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Chapter 3

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

A Tenchi Muyo! Fic

This uses the OVA continuity.

A drowsiness stole over Tenchi as the soft vibrations from Yukinojou’s engines began lulling him to sleep. It was an unusual sensation for him. Generally, whenever he went into space, there was some matter of importance on hand that prevented him from doing anything other than concentrating on whatever danger had presented itself. From Kagato to Dr. Clay, always there had been some situation that cried out, ‘If you get caught napping, Tenchi, some outer space bad guy is going to blow you into your molecular components; and then see if you’re going to get that book report in on time.’ One would have thought he would develop a phobia about space travel with that sort of thing happening to him so often.

However, this time was going to be different; he could feel it in his bones. All he was doing was traveling to another planet to enjoy a quiet seaside vacation. Like going to Okinawa, except for the three-headed aliens that would be there too. True, Ryouko and Aeka could still catch up and cause some sort of problem that would end up giving him a headache, but at least for now, all was at peace and he could relax and enjoy the ride. Perhaps he could even fall asleep, just like Mihoshi was doing. She looked so peaceful, dozing at the control console, a tiny line of drool pooling beneath her…

Mihoshi was asleep at the controls?

"Wake up, Mihoshi." Tenchi shook her by the shoulder, eliciting a groan from the girl as her eyes opened by only the tiniest fraction.

"Whaa?" was the most coherent thought she could muster after having been awakened so.

Hoping she would be awake enough to understand the question, he asked, "Who’s flying the ship?"

"Autopilot." Mihoshi waved towards the far side of the console and began snoring again.

Tenchi looked at the strewn mess of garbage that sat on top of the console. He removed used napkins, empty coffee cups, candy bar wrappers, and even a pair of thin, red silk panties (while somehow keeping the image of Mihoshi in them out of his head) around so that he could actually look at the ship’s board. It was easy to locate the autopilot control. It was the one with the flashing ‘System Malfunction’ light right above it.

Again Tenchi shook Mihoshi, getting the same results. "There’s a light that says the system’s malfunctioning."

"That’s because it broke down a couple of days ago and I didn’t get a chance to fix it," she explained sleepily.

"So in other words, we’re flying aimlessly though space."

"Yep." Mihoshi thought about that for a minute. "Oops." She sat up, blushing slightly at the error, and grabbed the controls.

After a few moments of Tenchi scowling at her, she tried reassuring him by saying, "Well, we really weren’t in any danger. One thing you have to remember is that matter is actually the exception in deep space. Most of the universe is nothing more than vast emptiness, and the odds of traveling in one direction, like we’re doing, and running into something are very poor. I’d say it would only be about—"

"One hundred percent!" Tenchi shouted as he pointed at the viewscreen.

Mihoshi let out an exasperated sigh. "No. That’s not it at all. Didn’t you hear what I was saying? Matter is the exception, not the rule. It would be— AHH!" Mihoshi at last looked to the viewscreen Tenchi was pointing at. Where there should have been the vast emptiness of space, there was, instead, the picture of a large moon taking up the entire screen and growing bigger by the second. Impact craters from thousands of asteroid impacts dotted its surface and at the rate the ship was speeding towards it, one more was about to be added.

Mihoshi continued to scream as she jerked hard on the controls and increased the thrust of the engines, powering out of the moon’s gravity well at the last second. Even with the evasive maneuver, the ship skimmed the surface of the terrestrial satellite at no more than fifty feet above it. It was only as the image of the moon drifted off in the distance that Mihoshi let out a sigh of relief.

"Wow! There’s nothing like a near-death collision to get the blood flowing, is there, Tenchi?"

Upside down in his seat, feet sticking up in the air, Tenchi could only moan in agreement and began to question his judgment in agreeing to travel with Mihoshi after all.

"You do realize they could be anywhere in the universe?" Ryouko said as she guided Ryo-Ohki into deep space. Their search of the majority of Earth’s beaches had turned up nothing. It was not as though they had to actually search each individual on the various beaches, which would have taken them years. Instead, they searched for the much more obvious sign that would be easy to spot in the air: Mihoshi’s crashed spaceship.

"I doubt Mihoshi is particularly imaginative," Aeka said, her voice trying to project confidence while her true feelings of concern were obvious with the wringing she was doing with her hands. "They probably went someplace well known, like YuriKei 4, or Aqua Regia."

Ryouko placed her hand to her chin in thought. "Maybe not."

"What do you mean?"

"Well," Ryouko said slowly, "if you or me had a shot at spending some time with Tenchi alone, would we go somewhere it was crowded? Or would we take him to a nice secluded spot where we’d have a little privacy, so we could get him to know him more intimately?"

Aeka blushed slightly at the idea of her and Tenchi being alone on a beach, opening their hearts to one another without anyone, especially Ryouko, Washuu, Sasami, or (that insufferable conniver) Mihoshi, interrupting them.

Ryouko watched the blush rise to Aeka’s cheeks. "Now do you get it?"

"But where would we start?" Aeka asked, more intent than ever to find Tenchi in order to protect him from Mihoshi and not from any plots she had developed on her own.


"We’ll hit some of the more secluded spots near the Earth’s sector and work our way out from there. If that doesn’t pan out, we’ll try some of the more popular resorts like you thought at first." Ryouko began going over Ryo-Ohki’s impressive collection of star charts.

Aeka looked out into space again. She fell to one knee, envisioning Tenchi’s face in the star field. "Fear not, Lord Tenchi. I swear by the royal blood that runs through my veins that I will protect you from whatever trouble Mihoshi will get you in. If I should fail, may I die in the most horrible and painful way possible, for my love is so great I could never live without you."

A well-thrown metal skillet connected with the back of Aeka’s head.

"Knock it off with all that melodramatic crap!" Ryouko warned. "If it gets any worse, I’m going to barf."

Aeka’s face began twitching. "How dare you assault my august personage when I am aiding you in our mutual quest for Tenchi! If Ryu-oh was still functional, I would have left you behind and gone to rescue Tenchi myself. It’s not as though you could handle matters this important on your own."

Ryouko’s face began twitching in response. "Look, you. We haven’t been searching for Tenchi for even a day and you’re already asking to get spaced. So you’d better accept that fact that I’m going to be leader of this expedition, or you’ll find yourself dropped off on some backwater world where there won’t be anything but trees to talk to, and I don’t mean the Juraian kind. Got it, Princess?"

Aeka began glowing brightly. "Oh, I ‘get it’ all right. Allow me to show you the manner of my acquiescence to these asinine demands."

They say ‘in space no one can hear you scream’. However, space-traveling cabbits have mastered the technique of ‘Miyah’ing quite audibly in protest to fights that go on in the bowels of their starship forms, as Ryo-Ohki was currently doing as the first day of the ‘Aeka and Ryouko Save Tenchi From Mihoshi’ expedition began.

Tenchi was surprised to discover that he had calmed down fairly quickly from what was yet another near-death experience for him. The calming had happened so fast, that he began to wonder if he had simply become used to the whole thing. A year ago, nearly getting run over by a car had been enough to unnerve him for nearly a week. Now, almost slamming into a small planetoid at several hundred thousand miles per hour was only worth fretting about for five minutes. He was either becoming more courageous or more stupid.

His stomach grumbled in agreement, though for which idea he wasn’t certain. "I’m sort of hungry," he told Mihoshi.

"Sure. I can get some food for…"

Tenchi looked at her curiously, wondering why she had trailed off like that. Mihoshi stood straight up and gave a little squeal of terror.

"What is it?" Tenchi asked in concern.

Mihoshi said, "There were a couple or prisoners on the ship. I haven’t had a chance to take them to the nearest Galaxy Police headquarters yet, on account of how low my batteries were. And then, while I had to wait a long time for the batteries to charge up, I got the call from my superiors that ordered me to go on vacation."

"You mean—" Tenchi began.

"—I completely forgot they were here and didn’t feed them. Do you think you could go down to the cells and check on them? I’m afraid they’d be angry at me for not feeding them, and I hate it when people shout at me for something like that."

Not that they weren’t already angry with her for arresting them, Tenchi thought. Still, he supposed she was concerned because their anger would be justified this time. Somehow, looking into her pleading eyes, he knew he would not be able to refuse the request.

"Where are the prisoners located?" Tenchi asked.

"Thank you, Tenchi! You’re a lifesaver." She beamed a smile at him. "You go down the main corridor fifty feet. Then you take a left and go past three doors and then you take a right. And then you go past a couple more doors, but stop before you get to the infirmary. And then you’re there."

The door to the bridge automatically opened as Tenchi started to leave the room. He was in the middle of the doorway when Mihoshi said, "Wait! It’s go down the main corridor sixty feet, then take a right, then go past two doors and take the right. And then you stop before you get to the armory. And then you’re there."

Tenchi memorized the directions again. Just as he turned to go, Mihoshi again stopped him. "Wait. That’s to the power reactor. Let me think about this." She placed her hand to her chin in thought. Just as Tenchi was about to ask her again, she spoke. "I’ve definitely got it this time. Here’s what you do. You go out into the hall and look to your right., you should see a map of the ship on the wall a few meters away. The corridor across from that is the one you want to take. Just go along it until you come to some stairs and…"

As Mihoshi droned on, Tenchi walked over to the map and studied it. Yelling, "I think I’ve got it!" he made a beeline to the location marked ‘Brig’.

As Tenchi walked down the corridors, following a path of signs that said, ‘Follow the white arrows to the prisoner cells,’ he began to wonder if Mihoshi was getting worse over time. Sometimes she was okay, but forgetting about her prisoners really was unforgivable. The one thing she had always seemed to do was take her job seriously, but it seemed to him this was a too major of a mistake on her part.

At last he arrived at the cells on board the ship. Looking into an empty one, he noticed that the beds within were quite nice, with padded white mattresses and frilly comforters on them. There even appeared to be a small voice-activated radio stationed on the outside of the cell, just beyond the forcefields that kept the prisoners confined to their cells. He supposed it made sense, since Mihoshi had told him that when on long range patrols, it could take up to a week for a ship to make it back to an inhabited world where a prisoner could be dropped off at a branch of the Galaxy Police for processing. It was nice to see that the Galaxy Police at least tried to make the prisoners feel comfortable.

He examined each cell, trying to find the prisoners, but ended up rewarded with nothing. It wasn’t until he got to the eighth cell in the corridor that he noticed it was occupied by what was presumably Mihoshi’s prisoners.

Or at least what was left of them.

For as Tenchi looked in, he was able to clearly see that only occupants were two complete skeletons laid out on their beds, looking for all of the world like some kind of Halloween decoration.

Tenchi backed out of sight of the cell and caught his breath. It was some kind of mistake. Even Mihoshi could not have forgotten someone for the amount of time it would have taken for them to end up in that state. The real prisoners were probably in a cell farther down, he assured himself, and went to make sure. Unfortunately, all of the other ones were vacant. That meant the one with the skeletons had to be it.

Tenchi afforded one more look into the cell, assuring himself it wasn’t an optical illusion. The skeletons were still there. This time Tenchi backed out of the cellblock altogether and into the corridor beyond. Could Mihoshi have been wrong about having prisoners at all, having dropped them off and forgetting altogether about it? That didn’t seem likely either. She had been certain they were still on the ship. With a hesitant hand, he activated one of the communicators in the wall. "Mihoshi?"

"Yes?" The sound of munching could be heard over the reply that came crackling over the unit.

"There’s a little problem with the prisoners."

"Are they being loud and unruly? If they are, just ask them nicely to please keep it down. And if that doesn’t work, start to explain to them Lord Fillybuster the Gregarious’s theories on how the universe actually revolves on Urianan Banana peels and is held together with duct tape. Usually I don’t get more than two minutes into the first part of the theory when they get all quiet and apologize for causing a problem. Personally, I don’t think much of the theory myself, but it does seem to be a useful tool in calming prisoners down."

Tenchi felt the sweatdrop form behind his head. "Ah, no. They aren’t being unruly at all. In fact, I’d say they’re the quietest people I’ve seen in a real long time." He chided himself for his cowardice in trying to dodge the issue. He forced himself to say, "I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’m just going to come out and say it. I’m afraid they’re dead."

"Oh. Okay. As long as they aren’t giving you a hard… WHAT?!"

Tenchi listened to the sobbing on the other end as Mihoshi blubbered out, "That can’t be. I’ve never had a prisoner die on me before. My record is flawless in that respect. Sure, sometimes they complain about me mentally torturing them, but everyone knows I would never do that sort of thing to anyone. It’s just talk."

"Well, it’s true. I guess you’d better come down and check it out yourself." Tenchi’s heart felt as though it had sunk to his stomach. Things just didn’t make sense.

In less than a minute Mihoshi had joined Tenchi, bawling her eyes out and sobbing about how she was now guilty of murder and was going to have to arrest herself. The crying girl entered the cellblock with Tenchi, allowing him to lead her to the room with the bodies. Tenchi watched Mihoshi carefully, gauging her reaction as she laid eyes upon the remains for the first time. He hoped she wouldn’t try to do anything rash.

She took one good look through her tears, then stopped crying. A look of confusion passed over her features. "Umm, Tenchi. The prisoners look perfectly fine to me."

"What are you talking about?!" he nearly shouted. "They’re nothing but skeletons!"

"Hey, you’re not so fat yourself, jerk!"

Tenchi recoiled in horror as one of the skeletons sat up and spoke. A moment later, its companion followed the example. Together they headed towards the forcefield to the cell, stopping right in front of it mere inches away from Tenchi. His reaction was automatic as he jumped back and hid behind Mihoshi, who remained where she was as though two skeletons coming towards her was the most normal thing in the world.

Mihoshi looked over her shoulder to stare at Tenchi in confusion. "Ah, Tenchi. They’re Kallista Flockhartens. They all look like skeletons. Their skin and internal organs are transparent. Although if you look real close under the light, you can just make out a blue outline that surrounds their bodies. That’s all you can see of their skin. Also, there is just the faintest red glow in front of their eyes. That’s their optical nerves. So you see, these two are perfectly normal."

Forcing himself to stare closely at the two animated sets of bones, Tenchi could see that Mihoshi was correct and that both things were present on the prisoners. He blushed in embarrassment.

"Tenchi, you’re so silly," Mihoshi giggled. "You were just trying to scare me, weren’t you?"

"Sort of," Tenchi said, placing a hand behind his head in further embarrassment.

Mihoshi got both of the Flockhartens their food. Tenchi was relieved to see that the invisibility effect extended to what they ate; grateful he didn’t have to go through watching their digestive tracts in action.

As Mihoshi and Tenchi left the cells behind, she began to voice some concerns. "I have something of a problem here. Headquarters specifically said they didn’t want to hear my name at all. If I take the prisoners in, then they’ll hear my name and I’ll get into trouble. Of course, I don’t think we can take them on vacation with us either. I don’t know what to do," she wailed.

"I don’t think your headquarters would mind if you’re dropping off prisoners you already had in your custody before you went on vacation. I’m pretty sure they meant not to make any arrests after you went on it," Tenchi said.

Mihoshi shook her head. "Nonono. You don’t understand. My orders were very specific, and my superiors will be really angry if I don’t obey them. I have to come up with something. Maybe if I ask Yukinojou he can help."

With a course of action decided, Mihoshi set off back to the bridge and reactivated the artificial intelligence that served as her only companion on long-range flights. Once activated, Yukinojou lowered his primary communications unit; basically a mechanical head that lowered from the ceiling that allowed Mihoshi to talk to him face-to-face.

"Good morning, Yukinojou," Mihoshi greeted happily.

"My chronometer indicates it’s six P.M. Juraian Standard Time. That would place it as early evening."

"You know what I meant," Mihoshi said. "I have a problem."

"I see," the mechanical head answered almost drolly, if one could attribute a droll tone in the unit’s mechanical voice. "It’s only been one standard day since you were ordered on vacation and I had a chance to shut down. And here I was hoping to get about six months rest from our usual bouts of chaos. That was why I wanted most of my higher functions turned off."

"Sorry about this," Mihoshi said, looking a little embarrassed.

Yukinojou continued without pause. "You do know that the last time we were at headquarters the main computer diagnosed me with burnt out logistics and worn out acceptors. You know, the important things I need to interact with intelligent beings in a logical manner. It’s supposed to take a minimum of fifteen years for that sort of problem to creep up in my series of AI. It’s only taken four years of being under your command for me to start to having massive break-downs of this sort. It’s all highly traumatizing for me."

"Well, we are pretty busy and have had a high case load. That’s probably why you’re having breakdowns in your higher functions," Mihoshi offered.

"Or it could be you are lazy, slovenly, conduct business in an offhand and consistently illogical manner, cause massive amounts of damage to the ship in senseless accidents that could easily be avoided, have no sense of discipline…" Yukinojou trailed off as Mihoshi’s eyes began to tear. Every time he tried to seriously berate her for her attitude, she’d began to cry, and then his empathy programs would creep and he’d have to…

"I’m sorry, Mihoshi. Our record of arrests is outstanding. We’ve single-handedly brought down entire criminal organizations, like Keyser Soze’s outfit. We always score high marks in concluding our cases in timely fashion, and not once have we ever had to be disciplined for any violations of prisoners’ rights. And," Yukinojou almost hated himself for this part, mostly because it was true, "I like working with you because you show such heartfelt enthusiasm for getting the job done and always uphold the spirit of the Galaxy Police." Even if she did also screw up things a lot of the time, drive him to distraction, and made him want to lobotomize himself on more than one occasion.

"Thanks." Mihoshi’s attitude brightened considerably. "Now, I’m sorry for interrupting your rest, but I have a little problem." She outlined the dilemma of the prisoners.

Yukinojou said, "We’re going to have to drop them off and take our chances that headquarters will let this slide." Logically they should not have had a problem with the situation, but Mihoshi’s superiors had been enthusiastic about not having any contact whatsoever with her for six months. It was possible some problem could creep up, even if it was through some misunderstanding about when the prisoners had really been apprehended.

He was still reviewing the possibilities when he picked up a communication. "Mihoshi. I have a distress signal from a Galaxy Police prisoner transport in our sector. They say there was an attempted breakout by some of the prisoners, but the situation is now under control. However, their long-range communications have been damaged and they can only contact others with their short-range communications systems."

There could be no doubt about their course of action. It was a common fact that any space faring vessel receiving a distress call was obligated to respond. Mihoshi set a course for the source of the signal.

It only took them ten minutes to reach the coordinates. Yukinojou’s sensors matched the ship’s configuration to the transponder signal it gave off. The ships linked with one another without difficulty, and Tenchi and Mihoshi both went over to the transport to look over the situation. The transport’s captain, Terrace Azsore, was waiting for them as they arrived. He and Mihoshi saluted one another and began to talk.

"We were bringing in some Class C criminals from some of the outer territories when they attempted a prison break. We got them under control quick enough, except for one guy that managed to overload our sensor array and blow apart some of the main engine controls. We’ve managed to repair most of the damage. The main engines are still off-line, but my engineer assures me he can have them fixed within the hour," Azsore explained. "Our main problem is that our CGG-60B long-range antenna was severely damaged. Our backup was destroyed as well."

"Without it, you can’t communicate outside a single star system," Mihoshi finished.

"You see the problem," Azsore said. "As a ship belonging to the Galaxy Police, we are required to maintain a constant link with headquarters in case of emergencies. We still have a long way to go to get to the penal colony on Trakton-Gallows and a lot of that is in deep space. This system isn’t exactly one of the most advanced, and any side journeys for replacement parts are going to take a heck of a long time. But if you could loan us your spare antenna—"

"You’d be able to head towards Trakton-Gallows right away," Mihoshi said brightly. "Sure, I’d be happy to loan you my backup."

"Thanks," the captain said as he called his communications officer over his comlink and informed him that they were going to get their hands on the necessary part.

As the transfer was taking place, an idea suddenly occurred to Tenchi. "Mihoshi. Will this ship be heading to Galaxy Police Headquarters?"

Mihoshi nodded her head. "After it drops off its prisoners, yes."

"Is it possible for them to take your prisoners to headquarters for you?"

"Sure. Prisoner transfers happen all the time if one ship is heading towards police headquarters and the other still needs to continue its tour of duty," Mihoshi said happily, and continued to watch the men transfer her reserve antenna to their ship.

After a few moments of inaction on Mihoshi’s part, Tenchi said slowly, "Why don’t you ask the captain to take the prisoners off your hands and then you won’t have to worry about them any more?"

It took a moment for the idea to sink in. "What a great idea. Thanks, Tenchi. You sure are smart sometimes."

"Thanks," Tenchi said uncomfortably at the praise. She just had to be so damn sincere that it was hard not to feel a little unworthy of it.

The captain was only too happy to return a favor to Mihoshi. She transferred all of the necessary paperwork for processing, and the Flockhartens were given their own cell on the transport, seemingly delighted at being removed from Mihoshi’s care. Without direct contact with headquarters, Mihoshi thought it would be unlikely there would be any reprimands from her superiors when she returned.

Once the transfer was complete and the transport’s engines were repaired, both ships departed and resumed their destinations. Yukinojou had not made it more than three parsecs before he realized something and gained Mihoshi’s attention.

"Mihoshi, I’ve been going over the inventories from the last time we were resupplied at headquarters, and I seem to have discovered some discrepancies."

Mihoshi stared at him in confusion. "I didn’t order any discrepancies."

Tenchi was amazed to discover that Galaxy Police ship artificial intelligences were sophisticated enough to sweatdrop.

"Mihoshi, I’m not implying you ordered them. I’m saying there are some on the inventory lists."

"And I’m telling you there can’t be any on the list because I didn’t order any!" Mihoshi insisted.

"What in the name of a five-headed stellar Tarblist beast are you talking about?!" Yukinojou shouted.

"I could ask you the same question!" Mihoshi shot back just as fiercely.

Tenchi backed away as Yukinojou’s voice took on a more icy tone. "I’m telling you there are some discrepancies on the list. You know discrepancies. Something that is at variance with something else."

Mihoshi’s eyes took on a knowing light. "Ohh. Why didn’t you say so? I thought you meant there were discrepancies; those fancy little chocolate and whip cream pastries they make on Altair 7. You know, the kind that just melts in your mouth when you eat them. They taste so yummy I could eat them all day." Mihoshi licked her lips as she remembered the last time she had tasted the chocolate confections.

"What are you talking about?!" Yukinojou shouted. "There is no such thing as a chocolate pastry on Altair 7 called—" One of his internal computers sent some information to his advanced intelligence circuits. "Well, I’ll be. There really is a pastry called a discrepancy on Altair 7. Imagine that."

"See." Mihoshi crossed her arms under her ample bosom and stared smugly at the mechanical head. "You have to be more clear if you want to be understood. Ambiguity just breeds confusion, you know."

"That is true," Yukinojou sighed, then decided to get the conversation back on its proper course. "Anyway, there are some variances," he emphasized that word, after making certain there wasn’t some kind of outer rim world back bacon with the same name. "On the lists. For instance, it says here that you ordered seventy VX-100 Hammerhead missiles. Now I’m certain what you meant to say was that you ordered seventy VX-1000 Hammerhead missiles. Correct?"

"Let me see. I have the carbon copies of the inventory lists somewhere around here." Even as sophisticated as the Galaxy Police were, they still forced people to fill out handwritten forms in triplicate, even for the requisition of a paper clip. Mihoshi began going through the mess on the floor of the bridge. It took her a couple of minutes to find the crumpled up copy, and then another minute for her to make out the writing, which had a series of coffee stains all over it that reminded her of some contemporary artwork she had seen while on Earth. "Nope. I ordered the VX-100 missiles."

"Mihoshi!" Yukinojou shouted. "How could you have made a mistake like that?! No one has even manufactured VX-100 missiles in over a hundred years, let alone used them! They are slow, present large target profiles thanks to their heavy ray shielding, and their homing sensors are at least two generations behind the VX-1000 series. They’re all but useless. I can’t believe they even keep them stocked back at headquarters."

"I guess that was why the quartermaster gave me such a funny look when I ordered them," Mihoshi said meekly.

"Thanks goodness we’re going on vacation," Yukinojou muttered. Going into combat with such dated weaponry was a sure way to end up dead in a firefight. "Just remember the instant we report back to duty that we get the correct missiles."

"Sure thing," Mihoshi said, brightening considerably since her mistake hadn’t cost her anything.

Tenchi had listened to the exchange and, as much as he liked Mihoshi, was suddenly glad he was not her direct superior. The girl was a handful simply as a friend. "How much longer until we get to Aqua Regia?"

"With that delay we had with the prison transport, another day and a half." Mihoshi considered that. She really wanted to get to the planet and relax with Tenchi. "I’ve got an idea. We can cut out at least half a day if we take a short cut."

"Mihoshi," Yukinojou warned, "stay on the plotted course."

Mihoshi waved dismissively at the mechanical head and began plotting a new course. "Don’t be silly. I’ve taken short cuts lots of times."

"And usually you get us lost," Yukinojou pointed out. "And then we have to contact headquarters in the hopes that they can figure out where we are and how to get back on track to where we’re going."

"Not all the time," Mihoshi said.

"It happens often enough," Yukinojou countered in a desperate move that he knew would do no good; Mihoshi had already made up her mind.

"I don’t think a short cut is such a good idea," Tenchi said, coming to the same conclusion Yukinojou had, knowing all the while it wasn’t going to work as well.

Mihoshi continued laying in the new course. "Oh, you guys. Risk is a part of life."

"Not on vacation it’s not supposed to be," Tenchi said, feeling his heart sink into the pit of his stomach for the third time today.

Again Yukinojou spoke. "Mihoshi, I’m begging you, don’t take us off course."

"You’re such a worrywart. What could possibly go wrong?" Mihoshi said as she finished entering the new course and hit a button.

Tenchi felt the urge to cry as the ship entered hyperspace.

Milky Way Galaxy
Sector 25W.773.2FX
Class 4 Nebula: Arecheox
The space station Tartarus

Funuyaki stood there in silence, watching as Stargrave’s crew began to remove the metal ball in which the Shihana bloom resided. Supposedly, they were in no real danger. The deadly substance was sealed by three different layers of protection. The first layer was an outer casing composed of adamantine, which was thick enough to withstand anything up to an orbital reentry and remain intact. Inside that was a secondary shell of polynison with a high-grade refractory coating. It was a relatively new invention, a clear substance that could disperse nearly all forms of energy and was reputed to be as hard as adamantine. The final defense was a stasis field unit that was within the polynison, which rendered the bloom inert. Unlike the others, it would be easy to destroy or deactivate. It was simply there to help transport the bloom from its container to any others and prevent everyone from dying.

Each layer required a different method of deactivation. The adamantine had a concealed panel that could be accessed easily enough, but to open the shell itself required a twenty-five digit code entered into the keypad. Due to the refractory coating on the polynison, a sonic pulse on a specific wavelength would open it. The stasis fields had no failsafes and could be deactivated with a touch. The idea was that if anyone could get past the first two defenses, the third would be meaningless anyway. Malgaunt was only sharing the code and the sonic frequency with Stargrave. The two seemed to share a private joke about the latter key, assuring Funuyaki that they were the only ones in the quadrant that could possibly open it.

Once Stargrave left Malgaunt’s side, Funuyaki moved closer, taking up a position opposite from Onita’s as the man remained close to the marshal’s side. "That can’t really be Shihana. Every trace of it was destroyed. All of it."

"Yeah," Onita added. Funuyaki wondered if the man was going to say more than that, but gave a derisive snort when that was all the commentary he had.

Malgaunt seemed to swell up as he gave a smug look to his aides. "Would you like me to tell you a little story about Shihana and the plant before us? I think you’ll find it most intriguing."

There was little Funuyaki wanted more to do in the universe than wipe the smirk off her superior’s face. But she wasn’t so foolish as to allow her emotions to carry her away, no matter how great her satisfaction would temporarily be. "Please."

A soft chuckle slipped from Malgaunt as he began his tale. "Allow me to go over what you were taught when you were younger, because there’s no telling how accurate the information you received really is. Those that rule often filter what information they want to be learned among the general populace. It makes the masses so much easier to control if their knowledge is deliberately tinged with the just right amount of propaganda. I should know. As a marshal of the Galaxy Police, I’ve been using such tactics for years.

"Slightly over one thousand years ago, a sizable empire by the name of the Whipreck came into contact with the Jurai. Each side decided that the galaxy wasn’t large enough for both to exist, so war was quickly declared. The Jurai had the advantage in resources, technology, and tactics. It was only a matter of a year before the Whipreck began losing badly, so they turned to the one area of war in which they exceeded the Jurai: biological weapons.

"Desperate times breed desperate measures. To that end, one of their scientists made a breakthrough the universe would later curse as ‘Shihana.’ It really was a remarkable piece of work, and I can only guess at the genius of the individual that primarily designed it. His knowledge far outstripped anything even the Ministry of Science could come up with, even to this day.

"The plant itself wasn’t the problem, by the way. It was the spores it created. The spores were microscopic in size, about the size of most standard viruses, which was what its genetic pattern was partially based upon. The little thing really is quite deliciously simple. Once the plant was exposed to an ecosystem, no matter how big or how small, it would release the spores. Once released, the spores would attach themselves to every life form they encountered, no matter how large or small, and drain it of its life energy at an unbelievable rate. It would drain a standard human-sized life form within four minutes. It would then use the energy it absorbed to replicate itself at a rate faster than anything ever encountered. The new spores would then repeat the cycle until every living thing on the entire planet was drained, and I mean everything, including plant life and microscopic creatures.

"Apparently, the spores, through some unknown means, transferred at least part of the drained energy to the mother plant, for once the spores ran out of things to feed, they died off and the mother plant would follow. Don’t let that fool you. Destroying the mother plant after it had released its spores was no defense; they functioned independently of the plant and would continue on their merry path of genocide.

"The spores were designed to propel themselves at an incredible rate of speed, being able to travel through air, liquids, even the soil of a planet itself. About the only thing they could not survive in was a vacuum, making them completely terrestrial-bound. They also could not penetrate any airtight enclosures, so there were defenses against them. However, if even one so much as made contact with an organism, it was over. The only limitation they had was that without some life form to draw energy from, they would die within forty-eight hours of their last feeding. The main plant from which they had spawned would die about two hours after the last spore. Also, they could not be transported more than a million miles from the host plant, or they would die rather than replicate or drain. Yet another fail-safe placed upon this biological weapon.

"It really is a fascinating method of control. Given this almost self-destructive capability, it would make it almost impossible for Shihana to be used against the Whipreck, just as the plant’s designers had planned.

"The actual creation of the plant was a carefully guarded secret. Likewise, once it was created, it had to be contained properly and put into stasis, lest the plant blossomed and require a constant, controlled string of life forms to sustain it until it could be delivered to its destination before it died.

"Once the Whipreck were confident Shihana was effective, and that it couldn’t be used against them, they unleashed it upon their enemies. Upon completion of the original batch of plants, the Whipreck went to work. Fifty-three worlds were infected by the plant. The only place they failed to get one onto was the Jurai throneworld. Everywhere else they released it, it was a success. The effect was devastating, despite the fact the Whipreck left some tactically important worlds unaffected, hoping to bend them to their own empire’s will after they took over. Most worlds tended to succumb to the plant within three days of its initial release, less if the planet was small.

"Shihana was completely effective, razing every world it came into contact with. Hundreds of billions died within that first week it was released upon the largely unsuspecting galaxy. No life form was spared, as entire planets became lifeless rocks floating in space. Years later, others would remark grimly that the universe had become a quieter place thanks to the Whipreck. Few sentient races truly suffered genocide, almost every race had numbers that were off planet at the time, but many of them were pushed to the brink of extinction. Even centuries later, all of them are but former shadows of what they once were, their planets taken from them and essentially lost forever.

"The Juraian Empire was predictably thrown into disarray by the massive attack. The Whipreck coordinated the release with their fleet, making huge leaps and gains in the war. Right now we would probably be a part of the Whipreck Empire had not fortune smiled on the Jurai in the form of Whipreck rebels. There were many of them, including high-standing members of the government and the military, which were so disgusted with their own empire’s actions that they chose to betray their leaders rather than allow the Whipreck Empire to go unpunished. They gave the Jurai information on what had ravished their worlds and where the only facilities for Shihana were stored on the homeworld. They then aided a quickly assembled Juraian fleet, one that was basically sent on a suicide mission, to the Whipreck Empire’s homeworld and used inside information that would enable them to at least make it to the planet alive.

"The Juraian fleet was slaughtered to the ship, but not before they destroyed all the facilities that contained the information about Shihana and all of the specialized equipment needed to produce the plant, as well as the remaining existing batch of it. They also managed to assault the capital of the empire and killed the Emperor and the majority of the ruling body.

"Now it was the Whipreck’s turn to reel from their losses as the Jurai launched a merciless counterattack upon the Whipreck. Within a month the war was over, every part of the Whipreck Empire had been defeated. As punishment for their actions, the Emperor decided to be merciful and simply exiled the master race of the Whipreck from their homeworld and this part of the galaxy, forcing them to go beyond the outer rim forever. As for those that had created Shihana, everyone that was the least bit involved in the project was executed. The only information that the Jurai were able to salvage was pictures of the flower itself and what it was capable of doing. It was made a part of every Imperial planet’s learning curriculum as to what the flower looked like and what it was capable of doing, so that everyone knows the evils that can be inflicted upon the universe."

"If what you say is true, then how can that exist?" Funuyaki said, pointing to the gunmetal-gray orb that the plant was now encased within. Onita simply looked at the orb, then back at Malgaunt.

The marshal’s grin grew wider. He loved having information others lacked. Seeing open looks of disbelief on their faces when confronted with the seemingly impossible always amused him. And then, as calm as deep space, he would explain to them in an obvious fashion how wrong they were and why. Almost inevitably their looks would change from disbelief to resentment directed towards him for knowing so much more than they. That look was one of the reasons he had enjoyed arresting criminals so much. He loved deceiving them into believing they would get away with their crime, then would show them the evidence that would put them away. As much as those scum hated being caught, they loathed him just as much for being so superior to them in every way. And as much as he liked Funuyaki, it was time to remind her of that fact.

"You forget, the Whipreck failed to get one of the flowers through to the Jurai homeworld itself. During the initial attack, they did attempt to release one there, but what ended up happening was that our very own Galaxy Police managed to intercept the flower before it got to planetary orbit. Not only that, the self-destruct circuit on the smuggler’s ship failed, and we managed to capture the plant intact, while it was still in its stasis field. Of course, at the time we had no idea of what we had obtained. It was assumed to be some kind of new plant that could produce a drug. It wasn’t until after the war that we discovered what we had on our hands. Although once it was certain, it became a matter for the Jurai Security Directorate.

"Why didn’t they just destroy the damn thing instead of playing around with it?" Funuyaki asked as she watched Stargrave’s crew continue to prepare the Shihana for transport.

"Because what was once created can be created again." Malgaunt sounded as though he was repeating some ancient proverb. For a moment there he had thought Funuyaki would figure the reason out on her own —she was quite smart— but it appeared that she was not going to guess. "The Empire wanted a cure to the plant, and it was willing to commit whatever resources were necessary to achieve that goal. Rather than alert the general population that this instrument of planetary destruction still existed, they suppressed all knowledge of its existence, save for a handful of people that would be involved directly in the project; the Emperor and some of his most trusted aides, members of the Imperial Academy Science Division, high ranking officers in the Galaxy Police, and the highest levels of the Jurai Security Directorate.

"After what happened with the Shihana the first time it was released upon the universe, there was no way the remaining plant was ever going to be allowed near a populated system. A secret base was set up on a remote asteroid in the Cygni Quadrant, and it remained there for a number of decades. However, it was nearly destroyed in a freak accident and the base had to be abandoned. From there it was moved frequently from desolate place to desolate place, never remaining in one spot too long for fear someone would learn of its location and try to steal it. As inconvenient as it was, it was the only way those in charge felt safe.

"And then they discovered the Anomaly. Its unique location made it an ideal place to research the cure. Given the multiple layers of protection and secrecy surrounding the base, the only way it could ever be stolen—"

"—was with a high-ranking inside man," Funuyaki finished for him.

"Just so," Malgaunt said smugly.

"But if there’s only this one—" Funuyaki started.

"Well, yes and no," Malgaunt said. "Yes, there is only this one, but over the years, as the scientists tried to create a cure, and failed, I might add, they did learn how to create more of the plants. I think they were reconstructing it in their minds as a better method of coming up with a cure. In any case, even with what they discovered, they couldn’t make a new one from scratch, but they could make others using an already existing plant. And it just so happens I retrieved that information on this little disk." Malgaunt held a three inch gold disk for all to see. He then pocketed it and went back to smiling.

"She’s ready for transport," one of Stargrave’s men said as he triple checked the seals on the prize.

Sa’bre Stargrave gave the order for the crew to move it out to the Rack n’Ruin. From there they were to load it onto the special containment cylinder that had been added to the bottom of the ship specifically for the mission. Stargrave explained that there was no way he was going to travel with the Shihana having any direct access to the ship. The tube might have been vulnerable, but in Stargrave’s opinion it was worth the risk.

Sa’bre’s men handled the container with great care, not caring that they could not crack the casing on it even if they tried. The transport from the labs to the ship went by without a problem, though at one point Stargrave stopped to listen to a report from some of his men in the ship. After it was finished, he informed Malgaunt that he had been correct about the crew of Tartarus trying to use the ventilation ducts to effect an escape. Stargrave’s men shot several of them that had made the attempt, driving the others back to the barracks. Malgaunt assured him they would not have time to try anything else as the group continued to the docking bay.

Upon arriving there, the adamantine ball was loaded into the long silver cylinder that was affixed to the bottom of the vessel. It was only twenty feet long and ten feet wide, but it was made with two feet of pure durasteel, and was fused to the hull of the vessel. Stargrave was convinced nothing short of the ship’s destruction would dislodge the container from his vessel.

After it was loaded and the final preparations for lift off were made, Sa’bre recalled his men from Tartarus. As the last members of the crew boarded, leaving only Stargrave and the trio of traitorous Galaxy Police officers, Malgaunt pulled out the control pad that was still slaved to the station’s controls. Funuyaki watched with close interest. 

"What are you doing now?"

Malgaunt finished punching in a sequence on his pad. "Oh, I’m just sending a distress call to headquarters."

"What?!" Funuyaki and Onita shouted as one.

Malgaunt’s face nearly ached with all of the smiling he had done in the last few hours. Those that had spent long amounts of time with him knew that he almost never smiled, yet today had proven a most joyous time for him. "It seems there’s been a malfunction in the ship’s directional engines. They’ve misfired, sending Tartarus on a course that takes it out of the Anomaly and into Hell’s Gate itself." He punched in another set of commands, and the station began to move. "How unfortunate that the shields are also down, meaning the station won’t last fifteen minutes in the nebula." Malgaunt turned to head up the ramp to the Rack n’Ruin. "We’d best be off, people, unless you’d like to get a closer look at one of the most destructive forces in the universe."

Funuyaki turned her gaze back at the station. "Do we really have to kill all of them?"

Stargrave gave her a false smile and turned back to Malgaunt, a look of pure amusement upon his face. "Yes, really, killing all of your men like that is a pretty terrible thing. How can you live with yourself?"

Malgaunt’s face turned a bit more serious as the smile disappeared. "They never appreciated me. I tried to make them into the best and most efficient force in the galaxy. I was stern only because it furthered my causes, and thus the causes of the Galaxy Police. Yet in return they refused to appreciate my abilities, never mind the fact I was clearly superior to them.  If they had followed me rather than standing in my way, allowed me to lead the Galaxy Police as was my right, I would have taken them to levels they never would have dreamt of. But instead they allowed those two fools in front of me to lead, them and their pitiful ideals that did nothing but hold us back. They refused my rightful place as the one in charge and behind my back referred to me derisively as ‘Ballbreaker.’ They don’t really deserve my talents."

"So you’re going to kill all of them?" Stargrave’s face remained its cheerful self.

"No," Malgaunt said as he entered the Rack n’Ruin. "I’m going to lead them, those that have the vision to follow my lead, like Funuyaki and Onita here." He turned a smile their way.

"So you’re killing them because you’re pissed at them?" Funuyaki asked. She was surprised at how she was able to keep anything but a neutral tone to her voice.

"Of course not," Malgaunt scoffed. "If I disposed of everyone that angered me, I’d end up killing as many people as Shihana did. I’m sending these men into the Anomaly because they represent a threat to me. You should be able to appreciate that, Lieutenant."

Funuyaki flinched slightly at the statement, but before she could speak, Stargrave interrupted them both. "After all, we can’t have anyone realizing that Shihana was taken from the station before it fell into Hell’s Gate, now can we? Also, it covers the ‘deaths’ of yourself, Mr. Onita, and Marshal Malgaunt here. No one will have the faintest idea that you weren’t on the station when it goes boom."

"Aside from that, there’s another reason I’m sending the transmission," Malgaunt continued. "Before we left, I planted a virus, using someone else’s access of course, into the mainframe of the computer system at headquarters. It’s a devilish little thing, cooked up by one of Stargrave’s techmasters, though it has all of the earmarks of a group of high-grade computer hackers called the Malcontents."

Stargrave bowed with flourish as the ramp closed and the thrusters of the ship began a loud whine. The ship lurched as it removed itself from the docking clamps that held it in place.

"Thanks to my inside information on the system, the techmaster designed it to cut through all of our anti-virus protection programs like they weren’t there. Right now, it’s hiding in the system. Five minutes after I send the Priority Alpha One transmission that the station is in trouble, the virus will take that as a signal to release itself into the system. The first thing it will do is attach itself to the communications system. Since this is a top priority message, it will automatically be transmitted to every Galaxy Police ship there is. On every one of those transmissions will be the virus, which is also designed to cut through the ships’ anti-virus programs as well. After the message is sent, then the virus will activate on the station, shutting down every computer in headquarters and every ship under our command. The entire Galaxy Police force will be shut down and rendered ineffective. That will buy us more than enough time to complete what we have to do without interference from them."

Funuyaki could scarcely believe her ears, but everything Malgaunt had told her was fully within his capabilities. As impossible as it seemed, it did appear he had taken everything into account. The plan sounded foolproof. As the ship took off, Funuyaki realized there was something Malgaunt had said that did not make sense. "What do you mean, ‘complete what we have to do’? I thought our mission was accomplished. We have Shihana."

Stargrave chuckled at the woman’s misassumption as he felt the ship head out into the Anomaly. "And just what do you suppose we can do with it? Extort a few worlds with the threat of the plant? Kill a few races we don’t like? Use it to prove we’re willing to?" He made a broad gesture with his arms. "Perhaps we would try to take over the Empire itself? You, me, and our merry little band of pirates, eh? I’m certain the thousand or so of my people in my organization could take command of the entire Empire in a matter of days."

Funuyaki looked on in confusion at him. He had raised a valid point. "Then what is the plan for it?"

"Why, we’re going to sell it," Stargrave said. Laughing, he turned away from Funuyaki, leaving her to wonder what his enigmatic statement meant. His spirits were still high as he made his way to the bridge. True, his crew was competent and departing the Anomaly to enter the safe passage through Hell’s Gate would not be a problem, but there was something satisfying about being in the captain’s chair as the Rack n’Ruin made its way through space, taking them on the path to their ultimate destiny.

And in the Anomaly, the space station called Tartarus plunged into the turbulent storms of the nebula, never to be seen again.

It was two hours later that Funuyaki made her way to the bridge, unable to stand staring at the ceiling any longer. Malgaunt had all but ordered her and Onita to get some rest while they could, vaguely hinting that something was going to happen in several hours and that he wanted them in good shape to deal with whatever might come. More mysterious references by Malgaunt that meant nothing other than to add to the tension that Funuyaki had already felt. Tension that was ready to bury her under its weight.

They went to the small room with the two bunks that had been assigned to her and Onita by Stargrave. The cells at Galaxy Police headquarters were nicer. It was a dingy little room with a couple of bunk beds that somehow managed to take up two thirds of the room. Given the impressive size of the vessel, and the number of crewmen it held, she was certain this was the worst room Stargrave could have come up with, outside of making both her and Onita sleep in an airlock. She had not been around the criminal for long, but she was under the distinct impression that he would kill both her and Onita in a heartbeat if it were not for Malgaunt’s presence. That meant being more alert than ever, lest Sa’bre change his mind and decide that they were not worth keeping around after all, even if it was against Malgaunt’s wishes.

Still, she had lain down and tried to get at least a little rest. Onita had fallen asleep the instant his head hit the pillow, but Funuyaki simply lay there, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out how she had come to this, murdering her own comrades and working with the scum she used to arrest and sometimes kill. How low her life had fallen, thanks both to herself and Malgaunt.

She did everything she could to avoid those answers, trying to figure out what Malgaunt could possibly be up to. However, nothing came to mind, and after a while her need to know became too great to allow her to simply lie there and wonder what was going to happen next. She wanted answers and she needed them now. There was no telling what was actually happening, and she was tired of operating completely in the dark. Up until that moment she had been reactive, but now she was going to do what they had taught her at the academy and be proactive. Among this den of vipers she had to tread carefully, or one of the scum was sure to take her down if the opportunity presented itself.

Funuyaki made her way to the bridge, managing to avoid any members of the crew. She wondered if perhaps Stargrave had told his own men to get some rest too, in light of what was coming up, whatever it was. As she made her way through the ship, she saw that it was well maintained, just like any military ship would be. Her estimation of Sa’bre moved up a notch. Unlike most of the criminals she had met up with during her years as an undercover officer, Stargrave and his men showed an uncannily high quality of discipline, which made them far more dangerous than the average criminal. They also at least temporarily had Malgaunt helping them, which quite possibly made them the deadliest people in the entire universe. She was now more cautious than ever.

The doors to the bridge opened as Funuyaki stepped through them. All eyes turned towards her for a moment, then went back to whatever tasks they had been engaged in.

Malgaunt was on the bridge, off to the side next to the sensor arrays where some other crewman was manning the controls. He motioned for her to approach, and she did. Before she could speak, Malgaunt held his hand up to her and softly said, "Don’t say anything. I want you to watch the crew."

Funuyaki found herself obeying her superior, if he could still be considered that. She watched them with the trained eye of a professional police officer with ten years of undercover work under her belt. For fifteen minutes she did nothing but watch them talk, do their jobs, joke with one another, and whatever else they did. At the end of the ten minutes, Malgaunt again spoke, only loud enough for himself and Funuyaki to hear. "What do you make of this crew?"

It was an odd question. Funuyaki wondered what game Malgaunt was up to, but decided to play along. If she wanted to get any answers from him, she was going to have to obey, at least for now. "In spite of their non-matching uniforms and non-professional attitudes, they are quite competent. All of them seem to do their jobs efficiently and effectively, although why they have a death wish in letting a Katasan fly the ship is beyond me."

Malgaunt nodded in agreement. Katasans always stood out in a room. They were nearly seven feet tall, felinoid creatures that possessed silver fur that covered their entire bodies and a penchant for wearing as little clothing as possible. Luckily they tended to shed very little. They had something of a snout that contained sharp, pointed teeth that made one think of a housecat, at least as long as those fangs were not used against them. The housecat comparison rarely held up once they discovered one of the Katasans unusual tendencies. Their race was very short lived, no members of it reaching past the age of twenty standard years, though few made it to even half of that. There was one universal character flaw that made them one of the shortest-lived races around.

Katasans, as a race, were action junkies. There was little they loved more than traveling at high speeds. Their incredibly quick reflexes and equally quick minds made them more than capable pilots, able to handle just about any vehicle in the universe. There was only one major problem with Katasan pilots though; they always preferred to travel at excessive speeds. It might have made them one of the most feared starfighter pilots in the galaxy, but it also made them one of the most feared commercial pilots as well. Simply put, unless one needed to get somewhere fast, and it was a matter of life or death, it was considered reckless to allow a Katasan to fly you there. Some planets even prohibited Katasan pilots from flying ships in their zones, for no matter how quick and how good of a pilot a Katasan was, sooner or later, a mistake was made and it often led to death. It was rare to come across a Katasan that was ten years old, most having died in some accident or shot down long before that.

"Her name is Fera. She’s five years old, and every inch a true Katasan," Malgaunt told Funuyaki. "She’s been flying for Stargrave for a year now, and probably the only one that could have done that daredevil maneuvering that allowed them to get to the station. Still, Stargrave is a braver man than I for making her his personal pilot," Malgaunt admitted.

Malgaunt brushed off some white fur that had made somehow made it onto his black uniform, After making certain he was immaculate once more, he pointed out the first mate of the Rack n’Ruin, Ariana Taguyu. "And what do you make of her?"

Again Funuyaki slipped into her inspector mode. "She moves slowly, but with skill, always tensed and ready to lash out. She’s vain but attractive, so that’s justified slightly. Ordinarily, looks can get you as far as skill among some criminal organizations, but not this one. She’s at least as lethal as she appears. She has a slight Andarean accent, so she most likely comes from that world, perhaps a former lady of the nobility. It’s my understanding all of them are trained in the arts of assassination and self-defense so as to serve their husbands more effectively. There is a definite attraction on her part towards Stargrave; she keeps stealing glances his way, but he doesn’t return it as much. Most of other members of the crew seem a little tense when she passes by, so it’s possible she serves as Stargrave’s primary enforcer, or hit woman, as well."

"Very good," Malgaunt said softly. "You are correct. It’s nice to see your detective skills remain as sharp as ever. I might have need of them in the near future. Right now, I need competent allies, besides Sa’bre. I do trust him, but it is more of a trust among equals, and I need my own people right now. In return, I think you could be rewarded with your own, say, planet? At least a moon, to be certain. We’ll name it ‘Funuyaki’. Would you like that?"

That was all it took for Funuyaki’s temper to snap. She was tired of Malgaunt’s games. "What are you talking about?! What’s going on?!"

All eyes, save Fera’s, turned towards the source of the disruption. Malgaunt himself seemed unmoved, and not surprised, by the outburst. "Fair enough. However, I think it would be better if Captain Stargrave were to explain. I’m certain his crew is curious, too." Malgaunt deferred towards Sa’bre, who bowed his head slightly in return.

The captain cleared his throat and began, focusing mostly on his crew but affording Funuyaki a glance as well. "I know I have kept most of you in the dark as to the exact nature of this mission. The secrecy was necessary for all of our survival, since if even a single word of our stealing of Shihana had slipped, it would have most likely resulted in our deaths at the hands of the Galaxy Police, or Jurai’s Security Directorate. We have stolen this deadly weapon, and the means to produce more of it, with the intention not to use it ourselves, but to sell it to someone that can use it far more effectively than us."

All eyes were riveted upon Stargrave, his carefully measured tones commanding everyone’s complete attention. Somewhere in the back of Funuyaki’s mind, she applauded his speech-making talents. The man possessed a natural charisma that was rarely seen.

"They are the Yagdagron, one of the outer systems the Jurai ‘annexed’ to the Empire about two hundred years ago. And in a short while, after obtaining Shihana, they will be in complete control of what is now the Jurai Empire." Sa’bre allowed that information to sink in.

Funuyaki was the first to speak up. "How are they going to do it?"

The usual belligerent tone that Sa’bre directed toward Funuyaki was absent as he said, "They have been building a space fleet for the last century, hiding it in a planetary system far away from the Jurai Empire. Actually, I’ve been funneling a great deal of arms and materials their way over the last ten years. Right now it’s only about one fifth the size of Jurai’s fleet, and their weapons are slightly inferior, but it is an effective force. Alone, they wouldn’t stand a chance, however with a planet-killer like Shihana in their hands, they become vastly more effective.

"Unlike the Whipreck, the Yagdagron are going to successfully seed the Jurai Throneworld, as well as many other key systems. With Marshal Malgaunt’s inside information on the planetary security of those worlds, it will be easy." Stargrave’s voice seemed to rise slightly, and Funuyaki was surprised to see that he was indeed allowing his emotions to take over for him now

"With this lightning fast strike, in concert with the Yagdagron fleet attacking key military locations, the Empire will be crippled in a matter of days and surrender in a matter of one week, perhaps two at the most. And in return for our ‘patriotic’ assistance in aiding them in the overthrow of the evil and depraved Jurai Empire, I will be given control over one of the sectors of the new Empire, under the banner of the Yagdagron, of course. And Marshal Malgaunt here will be given control of the Galaxy Police, after the organization falls under the Yagdagron’s control and is freed from its function of being nothing more than a puppet of the Emperor of Jurai."

Malgaunt made a sweeping gesture toward the crew of the Rack n’Ruin. "And now that I am among you, I see what horrible wrongs my organization has done in labeling you criminals. I give pardons to all of you."

The crew fell into the mood and gave a cheer at that. Funuyaki just gave Malgaunt a disgusted look, then turned away so no one could see her face. Over and over in her mind, she kept asking herself, just what she had managed to get herself into.

Seeming to take notice of her concern, Malgaunt turned towards her. "I know the scope of this might have caught you off guard, but let me assure you, it’ll pay off in the end. When the smoke settles, we’ll be running the show. And if you possess even half of the promise your potential shows, you’ll end up being second-in-command of the entire Galaxy Police. And then your little indiscretions in the past will all be forgotten, since we’ll be in charge of everything."

Funuyaki was barely able to listen to Malgaunt, her mind recoiling with the information. She had always been told stories by her grandmother about being made an offer by the devil, but Funuyaki had scoffed at such tales, claiming there was no such things as devils. Now here she was, standing next to someone that fit the description all too well and discovering herself in a situation that was so similar to those stories that it made her tremble. Unfortunately, unlike the heroes of those stories, she was not a wholesome and nice person that simply found herself in a bad situation. Did she even have a soul left to sell away anymore?

A wizened, rasping voice spoke from the far side of the bridge, gaining everyone’s, including Funuyaki’s, attention. She stared in surprise at what had made the sound, for on her first examination of the crew of the bridge, she had assumed the lump in the seat was someone’s canvas bag, it was withered so much. It never occurred to her it was actually a living being. Now looking at it closely, she saw that it could not have been more than three feet in height and had gray mottled flesh over which every square centimeter were wrinkles. The fact that it was wearing a brown pantsuit, which pooled around the bottom of its legs, helped add to its sack-like appearance. Again the voice spoke, leaving Funuyaki to guess that it was male, judging by how deep the voice was.

The being continued speaking in its raspy voice, staring at the crew through eyes that were barely able to focus on the crew because of the many folds of wrinkled flesh hanging from its face. "You think overthrowing empires is hot shit? Well you’re wrong. I remember when I was a lot younger, oh, about three hundred thousand years ago; I was operating in a galaxy far away and met this young fellow named, Vanth Dreadlok, or something or other. Used to go around with a kick ass sword and an ugly looking skull headed mage with a red eye. Anyway, ole’ Vanth knocked over three entire galactic empires all on his own, one of them he had even helped set up. You’d think someone that went around doing that like it was some sort of hobby would be pretty happy, considering how successful he was. Well he wasn’t. Couldn’t stand the work. All the time he was miserable, setting up rebellions and destroying insidious church figures and power mad despots. All he really wanted to do was farm."

Stargrave spoke up. "So the moral of the story is, if we help overthrow the Jurai Empire, we’ll probably end up miserable like Mr. Dreadlok was?"

"In a word, yes," the bag of flesh said.

"You’ll forgive me if I decide to take my chances," Stargrave said dryly as he and the crew went back to commanding the ship.

"You’ll be sorry," the lump warned, then went back to watching the crew move around.

"What is that thing?" Funuyaki asked Malgaunt in a quiet voice, her attention riveted on the creature that had just spoken to everyone.

"No one knows for certain," he told her. "His name is Autolycus, and he claims to be an Allurian, and over a million years old."

"He doesn’t look a century over five hundred thousand," Funuyaki said.

"Indeed." Malgaunt smiled at the joke. "He apparently came from a galaxy a lot farther away than our own. It’s my understanding that he has been with the Rack n’Ruin since it was built, and that Stargrave keeps him around because of a promise he made to the previous captain of the ship. As far as I can tell, his primary purpose is to say how ‘things in the old days used to be a lot better than what they are today’. Pay him no mind. He’s just a senile bag of flesh that I wouldn’t tolerate the way Stargrave does, promise or not."

At that point, Stargrave called Malgaunt over to the captain’s chair in the center of the bridge, essentially leaving Funuyaki alone with her thoughts. The whole situation had become something far greater than she possibly could have imagined. They were talking about nothing less than a complete overthrow of the Empire. And worse, it actually sounded like they had a chance to succeed at it.

Things were continuing to spiral out of control. Killing a few people, even if they were her fellow Galaxy Police officers, was one thing, but now she was a party to what was going to amount to planetary genocide. Billions upon billions were going to end up dead, and if the Yagdagron’s plan weren’t executed perfectly, billions more would die in the ensuing war.

However, there was the payoff that Malgaunt had implied she would get. A moon of her own to control. Being second in command of a new Galaxy Police force. The questions began to overwhelm her. Was Malgaunt telling her the truth? What was she to him? A protégé he respected and mostly trusted? A tool for him to use as he would? A form of protection from Stargrave, should the criminal decide to turn on him? A witness to his crimes that knew too much and would be disposed of when she was no longer needed? When all of this was over, what would she be? One of the most powerful and influential people in a new galactic order, one of the Galaxy’s most wanted criminals, responsible for the deaths of billions, or an unnamed corpse in some backwater alley with a knife sticking out of its back?

And the most important question of all; was any of what she was going through worth it?

"We’re dropping out of hyperspace," Fera announced in what sounded more like a growl than an actual language.

The darkness of hyperspace gave way to the twinkling stars of normal space as the ship continued onward, until Funuyaki saw they were approaching a binary star system, the twin suns appearing very close to one another, despite being tens of thousands of miles apart.

"Where are we?" Funuyaki asked.

"At our rendezvous point," Malgaunt said.

Sa’bre spun in his chair to face Funuyaki as the Rack n’Ruin continued on a course that would take it between the two suns. "This is an out of the way smuggler’s run that even the Galaxy Police don’t know about. It’s a rather unique run. Generally, it’s only used when two parties arrange a meeting and want to ensure privacy. There is only one narrow safe route between the twin suns, and unless one is already close, sensors won’t pick up a ship being here. The suns’ close proximity makes anything other than short-range sensors useless. Once inside the run, you can see whoever can see you, and take care of them accordingly. Not that there are more than perhaps a dozen people that actually have the coordinates to this place. This system is far away from any inhabited worlds and isn’t remotely close to any interstellar traffic lanes. We’re in the middle of nowhere, and there isn’t the slightest reason anyone other than another smuggler would come out here. It’s the perfect place to conduct our transaction."

"Indeed," Malgaunt agreed as he watched the ship come to rest between the suns and waited for their associates to arrive.

They didn’t have to wait long. Only two hours passed before a ship came out of hyperspace and made a cautious approach to the Rack n’Ruin. Funuyaki looked at the main viewscreen, which showed a picture of the new arrival. It was huge, easily twice as large as a Juraian Battleship and shaped like a large mound that reminded Funuyaki of a high tech anthill. It was made of a silver metal, and had multiple external gun emplacements dotting its hull. It was a fearsome image.

"A Yagdagron Dreadnought," Malgaunt said as the ship drew closer. Everyone, save Malgaunt and Stargrave, looked at it in awe. "It’s powerful enough to go toe to toe with a Juraian main battleship and win. Regrettably, the Yagdagron have only managed to make five of them to date. Or perhaps that’s fortunate, since if they had more, they wouldn’t need us."

"Recognition code sent and confirmed. They say they are ready for the transfer," Sa’bre’s communication’s man said.

Stargrave rose from his chair and raised his fists in triumph. "This is it! The end of the thrice-damned Jurai Empire is at hand! Within a month it will be nothing more than a footnote in the history books and it will all be in thanks to me!" He continued laughing as the dreadnought drew ever closer.

"Indeed," Malgaunt agreed in more quiet, yet just as intense, tones that somehow matched Stargrave’s emotional outburst. "Nothing can stop us now. Nothing."

A movement out of the corner of her eye caught Funuyaki’s attention. It was a small gesture, that no one save herself seemed to have caught. The thing the others called Autolycus had done something very peculiar, at least to Funuyaki’s eye, for the creature had not reacted to either its captain’s or Malgaunt’s declarations. Instead it seemed to be looking off in the distance, it’s eyes unfocused until a moment ago, when it did the thing that caught Funuyaki’s attention, and somehow, Funuyaki knew it had not been prompted because of either of the speeches.

Autolycus gave a satisfied smile.

And then a warning klaxon sounded as one of the crewmen announced, "Ship coming out of hyperspace directly in-between the suns. Sensors have identified it as a standard Galaxy Police space cruiser and its heading directly towards our position."


To be continued.

Author's notes: Special thanks to Kara Ohki and L. Ang for looking this over

Bonus points if you actually can spot what the some of the obscure references and figures that were named in some of the jokes, like Keyser Soze, and such.

Chapter 4
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