All "Tenchi Universe" references are copyrighted by AIC and Pioneer/Geneon. This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.
At first glance, it looked like the reunion of two sisters. Each woman had a unique light-colored shade to her hair and a slender, statuesque figure. You could pardon their stiff posture and tense facial expressions for typical uneasiness at having reunited after ages apart. They stood a few feet away from one another, oblivious to the beautiful summer day and the rich green environs of Ezerad City's largest park. Its patrons, however, either instinctively or deliberately gave the women a very wide berth. The tension was that palpable.
The most notorious bounty hunter in the galaxy smiled thinly. "You bring yours?" Despite the warmth of the day, her long black cloak remained tightly wound around her body. Truth be told, she hated wearing it in the summer, but reputations and caution had to be maintained, so the cloak remained, as hot and uncomfortable as it was.
"Of course I did," Ryoko said, snorting in derision. Her favorite blue dress ensemble covered her almost from neck to toe, but she never felt the heat all that much. "How do you think I got here? Hitchhiked?"
"I thought perhaps your princess friend gave you a lift," Nagi said.
Ryoko snorted again. "She's no friend of mine--no more than you are. Ryo-oh-ki, come on out." The dark brown cabbit bounded out of the nearby bushes with a happy "Mya" greeting; in reply, a second cabbit poked his sandy-colored head out from under Nagi's cloak and responded with a merry "Chow!"
"Run along, " Nagi ordered. "Have fun." Ken-ohki rubbed his cheek against hers then jumped down to the ground and raced over to Ryo-ohki's side. A moment later the two cabbits were nowhere to be seen.
Nagi and Ryoko regarded one another warily. "Well, now what?" the former pirate asked.
The bounty hunter casually flipped her cloak back behind her shoulders and stretched. "Well, they're going to be awhile," she said with a lazy drawl. "You want to go get a drink?"
Ryoko blinked. "Drink? With you?"
Nagi smirked. "What? Afraid that being seen with a bounty hunter will ruin your reputation, Ryoko? Or are you afraid that people will think we're dating?" She laughed and ran her fingers back through her hair. "I told you before, this is a truce situation. No tricks. You have my word on it."
Ryoko hesitated, considering. "All right," she finally said with a nod. "A drink sounds good."
"There's a bar across the street from here." Nagi pointed at a small nondescript storefront. "We'll be left alone until those two are finished with their 'date'."
* * * * *
Nagi's statement of guaranteed privacy had been true; a few heads had turned upon their entrance, then just as quickly turned back to their own business. The bounty hunter led her 'guest' to a booth in the back and then slid into the side that guaranteed her back to the wall. Ryoko's eyes narrowed momentarily, but she slid into the opposite seat as though position meant nothing to her.
The first round was drunk silently. As she sipped at her second glass of wine, Nagi leaned back against the vinyl seat backing and smiled. "So long have you and Ryo-ohki been together?"
Ryoko shrugged. "As long as I can remember. She's always been at my side. What about you and Ken-ohki?"
"Oh, not quite that long." Nagi sipped her drink. "He showed up shortly after I took up bounty hunting as my career. There's a long story behind that." Her eyes glittered as she looked up at Ryoko. "If you're interested, of course..."
"Sure," Ryoko said, shrugging again. "We've got plenty of time."
Nagi leaned forward, her elbows resting against the worn tabletop. "I'd just started out," she began, her voice soft and low. "I'd caught a few low-lifes. Nothing major, but enough to start making a reputation for myself and give me some nibbles on the bigger ones. I was green, didn't know nearly as much as I thought I did. And sure enough, I got in way over my head and damned near got myself killed..."
"Open, damn you, open..." Nagi slammed her shoulder--the good one--into the stubborn warehouse door again, with the same result as the past fifteen attempts. She spared a quick glance over her shoulder to see if her pursuer was coming, but the alleyway was still empty. She winced at the sight of the blood trail that ended where she was standing and shook her head. This was no time to panic.
Actually, it was a perfect time to panic. Any minute now, the massive body of Jozek Ponnil--wanted in this sector for the deaths of seven women, four children, and eight Galaxy Police Officers--was going to appear at the alley entrance in search of the bounty hunter who had foolishly thought she could bring him in. And the minute he spotted her, his murder count was most likely going to go up by one.
That warm, lovely thought spurred her to another desperate lunge against the stubborn warehouse door, and wonder of wonders, one of the gods must have been in a good mood because it finally gave way, sending Nagi flying into the dark, dusky space. She tumbled to the concrete floor on her bad shoulder and cried out as what felt like a million icy needles jabbed into her flesh.
Nagi stumbled to her feet and quickly shut the door. Looking around, she spotted a pile of rags in the near corner and hurried over to them. Glancing out the grimy windows, she wrapped the greasy, stained towels around her wound as fast as she could. Possible infection be damned; she had to stop the blood loss if she was going to survive this.
A hulking shadow appeared in the alleyway. Nagi's heart and body froze.
Then she was moving as fast as she could down the first dark row of crates and junk. Deeper and deeper into the black recesses of the unlit warehouse she went, praying that her eyes would adjust quickly enough that she could find a secure hiding place before Ponnil realized where she'd gone and follow her inside. She looked around wildly to the left and the right, praying that the god who'd helped her a minute ago was still looking out for her.
There. A huge crate, the top missing from it. Nagi peered inside. It was empty. Heart pounding, she tilted it over so that the opening faced her and crawled inside. Then, ignoring the pain that roared through her dislocated shoulder, she pulled the crate over again so that it was now completely upside down with Nagi inside and no exposed openings to be seen. She pushed against the side, scooting the crate back into its original place, then collapsed to the floor with a deep sigh.
Far away (far too close), a door slammed open. Nagi caught her breath and tried to stop trembling. A minute or so passed in silence. Then, without warning, light burst through the tiny cracks of the wooden crate, and Nagi closed her eyes. He'd found the stupid light switches. She should have disabled them somehow. Damn, damn, damn.
Nagi opened her eyes and found a second pair staring at her. They belonged to a sandy-furred...something...that looked utterly wretched. It was shivering violently from the cold and looked as though it were pleading with her to do something, anything to make the universe just a fraction better.
Heavy footsteps echoed through the warehouse. Nagi tried to get a fix on Ponnil's location, but the sound was bouncing off everything. She was going to die. She was sure of it.
Nagi stared dumbly at the creature for a moment, then pulled it close against her body. "Shhh," she half-whispered, half-pleaded. "Shhh." The creature snuggled up against her and sighed softly.
The footsteps were definitely getting closer. Nagi shut her eyes again and prayed for all she was worth. She concentrated on slowing her breathing, ordered her body to stop shaking so violently. She wished that Ponnil hadn't taken all her weapons from her. Just one blade or blaster. That was all she needed right now.
Nagi could feel the impact Ponnil's thick boots made on the concrete floor as they drew near. Goosebumps peppered her clammy skin. The poor little animal in her arms was trembling violently, but it made not a sound, even when a boot came down directly beside the crate.
Nagi waited. Sweat dripped from her face, trickling down her filthy, tattered outfit and pooling on the cold stone floor. She could hear him breathing not more than five feet away. She could hear his muscles stretch and contract as he looked around the room, searching for any sign that might betray his prey's location.
Above and beside her, Ponnil grunted and moved toward her. The crate suddenly creaked in protest, and Nagi's heart almost froze. Oh my God, she thought to herself. He's sitting down on the crate. It'll never hold his weight. I'm dead.
Ponnil sighed heavily and shifted his weight to get more comfortable. Beneath him, Nagi and the little hairy creature stared at their haven's fragile roof and waited for the inevitable.
It was all Nagi could do not to scream or gasp for breath as the foulest stench she'd ever encountered descended into the crate. The critter wrinkled its nose in disgust and tried to burrow further into its benefactor's cloak. But there was no escaping the odor that just seemed to hang in the confined space. Nagi closed her eyes, tried putting the remains of her cloak over her nose and mouth, and begged for death.
Seconds passed, or perhaps they were minutes. Either way, Nagi and her little furry friend thought that time was crawling at a snail’s pace. When Ponnil’s weight shifted forward, the novice bounty hunter almost sighed in relief before she caught herself. Her caution was well founded…because the far edge of the crate was rising into the air, exposing her position. Nagi’s eyes widened in horror as she watched her cover fly further and further into the air in reaction to Ponnil sliding off the opposite edge.
Nagi never knew that the side of the crate fell back down a heartbeat later because by then she’d fainted dead away. Ponnil walked back the way he’d come, scratching himself and wondering where that little bitch who’d been bothering him had gone.
Nagi panicked when she awoke to find herself in pitch-blackness. She tried to rise to her feet, only to crack her head on the top of the crate. She ignited the air around her with a brief but intense stream of curse words, which she quickly extinguished the moment she remembered where she was and why. Nagi dropped to a crouch and listened, straining to pick up the faintest telltale sign of Ponnil’s presence.
The furry critter chose that moment to rub against her bare knee and declare, “Chow!”
Nagi yelped in surprise and shot back up, smacking her head a second time against the wooden ceiling. A new barrage of expletives spewed out of her lips as she tumbled back to the floor.
As she lay there, moaning and gingerly feeling her aching skull, Nagi felt something warm and moist rub against her cheek. “Chow.” She closed her eyes and recalled the sad little creature that had joined her in this makeshift-hiding place. Oh yeah. She should have remembered. Lord, just how crazed with terror had she been?
Nagi slowly rose to a seated position and considered the options. She could stay here for all eternity. She could get out from under this stupid crate. If she did, either she’d be killed within minutes (assuming Ponnil was still hanging around) or she’d be home free. “Ahh, screw it,” she muttered, raising her arms until her palms pressed against the top of the crate. “Anything would be better than this.” She winced at the throbbing ache in her shoulder as she slowly stood up, raising the crate along with her.
The warehouse was dark, illuminated only by what moonlight could slip through the grimy windows. She must have been unconscious for some time. Nagi sighed and rolled her head in a lazy circle, working the kinks and aches out of her muscles. Her left shoulder was starting to burn steadily; she was going to have to get some antibiotic ointment on it, and soon. Waiting until her eyes had adjusted to the night environment, Nagi wrapped her thick black cloak—only somewhat tattered, thank the gods—and started toward the door.
“Chow!” came a plaintive cry from behind her. A quick flurry of footsteps, and the furry thing was at her side. “Chow!” it said again, its tone almost desperate.
Nagi shook her head. “You can’t come with me, honey,” she said softly. “I’m not safe company, believe me.” She thought about Ponnil outside somewhere…waiting…and shivered. “Go on home, little guy.” She nudged it with her foot. “Go on.”
“Chow!” it replied, defiance burning in its eyes.
Stubborn little thing, she thought. “Look, you stay with me, you’re going to end up as the main course for Ponnil’s dinner. Now scoot.” Nagi turned to leave, but as she moved the critter made a prodigious leap into the air. Before she could react, it was perched atop her shoulder—the good one, thank gods.
Nagi gave the creature a baleful state. “You don’t listen very well, do you, you little furball?”
“Okay, okay. Your funeral.”
Night spread across the city, accompanied by a cold, fine sleet. Nagi kept to the shadows, her nerves on a razor-fine edge as she made her cautious way toward the dilapidated boarding house she was staying at. She expected Ponnil to jump out at her at any moment; the slightest noise made her twitch. The fact he’d taken or disabled all her weapons didn’t help matters one bit. If he encountered her tonight, it would be a brief fight with the victor never in doubt.
Hairy--her name for the sad-eyed creature that was riding on her shoulder--shivered from the cold and dampness. Nagi reached up and rubbed his chin with her fingers, offering what comfort she could. Despite the fact that it had joined her on this suicide assignment and would be of zero use whatsoever if things came down to a fight, she was oddly comforted by its presence.
Nagi’s relief upon reaching her base of operations was almost palpable. It was a seedy, rundown crumbling wreck of a building, but it was cheap and it had a bed. Those were the only two things she had been concerned with—at this point, bounty hunting provided her with only the barest shadow of a living. She stumbled up the rotting stairs, her shoulder really starting to ache now that her safety and relative comfort was almost assured and the adrenaline rush was wearing off. Her passenger dug his claws into her uniform for balance and security, but it was almost as though he was taking great care not to hurt her.
She shut the door behind her and immediately propped a chair against it. Hairy jumped off her shoulder and landed onto the bed; he watched as she removed her cloak with slow, painful movements. A quick examination showed that while it was frayed a bit on the edges, it was still serviceable. Good. The reflective coating on it came in handy when dodging blaster fire.
Wincing, she worked on her battlesuit next. The left shoulder area was singed, ragged and bloodstained. It was all Nagi could do to keep from crying out as she slowly peeled the cloth away from her skin. She shuffled over to the grimy mirror and peered into it to see if things were as bad as they felt.
Nagi reached over and opened her medical kit. She’d learned early on that the best bounty hunters spent the majority of their earnings on the two things that would keep them alive: weapons and medicine. She tapped a few antibiotic capsules out of a bottle and swallowed them down with a lukewarm water chaser, then set to work cleaning and bandaging the ugly wound. She even managed to keep from screaming more than twice before she was finished.
Next on the agenda was dinner. She fished around in her pack and found a can of soup and a small tin bowl. She’d poured half the contents out and was about to dine when she saw Hairy sitting on the edge of the bed, looking utterly starved. Nagi hesitated for a moment, then carefully set the bowl down on the floor and attacked the remaining contents in the can. The critter hopped off the bed and went after the soup with equal ardor.
In celebration of her unexpected survival, Nagi opened a second can and shared it with her new friend. By the time they’d finished, the drugs were starting to make the world take on a warm, fuzzy edge, so she stumbled over to the bed and collapsed atop it. Sleep came upon her like a tidal wave, so she didn’t quite remember Hairy returning to the bed, taking the thin, grimy blanket in its mouth and working it up until it covered the majority of her body. Its task completed, the odd creature snuggled up in the crook of her belly and fell fast asleep as well.
Nagi was beginning to wonder if the sun ever shone on this godforsaken planet. Her boots weren’t completely protecting her feet from the constant parade of puddles, and the drizzle was starting to work its way through her cloak. Hairy was sitting on her shoulder, nestled beneath the cloth. The poor thing was shivering slightly, but it made no complaint as the odd pair wandered the city streets.
She’d gone to Yorish for assistance. Nagi had overheard a few of the older hunters talking at a spacer bar one night, as she listened gleaning what wisdom she could from the boasting and boozing. One of the rougher-looking guys had talked about being down on his luck during a hunt on this planet, and the great Yorish had taken pity on his plight and supplied him with equipment on the promise of repayment once the fugitive had been caught. It had taken the better part of the day to track the guardian angel down, and Nagi’s hopes were quickly dashed. Yorish was a shrewish middle-aged woman with a heart of stone. She’d sneered at the young bounty hunter, informed her that whatever happened next was her own damned fault, and kicked her out before Nagi could explain.
“Damn.” Nagi didn’t know what to do. She had no weapons and no money. Her only chance for survival was to catch Ponnil, but it was an impossible task under these conditions. If she could just raise some fast money and get some decent weapons, she might have a chance. Not much of one, true, but still…
A passing truck hit a huge puddle and sent a wave of gritty water Nagi’s way. She cursed fiercely as the deluge struck full force. Her cloak was now completely soaked, offering no protection against the elements. Frustrated beyond measure, Nagi raised her head to the heavens and informed the gods of this planet what they could do with themselves.
She didn’t notice the poster until she’d lowered her head back down. There was a picture of Hairy on it, and the word just above his portrait was a sign from the deities she’d just cursed: REWARD. Nagi stared at the poster for a very long time, reading it over carefully.
“Chow?” Hairy said quietly.
“Shhh.” From what she could tell, some sort of bigshot laboratory company was looking for Hairy, though the poster never did quite explain just why they were so eager to get the animal back. There was a contact number at the bottom; she memorized it and considered her options. She could call, find out why Hairy was so valuable (and just what constituted ‘valuable’), and then decide on a course of action. She wasn’t necessarily going to give it up first thing. That wouldn’t be fair to poor Hairy. But for all she knew, it might be rabid or a carrier of some disease. And it would certainly be better off in a warm, comfortable lab than with the likes of her right now.
Nagi sighed and started looking around for a vidphone booth, wondering why she suddenly felt so guilty.
She’d had the foresight to put Hairy on the shelf beside the vid unit—out of sight, out of mind. Nagi took a deep breath, slid her cred card in the slot, and punched in the number. Moments later a young woman’s smiling face appeared on the screen. “Can I help you?”
“Uhhh…yeah,” Nagi said, stammering. “I found this…poster, about the furry thing that you’ve lost?”
“Have you found it?” The receptionist’s smile had quickly shifted into an expression of deep concern.
“Well…I thought I saw it earlier today.” Nagi forced a sly grin on her face. “I’m a bounty hunter, and I wanted to know if this thing’s enough to pay for dinner tonight or not.”
“YOU’RE a bounty hunter?” the receptionist said, the skepticism dripping from her words.
“Yeah,” Nagi replied. “You wanna see my registration tattoo?”
“That’s not necessary,” the woman said crisply. “At any rate, the reward is fairly sizeable. It’s important that we track this animal down and contain it as soon as possible. Any assistance you could render would be greatly appreciated.”
“How great does your appreciation run?”
“Fifty thousand Juraian credits.”
Nagi blinked. “Grozit.”
“I told you. We need to find it as soon as possible.”
“But why?” Nagi demanded. “I mean, what’s so special about this creature? It looks pretty harmless…” She quickly caught herself. “…in the picture.”
“Well…” The receptionist leaned forward, which was pretty damned stupid when you considered this was a com-call. “Fact of the matter is, they don’t know what this animal is capable of. They found it in an abandoned lab on some ice planet not too far away…they think that the lab belonged to some sort of crazy scientist, like..." She looked around for a second, then whispered, “Washu! You know, the lunatic from the science academy? Or perhaps one of her assistants! They were all nuts, you know.”
“I see,” Nagi nodded.
“Our scientists were running tests on it to determine its species and abilities, but a few nights ago it got out of its cage somehow. No one’s quite sure how, because the lock on the door was still activated when we came in the next morning.”
Hairy casually jumped to the floor of the booth…and passed through the transparent wall as if it were nothing. A second later, it came back in, shook itself dry, and proceeded to clean itself in a personal area. Nagi tried not to show her shock as she returned her attention to the screen. “Is everything all right?” the woman was asking.
“Uhhh…yeah,” Nagi stuttered. “My, uhh, dog was….” Her mind raced for an appropriate action. “…humping my leg,” she blurted out a heartbeat later.
“Oh, don’t you hate it when they do that?”
“Oh, cool it,” Nagi muttered to Hairy. “I said I was sorry, and I didn’t turn you in. Don’t get your nose all out of joint.” The creature sniffed disdainfully in reply but kept a secure grip on her shoulder as they moved out into the streets in search of Jozek Ponnil. The cold, misty night air stung Nagi’s bare legs as she moved from shadow to shadow, but she ignored the tingling and kept her eyes open for any dangerous movement.
She knew it was suicidal to be doing this without any weapons, but she had no choice. Nagi had contacted a few of the other bounty hunters who were gunning for Ponnil and given them as much information about his recent whereabouts as she could, along with the fact that he was armed. She neglected to tell them that the weapons had belonged to her, of course, but she could tell that they’d figured it out. They thanked her for the assist, told her to keep her chin up and things would get better soon, and signed off. Bastards. Didn’t even offer to give her a fee for the information.
“Damn, it’s cold.” Nagi’s cloak kept most of the chill out, but some of it had managed to creep down to her bones. She promised herself to take a nice long break on some tropical resort planet after this, and while she was at it she imagined herself having sufficient funds to actually stay at one. Maybe she’d take Hairy with her. Tonight excepted, he was actually pretty good company.
Gunfire and screaming erupted five…no, six…blocks away. Nagi ignored the electric tingle that shot through her and forced her legs to move. She raced down the empty street, hearing every blast and subsequent cry that cut off so suddenly that there could only be one reason for it. Nagi grit her teeth, cursed her stupidity and bad luck, and forced herself to move even faster.
She rounded a corner and froze. Three bodies lay twisted and unmoving in the middle of the street. Blood dripped from arms, legs, chests and heads, drifting lazily in the various puddles and reflecting eerily in the aura of the streetlights. And off in the distance, running along at a leisurely, steady clip…was Jozek Ponnil.
Nagi grit her teeth and took one step forward, then paused. She closed her eyes and took three deep breaths. Ignoring the bile churning in her stomach, she moved over to the dead bounty hunters…the same three she’d contacted earlier…and examined them closely. For the first time, a sliver of hope burst through her dark, despairing thoughts.
He’d left their weapons behind. All of them.
Nagi lunged. She ignored the bloodstains on the guns, focusing instead on the amount of charge left in each one. She snapped up the knives and strapped them to her arms and legs. And just when she was about to set off after Ponnil, she noticed a long, slender object sticking out from under the third body. Nagi rolled the body over and discovered a beautiful electric sword, golden and magnificently designed. Her hand fit the grip perfectly. She lifted it into the air and swished it back and forth experimentally.
Nagi glanced back down at the body. Bokyi Tomazi had been one of the better female hunters around. This weapon must have cost her a fortune, or perhaps a grateful party had given it to her in thanks for a dangerous rescue. She wasn’t going to need it now. Nagi firmly believed that Bokyi would want her to have it. To use it and avenge her death.
Nagi lifted the sword into the air and set off after Ponnil.
* * * * *
The good news was that Jozek Ponnil was leaving an easy trail to follow. The bad news was that Jozek Ponnil was leaving an easy trail to follow. Nagi ignored the wounded and dead that he'd left in his wake and hurried through the drizzle toward her quarry.
Ponnel came from one of the heavy-worlds; he was a huge, bulky mass of high-density muscle that enabled him to lumber around back home. But on lighter worlds such as this one, he was able to move with surprising grace and speed, giving him quite an advantage over the lawmen and bounty hunters who'd attempted to stop him--and died trying.
Nagi had underestimated him the first time they'd met and had barely escaped with her life. This time she was better prepared and equipped. Hopefully that might make a difference in the end. She wasn't sure. All she knew was that either way, one of them was going down for good tonight, and she was going to do everything in her power to make sure it wouldn't be her.
She paused to catch her breath and take care of some unfinished business. "End of the ride, little guy," she said, plucking Hairy from her shoulder and setting him down on the cold wet pavement. "It was nice having you around, but it's time you moved on."
"CHOW!" Hairy cried.
"He's a killer. I'm going to need every bit of luck, ability and concentration to stop him, and if you're there, my attention will always be divided. I can't have that, Hairy."
Nagi knelt down beside the furious creature and stroked his head almost tenderly. "I've got to stop him, Hairy. This is all my fault for botching the job in the first place. And I can't do it if I'm worrying about you getting hurt. And besides, if I fail..." She closed her eyes and tried not to shudder. "Go on," she said, rising to her feet. "Be careful, little fella. Stay free."
"Go!" She tried to put as much anger and nastiness in that command as she could, and it seemed to do the trick. Hairy slunk off toward the nearest alley, its ears drooping as it walked. Nagi waited until it was safe within the shadows, then took a deep breath, steeled herself, and set off after Ponnil once more.
She never saw Hairy shoot out of the alley a minute later, following her.
* * * * *
The bastard refused to die. She'd jammed six knives deep into Ponnil, shot him point blank four or five times, kicked, gouged, punched and head-butted him over and over again, and he still wouldn't go down. He took everything Nagi hit him with and just kept coming back for more, laughing as he lunged toward her.
"God-damn it!" Nagi yelled, slashing at his chest with her new laser sword. A dark gash seeped through his shirt, spreading slowly across the fabric, but Ponnil ignored it and kept coming.
He hadn't used any of her weapons--they hung on his belt, waiting to be picked up. Maybe he didn't think she was worthy of them. Maybe he was enjoying the game too much to end it so quickly. Maybe he needed his nuts cut off. Nagi screamed and darted forward, sliding under his spread-eagled legs and slamming the laser sword north at full power.
Ponnil screamed and fell forward. He smashed into the pavement and curled up into a fetal ball, trembling and moaning to himself. Nagi slowly rose to her feet and grinned, flush with the sweet victory of having finally hurt the bastard but good. She walked over to where he lay and knelt down to cuff him.
She realized her stupidity with a heartbeat to spare. Nagi flung herself backwards as Ponnil's burly arm arced toward her. She felt the breeze from the motion against her face as she hit the asphalt and somersaulted into a fighting crouch. Ponnil was slowly rising to his feet, the expression on his face and the gun in his hand making it plain he no longer felt like playing.
Nagi smiled and stretched out her sword. A burst of energy lanced from her weapon to his, instantly overloading the second-hand energy battery within the gun and causing it to explode in Ponnil's hand. He screamed again and cradled the bloody pulp that had once been his fingers and thumb.
She heard a noise behind her--a sound of running feet approaching--and instinctively turned toward it. Ponnil stormed forward, smashing into her and sending her flying. Nagi landed hard a few yards back, the impact knocking the wind out of her--and more importantly, it also knocked the sword from her hand. Ponnil advanced slowly upon her, his face contorted with rage and agony as he prepared to inflict some major pain upon this little pain in the ass.
Nagi lay helpless upon the street, dazed and wheezing for breath, unable to move. She heard what sounded like a defiant "CHOW!" nearby, and seconds later she saw Hairy leaping over her toward Ponnil. To her amazement, he adroitly evaded Ponnil's backhand and used the felon's head as a further stepping stone into the air. And as she watched...Hairy became something else.
That sweet little hairball began to stretch out in every direction, growing in size and density until the biggest damned spaceship Nagi had ever seen was floating in the air above them.
Ponnil noticed that her attention was behind him and turned to see what was there. He might have had a moment to gasp in surprise before the spaceship sent a plasma beam into and through his chest, accompanied by a triumphant and reverberant "CHOW!" A second later, the remains of Jozek Ponnil hit the road with a wet thud.
Nagi lay there speechless and breathless as Hairy switched back into his more familiar appearance. It ran up to her and howled with happiness as it pressed against her cheek. Slowly, painfully, Nagi sat up and caught the last remnants of her breath. She stared first at Hairy, who was now sitting in her lap, then at Ponnil's body, then at Hairy again.
"You know, you could have told me you could do that, you rotten little hairball."
* * * * *
"Here you go, Nagi."
She plucked the credit voucher from the desk sergeant's fingers in one quick motion and slipped it into a pocket on her battlesuit.
"By the way, thanks for taking that guy down. Nice work."
"Thanks, but I had help." Hairy poked his head out from under her cloak and sneezed; the police officer laughed and scratched it behind the ears, receiving a long purr for his efforts. "Sure is a cute looking thing," the cop commented. "Hey, isn't this the critter on those posters all around the city? The one those nutcase scientists are looking for?"
"Beats me," Nagi said smoothly. "As far as I'm concerned, this is my partner. Ready to head out, partner?" Hairy answered with a resounding "CHOW!”, so she made her farewells and headed outside. Dawn was just peeking over the horizon; she'd been up all night, in the fight of her life, but Nagi felt no pain or weariness, just an overwhelming sense of pride and satisfaction.
She watched the sun rise--the first time she'd seen the sun since she'd arrived on this planet--then tilted her head toward Hairy. "Well, what do you say?" she asked quietly. "You want to stick with me from now on, little guy?" Hairy purred and rubbed his cheek against hers in reply. "Gotta warn you, though," she continued. "It's not an easy life. We're going to be constantly on the go and most always in some sort of danger. If you're looking for a calm, peaceful existence, this is your last chance."
"Okay, okay." Nagi grinned and stroked her new partner's head. "Well, I guess we'd better be going. While we're at it, I guess I'd better come up with a new name for you, huh? Hairy just doesn't suit you..." The small gem-like object on Hairy's head began to glow, and before Nagi could react the animal jumped up and pressed its forehead against hers. At that instant she felt a second presence in her mind, one that radiated eternal devotion to her, and with it came the oddest word...
Nagi blinked. "Ken-ohki!"
* * * * *
Ryoko leaned back and stretched. "So that's how you two got together?"
"Yup." Nagi raised her glass and drained the last swallow from it. At that moment Ken-ohki and Ryo-ohki came running through the door, leaping into their respective mistresses' laps. "So, you show the girl a good time, you little hairball?" Nagi asked her cabbit.
"I'll just bet." She slid out of the booth in one fluid motion and rose to her feet; Ken-ohki scrambled up to her shoulder. "Well, Ryoko, always a pleasure. Take care of yourself, at least till I get my hands on you."
"In your dreams," Ryoko snorted.
"I'll be in touch next time these two want some quality time." Nagi smiled enigmatically. "Who knows, if you're good maybe I'll take you to dinner and a show." She savored the pirate's sputtering reaction, then turned around and headed for the door. "That was fun," she muttered to Ken-ohki. "But I guess it's time to get back to work. Right, partner?"
"CHOW!" came the expected reply a second later.