Categories > Original > Sci-Fi > FAQing Hostile: The Sword and the Sheath

Part 1: Kenishi's Tale

by MarkPoa 1 Reviews

In a desolate post-apocalyptic landscape, a pair of adventurers search for the survivors of Otakuland.

Category: Sci-Fi - Rating: PG - Genres: Action/Adventure, Humor, Parody, Romance, Sci-fi - Characters:  - Published: 2006/03/28 - Updated: 2006/03/28 - 7092 words

>>
It all started a few months ago, sometime during the spring of 2134.
Otakuland, the world's main concentration of otaku culture -- and our
home -- had been destroyed by its own orbital laser strike defense
system. Everyone within the city at that time was reduced to a crisp.
Those who were lucky enough to be outside Otakuland remained alive,
but homeless and scattered across the coast.

We were two of those survivors. And we were on a mission to find the
other surviving otaku and get them a new home.

No one told us it was going to be tough.

********

The Sword and the Sheath
A FAQing Hostile Gaiden Duology
By Mark Poa
FAQing Hostile series spawned by Twoflower

(Note: FAQing Hostile is a round-robin series hosted at
http://www.improfanfic.com . This story was originally hosted at
http://www.improfanfic.com/faq/ )

********

Part 1: Kenishi's Tale

********

Series Chronology: This duology takes place between chapters 5
and 10 of the main FAQing Hostile storyline. This story is mostly
self-contained and is not meant to be part of the main storyline. It
shows what could have happened to Kenishi and Arashi in their search
for Otakuland survivors.

********

I switched on the outside cameras. Arashi was standing behind my
chair, her left hand on the backrest. We watched the monitor as
Sherman and Strike Team Theta moved away from our position. Once they
were well on their way, I started warming up the hovercraft's engine.
We had to leave as soon as possible.

"I'm going out back to check our supplies," my wife informed me. I
listened to her graceful movements as she made her way to the back of
the hovercraft, to the supply room. I checked to see that she was out
of the bridge before turning back at the screen and frowning.

Though I didn't want to admit it to her, I wasn't entirely comfortable
leaving Strike Team Theta on their own. The Hiroshima siblings
weren't exactly Strike Team vets. Plus, they had an injured newbie
and a Goth girl traveling with them. After hearing about their little
adventure in DisneyWorld, I thought Vixen would have freaked out and
started taking some of that Phreakachu's downers. Any other newbie
commander would have.

I didn't know how they were going to react to what we already knew of
Otakuland's destruction. Frankly, I would rather they traveled with
us.

However, the recent destruction of Otakuland required that we maximize
our resources and work on the problem on two fronts.

I could have been underestimating the Hiroshima siblings, though. Come
to think of it, Amuro Ray wasn't much of a vet when he piloted the
Gundam RX-78 and look how he turned out! Maybe I shouldn't be too
concerned for those kids. They would probably turn out okay.

Then again, maybe not.

Kuso, worrying always made me feel so out of control. I shook my head
to dispel the lingering doubts. I told myself that everything would
be just fine. I reminded myself that I should simply concentrate on
our half of the mission. Finding those Otakuland survivors was not
going to be a walk in the park, after all.

I fired up the engines and the Rurouni was on its way.

********

Arashi and I rarely argued about things. It was often a breathe of
fresh air when we did. They always broke the monotony.

Although I must admit that, while I didn't like arguing with her, the
making-up part was always fun.

We hadn't even reached the former Otakuland site, let alone found any
survivors, yet we were having our first argument.

"Hon, I don't think we should," Arashi admonished.

"Well, why shouldn't we?" I replied, all the while steering past
the sand dunes. "I mean, when we do manage to find those survivors,
we're going to need supplies. The nearest Retirement Enclave is the
best bet I can think of to get the medicine and supplies we need. You
know that they're well-stocked with medicine," I explained, pushing a
few more buttons on the control panel to maintain external sensor
readings.

For some reason, Arashi always chose to argue with me while I piloted
the Rurouni. Probably because she thought I was not going to pay much
attention to the argument and let her get the upper hand. Piloting
took a lot of concentration from me. She won arguments because of
that a few times.

Well, maybe not exactly.

Okay, she usually won our arguments.

Happy now?

However, this argument was going to be an exception.

"I just... I don't know. Maybe it's just...well, I really can't stand
those Retirement centers! They make me feel old!" Arashi finally
admitted. She pouted in that kawaii way of hers that had made me
mistake her for a member of the Holy Broom Circle when I had first met
her.

I couldn't help but chuckle heartily, stopping only when the shuriken
my wife threw lodged itself in the back of my chair with a thud. I
wiped away the sweat that had appeared on my forehead.

Putting on my most pleasing smile, I turned to look at her. "Don't
worry about it, dear. I don't think they're going to ask you to stay
there yet." She looked at me quizzically. I don't know if she took
that in the right way. I couldn't stop myself from snickering again,
so I turned my face to look at the control panel. I believed that a
reconciliatory remark was in order. "You still look as young as the
day I met you, my little Megami." I turned my head around to look at
her reaction and winked. Ryo Saeba would have been proud.

Or maybe not.

Arashi hmped at my remark. "Don't think you're going to get the upper
hand through compliments, Kenishi," she retorted back with a familiar
tone in her voice. She was giving me that look -- the look that said
either give in or sleep in the pilot's chair for a week.

I sighed. "Okay, I'm not going to force you to come with me. I'll
go there and talk with them by myself. You can stay here and look
after the ship. And I promise that we're not going to stay long," I
compromised. I saw her face soften a bit at my words.

"Fine," she said. I could tell from the way her lips curved slightly
that she was pleased ... and probably a bit surprised that I agreed
easily. Maybe I was just too tired to drag the conversation out. I
returned my full attention to my piloting.

Said attention almost faltered when Arashi tenderly wrapped her arms
around my neck. It caught me by surprise -- pleasantly so.

She whispered into my ear, "So, do I really look as young as when we
first met?" The sexy way she said it almost made me drop the
controls.

"Of course, you know I do, dear. Forgive me, then?" I asked, turning
to kiss her.

She moved back before I landed the kiss. I almost toppled over and
lost control of the hovercraft again.

Walking backwards with her hands clasped behind her back, Arashi
giggled in that cute way of hers. "Maybe yes, maybe no," she teased
and winked. "If you find a campsite and land this hovercraft for the
night, maybe you'll find out." She went to the back, where I heard
our bedroom door open and close.

I wasted no time finding a place to land the Rurouni. Wouldn't you?

Like I said earlier, the making up part was always fun.

********

It took me nearly an hour of haggling, but I finally got the Enclave
director to give me the medical supplies I wanted. All in all, they
cost me two second-hand DVD players. Not a bad deal, really.

"I tell you, it's such a pain keeping these old people healthy," the
director said. He stood up to escort me out of his office, which was
fine with me. I was starting to choke from the cigar smoke.

I tried offering him some more CDs and other stuff we had in stock,
but he refused to part with more medicine. No biggie. There were
times when I pushed my luck and times when I simply took whatever I
could.

Let me give you some info on the Retirement Enclave. They're a
majorly neutral tribe, something like Switzerland in the old days,
before the great wars. They didn't take sides in the fighting around
them. Because of that, the different tribes often traded with the
Enclave.

Another thing: they also took in old timers from the other tribes. A
lot of the surrounding tribes would leave their old people at the
Enclave -- kind of like getting rid of dead weight. The Retirement
Enclave, for Kami-knows what reason, always took these folks in. No
matter what hellhole tribe they came from, they always took them in.
Not that there were much old people around, considering that only a
blessed few actually reached the so-called "retirement age".

Otakuland was one of the few tribes that didn't send old people here.
That was mainly because old anime taught Otakus to respect their
elders, even after they were reduced to grouchy, irritable old coots.

Don't ask me why the Enclave takes these people in. Like I said, I
don't know. Frankly, I think they do it for their own amusement.
I've heard stories...

Anyway, I probably shouldn't knock them. With Otakuland East gone,
I might end up in the Enclave when I reach old age. Assuming I reach
that age, of course.

Mr. Dodgers opened the door. "I hope to do business with you again,
Mr. Kenishi," he said using his salesman tone. "I extend my
condolences for the loss of your home. I just finished doing business
with one of your traders when it happened, I hear. I hope that your
search would be fruitful. Can you say `I hope'?" He smiled. I could
have sworn his teeth glittered for a second, which made me wonder
whether a guy could brush his teeth that much.

"Thanks for your help. I appreciate it. Well, I better get back to
my ship. Wife's waiting." I made my way past him and the door...

And found myself looking straight down the barrel of an antique
shotgun.

"Why, lookee here. Haw! If it ain' my granshon Cletus!"

My gaze moved from the rifle to one holding it - an old man sitting on
a wheelchair. He looked about seventy years old and wore a leather
jacket and a biker's helmet. The helmet had a hole in the top letting
his white-haired mohawk stand out. Around his neck were some silver
chains sporting several charms and beads. Far as I could tell, he was
probably from one of those biker tribes.

"Came to see your ol' granpaw, ya hooligan?!?" the old man asked in
that weird accent of his. He was definitely a Biker Yokel, on account
of his way of talking and clothes. Not that the realization helped
make me calmer. From the way his fingers were shaking, I was afraid
they would slip and press the trigger.

"Com'ere and give my shotgun a smooch!" he continued, moving the head
of the shotgun closer to my lips. That gun was starting to get
annoying.

I was about ready to knock the gun out of the guy's hand when Mr.
Dodgers stepped forward between the two of us. He pushed the gun away
from him and made some tsk, tsk sounds.

"Grandpa McDugg, this is not your grandson. What did I tell you about
leaving your room without your tranquils?" The old man's eyes seemed
to widen at the mere sight of Dodgers. The biker lowered the gun and
then snapped his fingers.

"Aww, shucks, I coulda swore my granson waz visitin'!" he drawled.
Mr. Dodgers smiled at him and patted him on the shoulder.

"Now, don't you worry, Grandpa. I will personally notify you if your
relatives ever come visit." He pressed a button on some small device
he held and a nurse came rushing down the corridor. "Now, you go
along with Bruno here and he'll bring you to the rec room where you
can have some fun with our friends. Can you say `fun'?" Dodgers
asked. The old man nodded. Dodgers smiled one last time at the man
and motioned to the nurse. Bruno took McDugg down the hall.

The director turned back to face me. "I'm dreadfully sorry about
that, Mr. Kenishi. As you can see, these old people can be a little
bit anxious sometimes. Relatives visiting are as rare as not finding
a cockroach on the floor." He stepped on a passing roach for
emphasis. "Anyway, they can really be a little bit eccentric once in
a while. Not insane, no no. That's too harsh a word. Can you say
`eccentric'?"

I supposed that if this was an anime, I would be sporting a sweatdrop
on the back of my head. I mumbled my goodbye and went down the
corridor.

I turned the corner and the girl standing there caught my eye.

She was a plain-looking kid. Her face was a bit dirty but her blond
hair was held neatly by a headband. Nothing special about her
clothes, although they had probably seen better days.

What caught my eye was her stuffed toy. It was a Xellos plushie.

I approached the girl. I must have scared her when I came nearer
because she bolted and ran.

"Hey, kid! Stop!" I yelled to her. Either she didn't hear me or she
was really spooked, but she did not stop. I followed her as she ran
down the hall. Though the hall was a bit crowded with old-timers, the
girl moved through them easily.

Some of the old guys in the corridor stared at me as I passed, but I
didn't pay them any attention. The girl entered a room to the left.
I followed her in.

The girl was hiding behind a woman -- probably her mother. She had
the same blond hair and blue eyes as the girl. The girl clutched
tightly at the woman's blue fuku. I could tell that the woman was
wondering who the hell I was. Her eyes were studying me intently.

In front of the two, a teenage boy stood holding an old-looking wooden
bokken. He was a bit thin but he held the wooden sword confidently. I
looked around the room and saw a Kimagure Orange Road poster
thumbtacked to the wall.

My suspicions were confirmed. They were Otakuland survivors.

"Look, I'm sorry for scaring the girl." I held out my hands to show
that I wasn't armed. The three seemed to relax a bit. "I'm otaku
too. I believe that you have heard about Otakuland's destruction."

Hearing that I was also an otaku, the woman touched the boy on the
shoulder. "I"ll handle this," she told him. She approached me. "How
do we know you're really an otaku? You could be one of those
responsible for Otakuland's destruction!" There was a determination
in her eyes that told me I better convince her good.

"Okay, how about this scar on my cheek?" I pointed at my scar. "Don't
you think that looks too much like Kenshin Himura's scar?" The woman
still did not look convinced.

"You could have researched about that somewhere," she said defiantly.
Behind her, the girl still clutched tightly to her skirt.

I was beginning to be annoyed. I never had to prove I was an otaku
before. What was I supposed to do? Take a goddamn otaku purity test
or something?

"Okay, you tell me how I'm supposed to prove I'm an otaku," I replied.
The two kids at her side looked uneasily from me to her. She folded
her arms across her chest.

"Okay, pop quiz, hotshot. You're commanding a giant spaceship.
Zentraedi enemy mechs are swarming around you. Your Valkyries are
outnumbered 5 to 1. You have two options: execute a Boson jump or
stay in your position and fight. What do you do? What do you do?"
She frowned weirdly -- probably trying to look tough. I had to look a
little bit away to keep from laughing at her attempt to intimidate me.

I failed.

I burst into chuckles. The woman looked really annoyed. "Girl," I
said, after getting rid of my giggles. "If you're trying to find me
out to be a fraud by mixing Macross terminologies with Nadesico
physics, you're pretty darn sugoi! That's a clever way to test an
otaku," I admitted.

Her frown changed to a smile. "He's alright," she assured the kids.
Then, she turned to me and said, "I'm sorry for not believing you
earlier."

"It's nothing. You must be edgy, especially after what happened to
Otakuland."

She nodded. "I was sent here to trade for some supplies when I heard
from some traveling Racketeers that Otakuland had been destroyed. I
couldn't believe it at first. I left the kids here to investigate for
myself. It was horrible! It was worse than a Dirty Pair ending!"
She released a few sobs, then accepted a tissue from the boy and blew
her nose.

"How come you have those kids with you?" I inquired. It wasn't often
that kids were allowed to go outside Otakuland.

"Oh." She removed the girl's grip from her skirt and pushed her
towards me. "This is my daughter, Elina. Her father died in a fight
with the Ears. I told the Council that I could not leave her with
anyone after that. They allowed me to take her with me. The boy," she
pointed to the boy as she continued, "is Yosh. He's apprenticing
under me. I took him with me so that he could learn dealing with the
Enclave." She paused. "Oh, I haven't introduced myself. My name's
Farina Battle. I was once a member of the Washu-chan Mad Science
Circle, but switched to trading duty after my husband was killed."

"The name's Kenishi, former Strike Team, more recently Otakuland
merchant. I also saw what happened to the old place. It's horrible,
really." I didn't know what else to add. The two kids were looking at
me nervously.

"Well, I am hoping to bring together all the Otakuland survivors," I
continued. "My wife's outside in our hovercraft. It's roomy enough
for you and the kids to travel with us, while we look for other
survivors and a place to stay."

I could have sworn I heard Yosh mumble "I'm not a kid!" but didn't pay
much attention to it. I continued again, "Or maybe you would rather
stay here?"

Farina shook her head. "No, I don't think we should stay here much
longer. Besides, I don't know what effect hanging around all these
weird old people is having on the children," she admitted. Once
again, I thought I heard Yosh say "I'm not a kid!". I could see him
grumbling from the corner of my eye. Elina looked excited, now that
she was over her earlier fright. Maybe she was frightened by my scar
and eyepatch? Maybe.

I smiled at them. "Okay, then. I think Arashi's going to enjoy the
company."

*******

The next three days were disappointing. After finding Farina and the
two kids in the Enclave, we did not get any more reports or news as to
where there could be more Otakuland survivors. The Rurouni made a few
more stops at several neutral and friendly tribes to see if there were
otaku there. No such darn luck. I was beginning to think we had a
curse following us.

I was right about Arashi enjoying the company, though. No matter how
much we enjoyed each other's company, having other people to talk to
was sometimes better. I could understand that.

Elina turned out to be more chipper than she let on. She was like
Sana Kurata on sugar shock--when she was not intimidated. Arashi
enjoyed being with her. Frankly, it made me wonder if Arashi might be
thinking about having kids.

The matter seldom came up between us. We always assumed we would be
having kids, just not while we were traveling in a hovercraft from
place to place. She had a pretty good mothering instinct that wanted
to pop out. I saw how much she enjoyed taking care of other people's
kids back when we were still staying in Otakuland. I was sure that if
we were...no, scratch that -- when we would have kids, she'd make a
great mom.

Anyway, enough about my family life. Our other companion, the boy
Yosh, was pretty spunky, too. He reminded me a lot about those hot-
headed heroes in those old mecha shows who were always asking
questions and training themselves. He wanted to learn how to do lots
of things. I agreed to teach him how to pilot the Rurouni and he
practically wai'ed.

Those three weeks weren't totally a loss, of course. We did find a few
buildings near Otakuland to set up as a shelter and our headquarters.
The buildings were clumped together and had lots of room. They needed
a little setting up, but other than that they were fine.

I set up a DVD viewing station in one of the rooms. Arashi converted
another room to act as a medical station. That was going to see some
use in the future.

Yosh, I must admit, was pretty handy around the place. He did a lot
of the electronics stuff and odd jobs around the place.

In order to keep her from getting bored, we let Elina watch Wedding
Peach and Sailor Moon rather than let her get in the way. Most of the
time, she stayed in the viewing room quietly. But sometimes, she'd
get it into her little head to help out her mom or Arashi in their
work.

That almost caused an accident once, Arashi told me. But I wasn't
there to see it.

The result of our work was a temporary Otakuland. Now all we needed
were the survivors to shelter there.

******

Over the next few days, our luck started to change.

It started when we got a radio message from Mr. Dodgers. He was
calling from the Retirement Enclave to tell me about another group of
otaku who'd just showed up looking for shelter. I'd asked him to get
ahold of me if something like this happened, and he had promised he'd
call me the second that anyone showed up around his place.

We headed out and picked up the otaku from the Enclave and took them
back to our makeshift shelter. They were mostly all civilians -
Otakuland Gineers -- but there were a few Guardsmen with them. Half
of them had injuries that needed treatment. We rushed those to the
medical station where Arashi and Farina looked after them. Those who
were uninjured still looked like something a Mew dragged in. They
were haggard and their clothes were worn. We tried to help them out
as best we could. But from the smiles on their faces, they were
probably just plain happy to see people of their own tribe.

A few of them told me that their group had been inspecting some ruins
outside of Otakuland when it had been destroyed. Afterwards, they ran
into some trouble with scavenger tribes looking for easy pickings.
They managed to fight off the scavengers, but they suffered some
losses.

The following day, another set of otaku refugees arrived. This time,
they came on motorcycles. The latest arrivals were members of Squad
Epsilon, a motorcycle squad chasing after some spies around the time
Otakuland was destroyed. The six members of the squad were
understandably shocked by what they saw. At least, their homecoming
was greeted by other otaku, not like when Arashi and I had first seen
the destruction. After the initial shock, though, the boys pitched in
with the search, using their motorbikes to cover more area than we
could have with the Rurouni.

It was Youji, the captain of Squad Epsilon, who brought in Cutter.

******

"Sir! I must ask you to reconsider sending a rescue mission!" Cutter
banged his fist on the table for emphasis.

An hour had already passed and we still could not decide. Cutter was
seated across from me. The other people around the table were my
wife, Farina, Youji, and Kirara-san, a member of the Tofu medical
circle who was among those we recovered from the Enclave.

Cutter was a member of Strike Team Omega. Their airship, the Westward
Highwind, was trapped in a freak storm near the coast that nearly
swept them to sea. They heard about the Otakuland disaster from radio
reports they managed to pick up on the way back. Unfortunately,
according to Cutter, on their way home, their airship was blown out of
the sky by a rocket to the primary engine. Cutter narrated how those
who managed to parachute safely down were captured by SeaWorld
caretakers. Including him.

Now he wanted us to send a rescue mission to save the three who were
still held in SeaWorld.

"And I keep telling you that we do not have the manpower to do it!"
Youji retorted back. As the highest-ranked military personnel
present, I had given him the authority to decide whether we would
unertake the mission or not. After all, I had given up my rank when I
retired. And I would rather not take up all the responsibility around
here. He continued, "we cannot afford to send people on a rescue
mission where there is a possibility that more would die than be
saved. I simply cannot risk it!"

"Fine! Then at least let me go there myself to rescue them!" Cutter
suggested fiercely. "If I don't make it back, it won't matter."

"Boy, I respect your bravery. But this is just sheer stupidity!! We
don't even know how strong their forces are, let alone how to go about
the rescue," Kirara-san interjected.

"No! It's not hopeless. I was held prisoner there for two weeks,"
Cutter reminded us. "Me and my friends, we studied our captors
thoroughly. There couldn't be more than twenty-five of them. And
most of those men were bakas, at best. They act untrained. If we
weren't injured when our airship exploded, we could have taken them
on! Seven Hells, I was injured and I managed to escape!" he finished.

Youji sighed and shook his head. Farina looked around uncertain,
fidgeting and biting her lower lip. Kirara-san sighed, too.

I hadn't said much during the entire meeting. Neither had Arashi. I
looked in her direction. She looked back at me with a fierce look on
her face. Without words, I could tell she was all for backing Cutter's
proposition. This put me in a quandary because I agreed with Youji.
Arashi knew this from my expression, too.

However, I also realized that Cutter would not back down. Most likely,
he'd run off on his own and get himself killed in the process. It was
what I would have done in the old days. It was only due to my own
freakish luck that I lived as long as I had, given my tendency to make
like a berserker Eva in those days.

I sighed, then stood up.

"Youji," I said, getting the captain's attention. "If I may suggest
something? I could head out with Cutter and complete this rescue
mission. With fewer men involved, you and your group can continue
with your search and leave the rescue to us. I can bring Yosh along
with me for tech support. With Cutter's inside information on
SeaWorld, I believe that we could pull this thing off without a hitch.
Besides, I have experience with rescue missions; and the fewer men to
botch it up, the better."

I half-expected Arashi to suggest that she go with me, but for some
reason, she didn't. She just smiled at me. Cutter, however, looked
like a kid who had received a new model kit for Christmas.

Youji stood up. "Okay, Kenishi-san, I leave it to you. But I must
insist that one of my men follow you. For back-up. Take Spriggs. He
has the fastest bike among us." And with that, Youji stood up to
signal the end of the meeting.

I told Cutter to meet me later so we could make plans for the next
day. I left the room with Arashi walking a little behind me.

I couldn't hold my curiosity any longer. I placed a hand on her
shoulder. She turned to me.

"How come you didn't insist on coming with us?" I asked. Her face
frowned a little, then she smiled.

"Kenishi, dear, I need to stay here with Kirara-san and help out with
the wounded. He still hasn't recovered his speed yet and you know
that he is still adjusting to the loss of his right eye. Yosh cannot
cobble together a replacement yet." She placed her hand on my cheek
and traced my scar with her palm. It felt like an angel was touching
me. "Besides," she added, "I think that you may be right. This
mission probably won't take you long to complete. You have made
successful rescue attempts in your time."

"In my time?" I replied with mock indignation. "Do I look that old?"

"Well," she leaned close to me and whispered in my ear. "I know just
what the old guy needs to make himself feel young again."

I grinned.

Did I tell you how much I love my wife?

******

"Bye, hon," Arashi said as she gave me a goodbye kiss. "I'll be
expecting you boys to be back before the next sundown."

"Don't worry about it," I assured her. "This is going to be a run of
the mill rescue operation." I started up the ladder and into the
hovercraft hatch, waving to her before I closed the door. I motioned
to Cutter to check all the fuel lines and told Yosh to make sure that
Spriggs kept following us in his motorcycle.

The trip to SeaWorld was largely uneventful. We made camp a few
kilometers outside their settlement and observed the surroundings.
From this distance, we could almost make out the ragged flags with
dolphin design waving atop those ruined walls. Cutter pointed out to
me where we were most likely to expect trouble. I mentally marked
those sites.

We ate our rations and waited for the sun to go down. Meanwhile, Yosh
kept on pestering me with his questions.

"Kenishi-san, why do you keep using your gun when you're kickass with
swords? Isn't it more of the otaku way to follow the example of
samurais?" That was one question he kept bugging me with since I
chose to use my magnum to kill some scavengers around the shelter. I
could tell that he fancied himself as my Yahiko, though I would have
made a disappointing Battousai.

I sighed aloud. "Yosh-boy," I chided. "Maybe you think doing that
`killing with only a sword and evading bullets with godspeed' stuff is
a breeze to pull through. Maybe it is for some people. But not for
me. I have had bad experiences with swords." I left it like that.
Let him make his own judgments.

"Bad experiences? Oh, you mean, like how you got your scar and lost
your eye?" he asked, munching on some stale cookies.

"No, this," I said, pointing to my scar, "I got from fooling around
with things I shouldn't have. And this," I said as I pointed to my
patch, "was the result of an electronic device that exploded in front
of my face when I was a kid. The blast left my eye welded shut." I
lifted the eyepatch to let him see my wound and chuckled when he
turned squeamish. I replaced the eyepatch. "Any more stupid
questions?" He shook his head and continued his meal.

Cutter chuckled from watching our exchange. He took a drink from his
beer. "Well," he piped in. "Why don't you prefer the sword, old man?
I thought that you would be all Kenshin Himura-like, rather than fight
Ryo Saeba-style. Namesake and all, ya know?"

I shot Cutter a look. "Call me old man again, boy, and I'll show
you some of my old tricks," I threatened him. He paled a bit but
regained control of himself. "And as for why I prefer the gun to the
blade," I continued, "let's just say, I'm a better shot with one eye
than a slasher with two hands. Don't make me demonstrate it to you."

We resumed our meal in silence. Damn! I hated snapping off like
that. The last thing I needed was conflict among us.

Don't know what came over me. Maybe I was just tired.

Maybe I should have brought Arashi with me.

Lots of maybes.

I felt that I had to apologize for ruining the mood. I started, "Look
you two, I'm sorry for snapping at you guys like that."

Their expressions betrayed surprise. They probably weren't expecting
me to apologize. Cutter was the first one to speak up. "Sorry for
calling you old man, Kenishi-san. I didn't mean offense."

"Sorry, Kenishi-san," Yosh muttered.

"Never mind, you guys." I flashed them a tense smile. They smiled
back. "No harm done."

"Guys! People are starting to leave the settlement!" Spriggs called
from where he was keeping watch. "There seems to be around ten of
them leaving!"

The three of us climbed the sand dune to join Spriggs. He was right,
although there were probably twenty of them departing the SeaWorld
gates.

"We're luckier than we thought!" Cutter exclaimed. "The number of
guards inside is reduced. We can finish this rescue in no time!"

"Don't be so foolhardy yet, Cutter," I warned.

Damn the irony. Twenty years ago, I could have been the one saying
what he just said. How experience could change a man.

"Still, this is our best chance of getting those otaku inside free,"
Sprigs pointed out.

I nodded and motioned them to put our plan into action.

******

Because Cutter knew the interior and numbers of the enemy, we thought
that knowledge and the element of surprise would be on our side.

Because we saw around twenty armed SeaWorld Handlers leaving the area,
we thought that SeaWorld would be undermanned and underdefended.

We thought that this mission would be a breeze.

Oy vey, did we ever think wrong.

Let me start with the good news. We managed to get the otaku
prisoners out of their cells after disposing of their guards. The
remaining two, at least. The Handlers fed one to the giant mutated
sea bass they trained there. I would rather not know what those fish
looked like.

On the way out of SeaWorld, that's where we encountered the problems.

Apparently, the Handlers numbered more than twenty five, despite what
Cutter had told us. Either they added more guards after Cutter made
his escape or the other Handlers were away when the otaku were
captured. Either way, we found ourselves literally running for our
lives, trying to make it out of SeaWorld alive.

I managed to hit two more of the approaching Handlers as I covered
Spriggs and Cutter. The Handlers waved their cattle prods at us
menacingly. A few carried harpoon guns, one of which managed to hit
Spriggs on the leg. That made it harder for him to carry one of the
guys we rescued.

We managed to find cover behind an old souvenir stand and took a
breather. Cutter was already there with the other prisoner.

"How can we get out of here?" Cutter asked nervously. He looked back
at our pursuers and fired five shots to slow them down.

"I'm working on it," I hissed under my breath. I opened my comm unit
and shouted at it, "Yosh! Get the Rurouni here, now!"

"Yokai!" came the voice from the comm.

The area behind us was relatively open ground. From the corner of my
eye, I saw the Rurouni make its way around an old aquarium. The air
beneath the vehicle kicked up the glass shards that were once part of
the aquarium. Yosh maneuvered the hovercraft beautifully, finally
reaching our position. He stopped near our hiding place. He did
good.

Then he made a mistake. A big one.

The hatch of the Rurouni opened, even before we were ready to make a
run for it. Yosh poked his body out of the hatch and waved at us.

"Guys! Quickly over here! I--ARGGHHH!!!" he yelled in pain as a
harpoon lodged itself in his right shoulder.

"Damn!" I swore, reloading and firing my gun at the Handlers. "Bring
those two to the hovercraft! Cutter, take care of Yosh! Warm up the
engine and prepare to leave! I'll cover!" I ordered the two soldiers,
who nodded and did what they were told. I provided cover fire for
them as they made their way to the hovercraft.

I paused briefly to reload. When I looked up, I was shocked by what I
saw.

These SeaWorld people had a TANK! Not just a tank, it was huge! It
was slightly smaller than Strike Team Theta's Sherman, but it sported
large missile launchers on its rear. I remembered Cutter saying that
their airship was shot down by a rocket. This was probably where that
rocket had come from.

The tank's turret started to move and appeared to bear down on
something...

The Rurouni.

"Get the hovercraft out of here!" I yelled into the comm unit.

"But what about you?" Cutter's voice asked through the device.

"Don't worry about me! If you don't get going, you're going to be
blown apart by the tank!"

Apparently, they noticed the same thing. The hovercraft started to
move away. However, it was starting up too slow and I could see that
the hovercraft wasn't going to make it.

I felt the adrenaline rush through my system. I dashed as fast as I
could down the hall and fired continuously as I moved. The random
fire confused the Handlers. Some ran off. Some were killed. But that
wasn't what I was aiming to do. My main objective was the tank.

My gun ran out of bullets as I reached the side of the tank. In my
rush and frenzy, I did not notice that a small dart was attached to my
left leg. Must have been a lucky shot, I later thought. I pulled the
dart out and leapt upward, towards the hatch of the tank.

At that point, I was not fully aware of what I was doing. Battle
frenzy had taken over me, as it had taken me in the past. My body
felt alien, as if the pace of the action kept my logical mind from
retaining control over my body. I acted on battle reflexes.

All I knew was that I managed to get the hatch to the tank open,
despite its size. The adrenaline probably increased my strength. In a
flash, I managed to throw in two grenades and jumped off. As I hit
the ground, I rolled away from the tank.

The tank went off with a loud bang. The turret was blown straight off
the main body. Already the Handlers were screaming and running around
in confusion.

I wearily lifted my head and tried to find the Rurouni. I saw it
start to reach the outside gates. Good. They got away. I saw the
dust cloud that the Rurouni kicked up as it gained speed.

That was the last thing I saw before the darkness claimed me.

******

The pain wouldn't leave. I would kill for a painkiller or a
tranquilizer, right no--No, that only reminded me of how I was caught.
Maybe someone should just shoot me and get the whole thing over with.

I experienced firsthand what Cutter and his teammates must have gone
through. The Handlers jolted enough electricity into my body that I
might as well turn into a Raichu. They weren't even doing it to
interrogate me. Just their perverse way of having fun.

As I was hauled back to my cell, I overheard one of them commenting
that the fish preferred their meals well done.

I coughed and spat out blood. My mind tried to recall what happened
during our rescue mission. That dart turned out to be a tranquilizer
dart that put me under for nearly three hours. When I woke up, the
Handlers already had me strung up in the middle of a room where they
conducted their games.

I hoped that the boys got back to the shelter. If they did, they'd
have no problems. I wouldn't want this suffering to be for darn
nothing.

Kuso. I was beginning to sound and think like a blasted martyr.

I shifted my position to be comfortable. The rock hard floor gave
little comfort, though. And my body ached.

I wearily looked around, making out some pictures of marine wildlife
with words written on plaques below them. This had probably been a
museum of some sort. Those animals pictured were probably extinct by
now. And I could be joining them soon.

I stared up at the only window in my cell. It was small enough to
prevent me from climbing out. Not that I had any strength left to
even move from my prone position. From my position, I could see the
moon. It was full out. My mind was starting to wander and I swore
that I could see Arashi's face on the moon's white surface. Great,
I'm starting to hallucinate already. Though I had to admit this
hallucination was comforting.

Arashi.

Kenshin from the classic anime was said to have needed a sheath to
control his inner demons. I suppose Arashi would be the sheath for
this old sword. She brought me an inner peace and joy that I drew
from for strength. If she were here with us on our rescue, a calm
voice to my nervousness, a comforting hand on my shoulder, I doubted
that I would have been taken prisoner like this. For some reason,
battle frenzy never took me whenever she was around. In more ways
than one, she completed me.

Oh, great, I was becoming sentimental. My mind was starting to wander.
But then again, thinking of Arashi put my mind at ease. I silently
thanked whatever Kami in heaven was watching that she was safe. I
uttered my hope that she would continue to be safe.

I slept, uncertain of my future. There was a good chance I might not
have one.

****

[TO BE CONCLUDED]
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