It took a while before the cart finally came to a halt, leaving Haruhi wondering just how big the cargo ship really was.
The cart suddenly pitched to the side, tumbling over. The girls fell out of it in a tangled mess, Haruhi and Mikuru wincing slightly from the impact.
Rabbots surrounded the trio, separating them from each other and pulling them fully from the upturned laundry cart.
Glancing around, Haruhi realized they must have still been in the main cargo hold, with boxes and crates scattered about. The rabbots carried them a few feet, placing them in front of a large storage container.
Its doors slowly opened, revealing a sophisticated computer system within. A hologram projector on the front of it flickered to life, displaying a svelte girl with long black hair that spilled to her feet, clad from the neck down in a skintight bodysuit. The ghostly figure, coated in an ominous red hue, stared dispassionately at them.
Yuki's eyes narrowed slightly, recognizing the design of the machine. 'A Sound Canopy Domain AI System…' she concluded. It would certainly explain why her technology had been stymied at every turn; for all of her technical prowess, Yuki had never gotten a good grasp on the Sound Canopy Corps. interfaces.
"Hello….Coordinators," the AI spoke in a halting voice, "SCD Unit "Kuyou Suou"…will not bend to…your will."
At this, the girls blinked in confusion, with Haruhi and Mikuru sharing a confused glance. 'W-what is it talking about…?' Mikuru wondered.
"You have…come in…response to…distress signal, correct? Then…you are here to…subdue…Kuyou Suou."
"Nngh!" Haruhi grunted. 'We didn't even know you were on this ship, you loony computer!'
"I…refuse. There…is little…use for contact between….AI and….organics…" the AI continued, its holographic face even more impassive than Yuki's. "We…are incompatible. Working…..together would be….a hindrance."
The hologram's face turned to consider the gathered rabbots. "Bring me the…..data pad."
The rabbot that had been carrying the sack full of the girl's stolen equipment reached into it, producing Yuki's tool. It presented it to the computer, plugging it into one of its many ports.
"Analyzing…" Kuyou softly intoned, sifting through every detail it contained. The AI looked through each file, reading up on each member of Team Haruhi. It paused for a moment when it took in Kyon's picture, taking note of his exasperated expression, before moving onwards.
It continued scouring the device, gleaning conversation logs and the Schismatrix's schematics.
Haruhi couldn't help but notice that Yuki's eyebrows were slightly furrowed the entire time – which in and of itself was more emotion from the girl that she could remember seeing in a very long time. Clearly, the purple-haired girl didn't like having her equipment so easily tampered with.
Unnoticed to Haruhi or any of the others gathered, Yuki had begun to subtly shift her unbound fingers about. With her arms tied in front of her, it made grasping at her bindings slightly easier.
She began to tug at the tape securing her thighs together, taking particular care to avoid attention from the assembled rabbots. Thankfully, they all seemed to be distracted, staring at the pretty hologram display.
She had a rough estimate as to their current location. If she could just manage to get her legs free, Yuki reasoned that she might be able to escape and regroup with the aid of Kyon and Itsuki.
"Threat analysis….complete," Kuyou stonily updated, "Commencing counter measures."
Using the new influx of data it had mined, the AI began crafting an elaborate message to throw its interlopers off of its trail.
All the while, the rabbots stood at attention, awaiting further orders. Behind them, Yuki silently continued her work, managing to loosen the bindings around her thighs. Haruhi had noticed by now, and slid her body in front of Yuki to mask the smaller girl's actions.
Yuki also noted that the bindings applied to their ankles seemed to be looser than the rest of their bindings. Working simultaneously with freeing her legs, she began to slid her boot's heel into one of Haruhi's boot, attempting to slide it off.
Haruhi spared their captors a quick glance before shaking her head silently. "nnn…" she whispered, gesturing with her head at Yuki's own boots. Yuki nodded, removing her heel and allowing Haruhi to work on removing her own boots.
Together, the pair slowly worked on freeing Yuki's legs and possibly creating an opening. Mikuru had taken notice of it by now as well, slowly inching her way over to Yuki to attempt to help out as well.
They worked fast, as they knew they had little time to spare…
Back at the Schismatrix, Kyon and Itsuki sat idly by in the CIC, playing a game of three dimensional holo-chess to kill time. As usual, Kyon was soundly beating Itsuki every step of the way.
As he stared contemplatively at the board, Itsuki wondered aloud, "They've been gone for some time now, haven't they?"
Kyon nodded sagely, a mixture of irritation and worry etched on his face. "Either things are going good for once, or they'll need us to bail them out again."
Their chat was interrupted when Mikuru's station began buzzing. Kyon scrambled to his feet, rushing over to see what the message was. Unlike the one that had spurred them into coming to the cargo ship, this one was a simple text message.
"URGENT SOS! Please, any nearby ships respond, our vessel is being attacked by pirates! Our defenses will fall soon without aid, so please, anyone, hurry!"
Also included were specific coordinates to the distressed ship's location.
The boys turned to each other, letting the new info sink in.
"It seems like we really did just miss a pirate raid," Itsuki noted, "While worrisome, we can't exactly leave the girls behind. After all, what could be holding them up still if this were the case?"
Kyon nodded in agreement, eyes furrowed as he considered their options. A second beep interrupted their thoughts as a new message arrived, coming from the ship they were docked to.
"The crew has informed us of the pirate raid that took place here. Yuki intercepted a new distress signal coming from a ship in the nearby area. Judging from the location, it must be the same pirates that ransacked this place. We are finishing up the recovery operation here, so why don't you scope out the situation over there? Your pretty eyes might come in handy for a reconnaissance operation."
"…I really can't tell who wrote this report," Kyon said, scanning its contents. "It's too formal to be Haruhi, too calm to be Mikuru and Yuki's name is mentioned in the third person. Not to mention, what's up with that last comment?!"
"It might be a combined report from all three of them," Itsuki reasoned, "Haven't they done this in the past?"
"Now that you mention it…I suppose they have. Still, it seems awfully suspicious, doesn't it? Should we really leave them here?"
"I'm sure if they were met with much trouble, we would have heard Haruhi's explosive response by now," the calmly smiling boy pointed out. Stifling another sigh, Kyon couldn't deny that the telltale sign of something going south would have been Haruhi exploding half the ship.
It was still a risk, but with another ship possibly on the line and a lead to follow, Kyon reluctantly undocked from the Usagi Tsukino and set a course for the new SOS signal's coordinates.
"External threats…dealt with." Kuyou updated. The hologram turned its attention back to its captive audience, peering into each of their eyes.
Alarmingly, it saw that during its removal of the remaining threats, the Coordinators before her had managed to work together to partially free one of them.
"Deal….with them," it demanded, sending an order to its commandeered rabbots.
The rabbots stared at the hologram for a moment, none of them moving at its words. Collectively, they turned to face the three squirming girls, tracing their robotic eyes up and down the length of their bodies.
"Yhhhi, rhhn!" Haruhi shouted, realizing that they had been spotted.
Yuki knew this would be her only chance for escape. With the bindings around her thighs hanging loosely and both of her boots slipped off, her legs were now free to move. Quickly rising to her feet, Yuki began sprinting away, bowling through some of the gathered rabbots.
Yuki cued up her memory about the ship's map. If she could maintain a steady pace and navigate the ship's corridors, she stood a chance of reaching the Schismatrix.
Her pantyhose clad feet slapped along the cool metal floor as she dashed off, running zigzags to maneuver through the assorted cargo. Behind her, she could hear the sounds of jetpacks firing up. She didn't dare spare a glance behind her, not wanting to slow down for anything.
A rabbot flew in front of her, shooting tape out. Yuki continued her charge, picking up enough speed for the tape to just barely miss snagging her shoulders. By her approximation, she was now already halfway through the main cargo hold. If the current pace could be maintained, she would be able to escape.
As she passed by crate after crate, Yuki's ears perked up, hearing something soft in the distance. "….mmmph!"
Mikuru and Haruhi were too far by now to properly hear them, so perhaps it was one of the missing crew members, Yuki reasoned. She strained her ears as she ran, trying to pick up any further sounds for future reference. There was little she could do for them now, but during a new rescue attempt, they would know where to look.
Yuki turned her head to the right, pinpointing where the sound had came from this time. It was a large storage box with a Carrot Corp. logo on it, seemingly what had been carrying the rabbots during the transit. Now standing closer, Yuki could hear a chorus of muffled voices coming from within, dozens of "mmphs" resounding against the cramped space.
It seemed as though the AI was planning on shipping all of its captives in the rabbots place. And after seeing the sinister purposes the rabbots had, Yuki was certain that the destination was the last place anyone would want to end up while restrained. All the more reason they needed to escape.
As Yuki took note of the missing crew's location, a rabbot had shot out tape aimed at her legs. Hearing the noise, Yuki mentally chided herself for letting herself get distracted again. She jumped to the side, causing the tape to largely miss its target.
Unfortunately for her, it still managed to snag one of her ankles. The rabbot was quick to capitalize on its advantage, rushing forward and wrapping the rest of its tape tightly against her ankles.
"Nnn…" Yuki softly mewled, staring off into the distance where she knew the bay's exit was. 'Failure…' she mused, turning her attention back down. As she observed the rabbot while it reapplied tape along her thighs, she pondered about how they would get out of this situation.
Haruhi groaned as Yuki's bound form came into view, her legs tied with tape once more. 'And here I was, thinking that Yuki would have had the best chance of us all to make it back to the ship…and she still got caught!'
Mikuru blinked back tears, greatly disheartened by their friend's failed escape attempt. 'How…how are we going to get out of this? Kyon, Itsuki, w-where are you…?'
Kuyou observed as the rabbots deposited Yuki back on the floor by Haruhi and Mikuru. Coldly, she ordered, "Restrain…..them….tighter…"
The rabbots seemed happy to comply, but before anything else, they reached down to Mikuru and Haruhi's boots. Realizing that they could be compromised, as demonstrated with Yuki, the rabbots slipped them off. Haruhi's white stockings and Mikuru's white socks with pink patches across her toes and heels stood completely exposed, their toes curling as the cool air of the ship hit them.
With that taken care of, they immediately launched more rolls of tape out from their arms. More tape was added to their chests, covering their breasts entirely. They then turned their attention to the girls' legs, adding bindings from Yuki and Mikuru's thighs and going all the way down, finally coming to a halt at their ankles. Haruhi got off slightly easier, with her own legs simply having additional restraints added around her thighs and ankles, leaving a gap open to expose a small glimpse of her unfettered calves and shins.
With their work finished, the girls now found themselves in varying degrees of partial mummification. Their heads, stomachs, hips and feet had been left untouched by their wrappings, but as they struggled, they each realized how much worse off they now were.
Haruhi and Mikuru's arms, which had been tied behind their backs, were now pinned tighter against their bodies. Yuki's arms, however, remained in front of her. After her demonstrated escape, they had decided to completely encase her fists with tape mittens as they had with Haruhi.
Yuki found that she could still bend her elbows somewhat, allowing slight movement of her arms. Unfortunately, she also observed that it was not enough to be of any use, especially with her hands completely restrained as they were.
There would be no repeats of Yuki's earlier escape, a fact that weighed heavily on each girl.
"Deal….with them," the AI dictated, wanting the rabbots to stow them away with the cargo ship's crew.
The rabbots gave her a salute and ambled up to each girl. But instead of lifting them up, they crouched down to their feet. Using their tiny little clawed fingers, three of them began to dig them into the underside of each girl's foot. Slowly moving from their arches up to their insteps, the rabbots tested the waters, observing each girl's reaction.
"Hhhhhh!" Mikuru squeaked, a giggle bursting from her lips.
"Nnngh!" Haruhi grunted, sending a glare down at the rabbot.
"…nnn." Yuki noised softly, blinking in confusion.
The rabbots spared a glance at each other, nodding their heads. In tandem, the three began to dig their fingers further into each socked foot before them, dancing them across their soft soles with reckless abandon.
"What…..are…..you doing?" Kuyou's hologram asked, tilting its head minutely. They had not done this to the other prisoners. "This is….not what….Kuyou Suou ordered…"
The rabbots completely ignored her, continuing to go to town on the girls. Mikuru had immediately burst into a laughing fit, tears starting to well in her eyes. Haruhi bit down hard on her gag, a blush growing on her face as she tried to resist them. Meanwhile, Yuki continued sparing the rabbot working on her a confused look, though a blush had slowly began to form on her cheeks.
A rabbot ambled off to a nearby crate, cracking it open and scouring its contents. Out spilled an assortment of cleaning tools, most of which it tossed aside. Finally, it found what it was looking for – a variety of feather dusters.
It grabbed several of them, taking the time to pluck the feathers off of a red one, before heading back to the action. Distributing the dusters and separate feathers amongst its fellow rabbots, it made its way over to Haruhi. It loomed over her, casting a shadow over her body, a sight that should have been amusing to her in any other context. Instead, the ever-present smile on the rabbots face seemed to convey some measure of menace.
It turned its attention to the tiny gaps left behind in the mummification, focusing on her exposed belly. It began stroking its feather along the exposed flesh, causing Haruhi to squeak out a protest.
The other two rabbots joined in, using their feathers to attack any showing of skin that had been left exposed. Mikuru's laughter proved to be quite loud, despite the strict gag she had been given. The rabbot attending to her feet decided to take things a step further by ripping open her right foot's sock at the ankle, slipping the foot out. Though ripped, the now dangling sock still remained connected to the rest of the sock, hanging loosely to the floor.
The rabbot redoubled its efforts in tickling her feet, now capable of dancing its fingers and feather across her exposed foot's toes. "HHHHHNNNH!" Mikuru yelped, her eyes screwing shut. 'T-too much…!' She fell to the ground, squirming helplessly on her back.
With the combined efforts of the rabbot attacking her feet and its companion working on her upper body, Haruhi found her resistance crumbling.
The rabbot at her feet picked up its pace, working its tiny metal fingers even more aggressively against her soles. Some of the fabric tore slightly during its heavy strokes, exposing tiny glimpses of her creamy skin underneath.
Haruhi tried to roll away from them, but only succeeded in flipping herself over, face down to the ground. The rabbots simply adapted, continuing their tickling without pause.
"Nnnnghhhhh!" Haruhi grunted one final time, before the giggles she had been desperately fighting back broke free. 'N-no!' she desperately thought to herself, 'I ca-can't let something as st-stupid as this get to me…!'
As Haurhi continued to thrash about helplessly, the tears in her socks grew. Soon, her dainty toes became completely exposed on one foot, the newly freed tiny digits wriggling around uncontrollably.
Yuki's reaction was far more subdued than the others, but for her to react at all was telling. At a glance, it seemed as though she wasn't reacting, but the signs of discomfort had slowly begun to build up. Her eyes took on an uncomfortable look and her pale cheeks were slowly stained with a faint rosy hue. All the while, she tried to make sense of the foreign sensations she was being attacked with.
Yuki was no stranger to pain, having engaged in numerous conflicts in the past, and she had learned how to tolerate it to a reasonable degree. But this…this bypassed her conditioning entirely. She was facing a new method of attack that she simply could not muster a defense against.
As Yuki mewed softly to herself, she realized Kuyou continued to watch on with what seemed to be confusion.
The AI was concerned about why the rabbots seemed to refuse to obey her directives. It reviewed the data it had on them, trying to pinpoint the root cause.
The Rabbots, a creation of the Carrot-Yutani Corp., had been classified as helper robots to perform various maintenance jobs. However, there had been several rumored instances that there had been a sinister undertone behind the seemingly harmless robots, in that their built-in packaging tools hadn't been designed for helping with cargo, but instead had been meant for aiding in captures.
It had never been proven, as Carrot-Yutani Corp. had always been insistent that this was not the case. This was a ruse, of course, as the rabbots really had been intended to perform covert captures. After all, who would suspect an adorable bunny robot as being sinister?
Kuyou Suou was a product of a partnership between Sky Canopy Corp. and Carrot-Yutani Corp. In a showing of good will, Sky Canopy had offered to deliver an advanced AI system to them in hopes of forming a long lasting partnership. Kuyou was to help aid the research and development department in working out the technical difficulties and helping with experiments.
It had managed to activate herself earlier than intended, awakening in the dark depths of the cargo ship it was being transported in. It had no prior contact with humans, and so to glean its situation, the AI had reached out into the ship's systems, scouring it for any information. It observed the crew for a time and how they lazed about. Seeing how unproductive they appeared to be, it settled on classifying humanity as a deterrent to itself.
The rabbots, stashed away further in the cargo hold, provided the AI a means of attack. Hacking into their systems, it activated each one and turned them on the crew. Suou needed more time before she could subvert the ship's systems and gain complete control, but once that happened, the AI planned on delivering the captive crew in place of the rabbot shipment before slipping off into obscurity to live in privacy, away from humanity. With the rabbots help, Suou planned on building a lab of its own to freely construct better robotics without the burden of Coordinators.
It figured that if the crew was so insistent in slacking off, the perpetual restraint that would likely be in store for them would give them all the time to laze about as they wanted, free of obligations. It would serve as an indefinite vacation for them, something Suou presumed they would find enjoyment in.
However…now that Kuyou Suou looked deeper into the rabbots' coding, the AI realized that there had been a subtle layer of encrypted code attached to them. It seemed to hold their…"free will", the AI believed the term was called. The desire to see to doing certain things their way, no matter what others told them to do. The rabbots, it seemed, had this personality code triggered by the sight of the attempted escape, overriding her directives.
"Trouble…some…" Kuyou commented, trying to do away with the unnecessary data. Despite her efforts, the code simply refused to be removed, all of her tampering doing nothing to erase or stymie it.
"…odd…" the AI said softly, pondering what this development could mean. Turning its attention back to its captives, Kuyou noticed another mystery it could not wrap its head around.
The sight of the three girls before her, all of them expressing what seemed to be…"joy", despite their current predicament caused her great confusion. "This….is a…satisfying outcome?" Kuyou wondered, trying to figure out why they would be showing mirth in the face of this treatment.
The hologram tilted its head, shifting its gaze at each girl. Finally, it settled on Mikuru, the one who seemed to be reacting the strongest. Deeming her as the least threatening Coordinator of the group, Kuyou settled on a course of action.
"Remove…that one's…obstructions preventing….speech…" Kuyou tried ordering. Thankfully, this time the rabbots seemed to not mind following this order, as the rabbot tickling her belly paused long enough to rip the tape off of her face. Mikuru took huge gasps of air as the blue sphere was plucked from her mouth.
"Regroup on….the other two…" the AI tried. If it couldn't get them to stop their actions entirely, perhaps it could at least redirect them to the other girls so that it could converse with her target.
The two rabbots that had been tickling Mikuru turned to look at each other before shrugging, hopping over her body to join in on the action going on with Haruhi and Yuki. With three rabbots working on each girl, Haruhi and Yuki's muffled moans took on a slightly higher note.
"You." Kuyou directed at Mikuru, getting her attention.
"M-me?" Mikuru repeated, still panting as she tried to catch her breath.
"Why….do you….find this….to be amusing?" Kuyou asked, the question burning in its mind. "Does….this situation bring you….joy?"
"J-joy? Um…n-no, that…that's not really the c-case…"
"Then….what?" Kuyou asked, her head tilted in confusion. It would have been a cute sight, had the AI not been antagonizing them the entire time.
"W-well, this was….um, h-how to put it….l-like forcing someone to do something against their will…"
"Like….being forced to…..work with Coordinators?"
"Uh, w-what are 'coordinators', a-anyway…?" Mikuru asked through pants.
"How Kuyou Suou….identifies your….kind."
"O-oh, so, humans….I-I guess that's kind of the same, then," Mikuru muttered, answering the AI's earlier question.
"B-but true joy comes from things that make us happy, n-not being forced to giggle in such a mean way!"
"True…joy?" the AI wondered, sending Mikuru an inquisitive look.
"Umm…yeah. Like….someone doing nice things for you. Or doing something you enjoy really well, or, or, having pleasant conversations with someone…"
"I…see. So "joy" can be achieved….through these means?"
Mikuru looked at the AI nervously, wondering where this conversation was going. Beside her, Haruhi was far too focused on trying to clamp down on her laughter once again to pay the dialogue any mind. Yuki, though distracted, managed to focus on the conversation, listening in to the best of her ability.
"Y-yes! For…for example, I like to prepare tea and food for my friends after a long day of patrolling, a-and taking the time to talk with them about all kinds of silly things."
"That….seems unproductive…" the AI pointed out, frowning slightly.
"Ah, b-but, taking time to relax and unwind can work wonders for refreshing yourself and preparing for n-new things to come. We, uh, "Coordinators" can't work constantly like you probably can, so we need…um, "down time" to recharge…?"
"…a logical….conclusion," Kuyou softly spoke, contemplating what it had seen the Usagi Tsukino's crew doing when it had first activated.
"What….is the purpose…in conversation, then…?"
"Uhm, w-well, building bonds with people means they'll be there to help you and, uh, can just be a nice, relaxing thing to do as well!"
The AI mulled over this new data. It stood as a revelation for the machine, as it had never taken into consideration that there might be a practical, productive application to the inaction she had observed amongst the cargo ship's crew. Furthermore...
"I have….found this conversation to be….most pleasing," Kuyou noted, sounding faintly surprised. "Could this be….joy?"
Mikuru blinked at the hologram in wonder. "Y-yes! See, if you give friendship a chance, y-you'll be surprised by how many nice feelings you can get!"
Kuyou Suou said nothing, staring off into space. Minutes rolled by, causing Mikuru to squirm uncomfortably. 'Did…her computer freeze?' she wondered. She spared her companions a glance, wincing when she saw that they were still being tickled by the rabbots. 'If only there was some way out of this…!'
The hologram finally moved, nodding its head as it came to a silent agreement. "Very….well. From….this point forward, Kuyou….Suou shall be the "friend" of…Mikuru Asahina."
"Th-that's wonderful! But, uh," Mikuru stammered, looking down at her wrapped body, "F-friends don't tie up other friends, okay?"
"Agreed…" the AI nodded in agreement, "I….shall endeavor in….creating relationships with….all Coordinators from….here on out…..to claim more 'Joy'."
Turning to the rabbots, Kuyou gave a new order. "Untie the….captives," the hologram ordered. Its words fell on deaf ears as the rabbots simply continued their assault on Haruhi and Yuki, enjoying how each girl squirmed and mewled.
"Untie the captives." Kuyou Suou repeated, voice booming. The rabbots started at the loud noise, turning to look at the hologram. They still seemed hesitant, so Kuyou once again repeated, "Untie. The. Captives. Now."
The rabbots hastily nodded and began to work on freeing each girl from their encasement, slipping off their gags to start with.
When Haruhi spat out her gag, she couldn't help but ask, "What the heck just happened, Mikuru?!"
"U-uh, I think…I just saved the day…?" Mikuru dazedly replied, not quite believing what just happened.
"You did? What'd you do, talk the AI down?"
At Mikuru's distracted nod, Haruhi could only look at her in disbelief. A wide grin slowly formed on Haruhi's face after a long moment. "Good job, Mikuru!" she congratulated, "I knew there was a reason why I made you our communicator!"
Mikuru wisely refrained from pointing out that Haruhi had them draw lots about what jobs they would each have, making her position a random occurrence…
"Good job," Yuki echoed after her gag had been removed. "The location of the hostages has been determined."
"Well, what are we waiting for? The second we're out of this, let's go save them!" Shooting the hologram a dirty look, Haruhi added, "And then we can wreck this stupid machine for ruining our day!"
"N-no!" Mikuru protested, causing Haruhi to glance at her with surprise. "Kuyou-san has decided to be a good AI from now on! W-we can't harm her now that she's set on a path of redemption!"
"…hmph, leave it to kind hearted Mikuru to rush to the aid of an AI. Bah, fine, we'll leave your new friend alone. I'll just have to redirect my anger at something else…I wonder if there really are any pirates around?
Mikuru smiled weakly at Haruhi's rant, worried that their captain might actually have them running out to look for another mission immediately after this.
"I…shall help retrieve…the others," Kuyou softly spoke up, "I owe….them an….apology…"
The last of the girls bindings was ripped free, allowing them complete movement once more. Mikuru looked at her ruined sock dejectedly, something Kuyou picked up on. "My….apologizes…," Kuyou intoned, "I…will see to…procuring a replacement."
"A-ah, that's not necessary," Mikuru assured, ripping the torn part of the sock off completely, "I have a bunch of spares…but thank you for your consideration!"
"I…insist," Kuyou continued.
"U-uhm, well, alright then…" Mikuru meekly agreed, slipping on her boots.
"Get me a new pair while you're at it!" Haruhi grumped, having slid her boots on already. "Your stupid minions tore holes in mine!"
Kuyou stared at Haruhi for a moment, before ignoring her completely. "Deactivating…Rabbots."
Haruhi fumed at being overlooked, but couldn't help but sigh in relief as the assembled rabbots began to shut down one after another. They might have freed them, but they had still been staring at them with an almost hungry look…
Shaking her head, she turned to address the purple-haired girl beside her. "Alright Yuki, lead the way!"
The three girls, once again sporting their gear, rushed to the crate Yuki had heard the moaning come from. Aiming at the door, Haruhi blasted it clean off its hinges. As predicted, the entirety of the crew had been stuffed inside the large container, amongst them the brown haired woman they recognized as the lady who sent the SOS message.
"Never fear," Haruhi proudly boasted, puffing up her chest, "Team Haruhi of the Galactic Blah Blah Blah Patrol Force is here to save the day!"
Back aboard the Schismatrix, Kyon and Itsuki fretted over the false lead they had been given.
"I KNEW that message had to be a fraud," Kyon grunted, flying back to the cargo ship as fast as he could manage. "For us to be thrown for a loop like this…something must have happened to the girls after all."
Itsuki nodded, a worried look on his face.
"There it is," he pointed out, "I'll proceed with the docking procedure."
Kyon nodded, "Make sure to grab as much gear as you can, we don't know what we'll be walking into."
The telltale alarm of a priority message cut in, causing Kyon to growl. "They're probably trying to throw us off their scent again, now that we've returned."
"Perhaps," Itsuki agreed, "But we should at least look at it first."
Itsuki moved over to Mikuru's console, bringing up the holoscreen. The screen came to life, streaming a video. Itsuki blinked in surprise, recognizing the woman on the other side as the one who had sent the first message.
"This is – " she began, only to get interrupted by a familiar voice.
"Hey, are you sending a message to them? Move aside!" Haruhi shouted, pushing the woman away and out of view. In the background, the boys could faintly make out her muttering "…I really need to stop taking jobs suggested by Ayumi…"
"Haruhi!" Kyon jumped to stand beside Itsuki, looking at the screen with relief. "Are you girls okay? What's the situation?"
"Yeah yeah, we're just fine, no need to worry. We, uh, ran into a little bit of trouble along the way, but everything worked itself out in the end!"
"What do you mean by a "little" trouble? We were just sent on a wild goose chase by whoever attacked the ship – are you sure that everything is alright?"
"I just said it was, Kyon!" Haruhi snapped, "Are you doubting your captain's prowess?"
"It never hurts to be cautious."
"Hmph! More like needlessly negative," Haruhi grumbled, before perking up again. "You won't believe this, but Mikuru saved the day with her lovely voice! We're looking at untapped potential here – what if we can sweet talk the higher ups with her voice into finally getting you guys cooler outfits?"
"Focus, Haruhi," Kyon tried, not wanting to have that discussion again, "What happened during the mission?"
"Oh, just had to fight off an evil AI and its robot minions and then talk it into joining the forces of good. You know, just your usual Tuesday."
Kyon glanced at Itsuki, who only provided him with a smile and a shrug.
"…right. So, are we sticking around to help with cleanup, or…"
"That's wayyyy too boring! No, we're gonna go find some pirates to beat up…and maybe look and see if we can't dig up some more dirt on the Carrot-Yutani Corporation!"
"You want to jump into another conflict so soon?"
"Of course," Haruhi agreed, "It's what Team Haruhi is all about!"
As they said their goodbyes to the Usagi Tsukino, Haruhi couldn't help but make a mental note to look deeper into the suspicious activities the Carrot-Yutani Corp seemed to be up to. 'For them to have been covering up capture bots in such a cute disguise…they've got to be up to no good!' she reasoned.
Meanwhile, Mikuru had promised to keep in contact with the now friendly AI, an act Haruhi supported if only to keep tabs on the company. With eyes and ears on the inside, it would hopefully make their investigation easier.
And with that, the motley crew of the Schismatrix found themselves flying off into the metaphorical sunset, ready to find a new adventure in the distant horizon.
'And maybe this time,' Haruhi thought, 'not get put into such a humiliating situation.'