The next morning, and Ayeka was finishing the telling of her tale to the wide-eyed Sasami, pacing the length of the large suite they shared rather restlessly. "Then she sent me back here to rest and to consider her offer," she concluded, coming to a stop in front of Sasami. Ayeka had to fight a smile at the expression on her little sister's face.
Sasami looked over at her, honestly speechless. Finally, in a very soft voice she asked Ayeka wonderingly, "How could she have fallen in love with you so quickly?"
Ayeka looked just a bit startled at that question. "I don't think she's in love with me," she said to Sasami gently, "It would just be a political marriage."
Sasami quietly digested that bit of information, before looking up at Ayeka and asking her, "What are you going to do?"
Ayeka sighed softly, running her hands through her hair nervously. "I just don't know," she softly confessed. "If our father was alive, I would almost have expected this sort of political marriage, maybe to cement an alliance with a blood tie," she said softly.
Ayeka walked over to a view port, looking down at her home world below them, her thoughts whirling about wildly. "But to marry a woman, not to mention someone like her," she sighed out softly, shaking her head wearily.
Ryouko paced her own suite of rooms, even as Washu listened to her with a great deal of amusement. The cute little red-headed scientist was perched on a floating chair, working on a terminal even as she listened to her daughter talk.
Ryouko looked over at her, asking her rather worriedly, "You've been rather quiet. Do you think I handled it all right?" She knew of her mother's ability to see through her own eyes, it was a talent that had come in handy for them both.
"As well as could be expected," a smiling Washu said to her soothingly. She turned from her work to look over at her daughter, "I think that this approach is for the best, at least for the time being. If Ayeka thinks that you want a marriage for purely political reasons, she's much more likely to go along than if..." She trailed off.
"Than if she knows I've managed to fall in love with her," Ryouko finished the sentence for Washu, running her hands through her mane of hair in a nervous gesture. Ryouko sighed, wishing that she could have been a bit more honest with Ayeka.
She had been so startled when she first met her, all those years ago. Her eyes had met those beautiful violet ones, both of them out of breath from their fierce battle, and suddenly she had felt her stomach drop. Her breath had quickened again, for reasons that had nothing to do with their combat, but then the tide of the battle turned, and the mysterious girl was torn from her grasp. All Ryouko could do was raise her blade to salute her, and then return to the work of war.
Ryouko never expected to see her ever again, in all honesty. She returned to her tasks and tried, unsuccessfully, to put her out of her mind. It wasn't until a few months had passed that she discovered that her mysterious opponent had been one of the two princesses of Jurai, Ayeka. A woman of class and nobility, she was as far from Ryouko's reach as a star in the sky, yet... something compelled her on. She learned all that she could of Jurai and it's customs, it's Emperor and people, and finally devised a plan.
Ryouko was a warrior, her people's ruler as well as their greatest warlord. She led her people in their war of conquest, holding on to world after world, and expanding their influence until they had an empire that in size and power rivaled Jurai's own. Then she stopped her advance at Jurai's border, and waited patiently. Jurai's Emperor should have sued for a peaceful alliance, and in the bargaining a blood union would be required. Ryouko would have her wife, and both Jurai and Manticore would have benefited from joining their peoples together.
But the Emperor did the most irrational thing he could have possibly done: instead of talking, he decided to launch an attack against Manticore's far superior forces. Ryouko found herself engaged in a deadly war rather than holding negotiations, forced to slay the ruler of Jurai and his wives, and likely gaining the eternal hatred of Princess Ayeka.
Ryouko sighed softly, pushing her blue hair back again. Changing the subject, she looked over at Washu to ask her, "So how is Yume doing?"
A little blush touched Washu's cheeks. "She's fine," she answered, smiling slightly as she thought about her own lover. 'I wonder if interest in girl's is genetic?' she found herself wondering, and drifted off in thought.
A soft chime rang through the room. "Damn it, I gave orders not to be disturbed," Ryouko said with a fierce look. "Enter!" she barked out.
The dark hared woman walked in, giving Ryouko a perfect salute. "Sorry to disturb you, ma'am," Kiyone said, standing there stiffly.
Ryouko tried not to smile. The former Galaxy Police officer had never really gotten over the discipline she learned there, despite all of Ryouko's efforts to loosen her up. Still, Kiyone was one of her best captains, and most trusted aides.
"What's up?" Ryouko asked her casually.
"We've recovered a life-pod from the Jurai flagship, Tsunami," Kiyone reported breathlessly, obviously having ran all the way to Ryouko's quarters to tell her about it.
Both Ryouko and Washu sat right up upon hearing that bit of news. They had both assumed that the emperor's flagship had been destroyed with all hands during the final orbital assault on the planet. "Any survivors?" Ryouko barked out.
"Both the empresses, Funaho and Misaki are alive," Kiyone crisply reported. "They're both still in cold sleep," she said, "it seems to have saved their lives." She paused before adding, "What do you want us to do with them?"
Ryouko was silent, considering the situation. 'It might be better for me if they're dead,' she admitted to herself, 'if they are alive they'll be a rallying point for resistance against my rule.' Ayeka's face crossed her mind's eye, 'But she'd never forgive me.'
Ryouko walked to the nearest viewport, looking out at the world that turned slowly below them all. 'I don't kill children,' she thought to herself grimly, 'and I try not to kill any of the non-combatants, either.'
"Revive them from cold sleep," Ryouko ordered, "and send them to the medical bays for treatment." She debated her next move, then, "Tell Ayeka and Sasami they're alive, and as soon as Funaho and Masaki are awake, bring their daughters to them."
"Yes, ma'am!" Kiyone nodded, and left as quickly as she came.
"Are you sure that's such a good idea?" Washu asked Ryouko after Kiyone left. She looked at her daughter thoughtfully, waiting to hear her answer.
Ryouko smiled wryly. "If we choose to kill them," she said to her softly, "it will only delay the problem, not solve it. Eventually there will be a leak, the information will come out, and we'll have a whole new set of problems. This way, we can try to turn them to our side, as well as generating good will among Jurai's people."
"And Ayeka would never forgive you," Washu said with a small smile. Ryouko sighed, a small nod of her head indicating that had been a factor in her decision making. "There's nothing wrong with that," Washu reassured her softly, "I wouldn't have urged you to fight Kagato if not for my own personal interest in saving Yume. Just be careful."
Ryouko smiled back at her, "Thanks, mom."
With a angry slap to the console, Ayeka shut the connection to the ship's library computer down. "Peaceful transition of power, my ass," she growled out, quoting a newsfeed about Jurai's conquest that she had just finished reading.
She got up and began to pace the floor again, considering the troubling facts she had just discovered. Ayeka picked up the hardcopies she had made, reviewing the data yet again to see if she had somehow made an error.
Ayeka sat back down on her couch, trying to digest all she had learned. She picked up one sheet, "A structured legal system, with a charter of rights." Dropping it, she picked up another piece of paper, "Independent rule of each world." Another sheet, "Standard systems of education." And finally, "A defense fleet to protect all the systems."
Ayeka shook her head, feeling even more admiration for Ryouko's skills as a leader of men. From the information she had gathered so far, Jurai would actually benefit a great deal from being part of the Republic of Manticore. The Galaxy Police had even been invited in, by Ryouko herself, to police all the worlds of the Republic.
At first she had scoffed at what she read, assuming that the data held in the ship's library was somehow biased. But Ayeka easily linked to all the newsfeeds and several other independent sources of information, and they all backed up the library's data. And there were even more disturbing things she had learned.
She knew that her father, the Emperor, had ordered that certain kinds of information about the war be edited for the public's consumption. Ayeka could certainly understand the army screening any biased reporting that might weaken the morale of Jurai's troops. But this...
Ayeka held the news report in her hand, studying it as if it held a deeply hidden meaning. It wasn't very old, dating back only to the beginnings of the war between Jurai and Manticore, and the headline told the tale: Jurai Launches Attack on Manticore.
Her father had always insisted that the aggressive, militaristic leaders of Manticore had been the ones to launch the first attack, had been the ones who started the war. But if this was true, it made him a liar, and the losses her father had caused their people sickened her.
In a sudden surge of pure anger, Ayeka crumpled up all the papers, tossing them into the nearest waste disposal.
There was a soft knock on her door, and Ayeka called out, "Come in."
A dark hared woman came in, giving Ayeka a respectful nod. "Queen Ryouko ask me to take you over to the medical bay," Kiyone said to her calmly.
"Medical bay?" Ayeka questioned, getting up to follow Kiyone down the hallway. "Is Sasami hurt?" she asked her worriedly.
"I'd rather you see for yourself," Kiyone said, giving her a mysterious little smile. She quickly led Ayeka down the hall to a transport tube, then they descended several levels into the very center of the great ship.
'That makes sense,' Ayeka noted, looking around her as they walked, 'keeping all your wounded where they won't be hurt anymore.' The dark hared girl opened a door, then she waved Ayeka inside. Two figures lay on the beds, Sasami standing anxiously beside them as they talked softly. Ayeka took a few steps forward, and her eyes grew wide.
"Mothers?" Ayeka questioned in a wavering tone of voice, then she ran over to their side as well. Funaho smiled up at her, her dark hair spread around her, while Misaki sat up in her bed, her own pale blue hair matching Sasami's own. "I thought you were dead," Ayeka managed to get out, feeling the beginning of tears.
"Your father," Funaho said, her eyes dark with an unreadable emotion, "he put us in the pod, just before he put Tsunami on a collision course with Ryouko's flagship."
Ayeka looked startled. "Why would he have?" she started to ask.
Masaki sighed softly from the other bed. "His pride," she said softly, "he couldn't admit his mistake, so he chose to embrace death, instead."
"Mistake?" Sasami echoed her softly.
Ayeka found herself holding her breath, wondering what they would say in reply. Funaho's eyes met her own, and in them she saw the answer: what she had learned was true. Her next few words simply confirmed that.
"The emperor chose to attack Manticore," Funaho said softly, "believing that they were weakened." She sighed softly as she finished, "He was wrong."
They sat there silently for a moment, contemplating those words. "You know where we are?" Ayeka finally asked both her Mothers quietly. They both looked over at her blankly, "We're aboard Ryouko's flagship, in orbit above Jurai. She's... won."
"And she wants to marry Ayeka," Sasami cheerfully added.
Both Masaki and Funaho looked at Sasami in disbelief, then as one they looked over at Ayeka. "What?" Funaho asked faintly.
Ayeka sighed softly, "It's a long story."
"Another invitation to dinner?" Ayeka asked as Minagi came into her and Sasami's quarters. Their two mothers were now set up in the room next door, a arrangement that Ayeka was dubious about, honestly. Still, she was glad to have her mothers' perspective on everything that had been happening to her lately.
"Actually, I'm here for Sasami," Minagi said cheerfully. "Asashi sent me over to ask her if she'd like to cook with her."
Sasami quickly volunteered, and Minagi led her out. Over her shoulder, Minagi added, "I'm sure Ryouko would love to have your company, too."
Ayeka heard the door hiss shut, laying back on her bed for a moment. She closed her eyes for a moment of rest, and a blue hared face with catlike eyes flashed across her mind's eye. She sat up suddenly, saying aloud, "What am I thinking?"
She got up, and without thinking too much dressed herself, putting on slightly less formal dining clothes, the kind you might wear with a trusted friend. Feeling a bit more comfortable, Ayeka stepped out into the hallways.
She navigated her way back to the dining hall, and noticed that it was packed with the ship's crew and young nobles. Theoretically, these nobles were all to be hostages to their parent's good behavior, but like many of Ryouko's plans, it served two purposes. While they were held here, they were being educated, trained in the arts of statesmanship and diplomacy, as well as the more practical elements of being a leader of men.
The dark hared woman was sitting at a table with Mihoshi, feeding the blonde tidbits from her own plate. "Hmm, that's good, Kiyone," Mihoshi sighed.
"Let me taste," Kiyone answered her with a wicked smile, and bent forward to kiss Mihoshi gently on the lips.
A deep flush appeared on Ayeka's cheeks as she watched those two young women sitting so closely together. She had heard about such things, of course, she wasn't totally innocent. It was quite common in the noble families of Jurai, where arranged marriages were too often barren, loveless things. Women sometimes turned to their companions for... comfort, in their loneliness. But she had never considered such things in relation to her before.
She came up to them hesitantly. "Excuse me," Ayeka said softly, "but is Ryouko eating out here, tonight?"
Kiyone gave her a glare at the interuption, but Mihoshi smiled up at her sunnily, "She usually eats at the captain's table." She then led Ayeka over to the same door she had traveled down to eat with Ryouko before, saying "Down here."
With that, Mihoshi returned to her table, sitting down beside Kiyone, where she took a bit of her food from her plate and smeared it around Kiyone's mouth. She then proceeded to lick it off, to the cheers of the surrounding tables.
Ayeka blushed fiercely, quickly opening the door and then ducking into the hallway. She leaned up against the door, and tried to slow the beating of her heart. Her eyes closed, and she found herself imagining Ryouko, food on her face and leaning towards her.
She shook her head, and Ayeka walked down the hallway with a determined step. The Ryouko she saw sitting at the table looked rather different than the smooth, capable woman she saw the night before. This Ryouko picked hesitantly at her food, glumly starring down at her plate like she wasn't particularly hungry.
"Hello," Ayeka said, stepping out of the shadows of the hallway. It was rather funny to see Ryouko straighten right up, surprised, and square her shoulders, trying to look her usually capable, confident self.
"Hello," Ryouko said in return, smiling. "I wasn't expecting you," she said softly. She looked at Ayeka thoughtfully, "Have you made a decision yet?"
"I'm still thinking about it," Ayeka said honestly.
Ryouko, quite surprisingly, smiled at her. "Good," she said softly, "if you had decided too quickly, I'd be worried you didn't mean it." Ryouko was a bit tentative as she asked her, "Would you care to dine with me?"
"I'd be glad to," Ayeka said with a smile.