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Tenchi Muyo!: Who's the New Girl?
By Kzinfuzz /

Disclaimer: All the Tenchi Muyo! characters and situations are my idea. I thought them up when I was about 16. Think about it: numerous beautiful girls dropping from the sky to fall in love with a sword-swinging, heroic local boy. It sure sounds like the fantasies of male adolescence, doesn't it? I don't know how Kajishima Masaki got my idea. Oh... maybe he had the same fantasy when he was 16... I guess they don't belong to me. Anyway I'm doing this for fun, not money. The former I've had, the latter I don't. :)

Notes: This short story actually started life as an adventure for the TM! RPG. The setting is [mostly] the base TM! universe, some time after OAV series 2. Please don't let my title worry you! It's just meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek adventure.

I've thrown in a (very) little Japanese language for flavor. Most of it otaku may have heard before. If not, I included some explanation at the end of this document.

Enjoy! =^_^=

<---------->

Sun shone in the kitchen windows to match the bright disposition of the lively girl busily preparing lunch for the household. Pots bubbled and skillets sizzled, wafting enticing aromas into the air. Ryo-ohki watched in anticipation from a perch atop the table as Sasami danced between the many dishes.

"Almost done!" the princess proclaimed happily. Ryo-ohki replied with an enthusiastic "miyaaa!"

Sasami swooped over to the pantry, saying, "now all I need is..." She swung the doors wide, and came to an abrupt halt. Ryo-ohki cocked her head to one side at the girl's sudden change of demeanor. "Mya?"

"Ryo-ohki!!" Sasami was suddenly looming over the cabbit, seeming somehow larger. "Did you eat all the carrots, you naughty cabbit?" Ryo-ohki shook her head emphatically, myaa-ing in the negative. Sasami seemed unconvinced, her eyes stormy and her lips pouted. "How could you? You'll ruin lunch for everyone." Ryo-ohki continued to plead, holding her tiny paws together in a sign of contrition. The princess's face softened finally.

"You didn't?" Sasami asked, putting her finger to her chin. The cabbit assured her this was true. "Hmmm," she said. "Okay, I'm sorry I scolded you." She reached out and rubbed Ryo-ohki's head, returning to the patented Sasami bright smile. The cabbit seemed to accept this as adequate compensation.

"We'll have to get some more," she said. "I have something special planned." True, she had been working all through the late morning. Now all that remained was to add the carrots. And the need for carrots meant the need for Tenchi. The thought of Tenchi washed away any remaining gloomy thoughts.

Sasami let Ryo-ohki climb up to her favorite spot: on her head. Then she looked around the house for Tenchi, poking her head into this room and that, calling "Tenchi-ni-chan!" Finally she spotted her sister in the yard hanging laundry.

"ONEEEEEE-SAMA!" she called. "Have you seen Tenchi?"

"Sasami," Ayeka replied firmly, straightening from her work. "It is unbecoming a royal princess of Jurai to shout so."

"Sorry, Ayeka," she said sheepishly. "Do you know where Tenchi is?"

"I believe Tenchi-sama is with brother Yosho. It is one of his days for morning practice."

Sasami looked a little deflated at this answer. "Okay," she said and ducked back inside the house.

'Ah,' mused Ayeka, 'carefree youth. How nice it would be to run about shouting for my Tenchi.' She took a dreamy-eyed moment to imagine just that. In her mind she ran out the front door of the Masaki house and into a field of flowers in full bloom. 'Tenchi-sama' she cried out, running into the waiting arms of her beloved. 'Ayeka-san,' he whispered as he held her.

Shaking herself out of her daydream, she turned back to her work and noticed a comfortable looking ball of pink, tan and blonde napping on the porch while the laundry she'd already hung dried on the lines. 'Or, how nice just to take my leisure in the sun on a pleasant summer morning,' she thought with a smile at her friend.

'But no,' she appended with determination. 'My destiny is one of responsibility.' She raised her chin in pride. This had the unfortunate side effect of bringing her gaze up to the roof, where another was spending a lazy morning taking in the sun. Someone who was SUPPOSED to be sweeping the patio where they were to eat her sister's special lunch.

The princess felt her fists clenching into tight, unladylike balls. A knot formed on her temple above eyes that had taken on a scary shape.

Back inside the house Sasami didn't hear the shout of "Lazy demon!" nor did she notice the Juraian guardians appearing.

"Well, looks like we'll just have to go get some, huh Ryo-ohki?" Sasami firmly planted her hands upon her hips in a pose that said 'ready for action.' At that moment the floor shook just a bit. "If Tenchi can pull a big basket of carrots in an afternoon, I'm sure we can get one or two." Another thunderclap sounded. This one made the walls rattle. "Oh, those two," protested the little princess. She shook her head in disappointment. "Well, let's go Ryo-ohki!"

The cabbit, however, mya-ed half-heartedly. Sasami looked up to see Ryo-ohki gazing down the hall and outside with concern. There was an orange flash and another boom. Sasami had to admit it sounded like one of their bigger fights. Ryo-ohki's big, golden eyes looked down at the princess guiltily. "It's okay. You can go see if she needs you." With a mya of thanks the fuzz ball bounded off in the direction of the battle outside. For a moment Sasami wondered why Ryo-ohki made that twinkle-bubble sound when she ran.

Still ready for her great carrot hunt, princess Sasami marched out to the fields by herself.

<----->

Tenchi was walking back to the house feeling pretty good. His muscles had the warm ache that meant he had a good hard practice. He also had fewer bruises than the last few times. His grandfather seemed to approve of his progress. Walking alone, he didn't feel guilty breaking into a boyish grin. Grandpa's praise wasn't easily earned. The sun seemed to approve as well, shining through the leaves and making dancing patterns on the ground.

What else was good? Washu hadn't accosted him recently. Mihoshi was on leave, so she was visiting. Sasami had hinted at making something 'special' for lunch today, which on the Sasami scale of food meant something spectacular. There even had been less fighting at the house, especially after Ryoko'd seemed to mellow since the Zero incident.

Tenchi had just come into view of the house when there was an explosion blossomed in the driveway. A giant bead of sweat slid down his face. 'I shouldn't have said anything,' he thought. 'I jinxed it.' He sped up to a trot to see if he could get to the bickering girls before they caused any real damage.

A red-hot energy bolt slammed into Ayeka's force shield just as Tenchi arrived on the scene.

"We are with you, princess!" called Azaka.

"Have no fear!" Kamidake chimed in.

As Ayeka leapt into the air, the guardians flew with her maintaining the protective shield. With a growl Ryoko, who was flying above her, threw her energy sword like a spear. Ayeka dodged and the bolt hit the ground, sending gravel flying in all directions. Ayeka let loose her own battle cry and energy beams shot forth from the guardians' projectors, lancing the sky where Ryoko had been a moment before.

"STOP IT!!" Tenchi's shout echoed through the air. The girls froze and looked to see Tenchi glaring up at them. Ryoko instantly teleported to the ground.

"Tenchiiii," she whined. "Ayeka had her guardians zap me out of my morning cat-nap and called me a lazy good-for-nothing." Ryoko's blue and gold dress was scorched. "Just look at my poor tail," she cried, turning to show the rather frazzled accessory. Ryo-ohki, who was at her feet, gave a "myaaa" of sympathy.

"Tenchi-sama," objected Ayeka, floating down to the ground beside her rival. "Don't listen to her! She was going to ruin lunch for everyone... again... by ignoring her chores. Even Mihoshi did her share, but this woman thinks she's the only one who doesn't have to earn her keep." The princess took a moment to cast an angry look. "Besides," she continued to protest, "I told the guardians to use minimum power. But look what she did to me!" With a pleading look to Tenchi, Ayeka displayed a hole shot all the way through the lower part of her pink kimono.

"But Tenchi, she started it!"

"You started it, monster, by being a useless lump!"

"That's enough, you two," said Tenchi. With a sigh he walked past them toward the house.

"But Tenchiii," piped a two-part harmony. Tenchi, however, seemed to be ignoring them as he walked away.

"Brat!" growled Ryoko through her teeth.

"Demon!" Ayeka retorted.

"Mya?" Ryo-ohki looked on sadly as her beloved Tenchi, harvester of carrots, walked away in a foul mood.

Tenchi was doing a good job ignoring the girls' arguments. At least they had been fighting outside. And at least it seemed he'd been able to defuse the situation. He'd only gotten a few steps when an angry hum of energy coursed through the air behind him. Before he had a chance to turn a tremendous blast erupted, causing him to stumble. Again he felt a flare of anger. Wouldn't those two ever learn?

Tenchi spun round to see both Ryoko and Ayeka coughing in the midst of a dust cloud. Ryo-ohki was on the ground shaking dirt from her fur. He was about to scold them again when the girls saw him and his expression, and shook their heads.

"Wasn't us," coughed Ryoko.

"Look out," Ayeka gasped. She flung her arms upward and a glowing wall of force blinked into being above them. Several rapid-fire energy bolts blasted the shield, but it held.

Ryoko bared her teeth and scanned the sky for several heartbeats. "There!" she called out. A ball of light coalesced in her outstretched hand, then shot towards the clouds. She repeated this several times, each time an answering rain of fire pummeled Ayeka's shield.

Tenchi was frustrated. He couldn't even see what Ryoko was firing at, and the thunder of the incoming bolts pounded his ears like blows from Grampa's bokken. All he could do under the bombardment was run over and help keep Ayeka on her feet, as she seemed to feel the punishment her shield was taking.

Then as suddenly as it began, the assault ended. With a groan Ayeka slumped, her shield vanishing. Tenchi and Ryoko caught her before she fell. Ryo-ohki could now be heard hissing at their feet. The trio also heard footsteps rushing toward them. They turned as one to see Washu and Mihoshi, her compact pistol drawn and her GP badge hastily clipped to her pink tank top, coming their way. Noboyuki was looking out from the front door.

"What's going on out here?" demanded Washu. "I thought the girls were just fighting again, but even Ryoko can't make energy blasts that big..."

"Washu!!" snarled Ryoko, indignant.

"Always jumping the gun, my Ryoko-chan," Washu chided. "I was going to say 'without activating her gems.' And could you call me 'mom'?" The last she added with an impish grin.

"Why, you..."

"Is that what everyone is looking at?" said Mihoshi. She was pointing into the sky, roughly in the direction of the carrot fields. When the others looked, they could see two distinct specks in the sky rapidly getting larger as they rocketed closer. In a moment the dots resolved into pair of flying people. They stopped and hovered only ten meters from the group.

The figure floating higher in the air wore a heavy cloak of midnight blue over a bodysuit like a blue and gray leotard. Black boots and gloves completed her ensemble. The hood of the cloak was big enough to completely hide the face of the intruder, though the shape under the bodysuit was obviously female. A high-tech whip hung at her hip from a jeweled belt.

The other, floating below and to the side, was also a woman. She wore what could only be described as an armor bikini. The silver and black costume consisted of strategically positioned armor plates, knee high armored boots, and armored gloves and backpack bristling with weaponry. A helmet protected the woman's head, and a dark visor covered everything from her nose up. She had long hair, as dark as Ayeka's but teal in color.

A bright reflection from the house caught Tenchi's eye. He turned to see his father, still in the doorway but this time armed with one of his video cameras. It was pointed at the two floating women in their provocative outfits. Noboyuki noticed Tenchi, and gave him the thumbs up.

"Oh, dad..." mumbled Tenchi.

The silence was broken by haughty laughter. The cloaked pirate woman had put her hands on her hips and was giving a traditional villain's laugh. Her armored henchwoman remained passive.

"Fool," the pirate boasted. She pointed in Tenchi's direction. Ryo-ohki was at his feet; ten inches of hissing, spitting, cabbitine fury. "You have no safe haven. Your secret has been found. I have taken that which is most precious to you! Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!"

Back at the doorway to the house, Noboyuki was praising his good luck. The hooded pirate turning to point provided an excellent profile shot. "Oooh, she has equally noteworthy assets back there, too!" he said to himself. The effect the bawdy laughter had on her curvaceous figure left him positively giddy. "Now that's fan service!"

Tenchi and the others looked back and forth, puzzled. Finally, Ayeka's eyes widened in shock. "Where is Sasami?!" she cried. Everyone looked and confirmed that the little princess was not with them.

"So," called out the hooded villain, "'Sasami' is the name of this precious treasure. How perfectly elegant. Now, the most delicious dishes in the universe shall be mine!"

"Give Sasami back, and maybe I won't tear you to pieces!" yelled Ryoko.

"Yes," added Ayeka, returning to her feet. "I demand you return Sasami at once!"

"So, what is this?" the hooded pirate taunted. "You are so weak your lackeys must speak for you? Pathetic!"

"They speak for all of us," Tenchi said firmly. "If you let Sasami go we don't have to fight."

"Ridiculous!" was the pirate's response. "I have crossed half the galaxy to claim this prize. I searched remote worlds, researched in tomes from the galaxy's greatest libraries, unearthed hidden ruins. They all led me here! I'll not simply let you have it!"

It was Mihoshi's turn to step forward. She raised her pistol two-handed to aim up at the hooded pirate woman. "I am a first class detective of the Galaxy Police. Kidnapping is a class 1 felony by galactic law. Also, you are in the protected area of the Solar system. It is a class 2 felony to discharge high energy personal weaponry in a civilian zone, punishable by up to 100 years in maximum security."

The last part made both Ryoko and Ayeka cringe. They shared an anxious look. "I won't say anything if you won't," whispered Ryoko. Ayeka replied with a worried nod.

"I am hereby placing you under arrest," continued Mihoshi. "You have 3 seconds to surrender or I'll have to... um... make you surrender."

"Are you some kind of idiot?!" barked the hooded villain. "Threatening me with that toy gu-MYAAAAOOOOOUCH!!" The pirate began frantically hopping about in mid air, rubbing her behind where Mihoshi's blaster bolt had tagged her. "Achi-achi-achi-!!" It took her a few moments to stop jumping around. As she hovered, still rubbing her smarting bottom, she mumbled, "a pretty good shot. I need to stop fooling around." Then in a louder voice she called out, "cover my escape, my minion!"

"Yoh-kai!" came the curt reply of the armored henchwoman. Without hesitation she zipped between the group on the ground and her mistress, who flew into the trees. Energy bolts spewed from her armored gauntlets.

"Tenchi!" Ryoko shouted as she knocked him and Ryo-ohki out of the line of incoming fire. Mihoshi returned fire. Ayeka summoned her guardians.

Tenchi-ken sprung to life as Tenchi regained his feet. He charged forward, deflecting energy bolts. He made a leaping strike, but the pirate's henchwoman dodged to the side. Ryoko and the guardians appeared in the air near her, engaging in a deadly dance with their armored opponent.

"I have data," announced Washu. "The girl's power comes entirely from her armored battlesuit!" Her hands flew over her dimensional computer, which had appeared on command.

"She fights really well for a normal," commented Ryoko as she dodged a blast and swung her sword again. "Fighting defensively, too. S'why she's so hard to hit."

"Tenchi-sama," called Ayeka, directing her guardians. "We can handle this one. Please go get Sasami!"

"Right!" Tenchi launched himself toward the tree line where the pirate had disappeared. He took only a few strides before a tremendous blast of air hit him. He braced his feet and crossed his arms to protect his face. He gritted his teeth and tried to press forward as leaves and branches rushed past. A ship leapt out of the trees.

As soon as the ship took to the air, the armored girl activated booster jets in her backpack and rocketed to it. Ryoko gave chase, but just couldn't keep up. Once the henchwoman was inside the ship it shot upward.

"No! Sasamiii!!" cried Ayeka.

"We're not finished yet, princess." Ryoko had returned immediately. She looked down to Ryo-ohki and nodded. The cabbit crouched then leapt high. She tumbled in the air and grew. In a few seconds the space ship Ryo-ohki hovered above the group, her red canopy glistening in the sun. A beam of light illuminated them and drew them inside.

Ryoko dove into the pilot's chair and shoved the spherical controls forward. Ryo-ohki hurtled into space. "Ryo-ohki," called Ryoko. A 'myaa' echoed through the cockpit. Numerous crystals appeared. With a fierce grin she commanded "Prepare all weapons!" A multitude of targeting displays and readouts began appearing on the canopy.

"Ryoko," Tenchi said in a worried tone. "Remember Sasami is on board that ship. We don't want her to get hurt." At that Ryoko's grin became a feral smile, teeth bared.

"Don't worry, Tenchi," she said, looking at him over her shoulder. "You DO remember I'm a pirate, don't you? Attacking ships to take their cargo - unharmed - is what we pirates do!"

"Don't hold back, Ryoko," called Washu from behind. She'd summoned a floating pillow (complete with gold tassels) along with her dimensional laptop. Her fingers worked furiously as she focused on the display. "That ship may be small, but its engine output is extremely high. They're pulling away."

"Oh, no," came Mihoshi's voice from the back of the group.

Ryoko growled at the viewport. The gem on her wrist flared and her outfit shifted into her red and black battle costume. Ryo-ohki lurched forward with a surge of additional speed.

Washu was hunched over her computer. The power curve comparison was not sloping in their favor. "Not enough, Ryoko!" She scowled and called up Ryo-ohki's schematic to see where she could reroute power. She tried several possible alternatives without any luck. Before she could try the next, Ryo-ohki accelerated wildly. "That's my girl!"

"Uh... Washu, I didn't do anything!" Ryoko protested. Washu looked up to see everyone hanging onto the pilot's chair to brace against the acceleration. No, at a second glance it wasn't everyone. Mihoshi was clutching one of the control crystals, her dimensional cube in one hand and an empty coffee pot in the other.

Washu's mouth twitched. "Eh... well," she mumbled, "whatever works."

"We're closing fast now, Ryoko," said Ayeka, watching the displays. "You should be in firing range in 3... 2..."

Ryoko howled and slammed the firing control. Gold beams of force lanced the night of space to smite the fleeing villains' ship.

"It's slowing," reported Ayeka. "They're turning to fight!"

"Weapons charging," came a shout from Washu.

Ryo-ohki shook. Numerous displays flashed angry red warnings. Ryoko ignored them. The consummate pirate, she closed the distance between the ships and initiated a deadly pas-de-deux.

Ryoko did indeed fly Ryo-ohki like a demon. She kept Ryo-ohki at point blank range as the ships dodged and twirled together. A storm of energy blasts raged between them. She scored numerous hits, but Ryo-ohki was taking a terrible beating.

"Tenchi-sama," Ayeka shouted over the din. "Do you remember our battle with Kagato?" She saw Tenchi pale. Her own heart skipped a beat at the horrifying memory of losing Tenchi. "No, we'll not make that mistake again. We're going to use them the way they were meant: for defense." Understanding, Tenchi set his jaw and nodded. He drew Tenchi-ken and knelt so he wouldn't fall in the bucking ship. "Focus like you did before. It is important you concentrate. We do not have my Ryu-oh this time." Tenchi obeyed. He shaped the light he saw inside himself, a mental image he conjured whenever he needed to call the power of the Light Hawk. Ayeka focused on the Key, channeling protective energies. In unconscious unison, Ayeka and Tenchi whispered Sasami's name.

In front of Ryo-ohki a glowing wedge appeared: a single Light Hawk Wing. It seemed poor defense, that lone shield. However, when an incoming bolt threatened Ryo-ohki's lower spire Ayeka's hand glided to the side. The Light Hawk Wing rotated and deflected the blast. The shield swung again and turned away a second shot aimed at the cockpit.

"Ryoko," said Ayeka, barely audible over the clamour.

"Don't have to tell me twice!" answered Ryoko. With a roar she spurred Ryo-ohki into a charge, redoubling the intensity of the battle.

Having caught up to the enemy, there was no need for coffee any longer. Ryoko flew and fired Ryo-ohki's weapons. Ayeka and Tenchi were running the shield. Washu was working damage control. This didn't leave Mihoshi very much to do.

She stood then behind the pilot's chair, holding onto the back of it for support. She watched the dizzying tempest through the view-port. Ryoko's performance was masterful, as was their enemy's. She was transfixed by the patterns of dodge, shoot, spin, lunging at them...

"Now she'll go left," she said, as if to herself.

Ryoko, seated just in front of Mihoshi, heard her. Ryoko knew while Mihoshi wasn't any battle tactician, she had an almost supernatural intuition. Without hesitation she launched her coup-de-grace.

The enemy ship went right. Ryoko's eyes shot wide open an instant before an energy bolt slammed into the exposed flank. Tenchi and Ayeka were thrown to the side and the Light Hawk Wing disappeared. The cockpit lighting turned red and Ryo-ohki shrieked. Washu snarled as she desperately worked to keep the ship from falling apart.

Tenchi looked up to see the enemy ship speed away. "Kuso!" he cursed. Then his expression changed to one of worry and sorrow. "Sasami..."

"DAMMIT, MIHOSHI!!" Ryoko was shouting, kneeling in the pilot's chair to face backwards. Mihoshi cringed, her eyes getting watery.

"W-w-w-what?"

"You said she was going to go LEFT!"

"B-but she did go left."

"Le-" Ryoko sputtered. "Mihoshi, don't you know your left," she shouted, sticking out her left arm, "from your right?!?!" She stuck out her right arm. Mihoshi didn't manage to say anything, but feebly pointed to Ryoko's left arm. Facing Mihoshi, her left was to everyone else's right.

"Y-y-you... you meant the pilot's left?" Ryoko whispered. Mihoshi gave a meager nod.

"Mihoshi is a pilot, Ryoko," interjected Washu. She was walking toward them pushing up a pair of welding goggles. "It's natural she'd think from that perspective."

"Ooogg," was all Ryoko managed to say before her bones turned to jelly and she slid down the chair to the floor.

<----->

"Don't worry, Ayeka," Tenchi said.

When the battle had ended, and Ryo-ohki had begun to quietly drift, Ayeka lost the fight to keep everything inside. Tenchi had come to her aid, armed with a soft, reassuring voice and his charming smile. Ryoko was still too angry about losing the battle to notice all the attention Tenchi was giving her. Ayeka's rival was sitting in the pilot's chair playing Jan-Ken-Pan with herself, seeing if left or right hand won more often.

"We're going to get her back," said Tenchi as he held Ayeka's shoulders. "The woman said she wanted delicious food. She's not going to hurt Sasami if she wants her to cook. So, cheer up! She'll be back with us soon. I promise." Ayeka looked up, her reddened eyes meeting his. His smile made her straighten herself and nod.

Washu returned to everyone else wearing a tool belt of daunting proportions. "Well, folks, Ryo-ohki is going to be just fine. The bad news is she needs complete rest. It's all she can do to maintain her ship form right now."

"Then, what about Sasami?" asked Tenchi. "We can't just give up on her. We need a ship."

"We could use my shuttle," answered Mihoshi. "Oh, but I don't think it's fast enough to catch that ship." Her tone waxed dismal at that realization. She added, "it's back in the Solar system, besides."

"Ah!" exclaimed Washu. "No need to worry about that. Oh, the beauties of quantum sub-realities. Quite simple, really, as long as you can follow umbral flux patterns." Everyone blinked at Washu. "Theory of point singularity connectivity?" Blink, blink. "Infinite improbability? Oh, never mind. The point is that while Mihoshi's shuttle entered the pocket dimension back on Earth, it can exit at any point including out here!"

"That's great, Washu..." began Tenchi.

"Of course! I am the Number One Genius Scientist in the Entire Universe, after all!" Washu proceeded to cackle with delight.

"But Washu," Tenchi continued when Washu had calmed down. "Mihoshi said her shuttle isn't fast enough."

"That's right, Tenchi. Her shuttle isn't, but a full blown Galaxy Police patrol interceptor is!"

"My Yagami?" supposed Mihoshi.++

"That's right! And just look where our chase has lead us." Washu summoned a star chart onto Ryo-ohki's main viewer. Ryoko sucked in a hissing breath.

Ayeka narrowed her eyes and gave Ryoko a sly grin. "What's the matter, Ryoko-san? I recognize this area as well. Why would you have an aversion to being so close to Galaxy Police headquarters, hmmm? I thought your criminal record was cleared. Ooo-ho-ho-ho!"

"Hey," Ryoko complained. "Old instincts die hard."

"But, Washu-san, that won't do us any good," Mihoshi protested. As Mihoshi continued, Washu used a dimensional marker to cross out the 'Miss' before her name in the subtitle, replacing it with 'Little.' "My ship is in the dock," remarked the detective. "It won't be released until my leave is over. Even if I went back early, those papers take a long time to go through. At least... mine do. I'm not sure why." She began counting off on her fingers. "Miharu, hers only take about an hour. And Hiroshi, he's only a detective second class and his seem to go through right away. Mine always take days, even when I include extra pages of explanation and illustrations. So, we don't want to wait that long to go after them, do we?"

"No, of course we don't, Mihoshi," Ryoko said. Wearing a wolfish grin, she stalked up behind Mihoshi and leaned over her shoulder. "That's why..." Tenchi watched as Ryoko, her lips moving only a hair's breadth from Mihoshi's ear, whispered their roguish intensions.

Mihoshi's eyes grew larger as she listened. Finally she gasped. "Ryoko!! You can't do that. Stealing is a crime..."

"Grand larceny. Yeah, I'm pretty familiar with it." Ryoko crossed her arms, still wearing a lopsided smile.

"And... it... would be impossible."

"Not with a detective first class aiding us," suggested Ayeka. She stepped up beside Ryoko.

"Oh... you mean..."

"Mihoshi," Ayeka said, setting her shoulders and holding up her chin. "As a member of the royal family of Jurai I am requesting your assistance as an officer of the Galaxy Police. Help us. I could make the request formally, but there is simply no time. If anyone questions your decision, they will be answerable to me." In a softer tone she added, "if not for Jurai, please, just because Sasami needs us. All of us."

Tenchi watched Mihoshi's worried eyes turn down to the deck. He could see her sense of duty battling with her heart. For several tense moments she stayed that way. When she looked back up her, eyes were no longer filled with worry but the death and glory spirit.

<----->

Washu had no trouble pulling Mihoshi's shuttle out of the pocket dimension. Once they boarded, Ryo-ohki was able to return to her cabbit form. She looked dreadfully tired, and her right paw was bandaged and tied with a bow. When they reached Galaxy Police headquarters (their approach was welcomed, as they we in the company of a GP officer and hadn't broken any laws... yet) Washu made ready to depart.

"The equipment back at my lab that will make sure Ryo-ohki recovers quickly and completely." Washu was holding the cabbit, looking all the world like a little girl playing mother with a stuffed animal. "I should have no trouble picking up a ship heading toward Earth." She dug in the pocket of her shorts and produced a palm sized device. This she handed to Tenchi. "Take this sub-space communicator. Once we get back to Earth you'll be able to reach me. Don't forget the data card I gave you. Be careful." Without further ado Washu walked off toward the general public docks.

Tenchi turned back to the remaining group. Mihoshi and he were in their usual casual clothes. Washu had arranged some "incognito" outfits for Ryoko and Ayeka. It wouldn't do to have either the galaxy's most infamous space pirate or the crown princess of Jurai seen walking about. Ayeka was provided a businesswoman's attire: a jacket, skirt and some professional looking shoes. She'd hidden her tiara. Ryoko sported the classic cotton pants and t-tunic with athletic shoes. She wore a matching cap and jacket, both emblazoned with the logo of the Chunichi Dragons (souvenirs from the 1999 pennant game to which Noboyuki had taken everyone*), to conceal her hair and figure. She also picked up some tinted glasses to hide her cat-like eyes.

"Alright," said Tenchi as they huddled up. "Mihoshi and Ryoko will go to the flight control center to clear the Yagami. Ayeka and I will get on board to get it underway."

"No way!" objected Ryoko. "I'm not leaving Ayeka alone with you in that ship. Uh-uhh."

"Ryoko, I'm much too concerned about Sasami to think of chasing after Tenchi-sama during this important mission. I am not a monster like you who takes advantage of every situation."

"Watch your mouth, princess," barked Ryoko, "or you're going to be wondering how your head ended up stuck in your overly pampered back side!"

"Girls, could you keep it down," pleaded Tenchi. He noticed someone turn their head at the mention of 'princess'. A GP officer looked their way overhearing Ryoko's outburst. Tenchi took Ryoko's elbow. "Ryoko, we need you to go with Mihoshi because only you can teleport out to the Yagami once it's launched."

"Fine," pouted Ryoko, pulling her cap further down. "But if you try anything, Ayeka..."

Tenchi and Ayeka headed to the space port. It took them a few attempts before they successfully followed Mihoshi's hastily scribbled, and poorly illustrated (Tenchi didn't see any sunflowers anywhere) directions to the proper dock area. Tenchi tried not to gawk at the spacecraft coming and going in the immense enclosed dock beyond the tall viewports. It dwarfed his memories of Tokyo stadium. Blinking like Christmas trees, ships and docking ports came together expertly. Voices echoed over the loudspeakers, calling out arrivals, demanding service, and conducting dispatch.

"Over here, Tenchi-sama." Ayeka gestured to a check station in front of a numbered pressure door.

'Oh, great!' thought Tenchi when he saw the officers at the checkpoint. 'Shot down so soon. We can't just walk past those guards.' Despite the arguments his brain was putting up, Ayeka was already striding confidently toward the officers. Tenchi scrambled to catch up.

"Ma'am," the senior officer acknowledged.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," she said coolly. "Please let my assistant and me past." The officers looked to Tenchi, who thought he would die of fright. Somehow he managed only to grin and wave.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but this is a restricted area."

"I should hope so," Ayeka replied, an edge of annoyance slipping into her voice. "Now, let us through."

"Ma'am, only authorized personnel ar-"

"Do not trifle with me officer... Sonada," growled Ayeka. Tenchi was suddenly more worried FOR the officers than about them. "Maybe I'll not report you. Do you know who I AM?"

'Oh no, Ayeka!' Tenchi wanted to scream. 'Not that!'

"I'm sorry, but this area i-"

"I am Director Shirayuki of the Shiseido Corporation," Ayeka declared.** "I am here by request of the president of my company to personally inspect the vessels in this dock we have been contracted to paint." She consciously straightened her business suit.

"I-inspect? Ma'am you're not Galaxy Police personnel. How could you be here to inspect these spacecraft? I'm not aware of any civilian inspection. Where is your authorization?" The officer wore an adamant look for a moment. However, he began to shrink back as Ayeka continued.

"Authorization?! OFFICER Sonada, how many people even know of the special dedication ceremony to take place at the upcoming Startica celebration on planet Jurai?"

"Uh... not ma-"

"Or that the Jurai family PERSONALLY ordered a squadron of Galaxy Police ships be decorated for the ceremony with the royal crest prominent on the hulls, in honor of the return of the princesses from their almost millennia-long journey?!"

The officer shrunk more under Ayeka's glare. "Well, those... ships..."

"What is the empire going to think if they see the Tree of Tsunami painted BACKWARDS!?! Or the guardian pikes the wrong color?" Ayeka could see the enemy was weak, so she readied the final blow. She switched to a pleading tone. "Think, officer Sonada, of the disappointment on sweet, little princess Sasami's face when she sees a mistake like that. Like her name misspelled on her own birthday cake, as if no one cared!"

The junior officer wept openly. "I'm sorry, Sasami-hime!" he sobbed.

"I am here to make sure that doesn't happen," Ayeka finished. "Now, let me pass so that I may inspect the work of my company."

"A- yes, ma'am!" stammered officer Sonada, reaching for the door release.

"Call me pr..!.." Ayeka began, on reflex. The officers looked up expectantly. Tenchi froze. "Uh... call me... prrrrr-ior to any deployment, so I may ensure my company is aware the work is satisfactory." The officer bobbed his head as the pressure door hissed open. Tenchi and Ayeka quickly shuffled into the brightly lit, metallic corridor. When the pressure door closed again behind them, they breathed a sigh.

"Ayeka," Tenchi said simply. Ayeka didn't reply. However, she covered her mouth as she allowed a brief laugh to escape.

It was likely the same ruse wouldn't work on all the guards, even though Ayeka assured Tenchi it was based on fact. The pair worked their way through the maze of corridors with caution, avoiding others. Before long they found the hatch of the Yagami. Tenchi produced a small recording device from his pocket. Looking at the lock mechanism, he found the buttons Mihoshi advised him to press.

"Voice recognition required," chimed a voice when he pressed the button. Tenchi held the recorder up to the panel and pressed "play."

"Ala... ala..." came Mihoshi's soprano from the device.

"Voice print confirmed," replied the voice immediately. "Welcome aboard, detective." The door hummed open to welcome them. With a last look down the hall, Tenchi and Ayeka ducked inside.

They quickly made their way to the bridge. When they entered, Yukinojo swung down to greet them.

"Mihoshi, I have prepared all... w-what?! Who?" the saucer shaped robot sputtered. The armature swung him back and forth between Tenchi and Ayeka. "Tenchi! A-Ayeka-hime!! What is going on? Where is Mishoshi? If you have boarded unlawfully I will have to sound an alarm!"

"No, no!" implored Tenchi, waving his hands. "Mihoshi... Mihoshi is... coming soon. She asked Ayeka and I to get you started because we're in such a hurry."

"I have no flight plan uploaded from Galaxy Police command."

"That's, uh, because it's a secret mission," Tenchi explained nervously.

"For the benefit of Jurai," added Ayeka.

"Tenchi," Yukinojo protested. "This is highly irregular."

"Well... it... IS Mihoshi," replied Tenchi feebly.

A bead of sweat formed on the side of Yukinojo's head. After a moment he swiveled toward the viewport. "Powering up! Preparing for launch," he said. A loud hum echoed through the vessel.

<----->

Ryoko and Mihoshi walked through the crowded workstation area of GP Command Central. Mihoshi was quietly humming to herself as they went.

At first Ryoko was terribly nervous. While she hadn't committed a crime in 700 years, and wasn't currently wanted for anything, she was worried the recent posting about her file (being closed) as well as Kagato's reappearance meant her face might be known to the current generation of Galaxy Police. She might not be a criminal anymore, but she was infamous. She felt as if every head turned her direction was trying to peel away her meager disguise. However, no one seemed to pay them much mind. After all, they were obviously a GP detective and her companion. 'New partner?' a few curious glances asked. 'Poor slob.'

By the time they reached the pile of reports (mostly damage claims), toys and disposable coffee cups Mihoshi claimed was her desk, Ryoko was actually enjoying herself. She'd reconsidered that she, the most infamous space pirate, was walking unmolested through the center of law & order for the known galaxy. She made a point to casually say "ohaiyo" to a couple of officers when she poured herself a cup of the house coffee (terrible, but strong) and grab a doughnut. They returned her greeting without special notice. She had to restrain herself from laughing, both at how the officers assumed she belonged there and the presence of the plethora of doughnuts.

When Ryoko returned to Mihoshi's desk, the detective was still searching for her authorization cards. "Ah-lalalala..." she mumbled as she dug through the stacks. She toppled a pile of reports, sending papers and a plastic cartoon animal (a little white dog holding a sign "Don't eat me") into the aisle. Ryoko bent to pick them up for her when someone caught her eye.

At the end of the aisle stood a young boy, not more than 11 years old, conspicuously staring in their direction. He wore a costume similar to the blue Galaxy Police uniform, only simpler. When Ryoko stood back up the boy distinctly looked at her. She held his gaze for a few moments. She wasn't sure... could it have been the boy recognized her? If he did, there certainly wasn't a lot she could do in here. An energy bolt would do more damage than the boy could. Besides, he was kinda cute in his little uniform. Not as cute as Tenchi at that age, but cute. So, Ryoko decided on a more restrained mode of attack. She stuck her tongue out at him. She didn't even make raspberries, but settled for a simple "mmmmm."

The boy blinked in surprise, then darted off. "Well, that did it," whispered Ryoko to herself. "Either he'll tell someone or he won't." She started to imagine standing in front of a camera, a numbered plaque in her hands, the boy pointing and laughing as the flash blinded her. She shook her head to dispel the image. 'I'm just being paranoid,' she thought.

"Yata!" came Mihoshi's cry from behind her, breaking her train of thought. The young detective held up her security pass and made a "V" with her fingers.

"Alright," said Ryoko, cautious again. "Let's get outta here." After all, now they were getting down to doing something illegal.

After the pair strode out of the work area they quickly made their way to GP flight control central. Ryoko was surprised to find this was a huge, multi-tiered theatre centered on a holographic map. She cringed at the thought of trying to hack GP security in such an open arena. Luckily, Mihoshi led them down another corridor off of this colossal room.

"Inactive ships aren't run from the main control center," Mihoshi explained. They crept down darkened passages that lead to the attachment for ship stowage control. Unlike the main offices the girls didn't have much of an excuse for being in this area, especially out of uniform. When Ryoko sensed someone behind them she bristled. She put a warning hand on Mihoshi and spun around.

Behind them were a dozen children. The boy Ryoko had seen earlier was at the front of the pack. All of them were wearing the blue and gray outfits.

"You see," proclaimed the boy excitedly, "it IS her!"

Ryoko hissed. Her disguise had failed. They were found out. 'And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you kids!' The quest was ruined by her own infamy. Bitterly she thought how Kagato's legacy still haunted her from beyond the grave. 'What a fool I was to be casually enjoying a stroll through the headquarters of my old enemy!' she thought. 'Tenchi's gonna hate me.'

"Kuramitsu-sempai!!" cried the children as one. The two adult women blinked in disbelief as the shout echoed down the hall. Some of the children were grinning triumphantly. A couple made hungry looks at the pink clad detective. One or two even had misty eyes, their hands clasped reverently before them.

"Um... g-good morning, junior cadets," stammered Mihoshi.

'Junior cadets?' Ryoko thought. 'GP Cub Scouts. Creepy.' She slid behind the blonde keeping an eye on the kids over Mihoshi's shoulder.

The boy in the lead took charge of the group. "C'mon! Detective Kuramitsu is a superior officer." The group quickly ordered themselves into a loose version of attention. (A couple still seemed to be looking through heart-filled clouds.) The boy turned back to the girls. "Junior cadet squad THX1138, ma'am! Junior cadet first class Takashima in command. We're..." The boy seemed momentarily embarrassed, but steeled himself. "We are the Kuramitsu Otaku Brigade, Kuramitsu-sempai!"

"Y-you have a fan club?" Ryoko whispered in query.

"Ala, ala..." mused the detective. She surveyed the miniature formation. "That's very good, junior cadets."

The children broke ranks to get closer to their idol. Mihoshi was quickly swept up in the moment. Several children were demanding autographs. Soon Mihoshi's hand was madly scribbling with a marker they provided.

"Will you sign my forehead," one of the boys asked, holding up his forelocks. After Mihoshi obliged he triumphantly proclaimed he would never bathe again.

One of the boys sang the praises of Mihoshi to a couple of the newer recruits. "...ultra energy matter case, took down the space pirate Kagato, and single handedly brought in the evil Dr. Clay." The boy held up a fist as he spoke, tears of admiration flowing freely. "She's survived countless hardships that would have crushed any other detective, even the loss of her partner. She's the single greatest detective the Galaxy Police has ever known! She's SO COOL!!" His students listened in awe.

A few of the girls, one of whom had her voluminous golden locks tied up in a red ribbon in imitation of her heroine, were agreeing Mihoshi was even prettier in person than in the hundreds of pictures in their image collections. A girl with pink curls, one of the oldest at 12, charged forward. She wrapped Mihoshi's left arm in her embrace (the right was still furiously autographing books, cards, and pictures) and pressed herself close. "Mihoshi-sama," she breathed. "Can I call you Mihoshi-sama?" The girl's cheeks were flushed red, her eyes filled with diamonds.

"Um, sure. I guess," replied an overwhelmed Mihoshi.

"Oh, Ritsuko is so bold," gossiped one of the other girls. "I'm so jealous!"

"Mihoshi-sama," continued the cherry-topped Ritsuko on Mihoshi's arm. "What I feel for you is so much... *sigh* ...MORE than any of these silly kids could understand. I-" She was interrupted by Ryoko prying her off Mihoshi.

"Let go, ya little brat!" growled Ryoko as she pulled her away.

"Oh, no!" Ritsuko cried. "My Mihoshi-sama!"

Ryoko began trying to quiet the entire group. They still weren't far from the flight control center. That much noise was bound to bring a real officer to investigate. However, all her shooshing didn't seem to be working.

"Kuramitsu-sempai! Me next. Me!"

"Oh, my!" said Mihoshi, enjoying the attention.

"No, me!"

"Mihoshi," called Ryoko, behind her again.

"What a babe!"

"Tell us a story about your adventures!"

"Yeah," came a chorus. Mihoshi giggled at the doting youngsters.

"Mihoshi," Ryoko tried again.

"I love your hair."

"I love your ribbon."

"We love you!" a few of the kids sang.

"Mi. Ho. Shi." huffed Ryoko. "We. Have. To. Go."

Ryoko Hakubi could take energy blasts. She could take the psychological attacks of heinous villains. She could even take Tenchi's maddening indecisiveness. But she could not take being ignored by a pack of children and a blonde.

She needed to end it, at once. They couldn't just walk off. The children would see where they were going. An idea struck her, devilish in its simplicity. From the spot behind her, Ryoko reached up to Mihoshi's shoulders. She hooked a finger under each shoulder strap of the pink tank top.

"Okay, fans!" barked Ryoko over Mihoshi's shoulder. All the kids paused to look up at the sudden outburst. "Service, service!" With a quick yank, Ryoko pulled outward and down on the shoulder straps.

There was suddenly utter silence, save a springy noise that settled quickly. From her vantage point over Mihoshi's shoulder Ryoko saw a dozen pairs of saucer-sized eyes, wide in astonishment, awe, and confusion.

Many of the boys burst into nose bleeds, turned pale from blood loss and passed out. One grabbed his the front of pants and collapsed. The tawny-haired girl whipped out a huge mallet and brought it crashing down over the head of another boy, with a cry of "Hentai!" She in turn was buried underneath three other falling bodies. Ritsuko clutched at her heart and went limp, an expression of heavenly bliss on her face. The last two girls looked at each other and fainted into each other's arms. In mere heartbeats the entire Kuramitsu Otaku Brigade had crumpled into a pile.

Ryoko was brushing her hands together at a job well done. 'I defused the situation with no deaths or collateral damage. Tenchi would be proud of me.' She glanced over at Mihoshi getting her shirt back up. 'Nah,' she thought. 'If Tenchi saw that he'd be dead.'

"Why did you do that, Ryoko?" Mihoshi said once everything was in order. "The bath area isn't any where near here. Besides," she added with a look of determination. "We have no time for personal indulgences on such a crucial mission." As she turned to go she noticed the pile of unconscious children and smiled sympathetically. "Poor kids, they must have been really tired. I wish I could give them a pillow."

"Oh, don't worry," said Ryoko. She clapped Mihoshi on the shoulder. "They've had all the pillows they can handle for a while. Let's go." With a last look over her shoulder she winked. "Sweet dreams, kids."

Because it was meant for ships that weren't currently in use, the command center for stowed ships was dark and unmanned. The computer screens provided the only lighting. Ryoko slipped off her sunglasses.

"Mihoshi, why are we tip-toeing? There's no one in here." Mihoshi seemed to ignore Ryoko as they snuck up on the computer they needed.

Mihoshi wasted no time accessing the storage network. Ryoko watched the screens and displays flash by. Strange, she was reminded of the times she'd looked over Washu's shoulder as she worked in her lab. 'That'd be a kicker,' she thought with a chuckle, 'if Washu and Mihoshi were related.'

At first the computer glared at them with a message of [ACCESS DENIED]. Mihoshi's security cards made short work of bypassing the block. The display began a graphic simulation of Yagami being moved out to the launch bay.

In a moment, a video screen flashed to life and the girls were looking at ten-centimeter versions of Tenchi and Ayeka on the Yagami's bridge.

"Hiiii! Tenchii!" Mihoshi called. She waved at the screen. "We did it!"

Back on the Yagami, Tenchi and Ayeka felt the Yagami lurch into motion. The launching platform was moving upward on rails.

"Alright!" called Tenchi.

"Good work, Mihoshi," Ayeka praised. "I hope Ryoko wasn't too much of a burden."

Ryoko's face suddenly filled the screen. "I heard that!"

"Now, girls," Tenchi began, holding up his hands.

Any argument was forestalled by a blaring alarm on Yagami's bridge. Ryoko and Mihoshi watched Tenchi and Ayeka look around for the source of the problem on their monitor. "Is someone on to us?" asked Ryoko.

"Um... I don't think so..." She had access to the police bulletins. All officers did. Nothing there seemed to indicate they'd roused any suspicions. "I don't know..."

"Mihoshi!" bellowed Yukinojo from the speaker.

"Oh, hi Yukinojo! It's so nice to hear you. I hope you're not upset I said hello to Tenchi and Ayeka first. They're my friends. Well, you're my friend too. My vacation was going really nice, but you see-"

"Mihoshi, there is another vital part of the launch procedure you must attend to IMMEDIATELY!"

"Uh, I don't think so. That's everything I usually do."

"Mihoshi!!" Yukinojo cried as he switched the screen to a view immediately above the rapidly ascending Yagami. The view showed a set pressure doors. Starship sized pressure doors. Closed starship sized pressure doors.

"Oh," Mihoshi replied, waving her hand before of her face. "Don't worry about those. They open whenever you go to launch."

"Mihoshi, they open because the officers in the ship stowage control center open them," explained Yukinojo.

"You see," she replied cheerfully. "There won't be a problem then."

"Mihoshi," Yukinojo exclaimed. "YOU are the officer in ship stowage control!!"

Ryoko and Mihoshi could hear Ayeka's voice over the speaker. "Yukinojo, this lift will come to a stop if the launch doors are not open, will it not?"

"Well, normally yes. But Detective Mihoshi disabled all of the safety protocols while initiating this launch." He added miserably, "I am sorry, Ayeka-hime."

"W-what?" protested Tenchi. "You mean were going to be..."

"Squashed like a bug, I'm afraid," came the robot's acquiescent reply.

It was Ryoko's turn to shout Mihoshi's name. The policewoman began to blubber as her fingers worked furiously over the console. "I'm sorry... oh... um..." [DENIED] "No, that's not it. Oh..." [IMPOSSIBLE] [FUNCTION DISABLED] "Oh, pleeeeease!" she begged the computer.

"Mihoshi," Ryoko prompted urgently.

"I'm trying!" [FATAL SYSTEM ERROR] "Oh my! Oooohhh... Maybe if I stop the..."

[DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT]

Tenchi and Ayeka could be heard pleading from the speaker. More and more red warning lights were flashing. Klaxons whooped. Ryoko was pulling at her hair, shouting. Mihoshi's fingers pounded at the keys, trying anything she could think of.

The tension was too much. Bursting into tears Mihoshi clutched at Ryoko. "I'm so sorry!" she wailed. "Oh, listen! They're dying! I killed Tenchi and Ayeka!"

"Mrrrr-hhhhhoo-sssshhhhrrr" grunted Ryoko in Mihoshi's constricting grasp. "Yrrrrr crrrrrsshnnnnnggg mmmmee!"

[PUT YOUR HEAD BETWEEN YOUR LEGS...]

On the bridge of Yagami the rumble of the lift was matched only by the moan of the alarms. Tenchi and Ayeka had given up shouting. The situation seemed inescapable. When Ayeka retreated into his arms, not unlike their time in the woodshed, he didn't recoil. He had to be strong for her in this terrible moment. With the ominous pressure doors looming above them in the view port, Tenchi held Ayeka.

She looked up at him. Despite their grave circumstance, he looked calm. "Oh, Tenchi-sama. I'm not afraid with you here."

"Ayeka," he said, his voice and face a rock of assurance in the tempest that surrounded them. Ayeka marveled how he always seemed the most sure of himself, how his boyish awkwardness fell away, when things were at their worst.

Yukinojo, moved by the scene, felt it should be preserved. He switched the camera view from the pressure doors back to the bridge. He muted the alarms and turned up the gain on the sound, adding in the audio track from one of Mihoshi's favorite soap operas.

"Tenchi-sama," Ayeka said with as much conviction as she could muster. Her desperation gave her strength. There could be no more 'it's just too soon.' "If this is to be the end, there is something I must tell you."

"Yes, Ayeka." Tenchi felt surprisingly peaceful. Even with their doom looming above he could see the sparkle in Ayeka's eyes. Perhaps faced with death he was not afraid of this.

"Tenchi-sama, I... I..." Ayeka cursed her inability even now to voice the words her heart was singing. Desperately, she could think of only one thing. She would close her eyes, tilt her chin up, and spend her last moments...

There was a tremendous *boom* and light flooded into the bridge through the view port. Shaken, Tenchi and Ayeka looked to see pressure doors parting. The luminous blue and white planet beyond filled their vision. The Yagami slipped past the edge of the doors with a few centimeters to spare. The pair took a deep breath of relief.

"Great, girls!" Tenchi said. He turned back toward the monitor. "You did i-YAAGH!" The monitor screen was at its maximum 2-meter height. It was entirely filled with a monstrous version of Ryoko's face.

"AYEKA!!" she roared. "What do you think you're doing?!"

Back in the stowage control center Ryoko, her reddened face only a centimeter from the monitor, watched Tenchi and Ayeka quickly disentangle themselves. She was hunched over the console, one hand on the panel and the other on Mihoshi's head. When she'd seen what was happening on the Yagami's bridge she'd had a sudden burst of strength. In a single, powerful surge she'd freed herself from Mihoshi's death-grip and forced the girl into a face-plant on the console. Fortunately, Mihoshi's face chose to land in the panel controlling the stowage doors. Her nose, cheekbone, chin and forehead coincidentally hit the right combination to release all the stowage launch doors before the buttons shattered from the impact.

"Don't... mind... me..." moaned Mihoshi, slumping to the floor.

The monitor showed the Yagami launching into space. Ryoko scooped up Mihoshi and teleported.

Ryoko really needed line-of-sight to teleport with precision. So, she did her usual practice of teleporting to an uncongested area then zeroed in on her target. She zipped in a couple hundred meters outside the GP station. The Yagami was right about where she expected it to be. She would have spent a moment to take one last look at the panoramic view, but Mihoshi began thrashing about.

'Now what?' she wondered. Ryoko swung Mihoshi off her shoulder to see what was the matter. Mihoshi's face was puffed up. She was covering her mouth and nose with her hands. Her big, puppy-dog eyes were tear filled. Ryoko noticed the tears were turning to ice crystals.

"Oops," Ryoko said when the problem sunk in. "You weren't built to handle hard vacuum, were you?" Mihoshi thrashed her head from side to side in an emphatic, pleading 'NO!' Ryoko quickly looked back over to the departing Yagami and willed herself there.

Ryoko touched down on the deck of the Yagami. Tenchi and Ayeka looked when they heard the shimmering sound of her teleport. Ryoko shot Ayeka an angry look. Mihoshi staggered and gasped for breath. Her teeth had begun to chatter, but Tenchi's praise at a good job warmed her back to health.

"We mustn't tarry," cautioned Ayeka. "Sasami is still in great danger."

"Right," replied Tenchi. He reached inside the folds of his tunic to produce a data card. "Washu gave me this card." He handed it to Mihoshi.

"Hmmm," she said thoughtfully as she sat in the pilot's chair. She turned it around, then flipped it over. "Hmmm," she mused again. "Aren't cards supposed to have little poems on them?"

Tenchi chuckled nervously. "I think it's a computer card, with information on it."

Ryoko was floating above and to his side, upside down. She lowered herself so she could whisper to him. "I think she's still feeling the effects of explosive decompression." Tenchi cringed. Beside Ryoko, a sign briefly appeared. It was upside down like Ryoko, and was painted with the characters for "This Side Up."

Mihoshi popped the card into the computer console and data began appearing on the monitors. Mihoshi scanned the data with great interest and focus. Charts, graphs, correlated data. When she'd finished analyzing it she declared "Yep! It's from Washu alright!"

"Mihoshi," said Ayeka. "I believe much of this is the power data for the kidnapper's ship. I recognize the layout from when I pursued Ryoko for so long. We should be able to track the villain with this energy signature information."

"Quite correct, Ayeka-hime," confirmed Yukinojo. "I have loaded the data into my systems."

"Scan for that ship, Yukinojo," commanded Mihoshi. The readouts on the monitors shifted. A few moments later the computer chimed.

"I have identified the energy trail of the assailant's vessel." A map of the sector appeared and rotated. A dotted line streaked through it.

"Let's go save Sasami," said Tenchi. Mihoshi nodded, threw the Yagami into high gear, and punched the accelerator. With the sound of squealing tires, the Yagami shot off into the distance.

<----->

The pirate in question sat upon her throne inside her stronghold. The throne stood on a raised dais. Her latest prize was beside her. Her armored minion stood before her attentively.

"Mrorw, how I am the most fortunate of all," the pirate went on as she had since returning to her fortress. She reached out a hand to stroke her new beloved trophy. "No one shall ever have you but me. My one. My love. My prrrrecious!"

An alarm suddenly blared. The pirate jumped up. Her armored cohort touched the temple of her helmet, calling on information from the stronghold's surveillance network. "A ship is attacking, mistress," she said dispassionately. Her mistress yowled angrily.

"They found us!" she growled. "They have come to take my precious. But, we won't let them." She held up a clawed fist. An inner fire glowed in her golden eyes. "We shall defeat them as we did before. Precious will be mine always. I will dine on Sasami forever!" She quickly drew a curtain around her prize and grabbed her whip. Her henchwoman followed her.

On the other side of the fortress an explosion ripped at the outer wall. When the smoke cleared four figures stepped through the gaping hole to the interior. First was Ryoko, energy sword humming. Her chest heaved from exertion under her red and black battle costume. She looked from side to side then called back to the others. "Looks clear."

Tenchi and Ayeka came next, both in their tan Jurian battle suits. Tenchi-ken was in Tenchi's hand. Ayeka's eyes were sharp over the stripes on her face. Mihoshi brought up the rear in her black and orange GP issue suit with her GP issue bazooka. She also had a band-aid over the bridge of her nose, a souvenir from her meeting with the GP ship stowage door control.

"My ears are ringing," commented Tenchi. He coughed on the dust.

Ryoko nodded. "Those outer defenses are pretty impressive," she said of the guns and lances they'd finally gotten past.

"'Were' impressive," amended Ayeka. Without looking to her Ryoko grinned. "It definitely appears Washu's data lead us to the correct planet."

"So, it should be easy now?" asked Mihoshi. She was wiping soot from her face. Unfortunately, on her sweaty brow this just managed to smear it around.

"I doubt it," Tenchi answered. "We still have to face those women."

"Can't wait!" snarled Ryoko. "I have a little surprise I'm itchin' to spring."

"I feel the same," agreed the princess.

With a *snap-hiss* Tenchi-ken sprang to life. "Let's go!" directed Tenchi. He charged down the hall with his companions close behind.

After a number of turns they reached an oversized doorway. The double doors themselves were ornamented with inlay. The group, however, didn't have time to be impressed. Tenchi and Ryoko laid a shoulder into each and pushed them open.

Beyond was a grand hall like a cross-shaped cathedral. At the far end was a throne upon a dais. The marbled floor echoed their footsteps.

"Why do villains always insist on big places like this?" asked Ryoko of no one in particular. "Stone. Bad lighting. All the same. At least there's no organ music this time."

"Do you smell something cooking?" Mihoshi began. "Like-"

Ryoko shouted "look out!" She leapt to the side and a familiar colored energy bolt hit the spot she'd been. Everyone tensed. The armored henchwoman swooped in. This time her posture was different. She lashed out furiously with force beams and a glowing thread of energy that sliced through stone like butter. Ryoko and Ayeka engaged her. Mihoshi let loose a couple blasts from her bazooka. Columns came tumbling down in the fight. Chandeliers crashed to the floor.

Tenchi growled, looking for an opening. With a sudden crack and a flash of pain in his wrist he watched Tenchi-ken tumble away. A thick black cord was wrapped around his throbbing wrist. A laugh added to the din. "Foolish boy!" the pirate woman's voice called. On the other side of the hall there was a pause in the battle between the four girls. Tenchi's head snapped up to the unhooded pirate.

Upon the pulpit above him the pirate stood. The other end of the whip trapping Tenchi's wrist was in her hand. Without her cloak he could see the shoulders of her body-hugging outfit were open. Bushy tufts of brown fur stood out from them. She had also discarded her gloves and boots, revealing fingers and toes tipped in claws. The short brown fur of her face made her golden feline eyes and fangs stand out. Her mane of hair, out from which fur-tipped pointed ears poked, was as voluminous as Washu's; long, spiky whips of brown and cream. The hall's light glistened off the ruby-red jewel set upon her forehead.

"Wai!" came Mihoshi's cry from across the hall, catching sight of the pirate revealved. "Kawaii!"

"C-cabbit?" stammered Tenchi. From the corner of his eye Tenchi caught Ryoko doing a double take. "Who are you?" he demanded. "What have you done with Sasami?"

"I am none other than Oshi-ohki***, insolent wretch!" the cabbit-pirate snarled. "Where is your mistress, boy? My quarrel is with her. Or did she send you here to do her bidding?"

"What?!" cried Mihoshi. "Tenchi has a mistress?" The armored woman took the distraction as an opportunity to restart their melee. She lunged at Mihoshi first with her energy thread but Mihoshi flipped out of the way. The four combatants swarmed around one another like angry bees.

Tenchi wasn't about to stand still while the girls battled the pirate's henchwoman. He gave a mighty heave on Oshi-ohki's whip. The pirate girl tumbled off the pulput and landed on her feet a meter from him. The slack in the whip was immediately taken up. The two glared at each other down the length of the taught whip. Their bodies were tensed, trying to anticipate the direction the other would take. They began to circle.

"I don't know what you're about," growled Tenchi, "but all we want is Sasami. If you give her back to us, we don't have to fight."

"The Sasami is mine!" Oshi-ohki snapped. "I took them from your mistress as my own. She does not deserve such a treasure if she cannot keep it."

"Why do you keep saying 'mistress'?" Tenchi snarled in frustration. "What are you talking about?"

Oshi-ohki tried to yank Tenchi off balance. Behind her the battle raged between her armored minion and Tenchi's friends. "Baka! The one who rules you as I rule here! I saw her at the forefront of your party when you faced me before your flimsy stronghold."

Tenchi froze in shock. Could she mean... "R-ryo-ohki? You mean... Ryo-ohki... our cabbit?" Seeing Tenchi drop his guard in that moment, the pirate Oshi-ohki charged forward with a howling 'Mrrreeeoooowwwrrr!' Tenchi immediately recovered, but Oshi-ohki was already on him. The pair hit the marble floor hard and tumbled.

They came to rest with Tenchi on his back and Oshi-ohki above him. Hissing and spitting, the cabbit clawed at him. Tenchi managed to ward off most of the blows. She began snapping at him as well. In seconds her teeth were clamped down on his hand. Tenchi shouted and steeled himself against the pain. Oshi-ohki's face was only a hand's breadth (literally) from his. Her eyes were fierce. Her nose was wrinkled in a snarl. Tenchi was struck by how much she indeed looked like Ryo-ohki when she was protecting something she cared about.

Tenchi locked eyes with her. A trickle of blood ran down his hand from her lips. "It doesn't matter how much you want Sasami," he grunted. "She is a person and should be free. I won't let you hurt her or make her a slave!" Now it was Oshi-ohki's turn to look shocked. For an instant her eyes flicked over to the curtain beside her throne. Tenchi noticed. The pressure on his hand let up. With a roar he forced himself up, shoving her back.

Ryoko heard Tenchi's shout. She turned to see him grappling with Oshi-ohki. "Tenchi!" she yelled. An energy bolt flew past her. She couldn't just leave the fight she was in. "Time to finish this!" Her sword disappeared from her hand and a ball of energy took its place. She ducked and dodged as the armored girl, face still a mask of dispassion, lunged at her. She did not strike back until... Ryoko sidestepped to let her overbalance. The armored girl only took a moment to recover, but it was enough for Ryoko to open the distance between them. This gave Ayeka the chance to imprison her armored opponent with a barrier. It would not hold long, but Ryoko only needed a second. Ryoko leapt at the shield and drove her hand into it.

Instead of a single piercing strike, Ayeka's shield made Ryoko's energy fork outward like tines of lightning. The snaking arcs of energy filled the shield bubble, raking the girl's armor. Arcs of energy came from the armor itself as it shorted and cracked. It was over in a moment. The henchwoman stood, surrounded by the other three girls, but her knees were buckling. Parts from her armor fell to the floor with a clank. Smoke hissed out of a couple of the pieces.

With a moan the now-armorless girl slowly looked up, finally settling her gaze on Mihoshi through her badly cracked visor. Mihoshi's knees suddenly looked a bit unsteady as well. She wore an extremely nervous look. Down the sights of her bazooka, Mihoshi saw the girl's lips move but nothing comprehensible came out. She raised one hand, fingers hooked like claws, toward Mihoshi.

Mihoshi's hands began to shake in fright, being the focus of such a forceful spirit. Unfortunately, those hands were on her bazooka. Her finger bumped the firing stud. Instantly a trail of smoke streaked from the muzzle and an explosion engulfed the girl.

"Mihoshi!" boomed Ryoko. "I was trying not to kill her."

"Um... I'm sorry, Ryoko. I... just..." When the smoke cleared the girl was still there, blackened and beaten but alive. The remains of her outfit teetered on the edge of decency as she herself teetered on the edge of collapse. Finally she slumped to the floor. Ayeka moved in and stood by defensively.

"Ryoko," said Ayeka with a surprised look. "Did you say you were not trying to kill her?"

Ryoko glared back. "I recognized that washed-out look," she said with a severe expression. "That was mind control. She didn't even know what she was doing."

Even as she spoke those words Ryoko was already flying toward Tenchi. Her sword flashed to life again. She swung at Oshi-ohki as soon as she was close enough. The enemy seemed to sense Ryoko coming, perhaps it was those big ears, but she ducked to the side just in time. She turned and flashed Ryoko a feral look.

"What the?" It was the first time Ryoko had a good look at her. She instantly recognized the girl's features. It didn't cause her to hesitate, though. "Don't you EVER hurt Tenchi. Tenchi! Get Sasami. I'll take care of her."

"Ryoko..." came Tenchi's voice, full of concern. Ryoko's anger worried him.

"Go!" she said in a commanding voice. Then she added in a softer tone "Trust me." Tenchi took off like a shot.

Ryoko attacked. Oshi-ohki looked as if she wanted to pursue Tenchi, but Ryoko was too threatening a presence. She ducked, juked and back-pedaled under Ryoko's relentless advance.

It only took Tenchi a moment to cross the hall at a full run. He'd scooped up Tenchi-ken on the way. He leapt the short steps up the dais. Not seeing an opening in the curtain immediately, he ignited his sword. He roared "SASAMI!" like a battle cry and swung.

Oshi-ohki turned from her battle. A look of horror and loss filled her face. Time seemed to slow down. She threw out her hand toward the falling curtain despite the distance separating her from it. She let out a long, grief-stricken "Mrrrroooowwwrrrr!!" [Subtitle: "Nooooooooo!"] Ryoko was already striking when she turned. Her sword plunged inexorably downward. The blade sizzled as it sliced through fur.

The heavy curtain fell to the floor. No one was prepared for what lay behind it: a mountain of carrots.

The great hall fell into silence. Tenchi stared at the mass of orange piled lovingly beside the throne. He noted there were about as many carrots as there were in the Masaki fields, plus perhaps what was in the shed beside the house. Tenchi tried to remember back... In his mind, he saw Oshi-ohki hovering over them outside the house. She pointed down at them, at Ryo-ohki, saying 'I have taken that which is most precious to you!' Then: 'So, Sasami is the name of this treasure. The most delicious dishes in the universe will be mine!' But, if Oshi-ohki thought 'Sasami' were carrots, where was Sasami?

A chirping noise rang through the hall. Mihoshi jumped, and then realized it was Washu's communicator Tenchi had given her. She opened it and activated the holo-screen. Washu's face appeared.

"I've got good news, everyone!" her voice crackled over the speaker. "Sasami is-"

The image of Washu was pushed aside, replaced by Sasami's face. "Where did you guys go? All the carrots were missing, so I went to the field to get some. But those were all gone too! When I got back, no one was here!"

"Oh, good," Mihoshi told the holo image of Sasami. "I was worried you'd been turned into a pile of carrots."

"Huh?" replied the little girl. Ayeka called to her sister, overjoyed to see her well. "Yeah, I've been here the whole time." She answered Ayeka cheerfully. "Ooh, and look." Sasami held up Ryo-ohki, who was looking much better. She waved a paw and gave a 'miyaaaa.'

Tenchi was rubbing his face when he heard another sound: a girl crying. He looked about and noticed Oshi-ohki, kneeling at Ryoko's feet and covering her eyes. Her once-full mane had been cropped short by Ryoko's final blow. She sobbed pitifully, suddenly seeming much younger.

From where he stood by the carrot pile Tenchi walked over to her and Ryoko. The other girls followed suit. Oshi-ohki noticed everyone looking down at her and tried to dry her eyes.

"Go on, mrowr," she whimpered. "Take them. Take the Sasami."

Tenchi bent to one knee in front of her. "You did all this because you love ca-, er, Sasami?" The girl nodded, sniffling. "But you shouldn't have made such an uproar. You could have just asked for some."

Oshi-ohki's head snapped up. There was some anger in her red-rimmed eyes again. "Don't make fun of me," she snapped. "You wouldn't just give away such a sacred treasure."

"Why not?" asked Tenchi with a smile. The girl's face softened upon seeing his undeniable sincerity. She apparently wasn't used to kindness. "We grow them in our fields every year. You can buy them in the grocery store, as many as you want."

Now Oshi-ohki's eyes were wide. "G-g-grow them?"

Tenchi held out his hand. In it was a carrot. Oshi-ohki's face lit up like a sunrise. Tenchi nodded to her, and she quickly snatched it up. After looking at it a few moments she turned her gaze back to Tenchi. Her eyes shone with adoration.

Tenchi looked up at the other girls, who seemed puzzled. "She really didn't kidnap Sasami. We're all going to be fine, even Ryo-ohki. Mihoshi, do you really have to arrest her?"

"Well..." Mihoshi considered. "She did shoot up your house. That's definitely illegal."

"Nothing we don't see every day," Tenchi countered. Beads of sweat formed on Ayeka's and Ryoko's foreheads. He continued. "If we don't press charges?"

Mihoshi pondered the case further. "Ryoko did say her companion was brainwashed, that's certainly-"

"I found that machine!" the cabbit interrupted. "When I rescued my friend - she was drifting all alone in space - I knew she wouldn't stay... so I..."

"Why did you think that?" Tenchi asked.

"I've been alone as far back as I can remember," said the cabbit forlornly. "I had nothing, and I thought I was the only one of my kind. I didn't know what to do to survive." Then she perked up a bit. "Then I heard about another cabbit, charging around the galaxy as a space pirate, doing whatever she wanted! I thought that was the way a cabbit was supposed to be. But people don't just become friends with brazen space pirates."

"You turned to a life of crime because you heard of someone like you who was a ferocious space pirate? I wonder who ever that could have been," mused Ayeka out loud with obvious sarcasm. "What do you think, Ryoko?"

"Ayeka," growled Ryoko in warning.

"Mrowr. So I became a pirate, too," murmured Oshi-ohki. "Since no one would help me, I made do for myself. I didn't let anyone push me around after that, and I took what I wanted."

Washu's voice came over the communicator. Several of the group looked at her image. "I always suspected Kagato stole more than one of my inventions. It could be that Oshi-ohki was a discarded experiment. If she searched for word of other cabbits, she surely could have found out about... a certain pirate."

Again, Tenchi looked pointedly at Mihoshi.

"Mmmm... Maybe... Even if she has been a pirate, this IS her first reported offense." Mihoshi seemed to be considering it as a valid idea. It was the other two girls, however, that looked unconvinced.

"Psst, Mihoshi-san," whispered Ayeka. "You must consider this carefully. That girl seems to like Tenchi a great deal already. Just look at that smile."

"Well, sure... Tenchi's really so nice..."

Ryoko had picked up on this as well. She leaned closer. "We just wrecked her home, ya know. She's gonna need a place to stay."

"Um... I guess you're right about that..."

"Oh, yes," Ayeka agreed. "Though I suppose there is space in your room, Mihoshi. And the dinner table should be no problem. There's always been a little room beside Tenchi."

"Next to... You mean our house?"

"Mmmm-hmm," finished Ryoko. "Since she's obviously misguided, Tenchi can spend lots of time with her setting her straight. I guess it'll just be one more time Tenchi comes home and his dad will get to say 'So, who's the new girl?'"

"Oh..."

Oshi-ohki was again looking at the carrot in her hand. To her it sparkled like gold. Her mouth watered. The scent intoxicated her. She opened her mouth and closed her eyes. She leaned forward and took a bite.

Or she would have, but the carrot was gone. Her head darted from side to side looking for it. There was an abrupt ratcheting noise. Looking down, Oshi-ohki saw her wrists clamped in bonded alloy Galaxy Police stun-cuffs.

"Oshi-ohki, you have the right to remain silent!" The voice came from over her shoulder. The cabbit turned around to see the Galaxy Police officer looming over her. The policewoman handed the carrot to her cyan-haired comrade. "Anything you say or 'miya' can be used against you in the Galactic Court. You have the right to an attorney..."

So close! She was so close. She'd almost tasted it! Oshi-ohki's eyes brimmed with tears. She reached out toward Ryoko, who was tossing the carrot between her hands. The stun-cuffs interpreted this motion as resisting arrest. They issued a shock that briefly rendered Oshi-ohki's skeleton visible. It left her on the floor, her eyes swirling.

Ryoko, Ayeka and Mihoshi shared a look. "Disaster narrowly avoided," commented Ryoko. Ayeka gave a whispering version of her 'ojousama' laugh.

The crackle of rubble shifting sounded behind them. Everyone (save the smoldering Oshi-ohki) turned to look. Oshi-ohki's teal-haired sidekick was pulling herself from the debris little by little. Tenchi gasped and rushed over. He pushed a couple of the rocks off of her, then rolled her over to slip an arm under her shoulders for support.

"Hey," he prodded. "Are you okay?" The only response he got was a groan as the girl began to stir. Tenchi reached for her damaged helmet to pull it off.

Ayeka and Ryoko witnessed this. Tenchi was holding an almost-naked woman, awakening after her rescue from enslavement. The girls shared a look, which quickly turned to panic.

"Don't let her wake up and see Tenchi!" Ryoko shouted as she charged forward.

"Tenchi-sama!" Ayeka pleaded. "Put her down!"

Tenchi was just turning to look when both of his arms were grabbed. Ayeka and Ryoko wrestled him away from the stricken girl, who slumped back to the floor with a moan.

"Sorry, Tenchi," said Ryoko. "You were in great peril."

"I don't think I was," Tenchi retorted.

"Yes, you were," insisted Ayeka. "You were in terrible peril."

"Ung, whatever," Tenchi complained. "Let me go back over there and face the 'peril'."

"No," said Ayeka, "it's too perilous."

"Look!" Tenchi said, shaking the girls off. "It's my duty-"

"Mihoshi can handle it," interrupted Ryoko. She put a finger over his mouth to hush him. No need for arguments.

Mihoshi had indeed rushed over to the girl's side, setting down her bazooka and pulling her gloves off. She probed a bit with her hands around the girl's shoulders and neck, calling on her paramedic training. Nothing in that critical area seemed to be damaged. Again the girl grunted and tried to move. Mihoshi gently but firmly insisted she hold still. She told the girl she'd be all right.

The only large piece of armor remaining intact on the girl was her helmet. Mihoshi took a moment to examine it. Carefully, she undid the catches for the chin strap. She slid her hand under the girl's neck to make sure it didn't move. Chewing her lip in concentration, she gingerly worked the helmet off. The rest of the girl's dark teal tresses spilled out onto the floor as Mihoshi tossed the helmet aside. Her hair was held out of her eyes under the helmet by a broad, red headband.

At first the girl clamped her eyes shut against the light, now that her dark visor was gone. Eventually they blinked open. Even from where Tenchi was standing he could see her eyes were brilliant blue. He could also see Mihoshi was starting to cry. Her lips were trembling, but she was smiling.

The girl was trying to focus. She blinked a couple more times. She looked up when she felt Mihoshi's tears on her cheek. She squinted at Mihoshi a moment, then her eyes flew wide open.

"M-m-m-mi-m-mih-"

Mihoshi threw her arms around the girl and squeezed. She shouted joyfully, delivering a bear hug Tenchi feared no one could escape. He thought he heard a couple cracking noises from her 'victim'. He watched as, over Mihoshi's shoulder, he saw the girl's eyes grow ever wider as the irises shrunk. Her face pulled into a death-rictus of horror and pain.

Back on Earth, Washu had been trying to adjust the communicator. She thought something was wrong with it, as after she had spoken last everyone had ignored her. A terrified, piercing shriek that shook Washu, Sasami and Ryo-ohki to the bone abruptly came from the device.

Ryo-ohki held her paws over her ears. Sasami was rubbing hers. "What was that, Washu?" she asked.

"I have heard that sound only once before," she replied soberly. "That is the sound of ultimate suffering."

<----->

"Would you like some pickles, Mihoshi?" asked Tenchi, handing over the bowl.

"Don't miss the grilled eel! I grew a genetically altered variant of the sea eel enhanced for nutrition," proclaimed Washu.

"Yeah!" piped Sasami. "I made a new recipe with it." Everyone eagerly added some to their dishes.

"Ready for seconds!" bellowed Ryoko, holding out her rice bowl.

"Isn't that thirds?" Ayeka questioned with raised brow. "Really, the manners of some people."

Noboyuki scooped more rice into Ryoko's bowl. Then he looked over at the young woman sitting between Katsuhito and Mihoshi. "Do you have plenty, Miss? Ki... er..." The girl opened her mouth to answer, but Mihoshi leaned forward before she got the chance.

"Kiyone!" answered Mihoshi cheerfully. "She's a detective first class, just like me. She's my partner, and my best friend!"

"Well..." began Kiyone, looking between Mihoshi and Tenchi's father. "The Galaxy Police did reinstate me when they found I was still alive." Her eye twitched a bit as she smiled, apparently trying to hide a grimace. "Thanks... to... M-mihoshi."

"Tea, Makibi-san?" offered Katsuhito. Kiyone took the cup. Looking at it a moment, she gave it a sniff. Her eyes darted over to the old man, whose stoic countenance remained unchanged. She downed the drink in one gulp.

"This is it!" declared Washu. She'd had her computer beside her at the table. (This was usually not allowed, but she promised she had something special for the family, something she swore was not harmful.) She punched a few keys with her free hand - the other was wrapped around her chopsticks - and a holo-screen appeared over the table. On it, a news anchorwoman sat at a desk before the Jurai News Network logo.

"And in legal news," the newswoman said, "prosecutors made their case today against the pirate Oshi-ohki for charges of grand larceny and destruction of property." An image appeared beside the woman of Oshi-ohki in a black & white striped jumpsuit and holding a numbered placard. "The arrest was credited to First class detectives Mihoshi Kuramitsu and Kiyone Makibi." The woman turned to another camera for a close-up. "Galaxy Police told JNN: Detective Makibi was under deep cover for almost two years to break this important case. She received a commendation at a private ceremony two days ago. Good work, detective!"

"Yaay, Kiyone!" Mihoshi cheered. She gave Kiyone another hug. Tenchi, Ayeka and Noboyuki all beamed smiles at her. Kiyone replied with a nervous laugh. Kiyone's mind was having trouble reconciling that Mihoshi, possibly the single greatest bane to her existence, whom for a time she burned to kill with her bare hands for leaving her stranded in space, was now responsible for the greatest distinction of her career.

"I should have guessed it was you sooner, Kiyone," Mihoshi said by way of apology.

"Mmm-mmm," agreed Washu. "That's why Mihoshi recognized the maneuvers of Oshi-ohki's ship. Kiyone was piloting, so they were the moves of a trained Galaxy Police pilot."

When lunch was over and the table cleared, Kiyone went to retrieve the rest of her things. However, Washu said she'd teleported them into the room she was to share with Mihoshi already. Kiyone had been, of course, assigned to patrol the Solar System with her partner as soon as her commission was reinstated. Not having a place to stay here, she had little choice but to accept the Masakis' offer to stay with them. While she wasn't thrilled by the idea of rooming with Mihoshi again, she'd done it for years before and could cope. However her other housemates being the most infamous space pirate of all time, the two crown princesses of Jurai, and the mad scientist exiled from Jurai's Royal Science Academy... that was just weird. They all fit together, however strangely, because of the Earth boy, around whom life here seemed to revolve.

She breathed a heavy sigh and walked out to the front porch. It was strange here, but oddly comfortable. Frankly, with the high profile residents in the house it was easy to slip around unnoticed. That gave her time to collect her thoughts and reorient herself after her hiatus. 'Maybe,' she mused, 'I've finally earned a little of Mihoshi's supernatural luck.'

Kiyone closed her eyes and felt the sun on her face.

< THE END - But stick around for the epilogue! >

Oshi-ohki sat on the bench with her elbows on the counter, contemplating how miserable she was. Her cell was small. Her bed was hard. Privacy was... non-existent. She ran her fingers through what was left of her hair.

She watched some of the other prisoners - women of various shapes, sizes and colors - mill about. A few talked if they'd formed little cliques. She wasn't sure if she'd try to talk to anyone. There wouldn't be much point. She certainly didn't feel like doing it today, her first day in the common cafeteria.

The best she could hope for was that maybe one of the other convicts might have connections to get her hooked up with a good job when she was released. No, she didn't want to think about that either. She didn't even look when the serving robot unceremoniously dropped her tray on the counter before her.

She continued to stare at the gray walls, the bare lighting units and the dingy windows. The smell of the food was reaching her delicate nose: salt, grease, stale bread, and... something else? Her head turned at a lazy, disinterested pace toward her meal. On one side was a steaming mound of brown lumps in gray sauce. On the other side were some gray lumps in brown sauce. The offensive piles of matter looked like so much mud and rocks.

Oshi-ohki's eyes wandered a little more. They were drawn to a dash of color at the corner of the tray. Like the sun rising over the mountains, an orange glow peeked out around the other refuse on her tray. Her eyes began to get wider. Her nose twitched, now seeking individual smells. Before her mind had fully registered what she was seeing, her body was already responding. Her pulse quickened. Her mouth watered. Absently, her fingers sought her plastic fork.

"K-kore wa..." slipped past her lips as she focused on the bright spot on her tray beckoning to her. "Kore wa..." No, it couldn't! Could it? A quaking hand reached out to spear one of the orange disks. She was awash with anticipation and fear as she brought the food to her lips. She took a bite.

From the practice hall next to the cafeteria, the choir burst into a heartfelt chorus of "Alleluia"! There was a slight commotion in the hall, as a clumsy attendant knocked open the cages of the white birds being delivered for the police ceremony later that day. The brilliant, cloud-white birds flocked into the cafeteria.

"Alleluia! Alleluia!"

The birds flew about the cafeteria a few times. Prisoners, glad for the excitement, jumped and whooped. Seeing their escape route, the birds launched themselves at the brightest window. They burst through it and flew to freedom. With the dingy window gone, a shaft of sunlight beamed down into the cafeteria. At the center of the radiance was Oshi-ohki.

"Alleluia! Alleluia! Al-le--lu-ia!"

Oshi-ohki thrust her fork up high. The tender orange morsels shone in the sunlight. She let out her own howl of joy to add to the chorus in the air.

Across the cafeteria, two of the cooks looked at each other.

"Who's the new girl?" asked the one woman. Over on the side, it was easier to hear over the sound of the choir.

"Dunno," replied the other, disinterested. "Don't care, neither. That shipment of carrots we got this morning is so big we're probably gonna have to serve 'em every day, maybe every meal."

The first woman groaned. "We're gonna be washin' and peelin' forever. Least they coulda sent us canned carrots, or freeze-dried. Fresh carrots they send us! Lemme see that invoice." Grabbing it from the other woman, she scanned over it. "What the heck is this?" she complained. "The script of the signature auth' is so fancy and flowery I can barely read it. T-t-" she attempted. "Tsu-"

"Forget it!" yelled the other woman. She grabbed the invoice and tossed it in the trash. "Who cares who screwed this up? We've got a ton of work to do!"

The first woman was pushing up her sleeves. Looking back out into the cafeteria she mumbled, "I sure hope they likes carrots."

Another yowl of joy echoed through the hall.

"Alleluia!"

"Mmmmrrrrrooooowwwrrr!!!"

<---------->

I hope you enjoyed it! I had a lot of fun writing it. You can tell because it turned out much longer than I'd originally planned. Which also means: yes, it was definitely a RPG adventure to start with!

I need to thank Death Quaker for feedback and editing, allowing me to get the most out of my little story.

I'd love to hear from readers! Please send C&C to: kzinfuzz@comcast.net

Thanks for reading! Miya! =^_^=

Footnotes: ++ The name Yagami is really attached to the red patrol ship used by Mihoshi and Kiyone in Tenchi Universe, not Tenchi Muyo. We see Mihoshi's patrol shuttle dock with some larger mother ship (which appears to be hers–detective "first class" would seem to imply access to the best equipment GP has) in the "Night Before the Carnival" OAV, though I believe its name isn't mentioned. So, since we regularly associate "Yagami" with "big ship Mihoshi rides in", I'm just dubbing that ship with the name. :)

* Chunichi Dragons won the Japanese Baseball championship in 1999.

** Shiseido Corp. is a prominent cosmetics manufacturer in Japan. Shirayuki is the premier brand of Sake. Why would Ayeka know this? *** "Oshioki" is a term that refers to punishment for being naughty, often with a distinct S&M connotation. Ayeka's whip, with which she is so often depicted, also bears this name. [DQ's Note: Or at least in the Tenchi RPG for the Super Famicom]

Some Japanese I felt the need to use for some reason:

-chan - suffix denoting someone younger or of lesser station, also used to be cute or to tease

Hentai - "pervert"

-hime - suffix denoting royalty

Kawaii - "cute"

Kore wa - sentence fragment, literally "this is", often used like 'What the?' or 'Could it be?'

Kuso - a curse

Ohayo - "good morning" informal

Ojou-sama - "princess" (When Ayeka assumes her overbearing nature in some more tongue-in-cheek tales, she often demands she be called Princess. This was probably started by the song "Ojousama to Oyobi", i.e. 'Call Me Princess', performed by Takada Yumi, the voice of Ayeka, along with its music video depicting Ayeka as a dominatrix.)

One-sama - "big sister" (one-chan is a more informal version of this; "imouto" is little sister)

Otaku - literally "fan", though the connotation is more "fan-geek" [DQ's note: Actually, I think literally "otaku" means something closer to "homeboy" than fan, but anyway... it's not important. We all know what it means.]

-sama - formal suffix for a superior, also 'Lord' or 'Lady' [DQ's note: Can also be used as a term of endearment (and as a term of submission) in certain connotations]

-san - formal suffix denoting respect, most formal if attached to one's surname, attached to a given name for closer individuals (Katsuhito is being politely formal with Kiyone)

-sempai - suffix for one higher in standing, often used by students for upper classmen or seniors

Tenchi-ni-chan - Sasami often uses this contraction to address Tenchi. It's a very informal, cutesy form of address, and implies a close relation (she's basically calling him 'big brother')

Yata - "success" or "I did it"

Yohkai - "roger"


Death Quaker's Realm All original materials © 2003 R. Pickard. Tenchi Muyo! and all related concepts belong to AIC.
Contact: mistress@deathquaker.org