Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ Come With Us ( Chapter 7 )
Come With Us
(Official disclaimer: This work is entirely a fan fic. I do not own the rights to Gene, Melfina, or any of the themes, concepts, alien races, planets, starships, or other characters that appear in the "Outlaw Star," anime or manga. So Bandai, Sunrise, or whoever owns the rights to "Outlaw Star," PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, DON'T SUE ME!! I'm only doing this to honor your work and to show my respect and appreciation for what has become my favorite anime.)
(Author's notes: In this chapter, we meet a character called Yama. I don't know exactly if any other anime genre has a character with that same name, I simply chose it because it means mountain in Japanese and I think it suits this character perfectly. So please don't flame me about this later.)
As the elevator carried him to the fortress's top, Yama began to wonder the meaning of the sudden emergency meeting. Could something have gone wrong with the mission Lord Askared had been sent on? But that couldn't be it. Askared was the greatest swordsman in the entire guild. Only Lord Shidowkun's skill surpassed his. Lord Shidowkun must want to tell us that Askared has successfully acquired the android as planed, Yama thought. Yes, that must be it. As the elevator door's opened, Yama ducked under the door frame as he exited and proceeded down the hallway towards the Emperor's throne room, his massive frame dominating the corridor. At eight feet tall and bulging with muscle, Yama seemed born to wear the title of Shogun of Strenth. His head was shaven completely bald except for a braided topknot that jutted out the back of his cranium while the steel breastplate and leather breeches and boots he wore strained and creaked with each movement. I suppose that I will learn soon enough, he thought. Turning left at the hall's end, Yama came to a pair of heavy double doors that was being guarded by Karg, captain of the Akuma, Shidowkun's elite honor guard. Though not quite as tall as himself, the masked sentry possessed remarkable fighting ability that rivaled Yama's. That and his role as a confidant of Shidowkun was enough to earn Karg the Shogun's respect.
"Has everyone else arrived," he asked.
"Indeed," Karg told him, not bothering to look at Yama. "They're waiting for you inside." Yama nodded as the doors opened on automatic hinges, allowing him to pass through into a spacious rectangular room. Stone support pillars lined both sides while the roof was raised to meet in its center, forming a pyramidal shape. Ahead of Yama stood two individuals. To his left was a man much shorter than him and dressed in an orange monk's robe with a rosary of prayer beads wrapped around his hand and wrist. Unlike Yama, the newcomer's head was shaven completely bald while a Manchurian style beard and mustache ordained his face. On his forehead, just above the bridge of his nose, was a manji tattoo. Yama bowed to Mako, Shogun of Mind, and Mako bowed back as the second man bowed as well. Standing next to a stone box placed against the pillars, the second man was hunched over and possessed a pale and emaciated face. His eyes and cheekbones were sunken into his skull while dark gray hair clung like wet seaweed to his scalp. Over his skeletal body, the man wore a red hood and full-length robe while in his hand he held a red staff capped with a headpiece that resembled an inverted G. Yama and Mako promptly turned away from him in disgust and Yama observed a pleased smile spread across the face of Naga, Shogun of Magic. Among all of the four Shoguns, Naga was the most hated, even among his own men. He was no warrior, but merely a skulking Tao Master. Of course, Naga was well aware of how reviled he was, and made sure to get the most absolute pleasure out of it all.
"If you all are here then I wish to begin business immediately," said a hollow, resonating voice. Yama and the other Shoguns turned towards the head of the throne room where a throne of black metal stood on a raised platform with its back to them, its owner staring out an octagonal observation window.
"Lord Shidowkun," Naga said in his high pitch rasp, "what is this business that you wish to discuss with us?" The throne rotated to face them and Shidowkun's glowing red eyes narrowed as he looked upon his followers.
"Askared, Shogun of Blades, is dead." Shidowkun's announcement left Yama speechless. Was it really possible? "I have received word from the attendant who accompanied him to Asteroid Blue Heaven," Shidowkun continued. "Three Oni returned from the battle. Their memory files showed that Askared was killed by a man in black, who like us, seems to be in pursuit of the android-girl." Angrily, Yama turned to Naga.
"Why wasn't this foreseen in the scenario you and your aids envisioned?" he demanded.
"I was asked to consult the ki-lines and determine what the result based on our actions would be," Naga said. "I was not ordered to see what affect the actions of others would have."
"That is no excuse," Mako snapped. "With your magic, you should have seen everything that could possibly happen. And now, because of your negligence, we have lost the android, one of our number is dead, and the sword has slipped through our grasp."
"Enough!" Shidowkun roared. Yama and the others promptly stopped their fighting. "This bickering is pointless and only serves to halter our plans."
"My lord," Yama asked, "might this have something to do with the death of that Daimyo that served under Askared?"
"Yes," Naga said. "As I remember, that same Daimyo was in possession of Professor Khan's data disk as well as the medallion. Both disappeared when he was killed, if I remember."
"You are correct Naga," Shidowkun said. "As it stands, we cannot proceed any further until we know who this man is and why he has aligned himself with Gene Starwind. This plan has been put in motion for far too long for me to just watch it come crashing down. Mako," he said as he turned to the Shogun of Mind.
"Yes my lord." Shidowkun motioned with his armored hand and a mini-disk floated from his side towards Mako.
"This disk concerns the battle as observed by the Oni," Shidowkun said. "Study it. I want to know just who this man in black is."
"As you command my lord," Mako said as he took the disk.
"Yama," the Toku Emperor said as he turned to the Shogun of Strength.
"Yes my Emperor."
"You are to set out in search of this man in black. Observe him. Monitor him. And then report back to me for further instructions."
"As you wish Lord Shidowkun," Yama answered.
"And what about the android girl Lord Shidowkun?" Naga asked. "Surely we can send McDougal after her again."
"No," Shidowkun replied. "Until we know the role of this man in black and what action we should take against him, our plans for her will have to wait until later. That will be all." Yama and the others bowed in compliance as the meeting ended. As Shidowkun's throne turned away from them, the three Shoguns left to attend to their assigned duties. After exiting the throne room, Yama was stopped by Karg.
"Shidowkun told me that he planned to send you after the android," Karg told him. "I've therefore had a ship prepared to take you after her."
"Well done," Yama commented. "It is imperative that I follow the Outlaw Star as soon as possible." And unlike that fool Askared, Yama would not allow himself to fail.
"Alright!" Gene yelled as he grabbed Mazren by the collar of his jacket. "Just what the hell kind of crap are you trying to pull here?" As Gene yelled at the man who had just saved her life a third time, Melfina found herself speechless. Around her, the others seemed to be in a similar state of shock. Aisha's mouth had dropped open while Jim had grabbed onto the railing, his face white. Suzuka had maintained her composure, but looked at Mazren as if she didn't know what to think. He's my brother? she asked herself. But that couldn't be true. How could she have a brother if she wasn't human?
"I'm not pulling any crap here," Mazren answered. "You asked me who I was and I told you. I'm Melfina's brother."
"Look you," Gene said. "Just how dumb do you think I am?" Mazren raised an eyebrow in question.
"Do you really want me answer that Starwind?" Gene's face flushed in rage and Melfina momentarily feared that he would try to hit Mazren.
"Look mister," Jim said. "You can't be Melfina's brother. It's impossible."
"Oh yeah?" Mazren asked as he looked down to Jim. "How come?"
"For starters," Aisha said as she pushed ahead of Melfina, "she wasn't born in the same way that other people were."
"You mean because she's a bio-android?" he asked. Melfina gasped in shock as Gene let go of Mazren.
"How the hell do you know that?" he asked as he stepped back
"Because I'm one too."Again, Melfina didn't know what to say. As far as she knew, only she and the Outlaw Star were created by the Leyline project. Could Mazren be telling the truth?
"Yeah right," Jim said. "Do you really expect us to believe that?"
"Why not?"Mazren asked as he pointed at her. "Could you tell Melfina was a bio-android just by looking at her?"
"He has a point," Suzuka said. "And it would explain as to why he's so strong. Tell us, how is this possible?" Mazren turned away and gestured with his hand.
"You really want to know? Then follow me."
"Hey Gene?" Jim asked as Mazren and his wolf began to walk away. "Do you really think that we can trust him?"
"None of this makes any sense Jim," Gene answered. "But it's not like we have much of a choice here. Right now he's the only real lead that we have. You and the others follow after Mazren. I'll catch up after I gather what's left of my caster." Jim nodded as he, Aisha, and Suzuka followed after Mazren. Melfina however, decided to stay behind with Gene. As he gathered up the shattered remnants of the weapon, it looked to Melfina like he was about to cry.
"Gene?" Melfina asked as she walked up to him.
"I've had this gun for almost four years. It's a total bitch to get ammunition, but it's gotten me out of fights that would have killed me without it." Not knowing what else to do, Melfina placed her hand on Gene's arm. It was all she could think of to comfort him. He felt her gesture and looked down at her with his dark blue eyes.
"Well," he said as he smiled weakly, "let's catch up to your 'brother' and the others before we get left behind."
"Right," Melfina said. She and Gene followed after the others and caught up to them as Mazren led them out of the park and into the mall section. As they walked, Melfina saw how the people in front of them gave them all a wide berth, a mixture of fear and contempt on their faces. Eventually, Mazren led them to an elevator that led down to Blue Heaven's lower levels. As the doors opened, Mazren and his wolf stood aside as Melfina and the others entered first. Once they were ready, the two bounty hunters joined them and Mazren pressed the button for a repair garage on the sixth level. As the elevator descended, Melfina looked up to Mazren and thought that even if she were human, she would find it hard to believe that someone like him could be related to her. His hair was the same shade of black as hers, but he was more than twice her size. Not only that, his bearing was completely different. He lacked any of the uncertainty that she occasionally felt, and instead projected an air of hardened strength around him. As if sensing that he was being watched, Mazren looked down at her.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"No," Melfina said quickly. "Of course not." She turned away briefly and felt a large hand on her shoulder. Melfina looked up and saw Mazren smiling at her in an amused faction.
"If you're worried about my wound you don't have to," he told her. "I heal fast. It's part of my design."
"Oh," she said as she smiled back. "That's good to know." For a second, she could have sworn that she had heard a growl coming from Gene, but she quickly dismissed it as coming from Mazren's wolf. Not long after that, the elevator finally reached level six. The doors opened and they all stepped out into a repair garage. Above them, Melfina and the others saw Mazren's ship locked in place as uutdated repair robots replaced the hull plating damaged from the Shangri La's missiles.
"Hey ya Mazren." Melfina and the others turned and saw a tall, pink-feathered Silgrian woman wearing coveralls and holding a clipboard coming towards them.
"Hey Zedia," Mazren called. "How does the Warshark look?"
"Well," Zedia answered as she looked over her clipboard, "I can fix the hull plating, but I can't do anything yet about the engine systems. I put in the order, but the parts won't arrive for about another standard week."
"Damn," Mazren cursed. "Well, thanks anyway."
"No problem," Zedia answered. She then noticed Gene and began to look him over. "Say have we met someplace before?"
"No!" Gene said quickly. "Trust me we haven't!" Zedia walked up to him and leaned down to examine him closer.
"You know," she said, "you look a lot like someone I met on Tenrei about seven months ago. Oh well, never mind. So Mazren are you going to stay here tonight?"
"Yeah," Mazren answered. "I'm not exactly the most popular guy in town. It'd be best if I stayed out of Blue Heaven's hotels."
"Alright then," she said as she disappeared into the elevator. "I'll see you in the morning then." Mazren nodded and led them up the ramp to the hatch of his ship. As soon as they reached the top, the hatchway opened and a green robot the size and shape of an ostrich egg rolled out on the maintenance rail.
"Welcome home Mazren." The robot's voice was deep and feminine; and it sounded hot enough to melt butter.
"What the hell is that?" Aisha asked.
"Everyone," Mazren said as he turned to face them, "meet Diana. She's the Warshark's computer. So has my order arrived yet Diana?"
"Yes Mazren," Diana said. "It arrived roughly ten minutes ago. It's waiting for you all in the lounge."
"Order?" Gene asked.
"I anticipated that I'd be entertaining guests tonight," Mazren said over his shoulder. "So I ordered out. And since one of your group is a Ctarl-Ctarl, I ordered the magna-deluxe family special."
"Mrrow," Aisha said as she licked her lips. "I could use something to eat. That's just what I need to fix myself up." It was then that the robot noticed Melfina and rolled out towards her.
"Are you Ms. Melfina?" Diana asked.
"Um," Melfina said as she looked at the robot, "yes I am."
"I'm so very glad to finally meet you face to face," Diana said. "Mazren has been very worried about you for the last few days."
"Come on everyone," Mazren said. "If we don't hurry the food will get cold." As she and the others followed Mazren into his ship, Melfina noticed something very familiar about the interior of Mazren's ship. And she wasn't the only one.
"Hey Gene?" she heard Jim ask. "Doesn't this look a lot like the inside of the Outlaw Star?"
"That's because the Warshark's design is based on that of the XGP-15A2," Mazren said. "With a few alterations of my own of course."
"How would you know about the Outlaw Star?" Suzuka asked.
"Some of the data concerning the plans for the XGP were implanted into my memory accidentally by the Kei Pirates when I was designed," Mazren replied. "I later had the Warshark custom built for me by the Penelope Corporation as payment for services rendered. It's a great ship, but certain parts like the engine systems have to be custom ordered when they need repaired." Stopping at a hatch on their left, Mazren gestured for them to enter. "Go on in and make yourselves at home. I'll join you after I change out of these bloody clothes." As he and his wolf then turned down a corner and disappeared, the hatch opened up and the smell of food wafted into Melfina's nostrils. Looking in, she and the others saw ten buckets of food sitting on a coffee table. Six of them were filled with fried chicken while the remaining four were filled with biscuits, mashed potatoes, collard greens, and various other side orders. As they walked in, Melfina found her stomach growling so she promptly sat down on a couch behind the coffee table and reached for one of the buckets.
"Hold on a minute Melfina," Gene suddenly said. "For all we know, he could have drugged this stuff."
"Please do not insult Mazren like that Mr. Starwind?" Diana asked. "He does not stoop so low as to use drugs or poisons. Trust me. If he wanted to kill you or knock you out, he would have done so already himself." Melfina looked to the ceiling in surprise. She had never heard a computer speak to anyone like that before.
"Gee," Gene said sarcastically, "that makes me feel so much better."
"Come on Gene," Aisha said as she dug into one of the buckets. "If this stuff was really poisoned then I would have smelled it by now."
"Well," Jim said, "If Aisha says its okay then that's good enough for me."
"Exactly," Aisha said as she began stripping piece after piece. She sat down at a chair to the table's left while Suzuka sat at a chair on the opposite end. Gene and Jim, meanwhile, joined Melfina on the couch. Reaching for a breast from the bucket closest to him; Gene smelled it, shrugged, and began eating. As soon as he decided that it was okay, Melfina reached for a leg and began to eat herself. Suzuka on the other hand, decided not to eat anything and sat on the chair opposite from Aisha as she quietly waited for Mazren to return. As she ate, Melfina remembered hearing somewhere that a person's house was an indication of their personality and began to assess the room they were in. The furniture was simplistic and functional, and appeared to have seen a great deal of wear. On the wall opposite her, a glass display case held a series of ornately designed swords and daggers. To her right, a monitor and a pair of closing storage bins were installed into the bulkhead. Inside the bins were jars of what Melfina guess was gun and polishing oil.
It was then that Mazren and his wolf joined them. Melfina saw that the man who claimed to be her brother had changed out of his jacket and armor and had switched into a dark green tank top. In his left arm, he carried a metal folding chair while his right hand carried a six-pack of beer. Setting the chair up across from her, Mazren sat down, pulled out one of his beers and drank it; emptying the can with one gulp. As she watched him, Melfina suddenly felt something across her hip. She looked down and saw that Mazren's wolf had laid one of its forelegs across her right thigh. The big animal stared at her for a second before laying its head across her lap.
"Don't be afraid," he told her. Melfina looked up and saw that Mazren was smiling slightly. "Slag likes you and he wants you to scratch his head." Looking back down to 'Slag', Melfina cautiously brought her hand up and scratched his head between his ears; causing Slag's tail wag across the floor. Melfina laughed to herself as she reached into one of the buckets and pulled out a biscuit. Placing it in front of the wolf's nose, Slag gulped it down before his tongue extended out to lick her hand.
"Look's like someone's made a new friend," Jim said as he watched. But just then, Gene reached out for another chicken piece. His hand got too close to Slag's snout and the wolf snapped at him.
"Shit!" Gene yelled as he jerked his hand back. "Will you tell that damn dog of yours that I'm not going to hurt Mel?"
"First of all," Mazren said, "Slag isn't a dog, he's a wolf. Second of all, he knows that you aren't going to hurt Melfina."
"Well then why did he snap at me?" Gene asked.
"Because he doesn't like you." Gene glared at Mazren before leaning back and cursing under her breath.
"Excuse me," Suzuka interrupted. "But you told us that you were going to tell us about what was going on here." Mazren cracked open another beer as he reached for a thigh from one of the buckets.
"Alright," he said as he tore off a section of chicken meat. "I'm guessing you'll want me to start as to how I could be Melfina's brother."
"This ought to be good," Melfina heard Gene say.
"First things first," Mazren said. "How much do you people know about Melfina before you met her?" Not even I know all the answers, Melfina thought.
"Well," Gene said, "we know that she was created by Gwen Khan for the Kei pirates from some data uncovered by them at ruins called 'Grave of the Dragon,' and that they intended to use her as the key to finding and then activating the Galactic Leyline. However, she doesn't have that ability anymore. Not that that really matters."
"That's right," Jim said. "Nothing about her past matters to us. We only care about her."
"Well," Mazren said, "here're a few things that you don't know. First of all, the Kei pirates uncovered from the ruins-for lack of a better term-three sets of blueprints. The first was for an artificial being called the Maiden of the Leyline, whose purpose was to guide whoever created her to the Leyline and then serve as its keeper."
"Right," Aisha said as she gobbled down a cup of mashed potatoes. "And that is, or was, Mel."
"The second set of blueprints," Mazren continued, "was for a vessel that would take the creators to the Leyline."
"And that's the Outlaw Star," Gene said.
"What was the third set of blueprints for?" Suzuka asked.
"The third set was for a second artificial being, whose sole purpose was to protect the Leyline from those who would abuse its power. You could call this second being the 'Guardian of the Leyline."
"And I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that was you," Jim said.
"Exactly," Mazren said. "However, due to such limitations as deadlines, the budget, and his own idiocy, Khan was unable to fully interpret the blueprints from the data the Kei uncovered. One such example was the DNA for myself and Melfina's organic half."
"So then how did he create me?" Melfina asked. If she was incomplete, than that would explain as to why she couldn't remember anything before Gene awakened her.
"He needed to fill the gaps in our genetic code before he could actually make us," Mazren explained. "Therefore, Khan simply filled in the gaps in each of our DNA strands with gene sequences taken from the other. By doing so, he was able to create the full DNA outline for two human based bio-androids."
"You know," Gene said as he leaned forward. "I hope you don't take it personally if I don't believe you." Mazren shifted his attention to Gene and grunted.
"I figured you'd say something like that," Mazren said as he snapped his fingers. Above him, one of Diana's maintenance robots rode over Mazren and dropped a pen shaped syringe into his open hand. Mazren took the tip of the syringe and stuck it into the end of his middle finger, causing the reservoir at the other end to fill with a sample of his blood. When he finished, Mazren removed the filled reservoir and replaced it with an empty one. "If you doubt me," he said as he handed both the syringe and the blood sample to Gene, "then compare our blood." Gene took the syringe from Mazren's hand and stared at it for a second before turning to Melfina.
"I normally wouldn't ask you to do something like this," he told her as he handed her the syringe.
"I know," she said as she took it from his hand. She realized that it was the only way that they would know the truth. Melfina jabbed her finger with the syringe and grimaced slightly at the sudden sting. The reservoir filled with her blood sample and she removed her finger to suck on the tiny prick.
"Are you okay?" Gene asked.
"Yes, I'm fine," she said as she handed the syringe to Gene. Taking it from her, Gene removed her blood sample and handed it along with Mazren's to Jim.
"You know what to do Jim," he said.
"Got it," Jim said. He took the two blood samples from Gene and began scanning them with his P.A.
"You've told us about and you Melfina's 'organic half,'" Suzuka said. "How were your technological halves created?"
"Are you familiar with the science of nano-technology?" Mazren asked.
"I've heard of it," Jim said. "It has something to do with microscopic robots called nanites doesn't it?"
"Very good," Mazren said. "Our technological halves were created through the use of nano-cybernetics."
"Nano-cybernetics?" Aisha asked.
"After the DNA for our organic halves were completed," Mazren said, "they were inserted into blank egg cells and were then bonded with a nanite. Think of it as the sperm cell fertilizing the egg. They were then placed in a nutrient bath, which was placed into a maturation chamber. As the egg cell divided and grew, the nanite constructed others like itself from minerals inserted into the nutrient bath. These multiple nanites grew and developed along with the zygote and the fetal host, forming interlocking units called nano-clusters in various parts of the host body. These nano-clusters each served a different purpose, depending on what position in the host body they had taken up residence in according to preprogrammed instructions."
"Right," Gene said. "Do you really expect us to buy this crap?"
"Gene!" Jim said. Melfina and the others turned to Jim and saw that his face had been drained of all color.
"Jim?" Gene asked as he tapped him on the shoulder. Jim turned to Gene and swallowed hard.
"He's telling the truth."
"What?" Gene asked as he stared at Jim.
"There's an eighty percent genetic match between the two of them." Too shocked to say anything, Melfina stared at Mazren. Then it's true, she thought. He really is my brother!
"Now do you believe me?" Mazren asked. The lounge was quiet as they all stared at him. After a while, it was Suzuka who broke the silence.
"You seem to be slightly older than Melfina Mazren. Is there any particular reason for that?" Mazren smiled slightly as he opened another beer.
"Now therein lays a tale," he said as he guzzled his drink. "You see, as the Guardian of the Leyline, the Kei pirates knew that they were the exact type of people whom I was supposed to protect the Leyline from."
"But they still created you?" Gene asked.
"The technology that was used to create Melfina and myself was experimental; based on knowledge pulled out of an ancient ruin. As they wanted to acquire the Leyline with as few glitches as possible, they decided to use me as the prototype for her. That way, they could see if it was possible to follow the blueprints, and also correct any mistakes that would develop in me when they constructed Melfina." Mazren paused as he tilted back his head for another swig from his beer. "I spent five years in the maturation chamber before I fully matured. I was then transferred to a data chamber for education."
"Data chamber?"Aisha asked.
"It's a tank that's very similar in design to Melfina's navigation chamber," Mazren said. "Gwen Khan designed it to send data via binary transmissions to the nano-clusters that had formed in my brain. I spent two years in there while data concerning fighting styles, weapons usage, and assassination techniques was fed directly into my brain."
"Assassination techniques?"Jim asked.
"Originally," Mazren said, "the pirates planned to kill me after I was finished. After all, it was Melfina that was their objective. But then the pirate boss in charge of the Leyline project, your old friend Hazonko, had a change of heart. He realized my potential, and decided to keep me alive so I could join the ranks of his enforcers, the Anten."
"That's terrible," Melfina said.
"Maybe," Mazren shrugged, "but it beats dying. But anyway, after I was finished, I was awakened and then taken to a training facility that Hazonko had custom built. I may have had the knowledge, but I lacked the experience or the ability to use it. For almost a full year, the training facility was my entire life as I learned how to use my abilities to their utmost."
"We've seen your abilities," Suzuka said. "They certainly are impressive." Mazren grinned in pleasure and flexed his arm for them.
"Most of my nano-clusters formed fibers in my muscle and bone tissue, resulting in enhanced physical strength," he told them. "In my brain, nano-clusters formed in the regions that control memory and reflexes, augmenting their abilities as well. I also have nanites floating freely in my blood. Whenever I get wounded, the nanites activate to close the wound and kill any infection that appears. But I'm getting off of the subject. In the beginning, I agreed to go along with the Kei's plans for me. I felt that as they created me, I had no choice but to be their 'puppet'." Melfina noticed how her brother's face scowled at the word and understood how he must have felt. "I probably would if it weren't for my sensei."
"Your sensei?"Susuka asked.
"Hazonko placed one of his own assassins in charge of my training," Mazren said. "One of the Anten. A man named Leilong."
"Wait a minute," Gene said. "You were Leilong's student?"
"Gene," Melfina asked, "wasn't that the name of that first assassin Hazonko sent to kill you?"
"Exactly," Mazren said. "Leilong was ordered by Hazonko to oversee and head my training. As I learned from Leilong, I began to question the plans the Kei pirates had for me. Eventually, I realized that I didn't want to be their puppet. I wanted to live my own life, on my own terms, by my own rules. At the end of the year, I saw my chance. I killed my guards, stole a ship, and escaped." As he finished, he crumpled his beer and tossed it into a nearby wastebasket. "That was about six years ago. And I like to think that I've done alright since then. Any questions?"
"I do," Aisha said. "Just how much older are you than Melfina anyway?" Mazren hummed as he thought.
"If you consider the day that I was awakened as my birthday," he said, "then chronologically I just turned seven. However, physically and mentally, I'm the human equivalent of twenty-five."
"Now it's my turn," Gene said. "Why didn't you come for Melfina sooner?" Mazren leaned forward and glared angrily at Gene.
"Do you really think that I would have left Melfina in the clutches of those Kei bastards if I knew?"
"Um," Gene said as he searched for an answer, "well…."
"I didn't know anything about the Leyline project or Melfina," Mazren said. "However, roughly a year ago, an on again-off again girlfriend of mine called me and asked me to partner up with her for a job."
"Oh yeah?"Gene asked. "What kind of job?"
"I'll give you a hint," Mazren said. "It had something to do with the Galactic Leyline." Melfina's widened in surprise. Did he really mean her? But he couldn't, not after what Swanzo said he had done to her.
"Hilda!" Jim said. "You were Hilda's boyfriend?"
"You're damn straight," Mazren grinned. "Hot Ice Hilda. What a woman she was."
"You'll get no argument from me there," Melfina heard Gene say under his breath.
"Hilda told me that she had gotten a lead on the location of the Leyline," Mazren continued. "I didn't exactly believe in it, but I figured that it might be fun. But at the time I couldn't go meet with her because I was chasing after a terrorist called Osabin. Regardless, Hilda told me to come meet her as soon as possible. She also said that she had someone that she wanted me to meet." Hilda told me shortly before she died that there was someone she wanted me to meet too, Melfina thought. Could she have meant Mazren?
"Unfortunately," Mazren said. "After I had captured Osabin and turned him over for the bounty on his head, I heard a rumor that Hilda had died at some system called Farfallas; courtesy of a pair of mercenaries called the McDougal Brothers." Mazren paused as a sober look came over his face. "I felt guilty, as if I had failed her. I swore to honor her memory by finding out just what Hilda was planning to do. I dug around, and learned that Hilda had partnered up with some kid named Gene Starwind fresh off of Sentinel III. I did some digging on your past and decided to follow after him and try to figure out what Hilda had planned. But by the time I got to Sentinel, you had already left. With no leads, I simply waited for anything I could use and went back to chasing after bounties. And then, two months later, I heard how you all had taken down that robber boss Crackerjack over on Heifong. I followed after, and once again you were gone before I could get there. I talked to some of my sources and heard that you were in search of the Galactic Leyline. I decided to drop the search after that and let you honor Hilda's memory in my place. Chasing after you was taking up to much of my time anyway."
"But you didn't answer my question," Gene said. "Why the hell didn't you come for Melfina before this?"
"And as I've already told you," Mazren growled, "I didn't know that I had a sister. But about a month ago, a Daimyo who worked under our friend Askared came to me and offered a job."
"A Daimyo?"Jim asked.
"A lesser Toku boss," Mazren answered. "He had heard of my reputation as a bounty hunter and wanted me to capture someone for the Toku leaders. He showed me a data disk that he had acquired. The data disk was partially corroded, but it contained records from the laboratory of Gwen Khan himself. From the disk, I learned that he had created a second android from the data the Kei uncovered. That was the first time that I learned about Melfina. I also learned from the Daimyo that she and some experimental grappler ship were stolen a year ago by Hilda, and that Gene Starwind had become the caretaker of them both after she died. Naturally, I killed the Daimyo, and promptly began to search for you once again."
"Okay," Jim suddenly said. "Now I've got a question."
"What do you want to know?" he asked. "I've already told you everything I know about Melfina."
"Actually," Jim said, "my question is in regard to the Toku."
"Like what?" Mazren asked.
"For starters," Jim asked, "just what exactly are those Oni things?"
"That's easy," Mazren said. "They're a cruder form of Melfina and myself."
"You mean they're bio-androids?" Aisha asked.
"Exactly," he said. "What happens is that the Toku take a cluster of nanites, some tissue samples, and attach it to piece of synthetic dragonite."
"The Toku have found a way to produce dragonite artificially?" Suzuka asked.
"Right," Mazren said. "The nanites form a bond between the dragonite and the organic tissue, using the dragonite to power themselves as they aid the tissue samples to develop. However, as the Oni are completely dependent upon the nanites to hold them together, over sixty percent of their bodies are composed of dense nano-clusters."
"I get it now," Jim said. "That's how the Oni are able to regenerate and transform like they do. But how do they just appear and disappear like that?"
"Another bunch of nano-clusters in their skin," Mazren answered. "Instead of absorbing light, they bend it around the themselves. But for all their powers, the Oni are incredibly stupid. They know enough to fight and to follow orders, but that's their absolute limit. They also have two specific weak points. The first is the dragonite crystal stored in their chest. Break it and the nano-clusters lose power."
"What's the second one?" Aisha asked as she reached into her fourth bucket of fried chicken.
"The second weak point is in their neck," Mazren said. "They have a nano-cluster located there that serves as a power regulator. Break it, and they lose the ability to power the nano-clusters."
"Amazing," Jim said as he leaned back. "Just think of what you could accomplish with that kind of technology."
"What about the Toku hierarchy?" Suzuka asked. "Who are their leaders?"
"I'm glad that you asked me that," Mazren said. He looked up and called out, "Diana, bring up the Toku symbol."
"Right away," Diana replied. The monitor on the bulkhead turned on and shifted to the image of a manji symbol.
"Each one of those four arms," Mazren explained, "is a symbol of one of the four Shoguns, the governing body of the Toku."
"The Shoguns?"Gene asked. "That's what Askared called himself."
'That's right," Mazren said. "Askared was the Shogun of Blades. The other three have titles as well. They're known as the Shoguns of Strength, Mind, and Magic."
"So the Toku rulers came after us instead of their flunkies?" Jim asked.
"If the situation is of vital importance to their individual domains or the Toku as a whole," Mazren answered, "than the Shoguns prefer to handle matters themselves. They see it as a matter of pride."
"What about the red eye in the center?" Suzuka asked.
"The red eye symbolizes the Toku Emperor," Mazren said. "I don't know that much about him except that his vassals call him Shidowkun, and that he's supposed to be some an invincible fighter who has never lost anyone. But still, I'm not even sure that he really exists." Once again, the lounge was silent as they all stared at the symbol of their newest threat. It was then that Melfina was finally able to build up the courage to talk to Mazren.
"Yes," he answered.
"Why are the Toku after me?" Mazren closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair.
"I really have no idea," he told her. "The only clue I have is this." Turning around in his chair, Mazren reached into a draw built into the bottom of the display case and pulled out a gold medallion on a silver chain. "I took this off of Askared's Daimyo after I killed him. Mean anything to you?" Melfina took the medallion from Mazren and turned it over in her hands. It was perfectly round and roughly three inches across. One face was smooth while the other was engraved with a man holding a raised sword above his head. Lines radiated out from the sword, as if signifying some kind of power. Around the edge of the engraving, characters in a language Melfina had never seen before adorned the medallion's rim. As Melfina studied the medallion, Suzuka leaned towards her to get a better view.
"Do these markings here have any special meaning?" she asked.
"Good question," Mazren said. "I've sent a picture of the medallion to a contact of mine in the Federal Archaeological Society, but she hasn't been able to identify the image or translate the characters. I was hoping maybe Melfina would recognize it and be able to tell me something about it."
"I'm sorry," she said as she looked up. "But I don't know anything about this."
"I might," Gene said. Melfina and the others all turned to him.
"What do you know about it?" Mazren asked.
"Have you ever been to a planet called Tenrei?" Gene asked.
"I've heard about it."
"Well, at Hagone Hot Springs on Tenrei," Gene said, "there used to be a temple that was kept by a pair of wizards named Ark Manoff and Hadul."
"What do you mean 'used to be'?" Mazren asked.
"Well," Gene said as he rubbed the back of his head, "it sort of got blown up. But the point is, before it got blown up, I saw an image exactly like this one there."
"Great," Mazren said. "Only what good is it if the temple got blown up?"
"The temple my have been blown up," Gene said, "but the wizards should still be there. Maybe they would know something about it. The repairs on the Outlaw Star should be finished by tomorrow. We can leave as soon as then for Tenrei for some answers."
"Not a bad idea Starwind," Mazren said. "Except for one small problem."
"Oh yeah?" Gene asked. "And what's that?"
"You people aren't leaving Blue Heaven until I'm ready to." Melfina looked around at her friends as they all bristled slightly.
"Oh yeah," Jim said. "And why shouldn't we?" Mazren opened his fifth beer as he considered his answer.
"Because the Warshark was too badly damaged in the grappler fight," he said as he guzzled his beer. "The repair parts won't arrive for a week at least. Therefore, you all are going to stay here where I can keep an eye on you."
"Look pal," Gene said. "I understand that you're worried about Melfina; her being your sister and all. But you don't need to. I've kept her safe this long and I'll.." but before Gene could finish, Mazren lurched out of his chair and grabbed Gene by the collar, pulling him face to face.
"Listen Starwind!"Mazren yelled. "Melfina is my only family and she's being threatened by the Toku! So until I know why and how to stop them, I'm going to follow you like a bad stench everywhere that you go!" Gene blinked in surprise and struggled to get out of Mazren's grasp.
"You wanna talk bad stench," Gene said, "then you should check your breath! And for your information, you're talking to the guy who killed Hazonko! These Toku guys have only been lucky so far."
"Oh really?" Mazren asked. "For your information Starwind, the Toku aren't lucky. They just know that the only thing keeping Melfina from them is some dumb-ass kid who hasn't even been in space a full year yet. And as far as your victory over Hazonko is concerned, it's meaningless now. Each of the Shoguns is roughly twice as strong as he was. And Shidowkun, if he really does exist, is even more powerful than all four Shoguns put together." Although she sat paralyzed with fear at first, Melfina suddenly found herself rising to pull on Mazren's arm.
"Stop it!" she begged as she felt tears form in her eyes. "Please, let him go." Mazren, whose face was locked in rage, suddenly softened as he looked at her. He released his grip on Gene and stepped back from them.
"Look you," Aisha said as she stood up to confront Mazren. "If these wizard guys really do know something about why the Toku are after Mel, then we're going and you can't stop us. End of discussion." Mazren looked at them all and grimaced.
"I didn't want to do this," he said, "but you forced me to play my trump card."
"What trump card?" Suzuka asked as she stood up herself.
"Show them Diana," Mazren said as he pointed towards the monitor. The monitor shifted from the manji to a cross section of Blue Heaven. A blue dot appeared on the screen at level six while a red dot appeared on the outside of the third level.
"That blue dot is the location of the Warshark," Mazren said. "And the red dot is the location of the Outlaw Star."
"Yeah," Aisha said. "So what?"
"When I studied the data disc," Mazren said, "I eventually was able to restore enough of it to learn how to access the tracer that Khan had secretly installed into the Outlaw Star. That's how I followed you here."
"I knew I should have had that thing removed," Gene said.
"So how is that your trump card?" Aisha asked.
"Because if you people try to leave Blue Heaven before I'm ready to follow," Mazren snarled, "I'll have Diana send a relay signal through the tracer and blow out the memory of your ship's computer."
"You can't do that!" Jim yelled.
"Who says?" Mazren asked.
"That's a dirty trick!" Aisha yelled.
"I'm a bounty hunter," Mazren said. "What the hell did you expect?"
"Listen you son of a bitch!" Gene yelled.
"No, you listen!" Mazren yelled back.
"Everyone stop it!" Melfina yelled as she covered her ears. Everyone in the room stated at her in stunned silence. "Let's just leave for now. I need some time to digest all of this." Gene reached over and place a hand on her shoulder.
"Sure Mel," Gene said. "We understand." Mel looked up into Gene's eyes which always seemed so kind and warm; eyes that always seemed to make her melt.
"Thank you Gene."
"That might be a good idea," Suzuka said. "I think we all need some time to think this over."
"That is alright with you isn't it?" Gene asked Mazren.
"I don't care what you people do so long as you don't leave Blue Heaven," Mazren said. "If a Shogun was sent here than it's unlikely that they've sent anyone else. It should be safe for you all to stay in a hotel for the time being."
"Gee," Gene said, "your words are so comforting. Come on everyone, let's go." Gene turned around and walked out of the lounge. Suzuka followed, her eyes locked on Mazren as she continued to evaluate him. Aisha and Jim took the long way around, keeping a fair distance from Mazren as they both glared at him. Melfina stared at her brother for a moment longer before she turned to leave as well.
"Melfina," she heard him call. "I know that this is probably a huge shock for you. It was the same with me. I really wish that I could say something to make it easier. But all I can do is promise you that as long as I'm alive and kicking, I won't let the Toku come near you." Melfina turned back to him and watched as Mazren sat down on the couch where she had previously sat with Gene and Jim. Slag came up and laid his head on Mazren's lap and he stroked the wolf's head, a look of exhaustion on his face. He looks so lonely, Melfina thought
"Hey Mel!" she heard Jim call. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," she said as she hurried after her friends. "Don't worry I'm coming."
Damn it, Gene thought. What a day! After they had left Mazren's ship, they had all returned to Blue Heaven's third level and checked into a hotel. Gene lay on the bed in his room and stared at the ceiling. Melfina and Jim slept in the room to his right while Aisha and Suzuka were in the room to the left. Melfina hadn't said a single thing since they had checked in, not that Gene blamed her. Finding out that you had a long lost brother would probably do that to anyone.
Mazren was Melfina's brother. Even though he had seen the evidence himself, Gene still couldn't believe it. First of all, there was the difference in their appearance. Melfina was so soft and delicate while Mazren was a hulking bruiser, the kind of person that you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. Their personalities were opposite each other as well. Melfina was the gentlest, most sweet-natured person that he knew. Mazren, on the other hand, was a total jerk. Regardless, Gene thought, I can't ignore the fact that the only reason we were able to protect Melfina was that he helped us out. That fact in itself was the main reason as to why Gene couldn't sleep. The Toku were a hell of a lot stronger than the Kei ever were. That Askared guy had even deflected Gene's number four; something not even Hazonko had been able to do. If he didn't get his act together and find something that would give him an edge, Gene knew that it wouldn't be safe for Melfina to stay with them.
Thinking that, Gene once again thought back to what he had talked over with Jim earlier that day. If Mazren could succeed where he and the others had failed, than maybe it would be better if Melfina left them all and went with her brother. It's the logical choice, Gene thought. So why am I trying to find a reason to the contrary. We may be her friends, but Mazren's her real family. Naturally, she'd be better off with him. So why the hell am I trying to force the idea out of my head? The answer came to him a little too quickly; he didn't want her to go. She was an important part of his life, even if all he could hope to be was her friend. She had saved his life once, and just keeping her around made him want to be a better person. But it was still a moot point. His sentimentality was supposed to come second to Melfina's safety. So why can't I force myself to do the right thing? Am I waiting for her to fall in love with me again? It's over Gene! Accept it! But still…damn it now my head hurts!
He turned to look at the alarm clock and saw that it was two in the morning. As he couldn't sleep, Gene got up from his bed and walked over to the desk over by the door. His hand fumbled in the dark and flicked the lights on low as Gene looked over the shattered remnants of his caster. As far as he could tell, the big problem was the accelerator rings. Gene was able to reattach most of the machinery such as the magazine lock and the trigger, but the rings had been cracked. Gene knew that he might be lucky enough to find a shell or two, but finding a genuine caster, much less the parts for one, was damn near impossible. His only hope was that the Wizards of Tenrie would be able to fix it once he got there.
"Well," he said aloud, "there's nothing I can do about it now." Getting up from the desk, Gene turned off the lights and was about to return to bed and give sleep a second chance when he heard a knock at the door.
"Gene?" Melfina's voice called through the door. Puzzled, Gene opened it and saw Melfina's small form standing in the hallway.
"What's wrong Mel?" he asked. Melfina looked up to him and Gene saw how the beautiful android girl had bags under her eyes. It looked like she wasn't getting any sleep either.
"I have to go talk to Mazren," Melfina explained. "I know my brother said that the Toku are gone for the time being, but I'd still feel safer if you came with me Gene." Gene raised his eyebrow as he wondered why Melfina needed to talk to Mazren now? Could it be because…Gene pushed the thought out of his mind. Whatever Melfina needed to tell her brother, he knew that he couldn't let her go alone. Whatever happened as a result, he would have to face it.
"Sure," he said. "Just let me get dressed first okay?"
"Thank you," Melfina said as she went across the hall to wait for him. Closing the door, Gene reached for his shirt and pants, thrown hastily over the back of a chair. As he dressed, Gene mentally prepared himself for what he was sure was the right thing to do, but also the most painful thing he'd ever have to do.
"Wake up Mazren." Mazren stirred from his sleep and looked towards his alarm clock. 2:30in the morning! he thought. Whatever the hell Diana wants can wait until later. Laying his head back down, Mazren pulled the edge of his pillow up and over his ear so that he wouldn't have to listen to Diana's voice. He was on the edge of going back to sleep when something shocked him in his rear. Mazren yelled in pain as he lurched out of bed, fell, and banged his head against the edge of a shelf. As he rubbed both his rear and the newly formed gash on his head, Mazren looked up to see one of Diana's maintenance robots above him, holding a stun prod in its grasp. "I knew that would work," Diana said. "It always does."
"Damn it Diana!" he screamed as he stood up. "I thought I deprogrammed that crap out of your system."
"I made a backup file," Diana replied. "Now make yourself decent. We have guests."
"Guests?" Mazren asked.
"Mr. Starwind and Ms. Melfina are outside," Diana said. "And Ms. Melfina says that she must speak with you."
"Alright, alright!" he said. "Just give me a second." Mazren reached into his dresser and pulled out a pair of khaki shorts and a T-shirt. Stepping over Slag, he walked down the Warshark's main deck towards the hatch. As he opened it, Melfina looked up to him and her eyes widened in surprise as she saw the dried blood on his forehead.
"Mazren, you're hurt." Reflexively, Mazren reached up to the gash on his head.
"It's nothing," he said. "Just a side effect from Diana's wakeup call." Leaning against the frame of the hatchway, Mazren looked down to his little sister. "So what's up?" Melfina closed her eyes and took a deep breath before meeting his gaze.
"I know that your intentions are good," she said. "But we just can't stay here at Blue Heaven and wait for your ship to get fixed. If the wizards of Tenrei really do know as to why the Toku are after me, than we need to get there right away." Mazren listened to her plea, and felt his heart break. He didn't want to make Melfina unhappy, but he knew that what he was doing was his only choice.
"I don't have any other options," he told her. "The Toku can attack again at any moment. So until I can follow after, I'm going to keep you here where I can protect you."
"No, you're wrong," she said. "There is another option."
"Oh yeah?" he asked her. "Like what?"
"You could come with us." Mazren was caught off guard by what Melfina had suggested. And he wasn't the only one. Starwind suddenly stumbled back as his eyes widened in surprise.
"Wait a minute Mel," he said. "I know that he's you're brother, but at the moment he's not exactly the favorite of the others. Having Mazren on board would be like throwing gasoline on a fire."
"I, I know," Melfina said as she turned to face him. "But Gene, it's the only way that we can get to Tenrei. And…I hardly know anything about him." Walking up to Starwind, Melfina took his hand in hers. "Gene please?" Starwind's features slowly softened and he let out a long exhale.
"All right Mel," he said. "I'll try to convince the others to go along with it."
"Thank you Gene," Melfina said. As he watched them, Mazren suddenly began to wonder as to what the relationship between Starwind and his sister was. Were they intimate? If so, Mazren silently vowed to break every bone in Starwind's body.
"Well," Mazren said after a while, "I suppose I could use a change of pace. Diana's going through one of her moods again and seems to take exceptional pleasure in making my life difficult."
"I heard that," Diana said. As Melfina turned to face him, Mazren saw that his sister's face had a stern look on it.
"There is one catch however," she said.
"What?" Mazren asked.
"You have to be nice to the others," Melfina told him as she walked up to him. To Mazren's surprise, she took one of her pointer fingers and began poking him in the chest. "You can't insult them, threaten them, or hit them. You may be my brother, but Gene and the others are my friends. And if you're going to be mean to them than I don't want you around. Do you understand?" Startled, Mazren began to retreat and soon found himself backed up against the bulkhead. Looking down at Melfina, Mazren couldn't believe that even though he had faced down the likes of pirates, outlaws, and some of the most ruthless killers in the galaxy; he was now afraid of his little sister. A woman who was over five years younger than him and less than half his size.
"Okay, Okay!" he said as he raised his hands in defense. "I give. I promise that I'll behave myself."
"Good," Melfina said as her slender features softened. She then wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him. "I'll see you tomorrow then." As she walked out of the hatchway and down the ramp, Mazren and Starwind looked to each other in surprise.
"Wow," Mazren said.
"That makes two of us," Starwind said. He then coughed as he regained himself. "We're parked at Swanzo's dock on level three. Meet us there at ten A.M. sharp or we leave without you." Mazren nodded as he watched Starwind turn and follow after Melfina. Closing the hatchway, Mazren looked down to see Slag padding up to him to check out what was going on.
"Pack your bags boy," he told Slag. "We're going on a trip."
(The Outlaw Star has a new crewmember. Mazren has promised Melfina to be on his best behavior, but what about the others? How will they react to this news? Aisha already has a grudge against Mazren. Will she seek payback or let it go? And what about Suzuka? Will romance blossom between her and Mazren? Only the Ronin knows? Stay tuned for our next danger-filled episode. Same Outlaw-time. Same Outlaw-website. Don't forget to review.)