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Parting A Cloudy Future
By Adrian Tymes

 

From: "Adrian Tymes"
To:
Subject: [FFML] [FFML][Fanfic][TM][final] Parting a Cloudy Future
Date: Saturday, September 15, 2001 3:58 PM




-- Attached file included as plaintext by Listar --
-- File: pcf.txt

Parting a Cloudy Future

Written by Adrian Tymes

[Legal disclaimer:

This story is based on characters created by Hiroki Hayashi, Masaki
Kajishima, AIC, and Pioneer. Permission is granted to freely distribute
this story, so long as:
a: no recompense of financial value is received or given by the person
who distributes the story, and
b: the distributed copy is identical to the story as originally
authored.
In other words, don't sell it, and don't alter it.

Copyright (c) 2001, all rights reserved, et cetera.]

******

"It really has been too long," Kiyone muttered to herself.

"Hmm?"

She gestured to each element as she listed it. "The trees, the sky,
the sounds...I always forget how much I miss Earth until I return."
Her hair ruffled in a slight breeze as she sighed. "I think I forget on
purpose, so I won't miss it so much it interferes with my duties."

"That sounds like you, alright." Mihoshi put a finger to her lower lip.
"I always wondered why you resisted going on vacations so much just
before you actually took them."

"Yeah, well, technically this isn't a vacation. We're here on official
business."

"Yep!" Mihoshi smiled, enjoying the irony. "The Emperor of Jurai
*officially* asked us to visit his daughter. We're *officially*
unofficially on leave."

"I wish." Kiyone pulled her jacket a little tighter, hoping that the
gently building wind and the clouds on the horizon would not break into
storm before they could take shelter in Tenchi's house. "It's probably
just retrieving some artifact or documents that can't be safely
transmitted. He trusts us since we helped save his throne, so he pulled
some strings to get the most secure couriers he could."

"Nah, he wouldn't do that. Would he?"

"Mihoshi..." A gust blew her teal hair right up to the corner of her
smile. "I know you're not actually that naive. Even if you won't ever
admit it, even to yourself."

"What do you mean?"

"Forget it. C'mon, let's go find Ayeka, and don't let me forget we've
got that message to deliver to Ryoko as well."

******

While the day was only partly cloudy for the Galaxy Police officers,
Ryoko was already in the shadow of a dark downpour. Despite the fact
that it was noon, so little sunlight broke through the clouds that it
seemed like midnight. Even the street lights' photo sensors tripped,
turning the lights on, to illuminate cones of water droplets just as
they finished their kamikaze plunges to the paved ground. It was a
metaphor Ryoko found entirely too appropriate to the scene at hand. For
not the first time since Tenchi had given her a new appreciation for
life, she felt as though she were defiling her soul, the stain too far
inside her for any amount of mere rain to ever wash off.

But the money...yes, the money was there, and it spent as well as any
money. Better, even, than bills or goods she stole, for those could be
tracked, so some forms of spending were closed off. This money was as
close to honest as she got, and she would need it if she was to be
truly worthy of a future Emperor's affection. Sooner or later, she knew
Ayeka would resort to trying to buy Tenchi's love...and while she
doubted that tactic would succeed, it would be less likely to if she
were not a total pauper.

Still, as she left a plastic bag with the merchandise on top of a
garbage can in an alley and backed away, she wondered just how many
non-Earthlings there were on this planet. She had thought that, once
the Galaxy Police duo left, all the remaining ones had been living at
Tenchi's house. But here was definitely not there. She was pretty sure
that someone who knew to ask for this merchandise by name, and who could
pay - and pay quite well - in Jurai scrip, was definitely not native to
this planet.

Her customer trudged forward in the shadows. A camo cloak foiled her
sight, even infrared and ultraviolet, to only a slightly lesser degree
than the alley's shadows concealed both of them from any natives
wandering by. All Ryoko had ever seen was a gloved hand, and written
communication. Ryoko suspected that what she faced was actually a drone
robot, controlled by the customer from some distance away; certainly,
the figure seemed to be much smaller than a normal person. Perhaps, in
the light, it could even pass for an innocent child, which no one would
suspect of carrying poison.

Ryoko could not shake that impression. Yes, her merchandise had many
legitimate medical uses. Yes, some people used it their entire lives
with no ill effects - so long as they never ever tried to withdraw. But
far more people had suffered side effects, or gone too long without a
dose, and...well, more than once, she had let non-payers simply go
without, and took her rightful money from their corpses.

She would not be here forever, yet she knew of no one else who would
deliver this type of cargo this far away from mainstream interstellar
civilization. She wondered what the customer would do when that day
came...but that was her customer's problem, not hers. And perhaps the
customer had solved it: the doses she delivered only lasted a few
months, yet it had been almost a year since her last delivery. Nodding
in satisfaction as the familiar hand took the bag, tearing it slightly
when the bag hooked on the can's lid for a moment, and replaced it with
a bundle of fresh Juraian bank notes, she took the money and flew away.

******

The wind howled as Kiyone knocked on the door. Though she could not
see them, she had felt a few specks of cold - the first hints of rain -
as she walked the last few meters to the porch. By her judgment, she
had made it just in time to avoid getting soaked. "Hello?"

One minute stretched into an impatient eternity, and Kiyone had to look
at her watch to confirm that sixty seconds were not actually half an
hour. It would be just her luck to come all this way only to find out
that the Masakis were on vacation and Ayeka was actually here to compare
Earth trees to Juraian ones instead of just hang around Tenchi and...

A clap of thunder muted the door's hinges as Tenchi opened the door.
"Oh, hi! Come on in."

Kiyone stepped past Tenchi before Mihoshi could throw herself at him and
babble on and on about how much she missed him. The blonde was not
dressed for colder weather, with only a t-shirt and shorts to ward off
the chill, but even so Kiyone had to wonder how much of Mihoshi's
goose bumps were due to the cold and how much were because she had an
excuse to cuddle Tenchi again. She removed her shoes and checked to
make sure she was not dripping, then asked, "Where's Ayeka?"

"In here," came the princess's voice from the kitchen. "I was making
some tea for Tenchi and myself. Would you like some?"

"Please." Kiyone blinked. "Doesn't Sasami usually do that?"

"She's out shopping. I hope she gets back soon; the weather's about to
turn fouler than Ryoko."

Kiyone hid her expression as she hung her slightly damp jacket by the
door. Some things never changed.

A few minutes later saw the four of them sitting around the dinner
table, Ayeka and Tenchi on one side with Kiyone and Mihoshi on the
other. Three of them cradled cups of what Tenchi claimed was a sign of
Ayeka's improving cooking skills. Mihoshi added her affirmation by
pouring herself a third cup while the others were still working on their
first, apparently preferring the warmth in her stomach rather than
absorbing it through her hands like the others.

Kiyone hated to break the comfortable silence, but duty called. "So,
Ayeka. Your father said you'd know why he asked us to see you."

Ayeka's face turned from blushing at Tenchi's praise to dour in a
heartbeat. "Yes."

The detective looked up from her tea. "Is there a problem?"

"Not exactly. At least...not any longer, no." She withdrew a data pad
from a pocket, and thumbed its power switch to display the message.
"You might want to set your cup down before reading this. I'm afraid it
will be rather unsettling."

"Oh, lemme see!" Mihoshi dropped her cup and snatched up the pad.
Tenchi and Kiyone simultaneously grabbed the thankfully empty cup before
it could shatter. Tenchi let go, allowing Kiyone to set it down in
front of her partner.

Kiyone then looked up to berate Mihoshi, but froze when she saw the look
on her face.

"That's...but he...but..."

Kiyone moved to read the pad, but could not get a good angle to view it.
"Mihoshi..."

"No...this can't be happening..."

Kiyone frowned, then turned to Ayeka. "I don't suppose you could
summarize?"

Ayeka nodded. "Well...you know the Galaxy Police charter?"

"Of course." She smirked. "What good is a police officer who doesn't
know the law?"

"Yes, quite." The princess looked at the table, off into space,
anywhere that would not meet Kiyone's gaze. "Particularly the article
that says if over two thirds of those worlds served by the Galaxy Police
no longer want their protection, the GP are to disband immediately?"

Kiyone froze in mid-nod, and gulped. She could tell where this was
going, though her every emotion screamed out in protest that there had
to be some way it would not be as bad as it seemed. "Yes. That's to
guard against the GP ever becoming corrupt or obsolete. If we become
more of a hindrance than a help, we have no right to exist."

Ayeka concentrated, her discomfort with what she had to say, and her
efforts to find a way to sugar coat it, readily obvious to Kiyone.

"Just give it to me straight. Is that what happened?"

"Yes." Ayeka frowned after the word slipped from her tongue. "I
mean..."

Kiyone's face seemed to slowly melt in fear and sadness.

"A few hours ago," Ayeka quickly interjected to keep Kiyone from sinking
too far into depression, "my father decreed that the Juraian Empire no
longer wishes the Galaxy Police's protection, and presented a signed
statement with a number of other nations concurring. In all, just over
seventy percent of known settled worlds have rejected the Galaxy Police,
triggering its dissolution clause."

"Why..." Kiyone struggled to hold back her tears, causing her plea to
come out as a whine.

Ayeka gestured to the pad in Mihoshi's hands. "That's got a complete
list of the specific events and problems, but it boils down to
corruption and abuses. In fact, he specifically mentions you as an
example of what the typical Galaxy Police officer is *not*, and as such
offers you and a few other ex-officers, including Mihoshi, citizenship
in our empire as a means of sanctuary from, and I quote, 'the many
enemies that such a model of what police should be, has undoubtedly
acquired during her service in that organization'."

Kiyone doubled over, her tears flowing freely as her body shuddered from
her sobs. Ayeka caught her before her head could hit the table, and
propped her on the princess's shoulder, embracing the former officer and
murmuring soothing noises.

Mihoshi set the pad down, her face completely blank. "Do you know what
this *means*?"

Tenchi tried to predict what Mihoshi was thinking, only to remind
himself that such was usually a wasted effort. "What?"

"We're free." The corners of Mihoshi's lips and eyes floated slowly
upwards on her face, almost as if they had just activated their own
anti-grav units.

"..."

"We don't serve anyone, anymore. And with the Galaxy Police gone, the
Yagami and everything in it is OURS!" She raised a fist in triumph as
an expression of pure joy lit up her face. "We're rich!"

"I thought the Yagami always belonged to Kiyone."

"Well..." Mihoshi pulled her fist down and rested her chin on it.
"Technically, but they helped her pay for it, so there was some
question. But there's more: a couple days ago, we helped take down a
despot on Sylat 4. Our spaceship was the largest Galaxy Police ship
present, so his personal fortune was loaded onto the Yagami to take back
to base as evidence. We'd just gotten back and resupplied when we were
told to report here immediately, so it's still in our cargo bay. And
that's in addition to all the weapons and equipment we were
issued...though I'm not sure if we want to sell those. In fact, I think
some of our friends knew what was about to happen, so they stashed some
artifacts on our ship to make sure they never fell into the wrong
hands."

"Really?"

"Yeah. Like...do you remember the prison dimension where we put Kain?"

"Yes..."

"And how it's got all kinds of other dangerous criminals who are
supposed to be locked away for life?"

"Yes..."

"And how the only access to it is through this special gateway, where if
it was opened or destroyed everyone inside could get out?"

"Ye..." Tenchi blinked. "Are you telling me *that* gateway is on the
Yagami?!? It's HERE?!?!?"

"Umm, no."

"..."

"At least, I don't *think* it is. I'll have to do a complete inventory
to make sure. But I know stuff just as important was entrusted to us."

Tenchi found he had leaned forward almost into Mihoshi's chest, and
willed himself to sit upright again. "Anything dangerous?"

"No more than usual. For instance..." She pulled out her cube. "The
complete blueprints for these things. I think we're expected to sell
them to the highest bidder, so they'll be made for everyone rather than
the designs just being lost."

"Oh." He made no effort to hide his relief, though he did not expect
anyone to notice. "So, what happens next?"

By this time, Kiyone had finished dumping her initial wave of tears into
Ayeka. She wriggled free of the princess's embrace, sat up, accepted a
tissue from Ayeka and blew her nose. "We think about it. I suppose we
should go rent our old apar-"

"No," Ayeka interrupted.

"Huh?"

"Ahem. As the First Princess of Jurai, on a world claimed by the
Juraian Empire, and with the legal powers conferred by Galaxy Police
membership no longer in effect, you are technically on this planet by my
leave only. My word is law. And I have been ordered by the Emperor
himself to keep an eye on you both until either you leave this planet
or, preferably, accept our offer of citizenship. Besides, the storm
isn't predicted to let up until morning anyway." She smiled at Tenchi.
"I hope you don't mind that I insist they stay here."

Tenchi shrugged. "No, not at all. We've got plenty of room."

"Good."

Kiyone sighed, staring off into the center of the table. "Is Washu's
lab still linked to your closet?"

Tenchi blushed a bit, holding one hand behind his head. "Yeah, she's
still here too. No one but us bothers her here, and I think that's why
she stays."

"Then if you'll excuse me..." Kiyone drained her cup, bowed, and stood
up. "I remember a few places in her lab where even she rarely goes. I
think I need to be alone right now." She edged past Mihoshi, then
headed for the closet. "By the way, that was very good tea. Thanks."

Mihoshi instinctively stood up and followed Kiyone, but Tenchi's firm
grip on her wrist and his disapproving look froze the blonde in her
tracks. "But..."

"She'll be fine," Tenchi reassured her. "Besides, I think it might be
for the best if you told Ayeka about anything on the Yagami that might
possibly be have been held for Jurai by the Galaxy Police."

Mihoshi blinked, then sat down as her brain set itself to this new task.
"Well, come to think of it, there *are* a few things I should probably
hand over before too long."

Ayeka shook her head, bringing her cup to her lips. "Whatever it is,
I'm sure a written list will suffice."

"Are you sure? I mean, ok, I'll give you a list, but the two saplings
that someone stole from your Royal Nursery probably need better care
than we've been giving them, and I'm sure you'll want to change the
control codes for your battleships we intercepted from some pirates, and
we got enough of the tree fungus someone was going to defoliate Jurai
with that you can make an antidote but there's still quite a few doses
somewhere out there, and..."

The princess froze in mid-drink, part of her mind desperately trying not
to spit the liquid in her mouth all over.

******

Kiyone was not in the least surprised when Washu was typing away a mere
two meters from the lab's door. Nor did she react when Washu looked up
almost too quickly and showed no surprise, as if the scientist had been
waiting for her.

"Hey."

The former detective tried to summon enough energy to respond, but
depression had already set in. She made no effort to hide her emotional
tiredness.

"Fair warning: I put in some neural manipulation fields to help me keep
my mind focused on my work. They'll probably trigger for you too. So
don't think you're going strange if you cycle through what you're going
to feel faster than you think you should."

Kiyone's mind archived the fact, but her seat of consciousness was in no
shape to process it.

"If...when...you need someone to talk to, I've been there, and I'll be
here. But for now, the door on your left. And if it helps, I'm sorry
anyone has to go through what you're going through."

The faintest flicker of a smile briefly graced the corner of Kiyone's
lips, as she trudged off towards the indicated portal. Through it, she
found an empty field, grass covering gently rolling foothills as far as
the eye could see. Idly, she realized this must be one of the planets
in Washu's pocket dimension: far above, a bright spot among white,
fluffy clouds indicated the local sun's position. The air was utterly
still, and the temperature perfectly balanced between warm and cool.

What Kiyone did not see was the pollen in the air, tuned specifically to
her biology to tempt her towards a nap. From a one-way observation
portal, Washu watched her part experiment, part mercy mission unfold as
Kiyone laid down and let slumber overtake her. Instinctively, her hand
twitched towards some controls that would edit Kiyone's dreams, forcing
everything to be all right - but Washu knew the calculations she had
run. Kiyone stood a better chance of recovering, in the long run, if
left alone just now. Not that Washu would not record Kiyone's dreams,
just in case they overwhelmed Kiyone, but she was already doing
everything she could to help Kiyone and it felt like far from enough and
that was extremely frustrating and-

Washu gripped her boiling anger in a mental vise, controlling her
breathing to simmer herself down. When Ayeka informed the household in
advance of what Kiyone and Mihoshi were really being summoned for,
Washu's heart had gone out to Kiyone. To have worked for most of one's
career for what was supposed to be an icon of justice and order, only to
find that one's energies had been fuelling one of the most corrupt
organizations in the galaxy...Washu had been there, had seen the fruits
of her own labors twisted in unspeakable manners. The least she could
do was to ease the pain of another in the same situation, and time to
reflect on it without distraction was the first step to recovery.
Dreams were good for that type of reflection.

******

To Tenchi, people like his grandfather and Azusa were always calm,
unflappable types. Even in the most dire of crises - especially then,
in fact - they were the centers of calm and peace, their hearts as solid
as rocks. They only ever allowed themselves to show positive emotion,
such as humor or joy, and as far as he knew those were the only emotions
they allowed themselves to feel.

Which was why the look of pure shock on Azusa's face was, itself,
alarming.

"I see," the emperor replied as Mihoshi finished her list. Barely a few
minutes in, Ayeka had interrupted her and placed a call to her father,
believing that he would want to hear the list straight from the source.
It seemed she had guessed correctly. "And you say all of this is
aboard your ship?"

"Mm-hmm!" Mihoshi nodded. "If you want, I think the GP delivery
account's still paid up for a few days, so I could..."

"No," Azusa interrupted, "I think it best that we use our own couriers
for such sensitive cargo. Some of these things, if word even got out
that they were not in our possession for even a second..." He sighed.
"And handing them over here is out of the question. Too many people
would see. Ayeka, I shall send Misaki in a fast shuttle. Expect her in
ten hours."

"My mother?" Ayeka blinked. "Umm...begging your pardon, but would not
Funaho be a better choice? She is the head of Juraian Intelligence,
after all."

"Indeed. But the mere fact of a royal shuttle will prevent any inquiry
as to its contents, and speed is of greater importance." He smirked.
"You seem to have forgotten about your mother's piloting skills. Even
our best computers can not navigate hyperspace well enough to reach
Earth from Jurai in under a week."

The princess's skin paled slightly. "No, I am well aware of them. I
was fearing for the cargo making it back intact."

"Do not worry. Misaki has learned to drive a bit more safely. Why,
she has not wrecked a shuttle in..." He looked off screen, to where
Ayeka knew he kept his calendar. "...three weeks, and only then because
she was participating in a race where half the ships usually crash
anyway. Of course, this time all the collisions were due to one massive
pileup that she started, but that is beside the point."

"I can not talk you out of it, can I?"

"No."

"Very well. I shall attempt to ensure that the Yagami is here at that
time."

"Speaking of which, have Mihoshi and Kiyone received my offer?"

"They have. But they only just received the news it came with. They
are taking it better than I thought, Mihoshi especially, but I do not
think they have had time to consider..."

"I'll accept," Mihoshi interrupted. "But only if Kiyone does too.
Where she goes, I go. I mean, I'm sure you have your own security
forces, and you'd have a position for us, maybe even taking care of
things out here just like we used to do."

Azusa nodded. "You are quite perceptive, young lady, although I was
thinking more along the lines of bodyguards for Ayeka...and, after the
marriage, Tenchi."

"Father!" Ayeka blushed. "Although I am sure he will choose me over
that monster woman, we should at least wait until he has decided before
planning his future that way."

Tenchi took in a breath to speak, but found his objection already voiced
by Ayeka, leaving no words for his own mouth.

"Besides, Mihoshi seems rather...too devoted to Tenchi."

"Which will only make her all the more loyal," Azusa replied. "Besides,
the Emperor of Jurai has traditionally had two wives, and if you object
to Ryoko that strongly, I suspect Mihoshi may make as good a second as
Misaki has."

Ayeka cast a glance at Mihoshi, sizing her up. "I can not argue with
you there. They do seem to be soul mates."

"Umm, excuse me?" Tenchi waved his hand. "I'd rather not get married
to anyone just now, if you don't mind. I'm still trying to get through
high school."

Azusa sighed. "You, my great-grandson, have more to learn than you
realize. You would still flinch if I told you to give it a century."

"A wha...? I'll be dead of old age by then!"

"Like I said. My son may have decided to live out his years on Earth,
but I will not let his decision shorten your life so severely. Sooner
or later, you will come to Jurai and live at least a decade here. I
hesitate to offer even such a short interval, but I fear you would never
agree to a suitably longer term, at least until you have been here for a
while. You will shed your limited perspective, much as a butterfly
sheds its cocoon. Only then will you be able to make an informed
decision about your future...and perhaps only then will you truly
appreciate the depth of my dear Ayeka's feelings for you."

"..."

"This is not an option, child. I fear that may poison your feelings
against the experience, and against me, but I will not let my own blood
live in the primitive ignorance of Earth without at least knowing the
alternative if at all possible. Azusa out."

Mihoshi blinked. "Did I hear that right? The Emperor of Jurai wants me
to marry Tenchi?" She clasped her hands as stars and tears welled up in
her eyes.

Tenchi shook his head. "What he said was GAAH!"

Ayeka chuckled politely as Mihoshi launched herself across the table to
tackle-snuggle the object of her affection.

******

Ryoko leapt from treetop to treetop, dancing and spinning in the rain in
ways that made it quite obvious gravity had no claim to her. A smile
graced her lips, like a floating sun in the midst of the downpour. She
hummed a light melody even as she kept her lips and mouth closed, as if
to taunt the storm that even a force of nature could not have its way
with her if she did not wish it to. All was merry and mirth and fun and
Ryoko slumped over abruptly.

Who was she kidding? She never liked the rain. Thunder and lightning,
yeah, but not this miserably depressing downpour that seemed determined
only to soak her to the bone. She knew the route home well enough not
to need to see, so she considered just sinking into the mud and going
the rest of the way underground just to get out of it.

The darkness of the underground suited her mood just fine. She could
hear the rain impacting the surface just above. Judging by the sound,
it was mostly water hitting water by this point, probably up to fifty or
sixty millimeters deep in some puddles.

For a moment, she wondered whether her depression was because of what
she had just delivered, but she quickly dismissed that thought. She had
done far worse things before and never felt a shred of guilt. And she
certainly was not completely guilt-free: anything that disappointed
Tenchi brought on the familiar, unshakable pain of a conscience, even
ignoring Ryo-ohki.

#Miya?#

Ryoko tested her mental link to the cabbit, and quickly found the source
of her foul mood. #Don't worry, I didn't forget. I'm about ten seconds
away.#

#MIYA!!!#

******

Tenchi was just managing to gulp down some air despite Mihoshi's embrace
when Ryo-ohki leapt down the stairs and began miyaing madly, pouncing in
a circle around a particular spot.

Before he could ask, Ryoko phased through the floor and flipped a carrot
to her cabbit. Ryo-ohki leapt up and caught it in mid-air, and had
already taken two bites from it by the time cabbit and carrot hit the
ground.

"Tenchi!" Ryoko smiled and hugged him, phasing him through Mihoshi's
grip, leaving the ex-detective to fall through where he had just been
and land on the ground nose first. "I got all cold on the trip home.
What do you say we snuggle and warm up, hmm?"

Tenchi would have replied, except he found his face pressed between her
breasts. At least his nose was not completely obstructed, so he
breathed in some sweet, warm air, and exhaled.

"Heehee...that tickles!" Ryoko pulled him a little higher, so his face
would not get in the way of a tighter hug.

"Ahem." Ayeka waddled closer on her knees, preparing to grab Tenchi
away if necessary. "If you hadn't noticed, Ryoko, we *do* have
company."

"Hmm?" Ryoko glanced down. "Oh, sorry Mihoshi, I thought Ayeka looked
a little different. Have you heard about the GP yet?"

"She has." By now, Ayeka's knees were on Mihoshi's back, keeping the
blonde pinned to the floor. Instead of struggling, though, Mihoshi just
closed her eyes, smiled, and let out a slow sigh.

"Oh. Well, sucks to be you."

Ayeka frowned and moved a little closer, eliciting a minor squeak from
underneath. "Is that *all* you have to say to our guest?"

"What, you want my pity? You know I read your father's letter, and you
know I agree with it - well, mostly, anyway. The only reason Mihoshi
was still in them was because Kiyone was too stubborn to leave, and
Mihoshi wouldn't leave while Kiyone was still active. Speaking of
which, where is the brains of the pair, anyway?"

"Well..." Ayeka sat back.

"Ah!"

"Wha?" The princess looked down, saw Mihoshi under her knees, and began
to move off her. "Oh, sorry, I didn't-"

"Nooo," Mihoshi moaned, "please don't stop."

"What?"

"You're giving *such* a good backrub..."

"..."

"But could you go a little higher? Just beneath my ribcage would be
perrrfect..."

******

Feminine squeaks and groans issued through the front door as Sasami
walked up, plastic grocery bags stacked almost taller than she was in
her arms, with the last dregs of the storm's initial punch streaming off
the roof next to her like an artificial waterfall. She quickly ran
through the odds, finally settling on what seemed the most likely: Ryoko
caught Ayeka and Tenchi in a compromising position, and negotiated that
into letting her claim Tenchi's virginity - possibly with Ayeka watching
or even shamed into assisting. Nodding to herself on her stakeless
internal bet, she opened the door, readying a few choice comments
depending on the angle presented to her.

Which was why, after opening the door, glancing around, and seeing that
her sister was in motion, she said, "Ayeka, could I ask you to keep it
down while I make dinner? I know you love Mihoshi and all, but..."

She choked, realizing her mistake just after the nick of time.

Ryoko lazily lifted her head from Tenchi's chest, where the pair lay in
front of the fire. Then she looked at Ayeka and Mihoshi, the latter of
whom was clearly blissed out from the former's ministrations. "Ohoho,
it's like *that*, is it?"

Ayeka blushed, getting back to her work after a short pause. "Now, now,
Ryoko. Clearly Sasami thought I would reserve this treatment for
Tenchi, since he is much more deserving of my touch than of yours. But
I have not given a massage in a while, and I would not wish to injure
Tenchi with a rusty technique."

"Sure, sure, make all the excuses you want." Ryoko lay back down on
Tenchi, her fingers tracing intricate patterns on his chest. "We know
the truth now, and fighting isn't going to change anything." She
smiled, then tilted her head to look into his eyes. "Isn't that right,
Tenchi?"

Sasami saved Tenchi from having to answer by loudly sighing and starting
to march towards the kitchen. "Just...keep it down. All of you."

******

Sasami sat on the house's porch, studying the moonless night sky's
non-reflection off the pitch black lake. The storm clouds still loomed
overhead, barely visible in ghostly reflections from the house's lights,
blocking what was usually most stargazers' ideal observation conditions.

Tenchi sat next to her, and looked up.

Without even looking, Sasami reached over and pulled his face down to
point at the lake.

"But you said Misaki's coming."

"Trust me. You can go faster in hyperspace than in normal space; mommy
pushes that to its limit."

Sure enough, with a blast of wind, a hyperspace portal appeared just
above the lake's surface, disgorging a sleek shuttle that Tenchi swore
he had seen in some science fiction movie two weeks ago. The shuttle
gracefully but quickly hovered to dry land and set down...upside down.
A hatch on its side irised opened after a few minutes, out of which
tumbled Misaki, landing on her feet.

"MOMMY!" Sasami jumped up and ran to meet her mother.

"SASAMI!" Misaki ran just as fast, meeting and hugging halfway between
shuttle and porch.

"Gag me," Ryoko whispered as she phased through the house's wall behind
Tenchi, careful not to let anyone else hear. "So where's Ayeka?"

Tenchi shrugged. "She said something about wanting to consult with
Kiyone. I think she just wanted an excuse to let Misaki exhaust herself
with Sasami so Ayeka wouldn't have to embarrass herself as much."

"And Mihoshi?"

"Waiting upstairs." Tenchi nudged a scooted to the side, followed by
Ryoko. "She should coming through the door any second..."

"MISAKI!"

"MIHOSHI!"

Detective and queen rushed to embrace each other, Sasami tagging along
to make it a three-way hug.

Ryoko crouched behind Tenchi, as if using him as a shield against the
concentrated cuteness. "Next I suppose they'll want to come over here."

As if confirming her suspicions, Misaki looked their way just then.
"RYOKO! TENCH-huh?" She looked at Sasami, where one of her hands was
on the princess's pocket. "What have you got here?"

Sasami smiled, backing away a bit. "It's nothing, mommy."

Misaki frowned. "You've never been able to lie to me, dear. Show me."

"No, really, mommy, it's-"

Sasami barely felt Mihoshi quickly pick her pocket, pulling out a
slightly ripped plastic bag with some white pills.

Misaki peered at the bag closely. "Stims?"

"Uh-oh." Ryoko hefted Tenchi up and back through the wall. "Trust me,
we do *not* want to be present for this."

"My little girl has been taking stims?"

"No, mommy."

"Then why do you have them?"

"..."

Misaki but put her hands on her hips. "Come on, tell me. Why do you
have stims?"

"Umm, Misaki, ma'am?" Mihoshi held out her hand. "I don't suppose
you'd let me hold onto those while you work this out?"

"Certainly not! This is a matter between mother and daughter. Please
stay out of it."

"But..."

"No buts. I'm not going anywhere until we get this resolved."

Sasami looked up. "Even if it starts to rain?"

"..." Misaki sighed in defeat. "Well, ok, I suppose we *could* go
inside."

******

Misaki sat, fuming, in the main room. Once inside, Sasami had quickly
run to her room and slammed the door almost in her mother's face. No
amount of yelling and screaming had produced any result, nor had Misaki
been able to budge the door. Kiyone, having returned from Washu's lab
just in time to see this scene, decided to warm up the tea from earlier
to see if she could play peacemaker - both between Misaki and Sasami,
and between Misaki and Mihoshi.

Which had her concerned. Mihoshi seemed to be extremely upset at Misaki
for some reason, and growing more so by the minute. Currently, only
Kiyone had even touched her tea; two cups sat where she had set them in
front of Misaki and Mihoshi.

"Please hand over the stims," Mihoshi growled.

Kiyone blinked. "Let me guess: I'm still dreaming."

Misaki shook her head. "I wish you were. My dear Sasami got mixed up
with those beastly drugs, and she won't tell me why or how she got them.
And to make matters worse, your partner here has been demanding that I
hand them over."

"Mihoshi..." Kiyone put a hand on the blonde's shoulder...

...only to feel it get shrugged off immediately.

"..." Kiyone studied Mihoshi's expression, especially her eyes' tight
focus on the drugs. "It's you, isn't it? Sasami was getting them for
you, because you're addicted to them."

Misaki glanced at Kiyone, then took in the same visual clues. "You
knew?"

Mihoshi grabbed for the bag, latching onto it as Misaki tried to pull it
away. The weak plastic tore further, spilling out one of the white
tabs, which Mihoshi snatched from midair and slapped onto her forearm.

"Only just now. I've seen plenty of cases, but Mihoshi somehow managed
to keep her condition secret from me." Kiyone sipped her tea,
pondering.

Mihoshi's eyes closed lightly as her face radiated relief, and her
body's tension seemed to evaporate. Kiyone only noticed that Mihoshi's
arm and leg muscles had been slightly twitching when they stopped.

"How...no, how she did it can wait." Kiyone set down her cup and tried
to lock eyes with Mihoshi. "What I want to know is, why?"

Mihoshi slumped back against the wall, sighing in pleasure.

"Why?"

"You don't want to know."

"Yes I do. I can think of a few possibilities, and some of them make
you an immediate danger to everyone in this house. Now talk."

"No...please..." Mihoshi opened her eyes, meeting Kiyone's hard gaze.
"If I tell you...you'll hate me..."

"I'll hate you worse if you don't."

"...and yourself..."

Kiyone frowned. In one smooth motion, her gun was in her hand, though
pointed at the ground. "Out with it. NOW!"

Although Mihoshi's eyes widened, it looked almost fake as the rest of
her face, and even her voice, showed no other signs of fear. "Alright.
But...please, promise me...we're still friends, right?"

"Friends don't keep big secrets from each other."

"I had to...to protect you."

"From what?"

"From everyone else. I..." Mihoshi pulled her knees up until she was
almost in a ball, partially hiding her face, but not fully enough to
keep Kiyone from seeing a tear escape her left eye. "I was once like
you, Kiyone, thinking the Galaxy Police was noble and upright and
defender of justice throughout the galaxy." She gulped. "Azusa...was
being kind in his description of the truth. *Very* kind."

Sensing what was coming, Kiyone put her gun away and slumped against the
wall next to Mihoshi before she could fall over in a less comfortable
position.

"At first it was ok. They assigned me to more and more difficult cases,
and most of the time the toughest cases were also the least
questionable. So-and-so has a battleship and went pirate. There's a
hit man on this other planet who's already killed five of our agents.
And so on. But not always.

"I still remember...this one man was developing a super-serum to make
people stronger. The Galaxy Police said he was marketing it to
criminals, so I was sent in to shut his lab down. They were afraid he
would have given it to his guards, but it turned out the drug was still
experimental and unusable. He didn't even have guards, not really. He
was so surprised when I showed up and arrested him...I couldn't help but
ask him what was going on.

"It turned out the GP had tried to intimidate him into making the drug
just for them. He refused, saying the drug should be for everyone. He
was as surprised as I was to find out that the GP had sent me to take
him out. I asked him to hit me hard enough to leave a bruise, then
pretended to be knocked out while he packed up and left. My bosses
thought the drug was more viable than it was, so they believed me when I
said the reason he had no guards was because he'd given the drug to
himself. They said they understood, and gave me another assignment on
another planet.

"I was still in orbit when they blew up the whole city, just to
eliminate one man. I think they thought I'd already left.

"After that...I started seeing more and more of the truth. Details I
hadn't noticed before, hidden facets I knew to look for...and then I
confronted one of my superiors about it. Not only did he confess
everything, he was actually surprised I thought any different.

"He was *surprised* I actually thought the police really were honest!"

When Mihoshi started trembling again, Kiyone moved to get another tab
for her from the sack, but Misaki held it out of reach and shook her
head. Before long, the tremors ceased, and Mihoshi's voice was now
more furious than apologetic.

"After that...I had a chance to turn things around, right then. I
could've gone to the news nets with what I'd found. I could've tried to
reform the system from within. Maybe...*maybe*...I could've even taken
out every corrupt officer at gunpoint and installed an honest chain of
command. I seriously thought about that, even checking my combat scores
against the senior officers'. I might just have been good enough to
actually pull it off. But I wimped out.

"I was too scared to actually do anything, but I knew the more I did for
them, the worse it would be in the end. I was afraid that if I left,
they wouldn't let me live for long with what I knew, even if they lost
half their force trying to kill me. So...I poisoned myself."

"The stims." Kiyone was a bit surprised at how dry her mouth felt when
she spoke.

Mihoshi nodded. "Slowly, bit by bit, I became what you came to know. I
figured if I technically solved the cases but piled up large damage
bills, I could slowly erode any trust in the Galaxy Police without doing
anything that would get me fired. I hadn't counted on them assigning me
to minor cases...and by the time they did, I was too fried to care.

"And then you came along. I saw in you the same idealism I once had, so
I vowed on the spot that I would never let you know the horrors you were
surrounded by. I thought, maybe, if you could be protected long enough
to get into the senior ranks, you could do something from there..."

"But it backfired. By sticking so close to me, you messed up the
cases."

"Not as much as you think. At least, the evaluations did not blame you
for my mistakes at all. But I am the reason you didn't get promoted.
They didn't want me to be friends with any senior officers. I
intercepted some memos saying just that, once...and never was I so
tempted to break my vow as that moment, when I had solid evidence."

"So why didn't you?"

"Because I was still scared. Scared that, if I did, and you fought
back...either you would wind up like me, or they'd just shoot you on the
spot. And then they'd trick me into hyperspacing into a black hole or
something. But most of all...I was afraid you'd be angry at me for
protecting you. And I don't ever want to make you mad at me, Kiyone."
Mihoshi sobbed into her knees. "Please say you're not angry."

"Well...I *am* disappointed."

Mihoshi descended into a full bawl.

"But not angry!" Kiyone crawled towards her friend and hugged her,
patting her on the back. "I am not angry at you."

The blonde's crying stopped as abruptly as it started. "Thank you."

"You didn't have a protector when you joined, did you?"

"Not that I know of. That's probably why you lasted so much longer than
I did. Every time something questionable came by, I distracted your
attention from it. Towards the end, some of the junior officers thought
I was in on everything. Like Sylat 4, for instance."

Kiyone stopped in mid-pat. "What happened on Sylat 4?"

"..."

"Mihoshi..." Kiyone sat back and tried to look her in the eyes. "What
happened?"

"You really don't know?" Misaki queried.

Kiyone turned around to look at her. "I was told we were dethroning a
dictator, and loading the Yagami up with his personal loot as evidence."

"Sylat 4 was a democracy, and one of the first to call for the
dissolution of the Galaxy Police. What you have on your craft is
probably a sizable portion of what wealth could be easily extracted from
the planet."

"..."

"By the time Juraian Navy ships answered their distress call, all the
oxygen in the atmosphere had been burned off. Most of the plants and
marine life survived, but the surface will not be inhabitable for at
least a hundred years. Ten point four seven billion people...dead,
just because their leaders had dared to criticize the Galaxy Police.
That was the last straw for my husband. Formally, he only cited those
incidents in which the GP's crimes have been proved beyond a shadow of a
doubt...and even *that* was more than enough."

"And all he did was disband it?"

Misaki smiled. "That's all he had to do. Without the protection of the
organization, most of the senior officers are now prime targets for
local law enforcement, especially bounty hunters. I imagine that more
than half of them are dead by now. And you'd better believe that his
diplomats are working on some replacement treaty to enforce interstellar
law."

Kiyone let herself fall into Mihoshi's lap.

Who blinked, startled. "Kiyone?" She draped one arm protectively over
the teal hair that now covered her shoulders.

"I overachieve at everything, don't I? I'm even more pathetic than you
are."

Despite the situation, Misaki could not help but giggle at that, though
she tried to hide it from the pair. Mihoshi's annoyed glance told her
of her failure. "Sorry."

"That's alright. At least someone's enjoying this."

Misaki winced in guilt, then sighed. "Well, that's half the mystery
solved." She slid the bag of stims towards Mihoshi. "I suppose you
told this to Sasami, too, and if so I can definitely forgive her. But I
just wish I knew where she got the drugs?"

"Fr'm Ry'k'," Kiyone mumbled.

"Ryoko? Hmm...I suppose that makes sense. I shall have to talk to her
about that. Galaxy Police or no, they're still illegal under Juraian
law."

"Oh, that's right!" Mihoshi smiled. "We were going to warn her that
the GP knew about her drug dealing so would she please stop. Umm...I
guess that's kind of unimportant, now."

"Unimportant for you, perhaps. But Earth is going to have enough
problems without drug dealers prowling its cities. We've never been
able to spare our own resources to protect this planet from the likes of
them, so we relied on the GP to do it for us. That's one of the few
good things they did."

"Yeah, and we never got much thanks for it, from anyone." Kiyone pulled
herself back into a sitting position, though still leaning heavily on
Mihoshi. "Juraian money doesn't spend on Earth, and with your import
ban, we had to get second jobs here just to get food and a place to
live." She groaned at the memory. "I never understood why you didn't
just open up relations: let them know we're here, introduce them to the
galactic economy and all that."

"Now, now. You know such operations must be carried out delicately.
First the planet must be introduced to the basic concepts of science,
then...oh, Funaho says it better than I can."

"Yeah, I've heard the reasons." Kiyone frowned. "And for the record, I
disagree. Anyone who says Earth isn't ready hasn't gone out and seen
what Earth is really like. 'Earth knows nothing of science'? There's
hardly a person alive, at least in the industrial areas, who hasn't at
least heard of it. 'Earth is not aware of other worlds'? They've sent
probes to other planets; one of them is beyond their furthest known
planet and it's *still* active. And so on, not mentioning the active
searches for extraterrestrials for the past few decades. They're more
than ready."

Misaki thought about it, then shrugged. "If you think so. If you've
thought about it that much, then surely you know the proper channels to
go through." Her smile abruptly returned to her face. "Hey, I know, if
you don't want to be Ayeka's bodyguards, maybe you could petition to
uplift Earth, if you care about it that much."

"Petition?" Kiyone caught herself falling off of Mihoshi's shoulder.
"That's a roll of the dice and you know it. Get a random examiner, with
odds against one who can put the facts ahead of personal prejudice for
or against so-called 'savages'. No offense, but you really ought to
think of fixing that system. And in the mean time, Earth and countless
other worlds suffer because you won't help them help themselves."

"Perhaps. I'll mention it to Azusa when I return. In any event..."
She yawned. "I'm tired. I think I'll go apologize to dear Sasami now,
if only so she'll let me sleep in her room."

Once Misaki had trudged upstairs, Kiyone tried standing up, only to find
that Mihoshi's hug had turned into an iron grip.

"Kiyone...I know that tone of voice. You're planning something, aren't
you?"

Kiyone's grin might have scared any who saw it, but the only person in
line of sight was staring off into space. "I'm just going to do some
good, for once. Make sure not everything the Galaxy Police gave us goes
to waste. Make sure my life has not been a complete waste."

"*Don't*."

"Mihoshi..."

"At least, not now. Whatever it is, do both of us a favor and get a
good night's rest, then think about it in the morning, ok?"

"Actually, I'm not that tired. I must've nodded off in Washu's lab."

"KIYONE!" Mihoshi squeezed a bit harder.

Kiyone instinctively put up her hands in a warding gesture, until
realizing that neither partner was looking at the other. "Alright,
alright! I'll at least get a bit of a nap tonight, and I won't act on
it until you're awake, ok?"

"...I suppose."

******

Kiyone popped open the attic window and crawled out onto the roof just
in time to almost collide with Tenchi.

Tenchi squinted, taking a few seconds to recognize the person in front
of him, in the dim glow that the house's external lights cast up this
far. "Hey, there you are. Did Ayeka find you?"

"No. Well...yes, kind of. She came in to Washu's lab just as I was
leaving. She muttered something about her excuse not lasting long, then
Washu 'invited' her into one of her experiments. Ayeka didn't seem as
unwilling as usual, though."

Ryoko chuckled from the rooftop. "Probably because of our latest
guest."

"You mean Misaki."

"Yep. You know why she hasn't left yet? I thought she was just going
to grab some goods from the Yagami and split."

"Well, you know how she is: never enough quality time with her children.
She's probably going to wind up in a pillow fight with Sasami before
this is over."

"So...Sasami told her?"

"No. I did. Which reminds me, I have one last official duty to carry
out." Kiyone cleared her throat. "Ryoko Hakubi, the Galaxy Police
officially requests that you immediately cease and desist distributing
stims within this solar system."

"Yeah, well, I officially give the Galaxy Police the bird."

Kiyone shrugged. "Fair enough. But Misaki's a bit annoyed. It's
against Juraian law too, you know."

"Now *that* is worth giving two credits about."

"Yeah." Kiyone sighed. "Not that it's a bad thing. I mean, when
Misaki told me what really happened on Sylat 4..."

Tenchi blinked. "What happened?"

Kiyone looked at him, as if noticing again that he was present. She
cupped his face in one hand. "Tenchi...Mihoshi told me, recently, that
she's been devoting her life to protecting an innocent. Looking at you,
I can feel what she meant." She pecked him on his forehead. "Go to
bed. This doesn't concern you."

Tenchi waited for a bit, hoping that Kiyone would quickly change her
mind. When Kiyone's only further reply was to move aside, Tenchi
crawled through the window, closed it, and made his way to his bedroom.

Once Kiyone climbed up to the peak of the roof, onto which Ryoko had
added a board so two people could lay comfortably head to head, Ryoko
whispered, "Good call and thank you. Telling him would've just given
him nightmares."

"Yeah, well...it's probably going to give *me* nightmares."

"Is that why you're up here? Don't want to sleep?"

"Can't, actually. But close enough."

Kiyone stared up into the inky blackness of a starless sky, watching
instead the patterns of lights on the clouds that blocked the stars -
and then nothing, once someone below turned the house lights off.

Eventually, Kiyone asked, "Is this what it's like to be blind? Nothing
but black, everywhere you look?"

"You can't see infrared, can you?"

"Nope, sorry."

"Then maybe I should tell you what I see?"

"Sure."

"I see a dreamer who needs to find some cause to care about."

"Ouch. Walked into that one."

"'Ouch'? Kiyone, I meant that as a compliment. Ok, so you found out
you've been serving some bad people. That doesn't make *you* bad, just
naive."

"Yeah. Like Mihoshi," Kiyone spat out.

The *whap* of flesh hitting flesh echoed for miles.

"Ow! What was that for?"

"You don't understand what you have with her, do you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Kiyone...ergh. You really can be as dense as she is, sometimes. She's
a protector of dreamers, Kiyone, and she loves them. Like Tenchi. Like
you."

"..." Kiyone burst out in laughter. "You're saying she's in *love*
with me?!?"

"Yes."

Her laughter halted. "Don't be ridiculous."

"I'm not."

"Yeah, right. Even if it were true, why should you care?"

"Because she's going to fixate on either you or Tenchi, and Tenchi is
*mine*."

"..."

"Think about it. Why, out of all of us, are you the only one who hasn't
fallen in love with him, yet you can understand him better than any of
us sometimes? 'Opposites attract, likes repel.'"

"So, what...are you trying to tell me *you're* in love with me too?"

"Hmph. Well...in an alternate universe, where a certain dashing young
Galaxy Police officer rescued a pirate and wormed her way into the
pirate's heart before anyone else showed up...maybe it would've been
possible. But *this* Ryoko is all Tenchi's."

"But...I'm close enough that you're still concerned about me."

"I never said that."

Ryoko's eyes registered a heat flare from Kiyone's face, bringing her
left cheek in line with the slap-stimulated right cheek. "Thanks,
Ryoko."

"Look me up if you need bridesmaids for the wedding."

"Ryoko!"

"Sorry." A break in the clouds allowed a beam of moonlight to
silhouette Ryoko, revealing that she had been studying Kiyone all this
time. "You're thinking about something."

"Yeah." Kiyone smiled. "How to keep Earth safe from the likes of you."

"Wha...?"

"Well, that's how Misaki put it." Kiyone rolled onto her side, so as
to look at Ryoko right side up. "I've got part of it figured out, but
you've spent more time here than I have. Maybe you can suggest a flight
path."

******

"Within the past hour, what looked like an alien spaceship appeared over
the capitol buildings in Sydney, Capetown, Washington D.C., London,
Berlin, Moscow, New Dehli, Beijing, and Tokyo. At each location, it
burned a message into the ground nearby with some kind of high-powered
laser, then disappeared. At Washington and Moscow, guards managed to
fire a few shots before the ship vanished, but by all accounts they
inflicted no visible damage." The camera angle shifted, showing some
kanji in a taped-off area next to the Diet with police keeping crowds of
onlookers back. "The message in each city, aside from being in the
local language, was the same: 'Earth is not alone'.

"Most of the affected governments have yet to issue official statements.
In the US, about twenty minutes after the Washington visit, their Joint
Chiefs of Staff convened a press conference and claimed that the event
did not happen. Moments later, they were fired by the US President for
being 'dangerously addicted to secrecy beyond any pretense of national
security'.

"Immediate public reaction is divided, with most people either believing
that this was truly an act of extraterrestrials or that this is some
kind of hoax, although there are as yet no theories as to how someone
could pull off what has been recorded on videotape. Local air traffic
controllers report seeing no radar signature from the ship even when it
was visible, and-"

Misaki clicked off the TV, then slowly turned towards Kiyone, letting
Standard Empathic Expression #1 melt into Standard Angry Expression #2.

Kiyone stuck her tongue out. "Bleah. And what won't make the news for,
oh, at least a day or two is all those technical files that have popped
up on their 'Internet'. Hyperspace drives, translators, subspace
communicators, basic galactic history texts...all the usual stuff from
standard uplifters' guides, starting from technology they knew a century
ago. Oh, and just for good measure, I tossed the GP cube plans in there
as well, though it'll probably take them longer to puzzle those out. I
packaged the entire set into a large file and encouraged them to mirror
it out; there's probably at least ten copies of it out there by now,
posted as alternates to be available even if and when the originals get
deleted."

Standard Angry Expression #2 evaporated into Standard Furious Expression
#3.

"You were right, you know. Earth does need to be protected from the
bad guys out there. Keeping them isolated wasn't cutting it; in fact,
it could be said that *you* are part of what they need protection from.
I'm sure, since there was no 'official' uplift, and - as you said - not
many ships from Jurai can be spared for enforcement out here, that Earth
will by and large be recognized as an independent power in a few
decades. In fact, as of right now, I doubt most non-Juraians who knew
even this much would still consider Earth a part of your empire if they
cared at all."

Standard Furious Expression #3 changed into that which is best not
named.

"Oh, and don't worry about the cargo. I transferred it to your shuttle,
after using the Yagami's tractor beams to set it right side up, while
you were sleeping. You can leave any time you want. Now, if you'll
excuse me, I need to have a talk with Mihoshi."

"KI-YO-NEEE!"

But she was already gone, beamed back up to the Yagami.

Ayeka cleared her throat. "Mother, perhaps it would be best if you were
to tell Azusa of this in person, as fast as possible. Maybe he knows of
some way to contain the damage. Sasami and I shall monitor the
situation here; I doubt there will be any danger to us in the immediate
future."

Misaki seethed, breathing through clenched teeth, then faced her
daughters. "You're right. Give mommy a hug goodbye, my children."

They did, and five minutes later, they were on the porch, waving to the
shuttle disappearing into the cloudless morning sky.

Ryoko leaned against the front door's frame. "Well, Ayeka, you seem
happy to see her leave."

"I miss her already. But I finally got away with calling her 'mother'."

******

"Mihoshi. Ryoko says you're in love with me. Are you?" No, too
formal, too direct.

"Mi...hoshi? Umm...Ryoko kinda had this funny notion...said you were in
love with me. And, well..." No. Honest about how nervous she was, but
seemed too fake, almost planned. And Mihoshi could laugh it off either
way. That would be the comfortable answer, but she needed to resolve
the issue or it'd just keep churning her stomach.

"Mihoshi? You know how you feel towards Tenchi? Well...Ryoko was
saying you kinda had the same feelings for me, and...umm..." Ack, no!
Don't *even* mention Tenchi or she'll probably zone out. And that
seemed a little too eager - a bad thing, if Mihoshi had no eyes for her.

"Mihoshi, you know we've been partners for a while, right? Ryoko was
saying something about us being romantic partners. I..." No. No good
way to end that without hinting towards yes or no, at least that she
could see.

This was difficult.

Every time Kiyone almost had a good way of saying it and raised her hand
to knock on Mihoshi's door, she would suddenly find some reason why it
was inadequate and go back to pondering. She had thought she could just
walk in and ask, not putter around until Mihoshi opened the door, pecked
her on the nose, and said, "You're forgiven."

...

Mihoshi giggled. "You've been pacing out here for an hour, Kiyone. I
think that's enough guilt for the dirty trick you pulled."

"Hu-wh-whaaat?"

"Taking off the instant I was awake? Maybe that's the letter of what
you promised, but that's not what I meant and you know it." Mihoshi
wagged her finger at Kiyone to emphasize her point, though her smile
took the edge off her seriousness.

"Oh, that. I'm sorry, but-"

Mihoshi frowned. "You're. Forgiven." And smiled again. "After
thinking about it myself last night, I realized it was a good thing to
do. How'd Misaki take it?"

"About as well as I expected."

"That bad, huh?"

"Well, except for the fact that she didn't start shooting at me."

"Oh. Oh, well, I say we hang around this planet and see how it takes
off. Maybe even 'invent' some of the basics you 'forgot' to upload."

"Huh? I put out the entire uploader's manual."

"Which never seem to include weapons, or really good food synthesizers,
or most of the other self-sufficiency basics."

Kiyone thought about this for a moment, utterly failing to find any
logical fault in Mihoshi's statement. Which, in itself, was a surprise.

"Oh, and Kiyone?"

"Hmm?"

Mihoshi pecked her on the nose again. "Maybe."

Once the few seconds for Kiyone to figure out her response had passed,
Kiyone's eyes rolled up in her head and she toppled backward in a dead
faint.

Mihoshi giggled. She was not sure whether she was in love with Kiyone
or not, but she did know she would love nothing more than to spend the
rest of her life with both Tenchi and Kiyone. And if Kiyone was nervous
enough to pace outside her room for a whole hour mumbling about it, all
she had to do now was cuddle up to Tenchi until he tired of Ryoko's and
Ayeka's constant fighting.

******

"Thanks again for finding this." Kiyone handed over a large wad of
Juraian money. "Though I guess this means I'll never be able to do
business away from Earth again. We already sold off the treasures, so
all Mihoshi and I have left after this is Earth money - and most of that
is going into building a decent starport for the Yagami."

Ryoko smiled. "You haven't been monitoring the com channels. *Someone*
leaked word of your little stunt to the media just as they were getting
tired of tearing down the GP. And it seems someone here's already set
up a tachyon transponder to the galactic nets. There's already some
heavy message traffic - seems a quiet neutral world without its own
space armada is just what the galaxy needs right now, as a site for
sorting out the details of the new galactic order if nothing else.
Don't be surprised if some of the merchants in the neighboring systems
start accepting Earth currency over the next few months, once the
diplomats start arriving." She handed over a pouch. "Just about the
same time, in fact, as this medicine should finish curing Mihoshi's stim
addiction."

"I don't suppose I know who to thank."

"Oh, you know her. Blue hair, plays with Ryo-ohki all the time..."

"Oh." Kiyone blinked. "Well, thank you yet again."

"Nope. I'm staying out of this fight."

"Then who...Sasami?"

"Second time's the charm. Don't tell Ayeka, though."

"Right. Remind me to take her out for carrot cake and ice cream some
time."

"Carrot cake?"

Kiyone shrugged. "So she can feed some to Ryo-ohki. Are you sure she's
your cabbit, and not Sasami's?"

"Hey, she keeps Ryo-ohki from digging up the carrot fields - only *I*
get to annoy Tenchi like that. Speaking of spaceships, have you decided
where you're going next? Once those diplomats get here, the Yagami will
be seen for sure."

"Yep. Wearing a United Nations flag. I kinda crashed their emergency
council a couple days ago and introduced myself."

"Not literally 'crashed', I hope."

"Don't worry, I didn't let Mihoshi pilot this time. Though you
should've seen the security guards' faces when I decloaked and landed
right outside their conference building, and came out in power armor."

"Why the armor?"

"I figured I'd have an easier time convincing them who I was if I didn't
seem human at first. Anyway, seeing as how they don't have a space
force yet, I volunteered to patrol their skies, at least until the
nations of Earth can build their own spaceships. Maybe I shouldn't have
given them my com frequency, though: when they know where to find me, I
spend at least half my time talking to various dignitaries instead of
watching the scanners. I'm just glad they can't track me landing,
though: if they could, I'd be mobbed every second I was on the ground."

"Fame and fortune. The woman who stole an entire world from the mighty
Empire of Jurai. I am jealous."

"Yeah, well, don't let it go to your head, Ryoko. Being a hero is more
work than it seems."

Ryoko nodded. "I suppose. But there's one thing you should know about
your new job."

"What's that?"

Peals of thunder from another storm in the distance threatened to drown
out Ryoko's words, but the pirate waited for them to quiet down before
replying. "It's going to be a looong time until your next vacation."

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