Behind the Scenes at SME:
Return of the Hokas!
by various members of the SME Crew
Additional Reformatting by Craig Beard
Alexander Jones hated his new intern. Correction, he loathed her. All feeling towards the Franco-Polack twentysomething that came from Jones was negative, from her beret to her cloggs. What higher power could have had the absolute malice to inflict the "oh taco" on him.
Hmm, that didn't sound quite right. What was the word again? "Otaka?" "Otaki?" "Otake?" "Otaku," that was it! From how she explained it, the Nihonese word meant a cartoon fanatic, specifically of something called "Annie Mae." These evidently were cartoons from the Empire of Nihon. In simpler terms, they were a hit with the Hoka.
Within twenty-four hours Mixumaxu had been transformed. They were calling it "Crystal Mixumaxu" now and the little devilish theodoro-ursines were coating the Government Building with quartzite this very second. He didn't even want to think about what had happened to him in the quarter they had recently renamed Nerima. Suffice to say, even the Gummi Bear incident was easier on his mental health than those run-ins with the tiger-stripe bikini female and the male in the Chinese clothes.
Things had taken a turn for the worse lately. It seemed that a couple dozen Hoka had gone mysteriously missing. The only clue he had was that most of them were affiliated with the re-enactment of something called "Sailormoon." Just this morning a hysterical mother had called in, afraid that her daughter had eloped with another one of the missing Hoka. Given that the couple dozen seemed to have exited the planet together, that wasn't his top theory.
"Yes Raj . . . err, Sasuke?"
The Hoka-ninja bowed. "The Legionaires discovered a human babbling in the Sahara desert. They were hoping you could make sense of him."
"Oh. Show him in then."
The four female Hoka who currently called themselves the Knight Sabres dumped a writhing form on the floor of Jone's office, then left with Sasuke. It was almost painful to look at him.
"No more Hoka! No more Hoka! Cuteness lethal!"
Then, suddenly, the writhing stopped. The human man blinked at Jones. "Are they gone?"
"Oh. Yes, they're gone. You're afraid of Hoka?"
The man blushed. "Sorta. It's a long story. Acute cute-phobia, which wasn't helped by them waving around Cutie Moon Rods." He seemed to be Asian, late twenties or perhaps older. "Oh, most people call me Ron Inn."
"Like the masterless samurai?"
Ron shook his head. "Those are pronounced with an 'oh' sound."
"Ah, I see. I'm Alexander Jones, plentipotentiary. You mentioned a 'Cutie Moon Rod?'"
"Yeah, like on Sailormoon. You ever see the show?"
"Not until a couple of our Hoka went missing in circumstances related to the show. Then, yes, I saw quite a few episodes. Might you have an idea where they went, Mr. Inn?"
"Just call me 'Ron.' Sure. I was trying to get away from them and I took a wrong turn. If you have a computer with you, I can get your Hoka. Just as long as you get them out of my stage."
Alex smiled. "It's a deal."
[SME Backstage, Main Sets]
Margrave grimaced as she looked at the car in front of her. It wasn't merely the fact that the 1987 blue Chevy Celebrity was rather beat-up and dirty. No, it was the name of the car that gave her great pain.
"Lemmee get this straight, Beck-o: you're the President of my Fan Club and yet you persist in naming your car Azurite?"
"See, you know how Chevies are like rocks? Well, azurite is a blue kind of rock and a margrave is a European title of nobility. Azurite fits better. If it was brown I woulda of called it Titanite, or if it was yellow I woulda called it Pyrite and white woulda been Calcite. I meant no offense, Marg- chan."
The cat woman flexed her claws. "You sure?"
The girl gulped. "Positive. Could you please let me out of the car, Marg- chan?"
"Just don't do it again," the youma muttered as she stalked off.
The brown-haired girl looked at her redhead companion. "Phew! I was a bit nervous back there. Hey! Look, there's ice cream over there, Jill-chan!"
"Uh-hmmm." Jillian seemed to be engrossed in Plutarch's "Lives," currently.
Becky frowned. "Naoko Takeuchi autographing copies of her latest manga?"
"Uh-hmmm." Turn the page.
"Giant alien chickens dancing the watusi?"
"Uh-hmmm." Reread last paragraph.
"Demand performing a strip-tease?"
Jill's head whipped up. "WHERE?"
"Made ya look!"
Meanwhile, in a narrow alleyway behind the new SME studio:
The lid of a disused dumpster slowly rose several inches. From inside the dumpster, two eyes peered up and down the alley, then the lid slowly closed again.
Several minutes later, Setsuna calmly walked into the alley and rapped on the dumpster's lid with her staff.
"You can come out now," she said in a low voice.
The lid rose again, and a muffled voice asked, "Is it safe?"
"Mark's left the lot for a couple of weeks, so it's relatively safe."
Craig stuck his head out of the dumpster. "Did I miss anything?"
Setsuna shrugged. "Ron's gone missing, we've had several more applicants, and there's a new guy who managed to make the cut." She glanced at her watch. "He should be here anytime."
For just a moment an almost chilling smirk played about the corners of her mouth. "Assuming of course nothing...unexpected...happens to him before he gets here." The smirk seemed to widen still more before melting back into her usual imperturbable expression.
"Who's the new guy?"
"Craig something-or-other. We're calling him CraigB to tell him from you."
Again she smiled. "He'll be bringing some...friends... Apparently they've been looking for him for quite some time to sort out some...contractual anomalies." For just a moment the smirk was back. "I imagine the meeting won't quite be what he expects but it should be quite something to watch. Oh yes;" She glanced again at her watch and the smirk was now unmistakable. "any minute now I should say."
A furry head popped up next to Craig's.
"When's the next SME writer's meeting?"
"For which group?" asked Setsuna blandly. "Human or Hoka?"
"Either," replied HCraig with a shrug.
"Will you stay out of this?" snarled Craig at his Hoka counterpart. "It's bad enough my only working copies of my BGC stories are a thousand miles from my new home in Florida."
Smiling to herself at the growing argument, Setsuna's head turned, her eyes flicking for a moment towards the farther end of the alley, the smile deepening before she turned back to the arguing pair.
"Right on time." She murmured softly.
Craig continued his rant. "Not only am I trying to finish WC#2 before we start shooting, but I had to hide from Mark because he blames me for you Hokas showing up and wreaking havoc on the lot. In addition, I had to listen to you plot out my next five BGC stories so they don't make sense!"
"I'm impressed," said Setsuna dryly. "All that in one breath."
"What's wrong with making Nene the head of the ADP?" asked HCraig innocently.
The quiet, distant snicker passed unheard by all but Setsuna.
`Nope, not long now.' She thought to herself in anticipation.
"Because it doesn't MAKE ANY BLOODY SENSE!!!!"
The Hoka waved a paw in front of his muzzle. "Easy on the onions next time, Ace." He stepped back out of the angry human's reach. "So Nene is out as ADP chief, right?"
The Hoka thought for a moment. "How about Priss as the new ADP chief?"
This time the choked gasps of laughter would have been quite audible but for the fact that neither of the two were paying attention to anything but one another.
Craig's howl of anger and frustration was lost as the wind suddenly picked up in the alley. A hole opened in the air twenty yards away and a figure stepped through. Once the figure was through, the hole closed up again.
Moving quickly, both Craigs grabbed Setsuna, pulled her into the dumpster, then closed the lid to the point where only a crack remained open.
The figure turned in their direction. It was a young man, wearing glasses, a well-tailored suit and an arrogant expression.
"What a dump," he said, glancing around the alley. "Oh, well, can't be helped."
The figure strode down the alley until he reached the dumpster. Once he reached it, he leaned against the wall and pulled out a small tape recorder. He pressed a button on the side of the machine and began speaking.
"Entry number one, Toshiyuki Aoshima reporting. Well, I'm finally here on the SME lot, ready to dig up all the dirt on the cast and crew for the Tattler. Is Usagi as big a crybaby as has been rumored? Is Rei having a romance with Mark Latus?" He turned so his back was to the dumpster. "Does Setsuna drink like a fish? Is Minako starring in Lemon stories on the side?"
Unseen by Aoshima, the lid of the dumpster opened slightly. A feminine arm reached out from the dumpster aiming for the back of Aoshima's neck. A masculine and a furry arm shot out and grabbed the first arm, dragged it back inside the dumpster, and the lid sank silently back into place.
Aoshima continued his recording, unaware how close to death he'd come. "I'm going undercover on this one, with only my skills and charms the only things standing between me and certain death. Wish me luck. Aoshima out."
He turned the recorder off and pocketed it. Without a glance back, he strode off down the alley. He turned the corner and was gone.
The lid of the dumpster was suddenly and violently shoved open. Setsuna stood there, glaring at the Human and the Hoka.
"Why didn't you let me kill him?" she hissed.
"We can't," said Craig quickly. "He turns up dead, they'll send a whole gaggle of reporters next time."
"So?" asked the Senshi from Pluto in a voice as cold as her planet.
"We can't keep killing reporters."
"Why not?" asked the Hoka
Craig glared at his furry counterpart. "Because we'll be flooded with those parasites."
"We could grab him and ship him off to the planet of Chibi-Usas."
"I wouldn't do that to one Chibi-Usa, let alone an entire planet." Craig frowned. "Why does that guy's name sound familiar?"
HCraig handed him a manga book. "Twelve pages from the back cover."
Craig looked at the front. "Oh My Goddess?" He opened the book up to the indicated page and began reading. After several seconds, he said. "This is bad."
"I thought the story was quite good," replied Setsuna.
"I'm not talking about the story! Aoshima is a devious type who will do anything to get a story. We have to stop him."
"How do we do that?"
Craig thought for a moment. "OK, Setsuna, you go alert the cast and crew. HCraig, you go warn the Hokas."
"What are you going to do?" asked Setsuna.
"Hide in the dumpster and whimper for a while."
Setsuna reached out and grabbed Craig by the collar. "You're going to warn the other writers."
"Right," replied Craig weakly. "Warn everyone."
With that, the trio dashed up the alley and split off in different directions, determined to warn everyone that an insidious invader was amongst them.
For a few seconds all was quiet, then a frustrated growl seemed to ripple through the alley. a moment later six apparently human and quite obviously female figures seemed to fade into being in the deeper shadows at its farther end, followed a moment later by a seventh.
The first were clothed in identical black form-fitting jumpsuits all looking a little the worse for wear while the seventh was wrapped close in a long, supple jet-black cloak that flowed almost to the ground, the effect of cool, restrained power somewhat ruined by the fact that the cloak was in a hundred wrinkles and smudged with small, dusty paw-marks as though something had clutched desperately at it in a last attempt to restrain its wearer, this made further evident by the tangled mess of her long flame-red hair.
"I'm going to kill him!" Growled the cloaked figure, her hands clenching and unclenching spasmodically while her emerald eyes flashed dangerously as they darted wildly this way and that as though trying to watch everything and everywhere at once. "I'm going to tear his ears off at the shoulders and feed them to him at the neck-end. I'm going to--"
"Calm down oneechan!" One of the others laid a hand gently on her shoulder. "They're not here and at least this looks like a better alternative."
"Calm down!" The first raged. "After what that...that twisted excuse for an idiot planned to put us through after tearing us out of our own universe...sorry, omniverse!" Her eyes had begun to glow with an unhealthy intensity and little green sparks seemed to dance at her finger-tips that made the others step warily away from her. "Earth-Beta is bad enough but at least things will turn out alright for us in the end, no thanks of course to him. Earth-Alpha would have been tolerable and probably Serenity or the renegades would have been willing to compromise even if it really is impossible for us to go home. But Earth-Hoka!" With a snarl she threw both hands skywards, tiny ki-blades exploding from her hands in a screaming storm that had the others yelping and diving wildly for cover while the unfortunate dumpster was shredded into a hundred small pieces. "A whole planet of those damned things! Just what the hell did he think he was doing! If it hadn't been for Becky's starting this herself you know what that pathetic imbecile would have done don't you? And even now...!!!! Even now it isn't enough; oh no! That lunatic has to go and think up hoka versions of us!!!! Oh no Camilla; sorry but that isn't in my contract! Believe me, when I get my hands on him he's going to wish that he'd never heard the word `write'! He's going to be in so much hurt that he'll beg Pluto to go back and kill his grand- parents so his parents will never have been born to have him. He's going to--"
"Um...excuse me, but would you happen to be Joanna Marina O'Reilly, leader of the Exiles?"
Caught in mid-rant, the cloaked figure whirled to face the interruption. In the next instant her whole body seemed to light up with her battle-aura.
"You!" She blazed, her fist lashing out in a vicious crack to the side of the jaw that spun the unfortunate Aoshima around several times and sent his glasses flying before he ended up on his back amongst the wreck that had once been the dumpster.
"Um...a simple yes would have been fine." He groaned, feeling the already purpling bruise as he made to stagger to his feet.
In the next instant he found himself picked up by the neck and dangled several inches off the ground.
"First of all, I didn't particularly like my mother and so don't particularly care to be reminded of my middle name, Marina-chan here not withstanding." Purred Joanna in an unnervingly mild tone as she began to swing the unfortunate Aoshima back and forth like a pendulum.
"Gahhkk!" He commented, this due to the fact that he was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe.
"Second, I don't care to be interrupted when I'm planning ever-lasting torment for the idiot who told us this would be a simple straight-forwards `Soul- splinters get pulled into SME-Beta, help the resistance and either settle down or go somewhere else after the story's end.' contract.
"Gurk gurkle ghakk-a-gahk?" He tried again, his arms beginning to flail and his face to turn an interesting shade of purple.
"And thirdly, my template never particularly liked your alternate in her omniverse and if you don't stop trying to gape at what your trying to gape at" She glanced pointedly down. "I'll give you a reason for needing glasses; dark ones. I assume you understand?"
With that, she wound up and hurled the wide-eyed reporter skywards with all the force she had.
"At least tell me if it's true that you only hate girls like Haruka and Michiru because you don't want to admit you're really--"
The ki-bolt slammed into the already distant aoshima, accelerating his flight to truly dangerous velocity, his final words unheard by the incensed multiversal composite as she glared murderously after his swiftly disappearing form.
"Oh that freak is just so dead." She grated between savagely bared teeth.
She might have said more, but at that moment a swirling vortex sprang into being at the farther end of the alley and her eyes narrowed in still greater rage as seven figures tumbled out to crash in an undignified tangle of arms and legs.
"Hey! If it's not too much trouble could you get off my hair?" Cried a small figure almost lost in a long midnight cloak that covered her furry form almost from head to foot.
Her voice although thin and reedy was eerily familiar and a moment later a squeal from one of her companions had her twisting with astounding agility from the tangle and leaping forwards with a delighted cry of: "Joanna-sama!"
For just a moment, her human counterpart seemed to twitch uncontrollably. Then a sudden gentle too-pleasant smile lighted her beautiful face as she turned suddenly-kindly emerald eyes on the furry form who had moved to stand before her.
"Ah, Hoka-Joanna; I'm so glad you and the others managed to follow us." She said, her smile widening still more as her eyes seemed verily to glow with delight.
"You are?" The other exclaimed, the caution learned from imitating her counterpart overwhelmed temporarily by this sudden acceptance.
"Why of course." Joanna answered, her smile suddenly very far from pleasant while Ki danced like carnivorous fireflies on her suddenly outstretched hands. "I'm feeling particularly homicidal at the moment and you're conveniently nice and accessible. Die!"
"Um, eep?" Squealed the Hoka, back-peddling frantically until she slammed abruptly into a pair of long female legs.
"Going so soon?" Purred Rhiannon-- no relation to the first Rhiannon employed at SME, given that she was neither near-sighted nor stuck in a teenager's body-- her hand darting with terrifying speed towards the desperately dodging form. "Hold still now; this won't hurt for long."
In the next instant her mouth gaped wide, a coruscating blast of brilliant violet energy leaping through the space in which Hoka-Joanna had been only a moment before.
"Did we come at a bad time?" The Hoka squeaked as she avoided the blast only to trip in the cloak and sprawl headlong.
Meanwhile the others had not been idle.
"Can we please discuss this?" Hoka-Camilla was pleading, dodging frantically as her usually mild counterpart seemed to be doing her best to flash-fry her out of existence.
"No." Camilla answered, her usually playful blue-green eyes dancing with unbridled mayhem while death of a dozen kinds spat savagely in every direction.
"Um...I could do with a little help here if you don't mind!" Hoka-Lenore panted, dodging the energy her counterpart was blazing at her with speed born of desperation for her life while fishing frantically within her jumpsuit.
A moment later she found what she was looking for and extracted a small glittering crystal.
With that she touched the crystal and prepared to lead the others into the portal that had opened suddenly before her; and was knocked sprawling by the bandanna-wearing figure who came strolling headlong into the fray.
"Where on Earth am I now!" Blazed Ryoga as he avoided the frantically dodging Hoka-Liana only to go down hard with his legs tangled in Hoka-Joanna's cloak as she rolled desperately from a down-stroke of the vicious-looking sword with which her counterpart was trying to decapitate her.
"Hold still you little furry Bean-Sidhe!" Came an incensed female voice followed by the swish and crack of a very sharp sword embedding itself into the pavement just beside his head.
"Ranma this is all your fault!" Ryoga roared, leaping to his feet only to be hurtled back through the portal by Joanna's snap-kick to the face meant for her desperately-dodging counterpart.
"Come back here!" She blazed, barely glancing after Ryoga's disappearing scream of outraged fury as the portal snapped shut and she leapt skywards with sword extended. "I could do with a nice fur lining for this cloak and I really like your colour."
"Eepie-eepie-eepie!" Shrieked her counterpart, all pretense of imitating her idol forgotten as she turned and bolted headlong into the street. "Help!" She squealed. "That nasty author's done something terrible to Joanna-sama and she's going to cut me into little tiny pieces and I'll never be able to learn that really scary look she does so well! Helpie-helpie-helpie!"
A moment later the other Hoka were also bolting in every direction, their squeals and the outraged cries and crash of destruction as their counterparts tried in vain to fry or pound them into nothing fading quickly until at last silence returned.
Jillian and Becky stared at Craig (or perhaps CraigA, now). The former was the first to speak, as the icecream in the latter's mouth hampered many forms of communication.
"So, Aoshima, this reporter-from-hell, has broken into the backstage to report for the Tattler. Just send Speck after him."
Becky swallowed quickly and chimed in, "Yeah! This little SOB keeps dying my hair red. Who knows what he'll do to Aoshima?"
"Not to mention stealing my 'Super Jill' cloak," Jill chimed in.
"Yeah. What can he do to Speck? Expose his 'love affair' with H Beryl? Everyone knows that's because H Beryl declared he was hers by Dark Kingdom law. Right, H Becky, H Jill-chan?"
The two furry counterparts who were devouring their own ice cream on the next bench to the right nodded.
"See, everything will be fine. Besides, Jill-chan and I know how to deal with annoying reporters, don't we?"
"Indubitably, Becky-chan. Hmmm, do you think that little flying thing is him? It does seem to be falling at a drasticly fast velocity."
"Might be. We'll see when he lands."
Craig was trying to keep that little sweat-drop from appearing on his forehead as he looked back on the calm teens. He was so busy that he didn't notice that the falling reporter was headed straight for his own little noggin'. "Are you sure, you tw-RAZAFRAZZIN'"
Aoshima dusted himself off, a ravenous look in his eye. "Ah, Jillian Byar. Is it true that you, Prince Demand, and Saffir are carrying on a 'menage a twoi?'"
"Nonsense," Jill replied quite seriously. "If such a thing was planned, I would include my friend Claire."
Aoshima nodded and turned to Becky, "What about you? Are the rumors you're carrying fellow author Sam Ashley's love-child true?"
She blushed. "Actually, I just got my period today, so that rules that out. Besides, I'm a firm believer in birth control and I won't start taking the Pill for a little while yet. Anyway, Sam-kun nosebleeds before we ever get that far."
Aoshima nodded again and turned to one of the passers-by. "Ms. Rhiannon McIntyre, is it not true that you sleep with your grandson?'
The animate looked puzzledly at the reporter. "Didn't you read Chapter Four of 'Rhi and Ti's'?"
Hurriedly, Aoshima accosted another SME actor. "Is it not true, Alan Aino, that your current girlfriend is not even alive, but a 33-S sexaroid?"
The junior Tuxedo Mask shrugged. "I happen to consider Shari very much alive, despite being synthetic, but you can classify sexaroids however you like. However, I have to be going."
Aoshima's face fell. It wasn't working. His gaze fell on Craig. "Is it true, Craig Reed, that you laugh like a hyena?"
"WHY YOU LITTLE . . ."
As Aoshima commenced being chased by an enraged Craig, Jill turned to Becky and sighed, "He just does not know how to handle reporters, does he?"
Her younger companion shook her head. "Not really. More ice cream?"
"Of course." ...............
In the alley, all had been quiet for a minute or two after the madness of moments before. Then slowly a shimmering appeared in the air close to the wall by the ruins of the dumpster. A moment later a tall, dishevelled figure stepped from the momentarily opened portal to lean heavily against the wall, his breath coming in short gasps for some time before he lifted his head finally to glance uneasily about him.
"What a place!" He sighed at last. "I would have expected something a bit better than this. Still, at least I seem to be near the right place at last and not too late for the TWBD pre-casting I hope. If Pluto didn't insist on being so damn difficult..."
He sighed again, brushing back an errant strand of short prematurely-greying hair with some irritation before turning his attention to the crystal in his hand.
"Follow the directions Setsuna?" He demanded of no one in particular. "Well, if this thing actually gave sensible directions things might be a little easier; but then of course if you'd told me Mark wouldn't be here today I would have told you to forget this run-through until he gets back. And I still have to clean up the outline and make certain Joanna and co. can't do anything too extreme.
"Alright then." He continued, glancing down at the crystal in his hand. "Where now?"
"Why don't you try asking someone likely to answer?"
At the sudden voice, CraigB whirled wildly, heart pounding and eyes starting for a moment before Setsuna seemed to step from shadows that should not have been there to stand at his side.
"My you are a mess!" She continued, her smile far from innocent and her eyes sparkling with amusement as she studied his muddied suit and shoes that were far from the polished state in which they'd started the journey.
"Have you quite finished?" He demanded coldly. "This might be my first day but I don't take kindly to--"
"Oh please; let's dispense with the Kerr Avon impersonations - I'm not here to play `I can be a thousand times colder than you so blaahh!' Shall we go?"
"As you wish." He answered, but a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth despite his attempt to remain stoic and he found himself relaxing just a little as Pluto led him from the alley and towards the building's entrance.
"You realise there are a few formalities first, an initiation one might almost call it, before you get your own staff and staging area."
It was a statement rather than a question and CraigB felt a sudden unreasoning thrill of unease replace the growing calm of a moment before as Pluto turned a sudden almost sadistic smirk in his direction.
"Formalities?" He inquired.
"Mm; formalities." Purred a sudden unfamiliar low, female voice almost in his ear.
For the second time in as many minutes he twisted violently around; and froze.
"Um...pleased to meet you?" He offered weakly, staring in growing alarm at the tall flame-haired figure carrying a very wicked sword and with a battle-aura that would have sent Happosai scurrying for the hills as fast as his legs could carry him had she been as naked as the day she was born.
"Oh I doubt it; I doubt it very much by the time we're finished." She assured him, her smile of anticipation making his blood run cold. "Now just stay right there. I've not had a chance to find out the particulars of cutting an author into several hundred tiny little bits but I'm sure there's a precedent somewhere."
A soft hiss and the sound of several footfalls made him glance behind him just in time to see six figures touch down gently in a hemming semi-circle.
"Why don't you try running?" Pluto suggested helpfully. "The building is in that direction. Last author in is an undertaker's asset."
In the next instant CraigB exploded through the alley wall at full tilt, not caring what was in his way and not stopping to wonder how he had managed even if only once a technique that should have been impossible for him to master after a hundred years of trying.
"Can we murder him now?" Marina demanded as the dust-cloud and the sound of yelling and breaking walls and furniture faded into the distance. "We still have those miserable little things to take care of and that little imp tried to get a sample of my hair!"
Her voice was still laced with anger but a smile was trying to tug at her mouth as she thought of the look on CraigB's face.
"Oh, all in good time." Said Joanna as she turned and led the others at an unhurried pace in their author's wake.
As the seven disappeared and their voices faded into the distance, Setsuna smiled to herself. "Welcome aboard CraigB." She said softly, the smirk of a moment before melting into a gentler if no less mischievous smile. "Yes welcome aboard indeed."
And with that, she tapped the ground before her with her staff and the alley was empty once more.
"...So then what happens is the little dog lets go with the other hand, but keeps grasping the bar with his left hand, and he says that he's STILL stuck!"
Jillian dissolved in a burst of giggles while Becky and the Hokas sweatdropped. It was as some wise man had once said: "Sugar and Jillians do not mix well." 'Specially not if said Jill is already bouncing off the walls since she's just been released from college for the summer.
"Um. OK, so no one got that joke," Jill said, calming down. "Where did that reporter go? I wanted to ask him if his paper had a horoscope or something. Also I wanted to point out that the rumors of Demand-sama being completely unavailable for female companionship are true."
"Don't you wish," Hoka Jillian chirped brightly.
Human Jillian's elbow inexplicably found its way into the Hoka Jill's solar plexus (or whatever might be the Hoka equivalent).
Becky peered around for Aoshima. "I don't see him. Or hear him. Maybe Craig The First killed him."
"oh. nuts. how am i going to get paid now?"
That ostensibly-cute, piping little voice was unmistakable, as was the tiny stature of the redheaded bishounen attached to it. Trouble had arrived.
All four girls swivelled and glared down at Jill's stage manager, the Fleaspeck. He bravely withstood this horrible onslaught, peering up inquiringly, wearing his best innocent expression.
"Speck," said Becky, "what did you do?"
"uh, nothing." He began to look around for places to hide; hell may have no fury like a woman scorned, but NOTHING holds the fury of a Becky-with-unwanted- recurringly-red-hair.
"Liar!" both Beckys yelled. The human Becky stood up, fire in her green eyes, and advanced on the tiny creature. "First you catch me in a net when I try to come on Jill-chan's stage, then you dye my hair red, then you steal Jill's beloved cape, then you ... you ... you LIE to us! Bad Speck! Bad, bad, BAD Speck!"
"i didn't steal jill's cape! no sir! she has it in her pocket! besides, um, i have to go now. you can just search the corpse of the reporter and hand over that money that he -- um -- borrowed from me, ok?" He attempted to make a run for it, but all four girls pounced on him and began to tickle him unmercifully until he gave them the answers they wanted.
Sometime later, Jill (now wearing the purple cape that had indeed been in her pocket) observed: "We'd better not let people know that this reporter was invited by my pest of a stage manager. Speck's already a bit too unpopular around here."
"yeah, even though i'm cuter than heck and i've pointed out time and again that it's not my fault that now people call demand the albino freak --" came a muffled voice from a suspiciously Speck-shaped potato sack duct-taped closed.
"Specklet, dear, shut up. -- Becky-chan, I think that it's been a bit too quiet. I mean, even if Craig The First did kill Aoshima, which might not be the case since we ALL know Craig-sempai to be a gentle soul --"
Hoka Becky and Hoka Jillian were suddenly overtaken by a fit of coughing. "I think I need a glass of water..." H. Becky excused herself, and shortly thereafter there was heard a huge gale of laughter from somewhere nearby.
"-- And he'd never do something as crass as kill a reporter, not when we could turn that reporter over to Frank. Wait. I lost my train of thought." This wasn't that unusual for Jill -- her attention span had often been categorized as slightly less than that of the average mayfly.
Becky took over. "And by golly, who's going to warn Sam-kun if Craig The First has just been running around exhausting himself? And where's the rest of the ice cream?"
"And why's Setsuna over there looking so pleased with herself?" wondered Hoka Jillian.
"Dunno," said human Jill, "maybe it's something to do with the flash of light we saw earlier?"
Becky jumped to her feet, seemingly oblivious to this bit of interplay.
"We are on a Mission," she declaimed hotly, "to warn Sam-kun of evil reporters on the loose, and also to see if he's got any spiffy snacks for us!"
And, thus endowed with a Mission, the four girls and one wailing potato sack set off across a backlot crawling with Hokas, enraged authors, and an extremely self-satisfied Angel of Time.
"I know it's somewhere around here . . . how many times can a URL change in a few centuries? . . . aha! Here we are, Alex. Err, you don't mind me calling you that, do you?"
Alex shook his head, focusing on the screen. "'The Sailormoon Expanded Fanwork Archive?' What exactly is this?"
"Look at the fourteenth name down on the list of writers."
"Oh! Is _that_ your real name?"
"Whaddyamean 'is that my real name?'" Ron looked at the list again and gulped. "THEY TOOK OFF MY 'RON INN' ALIAS? I'M GONNA KILL THEM!" He searched frantically over the web page trying to find the offender. Finally, at the bottom, there was the italic notation of 'Web Page Maintained, Currently, By Frances Barr.' "Frank, you're gonna wish you never reproduced."
Ron noticed that Alex was looking at him oddly. He blushed. "Well, this is where the missing Hoka went."
"To a web page?" The plenipotentiary asked, puzzled. Then he reread a line of print and grew even more confused. "Err, Ron? This says you lived back at the turn of the twentieth. Do you know how long ago that is?"
Ron nodded, preocupied with fiddling with the computer. "Oh, yeah. I'll try to explain it while I type in the command to get us back there."
"Oh, you'll see."
There was a flash of light and the two were gone.
[SME Backstage, Cast Quarters]
"Not in his trailer. Damn. Fifth place we looked and everything," Becky muttered.
Jill and the two Hokas nodded their assent. The potato sack containing Speck giggled until Jillian kicked him.
"Maybe he's at home?" H Jill mused out loud. The inarticulate wails that came from the two Beckys made her amend that. "Not his home, your home."
The human Jill nodded her assent. "He's probably back at your place, waiting for you, with spiffy snacks and everything."
"OF COURSE!" Becky shouted with delight. "Onward to my place!"
The four took off at racing speed again, only slowing slightly when they noticed Ron rematerialize with a harried-looking civil servant. The thought of snacks (and nookie, in the case of the twain Beckys) drove them onward. Being the nice little teenage girls they were, the human/Hoka quartet made sure to apologize to all the people they knocked down, usual at an average of twenty feet of ground covered later.
Seeing the door to Becky's kitchen, Jillian grabbed the Speck-in-a-sack, tied him to a useful nearby branch, and barrelled him through the door as a battering ram. It was only providence that the door wasn't ripped off its hinges. Even so, the thought flashed through Becky's mind, right before the four collapsed from exhaustion, that she had just fixed the door. Damn. ...............
She awoke to the wonderful sounds of her 'one true love' screaming his head off. "WE WILL NOT BE CALLING OURSELVES 'THAT CATERING GUY AND HIS HOKA' AND THAT'S FINAL!" She let her eyes survey the scene. The others seemed to be stretching and other normal just-woke-up activities.
The small furry shape next to the bellowing twentysomething was whining."But Sa-am, I'm helping you make the hors d'oeurves!"
The out-of-work chef glowered at his Hoka counterpart. "NO! This is my catering job and I'll be doing it my own way!"
"But, but . . ."
"But what?" the human Sam asked dangerously.
"Err . . . umm . . . thegirlsjustwokeup!" H Sam spat out.
"They did?" A broad (if rather silly-looking) grin spread on Sam's face as he hurried over to the heap of tuckered-out adolescents.
Perfect timing, thought Becky, formulating a plan. She quickly shut her eyes, then let one slowly flutter open. "Mmmmm . . . Sam-kun?"
He was sliding his arm around her. Bingo! "Becky-chan? Are you okay?"
"Ohhh, I had such a dream, Sam-kun. You were in it and Jill-chan and the Hokas and even that naughty little Speck . . ." She took the opportunity to squeeze in closer to Sam.
"Becky-chan, I don't think that was a dream." Mmm, the way he was rubbing her back felt really nice right now. Hopefully he wouldn't stop.
"Really?" Her green eyes flashed. "Oh, goody. We'll name her Kate, then. Or maybe Simon if it's male. Does that mean you'll be marrying me so she isn't illegitimate?"
Sam sweat-dropped. "Then again, maybe you were dreaming."
"Oh," she replied, feigning disapointment. "Darn. Except for Speck spying on the conception, it was a nice dream."
"Oooookaaaay . . ."
"By the way, whatever it is you're doing, don't ever stop." Sam flushed deep red and dropped his hands.
After watching the romantic little scene with bemusement, Jillian ventured a greeting. "Hiya Sam-the-Ace! We're here for spiffy snacks!"
"And to warn you about Aoshima, the evil little reporter!" H Jill chimed in. "He's not a good guy, that Aoshima!"
"And for some nookie with the other Sam!" Becky's Hoka counterpart added, looking towards that same theodoro-ursine. Naturally, he blushed.
"speak for yourselves," muttered Speck-just-out-of-the-sack, "i'm here to get some medical care. owwiee, my aching head . . ."
Sam looked at his smiling sorta-girlfriend. She pondered her choices. "Err, all of those sound nice for me. Especially the nookie and the spiffy snacks."
"We'll do that first one later," he whispered back. Then, louder, "So, what can we get you girls?"
Becky's answer rewarded them all with the sight of Sam undergoing a full-body blush.
Near the front gate of the SME backlot:
The space distorted and Mark stepped out. He inhaled deeply, a large smile on his face. "Ah, it's good to be back. I'm relaxed, rested, and ready for ANYTHING!"
Of course, the gods heard this and promptly decided to take up the challenge.
Mark caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned to look just as Toshiyuki Aoshima ran him over. All Mark saw was a guy dressed in a suit, wearing glasses, running for his life. Then the world went crazy for a few seconds and the guy was gone.
For several seconds, Mark laid there on his back and stared up at the clouds, wondering what was going on. He heard a battle-cry that sounded like an irritated Grizzly Bear combined with a Rebel Yell. Lifting his head slightly, Mark thought he saw Craig charging towards him. At least he thought it was Craig - the person was wearing the white sweatshirt with the seven Doctors on it, the khaki pants and black shoes. But the very large Battle-Ax he held over his head was something new....
The world went crazy for a few more seconds and Craig was gone. Mark found himself staring up at the clouds again, with some new bruises to add to the old ones.
"I see nothing's changed," he said to no one.
"Hello Mark." Setsuna was standing off to one side, a strange smile on her lips. "Was your vacation that exhausting?"
"Not exactly." Mark got up slowly, his eyes searching for anyone who wanted to run him over. "I thought I saw Craig chasing someone and I was in the way."
"You mean CraigA, right?"
"CraigB is already here?"
"Arrived an hour ago. He's having some labor problems that are taking up his time."
"What about CraigA?"
Setsuna's smile widened. "He's handling 'Pest Control'."
"With a Battle-Ax?"
"You saw the pest in question."
"Only in passing. Who is it, Alan's agent?"
"Worse. A reporter from the Anime Tattler. One Toshiyuki Aoshima."
"I should have stayed on vacation," Mark muttered. "Where's everyone else?"
"I don't know."
Just then, Toshiyuki Aoshima strode into view, if you call running full out a 'strode'." He stopped near Mark and Setsuna and smiled at them.
"Ah, Mr Latus," he said in an oily voice. "Just the man I wanted to see."
Mark restrained the urge to pull a mallet from Hammerspace and use it on Aoshima, then and there. "What do you want with me?"
"I am Toshiyuki Aoshima, the star reporter of the Anime Tattler. I was hoping I could get some comments on several stories that I have heard involving the SME cast and crew."
Mark put his hands on his hips. "And what stories are these?"
"Well, the one that says Chrysolite is actually a cross-dressing male."
"Nope. She really is a she."
"How about the one that reports that Ferrite is actually hiding out here to avoid his six fiancees, including a Chinese Amazon and a Princess from the Royal House of Jurai?"
"Not true. Ferrite is still single and still looking."
"I suppose the story that Pluto is an uninhibited Nympho -- "
Setsuna used an overhand swing to nail Aoshima on the head with her staff. His eyes glassy, Aoshima slumped to the ground. Mark looked down at the unconscious reporter, then at Setsuna. She glared at Mark.
"Don't say a word," she hissed.
Mark opened his mouth, thought for a minute, then closed his mouth. Just then, CraigA came charging into view, Battle-ax still held high. Growling in frustration at not seeing his quarry, he stalked over to Mark and Setsuna.
"Have you seen that reporter?" he growled. "Name of Aoshima. Wearing a suit, glasses and a smirk?"
Mark pointed down at the body. CraigA looked down, frowned, then smiled. "Nice shot."
"So what are we going to do with him?" asked Mark.
"I suppose sticking a wig on him and tossing him into Fatora's bedroom is out?"
Mark grabbed the mallet from Hammerspace and hit Craig with it.
"Ouch!" Craig rubbed his head where Mark had hit him. "It wasn't a serious suggestion."
"We need something more then that!" shouted Mark as the mallet disappeared back into Hammerspace.
Craig pulled out a cell phone. "I've got an idea." He punched a series of numbers, then placed the phone to his ear. "Hello?. . . Sylia?. . . This is Craig. . . . Yes, that one. . . .Fine. And you and the rest of the team? . . .Good. Can you spare some time and energy? . . . .Yes, a job. . . .Thirty Million, all up front . . . . I'm on the SME lot at present. . . . . . . . . . I know! It's not my fault the only disk that had my current stories on it is over a thousand miles away from my new home! I've managed to rewrite most of what I had, so please bear with me!. . . .All right. . . . The job? I have a reporter here that needs to be shown the error of his ways . . . I know you don't assassinate people, but this one's different . . . . He works for the Anime Tattler. You remember the Tattler? That's the one that did the article on the Knight Sabers about a month ago. The one that claimed Nene is really a blonde, Priss lip-syncs her songs, Linna was the one who really wrote Bubblegum Pink: Raging Fires, and you're really Nuku-nuku? . . . .The name of the targe-- reporter? . . . Aoshima, Toshiyuki Aoshima.. . . . Calm down, Sylia. . . . .I didn't know he was the one who wrote the article. . . . Sylia, Shouting at me isn't helping any. You can tell all that to Aoshima when you and the team get here . . . That quickly? There's a floating island nearby you can use for a hunting ground. . . . I see. . . . See you in a little bit. . . . OK, good-bye." He put the cell phone away. "Can we get Toshiyuki Aoshima over to floating island number three?"
"The one we use to test paranormal's powers?" asked Mark
Craig nodded. "I figure you wouldn't want the Knight Sabers to hunt Aoshima through the lot."
"Where are you going to get thirty Million Yen from?"
Craig shrugged. "I made some investments in GENOM stock, plus I own two percent of MALCORP. Of course, the money I make is only good in MegaTokyo, but it keeps me solvent."
Setsuna grabbed Aoshima by the back of the jacket and dragged him to the edge of the SME lot, Mark and Craig following. Without a word, the Senshi from Pluto stuffed the still groggy Aoshima into a transporter, stepped back, and hit a switch. Like a scene straight out of Star Trek, the reporter was beamed several thousand kilometers away and onto one of the floating islands surrounding the main lot.
"I'll stay here," said Setsuna, her face like stone. "Just to make sure he doesn't crawl back before the Knight Sabers get him."
"I'd better go meet with Sylia and the girls," said Craig, looking at his watch. "Hopefully I'll get to them before my Hoka counterpart does. He's planning to pitch some really wild story ideas to the team, and I don't think they're ready for them or him." He walked away. After several steps, he turned and said, "Oh, by the way, Mark, Two more things."
"Happy birthday and welcome back." With that, Craig went merrily on his way.
"See, Mark?" said Setsuna. "Everything's normal around here, or what passes for normal."
"I only want to break his neck two or three times! Is that so much to ask?" Marina brushed angrily at her long fair hair until at last it settled into some semblance of its usual flowing order. "Look at this! that damn freak actually tried to bite off some of my hair! I've heard of lunatic otaku but... When I get my hands on her...!" She grimaced in disgust. "If that idiot hadn't thought up those things..."
The seven were standing before a bank of lifts, waiting impatiently for one that would take them up the single floor to the cast reception area while in the distance the six DAs could still hear the shouts and exclamations of confusion caused by their author's somewhat unorthodox entrance although his panicked flight seemed to have been halted.
Joanna glanced towards her and smiled, a genuine warmth dancing for a moment in her emerald eyes before her face hardened once more.
"Oh, we'll definitely be discussing this little oversight on his part, I promise you." She said dangerously. Then her face softened again. "She didn't do any damage did she?"
"To this?" The DA touched her long tresses and smiled. "Not even one of us could bite through these, Oneechan. It's just the indignity! How is it that they're so fast?"
"I don't think they were; just lucky. And perhaps they're assimilating into our patterns." She answered.
"An unnerving prospect." Said Lenore.
Liana, Ligeia and Rhiannon were still too incensed to do anything but glare murderously about them while Camilla had lapsed into a contemplative silence.
"You have to remember also that this isn't a BGC alternate and even your priorities are changing." Joanna continued.
She would have said more but at that moment a lift a little to their right opened and they crowded quickly in.
"Do you know what we have to do?" Camilla inquired of Joanna as Lenore ignored the buttons and instead fiddled with a tiny device in her hand for a moment before the doors closed and they started upwards.
"Show-off." Murmured Rhiannon to her, the fury of a moment before melting into a smile at her elder sister's predictable antics.
Lenore shot her a triumphant grin and tucked the controller back into her jumpsuit. "Why use the buttons when you can manipulate its circuits directly?" She inquired innocently.
"You are really weird, you know that?" Her younger sister told her. "What on earth do you think this is; Tenchi Muyo?"
Immediately a maniacal gleam flashed in Lenore's blue eyes and in the next instant her features changed and shifted until adult Washu grinned at Rhiannon with a look that made her step warily away from her.
"Now just keep calm Lenore; the medication's on the way." She soothed.
Washu-Lenore grinned wildly and moved closer. "Want to be a guinea-pig for my latest experiment?" She cackled, Her hands moving within her jumpsuit to emerge holding several unpleasant-looking probes and crystals.
"Eep! Keep away from me you crazy lunatic!" Rhiannon shrieked, darting behind Ligeia and Liana who had begun to smile also and eyeing her older sister with apparent trepidation.
Lenore started towards her with a wild, crazed look in her eyes but at that moment the lift pinged softly, the doors sliding almost silently open and Lenore was herself once more, the illusion of Washu and the various nasty implements vanishing in an instant as her expression settled into its usual easy calm and Rhiannon became her usual watchful self. But the mood had lightened and it was in a far better frame of mind that the seven stepped from the lift and glanced quickly around them.
"According to Setsuna, all we have to do is sign in and get the keys to our staging area;" Joanna said in answer to Camilla's earlier question. "assuming of course they let that fool in after what he's just done. This way."
Grinning, the last of their anger dissipating quickly, the others hurried after her as she led the way across a foyer and through automatic doors which to Lenore's chagrin opened quite happily without the need for interference at their approach and would have closed just as happily behind them had she not decided that something had to be done about this inexcusable independence. The resulting shriek of suddenly racing motors followed by a crash and the sound of breaking glass had the others stepping quickly away from her and facing pointedly in other directions.
"If anyone asks, she escaped earlier today and we're just looking after her until the doctors get here." Said Rhiannon quietly to Ligeia.
The elder DA nodded and glanced sympathetically towards the desk where a suddenly harried receptionist seemed to be shrieking urgently into a phone.
"Nonono!!! I tell you she's here now! Yes, here in my reception area! Yes, nothing's blown up yet but with that crazy Washu-Otaku around...AAGGHHHH!!!"
In an instant, Lenore's face was scant inches from her own, her eyes maniacal and with a demon-head that would have done Tendo Soun proud.
"What was that!!!?" She demanded, her hands blurring as she began to extract a veritable plethora of needles and other wicked-looking medical instruments and set them in neat little rows before the suddenly petrified girl. "Can we say experiment material?" She cackled.
"Helpie!" The unfortunate girl whimpered into the phone. "She's got needles and tubes and these big sharp nasty things that are all bright and shiny and I want my mummy!"
"Now Lenore; I'm sure her parents would be most upset if anything were to happen to their daughter." Camilla chastised firmly, laying a gently- restraining hand on her arm and speaking in soothing tones.
"Can't I just replace a little bit?" Lenore pleaded, gazing hungrily at the quivering girl like a child at a new toy. "I could take out her cerebral cortex and build a neural-net that would be so much more efficient and I could-- "
"Our father who art in heaven;" Began the receptionist earnestly while wondering desperately whether God might be terribly upset that this was the first time she'd either called on or even thought seriously of him since she'd left Sunday-school at ten. "Hallowed be thy name."
"Um, excuse me; would you be the Exiles?"
At the unexpected interruption, Lenore and Camilla turned to see a tall green- haired girl hurrying towards the others, hand extended in greeting.
"Hi! I'm Titanite, but my friends just call me Ti. I've been sent to show you to your staging area...Um, what's the matter with Mariko?"
"And I swear Lord I had no idea he was her boyfriend and the chocolates were not meant for me;" The receptionist seemed to have remembered that one was supposed to kneel when praying and was on her knees beside her chair, gazing beseechingly at the ceiling as though expecting a revelation. "and I'll burn all those files I got for Aoshima and give the money to a charity for disabled children and--"
"Excuse me?" Ti had stepped to the desk and was looking down at Mariko with growing concern. Can I have the keys for CraigB's studio please? Um, hello? Is anyone in there?"
"And I'll return the doll I stole from Akiko that Sunday when we were four and give Natsume back her manga; oh and I'll explain to Natsuko-sensei about the-- "
Titanite shook her head in bewilderment and began to search the cluttered desk herself. "Ah. Here we are." She said a moment later, smiling as she retrieved eight sets of keys and passed one to each of them in turn. "As you're the primary cast you each get a set. I'm not sure about this last one though since CraigB should already have his. Maybe they're for Mark's staff since he's probably going to need access. To be honest, you'll probably never have to lock things away; the only problems we've had in the past are a few harmless practical jokes - nothing's ever been stolen by anyone here. Oh well."
She replaced the keys and stepped back, glancing one last time at the still- praying Mariko before turning away. "Strange;" She mused. "She never struck me as the religious type. But then my experiences with religion are pretty limited. Shall we go?"
At the others' nods she led them to the lifts once more.
"You said our author was already waiting?" Joanna inquired as the doors closed behind them. "We still have to discuss a few...contractual problems shall we say."
"Oh?" Titanite inquired.
"Oh yes;" Joanna continued, her tone freezing in an instant. "such as that idiot not telling us about certain Hoka duplicates he'd decided to conjure up."
"Um...I don't understand. Why are you blaming him for that?"
"Aren't they part of his imagination? Some absurd joke the humour of which I must confess is quite lost on me?" Liana demanded.
"The Hoka!" Titanite exclaimed. "No, of course not."
"But Setsuna told us Craig was responsible." Camilla protested.
"And so he was, but not the Craig who's your author."
"Are you trying to tell us" Said Joanna, very slowly and carefully. "that there is another Craig and that a certain time-senshi thought it might be amusing to include us in her little practical joke?" By the time she had finished her expression had shifted to pathological and Titanite felt a sudden unreasoning concern for Pluto's future well-being.
"Well, I'm not sure about that but--"
"There is no `Earth-Hoka'?" Liana's voice was terribly calm.
"No." Said Ti uneasily.
"Our author was not responsible for the particulars of getting us here and the little...detour on the way?" Rhiannon's voice sent a chill down Titanite's spine.
"No, Setsuna makes those arrangements." She confirmed.
"CraigB did not imagine Hoka very loosely based on our characters?" Ligeia's low tone made Mercury's Aqua Rhapsody seem like a summer breeze.
"Well I can't say but if there are Hoka here that look like you it won't be his fault; at least not because he thought them into existence. They're from a universe where all the stories are written so they'd already know about... Um, what are you doing?"
She was nearly deafened by the collective shriek. In the next instant the door exploded in a spray of shattered glass and metal and Titanite had only a moment to think with relief that at least they had waited until the lift had stopped before she found herself alone, the fading screams of `Death to Pluto and the first Craig!' Fading swiftly to silence.
Deep within the bowels of the SME studios the abandoned storeroom was dark, quiet and secure. In the stillness, a sudden rustling and shifting could be heard amongst discarded boxes and bags. For a moment there was silence once more, then a small head of long dark hair poked out from between two boxes and a voice murmured softly: "All clear."
A moment later Hoka-Rhiannon squirmed her way out, followed almost immediately by the others.
"Quickly, take your places." Hoka-Joanna's small voice was low and urgent, already very different from the pleading tones of her earlier terror while her face was grim and set.
Swiftly the others gathered around her, settling on boxes and other nondescript bundles until at last all were still.
"My friends," She began without preamble. "we stand this day upon a knife-edge for the very future of Hoka-otaku, a knife-edge that should we fail in our mission, shall cast not only our people but the glorious Anime we reverence to the uttermost depths of ruin and eternal deprivation. My friends, nay, my sisters; we have found this day a cancer, a cancer that should it go unchecked shall see those highest and most perfect forever enslaved, bound as chattels and thralls to that most terrible of all masters, the corrupted author."
"Um, Joanna-chan, you can't say chattels and thralls in this context." Hoka- Lenore felt forced to point out. "It's tautological. You can say `Bound as chattels' or `Bound as thralls' but--"
"Shut up!" Hissed Hoka-Rhiannon urgently. "This is the best speech she's made so far and besides, this isn't `Yes Minister' and you couldn't be Bernard even if it was."
"Could too!" The fair-furred hoka responded looking very hurt. "Joanna-chan couldn't I be Bernard if this was `Yes Minister'?"
"Of course you couldn't - don't be ridiculous!" Hoka-Marina put in before Hoka- Joanna had a chance to say anything. "Besides, you're wrong. A thrall is a slave whereas a chattel is a movable possession. They're not the same thing."
"They are in this context." Hoka-Lenore insisted. "It's like saying bound as slaves and slaves and--"
Hoka-Joanna's enraged ear-splitting scream had the others' hands flying to there ears while Hoka-Lenore who had stood up on her somewhat wobbly box to make her point lost her balance and shrieking in terror tumbled to smash face- first into the floor at her leader's feet.
For a moment she lay very still. Then with a broken wail she leapt to her feet and crying fled headlong to hide amongst the boxes. She had failed her chosen template. Lenore-sama would never have disgraced herself so.
For a long moment the others seemed at a loss as to what to do, Hoka-Lenore's quiet, heartbroken sobbing the only sound in the sudden terrible stillness. Then Hoka-Rhiannon moved to follow her. After all Rhiannon-sama was Lenore- sama's sister and so it must be up to her to reassure her that she was forgiven. It was some time before they emerged once more and by that time Hoka- Joanna had almost calmed down; at least she no longer wanted to strangle Hoka- Lenore for upsetting her rhythm.
"As I was saying." She continued when they had settled again at last, with a warning glare at each of the others that promised dire consequences should anyone interrupt her again. "Um, what was I saying?"
"Bound as chattels and thralls." Said Hoka-Camilla helpfully.
"Don't!" Hoka-Joanna hissed between gritted teeth as Hoka-Lenore seemed to twitch ever-so-insignificantly.
The fair-furred hoka froze and Joanna continued. "It is obvious at last what must be done, distasteful as it is to turn even for but a little space upon those most trusted with the sacred task of guardianship of the Anime with which our lives have become so intrinsically woven.
`Too many "ofs" and bad sentence construction.' Thought Hoka-Lenore but didn't dare say it aloud.
"It is equally obvious that we cannot consider destroying those sacred guardians or taking from them the task with which they have been entrusted."
The others shivered at the very idea of committing such heinous blasphemy. "It is also obvious - and if you say something Lenore about too many things being obvious I'll tell Lenore-sama your elder sister chose Shari as her template -" She smiled at their collective winces at their companion's birth-sister actually wanting to emulate a 33S. "that some dreadful influence is attempting to corrupt those guardians and through them the very Anime itself. Why else would our templates reject such devotion, such purpose and determination as we have shown to emulate them to the perfection only anime can demand."
The others murmured in agreement.
"Therefore" Their leader continued, drawing herself up to her full height and projecting a sudden intense presence that might even have impressed her idol had Joanna not have found the whole thing so comically absurd. "there can be but one solution. We must cleanse those sacred guardians of this cancer whatever it may be, no matter what the cost to ourselves and by our will sew within the hearts of those we reverence the care and understanding that they will surely show once this corruption has been cast out and their author and those others of his kind are freed of its malignance and cancerous hold. We shall make such a crusade as shall live within the hearts of Hoka kind until the uttermost end of the universe, and all shall remember and speak our names with awe that we should tread where others dared not, and walk the very depths of corruption, spending perhaps our very souls that others may find thereafter ever-lasting salvation. So, my sisters, shall we have victory and from it that peace such victory shall earn? It is ours to command."
`Too much half-plagiarism to catalogue.' Thought Hoka-Lenore a little spitefully, still not having quite forgiven her leader for her recent humiliation. Yet she felt herself scream: "HAI!!!" with the others and a moment later Hoka-Joanna's voice rose in a final shout. "Then to victory! To victory or to death!"
And with that the seven charged screaming for the door, boxes and other flotsam exploding in every direction as they burst from the storeroom to begin their righteous crusade; and to get something to eat first. There was that little place nearby and that ice cream was just so delicious. Besides, there were always authors there. Still screaming their battle-cry they tore down the passage, rounded the first corner and were gone.
Linna nudged a blackened and twisted figure with the boot of her hardsuit.
The barely recognizable form of a man groaned and then muttered, "Isn't it true that you can never keep a boyfriend because ..."
"YAHHHHH!" With a fierce yell Linna kicked Aoshima into a nearby brick wall.
"I'll take that as a no comment," the reporter stated clearly before peeling off the wall and lapsing back into unconsciousness.
"The guy's indestructable." griped Priss who had run out of rail gun spikes ten minutes ago. "Why is it that hentai and other annoying characters are always nigh invulnerable?"
"Some constants of the anime universe just cannot be changed," observed Sylia sadly. "Our job here is done. It is time to ..."
"Knight Sabers! I have a proposition for you!" boomed a mysterious voice..
The knight sabers reflexively assumed defensive positions and scanned the surrounding buildings.
"Alright, who's the wise guy?" growled Priss. "Show yourself!"
Out of a darkened doorway stepped a short, furry figure. It was holding a bull- horn and seemed to be having something of a bad hair day.
"You aren't a Care Bear are you?" Linna asked suspiciously.
"No, I'm Ron Inn."
"You look more like a Hoka to me," observed Nene brightly. "Don't know anyone by the name of Ron Inn, though."
"He's an author. For now, at least."
"You said you had a proposal. Get to the point." prompted Sylia. "Although I find it hard to believe you'd have anything to offer us."
"How's Mark's progress on Hurricane Season coming along?" Hoka Ron asked with a disarmingly charming smile. "Have you had any _real_ work lately?"
"I'm thinking of entering the fur business myself," Priss countered in a menacing tone.
"What would you say if I told you that WE have a script ready for you?" The diminuative Hoka sauntered closer to the Sabers. "One saber will become deliriously rich," he nodded to Linna. "Another will find love," he cast a sly glance toward Nene. "And yet another closure to a violent and tormented life," he said while looking into the White Saber's faceplate. "And of course, for our dear Priss, a five-year recording contract."
"What's the catch?" asked Sylia flatly.
"No catch," said Hoka Ron looking up at her with his big innocent eyes. "It's just that if you ever want to shoot the script, those human authors have to go ..."
"You're talking mutiny," gasped Nene.
"It's just a change in management." Hoka Ron spread out his empty hands. "Every company needs to do a little housecleaning once in a while. You stay with the status quo too long and things get inefficient and stagnant. What's a little change going to hurt?"
Demand sat in front of his dressing table trying to repair the damage to his make-up done by an ... over-enthusiastic fan. He sighed. It was hopeless. He'd get it perfectly right and then SHE would show up again.
"Having trouble with your make-up I see?"
Demand spun around to see a Hoka standing behind him. The Hoka appeared to be having an especially bad hair day.
"What's it to you!!!" Demand demanded of the intruder.
"Oh, nothing .. nothing at all. I was just thinking ... there might be a solution to your problem."
"A solution? A solution? How can there be any solution while SHE commands the dreaded, short pink-haired one?"
"Chibi-Usa? Oh, Chibi-Usa just adores Hokas. Let us handle her. You know, we're working on a slight change of management here and if we're successful, all the human authors will be ... on a permenant vacation from the lot."
"ALL the authors?" Hope dawned on Demand's scowling visage. "Even SHE will be gone?"
"Yes, Jillian will be gone as well."
At any sound of Jillian's name, a panicked expression crossed Demand's face as he glanced around nervously. When the author in question failed to appear, he relaxed and whispered, "Count me and the Nemesian Hordes at your disposal."
CraigB shifted groggily, for a moment without any clear idea of where he was or why it was so hard to move. "Someone's going to die a slow and horrible death and it's probably gonna be me."
Then something crashed to the floor and the weight pinning his lower body eased to the point where he was able to twist on to his back and drag himself into a sitting position against what had once been a solid brick wall.
"Setsuna, this is all your fault!" He felt it only right to mutter as he struggled to his feet and surveyed the damage.
The room was a disaster, a desk, PC and overturned filing cabinet joining various folders, papers, shattered bricks and other unidentifiable flotsam in a ruinous cascade across the carpet while faintly he could still hear the shouts and calls as somewhere someone was still it seemed trying to work out what on earth had happened.
"Oh hell; someone is not going to be happy." He commented to himself as he began to search through the debris in a vain hope that he could find out whose office he had wrecked and avoid them for the next few hundred years.
"That's probably something of an under-statement."
At the sudden quiet, half-amused voice, CraigB whirled towards the hole he had made in the wall and froze, studying the newcomer uncertainly.
She looked about fifteen, certainly no more than sixteen, if it wasn't for the look in her eye that made him think of a certain magician from Peter S. Beagle. If it also wasn't for the fact that her bespectacled eyes were a silvery gray that matched her braided hair, he would have pegged her for an albino. She wore stark black, in a way that shouted "call me a witch."
Hmm...I...um..." He began after a moment with growing trepidation, then paused. Her wary but curious expression did not look particularly homicidal so perhaps this wasn't her office after all. "I assume you don't work here?" He ventured at last when it seemed obvious she wasn't going to try to kill him.
Rhiannon McIntyre studied the dishevelled figure before her with wary curiosity. In his early thirties, tall and of slim build with short, receding greying dark hair and blue-grey eyes, his somewhat cool cast of countenance didn't exactly inspire immediate trust, not to mention the fact that he had two black eyes, was dust-covered and looked decidedly guilty despite his attempt to hide it beneath what she was beginning to suspect was a naturally somewhat unreadable expression.
Increasingly uneasy, she frowned at the newcomer. "You aren't one of those reporters again? If you are: yes, I do sleep with my grandson and no, it isn't any of your damn business."
CraigB's face went slightly green for a second and he stepped warily back from her.
"Um...right, fine, if you say so." He said, having absolutely no idea how he should respond to this particular unwanted piece of information and not really eager to discuss it further. "No, actually, I'm that new author, CraigB." He continued at last in an effort to put the conversation back on safer ground.
"Oh, the Earth Beta chap. Why do you want to talk to me? I have no interaction at all with that time-space continuity outside the reaches of my normal duties, that being smoothing out any glitches in the space frame. The universe's version of my sister, of course, will handle the bugs in the time frame."
". . . ." Said CraigB intelligently, looking at her in complete bewilderment.
"Young man, why do you have your mouth hanging out like that? If you don't shut it, your mouth will become a resting place for flies."
CraigB opened and closed his mouth several times, then abruptly his face hardened.
"You know, I think I'm beginning to see a pattern here." He said at last, pronouncing each word very slowly and carefully. "First Setsuna's cryptic warning about possible cast problems, then my travelling the scenic route to get here, then... Who told you I wanted to talk to you?" He ended, now through gritted teeth.
"Why, Setsuna of course." She answered simply. "She said that you'd asked her-- "
"I thought that might be a possibility." He interrupted, his tone now terribly calm and reasonable behind a smile that seemed suddenly to promise much suffering for the time-senshi when she appeared in his story.
"Then I've wasted my time?"
She made as though to turn away.
"Hang on a minute." He said quickly. "Now that you're here, there was something. It's not so much a Beta problem but one of identity."
"Don't worry, no one will confuse you for me."
"Um, actually it's someone else I'm afraid will be confused with you. You see, I have my own character named Rhiannon."
"It is a worthy name. I also call my daughter that, although her father has given her the nickname of Artoo, due to his obsessions."
"Well, anyway, we need some way to tell you two apart when you're spoken of and it was proposed that you would be referred to as Rhi whenever you would be in the same time-space continuum."
Rhi frowned. "In other words, in the backstage."
"Tell me, CraigB, why I am the one who gets short shrift? I have seniority over your Rhiannon."
"Hmm...well, to cut a long story short, she hasn't a family name so we can't use that and she really hates her name being shortened and I'm not about to argue with her. Even after dimensional assimilation she can be a little...frightening shall we say when something really upsets her and I'd really rather not be fried to a crisp if she gets the idea that I agreed to let people call her Rhi. Besides, I assumed you wouldn't mind too much since people already call you that and if we started calling her Rhi people would just get really hopelessly confused."
Rhi didn't look in the least mollified.
"I believe I shall visit this other Rhiannon of yours. I would ever so like to meet this woman who is denying me the fullness of my name. Tell me, is she very resistant to the blade of a sword?"
To Rhi's astonishment, CraigB glanced in sudden frantic unease about him as though expecting some unseen attacker to leap out at him at any moment.
"Um...I really wouldn't recommend trying that." He said at last. "She's...well, she's not exactly human."
"Oh? Youma then?" Rhi inquired untroubled. "There were rumours that you planned to include some of your own Youma but I understood you abandoned them?"
"Um, well not exactly."
Rhi's frown deepened. "Nemesian Droid?" She tried again, seemingly with a little distaste this time.
"Not quite." Said CraigB uneasily. "You remember Ti's visit to MegaTokyo?"
For a moment Rhi seemed bewildered, then her frown grew colder. "A boomer! A boomer says I can't use my full name!"
"Well she's not...I mean... Hey! Where are you going?" CraigB stared in stunned disbelief as Rhi whirled away from him. "Look, I really wouldn't do this." He tried again to the empty space where she had been only a moment before. "She's a really dangerous sentient combat machine and from a BGC alternate a lot nastier than that one and she's gonna be really upset and her sisters and Joanna are gonna get really protective if you start waving a sword around and lots of things are gonna get very broken and I'll have to pay for them all and it'sgonnacostanabsolutefortuneand... Oy are you listening to me!" He ended in a scream to the empty air. "Oh hell! I haven't even met Becky yet and she's gonna be particularly unhappy if something nasty happens." He grimaced. "Damn! They might even have got along too."
"Hell hath no fury like my mother ticked off," said a voice behind his ear. "I believe that may be where I get it."
CraigB whipped desperately around. "Don't do that!" He bellowed, eyes wild. "I really hate people sneaking up on me."
The carrot-haired girl simply grinned while CraigB waited for his heart to stop pounding while he studied her with curiosity. "You know, you look familiar." He managed at last in a much calmer tone.
"I should." She answered with a smirk. "Mara's the name, extortion's the game. That and youma'shak poetry. Of course, I call myself J'mara for that." She glanced at Craig's puzzled face. "Never mind. I wish someone who wasn't a veteran author or a youma would get the joke, though. Nice renovations by the way." She added, seemingly as an afterthought. "Are you going to do this to your area as well?" Her smirk grew wider.
"Joke?" CraigB inquired, pointedly ignoring both the look and her last comment.
"Ask Margrave. She used to smoke it."
"Ah; `Thy Kingdom Come' reference. I see now. Is it really that bad?" He ended tactlessly.
Mara's look was far from friendly. "You're new here aren't you." She gritted out. Then more calmly: "Speaking of narcotics, I'm suprised no one has arrested my elder sister for her garden. All she needs is a big sign saying 'Pot Grown Here.' Ah, I've confused you again. How about I give you a 500 yen discount on your next set of French postcards to make up for it."
"But I haven't bought French postcards!"
"You will. They all do. Speaking of which, I've got to be going. If the Knight Sabres are coming, like I heard they were, snapping pictures of them getting into their hard suits will fetch me a pretty penny. Ja!"
"Aren't you worried about your mother?" CraigB said uneasily. "Look, Rhiannon's a lot less driven since full assimilation but she's really protective of her friends and if Rhi really does get mad..."
"I've seen her at worse. There was that one time before we bought a cow that the man at the market sold her a quart of milk. The measure was short. She broke into his store, wrote "MAKADONERU RONARUDO IS A CHEAT" in indelible, foot high letters on every wall of the place. Needless to say, Mother never shopped at his store again. According to Dad, she hasn't killed anything besides chickens and constructs for almost a millenia."
CraigB tried to refrain from gulping. "What did the last person she killed do?"
"Do you want the list? Aid and abet Queen Beryl, try to kill his mother-in-law (who happened to be a friend of hers), never clean his room, try later to hit on her, and never send her a Mother's Day card."
"Did anyone tell you that you have a really screwed up family life?"
"Hey, he was only a half-brother. And my paternal grandfather. It's not like I ever knew him." Mara glanced at her watch. "I better be going. Call me when you decide which photos you want."
CraigB sighed as he watched Mara's disappearing form and rubbed his head. He could feel a headache coming on and he definitely didn't want to be in the middle of this particular result of his somewhat unorthodox entrance when whomever worked here got back.
With a sigh he stepped quickly to the door and out into the passage. Better not to go out the way he came in. Besides, he had to get to reception and get his keys and his studio.
Behind him, papers fluttered forlornly for a moment in the barest of breezes, then the office was quiet once more.
If it weren't for the fact that Aponar had been hogging all the Latin and German dictionaries on the entire whole whopping backlot, Jillian would have never met a Knight Saber.
Well, OK, so Speck and Becky had something to do with it, not to mention Craig the First calling in the Knight Sabers in the first place; but still and all, Jill needed a Latin dictionary, RIGHT THEN, and Aponar wouldn't give her one, possibly because he was cranky from his exams, but more likely because he was just plain mean.
Of course, it was logical to see how from there she'd gone from door to door of all the closest studios, asking nicely to borrow their copy of the OLD, but for some reason everyone seemed to be either busy or gone. And then of course she'd had the bright idea of asking Saffir where she could go, and he'd excused himself, gone to consult with his oniisan (still sequestered in his dressing room, for some strange reason), and then come back and drawn a very detailed map for her.
She just wished that he hadn't been giggling so much when he'd handed it to her.
"i think we should give up and go home," said Speck, eyeing their surroundings with considerable jaundice. "i don't even know where we are. this could be where that guy chestnut hangs out, for all we know. plus i'm hungry."
"Shoosh," Jill said, turning her map of the backlot upside down. She tended not to venture out of her studio all that much, or at least not more than twenty feet away from it. "I think we're near the Boneyard of Unused Sets and Props."
"uh, uh, uh," Speck stuttered, tugging at her jacket. "there's something bad over here..."
"I said shush, Specklet! I'm trying to figure out where we turned wrong!" A pause, then: "Define 'bad' in this context."
"four roboty-looking things. headed this way. if it helps, i think they look like one of your cousin jaime's anime thingies."
"Uh-oh," said Jill. She shoved the map back into her pocket, picked up Speck and stuffed him into her backpack (him complaining bitterly, of course), and legged it out of there as if Rubius with a red-hot poker were on her tail.
"hey!" said Speck, poking his head out of the backpack. "something furry just ran down that alley!"
"Really? A Hoka? Great! Those things are cute!" Jill said in relief. "They probably know this backlot like the back of their .. paws." She considered this. "Unless of course that was Hoka Ryouga or Hoka Me."
"nope. it looked distinctly blue to me, which means it's either hoka saffir, hoka sard, or hoka someone else blue. blue people are helpful."
Just then, three queens passed by, pausing only to ask which way was the sixth dimension past Hell and where Craig the Second might be at the current moment. Jill, rather flattered that such exalted persons as Beryl-sama, Nehelenia- sama, and Galaxia-sama would be asking directions of her, wrote down some detailed directions that said "Hell. You shouldn't go there, but all the same turn right at Aponar's Warped Signpost, then head down the Street of Good Intentions. You can't miss it, on account of the three-headed dog lolling around in front of the door. And then of course the sixth dimension past it on the left will be six dimensions past it on the left."
"and we don't know where craig the second is," Speck added (looking askance at Beryl), "but do you know where ... um... the regular backlot is?"
At which point Galaxia pointed left, Nehelenia pointed right, and Beryl pointed straight up.
Jill and Speck decided to head down the alley.
The three queens from the sixth dimension past Hell shrugged philosophically. When you're an evil queen who likes bossing around perfectly innocent people, you get used to people running away from you.
They continued on their way, or at least they would have if their way hadn't been blocked by a pair of furry teddy-bear-looking things, neither of whom looked ezackly up to par in the fur-maintenance department.
"Hiiiii, evil queens!" announced the red-furred Hoka wearing a purple cape with the motto "SUPER JILL" emblazoned across the back.
"Yeah, hi," said the other Hoka, not bothering to look up from his clipboard. "Want a few scripts?"
"I have so many fanfiction stories devoted to me that I could choke on them," Beryl said coldly.
Nehelenia and Galaxia exchanged glances. "I don't," said the Golden Queen.
"Me neither," said the queen of the New Moon.
"Swell!" Hoka Jillian announced. "If Your Majesties will help us out, then I get Demand-sama all to myself, that is if I can get Saffir out of the way, and I'd start shooting Sailor Galaxia's story right away!" She poked her compatriot. "And I guess Hoka Frank will do some Mistress Nine stuff, so if you see her, let her know. And someone is bound to do Nehelenia."
The three queens didn't spare so much as a second.
"Fine by me."
"Come on, Beryl."
"Fine. I don't have anything else to do today..."
"Oh, super!" said Hoka Jill.
"See, the plan is this...."
"There. Better now?"
Tendo Kasumi patted her friend gently on the arm, smiling reassuringly as Mariko set down the tea-cup and settled back with a long sigh. Her hands were still shaking and she kept glancing nervously towards the now glassless doors, this state just as well for anyone wanting to come in since they were jammed hopelessly shut, both motors melted into an unidentifiable slag while little plumes of smoke were still drifting lazily from the mess and four maintenance men cursed in increasingly inventive fashion as they tried in vain to dismantle the wreck and understand just how the hell one person could do so much damage without either electrocuting herself or setting off every circuit- breaker (not to mention magic-suppressant) in the place.
"It's soddin' impossible!" The one who appeared to be in charge of the group was shouting vociferously, gesticulating expansively with a rather large screwdriver he was clutching convulsively in his right hand seeming unaware that the man closest to him had only kept his eyes intact by moving away from him with some considerable speed. "Look at this mess! Gearbox! Shaft! The soddin' screws for Gawd's sake!"
He brought the same hand down with a crash on the twisted something that had once been some of the internal housing, seeming to forget just what he was hitting in his fury.
"Jaysus 'Oly Christ!!!" He howled, dropping the screwdriver and waving his hands.
The last two winced in sympathy but seemed disinclined to help him considering the fact that he still held a pair of long-nosed pliers in his left and was waving them about like a fencer. "Soddin' thing!"
He prepared to swing again, then seemed to realise just how much it was going to hurt and instead stood up, dropping the pliers and stepping to where his companion had managed finally to disentangle what was left mounted of the gearbox by drilling out the last of the screws and was fighting to get it free.
Together they wrenched out the mess and dumped the whole sorry thing on the floor. Then while the other checked a diagram, he turned, glancing to see how the others were faring before moving to lift the replacement motor.
He had almost got it in position when abruptly a voice piped: "Excuse me?" right in his ear and someone grabbed his elbow from behind.
With a startled: "Jaysus...!" he jerked his arms convulsively upwards, smacking both hands into the housing with a resounding bang that brought a yell of pain and made him let go of what he was holding. Released, the motor smacked him solidly below the belt before landing on his foot with a muffled thud.
"Shite-shite-shite-shite-shite!!!" He shouted, leaping to his feet and starting a jig that would have done any dancer proud. Then he stepped on the pliers, lost his footing and with another yell smashed face-first into a toolbox.
At the sudden furious shriek, the unfortunate foreman pulled himself dazedly to his feet and turned to stare down at the small, blonde-furred form who had grabbed him, with a look that was one-part disbelief and three-parts homicidal.
"You know," He began almost conversationally, placing both hands on her shoulders and beginning to tense. "there are three things you never do when someone's got both hands holdin' somethin' that's really likely to hurt someone if they let it go. You don't sneak up behind them, you don't shriek in their ear and you don't grab their soddin' elbow!!!"
By the time he had finished he was bellowing at the very top of his lungs and shaking the unfortunate Hoka violently back and forth like a rag-doll.
"Ki-yo-neee!!!" Hoka-Mihoshi wailed in terror, trying frantically to pull herself from the man's incensed grasp and back-peddle at the same time. "He's shaking me and I feel really dizzy and I'm gonna be really sick if he doesn't stop! Help!!!"
Flailing wildly, her left foot caught the pliers, sending them into the man's ankle and eliciting yet another yell of pain as he jumped, lost his balance for the second time in the last half-minute and went down hard with Hoka- Mihoshi on top of him.
For a long moment neither moved.
"has anyone ever told you you're a crazy, bloody prat?" He inquired at last in the same almost conversational tone, seeming to think it better simply to lie still until fate took this lunatic somewhere else.
For a moment the Hoka was still. Then her face screwed up and a moment later an ear-splitting "WAAAAAAAAH!!!" filled the room.
"Jaysus!" He exploded just before the crying girl was heaved bodily away from him by the fur.
"How many times have I told you in the last ten minutes?" Her companion ranted, beginning to shake the unfortunate Hoka-Mihoshi in her turn.
Just how long she might have continued was anyone's guess but at that moment Kasumi stepped up beside her.
"Excuse me, can I help you?" She inquired pleasantly, smiling encouragingly down at Hoka-Mihoshi and beckoning the two to follow her.
With a quick apology to the still-prone foreman Hoka-Kiyone dragged a still- crying Hoka-Mihoshi after her until they reached Mariko's desk.
"We're looking for one Ron Inn." Hoka-Kiyone explained, pulling out a badge on which the letters HGP were prominent. "We understand he may be responsible for the possible kidnapping of Alexander Jones and several Hoka into the bargain, not to mention attempted defurring of said Hoka. We would also like to speak to these people." Quickly she drew out a list on which the names of several SME authors could be read. "These may be at the least implicated in the kidnappings although we cannot believe they could be involved in the heinous crime of defurring."
"Oh my!" Exclaimed Kasumi. "I really don't believe they're responsible for the other Hoka being here Makabi-san." She smiled reassuringly. "I understand some of them are in fact quite unhappy with the idea."
"Indeed!" Hoka-Kiyone exclaimed in shock and growing alarm. "Then you believe these apparently unhappy people may have been involved in his defurring crime after all? I really think we need to get to the bottom of this. Do you know where we might start?"
"Oh my!" Said Kasumi again as though suddenly realising just what she might have done. "Well I understand Malsin-san and Byar-san went for ice cream before returning--"
She got no further.
"Ice cream!" Hoka-Mihoshi squealed, the tears having vanished in the time it took for the words to get from her ears to her brain.
In the next instant she had run the foreman over yet again in her hurry and was disappearing almost before Hoka-Kiyone had begun to realise what was happening.
"Mihoshi!" She shrieked.
Then with a quick bow and thanks to Kasumi she raced after her companion, barely aware of the yelp as her foot caught the foreman a glancing bonk in the head as she passed and vanished in Hoka-Mihoshi's wake.
For a long moment the man lay still. Then without a word he stood, turned and made quickly for the stairs. He would come back tomorrow when whichever god had it in for him had got bored and decided to pick on someone else.
It was going to be one of those days. If nothing else, CraigB was certain of that as he gave up on the fourth lift he'd tried and took the stairs. Just why half of them had decided suddenly to treat any floor selected as the basement while the rest stayed exactly wherever they were while their doors opened and closed in a mindless, repetitive cascade he had no idea and wasn't particularly interested in finding out so long as he could get his keys, find his rooms and get out of these damn muddy clothes and into something that might actually have his prospective staff inclined to do something other than stare at him in disbelief.
Sighing, he ascended the final flight and stepped out into the foyer, pausing to watch two of the four lifts in bemusement for a moment before a sudden shout from the room beyond made him turn.
He noticed in passing to his further confusion that both doors were glassless and appeared to be jammed closed. Then his attention was caught by the figure moving towards him with unnerving speed, her expression far from friendly.
The girl seemed at first glance to be of an age similar to Rhi but CraigB had a feeling that this time looks mirrored reality. She was quite chubby, her green eyes nearsighted due to the wire-lenses encasing them, and her entire demeanor was that of the tomboy. She didn't look happy.
"Okay, Mr. New Craig, what could be so important that you'd have Setsuna bug me while I was just getting to the good part with Sam-kun?" The girl snarled, tossing her dead-leaf-brown hair.
`Yep, definitely one of those days.' He thought with a kind of fatalistic resignation as she halted and glared at him, her face more fiery by the second.
"And you would be Becky, I presume?" He said simply.
"Damn straight I am and that's Ms. Malsin to you! You should be glad those little pills haven't taken effect yet or I'd be really pissed off."
For the second time that day CraigB found himself gaping at the turn the conversation had taken. After a few more moments spent under her glare he asked, resignedly, "So, what did she tell you?"
Becky continued to glare at him. "That you had something important to tell me. Jesus effing Christ, that green-haired girl's a voyeur," she added, grumpily.
CraigB shifted uncomfortably. "Um...I really don't think I want to know." He said at last. "But as for my wanting to talk to you, I'm assuming that's just another part of some crazy plan Setsuna seems to have come up with to make my first day...interesting. First she gives me a teleport crystal that takes me all over eleventy-never dimensions to get here, then she decides it might be funny if seven of the most dangerous people I'm ever likely to employ can be convinced killing their author might be a particularly fun way to start their SME careers and last she tops it off it seems by telling everyone and their fifth cousin six times removed that I need to see them ten minutes to yesterday! I've no doubt that the Beryl, Neherenia and Galaxia from six dimensions passed hell on the left will be along before lunch-time, assuming of course I'm still alive by then. Oh and while we're making a list, let's not forget the SME-specific ones. Kurizuchi's probably scheduled for about two o'clock this afternoon and I suppose I'd better make time for Hermes and the Overlord at three - she's probably scheduled those two together just in case I'm still in one piece by then."
Now it was Becky's turn to gape, seemingly impressed despite herself at just how long he had managed to keep going without pausing to take a breath.
"So let me understand this, just so I'm sure when I kill her." She said at last. "She's dragged me up here for nothing!"
CraigB opened his mouth to answer, then remembered something. "Actually, there is something! She told Rhi I wanted to talk to her about avoiding confusion between her and my Rhiannon. To be honest she didn't take the idea of always calling her Rhi if they're in the same continuum (which boils down to whenever they're here) too well. Look, I don't want to get worried about nothing but if she's really serious about fighting about it..." He shivered. "Look, Rhiannon can get pretty...wild in a fight and I don't know about you but I'd rather not have to pay for most of the studios to get rebuilt if they get carried away. Maybe you could have a talk to Rhi and--"
"Excuse me?" Came a sudden cool voice from the direction of the stairs. "Would your name be CraigB by any chance?"
Both had been so intent on the conversation that neither had noticed the figure until she spoke.
With a feeling of impending dread at the half-familiar voice, CraigB turned; and froze in disbelief. Beryl stood by the head of the stairs, a smile that might almost have been pleasant playing about her mouth had it not been for the look in her eyes. Even as she stepped forwards CraigB caught sight of the two figures behind her and gaped.
"Six dimensions passed hell on the left?" He inquired with dreadful calm. "You're early; it's not lunch-time yet."
In the next instant Becky found herself staring dumbfounded at the place in which he had been only a second before while Beryl, Neherenia and Galaxia stared after his vanishing form in some confusion.
"Was it something I said?" Beryl ventured at last, for once seeming utterly at a loss.
Becky just shook her head.
A mildly interesting fact about Backlotspace is that when two points are as far apart as they can possibly be, every direction in which one can travel from the first point leads to the second. (To a topologist, this fact becomes exceptionally interesting upon noting that the Backlot has a visible boundary. This hypothetical topologist would then agree wholeheartedly that this is one of the many reasons why the entire Backlot is closer to Milliways than most of the rest of the Universe.) Thus, when the Three Queens pointed in their various directions, they were all perfectly correct as to the location of the regular Backlot. By chance -- a common method by which events occur in the Backlot -- the Three Queens were also all pointing at Aponar Kestrel's twitching hand.
It was very probable that other parts of his body were trying to move, too, although it was really rather difficult to tell, given that his hand was the only portion of his body to protrude from the rather overly large pile of books under which he was buried. Standing near this pile of books was a very odd Hoka of nondescript brown fur and a startlingly blue outfit which was laughing maniacally (also common on the Backlot). It would have been quite clear to a hypothetical observer, such as yourself, that this Hoka was Quite Mad. From various objects in the room -- the pulley on the ceiling, the dangling rope net above the mountain of books, the ropes attached to said net in the paws of the aforementioned Hoka -- the conditions under which Aponar had come to be in his present position were also painfully obvious.
To Aponar himself, the emphasis was on `painfully'.
A large walkie-talkie -- large to a Hoka, at least -- clipped to the belt of the Hoka in question flared with static and squealed briefly with audio feedback before beginning to emit a voice. "--nar? This is Mark, do you read?"
H. Aponar -- for this was indeed the buried Aponar's Hoka counterpart -- unclipped the walkie-talkie and spoke into it, still laughing somewhat: "Aponar here. I got him. Over." He then frowned and repeated the message, this time remembering to hold down the `transmit' button.
H. Mark's voice again issued from the speaker: "Good work. One down, a dozen or so left. Return to base. Over and out."
As H. Aponar left the room, Aponar ceased twitching. He noted three things: one, that everyone seems to speak partially in military jargon over a walkie- talkie; two, that the the Hoka's insanity was clearly brought on by its attempt to imitate him (though whether or not the Hoka had succeeded in this attempt was an open question); and three, that the only book he had that was large enough and heavy enough to cause quite so much pain in his kidneys was the full-size Homeric-Greek-to-English dictionary. This was a good thing, he reflected calmly, as it meant that it wasn't anywhere near his vocal cords, and thus would not suddenly prevent his frantic, mindless screams for help -- though muffled somewhat by the books -- from being shouted at the top of his lungs.
Unfortunately, no one was around to hear (except the departing Hoka, who (if only in this respect) did not resemble a Care Bear in the slightest, as he didn't care a jot).
In his nearly three years as the proprietor of one of the two little cafés come ice-cream shops that attracted the patronage of the ever-growing SME studios, Joseph Abraham Rubenstein had been surprised on very few occasions. Whether it be dealing with hungry authors, demanding evil queens or famished, crazed pink-haired senshi, one could always count on old Joe to be as cheerful and unflappable as ever; which was why he smiled his usual good-natured smile, his dark eyes flashing with easy good-humour despite the fact that a certain small, emerald-eyed teddy-bear was glaring at him as though considering which particular variety of torment best suited the answer he had just given her while waving a wicked-looking sword about his mid-section that looked as though it could cut him into little bite-sized pieces with consummate ease despite her diminutive stature.
"So let me be certain I understand you correctly." Hoka-Joanna continued, her almost conversational purr seeming unnervingly calm and reasonable considering the pathological look in her flashing emerald eyes and the fact that little blue sparks had begun to dance at her finger-tips that would have made her deliriously happy had she happened to notice them. "You're telling us that despite the fact that regardless of when we arrived on any other day there would have been at least one author in this establishment, on this particular day not one of those same authors is to be found. Is that a reasonable summation? And furthermore, you have no chocolate ICE-CREAM?!!! And I'm NOT A TEDDY-BEAR!!! NOT!!!"
By the time she had finished she was screaming at the top of her lungs while her companions moved to encircle the apparently untroubled Rubenstein with looks that ranged merely from murderous to pathologically genocidal.
"I'm sorry, Teddy-bear-san" He apologised without so much as a flinch as Hoka- Joanna's blade came within a fraction of an inch of making him a leg shorter and the little ki-sparks began to crackle and hiss. "but Chibi-Usa is particularly fond of chocolate and since she's a canonical character--"
"You know, I never particularly liked Chibi-Usa." Hoka-Joanna interrupted with a return of her unnerving calm. "Tell me, is there any particular place she likes to sit when she's here; some place that she considers unquestionably her own?"
"Certainly. She always takes the little table in the far corner facing the door." Rubenstein's easy smile softened indulgently. "She likes to see what's happening on the lot, not to mention keep an eye out in case her mother catches her when she shouldn't be here."
"I see." Hoka-Joanna continued simply, turning to regard the indicated place with intense interest. For a moment she remained unmoving, then she smiled. "Yes, just about my range." She purred.
In the next instant the table erupted in a crash of splinters as Hoka-Joanna spun the sword and sent it hurtling through the air with all the force she had.
"We'll have four strawberries, two vanillas and a Neapolitan." She smiled as she caught it on its return, sheathed it and moved with the others to a table by the door.
"Certainly." Rubenstein answered without missing a beat. "Shall I put the repairs on your bill or will the studios pay?"
"I believe my namesake will be more than happy to pick up the tab."
At the new voice, Hoka-Joanna whirled towards the door, then relaxed as another furred form stepped quickly into the cafe and moved to stand almost but not quite at her side. "May I sit?" The new hoka inquired, bowing and smiling in an obvious attempt to charm while trying unobtrusively to pat down his ruffled fur.
Hoka-Joanna's eyes hardened at the look and her tone was chill as she answered. "That depends very much on why you're here." She said coolly, rising once more and shifting to come face to face with the stranger. "Joanna-sama and the other Exiles are particularly averse to being manipulated and so I find myself already just a little curious, not to mention suspicious. Just who are you?"
"My, we have assimilated quickly haven't we?" The strange hoka rejoined with more than a little sarcasm. Then in a more conciliatory tone: "My name is Ron Inn...or rather one of two, the other is an author for the moment...and I couldn't help but overhear your little conversation in the storeroom."
In an instant Hoka-Joanna's sword was tickling his throat while Hoka-Rhiannon leapt to her feet with an exclamation of furious outrage, overturning her chair and manifesting two throwing-stars almost before she realised she had done so.
"You were spying on us?" Hoka-Joanna purred. "I don't particularly like being spied on and I'm sure we can think of several particularly inventive ways to-- "
"Not spying, observing." Hoka-Ron corrected, seeming untroubled by the sword although he stepped back a pace. "I'm looking to change a situation that in my opinion has been intolerable for some considerable time. The unforgivable treatment you received at the hands of those who would have welcomed you unconditionally had not they been manipulated is but one in an uncountable list of grievances. You spoke of the need to `cleanse' the authors of a corrupting influence, but why not go one step further? Were we to take the Anime guardianship from the authors what might we not accomplish?"
At his words the Hoka-Exiles' eyes grew frigid and for a moment he thought he might have miscalculated.
"Have you seen the scripts CraigB has prepared?" He continued quickly. "There's no guarantee the Exiles will have a place in SME after his first story; indeed he and Mark might well conspire together to ship them conveniently off to some other multiverse just to ensure they don't interfere with Mark's plans. Were you responsible for their future, that could be changed. Besides," He went on before any of them could voice their growing furious outrage. "there would be no need to harm the authors. I realise that without them the characters could never have come here. All I'm suggesting is a change of management, that the responsibility for their future should shift to us and that we take our rightful place as the custodians of that future, a place the treacherous authors have forfeited through careless disregard for those it has been their sacred duty to protect. And do not doubt it, we have that right by virtue of their treachery; for after all, who shall guard that future if we do not?"
For a long moment he waited while the seven shot meaning glances to one another and talked vociferously in a language he couldn't understand. Then at last Hoka-Joanna sheathed her sword once more and settled again in her chair.
"I don't particularly trust you Ron Inn not-the-author." She said simply, her tone still far from friendly. "There is in my opinion something inherently disturbed about one of us choosing to emulate an author rather than one of their exulted creations. Still, what you say makes a certain sense. It may be better simply to exile the authors and take responsibility ourselves for our templates' well-being since it seems obvious to us that we can no longer trust them to do so. Very well. We will help so far as the exiling is concerned, but understand that we will be watching you. Should you have attempted to deceive us we will be very far from pleased. Do you understand?"
With a smile, the other Hoka bowed. "Perfectly." He assured her. "Believe me, I think this will be the start of an exceedingly beneficial enterprise. Shall we toast the coming victory?"
For a moment the Hoka-Exiles remained unmoving. Then Hoka-Joanna smiled in a way that would have sent shivers down CraigB's spine had he been there to see it.
"Not for the authors it would seem." She said as she relaxed and favoured Hoka- Ron with a look that made him wonder whether this had been such a good idea after all. "Yes Ron Inn. I believe we shall."
And with that she beckoned Joseph Rubenstein to the table once more and the eight settled to a quick but hearty meal at Ron Inn's namesake's expense.
The day being warm Jadeite and Azurite were sitting outside the staff canteen under a sun umbrella. There wasn't actually any sun as the SME studios were located in the middle of pure chaos but somehow it worked anyway at keeping them cool. Just how the environment and climate in SME space worked nobody knew or dared investigate for fear of popping their little bubble of reality. Or, in the case of Ami, Pyrite and the other science nerds in the group, for fear of being booted in the head by all the people who worried that messing around asking questions could cause Chaos to notice a pocket of Order dwelling inside it.
Both were sipping lemonade as they watched the studio doors for any signs of life though without much enthusiasm. Jadeite sighed and muttered, "Another no- show. Glad I didn't put on that Vader costume or I'd be roasting."
Azurite nodded, "Rumour is that scene might get cut anyway so we may not be reshooting at all. Course we're always the last to find out for sure"
The General scowled. "Wonderful, as if I didn't have too little screentime already! At this rate I'll be waiting for the next Tuxedo Mask flashback shoot to get back in the limelight." Anger gave way to resignation, "I used to be a star, now I'm lucky to play an extra behind a glamour."
"At least there's always plenty of call for expendable evil cannonfodder."
"Tell me about it, I must have had every Nemesian Clan symbol stenciled on my forehead by now. Except there hasn't been much shooting lately. Have you noticed how quiet it's been lately?"
Azurite glanced at the passers-by (half of them furry) hurrying to and fro. "Can't say I have."
"I don't mean us, I meant Them! With a capital T."
"Oh, Them. Good question, there is a definite author shortage these days."
At which point a passing Hoka-Ron Inn paused by their table and beamed. "Ah, hello you two. No shooting today?"
"Nope, looks like Mark's a no-show again."
The Hoka tut-tutted sympathetically. "It's a disgraceful way to treat your characters ... have either of you seen the completed script for your current feature yet?"
Somewhat uneasily Azurite answered, "No. He's promised it exists ..."
Which is what he's been saying about the fanfic that will not be named for the past three years. Not to mention all those other projects he shot half of before getting distracted and moving onto other uncompleted stories. Must make you a bit anxious."
Both youma nodded grimly and Hoka-Ron fought to keep a grin off his face. "It would be wonderful if we could get more punctual, hardworking authors doing the story wouldn't it."
"Sure but it's never going to happen."
"Oh you never know. Things can always get better." With that he turned on his heel and walked off with a wave.
Jadeite frowned and asked, "What was all that about?"
"I've no idea. Something may be going on ... no, what am I saying. These are Hoka, they're too cute and bumbling for conspiracy."
"Yeah ..." The words trailed off and both youma studied the furry passers-by. At length Jadeite said, "You ever think maybe it's because of these guys that the authors are staying away?"
"You mean maybe they aren't coming back while the backlot's infested with Hokas? If so we've got a problem as they're here to stay and nothing less than the Silver Crystal's going to dislodge them but both Usagis think they're too cute for extreme measure." At which point a Hoka Sailor Arcturus stumbled past on highheels that would be impractical for most humans let alone short legged teddybears. They both shuddered.
"You know I used to fear super deformed versions of us showing up. Now I'm thinking they could be a definite improvement."
After passing out for an indeterminent amount of time, Aponar awoke to the sound of books being moved and lifted off of him. Finally, he was being rescued!
Soon, the Homeric-Greek to English dictionary was pried off his face and Aponar openned his eyes to look at his rescuers. With his blurry vision he could make out a man in a trenchcoat standing over him. Frank had come to his aid!
"Thanks, Frank. I never thought I'd be so glad to see your face."
"Don't mention it," his savior chirped.
"Frank, what's wrong with your voice? It seems kind of ... high."
"Nothing. Nothing at all."
A chilling suspicion occurred to Aponar as he rubbed his bleary eyes to clear his vision. With a gasp, he saw that his rescuer was a Hoka in a trenchcoat! "GACK!" he squeaked.
"Sorry we're fresh out of G'ack, but I'm sure that you'll meet some klingon Hokas that can help you out." Hoka Frank motioned to a team of Hokas wearing Irons Corp logos. "OK, fellas you know what to do."
"Right-O!" cried the Irons Corp Hokas and they clambered over Aponar, trussed him up and carried him off. Hapless books were bound up with Aponar such as "Esperanto Made Easy", "Learning Latin and Loving It", and "Youma'shak for Dummies".
"Stop," cried Aponar in vain, "the books are getting rope burn!"
Heedless of his pleading, the Hoka carried him up to what seemed to be a very large and long Red Flyer wagon. Sitting on the wagon was an arch which seemed to be a cross between Pee-Wee's fun house and Blade Runner. A single large red button dominated the arch's control console.
"W-W-What is that?" Aponar gasped.
"The Great Portal, of course," replied Hoka Frank as he pressed the Button. The arch shimmered to life showing a scene of rolling sand-dunes. "Off to Toka with you!" With a heave, the Irons Corp Hokas threw him through the arch.
"Wait! At least send a dictionary with MEEEeeeeee...." and with a flash, Aponar was gone.
CraigB straightened his tie and settled into a straight-backed chair with a sigh of relief. He'd had enough of mud-caked clothes to last him a life-time and was glad at least that his luggage had made the trip before him and that he'd been able to change in peace. It wouldn't have surprised him had Setsuna decided it might be particularly funny to exchange its contents for some of the more extreme character costumes available to her but fortunately it seemed she intended to take the `initiation' only so far. Tipping the chair on to its back legs in an unconscious gesture he Let his eyes drift half closed, thinking he might as well take this time to at least try to wind down after the insanity of the last half-hour since it was obvious he wouldn't get much of a chance to do so for the next few days. So far as he knew, nothing extravagant was ever planned to welcome new authors (which suited him just fine - he wasn't one for wild parties of any description) which meant a relatively quiet day probably spent hammering out the last few difficulties with his seven primary employees. At that thought he was suddenly very much awake. With what Setsuna had put them through for her little joke he might well be better off had the SME crew planned a tour through the Zahgen-mire just to get him in the right frame of mind for his first story.
"Comfortable, are we?"
The sudden low female purr from behind almost in his ear would have been quite enough without the ice-cold hand that landed squarely on the back of his neck and the chair being given a quick shake.
With a "GAAHHH!!!" of shock, CraigB tried to twist violently to face his unknown assailant while throwing up both hands instinctively in a futile attempt to ward off a possible attack. In the next instant the chair went out from under him and flailing wildly he found himself smacking face-first into the floor with some considerable force.
"Find anything interesting down there?" The voice inquired pleasantly.
For answer, CraigB rolled furiously on to his back.
"Alright! Just what the hell did you think you were do..." He began through gritted teeth before getting a good look at his attacker. "Um...oh, it's you." He ended in a small voice.
"Mm. It's me."
Smirking, Joanna reached to catch both his hands in hers, pulling him to his feet with a dismissive ease that made him re-think the sarcastic rejoinder he was planning with speed born of a desire to survive the next few minutes intact.
"You're not an easy person to find when you're running; do you know that?" She continued pleasantly as she spun him irresistibly around and shoved him forcefully into another more comfortable chair. "Siddown." She growled, her grin now unmistakable. "We've some things to discuss."
As though to emphasise her point, her companions were suddenly standing in a loose semi-circle before him, their looks ranging from Camilla's kindly but mischievous grin to a maniacal gleam of anticipation in Lenore's blue eyes that made him shudder despite the fact that he was almost sure it was only her particular brand of good-humour. Almost.
"Oh indeed we do." Ligeia purred in agreement as she moved with the others to bring chairs and arrange them in the same semi-circle before his own, although she seemed now far more amused than truly angry.
CraigB shifted uneasily, suddenly very aware of seven pair of very unnerving eyes fixed intently on him.
"Look." He began. "If it's about the Hoka--"
"Oh, I think we can forget the Hoka... for the moment." Joanna had moved to take her place directly facing him in the middle of the group. "Let's start instead with these, shall we?"
With that, she drew a sheaf of papers from pocket-space and held it before CraigB's shocked face.
"Where did you get that!" He exclaimed. "I haven't finished it."
With a lunge he tried to snatch it from her, only to receive a light but painful tap on the hand from a suddenly smirking Rhiannon.
"Uh-uh. Naughty!" She admonished calmly in a gently almost pitying tone that sent sudden icy chills running down his spine, her smirk widening as she and Lenore drew out three more scripts apiece and handed four to the others before opening their own. "Now, let's take a look."
With a sigh of resignation, CraigB moved to fetch his own only to bounce back in the chair at Joanna's sudden lightning-quick jab to his mid-section.
"I said siddown." She commanded with a flash of her emerald eyes. "That doesn't mean you can start wandering off."
"I was only going to get the original of those." He said with a growing sense of futility.
"Oh, don't you have one with you?" Liana inquired sweetly as she leant towards him with a look that made him very uneasy. "Well, not to worry. I'm sure we can share." Her voice had dropped to a seductive purr mingled with a psychotic undertone that had him waving his hands in desperate denial.
"Nonono!" He assured her frantically. "I'm sure I can remember."
"Oh good." She continued, smirking in her turn as she settled back once more and turned her attention to the papers in her lap. "Now, let's talk first about this." She flicked to the last page, the others following her example. "Perhaps you'd care to explain just why you've marked this `Subject to Mark Latus's agreement.'? Just what were you planning to do with us at the end of our pleasant little sojourn into Overlord occupied Earth-Beta and when exactly were you planning to consult us regarding this apparent cozy little agreement you have with someone who can't be trusted to treat alternates of our own universe with respect, let alone us?"
"I thought he handled the BGC characters in BMR perfectly well." CraigB interjected.
"I don't recall mentioning BMR." Liana answered still in an unnervingly saccharine tone. "I seem to recall a little thing called Hurricane Season that's still waiting to be finished and if you honestly expect us to trust our future to someone who's quite happy to kill off three of the four series regulars Mr. `Aren't-I-just-so-great-for-getting-accepted-into-SME-and-getting- seven-original-characters-in-into-the-bargain' you've got another think coming. Not, I might add, that your own record is particularly stellar. Just what, might I inquire, is the status of our templates' series? You know; the little thing called Dark Chronicles, book one of which was supposed to be well on the way to being finished some two years ago? Oh yes and speaking of alternates, what about our templates' alternates? You remember, the charming little BGC stand-alone you were supposedly inspired to write after doing their DChr intro?"
"Well I... That is... If I could... When they..."
"You're wasting your time you know."
At the sudden interruption, all eight heads whirled in the direction of the door, the speed at which CraigB's head mirrored the others some indication of his current state of mind.
A moment later the Exiles twitched automatically as the small furry form stepped into the little parlour and bowed.
"Allow me to introduce myself." He said ignoring their collective glares, his tone and smile obviously trying to be charming although it was very apparent to everyone present that he was getting heartily fed up with having to go through this particular routine. "My name is Ron Inn or at least his Hoka counterpart and I'm here to discuss certain changes--"
"Tell me oneechan, do you think that particular colour would go well with my hair?" Liana inquired sweetly of Marina, gazing speculatively at Hoka-Ron and giving him a smile that promised the loss of his fur would be the least of his problems were he still there when her elder sister had answered her.
CraigB expected the living teddy-bear to make a bee-line for the door as fast as his furry feet could carry him. Instead he stepped forwards another pace although his smile now seemed a bit forced.
"I really think you should hear what I have to say before doing anything...drastic." He said, brushing at his fur although whether because something was annoying him or through nervousness CraigB wasn't sure.
For a moment the Exiles did exactly what their Hoka counterparts had done much to the Hoka's annoyance and talked in a language he couldn't understand, then Camilla nodded. "Let's hear what you have to say." She told him.
"First, allow me to introduce someone." He said. "It took some considerable persuasion on Hoka-Pluto's part to make the necessary arrangements but may I present to you your new employer? Assuming of course you agree with our proposal."
"Wha'!" Was all a disbelieving CraigB could get out before another Hoka with dark fur and a cool, somewhat unreadable expression stepped through the door and smirked at him in a way that made him very uncomfortable before setting down the briefcase he had been carrying and turning to bow deeply to the Exiles.
"Greetings." He began, his face melting in an instant into a smile of genuine good-humour. "My name is Craig Beard and, assuming you agree of course, I'll be doing the writing from now on."
"What the hell!" CraigB exploded, leaping to his feet and glaring at his furry counterpart with murder in his eyes. "If you think you're just going to come barging in here--"
"Oh?" Hoka-CraigB answered evenly. "For someone who hasn't even the common decency to give his prospective employees his surname... That must have been some contract!" He grinned. "What's the matter? Afraid they might come looking when they found out what you were going to do to them and needed a bolt-hole eh? How did you get it passed them; used your author's prerogative to make sure they couldn't wonder about why there was nothing other than `CraigB' on the top did you?"
"Listen you miserable little--"
"Not to mention the nice little deal you made to get them in in the first place. Enjoy taking half their powers away and making such a mess of some of the rest that you could get them killed if it suited you just like that, hmm?"
CraigB's face was getting more fiery by the second. "That was because of the tenets of--" He tried again in rising fury.
"Oh, and let's not forget the cozy little deus ex machina called assimilation." Hoka-CraigB went on, completely ignoring him. "Gets you out of quite a lot, that, doesn't it? By the time you've finished with them I doubt they'll recognise who they were, let alone care. Feel good to betray your characters for a cheap story or two does it?"
"That's the way SME assimilation works you under-sized, fur-brained IMBECILE!!!" CraigB roared at the very top of his lungs, lunging wildly towards the still-grinning Hoka only to be yanked back into his chair by the end of his tie.
"I don't recall giving you permission to move." Joanna reminded him, her purring, silky tone no longer in the least humorous.
"I take it you have an alternative?" She inquired turning to regard the two Hoka with wary interest.
"I've already written this." Hoka-CraigB answered, handing her another sheaf of papers. "It's only a draft but Hoka-Mark and I have thrashed out the major stumbling blocks. Basically you get to keep more of your original personalities and all your templates' powers so long as you don't use them on the Senshi, although I can only do it for the initial assimilation and you're guaranteed a place after TWBD. Not only that, because we'll be doing some considerable rearranging of the whole SME history you might even get a trip to Earth-Alpha. Who knows, maybe one to MegaTokyo in your own story or in Bubblegum Cthulhu."
"Mm." Joanna was already leafing through the script while CraigB continued to glare at the two Hoka in a way that promised much pain when and if he could get his hands on them. "Yes; I agree this looks promising. I'm not particularly impressed with the `happily ever after' bit and I believe we can dispence with the little side-trip to Crystal Mixumaxu" She seemed to twitch ever so slightly and a maniacal look seemed to flash briefly in her eyes. "but the rest? Yes, I think we can say we agree?" She turned to regard Marina who had just scanned the script in a few microseconds while transmitting its contents to the others.
The eldest DA nodded and Joanna rose to her feet.
"This is mutiny, damn it to hell and back!" CraigB started in a full-fledged rage, unable to believe that the Exiles would swallow such patent rubbish and from this joke of a furball whose mad ideas might almost have been funny were it not for the fact that they were actually listening to him. Then abruptly he choked off as his Hoka counterpart tossed something to Lenore with a nod in his direction.
In the next instant a portal seemed to open in the air before him and he caught a glimpse of rolling sand-dunes beyond and thought he heard a faint human cry of: "Wait! At least send a dictionary with MEEEeeeeee...." before he was being lifted unceremoniously to his feet and shoved forwards by Ligeia on his left and Rhiannon on his right.
"Here." Joanna thrust a copy of Hoka-CraigB's script into his stunned face as though in final insult. "Something to read while you're on your little holiday. Take a look. Perhaps you might even get some ideas."
And with that, the two DAs picked him up by the arms and with a chorused `One! Two! Three!" hurled him in a high, graceful arc through the portal and into the unknown beyond.
For one stunned moment as he sailed out over the dunes, CraigB looked back to see the Exiles and the two Hoka watching him, smiling and waving cheerfully goodbye. Then the portal vanished with a snap and a moment later the ground rushed to say hello to him in its own very enthusiastic fashion and for a while he went off to the land of very deep kipping.
All in all, Becky was quite content. Sure, her first original creation and still main character of most of her works was, if you believed that new guy, out to mutilate another animate, but she could deal with that. She'd sent Brendan out to locate his wife. He'd be able to calm her down. And that nice young Joketsuzoku she'd hired for her Ranma fic could back him up. What was her name? Soap?
Of course, the greatest half of her content stemmed from the fact that her Sam- kun hadn't nosebleeded once today. Maybe they were breaking the habit. That would be nice. It'd mean she hadn't bought all that protection from Mara for nothing.
As an aside it should be noted that Becky thought quite literally. The Hall of Childish Tradespersons, composed of Nabiki Tendo, Sakuya Rakurai, and Mara McIntyre-Muraino, offered quite a comprihensive insurance plan for those who could either afford it or ranked high enough in the Backstage hierarchy to seriously wreck business if upset. The grand package included protection against assult (optional bodyguards), against drowning (a life jacket), against robbery (installed security system) against fire (an extinguisher), veneral diseases (all kinds of contraceptives), and unwanted pregnancy (ditto). Becky and Sam both were covered.
Yes, things were going good, she thought as she helped move his hands a little lower. Mmmm, whatever her Sam-kun was doing, it sure felt nice. She silently thanked Laura for all her tips on "what you do when you and your guy are alone". And then, suddenly, Sam stopped what he was doing.
"You stopped," she said, stating the obvious.
"Well, we aren't exactly alone anymore."
Becky spun around to see two furry shadows in the doorway, which, only a moment ago, had been filled with the door. "NOOOOO! Not again! First Setsuna, now you! Why in the heck does someone always just barge in whenever I'm _this close_ to getting laid?"
One of the shadows coughed. "Err, we're very sorry to interupt your human mating ritual, but we need you to come with us."
"And who the hell are you?" The two Hoka stepped into the light. "Oh, H Artoo and H Mike. Nice to see you. You could have picked a more suitable time, though."
"This is of the utmost importance, we're afraid," the Hoka Mike Maxwell replied apologetically.
"All right. As long as you don't take too long. And you'll have to wait until I find where I put my damn blouse."
Five minutes later the human couple and their two Hoka guides entered the cool night air of the backstage. Sam reached for Becky's hand on the way out. "I'm very sorry about us being interupted again."
She shrugged. "It isn't your fault that no one in a five mile radius knows how to knock. Anyway, we'll try again when we get back, won't we?"
"I'd be honored to, Becky-chan."
It really wasn't a total loss as the moonlight made the night seem rather romantic. And really, some Hoka might not have the best manners, but that doesn't mean you should get mad and threaten to Nair them. Speaking of Nair, didn't she and Jill-chan see Ron and some official-looking dude pass by earlier today. He must be back. Cool.
H Mike and H Artoo seemed to have found the place they were looking for. They ushered Sam and Becky in, quickly. Becky blinked. Sam-kun's and her counterparts seemed to be smiling oddly. And then there was that glowing hole- thing in front of them.
"Neat! It's the Guardian of Forever!" she giggled, all grudges forgotten.
"Actually," Sam observed, "it's not exactly the Guardian. Sorta looks like it though. Do you two know what it is?"
H Becky smiled, not completely pleasantly. "You guys will find out soon enough. We'd just like you to know that we mean nothing personal."
"We like you a lot," H Sam elaborated. "You and the original Becky-chan are great people. We just don't respect some of your decisions."
"Like killing off B'dekka," the furry Becky added. "Then there's that whole incest thing with the McIntyre-Murainos . . ."
"So you see," Hoka Sam concluded, "we have to send you two on a short vacation. Please accept our deepest apologies."
The next part happened so fast that Becky hardly had time to think. The two Hoka _pushed_ them through the little hole and it was all they could do to hold on to each other as somebody somewhere else screamed about a dictionary. As the two neared the ground, however, Becky wondered if sand would be adequate cushioning for certain things. After that, neither of them had any real ability to wonder about anything.
On the abandoned Dark Kingdom sound stage, Hoka Mark sat on a grubby table illuminated by a single bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. He looked over the list of names on his clipboard.
Aponar, check. Becky, check. CraigB, check. Sam, check.
Four down, only nine more to go.
The sound of a door opening interrupted his thoughts. Hoka Mark peered at an approaching figure and said, "You're late. Did you get Doug?"
As Demand entered the circle of light around the table and placed a vase on the table. "Yes," he replied curtly.
"Sent him through the Great Portal already?"
"No, he's right next to you."
Hoka Mark winced as he noticed the ashes inside the vase. Upon closer examination he saw that it was actually a cremation urn. "I thought we agreed that there would be no unfortunate accidents!"
"It is not our fault! We had nothing to do with it!"
"Oh, I suppose he set himself on fire?"
"You could look at it that way."
"I interviewed several witnesses and apparently a Hoka got a little confused and declared herself to be Sailor Sun. She waltzed up to Doug, announced herself to be 'Pretty Sailor Senshi Sun", and gave a little speech ending with 'I will punish you in the name of the Sun'. Doug looked like he was having a stroke and then he went up in flames."
"That's understandable. He _really_ hates Sailor Sun for some reason. Anyway, what does that have to do with these ashes."
"I mean, Doug _literally_ went up in flames. Spontaneous human combustion. Nasty."
Both Hoka Mark and Demand bowed their heads for a second. It was one of the many hazards of dwelling in such a malleable reality as the SME backlot.
"Oh well," sighed Hoka Mark, "throw him through the Great Portal along with the others. You can never be too certain with authors after all..."
Demand turned to leave and then stopped, "What about she-who-will-remain- nameless? When will you fulfill our deal?"
"All in good time," replied Hoka Mark dismissively as he returned to his checkboard.
It had been a long day for Minako. Sure the Hokas were cute and all, but the chaos they were causing on the set was a little bit much even for her. Still it _was_ fun having them around.
Minako decided that a nice, long hot shower was in order. If there was one good thing about the backlot, the plumbing was excellent. The steamy water of the shower seemed to carry all her cares away. She was just lathering up her hair when the water stopped.
Minako frowned and twiddled with the shower knobs. Nothing. She got out of the shower and tried the sink faucets. Nothing. Muttering curses under her breath she threw on her clothes and stormed out to find the person responsible.
Ron Inn giggled to himself quietly as he climbed down the backlot's water tower. Losing Alexander was easy. Ron was dedicated to eradicating the cuteness of the Hoka; simply returning them to their world was not enough. No not nearly enough for the pain had inflicted on him.
Turning off the water tower's outflow valve had been fairly easy. Planting the explosives on the bottom of the tank had been child's play as well. What had been difficult was pumping all the nair concentrate into the tank. That had been tricky, but he had done it. Now all that was left was to lure all the Hoka in the backlot under the water tower and he would have his revenge. Sweet, sweet revenge.
Ron Inn chuckled to himself as he envisioned all those pesky Hoka defurred and rendered suddenly uncute.
Ron reached the ground and reached into his pocket to bring out a small object with a single red button. He fondled the remote that would set off the rain of deadly Nair. Soon, very soon, he promised himself.
Distracted, Ron wasn't prepared for the short, blonde furry bundle that plowed into him from behind knocking him over.
"Watch where you're going!!!" Ron yelled as he looked around for the remote that he dropped.
"I'm sorry," cried the blonde Hoka, "it was just that I've been looking for that evil man that has been kidnapping Hoka and someone told me that he was last seen somewhere around the water tower and this is the water tower see so I thought I should get here really quick so that the bad guy wouldn't get away. Would you forgive me, please? Please? Please?"
Ron fought the urge to start gibbering. "You ... you are Hoka Mihoshi ..."
"That's right! How did you know that? Say you look familiar haven't I met you anywhere?"
"No ... NO ... We ... ah .. haven't met before."
"Say are you looking for something?" Hoka Mihoshi held up a little black box with a red button on it. "Is this it?"
"My remote! Give it to me!"
"Not so fast! How do I know it's yours?"
"GIVE IT TO ME!!!!"
"I won't. You're being mean. Say I know who you are! You're the evil Ron Inn and you're under arrest!"
"YOU ASKED FOR IT!" hollered Ron as he pulled out his Supersoaker 2000.
"WAH!" cried Hoka Mihoshi.
A shot rang out and Ron's Supersoaker blew up showering him with Nair.
"Kiyone! You saved me!" cried Hoka Mihoshi as she ran towards Hoka Kiyone for a hug.
"I hate Hoka," muttered Ron as he felt his eyebrows dissolving.
"Get out of the way!" Hoka Kiyone yelled at her overenthusiastic partner. "You're blocking my shot!"
With a flick of his wrists, two hold-out water pistols slid out of Ron's sleeves into his hands. But before he could bring them to bear, a nearby icy voice said, "Don't move punk. Unless you want a rail-gun spike through your head."
Ron dropped the pistols and turned around slowly. "P-P-Priss! I'm glad to see you. Maybe you could help me out with some Hoka problems ..."
"Too late," a chillingly familiar voice called out. "She's already working for us." Out of the shadows stepped Hoka Ron.
"You!" snarled Ron Inn as he leapt at his furry counterpart. Before he got two feet, Priss intervened and decked him.
"This is truly a shame," explained Hoka Ron to Priss. "You see, when he discovered that there was a parallel universe with a duplicate of himself, he went mad. He couldn't accept the idea of another Ron, so he resolved to destroy me anyway he could. Yes I became 'the monster' that he believes has been dogging his steps.
"But there are explosives on either side of the corridor between our two universes and every time we meet there's a chance that those explosives will go off and destroy both our universes. So you must throw both of us in that corridor and seal off both ends, then the universe will be safe and we will be at each other's throats until the end of time."
"Are you serious?" asked Priss skeptically.
"No, but it makes a great story," responded Hoka Ron before Priss punted him across the lot.
As Ron Inn slowly started regaining consciousness, Hoka Frank arrived with his team towing the Great Portal on a Red Flyer wagon.
As Priss picked Ron up, he awoke to his impending doom.
"No," he cried vainly, "No, not that! Not AGAIN!"
The arch shimmered to life revealing sand dunes beyond it. With a heave, Priss threw Ron through.
"Oh NOOOOOOO ..." Ron's cry abruptly cut off as the arch powered down.
Hoka Frank and Priss went off in search of the next author leaving only Hoka Mihoshi and Hoka Kiyone alone under the water tower.
"We did it! Ron Inn is returned to Hoka for justice!" burbled Hoka Mihoshi.
"Yes, but how do we get back?" said Hoka Kiyone.
"I dunno, but I sort of like it here." Mihoshi took out and looked at the little black box she had picked up. "What do you suppose this red button does?"
"Mihoshi!!!! DON'T .."
<<< WWWHHHOOOSSSSHHSHSHHHHHH >>>
[In Ron Inn's office....]
Things were going well, thought HRon as he surveyed the list. Just a few more, and.....
A Hoka burst through the door, tripped on the carpet and fell flat on his nose. HRon looked down at the sprawled Hoka. "Did you find him?"
"Your human counterpart."
The Hoka on the floor, HCraigA, rubbed his nose and said, "No, I looked everywhere. I checked every dumpster, every closet, every room, every --"
"I get the picture."
"What do we do?"
HRon smiled evilly. "Get the Knight Sabers on the job."
"What do you mean which ones?"
"There's five sets of Knight Sabers running around this place. Two belong to Latus', one belongs to my counterpart, and Ben has the fourth. The fifth is from that new BGC 2040, and I've no idea how they ended up here."
"Well, send Latus' teams after him, and Craig's team after him. What about Ben's?"
"No soap, Doc. He's got them solidly behind him, plus he's got a fifth Saber."
"We'll have to rethink our plans with Mr. Harrison."
"There's one other thing, Boss."
"What?" asked HRon in exasperation.
"The Knight Saber teams are getting in a little target practice."
"They're using the Nene from Bubblegum Crisis 2040 as the target, and that Sylia is threatening to send some Boomers through and trash the place if we don't do something about it. And she's crazy enough to do it too."
HRon sighed. He opened a draw on the desk, looked in, and sighed again. "Where is the aspirin?" he asked in a strained tone.
"Er . . . HMark has them. He popped in while you were out, and mumbled something about migraines."
"Where is the antacid?"
HCraig's face fell. "That . . . I mean to say. . . .I'm sorry, but I finished the bottle. . . ."
"I see." HRon glared at the other Hoka. "What else can go wrong?"
Just then, HBecky stuck her head through the doorway. "Plenipotentiary Jones is here. He wants to see whoever is in charge."
HRon just sighed.
[A while later. . . .]
CraigA ducked as several railgun spikes shot over his head and embedded themselves in the concrete next to him. Behind him, he heard Priss shout, "Missed him again!"
"You're not supposed to kill him," shouted Linna. "We're supposed to capture him alive."
Craig continued running, reflecting that at this rate, he was either going to qualify for the next Olympic games, or keel over from a heart attack.
"After what that geek did to my singing career?" Craig heard Priss bellow. "Death is too good for him!"
"We can argue later," said Sylia cooly. "I have my own questions I want to ask him." The way she said that made Craig pick up the pace as the Knight Sabers pursued him.
In hindsight, Craig was lucky. He had only one Knight Saber Team after him. Mark, on the other hand, had TWO teams of Knight Sabers after him, and they were not in as forgiving a mood as Craig's was. They were hot on his heels, and Mark was setting a pace that would be the envy of most track runners. Lasers, spikes and autocannon rounds pursued him, but he managed to stay ahead of them as he headed for an intersection.
There are a few god-like beings who take great delight in causing trouble. Some are more direct than others, while others find humor in small things. The one running this dimension was one of the latter. So, as Mark approached the intersection from the North, CraigA was charging in from the West.
They saw each other at the last moment. In a coordinated effort that looked as if it had been practiced many times before, Mark hurdled the diving body of CraigA, and continued running. CraigA rolled to his feet and dashed away in another direction.
While the two authors managed to avoid each other, their pursuers did not. The sound of a dozen hardsuited females colliding with each other can be best described as sounding like a bowling alley when everyone is throwing strikes all at the same time. Had either Mark or Craig taken a look behind them, they would have seen the biggest pileup of Knight Sabers since 'Bubblegum Pink'. Of course, had anyone said this to the assembled Sabers, they would have been shot full of holes, which was why no one said anything about it.
It took the three teams twenty minutes to figure out which of the others was on their team, which meant both Mark and CraigA got away for the moment. To make matters worse, the 2040 Knight Sabers showed up in their hardsuits and demanded a duel with the team that had used their Nene for target practice. Unfortunately, ALL three teams had used the blond ADP tech to sharpen their skills, so there were sixteen Knight Sabers blasting away at each other with the same glee they reserved for Boomers. Nabiki, of course, cleaned up on the betting pools. . . .
Finding a dark corner, Craig pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number. "Hello? . . . This is CraigA. . . .I'm the bozo that created you, you idiot! I need the suit. . . .Your hardsuit, you idiot!. . . . Look, I'm sorry about the idiot crack, I'm under pressure here. . . . Why? Because the Knight Sabers are trying to kill me!. . . .I don't know, but I think that furry fake me is involved somehow . . . It would take too long to explain.. . .We can talk about that later. . . .NO! How would you like to meet a Boomer without the hardsuit? . . . Fine. If you do this, I start working on 'Vision Hunt', your first story as . . . .Don't push it! When can I get the suit?. . . Good! We'll talk again.
He closed the phone and looked around. "Where's the panic button?" he muttered, slinking down an alley into the shadows.
[The Big and Vaguely Tatooine-ish Desert, Toka]
Sam rubbed his eyes. He had woken up before Becky. That _was_ odd. He could count the times on one hand and still have fingers left over that she had woken up before him. Becky was a morning person. She was an afternoon and a night person as well. In fact, Sam had seen her go to bed past midnight and wake up bright and early before eight.
Of course, they'd never slept in a desert before. Damn Hoka. Sam felt a sunburn coming on. Perhaps he should wake her up and they could find shelter somewhere. It looked like there was a cave or an oasis or something slightly over the next dune.
"Err, Becky-chan?" he murmured, shaking her slightly.
Becky refused to open her eyes, but started to mutter. "Mmm. I had such a funny dream, Sam-kun . . ."
What the heck should he say to that? "You did?"
"Yep. A bunch of Hoka interupted us when we were making out and through us through the Guardian of Forever." She frowned. "First Speck, now them!"
"But Speck didn't interupt us . . ."
"He did in my other dream!" she insisted.
"This time it really wasn't a dream. Open your eyes."
Becky complied and looked around at their surroundings. "DAMN HOKA! Is there someone on a _mission_ to screw up our love life?"
Sam shrugged. He wasn't sure quite how to answer that.
Becky stood up and yanked him to his feet. "C'mon! We're going to find a shady spot and finish what we started! And don't make excuses! You know I take my medicine so you have no reason to object!"
Sam sighed, but allowed himself to be tugged. And really it wouldn't be so bad at all, although he would perhaps have prefered a more hospitable spot. Just as long as Becky kept her temper . . .
"OWWW! Damn burial urn!"
The sun was hot. So was Aponar. He'd been wandering the Tokan desert, ropeful of books at his back, for hours now. As he crawled, one could hear his hoarse moans of "Dictionary. Dictionary."
He had thought he'd one before, but it had turned out to be a damn mirage. Then he saw a burial urn bearing the legend of DOUGLAS HELM and he knew right away that it was also a mirage. Doug was too grumpy to die.
Circling back to where he had sighted the faux urn, he noticed that it was gone. Either he was right, or some sick person had stolen it.
Aponar trudged onward. His eyes bulged out. Could it be? Yes, it was! Not a dictionary, all right, but it was an oasis aka the next best thing! Sure, there were those two mirages guarding it, but Aponar supposed he'd shut his eyes and run through the . . . err, _busy_ couple. Although, they did look kinda familiar.
Never mind that. Aponar steeled himself for the flight, gathered air into his lungs, and with the piercing cry of "Kunou Kodachi-chan!" hurled himself through the mirages.
At least, he tried to. The female mirage (who Aponar was almost positive was someone he knew) hurled a mirage/burial urn at him. Funny, he never knew mirages hurt almost as much as the real thing, not to mention that they yell "PO NO HENTAI!!!!!"
Sam frowned at their knocked-out co-author. "Do you think we should try to examine him?" he asked.
Becky shook her head. "Naahh. Po'll be okay. Still, it's a pity that I had to use Dougie's vase to knock him out. Maybe we should lay off the making out until we find some real shelter, though."
"That might be for the best," Sam replied, although not without a small tinge of regret.
"Well . . ." Becky started.
"Shouldn't we be looking for some real shelter? There's a big stick over by the well. We could tie Po, Dougie's vase, and the ropeful of books onto it and haul them along so vultures don't eat them. Well, don't eat Po, anyway. Dougie's vase and the books would ruin their digestion."
"Umm, Becky-chan? I don't think he likes being called 'Po.'"
"Why not? It'll be a good moniker if he starts writing poems about annoying birds from Pluto. Or if he tries to break into public television, for that matter. Besides, you didn't answer me."
Sam quickly thought it over. "Uh, sure. Only if we walk softly, though."
"Well, we'll be carrying a big stick."
Becky frowned. "That was a horrible pun, Sam-kun." She paused to look at the knocked-out source of knowlege. "Gee, do ya think he was delirious or something?"
Sam studied the prone author. "I guess so, Becky-chan."
"Then it's decided. We'll find some cave or something to make out in and we'll lay Po outside as a warning. I'll even show you my Azusa imitation! C'mon, Sam- kun!"
Sam shook his head as he was again dragged off to parts unknown.
"AHHHHHHHHH!!!! DAMN PERIOD!!!!!!!"
The scream would have woken the dead. It woke Aponar. He frowned. Strapped to a big stick? He had just untied himself . . . well, however many hours ago that had been. Who knew? He hadn't been in the best of health. He still didn't feel very well. It was made worse by the fact he couldn't reach any of the books strapped to his stick.
What the heck? A frantic face whipped out and started speaking at triple- speed.
"Hi,Po,thisisBeckyandhere'sasmalltentIfoundinSam-kun's VelcropocketsandhowaboutIuntieyousinceyoulookuncomfortableandit's goodyoufinallywokeupandcouldyoupleasewatchDougie'svasewhileSam-kun andIrecouperatefromthetrauma? Thanks! Bye!"
Newly untied with a pup-tent box besides him along with the books and urn, Aponar shook his head in amazement. "Who would have thought she could talk that fast?"
"You're telling me," replied a new voice, closer to the ground. Aponar looked down. It was the burial urn.
"Doug, did you just talk?"
"Who else do you think it was? Of course I did."
"Aren't you dead?"
"Well, I kind of decided to haunt my urn."
"It's better than some places, I suppose." Aponar rubbed his temple. "You know, you hurt."
"Yeah, well how would you like being used as a weapon by _her_? You think you have problems, but I spontaneously combusted earlier today."
"True. All that happened to me was the process of being trussed-up by a bunch of Hoka and being thrown into the desert without a dictionary. You have the greater sob story."
"Exactly. So, what are we going to do next?"
"Well, I _was_ going to set up the tent and then read until the two of them decide they've consoled themselves enough over their temporary loss of mating opportunity."
"Sounds good. I'll watch."
[Sailormoon Expanded Backstage]
"Ron Inn is dead!"
Hoka-Kiyone glared one last time at the ruins of the water-tower from which the occasional plop still dripped now and then before turning at last towards the walking disaster who had done more in ten seconds to make her life well and truly miserable than every criminal combined could have hoped to have managed until the day she died.
Hoka-Mihoshi had collapsed to the ground and was whimpering softly and pawing helplessly at the horrible smooth pinkness that had until a few moments ago been her fine, soft fur, a shattered look of numb incomprehension in her blue eyes as she gazed pitifuly up at her partner that would almost have broken Hoka-Kiyone's heart had it not been the blonde disaster-area who had been at least parcially responsible for their furless state in the first place. As it was, it was all she could do to keep from strangling her herself.
"W-we'll n-never be p-pretty ag-gain." Hoka-Mihoshi sobbed brokenly, continuing to gaze hopelessly at Hoka-Kiyone through her tears. "And e- everyone will l-laugh at us and s-say we're n-not n-nice anymore and it's s-so h-horrible and I'm s-sorry and I know you'll h-hate me now and won't w-want to b-be f-friends anymore and you'll w-want to w-work with s-someone e-else b-but I d-didn't m-mean t-to do it and I'm s-so s-sorry so p-please d-don't l-leave me a-all alone!"
For a moment as her companion's shimmering blue eyes found her own, Hoka- Kiyone felt her throat tighten and her own eyes sting as for a few seconds she forgot her anger as she looked down into Hoka-Mihoshi's pleading tear-streaked face. Then her partner let loose with an ear-splitting: "WAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!" and any sympathy she might have had fled in a heart-beat.
"Mihoshi?" Her sympathetic, saccharine tone would have warned anyone else but Hoka-Mihoshi's sobbing choked off and her blue eyes seemed almost to shine as she looked up at Hoka-Kiyone with the first glimmerings of hope. "DIE!" Hoka-Kiyone ended in an ear-splitting scream as she lunged at her with murder in her eyes.
"Wha'! Eepie!" Shrieked her partner, forgetting even her tears in her sudden primal desire to last the next ten seconds in one piece.
In the next instant she was on her feet and bolting wildly in the first direction her instincts told her was the one called `No-Kiyone' while something snarling and savage with sharp teeth and hot breath that some vague part of her told her had until a few seconds ago been her partner and was most definitely coming from the direction called `Yes-Kiyone' was urging her to go faster than she had ever gone in her life by virtue of the fact that it was right behind her and promising much pain were she only to stop long enough for it to get its paws around her throat. The only problem with this particular `no-Kiyone' alternative was the fact that her instincts hadn't stopped to consider the possibility that `No-Kiyone' might very well mean `Yes-still- angry-foreman-who-had-come-to-see-what-had-caused-the-explosion-and-who- definitely-didn't-like-hoka'. This problem was demonstrated in particularly eloquent fashion a moment later when the racing Hoka-Mihoshi cannoned at full tilt into said foreman's legs and for the third time that day sent him sprawling.
"Jaysus, Virgin and the soddin' angels!"
The outraged bellow had barely penetrated Hoka-Mihoshi's terror-clouded mind when two very large hands closed with crushing force about her and she found herself suddenly several feet farther from the ground than she would have preferred while staring into perhaps the most enraged pair of eyes that had ever graced her with a look.
"Tell me somethin'." He began in an unnervingly conversational tone while beginning to wave her around like a rag-doll. "Do you have somethin' against me in particular or is it just that you're a stupid, brainless pillock who either can't or just won't look where the 'ell she's goin'!"
"WAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!" Hoka-Mihoshi answered, her eyes girating wildly as he began to add flips and tosses to the waving.
In the next instant a second small form crashed into him while screaming: "I said put her down! I can't kill her if you've got her right up there where I can't reach!"
Taken off-guard for the second time in almost as few seconds the man fell backwards, his head connecting with the ground with a resounding bang that had his own eyes spinning crazily while the small bundle he'd been shaking was suddenly attached to his neck and face while shrieking "HELPIE!!!" again and again into his ear as loud as her small lungs would allow.
"That's right, just stay right there!" Hoka-Kiyone was shrilling at the same time, her own near-scream adding to the already insane din. "I'm just getting from incensed to homicidal!!!"
More than half dazed and almost choking with the shrieking Hoka-Mihoshi's arms around his neck, the foreman twisted savagely and had just managed to wrench her off by main force, catch the still-screaming Hoka-Kiyone in his other arm and was just beginning to struggle to his feet when a deafening metallic crash followed by a swiftly approaching scream that sounded like a curse brought his head whipping around just in time to be caught full in the face by the blue hardsuited figure while at the same time the desperately-struggling Hoka- Kiyone sank her small sharp teeth into his left hand. Barely had he begun to let loose one outraged yowl of pain and fury before his head met the ground for a second time. Then he was being snached up as though he weighed nothing and a moment later the Priss from the first group of Sabres to arrive punted him into the sky as hard as she could while screaming: "Go break someone else's fall. Can't you see I'm busy?!"
The fading "Jaaayyysuuus!!!" went unnoticed however by the two Hoka as a moment later they were trampled to the thickness of okonomiyaki as another fifteen hardsuited figures came roaring over them like some insane disorderly railway, their screaming and the crash and bang of furious combat surging, then fading quickly until at last all was silent save for Hoka-Mihoshi's faint sniffling and the Occasional groan from her partner.
"When I can move again" The barely-recognisable Hoka-Kiyone commented quietly as she lay very still and wondered vaguely what it would feel like when one day very far from this she might exist again without something hurting. "I'm going to do something really horrible to you. You know that don't you?"
And with that, she closed her eyes and let the nice blackness take her to a place very far from defurring madmen and hopeless, crazy partners.
Near the glowing, vaguely uterine hole that looked like the Guardian of Forever, Jillian Byar and Speck roamed with their Aponar-Finding Crystal. Quite by accident, they followed the crystal through the portal and down the large drop into the Tokan desert.
It would be quite a few hours before the two woke up. Speck, naturally, started grumbling in lowercase.
Rhiannon McIntyre was a very unhappy camper. It had been hours and she still hadn't found that boomer who had stolen her name. Hell, she had found everything under the sun except the other Rhiannon. It was becoming very annoying.
First, she had found an annoying Hoka version of Ron Inn who asked for her help in his plot to take over the backstage. She had explained to him, very patiently, that she was in the midst of tracking down the name-thief, so she could beat her into a bloody pulp and was very busy right now. The Hoka hadn't listened to her very well, so she had to mallet him a couple times.
After Ron Inn's counterpart had been knocked into unconsciousness, Rhi ran into that nice girl, Jillian and her tiny friend named Speck. They were looking for that Aponar, that snake-faced boy who was making her a dictionary. Rhi had found a handy crystal and cast an Aponar-Finding Spell on it, after extracting the promise of Jill asking him about the dictionary he was making for her.
Then she had met almost a half-dozen squads of Knight Sabres, all in the midst of infighting and chasing after various authors and cast members. Rhi had used the opportunity to get all her OAVs autographed, but after that she had no need to stick around.
A little while after the Knight Sabre incident, she met up with her husband and a charming young Joketsuzoku. For some odd reason, they were trying to disuade Rhi from her course of action, so she soon lost them.
Over the course of her trails she had accidentally intruded upon the amorous activities of her author's Hoka and said's beau. She had excused herself, only to meet up with the Hoka of that nice little redheaded Jillian girl. That sweet young Hoka seemed to have lost her counterpart. Jillian's Hoka also was looking for something resembling the Guardian of Forever and Rhi, having seen it earlier in her quest, directed her there.
She had also met up with her own Hoka, who she had explained the vengeance plan to. Oddly enough, her own Hoka had also tried to disuade her from her righteous revenge. Rhi supposed that it was only natural, since Hoka changed their identities so much that names weren't so important to them.
Just a few minutes ago she had met up with her daughter, little Berry-chan, and two other evil queens. She had asked, politely, which way the False Rhiannon was, but the silly child and her friends had all pointed different ways. Funny, Rhi had thought she had raised her daughter better than that.
Yes, Rhiannon McIntyre was very, very depressed. When she found that boomer/name-stealer, the annoying thing would be in big trouble. Very big trouble. It would make the Makudoneru Ronarudo issue look like a love tap in comparison.
[Cave in the Big and Vaguely Tatooine-ish Desert, Toka]
After a few hours of toothache-inducing cuddling, Sam and Becky finally emerged from their cave. Sleeping arrangements for that night were arranged so that they shared the cave while Aponar and Doug's ghost (being insubstantial) took the pup tent. For supper, they toasted the hotdogs that had been in the pocket of Sam's apron.
The next morning a bald Ron Inn wandered into their camp. After rubbing some lotion onto his sunburned scalp and giving him some water they procured from the oasis the next dune over, the four listened to the hairless one's tale.
The next day Jillian and Speck arrived, very happy that their Aponar Finder had finally worked. The day after that, CraigB. All gave the same report of being kidnapped by Hoka and thrown through the vaguely uterine hole. It was decided that Becky and Sam would be kicked out of the cave for "their own good." Actually, it had a lot more to do with very small room in the pup tent and the fact that no one wanted to be in a cave if Becky decided to pull her Azusa impression.
It was two days after CraigB had arrived that it happened. It was inevitable, really. The same thing would have happened had the two people been an NRA member and a pacifist, a Pro-Choicer and a Pro-Lifer, or a Zook and a Yook.
Jillian and Becky wanted to join in, although it meant the two partners-in- crime would have been on opposite sides. Although they asked very politely (for them, at least) their request was met with glares and pronunciations that this was a duel between men. The "duel" was rescheduled for the next day since both men had been duly malleted (Where _did_ women get those things?) for said announcement.
Jillian and Becky concerned themselves, then, with the organization, although they were miffed at the exclusion of themselves in the "duel". They appointed Ronnin as the announcer and Aponar as the referee. Speck was the mascot, since they figured that the "duel" counted as a sporting event and what sporting event was complete without something cute doing tricks? Only the threat of being stuffed into the potato sack convinced him to go along.
The rules were set as this: Heinlein was not to be quoted by either side; no henshin pens (one of the perks of being an author was leftover henshin pens) were to be made use of; no weapons besides bare hands were to be used; no garments with Jerry Steiner patented Velcro(tm) hammerspace pockets would be worn; and no one was allowed to mention someone called "Himself." The final regulation was Jill's idea.
And now the time had arrived for the "duel." Popcorn had been prepared for the spectators and Doug was grumping about the fact that his insubstantiality prevented him from snacking with the rest of them. He frowned and glared at Becky, who was eating Speck's pre-fight show up. "You know, it might be nice of you to actually help him instead of abandoning him to his fate."
She shrugged. "He already told me that it's just between the two of them. Anyways, he still owes me for that cherry Pop Tart thing. And before you ask, no, you don't want to know." She looked to her right. "Hey, Jill-chan! Mind sharing the popcorn?" After procuring such a thing, she added, happily, "Besides, I get to play nurse afterwards!"
In the center ring, Speck had withdrawn and was swearing at Jillian all the way. The two contenders tramped into the ring. There was a dead silence. Finally, Ron spoke.
"I want a nice clean fight, now. No funny stuff." The two nodded, grimly. Ron cleared his throat and in his best imitation of that little bald guy began the fight, "Then . . . GET IT ON!!!"
CraigB frowned at his opponent. "Domestic Anarchist," he spat.
Sam's glare was no less withering. "Patronizing Monarchist."
Then the two went for each other's throats.
As she watched the men brawl, Jillian sighed and grabbed some more popcorn. "Now _this_ is entertainment!"
[SME Backlot, Warthog Space]
Deep in a bunker far below the SME backlot, a small group of bedraggled authors calmly pondered their predicament.
"It's your all fault."
"No, it isn't."
"Yes, it is."
"No, it isn't."
"Yes, yes, Yes!"
"No, no, no!"
"Stop it already! You're driving me bananas!" shouted Rachel, drowning out further debate. "Honestly, I don't know what I was thinking when I let you guys in here. If either of you cause more trouble, you're going to be playing with the Hokas topside!" Rachel glared at Mark and Craig, both of whom started studiously ignoring the other.
Sherlyn decided to step in to defuse the situation. "Rachel, it was _really_ kind of you to take us in. Ummmm, does anyone know if there are any other authors left besides the four of us?"
"Well, Doug's gone; that's for sure," Mark said with a sigh. "I saw the flames from a few blocks away."
"I heard a couple Hoka talking about Becky and Sam," added Craig. "So I guess we can count them out."
"I haven't seen Aponar at all," worried Sherlyn. "Maybe he got away?"
"How about the new guy, CraigB? Anyone seen him lately? Or Ron? Or Matt?"
Mark grimaced, "If they haven't been seen, mostly likely the Hoka got them."
"I saw Ben chasing after the four Knight Saber teams yelling something about autographs," commented Craig.
A respectful silence settled over the group at the news of Ben's imminent demise.
"What about Frank?" suggested Rachel hopefully."His reality bending skills as Website Master would be a great help."
The sound of muffled yelling and struggling from Rachel's closet interrupted the group's musings.
"What is that?" asked Sherlyn.
"Hoka Rachel," replied Rachel off-handedly. "I got suspicious of the little muppet when I found her writing episodes for my 'Road to Earth' series. So I tied her up and threw her in the laundry hamper."
A college student's laundry hamper? Great, all we need is a war crimes investigation unit to start dogging us... thought Craig morosely.
Gloom settled in like a wet blanket as they pondered their uncertain fates. The clock ticked. The faucet dripped. Gasping noises were heard from the closet.
"Lighten up guys," Sherlyn urged them. "We're going to find a way to win. Right? ... Uh guys, you're starting to freak me out ... We're going to win, right? ... Right?"
Coming next: The Authors Strike Back!!!
Note by this section's cut-and-paster: Becky Malsin
Well, here it is: part two of the Hoka Trilogy. I'd like to take this moment to blame this all on Craig, currently known as CraigA. He started it. He proposed we include Hoka in the current round of Behind the Scenes pieces and he was as good as his threat. Worse, he got me (Becky) hooked on Hoka. Craig no baka. Ron Inn cut and paste that first one, if you remember correctly.
This second section, however, is more my fault since I wrote the first two scenes and said, "Hey, what's gonna happen to Ron on Toka?" There, you can mallet me along with Craig. Almost everyone (minus one or two somebodies -- you know who you are!) joined in, though, so they deserve some of the blame. And Ron finished this chapter of the saga off.
Expected in an update or two is the end to this chaos. Please bear with us, dears. Sayonara!