Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ Washing Dishes and Making Friends ( Chapter 8 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]

CHAPTER 8:

Washing Dishes and Making Friends

(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.)

THE TIME: THE NEXT MORNING

"Mel!" Aisha yelled. "How could you have done that?" To say that Aisha was upset would be an understatement. She and the others were traveling down the moving walkway towards Swanzo's dock. Now that they finally had a lead as to why the Toku were after Mel, she and the others were all ready to get on the road to Tenrei. Everything seemed like it would be all right for now. Until Mel told them her brother was going to be joining them.

"That might not be such a bad idea," Suzu said. "We've never dealt with enemies this aggressive before. Having someone like Mazren around to help could prove to be an invaluable asset."

"Ah you just want Mazren around because you're hot for him," Gene teased.

"Would you care to repeat that?" she asked as she started to draw her bokuto.

"No thank you," Gene laughed.

"I know that you may not trust him Aisha," Mel told her. "But still, I'd really like you all to at least be polite to him."

"Polite to him!" Aisha yelled. "Are you forgetting how that guy sucker punched me?"

"I haven't," Jim said. "Don't believe that guy Mel. Aisha didn't attack him. All she did was try to find out who he was and he smacked her in the chest."

"I'm sure that Mazren didn't mean it," Mel said. "It was probably just a misunderstanding."

"Oh sure," Aisha said. "I misunderstood the fact that he was a psychotic jerk."

"Aisha, please?" Mel begged as she turned to face her. "Mazren promised that he would behave himself. And there's still so much that I want to ask him about." As she spoke, Mel looked like she was about to cry. Normally, Aisha would have dismissed something like that as what humans referred to as crocodile tears. But she knew that Mel couldn't lie or be fake even if she tried.

"Oh all right," Aisha relented. "But he'd better watch himself or else."

"Well Melfina," Jim said, "if he's your brother then I guess he can't be all bad." As Aisha and Jim gave their okay, Mel smiled in relief and gratitude.

"Thank you both," she said. "It's important to me that everyone tries to get along with my brother." Get along with him huh? Aisha thought. Well I'll be polite to him for your sake Mel, but you can forget about me getting all buddy-buddy with him.

As they neared the end of the walkway, Gene listened to Melfina as she begged Aisha and Jim to get along with Mazren. He had told her that convincing the others to let her brother come along with them would be next to impossible. Suzuka seemed to warm up to the idea rather quickly. The real problem was with Aisha and Jim. Neither one had forgotten how Mazren had used that technique of his on Aisha. But Mel simply asked them with those big puppy dog eyes of hers and they both gave in. Gene smiled slightly; marveling at how Melfina could melt anyone's heart with just her simple sincerity.

Turning his attention back to the corridor, Gene saw the other end approaching fast and heard what sounded like voices coming from the other side. Two he recognized as belonging to Swanzo and Mikey. But that other voice sounds like Mazren, he thought. As the door opened, Gene and the others to their surprise saw Mazren talking and laughing it up with Mikey and Swanzo.

"Hey everyone," Swanzo said as he saw them enter. "Everything's ready for you."

"Um, yeah thanks," Gene said. He really didn't know what to make of the scene he had walked in upon. Didn't Swanzo and Mikey hate Mazren for what he did to Hilda?

"Ole' Mazren was just telling us about how you and he took out that Toku guy last night," Swanzo said. "I really wish that I could have seen that."

"Me too," Mikey said. "You people could have sold tickets to that one. Speaking of selling, here's the bill for the repair job." Gene took the clipboard Mikey held out to him and looked it over. Everything seemed to check out all right, until he saw something unexpected.

"Not that I'm complaining," Gene said, "but how come you guys charged for installing the new gun, but not for the gun itself?"

"That's because I donated a little something to the repairs," Mazren answered. Looking up, Gene saw just what Mazren had donated.

"Isn't that one of the gattling blasters from your ship?" Melfina asked her brother.

"I wasn't too impressed with Starwind's outfitting of his ship. So I added a little punch to the armament." Keep it under control, he told himself as his teeth began to clench. For Melfina Gene, keep it under control. Meanwhile, Mazren seemed oblivious to Gene's anger as he kneeled down to pick up two duffel bags lying at his feet. "Thanks again for helping me load my stuff on board guys," he told Mikey and Swanzo.

"Don't mention it," Swanzo said. "And don't you worry about Diana. I'll be sure to check in on her once a day for you."

"I appreciate it."

"Wait a minute," Gene said. "What stuff?"

"You'll see," Mazren said as he slung the duffel bags over his shoulder.

"What's in the bags?" Jim asked.

"Well," Mazren said as he held out the one in his left hand, "This one holds the essentials: socks, boxers, toothpaste, that sort of stuff."

"And what about the other one?" Suzuka asked.

"The other essentials," Mazren answered. Holding out the duffel bag in his right hand; Mazren snapped his wrist, unlocked the catch, and rolled the bag out. Held in place by hooks sewn into the fabric was every conceivable type of weapon that they could imagine. Among the deadly instruments were a submachine gun, a grenade launcher, blaster pistol, spare throwing knives, spare ammo, various grenades, and a disassembled assault rifle.

"Now then," Mazren said as he rolled his duffel bag back up. "What say we get this show on the road?" As Mazren disappeared up the ramp to the Outlaw Star, Gene grumbled in disdain before turning back to Mikey and Swanzo.

"We'll be launching right away Swanzo," he said. "Thanks again for all your help."

"Don't mention it," Swanzo said. "Now you all get going."

"Yeah sure," Gene said as he gestured to his crew. Ascending the ramp, Gene and the others boarded the Outlaw Star and were walking down the main deck when Mazren exited from one of the spare quarters.

"I see you've made yourself at home," Gene said.

"Well," Mazren said, "it's not as spacious as my quarters aboard the Warshark, but I think that it'll suit us just fine."

"What do you mean by 'us'?" Aisha asked. Hearing a whine, Gene and the others turned around and saw Slag sitting behind them.

"Now wait a minute!" Gene shouted as he turned back to Mazren. "I agreed to let you come along, but I never said you could bring that mutt on board." Hearing what Gene said, Slag promptly began to snarl at him.

"I'd watch my mouth if I were you Starwind," Mazren said. "Slag has already put you on his list of least favorite people. Besides, Slag is my partner. Where I go, he goes."

"Look you," Gene said. "You can't keep Slag on board the Outlaw Star. I'm not having him crapping all over my ship."

"For your information Slag is housebroken. You on the other hand I have my doubts about. " I know that we all promised Melfina that we'd be civil to her brother, Gene thought, but this guy is really pushing it. As if sensing that Gene was about to lose his temper, Melfina stepped between him and Mazren.

"Now that's enough," she said as she raised her hands to separate them. "Mazren, I know that you and Slag don't want to be separated, but we don't have the facilities to keep an animal his size on board the Outlaw Star."

"Actually," Gillium said as one of his maintenance robots rode past, "we do now."

"What do you mean by that?" Jim asked.

"Follow me," Mazren said as he gestured towards the ship's elevator. Descending to the Outlaw Star's lower decks, they exited from the elevator into the cargo hold. Beside Jim's Eirfrau, a large and rectangular cargo module with a door at each end had been nestled against the wall. In front of the module, a punching bag mounted on a pedestal and something covered by a plastic tarp sat side by side.

"May we ask what's in the there?" Suzuka asked as she nodded towards the module. Mazren gestured for them to follow and they all walked up to the module's front door. A motion sensor above the door detected them and signaled it to open. Looking in, Gene and the others all saw that the first two-thirds of the module had been filled with fine-grained sand. On the wall by the door, a shovel and a bunch of industrial strength trash bags hung on a series of hooks.

"Clumping litter with absorbing crystals," Mazren said. "It's the finest money can buy."

"Mazren has already instructed me to bring Slag to this level whenever he enters the elevator by himself," Gillium said. "I doubted it myself until Mazren and Slag demonstrated for me. He really is a very well trained animal."

"I'm sure he is," Gene said as the faint smell of ammonia filled his nose.

"But this is only part of the interior," Melfina said. "What's in the other section?"

"Go see for yourself," Mazren answered. She, Gene, and Jim all went to the module's rear door and looked inside as another motion sensor opened the door for them. Looking in, they saw a refrigeration unit lined with hunks of meat hanging on the bone. In the back, several cases of beer had been stacked and locked inside of a storage cabinet.

"You feed Slag raw meat?" Jim asked.

"What else would I feed a wolf?" Mazren asked back. "Dog food?" Well, Gene thought as the door closed, I guess that sort of makes sense.

"Not that I care," Aisha remarked, "but what's under the tarp?" Mazren grinned in pleasure and his eyes gleamed as he walked over to the mystery object.

"Check this out," he said as he ripped off the tarp. Underneath was something that looked a lot like a standard bike. But instead of hover units, it was equipped with a pair of rubber wheels. The bike had a black paint job with silver trim and had saddle bags attached to the rear wheel. Beside the front wheel, a crate loaded to overflowing with spare parts had been placed.

"What the hell is that?" Gene asked.

"This," Mazren bragged, "is a genuine motorcycle from early twenty-first century earth. A gang of art thieves stole it during a museum heist on Freya a year ago. I caught the thieves, but decided to keep this for myself."

"But isn't that the same as stealing it?" Melfina asked; a look of shock on her face.

"I didn't steal it," Mazren said. "I liberated it. If I had let the thieves or the museum keep it than it would have just slept forever in a glass case. That's no fate for a machine like this. It needs to be driven. It needs to run as wild and as free as the wind."

"So does it run as wild and as free as the wind?" Gene asked.

"That's a problem," Mazren said as he turned to face the ancient machine. "Whoever restored it only concerned himself with aesthetics. I've been trying to adapt some modern technology into its workings, but so far I've met with nothing but failure."

"I'm not surprised," Jim said as he walked up to the bike. "I don't even see why you're wasting your time with this piece of junk. It'll never run." Mazren bristled slightly and kneeled down so that he was eye to eye with him.

"Look kid," Mazren growled. "I've done my homework on this machine. The company who made it was the leader in its field for almost two hundred years. Their products back then put that car of yours to shame in terms of speed, fuel consumption, not to mention reliability. So I'd be a little more careful about what I'd call junk if I were you kid." Jim gulped and slowly began to back away from Mazren's intimidating stare. "I don't care if it takes me a million years but I will get this thing to work." Reaching into the saddlebags, they watched as Mazren began to pull out a set of machinery tools. "I'll be spending most of my time down here, either working on the bike or training; so Slag and I shouldn't be in your way too much."

"Suits me just fine," Gene said. "All right everyone, we've wasted enough time; let's get going." Leaving Mazren to his work, Gene and the others took the elevator back up to the main deck and then headed down to the bridge where Melfina stood on the platform for her chamber and was lowered inside. While Melfina readied herself, Gene sat in the pilot seat with Jim in front and Aisha and Suzuka to his side. As soon as they were strapped in, Melfina's chamber rose from its storage compartment and the front panel opened, revealing Melfina as she floated in the bright crimson liquid.

"Systems all green," she said.

"Sub-light and ether drive engines are operational," Gillium said.

"We've just gotten the Okay from the control room," Jim said.

"All right then," Gene said. "Outlaw Star launching now." At Gene's signal, the docking claw that held the Outlaw Star moved out towards the opening of Swanzo's dock. As soon as they were clear, the claw released them, and the Outlaw Star followed the guide beacons to outside the asteroid field. Once they were clear, Melfina plotted the shortest course for Tenrei and activated the sub-ether drive; the powerful engine generating a trail of energy in their wake as they breached sub-ether space and vanished in a flash of light.

Melfina walked down the main deck of the Outlaw Star. She and the others had been traveling for almost a full day now and were scheduled to reach Tenrei by tomorrow afternoon. At the moment, she was the only one up. Suzuka and Jim might be waking up, but Gene and Aisha were still asleep. Melfina was naturally an early riser, especially since she was the Outlaw Star's semi-official cook. But before she could start breakfast, there was something she had to do first.

Approaching the quarters where Mazren and Slag slept, Melfina knocked on the door. When no one answered, she looked inside and found it empty. They must be in the cargo hold again, Melfina thought as she closed the door and headed for the elevator. Ever since departing Blue Heaven, Mazren and Slag had kept entirely to themselves. The only one who had even spoken to him since departing Blue Heaven was Suzuka. She had gone down to the cargo hold to work on her katas, and Mazren left to go nap in his quarters. As soon as she finished, Mazren went back to work on his bike or to train. As he was busy spending all of his time in the cargo hold, Mazren hadn't even joined them for any meals. Melfina would go and check on him, but he told her that he had brought some food for himself and that she didn't have to worry about him.

As the elevator descended, Melfina decided to try once again to ask her brother to join her and the others for breakfast. The car had just stopped when Melfina heard something that sounded like explosions coming from the other side of the door. As the elevator opened, Melfina saw that the noise was Mazren training with the punching bag again. He was shirtless and drops of sweat ran down the muscle lines and scars in his broad back. While he didn't seem to have as many as Gene, Mazren certainly had his fair share of souvenirs; including the one he received from Askared the night before. Over by Jim's Eirfrau, Slag lay down and gnawed on his breakfast, tearing strips of meat off a bone. Melfina wondered as to how the big wolf could eat so calmly in the midst of the noise Mazren was making; eventually deciding that Slag was simply used to his master's regiment and chose to ignore it. It was then that Mazren's training reached its peak. Melfina watched as her brother let out a yell, encasing his fists in glowing electric light before lashing out. Mazren's left fist became a blur of motion as it pounded at the bag, filling the cargo bay with a sound not unlike machine gun fire before punching with his right, buckling the bag's shape and sending a roaring shockwave that seemed to shake the entire ship. If the others weren't awake before, she thought, then they certainly are now. As Mazren ceased his regimen, his body relaxed as he rolled his shoulders.

"Morning Melfina," he called out. "What's up?" Melfina jumped slightly, surprised that he had sense her come in even while being completely immersed in his training.

"Well," she said, "I wanted to tell you that breakfast was going to be ready in a little while. You're free to join us if you want." Mazren turned to face her and smiled slightly.

"I appreciate the offer," he said. "But I have my own breakfast." As he spoke, Mazren walked over to a metal case that he had set up on the side of the Eirfrau and pulled out what looked like a gray candy bar. Curious, Melfina walked over and peered inside. The case was full of more gray bars and numerous tin cans with pop-top lids. "Federal Space Force Army rations," Mazren said as he munched on the bar. "Complete with high-carbo energy drinks." As he continued to eat his ration, Melfina reached in to pull out one for herself. She looked it over, sniffed it, and then bit off a corner. Immediately, Melfina regretted what she had done. Running over to a waste bin installed into the wall of the cargo hold, she spit out the partially chewed foodstuff and stared at her brother in disbelief.

"How can you possibly eat something like that?" she asked; the bitter medicine taste still in her mouth. Mazren shrugged as he continued to eat.

"They may not be gourmet cooking," he said, "but they keep a body fueled." Melfina though, had had enough. She walked over to Mazren and snatched the ration out of his hand. Throwing it back into the case, she picked up the box of horrible tasting things, carried them over to the waste bin and threw them away. "Hey, Hey!" Mazren cried out. "What you doing?"

"I'm doing you a favor," Melfina answered as she walked back to her brother and grabbed his arm. "Now come on," she said as she began to pull him towards the elevator. "You're going to eat something that really is good for you. And I'm not taking no for an answer." Mazren stared at her in surprise before finally giving in.

"Okay, Okay," he said. "You win. Just stop pulling." Melfina smiled, pleased that she had broken down her brother's defenses. She and Mazren left the cargo hold and rode the elevator back up to the main deck. As they walked towards the galley, Mazren stopped at his quarters. "I'm just going to take a quick shower and change," he told her.

"Don't take too long," she said. "Breakfast will be ready in about twenty minutes." Mazren nodded and disappeared into his quarters as Melfina continued on her way to the galley. Upon entering, she reached for her apron and got to work. Opening the refrigerator, Melfina looked around and decided to make pancakes with scrambled eggs. Pulling out the ingredients, she then kneeled down to pull out two frying pans, a mixing bowl, and a coffee pot out of the cabinet. Setting the pans up on the stove, she dumped the ingredients into the bowl and stirred them up. Once it was ready, Melfina gingerly poured the batter onto the larger of the pans, forming six silver dollar pancakes. As the pancakes baked, she cracked open some eggs and dropped them into the second pan. Taking a spatula, Melfina whipped the eggs until they were perfectly yellow and fluffy. Turning back to the pancakes, she flipped them over before setting the coffee pot on the back burner. As the coffee boiled, Melfina emptied the contents of the pans onto their respective plates and repeated her actions. She continued to cook until she had enough silver dollar pancakes and scrambled eggs for five humans and one Ctarl-Ctarl. She had just finished setting the table when the others began to enter the galley. As always, Aisha was first to come in.

"Mrow," Aisha said as she sniffed the air. "Oh boy pancakes!" She reached for one, but Melfina caught her wrist.

"Let's wait for the others Aisha."

"Awwww, but Mel I'm hungry!" Melfina sighed and handed her three pancakes from the top of the pile.

"Here," she said. Aisha was perhaps the biggest fan of Melfina's cooking. And Melfina never could resist her pleas.

"Yay!" Aisha cried out as she eagerly took the pancakes from Melfina. As Aisha gobbled her appetizer, Gene and Jim entered next. As always, Jim appeared groomed and fully awake while Gene looked like he was practically sleepwalking. His red hair was unkempt and he was busy rubbing the crust out of his eyes.

"Morning Mel," Jim said.

"Good morning Jim. You too Gene." Gene mumbled something incomprehensible as he sat down and Melfina smiled as she reached for the coffee pot. Gene was always a little slow until he got his first cup of coffee. She poured him a cup and dropped in two sugars and a cream, just the way he liked it. "Here you are," she said as she handed him the steaming liquid. Gene murmured a thanks as he took the cup and slowly drank. As she began to serve them all, Suzuka entered, carrying a cup of tea she boiled in the kettle she kept in her quarters. As to be expected, it was Suzuka who first noticed that Melfina had set up an extra place.

"Melfina," she asked as she sat down, "is there a reason why six plates have been set out?" Before Melfina could answer, the sound of heavy footsteps began to resonate from down the corridor before Mazren's powerful body filled the doorway.

"Morning everyone," Mazren said. Suzuka nodded towards him; but Aisha, Gene, and Jim turned away and scowled. Melfina felt her heart break as she watched. Mazren was doing his best to be polite, but the others weren't even giving him a chance. Meanwhile, Mazren ignored the cold shoulder the others were giving him and moved over to where Suzuka was sitting.

"This seat taken?" he asked her. Suzuka looked up to him, a slight look of surprise on her face.

"No," she answered. "Go ahead." Mazren smiled slightly in gratitude as he sat down beside her. As she continued to serve the others, Melfina watched Suzuka and her brother with more than a passing interest. I've never seen Suzuka act that way around anyone before, she thought. Maybe she is attracted to Mazren. Still keeping an eye on the two, Melfina began to pour the coffee. She was about to pour one for Mazren when he raised his hand.

"No thanks," he said. "That caffeine stuff will kill you."

"This from a guy who drinks an entire six pack of beer in one sitting," Jim said under his breath. Melfina chose to ignore his comment and turned back to her brother.

"We have some decaf in the cupboard," she said. "Just wait a minute and I'll get it ready."

"That's okay," Mazren said as he rose from his seat. "Don't go to any trouble just for my sake."

"Don't be silly," Melfina said as she prepared a second coffee pot, "It's no trouble at all." Mazren looked like he was about to say something else, but instead decided to sit back down. After she had set up Mazren's coffee, she pulled out the pancake syrup and sat down across from him. As she ate, she noticed how eerily quiet the galley was. There was no talking or laughing. Looking over to her brother, Melfina smiled slightly as she watched him. Mazren ate quietly, yet eagerly. It looked like he hadn't had a wholesome meal in quite a long time. As if sensing that he was being looked at, Mazren stopped eating and looked up to her.

"This is good," he told her. "You really are an amazing cook Melfina."

"Oh, thank you Mazren." Melfina was glad that her brother liked the meal she had made. She always enjoyed it when the others complimented her cooking. But for some reason, hearing her brother's praise was special, as if she had passed some important test. Hearing a whistle behind her, Melfina stood back up to get Mazren his coffee. She poured him a cup and noticed that he had already finished his pancakes. She was just about to get him some more when Mazren saw what she was doing and raised his hand again.

"That's okay," he told her. "I'm fine really."

"Don't you like them?" she asked as she began to pile them on his plate.

"Well, yes. But..."

"Then have some more," she said. "You're a big guy Mazren and you need your strength so eat up okay." Realizing that there was no use arguing, Mazren gave in again and allowed Melfina do as she pleased. The rest of the meal went without much incident. Eventually, Suzuka broke the silence when she asked Mazren about the technique he had used to break her bokuto. Melfina listened as her brother told Suzuka about his sword technique. She didn't quite understand everything Mazren said, but Suzuka seemed to.

"If you'd like," he said. "I could teach you some of it."

"Maybe," Suzuka said in a cool, almost flirtatious way. Melfina smiled as she watched Suzuka and her brother getting along. Well, she thought, it's a start. After breakfast ended, Melfina gathered up the dishes and took them to the sink to be washed.

"You need any help," Mazren asked as he stood up.

"Don't worry about it," Jim said. "It's my assigned day so I'll help her."

"Actually Jim," Melfina said. "If you don't mind, I'd really like to ask Mazren some questions." She knew the basics about him, but nothing personal. She wanted to learn more about her brother. Jim looked up to her with a concerned expression before nodding.

"Okay," he said. "If that's what you want."

"What's his problem?" Mazren asked as Jim left.

"I guess he still doesn't trust you," Melfina said with a small sigh. She knew that it was going to take a lot of work before the others would accept Mazren like she did, but she wished that they would at least try. But in the meantime, there were dishes that needed to be done. "Do you want to wash or dry?"

"You cooked," Mazren said, "so I'll wash." Melfina nodded as she and her brother went over to the sink. Grabbing a frying pan Mazren cleaned off the grease with a scouring pad before spraying it off with the rinse nozzle.

"So what did you want to ask me?" he asked as he handed her the pan. His question took her by surprise. Melfina hadn't expected Mazren to make the first move. And there were so many things she wanted to ask him that she didn't even know where to begin. So she decided to ask the first thing that came into her mind.

"How did you get that scar on your face?" she asked. When Mazren didn't answer, Melfina worried that maybe she had said something to offend him.

"You mean this?" he asked as his finger traced a line down the jagged mark that ran from his brow to the corner of his jaw. "This scar is my badge of honor?"

"Badge of honor?"

"You remember me telling you that I was trained by Leilong right? Well sometimes after a training session, Leilong would pull out a six-pack of beer and he'd talk with me about places he'd been, people he'd met, battles he'd fought." Melfina watched as her brother smiled at the memory. "Leilong treated me as though I was no different than anyone else and that's what first made me question whether or not I wanted to stay as Kei pirate property. In the end though, I decided that I would out of loyalty and respect to him." As she listened, Melfina remembered how Leilong had challenged Gene to a duel and almost killed him. Only when Leilong's gun misfired had Gene been able to win. As she thought of the man who lay buried on Heifong, the man who was her brother's friend and mentor, Melfina began to cry. "Melfina what's wrong?" he asked her as he saw the tears fall.

"Mazren," she sobbed, "Leilong's dead."

"What!"

"He challenged Gene to a duel. It was on orders from Hazonko. They fought and Gene was forced to kill him to protect himself. Please don't hate Gene for what he did. He had no choice." Expecting Mazren to be either angry or sad, Melfina was shocked to hear Mazren roaring with laughter instead.

"A punk kid like Starwind kill Leilong," he laughed. "That's a good one." Melfina stared at her brother in shock. How could he laugh at the fact that his friend had been killed? Looking down to her, Mazren saw the look of horror on her face and regained himself. "Leilong isn't dead. I talked with him a couple of months ago. I learned from him that he had faked his death and had left the Kei Pirates for good with the help of some kid. He didn't tell me who it was, but I later learned that it was your friend Starwind."

"Oh, I see," Melfina said as she went back to drying. She was glad to know that Mazren's teacher wasn't dead, but she didn't understand as to why he seemed so hostile to Gene. "So you got that scar from Leilong?"

"No," Mazren said. "Hazonko eventually heard of what Leilong was doing and decided to replace him with a guy named Jintao. Leilong was a tough teacher, but Jintao was an absolute sadist. Every session with him was a fight for survival and usually ended with me not just beaten; but bleeding, burned, and with broken bones. But physical torture wasn't even half of it. Jintao never forgot to remind me that I was born enslaved to the Kei and would never be anything more." Melfina's eyes widened and she covered her mouth in shock that her brother had been forced to endure such a horrible situation. "You know, I still sometimes have nightmares about that guy."

"Wait a minute," Melfina said. "I don't mean to interrupt, but you dream?"

"Of course I do," Mazren answered. "Why shouldn't I?"

"Well," Melfina said, "it's just that I've never dreamed before." The galley was quiet for a long time before Mazren spoke up

"Melfina, I'm sorry."

"You don't have to apologize," Melfina said. Feeling his hand on her shoulder, Melfina looked up to her brother.

"You'll learn to dream yourself in time," Mazren told her. "Humans dream because they develop a subconscious. But because we began life as adults, it takes us a while to develop one. Don't worry. You'll get the hang of it eventually."

"Really?" she asked. The thought of dreaming was something that held great excitement for her.

"Sure," her brother said. "Just give it some time. Okay?"

"Okay. But what happened next? How did you escape from the Kei?"

"Well," Mazren said, "after a month of taking Jintao's abuse, I began to believe everything that he told me. And then one night, after a particularly brutal session with him, I stumbled into the bathroom of my cell and caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. As I stared at the bruised and bloody mess that was my face, I remembered my training with Leilong. I thought back to how he had treated me like I was a real person and not property, especially when that's all I was. And as my thoughts shifted to how I had let Jintao break me, something inside of me snapped. In a rage, I shattered the mirror and vowed that even if it killed me, I was going to escape." Hearing the sound of creaking metal, Melfina looked down and saw how her brother was grasping onto the edge of the sink. Afraid that he would snap it if he continued, Melfina reached out to gently cover his hand with hers. Mazren felt her hand and looked up to her.

"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to carry on like that."

"It's alright," Melfina said. But now, she knew why Mazren always looked so mad. His entire life had been a struggle for survival. "So how did you escape?"

"Well," Mazren said as he handed her another dish, "for the next month or so, I pretended to act as though Jintao had won. But all the while, I was forming a plan for escape. And then, two months after Jintao had replaced Leilong, I saw my chance." Melfina dried the dishes Mazren handed her as she continued to listen to his story with widened eyes. "During a training session, I stole a bullet from one of the guns at the shooting gallery. After two days of prying at it, I finally opened the casing and poured the gunpowder onto a strip of paper which I slid into the door jam. I then ignited it with two pieces of rusty metal I had previously taken earlier and blew the lock open. It was a running battle all the way to the hanger bay. Altogether, I probably ran into at least a dozen guards. Eventually, I succeeded in reaching the hanger bay, only to find Jintao waiting for me with a static whip."

"What did you do?" Melfina asked.

"The only thing I could do," Mazren said. "I fought him. During the fight, Jintao's whip lashed across my face, leaving me with a deep gash. But in the end I was able to catch the whip and wrap it around Jintao's throat. I then stared him dead in the eye, told him that my name was Mazren, and then snapped his neck with his own weapon."

"And then what?" Melfina asked.

"I entered the hanger," Mazren continued, "stole his ship and escaped. As I flew away, I fired a missile salvo at the facility and blew up any evidence that might indicate I survived. It was when I looked back that I noticed the gash on my face. Usually, my healing abilities don't leave a scar unless it's something that would kill a normal human. So I used a trick Leilong taught me to force my body to let the wound heal by its own." Finished with his story, Mazren turned to face her. "Now do you understand? This scar is my badge of honor. Every time that I look in the mirror, I remember that I defeated those who held me captive and took control of my own life." Not knowing what else to say, Melfina could only nod. "Now it's my turn," he said.

"You're turn for what?" Melfina asked.

"To ask you something," Mazren answered. "Do you always do all the cooking around here?"

"Pretty much. Aside from navigating the Outlaw Star, it's sort of my role on the ship."

"And you don't mind?"

"Of course not," she said. "I'm glad to know that I'm useful. Gene, Aisha, and Suzuka can fight; and Jim has his technical skills. The only time I can help the others with a job is when I help Gene pilot the Outlaw Star."

"Don't the others know how to cook?"

"Aisha does," Melfina said. "But Ctarl-Ctarl cooking doesn't exactly sit to well with human stomachs. Jim does only moderately well, and Suzuka only knows traditional Japanese cuisine. And as for Gene," Melfina paused as she thought back to when they were dating. Without realizing it, Melfina's hand reached up to touch the diamond pendant Gene had given her.

"What about Starwind?" Mazren asked, snapping Melfina out of her daydream.

"Gene once tried to cook a dinner for just him and me," Melfina said. "And after the drama was over, we had a meeting and banned him from doing anything in the kitchen besides eating ever again."

"That bad huh?"

"Let's put it this way," she answered. "I still haven't figured out as to how Gene set fire to the kitchen table when the stove wasn't even on." She and Mazren both laughed as Melfina marveled at how easy it was to talk to her brother. She felt like she could tell him anything.

"My turn again," Melfina said. "How did you meet your partner?"

"You mean Slag?" he asked. "Well, roughly three years ago, I was tracking an animal smuggling ring that was operating out of the Oracion system. One night, I cornered two of the ringleaders in an alley. I was about to take them down when I got attacked by some of their stooges from behind. During the fight, one of the crates they were transporting got knocked over. It cracked open, and a Tybaltian Rock Wolf leaped out. The wolf attacked the smugglers, and between the two of us, we drove them off. After the fight, I looked over and saw the same wolf lying in a small puddle of blood. One of the smugglers had cut a gash in its side. Not knowing what else to do, I bundled him up and took him back to my ship. Using Diana's help, I nursed him back to full health and he gradually began to get more and more comfortable with me. Eventually, I decided that I could use his help to track to down the smugglers. I gave him a scent, and he followed it to a warehouse by the spaceport where the smugglers had set up base. After that, I decided to keep Slag on as full time partner. After spending all my time alone in the Warshark with no one to talk to but Diana, it was nice to have a companion that wasn't all microchips and data."

"Excuse me Mazren," Gilliam said. "But I take offense to that."

"Nothing personal friend," Mazren joked. "Okay, my turn again." It was then that Melfina noticed that her brother was starting to tense again. "I know that it's not any of my business, but are you and Starwind…" and he paused as a look of revulsion spread over his face.

"Are we what?" she asked.

"Are you two…you know…very close?" What does he mean by that? she wondered. Of course we're close. But then, Melfina began to understand what he meant.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "You mean…no of course not!" And it was a probably a good thing. If they had, then breaking up with Gene would have been even harder than it was. "We dated for a few months, but we both decided that it wasn't going anywhere so we went back to being friends."

"I see," Mazren said as his revulsion had changed to relief. "So then why do you still hang around with him?"

"He and the others need me," she answered. "If I wasn't here, then who would help Gene pilot the Outlaw Star or cook for them?" Mazren looked at her with a raised eyebrow. Does he know that I'm lying? she asked herself. Can he tell that I'm only using that as an excuse to stay with Gene? Melfina decided to change the subject before he pressed the matter any further.

"On Blue Heaven," she said, "Swanzo said that you were the one who put out Hilda's eye. But on your ship, you told me that she was your girlfriend. And later, I saw you talking with Swanzo and Mikey as if you were old friends." Hearing a sigh, Melfina looked up to see Mazren's broad shoulders slump slightly.

"All right," he said in a defeated tone, "here's the honest to god truth as to what happened. Hilda and I were seeking out a treasure ship that belonged to a pirate named Torash. We found the ship and were just starting to load up the treasure when we were attacked by the Kei. During the fight, Hilda saved my life, but in the process she lost her right eye. I offered to pay to have a replacement made, but Hilda told me not to bother. She claimed she liked the look the eye patch gave her."

"So then why did Swanzo tell us that you were the one who did that to Hilda?"

"Because I asked him to tell people that. Look Melfina, Outlaws can be seen as noble and rebellious if they want, but a bounty hunter doesn't have that option. In order to be successful, a bounty hunter has to be feared. People have to think that he's the kind of person who'd shoot them in the back if given the chance." Melfina didn't quite understand the logic of that, but she decided to just let it go. "Now then, this next question is about your friend Suzuka."

"What about her?" Melfina asked.

"Just out of curiosity, is she…spoken for?" As Melfina realized what Mazren was asking, she to dropped the fork she was drying on the floor. Looking up to her brother, Melfina felt a slight smile spread across her face.

"Why do you want to know that?" she teased. "Do you like her?" Mazren's body stiffened as his face flushed a dark red.

"I wouldn't say that exactly," he replied. "I just find her…interesting." Melfina giggled as she bent down to pick up the fork. She silently hoped that Suzuka would return Mazren's feelings. But she also became worried for her brother. She didn't want him to go through the pain she felt lately. The pain of not being able to be with the person you love, no matter how much you wanted to. "Is something wrong?" Mazren asked. His question jarred Melfina back to reality.

"No," she answered, "nothing." As they finished the last of the dishes, a new question formed in Melfina's mind, a question that she was almost afraid to ask. "Mazren?"

"Yes?"

"Why did you wait so long to tell me you were my brother?" Once again, the galley was filled with an uncomfortable silence before Mazren finally answered.

"First of all," he said. "I didn't have any real proof. Just a partially decayed data disk from Khan's laboratory."

"So how did you get your proof?"

"When you were kidnapped by Hakon, I followed after, killed him, and then took a blood sample from you before handing you back over to Starwind."

"You didn't have to do that," she said. "You could have just walked up and told me. I would have given you the blood sample to see if it was the truth."

"Come on Melfina," he told her. "Would you have believed me, or even wanted to, if a guy like me walked up and said that I was your brother?"

"I don't understand," Melfina said. "What would that have to do with anything?" Mazren sighed and turned to face her, a tired look in his eyes.

"Look Melfina," he said. "I've done a lot of things in my line of work. Some of them I'm proud of, but most of them I'm not. Regardless, I did them because I had no choice. Either because it was my job, or simply because it had to be done."

"You mean like the Earth Warriors?" Melfina asked. Mazren's eyes widened in shock.

"How do you know about them?"

"After you saved me from Haykon," Melfina answered, "Jim did a search with the help of some contacts of ours. One of the things he found was your criminal record." She didn't want to ask him, but she knew that she had to. "You killed them didn't you?" Mazren turned away from her as he leaned his hands on the sink.

"I had a friend," he said. "He was a Ctarl named Jorna Karn-Karn. He was a bounty hunter like me. He was also one of the few living people who knew that I was a bio-android. But one day, he fell in love with and married a human woman. They settled on the same world where the Earth Warriors had their main base. To those people, an alien and a human being married was a crime punishable by death. And that's exactly what they did."

"So what did you do?" Melfina asked.

"Let's just say, that everyone grieves in their own way." Melfina closed her eyes, realizing that Mazren's idea of grieving involved acts of violence against those responsible. Forcing the unpleasant images out of her mind, Melfina reopened her eyes and stared at her brother. So is that it? she asked herself. Realizing what she had to do; Melfina closed the distance between them, turned Mazren around to face her, and wrapped her arms around his waist, hugging him as hard as she could.

"Melfina," he asked as his body tensed, "what are you doing?"

"I'm hugging you silly," she answered. "Were you really afraid that I wouldn't want you for a brother just because you're past isn't perfect?"

"Well..." Mazren said as he searched for an answer. He obviously didn't expect this reaction.

"I don't care about your past," Melfina said. "You're my big brother and that's all there is to it. And even if you doubt it, I know that you're a good person. If you weren't, then you wouldn't have traveled all this way just to find and protect me." Gradually, Melfina felt Mazren's large body relax in her arms before his hand moved around to the small of her back.

"You have a very kind heart Melfina," he said. "For my sake, please don't lose it."

"I'll try," Melfina replied.

"Ahem!" a voice said behind them. Melfina and Mazren both turned to see Aisha standing in the galley hatchway. "If you two are done having your touching sibling moment," she said, "would you mind letting me pass so I can get a soda out of the fridge?"

"Oh!" Melfina cried out as she blushed and pulled away from Mazren. "Yes, of course." Without another word, Aisha brushed past them as she headed for the refrigerator. Getting out one of the soda cans she kept there, Aisha was about to leave when Mazren decided to speak.

"You know if you have a problem with me lady, then take it up with me later. Don't blow off steam by being rude to Melfina." Turning around, Aisha's hair stood on hend as her lips pulled back from her fangs.

"Watch it you!" she snarled. "I promised Mel that I'd be civil, but you're pushing it!" As she watched, Melfina suddenly began to fear that a fight was about to happen.

"Don't take it personally," Mazren said, "but I'm not exactly intimidated of someone I knocked flat on her ass with one hit."

"What the hell do you mean by that?" Aisha yelled. "That was nothing but a lucky punch."

"Oh you mean the fist of breath stealing?" he asked.

"More like fist of breast feeling!" Aisha yelled. "Admit it! You tried to cop a feel when you did it!"

"You'd like to think that wouldn't you." As Aisha's face flushed even further with rage, Melfina realized that she had to stop the two of them before things got out of control.

"Come on you two," she begged. "No fighting. You promised."

"I'm not gonna fight," Aisha said. "But Mel, I still think it's high time your brother had a good lesson in humility."

"Oh really," Mazren said. "And just how do you plan to do that?"

"I'll show you how!" she growled. Sitting down at the table, Aisha braced her elbow on the top and raised her hand to Mazren. "Come on!" she sneered. Mazren looked down to her and raised his eyebrow in amusement.

"You can't be serious," he said. "Do you have any idea who you're challenging?"

"What's the matter?" Aisha asked. "Are you chicken?" Although Mazren had maintained a relatively calm profile, Aisha's remark caused him to bristly slightly.

"The day I lose to a woman in arm wrestling, "he growled, "is the day I hang up my guns and retire." Accepting Aisha's challenge, Mazren sat down across from her and took her hand in his.

"Better save a seat on the front porch," Aisha growled as they began to grapple. In the beginning, neither one dominated. Aisha's primal rage and Mazren's focused anger each proved to be a perfect match for each other. Eventually, Aisha began to gain some leeway and push Mazren's arm down. But Mazren was no easy victory, and he quickly regained the upper hand.

"Aisha! Mazren!" Melfina begged as their arms rocked back and forth. "Stop it, please?" But the two fighters ignored her pleas and continued to arm wrestle. Not knowing what else to do, Melfina ran out of the galley to get some help. Frantically searching the main deck for any sign of the others, she eventually found Gene and Jim working on the bridge.

"Mel what's wrong?" Jim asked as he saw her come in.

"Please help me stop them!" she cried out. They're going to hurt themselves!"

"What are you talking about?" Gene asked. "Who's going to hurt themselves?"

"Aisha and my brother!" Melfina answered. "There's no time to explain. Just hurry!" Turning around, Melfina exited the bridge with Gene and Jim following after. Returning to the galley, she saw that Aisha and Mazren were still arm wrestling, and that neither one had yet given an inch. "See," she said as Gene and Jim entered behind her. "We have to stop them before it's too late." She anxiously waited for the others to do something, but instead they stood rooted to the spot.

"You know Mel," Gene finally said, "it might be best if they just got it out of their system now."

"How can you say that?" Melfina asked.

"Look Mel," Gene told her. "I know that you don't want them to get hurt, but an arm wrestling match now is preferable to a fist fight later."

"Besides," Jim said, "I already know how it's going to end. Aisha will beat this guy no contest."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that Jim," Gene said. "Remember, Mazren isn't your normal human."

"Oh yeah?" Jim asked as he dug into his pants pocket. Pulling his hand out, Jim waved a wad of bills in front of Gene. "I've got twenty wong here that says otherwise."

"You're on!" Gene said as he pulled out money of his own. Melfina couldn't believe what she was hearing. Aisha and Mazren were on the verge of hurting each other, and Gene and Jim were taking bets on it. She was about to go look for Suzuka and get her to help stop them when she heard a loud thump behind her. Fearing the worst, Melfina turned around and saw that Aisha and Mazren had collapsed their arms on the table, panting with exhaustion. Neither one had successfully pinned the other's hand though.

'Well," Aisha gasped, "you're strong. I'll give you that."

"So are you," Mazren said as sweat trickled down his brow.

"I didn't lose though," she said.

"Neither did I," Mazren said. They both looked at each other for a second and then burst out laughing. Melfina, Gene, and Jim all stared at the scene before them, not knowing what to make of it all. Not that Mazren and Aisha seemed to care.

"Hey Maz," Aisha asked as she stood up, "you want a soda. My treat."

"No thanks," Mazren said as he pushed himself up. "I prefer beer. Besides, I was just about to go back to training."

"Sounds like fun," Aisha said. "You need a sparring partner?"

"Why not?" Mazren answered. "That training dummy is starting to get boring. I could use an opponent who hits back for a change." Leaving together, Mazren and Aisha pushed past the others as they made their way down the deck towards the elevator.

"Hey Mel!" Aisha called out as she and Mazren entered the elevator. "I take back everything I said about your brother. He's not half bad at all." As they doors closed, Melfina and the others continued to stare on in surprise.

"Well damn," Gene said. "I never expected that to happen." A few hours later, Melfina went down to the cargo hold to tell Aisha and Mazren that lunch was ready. Entering the hold, she saw that the two of them were still sparing with each other. Aisha would lash out with some of her Po-hedaheda, and Mazren would retaliate with sunjutsu. Their moves were fast and furious, but they lacked the aggressiveness of their previous arm wrestling match. Melfina smiled as she watched the two of them train, glad that the others were finally making an effort to befriend Mazren.

Hearing a padding sound, Melfina looked down to see Slag trotting over to her to be petted. Kneeling down, Melfina down and scratched the big wolf's chin and ears, causing him to wag his tail in ecstasy. So much for Aisha and Suzuka, she thought. That leaves just Gene and Jim.

Atop the mountain, Yama looked down at the steam-blanketed valley beneath him. Behind him, his starship sat nestled and disguised between two of the snow-covered peaks. Surveying the dozens of hotels, service booths, and hot springs; the Shogun of Strength glared in disdain at the capital city of Tenrei. That sorceress Urt had found a planet that was rich in the energy of Mana. But instead of harnessing that power before it wasted away, she had instead turned this planet into a waste of a tourist trap. Well, he thought, what sort action should I expect from a user of magic?

"Lord Yama," his attendant asked, "are they really coming to this world?"

"According to the last signal sent by the tracer before it disappeared," he answered, "the Outlaw Star was last seen heading in the direction of this galactic sector. According to our sources, this planet has artifacts with markings similar to that of the medallion. And as the black ship is still docked at Blue Heaven, we can assume that the man in black is with them. At their current rate of speed, they should arrive here by tomorrow."

"Of course my lord," the attendant said with a bow. "Shall I prepare the Oni to aid you?"

"That won't be necessary," Yama said. "This man in black defeated Askared single handedly. I would like to meet him in the same fashion. It is an honor that he has earned."

"As you command Lord Yama," the attendant said as he left Yama to his musings. Staring up at the sea of stars above him, Yama watched and waited for Gene Starwind, the android girl who would deliver the sword to the Toku, and the man in black.

(As Gene and the others continue on their way to Tenrei, Yama is already waiting for them. What is the secret of the mysterious medallion? Will the wizards of the hot springsplanet be able to offer any aid to our heroes? Will Mazren be able to get his bike running? And what is this sword that Yama mentioned? Be here next time as ArkManoff, Hadul, and Urt reveal the shocking plans the Toku have for Melfina. Same Outlaw-time. Same Outlaw-website. Don't forget to review)

Chapter 7
Chapter 9

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