By Rob Kelk
Based on the Drunkard's
Walk and Girls Girls Girls fanfic cycles
created by Robert M. Schroeck
and the Fenspace shared-world setting
created by Sean M. Breen
29 May 2013
Kandor City Spaceport
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Blackstone, but your assistant has already taken care of the problem."
The Blue Blazer Irregulars looked at each other in puzzlement, then looked at their guests.
"As long as I've known Peggy, she's always tended to fly off the handle," commented Lisa. "She probably went in on her own." Under her breath, she muttered, "I really know how Sylia feels now. No more solo actions, Peggy. Please."
They walked over to the Jet Car, where they heard from the open door, "Know your enemy and know yourself. I know that one, Buckaroo."
Dee and Lisa stormed over and leaned into the car. "Peggy ..." they growled in unison.
She looked up, and blushed slightly. Then she turned back to Buckaroo. "Oh, yeah – I also forgot to tell my friends I was leaving."
Lisa glared at her. "We'll discuss that later. In private."
Blackstone walked up, stopping just behind Lisa and Dee. "And you took our car without asking."
"I asked da- I asked Buckaroo!"
"Fine. Whatever. Right now, I just want the car back."
Dee grabbed Peggy and pulled her out of the car. "You know we have to stay together! Remember what Mr. Scott told us about this world?"
"Dee ..." started Lisa.
"I already know," interrupted Buckaroo. "And I'll discuss it with Blackstone and Mr. Scott later. Right now, I'm picking up a distress call from Port Luna – a ship's coming in out of control and we're the only ones with the right equipment close enough to help."
"Duty calls," said Blackstone as he got into the Jet Car. "We're too busy to play tourist, sorry. You can find your own way home, right?" And he sealed the car and took off for the spaceport lock, just as Noah approached.
"But we just got here," complained Dee with a bit of a whine in her voice. "Like, I want to go shopping."
"I never did like 'valley girls,' Ms. vel'deVarn," replied Noah, "so please drop the act. We don't have time to go shopping. We don't even have time to visit the local movie studio where they fake Moon landings, and almost everybody visits them. We have to leave now."
"Why?" asked Lisa.
"I just heard from Yoriko, back on Stellvia – the Professor is on the way here to see me."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"Only if you and the other mages in your group want to avoid spending the rest of your life as guinea pigs in his experiments, Ms. Vanette."
"We'd better get going, then."
The Epsilon Blade
"I feel like I'm a sardine!"
"You have that much room, Luna? Hey, be careful, Rin-Rin – I can't control the electricity in my hands."
"Yes, Ms. Swansen, I know."
"You can't?" asked Makoto. "Maybe I can help you there."
Someone bumped Rin-Rin, and she reflexively switch from English to Japanese. ⌈Ouch! Who keeps hitting my back?⌋
⌈She's in engineering, Sana-san, with Hasegawa-san and Li-san.⌋ Rin-Rin dodged just before having her foot stepped on. ⌈Hey! Please be careful, Mirai!⌋
Noah closed the door on the cacophony behind the bridge. "I'm glad they're only visiting. I hope they're only visiting. Do we have clearance to launch, Yayoi?"
"Yes, Noah. Where are we heading?"
"The Professor's approaching from out-system, so we're going to have to head in-system. Set course for Crystal Tokyo. No, make that Crystal Paris – that might give us a few extra minutes."
"Why?" asked the only visitor on the bridge.
"The Professor dislikes anything that reminds him of France, Ms. Ayanami. I understand he had some bad experiences there."
"Oh. Ms. Fujisawa, does my presence trouble you?"
"Why should it?"
"I am not completely human."
"Neither am I. Both Noah and Mr. Sangnoir taught me that what's inside a person is what matters, not her species or appearance, and everything I've learned since then has proven them right."
"I see." Rei almost smiled.
"Besides, I'm flattered that somebody wants to learn my piloting style. Here, stand beside me so you can get a better view of the touchscreen controls."
She did so. After a moment, she commented, "This is somewhat different from piloting an EVA unit."
Yayoi smiled. "I wouldn't know anything about that ..."
Meanwhile, in the engine room, Skuld was not learning about the Epsilon Blade's technology base.
"Please, m'lady Skuld, tell me about the person I was based on! You actually know her, right?"
"That's weird, the way you asked that in unison. But I guess I won't get to examine these engines unless I tell you what you want to know. Who's first?" Sora and Kohran looked at each other for a long moment. "Well?"
"Tell her first."
"Stop talking in unison! You're freaking me out!"
"Sorry ..." They stopped, and Kohran continued in Japanese. ⌈We're just excited to actually meet you, Skuld-sama.⌋
"I bet no other avatars of my overself have problems with self-aware robots," sighed Skuld. ⌈Kohran, I don't really know much about your analog ...⌋
Stellvia main operations room
"Ma'am, the Kobayashi Maru is hailing us. Their captain wants to know what's going on."
Yoriko turned to the duty officer. "Thank you, Mr. Hansen. Open a tight-beam channel, please."
"Yes, ma'am. Opening a channel to the Kobayashi Maru."
"... know you're in there, Stellvia – we're picking up your normal power signatures."
"We read you, Kobayashi Maru."
"Finally. Hello, Yoriko. Where's Noah?"
"He's off-station right now, Katz."
"In the middle of an apparent crisis? What is wrong over there, anyway?"
"Just a temporary power glitch. You're clear to land in the drydock, Kobayashi Maru."
"Acknowledged, Stellvia. Yoriko, do you have time to talk once I'm aboard?"
She sighed. "I'll make the time. I'll see you – just you – in Stellvia's briefing room in a half-hour, okay?"
After a second, Katz replied, "Okay. Kobayashi Maru out."
As she shut off her radio, Yoriko muttered, "There's no way I can keep this secret forever. Noah, why'd you have to leave me alone with this kind of job to do?" She raised her voice and turned to the duty officer. "Mr. Hansen, once the Kobayashi Maru is docked, please resume normal station functions. If anyone asks what happened, tell them just what I told Mr. Schrödinger – it was a 'temporary power glitch'. If anyone wants more details, refer them to me but tell them I'm very busy right now ..."
I can't believe Noah thinks he can keep this secret. He's going to need somebody to tell him he's being an idiot – like it or not, I'm the only person for the job.
Trigon interrupted Katz' thoughts. "The ship is ready. I'm ready. Stop dithering, wretch."
Katz sighed. "Fine. Let's go."
"And just where are we going to 'go'?"
"Venus. If we're lucky, we'll get there before the Sol Bianca does."
"Why didn't you say we were following someone important to begin with?"
Oh, dear. Trigon's happy now ...
The Epsilon Blade
Noah picked up his microphone and switched on the ship's intercom. "Ladies ... and Sylvath ... if you'll look out the port-side windows, you'll see Crystal Paris." The cheers from the passenger lounge could be heard even through the bulkhead soundproofing.
Meanwhile, Yayoi was trying to get landing clearance for the ship. "Crystal Paris, I did not copy. Please repeat the reason you do not want us landing."
"With all due respect," replied the voice over the communicator, "we remember what happened the last time you were here, Epsilon Blade. We don't want to take a chance that it'll happen again."
Noah waved his hand at Yayoi, then switched his microphone from the intercom to the communicator. "Crystal Paris ATC, this is Noah Scott, commanding the Epsilon Blade. Please state the exact reason we're being denied landing clearance."
There was a short pause, then a different voice came over the circuit. "Epsilon Blade, this is Yvette de Lune, Crystal Paris ATC Manager. What seems to be the problem?"
"That's what we want to know, Mme. de Lune. My pilot has been attempting to gain landing clearance for the last three minutes, and the only reason I've heard so far why we aren't getting it is because you don't want a repeat of what happened the last time we were here. This is our first visit to Crystal Paris. What are you talking about, please?"
"Stand by, please, M. Scott." There was a longer pause, then the line came back to life. "Epsilon Blade, I apologize for the delay. My staff tell me they don't want you doing to Crystal Paris what you did to Crystal Osaka."
"All we did there was save over a dozen people's lives, madame. You have nothing to worry about from us unless you're hiding some Boskonians. You aren't hiding a slaver ring or a drug lab, are you?"
"I certainly hope not, M. Scott!" She cleared her throat and continued in a more neutral tone. "Epsilon Blade, you have permission to land. You are clear to dock 23."
Yayoi tapped on the ship's navigation controls. "Roger, Crystal Paris. Epsilon Blade now on landing approach to 23." She muted the communicator. "What was that all about?"
"Superstitious paranoia, I think," replied Noah. "I hope," he added under his breath.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I couldn't keep them from landing. Madame de Lune interfered."
"That's all right. From what you tell me, Senora de Lune would never approve of this thing of ours, so it's best she never learns of it. And we don't need to worry if it's only one of the Great Justice troubleshooters, do we?"
The Epsilon Blade
"Noah, don't open that yet!"
"Why not?" asked Noah as his hand hovered over the bridge door's control.
"Sora just let me know that some of our guests are getting changed," replied Yayoi.
The soundproofing wasn't quite good enough to muffle the shouts from two of those guests:
"Sailor Power, MAKE-UP!"
"Jupiter Star Power, MAKE-UP!"
Noah backed away from the door. "I gather someone told them that sailor outfits wouldn't be out of place in Crystal Paris. Do you want to go back and get changed too, Yayoi? I can look out the front window and study this wonderful view of the landing bay's rear wall while you have the door opened."
"Thank you, sir. I did leave my Sailor Armed Militia uniform in the weapon locker." As Noah didn't watch, Yayoi and Rei headed amidships.
The door closed, and Noah heard, "So this is the bridge."
"Yes, this is the bridge, Ms. Skuld," replied Noah as he turned to his visitor. "Oh, my apologies, Ms. Vanette. You and Ms. Skuld sound remarkably alike."
"So we've been told by people who've just met us," replied the reporter-turned-Senshi. "I wanted to ask why you gave me this."
"The credit card? I already told you – it's your ID."
"It's a gold card. Nobody else has a gold card."
Noah smiled. "I have a Stellvia Gold card, and so does Yayoi. Yours is the third ever issued. And before you ask, yes, it's a no-limit card drawing on my private bank account, just like mine and Yayoi's. That should tell you how much I trust you."
"Oh ... Are there any good clothing boutiques here?" she asked with an impish grin.
"You'd have to ask Yayoi. And when I said I trust you, I meant it. If you think you need local clothes, feel free to buy some. Although the blue number you're wearing looks good on you, and it does blend in around here."
The grin left Lisa's face. "I'll try to be worthy of that trust, Mr. Scott."
"I'm sure I have nothing to worry about on that score, Ms. Vanette. Now, before I ask Yayoi to ask her friends here to find us some rooms on short notice, are there any special requirements I need to know about? Besides Sylvath's needs, which won't be easy to accomodate here."
Lisa thought for a moment. "Sana needs room to move, and Rei's a vegetarian."
"There won't be any trouble accomodating Rei; in fact, I hope the rest of you don't mind a low-meat diet. Sana, though ... I'll see what we can do."
After a moment, Noah cleared his throat. "If you don't mind my asking ..."
"Well ... I'm curious. Why are you ladies chasing after Doug?"
"I can't speak for the others, but I'm on this trip because I'm the only person who can recognize Doug's homeworld other than Doug and his friends."
"That's a reason why Ms. vel'deVarn would want you on the trip. I'm more curious why you'd agree to go. But if I'm prying, please say so."
"You're prying, Mr. Scott."
"Then I'll drop it. Sorry about that."
After another pause, Lisa asked, "So, why are you in space?"
"For the freedom."
"I'll give you a couple of examples. When I was Sana's age, it was possible to walk into an airport and buy a ticket for the next flight to where you wanted to go, just by putting cash on the counter. At least, it was in my home country. Everybody knew that there was a chance that any given flight might be hijacked, but everybody also knew that the odds of it happening to a particular flight were low. When I gave up my citizenship, that same country required its citizens to show government-issued identification before being allowed to board an aircraft, and if your name is on a list, you aren't allowed on the plane even then."
"Do criminals in this universe use their real names when they break the law?"
Noah shook his head. "Not usually."
"So what good is a list of names of people who aren't allowed to fly?"
"Damned if I know, Ms. Vanette. I think the governments on Earth want to monitor everybody's movements on the off-chance that somebody might do something they don't like." Noah sighed. "Other countries are going the same way. Then there's the laws against using handwavium; they make it nearly impossible to create artificial intelligences on Earth any more. Out here, we still have the freedom to live without Big Brother looking over our shoulders."
"So there's no government in space?"
"I didn't say that. We're just a lot more reasonable about running things out here. But you should take this with a grain of salt; I'm not unbiased about the whole mess."
The door opened to admit Yayoi, now wearing a high-visibility-orange seifuku. While it had the same shoulder patches as the jacket she'd been wearing, each was on the opposite shoulder to where it was on the jacket. "Noah, we're ready to go."
"Good. Yayoi, can you get us some rooms for the night? Use my name if you think it'll help ..."
⌈Thank you, Naoko-san. I owe you one.⌋
Naoko Sato, the head of Crystal Paris' Armed Militia division, grinned. ⌈I'll be sure to call that in the next time I'm visiting Stellvia, Yayoi-san.⌋ They both laughed. ⌈Okay, I've got the list; we have plenty of room for all of you in the transient barracks. Pleasant dreams!⌋ She cut the connection and turned to her assistant, who was frowning.
"Ma'am, there's something strange about this list."
"You said that Ms. Fujisawa said they were newcomers to space, but I think I recognize almost every name on it. And one of them's ..." As he trailed off, he switched on the traffic cameras between dock 23 and the transient barracks. Then he went pale.
"You'd better take a look at this website," he said while calling up on his computer an obscure story called Drunkard's Walk.
After a few minutes, Sato whispered, "By all the gods ... Are they just really lucky with biomods, maybe?"
"Could that big a group be that lucky?"
"It's mathematically possible ..." The doubt in Naoko's voice was obvious.
"Uh-huh. I wouldn't bet on it either."
"How do we find out for sure?"
"I can only see one way, but it'll blow up in our faces if I'm wrong, ma'am."
30 May 2013
Makoto looked at the throng of Senshi, all clamouring to get her autograph, her clothing, even her attention. "You told me some people worshipped me as a demigod, Mr. Scott. I thought you were kidding."
"I wonder who told them about you?" Noah sighed, then continued. "This is why I wanted you to use false names. If we're lucky, somebody's got the wrong idea. If we're not lucky, somebody's got the right idea. Either way, we're not hiding here."
"And who would you be hiding from, Mr. Scott?" asked a sweet voice from behind their group.
Noah sighed again, then forced himself to smile as he turned around. "From your employer, Ms. Asakura. How is the Professor, by the way?"
"He's just fine," replied Ryoko. "Although he hasn't had a bit of sleep in the last week and a half. Or maybe longer."
"He hasn't slept in at least ten days, and he's fine?" asked Makoto incredulously.
"It's part of his biomod. I think." Noah turned back to Ryoko. "Is he here, in Crystal Paris?"
"Yes, he is, although he isn't happy to be here."
"Oh, dear. Kohran's here, too. You remember our deal, don't you?"
Ryoko looked cross for a brief moment. "You don't tell Yuki or the others where I am, and I help you keep the Professor and Ms. Li apart. Blackmail's not very nice, Mr. Scott."
"I know, and I'm sorry. But we both know why those two must not meet if he's been awake for more than a few days."
"I don't agree, but I have no choice. I'll distract Ms. Li." As Noah was about to thank Ryoko, she smiled and added, "After I tell the Professor exactly where you are." Then she stepped aside through a doorway, which closed and locked as soon as she was through it.
"Why shouldn't this 'Professor' meet Kohran?" asked Makoto.
"It's bad enough that each of them is a 'mad scientist' type with no qualms about inventing anything, no matter what use the invention could be put towards. Letting them collaborate would ... well, I doubt it'd be pleasant for everyone else."
"Ah. Ryoko's quite loyal to him, isn't she?"
"The way I understand it, Ryoko loves the Professor to death."
"... and that's what these people are doing to Venus," explained Noah.
The visitors thought about what they'd been told. Finally, Peggy said, "Let me see if I've got this straight. They're trying to terraform this planet. In order to do that, they're going to need all the carbon they can get. But they're shipping what little carbon they do have away from the planet, mostly in the form of polluting hydrocarbons which make it more difficult to live on Earth when they're used – that causes problems on two planets. And they're doing almost nothing to reduce the atmosphere's temperature, which is the first thing they need to do. Just how insane are the people running this project?"
Noah shook his head. "Peggy, the Venus Terraforming Project is being run by Sailor Moon Fen who really, really wanted to live in Crystal Tokyo." Makoto groaned quietly at the mention of 'Sailor Moon Fen' and 'Crystal Tokyo;' Noah ignored her. "That means they couldn't take a millenium, or even a decade, to terraform Venus. So they came up with this plan. When you're living in a cramped metal tube in space with nothing but a tank of handwavium to keep you alive, the way they were four years ago and I was five years ago, their plan makes perfect sense." He paused for a moment as a Senshi couple walked by. "I don't know what the explanation for the mass insanity is now, though. Maybe it's just conceptual inertia. But they're living their lives the way they want to, and I have no right to tell them otherwise."
The youngest blonde in the room asked, "Anybody ever tell you that you lecture a lot, Mr. Scott?"
"Do I?" Most of the others nodded. "You're the first to mention it to me, Kaolla."
"You're practically a walking expository device, Mr. Scott," added Bibi with a grin.
Meanwhile, Rin-Rin was typing on her laptop computer while listening to Sora's translation of the conversation. She quickly finished, removed a diskette from her computer, and handed it to Sora. ⌈Hasegawa-san, would you please ask Scott-san to give this to the Venus Terraforming Project's staff?⌋
⌈All right,⌋ replied Sora, ⌈but he's going to want to know what it is.⌋
⌈The disk holds plans for inexpensive polymer orbital mirrors, and instructions on where to position them to reduce the insolation that Venus receives.⌋
⌈Thank you. I'm sure that it will be appreciated.⌋ Sora turned to Noah. "Sir, Rin-Rin wants you to give these orbital mirror plans to the Senshi."
"Orbital mirror plans? Sure, they'll probably accept that as payment for putting us up for the night."
The door behind the group banged opened suddenly. "Such mercenary intentions are ill-suited to a patron of Science! You should simply provide the information to them without charge!"
"Hello, Professor," sighed Noah as he turned around. "I remind you once again that I am not a 'patron of science.'"
The Professor calmly yet self-assuredly strode forward, stopping exactly two meters away from Noah, standing two degrees to the left of precisely in front of the magnate. (Thanks to the sensors he had invented over the years, the Professor knew more trivial details about Noah than the latter realized – including which of his eyes had marginally better vision.) "Nonsense! You employ two researchers while your station requires none. Your denials do not match reality, and can safely be ignored!" He dramatically pointed straight at Noah's chest. "Sir, you are a patron of Science!" He dropped his arm to his side just as dramatically. "Now, I must ask you to lift your station's quarantine and allow me to investigate the meson burst that occurred there yesterday. I only hope that it is not too late to learn from the event!"
Sana tugged Yayoi's sleeve. ⌈Fujisawa-san, who's this?⌋
⌈Kurana-san, this gentleman is the Professor.⌋
⌈Really? But you said the Professor was manic! He's too calm.⌋ Everyone who understood Japanese stopped and stared at Sana. ⌈What?⌋
The two men in the room turned and looked at Sana, wondering what was going on. Miyu passed an electronic note to the Professor while Yayoi whispered in Noah's ear, whereupon they both laughed.
"Please tell the young lady that I must save my energy to devote to the progress of Science!" The Professor turned back to Noah, then changed his mind and faced Sana again as he withdrew a portable toolkit from his coat pocket. "No, I'll tell her myself! I have been planning to build an oral translator for some weeks now, and this is the perfect time to do so! The language she speaks is Japanese, correct?"
"That's right," answered Skuld. "How long do you think that will take?"
"For someone of my talents, such a device is a trifle! I should have it completed by lunchtime!"
"That long?" Skuld looked smug. "I could build something like that in half that time!"
Yayoi gasped. "Skuld ... did you just ...?"
The Professor angrily interrupted her. "Spit it out! Science allows no time for dithering!" He turned to Skuld. "I accept your challenge!"
"Oops," muttered Skuld.
Lisa went pale. "Is there going to be a fight?"
"Not a fight – something much worse," answered Noah. "I just hope Skuld wasn't boasting."
"Something worse than a fight?" asked Lisa.
Noah sighed. "Not really, but I just know I'm going to end up paying for it."
"Sir, what about the meson burst?" inquired Miyu.
"Not now, Miyu," replied the Professor. "My scientific competence has been called into question!"
The door opened again, and Ryoko and Kohran walked in. "Somebody doubted the Professor's scientific ability?" asked the latter. "I know what that means! Can I take part? Please?"
"No!" answered Noah, Sora, Yayoi, Ryoko, Miyu, and Catty in unison. Yayoi continued, "You know the Treaty of KandorCon prohibits you from competing in any Iron Inventor matches, Kohran."
As she began to pout, Noah added, "But we do need a judge."
"I always end up being a judge ..." Kohran's sounded like she was sulking, but her smile belied her true feelings. "How many contestants are there?"
"Exactly what is an Iron Inventor match?" asked Lisa.
"You don't know?" asked Miyu.
"She's new to space," replied Yayoi before Lisa could say anything.
Ryoko smiled. "It's a contest where a number of inventors, engineers, and scientists build new devices based on a theme announced at the beginning of the contest. There's a time limit, and the creator of the most useful device wins."
"The Iron Inventor match serves two purposes" added Sora. "First, it increases the body of knowledge; second, it allows people with technical leanings to compete without hurting themselves or each other."
Skuld sighed in relief, and began to make plans.
"That sounds like fun! Can I play?" asked Kaolla.
"This is a challenge, not a game," replied Skuld.
"There are no such boundaries to the power of Science!" interjected the Professor loudly. Somewhat more calmly, he added, "Let her compete; it can only advance Science!"
Makoto had been translating for Rin-Rin, who asked ⌈May I take part as well?⌋
Once Makoto translated Rin-Rin's request, Noah nodded and held up the diskette Rin-Rin had given Sora. "You just created these plans. Do you want them to be your entry?"
⌈No, thank you, Scott-san. I don't want an unfair advantage; I will invent something else.⌋
"Very well. Anyone else?" Noah looked at Sora.
She shook her head. "Kohran-imotouchan is judging. If I take part, then somebody might say she had a conflict of interests."
A few eyebrows went up at Sora's acknowledgment of Kohran being her younger sister. Noah took the comment in stride. "All right. I ask a final time, anyone else?" Nobody else said anything. "Four contestants, then. Yayoi, would you ask your friends here for some spare parts, tools, and a large room, please? Use your credit card to pay for whatever we need."
"Certainly, Noah. It's a good thing we're in Crystal Paris; we can probably borrow what we need from the drydocks."
The Uncertainty, in a parking orbit above Venus, near Crystal Paris
"We now know our target is in Crystal Paris, not Crystal Tokyo. We have arrived at Crystal Paris. Why are you wasting time waiting to ask for docking permission?"
Katz didn't look up from the book he was reading. "If we dock now, they'll force me to turn off your comms, and then you'd miss the Iron Inventor match that they just announced the Professor is involved in. I thought you'd want to see that, Trigon."
"Very well. We shall wait until the match is over."
Good, thought Katz. That gives me another couple of hours to decide just how I'm going to approach Noah ...
Crystal Paris Drydock #3
"Hello, everyone. This is Maico Tange netcasting from Crystal Paris, where an unknown person has challenged the Professor to an Iron Inventor competition. We'll be bringing you live coverage of the event on this channel. I'm trying to get interviews with the contestants, but everybody's busy getting ready for the contest right now so I can't promise anything." She smiled and winked at the camera. "But I've managed to speak with the competition's sponsor. Mr. Scott, why is the contest being held here instead of on your own space station?"
"Well, Tange-san, the Professor only accepted the challenge a half-hour ago. There wasn't time to move it from Crystal Paris to Stellvia."
"A half-hour ago? You've put this together very quickly, Mr. Scott. Can you afford the prices that people performing such a fast job must be charging?"
Noah smiled. "Just because I'm not with Rockhounds or Grover's Corners doesn't mean I don't have a few credits saved up."
"Yes, of course you're one of the wealthiest individuals in space." Maico made a 'silly me!' gesture with her hand. "How did you get so many people to take part with less than an hour's notice?"
"You know how word spreads when it involves the Professor."
"Yes, of course. Why did you agree to fund the competition?"
"The person who challenged the Professor is my guest; I have an obligation to smooth the path for her. And I thought that the brave men, women, and others putting their lives on the line for Operation Great Justice might appreciate a bit of unplanned entertainment. If we're really lucky, somebody will create something we can duplicate and issue to the troops."
"I hope we are that lucky, Mr. Scott. Thank you for your time." Maico walked over to the judges' table, where three people were taking their seats. "And now I'll introduce today's judges. The first judge is the local Sammie commander, Naoko Sato. Sato-san, would you like to say anything before the contest begins?"
Naoko looked uncomfortable. "Er ... May the best person win."
"Thank you, Sato-san. Second is the fan-favourite judge and radio star from Stellvia, Kohran Li. Ms. Li, what do you want to see at today's match?"
"Something that explodes, I hope!"
Everyone laughed at Kohran's stock answer to that question. "Thank you, Ms. Li. Finally, the captain of the tourist ship Pinafore, Joe Corcoran, has consented to be the conpetition's celebrity judge. Mr. Corcoran, why did you agree to be a judge for this competition?"
"Well, Maico, the Pinafore's being resupplied right now, so I'm not going anywhere for a few hours. Why not enjoy myself while I'm waiting?"
"Yes, of course, Mr. Corcoran. Excuse me, please, I believe the secret ingredient is about to be announced."
The camera panned over to Miyu and Yayoi, who had just walked to the middle of the competition area. Yayoi was carrying a small box covered with a cloth. The camera's boom mike picked up their whispers.
⌈This is a stupid secret ingredient!⌋
⌈We don't have very much choice, Miyu-san. We only had half an hour to organize the match; it was this or 'computer chips'.⌋
⌈Fine. You announce it.⌋
Yayoi looked embarassed for a moment. ⌈Can we announce it together?⌋
Miyu thought briefly. ⌈All right.⌋
They cleared their throats. ⌈The secret ...⌋ Miyu switched from Japanese to English. "The secret ingredient is ..."
Yayoi took the cloth off of the box she was carrying. "Rechargable batteries!" she finished.
The camera panned back to Maico, who had walked back to stand beside Noah again. "That's a relatively easy secret ingredient – rechargable batteries go into almost everything."
"We didn't have time to find something rarer or more difficult, Tange-san."
She nodded. "Yes, of course. I believe there's only one thing left to say now, and I believe it's tradition for the sponsor to say it."
Noah grinned. "I've wanted to do this for years ..." He cleared his throat and yelled, "Allez inventer!"
Crystal Paris Drydock #3 Control Room
"Ms. Lovegood said you wanted to see me, Ms. Kino."
"Yes. Please close the door behind you, Ms. Swansen."
Leda did, then sat down beside Makoto.
"I'm sorry to pull you away from the excitement down there ..." Makoto gestured toward the window overlooking the hubbub of the Iron Inventor match. "... but I don't know how long I'm going to be in this universe, and you did say you wanted me to help you control your metagift."
"My biomod, yes," Leda corrected the Senshi. "You can really do that?"
"It'd be easier if Ami was here to help me understand the biology behind your ability, but I do know a thing or two about electrical powers that I can share." Makoto held two fingers apart and let an arc climb them as if they were a Jacob's Ladder. "V!"
"I thought Sailor Venus did the 'V!' sign, not you."
"She does, but how else can I show off? Now I want you to do the same thing."
"I don't know if I can."
"Relax, let the power out, and give it a try. I'll make sure you don't
break anything ..."
"Good ... keep the electricity dancing on the backs of your hands, just like that ... Eek!"
Makoto grinned. "Nothing – I just needed to startle you. You didn't let the electricity get away even when you turned to look at me." She slid a laptop computer over to Leda. "Now you put that trick to a practical use."
Leda sighed. "My power doesn't like computers ..."
"Is it your power, or are you its plaything? Keep doing what you've been doing for the last half-hour, and start typing."
Five minutes later, the keyboard still hadn't shorted out. Leda was estatic.
Crystal Paris Drydock #3
"Time!" The competing teams stopped what they were doing on hearing Noah's shout. "Present your inventions to the judges, one at a time! First, the official challenger!"
Skuld, ably assisted by Rei, brought a box the size of a bar fridge up to the judges' table. "This is my Ice Cream Maker Type 2!"
"Why 'Type 2'?" asked Captain Corcoran.
"Ice Cream Maker Type 1, which I built back home, could only make ice creams in the standard North American flavours. This machine can make ice cream in all the Japanese flavours as well! Including the esoteric ones like garlic or charcoal!"
Some of the audience looked ill at the mere thought of garlic ice cream.
"Well, show us how it works," directed Sato.
"I need the ingredients ..."
Kohran sighed and shook her head. "I'm sorry, Skuld, but you can't bring anything else into the venue after the sponsor calls 'time'. You needed to get the ingredients while you were making the invention; that's part of why you had an assistant. We're going to have to disqualify your invention. I would have liked to have tried the charcoal ice cream, though."
"I understand." As Skuld and Rei walked away, the goddess quietly muttered, "it's not fair ..."
Noah relaxed – he was half-afraid that Skuld would destroy the drydock in a temper tantrum when she was disqualified. Then he realized that she was older and more mature than in the stories he'd read. "Next, the challenged party!"
"No need to shout – I'm already here!" The Professor was standing in front of the judges, Miyu standing behind him. "Here is my invention: a real-time two-way translator! It translates between English and Japanese, the two languages most common in the settlements around Venus! Who would like to be the first to test it?"
The room went completely silent.
⌈Why'd everybody stop talking?⌋ asked Sana.
"Ah – a volunteer! Please help the young lady to the judging area, Miyu."
"Yes, sir." And she was off in an instant.
"Hey!" Skuld stormed back to the judges' table. "Why does he get to get someone who wasn't in his group when I couldn't get the things I needed?"
"Because the person is in the competition venue," replied Commander Sato.
"Step aside, please, but don't go too far! You doubted my ability; now see what I can create! Here, put this on!" That last was addressed to Sana, who Miyu had just escorted to the Professor.
Miyu whispered a translation to Sana, who nodded and co-operated.
"The casing and much of the pre-existing wiring is an obsolete cellular telephone headset," explained the Professor as Sana put it over her ear. "The custom technology inside will be described in the usual sources as soon as I have a chance to publish it, but it does include a picocomputer liberally treated with gold handwavium and rechargable batteries connected to a crystal gray handwavium power regulator. Miss, can you understand me?"
"Does it work, Sana?" asked Kohran.
"Yeah, it works, but why're all y'all talkin' with Osaka accents?"
"Ah, there appears to be a minor glitch with the language regionalization subroutines! But that is nothing to worry about, and will hardly impede communications!" The Professor turned to Skuld. "Do you still doubt my brillance, young lady?"
Skuld shook her head, keeping a neutral expression and not laughing in the man's face. She thought that the accent problem was hilarious, but didn't want to make things any worse.
"Very well! Do the judges have any further questions?"
Kohran raised her hand. "Does it explode?"
"Certainly not! Such a function is contraindicated in the case of a wearable device!"
"I'll have to take points off for that, then."
Miyu sighed. "You always take points off for that, Kohran ..."
Noah cleared his throat; there wasn't time to let the usual banter continue. "Third, ..." Mirai tugged on his sleeve, then whispered a translation of Rin-Rin's message in his ear. He nodded and returned to the microphone. "Ladies, gentlemen, and others, I've been informed that the third contestant's invention is designed for the use of a person who is not currently present. The contestant is forfeiting the match. Now, the final contestant!"
Kaolla and Peggy carried a small box to the judges' table. "Ta-dah! Mecha-Tama-Vacuum!" A mechanical turtle poked its head and one flipper out of the box, and waved.
"What does it do?" asked Sato.
"It cleans up after people! It even takes care of hazardous waste!" The Mecha-Tama-Vacuum jumped out of the box and flew over to the corner of the room, where it started eating a bucket of dried paint someone had missed picking up before the competition started. "And it incenerates some of the waste inside itself to provide power!"
"Does that mean it doesn't use rechargable batteries?" asked Corcoran.
"No, it uses rechargable batteries. It even recharges them from the power it makes!"
Kohran smiled. "Does it explode?"
"Only if you tell it to. Do you want it to explode now?"
"NO!" shouted everyone except Kohran.
As the judges discussed the inventions, Maico spoke with Noah. "How do you think the judging will go, Mr. Scott?"
"I'd really rather not say, Tange-san. One of the judges is an employee of mine, and I don't want to influnce her decision."
"Yes, of course. We'll just have to wait for their decision. Excuse me, please, Mr. Scott; I'd like to get an interview with the disqualified contestants." She made her way over to Skuld, Rin-Rin, and the other visitors.
The Schroeck household, Grover's Corners
Breakfast was finished, and there wasn't anything more pressing to do at the moment than catch up on current events. The serious news was "more of the same", but a human-interest piece from Crystal Paris about an Iron Inventor match caught the viewers' attention ... because they recognized the competitors almost immediately.
"Holy crap, Heinlein was right. Hey, Peg, I'm running over to
Venus for a while if anyone needs me."
Crystal Paris Drydock #3
Naoko Sato stood, and the room went quiet.
"We have decided that the winner of this Iron Inventor match is ... Kaolla's Mecha-Tama-Vacuum! Second place goes to The Professor's real-time translator."
"This is a shock," commented Maico while facing the broadcast camera. "I don't know why the Professor lost."
Noah frowned. "I'm guessing it was Kohran's vote that decided things. This is the first time that anybody ever built something that actually will blow up."
"Yes, of course. Professor, I'm sorry you didn't win, but I think your translator is a wonderful invention. Even if it does give people funny accents."
The contestants were enjoying a light lunch after the match, paid for by the sponsor and prepared by many of the androids present. Miyu had jostled Ryoko's arm just as she was serving a special bowl of soup to the Professor, which made her drop the bowl, but that was the only mishap during the meal.
(Maico was enjoying a somewhat more substantial meal, also paid for by Noah. He thought it a small price to keep the reporter away from the visiting Girls.)
"I'm sorry that my absence cost you the match, Rin-Rin."
"That is all right, Swansen-san. These are for you." She handed a pair of bulky gloves to Leda.
"What are they?"
"They are ... I am sorry, I do not know the English." Rin-Rin glanced at the translator that Sana was still wearing, thought for a moment, then continued in Japanese. ⌈They will channel the electricity your hands generate into rechargable batteries inserted into the ports on the back of the gloves. Please do not wear them unless batteries are in the charging ports.⌋
Once Skuld had translated for Rin-Rin, Leda bowed to the young gadgeteer. "Thank you very much. These will help me lead a more normal life."
Just then, the Professor's pocket began to beep. Rather, a device in the pocket was beeping; when he withdrew it from the pocket, an arrow on the top rotated twice and pointed at Bibi. The Professor looked at the display, then announced, "Miss, you are carrying a large amount of unknown metal! What alloy is it, and where are you keeping it?"
"That's quite the gadget you've got there, Prof," she replied. "I'm not carrying it, I am it. And I don't remember what it's called." Well, I do remember, she thought, but I'm not going to tell you. You're too nosy.
"You're an android?"
"Something like that."
The Professor continued, "When will I be able to analyze the metal alloy in your physical makeup?"
Bibi started to panic. Skuld noticed and stood up, stepping between Bibi and the Professor. "That won't be possible."
Miyu leapt to her feet. "Why not, girl?"
Sora ducked under the table. "No fighting, please!" she whimpered.
Skuld grabbed her hammer. "Because I won't let you." She made ready to tap the deck with her weapon ...
... and a device in a different pocket of the Professor's coat sounded an alarm. "Another meson burst! It's your doing!" Everyone stopped moving, and the alarm tapered off. "Miss, what were you about to do?"
"Out with it! Science has no time for uncertainty!"
"Fine!" snapped Skuld. "I was about to summon my battle armour!"
"Oh, is that all this is?" sighed the Professor. "There are already multiple cases of transdimensional storage effects on record. I was hoping that this was something new." Dismissively, he added, "I have more pressing business elsewhere." He stood and left, followed by his three assistants.
Just before Catty left, she turned and smiled. "See you around!"
After the door closed behind them, Skuld muttered, "I hope not ..."
Crystal Paris ATC
"Uncertainty, you're cleared to land at dock 5."
"Understood, Crystal Paris," came Katz' reply over the communications channel.
Oh, this is bad, thought the controller on duty. Two Great Justice troubleshooters at the same time ... They have to be here for us. I've got to tell the boss about this.
30 May 2013
Stellvia main operations room
"Ms. Nikaido, I think you should look at this."
"What's wrong?" asked Yoriko as she walked over to the duty officer's desk.
"I really think you should see it for yourself, ma'am," he replied.
She did, then she nodded. "I see. Hold the fort, please, Mr. Hansen. I'll be back in a few moments."
Stellvia conference room
"... and that's why I was hoping you'd be able to help us, Nancy."
The visitor frowned as she replied. "I don't know how much help I can be, Ms. Yoriko."
"I can track down and disable the bug in main operations. What I was hoping you'd do is find the person who planted it. I'll understand if you say no, but I could really use your help. Please?"
Chalotte interrupted while Nancy thought about her answer. "Which sort of bugs are they? The ones you can kill with your chemical sprays, or the other sort?"
Yoriko very carefully did not smile as she turned to the Borrible. "The other sort. I'm worried about a hidden microphone, not an insect."
Nancy raised her hand to get Yoriko's attention. "I think I can do this, but I'm going to need some help if the spy tries to run."
Yoriko frowned. "With so many of our top people away with your people and the station on alert because of the Professor's possible visit, I don't have anyone to spare ..."
"Then I'll just have to get Chalotte to help!"
The Borrible glared at Nancy. "You must be daft. I've been on this trip for ages – you only joined up with us in the last world we stopped at."
Nancy smiled her childlike smile. "You can be in charge of this if you want to, Chalotte. I don't mind."
"I don't want to, you bloody moron! I want to stay out of these people's problems! Meddling in adults' affairs isn't the Borrible way!"
"If a Borrible don't look alive, he's very soon dead," commented Yoriko.
Chalotte turned to Yoriko, her anger growing. "Don't you quote the Borrible Book of Proverbs at me! And that isn't what that one means!"
Nancy interrupted the others bewfore their argument could become serious. "Do you really want to just sit in the room Mr. Scott is letting you use, and wait for everyone else to come back, instead?"
Chalotte scowled. "That metal box? No, that's too much like waiting around in a cage." She shuddered as unpleasant memories came back to her. "I guess helping you'd be ... not 'better', but you get the idea."
"Thank you for your help in apprehending this criminal," smiled Yoriko. "I'll give you both full access to wherever you need to go and the authority to track down and apprehend the spy."
Nancy nodded; Chalotte looked surprised and more than a bit angry. "Bloody hell! You're turning me into a Woollie?"