Besieged planet Jurai. Ryoko. The rocket. A child. Journey across cold space. K'ann Z'ass. Crash landing. Learns TRUTH, JUSTICE, AND... SOMETHING. Faster than a Streak of Lightning. Stronger than the Pounding Surf. His life is a lie. Believe?
Diclaimer: This story features Superman, which is a trademark of DC Comics, and the cast of the Tenchi Muyo! OAV series, which is a trademark of AIC/Pioneer LDC, Inc. This is an unauthorized work, and no profit is being made off this work by me. This story is copyright of me. Download if you like, but please don't archive it without my permission. Don't be shy.
Continuity Note: This story takes place between ACTION COMICS #773 and SUPERMAN v. 2 #165. And it also takes place some time after OAV Episode #13.
Pimpin' for Trisha: Missed a chapter? Sooner or later it all gets posted on to CTL, the mailing list for comic book ficcers who... uh, aren't writing comic book fic at the moment. Send YOUR e-mail toCTLfirstname.lastname@example.org today!
Original Tenchi Muyo! concept by Masaki Kajishima and Hiroki Hayashi
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
"WHERE IS MY HUSBAND?"
Well, that was what she wanted to ask. And what she wanted to scream. And what she wanted to have printed for the headline of the Daily Star in the largest font available. Maybe the Planet too, if it came down to it, but the headline itself would spell circulation death, and the Star alone would do. After all, she wanted him back and all, but there were times when you had to draw the line between family and the workpla--
Her name was Lois Joanne Lane, and somewhere during her lifetime she fell into the habit of using sarcasm as a defense mechanism. Might have been her childhood as an army brat, or her early professional years earning and living with the nickname "Mad-Dog" Lane, or her tumultuous married life coming to grips with being "Mrs. Superman."
One of the nice things about it was knowing things about him no one else knew. Things so personal and special that it didn't bother her much at all that she had to keep it all a secret. Then there was the stuff she didn't know about, like when he'd ever come back from the 853rd Century or if Kryptonite was more painful to him than he let on. And then there was the stuff no one knew. Not even him. Like who else would drop out of the sky and try to kill him, or if they would grow old together, or what would happen to him whenever he had to leave the Earth to handle something serious. And what made it all the more frustrating was that she could dig into the matter--pick up an answer or two to satisfy her concerns--but never TOO deep, because that might blow the whole secret. "WHERE IS MY HUSBAND?" wasn't something you asked out loud, no matter how desparately you wanted to know, because you had to explain just WHO he was for anyone to understand the question.
And so she kept quiet and told anyone who asked that Clark Kent was off in Europe, hot on the trail of some human interest story for the paper. Meanwhile, most people were used to the idea of Superman dropping off the face of the Earth every once in a while, so no one wondered about it. Except her.
"You really need to unclench, Mrs. Lane," Natasha suggested. The teenage girl was rummaging through an old hat full of loose change. "You look like you haven't slept in like, forever."
"Funny coincidence? It feels that way, too," Lois muttered, rubbing her weary eyes. She looked around at the doorstep to the Steelworks building in Metropolis and tried to reconstruct how she got there. "Spent a few hours calling in favors to get an international phone call traced--B13 technology will DO it, but it's fussy about divulging the information, in case you were wondering--then I caught a red-eye to Japan's backyard where I spend a LOT longer than I wanted bantering back and forth with some old guy who kept dodging my questions. I make an IDIOT of myself stumbling into some sort of broom closet when I thought he left the room, and just when I figure I hit a dead-end, half the cast of 'Dune' shows up and _they_ banter back and forth in a language I never heard before and they don't have any more luck with the old timer than I did. Bottom line is he's not talking, so red-eye BACK here where I realize that your uncle might be able to help me out with this, but I'm a day late and a dollar short because he's already left and what ARE you kids doing anyway?"
"Community Service," a boy in a striped shirt replied through a wall of sandy hair draped over his face. To his left stood a pair of massive cylindrical blocks and Kelex, one of Superman's old robotic servants. She recognized him pretty well after months of looking at his severed head laying on the mantle, but the other two she'd never seen before.
"Save those pipes for the act, Boris," Natasha scolded. "It's kismet, really, Mrs. Lane. People like a little entertainment as they walk down the street, Uncle John's out searching outer space for Superman, I'm stuck home alone with Boris and a bunch of robots, and I know how to count to four. My only regret is that I didn't think of barbershop quartet sooner--"
"I feel so commonplace doing this," one of the log-robots whined, a light on its surface blinking in time with its speech.
"The Princess did order us to wait here until she returned," the other one blinked. "Think of it as making constructive use of our time."
"M'man Azaka knows the score, dog," Kelex agreed. "Spreadin' a little First Law lovin' to the Carbon Unit Peeps out there by donatin' a few dead Presidents to charity. Awwwww, yeah."
"Are you sure you're not malfunctioning?" the first log asked.
"They're a tempermental bunch," Natasha shrugged, "but the truly great artists are always worth the effort. Anyway, Uncle John already left to look for Superman like I told you. Took some folks with him, but there wasn't room in his ship for the Vending Machine Brothers here, so I got stuck with them. Any requests? They do a great rendition of 'Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby.'"
"Stick to the point," Lois snapped. "You're telling me that whatever Superman's up to, it's gone sour enough that he needs backup. Care to tell me who we're talking about?" Yeah, that sounded jounralistic enough. Lois Lane: The No-Nonsense Reporter Who Dares to Ask the Tough Questions Like "Is my husband still alive?"
"Pish! I don't know, that Washuu crackpot from a few days back. I recognized her OK, but I think she's a good guy now. You know how it goes with these people. Good guy, bad guy, trapped in a world they never made... Anyway, it was her and Unc and a couple more I never saw before. If you're REALLY interested I can get you the security logs from the Steelworks--"
"Let's," Lois nodded. "Not to interrupt your little sideshow attraction, but I've already gone halfway aroud the world for my daily dose of runaround. For all we know Superman could be in serious trouble, and that's news if I ever heard it."
"Okay, Okay!" Natasha pouted. "Take five, guys, I gotta babysit Mrs. Lane for a little bit. Don't know what you're so uptight about, really. I know you and Mr. Lane and him are tight and all, but you make it sound like he's never coming back. If I were him, I'd pull this sort of disappearing act at LEAST once a week."
Not for the first time she resisted the urge to strangle something at this. The truth was that Natasha was in the same boat, waiting for her uncle to come home without any idea where he was or what he was doing. And like Lois, she was trying to bury herself in distraction to make it easier, but the difference was that no one knew her husband was even missing. Well, Steel had actually deduced Clark's secret some time back, which was what made her think of coming to his neck of the woods in the first place, but he'd already taken matters into his own hands, leaving her behind to wait and wonder.
Hopefully, he'd be enough. And if he wasn't, she hoped that whoever went with him would have what it took to bring Clark back to her safe and sound. Because at this point, that was about all she had left to depend on...
There was a funny story about how they got here. See, Steel and Washuu were arguing over whether to call his prototype space ship the Eagle 5 or the Van of Tomorrow, and no one was paying attention to the fact that they'd crossed at least seven proximity detector probes as they passed into Juraian space. So THEN a patrol vessel dropped out of hyperluminous right on top of them, and Ryoko panicked and phased Steel through his seat so she could take the controls and beat a hasty retreat. And that maneuver, coupled with the unfamiliar design of the ship must have been enough to provoke the Jurai captain into raising his ship's Lighthawk Wing shields... the same kind of power that had temporarily disabled Steel's armor.
The effect on Steel's ship was no different, and they were all dead in the water, so to speak. And while Steel promised he could reinitialize his systems and get them moving again, he'd neglected to consider the refitted power converter Washuu had installed into his engine. Before anyone could do anything, the new parts went haywire without the other systems operational to control them, and when Ryoko phased through to see how it looked she came back with soot on her face.
While all of this was going on, the Juraian patrol offered to provide assistance, and after a few hours of sitting and waiting a second ship finally showed up. According to Ayeka, it was an imperial yacht--one of numerous Juraian ships commissioned into service for the King's personal business. And faster than you could ask why Asuza the First, the King of Jurai, would take an interest in a simple case of engine trouble, they were all teleported on board his bridge, looking at His Majesty face to face. And he didn't look happy. Those were just the bare facts of course, but in detail, it was all a pretty funny story.
Well, it would be funny eventually. Since becoming entangled in the lives of five alien women, he'd come to find that the best way to cope with this sort of thing was to roll with the punches and look back on it all and laugh after everyone was safe back home. If they ever got out of this mess, he could already tell they'd be up half the night telling jokes about how upset the King of Jurai must have been at that moment.
"Who ARE these people?" the emperor demanded. If Tenchi Masaki ever wrote an autobiograpghy, that would have been the title. It seemed like he spent an awful lot of his life introducing people to one another. This time, however, Ayeka beat him to it.
"Er... father! How good to see you again," she chuckled lightly, still trying to recover from that teleportation from out of nowhere. She was the First Princess of Jurai, and they had all assumed that her title would be more than enough to get them through Jurai space to find what they were looking for. This sudden confrontation with her parents threw all of that into doubt. "I imagine you must be wondering why we're all here so far from Earth--"
"Mmm-hmm!" he snorted. "But first I want to know who these others are. Now."
Ayeka's lower lip started to quiver a little and she took a deep breath to get on with it. "Well, you see, that is something of a long story. Of course, you already know Miss Washuu--"
"Enchante!" the short redhead cheered, casually saluting the monarch with a pair of fingers to her forehead. Of course, Washuu was how it all started. The uncanny scientist had been the one to draw the attention and ire of the Earth-based hero Superman, and while Tenchi had managed to smooth things over with him, their paths crossed yet again when Ryoko was abducted by an organization Superman had opposed once in the past. They worked together to resolve the matter, but in the end it was revealed that the whole thing was a ruse by some insidious mastermind known only as Legion. What he was after was unclear, but Legion seemed determined to use Tenchi's household as pawns in his game, ambushing Ryoko, Mihoshi, and Sasami and then kidnapping Superman. They'd been looking for him ever since, and the trail had actually led to the Jurai Empire--the last place anyone would have expected Legion to go.
"Yes... well, as it happens," Ayeka continued, pointing to the large armored man next to her, "this is her new apprentice, Mr. Steel. He has been of tremendous help to us in our search for--"
"And this one?" the king prompted, pointing to the small green fellow in their group.
"Mr. Cogito," Ayeka replied. "A talented scientist in his own right from the isolated world of X'vyv'x. Please be patient with him, father. He is not accustomed to interacting with aliens."
That was an understatement. Cogito had been strongarmed by Legion into using his research outpost and technology to aid him in his plot against them. As luck would have it, he was an old associate of Superman and Steel's, and once they extricated him from his predicament, he agreed to join them in shutting Legion down. As much as he tried to resist it, the apprehension in Cogito's eyes was unmistakable, and Tenchi had to wonder if the only thing checking his fear of them was his greater disdain for Legion.
"Perhaps he should have considered that before bringing that odd little ship of his into our territory," Asuza boomed. "I--"
"The ship isn't his. It's from Earth."
The discussion stopped as everyone turned to see a pair of women step off a teleportation platform and approach the king's seat. Funaho and Misaki were the emperor's wives, human and Juraian respectively. Misaki had borne Asuza two daughters, Ayeka and Sasami, and Funaho was the birthmother of Yosho, the half-human prince who retired to the life of Katsuhito Masaki, a simple shrinekeeper on Earth.
And that seemed to be the origin of the strife within Jurai's Royal Family. Because Asuza seemed dead set against the idea of his son living on Earth and marrying a human wife. That Ayeka and Sasami had chosen to live there with him just made matters worse, and when he came to take them all back to Jurai, Ayeka refused, saying she wished to remain on Earth with Tenchi.
That made matters worse and confusing. Oh, it was resolved simply enough. Asuza simply compromised by having Tenchi face one of Ayeka's Juraian suitors in a duel and Mihoshi's Galaxy Police ship crash landed in the lake, half-drowning Tenchi's opponent and thus making him the winner by default. Again, one of those tense moments that got funnier when he looked back on it.
No, what made it confusing was that Asuza married a human wife, and he wanted his half-human son to marry his full-Juraian daughter (They could do that on Jurai, by the way), but for some reason he really didn't like Tenchi. Apparently, the outcome of that duel never sat well with him. Well, Tenchi hadn't been too thrilled with it either, but at least everyone went home mostly happy and mostly unhurt. Somehow he didn't think they'd get off that lucky this time around.
"Hiiiii!" Misaki whispered as she waved to her children from behind Asuza's seat. In contrast to the gruff disposition of the emperor, his wives were pretty OK. Misaki was the spitting image of an adult Sasami, complete with the upbeat personality to go with it. Funaho had a quiet dignity and grace of ancient Japanese regent, which she basically was, now that he considered it. Of course, he still didn't understand how bigamy worked on Jurai, or how a human being could live so long, or why his own mother didn't get the same lifespan, or any number of other questions, but he didn't like to think about that sort of thing anyway. It was just as unsettling for him as it must have been for Asuza to know that a spaceship had been constructed on--
"Earth?" Asuza asked in disbelief. "How can you be sure--?"
Funaho held up a metallic fragment in her hand and pointed to a decal on the side of the piece. "'Made in Japan'," she said, reading it aloud. "I trust it served you well, Mr. Steel?" she asked, tossing it to him.
"A bit of a hassle, but I always like to use metric parts once in a while to keep me on my toes," the armored man answered as he caught it. "I assume my ship's been impounded, then?"
"Standard procedure for captured ships attempting to invade Jurai, Apprentice," Washuu explained. "Of course, since Earth has a status as a non-interference-preserve slash colonial-annex slash anything-I-might-have-missed of Jurai, then it's kind of tough to invade a place with homegrown ships. At least I believe that's what Lady Funaho was about to get at..."
"Something like that," Funaho smiled. "Although I had no idea that other humans were able to construct technology this sophisiticated."
"And if I remember the crash course I got in Jurai Social Studies on the way over here," Steel remarked, "that would mean you're Masaki's great-grandmother, and one of the oldest living humans this side of Vandal Savage. So I'm not the only Earthling with a few surprises..."
Tenchi slackened his posture at this. Steel had been a valued ally in their quest, and despite a few... professional differences, the American engineer had proven to be very personable and understanding around his little band. It was nice to see him and Funaho hitting it off so well, and he hoped it would serve to ease the tension building between Asuza and--
"Tenchi... What was it Yosho said?" the emperor muttered. "'Tenchi will take good care of them.' And here I find Ayeka and Sasami roaming about the cosmos in a third-rate sardine can on the outskirts of imperial jurisdiction. Tell me, Mr. Steel, is this how 'care' is interpreted among Earthlings?"
"Look, this is hardly my affair, Your Majesty," Steel backpedaled. "I joined up with your daughter on a mission to save your other daughter, along with a pretty important friend of mine. All I ask is that my ship be returned to me and we'll happily get out of your hair... once we find Superman, of course."
"He's right!" Sasami piped in. Tenchi felt the little girl squeeze around his leg as she worked her way to front and center. "Father, Superman is a friend of ours, and we think he's lost somewhere in this part of space. He saved Ryoko from some people who wanted to kill her and we have to save him now!"
"You will help us, won't you, Father?" Ayeka asked. "That was why you came here to see us, wasn't it?"
"Is that what this is for?" Misaki asked as she held up a bundle of red and blue cloth which she unfolded to reveal Superman's trademark costume and cape. "We found it on Mr. Steel's ship. Somehow I can't see Tenchi wearing such flashy pajamas..."
"It's a spare uniform I packed, yes, ma'am," Steel answered. "Whoever took our friend has shown himself to be cunning and ruthless. There's a good chance that he might still be within your borders. For your own sake I urge you to--"
"Enough of this," Asuza grunted. "Misaki, we will resolve the matter later, and there will be plenty of time for pleasantries after our present business is concluded. Ayeka, the fact of the matter is that I wanted to see you for my own reasons. Naturally, I had an escort sent to Planet Earth to contact you, but lo and behold you were not to be found, and Yosho did not even know where you had gone. I sent an empire-wide bulletin for information regarding your whereabouts, and of all places I find you here. A freshly conquered territory still off-limits to unauthorized civilians, and just light-years from the border we share with the Sole Jurisdiction. Regardless of your reasons for being here, it only serves to justify my actions all the more. I am taking you and Sasami back to Jurai."
"What!?" Ayeka shouted.
"But--but--" Sasami stammered.
Tenchi gave no reaction except to look back at the others. Steel and Cogito had confused looks on their faces, as they had no real idea what this was all about. Washuu rolled her eyes and twirled her finger in the air, silently mouthing the words "Here we go again" to him. Mihoshi was shocked at this, and rightfully worried that two of her friends would be taken away from her police beat in the Solar System. Expected reactions from all of them. It was Ryoko who scared him.
Because the last time Asuza visited them all and demanded that his daughters return home with him, she teased Ayeka relentlessly with the prospect of her having Tenchi all to herself once she was gone. Tenchi never really believed she was a hundred percent serious about that, but the point was she never really took Asuza's bluster seriously. This time, there was a sour look on her face, and a suspicious glint in her yellow eyes, as if she expected someone to leap out of the shadows. And pacing around underfoot was Ryo-Oh-Ki, whose extrasensory navigational powers had been leading them to Superman's location. Same look on her face.
He nodded to her in acknowledgement and turned back to the emperor. Ayeka was still arguing with him. "You said--you said that we could stay on the Earth with Yosho! As long as Tenchi defeated that man you'd picked to be my fiancee! How can you do this?"
"Things have changed," Asuza snorted. "At the time, Seriyou was the most eligible man in the empire. His... 'defeat' at Tenchi's hands is well documented--and questionable enough that I am willing to circumvent my original agreement for the sake of this NEW suitor I have selected. I do not give in so easily, you see. I think you will find that my candidate reflects that virtue." And with that he snapped his fingers and there was another flash of light from another teleportation platform.
Tenchi had been on a Jurai space tree once before when Ayeka and Sasami first came to Earth. This one wasn't much different, as it looked more like a strange rain forest than any starship he could have imagined. And yet, none of that seemed nearly so incongrouous as what he saw step off the platform next: One point nine three meters tall, dressed in the formal attire of a Juraian nobleman, and an all-too familiar spit curl dangling from his wavy blue hair over his deep purple eyes. Tenchi looked back to Ryoko and she nodded grimly.
"It's him," she said softly. "Superman... He's been changed somehow, but there's no mistaking his power. Tenchi, you've got to--"
"I give you Komorebi," Asuza declared. "Genetically altered at an early age by his father, he possesses phenomenal physical power, as well as a strength of character I have rarely seen in one so young."
"I'll just bet," Steel muttered. "So did he just come falling out of the sky one morning?"
"Not far from the truth, as a matter of fact," Asuza's man replied. "Actually, I spent most of my life unaware of my true nature until Lord Fudou discovered me in a neighboring star system. He can tell you the story better than I can."
And as if on cue, the teleporter fired up once more, and out stepped another man, this one dressed in loose black clothing to match the long beard and dark eyes on his face. Aside from his unusual fashion sense and his green skin, he might have passed for a typical specimen of the Jurai species. He looked at Tenchi and a slight smile emerged from his coutenance. "I had hoped to be here for this historic meeting," he said. "I have heard much about you, Lord Tenchi. And of course, it's good to see you as well, Ayeka. Would that the circumstances were less... hectic."
"Fudou?" Ayeka asked. "I thought you left Jurai seven hundred years ago."
"These evil mastermind types don't mind making housecalls, Ayeka," Ryoko snarled. "After all, he couldn't have manipulated all of us sitting at home, now could he?"
"Ryoko?" Tenchi asked.
"The man from the restaurant in the Okuda System," she explained. "Superman couldn't tell what species he was, but there's no mistaking his face." She pointed at Lord Fudou and her eyes narrowed as she stared right through him. "Isn't that right, Legion?"
If Ryoko's accusation meant anything to him, he didn't let on. Not in any sort of self-incriminating way, at least. "Ah, I had forgotten the demon was among your number," Fudou mused. "Just when I was beginning to have trouble remembering why I became an expatriate in the first place."
"Aw, what's the matter, Green-Genes?" Ryoko growled. "You don't remember the last time we got together? You, me, Mihoshi, Sasami. A few drinks, a strobe light designed to make us all comatose? I was wondering... did you pull up that Queen Bee schtick from my own subconscious or was that your cute idea?"
She was advancing slowly towards him and he stepped back just once. "Babbling. I would have expected as much from the likes of you," he sneered.
"You finked me out to the Tribunal just so you could lure Superman away from the Earth," she pressed on. "Then you jimmied around with his mind and hair color so you could pull some new scam. But you didn't count on us getting loose and tracking you down, did you? What's the going rate for abducting a Juraian princess and a Galaxy Police officer? Maybe I'd better just get my pound of flesh now before the line gets any longer--"
"Get away from me," he said. There was more than a little discomfort in his voice. He still didn't back up, though. "I've had my fill of your insane accusat--HURKKK!"
And suddenly, she'd teleported across the distance separating them, and she had grabbed onto Fudou's throat like a vice. Slowly, she raised him up off his feet and he started to claw at her left hand to resist her grip. "Whatever you did to him, change him back, Legion," she said through gritted teeth, "or I swear I'll--"
Whatever she was about to say next was gone in a blink of an eye. Fudou dropped to the ground and fell on his butt as he pulled a severed arm from his neck. He dropped it at once and watched it twitch slightly as it hit the deck and disintegrated. The rest of Ryoko was about a stone's throw to his right, her remaining arm firmly in Komorebi's grasp.
"No. More." he said. "You may be absolved of your crimes--exonerated for the deaths of my parents--but make no mistake. You will never hurt another Juraian again as long as I'm around."
"Parents?" Ryoko repeated in confusion. "What the hell are you--? Oh, God..."
"I swore a long time ago that I'd never take a life," he continued. "But just in case you get any ideas... I can vibrate my arm at an incredible rate..."
Ryoko started to shake in his grasp until she started to blur before his eyes. "He's... USING you... you... dope!" she screeched in protest. "The same way... ARRGH!"
"...then you'll be too scrambled with pinpointing your own location to use your teleportation power to escape me," Komorebi continued. "And I can keep this up more than long enough for His Majesty to arrange suitable containment for you."
"Let her go."
Komorebi craned back his head as the beam of blue light lanced out just inches from his neck. It hadn't been terribly difficult to get close enough to him to catch him off-gaurd with his sword, Tenchi noticed. Whatever had been done to him, he was too focused on his fictional grudge with Ryoko to see him coming. Not that it mattered now. Tenchi had seen enough, and that was all there was to it.
Komorebi's eyes widened as he locked eyes with him. "Your Majesty?" he asked. "Lord Fudou?"
"I said let her go," Tenchi reiterated. As he stared unflinching into his eyes he recalled that it would be a simple matter for Superman to just scald his face with heat vision before Tenchi could even strike with the sword. It suggested that he was more shocked by the gesture than by whatever threat it held for him. The universe fell silent for a moment, save for Ryoko's gasps of agony, and at last he reduced the vibrations in his arm, and released her. Tenchi drew back his sword and cut the power to the blade.
"Tenchi, he's--" Ryoko mumbled as he helped her restore her balance.
"I know," he said. "Lemme handle it, OK?"
"So..." Komorebi noted, "then you're her keeper these days. To say nothing of the Master Key and who knows what other secrets you've got up your sleeves. I questioned all this at first, but now I see it clearly. You're not only powerful, but you're a direct descendant of the King, and that makes you more dangerous than Kagato in my book! If facing you in combat means returning Ayeka and her sister to safety, then it'll be well worth the risk. Your Majesty, I accept your offer!"
"Aren't we forgetting something, sweetheart?" Washuu asked. "Your buddy here just got accused of kidnapping. Maybe nobody trusts Ryoko around these parts, but I think Mihoshi and Sasami's words carry a little more weight." She looked back to the two of them. "You were there too, guys. Is this Legion or not?"
"Now wait just a minute--!" Fudou protested. His objection was overruled with a wave of Asuza's hand.
"I have no intention of dismissing this out of hand, Lord Fudou," he said. "Sasami? What say you?"
The blue-haired child stared long and hard at Fudou, and finally she shook her head. "I--I... don't know," she said, tears welling up in her eyes. "I mean, it COULD be him, but I'm not sure. Oh, I'm sorry, Ryoko!"
"It's all right, Sasami," Mihoshi consoled her, kneeling down to hold her shoulders. "I can't tell either... and I was trained to be sure of stuff like that! But if Legion used Cogito's memory altering technology on us, then he might have made us forget what he looked like--"
"OR he might have planted Fudou's image in Ryoko's mind," Washuu added. "Either way, it's our word against his. Damn, he thought this through. I don't suppose His Majesty would be interested if I told him I could prove Lord Komorebi is really a native of a planet that exploded before he was born?"
Fudou coughed in disgust as he rose to his feet. "Begging your pardon, Sire, but your own staff checked him over quite thoroughly and confirmed the same results that my crew uncovered in the first place. He's a Juraian mutate. Not to disrespect our guests, but I refuse to participate in this contest if they insist on disparaging not only myself, but the scientific advancements of both my peoples."
"I am inclined to agree," Asuza replied. "We will keep our own counsel regarding Komorebi's Juraian heritage. After all, our entire civilization is devoted to our ability to distinguish ourselves from other species, Washuu."
"Heh. Lineage, social status, you guys're great," Washuu muttered. "Of course, Legion's demonstrated an ability to fool genetic identification scans, but that puts us back where we started. I'm impressed... albeit revolted."
Tenchi narrowed his eyes as he looked at the dispassionate expression on Fudou's face. Washuu was right to suggest that this all might be a counter-strategy of Legion's to frame Fudou, but he believed Ryoko--and he couldn't help but see a tiny hint of smugness on his face that betrayed his true intent. The question was how to prove it, and how to expose Legion in such a way that not even the King would be able to deny the truth. He moved to look to Steel but the inventor beat him to it, clamping down on his shoulder with one of his massive armored hands.
"So what's our next move, Masaki?" he asked. "We've found our man, but we can't get him back."
"You... you're asking me?" he gulped. "Didn't you used to lead the JLA?"
"Used to deputy lead," he corrected. "Besides, we just left my element about a few dozen light years back. You trusted my expertise when we threw down with Cogito before, now I'm hoping to hell that you know what to do about this situation... Lord Tenchi."
And he looked around at the others. He saw Sasami, desperately looking to him for a solution. Mihoshi and Washuu, frustrated that they'd done all they could and still came up short. Cogito, horrified to see his memory altering technology used to violate a man he admired and respected. And he saw a saddened look in Ayeka's eyes that spoke volumes of disappointment in her father for taking part in this. And Ryoko... he wasn't really sure what she was feeling at that moment.
It was funny, really, how they all looked to him at a time like this. Not because he didn't know what to do--he'd figured that out pretty quickly. It was just that everything he'd taken into consideration had come from them. Their reactions, their questions, their objections, their speculations... it was a wonder they needed him at all.
And that made what he had to say next that much easier, because it was a wonder, and he could never do anything to reject something so precious.
He looked to Asuza and did his best to make the same determined look that the king wore. "If I win, Ayeka and Sasami stay with us?" he asked.
"If you win..." he mumbled. "Yes, of course."
"Tenchi, you don't intend to--?" Ayeka began to say.
He continued speaking as if she hadn't said anything, never taking his eyes off Asuza. "You're on."
NEXT: PRELUDE TO WAR!