World 7: Star Trek TNG – Episode Zero

A Conclusion Devoutly to be Wished – Episode Zero

EAST IS EAST

Previously: Another Ancient Lolita,  War Comes to the Thousand Acre Woods, Finale: Time and Tide

Themesong: These Dreams by Heart

AN: This chapter has been a loooong time coming. I’ve been plotting this for several years, and the massive bulk of the Solace of Manticore, Undertale Isekai, and Naruto Arcs are testament to just how… nervous I was about it all. I know it frustrates some of you that I haven’t finished those chapters of EssJay’s story, but I had so much fun writing each of them that I didn’t want to just do short form synopses like I normally do. That said, I have those synopsis written and will post them once the TNG arc is over. The reason I haven’t posted them already will become obvious as you read this. And despite the title, this is not the end of the EssJay chain, but following this I’ll be going back to shorter pieces once for the most part. Long form fiction is fun, but massively draining. I do hope to continue with new chapters of the three novels (Solace, Undertale, Naruto), but not until I’ve concluded the thing that necessitated their creation in the first place. And now, Episode Zero.

I woke up knowing something was very, very wrong. Everything hurt… or at least, everything didn’t feel right. I was laying, face down, on something very hard. Harder than any matter had any business being. It was very dark, wherever I was, and my body felt heavier, more mortal than it ever had at any time in the past… I tried to remember how long and found my memory an absolute mess. Fifteen thousand years were jumbled and fragmented, the immaculate order of my Mental Palace a shattered ruin, empty and abandoned.

I rolled over. Still darkness. Darkness all around me, oppressive and yet weightless. I lay there, breathing slowly, waiting for something to happen, and as I did so I reviewed the last thing I had clear memory of.

I’d been Sochizuka Jouya, Grand Duchess of … I couldn’t remember exactly, and I’d set out on a solo quest, just a few days of relaxation by myself, something my wives and concubines and familiars had all insisted I needed… they were up to something. That was clear. I’d gated to a remote watch-tower that had overlooked the foothills of the world’s largest volcano, something that almost rivaled mighty Olympus Mons of Mars. In long teleporting jumps, I’d scaled the mountain until I reached a cave near the top… and… and then I’d fallen. Fallen into darkness… and here I lay. 

I was no longer Sochizuka Jouya… I could sense that. I was too logical, too calm. She was fiery and energetic. I was not. Somehow I could tell that whatever drawbacks she’d been under, I was no longer bound by. This was the space between jumps… but not my Warehouse. No… this was colder, darker… this was the space the Warehouse should have occupied… a giant hole in the firmament.

Firmament. Well then… why not.

Inhaling deeply, I bellowed, “YEHI OR!!” It was an old, old Hebrew phrase, more commonly known to the western world as the Latin Phrase “Lux Sit”… or even more commonly “Fiat Lux”. Before Latin, it had been the Greek phrase “Genēthētō Phōs”. In English, it was translated as “Let there be LIGHT!”

With a bloom like the dawn of the very first day, there was light. I beheld it and… it was okay. It was shaped like a young woman and hovered in midair above me, slowly descending until it landed, toe first, on the nothingness I was laying upon.

“Hi!” I said to myself.

“Hello,” I responded. I recognized her; she was me from when I’d been a teenager. The original time. “Wanna tell me what the hell is going on?”

“Kinda… can’t,” my younger self said. “Not cause I don’t wanna, but because a) it doesn’t make any god damned sense, and b) because I was told not to.”

“By who?” I asked.

“My Benefactor. Look…” she took a deep breath and softened in the face of my irritated expression. I’ve never been fond of mirrors or pictures of myself, but I’ve seen that expression far too often, and knew the expression that provoked it. “I’m this thing called a Jumper. Zed the Jumper. The Silverlady is my Benefactor. I’m hoping you still remember what a Jumper is? What a Benefactor is?”

“I do, yes,” I agreed. I’d never heard of the Silverlady… but sure. I didn’t think this Zed was lying to me, but it was clear she didn’t have my ‘speak truth and have it be believed perk.’ Then again, I was fairly certain that, at the moment, I didn’t either. “Do you know who I am?”

“You’re EssJay the Jumper, and your Benefactor was The Banker. Then Mensarius and The Banker. Then The Chamber or Jump-Chan as you called her. Then yourself… Then God… and now… no one.”

“So my Chain is broken?” I asked. “Time to go home?”

“Broken,” Zed agreed. “But not failed. Higher, that is the whatevers that empower the Benefactors, is trying to figure out what happened in somewhere called the HonorVerse… sounds ghastly. Anyway, too many factors there didn’t make sense there or something. They had my boss, Silverlady, send me into your Warehouse… and boy is it a lot less fun than my Warehouse and disconnect it from the HonorVerse. That was all I could do before I got booted by your security… I should have some of that… but all I have is about a hundred-thousand ghost ferrets… so same thing I guess… what was I saying?”

I groaned. This was definitely me at sixteen or seventeen. “You were admitting to violating my personal space for reasons unclear before getting bounced because while you’re a me you’re not the right me?”

“Right! Right! Anyway, apparently Silverlady recruited me in the first place to do this but, like picked me from all the potential versions of you because I’m the craziest? Which I can get behind,” she said happily enough. “Anyway, I’m you, but, like… actually fun.”

“And you’re here to rub my nose in it?” I asked, somewhat archly. This wasn’t even close to being the craziest conversation I’d ever had… wasn’t exactly certain what was at the moment, but I was pretty darned certain of that fact. “Or is there anything you actually can explain?”

“Oh. Yeah. Totes,” she said. “Like… Your chain is completely borked. You’ve got no Benefactor any more and exactly no access to the Console… I’m sooo envy by the way! I want one! It’s no fair that you have… had… anyway… right,” she shook her head to clear it. “No Console. No Benefactor… you’ll have to do this the old fashioned way.” She tossed something at me.

I caught it. It was a backpack… not a large one and not particularly heavy. “What’s this?”

“I snagged it before I was booted,” she said. “It’s a document.”

She was beginning to fade, but I understood what she meant, so I didn’t waste any time. “Where are my companions?” I asked.

“Safe!” she replied. “Safer than you are. This space is collapsing. You don’t have much…” but then she was gone and I was alone in the darkness again.

I sat on the floor and opened the backpack. Inside was a Star Fleet issue pad. On the display it said “Star Trek: TNG & DS9”… and below that “CHOICE BALANCE: ZERO” Next to that were several touch screen buttons: Status, Skills, Perks, Items, Companions, and Drawbacks. And, in the corner, so faint it could be easily missed, was a tiny rotating letter ‘Q’.

Sighing, I tapped it. What the hell; I was already boned six ways to Sunday. “Hiya John,” I said as a starpoint of light flashed and I found myself on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise D. I was wearing my S’Janus form and a seriously outdated Starfleet uniform.

“Please!” the being who looked like John DeLancy said. “I’m not him, you know.”

“Yes, I know. You just look like him, but it amuses me to call you that,” I said, utterly deadpan.

“Vulcans shouldn’t be amused,” he chided, “But that’s neither here nor there. Space: the final frontier. Blah, blah, blah. Voyages, blah blah. Mission to explore whatever. Anyway, it seems as if you’ve been abandoned by your Benefactors or whatever it is that you call them. Normally I guess they’d be doing this whole introduction thing, but I find it all so fascinating that I figured I’d step in and fill the void. What do you say?”

“You providing the Choice, or just the narration?” I asked, quirking one of my very arch eyebrows.

“As it turns out,” he grinned even more archly. “I am! I happen to have a way for you to get some extra Choice… I won this,” he held up a scroll, “from this very interested Arcturian. Normally, someone such as you wouldn’t be eligible… but in your current state, divested of all those lovely Jumper Perks of yours… you’re perfect for this.”

“What, exactly, do you mean by that?” I asked. I had to admit, I was intrigued by anything Q thought I might be perfect for.

“Every epic story has a beginning,” he said, tugging down his red command tunic just like JeanLuc did. “Every long journey has a first step.”

“Yes?” I questioned. “What’s your point?”

“Just as every franchise has its first installment, every jumper has a first jump!” he crowed, looking pleased with himself.

“I know,” I agreed somewhat grumpily. “I had mine. It was Pokemon.”

“Ah, ah, ah!” he said all too cheerfully, waggling his finger at me. “But you, my dear Jumper, are in a bit of a pickle! Your chain is broken, and in order to reforge it…” he left the idea hanging.

“I have to restart it… oh, by the lords of logic… you’ve got to be kidding me!”

“I don’t!” he almost giggled. “This will be ever so much fun!”

“I seriously doubt it,” I snarked. “So… what? The idea is that S’Janus will get her own chain?”

“Exactly! But instead of going to all those other places, we’ll do it all in this galaxy!”

“What do you mean, ‘All those other places’?” I asked with a growing frown.

“Well… this isn’t so much a starter jump as a survey… ten micro-jumps, scenarios if you will, in order to properly prepare you for the wide variety of environments and settings you’ll be encountering going forward,” he said, all too cheerfully.

“You’re waiting to drop both shoes,” I rolled my eyes as I realized what he was doing.

“Well… because this is something of a tutorial, you won’t be dying on any of these little adventures… Well… you might, but that will just restart the scenario from the beginning. The only way to really fail is to give up. If and only if you don’t retry will you wash out for good and all.”

Very, very calmly, I smashed the datapad against my own forehead. “Oh. for Spock’s sake. You can’t be serious!”

“I can! And since you don’t have a Warehouse, you’ll not be taking anything with you that you haven’t paid for! Now… does this sound like a deal, or what?” He offered me his hand.

“No,” I replied with a grumpy growl. “It sounds like I’m being screwed, but you’ve got a deal. What doesn’t kill me…”

“Only makes you stranger!” the cosmic being agreed, shaking my hand… and then the world flashed again and we were in the Vulcan Academy of Sciences, in a testing pit. I was 10 years old again, standing there in a grey robe, looking at twelve screens surrounding me. “STATUS, DRAWBACKS & COMPLICATIONS, SLICE OF LIFE, SURVIVAL, HORROR, MILITARY, ADVENTURE, HEROICS, OCCULT, HISTORICAL, FANTASY, SPECULATION.”

I looked up, and yes, wearing the robes of an Academy Invigilator was a Vulcan John DeLanQ. “Very funny,” I snarked. 

“It seemed apropos,” he agreed.

Turning away from him as being irrelevant, I checked the STATUS Screen. It said

  • Species: Vulcan
  • Background: Drop-In
  • Skillset: Medical / Engineering / Physical Sciences
  • Perks: Body Mod, Scientific Mind, Highly Logical, Treknobabbler
  • Equipment: TR-580 Tricorder
  • Current CP Balance: 0

Well, that was interesting. I had, effectively, everything I’d bought as S’Janus and the Body Mod and, it seemed, nothing else. Even my memories were no longer fully reliable, and I realized that, of all the vast jumbling, the only periods I remembered clearly were my original life, my stay in TOS, and my time in God’s World with My Smartphone. Weird how useful that had been… I still remembered the general swaths of other things, but the specifics of the past… how long had it been?I was no longer certain. Millenia certainly… they were all hazy at best.

“So? How do we do this thing? Normally I have a pool of points, but since you aren’t providing, I’m guessing this will be funded with Drawbacks?” It wasn’t much of a challenge to figure that out… had I done something similar once before? It seemed likely but my memory was currently as broken as my chain.

“That’s correct, my dear finite creature!”

I smirked, cocking my head as I looked up at him. “Vulcans do not gloat, nor do they preen. Are you certain you are not Rihannsu?” I asked, using the Vulcan word for the Romulans. 

“I am whatever I feel like being,” he said, then leaned down over the pit and grinned hugely. “Do you want to start with the general or the specific?”

“Logic dictates the General, so tell me what you have in mind and stop wasting my eternity.” I would have given him the finger if I thought it would mean anything to him.

The Complications panel lit up and a complex logic problem appeared on it with a timer. As I struggled to solve it (it required thinking in seven dimensions), Q launched into his litany of harassment. “I’ll give you 200 Choice if you allow me to randomize the order of the scenarios,”

“Done,” I said before he tried justifying his reasoning.

“I’ll give you 300 if you sign up for ten of each scenario?” He was practically drooling at the idea of subjecting me to a hundred episodes of hell.

“Next,” I replied, not even humoring the idea.

“Aww…” he pretended to pout. “You’re no fun. Two Hundred if I ensure you’re unprepared for each scenario?”

“So I’ll have to react as things drop into the pot?” I asked, then shrugged. “How unprepared?”

“It’s a tutorial, so in this case you’d normally get whatever special abilities, traits, backgrounds, and skills are required for basic participation in the scenario you’re entering,” he said with a slight mieu of distaste at having to take on the role of lecturer. “The Occult Scenario would normally come with general knowledge of that world’s supernatural milieu, and perhaps a boost to psychic power if needed to bring you up to the average. The Fantasy Scenario might grant magical powers or prowess with some archaic melee weapon.”

“So I’d be giving up a bunch of minor power boosts and skills?” I asked. “That would normally be free? That sounds like a bad deal there, bo-buddy!” I’d almost called him ‘Boss’ but even sarcastically I wasn’t going to admit that Q was actually in charge.

“Not really,” he said with a shrug. “You wouldn’t get to keep the upgrades anyway. They’d be trial-size as your people put it. Well, Earthlings.”

“So, they go away at the end of the Scenario?” I considered, then nodded. “Why not. Prior Planning leads to Analysis Paralysis.” It wasn’t wise, perhaps, but to be honest, in emergency planning, the biggest issue is keeping a level head. New information would always be coming in and adapting to that calmly and rationally was worth almost any level of prior planning. And frankly, I’d had it up to high heaven with losing bits of myself. Better to not have and not lost in this case. “What’s next?” I asked. Not only was I ready for the next offer, but I’d finished the logic problem.

“Two hundred for a Power Loss Drawback?” He offered.

I frowned. “I don’t have any powers at the moment! That’s kinda the problem… one of many to be honest. What would you take away? My Vulcan Emotional control and telepathic abilities? My ability to bend the rules of physics with technology?”

“No… but each Scenario has specific perks. Take this and those perks will only be available during that Scenario.”

I thought about that for all of two seconds. “I’d get them back at the end, right?” He nodded. “Sure. I’ll take it. Next?”

“Amnesia for two-” he began.

I didn’t let him finish. “Next!”

“Total Amnesia for-”

Again I cut him off, but not to reject the offer. “Okay… you have my interest. What’s the difference between Amnesia and Total Amnesia?”

His grin would have done the Joker proud. “The first means you’d forget the details of each Scenario once you’ve finished it. The second means that you’d lose all memories from before entering this little adventure. No memories at all… especially none about Jumping.”

“Ah,” I said, feeling better and more clued in. “Next!”

He blinked. “But you asked!” He looked as if I’d stolen his candy.

“Just for clarity,” I pointed out. “Sometimes I want to know. Doesn’t mean I care.”

“Ugh… Mortals,” he muttered. “How about a scaling enemy?”

Well… that was a thing. “One who has all my powers? Or just one that’s roughly as powerful as I am?”

“One that is as skilled and as powerful as you are. One that will pursue you through each scenario. And if you manage to kill your enemy, they’ll just respawn in the next scenario.”

I frowned. “That sounds ghastly. How much is it worth?”

“Three hundred… and a garment that bears the legend ‘I survived a scaling enemy drawback and all I got was 300 Choice and this lousy T-shirt!’? That can’t be right.” He pulled out a script and checked it over. “Who wrote this!?”

“Someone with a sense of humor,” I said. “Sure. Not like I can really die. Groundhog Day, Hunted Edition. Let’s do this!” And like that, I had nine-hundred Choice and all it cost me was at least a decade of uncertainty, confusion, and (probably) dying a great many times. Still, a scaling enemy is really just a fifty-fifty chance… and unlike said enemy, I had a potentially unlimited number of coin-flips. My victory might not be easy or fast, but as long as I remained steadfast, it was inevitable.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Aside from Scenario Complications?” Q replied, “I suppose you might want some of the Drawbacks from the original as well… though you can’t combine the Choices. Each to each and never the twain shall meet.”

“You quote human cultural touchstones far too much for an alien quantum being who claims a disdain for humanity,” I pointed out, then plucked up the hovering tablet. It felt heavy in my smaller hands. “And you’re going to return me to adulthood before this whole thing begins for earnest, right?”

He just grinned.

I sighed and opened the Star Drawbacks section. Well, that was interesting. There were thirteen of them, and I knew that without counting because, for the first time (yes, I could remember all the other documents somehow… but not what I’d bought… arrgh) they were numbered. The first two were toggles, with the first offering to make the supplementary material… i.e. the novels and animated series that had come between TOS and TNG canon. I passed. I also passed on ‘Ensign Mary Sue’… when a fanfiction is so notorious it gives rise to an industry term for bad writing, you know it’s a bad idea. 

Coming out of the toggles was ‘Temporal Anomaly’ which had, helpfully, been selected for me. It made my previous tour of duty canon to my visit. So at least I started with a hundred Choice… a far cry from the thousand I should have had.

Next up was ‘TNG Era’ which was a hundred Choice simply for opting to stay for an additional decade… though it meant I’d start four years before TNG had. Hopefully this would mean I ended up on Voyager and stuck in the Delta Quadrant. I loved Janeway as a character… but in person I’d be forced to throttle her… and Nelix. Grudgingly, I took it. I needed the options more than I needed safety from the Kayzon Ogla.

The last hundred pointer was called Hybrid and it was greyed out. Makes sense. I was a Vulcan in this timeframe, not a half-and-half like Spock, Deanna Troi, or B’Elanna Torres… or Alexander… that was Worf’s kid? Or was he three-quarters Klingon? Can’t remember. Most frustrating. 

Number six was ‘Tragic Past’ and number seven was ‘Black Coat Society’, both for two hundred shiny Choice. The first meant that I’d been involved with some well documented incident that continued to haunt me to the current day. Since that was technically true of several of the events that I’d experienced as S’Janus… especially a certain act of nucleaic terrorism and a plague, both of which had killed millions and worn me to the breaking point. Taking it would mean that my reputation would be connected to that incident and there would be distrust of my stability or suitability for leadership roles… though with time and effort I’d be able to prove myself and earn their trust… if I could be bothered to.

The second meant that Section 31 would be trying to recruit me for my entire time here and, like a bunch of yandere stalkers, they’d keep coming after me no matter how many times I said no. Sure sure, they wouldn’t actually hurt me, but I could expect to be abducted or manipulated by them on a regular basis… what’s that? You don’t know who Section 31 are? They’re the Federation’s version of the Romulan Tal Shiar or the Cardiassian Obsidian Order… or, in more mundane terms, they’re Starfleet Intelligence’s Extraordinary Measures department, pledged to do whatever it takes to safeguard the security of the Federation.

There was, of course, one minor problem with the drawback. It assumed I’d turn them down. I have absolutely who would look at my history and think, “There’s a girl who wouldn’t join a secret organization dedicated to preserving freedom by less than nominally ethical means if needed!” But there it was. Effectively free points.

Then there were the three hundreds: ‘Recurring Character’, ‘Tortured Character’, and ‘Do Not Energize!’ The first meant that I wouldn’t be a crew member of either the Enterprise, or DS9… or Voyager! So… yeah. I took it, even though it meant that every time I crossed paths with Enterprise it would be at the worst possible moment and every time I was forced to visit DS9 something bad would happen. As for Tortured? I had no desire to become the next Reg Barkley… the universe’s punching bag. So… no. And DNE means that teleporter tech would kill me. So fuck that noise. 

I was at nine-hundred Choice… close enough to what I should have started with for government work… but there were still three more options… though two of them were just not going to fly. At six-hundred was ‘Resistance is Futile’ which would have the Borg invading the Alpha Quadrant early, and have Picard, Sisko, and Janeway all be dead. No. Just. No. At four-hundred was ‘So Disappointed in You’ which would make me the most wanted criminal in the Federation… which could be fun, but I didn’t really feel like spending the best part of two decades running from the Feds or sitting in a prison cell waiting for the Scaling Enemy to kill me.

And that left ‘Alien Threat’ (also at four-hundred). This was the flipside of Section 31… now the Tal Shiar and Obsidian order would be doing everything in their power to capture or kill me… so… sure, why not. Let’s test just how good of a spy I could be. Thirteen-hundred Space Choice! It was almost like being on a legit chain instead of loading myself down with penalties just to survive.

My face showed none of this, so I have no idea how much of my inner monologue Q was getting. As far as had been shown, Q were not mind readers, and their ability to read facial expressions from humans, let alone Vulcans was… questionable to say the least.

With stoic regard I contemplated the black walls of the testing pit, the questions I’d been solving without really thinking about the answers as I’d run through the permutations of self-inflicted punishment. Ten scenarios to plan for? Or one overarching setting. Clearly, the setting had to come first.

There were multiple Backgrounds in the Datapad, but I’d been locked into Drop-In, so Defense, Health & Science, Command & Operations, and Pirate were little more than data points for my calculations… unless there was a companion import option? There hadn’t been in my first jump… but the tutorial was an overlay on top of this, not this document. Then again, there hadn’t actually been a companion import option in the original Star Trek Jump either… had there? I didn’t think so but, like much else, I was no longer certain. 

“Is there a companion import?” I asked. “And can any of my companions actually be located?”

“I… might be able to do something about that,” he agreed, smirking. “After all, you had companions the last time you visited here, correct? It’s a simple matter of locating them in the time-stream from the moment before you last left, then…” he snapped his fingers and all eight of my companions from the moment before the Star Trek Original Series jump ended appeared standing around the edge of the pit looking confused as to how they got there. Well, technically not all of them looked confused. At that point, Dyna had never had a human form and a Deoxys had no facial features with which to express any emotion, let alone confusion. And, of course, Ziggy is always confused… or asleep. But there they were, as they had not been in millenia; Zane, AJ, Francine, The Zig, Petra, Dyna, RayRay, and Uriel Septim VII.

“Does this cost me anything?” I asked, holding up a hand to signal that the others should wait one moment. Zane and Ziggy both ignored me, with the big guy smirking as he slid down the side of the pit and Ziggy leaping at me to land on my head… he missed and plowed right into my ear. Oww… silly goober. I caught him as he started skidding, then turned to face Zane.

“Why didn’t you wait?” I asked.

“Wanted to make certain you were you. You did that whole commanding finger thing, but you look like you’re twelve so… It’s her,” he said, waving to the others.

“I’m psychic,” said Dyna. “I know that.”

“We’re psychic,” said Petra, AJ, and Francine. “We know that.”

“I’m not psychic and I don’t care,” said RayRay.

“What in the name of Oblivion is going on?” Uriel snapped.

“Yeah, Babe,” Zane drawled. “What’s the dealio? I thought we were leaving Trektopia behind.”

“Uh… this isn’t going to make much sense but we did leave, and now we’re back, and we’ve had… oh… a few adventures and all that but things have gone pear shaped and all our other friends are lost in time and space and it’s up to us to rescue them… only, technically, you eight are also lost in time and space… me too, probably. We’ve all been pulled out of our normal timeframes and brought together to see if we can save… well, ourselves.” I looked around their faces. None of them understood… how could they. 

Uriel frowned. “This is like a Dragon Break?”

Zane said, “Are we… the we’s from the future timelines, going to remember any of this?”

“I sincerely doubt it,” I said, but looked to Q. “Will they?”

“Eventually? Yes. once the two timelines merge once more… assuming they do, of course, poof,” he snapped his fingers and now all eight companions were dressed like Vulcan initiates… which was silly because Petra was a quadrupedal metal crab, Dyna was an orange war-drone, and Ziggy is a foot and a half long and not bipedal no matter what he might think. “But to answer your question, fair Jumper, no. You do not have to pay for your companions importing. Unfortunately, I can’t provide them with any Choice.” He tried to look disappointed, but it wasn’t working.

“No Choice Budget,” I confirmed, feeling disappointed. “Do they at least get a background free of charge?”

“Yes yes yes,” Q snapped, sounding a little impatient. “And their choice of human, bajoran, trill, andorian, caitian, or tribble for free.”

“Tribble!?” Zane asked, aghast. “No! No tribbles!”

“Ziggy will be a ferret thank you,” I told Q. “No. No tribbles. Now, if you’d kindly go off and look at your own testing wells, I have to finish what I’m doing.”

Zane sighed, climbing out of the pit. “Yay! Vulcan mind games and we don’t even get to be Vulcans.”

“You want to be a vulcan?” I asked, shocked.

“Noooo… But I don’t want to do vulcan logic puzzles either, so it balances out.” He left, sulking a bit, leaving me with Q and Ziggy… hard to say which of the two of them was crazier.

“Shall we continue?” Q asked, and Ziggy nodded. He is good at nodding when he hears a question. He’s very agreeable for a fuzzybrained goober.

“Sure,” I agreed as well, though I at least had (I hope) the faintest idea what I was agreeing to. I skipped over the skill section. As a Drop-In I didn’t get any for free, and I wasn’t really keen on paying a hundred CP for stuff I probably already knew how to do. After all, I was still plenty smart and I had all S’Janus’s memories.

Without the skills sections, there were fifteen perks, three from each background, at one-hundred, three-hundred-and six-hundred… This wasn’t promising. All the jumps I’d seen that had that kind of distribution were far from excellent. But maybe I was wrong this time… but then again, that very first one, Pokemon Trainer had had this pricing structure, hadn’t it? The Item section on that one… sigh. Early days. How nostalgic. No. I’m not getting bitter in my old age. Just cranky.

Regardless, my current balance wouldn’t allow me to get more than two expensive things, three at the outside… but that still seemed the best place to look… after I checked the drop-in slate, since I got the discount there… and in doing so, I paused.

“You haven’t read the contents of this, have you?” I asked Q, looking up at him. He was currently playing the maracas and wearing a fruit hat… but not, you know, earth fruits. Vulcan fruits… desert fruits. The Vulcan language has 800 words for desert… it’s an agglutinative language, like Earth’s German… lots of compound words, so there is literally “Cold, Wet Desert” and “Dry Sandy Desert” and “Reddish Semi-Sandy Arid Highlands”… ugh. It’s like Arrakis without the nightlife or sense of existential dread.

“Whyever would I do that?” the Continuum’s Clown Prince asked. “It’s dreadfully boring. Shields up! Shields down! Make it So! Aaaaa Borg! Aaa Crystal Entity! Aaaa I can’t breath in spaaaaace.” He frowns. “Humans are so… fragile. So predictable.”

“Ah…” I said, very carefully selecting the last entry on the list. It was called ‘Buy This’ and cost six-hundred… discounted to three-hundred since I was a Drop-In. The description said, “I am not supposed to take sides in your adventures, but you did me proud when Mensarius attempted to use you as a pawn against me. If you are reading this, it means that something worse has happened and that I am no longer able to watch over you as I should be doing. You will need this, especially in that universe, and so I arranged for it to be here, just in case you ever arrived there without me. I also arranged it so that, if your chain ever completely derailed, you’d end up in that Universe. You’re clever, and dedicated. You’ll find a way to survive. This should help. With this perk, you can disable the supernatural powers of any single reality warper as long as you’re in direct contact with them. Use it wisely. If you’ve managed to bring any companions with you, each of them will gain a Choice stipend equal to three quarters of your own. Obviously, they won’t be allowed to purchase drawbacks or other companions, but they will be sent concealed purchase guides and warned not to speak of it. That information, as well as this, will not be readable from your memories. This recording is memetically encoded for your eyes only.”

The moment I finished buying it, the screen shimmered and the Drop-In 600 now was labeled “The Corbomite Snare”… and, as any fan of the show would expect, it had transformed into a very nice, but hideously overpriced bluffing perk. “The more outrageous the lies you tell, the more the foolish are likely to believe them.” As I said, Nice… but overpriced.

I quickly looked through the other six-hundred pointers, but saw no need for a perk that allowed me to steal any ship regardless of how complicated it was, nor for legendary inspiration… not charisma, just the capacity to inspire others to do really crazy or stupid things… like supporting treason. Likewise, I saw little reason to become one of the genetic supersoldiers (a la KHAAAN) or their spiritual descendants, the augmented (a la Dr. Bashier). And the Anti-Worf Effect offended my sensibilities too much to even consider it.

On the flip side, the three-hundred pointer for Drop-In wasn’t anything special. It was the ability to sense when people were trying to read my thoughts or emotions… but included no defenses against either of those things. Two of the others were equally pointless. The Pirate one ensured that none of my crimes would earn the death penalty… yay… if you get caught, you’re doing it wrong… while the Defense one was one of those where “you get stronger the more desperate the situation”… which is a holding action. This one doubled physical abilities… what if the situation was three times as bad? Four? Twenty? Yeah… waste of purchasing power.

But then there was the Science one, ‘I Am Not God’, which (while not great) was interesting enough to be worth the cost. It would allow me to not only communicate with any sentient being, but to teach them, no matter how primitive. It came with the ability to understand obscure languages. So… yeah, I took that one.

I also purchased the Command one, ‘Overpowering Authority’ which would make me extremely intimidating to anyone who actually outranked me. Not particularly useful, but funny as hell when the entire Federation Council is like ‘Sorry Romulans, we can’t control her… she’s craaazy.’ and the Romulans are like ‘Fine! We’ll kill her ourselves!’ and the FedCouncil just laughs nervously and says ‘Okay, you try that… let us know how it works out for you.’ Probably a waste of Choice in the long run, considering that (normally) I don’t really have bosses that I want to intimidate… I don’t think I do at least, but keeping command from bothering me could be more useful than not over the next twenty years.

That just left the cheap stuff… and no perk was as cheap as Cosmic Awareness. Unfortunately, it wasn’t free… yeah, I’d noticed that skimpy jumps tended to discount the cheapest things for Drop-In rather than give it free… cheapskates… but whatever. It was sooo worth the fifty Choice. How so? It gave me the ability to perceive any alterations in the fabric of Space-Time, be that normal alterations from events, illusionary alterations from technology, temporal manipulation, or even outright reality alterations. Hell, it even covered the effects of mind altering artifacts and giant energy beings. So that was nice.

Nicer still was ‘Honorary Xeno’, which meant that non-humans (or was it non-vulcans?)… Aliens, that’s it. Aliens would naturally like and trust me, and see me as an equal no matter what kind of bad blood might exist between their species and mine. A well spent hundred Choice there. 

Possibly less well spent, but hopefully useful was ‘Investigator’ which not only would provide a knack for discovering secrets and other useful information, but it would allow me to sense traitors almost immediately, thanks to my newfound ability to see clues where others couldn’t. It was no Soul reading… where had I gotten that again? Couldn’t remember… anyway, I was hoping it would also work with infiltrators and doppelgangers. This universe had no shortage of any of them.

That left me with a hundred and fifty Choice and no perks I cared about taking, so I left the sunny lands of Perks for the gloomy land of Items. The Universal Translator was free for everyone besides drop-ins… but I could requisition one from Star Fleet… assuming S’Janus was still Starfleet… so I wasn’t too chuffed. Also, I already spoke Romulan, Cardassian, Orion, Klingon and a lot of other languages… I think. Hard to say if I still can use many of my skills with my memory full of holes.

Latinum was a worthless buy, as it was enough to live comfortably for a few weeks… yeah, that would be useful over a period of twenty years! Not. The medical kit was pointless, offering nothing that a standard kit didn’t besides refilling on its own. In fact, most of what I could afford was kinda useless. I really wanted my own Runabout… but they were way too expensive… so fuck it. I bought the TR-116 Sniper Rifle. 

Said rifle fires a 7.26 mm diameter tritanium (a material three times harder than diamond and easily capable of punching through personal shields) bullet at just under 1200 m/sec. Despite the enormous muzzle velocity, this rifle has virtually no recoil and is utterly silent. The weapon has (as was demonstrated in an episode of DS9) been fitted with an exographic scope capable of scanning through bulkheads and a micro-transporter capable of beaming bullets directly to the target. I’d have to experiment to see what the micro-transporter’s range was exactly… but I could do that later… though the rifle appeared in a case on the lip of the testing pit the moment I purchased it… and that was me out of Space Choice.

Of course, now I had to deal with Ziggy’s purchase… and get him to stop getting tangled in the ridiculous robe he was swamped by. I tickled his belly and make him a Pirate. I gave him Cosmic Awareness and Mental Alarm… not really certain what good they’d do, but daybed he’d bite the cosmic trickster or something. I also got him Space Pirate, because no one should ever punish a ferret for any crimes. And Our Darkest Hour, because in his case, crazy buffs when things get tough would make for humorous reactions. He only had fifty Space Choice left, so I got him some Latinum… maybe I could use it with the metal eating… I had metal eating? What good was… oh… right… Mistborn. Duh.

By that point, everyone else had supplied their own detailed builds. Zane and AJ were Defense, Francine Health & Science, Petra and Dyna Pirates, and RayRay and Uriel were Command & Operations. Zane & Dyna were Klingons, AJ and Uriel were humans, Petra a Bjaoran, RayRay a Caitian (maybe she figured that since she lays around all the time she she should be a feline of some kind), and Francine was Betazoid. There were a lot of little things in their builds that I won’t go into, but the notable things were the capstones, so I’ll mention those.

AJ, Francine, RayRay, and Dyna all took Augmented. Great, I wasn’t Khan, but my followers were clearly from his people… well, not really considering that only AJ was human from that batch. Both RayRay and Uriel took the ‘Would Follow You Into a Supernova’ perk, which was the previously mentioned inspire treason thing. Petra took ‘Grand Theft Starship’ and a Runabout with the Federation’s future tech Cloaking Device… and Dyna, who couldn’t be killed had taken the perk that kept people from executing her for her crimes. Still, since I wasn’t at all certain they could respawn if killed, I was far less sanguine when I remembered Zane and Uriel’s Redshirt competition the last time we’d been in this universe. I just hoped they didn’t realize the importance of the fact that TNG used Red for Command and Gold for Security and Weapons instead of the way TOS had done it.

*Still, hopefully, if I did lose one of them,and then died myself, triggering a loop would respawn the dead companion? That would be… worrying. But right now, there wasn’t much I could do about it. Either it was or wasn’t going to be an issue… though I was beginning to wonder just how many loops I’d be doing. The Year of Hell was not a fun pair of episodes and Q was going to have me run through it not once but ten times. Yay.

I was getting hungry, but I pushed that aside. The sooner this whole nightmare was over the real nightmare could begin. Mind ignoring the discomfort, I turned to the Origins offered by this bizarre tutorial… had The Banker arranged it to fall into Q’s hands as well… just in case the worst happened? I’d have to find him… them… to ask. But I couldn’t do that if I wasn’t free to continue my chain, so… 

There were four Origins: The Tourist, The Collector, The Creator, and The Power Gamer. Sounds about right. Probably matched a near one for one for the Role Playing Archetypes… or were there more than one system… gah! I hated these holes in my memory! Diamonds, Spades, Hearts, Clubs was one… Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers… but that wasn’t the one I was thinking of… Power Gamer, Roleplayer, Wargamer, Storyteller… That was the first… wasn’t it? Wish Fulfilment, Drama, Simulation, and Experience. I was probably overanalyzing.

Each of the four matched me to a degree… a high degree, to be honest. I was a min-maxing munchkin. I was obsessed with invention for its own sake. I was a packrat. But above all, I was on this insane quest not for power, not for the ability to craft whatever I wanted, not even for the shiny things that came with all these travels. No. I was here to play the game. The greatest game, with the greatest stakes, and the greatest prize imaginable… getting to play the game longer.

Tourist it was. I saw each new world as a chance to experience new things, visit my favorite settings and tweak them or my least favorite settings and kick the crap out of them. Either way, I was the very definition of a Tourist.

Signing on the dotted line, metaphorically speaking, got me two options that I had to laugh at. Definite Tutorial material these. ‘Body Like A Jumper’ and ‘Mind Like A Jumper’… the first curing any physical ailments or disabilities, making the taker as physically fit as an average healthy athletic person… and keep them at that level forever… or keeping them at any higher level if they achieved it by actual training. The second would make the taker aware of any mental malfunction and give them the option to remove them, but didn’t grant immunity to the malfunction being caused by new stimulus in the future.

I was about to blow them off when I noticed a strange little bear-head icon at the bottom of the obsidian black screen. I pressed it with my toe (the screen was almost six feet tall), and an anthropomorphic bear’s head appeared. “Greetings, Queen of Ferrets. Welcome to the Generic First Jump. As a reward for completing this, all perks and items you buy from this document will be considered part of your Body Mod. You will still have them even if otherwise powered down, even by a Power Loss Drawback. Further, you’ll gain the ability to summon any of your possessions from your Warehouse to you, or send objects directly to your Warehouse, as long as they are not heavier than you can personally lift. All sent objects will be properly and safely stored, assuming you have the facilities to store them safely… and you’ll always know what is in your Warehouse and where it is located. Have fun, and remember… we’re pulling for you.”

Ooooh… okay… I had a talking bear on my side… was he one of the Crafters? The beings that shaped the Jumps in the first place? That seemed… odd. But fun. I like bears. Bears are big and grumpy, but you can stack like… thirty ferrets on one bear if the bear lets you.

Hell, the two were free. I took them. I immediately felt slightly better… and then the litany of all the things wrong with me, mentally speaking, hit. Wow. I… was a mess. Apparently I was schizophrenic, had PTSD out the wazoo, a tendency to low grade mania, obsessive tendencies, mild sadomasochistic tendencies, and a prurient mind. I was also suffering from a martyr complex, a survivor complex, and a saviour complex. And I had a thing for teenage girls. Well, duh. I confirmed all that, then accepted all of them besides the PTSD. That I cleared. No point in keeping trauma just to be difficult. My wives… oh good lord, Mini and Franky were going to murder me… my wives could testify to just how much I enjoyed their… company… and all of them had the bodies of teenage girls. Then again, at the time, so did I. Even though ten years had passed. Magical power that couldn’t retard aging just wasn’t trying hard enough.

Pausing to think about it, I tried a simple magic. [ILLUMINATE] I said. Nothing happened. Damn. Ah well. It was worth a try.

After the general freebies were a bunch of basic boosters for fifty Choice each. The perfect things to make any Jumper a nicely rounded individual. A basic appearance booster (10/10 even if you’re a rotting zombie level) with evercleansed baked in… plus perfect teeth and the need to never shave unless one wanted to. That all cost fifty, and the bear had tossed in a pleasant voice and body odor free of charge. Great. I was now sexy and I knew it. Course, I was that already… but it was fifty Choice… I could afford all the little tweaks to my body mod.

Rather predictably, I passed on Common Sense. Contrary to what my friends and family might insist on, I actually do have this already. I just choose not to employ it if I don’t have to. Life is more fun that way… but that might just be my emotions clouding my judgement. Honestly, if you know you need this perk, you don’t need this perk. Which is, of course, a catch twenty-two. But regardless, I passed on it.

I didn’t pass on the basic luck perk. It wasn’t much, but it did guarantee that random odds would tilt a bit in my favor and that bad luck alone wouldn’t cause the end of my chain. Clearly it hadn’t so far… but I’d had a lot of defenses for bad luck to get through before. Now I was running on empty.

Next up were ‘Self-Motivation’ and ‘Life Skills’. Good things to have. Really good. Especially since I was missing all the other perks that ensured I wouldn’t goof off or get distracted by my rampant ADHD… yeah, I’d kept that too… maybe I shouldn’t have passed on Common Sense? Heh. Fuck it. My companions would be weirded out if I stopped acting like a ferret on meth. I considered taking Life Skills… you know, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, ironing, driving, basic maintenance… that kind of thing. Sure, I (in theory) knew how to do all those things… but my memory was currently more swiss than cheese… then figured that I could either learn these things with a little Self-Motivation or get someone else to do them for me… okay… right, taking Common Sense instead of Life Skills. See? I can learn. Better safe than sorry.

I passed on ‘General Knowledge’ as it was stuff any local average citizen would know. If I wasn’t a Drop-In, that would be included in the Jump Persona normally, and if I did go Drop-In, it was because I didn’t think I needed the data. I also passed on ‘Friendly Sort’ which was the basic charisma thing. I’d long since gotten over being shy or having social anxiety… my mental report said so. I was just easily bored by most people.

Which is why I didn’t pass on ‘Boredom Immunity’… which was, as far as I could remember, the first perk from this tutorial that I hadn’t had prior to coming here. It even came with the ability to fast-forward through any simple repetitive task, leaving me on autopilot unless anything came up that would require my attention. Good lord. How had I lasted 15,000 years without that! Had it really been fifteen millenia? Gosh I was old!

After that was ‘No Matter Where You Go, There You Are’… long way of saying PTSD immunity, but it also came with a guarantee that my priorities, morales, and ethics couldn’t change unless I allowed them to. But the PTSD immunity was the real prize. I’d just gotten rid of it. Didn’t need it trying to sneak back in thanks to repeatedly dying in the same spot sixty-thousand times. Not that I was planning on passing the one time mark. But Prior Planning and all that.

I passed on the last two hundred-pointers, ‘Veteran’ (never lose your cool), and ‘Non-Human Race’ (I was already a Vulcan, thanks)… but took the last of the general perks, the four-hundred Choice ‘Try, Try Again’. It was a once-every-jump 1-Up, and it instantly negated and reversed any injury, attack, or action that would result in me failing my chain, rather than just death. Nice! And it wouldn’t be blocked by… well, anything, because it was (once I survived this madness) to be part of my baseline. That was worth every single one of those Choice coins… not that I currently had them in coin form. I miss the coins. They had nice chunky weight to them.

So I was eight-hundred down… of my nine-hundred… and I hadn’t even gotten to my own Origin… oh dear. Thankfully, each Origin only had three perks, and they were priced at one-hundred, two-hundred, and four-hundred… so getting all three of what Tourist had to offer would only put me two-hundred in the hole… But who knew what that might mean having to take to balance it out. For the time being, I took only the freebie, ‘The Road Goes Ever On and On’ (a Hobbit reference… nice) and ‘Seeing The Sights, All The Sights’, which saw me at break even for the time being.

“Don’t worry,” the Clown Prince of the Cosmos said, appearing over my shoulder. “Complications in each scenario can get you some more of those sweet,” he bit into a peach, “luscious,” he chewed. “Options.” I snapped my fist back, stopping a millimeter from his nose.

“Rude,” was all he said.

“Your breath smells like the crab nebula,” I snarked, turning back to my purchases. The Hobbit Reference Goes On and On meant that I’d be able to find joy and satisfaction in everyday life no matter how long I lived and be able to adapt to new cultures with ease… mostly, it was an ennui protection for immortality. Good thing to have… better thing to not have to pay for.

Seeing the Sights? Well… that was just a perfect memory perk. I used to have at least one of those. I’m pretty certain anyway. Maybe two or three. A new one couldn’t hurt, and since I could (and had I remember correctly) lost them when powered down… like now, having one I couldn’t lose was more than worth a hundred Choice. It was tamper-proof, protected against harmful memories, had perfect indexing, instant recall, and unlimited storage… and was fully retroactive too, so I was hoping it would fix some of the damage that had been done. Not so much, as it turned out. Sure, the scattered ruins of my once grand palace were now instantly searchable… but they were still scattered ruins. On the plus side, I could now erase the confusing memories, leaving knowledge that I’d erased stuff (and a basic description of what I’d erased), then restore those memories at a later time… you know, when I was able to cope with them or when all the other bits that made them not liable to drive me bonkers were restored.

STSATS even gave me memory protection, in that no one could read my memories without my permission, nor force me to restore deleted memories. So, like I said, it was (Probably) an upgrade.

I promptly used it to lock away some of the more disturbing and out of context memories. I didn’t need to wonder what, for instance, the Maegi Empire was or the New Maegi Empire… or the New… New Maegi Empire? What the hell me!? STOP MAKING EMPIRES!

Now, since I was out of options… I had to go into a Scenario… but which one? “Don’t suppose you can tell me which order they randomly shook out in, can you?” I asked Q.

“Nooope,” he said. “The list isn’t predetermined. After you survive your first random scenario, a second random one from the remaining list will be generated.”

“Drat.” I looked down at Ziggy and said, “Pick a number between zero and eleven.”

“OOk?” he replied.

“Flimpteen it is,” I agreed, then kissed his widdle nose. Purely randomly, I picked a digit of pi and used that to randomize the Scenario List. 

=OH THE HORROR=

There were no details on the Horror stele, just two perks (both priced at one-hundred) and three Complications… drawbacks that only would be in play during the year or so of the scenario. Each of the Complications could be boosted to a General Drawback, meaning it would apply to the entire jump, not just the Scenario, for another fifty Choice. Curious, I switched over the Occult Scenario. Same set up. Switching to the Historical, again, I found an identical set of options. Nicely organized. I returned to the Horror.

If I was going to buy anything, it would have to be paid for first, so I looked at the Complications first. ‘Monster Bait’ would mean that any monster present… and there would be monsters present, would target me over any other person. That was fair enough, considering that I was likely to be the one in the best position to deal with the monster. 

‘Born to be a Victim’ said it wasn’t blatantly suicidal, but I had my doubts. Not only would it slightly impair my common sense, both native and perk augmented, but it would strip away any genre-savviness I had… and as someone who wasn’t a fan of horror movies in the first place, most of my genre-savvy came from the film Scream. No thanks.

That left ‘Scripted Encounters’, which merely meant that I’d run into whatever threat I was dealing with more often. By itself, it wouldn’t make me a priority target… but with Monster Bait… yeah. Terrible idea… I took it. Better than going looking for the trouble. Much easier to have it come looking for me. As I’d once told a child… whose child? Should I forget them for the time being? I decided not to. As I’d told them when they’d warned me against the monsters in the dark… “I am the monster in the dark.” I just had to prove that it was still true.

That left me flush enough to buy ‘Be Not Afraid’ (a biblical reference… it was what higher tier angels said to assure mortals that, sure, they might look like eldritch abominations, but they were (technically) friendlies.). That would render me immune to spiritual corruption, as well as the mind-bending / mind-destroying effects of fear or beings man was not meant to see/hear/smell/play canasta with. And I had Choice left over. Excellent.

As for ‘Run Like Hell’? I didn’t plan on running. Those who ran, died.

=OCCULT LAHOMA=

Since I had points to burn, technically I didn’t have to go to Complications first for the Occult Scenario, so I looked at what was on offer first. ‘Screw the Devil’ would make me immune to any form of possession (mental, physical, or spiritual)… and yes, there were possessive entities in the TrekVerse. ‘Psychic Intuition’ did exactly what it sounded like. I took the first and passed on the second.

The Complications included ‘Masquerade’ which would force me to uphold the fiction that the supernatural wasn’t real, ‘FedInt’s Most Wanted’ which would make the mundy authorities hunt me down for OCCULT reasons, and ‘UPP’ which would make controlling my supernatural abilities (such as psychic powers) difficult in stressful situations. I took the last two. I hate Masquerades… the feathers tickle and not in a good way.

Ah… the sweet sensation of having a positive balance. It wouldn’t last. It never does.

=HISTORY IN THE MAKING=

In the History section, I decided to be a little more circumspect, signing up for only one of the Complications… ‘Historical Inconveniences’… which would mean dealing without all the modern conveniences that we so enjoy… like toilet paper, proper sanitation, or adequately balanced nutrition. I ignored the two that would have put me in an arranged marriage or kept me from adjusting to the Scenario’s setting. Adapt is the first part of the survival triad. Not getting rid of that for anything… though for a year it might be worth it. I stuck a pin in it. Maybe, if I needed the points later.

The first perk for Historical mirrored the Complication perfectly, ensuring that there would never be a need to use the little Jumper’s room since it was essentially a perpetually clean field for clothing, equipment, and body… and eliminated the need to, well, eliminate. Thankfully, I already had those from my body mod, so I didn’t really need to pay for it again. 

I did shell out the Choice for ‘Student of War’. Normally I had a stack of perks that made me a tactical and strategic mastermind (two of them were even called ‘The Art of War’), so spending points to get a half-rate expertise in those things (plus similar skill in logistics and organization, the unsung aspects of victory nine times out of ten) might not seem like a great idea, but it was better to cover my bases than not… plus, I wasn’t actually certain how good those perks, whose text I couldn’t recall, made me at logistics or organization. Looking back on my military careers, what little of them I could look back on, I don’t actually recall ever paying attention to formal hierarchies, preferring a more ad hoc structure to things… or just letting my Companions handle those details.

I’d probably do that again, if the chance permitted, but an ounce of prevention and all that.

=IF LIFE IS PIE, HAVE AS BIG A SLICE AS YOU CAN=

The idea that Slice of Life could be, somehow, threatening, seemed a bit far fetched to me. Boredom seldom kills… but it was, potentially, possible I might get into a torrid love dodecahedron and be murdered by a jealous cat or something. Regardless, I proposed to take the concept as seriously as it was possible to do, and so I took ‘Expertise’, which would make me a top-notch professional in one real world profession of my choice. Since I still had S’Janus’s training in physics, engineering, and medicine… fields I’d worked very hard to get even better at over the decade I’d been her, I decided not to go with one of them.

I also decided to ignore the arts, as I was reasonably certain that I’d picked up more than a few of them in my travels and they were unlikely to be super useful in my stay in this universe. Which raised the question of what, exactly, I should take. Odds were good that anything I took would be something that my missing memories already contained knowledge of; I vaguely remember having some kind of super-accelerated learning curve, so if there was a thing the rest of me had been interested in learning, she would have, right?

Shrugging, I selected fashion design. Yes, I know I said no arts, but fashion design is a) a craft, and b) practical. Someone has to make uniforms, and by being general, I gained expert level in sewing, embroidery, color theory for fabrics, knowledge of fabrics, and (in my own case) safety protocols. See, I was now an expert in survival and hazardous climate wear design and testing. Useful? Hopefully. If not, I could kill time doing needlepoint or something.

I considered getting ‘Friendly Friends’ but I’m already a pretty good listener. Ziggy says so and he’d know. Sometimes I listen to his heartbeat for hours when he’s sleeping. It’s very soothing. Being a good friend is largely about being fun to be around and being supportive. See? Easy peasy. Just saved you 100 Choice. Aren’t I nice?

The Complications for Slice of Life were… weird. After the monsters promised for Horror and the lack of sanitation promised for Historical, the prospect of having to work a series of new minimum wage jobs every few weeks seemed almost laughable, and the idea of suffering from a serious of minor (inconvenient, painful, or embarrassing) accidents wasn’t fun, but it wouldn’t kill me. That bad luck might plague any plans I might make would be annoying, but all in all, very dealable. The only one of the three I rejected out of hand was ‘Homeless’. Slice of Life should not be Survival, thanks.

=NOW IN PRIME TIME REALITY TV=

Speaking of Survival, I went all out, accepting all three of the Complications there. Why the hell not, I figured. It wouldn’t be a true Survival story if I couldn’t count on being strapped for resources life food and water and shelter… while suffering from some physical disability such as lost or crippled limbs or a missing eye… in horrible weather?

Yes, yes, Common Sense and all that. But honestly? A true survival scenario needs adversity, and while I had no doubt I would not enjoy struggling each day to continue living, I could try as many times as it took to succeed.

Also, there was a perk that would make the whole thing much simpler… ‘Eagle Scout’, which would make me an expert in all things survival and give me luck at finding materials and resources. So it would be a struggle… but not an insurmountable one… even if I was being hunted by some crazy enemy. They’d have to deal with the horrible weather too… as well as whatever traps I had worked out for them to encounter.

The other perk, ‘Lone Survivor’ just helped deal with loneliness and isolation. That I didn’t really need. I was a Vulcan, after all… or at least currently. That fact was actually what made the whole survival thing a bit interesting, since Vulcans, as a desert species, can survive without water for considerably longer periods than humans can… and go without sleep for as long as two weeks.

=ADVENTURE OF 200+ LIFETIMES=

The Adventure Scenario offered a reaction speed booster (peak human) with a thought speed enhancer (3x what they otherwise would be), and Clue-O-Vision. I took the first and ignored the second, even though Clue-O-Vision is kinda cool. I also wasn’t certain that the peak human reaction speed would stack with the similar boost baked into my body mod… but the thought speed enhancer was 3x whatever I already had, so that was worth the Dosh right there.

The Complications all sounded like fun… but RED (retired, extremely dangerous) would make me literally ‘too old for this shit’ and I wasn’t certain how that would work out in the context of the larger jump… would I get prematurely aged? Or actually aged… I’d been fifty-eight when I’d started S’Janus’s adventures… way back in 2265… and this jump was starting in 2360. By the time it ended in 2380, S’Janus would be a hundred-and-seventy-three years old. That might seem like a lot, but in Earthling terms, that was the equivalent of being about seventy. Not terrible, but definitely enough to make a difference. Two-twenty was about the limits for Vulcan lifespans, roughly the equivalent of a century for Earthlings. Sarek, Spock’s father, had lived… will live to be two-hundred-and-two and the outer limits of the species longevity was about two-fifty. With my enhanced health I could probably last that long… if I was stuck here. I’d rather not. I liked being immortal. 

In fact, only my Vulcan emotional calm was keeping me from freaking the fuck out. Immortals do not, as a general rule, like being threatened with mortality. It kinda sucks.

So no, I didn’t take RED even though, quite frankly, I could have pulled it off with aplomb. Instead, I took ‘Bad Comic Relief’ so that Zane could get maximum annoyance points… well, really so that I could get points when he inevitably said or did the wrong thing almost constantly, required rescuing on a regular basis, or (in general) proved more a hindrance than my actual enemies. Sure, odds were he’d be doing it the rest of the time I was S’Janus as well, but at least I was getting some Choice for it. To test if he was really as bad as all that, I didn’t take the keeper version of it. Let’s see if he’s less aggravating when that aggravation isn’t fiat backed.

I also took the ‘Secret Society’ Complication. I was already being stalked by three secret societies… what was one more? Seriously considered making that a keeper… but frankly I was considering if it was the proverbial straw and didn’t want to push it too far.

=LUNCH TIME MIGHT BE ILLUSORY, BUT ILLUSIONS NEED FOOD TOO=

I was really getting hungry now… and a bit thirsty… which, as I’ve indicated, as a Vulcan was saying something, but I pressed on. Just a bit more. Four more… and then… then…” I may have passed out at that point and woken in the Academy’s medical bay. Q was dressed as a nurse. A female nurse.

“How long has it been since you ate?” (s)he asked. It was a curious question, not a mark of concern or compassion… curious as in Q was clearly unable to determine and that made the entity more than a little confused.

“In all likelihood,” I said, “It has been the better part of at least fifteen millenia since this body has eaten anything.” As far as I knew, it was true. I don’t remember eating a single snack in S’Janus’s body in all that time. It was entirely possible I had, but… you know… memory problems. Weird having memory problems and a perfect memory at the same time… but there you go. It’s like ADHD being both a lack of focus and hyperfocus or something.

“Well… that shouldn’t be possible,” Q said. “Maybe you should fix that.”

“Great,” I agreed. “Feed me, Seymour.”

That earned me a long hard stare, and then it was pointed out, “You are not a carnivorous xenobiotic Spatium Peaereptor.”

I sighed, then sat up. “Very good, genius. But I’m also in some kind of null space populated only by whatever you put in here. You, then, control the only source of food.”

“Not true!” he said, as the room transformed into a street corner with him leaning out the window of an Ice Cream van. On the side of it was the Tutorial’s Souvenir section in place of a menu. At the top it said “All items can be purchased multiple times, and if lost, stolen, or destroyed will be replaced with twenty-four hours. Ask your vendor for your new customer coupon book.”

“Okaaay,” I hazard, “Give me my coupon book, buddy boy.”

“That’s not asking,” Q said, wagging a finger at me. I bit it. He winced, then glowered and tossed me a small packet of coupons. Looking inside, I found a $2 off any purchase or purchases coupon, a coupon for 1 free purchase of Bare Necessities, a similar one for a Camera or a Security Pass, and a coupon for 50% off any number of other Cameras and Security Passes.

“Well… that’s very nice I guess… but I don’t see anything to eat in here,” I commented, voice dry as the sands of the St’kor Basin. “I’m not a camera-vore… does Bare Necessities include food?” The name sounded familiar… maybe I had a perk or item with the same… Yess… Generic Roleplayer. That was where I’d picked up an income of two-billion USD a year. Had it been two? Or twenty? Couldn’t remember… but something like that.

“Not in the least,” Q said. “At least not directly. A home of some kind, a cheap but decent vehicle of appropriate type, and the basic sundries needed to establish and maintain life. Also a job that pays enough to live on.”

I nodded slowly. That tracked with what I remembered. “And if I pay-” I looked at the menu board, “a dollar, it becomes 200,000 a year with a nicer home, nicer vehicle, etc. another dollar and it becomes 2,000,000 and so on and so forth, right?”

“Indeed!” he agreed jovially. “It’s almost as if you’ve done this before.”

“I have done this before, dolt,” I muttered, scanning down the menu. “Soundtrack? Not edible. Pictures from home? Not edible… or at least not nutritive. Wardrobe? I’m not a moth. Your Best Friend? Would probably protest if I ate him… or, you know… be terribly embarrassed if I did it the non-standard way. Smartphone? Again, not edible… Favorite Treats?” I paused at that item. “What is this? Is it food?”

Giving me a look that was very much like a doting uncle giving his favorite niece an incredibly patronizing pat on the head, he grinned hugely and said, “It is an unlimited supply of any one food-”

“Charcuterie board from a high end Argentinian place,” I snapped at once, not even letting him finish.

“One food item… any type of food, candy, or beverage,” he finished. “A charcuterie board is not a single food item.”

“Ah…” I frowned. Darn. “Combo Supreme Pizza from Uno’s Chicago Grill with extra parm times seven.”

He blinked, then nodded. “Very well. But you don’t have to tell me.”

“I don’t?”

“You just think about it and it will appear.”

“So I can change my mind at any time?”

“A brief period of meditation is required to change what you summon, and you may not change it more than once per week,” he explained, but I was only half listening as I was too busy scarfing down the piping hot za. Oh… goddess… I’d missed this. Sooo good!

“Now, shall we continue? I don’t have all eter-” he began, but I threw an entire second pizza at him. Splat, it covered his face in red sauce and cheese and bits of meat. “Picard never threw a pizza at me,” he muttered.

“Damn… now I need a soda,” I sighed, then bought Favorite Treats again, this time setting it for a lime coke slurpee. Clearly such a thing could, in theory, exist… so now it did. I took a sip. “Aaaaagh… Brainfreeze! Brainfreeze!” I did it again. “AAAAAAAGH!”

“How is it that you’ve managed to last for fifteen millenia when you clearly are suffering from some undiagnosed form of insanity?” Q asked, staring at me in deepest concern for his own safety and the safety of all who dwelt in this universe.

“Magical ferret powers,” I said, scarfing down a truly unhealthy amount of carbs, meat, cheese, and sugar.

”There’s no such thing as magic,” Q asserted in what might, just, be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard a transcendent being say.

“Of course there is,” I shot back. “What else would you call what you’re doing when you alter the fabric of reality?”

“I call it asserting my will upon the universe,” the petulant god-being asserted. “It’s not magic.”

“Meets every definition I’ve ever heard,” was my reply. “Now, let’s get back to buying items.” It was clear that, for the time being, I was more than flush with Choice to spend… and some of the menu items were intriguing me, now that my hunger was, temporarily, sated.

Checking the pockets of my robe, which had been growing heavier and heavier with each Complication I’d signed on for, and then lighter with each Perk I’d purchased, I found that I currently held twenty-eight shiny Fifty Choice coins, with the phrases “In Q We Trust” and “E Continuus Unus” stamped around the edges, giving me a total budget of fourteen-hundred with which to buy additional Perks and Souvenirs… and odds were I’d pick up another thousand, give or take, in the remaining four Scenarios… depending on how good the Perks were and how evil the Complications. I also still had a hundred in… let’s call it ‘store credit’

First, I went back over the stuff I’d passed over as being inedible, but still had no interest in having my own soundtrack. I like music, really. I listen to it near continuously when I’m not listening to something else, like a movie or audiobook or game dialogue… and that’s assuming those don’t have background music of their own. I even have special meditation enhancing music… or had… but I could, you know, just use a music player if I needed something to listen to. And if I didn’t have music? I’d cope.

Pictures of Home were equally useless to me. Either I could remember everyone I needed to remember or I couldn’t, but I’d long ago gotten over feelings of homesickness.

But then there was Wardrobe, an extensive collection of clothing that would always include the perfect outfit for any occasion (including accessories), but limited to mundane clothing, so no armor or magic… and I couldn’t sell any of it.

“Is this stuff self-sizing?” I asked.

“Of course,” Q avered. “It would hardly be ‘the perfect outfit’ if it wasn’t, now would it?”

“You’ve obviously never been in the wish granting business,” I muttered. Still, it seemed like an extremely useful item and one that, had I had it in the past, would have made many an emergency shopping trip unnecessary. 

That ate half my remaining store credit, and I spent the rest on ‘Your Best Friend’, which would give my Warehouse (once I regained it… hope springs eternal in the Jumper’s breast) proper housing, care facilities, and supplies for all my pets… including a veterinary version of the Medbay. It would even regress any pets I acquired that might be past the prime of their lives back to said prime and keep them there. I’d been using my link to… something… to… how had I been keeping my pets from aging in the past? Had all my pets been fiat backed? That… might explain why I could only remember a few. I was very fond of small animals… Why did I only have one ferret? Back as a mortal I could have sworn I usually had three to five at any given time.

Regardless, the PetBay would keep them alive and healthy and respawn any pet (non-sapient bioform registered with the Bay) within twenty-four hours. What was more interesting than that was that I could register any of my pets from home… even ones that had passed on before my chain had even begun. 

Look, I’m not a hugely sentimental being… even less so when I’m being S’Janus… but I’d lost a number that I couldn’t currently remember of pets in my first life. Each of those losses had hurt to a degree that makes what I’m about to say entirely understandable… I’d have paid all the remaining Choice I had and taken more Complications than was entirely safe, let alone sane just to get my favorite pets back. Only the death of… of… someone… someone important… had had a more profound impact on my mental health… but I could no longer remember who… just the hole that passing had left in my life. And no, it wasn’t a memory I’d deleted purposefully.

So, yeah? Fifty Choice in store credit? I lept all over that. “Will they show up if I don’t have a warehowww-” was as far as I got before five dogs (a toy poodle, a collie, a border-collie-dalmatian mix, a golden retriever that was quarter wolf, and a brown mini-pinscher), seven ferrets (three pandas, a chocolate, a siamese, a sable mask, and a sable mitt), a pair of guinea pigs (one abyssian and one self black), a fishtank full of snails, another full of gold-fish, a third with a small turtle, a horse, an american wirehaired cat, a fluffy siberian cat, and a gerbil all made their presences known.  

“Okaay…” I said, nonplussed. This was more than I’d been expecting for… like… four reasons. First, the poodle, Tucci, had belonged to my grand-mother before she passed away (the grandmother, not the dog… the dog had gone to my aunt and had (as far as I knew) still been alive when I’d started my Chain). Similarly, the Pinscher, Asuffie, and the Siberian, Mitzy, had belonged to my mother, although both had been laid to rest by the time of my departure… but they’d joined her household long after I’d moved out. The snails were what had happened to the fish tank that had previously held the last of the gold-fish, who’d been, one by one, given to me and then flushed down the toilet as they did as goldfish usually do when not in a high end tank.

So, that was pets that weren’t technically mine, or animals I’d barely wanted… at least none of the insects I’d caught in jars or mice / rats I’d caught in traps were included. But the weirdness didn’t stop there.

No, the grey furred wirehair not only didn’t belong to me, but it didn’t belong to anyone in my family. No. It had belonged to a woman my mother was house sitting for one summer when I visited her from school. The woman’s cat had had kittens and the grey, all of maybe three months old, had latched onto me and slept with me every day for two weeks. I’d wanted to adopt the cutie, but my sorority hadn’t allowed pets… and, you know, technically I had been allergic to cats. I didn’t even know the kitten’s name. I’d just called her Calli, short for Calliope, because it was similar to Calico… not that she was that color in any way.

So that was oddity three… but the biggest oddity was the horse. Her name was Raincloud and she was a gorgeous grey roan, sixteen hands high, with a black mane and a starburst in the middle of her forehead. The problem wasn’t that she wasn’t mine. The problem was that, technically, she didn’t… or hadn’t, existed. As a little girl, I’d wanted a horse of my own so badly (I grew up near farm country in… in some place with mountains) that I’d invented my perfect horse in my mind… and now she was right there, eyeing me calmly before she lowered her head and began eating from a barrel of oats.

Still, the oddities aside, I looked around the collection of pets I’d owned, and at least three I’d never wanted… The collie, Brandie, chief among them. She had been my aunt’s (different aunt) but left with us since said aunt lived in an apartment that didn’t allow pets. Brandie had clashed with Kiva (the goldie) but I’d taken care of her for nearly two full years, so yeah, she had been mine for a time. The gerbil, Blackie, had bitten me continuously and wasn’t any fun to play with. And the Abyssinian Piggy, Copper, had belonged to my step-sisters… but when their mother had gotten custody of them, Copper had become mine by default. Squeaky little goober.

But the others filled me with joy. I didn’t remember the black piggy, though her cage said “Erika” or the turtle “Min of the Mississippi” or the border-collie “Girl”… had I named a dog ‘Girl’… that seemed unlikely. But I did remember the ferrets… Metropolis, Ragamuffin, Melissa, Warlock, Fujiko, Samantha, and Reginald Grimble (aka Archie)… I was certain I’d had more ferrets than that… names and fuzzy faces floated up out of the haze of my memories… but I was somehow certain that all of them still lived back in my original timeline… maybe they were curled up with… with… someone? Waiting for me to return? No. Not waiting. Frozen in the moment I’d left.

“Heya, kiddos,” I said, kneeling in the swarm of noses and paws and bright shining eyes. My own eyes were full of tears, for I’d said goodbye to every one of these precious souls… well… some less precious, and one imaginary, and some were snails and goldfish. Immortal snails and goldfish. “No,” I said, snuggling seven wiggling resurrected weasels to my chest as the five dogs tried to investigate them. Only Tucci and Archie had known each other… and they were nearly the same size since Tucci was tiny and Archie was massive for a fuzzbutt, but I didn’t need any trouble at the moment. 

“No,” I said again, looking to Q. “Send these back where they came,” I nodded to the snails and fish. “If I never named it, it’s not a pet.”

“Technically you named the snails ‘Mine’,” Q pointed out, but I just glared at him and they vanished, followed by the fish. If I ever decided I wanted more goldfish I could just, you know, buy more goldfish. We had not been emotionally attached.

The next few minutes were dedicated to getting everyone back into their various cages… or in the case of the big dogs, a large backyard with three dog houses, and in the case of the cats and small dogs, a large bedroom / living room combination. Oddly, the seven ferrets, who’d never lived together in numbers greater than three, were getting along okay in the absolutely gigantic cage that looked like a hybrid of the four different ferret cages I could remember having… more remarkable, because Ragamuffin and Warlock hadn’t gotten along three-quarters of the time when they’d been alive. 

My cheeks were still slick with tears. So many of these little ones (or not so little in the case of Kiva) I’d seen last when they were aged and infirm… Kiva, I’d last seen when we’d both been seventeen… he almost made it to eighteen, but he’d been blind and arthritic then. Now? He was frisking in the yard like he was three again. I half expected him to start barking at hot air balloons.

“Okay, Q,” I said, once I’d gotten my emotions under control. “I owe you a debt. For what that’s worth. One favor. Not unlimited, but close. Once I’ve got my full power back… ask, and if it doesn’t violate my honor or ethics and is within my capacity to grant, it’s yours.”

“I…” he paused. Was sincerity so alien to the Continuum? I suspect that it very much might be. “Thank you?” He definitely looked bemused by the concept of ‘debts’.

I smiled slightly, then nodded, “No problem… Now, why are there two prices listed for the Smartphone and Laptop?”

“If you pay the extra fifty, they’ll always upgrade to match the best equivalent device in each new jump and will automatically upgrade to have all the abilities of any similar device that you purchase with Choice,” he explained. “Either way, they’re top-of-the-line for what they are, never need to be recharged or maintained, are instantly self-repairing, immune to malware and hacking, and always get a signal. They have unlimited storage and memory.”

“Well…” I considered. “I don’t see how I can say no to that! Is that upgrade retroactive with every fiat backed smartphone or laptop I’ve ever gotten?” I was thinking of the Laptop I’d gotten in my first jump and the smartphone I’d gotten in the last jump I could remember.

“Once you bring them into contact with each other, I’d imagine so,” he confirmed, “but that would be something to take up with your Benefactor when you have a chance.”

That cost me two-fifty, but it was well worth the price.

Neither the ‘Franchise’ or ‘Vehicle’ options really interested me. I didn’t feel the need to pay for comic books, cartoons, or movies about my adventures, and I didn’t need a real world civilian vehicle, even if it was one that was self-cleaning, self-maintaining, and never needed to be refueled. What was I going to do with a minivan in space. Hell, even if I abused it to the absolute limit… what was I going to do with the History Supreme, Streets of Monaco, Azzam, or Eclipse… the four mega yachts that were worth more than half a billion dollars. History Supreme had, assuming my memory was correct, cost nearly five billion and had been made from five tons of solid gold. Streets of Monaco… if she’d ever been actually built, was a floating city almost, and Azzam and Eclipse were traditional yachts scaled up to be more than a hundred fifty meters long or roughly half the length of the USS Enterprise Aircraft Carrier.

All of them were, of course, obscenely fancy… but they were watercraft. Hell, the only civilian space-craft I could buy with that was… well… a space shuttle. I briefly considered having my very own Enterprise… but rejected it, and for a very good reason.

The next menu item was called ‘Generic Souvenir’ and for one hundred Choice it could be anything from this universe. Well, okay, not anything, but like… any minor but useful tool from this verse… with all the bells and whistles… self-cleaning, self-maintaining… unlimited fuel, power, and ammunition. Sooo… you know… the Delta Flyer. Or the freaking Time Shuttle from the year 28xx or something. Or the Genesis Device. You know… a planet killer… or, technically, an unlimited supply of them.

I set aside a hundred Choice while I considered what I might want to get from all the possibilities… then remembered that I could buy more than one Generic Souvenir and added a second hundred to the pile… you know, in case I had more bad ideas.

That was it from the general section, and that meant there were eight menu items left, two from each of the available Origins. Tourists were, as the coupon had hinted at, ‘Camera’ (which wasn’t really a camera, more the ability to receive a snapshot of any moment the taker wanted to remember, from any angle, just as it actually happened, and framed just the right way) and ‘Security Pass’, which actually was a name badge that was always the appropriate credentials to bypass any security… though it wouldn’t create any background records or add my name to exclusive lists or anything like that. Since I got one of them free, I used the coupon on a Security Pass. No point in having more than one of that, so the discount on more would be useless. I also saw no reason to get the Camera. I mean, sure, it could, potentially be useful… but… eh… maybe (if I had fifty Choice left over)… though, quite frankly, right at that moment I was considering using fifty just to get these really awesome Tanen-Donburi (steak & egg rice bowl) that I’d eaten as often as I could back in college… or maybe I could wait a week and switch my favorites and not waste points like that!

Instant gratification! My old enemy!

Very briefly, I decided not to get The Collector’s ‘Catalogue’ (a list of all the objects I would want in each world I visited with hints towards their location and how I might acquire them), The Creator’s ‘Workshop’ (pretty much what you’d expect it to be), or The Power Gamer’s ‘Jumper Total Fitness’ (a workout facility which would scale to safely allow effective training for any ability I might possess). I passed on the first because dear lord was that an invitation to compulsive packratism and wasted time, the second because I could pretty much build any workshop I needed once I got my warehouse back, and the third because, well, ditto for training rooms.

I did, however, splurge for The Power Gamer’s ‘Ultimate Book Of Ultimate Brain Teasers’ which contained an unlimited number of puzzles, games, riddles, and other activities guaranteed to be both always fun and the best possible way to train my mental abilities. I fucking love puzzles, and (quite frankly) with the Survival Scenario, I suspected I might need the distraction. 

Similarly, I opted to buy The Creator’s ‘Simulation System’, which was a system that could perfectly simulate and test anything I could design. Like… wow. Nice. Useful. No more annoying prototyping phase. I immediately installed it on my laptop. Incidentally, my new smartphone had been fused with my tricorder… much better form factor.

Last, I looked at the (potentially) holy grail of Collector items. It was called ‘The Stamp of Fiat Approval’… and for one-hundred choice, it would allow me to apply a mark to any one item of my choice that hadn’t been acquired from a jump document and give that item fiat backing, meaning that it would function anywhere and be restored twenty-four hours after it was destroyed. If the stamp was used on that item again, it would remove the mark and I’d be able to place it on a different item… though only once per jump.

I added a third hundred to the growing pile… I was definitely getting at least three of either Stamps or GenSouvenirs… or some mix of the two… I just hadn’t decided yet. That left me with six-hundred-fifty Choice… and I shrugged and bought the ‘Camera’… just in case. Six-Hundred.

“I think that’s it for the time being,” I told Q. “Let’s head back to the testing pit, for now.”

“What’s with these?” he asked, pointing to the six coins on his truck’s counter.

“Earmarked for when I’m more decisive,” I said, scooping them up and putting them in a pouch on the belt I’d just pulled from my Wardrobe.

=T’PLANA-HATH AND THE MATRONS OF VULCAN PHILOSOPHY=

Ziggy was napping in the center of the testing pit when I returned in a flash of Q-Light. He didn’t stir until I placed him on my shoulders, at which point he yawned hugely, licked my ear, and went back to sleep, head tucked under my chin and claws clinging to my robe.

“More scenarios?” Invigilator-Q asked.

“I thought I’d get some perks from some of the other Origins first…” I tapped my finger against my lips, trying to decide if I wanted the final Tourist option, now that I could afford it. It was called ‘Ride The Rails To See The Sights’ and would allow me to keep from disrupting canon events as long as I didn’t deliberately cause large scale changes. It would, in affect, allow the narrative to self-adjust for any minor alterations I might have made… somehow, I suspected I already had something that did something like that, but I couldn’t be certain… it seemed like the kind of thing I’d pick up… but I just wasn’t sure.

For the time being, I passed on it. It didn’t seem all too important… After all, what could I butterfly away in this universe? The Dominion War? Sisco finding the Wormhole? Voyager being sent to the Gamma Quadrant, helping the Borg fight Species 8472 and thus save the galaxy from a biological version of themselves, then destroying the collective permanently? Okay… yeah, technically there were quite a number of ways I could bork up this reality with foreknowledge and ignorance. I’d consider it, if I had Choice left over.

But before that, there were nine other perks I didn’t have a discount on to consider. ‘The Collector’s Eye’, which would allow me to instantly determine if something would fit in my collection and what its value was, didn’t interest me. The Power Gamer’s ‘Oh, The Possibilities’ which just would have made me clever and inventive in using my assets was something I already had, thank you very much. But the Creator’s ‘Inspiration’, which would make me immune to writer’s block or any similar affliction, in addition to granting me unlimited inspiration and the potential to excel in any creative field? For a hundred? Who knew how many times over fifteen millenia I’d been afflicted with the curse that was writer’s block… but I was guessing the total time was in the centuries. 

Five-hundred left and I looked to the expensive stuff. The Creator’s ‘Form’ and ‘Function’ were… eh… okay? But not ideal for me. Form would mean that everything I created always carried the visual appearance I was aiming for and that its form never interfered with its function, while ‘Function’ meant that everything I created would always work as intended… yes, even if I founded a nation. Seemed kinda… boring actually. I enjoy a little unpredictability, as a novel experience if nothing else.

The Collector’s good stuff, ‘Seek and Ye Shall Find’ and ‘Harmony’ were much more intriguing and potentially useful. The cheaper, SAYSF, would endow me with a specialized form of luck for finding things, be that clues to solve a mystery, leads to track down a person or object, or just random change under vending machines. It also came with talent as an investigator and tracker. For two-hundred, it wasn’t ideal, but hardly a bad price, so I got it.

Harmony, on the other hand, would keep any of my abilities, possessions, companions, or in fact anything else that belonged to me from harming, corrupting, or altering me against my will. The price, four-hundred, was bloody great for what it did… but again my sense of ‘Well, that doesn’t seem like much fun.’ kept me from buying it. I like the unexpected and such a fiat protection against my own folly? Too much like cheating even for me. Also, that was a hefty chunk of Choice for something that could essentially be covered with a little common sense and a lot of proper testing procedures.

Which left The Power Gamer’s remaining options. ‘What’s Mine is Mine’ (which prevented my abilities from fading or degrading over time from disuse, and guaranteed that I’d age gracefully) was discounted because a) actually using one’s abilities is a much more cost effective way of keeping them from degrading, and b) I had very few plants to age at all once this jump was over and I was restored to my former glory.

So that was out, leaving only ‘Hard Work Pays Dividends’. For four hundred points, it would make all forms of training or advancement work five times faster for me than it otherwise would… that was it. A quintuple training booster. Fuck yeah I bought it… though that meant I had to dip into my Souvenir fund. I still had two-hundred Choice left for Stamps or Shuttlecraft… if Q even signed off on them as “tools”.

“Alrighty,” I said, turning back to the Scenario walls. “Time to punish… I mean challenge myself some more.” 

=JOIN TODAY, ASK US HOW=

The seventh Scenario I accessed was the military one, and (for the first time) I had no interest in either of the two Scenario specific perks, ‘Advanced Infantry Training’ and ‘Military Occupational Specialty’. Military skillsets, be they combat oriented or support, were not what I considered a worthy thing to spend Choice on. Not that I had anything against the military, but anything short of field-grade operative wasn’t going to even rustle my jimmies… whatever the hell that actually meant. Even if I hadn’t been a Starfleet Academy Graduate with doctorates in Particle and Theoretical Physics, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Medicine, and Xenobiology… I still wouldn’t have spent points on truck-driving, military cooking, vehicle maintenance, or law enforcement. I might have considered AIT… but I hadn’t been sitting on my hands while I’d been S’Janus, and I still remembered the thousands of hours I/She/We had put in training in armed, unarmed, and ranged combat drills and against targets both living and machine.

As for the Complications? Well, ‘War is Hell’ would keep my newly purchased PTSD immunity non-functional for the entire Scenario, leaving me to face the horrors of combat with no more insurance than the next time looping combat medic might have. I’d faced PTSD before as S’Janus… if need be, I could do it again. Not that I was at all looking forward to survivor’s guilt or shellshock.

‘The Meat Grinder’ would ensure that the traumatic experiences were all but unavoidable, as taking it meant signing up to spend the entire period of the Scenario at the tip of the proverbial spear… not only in wartime but in frequent, grueling combat. R&R opportunities would be few and far between, with beds largely being a thing of myth and legend… and not even soft beds… a proper bunk would seem like an angelic reward by the end of the tour.

Still, both of them were doable, and better than ‘I Have Truly Found Paradise’ which would grant me the joyful gift of a spectacularly incompetent chain of command. I passed on that one not only out of a sense of self preservation but out of the faint hope that not taking it would spare even one Federation citizen or Starfleet member from having to actually be part of such a suboptimal hierarchy. The other two boned me and (mostly) only me. But chains of command branch outward from on high. Multiple bad links wouldn’t just be the problem of one subordinate. No… a bad commander could doom thousands… and with enemies like the Borg, the Dominion, and the Uncaring Void of Space to deal with, it was entirely possible that a single bad command decision could doom the Federation and potentially the entire Alpha and Beta Quadrants with it.

That got me another three hundred, two hundred after I resupplied my Souvenir fund, all at the cost of hardship and personal suffering… but no actual Choice, which is nice.

=POWER FANTASY=

Similar to the Military Scenario, the Fantasy Scenario offered the opportunity to purchase the skill sets (but not magical abilities) of fantasy rpg classes… you know, like a Ranger’s tracking ability and archer, or a Rogue’s mastery of picking pockets and locks, or a Paladin’s ability to be judgemental without worrying about the actual facts on the ground… no, sorry, that’s unfair. Real paladins only occasionally act like fanatical Knights Teutonic. Sometimes they act like Knights Hospitaler and are only a bit fanatic. Still, I wasn’t sold on the utility of any of those skillsets, so I passed, especially since they came without any of the laying on hands, wildshaping, or turning undead.

But there was magic available, of a kind… a very very limited kind. Cantrips. Dungeons and Dragons Edition 3.5 or Pathfinder tier cantrips. Wooo… 1d3 acid / cold / electrical damage, floating lights, minor tk, basic repair, and cleansing powers… or at least the equivalent. But considering how depowered I currently was, I snapped that shit right up! Momma didn’t raise no fool… did she? I was having a great deal of trouble remembering which of the mother figures I’d had over the ages was my original one… I was pretty certain I had one though, and I suspected that she hadn’t raised me to be a fool… if she’d raised me at all… she must have… at least part of the time. I remember her being annoyed when I taught my dog, the border-collie named ‘Girl’, to stand on her back legs with her paws on my shoulders… which meant on mom’s boobs when Girl showed her the new trick. Mom had not been pleased. I remember there being a lecture… had someone else been there? I vaguely remembered another little girl… maybe that was me in the mirror? I shook my head to clear it.

That wasn’t the only thing Fantasy had to offer. What it provided in power was largely dwarfed by what it provided in opportunity, in the form of three very interesting Complications, and the Choice they offered in recompense. Case in point, ‘Bandits’, which was a string of bandits, bullies, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, pedophiles, train robbers, bank robbers, asskickers, shitkickers, and evangelists… essentially everyone who might want to beat me down and take my stuff, at the rate of one attempt a week. They wouldn’t be powerful, but would be persistent and (most likely) ugly. Probably not led by that witness wonder ‘Hedley Lamarr’ though, which would be a shame.

‘Siege At Jumper Fortress’ would force me to take part in an epic blockbuster movie set piece battle at least once in my stay in that Level… I tended to enjoy that kind of thing, so I wasn’t going to turn down some nice flexible Choice over having to face the enemy charge or whatever.

The third Complication was, rather tellingly, marked with a sticker… yes, an actual sticker scrolled up my screen as I brought up the details. It had ‘Q Approved’ on it, and I peeled it off the datapad and, staring right at the entity in question, chewed it up and swallowed it. Why, you ask? Well, the third Complication’s name was ‘Archmage’s Interest’ and, there wasn’t really any way I wasn’t going to have to deal with it anyway, so I might as well get the points for it.

The text says, and I quote, ‘A very powerful, well-connected, extremely handsome, all wise, roisterously funny, suave, debonair, charming, and influential being of impeccable taste has taken an interest in your sad, pathetic, limited adventures. They don’t hate you, but they’re not exactly on your side either. They mostly just find amusement in your antics and want to keep things interesting for as long as possible.’

I frowned. “Does that mean that you’re going to cause me to fail Scenarios just to watch me repeat them ad infinitum?”

“Would I do that?” He asked, then cut me off. “No. No I wouldn’t. I’m not cruel, no matter how capricious I might come across or how inscrutable my actions might be. If I started doing that, you’d begin to repeat actions to the point where each loop became identical and then where would the fun be. No. I promise, you won’t be hit by… how to put it…” He paused.

“Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies?” I asked. “Diabolus Ex Machina?”

“Yess…” he almost hissed. “That. I promise to only be puckish, not actively malevolent.”

“Fine,” I sighed, taking the Complication with Drawback Keeper, since I knew he wouldn’t limit himself to just the Fantasy Scenario, even if he wanted to. He was far too much a rogue agent, playing by his own twisted rules. But he would, mostly, follow those rules. Not because he had to, but because they were his. Breaking them would mean going against his own nature and fundamentally changing who he was. When you can do anything, giving yourself limits is the only way to remain who you want to be. At least that’s what I seem to remember from being nearly limitless… or maybe not. But if he was going to screw me, he was going to screw me, points or no points.

=GUESS WHO, HERO=

That left only two Scenarios, and I was way over what I figured I needed… but if nothing else, I could always dump leftover Choice into food or funds, so I wasn’t too worried. I flipped back and forth between the two remaining Scenarios, looking at the last six drawbacks and figuring out if any of them were worth taking just to pad my purse a bit more. 

Speculative… which I guess was a way of saying Science-Fiction, was a weird category… I mean, after all, Star Trek is a Sci-Fi setting. How much more speculative could it get? Time Travel? Done that. FTL drives? Done that. Psychic Power and Ascension? Done that. Dimension Travel? Quantum Chromo-Dynamics? Tachyon Theory? Utopian Ideology? Dystopian Nightmare? Aliens? Giant Space Widgets? Dyson Spheres? Wormholes? Bioships? Things Man Was Not Meant To Know? Sexy Alien Babes? Done it, done it, done it. But whatever, I was going to get some points here even if the first two choices sounded like the end all be all of insanity to take in the Star Trek Universe.

‘Three Seashells’ was a reference to that movie that had that actor… oh, for fuck’s sake… the one from the movie about boxing! Dolph Lundgren! That’s it! Dolph Lundgren and… and… crap. I was drawing a blank. Anyway, it was the cop frozen in ice for like forty years only to come out in a world where all the toilet paper had been replaced with these silly shells that no one would fucking explain… like… don’t be jerks, EXPLAIN! Ugh… anyway, future full of confusing technology. No thanks. I like my technology comprehensible… especially since, you know, I’m an Engineer… and a Doctor. I’m Scotty and Bones rolled into one… Spock too, come to think of it. With a bit of Uhura for sass and swagger. And I can fence… and am ambiguously sexual. I’m almost the entire crew! Go me! Now I just need to brag about Russia and seduce at least five babes a season.

The second, ‘The Glitch’ was even worse. Instead of being techno-illiterate, I’d become techno-jinxing. It might not be instantly fatal but it wouldn’t be wise for me to spend time on a spaceship. No thank you very much.

But the third? That was ‘The Blockbuster’… a major event such as an Alien Invasion, First Contact, a Robotic Uprising, or some other world changing event. It would pose either a significant risk or challenge to me… and there was zero reason not to take it. Look, this is the Star Trek Universe. There were all of those things coming. Borg, Dominion, Holograms, Replicants, Romulans, Supernovae… it wasn’t just likely… all of those things were freaking canon! I’m not even certain that I shouldn’t just take it with the Keeper attachment… but that might be adding more shit than was already planned, so no thanks.

On the other side of the divide, the Heroic Scenario also had two that would be spectacularly unwise to take, those being ‘Massive Collateral’ (as in damage whenever I got in a fight) and ‘PR Nightmare’ (as in me making a hash of any public speaking or policy making attempt). Unwise and or unconscionable, since they could, probably would, threaten other people in unpredictable ways.

But Nemesis? Well, that was an enemy I couldn’t get rid of. No matter what, they’d be dangerous enough in some way to at least require effort to beat, always survive any take down, escape any confinement. It would be someone I’d be dealing with repeatedly over the course of a year or so. I seriously considered making this a Keeper… but at that point I’d probably end up with my own version of Lore or the Borg Queen. That I didn’t need.

I had a feeling I was forgetting someone… but I’d been having that a lot over the last few hours, so I tucked the feeling away for later contemplation. My memories were trashed and it was just a good thing that I remembered all of S’Janus’s previous adventures as well as I did.

Unfortunately, there was even less I wanted from the two Scenario’s Perks. ‘Fists of Justice’ was expertise in a martial art, which I already had. S’Janus had studied Suus Mahna, the semi-precognitive vulcan martial art based upon reading the opponent’s movements to anticipate attacks and weaknesses. ‘Secondary Superpowers’ was a dial for any ability I had… not something I currently needed and something I was absolutely certain I’d picked up in Young Justice. It also came with the guarantee that all powers I gained would come with all the auxiliary support powers needed for the primary to function… but in more than eighty jumps, I had no memory of a power that didn’t, so I wasn’t worried about incomplete abilities.

I almost passed on both Speculative Perks as well, since one was Universal Translation, and that was almost too good and would take away the fun of learning new languages, and the other was called ‘Engineer’. I already was an engineer. I didn’t need a perk to make me good with machines… except it’s a good thing I actually read the text, because that wasn’t what it did.

Rather, it guaranteed that once I knew how to use a piece of tech, I’d be able to figure out how to fix it. Didn’t come with the tools or materials needed, but the know-how alone was a great synergy with Treknobabbler… especially since more than once in Star Trek, an alien device ended up being destroyed just after they figure out how to use it, because keeping it functional would destroy the status quo… except ‘fix’? Yeah, that includes ‘Rebuild From Scratch’ if you have the know how. Or at least should. In actual practice, the whole Perk might come down to Duct Tape, WD40, and Super Glue.

Still, I had the points. I was taking it.

=CLEANING UP=

That left me with enough Choice to pick up the final Tourist Perk, ‘Ride the Rails’, after all, and enough to get the Tanin Donburi I remembered so fondly… and I still had seven-hundred remaining, though three-hundred of that was reserved for stamps or toys.

“I’ll take the Timefleet Timeshuttle,” I said to Q.

“No,” he replied.

“Why not?”

“It’s not on offer.”

“Not even with Souvenir?”

“No,” he said firmly. “That’s for small things… hand held things.”

“So not the Delta Flyer either?”

“The Transwarp shuttle?” he asked. I nodded. “No.”

“Genesis Device?”

“Not that either.”

I snapped my fingers, “Drat!” then had to deal with Ziggy trying to burrow up inside my robe to see if I’d hidden treats for him to find. Once the Zig was calmed and distracted with a ricebowl… sugar and carbs aren’t good for ferrets, but he was immortal and had a guarantee of perfect health, so quite frankly, if he wanted to eat arsenic lace cookies and drink lead-fortified wine I wasn’t going to stop him unless it actually made him feel like crap… and as dim as he is, even he would learn from that experience pretty darn quickly. 

Girl (the Border-Collie) had originally died from eating grapes. Metropolis’s lifespan almost certainly hadn’t been lengthened by my family giving him Corn-Pops and dried cherries, but he’d loved both and we’d been ignorant fools in the early days of the interwebs. For those of you without immortal pets in perpetual perfect health, be careful about what you give your goobers and fuzzbutts. They may like it, but (like humans) they often like stuff that’s not good for them.

Of course, lead-fortified wine is actually excellent if you’ve got a system that shrugs off heavy metal toxicity, and if your ferrets can’t develop insulinoma, it’s pretty safe to give them carbohydrates and fruit… it’s just irresponsible as hell. Hmmm… I was a medical doctor… maybe the Trek Verse had finally figured out what about grapes did a number on dog kidneys. When I’d left Origin, the toxic element hadn’t been identified. Maybe I’d have to do some research. Ethical and non-invasive, to be sure.

Girl had liked grapes and never had a bad reaction until the grapes killed her, so minor exposure wouldn’t be an issue… why had I named her ‘Girl’? Couldn’t remember… had it been my mom? That didn’t seem likely. Mom favored cutesy hebrew names for pets. I think. I was getting distracted.

“Right… right…” I sighed. “Small things… if I get the Stamp of Fiat Approval and put it on the Time Shuttle, a Genesis Device, or the Delta Flyer? Would that work?”

“I am not the arbiter of such, but I’d guess so,” Q allowed.

“Excellent. I’ll take seven.”

“SEVEN!?”

“I have seven-hundred Choice left and nothing else I want… unless you have a suggestion?”

“What about your Companions?” he asked.

“What about them?” I asked. “There’s no companion fund in this document.” It was true. I’d checked.

He frowned, then took the Star Trek Pad from me and brought up the options. There, toggled off, was something called “Global Companion Import Rule”. It rang a faint bell, but I couldn’t remember if I’d seen it before. I tapped the information icon and read, “Four-Hundred Choice buys eight Imports, each with six-hundred Choice and a free origin with cost not to exceed two-hundred, plus all applicable freebies and discounts.” And there was a serial number in symbols I only half recognized. Interesting. That had definitely not been something that had existed back in the time my memory was clearest for. Maybe it was new? Or maybe It had always been there and I hadn’t thought to ask.

There were a couple of other items there, something called ‘Baseline Import Rule’ (it meant that all non-imported companions would gain an identity with basic memories and background in each jump if they wanted it, though their powers would be downgraded for the duration.) and something else called ‘Single Shot’ which meant that companions that died in a jump would stay dead until the end of the Jump if they didn’t have a 1-up or weren’t resurrected somehow. It provided a bonus hundred Choice for each Companion in each jump. Huh… that had definitely not applied back in S’Janus’s first decade… maybe it was because the Banker was missing? Weird, but it did make sense. Uriel and Zane would have to actually watch themselves if they didn’t want to miss the fun.

“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to resurrect any of my Companions who get their dumb asses killed,” I asked… 

“Not really,” he said, yawning dramatically and examining his fingers to show he was bored.

A thought occurred to me then, and I chuckled. It didn’t matter for any of them. Seven of them were Pokemon, unable to be anything besides KO’d and one was technically dead already… was he? Oh, yes. I’d assassinated Uriel. He was a ghost… soul? Spirit of Warehousegarde. Something like that. Hard to kill at the best of times… worst of times… this metaphor isn’t working.

Anyway, the worst that could happen to them was probably losing their humanoid form for the Pokemon and their corporeal body for Uriel. Though I imagine that would be frustrating for them and probably inconvenient for me. But I wouldn’t have to worry about having to trigger a loop just to save Ziggy or Zane from their own foolishness.

I took just three stamps, then paid out the last of my Choice so the octet could get their tutorial on as well, but I won’t go into what they bought. It was all pretty much some facet of what I’d already gotten.

I will comment that RayRay was annoyed that there was no Origin which matched her prefered method of dealing with adventure… i.e. sleeping through it. For those of you interested in what they purchased (or what I got for the Zig), I’ll include it as a footnote below. It was, at last, time to get my Trek On… Again.

To be continued in Episode One…

Next: Across the Great Divide

Resources: Build, Star Trek TNG Document, Generic First Jump Document

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’d especially like to thank Deltoren, PlateGlassArmor, bearblue, and Sonic0704, but all of you who read my work and comment are wonderful.

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in very slow progress here. Please check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have two separate bonus stories here called EssJay’s Omake Theatre #1 (Big Box Isekai) and #2 (Zed’s Chain)And if you’re on Questionable Questing (No link provided) I have an adult story you might want to check out… if you’re of legal age. If you need the link, hunt me down in one of the forums.

World 79: Naruto – Part 2.6

I Will Not Be Hokage, Part 5: War Comes to the Thousand Acre Woods

Previously: Testing 3 – So Much For Subtlety

Themesong: Unstoppable – Sia

I know you’re dying to know the seeds for the Finals, even though they could not conceivable matter less, and so I guess it behooves me, gentle readers, to provide them. With thirteen competitors, three “lucky” Genin got byes in the first round: Yokumo, Shikamaru, and Kanna. That meant that the first five fights were slated to be: Kankuro vs Shino (as had been canon, with the winner facing Shikamaru, which hadn’t been canon), Naruto vs Neji (as had happened in the original timeline), Sasuke vs Gaara (as had been scheduled to happen in canon but had never happened), Choji vs Zenji (with the winner facing Kanna), and Kiba vs Ichika (with the winner facing Yokumo). 

Given my knowledge of all the fighters, that pretty much guaranteed that the second round line up would be Kankuro vs Shino (Shikamaru had elevated taking the lazy way out to an art form); Naruto (unless he flaked, Naruto would clean Neji’s clock but good) vs no one since the Gaara / Sasuke fight wouldn’t happen for plot reasons; Zenji vs Kanna (since there was approximately a zero percent chance that Zane would lose to a one-trick-chubby-pony like Choji unless he threw the fight to keep from facing Kendra… and she’d murder him if he wussed out like that), and Ichika vs Yokumo (because my Maggy would not lose to dog boy).

The winners of Zenji / Kanna and Ichika / Yokumo would, in theory, face each other, while the winners of Kankuro / Shino and Naruto / ? would… in theory, face each other… and then there would have been a final round to determine the winner of… well, nothing. Totally pointless. But it would never get that far.

And, as you’ll notice, I was not going to be fighting, and so I had a month to prepare for the coming invasion. That meant making certain that as few Leaf Villagers died during the Konoha Crush as possible. To that end, I accelerated the healing of Rock Lee and Hinata, then spent time training Rock in non-chakra based martial arts and Hinata in aura based fighting techniques. As a Leaf Ninja, Fire Dust might have seemed the natural choice, but given her personality, I focused more on Wind Dust, and began teaching her the Air Nomad fighting styles that would complement the Byakugan and the Hyuga Clan’s Gentle Fist taijutsu techniques. 

I was certain that what Hinata needed more than anything else was praise and a teacher who lifted her up, rather than breaking her down. She was a sleeping lioness, one who had nearly been broken by her father’s cruelty, but if coaxed into her own, she possessed all the inherent might of one of the most powerful clans in the setting and was not lacking for personal strength. Her father (and sister and cousin) all saw her gentle nature as weakness, when all it was was an unwillingness to hurt those she cared about. Give her an enemy to face and her self imposed restraint would vanish like the morning dew from a desert rose at dawn. Her power potential was excellent, easily rivalling that of Neji. The only thing she was lacking was a goal. As is so often the case, that lack was the thing that separated an underachiever from a genius.

There is an old saw that says “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”… and it is never truer than when applied to inherent talent. If there is no need to shine, far too few of us ever bother to. Neji and Rock, with their need to prove themselves, were geniuses because they saw no other option. Naruto, with his need to be noticed, became a clown… but also someone who reached out to everyone around him, trying to connect. Gaara, with his need to justify his own existence, became a killer. Sasuke, with his need to assuage his own survivor’s guilt, filled himself with dreams of revenge. Really, Kishimoto did a bang up job with the motivations of his male characters… or at least some of them. 

On the flipside, Orochimaru’s quest for Immortality was a bit suspect and Kabuto seemed like a traitor for the lulz… And I say that not just as someone who read about the characters, but who has looked at their actual souls. Fear of death mixed with curiosity and a lack of morality can only partially justify what was very close to madness in Snakeboy’s case, and Kabuto didn’t actually seem to know why he did what he did. It just… occurred to him to do it. Not that he really cared. 

Anyway, Hinata lacked Necessity until I awoke the momma-bear hidden inside her by convincing her that the safety of her loved ones, her little sister Hanabi, her mother, Naruto… even Neji and Hiashi (her asshole father)… and indeed, of the entire village would be at risk and soon, if she didn’t step up. It was a lot to put on a twelve year old girl, but if there is one thing I’m good at, it’s finding the right people for a job.

“How do you know I’m strong enough to protect them?” she asked, gazing out over the sleeping village from the lookout above the top of Fourth Hokage’s head.

“Can you keep a secret?” I asked her in turn. She nodded, biting her lower lip. “You know how your eyes can see Chakra?” Again she nodded, hugging herself defensively. The Byakugan had caused her little more than pain in her short life. “Well, I have my own Dojutsu…” Her face showed incredulity, but I continued, “No. Really. It’s called the Satorigan, and it can see into people’s hearts and minds.” 

“You’re teasing me,” she half-whispered.

“No,” I said, voice firm. “I’m not. Look at me, Hina,” I told her, then, for the first time since coming to this world, fully opened my third eye… and staggered back as so much more information than I was used to flooded into me. Normally, I didn’t actually have a third eye, just a metaphorical one. Normally, I just… well, it’s hard to explain what it’s like to see someone’s heart and mind. It’s not like seeing someone’s organs… it’s colors that have no descriptions, only meanings that I have always understood simply by looking at them, it’s shapes that flow and evolve as one looks at them… or it always had been before.

Now, as I opened my literal third eye fully, it was Mandalas. Glorious, huge, impermanent, changing, twisting through dimensions beyond reckoning. I wasn’t just seeing Hinata’s heart and mind… I was seeing her Soul… her very essence. I was seeing who she was, who she had been, all of who she could be, though the paths to those future Hinatas weren’t included. It was as if something had evolved inside my third eye, somehow merging it with a fragment of a Kwisatz Hadderach’s ability to map the future to craft something that even my fifteen millenia had never prepared me for. 

If I was shocked by what I was seeing, that was nothing to what Hinata was experiencing. With my normal eye, I saw a girl transfixed, as if staring a cobra in the face, but rather than fear, it was wonder on her visage. Her entire face was lit up, both figuratively and literally. Awe had brought color to her cheeks, and a light like dawn breaking across the landscape caused her to almost glow in hues of pink and orange and colors that must have had names in the languages of spirits and angels, but not in the tongues of man.

I snapped my third eye closed, and almost flinched as, from deep inside me, Chara asked, “What was thaaaaat?” Her voice was full of wonder, as if she’d never seen anything like it… which, yeah, that’s fair because neither had I. Landscapes of a thousand worlds I had seen, dreamscapes from ten thousand more, futurescapes of uncountable billions… and nothing could compare to the soulscape of a single young lady about to blossom into womanhood.

“I don’t know,” I told her, “We’ll figure it out later. Shhh.” I was hoping no one had seen that brilliant glory… a faint hope if the light was visible to anyone not looking at my eye, considering that this was late at night and the place we’d been standing wasn’t exactly hidden.

“What?” Hinata gasped. “Wh… what was that? It… it was like… there was… it was beautiful, and terrible. Like… like… gazing into the source of all things.”

“Did it gaze back?” I asked, not knowing which answer would be better. I felt, in that moment, like the Untempered Schism, that thing in Dr. Who lore that merely looking into it was what gave a Time Lord so much of their power and majesty. Or perhaps it was more like peering into Keter, the Crown Sephiroth of Kabbalistic lore. Or was it merely that, if an eye is the window to the soul, she was seeing all that my soul contained? Or maybe she was seeing the hole in the fabric of reality that was all that was left of the vast panoply of what had once been the Jumper EssJay within me.

“I… don’t know,” she admitted. “But it scared me. It would be all too easy to get lost in that light. It was like looking at the sun, unable to pull my eyes away. Please don’t… don’t do that again.” 

Oh… shit. I’d all but forgotten about that. The Third Eye of Satori had an offensive aspect to it as well, one I’d very very seldom used. With it, I could (in theory) manipulate the conscious thoughts of those I used it on, effectively hypnotizing them. I say ‘in theory’ because I’d gained it after having already been a telepath for more than ten thousand years, so I’d never used it on those rare occasions when I felt it necessary to screw with someone’s memories or perceptions. I also say ‘in theory’ because with my powers as screwed up as they currently were, who could tell if it still had that capability.

“I hadn’t planned on doing it at all,” I assured her, “but it was important that you trust me in this. I know you have greatness within you, strength that your father and Neji could not dream possible.” And then, from deep within me, another voice spoke.

“The world stands on a precipice, daughter of Hyuga,” said the deep voice, “And your strength is needed. Twelve monsters will rise in the shadow of the Tree of Death, and The Sage, The Betrayed, and The Walker of Worlds will stand against the End of Days, and you will be there. Listen well, and heed my words; a choice will come, a choice you will not want to make, and if you make the wrong choice, the choice your heart tells you you must make, then the fate of worlds, not just this one, but worlds beyond counting, will be as dust on the wind.”

I gasped, coughing, as the voice fled, and it took me a moment to realize what had happened. Chara had spoken… prophecy? But not Chara the child. No, this was an older, wiser, sadder but calmer Chara. This was… was what Chara could be in time.

“Was… was that an omen?” she asked. “Or… or a warning?”

“There is no prophecy but providence,” I said cryptically. “A thing cannot be changed simply by seeking to avert it, but fate is merely a chance to seize the future for our own. I don’t know why I said what was just said, but remember it. In time it will make sense… I think. Anyway… study those texts I gave you and I’ll see how you’re doing tomorrow. For now, I have to go stop an Assassin.”

Before she could protest or ask what I meant, I was moving out of sight, crossing the village in leaps so fast that even sensor ninjas would not even have been able to process my passing before the ghost of the sonic boom I should have been making but wasn’t because of chakra washed over their scout platform. I know, because there were many sensor ninjas scattered through the village and they never even twitched as I flowed past them as I headed to the colonnade facing the Imperial Hall. 

It was the formal residence reserved for the Lord of Fires when he visited the village. It was also a blatant copy of Nagoya Castle with its golden dolphin roof decorations. I’d loved that place ever since I’d been a child for the first time. A relative had given me a book called “The Dragon Kite” in which a thief builds a magnificent dragon kite with which he plans to steal the golden dolphins to feed the poor. He spends four years learning to make the kite, and in the end it comes to life and saves him. Gorgeous art, charming story.

It thus pained me to see the bloody rents covering the rooftop. Gaara had just killed Dosu… or rather Shukaku (Gaara’s Jinchuuriki) had just killed the Sound Ninja. I had to wonder what had provoked the sound ninja to try attacking the Sand Heir. In the canon timeline, it had happened because Dosu believed that by killing Gaara he’d get to fight Sasuke, but it wasn’t as if he was still in the contest in this timeline… but I wasn’t going to be able to soulgaze a mostly eat corpse for that information, and I wasn’t about to go memory diving in Gaara to find out if he knew. The Third Eye’s memory dive power only worked with non-resisting targets.

Anyway, in that colonnade I mentioned earlier, there was Kabuto and Baki (a Sand Jounin and member of the Sand Village’s ruling council). They were setting up the final details of the invasion, and a few feet from them was (a not particularly well concealed) Hayate. AJ and Toph had been unable to capture Kabuto when he’d gone after Sasuke (though they’d saved the Anbu guards that Kabuto would have killed… Conservation of Ninjutsu is a bitch), but he was here now and I wasn’t going to let him run about without at least making an effort to curtail his murderous nature.

I would also like to keep Hayate from being killed by Baki. Not that I had much affection for the specialist, but letting him die when I could save him would be miserly of me. Now, the question was, could I save him.

See, it’s not an easy question. Once upon a time, it would have been. Once upon a time, I had stood with the mighty, faced foes like Mongo of Warworld, like Yhwach of Bleach, like Trigon, Excalibur, and Porky Minch. I had fought heroes and villains in a Fate tournament. I had fought Kaiju. But that had been when I had had my full might. Here? I didn’t know how I stacked up.

As Sakura, I was a fledgeling Ninja, even if I did have ages of (somewhat spotty now) fighting experience in dozens of techniques. Was I strong enough to face Jonin by myself? This world was full of OP bastards… and it wasn’t as if I was considering fighting just one Jonin… no. I was considering fighting both Baki and Kabuto. Sure, officially Kabuto was a mere Genin… but that was a lie. In the original canon he’d killed multiple Anbu Black Ops members without causing an outcry. Not only that, but I was hampered by the fact that I couldn’t kill either of them. Not just because of the Chosen One drawback, but because they could be important to the plot going forward.

But my Boiling Blood wouldn’t let me back down, and the longer I spent prepping, the more time I’d have to psyche myself out. Thus, it was now or never. Well, now or later, but I hadn’t fought someone full bore in who knows how long.

“Hello, boys,” I said, dropping down between the two spies. “Which of you wants to have your ass kicked first?”

Neither of the two older ninjas had been expecting to be interrupted in their murderous scheming by a prepubescent ninjette, nor had they sensed my approach, but Kabuto had nerves of steel and Baki had tons of experience dealing with the unexpected.

“Go home, Sakura,” Kabuto said. “This isn’t something you should be worrying about.”

“Yes,” Baki agreed. “It is unwise to meddle in the affairs of your elders.”

“I agree. Which is why I’m giving you two treacherous youngsters a chance to surrender before I have to get medieval on your backsides,” I replied, smirking as I limbered up, already tapping into my unruly Chakra Pool. Fine control I might not have, but when you plan on delivering a smackdown and have nearly unlimited energy to draw on… well, they do say there’s no kill like overkill.

“Treacherous?” Kabuto asked, feigning innocence. “I’m a humble-”

“Oh, can it, you murderous wanker. Kakashi told us all about your attempt on Sasuke and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you’re working for Orochimaru. And you, Baki, should know that Orochimaru’s planning on murdering your Kazekage and replacing him.”

“She lies!” Kabuto snapped. “There’s no way she could know that even were it true!”

“I have faith in Kazekage,” Baki said. “But this is ridiculous. Leave child, before I get angr-” he was cut off as I moved then, driving my swords into his shoulders. Unlike what I’d done to Gaara, there was no sonic shock, nor were the tips of my blanks refined to needle points. These were chunky oversized katana points and they sheered through armored jacket and flesh with incredible ease. 

They just didn’t get very far. Not only could I not take the time to drive them through him, as that would have left me open to an attack from Kabuto, but Baki was exceptionally fast, well into the superhuman range, and even as my blades were cutting through the fabric of his vest, he was already moving backwards, extracting himself from the threat radius.

My hair was floating behind me, my aura suffused with Chara’s crimson rage as I pursued him, driving him back and back and back with a flurry of sword strokes, my blades shortening, thickening, transforming into veritable cleavers as I hammered his defenses. If I could just get him disarmed before Kabuto…

At the very last moment, I jerked out of the path of the Leafy traitor’s stroke, feeling a poison-tipped needle graze my skin. It burned like fire even with that tiny contact, but my system was already burning it away. It would not degrade my performance.

Letting my senses flow outward, I felt for Hayate. Why wasn’t he moving!? Damn it! If he was going to lend me his unwanted aid, he should have done so already! If not, he should have fled to report to Hokage… oh, for the love of… he was trying to gather information on my fighting style, wasn’t he? 

“Chaara… if you don’t feel like dying again, now would be an excellent time to help me,” I said inside. “You take the old guy.”

“THey’re both old,” Chaara protested even as I pulled the eyepatch off to reveal the burning red of my hidden eye. Her voice came not from my throat, but from the horrific creature forming out of my battle aura and for a moment, Kabuto paled in the face of the murderous intent baking off of me. Then, like the little bitch he is… he ran.

Baki too paused, not stunned, then (seeing Kabuto fleeing one way) fled the other. He had the information he needed and his mission was to get it to his leader, not fight an insane monster.

I considered following one or the other of them, but I’d already tagged them both with transmitters far more technologically advanced than they could dream of. If I was in a killing mood, I could send a few hundred hypervelocity HK missiles after either of them.

“You can come out now,” Chaara said, the reddish thing with several hundred eyes and mouths said, stretching out to peek over the bush Hayate was crouching behind. “For a spy you’re not very good at concealing your presence.”

“Be nice, Chaara,” I said, walking over. “You got too close,” I told the older… but not that old, special jounin. “If it hadn’t been for my interference, you’d be dead. Some information is better than none.”

“I could have-” he began.

“Would have died,” I said. “Trust me. Baki is a match for Kakashi. You’re not.”

“You managed to tag him and you’re just a Genin… what’s so funny?”

“Chaara, pick him up… but don’t hurt him,” I said, barely able to control my desire to punch the haughty young man. He was only in his early twenties… how horrible was this world that he was old enough to be in a trusted position like Exam Proctor.

Hayate tried to fight the might of the Thousand Tails, but he didn’t have the power to break free. “Put me down, Sakura.”

Ignoring his request, I said, “It took almost all of my self control not to chase after Kabuto. Do you know why I did so?” He scowled but allowed that he didn’t. “Because I was worried that if I did, you’d have followed Baki rather than taking the information to Hokage. You should have run the moment I had both of them distracted. But you didn’t. So you’re a fool. If you’d come to my aid, you’d at least have been a compassionate fool, but instead, you’re merely a loyalist.” 

Chaara shook him violently without me telling her to, but I decided not to chastise her for it. “Badbadbad suspicious nasty mind,” the many mouths gibbered madly.

“I am a Genin because I choose to be a Genin, Hayate. Rank is irrelevant to one such as I. My goals have so little to do with the politics of village or nation that, were it not for lingering sentimentality and a basic compassion for those I grew up with, I might saunter off and leave everyone to their fate. But I do have that lingering sentimentality, so I have decided to save Konohagakure from its doom. And that includes you.”

With another shake, Chaara laughed menacingly, then flowed back into my eye, dropping Hayate on his ass. “Gekko… Gekko… Gekko,” she chirped, making a mockery of his given name as she faded back into me. I’d given her a chance to be partly free and while it wasn’t much, she could sense the greater fight coming soon.

*****

On the day of the invasion, it was bright and clear, a wonderful day for a martial arts tourney, even if the area set aside for this event was terribly designed. There were tiers of seats, even though the combat floor was three stories below them and the tiers were not steep enough for those even in the second row to have a good view. Even the Kage Box, where Sarutobi and Kazekage… or at least those pretending to be them were seated wasn’t equipped with the best views considering how far back the thrones were. 

The only place that had really top level views were the private dignitary boxes, with their floor to ceiling reinforced glass walls. There, the rich and powerful of all the neighboring lands were gathered, standing close to the windows to watch the show being put on especially for them. There were also servants with platters of canapes and Anbu black ops teams scattered around the building, of course, but that was merely to be expected.

What wasn’t to be expected, and what was known only to a very small and very elite cadre (and it’s pronounced cah-dray, no matter what the brits say… cah-du… baaaah) of ninjas who had plans that ran counter to all three of the nominal factions in the upcoming fight. But that was only fair; Sand had secretly allied with Sound to take down Leaf… it was only just that Leaf had hidden allies of their own. Call us the Village Hidden in the Warehouse. I know, I know, the Village Hidden in the Snows would be more poetic, but Warehouse has two advantages. First, it’s more accurate, and second… It’s funnier.

Regardless, the day began as it originally had, with Neji, proponent of unchangeable destiny, facing Naruto, proponent of claiming your own path. With nothing to throw them off, and with Neji’s treatment of Hinata driving him, Naruto of course put the arrogant Hyuga in his place, with a little cheering from Hina-chan to spur him on, her health improved to the point where in this timeline she didn’t collapse and require medical attention. I didn’t even need to help there. Good to know that in one on one, Naruto still had whatever he’d been stripped of by my arrival in this world. 

It was also good that this meant that Kabuto didn’t get his grubby, Anbu disguised hands all over Hinata, not that I know if he’d done anything hinky while healing her in the original timeline… but some of the Warehouse Crew were watching him very closely… though not my three brats… I have no idea where they were, but the shadow clones they’d left behind to watch the show weren’t fooling me one bit.

The second fight should have been Gaara and Sasuke, but since Sasuke was running late (as he had been in canon) the second bout of the day would (in canon) have been Kankuro versus Shino… but Shino was to be just as frustrated in this timeline as he had been in the original (at least for a time) because Kankuro forfeited the match. Why, exactly, Kankuro had forfeited when the entire point was to draw things out as long as possible so that Sasuke could arrive to fight Gaara I’ve no idea… but it wasn’t as if the readers didn’t get to see just how boss (and creepy) Shino could be in a few chapters time anyway. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The third match in canon had been Shikamaru versus Temari… but their courtship would have to wait because Temari wasn’t in the finals thanks to a loss to my Ichika / Maggy. Instead, this time the third match was Choji against Zenji / Zane… and it went about as well as you could expect. Choji, who didn’t really want to be in the fight, facing off against Zenji who wasn’t taking the fight at all seriously? It was a chubby clown facing a duffus… but a duffus with fifteen millenia of fighting experience. Look, I might be having memory problems, but Zane wasn’t and he’d been the Magi’s God of Justice… he was not going down to a half-trained kid whose ninja way was dominated by caloric manipulation and meatball impersonation… yeah, the Akimichi family might be freaking Kaiju-class warriors when they went Super-Ninja, but Choji couldn’t do that yet. His best attack was a Sonic the Hedgehog knock off.

Still, at least the audience had a bit of fun with the show, though it reminded me quite a bit of a rodeo I’d been to as a child in my first life, with a clown running from an enraged bull. I’ll leave it to your imagination which was which. At least it was shorter than the fight between Shikamaru and Temari had been.

Fight four should have been Kiba against Ichika / Maggy, but it was at that point that Gaara had finally exhausted his patience and demanded to know where the Uchiha was hiding. A swirl of leaves rustled through the arena floor, and coalesced into the forms of Sasuke and Kakashi-sensei, which was a hell of an entrance for a culture that lacks teleportation (as far as I know… maybe there’s a jutsu for it).

Kakashi grinned, saluted the Kage Box, and said, “Where else would we be hiding but in the Leaves?” Which was, you have to admit, a good line.

The fight played out exactly as it had on paper, with Sasuke royally pounding Gaara, making a mockery of his so called “Perfect Defense” right up to the point where Sand Boy retreated into a cocoon of sand and began transforming into his beast form. 

Then, just at the moment the crowd was most on the edge of their seats, war came to the Hidden Leaf Village. First, Kabuto, standing behind the common seats in the viewing stands, used the moment of fixation to use a sleep jutsu on the crowd. Second the “Sand” Ninjas guarding “Kazekage” leapt into action, setting off smoke bombs as a signal and obscuring the fact that their leader was in the process of kidnapping Sarutobi-sama from his very own box.

And third, an absolutely massive three-headed snake appeared just outside the walls of the village. Just how massive? Well, the walls of Konohagakure are ten stories tall. This snake was, I kid you not, at least twenty-five stories tall and that wasn’t even in full rear-up. Laying flat, its heads were six stories tall… and, believe it or not, the fucking thing as wearing bibs! Big black-flag looking bibs tied around its necks, right behind the flared horns of its eye ridges.

It was at this point that the plan my darling children had put into motion without telling me when into effect and El Gigantico Snakico found itself being tractored right off the forest floor by the combined lift capacity of three former Orion Syndicate smuggler shuttlecraft equipped with fifth gen Maegi cloaking technology. The air didn’t even visible ripple around them. It was, quite rightly, a sight to behold and even Orochimaru, currently standing atop the roof of the Central Watchtower with Sarutobi in a half-nelson had to pause, the eyes of his disguise bugging out a bit.

“That isn’t possible,” he muttered, then shook his head to clear it. The summoned snake was merely one of many distractions. All that mattered to Snake-face was proving to Sarutobi that the student had surpassed the teacher… oh, and kidnapping Sasuke so he could transmigrate into his body once it aged up a bit. Good lord but Orochimaru gives off creeper vibes, but apparently auto-hebephilia is beneath him. I think once you’ve gotten to wanton murder and gross betrayal of allies, you’ve sacrificed any symblance of respectability or morality, but if he wasn’t going to cross that line I wasn’t going to encourage him to change his mind.

All across the village, Sand and Sound Ninjas were pouring across the walls… and running into ambushes of Leaf and Snow Ninjas. It was almost as if they’d been expected. Inside the arena, Gaara had just fled and Sasuke had followed. Kakashi and Gai called upon “Sakura” and Shikamaru, both of whom had resisted the sleep Genjutsu, to take Naruto (who hadn’t) and a summoned nin-dog named Pakkun to follow the two and recover Sasuke. And if you’re wondering why I said “Sakura” and not “Me” well… let’s just say I was somewhere else at the time and someone else was standing in for me.

Atop the tallest building in the village, which is actually more like a small city or very large town, Orochimaru’s four top freaks… I mean Lieutenants, really… were throwing up a shield to keep the Anbu Black Ops surrounding them from interfering with Orochimaru’s idiotic reinactment of the Forbidden Palace Duel of Destiny.

“So pretty, isn’t it old man?” he hissed, “An alliance of fools, betrayed by the foolish.”

“Your forces have walked into a trap,” Sarutobi said, “This is all meaningless.”

“Yes… meaningless,” Snakeface agreed. “This was only useful as camouflage to make you relax your guard. The stupid fighting games end here. Here, where history changes.”

The old man laughed. “You think this is going to start a war? Really?”

“You’re going to harp on about how things should be solved through negotiation, aren’t you?” Orochimaru chuckled. “Do we become peace-loving fools when we age? You’ve forgotten what it means to be a Ninja.”

“You young pup,” the ancient one said with a heavy sigh, “I have seen more deaths than you can imagine. I have killed and killed and killed until I was swimming in lakes of blood and still I killed until I alone stood on a mountain of those I’d slain. I’ve seen the fires of war and been burned by them to an extent your febrile depravities can scarce encompass. The atrocities I have committed in the quest for victory are so vast that yours would barely be a footnote if I’d done them. You haven’t the faintest clue what real war is.”

“You ramble on and on and on, old fool, but it is your foolishness that has caused the Leaf to weaken and granted me my victory!”

“It’s not over until it’s over. One would think your teacher would have taught you better,” the ninja leader said to his captor.

“I told you that you should hurry and pick the Fifth,” the gloating snake-sage said as he peeled away the false face of the assassinated Kazekage. “But it’s too late now because you, The Third Hokage, will die here, today, by my hand.” He released the old man from his grasp, facing him and pulling the Kazekage hat from his head. “It’s a good day to die.

“Ahaahh… hah… heh. That’s funny,” I said. “Really. I mean it.” I tossed the Hokage hat from my own and, as my voice rose from the old man voice of Sarutobi-sama, I transformed back into myself. “Because I was think that today was a good day to hunt a snake. Though you’re not Naked, Solid, or Venom.”

“You think you can save Sandaime from me, little girl?” the traitor ninja said. “It will take me mere moments to dispose of you and then I’ll hunt down the old man wherever you’ve hidden him and- gaaah!” He grunted, looking down to where the butt of my sword had slammed into his sternum. “Okay… two moments.” He looked slightly impressed by how fast I’d managed to launch it from its scabbard.

“Yawwwn,” I said, “Less chatter, more batter.” I cricked my neck. I’d been looking forward to this. Fuck this laying low. I wanted to test myself against the biggest, baddest around… and if that wasn’t Orochifuckface, at least he’d be a good warm up.

In the canon, he’d summoned the First and Second (and attempted to summon the Fourth) Hokage to fight the Third. Why? Just for the humiliation factor of it. But here he was, with the wrong Kage in his trap, and he wasn’t about to waste his necromantic trickery on a mere child.

Which was fine, because I wasn’t going to summon the Monkey-King to fight him as Sarutobi had… nor even one of my many ferrety minions. No, I was going to kick his butt the good old fashioned way… with my boots… and maybe some swordplay.

****

Far off, in a part of the forest seven kilometers from the town, Shikamaru was leading the Sand Ninjas that had followed the Sasuke Interception party astray as Snake and Ferret launched themselves at each other, our fists a flury of blows as he tried to poison me and I tried to rip his face off.

A further nine kilometers from the town, Kankuro was discovering just how bad an idea it was to use Chakra Puppetry against a master of Chakra eating bugs when Orochimaru managed, at last, to catch my arm in a clench and attempt a joint lock. Both of us were breathing hard by that point and each of us had more than a couple of cuts, but none of them were serious and if either of us were worried about the poisons the other was using, neither of us were showing it. I twisted away from him, deliberately dislocating my shoulder in the process as I dropped to the ground and drove both my heavily booted feet up into his groin in a massive donkey kick that launched him backwards a good thirty feet and cracked his pelvis in at least three places. It also caused me to smash, face first, into heavily reinforced roofing tiles. Ow.

By the time each of us had managed to recover from the blinding pain, Gaara was well into his transformation into full Shukaku and had trapped “Sakura” (three guesses as to who that was… I’d told the old man that his entire task was to be supportive but not to interfere any more than a typical twelve year old ninjette would). 

Right at the moment when Naruto unleashed his explosive Thousand Years of Pain (a kunai with a boom-rune on its handle shoved up Shukaku’s asshole… yes, literally), Orochimaru succeeded in running me through with Kusanagi. I admit, I was impressed with his swordsmanship… but mostly pissed off because I’d forgotten to look out for the smaller snake he’d summoned. I say smaller, but it was still the size of that fucking Anaconda from the movie of the same name and this was no constrictor. 

Its venom surged through my body and fighting it back out with an explosive blast of Chakra slowed me down for half a second, and that was enough for the fucking thing to wind between my legs, tripping me up for a moment… and that caused my dodge to turn into a stumble and then there was a mystical blade sticking through my left lung right through the fourth intercostal space. 

I did what I had to do and opened my third eye for a split second, the glow of it locking the two of us in that frozen tableau for what seemed like eternity… but was really more like a blink of time.

As Gaara finally completed his transformation into the great Sand Tanuki, I moved. First, I sealed the holes through my body and let Chara pin the serpent to the roof with the sword on her side of the body, then she shattered Orochimaru’s hand and took up Kusanagi as I began the process of teaching Orochimaru, whose whole schtick is wanting immortality so he could learn ALL THE JUTSU, my own personal branch of Kung-Fu.

It’s called Rumble Fu. It has such lovely moves as “Boot to the Head”, “Punch Me Pull You”, “Rome Falls”, “The Flying Nun”, and “Piranha Something”. I’d go into the details, but they’re rather graphic and not for the tenderhearted… or those who’ve just eaten. I bounced him off the inside top left corner of the Four-Cornered Ninja Barrier his minions were still maintaining with “Rising Lunch Punch”, then caught him with “Terrible Things” as he fell, turning it into “That’s Gotta Hurt” just before we impacted on the roof. 

Without the Chakra barrier keeping it from collapsing, the entire building would have suffered serious structural damage from the blow, but before he could get up, I plastered him in place with “Hell Freezes Over” and then, for good measure, used the second most deadly (and less risky) of the art’s two finishing moves. Leaping into the air, I screamed “Blood Makes the Grass Grow!” and, as I landed on his spine, Chara added “Kill Kill KIIIILLLL!”

As the massive bulk of Shukaku rose over the forest, the four corner ninjas finally realized that their boss wasn’t winning this and lowered the shield, knocking me off their fearless — and currently spineless — leader and spiriting him away. Which was good, because, quite frankly… I may be a titan of Chakra… but I currently had a broken foot, a broken hand, a punctured lung, a torn rotator cuff, eleven cracked ribs, a serious case of being poisoned at least three different ways… oh yes… and I was running on empty. 

I tottered there as the Anbu chased after the fleeing Sound Ninjas, watching the fight between Gamabunta (Yakuza Boss of Frogs) and Shukaku, then turned to where I could faintly sense two powerful sources of Chakra… one of whom was Sasuke’s brother Itachi, the other an unknown, both of them in the robes of what I knew to be the Akatsuchi, the secret badguys of the second (unwatched by me) series… and flipped them off. Then I fell backwards into my daughters’ arms. “Owww…” I said, then passed out.

Okay, okay, so, technically, I did become Hokage… but only, like, for three hours. And it totally wasn’t official.

Next: Sakura Shippuden Part 1 & Star Trek TNG: Episode Zero

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