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Prologue - "24 Hours Ago" for Toph "Muppet" Kirin


Kaerri's Man. =)
(GM Note: Musical and spiritual inspiration for Toph's prologue.)

"Bruce Lee Remix" by Melodysheep

While I enjoy the video and all of Melodysheep's work, there is one misquote in here by whomever put the lyrics together - In 1:50, he or she writes, "Do not believe in styles," when in the Lost Interview, the quote is, "...I do not believe in styles [anymore]..." [italics and brackets mine]. This in an important distinction to me because I don't believe Lee was trying to tell or preach to anyone else what to believe or not believe in. Instead, he was simply expressing what he believed in and what worked for him.

It is in the early evening-time on Eglin base where the sun has gone down and the sun's bright beams have been replaced by a dark, pristine sky filled with a sea of sparkling stars. Outside the training centers, mecha and aircraft hangars, flight tower, and Special Forces compound, but well inside the wire, there sat a lonely concrete building that was once a barracks for United States Air Force soldiers.

Decades ago, there used to be more buildings and barracks here, but now this old, sturdy place sits alone, far away from the distractions and activity of the rest of Eglin base. Here, a small, dedicated group of people have been given permission to use the building as a martial arts training facility. While different systems are taught here, three evenings out of the week, the system of choice is Jeet Kune Do - Bruce Lee's "Way of the Intercepting Fist."

Most of the time, there are several dozen students here taking classes, each person at a different point in their journey. A sparse few, however, continue to train after everyone else has returned to the post to nurse their bruises or otherwise recover from this strenuous training. Not so tonight for ASC Second Lieutenant Toph Kirin.

When not up to her ears with her medical studies learning what to do when attempting to stabilize battle injuries such as flail chests, sucking chest wounds, and dismemberments, or otherwise buried in her flight school curriculum covering night landings without sensors, what to do when your helicopter loses the rear rotor in mid-flight, and how to make the least amount of noise when attempting to move stealthily along the Florida wetlands in a 29 foot tall, 16 ton-plus veritech in battloid mode, Kirin is often here practicing a system of martial arts that tends to a rigorous study all in itself.

Here, in the simple school with its hardwood floors, worn punching and kicking bags dangle by iron chains and stacked mats are lined up to practice falls and throws. Things are quite unlike the world of the military soldier or college student. There is no G.P.A., no minimum requirements of push-ups, pull-ups, or time to run the mile, no college hours to accumulate, or course studies to satisfy.

There are also no interns, no directors, no pretty colored belts, no stripes, and no brass here. In a way, this is a place to get away from all of that and learn something not only different but long-lasting and possibly life-changing.

Here life lessons were taught. One of those lessons was this: "At the end of the day, there is just you and that person looking right back at you in the mirror." You always see that person in the full-length mirrors set about the hall. That person is your ultimate competitor and the champion whom you will never beat, for when you finally climb a plateau, you will find that the person in the mirror is already there. Above you. Waiting.

It is only you and those other special people here that help you find the path to uncover the reasons for your own spiritual ignorance, unlock the abilities buried in your mind, and hone the necessary skills that come only through countless hours of sweat, and sometimes, blood. They set you on the path. It is yours alone to walk, run, or quit.

Of course, Toph "Scorch" Kirin never came here to quit...

Even now, as she squared off with her instructor, Kirin moved with purpose. As a Jeet Kune Do artist, Kirin's movements were practical, not flashy; purposeful, not half-hearted. However, more than once, she found herself thinking with her medical or aviator's mind. This is when she usually got caught with a fist upside her head...

Like now.

Bam! Then again, there was no dishonor when getting popped by a fighter like Hitomi Yashida. This guest instructor was admitted to the school but a month ago, but she had taken a quick interest in the pink-haired, half-Zentraedi Toph. For one thing, Yashida and Kirin had a few things in common. Both had earned medical backgrounds (Yashida was a trauma specialist with real battlefield experience), both had a real love of Jeet Kune Do, and both women were half-Japanese (Yashida's other half being Hawai'ian).

Yashida was also a stunning beauty with long silky black hair, truly gorgeous face, and a fit figure that combined the sophisticated with the sexy in all-natural image that Yashida had made look effortless (though it was anything but). Yashida's figure and manner were so beautiful it distracted people of both genders, married and single people alike, human and especially Zentraedi, and yet she never bragged about it. No, "I'm better than you" feelings toward anyone.

If anything, Toph might have sensed that Yashida had simply put years and years of effort into honing herself into the woman she wanted to be and eventually became her. Yashida was thus a "self-made woman" much like Toph's Zentraedi mother, Zyorna. Toph had known Hitomi for just a few weeks now. They had become friendly enough that, given the school's somewhat remote location on post, Hitomi had used her requisitioned utility hover truck to give Toph rides to and from the school. It certainly was a better alternative than walking, especially at night. This had provided opportunity for small talk between them and that had led a way for them to get to know each other a bit. It also did not seem to harm their new relationship either that Yashida appeared to be looking out for Toph's in her growth as a Jeet Kune Do student.

Even when, again, it was Hitomi's fist upside Toph's head.

"Toph, you're doing it again," Hitomi said. "Let go."

This was easier said than done for Toph liked to use her brain and here Sifu Hitomi was challenging Toph to use less of her intellect and more of her natural feeling. Letting go meant something about allowing Toph's skillset to act "all by itself." This was an entirely new concept to Toph.

(OOC translation and excellent Dan Inosanto video)
Sifu = "Teacher" in Chinese (Cantonese, I believe).

Also, class is much like this:

The two fighters engaged again. Limbs clashed with lightning speed. Punches and kicks flew. Blocks and counterattacks ensued. And yet, in seconds, Toph found the back of Hitomi's right hand, for the third time, pressed against Toph's left cheekbone; a brilliantly-placed pok sao pulled at the last moment as not to break the bone. It was technique that Toph could respect except that Toph knew it was coming and again was unable to stop it. This repeated again and again until after the fifth time, Hitomi paused and watched Toph closely with the analyzing stare of a practiced surgeon.

(OOC translation)
pok sao = Wing chun Kung Fu punching technique (the same as in the video above)

Five times to the face. Same technique. Same hand. Toph could not see ahead of the technique to stop it to save her life. And maybe that was the problem; her attempt at seeing it coming was the true problem. If Toph was the type to get frustrated, now was the time. Either way, Hitomi gave her pleasant, understanding smile, backed up a step, pressed her fist against the palm of her other hand, and bowed signifying an end to this spar.

"Toph," Hitomi explained firmly, "you've reached a level in Jeet Kune Do where you have learned the basics. You've got good form and you pace your energy well. However..." and it was always tough to hear that word from an instructor, "you have yet to reach the level where you fully trust what you have learned. Instead, you're overthinking, holding on, and attempting to anticipate my techniques instead of letting your skills take over and do it for you. Imagine yourself in your Ajax cockpit..." Hitomi paused here, for Toph knew Hitomi was no mecha pilot or jet jockey . For one thing, she wasn't cocky enough. =)

"In practice, you have all the time in the world to choose, to decide your next move. It's like a game of chess. You have the luxury of hesitation." She folded her hands thoughtfully. "But in combat and in life, sometimes there is no time to waste. On the medical table with a conscious patient with a flail chest and a missing foot on your table, hesitation can cost you your patient's life. And so it is in the martial arts. Ask yourself - when is it most important not to hesitate? When you trust your honed skills to the point of letting go of your loud and interrupting mind, your long-practiced skills will act all by themselves with little, if any, effort from you. You won't have to think so much, Toph. So don't force it. Remember - 'the less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.'"

Her last sentence was a quote from Lee himself. Toph had heard it used between other students before.

"You know, you are coming along at your own natural pace." She sighed and looked as if gazing far away. "I wish a certain good friend of mine were at your level. He is one heck of a human being, but I'd pay real money to see him in the gym! So, shall we hit the showers and call it a night?" She looked as if she wanted to talk more, so comfortable was she with the pink-haired young woman. Still, both of them knew they had responsibilities to satisfy come dawn, Toph answering her duties as a newly-minted flight lieutenant in T.A.S.C., and whatever it was that Hitomi did so well as a civilian for Eglin base.

After they had washed up and got the sweat off of them, they dressed. As always, Hitomi wore something classy and smelled of attractive perfume. Tonight, she wore a dragon-themed light leather jacket, matching skirt, white silk blouse, and sensible leather shoes; the kind you can move in. Her waist-length hair was tied in a simple ponytail.

(GM Note: This style of clothing and overall look.)
(Try as I might, I can never find a good picture of the Hitomi in my mind... not even on the Internet. This picture is kind of close, though. Her figure, clothing, and pose are right, but that's not quite Hitomi's face. Maybe some day... =) )

(Image credit: www.pinterest.com )

Hitomi turned out the lights to the school, locked up the front door, and left with Toph toward the M-10 utility hover truck Hitomi had successfully requisitioned. As Toph was too new at Eglin to ask for her own vehicle, Hitomi had offered to drive her to the school and back to Toph's quarters. They had done this a few times. However, with tonight came a difference to the routine.

There in the parking lot, the smooth, sharp lines of an all-black M-770 Staff Car rolled up to greet them. It came to a stop directly beside the olive drab M-10. The car had no markings and its retractable hood was up, covering and concealing any occupants.

Hitomi paused. "Toph, are you expecting anyone out here?" Toph knew the answer to that question was a definite 'no.'

The car's hover engine hummed smoothly as the vehicle pulled up a bit more and bathed both women in its headlights. Two nearby streetlamps helped against the light-blinding, but still, the forms exiting the car were completely obscured from Toph and Hitomi's vision. Toph's own natural gifts included incredible perception. Her ears told her there were three people stepping out of the car and slowly walking along the grass.

"Flight Lieutenant Kirin?" came a handsome-sounding voice. "Sorry if we startled you." Immediately, the headlights dimmed. Three men wearing fatigues with military police patches and pins walked forth. They were clean-shaven, had strong physiques, and calm, serious demeanors. They appeared unarmed except for taser pistols in holsters on their gun belts along with handcuffs. One approached. "I'm Sgt. Kramer, Eglin M.P.s. Our radio room dispatched us here. They say we have received word from your mother via an encoded transmission from space. We can't understand it, but it seems definitely meant for you."

Toph had told no one at Eglin base anything about her mother. Not even Hitomi.

"Would you come with us, please? We could use your help." The speaker reached out his hand toward Toph.

What does Toph do?
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Princess Psychie
There is a line from an old movie that Toph had once seen, a pre-SDF-1 movie about a military pilot that had stolen several nuclear missiles.  Before that happens in the movie, though, there is a scene where the hero and bad guy are sparring in a 'friendly' match.  The villain was played by John Travolta, and when he beats his fellow pilot, our hero makes a comment that he thought that it was just a practice match.  Travolta's character then replies with something like, "That's why you lost."  Even though it was just a sparring match, and against a woman that Toph feels a certain kindred spirit with, she was fighting to win.  Every flick of the wrist, every step, they were all meant to do one thing and one thing only: win.  But no matter what counter she tries, Hitomi is able to break through her defenses and connect with that damn pok sao.  If it weren't for the fact that she was a relatively newcomer to the beautiful lines and harmony that is Jeet Kune Do and that there are tons of people (well, maybe not tons, but a lot) out there that are better than her, she would be royally embarrassed.  Still, it rubbed her the wrong way to come out second place to anyone.
Offering up a respectful bow and smile, she says, "It wouldn't irritate me so much if I didn't damn well know you were about to make that move, and still not be able to stop it!  Its like you said, I feel myself trying to overthink the problem, with a part of me believing that I can come up with the right solution.  I know that it costs me precious time, time that I just don't have to lose.  Eventually I'll learn to fight with my heart, instead of my head!"  She gives her sifu another bow.  After all, even in the few weeks that Hitomi has been here, she's learned much from her.  
After her shower, Toph slips into her simple white blouse and black skirt, nothing too fancy, but still, a nice departure from the uniform she wears every day.  Stepping out into the night, she glances out of the corner of her eye at Hitomi.  "Thanks for the lift back to Elgin.  I have to be on the flight line at 0600 tomorrow, or else I'd say we should go find someplace to hang out.  But, as a good pilot, I always practice the 'twelve hours bottle to throttle' rule.  Hmm?  Whats this?"  She watches the staff car come pulling up with curiosity, wondering what is going on.  Then, when Sgt. Kramer announced himself and said he was looking for her, Toph raises an eyebrow.  
"Yes, I'm Lt. Kirin.  What's going on, sergeant?"  A message from mother?  One that the military needs my help with?  What could it be?  "Of course, sergeant.  I'll be right there.  Hitomi, thank you again for the match.  I'll be back at the dojo in a couple of days, hopefully I can get some more pointers from my favorite teacher?  Have a good night!"  She gives Hitomi a sisterly hug goodbye before slipping her purse up onto her shoulder and walking over to the MPs.  "Lead on, Sgt Kramer."


Kaerri's Man. =)
(GM Note: This particular song helped me with the emotional feel of this scene. Consider it mood music.)
"Time Bomb" by Feint & Boyinaband featuring Veela.
Veela is terrific! You can expect more of her music in future posts - she rocks! =)

As Toph shared a hug with Hitomi, she sensed a tenseness in the Hawai'ian-Japanese woman. Toph could see that Hitomi's mind was working a million miles an hour as she reached for her smartphone out of her gold-embroidered leather purse.

"Hey, sir?" Hitomi waved to the sergeant with a friendly smile. "Did you inform Major Kirin about this or do I need to call him?" She looked at Toph with such deep concern that Toph could not tell if the other woman was acting or not.

"Can't have your husband worrying about his mother-in-law, can we? May I call him for you?" The thumb on her hand holding the smartphone danced swiftly and surely without Hitomi having to look at the screen. Instead, she gave the sergeant a womanly smile, but her eyes, brownish-gold in the deep of the evening, did not blink.

Sgt. Kramer tilted his head ever so slightly. He hesitated. Then he said, "That's affirmative, ma'am. It's base procedure to inform the superior officer in a family first."

The soft evening breeze caressed all things present, but no one here seemed to feel its caress. Her lips barely moving, Hitomi whispered to Toph in a serious, cautionary tone Toph had never before heard her use. "Stay... behind... me." Hitomi slowly, protectively, put herself between Toph and these men. Hitomi knew as well as Toph that Toph was unmarried - Major Kirin did not exist.

Sgt. Kramer continued. "The radio room made contact with the major just prior to our arrival. I believe he is en route." With a sweep of his hand, he indicated the staff hovercar. "Lt. Kirin? We could really use your help, ma'am."

Hitomi's thumb kept moving across the screen of her smartphone, but Toph could see that she was not dialing any number. In fact, the phone seemed to be silently video-recording with the help of some application Toph did not recognize. It was this strange app that Hitomi was blindly and smoothly interacting with.

The two men behind the sergeant moved forward and joined him. Their body language was tense, unsure. Their faces were masks of self-control. Then suddenly, in one swift motion, one of them drew his taser and aimed it on Hitomi.

"Shit!" Sgt. Kramer clenched his teeth as he and the other soldier pulled their weapons on Hitomi.

"Wait!" Hitomi raised her hands.

"Who the hell are you, lady? What gave us away?"

"You want the data?" Hitomi slowly reached inside her purse and withdrew her keys and a bottle of perfume. "You can have it. Just let us drive away." She glanced at the hover truck and her keys.

The soldiers did not respond at first. Then Hitomi slowly, almost casually, tossed her purse to the sergeant.

He smirked as he caught it in mid-flight. "Why do that when we can just as easily take both of you too?" He indicated Toph with his taser. A grin that can only be described as diabolic crossed his once-handsome features. "We know what your father did, Pinky, and you are going to give us all the details." He handed Hitomi's purse to the man behind him and trained his weapon with both hands on Toph.

"Come here. Now."

"Hey!" Hitomi shouted. "Just let me... tell you all... one thing?"

"Yeah? What's that, sweetcheeks?"

Hitomi's tone and body language lost all tension. Her manner became easygoing as she blew them a kiss. "Hope you amateurs enjoy the afterlife! Toph, GET DOWN!!"

Without warning, Hitomi turned and sacked Toph. As they hit the concrete near the entrance to the barracks, Toph could see Hitomi pressing frantically on her smartphone while Hitomi covered Toph's body with her own.

"What the--?!"

"Shit! Throw it--!"

Three rapid presses from her thumb was all it took.


The contents inside Hitomi's purse suddenly and loudly exploded with such terrific force as to fling the dismembered remains of all three men in different directions. In a moment of time spanning less than that of a blink of an eye, a nigh-invisible shock wave slammed against Hitomi and Toph, slamming them against the barracks. Before Toph knew what was happening, Hitomi was up and unlocking the front wooden door.

Of the men, Toph could see bits of red mist floating in the air, torn pieces of camouflage clothing, and little else.

"Get inside!"

Ears ringing and disoriented, Toph found herself stumbling to her feet and getting pulled into the relative safety of the barracks-become-school, yet outside in the night, Toph caught the view of two more sets of headlights that were not there before. Hover cars, her overloaded senses told her, hidden about fifty yards away until just now. Those cars now raced at them with murderous speed, bright lights blazing.

Breathing hard, Hitomi slammed the door shut and locked it. Her hair was tousled and she had gray dust and a bruise on one side of her face from the blast. "Listen! We have less than a minute before they get here, but I need to settle something right now." Hitomi reached under her knee-length, flowing black skirt on the outside of her right thigh. There, set in a black, lacy stocking was a holster and in it, a small, expensive-looking pistol.

(Hitomi's pistol.)
(Image credit: actionsbyt.blogspot.com )

Hitomi's eyes looked straight into Toph's. The half-Zentraedi woman had never seen Hitomi act quite this urgently. "Put your hands on it." She placed the pistol in Toph's hands. It was slightly cool to the touch and extremely light. It had a firm, excellent grip and balance. "Now... listen to the sound of my voice... Your heart's racing, right? From the explosion? Your blood pressure is way up. Your body is pumping adrenaline into your system from the fight or flight survival response." Hitomi's tone became calmer, more gentle. "Close your eyes. Try and listen to the gun. Tell me - what do you hear?" The ringing in Toph's ears was slowly becoming less and less.

The school of Jeet Kune Do taught meditation as part of their training, ancient breathing techniques meant to calm the body and focus the mind into razor-sharpness. Now, this seemingly-mundane practice suddenly gained an importance beyond the reach of Toph's current level of awareness. Whether she realized it or not, Toph's newly-earned skills were being put to the test.

Again, Hitomi quoted Bruce Lee as she softly whispered. "'Don't think - feel." She drew the last word out emotionally. "Toph.... let go..."

In this delicate moment, Toph has more than a few options before her. Some of those options are:
1. Unlock and open the door and shoot at the incoming cars (Toph does not believe there are any other firearms inside the barracks).
2. Try to find another way out of the barracks (the women's bathroom window might work for someone Toph's size).
3. Meditate with the firearm (follow Hitomi's voice).
4. Arrest Hitomi for killing three military policemen (there is no house phone in the barracks to contact the police, and there is no guarantee that the earlier explosion would have been noticed by anyone at this time of night, therefore Toph can realistically feel that her chances of incoming help from Eglin base are slim to none).
5. Anything else she can think of.
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Princess Psychie
Toph is shocked to the core that this is the way that the night has gone.  What the hell did that man mean, 'We know what your father did?'  He was a fighter pilot for crying out loud, not 007!  Same with mom!  Now, three men were dead; true, they were apparently trying to kidnap her, but still!  Holy frak!  

She lets Hitomi pull her into the relative safety of the dojo without resisting, her mind still numb.  Shaking off the fog, she looks down at the pistol in her hand.  "I don't . . . I don't know.  You might be better off using this than I am. . .  I have this."  She pulls the folding knife out of her purse, but can feel the silent insistence from Hitomi.  Suddenly, her hands seem to be moving on their own as they pop the magazine and check to see how much ammo was in the weapon, then she racks the slide to chamber a round.  Don't think . . . just do.  

Toph looks around the dojo, desperately searching for something to stand out, some weapon, or perhaps some heavy desk that she can take cover behind.  Not that there is much in here; it is a wide, mostly empty room for sparring, not built to survive a pitched gun battle.

Well, the other three were armed with tasers.  It would seem that they want me alive, and they might just pull a few punches.  I, however, only have to worry about keeping both myself and Hitomi alive and well.  Gives us an advantage.  She wants me to use this; feel the pistol in your hand.  Be one with the pistol.  But, in the end, your mind and body are the most deadly weapons at your disposal.  Use them, because this shit just got real.

In a much calmer voice, she says, "Hitomi, you have a chance to get out of here; they seem to be after me, not you.  While I would love to have the help, I can't expect you to risk your life for me."  All the while, she has the pistol in her right hand and the knife in her left, feeling the weight of the pistol, its balance, and locking into her mind the image of her walking out of this fight a winner.


Kaerri's Man. =)
"Check again, Scorch," Hitomi gave wink and a slight smile. "I already have and am risking my life for you. But forget about that for a moment."

She indicated for Toph to put the knife down or away. "Focus one more time on my pistol. I'm asking you to meditate, not think. I'm not teaching you a lesson this time - this is..." she sighed, "...something else."

"Open your mind. Listen to it while we still have time." Hitomi clasped her hands over Toph's own.

"Free your mind of distractions. Meditate. I think you're halfway there. Can you let go of your thoughts and try one more time?"
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Princess Psychie
With a jerky nod, she closes up the knife and slips it into the top of her stocking.  Never give up a weapon when in danger.  "Meditate.  I will.  Like Yoda says, there is no try; its do, or do not."

Closing her eyes, she feels the weight of the pistol in her hands, focuses on the rough feel of the hand grips, the simple curve of the trigger.  Her eyes open once more, still locked on the handgun.  What can this pistol tell me?  Share with me your secrets.  

Can I tell how many rounds are there in the magazine?
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Kaerri's Man. =)
(GM Note: Music for the emotion.)

Black Box's title track, "Dreamland." This song just takes me away. I hope it takes you away too. =)

Toph's breathing slows to a minimum even though her ears tell her there are hovercars nearing the building. She hears car doors opening and slamming shut outside, but for the moment, they do not bother her. Because in this moment, it is just her and Hitomi's pistol.

As Toph's breathing deepens, her lungs fill. When they fill completely, the same way they do automatically when the body is slipping into sleep every night, she finds she is breathing from the center of her very being. It is then the half-Zentraedi, half-human is acutely aware of her own living energy - that awesome, infinite force the Chinese call "chi" and the Japanese refer to as "ki."

Toph hears Hitomi's voice as if from far away. She can almost see the pleased smile that comes with it. "Good. You're letting go..."

It is then that Toph Kirin's mind opens like the petals on a flower illuminated by the power and radiance of our ancient sun. No longer bound by her own thoughts, Toph's mind is free to flow wherever it will. And flow it does. All by itself. Brief, odd sensations appear in her mind.

(GM Note: One such mental image.)

(Image credit: Weaponsystems.net)

At that moment, Toph wonders how many rounds are inside the weapon's magazine.

Then without the slightest hint of a warning, a single thought enters Toph's flowing mind without any conscious action on her part. The thought does not belong to her. Nor, she senses, does it belong to Hitomi. But nevertheless, it is there.

I have 13 rounds.
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Princess Psychie
Excellent.  Time to fight.  "Get the lights.  We know what's around us in here, but they don't.  Once they open a door, it will mark the location and silhouette them against the lights from outside."  Where did that voice come from?  How do I know that this weapon has 13 rounds in it?  Idiot!  Stop worrying about that and focus on staying alive.  She looks around for any signs of cover.  Something to put between her and the enemy, whomever they are.  


Kaerri's Man. =)
"Well?" Hitomi says as she sees Toph emerge from her meditative state. "Don't leave me in suspense!"

Toph notices that neither she nor Hitomi turned the lights on. They are encased in the darkness of the school, a place the two of them know well. The two women begin to move about the barracks. The best cover comes from the women's restrooms and showers where two concrete walls stand between there and the front door.
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Princess Psychie
In a voice filled with wonder, she says, "It has thirteen rounds in the magazine, and I know how to use it.  Don't ask me how I know this; it might ruin the whole thing.  Lets get to cover and make these assholes regret getting out of bed this morning.  I don't suppose you can call the real Elgin MPs on your cell phone?  It may not matter; by the time they get here, this will all be over, one way or another."


Kaerri's Man. =)
(Music that helped me write this scene.)
"Mistress Intuition" by Veela with Helion.

Their time, spent in this place
Is greater then their looks
Step off this starlight train
And wonder if they’re good
They’re marked dually
As a token of their past
Through gashes thankfully
Soothe and let it pass

Earth is the hold, they are the kite
With silk that glows into the night
Cars are the dust, they are the pyrite
Conjuring lust out of a fight

They’re fighting over her
She answers to no one and
Leaves her chin up high to
Challenge this world
And so she takes her hand
And tells her all her secrets
Cries out
“Nobody can love us
If we’re made of stars”

(Stars) are young and they know their place
Nobody’s ever kept her down without a trace they’re
Free from love yet free from closeness
The closest thing they’ve got to the perfect constant
Single mistress intuition
If she barks out orders then we must complete them
One must hear and one must see
They both must create but they’ve been assigned
To each

"It has thirteen rounds in the magazine, and I know how to use it.
"Yes! I knew you had it!" Hitomi beamed a big smile and gestured in an enthusiastic fist-pump while trying to keep her voice down.

I don't suppose you can call the real Elgin MPs on your cell phone?
Hearing the news Toph just shared clearly made Hitomi's evening despite the incoming danger outside. "That's probably not a good idea, and besides, I'm using the phone." She turned to the phone. "Did you catch that?"

Toph caught that the question was not aimed at her.

"I most certainly did," came a voice from Hitomi's smartphone. "She interacted with your pistol. Excellent. That alone makes all this worth it." It was male, baritone, heavy-sounding. Toph sensed it belonged to someone older and wiser than either of them. Toph could not quite tell if the accent was British, American, or a mixture of both. Whatever the case, this person spoke with natural authority and great will, perhaps even beyond that of Hitomi.

"Now listen! You have six Brutes outside with tasers and flashbangs. Get away from the front door."

Hitomi had already thought of that. "Done. We're in hard cover by the women's restrooms."

"They are not going around back. They think the window is too small for you." Toph knew those windows might be small enough for her to squeeze through, but Hitomi was just a touch taller. Toph also knew that while typical barracks had at least three exits, this school had boarded up two of the three to place full-size mirrors and other equipment. The front door was effectively the only way in or out.

Toph heard the sounds of violence against the front door. With each it it buckled and jarred. "Good thing the Brutes don't know how to pick a lock. We're ready to fight."

"Absolutely not. We cannot fight this out; the incoming police will get caught in the crossfire and the Brutes will kill them and hide their corpses. Escape through the back window in the men's restrooms."

"What?" Beckoning for Toph, Hitomi immediately broke her cover and circled around to enter the men's restrooms. "But the window there is the same size as the women's."

"Look for a screwdriver on one of the window sills. The screws have been removed from that sill. Just force it and the window will fall quietly to the grass. I will be there by the time you are out."

Hitomi did not second-guess the person on the other end of the phone. The front door cracked. Both Toph and Hitomi heard the hinges coming loose from the wall that held them in. "Get in there!" An angry-sounding woman shouted from that direction. "Get that pink-haired Zentraedi scum! She's gonna pay!"

Hitomi wasted no time. She ran into the restroom and shone the light from her phone onto the windowsills. Sure enough, there was a screwdriver upon one of them. A quick glance at the frame showed no screws. The window itself was divided into two parts by a strong-looking metal bar. This bar could be struck without breaking the glass, but only by someone with great height or terrific skill in the martial arts. A solid flying jump kick would dislodge the window assembly without breaking the window and alerting the enemies at the front door.

"No time," Hitomi told Toph. "We have to move."

Toph has the following options:
1. Shoot at the metal bar with Hitomi's pistol.
2. Perform a flying jump kick on the bar and knock out the window assembly.
3. Return to the front of the men's restroom, wait, and shoot at the enemies as they come through the front door.
4. Ask Hitomi to kick the window assembly out.
5. Anything else Toph can think of.

What does Toph do?
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Princess Psychie
Toph is confused, but doesn't let that stop her from moving with a purpose to keep the two of them alive.  After that blast, the other bad guys are pretty pissed off at us.  Even if they were only after me at first, they won't let Hitomi get away if they can help it.  We have to escape together.  "I'm not going to waste any time asking questions, but by God you had best give me one hell of an explanation for what is going on.  Lets get us both out of here."  With the instructions from the man on the phone, it suddenly struck Toph that this is just like Neo in The Matrix as he's being chased by Agent Smith.  So, what does that mean for me?  Am I the One?  Stifling a nervous giggle at the thought, she stealthily moves through the dojo towards the bathroom, pistol at the ready.

Seeing the metal bar, Toph is starting to believe that all of this has been preplanned as a test for her somehow.  She could ask her friend to do it, but somehow that doesn't feel right.  But what if I can't do it?  No!  Don't doubt yourself!  Know you can do it!  With that in mind, she says, "Hitomi, step back.  I'm going to give this a go."  Taking a moment to plant her feet, she focuses on the bar, then, unless Hitomi stops her, she will charge at the window and try the leap kick.

EDIT  I didn't specify that I am aiming for the bar, not the window, but that's what I'm doing.
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Kaerri's Man. =)
"I'm not going to waste any time asking questions, but by God you had best give me one hell of an explanation for what is going on.  Lets get us both out of here."
Hitomi paused in thought but for a split-second.  Then she replied, "Look, I promise to tell you what I can.  Later.  Just understand - we need answers from you too.  You could say we're..." she looked worried for a moment, "...out of the loop concerning some very important things."

Seeing the metal bar, Toph is starting to believe that all of this has been preplanned as a test for her somehow.  
As if on its own, her mind replayed the scene of the three "soldiers" who wanted Toph to get in the car with them.  Then the thrown purse.  Then the violent explosion, unfakeable, no Hollywood effects.  The panicked, desperate looks on the faces of those three men before the contents of Hitomi's bag reduced their living, breathing bodies into fine red mist.  The immediate blast that followed, throwing both Toph and Hitomi against the school as if they weighed ounces instead of pounds.  

Toph's medical education tells her that such things happen when mega-damage explosions (or tremendous amounts of S.D.C. damage) catch things like people in their incredibly-destructive wakes.  

That same education plus her inner instinct seem to be trying to tell her that those men are not acting - those men are dead.

"Hitomi, step back.  I'm going to give this a go."
"Go for it.  Give me my pistol back and I'll watch the door.  If it's just Brutes, they'll throw the flashbangs first."  With that, Hitomi took a kneeling, defensive position and let Toph do her thing.  Hitomi's expression was cool and ready.

Toph assumed her fighting stance and threw everything she had at the bar.  She flew through the air and planted her heel into the target, aiming not at the target, but beyond it.  Proper technique advised she relax her body until the very moment of impact when she expanded her energy and exhaled with all the considerable force she possessed.  She struck with all that she was taught.  

It was enough.  With proper momentum and technique, the once-stubborn window assembly dislodged and fell outside.  Toph did not hear it strike anything outside.  Beyond the opening, darkness swallowed the back of the school.  Hundreds of yards in the distance, the white lights of street lamps from Eglin's outer security fences with their wicked curls of barbed wire shone under the black of the night sky.


Blinding lights flared and deafening explosions erupted from behind them, from the inside of the school.

"I am in your truck," spoke Hitomi's smartphone.

As Toph and Hitomi exited the opening Toph had created, their shoes touched upon soft grass and dirt as their eyes began to adjust to the deeper gloom of the outside.  There, to their left, came the sound of a hover vehicle.  It appeared to be a utility hover truck.  Toph recognized it as Hitomi's.  It had its lights off.  Hitomi ran toward it unhesitatingly.  

But, as Toph's memory reminded her, there was at least one M-770 staff car out front.  Toph might make her own way out with it.

What does Toph do?


Princess Psychie
Hitomi paused in thought but for a split-second.  Then she replied, "Look, I promise to tell you what I can.  Later.  Just understand - we need answers from you too.  You could say we're..." she looked worried for a moment, "...out of the loop concerning some very important things."
Toph lets out a bark of laughter.  "Are you kidding me?  I feel like this is all a bad dream, and sooner or later, I'll wake up and blame my burrito dinner I had for having all of this in my head.  I freaking-well clueless; I'm just going with the flow!"  

But, as Toph's memory reminded her, there was at least one M-770 staff car out front.  Toph might make her own way out with it.
She pulls her knife out of her stocking top and breaks into a full sprint.  If Hitomi wanted her dead or captured, she wouldn't have said anything when the three thugs were first trying to grab her.  "Can your truck beat a staff car in a road race?  We'll have a head start, but I doubt that they will just let us go."


Kaerri's Man. =)
Toph lets out a bark of laughter. "Are you kidding me? I feel like this is all a bad dream, and sooner or later, I'll wake up and blame my burrito dinner I had for having all of this in my head. I freaking-well clueless; I'm just going with the flow!"
"Toph, as your guest instructor, medical practitioner, and fellow human being, I tell you - I wish I were kidding you." Hitomi kept her pistol in her hand and grinned. "As for going with the flow, well, that makes two of us!"

"Can your truck beat a staff car in a road race? We'll have a head start, but I doubt that they will just let us go."
"It can't and they won't." Hitomi's eyes went wide as she and Toph ran to the truck. She looked surprised for it appeared she had no solution beyond this point. However...

... both ladies saw the two passenger doors on the hovertruck open to accept them. The voice on the phone also seemed to come from the driver's seat. It provided a thoughtful answer to Toph's queries.

"A scientist who is not routinely thorough... has no business being a scientist. Their cars have been taken care of."

Hitomi jumped in the back seat, closed the door, holstered her pistol, and put on her seat belt. As Toph entered the front passenger seat, she saw her driver - an enormous man dressed in an equally-enormous black raincoat putting away a classy smartphone. His navy blue Armani suit was stylish and truly upper-class along with the black and holographically-lit starlit tie that peeked out and sparkled from time to time.

As for the man himself, he was quite round and heavy with a great, white mane and flowing beard that traveled down his chest nearly to his waist. His hands were large, but not pudgy and his skin while aged was not unhealthy with the scars of stress or injury. Instead, he seemed like one big lion of a man with piercing blue eyes filled with resolve. For the moment, he also wore a wide smile with a big sigh full of relief, not just for Hitomi, but apparently for Toph, too.

(Game Master note: This picture is as close as I have found to this man.)
Now just imagine him fat and tall and that's almost him. =)
steven-hermans-oldsoldier.jpg www.artstation.com.jpg

"Toph Kirin," Hitomi played with her smartphone, "may I introduce to you Professor Arthur Stein."

As if on cue, several loud and fiery explosions ripped through the night at the front of the school. Mega-damage explosions. They lit the sky and were accompanied by the sounds of twisting metal and the very brief sounds of shouts stopped short.

Hitomi looked back over her shoulder, her black hair shining. She chuckled as she made a guess. "Professor, was that their cars?"

The professor grinned nonchalantly. "Told you they were taken care of." As the car sped along without the aid of headlights, Hitomi seemed to relax, but the same cannot be said of the driver. He hardly blinked, so focused was he on whatever was going through his mind.

"Injures?" he asked Hitomi.


"Then tell me," he looked at Toph seriously and pointedly. "What precisely did the pistol tell you?"
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Princess Psychie
Toph feels a bit like Alice in Wonderland, falling down the rabbit hole (just like Neo!  I am the One!).  "Uh, thank you for the timely rescue, Professor Stein."  She leans her head back on the seat with her eyes closed, thoughts racing.  What the hell is going on?  "The pistol didn't exactly say anything; it was . . . I'm sorry, this is hard to explain.  I've never dealt with anything like this before, and I'm trying to find the right words."  She opens her eyes once more and looks over at the old man next to her.  Hopefully, this is not a part of the effort to abduct her, using Hitomi as a tool to get her into the car willingly.  "It was as if I knew all about the pistol, like looking at a picture of the blueprints of it, but even that's not quite right.  It was the strangest thing, it was like I just knew the number of bullets in the magazine, just like I know that the sun will rise in the east every day, and two plus two equals four.  I have no idea where this sudden knowledge came from; its not like I am an expert in projectile weapons.  All of the guns I've worked with in training are energy weapons, not slug throwers, so it wasn't from any book that I've read or time spent at the range with a pistol like that one.  It was . . . from somewhere else.  Unless Hitomi told me some time ago, but I don't ever remember seeing her with a gun before.  No.  That's not it.  It wasn't from inside me, does that make any sense?"

"Listen to me; I'm babbling.  I am just so confused right now.  Who were those people, and what do they want with me?  It has something to do with this sudden flash of knowledge that I got, doesn't it?  You want me for the same reason, don't you?"  Her hand is still clutching the knife, but she makes no effort to use it.  "That's why Hitomi came to the school, to contact me about this, right?  I need some answers from you, sir.  Please.  Tell me what is going on."


Kaerri's Man. =)
"Uh, thank you for the timely rescue, Professor Stein."
His reply was courteous. "You are welcome, my dear. It was the least I could do."

I've never dealt with anything like this before, and I'm trying to find the right words."
"Take your time, dear one," he said with calm and care, "You've been through a lot." The professor then listened to Toph's every word without interruption and with the deepest interest. He spoke again once she had another question.

It wasn't from inside me, does that make any sense?"
"No sense at all, I'm afraid, but then again, I don't understand this process very well myself yet." He gave a hearty chuckle as if looking forward to the day when he did.

"Listen to me; I'm babbling. I am just so confused right now. Who were those people, and what do they want with me? It has something to do with this sudden flash of knowledge that I got, doesn't it? You want me for the same reason, don't you?" Her hand is still clutching the knife, but she makes no effort to use it. "That's why Hitomi came to the school, to contact me about this, right? I need some answers from you, sir. Please. Tell me what is going on."
"I will, but I pray you will excuse me for just a moment here. "Hitomi," he glanced in the rear-view mirror. "What did she say again? I only caught part of it over the phone."

Hitomi thought for but a moment. "She said, 'It has thirteen rounds in the magazine, and I know how to use it.'"

The professor relaxed in his seat with a pleased sigh. "Well, that proves it. Now on to your questions..." Professor Stein took each of Toph's questions as if the three of them were sitting comfortably in a classroom together and not driving away from the madness of explosions, violence, and flying bodies. His manner was serious and thoughtful as he put care into his every answer. There was something compassionate in his tone when he addressed Toph, but from where that feeling stemmed, Toph could not tell.

"Those people were, or rather are, the Anti-Unification League. In the past few years, they have come under new management as the saying goes, and now they want to kill people like you for a variety of reasons. Put simply, they hate you because you are part-Zentraedi. I don't see how they could possibly know that you can do what you do or they would have struck sooner. However, if those facts are correct and my other evidence is true, then I fail to understand is why they wanted to capture you at all."

Hitomi spoke up. "They mentioned they knew what her father did."

"Ahhh," the professor smiled and there was the glimmer of joy in his eye as if he were looking into the past instead of driving a hovertruck through the darkness. "Old Hiroshi-san. As if he had ever done anything to offend the AUL besides falling in love with your beautiful mother... No, the AUL does not want Hiroshi, they want what he has. But we'll speak more about him in a moment."

"No, child. I want you because I owe Hiroshi-san that much." Professor Stein gave a curious, happy look at Toph, as if seeing a different Toph altogether. "Your father and I were very good friends before we were forced to go our separate ways and long before the two of us got old and gray like now. Heh! I can and will prove that, by the way. I do not expect you to take me solely on faith." He patted his smartphone.

"Hiroshi-san and I are warriors in different wars. Put plainly, long ago I needed to get out of his life before the war Hitomi and I are involved in affected him and you. He and I sadly parted ways in Kyoto... God, what has it been? Over two decades ago at least... and I have missed him ever since."

He pointed parentally at Toph but otherwise kept his hands on the wheel. "As for you, my dear, about a month ago, I came across your name on a AUL hit list... which is the last place I expected to see it and where it never should have been. Someone out there in this new AUL here in Florida knows without a doubt of your Meltrandi heritage and, lest you turn out to be a Malcontent spy, probably wants you killed before you destroy all of Eglin base or some other such nonsense."

He shook his head causing his mane to toss back and forth. "No. I know just enough about who you are today to know that you would never betray Hiroshi-san or Zyorna. You have too much of your mother in you to do that. I am betting you're here to do as your father does - save Earth from the Zentraedi threat. The real Zentraedi threat, that is; not what the new Anti-Unification League believes."

"So, yes. That is precisely why I sent the wonderful and talented Miss Hitomi here ahead of me. Not only to locate you, but to protect you, and learn about you if you were open to that."

Hitomi leaned around the seat in an attempt to look Toph in the eye. "It is what it sounds like, Toph - I've been spying on you since before we met and protecting you since I began instructing at your Jeet Kune Do school." She raised one red painted nail. "But, it's just me and the professor here. Not Elinor or any of the others. They know nothing about any of this."

"And as I should have known, you two hit it off! How fortuitous for all involved!" Professor Stein's laugh made his belly jiggle, but then he looked to Toph with a serious smile. "But still, I have had the aching feeling that I have been gone too long. Far too long. We learned about your mother galavanting off with Admiral Hayes-Hunter and the rest of the SDF-3 to Tirol to take on the Robotech Masters. But there is a great deal we don't know about the situation in Florida, and I for one am eager to see what I've missed." He broke into laughter again.

"For example, let's talk about Hiroshi-san! How is the old boy these days? Does he live nearby? Visits you often? Has he grown a beard yet? Oh, and tell me he finally got around to learning how to make his own damned sushi! Hah!" He slapped his thigh and tapped his smartphone. 'Ohhh, when he sees these old videos again, he is going to flip his wig all over again! Ha ha!"

Hitomi smiled at the professor with a happy and hopeful expression that told Toph that, of the three of you, only Toph knew the truth about her father...
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Princess Psychie
All this talk of her father brings a wave of memories back to her.  Walking in the park while holding his hand, bouncing on his knee, falling asleep on his lap, all the laughter and tears that a lifetime of love will generate.  "You were good friends with daddy, I can tell from the way you speak of him, so I am sorry to be the one to tell you that . . . he was shot down many years ago in the Control Zone."  Even after all these years, talking about his death brings a lump to her throat and Toph can feel her eyes welling up with tears.  "A rescue team was sent in to pull him out, but he was never found, and the RDF marked him as Killed in Action.  For a long time, I would dream that he wasn't really dead, but off on some super secret mission and that, someday, he would come back to me and mom and everything would be just like it was before.  Kinda silly, when you think about it, bu I was young.  Mom took it pretty hard, though.  I think that is the real reason why she left Earth with the SDF-3 mission, not to help liberate Tyrol, but to get away from all the memories of daddy that being on Earth brings up."  She is quiet for a moment, then lets out a sigh.  "I'm sorry.  I wish it were better news."


Kaerri's Man. =)
(Spoiler contains more GM inspiration music. I could not stop thinking about the lyrics in this song while writing this.)
Holding Back the Years by Simply Red

"Holding back the years
Thinking of the fear I've had so long
When somebody hears
Listen to the fear that's gone

Strangled by the wishes of Pater
Hoping for the arms of Mater
Get to meet her sooner or later

I'll keep holding on
I'll keep holding on
Holding back the years
Chance for me escape from all I've known

Holding back the tears
Cause nothing here has grown
I've wasted all my tears
Wasted all those years

And nothing had the chance to be good
Nothing ever could
I'll keep holding on
I'll keep holding on

I'll keep holding on
I'll keep holding on
That's all I have today
That's all I have to say"

"You were good friends with daddy, I can tell from the way you speak of him, so I am sorry to be the one to tell you that . . . he was shot down many years ago in the Control Zone."

Stein's eyes flashed wide and terribly as the wounded lion inside of him came out and roared in pain and terror. He pulled the hover truck to a stop; he was not gentle about it.

He faced Toph with a horrible countenance, coursing with sudden rage and bloodthirsty resolve. "Who got him?! Tell me! Who?!" His tone was so harsh he may as well have been asking Toph "Tell me who I have to kill!"

He listened more intently than ever to Toph's every word as she explained.

"I'm sorry. I wish it were better news."
Hearing this, the old man in the driver's seat suddenly looked much, much older. He put the truck in park. He shrank down. His wrinkled head slowly fell forward into one large open hand. "God!" His mind seemed to throw thoughts at him in a wild and incredible rush. His free hand clutched the steering wheel, holding on tightly, but in truth, it was not the wheel he clung to with such emotion. He looked up through the windshield and toward the open sky.

"I was gone too long! I should have been here sooner! At least it wasn't..."

Then another thought took hold of him. Rapidly, he whispered. "Dammit, Hiro! Now what in the hell do you want me to do? She's your daughter!" He pounded the mega-damage dashboard once. It shook from his wrath.

A long silent moment passed.

Finally, the professor turned again to Toph, his eyes moist. He wore the biggest frown anyone had ever seen on a man. "Your mother. The Meltrandi beauty that Hiro fell for. I got hold of a personnel log for the SDF-3 that stated one "Zyorna Kirin" was on board. That leaves you here. Alone. Unenlightened."

He sighed. "And open to future attempts by the damned AUL." He stared up at the sky again. "So now I get to pray to God or whatever that you glow tomorrow. Otherwise... you go with Hiram and I wind up with little say in your safety..."

He wiped his eyes and stared at the street. Then he turned to Toph. "I'm sorry, dear. I have said too much and likely confused you. I... want you to know that I will help you in any way that I can. I owe it to Hiroshi-san. I just don't know how long I will be around to deliver that help, so..." he tried to grin, "... just try to be ready for anything. For Hiro's sake." He did not know exactly what he had meant by those last words, but it felt right to say them.

From the back of the car came a compassionate voice.


"Yes. Do take the wheel, please." Hitomi and Professor Stein switched seats.

As Hitomi drove on, Professor Stein produced a tablet from a briefcase in the back seat. This, he turned on along with his smartphone. After interacting with both devices, the tablet glowed to life before Toph's view. "Here," Stein pressed it into her hands. "So you know I am not just blowing smoke."

There, on the screen before Toph's eyes, a picture rose to the screen. It was her father with black hair and Professor Stein with brown hair. Arthur Stein looked about 75 pounds lighter in a wrinkled lab coat and a shirt that read, "Scientists Take You Higher." Hiroshi looked to be as fit as ever. His pilot's uniform was crisp and neat. He looked every bit the officer (off-duty, that is). They were smiling inside what looked like a busy sushi bar as Stein set up the recording device. Background music played as Japanese people in various styles of attire strolled through the wet streets of some bright city filled with life and light. Cars passed by outside but Toph's father and Stein were too occupied with what was at the table to notice anything beyond it.

(Spoiler haz moar terrific mood music. =) )
"One Wish" (special remix) by Hiroshima (instrumental). What a wonderful sound they make!

As Stein stabilized the camera, Hiroshi held a ceramic container of warm saké. Wobbling, he served Stein first, then himself. From the way they were swaying and slurring, these were clearly not their first cups of the night. Both men had smiles as wide as the countryside. Their expressive hands were constantly in motion.

"There!" Stein clapped his friend's shoulder. "We are recording! Hello, world!"

Hiroshi's proud Japanese features were just as sharp as his accent. He pointed at the camera excitedly. "Tonight is night of history! We make'a bet!"

"A bet you're going to lose, Hiro! And it will all be digitally recorded for the world to see forever!"

Hiroshi shook his head mirthfully. "Hai! Whole world going to see you lose! And when you lose? You pay for dinner!"

""Whaaaat? I'm not the blasted baka who's going to lose! You are!"

(OOC translation from Japanese)
Hai! = "Yes!"
Baka = "Idiot."

"You think'a so?"

"I do think so! There is no way I am going to swallow this, no matter how much saké I drink!"

"You no undastand! Japanese food is best in all whole Earth! Nobody resist!"

"Well, I sure as hell can! Raw fish? Are you insane?!"

Hiroshi stood briefly and reached for something behind the camera. "Arigato gosai mas!"

(OOC translation from Japanese)
"Arigato gosai mas!" = "Thank you very much!"

"Hai," murmured someone from behind the camera and bar.

Hiroshi held in his hands a beautiful plate of well-presented and colorful sushi. It looked so fresh, the seaweed seemed to gleam in the light. "Ohhhh," he put the plate before Stein. Then he poured something black into a small bowl and presented that too.

"All right, now how do I do this?"

"I make'a it easy! You take'a da sushi in your hand. Like dis, Atha." Hiroshi had trouble saying "Arthur," not that Stein seemed to care.

Stein looked at what was for him a tiny morsel and grimaced. "Disgusting..."

"Now, you take'a sushi and'a... dip." He pointed at the small bowl. Stein obeyed with great caution and trepidation.

"Hiroshi-san! If you're trying to poison me, so help me God..."

Hiroshi ignored this. He raised his hands heavenward. "Atha! I make'a easy for you! I want you yell, "Banzai!" Put whole sushi in mouth! And chew!"

(OOC translation)
Banzai! = An all-purpose cheer with or without military overtones. The shout banzai – Typically with both arms swung upward in time with the cries – is the same cry as the above: a generic cheer of enthusiasm, victory, or support. It's a Chinese-derived term meaning "ten thousand years", used in Chinese (萬歲 or 万岁, wànsuì) and Korean (만세, manse) as well. The implication, of course, is a wish that the lauded accomplishment or person should continue on for ten thousand years. It's essentially the same as "Long live [the Queen / the Republic / disco / whatever]!", but ten thousand years long.
Source: homejapan.com

Stein stared at Hiroshi as if he were a madman. Then a look crossed his face as he contemplated his next course of action as if he were wondering if he were the madman for even considering it.

"Come! Come!"

"I'm not afraid to eat... raw fish!"

"You enjoy! Then you pay for dinner!"

"No! I nearly die, spit it out, then you pay!"

Hiroshi was undimmed. "We see now! Come, Atha! Banzaaai!"

Arthur Stein summoned up his considerable courage. He took a deep breath and stared at Hiroshi with those strong, willful eyes. Then, with all his might, he yelled "Banzaaaaaaaaai!" Every head in the bar turned. People got quiet. Stein picked up the sushi, closed his eyes, and put it in his mouth.

Immediately he began to chew.

And chew...

And chew...

"AHHH!" Hiroshi beamed and pointed straight at Stein's face. He had not spit nor choked nor reached for any saké. "I know dat face! I know dat face!"

Stein shook his head violently in denial.

"You like it! Yooooou liiiike! Hai!!"

He shook his head even faster causing his thick brown mane to fly about chaotically.

"HAI!! I win!"

Stein gulped the sushi down and slammed his fist on the counter. "Godammit, Hiroshi-san!!" Stein reached for his wallet. "You son of a bitch! You knew all along I would like it!!"


"Banzaaaai!" Arm in arm, both men swayed and roared as they went for more sushi and saké together. People in the bar began to yell and cheer with them. Outside the bar, more people began looking in.

Then the tablet screen in the hover truck went dim and silent.

Professor Arthur Stein smiled an aching smile and let his long tears fall freely. He stared at the screen for some time. "You son of a bitch," he whispered warmly.

Hitomi chimed in as the hover truck slowly and smoothly pulled up to Toph's quarters. Stein looked at Toph's face with a fatherly look. "Tomorrow," he told her. "Tomorrow morning in fact, we will see each other again. What happens there will... possibly change a lot of things. I'll see you then."

"Take care, Toph! Try to sleep tonight." Looking as beautiful as ever, Hitomi waved goodnight.

(Game Master note: This concludes the prologue for Toph "Scorch" Kirin. Psychie, while you are welcome to reply to this in-character, providing Toph's thoughts and feelings, I believe the next time we roleplay Kirin will be in Chapter One. =) )
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