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Chapter 2

A Tenchi Muyo story
by D.B. Sommer

Disclaimer: Tenchi Muyo!, its characters and settings, © Hitoshi Okuda, AIC / Pioneer LDC, and Viz Communications, Inc.

All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at sommer@3rdm.net

I’ll warn you; this is a good bit more serious than the last chapter.

The morning sun had broken the horizon not more than half an hour earlier, as the handful of people gathered to see Tenchi and Mihoshi off.

"It looks like only Grandpa, Dad, and Sasami are here to say goodbye." Thank god, Tenchi silently added.


"And you too, Ryo-Ohki," Tenchi apologized to the cabbit standing next to Sasami. A pang of guilt shot through him at the idea of being glad the other three girls weren’t there, but in an unusual gesture, his common sense scolded him for being naïve enough to believe anything good would have come if they had been present to see him off.

"Actually, I dropped by Washuu’s lab and said goodbye already," Mihoshi said.

"You did?" Tenchi had wondered why the redheaded scientist wasn’t there. Aeka and Ryouko were probably exhausted from their late night carousing, but to his knowledge Washuu hadn’t done anything that would have prevented her from being there.

As if reading his mind, Mihoshi said, "She was sort of all tied up in one of her projects. She told me to say goodbye for her. At least I think that was what she was trying to tell me. She was mumbling a lot and was hard to understand."

The image of Mihoshi entering the lab, touching a button, and having some machine whip out metal coils that bound and gagged the short scientist intruded itself upon Tenchi’s mind. The whole scenario, as silly as it seemed, somehow fit perfectly with what Mihoshi had said.

Nah. Too obvious. Washuu was probably just in the middle of an experiment and couldn’t be interrupted.

Sasami went up to Tenchi and gave him a hug. "I’m going to miss you, Tenchi."

"I’ll miss you too." He hugged her back. A "Miyah" around Tenchi’s ankles gained his attention. He picked up Ryo-Ohki and gave her a hug as well, then placed her on her usual perch on top of Sasami’s head. "I’ll only be gone a little while. Try to keep Aeka and Ryouko out of trouble."

"Okay." Sasami’s mood brightened considerably at her newfound responsibility. "You make sure to have fun on your vacation. Both of you."

"We will," Mihoshi assured her.

It was Yosho’s turn to say his farewell. He placed a reassuring hand on Tenchi’s shoulder, then bent down so that he could speak softly enough into Tenchi’s ear without the others hearing. "Taking time out to review each of the girls alone, without the interference of the others, is a good idea. It’ll give you a chance to see if any of them are suitable for you in a long-term relationship."

"Grandpa! That’s not why I’m doing this!" Tenchi protested. "I just want a take a little vacation and get a break from this place!"

"Of course you do," Yosho said while adjusting his glasses, making it clear by his tone of voice that he didn’t believe a word of it.

Nobuyuki snapped several photos of them as they waved good-bye. Tenchi started to make his way up the landing ramp of Mihoshi’s space cruiser, then took one last look around to make sure neither Ryouko or Aeka were charging it, hoping to prevent him from taking off. Remarkably, neither of the girls was in sight. It appeared a plan of his might actually work out for a change.

Noticing Tenchi’s apprehension, Yosho said, "Don’t worry about the others. I’ll see to it you have enough time to make good your escape."

"I wish you wouldn’t put it in those terms," Tenchi said, even if he did feel like he was making a break out of a prison camp.

The three humans and one cabbit waved as Tenchi and Mihoshi boarded the Yagami and took off. They continued watching until the ship reached the upper atmosphere and the white glow of the engines faded out of sight.

"Do you think they’ll be okay?" Sasami asked.

Yosho patted Sasami on the shoulder. "It’s just Tenchi and Mihoshi up there this time. I’m sure that whatever happens to them, it won’t be all that disastrous. Usually the really bad things only happen when everyone’s together."

"That’s true," Sasami conceded. "When Aeka and Ryouko find out—"

"—We’ll have our hands full around here," Nobuyuki said, entering the conversation. "I have to go to work. Do you two think you can keep the house still standing when I get back? I’d appreciate it."

"No problem," Yosho assured him.

"I thought you gave Tenchi the Master Key," Sasami said.

"Don’t you worry," Yosho assured her. "I have other means for diverting their attention at my disposal."

"Okay." As hard as she tried, Sasami could not quite convince herself things were going to go along as peacefully as Yosho was implying.

"I have some experience with women," Yosho said confidently as he turned to go to the house. "I can handle the situation."

"Where did he go?!"

"Yes, Brother! You must tell us!"

Yosho held up both hands up in an appeasing manner. Things were not going along quite the way he had wanted. Maybe giving Tenchi the Master Key had not been such a good idea. It appeared he was going to need it far more than Tenchi would.

It wasn’t that much of a surprise. He had known the girls were going to be agitated; they both cared a great deal about Tenchi and were concerned that he had neglected to inform them of where he had gone. However, the concept of personal space still eluded them, and neither felt inclined to listen to Yosho’s explanations for Tenchi’s behavior. The best he thought he could hope for was mollification. So he gathered the girls together in the living room and brought Sasami along as a calming influence. At least that had been the plan.

"Now, now, girls. There’s nothing to worry about. Tenchi’s just going to be gone for a little while. He’ll be back before you know it."

"Whaddaya mean ‘there’s nothing to worry about’?! Tenchi’s been kidnapped!" Ryouko shouted.

"He has not been kidnapped," Sasami said as she sat in a nearby chair with Ryo-Ohki in her lap.

"Of course he has," Aeka insisted. "There must be some sort of deviltry afoot. Had Lord Tenchi desired to go on a holiday with someone, he would have chosen me. As a member of the House of Jurai, we would have had access to the most luxurious of vacations spots in the galaxy. He would have been treated in a manner befitting of the nobility that he is. Then Lord Tenchi and I would have… would have…" Aeka began to turn bright red at the fantasy of the things Tenchi would do with her.

A smack to the back of her head knocked the daydream off course and shifted Aeka back to reality.

"Get real, Princess," Ryouko said. "Tenchi hates all of that uppity snob stuff. He would have gone with me. I know where all of the really fun places to hang out are, and we’d have had a blast. Unlike you, I know how to have a good time."

"How dare you imply Lord Tenchi would debase himself by going somewhere with a vile creature such as yourself!"

"Oh, yeah? Well he’d go out with me a hell of a lot sooner than he would with a stuck-up snob like you."

"You flatter yourself. When one has a choice between a monster or a princess, who do you think would be chosen?"

"Since Tenchi has good taste, I think the answer’s obvious."

"Indeed, it is," Aeka said, folding her arms under her breasts. "And it certainly would not be with a scatterbrain like Mihoshi."

Ryouko nodded sagely. "Well, if you and I can agree on that, then it’s got to be true."

"Mihoshi didn’t do anything to Tenchi," Sasami insisted as she finally got a word in during the break in the argument.

"Don’t be so certain," Aeka said. "I believe this is a carefully orchestrated plot on Mihoshi’s part that somehow has been successfully implemented. Despite outward appearances, she is a Detective First Class among the ranks of the Galaxy Police. You don’t achieve that by accident."

The room began to darken as a host of clouds darkened the sun. A dog howled in the distance as the winds began to pick up and lightning flashed outside. With the mood properly set, Aeka eyes almost glowed in the darkness as she began her tale. "There is a sinister scheme afoot. I believe Mihoshi did something dire to influence Lord Tenchi’s judgment, perhaps a drug or mechanical device designed to affect his very thoughts. With that heinous deed accomplished, she then approached him when he was particularly susceptible to her suggestions. I’m certain Lord Tenchi tried with all of his might to resist, but he was a helpless thrall before her. After successfully bending his will to hers, she manipulated Ryouko and I into an exhaustive battle, guaranteeing our non-interference. And then, in the early hours of the morning, she ambushed Washuu, eliminating her as an obstruction as well."

Ryouko held up a small, red-haired scientist that was bound and gagged with long metal coils. Washuu’s face resembled the shade of her hair as she squirmed against her bonds, incoherent noises issuing from behind the gag.

"We found her like this down in her lab a couple of hours ago." Ryouko shook Washuu around, thrusting her in Yosho, Sasami, and Ryo-Ohki’s face. Curiously, that only served to increase Washuu’s struggles.

Aeka gave everyone an intense glare. The explanation was complete. At last, action could be taken. "As you can clearly see, all of it is definitive evidence pointing to some insidious scheme that the devious Mihoshi has devised to steal Lord Tenchi away. There is no telling what evils she intends to perpetrate on his noble f… Ryo-Ohki! Stop rolling on the ground and laughing this instant! Ryouko and I are being quite serious!"

"Miyah miyah, miyah."

Ryouko shook Washuu angrily at Ryo-Ohki. "Whaddaya mean using ‘insidious plan’ and ‘Mihoshi’ in the same sentence is an oxymoron? It’s the truth, I’m telling you."

Sadly, Sasami shook her head. "I think Mihoshi asked Tenchi to go along on a trip with her because she was already going on one. He said yes because he wanted to go on a vacation. You two fought because you always do. Mihoshi accidentally messed up Washuu’s experiment, just like she always does, and Tenchi wanted to leave early before you guys woke up so you wouldn’t try to do what you’re doing right now and keep him from going on his vacation. I think you two cooked up this paranoid conspiracy theory because you’re jealous that you didn’t think to ask Tenchi on a vacation first."

Both of the girls stared in surprise at Sasami’s accusation. The surprise lasted all of five seconds before Ryouko broke down and began crying. "It’s not fair that Mihoshi gets to spend time with Tenchi. It should be me that gets him." She wiped her tears, then blew her nose on the back of Washuu’s uniform.

Aeka followed. "It should be myself that travels with Lord Tenchi. After all we’ve been through together, we deserve the quality time alone."

"I don’t think it would be a good idea to bother Tenchi on this trip," Sasami warned. "If he really wanted you guys to tag along, he would have said something."

"Nonsense, he’ll be happy to see us," Aeka insisted.

"Yeah. We’ll keep him out of trouble like we always do," Ryouko joined in. "So tell us where they went, pretty please."

Sasami gave an exasperated sigh that implied a tiredness beyond her years. If her sister and Ryouko remained at home, they would drive her crazy within a day. "He said that he and Mihoshi were going to a beach."

"Which one?" Aeka asked.

"He didn’t say."

"What?!" Ryouko snapped. "You have to know. Was it on Earth, or some other planet?"

"I don’t know," Sasami insisted.

Ryouko and Aeka gave each other a helpless look. "Perhaps we should ask Miss Washuu for assistance," Aeka suggested.

Ryouko held Washuu up for a closer examination. Both she and Aeka could not help noticing the murderous glare the diminutive scientist was shooting at them.

"Then again, perhaps not."

Ryouko laughed nervously as she gently set Washuu down on a chair. "Why don’t we take off now and decide on the way?"

Aeka turned to Sasami, giving her the sweetest look that she could. "Could you do us a small favor? Don’t release Miss Washuu until long after Ryouko and I have departed."

Neither Aeka nor Ryouko waited for the reply. Both of them took off running, Ryouko grabbing Ryo-Ohki as she shot past.

It was turning into a really bad day for Ryouko and Aeka.

Milky Way Galaxy
Sector 25W.773.2FX
Class 4 Nebula: Arecheox

Often referred to as ‘Hell’s Gate,’ the class 4 nebula Arecheox has been listed as one of the most hazardous areas of space, being rated just below a black hole in destructive capability. It was something of an aberration, as the red hued nebula had constant, savage solar storms tear through it’s entirety, making it one of the most perilous environments ever discovered. It was said that even a top of the line Juraian battleship would last no more than fifteen minutes in the sector. Once inside the area, sensors were of minimal use and even the most powerful of shields would buckle in short order under the fury of the storms. No one ever willingly traveled there; even the outer fringes of the Hell’s Gate were too furious to withstand. For all intents and purposes, it was a vast cosmic wasteland.

There were rumors, of course, that there were constant, stable pockets within Hell’s Gate that one could hide out and reside in, but most discounted such tales as mindless talk. No one would ever consider wasting the time to try and find such things. The only people that sometimes went into the area were those that were completely lost, and criminals that would try to run through the fringes of the nebula to avoid the pursuit of people that were chasing them. But the few that were bold (or stupid) enough to try the run never survived the experience, though there always remained the rumor of at least one smuggler who had found a safe pocket and gotten back out alive, avoiding the police that were pursuing him. No one was ever able remember his name, however.

Most dismissed such stories as old wives' tales, like the ‘Sargasso of Space’ legend in which there was a graveyard of derelict ships that sat in the middle of nowhere, waiting for other spacecraft to stumble upon it. Once there, the ships that found it would be trapped as well, adding to the number of craft in graveyard. No one asked the obvious question that if all of the newer ships ended up trapped with the others, how did word of it get out. Hell’s Gate safe havens were the same way: a silly story.

But as with many stories, there sometimes is a grain of truth in them. And such was the case with Hell’s Gate. The Galaxy Police were pursuing a felon, Yurishori Omuri, who had killed two people in the course of his robbery. The criminal became desperate enough to flee into Hell’s Gate to elude his pursuers, as some desperate criminals tried to do, even though no one ever emerged from the nebula. The two Galaxy Police spaceships that had been chasing him waited the required three hours to make sure Omuri hadn’t just skirted the nebula, and left, reporting him missing and presumed dead.

Much to their surprise, a week later Omuri was brought in on a raid by planetary police several systems away. The Galaxy Police took jurisdiction over the mysteriously alive prisoner and transferred him to their custody. After an interrogation, Omuri revealed that when he made a run for it, and through blind luck, he had stumbled onto a pocket of space in the middle of the nebula that was completely unaffected by the forces around it. In return for having his sentence reduced to life imprisonment instead of disintegration, he gave the Galaxy Police the data necessary to locate the safe pocket inside Hell’s Gate. The path was erratic, and rocked by powerful, though not fatal, storms, which would have hid the pathway to any who were not specifically looking for it. Somehow, it remained where it was, allowing one a harrowing, but ultimately safe, access to the haven inside.

Examining it would earn the safe pocket the name of, ‘The Anomaly’. It was a small sphere of space that was calm, about five thousand kilometers long and ten thousand wide. Completely calm, in fact. None of the storms pierced the sphere in the slightest, something forcing them to remain outside, almost as though there was a glass wall separating one from the other. The nebula outside the sphere could be seen, but that was it. It was dead space. There was no natural phenomenon that could explain how the Anomaly existed, but it was still there. Most speculated that some higher power, greater even than the royal family of Jurai, must have created it, but for what purpose, no one knew.

The High Command of the Galaxy Police, in compliance with the Juraian Security Directorate, kept the information concerning the Anomaly secret until the matter could be properly investigated. Deciding that no other similar pockets could be found, and hoping that the Anomaly was truly unique, both organizations kept its location a secret. Its complete isolation, its size, the fact that it was surrounded on all sides by highly destructive energies, and that there was only one safe way to approach the Anomaly without being destroyed, made it the perfect location for a project that the leaders of the Empire had been trying to implement for years.

And thus Tartarus was born.

Like a giant bird of prey, silhouetted against a sunset, Tartarus stood out in the vast field of red that made up the nebula called Hell’s Gate. Tartarus was a space station, constructed in secret using the Emperor’s personal funds, and designed in appearance to resemble a smaller version of Galaxy Police headquarters, although it was only three kilometers long and four kilometers wide. It bristled with weapons and heavy shielding, able to take on any four space cruisers at once and defeat them. And with the narrow corridor in which the Anomaly could be entered, no more than one large ship could come at them at any one time. The station was manned by a dozen scientists, thirty elite members of the Galaxy Police, and twenty members of the Jurai Security Directorate.

For all intents and purposes, Tartarus was impregnable.

Due to the secrecy of the project, all of the members on board, save the scientists and four ranking officers, two of the Galaxy Police and two of the Jurai Security Directorate, volunteered for mind wiping of all information about Tartarus and the secrets contained within once their tour of duty was over. Considering what was contained at the facility, no one doubted the necessity of the procedure.

There were only a handful of people, not counting the personnel assigned to the station, that knew of Tartarus’s existence: the four highest ranking officers in the Galaxy Police, eight members of the Jurai Security Directorate, twelve members of the Imperial Science division, the Emperor, and his Inner Council of ten. No one else was allowed to even remember the facility, under penalty of either mindwipe or execution.

Major Hiroyoshi Matsuda, the current commander at Tartarus, gazed out the viewscreen of the command bridge of the space station and cursed. It wasn’t at the turbulent (and oh so aptly named) nebula around him, but rather what had just come out of Hell’s Gate and into the Anomaly. It was a visitor that Matsuda knew all too well, the man having visited on far too many occasions and wearing out his welcome. Matsuda felt a headache coming on, for things had been going so smoothly too. There were only two weeks left in his six-month tour, and this had to happen. Some people had nothing but bad luck

The sleek, jet-black Taromaki Crescent Wing with the Galaxy Police insignia was easy to identify. Only the trio of highest-ranking officers in charge of the Galaxy Police used the expensive craft, and of those three vehicles, only one of them was painted black.

Once the recognition code sent out from the Marshal’s ship was decrypted and analyzed as being valid, the major deactivated the defense system’s targeting computers from continuing to track the ship. His next move was to go to the communications console and thumb the button accessing the public announcement system. "Attention all personnel. Marshal Alexi Malgaunt will be arriving at Tartarus in a few minutes, most likely for another surprise inspection. I want all hands at their stations and looking sharp, or you’ll answer to me as well as the Marshal."

Turning off the system, Major Matsuda left the bridge, saluting the others as he left. He knew the surprise inspections were necessary. Work at Tartarus was boring and monotonous, the two most dangerous enemies to maintaining a high level of discipline and readiness. Matsuda took his duties seriously and had drilled his crew regularly, ensuring they were in top condition and prepared for any emergency. But that wouldn’t matter to ‘Ballbreaker’ Malgaunt. "There’s always a flaw," was the marshal’s motto. He could find and point out the imperfections in Heaven, given a chance. Somehow, in some way, he would find fault with Matsuda’s performance and rub his face in it. Probably Malgaunt enjoyed doing it. That was the only reason Matsuda could come up with for the Marshal’s frequent visits. Frequent meaning about once a month, instead of the pattern of twice every six months that had been used before this last tour of duty.

In the early days of the station, any one of the three Marshals might have come to inspect the facility, but in the last two years that ‘privilege’ had entirely fallen into the hands of Malgaunt. Even with his scathing reviews, he had kept his visits to only twice every half year, but things had changed of late and in the last six months he had visited four times, and now a fifth. And never for any reason for anything other than an inspection. The marshal hated Matsuda. That had to be the reason.

Walking at a brisk pace while enroute to the docking bay, Matsuda made certain that he was not sweating; he refused to allow Malgaunt to see the least bit of discomfort on his features. If there were nothing else, he would deny Malgaunt that satisfaction.

Arriving at the door to the docking bay, Matsuda was relieved to see Saito and Klancy as the guards assigned to the post. They were solid officers, and their appearance was immaculate. Malgaunt would have to find fault elsewhere.

The sound of the Crescent Wing’s docking clamps locking onto one of the three entry ports on Tartarus signaled that the ship had connected safely. Everything went smoothly as a light next to the docking bay’s sensors indicated three humanoid lifeforms had exited their ship and were now on Tartarus.

Matsuda glanced at the readouts in the wall as the sensors in passageway leading from the bay to the station’s interior began scanning the occupants. The process always took a while, as security was paramount at the installation. Retinal, epidermal, voice, heat signature, and internal body scans, as well as an additional entry code, were all needed for the Marshal and his two aides to pass through the bay and into the main section of the station. Failure at any level of the identification procedure would result in over a dozen laser, ion, and particle beam blasters that lined the corridor to target on the various individuals. Any perceived hostile action would result in the weapons opening fire. During every inspection, the major sometimes had an idle fantasy where the weapons would misfire, just once, upon Malgaunt. It would mean an even greater inconvenience on Matsuda’s part in explaining what had happened, but there would be many officers in the Galaxy Police that would have cheered anyway. That was the sort of devotion Malgaunt inspired in most people.

The fantasy came and went, leaving Matsuda to concentrate on the matter at hand. Internal sensors scanned all three occupants waiting to enter and gave the major the results. The system verified that the trio was Marshal Alexi Malgaunt and Lieutenants Arisa Funuyaki and Masa Onita. The other officers’ names were familiar to Matsuda; they were the same duo that Malgaunt had brought with him on the last two visits. It was not a surprise since anyone accepting the mission knew in advance they would be mindwiped afterwards. There were few people that enjoyed having two days worth of memories erased, so officers accepting the missions were usually hard to find. Most likely, both officers were trying to get ahead and hoped that by accepting the mission Malgaunt would give them a good review. Matsuda hated kiss-asses.

The scans confirmed that the only weapons the trio bore were standard-issue officer’s sidearms. After that inspection was confirmed, Matsuda hit a button and the door opened. The three officers stepped through the doorway, Malgaunt leading the way. Matsuda noted that nothing about the man had changed. Even under the formal black uniform of the marshal, one could tell the man inside was thin. Sharp angular features defined his clean-shaven face, making him seem younger than his forty-five years of age. His oily black hair reached his shoulders, though it was immaculately groomed and did not detract anything from his professional appearance.

The one feature about him that caught everyone’s attention was the piercing gaze that was reputed to make even the Emperor flinch. When the Ballbreaker looked at you, he could see right through you, at least that was what was said by those that fell under his gaze. Certainly there seemed to be some truth to it, considering throughout the man’s career he had one of the highest arrest rates ever in the history to the Galaxy Police. That, combined with a sharp mind and a knack for politics was what had allowed Malgaunt to rise like a comet through the ranks until he was third in command of the entire Galaxy Police, though most agreed that was far as he would rise. Both the Grand and First Marshals were still in the prime of their age, and both were secure in their positions. That suited Matsuda just fine. The idea of Malgaunt running everything would have made even the major consider an early retirement.

The other famous characteristic of Malgaunt’s that had earned him a reputation, especially in his early days, was one that was not physically noticeable. It was said that his reflexes were lightning quick and that he was a crack shot. Rumor said that in his early days, he had been on an undercover assignment where his cover had been blown. Armed with only a holdout pistol concealed under his jacket, he found himself surrounded by five gunmen with their weapons drawn, prepared to fire upon him. The rumors had it that all it took was a surprised eye glance over the shoulder of one of the assailants, distracting several of the gunmen for a split second, before he drew his gun and began firing. The fifth attacker was dead before the first hit the ground. Only one of the gunmen got off a shot, one that was reputed to have grazed the back of the Marshal’s neck. It was said that he still carried the scar to the present day, as a reminder of what it meant to be too slow. Matsuda believed the first part of the story; Malgaunt still radiated danger, despite not being involved in a field operation in over fifteen years. As to the scar, the Marshal usually wore high collared outfits. That, combined with his long hair, made it impossible to tell if it was true, and Matsuda was not about to ask Malgaunt himself. Curiosity ended when it came to possibly invoking Malgaunt’s interest.

The Major went from examining Malgaunt to the two aides he had brought with him. On Malgaunt’s left stood Lieutenant Funuyaki. Like her commander, she wore the matching black uniform of an inspector. Her outfit fit more snugly, and one could easily determine that she was a curvaceous woman in obvious superior physical shape. She had raven black hair, though it lacked the oily gleam the Marshal’s possessed. That hair was currently tucked under her hat so that only the smallest portion of it could be seen. Her eyes were a deep blue that reminded Matsuda of the lake in his backyard in his home on Primuf, and he found an overwhelming desire to return home briefly overwhelm him. She was attractive, but her face was an intense mask of professionalism; an attribute needed to maintain continuously in the presence of Malgaunt. To Matsuda’s eyes, Funuyaki was every inch an officer.

Onita, though also immaculate, differed greatly from Funuyaki. He was a taller man, very large and had obviously spent a great deal of time in the gym working out. His outfit was the same style as Funuyaki’s and just as immaculate, but undoubtedly had to have been especially made to fit his large frame. His face outwardly bore the same look of intensity as his partner’s, but it was in the eyes that he differed so much from both the marshal and other lieutenant. There was a faint gleam in them that Matsuda could not identify, and made him uneasy. It was like Onita was anxious for something, perhaps an end to his mission with Malgaunt, if he was a normal officer. Still, it was troubling, and Matsuda could not figure out why that was.

Whatever the mysterious look was, he pushed it from his mind as not being a concern at the moment. All of Matsuda’s attention had to be riveted on his superior officer, who was even now looking at the chronometer on his wrist.

"I want to run through a full defensive simulation this time, Major Matsuda. And you’re already running twenty seconds late," Malgaunt warned in a voice that was sharp and commanded everyone’s full attention.

A crisp salute, along with a "Sir!" was the only outward response Matsuda gave as he spun on his heel and quickly hurried towards the bridge. He didn’t bother to look behind him, knowing that the three inspectors would be following in his wake, trailed by Saito and Klancy, once they locked down the docking bay behind them.

Matsuda cursed his luck. Obviously he had shown too much efficiency in the past, so now the Marshal was turning up the pressure. No matter how efficient he was, Malgaunt was going to find something wrong with his performance. It was only a matter of how many things there would be at the end of the review. Matsuda swore he would make it as difficult as possible for his superior.

The sound of five sets of synthi-plastic boots echoed throughout the corridors of Tartarus as the group walked quickly, just short of jogging, to the command bridge. They passed no one on their way. Matsuda mentally marked that as good; it meant everyone was at their proper stations; one less thing for Malgaunt to complain about.

The route took only a couple of minutes as the party entered the command bridge without any incident or problems. Matsuda gave a sigh of relief as he stepped onto the bridge. Everyone there was at their assigned posts. There were two soldiers standing at the ready next to the door, and the communications and science division officers were at their proper stations. Everyone appeared to be in a high state of readiness.

Funuyaki and Onita each went to the opposite sides of the door guards, well out of everyone’s way. Saito and Klancy came through right after them, following the rounded curve of the room and staying close to the wall. They took positions about midway along the wall where they would have a clear line of sight of everything on the bridge. Everyone was right where they needed to be. Oh, yes, Malgaunt was going to have a hard time of it on this occasion.

Matsuda went to the main computer and entered the seven-digit code that activated access to the full weapons systems control. Once the panel to the control opened up (without a bit of mechanical hesitation, he noted) he allowed the sensor to determine his identity and then inserted his personal control key. With a turn of the switch, the control board lit up. Everything, from shields to the anti-missile defenses to the self-destruct system was under Matsuda’s complete control. The status board gave a loud "Breep", the self-diagnostic's program indicating everything was functioning normally.

Malgaunt’s finger tapped his wrist chronometer. "Right on time. You made up that twenty seconds you were running behind. The system is running normally and the station is under your complete control. You have my congratulations."

Despite being in the service for fifteen years, Major Matsuda was in shock. He had never heard of Malgaunt congratulating anyone, save at official public service functions. Instincts took over as he saluted and said, "Thank you, sir!"

"And thank you, Major. Your professionalism makes everything easier."

Matsuda stared at the Marshal in confusion. "Easier, sir?"

"Yes," Malgaunt answered.

Major Hiroyoshi Matsuda’s own reaction time was quite impressive. He had just enough time to think, as he found Malgaunt’s gun moved from the man’s holster to his face in the blink of an eye, that the stories did not do the Marshal justice. Malgaunt was even faster than they said.

Then the laser fired, and Matsuda never had another thought again.

Lieutenant Arisa Funuyaki was in motion the instant she became aware that her superior had drawn his sidearm. She had heard he was fast, but even she couldn’t believe what she saw before her eyes. Even a cybernetically enhanced assassin specifically boosted for speed could not have been quicker.

In spite of being surprised, her own intensive training took over as she drew her sidearm and spun, aiming for the right door guard’s face. She saw his eyes bulge as she pressed the trigger and sent a red shot through the man’s head. As she turned to acquire her second target, she saw that her partner, Onita, was in the process of dispatching the other guard at the door. They had known in advance the numbers and positions of the personnel in the room. The plan had been for Malgaunt to eliminate Matsuda first, then move on to the man at communications and then the science division officer. Funuyaki and Saito were to take the door guards, and then the other two guards across the room, each one aiming for the officer on their side.

Funuyaki was just drawing a bead on her target, noting the woman was only now reacting by bringing up her rifle, when a laser sliced through her chest, quickly followed by another one to the head. As Funuyaki’s eyes darted across the room, making certain there were no other targets, she saw that it had been Malgaunt who had taken out her secondary target. Smoking bodies with holes in them sat at the communications and science consoles. Onita had done his work in shooting his second target before the guard had a chance to get a shot off with his rifle. It was over in less than three seconds after it had started.

Funuyaki was already heading towards the communication’s console as Malgaunt reexamined the defense control. Onita took the time to shoot his secondary target’s prone body two more times, then went to the other bodies in the room to make certain no one was still alive.

A quick examination told Funuyaki what she already knew. "She didn’t get off a message, sir."

"Excellent," Malgaunt said as he looked at his watch. "Onita, please hurry and lock the door to the room. We wouldn’t want any unwanted visitors, now would we?"

"No, sir." Onita moved quickly to the door and did as he was instructed. Once the primary doors were electronically sealed, Malgaunt touched another button and an interior set of blast doors irised into position in front of the primary ones. The blast doors were a foot thick and composed of specially treated osmium alloys. It would take someone with the right equipment at least fifteen minutes to burn through them.

Malgaunt’s hands began playing over the command console as he began talking. "I gave Matsuda an entire extra minute and a half. His efficiency makes our job much easier. We now have complete control over the majority of this stations defenses." He moved to a set of green switches. "First we’ll disarm the destruct control in the science labs. We don’t want them destroying the prize we’ve fought so hard to gain."

"What exactly is the prize, sir?" Funuyaki asked.

"All in good time, Lieutenant." Malgaunt said in a voice that betrayed only the slightest hint of anticipation. He looked at his watch, then gazed at the viewscreen that dominated the far side of the bridge. "We must time this carefully. If Major Matsuda trained his men well, and I know he did, two of the exterior gun stations are manned. Once they see that the automatic tracking system is off-line, they’ll arm the manual overrides. That means they’ll have the ability to fire upon our guests once they arrive, unless I time this just… right."

Malgaunt tore his gaze from the chronometer and punched several buttons in quick succession. "The shields and automatic firing controls are now deactivated. Those manning the weapons are probably now engaging the manual overrides." He stared at the viewscreen. A smile broke out across his face. "But it’s too late."

Funuyaki followed his gaze and looked outside. From the safe passage into the Anomaly, a ship erupted through the field of red and into view. It was long and cylindrical in shape, reminding Funuyaki of a Juraian ship. Four small sets of wings on the sides, as well as a large set of external engines at the rear of the ship, ruined the image. She estimated the craft at about fifty meters, only about three times larger than the Crescent Wing that Funuyaki arrived in. As it approached at a dangerously fast speed, Funuyaki could see that the sides of the craft appeared to be black wood with the symbol of three stars prominent near the bow. If the wood was real, and not simply painted, that meant it was a corrupted Juraian ship. That was what triggered her memory. There was only one ship like that and bore a trinity star symbol.

"That’s the Rack n’Ruin," Funuyaki gasped under her breath.

Onita recognized the ship as well, and whom it belonged to. "Sa’bre Stargrave," he said in just as much awe. "He’s the fourth most wanted criminal in the galaxy."

Onita’s utterance snapped Funuyaki back to reality. "The ship’s coming in too fast. She’ll crash into the station!" In anticipation, Funuyaki began to brace herself for the impact.

Malgaunt remained where he was, a smile across his face. "Hardly. I know her pilot. Believe me when I say you have nothing to worry about."

The Rack n’Ruin continued approaching Tartarus at a speed almost ten times faster than the maximum safety standards. It had closed to half the distance to the station when one of the exterior guns fired upon it. The craft banked left, the lasers missing by a wide margin. The second shot was even further off as the craft got in under the line of fire of the guns and came closer to the station. When it was within a half kilometer of Tartarus, jets erupted across the surface of the vessel, changing its direction so that it was now approaching the station sideways. The ship shook violently as the laws of physics tried to tear it apart. It was a race against time as the Rack n’Ruin neared the docking bays, slowing down at a rapid, though perhaps insufficient pace.

Wincing, Funuyaki watched the scene from the exterior monitor located next to the docking bay. At the Rack n’Ruin’s rate of speed, she was certain it was going to slam into the side of Tartarus. Time seemed to stand still as an additional set of jets erupted from the exterior of the smuggler’s ship, slowing it down enough that it at last came to a halt, leaving only two meters of space between it and the hull of the station.

On the bridge of Tartarus, Funuyaki and Onita breathed a sigh of relief. Malgaunt allowed himself an even larger smile.

"Now I’ll deactivate the weapon systems in the corridor of the docking bay." Malgaunt pushed another button. "They’ll still have to blast their way through the doors, but I already told them how many there are and what they are composed of. They’ll already have the necessary equipment to tear right through them." As if in response to his statement, the low rumble of an explosion came from the direction of the docking bay.

Malgaunt stared smugly at his subordinates. "It is possible that one of the sergeants on duty has divined what is transpiring and gathered some men together to try to repel the boarders. It’s possible that he might even send a squad up here to see what has happened. However, it won’t be enough. I’ve gone over every aspect of this plan for the last several months, taking into account every possible factor and contingency. What obscure chance the personnel on this station had of stopping us ended the moment we took command of this bridge and the Rack n’Ruin docked. Now, it is only a matter of time."

Funuyaki and Onita looked at each other. After a moment, Onita relaxed and smiled. Funuyaki wasn’t surprised by that. Onita was a little too trusting of Malgaunt for her taste. Perhaps it wasn’t surprising though. Malgaunt could inspire trust in people when he really tried, especially with those that were not all that stable to begin with. Onita fit that bill quite nicely, unfortunately.

As to the lieutenant herself, Malgaunt’s confidence failed to overwhelm her. It had been in her experience that there was no such thing as the ‘perfect plan.’ Life was full of too many random variables for them all to be accounted for. Even when a plan was designed to be flexible, it still wasn’t perfect. Anything could happen. Those that thought otherwise tended to freeze up when a situation fell apart around them.

Noises coming from the direction of the sealed doorway caught Funuyaki’s attention. She went to the external monitors and looked outside the room, Onita joining her at her side. The image showed several Galaxy Police officers moving around outside, trying to use the keypad to the door.

"We’ve got company," she warned Malgaunt, who seemed content to remain where he was next to the command console.

"It doesn’t matter," he assured her. "Stargrave has already boarded the station and will be heading this way. They don’t have enough time to cut through the door before he gets here."

Again his reassurances failed to relax her. She kept her attention riveted to the monitor. It took them several minutes, but she watched as her fellow Galaxy Police officers had gotten some cutting tools and were preparing to cut through the door. They were just about to begin when they came under fire from a position further up the hall. With no real cover outside the doors, the action turned out to be brief as the crew was cut down in a matter of seconds.

Several men and women came into range of the camera. They appeared to be a ragtag assortment with no two members dressed remotely alike. Dull gray flight suits that looked like they were from the Chasim Wars, to a woman wearing a gaudy sequined breastplate and plaid breaches, the full spectrum of clothing was like nothing she had ever seen before. The variety of weapons they bore were as different as their clothing. From laser pulse rifles to a strange metal sphere that dangled from a chain that one of the other women was holding, all were lethal in the hands of someone who knew how to use them, and they did appear to know how.

After determining that all of the crew outside the doors was dead, the motley band of newcomers parted to allow a man to step forward before the doors. He was tall, over six feet in height and with long black hair that cascaded down his back, stopping just above his waist. He had an average build, neither excessively muscled like Onita, nor wiry like Malgaunt. His features were bold, making Funuyaki note that he was one of the more handsome men she had seen in some time. There was also something familiar about his features, though when she tried placing a name with his face she came up with nothing. The man carried himself well, radiating an aura of confidence that could be felt even through the camera. His own outfit was one of the more tasteful ones from among the group. It consisted of a formal looking purple tunic and azure pants that fit loosely upon him. Slung across his back was a purple cloak with a white fur trim. The only visible weapon he wore was an expensive snub-nosed laser blaster in a hip holster.

As Funuyaki completed her appraisal of his clothing, she realized why he looked familiar. The outfit was reminiscent of the style worn by the Juraian royalty. That, combined with the man’s own features, gave him a striking resemblance to the Emperor himself. A younger, leaner, clean-shaven version, anyway. It was a look undoubtedly cultivated by the man.

The man stared up at the camera. Funuyaki could have almost sworn that he was somehow able to see her through the camera just as she could see him. He cocked his head slightly as the corridor audio links allowed the trio behind the layers of osmium alloy to hear the man say, "Honey, I’m home."

Malgaunt smiled then looked down at his watch. "Right on time." He retracted both sets of doors.

Funuyaki tensed as the leader of the assorted band entered the bridge, approached the marshal, and shook his hand. "Malgaunt."

"Sa’bre," Malgaunt acknowledged. "It’s about time you showed up. I see Fera got you here with her usual style. Do you enjoy taking your life into your hands like that every time you fly?"

"I wouldn’t complain too much. She’s your ticket off this station, too," Sa’bre warned.

Funuyaki looked over the rather infamous figure of Sa’bre Stargrave over. She was a little surprised. She had pictured one of the most wanted criminals in the galaxy as being a bit more unkempt. He appeared very calm and regal, at least on the outside. Instincts took over as her senses went into their inspector mode, taking in every nuance and detail of the captain and his crew. Ten years of undercover work had her mind working on automatic as she categorized what type of criminals the crew of the Rack n’Ruin were. Even if after today she was never going to be a member of the Galaxy Police again.

Further thoughts on her situation were interrupted as Malgaunt began talking to Sa’bre again. "Is everything on schedule?"

Just as Stargrave was about to reply, his head jerked slightly and he brought his hand to his ear. From where Funuyaki stood, she could make out a tiny audio receiver nestled in his outer ear.

"Everyone has been accounted for except for one slight problem. It appears a number of your men have barricaded themselves in the barracks and refuse to come out." Stargrave said. "They’ve even welded the doors shut and have somehow electrified the floor. I’ve lost four men trying to take it. Any suggestions?"

Malgaunt thought about it for a moment. "The barracks are located about as far away from the labs as possible, and there are only those two doorways leading from the crew’s quarters. Just leave a unit of men there to keep the crew penned in. Also have your men watch the ventilation shafts at junctions eight and nine. The crew might try to travel through them and flank you. That should take care of the problem long enough for us to finish what we came here to do."

A tall woman, lean like Malgaunt and with a cruel smile, made her way to Sa’bre’s side.

Stargrave spoke up. "You haven’t been properly introduced," he said to Malgaunt. "This is my first mate, Ariana Taguyu."

Ariana directed a look towards Malgaunt. "Are you sure its wise to leave them there? They might cause us trouble."

"They might be smart, but the only things they could do to effectively hamper us would take more time than they have," Malgaunt assured her as he set up a remote control unit to the main computer. He ran a quick diagnostic on it. Once he was convinced it functioned properly, he pulled out his laser pistol and fired upon both the command and the communication consoles." He looked them over, and assured himself they were no longer in working order. After that he held the remote high enough that everyone could see. "This is the only means of controlling this station. Now, we’d best get underway to the labs. Time may be on our side, but we still have a rendezvous to keep and we’d better not miss it."

Malgaunt headed for the door. At Stargrave’s gesture, his crew fell into place. Several of his people took the lead, keeping their rifles at the ready as they headed towards the laboratory on Tartarus.

As the group made their way through the station, Malgaunt began speaking again. "Sa’bre, I’d like to introduce my two aides to you. There are Lieutenants Funuyaki and Onita. Without their help, even I would have been hard pressed to accomplish my mission."

Sa’bre gave a slight nod to each of them. "So, what did it take for two dedicated defenders of justice, such as yourselves, to turn against their former employers in such grand fashion?"

Onita was caught off guard by the question and had no idea of how to reply. Funuyaki snapped, "It’s none of your damn business!"

Ariana and the rest of Stargrave’s troops tensed up. A gesture from their captain, and the group relaxed slightly, returning their attention to possible attacks from outside the party once again.

"No need to get defensive. I was just curious because, in my line of work, one frequently has to bribe Galaxy Police officers to get anything done. Think of it as a hobby of mine, if you will."

"I think it would be better if we waited until after we finished the task at hand before we try questioning personal motivations," Malgaunt said, trying to defuse the potentially explosive situation.

Sa’bre responded by giving Malgaunt a sharp look. "If I’m going to work with people willing to stab their supposed comrades-in-arms in the back, I want to know what their price is just in case someone starts trying to offer them a better deal."

"You’re a murderous smuggler that deals with the scum of the galaxy every day of your life," Malgaunt pointed out in a calm voice, stating it as fact rather than opinion.

"But those are criminals. I expect it from them." Stargrave kept his steely gaze on the two lieutenants. "When a couple of Galaxy Police officers turn on their own kind, I want to know why."

The tension in the group built even as they moved onward, though if Malgaunt noticed he gave no indication of it. "For now, let’s just say they’re visionaries, like myself."

"I’d prefer something a little less ambiguous."

At last, Malgaunt began to show signs of irritation. "Then let’s try this. I picked them myself for this mission, and you know my motivations for doing this. Do you believe I would have brought them along if I didn’t have complete trust in them and their abilities?"

Sa’bre gave a Malgaunt a wide smile and seemed to bow even as the group moved continuously onward. "Of course not. I have complete faith in you and your abilities. My apologies."

That seemed to unofficially signal an end to the discussion as the group continued on their way in silence. They traveled onward until they came upon a section of the station where biohazard warnings were displayed everywhere. Funuyaki tensed up slightly. When Malgaunt had all but forced her to join him on this hijacking, he had only told her that the object was something valuable and located in a secret Galaxy Police station, remaining deliberately vague about exactly what it was they were taking. Supposedly, it was for Funuyaki and Onita’s own protection; the less they knew about the plan, the better. But there was something about Malgaunt’s evasiveness that tripped off her detective skills. She had been fairly certain there was some other reason as well.

At the time, Malgaunt had also implied that they would receive some sort of assistance from outside the Galaxy Police. Never had any mention been made of working with a criminal as ruthless as Sa’bre Stargrave. Over twenty thousand deaths, including more than fifty Galaxy Police personnel, could be directly attributed to him and his organization. And those were only counting the crimes the police were aware of. Now more than ever Funuyaki was convinced the whole operation was for something much greater than money. Of course, once she had gunned down one of her fellow (or perhaps that was former, now) Galaxy Police officers, it had become far too late for her to ever back out, no matter what future recriminations she might have.

As that thought went through her mind, the group arrived at a huge set of sealed osmium alloy doors. In addition to that, there was an active energy field surrounding it, making penetrating them nearly impossible.

Unless, of course, someone had the entry codes.

Malgaunt walked up to the control panel’s retinal scanner. Once his identity was confirmed, the pad’s numerical control was activated for his exclusive use. His first action was to deactivate the energy field. After that he turned his attention to Sa’bre.

"Inside there will be about a dozen scientists. They’ll be armed with nothing more powerful than standard issue laser pistols. However, all of them have been trained in their use."

"Well, we’ve got these," one of Sa’bre’s men brandished a wicked-looking modified laser rifle before him.

Malgaunt shot the man a disdainful glare before returning his attention to Stargrave. "I recommend throwing in a couple of stun grenades the moment the doors are opened. They won’t have any defense against that sort of attack, and it’ll make them easier to shoot. Also," he said louder so everyone could hear. "Any stray shots might damage the systems that control our prize. I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to handle it directly."

Stargrave nodded his head in obvious agreement. "Do what the marshal suggests. I want precision firing in there. Anyone shoots the wrong target and they answer to me."

Sa’bre turned back to Malgaunt as his men prepared themselves for the upcoming attack. "Do you think they’ll try to destroy what we’re after rather than letting us get a hold of it? Surely they were told to do anything rather than to let it fall into anyone else’s hands."

Malgaunt removed his hat and threw it to the ground. He shook his head, as though free of some burden. "They would if they had the opportunity. However, I disarmed the detonators from the bridge controls, and they don’t have any manual overrides down here. They don’t even have the equipment necessary to cut through the shielding surrounding the prize in less than an hour. That stuff is so thick you don’t even have to worry about one of your men accidentally hitting it with a sonic grenade. Once we kill everyone in that room, we’ve won."

At her position to the left of them, Funuyaki overhead the conversation. She could not help noticing that as different in physical appearance as the two men were, they still possessed identical hungry gleams in their eyes. Marshal Alexi Malgaunt and Sa’bre Stargrave were alike in all the ways that mattered.

The crew had prepared themselves. Two men were at the front of the group, stun grenades at the ready, as the rest prepared to storm into the lab after the grenades went off.

Funuyaki allowed the group to maneuver in front of her, hanging back towards the rear. She had no desire to kill anyone else today. The one man she had already shot was bothering her far more than she had originally thought it would. It wasn’t the first time she had killed someone. It wasn’t even the first time she had shot someone that didn’t deserve it. But still the action seemed to trouble her, and she was unable to casually dismiss it like she thought she should.

With disgust, she saw that Onita had moved to the front of the pack, all too eager to add to his body count today. She went from simply disliking the violent thug to loathing him. She had always detested being saddled with the man when he was chosen as her partner by Malgaunt almost six months ago. Working with him had only proven that he was violent, had a short temper, and frequently displayed poor skills when dealing with criminals. It was a surprise to her that someone like that could still have remained in the service for as long as Onita had, let alone risen to the rank of lieutenant. She was almost certain that Malgaunt must have had something to do with the man’s undeserving promotion, probably so that he could be on this mission. Even now, after she had essentially quit the Galaxy Police, she was still saddled with the man. Perhaps it was the universe’s way of getting back at her for all of the things she had done.

Once everyone was in position, Sa’bre gave a signal. Malgaunt entered the override code on the doors and the attack began. Funuyaki waited outside with several of the others as the majority of the group went charging in. It wasn’t until the sounds of fighting stopped and someone yelled, "Clear!" that she and the others entered the labs, at last having access to the much sought after prize, whatever it was.

The chamber itself was quite huge. It was the largest room on the station, outside of the one that housed the fusion reactor that powered the station. A host of complicated machines that Funuyaki failed to identify were strewn throughout the chamber, though most of them seemed centered upon a metal column in the center of the room. Her eyes took an inventory of everything in the room, trying to figure out what the precious cargo that they had gone to all of this trouble for was. There was one thing she picked up on rather quickly that made her feel even more uneasy than before: all of the dead scientists were wearing full environmental biohazard suits. Something was horribly wrong with the entire situation.

Malgaunt went up to one of the control boards and began punching in several codes. After several moments, he said two phrases at the panel.

"Identification code Choate ZXX4GY6V. Code name: Apocalypse."

A loud thrumming sound began to fill the air. Slowly, the metal column that was in the center of the room began to retract. All eyes were riveted to it as a clear cylinder was revealed, which had been concealed within the metal column. A light coating of frost could be seen on the inside as the metal column continued moving downward, until at last an object, nestled at the bottom of the container, could clearly be seen.

At his console, Malgaunt loudly announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen. Allow me to introduce you to the greatest killer the universe has ever known."

The object was a flower, no bigger than a foot in height. The stem and leaves were brown, though vibrant, and the flower itself was a silky yellow in appearance with azure petals surrounding the middle. Looking at it, one would never have suspected the plant of having gotten around to killing almost half a trillion sentient beings.

Funuyaki stared at it in disbelief; an apocalyptic legend that had been reborn before her eyes. The words for it were on most of the others lips, but Funuyaki was the only one that gave voice to it.



To be continued.

Author's notes: Yes, the Tenchi cast are going to reappear next chapter, so don’t worry about the focus changing too much. We just needed to be introduced to the villains of the series.

Special thanks to Kara-Ohki for looking over this and for Lara Bartram for giving me the name of the ‘Death Flower’

Also thanks to Slashley, JJ Corley, Burnett/Edwards, and AngCobra for their input

Chapter 3
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