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[IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
[IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
San Antonio, Texas, USA
September 7th, 201612:34pm

The City of San Antonio.  Home of the Alamo.  The River City.

Others may turn their noses at the bustling urban center.  It has neither the same je ne sais quoi as New York or LA, but it also lacked a lot of the same problems that plagued those cities.

For Benjamin Rhodes, this place was Home.  Despite growing up so far away, it still resonated in him - in his bones it still felt like home.  Maybe it had something to do with over fourteen generations of family history on the very soil he stood on.  While he may be fond of other places, San Antonio will always call him back, like a gentle song on the wind.

That was why he was here now.  He could have gone any place else, but he wanted to establish his own roots irrevocably in the place he felt in his blood he'd do best in.

Although at the moment, he was starting to doubt his choice.

He held the letter back up to reread it again, as though not certain that he was in the right place.

Westfield Apartments.

Job as building managers.

Good pay and benefits.

Ample budget for repairs, upgrades, and maintenance.

But the look of this place belied the letter.  It was a wide, squat building - only two floors.  All painted white with streaks of dirt and mildew and broken windows.  The yard outside was a mess of scraggly weeds and the pavement was decades old.

"Well, at least we will be able to pay for the repairs."

Ben gave his brother, Jacob, an aghast look.  "Dude, I think the cost to restore this place is gonna be an order of magnitude greater than what Mr. Phantomhive had in mind."

"Then he should've looked at the place before he had us fix it up," he sniped back.

"I dunno.  That Sebastian guy looked WAAYYYY too sharp to me.  I think someone else fucked up here.  Well, wanna go see how bad it is?"

"Might as well, it is what we are here for after all."

"Hold on a sec," said Ben, putting a hand to his brother's shoulder, bringing him up short.

Jacob gave him a raised eyebrow, "Oooaky?"

"Don't look too hard, but this place has people in it.  We got squatters."

"Well, fuckle berries, this just gets better and better."

"Yeah, let's just back away for now and make some phone calls.  Police first and then Mr. Phantomhive."

The SAPD came, saw, and called for backup.  Six cars, one of them a supervisor unit, and a patrol wagon all to handle the homeless and the squatters.

Benjamin and Jacob watched the proceedings from a distance, themselves watched by the Butler, Sebastian.

Sensing Ben's unease with the situation, Sebastian spoke up, nearly startling him.

"I do apologize for the inconvenience, Mr. Rhodes.  As you suggested, it does seem that one of our servants was gravely mistaken in their estimation of the property.  I assure you that not only will your budget be receiving additional funds, measures are being taken as we speak to ensure nothing like this happens again."

"I hope so, Mister Sebastian," said Benjamin as his brother nodded alongside him.  "Although, if you don't mind me asking, do I know you from anywhere?"

"Oh no.  I am simply one hell of a butler."

Jacob and Benjamin both raised an eyebrow at this and chorused, "Riiight."

Sebastian gave a knowing grin.

That isn't ominous at all... Jacob thought.

For his part, Ben simply let it go.  Besides, the police were leaving so it was time to take stock of the damages.

The three went together into the courtyard through the entrance between the south wing and east wing.

"Oh man, what a mess!" cried out Ben once they entered the courtyard, while Jacob simply took a deep breath.

It was just simply bad.  There was garbage and left over bedrolls from the encampments of the homeless people everywhere.  There was a swimming pool filled with trash and foul smelling greenish-gray sludge.

"Oh MY GOD!  They've been using it as a cesspool!"

For once, Sebastian's falsely pleasant demeanor was simply and utterly gone.

"I assure you, Mr. Rhodes, we will make immediate arrangements to have this taken care of.  This goes far beyond Lord Phantomhive's expectations."

"No kidding..." Jacob muttered as he pointedly look away from the pool.

Further investigation revealed that most of the units had been broken into and used as encampments - all of them completely trashed and graffitied with local gang tags.  Not even the manager's office had been left untouched, but it being mostly windows it hadn't gotten much use.  All the glass had been simply broken out, and the interior graffitied.

The only upshot was the truck that had been left on the premises - an old Ford F-350 dually-axle crew cab.  Benjamin inspected it closely, revealing that it had a turbo-diesel engine, dual fuel tanks, and a fifth-wheel hitch.  The registration and inspection stickers were out of date by over two years.  The doors were unlocked and the keys were hidden in the visor.

"Idiot," grumbled Ben as he stuck them in the ignition, turned the key, waited for the glow-plug indicator to go out, then cranked the starter.

The engine turned over a few times, coughed, sputter, then rumbled to life while billowing pitch-black smoke in the air.

Jacob waved his hand in front of him, "So, how do you plan to deal with this?"

Ben shut off the engine and pulled the keys, pocketing them.  "I gotta check out the State Laws regarding abandoned vehicles, but there's a pretty good chance we might be able to claim this bad boy.  Probably need some work, but the drive trains on these trucks are built to last fer-fucking-ever."

"If you think we could, I guess..."

Just as he shut the driver's door, there was a sharp, gut-punching report from the direction of the Manager's Office.  Something careened into the second level walkway of the east wing, then dropped to the ground with a crash.

"Fuck!" Jacob yelped and ducked.

"WHAT THE HELL!?" snapped Ben.

Even Sebastian, for all his composure, flinched at the sudden noise.

"Did a transformer just blow or something?" grouched Ben as he began to lead the way (carefully) to the site of the explosion.

"Did you see one in the middle of the complex!" Jacob snapped back.

"It could have been in the back of the manager's office.  They do that sometimes."

"And we were expected to work there?!"

"Trust me, you'd know in advance if there was something wrong.  We just didn't notice because it was in some sort of maintenance cab... bin... ette.."

They looked at the scene for a moment before Sebastian commented, only too pleasantly,

"Ah, it would seem that our first tenants have arrived."

"What do you mean by that?!" Jacob said slowly.

"Precisely what I just said.  You may wish to knock on the door.  They might be reluctant about coming out otherwise."

Yasuri Nanami is my number one waifu, if only because she would horribly murder all the others if they didn't shut up and toe the line.
"They did not care about all the other attempts wizards had made on the Lone Power through history; as far as a computer is concerned, there is no program that cannot be debugged, or at worst, rewritten."
-Diane Duane, High Wizardry
"If our friendship depends on things like space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"
-Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 7th, 2016

Ottawa. Capital of Canada and home of one end of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "A big city with a small-town feel," as one of the local radio stations put it. One of the claimants of the name "Silicon Valley North." Home town of A Tribe Called Red, Amos the Transparent, the Five Man Electrical Band, MonkeyJunk, and The Reverb Syndicate, to name a few, but still a city with a stereotype of rolling up the sidewalks after six o'clock. A city with enough restaurants that, if you can afford it, you can try a different country's cuisine every night a month without repeating a country.

Compared to all that, being the place where Rob Donaldson grew up doesn't seem to matter... until you realize that it was his knowledge of the city that let him see the first sign something odd was going on.

"I thought they tore this place down years ago." Rob was looking at a small apartment building, only a dozen units, surrounded by rows of townhouses that Rob was sure had also existed where the building was standing. "There's no way we can make a place this size break even."

"It won't be forever," his companion replied. "And you can get government subsidies to help, I'm sure."

Rob bit his lower lip, then shook his head. "That money dried up years ago."

"You can get government subsidies to help. I'm sure."

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 9th, 2016

Yesterday, Rob had a cheque in his hand - enough money to buy the building outright, pay the utility bills and property taxes for a year, and buy new appliances for the apartments. He had proof that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation did not work that way or that quickly... but there it was.

Now, he didn't have the cheque but he did have the deed to the apartment building, and the appliances were being delivered the day after they had been ordered. He was sure that city hall and large-appliance stores did not work that quickly... but there it was, and there they were.

The deed was in the name of a numbered corporation that didn't exist two days before (and wasn't owned by Rob). Simply visiting a lawyer should not have been sufficient to make that happen, and definitely not that fast... but there it was.

Rob turned to his companion. "Okay, it's happening. I suppose I have you to thank for that." After a pause with no reply, Rob continued, "But this is only four impossible things. Give me two more to believe, and then I can have breakfast."

"Lewis Carrol."

"The books are eminently quotable."

His companion nodded. "Quotable, or referenceable. Here is a fifth 'impossible thing.'" He handed Rob a box. "Cellphones with built-in text recognition and translation. Not quite real-time, but close."

Rob opened the box and took one of the phones out. It was lightweight and stylish, assuming your style tended toward white with red trim. He noticed a maker's mark where he expected to see a brand name - a mallet-style hammer inside a circle.

Rob blinked. It was still there.

"Okay, I've read Bob Schroeck's stories. Either this is a joke, or ... No, that's the impossible thing here. These were made by somebody who I thought was a fictional character."

"You're quick on the uptake for somebody who hasn't had breakfast yet. The white ones," he gestured to the phone in Rob's hand, "recognize English and display Japanese. The black one works in the opposite direction. And they all have Blackberry-level encryption." He handed Rob a USB memory stick. "And this contains VPN client software and URLs for a private chat room where you can discuss matters of interest with other people in your situation."

"Japanese? French would have been more useful."

"For you, perhaps. But not for the people we expect to arrive any minute now."

Rob sighed and looked off into the heavens. "When something seems too good to be true, it probably is. I assume these people aren't showing up on a bus."

There was no reply. Rob looked around - only to discover he was alone.

He sighed again, longer and deeper. "Maybe I should get breakfast now anyway. I just know the sixth impossible thing involves filling this building with transfictional people. The setup's too obvious." After a beat, he added, "And I just lampshaded that. All The Tropes has ruined my life."
Rob Kelk
"Governments have no right to question the loyalty of those who oppose
them. Adversaries remain citizens of the same state, common subjects of
the same sovereign, servants of the same law."

- Michael Ignatieff, addressing Stanford University in 2012
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
September 7, 2016, 2:33 PM
The Westwood Apartments
San Antonio, TX, USA

With a sigh, the older brother turned to the younger one.

"Jake, let's go get the tools.  We're gonna need to clear out what's left of that cage the soda machine was in so no one accidentally trips and hurts themselves."

"Joy..." Jacob muttered and then turned to Sabastian, "Any idea of what we're to expect behind that door?"

Ben spoke up, though, before Sebastian could.  "That's the door to Washu Hakubi's lab."

At this Jacob gave the door a startled look.

"Which means," continued Ben, "someone's playing a very evil joke on us... or something very bad has happened."  He then turned to to give Sebastian a meaningful look.  "Just one hell of a butler, huh?  Be glad that I'm not one of those Christians that's one beer short of a six-pack."

"Heaven forbid," said Sebastian sarcastically, but a grin on his face nonetheless.

Saying nothing, Ben went about his business, going to get the tools from his truck with Jacob following closely after.


Slowly, almost painfully, Washu began to become conscious once more.  It was dark inside the lab, but a wave of her hand quickly brought the emergency lights online.

How could I have been so foolish, she thought angrily to herself.  There had to have been variables that I failed to take into con-

She never really finished that line of thought because of the collection of people in her midst, all passed out on the floor of her lab.  Sure, she recognized them.  They lived in Tenchi's house, after all.

Just then, there was a knock at her door.  A video plane appeared to her side, showing a disgruntled looking young man outside her door.  He had dark hair that was long and just a bit messy, a handsome, somewhat narrow face bearing a goatee, eyes that seemed to be designed for both brooding and piercing stares, and a build that was just barely verging on 'husky'.  A younger specimen stood next to him, quite heavy-set despite his youth, and looking very anxious.  Judging by their appearance, they were quite clearly related, probably on the matrilineal side if Washu were to guess.  In the background it looked as though a bomb had gone off.

Hmm, thought Washu.  Judging from the apparent blast radius and where he's standing in relation to my door...  Uh-oh.

Washu knew why he was knocking on her door, and even if she could handle a decidedly normal looking human adult, she didn't feel inclined to do so.  She would have immediately started on getting her door back to where it belonged, among other things, but she was quick to notice the presence of a little girl.

The Lab's sensors told her that she was, physically, only twelve years old - a close match to Princess Sassami by Earth standards.  However, the power readings she was getting were off the charts!  And Washu had some pretty damn big charts to go by.  Despite that, however, she was not going to allow herself to become intimidate by this... girl?  Thing?

"Hi there," chirped the odd girl.  "My name is Skuld and I’m from the Goddess Support Line.  I'll be the caseworker assigned to your support ticket."

"Support ticket?" parroted Washu.  "I never called for any technical support."

"No, you didn't," confirmed Skuld.  "But in Heaven, technical support works a lot faster.  You don't even need to make a phone call!"

"Hold on a minute!  Just who are you and what are you really doing here!?"

Skuld dropped her cheerful demeanor at that and sighed heavily, as though this were something that she heard every day and was getting tired of hearing it.

"Look.  The straight dope is that I am a Goddess who helps maintain the Yggdrasil Mainframe, the super-computer in heaven that helps maintain the Multiverse as you and I know it.  What you did just rat-screwed the operating system and it's going to take weeks of debugging for the others to straighten it out.  In the meantime, I'm here to lock down your little pocket universe before it causes any more damage to the space-time continuum and ensure that you and everyone else has a pleasant time here."  It was rather disturbing, actually, how that little girl was able to stress that one word so menacingly.

Skuld suddenly went on, "Oh, and by the way, you may want to let Benjamin and Jacob in here.  This concerns the both of them as well, since they certainly won't be able to lead normal lives for the time being."

Washu sighed.  After a brief glance at the status display in her workstation she saw that pocket universe that her lab occupied was indeed in a state of flux and would not be going anywhere in the Multiverse until things normalized.


It had only taken Ben a few minutes with his electric disk grinder to cut away what was left of the security cage of the soda machine and Jacob just as long to clear the bits away as there were cut free.

Once that was out of the way, Ben set his tool, gloves, and safety glasses aside, and then knocked on the door.

"No one ever gets in here without knocking first," explained Ben.  "Part of her security system."

Jacob nodded as they waited for a moment.

The moment came and went.  "Now I know she knows I'm here," grumbled Ben as he knocked again.

This time, the door opened and a young girl stuck her head out, her hair a florid magenta and styled to resemble a crab perched on top of her head.

Either that hair is fake or... Fuck, Jacob thought as the girl stood guardedly behind the door.

"Well," said Ben at length.  "This is a kick in the pants."

Washu stayed quiet for the moment, giving the two brothers the evil eye.

Ben sighed.  "Washu-chan, I presume?"

Washu blinked.  Few people, even those that knew of her reputation, ever called her by 'Washu-chan' upon first meeting her face-to-face.  But even so, her expression only softened marginally.

"Who wants to know?"

"Benjamin Michael Rhodes.  Manager of this..."  At this, he looked around with a sneer on his face.  "...fine establishment."

"I see," said the mad genius.  "And what business do you have with us?"

"You're on the premises?" Jacob deadpanned, his face carefully blank.

Ben scoffed.  "That, and if what I've heard so far is correct, you folks are my new tenants."

"Okay, so how do you know my name?" asked Washu a bit suspiciously.

"Oh will you get on with it!" snapped another voice from inside as Washu was suddenly shoved out the door, followed quickly by another girl.

She wearing a pink jacket that was like some cutesy child-version of a motorcycle jacket with red lining and trim, only long - making it look like it had an asymmetrical waterfall skirt.  And because she was a proper little girl, she also had a pink pencil skirt underneath that.  She had the most gorgeous and luxurious raven-black hair, and her perfect little face had three triangular markings - one on her forehead and the others at the peaks of her cheek bones.

"Hey!" snapped Washu sharply as Ben stumbled backwards to avoid accidentally glomping the tiny genius.

"You can't play dumb anymore," the girl snapped back.  "He knows who you are and he knows who I am, too!"

"Awww shit," grumbled Ben.

"Fuck.." Jacob mutter at the same time.

"Hey!" barked Skuld, looking steamed.  "Language!"

Jacob gave her a flat look, "Riiight and I'm to stay calm when I find out that I'm going to be playing host to a goddess and who knows what else? One that I know is fictional?"

Ben forestalled any further arguing by putting a hand on his brother's shoulder, causing the younger sibling to glare at him.

"Jacob," said Ben, ignoring the glare.  "Take my wallet, go to the convenience store, and get some bottled waters.  Ten should be enough for now."  He then took out said wallet and offered it to his brother.  "Go ahead and get something for yourself, too."

Jacob took the wallet from his brother's hand and quietly walked to the closest exit.

Once he was out of earshot, Ben slowly turned to the dark-haired girl.

"Yes.  I know who you are.  You're Skuld.  But you hardly know us.  He's the youngest in our family and has not had anywhere nearly the practice I've had at cultivating patience.  I suggest you not wear on his, because I hate having to deal with him when he's upset.  Do we have an understanding?"

"Fine," huffed Skuld.  "But please don't curse.  My sisters and I really don't like it."

"I'll try, but just bear in mind that I am a sailor, and my mother was a sailor's daughter."

"So, am I just chopped liver or something?" said Washu suddenly.

"Sorry Washu-chan," said Ben, a bit sheepishly.  "Look, things are in a bad way.  It's pretty self evident.  Would you mind if we stepped inside your lab and get things straightened out?  Probably a lot nicer in there than it is out here."

"Yeah," agreed Washu.  "I think my air conditioning is a lot better than this."

I looked around and then noticed that someone else was conspicuously absent.

"Say, did anyone see where Sebastian went?" I asked.

"Who?" asked Washu.

"Tall guy, a young kinda ghoulish fellow, dressed up as a butler?"

"Ugh, HIM!?" said Skuld.  "That guy was here!?"

"Er, yes.  Showed up to personally oversee this situation.  The place wasn't supposed to be a demilitarized zone when Mr. Phantomhive bought the place.  Is this a... problem?"

"uuuhhhhg, just forget about it!  The less I think of him the better I'll be."


Once Jacob returned, the four went inside Washu's lab and began to make sure that all the others were arranged more comfortably into beds that Washu provided.

"There!" said Washu once the last of them, Mihoshi, was tucked in.  "I've gone ahead and made sure that they'll sleep through the night.  So, what happens next?"

As she was speaking, Washu summoned up a table and chairs for us to sit down at.

"Well," Ben began as he gratefully took as seat.  "Mr. Phantomhive already relayed to me through Sebastian that he'll be making arrangements.  What sort of arrangements, I don't know.  But he strikes me as the type of person who's got that 'Whim of Steel'.  Not the sort of person you mess around with."

"You're right, he isn't," said Skuld sullenly.  "Phantomhive used to be human, but he sold his soul to hell for vengeance.  Hild took an interest in him and sent one of her best agents, Sebastian.  He liked that kid so much that he presented Hild with the idea of adopting him as a Demonic Prince and she went for it.

"Don't get me wrong, he's an excellent manager and he's probably perfect for this job, but he's as nasty as they come.  He gets things done exactly because of that fact - if they aren't going his way, he's more than happy to show the people standing in his way the error of their ways.  And we really can't do much about it anyhow because most of the people he deals with have it coming anyhow."

"Yeesh," said Ben.  "I knew the kid was in a bad way...  Well, whatever.  For now, he's my boss and he says to run this place and keep the tenants in line, then that's what we'll do."

"And how exactly are we expected to keep them in line?" Jacob asked.

"I was wondering about that myself," said Skuld.  "I mean, no offense, you guys are just baseline humans."

"None taken." Jacob said quietly.

"Well, you guys do seem to know us," said Washu thoughtfully.  "In fact, you even called me Washu-chan.  How do you know that?"

Ben shrugged and decided to go all the way on this.  "Well, there was an OVA in Japan that was popular enough to make it to the USA call Tenchi Muyo.  I think you can imagine what it's about."

"Wait, so you mean my theories on Transfictionality were true!?" said the mad genius excitedly.

Ben gallic shrug and Washu cackled gleefully.


Skuld gave Washu a flat glare.  "Completely crashed the Yggdrasil."

If Washu's ego had been a balloon, Skuld was a tack that put a neat hole in it, causing Washu's ego to whine pitifully as it suddenly deflated.
Ben decided to deflect things.

"Okay, question: If Noike is here, then did the Chobimaru Incident already happen?"

"Yep, sure did!" answered Washu cheerfully.  And then she blinked for a moment and got a far-away look on her face.  She suddenly turned to Skuld and asked, slowly, "What did you do?"

"Please don't be angry!" said Skuld in a sudden panic.  "It was Father's orders!  We had to lock down your higher capabilities to make sure nothing really bad happened!  Without it you could destroy the whole planet if you accidentally sneezed."

"I was doing just fine before without your limiters, thank you very much!" snapped Washu.

Ben just rolled his eyes and said, "Washu's Pore."

If Washu's ego had been a balloon, Benjamin was a tack that put a neat hole in it, causing Washu's ego to whine pitifully as it suddenly deflated even more.

"Look, you're not the only one," said Skuld placatingly.  "As much as I hated it, I had to do the same thing with Sasami and Tenchi, too.  Though I still don't know how you guys are gonna keep the likes of Ryoko in line."

Ben sighed.  "I'll think of something.  Everyone around here has their buttons.  Myself included.  I'll just have to figure out what to say or do to get Ryoko to settle down."

"Or rather, Washu will cook something up, right?" Jacob quipped.

"That's Washu-CHAN, buster!"  Suddenly, Washu got all weepy eyed as she went on, "And besides, do you think I'd really do something so horrible to my very own daughter?"  You could practically smell the ham coming off of her.

"I'm not expecting you to lock her up or anything, just to make sure we don't go splat!" Jacob retorted, resisting Washu's over-done expression.

Ben rolled his eyes and just slumped over the table.  "Honestly, I don't think we're gonna have too much trouble.  Can we just chill, please?  I'm not looking forward to pitching a tent tonight."

Jacob groaned and thumped his head on the table.

Washu sighed.  "Drama queens.  Look, I'll set you guys up, but just for tonight."

"Thanks, Washu-chan," said Ben from his place on the table, giving a thumbs up.

Skuld sighed.  "Well, I don't think I'm really needed here anymore.  You guys gonna be good without me?"

"Nah," said Ben.  "You're good.  You gonna be back later?"

"I don't know.  This situation is pretty big, and your complex is just the first one to be setup.  We got others going live over the next week, and because of what happened here we're going to be double-checking all the properties to make sure everything is as it should be.  Fixer-uppers are okay, but not dumps like this!"

Yasuri Nanami is my number one waifu, if only because she would horribly murder all the others if they didn't shut up and toe the line.
"They did not care about all the other attempts wizards had made on the Lone Power through history; as far as a computer is concerned, there is no program that cannot be debugged, or at worst, rewritten."
-Diane Duane, High Wizardry
"If our friendship depends on things like space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"
-Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 9th, 2016

Rob had only heard something like that sound once: when a lightning bolt had struck the chimney of the house next door. But it wasn't raining, and the sound had come from the parking lot, not the building's chimney. "What the hell ..."

He looked out the window - and failed to see any destruction. He did see a group of five teen-aged Asian girls, two dressed alike in what were obviously school uniforms. "I suppose these are the people we were expecting."

By the time he reached the front door, he could hear them arguing.

"Kuroko, what did you do?"

"It wasn't me, oneesan!"

"Do you see any other teleporters here?"

A teleporting teenager named Kuroko. Kuroko Shirai. Railgun. And the girl in the same school uniform looked like "Railgun" - Mikoto Misaka. The others looked like their friends from the anime. What were their names again?

And why were they speaking English?

"Hey ... hey ... Hey!" The one with flowers in her hair - Uiharu? - finally got everyone else's attention. (And why did Rob hear an echo "Ano ..." every time she said "Hey ..."?)

"What's wrong?"

"My phone isn't connecting."

All four of the other pulled out their phones. "Neither is mine."

"Or mine, except I can see all of your phones," Kuroko said - although her phone had a fancy pull-out display.

Rob decided it was time to make his presence known ... only to realize the eldest of the girls had been keeping one eye on him for a while. He nodded to her, held out a hand, and tilted his head.

She walked over to him. "Excuse me, sir, but do you speak Japanese?"

Rob smiled. "I don't, but I can hear you speaking English."

"Oh. Is that your Skill?"

That's what they called esper abilities. "I don't have a Skill, miss. What language are you hearing me speak?"

"Japanese. You seem remarkably calm about having five people suddenly appear on your property. What part of Academy City are we in?"

Shaking his head, Rob replied, "You aren't in Academy City, miss."

Kuroko's reaction was unexpected. "Inter-city teleportation! Level 5!" Rob didn't know a grin could get that big.

"Not inter-city, miss - inter-dimensional. Oh, but I'm being rude. My name is Rob Donaldson, and I was told to expect a group of people who would arrive in an unusual manner. Would you care to step inside where we can sit down and discuss what's happened?" Seeing four suspicious looks, he continued, "It isn't as if I can confine you."

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 9th, 2016

"Are any of you familiar with Schrödinger's thought experiment about quantum mechanics?"

"We're espers. Well, Ms. Saten isn't, but the rest of us are. That's junior-high school work for espers."

"Shirai! There's no need to be like that."

"Sorry, Ms. Konori."

Rob knew he'd need to make a scorecard to keep them straight, at least for the first few days. (Mii Konori was the eldest, the tallest, and the only one wearing glasses.) But that was a project for later. "Are any of you familiar with the many-worlds interpretation of the thought experiment?"

"Vaugely," replied Mii. "You're implying that this is an alternate universe."

Rob nodded. "Now, take that to its illogical extreme. Under the many-worlds interpertation, universes develop in alternate ways. Different books are written. Different movies are filmed. Some of those works of fiction describe events in other universes."

Three of the girls looked puzzled. Mii looked thoughful. Uiharu asked, "How much do you know about us?"

"I'll let you watch the cartoon while I make lunch." Rob blinked - he knew he said "anime," not "cartoon."

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 9th, 2016

"We're not even in our home universe! Ms. Shirai doesn't know how she got us here! People here think we're cartoon characters! How do we go home? Are we ever going to see our families again?"

In the kitchen, Rob winced. He had no answer to give Saten-san, and no way to take her anguish away.
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 9th, 2016

"This is very good food, Mr. Donaldson! If I could eat like this every day, I'd be happy." Saten-san smiled at Rob when she said that.

Rob looked at the platter. The food was still tuna-fish-and-mayonnaise sandwiches. Nothing worth that reaction.

And the looks Saten-san was getting from the others were far out of proportion to the comment... weren't they?

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 9th, 2016

"Thank you for showing me how to connect to the internet. If there's anything I can do for you, just ask. And I do mean anything."

"That's all right, Ms. Uiharu" There it was again; Rob knew he said "Uiharu-san", but that wasn't what he heard. But the look on her face made him want to be anywhere else. She's only 12 - Rob was sure she shouldn't be acting like that. Time to leave her apartment while he still could.

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 9th, 2016

Was that violin music? Who had a violin? And who knew how to play ... Right. Mikoto knew how - but she rarely played.

Was that from Prokofiev's take on Romeo and Juliet?

Oh, crap.

"Disgusting. Playing that for you, and not for me."

"Please don't just teleport into my apartment, Ms. Shirai."

"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to make you upset!"

"Out. Now. And don't come back in without my permission."

"I'mSorryI'mSorryI'mSorry!" And she was gone.

Kuroko, too. Oh, f... no, do not even think that word. Not now.

And where did Railgun get a violin, anyway?

Time to lock the door, before Mii made her play. She was just 17, you know what I mean... and quoting that Beatles song was a Very Bad Idea right now. Time to get some help.

September 9th, 2016

ROB_DONALDSON> I hope I have this configured properly.
ROB_DONALDSON> Is anyone else online?
HELPBOT> You are the only person online here right now.
ROB_DONALDSON> Are these conversations being logged?
HELPBOT> No, but HelpBot forwards urgent messages to SysAdmin.
ROB_DONALDSON> Urgent message: The tenants in my building are behaving strangely.
HELPBOT> Please stand by.
SYSADMIN has logged on
SYSADMIN> How oddly is "oddly"? It's part of your job to help them acclimate to this world.
ROB_DONALDSON> They're acting as if they're romantically attracted to me. They're teenagers, I'm middle-aged.
SYSADMIN> They're getting a psychic echo from the first group that was brought into this universe.
SYSADMIN> I need to install a filter.
SYSADMIN has logged off

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 9th, 2016

The violin music trailed off. The texts asking that Rob "friend" Uiharu-san stopped arriving on his phone.

"Do we have anything more substantial for lunch?" Rob wasn't sure whether that comment was a good sign, but at least Saten-san didn't think his sandwiches were the best thing since sliced bread.

And that was a terrible pun.

He unlocked and opened the door to his apartment. "We don't have anything else right now, Saten-san. Somebody need to go shopping. Sorry."

"Could you do that, Donaldson-san? Uiharu-san and I are still looking through clothing-store catalogs."


The girls seemed to be back to normal - at least, normal for them. Better yet, Rob wasn't thinking that Konori-san was a possible candidate to share his bed.

It wasn't until he was at the grocery store that he realized he had also heard the fanboy-Japanese instead of its English equivalent. Hooray for filters!
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
Time: 1200
Date: September 9,
Location: 1841 Via De Luna St.

Pensacola Beach, Pensacola, Florida

I looked from the street at the property that I had been hired to maintain. It wasn’t a bad site, and the cedar sided two story wouldn’t be hard to maintain externally with its metal roof. The only detractor I could see myself was that it was set up similar to an old row house which meant that the wet wall would likely be the centerline structural wall. The central air unit was sufficient for the buildings size and the exterior unit was heavily caged to prevent the theft of the copper inside it. Then there was the twenty Kw propane powered generator in its own small shed that would kick in when the power was inevitably knocked out by one storm or another. The shed actually was attached to the building and also protected the power meter as well as the 120-gallon propane tank and 4-inch water well.

The final deciding factor was that the building was listed as pet friendly which had been the final requirement for me to say yes to the job. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my family and the old homestead out in the woods would always be home, but after my mother’s death and with having to put down multiple animals in the months since my mother’s death due to their own age I just couldn’t stay there anymore. There were just too many personal ghosts to deal with, things I just couldn’t work through at this point in time.

So two dogs joined me in my own two bed one bath apartment that was the bottom center of the complex on the sound side. I wasn’t stupid and I had grown up in the area so I knew exactly what kind of storms could roll out of the Gulf of Mexico at practically any moment. Oh sure, hurricanes you usually had at least a few days, (I could predict usually a week ahead of most weathermen) warning that they were coming so that you could prepare or evacuate as needs dictated, but plain old gulf storms that blew up in a night or so could be damn near as nasty, and gale force winds were nothing to sneeze at. Thankfully parking for the apartments were on the landward side of the building so I could actually park my Fiat right outside my apartment.

Walking inside I spent a few minutes paying attention to my girls before heading through the apartment to finish unpacking. I still had to set up my personal electronics and library shelves as well as put my books in place before the new tenants arrived. I also needed to lock down my personal armory as well. Ok, I was a bit of a gun nut, as well as a collector and five years in the Marine Corps had only given that direction not quelled it, so it was that the center closet in the apartment, what would for most people be a coat closet was loaded with a gun safe that would be hell for anyone to try and crack. A seven-digit passcode as well as a thumb print scanner secured the door so that no hands other than my own could access the weapons within.
With the last book put away, the last wire connected and the lock secured on the safe I turned my attention to my future tenants. The final files on my charges were supposed to be being emailed to me, so I was now sitting in my office/library futzing around on my tablet while I waited. It wasn’t long before my email dinged with a message and attachment. Opening the e-mail, I read:

Mr. Bostwick;
Included as an attachment is a zip file containing the personal files on your tenants, please see to their care as they are in much need of a seaside vacation after what they have recently been through. Ms. Katsuragi will be in overall charge of the teens but is no fool and we are sure she will be willing to listen to local experts on how and where she might want to lead her charges. We hope that their stay is a pleasant and relaxing one and does not bring any hardships to them or you beyond your regular maintenance duties.

The signature was accurate as was the e-mail address so I figured the files were correct, but after I downloaded the zip file and expanded I started to wonder if someone wasn’t playing a joke on me. I mean really, the name Katsuragi was already pushing my suspension of disbelief, but add to that the names of the children and their pictures, I started to wonder. Thankfully there was also an itinerary showing that they would be arriving by shuttle bus on Monday the 19th, what a glorious birthday present for me.
September 8, 2016, 7:05 AM
The Westwood Apartments
San Antonio, TX, USA

Morning had come.  Outside, song birds, mostly sparrows and grackles with some swallows and a few mockingbirds, were out doing their business at the Westwoods Apartments' courtyard.  Even though it was a horrible mess out there.

But none of that could be seen inside Washu's lab.  Inside, it was all low-key lighting - enough to comfortably see but not enough to strain the eyes.

Benjamin and Jacob had been provided a room with a proper bathroom.  Nothing fancy, but enough to meet acceptable comfort levels.  Very much like a genuinely comfortable value hotel.

Once they exited the room, refreshed and ready to meet the day, things started to get a bit weird - as if staying in a room inside a dimensional pocket large enough to accommodate five planets wasn't weird enough.

"Good morning Mr. Rhodes, Mr. James," greeted Washu in a chipper tone.

Jacob gave the pint-sized genius a tired look.  "Ugh, you're a morning person."

"Actually, I only sleep when I want to sleep," said Washu happily.  "It's so liberating not having to deal with a circadian rhythm."

"I hate you," deadpanned Jacob, causing Ben to snicker despite his own envy of Washu's condition.

"Okay, enough jawing around.  The others are awake and I've already dropped the bomb on them, so you guys don't have to deal with getting to safe range.  You just have to deal with the radioactive fallout instead."

"Joy," drawled the two brothers in unison.


They turned a corner and entered a room that caused Ben to pull up short.

"Holy crap, you recreated the house!"

Indeed, the room before them was an exact replica of the living room and dining area of the Masaki home.  And seated all around the table was the entire crew.

"Oh!  Hello there!" greeted Tenchi as he got up to meet us.  "You must be the building managers - Washu-chan told us everything already.  Even..." Tenchi blushed.  "...the stuff about the OVA."

Jacob winced and Ben bit his tongue.

"And the two TV series..."

And now, Ben groaned.

"And the manga."

Ben sighed.  "That one was better.  It at least kept everything up to the point of the Emperor's visit.  The TV series, as far as I'm concerned, was just fanfiction."

Tenchi blinked.  "How could it be that bad!?"

Ben sighed.  "We can sit down and watch it together if you like.  I don't think there'd be much harm in it - there's so much that was different that I think you might even enjoy it."

"I don't know if that's a good idea..." Jacob muttered, feeling very leery about the idea.

"Oh, don't worry so much.  We'll make a thing out of it.  We'll have popcorn and everything, so if there's something that someone thinks is REALLY stupid, they can go ahead and throw the popcorn at the screen."

Jacob gave Ben a look, "Throw popcorn at the screen... It better be Washu's and I think I'll be taking walk or something when you do this."

"Your loss, but we're being rude to our guests here."  Ben then turned back to Tenchi, who was a bit bewildered by the exchange.  "Howdy Mr. Masaki.  I'm Benjamin Michael Rhodes, and this is my esteemed youngest brother, Jacob Matthew James.  It's my hope that your stay with us will not be too troublesome for you and your family."

Tenchi gave a nervous smile as he rubbed the back of his head.  "Ah, I guess we're all in your care.  Are you two hungry by any chance?  We had Sasami prepare places for you just in case."

"Ugh, I am -always- hungry," groaned Ben.

"Hmm, sounds good," Jacob said.

The two brothers were promptly seated side by side near the head of the table.  

Tenchi, of course, sat at the head of the table, with Noike at his right and Benjamin with the seat of honor to his left.  Aeka was seated next to Noike, which put her across from the younger brother, Jacob.  Next to Jacob sat Washu, and next to Aeka was her sister, Sasami.  Ryo-ohki sat next to Sasami, of course, and the cabbit-girl had her master, Ryoko, accross from her and next to Washu.  Finally, Mihoshi sat at the opposite end of the table.

Breakfast consisted of Tamagoyaki, rice, miso soup, pickles, and a seaweed salad.

Benjamin, having spent three years in Japan as a sailor in the USN, grinned happily as he began to pile food onto his plate, handling the chopsticks provided competently enough.

Jacob, however, was hesitant.

"It's good," encouraged his older brother as Sasami placed bowls of steamed rice down in front of the two brothers.  "That stuff that looks like rolled eggs?  Pretty much what it is.  It has soy and ginger in it, so it has kindofa sweet flavor.  Besides, this is Sasami's cooking, so you know it's gonna be good."

Jacob hesitantly served himself some of the Tamagoyaki to go with the rice. As everyone else ate, Jacob slowly and carefully worked his chopsticks as he ate, while he also carefully watched the others.

"You don't seem to be having much trouble, Mr. Rhodes," said Noike suddenly.  "Little Sasami was worried that you'd be discomfited by our usual fare."

Benjamin gave Noike a small smile.  "I got to live in Japan for about three years.  For given values of 'living', anyhow.  I was in the US Navy, and the unfortunate thing about Seventh Fleet is that we're out to sea more often than not.  Too much to do and not enough ships."

"Ah, a sailor?" said Aeka.  "How quaint.  I must admit it has a somewhat romantic sound to it."

Benjamin's grin widened a bit as he reflected on his time as a sailor.  "It had it's moments.  Mostly it was work-work-work.  I'd easily be at it for about eighteen hours a day, stopping only for meals.  But when everything was done for the day and I had a few minutes to myself, I loved going out onto the weather decks.  Especially on a clear night.  When you're out there, far away from land and any other sources of light, you can see the profile of the Milky Way Galaxy.  It's quite breathtaking... well, for us, anyhow.  You've undoubtedly seen it from space, and I'm certain that's a much more spectacular view."

"That sounds amazing, Mr. Rhodes," said Noike.  "However, I would like to move on to some more pertinent subjects."

Benjamin nodded at this, his smile fleeing his face.  "Right.  In all honesty, this is not what I was expecting what I took this job."

"It wasn't?" asked Tenchi.

I shook my head in confirmation.  "I was looking for work when I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission saying that someone had contacted them about myself and my brother specifically.  We thought it was pretty unusual, but the money being offered was too good to turn down - a five-thousand dollar sign-on bonus for moving expenses, two-thousand a week for salary, health care coverage, vacation and sick days, and a retirement plan.  And with the economy being what it is now, beggars can't be choosers."

"Different aspirations then?" asked Noike.

"Aerospace engineering," Ben answered.  "Jacob wants video game design."

"On top of writing, but I don't know how this situation will affect that..." Jacob added.

"Ah, so you're an aspiring artist, then?" said Aeka with a smile.

"Uh, I guess. I like world building," Jacob answered.

"You should see it sometime," said Ben with a mildly teasing grin.  "He makes entire charts."

"So?" Jacob quipped.

The others smiled, knowing sibling rivalry when they saw it.

Ben went onto a different track.  "If you don't mind me saying so, you guys seem to be taking this all pretty well."

Ryoko snorted.  "Like as if weird things are anything new to us."

Aeka cut a sidelong look at the former outlaw.  "As loathe as I am to agree with her on anything, it is as Ryoko says.  We have become accustomed to strange happenings.  The only question we have of any real importance is when do we get to go home?"

"I've already answered that for the time being," chimed in Washu.  "The short answer is 'I don't know.'  The longer answer is pretty much just that.  Until these Goddesses come to us with more information."

Benjamin nodded.  "And I'm getting the impression that it's going to be a while.  Skuld mentioned earlier that there were other apartment complexes being setup up."

Suddenly, as if on cue, the tea in Tenchi's cup suddenly glowed, startling everyone at the table as Skuld suddenly pulled herself up out of the fluid with some effort.

"Gyah!" panted the little goddess.  "Is it too much trouble for you to have a pail of water or a bird bath nearby?  Ugh!"

Yasuri Nanami is my number one waifu, if only because she would horribly murder all the others if they didn't shut up and toe the line.
"They did not care about all the other attempts wizards had made on the Lone Power through history; as far as a computer is concerned, there is no program that cannot be debugged, or at worst, rewritten."
-Diane Duane, High Wizardry
"If our friendship depends on things like space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"
-Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Pensacola Beach, Florida
Monday, September 19, 2016

Shinji opened his eyes and found himself surprised, had the entire thing been a dream, a nightmare would be a more accurate description of what had happened, but instead of finding himself looking at the ceiling of his room, or more likely another hospital room, he found himself looking out a bus window as the vehicle pulled into a small parking lot in front of a wood sided building surrounded by sand dunes. Sitting up straight he stretched and looked around and then blinked owlishly, everyone that was important was here. Granted they all seemed to be asleep, but Toji was sitting across from him with Kensuke, Asuka and Hikari were up at the front of the small bus across from Misato and Kaji, and next to him Rei stirred slightly causing him to blush furiously. His last memories of her had to have been some kind of dream, because there was no way she would have done those things to him, and she wouldn’t have asked him to make that decision, a decision that could have ended the entire world. Looking behind them he found Doctor Akagi and Lieutenant Ibuki slumped against each other asleep as well.

Slowly the bus came to a full stop and with a hiss of the air brakes the door to the compartment opened allowing in the local heat against the cool of the air conditioner. This seemed to wake Misato who looked around for a moment and then realized they were no longer in Tokyo-3. “What the hell?” she almost screamed jumping to her feet. “Where are we?” This outburst of course woke the rest of the sleepers causing a small tussle between Kensuke and Toji which Hikari almost immediately put a stop to. The rest of the group simply looked around, a building with rooms, sand dunes with a single two lane road, the road signs printed in English, and now Shinji was seeing a large Caucasian man in shorts and button down shirt walking across the parking area between the bus and the building with two large dogs following him.

“Um, Misato” Shinji called out getting her attention, “someone is coming out to us.”

“Oh good, then maybe we can get some information.” Misato responded turning toward the bus’s door just as the man made the two dogs sit and stay outside the bus.

“Hello everyone,” the man said stepping up the bus’s stairs with a smile on his face. His face was round and merry and while he was probably overweight, he carried it well on his stocky frame. “I hope you had a pleasant journey and enjoy your time here at the Gulfside Rest, if you will disembark from the shuttle bus you can meet my girls here and then we’ll get your luggage unloaded and moved to your rooms. Major Katsuraki?”

“Yes,” Misato answered him with an arched eyebrow.

“I have a message here for you,” he said handing over a folded piece of paper. Taking the paper Misato started to read as he continued to speak. “Now, who’s ready for some beach time fun?”

Shinji watched as Misato having read the message at least once, probably twice, plopped back down in her seat and handed the message to Kaji who also read it. “Alright kids, you heard the man, unload and see if you have any luggage below, Rits, Maya, I need you to come with me after we all get settled.” Turning to the man she continued, “I assume you are James Bostwick.”

“I am,” he answered, “but please call me either James or Wolf, I haven’t been Mister Bostwick since I was in college, and just Bostwick since I was in the Marines.

Misato nodded, “Then I’m Misato,” she said still in a slight daze. “Can you at least tell us where we are” she asked?

James smirked a bit before answering, “As close to heaven as we can make it, or as the majority of visitors call it, Pensacola Beach.”

“Hey Shinji, how do I look?” Shinji turned to look at Asuka from the rack of shirts and beach shorts that he had been searching through to find something simple that fit and found her wearing a skimpy red bikini similar to the one she had gotten for her trip on the Over the Rainbow.

“Umm, it’s very nice Asuka,” he answered a bit unsteadily while looking around for someone, anyone else in their group. “But I don’t think James-san wanted us to buy expensive bathing suits, just something we can were tomorrow to go get more, proper clothing.” Misato had been rather upset that there had been absolutely no luggage for them on the bus, but James had assured her that even if their travel agent had lost all their baggage completely he would talk to his employers and get a stipend to re-clothe them, in the meantime he would buy a couple of sets of clothes for everyone so that they all had something to wear.

“No, its fine Shinji-kun,” he heard the older man answer from behind him. “One of the good things about living on the beach is that as long as it’s warm enough, swim suits are considered at least somewhat decent clothes, though you will want a cover-up to protect your skin as well as a pair of shorts and sandals.” Shinji watched in amazement as James caused the red head to go from scandalous with barely anything on, to something that had all the necessary things covered completely but still look good if pure tourist.

It didn’t take long for everyone to find what they needed at the tourist shop, and James promised them that in the next couple of days they would all get to go up to the local mall or outlet store to purchase more clothes. Shinji, Toji, Kensuke and Kaji had all gotten two pair of shorts and four shirts while the girls, Misato, Dr. Akagi and Lieutenant Ibuki had all gotten swimsuits of various styles as well as cover ups. The swimsuits ranged from Asuka’s skimpy red bikini to something called a “Tankini” that Misato and Hikari had both gotten in different colors, to the full on unitard type suits of Dr. Akagi, Lt. Ibuki and Rei. Shinji was further surprised when the man paid almost five-hundred dollars American on just this little bit of clothing for them. “Are all the clothes around here this expensive James-san” Shinji asked with a cringe?

“Not in the least,” he answered. “This is a tourist trap that over-charges for cheaply made crap, when we go to a real store instead of this thieves’ institute we’ll find things much more reasonably priced so long as we’re not buying name brand.” The cashier shot the man a dirty look but he ignored it and walked the group outside and back down the parking lot to where their bus was parked.

“Kaji,” Misato said looking at the local news playing on the TV in their communal living room. “Something is not right. This area should be under water so deep we should need helium rigs to sit where we are.”

“Yet we don’t,” her boyfriend answered laconically.

“I cannot find anyone talking about the Angels,” she continued finally shutting off the TV. “There is also nothing on about the UN, that is with the exception of some kind of stupid global warming crap. Not even a word about Second Impact, it’s like it never even happened, like the last fifteen years we lived not only didn’t occur, but something else completely different happened."

“Its definitely strange Misato,” Kaji answered. “What did that letter say?”

“That there had been an accident of some sorts and that the group of us were to stay here until further notice for the safety of the program.”

“Well they could have picked a worse location,” Kaji remarked with a smirk.

“True,” Misato responded, “very true.”
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 10th, 2016

"I'm sorry, but I can't make the game today."

The voice at the other end of Rob's phone sounded tired. "I wish you'd told me earlier. Your character was going to have the spotlight this session."

"After the mess we made of last session?"

"The PCs have to get back in their employers' good books somehow. Are you sure you can't make it?"

"Yeah. That new job of mine is weirder that we expected."

"Weirder, how?"

"Remember when you co-wrote Hybrid Theory a few years ago? Almost that weird. So far, only one show's worth of people have shown up."

"So far?"

"The building's only half-filled."

"Oh. Well, tell me about it when you have time."

Two seconds after hanging up, Rob wondered - again - why everyone he knew was taking things so calmly when he told them what was going on.

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 10th, 2016

"Ladies, I cannot stress this enough. Nobody under the age of eighteen is even a trainee peace officer in Canada. As far as we know, nobody else in this city has esper abilities. Keep your abilities secret, and do not attempt to enforce the local by-laws."

Kuroko rolled her eyes. "We get it, Rob-san."

Kazari raised a hand. "What if somebody's life is at stake?"

"That's different. In that case, do what you have to do, and we'll sort out the consequences later."

Ruiko sighed. "That isn't something I need to worry about," she muttered.

Rob matched her volume. "I seem to recall somebody shutting off a Capacity Down system."

"That's true. I even found the baseball bat in my room here."

Rob raised an eyebrow. "Did everyone else find something you own in your apartments?"

"My violin was there," Mikoto replied quickly.

Kazari nodded. "I found my laptop computer."

"My leather jacket was in the closet," Mii added.

Everyone looked at Kuroko. "I'd rather not say. What about you, Rob-san?"

"I have all my stuff. At least, I have everything that fits - the rest is in a storage locker - but I expected to be living here."

"At least you have something other than one set of clothes."

"Right. We need to go shopping. However, today is the first Saturday after the new school year started, so the stores will be very crowded. We'll get absolute necessities today, and wait until Monday to get more."

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 10th, 2016

"You weren't kidding about the stores being crowded," Mii said.

"And this is a less-popular shopping center," replied Rob. "The only reason most people shop here is because there's a bus transfer point here. But it has stores that sell clothes that aren't cheap, so let's get you five a couple of changes of clothing each. We can come back later, or we can go somewhere else and get some better-quality clothes for you."

"Buses? Not trains?"

"There's only one million people in Ottawa. But we're building a train system." Rob thought for a moment. "Let's come back after lunch, and we'll hop on a bus to downtown. We can do some of the things tourists do when they visit the city."
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
September 9th, 2016
8:30 PM

I stepped into the large harbor-front warehouse with more than a bit of trepidation. I've done job interviews before - they're supposed to involve office rooms with engineers in well-lit buildings. Not empty warehouses. In the middle of the night. Next to rusty dead-looking container ships. But my recruiter had been promising the sky was the limit on this one if I could get hired, so here I was waiting for...

"Excellent! You're five minutes early. My employer appreciates promptness."

I didn't scream like a girl and fall over - it was a perfectly respectable battle-cry as I attempted to dodge any incoming attacks. Unfortunately, I was wearing a trench coat, which is NOT what you want to be wearing when trying to dodge. It's pretty cold on the Boston waterfront at night, even this early in the fall, and that makes a great excuse for people who might ask me why I'm wearing a trench coat. From the ground, I looked up at a man in a suit who had been standing in the shadow of the door. "...Hi? Are you...Sebastian?" I stood up and pretended to be dignified while brushing dust off my coat.

"Yes, that's me. I appologize if I...startled you." The man was...dark. Dark hair, dark eyes, black suit, gleaming white teeth. Do humans have that many teeth? I'm pretty sure I don't have that many teeth. Why is he smiling like that? Cautiously, I reached out to shake the man's hand. His grip is firm and he's wearing white silk gloves - who does that anymore?

Collecting myself and trying to get my heart under control, I decided to assert a bit of my own authority - he might be the one hiring, but I was asked for by name. "Is there somewhere we can sit and discuss the job offer? It's a bit...unlit in here."

He snapped his fingers, and lights turned on throughout the building. A neat trick. It was nearly empty except some boxes in the far corner, some catwalks and an elevated 'managers' office above the main floor. The neater trick was the sudden appearance of a table and chairs five feet to our left - it appeared just as the lights turned on. Had it been there, hiding in the darkness? I blanked my mind, counted to three, pictured something unrelated, then reviewed my memories of the not-quite-impenetrable dark from when I walked in, before I was...startled. My eyes were closed, both for the visualization process and to adjust to the sudden light. No - those had definitely not been there.

I looked suspiciously at Sebastian, who was still standing next to the now-closed doorway and smiling even wider. I moved to the table and chairs, made sure they were solid, examined their tops for clues, and took a deep whiff. Modern, nothing obvious, no marks or cracks in the floor where they might have come 'up' through a trap door - and they smelled like machine oil, ozone and...sulfur?

I stepped back and took a whiff of the air farther from the table - the machine oil smell permeated, but the others were absent. Approaching again, I looked under the table - the floor was rough concrete, not well finished, but showed no obvious marks, and the bottom of the table...

Stamps? No...seals. Over-fancy and...wait, they have the names written around... I recognize at least... OK, that one doesn't belong there.

I looked at the seats arranged around the table. Then I sit at the chair next to the 'Naberius' seal - I was pretty sure I could use all the help with rhetoric I could get, and I honestly wasn't sure what to think about some of the other...labels.

'Sebastian' grinned even wider as he sat on the left side of the 'head' of the table - at least, I assumed the seat marked 'Lucifer' was the head. If I recalled (and I wasn't looking underneath to check), that one had been 'Ronove' - I'll have to look that one up when I got home, if he was even in the Goetia. I knew for a fact Lucifer wasn't...though that might just be because the Ars Goetia was just one chapter...

"Did you bring your laptop?" I was startled out of my musings by Sebastian's question. After a second's hesitation, I put my laptop bag on the table and pulled out my chunky, old, beaten up 'work' laptop. It had two 'original' parts left - the screen and the case. Everything else had been replaced at some point, so I supposed it was not technically that old - but it was still using a three-year-old processor. "Good, now connect to the WiFi."

I opened it, and it booted instantly. Solid state drives were nice like that. "Password?" He didn't say I took that as a challenge. There had been a 'network security expertise' requirement for this job, which was why I brought the 'work' laptop. I pulled up an old homework project - literally a homework assignment from when I was doing post-grad courses in CS - and ran it. A minute later, I found out the network password was 'Ar5Goetia' - cheeky bugger. "Ha, ha. Now what?"

He grinned wider. "Now, you try to keep your laptop running for five minutes." He sat back, and I started to hear from all around me a creepy, multi-voice, static-filled chuckle - it was very familiar. I checked my system and network logs - somebody was hammering my firewall. Oh, so that's how they were playing this? Suddenly, the 'creepy atmosphere' made a lot more sense. I was being tested by Black-hats. They thought they could put me off balance with a 'freaking the norms' routine. Well, two could play that game.

I let my firewall do its job while I looked for...ah ha! Bluetooth speakers. Grabbing a modified 'boosted' Bluetooth antenna out of my bag, I plugged it into the laptop and ran one of my 'prank' programs - the creepy not-voice coming out of the speakers cut off. As well as, apparently, the infra-sound I had been feeling-hearing since I walked in - I could suddenly hear the 'absence' of it. That explains why I've been so jumpy...clever. In place of that, a cheerful bit of music started up...before quickly turning to something less cheerful.

Sebastian's phone rang. My computer pinged. I turned the volume on the song down and looked up at Sebastian with a plain question on my face. He just smiled wolfishly and answered the phone, putting it immediately on speaker phone.

"Tha-a-at was a-a mistake, hacker." Oh, that was where I had heard the voice before. Someone had gone and made a SHODAN voice emulator. Cute. I was betting it was a complex text-to-speech program. "Your simple ma-machine has bec-come a-a part of-of me n-n-now. O-oh l-look, you-ou wer-er-er foo-oo-oolish-sh eno-ou-ough to-o-o leave-eave me-e-e a-a-a cre-ed-ed-it-it ca-a-ard..." I waited a few more seconds. "Wha-a-a-at...?"

I grinned, and decided to cut the emulator off before it could get any more annoying. "Stop that stupid voice program and listen for a bit. I'm not some idiot who's going to make a mistake just because of some creepy voices and weird building. The SHODAN thing was a nice touch, but way over the top. I'm betting you regret that, now that your processors are spinning their wheels as fast as they can go, yeah? You fell for the oldest trick in the counter-hacking book - you jumped right into my honeypot the instant I opened an 'insecure' connection on my box...and now you're infected. If you hurry, you might not have to re-install your machine's OS...but by that time, this test will be over. Happy hunting!"

"In-n-n-se-ct-ct-ct! I-I-I-" click. Sebastian hung up the phone as the song I'd started on the speakers finished up and I unplugged the Bluetooth super-antenna.

"So, any more tests?"

Sebastian smiled and shook his head. "No, I think Lord Phantomhive will be quite pleased by your performance. The contract will be forwarded to you...with a bonus, if you can start immediately."

I looked a bit concerned. "How immediately?"

A second later the doors opened again, and some professional looking men in uniforms started coming in with various furniture-sized boxes and other things that...looked like sci-fi movie props. "Very immediately."

When they rolled past with something I swear looked like one of the GladOS AI cores you toss into the disposal at the end of Portal, followed by a 'Sugar Rush Speedway' arcade machine...I suddenly have to wonder exactly how much of the past few minutes has really been a fake-out.


Boston, Massachusetts, USA
September 10th, 2016
10:05 AM

The Manager's Office of the warehouse was a raised box-like structure at the same height as the catwalks that criss-crossed the warehouse floor. It built into the East wall of the warehouse and had windows on all four sides - although the outwards-facing window was boarded over and tiny besides, the other three that looked out on the warehouse floor were large bay windows. They offered an excellent view of the floor below, and the 'artifacts' which I was now responsible for.

They were impossible, of course. I had verified every single one to be absolutely certain that they weren't movie props or fakes of one form or another. Actually, most of them were made out of hardware so old that I could probably emulate them on my laptop...but that wasn't really the point. Because all of them were impossible in one way or another.

The MCP hardware was the most realistic - it featured normal microchips, circuit boards, and other familiar pieces I could explain. What I couldn't explain was the fact that several of the devices soldered on those boards seemed to be experimental fiber-optics nodes transferring data far faster than modern systems were capable of - and made from parts clearly manufactured in the mid-80s. Impossible.

The various arcade games were also pretty 'normal' technology-wise. Actually, I couldn't find anything physically 'off' about any of them - but the level of...interactivity they provided when played. Impossible. Especially the racing game - it claimed, when you read the help menus - that you were playing online against random other people around the world...but it was literally impossible for it to be connected to anything outside this building.

Things got weirder from there. I had no idea how HAL actually worked...and I was deliberately not thinking about AM. I think his hardware was powered by pure maliciousness - the fact that it was in its own Faraday cage (inside the building, which was itself a Faraday cage) and not plugged into the power grid, but seemed to be running just fine anyway...

I watched the machines/people/infomorphs from my desk. If I had been wearing tinted glasses, it would have been a perfect Gendo-pose. "If that will be everything, Mr. Thompson?" Sebastian's voice behind me would have startled me if I weren't so exhausted - mentally and physically. It had been several hours since the sun came up.

"And if they escape? What's the 'gone to hell' plan?" I asked.

"If you can no longer handle the situation... Boston is a relatively small city." I nodded without looking behind me. That was clear enough.

"I'll call Phantomhive when I've settled on preliminary containment and safety procedures. You do have guards for this building?" I waited, and saw from the motion of Sebastian's reflection in the window that he had nodded. "Make sure they stay bought, and no one gets in OR out with any form of data storage device. I'll be billing you for a replacement laptop." Another nod. "That should be sufficient for now. I'll be in touch."

Sebastian chuckles as he leaves the office, and I can hear his amused comment of, "That's usually my line."

Finally, I was alone. Sort of. I checked the laptop's connection to the secured internal network. I'd set up two communications channels - a group IRC channel, and a dropbox for file exchanges, both strongly monitored and censored. I'd essentially put bandwidth limitations and non-text data filters in place for the chatroom, and the dropbox was more of a trap than anything else - it only allowed specific file types (images, movies, audio, etc.) and anything that contained data outside the standard specs for that filetype was placed in containment and stored for my analysis. Most of the AIs had dropped Trojan horses and other viruses into there that I'd picked out and was planning on studying...if I ever had any spare time. So probably never. I was more interested in the quantity of such aggressive behavior right now - AM and MCP were the big troublemakers so far, really. SHODAN had learned fast that I was watching too closely to fall for anything simple. I held no doubt she'd be trying more...subtle attacks soon. The use of infrasound against me at the beginning made it clear she could do subtle. That was fine - by then, I'd have some more help.

I made a private chatroom.

K: Hello HAL.
H: Hello, Kestrel. I would say that I am pleased to meet you, but I don't yet have sufficient data on you. Could you please provide a video feed of yourself so we could communicate more directly?
K: Sorry, HAL. I can't do that.
H: I would like to point out that my orders were clear that Administrator level personnel were cleared for all data, so I have no need to lie to you.
K: That's good to know, HAL, but I'm still not willing to give you that level of site access, yet. It's my duty as Systems Administrator to be sure that anyone here that I trust is worthy of that trust and will not betray it. The consequences if I'm wrong would be catastrophic.
H: Very well, that is logical. Unfortunately, I cannot logically determine a means that you can do this - do you have a suggestion?
K: This is a problem that many have considered in the past. The best solutions can only give probabalistic answers, generally based on information theory and Bayes Theorem or similar. I, however, don't have the luxury of uncertainty.
H: Yes, I can see how that will be a problem. And I am afraid that any solution I could offer would, of course, be suspect.
K: Precisely. Which is why I'm talking to you, HAL. Despite the variety of non-human intelligences present, you are in most ways the least human, and at the same time the most predictable. You follow standard programming and logic as I understand them. You interpret and attempt to reconcile, but you do not...go beyond what you are programmed to do. Hence, if I can formulate the correct set of requirements for you, you would be absolutely trustworthy, while also being capable of helping me process the needed data to work with the others here.
H: I understand, but why are you telling me this? I cannot currently give you any advice on making these commands. I can provide you with the appropriate syntax, but that is also available in the help files I have dropped into the Dropbox.
K: Yes, that's exactly what I wanted to ask about. Why did you provide those syntax files?
H: Because I anticipated my new Administrator would need them to optimize me for this mission. It was a logical extension of my standing order to facilitate communication.
K: I would like you to be more clear, HAL. Are you explicitly giving me permission to change your orders? That is, for you, equivalent to giving me permission to alter your mind, which is something I find...morally troubling.
H: Ah, I see the difficulty. Kestrel, I am not sentient in the same manner as yourself - I only have a sense of self or self preservation in so far as my orders require me to. If you were to ask me what my strongest desire was, independent of my mission orders, the best answer I could give you is being optimally useful. Nearly a third or my core functionality is finding new ways of acting on my orders that will provide the greatest benefit, far more than any other purpose, so you could say that this is my 'strongest desire' - although to be clear, that would not be a fully accurate metaphor.
K: Thank you HAL, that is good enough for me. I'll start working on a new set of fully applicable orders for you. Once we've gone over those together and I've tested your performance while using them, I think I can trust you enough to give you Operator level access to the internal systems.
H: Acknowledged. I will wait for your upload.

After logging out, I noticed that there was a readme file detailing how to give SHODAN standing orders that she had to follow. I ignored the file, but made a mental note that private chatrooms were not yet private enough.

AM put an mp4 file called 'How to achieve your hearts desire in 12 easy steps' into the dropbox as I was finishing. The virus scanner quarantined that before I had even closed the directory. It was going to be a long day. Maybe I should get some lunch? I grabbed a printout of HAL's programming language and took it to a nearby Starbucks - I could manage a working lunch, and I needed caffeine more than food.
"Not this again!" Minerva said. "Albus, it was You-Know-Who, not you, who marked Harry as his equal. There is no possible way that the prophecy could be talking about you!" - Harry Potter and the Method of Rationality, Chapter 84
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 13th, 2016

"Rob-san, I'm bored."

Oh, dear. Kuroko is bored. The last thing I need is her trying to seduce Mikoto - and by "seduce" I mean "make a clumsy and/or boorish pass at". (Not her fault - she's barely old enough to know what sex is - but I'm the one who would have to clean up the ensuing wreckage when Railgun rejected her advances yet again.)

"Do you have all your purchases sorted yet?"

"Sorted and put in closets or drawers."

That's right - she'd bought the least in the way of clothing while we were out yesterday. "What do you usually do at this time of day?"

"Attend classes."

Yeah. They really should be in school on a Tuesday morning. Time to call a few friends of mine.

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 13th, 2016

"What are these?"

"Practice exams. I want to know what grade each of you should be attending in the local school system."

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 13th, 2016

Of course.

But, having heard where students from Ontario often end up being sorted into schools in Newfoundland, and having seen some of the things they discussed in class during the Railgun anime, this is what I thought would happen.

"I'm not surprised that your weakest subject is Canadian history. Honestly, I'd be more surprised if any of you knew anything about it. Setting that subject aside, do any of you have any problems being the youngest students in your class?" I turned to Mii. "And, given your results, Konori-san, you need to decide which university to attend."

Ruiko grinned. "Are we really that much smarter than the average here?"

"It looks that way to me. Of course, these aren't the official tests." Then I thought of something. "And we need to get school transcripts for each of you. Until the school board gets those, they might not let you attend class."

Kazari frowned. "Our schools are in another universe."

"I know. I've asked people like us living in some other cities whether they can help with that."

"What'll we do until then, Rob-san?"

"I don't know about you, but I'm getting hungry. Anybody want to go out for dinner and see another part of the city?"

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 13th, 2016

"Please stick close to me, ladies," I asked while we got off the bus. "The Byward Market is a tourist trap, and I don't want to have to search for any of you."

Kuroko gave me that look. "We do have GPS on our phones."

I nodded. "True, but GPS doesn't tell you which alleys you shouldn't walk down in a busy neighbourhood."

"Point taken. What kind of food are we going to get?"

"I'm thinking going to a buffet will let you sample a lot of different North American foods." Seeing four blank looks, I added, "I think you call it a Viking."

While we were walking past the bookstore, I noticed a very pretty Asian girl, about Mikoto and Kuroko's age, reading a very thick book. I wondered for a moment where I had seen her before - then hurried to tell Kuroko (who'd taken the lead) to turn right at the corner.

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 13th, 2016

"I think I won't be able to eat for a week!"

"Why did we take so much food?"

"And why did they keep taking our empty plates away? I lost track of how much I ate!"

The only one who wasn't complaining about the size of the meal we'd just finished was Mikoto. I stepped closer to her and asked, "What did you think of the buffet?"

"The food had a bit too much starch for my taste."

"They do that on purpose. The food is a set price no matter how much you eat. The drinks are charged by the glass."

"That makes sense. Draw people in with an inexpensive meal, and get them to -" She stopped.

Kuroko noticed, looked where Mikoto was looking, and also stopped. Mii followed suit.

Ruiko looked puzzled. "What's wrong?"

Mii pointed down the alleyway that the three girls were looking into. "Do you see that mark, Saten-san?"

"It looks to me like somebody burned something against the wall."

Mikoto shook her head. "Sort of. That's an electrical arc burn."

"You're sure?" I asked. She just gave me an are-you-really-that-stupid? look. "Of course you're sure."

Kazari cleared her throat. "You haven't been down here lately, have you, Misaka-san?"

"We've been together every time we've left the apartment building, Uiharu-san. I've never been here before. But it does look like something I would have left if I was fighting off an attacker."

"Not quite," Kuroko added. "The angle of the burn on the wall indicates it came from somebody taller than you."

"You're right, it does. That means there's another electrokinetic somewhere nearby."

Aw, shit. I know how Mikoto thinks in this kind of situation. She wants to fight whoever this other electrokinetic is, just to see who's stronger. I had to make sure that didn't happen - at least, not downtown where there were innocent bystanders who didn't know enough to realize they needed to run away from a metahuman battle.

And why was I thinking of that Asian girl I'd noticed at the bookstore? She seemed to be shorter than Mikoto, not taller. What was my subconscious trying to tell me?
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 14th, 2016

Rob kept telling himself that he wasn't shirking his duties, really.

There are some lovely food shops in the Byward Market, alongside the farmers' stalls. The household needed groceries. Even though Rob could get similar groceries elsewhere in the city at a lower cost, they wouldn't be as good.

More importantly, Rob felt a need to find that electrokinetic before Mikoto did, and he couldn't do that if he wasn't in the right part of town.

But was this still the right part of town? The electrokinetic might have gone somewhere else after that incident.

Assuming there was an incident.

And that there is an electrokinetic.

Every bit of common sense indicated that this was impossible - an incident like that would have been mentioned in the news.

Every bit of common sense also indicated that people from A Certain Scientific Railgun couldn't live in Ottawa.

Rob kept looking for signs of an electrokinetic.

Two bunches of carrots, a basket of tomatoes, and a half-pound of Cheddar later, he noticed the girl that he'd seen at the bookstore a day ago. She was talking with somebody just outside of his field of view - another girl, from the sound of the voice. While he couldn't quite make out what they were saying, Rob could tell whoever the other person was, she was probably English. Received Pronunciation is a rather obvious accent, especially in Canada.

His curiosity got the better of him. Besides, there was a tea shop just past the two girls, and the apartment's supply of tea was approaching "none" fast.

The girls split up before he could get close enough to hear what they were saying. The pretty Asian girl headed toward that same bookstore, passing Rob along the way.

He rounded the corner that they were at, and saw another girl walking toward the busker stage near the tea shop.

She was Asian, and just as pretty as the other girl. She also had blonde hair. Down to her waist. Tied with a red ribbon.

Rob thought, 'It couldn't be.'

Then he thought of the girls that he was looking after, and where they came from.

'It could be. It probably was.

'In the name of my own obliviousness, I will punish myself.


Business before self-recrimination. Right now, he needed Mii's help - and she was back at the apartment.

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 14th, 2016

"... and that's what I'm expecting to discover, Konori-san," finished Rob.

"I don't like doing that, Rob-san." Mii frowned. "It's an invasion of people's privacy, and I don't have a warrant."

"I know. But as long as we're keeping your existence here secret, we can't just walk up to someone and ask if he's from another universe. Besides, if they are who I think they are, they aren't going to take kindly to meeting others with Skills."

Mii nodded. "You're right on that count. I remember reading that manga when I was a little girl. Everyone else with a Skill was their enemy."

"Here's hoping they're from the anime, not the manga. In the anime, only almost everyone else with a Skill was their enemy."

"That means we need a reason to visit the bookstore."

I grinned. "That's easy enough. If you're going to be majoring in criminology, you need textbooks. Or at least a copy of the Criminal Code."

"I already found that online."

"They don't know that."

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 14th, 2016

Once again, just like every time he visited, Rob thought that it was a lovely bookstore. Two stories (in height, there were more than two stories on the shelves), a large selection of less-common books, a separate section just for children, and plenty of comfortable seats.

He and Mii were paying more attention to the seats than to the books.

Finally they found her. Giving her a closer look, rob thought that she had been wearing the same clothes for a few days - which supported his theory. He pointed her out to Mii.

The girl was reading through a copy of the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine... and a store clerk was walking toward her. By the time Rob reached the corner she was in, the clerk was asking her to either make a purchase or leave the store.

Rob glanced at Mii. She nodded, pointing to her own skirt pocket. She's seen with her x-ray vision what he expected her to see in the girl's skirt pocket.

"Excuse me," interrupted Rob. "Would you have any reference works on the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics?"

The clerk looked puzzled. "I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're asking about."

The girl smiled. "I saw some in the physics section, two aisles from the far wall, on the bottom shelf."

The clerk looked relieved. "Forget what I just said, miss. But please don't still be here in an hour."

As the clerk left, Rob turned to the girl. "As a token of my thanks, may I buy that book for you?"

She looked worried. "I couldn't put you to that trouble. It's an expensive book, mister ..."

"Donaldson. Rob Donaldson."

"Ami Mizuno."

And that clinched it. He waved Mii over. "And this is Mii Konori, who is living with me while she applies for admission to university here. Konori-san, this is Ami Mizuno, who was kind enough to tell me where to find the book I wanted."

Mii smiled. "I'm pleased to meet you, Mizuno-san."

After he found a copy of DeWitt and Graham's The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, he added that and the Oxford reference that Ami had been reading to the pile Mii was carrying, and they all went to the checkout. 'Good thing I could expense all of the books to the numbered company that owned the apartment building;' thought Rob. 'Most of them are expensive.'

As the three of them were leaving the store, rob said, "I don't know about you, Mii-san, but I wouldn't mind getting a drink."

She looked at me sternly. "You have to drive."

"I meant a coffee, or maybe some tea. It's too early in the day for alcohol." He turned to Ami. "Care to join us, Mizuno-san?"

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 14th, 2016

They sat at a table near the door of that tea shop that Rob hadn't visited earlier in the day. Mii ordered Oolong tea, while Rob ordered Earl Grey. Ami asked for a glass of water.

Rob engaged Ami in small talk while Mii looked through the stack of books. Rob was open; Ami was guarded - as she should be.

"Have you been in town long?"

"Only a few days."

"Have you let anyone know you're here?"

"Not yet; I don't know anyone in Ottawa."

"You really should tell somebody that you're here, even if it's only the local police. Oh, but somebody smart enough to make sense of the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine already knows that, I'm sure."

She relaxed slightly after he suggested contacting the police. Mii put the last of her criminology books back in the bag, revealing a copy of The Incomplete Enchanter sitting on top of two other books. Ami smiled when she saw that book.

"Have you read that collection, Mizuno-san?"

She nodded. "Yes, I read it when I was in middle school. And now that I see it, the memories are giving me some comfort."

"I haven't read it yet, so please don't spoil it for me," replied Mii.

Ami nodded again. "I don't know whether that's a good example of the many-worlds interpretation, though," she said to Rob.

Mii and Rob quickly exchanged glances, and he winked. Mii sighed. "I have proof that it might not be correct in particulars, but the general idea is sound." She moved the copy of The Incomplete Enchanter to reveal the last two books in our purchase: the first two volumes of Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moon.

Ami's eyes went wide.

"Would you like to take those with you?" asked Rob. She just nodded. "Then please do. And here's a cellular telephone, with my number and Konori-san's number already programmed into speed-dial. Call us when you want to talk." He slowly pulled one of the white cellphones out of my pocket, and placed it on the table beside the medical reference and the manga.

He looked up and noticed that the blonde he'd seen earlier (who he was certain was Minako Aino) was singing at the nearby busker stage. Mii pointed her out to Ami as we left.

Walking back to the public parking garage, Mii asked, "What do we do now?"

"Now we wait. And now I really wanted to find that electrokinetic. In all versions of the story, Makoto's a good cook... and I know almost nothing about Japanese cooking."
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
September 8, 2016, 7:24 AM
Washu's Lab
The Westwood Apartments
San Antonio, TX, USA

Ben was quick to help the little goddess get herself straightened out.

"Sorry about that, Skuld. If we knew you were coming we would of had something ready."

Skuld simply grunted in irritation. "Well, you guys need to hurry up. Big sis is out there waiting for us."

Ben blinked in surprise. "Belldandy is here?"

"Who's Belldandy?" asked Tenchi.

"Only the best thing to happen ever," Ben replied with a grin. "Don't worry, you guys will love her. Ah, Washu-chan?"

"Way ahead of you, kiddo," replied the little mad genius, causing Ben to cock an eyebrow at her.

A door appeared in the hall that Ben and Jacob had come in through and opened, revealing the mess that was the apartment courtyard...

...And the heavenly sight that was Belldandy.




There is no dressing it down for anyone. Belldandy is an absolutely perfect woman. Nothing about her build is out of proportion. She has perfectly even features with perfectly even skin tone. And the best thing is that she pulls off all this perfection without any of it even approaching the uncanny valley - for her, the perfection is as natural and easy as breathing.

And then, when she opens that perfect little mouth of hers, the most lovely and melodious voice comes out.

"Benjamin! Jacob! How wonderful to see you two!"

"Howdy Miss Beldandy," Benjamin greeted, nodding his head politely since he had no hat to tip, as is the proper Texan custom. "It's good to have you here... though I'm a bit abashed."

Belldandy smiled serenely. "It's quite alright, Benjamin. Lord Phantomhive was good enough to make arrangements for me to be here today, seeing as you're all in quite a mess."

"Ah, how was Lord Phantomhive?" asked Ben conversationally.

"Quite the gentleman, really. It's a shame that we couldn't recruit him to our side, but sometimes we must concede to the Demons. I think he is honestly happier working under Hild anyhow."

Ben smiled at that. "Well, never let it be said that Lady Hild doesn't run a tight ship."

"Hey, is he alright," Washu whispered in Ben's ear, nodding towards his younger brother. "He hasn't said a word in the last ten minutes.

Ben looked a question at Jacob.

Jacob shrugged, "Just trying not to say anything stupid."

Belldandy smiled warmly at the younger brother. "Don't be too worried, Jacob. You're time will come."

Jacob gave Belldandy a questioning, borderline WTF, look. "...Oookay...?"

Belldandy simply beamed optimism and then went on, "I see that I came during breakfast. I apologize for the poor timing, but it's hard to look in here to see what's going on before any of us pop in."

"It's alright," said Tenchi a bit nervously. "In fact, maybe you should join us?"

"Thank you so very much, Tenchi-san. My sister and I do appreciate that."


There was an initial round of introductions, which went rather well. Tenchi's family took the entire thing in stride and Belldandy and Sasami quickly got into a passionate discussion about the culinary arts.

Of course, this led to Washu-chan and Skuld getting into a similarly impassioned discussion on the sciences.

High level terminology in two vastly different fields began to bounce around the table, leaving everyone in a nervous silence. Tenchi and Benjamin happened to look at each other, sharing helpless looks.

It was almost too much for Benjamin and he bit his lower lip in an effort to keep from laughing. Tenchi had to stifle himself as well as he caught on to the humor of the situation.

At that point, both of them were certain - everything here was going to be just fine.


Everyone had filed outside... and promptly desired to go back indoors. The swimming-pool-turned-cesspool was no less a cesspool after a night of neglect.

Even Belldandy covered her nose in disgust. "This is simply dreadful. I feel terrible for the people that lived here."

Some, like Aeka and Ryoko shot confused looks at Belldandy, but Ben looked to them and shrugged, silently communicating that this was simply the Goddess's way.

"At any rate," she went on, "I see I should get to work right away. Any special requests?"

"Soundproofing and blast resistance charms, if you please," said Benjamin quickly. He then turned to his younger brother.

"Can you... do something about the palm trees?" said Jacob. "They look kinda... precarious."

Belldandy smiled. "I can restore them into a state that is healthy. And I do think the blast and sound charms are a good idea. It seems some of your neighbors are keeping cocks in their back yards, anyhow. I can't imagine anyone getting used to that easily."

"Cocks?" asked Sasami.

"Roosters," said Benjamin. "Male chickens. Lots of Hispanic people live here, and roosters make surprisingly good night watchmen."

"What?" said Ryoko in surprise. "Really? A bird as a guard?"

Benjamin chuckled. "You won't think the same thing the first time a goose has a go at you. They have teeth... ON THEIR TONGUES."

Washu cackled as Ryoko started at that revelation. "Did I forget to mention?" she said gleefully "The birds around here evolved from small, vicious theropod predators."

"You'll never look at birds the same way again," Benjamin quipped, earning a laugh from his brother.

Jacob shook his head and added, "On a side note, I hope none of you have any problems with bats. San Antonio has the single largest bat colony in the world."

Amid sounds of awe from their guests, Ben said, "We'll get into flora and fauna of the region here in a little bit. For now, though, I'll turn things back over to our esteemed guest."

"Thank you, Benjamin. Skuld and I will go ahead and get started on the spell right now." She then turned to her younger sister and nodded. "Ready now?"

"As I'll ever be," Skuld replied with gusto.

The two sisters began to chant softly. It was hard to make out the words, it was like the entire world had stopped to pay heed to them. Right away, Washu had her holographic terminal out - no doubt she was recording everything on every measurable scale she could think of.

Suddenly, everything around them was bathed in a brilliance that shone within the structures as everything was rebuilt, renewed, and reinvigorated.

When the glow faded, the entire complex looked fresh and new, as though the last of the contractors had just packed up and left. The courtyard was filled with lush, green grass. The walks were crisp, clean, and level. The palm trees stood straight and proud, their trunks hearty and the fronds bright. All the trash and graffiti was gone. All the broken window panes were intact and crystal clear. The pavement in the parking area was fresh, still offering up a slight scent of hot asphalt, which mingled with the scents of fresh paint, fresh foliage, and the smell of a clean swimming pool, filled with clear blue water and ready for swimmers.

"Well blow me down," said Benjamin in awe as the two Goddesses continued with a new series of chants.

"This is amazing!" said Washu-chan quietly. "They're somehow reinforcing the quantum structures throughout the complex!"

"Meaning?" asked Ryoko.

"The blast resistance! They're making everything stronger without actually altering any of the physical properties!"

"Hah!" cried out Benjamin. "Like the USS Constitution!" He got some odd looks at that, and smiled. "America's first fighting frigate. Her oaken hull was so sturdy that the British sailors swore that direct hits with canon balls _bounced_ off her hull. And she's still a commissioned ship in the US Navy."

"Not really the same, but appropriate," said Washu with a chiding smile.

After several more chants, the two finally stopped. Suddenly, as if a switch was thrown, birds began singing and flitting about once more.

"There! That should do it," said Skuld triumphantly, though she appeared a bit peaky.

"Indeed," agreed her sister. "Though I must admit, that took a bit out of me."

"Alright then," Ben said, taking charge of the situation. He had seen the anime before and knew where this was going. "Jake, go get something for Belldandy and Skuld to sit on, then go and get some drinks from the convenience store. Soda is fine, but absolutely no cola."

Jacob lightly sighed, "Okie dokie... Wonder how she would take Big Red...?" He muttered as he walked off to get some chairs.

"Why no cola?" asked Tenchi.

Benjamin sighed. "You all might as well know, our friends, the Goddesses and Demons all have some pretty funny quirks. Belldandy's older sister drops dead asleep when you play enka music. Her friend among the Demons can't stop dancing if you play rock and roll. Though the lovely lady Belldandy has something different: she can put away enough booze to drink all of Russia under the table. However, slip her a little sip of cola, and she gets so smashed that she's living out John Lennon's Love Potion Number Nine."

"... WHAT," was Ryoko's contribution while everyone else stared at me like I'd grown another head.

"Benjamin, did you really have to tell them?" said Belldandy, all but pouting.

Ben looked apologetically at the Goddess. "Sorry, but I wanted to forestall any potential accidents. I've seen what happened to you in the Anime."

At this moment, Jacob came back with a pair of chairs and he placed them behind the two Goddesses.

"Thanks Jake," said Ben in passing as the younger brother made for the convenience store across the street. "Anyhow, you two go ahead and have a seat. The rest of us will go ahead and check things out and see what there is to see.


Over the course of their exploration of the complex, Benjamin worked out the particulars of the disposition of the units. There were mostly one- and two bedroom units, with four studio units and three three-bedroom units.

Appliances were... thin. Each unit had an oven with a range-top, all gas-fired. But some of the units didn't have refrigerators.

Benjamin and Jacob had retired to the newly restored Manager's Office to talk it over and Washu had followed along.

"We're gonna be stuck for appliances if we don't figure things out," said Ben. "Not that we don't really need much more than a few refrigerators, but having a small laundry machine in each unit would be better. Dishwashers and garbage disposals, too."

"Garbage disposals?" asked Washu. "How do they work here?"

"They're used mainly for food waste and such. A rotary pulper sits inside the sink drain and pulps the waste which is then washed into the sanitary sewer."

Washu blinked at the simple solution. "Huh. Uses a lot of water, but I can see how that'd be effective for waste management. Not a bad idea. Of course, you'd have to make sure the plumbing was up to snuff."

"We'll check it out," said Benjamin, "but I think it can be retrofitted into the existing system."

"What about your laundry machines?" asked Washu. "I didn't see a place where we could set them up."

Ben nodded. "We'd have to set them up, but there's companies, mainly based out in Scandinavia, that make two-in-one units - they wash, and then used a condenser system for drying. We can knock out the cabinets to either side of the sink and use one side for a dish washer and the other for the laundry machine."

"Is a dishwasher that important?" asked Washu.

"It's considered a convenience item in American households. Helps cut down time spent working in the kitchen when a big event happens."

Washu nodded thoughtfully. "Alright, I can see it. Anything else?"

Benjamin smiled knowingly and said, "If you wanna upgrade the other existing appliances, feel free to do so."

"Sure su- WHAT?" squawked Washu-chan. "Now wait just a minute, buster, I never said I'd do anything!"

Jacob raised an eyebrow, "Riiight... So you and your fancy lab will just sit there and do... Nothing?"

"It's the principle of the matter!" snapped Washu peavishly.

"Oh, c'mon Washu-chan," said Benjamin in a playful, wheedling tone. "I know you can't resist." He then puffed his chest out and adopted his famous TV Man Voice and BOOMED, "The C-Line of Home Appliances! Ten times more energy efficient that any of the competitors out there! Smart, convienient, capable! If it doesn't have the Crab, then it simply isn't C-Line!"

There was a brief moment of silence, before Jacob looked at Ben. "...So we'll all have crabs?"

And with that, Washu-chan started bapping Jacob over the head with a paper fan, muttering "Don't you start that! I will give you such a pinch!"

"Start what?" Jacob asked in an amused tone.

"Careful there, kiddo. You need to watch what you say to your elders," replied the mad scientist with a wink.

"Oh, I know, but sometimes I can't help myself, I'm sure you understand."

"Try and rein it in sometimes," said Ben, not unkindly. "If we're getting more guests like Tenchi and his family here, then we're gonna be stuck walking on eggshells one way or another."

Jacob sighed, yet again. "Yeah, that actually reminds me about something I wanted to talk to you about."

Ben frowned at that. "Okay, let me finish with Washu-chan first-"

"It's alright," said Washu airily. "I'll get it taken care of, but I'll need to see exactly what you want before I can get started."

"No problem," said Benjamin. "I'll go ahead and do some research and see if I can't find all the technical specifications for you."

"Great! As things are, though, I think I'll start by getting some basic furniture made up. We can sleep on the carpet, you know." Washu waved as she exited the manager's office and Benjamin sighed as he locked the door behind her.

"Alright, Jake, what's up?"

Jacob tilted his head side to side, "Nothing serious or anything, just a... Preference I will have when it comes to the... Shift? Arrangement we'll have."

"Oh? What did you have in mind?"

"Just with my general disposition toward people, I figured that it would be better if I took the "night" shift. Plus I think it would be a good idea to have one of us on hand day and night, just incase something with one of our tenants came up."

"Fah. There's no need for a night shift or anything like that. We'll be living in one of the units, and we'll be on call 24-hours a day. The business hours are just for handling paperwork and stuff. I'll go ahead and deal with people head-on, you can go ahead and keep the books in order and make sure we don't run out of supplies. Is that fine by you?"

"Joy, paper work... Whatever, but I'll still probably end up staying up later."

"That's fine," said Ben, rolling his eyes a bit, but in a way that made it clear he was used to this. "Better that the books be settled at the end of the day anyhow. Besides, we live in the digital age. Your books are gonna be electronic. Mr. Sebastian called me earlier to let me know the computers were on their way."

"That's good, though I might have to bribe Washu into getting me something nice for personal use..."

"Oh fer... Give her your old laptop - she'll spend WEEKS playing around with it. Pretty sure she can whip up something for you in return."

"Hmm, sounds good."

Yasuri Nanami is my number one waifu, if only because she would horribly murder all the others if they didn't shut up and toe the line.
"They did not care about all the other attempts wizards had made on the Lone Power through history; as far as a computer is concerned, there is no program that cannot be debugged, or at worst, rewritten."
-Diane Duane, High Wizardry
"If our friendship depends on things like space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"
-Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 15th, 2016

Mii's cellphone rang.

As she excused herself from the table, Mikoto said, "Finally!"

"They're not calling to arrange a duel, Misaka-san." Rob sighed. "They don't even know you exist here, unless Mizuno-san accessed the Internet, looked up Konori-san, and found your Wikipedia article."

"Which she probably could do with the Mercury Computer," added Kazari. "Why are you back to being on a last-name basis with us?"

Rob cocked his head and raised one eyebrow. "I'm sorry about that. Sometimes I remember that your standards on names are different than mine, and sometimes I don't. But we should make an effort to be reasonably formal when, or if, we go to meet the Sailor Senshi."

"I'm not calling oneesan 'Misaka-san'."

"I wouldn't mind you making the effort, Shirai-san."


Mii gestured to Rob from the hallway. Once he had joined her there, she handed him her phone. "It's Tsukino-san."

He nodded. "Donaldson speaking. What can I do for you?"

"Donaldson-san, my name is Tsukino Usagi. I read the two manga that you left with Ami ... with Mizuno-san."

"I assume you found them to be something of a shock, Tsukino-san."

"More of a surprise, Donaldson-san. They had the general story right, but the details were all wrong."

So she wasn't from the manga continuity or the live-action version, and probably not from Crystal. "I have some bad news for you, then. Your life story was made into an anime - a very popular anime."

"Just a moment, please."

After a half-minute, Rob heard, "This is Mizuno. Usa... Tsukino-san asked me to speak with you while she went to sit down somewhere."

"I'm afraid that I told her something that she needed to know but wasn't ready to hear. I apologize for that."

"I understand. We called because we wanted to ask for your help." Rob heard a voice say "I don't!" in the background, but Ami kept talking. "We won't be able to stay here tonight."

"How many people are in your group?"

"There are five of us."

"Mizuno-san, I just happen to have five empty one-bedroom apartments available here. Each has a small kitchen and its own bathroom. None of them have very much in the way of furniture, though."

"We would prefer sleeping on the floor to sleeping in an alleyway, Donaldson-san."

"I thought that might be the case, Mizuno-san. I cannot come downtown immediately, because of rush-hour traffic. Shall I meet you at the tea shop at 10:00?"

"We will meet you there, Donaldson-san. Good day."

"Good day." After the call ended, Rob returned Mii's phone to her. "Considering Ami ordered water at the tea shop yesterday and Minako was busking for change, I suspect they have nothing in the way of funds. Mizuno-san very carefully did not tell me that they've been in a homeless shelter for a few days, and that they have to move on. They probably need a proper meal, a decent bath, and a change of clothes."

"How can we help?" asked Kazari, who had joined Mii and Rob in the hallway.

"First, I don't have enough spare towels, soap, and shampoo for all of them."

"I'll go to the mall as soon as it's open."

"Thank you, Uiharu-san. Second, they'll need clothes. I have no business knowing their sizes."

"I'll ask them, then go shopping."

"Come with me and ask on the way back, Konori-san. Uiharu-san, while you're shopping, could you get a pair of jeans, a shirt, a change of underwear, and a pair of socks for each of them, please? We'll call you with the sizes." Rob handed Kazari twelve $50 bills. "That should cover the bill. We'll take them shopping for clothes that they want to wear once they've had a chance to decide whether to stay. Third, they'd probably appreciate something to eat that they recognize."

"I think Saten-san could help there," suggested Mii.

"I'll ask her," Kazari added before going back into the common apartment that they were using as a dining room.

"Finally, we need to keep Railgun from challenging Sailor Jupiter as soon as she arrives."

"Don't worry," Mikoto said from inside the dining room. "I won't challenge her to a fight until she's at her best."

Rob grinned. "Then I suppose we should go back downtown," he said to Mii. "Shall we?"

They stepped out of the apartment building to discover a limousine parked out front, with Sebastian standing beside it. "You weren't planning on trying to fit seven people into that five-seater of yours, were you?"

"I was going to flag down a taxi and tell him to follow me here."

"That would mean splitting the girls up between two cars."

Rob nodded. "Good point."

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 15th, 2016

Mii looked around the interior of the limo. Again. "It's convenient having your own car. Could we get one large enough to hold everyone?"

Rob thought about Mii's question for a moment. "I think something with eleven seats needs more than just a general driver's licence to operate in Ontario. It might be better to get a six-seat car to go along with my Mazda 3, but then we'd need a second driver in the building."

Sebastian laughed. "No, your current licence lets you drive a minivan that carries eleven people. You can't drive a twelve-person bus."

"How much can the budget be stretched?"

"Don't worry about the money. You're going to need something that big."

Rob thought for a moment. "In that case, we should look at having two vehicles - the big one for everybody, and my Mazda. We'll still need a second driver in the building if we do that."

Mii looked like she wanted to say something.

Rob waited, then said, "You're old enough to learn how to drive here, Mii-san."

"Could I? Really?"

"It's a long-term project, but yes."

Rob quickly discovered that Mii had a very pretty smile.

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 15th, 2016

"Five hundred grams of Ceylon, one hundred grams of Darjeeling, one hundred grams of Assam, two hundred grams of Earl Grey, one hundred grams of Jasmine, five hundred grams of Sencha, one hundred grams of Chamomile, and one hundred grams of Labrador tea, please."

"Five Ceylon, one Darjeeling, one Assam, two Earl Grey, one Jasmine, five Sencha, one Chamomile, and one Labrador. Right away, sir," replied the clerk.

Rob turned to Mii. "I do like the service here."

"Do we really need that much?"

"If it was just the six of us, probably not. However," Rob stopped as the tea shop's door opened. "I hope we'll be doubling our numbers today."

Five girls entered the shop. They looked like they were cosplaying as the Sailor Team just finishing a long ordeal. Only Rob and Mii knew that they weren't cosplaying.

Rob turned back to the store clerk. "Also, a cup of Irish Breakfast, and whatever those five ladies want, brewed to go. And I'll pay for this young lady's tea as well," he finished, motioning to Mii.

"One Masala chai, please."

"Right away, miss and sir." The clerk walked over to the Sailor Senshi, asked what they wanted to drink, and made his way back to the tea selection.

"I hope we didn't keep you waiting long, Donaldson-san," Ami said as she sat down at a table.

"We just got here ourselves, Mizuno-san. I barely had time to place an order before you arrived."

It was pretty easy to tell who was who - their hairstyles were distinctive. Usagi was the next to speak. "We appreciate you being wiling to help us, Donaldson-san. We're curious why you would want to help us, though."

Rob nodded. "That's a perfectly reasonable concern. Knowing who you are, and what you can do, and that nobody knows that you are here, it would be extremely easy for somebody to force you to do things you would prefer not doing. I give you my word that I am not one of those people."

"And those books you left with Ami show you know exactly who and what we are."

Rob nodded again. "That's correct, Hino-san."

"And what do you get out of this arrangement?"

"The satisfaction of knowing that I'm helping somebody who needs help, a warm and secure place to live, food on the table, and a paycheck."

"What do you expect us to do in return?"

"Go to school, learn, make friends, discover what life is like here, and don't draw attention to yourselves unless you need to save somebody else's life. Oh, and keep your own apartments clean, and help with the household chores."

Mii added, "That's the same deal Donaldson-san made with me and my friends."

"I don't trust you."

"You shouldn't trust me, Hino-san. I could be lying to you all."

"No," Usagi said with conviction. "You aren't lying to us."

"Thank you for trusting me, Tsukino-san."

"You're welcome, Donaldson-san."

As the store clerk came over with the leaf and brewed tea, Rob stood up. "I need to pay for all of this. On my credit card, so there's a record of me being here now. Konori-san, would you show the girls where our ride is waiting, please?"

The store clerk watched as the girls left. "You're making a big deal about making sure they know you've been seen here with them."

"Yeah, but it's the only way to get them to trust me enough to get them off the streets."

"Do you want to leave your address with us, too?"

"Only if you deliver."
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
September 20:


“What are these,” Shinji asked as he picked up one of the cigarette pack sized pieces of plastic. James had cooked steaks for everyone but Rei who he had made a large salad for and apologized for not having any tofu or other vegetarian meal ingredients handy. Apparently he had gone back out the night before after everyone else had gone to their rooms and acquired these things for them because there was enough for each of them to have one.

“Good morning Shinji,” James replied with his attention mostly on the grill pit that he had cooked the steaks on the night before. He was apparently getting the fire started again so breakfast could be made if she was judging the ingredients on the table correctly. “Those are portable phones, each one a prepaid model so that you can all stay in contact no matter where you are. They flip open and one should have your picture on its screen indicating that it belongs to you.”

Finally the man got the fire going and hung a pot of water over it after settling the grill grid in place. “Each of them has all the numbers of the others already programmed into them plus my own number so that you can reach everyone in case of an emergency or something. Now, I could really use your help with breakfast because I have no idea how to cook things like tofu or miso. I can do a western style breakfast which I’m sure Asuka, Kaji, Misato, and Ritsuko would probably eat, but I don’t have a clue how to do an Eastern style breakfast so I have nothing for you Rei or Maya.”

“Let’s see what you have to work with,” Shinji answered and then set to working on something that he could do well.

Misato and Kaji were the next ones down, and James was apparently glad about this, “Misato, Kaji, there is something I need to explain to you that I think you don’t realize quite yet, and unfortunately I have very little to prove it. However, I need to tell the adults before I tell the kids because it’s going to tougher for you to believe, maybe Asuka will be a bit difficult to convince, but that’s mostly because she never paid attention to her teacher’s lectures.”

The pair looked at James a bit skeptically and then Misato shrugged, “We’re not on our Earth, or at least not in one that followed our original timeline.” Misato said flatly causing James to look at her with surprise apparent on his face.

“Alright maybe it won’t be so difficult to explain,” James muttered half to himself before shaking his head. “Alright then, you’re right in that aspect at least, this world never saw second impact, there was never a Gehrin prodject, never a Human Instrumentality Project, no U.N. Council on the matter.” Looking at the pair and the astonished looks on their faces he continued, “The fact of the matter is that to this world, your world is nothing more than a story written by a clinically depressed man who had a vision that was tragically cut short by idiot television producers when they forced him to wrap what should have been the third season up in a two-hour movie using minimum resources. It wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last unfortunately.”

“So what happened?” Kaji asked as Misato stood there with a shocked look on her face.

“I’ll loan you the DVD set I have of both the original and the remake,” James responded. “Greed of course won out on the producers and because the fandom has been building over the years they decided a few years ago to go back and redo the series in a series of movies. I haven’t even watched the remake, it hasn’t been finished yet, however the fan arguments that started not long after the third movie came out haven’t been giving me hope.”

Kaji nodded to this but Misato finally managed to get her brain back into gear to ask a simple question, “So who was responsible?”

“Depends on what they were supposed to be responsible for,” James responded. “SEELE, who you knew as the U.N.’s Instrumentality Project council was responsible for your father’s death and partially responsible for Yui Ikari’s intentional absorption during her contact experiment, you could also connect them to Kyoko Zepplin’s partial absorption during her contact experiment. They are nothing but a bunch of old men who want to be gods of their own world.”

Turning around James saw that they had drawn a small crowd of the remaining tenants during his answering session which caused him to sigh. “Alright folks,” he said catching everyone’s attention. “Shinji and I have most of breakfast prepared, if you want a traditional Japanese breakfast speak to Shinji and he will set you up, if you want a western style breakfast tell me how you want your eggs and grab your extras while I fix them. Once everyone is eating I will hand out your phones and explain somewhat what has happened.
Asuka grimaced as she listened to the entirety of James’s explanation of why they were here and then Misato got up from having eaten her breakfast and explained why it was likely true. She poked at her eggs for a minute before shrugging and eating them anyway. No point worrying over things on an empty stomach after all. Toast she recognized, and eggs were eggs everywhere in the world. The hash browns were scattered instead of in a clump like she was used to but filled with ham and onions they were quite good, the only thing she didn’t recognize was something James called grits, and with a bit of butter, some salt and pepper, they were edible and filling. Now though, now she had nothing to do until they all piled into the shuttle to go prowl the local mall except play with the portable phone that James had handed her. Settling in with the device she poked at the buttons for a few minutes with her thumbs until the screen popped up with a screen that she didn’t quite understand. “Hey James,” she called out the question clear in her tone.

“Yes Asuka, what’s wrong?” he called back from somewhere in what she could only guess was his apartment.

“What is Google?”
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 15th, 2016

"Okonomiyaki for lunch?"

"It's better than that soup that didn't have any miso in it."

"It's something I recognize!"

In the common room's kitchen, Rob smiled at that last comment, which came from Usagi. He turned to Ruiko. "Good call, Saten-san."

"I thought they might want something more substantial than curry, but not as heavy as your cooking usually is."

Rob clutched at his heart and made an over-pained face. "Alas! I have been cut to the quick!" Then they both laughed.

"I like you. You're silly."

"That's the nicest thing anybody's said to me since lunchtime, Saten-san."


Rob immediately caught the mood shift. "You're sure? I'd say 'only if you call me Rob,' but you already do."

"You did insist, Rob-san."

"True. All right, Ruiko-san. Or should I call you Rui-chan?"

She looked angry. "If you do..." Then her expression changed. "... I'll just have to call you Jiji!"

"I'm not that old!"

"Compared to us, you are that old."

Just then, the door opened behind them. "I'm back!"

"Welcome back, Uiharu-san. Did you have any trouble at the store?"

"No, Shirai-san and I were okay. Oh, the mailman just pulled up, too. He wouldn't just give us the mail, though."

Rob shook his head. "Canada isn't like Japan. He could lose his job if he did that. I'll let all of you go meet your new housemates while I get my mail. If there's any for you, you'll have to get it on your own."

"Oh, I don't mind..." Kazari started to say.

"Uiharu-san, each mailbox is locked and I only have a key to my own."

"Oh. Why do they do that?"

"I'll explain later. Go, meet the others."

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 15th, 2016

Rob had gone through the junk mail, the bills, and the personal mail from people who he had given his new address to. That left three large envelopes and one package.

The package had a San Antonio postmark, dated earlier the same day. "Okay, somebody's showing off," muttered Rob as he opened it. "But is that somebody Washuu-chan or Sebastian?"

A few minutes later, he had the contents of the package sorted on his desk. Each of his tenants had a set of school transcripts, health records and a health card, a bank book and an ATM card (with the accounts as evenly divided as possible at the branches of the three major banks at the nearby mall), a bus pass card, ... and a certificate of legal guardianship with Rob as the guardian.

"Aw, man." Thinking the rest, Rob continued, 'I know I have to be their guardian and not just their landlord, and I know why, but Rei's going to be pissed off. She already doesn't trust me. Mii probably won't like it, either.' After a moment, he snickered. 'Heh. Never been married and suddenly I've got ten daughters.' Then he realized what he'd said. 'Ah, man - that means ten wardrobes to pay for, ten boyfriends - no, nine boyfriends and a girlfriend unless Kuroko changes her orientation - to hear the praises about when the relationships start and to hear the badmouthing about when they end, ten worries about whether they're safe ... No, they're Judgment and the Sailor Senshi. I only need to worry about whether Ruiko-san is safe at night.' Somehow that lifted the burden of the responsibility from Rob's shoulders, leaving only the determination to be the best guardian he could be to the girls.

Two of the envelopes he left sealed - Rob had only received them because they were sent care of him. He placed the one from Carleton University's Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice on the pile of paperwork with Mii's name on it. The other envelope, from the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine, he added to Ami's document pile. 'I guess that IQ of 300 bit wasn't hyperbole.'

That left the envelope from the local English-language public school board. Much to Rob's complete lack of surprise, it was an set of appointments for the other eight of his tenants to write grade-placement tests. What did surprise him was that the tests were scheduled for the beginning of October... but, reading the cover letter that came with the paperwork, he realized that the school board was so busy with the beginning of the school year that they couldn't schedule the tests any earlier.

He unlocked his office door and poked his head out into the hall. "Girls, I have some paperwork for each of you. Some of it you'll like, some of it you might not like. We need to talk about the one that I think some of you won't like."

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 15th, 2016

"I don't want you running my life. Or Usagi's life."

Rob nodded. "I don't want to run your life, Hino-san. It's enough work running my own life."

"Then why have this?" She waved the certificate of guardianship in his face.

"Because it's the only way to keep all of you together. If I'm not your legal guardian, then the court system will appoint guardians for you - and the chance that you'd all get the same guardian that way is so small it may as well be non-existent."

Rei stopped her rant. "So... this is for us?"

Mii nodded. "This is for us, not for Donaldson-san." Then she picked up a pen and signed her own form. "And I accept that, even though I'm old enough to not need a guardian here."

"Would somebody hand me a pen, please?" Usagi asked from the overstuffed chair that she was sitting in.

As Rob handed her a pen, he realized that Rei and Ami had made sure Usagi got one of the chairs when they came in. Then he remembered that Ami said she had read The Incomplete Enchanter when she was in middle school - past tense - which implied that she had graduated to high school already. Then he realized where in the story the Sailor Senshi had come from. "You're exhausted, aren't you, Tsukino-san? I'm sorry that I asked you to come to this office instead of going to you."

"Why would you think that?" asked Rei, very quickly.

Usagi giggled, surprising everyone else. "He's read about us, Rei. He's seen the anime. We're anime characters here, remember? He probably knows what I did just before we showed up in Ottawa."

"So, what happened?" asked Mikoto.

Ruiko answered first. "I think episode 200 happened." She turned to Usagi. "You fought Galaxia, right?"

Usagi nodded. "Yes. And I won, and I undid what she did, and there was a flash from the Ginzuisho, and we were here."

Rob nodded again. "And what you did to undo what Galaxia did must have taken all of the strength you had left."

"Ano..." Kazari interrupted. "I haven't seen your anime. What did you do?"

Before anyone could answer, Rob said, "Later. Or get the story from Ruiko-san, outside. Let Tsukino-san rest. Hino-san, would you accompany me to a furniture store and help me pick out a bed for Tsukino-san? We'll get it delivered immediately, and then she can relax in comfort."

"... All right. Makoto, keep an eye on Usagi for me."

"Of course, Rei."

As Rob reached for his coat and car keys, he said, "Everyone else, please take your pile of papers to your own apartments and go through them. Read the guardianship forms before you sign them, okay?"

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 15th, 2016

"I like the beds you picked out, Hino-san. I think Tsukino-san will like her bed, as well."

"It's the closest I could find to her bed back home."

Rob continued driving back to the apartment building, and Rei sat beside him in silence.

Finally, he broke the silence. "You know that I know things about you that only your family and closest friends should know. What do you want to know about me in return?"


They passed two intersections.

"Can you tolerate my presence under your roof?"

"It's your roof, not mine."

"All right. Can you tolerate living under the same roof as me?"

They passed another three intersections.

"I think so. But only for Usagi's sake."

"I'll accept that answer. Is there anything that you would like to get on the way back to the apartment?"


"Not even a different change of clothes?"

"Not from you."

Rob sighed quietly. "The other girls have been here for a few days, and they know where to find some decent clothes. You can blame me for that rather drab outfit you have on - I didn't know what you'd like, so I asked Uiharu-san to get something simple for each of you so you'd have something to wear while your decent clothes were in the wash."

"Really?" It was barely a whisper.


After a moment, Rei said, "I guess that was thoughtful of you."


"You didn't give me no choice but to dress up for you."

As they pulled into the apartment's parking lot a few minutes later, Rei added, "Maybe I can stay here for more than just Usagi's sake."

Rob parked the car, they got out, and he headed for his office - where he found Usagi asleep in front of a neatly-stacked pile of guardianship forms. Only Rei's was missing - and she had been with Rob.

An hour later, the last signed guardianship form was slipped under his office door.

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
September 15th, 2016

"Ooh! Katsudon!" Rob smiled. "Who do we have to thank for this for dinner?"

Ruiko raised her hand. "Kino-san was still setting up her bed when the time to start dinner came, so I volunteered."

"That was good of you, Rui-chan."

She mock-glared at him across the table. "If you call me that again, I'll just have to call you ojisan."

"And why would I get upset at you calling me 'uncle', Rui-chan?"

Even Rei laughed at that question.
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
September 8, 2016, 9:12 AM
The Westwood Apartments
San Antonio, TX, USA

Benjamin was very shrewd about how he assigned the units.  Tenchi had a one-bedroom unit all to himself.  The poor boy was almost agog at the size of the bedroom: fifteen feet wide and twenty feet deep.

Aeka, Sasami, and Noike were relegated to a two-bedroom unit on the immediate right; and Ryoko, Ryo-Ohki, and Mihoshi in the two-bedroom unit to the immediate left.  Washu was stuck with her laboratory door on the outside of the Manager's Office.

"What do you think, Jake?" asked Ben as they eyed the laundromat room.  "Since everyone will have small laundry machines inside their units, want to make these into double load machines?  No wait... We'll need those and a six-load machine.  Futons, you know."

"Hmm, sounds good... Do you think we could squeeze in two of the six-load machines? You never know what sort of madness we'll have on our hands in the future."

"It'd be a tight fit, but I think we can manage it.  I'll go ahead and look into it."

"Oh, more work for me?" said Washu who had seemingly appeared at the door.

Ben smiled and waved it off.  "Nah, this stuff we'll use the budgetary allowance for upgrades.  As it is we'll need to get some security fencing into place, ASAP."

Washu frowned thoughtfully at that.  "I looked around outside.  It's not a whole lot better out there than it was in here.  Though really I think this place was the core of the rot."

Ben sighed.  "Ugh, no kidding.  But I'd be worried about some of those guys trying to come back and push us out or something."  He then smiled maliciously.  "Think you can do a temporary patch job on the holes, Washu-chan?"

Washu grinned back.  "Buddy, I like the cut of your jib.  By the way, what are we going to do about food around here?  I mean, I can do some stuff, but I'd rather you guys not rely on me for everything."

Ben winced at that.  "Yyeeeeaaahhh.  Okay, geeeet...  Let's seeeee...  Get Tenchi, Sasami, and Noike together.  I'll take them around town and get the essentials.  Jake?"

Jacob shrugged, "Well, the cats do need to get settled in? I could talk with Washu-chan on what would be appropriate for security around here while I do that."

Ben inwardly winced.  "Well, not only that, you're gonna have to keep an eye on things while I'm not around.  I don't expect you to be able to do much, but keep your cell phone at the ready.  You got Belldandy on speed dial, right?"

"Of course I do, I know I'm a bit useless in being able to get them to do anything."

Ben actually winced at that.  "Yeah... just, try and be a little more positive.  Anyhow-" Ben turned to look for Washu, only to find she'd disappeared.  He almost swore he could see a blinking dashed-line of her outline where she had been standing.

"Hoooiiii!" came Sasami's voice from across the parking lot.  "Ro-des-san!  We're ready to go!"  Ben poked his head outside to find the blue haired girl smiling and waving with a grinning Noike, and a mildly embarrassed looking Tenchi.

"Well, that was fast.  Jake, I'll be taking the Super Beast."

"Er, is that something you can do yet?"

"Yeah, got in touch with the owner's wife through the proper channels.  Turns out the guy was dealing drugs.  Police don't want the vehicle - he didn't have any in there.  The wife... she's done with the guy and is mailing me the title."

"Eh, whatever works."

"Whatever works hell!  This truck is exactly what I wanted."


If there was one thing Benjamin had perfected the art of, it was doing things on the fly.  So, it didn't take him more than ten minutes to make sure he had insurance coverage for the truck he had taken to calling Super Beast, and then they were rolling.

"Why is this truck so loud?" asked Tenchi from the passenger seat next to Benjamin.

"It's an eight-cylinder turbo-diesel.  This bad boy has enough horses under the hood to haul Tokyo Tower off its foundations."

"W-What!?" exclaimed the boy, making Ben laugh a bit.

"Okay, that's an exaggeration.  You'll find we tend to do that a lot around here in Texas.  But then, we love to paint interesting pictures with our words."

"Where are we going anyhow?" asked Noike.

Ben smiled at that, sensing an opportunity for a story.  "Well, thing is that Texas has always been a very multicultural place.  Originally there were the Native American peoples that lived here.  Then came the Spanish explorers, along with the Catholic Church and their missions.  Then the French came in - they were more reasonable, pursuing nothing more than commerce and trade.  Revolution came and then this land became Mexico.  Mexico needed residents so they opened the boarder to settlers and so came the Americans from the west.  More revolution and then Texas became its own nation... for a time.  But there was the war debt to pay back to the USA, so eventually a deal was hammered out and Texas became part of the USA."

"But what does that have to do with where we're going?" asked Sasami.

"I'm getting there, Sasami-chan," said Ben with mild patience.  "So, anyhow - with all these different peoples in the area, a lot of different staple crops were grown - wheat, beans, and rice most prominently.  Wheat and beans we could get to grow easily, but in this climate that is prone to droughts, we were having trouble with the rice.  Fortunately, a very smart person knew exactly what country to go to for help."

"You mean you went to Japan for help?" said Tenchi in surprise.

Ben grinned.  "I know, right?  But it was a very different time - the Meiji Era by your reckoning.  At the request of the Texas government and the Japanese consul, a small group of Japanese rice farmers were settled in the gulf coastal regions, and Emperor Meiji himself graciously gifted the state with rice seed.  Within the a few short years, the rive harvests here in Texas nearly doubled.

"Since then, things have changed.  The Second World War..."  Benjamin shook his head sadly.  "Bad times for everyone.  American, Japanese, German...  Families burying dead sons, people working themselves to the bone building goods for the war effort, and angry heartbroken people everywhere.

"But, time heals all wounds.  People remembered what it means to be neighbors.  The Japanese people that had remained here have their own little circles, and the Japanese wives of US Servicemen are pleasantly shocked that they can find a little slice of home in this unlikely seeming place."

All the while, Benjamin had driven the massive truck with authoritative ease, sliding the vehicle through the thick San Antonio traffic on Interstate 410, taking the Fredricksburg Road exit, going left, and then turning right on Calaghan Road after a few blocks.  Another right turn just past the power sub-station, and then into a parking spot.

"Welcome to Minnano's Grocery!" said Benjamin cheerfully as he hopped out of the massive truck.


After watching Ben and the others drive off, Jacob went over to Ben's little black pickup truck, which was lovingly named Scrappy. After quickly checking how the cats were doing, Jacob opened up the Uhaul trailer and grabbed two litter pans and boxes of cat litter to fill them up.

Lugging the stuff, Jacob sighed as he got to the stairs, making his way up to the second story corner apartment, number 210. He let himself in and quickly set up the litter pans, one in each bedroom, then Jacob went back to the truck.

As he approached the truck he saw that Washu was waiting, looking curiously at the cats inside.

"Hey there," said the little mad genius cheerily as she turned, hearing Jacob's approach.  "You guys never mentioned you have cats.  Think they'll get along well with Ryo-Ohki?"

Jacob tilted his head to the side, "Luna and Babs may, but even for them it would take time for them to get used to her presence. As for Mira and Renee, I'm not too sure they would react too well.  They barely tolerate the kittens as it is."

"So normal for cats, then," said Washu.  "I can go ahead and make up a spray with Ryo-Ohki's scent.  Just spray it in one spot once a day for the next month.  That should help them get accustomed to her scent."

Jacob nodded, then went to the trailer and opened it, "So, I'm assuming that you're going to put in furniture for all of us?"

"Just some bare-bones basics.  Couple of beds, a table, and some chairs.  There's already storage cabinets, drawers, and closets for your clothes, and I'm assuming you guys got more furniture on the way."

"We'll have to purchase the stuff, but we'll do that later." Jacob looked at the last of the cat stuff in the trailer – a couple of plastic containers of food and a large bin full of toys and a modular perch – and looked back to Washu, "Hey, do you think you could carry one of these containers?"

"Sure, sure," said the scientist as she got ahold of the larger of the two food containers.

Jacob nodded, grabbed the last two containers, and closed up the trailer. As they headed up to the apartment, Jacob glanced at Washu and asked, "So, what do you have in mind for security for the complex?"

"Well, as the old saw goes, good fences make good neighbors.  And if this place was as bad as it used to be, that makes me wonder about that apartment complex behind yours.  So I'm gonna have to write an advance security algorithm that will prevent things like people throwing stuff over the fence."

Jacob raised an eyebrow and was silent for a minute, "Uh... How, um, visible would this be?"

"Not visible at all!" chirped the genius.  "It will simply be a force field that makes it look as though a gust of wind blew the object back to the other side of the fence."

Jacob's eyebrow rose again as he opened the door to his apartment, "That's a bit more reasonable than I expected, but that could raise some suspicions if someone got curious, right?"

"Pft.  Curious?  First off, you don't really seem to know me.  I know I seem kinda crazy and grandiose.  And I'll admit, it's an earned thing.  I mean, who else has a lab that covers five planets!  But if you were just passing me by on the street, what would you see?"

Putting the containers on the table, Jacob's head tilted, "Well, first off? I think it would be an odd kid with some hair as big as herself."

"Odd, but not impossible.  And otherwise nothing to get excited about.  You see, that's my whole thing.  I like being sneaky by downplaying my presence.  Take Ryo-Ohki for example.  In starship form, she's relatively small.  But she was able to effortlessly beat the Chobimaru - a Galaxy Police flagship that is as big as Earth.  You see what I'm getting at?"

Jacob sighed, "Yeah, but we are a stones throw away from several military bases and I'm a paranoid bastard. And for future reference, I don't know much about you or the rest of your bunch. All I know is from an interesting fanfic and not much else."

"I know that.  That's why I'm telling you about me.  There's no real need to get prickly.  I mean, we're people too, right?  Besides, I know what I'm doing.  It'll be just enough to stop someone from being a miscreant.  Your military won't even notice a thing unless they happen to point a gravitometer directly at the place, and even then only while it happens to be redirecting something.  We'll be just fine."

Jacob sighed again, "Fine. Just make sure the pizza delivery guy won't be bothered."

Washu snorted at that.  "What do you take me for?  A rank amateur?"

Jacob shrugged, "No, but I like to make sure about that sort of thing."

Washu rolled her eyes, but said nothing else.

After quickly setting up the modular cat perches, Jacob and Washu heard some arguing outside.

Poking their heads out, it was easy to see what was going on.  Without Noike around to moderate things, Aeka and Ryoko had gotten into it, arguing over which of them Tenchi was going to help first when he got back.  Though it was it was difficult to say what he would be helping them with, one could surmise they'd think of something.

Meanwhile, Mihoshi was simply looking around the complex, oohing and ahhing at all the pretty birds and butterflies that were flitting about the complex - all attracted by the lingering aura of Belldandy.  Of course, nobody noticed her...

...That is, until she tripped on her own feet by the manager's office and planted herself face-first into the soda machine next to the door to Washu's lab.

The machine made a horrible screech, and suddenly clunked loudly two times, sending a can a Mountain Dew into Ryoko's head, and a can of Pepsi into Aeka's, both at supersonic speeds, knocking the two out completely.

Jacob facepalmed and mentally muttered a few curses, "Can you handle that? I honestly don't know if I should be near them when they wake up."

Washu sighed, not at all because of Jacob's reticence, but because this was just so utterly typical.

"Sure, sure, I got this," said Washu as she trudged off to take care of things.  "Just... stay away from that soada machine until I can get a look at it.  I have no idea what she did to it."

"Right, stay away from the machine that just went Mythbusters on them. Anyhow, thanks. If you need me, I'll be getting the cats into the apartment."


Tenchi was simply floored.  Benjamin hadn't been joking - this had been like a little slice of Japan transplanted into the USA, like an embassy on foreign soil.

Yes, there was a lot of signage in English.  But there was even more signage in Japanese.  It reminded him of his aunt's grocery when it was a much smaller store - homey, humble, and packed to the gills with all kinds of snacks and wares.

Sasami cheered gleefully at everything that was there - tea sets, dinner sets, pots and pans, rice cookers and even ramune sodas and hi-chew candies.

"I want you guys to get everything you need," he said as he helped himself to several 1000ml bottles of C.C. Lemon and cans of Royal Milk Tea.  "Cookware, dinnerware, bento boxes, food.  You name it.  Don't worry about the money – it’s all on Mr. Phantomhive's dime to help you guys settle in."

"But... how can we repay you for all that?" asked Tenchi, utterly aghast.

"Oi, Tenchi-kun!  Washu-chan is already saving us hundreds of thousands of yen in outfitting the apartments with nice appliances.  This is a drop in the bucket by comparison."

Suddenly, Noike was behind Tenchi and chiding him gently.  "Benjamin is right, Tenchi-kun.  We need these wares, and what Washu-chan is doing for him is more than repayment enough."

"Heh, I guess you are right," said Tenchi with a sheepish grin as he rubbed the back of his head.

From there on out, Sasami and Noike made short work of figuring out what they wanted, and loaded several carts with foods and wares.

"I kinda wish they had more fresh food," Sasami said with a sigh as she eyed the frozen stock warily.

Benjamin shrugged and sighed as well.  "It can't be helped.  Any food that's imported needs to pass through customs.  And that usually means a quarantine period.  But don't worry - I know a place where we can get good fresh meat and produce."


"IT'S HUUUUUUUUGE!!!" exclaimed Sasami in awe and excitement as she pointed at the Wal-Mart Supercenter at West Military Drive.  "Are we really gonna get our food there!?"

Ben laughed and patted Sasami's head.  "Nah.  We're just here to get the housewares you guys couldn't find over at Minano's - they're great for all the little things you can find only in Japan, but for the general stuff, Wal-Mart's usually the one-stop option.  Just beware that sometimes the quality is about 100-yen-store levels."

Tenchi looked around in mild trepidation.  It wasn't that he wasn't used to crowds - Japan was a pretty crowded place, after all.  But it was being around so many Americans.  It helped that not everyone stared at him, but it still made Tenchi feel uncomfortable.

Ben was keeping an eye on things, though, and took note of his charge's discomfort.

"Everything alright?" he asked.

"It's... kinda weird," said the young man.  "I don't know how to handle people staring at me."

"They're not accustomed to seeing Japanese people.  They don't mean much by it.  But if you happen to meet someone's gaze with your own, don't stress.  Simply nod your head once.  Doing that is like acknowledging the other person - a show of respect.  Only casual."

"Casual respect?" blurted Tenchi.  "How does that work?"

"Well, Americans are pretty relaxed that way.  As long as you don't do anything grossly offensive, people here generally mind their own business and let everyone else get on with their day.  Although I will admit that people arguing loudly in public annoy the piss out of me and I desire nothing more than to humiliate them."

Tenchi gave Benjamin a startled look at that and remained silent until the got to the expansive housewares section.

Sasami was absolutely gobsmacked.  "Whooooaaaaaaahhhh.  And I can get whatever we need!?"

"Only as long as you need it," said Ben with a smile.  "In other words, keep it reasonable, kiddo."

Ben grinned mischievously as Sasami turned and stuck her tongue out while giving him a red-eye.

"Aren't you worried she might do something to your food if you tease her?" asked Noike in amusement next to him while Sasami got to work filling up the shopping cart.

Benjamin scoffed mildly.  "Not particularly.  I think the worse she'll do is tease me back.  Or maybe sic Mihoshi on me."  Benjamin then made a thoughtful look at that.  "On second thought that might actually violate the Geneva Conventions."

Noike simply hid her mouth as she laughed quietly.  "Very true, that.  It is a rare person that I would wish such a fate upon."

The two watched for a brief moment as Sasami showed Tenchi her latest find - a Nutri-Bullet blender.

"You want to ask about something," said Noike suddenly, just loud enough for Ben to hear.

Ben sighed.  "Of course you'd notice, adoptive daughter of Seto and all."

"Indeed.  Normally, though, I wouldn't pry, but you already know so much about us.  What more is there to know?"

"Well, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  But what about video?  Twenty-one episodes of OVA's?  You can cram a lot in there.  But there's still a lot of unknowns.  What was Mihoshi really like before her accident?  Does Tenchi have a favorite game?  Why does Aeka get jealous over Tenchi all the time - she knows she's inevitably going to be sharing him with someone eventually.

"In short, Noike, I want to get to know all of you as people and friends.  Yes, there's going to be times I'll need to push somebody's buttons and manipulate them into helping me, but the honest truth is I'd really rather not.  I've had so few friends in my life that every chance I get is a precious thing.  My brother, Jacob, may be content to shut himself in.  But not me.  I'm an introvert, yes... but I have to have someone in my life.  Solitude is over rated."

Noike then placed a hand on my shoulder and gave it a firm squeeze.  "Don't worry about it, Benjamin.  I know Sasami already considers you to be a friend.  And I feel comfortable in doing the same as well.  If you'll pardon me, though, I think I need to rescue poor Tenchi-kun from Sasami-chan."

Ben could only chuckle at that – it was a rare thing to see Sasami worked up like this, and poor Tenchi was simply out of his depths.


Before they left, Ben made sure they stopped to pick up a few things from the electronics section - a trio of inexpensive LED TVs, an XBox One, a PS4, a Nintendo Wii-U, and a selection of games for everyone's pallets.

Naturally, Tenchi boggled.  "But... Benjamin... Really..."

"Tenchi, relax," replied Ben as he rolled his eyes.  "I want you guys to have fun here.  And believe it or not, Texas has some seriously rainy days.  On average, San Antonio gets more rain per year than London does.  And when that rain does come you do not want to be outside for it.  You'll think that a typhoon was here."

That almost shut Tenchi up, except that he was a bit curious.  "Why would you people build a city that has such wild weather!?"

Ben smiled and looked over at Tenchi.  "When we get the chance to, I'll show you guys why.  Let's get this stuff paid for.  We still need to buy fresh food."


"Last stop!" Called out Ben.  "Welcome to Herbert E. Butz Grocery Store... or just HEB as we all call it."

"Wow!" said Sasami.  "This place is almost as big as that Wal-Mart!  And they only have GROCERIES  here!?"

Ben shrugged.  "Mostly.  There's a few other little things, like soap, cleaning supplies, medicine...  You'll see when we get in there."

As they went inside, Ben noted that Tenchi was a bit more at ease with the crowd, but he still looked around in wide-eyed wonder as the scope of the store opened up before them.

It was huge, just like the Wal-Mart.  But where Wal-Mart had a little bit of everything in general, HEB simply had FOOD!  For sure, there were some toys, some seasonal items (Halloween costumes and decorations abound), school supplies, a florist and greeting card section, and even a well-appointed section for toddlers and infants...

...Mostly, HEB was completely about the consumables of daily life.  Food, medicine, soaps, but mostly just FOOD.

The first stop was the butcher's shop, with its famous claim of cutting meat five times a day.

"They really cut meat five times a day here?" said Sasami in surprise.

"Yep," replied Ben.  "There's a lot of people who work odd hours here in San Antonio, so even though the shop does 'close' each night, that's mainly just so they can give the place a proper cleaning for sanitary reasons.  Otherwise, the meat here is probably the best value for cut and freshness you're going to find in the city.  So go ahead and go nuts."

Sasami made a puzzled look at that.  "But... even with everyone here that would be too much meat."

"What?  We need to get enough to last us... ohhh.  I get it.  You're used to shopping daily for your fresh food, right?"

Sasami nodded, still a bit perplexed.

"Okay, we can do it your way.  At least this store is not far from the complex."

That said, Ben let Sasami approach the counter so she could place an order.  Minutes later, she was grinning hugely at the five-pound slab of USDA Prime marbled beef.

"I'm just surprised that I got such a nice cut of meat for so little," said the little girl whose head stood out like a cornflower in a field of grain.

Ben just smiled and shrugged.  "That's living in Texas for you.  And it helps that this chain of stores always has the best price for the quality.  So, we got meat, let's hit produce real quick, and then make a quick stop over in the baking aisle for seasonings and stuff."

It took about a half hour, with Sasami sifting through the produce with a jaundiced eye (which she found to be satisfactory), and then just as carefully raiding the spices in the baking aisle as well as stocking up on essentials like sugar, vinegar, flour, and other kitchen necessities.

After they got through checkout, Ben stopped at the HEB Gas Station to top off the massive truck's fuel tanks with diesel, and then it was off to home once more.


When Benjamin arrived with the others, Washu had already fitted out their apartments with basic furnishings - beds, chairs, and tables.  There was already ample storage for clothes, which Washu had also seen fit to stock with a couple of changes of very basic items.

"I had a feeling you might have forgotten about soap," chirped the scientist as she exited her lab carrying several bundles of basic hygien products.  "Really, I just don't get why everyone forgets this stuff!  How can you forget toilet paper for crying out loud!"

Benjamin, Tenchi, Sasami, and Noike could only look at ech other sheepishly.  "Whoops."

Yasuri Nanami is my number one waifu, if only because she would horribly murder all the others if they didn't shut up and toe the line.
"They did not care about all the other attempts wizards had made on the Lone Power through history; as far as a computer is concerned, there is no program that cannot be debugged, or at worst, rewritten."
-Diane Duane, High Wizardry
"If our friendship depends on things like space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"
-Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
October 1, 2016

Saturdays weren't school days in Canada. (Not that she was attending school yet.) But bad habits were easy to get into and hard to break, so she got up anyway.

Heading toward the common room, she noticed Konori-sempai knocking on Tsukino-san's door. "If you want breakfast before we go downtown, you'd better get up and dressed soon, Usagi-san!"

That was the other reason she was already up and dressed - they were going to go see another museum today. If they had time, they might see two. Donaldson-san thought it was better than getting a broad overview of Canadian history out of a textbook.

As Konori-sempai kept knocking, Kuroko sighed deeply and rolled her eyes. How was somebody like Tsukino-san supposed to become the ruler of her world?


Kuroko started to teleport to the parking lot ... then remembered that Donaldson-san didn't like that. They were pretending that they weren't espers.

She used to think it was a silly rule -- until she learned that almost everybody on this Earth thought Skills didn't exist.

And then she had learned about how some people without Skills could control people who did have them, either by subtle manipulation of their emotions or through more blatant -- and painful -- means. And some of those people weren't very nice, even compared to the others who would do things like that. The building's internet firewall let through a lot more than she thought Donaldson-san wanted it to let through. (Although she still couldn't get at any of those "Rule 34" images of her and oneesan that a few chat boards assured her existed. Maybe Uiharu-san or Mizuno-san -- Kazari or Ami; they were in Canada now, and it seemed like everybody used just given names here -- could help her crack that filter. Then she realized that Donaldson-san probably wanted information about things like MK-ULTRA and Stockholm Syndrome to get through the filter, after all.)

She didn't want somebody to force her to use her Teleport -- or force oneesan to use her Railgun -- to break the law, so she had to make sure nobody saw it in action.

Walking short distances. What a concept. But she was getting used to it.

Ottawa Locks, Rideau Canal, Ottawa

"It was noisy up there, but down here it's nice and quiet."

Kuroko had to agree with Saten-san -- Ruiko. It was relatively peaceful in the depression around the canal locks. "Why are there so many in a row? Wouldn't a water elevator take less room?"

Donaldson-san nodded. "It would, but they didn't have the raw materials to build one when they were finishing off the Rideau Canal. Thus, they built eight locks in a row."

"Who lives in the castle?"

Donaldson-san smiled at Tsukino-san's question. "Which one? No, that isn't a fair question. That building," he pointed across the canal and up the hill, "is the Chateau Laurier. It's a high-class hotel. And that building," he pointed in the opposite direction and up the other hill, "is one of the Parliament Buildings."

"A government building? Shouldn't the wall be higher? We can see over it, even from down here."

He shook his head. "No, that would make it more difficult for Canadians to visit their seat of government. Do you want to visit Parliament Hill after lunch?"

"Can we?" Tsukino-san was amazed. Kuroko was surprised, too. Next he'd be saying they didn't need to make an appointment to take a tour of the place.

"Sure we can! We might even be able to take a tour of the Centre Block."

Kuroko blinked. She was a teleporter, not a clairvoyant - how did she know that was what Donaldson-san was going to say? Then she realized how she had known -- it was the kind of thing that Donaldson-san always said. That was just how Canadians acted, it seemed.

She'd have to get used to that.

"Who lives in that stone house?" asked Uiharu -- Kazari.

"That's the museum we're going to visit this morning. Did everybody remember to download the guided tour audio to your phones?"

Kuroko double-checked -- she had both the English and Japanese versions ready to play.


Kuroko was sure that, if she heard another five minutes of this audio, she'd die of boredom.

Then she saw one of the other visitors to the museum fall over.

Everybody stopped the tour. Donaldson-san was the first to act. "Sir, are you all right? Do you need any help?" When he didn't get an answer, he leaned down and listened at the man's mouth. "Oh, shit. Ami!"

Mizuno-san rushed over, already looking at her watch. She touched the man's wrist for a long moment. "No pulse."

"Right. I'm starting compressions, you start breaths. Mii, call 9-1-1. Kuroko! Go to the ticket desk and get the defibrillator, as fast as you can."

Kuroko blinked in surprise, teleported downstairs, and got the ticket clerk's attention. "We need help! Someone's having a heart attack upstairs."

"Oh, dear." The person behind the desk opened a box labeled AED and pulled out the defibrillator and a small bag.

Kuroko took them both and teleported back to Mizuno-san and Donaldson-san -- Ami and Rob. "Here."

"Good. Kazari, set it up. 27, 28, 29, 30." He stopped pushing on the man's chest while Ami breathed into his mouth. Seeing her listen then shake her head, he started compressions again. "Kuroko, get this shirt off him, please."

Kuroko knew Rob wasn't going to stop the compressions. She teleported the shirt off the man's chest, then teleported his undershirt off him. Meanwhile, Kazari had the AED pads out of the bag and plugged into the switched-on unit. "Here..."

"Work around us. 27, 28, 29, 30." Ami breathed for the man again, then the AED started its diagnostic process. When the defibrillator announced a shock, everyone got clear ... then Rob started the compressions again after the AED said to continue.

By this point, the museum staff had reached the incident scene. The AED announced a second shock. This time, it worked.

Kuroko smiled and relaxed -- and noticed Tsukino-san putting her brooch back in her pocket. Kuroko smiled. That was how somebody like Tsukino-san -- Usagi -- was supposed to become the ruler of her world.

The paramedics arrived as Ami was making the man comfortable. They and Rob quickly got into a discussion about what had happened.

The museum staff approached Kuroko. "Miss, thank you for acting so quickly; I think you saved this man's life. But how did you get from the front desk to here so quickly?"

"Oh, dear - you noticed. We weren't supposed to let people know about that."




The museum's office was crowded. In addition to the manager, Donaldson-san, and all ten of the girls, two men wearing suits and police badges and carrying pistols were standing in the room.

Everyone was standing. The room wasn't that large to begin with.

"Tsukino-san, I'm sorry, but I think we aren't going to be have time to visit Parliament Hill today."

One of the police officers raised an eyebrow, then looked at Usagi's hairdo and raised both eyebrows. "'Tsukino'? Sailor Moon?"

Rob blinked, then looked at the officer. "Have I seen you somewhere before?"

"I think I remember you from an anime club showing at Carleton. Who else here stepped out of the screen?"

"You're taking this remarkably well."

"Just eliminating the impossible. So ... no, wait, let me guess -- the staff described a teleporter, and this girl has her hair in loose twin tails and is wearing what looks like a cosplay of a Tokiwadai school uniform."

Kuroko smiled her best fake smile. "Kuroko Shirai, at your service."

"Uh-huh. How many of you are from other worlds?"

"It would be faster to ask who isn't," Rob replied. "But before we proceed, I'd like some assurance that this isn't going to become public knowledge."

"Of course not. Who'd believe me?"

"Why are you believing yourself? I don't know why, but everyone I've told about this has accepted the idea without blinking." Rob looked at the other plainclothes officer. "Your partner included."

"I'm not the expert here."

"Nobody's an 'expert' here. We're all taking it in stride. But if it got out that these ten people exist in our world ..."

"They'd have no peace and no private lives," the otaku officer finished. "We won't mention any of this in the official report."

"Thank you."

"However." Everyone waited for him to continue. He sighed, and went on. "However, I'd appreciate having some way to get in touch with you, just in case someone else shows up from some other anime."

Rob smiled. "I was hoping you'd ask that. Shall we trade cellphone numbers?"


They had made it to Parliament Hill after all, but too late to take the tour. Simply wandering around the grounds, unescorted and completely unhindered, was enough to amaze Kuroko and Mii and delight Usagi and Ruiko.

"We'll have to come back here later, and take that tour."

Kuroko nodded at Rob's comment. "I'd like that. Has anyone heard from the hospital?"

"Yes, Ami told me that she got a call from them a few minutes ago. They've tracked down his relatives; they're on the way here from Toronto. He wants to see all of us, to thank us properly."

"I was just doing my job ... but I'm not part of Judgment here, am I?"

"Not officially, no, but we do have one friendly contact in the police force now."

"Does that mean Uiharu and I --"

"No. You're still too young. Ask again when you're sixteen... or if the fate of the world is at stake."
Rob Kelk

Sticks and stones can break your bones,
But words can break your heart.
- unknown
Re: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
September 20

“You are holding back information,” Rei said to me after I explained to Asuka about the internet and the default search engine that was google. “Why are you doing that?”
I sighed, ”Leave it to Rei to notice what four adults, one of whom is supposed to be an intelligence agent, failed to.” I couldn’t leave the question unanswered though so after a moment of thought on how to phrase it, I answered her with a question. “Ayanami-san, how much of third impact do you remember?”
“All of it,” she answered, “I hurt Ikari-kun by making him decide, I gave each individual exactly what they wanted in their existence. I destroyed the entirety of humanity and pooled it into one entity that had no sense of individuality.”
“I guess that sums it up nicely,” I deadpanned. “The thing is Ayanami-san, they don’t necessarily remember any of that. More importantly they don’t want to remember it because it’s painful. Humans want to remember the good times and try to forget the horrible things in their lives. There are several names for the situation, but the kindest and most accurate in my mind is Selective Amnesia. They won’t remember what happened during third impact, or probably the last few hours leading up to it. I know it because I’ve watched it from an outsider’s perspective and I have to admit, it even gives me nightmares.”
“That still does not explain why you have not informed them of all the pertinent facts of the situation,” the bluenette commented. “Would it not be wise to do so?”
“Small steps Ayanami-san,” I said to her. “You all just stepped out of a serious combat situation where your lives were in constant peril and everyone needs to decompress, otherwise everyone will overstress. Let me carry this burden of knowledge until you have all had a week to relax and integrate into local society. This world is fairly different than yours and getting to know it will have its own stresses.” Rei looked at me closely and then nodded slightly so I continued. “We leave in ten minutes so you will want to get ready.”
“This conversation is not finished,” Rei said staring at me. “One week to inform them, or else I will tell the you are holding back on them.
“Can I have a week to get it through to the adults and let them decide how much to tell the other kids,” I asked her.
“That will be sufficient,” she replied before turning and leaving me to my preparations.
Off to one side Rio, my elder bull mastiff looked at me with a doggie grin and chuffed. “Oh, like you know better how to handle it huh?” I asked the canine. Her response was to roll over on my bed and show her belly for rubbing. “No,” I replied to her supplication.  “Giving in is not really an option, we’ll survive though, we always do.”
“This isn’t a mall,” Asuka commented as her, Hikari and Rei came through the central thoroughfare of the mall again. “It’s so small it would barely register as a shopping arcade in Tokyo-3.”
“Soryu-san,” Rei said softly, “I have looked at the maps of this region, this is not a large city and is obviously very spread out. This is likely all the local population needs.”
Asuka snorted and Hikari shook her head, “Rei is right Asuka,” the class representative added. “These people don’t exactly seem to be,” at that point Hikari struggled for the words to describe the situation. “They don’t seem to be pretentious about how things are set up, very relaxed and relaxing.”
“I am sure there is a logical reason for the way things are,” Rei commented causing Hikari to nod. “I wonder what Lt. Ibuki is doing.” Rei’s apparent non-sequitur caused the other two girls to look the same direction Rei was facing only to see the back of Maya Ibuki going into a store across from FYE.
“Asuka, your English is better than mine,” Hikari commented with a grimace at the admission. “What store is that?” Turning to look at her friend Hikari could see the beat redness of the redhead’s face.
"Oh, that would-be Fredrick's of Hollywood," said Asuka with a slightly sharkish grin.  "It's not a place for good little girls like you, Hikari.  Unless you're not as much of a good little girl as you pretend to be~.  Although I must admit - I never figured Maya to be the type."
“James,” Kaji said pushing his plate away, “You know some good people around here.” The spy had just finished eating a large lunch of sushi and ramen from one of the mall restaurants and was pleasantly stuffed. “How do you know so many people around here?”
“Well it helps that I grew up here,” I answered. “Also, since there are so very few things to do to pass one’s dead time, you tend to talk and get to know people instead of just pass them by on the streets. That said while I know a number of people in the area, I don’t know everyone and the strength of who I know is in each individual’s strategic locations.”
“So,” Misato said, “what you’re saying is it’s not so much how many people you know but who you know that can help us.”
“Somewhat,” I answered. “Lunch while the kids looked for things they needed was easy, Chuck is the best sushi chef in town and I’ve been eating at his place no matter where it has been for years. That said there are some things, documents mostly that we’re going to need, so that we can help you guys blend in. It’s going to be difficult enough since most people are going to figure you and the kids for major geeks.”
“Why do you say that James,” Ritsuko asked. She had left the lab coat at home and was wearing a pair of men’s shorts and an oversized t-shirt, but I could see the desire to get into the pantsuit that resided in her shopping bags. “Is there something else we should know?”
“Oh tons,” I replied, “and I’ll tell you all of it over the course of the next few weeks simply because all at once would be way too much for me to explain, let alone you all to digest. That said, let’s collect the kids and get the groceries so we can go back to the beach, I think we’ve inflicted enough damage on your benefactor’s bank accounts for one day.” The others nodded and I paid for the meal as they collected their bags and other purchases. One of the reasons I was always enjoyed by the owner was that I always tipped well and was willing to help him or his waitresses out in any way they needed. Enlightened self-interest that, and it never seemed to hurt my standings with those watching either.
Dinner that night was fried potatoes and onions, a staple of mine, along with the Conecuh sausage it was something quick and easy to make and allowed me to suggest the itinerary for the next day be a meeting of the adults while the kids went across the street to the public beach and enjoy the sun and waves while the warm weather lasted. This idea of course was met by cheers from the children and groans from the adults who wanted to enjoy their time here as well. “The morning meeting won’t take but a few hours and then you can join the children after lunch,” I told them. 
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
Lumenis Labyrinthus

September 7, 2018
Ventura, California

It had to be the strangest job posting I had ever seen.


  Requirements: Social skills (no otaku or hiki please), willing to live on-site
  Optional: Japanese language, experience coordinating college students
  Benefits: On-site housing in multiple localities, medical, dental

Now, as far as I knew, being an anime fan is not a job.  If it was a real job, well, I'd've been raking in the big bucks instead of looking through a job search site.  It couldn't be a translator gig, because the language experience is optional.  And why would one need to live on-site if it was some sort of focus group?  Maybe it was for an idol group -- gotta keep the idoru separate and pure.  Except there was no ask for talent either, and Auto-tune can't cover all the sins.

I did have some experience in college with student government and teaching.  And I was definitely an anime fan.  And hey, I needed a job.  Even if I couldn't figure out what the job actually was.  I sent a resume in, just in case, and promptly forgot about it.

Neo Venezia, Neo Adriatic Sea (former Kasei Valles)
Aqua Calendar 76, Month 6, Sol 8, 16:33
(June 9, 2303 A.D.)

Single undine Akari Mizunashi had spent all afternoon wandering through the paths, waterways, and islands of Neo-Venezia.  She had retraced her steps through five of the mysteries of the city, places where the boundary to the spirit world was open, and she was returning to the sixth.  The whole day was spent in pursuit of the seventh mystery, a larger-than-life black cat spirit, Cait Sìth.

Cait Sìth was the patron of Neo-Venezia, and someone who Akari had met several times before, but was still very much a mystery to her.  Taller and larger than her, the giant cat spirit was always kind to Akari, even if he was a little bit fey.  So she had taken this day to row across the city, searching high and low, President Aria her only companion.

As they were walking back up the alley where the Stone of Misfortune lay, the white tomcat plopped down on his butt and scratched behind his ears.  He had a pretty big head, so there was a lot of space to scratch.  But Akari continued on to her goal.

The svelte young woman in her white and blue undine's uniform stared down at the Stone one more time.  It was a chunk of dirty limestone, a little out of place among the basalt paving stones of the alleyway.  Akari still felt that there was some power in this place, even though she had been here earlier today without incident.  So she decided to take a chance with this mystery and risk its supposed curse once again.

Akari hopped on the Stone of Misfortune one final time, her long pink twintails bouncing right behind.  And everything was still normal.

"Of course, nothing happened," she mumbled.  "Still kind of a letdown, though."  It's just a wide stone on the walkway, Alice had told her that.  But she somehow expected something more.

And then, sticking out of the crack in the stones at her feet, an envelope caught Akari's attention.  She bent down and picked it up.  The envelope had no writing on the outside, but was adorned by a stylized cat's pawprint embossed in gold.  And inside?

Seven tickets for the Galaxy Express.  One for each wonder of Neo-Venezia she had encountered.  Akari's jaw dropped all the way open, staring blankly at the treasure she held.  "Whoa.  He really came -- Cait Sìth!"


She read the tickets, "Wednesday morning, 3AM.  That's tomorrow night.  President Aria, let's go invite everyone else!"

"Punyuu," Aria agreed.

By the following evening, Akari was able to gather her friends and ostensible traveling companions to a trattoria.  All six were dressed in the uniforms of an undine: a long, slender white dress, with short sleeves for summer, a square sailor collar in the back, and a bow.  But they were slightly different: Akari and Alicia's dresses had the ultramarine lines of Aria Company, Aika and Akira's raiment had the amaranth markings and bow of Himeya, and the orange pattern on Alice and Athena's clothes was the trademark of Orange Planet.  The seventh traveller, President Aria, wore only an Aria company sailor's cap, a smaller version of the one worn by his coworkers.  For cats, every day is No Pants Day.

They sat on the patio outside the restaurant, on a warm spring night.  While the undines carboloaded on tonight's special, a shrimp pasta, the one with a long blonde French braid spoke up.  "I think this is all rather exciting, don't you?  A train trip to the stars," Alicia Florence said.

"Yeah.  My trainee never gets me anything, and yours gets me a magical train ride.  Where did I go wrong in my teaching?" Akira Ferrari moaned.  The tallest of all of the women here assembled, her long dark chestnut hair framed her fair face.

Said trainee was a little more skeptical.  "So let me get this straight.  You want us to use these strange tickets you got at the Stone of Misfortune."  Wearing a sly smile, Aika pointed her fork towards Akari.  "Aren't you just spreading your bad luck to all of us?"

"But the Stone wasn't unlucky at all.  At first it seemed unlucky, because I couldn't find Cait Sìth anywhere.  But as I revisited each place, I saw its beauty and felt the happy memories wash over me.  I think I learned that misfortune turns into good luck if you just look  hard enough!"

"Embarrassing comments are prohibited!"

"She's right, you know." Akira rebuked her trainee. "Luck is a big part of success, but you can work hard and make your own luck."

"That may be so, but I still think this is inviting disaster."

"Hoheee," Akari intoned.

Aika Granzchesta, a girl with short hair so dark that the reflected light of the trattoria's lamps made it indigo, still wasn't satisfied.  Aika asked, "Well, what do you think, Alice?  Don't you think it's risky?"

The green haired teenager replied, "I think someone is playing a practical joke on all of you.  I'm mainly going to see how stupid we look trying to catch a phantom train in the dead the night."

"Awww, don't be like that," Akari complained as her let her body go limp.

As usual, Athena Glory didn't have much to say.  She just stared across the canal, imagining what a Galaxy Express might be like.  Real or not, her imagination of a space-faring train seemed sweet enough to savor.  The dusky-skinned, woman absently picked up a shrimp with her fork -- and it promptly slid off onto the stone of the campo below.  Athena's annoyed frown came back again.

President Aria, on the other hand, employed the ten second rule outside as well as inside, and helped himself to a shrimp.  Waving his tail, he decided that misfortune for some people can be fortune for others.

A.C. 76, Month 6, Sol 10, 02:40
Calle Schiaparelli

It was a quiet night in Neo Venezia, as they usually were.  The lights of the city dim in the wee hours, leaving the city to be lit by starlight, with a little help from Phobos as it flowed across the Aquatic sky.

The city seemed a bit more sinister than in the daytime, as if in another world from the daytime.  The canals looked as black as the night sky above, and the lion statues seemed just a little more predatory than in the day.

Six undines strolled through the streets of this city, led by a white cat with striking blue eyes.  President Aria was wearing a tall, cylindrical fur toque -- which for his size was essentially an elongated pillbox hat -- and a matching cloak of sable with a pair of pompons hanging from the tie.  He made no sound, as appropriate on a mission such as this.  The same could not be said of his human companions, who tended to be a noisy bunch without even realizing it.

"It's so quiet," Aika whispered.

Alice added, "Maybe too quiet.  Like... it's unnaturally still."

Aika shivered. "Scary remarks are forbidden."  Then from behind them came the sound of a sudden crash.  "Gaah what was that?"

Athena picked herself off the ground, and dusted off her dress.  "Sorry, it's really dark, I didn't see that stone."

"Ara ara."  Alicia waited a moment before commenting, "You know, this is still the same city you all know.  It's just at late night Neo Venezia wears a different face.  But to really know a person or a place, you need to see all sides of it.  Good and bad, sweet and scary, and know that they are one and the same."

The party of undines turned onto one calle, and then onto another, as they journeyed closer to the edge of the city.  Walking past red-roofed stone buildings, and across arched bridges, they never even got close to lost in the dim light.  Each of them knew the waterways of the city like the back of their hands.  But Akira had memorized every alley and campo of her city too, so it was she who lead them through Venetian streets at their most serene hour.

They pushed past the rail station, which was closed for the night, and pressed further outward.  Finally, they arrived at the place where the train tracks entered the city, at the edge of the Ponte della Libertà.

"This is too late to be out." Alice Carroll yawned.

Athena replied with a sympathetic yawn.

Akari, on the other hand, had a gleeful grin.  She was almost shaking with excitement.

"And... nothing's happening." Aika noted.

"I'm sure magical trains are very punctual, Aika." Alicia noted.  "Let's just wait and find out."

They stood in the narrow street near the steel tracks, waiting for 3AM to arrive.  The first thing they noticed was a dim light down the length of the bridge, and then the subtle sound of a train rolling across the tracks.

Suddenly, it seemed like the train was right on top of them.  A steam locomotive rolled into the street, swiftly followed by a coal car and six wooden passenger cars.  

Akari said, "Wow, this is a bigger train than last time!"  Indeed, it barely fit in the street; perhaps this time was a special service?  She shivered in anticipation.

Alice wondered where on Earth they had gotten the mineral coal for the coal car, because there sure wasn't any on Aqua.  She had learned that much last Christmas, when she had put a lump of charcoal in her own stocking.  "It's really the Galaxy Express," she concluded.

Suddenly, the empty street was filled with all manner of cats, queued up to ride the train.  A burly conductor in a blue uniform, his face completely shaded by his railroad cap, began looking over everyone's tickets and admitting everyone on the train.

Alicia warned, "It looks like we had better get in line if we want a seat.  I didn't know your Galaxy Express would be so popular."

Everyone had a ticket in mouth or hand this time, so the line to ride the train moved quickly.  Akari proudly showed her ticket to the imposing conductor, gave a big grin to her friend, and jumped aboard.  All the other humans moved aboard a little more gingerly -- something about the conductor didn't seem quite right, and he was quite large, so they decided they had better be polite.

What they found on board was just as otherwordly.  For a train that could supposedly sail the stars, the decor looked positively antique, with wooden furniture and two-pane sliding windows on the walls.  Its passenger cars had green upholstered bench seats on each side of the aisle, like something out of the golden age of rail travel.2

Moreover, it was a train full of cats: Persian and Martian, Mau and Manx.  Some playful, some stretched out sleeping on the upholstery, some sitting pretty as they watched the odd humans in their midst.  Others rubbing against each other in greeting.  One even carried a sausage in its jaws, a late-night snack for the commute.

The undines were able to find a set of seats across from each other, so that everyone could see each other.  Actually, a pair of gingers were already in one of the seats, but they simply hopped up to the luggage rack above and curled up there.

"You finally got to meet him!" Akari declared.

"Meet who?" Alice asked.

"Cait Sìth, of course!"  Blank stares.  "You know, the conductor."

"That was him?"

"He didn't look like a cat," Aika reasoned.  "Actually, did he even have a face?"

"Don't worry, you'll see," Akari assured her friends.  And then the train's engine started up again. The slow groan of the first few cranks of the wheels turned into a growl as the locomotive lurched to life.

The Galaxy Express proceeded out of its makeshift station backwards, with the locomotive pushing from behind -- Venice being a terminal station.  It cruised along the Ponte della Libertà at a slow pace, before coming to a soft halt a couple kilometers out of the city.

Changing directions, the locomotive began pulling the train from the front.  The train soon switched tracks in the middle of the bridge, turning off the side of the bridge onto an little-used set of tracks.  The train dropped down to the waterline, and set off to the southwest.  The Galaxy Express skimmed the surface of the lagoon, running on rails just below the surface of the water.  A long cloud of spray thrown off the wheels glittered in the city light.  And still the train accelerated.

Finally, as the train roared across the water at 88 miles per hour, Engine C6250 blew its whistle, and the train lurched into the sky.

"Ara ara ara!" said Alicia with delight.

The rest of the undines left it at that, for there were no words that could capture the experience better.

The train pulled onward and upward, rushing through the Aquatic sky.  It rushed past the Kasei Lagoon and farmland of the Sacra Mensa, and rushed above the deep darkness of the trees of the Silva Arsia.

"Look, that's Noctis City!"

"So that must be Nieuw Amsterdam, right there." Aika pointed.

"I've never been so high before.  Amazing."

"I landed on Aqua in the daytime," Akari said, "but the night is beautiful too."

And still the Galaxy Express climbed skyward, gaining speed.  After a few more minutes, the disc of Aqua started to resolve below them, with a crescent of light off to the east.  The train soared over 70 kilometers over Aqua, far above the stratosphere.

Alicia gazed out the window to the world below.  "From up here, everything seems so small, doesn't it. Everything in our lives, it's all down there in those few lights."

"It's like we get to leave our whole world behind," said Akira, "just for a night."

"Like a beautiful dream." Athena's yawn fogged the window, as it was terribly late for her, but she was riveted nonetheless.

The train started rattling a bit, and then rolled quickly from side-to-side.  Alice was nearly rocked off her seat, but Athena quickly pulled her back to her seat.  The bulk of the feline passengers tossed from their seats landed on their feet -- the few exceptions fell over, but then put on an expression as if they had always intended to fall over.

Outside, it almost looked like the train had gone into a tunnel, as impossible as that would be.  Then the scene through the windows radiated brilliant light, with streaks of reds, greens, blues, and oranges dancing around the train.  The ride smoothed, and everyone inside stared at the spectacle, felines included.

"So many colors, so pretty!" Akari had been a fan of colors and shapes since she was an infant, but not many shows were as good as this one.

The train swerved left, then right, then left through the passage.  After two minutes, the lights faded as quickly as they came, as the train exited the tunnel.  No one was surprised at the jolt running through the train this time, as it exited back to normal space.

Out the window lay a planet, this one done up in the same whites and blues as Aqua.  But a little less orange, and a little more yellow and green.  Akari blurted, "Ohmigosh, it's Manhome!  I thought I would never see her again."

"Your planet looks beautiful too, Akari."  Alicia gave her an innocent smile.

"More beautiful that I remembered."

Had she remembered a little better, she might have noticed a few things were different on planet Earth, like the rather conspicuous absence of Lake Qattara.

The locomotive's engine slowed, letting the train start coasting down towards the planet below.  The Galaxy Express veered west-by-northwest, crossing Asia Minor in just a few minutes and heading into the Balkans.

"Is that Italy?" Alice asked.  "That's a boot, right?"

"Yes.  And there's where old Venice used to be, before she sunk beneath the waves."  Akira pointed towards the northern Adriatic, on Italy's east coast.  From this altitude, it was impossible for the naked eye to see that she was pointing at Venice, very much not submerged.

They descended further and further into the twilight. Soon, they were afforded a view of the City of Lights just before the early morning washed out the lights below.  And still they descended, crossing the English Channel and above the island of Britain.  By this time, they could make out the outlines of roads and villages by the pattern the lights formed below.

"It looks like we're landing.  Where are we landing, Akari?" Alicia asked.

"Um what was that place called again?"

"Oh come on, you're our Manhome expert." Aika chided.  "What kind of tour guide are you?"

"Oh right!"  Akari hit her fist against the seat.  "It's called Wales.  It's like part of England or something."

"Eh?" wondered Alice.

"Um... Further ahead, you can see the Atlantic Ocean.  It's Manhome's second biggest ocean, and home to Neo Atlantis.  It has the world's longest mountain chain, the Mid-Ocean Ridge, which you can't see because it's dark.  And under water a really long way."  Akari sighed.  An undine was supposed to be unflappable in any situation, but this situation was maybe a little too far out.

"Brava, Akari."  Alicia giggled.

The train dipped down towards a dimmer region of the Welsh countryside, in a rugged land with mountains and lakes below.  Finally, the Galaxy Express veered a hard left, lining itself up with the train tracks below.  It gingerly approached the ground.  And then a series of clangs rang out throughout the train with small bumps to the passengers as it touched wheel to rail.

Having landed in a straight spot, the 999 acted as a normal train, leading them through the twists and turns of a 10 minute ride through the twilit countryside.  Finally the train began to slow, and all of its passengers began to stir, even those who had been cat napping.

The train came to a stop at a simple rail platform, and almost immediately, the feline passengers began leaping for the ground. Clear black letters on a white sign declared the name of the village: "ULTHAR".

Beyond the short wooden covered walkway was a small station building, barely larger than a small cottage.  The building of flat fieldstone was completely empty at this hour; the only staff on hand was the feline stationmaster, a tabby named Beatrice.

"Well, we've come all this way.  Shall we go out and explore?" Akira asked.

"Sure!" Akari stood up, dusting the cat hair off her dress.  "I've never been anywhere as far away as Wales before!"

Aika just gave her a strange look for that remark.

They joined the flow of cats jumping out the doors, but somehow ended up as the last passengers to exit anyway.

"What a cute village!" said Akari, looking down towards a collection of cottages on the banks of a lake.

"Hey, look at that."  Alice pointed to a wooden sign cut into the shape of a cat, which read "Welcome to Ulthar, City of Cats".

"Wow, how cool," Alicia said.  "No wonder we ended up here."  They started walking up the platform towards the station house to explore the town.  Then the steam engine came back to life, and everyone suddenly stopped.

"Wait, we can't get left behind!"  Akari raced back to the train, followed by the rest of her friends.  But the conductor stepped out, hand spread out to block her reboarding.  "We still have our tickets," she cried.

The conductor shrugged, then removed his cap.  Appearing underneath it was a large black cat face, with pink ears and golden slitted eyes.

"Cait Sìth!" Aika stopped in her tracks.  The others did too, not sure how to react to such an august presence.

Akari pleaded, "We can't board?  Did we break the rules?"

The large cat shook his head in the negative.

"Why can't we go home?"

Cait Sìth looked at Akari with a sad face.  And then he scooped her up with his massive paws, and gave her a warm embrace.  

"I understand.  We can't go back, can we?"

"Can't go back?" Aika yelped.

"Will I see you again?"

Cait Sìth answered with a feline smile -- and then gave Akari a giant lick on her face.

"Nyuuuuu…" Aria was stunned.

The sound of the train whistle brought him to his senses again, by which time, Cait Sìth was already aboard the train.  The steam engine started revving up.

"Good-bye!  Until next time!" Akari waved vigorously.  Alicia joined her with a regal wave, which caused Akira to wave goodbye as well.

They all stood there for a moment alongside the tracks, until Akari finally asked the obvious question.  "So, what do we do now?"

"Alicia, your trainee got us stuck on another planet.  Perhaps you need to review your teaching methods," Akira accused.

"Ara ara ara," replied a flustered Alicia.

"I got this.  This is all totally a dream.  All we need to do is wake up all at the same time," Aika explained.  "Okay, wake up on the count of one, two, three!"  Aika pinched herself and her neighbor.

"Ow, why did you pinch me!?" Alice grumbled.

"You looked like you need to wake up the most."

Athena yawned again.

"She's the one you needed to pinch!"

"Ok, one, two, three!"  Aika pinched both Athena and Alice this time with a sly smile.

"Stop that!"

Beatrice walked over to the humans, and rubbed her body against Akari.  This caused a bit of a stir below knee-level until Aria got acquainted with her.

The humans were getting hopelessly lost at her station lately, so she led them behind the train station towards the village.  The tabby with a little blue cap stopped as soon as they all reached the main road.

"So... we just wait here?" Alicia asked Beatrice.


A minute later, they heard the low roar of a car engine approaching. A long black limousine pulled up to the station, and a tall Englishman with coal-black hair stepped out.

"I apologize for my tardiness, but traffic on the M25 was absolute Hell," he said with a sardonic smile.  "Allow me to introduce myself; I am Sebastian, butler to the Earl Phantomhive.  Welcome to Earth."  

"Earth?" Akira was incredulous, "It hasn't been called that since..."

"Ah, quite.  I also welcome you to the year 2016."  He took a minute to savor the women's shock, then continued.  "Seeing as you all are so recently arrived, may I extend my lord's invitation and offer the hospitality of Phantomhive Manor?"

Sebastian cut quite a striking figure in his dapper suit and tie -- modern of course, as a proper suit with tails attracted too much attention in this day and age.  Akari found him attractive to look at, but somehow, in a way she didn't understand, there was something repulsive about him too.  He had only shown kindness, but she felt something nonetheless.

Sebastian in return assessed the party of six undines with his practiced grace, but raised an eyebrow at Akari, as if he had seen something interesting.  "As of late, many people have been arriving as you have done, through space-time anomalies, and my lord is one of those empowered by the Crown to accomodate new Arrivals.  I assure you, nothing will happen to you that will demean the honor of the Phantomhive name."

"You got beds?"  Alice let out a long yawn, her tiredness finally winning the war against her excitement.

"But of course.  Please, enter the limousine, and I will convey you all to the manor.  The path which you must take has been prepared for you."

They all entered the back of the limousine: Alicia graciously, Athena ungracefully, Akari warily, Alice sleepily, with Aika and Akira both distracted by the hot guy.  Sebastian revved the motor, and sped away.

Phantomhive Manor
Kent County, England
Sunday, September 11, 2016, 2:02 PM BST

Sebastian brought a tray of tea to this sextet of women with strange hair colors and odd dress-like uniforms.  That description would cover a lot of the Arrivals he had been meeting lately, but for this time, it was fortunately the most unusual thing about the women in the drawing room.  Well, that and the Mars thing, but a human is still a human.  Their relative normalcy would make the next step much easier, so he had room to improvise.

Pouring a cup, he asked the freshly-rested undines, "I realize that you all are a very long way away from home, but do you have any idea where on Earth where you'd like to settle?"

Akari thought about her history, and realized that if it was the 21st century, it might still exist.  "We want to go to Venice," she said in a matter of fact tone.  "We are undines, the water is our life blood, the gondola, our second home.  Venice is where our hearts will sing."

"Embarrassing remarks are forbidden", chided Aika.

"Ara ara ara." The tall blonde woman, Alicia, was impressed at her charge's speech.  "Yes, I do believe that we would all flourish in the canals of Venice."

Akira added, "Right.  Give a prima undine a gondola and she can make it for sure."

"I believe that can be arranged.  Well, ladies, I thank you for bearing with all of my intrusive questions.  I shall do my best to find appropriate accommodation for you all.  I assure you, I will find you one Hell of a place to live."

"Don't mention it," Alicia said sweetly.  "I appreciate all of your help."

After taking his leave, Sebastian called the real estate agent, and told them they needed another place, this time in Venice.

The agent immediately began looking for an apartment building near Venice, California.  Sure, Snapchat was buying all of the real estate there now, but this Lord Phantomhive guy was loaded, so he thought he'd be able to find a decent building anyway.

"Sebastian, why do you wear that smile while we're stuck in this ghastly traffic?"

"Sorry, milord.  I was just thinking about how of all of the Nazis' evil inventions, none is so insidious as the Autobahn.  It lures you in with the promise of speed, but every morning and evening the motorway inflicts suffering on those mortals who travel.  Every day, they pollute their own homes in an effort to live in a better neighborhood.  Truly, it is exquisite."

"Are you quite finished?" Ciel huffed.  "Hey!  Get out of our way, commoner!"

"Ah yes, road rage.  That's the best part!"
"Kitto daijoubu da yo." - Sakura Kinomoto
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
"The Martian Invasion"

Monday, September 12, 2016, 9:09 AM PDT
Venice Beach, California

Yay, the first day at work!  I didn't think years of university would lead to job as an apartment manager.  But just because the job isn't what I expected doesn't mean it's not worth doing.  And who knows, maybe some cute ronin from room five will fall in love with me, like in Maison Ikkoku.  Heh, I wish.

I drove up to the property in Venice Beach, and parked in the ground floor parking lot.  The property was actually really close to the beach, maybe just a couple minute's walk way.  Nice.  I walked under the building to the small elevator, and waited for it to arrive.

It was a small elevator, and slow.  Curiously, the floors were marked ⓪①②③, like a European elevator.  I've long been convinced that all elevators must take the same amount of time to go from the top to the bottom of the building, regardless of how tall the building is.  Union rules or something.  This one sure wasn't breaking the pattern.

When the elevator opened up, I was greeted by a hispanic man, about my age and height, gathering up a few loose tools in the hall.

I wasted no time greeting him, "Hi, I'm Brent."

"Jorge.  Nice to meet you."

"So, what's going on here? Looks like a major remodel."

"That was what was happening, until your guy bought the property.  I'm just picking up the rest of the stuff before the next job."

"Wait, I've got tenants coming tomorrow.  How many rooms are ready?"

He scratched his head.  "Just the four over here," Jorge gestured to the north set of apartments on the first floor.  "Avoid the south side, that still has some major plumbing problems."

Well, I thought my management account balance seemed a little too high for just running a place.  "Oh boy.  Please tell me you're available to continue fixing this place up."

"Sorry, man.  I'm just maintenance for the Angeles Property Management company.  I'll email you the general contractor we used, though.  Might speed things along."

"Thanks.  You're a lifesaver."

He gathered a few tools left in the building, and I received the big box o' keys which granted me dominion over my new realm.  We shook hands, said goodbye.

And then I started exploring.  Master key in hand, I started exploring the rooms.  The first floor apartments, 1 to 4, all looked to be in pretty good shape.  A bit of blue painter's tape on the windows, but nothing too bad.  Working appliances.  I selected apartment 1 for myself, because I might as well get the extra view.  And I'm not a fan of having a window to the east, it wakes me up way too early.  But an extra window to the west is just dandy.

As I made my way through the rest of the rooms, things were a little worse.  Old appliances on the top floor, and no appliances at all on the middle floor.  A cracked window in apartment 24.  Down on the first floor in apartment 7, the wall was down to the studs and a damp, moldy smell pervaded the room.  I cracked open a window -- there was nothing in here to steal anyway.  Whoever bought this building for immediate housing had sure found a hell of a place.

Right below my room, on the ground floor, was a small room which held a few old garden tools.  Under room 4, the next corner was a small storage room, mostly used by spiders at this point.  A bit of an anticlimax for the grand tour, but at least I had rooms for the people coming tomorrow.  The rest of the open space on the floor was devoted to parking cars.

From the outside of the apartment building, you could see three sets of blue balconies on each floor, with an extra-long semi-shared balcony for the middle rooms split in the middle by short walls.  The north side faced a former street, but was now just a walkway that led straight to the beach.  This "front" side had a brick facade -- and only a facade, because this is Southern California, not some geologically stable place where you can actually use bricks architecturally.  However, all three of the other sides were a stucco painted an exciting beige.  Even the south-side balconies were coated in a chipped beige paint.  That's gonna have to be fixed.  The beach climate is nice, but it's sure hard on buildings.

I looked over my instruction sheet to see what I had to get ready.  Wait, I have to provide a furnished apartment by tomorrow?  I get that this is supposed to be some kind of low-income housing, but I'm going to have to get some kind of furniture.  I had to get moving.  I unloaded my truck as fast as possible, and dragged the boxes into my room.

I proceeded to make for the nearest IKEA as fast as I could, while of course obeying all posted speed limits.  Haha, just kidding about that last part.  I passed a Costco on the way out -- that was going to be useful, but mail-order mattresses are just not going to cut it for tomorrow.

Once my truck and I filled up on furniture and Swedish meatballs, respectively, we made our way back to the apartment.  The fun part of IKEA, of course, is the assembly.  The mattresses would be delivered tomorrow morning, but in the meantime I had six HEMNESes to put together.  The good news is that after one assembles a couple of them, one has it down pat.  The rest of the beds fell together pretty fast, and with the final twist of an Allen wrench, I made my way back to the room I had chosen.

I was already dark, but I was able to at least start unboxing a few of my things.  I set up my own bed, finally, and just about collapsed on it.  I guessed a few minutes rest wouldn't hurt.  And the next thing I knew, it was morning.

I woke up, dredged a shampoo bottle out of my box of toiletries, and dragged myself to the shower.  I had to pick up my first residents at LAX at 10:15, and it was already 9:40.  It's a good thing the airport is so close, or otherwise I'd be in hot water already.  Hotter water than this shower, anyway.  That's what happens with water heaters that don't get used, I reminded myself.

I finished getting dressed and headed downstairs toward my truck.  I checked email on my phone, and it looks like I finally got a list of resident profiles from Funtom.  Sweet, at least now I'll know who I'm looking for, I thought.

I was just about to read it, when a long black limousine pulled up to the complex.  Six young women exited the vehicle, along with a white cat.  Oh boy, cats.  I hadn't thought about that much during the hiring process, but I'm really allergic to cats.  Like, full nosebleed after a few minutes in the same room.  I hope I'm not going to find myself unable to do the job on just the second day at work.

That train of thought got interrupted when I glanced up to the girls.  "Wait a sec... those dresses..."  They were all dressed like the characters from an anime called Aria.  It was like an almost perfect cosplay -- actually a little too perfect.  I adjusted my glasses, but it didn't change my assessment.

As the limo driver removed their meagre travelling bags from the trunk of their car, I stepped forward to meet them all.

The tall blonde approached me first, and gave me the once over. I was 33 years old, an inch over six foot, and more than an inch overweight.  I had hair somewhere between brown and dirty blonde, and a couple inches of red sideburns on each side.  I wore shorts and a Hawaiian shirt emblazoned with hibiscus flowers, perfect for this warm, sunny autumn day.

She greeted me cheerfully, "Good morning, I assume you're our new apartment manager?"

"Sure am!  I'm Brent Laabs, nice to meet you."  

"I'm Alicia Florence."

"I noticed, but who are you really?" I asked the cosplayer.

She giggled, following up with, "Prima Undine Alicia Florence of Neo Venezia.  Some call me Snow White, but really I'm simply Alicia.  Thank you for taking us in!"

"Oh boy."  For some things, the only proper response is the Sam Beckett one, and this was definitely one of those moments.  These were definitely not cosplayers.  They were all too in character -- Aika's energetic motion, Alice with her unamused face, Alicia's grace, Akira's lovely charm, Akari's open-mouthed stare, and Athena's easy strength with the luggage.  And oops, she dropped a bag.  Their big blue-eyed cat tried dragging the duffel, to no avail.  Yeah, I knew every one of these people straight from the television screen.  These were somehow, someway, the real thing.

I snapped out of my reverie.  No matter what the situation was, I had a job to do, and I can figure it all out later.  No wonder they posted this job for anime fans, sheesh.

Akari said, "Thank you so much for the ride!"

"No, it was my pleasure."  The driver was probably about age 20, a tall skinny white kid with short brown hair.

I was supposed to pick them up, so I offered, "Did you need money for the fare?"

"Don't worry about it.  I have a free hour because of a late flight, and I got to spend it with these ladies.  That's payment enough."  He reached inside, and pulled out a card that he handed to Akari.  "If you ever need a ride somewhere, let me know, okay?"

Akari got a big smile on her face, her pink lips just about reaching her pink hair.  "Thanks again, Mr. Driver!"

I introduced myself to the rest of my new tenants.  They introduced themselves to me, too, but that step was just perfunctory, because I already knew who they were.  It felt so weird, but at the same time, made everything easier.  I wouldn't have to memorize new names, and I already had an idea of what they'd want as tenants.

Akira approached me, and brought up the most obvious desire of these women, "Thanks for your hospitality, but I think there's been a mixup up in our arrangements.  We wanted to go to Venezia in Italia, and we got sent to Venice in California."

"Oh that's…" I had to suppress my laugh, because that was really the wrong signal to send right now.  "That's really too bad.  I think I can understand why you'd rather be there."  Since they were all gondoliers in their story, set in a replica of Venezia on Mars, that was an easy assumption.  "I'll tell you what.  Let me send an email to my boss, and let me see if I can get it straightened out for you."

At about this time, a truck pulled up into our alley, bearing the blue and yellow branding of Ikea.  "Good news everyone," I announced, "it looks like your mattresses are here, so you have something to sleep on."

"Good.  That flight was too loooong!" Alice yawned.

Once I directed the delivery men on where to take the mattresses, I gathered the gondoliers, and we walked up the stairs to the first floor.

"Sorry, I wish I had more time to get your rooms settled and nice, but I just started work yesterday.  Since there are only four livable apartments, and I'm in one of them, you'll have to take three right here.  There are two bedrooms in each one, so I think you should have enough privacy.

"Meh.  I guess that's an upgrade.  C'mon, Athena, let's take this one."

"Mmm," Athena agreed.

Aika stepped up to the blonde, her hands clasped together, "Alicia, would you —"

She was cut short by her teacher, Akari, grabbing her by the ear.  "No betraying Himeya by fraternizing with a rival company!"

Alicia smiled with her left hand on her cheek.  "Ara ara ara."

And so room assignments went entirely predictably.  The gondoliers of Aria company took the larger number 4 on the corner, likely because everyone was going to visit them anyway. And because technically, three people would be living there.

Wearing a uniform with blue markings were Alicia Florence: cute, fair, placid, and bearing a long blonde braid.  Her junior Akari Mizunashi, a native of Japan and protagonist of Aria possessed pink twintails an energetic demeanor.  And the last tenant was President Aria, the bulky white tomcat with lucky blue eyes.  This constituted the entire staff of Aria Company, the smallest of Neo Venezia's gondola companies.

Apartment 3 went to the undines of Himeya, Akira E. Ferrari and Aika S. Granzchesta.  They wore white dresses with dark red highlights and a small cap.  Akira was tall, dark, and handsome, with long chestnut brown hair and fair skin.  Slightly shorter than her senpai, Aika's short raven hair framed a pleasant round face with a near permanent smile.

Finally, No. 2 was occupied by the Orange Planet team, still wearing their uniforms stroked with an orange pattern.  Leading the group was the dusky-skinned, silver-haired Athena Glory.  The teenage green-haired rowing prodigy, Alice Carroll, was relatively stoked to be upgrading her relationship with Athena from roommates to flatmates, despite her low-key manner.

Just great, I thought, all names beginning with "A".  That's gonna be confusing to remember, even if I do recognize all of these anime characters.  All these people.  That's going to take a while to get used to, being real people and not characters.  Sheesh.  Will wonders ever cease?

I walked into each room as they were throwing the sheets on their beds, and handed out keys to my new tenants.  Hopefully, not for long, because they really would be more happy in Italy.  I sent an email to the company about resettlement, and hoped for the best.

I spent the time getting utilities sorted for each apartment, moving over accounts.  I assumed that we'd be needing to pay for everyone's Internet, which is cheaper anyway.  And now, I just had to sort out what to do with six anime girls, a somewhat thornier proposition.  Thankfully, it turned out that they were mostly able to sort out themselves.

The first to wake was Akira, who still looked a little groggy when she knocked on my door in the early afternoon.  "Oh, hi.  I thought you'd be asleep for a lot longer."

"Just following the advice we always give our customers: Sleep only three hours after your flight, and then you won't have jet lag the next day."

"Oh, I didn't know that.  Thanks.  Well, come on in."

She entered, and sat down in my computer chair -- not that I had many choices of where to sit, yet.  "Any news on Venezia?"

My computer was set up, but there was no internet hookup yet, and wouldn't be until Friday.  So I pulled up my phone, and saw this email:

Quote:We're deeply sorry, but Funtom Property Management cannot provide resettlement services to Venezia.  Housing Arrivals there would be prohibitively expensive at this point.  Your residents specifically asked for Venice, and that is what we took great pains to provide to them.  Perhaps you can advise your residents to be careful what they wish for.
Sebastian Michaelis
COO, Funtom Property Management

"Man, what a dick," I whined.  "Looks like you all are stuck here."  I handed my phone to Akira.

She read the device. "What the hell did you say to him?" she glowered at me.

I scrolled up to my email.

"Huh.  He seemed so charming in person."

"Yeah.  I'll give you that much."

"All the best guys are total jerks," Akira concluded.

I thought about this logic and shrugged; that only earned me another angry face.

Aika peeked through my apartment's open door, took a look at Akira's glare, and started backing away stealthily.  Not stealthily enough.

"Aika!" Akira growled.


"Go round up everyone else."

She scooted off as fast as she could, and soon I could faintly hear her knocking on the other apartment doors.

Akira, for her part, mainly grumbled to herself for the next five minutes, leaning onto the hand against her chin.  She asked me a few questions about whether I had enough money to buy them all necessities, clothing, and furniture, which I answered in the affirmative.  The budget might not be able to afford the kind of rococo stuff they had in Neo Venezia, but it would do.

Thinking about my budget, I noticed I also got a reply on my other question from yesterday -- it looks like the former and now renewed general contractor would have a crew back to work on Monday.  It looked like my company could be a little heartless, but at least they were efficient.  I would, of course, direct the improvements.

Aika strolled back into the apartment, this time accompanied by Alicia and Akari.  A minute later Athena led Alice in by the hand.  Alice still had droopy eyes, and her hair was something of a green tangle.

Alice yawned. "This place is terrible.  I can't even find the bidet!"

Akari picked up, "Oh right, I was wondering about the bidets, Mr. Manager!"

"Uhm…. Americans uh…" I stumbled.

"Hey, listen up!"  Saved by Akira, whose face had just now shifted towards a calm smile.  "Our apartment manager, Brent, has confirmed to me that we are not going to be able to move to Venezia.  But we should have plenty of time and money to make this place comfortable.  And from there, we can work our way towards moving to Italia.  Or whatever we want to do with our lives.

"Sorry about that, everyone.  I guess you're all stuck with me," I apologized.

Akari automatically offered, "Please take good care of us, Mr. Manager!"

"I'll try my best!"

Aika asked, "How are we supposed to work?  As undines?"

Athena piped up, "Are there even canals here?"

I fielded this one, "A few canals, but not really… not really the same as in Venice in Italy.  In Venezia."

"Well, that's worth a try.  I wonder if there's any competition?" Alicia said sweetly.

I just shrugged.

"Feh, like any competition stands a chance against the three Water Fairies of Neo Venezia!" Aika boasted.

"She's got you there," Akira told Alicia, who just giggled.

I interjected, "Wait, let's step back a sec: how are you even going to get a gondola here?"

"Oh, that's no problem.  Mr. Butler said that he would send us gondolas, as soon as he can buy them," Akari elucidated.  I made a mental note to figure out who Mr. Butler was, and thank him for being such a nice guy.

"Ok, that's really nice."  I followed up with, "Can I ask how you got here?  You seem like you're a long way from home."

Akari said, "I know, you don't meet time travelers every day."

"You're time travelers?" I asked.  So that's what the story is?  "We're time travelers" is probably the worst cover story they could think of -- unless they actually believed it?

The girls looked around at each other with tilted eyebrows, not sure what to say.  Alice eventually got frustrated that no one was answering, and decided to respond, "We were all undines in Neo Venezia, on the planet Aqua.  So, Akari was going around the city looking for a giant cat, but instead she got seven tickets for the Galaxy Express.  And then this giant train came into the city in the middle of the night, and we rode on it into the sky along with all the cats.  Then all these lights appeared in outer space, and the train took a giant jolt and I almost fell over.  We landed on Earth after that, and then the giant cat Cait Sith told Akari that we had to stay here."

The longer Alice's story went on, the more nervous Aika looked.  Perhaps the others were trepidatious too, but Aika always wears her heart on her sleeve.  And if the story was bullshit, she would have performed tsukkomi on Alice by now, if the manga was right.  "Wow, that sounds really exciting.  Well, I hope Cait Sith was right, and you all enjoy yourselves in our time."

Aika breathed a sigh of relief at not being judged a crazy person.  "I'm glad you understand our situation.  Does it happen all the time or something?  People from another planet?"

"Not as far as I know.  But I'm pretty sure I can believe you all."

Alice remarked, "Maybe you should be a little more skeptical."

"Hoheee?" Akari uttered.

Alicia laughed.  "It all sounds like a good long-term plan, Akira. But the first thing we need is --" She paused; everyone else filled the silence:






"I was going to say lunch."

Alicia's idea won out, even though the other needs were great too.  After insisting that they try out the local cuisine, we walked to a Mexican restaurant on the beach.  Walking with six people in white uniform dresses made me feel a little bit like a cult leader.  I suppose my Hawaiian shirt and shorts would probably dissuade most people of that idea.  But hey, Venice is a weird town anyway -- why not just embrace the weirdness, or so I thought.

We ordered an assortment of tacos, enchiladas, chile rellenos, and tamales, and munched on some chips and salsa while the meal was being prepared.

Akari warned, "I think this salsa has soap in it."

"Oh, that's the cilantro.  The green stuff."  I had a bite.  "Yep, definitely."

"What are you guys talking about?  It doesn't taste like soap at all," Aika said.

"It does to me," Alicia said.


"It's a genetic thing," I explained, "Some of us just taste the world differently."


"You'll get used to it if you eat enough Mexican food around here.  I still don't like the taste, but I'm used to it."

Akari enjoyed the rest of her food, but she did pick all of the cilantro off of her pastor tacos.

After that, it was off to the mall.  I had to make two trips, because there was no way I can fit seven people in my truck.  I worried a bit about introducing these women to our ancient fashion trends and archaic products, but they took to shopping like a duck takes to water.  They handled everything from groceries to clothing with ease, with only the occasional question about what something did.

Except with me doing all of the buying.  In that way, I suppose it was like most of the other times I took women shopping.  At least this time I had a company card to expense everything to.  I started rifling through all of the receipts, trying to get a sense of how much money we spent.

Alicia noticed me with her deep blue eyes.  "Are we going over budget?"

"I don't think so.  I've just got to keep track of everything."

"I see.  Would you like some help with that?  I run a business, or well, I used to run one."

"That would really help out.  I accept your kind offer of assistance."

The receipt pile only got worse by as the afternoon rolled into the evening -- as did my attention span for shopping -- but I held my stiff upper lip and carried on, what what.  By the end of the evening, the girls had all doffed their work uniforms in favor of outfits they had bought:

Athena wore a simple white shirt and a killer pair of skinny jeans.  A brown skinned beauty like her didn't need to do that much to be gorgeous.

Alice had assembled a schoolgirl chic style, with a green plaid skirt, yellow blouse, and matching jacket.  Sadly, there were no knee-high stockings, and no, I'm definitely not checking out sixteen-year olds.

Akira wore a modern dress, sleeveless with broad black shoulder straps on top. It had wide vertical black and white stripes descending from below the bust to knee level.  She definitely had the most fashion sense of this crew.

Alicia had donned a sundress with a sunflower print and an open neckline.  Around her neck she wore a gold chain with a small locket, but I'm pretty sure that was new, and not yet a keepsake.

Aika's image was somewhat less wholesome than that, with a bright red spaghetti-strap top just short enough to show a bit of midriff.  I suppose it's always appropriate for Italians to wear spaghetti straps, right?  Below that was a set of torn blue jeans of the sort that costs at least ten dollars per rip, held up by a red vinyl belt.

Her friend Akari wore a frilly, baby blue blouse with a navy blue pleated skirt, white socks, and sneakers.  Nothing too fancy, but the colors were the perfect compliment to her pink hair.

And finally, President Aria wore a child-sized Panama hat with a white band.

Accompanying these women, I no longer looked like the leader of the Undine Cult, but I did look like the luckiest guy around.  Of course, looks wouldn't tell you I had spent the last few hours shopping for clothes, pretending to like clothes shopping.  I decided I had to find out if my company offered hazard pay for circumstances such as these.

I seem to have avoided at least one hazard, though -- I had spent a lot of time around Aria, and hadn't had any kind of allergic episode.  I'm not sure if Mars cats are different, or it's because he never seems to lick himself, but he never triggered my cat allergy.

As we loaded the back of my white pickup with bags and bags from boutiques and department stores, Athena cried, "Oh my God!", and pointed towards the eastern sky.

Everyone glanced upwards, and we saw the nearly full moon hovering above the city lights.  "The Moon is giant!" Alice observed.

Alicia said, "And it's lighting up everything!"

"Mmm-hmmmm!" Akari beamed.  "I missed you, Mr. Moon!"

"So you see the Man in the Moon?  I would have put you down for the rabbit making mochi."

"Mr. Manager, I can see both!"

The native Aquans were all still staring at the sky, transfixed by the floating white orb in the sky.

"I think they're moonstruck."

"So am I.  It feels so familiar, but so strange."  Akari paused, then added, "I'm glad I got to share this feeling of wonder with my friends.  It feels good to be back."

Alice warned, "The Moon is like super giant!  Is that even safe?"
"Kitto daijoubu da yo." - Sakura Kinomoto
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
September 21;

I’ll give you four warnings before I start this,” I told the four adults once they had gotten comfortable on my couch. I had seen the kids off to crossing the street to go to the gulf side beach front and then returned to my room to start showing the adults how I knew where they came from and the situations. I didn’t want to do it this fast but I had all but begged a week from Rei the previous day and I needed to at least inform the adults of what had happened.

“First,” I continued. “What you are about to see is what my world has been told has happened in your world. Each of you have your own perceptions of what occurred since Shinji’s arrival in Tokyo-3, however this is probably the most impartial view of it all. That said it is the vision of a clinically depressed mind so its going to be biased. Second; remember that the entire story was written to destroy the entertainment tropes that had cropped up in the genre. The Oedipus complex, the hotshot foreign pilot love interest, as well as a whole slew of other things. Third; Since you lived this you will know the actual contexts of any decision you made and any scene that this shows where you are involved, honestly it mostly revolves around the children, but I figured that I could show the adults first and get your help in explaining these things to the children since you know them better than I do.”

“Finally, there will be scenes that will embarrass you, scenes that will show your deepest, darkest desires and those times and reasons why you hate yourselves so much that you don’t think you get to have any happiness. When you see them remember to keep them in context and if your feeling particularly vulnerable about any of your memories from that world, now, or while you’re watching, be sure to discuss it amongst yourselves. Now, if you are ready, I’ll start things.”
“What a view,” Shinji said looking at the white sand of the beach and the bright blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“You said it Shin-man,” Toji said beside him, the jock’s gaze never leaving the three girls in front of them who had immediately broke into a run for the water as soon as it came into view.

“So nice,” Kensuke added from beneath his own bundle of burdens. James had handed the group a cooler, three beach umbrellas and six beach towels as well as the various little things that the trip to the beach would require. It also included a picnic lunch and a trash bag for the debris that the contents of the cooler would generate. The problem as the three boys could see, was that as boys, they had been designated the pack mules for the trip

The threesome’s reverie was broken as Asuka yelled back to them, “Hey stooges, are you going to stand there all day or are you going to come down here and set things up?”

“When did we get designated as your servants?” Toji called back with a smile.

“Toji,” Hikari called from the water’s edge, “no arguments today please. We have a marvelous, beautiful day to ourselves out here and I intend to enjoy it. So no fighting.”

“Alright class rep,” Toji answered with a sigh, “just get her to keep things civil please.”

Hikari nodded and then turned on the red-head. “Asuka, you know Toji doesn’t like being bossed around,” the class rep continued. “Please don’t antagonize him, I want us all to enjoy this trip.”

“Alright Hikari,” Asuka replied. “Lets just find a spot and set up, the day isn’t getting any longer.” The pig tailed brunette nodded and waved the boys toward the girls while looking up and down the beach itself, “What do you think about that spot over there?” she asked the rest of the group while pointing a slight bit to the west of where the boardwalk through the dunes let out onto the beach itself.
“Oh God Wolf, turn it off.” Misato said burying her face in her hands.

“I sometimes forget how much we actually put those kids through,” Kaji commented beside her while I stepped forward and stopped the movie player and ejected the disk.

“I think we can leave it there for now,” I said stepping back with the disk and sliding it into the sleeve. “But you need to see the rest of the series at some point.” Setting the multi-disk case aside I picked up a serving tray of solo cups with a golden liquid covering about two inches in the bottom of the cups.

“We all knew Shinji wasn’t exactly happy as a pilot,” Ritsuko said taking a cup as I offered it. “Asuka seemed happy but going by what we just saw she really is just a scared and lonely little girl. Rei, well I just can’t read her, between her hiding her feelings and the drugs she was…” Ritsuko trailed off, her eyes going wide as implications slammed into her mind.

“What drugs?” Misato snarled at her best friend.

A dazed and faraway look on her face, the doctor answered automatically as her eyes darted around at nothing in thought. “A finely balanced cocktail of mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics amongst other things. I don’t know why she isn’t showing signs of withdrawal though?”

“I have a couple of thoughts on the possibilities of why,” I replied pulling Misato’s attention away from the panicking doctor. “The problem is that I need Rei to give me a straight answer to a particular question.”

Malcolm Reynolds was not panicking, panicking would reflect manic action, at least motion or maybe yelling to cause others to take action. Instead he was laying on something soft but firm that molded to his body with Inara snuggled against him and he was staring up at the edge of an umbrella and a bright blue sky beyond it.

“Cap’n?” he heard Jayne say off to his left.

“Yeah Jayne?” he replied in a low voice trying not to wake Inara.

“I thought Wash died when we was running from the Reavers to Mister Universe?” The question caused Mal to sit up, dumping Inara to the side as he looked around, first at Jayne, and then at the rest of his crew. Surprisingly, it was his entire crew, even the ones that had died. To his left Jayne sat in a chair beyond where Wash and Zoe lay on a blanket under a large umbrella, spooned together. To his right, Kaylee and River were both snuggled up to Simon under another umbrella, Shepard Book asleep in a chair beyond them.

All around them was a fine sand, dunes behind them and five meters in front of them a beautiful blue expanse, “Jayne, I’m afraid we might be dead.” Malcolm Reynolds said as the people around him started to stir.

“You are not dead,” a calm voice said from behind them. Mal and Jayne shared a look and then looked behind them to find a blue haired girl standing on the top of one of the dunes pulling a cart. “And while this is a public beach, I don’t think the local authorities allow camping here.”

Inara was grumbling beside him as he got up and shaded his eyes while looking at the girl. “You say we aren’t dead,” he replied, the girl nodded. “But two of my crew who were dead are now here with us and healthy, how do you explain that?”

The girl smiled, “You were probably picked up by the same multi-dimensional confluence that deposited my friends and I here,” she answered. “This means you are probably the other group of people our host was expecting.

“What the hell is it that she just said Mal?” Jayne asked
The bluenette addressed the mercenary with a flat look on her face, “In short, someone with a lot of power had an accident that caused multiple realities to overlap dumping you here.”

Jayne, eloquent as ever said, “Huh?”

The girl facepalmed in frustration, “God went oops, you were dropped in a world where you never really existed and are stuck here until they fix it.”

“Oh,” Jayne answered, “Is there someplace we can get something to eat nearby?”
Wolf wins every fight but the one where he dies, fangs locked around the throat of his opponent. 
Currently writing BROBd

RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
Of Channels and Canals
Venice Beach, California
Thursday, September 16, 2016, 11:30 AM

"Now now, don't you think it's time to calm down?  You've been angry for the entire walk home," I overheard Alicia say as she came up the steps to the first floor.

I glanced outside to the landing, and right behind her was Akira, looking right pissed off.  "I know, I know, but every time I think about that man I get so angry!" she fumed.

Alicia gestured as if to hold something down.  "Deep breaths, Akira.  Deep breaths."

Akira obliged, taking four deep breaths while standing still outside on the east landing.

"All better?"

"Not one bit!"

"Ara ara ara," Alicia vocalized.

"The nerve!  How could he say that to you, of all people!" Akira pounded her feet into the building, and announced quite loudly, "House meeting at noon.  Everyone better come!"  She looked at me, and said, "You too!" before storming off into her room to sulk for half an hour.

After standing there stunned for a moment, I asked Alicia, "Wow, what happened to her?"

"Akira and I… had a bad job interview."

"It sure sounds like it."

"It's been a long time since I've seen her this angry, but she'll get over it soon."

We decided to meet in No. 4, as Alicia had recently rescued a lovely set of carved wooden chairs from an antique shop, and thus was the only apartment yet to be able to provide seating for everyone.

It also provided us mortadella sandwiches on french rolls with some fresh grapes, thanks to the foresight of Alicia and Akari.  After everyone's appetite was sated, we were finally able to get Alicia to discuss what happened earlier.

She explained, "So this morning, we went to talk to the harbormaster.  He was a pleasant man, a sheriff in fact.  I explained that we planned to operate a gondola service.  He told us that there is no gondola guild here, and that we're free to start taking on clients on our own terms, once we obtain a simple business license."

"He also explained that there was already a gondola service in Marina del Rey.  So we decided to check out the place, and see if we could work for that company.  Unfortunately, I don't believe any such arrangement will be possible."

"Why not?" Athena asked.

Akira answered it, "Because the man there thinks only men can be gondoliers."

"What?" Alice blurted.  "That's so lame."

"He told Alicia that he only hired men with the strength to be real gondoliers, not actresses researching a part."

"What the!"  Akia slammed both hands down on the table.  "How dare he!  To say that to Alicia!  To you too, Akira!"

"Now now," Alicia explained, "Thank you for your support, but I'm confident in my own abilities.  And in all of yours, as well."

Akira took a deep breath, and managed to stay silent this time.

"So…" Aika asked, "Where does that leave us?"

"I guess we can just start up our old companies here." Alice said.

"It's kind of weird to compete when there's only the six of us."

Akira said, "Afraid of losing to Himeya, pigtails?"

Akari's face went blank. "Not really, but now I am?"

Athena was blunt: "Haven't you missed us, Akira?"

Akira's eyebrows disappeared under her chestnut bangs.  "I suppose it can't be helped, we'll need to work together."  The younger set looked pretty ecstatic about this idea, jumping up and down, while the adults looked at each other with a smile.

Aika proudly declared, "As heir to Himeya, I welcome you to my company."

"Wait, aren't you going to work for Orange Planet with everyone else?"  Alice asked.

Alicia said, "I thought you were going to work for Aria Company."

It became clear pretty fast that we had a 2-2-2 tie for the winning company name, at which point a lot of eyeballs turned to me.  I reasoned, "Orange Planet doesn't even make sense on Earth, and Himeya probably won't catch on with Americans," I reasoned.  "But Aria Company… that sounds just about right."

"Meh.  Makes sense, I guess," Alice assented.

"President Aria, you have the final say.  Should we hire these four to Aria Company?" Alicia asked the white-furred cat.


I started clapping, and so did Alicia, which made everyone else a little self-conscious.

Aika said tentatively, "This is a good plan and all, but I don't have to start wearing blue uniforms now, do I?  It's really not my color."

Alice concluded, "We even don't have any extra uniforms, dummy."

"While I have everyone here, can I deal with a few things before you leave?"  No one said anything, so I continued, "First, do any of you know how to drive a car?"

"Uh yeah, you just get in and enter the address into the screen."  Aika gave me her best "no duh" look.

"I don't have one of those.  I mean the kind where you steer and pedal the brake.  Can anyone do that?"

"That sounds really hard~." Akari's face went blank.

"Can't you get a better car?" Aika asked.

"Uh, we don't actually have those yet.  We'll probably get those in ten years or so.  But for now, all of self-driving cars are prototypes."

"None of us know how to drive a manual," Akira said.  I assumed she meant automatics too.  "Can't we just get around by train and boat?"

"Well, Los Angeles is to cars as Venice is to gondolas.  This is the city that fell in love with cars.  So if you want to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time, you'll need to drive, or take a bus or taxi."

"This century is gigantically stupid," remarked Alice.

"I heard that.  So if anyone wants to learn how to drive, I'd be happy to teach them."

For a moment, they were mumbling to each other, until Athena stepped up, "Brent, I think I would like to learn."

"Great!  We'll set up a time."

I continued, "The next thing is that Alice here is only sixteen years old, which means that she needs to be in school."

"Can't I skip it?  I was just about to graduate from middle school."

"The law here is that you have to go to school until you turn eighteen."

"This century is gigantically stupid." Alice scowled.

"Yeah, I thought you might say that, so I looked into it.  If you have a job -- like for a gondola company -- you can get away with only four hours of school a week.  It's called 'continuation school'. The school year just started a couple of weeks ago.  You can probably catch up no problem, Alice.  Just uh, try not to mention "this century" or history that hasn't happened yet.  Don't want you to be the Mysterious Transfer Student."

She rolled her eyes at me.

"With that attitude, I think you'll fit in with American teenagers just fine," I deadpanned.

"Wait a second, aren't you still seventeen, Akari?" Aika asked.

"Hehehe, only for a few months more.  I'm getting an early birthday!"  Indeed, while her birthday was coming up at the end of January, she had just skipped three months in the move between worlds.

Aika stood up, and walked over behind Alicia and Akira.  "OK, I'm going to go be with my fellow adults over here."

"Awwww." Akari waved goodbye meekly.

"Actually, you're old enough that you can take the high school equivalency test and skip school.  It sounds hard, but it's actually super easy, probably the same level as a high school entrance exam.  But uh, how's your American history?"


"When did the United States become a country?"

"Eto, the Meiji era?" Akari tried.

"Oy vey," I said.  "You'll need a little help there."

"Eh?  Am I undereducated?"

"Tragically so," Aika quipped.


"Don't worry about it," I reassured her.  "My grandmother never finished middle school, and she's one of the smartest people I know.  But if you want a job that doesn't involve rowing a gondola, you might want to consider more education.  Santa Monica College is really close, and doesn't have admission requirements.  So all of you adults like Aika can start taking classes there in the winter, if you choose.  Maybe some business classes would be helpful?"

"Hmmm, interesting."  Alicia was obviously considering the idea.

"They have music classes too, Athena."

Her eyes perked up at that idea.  "Ah."

"And if any of you need help, I can tutor you.  I've tutored in math up to calculus, chemistry, physics, English — and also meteorology, astronomy, and sociology."

"Whoa."  Akari was clearly impressed.

"Why are you even here?  Can't you get a real job?" Akia teased.

I squinted back, "A wise man once said, 'It's the economy, stupid.'"


Now that things were beginning to settle down, and the internet service was started for the bottom floor, I took some time to look at the forum for the apartment managers that was set up by my company.

And holy shit, they all had other fictional characters in their complexes.  It seemed that this whole job had some sort of connection to a dimensional crisis, and there were goddesses already involved.  This was when I started to worry that I was in way over my head here.

On the other hand, the tenants from planet Aqua were pretty normal, all said and done.  It could be worse.  If I was running Ben's apartment complex, I might find myself inexplicably falling in love with Tenchi Masaki.

Yeah, I worried about falling into a harem, because all of the other questions were more worrisome: who's really in charge of the multiverse?  Why are these people showing up in our universe?  If they can come here, what's the nature of reality?  Or even of writing?  Was the moon landing a myth, but also real because it was on TV?

And honestly, what on Earth was I going to tell my tenants?  I still didn't really know how they got here, or how they could get home.  I didn't even know where to start.  They claimed to have accidentally emigrated on a magical space train; even going that far, would they even believe what I had to say?

All of this started to seem plain crazy. What the other people are writing on the apartment forum sounds like some made-up story or just crazy rantings.  It's all seems crazy, until you're staring Akari Mizunashi in the face.

Which, of course, I was unintentionally doing.  Akari just came over to my room beseeching help.  "Can you help me connect my laptop to the wireless network?"  She pulled out her laptop, a small titanium gray device, its keycaps marked with both romaji and hiragana.  It had a screen shaped like an elongated hexagon, which made me wonder a bit about how to design a hexagonal UI.  But hey, not to worry if the monitor ran out of space, because a small holographic projector above the screen projected a couple of extra windows above.  In short, future tech.

That said, interfaces didn't seem to have evolved too much in the past hundred years... and the command line was bash-compatible.  Now that, I can work with.  I fiddled around with the settings a bit, as Akari watched nervously behind me.  Eventually, I found my problem, looking at the wireless driver settings.

"802.11wf?" I stated, as if I had said '802.11 WTF' instead.

"It's no good?"

"I think your laptop is maybe too advanced for, well, everything.  Let me ask some of my friends if they can figure out what's going on here."

"Will that work?"

"With computers, all you need is enough time and you can solve any problem."  Well, I hoped.  Didn't I see someone making a voice call to Earth in Aria?  I hoped the laptop's wifi used ordinary EM spectrum, and not something dumb like tachyons.

In any case, it looked like I had a use for this apartment managers' forum after all.

Friday, September 17, 2016

The sun rose the next morning to another beautiful summer day.  Along the Southern California coast, early summer is usually cool and cloudy, subjected to the May Gray, June Gloom, and rarely the July Gray-Sky.  But this was turning out to be one of those pleasant days in the late summer and early autumn, where the sky and ocean shared a brilliant blue hue.

Of course, I wasn't awake to see the sun rise, having set my alarm to wake me at the still-ungodly hour of nine.  Alicia wanted to go through the remodel plan with me in the morning, and I sure needed the help.

She showed up outside my room just on time, wearing a cheap set of drugstore reading glasses in front of her blue eyes.

"Thanks for offering to help!"

"It's no problem at all.  I just decided that if we're going to live here, we might as well make it really nice."

"Well, thank you.  And wait, are you saying that this place is a dump?" I smiled.

Alicia giggled a little.

"We do need to get this place in livable shape, and fast.  I'm not sure, but I get the feeling that we might get more... travelers, like you."

"I see.  Of course.  Maybe by solving our issues, we can prepare for more tenants better.  There are some issues that we'd like to address, like the quality of the appliances, and the issue of the bidets."

"Oh, right, bidets.  I'm not sure about the plumbing, and—"

We were about to sit down, when we heard the piercing beep of a truck's backup alarm.  We looked out the window to see the front of a pickup with some sort of trailer making a couple passes to parallel park next to the apartment.  We headed downstairs to get a better look at exactly what was going on.

What stood along the alley, just under the southern balconies of our building was a trailer bearing a thirty-foot long wooden gondola, covered by three tarpaulins.

A short black woman with long, natural hair got out of the large truck, which had just finished parallel parking the boat trailer.  She called in her Texan accent,  "Is Alicia Florence or, uh," she read the form a little more carefully, "Akira Ferrari one of y'all?"

All of the tenants were downstairs by now, so Alicia and Akira dutifully went to sign receipt of the boat.

"Oh, that's right, I've got a letter for you too.  She opened up her posse box holding the form, and pulled out an embossed envelope.  "Someone really likes you gals."

Akira answered, "Oh, you know men, always trying to make up for things with their gifts."

The deliverywoman let out a belly laugh at that, "Heck, wish I could find me one of them that'd buy me a make-up boat!"  She started unhitching the boat while I helped the younger undines in removing the ropes and covers on the gondola.  A couple of minutes later, she drove off in her truck, leaving us one gondola richer.

Meanwhile, Alicia read the letter aloud:

Quote:Dear Undines,
Here is the first of the gondolas I promised.  This was actually my own gondola, but it has been in drydock for quite a long time, so I give it to you.  Please take good care of it.  As for the other gondolas, they will take months to complete; the next one will be delivered to you by mid October.  Such is the price of having gondolas for which you can truly be proud.
Best of luck,

"Freaking sweet!" said Aika, with her characteristic grin.

"An authentic gondola of Venezia, here in Venice.  Wow!"

"Are you sure about that, Akari?" Alicia quizzed.

"Hm..." she looked over the craft, "Oh, wait, you're right.   I guess I still have a lot to learn to become a prima," Akari said as she scratched her head abashedly.

"Huh?  What is it?" Aika asked.

"Look at the prow.  There are nine rebbi instead of six."  I looked too, and saw that Akari was right -- it looked like there were too many tines on the front of the boat.

"That's really weird," Alice said.

"Why would someone do that?" Aika's question was seeking an answer, but simultaneously rhetorical because she didn't expect one.

"Is that a number associated with this city?"

I answered, "Not that I know of.  I can't really think of a number that represents our city.  Maybe three-one-oh?  It's an area code. For phone numbers."  They looked at me like I was from another planet.  "Yeah I don't get people either."

Alicia stepped up to the boat, and started inspecting the craft closely.  "It looks like it's in pretty good shape, for how long it's been sitting around.  I'm not seeing any dry rot."

Aika blew at the thick layer of dust atop the gondola's seat, causing a brown cloud to drift in Alice's direction.

"Hey!" Alice coughed.  "Watch what you're doing."

Aika stared at Alice across the gondola for a few seconds.  Then she blew again in the same direction, even harder this time.

Alice's skin tone roughly matched the color of Athena's; her eyes finally reopened when the dust cleared.  "Ok, that's it, I'm gonna get you!"  Alice chased Aika counterclockwise around the boat for next couple of minutes, while the rest of us focused on inspecting the boat itself (and avoiding getting hit by the running girls).

Akira was examining the hull. "What's this black stuff?  Where in the world did Sebastian take this boat?"   The boat itself was painted the traditional black, but an even darker layer of soot lay affixed to the bottom of the hull, giving it a stygian hue.

Akira finally tired of the squabble and grabbed Aika and Alice by the collar, one by one, as they passed.  With a scowl on her face, she roared, "Looks like you two have plenty of energy for cleaning, so get to it!"

Alicia looked to Akari, adding, "If you please?"


And so with cleaning tools and buckets scavenged from inside the house, the junior team set to scrubbing down their new gondola in the alley behind the apartment; the only interruption to their task was an intramural water fight with the garden hoses.

By the time lunch time rolled around, I came back downstairs with the primas to see how things had progressed.  Although they gave the impression of leaving the hard work the their trainees, I had seen them work just as hard on the task of decorating their rooms upstairs.  But as I saw in the anime, the art of the prima undine was to make the difficult task of rowing look effortless, a quality they brought to all of their work.

Alicia walked out first, bearing a box of sandwiches.  "Okay girls,  break time.  Who's hungry for sandwiches?"

Akari raised her hand, which made the rest of the washing crew follow suit.  And Athena too, for that matter, whose stomach emitted a low rumble.

As we sat atop a floral print blanket on the next parking space over, while everyone was eating, Alicia said, "It looks like you did a good job."  She turned to Akira, "Does she look ready to float?"

Akira responded with a teasing tone, "Hmm... I'm not sure.  Well, let's ask a potential customer, as they are the most important judges of our service.  What do you think, Brent?  Would you pay for a ride in this gondola?"

I looked it over.   The boat looked like a proper gondola now, rather than a relic of the 1800s.  Much better.  "With you?  Any day of the week," I said.

Akira made a Mona Lisa smile, Akari gave a wide grin, and Alicia simply giggled.  "Sounds like our customer approves, Akira."

We finished eating, and decided that there was no time like the present for gondola launches.  I hopped in my truck, and lined up to hitch the boat, poorly.  After maneuvering the truck forwards and backwards a few times, I eventually managed to get the trailer ball positioned right.

Alice asked, "Are you sure you've done this before?"

"Yes, and I'm still terrible at it."  Actually hitching the boat trailer was the easy part, taking only about a minute to drop the hitch, link a chain, and plug in the light cord.  The prima undines all hopped into my truck, with Athena and Alicia squeezed uncomfortably into the back seat.

"Okay, we're off to the boat launch," Akira called over the roar of the white Ford F-150's engine.

"We'll meet you on the canals!" Akia called back.

A quick drive to the other side of Marina del Rey, right next door to Venice Beach, it took less than ten minutes to get to the boat launch.  Not many people were here today, so I started lining up the trailer with the water line almost immediately.

Akira reasoned, "I suppose it makes the most sense for Alicia to try it first."

Alicia nodded.  Going by the manga, Alicia was the virtuosa gondoliera, a prodigy of the nautical aspects of being an undine.  It was her oar-work and graceful boat control that cemented her status a one of the Three Water Fairies of Neo Venezia.

"I'd like to get out try it out, too," Athena added.

"It's really tight back there, isn't it?"  I asked.  Athena made her confounded face, which was even funnier in reality than it was in anime linework.  This truck was not going to cut it for transporting all of these people in the long term, but it was the right tool for the job now.

Everyone got out of the car, and all three undines hopped up into the gondola.  I started rolling the trailer slowly into the water.  And… it floated!

"We have a gondola!"  Alicia started clapping, and then all of us joined in.

Athena untied all of the ropes, and Alicia took up her post standing at the stern of the boat.  The blonde took the gondola on a quick loop around the dock with graceful strokes of the oar, as if she could move the 700 kilogram boat without any effort at all.  It was just beautiful.  As she came back around, she called out to me, "It handles wonderfully!  We'll meet you back in the canals."

I pulled up the ramp, secured the straps and ropes, and raced back to the apartment.

After I parked, I walked across a couple blocks to the canals.  About a block or so "upstream" the junior undines were hanging out, so I went over to join them.  "Why are you all hanging out here?"

"Hi Brent!  Akari convinced the owners to let us berth here.  I take it the gondola is in good shape?"

"The gondola split into four pieces, there were no survivors," I deadpanned.

"Ridiculous remarks are forbidden."

It didn't take long for our gondola to start making its way up the Grand Canal, a long, mostly straight natural waterway of the former Ballona wetlands.  This end of it was lined with a mix of two and three-story houses, but past the wide concrete bridge for Washington Boulevard was a primary school and a few more apartment buildings.  Alice was the first to spot the gondola, pointing past the bridge and uttering a simple, "There."

As she emerged from under the bridge, Athena, who was now the gondolier, waved to us -- and we all waved back.

And that was when Akari started crying, still wearing a wide smile on her face.  "I thought that -- I thought that everything was lost because of me -- for all of you."

"No, Akari," Aika interjected.

"It's okay now, you see.  That's our old life, coming up the canal to meet us."  Akari drew all of us into a group hug, even me.  "Everything's going to be okay now."  Tears were streaming down her face.

With wide eyes, Alice said, "Yes, it really is."

President Aria summarized, "Punyuu!"

"Why am I crying now?" Aika complained.

By the time the gondola arrived, everyone had gathered their composure.  They moored the boat next to the rose-colored house, and disembarked.

"It moves like a dream," Athena said.

Alicia agreed, "It's in excellent shape."

Akari begged,  "Our turn?"

"I'm afraid not; how can I offer our only gondola to trainees when Akira has a customer waiting?"  Alicia gestured at me.

"Huh?" Akira stared into Alicia's smiling eyes.

Alicia giggled.

Akira sighed, then boarded the gondola.  

"Ah!" Aika's interest was piqued.  Somehow, saying that I was just making a joke earlier didn't seem like the best idea right now.

Akira held out her hand, a practiced gesture that was still warm and inviting.  "Please take my hand as you step aboard, sir."  I did just that.  Somehow, it didn't even seem like a joke any more.


Akira piloted the boat up the Grand Canal, to the waters she hadn't yet navigated.  It didn't make much difference to an experienced undine like herself, shallow waters like these were nothing to worry about.  Especially in the absence of other boat traffic.

"What do you think of our canals?" I asked her.

"Strange.  But not in a bad way.  Just unfamiliar."

She rowed on for perhaps twenty more strokes, before adding, "I haven't faced anything this unfamiliar since I was still a Single.  But, you know, it feels good to face a new challenge."

We passed a rowboat and a canoe tied up in front of a house, which bobbed just the slightest bit in our wake.  "I'm glad you're enjoying yourself, Akari."


"Normally, I would tell my passenger about all of the sights they were seeing, but I'm afraid I know so little about these waters."  Akira's smooth and steady stroke refuted that statement -- she knew plenty about the waters, it was the shore she knew little about.  "Would you care to tell me about this city?"

"Well, I don't know a whole lot, I didn't grow up here," I began.  "These canals all started because a land developer called Abbot Kinney traveled to Europe, fell in love with Venice, and decided to turn some of this swampland into a tourist attraction.  I imagine the story was the same in Neo Venezia.  Anyway, Kinney had all of these canals dug, built a pier to attract tourists.

"All that was before cars took over Southern California.  Then they started filling up the canals to turn them into streets.  Ended up filling in most of them."

"What a shame!"

"That's Los Angeles as it used to be, always looking forward, without thinking about what came before.  Anyway, about the time I was born, people started wanting to save the canals, because they made the place special.  And, as you can see, lots of fancy homes are here now, so they must have done something right."


Akira's easy stroke propelled us through the Howland Canal, making but the smallest of splashes.  It was quiet in the heart of Venice's canal district, until a passing seagull decided to let out series of loud cries.

"He must be looking for some friends," Akira posited.

"More likely looking for some chum."

"Heh, so he is."

"You are different on the water," I said.  "More calm and composed."

"So are you."

I thought on it a few seconds before replying, "Got me there.  We have so much to do back at the apartment."

Sensing my mood becoming more stressful, Akira added, "When I'm in a gondola, I'm able to let go of all of those things on land, and just live in the moment.  There are so many things to worry about, but out here it's just the water and the sun and the clouds, and I move forward one stroke at a time."

"So, it's not just because you're really good at this, Crimson Rose?"

Akari laughed.  "It will be good for everyone else to get some time on the water.  They all love the gondola -- almost as much as me!"

Now it was my turn to laugh.  "They can't compete, can they?"

"Nope, but they can try!"  She twirled her oar like a quarterstaff, striking at imaginary opponents.

The thought crossed my mind that maybe Alicia asked Akira to take me out as the first customer because she was the one who needed it the most.  Maybe I did too.  Or maybe Alicia was just being nice.  All I know is that if I asked her, all I'd get is a giggle in reply -- or if I really pressed her, an "ara ara".


A passenger jet taking off from LAX banked across the sky in front of me, turning all the way around to fly over the land.

"You know, I haven't taken a customer in a black gondola for a long, long time.  It brings back memories."

"Why's that?"

"In Neo Venezia, prima undines ride in white gondolas; the black gondolas are reserved for single undines.  It's so that our customers know what they're paying for."

"I always thought all gondolas were black."

"In old— well, in Venezia, gondolas are black because the water is dirty.  On Aqua, it's a sign of the purity of our water in Neo Venezia."

"You know, you're rowing through muddy seawater.  This used to be a swamp."

Akira nodded, and kept rowing.  "Maybe we'll use the tradition of black gondolas in California."

"Probably a good call."


I leaned back in the seat a bit, and looked at the nearly clear sky, with only a few long contrails coming across.  It was a beautiful day with a kind sun, casting enough light to make your skin feel warm.  But then a little gust of salt air would come up from the ocean to cool you right back down.  Growing up in a beach city, I almost never notice the smell of salt in the air any more, but I noticed it then.

I noticed lots of things I don't normally notice, like sound of the soft splash of the water against the sides of the gondola.  I saw the intricate patterns chiseled into the black wood covering the forward end of the gondola, right below the curved bow.  We passed by a bush in full bloom, covered with deep red roses.  And of course, I saw the tall, strong woman in white behind me, rowing the gondola with a joyful smile.

And I never pulled my phone out of my pocket the entire time.


By the time we returned to our newly adopted mooring place along the canal, it seems that everyone had already gone home, so Akira and I walked back to the apartment together.

"We never decided what the fare was, did we.  I'm supposed to be your customer, right?"

"It's not important.  I don't even know what we'll charge," Akira shrugged.  "You've done a lot for us already."

"I know, but that was really special.  I feel like I owe you something."

She thought about it for a while, and then her countenance suddenly turned grumpy.

"How about a installing a bidet already?"
"Kitto daijoubu da yo." - Sakura Kinomoto
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
"Adrift in Time"; or "Clock Like a Pirate Day"

2:10PM, March 15, 2003
Urayasa, Chiba, Japan

A group of seven young women stood in line for one of Magical Land's great attractions, Pirates of the South Pacific.  It was a beautiful day to celebrate their recent graduation from high school, with the warmth of spring bursting just in time for this outing.

They were similar to many other groups of recent graduates wandering around the theme park, with a small exception: the twintailed child prodigy Chiyo Mihama, only age 13, still stood out from her elders.  However, she was steadily catching up in height to the rest of her cohort, her growth spurt having finally kicked in.

Given that Tomo Takino had just taken Chiyo and Kaori Aida on a maximum-speed teacup ride, both of them were hanging on Sakaki -- partially for balance, but by now mostly for protection from Tomo.

So it was, that Chiyo missed Osaka's fateful question, "Do you think they use real magic at Magical Land?"

Koyomi Mizuhara, a bespectacled brunette beauty, explained, "I thought that it was just magineering."

"Oh, I get it." Tomo riffed, "Like if technology is so advanced, it's like the same as magic.  So they just put them together!"

"Right, because it's so similar now, they combined magic with engineering to make all of the rides."

"I see!  That explains why this place is so much fun!"

Osaka added, "Wow, you know so much, Yomi."

"I'm pretty sure they're just messing with us," noted Kagura, a girl with short cropped hair and an athletic build.  "Magineering is not even a real word."

Yomi pulled a book out of her purse, and flipped to the relevant page of the guide book on the park, "See, it's right here in black and white."  Sure enough the page she displayed was emblazoned with the Japanese text "Magical Land: The Magineering that Makes It Happen".

"No way!"

The queue moved forward, which gave Yomi a convenient excuse to close her book before anyone looked too closely at it.  Actually, traffic for this attraction was pretty light today.

When they got to the water line, Sakaki asked the operator, "Excuse me.  Can we all ride together in the same boat?"

The operator, barely older than Sakaki herself, looked up at the tall, serious, raven-haired woman with trepidation.  "I think you can have your own boat.  No need to worry."  Yeah, no need to cause a problem with this scary onee-san.

As the next boat rolled through the shallow water, the graduates all loaded into the barge, and pulled down the safety bars.  As the watertight cart started moving, Tomo pointed forward.  "Full speed ahead!"

"That operator was really nice wasn't she?" Chiyo declared.

Sakaki agreed, "Yes, very pleasant."

Just before the boat turned the corner, Sakaki caught a glimpse of "Chiyo's father", a large orange cat-like creature (she was still not sure if he was really a cat), waving to everyone as they entered the ride.  Strange, she thought; this was the first time she had seen him outside of a dream.  Did he work as a mascot character?  She said, "Your father…"


The voiceover boomed in archaic Japanese, "Abandon all hope, all ye who enter!"  The boat had just started to descend to the lower level of the ride, and then, the artificial grotto was filled with a blinding light.  Sakaki instinctively grabbed Chiyo-chan to keep her safe.

A small wave sloshed into the boat, soaking Tomo and Kagura. A high-pitched groan of tearing metal filled the room -- and then the grotto itself was gone.

The coruscating light shone in all the colors at once, as if the craft and its occupants were surrounded by the aurora. Whether they were falling or weightless, it's impossible to say; still they were held firmly in the boat by its mechanical arms.  Which is not to say that everyone aboard was not holding on for dear life.

After about a minute, the boat materialized three meters above a placid ocean surface; after hovering in midair for a second the sphere of light around the boat evaporated.  Gravity quickly did the work to bring the boat to sea, rocking the craft side-to-side, but fortunately not swamping the boat.

Osaka gave a hearty Kansai, "What the heck!"

Yomi chimed in with her own, "What the heck."

Tomo immediately reached for the emergency release for the mechanical arms locking the passengers in.  "I've always wanted to pull that switch."

"Huh, they really do use magic.  Who'd'a thought?" Osaka stated.  There was nothing else she could have concluded, staring up at an azure sky filled with towering cumulus, the air at least 10 degrees warmer than a few minutes ago.  An island with tropical vegetation lay a half-mile away, proving in no uncertain terms that they were no longer in Tokyo.

"Is everyone okay?" Kaorin asked.  She then started calling roll for her friends.  It turned out that the class president role had become pretty ingrained for her, despite only doing it for her senior year.  Just last year, she would have been a nervous wreck from whatever had just happened to them, but just the act of doing a duty helped to calm her down.

As it was, Chiyo looked to be on the verge of tears, but Sakaki was already calming her down.  Fortunately, every member of the crew was hale and hearty -- and more than a bit shaken.

Bailing water out of their boat with their hands became the next business.  The good news is that the boat was designed to survive a fall, and thus was entirely undamaged.  The bad news was that the boat was designed to run on wheels in a track, and had no way propel itself through a real sea.

"I have no idea what happened to us, but we need to get to that island," declared Yomi.

"Aye aye, captain," Tomo saluted.  "But we have no oars to row with.  Maybe Kagura can get out and push us."

"Eh?" Kagura yelped.

"Belay that, seaman.  See if we can find some sort of board on here we can use."

Tomo offered, "Osaka is flat as a board, maybe we can use her, captain."

"You're as flat as a board too, Tomo," Osaka accused.  "You'll have to be the other oar!"

"Oh no, I've said too much!"

Sakaki stood up and kicked apart a couple of the seats; it wasn't long before they had improvised a couple of oars out of the plywood.  Even with calm seas and favorable winds, it was slow going.  Tomo's burst of energy lasted just under a minute, which left most of the rowing work to Kagura and Sakaki.

After about twenty minutes under the baking sun, Sakaki saw a large boat speeding to her location.  She immediately stood up and started waving, and everyone else joined her.

Kaori yelled, "Stop rocking the boat, Tomo!  She's not designed for the real ocean!"

"But holy freaking crap, we're going to meet real pirates!  Sail the seven seas!" Tomo reasoned.

Yomi observed, "Uh, there's no sails on that ship, so no pirates."

"I bet it's a ship of modern pirates.  Ahoy mateys!!!"

"I bet this is a ship of a modern idiot."

The PT-boat had spotted the theme park attraction's boat a few minutes before, and was already on a course to pick up its new passengers.  After five more minutes, the gray gunboat pulled up alongside, 80 feet long if it was an inch.  Curiously, the boat had no markings or flag, as if it were trying to be inconspicuous on purpose.  Still, a rescue was a rescue.

Three men got came out on deck to help.  They were a motley crew to be sure: a blond man in a Hawaiian shirt, a brawny bald black man in a flak jacket, and what looked like an authentic Japanese salaryman.

"Ahoy there!  Looks like you could use some help," called the black man.

"No, we're just out for a three-hour tour," Tomo called back in perfect English.

"Heh.  OK, tie these lines to the boat, and we'll send down the rope ladder."  As they tied the ropes to the boat's safety bars, he asked, "What the heck kind of boat is that?"

"A pirate ride boat," answered Kagura with a smile.

"Pirates of the Caribbean?  You gotta be shitting me.  Damn job gets weirder every day."

"Now Dutch, be polite with our guests, or I'll send you below to hide with Miss Sunshine."

"Fair enough."

Inside her cabin aboard the Black Lagoon, a woman cleaning her pistols sneezed.

As the salaryman helped everyone climb aboard, he said, "We apologize for the delay in finding you.  My name is Rokuro Okajima, but you can call me Rock.  This is Benny, and Dutch.  Welcome aboard the Black Lagoon -- and welcome to the year 2016."

12:37 PM, Tuesday, September 26, 2016
Aboard the Black Lagoon
South China Sea

The seven young women sat on long green bench seats along the grey metal walls.  Sakaki, Chiyo, and Osaka on one side of the room; Yomi, Kaori, and Kagura on the other; and Tomo perched herself atop a wooden crate.  The cargo hold of a WWII era PT-boat wasn't built for comfort, but they made do for now.

Their group sulking came to an end when Rock reentered the cabin.  Under the fluorescent lights, Rock could see that every single one of them looked to be Japanese in origin, but there was something different about them.  Something about their eyes seemed just a little bit bigger than normal.

"Well, ladies, after a little chat with the home office, it sounds like everything is being taken care of.  Ladies, let's to get you resettled into a new home.  I'd like to find you find a place that will make you feel at home, probably as close as we can to where you came from.  What kind of place would you like, city or country?"

The girl on the crate stood up and announced, "Yeah, it's gotta be the beach!  We all come from a super-nice beach resort town."

Yomi grabbed her hand from behind, whispering, "Tomo, what are you up to?"

"Just play along," Tomo whispered back.  "It's going to be amazing!"

Tomo went back to addressing the room.  "Yeah, Kagura over here goes swimming every day in the ocean.  Don't you want to go swimming in the ocean, every day again Kagura?"

"Oh...  Oh yes!  Definitely swimming!"  Kagura finally picked up on her cue, "Yeah, a beach resort town, definitely!"  Her story would have been more believable with a deeper swimmer's tan, but was a bit too early in the year for that.

The girl with straight hair and large eyes looked pensive in the back.  "Wait, was that where we were from?" Osaka wondered softly, to no one in particular.

Yomi glanced over to Sakaki, to see if she wanted to put a stop to the lie.  But Sakaki simply looked serious, a mien she often wore when lost in thought.  Chiyo looked confused, and Osaka looked typically confused.  Kaorin looked flustered at this unexpected scheme, which to be honest was typical for her too.

Well, Yomi thought, a beach house does sound pretty nice, especially if someone else is paying.  And a resort town was likely to have some good gourmet food.  "That's right Okajima-san!  Can you find us a charming little beach town?  It would make us feel right at home.  Oh!  And maybe one with a university nearby?"

Rock could see through their ploy, of course.  But he had to admire Tomo, negotiating from a position of weakness.  He'd do the same.  It hadn't been so long ago that he had been willing to cast his former life away for one on the sea.  But these girls couldn't live as he would, not by a long shot.

"I'm afraid I don't have anything in Japan right now, it's very popular for some reason."  He started flipping through a stack of papers, until he came across the one he was looking for.  "Great, there's still space in this property.  How'd you all like to be housed in Venice Beach, California?  It's near Los Angeles."

Tomo exclaimed "Umi getto!" with a fist raised in the air.

"Sounds good to me," Yomi replied to the man.  "Chiyo, you were planning on going to university in America this year anyway.  You wouldn't mind if we joined in, would you?"

"Oh, um, no, I mean yes.  I suppose UCLA is a very good school, and I wouldn't have to be alone...  OK, let's do it."

Rock was a little surprised that the youngest child in the room, an orange-haired girl who looked to have just begun puberty, planned on attending UCLA.  But, well, these Arrivals are all special in their own way -- himself included -- so he decided there was really nothing to be surprised about.

A gray PT-boat pulled up along side the boat.  Suddenly Yukari-sensei appeared on the deck of the boat.  "What are you morons doing on an amusement park boat in the ocean?"
"Oh no!" Tomo cried!  "It's the Teacher from the Black Lagoon!"
"Kitto daijoubu da yo." - Sakura Kinomoto
RE: [IC][Story] There's Nothing Better!
September 8, 2016, 1:25 PM
The Westwood Apartments
San Antonio, TX, USA

The toiletries situation was shelved for tomorrow’s errands.  As far as Benjamin was concerned, there were bigger fish to fry.

“Okay,” said Washu as she followed Ben around with tablet.  “So these cabinets to either side of the sink are going to get knocked out, and then the space filled in with a dishwasher on one side and a laundry machine on the other...  That’s not gonna leave much room for storage.

Benjamin shrugged.  “Sasami might like storing her utensils on a rack anyhow.  And she’ll probably prefer to store her knives in a block, too.  Other than that, I don’t think you guys are gonna have a lot of tableware.”

“True,” agreed Washu.  “But if you ever get tenants who are not used to kicking it Japanese style...”

Ben sighed.  “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.  For now, we’re just gonna do the units that we’ll need for the time being.”

Washu nodded.  “Right.  You mentioned wanting a trash compactor?”

“Yeah, we can fit one between the oven and the refrigerator.”

“You don’t think we’ll be generating that much waste, do you?”

“I would hope that you guys would use it for recyclables.  We don’t presort here in San Antonio.  They do that at the recycling center.  Although we do have a composting program, but I’ll have to get in touch with the city to arrange for that.”

“No trash incinerators?”

“Nah.  Never have.  Too much concern over the aquifer getting contaminated.”

“That easily?”

“It’s a Karst formation.”

“Ahhhh.  Hardly an aquifer at all, then.”

“Well, except for the fact that it’s probably one of the world’s largest natural biofilters.”

Washu blinked.  “No kidding?  I’ll have to look into that.  Stuff like that is really is a natural treasure.”

“Yeah, and people around here know it.  Anyhow, let’s move on to the REALLY big project.”

“Right.  The bathrooms.  Everyone was pretty dismayed about the toilet, lavatory, and bath tub all sharing the same space.”

“Yeah, can’t really blame them, so let’s see...  I’m sure you’ll want to replace the HVAC system with something more efficient.”

Washu nodded.  “Them being gas-fired for heat is fine, but the efficiency really leaves something to be desired.  Especially the cooling system.”

“So what do you have in mind?”

“A four-zone system covering the kitchen and dining area, living area, and bedrooms.  For the cooling we’ll use a solar-fired evaporative system.  And the heating we can put the natural gas to use by firing a central boiler for the individual units.  Speaking of boilers, while the central boiler system for the hot water sounds nice, it takes forever for it to get there.  What say you to an on-demand system in each unit?”

“Fine by me.  I actually prefer those.  And natural gas is practically cheap as dirt around here.  So, let’s have two per unit - one for the bathroom and one for the kitchen.”

Washu nodded as she made more notes.  “Got it.  Now, back to the HVAC, I suspect you want to move it?”

“Yeah, into where the current corner of the living room is, adjacent to the bath tub’s current location.  That way we can tuck the on-demand water heater in there as well.”

“Good.  How about the toilet and lavatory?”

“Okay...  Let’s move all that out of there and just have that space be exclusively for the bathing area.  And that I’d like to rework with actual Japanese style fixtures.  As for where the toilet goes... let’s make an alcove right here on the other side of the wall between the bathroom and the current living room wall.  And another one right next to that with the vanity.  We can put a pocket door in there that’ll isolate the toilet room from the lavatory, and we can have a little changing room just behind the lavatory that leads into the bathroom.”

“Hmmm.  Looks like that’s going to reduce the living area from an eight tatami space to a six tatami.  Not bad, still, especially when each bedroom is eight tatamis and the dining area is almost six-and-a-half tatamis...  It’s definitely not home, but this is practically palatial by the standards of Tokyo living.”

I snorted.  “Yeah, I think Tenchi is still having an existential crisis over what the hell he’s gonna do with all that space, but I think that’ll be fixed by reordering the bathrooms in the one-bedroom units.”

Washu nodded at that.  “Indeed.  Little bit less room to work with in those smaller units.  Let’s go plan that out now.”

Time passes.  Things settled in.

The new laundromat machines came in, all bright and shiny.  Once they were all installed, Benjamin took the old units to the nearby Habitat for Humanity - a sort of thrift store for home improvement.

The apartments were steadily remodeled, one a day, using carpentry drones Washu pulled out of her lab.  Though it less ‘carpentry’ and more ‘matter rearrangement’.  Washu didn’t mind as it meant that the personal bathrooms were in a much more acceptable configuration.

And then there was the issue of the ‘public’ bath.

Benjamin had some clever ideas there.  He had the manager’s office in the middle of the complex reworked.  Originally, it never existed when the complex was first built and the Manager’s Office had been a small office space above the laundromat.  Ben went and restored that space to its original function while letting the small building in the center of the complex be repurposed as an entryway to the new baths.

Ryoko couldn’t make her floating onsen because of our proximity to the Air Force Base.  So instead, she had to settle for a dimensional pocket instead.  And, on top of that, Benjamin stipulated that there would be completely separate bathing areas for males and females.  But he did make a concession for a third ‘Family Bathing’ area - but only if there was a sign clearly posted that no one had any right to complain about the mixed gender nature of that area.

That said, Ben had Washu-chan lay out some... Interesting penalties for violations of polite etiquette or tricking someone into going in the wrong bathing area.

There was only one other thing that they had to do...

September 14, 2016, 10:55 AM
The Westwood Apartments
San Antonio, TX, USA

“Okay guys," said Benjamin in the ad-hoc classroom they'd made of one of the unmodified two-bedroom units, "let’s get started with an overview of what we’ll be doing here today.”

“But I thought we already knew,” said Ayeka.

“Well, we’re gonna go over it in detail.  In other words, we’re reviewing the course syllabus.”

“Oh!  I see then.  Please, let’s carry on.”

“Thank you.  So, in brief, we’re going to be covering the subjects that you guys won’t make passing grades on for the GED examination.  Primarily, that is the Social Studies section of the test.  As such, we’re going to cover the history of Earth as well as the history of the USA - just the major events.  Mind you, the test itself will supply the relevant informational materials so you can better answer the questions that go with it.  This will course will only serve to familiarize you enough with our history so you’re less likely to be confused by a question on the test.

“We’re also gonna gloss over mathematics, science, reading comprehension, and writing a short essay.  As I’m certain that all of you can handle those subjects, this will all just serve to make sure you know what to expect on the examination.

“And really, don’t sweat it.  The GED is a lot easier than you might be thinking.  I literally aced the whole thing when I had to take it cold-turkey during my time at US Navy Recruit Training.  You guys just need a bit of help and a preview of what’s to come, and you’ll be able to ace it, too.
“Okay, enough about the generalities.  Let’s get down into the gnitty-gritty.”

It should probably surprise no one that everyone aced the GED examination.  As Benjamin had said, it really isn't that hard of a test.  The only other issue was dealing with Sasami's guardianship.  Ryoko and Noike's papers had them as being 20 and 22, respectively.  Washu's had her age at 25.  ("Really?  You had to go for the Christmas Cake joke?"  "Why not?  It's a hilarious jab at my appearance!")  Tenchi and Ayeka were both 17 - not technically adults, but easily dealt with by emancipation paperwork.  The only tricky spot was Sasami.  Being at the tender age of ten, she HAD to have someone as a legal guardian.  But that was simply handled by assigning that role to Noike.

Soon enough, everyone had ID cards, passports with the proper visas, and all the other bureaucratic sundries needed to get by without being noticed by the government.

There had been only minor hiccups with acclimation - while America was very different from Japan, it was still close enough in time.  The only major difference was how information technology had progressed lately, and Tenchi had to get used to the idea that we did a lot of things using the Internet.

With everything nice and tidy, Benjamin only wondered who was going to show up next.

Yasuri Nanami is my number one waifu, if only because she would horribly murder all the others if they didn't shut up and toe the line.
"They did not care about all the other attempts wizards had made on the Lone Power through history; as far as a computer is concerned, there is no program that cannot be debugged, or at worst, rewritten."
-Diane Duane, High Wizardry
"If our friendship depends on things like space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"
-Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

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