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PostPosted: Sat Oct 31, '09, 5:03 am
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Episode VIII: Where We're Goin' We Don't NEED a Voice of Reason

"Let's see... this and.... done!"

Grinning, Shir offered Rolf a napkin that she had been writing on for the past few minutes. The blue-haired man looked at it, puzzled, then asked, "Uh, Shir? What's this?"

"My elaborate plan for revenge on Rita!"

"Weren't you going to call your family army?"

Shir crossed her arms and glared at Rolf. "Just read the napkin first!" she ordered. With a sigh, Rolf read the hasty writing:

REVENGE ON RITA~!
A very, very, short movie by Shir Gold
Based on a true story (and several untrue ones)


(BOARDWALK- SAYA BEACH- DAY)

Camera fixes upon RITA, who is accosted suddenly by our heroes, ROLF, RUDO, and KAIN. Establishing shot: AMY swoons into HUGH's arms.

AMY
Oh, swoon.


For the guys, a slow pan up RITA's bikini-clad body, pausing at the strategic parts. She glares at our main man, ROLF.

RITA
Who the hell are you?!


Closeup of ROLF, his wicked awesome five o'clock shadow emitting a dynamic lens flare as he grins like a maniac.

ROLF
We're your worst nightmare! Wax her, boys!


Cue industrial heavy metal rock n' roll as ROLF, RUDO, and KAIN proceed to curbstomp RITA into a painful red mess for thirty-five uninterrupted, undialogued minutes.

FADE TO BLACK.


Rolf set the napkin down, his jaw slack at what he had just read. After a few seconds, Shir asked him, "So! Whaddya think?!"

"...Honest to God, that was probably the worst thing I've ever read, Shir, and this is coming from the guy who read Gears of War."

"Oh, like you have a better idea, Rolf." Shir crumpled the napkin into a ball, then tossed it into a garbage can. "Something with a little more... cinematic flair."

"Well... how about we just tell Rita to leave Amy and Hugh the hell alone?" Rolf replied, shrugging his shoulders. "She'll know we're keeping an eye out for them."

"Too boring, and she already knows we're here, remember? Hmm... hang on. Lemme borrow your phone."

Rolf offered his visiphone to Shir, and she dialed a long string of numbers. She hesitated for a few seconds, occasionally grumbling, "C'mon, pick it up, guys." Finally, her expression lightened. "Heya, Crispin! It's Boss Go... oh. Message box, Rolf."

"Figures," Rolf told his friend. "Whenever you want to call someone, they never answer their phone, but God forbid you let yours ring more than once."

"Sssh. I think it's message time. .....Yep." The green-haired woman took a short breath, then blurted, "Heya, Crispin, it's Boss Gold. I'm calling from someone else's phone, so call them back when you get this. We're going into Code Gray. Repeat, Boss Gold to Space Harrier, enter Code Gray. Oh, and tell Momma that that pumpkin yogurt she loves so much is in the fridge. Peace! XD"

Once Shir closed the phone, she tossed it back to Rolf, then grinned at him. "He'll call back," she said. "So you might wanna leave it on."

"That's the point of having a visiphone, isn't it?"

"Mmhmm! Heya, Rolf, I was wondering..."

Before Shir could finish her question, a tinny-sounding "Get ready!" followed by a guitar riff started coming from Rolf's pocket. He took the phone out, read the number displayed on the screen, then handed the phone back to Shir.

"Ah, that'd be Crispin. Hang on, Rolf. (She opened the phone) Crispin! Boss Gold here! ...You got my message?! Great! ....Mmhmm. I meant it. ...The code? Well, today's a Friday, so..." Shir took a deep breath, as if concentrating, then pitched in a strange accent, "'Graham, watch out! A poiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiisonous snake!"

What kind of code is that?! Rolf wondered.

"Not the code?! Oh, right, that's the Tuesday code. ....Yeah, I can do the code- I've got a friend here who can help me." Her voice returned to the funny accent as she shouted into the phone, "'No, Graham! DON'T!!"

Rolf sweatdropped again as Shir pushed the phone to him, whispering "Death scream. Go."

"Huh?"

Shir's leg lifted, and Rolf blushed slightly as he followed her motion. I... wow. Shir's got nice legs. Not like Annete's. She actually shaves them, he thought, watching as the green-haired woman brought her foot down. I wonder how her skin feels? Smooth, like her shoulders? Firm, like her stomach? Rolf, get a grip on yourself. Sure, Shir's nice looking, but you can't let yourself get all flust- "EYAAAEAAARAAAAAAAAAaaaaraaaoooooooooooo!"

That, the man on the other end of the phone figured, was either the sound of a man falling off a mountain to his death, or, knowing his dubious employer, her stomping on her friend's foot really hard.

Rolf grumbled, rubbing his foot through his sandal, as Shir retrieved the phone from him. "That's the code," she told the other end. "...You are?! Great! We'll be there as soon as we can! (Shir closed the phone, and tossed it back to Rolf) Hey, Rolf! Guess what!?"

"Slippin' rippin' dang fang rotten zarg barg-a-ding-dong *#!)(*!"

"Rolf, there's little kids on the boardwalk!" Shir chided. "Watch your &*^@ language!"

"You stomped on my foot, Shir!" Rolf protested. "I need that foot!"

"I needed you to scream! And it got the job done, so mission successful, so far!" Crossing her arms, Shir added, "Anyway, Rolf, your ringtone... what was it?"

"The theme from After Burner, why?"

"It kinda sucks. I know Sega's giving away free ringtones to promote this new Genesis console of theirs, but couldn't you have gotten the Altered Beast ringtone instead? 'Wise fwom you gwave,' y'know?"

"I like After Burner, all right?" Rolf asked.

"Duly noted. Anyway, got your bathing suit on?! We're walking under the water."

Once again, Rolf sweatdropped. "Don't you mean walking on the wind?" he asked.

Shir waggled her finger, grinning at Rolf as she said, "Nope! Submarines don't go on air!"

"...What."

"Un-der-wat-er," Shir repeated, stressing each syllable. "As in, the whole point of going to a beach in the first place!"

"I thought it was to stare at you in a bikini," Rolf grumbled. As soon as the words left his mouth, he looked at Shir in alarm, the "Oh crap" expression on his face clear as day.

"Really, hmm?" The teasing in Shir's voice was just as noticeable as she raised an eyebrow. "Anyway! Mission! We need to get underwater, and for that, we need-"

"Maruera gum," the agent realized. "Shir, no offense, but I really don't want to go to Kueri. Not today."

"We don't have to, remember? Doc Hiram had the gum mass-produced all over Motavia! We can go to any newsstand and get a pack! And best of all..." Shir winked. "No rock climbing."

"All right. We get some gum, we go underwater, meet this army of yours," Rolf started. "Then what?"

"We enact Operation: Kick Rita's Butt! XD"

Rolf sighed. "Do you really want to whomp her that badly, Shir?" he asked.

"Yeah! You hold her, I'll punch!"

-=-=-

Kain was starting to sweat.

The fight against Murderin' Moatoob was taking its toll- on Kain's quarter supply, his rapidly-dwindling coolerloads of beer, and not least of all, his sanity. Exchanges such as what happened between rounds weren't exactly much of a help, as far as he was concerned:

Murderin' Moatoob: KEEP FLAILIN' AWAY, BOYO! ENDORPHINS ADD FLAVOR! HA! HA! HA! HA!
Dengarengba Gulv: I don't care how much you're bleeding! Get back in that ring, or I'll burn your apartment to the ground and collect the fat insurance payment! Hell, I think I'll do it anyway!
Small Rob: But-
Dengarenba: Go~!


And once more unto the massive Motavian, Kain's boxer charged, driven only by programming. Kain struggled with the controls as Moatoob straddled Small Rob and starting delivering hammer-blow punches to the boxer's face and neck. "C'mon, you little... )*. Sonic, why th' hell aren't ya callin' foul on this!? Ah KNOW this oughta be illegal!"

The blue hedgehog remained offscreen, evidently ignoring the fight. Kain shouted a universal expletive as Murderin' Moatoob started pecking out Small Rob's eyes, twisting his beak with every fresh wound.

"Now, Mister Kain... that's no way to act in front of children, and you should know better!"

Amy's voice seemed to come from his left. Not moving his hands from the game's controls, Kain glanced over, and saw the redhead. "Th' game's kinda hard, Miss Amy," Kain protested. "...Wait a sec... weren't you with Hugh before?"

"I'm with him right now," Amy replied, becoming slightly transparent.

"Looks like someone's getting outclassed. Game imbalance at its finest," Anna's voice, seemingly from his right, chimed in. Kain uneasily glanced away from Amy, bringing his attention to his other shoulder. Anna stood there, clad in her blue and white swimsuit, just as transparent as Amy was.

"Whoa, whut th'?! Ah thought you 'n Rudo were hangin' out!"

"We are," Anna's image told him. "Right now, he's getting us kicked out of Bartolo's because the bartender's taking offense to one of his army stories."

Whut th' hell's goin' on? the teal-haired man thought, dividing his attention between the statuesque blonde and the bikini-clad redhead. A dream? A nightmare? Naaaah. Ah'm still prolly facin' down Mother Brain right now, an' this is one of her fancy-pants illusions.

"Wheeeee! Video games!"

The new voice was Shir's, and it came from behind Kain. Hands still on the joystick and buttons, Kain tried his best to twist around, facing Shir's image. "All right," he told her, "now this's gone messed up on th' Kainster. Ah thought you an' Rolf were tonguedancin' on th' beach by now, Miss Shir!"

"Sssh. That's what we're planning later," the Shir image said, her voice a conspiratorial whisper. Winking at Kain, she added, "Rolf doesn't know that yet, and I'm not gonna tell him. =p"

"...Whut."

"Kain, we're worried about you," Amy's image told him. "We haven't seen you all day, and Rolf wanted all of us to spend time together today."

"Don't you know how much fun you've missed?" Anna's image added. "Shooting contests, mini golf, and... Rudo! Punch him in the crotch already!"

Kain, as well as the Amy and Shir images, sweatdropped as Anna's image focused on an unseen fight. She elbowed an invisible opponent at about neck level, then turned back to Kain. "Sorry. I'm leaving quietly, and I think I'm dragging Rudo with me."

"This is why I never drink, Anna."

"So... whut th' hell's goin' on, gals?!" Kain demanded. "Why are y'all botherin' me in the middle of mah boxing glory?" He glanced over at Amy, then to Shir and Anna. "Not that Ah'm complainin' at all, mind ya. Heh heh."

"Actually, we're not bothering you at all, Kain. None of the three of us are in the arcade," Amy's spirit said.

"We're with our boyfriends! ...Well, Amy is, and I'd give Rolf a few more hours before I can call him that... and Rudo doesn't seem Anna's type..."

"Oh, what do you know?!" Anna's image bellowed, blushing across her temples.

"Not important! We're here, Kain, because of your beer!"

"Nuh-uh! Y'all ain't touchin' mah Dark Star premium!"

Amy sweatdropped again, then sighed and said, "Kain, the amount of beer you've drank over the last few hours, combined with your body weight and food consumption, are causing you to experience audiovisual hallucinations. Other symptoms may include involuntary explosive rage, motor impairment, and loss of judgement."

"You're seven sheets to the solar wind, Kain," Shir's ghost explained, reaching for a beer bottle. "So we get to torment you for a bit! XD"

"Baaaah, go 'way."

The ghosts of the three women disappeared as quickly as they appeared, and Kain sighed, noticeably relieved by their absence. "Freakin' ghosts," he grumbled.

"Simulacra," Amy's voice replied.

"Whatever!" Dern it, let me be, ladies! Lovely as y'all are, he thought, whut Ah really need is a-

A bottle, dangled carefully in a woman's hand, moved into Kain's field of vision. He recognized it instantly- the dark blue glass, along with the multicolored astral display on the label, the contents written in a font that brought memories of neon-lit bar signs back to Kain:

Dark Star
Premium Lager
Brewed with Pride in Piata. Please drink responsibly.
That means YOU, Kain!


"Drink up, Joshua Kain. This is gonna be a bumpy ride."

The woman's voice that whispered into his ear was also equally familiar, as was the hand that offered him beer. Turning his back to the game, Kain came face-to-face with an attractive, yet semitransparent, woman with sky-blue hair. She smiled at Kain, batting her eyelashes behind a wire-rimmed pair of glasses.

"Miss Karen?" Kain asked, confused. "Aren'cha s'posed t' be back at Paseo?"

"Even librarians get a day off, Kain," Karen replied. "I brought you a beer."

Karen offered the bottle to Kain again, and this time, he eagerly accepted, uncapping and upending the bottle over his mouth in one smooth motion. The librarian only chuckled and opened a bottle for herself. Once Kain had finished his beer, he asked, "So... what's with th' business suit? Ah know yer just an illusion, but Ah thought you'd be wearin' a nice little nothin' bikini."

"You've only seen me at the library in Paseo, Kain. You don't know what I look like in a bikini."

"Fair 'nough. So, Miss Karen..." Kain laid on a rather cheesy smile, then asked, "What brings ya t' the Kain's mind? Miss me?"

"Very much," Karen replied, sipping her beer slowly. Setting her bottle to rest on the arcade game behind Kain, she continued, "You haven't visited in a while, you know."

"Well, Ah've been... err, busy."

"I see. I was wondering... that offer about a date still open?"

Kain remembered the offer- just after Rolf and the others had been officially pardoned by Governor Paulus and the surviving members of Palma's government, they had stopped by to offer their thanks to Karen, for all the research she had done to ensure Algo's future. Kain asked the pretty librarian for a date, and she blushed and said, "Another time, perhaps."

At least, that was how Kain chose to remember it. How she remembered it was Kain made a rather suggestive comment on her romantic life, followed immediately by him screaming in pain as she emptied a can of pepper spray into his eyes.

"Err... a'course, fer a fine lady such as yerself, Miss Karen! ^_^" Kain replied, sweatdropping. "You, ah... you're not packin' this time, are ya?"

"Me? Never," Karen breathed, leaning towards Kain ever-so-slightly. Smiling, she continued, "So... what do you say?"

"Ahhh... err...." Kain's mind was racing. His eyes wandered from the arcade game to Karen, back and forth, as he tried to contemplate his situation. Finally, he glanced over to Karen's beer bottle, still sitting near the game's controls; crimson lipstick stained the bottle's rim as condensation ran down its long neck.

"Well? Even us beer-induced tactile hallucinations don't have all day, Kain," she continued, tapping her foot in mock impatience. "If you're retracting your offer, then-"

"No! No! Ah'm not retractin' no offer!" Kain protested, focusing his attention back on the blue-haired woman. "Ah just... err... need t' finds some time in mah busy schedule."

Karen smirked, a chuckle escaping her lips as she continued, "You don't say. Well... perhaps this can convince you to clear your schedule."

She closed the distance between them, bringing her lips to Kain's. The young man, at first, muttered in shock, then closed his eyes. Ah don't care if this is some ghost Karen, he decided. This is still awesome. ^_^

After a few seconds, Kain felt Karen pulling away from him. When he opened his eyes, the librarian's business suit had been replaced by a skimpy purple bikini. Trickles of blood started pouring from his nostrils as Karen winked at him.

"Come 'round the governor's office sometime, Kain." Karen gave Kain another wink, then turned on her heel. "Secretaries like me need someone to love, too, you know."

Kain could only babble incomprehensibly as Karen glanced over her shoulder, then blew a kiss to Kain. The heart fluttered through the air in graceful loops before finally pressing against Kain's lips. Catatonia overtook him-

"Ten! Knockout! *keeeeeee!*"

-and Kain found himself once again facing Dynamite Duke's Fisticuffsmanship!!. Murderin' Moatoob was lying belly-up on the mat, and judging by the stamina meters, Small Rob was celebrating a massively one-sided victory. Kain had done it- Small Rob was now the third-ranked boxer in the Motavian Video Boxing Federation.

And he had no idea how the hell he managed to do it. Only one rational thought came to his mind: "Whoo-hoo! Ah just French kissed th' hottest librarian on Motavia! WHoooooooOOooo~!"

Several adults gave Kain nervous glances as he wobbled in place, his balance crippled by the massive amount of beer he had drank over the past two hours. Gritting his teeth, he gripped the game's joystick and roared, "C'mon, already! Next opponent?! Bring it on! Ah'll beat you into th' mat, y' inverted pansy! Ah'm-a gonna wampa-stompa ya!"

His bravado quickly disappeared at the sight of his next opponent- a man with a perfectly-chiseled physique, glaring at Small Rob with an intensity that rivaled even Rudo's or Anna's. He clapped his boxing gloves together, then struck a mighty pose, his pectorals twitching to the fans' delight. The Alisa sprite sitting in the audience had a heart appear over her head for a second.

"...Oh, crap."

"Fight! *keeeeeeeeeeee!*"

Small Rob swung, delivering a solid blow to the boxer's chest. There was absolutely no indication that he had been hit, to Kain's horror.

"No damage?!" Kain shouted. "Whut kinda fight is that?!"

The opposing boxer reached into his shorts, pulling out several hypodermic syringes. He jabbed the needles into his arms, flexing his pecs as the injections took effect. His muscles surged with strength, and his knuckles cracked inside his boxing gloves.

"Steroids!? What th' &^%! isn't illegal in this here boxin' ring!"

The boxer glared at Small Rob, stepping back. His fist reared behind his head, and he shouted, "Ultra! MACHO! MAN!" before delivering a punch to Small Rob's face. Kain raised an eyebrow at this, and he looked at the glove Ultra Macho Man had punched with.

"Huh? It's red," he muttered. "But his other'un's blue? Whut's goin' on here, game?"

An offensively moist sound came from the game's speakers as Ultra Macho Man returned to a ready position, revealing to Kain that Small Rob's head had been tunneled clean through by the punch. Kain could see the blue canvas through the massive hole before Small Rob collapsed lifelessly to the mat, unresponsive to the game's controls as Sonic rolled into the ring.

"Onetwothreefourfivesix-"

"Don't even bother countin', ya stupid hedgehog! He's already dead!" Kain protested. "An' next time, keep yer eyes on th' fight, damn it!"

For a moment, Sonic stopped counting. Small Rob twitched, as if he were getting up, but Kain knew that it wasn't happening. Ultra Macho Man had interrupted the count by stomping on the fallen boxer.

"Look, Ah'm... Ah'm not even gonna try," he continued, watching as Ultra Macho Man proceeded to stomp Small Rob's head flat. "Jes'... jes' gon' try again."

The process repeated: Drink beer, insert quarter, try not to stare too much at Ultra Macho Man's hypnotic pecs. Sixty-two hundred Meseta, he thought as he concentrated on the game. Now that coulda bought me 'n Karen a nice night out. Dammit, Kain, whomp this game good, and you'll get-

The sound of Ultra Macho Man breaking Small Rob in half brought Kain back to reality. He pounded on the game cabinet with one of his few remaining beer bottles, shouting, "Gyaaaah! (*&@)( damn God it, Sonic! Y' suck as referee, y' hear me!? Y' SUCK! Ah'm-a gonna pirate yer new game when it comes out, you *@!&^#! hedgehog!"

Sonic gave Kain the middle finger as he rolled into the ring, and counted, "Onetwoskipafewten! You're too slow, Kain!"

"Grrrrrr!"

"Sonic's the name, speed's the game! Ultra Macho Man wins again! >=D"

Undeterred, Kain opened one of the Dark Star bottles (with some effort this time, he noticed) and swigged its contents. Six beers left, he noticed. Too mad t' call th' bar again. Ah'm gonna have to pace mahself.
-=-=-

She never quite understood how anybody could simply hate another person. She had been bullied from time to time in school, insulted for her studious ways; mocked for her innocence and naivety by her colleagues; nearly killed- or worse, given their brusque tone- by hundreds of Earthmen simply because of Dark Force's influence.

Holding her hand up to the sun, Amy looked at the engagement ring around her finger, smiling warmly at the small pink jewel set into it. Try not to think about what Rita said, she thought. She's only jealous of you. Nothing more, nothing less.

"Amy? You all right?"

Surprised, Amy lowered her arm, turning towards Hugh. "Err... yes," she started. "I was just thinking about... you know. We're engaged now."

"Yeah... isn't it wonderful?" Hugh asked, embracing the redhead from behind. "Amy, I'm sorry about Rita-"

"It's not your fault, Hugh. I just... oooh, how can anybody treat anybody like that?! 'What an old ring, your fiancee must be very poor! You have morals and refuse to profit off others' suffering, obviously you're unworthy of being a doctor! I used to date your boyfriend! How does it feel to have my hand-me-downs?'" Amy took a deep breath, then continued, "Why would you say something like that, except to cut down someone's feelings?!"

Hugh could feel Amy tensing in his embrace. He held her just a little closer, and traced a gentle line down her arm. "She's jealous, that's all," he replied, his voice becoming a whisper. "Think of all the things you've done. Things that Rita won't be able to do."

Amy's eyes closed, and memories and thoughts filled her mind: The first nervous, shy, unsure introductions between herself and Hugh. Graduation from Oputa Medical Academy only a year ago- valedictorian, as her instructors expected. Inventing Solar Wind, practically whipping up the original batch of the reddish liquid with Hugh in Rolf's kitchen sink.

The first time she had seen snow, at Skure Spaceport. (Followed immediately by Rudo and Kain laying down grids of high-intensity laser fire with their rifles, pinning down a massive Sky Tiara long enough for Rolf to run it through upon his sword.
On second thought, she decided, focus on the good. Focus on the snowfall on Dezolis- not that rabid owl.)

Meeting Lutz, and recollections of how humble he was about saving Algo alongside Alisa Landale. Mastering a Healing Technique capable of bringing the recently deceased back to life. Helping Rolf destroy Mother Brain.
Blessed liberation, as the hell-spawned computer rattled her last.

The first time she and Hugh kissed, that night in her apartment. His impromptu proposal to her twenty minutes ago. A steady stream of visits and outings with her comrades that ran the gamut between therapy and evenings with friends.

And then her thoughts began to drift towards the future: Planning a wedding with her loved ones. An elderly priest, a friend of the family, looking upon them and proudly saying, "I now pronounce you man and wife..." Wearing nothing for Hugh later that night but lipstick and high heels-

Amy, she reminded herself. We're just getting ahead of ourselves just a bit. Back to reality.

Her eyes opened, and she looked up at Hugh. "I'll have to change my stationery," she said, laughing and smiling. "A shame, too- my prescription pads arrived in my office yesterday."

"I think they're still valid, Amy Sage or Amy Thompson."

"Amy Thompson." She said the name, as if testing it. "Amelia Thompson, MD. Doctor Thompson. Amelia Soleil Thompson. I like the sound of that! ^_^"

Hugh chuckled, and he looked into Amy's eyes. "I'm sorry about the last name. It's kinda generic, but-"

"Oh, it's perfect. It's certainly better than Rita Thompson, at any rate."

Hugh shook his head. "Much better, but she always said if she got married, she'd keep her last name. Professional reasons. Let's not talk about Rita, though."

Good idea, Amy thought. Just the very mention of Rita's name was enough to make Amy entertain thoughts of hitting the pink-haired woman about the head and neck with her Windblade Cane and Freezing Staff.

As if remembering something, she turned around in Hugh's arms. Pulling herself closer to him, Amy asked, "Hugh? You're not upset that I'm not making money from Solar Wind, right?"

"Of course not!" Hugh replied. He traced a line down Amy's cheek, then continued, "Amy, that was a noble and compassionate thing to do, and I'm still glad the formula's public. You didn't throw your morals under the bus for quick Meseta."

"I... Am I really worth marrying, Hugh?"

"Yes. You're idealistic, Amy. Brave, compassionate, very smart, and an absolute dream to talk to." He looked Amy in the eyes. "I'd rather marry someone like you over someone like Rita."

"Oh, Hugh! ^_^"

Amy stood on her tiptoes, kissing Hugh firmly on the lips. He started to adjust his weight so they wouldn't fall, but then he decided to fall backwards, bringing Amy with him. He held her tight, buffering her fall so that they could lie next to each other in the sand.

Hugh rolled onto his side, watching Amy trying to brush the sand off herself, and smiled. Giving up on the sand, Amy took Hugh's hand into hers.

And at the same time, they said, "I love you."

-=-=-

"I can't believe you got us kicked out of the bar, Anna."

Rolling her eyes, Anna said, "I wasn't the one who started that bar fight, Rudo. Did you really think Pyke appreciated you knocking those four guys over like dominos across his bar?"

"Forget what Pyke thought. Those four guys were eyeballing you like a rat looking a cheese!" Rudo crossed his arms behind his head. "What am I supposed to do, let them ogle you like that?"

"I'm a big girl, Rudo. I can take care of myself."

"'Big girl,' you look like you'd be ten years older than my daughter, if she were still alive."

Anna thought for a second, remembering something Rudo said about his daughter earlier: Louise Marta Steiner, on her fourth birthday, July 8, AW 1280... she'd be about nine today... Making the connection, she stammered, "H-how the hell did you know I'm ninet-"

"I didn't. So, how's my guess?"

"(&^@ you, Rudo." The tone of her voice was ambiguous as to whether the blonde woman was joking or not.

"Hey, don't look at me like that," Rudo protested. "You said the year started with a twelve. You realize you're a year younger than Hugh, right?"

"Yes, I do. Rudo, you're breaching some uncomfortable grounds here-"

With a wave of his hand, Rudo said, "Say no more then."

Anna nodded, and the two walked down the boardwalk in silence for a minute. She broke the silence with, "Some fight, huh?"

"I've been in worse."

"That was a sick thing you did to that one guy."

Rudo grinned. "Oh, come on, his arm will heal someday. Besides, you had that other guy turning blue in a headlock."

"All right, he deserved getting beaten to the bar floor," Anna conceded. "That third one tried to jump you with a broken bottle- how do you think he's doing?"

"If I were younger? I would have broken him like a pencil. He's lucky I only punched him until he threw up."

"He was drunk. Big achievement."

Rudo sighed. "By the way, nice throw you did back there."

"I do what I can. Fastball Specialing people isn't why I use throwing weapons," Anna replied. "I prefer something with finesse, like-"

"Hey guys! Rudo! Anna! Over heeeeeeeeeere!" The voice was overly energetic- Shir's.

Anna sweatdropped, completing her sentence with, "...Like something without Shir's blunt force."

"Huh. And there's Rolf, too," Rudo noted, watching the blue and green-haired couple approach. "What's up?"

"Go ask Shir of the Winds over there," Rolf replied, his head hanging low in defeat. "She's the smart one."

"Yep! And you're the awesomely hot muscle, Rolf! ^_^ So, Rudo! Anna! Here's how it went down..."

In a breathless manner, Shir explained what had happened between Rita and Amy. Rolf heard a few exaggerations, but decided to keep quiet about them. I'm not getting a word in anyway, he thought. It's kinda cute hearing her holycraphereswhathappened! voice, but... wait, I don't remember any Ice Diggers.

"So Rolf and Hugh were all like 'Rarrrr I'm gonna Na Wat you, Rita! Rolf, use Na Thu! Collabo Magic- Conduct Thunder!' Aaaaaand zap!" She pointed at Anna and Rudo with both hands, continuing, "They turned Rita's sandals into an ash tray! But! She reconstituted herself because she's a doctor and totally ripped off Amy's Na Sar, but hey, she's a doctor, she gets Healing College Techs. Where was I..."

"Shir, I don't remember any of this at all," Rolf stammered, sweatdropping.

"So Rita tried to throw Amy's engagement ring into the Great Ocean, but Hugh, with a Shir-assisted leap of might (tm)! caught it in midair and dropped it onto Amy's ring finger! Now Rolf and I are planning Revenge! On! Rita! for what she did to our friends!"

Rudo and Anna turned to face each other, their necks creaking, as dumbstruck looks crossed their faces. The two sweatdropped, clearly trying to decipher just how much of Shir's tale was serious. Finally, after a few awkward seconds, Rudo asked, "So... Hugh has a psychotic ex-girlfriend?"

"Yep."

"I dunno, Rudo. I lost track of this whole sorry saga around 'Iiiiiiin West Paseo/Born an' raised/On the playground's/Where I spendin' most of my days," Anna replied.

"Look, the gist of the story is Shir wants to pull some kind of prank on Rita," Rolf interrupted. "Try not to think about the more... fantastic parts of the story. Though I do like that part where the three of us used the Triblaster Collabo on Rita..." He scratched the back of his head in thought. "I'll have to ask some of the other Agents to help practice it."

"Rolf! Stay focused!" Shir crossed her arms and shouted, "We're here because we're trying to recruit Rudo and Anna! They're our two heavy hitters!"

"Whoa, whoa, hold on a second, Shir," Rudo said, holding up his hand. "I don't hit women."

With a slightly eager grin, Anna asked, "State your target."

Rolf and Rudo groaned and fell over as Shir pointed down the boardwalk. "Right there!" she said. "The pink-haired lady leaning against the aquarium!"

Ratcheting himself up, Rudo looked at Rita, and let out a low whistle. His gaze fixed on her for a few seconds before he turned back to his friends. "Hmmm. Oh, wow. Hot. Pretty nice," he commented. "Too bad she smokes. Eight and a half, otherwise."

"Low-tier Healing College Techs, and I'm sensing up some lesser Melee and Order College, as well," Anna added. "Nothing Gi~ or Na~ level, thankfully. Shouldn't be too much of a problem."

"Anna, we're not going to kill her," Rolf said. "We're just going to... Shir, what the hell are we doing?!"

"We're meeting up with the army!" Shir replied, winking at Rolf. "And we'll have a war council from there! We just need to get underwater, and that means... Maruera gum!"

"Wait... what?! Your army's underwater?" Anna asked.

"Mm-hmm! They have a sub!"

"Now I've heard everything," Rudo said. "So, we just go to a newsstand and get some of this gum?"

"Yeah," Rolf replied, nodding. "Shouldn't take us too long."

"Right! And from there Operation: Kick Rita's Butt commences! Everyone, synchronize watches, whatever the hell that means! XD"

Rolf and Anna took out their visiphones, reading the time displayed on the front screens. "Mine says 12:50," Anna said.

"12:48 here," Rolf added. "It hasn't kept good time since Nei used it as a doorstop."

They put their phones away, and headed down the boardwalk, passing Rita by. Rolf ignored the pink-haired woman; Rudo gave her a brief nod as he and Anna passed; Shir locked eyes with her, mouthing, "You're dead."

"Make yourself useful, kid," Rita told her, blowing a plume of smoke. "Get the number of that bluenette you pal around with. He's hot."

"Oh, you didn't just say that," Shir grumbled, separating herself from the group. "Rolf's mine. He doesn't know it yet."

"You don't sound so convinced," Rita replied. She paused to take a drag from her cigarette, then continued, "Go tell him Rita's interested in him, 'cause, honey, he's just not that into you."

"Shir."

Rolf appeared behind Shir, and he took her wrist into his hands. "C'mon, let's go," he urged. "Don't talk to her. Let's get going, Shir."

"Yeah, you're right," Shir said, glaring at the pink-haired woman. "Don't want this to get messy."

"'Bye, Smear." Then she batted her eyelashes at Rolf. "Hey, you. Rolf, honey. Why don't you ditch the little girl and spend some time with a grown-up, instead?" She crushed her cigarette beneath her sandal, then took a step towards Rolf. "I can show you a real good time, hehe."

"I'd rather rebuild Mother Brain," Rolf said, turning his back to Rita. "Let's get going."

"Yes. Let's." They took two steps from the woman before Shir whispered, "(Rolf. Put your hand on my butt.)"

"Wha?"

"(Just do it.)"

Confused, Rolf did as he was told. Shir smiled to herself as he felt Rita's icy glare on his back. "(She's not lining up a Foi blast on me, is she?)" he asked.

"(Naah. Keep your hand right there...)" The green-haired woman slipped an arm around Rolf's waist, lacing her fingers between his as she reached for his free hand. "(There. Perfect.)"

Once they reunited with Rudo and Anna, Rolf took his hand off Shir's bottom. "Sorry about that," he said. "I don't know what happened."

"Psychological warfare, Rolf. You have to instill paranoia into your foe before you strike!" Shir replied.

"...Riiiight," Rudo said. "We got the gum."

"Chiclet style," Anna added, breaking half of the blister packed gum off its sprue. She handed it to Rolf, saying "I wasn't there for the first batch, so I don't know how long it's gonna last per piece."

"Four hours per, I think," Rolf said. "But the first batch was stick gum..."

"Why don't we read the box?" Shir asked.

Anna sighed, inwardly kicking herself as she turned the cardboard wrapper over. "Let's see... nutritional info... here we go. About an hour per piece, sixteen pieces per wrappage, so four pieces each. These friends of yours aren't too far away, are they, Shir?"

"Naaah. The sub usually stays really close to the mainland, so about ten minutes. Twenty if we're pacing ourselves," Shir said.

"All right. Rolf, gimme your shirt," Rudo said. "I'll go grab us a locker."

Rolf released Shir's hand, and she watched as he removed his shirt. She blushed slightly as she looked at the slight collection of scars that crossed his muscled torso. Not a trace of flab on him! she thought. Hehe, you really are as handsome as the devil, aren't you, Rolf?

Rudo removed his shirt as well, revealing an equally muscled torso, much more heavily scarred than Rolf's. Unlike Rolf's, Rudo's scars were more jagged- the results of years spent hunting and killing Biomonsters.

"I'll go with you, Rudo," Anna replied. Tugging at her shorts, she explained, "I gotta take these off in the locker area. Local laws are odd, aren't they?"

"Yeah. We'll be back in a minute, Rolf."

Once Rudo and Anna left, Shir turned back towards Rolf, trying to control her blush. "So..." she started. "Work out much?"

"I try." There was a slight pause before Rolf added, "I'm sure you have scars too."

"Huh? Oh! Y-yeah! Scars!" Shir sweatdropped. "A couple. Stinkin' Earthmen."

".....Shir, you're not looking at my scars, are you?"

With Rolf's words, Shir felt a sudden trickle of blood spurt from her nose. Sweatdropping again, she said, "Not really, no."

"Didn't think so." Smiling, he asked, "So, what were you gonna ask me before?"

"Before when?"

"Before your friends called us back."

She had to think for a minute, then said, "Oh, yeah! That! *snrrrrk* I was gonna ask you- you doing anything tomorrow?"

"Desk duty. It kinda sucks," Rolf explained, "But every Agent's gotta do paperwork sooner or later."

"Oh. Because if you're not working too late..." She blushed again. "Wanna get dinner? I know this great Indian place in Paseo!"

"Well-"

"You can't say no to this, Rolf! You haven't lived until you tried their chicken tandoori! Mmmm! Now you got me thinking about their pasanda and rice, and their veggie curry!" Shir's mouth started watering as she continued, "And their chapati bread's to die for! Whaddya say, Rolf?! Please please please! Say yes!" She started hopping from one foot to the other, waiting for Rolf to make a decision.

"I was gonna say, 'Well, it's only a few hours' worth,' Shir. I've got the whole afternoon free, so... sure!"

"Yay! ^_^" Shir leapt up onto Rolf, throwing her limbs around him, then delivered a kiss upon the surprised Agent's lips. As she pulled away, she said, "Don't tell me you didn't enjoy that, Rolf Eushys."

"I, uh-"

"Because you've been kissing me all day, and I know you've been enjoying that."

Another hesitation, then Rolf brought his lips to Shir's, pulling her close. Memories of their first kiss years ago came flooding back-

-but the awkwardness was gone. This time, they didn't want it to end.

"Rolf, Shir, we're back," Anna announced. "Locker two-ni- ...well, well."

"Hey, guys?" Rudo asked. "Did we miss something here?"

Next Episode Preview: Rolf and Shir go for a refreshing swim with Rudo and Anna, Hugh and Amy bond upon the beach, and Kain engages Ultra Macho Man in extremely brutal single combat!

Rudo: I still think we missed something while we were getting a locker.
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