretty damn easily. I was at a point in my life where I was completely free. Mother was gone, Father, and my brothers barely talk between us, and so there were no more family obligations. My job had been taken away from me, and the school had expelled me.

I was still heartbroken, though. I still wanted to raise a family of my own, and be able to introduce my children to the wonderful person that would be their grandmother. And now... it seems that I'm forced to let it all go completely.

I had no delusions about the matter. I wasn't going to go back. This place would change me on many levels; obvious, subtle, and profound all at the same time. No one would recognize me... not that it mattered. Few people ever did since I was always away.

Away from San Antonio, the home that I had known as a child, doted on by my grandparents, aunts, and uncles while I played with my cousins.

Away from my brothers as they came into their own as adults and became their own people.

Away from my only sister as she had children of her own, went through her own trials by fire, and came out of it a strong and independent woman.

But more importantly... always alone.

I wasn't entirely fine with that. Sure, I had my anti-social tendencies, especially as a youngster. Anyone that wasn't family (and even then there was Mom and then there was God) had no business telling me what to do.

But I knew after long experience, being alone sucked. Sure, being out amongst the people in the city was nice. It gave a false sense of not really being alone. But I would take having a few close friends over that any day of the week. In fact, the best times of my life were spent that way – a few close friends, going out, exploring the lesser known hidden corners of civilization.

But could I have that same experience here?

Somehow, during my cool-down walk, I had found my way to the little island in the lake where Yosho's Tree, Funaho-no-ki, had taken root. Knowing that she wouldn't mind, I jumped and began to shimmy my way up into the boughs of the great tree. It was Autumn here and, despite the fact that it was drawing on noon time, the crisp, cool air was rapidly pulling the sweat off my body. I decided to lean against a comfortable branch and wait until I dried out completely before going back inside. I wouldn't smell as bad that way.

“Point in your favor: Funaho seems to like you.”

I looked down to the ground and saw Washu standing below, look up at me with a grin. It suddenly struck me exactly just how much like an impish little girl Washu really seemed like. The anime and manga simply did not do her justice.

I grinned back at her. “She is a magnificent tree. I wish there had been more like her when I was growing up. In Texas we had mostly Pecan trees in our yard, but they were all big seventy-footers. The lowest branches were two stories off the ground. And in our yard in Washington State we had Redwood Pines. No climbing those suckers without special equipment – I was definitely too small for lineman's boots.”

“Be interesting to see, I bet,” replied the little scientist.

“Oh, I bet. I would have jumped at the chance, too.” I looked down again and smiled at Washu. “You know what I always loved about you whenever I read the Manga or watched the TV series?”

“Do tell.”

“20,000 years old, and you still cling to that wonderfully child-like spirit... even if it is every bit as mischievous as I used to be.”

“Aw, geeze, you're gonna make an old woman blush.”

I laughed. “Sorry. Just calling it as I see it. So, how badly did I shake everyone up?”

“It was food for thought for all of them,” Washu admitted. “Me as well. I just hope that the rest of them don't get carried away.”

“Washu-chan, it's a given. They'll go overboard with this just like everything else.”

The pink-haired girl sighed. “Yeah, your right. But then it'd be pretty boring regardless.”

“Even so, I think it would be best if I helped Tenchi.”

“Oh? What do you have in mind?”

“Well, it's pretty obvious no one's ever taught him how to deal with womanly attention. Kiyone passed away before she could teach him anything about that sort of thing, and Noboyuki has been more than useless on the matter.”

“And Yosho is just plain useless,” added Washu.

I shrugged. “He teaches Tenchi swordsmanship. That counts for something. But evidence against him in that matter exists. He did, after all, run from that perfectly wonderful little lady Ayeka.”

Washu snorted. “I'd hardly go that far.”

“She's got a good heart. Sasami would be a very different person if she didn't.”

“True,” Washu allowed. “But then, Yosho simply didn't love her that way.”

“He did love somebody. We wouldn't have Tenchi around if he didn't. Anyhow, he could have given Tenchi advice at some point in time. Thus, ground gained by teaching him swordplay is lost by his virtually destructive inaction in neglecting Tenchi's education in the woman's heart. So, yeah. Useless.”

“Agreed,” chirped Washu. I could almost see Yosho doubling-over in pain somewhere. “So, what does the love-doctor have in mind?”

I snorted. “Hardly a love-doctor. Just advice for better interaction with the ladies. And getting it through his head that it's fine to schedule dates for each of them! Godsakes, it shouldn't be a competition, and one date isn't going to seal the deal regardless.”

“Well, this is all well and good for Tenchi, but what about you?”

“What about me?” I asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Tenchi can't have all the fun now. So what about you?”

I sighed, feeling the heaviness in my gut once more. “I've been alone for a long time, Washu-chan. I can stand to go a little bit longer. Besides, bad things happen to those that poach on Lord Tenchi's turf. It's a law of this universe.”

“Are you serious?”

“Deadly.”

Washu snorted. “Alright, fine then. But it's not like Tenchi is gonna get every girl in the world.”

“Don't tempt Murphy. He's a cold-hearted bastard. And no, I know better than that. It's just...”

“Too soon?” asked Washu.

“... Yeah. Too soon. Too much hurting. If I get a girl's attention now it's going to be like Sasami – poor Grimm-kun and all that.”

“M'yeah. That pity thing really wouldn't sit well. Though it's cute coming from Sasami.”

I smiled a little. “Yeah. She's such a sweetheart. Tenchi had better watch out for that one once she gets older. She's already got Ryoko and Ayeka running scared.”

“Can't expect anything less of her, after all she is... Well, you know about Tsunami, right?”

“Yeah. There's been a lot of conjecture about their relationship. A lot of people back home think that she actually is Tsunami after that incident on Jurai.”

“Pretty apt description. Close enough, really. So, you gonna come down or do I gotta send Ryoko in their after ya?”

“Now why would you do that to poor Funaho here?” I teased back. “She doesn't deserve that sort of treatment.”

“Just get down here. I got something to show you!”

“Alright, Ahm a-comin', Ahm a-comin',” I mock-grumbled as I swung myself out of Funaho's boughs.

BlackAeronaut:
CHAPTER THREE:
Family

 Washu led me back to the house, up the stairs, and to a door that didn't exist earlier.

“Is this what I think it is?” I asked.

“Why don'tcha see for yourself,” replied the tiny mad genius with a grin.

I leveled a suspicious glare at her, but the look I was getting back was an impish 'you're never gonna find out if you don't open that door yourself' look. So, with an irritated sigh, I reached for the doorknob and gave it a turn.

Oddly enough, the C-pod pulsed on my wrist as the latch clicked, allowing the door to glide open on silent hinges.

It was an empty room.

Just that and nothing more. The floor was bare concrete as were the walls and ceiling. The room was somehow ambiently lit without a direct source of light. Of course, it could be coming from the very walls themselves.

“I thought it would be more impressive than this,” I said absently.

Washu shrugged. “Honestly, I could have pulled some kind of gag, but I figured you're not quite ready for that yet.”

“Thanks for that,” I replied, giving the scientist a wry look. “So, pocket universe?”

“Yup.”

“Integral life support and all that?”

“He's on a roll again. What else?”

“Just how tough did you make this door?” I asked.

“It's about as strong as mine. Nothing short of Tsunami herself is getting through it.”

“Ah. So I have a place to hide from Ryoko and Ayeka... Mihoshi may be another issue entirely.”

Washu groaned at the reminder.

“You know, if you figure out how Mitoto does it-”

Another groan.

I shrugged and went on. “So, I take it there's a way to change up things in here?”

“Of course,” replied Washu, brightening right away at the prospect of teaching someone. “Take a look at the options on your C-pod.”

I raised an eyebrow, but otherwise did as requested. Interestingly enough, there was a new icon in the home screen titled “C-Space”. I gave the icon a tap and jumped when a holographic image of a cube with a white rectangle centered on the bottom edge appeared, hovering right in front of my face.

“Ahh! So you like to peek and poke, too!” said Washu. “Wonderful! You'll find that it's pretty intuitive, but all the same you should probably read the manual.”

“What manual?” I asked. Suddenly the hologram changed into an image of a not-unreasonably sized book – it was about the same size and look of a Haynes Automotive Manual, bore an image of my C-Pod beaming a projection of an open door, and was titled “Washu-chan's C-Space User's Manual”.

“Nice,” I said emphatically as I took the manual in my hands and began to page through it. “Full range tactile response – even feels like real paper. You even included a feature to disguise it as something else so as not to raise any suspicions. Clever.”

“Of course, of course,” preened Washu. “Nothing is too clever for the greatest genius in the galaxy!”

I looked down at Washu and snorted, scruffling that pink head of hers.

“Hey!”

“Well, if you're gonna wear the twelve-year-old body, then you get the twelve-year-old treatment... Washu-chaaaannn.”

Washu could only moan in a way that indicated that she was stuck somewhere between wanting to hurt me and wanting to glomp me.
I pretty much spent the rest of the afternoon studying the manual. Part of me wanted to get Scrappy unloaded so I could help Tenchi, but if I was going to do that then I needed a place for everything to go. And that meant learning how to reconfigure my space however I wanted or needed.

It turns out that the C-Space was very flexible.

The maximum amount of available space was... well, huge. To draw comparisons, I had roughly the same amount of volume available to me as a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier... rounded up to a suitably round figure, of course. And of course, I could have it in whatever shape I wanted.

As for actually forming the spaces, it was as simple as drawing them. I had a virtual toolbox that allowed me to do a myriad of things such as make walls, windows, doors, electrical outlets, plumbing fixtures, and so on and so forth. I could even make additional doors and windows that led to the outside, and there was also a huge assortment of preset textures and colors.

And as I learned, I began to mess around with it. Right away, I set the ceiling to a lofty fourteen foot clearance so I would at last have a room spacious enough to accommodate my loft bed without my needing to hunch over in the slightest.

A sleeping area is supposed to be just that – a place of rest. And therefore, it should be as such. No computers, no TVs, none of those distractions, period. However, I did want it to remain a part of my space. Sure, I could have partitioned the actual bedroom off in a separate room in my C-Space, but that wouldn't work for me. The C-Space all on its own provided me with all the privacy I could want. And I wanted anyone that I invited in to feel the sense that I was not simply inviting them into a different room of the house, but a place that was without any doubt my home.

That said, I decided to partition off the sleeping area with a heavy draw-curtain. That way, when it was time for sleep I could draw the curtain and shut out the distractions, but in my waking hours I could leave it open and inviting.

After that, I decided on a full-blown Japanese-style bath... but not the fixtures. You see, I love the way the Japanese do things. You scrub down first, rinse, and then have a nice long soak. For sanitary reasons, the sink area and the toilet area all get their owns spaces – usually adjacent but always separate.

But as for the fixtures.... My formative years were spent in my grandfather's and great-grandfather's houses... and they had the most wonderfully dated fixtures going as far back as the 1940's, where sinks, toilets and bathtubs were mammoth, blocky things – always in the most gorgeous egg shell white – and handsome chrome features, again in that big blocky style.

I don't know why, but I have always loved it. Maybe it's just because it exuded a sense of tasteful masculinity. I could almost hear the deep baritone of Brian Blessed booming in my head, “Here there be a Man's Bathroom. Respect is appreciated, but fear of breaking anything is unwarranted.”

So, my bathroom had no sweeping, graceful curves, except where demanded by such things where water was directly involved. It was all right angles and forty-fives, with just the bare minimum of rounding out.

The tub, while the inner walls were smooth and comfortable to lie against, was a massive slab-sided affair.

The sink; a tall and proud pedestal sink with separate hot and cold water faucets and a true basin that can honestly be used for a bathroom sink's primary purpose: the grooming of the face.

And the toilet... a massive commode that would never clog no matter what the circumstance. High-volume and high-flow were the buzzwords here. The amount of water used mattered little – it was all recycled in the C-Space system. That aside, the massive flow was better for the plumbing anyhow.

Eventually, I got away from the bathroom and back to the rest of the space in general.

I decided on a nice ceramic tile floor – so much easier to maintain – with a rich, dark brown color of stone. Area rugs of various patterns helped with insulation of both sound and temperature. The walls I made eggshell white with a smooth, matte texture. I would hang pictures and such later.

I added a kitchenette. It was small, as the title implies, but it was comfortably appointed with all the amenities of a larger kitchen... just smaller.

I added a 'balcony floor' that overlooked the 'common area' and lined it with inset bookshelves and curio cabinets running from floor to ceiling. Having room for more books would never be a problem for me anymore.

Then there was the garage and workshop. Everything I needed – vehicle lift, gantry crane with light- and heavy-duty hoists, welding table, work bench, soldering station... It wouldn't let me create all the tools I needed – just the really big ones. The rest would come in time, as I knew they would with an engineering-type like me. Although, I was surprised to see that one option was a rapid prototyper. Knowing just how endlessly useful that would be I went for it right away.

And that was pretty much it.

I had arranged the library over the bathroom and kitchen area, with a railing overlooking the lounge. My hobby area was adjacent to the library and sat over the sleeping area. The garage and shop space was on the other side and could be accessed from both levels.

“What are you doing, Grimm-san?”

“Huh?” I said coherently as I looked up and saw a cerulean head with fuchsia eyes blinking curiously at me. “Oh! Hey Sasami-san.”

“You can call me Sasami-chan,” she said with a smile. “Everyone else here does.”

I smiled back. “Well, in that case you can just call me Gar-kun.”

Sasami's smile then went to her eyes. “Thanks! I will!”

I chuckled indulgently – she was adorable! “As for what I've been doing, well... Washu-chan gave me a space much like her lab... only nowhere nearly as big.”

“How big?”

“Well... Big enough to fit several Ryo-Ohki ships inside it.”

“Why would Washu-chan give you so much space?”

I shrugged. “Just in case something happens.”

Sasami made a thoughtful sound, then nodded as she accepted that at face value – small wonder considering that 'just in case' can be just around the corner in this place.

“So, what will you do now, Gar-kun?”

I shrugged. “Just help out I guess. I have a license to drive, and I have my truck. I guess I can help Tenchi out with the field work that way. Also, I think Tenchi can use a big brother.”

“Why?”

I grinned mischievously. “Because, you adorable little imp, shoujo manga is not how real relationships work.”

Sasami chuckled nervously. “Uhm, how do you know about that?”

“Outside looking in, remember?”

“How?”

“You sure you really want to know? It's kinda scary. It's even kinda scary for Tsunami-sama.”

“Then I gotta know!”

“Okay, okay, settle yourself down, cute stuff. Hate to have to see you redo those pigtails of yours. Anyhow, you know those TV programs you and the others like to watch?” Sasami nodded. “Well, imagine that you could somehow get into one of those shows with everything that you know about what happens there.” Sasami gasped as the implication hit her. She was cute, and maybe a little naïve, but she was by no means stupid.

“That's what you did!?” she cried out in amazement.

“That's what happened to me,” I corrected her soberly. “While I always thought it would be fun to meet you guys, I never really wanted to... for it to be like this.”

“What do you mean?”

I sighed and shook my head. “I know it's kinda silly Sasami-chan, but I feel like some sort of spy that's become a refugee in the very country he was spying on.”

“But you're not a spy, Gar-kun!” replied the blue-haired girl suddenly. “You were just someone that liked a TV show... and some meanie put you here.”

“And what about everything I know?”

“I don't think you're a bad person, Gar-kun. You won't do anything to hurt us.”

I shook my head again and sighed. “I haven't always been a nice person, Sasami-chan. I'm worried I might... slip.”

“I don't care. I love Big Sister Ayeka even though she does mean things sometimes. And I even like Ryoko even though she did terrible things in the past.

I smiled, but I knew it was a wane looking one. “Sasami... I can appreciate that. I know because I have brothers back... where I came from. They... were neglectful. They hardly ever supported me when I needed it the most. I couldn't do anything – couldn't go to school, could barely hold down a job... we couldn't even make the budget work. We were always falling behind and any windfalls we came into went into repaying debts just to keep the lights on and the water running. I tried my hardest to support them, but all it really did was hurt me. They were apathetic towards me, and it took them a long time to realize that I would not be around forever.”

I was rambling, I know, but with something like this it was like opening the floodgates – kinda hard to stop once I started. Sasami, though, didn't seem to care one bit. She was giving me her undivided attention.

“What did you do?” she asked with sad looking eyes.

“I laid down the law. I told them that once my obligation to my parents had been fulfilled that they would be on their own, and nothing they could say or do would change my mind. It was only then they saw how badly I was being held back. It was slow at first, but eventually they started taking care of themselves – just in time for us all to go our separate ways. That was about three years ago.”

“What happened then?”

I shrugged. “We all drifted apart. We suck at correspondence, so we didn't even really keep in touch with each other. The only person that really did was... Mom.” God, it still hurt to think of her, to know that she was gone. It didn't even help to think that she was in a better place because the belief system I was raised on said that we would all be together someday.

The thing is that I had been cast off into the wilderness – a different universe, with different rules and different powers that ruled over them. What became of a lost soul like myself when my end finally comes?

I will admit now, I was raised as a Mormon... and us Mormons have an interesting take on Hell. It was not so much being cast into 'The Pit' with all the other damned souls to be tortured by demons for eternity.

It was worse than that.

It was being cut off from the light of God, the one that gave life to the Universe itself... to be completely shut-off from that, and cast away forever in the darkness. Utterly alone and cold until…

...Oblivion.

Am I in Hell?

“DON'T THINK THAT!” came Sasami's voice suddenly... or was that Tsunami's? I had no way to tell for sure, but I do know that suddenly Sasami threw her arms around me and damn near broke out into tears. “You're not alone anymore, Gar-kun. And I don't want you to feel alone anymore. If Gar-kun needs a family, then I will be his little sister!”

I was absolutely floored. For one thing, there was the simple physical sensation of nearly being tackle-glomped by this little barely-a-teenager, feeling her force the sobs back into her body because she didn't want to cry.

And then there was the fact that she was honestly and truly sad for me. This was no pseudo-sympathetic 'you have my condolences because propriety demands it' thing. This poor little girl, cursed with a heart so big it gave a Goddess pause for consideration, felt true sorrow for me.

I was all but a stranger, and yet she felt so bad for me that she wanted me to be part of her family, just so I wouldn't feel alone anymore.
I gently wrapped my arms around Sasami and hugged her back.

“It's okay to cry a little now and then, even when you're trying to be strong.”

“How can you be strong and cry at the same time?” asked Sasami in a strained whisper.

“We do it in private mostly,” I told her. “Where no one can see us. But sometimes... like now... it's okay to do it quietly... Where the people we care about very much can see us... my beloved little sister.”

Sasami froze, then looked me in the eyes. The tears had been stabbing at my eyes for some time now and they had been flowing freely once I realized just how much this sweet little girl cared.

Without another word, Sasami threw herself back into my chest, arms wrapped around me tightly, and began to quietly sob.

Little did I know just how serious she was about her claim.
That evening, life went on as usual in the Masaki household. Tenchi came in from the fields with Ryo-Ohki in tow. Ryoko finally roused herself. Ayeka finished with her household chores. Mihoshi performed one of her infamous crash-landings in the lake. Washu appeared from her lab. And Sasami served dinner.

“How was your day Tenchi?” asked Sasami.

“It was good. It looks like the carrots will be ready to harvest next week.”

“I should have my truck and trailer unpacked by then,” I chimed in. “We'll be able to get the entire harvest in one go.”

Tenchi gave me a surprised look, then beamed. “Thanks! But are you sure your truck can handle all that?”

I shrugged. “It handled all my stuff at highway speeds. Granted, not quite as fast as it normally would, but fast enough for it to be safe. If we can keep Ryo-Ohki from eating the majority of them at once, we might even be able to take some of our harvest to the market.”

“That would be a huge boost to our income,” said Washu. “I knew you'd be useful to keep around.”

“Yeah, well the sort of 'useful' you guys usually need isn't of the handyman variety,” I sniped back. “But anyhow... I just realized that fuel could be an issue – it was bad enough in my time when it started running close to about a hundred-twenty yen a liter. And my truck has a sixty-liter tank. Having another vehicle like my truck around is a boon... but it's also an expense. Washu, think you could help me out on converting my truck into a diesel-electric?”

“Diesel-Electric?” asked Tenchi, a little unfamiliar with the concept.

I sighed. “Of course, most of your locomotives are straight-up electrical. A diesel-electric drive train is one where you have a diesel engine turning a generator which supplies power for electrical traction motors that drive your vehicle. A lot of railroad locomotives in the USA are like this because the runs between rail yards and depots tend to be measured in the hundreds of miles. If you remember your science classes then you'd know that's too far to transmit power efficiently... at least, using regular power lines.

“Now, this is opposed to hybrid drive trains that you hear about in some vehicles because in those the gas engine and the electrical motor do the same work together – driving the car. It's just that in a hybrid system the computer is able to balance how much work the engine does with the motor, and how much work the engine puts into generating electricity instead of providing driving power. It's very complicated and requires a lot of moving parts.

“Now, I'm an engineer, which means I believe perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. I would go for the diesel-electric system – much simpler that way. Also, add a nice little bank of batteries and a couple of one-farad capacitors, and then have those capacitors working in conjunction with some high-efficiency direct-drive dynamos – that way I can reclaim energy whenever I brake to slow down.”

“Pretty clever,” said Washu.

I shrugged. “Wasn't my idea. Someone else came up with it, then slapped a patent on it so only they could make money off it. I'd do it differently – patent it, yes, but make it so anyone can use the basic system, free of charge.”

“You wouldn't make any money off it,” said Washu shrewdly.

“My reward would be when global warming starts to look a lot less like a myth here in the next couple of decades and right-leaning politicians start rethinking their agendas. Oh, and also it'll be nice for when the price of gas skyrockets.”

“Good point,” she conceded. “At any rate, it sounds doable. Though that sort of vibration tolerance is pretty high. You sure Earth's technology is up to snuff at this time?”

“Pretty sure. It may not be in the same class as 'off the shelf parts' but it's out there. We can work out the details later.”

“Good idea. Food now, work later.”
Later on, Washu and I worked at the table once all the food had been cleared away. She had rolled out a largish piece of clear film over the table and engineer's diagrams of my truck appeared all over it. I don't know how she managed to get a hold of it all, but it covered everything about the Mazda B2500 pickups you could imagine.

We got around talking about instrumentation and how it would all have to be changed, I then heaved a sigh as I had an epiphany.

“You know what, I'm not so sure I want to go through this anymore,” I said.

“What? Why wouldn't you?” said Washu in surprise.

I shrugged. “I've got a lot of sentimental value in that truck. Kinda like to keep old Scrappy the way he is now.”

“You got any other ideas in mind?” asked Washu.

“Well... there is a four-door option of this truck here in Japan. I wouldn't mind trading-off the longer bed in exchange for more comfortable seats in the back.”

“You don't have to,” said Washu. “We could just get both versions, cut them in half, and keep the parts we want.”

“Maybe,” I said thoughtfully. “It'd take some time to make it happen. There's a few other options I want to look at as well, like a camper-shell with an air conditioning unit and cargo-bed seating. Not enough seats for everyone otherwise.”

“Why's that important?” asked Washu.

“I thought it'd be nice if we can go out on road trips now and then. You know, nice normal stuff. Though if we want the same sort of experiences I had when I was a kid, we'd have to hit everyone with an American Generic language pack and head over to the USA.”

Washu snorted. “That'd be something to see. But I think you're onto something about them enjoying it.”

“Yeah. I think Ryoko would especially like Texas. And I'm pretty sure that Ayeka and Sasami would like the Riverwalk.”

“What about Mihoshi and me?”

“Lots of schools chock full of fresh-faced science and engineering majors for you to terrorize.” Washu cackled gleefully at that. “As for Mihoshi... eh, she'd have a blast anywhere. She would probably get lost in the barrios and wind up finding one of those nice hole-in-the-wall panaderias and blow her entire budget on pandejevo and sweet empanadas. And she will never eat any pastries but conchas and cemitas and empanadas afterwards.”

“You sure about that?”

“Latin Americans are renowned for their sweet tooth. Just you wait and see.”

“And what about Tenchi?”

I grinned. “I'll take him to Lackland Air Force Base. If I look through my stuff, I'll bet that my DD-214's have changed to reflect my shift in time and space accordingly and I can get Tenchi in with just a little bit of effort.”

“How so?”

“Whisper into a recruiter's ear that he's considering service in the US Air Force over the JASDF.”

Washu snorted in amusement. “You evil person you.”

I grinned and I knew I had that wicked gleam in my eyes. “It's a gift, I know.”
After that evening with Washu, I put the finishing touches on my C-Space, and then got myself my sleeping pad, pillow and some blankets, as well as my cat and his basic necessities, then sacked out. It was empty and hollow sounding, but it was my space and tomorrow I was going to fill it.

BlackAeronaut:
CHAPTER FOUR:
Growing New Roots
Part 1 of 2

Moving is always an odd experience.

You cast away the old home and take on a new one.

A new place with new spaces and you have to figure out where to put everything. In this case, I had an advantage in that I made this space with all my belongings in mind – I already knew where I wanted everything to go. But what made this very different was an experience that was completely novel to me: I did not have enough stuff to fill up my space.

I'm used to living in smaller spaces, but I have always wanted something sprawling like I had designed. So I may have gone just a bit overboard. Oh, it wasn't ridiculously huge. It wasn't that it felt like my bed only occupied a small corner of the Dallas Cowboys' stadium. It's more like my sleeping area seemed to have a largish empty spot that my brain quickly tagged as 'big enough to fit a plush leather sofa on one side, a matching loveseat ninety-degrees over, and a coffee table between them'. Rather, it did so with the image of such instead.

As I assembled my bed, a strange, yet familiar voice rang out, echoing in my still mostly empty C-Space.

“So, you catch the interest of a galactically renowned scientist, gain the liking of First-Generation Royal Tree, and steal the heart of my granddaughter. What am I to do with such a strange person?”

I turned, blinked in shock, and said, “Holy shit, you're Seto Kamiki Jurai.”

And there she was, giving me a bemused smile. Mint green hair, intensely wavy, pulled into a long ponytail, save for some truly gravity defying bangs that framed her narrow, wine-red eyes. I had to admit, she was a very attractive woman. The white-sleeved purple robe with a tightly cinched black sash and a white ankle-length skirt did little to hide her hourglass figure.

Especially her bust. Boggle!

“Oh, not going to use that 'Devil Princess of Jurai' title?” Seto asked coyly.

I raised an eyebrow and replied, “Does a man tell a fire-breathing dragon she's ugly?”

Seto chuckled. “Charming. I can see why the others like you. You don't just run and hide like Tenchi does. You fire back.”

“Well, I must admit that part of me is screaming at the rest of me to take tactical cover. But the other part says that she'll just nuke me from high orbit if I do that.”

Now it was Seto's turn to raise a speculative eyebrow. “Now why would I do that?”

“Because I just might make myself too dangerous to allow running loose.” I then shrugged as I gave it more thought. “Then again, you are the sort to keep us 'potentially dangerous' types closer than your 'friends'. Just please don't try to marry me off to someone. I may be lonely, but I'm not ready. Just ask Washu-chan.”

“She told me all about it,” Seto reassured me. “Don't worry, that's not on the table right now.”

My eyebrow went up like a flag again. “Right now, she says. Twelve months later, you'll be setting me up with Minaho.”

“Oh?” said Seto, as though catching wind of something tasty. “Why Minaho?”

I shrugged. Don't worry, it's not all I did – I was just resigned to my fate there and then.

“I think she's cute and I might as well make my preference known now. Dunno if she'd like me though. I got a nasty streak in me and it rears it's ugly head when I get pissed. You're best bet is to arm me up, aim me at someone particularly nasty, and say, 'Sic 'em, boy.'”

Seto actually looked a bit sour about that. “Is that really necessary?”

I sighed. “Sorry about that,” I apologized sheepishly. “Just a bit of that nasty streak I mentioned. I'm kinda passive-aggressive.”

“So I see,” she replied with a rueful smile. “Look, before you start to get silly with me, young man, why don't we sit down and talk?”

I looked around glumly. “Well, I apologize I don't have any seats to offer you, so I guess we can go to the den. But! I insist on making a pot of tea.”

“As you wish, Mr. Grimm.”
“That's a nice fragrance,” Seto said as I set the tray with a steaming pot and empty cups down in front of her.

“The tea masters that made it call it 'Sleepy Time', but I like it for more than just that. I figure I should calm my nerves anyhow. Try it with a bit of this wildflower honey. It's good enough without it, but just a bit of sweetness really brings out the flavors.”

“Thank you. Would you do the honors?”

“As you wish.” I poured the tea, added the honey, and gave it to Seto before serving myself.

“This is nice. I can see why they call it Sleepy Time. Would you mind if I took some back with me?”

“I can spare a few teabags. Your best bet, though, is to sneak onto one of the larger US Military bases with a fake ID and pick some up at the Commissary. That, or go straight to the US for it. Probably less troublesome that way anyhow.”

“I would appreciate your gift. This would be the best after a particularly stressful day... Not that those happen very often these days.”

I had to grin at that. “Yes, you being the master manipulator and all. Seriously, my hat is off to you. Not many people, even those with enhanced lifespans like yours, become as good at pulling the strings as you do.”

“Well now,” said Seto with a smile. “I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted.”

I gave her my patented 'Pull the other one, it has bells on it' look, and said, “You do it, usually, with the best intentions in mind. Though I gotta admit, getting your husband to marry you because you'll kill him otherwise... that's something else. Your kind is certainly rare and I wish there were more of you around.”

Seto actually looked disturbed by the idea. “Oh dear Tsunami no! It'd be chaos!”

I laughed. That evil look was there, I just knew it. “I know, right? It would be so epic! Fifty Xanatos Pile-Ups left and right!”

“Xanatos?” she queried.

“A fictional character from my home timeline that was known for being a magnificent bastard – manipulating the other characters so that just when they think they got one over on him, they really just played into his hands. His plots were what came to be known as Xanatos Gambits, and a collision of multiple Xanitos Gambits by different characters was known as a Fifty Xanatos Pile-up. You know, like a cascading traffic accident on a superhighway.”

Seto shook her head bemusedly. “You certainly like exposition.”

I shrugged. “I have long felt that Raven is my totem animal.”

“And that means?”

Seto does not know Earth cultures, I had to remind myself.

“Incessantly chatty, ever observant, smart, clever, devious, and one hellacious mean streak. Magnificent birds, really. They make wonderful and loyal companions if you can ever get one to take a shine to you, but unfortunately they're protected by federal law in the US.”

“Pity. But then, I doubt their laws apply to me. Maybe I should go see if one does take a liking to me. Mikagami could use the company.”

I chuckled. “Just don't bring in anything shiny if you don't want it to get snatched – unless that's your intention in the first place. Ravens love shiny stuff.”

“Duly noted,” said Seto bemusedly. “You know what, I think I do like you, Garrick. However, ever since the whole fiasco with Lady Funaho we are understandably leery of adopting another human into our family.”

I blinked. “Sasami doesn't kid around, does she?”

Seto's smile got a bit bigger. “No, she doesn't. The little darling. I hope that someday she'll be able to fill my shoes.”

I smiled and shook my head. “Somehow, I don't doubt that. That adorable little imp.”

“At any rate, if you are going to join our family, Garrick, you will need to ostensibly prove your worth to the rest of the politicians on Jurai.”

I glowered at Seto. “You should know that I don't suffer politicians very well.”

“Oh? And what about me?”

“You're different. You actually act with the interests of your people in mind... granted, your people are the Royal Family, but seeing as yours aren't a bunch of tyrants I can let that slide.”

“And if we were?”

“I'd play along, get myself into a suitable position of power within the Royal Household, and then stab everyone that deserves it in the back.”

“Well, you were right about being devious and mean. Anyhow, Funaho-no-ki, that is Yosho's Tree, wanted you to have this.” she then hold her hand out, and in it was a tiny, round, brown-colored, acorn-like object.

“That... is a seed...” I said slowly.

“It is,” replied Seto. I could swear she had canary feathers on her face.

“From a first-generation tree...” I looked up in here eyes and said, “I don't deserve this.”

“I only need you to take care of it for a while, Garrick. If word got out that there was a Royal Tree here on Earth that was able to produce seeds then there would be no end to the trouble that could cause us – even if that information was restricted within the Council Chamber.”

I blinked. “They would demand that Yosho return to Jurai... and you wouldn't do that to him because he likes it here – it would break his heart.” I then gave her sidelong look. “And entrusting this seed to me would be a perfect way for you to test my character.”

“Garrick, please,” sighed Seto, giving me an exasperated look, “just accept this for now. I don't know of anyone else more convenient than you right now. Ayeka has her seedling. Sasami-chan... doesn't need one. And Tenchi... We have plans for him.”

I sighed. “Alright, alright, you got me. I'll take care of the little one.” I held out my hand and Seto gently placed the seed in my palm. I looked down at the tiny thing, so innocuous looking.

“It's strange,” I said, “How something so small can, with time and nurturing, growing into something as great and powerful as Funaho.”

“We are all like that, Garrick,” placing a hand gently on my shoulder.

“Yes. I suppose we are.” For some reason I felt some kind of whim overtake me and I looked Seto in the eyes. “May I name this one?”
Seto tilted her head in mild puzzlement and said, “I suppose it would be alright.”

I looked back down to the seed and thought about it for only a brief moment.

“Your name will be Katherine,” I said at length. “Yours is to be intelligence, cunning, beauty and grace fit for royalty.”

“A laudable goal,”said Seto appreciatively. “Do you think she will be up to it?”

I looked back over to Seto and smiled again. “This is one of Funaho's. She will be.”

“At least you show some wisdom despite being so young.”

I scoffed sheepishly and looked away. “I know. I must seem like such a child... but that is what makes us Earth people so special. Our lives are so brief that we can feel them flickering and burning away like a candle in the wind. And so, with that sense of urgency behind us, we push so hard for a better tomorrow, because for us nothing ever comes soon enough.”

“That is why I accepted Funaho into the family. I knew that she would shake things up a bit, and she did. And now here I am, considering accepting another human, this time one of you infamous Americans. I wonder how much you will shake things up?”

I looked over at Seto and smiled. “Like throwing rocks in a pond and seeing what sort of ripples you make. But just you watch, Seto. This rock is gonna grow wings and skate across your pond, making ripples wherever it goes. I'll be damned if I don't have some control over my destiny.”

Seto looked absolutely delighted. “Do your best, Garrick. I will eagerly anticipate the show you put on.”

I chuckled at that. Seto anticipating my show? I had better not disappoint her then. I then look down at the seed once more and gently slipped it into one of my pockets.

“She'll be safe in there for the moment. Anyhow... so, plans for Tenchi? I take it they involve the words 'First Generation'?” I hazarded.

“No real need,” Seto replied. “He has the ability to create his own Lighthawk Wings. It is completely unprecedented in our history - something no one else has ever been capable of doing without the aid of a Royal Tree. Therefore I have already decided that he is to be the next in line for the throne after Yosho.”

“Ouch! Don't let the poor guy hear that – he'll have the anxiety attack to end all anxiety attacks.”

Seto chuckled. “Of course not. He won't find out until he finally decides he's going to marry those girls.”

“Again, ouch.” I then sighed as my thoughts took another turn. “I gotta admit though. I do envy him.”

“Do you now?” said Seto with a wicked grin. “You could take a little of the heat off him.”

I snorted. “I'll tell you the same thing I told Washu-chan – bad things happen to those that poach on Lord Tenchi's turf. It is a mandate of this universe.”

“Are you so certain now?” she asked.

“Deadly,” I stated flatly. “Although, there is also the mandate that anyone that gets involved with Tenchi will have his luck and misfortune rub off on them. Just watch out for an up-and-comer called Seina Yamada. He's got a thing for Tenchi's cousin, Kiriko Masaki. Nice guy, but he's got bad luck so bad you could literally weaponize it.”

“I see. And you think Tenchi's luck will rub off on you as well?”

I shrugged. “Time will tell. If it does, great! Just be careful about who you allow to associate with Tenchi-kun in the future. If it doesn't oh well. At least I'll have some interesting stories for the grandkids.”

“A little presumptuous, aren't we?”

“Nah, just walking the fine line between fatalism and optimism. More tea?”

“Please. Without the honey this time.”

“Of course.”
Seto and I nattered on for another hour before she decided her time was up. She reminded me to take care of Funaho's seed, and I gave her the tea bags. She then bade me farewell, and left just like that.

I cleaned up the cups and the teapot, then went over to Washu's door and knocked firmly, but politely on the door while removing the seed from my pocket. The door popped open perfunctorily and Washu's voice came from inside.

“Come on in, Garrick.”

“Thanks,” I said as I went in, closing the door behind me.

“You know,” said Washu as she entered some random data on her main holographic console from her floating cushion. “...you're one of the few people here that observes the proper protocols when it comes to gaining access to my lab.”

I shrugged. “Not much to it. Just knock and wait and see if you get an answer. If not, then you're probably in the middle of something more important.”

“Which I'm not, as you can see,” she said as she dismissed the console with a grand flourish and spun around to face me. “What's up, Gar-kun?”

I smiled, shaking my head. This was so unreal.

“Whulp, courtesy of our favorite little junior princess manipulator, my application for adoption into the Royal Family of Jurai has been received by the senior princess manipulator and is pending approval.”

Washu cackled. “HAH! I knew it! I mean, sure, I knew Seto was here talking to you, and I didn't eavesdrop... but still, I knew it!”

“Har-dee-har. Once you're done getting the giggles out of your system, oh high and mighty genius of the entire universe, I need some basic how-to's for taking care of this kid here.” I then showed her the seed.

Washu blinked and whistled. “She really wants to see what you're capable of.”

“No kidding,” I grumbled. “Not that I'm backing down or won't give it everything I got... but still...” I shook my head. “Look, you can't just whip up a central unit for a Juraian treeship for me, can you?”

“Nope. And Ayeka has the only spare we had.”

“Damn.” I then looked down to the seed and sighed. “I'm sorry, Katherine. Guess we'll have to wait a while before I can plant you.”

“Hold that thought,” said Washu. “I said I couldn't make a central unit. I never said I couldn't make something to properly nurture her. And the best part is that we can add it onto your C-Space.”

“So you mean that I can properly see to this little one's well being?”

“Of course!”

“Let's get started then! I want this garden to be the envy of all Juraians!”

“Well, if that's your aim then I suggest we bring someone else in on this.”
“What?” said Ayeka, at a complete loss for any other words.

“I know, right?” I sighed. “I mean... I like to think that I'm a nice guy and all... but I'm pretty surprised by this turn of events myself.”

“Well of course!” replied Ayeka haughtily. “It take more than just being a nice person. You must have strength of character, gravitas, and the perseverance and bearing of a noble.”

“Ayeka, my dear Princess? Any more cheese in that line and we'd be able to set up a delicatessen.”

“Don't mock me!”

I smiled and cajoled her, “Oh, come on. You just make it too easy sometimes. Why do you think Ryoko picks on you so badly?” I then lowered my voice and added, with a conspiratorial grin, “Not that she doesn't leave herself wide open for a verbal assault herself.”

Ayeka grinned back. “She does at that, doesn’t she?” Her expression then shifted to something more anxious. “Do you really feel that I... leave myself open?”

“Well, you certainly don't have the most approachable demeanor at times. My advice? Save the untouchable princess act for state functions. You want your people to think of you as someone who will hear them out, right?”

“Well, of course,” the princess replied, this time in a more sober tone. “It is one of our highest responsibilities to hold open court so we may hear the grievances of our people.”

“Well, there you go then... I think that someone you might want to emulate a bit is a famous Queen of Earth's history, a woman known as Elizabeth the First. She was a remarkable woman. So great was her desire for there to be stability in her land that she forewent marriage. 'I am the bride of England' she would say.”

“But... how did she have an heir?”

I shook my head. “Sadly, she didn't. For one thing, rampant inbreeding led to infertility and impotence in the royal family of England. A few even think that Elizabeth was not really the true successor. Her being a bastard-daughter lends a bit of credence to the matter. Also, there was a lot of corruption in the royal household at the time from the Catholic Church trying to interfere in the matters of Britain. Religious fanatics and power mongers. Long story.”

A look of realization blossomed on Ayeka's face. “So to ensure that she would never be influenced she sought no suitors. What a terrible fate!”

I nodded sadly. “She was an incredible woman. She led Britain into a golden age the likes of which was never seen again... But during her time, there was no other like her. Such was the adoration of her subjects that she would even go out to dance among the commoners. Especially if the minstrels played a particularly rousing tune.”

“Well, if that is true then I suppose she at least had some happiness in her life.”

I smiled. “Ask me about her favorite playwright sometime. At any rate... Princess, please... it really would mean a lot to me if you help me.” For emphasis, I pull Funaho's seed out of my pocket and showed it to her.

I knew I had her. I couldn't really see it in her bearing, but in her eyes... I could tell she just melted as if I had shown her a particularly cute puppy.

“Alright, Garrick. But not for you,” she added quickly. “I am doing this for Funaho... and for this little one.”

“Katherine.”

“Who?”

“I decided that I would name her Katherine.”

“What sort of name is that?”

I smiled. “It is an ancient and much loved name for a princess.”
Ayeka was, simply put, astounded at what I did know. Having learned gardening from my mother the same way I learned auto mechanics from my father, I had a lot of common sense knowledge at my disposal, as well as some of the more zen like teachings.

“Oooh!” cooed Ayeka. “These flowers are so big! And such vivid colors!”

“Yes. It's a tropical plant called a Hibiscus. Because it likes sunlight so much we'll have to put it with the Trigona.”

“Trigona?”

I pointed to the Euphorbia in question, a six-foot tall collection triangular-shaped stems with spines and tear-drop shaped leaves along the edges of each, all branching upwards in a disorganised mass, and colored a mottled leaf-green.

“What is that thing?” she remarked with wide-eyed shock at the rather imposing plant.

“Euphorbia Trigona,” I told her. “Common name: African Milk Tree. I just like to call it a Trigona.”

“It... has thorns. All over it.”

I smiled. “Yeah. It can be a nasty customer to bump into, especially since it's sap is absolutely poisonous.”

“It's POISONOUS!?”

“Relax,” I replied, scolding her. “Mainly it's just to keep things from eating it. I'd imagine that if your trees didn't have you Juraians to protect them from predators they would have evolved some nasty defense mechanisms as well.”

Ayeka blinked, then smiled nervously. “Oh. Well, when you put it that way I guess I can see why. But why would you have something dangerous like this?”

“Because, look at it! It is magnificent, lovely, and yet imposing as well. And despite that it is an easy going sort of plant. It requires very little care and it disdains pampering. It propagates through cuttings but under loving and patient care it will even flower. Oh, and it absolutely loves sunlight. Desert plant, you know.”

“I have always thought it is strange how plants can thrive in deserts,” the Princess said as she stepped closer to the Euphorbia to get a better look at it.

I smiled. “Someday I need to take you guys to the Mojave. It's hot and dry, but if we go in the springtime it's pleasant. The cacti and sage all blossom, the birds sing, and the land comes to life all around you. If not for the heat, you'd think you weren't in a desert at all.”

“Well that does sound like a pleasant idea,” she said absently. She was now utterly fascinated by the plant.

“I'll talk to Tenchi and Washu-chan about it sometime. But anyhow, would you like to try growing one yourself?”

That got her attention as she looked up at me in surprise. “Ah... well, you did say it was easy to care for, right?”

I smiled. “Pretty much. Just needs a warm and sunny spot. Pot it with peat and perlite, and water it generously about once a week – just long enough for the soil to dry out. That simulates the weather patterns this plant is native to – sudden torrential downpours followed by days of dry weather. Feed it once every three months with a plant food for desert-dwelling plants. It's a very hardy plant, so if you want to err on the side of caution, don't water it.

“So, you want a cutting?”

Ayeka thought about it, but only for a moment. “Yes, I would like one.”

I smiled then went to the box with my smaller bits of gardening supplies, got out the pruning shears and a rag, then went to my Trigona.

I ran my finger along the smooth side of one of the larger stalks and said, “Just a small bit, my friend, so someone else may know the pleasure of your presence.” I then found one of the newer growths, just six inches in length, and growing in a direction that would make it a little more cumbersome to move anyhow, placed the shears, laid the rag over it, and cut.

Ayeka gasped as the thick milky-white sap spurted a drop on my hand. I didn't mind – I don't react as badly to the sap as some do... at least as long as I get to it in a timely manner. For the moment, I set the pruning shears aside and laid the newly cut stalk of Trigona on the rag and offered it to Ayeka.

“Here,” I said as she gingerly took it from me. “Let it dry out a bit in someplace warm. A week or two should do it. Then, plant it and water it judiciously. And just so you know, it will take a while to start growing.”

“Really? Why's that?”

I smiled. “Well, people aren't sure, but I'm certain it's because the plant wants to be sure it can trust you.”

“Really?” said Ayeka, her curiosity piqued.

“Yes. My mother gave this one to me as a gift – it was already established and it took a month of my care before it decided to grow out.”

“Ah, Garrick? What about your hand?”

“I'm getting to it. Unlike some, I'm not hypersensitive to it.” I then made deed to word by getting out another rag, wiping the sap away, and then following it up with a disinfectant wipe. I had a bottle of them in my gardening supplies just for these occasions. “See, all done. Now, let me show you some pictures of the native Texas wildflowers. I guarantee you'll love it.”

We didn't spend much more time going through my catalog of plants. There weren't a whole lot since I never had much room for a garden before. And most of my plants were cacti anyhow. Ayeka was disdainful at first, until I showed her what they looked like when they blossomed... and then I told her that some even fruited afterward, and that the fruit made excellent candies and jellies.

Suffice to say, she was rather eager to try her own hand at caring for cacti. If nothing else, it would give Sasami-chan something new to try her hand at.
Eventually, Ayeka and I had hammered out a rough plan for my garden. We'd fill in the details the next day. At dinner time, she positively gushed about everything she'd learned from me about Earth flora, especially the desert-dwelling varieties, and went on about how she wanted to learn more about earth's plant life.

Sasami looked absolutely pleased by this turn of events. I figured that it was primarily because to her it seemed that Tenchi was the only thing on Earth that she had any real interest in. Ryoko, on the other hand, was so befuddled that she couldn't even think to look for an opening to crack down on Ayeka. Mihoshi was just pleasantly clueless and asked simple questions about what Ayeka learned. And Washu just kept shooting me bemused looks as though to say, ‘You little player, you!’

Tenchi, for his part, was befuddled as well, but it was the pleasant sort. I wasn't one-hundred percent sure, but it was possible that this was a side of Ayeka that Tenchi had never seen until now... and he seemed to like what he saw.

Yosho just smiled. He knew Ayeka to a tee, so I guess he figured it had only been a matter of time. He also shot me looks, but unlike Washu's... his were more speculative. I had a feeling why: Yosho was a favorite of Seto, and it would not surprise me if he knew about her interest in having me adopted into the family.
First thing after breakfast the following morning, I made my way up to Yosho's shrine. Though what he had enshrined up there I had no idea. But knowing the ‘Old Man's’ sense of humor, it was probably some knick-knack of his from Jurai.

Autumn had hit hard. It wasn't freezing, but I had judiciously shunned the idea of going wearing only long sleeves and jeans. Instead, I wore my trusty Levi's Red Tab winter-weight jean jacket, a sweatshirt, a pair of sweatpants under my cargo pants, and wool socks to go with my old, trustworthy Navy boots.

Once I got to the shrine, I went through the proper cleansing ritual of washing your hands and mouth, and then went to the offering box to drop off a few fifty-yen coins. I then went to the shrine itself, clapped my hands twice, then bowed my head in prayer.

As I lifted my head once more, I heard Yosho's voice call out to me.

“You seem to be having a crisis of faith.”

“You could say that,” I sighed as I turned to face him. “I was raised as a Mormon. Recent events have kinda... invalidated a lot of my beliefs.”

“Mormon you say? I've known a few of their missionaries. Good men with good hearts. They don't come much better. I can see some of that upbringing in you... though you certainly seem a little more worldly.”

I shrugged. “I never went on my mission. Never felt the call, I guess. Makes me wonder if that has anything to do with all this.”

Yosho shook his head. “I have no idea why you are here, Garrick, but I do know that's the wrong way to think about this. Come, let's have some tea. There's a lot for us to talk about, and I think that's exactly why you're here.”

“Thanks. It's been a while since I've had some proper green tea.”
I was sat down in Yosho's quarters at his kotatsu (a heated table with a quilt tacked to the edges) and the tea was poured. After I took my first long sip, Yosho broke the silence.

“As I said, there is a lot that we need to discuss, but I think the foremost item is your faith.”

I was taken aback by that – enough that it took me a moment to formulate a response. But Yosho, if anything, was patient.

“Seto wants to see if I'm up to snuff, and you want to discuss religion?”

Yosho smiled kindly. “Whether you like it or not, Garrick, religion is a very important aspect of a person's sense of self. You've suffered a very traumatic blow to that sense of self. Sasami-chan has told me all about it. You're hurting and there is nothing in your belief system for you to fall back on in this scenario. I know this because I've gotten all the discussions from those missionaries I mentioned.”

I sighed. I felt numb and hollow by this point in time. I figured that I might as well go through with this because it couldn't be any worse than I felt now.

“I... don't know for sure what to believe in any more. I mean... some power has drop-kicked me out of my home-world and into yours... where I know for a fact that three goddesses, of which Tsunami is one of them, created this particular universe. I know all this. And I know that it invalidated just about everything I believe in... but now... I just don't know what to believe in any more.”

Yosho nodded. “I can understand that. Though I think it's a little less knowing what to believe in, and more the loss you have suffered. Sasami-chan said you were horribly lonely, and the ability for a family to remain together eternally is a central tenet of the Mormon faith. Suddenly, you've been gifted with a seed, from my Funaho no less! And little Sasami wants you to be our brother. I think that someone is trying to get your attention, boy.”

I blink. “Tsunami? But why? I mean... I'm not that important. I'm dust compared to her.”

“That may be true, but the thing is that Sasami-chan cares about you. And that matters to Tsunami more than you might think.”

Because Sasami cares.

Sasami is Tsunami and Tsunami is Sasami.

And anyone that Sasami would care about would have the Goddess's attention just like that.

“I see...” I said slowly. “Thank you for bringing that to my attention, Yosho. I don't know if I would have noticed it myself or not. Just... this is gonna seem kinda silly, but how does one pay their respects to Tsunami-sama?”

Yosho smiled. “When you come back tomorrow I'll start teaching you. But for now, let's move on to more practical topics... little brother.”

I blinked. “Hoo boy.”

Yosho barked a laugh. It was short and relatively quiet, but it was quite a guffaw just the same.

“You have a delightful knack for ironic understatement. Don't worry, though. Mother has decided that she will be the one to take you under her wing.”

I blinked once more. “As in Head of Military and Political Intelligence Funaho?”

“Of course.”

“... You were right. 'Hoo boy' doesn't even begin to cover it.”

Yosho chuckled at my expense. “Don't worry too much. She simply wishes to debrief you. She'll be gentle about it. After all, she's considering making you her son.”

“So I really would be Sasami's brother then. Although I certainly won't be the older one.”

Yosho passed it off with a shrug. “Subjectively, she's only experienced twelve years of her life. And Ayeka's experienced only eighteen. As far as Sasami-chan is concerned, you are their elder.” Yosho then grinned mischievously. “Although you'll still be subordinate to me.”

I rolled my eyes and replied in a droll tone, “Oh gee, just what I always wanted: an annoying older brother.”

“I am not annoying,” said Yosho defensively, but I saw straight through it.

“Like hell you are. You aren't even the old man you pretend to be.”

“Ah, so you know that as well.”

I shrugged. “No worries. Not like I'm gonna go blabbing about it. But if you want some advice, I'll give it to you: might want to consider dropping the act sometime. Not right away – I'd wait until Tenchi finally gets himself settled down. Oh, and Noboyuki winds up getting remarried as well.”

“Oh? Who?”

“That cute assistant he's got in his office. The one that comes from an alternate universe. Kinda like me, only without Random Omnipotent Beings getting involved. They have a son together and eventually he winds up going to his mother's homeland to make all kinds of trouble there and a harem as well. Seems like it runs in the family.”

Yosho stared at me with wide-eyed amazement. “Is this some kind of joke!?”

“Not a bit. Just don't let on to Noboyuki. Might jinx the whole damn thing.”

Yosho blinked. “I guess I'll just have to take your word for it then. Mother is going to have a field day with you.”

I snorted. “Don't I know it.”

The old man chuckled, but then turned sober once more as he asked, “Tell me Garrick, what do you know of the way of the sword?”

I blinked as I thought about the implications of this question: all of them pointed to pain in my future.

“I've dabbled in it somewhat in the past.”

Yosho nodded. “I thought as much. Your movements are like that of a grappler. It's a great skill to have, however, among the Royal Household, any formal challenges to a duel you may face are to be decided through your ability as a swordsman.”

“I see. When do you wish to begin, Yosho-sensei?” No sense in delaying the inevitable.

“Tomorrow. After your lessons of doctrine.”

BlackAeronaut:
CHAPTER FOUR:
Growing New Roots
Part 2 of 2

The rest of my day would have been relatively uneventful. With my truck and trailer parked in my workshop, I had easy access to unload, stage, and unpack everything. Let me tell you, having enough room to pre-organize everything for unpack really helps.

However, as I was just finishing with the staging part, I heard a knock on a door somewhere. Just as I was wondering where it came from, a screen popped up in front of my face displaying a pensive looking Ryoko through a wide-angle lens.

“Huh. Peep-hole,” I said thoughtfully as I began to make my way to the door.

“Ah, hey,” said Ryoko nervously as I opened my door to her. “Mind if I come in?”

“Sure, come on in. I was actually wondering when I'd get my first visitor.”

“Oh. Cool.” Ryoko followed me in and then whistled. “Nice. Isn't it a bit big?”

I shrugged. “It is for now, but I plan on filling it up eventually. Honestly, I've always wanted a place like this. Your mom gives out the coolest stuff.”

Ryoko made a sour look at that as we went from the common space and into the workshop. “Don't call her that.”

I rolled my eyes but let it go for the moment. “So, social call, or did you just want to see what I was up to in here?”

“Bit of both,” said Ryoko. “Really... people been talking... and I kinda guess I never really apologized for what happened.”

I looked at her in surprise. “You mean that whole thing with the sucker punch off the stairs? I already told you guys it was okay.”

“No, I mean... I need to apologize for myself. Not let someone else do it.”

As I got back to work with unloading my stuff and sorting it all out, I suddenly realized that someone, either Washu, Sasami, or both, put Ryoko up to this. I then figured that I might as well make this easy on her.

I smiled gamely over the top of a large box full of bed linens and said, “Thanks. I do appreciate that coming from you, Ryoko. And really, it was just an accident. No hard feelings. So what do you say? Buddies?”

“Heh. Sure thing. You know, you're a pretty laid back guy, Garrick.”

I gave a lopsided grin. “I just try not to sweat the small stuff.”

“For a human a broken neck isn't small.”

“For your mom- sorry, Washu-chan, it is. Though really... try not to let it happen again... hate for me to be in that situation without her to fix me up.”

“Ah, don't worry Garrick. Ain't nothing gonna happen to you with me around. Say, you mind letting me hang out in here now and then?”

“As long as you aren't trying to dodge chores. I'd prefer it if Ayeka didn't think I was letting you hide in here.”

“Ooooh! Kissing up to the princess?” Ryoko teased.

I shrugged as I hefted another box of books. I had quite a few of those. “No. It's just that Ayeka's a nice person and I'd really like it if she were a friend and not an adversary.”

Ryoko rolled her eyes. “If only she'd take that stick out her butt.”

I sighed. “Brutal, but somewhat true. Gotta get past that untouchable princess facade, but the thing is that's all it is – just a facade.”

“Oh, and how do you know?”

I gave Ryoko a flat look. “Ryoko, you do realize we're talking about Misaki's daughter, right? You know, our lady of adores-all-that-is-cute and giver-of-bone-crushing-hugs?”

“I don't think-”

I cleared my voice and then squeaked, “MOMMY!”

Ryoko crashed to the shop floor, laughing herself silly. “Okay! Okay! You got me! HAH-HAH! I'd almost forgotten about that!”

I chuckled. “You see, the Princess has a softer side to her.” I then sighed as I pulled over my larger office chair and plunked myself down into it. “Really... in a way I think she's softer than Sasami is.”

“What!?” cried out Ryoko. “Even though she can be such a bitch!?”

I nodded. “It's a defense mechanism.”

“What do you mean?” grumbled Ryoko.

I sighed again. “Look, I know because I've been in her shoes before. I don't mean the whole position-of-privilege thing. Far from it. What I've been through was similar in that I was a boy with a very sweet and tender heart... and everyone around me seemed to want to stomp it flat.”

“What? So, stomp 'em back.”

“That's what I did. So, for some people I was a very sweet boy... until I came across someone I didn't like, then I was like a little demon-spawn child.”

“That's the idea!” cheered Ryoko.

I gave her a sober look. “But I didn't have very many friends because of that.”

Ryoko gave me a funny look. “But some people had to like you.”

“A few did,” I said, shrugging. “Most heard it from others how horrible I was and either avoided me or teased me.”

Ryoko blinked in wide-eyed amazement. “Oh.”

“So, just imagine this adorable little princess. She is sweetness and sunshine – she's so cute she'd almost make you gag, except she's such a nice little kid you just can't bear to hurt her. With me so far?”

“okaaayyyy,” Ryoko drawled suspiciously.

“So, one day she meets some other kids visiting the Royal Palace... but they're all jealous of her, so instead of being her friend like she wants to be, they tease her, take her things, and pull her pigtails. Isn't that just horrible of them?”

“Yeah, that is horrible,” said Ryoko, looking a little sheepish.

“The poor, sweet little princess runs to her mother, crying her eyes out. She feels so hurt that she can't even bear to tell her mother what happened. She has the horrible realization that there are people out there that are just plain mean, and the best thing to do is to be mean right back at them so they can't hurt you.

“So, the next day, instead of letting the kids hurt her like they did before, she calls the guards on them and has them thrown out of the palace.”

“Oh... wow... I never really thought of it that way.”

I nodded. “Now, there's a bit of a difference between her and Sasami... Sasami is strong in ways Ayeka isn't. Sure, she can be hurt, but she bounces back with a vengeance. And she also had Ayeka to watch after her... someone who already knew how mean some people could be... and knew how to be mean right back at them so Sasami didn't have to be.”

Ryoko grumbled. “Even if I know all this and I try to be nice to her, she's still gonna be a first-class bitch.”

“For a while. It's gonna take time, Ryoko. This isn't like when you feel like having some sake so you go and raid the pantry for a jug. It's more like growing a flower. You have to give it sunlight, warmth, food and water, and most of all, time.”

“It sounds so boring though!” groaned Ryoko.

“Hey, I'm not saying you two can't banter. Believe me, you two can have a lot of fun just messing around with each other as long as you don't let it go too far. My brothers and I used to do that a lot.”

Ryoko raised an eyebrow. “Your brothers?”

I sighed. “Yeah. Five of 'em. And we'd mess around with each other in ways you wouldn't believe. I really do miss those knuckleheads, Ryoko.” I then gave Ryoko a sober look. “You got an opportunity here that you really shouldn't squander – and I'm not simply talking about Tenchi's affections here.”

Ryoko gave me a look that was almost a glare. “What do you mean?”

“These people, Ryoko... they're like family. Ayeka, Sasami, even that adorable ditz, Mihoshi – they're all like sisters to you. And the most terrible part is... you don't even seem to realize it.”

Ryoko scoffed. “We're not family.”

I gave Ryoko a glare. “How about you try going out there and telling it to that beautiful blue-haired little princess?”

“What!?” snapped Ryoko. “What the hell, Garrick! I thought we're supposed to be friends here!”

“And I'm doing what any friend would do,” I snapped back sharply, “telling you how it really is. Because someone that isn't your friend wouldn't give two shits about it. And I want my friend to be happy in the end – even if that means she shares a husband with a mean spirited spit-fire of a royal pain in the ass. Because if my friend would just realize it, that princess would be her mean spirited spit-fire of a royal pain in the ass.”

“Oh, come on Garrick. It's never gonna be that way.”

“It can be, Ryoko. Just... please... trust me on this. It's better to give this a shot than to regret it later on. There's enough regrets to go around as it is. And I don't want anyone else feeling as lonely as I do. Trust me, if you felt what I do, it would kill you.”

“And what do you feel?” she asked, a hard look on her face, but in her eyes...

“Gone,” I said softly. “Everyone. My family. Not dead. Not missing. Just gone. And me, cursed to never have the chance to see them again, not even in death where it had been promised since time began that families would be reunited. Instead, just cold and lonely eternity.”

“Are you serious?”

“Do I look like I'm lying?”

Ryoko shook her head, at a loss. “How do you deal with that?”

I sighed. “It's hard. Fortunately for me, that beautiful blue-haired little princess out there came to my rescue. She can sense how badly I'm hurting, and she doesn't want to see me hurt like that anymore. And I've pretty much just latched onto the lifeline she's thrown me. Because, I know that if I don't...”

“You'll drown,” Ryoko finished. She then sighed. “You're right. It would kill me if I ever felt what you feel. Even after Yosho sealed me away I at least had my anger. And even when that faded, I didn't have any real memories to fall back on – just a history of debauchery. No real past, so nothing to have lost. And then... there was Tenchi. I saw him grow up.

“And now I have all these people around me... I guess... that's what kinda scares me... the idea of losing them.”

I nodded. “It's something we all have to deal with. Fortunately for you, they're all pretty tough customers. It'd take something real nasty to take any one of your family out.”

Ryoko snorted. “That's definitely something I have to give to the bitch. She definitely knows how to duke it out.”

I scoffed affectionately at the thought. “She does at that, doesn't she?” I then shook my head and got back up out of my chair and surveyed the unpacking thus far. “Anyhow, this stuff isn't gonna get itself unpacked. Mind lending a hand?”

Ryoko sighed. “Do I really gotta?”

“No, but it does mean I'll get to sitting down and drinking with you sooner than later, buddy.”

“Okay, when you put it that way... what do you want me to do?”

I smiled. “The boxes over there next to you have my library in them. They'll need to be brought over to the bookshelves upstairs and then shelved. Don't worry about them being in any sort of order. I just want them out of the boxes and on the shelves for now – I can sort through them later.”

“Huh. Sounds easy enough.”

“Especially for you – you can levitate and go through the walls.”
With Ryoko helping me, the unpacking went a lot faster than it would have gone with just me working at it. Also, having a lot more than enough space to put everything helped as well – I didn't have to 'tetris' anything to get all my belongings into place.

So, when Sasami-chan brought us both lunch, I left her some very specific instructions for Southern-Style Peach Iced Tea, and that it was to be saved for something special later on after dinner.

That night as the dinner table was being cleared, I made the announcement.

“Hey guys! Good news! Thanks to Ryoko's help, I'm all unpacked. All there's left for me is the settling in.”

A round of cheers went around the table and I held my hands up, signaling I had more to say.

“To celebrate, I'm going to share some of my Good Stuff with everyone tonight... at least everyone that is old enough to partake.”

“Good stuff?” said Ryoko, her curiosity piqued.

“What sort of stuff is this?” asked Ayeka.

I smiled. “You'll see. I'll be right back. Sasami-chan? Would you be so kind as to get that iced tea out and some tumbler glasses?”

“Sure thing, Gar-kun.”

Quickly I went to my room and got the special wooden box that protected the six mason jars inside it and then went back down to the main room. I got there just as Sasami was setting out the tumblers.

“What is that?” asked Sasami as I opened the box and carefully removed one of the jars.

I grinned and said, “Mountain Dew. White Lightning. Moonshine.”

Yosho blanched. “You mean that's American Corn Liquor!?”

I cackled softly. “Oh yeah. It's the genuine article. The only way it could be even more authentic is if I had purchased it from someone that hadn't paid the liquor tax on it. Don't worry though. This stuff is only one-hundred-fifty proof.”

Yosho made some inarticulate noises as his face went white.

“Grandpa!?” cried out Tenchi in alarm.

“That 'stuff' of his,” croaked Yosho, “is ten times stronger than the sake we usually get!”

“Whoah,” said Ryoko fervently.

Everyone else just looked at me in wide-eyed horror.

I just grinned back at them all. “Yes people, this is the beverage of choice for the people that made their livings in the smoky mountain hills of the Appalachians and the rugged steppes of the Tennessee River Valley. They would sit on their back porches after a long and hard-day's work, and ease the aches and pains in their bodies by slowly imbibing this liquor. This is a working man's booze – strong enough to knock a mule off its feet.

“Of course, such a beverage commands respect, so many of these hardy working types would mix it with something... and what better than an ice-cold glass of tea, sweetened by the nectar of peaches picked at the peak of ripeness.”

I then began mixing the drinks. For Tenchi, Ayeka, Mihoshi, and Yosho just a jigger of moonshine to theirs. Myself, Washu, and Ryoko got the half-and-half treatment. Sasami, of course, just had the straight iced tea... I specifically instructed her to watch her drink vigilantly.

“A toast!” proposed Washu once all the drinks were poured. “To our new family member: Garrick Grimm! Let's hope he finds a cute wife!”
Sasami gleefully agreed.

Ayeka found it delightfully scandalous.

Ryoko would have made a spit-take if she hadn't waited for Washu to finish.

Mihoshi wondered out loud if any of her old classmates might like me.

Ryo-Ohki 'mii-ahh'ed.

Tenchi laughed.

Yosho just smiled and raised his glass.

I smiled as well, shaking my head. “Oh, I know what you're after, Washu-chan, but I'll drink to that anyhow.”

“KAMPAI!” we all cheered as we clinked our glasses together.

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