This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.
“To the rookie!”
Seiji Hokuto’s restaurant had closed early this night, the staff rushed through their clean-up duties and hurried out the door just for this monthly gathering. None of the help quite understood why the owner was so fussy about the whole thing, but they shrugged, chalked it up to being one of his eccentricities, and make sure there were plenty of snacks prepared before they left. Because whoever these friends of the boss’s were, they were all hearty eaters.
“TO THE ROOKIE!” Four sake cups clinked together.
“He did well,” said Shin Hayata. “I feel confident now that Mebius will protect this planet.” He smiled slightly as Hokuto, ever the conscientious host, quickly filled his cup before doing the others; being the first of the Ultramen on this planet had its perks.
“So Hayata, you’re staying later than usual tonight,” Hideki Goh noted with a grin. “I thought your wife had you under a curfew?”
“Akiko is busy,” Hayata replied. “She was searching the
Internet for apartments in
“What?” Dan Moroboshi blinked. “You’re leaving
“Well,” Hayata conceded with a wry expression, “she
certainly is. I believe she expects me to go with her, but I wouldn’t swear to
it. She’s been bored down here; she claims all the exciting stuff is in
“Well,” Hokuto nodded, “now that Yapool’s destroyed, there isn’t really anything keeping us here. Except,” he added, waving a hand around the dark restaurant, “for our lives’ work, I suppose. I’ll be staying.”
“I’m staying as well,” Dan said, motioning to Hokuto for more sake. “It’s quiet here, and I’ve got too much invested in my farm to up and leave.”
“Yeah, you and all that ‘beef’ your sheep provide,” Goh laughed.
“It was an honest mistake,” Dan grumbled. “How was I
supposed to know? You at least had a human host to inform you about such
“It all worked out,” Hokuto noted. “Your mutton is very popular with my customers. What about you, Goh?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about it, to be
honest. I might travel a bit, but the track’s doing well.” He smiled slightly.
“But I might go up to
Hayata sighed and shook his head. “Mebius is going to have enough of a difficult time in the days ahead. He doesn’t need you hazing him.” He caught the guilty glance between the two younger Ultras and sighed. “What did you two do now?”
“Hazing the rookie is a fine Ultra tradition,” Goh protested.
“One that I believe started with you,” Hayata noted. “I seem to recall you gave Taro a terrible scare with that ‘deflation’ trick. And you haven’t restricted yourself to ‘rookies’ over the years, I might add. Zoffy would still very much like to know who stuck that flag in his backside after his battle with Birdon.”
“I had nothing to do with that,” Goh solemnly declared.
“There was also the incident with one of my sheep being painted silver and a red collar complete with flashing blue light wrapped around its neck,” Dan grumbled. “I distinctly recall seeing two figures fleeing into the night that time.”
Hokuto suddenly noticed a cobweb in the ceiling. “Oh, look who’s talking,” Goh retorted. “It wasn’t me who terrorized Leo so badly that he still flinches whenever your name comes up!” He glared at Hayata. “And you were the one who suckered us into wearing those horrible black outfits ‘because Mother made them for us’!”
Hayata chuckled at the memory. “You should be grateful; Hoshino’s clothing lines are very pricy these days, and you got one for free. I just wish I hadn’t let Akiko see that photograph of us together. She refuses to give it back to me. At any rate…just what did you do to Mebius?”
Hokuto and Goh, shared a glance, then shrugged in agreement. “Well, it was just this conversation we had before he left,” the latter Ultra said. “He’d noticed that almost all of us took a human form or bonded with a native when we came here, and he wondered why Zoffy had never chosen to, that’s all.”
“We didn’t tell him the truth,” Hokuto quickly added. “We know Zoffy wants that kept a secret for now.”
“Very wise of you,” Dan nodded.
“But we were kind of put on the spot,” Goh continued. “So Hokuto and I…”
Goh glared at Dan. “No, we…embellished.” He took a long sip of sake before continuing. “Anyway, we kind of made it up as went along. Hokuto pointed out that we all had difficulties adjusting to everyday human living when we first got here—shelter, food, clothing, employment, all that. It’s complicated and it can take your focus away from the real assignment, especially when you don’t have a human host.”
“We pointed out that Zoffy is very focused on the assignment,” Hokuto jumped in. “So he’d want a situation where he wouldn’t have to worry about any of that…where those things would be provided for him under the right conditions. So he chose a different guise for living here, one that took care of all that and allowed him to be close enough to Mebius that he’d be able to observe and assist if needed.”
Dan groaned. “You told Mebius that Zoffy merged with one of my sheep.”
“Not quite…” Hokuto grinned.
“But you’re getting warm. So anyway, after Mebius left for
Hayata closed his eyes and sighed. “What did you do?”
Goh leaned close, eyes twinkling. “You’ll love it.”
The late morning air was cool and crisp, just enough to make Konomi Amagai grateful for the thickness of her GUYS uniform. Normally she’d be wearing her regular clothes to the preschool where she’d worked, but today was special.
“Oh, Mirai, I can’t thank enough for your help,” she said to the creature with two legs, two arms and three boxes beside her. “It was so nice of Miss Misaki to donate all those GUYS promotional items to the preschool, but I wasn’t sure I could get them all here by myself!”
“I’m very happy to help, Konomi-san!” Mirai replied from behind the highest box. His voice was only slightly strained from the weight of his burden. “It will be nice to see the children again, won’t it?”
“Oh yes.” Konomi smiled brightly, then sighed a bit. “You know, even though I try to do my best for GUYS, sometimes I feel as though I don’t really contribute like the rest of you. Even Teppei helps out more than I do. There are times when I think I’d be better off coming back here to work with the children…”
Mirai carefully set the boxes down on the ground. “No, Konomi-san, you mustn’t think like that!” he said. “You’re always helping out when someone needs assistance, and remember, you’re the only one of us who can make Miclas battle You’re a very important part of GUYS!”
“Oh, thank you, Mirai. You always make me feel better…what’s this?” Konomi’s gaze had drifted over to the rabbit pen; she hurried over, followed by a mystified Mirai. “Oh my,” she breathed, picking up a huge, brilliantly white rabbit. “Look, Mirai—they must have gotten a new rabbit since the last time I was here!”
Mirai let his fingers slide against the fur. “Very nice,” he agreed.
Konomi hauled the rabbit up for a quick inspection. “He’s a boy bunny,” she confirmed before setting him back in the pen. “But you know, that’s kind of odd. Males are pretty territorial and they don’t like it when others invade their space. I wonder why—oh, Misato!” One of Konomi’s co-workers, a petite woman with long black hair, had come out of the main building. They embraced and squealed greetings before returning their attention to the new white rabbit.
“So when did you get him?” Konomi asked.
Misato shook her head. “We didn’t buy him. Hikari came in early to open up about a week ago, and he was sitting in a box by the front door. No note, no explanation, but the kids loved him so much we decided to see if he could fit in with the others.” She shrugged slightly. “He’s a little aggressive with the other males, so we’re keeping an eye on things, but so far so good.”
“What’s his name?”
“We haven’t come up with one yet. The kids have come up with all sorts of suggestions, but nothing’s stuck to date.” Mirai was barely listening to the conversation; his eyes were focused on the rabbit, and his mind was replaying the recent conversation he’d had with two of his brothers:
“Well, you have to understand,” Goh explained. “It’s not a simple thing, taking on human form. It’s one thing to come here and immediately join a team, like you did, or to merge with a human, the way we did. But ask Seven—you have to create an identify, learn the human ways and customs, find a way to obtain money so you have a place to eat and sleep, get clothing, and a thousand and one other things. You’ve experienced some of that. It’s much more difficult when you do it on your own.”
“And let’s be honest,” Hokuto added, “Zoffy has a very important job with the Garrison; he wouldn’t have time to do all of that. But on the other hand…you’ve done a fine job to date, Mirai, but you can’t blame him for wanting to keep an eye on you in case you get in trouble and need a hand, such as with what happened with our battle with Yapool.”
“So what did Zoffy do?” Mirai asked.
“Well,” Goh said with a shrug, “You know there’s no rule that states an Ultra must merge with a human. If Zoffy wanted, he could pose as something else—something small enough to be beneath too much scrutiny…”
“Something that could be sheltered, fed, cared for…like a pet or something,” Hokuto noted. “That takes care of all the basics and would leave him plenty of time to check up on you and take care of matters elsewhere when necessary.”
Mirai stared at the rabbit for a long time. It looked perfectly ordinary—rather on the large side, muscular where it counted, and it carried a rather commanding air when one stopped to consider it closely. And there was something that hinted at intelligence behind those eyes and twitchy pink nose.
“Zoffy,” he whispered.
“Hey!” Misato cheered, shattering his reverie. “What a great name! We’ll call him Zoffy!”
“So what happened after that?”
“Well…” Konomi glanced down into her cup. “The kids came, and we all went inside…but Mirai didn’t. He stayed out there by the pen with that new rabbit. He was holding it and patting it and talking very softly to it. And when it came time to give those things to the children, I had to practically beg him to come over and help with the distribution. And as soon as we were finished, he went right back over there and didn’t budge until it was time to go.” She shook her head and sighed. “Honestly, I was afraid he was going to insist on staying there.”
“Well, I’m just saying…maybe if he put some bunny ears on…”
Teppei Kuze was hard at work, tackling his studies with his unique “Learn Through Physical Osmosis” technique that consisted of resting his forehead against the textbook pages. So intent was he on absorbing this critical knowledge that the very unexpected sound of a kitchen knife falling to the floor of the common room took him completely by surprise; his head shot up abruptly, his eyes blinked and squinted alternately and a small gob of mouth drool went flying onto the back of Konomi’s chair. “Whut?” he gasped, looking around wildly for the source of his distraction.
Mirai smiled sheepishly. “I’m very sorry, Teppei,” he said, kneeling down to pick up the knife. “I guess I was being too careful not to wake you.”
“Wake?” Teppei shook his head, the better to get rid of the cobwebs. “No, Mirai, I wasn’t sleeping, just…resting my eyes for a moment.” He padded over to Sakomizu’s coffee maker and poured the last remaining contents into his cup. “But what are you doing up so early? It’s only…five a.m.”
“I was just making Zoffy breakfast,” Mirai replied, setting to work on the first of several carrots.
“Zoffy? The commander of the Ultraman Garrison?” Teppei glanced down at his cup as if to make sure it didn’t contain any hallucinogens.
“Ah…ah…ha ha ha!” Mirai laughed nervously, his voice going up a few octaves in panic. “No, Teppei, of course not. I meant Zoffy, the new rabbit over at Konomi’s preschool, that’s all. I mean, that would be silly, everyone knows that Ultraman doesn’t eat carrots, right? Ha ha ha!”
“Uhhh, yeah. Right.” Teppei shuffled back over to his textbooks. “Well, just be sure you’re back in time for our morning exercise period, Mirai.”
“Of course, of course, I’ll be there,” Mirai nodded, setting to work on the next carrot.
The preschoolers were lined up in two neat rows, their faces bright and eager for the lesson the great George Ikaruga was about to teach them. Soccer ball resting under his arm, George prepared to roll the ball directly between the children, but paused when he realized that his assistant coach was nowhere in the vicinity. Sighing, he trudged over to the rabbit pen, where Mirai was standing. “Amigo,” he said not unkindly, “you had promised to give me a hand with the kids today?”
“Uhhh, of course, George, I know I did.” Mirai’s gaze was fixed squarely on the large white rabbit in the pen, which was currently doing what male bunnies normally do when the females were available and mostly willing. “I just wanted to see how Zoffy…I mean, the white rabbit…was doing.”
George considered this. “I’d say he’s doing just fine, personally.” When Mirai started to move as though he would pick the rabbit up, George blocked his way. “Amigo, there are just some things you just do not interrupt for any reason. Come on, now, the children are waiting.” He guided the reluctant Mirai away.
GUYS headquarters was climate controlled; the base was automatically kept at a very comfortable temperature, one that ensured the precise amount of comfort to ensure maximum productivity. This might be why Mirai was surprised to find the temperature in the team room had dropped to arctic levels the moment he walked into the room.
Ryu’s eyes were tightly focused on his computer screen. “Where were you?” he asked in a deceptively quiet voice.
“I…I had a very important errand to run, Ryu-san.” How was he supposed to know that the health store had run out of organic carrots this morning? It had taken some time before Mirai had found the premium brand at another place a fair distance away. “Ryu-san? What’s wrong?”
Sakomizu cleared his throat. “Perhaps you’d forgotten about the training session today,” he suggested. The others were very deliberately studying every object in the room save Mirai Hibino.
“Training? Oh. Yes, I did forget. But Ryu-san, it was very important that I…” Before Mirai could finish the sentence, Ryu was already standing and about two inches from his face. From the scent of things, he’d recently finished a can of Panther Sweat.
“You were over at that school with that rabbit, weren’t you?”
Ryu’s eyes narrowed into tiny slits. “The next time you shirk your responsibilities to this team, I will personally make sure that the kitchen will be serving you rabbit stew the next four days. Do you understand, Mirai?”
Mirai’s head nodded violently.
“…so I want you to understand, Mirai, that the teachers really do appreciate the interest you’re showing the new rabbit,” Konomi said as they neared the preschool. “It’s very kind of you to buy all that food, and it does help with the budget.”
Mirai nodded, but inwardly he wondered. Were the other rabbits stealing the food meant to Zoffy? That couldn’t be tolerated. Something had to be done. Zoffy needed to keep up his strength.
“But on the other hand…well, Mirai, you’re disrupting the children by being there all the time. They see you and don’t pay attention to the teachers. And to be honest…their parents are concerned you might be a…” Konomi almost said pervert, but caught herself. “Stalker,” she finished.
“But I’d never…!”
“I know that, and the teachers know that, but Mirai…wouldn’t you agree that you’ve been acting a little strange this week?”
Mirai sighed in exasperation. “It’s…complicated, Konomi-san.” They’d reached the rabbit pen; Mirai opened the bag of carefully-sliced organic carrots and looked around for Zoffy. “Konomi-san…I don’t see Zoffy…”
Konomi winced slightly. “That was the other thing, Mirai. You see, Zoffy was being very aggressive with the other males and getting into fights, and, well…it’s not a big pen, you know? There’s not enough room for lots of little bunnies, so Misato-san took him to the animal doctor last night to get Zoffy fixed.”
“Fixed? But Zoffy wasn’t broken…”
Konomi took a deep breath. “That is to say…”
“PLEASE, MARINA-SAN! I HAVE TO SAVE ZOFFY FROM THE ANIMAL DOCTOR! IT’S A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!”
“I…I…I DON’T KNOW!”
“I’m very pleased to see you again, Akiko-san.” Sakomizu handed her a cup of tea, then poured Hayata a cup. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
“Not to look at you, it hasn’t,” Akiko Fuji Hayata said with a wry grin. “I knew I should have taken that assignment instead of you, Sakocchi. Then I’d be young and beautiful, making tea for two old men.”
“You never made the tea,” Hayata snorted.
“That’s right. You deliberately confuse the salt and sugar once; they never ask you to pour the tea again.” Akiko returned her attention to Sakomizu. “Has it been difficult adjusting, Shingo-san?”
Sakomizu nodded. “So much has changed, yet so much has
stayed the same. It’s difficult to explain.” He took a sip from his coffee cup.
“So, are you moving back to
“Yes! We found a lovely apartment that’s convenient to everything we need.” Akiko leaned back in her chair. “Now all I need is something to keep me busy. Perhaps I should see if I could replace the former director?”
“And what would you do should he come back to reclaim his position?” Sakomizu asked.
“Oh, that’s easy. I’d make him some tea. So tell me, Shingo-san,” Akiko continued, “How goes it with this team?”
“They’re good people. Their spirit is strong. I have high hopes.” Sakomizu hesitated, then cleared his throat. “There is, however, one small matter I was hoping to discuss with you, Hayata-san.”
“Does this have to do with the rabbit?” Hayata said, wincing.
“I’m afraid so.”
“Oh, the practical joke!” Akiko extended her cup; Sakomizu immediately filled it. “Shin told me about this. I swear, the whole lot of them is like a silly little boys club.”
“I told them not to take this very far,” Hayata sighed. “Of course, talking to Goh can be like talking to the wind and about as effective. What’s happened now?”
“Well, I was hoping you could speak to him,” Sakomizu said, looking slightly uncomfortable. “I feel a bit…constrained to do so, myself, and he does look up to you, Hayata-san. You see, the preschool teachers took the rabbit in to get it neutered…”
Akiko laughed; Hayata groaned.
“…and it died during the surgery.”
Hayata found the terminally morose Mirai outside. He was
draped despondently over a railing that looked out on
“Mirai-kun,” Hayata began, clasping a firm hand on the younger fellow’s shoulder. “I need to explain something to you…”
“Forgive me, Hayata-san!” Much to the older man’s shock, Mirai abruptly bowed as deep as the human body could possibly manage. “It was my responsibility to make sure that Zoffy-san was as comfortable as possible, and I failed in my assignment! I will accept whatever punishment you deem necessary!”
Hayata didn’t respond immediately; instead, he leaned against the railing and felt the sun and wind on his skin for a few minutes. When he figured enough time had passed, he quietly cleared his throat. “Mirai…what happens when a host dies?”
Mirai was looking down at his feet, clearly uneasy. The subject had come up a few times at the get-togethers, and it was one that made them all a bit nervous. Dan had nothing to worry about, of course, but Goh, Hokuto and Hayata all had a vested interest. And given Hayata’s status as first and oldest, no one wanted to give an opinion that was anything less than ‘nothing will ever happen to you, Hayata-san!’
Mirai’s answer took some time to come out. “I don’t know, Hayata-san.”
“Nor do I.” Hayata smiled slightly. “It’s a subject I find myself thinking about more and more. However…Mirai-kun, wouldn’t it be logical to think that, should a host die and take the Ultra with him, the rest of us would sense the void created by his absence?” When he received no immediate answer, Hayata continued: “Mirai…you have been given a very important assignment, one that demands constant vigilance.”
“I know, Hayata-san.”
“Good.” Hayata paused, choosing his next words carefully. “I am sure that while Zoffy might wish to be near in order to evaluate your performance…if that were the case, he would not want to be a source of distraction that might negatively impact that performance.” He put a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “I think you understand that now.”
“Yes, Hayata-san. I’m very sorry.” Mirai looked utterly miserable. “But…if that’s true, and Zoffy wasn’t merged with the rabbit…then why did Goh-san and Hokuto-san…?”
Hayata sighed. “Because ‘hazing the rookie is a fine Ultra tradition’, Mirai-kun. They meant no ill. They were merely playing a practical joke on you, and it went further than they expected.” He paused for a moment, then smiled. “However, there is one thing they’ve forgotten.”
“What is that, Hayata-san?”
“It is also a fine Ultra tradition for the rookie to take revenge on those who hazed him.”
Monday morning always came far too soon for Hideki Goh’s tastes. He slowly emerged from his car, carefully balancing a too-hot cup of coffee and notebook as he locked the door and slammed it shut. He managed to get a few sips of the scalding liquid as he shuffled up to his office and slipped the key into place. Oddly enough, though, he encountered a bit of resistance as he slowly pushed the door open.
After a moment, he realized that it was probably due to the rabbits. There were, after all, quite a few in there: on the desk, in the chairs, on the floor, doing the things that rabbits were wont to do, not the least of which was working on making more rabbits.
The place smelled like a cage that hadn’t been cleaned in weeks.
Goh sighed, shut the door, and fumbled about for his cell phone. “Hokuto? It’s Goh. I think the rookie has caught on to our little prank.”
On the other end of the line, Hokuto shook his head as he watched the fifth delivery truck this morning unloading. “Oh, you think so? Why don’t you come over and we’ll talk? I’ll fix us some rabbit dishes. It looks like I’m going to be having a special on it for the next few weeks.”