Where Dreams Reside

Chapter 1

By

Author's notes: (blow off if you want to get straight to the story) Fun facts. I've changed the characters names (Kitsumi was originally Ami, and Ryo was Ron) and added a few scenes, tried to tone down the melodrama. Few notes on pronunciation, Ryo is pronounced Row, Ai is pronounced "I", Heteero is pronounced "Ha-tear-O" (Tear like when you cry) and Belle is pronounced Bell.

Version 2.3 (Extra Intro Added and Spijder's plot hole fixed)

()()()

Once I was the greatest fighter of all time. Scratch that, I was the greatest killer of all time. A select few in the world could stand before me for any length of time. Entire armies fell before my sword. And yet, there was a small group that chose to stand with me. With them I was, for the most part, undefeatable. And then I met him.

After that defeat, my friends were either gone or dead, so I chose to leave that way of life behind. After nearly a decade of unrelenting fighting and destruction, I chose to live another life.

I've had it explained to me that a soldier's purpose is to go out and kill as much of the opposing force as possible, so that the civilian doesn't have to. I don't claim to have ever been a soldier, but I was a fighter, a knight maybe, and thus I wanted to see, I wanted to live that way of life I had been protecting. I found myself a place where my battles meant nothing, my wars leaving the ground unscathed and the souls of the people unscarred. I completely immersed myself in this kind of life, finding new friends. I truly only had one companion at that point, and I had decided that this was how I would spend the rest of my life, and how I would die.

It seems that while this time no longer finds me necessary, there are other places, other times that still have need of me. Fate refuses to let me die without killing again.

()()()

The light was blinding. Even with his eyes closed, Ryo felt like hot daggers were being stabbed into his eyes. There was a screaming in his mind, like wind rushing past, but his ears only heard silence. His skin crawled, frozen inside but burning on the outside. He gritted his teeth together until the excruciating light faded, feeling himself fall as the light let him go. He didn't feel himself land, but knew he was now lying on a cold floor. Ryo grabbed the edge of a table to pull himself up, groaning more from the landing than the exertion of righting himself. Just as he stood all the way up his left leg buckled, almost dropping him back to the ground. Snatching an odd metal chair, he plopped himself into it and began rubbing the traitorous knee.

"You should have that looked at."

"I have." Ryo growled out. "Arthritis my pasty…" Ryo realized that voice he was hearing wasn't the Doc's voice. Ryo turned towards the voice but only found an empty room. Three of the walls were white, the fourth yellow. The only fixtures in the room were three metal chairs seated around a metal table and a speaker set into the yellow wall. Above the speaker were the remains of a television screen, also set into the wall. What was left of the screen was scattered on the floor bellow it, a pile of fused glass shards. The table itself looked like something had taken a bite out of it, a puddle of still bubbling metal glistened where the fourth chair would have been. Ryo reached out to the puddle but felt no heat radiating from it.

"What the… What's going on? Who are you? Show yourself!"

"Well, let's see…. Going down the line of questions, the first answer would be that you've been pulled into another reality or maybe even your possible future. That time/space buoy of yours is quite interesting. Now the second question, I am… heh, I guess I would be considered a rogue scientist by the 'establishment.' And finally, I'd love to show myself to you, but glass doesn't respond well to the dimensional/temporal radiation. It seems to have broken the monitor."

"Right..." This is one odd person. Ryo thought to himself. Establishment?

"Now, I'd just love to chat some more, but I've got to be running now."

"Hey, wait a minute! What's going on?"

"I failed to anticipate the amount of temporal radiation that would be thrown out. Mainly because I didn't expect the two of you to piggyback on the buoy."

"Two of us?" Ryo's eyes fell on a crumpled form under the table. "Kit!" He was under the table in an instant.

"Oh don't worry about your companion, she'll be fine in a little bit. Just shaking off the residual of the time jump. You know, it's odd that you didn't pass out. In theory the two of you shouldn't even be alive." An annoying beeping noise came through the speaker. "Hmmm… They've broken through the second defensive line. Most impressive for just a scouting party, but it was expected to happen eventually. Well, time to go."

"Wait! What about us?"

"Oh, guess I can't just leave you unprotected, can I? They'll probably shoot you on sight anyway. I'm afraid I can't take you with me, but I can give you these." A section of one of the white walls slid away. From a hook, what appeared to be two thick credit cards hung, a silver chain attached to each. "These are the keycards to two of my more… destructive inventions." The distaste for his inventions felt like acid on bare skin, even when filtered through the speaker. "I have no use for the things, but I'd rather they not fall into the 'establishments' hands. You'll probably enjoy them more anyway. Well, have fun!"

"Hey! What do I…" Ryo sighed. "He kinda reminds me of Doc."

"Who does?" Kitsumi lazily smiled up at him. "Any calls while I was out?"

"Not really. Can you walk? We've got to get out of here."

Kitsumi struggled to her feet, wishing that Ryo would offer a hand or anything. After his initial worry, he'd become his usual apathetic self. "I think I can walk. What's going on?"

"Seems we're uninvited guest here."

"Here?" Kitsumi took her first real look around the lab. "Where is here? Where's Doc?'

"Remember that time/space buoy he was working on?"

"Yeah."

"It worked."

"Oh… So how do we get out? I'm not seeing any doors."

"Doc said to grab those cards. They belong to-"

"Doc? He's here?!"

"Uh- no. He didn't say his name so…"

"I understand." Kitsumi broke in when Ryo hesitated. "So let's grab these cards and get out of here." Kitsumi reached out and took the two cards off the hook. The back wall of the cabinet slid away, revealing a long hallway. A line of moving red lights moved down the left side. "So that's the way out. You're right, this guy is like Doc. He's a show off."

"Yeah let's-" The floor seemed to heave itself up at them, a bone shaking roar running through them. Kit was only saved from falling by a quick arm around her waist.

When you've been around a person long enough, you stop looking at them. It's how you can get a haircut and your family doesn't notice when your friends do. Every now and then something happens that forces you to look at that person and you find yourself looking at someone you're not sure you know. This was how Kitsumi felt looking at Ryo now. What had been a knee-knocking earthquake to her had barely fazed him. He hadn't even stopped to look at her when he grabbed her.

She quickly straightened up again, blushing. "What was that?"

"Sounded like a pressurized room going through explosive decompression. I get the feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

Kit's laugh tapered off quickly at the total lack of humor in Ryo's face. "Okaaaay… Care to clue me in to what's up?"

"Doc said this place was under attack."

"WHAT?!? And we're standing here theorizing on the thunder? Let's get out of here!"

"Was waiting on you." Ryo turned away from her and started down the hallway.

"Why me, God? Why always me?"

***

"Those are big."

"Yep."

"Damn big."

"Yep."

"What are they?"

"Big."

"You're not helping." Kitsumi glared at Ryo. He didn't use it often but he did have a sort of dry wit. The objects in question were two large anthropomorphic metal machines. The first one resembled a wolf and the other a horse with wings. Each creature stood upright and had a humanlike physique, complete with arms and hands. The Wolfman was mainly red, trimmed with white; the horse was mainly black trimmed with gold, it's wings an ivory white.

"The little logos on the credit card thingies."

"What about them?" Ryo kept looking at the robots.

"Well, one of them looks like a Pegasus or something. The other is a wolf's head. Ryo, I think this is what we're looking for." She tossed one of the keycards to him. The throw went wide and he almost fell over trying to catch it. "You take the red one. The horse is mine!" Kitsumi dashed up the stairs to the catwalk. The catwalk itself had three extensions, two leading to the giant robots, one ending in open space, as if there was a missing third robot. The cockpits sat open in the back. Ryo thought this was odd, as every giant robot show Kit had forced him to watch (and that was a lot of them) had the cockpit's door in the chest. There was a bar across the top of the doorframe; the pilot's seat was set into the door, causing the pilot to almost be on their back. Ryo grabbed the metal bar and hauled himself up and onto the seat. Almost instantly the seat righted itself, sealing the cockpit. The cockpit reminded him of the room he'd found himself in earlier. Three blank walls. The only device seemed to be two orbs set into the ends of the armrest, right where the palms of the pilot's hands would go. On the right arm of the chair, set just below the orb, was a slot. Ryo slid the keycard into it and was rewarded by the center wall flashing words at him.

System on standby… Warming up… Combat systems initialized…

The massive engine that powered the robot roared to life. Growled to life would be more accurate. Ryo mused.

Combat systems activated. Initializing pilot link up… Please place hands on the reception orbs.

Ryo tentatively placed his hands on the orbs. A network of dime sized hexagons spread across his hands. It moved up his arms and rapidly spread across his torso and over his head. There was a slight whoosh sound and the hexagons vanished. Ryo reached up to touch his face, his fingers encountering the now invisible coating of hexagons. He looked at his hands and then the rest of his body. His clothes had been replaced by a skintight body suit with similar color scheme to the giant robot, red with white trim. The only exposed skin was from mid-neck up. Breathing in and out through his nose, Ryo could smell the difference in the air.

"Space suit…" he opened and closed his hands a few times, getting used to how the suit stretched with his movements. Putting his hands back on the orbs, the screen began flashing messages again.

Pilot linkup is completed. Running final checks… System startup had been completed. Redwolf activated.

The words disappeared and all three walls vanished. Looking at them, Ryo realized he was looking through Redwolf's eyes. Turning his own head, Redwolf followed, turning it's own head. Ryo focused on the horse robot and a communication screen with Kit's face popped up.

"This thing is crazy! These little circle thingies took my clothes and put me in this tight suit. You can see my nips and everything!"

"Too much information, Kit."

"Well screw you too." The pegasus robot flipped him off. "Hey, this thing moved like I did!"

Ryo moved his hand up a large, metal, clawed hand appearing on the monitors.

"Ryo, can you move your legs? I mean, your real ones?"

"I don't-" This seemed to be Ryo's day for interruptions. The massive doors, supposedly for allowing the docked robots out, began to buckle. Someone apparently wanted in and was shooting it from the other side. "Kitsumi, ever been in a fight before?"

"Well, yeah. Hasn't everybody?"

"Not like this one…" Ryo said under his breath.

The two suits stepped away from the docks. Redwolf crouched down, legs spread wide. The horse robot, Bellerophan, moved into a fighting stance, it's wings spread wide. With a final shudder, the doors gave out and fell inward. Through the thinning smoke, Ryo could make out three smaller anthropomorphic robots; all three had a vaguely reptilian design. A small window popped up, the words, "No life detected. All three designated targets are under automated control."

"Just what I wanted to hear." Kit whispered in Ryo's ear. "We can take these little guys."

Redwolf shifted from his wider stance to more of a crouch. "Careful Kitsumi, they're only smaller because they don't need a cockpit like ours. This isn't a video game."

"Whatever. Diamond back is mine. You take the two dragons."

"You know, we might not need to fight them."

A shot glanced off Redwolf's shoulder, the armor plating reflecting the blast into the ceiling. Three of the hexagons on Ryo's shoulders lit up. It was almost like he could feel the shot.

"Then again…" Redwolf sprung out of his crouch, took two steps and shifted to a flying kick. The sharp claws on his toes sliced straight through the attacking robot, cutting it in half. The robot was consumed by it's own power core failure. Redwolf rebounded off the wall behind the former enemy and struck the other robot with his full weight. The punch that landed on the robots chest plate collapsed it, crushing its power core containment field. The resulting explosion destroyed the robot while leaving Redwolf unscathed. Ryo wiped the sweat from his brow, noting that Redwolf didn't mimic this move.

"This is so cool!" Kitsumi's box popped up again. Redwolf turned to Bellerophan. Belle towered over the remains of its target. "It did everything I wanted it to do! It's like the perfect VR game!"

"This is no game, Kit. If it had been real people in there, they'd be real dead right now."

"Yeah, well we're real people, and they were really trying to kill us!"

"That doesn't mean we should-"

A column of pure energy flashed between them. A voice only communication box popped up beside Kit's.

"Deactivate your Draug suits and exit the cockpits." The voice was female, but hard. She was trying to sound annoyed, but years of listening to Kitsumi allowed Ryo to hear the curiosity in this new enemies voice.

"Oh please." Belle and Redwolf turned towards the attackers. There were three smaller robots, similar to those from before. Standing in front of them, holding a large rifle-like weapon with both hands, was another robot similar in size and design to both Redwolf and Belle. It had the head of a rodent and a swishing tail. The sensors picked up a single life sign from it, nothing from the smaller three. They stood at the end of the corridor. Behind the four enemies Ryo could make out the stars.

"If we refuse your terms?" Ryo asked.

"Then I will be forced to… subdue you." Something in her voice gave Ryo a smile.

"Not very sporting with that big gun of yours."

"I guess not. Revel troops, attack."

The three computer operated robots dodged around the larger robot and flew towards the two companions.

"All yours, Kit."

"Gee, thanks!" Belle charged down the hallway, it's hooved feet making an odd 'clat' sound. Belle pivoted on her left foot, kicking the right leg clean through the first enemy. Bringing that leg down, Belle pivoted on it instead, using her left leg to slice through the second robot in much the same way. The third robot hung back, its main camera dazzled by the near simultaneous explosions of its comrades. Cutting through the firewall, Belle's left wing stabbed through the chest of the final robot, destroying it as well.

"Impressive." The enemy pilot had not changed its stance.

"Thanks, I've always been good at fighting games. I rule at Mortal Kombat!"

"You are not worthy of my effort, though."

"HEY! I resent that!"

"Redwolf," the enemy robot's head turned more towards him. "I challenge you."

"Come on, we can take her!"

"Kit, stay out of this. This one is mine."

"No way in hell! She's got one big ass gun and you've got claws!" Kitsumi was not pleased with being brushed aside.

"If this is what you're worried about." The enemy pilot tossed the rifle away. "There, hand to hand."

"Tooth and claw." Ryo corrected, allowing the lightest of smiles.

"I'm not leaving you alone with this bimbo!"

"What's wrong? Afraid he might run away with a real woman if you take your eyes off him?" The enemy pilot gave a condescending laugh. "I have plenty of playmates for you outside, go enjoy yourself."

"Why you little bi-"

"Go, Kitsumi."

"… Fine, but if you die, don't come crying to me!" Belle shot past the enemy suit and out into the larger battle outside. The enemy pilot turned to watch her go.

"Does she have any idea how impossible what she just said is?"

"I don't think she has any concept of impossible." Ryo answered.

"Heh." Ryo could hear the other pilot scratch the back of her neck. "So, shall we start?"

"Yes."

"May I have your name?"

"If you defeat Redwolf and I, I will give you my name."

"Melodramatic but fine. My Draug's name is Heteromyidae. I call it Heteero. Should you defeat me, I will tell you my name."

"Let's do this." Redwolf slid into his now standard fighting stance, Heteero moving into her counterpart to it. For a moment they stood silently, then exploded forward.

Redwolf blocked Heteero's opening punch, slamming his shoulder into her. The two tumbled in the low gravity, spinning outside. They quickly separated and stepped away from one another.

"Nice move. It was unexpected." She congratulated Ryo, massaging her shoulder where he hit her.

"Thanks, I was feeling cramped in that tunnel."

The two launched forward at one another again.

***

"What's going on?" Commander David Rice was having a bad day. That morning he'd woken up to three communication messages. One was from his fiancé, stating her confession that she was a lesbian and had fallen in love with his sister. The two ran off together last night. The second was from his mother, asking why he hadn't come home to earth lately, and that she was afraid his fiancé was getting lonely living in his house on earth alone while he was on space barge duty near Mars, so she'd sent over David's sister to comfort her. The final message was from his vet. His dog of seven years had died. Apparently, his fiancé and sister had backed over the poor dog on their way out. He'd deleted the three messages, deciding it was best not to respond to any of them until after his morning coffee. Unfortunately, the ship had run out of coffee, as his second in command, Lt. Jg. Smith, had forgotten to requisition any at the last port. Deciding that perhaps a hot shower would wake him up in place of the morning coffee, he found that the water heater had again broken down. He'd run out of shaving cream a few days earlier, and his face looked more like it was dirty than a beard. Just to make things worse, it was beginning to itch too. Still, it had been a rather calm day… until the sensors had picked up a massive temporal distortion from one of the rogue asteroids. Upon approaching it, a Kimera scouting party had stumbled across them.

"Why are we fighting them?"

"Technically, we aren't." Major Cole, commander of the space marines stationed aboard the Lafayette, and most likely reason for the current space battle, spoke up. He was short, even for people of this time, only about four foot ten inches. He was exceedingly thin and had a smile that would have done well on a large tiger. He was a relatively good tactician. Though he had the tendency to get Commander Rice and the Lafayette into trouble, he had thus far been able to get them out of each scuffle. Commander Rice wasn't so sure Major Cole would be able to get them out of this one.

"What do you mean we aren't?"

"The Kimera Drones have engaged an unknown enemy."

"Oh and we're just magically here to watch?"

"Yep."

"Sounds pretty damn convenient."

"Doesn't it though?" Cole flashed his tiger's smile.

"If I find out that-"

"You won't."

"So… who are the Kimera fighting?"

Cole leaned forward and typed a command into the console in front of them. The main screen split, focusing on the Belle and Redwolf.

"Look at them go! I've never seen anything move that fas-" Belle threw two Draug into a group of five, all seven exploding. "Wow. Who are these guys? Some rogue Kimera?"

"Doesn't matter who they are, they are the enemies of our enemies, which makes them our friends."

"Or allies." Rice scratched his chin. "Put me through to the horse one."

***

Kitsumi was having a blast. The running tally of fallen enemy troops was over seventy and still climbing. Her grin nearly split her face as a group of Draug tried to rush her from all sides. Belle spun around, her wings cleanly cut through their armor, the explosions dazzling Kit's eyes briefly. Blinking away the stars, she missed the communication screen pop up.

"White battle suit, identify yourself."

"I'm kinda busy right now, could you call back later?"

"I- what?"

"I'm busy," Kitsumi made a shooing motion, even though the communication link was sound only. "Go away."

"But- but I have an offer that might interest you!"

"Are you a telemarketer?" Kitsumi drummed the finger of her right hand on the armrest while she used her left hand to control Belle.

"I assure, Madam, I am not a tele-whatever. I am Commander David Rice of the Lafayette, HPS 378 of the Confederate Forces of the United Earth Alliance."

"Sounds impressive." Kit stifled a yawn.

"Thank you, I think."

"… You're not going away till you make that offer, are you?"

"Uh…"

Kit sighed. "Fine, what do you want?"

"I… uhm… that is to say…"

"Spit it out already!"

"Would you join us? We can't shoot at the Kimera unless they shoot at us first, but if you join us and they keep shooting at you, we can-"

"Not interested."

"What?!"

"I'm doing just fine on my own, and Ryo is having his fun with the slut in the rat robot. So, no thank you."

"I…" Rice blinked. It hadn't even occurred to him that someone fighting the Kimera wouldn't want to join their side. Suddenly he brought his hands together in front of him and bowed his head. Even without a visual, Kit got the feeling he was on his knees as well. "Please join us! We've never actually won a major skirmish like this, but if you joined us-"

"You could fire your big guns so you can feel all manly and take credit for all the badies I've nailed, right?"

"Well… yeah. But if you stayed with us-"

"We can do the same thing next time?"

"Uh… yeah, pretty much."

"Well, what do we get out of it?"

"The pleasure of serving the Confederate For-"

"That means squat to me." Of course, if they intervene and stop the fight, then Ryo won't be able to finish his fight with that... "Listen, we'll discuss terms later. I'm blowing up all your excuses to shoot stuff. Everything's fair game except for me, wolf boy and the rat slut, so start shooting away."

"Thanks! Bye!"

"Great guy." Kitsumi rolled her eyes.

***

The enemy pilot was breathing hard. This was more competition than she had initially expected. As the duel had progressed, she found herself smiling. There had been several moments where one could have finished the other off, but thus far neither had done so. "You haven't killed me."

"If I did, I wouldn't get to learn your name." Ryo leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms. "You haven't exactly been dealing out any fatal moves either."

She felt the blood rush up into her face. "I-"

"Attention Kimerian Pilot." A voice transmission from the observing Confederate ship popped up on both pilots' monitors. "An alliance has been formed between ourselves and the pilots of the two suits you have been engaging. They now fall under the Treaty of Europa, which means-"

"I know what it means, Commander Rice. Is this your doing, Redwolf pilot?"

"I've been with you. I don't know how…" Ryo trailed off.

"Kitsumi." They said in unison.

"That freaking moron…"

"That's one hell of a girlfriend."

"She's not my girlfriend."

"Really?" There was a slight catch to her voice.

"People like me don't have families." Ryo sighed. "Let's just call this a draw."

"A draw?" she said the world like it was a bad smell.

"Yeah. Neither of us loses, neither of us dies. What's your name?"

"What? I didn't lose."

"Correct. You won, so I'm going to tell you my name. I also won so you're going to tell me your name."

"That's pretty shaky logic."

"I leave the logic to Kit. Life's more fun that way."

The other pilot laughed. "So he does have a sense of humor."

"So she can laugh. My name's Ryo."

"Ai. I'm called Ai."

"Next time, Ai, I won't be so easy on you."

"Ha. Don't get yourself killed in the mean time. You're only allowed to die at my hands."

"Ah, how romantic!" Kitsumi broke in. "And incredibly corny!"

"Shut up, Kit!"

***

"Kimer- uh, allied battle suits now entering main hanger." The announcer said over the loud speakers inside the Lafayette. "Would the- uh, crowd forming outside the airlocks please allow Commander Rice and Major Cole through? Please?! Allow me to remind you all that Major Cole has a gun."

Rice was just clearing the airlock when the catwalk extended out to the opening hatches on the two suits. He had to dash up the stairs to reach them in time. Arriving, he bent over, hands on knees, and tried not to hyperventilate. The thought that maybe he should try out one of the programs the ship's doctor had made up for exercise and diet briefly crossed his mind. The sight that greeted him when the two pilots pulled themselves from their cockpits drove any thoughts of diet from his mind. Though, exercise did stick around, Commander Rice felt the sudden need to haul ass.

"You- you're human!"

"You were expecting, maybe, Mickey Mouse?" Kitsumi grinned at him.

"And Bugs Bunny." Ryo said in his dry, even sounding voice. He straightened his blue green shirt that had magically reappeared when Redwolf went into shutdown mode.

"Um, yes, actually, I was."

"Huh?" Kit cocked her head to the side.

"We were assuming you were rogue Kimera. No human can pilot their battle suits."

"Well, I can assure you that I've been human all my life." Kitsumi flipped her hair. The effect would have been greater had her hair been longer than shoulder length.

"Wait a minute, who are the Kimera?" Ryo stepped between Kitsumi and the Commander.

"The technologically advanced alien race that has been encroaching on earth's territory and has been at constant war with humanity for the last fifty years." Major Cole stepped forward. His breathing was so calm and even that the still puffing Commander Rice wanted to throttle him. "The group that the two of you just so thoroughly wiped out was a scouting group. I'm quite impressed that you were able to defeat them so easily."

"Why thank you. Flattery will get you-" Kitsumi started, smiling brightly at Major Cole.

"Oh it's not flattery. In this entire fifty year war, no one has ever achieved such an overwhelming victory before."

Kitsumi was about to say something but Ryo put his hand out in a shush motion. "I guess we're just lucky."

"Luck? Hardly." Cole flashed his smile. "I would call it a miracle, not luck."

"Yeah, that's us." Kitsumi looked at Belle's motionless wings. "Just a couple of lost angels."

"Well you're a godsend to us. I am Commander David Rice and this is Major Cole."

"I am Princess Kitsumi and this is my personal servant and body guard, the black knight Ryo." She curtsied.

The two officers blinked in confusion.

"She's kidding." Ryo reassured them as he shook Rice's hand. Rice watched Cole and Ryo carefully when they shook hands. Cole was famous for his crushing grip. Rice's eyes widened in surprise when he saw Cole wince and jerk his hand back.

"So what colony are you from and where did you get those Kimera battle suits?" Cole massaged his hand.

"Oh we're from the pa- ACK!" Ryo elbowed Kitsumi in the ribs.

"Earth. We're from earth. As to these giant robots, they were given to us."

"From the Doc. 'Take two and call me in the morning!'" Kitsumi giggled.

"Now, isn't it customary to take visiting allies on a tour of the ship?"

"Yes, about that. The exact terms of the alliance were never solidified. First we should-"

"Excuse me." Major Cole interrupted, still massaging his hand. "I'm going to the infirmary. I'm not feeling well." Cole turned and jogged off.

"You know when he has that sample of my blood analyzed all he's going to find is some temporal radiation saturation and some odd toxins. The DNA is going to come up completely human."

"How did you know that… I have no idea what you're talking about." Rice stumbled through his cover up.

"About that alliance agreement?" Kitsumi reminded Rice.

"Do you ever employ mercenaries or private forces from corporations?" Ryo asked.

"Occasionally…"

"What is your average contract with them?"

"Well, basic pay and rank rights as a Petty Officer, Third Class. They're a few differences of course. There would be some places you're not allowed on the ship and some questions we couldn't answer. But the… less desirable duties you would be exempt from. Basically you'd only be here to fight, the rest of the time you'd be off duty and have free run of the Lafayette. We also couldn't really order you to do anything, but it would be assumed that in a combat situation that you'd be in the thick of it."

"Sounds more like we'd be gators than mercenaries." Kitsumi leaned against Ryo, who gave her an odd look.

"Excuse me, 'gators'?" Rice wasn't familiar with the term.

"She means marines." Ryo explained.

"Well… I guess the analogy fits. That's about all they ever do either. And you would be under Major Cole's command, not mine."

"Which should make us equivalent to Corporals, not Petty Officers." Ryo corrected.

"Well… that's true."

"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather be under your command." Ryo folded his arms and leaned against the railing. Kitsumi glared at him.

"I'm not sure if that's such a good idea." Rice hesitated.

"Means more credit to you and less power for him." Kitsumi pointed out.

"Terms accepted!"

***

"What do you mean completely human?" Cole demanded.

"It's as I said, sir. The sample you gave me is from a human."

"Isn't there anything odd about it? Any signs of tampering?"

"No sir. It's flooded with temporal radiation, and has toxins in it that would be correct for earth."

"Then the test must be wrong. Run it again."

"If I did, sir, it would show the same thing it showed the first seven times. This DNA sample is from a human, sir."

"Can't you give me something, doctor? No human can pilot a Kimera battle suit. No normal human anyway. There has to be something different about them."

"Well… there is one thing."

"What's that?" Cole pounced on it like a cat on a grasshopper.

"It's the toxins sir. While it is correct for earth's pollution, it's not correct for this time. It's almost like the sample came from someone who was on earth two to three hundred years ago, or maybe even before the Great Impact."

"Are you saying they're from the past? That's preposterous. Time travel is impossible."

"This sample is flooded with temporal radiation, sir. Way more than would normally be encountered."

***

"And this is our brig." Rice wiped the sweat from his brow. He hadn't walked this far in a long time, and the tour was only a third of the way done.

"Hope we never have to see this place again." Kitsumi giggled. Ryo's mind seemed to be elsewhere.

"Would Captain Rice please report to the bridge?"

"Oh thank God! I mean- I apologize but we have to cut the tour short."

"Aw! And I was just starting to get into it too!" Kitsumi pouted as cutely as possible. What she had been getting into was the group of followers the newcomers had attracted. She occasionally waved at them during the tour, just to watch them scatter.

"Maybe Petty Officer Inez would be willing to finish the tour in my place." Rice volunteered the closest person whose name he could remember.

"I… YES SIR!" A girl saluted. She was probably about the same age as Kitsumi and Ryo. She had long purple hair pulled into a ponytail that was draped over her shoulder. Even her eyebrows were purple. Like everyone else in this time, except the captain, she was thin. In Ryo and Kitsumi's time it would have been called the waif look. She had a single scar starting at her hairline and running through her left eyebrow. Ryo's first impression of her was that of a runt puppy that had finally gotten some attention. He had to suppress the oddest urge to pat her on the beret covering her head.

"Very good, Petty Officer." Rice turned and left.

"What rank is Rice?" Kitsumi asked once he was out of sight.

"The Commander is a commander." Inez completely missed how ridiculous that sounded.

"Really? Because the page was for Captain Rice."

***

"And with the overwhelming success of your recent Kimera engagement, along with your recent annexation of the two battle suits and their pilots, I confer upon you the rank of Captain and alter the classification of your ship and unit to KA Specials, and all the rights and freedoms there of."

"Thank you, sir. We're honored, sir. On behalf of the ship and the crew I-"

"Cut it out, Rice. You got lucky and Major Cole was aware of a never before used incentive for an overwhelming victory. I find the very thought of having to bribe our own soldiers to win battles absolutely abhorrent. Speaking of Major Cole, is he present?"

"Oh yes sir." Cole was rubbing his hands together out of range of the camera. The hungry cat grin spread across his face like spilt paint. "I'd like to thank you in advance for-"

"You are hereby relieved of your duties and confined to the brig pending a court martial at the next port. Captain Rice, it is at your discretion how to handle the remaining marines onboard, although I'm sure you knew you had this power with your special status. General Tao, signing off."

"WAIT! General!" Cole's face had turned from the ghostly white to a livid red.

"What is it, Major?"

"During the battle! Rice wasn't even on the bridge! When he did come it was me who pushed to acquire the two suits! What did I do wrong?"

"What you did wrong was engage in a battle that resulted in the loss of twelve drones. Then, once it became obvious that you're only hope was the two suits, you held back the troops instead of instantly helping your only chance."

"But the commander wasn't on the bridge!"

"You have, correction had command in a military situation. You were sacrificing military resources to forward your own career. That is what you did wrong. The captain, though utterly incompetent, is a good and decent man who would not seek unnecessary power, advancement or reward. Captain Rice, my final order to you, since your special status makes you exempt from having to take orders, even from a superior officer, is to carbon freeze Major Cole and shoot the sarcophagus towards the closest station. General Tao, signing OFF."

Cole emitted a long, high pitched noise, only interrupted by his mouth opening and closing. Like a fish pulled from the water. Two non-coms grabbed each of his arms to escort him to the brig.

Captain Rice collapsed into a nearby chair. In the span of one morning his entire life had changed. When he'd woken up he had been a commander of a run down 'flying warehouse.' Now he was the captain of his own private ship that came with a lifetime warranty. How did this happen? He asked himself. It's not even lunchtime yet.

The two pilots... Their appearance had changed everything. He had to know more about them.

"Yeoman, the moment the two pilots are done with their tour, bring them to my quarters."

"Yes, Captain."

"Captain…" Rice mused. "I'm going to have get used to that.

***

"What's with you, Ryo?" Kitsumi had dropped back a step from the constantly chattering Inez.

"What do you mean?" The smooth and even voice Ryo gave everyone answered her.

"This twit is drooling all over the big bad new hero, namely you. Further, this stuff is hundred of years ahead of anything we've seen, something that should be making even you drool. I know I am. We're on a starship for cryin' out loud! And you haven't so much as looked up, at either the girl or the starship."

"First off, it's a spaceship, not a starship."

"Oh like I give a flying fridge what it's called!" Kitsumi smacked Ryo's shoulder. She'd learned long ago that he didn't like to be touched in any way, shape or form and resorted to actual contact only when absolutely necessary.

"Two, not everything they've said to us has meshed."

"What do you mean?"

"You fought the smaller snake guys."

"Yeah. Thrashed dozens of them. Just like playing a fighting simulator."

"Exactly. They respond just as if a human had programmed them. Ai fought just like a human."

"What are you talking about?"

"Humans can be counted on to respond certain ways under specific circumstances. These so called 'aliens' respond the same way humans would."

"So if you're saying if it acts and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. Just ignore the fact that the 'duck' has four legs and spots?"

"I'm not saying they are human, just that they are not as alien as our new allies make them out to be."

"Ok. Then what are they?"

***

A female figure stomped down the dark hallway. She stood an impressive five foot ten inches, tall for a female of her race. She swished her tawny tail angrily as she walked, the black tuft of hair on the end smoothly cutting through the air. Her pink nose twitched as she reached her destination, the Rio's office. Even with the door between herself and the room, she could smell the stench of a certain person she knew must be inside. She paused before entering, running her five-fingered hand over her pointed snout, rearranging the black hair that matched the tuft on her tail.

"Damn bangs anyway." She muttered. Turning her attention on her ill fitting uniform she attempted to smooth out the wrinkles. She much preferred the perfect fit of her purple pilot's suit, but her advocate often reminded her that there was life outside of battle.

"Ai, one day you will find a mate, and you will have no idea what to do with them! Her advocate had said.

"Of course I will, I'll throttle them." Ai had jokingly responded. "Until then, I'm going to go train."

"But why? Why must you drive yourself so hard to lead such a violent life?"

"I've got to be the first and the best. The first of the kangaroo rats to pilot a Draug and the best pilot ever, of all the Kimera."

"Well, old cat, I got to be the first… but the best remains to be seen. Here goes." Ai brushed the green orb set into the door. The door dissolved and Ai stepped into a place she equated to hell.

"Ah, Kutaw Ai, congratulations on being the first Kimera ever to lose to the earth locust."

This was Cal, current chief engineer of the Kimera space fleet. It was his mother that had developed the mind transference orbs that was the backbone of all current Kimera technology. After her death, her gifted son, Cal, had been the obvious choice to replace her genius. He had done well at first; developing the computer controlled Draug currently in use, but that success had been over a hundred years ago. Since that time, Cal had not developed one major advance. The best he had done was upgrades to the current technology. Rumors had been circulating that perhaps Cal had not invented the computer controlled Draug's at all and that his mother had not even developed the orbs. The rumors had gone further, saying that his family had stolen the technology from another, greater, engineer. However, the rumors did not say who that engineer might be. As the years had gone on, Cal begun to mistrust everyone and everything, clinging to life like a leech. He was now nothing more than a pathetic looking corpse, kept alive by the machines that had replaced every organ in his body. Within the last twenty-five years, a growing feeling of animosity had grown between him and the military, specifically between him and the Rio, leader of the Kimera military forces.

"She didn't lose to the humans, Cal, she lost to a Draug a rogue scientist created. You know as well as I that none of the humans can pilot a Draug."

"The point remains-"

"Allow me to remind you, Cal, that it was you who demanded we attack the so called 'rogue scientist' for fear that he might develop a weapon that could threaten the Kimera Empire, only to turn around and boast that anything he could create would not be equal to your Draug." The Rio was a small cat-like man with glasses and long white fur. His glasses perched on the end of his pink nose.

"You doubt my words? You have the audacity to question me?"

"Allow me to remind you again, Cal, it was those self piloting Draug who were defeated, not our living pilot here." The Rio drummed his feline claws on his desk, his nails making an odd clicking noise. "It was Kutaw Ai who survived the encounter where your Draugs did not. In fact, Kutaw Ai fought one of those new suits to a stand still where even all your Draug couldn't stop the other one."

"Perhaps your precious Kutaw is in league with those two other pilots! That would explain the impossibility of her survival."

"Are you calling my loyalty into question?" Ai snapped out. She'd been clinching her hands on and off since she entered the room, but had now raised her shaking fist.

"Yes, perhaps your loyalty should be questioned…" The Rio leaned back in his throne like chair.

"B- but Rio-!" Ai took the Rio's comment like a slap in the face.

"It does seem a tad odd to have one pilot come out of a fight where many Draug failed. Perhaps a test is in order… I will send three pilots and two hundred and fifty Draug to fight these two suits. We shall see how truthful Ai is, and how much of her loyalty remains with us." The Rio's cat eyes had narrowed and his voice was as cold as a crypt in wintertime. "Kutaw Ai, you are dismissed."

***

Captain Rice fumbled with the antiquated keyboard, his large round fingers not having the dexterity to work the keys properly. He squinted at the small orange font on the tiny black screen. He crossed his eyes and laughed.

"One of these days they'll actually allow me to upgrade this junk."

Ryo was leaning against a wall, his hands stuffed in his pockets. Staked to the wall was a moving painting of a horse grazing in a pasture. The frame was crooked and the picture jumped like a busted television. "Doesn't your 'special' status let you do that?"

"Yeah," Rice laughed again, "but I got the feeling that we don't really have that status until we had a repeat performance. To prove it wasn't a fluke."

"Then we'll just have to beat some more badies!" Kitsumi cheerfully volunteered.

"Yes, well, I'm afraid we don't get too many battles like that." Rice smiled pleasantly at her.

"You will now." Ryo spoke up. "I remember someone saying that none of the earth's forces have ever actually had a decisive victory, correct?"

"Or something to that effect, yes." Rice nodded, his smile having shifted to a puzzled look.

"Then you just became the guys to beat. Worse, the other guys-"

"KIMERA!" Kitsumi cheered. "Gimmie a K! Gimmie an I! Gimmie a-"

"The Kimera are going to want to prove it was a fluke we won the first time. Only this time they will choose the location and the time."

"They'll also bring more troops and they'll have the element of surprise. The first time they didn't have near enough warm bodies and we had the element of surprise." Kitsumi tugged on her sleeve, frowning. "I can kill those snaky guys all day, but a live target…"

"Wait a cycle!" Rice jumped to his feet. "You guys can win another fight like the last one, right?"

"Like the last one?" Kitsumi laughed. "Sure."

"But the next fight isn't going to be like the last one. They know how we won the last one; I kept the real threat busy while Kit dealt with the cannon fodder. All they have to do to win this time is send two piloted suits and a handful of those robot fighters. One will keep me busy while Kit falls to the robots and the other fighter. Then both pilots and the remaining snake suits will overwhelm me. With both of us gone, you'll be easy prey."

"So… uhm… we need a plan, huh?" Captain Rice blinked, confused by the long explanation.

"… Are you sure you're cut out for this command thing?" Kitsumi asked.

"Well I-"

"So Major Cole is gone, huh?" Ryo interrupted.

"Yeah. He was frozen and shot towards Flag 78. How'd you know?"

"Seemed the kind of guy that'd die before he allowed a meeting like this to go on without him. So what are you gonna do with his marines?" Ryo absently raked his fingers through his dark hair.

"Well, they're my marines now, but most of them are still loyal to Major Cole."

"Which means they're going to be looking for someone to blame." Kitsumi stretched her arms out and started waving them randomly, occasionally knocking things off Rice's desk.

"Yeah, probably me." Captain Rice watched Kitsumi, slightly disturbed by her actions.

"Us too." Ryo ignored Kitsumi. He was used to her. "They'll see us as coming in while Cole was going out. We should weed out those who would be… problematic."

"How do we do that?"

"TEST THEM!" Kitsumi shouted much louder than was necessary. She'd changed positions in her chair so that she was standing on her head, her feat kicking in the air.

Ryo nodded in agreement and turned to leave.

"Oh, wait!" Rice shouted at Ryo. "How do we test them? And we didn't even go over the real reason I called you here."

"Leave it to me, Captain. And knowing who we are might not matter in a few hours." Ryo hadn't broken stride. As the doors shut behind him, Rice heard him say, "One stupid thing at a time."

"How… how did he know I was going to ask about you?"

"He just knows stuff like that." Kitsumi shrugged. "Like how he knows exactly how and when they're going to attack us. Catch ya later!" She did a flip out of the chair and did a cartwheel out of the room.

"They're gone. You can come out now." Rice turned to a particular wall, a section of it suddenly sliding away. Standing there, framed by the light from the hidden room, Ensign Inez leaned her shoulder against the doorframe and cocked her head to the side.

"Thank you, Captain." The way she said his rank made it clear to any who were listening that she thought herself higher in rank than Rice. "If you would kindly vacate the office, I need to make use of it."

"Su-sure." Rice stood up and left the room, throwing glances at Inez until he was out of the room.

Inez walked over and sat down at Rice's desk. Touching a section of the desk, a much more advanced computer popped up. Instantly a voice communication opened.

"You saw everything, I assume?" Inez asked.

"Of course," the voice answered. It was male and had an odd warble to it. "An odd team, those two. What did you think of them?"

"The blonde is smarter than she looks. Her only problem is that she's not aware of it. At least that's how I found her."

"Hmmm…. And the fellow, Ryo?"

"He knew I was here, stared right at the door the whole time. There was a moment when I thought he was just going to invite me in. And he knew there was a camera behind the painting, he stayed just out of its range the whole time. We don't have a single clean picture of him. No doubt about it, he's good."

"Yes…" The man at the other end of the link seemed to be watching the recent battle on another screen, as Inez could hear the sounds of the battle in the background. "But good at what, and just how good is he?"

"Excuse me?"

"He's shown himself to be an excellent observer and equally well at logistics. He's also proven himself to be quite the guy in the field of battle, either tactically or in pure fighting ability. He's well spoken, good looking, unattached-"

"And not gay." Inez chimed in. "Someone like that should be higher up in the world."

"Perhaps he already was." The man mused.

"I doubt it, he's too young."

"Trust me, Ensign, people like him don't just appear out of thin air."

Next time, on "Where Dreams Reside":

Ryo and Kitsumi are in for the fight of their lives, and that's just getting the crew used to them! When the Kimera attacks, will Ryo and Kitsumi be able to survive??? They'd better… this is only the second episode and I need this job as an announcer!