Chapter 6-Expendable

A week later we backtracked through the Fasil system. The days and weeks after Jin had rejected me had been simply unbearable. It was fate's judgment against me, apparently. After I revealed my true identity as an imposter I convinced my gallowglass to bunk with Ayumi as she was the only true royal left. I had obsessed for years over the show and constantly prayed to be in the devilish Prince Arishi's shoes; now that I was trapped in his body all I wished for now was to go home to Osaka with my tail between my legs. I wanted my old life where my hands weren't covered with blood.

Now I had to listen to my traitorous engineer suck up to the ex-princess Amamizu on a daily basis.

I eavesdropped as the ship captains conferred as they discussed a methane bearing asteroid a few thousand kilometers away.

Commandant Amamizu spoke confidently, "Captain Kin, after we top off our fuel reserves, we need to make contact with General Tsuchi Mio in the Jalokin system."

I wanted to cover up my ears as Kasumi and I in our spacesuits worked on the communications array just aft of the bridge. We had scrounged spare parts to get full spectrum EM passive array and active Maser, Ladar and Radio elements back up to full speed. I rolled my eyes as my backstabbing ex-crewman sucked up to the boss.

"Commandant, your safety must always be our top priority. What if Arashi's meathead general decides to shoot first? We are all in Obsidian-flagged ships."

Captain Terassa chimed in, "It's all good. We managed to salvage part of the Tsukiko's transponder. The general will think twice about firing. You identify yourself as kin to the Emperor and that you are here to negotiate a peaceful resolution."

"Sound good Terassa. I'll take the chance. Of course if you give me the transponder you and Kin can warp in after I've established détente."

The aggravating turncoat chimed in urgently, "With all due respect Commandant, we will be with you every step of the way. Our very duty is to serve you!"

Francisco Terassa added, "I agree."

Our superior sighed, "The Empire sees you as expendable pawns, but you are talented and resourceful people. I do not care to callously toss you away." She paused, and then continued, "Alright, we'll do it together. My ship will begin mining extraction. Hunter 8100 out."

I muttered over the private channel that only Kasumi could hear, "Pucker up, Mister Kiss-ass Kin!"

Kasumi broke into adorable giggles, "Your Highness, you're breaking my concentration."

I exhaled as I used a zero-G screwdriver to unbolt a burnt out Laser focusing element and gave it a good chuck out into space. I started to install the replacement assembly as I sulked. Even if I got the Prince's title back and moved into that decadent palace with who knows how many sycophants and flunkies, I still would not ever have Jin's affections.

Kasumi interrupted my stewing, "Okay the Laser lenses are showing green on the circuits. It will be nice to have full sensor and comms fully online."

I grunted in satisfaction, "Sound good Kasumi-san. Shall we go back inside?" I closed the sensor hatch and bolted it shut. As soon as I took a step, I was shocked to feel Miss Hoshisen's hand take my arm.

"Arashi-sama, why have you been so kind to me? I'm still technically your enemy." Her blue eye met mine paired with a worried frown.

I frowned in bafflement as I started to feel flushed in my cheeks. I hesitated before replying, "Because you're a good friend, and you're part of my team."

Kasumi dropped her gaze and looked thoroughly flustered. "Please forgive me for my earlier weakness. I know my confession last week caused you a great deal of trouble!"

I let out a combination of a bitter laugh and a snort, "Kasumi-san, would it surprise you to know I had a rejected confession too?"

Her blue eye widened with shock as she squealed, "Seriously? I don't believe it. You were turned down? How? The dashing prince who conquered the hearts of a thousand women was rejected?"

I gave a dry chuckle as I nodded with a lopsided smile.

She looked uneasy, "I'm sorry, I've brought up a sore spot. I'll stop right now."

I tried to reassure her over her innocent query, "It's not your fault. Go on and ask your questions. Maybe you could give me some insight into my predicament."

Kasumi broke into a radiant smile, and seemed to enjoy having my trust in so personal a matter. She put her hands together and enthused, "When did this happen? Was this when you a child and you had a precocious crush on one of your beautiful and strong servants?"

I broke out into a weary chuckle and continued, "It only happened twenty two days ago."

Her mouth fell open, and realization dawned on her. She inhaled sharply and stated, "You had feelings for your gallowglass?"

"Yeah. She told me it wasn't possible because of work-related conflicts." I groaned softly, "I'm not going to ask her to change her mind, but I'm still stupidly devoted to her."

Kasumi looked introspective for a few moments, and then I was surprised to see anger cross her face. She snapped, "She turned you down? That stupid woman!"

I squeezed her shoulder, "It's alright. Jin-san is right; in my position my duty outweighs my personal feelings."

She sighed as she idly kicked at the hull, "Did she love you back?"

"She never said as much, but she seemed to be affectionate until she did an about face on me. I don't blame her."

Natsumi's voice crackled over our headsets, "Prince Arashi and Kasumi-neesan; if you're done flirting can you get back in here? Our sensors are up again."

I switched on the full spectrum link briefly, "Copy that. We're on our way." I toggled back to the private link as my magnetic boots clomped along the external hull and groused in mortification, "Apologies Kasumi, but I'm going to have to space your sister when we get back."

"Get in line," my heavily blushing ally replied with a sheepish chuckle.

Soon enough we were back in our Obsidian uniforms as Kasumi gave her sister the stink eye as she took over the communications chair. Natsumi blew her younger twin a kiss as she left to go to engineering to help with her crush Terassa.

"Kasumi-san, complete scan diagnostics."

"Yes sir." She shyly glanced my way and returned to her holographic panels.

Ayumi beamed up at me as she could still sense my embarrassment over Natsumi's ribbing. "You two work great together niisama."

I lightly tapped her head and hissed, "Idiot! Do you think I should try to pick her up on the rebound or something dumb like that?"

My little sister beamed at me, "Well unlike one certain fool, Miss Hoshisen won't turn you down. She's crazy about you."

I grumbled, "Yeah, even a moron like me can see that; with or without empathic psychic powers."

She giggled and consulted navigation charts as she hummed a jaunty tune.

I moved over to Sysverdin's pilot console and asked, "General, how goes-"

Kasumi looked over urgently and yelled, "Prince Arashi, I got an automated distress call!"

I raced over and gaped, "I'll be damned." I made a quick decision as I activated the intraship comm, "Francisco-san, check this out!"

I heard his resonant voice ask, "Shit! Is that for real Prince Arashi?"

"So it would seem. Let's talk to our buddies."

Terassa linked with Kasumi's console, "Hunter 8100 and Brawler 19001, this is Captain Terassa from Brawler 21081. We just detected a distress beacon. We request permission to scout it out."

"Brawler 21081, confirmed. Brawler 19001 provide backup," our Commandant ordered.

Kin chimed in, "Brawler 19001, affirm. We'll do you proud Commandant Amamizu!"

Several hours later we pulled close to the signal. My gallowglass, the general and I were already in our spacesuits ready to go EVA. I was surprised to see idly tumbling few hundred kilometers away was a half intact Alabaster-era heavy cruiser. I felt a twinge as Jin exchanged a troubled glance with me before going back to her tactical screen.

Kin noted, "Wow! I haven't seen one of those beauties since the overthrow. They're magnificent."

Terassa concurred, "Yeah. I was five years old when the coup happened. Their design aesthetic was a homage to the royal flagship Tsukino if I remember correctly from the pre-war holos. The Alabaster navy must have been magnificent in its glory days."

Kin chuckled, "Yeah, but these mass produced tin cans we're in made up in sheer numbers what they lacked in coolness. I say we suit up for salvage."

"We can salve it if there are no survivors," a worried-looking Terassa noted. He turned to my sister, "Yumi-san, hail it."

Ayumi nodded and opened up the comms with our IFF transponder, "Alabaster cruiser, this is Brawler 21081. What is the nature of your emergency?"

Only silence came back as a reply.

I frowned as I looked over the environmental and ship status panels and saw warning signs start to pop up. Then my eyes widened as I realized what was going on. It was a viral attack. I whirled around, "Ayumi, cut the comms, now!"

"Oh? I-er…okay niisama!"

Jin looked over my shoulder with alarm, "My Prince, what is it?"

I ran over to the MCU and plugged in my palm sized override control unit. I swore, "Shitshitshit!" I looked over the MCU diagnostics and my heart starting beating madly. I hollered out, "It's a trap! Kasumi, send a Ladar ping to Hunter 8100 and Brawler 19001 to cut all communications. This derelict is infecting our MCUs!"

"You got it!" She looked over her controls and then gave a thumbs up, "Hunter 8100 says they're in the clear!"

General Sysverdin growled, "I've lost helm. Whatever you're doing, do it fast!"

Sweat beaded on my forehead as I uploaded my Guardian antivirus program.

The MCU spoke in an eerily calm voice, "Brawler 21081 self destruct activated. T-minus five minutes."

All of the displays lit up with red bands at the top and bottom showing the timer.

"Damn it! No! You're not going to best the Osaka bandit! Seki Michio is unbeatable with computers!"

"Four minutes, thirty seconds."

Ayumi looked back at me with the same guilty expression I had seen aboard the Tsukino all those weeks ago. I briefly made eye contact with my team: Sysverdin, Ayumi, Natsumi, Katsumi, Terassa, and Jin. I couldn't fail them.

"Four minutes, mark."

I knew I had to pull this win out from defeat. I had never had friends before. I had never had a loving family before. I would not let them die on my watch. I hissed, "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, come on you piece of crap!"

"Self destruct canceled at three minutes, 46 seconds."

The bridge broke out into raucous cheers as everyone gave effusive hugs. I slumped against the computer core wall and slumped to the deck.

I snapped, "General, nuke that SOB so it never claims another ship!"

"Aye sir."

Ayumi turned pale again as she unmuted her comm and a second mechanical voice entered the room, "Brawler 19001 MCU…self destruct at three minutes, mark."

I roared as I pulled out my tablet and flipped my visor shut, "Ayumi, hail Kin and tell them to open their airlock!"

"Yes, niisama!"

I walked into the airlock and overrode my Brawler's MCU. "Enable operation Escape hatch."

Brawler 21081 piped up, "Confirmed. Warp drive is powering up. Coordinates to the Jakokin system inputted. Warp is at your command."

I watched Jin's despairing expression as she pounded on the inner airlock window, "Arashi-sama, don't leave us!"

I gave her a pained smile and a salute, "I'm just a nobody, remember? Guard the princess well, Tenku-san."

I heard her cry out as I thrusted out of the airlock into the void, "Michio-san, I failed you!"

I enabled the override as I saw Brawler 19001 in the near distance fill my field of view.

The last words I heard were Ayumi's scream, "Niisama, don't-" Then I saw a flash of light as my home for the past few weeks vanished into eternity. My eyes pooled with tears as I wished them well. I knew they would be alright without me.

I heard Kin's ship, "T-minus two minutes, mark."

I slammed into the inner airlock door after flying into the starboard side airlock. I spat out blood as I railed, "Kin, open the fucking door!"

I saw Michelle Redlake open the door and bark, "What the hell happened to your ship?"

"T-minus one minute thirty seconds," the computer intoned.

I shoved past her and approached the MCU and attached my console. "Pray to the gods if you believe in any!"

"T-minus one minute, mark."

Kin came over and drew Michelle into a tight hug. He squeezed my arm and spoke sincerely, "Thanks for trying buddy. At least Commandant Amamizu will live."

"T-minus thirty seconds."

I finished uploading the program and whooped with a fist pump, "Hell yeah! Take that, you piece of crap!"

The Brawler 19001 MCU smoothly replied, "Self destruct canceled."

The five crew of Kin's team broke out to wild cheers and hugs.

Kin's green eyes radiated gratitude, and then morphed into absolute horror as he realized who was standing on his bridge. He gasped, "P-prince Arashi?"

I removed my helmet and exhaled as I wiped the memory on my palm computer. My family in the long gone Brawler was safe now. What happened to a nonentity like me was immaterial now. I gave him a fierce grin as I laughed uproariously, "How about it, Jeremiah? I've now saved your ass twice."

Kin's punch sent me hard into the MCU core, causing me to fall to the deck grates. He roared, "You son of bitch! How the hell did you survive the Tsukino's destruction?"

I flopped on my back and stared up at a barrel of Kin's sidearm, and giggled hysterically.

My wiry ex-crewman held both of his hands on his pistol even as his hands shook uncontrollably. He growled, "How the fuck did you turn up now?"

I locked eyes with him sadly even as I was ready to piss myself. "What are you waiting for," I asked quietly.

The rest of his crew looked at each other and at their Captain with ashen faces.

"You…have to die you fucker," Jerry raged softly and tried to pull the trigger.

Michelle knelt by his side and gently squeezed Kin's shoulder, "Don't my love."

Jeremiah's tears splashed on my chest as he spat out, "Prince Kado's rebellion caused my entire family to be nuked to ashes by the Obsidian empire. My mother, my father…my little sister Terry." His green eyes burned into me with despairing spite, "Michy…I have to kill him. I have to kill the asshole Prince that took everything from me."

Michelle's bright blue eyes flashed indignantly, "Listen to me. When the first time the Prince saved your life, whose life did you save in turn?"

Jerry finally broke eye contact with me and looked pleadingly at his lover, "H-he let me live…and I helped to save you."

Michelle lovingly caressed her tan hand on the Captain's cheek, "Yes. You saved me and everyone else standing here. If Arashi had killed you for your betrayal, then I wouldn't have survived."

He finally broke down into open sobs, "Dammit! It's not fair. He has to pay for fucking up the whole galaxy." He finally tossed his sidearm away and cried into Michelle's arms.

Redlake soothed, "Jerry, its not worth it. We just bagged the Emperor's worst enemy. Let the Obsidian Empire decide his fate."

Kin kissed his beloved and then punched my chin again as he swore under his breath.

Ouch. Now both my eye and my chin ached. I chuckled dully despite the pain.

Jeremiah glared hatefully at me and muttered, "What the hell is so funny, Prince Arashi?"

I winked and rubbed my sore eye socket as I lied through my teeth, "I'm idiot for saving my backstabbing crewman." My real reason was I was really Seki Michio and I killed the Prince myself just before the Tsukino blew up.

Jin slumped into the Captain's chair and waved with a sullen expression. "Get our guest out of that spacesuit and lock him in an empty room, Bauer. He spared me so I will not be the one to take his life. Let the Commandant decide how he is to suffer."

A burly footsoldier hoisted me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and saluted, "Yessir!"

Long after I was stripped to my underwear and left in an empty room I softly giggled to myself. This was what I deserved.

"Wakey, wakey," a harsh voice snapped the next morning as I was doused with cold water. I gasped and sat up and gawked at Michelle staring at me with burning resentment in her glowing blue eyes. She flung a uniform in my face and chucked boots into my chest. Then she huffed and let the door shut.

I guess the Storm Prince really must have pissed her off. I was soon dressed and as I rubbed my black eye I politely knocked on the sealed door.

Five minutes later in handcuffs, I exited through two sets of airlocks from the Brawler to the far more spacious Hunter with Kin and Michelle as my guards. My short hair had the dye washed out, and now I looked a bit more like the rogue prince, albeit with a crew cut.

"Well, well, nice to meet you face to face at last Prince Kado Arashi." The brown skinned Commandant Amamizu Taki gazed at me with dangerously intelligent golden brown eyes that marked the members of the Obsidian bloodline. Her neat uniform was grey with decorative cobalt blue trim and understated rank epaulets. She brushed back her black hair as she looked at me…more like though me with interest. She gestured to her subordinates, "Captain Kin and Conscript Redlake, kindly put our guest in the chair."

Kin snorted and roughly shoved me into the interrogation chair. "Sucks for you, Your Majesty!" Both he and Michelle gleefully activated the magnetic restraints in my wrists, ankles, thighs, and chest.

So I guess I was to be tortured. I didn't want to die, but my family's welfare mattered more. I sighed and braced myself.

"Dismissed," Amamizu softly ordered.

Kin cleared his throat, but decided better to question an ex-royal. He and his girlfriend saluted smartly and then left the darkened spherical room.

The commandant powered up the viewscreen in front of us and activated the interrogation chair. She spoke softly, "For the record…your name."

"I…I'm Prince Kado Ara-"

My voice faltered as I saw text on the screen, Seki Michio.

"Where were you born?"

I tried desperately to bluff, "Solstice city on planet Magellica in the Damien nebula."

The computer refuted my statement as it noted, Osaka, Japan, Terra, Sol system.

"Oh fuck," I muttered with dawning horror.

Commandant Amamizu sighed as she called up a scan, "Commence cortical scan of our guest."

After a minute the text replied with: Scan Complete. 22.17% overlap with royal medical database deep cortical scan of Prince Arashi Kado. Brainstem, cerebellum and autonomic functions 89.91% overlap. Cerebral functions 17.22% overlap.

My already pale face turned white with shock. "I-I c-can explain this," I stammered futilely.

She was now facing the screen and whispered, "Murderer."

I shook my head slowly, "I c-couldn't help it, Commandant! I didn't ask to hijack the Prince's life and destroy his mind." I started to sniffle, "I didn't mean it. I didn't kill Arashi on purpose."

She straightened up and exhaled after taking a deep breath, "No, Seki-san. I was talking to both of us. Both our hands are stained with royal blood." She buried her face in her hands, "Computer, release the prisoner."

I felt the restraints retract and I was free. However I still was still too rattled to stand up. I wiped at my eyes as I blubbered, "No I did assassinate the Prince. I'm just a hopeless, nerdy-"

"…talented tech guru. It was because of you that I passed that computer course. You loved eating fire hot chicken ramen, along with curry noodles and a ramune soda most nights. I kept waiting for you to ask me out, but you never did, Seki-san."

I blinked and couldn't process what I was hearing. "Wait, the only person that you're describing was the cashier at the local 7-11 in Osaka named-"

Amamizu faced me with puffy eyes and flatly stated, "Mitsuhara Kyoko."

My mouth hung limply open.

"Somehow you yanked me into this nightmare anime of yours Seki-san; except I came out two years earlier than you did. I ended up in this bitch queen harridan's body." She broke into a giggling fit, "718 days is a long time to stand up a date, Seki-san."

I stood up and crossed the short distance to her side, "Mitsuharu-san…Oh by the gods I'm so sorry. I didn't even want to be here myself."

She fixed me with a penetrating glance with her deep amber eyes, "Its Kyoko now. To answer the question you never asked: Yes, I'll go out with you, Michio-san."

Before I knew it she gently kissed me and wrapped her arms around me.