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Chapter 8

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

"Weíre almost on top of it."

Malgauntís whisper carried on the wind just into Funuyakiís hearing. The marshal-turned-potential-revolutionary wasnít quite correct about that. It was she and Ariana that were almost on top of it. They were the ones that had taken the point and would encounter the Shihana first. And the only reason it was not Ariana alone was because Malgaunt had insisted Funuyaki go along to accompany her. The look the taller woman had shot Funuyaki told all she needed to know about the enforcerís feelings concerning their shared responsibilities.

The duo, ahead of the others by nearly thirty feet, crouched low and ran as fast as they could and ducked behind a pile of rocks that littered the pass through the mountains. There was virtually no cover in the rocky terrain, and if the Shihana was as close as Malgaunt believed, then it should be just on the other side of the pile of rubble.

A deep breath helped Funuyaki to calm down. She had a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. Ever since the day before, when Stargrave saw that the Shihana had stopped moving, she had felt an increasing amount of tension weigh her down as surely as if she had been carrying Onita on her back. Given her own skills in perception, she could tell she was not the only one. Initially, everyone — save Funuyaki and Autolycus — had been delighted when the Shihana had stopped around the time Pupei should have made contact with whomever was transporting it. When it remained stationary for more than five minutes, Stargrave actually went so far as to hug a delighted Ariana. However, the cheers became more guarded when the Shihana continued remaining where it was, not drawing any closer to them on its own, although they were moving closer to it. Stargrave assured everyone that Pupei was strong enough to carry the adamantine orb, or even roll it in order to bring it towards them, but he did not. Instead, it remained exactly where it was. After a couple of hours of non-movement, a sort of uneasiness settled over everyone, and the pace of their march increased. A heavy rain began that night when they camped among a small cluster of trees and had continued on through the night and into the next day when they started their journey again.

And now they found themselves nearly on top of where the Shihana should have been. Ariana had been assigned the task of scouting forward. Funuyaki had been ordered by Malgaunt to go as well so that Stargrave did not have one up on him. Being so openly treated like a pawn made her pride swell, she thought sarcastically.

The duo was just starting to climb up the pile when Funuyakiís hand fell upon something soft among the rocks. She paused a moment to examine it, Ariana continuing her climb, either not noticing or not caring that her companion was no longer at her side. It took Funuyaki only a moment to shift aside some of the loose rubble and discover what the furry object was, and what it belonged to.

"And then there were six."

A sharp intake of breath from above snapped Funuyaki out of her reverie. Ariana stood at the top of the pile, looking down on the other side, her attention focused on something. Worry and disappointment had replaced the usual mask of anger Stargraveís first mate wore. Since the taller woman was not behaving in a threatened or cautious manner, Funuyaki opted to rush quickly up the side of the pile and look down to see what the cause of the disturbance was.

Upon seeing what was on the other side, Funuyaki gave a wide smile that nearly split her face in half. She turned back towards the other members of the party farther back in the pass. "Hey, Stargrave! Malgaunt! Come on over! Youíve just got to see this!"

By the time the others made their way around the pile, Funuyaki had already made her way to the other side and positioned herself so she could witness both menís reactions at the same time. The pair looked in horror as they saw Funuyaki standing next to an empty adamantine container, as though it was a prize trophy fish she had caught. She decided that all of the problems from the overland trip had been worth seeing those two look that shocked.

Ariana saw the pain on her captainís face. It was as she had suspected; he was nearly a broken man with this turn of events. Her mind raced as she turned her head skyward and appeared to contemplate the rain. A look of determination crossed her face and she began running further down the pass, opposite the direction the group had arrived. Only Funuyaki took notice of her departure.

Stargrave remained silent in his rage. Malgaunt stared in open-mouthed wonder, trying to gather his thoughts. Eventually, he managed to get out, "Thatís not possible. Thereís no way Mihoshi had the time, or skill, to hack into the computer. Itís too encrypted, even if she had the material necessary to get into it."

"It wasnít hacked into." Funuyaki pointed at the keypad and its computer ports. "The seals on the ports are still intact and thereís no sign of tampering on the keypad."

"Thereís no way she could have known the code!"

"Of course not, Sir." Funuyaki found it easy to address him now that her superior appeared more frazzled than a Wushanari thrown into a blender.

"Maybe it was a computer malfunction," Onita offered. He had caught up to the others and had reacted with more detachment than either Stargrave or Malgaunt had.

Malgaunt stared blankly at Onita. "Perhaps," he said, all the while knowing it was impossible for a malfunction to have caused the orb to open. But grasping onto some cause, any sort of reason, was something his mind had to do in order to deal with the situation.

"Itís over now, isnít it?" Stargrave managed to get out as he continued staring at the sphere.

"The tracker was on the outside of that orb. I had no way of inserting another on the contents of the polynison sphere inside," Malgaunt confirmed.

Autolycus gave a soft sigh of relief. "Praise be. Now we can get on with our lives and finally get off this rock."

"Donít… start!" Stargrave snarled, turning in anger upon the diminutive creature.

Autolycus held up his small, gnarled hands. "No offense was intended, but youíve known my feelings on the matter."

Stargrave raised his face to the skies and allowed the gentle rain to wash over him. He needed desperately to believe in something. Perhaps Autolycus was right. Maybe the whole plot with the Shihana had been nothing more than a fanciful dream he would never have seen to fruition. Maybe it was time to get on with his life and get out of the pirate business altogether and do something else. Something peaceful. Perhaps —

"I can track them!"

All eyes looked down the pass. Ariana was still more than hundred meters away, but her voice had carried over the low din of the rain. She was running towards them as fast as she could, shouting out over and over again that she could track them.

Once she arrived at the group, she got out between gasps of breath, "I went down and checked the other end of the pass. The terrain there is much softer, and with the way itís been raining, they left footprints all over the place. I can track them overland now. The whole areaís forested, and itíll make following them a little slow, but I can do it."

In joy, Stargrave kissed Ariana on her forehead and laughed to the heavens above. "I knew I wouldnít be denied! The Shihana will be mine!"

Softly, daring to interrupt the captainís rapture, a voice said, "Donít do this."

Stargrave turned on Autolycus. "The hell I wonít! Weíre almost upon our goal. Thereís no way Iíll back off now." He turned away from Autolycus and began to head towards the opposite end of the pass.

Another soft sigh escaped the gray flesh that passed for lips on Autolycus. "I know where thereís a space tree you can bond to." All eyes looked in confusion upon the diminutive beingís form. Seeing he had Stargraveís undivided attention, Autolycus continued. "I had been meaning to save this for when you had learned a great deal more self-control, but I can clearly see that if I donít act now, youíre going to make a mistake from which youíll never recover."

Slowly, Stargrave seemed to consider the offer. Temptation was written on his features. "It doesnít matter. Getting the Shihana back is more important." Despite his rejection, the allure was still there for all to see.

"Itís a first generation space tree."

Temptation changed to amusement as Stargrave roared in laughter at Autolycus. "Now I know youíre lying. There are less than a dozen first generation space trees, all of them bonded and protected."

"Itís the Sirocco."

Malgauntís eyebrows furrowed. "Impossible. Sirocco was destroyed along with the entire fleet that attacked the Whipwreck homeworld. There were no survivors. And even if it hadnít been destroyed, that was over a thousand years ago. We would have heard of it surviving before now."

"It survived," Autolycus informed him, then turned to Stargrave. "Do you remember when I took a leave of absence a few months back? It was then that I stumbled upon its location in the protected zone around Earth. Siroccoís outward form has changed so much that sheís physically unrecognizable, and sheís taking great efforts to mask her presence, but it is her. And she is powerful. Perhaps even more powerful than before." He paused a moment to allow the information to sink in. "Think about it, Saíbre. A first generation space tree at your command. Itíll be true power for you, not this bone the Yagdagron intend to throw at you for helping them overthrow an empire."

Sensing he was getting through to Stargrave, Autolycus decided it was time to reveal more. "The main reason Iíve remained at your side for the last couple of decades is because Iíve sensed potential in you, boy. Real potential. The kind that can change the face of the galaxy for millennia, but only if you utilize it correctly."

"I am trying to change things," Stargrave protested. "With the Yagdagronó"

Autolycusís tone turned to that of a teacher explaining a simple concept to an exceptionally stupid student. "Let me tell you whatís going to happen. The Yagdagron, if they are successful, will have their little would-be dictatorship overthrown in less than two hundred years, and thatís if they succeed at all. Donít try to argue this with me. Iíve seen over a thousand empires more powerful than theirs dissolve when they reaped the whirlwind from their actions. I know what Iím talking about.

"But youíre different, and I donít mean by that power within you, although that is part of it. I can feel inside you the ability to affect all of those around you, and I donít mean in simply taking over a gang of thieves. Iíve only felt the potential in just under two dozen people in my considerable lifetime. Less than half of them ever managed to achieve the greatness they had within them. Donít be a failure like those others; listen to what Iím saying. On your own, without becoming a lackey to others, you can become a force in this universe that could conceivably make the Jurai Empire tremble. It doesnít matter what they did to you before. You have to go beyond petty schemes of vengeance. You have to be willing to let go of the past and move forward with the future; otherwise youíre doomed to failure. That I can guarantee."

Doubt consumed Stargraveís features, and for the briefest of moments it appeared he was going to agree. But it was just that: a moment. As with all the moments that had come before, it passed, and once again Stargrave seemed to firm in his resolve. "Youíre assuming I want the greatness you speak of. Well I donít. I refuse to Ďlet go of the pastí, as you put it. They can never be forgiven for what theyíve done to me and mine. Never."

Autolycus looked deeply into Saíbreís eyes. It was as he suspected; Stargrave would never give up on his quest. "Then itís time for me to go. I have no desire to watch you destroy yourself, or waste my time any further. Youíre on your own from now on." Autolycus turned and headed back the way they had come.

"Youíre going back to the ship?" Whatever emotions Stargrave felt at Autolycusís abandonment were hidden too well for even Malgaunt to determine.

"Iím getting off this rock."

Stargrave looked at him curiously. "Impossible. At least until a ship arrives."

"I have my own resources," Autolycus said enigmatically. He was about to turn away again when his eyes fell upon Funuyaki. "You can come along if you like. You donít belong here with the rest of them."

It took Funuyaki several seconds to process exactly what was said. How could Autolycus have known her doubts? Were they that obvious? Malgaunt had never said anything. If he had realized what she had been thinking the entire time, he would never have trusted her, would he?

Her mind began racing. What about Autolycusís offer? A chance to get out of the situation? She had been looking for one since the entire fiasco had been revealed to her. Now it seemed, at least on the surface, that she had an opportunity to cut her losses and run. Could she salvage something of her career? Could she even salvage something of her life? What was there for her if she ran away now?

And what if, in spite of all the difficulties that Malgaunt and the others had encountered, they still somehow succeeded in their plans and overthrew the Jurai Empire? Where would she be then? Could she afford to pass up the rewards if they were successful, even with the recriminations she had over her own actions? She had to make a choice, and she had to make it now. What was she going to do?

A soft smile was the first response she gave to Autolycus. For the second, she said, "My fate is here with these others. Nothing can change that now. Nothing."

A final sigh escaped Autolycusís lips. "Such a waste," he murmured, then turned and began walking away again.

"Do you want me to bring him back, or take care of him?" Ariana asked Stargrave.

"And what purpose would that serve?" Stargrave gave Ariana a disappointed look. "Heís free to come or go as he pleases. It just means heíll be cut out of the deal when the time for rewards comes." He shouldered the backpack he had been carrying. "Itís time to move out. Every second we waste here the Shihana gets further away from us. Ariana, show us the way."

The others obeyed and picked up their packs once more. To Funuyaki, the pack seemed a lot lighter, now that she had finally decided on what to do.

The group set off in the direction that their prize had been taken.

Slogging through the mud was tiring. Even the frequent toiling he had done in the fields back home had not prepared him for this kind of exercise. It would have been so much easier if the terrain had been rocky, or at least not muddy. Even if it would stop raining, things would be better. But the earth was soft and the rain had fallen continuously for nearly two days now, and it seemed doubtful that they were anywhere near the ship.

It would have felt like a complete exercise in futility if not for the fact that Tenchi had a bad feeling that their troubles werenít over and that they were being followed. It was not as though he had actually seen any indication that there was anyone following them, not even the quick movement of a shadow out of the corner of his eye, and yet the feeling would still not go away. It was making him slightly paranoid. Slightly, only because when you hung around people that could move through walls, summon floating logs, and turn your storage closet into an access portal to another dimension, and all of said people had an active interest in you, you already had a tendency to be paranoid. You got used to the feeling after a while. When you were almost certain you were being hunted by one or more bad guys intending harm upon your person, the paranoia was higher and more constant, but remained at acceptable levels.

It was getting close to Mihoshiís turn to pull the anti-gravity sled. It was not so much the weight of the sled that bothered Tenchi óit was in an antigravity field and was weightlessó it was the slow, steady pace and concentration that had to be maintained in order to keep the field around the orb stable. The orb had fallen off once and it had taken a half an hour in the pouring rain to reset the field to get it to transport the whitish ball of smooth material once again. Remaining in one spot was worse than moving in many ways. The air was slightly chilly even during the daytime and being soaked to the bone didnít help at all.

"I think itís my turn to pull the sled now, Tenchi."

"I can carry it a while longer." It was true that Mihoshi had insisted on pulling the sled at least half of the time, and it was the fair thing to do, but chivalry, along with a bit of a desire to be macho, made him want to pull it at least fifty minutes out of every hour.

Mihoshi was adamant. "No. Itís been two hours and that means itís my turn to pull it. Now give it up, Tenchi."

Tenchi was about to politely refuse again when he spotted the mouth to a nearby cave. It was only a little less than a couple of hours until the sun would set, and they needed to find shelter soon to keep out of the rain during the night. The cave would be perfect. It would mean possibly sacrificing some travel time, but whoever was following them would almost surely seek out shelter from the rain as well. Once inside, they could even try lighting a fire and getting warm. Tenchi had already forgotten the last time he had felt warm.

"Why donít we wait in there, you know, with how the weather is and all?" Tenchi pointed to the mouth of the cave.

"What do you mean? Whatís wrong with the weather?"

Apparently not only did it tend to be colder on Mensa than on Earth, but the area of the planet that Mihoshi had grown up in had an annual amount of rainfall that would have turned any desert into a rainforest, or so Tenchi had discovered when Mihoshi said she was unaffected by the rain and temperature. If it got any colder, Tenchi would have accepted Mihoshiís offer of allowing him to wear her uniform. There was a point where pride gave way to discomfort.

"Iím just a little soggy and cold," Tenchi said through chattering teeth.

"Oh, right. I forgot you find this weather uncomfortable." Mihoshi helped Tenchi pull the sled into the mouth of the small cave. Upon entering it, they saw that it only stretched back several meters and was littered with a variety of uncomfortable-looking stones and some wood that had somehow ended up in the cave. They cleared out some of the stones and freed up a small area towards the center of their shelter. Once they were satisfied with their space, they elected to leave the sled outside at the mouth of the cave, the size of it being far too large to make staying in the cave comfortable.

It took nearly an hour to make the cave suitable for an overnight stay. By the time they had finished, one sun had nearly completed its journey to the horizon and the second was well on its way to join its companion. Now that he was out of the rain, Tenchi found things far more comfortable and began to relax. There was just one thing that was missing to make the cave truly enjoyable. Or at least as enjoyable as the circumstance allowed.

Mihoshi finished tying her hair back up as she watched Tenchi gather the dried sticks from the cave into a little pile in the center of their clearing. "What are you doing?"

"Iím going to try to make a fire." Tenchi gathered all of the wood that he could. There wasnít much wood, but if he used it sparingly, he could make a small fire that would last for several hours. "Do you have something that could start a fire?"

"Hmm. I think I might have something, if I remember correctly." Mihoshi rifled through the pockets of her uniform until she came up with a book of matches. She handed it to Tenchi.

Tenchiís eyebrows raised slightly as he looked the matchbook over. "Youíve been to The G-Spot Club?"

"Yes," Mihoshi said, giggling. "I went with Ryouko and Aeka last month. It was all Ryoukoís idea. She said sheíd been there lots of times and that it had great food."

"Itís the most infamous male strip club in all of Tokyo."

"Oh. I guess that would explain why the waiters were so big and handsome and wore those tight leather pants and muscle shirts. And here I thought it was just because the place was really warm. Anyway, we had a really fun time and all got along really well. The waiters were very accommodating, too." Mihoshi got a far off look in her eyes. "One of them gave me a nine inch sausage."

Tenchi made a strangling noise.

"It was bigger than anything I ever had before. I was so proud of myself. I managed to swallow the whole nine inches on the first try."

Tenchi began choking on air.

"Even Ryouko was impressed by that. She said she wanted to try too, but she could only get seven inches down before she gagged."

Tenchiís heart began to fail.

"Aeka said that was nothing and got a nice, fat, juicy foot long one down in a single gulp. She said she was so good at it because of her Juraian bridal training. Whoíd have thought they taught that sort of thing in bridal training, right, Tenchi? Tenchi?"

Mihoshi suddenly realized that Tenchi had stopped breathing and promptly began giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He started breathing again after the first ten seconds.

Once consciousness returned, Tenchi shot to his feet. "Mihoshi! How could you betray me like that?!" He gave her a cold glare as he leveled an accusing finger at her.

The accusation caused Mihoshi to sniffle. "I didnít know youíd be offended. Iím sorry. Next time Iíll order an extra nine-inch sausage for you. Iíll be sure they put extra sauce and green peppers on it, and Iíll even get a side order of french fries. Would that make it up to you?"

Tenchiís eyebrow twitched so violently it was nearly a blur. "I knew you meant sausage as in food instead of sausage as in… sausage." Of course, that wasnít true, but itís not like he could admit to it.

Tenchi sat back down and let his mind go into neutral for the next fifteen minutes. Once enough of his faculties recovered so that he wouldnít have an embarrassment-induced heart attack, he said. "Iím sorry. I overreacted at your choice of… dish."

"Thatís okay," Mihoshi assured him.

"No, no. I should have acted more calmly." The intensity of his reaction at the perceived betrayal had surprised even him. He was going to have to think on why it had been so violent later. "Anyway, I donít want you to go back there again."

"How come?"

"I, ah," Tenchi couldnít quite find the right words. Fortunately, some were provided for him.

[Just tell her youíre jealous of the idea that if she hangs around good-looking, scantily clad studboys, she might lose interest in you and chase after them.]

That wasnít it at all.

[Itís not?]

That mostly wasnít it at all.


Okay, it was exactly that.

[Good boy. Have a sausage.]

"I just donít want you to go there because it makes me uncomfortable that you would hang around guys like… that."

"Like what?" Mihoshi asked in bewilderment.

"Err, guys that like to go around showing off their bodies at the drop of a hat."

"You mean like Ryouko does with you?" Mihoshi asked.

"Yes, exactly likeó"

[NOOO! You idiot! You fell into the trap!]

It was too late. Mihoshi, as scatterbrained as she could be at times, was still a woman. "If I donít mind you hanging around Ryouko, why should you mind me hanging around guys like that?"

[Told you so]

Tenchi began to panic at having the tables suddenly turned on him. "Itís…"

[Itís called a double standard. I can hang around whomever I want, but you are allowed only to hang around people that I think are okay. Which means you canít breathe the same air as anything male that doesnít looks like he was beaten with an ugly stick, broke the stick, and then got hit with another one. Deal with it.]

That wasnít going to work. Even with Mihoshi.

[Iím fresh out of ideas then. Youíre on your own from now on.]

Tenchi gave a sigh. Best to tell the truth. "I shouldnít. Itís wrong of me, I know, but I canít help the way I am. Iím sorry. You can hang out with whoever you want."

"Of course I can," Mihoshi said confidently. "But I wonít go there again. If it makes you uncomfortable, it would make me uncomfortable and then I wouldnít have fun, and if I wouldnít have fun, there wouldnít be any reason for me to go."

Tenchi breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, morally he was in the wrong, but her concession still made him feel good. There was just one lingering detail. "Mihoshi?"


"Can you really eat a nine inch sausage in one gulp?"

"Tenchi, I could do eleven if I had to."

A silly grin spread across Tenchiís features. Mihoshi truly was a girl of many talents. One of which was…

"Mihoshi, this matchbook is wet."

"Oh, donít worry about it. Just make a fire to dry it out."

…the ability to frustrate the hell out of him sometimes. The silly grin disappeared, replaced by the shivering from the cold. "Do you have something else I could use to make a fire so I can dry these matches out and use them to make a fire?"

The ability to comprehend sarcasm easily was not one of Mihoshiís many talents. Being able to swallow eleven inches of sausage went a long way to balancing that out, though. "Umm. Nope. I donít think so."

"Canít you turn your laser to a lower setting and cause it to make a fire?" Tenchi asked.

"Nope," Mihoshi assured him. "The only settings it has are Ďstuní, Ďkillí, and Ďmake sure someone cleans up the ashes afterwardsí. No Ďfireí setting. Sorry." Mihoshi sighed. "Are you sure you canít make a fire?"

"How? Itís not like —" Tenchi paused, looking down at the floor of the cave until he spotted what he wanted. He picked up two greenish-blue colored rocks. "Itís not like you can just randomly pick up a couple of rocks and hit them together, hoping you can make a spark and start a fire."

To prove his point, Tenchi drew the rocks back, then brought them forward to strike one another. Just as they were about to make contact, he heard Mihoshi cry out, "Wait, Tenchi! Donít do it!"

Tenchi was about to ask her what the problem was as the rocks struck one another. A bright red-colored light formed where the rocks contacted, then a wave of heat knocked Tenchi unconscious.

The group following the Shihana settled under a thick bow of trees that provided a little shelter. The largest of the waterproof sheets hung above the makeshift encampment. It was spread out, nailed to several of the closer trees and branches in order to hang over the fire that had been made in the center of the encampment. Even as close as they tried to get, only Stargrave and Malgaunt were able to fit completely under the overhead cover. The others had to sit along the edge, hunched in personal-sized waterproof sheets that had been designed for such a purpose. That did little to ease their discomfort.

The atmosphere around the camp was tense, though not as depressing as might have been expected under the circumstances. The remaining five members of the party had said little since Autolycus had left them, choosing instead to remain silent as Ariana led the way, tracking their opponents. Onita mentioned that with the trail Mihoshiís group was leaving behind, even he could have tracked them. He was content to allow Ariana to lead, and subsequently trigger whatever ambushes or traps the opposition might have left behind.

However, there were neither ambushes nor traps to deal with. Nothing impeded their progress, save a lack of light when the suns went down. That did not stop Stargrave at first, he had insisted they try moving through the night, but after falling in the mud for the fourth time in half an hour even the persistent Stargrave had to give up. Besides, the progress they had made was slow during the night and they would move more quickly with rest and light.

Everyone pitched in and helped to make the encampment. Even with their outfits keeping out the chill, the group was grateful for the fire. It made things seems brighter and gave them hope for the next day. The nature of each personís hope differed slightly from the others.

They finished a meal of trail rations, Onita the only one eating them with any enthusiasm. Everyone began to relax and get some rest in preparation for tomorrowís journey, save for Funuyaki, who had drawn the first watch.

As the group settled down, Stargrave shifted slightly, then turned to Malgaunt. "I think weíre going to run into Mihoshi and whoever is traveling with her soon. Possibly by tomorrow. I want to know about her. Does she have any vulnerability we can exploit? How good is she really? Can we bribe her?"

Malgaunt laughed at that and shook his head. "First Class Detective Mihoshi, before and after the erosion of her abilities, was incorruptible, I assure you."

"Everyone has a price," Stargrave insisted.

"Well, the currency to buy her is not something as material as money or as alluring as power. We wonít be able to bribe her. Now as to what sheís like…" Malgaunt took a few moments to recall what information he knew. It had been some time since he had gone through personnel files. "She graduated with high marks at nearly the top of the academy. Her first assignment was in one of the rougher sections of Lambada Sector, a very unusual place for a rookie to be assigned, but it had been on an order from the Grand Marshal, who is her grandfather, by the way."

"So she got her job through her family connections?" Ariana asked.

Malgaunt gave a brief shake of his head. "At first, that was what I thought. But the list of criminals sheís brought in, many of them single-handed, proves that she belongs in our ranks. Her list of achievements is twice that of most career officers, despite only being a member of the force for a little more than five years. Thereís nothing she hasnít accomplished. Sheís brought in serial killers, talked down suicide cases, negotiated hostage situations, foiled terrorist plots, and gotten entire gangs of the most violent thugs to give up without a fight. There was even a case where she managed to break up a cult of over a thousand people that were following a nihilistic megalomaniacal leader that tried to make them commit mass suicide. Of course, in preventing the cultists from killing themselves, Mihoshi somehow got them to begin worshipping her as their new leader, and they began following her. That was a real mess. It took over a month for one of the special divisions of the department to deprogram them. And afterwards the entire unit ended up having to take a vacation from the stress involved in forcing them away from her. From what the reports said, the cultists were hopelessly devoted to her. The whole ĎCult Of Mihoshií case was one thatís still talked about to this day.

"I suppose that was around the time her performance rating started to drop. In the beginning, she was a fine officer, though I had only encountered her at a handful of award ceremonies. I heard odd stories about her in the early days, but you know how rumors circulate. I paid them little mind, and her performance rating remained high. But after the first three and a half years of her career, things began to change. Complaints began to come in. Bills for damage she caused rose. She began to crash her spaceship into things. It was a drop in everything except her arrest rate. That remained high, and she was still able to accomplish the tasks she was assigned, but the manner in which she solved her cases began to cause chaos all around. And the more time that passed, the worse it got. Pretty soon, everyone began to fear working with her. A young up-and-coming officer was assigned to Mihoshi in the hopes that she could somehow mitigate the damage she was causing, while still maintaining the record of arrests. Shortly after joining Mihoshi, Kiyone disappeared and was presumed dead.

"Since she was still completing her assignments, and no one had the guts to fire the Grand Marshalís granddaughter, Mihoshi was relegated to out of the way areas of space where it was presumed she would cause no damage, or at least minimize it. I believe it was successful to some degree. At least I havenít heard any major complaints about her."

"But that doesnít really tell us what sheís doing here, or how sheís been able to constantly foil our scheme," Stargrave pointed out.

"I havenít got the faintest idea." Malgaunt would have begun pacing to help him think, save for the rain falling outside his cover. He had had enough rain to last him for the next year. "If the Galaxy Police were onto me, and had sent Mihoshi to bring me in, they would never have allowed us to throw Tartarus into Hellís Gate."

"Itís been said sheís very lucky," Funuyaki mentioned.

Malgaunt openly scoffed at that. "The idea that she somehow stumbled onto us and foiled our scheme through luck is absolutely preposterous." He felt sorrow at his protťgťís naivetť. One couldnít put stock in such intangibles as luck. The prepared made their own luck.

"I worked with her once."

All eyes turned to the speaker: Onita.

He had the far-off glint in his eye of someone remembering the distant past. "It was a little less than two years ago, right after she began her slide, near as I can tell. I was assigned to work undercover with her. It was us and some detective named Chancer, who was the guy in charge. We were going to run a trifecta operation on some arms dealers. Chancer was going to pretend to be a negotiator for some outer rim crime lord. I was his muscle — Iím good at acting like hired muscle — and Mihoshi played his bimbo girlfriend. She did that really good, too. I always thought the girlfriend roles were the easiest; the bad guys never suspect them of being dangerous and always make mistakes around the girls. Guys like me always get all the attention because weíre supposed to be the dangerous ones, and whenever things go down, all guns get turned to you first. Thatís why I always like feeling out whoever Iím working with, especially the female officer, since they could make the difference between life and death for me."

"So anyway, in the days leading up to the operation I get to talking with Mihoshi. Now Iíd been in the service for seven years already, five of them working undercover and nothing else. Now by that time I learned how the system really works, and it wasnít with that idealist crap they feed you in the academy. Itís nothing like they say it is. I played rough and tough with a lot of people. I took graft every now and then. Hell, I helped cover up an operation that went bad and a couple of innocents got caught in the crossfire. It was a just a mistake, you know. Why did me and the other guys have to suffer because a couple of people got stupid? I did a lot of stuff that probably would have gotten me thrown off the force if it became public knowledge; I can admit to it. Itís what you had to do to survive and keep from going crazy when you work deep covers like I did.

"So anyway, I get to talking with her — aside from planning the op, there wasnít much else to do — and it was funny. She was this bright, happy, cheerful girl that, you know, was kind of bubbly. She wasnít like any other officer I had ever worked with before. At first, I thought she was just preparing herself for the act, but it became obvious real quick that was the way she really was.

"Early on, I didnít know what to make of it, but I listened to what she said. The more she talked about being on the force and what it meant to her, the more I felt like, I donít know. I kind of felt bad. I mean, it was just the way she said things, so bright and optimistic and happy. It kind of made me feel inspired. For the first time since I joined the force, I thought maybe I could serve the public the way they told us in the academy. Maybe I could have made a difference, or at least been like she was instead of the way I was. I think maybe part of me wanted to be more like her. She seemed a lot happier than me.

"Anyway, the operation went down without a problem, except for the weapons being destroyed, and that was no big deal. After it was all over we went our separate ways, and I came back to my senses. It really was stupid, me believing in what she was saying and all. It was just a load of crap." With his story over, Onita seemed less happy than he had before and began staring off into space.

Stargrave thought about what had been said. "If sheís still that optimistic, I can see that she would be incorruptible." Stargrave returned his attention to Onita. "And what caused you to thrown in with Malgaunt on this little journey?"

Onita shrugged. "Internal Affairs found some evidence about me taking a bribe. Iíd have probably lost my job, except the Marshal stepped in and used some favors to get them off my back. He pulled me from undercover and had me reassigned as his personal aide."

Stargrave seemed satisfied with the answer. He turned to Funuyaki. "So, whatís your story for joining up?"

"Mind your own business!" Funuyaki snapped.

The fierceness in her voice caused Ariana to move nearer to Funuyaki. The lieutenant noticed the motion and turned to fully face the enforcer. "Get any closer, and Iíll feed you that vibro-sabre thatís under your cloak," Funuyaki snarled.

"It would take a better woman than you to do it, GP." Arianaís voice was ice. It matched the look in her eyes.

"Lieutenant Funuyaki was a naughty girl, too."

This time all eyes turned to Malgaunt. Funuyaki shot him an incredulous look. He responded by smiling and shrugging his shoulders as if to say, "Itís inevitable, so donít try to fight it." She wouldnít give him the satisfaction of telling the story, so she resisted him the only way she could.

"My story isnít so different from Onitaís. I graduated the academy with high marks. At first, I did everything the way they taught me: by the book. My career started off very promising and I received a couple of commendations. After a year on the force, I was promoted to undercover. I had a good partner that helped break me into the job, teaching me the ropes. I learned fast, but not as fast as I thought. He saved my life early on when I made a dumb mistake. He really went out on a limb for me and nearly died, so I kind of felt like I owed him my life. In hindsight, I shouldnít have felt so devoted to him.

"It all started innocently enough. Before, he had always shielded me from some of the things he did. I assumed it was just personal work, but once he felt he could trust me, he let me see what he was really up to. He took bribes. Not a lot, and certainly not over serious crimes, but over petty things that he would look the other way for. I didnít like it — it went against everything Iíd been taught — but I owed him my life, and he was trusting me with this. I just couldnít bring myself to turn him in. So I turned a blind eye and let him continue without a complaint."

"It always starts out small," Stargrave said, a satisfied smirk on his lips.

Funuyaki refrained from saying anything. The man was right, after all, and the truth was supposed to hurt sometimes. And she would deny him the satisfaction of seeing her react to his interruption, which was the whole reason behind his speaking. "Yes. It did. After a while, I began running short of money. The Galaxy Police has good benefits but minimal pay, and Iíve always had problems with managing my finances. I mentioned that to my partner, and he said I could get some of the money as well. At first I resisted, but I admit it didnít take much for him to talk me into it. I think he wanted me involved as additional insurance for him. After all, I couldnít very well turn him in if I was guilty of doing the exact same thing."

"After about a year of that, I was reassigned. I became mobile, working a bunch of different assignments with different partners, all of them good, upstanding officers. My career took off, and I made dozens of arrests and won a chest full of medals and commendations for a job well done. But as time passed, I fell further into debt and further into misery. I mean, I was scraping the absolute bottom of the barrel in money. I have to admit, I was sort of desperate. Thatís probably why I went along with what happened next.

"A couple of undercover officers I had met in the line of duty approached me with a plan. They thought I would go along with it since they had heard from my first partner that I had taken some bribes and didnít snitch on anyone. I ended up agreeing, because it sounded like a good way to make a lot of money fast. The plan was that weíd use our undercover status to run a scam on some drug dealers. Except it wouldnít be an official case, it would be something weíd be doing freelance. Weíd let the criminals go, of course, but weíd be keeping the money that we found at the bust.

"The plan went down just like we hoped, and I ended up with a ton of money. Enough that I swore that I wouldnít pull another heist like that again. I should have known better than to lie to myself like that. The idea that I could actually profit from doing what were essentially good deeds in stopping criminals was too good an opportunity to pass up. We did several other smaller deals and pulled in some extra cash. A couple of times things broke down and we ended up in gun fights, but I never shot anyone that wasnít actively trying to kill me first. And the ones that died were all killers anyway. Someone would have punched their tickets sooner or later, and I kept them from harming anyone else by taking them out, so it really didnít bother me. Things were actually looking pretty good in my life, which, of course, meant something terrible was bound to bring it all crashing down.

"On one of our cases, we used a snitch to help us set up the scam. He was a lowlife dreg and a crook, but we convinced him that it was a legit bust and that weíd arrest him if he didnít help. So he did, and that operation went down without a problem. Complications came up when the snitch contacted me a few months later. Apparently, he somehow found out that it was not an official police bust and that we were doing it on our own. He thought I was the most reasonable of the group and contacted me privately to try to work out a deal to buy his continued silence. God, I felt like my world had come to an end.

"We met in a large city on his homeworld. A nice, dank, back alleyway in the dead of night; the proper place for such underhanded dealing to take place, yes? He was there, smirking at me like the cat that had swallowed the proverbial barchard. And all the time fear gnawed away at me in a way Iíd never felt before. Getting gunned down in the line of duty, that I could handle. But to be arrested, dishonored and thrown into prison for the sake of busting a few criminals, that was too much to take. I thought I was going to break down, the stress was eating away at me that bad.

"All the time I was looking at him, I knew the truth. The little rat would never really be bought off. Heíd blackmail me to the end of his days, and that I couldnít live with. So I decided to scare him, convince him that Iíd kill him if he even breathed a word of this to anyone. I threatened him, but the little shitbag didnít buy it. He was convinced Iíd never actually kill him, that I was too nice, in spite of what I had done, and that if I wasnít willing to pay up, heíd contact one of the others and see if theyíd cough up the cash. Iíd never felt so threatened in my life. And if they didnít, heíd contact the Galaxy Police.

"Iíve never responded well to threats.

"The snide little bastard turned his back on me and started walking away. I pulled my gun out and tried to give him one last chance to back off, but he didnít even bother to turn around when he told me to go screw myself. I had a choice, and I took it. I shot him. It was easy. I just aimed and pulled the trigger. Shot took him clean in the back of his head. Dead in an instant. Even if he was a scumbag, he didnít deserve to die in pain.

"I was surprised by my composure. There was no fear anymore, just a calm feeling of control. I reacted just like the professional I was. I made it look like a mugging that went bad and immediately headed off-planet. I was terrified for weeks that someone would find out what I had done and arrest me for murder, but no one ever did. The crime was listed as unsolvable, and everyone forgot that little waste of oxygen ever existed." Funuyaki rubbed her temple and smiled. It was the first time she had ever told the whole story to anyone. In an odd way, it felt good to get it off her chest.

Malgaunt was surprised by the confession. He had known about everything but the murder. However, he quickly adapted to it. It was unexpected, but meant nothing in the larger scheme of things. "We got wind of the possibility that someone in the Galaxy Police was using their position to pretend they were on duty and robbing the criminals. My personal investigation led me to the lieutenant and her involvement in the crimes. I knew Funuyakiís record; it impressed me to no end. She was brilliant, with a sharp mind and good intuitive skills. I had actually met her a couple of times, and she had always impressed me on a personal level. With the knowledge that she had proven herself willing to bend the rules as she had, I felt I had at last discovered someone that could be my right hand, and perhaps someday be my successor. Not that I am planning on stepping down any time soon. I have an organization to run shortly, but I want to start on my legacy a little early.

"I approached Funuyaki and made her a deal: if she were to become my subordinate, the evidence against her would disappear, and sheíd never have to worry about it again. Needless to say, she accepted. I couldnít be more satisfied with her performance since."

Ariana gave her a tight smile. "Youíre so underhanded, I could almost admire you."

"As though the compliments of a lapdog impress me."

That brought a scowl to Arianaís features, and she considered taking a swing at Funuyaki and seeing what would come of it. Her plans came to a halt when Stargrave spoke up. "Now, now. Ariana is subordinate to my wishes, but sheís anything but a lapdog. We still need to work together, so do calm yourselves."

Ariana shot one last glare at Funuyaki, then relaxed. It was wonderful to hear Stargrave come to her defense like that. It was something he did for few people, even those that met with his approval. Yet over time he had almost always come to her defense first and foremost as well; actions which served to make her burn for him all the more. And now Ariana had figured out so something she could do for him in return. Something that would endear her further to him, and perhaps that day she longed for more than anything else in the universe would come and he would accept her as his lover. But she would have to wait until nightfall to make the attempt, after everyone was asleep. Until then she would have to bide her time and remain impassive until a moment presented itself.

Seeing Ariana relax, Funuyaki did so as well, keeping a small part of her awareness turned to the enforcer. She said to Stargrave, "And what about you and your past?"

Saíbre Stargrave gave her an amused smile and gently placed a finger to his lips. "Some things should remain secret."

Sensing he would say nothing further about the subject, and that all that was going to be said of the past had been said, the others turned in for a nightís sleep, save Funuyaki, who took the first watch. Sleep came to all those on the ground, save one.

"Wow! Who would have thought there was Flambanium on this planet?"


"And who would have thought that of all the stones you were going to pick up to prove your point, it would be the only two pieces of Flambanium in the cave?"


"At least I managed to get a fire going using some of the excess flames you produced."

"I noticed you did that before you put me out."

"Well, you were the one that wanted a fire. I was just trying to help, and itís not like you got burned much."

"I see."

"I have a marker if you want to try and draw your eyebrows back on."

"No, thank you!" Tenchi snapped. Having his eyebrows burned off was the only injury he had sustained, but it was a critical blow to his pride. It had been his own fault. He should have known better than to tempt fate like that, but he had been cold and not thinking straight. If he had been thinking more clearly… he probably would have done the exact same thing. But at least it would have been with a clear head.

Seeing Mihoshi had been hurt by his misplaced anger, he quickly moved to mollify her. "Iím sorry. Itís not your fault; itís mine. I shouldnít have struck those rocks together. I should have realized there was some form of mineral that would go up like a Roman candle somewhere around here. Hell, if little animals can turn into spaceships, nothing should surprise me anymore."

In spite of his apology, Mihoshi remained downcast. After several moments of silence, she said softly, "Iím sorry I asked you on vacation, Tenchi."

Tenchi thought he knew where this was going. "Hey, this isnít your fault."

Mihoshi continued on, her voice growing louder. "Yes, it is. If I hadnít asked you along, if I hadnít given away our extra antenna, if I hadnít taken us off our predesignated course, we wouldnít be in this situation and you wouldnít be having such a bad time."

Tenchiís features softened. He moved closer to Mihoshi, sitting next to her and placing a comforting arm around her shoulders. "Look, Iím glad you asked me on vacation with you. Iíve really enjoyed the time weíve had together. You only gave our extra transmitter to those people because they really needed it and you only took us off course so that we could make up for the time we lost helping those people. You had no way of possibly knowing things would turn out this way. So please quit blaming yourself."

The heartfelt honesty Tenchi gave off won Mihoshi over. Overcome with emotion, she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a powerful hug. For a moment, Tenchi felt the urge to withdraw, then, surprising even himself, he relaxed and embraced her lightly in return.

She withdrew her embrace, considerably happier that she had been. The two began to relax as they prepared themselves for sleep. Mihoshi, still feeling very excited, began talking. "I wonder what Aeka and Ryouko are doing?"

Tenchi was astonished to find that Mihoshiís mention of their names was the first time he had thought about them in the last three days, except for the sausage conversation. Usually, he was lucky if he didnít give them at least a passing thought about once every two hours. "Itís hard to say with them. Sometimes they get along fine, other times they just seem to be hell-bent on arguing with one another."

"Yeah," Mihoshi sighed. "Itís too bad they do that."

An errant thought came to Tenchi. "You usually try to keep them from fighting, donít you?" Mihoshi might not have had much success at it, but she did try.

"Of course," Mihoshi said as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I donít like to see anyone fight, especially when deep down inside theyíre really friends, like those two are. I see more than enough people fighting in my line of work. If I never saw two people arguing again, it would be all right with me."

"I see." That was a new insight on Mihoshi. Tenchi found the answer simple, but in this case the simplicity of it made it all the more poignant. It impressed him.

The talk of work turned Mihoshiís thoughts to other things. "I wonder how the Grand Marshal is going to react when he finds out Marshal Malgaunt is a traitor."

As he considered that, something in what she said jogged Tenchiís memory. "Isnít the Grand Marshal your grandfather?"

"Yes," Mihoshi said. "Heís been the top man of the Galaxy Police for nearly twenty years now."

"It must have made getting on the force pretty easy."

"Thatís not true!" she shot back with the sound of anger in her voice.

Tenchi found himself taken aback by the intensity of Mihoshiís denial, and that she was actually directing anger in his direction. "Iím sorry. I just assumed that since he was your grandfather and all…"

Mihoshi shook her head furiously. "A lot of people think that because heís family, thatís how I got my position on the force, but theyíre all wrong. If anything, it made my graduating the academy even worse."

"How so?" Tenchi hoped she would calm down. There was something about Mihoshi being angry with him that he found very disturbing.

"Because he didnít want me to join the Galaxy Police," Mihoshi explained. "He was dead set against it. He thought I should get into a line of work that was less hazardous. But I wanted to be a police officer more than anything in the galaxy. So I went ahead and enrolled, even over grandfatherís objections. Once I got accepted into the academy, he saw to it I had the hardest instructors and was given the most difficult tests so that Iíd fail. But I didnít. I refused to lose. I put everything I could into trying really hard and passing everything they could throw at me. And I did it. It wasnít easy. I think maybe it was the hardest time I ever had in my life. But I surprised everyone, even my instructors, by graduating with honors, in spite of everything they tried to do." With her explanation over, Mihoshi relaxed.

Once again, Tenchi found himself impressed by Mihoshiís intensity. "It looks like I underestimated you again. Sorry about that."

"I shouldnít have snapped at you. I just donít like it when people accuse me of having received any special treatment." Once she realized Tenchi did indeed understand, Mihoshi calmed down some more. A yawn escaped her lips. "I think itís time for bed."

"I hear you." Tenchi settled down as well. With a fire going, he wasnít going to have to use Mihoshiís body heat to help keep him warm. Surprisingly, he found a small part of him disappointed in that. But only a very small part.

The two drifted off into a deep slumber within minutes.

It was nearly five hours later, and still several hours before the morning dawn, that the call of nature forced Mihoshi awake. There had been a single instance of her deliberately refusing it and remaining asleep anyway. It was then she learned how difficult it was to remove certain kinds of stains from Galaxy Police uniforms.

Sleep tugged at her eyes, but she refused to give in once more to its siren call. Rising to her feet, she headed towards the mouth of the cave. She had not gotten more than halfway there when she stepped on something soft in the middle of the cave floor. It even gave off an "Umph."

"Sorri Techi," Mihoshi slurred as she walked across him and into the night beyond.

The cold air washed across her face, waking her up a little more. Slightly more aware of her surroundings, she began searching for a good spot to relieve herself. It could not be too close to the cave. Aside from stinking up the place, she didnít want to take a chance of Tenchi peeking. Not that she truly thought he would, but why take the chance?

She found a quiet spot nearly thirty meters away from the cave and shielded by a large amount of foliage. She had unzipped her uniform and peeled the upper half down to her waist, when a sharp blow struck her in the back of the neck. She fell to the ground, unconscious.

"I knew I could track you in the darkness."

Ariana Taguyu had taken a chance in leaving the others right after her guard shift had started, but it had been a necessary risk to end this whole matter before Saíbre placed himself in danger for the sake of the Shihana. Ariana had been convinced she could resolve everything before Saíbre and the others awakened. Her skills at tracking were good enough to use even in the middle of the night, and without having the others to drag along, she could make better time. She hurried as quickly as she could, trying to reach the prize while her opponents were hopefully still asleep. She had lost the track once, and was trying to find it again, when she saw the flash of color under the moonlit night. Approaching silently, she had stalked her prey and was delighted to recognize the telltale uniform of a Galaxy Police officer. All it had taken was waiting for Mihoshi to be at her most vulnerable and striking her in the back of the head to bring matters under her control.

Ariana examined her catch. Mihoshi had spun around slightly when she went down and was now lying face up, despite falling forward when she had been hit. Her face could be clearly seen, and Ariana noted that Mihoshi was indeed quite attractive. From what she could see of Mihoshiís revealed torso, she was also in very good shape. Besides those two features, the police officer appeared ordinary in every other way.

A vibro-sabre cleared its scabbard. Ariana leveled the point of it with the center of Mihoshiís chest. It would be best to leave the face intact. Malgaunt would be able to confirm the corpseís identity then. It was not like Ariana would risk awakening Mihoshi just to be certain she had the right person. That sort of detail could be left for later, when they had the time.

"Get away from her now."

The threat was little more than a harsh whisper, but it promised pain if it was ignored. Ariana turned, whirling her small cloak behind her and bringing her vibro-sabre up in a guard position. Her opponent stood no more than five meters away. He was a boy, barely old enough to shave, and was in a guard stance with a weapon in his hands. Ariana could see it was a white hilt with a blade of blue energy projecting from the top of it. There appeared to be no one else present, and the boy bore no other weapons that could be seen.

After subtly looking around one more time to see if she could spot anyone else, and finding no one, she looked more closely at the hilt. Upon making out some of the details on it, Ariana gave a contemptuous laugh. "You think using a laser sword in the shape of the Master Key will make me quake in my boots, boy? Itís an old trick. Believe me when I say Iíve killed inexperienced little punks like you before breakfast just to wake me up."

The barb failed to affect Tenchi. "I said step away from her now, or you wonít live long enough to regret it."

Ariana had been confronted with more than enough opponents to properly gauge threat potential; the eyes always separated those that talked of death from those that dealt it. The boy was serious and would try to kill her to protect himself and Mihoshi from harm. A quick switch from one guard position to another elicited the reaction Ariana wanted as Tenchi switched defensive postures as well. She could tell from that one move that the boy was skilled with the sword, but not at her level. It would be a quick fight, taking no more than a couple of parries and a thrust to finish the duel.

Smirking, Ariana closed the distance between the two of them to about ten feet. Her plan was already formulated in her mind. She would come in with a side thrust, forcing the boy to parry the blow. When he did that, there should be a brief second where there would be an opening to an overhead strike that would split his skull in half. A more skilled opponent would be able to protect themselves, or someone slower than Ariana would be unable to pull the move off. But he was not that skilled, and she was that fast. It would be over in less than three seconds.

No more words were exchanged as Ariana moved forward and executed the move just as she had visualized it in her mind. She brought her blade in for the side thrust, watching as the boy brought his sword in for a combination parry and strike of his own. She would twist her blade just enough at the moment of the parry to throw him off balance and come in for the kill. She saw the black metal of her vibro weapon meet the blue of the laser sword and…

…watched in shock as the blue energy blade sliced through her weapon as though it didnít exist, severing the vibro-weapon in two. There was no time for Ariana to even consider a defense as the beam of energy came in a sweeping arc into her side and up through her chest, slicing clean through tissue and bone just as effortlessly as it had the metal and low level energy field of the blade. White-hot shards of agony cut a trail through her, following the path of the strike. It was over in a second, as the blade finished its cut and nearly severed Tenchiís opponent nearly in half. The world turned black for Ariana, and her last thoughts were of Saíbre, and that she had failed the man she loved, for now there was no one to warn him of the unsuspecting dangers he faced at the hands of the boy.

And then there was nothing.

The blade of energy sizzled through the air as Tenchi finished the follow through on the strike to his opponent. The blow was nearly identical to the one that had killed Kagato save that it had not cut quite as deeply on the woman, though from the results of his blow, it was deep enough. Still, as Tenchi saw the blade slice more cleanly through the woman than it had upon his pale-skinned opponent from so many months ago, a surge of revulsion threatened to overwhelm him. He had seen the blood and bone that the blue blade of energy had cut through, and it nauseated him. When he had driven his sword through Kagato, there had been nothing — not even an obvious wound on his body — before he dissolved into a death so clean and sanitary that it had not even seemed real.

However, the womanís death was nothing so sterile. A spray of blood from the body nearly being severed in half had splashed across the bottom of his outfit, leaving an all too real reminder of what he had just done. The body of Mihoshiís attacker remained where it was, an unmoving sight full of gore. When Kagatoís body had disappeared, it had almost been as though he had never existed, and if he had not existed, then Tenchi wouldnít have had to feel guilty about killing him, even if deep within he had known the truth and had lived with it to this day.

It would not be so easy this time. The evidence was there, and even though the woman had intended to kill him — and from the look in her eyes he knew that was precisely what she had been going to do — a wave of guilt shot though him. Again he told himself it had to be done. It was a simple choice that the woman had forced him to make: his and Mihoshiís life, or hers. Kagato had forced a similar one and the results had been the same. Tenchi was just going to have to live with what he had done, just like any soldier would on a battlefield. It wasnít easy, but it was a necessary thing.

Putting his thoughts at as much ease as he could for now, Tenchi turned his attention from himself and the dead, to the living. It had been nothing more than luck that had enabled him to come onto the scene just in time to save Mihoshi from the strangerís blade. When she had stepped on him, it had served as a sort of wake up call. And once awake, his body had let him know it was time to relieve himself. So he had gotten up, and started to go in a direction that he hoped Mihoshi had not, when he heard the sound of something heavy hitting the ground. He rushed in the direction of the sound. Expecting the worst, he drew and ignited the Master Key without difficulty this time. Coming upon the scene of the woman standing above Mihoshi, black blade lined up with the fallen girlís chest, a surge of deadly rage had washed over him as he rushed into the clearing and prepared to fight the woman to the death if necessary. And it had been necessary.

But that was over now. Rushing quickly, Tenchi kneeled down beside Mihoshi and checked her pulse. It was steady, and her breathing was regular. There were no outward signs of injuries. All she needed to do was wake up. He prayed she would wake up.

"Mihoshi," Tenchi said softly in conjunction with shaking her slightly. He was rewarded with a gentle, "Ohhh." And Mihoshiís eyes fluttered open. It took several seconds for cognizance to return.

Seeing her eyes holding awareness, Mihoshi-type awareness, which tended to be different from most other peopleís, Tenchi breathed sigh of relief. "Thank goodness. I thought yo…"

"AHHH!" Mihoshi screamed as she hit him with a palm thrust that connected hard with his chin. She rolled out of his grasp and into a standing position next to his stunned form. She quickly pulled the top of her uniform up, covering her revealed flesh. "I canít believe you did that! And I trusted you so much, Tenchi."

Senses just started to return to Tenchi, or so he thought, until hearing the accusation from Mihoshi. "What?"

"I canít believe youíd hit me in the back of my head and try to take advantage of me while I was unconscious!"

"I did not —

"You didnít have to knock me out. If you wanted to have sex, all you had to do was ask."

Tenchi facefaulted. That proved both a mistake and wake up call at the same time.

[Oi, there. Did I just hear what I think I heard?]

Tenchi raised himself into a cross-legged position on the ground and tried shutting out the advice from the voice in his head as Mihoshi continued on about how she might not have come on as strong as Ryouko, but she was not as straight-laced as Aeka, and that she was a mature, if still young, woman who was perfectly capable of making important decisions in her life about that sort of thing and who she would like to do it with and what may or may not happen as a result of that sort of behavior.

The speech continued for about five minutes or so with Mihoshi meticulously detailing the reasons as to why she might be willing to engage in that sort of behavior with him. The girl had an eye for detail, and for being thorough, he had to admit.

Once she paused to take a breath, Tenchi finally said, "Actually, it was that woman over there who hit you. She was trying to kill you and me. I had no choice but to kill her instead."

Mihoshi looked in surprise at the body. "Oh. Okay. Iím sorry I accused you of that, then."

"No problem." Besides, it was not a wasted effort on her part. He now had another insight into Mihoshiís mind. He wasnít sure if he could actually understand it, but he was pretty sure he could sort out the important bits and make sense out of them.

Mihoshi straightened up. "Weíd better get back to the cave. There might have been more than one, and the others might be trying to steal that big orb."

"I hadnít thought of that." Tenchi rose to his feet and activated the Master Key. Again it worked. The little problem he had with powering up the blade back at the pass seemed to be behind him now as he had the flow of energy and concentration problems finally beaten.

"Letís go." Mihoshi began to head towards the cave.

Moving through the gloom, they carefully searched the area before ascertaining no one was there. After determining that there would be no more ambushes, the two headed for the cave.

Once they were within ten feet of the entrance, Tenchi began to speak. "I think weíd better…" He trailed off as he heard a gentle unlocking noise come from the direction of the orb. For some odd reason, the smooth surface of the polynison had begun to retract, the top pulling back and gathering around the bottom. He stood transfixed as it continued opening until the top half had retracted and the contents within the orb could be clearly seen at last.

A small metal platform, no bigger than a meter wide, sat in the bottom of the sphere. A mechanical device was on the bottom of the small platform, evidently creating the small rippling flow of blue-hued yet transparent energy that formed a dome over the true contents of the orb. Tenchi recognized it as a stasis field, something Washuu had pointed out to him one of the times he dared to venture into her lab without others accompanying him.

"You mean all of this is for some funny looking flower?" Tenchi said, staring at the brightly colored foot tall plant.

Mihoshiís reaction was to visibly pale as she fell to her knees in shock at the impossible image before her. There was only the faintest of whispers upon her lips, but it was loud enough for Tenchi to hear.



To be continued.

Chapter 9
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