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Briefing Main Chapters Chapter 3

Chapter 2:

"What do you mean, the weather isn't going to hold?" Dr. Rara demanded over the phone of the crew at the launch site. "It has to hold! Fine, just in case, book every hotel in the area so we can try again tomorrow- Surely there's one room left!"

Of course, there was not. Every hotel room, and many other accommodations, were occupied by people who wished to see the launch in person.

Dr. Rara continued, "Look, find something in the area!"

Kazuki Yotsuga thought he heard someone calling his name, but he was so tired that he couldn't be sure. He just needed to rest a little bit longer.

"Kazuki, you'd better wake up fast!" D urgently tapped the slumbering Kazuki on his shoulder. "She's really serious today!" Seeing this had no effect, D decided she'd have to shake him awake. It was better than what Mitsuki Sanada would do if she caught him sleeping in this morning.

Kent Slade was being grateful for the beauty of creation, standing around idly in the Sanada's yard. His wife had already returned home to make sure everything was ready there, and he was going there himself in a moment. Slade suspected that the tranquility of the morning would not last; he seemed to hear his cousin-in-law, in the Sanada house, shouting something about waking up. Slade shook his head. Ladykiller or not, it looked like today was going to be a rough day for Kazuki. He returned to surveying nature's wonders, but was interrupted by Kumu running up to him and whimpering.

"Surely someone has fed you?" he inquired of her.

D walked up behind him. "We ran out of dog food. All the rest of it we put on the spaceship yesterday. I asked Mitsuki if Kumu could have some of our breakfast, but she didn't want to." She smiled awkwardly.

"Are human breakfasts healthy for dogs?" Kent wasn't too certain about that.

Kazuki had hurriedly shut himself into the bathroom in an attempt to hide, but he could hear Mitsuki Sanada now shouting, "Get ready in five minutes, Kazuki! There's too much work to do for your idling!"

"But Mitsuki," Kazuki replied through the door, "this is a great day! Aren't you happy?"

Her sigh must've been heavy to hear it through the door. "I am happy, Kazuki," she said sincerely. "And if you don't do your share of the work," she continued with equal sincerity, "I'm going to be angry." She calmly moved away to her next task.

Kazuki wasn't quite certain that he could believe she was happy when she was shouting, but just now she had actually sounded pleased. Kazuki and Zinv were definitely happy. Today was the day they were going to outer space!

Mitsuki Rara looked in the room she and Mitsuki Sanada shared. "Mitsuki, you're putting both our clothes in the same suitcases," she pointed out mildly.

"If you had packed earlier I wouldn't have to pack for you!" Mitsuki Sanada charged.

"I had already packed for both of us. Don't you remember?"

Mitsuki Sanada gripped the suitcase lid until her knuckles turned white, then said calmly, "Thank you."

Mrs. Nanjyoin calmly walked along the walkway connecting Yayoi's house to the Sanada household. Yayoi had only just caught sight of her grandmother doing this, and became immensely worried.

"Grandmother!" she called from the door on her side.

With perfect balance, Mrs. Nanjyoin turned her head and answered, "Don't worry, Yayoi. I'm perfectly fine here. Though I wish for your sake you added some banisters. I worry about you crossing over this in the dark every morning."

"But grandmother, why are you even going over there?" Yayoi was confused.

"Just a few last-minute details to confirm with Dr. Sanada," Mrs. Nanjyoin said unconcernedly as she continued on her way.

"That door goes into Kazuki's room," Yayoi said with trepidation.

"Everyone goes through there, dear," Mrs. Nanjyoin put her hand to her mouth, as though something amused her. "It's like a public highway. Or a shortcut."

Yayoi watched with horror as Mrs. Nanjyoin opened the door to Kazuki's room.

Kazuki turned his head and bowed to greet Mrs. Nanjyoin. He was entirely unsurprised. "Hello. I guess my room really is a good shortcut, isn't it."

Mrs. Nanjyoin bowed back. "I believe it is my granddaughter's favorite shortcut."

Akane looked through the clothes her husband had packed. Surprisingly, he seemed to be doing fairly well. The clothes were arranged unorthodoxly and somewhat messily, but at least they were all present. That was what she thought until she realized he had not packed any socks.

Dr. Sanada said appeasingly, "I won't need socks in space, Akane! I'll just wear sandals!"

Akane folded her arms, not prepared to concede an inch. "Ken, you can't really mean you'd do that on the ship! What if your feet get cold! You'll want socks with your sandals!"

"Maybe I could just wear some shoes without socks. That'd work, wouldn't it?" He looked inquisitively at her, but she was unmoved.

He spread his arms. "Where would mankind be if we never tried anything new? We wouldn't even be going out into space at all if it weren't for trying new things! That's why I'm risking the temperature of my feet to the vagaries of conditioned spacecraft air! I'll boldly explore the universe without socks!"

The phone rang, and he said, "Oh, excuse me," and ran to answer it. He found himself listening as an excited fan of the expedition wished him luck. "Why, thank you!" Dr. Sanada said happily.

Akane simply stuffed several pairs of socks in Ken's suitcases and closed them.

Slade was quite content. It looked like they were going to be quite on time, thanks to thorough planning and foresight. He had even anticipated that they'd forget something, and so had packed several days earlier. Now they were fairly sure everything was collected, nothing forgotten. It felt good to be prepared-

"Ms. Mitsuki!" Mena ran through the hall and wailed.

Slade poked his head out and looked towards the cry of distress. Mena had now found his wife and was saying, "I forgot something and it must be here, I've looked everywhere else!"

"What did you forget?" Mitsuki asked in deep concern.

"I don't remember now, that's the worst part!" Mena wailed.

"Not a good thing," Slade muttered to himself.

"Ow!" Kazuki yelled after Kumu knocked him down the stairs and began to tear into his arm. D came running. "Kumu, you can't eat Kazuki! Let him go!"

Kumu was holding on and gnawing. It was difficult to tell whether hunger or hatred had driven her to desperation.

"Maybe you forgot a toothbrush?" Slade asked Mena, drumming his fingers on a nearby desk.

"No," she sniffed, miserable.

"Your purse?" Mitsuki suggested. Mena shook her head.

"Pocketknife?" Slade offered, just to keep ideas flowing.

D had finally pried Kumu off of Kazuki. She and Akane went to put Kumu in a traveling cage. Kazuki picked himself and the suitcases off of the stairs. He grunted slightly at the ache caused by Kumu.

"Kazuki, have you gotten those suitcases downstairs?" Mitsuki Sanada called.

"I almost had it done when Kumu bit me!" Kazuki yelled back in some heat.

"You lived every other time she bit you. I don't have time to mother you," she replied.

Kazuki put the suitcases near the door and suddenly discovered Yayoi was examining his injury. "I think this needs immediate attention," she said, brushing her hand along his arm.

"Uh..." Kazuki mumbled.

Yayoi continued reasonably, "There's no need to bother the others. We'll handle it alone." She smiled winningly at him.

"Uh..." Kazuki mumbled.

Ayuko scolded a member of her entourage. "There are wrinkles in all of these dresses. I expect better from my employees. Unpack all of the cases and refold them."

"All 29 cases, ma'am?" another of her assistants inquired. Ayuko nodded, and they left the room to get it done.

"We're only going to be gone a month, and we don't have that much room on the spaceship," Dr. Rara grumbled, entering the room and looking for something in desk drawers. "We can't take 29 pieces of luggage."

"And why not?" she inquired archly.

"Are you sure it isn't at your place, Mena?" Slade inquired. Where did she live anyways? He couldn't remember right now. Fine details of this merged world tended to evade him when he was annoyed.

"I looked everywhere there," Mena shook her head, and then cried out "Oh!" and rushed out of the room.

"Mena!" Mitsuki called after her.

"I found it!" Mena exclaimed. "My cellphone, I left it here by the door yesterday!"

Mitsuki was delighted. "That's wonderful!"

He wasn't sure how, but Slade clenched his teeth instead of saying finding it earlier would've been far more wonderful.

Slade decided he deserved this for thinking he could control life. Murphy had his way, despite all his carefully laid plans. There was no point to obsessing and packing ahead of time the way he had done. Maybe next time he'd just throw caution to the wind and pack the day of a journey. Not only were these realizations making Slade uncomfortable, there was another. He was beginning to think that there was some posession of his that even his meticulous planning had missed. But what could it be?

Mitsuki Sanada wondered what the troublemaker was up to now. She hadn't heard his footsteps on the stairs for some time now. "Kazuki, have you gotten those suitcases downstairs yet?" she yelled across the house.

Yayoi unexpectedly appeared in response. "I took them down for him. He really shouldn't be doing anything with that arm."

Mitsuki Sanada stared at her. "Kumu can't possibly bite that badly." Yayoi just shrugged. "Yayoi, you aren't coddling him, are you?"

"I'm simply concerned with his welfare," Yayoi said innocently.

Mitsuki matched her tone. "Then you can tell me where he is; I need his help with something else."

Yayoi now looked embarrassed. "I'm not sure, but he said he had something to do in his room."

Kazuki looked around his room. "Right," he said to himself. "I actually didn't forget anything. Maybe I'm getting better at tidiness."

Ryla opened the walkway door to his room and stepped in. She was holding something behind her back.

"Ryla?" Kazuki had thought he'd gotten used to a whole army of people coming through that door, but he was wrong.

From behind her back, Ryla produced a large bouquet of red roses and presented them to Kazuki.

"Ryla, what, er, um, but," Kazuki began to blush.

"No!" she nearly shouted, but remembered to whisper in time. She removed one hand from the bouquet to clap it to her head in disgust. "Just take it and look at the card!"

With a nervous noise in the back of his throat, Kazuki did so and examined the card, which read, "To Mitsuki Rara, From Kazuki, For you on this launch day."

"Uhhh, thanks but, uuhhh," Kazuki tried to think of what to do.

"It's not from me!" Ryla insisted, clapping both hands to her head.

"Yeah, I get that now," Kazuki reassured her.

Ryla pointed to the door into the rest of the Sanada house. "So go give them to her!"

Kazuki cast a nervous glance at the closed door. "But the others will get mad if they see me do that!"

"You're a man, aren't you?" Ryla was getting aggravated.

Kazuki turned an aggrieved look on her. "Yeah, a man who's going to be sharing close quarters with the others for a month!"

Ryla lowered her hands from her head. "I suppose you're right." She reached out to take back the bouquet, and Kazuki extended it to her.

Mitsuki Sanada opened the door. "Kazuki, could you please help me with something?" She started at the unexpected sight of Ryla in the room, then her eyes narrowed as Kazuki quickly turned around, keeping himself blocking her line of sight to Ryla. What might they be up to now?

Her suspicion only increased as Kazuki did not put up his hands in his usual surrendering posture, but kept them behind his back. "Sure, Mitsuki, I'd be glad to. Just another few minutes, OK?"

D passed in the hallway. "Kazuki, haven't you got enough girlfriends already?"

"No D, it's not like that!" Kazuki, Mitsuki, and Ryla proclaimed immediately.

"That's a relief," D sighed.

Mitsuki Sanada turned to face her. "Why?"

D told her, "Just because it is. I'd better finish packing." She hurried off down the hall.

Mitsuki Sanada spun around. She had only sensed, not seen, Kazuki furtively completing the bouquet pass to Ryla, and Ryla hiding it behind her back. Mitsuki Sanada still knew something was being hidden from her. "Kazuki, please just come now." She smiled cleverly.

"Of course, Mitsuki," Kazuki's face alit with a similar pleasure, born of savage cunning. He walked past her, into the hallway, his hands entirely free. Mitsuki Sanada, bewildered, looked around the room. She decided it probably wasn't a very interesting secret anyway. She nodded to Ryla and said to Kazuki, "Come on."

As soon as he was done helping Mitsuki Sanada, Kazuki made a quick and furtive call. He needed a problem tidily disposed of.

Shiozaki and Izawa watched carefully from their hiding place, hoping they wouldn't be seen. They wanted to see Mitsuki Sanada at least once before she left them for a month. If possible, they even wanted to say their goodbyes in person.

They watched as Alice leaned further out of window in the room Mitsuki Rara and Mitsuki Sanada shared in the Sanada house. "Hurry," Alice called to Ryla below her, "she'll be back any minute."

Ryla was on the ground below. She stood on her tiptoes, but the bouquet was still far out of reach of Alice's outstretched hands. "This isn't working," she told Alice, "I'll just come in through Kazuki's room again."

The plan was to get the bouquet inside the room unseen somehow so everyone, even Mitsuki Rara, would think Kazuki gave them to her secretly.

"Wait," said Alice as she leaned out further.

"Alice, not too far or-" Ryla began.

Alice barely strangled her cry of alarm as she lost her balance and nearly tipped out the window. She only barely managed to stay inside the room and work her way back to a position of safety. "Have Kazuki toss it up here, so Ms. Mitsuki can catch it," Alice suggested before she had caught her breath.

"He's not going to do it," Ryla grumbled. "I'll toss them to you myself."

They tried, and tried again, but a bouquet can be a rather ungainly thing to toss, or at least to catch.

"What are you doing?" Mitsuki Rara asked Alice. She had entered unheard as Alice was trying and failing for a third time to catch the bouquet.

"Oh, Ms. Mitsuki, hello, I didn't hear you come in," Alice was flustered.

"I thought I heard some bumping up here. Are you all right?" Mitsuki Rara stared at her friend in concern.

"I'm just fine!" Alice chirped nervously. "Why don't I, brush your hair!" Anything to get Ms. Mitsuki's mind and attention off of windows and flowers she may or may not have seen flying past.

Mitsuki Rara laughed. "You did just a few hours ago!"

"I'd like to do it again!" Alice continued in quiet desperation.

"All right," she agreed. "Don't let me make you delay your packing, Alice. Do you need any help with it?"

"You're so considerate," Alice complimented her sincerely as she found a brush and began to work, "but I'm fine, really." About half a minute after Alice began brushing, the bouquet sailed through the window and landed on the floor of the room with a rustle.

Mitsuki Rara turned and looked at it, querying, "Did someone just throw that through the window?" Bemused, she picked it up and looked out the window, but Ryla had already run away and was nowhere in sight.

Alice squealed, "Oooh, see who it's from, see who it's from!"

Mitsuki Rara read the card silently and then said aloud, as color flamed her cheeks, "From Kazuki."

Alice's celebratory squeal was stilled as Mitsuki Sanada appeared in the doorway and said in a low voice, "What?"

D found Kazuki talking to Dr. Sanada. They looked inquiringly at her as she stared at Kazuki and said, "You're in floral trouble."

"I thought you'd given up cryptic utterances, D," Dr. Sanada examined her.

Kazuki blanched. "Oh no. I didn't even order those flowers. I thought Ryla understood-"

Mitsuki Sanada stormed into the room. "How could you not have ordered them? They have your name on them!" she accused him.

Kazuki heard a truck driving up and cried out with relief, "It's here!" and ran towards the front door.

"Where do you think you're going!" Mitsuki Sanada followed him. D and Dr. Sanada did as well. The four were caught by surprise, hearing a muffled curse and a thump and then two pairs of feet running up to their door. The doorbell rang several times in rapid succession, simultaneous with a pounding at the door.

Kazuki opened the door and quickly shut it again. "Kazuki!" two voices plead with him from outside.

Dr. Sanada reached past Kazuki and opened the door to find Shiozaki and Izawa on the doorstep. Between the two of them, they clutched three bouquets of red roses. He quickly read the cards.

"Please, we want to see-" Shiozaki began

Dr. Sanada bellowed, "Why thank you, gentlemen!" He scooped up the roses in one motion, gave them both a tip in another, and closed the door. "Look at this! Kazuki's gone and gotten us all roses! Well, for you all, I hope you didn't get red roses for me!" He laughed.

D clapped her hands. "How sweet of you, Kazuki!"

Mitsuki Sanada stopped dead and blushed, in embarrassment and pleasure and jealousy of the others' bouquets. "Then," she paused, and finally managed, "Why, thank you, Kazuki."

Kazuki even had the sense not to sigh in relief. Now all he needed to do was find Yayoi and present her with the remaining bouquet, and the damage would be controlled. Apparently he was getting better at disposing tidily of his problems.

On the doorstep, Shiozaki and Izawa stood in shock. The floral delivery man they had just forcibly taken the flowers from rose up from his prone position behind them. "Get in the truck," he growled, reclaiming his rightful tips out of their hands.

It was when they had gotten a third of the way to the launch site that Kent Slade remembered what he had forgotten. Wasn't that one of Murphy's Laws?

"I forgot my PDA," Slade groaned.

"Your what?" Mena asked.

"My personal digital assistant," Slade moaned. "Look, I'll go back and get it, you two go on ahead."

As he went back, he overheard something coming from the open window of a passing floral truck, "But you two were so helpful making deliveries at the Sanada house," said a sarcastic male voice, "I want you two to make all the deliveries today!" Then the truck was gone, and all he could hear was two teenage voices bleating, "Please no!!!" as it passed out of sight.

Slade decided that was just plain weird and continued on his way.

Mrs. Nanjyoin took a cellphone call as she, Ryla, Alice, and the Sanada household finally arrived at the launch site. She considerately stepped some distance away. Ayuko, Dr. Warai and Dr. Hayase were waiting for them by the administrative building, as were Alice and the third Mitsuki.

Kent Slade showed up three minutes later. Dr. Warai smirked at him.

"Wipe that smug smile of a bachelor off your face, Dr. Warai," Slade growled. Dr. Warai just pointed and laughed at Slade.

"Why is he laughing?" Mitsuki asked him.

"Just ignore him, dear," Kent muttered.

To get through to the launch site, they had needed to proceed through a tight cordon of security. The private guards had managed very effectively to keep people well clear of the launch site, although immediately outside their barricades, tents had sprung up. Some people were very dedicated to seeing this unprecedented triumph of mankind. The launch today was the first step in leaving the solar system.

D noticed the wind begin to pick up and looked up at the sky. It had been overcast before, and now looked very gloomy. "I think it might rain," she commented.

Kent was using his PDA, and was looking at weather reports and the latest schedules and details from the launch site. "No kidding; it's a fairly big storm, from all the indications. I don't think we can launch today."

D's face fell. "We can't?"

Mrs. Nanjyoin, the call concluded, returned to the group. "Evidently, our accommodations for the night are here. I suppose we shall simply have to consider this field as a campground."

"We're sleeping on a field in the rain?" Dr. Hayase was astonished.

"Without tents," Kent said dully.

"Hey, I think you just drove the final peg into this situation!" Dr. Warai made a bizarre attempt at a pun, but even this was halfhearted.

"Don't be silly, I bet they'll let us sleep just one night in this building," D, indicated the administrative building.

Yayoi pointed to a dilapidated building some distance away, "Or we could check into that hot springs resort over there."

"It looks haunted!" Alice whimpered.

Ryla shook her head. "I knew we shouldn't have started telling summer ghost stories on the way here."

Dr. Sanada squinted at the building. "I don't think that's even a hot springs resort; there probably aren't any hot springs around here. Anyway, it looks more like a tool shed."

Ayuko shrugged. "I'll just go back to the mansion."

"Mother," Mitsuki Rara remonstrated, "you'll just have to come back tomorrow. What if there were some sort of traffic jam or difficulty so you couldn't get back?"

Dr. Warai said under his breath, "That would be a problem?" No one heard him, but many were doubtless thinking similar thoughts.

Ayuko surveyed them all calmly. "I'm sure you'd wait for me."

Akane glared at her, "Then we'd be inconvenienced. Just stay here, will you?"

"Of course I will. I wouldn't want to inconvenience my dear sister," Ayuko smiled at Akane with sickly sweetness.

Dr. Rara, looking harried, popped out of the administrative building. "I'm very sorry everyone, but, you see those clouds. We're going to postpone the launch until tomorrow." He looked at Kazuki. "I'm very sorry."

Kazuki held out a hand awkwardly. "It's not your fault; thanks for doing your best. We should be able to go tomorrow. It'll be all right."

"Tomorrow?" Mitsuki Sanada muttered, her face contorting.

Briefing Main Chapters Chapter 3