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Vignette: Heroes and Hearsay

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Marvelous is taking a nap in his chair. It was becoming just about the only sleep he got. He was too alone in his own room, the bed too big. He would simply lie in the dark, staring at the ceiling and thinking thoughts that grew progressively darker until he finally got up and returned to the helm and kept searching, kept trying to find Joe.

Occasionally he would join one of the others in their beds, holding them close and stroking their hair. He knew it was wrong and intrusive, but he wouldn't sleep then either. He'd just watch them sleep and vow again and again that he was never going to let a member of his crew be taken from him. Not again. They were going to find Joe, and they would return to Earth for the Greatest Treasure, and whatever other dreams they wanted to make come true. Together.

So when he did sleep, it was in his chair, chin to chest, his body finally giving out.

A certain change had come over what remained of the crew. When he slept, he dreamed, but they were really just replayed memories, reminding him of how lucky he was to have such a devoted and loyal crew. Their Captain's conviction had lit a fire in each of them, and it showed more and more each day.

Ahim had taken over the day to day running of the ship. She prepared most of their meals, kept everyone well in tea, and cleaned almost fanatically. Marvelous imagines she wants the ship to be immaculate when Joe finally comes back to them. Almost any hint of the shy demure Princess was gone now.

Luka had become very intent on the gathering of information. She'd somehow grown past the aversion she'd had to the computers on the ship, spent hours at a time pouring through news reports from across the galaxy, plotting the points of pirating attacks that matched what they knew of Basco's style, namely ships completely unaffiliated with Zangyack. Tracing them, searching for a path or pattern that they could use to cut them off.

The greatest and possibly most shocking change had come about in Don. Marvelous had been concerned about getting involved in battles. Not that he thought the crew helpless, far from it, but with only Marvelous still having a Mobirates, he was understandably worried that if they got into a particularly tough situation he wouldn't be able to protect them all.

He need not have worried at all. The first time they'd been unable to avoid a fight, Don had been the first to attack with a fury Marvelous didn't know he held. He'd always been something of an opportunistic fighter, right there with them but more capable of using his surroundings to pull through tight spots. No longer. Now he was positively fearsome, and that first fight had ended with not a single foe left alive. Now every time they were forced to defend themselves, Don was the first in the charge and he would be the last in the occasionally necessary retreat only because Marvelous ordered him back.

Marvelous had to admit he was proud of him. Proud of them all.

Marvelous awoke with a start, snorting and blinking, his mind struggling to catch up with this sudden commotion. It was Don, and he was seething. Seeing Don react that way over anything was still taking some getting used to. He was brandishing something at Marvelous, a newspaper and Marvelous realized the rustling of the pages in his face had been what woke him.

"Look, look at this!" Don cried. Marvelous lifted one hand to rub sleep from his eyes, taking the paper with the other hand. It took him a moment to piece together what he was looking at.

Another spread on them, unsurprising considering Don's reaction. The first thing Marvelous noticed was that the collective bounty on the entire group had gone down by nearly two million Zagins. That couldn't be right, there was no reason for them to be considered less of a threat, indeed if anything they should have gone up.

True enough, on closer inspection he found that they had, particularly Don's, which had risen to finally be on par with the girls'. Again, Marvelous felt that spike of pride. Still, while over a month ago this would have sent Don into a fearful panic, it still didn't adequately explain Don's current glower.

Marvelous looked at the paper again. Now it dawned on him, as slowly as these things ever did.

Joe's poster was missing from the line-up. The last they'd seen, he had been printed beside Marvelous, the bounty on his head set at four million Zagins, very nearly rivaling the bounty for Marvelous that he'd been accumulating for much longer.

Now it was simply gone, and the bounty for the group had gone down in reflection.

"What is going on?" Ahim entered carrying a tray set with tea and a modest snack. Marvelous was for once in his life not hungry. He felt like he didn't even have a stomach anymore, and he realized he was shaking when he held the paper out for her.

"Look!" Don shouted again. Ahim frowned, wiping her hands carefully on her apron before taking the paper. She sat down on their little love seat and settled in to actually read it, which neither of the boys had or ever did bother to do.

"Oh. Oh no." She murmured quietly. Adjusting the paper, she held it up as she read aloud from the fine print at the very bottom of the page. "The pirate Joe Gibken, traitor to Zangyack and defector from the armed forces, has not lately been seen in the company of the Gokaiger, and is presumed dead."

Marvelous wants to throw things. He wants to stand up and fling his chair across the room, smash anything valuable within his reach. The only thing that stops him is Luka, suddenly in front of him as he stands, grabbing his wrists to hold him still. Of course she had been in the room, at the console, silently mapping away. She'd heard everything, but the blazing look in her eyes didn't match the fury and heartache Marvelous felt. She was determined, and it washed over him like a wave, taking his desire to destroy with it.

"It's not true." She said quietly, then lifted her voice so the others could hear her as well. "It's not true. He's not dead, I refuse to believe it. Until we have his body in front of us, I won't believe he's dead."

Marvelous took a shaking breath, then nodded. "Of course." His voice was tight.

"What do they know, anyway?" She snapped, spinning away from Marvelous now that she was sure he was out of his fit. She took the paper from Ahim, spared it a disgusted glance, and then tore it in half, flinging the loosed pages away. "Of course they don't know where he is. But we do. They don't pay attention to that bastard, he's got a deal with them and they leave him alone. But we'll find him, and we're taking Joe back."

She stomped back to the console. Don flopped down beside Ahim on the love seat. Marvelous settled back in his chair, but he was sure he wouldn't be getting any more sleep.