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Chapter 6

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

Adamantine, even after plummeting through many miles of atmosphere fast enough to glow as brightly as a miniature sun, can still look really shiny after it lands.

Mihoshi liked shiny objects.

That was one of the reasons she enjoyed visiting Washuuís laboratory so often. There were lots of neat, shiny objects there, as well as buttons to push, machines to examine, and, of course, there were the delightful conversations she had with Washuu (when said red-haired scientist was not agitated about something, which seemed to happen a lot of the time.) Mihoshi did realize that sometimes Washuu would accidentally put things at the entryway to the lab that would prevent people from getting in, but Mihoshi was always helpful and removed those things so that others, like Mihoshi, could get in anyway. After all, everyone knew Washuu loved company, and Mihoshi was always eager to help her friends.

And now Mihoshi found herself stranded on a far-off planet, in the middle of who knew where, confronted with a bright, shiny object of unknown origin.

Things were looking up for Mihoshi.

On a personal level, Tenchi was fairly ambivalent about bright, shiny objects. However, he became concerned when he saw the eager gleam in Mihoshiís eyes as she approached the large, and very shiny, sphere. "Do you have any idea of what that thing is?"

"Not really." Mihoshi ran her hand delicately over the silver surface of the orb. It was cool to the touch. Any residual heat from what had obviously been an orbital crash had long since dissipated into the air.

Visions of an angry Washuu cursing existence because of Mihoshiís meddling washed over Tenchi. It was time to take preventive measures for possible future problems. "Should you really be fooling around with that if you donít know anything about it?"

"How can we learn anything about it if we donít examine it?" Mihoshi countered.

It was a surprisingly good point on Mihoshiís part. Tenchi wasnít sure if that was a good sign or bad. Life had taught him that it was best not to take unnecessary chances, like trying to see just how hot a flame was by sticking your hand in it, or going into a cave your grandfather told you not to go into, or going off a plotted hyperspace course. Who knew what calamity might strike? No. Taking unnecessary chances was a bad thing, largely because Tenchi knew he would be forced to take necessary chances at some point in his life — probably soon, knowing his luck — and didnít need the added pressure created by unnecessary ones.

Desperate to come up with something that would delay Mihoshiís investigation of the object, Tenchi said, "Why donít we take it back to the ship? Then we can examine it at our leisure." A delaying tactic, nothing more, but it was the best he could come up with on the spur of the moment. It was not that he was inherently fearful; he was just cautious when the situation seemed to demand it. And with the way things had gone on this vacation so far, the less they did, the better.

Mihoshi considered his advice. "Okay. Letís load it onto the anti-grav sled and take it with us."

The duo maneuvered the hoverbike over to the sphere. A pair of rods that made up the majority of the anti-grav sled were extended from the rear of the hoverbike and positioned as close to the bottom of the sphere as possible. The orb was partially embedded into the ground, but Tenchi estimated it to be no more than six inches, assuming the object was a perfect sphere with no odd attachments located at the bottom and buried under the earth. The field generated by the sled should have been sufficient to defy the planetís gravity and pull the sphere from out of the ground, unless the object was over the sledís two-ton weight limit. Deciding that nothing ventured meant nothing gained, Mihoshi turned on the power.

For a moment, it appeared that the sphere was not going to move, but in a sudden tearing of dirt and stone, the orb lifted up from its earthen grasp, chunks of ground falling away from it as it was hoisted into the air. It floated in midair between the two rods, which accommodated the wide object by pivoting outward and projecting the field along their length.

With that taken care of, the pair mounted the hoverbike once more. This time Tenchi made certain to walk Mihoshi through the instructions on how to start and pilot the vehicle. As he told his companion, "Riding a high-speed, terror-filled, out-of-control hoverbike might have been fun, but you have to watch out lest you get too much of a good thing."

Under Tenchiís careful supervision, the two of them set off. The anti-grav sled worked perfectly as they began their trek across the hill and onward with their cargo trailing behind. By necessity, their speed was much slower due to the weight and mass of the sphere they were transporting. It made the handling of the hoverbikeís controls much more difficult, though Mihoshi seemed to be able to pilot with the load just fine.

They had been traveling for about five minutes when Mihoshi said, "Tenchi, which direction is the ship in?"

It was only because they were traveling a dozen feet off the ground that kept Tenchi from facefaulting.

A quick movement to the left caught Malgauntís eye. It was Stargrave, who had gone from sitting on a piece of ruined machinery to standing bolt upright, as though something sharp had been driven into his bottom. Malgauntís own heart quickened a beat as he took note of the concern on Stargraveís face. A closer examination revealed that the object of the pirateís anxiety was the locator that was held in his palm. "What is it? Whatís happened?"

Stargraveís voice held a hint of dread. "The Shihana is moving."

That was something of a disappointment. Malgaunt considered berating Saíbre, but thought better of it. Tensions were running high enough as it was. Instead, he chose to appear relaxed as he idly scratched his chin. "Odd. I didnít think Fera would have gotten to it by now, even flying as wildly as she usually does. Why would its moving bother you, anyway?"

Stargraveís hand trembled slightly as he tightened his grip on the locator. "Because itís not moving towards us. Itís moving away."

Saíbre Stargrave was not the only one to notice the movement. Flying directly towards the blip indicated on her own locator, Fera realized that the distance between her and the target was closing at a slightly slower pace than before, and she hadnít slowed down. She stopped, hovering over a small patch of yellow grass as she paused a moment to double-check the locator. It was as she had feared. There could be no question now that the Shihana was moving, and Fera doubted it was advancing under its own power.

But that was a good thing, at least to her, for it meant she had received a sign. It was most likely that the Almighty was smiling upon her and was showing the way to her heartís desires. It was just like the tales her people spoke of; Fate was now traveling at her side and guiding her along the Illustrious Path. What was to come was going to be glorious.

"Iím sorry I wasnít paying closer attention to where we were going." Mihoshi began bawling again for the second time in less than five minutes.

Tenchi would have covered his ears, save that his previous flight with Mihoshi had convinced him that not holding onto her while they were cruising along on a hoverbike would be a bad thing. "I already told you not to worry about it. Weíll figure out where it was… eventually. In the meantime, please stop crying."

There was another whiny sob. "But I should have been paying attention to where I was going."

"You were too busy trying to get the bike back under control."

Among doing other things at the time. Mihoshi remembered her behavior during the ride and blushed, her tears quickly drying up, much to Tenchiís relief. "Okay," Mihoshi said. "I think maybe we were originally pointed with the suns to our left. And since it hasnít been that long since we first took off, maybe if we put them on our right, weíll eventually end up back the way we came."

Having no better plan of his own, Tenchi agreed. Mihoshi adjusted their course slightly and headed more to the north than to the east. At first, Tenchi thought they might have been going in the right direction because the terrain that flowed beneath them became more grass-covered and less rocky. But that soon changed as the grass began to thin out once more and the region became more hilly and rough. After a dozen kilometers or so, tall spires could be seen in the distance. As they drew closer, Tenchi was able to make out what the odd geographical features were.

Long spires of narrow rock protruded from the ground. They were long, slender things of various heights that reached upwards and to the sky. All of them were a wide variety of shades from gray to black, and most of them appeared to be a hundred feet tall, if not higher. Most of them seemed to be somewhat similar in shape, with many of the stone pillars being flat or rounded on the top. They were sharpened, almost as though they were upside down stakes. The effect was very impressive to Tenchi. There was nothing on Earth that could compare to the wonder of the sight. It was like a gigantic forest of stone.

"Have you ever seen anything like this before?" he asked Mihoshi, a hint of awe in his voice.

She shook her head. "Nope. Itís kind of pretty, in a way." Mihoshi slowed down and allowed Tenchi to think about the situation for a moment.

Tenchiís hand found its way to his jaw as he began to think. Subconsciously, he changed his posture and appearance so that it became similar to that of his grandfather when the older man was deep in thought. "Well, I know we didnít come through here before. We must have gone in the wrong direction. Letís head east. Maybe we skirted the edge of this, whatever it is, on our way out here."

Mihoshi complied and pointed the nose of the bike away from the forest of stone.

The beeps from the locator were coming closer together. They were now coming so fast that Fera no longer bothered to look at the viewscreen of the device. She was almost on top of her prey, and with any luck, the showdown would begin soon. It was going to be a glorious day.

Anyone seeing Fera would have felt their heart quicken as the smile the Katasan wore stretched so far across her face that over three quarters of her sharp teeth were clearly visible. And if that were not enough, anyone that noticed the wild look on her eyes would have become even more unnerved. And if the person that noticed these things was familiar at all with Katasans, they would have headed as far away as they could, since such expressions on the felinoid beings usually meant they were about to do something so incredibly dangerous that the likelihood of death, along with a good bit of collateral damage, was imminent. And that the Katasan was happy about that little fact.

When the beeping became nearly a constant pitch, Fera slowed down and began to visually scan the horizon. It wouldnít do to walk right into a possible trap. She used all of her skills to look for ambush points and spotted several possibilities. She skirted them as widely as she could, lying low behind a row of hillocks and matching speeds with the blip that was continuing to move towards the east. Once her prey had traveled about a kilometer at that rate, Fera chose that moment to burst up and close the remaining distance to gain the element of surprise on her foe.

As Fera broke over the hill, she gunned her engine and charged, not allowing any possible ambushers a chance to get a steady aim on her. After a moment, she saw that there was no need for concern; the area was clear. She immediately spotted her prey, straddling a hoverbike and with someone in the passengerís seat, dragging the Shihana behind it.

A complex mixture of joy and anticipation flooded Fera. She had the drop on the prey, and since her opponent still had her back to her, Fera would have all the time in the world to aim the fixed laser on the front of her vehicle and blast Mihoshi. Of course, simply sneaking up and shooting such a worthy foe in the back while she was carrying a heavy burden that prevented her from dodging would have been a safe, smart, and ultimately dissatisfying resolution to their conflict. No. Another course of action would have to be taken, and as long as Fera had the drop on her, Mihoshi would have no other course but to comply with her demands.

Fera slowed down and aimed for a target in front of her.

"Maybe we should go farther north," Mihoshi offered.

"That would take us back into those stones," Tenchi pointed out.

"Oh, right." Mihoshi was still in the process of trying to figure out which way to go, and was coming up with north again, when a laser bolt went several meters past her on the right. Her head jerked in the direction it had gone, then she looked behind her. "Tenchi! What do you think youíre doing?!"

Tenchi went from looking in the direction the beam had originated from to staring at Mihoshi in surprise. "That wasnít me! It was that thing on the bike!" He pointed over his shoulder at the rapidly approaching hoverbike.

Mihoshiís eyes widened as well. Her mind began processing the information. There was a Katasan on a hoverbike coming up behind her. It had at least one medium powered laser, judging by the size of the bolt that had been fired at her. Since the Katasan had fired said laser at her, and made no effort to apologize, that meant it was probably not very nice, as well as its behavior being downright illegal. Curiously, it had not fired a second time, although that might have been simply because it was waiting to get closer so it could get a more accurate shot. At the moment, it was positioned directly behind Mihoshiís hoverbike, giving the Katasan an ideal kill position on her. Mihoshiís own bike was too weighted down between Tenchi and the sphere she was carrying to come close to matching the maneuverability of the Katasan.

Oh, yes. And her outfit was beginning to ride up her backside, making her feel very uncomfortable. That was very bad, too. Mihoshi absolutely hated wedgies.

With all of the pertinent information in, a plan of action was laid out. Taking care of the wedgie would have to wait; she needed to get rid of her extra weight and draw the Katasan away from Tenchi. She hit a button that detached the anti-grav sled from the rear of her bike. Once that fell free, there was only one more thing she needed to get rid of.

"Iíll be sure to pick you up later, Tenchi."

"What are you talking abWAOW!" Tenchi found himself pushed off the bike, dropping the ten feet below like a rock and landing on his backside.

As he stood up and reoriented himself, he saw Mihoshi increase the speed of her bike and arc quickly to the left. "What do you think youírAGH!" Tenchi reflexively ducked as Fera flew directly over him, nearly taking the top of his head off with the undercarriage of her hovercycle. Once he was sure she wasnít going to come around again, he dared to look back up in the sky. He saw that the alien had opened up with her laser on Mihoshi, who was dodging and weaving at incredible speeds that required an unbelievable amount of skill, yet was barely keeping ahead of the blasts. The dogfight drew farther and farther away from his position on the ground.

"Damn it!" Tenchi hammered his fist into the unyielding adamantine of the orb, frustrated that he was helpless once again while his and Mihoshiís lives were in jeopardy. He had the Master Key, and sometimes he could even summon the light hawk wings, but again and again he had been rendered ineffective despite those things. That was going to change. It had to change.

"Be careful, Mihoshi," he said under his breath as both of the duelistsí hoverbikes dwindled in size as their aerial duel continued to take them farther away from where Tenchi had been left behind.

Another laser blast went right over Mihoshiís head, nearly singeing the top of her hair. She shouted at the top of her lungs, "The penalty for assaulting a Galaxy Police officer is five years in an intergalactic prison!"

Another blast went over her head.

"Attempted murder is another fifteen!"

The next blast went wide to the left.

"And youíre speeding, too!"

A blast caromed off the rear, nicking part of the carriage but doing no significant damage.

"I donít think youíre listening to me!"

Another blast answered her again.

That was enough. The female Katasan (Fera had gotten close enough for Mihoshi to determine her sex) was unappreciative of the laws she was breaking, and in showing that kind of disregard, Mihoshi felt compelled to take drastic measures to stop her.

Another blast nicked off the front of the hoverbike.

Of course, that was assuming Mihoshi first came up with some kind of drastic measure that would bring the offender down and into custody, which was obviously becoming more difficult by the second. For one thing, her opponent had the advantage of being in the rear position, and all of the dodging and weaving Mihoshi had done had failed to bring her closer than fifteen meters to Fera. The Katasan was incredibly skilled, and Mihoshi, well, Mihoshi had taken the required courses and qualified at the academy to pilot hovercycles, but that had been a long while ago, and she had not really driven one since. Certainly never at high speeds like this, except for her final test in qualifying for her hoverbike license. She whimpered slightly as no solutions were coming to her on how to resolve the situation. And the laser blasts were getting closer all the time

Fera grinned savagely as she sensed the flight was about to end. Mihoshi had proven herself to be a most skilled pilot. Even with the Katasan having the kill position and what was obviously a superior vehicle, Mihoshi had evaded death for a good five minutes. Surely bringing down the officer was a feat that would be high on the lists for final judgment.

A wetness filled Feraís mouth as she began to salivate, eager to finish the race as she lined Mihoshi up in her sights again. There was no way she could dodge the next series of blasts. No way.

Another blast scorched the left side of the bike; a more telling blow this time as it blasted the footrest completely off, as well as taking most of the sole off Mihoshiís boot. Without the support, her leg suddenly slipped downward, throwing the balance off the bike and causing it to lurch towards one side. As the bike twisted to the left, Mihoshi jerked the handlebars that way as well. The violent pull was so sudden that she accidentally dodged the tight three-shot burst that Fera had placed at where Mihoshi should have flown to, had she not jerked on the controls so suddenly.

That Mihoshi had evaded certain destruction was a cause for relief. That in doing so she ended up pulling into the forest of tall stone spires at an incredibly dangerous speed was decidedly not a cause for relief. Mihoshi confirmed this as she, with a great deal of difficulty, managed to balance out her bike, then became aware of her surroundings just in time to pull to the right and miss the twelve-foot-wide pillar of stone that she nearly crashed into at a speed in excess of two hundred kilometers per hour.

Fera paused for only the briefest of moments as she witnessed Mihoshi commit to a course that was almost certain suicide unless she slowed down. The pillars of stone that would have seemed far away to someone on the ground were too close together when one was flying among them at the speeds Mihoshi was going, and smashing into one would be certain death. Continuing to dodge laser blasts had a much higher chance of survival. Only a desperate fool would risk their lives in such a careless manner.

Feraís grin increased as she followed Mihoshi into the stone forest and continued her pursuit.

Mihoshi was screaming wildly as, more by reflex than by design, she wove back and forth, darting in and out of the rocky protrusions and trying to keep from ending up crashing into some huge pillar of stone. She would have escaped the forest of rock and taken her chances with Fera continuing to blast at her, really. But by the time she had realized exactly where she was, Mihoshi had completely lost her bearings and had no idea on how to exit the forest. At the moment, the spacing between the pillars was enough that she could react to them in time and keep from ending up splattered across the landscape, but to her it seemed to get harder to dodge as she continued to fly. She chose to go to the left, while keeping from impacting with the shafts that seemed to be getting closer to each other by the moment.

It had taken Fera a full minute to catch up to Mihoshi. The course the blonde was using in order to get through the stone obstacle course was difficult and arduous, pressing Fera and taking her skills to the limit. Truly the human had the soul of a Katasan somewhere in her. That could be the only explanation for the daring and talents she was displaying in her flight for freedom. Mihoshi was magnificence personified, but as with all good chases, the end had to come. As Fera followed the increasingly difficult path Mihoshi was taking, she targeted her laser on the prey once more. Fera was certain she had the back of Mihoshiís bike right in her sights…

And then Mihoshi jagged hard to the left and headed in that direction.

"Sheís unbelievable," Fera said with admiration under her breath. Even from where she was, Fera could see that the towers of stone were three times as thick towards that direction. At least Mihoshi was going to have to slow down to keep from plowing into one of the rocks. That would give Fera a better chance to get a clear shot off, at least.

However, much to Feraís surprise, Mihoshiís speed did not slacken at all. Instead it remained the same, despite the increasing number of obstacles before both the officer and the Katasan. She was insane. Even most Katasans would not be crazy enough to try piloting through an obstacle course at those kinds of speeds. They would at least slow down so that they stood at least a chance, no matter how slim, of survival.

Of course, Fera prided herself on being superior to most of her race. She focused her concentration and tried to follow, laser blazing. They were committed on their course of action now. Only one of them would leave the towers of stone alive. If that.

"Why canít I remember which oneís the speed control?!" Mihoshi wailed as she sailed under a half-fallen stone that lay horizontally across her path. She flew close enough to it that she felt the stone brush against her hair. That had been far too close.

It was terrible. Mihoshi had had no idea that the pillars would be so much thicker in this direction, and she would surely have slowed down to keep from running into one and ruining her bike. And herself too, for that matter. But if she couldnít figure out how to slow down, she knew for certain she was going to die.

It wasnít fair. There were still so many things she had wanted to do. Like become a Galaxy Police officer. No. Wait. She had become one. Well, she wanted to see the brilliant displays of auroras around Praxian Took during its winter solstice. No. Wait. She had done that last year. There was that exotic Yourgina delicacy, Phlegm Bistrol, that she had always wanted to try, since it was supposed to be one of the best tasting foods in the galaxy. No. She had done that on the day she had graduated from the Academy.

"Say, Iíve led a pretty fulfilling life," Mihoshi said to herself as she crossed between two pillars that had only six meters of distance between them.

Her mind wandered slightly. What was the one thing she hadnít done that she really wanted to do? There had to be something. Her mind raced almost as quickly as the laser blasts that began to lash around her once again. What was it she wanted to do? It was almost on the tip of her tongue.

Vacation with Tenchi. That was it. She wanted to go on vacation with Tenchi a whole, whole lot. But now she was going to die here and never get the chance. Oh, what woe and misery. Life was just too cruel sometimes.

With that taken care of, Mihoshi went back to panicking and trying to keep herself from wrecking.

A laser blast struck a nearby black stone pillar, darker than the others, shattering it and sending shards of rock at Mihoshi. A sharp one cut across the top of her scalp, opening a cut and sending a trickle of blood into her eye. She took her hand off the handlebar for a split second and wiped her forehead clean. It was only a matter of time before either a laser blast or stone claimed her life. The forest of rock appeared to be without an end, and the Katasanís blasts were getting progressively closer. And at the speed Mihoshi was going at, well, even her luck was bound to run out. If only she could pilot the hoverbike better, but her level of skill at it had never been that great.

Now, if instead of a real life hoverbike it had been that cool video game she had been playing last month, ĎRidiculously Suicidal Crash Racer II: Hyper Edition,í that would have been fun, as well as easier. In it, you had to keep from getting blasted by people shooting at you from behind while navigating through a series of obstacle courses, which was sort of like what she was doing now. And she had been really good at it, too. She had beaten the game at its highest setting within a couple of dayís time, which had made Ryouko really angry since she had been playing it for a month and still hadnít come close to beating the game. When Ryouko had tried playing Mihoshi head to head, she ended up getting very angry and destroyed the game unit, which had made Mihoshi really sad. Every time Ryouko lost, Mihoshi had kept reassuring her that she was certain the pirate would get better at it and win. After all, how many people could lose one hundred and twenty-six consecutive times and never come close to winning? Ryouko would probably have won the next game if she hadnít destroyed the unit.

Too bad flying the hoverbike through the forest of stone couldnít have been as much fun. True, there was a level on the game that was similar to this one; the game even had a playing control set up similar to her own hoverbike. Actually, except for the fact that Mihoshi remembered where the speed control on the game was, they were practically identical. And flying and avoiding obstacles and laser blasts in the game was easy. Why, all one needed to do in the game to avoid a rocky outcropping with a huge pillar lying across it on the left, like the one that she was approaching, was to cut really hard to the right while weaving in-between the two to keep from being splattered everywhere. To prove her point, Mihoshi did exactly that, just as if she were playing the game. It was easy to navigate, and she mentally tallied a score of five thousand for the difficulty of the maneuver.

It really was a shame real life wasnít like a video game.

Fera gaped in open astonishment as Mihoshi did an unbelievably difficult maneuver between a rocky outcropping and a huge pillar lying across the left. When Fera tried the same thing, she came so close to the pillar that it nicked her ear. It was impossible! How could a mere human learn to fly with such skill and at such speeds? And even more impossible was that Mihoshiís aerial skills had seemed to improve three-fold for no apparent reason.

But as vexing as it was to Fera, still she felt her blood begin to sing in response to the race. This was life in its purest form. Two opponents racing with death right behind them, nipping at their heels as it waited for someone to miss that crucial turn or go up instead of down and end up broken across the land. It was what all Katasans were born for, and what they all ultimately craved.

And suddenly, without explanation, a peace settled over Fera. It was unlike anything she had ever experienced in her entire life. It was such a shock that it nearly caused her to wreck. The craving for speed, for taking chances, for the rush of adrenaline as she risked her life, was no longer there. It simply vanished. Instead, it had been replaced by a placid calmness that, much to her amazement, she found she liked. Her mind and body became one: a perfect synthesis between thought and motion. Her movements flowed effortlessly from one to the next as she continued to trail behind Mihoshi. It took her a moment to recall that she had heard of this sensation spoken in soft whispers in the stories of her people. It was the perfection of speed; she had become one with herself. At that moment, she was the very best that she could possibly be and to feel anything less would leave a void in her soul that would forever plague her thoughts until she could feel that wholeness once more.

It was time for the race to end, for one competitor or the other.

There was no one to witness the duel being raised to another level. Engines roared louder and echoed over the landscape as the two vehicles raced through the ever-increasing number of spires. A greater number of the tall stones had fallen over, making the course even more difficult, but neither rider acknowledged the change as they maintained their blinding speeds and continued darting in-between the obstacles in their paths, the slightest misstep meaning death.

For how long the race continued, neither would ever be able to say. Both Fera and Mihoshi were too lost in their own thoughts to take heed of time. But, as with all things, the inevitable happened. The end of the race arrived in the form of a series of three pillars, ten meters at the most separating one from the others. Mihoshi recognized it as being very similar to the fourth from last obstacle in the final level of the game. She wove in and out of all three, her bike nearly throwing her as she went in at a sharp angle and bounced slightly off the side of the last pillar. Sparks flew as the bike rebounded from the impact, but Mihoshi regained control in time to avoid a fourth rocky protrusion that was just beyond the final pillar.

Fera attempted the same turn, but struck the final pillar, not hitting it at the slight angle Mihoshi had. Rather than deflecting off the rock, she hit much harder, her hoverbike still very much out of control as it headed towards the rocky protrusion that Mihoshi had just missed. In spite of being out of control, Fera almost made it over the top of the slate gray rock, but the lower third of the bike caught the edge of the obstruction and struck hard. As the laws of inertia dictated, Fera continued onward as she was ripped off the bike and went flying over the rock and over to the ground beyond it.

As Feraís body went sailing through the air, there was a moment of epiphany as she at last understood what that feeling of joining between mind and body, the peace that had settled over her, had been; it was the hand of the Great Maker allowing her a brief taste of what paradise would be like. And now she also understood that she was going to know that feeling forever as her body went skidding across the uneven rocky surface at just under a hundred kilometers an hour.

Mihoshi was still lamenting about how much easier it would have been to travel through the stone forest if it were a video game, and mentally tallied her score at two hundred and fifty seven thousand, when the sound of a small explosion from behind caught her attention. She took her eyes off her path for the briefest of moments and just caught the small plume of smoke that began to rise up in the air from somewhere behind her. Once Mihoshi realized she was no longer being pursued (the lack of laser blasts was the giveaway), she figured out what had happened and began a circuitous route to circle back around.

As Mihoshi approached the smoke, she finally remembered how to stop the hoverbike again. She waited until she drew near enough to spot a sprawled out form, lying on the ground, near the fire, before she hit the emergency brake and flipped the switch all the way to the down position.

And once again dropped like a rock into the ground.

"Ouch," Mihoshi moaned as she got up off the bike, rubbing her sore behind. Cut the power off slowly, she reminded herself. Next time she would remember for sure. But now she had other more important things to do. She was in unknown territory, far from any back up, and had been shot at by at least one individual. Who knew how many others might be right behind her? The situation was tense. The situation was dangerous. The situation called for one clear course of action.

Mihoshi picked the wedgie out of her bottom.

"Ah," Mihoshi sighed. That was much better. It had ridden up even higher during the course of her flight and had been driving her crazy.

Once that had been taken care of, she went back to her other duties. She drew her sidearm and approached the sprawled out figure of Fera, who remained motionless on the ground. As Mihoshi drew near, she managed to get a good look at Fera and cringed at the sight. She lowered her pistol. She wasnít going to be arresting the Katasan. With the numerous and grievous injuries the furry alien had received when she had skidded across the merciless, rocky ground, she would be lucky if she survived for five more minutes.

The image of Feraís dying form burned into Mihoshiís mind. It had not been the first time she had to deal with death in the line of duty. It had not been the first time she had watched someone die slowly. But dealing with it never got any easier. Never.

Fera looked up through the pain and saw Mihoshi standing over her. In spite of the overwhelming agony that shot through her form, she managed to smile, though with her muzzle covered in blood it looked more like a grimace of agony.

"Iím sorry," Mihoshi said, emotion filling her voice. "But you were trying to kill me. It was my duty to resist and try to arrest you."

An apology? That was a surprise. "No need," Fera rasped out, the tang of blood filling her mouth and dribbling out the side. "Could not… ask for better death. Make… life worth living. Touch…. paradise. Want to go there… now. Will now, thanks to… you. Have given me… gift… greatest gift. I give one in… return."


That seemed really strange to Mihoshi. No one that was in the process of dying after having tried to kill her had ever offered her a gift. "What is it?"

It took Fera a moment to summon enough strength to answer. The end was near; she could feel the dark tendrils of the forever night threaten to claim her, but she felt honor bound to assist the one who had helped give her the perfect ending to her life. "Youíve been betrayed. Three… officers of your GP. Onita…" It was getting harder to breathe. She coughed up some blood, and took even longer to say the second name. "Funuyaki." She felt her strength threaten to leave her; it was getting dark and was nearly impossible to speak. It was just too…

Mihoshi watched as Fera gave out a powerful rasp, and her chest stopped moving. That always seemed to happen to her. A suspect she was investigating would be fatally shot and dying slowly. She would get to their side and ask what had happened. They would be about to give her some crucial bit of knowledge, and then they died right before giving her the most important part of the information.

But this time was slightly different. The Katasan had managed to not only tell her that there were three officers, but actually had given out two of the names. Funuyaki she was not familiar with. However, she did know two different Onitas on the force. She had worked with one of them a couple of years back on an undercover assignment. Could he have been the one? And who was the third traitor?

Mihoshi half turned away from Fera; the idea that the Katasan might have been lying never crossing her mind. She tried to consider the full ramifications of a betrayal in the Galaxy Police. As with all organizations the size of the Galaxy Police, there was some corruption in the ranks, though it was thankfully small due to good training and internal security. If it was just limited to three officers, that wouldnít be so bad. And the officers that Fera had accused were not that high up in the organization, or Mihoshi would have recognized them for sure. But that still left the problem of whom the third one was. Oh well, she was probably worrying unnecessarily. How high up could the third one be?

"Mal…gaunt," Feraís voice drifted through the air,

Mihoshi was just barely able to make it out, but it was enough. Her reaction was instantaneous, and she was at Feraís side in a heartbeat. "Did you say Malgaunt? As in Marshal Malgaunt?"

Feraís unblinking gaze was the only answer she still held for Mihoshi. This time the Galaxy Police officer made certain the felinoid was dead, rather than assuming it as she had before. Unfortunately, as she had feared, this time it was final. And Mihoshi made very certain of it. Perhaps waiting until rigor mortis set in was a bit too cautious, but she didnít want to take any chances. After all, some alien races, like the Hedghogans, could play dead for hours if they felt so inclined. Nothing but the most rigorous of medical scans would show that they were actually alive. Curiously, they had a high rate of employment at insurance companies, mostly in the claims departments.

Once convinced Fera was truly gone, Mihoshi started up her hovercycle. It gave a groan of protest, slowly raised itself off the ground, than began sputtering as it began its flight back to Tenchi.

One sun had set and the second was beginning to make its way towards the horizon and still Mihoshi had not returned. Tenchi grew increasingly concerned about her absence by the second. Something must have happened to her. Part of him feared that the furry alien woman had somehow managed to hurt her, but the fact that the enemy creature had not returned implied something might have happened to her as well.

A thousand different possible scenarios of doom ran through his mind. Whenever he had encountered a problem in the past, some terribly dangerous foe, there had always been someone else there to help give support. But this time he was alone. Ryouko, Aeka, Washuu, even Ryo-Ohki, none could help him now. It was all up to him to save the day; only he wasnít sure how to go about it this time. Mihoshi had sped out of sight within seconds. There was no way he could catch up to her on foot. Worse, if he left the big metal orb, there was a good chance that once Mihoshi returned, she wouldnít be able to find him if he wandered off. Remaining where he was would be the only way she could find him once again.

But he didnít have to like it.

About the only thing Tenchi had going for him was that the voice in his head had quieted down. Actually, that little bit of disorientation he had felt since the crash had seemed to disappear as well. He had probably had a concussion. That was where the voice had come from. It was just the effect from having his head rammed into hard objects several times over a very brief period of time. And now that he had recovered, he wouldnít have to hear it ever again.

As Tenchi rose to his feet, he tripped over a rock and landed face first into the unyielding ground.

[Yeah, right. Like youíll ever be rid of me.]

Tenchiís sobbing was all that broke the silence of the land.

Once he was over the brief period of sorrow, Tenchi forced himself to relax. The voice would go away in time, just as soon as he got some medical treatment for his head. In the meantime, since he was stuck there alone, he would put his time to good to use and examine the metal object again. And once Mihoshi got back (and she would be coming back any minute now), he could tell her what he had discovered, and she would be able to identify the object at last.

The more Tenchi thought about it, the more it seemed to him that the sphere was something very important, and perhaps what the furry woman had really been after. Anything that was made durable enough to withstand orbital reentry without a mark on it had to contain something valuable. The only two possible ships it could have belonged to were either that big one or that one full of criminals that Yukinojo had identified right before the shooting had begun. In any case, they had to keep it out of anyone elseís hands until the authorities arrived and they could deal with the matter.

Tenchi was still in the process of examining the large metal ball, discovering nothing important about it, when he heard the spluttering of an engine. He looked in the direction the noise came from and beheld a sight that made his heart jump into his throat.

"Mihoshi!" Tenchi waved wildly back and forth at the approaching hoverbike, making certain she saw him. He watched as she waved back, almost losing her grip on the bike and falling off. After she awkwardly regained her balance, nearly wrecking the bike in the process, she continued towards him. Soon she was close enough that Tenchi could make out the smile that was plastered on her features.

A wave of calm settled over him. Mihoshi was all right, thankfully. He doubted that even she had the ability to be so exuberant if she had been wounded. Her bike looked like it had been shot up and then rammed into something at top speed, but that was nothing. As long as Mihoshi was okay, that was all that really mattered. At last he was able to calm down for the first time since she had left, and was surprised by the depths of emotions he had felt about her safe return.

Mihoshi was hovering no more than twenty feet away from him when she slowed down. Tenchi hoped she would remember to turn the power off switch —


— slowly.

Once the stars stopped floating around Mihoshiís head, she realized her mistake and chided herself. But that couldnít bring her down. At last she was reunited with Tenchi, and she wanted to ask his opinion on some of the things she had learned from Fera. She got up off the bike, handlebars in hand, and headed towards Tenchi. He always had good ideas. Heíd be able figure out what they should do concerning traitors in the Gal…

Handlebars in hand?

Mihoshi looked down at the part of the hoverbike that was currently residing in her hands. A part that was not supposed to be detachable. Panicked, she rushed back to the bike and tried pushing the handlebars back into the slot that they belonged. They fit back in and seemed to be secure. She twisted them back and forth a few times just to be sure. Again, they held in place.

"Wow!" She wiped a hand across her brow to remove the sweat that had formed there. That had been close.

And then the front end of the hoverbike detached itself from the rest of the body, falling to the ground with a thud.

It took Tenchi nearly five minutes to calm Mihoshi down. He assured her repeatedly that it had not been her fault that their only mode of transportation had broken down and that they were now stranded in the middle of nowhere. Eventually she seemed to accept that, and calmed down enough to tell him what she had learned.

Tenchi was uncertain what to make of the information. His gut told him it was probably the truth; there didnít seem to be any reason as to why the alien would have lied about that sort of thing since it could be disproved easily enough. If there were traitors in the Galaxy Police, that also meant that any rescues from them would have to be suspect. It was hardly impossible to consider that there might even have been more than just those three involved in whatever conspiracy had taken place. At least they knew the names of the three traitors and could contact the proper authorities as to their actions.

There was something else to consider as well. Tenchi had his doubts about the Katasan coming alone. If it had, why had it not threatened them in the ship she had come in instead of running them down from a hoverbike? Most likely she had friends, and, given time, they would probably show up before too long. Realistically, they needed to leave the area as soon as possible.

Aside from those considerations, one very important fact was clear to him. "We need to keep whatever that thing is out of their hands." He pointed at the adamantine container. "I just donít know how weíre going to protect it, though. I mean, weíre stationary and out in the open. I also donít see a lot of things that look like we could eat, and you donít have more than a couple of dayís rations on you. Too bad itís too big to move."

Mihoshi held up her hand and made "Oh, oh," sounds.

Tenchi allowed a soft sigh to escape his lips. "Mihoshi, you can just say whatís on your mind. This isnít a classroom, and Iím not Washuu."

"Right," Mihoshi answered. "I might be able to slave the hoverbikeís powercore to the antigrav web. That way we could move the big shiny orb and take it with us."

It sounded better than standing still. Tenchi helped Mihoshi remove the core and hook it up to the sled. It took a great deal of hammering with the small tool kit from the hoverbike, but eventually they managed to create a makeshift rig to support the core and the sled. It was not very aesthetically appealing, but it functioned properly, and considering the way their luck had been going, that was more than satisfactory.

By the time they had finished, night had fallen. Part of Tenchi wanted to put some distance from where they were now, but realistically it was too late to try to set off in any direction, and both of them felt exhausted from their ordeal. In less than twenty four hours they had been shot down, crash-landed on an uninhabited world, lost their ship, had gone on a wild ride over the planetís surface, were now completely lost, and had been shot at by a large cat on a fast bike. Even by Tenchiís standards, it had been a trying day.

They set up a small camp, bereft of fire and with only a small flashlight to provide any illumination for them. They ate a small meal of rations that had been stored with the bike. Mihoshi complained the entire time of how flat and awful the freeze-dried meals were and lamented that Sasami wasnít there to cook for them. Tenchi was forced at agree with her about both the rations and their tastelessness. But it was better than nothing.

Shortly after the second sun had fallen, the temperature dropped quickly. By Tenchiís estimation, it fell nearly twenty degrees in the first two hours, turning a pleasant day into a cold night. He was left shivering and silently cursing that they could not build a fire because it might draw attention to them. Well, that and the fact they had nothing to burn.

Tenchi did notice that Mihoshi was not reacting to the chill in the air, despite her very tight outfit. "How come youíre not cold?"

Mihoshi stared at him in confusion. It took a moment for her to figure out what he meant. "Oh, all first class detective uniforms are insulated with very resilient materials. They can keep an officer warm in temperatures down to well below zero Celsius. With an independent air supply, and some form of airtight headgear, my outfit would allow me to survive in outer space for up to an hour."

Tenchi shivered some more. "I donít suppose you have a spare."

After a moment of thought, Mihoshi said, "No. Are you cold?"

What, just because he was shivering and his teeth were chattering? "Yes."

Mihoshi considered what to do. "Well, the temperature really doesnít bother me. Nights on Mensa tend —"

"Mensa?" Tenchi interrupted.

"My homeworld," Mihoshi explained. "Anyway, nights there tend to be a bit colder than this, so Iím used to it. I know what I can do. Iíll let you wear my uniform." Mihoshi began to undo the front of her outfit, lowering the zipper enough to allow Tenchi to see all too much of the great valley between her bosoms, as well as part of the bosoms themselves.

"AH! Stop!" Tenchi held his hands out in a warding gesture. "Keep your clothes on!"

The zipper stopped halfway down. "But I thought you were cold."

[Not anymore, he ainít]

Tenchi ignored the comment. He had to come up with something. "Ah, well, itís a womanís outfit, and I donít cross-dress."

Mihoshi giggled. "Youíre right. You wouldnít look very good in womenís clothing." She zipped the uniform back up. After another brief giggle, she said. "Well, we could share body warmth then. That should help you stay a little warm."

"Share…. body…. warmth?" Tenchi felt even less cold now. Downright warm, in fact.

Mihoshi lay down on the ground, next to the bike. "Sure. Itís one of the basics taught to us in survival courses. Itís no big deal. I had to do it a couple of times with Kiyone. Like when we were stranded on one of the moons around Polgar 9. And another time when we were on a stakeout on Hoth and I forgot to bring along the heater. I could have sworn I packed it, too, but it wasnít there. Kiyone wasnít real happy about that, but she always seemed a little temperamental to me. I didnít care though. She was a great partner. I still miss her sometimes." Mihoshi sighed. "Anyway, why donít you lay down next to me, so you can get warm?" She patted the ground next to her and gave a smile bereft of any duplicity.

Tenchi gave a weak smile in return. He was cold. And they were both clothed. And it wasnít like he would be lying down with Ryouko or anything. He should be safe.

[Sheíd sure be able to keep you warm.]

Tenchi gritted his teeth. He would not shout out loud at the voice, as was his instinct. Instead, he whispered under his breath. "Would you be quiet?"

[I wonít complain if thereís nothing to complain about, get it?]

That was pretty clear, and since he wanted to get a good nightís sleep, and it was cold, and he hated the voice, and Mihoshi was a perfectly safe person to sleep with, in a non-sexual way. He would do it.

Tenchi lay down next to Mihoshi, eliciting a little squeal of delight from her. For the briefest of moments he began to reconsider, but then relaxed. He just had to quit being so uptight around the girls; all it was doing was making him tense and miserable. So he relaxed as much as he could on the hard ground, his back snuggled up to Mihoshiís back, since there was no way in hell he was going to face her as they lay down together. Mihoshi seemed content with the situation and fell into a deep, snoring slumber within a couple of minutes. Tenchi was so exhausted that he followed a minute later, despite Mihoshiís clamor.

Saíbre Stargrave sat, brooding in the darkness of the ruins of his bridge. He sat in silence, as unmoving as the red point of light on the locator that lay in his open palm. His only companion was a shadow that remained behind him, one that was as unmoving as himself, though as shadows went, it was infinitely more useful than the one Saíbre had been born with.

Night had fallen, and still the Shihana had remained as motionless as Saíbre Stargrave. Fera had left hours ago and had responded to none of the communications that had been sent to her. The only thing that now reigned on the shattered remains of the bridge of the Rack NíRuin was silence.

For how long it remained that way, Saíbre could not say. But when enough time had passed, he accepted Fate, and for one, brief moment, seized control of his bridge again.

To the shadow, he said in a soft voice, "Tell the others we move out at first light. Weíre going to recover the Shihana ourselves."

Without a word, Ariana moved from her position behind Stargrave and departed through the hole on the bridge.

And silence reigned supreme once again.


To be continued.

Chapter 7
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