Chapter 1-Unravelling

I guess I should start at the beginning. It's as good as a place to start as any.

It was the dead of night as I yawned as I stretched out in my cramped loft apartment that vibrated every time the commuter train roared by. My hamster-sized room was only lit by the glow of the flatscreen monitor. It had a metal single bed on tall stilts, with a futon and computer workstation below. It was cluttered with computer parts, manuals, scattered takeout containers and empty soda bottles. The only neatly arranged part of my room was a set of three display shelves featuring figurines, model starships, keychains, and art books. Covering every available wall surface were posters of my obsession; Arashi, the Storm Prince. It was an overwrought anime series about a swashbuckling space prince, and his unruly harem of followers. Despite the fictional prince being an arrogant asshole, I still pathetically yearned to have his magnificent life.

After hitting the bathroom, I glanced at my hateful face that featured ghastly pale skin, flaxen hair, a wispy goatee and moustache and haunted blue eyes behind thick glasses. I snorted in disgust and returned to my workstation.

Japanese Text had appeared on the screen, "Osaka_1280, how do you think prince Arashi will get himself out of this fix?"

I typed a response, "Fanboy_3418, isn't it obvious? He has a secret plan; he always has trick up his sleeve! His own sister Ayumi has psychic powers after all. Just wait for the release date for tomorrow."

A third chat user piped in, "No way he'll get out of this! Engineer Kin already alerted the bloodhound fleet. Poor bastards will be massacred at the secret asteroid base."

I smirked and calmly typed, "No faith in the valiant prince I see. He must have known Kin was evil all along and will counter with a brilliant strategy. After all he has the great General Sysverdin working for him, the greatest tactician in the galaxy." A chime interrupted my train of thought. With a sigh I typed "BRB", and switched to my e-mail. I typed a terse response to the client and then went back to the chatroom. "BBL. Work calls."

I booted up the website construction program and leaned forward as I got back to work on the design.

Several hours later the bright fluorescent lights in the 24 hour convenience store hurt my weak eyes. Even wearing my prescription sunglasses did little to mitigate the annoying glare. Despite being indoors I could still feel the bitter cold seeping in from the inky night outside. I only shopped close to midnight as I couldn't bear to be around people, especially when they stared and whispered about my appearance. It's not my own damn fault that I was an albino, but at least I was relieved that my unique talents with computers meant I could hide from the rest of the world. I envied my fellow, if fictional fellow albino for having a charmed life that was the opposite of my own pathetic existence. The majestic prince Arashi had white hair and blue eyes, just like I did; however the similarities ended there. The prince was bold and a great warrior, whereas I was timid and weak. Arashi loved and was loved by many beautiful women; I was too terrified to even attempt getting a date. I berated myself glumly as I finished picking up my instant ramen, curry noodles, and packs of soda.

The pretty clerk behind the counter looked up at me and smiled, "Will that be all, Seki-san?"

I dropped my gaze instantly and nodded hurriedly, eager to get the painful transaction over with. Once again, I couldn't make eye contact; much less ask the pretty clerk out. I was such a coward!

"Your total is 2500 yen."

I shoved the bills across the counter. From previous interactions I knew that her name was Mitsuhara Kyoko, and was working the deadend shift at this store to pay for coursework. Of course I hadn't dared ask her number of course; or let slip that I had a crush on her. Several times a week I ventured out to shop for essentials, and she was the only person in Osaka that I had any face to face connection to. I knew that she would be graduating soon, quit her crappy job, and move away forever. I guessed in the long run it would be a mercy kill for my heart.

"C-congratulations on your degree," I stammered as I took the change, of course dropping several of the coins onto the floor in the process.

She beamed, and bowed, "Seki-san, thank you so much. I never would have passed the computer course without your study guides! I just-"

My anxiety attack flared up so of course I turned tail and ran like the chikenshit that I was. I bowed hastily and cut her off, "Goodnight, and good fortune Mitsuhara-san." I bolted through the sliding doors and fought my way home in the frosty cold. I turned up my dog-eared collar and bitterly mused that Arashi would have already bedded Kyoko. An ugly loser like myself; forget it man.

I tried hard to cheer up as I got inside, threw the deadbolts and sank weakly into my swivel chair. As I put my groceries away I knew that tomorrow was the day that the final Arashi, the Storm Prince video was set to be released.

The next morning, I was replacing a laptop screen with a precise and sure hand when the doorbell buzzed.

I tensed up and walked to the door and looked through the peephole. Our in the hallway I could see a heavyset man in uniform wearing a package delivery outfit. It was someone I knew well, as half of my business involved shipping computer parts. I relaxed a notch and opened the door as far as the chain would permit.

The clerk smiled wearily, "Another letter for you, Mr. Seki. Sign here." He handed over an electronic form. I signed it with the stylus and returned it through the gap in the door and claimed his envelope. The guy nodded, "Seeya later."

I shut the door and threw both deadbolts, cut open the package with my pocketknife and gawked at the contents. Inside the unassuming envelope was a folded piece of paper wrapped around a jade ring showing a Chinese dragon chasing its tail. Why anyone would send me a gift like this? I hadn't a damn clue. My foster family was out of the picture, as I had walked out for good when I came of age. It had been a mutual parting, as we couldn't ever like or understand each other. I had no ties beyond the anonymous chatroom fellow anime otaku. Finally, it couldn't be the store clerk because she didn't know my address. With a trembling hand I unfolded the note and saw it read in a flowery feminine script, "Only you can save us! I believe in you, my Prince!"

That last word creeped me the hell out. Although calling a guy a prince was a common enough term of endearment that offhand remark hit too close to home. Could the sender possibly know about my favorite show? Was one of my chatroom fans stalking me? Who in the entire would would see me as a hero? I flipped the envelope over and saw it had merely a post office box number in town. Normally I would ignore this nagging mystery because the video was set to release nationwide at noon. I prided myself on never missing a premier event. However, I wanted to return this precious gift that had obviously been mistakenly sent to me. Keeping this shiny ring and a heartfelt note written for someone else just didn't see right.

After a great deal of searching I reached the post office at the correct address. However, much to my shock, I could see from the sidewalk that it was closed for renovations. I peered into through a dusty window, and saw construction equipment and debris scattered around. There was a neatly written note taped to the inside of the front door that apologized for the inconvenience. Now what? I knew the ring was probably a fake anyway, so whoever sent it to me wouldn't miss it anyway. Still, that cryptic note kept nagging at the back of my mind. I shrugged in defeat and headed to the video store to pick up Volume 10 of Arashi.

A few hours later I twirled the jade ring in one hand, and chewed my nails to the quick on the other as I sat on the edge of my futon and watched the final episode of my beloved series on my massive flatscreen TV. The last episode featured Prince Arashi and four of his cohorts being trapped on his magnificent starship, the Tsukiko on the asteroid base, surrounded by a thousand imperial Bloodhound warships.

Arashi, resplendent in his white and gold nobleman's robes defiantly watched the viewscreens showing the enemy ships pelting the asteroid with kinetic and missile fire. He called out, "General, how did they find us?"

The tall, noble warrior turned around with a scowl. He had dark tan skin, haughty gray eyes and jet black long hair. His uniform was all black trimmed with dark gray. General Sysverdin growled, "Inside job, my prince! Remember who suggested we drop off the rest of the crew at our other fortress?"

The prince pounded his fist on the railing, "I knew it!" He punched the intercom button to engineering, "Kin-san, I want you to come up here right away."

A slightly raspy voice replied, "I'm on my way sir."

A short, fragile-looking girl who had white hair and violet eyes looked at her older brother with tears streaking down her face, "Niisama, Forgive me. It's my fault, as I did not realize Kin-san's treachery."

Arashi groused to his younger sister, "Idiot! You couldn't help it. You were trying to predict the next move of that usurper who murdered our parents and stole my throne."

The Prince's royal bodyguard, a petite, striking woman with raven hair turned to her master, "My prince, your orders?"

The prince's blue eyes displayed cold resignation to the inevitable as ignominious death was infinitely preferable to being captured alive. He snapped at his flunky, "Gallowglass. Enact Operation Weeping Willow."

His follower turned pale in her face, her dark blue eyes widening. However she composed herself quickly and nodded stoically, "Yes, my prince."

The door opened and Kin walked in casually, smirking. He was unshaven and thin as a rail, with unruly dirty blond hair and glinting green eyes. He boasted, "Hey boss. I have a plan!"

The noble, white-haired warrior nodded, "Let's see it in action."

"Gladly." As he said this he whipped out a concealed gun from his sleeve. He was just ready to shoot Arashi between the eyes when to his shock, he saw his right arm shockingly ended in an amputated stump. He cursed and crumpled against the door, trying in vain to stop the blood flow.

Arashi haughtily wiped his sword clean of blood and angrily faced down his traitorous underling, "Just tell me why you did it."

Kin cursed, "I wanted your wealth, fame and power, but I can never be like you asshole nobles. I was born in the dungheap. I only can get ahead if I steal it." He laughed maniacally, "You're dead anyway, you shithead!"

The noble spoke in cold fury, "You before me." Another blinding fast stroke of his sword and the engineer's body and head fell to the pearlescent deck in separate directions. He wiped some of the blood spatter off his face as he turned to face his companions, "Tsukiko."

The ship's AI, with a soft voice answered, "Yes, prince Kado?"

"Activate the antimatter inverter."

His cute sister gasped and hung her head, "N-no…Self Destruct. It's really over." Tears pooled in her eyes, as she crumpled against the wall and burst into sobs.

"No, don't do it," I cried out loud in horror, my tears mirroring the animated teen girl's. "There has to be another way. Ayumi-chan!"

Arashi hugged his quietly weeoping sister tenderly, "It will be over before you know it."

She shivered as she kissed her beloved brother on the cheek, "I love you. Just make it quick."

The Prince gave a firm nod, "I promise."

The waifish girl's eyes bugged out in shock, and then slowly shut. She fell limp in the prince's arms. He tenderly laid her on the bridge floor and threw away the bloody dagger he had used to pierce her heart.

Slumped beneath the TV, I cried like a baby, as the jade ring slipped on my ring finger, seemingly of its own accord. I screamed, "This can't be happening! Ayumi, I'm sorry!"

Relentlessly, the video played on.

General Sysverdin grimly noted, "I'll meet you in Valhalla, good prince."

Arashi nodded, "You have a deal."

A single gunshot tore apart the silence in the room. The prince watched with an expressionless face as his friend and magnificent rival slumped to the deck. He stoically undid his robe and exposed his chest and belly. He grimly knelt and took out his shorter sword. His faithful bodyguard hovered next to him, her humming sword raised above his neck. He spoke softly, "We burn out like meteors in the sky. A flash of light, then oblivion. Know this fake Emperor; I swear that others will rise in my stead!"

His bodyguard's eyes shimmered with tears, "Yes my prince."

The screen turned black, Arashi's voice roared in agony, and blood droplets spattered elegantly across the closing credits. An idol singer sung a melancholy aria, as I curled up in a fetal position. I had no one left now. Even my favorite fictional characters were all dead. Hours after the DVD went back to looping the opening fanfare on the top menu, I huddled up in a ball on the litter-strewn floor and cried bitterly.

Too distraught to eat, I finally crawled over to the futon and despaired, "Ayumi-chan, I would have saved you. I would have found a way." Drained by the traumatic experience, I fell asleep with the TV still on, praying somehow to change their unbearable fate. The last thing I saw before I blacked out was the sight of the jade ring on my finger faintly glowing in the darkness, the dragon's ruby eyes lit up with a mysterious inner fire.

I honestly had no idea how much time passed before I heard my alarm clock chime. I sleepily stirred and flopped over on my belly to avoid getting up and facing the day with the knowledge that the creators of the Arashi anime had ripped out my heart with their pitiless twist ending. The chimes sounded again, and suddenly I recalled with a jolt that my alarm clock made a raucous buzz instead of musical notes. What the actual hell was going on?

A soothing young man's voice spoke up, "Its time to get up, Your Highness."

How the hell had an intruder broken into my private sanctum? I sat bolt upright and barked out in a wavering voice, "Who's there? What did you just call me? My eyes widened in shock as I took in the completely white bedchamber surrounding me that looked like a hotel room out of a Sci-Fi flick. The wall to my right featured a recessed door, inset doors and drawers that likely were for dressers and closets. The King-sized bed with white blankets I was on was delightfully comfortable and didn't even feel like any mattress I had tried before. All the lighting was indirect, bathing the room in a soft, soothing glow. I also couldn't help but notice that there were no pictures or mementos anywhere in sight. However I was in fact the only one in the bedroom.

The voice continued, sounding puzzled, "I am Tsukiko, the ship AI, and you are his Royal Highness, the rightful heir to the Imperial Alabaster throne."

I blurted out, "No fucking way!" I was still dreaming. I had to be. I raced to get out of the unfamiliar white room, and found my way into the bathroom to the left of the bed. I froze and openly gawked as I spotted a man with ice blue eyes and shoulder-length ivory hair cascading over his naked body staring back at me with a wild and confounded expression. I knew in an instant that I was staring at prince Arashi, but he wasn't a 2D image on a video screen; this was a flesh and blood man.

I blurted out in dismay, "It can't be!" I felt like I was in a crazy dream or maybe a nightmare; because as soon as I spoke man in the screen mouthed the exact same words. I waved my hand, and the other man imitated my gesture flawlessly. I pinched my arm and felt pain, and saw him contort his face as he mimicked my action. I slumped against the doorframe as I realized that I wasn't looking at a video screen of prince Kado Arashi; I was him.

The corridor door chimed, and a voice I knew as well as my own came through the intercom, "My Prince, are you up yet?"

It was my bodyguard, always called gallowglass by Arashi. I finally realized my jade ring was missing, thus I somehow knew I was trapped inside my favorite anime. Shit, what was I going to do? I slumped on the bed in a daze and tried unsuccessfully to calm down. This must be a dream, and thus I must act the part….what else could I do?

The intercom chimed again, "Tsukiko just told me you're on your feet. I know you're awake, sir!"

I pawed through several dresser drawers before finally scoring a pair of black boxers, "W-wait a sec, gallowglass." I took a few panicky breaths and then tapped the door console to unlock it.

My bodyguard stood demurely in the hallway. It was beyond surreal to see with my own eyes a real young lady whose face I knew as well as my own stand before me. Like her animated alter ego, she was dressed in a simple sky blue robe trimmed with cobalt accents. Her black hair flowed loosely over her shoulders except for a small ponytail in the back tied back with a cerulean ribbon. An intimidating sword was secured to her waist. Her sea blue eyes registered weary exasperation, "Your Highness, why aren't you dressed? I had the ship AI page you forty minutes ago."

I automatically found something else to stare at, "I-I er."

She bowed hastily, "Forgive my intrusion." She gracefully walked in and took out his…my robes as she muttered under her breath. "Put this on, please."

I meekly complied and donned the undershirt, as she expertly wrapped his white and gold robes around my body securely. I was in too much numbed shock to think or even protest. After brushing my hair, she tied it back with a black ribbon, and strapped on my twin swords, one half the length of the other. She gave a serious nod as she evaluated her job with a tone of quiet pride, "Not bad. Not bad at all, my Prince."

I had been squirming the entire time as a woman was gently touching my body as she dressed me. I did my level best not to have a panic attack, with limited success. I managed to keep my shit together with superhuman effort. After she backed away, I realized in some ways it had actually made me rather warm inside. Maybe she was just a conscripted servant, but she always discharged her duty admirably. Gallowglass Jin Tenku was comically serious, but I had always found her downright endearing and cute. If fact I had a body pillow with a life-sized picture of the animated Jin in my loft bed, not that I would ever admit that humiliating detail out loud.

She gaze me an odd expression, "You looked troubled, your Highness."

I couldn't hide my blush as I softly stated, "Jin-san, is this a dream?"

She looked up at me with staring eyes as her mouth dropped open. The room was deathly still for nearly a minute. Eventually she squeaked out, "You may be right my Prince. I've never once heard you call me that before!"

If I was in a dream, I had to act the part. I used to roleplay alone all the time when I was younger, and pretended I had amazing adventure with my made up friends. My ever vivid imagination had made my friendless childhood at least a little more bearable. This Prince might be a hedonistic and narcissistic asshole, but he was always self-assured. I forced with all my will to make eye contact, as much as I dreaded it. If I screwed this up, I knew I would be dead meat. I spoke as assertively as I could manage, "It is Jin Tenku, right?"

"Uh. Yeah." I could see her face rapidly went from pale to several intense shades of pink.

Only now I realized how demeaning the prince was by calling his servant by her job title rather than her name; I couldn't be that much of a tool if I tried. I sighed softly and forced a weak smile, "Shall we go, Jin-san?"

"Y-yes my Prince."

A minute later, after following my Gallowglass through the white corridors of his…ugh…my sensationally beautiful ship, we walked into the main conference room. The first thing I spotted took my breath away.

A short teenaged girl wearing a light amber shirt and black, pleated pants stood up. Her long white hair hung to nearly her waist, she had triangular marks on her cheeks, and her inquisitive violet eyes looked at right at me with teasing amusement, "Good morning sleepyhead."

I had just seen her die. How was this possible? I croaked out, "Ayumi…chan." My brain ground to a halt as my body of its own accord swept her up in a powerful hug as tears of joy pooled at the corners of my eyes. I basked in the warmth of her petite body as I gushed, "Ayumi-chan! Thank the spirits."

"Niisama, what are you doing? Put me down please." Her voice sounded panicked, but I could give a shit. She was somehow alive again, and I wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

I dropped her back down and beamed, "It's so wonderful to see you again." I tried to hug her again, but she nimbly pulled out of my embrace.

Ayumi backed away, looking flustered and a little worried, "Uh, yeah…you too, big brother."

A deep booming voice interrupted, "Begging your Majesty's pardon, but we have a war to win."

I pivoted to see an arrogant, handsome, dark-skinned man standing at the far end of the room eying me with narrow, slate-colored eyes. His entire uniform was black, with only a few traces of grey.

I was doing joyful somersaults in my head at seeing another one of my old friends alive again. I flashed a sheepish smile, "I'm not myself this morning, General. Please disregard my antics."

General Sysverdin shook his head in disdain, "So it would seem." As was in his nature, he screened out anything frivolous and went straight back to his grimly serious planning. "Based on our latest tracks, and our spy network, the Bloodhound fleet is most likely to strike-"

The door opened again and a gangly man with tousled blond hair, and dressed in a green utility jumpsuit bounded in. His pine green eyes expressed alarm, "Sorry I'm late guys. I overslept."

I dug my nails into my palms, stood up, and my vision went red. It was that traitorous bastard that had instigated all our deaths. I tried valiantly to keep my tone normal as I nearly snarled out, "It's understandable, Engineer Kin. I slept in late too."

"Well don't mind me, your Highness. As you were saying, General?"

I gestured towards the door and waved Kin out into the hallway. After I exited with Jin in tow I turned back and spoke, "Don't mind me, General. Ayumi-san will fill me in later."

Sysverdin eyed the entire exchange with a deep frown as the doors gilded shut again.

In the gently curving oval corridor, Kin turned to me, "What's this all about boss?"

My voice dripped with resentment, "When exactly did you signal the Bloodhounds?"

Kin's eyes drew wide and he rose up his right hand to shoot me.

A flash of steel wielded by my bodyguard whipped by, and the engineer's hidden pistol was suddenly short a barrel. He pulled the useless trigger twice before Jin kneed him in the crotch and pinned him to the bulkhead with her sword at his throat. I was astonished on how quickly she had acted. I realized with a shiver that she had just saved my worthless hide.

Kin grunted in pain and panted, and spat in my face with contempt, as a trickle of blood meandered down his neck, "You're just a little smarter than you look, your Highness. I underestimated you." He sneered cruelly, "Not that it matters. You're all dead anyway."

Jin scowled and edged the blade against his throat, "My prince, may I have the honor of dispatching this lowlife?"

I wiped the spittle off of my cheek as I shook my head in resignation. Besides I would faint if I saw an execution right in front of me. I muttered, "Don't. Killing him won't accomplish anything. I'm sure he signaled the Bloodhounds as soon as we reached the asteroid base."

Kin laughed hysterically with pure spite in his green eyes, "Congrads! You get a gold star!"

I grimly spat out, "Alive, if you please, Jin-san."

"As you wish." She pressed her neural stunner into Kin's side and a jolt of energy knocked out the turncoat crewman.

I shook my head in disgust, "Gallowglass, please dump our guest into the nearest escape pod. Tsukiko, summon everyone to the bridge."

"Yes, your majesty."

As we rushed onto the bridge, Tsukiko warned us, "Sensors indicated over 800 warp signatures have been detected in the asteroid belt. They are consistent with Bloodhound Hunter and Brawler ships."

My heart was pounding so fast I thought it would burst, and I fought to keep my hands from shaking by tucking them behind my back.

General Sysverdin raced to the viewscreen and activated the remote cameras. Every angle showed the swarms of ugly gunmetal grey ships maneuvering between slowly tumbling and massive chunks of rock. Most of the ships had blood red stripes streaking across their hulls, with the higher ranking Hunter ships decorated with blue stripes. We were completely surrounded; just like on the final episode of the Storm Prince. The general called out, "How many of those ships can you take on?"

The AI spoke regretfully, "No more than a hundred or so. My regenerative systems will not be able to keep up with their beam, railgun and nuclear missile fire for long."

The general scowled, "We're on a suicide run, then. So be it."

The whole base started shaking as the armada started pelting the asteroid with withering fire.

I turned around to my despairing Gallowglass and squeezed her shoulder.

Jin looked at me fatalistically, and whispered, "Operation Weeping Willow?"

Self destruct the ship, shoot Sysverdin in the head, stab Ayumi to death, and have Jin chop off my head as I committed Seppuku? I didn't think so. I snapped forcefully, "No. I have a better plan."

Ayumi looked at me sorrowfully as she repeated her lines from the show, "Niisama. Forgive me. I did not realize Kin-san's treachery."

I walked over to my sister with fierce determination. I was scared out of my mind, but I knew that she would not die by my hand, ever.

She managed a brave smile, "I love you! Just make it quick!"

I reciprocated the embrace and whispered, "I love you too." Then, I released her instead of ending her life. That mercy dagger hidden in my boot would have to stay there, unused. I would sooner cut my own throat with it than ever harm my new little sister. I heard her gasp as it suddenly dawned on me that she had empathic psychic powers. Crap. Did she already know I was a fake?

Ayumi looked stunned at my actions, "Niisama?"

I had no time to worry about her ratting me out. I whirled back to the main computer terminal. The only time in my life that I was not a nervous wreck was when I was working on computers or daydreaming about my favorite anime. Ever since I was six, I had obsessively written stories of my favorite fictional characters. Even as a young adult I had written a few amateurish tales about the Arashi-verse. I never published them online of course. Why go out on a limb and humiliate myself? I prayed to the spirits that my obsession with the series was about to pay off. I pushed back my fear as I once again entered my roleplay mode and conjured up obscure details from the reference books that I had read through countless times. "Tsukiko, doesn't your AI core have separate warp capability?"

"Yes, it does."

The general looked confused, "You do?"

"It is only to be used if the ship is about to be destroyed. My creators did not want to waste their AI systems."

"Well, we'll need it this time. Plus, it will deny the Bloodhounds a functional ship."

"Yes, your Highness."

"Arm all the weapons. Set the asteroid base to self destruct 60 seconds after the ship blasts out."

The general cut in, "But we can't win against 800 ships."

I may be a spineless coward, but only a fool would underestimate my geeky pride. I managed a knowing grin, "I know that, general. The Tsukiko is a decoy."

Jin chimed in, "So we take the escape pods?"

Sysverdin shook his head, "They'll target those immediately."

I shook my head, "We'll sacrifice the pods as well."

Ayumi's eyes lit up, "I understand now! We go out in spacesuits and salvage a wrecked Bloodhound ship."

The general shook his head, "It's absolutely insane. You the odds are thousands to one at best." He broke out into a fierce grin, "I like it."

"Tsukiko, set the ship to self destruct before you warp to the forward base and warn the rest of the crew," I ordered softly.

"Yes, your Highness."

"Set the countdown for five minutes! Good luck!"

"You too."

A few minutes later we were encased in our white and cream-colored vacuum suits and racing headlong to the stern of the ship. The entire ship vibrated from end to end as the barrage destroyed the asteroid hanger around us. Just as we they reached the airlock, I hailed the engineer stuck in an escape pod, "I don't care why you betrayed us, Kin, but you'll see your friends soon enough." I shut off the intercom before his ex-engineer could argue back. I felt sick to his stomach over the whole mess and I didn't care to hear his excuses.

The AI noted calmly, "30 seconds."

The airlock depressurized. We all linked suit lines so we were tied together. Sysvedin clipped his end of the line into a bulky missile thruster section.

Ayumi leaned against me and took my arm, "You ready?"

Sysverdin grumbled morosely, "There is no ready!"

All of us were violently thrown off our feet by the surge of acceleration and vibrations. A few seconds later we felt the escape pods all being launched as murderous fire rapidly wore out the ship's hull.

Tsukiko spoke hopefully, "Good luck everyone."

The outer door opened and we tumbled out into the chaos of battle. In the blink of an eye the Tsukiko was out of sight, and flashes of light surrounded us on every side. I winced as I knew every flash was an explosion with dozens of lives snuffed out. It was a hauntingly beautiful space fireworks show, with us watching in the front row. The brilliant explosions soon faded out and we drifted helplessly in the inky void. The stars spun and soon I blacked out.