Off Topic > Fan Fiction

Being You is Suffering

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BlackAeronaut:
CHAPTER FIVE:
The New Normal

A thump, and something muffled. It didn't matter. It was warm and soft in here. Stay that way.

The sound again. This time, something wrapping around me. Leave me alone. Sleeping...

“niii-sannn,” came the voice once more.

Without thinking about it, I opened an eye... and then gasped as there was another face in mine.

“niii-sannn, give me piggy-back ride!” pouted a chocolate-brown face with a mess of blonde curls.

“mihoshi,” I whispered. “wake up.”

“niiii-saaannnn!” she pouted again. While that was cute, this situation was entirely inappropriate. Really I know I went to my own bed last night... I then looked around... and saw that I was actually on the couch in the main room... with one of the comforters thrown over me.

Oh. Must have gotten a little more hammered than I had intended. Guess that's what I get for drinking with the Space Pirate.

“niiii-saannnn!” Mihoshi persisted.

Cute – adorable even – but still not funny.

Nope.

Not one bit.

… Well, maybe I did have it coming. What was I thinking last night? Yeesh.

“Mihoshi, please wake up,” I pleaded.

“piggyback ride!” said Mihoshi happily. And then the hurting began.

“AAAAUUUUGGGHHH!!!” I cried out in agony as my ribs splintered.
To be certain, that definitely shook things up, and it was pretty much a repeat of my arrival here, with a few key differences: 1) they weren't wondering who the hell I was and 2) I was able to explain exactly what happened and why thanks to the removal of the language barrier.

Washu tutted in a disappointed manner as she reviewed my medical scans.

“What am I going to do with you Garrick?”

Slap me back together again and stick me out there. The damage to my ribs and internal organs had been extensive... Enough that Washu had me on external life-support for the moment while her medical nanomachines removed bone fragments from my lungs and liver. It was a very strange sensation to not need to breathe, let me tell you. I don't really recommend it.

“While I admit this is fun, I can't imagine its very healthy for you.”

I rolled my eyes as I typed on the holographic keyboard, Can't live in a bell jar forever.

Washu sighed. “No, I guess you can't. But seriously, why you? Why not anyone else?”

Why indeed. Murphy's Law, Washu-chan. It's not the one round with your name on it you need to worry about – it's the ten-thousand other odd rounds labeled 'Occupant'.

Washu actually snickered at that one and shook her head.

“Military. All the same.” She then blinked as she had a thought. “Maybe that's what we should have been aiming for all along here.”

I glared at her. Don't you dare pack me off to the GP. I don't care how highly they come recommended – I am not dealing with police work!

“Oh, stop your whining,” Washu snapped matronly. “I just wanted to give you the body modification so a little squeeze from Mihoshi or one of the others doesn't kill you.”

If I could have sighed, I would have. You know, I'm not exactly all that eager to give up my humanity.

“Oh? What about all the other interesting things you've been getting involved in. From what I understand of your psyche, your idea of self-betterment also applies to upgrades where you can manage them. Transhumanism does have a certain appeal, doesn't it?”

I gave Washu the sort of look a man gives when their friend walks in on them in the bathroom oh-so-blithely just to get the stick of deodorant they left behind... particularly when that friend happens to be female and appears to be twelve years old.

Stay out of my head!

“Oh, c'mon Garrick. Like you didn't really anticipate that, especially when you know I've had to deal with the likes of Doctor Clay only far too recently for my liking.”

I couldn't sigh, so I just facepalmed.

Fine, fine. You're right – I should have been more genre savvy. Yeesh. This oughta teach me to manifest in a place without mad geniuses.

“Well, at least your sense of humor is still working.”

One of the few things that is right now. But anyhow... Look, can you just make me a little more durable so nobody accidentally kills me like Mihoshi almost did?

Washu hummed thoughtfully at that. “I suppose I could. You sure you don't want enhanced strength or anything like that?”

No longer lifespans, no superhuman powers. I just don't want my damn head being taken off the moment somebody here sneezes.

“What about faster healing?”

I thought about that for a moment, then typed, A little bit. Bear in mind, if I do somehow manage to get hurt with these upgrades it's probably because I was either in a desperate situation or I was being monumentally stupid. Which happens sometimes.

“I can understand that. Believe it or not, I too have those can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees moments. Pain deadening?”

Strictly proportional to adrenal output. Better make that exponentially proportional. If I'm in a tight spot and it's not serious enough to warrant immediate attention, then I really don't want to know.

Washu shrugged. “That's how it pretty much works anyhow, but I'll give your endorphin and adrenal system a tweak. But in the mean time, there some people who want to see you.”

Washu sauntered off and then Mihoshi came in out of the shadows with a pensive expression on her face.

“Washu-chan told me you were gonna be okay,” she said. “But I still feel really bad about what happened. I'm not even supposed to be able to use my super-strength when I sleep!”

I shook my head and typed, Shit happens. Washu-chan is looking into this, but I'm pretty sure that this is absolutely not your fault, Mihoshi.

“Pretty sure it was the booze,” came Washu's voice echoing from wherever she was working. “She's never gotten that drunk that quickly before.”

I looked to Mihoshi, then typed, There, you see? If anything it's my fault for bringing out the moonshine. Now that we know, from now on it's only sake for you, police lady.

“Oh thank goodness!” cried out Mihoshi as she lit up like a lightbulb. “I was so worried that I might hurt Tenchi-kun, too!”

I smiled and decided to tease her a little. Oh? What about the old Earth saying, “You always hurt the ones you love”? You certainly did a number on me! Mihoshi blinked cutely as she cast her eyes upwards in thought, her fingertips to her lips as she pondered.

“Hmm... Well, I do like Gar-kun, but not how I like Tenchi-kun...” She suddenly brightened once more as she exclaimed, “I know now! Gar-kun is like if Mihoshi had an older brother! Because Gar-kun is nice like an older brother is, and he is also tough like an older brother.”

I raised a speculative eyebrow. You sure about that 'tough' part?

“Broken ribs are painful,” said Mihoshi. “I broke one rib once and it hurt so much I cried like a baby. But I broke twelve of your ribs, and punctured your liver and lungs. Even an older brother would scream like you did.”

I shrugged wryly. I guess when you put it that way.

“Okay, times up! It's my turn now!” came Ryoko's voice bawdily from the entrance.

“Mooouuuu,” pouted Mihoshi cutely.

Oh g'wan you! Later let's see if you and I can work out a tactical training course for my C-Space that's worthy of the GP.

“Oh! That sounds like fun!” exclaimed Mihoshi. “I'll get Yukinojo's help and we'll have the plans ready in no time!” And with that she took off at an energetic jog.

I smiled and shook my head as I typed for Ryoko: Tenchi and the rest of you are gonna have your hands full with her if you don't learn how to manage her.

“Eh, she's harmless,” Ryoko replied blithely.

I glared at her, then pointedly raised my gown and gestured sharply to the brilliantly colored bruises on my chest.

Ryoko had the decency to look sheepish. “Eh-heh. Yeah, that's right. You're a bit squishy, aren't ya?” I rolled my eyes at that and Ryoko got the message. “Yeah, sorry. Anyhow... Look, I just wanted to say I really did have fun last night. It's great, you know, just to kick it with someone that likes to take it easy. Especially when he does it while drinking. Just do me a favor and don't die on us, okay? Hate to lose my drinking buddy just like that.”

As long as you're there to watch my back, Buddy, I typed back at her with a grin.

“Hah! You got it. I have to get going now. Tenchi wanted to say hi.”

Sure thing. Catch ya later.

Ryoko and I exchanged a high-five before she sauntered off. As she and Tenchi passed each other, she gave him a saucy wink and that surprised the poor guy.

“Ah, hi Garrick. You doing okay?”

As well as I can. Washu-chan does good work when she feels moved to do so.

He laughed nervously. “Yeah, I guess she does... but... I don't know... Are you really okay, Garrick?”

I gave him a look. There was nothing special about it. It was flat – could feel in in the way my brows suddenly felt so heavy over my eyes. But there must have been something in my eyes as I typed the words...

I will be, Tenchi. I have to be.

“Wait a minute, what do you mean by that?”

Tenchi... I've introspected quite a bit in my lifetime, and if there is one thing I've learned about myself it’s that I deal surprisingly well with suffering. I've had my hopes crushed, my merits squandered, and dreams turned to ash. I have been ridiculed, embarrassed, harassed, neglected, and scorned.

And yet despite everything, despite all my sorrows and tears, despite how much I wished the earth would just open up and swallow me whole... for some reason I persevered. Somehow, somewhere in my upbringing, I had gained the sense that no matter what happens, no matter how unbearable and painful life has become, the only direction to go is forward.

And now, here I am. I cannot go home ever again, and the only path is the one that lies before me. So I will continue on as I have, Tenchi. Ever forwards, no matter how often I stumble and fall.

“Garrick,” Tenchi began slowly, but surely. “I'm glad that you have that strength. For a little bit, I really was worried about you.”

I smiled ruefully. Don't get me wrong, Tenchi. I am hurting. Not just from Mihoshi's misplaced affections... but you get what I mean. I'm just glad that I wound up here.

Tenchi smiled. “I know what you mean. These people... they're wonderful.”

I smiled back at him slyly. Oh yes. Such wonderful girls, you mean.

“Huh?” Tenchi replied, blinking cluelessly.

Tenchi, those girls all love you, and you love all them... but you can't decide for yourself if you love one over the other. Am I right?

“Er... yeah, right so far,” said Tenchi nervously.

So, here's what you do: you start taking them out on dates.

“DATES!?” cried out Tenchi. “Altogether!?”

Of course not, you goof! One at a time, they each get a turn with you.

“Ah... okay... but why?”

EPIC FACEPALM 2X COMBO!

Tenchi... The girls all love you, and you love them, but you won't make a gods-be-damned move! Why the hell do you think things get so fraggin' out of hand here!? They get so antsy and full of nervous energy they don't know what to do with it... well, at least Ayeka and Ryoko don't. Sasami, Washu, and Mihoshi all have their hobbies to help them relieve the tension.

Tenchi's eyes went wide. “You mean that's why they fight all the time!?”

It's a factor. Probably the biggest one for sure, but still, just one factor. I've been talking to them, as you've probably noticed. I've had yet to talk to you about this matter, but now, here we are.

“Waituhminute... why would you do that?”

Look, Tenchi, I like a little bit of drama now and then, but not all the time and not when it can easily devolve into laser death-blades flying all over the place and kiloton punches and kicks being thrown around. As we've seen today, I go squish pretty easily, so this is every bit as much me looking out for my own interests as well as your own.

“But... Washu-chan could-”

I stopped him with a sharp, cutting gesture, then typed, Washu-chan can do a lot of things. She's a regular miracle worker. But what we're not gonna do is go turning me into some immortal nigh-invincible ultimate unstoppable force. I wouldn't be Human anymore if she did that and I think she agrees with me. Granted, I am getting some stuff to help make me tougher and recover a bit faster, but that's about it – I'm not getting the full blown GP Body Modification.

“I... see then,” said Tenchi, his eyes downcast. “I never really thought of it before. I mean... I thought it was strange that I've gotten through such bad situations before... but now that you're here I've seen that... Well, I guess that since Mother was half-Juraian... it only makes sense that I'd be tougher than a normal human.”

Oi, don't be getting down on me, Tenchi-kun. You have to understand that no matter what you learn about yourself, you're still the same person you are. You just have a better understanding of that person is all. Remember: the focus of introspection should be to figure out how you got to this point, not what might have or could have been.

Tenchi's eyes widened in shock as his gaze snapped to mine. “Oh wow! Jeeze!” He then shook his head and went on, “Damn, I can be such an idiot sometimes. You really must be older than the rest of us.”

I laughed... but no sound came out. My lungs were still out of commission. But Tenchi seemed to get the idea anyhow as I typed, Washu-chan and Yosho don't count. I'm only 36, going on 37.

Tenchi laughed back at me. “You're twenty years older than I am! You sure you're not half-alien, too?”

I smirked. Technically speaking, I am an alien. Interdimensional refugees count, don'tcha know?

Tenchi snorted. “Everyone I know is an alien. I guess it can't be helped then. After all, what's one more?”

My smirk became an all-out grin. That's the spirit, Tenchi-kun. Now then, about these dates... Tenchi's good cheer evaporated in a groan. Will you relax? I got something special in mind. First up will be Ryoko and I will chaperon. Since all my paperwork is in order, I'll have Washu-chan transport us up to Yokosuka.

Tenchi blinked. “But why Yokosuka?”

I grinned. Because it's one of the few places in all of Japan where you can get an American-style burger. Trust me on this – Ryoko will love it, and you probably will too. We'll go onto the Naval base and I'll show you guys around – give you the nickel tour. After that, I'll take you two up to Yokohama and turn you loose there. I highly recommend that you take her to Cosmo World – she'll have a blast.

“She will?” Tenchi said in surprise.

What could be better? Morning spent getting a guided tour of a foreign military base, food by people that live it up the way she likes to, and then an afternoon spent with the guy she likes the most, just taking it easy and having fun.

Tenchi shook his head in shock. “I am such an idiot.”

I shook my head. No. You're just inexperienced. This is part of why Sasami-chan wants me to be your older brother. And with that I reached over and playfully scruffled Tenchi's hair.

“Hey!” hissed Tenchi as he ducked away. “I'm not a kid!”

I rolled my eyes and typed, Admits I'm twenty years older than him, and then says not to treat him like a kid. Typical.

“I have my pride, you know,” he grumbled.

Swallow a bit. It builds character.

“Oh dear!” came a cultured voice at just the right volume. “I must be interrupting! I'll be on my way.”

I waved urgently to Princess Ayeka, bidding her to come over. Blinking, she did and and I typed,

No no! It's quite alright. Lord Tenchi and I have had plenty of time to chat. I then turned to Tenchi with a grin as I typed, We'll talk more about this later on in private.

“Ah, sure!” said Tenchi nervously as he rubbed the back of his head. He then turned and quickly left with a parting call of, “Get well soon, Garrick.”

Ayeka stared after him, mystified at his hasty departure. “I wonder what's gotten into him?”

I couldn't laugh, but I could pound the side of my bed. Lord Tenchi and I were discussing what he should do about you and the rest of his paramours.

“What!?” cried Ayeka, scandalized.

Oh, calm down Princess! Don't burst a blood vessel – you knew this was coming.

Ayeka composed herself, saying, “Well yes, it's one thing to know... but it's another to hear it put so blithely.”

My apologies, I typed with a sheepish expression. I am renowned for my brutal honesty. But we're digressing, milady. I must say, I am happy you did come to see me.

“Well of course I would. You can't honestly say that you thought I wouldn't come, can you?”

Of course not. You're your mother's daughter, after all.

Ayeka gave me a confused look. “What do you mean by that?”

I smiled and gestured to the bedside hover-cushion. Come, have a seat and we'll talk.

“As you wish.” She strode over with proper, lady-like movements and gracefully and decorously lowered herself onto the floating cushion. “Now, what is it you wish to discuss, Garrick?”

I apologize, Princess, if this is the first you've heard of it... but I'm pretty sure you've heard there are plans in the works to adopt me into the Royal Family.

Ayeka sighed. “The seed was a big hint. I got the rest of the story from Sasami. If it weren't for the fact that Funaho herself is originally from here then I might wonder what in Tsunami's name Seto is thinking.”

You think I'm not cut out for it?

“Yes and no, Garrick. Some aspects of you would fit well. You certainly have a charisma about you that the common people would find mystifying. But the rest of the Nobility might find you... wanting for refinement.”

And thus the seed.

Ayeka nodded solemnly. “Lady Seto has her reasons, Garrick. For one thing, she does like to spoil Sasami, and nothing would make Sasami happier that being able to call you her Big Brother and really mean it. For another, she does not want you to suffer the same stigma Funaho suffered. Caring for a Royal Tree is one of the highest honors of common folk. They are respected even by Father for the role they play. In fact, some of the nobility even got their start that way.”

Ah! Like squires to their knights!

“Indeed,” replied Ayeka with a pleased smile that I read as 'By George, I think he's got it!' Her look then became serious as she went on, “Remember that well, Garrick – if you are adopted into the family, you will indeed have been elevated to a rather lofty position, technically speaking, of course. However, in the eyes of the nobility you will be nothing more than an upstart and a potential threat.” Her eyes suddenly took on a worried cast. “Tread carefully, my brother.”

My eyes widened in surprise at that last bit... not so much the warning to tread carefully, but the fact she called me her brother. And then to drive the point home, she suddenly leaned towards me, her face darting to my right... and as suddenly as I realized it, she pulled away from the chaste kiss she had given me.

She took in my shocked expression and said, “Do not worry, dear brother. I love Lord Tenchi more than anything else... but that doesn't mean I don't have room in my heart for anyone else.” She then shook her head in rueful amusement. “You are such a clever thief, stealing girls hearts the way you do. How did you ever not find someone to marry?”

I shrugged helplessly and typed, I don't know. Probably a lack of girls actually looking for husbands. Anytime I met a really special girl... you know, the sort who's got that smile that can light a world... the one that makes ordinary and mundane adornments seems mystical and and hypnotic... the one whose very presence makes you take notice... They are always already with someone else... and always that someone else understands just what kind of treasure they have. And I don't have the evil in me to steal it from them.

Ayeka gave me a fascinated look. “Tell me more about this girl,” she said.

I smiled. It was at training for a job – the details don't matter. I saw her in the lobby, waiting with everyone else. She was a dainty little woman – shorter than even you, and yet so perfectly proportioned that you might have taken her as some sort oversized doll. She had this delightfully flirty skirt on and a set of strappy pumps with her ankles adorned with all kinds of bangles and beads. She had a glorious fall of dark hair and these eyes that sparkled with amusement anytime she looked at you.

I couldn't talk to her at first. Two other men had already gotten her attention and they spent a lot of time over the next few days talking with her about all sorts of things. Eventually, though, I managed to find her alone, for the most part, and I did talk with her. But it turned out that she not only had a man in her life, but a child as well.

I suppose it would be just as well. They weren't married – she was a free spirit... too free to allow herself to be shackled by the idea of being married. And I don't think I could have tolerated such an existence for too long.

Suddenly I was glomped from the side opposite Ayeka. Turning, I saw that Sasami had attached herself to me like a limpet.

“Gar-nii-san has the worst luck,” she lamented.

I looked to Ayeka, who simply smiled and reached over to rub the back of Sasami's head, which was firmly embedded in my side.

I smiled wanly and typed, Maybe, my adorable Sasami-imouto... but I think it's coming around. After all, I have such wonderful sisters now. I can wait for a woman to wish to be my wife.

“Okay, no more keyboard for you,” came Washu's voice as she approached. “Your lungs are just fine now so you can go ahead and use 'em. I'll go ahead and turn off the neural interdiction now.” A holographic control panel appeared at Washu's side as she reached up, and then entered a complex series of keys without any markings. Suddenly my diaphragm twitched and sent me into a coughing fit as I got myself back into sorts.

“Ah, thanks,” I rasped roughly once the worst was past. I was still trying to get my throat fully cleared – it felt so phlegmy.

“Brother,” said Ayeka, begging a question, “is it really important to you that the woman you love marries you?”

I shrugged and said with a rough voice, “Not so much the legal definition... just that she swears herself to me – a vow to be there for me when I need her, and for me the same to her. A real partner in life, as it were. We share joys and sorrows, we make babies and raise them together, and we stick together no matter how tough it gets.”

Washu tutted disdainfully. “You're right. As special as that other girl was, you wouldn't have been able to tolerate that sort of mindset for long. You've been hurt so much in the past that demanding such an oath is almost automatic. You need that sense of security – and I don't mean that lightly. It's not an unhealthy thing, either. Really, how much do you love a person if you're not going to promise something like that? It really seems naïve of her.”

“Indeed,” agreed Ayeka. “In fact, I almost sorry for that girl. What must have happened to her to make her afraid of making a commitment like that?”

I sighed – never had it felt so good to do that – and said, “I have no idea, but Washu-chan is right. With everything else in my life being as unstable as it was, the last thing I needed was a girlfriend who had commitment issues. Anyhow... How much longer do I gotta sit here, Doc?”

Washu smiled – it was almost a loving look. “Just a few more hours, Gar-kun. However, a lot of your resources are being expended – not only to repair the damage done, but also make the modifications you requested. I'll need to give you a couple more nutrient injections, and then you'll need a nap.”

“Okay. What about the modifications?”

“They shouldn't impact your lifestyle at all. Your skin, connective tissues, and pretty much everything else are being reinforced with carbon monofilament weaves, and your bones will have monomolecular carbon rods reinforcing them.”

“That's a lot of carbon. Where's it all coming from?”

“Your body's waste byproducts for now. A lot of it is from my nanomachines stripping the carbon atoms out of CO2 molecules and just turning the remaining O2 loose in your bloodstream. However, I'll still need to inject you with some elemental carbon in a liquid suspension to help speed things up.”

I shrugged once more and rolled my sleeve up. “No time like the present.”
I fell asleep soon after that and I had a dream of being a child again. I was playing a forest full of grand, ancient trees. These trees were the welcome sort – tall, but easy to climb. It was peaceful. Sunny. Warm. With a cool breeze, the blue sky full of white, puffy clouds, and the air filled with the smell of wood, earth, leaves, and the call of the cicadas.

One tree was especially large and beautiful. It was special. I loved climbing it, walking its marvelously twisty paths and finding all kinds of hiding places and perches.

But even though I felt that I had the company of these wonderful trees... I still wished that I had friends...

As soon as I had thought it, they were all there. The other children – mostly girls. I liked girls. They were fun. The boys were okay too. We would do boy-things together. But the girls... oh how I loved to tease them. They were always so funny when they would run away squealing. Or even when I made one or two a little angry – that was even more fun because then they'd chase me! But they were having fun, too. I could see it in their eyes.

But most of all...

I could feel the trees all around us, watching us fondly. Lovingly. Like a grandparent watches their descendents playing in their yard.

Especially the grandest one.

She would protect us all when we needed it the most.
Time passes. The months drifted by lazily as Autumn turned to Winter, and Winter inexorably gave way to spring.

Tenchi began dating the other girls. Even Sasami-chan, but we didn't really call those dates. Especially since Ryo-Ohki often tagged along.  But I knew better. At the very least, Tenchi was taking my advice to heart – he began to step a little outside his comfort zone and, finding that the feelings really were reciprocal, he found that it wasn't so bad a thing to be a Ladies' Man. The girls were all more than willing to take things slowly, and that was fine with him.

As for The Girls, well... they all finally began to settle down.

Ryoko and Ayeka went from petty rivalry to friendly rivalry. Downright playful even. It was starting to enter the 'good theater' category of fun once the two decided to really go at it. Of course, it always was, but back then it was the sort you'd only watch from High Earth Orbit. But now, we could sit down at the dinner table together... and while the two would toss out the most outlandish and scandalous slander at each other, it was all done with grins that belied the vicious verbal exchanges.

Mihoshi actually tried to do better. And by try, I mean that she even began to subconsciously throw her crazy luck at things. She was still a klutz, a total spaz, and seemingly clueless... but she was no more naïve than the rest of them. Oh, and Washu and I worked together to finally get a working guidance beacon setup for Yukinojo to follow. No more crash landings.

Washu was... well, Washu. There wasn't changing any of that. She still messed around with everyone, and once I had settled in there were no sacred cows. Of course, I would always give as good as I got from her.

Sasami didn't change much either... except that I established an all-hands-on-deck policy regarding dinner. As an old friend of mine put it, “Those who help will eat and those who don't won't.” My aim was to make it so my adorable little sister didn't have to work so hard in the kitchen. I knew what it was like because I had been there. You try cleaning up after six siblings that hardly did anything for themselves.

Sasami protested, of course, but I insisted. Sure, it was rough going at first. I found that we had to clearly label all the ingredients to prevent mix-ups (I'll admit that salt and sugar is an easy one to make if you aren't careful). Prep work like cutting and peeling vegetables was an easy enough task once you knew what to do. Getting the table set was almost a chore in and of itself, with as many place settings as we needed. There were also more menial tasks, like stirring the pots so nothing burned and fixing tea and beverages. My sweet iced oolong tea knocked everyone for a loop and I soon found myself having to prepare it in large quantities.

Of course, I changed as well.

Mostly, what I did was help Tenchi with his field work, and Scrappy the Wonder Truck was endlessly useful. Granted, there wasn't much actual growing going on this time of year, but ground still had to be turned, fertilized, turned again, and kept free of weeds. There was also the irrigation system that had to be maintained, as well as the tools themselves... and then there was Scooby.

With Washu's help I did find a Mazda B2500 Crewcab and turned it into a ridiculously efficient diesel-electric drive and then christened the newly retrofitted vehicle 'The Scooby-Doo Express'.

And then I filed the patent.

There was no response from the automotive industry right away, but I got a lot of hate-mail from the OPEC people – it was all bluster, though. It posed no threat to their corporate interests because it ran on diesel, and I wasn't keeping anyone from using it. Noboyuki had to retain a lawyer for me. The funny part was that the man waived the legal fees in exchange for doing the conversion on his vehicle. The fuel savings alone would pay for his usual fees within a few months, and to make it even better we turned it into a publicity stunt. Soon enough, every Japanese auto manufacturer was looking into offering diesel-electric options... each with their own proprietary quirks, of course.

OPEC was even less happy about that, but their legal avenues were exhausted. Washu never said anything, but I think she wound up stopping an assassination attempt. But then, explosions around here were a pretty regular occurrence anyhow.

But the most interesting changes were because of my lessons from Yosho and Washu.

Washu, not satisfied that I was fulfilling my potential with a bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering, felt I would be better suited going for a double-doctorate in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering fields. With her personalized attention, she fast-tracked me through everything and we found the most prestigious universities that would permit me to get credit by examination. Scooby wound up being part of my doctoral thesis for both fields.

Did I ever mention that I learn ridiculously fast under dedicated attention?

As for Yosho... he taught me everything I would ever need or want to know about Jurai. I learned about the religion (or rather, the lack thereof), the monarchy, the government, the school system, the cultures, the customs, the food, the holidays and even the languages.

But most importantly, he taught me the sword styles.

I've always had suspicions about my martial aptitude. Sure, I've got endurance out the ass, but mostly because I know how to pace myself. And I can certainly lose myself in the moment which can lead to that all important battle-fugue state. But the most bizarre thing about me was that despite my clumsiness I am a savant at swordplay. In the few informal spars I have been in just to see what I can do, I found that I excel at parrying blows and spotting the opening I needed to score that one precise strike.

I'm good with a sword.

I'm even better with two.

But I am devastating with a sword and a shield.

For now, however, Yosho only allows me one sword... and he has been very pleased with what he has been seeing so far.

For example, he would take Tenchi by surprise time and time again with his disappearing act. I, on the other hand, knew to anticipate such moves and Yosho had to become... creative. Seriously, words cannot express how happy that man was when he realized how much potential I had. He figured that after I got my technique down pat all I'd need was simple strength training to better resist an enemy that sought to batter me with sheer brute force.

Of course... Murphy still loves me like a redheaded step-child.

One week Mihoshi came home early and surprised me with a lake-landing while I was free-running. The small tsunami that made washed me into a thicket and caused me to startle a nest of Suzumebachi. Fucking OUCH.

Then there was the time Tenchi, Yosho, Noboyuki, and I all decided to have a guys' evening in the floating onsen... only someone forgot to mention this fact to the girls, who all decided to descend on the place en masse. We never could get the blood out of the wood decking and it all had to be replaced.

Ryoko was not without guilt when she somehow got the lot of us roped into a freaking PUNISHMENT GAME! You remember the MTV show Silent Library? Guess what – IT ORIGINATED IN JAPAN! She thought it was just a regular game show and I am still a little miffed about it.
But there was one event that particularly stood out... We had all decided to have a little fun in Tokyo... but I had forgotten about something critically important.

The Tokyo Subway Nerve Gas Attack.

We weren't in the subways when it happened. But we were in the area. We were close enough that poor sweet Sasami-chan saw the people dragging themselves out of the subway, shuddering and foaming at the mouth as they tried in vain to breath.

Needless to say, the perpetrators of the attack were mysteriously delivered to the Tokyo Police.

Even though nobody blamed me, I never really forgave myself for that lapse. Not for what Sasami witnessed. Not for the loss of lives I could have prevented.

I still have bad dreams about it to this day.

BlackAeronaut:
CHAPTER SIX
A Problem Only A Mother Could Love

It was yet another crisp day in the earliest part of Spring. Tenchi and I were working one of the fallow fields, turning the soil in preparation for planting next season.

“Ready, Tenchi?” I called out from Scooby at one end of the field.

Tenchi waved. “Go for it!”

With that, I triggered Scooby's power winch, and away we went. Tenchi had once complained that there didn't seem to be enough hours in the week to get all the plowing done, so I started brainstorming for a simple way of making it happen faster.

The project had taken a month in total, mainly just to get a hold of everything we needed. The most difficult being an old, almost antique, horse-drawn plow. With that one acquisition everything else fell into place – the 2000lb. power winch and the modified harness were comparatively easy.

Of course, the winch itself was a heavy duty model. I wanted to ensure that it was intended for frequent use and not give out after turning just one or two fields. Therefore, the winch was even more expensive than the plow. But I was otherwise satisfied, especially as Tenchi finished the row and we stopped to look back at what we had done.

“Wow,” said Tenchi. “Three fields this morning and we're just now stopping to eat. I would have never thought this was possible. You really are a miracle worker, Garrick.” I scoffed as I went into Scooby to power him down and get the bento that Sasami had made for us.

“The only miracle was me showing up on your doorstep the way I did without killing anyone. This is just a little bit of my particular brand of ingenuity. Besides, I had to do something to help make sure you don't wind up being overworked like last time. And turning these fields is the hardest part by far.”

“I'm thankful for your help, Gar-kun,” he said as he accepted his half of the bento from me.

“Just doing my part, Tenchi.”

“My my! Look at all this progress! You two certainly do work hard.”

Tenchi practically jumped at the voice. “Lady Funaho! Ah, what are you doing here?”

I turned and, sure enough, there she was – the elegant and ever-composed Lady Funaho, First Wife to Emperor Asuza of Jurai and Jurai's Minister of Intelligence.

She smiled and said, “You make it sound as though I need a reason to visit with my family here on Earth, Tenchi-kun.”

I smiled as Tenchi rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Well... you do have an important job, and Jurai is so far away.”

“It's nothing that I can't get away from for a few days. Especially when there is something as important as your friend standing behind you. Would you care to introduce us, Tenchi-kun?”

“Wha?” said Tenchi. I smiled – Funaho's sudden appearance had just about completely scrambled his brains. “Oh! Right! Gar-kun, this woman is Lady Funaho... she is Grandfather's Mother. Lady Funaho, this is Garrick Grimm, our good friend from another version of Earth.”

“It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lady Funaho,” I said as I bowed deeply to the queen.

“The pleasure is all mine, Mr. Grimm. However, in the future, when it is only us family, I would appreciate it if you were not quite so formal.”

I couldn't help but smile as I read between the lines. “Of course. But only when it's just family.”

Funaho smiled. “I see that Yosho and Ayeka have been educating you.”

I grinned ruefully. “They're good teachers, even if they are quite sharp and critical. I can understand why though. The environment I would find myself in has quite a few hidden dangers.”

Funaho's expression turned a little more somber, though it still carried an oddly cheerful edge, like someone relishing a daunting task.

“Indeed it does, Mr. Grimm. That is part of why I am here today – to judge if you are truly suited to what would come your way.”

I sighed my trademark 'Ho boy, here we go now' sigh. It can be likened unto the sound a tired old dog makes when he sees a bouncing six-month-old baby making a beeline for his ears.

I then looked to Tenchi. “Oi, Tenchi?”

“Neh?”

“You think we can just call it a day here?”

“Sure. Thanks you your invention we got a week's worth of work done already.”

“A week's worth?” asked Funaho.

I nodded. “We managed to turn three fields in just a few hours using a power winch and an old horse-drawn plow.”

“Ah, how clever of you. In that case, I understand Sasami-chan is working on lunch right now. Perhaps we should join everyone else?”

“Sounds like a plan to me, Lady Funaho. Just give Tenchi and I a few minutes to pack everything in.”
It turned out that Lady Funaho was by herself. For sure, she had an entourage, but they had remained behind on her ship.

After a cheerfully talkative lunch, Funaho and I went up to my C-Space for an after-lunch tea and some... private discussion.

“Lady Seto mentioned a rather strange tea that you have. Something with a sweet and cool flavor that soothes stomachs and nerves?”

“Ah, that would be my Sleepytime tea. Would you like to try some.”

“Yes, please. I've been very curious ever since Seto told me about it.” Funaho's face then scrunched up adorably. “But she's so stingy she won't let me try any!”

I burst into stuttering snickers and Funaho looked at me in surprise.

“I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” I apologized once my laughing fit went away. “It's just... all the time you've been here you've been graceful and poised... and then suddenly...” I then mimicked the face Funaho had made and this time she began to titter behind her hand.

“No offense taken, Mr. Grimm. Actually, I'm glad to know that you can see the humor in such things.”

“Of course not, milady. I'll go ahead and get the tea.”

“Your space is a bit spartan,” called Funaho.

“A bit. It's just a temporary thing, though. In time I'll fill it up with all kinds of things. My garden, on the other hand, is a sight. Feel free to look while I work on this tea, milady.”

“Gladly. Where is it now?”

“Go up the stairs, turn away from the library, go past the windows that overlook the workshop, and keep going straight.” I smiled as I watched Funaho make her way up the stairs and down the passage to the garden room.

Soon enough, I was making my way over with one of my modest-sized tea pots when I heard Funaho cooing.

“Ooohhh, these are beautiful!” As I entered I found mesmerized by the blue flowers in the terrace next to my cacti and euphorbia. “Oh, Mr. Grimm! You must tell me about these flowers.”

I smiled as I set the tea aside on a table. “We call it Blue Bonnet. It's a flower that is very special to the people of my homeland – special enough that my people made it unlawful to cut the plants down when they're flowering.”

“Does it have trouble propagating?”

“A little. It's adapted for a harsh environment. The seeds have a very tough outer layer that keeps them from germinating for as long as two years. This helps ensure that natural erosion gets them into the ground.”

“How did you get these to germinate so soon?”

“I scarified the seeds. It's not exactly recommended, but it's the only way to effectively speed up the process. However, my goal with this terrace is to have them naturally germinating year-round in a year or two. As each generation goes to seed, I plant a mix scarified and unblemished seeds.”

Funaho hummed thoughtfully. “Clever. But don't you ever worry about nutrients?”

I shook my head. “They grow in alkali, nutrient-poor soil that drains very quickly.”

“I see. It's a real survivor then. Is it safe to touch?”

I grinned. “Back home, people lay in them and afterwards they pop right back up. No poison, no barbs, just wild and strong-willed beauty.”

“Might I have a few of your precious seeds, Mr. Grimm?”

Unbidden, the imagery of Blue Bonnets growing lush and plentiful among the trees of Jurai came to mind – a glorious and hopeful blue to grow alongside the somber yet lovely amethyst of Jurai's Royal Teardrop.

I didn't know if I would ever live to see it. But if that would be part of my legacy...

“Lady Funaho, it would honor me.” Without another word, I went to the cleverly hidden shed where I kept my tools and supplies. A moment later, I came back with the plain little envelope that bulged with a hidden treasure.

“To grow them naturally, you will need a patch of bare soil, poor of nutrients, fast-drying, and alkali. Cover these seeds with a thin layer of soil. In the spring and the autumn, water them liberally twice a week and no more. They favor bright sun and warm weather. Once the protective shell has worn away within a year or so, the seeds will start to grow and in a few weeks you will have a carpet of these wonderful flowers.”

“Two years is a little long to wait for flowers,” Funaho said with a smile as she accepted the packet of seeds.

“You've lived a long time, Lady Funaho. And you have centuries ahead of you yet. Two years is a passing moment in comparison.” I sighed heavily. “What I would do with centuries.”

“What would you do with centuries, Garrick?” she asked with that same smile as she motioned to the table with the tea.

Her sudden use of my given name surprised me and I stumbled as I clumsily moved to the table, pulling out a chair and offering it to her. And then there was the question itself!

“What wouldn't I do?” I asked myself, barely cognizant of my pouring Funaho's tea and offering it to her before pouring a cup for myself. “I would learn everything I've ever wanted to know. Craftsmanship, mathematics, music, art, engineering... I could go on and on. I would build things. Things that are beautiful, magnificent, functional. I wouldn't fear the madness of the tortured artist for I would have all the time I needed to perfect my creations. And I would find someone... my match. We would have children, and raise them together. Love... I would love them so much, even if we do anger each other. And I would know the children of my children, and their children as well. I would be a beacon for my family, ever-present but not overpowering – a signal for them to track by no matter how far afield they may go.

“And I would search the galaxy for my special place... though I think I know where it would be... my own home. A place where I could find refuge and where I would watch the children of my family play. A place that is wild, yet amicable. Tranquil and vibrant.”

“It sounds nice,” Funaho said after sipping her tea. “Hmmmm... I can see why Seto is so stingy now. At any rate... do you think it's a little isolationist? I know you speak of building things – public works I would assume. Yet you speak little of interacting with anyone outside of family.”

I shrugged as I sipped my own tea. “I am an isolationist by nature. In fact, when I was a child it was so bad that I was absolutely vicious towards anyone trying to dictate my actions to me. I desired to be free to do as I pleased, and to hell with anyone that felt otherwise. If that meant that I didn't have anyone to play with, then I was fine with that. I had my imagination and it went wild.

“Over time, my step-father knocked some sense into me, instilling into me that the world was a cold place and cared little for me and what I wanted to do. And my mother instilled into me a sense of empathy – of putting myself into another person's place and understanding their feelings. Especially pain. Pain was a big one for me. Even though I have such a tolerance for it – both physical and emotional – I still feel that I've had my fill of it. I just want to live a happy and tranquil life and I wish the same for anybody that crosses my path.

“But if anyone wishes to cause me pain... I would make theirs a world of hurt in return.”

“An interesting choice of words. It reflects in what I heard about your arrival. Ryoko broke your neck and caused you so much trouble, and yet you hold no ill will towards her because it was, by all accounts and considerations, an accident.”

I nodded solemnly. “Truth. I know Ryoko didn't really intend me any personal harm. I startled her, she reacted, and then regretted her action. Hell, she still regrets what happened, so I make sure to get her good and drunk on the nights it hits her hardest.”

Funaho smiled. “You care about her!”

I scoffed. “She's a likeable person, once you get past her abrasiveness. Of course, that's a relative thing. What Princess Ayeka considers abrasive and I consider abrasive are two different things. I wouldn't be lying if every now and then those two get into it, but at least I managed to get them to see a little more eye-to-eye.”

“That is something else I find interesting – that you got Ayeka to take a liking to you.”

I rolled my eyes a bit. “Not much to it. I just treated her like a person. Helped that we had some common interests – I couldn't have made this garden without her help.”

“Indeed. The Royal Teardrops are her signature.”

“Honestly, though, I have Sasami to thank the most. If not for her, I don't think I would have gotten my foot in the door, so to speak.”

Funaho nodded. “She speaks well of you. She's also worried about you. She says that you are so sad that it hurts to see you sometimes.”

I grimaced at that. “I wish she wasn't so perceptive sometimes... and I kinda wish you hadn't told me – it can lead to a negative feedback loop if I don't handle it right.”

Funaho gave me a flat look and said, “I think you're being a little dramatic there. And if what I heard of you is true, you should know I don't use that word lightly.”

I blinked at that. “Right. Sorry.”

Funaho then sighed and took a sip of her tea. “That aside... Sasami obviously hasn't spared any detail. Really, for me this is all a formality... and simply to satisfy my own curiosity. Besides, my husband wouldn't forgive me for adopting you without even meeting you in the first place.

“So, that said, I do have one important question to ask, Garrick: how are you doing?”

“It's been hard, you know,” I said honestly, “leaving it all behind. I have so many reminders of who I was and what I've been. I can't leave those parts of me behind, no matter how much it hurts to remember the past. If I do... then I might as well carve my own heart out. I'd hardly even be human anymore.”

Funaho had a sober look on her face. “I am sorry to hear that, Garrick. Trust me, I do wish I could help you by giving you a hug and telling you that mother will make it all better. Such is the plight of all mothers. We desperately wish to help our children by taking their burdens upon our own backs, when the better thing to do is let them work their dilemmas out for themselves. Regardless, you do seem to be holding up well under the burden of your grief.”

I sipped at my tea, contemplating her words and wondering what to say. In the end, though, there was really only one thing I could say to that.

“Thank you,” I said at barely more than a whisper. Funaho gave me a small, sad smile and we quietly enjoyed my little garden – a slice of Earth and Jurai smashed together.

“Katherine seems to like it here,” Funaho said at last as she eyed the seedling that stood in the very center of the garden surrounded by a small moat of clear, blue water.

“I'm glad that she does.”

“My husband will be pleased to see she is doing so well.”

“Will he be coming anytime soon?”

“No, not for some time. While your adoption into the family is technically all but said and done, Azusa wants to test your mettle. He's certain that longer you stay here with Tenchi then the more likely you are to come across a situation that will show your true character.”

I smiled despite myself. “Fine by me. I don't quite feel ready for dealing with Juraian High Society just yet.”

“Well, that settles that, then!” said Funaho with a smile. “That leaves us with only one other matter, Garrick: just how much do you know about us?”

I took a deep breath and let it out slow. “I know... quite a bit. The question is... how much do you want to change the future by knowing what I know?”

Funaho gave me a worried look. “Is it that bad?”

“The future?” I asked, a bit surprised. “No. Not really. There are troubles, believe me. But it's nothing insurmountable in the least. A question for a question, milady... do you trust Washu-chan? To do the right thing, that is.”

Funaho seemed to mull that over for a moment before saying, “I do trust her to do what's right... though I do wish she had the interests in the Empire in mind when she does so.”

“Then please, milady, trust Washu-chan to be my confidant. She understands better than anyone else just how dangerous my knowledge is.”

“And what if someone else finds out about you?” Lady Funaho replied with a sharp look.

I gave Funaho an equally sober look. “Then I will pray that Tsunami is able to keep my soul from harm because I will remove myself from the picture if I have to.”

I couldn't have shocked her more than if I had tried. “You would kill yourself?”

“I would do what I must to protect my family. I know it must sound extreme, and believe me, I'm not trying to discount the value of my life, but in the grand scheme of things... I would rather die before I permit any knowledge I have be used to do harm.”

Funaho sighed. “Seto told me you would be different. I had no idea what that old bat was setting me up for.”

That was so far out of left field that I couldn't stop the snort from squeaking by.

Funaho arched an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“My apologies... but... 'old bat'?”

Funaho sighed once more. “Don't misunderstand, Garrick. I love that woman like she was my own mother... but like any mother, she can tend to become... overbearing.”

I laughed. I couldn't help it. “Oh man... and that would be putting it lightly.”

Funaho closed her eyes and sighed deeply. “And you would know for sure.”

“Well, of course, I met her a while ago.” I gave Funaho one of my wicked little smiles. Funaho gave me an odd look for a moment, then smiled wryly while shaking her head.

“Of course, simply knowing about her is far different from actually meeting her.” Funaho sighed and then went on, “So, is there anything that you would be willing to tell us?”

I had been giving some thought, and I felt I had just the thing for her. “Tell me... are you missing a tree-ship by the name of Bizen?”

Funaho blinked. “Why, yes. For quite some time, in fact. What do you know?”

“A lot,” I stated simply. “I can't tell you all the details, but Bizen will be appearing again sometime in the near future. When it does, don't bring an entire fleet. In fact, you'll want to try and get a First Generation Tree for that mission.”

“And you won't tell me more?”

“Nope. It could mess everything up if I do.”

“And there's no promises I can make?”

I sighed. “Milady... please don't take this as an insult... but one thing I've noticed about Juraians is that they tend to be a little capricious. It may have rubbed off on you over the centuries, and any loopholes I unknowingly leave will most like be taken advantage of. That, and I don't know you quite well enough yet.”

Funaho smiled. “And it seems that I am defeated once again.”

I blinked. “Oh, referring to when you tried to get Washu to make more Ryokos and Ryo-ohkis?”

“You're every bit as shrewd as she is.”

“Well, at least we can say that wasn't her doing.”

“Oh, it wasn't?” asked Funaho, puzzled at that.

“Nope. That was my...” Man, I wish it didn't hurt so much to think of them... “That was my family... from my old life.” All I could do was stare off into the distance as I fought back the tears. I don't know how long it was until I felt a hand on mine. Snapping my gaze around, I found Funaho giving me an encouraging smile.

“I've read Sasami's letters, Garrick. I know about what you've lost, and I know that there is no way to give back what has been taken from you. The most I can be to you is a surrogate mother.”

I looked over at Funaho and said, levelly, “If that's what you want, then what you need to do is get up and give me a hug.”

Funaho's eyes widened in surprise, but then her face relaxed once more as she smiled and got up.

“I should have known,” she said as she stepped behind me and wrapped me up in a motherly embrace. “After having one son already, I should have known what a sad little boy looks like... and what he needs the most.”

Call me immature. Call me whatever you want.

But this.

Just this.

This made the world just a little more bearable.

Sure, I had Washu to patch me up... and then there was Sasami's own affections... But neither of those came close to a genuine hug from mom. Even if she was only filling in for your real mother.
Funaho left that afternoon.

I'd given her a gift of several cartons of Sleepytime tea to share between herself and Misaki.

That evening as I sat out on the deck sipping my evening tea, I heard Washu walk up next to me and plunk herself down.

“You've been quiet today.”

“It's been a bit of a weird day for me.”

Washu scoffed. “I bet. Lady Funaho isn't usually the touchy feely sort. She's making a special exception for you.”

“I kinda gathered that. I just hope it didn't make her too uncomfortable.”

“I don't think so,” said Washu blithely. “You just reminded her about what it's like being a mom.”

“It's a tough gig, that's for sure. I don't want to be a burden on her.”

“It'll be fine. I know you'll definitely pull your own weight, just like you have been here.”

“Pulling my own weight, huh? What the hell does that entail in the Royal Household? I mean, I've been hearing a lot about etiquette and ranks and such... But I've got no idea what the hell anyone does.”

Washu shrugged. “Everybody's involved with the government in some way or another.”

“Oh? Then what did Ayeka do before she went off to look for Yosho?”

“From what I understand, nothing much. Oh, there were things like entertaining ambassadors and such... but that was usually their children that Ayeka would entertain.”

“Ah yes. The whole big-sister thing.”

“Right. It also helps that she knew how to lay down the diplomacy when she needed to rein one of their children in.”
I snorted at that. “I think you meant 'gunboat diplomacy'.”

“Heh. That too.”

For a moment we just sat there, content to listen to the sounds of the night.

“Hey, Washu-chan, level with me.”

“What?”

“Do they honestly want me? As a son, I mean... Sure, I bet they'd love to have some new blood in the family that could shake things up without going overboard... But will they really think of me as Their Son?”

Washu sighed. “Funaho wasn't kidding when she spoke with me earlier. You really are just a scared little kid underneath it all, aren't you?”

I scoffed. “Story of my freakin' life, Washu-chan. Is it really paranoia when there's someone out there that is actually out to get you?”

“Eh-heh-heh. Point taken. But really, you should give Funaho and Azusa the benefit of a doubt. After all, they're doing the same with you.”

“Et tu, point.” I sighed. “Either way, I don't have much choice, do I? I just hope they don't do anything to hurt me.”

“I don't think they will, Garrick. It'd wouldn't make any sense.”

“Yeah, your right. Just being freakin' insecure right now. Screw this,” I said as I suddenly emptied the tea cup into the lake, got up, and made way for my C-Space. “I need a real drink.”

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