Disclaimer: Tenchi Muyo!/No Need For Tenchi is a product of Pioneer/AIC. As such, I'm getting no compensation for writing this fiction other than my own enjoyment and to bring pleasure to the fans of this wonderful series.
Disclaimer: The X-Files is the product of Chris Carter and 20th Century Fox. As such, I'm getting no compensation for writing this fiction other than my own enjoyment and to bring pleasure to the fans of this excellent series.
Disclaimer: The copyright holders own the songs and poems that appear in this series.
Disclaimer: All characters 'I' have created are purely a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is pure coincidence.
Notes: This is my first fanfic and I would appreciate any comments about this work. Currently I have no web site but I have two E-mail addresses:
This is a crossover story that I hope to turn into a series should my efforts are considered worthy. I'm blending the OAV Tenchi universe of romance/humor/action with the X-Files universe of alien-government conspiracies and weird events. The series starts during the events of episode two ("Here Comes Ayeka") and the first season of the X-Flies (both taking place in 1992). I do not know if this has already been done, since I have just started to read fanfiction. If anyone wants to use any of the characters I have created here, please contact me first (especially about Anthony MacClean). I don't know the organizational structure of law enforcement in Nihon and have assumed that it is similar to ours. If you know something that would improve my knowledge about this subject, please contact me. If you have questions about the story or how I portrayed the characters please read the notes at the end of the book, contact me at my e-mail addresses or post a message at the Ayeka Fan Club message board. I will have a separate glossary of Nihongo words and idioms to help readers understand them. Again, please let me know what you think.
Dedication: This series is dedicated to the people who brought Tenchi Muyo to life: Hayashi Hiroki, Kajshima Masaki, Hasegawa Naoko, and Kuroda Yosuke. We also honor Chris Carter for his great series.
Warning: Just like the Tenchi Muyo OAV and the X-Flies this work contains adult language and situations, so any minor should get parents' permission before reading it.
Tenchi Muyo/X-Files Crossover
Series Title: "Strange Days"
Book One title: "With a Little Help From Our Friends"
A Fan-Fiction by Horosha
Copyright: June 2, 2000
Prologue: Kurashiki, Nihon.
A cool morning breeze passes over the slightly quiet land surrounding the Inland Sea, the unseen sun lightens the sky behind the still darken hills of Shikoku Island. Purposely getting up at 3:00 a.m., Tomas Long wants to avoid the effect of the Nihonese commuters would have on his creative skill, in capturing the beauty of the Seto-ohashi Bridge on film. Standing on Washu-zan Hill, Tomas flips open the light meter in his right hand, to make sure there is enough light for his camera and camcorder. Satisfy with the reading, he takes four photos and a five-minute film section before moving, by rental car, over to the northern entrance of the bridge. In fact, Seto-ohashi Bridge consists of several bridges that hop from island to island, connecting Honshu with its smaller companion. Each segment a magnificent double-level suspension bridge, which carries both car and rail traffic across the blue water.
As Tomas' footsteps echo on the pedestrian walkway, he stops every 100 feet to take some more photos and film from different angles and settings. By 4:00 a.m. the 35-year-old man reaches the center span. Taking his camcorder, Tomas starts to record a panoramic view of the Inland Sea and the surrounding islands. Reaching the middle of the watery expanse, the blue-eyed American is startle by a sudden brightening of the sapphire sky. Letting out a gasp of surprise, his upper body bends twists around to see a huge fireball falling toward him. Barely able to realize his camcorder is still filming, his weak arms are just able to keep the camcorder on the falling object. With seconds ticking by, his consciousness realizes that the burning meteor will fall several hundred meters away from him.
Buoyant by the fact he would be filming one of this year's milestones, Long is sure his hobby of photographing and filming bridges is about to pay off. As the falling object comes closer to the ground, Tomas zooms in to get some close-ups. Again, a grasp slip involuntarily from his lips as his lens reveals the object to be two entities embracing. The lower object appears to be made of a light color material while the other one appearance is like a black multi-point starfish. As he tracks the two falling objects, he guesses that they will land between the bridge and Nao-shima Island. As they near the water, Tomas' camcorder brings more details of the two objects; was the lower one made of wood?
At 20 feet above the sea's surface, Tomas' jaw falls as the lower object explodes in white flames and sends a bright glare through the camcorder that blinds the blond man. Tomas' head lurches left to right as he stumbles away from the railing, trying to dispel the white spots from his eyes. When the spots slowly fade away, Long's returning vision fills him with horror as he sees the two embracing objects tumbling across the sea, heading straight at him and the bridge. Tomas turn to flee with camcorder still in hand but his fear-weakened legs carry him only a few yards before the objects smash into the center section and sends a massive steel cable slamming into Long's frame and hurls the broken body off the structure.
Opening Song: The X-Flies Theme Intro.
Chapter One: Your Wildest Dreams
As the first telephone ring blares into the bedroom of Fox Mulder, the still unconscious body hasn't registered the machine's existence. It wasn't until the fourth time that the annoying sound is made that the brain decides the stimulus must end. Barely reaching a conscious level, the body rolls onto its back, causing the right hand to limply flop onto the telephone. After a couple more rings, the hand picks up the receiver and brings it to lips cover with a crust of dry spit
"Mulder here," the words barely audible over the phone.
"Sorry to get you out of bed," informs Assistant Director Walter Skinner. "But there is an investigation that requires someone with your expertise."
"Sir, its 3:00 in the morning. Even the bad guys know when its time to sleep."
"Not where you are going," replies Mulder's smiling boss. "There it's five p.m."
Mulder's eyelids flip open as his light blue eyes sharpen with curiosity. "Where would that be?"
"Okayama, Japan," Skinner answers.
The young man bolt upright in bed as Skinner's two little words fully wakes him. "JAPAN?" A stun Mulder shouts.
"Specifically the destruction of the middle span of the Seto-ohashi Bridge," informs the now grinning Skinner.
"How does this involve the FBI?" a suspicious glare entering the brown hair man eyes.
"An American Federal employee was killed when the bridge was destroy by what is being reported as a meteor strike," Skinner's grin widens as he dangles the verbal bait in front of his most difficult agent. "Because of existing International agreements, the Japanese government has asked for our aid in the investigation."
"Then why don't we send NASA?" as more doubt enters sleepy man's mind.
"Because the meteor that hit the bridge has DISAPPEARED," Skinner emphasizes the last word.
"I'll be right there," Mulder informs his boss as he hangs up the phone, and runs to take a quick shower.
Skinner closes the line and then opens it again to make a similar call to Mulder's partner, Dana Scully.
As Mulder's dark blue car pulls up to the front of Scully's apartment, he could see her lone figure waiting for him with a green overnight suitcase similar to his brown one. As she opens the car door, he greets her, "Are you ready to go to the land of the little pink men?"
Dana dumps her bag into the backseat, drops into the front passenger seat and belts in before replying, "In Nihon, what we call Japan, the 70s brought the introduction of more meat and sugar into the average Nihonjin diet. Now the youth of Nihon have an average height of 5 feet, 8 inches tall."
"You seem to know quite a bit about the Land of the Rising Sun," Mulder comments as he pulls away from the curve, heading toward Dulles.
"My father was stationed in Nihon for several years while I was a kid," the green-eyed agent replies. "I went to the International School in Tokyo, but I spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Kurashiki, where our home was."
Seeing the light smile on Dana's lips, Mulder fills with amused curiosity, "You must have enjoyed it there."
"Nihon is one of the safest places for a kid to visit temples, shrines or just wander around. The people are kind and gentle and are always willing to help anyone in need, especially a child," a happy Scully replies. "I had great fun there and good friends."
"Well, maybe we'll have some time to sightsee after the case is over," Mulder catching the happy mode of his partner despite the loss of sleep.
"Maybe," Scully absently replies, her mind lost in half forgotten memories.
As the two agents reach their terminal in the perpetually busy Dulles, Walter Skinner is standing there with a plain fodder in his right hand. As her greets his agents, he hands the file to Mulder, "Here's the pulmonary report sent to us by the Japan National Police (Nihon Zenkoku Keisatsu), and the file on NSA Agent Tomas Long."
"Why was he there?" asks Agent Scully.
"He was on vacation," replies her boss.
"A man in the wrong place at the wrong time?" asks the redhead.
"Could be," Skinner answers vaguely.
"Exactly why is the X-Flies being sent to Nihon?" skepticism in Scully words. "Since Long is a member of the intelligence community, wouldn't the CIA feel it's their right to investigate the death of one of their own."
"There are several reasons for the CIA to stay out of the picture," replies Skinner as he counts the reasons on his left hand. "One, this investigation will be a high profile. The media will be as thick as fleas on a dog. They will dig into the past of every member of the investigating team. Now, you know how much the CIA loves the media. Exposing any of its agents to this kind of circus could easily end their career. Two, the disappearance of the meteor is the only thing suggesting an unknown element involved here. The CIA is design to get information from human sources, not from an act-of-God. Three, so far only public property was damaged here. As you have pointed out Scully, Long's death seems accidental. Nothing so far suggests his death was intentional. Four, no one trusts the CIA. Its forty-year history is of hidden agendas and keeping the truth to itself. Since international agreements now allow the FBI to be called in, to help foreign police organizations within their countries, the NZK knows it will get more reliable support from us. And five, the X-Flies is an original. Both the CIA and the NZK suffer from hardening of the arteries. Both groups' thinking is narrow minded, something like creativity is no longer found in either organization."
"So the X-Flies being sent in because we're already high profile, remarkably skilled, trustworthy and imaginative," Skinner nods at Scully words.
"It could also mean we're the sacrificial lamb should something go wrong," Mulder points out.
"You won't know until you get there. So, take care of yourselves." With that Skinner turns and starts to walk toward the airport's exit.
The two FBI agents board the Boeing 747 jet, find their seats and belt in. As the plane taxis down the strip, Mulder starts to read the file while Scully reach's into her coat pocket to pull out a medium-sized paperback.
"Some light reading, Scully?" amusement in Mulder's voice.
"Just brushing up on my Nihongo," replies a slightly annoyed Scully, as the cover shows that the book is a Japanese-English dictionary.
As the steel bird lifts off the runway, Mulder starts to read Long's profile. A 36-year-old bachelor, who's been with the National Security Agency for the pass 16 years, this man has spent most of his time behind a desk in Washington, D.C. as one of its chief analysts. The only time he leaves his enclosed world is to travel across the world seeking bridges. A copy of Long's travel log shows that whenever he accumulates enough vacation, this single man would visit a bridge. At first, it began with bridges within the U.S., but soon his itinerary begins to encompass many countries around the world. Some of the places Long visit, puzzle the FBI agent.
"Scully, there seems to be something unusual about this man's travels," comments Mulder.
"Hmm," replies Scully as she lifts her head up.
"Long's record show he visited several high-risk countries. Federal procedure should have prevented this man, with his knowledge of government secrets, from going to," Mulder whispers.
"So you think he could be a courier?" her soft voice reaches his ear.
"It's possible," concludes Mulder. The agent's cellular phone starts to ring, breaking his concentration. Reaching into his coat pocket, his right hand pulls out the small object, "Mulder here."
"Hey Mulder, we'll hear you're making a business trip to Sumo Land," a light voice states. Mulder recognizes it as belonging to Melvin Frohike, one of the Lone Gunmen. He could hear the others greet him in the background.
"How did you guys find out?" a surprise Mulder asks.
"Who is it?" wonders Scully.
"The Three Kings," Mulder informs his partner, using one of the many code names for the trio.
"Byers was monitoring phone traffic, early this morning, when the communications between the FBI and the JNP became hot and heavy at 2:30 a.m.," states the balding man as he switches the phone to conference mode.
"Then news of the meteor strike on the Seto Bridge, hit CNN," Ringo Langly nasal voice echoing over the phone.
"Our source in Japan sent us an e-mail at 2:55 a.m.," the quiet voice of John Byers fills Mulder's ear. "He informed us that the JNP was very nervous about something."
"The clincher came when the automatic surveillance alarm kicked off, telling us that you received a phone call," the bespectacled longhair says.
"So you waited long enough for us to be in-flight before calling," Mulder wonders.
"Correct," Frohike replies. "We wanted to let you know that we have members at your destination."
"So if you need any help, they can help you," adds Byers.
"I'll keep that in mind," says Mulder.
"A little help from your friends," Langly adds as an audible click informs Mulder the end of the call.
"Scully?" asks an irked Mulder.
"Yes?" replies a smiling Scully, knowing how tick her partner is.
"Remind me to change my phone number when I get home,"
Nobuyuki's brown van pulls away from the house as he starts his daily journey to work. Since he wants to take pictures of their crash site during lunch, his black camera bag is in the seat next to him. "It would be great for the family album," he remembers telling Tenchi.
As the sound of the vehicle fades away, Sasami starts to explore the Masaki home. Unlike the natural bending of wood that you find in Juri architecture from palaces to humble family homes, this intriguing building seems to be an effort to force wood, metal and ceramic into these people's idea of order. As the little pink-eyed girl leaves the family room to enter the kitchen, she inhales the wonderful odors drifting in the air, from Tenchi's father's cooking. The 8-year-old stops in front of a ceramic basin, where dirty dishes wait to be clean. Checking the drawers around the sink, the curious child searches for the liquid dish soap. Noting the two levers and the spout over the washbasin, she touches the left one. A gush of cold water pours out of the spout, hitting a plate that sent droplets into the air that strikes the giggling girl. Experimenting with the levers and spout, she quickly learns to control the force and temperature of the water. Making a swift decision, she puts the plug at the hole in the basin's bottom and adds the soap to the water. Watching the suds foam, the blue-hair child hears the kitchen door open. As she turns, she could see Tenchi at the door, dress in his brown shirt and light gray pants.
"I was just about to do those dishes, Sasami-chan," says the surprised black-haired boy.
"No, let me," Sasami requests. "I want to repay you for taking my oneesama (older sister) and me in."
"But it isn't an oujosama's (princess) job," the young man states.
"I want to try it," a pleading Sasami looks Tenchi straight in the eye. "I was never allowed to do anything but study, go to parties and play. Please Tenchi-san."
"Alright," Tenchi knows he has lost. "But you better turn the water off before the sink overflows."
The child let out a little squeal. Then she thumps the levers closed as some of the suds cling to the child's green dress. "Here, wear this while you do them," Tenchi handing the freckled face child a white and pink apron, with a large, bright orange carrot on it. "It will keep your clothes dry and clean."
"Thanks," replies the blushing child.
"Since you have this under control, I'm going to the shrine to let Ojiisama (Grandfather) know he has some new neighbors," the brown-eyed boy informs the princess.
"Oke (Okay)," the little girl picks up a blue washcloth in her right hand and a decorative plate in the other. As Tenchi opens the rear door to the house, he could hear Sasami hum a happy tune. As he walks toward the stone stairway, he is unaware of a pair of yellow cat's eyes following him. Setting atop the home's roof, uchu kaizoku (a space pirate) Ryoko observes the young man's movement. Smiling, the cyan-haired lady fades from view, only to reappear a couple of inches behind Tenchi. She follows him for a moment, her feminine body just floating off the ground.
"Where you going, Tenchi?" she purrs in his left ear seconds before her arms embrace his neck. The young man lets out a shout of surprise, as he tries to jump away.
"RYOKO!" as shock fills his words. "I'm not a mouse for you to pounce on!"
"Ohhh . . . I just want to have a little fun, koibito (sweetheart)," a lusty smile dances upon her lips and wears a light green and red dress, with all the right cuts to reveal her best attributes.
"Hey, don't get any ideas, Ryoko. I just met you last night, okay," Tenchi reacting to Ryoko calling him her sweetheart.
"But I feel like I've known you since you were a kochan (little child)," a playful Ryoko informs him. She floats besides Tenchi, still clinging to the young man as they continue to the stairway. As he tries to ignore her playing with his tiny ponytail, Ryoko's words awaken in his memory a time when a little boy saw a pretty lady who wasn't there. Could that have been Ryoko?
Up in the room given to Ayeka and Sasami, the First Princess of Jurai sits on her futon, her pink face wet from the salt tears that she couldn't prevent from falling. Darkness fills her thoughts as the revelations of the past 24 hours continue to replay in her mind. 'My inazuke (fiancé) is dead. My inazuke is dead. My inazuke is dead. He defeats Ryoko-san seven hundred years ago, seals the bakemono (monster) in the cave, but then what happens? No! I know what happens! He decides not to return to me! To marry me! He marries someone else! He marries an EARTH WOMAN! He chooses an EARTHLING over me! Why! Why! Why! DIDN'T HE LOVE ME?' As her soundless cries bring no answers, the tears continue to fall.
As Tenchi and Ryoko reach the stairs, Ryoko shifts her arms from his neck to his left arm, allowing the shorthaired boy to walk up the staircase. Leaning her head on his shoulder, her spirit fills with joyful thoughts. To touch his body, to smell his breath, to hear his heart beat, and to know he was finally hers, her Tenchi. No longer condemn to that patch of ground surrounding her cave, waiting for his visits. Now she could go with him. To see his world, to meet his friends, and to protect him from all the pain and tears the universe can inflict.
"OJIISAMA!" shouts Tenchi as the couple moves along the stone path, toward the shrine's office. Hearing no reply, the boy again utters, "OJIISAMA, where are you?" as they walkup the wooden steps to the office.
When the two reaches the door, Ryoko detects a creak coming from the roof. "TENCHI, WATCH OUT," she shouts, pushing the young man behind her.
A blur of blue and white swings, by the left hand, from the roof and lands lightly in front of Ryoko, on the veranda. The space pirate sees an old man, in Shinto grab, holding a bokken in his right hand. The elder charges at them, bringing the wooden weapon up for a two-handed overhead strike.
"TENCHI! STAY BEHIND ME!" shouts Ryoko as she clutches her red energy sword.
The two weapons meet. The blow drives Ryoko down to one knee but she shifts her weight to her right foot and drives her sword point toward the priest's right leg. Ryoko's blow never touches him as the man leaps sideways and lands on the shrine's sandy ground. The wild woman lets out a roar, springs after him and swings her red sword up for a left-to-right head move. Moving his right foot back, the old man deflects the red blade along the bokken, then rolls his wrists and knees right-to-left, for a quick strike at Ryoko's butt as she passes by. A loud smack results.
"WHY YOU CHIKAN! (Pervert)" screams Ryoko as she slides to a halt, then turns to charge.
"STOP, STOP RYOKO! THIS IS MY OJIISAMA!" declares Tenchi, placing himself between the two combatants.
"But he attacked us," a confused look upon Ryoko's face.
"It's just one of his surprise attacks," Tenchi informs her calmly. "He pulls this strategy on me all the time."
"One should always be prepared for the unexpected, Tenchi," mirth touches the words of the otherwise serious grandfather. Lowering his sword point, the priest gives Ryoko a short bow, "I'm Masaki Katsuhito, this most fortunate boy's ojiisama and guji (chief priest) at this shrine."
"You mean the only shinshoku (Shinto Priest) at the shrine," Tenchi smirks.
"Allow an old man some illusion of status," Katsuhito calmly retorts.
"I'm Ryoko, Tenchi's new kanojo (girlfriend)," says Ryoko as she returns the old priest's bow.
"She is not my garufurendo (girlfriend)," replies a stubborn Tenchi. "She's the akurei (demon) in the story you told me about."
"Ara (Oh)," the surprise in his Grandfather?s voice sounds off key. "Maybe you should explain it to me."
Tenchi starts with the events leading to him releasing Ryoko from her cave. Then he continues with the tales of the destruction of the high school, the appearance of Ayeka and Sasami, and the smashing of the Seto-ohashi Bridge. "Now, our home's next to the lake by the foot of the shrine's staircase."
"Let this be a lesson to you, boy," a calm Katsuhito comments. "There are always consequences for our actions, both good or bad. As for the girls, I welcome them as guests to this place. They will bring life to this peacefully dull place."
"Even Ryoko?" asks a surprised Tenchi.
"You freed her. Ryoko is now your responsibility," a ghostly smile upon his face. "As long as she behaves herself at the shrine, I greet her too. Maybe you can invite her to some of our practice matches. Another partner might polish your martial arms. Now, let's go see our other guests."
As the three walks to the gray stone steps, Ryoko rubs the spot where the bokken hit her butt. She gives the priest a hot glare, barely suppressing the feeling to repay the priest for her indignity. When Tenchi starts down the steps, the young man realizes that Ryoko's blade should have sliced through his grandfather's bokken. Why didn't it?
As the dishes dry in the rack, Sasami explores the rest of the kitchen. She first examines the stove and finds the metal machine looks no different from the ones in the Royal Palace's kitchen. While the rest of man's machines and methods have change over the centuries, his way of cooking his food has not. All methods remain the same: boiling, frying and baking. Even microwave ovens use those processes just in reverse. When the pink-eyed girl turns a knob, a bright blue flame pops out of the right front hole on top. She quickly perceives that the stove heating comes from natural gas, just like the ones back home. Next comes the refrigerator but the little princess found the manner of cooling for this machine to be primitive, even dangerous since its emissions damages the planet's life force. She opens the door to find fresh fruits, vegetables, and bottled goods inside and realizes her dream has come true. Her whole time living in the palace all she wants to do is to cook. Within her private quarters are secret stashes of cookbooks from all over the galaxy. They give her dreams of becoming a master cook, an iron chef as they call them here in Nihon. Now, Sasami could do it here without her parents, tutors or servants telling her it wasn't something a princess was allow to do. As images of gyoza and yakisoba dance in her head, Tenchi, Ryoko and Katsuhito enter through the back door after they leave their shoes on the genkan (entryway).
Ryoko sees the dreamy look in the princess' pink eyes and asks with a smile on her lips, "What's up kiddo?"
Startle back into reality, the little one blushes and replies, "Nothing, Ryoko-san." When Sasami sees the new person, the child lightly runs over to stand in front of him.
"This is my ojiisama, Masaki Katsuhito," Tenchi introduces the youngster to his grandfather. "He is the Shinto priest at the Masaki Shrine, atop the mountain behind the house."
"An honor to meet you, noble priest, I'm Masaki Sasami Jurai," responds a bowing Sasami.
"I receive your honor and give to you, an equal measure of my honor to keep," Katsuhito returning the little one's proper bow.
"Your myoji (surname) is the same as ours?" questions Tenchi.
"Of course baka wa (silly)," amusement in Sasami's voice. "Yosho is our oniisama (brother)."
"Your niisan (brother)?" disbelief in Tenchi's tone. "But Yosho-sama lived over seven hundred years ago and you don't look that old?"
"Well . . . we slept most of the time in our search for him," puzzles Sasami over Tenchi's reaction.
"Slept?" wonders the brown-eyed youth.
"Ai (Oh)! You don't know," brightens the little princess. "A space journey can be long between inhabited worlds. So people will go into a suspended sleep. It's kind of a dreamless sleep, at least for some." Katsuhito detects a somber note in the little one's last words.
"Why were you on such a long voyage?" Tenchi words reflect the curiosity in his face.
"Yosho-sama was not only our oniisama, he was oneesama's inazuke," informs Sasami.
"Her inazuke!" Tenchi's voice jumps.
"Actually, their ibokyodai (half-brother)," pipes in Ryoko.
"Their ibokyodai?" confusion reigns in Tenchi's words.
"Gomen nasai (I'm sorry), I make your eyes grow dizzy," frowns Sasami. "Let me try again. Oneesama and I are the daughters of Misaki-sama while oniisama's mother is Funaho-sama. Our otousama is Azusa-sama, the Emperor of Jurai. Our parents arranged the marriage between my oneesama and my oniisama to take place after her twentieth birthday, this is how most marriages between nobles are made on Jurai."
Tenchi remembers Ayeka's reaction when she heard of Yosho's death and says, "She must love him."
"Okasama (Mother) told me oneesama was so happy about the news she changed the color of her hair to match our otousama's," adds Sasami as a sad smile appears on her lips. "Oneesama waited for our oniisama to return but he never did. So when she reached her twentieth birthday she took Ryu-oh to find him. I came because I didn't want her to be lonely."
"Has Oujosama Ayeka come out of your room?" Tenchi's concern plain on his face.
"No," sadness further clouds the brightness of Sasami's face. "After Ryu-oh sank deep into the lake, oneesama went to her room and has not left since."
"Has she done this before?" the worry in Tenchi's words causes Ryoko's eyes to narrow.
"Yes, she has. Whenever something bad happens to oneesama, she hides in her room. Sometimes for days," Sasami words try to calm Tenchi's fears.
"Hey, let's not worry about Oujosama Pitiful," states a frowning Ryoko.
"You were responsible for crashing her ship, Ryoko!" Tenchi snaps.
"She was trying to kill me," shoots back Ryoko, her eyes as hard as amber.
"Kill you?" asks Tenchi as his brown eyes fill with shock.
"She tortured me with the Master Key," Ryoko loosens her belt, opens her top enough to reveal a horrible burn on her stomach while her words continue, "I couldn't allow her to have access to her battleship, I couldn't allow her to take me back to Jurai." Tenchi could see in the woman's yellow eyes the unspoken terror of what the ruby-eyed princess might have done on the way there, he realizes the depth of Ayeka's love for the legendary Yosho matches her hatred for Ryoko.
"Can't you heal this kind of damage?" concern enriches Tenchi's words.
"Don't spread your mind, Tenchi. It just takes longer because of the nature of the weapon's energy," Ryoko tries to sound tough but the youth notes the hollowness of her bravo. 'Is the uchu kaizoku just a shell that covers a lonely woman?' he thinks.
"Well, since our other guest is indisposed," Katsuhito calm voice changes the subject. "Why don't we have some sencha (Nihon green tea)?" Everyone nods eagerly, especially Sasami.
As Tenchi brings out the white ceramic teapot and flower covered cups, the elder priest fills the steel kettle with water, puts it on the burner, and turns on the flame. The elder notes that the freckle-faced child is watching his every move. "You know it is impolite to stare," the old man gently rebukes the youngster.
"I'm sorry," the embarrassed girl replies. "I just want to watch you prepare this sencha."
"You like to cook?" Katsuhito carefully probes. Knowing her secret might be out, the fearful little one nods. "Then you can help me."
Delight fills Sasami's face. Someone is willing to let her help in the kitchen. As quickly as her little feet can move, she follows the elder's direction to find the tea leaves, the sugar and other items. Tenchi's smiles at the happiness Sasami brings to the kitchen. The child's delight also banishes away the darkness that lurks within Ryoko's soul, leaving a happy grin on the uchu kaizoku's lips. With the tea ready, Sasami leads the way to the chabudai (low table), carrying the full ceramic teapot with a pair of cooking mittens. Tenchi follows her with the teacups, with Ryoko closely next to him, and Katsuhito brings up the rear with some miscellaneous items.
Katsuhito sits at the head of the chabudai with Tenchi and Ryoko on his right while Sasami places herself on his left. The little princess carefully pours the hot tea in the small teacups, which the elder passes to the others. Each waits until all have a full cup in front of them before they pick it up and take a small sip.
"Excellent, Sasami," compliments Katsuhito as he lets the pleasant flavor to lighten his spirit.
"This is great, little one," adds Ryoko. "I'm not much on cha but you did a wonderful job."
"Arigato (Thanks)," replies Sasami with a touch of red to her cheeks.
Sasami words sparks Tenchi curiosity and he asks the princess, "You speak Nihongo very well. I can understand how Ryoko learned our language but who taught you?"
"I don't speak Nihongo," replies Sasami.
"You don't, Sasami?" wonders Tenchi.
"Baka wa, I speak Juraigo," giggles the blue-haired girl.
"But the words are Nihongo," states Tenchi.
"And they are Juraigo, too," her pink eyes' humorous gleam matches her words.
"Do you know why?" questions the black-haired youth.
"No, I don't Tenchi-san," her words become a little serious. "Except for a few strange words like television and radio and some words I've heard on both of them, we speak and understand the same words."
"Interesting," adds Katsuhito. "Two cultures separated by the black ocean of space able to touch each others ki (spirit) without doubt."
As the mirthful people continue to share the simple pleasure of a cup of tea, their cheerful voices echo up the stairs and into Ayeka's presence. Anger burns anew as she recognizes the bakemono's voice, along with Sasami's laughter and Tenchi's comments. The fourth voice is familiar but she can't remember its owner. The long trip in deep sleep, the battle with that Ryoko woman, the revelations of Yosho's marriage and death, and the loss of Ryu-oh leaves her memory like a shatter mirror. 'Let them laugh!' anger/sorrow tangles her thoughts, 'They can find pleasure on this PIECE OF DIRT! I will not let them divert me away from MY GRIEF! I cry for you, NIISAN! I cry for you, RYU-OH! I cry for me, AYEKA!'
Later as he walks toward the red torii (sacred gate) in front of the granite stairway, Katsuhito is glad that Sasami didn't recognize him. A child of three tender years, when he last views those bright pink eyes, Yosho couldn't be sure she would not recognize him. When she stared at him, while making the tea, his fear that his illusionary appearance is undone seizes his heart. Only when Sasami told him of her secret to him, Sasami love of cooking, does he know his disguise is complete. But there is something else bothering him. Sasami seems different from before. An aurora surrounds the child. It was something no one else would notice. Only his training as a Shinto priest and a Jurain warrior allows him to sense her uniqueness.
Ryoko's statement about Ayeka's behavior deeply disturbs Yosho. He feels the truth in the uchu kaizoku's words for he knows the mind of the person he has guarded for 700 years. The darling sister he cares so much for would never bring agony like this princess has done. "What has happened to you, my Ayeka?" guilt tinting his words. "Did I do this to you?"
Ringo Langly stares at the monitor, waiting for the message from Japan, while his stomach rumbles like the 1812 Overture. "When will our breakfast get here?"
"Don't worry, Starr?" Melvin Frohike uses the blonde-haired man's nickname. "The Ice Cream Man should be back from IHOP real soon."
"I hope so. You know he would hate to miss a chance to talk to Single Bullet," concern enters Langly's voice.
"You worry about how late he is?" Frohike's own worry quite visible.
Just then the door opens. John Byers enters the room carrying their breakfast in three disposable containers. "Has he called?" are Byers first words.
"Nope," replies Frohike. As the word leaves the balding man's lips, the computer comes to life as the words appear on the screen: Mary had a little lamb. Langly quickly taps in the countersign: It tasted good for dinner.
Single Bullet: Create some better passwords, please. I get hungry for lamb every time I see it and do you know how expensive lamb is in Nihon?
LG: We'll think about it. You're late.
Single Bullet: The crowds around the site are thick with shutterbugs and camcorders. It took me over an hour to get to a hookup for my laptop.
LG: What's the scoop?
Single Bullet: I was able to get close to the NZK investigators. Since they see me as a gaijin (foreigner) tourist, many of them spoke openly, in Nihongo, in front of me. They say that none of the meteor's fragments have been found. Those witnesses at the scene say that the object bounced across the water like a giant skipping stones. The dead American has been taken to the forensic lab at Okayama Police Department.
LG: Has the FBI shown up yet?
Single Bullet: No. The agents won't be here for another four hours, at about 2:00 a.m. The NZK will take them to the site early tomorrow morning. The regular deka (policemen) complained that the American gaijins will stay at the best hotel in Okayama, the Culture Hotel.
LG: You will make contact with Mulder?
Single Bullet: No. I'll let them make the first move. There are already strange men, in black suits with reflective sunglasses, here.
LG: You think it's a crash site?
Single Bullet: Don't know yet, but someone thinks it is. Sayonara.
The message ends, leaving more questions than answers for the Lone Gunmen.
As Nobuyuki drives the van into his home's new driveway, he notices the finished ditches to connect the house to his adopted father's shrine's septic tank and water purifier. He is thankful that Katsuhito's position, in the Shinto priesthood, requires the necessity of a telephone at the shrine. Seeing the house's lights on, he is happy for the elder's advanced age, which allows the priest to get the luxury of electricity. Parking the automobile next to building, the father, in his brown sarariman's (salary-man) suit, slowly climbs the wooden steps to the front door. Sliding the door open and stepping in, the most wonderful smells and tastes caresses his fatigued senses. Has Tenchi been taking lessons in cooking from someone?
"Tenchi! You finally know how to cook properly," Nobuyuki voice fills with glee.
"Actually, otousan (father), it's not me," Tenchi's corrects his dad.
"Not Ryoko-san?" puzzles the brown-eyed man. He wonders if the job description for uchu kaizoku includes cooking.
"Oh no!" The shock is clearly visible in his son's face. A person with Ryoko's willingness to eat anything could 'accidentally' poison the whole family.
"Then who?" confusion very visible in the middle-age man's face.
"It's Sasami-chan," answers the smiling young man in the light blue yukata (a lightweight kimono). "She's a wonderful cook."
After Nobuyuki removes his shoes and places his feet in a pair of slippers, he walks toward the chabudai. As he sits, Sasami comes out of the kitchen with a tray of food and drink. "Tenchi told me that you would be late tonight. So I kept your dinner warm," worry creeps into her words. "I asked Tenchi to tell me what a traditional Nihon dinner is? So I made this following his instructions."
"This is great. My mouth will be enriched by your food," a joyful Nobuyuki states, thus casts out all fears from the little child's heart. "Itadakimasu (I shall eat)."
After allowing his father to eat for a while, Tenchi asks his father, "Otousan, what did you find at the bridge?" Ryoko leans forward from her pillow, on Tenchi's right, and Sasami pauses at the kitchen door, with a fresh pot of tea.
"The police are breathing hard through their noses to come up with answers for the public," Nobuyuki reports between bites.
"I thought they decided it was a meteor," concern touches Tenchi's words.
"The rumor is the NZK's drivers have found nothing," sorrow fills Tenchi's father's brown eyes. "A man was on the bridge when we hit it, an American."
"HE'S DEAD?" Shock drains the color from Tenchi's face. His father barely nods. Wordlessly Tenchi gets up from his pillow, next to the low table, turns and walks toward the steps to his room; Ryoko fades from her pillow.
Sasami comes over to Nobuyuki. "Will Tenchi-san be alright, Nobuyuki-san?" the little princess asks as she fills his teacup with streaming green liquid.
"He should be fine by tomorrow morning," Nobuyuki replies, his mustache wet from the miso soup. "He has a serious heart, like his mother, but he seems to be able to accept pain and go on." Grinning up at the twin ponytail child, he adds, "Please don't call me Nobuyuki-san. I get enough of that at work."
"Oke, otousama but only if you call me Sasami," she asks.
"Oke, Sasami-chan," Nobuyuki's quiet words are strangely pleasant to the little one.
Unaware by the two down below, Ryoko sits in the rafters, silent tears flowing down her face. She couldn't understand why she was crying. In the service of Kagato, she has sent many people, men, women and children, into death's realm. Why should one more lifeless corpse bring such remorse? Was this what love does to a person? Does it make you weak, caring about the sufferings of others? It wasn't as if her plans include the killing of the man; it was an accident. Still, the drops continue to leave her small chin.
In a monstrous ship of silver metal, thousands of light-years away from the yellow sun that is Sol, a great mind in a tiny body fills with joy. Held within a huge clear crystal, with her are two ivory snakes surrounding a golden owl's body, her only connection to the universe tells that her child was becoming more than an uchu kaizoku. Without touch, smell, sight and hearing, the link given by the GEMS keeps her sane, but not without a cost. Her soul carries the scars of unshed tears. A tear for every person her daughter kills, for every world her daughter turns to dust, for every beautiful achievement, of sentient endeavor, her daughter smashes into rubble; only her knowledge as to the real cause of this ruthless terror, keeps her life spark alive. 'She is becoming more than a weapon, KAGATO-SAN!' Her thoughts burn hot. 'She cares for others! The tears she sheds are no longer just for self-pity! Not for the seven hundred years inside the cave! The boy's presence cracks the armor you place in her SOUL! By the time you reach her, MY SON, you will be in for a BIG SURPRISE!'
Chapter 2: Driftwood
As Mulder and Scully walk down the jet's exit to the main body of Kansai International Airport, both agents' thoughts fill with different emotions. Hearing words of the people around her, Scully memories of the past again arise to excite her. Images of an honorable Shinto priest reciting to a redhead child and her friends ghost stories on gloomy nights, learning to ride a bicycle with a raven-haired girl and a brown-eyed boy running beside her and the many hours of word games her friends and the priest use to teach her this island?s language. The echoes of her distant experiences are not lost for she remembers the rhythm, texture and humor of this land. Mulder's emotion is the opposite of his partner?s. The voices he hears bring feelings of isolation and impairment. Here he would have to work with an interpreter, whenever Scully wasn't with him, to ask questions and get answers. Would he get the truth from the people or a censor one from the interpreter? Never has he ever worked with these restrictions on his deductive mind. Looking up ahead, Mulder could see a group of men, wearing brown and black business suits, standing with one of them holding a sign saying: FBI.
"I thought you said that the Nips were subtle people, Scully," Mulder teases dryly as amusement flashes in his green eyes.
"Mulder, they are Nihonjin or Japanese," displeasure in Scully's voice. "Calling them Nips is like calling an African American a Nigger."
"Did I touch a nerve, Scully?" guesses Mulder with a devilish smile on his face
"I know why they?re nervous," retorts Scully. "Your reputation precedes you, Mulder."
"I hope not." Mulder's smile fades as earlier fears resurface.
"Get your cards ready," Scully reminds him as she reaches into her right coat pocket.
"Right," Mulder quickly clearing his mind for the upcoming ritual.
When both parties come within arm reach, the two groups' stop to bow deeply to each other and then exchange business cards.
"Konnichiwa, (good morning)" replies Scully as she shacks hands with each person there.
"So you remember our words, Scully-san," the elder of the group states in slightly accented English.
"You handle our words equally well, sir," Scully returns the white hair man's compliment.
"I'm Kajishima Satoshi, Director of the NZK," he introduces himself to the two FBI agents. "The two men to my left are Assistant Director Sato Hitoshi, of the NZK, and Senior Chief Nakazawa Kazuto, of the Okayama Police. The man to the right is Chief Detective Goto Henry, of the NZK, in charge of the investigation."
"How do we fit into this chain of command?" questions Mulder while suspicion illuminating his green eyes.
"Your investigation will be independent of Goto-san, but I hope you two can work together effectively," replies Kajishima as his brown eyes fill with hope.
"I always try, sir," Mulder replies. Scully frowns as she detects the hint of sarcasm in her partner's words.
Only Goto Henry, among the Nihonjin, seems to notice the emotions behind Mulder's words. Matching Mulder's tone, he replies, "I believe we can offer each other a different point-of-view on this case."
"That is all I ask," the old man taking both men's words at face value. "Let us take you to your hotel where you can freshen up. At 6:00 a.m., Goto-san will take you to the site."
As the two parties walk down the terminal to the exit, two men in black suits and sunglasses place their newspapers into a nearby trash can and follow them at a safe distance.
As the two cars drive across the bridge, which connects the island airport to the mainland, Mulder cannot take his eyes off the view the right side of the car shows him. Everything looks super modern. The skyline he could see ahead of them shows nothing but modern buildings reaching for the blue sky. When the white limousine reaches the end of the bridge. Mulder could see smaller buildings below the giants, but even among these buildings, only a few were older than thirty years. "Was Japan like this when you lived here, Scully?" Awe clearly touching his words.
"It just started when our family left Nihon, in 1973," Scully's quiet voice matches her partner's awe. "Most of the buildings here were old homes of fishermen and small farms."
"Your partner is correct, Mulder-san," replies Kajishima, sitting opposite Mulder. "Most of the buildings were built in the 80s."
"Impressive," Mulder stares out the window.
"Do you have any new information on the investigation?" Scully asks carefully.
Kajishima nods to Goto, who removes two folders from his briefcase and hands them to the redhead. The items draw Mulder's attention away from the window, but as his partner opens the first folder, his curiosity collapses as he sees lines of unfathomable pictographs. Scully looks up, a slight puzzlement in her green eyes. "Sorry, our translator has not completed an English version," Goto replies. Scully was sure she could hear no regret in his heavily accented words.
"That's alright. I think I can handle this," confidence clearly echoes in her words. Looking over to her brown-haired partner, "this will take some time, Mulder."
Mulder nods, saying, "I'm not going anywhere." The feeling of isolation intensifies.
The two cars continue their journey to the Culture Hotel, in Okayama. Along the way, Kajishima tries to draw Mulder into some light conversation while Goto sits silently. Mulder responses are spiritless. Mulder spends most of his time just staring out the window. When the car pulls next to the hotel, a blue uniform doorman opens the right passenger's door. Mulder, Scully and Goto leave the car, with Kajishima instructs Goto to make sure the two FBI agents get to their room. The cars slowly pull away. Mulder checks his watch, the digital numbers read 4:00 a.m. "We have time to check in and get a quick breakfast."
"Sounds like a good plan," replies Scully as they stride through the swing glass doors. None of them notice a large black car parking across from the grand building.
As the trio goes to the front desk to get the agent's keys, Mulder tells Goto, "We can find our rooms. Why don't you get us a table in the hotel's restaurant?"
Goto nods and turns toward the restaurant's entrance. As Mulder and Scully get their keys and head to the elevator, Scully asks, "That was a little too obvious, Mulder."
"I need to talk to you unhindered," distrust plain in his words. "What have the reports told you about the site?" The elevator opens and the pair enters it. Scully pushes the sixth floor button.
"The first report was the autopsy on Tomas Long," informs Dana. "He died of multiple contusions, including crush ribs and skull fractures. There is nothing mysterious about his death. The second report is more vague. Witnesses report that the meteor came from the east, skipping over the Inland Sea before hitting the bridge. None of the witnesses were close enough to see the object clearly, so a detail description is unavailable. Searches have been made to find rock shreds but nothing has turned up."
"So the meteor conclusion is still on shaky ground," concludes Mulder.
The elevator?s door open to allow the two agents to move toward their rooms while Scully adds, "Conclusive evidence is possible. Tomas Long had two camera bags and a camcorder bag with him at the time of his death. The cameras were still with him when the drivers fished his body from the Inland Sea, his camcorder bag was empty."
Stopping at the door to Scully's room, a spark of excitement enters Mulder's light green eyes. Mulder looks at his emerald-eyed companion and says, "Finding the camcorder could be the key to this Pandora's Box."
"Meaning . . . " Scully seeing more than just excitement in her partner's face.
"What if something besides a meteor hit the bridge? Something that was able to leave under its own power." Mulder informs her.
"A UFO," Scully's annoyance at her partner's ability to jump to conclusions is noticeable on her face.
"It could explain why there are no fragments of the hit," Mulder tries to banish his partner's skepticism.
"The shards could be too small to find quickly. Even if they don't find them, there's no evidence to suggest that you are correct, Mulder," Scully counters. Wishing her partner would control his imagination.
"We'll just have to find it," replies a smiling Mulder.
"Why would a UFO hit the bridge in the first place?" Scully words matching the stern expression upon her red lips.
"Maybe it ran a red light at Jupiter and was trying to avoid a ticket," answers Mulder, enjoying his partner's aggravation. As brown-haired man turns toward his door, he adds, "I don't know but I'm going to find out."
Scully mumbles as she opens her room's door, "Here we go again."
Goto Henry didn't like what he is about to do. He is a cop with twenty years of experience in the NZK. At no point in his career has him ever had to hide anything. No matter the fallout, he does his job, report what the evidence tells him, and maintains the one rule he has always live by: he never lies to another cop. Now his superiors tell him he must lie to the two Americans, he cover-ups the truth. He himself didn't know what this truth is. Only that if he discovers it first, the FBI agents must not discover it. If the Americans did find it first, it was his duty, to make sure that any evidence they found is either lost or destroy. He knows where these orders come from. He saw them at the site, blackness covering them from head to foot: the OIK. Looking up from his cup of tea, Goto could see the two agents enter the restaurant. Waving until he catches their attention, the black-haired man steels his spirit as they come over to the table.
As the pale rays of the sun parts night's blanket over the valley, the inhabitants of the Masaki home begin to rise. As Tenchi's blurry brown eyes open, he realizes that he would go to school today. One day away from school might be excusable with sickness, but more would cause problems; he would just have to trust his grandfather and the others to keep Ryoko in line. Tenchi gets out of bed, puts his dark blue uniform on, checks his briefcase and opens the door to go out. While the youth closes the door after leaving his room, a pair of yellow feline eyes watches his every movement.
"How did you sleep, Tenchi," Ryoko purrs into his right ear.
Tenchi lets out a short grasp. Then he says, "You know someday you're going to give me a heart attack, by sneaking up on me."
"I'd rather do something else to your heart, watashi no kare (my boyfriend)," Ryoko's breathy whisper touches the pale boy's ear.
Before the shorthaired boy could respond, the princess' room door opens. A perplexed Sasami, in a pink and white dress, walks out while an unseen hand closes the door behind her. Unaware of the pair's presence, the little child turns left, walks slowly to the wooden staircase and goes down it. Tenchi takes this moment to walk away from Ryoko, glad that the child's action nullifies the mode Ryoko tried to create with him.
"Why won't he play with me?" A frowning Ryoko ponders while she watches Tenchi's back. When the woman floats down the hall in pursuit of Tenchi, she hears sobbing coming from the princesses' room. "I hope she drowns in her own tears," the uchu kaizoku smirks.
Thirty minutes later Nobuyuki comes out the bathroom, feeling his chin, commenting, "Maybe I need some new razor blades?" As he walks down the stairway, a sweet aroma tickles his nose.
Reaching the chabudai, the smiling man sees breakfast is already set out. A seat is set for him, with Sasami on his left and Tenchi and Ryoko on his right. "Did you cook this wonderful choshoku (breakfast) for us, Sasami-chan?" Nobuyuki asks.
"Tenchi-san showed me what to cook and Ryoko helped set the table," replies the humble child.
"I see I'm going to have to lengthen Tenchi's practice matches to keep our appetites from advancing our weight," Katsuhito comments as he comes from the front door.
"Ohayo (good morning), jiichan," smiles Tenchi.
"Ohayo, otousan," Tenchi father's words match the amusement in his brown eyes. "I think we found a cook, who can bring honor again to our kitchen."
"Indeed," says the soft-spoken priest as he sits opposite Nobuyuki.
"Before we leave Tenchi, why don't you show Sasami-chan where okachan's (mother's) cookbooks are." A knowing look passes between father and son: it would be good to bring new memories to the kitchen.
"Hai (Yes)," acknowledges a smiling Tenchi.
As most of the households enjoy the pink-eyed child's success, the food's odor drifts into Ayeka's room. Sasami tries to talk her sister to come to the choshoku, tries to bring some sanity to Ayeka's depression but only finds a black wall. When the fragrance of fish causes the ruby-eyed lady's stomach to rumble, she steels her body to the temptation of hunger. "No, I will not! I will not surrender!" Ayeka storms. "Sasami might find this an adventure but I do not! I have lost my Ryu-oh! I have lost my Niisan! I HAVE LOST MY HOPE!"
6:00 a.m. Seto-ohashi Bridge
The cold morning air refreshes Mulder as he steps out of Chief Detective's Goto's green Toyota. A firm breeze blows across the Inland Sea to play lightly with Scully's short red hair. Following Goto, they head toward three people, one in a dark blue suit and the others in local police uniforms, waiting on the gravel beach in the shadow of the bridge's northern entrance.
"Mulder-san and Scully-san, this is First Lieutenant Hideyuki Koyama, of the NZK," the older detective introduces them to a much younger officer. "He will be your interpreter as well as your guide in Nihon, during the investigation."
A man in his early twenty steps away from the others, bows to Scully and Mulder and exchange business cards with them. "Konichiwa, I'm honor to be working with our colleagues from America," his words sounding too mechanical, too perfect.
"Is this your first assignment, Officer Hideyuki?" asks Mulder.
"Yes, I just graduated from Osaka University," surprise in the youth's words. "How did you know?"
"You seem to be a little tense," replies Mulder as he remembers being a rookie with the FBI. "Don't worry about fouling up, we'll find the truth about what happened here."
Scully turns away from the conversation to scan the surroundings. Except for the investigators and their assistants, only a lone fisherman, sitting on his wood stool with his fishing pole firmly secure to a metal holder, could be seen. "Let's go over to the crush site," requests Scully.
"Hideyuki-san will take you over there," informs Goto. "I need to check something with these two men here."
"Hai," replies Hideyuki as he nods to his superior. Leading the Americans to a waiting eighty-foot boat, the young man informs them, "Until the bridge is repair, the only way to Shikoku is by boat or airplane," He helps Scully and Mulder onboard. He motions to two men to help him push the boat away from the shore. As the craft comes loose, he quickly jumps onboard, careful not to overturn the vessel. Setting in the pilot's chair, he turns the sixty-horsepower engine on and puts it into reverse. After the boat makes a 180-degree turn, Hideyuki puts it into forward gear and pushes the power stick forward, propelling the boat toward the Shikoku end of the Seto-ohashi Bridge.
Passing a group of islands, the watercraft goes under the first section of the bridge and catches the warm rays of the early morning sun. Moving by the first connector island, the passengers find an awesome sight. The steel and concrete of the center section are no longer a beautiful recreation of the Golden Gate Bridge, but more like the cracked bones and fluttering tendons of a body devoured by scavengers.
As the boat plows through the water, nearing the bridge's southern entrance, an idea enters Mulder's mind. The brown-haired man leans forward and shouts into the black-eyed man's ear, "Hideyuki, could you do something for me?"
"My job is to help you," replies the black-haired man.
"Could you head in that direction?" Mulder points off to his left, toward Nao-shima Island.
"Aye, aye, sir," the youth replies with a grin on his face as he turns the boat to the new heading. Mulder returns the young man's smile as the depressing thoughts from the car ride gives way to the young man's unbridled energy. The pale green-eyed man remembers the time when such a spirit was his possession while moving from the land of the student to the land of the practitioner.
Seeing Mulder back to his normal self brings relief to the redhead next to him. Scully notices her partner's drift to silence since arriving in Nihon, only coming awake when alone with her. The attraction between Mulder and the self-conscious rookie gives the redhead hope that whatever is troubling him will vanish with their association. Scully returns her mind to the current problem. Her emerald eyes take into account their new direction, brings her knowledge of the case into perspective which leads her the only logical conclusion. Turning her head toward her partner, Scully's shouts over the noise of the engine, "The witnesses."
Mulder slowly nods at his partner's statement and says, "They say it came from this direction."
"The witnesses could be wrong," Scully reminds him while her eyes lock onto his. "The meteor's path would've covered the Kobe-Osaka area of Honshu. Yet no report of a flaming object, screaming across the sky, has come from there."
"What about a midair explosion? Couldn't that have propelled the object a short distance across the sea?" questions Mulder as he tries to fit the witnesses into the equation.
"Yes, it is possible," acknowledges Scully, lets her partner have a piece of cheese before springing the trap. "But to alter a meteor's path like that, the midair explosion would equal the one in Siberia. Such an explosion would have devastated everything in a 60-kilometer radius."
"That's if the meteor's composition is normal, usually rock or iron. What if the object is made of lighter material," counters Mulder. He knows he has found a hole in his partner's cage.
"Then a smaller explosion would be necessary but for the explosion to be big enough to overcome the meteor's speed, as well as its weight, would still leave a wake of destruction," Scully words shows the redhead still trying to close the lid on her cage.
"That's if the object was solid," the brown-haired man's words matching his grin. "What if the object is hollow."
"A spaceship," groans Scully as she realizes she's the mouse in the trap.
Just as Mulder opens his mouth to close the cage's lid on Scully, Hideyuki shouts over the engine noise, "Sir, there's something on the island over there." The youth points ahead and to his right, at a small rocky island.
The two agents look in this direction. They see a low island, about a mile across, cover with driftwood.
"So what is so unusual about driftwood?" asks a confused Mulder.
"Because of the water currents and the location of Kyushu and Shikoku, driftwood would rarely reach this island," Scully intervenes in support of their guide.
Looking at Scully, then at Hideyuki, both of them could see comprehension fill Mulder's face as he says, "Let's get to that island."
Traveling down the country roads to Kurashiki, Tenchi could see his father's love for driving. If not for his passion, the older man would find this journey to work boring. Sitting in the shotgun seat, the shorthaired youth turns to look into the back of the family's van, noting the black camera and camcorder case behind his father's seat. "You're going to take more pictures of the bridge, otousan?" inquires the youth.
"I wasn't able to get close to the bridge yesterday, musuko (son)," replies Nobuyuki as he keeps his eyes on the road. "I hope the crowds will be thinner today."
Tenchi smiles inwardly at his father's passion for photography. If it wasn't for Nobuyuki's to his mother and Tenchi's birth, the young man could imagine his father, a camera in hand, hunting for the beauty and majesty this world could offer. Realizing how fate sometimes gives a person a world different from his dreams, Tenchi takes note of his new world. No longer a youth moving in a narrow world of tedious school classes and ritualize shrine work, dissolving his spirit into ashes, he now finds his world upside down thanks to two oujosama and a woman with golden cat eyes.
Glancing quickly at his son, Nobuyuki could see the seriousness in the young man's brown eyes. Hoping to break his son's mode, the older man asks, "Thinking about the girls, musuko (son)?"
Surprise by his father's insight, Tenchi looks at his father and says, "I'm just wondering if I can handle the chaos they bring into our lives."
"I'm sure you can handle it, musuko and look at all the rewards these women can give to you," a wide grin on his father's face.
"OTOUSAN!" Shock brings an edge to his son's words. "Is that all you can think of them as?"
"Well, not Sasami," Nobuyuki replies with a glow in his brown eyes. "You'll have to wait a few years before she qualifies for your quick hands."
"They?re more than just an NURETA ASOKE (A WET PUSSY)!" Anger fills Tenchi's words.
"Not really, musuko," Nobuyuki's voice just the opposite of his son's. "The older women haven't flipped out in seven hundred years. I'm surprise Ryoko-san hasn't ambushed you in bed, and once Ayeka-san gets over her crying spells, you're going need a whip and chair to keep her off."
"Ayeka-sama is just an OJOSAN (A YOUNG GIRL)!" Tenchi's face becomes bright red.
"No, musuko, she's a young woman of great passion," Tenchi's father corrects him. "She didn't chase Yosho-sama for seven hundred years just because he's her ibokyodai."
"She's an OUJOSAMA! She's too PROPER to do it!" Tenchi shoots back at his father.
"Wrong, Tenchi-san," replies the older man. "Once she sees Ryoko-san all over you, she'll come after you, just to get even with Ryoko-san for taking Yosho-sama away from her."
As Tenchi's anger slowly cools, he realizes his father is correct on several points, maybe not all but enough. Ayeka will want revenge. Ryoko's description of her torture by the oujosama leaves not a doubt in the youth's mind. Combine Ryoko's advances on him with Ayeka's passion, things could get very hot. Just then Nobuyuki says something that Tenchi doesn't completely hears, "What was that, otousan?"
"The only reason Ryoko-san hasn't jumped your bones is she wants you to come to her freely. She wants you body and soul, earth and heaven," Nobuyuki repeats while he pulls the van up to Tenchi's new high school.
"But she tried to KILL me!" Fear propelling the youth's voice to new heights.
"She was cooped up in that cave for seven hundred years. Ryoko-san just wanted to blow off some steam," Nobuyuki grins at his son. "You're lucky that's all she did. If I was cooped up in a cave for that long, there wouldn't be a tsunbi (virgin) left in Okayama-ken (prefecture)."
"ETCHI NA KOTO SURUNA! KYA! (Ooh! Don't be gross!)," Tenchi words verbalize the disgust on his face as he opens the van's door, steps out, slams the door close and walks briskly to his homeroom.
"That boy needs to learn to loosen up," Nobuyuki chuckles.
Ryoko sits on the couch while she looks through the front room window at the glassy blue lake. "It will take about a week for Ryo-Ohki to be reborn," the cyan-haired woman mumbles to herself. "Until then, I'm stuck on Earth with a smart ass old priest, a sugar sweet little girl, a crybaby princess, a dirty old man and Tenchi. Well, at least it won't be boring."
"What you talking about, Ryoko-san," the light voice of the pink-eyed child penetrates the woman's pondering.
"Oh, nothing important, Oujosama Sasami," as her yellow-eyed glaze turns to the little girl.
"Please call me Sasami," a touch of pain in the child's voice. "Whenever someone calls me oujosama, I feel like they want something from my father."
"Oke, Sasami-chan," smiles Ryoko as she reaches with her right hand and tousles the child's blue hair, which leaves the little one with the giggles.
"I was wondering if you would play some games with me?" a questioning look appears on the child's freckled face.
Seeing nothing else to do right now, the cyan-haired woman stands up and snaps her fingers. Her clothes shimmer as they change from her red-white-black seducer dress to tan Bermuda shorts, Kelly green tank top, and white tennis shoes. Taking the princess' petite left hand in her right hand, Ryoko says, "Let's go outside and play hide-and-go-seek."
"What kind of game is that?" wonders Sasami.
"It's an Earth game. I close my eyes and count to ten, you hide somewhere and I try to find you," replies Ryoko as she leads the young girl through to the front door.
"It sounds like fun," delight causes the child to skip.
A few minutes later, Katsuhito hears giggling laughter dance up to his ears as he walks down the stone steps to check on Sasami. The joy, he sees in the child's swift feet as she tries to hide from the counting lady, convinces him his worry is unnecessary. "I will ask Oujosama Sasami my questions later," concludes the old priest while walking back to the shrine, the early morning sun flashing off the old priest's glasses. "Right now, Ryoko-san needs her."
"EIGHT . . . NINE . . . TEN, READY OR NOT HERE I COME," shouts the cyan-haired seeker.
The wee girl barely contains her tinkering giggles as the uchu kaizoku begins her hunt. The child grins as the huntress moves away from her hiding place, disappearing into the trees. After several minutes pass, Sasami's smile fades to puzzlement for her senses detect nothing of her pursuer. She peaks out of her concealment but sees only green grass and tall trees. In one fluid motion, a cyan blur appears behind the kneeing princess, two hands grab her by the waist and propels them up into the blue sky. The young girl's shock gives way to tittering laughter as Ryoko tickles her ribs. Spinning the young girl around so she could look into the little one's face, Ryoko holds tightly to Sasami's waist as they hover straight up.
"Kya (Ohhh), Ryoko-neechan," a jubilant Sasami hugs the older woman.
A jolt of emotion runs through Ryoko as Sasami's words touch her soul. Memories of another fill the golden-eyed women's mind. The sound of a caring voice, the tender touches of soft hands, the light fragrance of flowers and a halo of dark red surround a hazy face. Two ribbons of tears flow down Ryoko's smooth pink cheeks as a whispering cry escapes her lips, "Mommy."
The pair slowly floats to the ground with Ryoko's kneeing, clutching the pink-eyed girl and sobbing into one of the child's ponytails. Sasami feels the larger body shake, looks into Ryoko's watery eyes and asks, "What's wrong Ryoko-neechan?"
Using her right hand to wrap the tears from her face, Ryoko smiles at the caring child, "I'm fine, my kawaii imoto (a cute younger sister)," she sniffs. Getting on her feet, Ryoko still holding onto Sasami's left hand with her left hand, she looks down into the youngster's eyes and says, "It's now my turn to hide and you go seek."
In the distance, a feminine figure watches the merry pair play from the kitchen window, before fleeing up the staircase.
A cry of exultation rings within the powerful mind, lock away in a crystal prison. 'She REMEMBERS! She remembers ME! My DAUGHTER hasn't forgotten me! With all your devices! With all your PAIN! You could not erase every IOTA of her past, KAGATO-SAN! It not just the BOY now! It's also the GIRL CHILD! She gives without taking, she forgives without judgement, she accepts without conditions and she asks only for you to embrace her same way! No Kagato-san! You will find a much different RYOKO-CHAN!'
8:31 a.m. Island off Goshikidai National Park
Officer Hideyuki cuts the power to the boat's engine, which allows the white vessel to move slowly toward the island. Mulder and Scully could see the same thing that the NZK man's black eyes witness: wood shards of various sizes cover the island. As the young man brings the boat to rest on a grayish beach, Mulder carefully jumps over the side to land in four inches of seawater and helps the pilot to ground the boat more firmly so Scully could get out.
After his partner joins him, Mulder turns to the rookie, saying, "Why don't you check the other side of the island. See if the amount of the debris is greater or lesser than it is here?"
"Yes, sir," his black eyes alert as the others see him quickly climb over the moss-covered rocks.
"Oh, Hideyuki," Mulder calls out.
"Yes, sir?" the youth replies while balancing on a boulder.
"You can call me Mulder," Mulder words matches the light smile on his face.
"Yes, s . . . Mulder," acknowledges Hideyuki as he grins back.
As Scully scans the surrounding rocks, a fluttering of white catches her attention. Turning to her right she carefully scales the rocks while her emerald eyes lock on the movement. Mulder looks down at the various pieces of light tan wood, perceiving some protective lacquer covers them. Bending down, the man's right hand reaches for the closest one, a two-by-one feet piece. A surprise groan leaves his lips as his hand could barely lift the object's right corner from the wet gravel bed. Mulder goes to his knees to use both hands to get a better hold of the object and lifts it up a few inches. Carefully judging its properties, Mulder quickly concludes this is no ordinary wood. It weight is closer to lead, the fibers are so dense that he couldn't see them at the uneven break and the protective cover contains no scratches. Mulder staggers to his feet, the fragment's weight almost sends him onto his butt and hears Scully call out, "MULDER! THERE'S A BODY OVER HERE!"
Mulder walks as quickly as the fragment would safely allow. When Mulder reaches his crouching partner, his light green eyes see the small broken body of a white fur animal. Both Americans see a ferret-like creature, its longhair tail originally capturing Scully's attention, with a coat cover in blotches of dry blood. Scully pulls a pen from her brown suit pocket and points it at the being's neck. Around the neck is a white metal collar, with red and green gem studs and an inscription along one of the edges.
"I don't think this has anything to do with the investigation, Mulder, unless you can find a 'Made in Japan' mark on some of the pieces," a mix of relief and humor in his partner's voice.
"Why, Scully?" Mulder's voice full of confusion.
"The inscription is in Nihongo," informs Scully.
"Japanese, Scully?" Mulder's shoulders sag with disappointment.
"Nihongo, Mulder," she corrects him.
"Anyway, what does it say," annoyance in Mulder's voice as he glances at the fragment, just on the off chance it does have a watermark.
"Okini'iri no Oujosama Sasami kara Jurai," Scully's voice revealing her concentration on the words, "Favorite of Princess Sasami of Jurai."
"Mulder," calls out Hideyuki. Both Mulder and Scully looking up at the young officer standing on a boulder just above them, "there is less debris on the other side of the island than right here."
Quickly calculating the possibilities in his head, Mulder turns to look at an area of water northwest of the island. "Do you have a cellphone?" Mulder asks Hideyuki.
"Never leave home without one, Mulder," responds the officer.
"Make a call to Goto and bring the phone to me," requests Mulder as Scully get back on her feet.
"What are you thinking, Mulder?" questions Scully as she sees a faraway look in her partner's pale green eyes.
"Just a minute, Scully," Mulder quietly checking his estimation as the youth steps down to them while typing on the device. Scully studies the fragment in Mulder's hands as they wait for the call to go through. After a few seconds, Hideyuki holds the phone out for the brown-haired man.
"Here, Scully, hold this for me," says Mulder as he hands the fragment to her, takes the phone from the rookie and pretends to ignore his partner's bulging eyes as the object's weight buckles her knees. Only the swift reaction of Hideyuki, by grabbing onto the fragment, keeps Scully upright.
"Domo arigato (Thank you very much)," says the redhead with an annoyance look on her face. "I can handle it. It just took me by surprise."
"Hai," a tinge of pleasure in his voice.
"You can call me Scully," a grateful tone in her voice.
"Oke, Scully-dono," acknowledges Hideyuki while giving her a short bow.
"Detective Goto," asks Mulder.
"Yes, Mulder-san," responds Goto.
"You, better get your men out to an island off . . . " Mulder pauses as he looks at Hideyuki.
"Goshikidai National Park," the young man gives a classroom response.
"...Goshikidai National Park. From what I see here, I don't think we are dealing with a meteor strike," Mulder continues.
"Oh, what then?" Goto responds with sharp words.
"We are dealing with an artificial constructed machine of great size, which exploded about 150 yards northwest of this island. There's wreckage of the object all over this island," certainty fills Mulder's every word. "I believe that part of the device must have been propel by the explosion into the bridge. If you get your drivers over here, I'm sure you will find even larger fragments of this mechanism."
I'll be there immediately, Goto out," Mulder is sure he could hear anger in the man's voice.
Detective Goto Henry cuts the phone's transmission as anger clouds his thoughts. 'How! How did they do this? My team has been here for THIRTY HOURS searching for evidence and they find it in THREE HOURS! Stretching my attention to its fullest I still become a WATER BUBBLE.' He looks over his shoulder to see a pair of men, one of them putting a cellphone away, standing next to a black car. Goto knows reports of the Americans' success would soon reach listening ears and he realizes that the two FBI agents are no longer people of the sun, not be harm, but are now possible targets should the cover-up be exposed.
Not getting a bite from his hook, the fisherman reels in his line and breaks camp. As he starts for his car, he sees a sudden increase in activity from the investigation team. "Chikusho (Damn)! Just when it's getting interesting, I've got to go to my job," mutters the man in the heavy navy coat. "Some days just end in smoke."
Chapter Three: Bridge over Troubled Water
Sasami skips down the stairs into the living room. Ryoko takes a relaxing bath after furious attempts to keep up with the pink-eyed sparkplug. Knowing that there was nothing she could do about her sister's depression, the eight-year-old wanders over to look out the window. There she sees Tenchi's grandfather throwing rocks underhand toward the lake. Sasami runs to the front door, slips her shoes on, opens the door and leaves.
A smile flashes across Katsuhito's face when he hears the front door open, close and the sound of nimble feet on the path. Waiting until the blue-haired child is only a few feet away, the old priest says, "What can I do for you, oujosama?"
Making a face, the elder's words foil her plan to surprise him, Sasami says, "Don't call me that. I don't like it."
"Why?" Katsuhito's words show his surprise at Sasami's reaction.
"Because people, who call me that, care only for what they can get from my parents," Sasami angry words make her back as straight as a rail. "I've seen them hurt Ayeka-neechan but they won't hurt me."
"What should I call you?" the old priest asks, amuse to see such wisdom in someone so young.
"Just Sasami will be fine," the anger disappearing from her cute voice. She sees the flat stones in the Katsuhito tan hands and asks, "What are you doing?"
"I'm skipping stones across the lake, Sasami-chan," Katsuhito replies as he takes his right arm back, brings it forward, shifting his weight from the back foot to the front foot and throws the stone underhand. Sasami pink eyes reflect amazement as the stone bounces eight times on the blue water before disappearing underneath. "It's a game one of my daughter's friends taught me many years ago."
"What was your daughter's name?" the child continues to watch him throwing the pebbles.
"Her name was Achika," his sadness barely cracks through Katsuhito's calm exterior. "She was such a beautiful child, with a tall slender body, long black hair and eyes like mine. Her voice like little silver bells and her soul like the morning sun, bright and new."
"What happened to her?" questions Sasami as she sees a single teardrop slides down the elder's leathery cheek.
"She died a few years after Tenchi was born," Sasami could not hear the guilt in Katsuhito's voice. "It's as if her spirit burned out her body,"
Because Sasami sees only the sorrow her questions bring, she hugs the elder around the stomach and says, "I'm sorry, jiichan," her own tears touches his worn left hand. For just a few seconds the old man hears Achika's voice again, asking forgiveness for failing him.
"It's alright, Akaruime (Brighteyes)," his right hand holds the top of Sasami's head.
"Was that her nickname, Katsuhito-sama?" asks Sasami as she looks up into those old red eyes.
"Yes, it was," replies Katsuhito as he looks down into those young pink eyes.
"Yosho-niichan used to call me that," her innocent words bring a worry frown to Katsuhito's lips.
The old priest kneels before the child, brings himself eye-to-eye with the unhappy child and saying in a kind voice, "That's because you both bring light into a world full of darkness." Sasami starts to smile. "You see, you warm even this old soul."
"You can call me Akaruime if you want to," her words full of hope.
Katsuhito nods and replies, "And you can call me jiichan." This time Sasami hugs him in joy.
Waiting a few minutes to let the petite child to recover, the elder asks, "Can you answer a question for me?" She looks into those ruby eyes and nods, "Was Ayeka-sama always like this?"
"No, I think her search for Yosho-niichan did this to her," the child concentrating on each word.
"In what way?" the old priest's words barely hide the dread he feels.
"Ayeka-neechan liked being the Saishono Oujosama Jurai (First Princess of Jurai), but she was fun to be with, too. The times we would sneak out of the palace to visit friends in the city. How many times we led our Guardians and the Jurain Royal Guards on such merry chases. The games we would invent with our friends, like Rescue-the-Oujosama, were great," the happy tone in the little princess's voice gives way to a more serious note. "Then we started to search for Yosho-niichan. With each dead-end, with each false hope, a little bit of the fun Ayeka-neechan disappeared, leaving only Ayeka-oujosama. Now, I'm afraid. I think Ayeka-oujosama is leaving too."
The uchu kaizoku stands just outside the front door as she dries her cyan hair with a yellow towel, her perfect hearing could perceive their conversation. "Don't worry, Sasami-chan, I'll drag her back, kicking and screaming," Ryoko quietly promises.
12:55 a.m. Seto-ohashi Bridge
The two FBI agents walk up from the beach, away from the boat and toward the mass of government vehicles as Officer Hideyuki quickens his steps to catch up to them. Scully sees the strong purpose in Mulder's steps, realizes her partner's confidence has return. A small smile plays across Mulder's lips when he hears Scully's low sigh. With reach passing assignment, with each investigation, he knows she keeps his feet on the ground. Her logical, scientific mind keeps his obsession for the truth from destroying the X-Flies, his crusade. In many ways, her presence legitimizes his reports. Without her, many of their recent successes would be nothing but dust.
"I'm hungry, Scully," announces Mulder, looking at the redhead and Hideyuki. "Do you know somewhere we can get some Italian food and I don't mean pizza?"
"Yes, Mulder," replies Hideyuki. "I'll drive you over to Rentenchi Italian Restaurant."
"Mulder, you get something to eat. I'll pass on lunch," Scully catching her partner's attention. "They're taking the animal's body to the forensic lab, in Okayama. I'm going with them to examine Tomas Long's body there, as well as catch the preliminary report on our furry friend."
"Isn't it someone's pet like you said before?" asks Mulder as he studies Scully's face.
"I'm just curious as to how such an animal, obviously a genetic hybrid, ended on an isolated island?" Scully emerald eyes sparkle with interest. "If it was stolen, why hasn't the local news reported it? This is something the local press would eat up. If someone was after the expensive collar, why is the pet still wearing it?"
"Well, I'll see you later," waving back at Scully, as he follows Hideyuki to the youth's car. Turning around, she walks toward the forensic team.
When the pair reaches the small blue car, Mulder gets into the shotgun seat as the young officer gets behind the wheel. After the youth turns over the engine, he punches the 'on' button of the car's stereo. A puzzle look appears on Mulder's face as American Classic Rock blasts out the speakers. A shy grin appears on Hideyuki's face while he turns the volume down and says, "I have a fondness for American Rock, especially this radio station."
"Oh?" Mulder surprise at the man's taste.
"I like the DJ, Tony 'Weirdo' MacClean, who's an American," he answers Mulder's questions as they pull away from the beach.
"Tony 'Weirdo' MacClean?" a chuckle escapes Mulder's lips.
"He has a noontime program, 'American Karaoke', but just before it he has a five minute slot called 'Strange Days'," the young man's eyes fill with passion. "Oh, here it comes."
With the sound of multiple voices trying to sing all at once, a man lets out a high pitch shout, "This is American Karaoke, where you try to sing American Rock in Nihonjin. This is Weirdo MacClean, your manager to those out there who thinks they can match American singers. My first selection is 'Sukoshi Tasuke Ni Wareware To Tomodachi', but before I spin this disk," his voice becoming dramatic, "we have 'Strange Days'."
The music of the original Twilight Zone wafts from of the broadcast, "This is to recap the last 48 hours. Starting two days ago at 6:37 p.m., the Osamu High School is badly damaged by a fire caused by a gas leak but neighbors reporting hearing crazed laughter coming from the school prior to the explosion. At 8:30 p.m., blazing lights beamed down from an unseen object floating in the sky, interrupting the dinners in the Tezuka district of Greater Kurashiki. A voice echoed in the sky, a flash radiated out and a thunderclap shattered every window in the district. Residents dived for cover while a few people, walking home from the bus stops, saw balls of light fired from two enormous aircraft, which disappear in the darkness while moving away at hellish speed. Then the next morning at 4:00 a.m., the Seto-ohashi Bridge is smashed by a heavenly body, killing an American tourist. Lastly at 6:45 a.m., Tezuka residents find the home of Masaki Nobuyuki and his son, Tenchi, missing along with its occupants. Finally, rumors reported the NZK has found new evidence at the bridge. That is all for now, folks. Now let's get to Yamada Murasaki's version of that British Rock classic.?
"Forget lunch, Hideyuki," Mulder's voice becoming very serious. "Take me to that radio station."
"Yes, Mulder," the young officer realizes that things are about to get really bizarre.
Nobuyuki's drives toward the investigation site, his brown eyes catches the sight of a small blue car going the opposite direction and the brown hair gaijin in the passenger seat. "I wonder who that was?" he mumbles. Pulling up as close as he can to the yellow tape, Tenchi's father picks up his camera bag and camcorder. The black-haired man steps out of the vehicle, closes the door, and checks the power level of the camcorder's battery. Satisfy with its charge, he walks onto the beach. Nobuyuki holds the camcorder to his right eye and begins to film. Quickly he notes the activity of the NZK reaches a new plain. The forensic team carries something into the white emergency van. A woman with flaming hair, in a light brown suit, watches the team's movement. "She looks familiar," wonder in his words. He pushes a close-up button to zoom onto her plain face with those deep emerald eyes. "It couldn't be?" the delight in his voice matches the Cheshire Cat grin on his face. Ducking under the tape, the man quickly makes his way to her. Hearing someone coming up behind her, Scully turns around as a voice asks, "Don't I know you?"
Looking at the medium build man with black hair and glasses on his nose, Scully is uncertain, yet those dark brown eyes, within a tan face, which brings a flood of memories into her mind. "Inkushimi (Inkspot)?" surprise joy lifting her spirit.
"Ninjin-chan (Little Carrot)!" shouts Nobuyuki as he embraces Scully, causing onlookers and the NZK team to frown at such a public display of affection. After a few minutes, both move apart, great grins upon their faces.
"It's been over twenty years since I've seen you, Ninjin-chan," happiness in every word he utters.
"You know I never care for that nikkunemu (nickname)," her grin making a liar of her words.
"Blame your otousama," a friendly retort comes from his mouth. "He used it so much, Achika-chan and I thought it was your real name. What about Inkushimi?"
"Blame Achika-san," merry words rolling out of her mouth. "Because your hands were always stain with the charcoal you used to make your drawings, she dubbed you with that adana (nickname)." Both chuckle before Scully's next question, "How is Achika-san?"
The laughter in Nobuyuki's eyes vanishes, "she died."
Seeing the sorrow in her friend's features, Scully says, "gomen nasai."
"Nothing for you to be sorry for, Ninjin-chan, we were very happy together," his voice becomes soft as pleasant memories replace sad remembrances.
"So she did marry you," a smile on her face.
"How did you know?" his voice fills with wonder.
"The last day I was able to visit Achika-san, before going back to the States, she told me she would take care of you," knowing looks in Scully's emerald eyes. "Especially after she saw the pictures of us in your sketchbook."
Nobuyuki's face reddens at what Scully is hinting at and says, "Oh, come on, Ninjin-chan."
"When did you find our secret pool? You know the one where Achika and I would swim in the nude," asks Scully, she is barely able to keep from chuckling at his surprise.
"How did she find out?" Nobuyuki nervously laughs as his left hand rubs the back of his neck.
"You shouldn't leave your sketchbook where certain people can find it," Scully's grin matches the humor in her words. "What an anozoki-ma (pepping demon)."
"Cut it out, Ninjin-chan," his laughter becomes louder. "I get enough of that from segare (my son)."
"You have a son, Inkushimi?" asks Scully; she feels joy for her friend's good fortune.
"Hai, a fine musuko," pride plain in his voice. "His name is Tenchi."
"Heaven and Earth?" questions Scully.
"Achika's otousama named him," he replies as he nods to her.
"Is he a chip-off-the-old-block?" she teases him.
"Well, being raised by two widowers, he was shy around girls but I think that's about to change," Nobuyuki chuckles.
"So you and Masaki-san raised him?" she asks.
"Mostly otousama at first. Tenchi's okachan died just a couple of years after his birth," a touch of shame enters his words. "For a while, I was in no condition to take care of him. Then I realized I brought disgrace to her ki by neglecting Tenchi. Katsuhito-san helped me cleanse my ki, and I got a job in Kurashiki as an architect."
Feeling glad at Nobuyuki's heart, she turns her attention to a new subject, "How is Masaki-san?"
"You'll need to call him Katsuhito-san, since I've been adopted into his family," he informs her.
"So you're a Masaki now?" puzzlement clouding her emerald eyes.
"You know Achika-chan was his only child, and Masaki is a rare name, almost foreign. So following the old tradition, when I married Achika-chan I became his heir," an unpleasant memory filling his mind. "It was another reason for me to stop my slide into self-pity. The first time I showed up at the shine drunk, otousama chased me off its grounds with his bokken. As I ran, he shouted at me, 'until you become a MAN AGAIN, you are not WELCOME here, nor will you SEE your SON!' Only later did I understand the aid he gave me. He kept Tenchi from seeing my shame."
"Is Mas . . . Katsuhito-san still the shinshoku at the family shine?" asks Scully.
"Does the sun rise in the morning," once again Scully hears pride in Nobuyuki's voice. "Unless Tenchi takes over the post, otousama will hold his post until the day he dies. May that setting sun never come."
"It's good to hear he is doing fine," says Scully, who is content to know some things never change.
"So what are you doing with the NZK?" Nobuyuki changes the subject.
"My partner and I work for a special department of the FBI," Scully tells brown-eyed man. "Because of the special nature of the Seto-ohashi Bridge's destruction, including the death of an American tourist, we are helping the NZK in the investigation."
"So the honoo-chan (little flame) otousama rescued from the monsoon, is now an akapori (policewoman)," Nobuyuki uses the name Katsuhito's did when he introduces a wet redheaded child to his daughter and him. "He would be proud of you. Although, I remembered, you wanted to be a doctor."
"I did become a doctor," a trace of sadness in her voice. "But I found myself in a bad situation. So when the FBI came recruiting for their forensic lab, I joined them. From there, due to my scientific methodology, I was sent to my current department."
"So you never married?" questions her friend.
"Married to my job it seems," she replies.
"But you're so kakko no ii (well shaped)," Nobuyuki shaking his head.
"Hentai, hentai (pervert)," Scully waving her right palm playfully at him.
"Oh, please," sighs the black-haired man. "For me not to notice you, I would have to be gei (gay)."
"Scully-sama," interrupts the forensic team's leader. "We need to get going."
Turning to the man, she says, "Just a minute."
"Here my business card," Nobuyuki tells Scully as he gives her the small white card. "It has my new address."
Scully looks at the card, recognizes the address and asks, "The Masaki Shrine?"
"We just moved our house over to a place next to the lake, so otousama could have some company," answers Nobuyuki as he reaches for her hand to cover up his nervousness. "I'll let you go, Ninjin-chan. I hope to see you later."
"You will, you can free your mind of that doubt, Inkushimi," says the redhead while she shakes her old friend's hand. "Sayonara."
"Sayonara," Nobuyuki replies as he lets go of Scully's hands and watches the redhead go with the man in the white coat. "Otousama will be happy to hear my good news."
Unseen by the busy people on the beach a couple of fishermen in a small skiff, several hundred yards west of the Seto-ohashi Bridge, finds one of their companion's fishing pole almost bent in a circle. Fearing another boot at the end of his hook, the old man finds a soaking camcorder instead. He asks, "What is this doing here?"
"I don't know," replies a man in a blue windbreaker. "Why don't you let me take it to my film club? We should be able to tell if the camcorder can still be of use. Maybe the film can still be developed."
"Oke," the old man agrees to his friend's plan.
1:15 p.m. WHOSHI, Kurashiki
Stepping out of the elevator, Mulder and Hideyuki move toward the glass swinging doors with WHOSHI on them and pushes them inward. When both men enter the room, the young short hair secretary, with brown eyes, stands up and she asks, "Konichiwa, what can I do for you, shinshi (gentlemen)."
"We need to see MacClean-san," replies Hideyuki as both men show their badges and I.D.
"MacClean-san won't be finish for another 120 minutes," she tells the officers as she picks up the telephone. "I'll call him to see if you can enter the booth." After a few words over the device she looks up smiling and points to her right, "You can enter there."
"Arigato," thanks Hideyuki as he returns her smile. In the back of his mind, Mulder again feels the lingering doubts about depending on someone else's skill and honesty.
Going in the direction the secretary points to, Hideyuki taking the lead as both men have no trouble following the sound of Rock-&-Roll to its origins. Looking through a glass window, they see a room fill of electronic equipment and countless stacks of CDs. Inside was an average size Westerner with extremely short, blond hair, wild gray eyes, who plays an air guitar from his chair and the music at ear busting level. It only after Mulder starts' pounding on the door does the DJ notices them. Turning the volume down, he opens the door and says, "Welcome to Little America." MacClean grins at both men while he brings them into the booth and says, "You're going to have to wait a bit, while I put the next dish on." Sitting in his chair, he turns to the mike and waits for the song to end. When this happens, MacClean turns the mike on, "That was the Moody Blues', 'Knights in White Satin'. Now here's 'Casey Jones' by the Grateful Dead." He turns the second CD on, shuts off the mike, returns his attention to his guests and asks, "What can I do for you?"
"We're here about your noon broadcast of 'Strange Days'," informs Mulder, feeling better now that he could understand the answers. "You seem to suggest that the story about the meteor striking the Seto-ohashi is false, and some of the earlier events might be connected to a family here in Kurashiki. Is there anything else that you haven't put in your broadcast that you can tell us?"
"Yes I can, Agent Mulder," the bare feet man answers. "I purposely keep my broadcasts vague so I won't lose my job. Most bosses don't believe in the freedom of speech, so you walk a very thin line between the truth and unemployment." MacClean sets up the next CD to play after the current song ends while he continues, "Callers have told me the damaged high school has a Masaki Tenchi as a student. The epicenter of the thunderclap was the Masaki home. A disembodied voice speaking Nihonjin, demanded the surrender of a wanted criminal. None of the neighbors saw any heavy lifters to move the Masaki home yet it is now located at the family's Shinto Shrine, thirty kilometers northwest of Kurashiki. Finally, no evidence has been found to suggest a meteor strike on the Seto-ohashi Bridge, which means the object that hit the bridge left the scene on its own power."
"So you think the Masaki family is connected to these strange events?" Mulder's mind absorbing these new facts.
"There are three possible conclusions," MacClean's gray eyes gaining a certain detached look. "One: we have completely random events with absolutely no connections with each other. Two: Two strings of events transpire at the same time. Three: The events are totally connected with each other, with the destruction of the Seto-ohashi Bridge as the capstone. Number One I don't believe in a moment, I don't believe in coincidence. Number Two is a possibility. Rumors of the Jieitai (JSDP) are testing a new jet, for the United States, have been on the Internet for weeks now; some really hotshot test pilots could be responsible for what happened. Number Three is my favorite. A spaceship comes to Kurashiki, demanding the return of a wanted criminal. The ship fired a warning shot, which caused all the damage in the Tezuka District. The first ship started to chase another ship across the night sky. Nothing is seen of these two ships until one of them crashed into the bridge but the damage done to the ship is not enough to prevent it from leaving."
"What about the destruction of the school?" Mulder tries to see any weaknesses in MacClean's answers.
"That one I don't know, although one caller told me it was the legendary demon, Ryoko, commenting one of her numerous acts of vandalism," the DJ speculates while both men hear Hideyuki chuckle.
The young man grins with embarrassment while he says, "I'm sorry but Ryoko, the Demon-Caller, has become a catch word for any devastation caused by unknown origins. For seven hundred years Ryokoakurei (Demon Ryoko) got the blame no matter what it was, a dead cat, some graffiti or a building on fire."
Turning back to the DJ, Mulder sees something out of the corner of his eye, "If that is all, MacClean, I think we'll be going," Mulder informs him.
"Can't think of anything else. I hope I've been helpful in your investigation," MacClean frowns as he sets up another CD to play.
As the three men reach's the booth's door, Mulder pauses at the door, then tells Hideyuki, "I just remember something. You go to the car and I'll be there in a minute."
A hurt expression appears on the youth's face but says, "Hai."
When the door closes, Mulder turns back to MacClean, "So you are my contact with the Lone Gunmen?"
MacClean lets out a sigh, his left hand pulls a small barely visible newsletter from under a stack of CDs, "I was hopping you would see the clue. I'm the Single Bullet." Taking the newsletter from the DJ hand, Mulder could see it is the latest edition of the 'Lone Gunmen'.
"Is there anything else you or the others can tell me?" Mulder light green eyes fills with anticipation.
"Someone else is here, watching the investigation and maybe even controlling it," answers the DJ, suspicion very visible in MacClean's gray eyes. "They stand in the background, but you can't miss them if you look carefully. They wear black suits and sunglasses."
"Shadow Men," Mulder's right hand clinches in anger, mangling the newsletter.
MacClean nods, "Or as the Nihonjin calls them, OIK."
"Is it almost time?" Langly asks Frohike.
"In about five minutes," annoyances plain in Frohike's voice.
"You know he's never on time," Byers informs them.
"I hope he can tell us something new," impatience causing Langly's words to become harsh.
"Let's just hope he is still alive, remembers what he said about the Shadow Men," Byers words fill with fear.
"Single Bullet is one of the best," a hint of admiration in Frohike voice. "It's the only reason he's lasted so long on his own."
"We all know Single Bullet supplies information to both sides," Langly nods his head. "He lives as long as he is useful to the powers-that-be."
"True but remember what happened in the Gulf," informs Byers as a smile appears on his face.
"Yeah, he got a lot of mileage out of that operation. They probably still owe him for that masterpiece." As those words leave the long blond-haired man's lips, the computer comes to life as the words appear on the screen: Little Jack Corner sat in a corner eating a Christmas pie. Frohike taps in the countersign: Pie was bad so Jack is dead.
Single Bullet: In a land where people eat raw fish, I find your passwords a little insensitive.
LG: New passwords are on their way.
Single Bullet: I made contact with Mulder. He actually came to where I work.
LG: Could he tell you what's going on?
Single Bullet: Not much, another person, a young NZK officer, was with him. The only thing he could tell me is that a meteor didn't hit the Seto-ohashi Bridge, it was a spaceship.
LG: Anything else?
Single Bullet: Just a copy of today's 'Strange Days'. I'm going out to see if I can find that school where the Masaki boy is. I'm going to try to follow him and see what I can uncover.
LG: Be careful, there's a fire underneath that frying pan.
Single Bullet: I won't leap into the flame. Sayonara.
Tenchi stands at the school's corner as he waits for his father to pick him up. Relief is quite visible in the young man's sagging body as he remembers the school day. Tenchi jumps whenever he hears a loud noise, he lips would stumble over every question, fearful of his own words and in the end his own classmates turn his behavior into a game, yank Tenchi's chain. His English sensei derides the students' conduct while his black eyes never leave the trigger of their misdeeds. The only thing Tenchi found enjoyable is the Irish gaijin, Robert O'Neill. Those friendly blue eyes within a lightface, the music of his brogue, his saggy blond hair and his resolve not to hurt Tenchi, made him someone easy to like. "I only hope otousan isn't in a teasing mode, I'm bushed," his words sound as old as the sun.
"How was school, musuko?" a happy tone in Nobuyuki's words as Tenchi opens the door.
"You really don't want to know, otousan," the young man collapses into the shotgun seat and closes his eyes to the world.
Deciding rest is what his son's needs, the older man drives away from the school. Tenchi could hear his father hum his favorite tune, 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'. "You seem happy," Tenchi comments without opening his eyes.
"I am, musuko," replies Nobuyuki while old memories? plays themselves on his tan face. "I met an old friend of our family. She was your okachan's friend and someone I've not seen in twenty years."
Tenchi's brown eyes open as curiosity quickly overcomes his exhaustion. Nobuyuki sees the questing look in his son's face and so starts his story, "I knew your okachan and her otousama for a long time. I liked him for the way he treated me like a man and I liked her because it was impossible not to. Then one day, during a dangerous monsoon, her otousama brought a horribly drenched little child out of the heavy rain. 'I found this honoo-chan about to be put out. We need to take care of her until her parents come'. She was a pitiful sight to see, shivering in her wet clothes, with her emerald eyes dulled by fear and fatigue. We quickly strip her, dried her slim body, and wrapped her in a thick red blanket. Your okachan and I held her between us, trying to keep her warm with our body heat while otousama told us one of his stories about the Ryokoakurei. The telephone lines were down so we waited for the rain to stop. Looking down at the child with the damp red hair, then feeling my right hand holding your okachan's left hand, I wondered if this is how it felt to have a kazoku (family).
"When the rain let up the next day, I walked into town to the closest koban (a police box) to report finding a lost child. The policemen let me use his bicycle to get back to the shrine. While waiting for her family, we comfort her, play games with her and learn her name, Ninjin-chan. We knew that wasn't her name, she being a Westerner, but she insisted that was what her otousama called her. Her family came in the afternoon. Like a fireball she ran into her otousama's arms, crying she was sorry for running away. Smiling as he replied, 'Ninjin-chan, as long as there is love, there is forgiveness'. Facing us the little one's otousama asked if there was someway that he could repay our kindness. Your okachan's otousama replied that letting the child come to the shrine, to be his musume's (daughter's) friend, would repay the debt. So Ninjin-chan came to the shrine, almost every weekend for four years, bearing gifts of food and merriment to the shrine. It wasn't until later we found out her real name, Dana, but by that time we could only think of her as Ninjin-chan," a sad look appears in the older Masaki's eyes.
Tenchi sees the emotion in his father's face, asks, "What happened?"
"Her father was in the Beigun (U.S. armed forces). So in 1973, he was transferred back to the Beikoku (United States). Ninjin-chin didn't want to go but she loved her okasama and otousama. I can still remember the tears raining down her pink cheeks, clouding those little emerald eyes. We watched her board a jet and she took a piece of our hearts with her." The sadness in his heart transforms into joy when he adds, "But now she is back. A little older, a little wiser but she is still Ninjin-chan."
"I'm happy for you, otousan," a smile on the youth's face.
"Oh, I just remembered, I need to stop at the film club to drop off my film and pick up my pictures and tape from yesterday," Nobuyuki tone becoming serious while changing the direction of the van. For once Tenchi was glad to be with his dad.
As Nobuyuki's van pulls up to a one-story brick building, not far from the Ohara Museum of Art, a light green pickup goes by him only to come to a stop in front of a bookstore. Looking into his rearview mirror, MacClean sees a black-haired man walk into the red building, his tan hands firmly holding several rolls of film, while the short haired boy in the shotgun seat closes his eyes to take a nap. Fifteen minutes later, the man reappears. While Nobuyuki's walks to the van's door, his constant glances alert MacClean. The brown-eyed man opens the driver's door, quickly jumps in and slams the door, which wakes the youth. As Nobuyuki turnover the van's engine, he draws a VHS tape from under his brown coat and waves it at his son. The sleepiness in the young man's brown eyes changes to terror when the older man's words penetrate his gray brain. "I wonder what happened?" MacClean muses.
"We were just lucky I walked in when I did, Tenchi-san," concern plain in Nobuyuki's face. "Two fishermen brought in a camcorder they pulled out of the Seto Naikai (Inland Sea). Today's volunteer, Nakao Seigo, put the tape in the video player to see if it was still good. I went into the repair shop just as he pushed the start button. What we saw filled him with awe and me with alarm. The film showed Ryoko's/Ayeka's spaceships plunging toward the sea. Then a bright flash occurred, causing the camcorder to lose the image, but the last part of the tape showed the spaceship tumbling straight at the lens. Nakao-san ran out the door to get to a telephone. While he was gone, I grabbed the tape and slipped away."
"Does Nakao-sama realize you took the tape?" asks Tenchi, his body stiff with panic.
"I don't think so," replies his father. "Other people came in while he was gone. So it's possible he will not make the connection, but I'm sure he was calling the keisatsu (police). They might especially if a certain redhead is with them."
"Who?" puzzles Tenchi.
"Ninjin-chan is an akapori. She works for the American FBI. They are helping the NZK investigate the destruction of the Seto-ohashi Bridge," Nobuyuki's tone becoming deadly serious as he drives the van to their home. "Her nerves are sharp enough to find the tape."
4:05 p.m. Police Forensic Lab, Okayama
Scully's hopes disappear when her findings show nothing unusual about Tomas Long's corpse. Long's body is rather ordinary: no tattoos, no extra organs or foreign bodies. The only missing item is the contact lens for his left eye. Both satisfied and bored by the examination Scully decides to burn some time with an autopsy of the white, longhair ferret. A DNA report, from a blood sample, is already in Scully's hand but it produces as many questions as answers. The report's raw data confirms Scully's belief of the creature's earthly origins but with several twists that could only lead her to several unbending facts. The DNA string is Terran but with evolutionary changes suggesting that the creature's ancestors have not had contact with its earthly brethren for over 30,000 years. The animal didn't match any known breeds, either natural or manmade, yet it's obviously a hybrid of great precision, with subtle changes in each section of the DNA string to produce an exact copy of the parent.
After reading the DNA report, Scully reexamines the clues the animal's body reveals to her. The eyes are normal except for one little fact, they were not meant to look at the Earth?s sky. The number of red, blue and green receivers Scully found means that the creature's home sun produce more green in its rays, much like Earth's sun produces more blue in its emissions. The stomach still contains undigested, uncooked rice seeds but its origins are strange. The report on the rice shows it's of a species of Nihon rice that had died out in this country; the only samples are from archeological sites dating back 30,000 years.
As Scully steps out into the hall, an assistant gives her a report from the metallurgy lab. The report's conclusions causes even more concern in Scully's scientific mind. The beautiful collar contains gems of unknown origin and the metal is an alloy, which can only be produce in zero gravity. "This thing has Nihongo writing on it," mumbles Scully. "These facts will add fuel to Mulder's fire."
When Nobuyuki's van leaves the small brick building behind, MacClean decides to investigate the building first. Waiting fifteen minutes to make sure of his plan, the gray-eyed man gets out of the pickup, pulls on a flashy green coat, places a Sacramento King's cap on his head and slings his camera bag over his neck. Closing the vehicle's door, he walks over to the building and enters through the glass door. He removes his shoes, checks the register on the left wall and takes only a few seconds to find his goal, the Kurashiki Film Club. Walking down the hall, he reaches the club's main entrance, the film club actually occupies five rooms, and opens the wood door. Eight feet in front of the door, against the left wall, is the young club's receptionist. She stands up, bows deeply to him, and asks in a sweet voice, "Tasuke ni naru wa (Can I help you?)."
"Wa (I) . . . tsurisuto (tourist) . . . ni . . . anata no (your) . . . kirei na (beautiful) . . . kuni (land)," MacClean purposely fumbles over his Nihongo.
A kind smile appears on her red lips and says, "I speak English."
Returning the lady's smile MacClean replies, "Thank you. A friend of mine suggested you could help me in developing my pictures for me. I like to do them myself but I just can't wait until I get back home."
"I think we can help you, Mr . . . ?" the youth asking a polite question to him.
"Harry Douglas," he replies.
"Douglas-san, one of our volunteers will help you just as soon as the person is available," she informs him as she points her left hand at an empty seat.
"Thank you, again," he allows a note of appreciation in his voice.
As MacClean sits, the blue hair receptionist asks, "Would you like some tea?"
"That would be wonderful," courtesy in his every word. When she goes to get him the tea, MacClean sees three men enter through the main entrance. He quickly recognizes Chief Detective Goto Henry, standing in front of the two other men. MacClean averts his eyes and wishes he could hide since the policeman wouldn't accept the presence, of Kawatta-san (Mr. Weird), as chance. A young man with blue jeans walks over to Goto, all four bow and he give the detective his card. "I'm the club's repairman," his voice fills with pride. "One of our members found a camcorder in the Seto Naikai, not far from the Seto-ohashi Bridge, the VHS tape inside is still good. I'll show you." The young man turns to left and takes the three officers toward another room.
As soon as they close the other room's door, MacClean gets up, carefully opens the front door and leaves. Going down the hall he remembers Mulder mentioning going to an Italian restaurant. The door behind him clicks close just as the receptionist returns with the steaming tea. "Where did he go?" the young lady puzzles over his absence. "Is all gaijin like this?"
Ryoko floats along a dark forest path while she lets chance to lead her. With Sasami cleaning the house, the cyan-haired women didn't want to get talk into helping the child, the uchu kaizoku never considers household chores as part of her resume. It wasn't until she stands next to a large pool, with a great sacred tree in the middle of it, does she realize what her journey brings her to. "Maybe chance didn't lead me here," soft words revealing her own notions. Since the return of her GEM, she could sometimes hear faint voices in her mind. She couldn't make out the words but she could feel their care, their warmth for her. "I'd better get this over with before my hand loses contact," her words fill with calm resolve.
Ryoko walks over to the pool's edge, kneels to takes a palm of water to her lips, cleanses her mouth with the liquid and spits it out on the ground. Ryoko stands up, fades from the shore and reappears in front of the huge trunk, wearing a deep red kimono. She claps her hands twice and begins to talk, "I'm not good at this, Funaho-Ki (tree)/Yosho-sama, I never was. I'm here to thank you for what you did to me," her voice quivering with every word. "When you defeated me, when you took my GEMS away from me, you could have destroyed my body. There was nothing to stop you, nothing, but you didn't. You pick me up tenderly, carried me into the cave, and carefully laid me in the pool. You seem to know that there was something else in me besides the akurei no hakai (demon of destruction).
"When the chamber closed, I saw nothing, I heard nothing, I smelled nothing, I touched nothing and I tasted nothing. As days became weeks, weeks turn into months and months became years, I allow my wordless rage to scream at the heavens until it was replaced with begging cries for release, the head I held up high was brought low," Ryoko's memories causing her body to shake. "The cave burned away all of my arrogance, my bloodlust, and my self-pity. The only thing left to me were prayers for forgiveness.
"I couldn't leave my body on my own. I know I couldn't because I had tried so many times before, yet there I was, outside the cave," her gold eyes reflect awe. "At first I didn't see the colors, the clouds, or the trees, for my mind had been reduced to dust. Then I thought it was a dream story, the tricks of the insane. Then I saw the black-haired woman. On her back she carried a male child in a haversack. As they passed by, I looked into the child's brown eyes and he looked back," joy echoes in Ryoko's voice. "HE SAW ME! HE REACHED OUT TO ME! HE GAVE ME HOPE! Every day the woman, his okasan, brought him to the entrance of the cave I changed. By watching the kochan, his okasan, his otousan and his ojiisan, I learned how it was to be a human being, how it was to love.
"You two gave me a new life, a second chance and I won't throw it away," her words of conviction match the glow in her amber eyes. Ryoko turns away from the holy tree, flies into the sky and teleports away. A few minutes later Katsuhito steps out of the underbrush. He takes off his glasses to clean them with a tan handkerchief as he walks to Funaho. After he places his glasses back on the priest's right palm caresses the trunk of his bondmate and says in a gentle voice, "I didn't kill her, Funaho-dono, I just couldn't. You felt it, I know you did. When the GEMS became part of Tenchikan, I knew every aspect of her ki. I knew then Ryoko-san was not totally ja'akuna (wicked), she just needed a light to bring her out of the dark." Funaho responds with a dance of lights from her leaves to the surface of the pond. A touch of mirth enters his face as he continues, "Besides, her okasama would've killed me."
4:16 p.m. Rentenchi Italian Restaurant, Kurashiki
Shatter light through stain glass enters the Italian restaurant as Mulder and Hideyuki finish their meal. Biting down on a piece of garlic bread, Mulder realizes Scully is probably finish with her examinations. Mulder swallows his food and looks at his guide, "Could you call the Okayama forensic lab for me. It's time to check in with Scully."
"Hai, Mulder-san," the young officer pulls out the cellphone, presses the buttons smoothly and puts it to his ear. After a few seconds he starts to talk, "This is Officer Hideyuki, please connect me to the forensic lab." A few more seconds go by as the youth waits patiently. "Scully-dono, Mulder-san wants to talk to you," Hideyuki tells her as he hands the device to Mulder.
"Scully, did you find anything on Long's autopsy?" Mulder's voice becomes very resolute.
"No, but I found some curious facts from the autopsy of the white animal and his collar," Scully replies in a calm voice. "I'm going to our hotel to freshen up and to eat dinner. Why don't you and Hideyuki meet me there?"
"We're on our way," urgent words come from Mulder's lips, knowing the only reason Scully wouldn't speak over the cellphone is the explosive nature of her findings. Mulder rushes to the door while he leaves Hideyuki to pay the tab. The American is unaware of a man stepping into his path until they collide. "Oh, sorry!" the agent replies offhand.
"Hey! Watch where you going, greenhorn!" the man snarls at Mulder. Only then did Mulder notice the blue-eyed man is dress as a cowboy: with a tan vest, Stetson hat and blue jeans. Mulder sees the tall leather boots as he puts his shoes back on, goes out the entrance and continues to Hideyuki's car. The younger man?s quicksteps to catch up with his Mulder. When Mulder bends to get into the car, he feels something in his coat pocket. After hooking on his seatbelt, he reaches in and pulls out a piece of paper. English words on the paper words tell him to go to the Kurashiki Film Club.
"Plans have changed again, Hideyuki. We're going here," a hint of anger in his voice, Mulder didn't like being pull around by his noise.
The young man nods as Mulder shows him the note and says, "Hai, it's only fifteen minutes from here." Before handing Mulder the cellphone, Hideyuki hits the redial and asks the operator to get Scully again.
"Scully, someone just slipped a note to me to go to a local film club," a note of urgency in his voice. "I'm heading over there now."
"I'll catch the San-yo train to Kurashiki, I should arrive at the rail station in less than one hour," a questioning tone enters her voice. "What do you think you'll find there, Mulder?"
"I'm not sure, Scully, but it seems I'm being given a trail of breadcrumbs to follow," Mulder replies just before cutting the transmission.
"Let's hope the blackbirds haven't gotten to them. Well, let's see what kind of bento box is sold at the station," her own words reveal just how often she depends on fast food since joining the X-Flies.
The reflection of a bloody sun upon the surface of a mountain lake shows a sky on fire. These shatter rays come through the princesses' room, tinting every object in the room. No sounds come from Princess Ayeka as she places down the required implements for the ceremony. As the lady kneels on a white cushion, there is a small plain wooden table in front of her. On the left side of the table is a small holographic projector and on the right is a dirk blade, which is wrap tightly with white paper instead of a handle. She reaches to the projector and turns it on. A six-inch image of a young man, dress in formal court attire, appears before her. A voice like the failing breeze in a graveyard comes from her pink lips, "I have no more tears to shed, yet my heart still aches. I'm empty inside for all that was is gone. Nothing to stay."
She opens the top of her pure white kimono, lets it fall to her waist and reveals two small breasts of young womanhood. As her right-hand picks up the blade by its paper wrapping, she hears a noise behind her. Looking over her right shoulder, the princess' ruby eyes go wide as Ryoko passes through the windowpane. Words of anger die on her noble lips as she sees Ryoko wears a black and white jumper that reaches just above her ample bosom, allowing complete freedom of movement for her arms. Ayeka faces forwards again while her soft sad voice touches the cyan-haired woman's ear, "I see even you know something of our ways. So I ask you to be my kaishaku (second)."
"Oujosa . . . " Ryoko fumbles other the word.
"I sigh with a blue breath. Just help release me, nothing else," Ayeka cuts off Ryoko words.
"Then you don?t care about Sasami-chan, nothing about Jurai," Ryoko's sharp words cut through Ayeka.
"They told me not to go. They told me you killed him and Jurai needed me. All they told me was a LIE!" screams Ayeka. "I brought SHAME upon my otousama, upon my okosama! I allowed my FOOLISH DREAMS to take me away to my love! What did I find? Not LOVE, not JOINING, I found DISGRACE! My NIISAN cared nothing for me, NOTHING! His WORDS held no love but I knew not the world enough to SEE it! I can hear their LAUGHTER, smirking words of contempt for a FUTILE JOURNEY! You stripped away all my DELUSIONS. You show me the TRUTH! Sasami doesn't need me! She has YOU! Why should she want someone whose WORLD was nothing but SMOKE." As those last words fly out of her lips, Ayeka uses both hands to bring the blade above her exposed neck, at arms? length. Suddenly a white-gloved hand grasps the deadly end and prevents the deadly object?s decent.
Shock fills the princess' face as she looks up into those yellow eyes, seeing rage in Ryoko's face and hears it in her words, "Have you forgotten those WORDS! The words every Jurai kochan knows by HEART! The words every sentient being speaks when he talks about Jurai: MEIYO (HONOR), GIMU (DUTY), AND KAZOKU (FAMILY)! Your SEPPUKU will destroy your KAZOKU! Your otousama and okosamas will be looked upon with contempt for losing a sugere and a musume! Sasami-chan's KI will be crushed for you are doing the same thing you ACCUSE Yosho-sama of doing, taking the soft flower of her love and CRUSHING IT! How can you think anyone can take your place in her HEART? She BELIEVES in your journey, she came with you and gave up EVERYTHING to be with you! She gives love freely to EVERYONE but her LOVE for you is SPECIAL!
"What about Tenchi! He is your niisan's progeny! Do you not have a GIMU to show the greatness of Jurai? Your SEPPUKU will only show him the FLAWS, nothing of its NOBLENESS! You have the MEIYO, the GIMU, to bring into the Jurai Royal Family a bright new STAR! If my words cannot remove the BLINDNESS from your EYES, then END IT!" Ryoko lets go of the blade, her body glides up in the air and passes through the door while she keeps her raging eyes on the shocked princess.
Conflicting emotions seethe within Ayeka's mind, which shuts down all her senses. Little by little her mind clutches at the uchu kaizoku's words. 'Have I fallen so far that I see only darkness?' As those words echo in her mind, she feels moisture touches her breasts. Several drops of red blood are on her chest. Ayeka looks at the blade hovering in her shaking hands, her astonished eyes behold its sharp metal is wet with Ryoko's blood.
Ryoko blindly flies to the stairway to the front entrance and goes down it. The cyan-haired woman is but three feet away from Katsuhito before she sees him on the steps. The old priest recognizes a flood of anguish in her face before she pushes it back inside. As she begins to float around him, he sees the speckle trail of blood behind her. Taking her right hand, he observes the ribbon of blood on the field of white. "I want to thank you for saving Ayeka-san. Her death would bring nothing but ruin to this house," a tone of respect in the priest's words.
Ryoko spins toward Katsuhito, brings her face just inches from his and a low growl comes from her lips, "I did this for Sasami-chan. She is the first one to treat me like a human being, not as a kaibutsu (monster). If not for Sasami-chan's compassion, I would've loved to be Ayeka-san's kaishaku." Jerking her hand out of Katsuhito's grip, he watches her fly up and pass through the ceiling while his ears detect the soft closing of the kitchen's door. Turning around, the elder walks to the front door, puts his shoes on and goes out. He heads back to the shrine with relief on his face. He no longer needs to complete his trek to Ayeka's room. Sasami's early words show the end of his half-sister's journey. He believes his one choice is to reveal young Yosho to her, to show her sacrifice is not futile but Ryoko's aid, done for affection, changes everything. Looking at a pink dusk sky the old man softly says, "Please my hotaru (firefly), don't let your light go out."
4:39 p.m., Kurashiki Film Club
The pretty receptionist looks up as two shoeless men enter through the front door. 'Oh . . . No . . . another gaijin,' these soundless words fills her mind. Getting up she bows to them and saying in English, "Can I help you?" Her brown eyes linger on the American's companion. 'He's kawaii,' she thinks. Showing their badges, the young woman responds, "You just missed the other police."
"Oh . . . what did they do here?" perplexity in Mulder's voice.
"Just asked questions about a VHS tape and made a list of our current members," she replies as her eyes shift from Hideyuki to Mulder.
"Can we have one?" courtesy in Hideyuki's words.
"Oke," blushes in her cheeks. She reaches down into a drawer and gives Hideyuki the list.
Bowing, Hideyuki says, "Domo arigato." She returns his bow.
Hideyuki hands the list to Mulder. Mulder finds it is in Nihongo and says, "I . . . I'll give this to Scully."
After all three bows again, the two men leave. "I hope that kawaii yatsu (guy) comes back," she sighs.
As the two men get into Hideyuki's car, two more men, dress in darkness, go into the same brick building.
"What are we going to do, otousan?" Tenchi fearfully asks.
"I don't know, musuko," worry plain in Nobuyuki's voice as he drives the van toward their home. "We can't erase it but with today's technology, you can reconstruct any image recorded on tape."
"How about a magnet?" hope born within Tenchi's brown eyes.
"It's a possibility," the father's hope matching his son's. "We need a large magnet, but we still have a couple of problems."
"Kya . . . ?" wonders Tenchi.
"You haven't been listening to WHOSHI on the radio," concern fills his father's own brown eyes.
"Your favorite radio station?" questions Tenchi, looks hard at Nobuyuki.
"Kawatta-san gave a recap, of the last forty-eight hours, on his noon program. He tells about the high school fire, what happened to our house, and the destruction of the Seto-ohashi Bridge," Nobuyuki turning the wheel left to bring the van into their home's driveway. "If any of the jinkoro (police) listens to him and notes my name on the film club's membership list, we can expect to become their prey."
"And the other problem?" Tenchi's fear turning into terror.
"Two lovelies with chichi kurushii (pretty boobs) and a pinku rozu-chan (little pink rose)," Nobuyuki replies half in jest while Tenchi rolls his eyes skyward.
The door to the princesses' room opens and Ayeka pokes her purple-haired head out to check the hallway. Ryoko's angry words rain ice water on her ego and horrify the lady. An hour ago her own self-pity made her choose the darkness over the light yet she knows it's not over. She perceives it lurks on the edges of her consciousness, ready to slip back in to claim her. "As long as I have Sasami's love and my duty to my family, to Tenchi-sama, I can fight it," Ayeka murmurs quietly to herself while her ruby eyes scan right-to-left. She already places the ritual instruments away before Sasami could see them but the uchu kaizoku's life waters still stain her breasts and shoulders.
Ayeka covers her body with the white kimono, goes into the hallway and heads for the stairs to the main entrance. On stocking feet the lady noiselessly works her way down, careful with each downward step and walks toward the furo (bath). For a second Ayeka freezes when she sees the door to the kitchen open and hears Sasami preparing dinner. Peeking in, she notices the little child's back to her. Taking a big step, Ayeka gets across the threshold, into the furo, unaware of a giggling Sasami who sees the points of her big sister's purple ponytails but neither one notice a pair of feline eyes watching the little dance. With a catlike grin, made all the more by her incisors, Ryoko whispers to herself, "It's time for phase two."
Ayeka quickly undresses and goes into the washroom. The furo's floor and half of the walls are cover with light green marble tiles, with ribbons of gold in each piece. Turning on the bath water, the young lady takes a hand held showerhead to rinse her body before soaping up. Sitting on a little stool, conceal in soapsuds, her thoughts start to wander, "Why did that bakemono help me? Why?" Pushing those questions away, the young woman washes the soap away, happy with how clean her breasts are. Suddenly a pair of hands comes out from under her armpits, reaches up to cup both her breasts, and pinches the nipples. Ayeka's face is beet red as she feels two large mounds press into her shoulder blades as a sweet voice breathes into her ear, "I told you I was a chijo (female pervert)."
Ayeka lets out a shriek as she bolts out of Ryoko's embrace only to fall into the furo's hot water. As her purple head breaks the surface, her mouth coughing out inhaled water, her eyes go wide as she sees the nude uchu kaizoku leaping toward her, a gleam in those yellow eyes. Ayeka franticly struggles to the edge of the furo only to feel the cyan-haired woman's body pushes her under the steaming water. Fear freezes the princess' heart as her body senses Ryoko's hands touch and pinch her breasts, ass and vagina while Ryoko tongue licks the area just behind Ayeka's right ear. Panic brings Ayeka's mind into action as she jumps over the furo and lands running for the exit. Fleeing to the stairway near the main entrance, she hears echoes of craze laughter behind her. She turns left and leaps up the stairs two, sometimes three, steps at a time; she is completely unaware of the outside door opening behind her.
"Tadai . . . " Nobuyuki's and Tenchi's words of homecoming die as the two pairs of brown eyes behold her Highness rapidly moving behind. Nobuyuki's mouth drops open in a glaze of pure lechery while Tenchi, with bulging eyes, finds the taste of blood in his mouth. When the nude figure turns a corner, disappearing onto the third floor, both men see Sasami stomping her way to the washroom where chuckles of laughter come from. The blue-haired child stands at the threshold, shakes a frying pan toward someone and says in an angry voice, "Ryoko-neechan! YANCHASHOJO (NAUGHTY GIRL)!"
Nude Ryoko steps up to the pink-eyed child, bends down to kiss Sasami's forehead, and replies in a mischievous voice, "An akurei (demon) got to do what an akurei got to do." Her smile goes wide as she looks up to see Tenchi, before the lady with two bouncy breasts fades away. "And me without a camera," moans Nobuyuki.
Kagato's holds his head between his hands as another roar of laughter rams through his mind, leaving agony in its wake. "SHUT UP YOU LITTLE CRAB!" he screams. 'I'm causing you pain, son? GOOD!' with these mental words the feminine laughter reaches a new agonizing level. With a quick twist of his consciousness, Kagato rips to shred the link between his mother and himself. As the throbbing ache slow fades from his head, the white-haired man decides his need for the link is no longer necessary. It was by this means he influences her actions, controls her through sleep's dreams. In the end, she sires the daughter he wants, not as a rival to claim his mother's greatest possession but as a weapon to bring all his schemes into existence.
With his new sister, he tricks his mother into creating a crystal prison to hold anyone who might try to take her children away from her. "Please test it, mommy. Make sure no one will bring tears into your life again," are the words he places in his naive sister's mouth. Delicious is the cries that come from his mommy's mind and his sister's lips when he betrays them.
With little concern he seizes his sister's mind and erases the soul his mother placed there; it's only later out of boredom does Kagato give his weapon warped cognizance, an eater of worlds and a drinker of souls. The disappearance of his sister produce changes in Kagato's plans but now, after seven hundred years, his instrument is again active. As the red-eyed man approaches a little known Jurain protectorate, he is sensitive to the possibility of his most precious scheme will soon bare fruit, very soon. Yet one lingering thought still bounces in his cerebral matter, 'Why is she so happy?'
Chapter Four: Photographs and Memories
5:16 p.m. Kurashiki Terminal, Kurashiki
Right on time the San-yo train pulls into the terminal, returning Scully's freedom from this sardine can. The redhead remembers how pack these passenger cars could get but never like this, especially since one of her fellow kippers is a sawari-ma (touch-devil). "Next time I'm bringing my handcuffs," Scully words match the green fire in her eyes.
The door opens to vomit its victims onto the ramp, each person rushes to the exit in hopes of catching a cab, a bite of food or a loved one. Scully heads to the waving Mulder and Hideyuki. Looking at her mess up appearance, Mulder volunteers, "your skirt is caught on your panty, let me . . . "
"No thank you, Mulder, I'll do it," a dangerous glare in her emerald eyes, "One male hand up there in one day is enough for me." Hideyuki mufflers a laugh while a touch of amusement appears in Mulder's pale green eyes.
With the trio walking to the car, Mulder explains the trail produce by the mysterious message and gives Scully the list, "I think someone on this list stole the tape and I'm sure we can find that person."
"Do you suspect anyone?" Scully glances at her partner as they reach Hideyuki's car.
"Some mysterious events occurred in the Tezuka District of Greater Kurashiki. These events included an aerial battle between two UFOs. One of these UFOs might be the one which crashed into the Seto-ohashi Bridge. One name kept on appearing as a lightening rod for all these events, Masaki."
Scully?s redhead jerks up at the mention of the name, shock visibly on her fair face, "You're sure, Mulder?"
"The name appears too many times for it to be coincidental, Scu . . . " Mulder's voice pauses as he sees Scully's emerald eyes go wide. "What is it?"
Trying to keep her voice neutral, Scully replies, "There's a Masaki Nobiyuki on this list."
"Hmm . . . the neighbors report the Masaki-san home mysteriously moved from the Tezuka District to a lake near a Shinto shrine," speaks up Hideyuki.
"Can we get a warrant to search the Masaki home?" Mulder asks Hideyuki.
"Hai, Mulder-san," replies the young man.
"Then I think we should visit the Masaki," informs Mulder.
Two hours later, the trio is nearing the turnoff to the Masaki Shrine, warrant in hand. In just seventy minutes the agents receive the piece of paper due to the nature of the investigation. Noting the silence of his partner Mulder turns his head to Scully and asks, "So what did the Okayama lab reports reveal?"
Barely hearing her partner's voice over the roaring dread within her mind, Scully's body slightly jerks before she answers, "The reports stated the animal is of unknown origins. It was once Terrain but has not existed on this planet for thirty thousand years. The collar is made of unknown materials; some parts could only be created in zero gravity. So much for the pet theory."
"It still could be someone pet but the owner could be a little green," a gleam appears in Mulder's eyes as Hideyuki turns onto the dirt road, which goes to the Masaki home.
7:30 p.m. Masaki Residence
Walking toward his room with arms full of wire, a small generator and a medium size bar of iron, Tenchi pauses as the door to the princesses' room slides open to reveal Ayeka, dress in her purple kimono. Glancing in both directions to make sure a certain cyan-haired woman is not within striking distance, her ruby eyes fix on the young man and asks, "Tenchi-sama, could you ask Sasami to bring me something to eat," Tenchi nods to her as he could sense tenseness in her words. "Domo arigato," she returns before sliding the door close.
Tenchi quickly deposits the parts at his desk before going down the library stairs, the quickest route to the kitchen, where Sasami is washing the dishes from tonight's dinner. Seeing the child by herself Tenchi asks, "Wasn't Ryoko supposed to help you dry them?"
"Ryoko-neechan disappeared right after dinner, Tenchi-san," her happy voice matches the sparkle in the little one's pink eyes.
"Let me take over for you, Sasami-chan," Tenchi suggests. "Ayeka-san asked me to see if you could get her something to eat."
"Yaappii (Yippee)!" shouts the jumping child, her ponytails bouncing to her leap. "Oneesama is back!" She quickly hugs a surprise Tenchi then turns to the refrigerator to fulfill Ayeka's request. The youth finishes the dishes just in time to see the light foot child run out the door leading to the living room, a bento box in hand; his alert ears can hear Sasami scampers up the stairs. A couple minutes later a puzzled Nobuyuki comes through the same door, "I heard Sasami-chan's shout. What was it all about?"
"Ayeka-san asked for some food," answers the perplexed youth.
Smiling at his son's news, the older Masaki turns back to the living room to watch some television. Pushing the on switch, his smiling grows wider, "I wonder how long segare's dotei (virginity) will last?"
Going to his room, Tenchi begins to work on building the electromagnet when he feels a pair of arms surround his neck and a nose touch his left ear, "What's you working on Tenchi?"
'I must be getting use to this,' Tenchi notes his body's bare reaction.
Deciding he didn't want her to know about the tape because she might blow up half the house trying to burn it, he replies, "Ryoko, I'm building a project for my science sensei."
"Oi (Oh)," her voice full of distaste. Tenchi feels Ryoko's cyan hair brush against his neck as she turns her head to the left. "Someone's here." Suspicion fills her amber eyes as she teleports away. She appears on the home's roof where Ryoko views three individuals walking away from a small car next to the lake.
Tenchi runs halfway down the living room stairs before he whispers harshly to his father as he tosses the tape to him, "Otousan! Hide the tape! Someone is here!" Nobuyuki catches the tape and swiftly places it with the rest of his tapes, in the storage drawer underneath the television, before sitting back down.
A knock comes to the front door and Nobuyuki gets up to answer it. Sliding the door open he sees Scully with two men, a young Nihonjin on her left and an older American on her right. "Ninjin-chan?" surprises quite visible on his face.
"Ninjin-chan?" wonders the American man while the Nihonjin youth allows a slight smile to appear before he suppresses it.
Ignoring her partners' inquirer Scully says, "I'm sorry Masaki-san, we're here officially." Scully presents Nobuyuki with the search warrant, grief in her emerald eyes. "This is First Lieut. Hideyuki Koyama, of the NZK, and my partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder, of the American FBI. We're here to search, the house for evidence pertaining to the destruction of the middle section of the Seto-ohashi Bridge. Could you bring the rest of your family out so we can interview them?"
Seeing the pain expression on Scully's face, Nobuyuki puts on his most toothy smile, "Don't worry Ninjin-chan, everything will be all right." Turning around he calls to Tenchi, who stands at the top of the main entrance stairs, "Musuko, why don't you roundup the rest of our kazoku, except Ayeka-san." Looking over his shoulder at the agents, "Ayeka-san has been sick for the last few days. I hope you're let her stay in her bedroom."
"We can interview her there, Masaki-san," Scully's emotions warring with her logical mind.
"Why don't we go into the living room?" suggests the still smiling Nobuyuki while he points with his left hand in that direction. Scully looks at Mulder who nods.
After taking off their shoes the trio follows the black-haired man through the door on the left, Mulder asks Scully, "You know him from twenty years ago?"
"He's an old friend of mine and I hope he still is after this," a guilty tone to her voice.
"And Ninjin-chan?" asks a sly smiling Hideyuki.
"My nickname, created by my father while staying in Nihon," informs Scully. "It means Little Carrot." This brings a humorous gleam to Mulder's light green eyes.
As they enter the living room, Mulder sees a mix of traditional and Western furniture. While a long leather coach dominates the room near the huge expanse of a window, it also contains a chabudai in one corner and a television set in a wood covey. Looking up Mulder's eyes see the young man coming down the steps with a child and a young woman. When they join Nobuyuki, Scully could see how identical Tenchi was to his father at this same age.
"Why don't you introduce yourselves to our visitors?" invites Tenchi's father
The young man gives a short bow, "I'm Masaki Tenchi. Nobuyuki is my otousan," a slight tremor to his voice.
Next comes the little child, "I'm Masaki Sasami, Tenchi-san's itoko (cousin)." Scully notes the courtly bow the child gives them, she also observes the little one's Asian features are less precise which suggests mixed heritage. Mulder finds the contrast between blue hair and pink eyes weird.
Lastly the young woman speaks, "I'm Hakubi Ryoko, Tenchi's watashi no kare," happiness in her voice as she holds Tenchi's hand while a little groan escapes from the young man. Scully sees a total absence of Asian features in this young woman yet her Nihongo is perfect. Mulder observes Ryoko's amber eyes, cyan hair, and red leather-and-chains outfit as evidence of a participant in the Nihonjin Punk Rock scene.
"We'll try to get this over with as soon as possible, Masaki-san," Scully's voice matches the regret in her emerald eyes.
"Don't I get a chance to introduce myself?" a calm voice comes from the kitchen entrance. Everyone looks toward the source and sees Katsuhito, a trace of a smile on his face. The priest walks forward to them, bows deeply, accepts Scully's handshake and says, "Konichiwa Ninjin-chan, Nobuyuki told me he saw you at the beach. You bring happy memories in your wake."
"I wish it was under better circumstances, Katsuhito-dono," Scully's voice retreating further into sorrow.
"I heard your conversation at the door," a smiling Katsuhito replies in slightly accented English which causes startle looks to come from Nobuyuki, Tenchi, and Scully. He turns to shake Mulder's hand, "You are Dana's partner?"
"Yes sir," Mulder replies while she accepts the offered hand and notes the priestly clothes. "I'm her gardener."
"Be careful, too much water will drown out her flame," the elder calmly matches Mulder's tone.
"I'll make sure she gets plenty of sunshine," Mulder's sly tone turns his smile into a grin.
"Where do you want to start the search?" A serious tone returns to the priest's voice.
"Scully will do the interviews in the kitchen while Hideyuki and I search separately," Mulder informs the elder. Turning to Hideyuki, "I'll search the kitchen while you start with the top floor."
"Hai, Mulder-san," acknowledges Hideyuki as he goes up the steps with Katsuhito right behind him.
As the two men head for separate destinations, Scully turns to the others and says, "I'll interview you first, Nobuyuki-san."
"Oke," replies the black-haired man.
Entering the kitchen, both see Mulder pulling his head out of the refrigerator, a disgusting look on his face and mumbling, "How can anyone eat raw fish?"
"Finding anything interesting, Mulder?" a shadow of a smile on Scully's lips.
"Only if you're a shark," her partner replies as he goes to a set of covers.
Pulling out a black notebook from her coat pocket and pen from her white shirt pocket, Scully uses these mundane actions to reign in her feelings. When Nobuyuki views the conflict within Scully's soul, he wishes again his choice to help his son's new friends or help his old friend is not his to make. "Your name?" her emerald eyes betraying the calm in her voice.
"Masaki Nobuyuki," he replies evenly.
"Thirty-six years old."
"Chief Architect at the Kenminno Design Group."
"How many years?"
"Otoko Yamome (widower)," his voice touches by sadness, which magnifies Scully's pain.
"A musuko, Masaki Tenchi."
"Starting three days ago, give a rundown of your activities in chronological order."
"I went to work in Kurashiki. I answer a confirmation call from Kekkibatto, the people who moved our house for us, to let me know they would be moving the house at 4:00 p.m. I went back to work. Then I picked up Tenchi at our home's old site and drove to the new location. The next morning my mei (nieces), twenty-two-year-old Masaki Ayeka and eight-year-old Masaki Sasami, came to stay with us for a while. At the same time Tenchi's friend, Hakubi Ryoko, asked if she could rent a room from me. I said yes. I went to work, leaving Tenchi home because he was sick. At noontime I went to film the Seto-ohashi Bridge. I couldn't get a good view of the bridge or the surrounding area because of the huge crowd of onlookers. So I went back to work early. After work I went home. The next day Tenchi was feeling better so I dropped him off at his school. Again at noontime I tried to film the bridge. There I met a friend who has a special place in my heart, Dana Scully. We talked for a while and then I went back to work. After work I picked up my son, stopped at my film club to drop off my film and then went home.
"Did you notice anything unusual at the film club?"
"Yes, one of the volunteers, I think the repairman, was excited about something. Since my son was waiting for me in the car, I decided not to stick around and see what it was all about."
"Do you know of the events happening in the Tezuka District?"
"Yes but by then my home was already moved. I only learn of the events by listening to the radio."
Scully looks up at Nobuyuki with relief very visible on her face and says, "That will be all, Masaki-san. Please send in your son."
"Are you alright, Scully?" Mulder notices the stress his partner is feeling.
"I'll be fine, Mulder," Scully barely able to keep her emotions in check.
"I've finished the kitchen," Mulder realizing that Scully is far from fine. "I'll start on the living room." As Mulder walks through the door, he bumps into Tenchi, sending the youth to the ground. "Sorry about that," Mulder helping the young man to stand.
"Boku warui (I'm at fault), Mulder-sama," replies the brown-eye youth. Unable to understand the youth's words, Mulder looks Tenchi over quickly to make sure he is okay and then continues out the door, unaware of the amber glare from Ryoko.
Looking at the young man, Scully's emerald eyes view another ghost from her past, Nobuyuki of twenty years ago. The same brown eyes, the same black hair and the same shy shell that cover his true nature. Blinking her eyes to clear out the past, Scully says, "This won't take long, Masaki-san." Tenchi nods to her, hoping his own tongue doesn't reveal the truth.
"A student at the Yama . . . eh . . . Nagai High School."
"Masaki Nobuyuki and Masaki Achika."
"Give me, in chronological order, an account of your activities for the past two days," Scully tries to ask in a neutral voice.
"It was the first day of school. I did my usual routine: take a bath, dress in my uniform, ate the choshoku otousan prepared and walked to school. I went to my classes, met my old friends, During lunch break I walked to the roof to be by myself, and took a nap. I must have been tired because I didn't wake up until almost dusk. I ran home as fast as I could before the movers came. By the time I got there, they had already done their job. I was lucky that otousan was waiting there for me. We went home, ate dinner and I went to bed. The next morning I woke up sickly, I guess that what happened on the roof was a warning. Anyway, I stayed home but I wasn't alone. Besides jiichan, my itoko, Masaki Ayeka and Masaki Sasami, came to visit us. Also my friend, Ryo . . . eh . . . Hakubi Ryoko asked if she could stay with us until she could afford her own apartment, otousan said yes before he left for work. Most of the day I spent either in bed or trying to help make our new guests comfortable. The next day I felt well enough to go to school but must have brought home a bug because Ayeka-san became really sick and has been in her room since. I had to play catch up in the lessons I missed. After class otousan picked me up. I waited in his van while he dropped some film off at his photography club and then we came home."
Scully notices a couple of places, in Tenchi's statement, where he seems to trip over the words. Already marking those places, Scully?s emerald gaze locks on the boy brown eyes, then she asks, "You were late leaving the high school. Did you see anyone else there?"
"Dare mo (no one)," Scully could see youth's body tense up.
"Your school was badly damaged by a fire that night," probes Scully as she tries for a reaction out of Tenchi.
"I know, but I left before the fire started," Scully hears a touch of guilt in the young man's voice.
"So you saw no one," asks Scully, to give the boy another chance.
"Dare mo," replies Tenchi.
"You heard what happened at the Seto-ohashi Bridge?"
"Hai, it was terrible," anger very visible in his voice. "The bridge had only been opened for the last four years. For this to occur is criminal." Scully catches what Tenchi unwittingly volunteered to her.
Quickly switching gears, Scully asks, "How long have you known Hakubi Ryoko?"
"She's a new friend I met during my summer vacation, at jiichan's shrine," his body relaxes.
"How did it happen?"
"She had heard about the Masaki Shrine and came to see it," the relief vaporizes as Tenchi's realizes the agent's intentions. "She was curious about the mountain shrine and she became friends with jiichan and otousan."
Noting Tenchi's nervousness about Ryoko, a light smile touch's Scully's lips and she ask, "You like her?"
A mix of shock, fear and fondness plays across the young man's face as he replies, "She's kinda wild for me."
Reaching her final question Scully asks, "When you and Nobuyuki-san stopped at the film club, did anything strange happened."
"Mo (No)," Tenchi tries to keep his voice neutral.
Scully thinks about Tenchi's answers, writes down a few notes while a sad smile appears on her lips when she says, "I heard your okasan (mother) died a long time ago. I'm sorry for your loss. She was a good friend of mine. I will miss her."
Tenchi returns the sad smile and replies, "What was she like? I grind my mind to see her face, to hear her voice and to feel her touch."
"On her heart are engraved all of those she loved. There was nothing she wouldn't do for them, nothing," Remembering her duty, Scully sighs and tells the youth, "You can go. Would you send in Hakubi Ryoko."
Going out the kitchen door Tenchi calls, "She wants to see you, Ryoko." As they pass each other, the young man's whispers, "Don't hurt her. She's a family friend."
Ryoko shoots a quick yellow glare at Tenchi as she enters the kitchen. Ryoko didn't like cops. In her five thousand years as an uchu kaizoku, the only thing they bring to her is trouble. Many times Ryo-Ohki and her face these guardians of law and order. Many times their broken ships and bodies are signposts to her journey from one mission to the next. To defeat them that way is easy but now she needs to develop new tactics: a sword of words and a shield of lies.
With the sound of leather boots Scully looks up from her notebook. She sees how relax Ryoko is in the tight red leather pants, vest, boots, and half-gloves, with a silvery chain belt. Scully knows the suit shows the owner's personality: reckless and loud. Scully asks, "How you doing, Hakubi-san?"
"Fine," Ryoko giving Scully an annoying look. "Could we hurry up? I've got a party to go and rock."
"Oke," Scully eyes narrow. She's a hard case the redhead thinks. "Name?"
"You already know that."
"A lady never reveals her age," a predatory smile on Ryoko's lips.
"I've tried everything at least once. Right now I'm between jobs."
"I . . . don't . . . remember . . . my parents," Scully senses the crack in the woman's hard exterior.
"So you're an orphan?"
"Hai . . . I was born in South Vietnam. I was brought to the St. Francis Xavier Kojiin (Orphanage), in Kagoshima, after Saigon fell. None of my relatives came to claim me. For ten years I was under the 'tender' care of the Sisters," a gleam of anger in Ryoko's amber eyes. "At the age of fourteen I ran away from the orphanage, deciding to find my parents. I never did."
"No one adopted you?"
"I was named Mikie but the Sisters called me Koakuma, the Devil's Child. I hated being paraded like a well-bred animal and so I let every couple know it. In the end, the Sisters locked me away in a closet. When I left them, I named myself Ryoko, after the legendary demon," Ryoko's words fill of pride.
"It was the name the Sisters found pinned to my shirt," the finality echoes in Ryoko's words.
"Give me a chronological run down of the last three days," Scully takes the hint.
"You don?t ask for much, Aka-san (Miss. Red)," Ryoko sighs as a frown appears on Scully face. "Alright, let me think. Three days ago I arrived at Osaka on a morning flight from Hong Kong. I had stopped in Hong Kong for a concert. I spent most of the day bar hoping and visiting old friends. I was so much a tigress, I barely remember reaching Kurashiki by train. When I'm in Nihon, I stay with the Masaki. I woke up the next morning in an empty lot. At first I thought I'd made a mistake. Wasn't this where the Masaki home is located?
"Even with a hangover, I figured if I went to the Masaki Shrine that I would find out what happened to the house. With barely enough money to get a taxi I found myself standing at the lake where I found the house just below the shrine. I asked Nobuyuki-san and Tenchi," a loving look appears in the cyan-haired woman's face as she mentions the youth's name, "if I could stay until I could afford to move on. They said yes even though some relatives, kawaii Sasami and snotty Ayeka came to visit."
"How long have you known the Masaki-zoku (family)?" asks Scully.
"It seems like forever since the day I've met them," her amber eyes taking a dreamy stare. "It happened eight years ago, when I left the kojiin. I was walking through the woods, near the shrine, when I found a cave. My body ache so much from fatigue, I collapsed into a dreamless sleep as soon as I enter it. A shonen's (boy's) voice awoke me, allowing me to see Tenchi for the first time and my heart became his. Thin, dirty and my clothes torn his ojiisan took pity on me and made me the shrine's miko (shrine maiden). I stayed with Katsuhito-sama for three years before I left them."
"Why did you leave?" Scully sees the longing in Ryoko's eyes.
"During his vacation, Tenchi would come to the shrine for training," pain fills Ryoko's eyes. "Each time I saw his lovely brown eyes, his soft black hair and his strong body I wanted him but he wasn't ready. So I said goodbye, and went my way."
"You came back," a look of knowing in Scully's emerald eyes.
Nodding her head slowly, a determined look appears on Ryoko's face as she replies, "For the first time, to claim my Tenchi."
"Did you do anything else?" inquires Scully.
"Just babysat Sasami-chan while Ayeka-san was sick and ojiisan was busy at the shrine," Ryoko answers with a small sly smile on her lips.
"So you don't know anything about what happened at the Seto-ohashi Bridge?" Scully asks.
"Only what's been on the television news," Ryoko's voice taking on an airy tone.
Checking her notes, Scully determines there are no more questions for this woman in leather. "Until this investigation is completed, you'll have to stay within the Okayama-ken," Scully informs Ryoko.
"That won't be a problem," joy in every word Ryoko speaks, "I'll never leave Tenchi."
Seeing the resolve in the cyan-haired woman's face, Scully is very certain about part of Tenchi's fate. "Let's go join the rest," Scully says.
As the two ladies approach the door to the living room, a blue-hair child skips through it. The startle women stop as Sasami wonders, "It's my turn isn't it, Ryoko-neechan?"
"Oi . . . " Ryoko gives Scully a confused look.
"Well, ne ne (right)?" the child's little pout conveys a need to be included.
Scully grins while she bends down to the child with the bouncy ponytails and says, "Oke, I'll interview you." Ryoko continues to leave the kitchen as Scully notes the little girl's quick glances to make sure the agents' didn't damage anything. Scully's emerald eyes look the child over, observant of the soft Nihonjin features. Seeing the little one's bright pink eyes and small smile, Scully realizes how Sasami's sunny spirit seems to lighten even her burden. Turning to the child Scully tells her, "This won't take long."
"Oke," Scully missing Sasami's mischievous look on Sasami young face.
"Oi . . . ?" a confused tone in Dana's voice.
"I do all the cooking here at the Tenchi-niichan's otousan's home."
"Don't you go to school?"
"My ryoshins (parents) are wealthy, so I have tutors," Sasami informs her.
"Where do you live?"
"My parents are moving to a new home," Sasami keeping a very straight face. "It's the reason we're staying with Nobuyuki-san."
"Your parent's name?"
"Masaki Azusa, Masaki Misaki and Masaki Funaho"
"Oi . . . ?" confusion returns to the agent's voice.
"Misaki-okachan, Ayeka-sama's and mine haha (mother), is my otousama's second wife," Sasami explains.
"You see Funaho-san?" Scully assuming Azusa divorces the first wife.
"All the time. Funaho-okachan is my otousama's closest advisor," Sasami barely keeps from giggling at Scully's confusion.
"So they're still married?"
"People might say not but my ryoshin's hearts say differently," Sasami replies.
"How does your okasama's feel about Funaho-san?" Scully curiosity kindles.
"They are happy with each other," Sasami answers truthfully, "they call each other oneesan (sister) all the time." Sasami puzzles when she sees Scully?s head suddenly snap up, her emerald eyes as big as saucers.
"Oi . . . tell me what you're been doing the last three days," Scully tries to change the subject.
"Oke," replies the child with a speckle of strawberry freckles on her little nose and cheeks. "I was traveling with my sister in our family's flagship, the Ryu-oh. We were on our way to Honshu, from Balikpapan, when we received a transmission from one of our family's ships, the Funaho. A pirate ship, the infamous Ryo-Ohki, was attacking it. We were frightened because our neechan, Funaho-okachan's Yosho, is the captain. When we reached Hiroshima, our neechan's ship was still being reported missing. We took a taxi to the Masaki Shrine, reaching it the following morning. During the trip, Ayeka-oneesama became sick with worry over Yosho-oniisama. Ayeka-oneesama was so dejected, she went to the room Nobuyuki-san gave us and hasn't come out since; she is very close to Yosho-oniisama.
"Since coming here I've been doing all the cooking, something my parents won't let me do at home. I got to see the family's Shinto Shrine, visit Tenchi-niichan's ojiisama, Katsuhito-sama, and met Ryoko-neechan, Tenchi-niichan's koibito."
"What do you think of Ryoko-san?"
"She's mujin no (wild) and fun."
"A real dancer."
"Oi ni (Very)," her blue ponytails swaying with her quick nods.
"How about Tenchi-san?"
"He exerts his heart all the time. I like him."
"I like jiichan. He smiles a lot inside."
"What about Ink . . . eh . . . Nobuyuki-san?"
"I like him too but he seems to be sad even when he smiles," a touch of concern in those pink eyes.
Fragments of the conversation in the kitchen drifts into the living room as Mulder continues his search for evidence. Tenchi looks up the staircase, his brown eyes suddenly go wide as he remembers the emotional state Ayeka is in, she could do anything. "Ryoko, otousan, I'm going up stairs to see what taking jiichan and the officer so long," spiky-haired woman and Tenchi's father both nod once while the young man goes up the stairs. "I'm going out to get some fresh air," Nobuyuki tells Ryoko as he heads for the front door. Mulder finishes checking the first floor benjo (toilet) and decides to return to the living room. While he found the furo a nice variation to the Western bathroom, the Asian squat toilet he views as an awkward balancing act. As he walks to the hallway's entrance to the living room, he could hear Tenchi going up the stairway. Stopping at the doorway, Mulder quietly peeps in. Mulder sees an absolutely bored leather punk rocker in the room. Hope enters Mulder's mind that the woman would follow the boy. Since Mulder enters this house, there is one place he wants to look at, the family's collection of VHS taps in the drawer next to the player. Mulder knows it?s there, a cow amongst the herd but he also knows if he tries to rustle it, Hideyuki's life, Scully's life and his own could be found at the end of a rope.
Ryoko lets out a sigh while she walks toward the television. The red leather lady pushes the on switch and begins looking for anything interesting. "What's this," Ryoko wonders as she sees the VHS player. Recalling Nobuyuki's instructions on operating the machine her amber eyes scan the tape collection and finally locate a tape with no label. "Maybe this is one of his hentai tapes," a lustful grin on her lips. Mulder sees the cyan-haired woman pop the tape into the player but his angle of vision makes it impossible to see the screen. Mulder watches Ryoko golden eyes go from narrow boredom to wide terror as the tape reveals its secret. Mulder's pale green eyes go wide as the uchu kaizoku's left arm goes back and up, her hand holding a translucent ball of energy.
As Scully looks down at her notes, she detects a conspiratorial pattern in Sasami's answers with the truth barely conceal. "I think that will be all, Sasami-san. Domo Arigato."
"Could I ask you a question, Scully-sama?" interest is plain in Sasami tone.
"Go ahead," Scully curious about the child's inquiry.
"Do you like Tenchi's otousan?" Sasami asks deadpan.
"Oi . . . why does you ask?" Scully's right hand tries to cover the blush on her cheeks.
"It's the way otousan and you look at each other," a giggling tone to the child's words. Sasami turns to go out to the living room.
Then Scully remembers the name on the furry animal's collar. The redhead decides to do a Columbo and says, "Sasami-san, do you own a white furry petto (pet)?"
The little child stops cold in her steps. It is close to a minute before she turns around to face Scully, her head bows down. "No, I don't own such a petto," her tearful eyes stare at the floor and a deep sadness in her words.
As the blue-hair girl turns away from the woman, Scully could hear a little snob. "Gomen nasai, Masaki Sasami Jurai," Scully whispers.
Ayeka quickly eats the bento box of food Sasami prepares for her. With one sensation satisfy, the princess' other major emotion blazes brighter than before, her hatred for Ryoko. 'How could I accept anything that BAKEMONO says as anything but RIDICULE?' Angry words echoes in Ayeka's mind. 'She AMUSES herself by mocking my LOSSES, mocking my HERITAGE and mocking ME! She wants me ALIVE, to see me ACHE, so her CONQUEST of the others will be just as SWEET. But the bakemono is WRONG. I won't just sit by. I will UNVEIL her falsehoods to the others. They will see her as she really is, a KAIBUTSU (WICKED CREATURE).' With her anger turning into a white rage Ayeka does not hear the knock at the door, nor the second one. It is only when the door slide open does the princess snap into action.
For First Lieutenant Hideyuki Koyama, his search of the upper floors of the Masaki's home is a bust. The only unique find is the ornate sword hilt with two red gems in the pommel, found in the young man's room. When ask about it the grandfather tells him it is a family heirloom. Hideyuki leaves it in Tenchi's room because he sees nothing significant about the antique. As he reaches the last room on the third floor to search, Katsuhito hangs a few feet back. As the first knock brings no answer, the elder takes a few more steps back. When the second knock produces nothing, the priest brings his left hand up to cover his slight smile. With no response comes from his raps Hideyuki slides the door open.
Just as Ryoko left arm starts forward and a tearful Sasami enters the living room, a shout of rage echoes down the stairway. Tenchi, relieving himself in the third floor benjo, spays the whole room as Ayeka's yell scares him. Ryoko lets her energy ball dissipate as she follows Sasami and Scully up the stairs. When they reach the third floor, three pairs of eyes see Hideyuki backing away from a door as several objects bounce off his shielding hands and arms. They see Katsuhito calmly stand on the other side while Tenchi charges out of the benjo only to freeze when he sees the spectacle. Scully observes a young woman with purple hair in two long ponytails, bangs hanging down to her fiery, ruby eyes, while she throws anything handy at the frightful man. Sasami and Scully run forward as Ryoko doubles over in roaring laughter.
"ONEESAMA! ONEESAMA!" Sasami cries as Scully and the child reach her sister, "You're exposing your SHAME!"
"I want that CHIKAN'S EYES put out!" screams a scarlet face Ayeka. "I want his MONO (PENIS) CUT OFF!" Scully's hands cover Sasami's ears. "I want him IMPELLED on a pole, letting FUHAI (DECAY) feed on his LIVING FLESH!" Close up Scully could see the family resemblance between the two sisters, the same mix heritage.
Finally Tenchi reaches Ayeka, grabs the princess by her shoulders and spins her around. "Ayeka-san! These are honorable Keisatsukans (police officers)!" he pleads to the raging woman. "They're here to search the house!"
"He opened my door UNANOUNCED!" Ayeka's words and ruby eyes still full of fire.
"Wrong, Ayeka-sama," Katsuhito comes to stand next to Tenchi. "The officer rapped twice but you didn't answer. We assume that you were not in the room."
Ayeka rage starts to cool only to flare up as she hears Ryoko's chortle. Ayeka points at the shaking woman and shouts, "As SAISHONO OUJOSAMA JURAI, I demand you ARREST Ryoko-onna (woman)! She is responsible for the DESTRUCTION of hundreds of worlds across the UNIVERSE! Wherever she goes, DEATH is her companion!"
Everyone turns to look at a still laughing Ryoko, they see totally confused Mulder just behind her while Nobuyuki stands on the stairs' first steps. The older man?s right finger is pointing at his head, spinning counterclockwise. Sasami takes the hint and beseeches her sister, "Oneesama, why must you hoist an innocent for a blood festival whenever Yosho-oniisama gets into trouble. Ryoko-neechan was just teasing you."
"Please Ayeka-san," Tenchi knowing what he is about to say will bring Ayeka pain. "You shouldn't let yourself become so distrait over your niisan. We'll find him."
Turning bright red Ayeka bellows "You all making FUN of me!" As she abruptly turns to go back into her room, the princess' dagger glare locks on Ryoko, "You have not escape justice, BAKAMONO! You will PAY for the PAIN you've caused!"
"Go to bed Oujo-chan (little princess)," Ryoko retorts with false concern. "Your niisan will behead the oni (demon)."
Ayeka enters her room and bangs the door shut while the others, some guiltily, stare at the door. Scully walks over to the young officer and says, "You?ll alright, Hideyuki-dono?"
"Hai," answers Hideyuki, his left eye showing signs of turning black. "Just a few cuts and bruises."
"What was the woman shouting about, Scully?" asks a bewildered Mulder.
"She demanded we arrest Ryoko for genocide," replies Scully.
"Please don't do it," pleads Sasami, her pink eyes look up at Scully. "She sometimes gets this way. When Oneesama in torment she'll accuse strangers of horrible things."
With a sad smile on her face, Scully says, "I understand. Family helps family."
"I think we've caused enough chaos for tonight, Scully," Mulder tells his partner which Scully translates for him. "We're going back to town, eat dinner and check the evidence to see what conclusions we can come up with."
"Can we expect you back in the morning?" asks Katsuhito in English.
Mulder shrugs, replies, "Maybe."
Nobuyuki goes down the stairs with Mulder, Ryoko and Sasami right behind him. Just as Scully descends them, Katsuhito places his right hand in front of her and asks, "Ninjin-chan, do you remember what an on is?"
Scully replies in a shaky voice, "H . . . .Hai."
The priest nods, "Good." The elder walks down the steps with a very pale Scully behind him.
As the car pulls away from the house, Ryoko says, "Leave it to Ayeka-san to make the night entertaining."
Tenchi lets out a sigh at the cyan-haired woman's comment and turns back to his home "I'm going to finish the magnet," he tells everyone.
"That's a great outfit you have on, Ryoko-san," compliments Nobuyuki as he walks next to Ryoko, his left hand drifting down behind her.
Ryoko smiles as she leaps into the air and turns to face Tenchi's father. Floating six feet off the ground she waves her palm at him and says, "Don't be a sawari-ma." The lady flies through the door and teleports into the living room. Going to the VHS player the lady in red pushes the reject button but nothing happens. With a ghostly hand Ryoko reaches into the machine but she finds no tape. "Well, maybe Tenchi has it."
Sasami watches the vehicle rear lights disappear into the night. The child remembers seeing the torment in the colorless redhead's face which contrasts with the sparkle of triumph in her American partner's pale green eyes. Just by viewing those two faces, the little princess knows the two agents' destinies links with theirs. "Oh Tsunami-megami (goddess), please guide my steps. There are so many broken people to help," the little one whispers with closed eyes. Briefly the key on her forehead glows and a tender feminine voice replies within the child's mind, 'Your heart will be the star to follow.'
As the car pulls onto the country road, Mulder sees how down-in-the-dumps Scully's spirit is. Mulder decides to raise her mood, so he reaches into his coat pocket, pulls out a VHS tape and shows it to Scully. "You found the tape," Scully's words seem to deepen the shadow on her face.
"Actually the leather lady found it for me," acknowledges her partner. "Seems Nobuyuki didn't tell her about it. So when she became bored with our search, she played a tape at random. It just happened to be this one. What she saw scared her so bad, she was about to destroy it when that woman's warcry stopped her. When she followed you and the child up the stairs, I quickly purloin the tape."
"So you have your last piece of evidence?" a tone of concern in Scully's voice.
"I don't know," a frown on Mulder's lips. "I couldn't see what the red woman saw on the tape." He looks at Hideyuki and asks the young man, "Is there anyplace we can go to play this tape privately?"
"Hai, Mulder-san, I know of a karaoke club in Kurashiki where there are VHS players," answers Hideyuki.
"Take us there," commands Mulder. Turning back to his partner Mulder sees Scully's emotions are dark. Hoping to distract her Mulder asks, "How did the interviews go?"
Wetting her lips, Scully brings out the notebook and replies, "No confessions but a lot of undertones and half-truths. Nobuyuki was calm, almost stoic, in the interview. If we check with the company, who moved his home, I bet it's owned by an old friend of his, someone who will lie for him. His son Tenchi was all over the place. The young man's tone and body language suggested he was telling only part-truths, trying to protect someone. I think that someone is Hakubi Ryoko. When I asked how he met her, he'd said just during last summer vacation while Ryoko told me she was the shrine's miko five years ago."
"Maybe he never paid much attention to her when he was a boy," Mulder suggests with a half smile. "Puberty can change a boy's perception."
"It's possible. Ryoko suggested the same thing," Scully confirms. "There's also one other clue. Tenchi didn't accept the damage to the Seto-ohashi Bridge as an act-of-god, he called it criminal."
"A bad choice of words or a slip of the tongue?" wonders Mulder.
"It suggested Tenchi knows much more than he's letting on," Scully concludes. "As for Ryoko, she is someone I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley."
"She threatened you?" Mulder's voice gains a protective tone.
"No, but if her story is true she became an adult while still a child," a note of sympathy in Scully voice. "She has all the traits of a street orphan and only the helpful hand of the Masaki made the difference in her life. She loves Tenchi very much and looks upon the rest of the Masaki as her family."
"Even the girl with the purple hair?" an astute smile on Fox's face.
"Sister rivalry," suggests Scully. "It's possible for Tenchi to have more than one girl trying to capture his love."
"Well, lets hope the family?s health and property insurance is current," Scully gives a perplexed look to Mulder's words. "I saw this Ryoko foam a ball of light in her left hand."
"It could have been an optical illusion?" advises Scully.
"I only saw it for a few seconds," responds Mulder. "So I can't tell what it was."
"Well, the last interview may give us the most clues to this case," informs Scully.
"Because of the name on the collar?" guesses Mulder.
"Remember what Sasami's sister called herself, Saishono Oujosama Jurai, and the name on the collar, Sasami-oujosama no Jurai?" reminds Scully. "Both are titles of nobility. The first one is First Princess of Jurai while the other is Princess of Jurai."
"Jurai being a star system or planet," concludes Fox.
"With the evidence pointing at this logical conclusion," Scully carefully measuring her words, "to try to refute it would be irrational, especially what happened at the end of Sasami's interview. As she was walking out the kitchen, I asked if she had a pet. When the child turned to me there were tears in her eyes. She said 'no' and then ran out with a sob."
"So the child did lose her pet," confines Mulder.
"It breaks her heart to lie about it," adds Scully.
"The bond between a person and a pet is naturally spiritual," deduces Mulder.
Scully looks at the young policeman, "Is there anything you can add, Hideyuki-dono?"
"Well Scully-dono, it's almost like we've walked right into the middle of some epic myth," puzzlement appears on both American agents faces. "I mean the names Yosho-sama, Ryokoakurei, and Tenchi-san all come from the Masaki Shrine legend. I know I'm eager with vigor but could it be more than just coincidence?"
"The name Ryoko is a common female Nihongo name but Yosho and Tenchi are not," comments Scully as her mind finds the connections Hideyuki is trying to locate. "The story Sasami told me about her brother being attacked by a pirate ship sound like a variation of Horosha's 'The Ryu Ojiisama'.
"The Ryu Ojiisama?" asks Mulder.
"The Dragon Prince,' informs Hideyuki. "The only known Nihongo non-tanka/non-haiku poem to exist before the coming of the Westerns in the 16th Century."
"Do you remember it?" Mulder asks, comprehension appears his pale green eyes.
"It's one of my favorite poems," replies the young man. "I even translated it for my English sensei."
"Can you remember any of the poem?" prods Mulder.
"Demon fire descends from heaven's gate,
Turning villages to ashes,
Children to orphans
And wives into widows.
Kami answers the people's prayers,
As the Dragon Prince brings Tenchiken,
The sword of the universe,
Against Demon's three gems of power.
Yosho rides upon Funaho's back,
His Dragon brings low Ryoko's steed, Ryo-ohki.
A red fire and a white flame meet,
A noble spirit and a demonic fiend,
Yosho's skill the equal to Ryoko's savagery.
Day becomes night and night into day
As the flames lick the sky,
Leaving scars upon land.
The two warriors do death's dance,
For a day and a night,
Until Yosho takes Ryoko's gems,
Her becoming his.
Ryoko is entombed in earth's embrace,
Unsleeping Funaho embraces her,
While Ryoko wears the demon's mask,
To warn all, what lies behind her beauty,
Until Tenchiken comes again."
"This is just what I can remember offhand, Mulder-san," acknowledges the young officer. "The poem is much longer with much allusion about Yosho-sama and Ryokoakurei's origins."
"Does it mention Jurai?" Mulder voice matches the glow in his eyes.
"No but like most legends, it reported they came from the land of the Kami," Hideyuki responds.
"Another place other than Earth," hints Mulder.
"Hai," replies the young man.
"When was this supposed to have happened?" asks Mulder.
"Seven hundred years ago," informs a suspicious Scully. "What are you trying to imply, Mulder?"
"What if seven hundred years ago, two spaceships fought a battle here on this planet. One spaceship is destroyed and the owner defeated. But instead of killing that person, the victor imprisoned his captive, leaving the person to future generations to judge," Mulder speculates.
"But how does it connect with today's investigation," Scully wonders if this might be another of Mulder's wild theories.
"If we are dealing with space travel and alien life forms," points out Mulder. "What we consider centuries, could be just days to them."
"In other words, time is relative," Scully catches Mulder's hints.
"It wouldn't be the first time man's past caught up with him and bit him on the ass," a light smile on Mulder's lips.
As Hideyuki's car passes a dirt turnoff, a half a mile below the Masaki's residence, a solitary figure in a light green truck turnover his engine to follow them. When the person looks into the rear view mirror, he quickly kills the engine and ducks down. A black car with headlights off passes him. "Oh, oh, it's an OIK car," fear plain in Anthony MacClean's voice. He pulls down his starlight goggles and starts up his engine again to follow the last car.
"Where is IT?" Sasami hears Tenchi scream from the living room. Placing the last wash dish away, the little princess runs through the swinging door. Her large pink eyes see the young man franticly examine these black oblong boxes. Walking over to him her juvenile ears pick up several people coming down the staircase and she is slightly startle by Ryoko's head poking through the wall just above the television set. "What's wrong Tenchi?" asks the concern head.
"The TAPE is MISSING?" shouts Tenchi to Ryoko and the others.
"What tape?" asks a confused Sasami.
"The tape showing the spaceship's crashing into the Seto-ohashi Bridge!" Nobuyuki's brown eyes bulge at Tenchi's words.
"It was there when I played it," informs Ryoko.
"When did you play it?" Katsuhito?s steady voice calming everyone.
"Just before Murasaki-san's (Miss. Purple) warcry," Ryoko floats just in front of Tenchi. "After the gaijin deka left, I tried to destroy it but I couldn't find it."
"Why didn't you tell anyone?" Tenchi's hot voice fills Ryoko's face with pain.
"I . . . Though . . . you . . . took . . . it . . . Tenchi," Tenchi's retort remains voiceless when Katsuhito firm right hand grabs his grandson's left shoulder.
The old priest's hand makes Tenchi realize the harm his anger brings to Ryoko. The young man stands up, reaches up with both hands and pulls down the trembling lady by her lower arms. The youth looks into her amber pools and says, "I'm sorry Ryoko, I allowed my fear to place needles in my words."
Joy scatters the pain from those feline eyes, Joy from the first kind words Tenchi articulates to her. The woman throws her arms around Tenchi's chest and tightly squeezes him.
"It's obvious Ninjin-chan and her partners have the tape," concludes a smiling father, his brown eyes see Ryoko?s head on Tenchi's right shoulder, pure ecstasy on her face.
"I agree," replies Katsuhito as the grandfather notes Tenchi arms start to reach to comfort Ryoko.
"How do we get the tape back?" twin concern in Nobuyuki's voice as he sees his son's face start to turn purple.
"Ryoko . . . I . . . can't . . . breathe," broken words leave Tenchi lips.
"Mulder-san strikes me as an eager young man. He'll want to view the tapes as quickly as possible," answers the old priest, observing Ryoko's nirvana has left her senseless.
"But Otousan, all the retail stores closed by eight o'clock," Nobuyuki reminds him as he notes his son's feeble attempt to escape the happy uchu kaizoku's death grip.
"Don?t private karaoke rooms have tape machines for music videos," his son-in-law slowly nods at his elders words as the old priest's right hand touches the head of the giggling girl with the lake blue hair. Sasami turns her head to look up into Katsuhito dark red eyes. The little one gives him a quick nod, skips forward and tugs hard on Ryoko's left ear.
"OUCH!" Ryoko's head turns to shoot a furious gaze at the source of her discomfort, only to see the still giggling girl. Puzzlement in her face, Ryoko looks into Tenchi's face and sees only the white of the youth's eyes. Shock into action Ryoko releases the lad, who promptly crumbles to the ground while his lungs finally inhale God's breath.
"Ryoko-dono," Katsuhito calm words catch the spiky-haired lady's attention. "Could you teleport us into Kurashiki? We know the general area where they're taking the tape to."
"Hai, if Tenchi helps me," a grateful tone in Ryoko voice.
"Come on musuko it's time to break a bone," grins Nobuyuki as he pulls Tenchi to his feet.
"Tenchi, go get Tenchiken," the leather lass asks. The young man looks at his grandfather, who gives a slow nod. In a few minutes, the youth returns with the hilt. "We'll do this like we did on the Ryu-oh," Ryoko tells the onlookers. "I'll hold Tenchi while the rest will need to hold either him or me."
"Can I come too?" asks Sasami, her fear of being left behind visible in her face.
Both Tenchi and Ryoko are about to say no when Katsuhito replies, "We're going to need to distribute all our eyes. Akaruime can come." Ryoko smiles while Tenchi puzzles over the nickname but Nobuyuki grins for he knows whom else the old priest calls by that name. Ryoko turns back to Tenchi, who holds the hilt next to his chest; she steps forward to place her hands on his shoulders and to touch his head with hers. Nobuyuki begins to place his hands on the amber-eyed woman only to be motion, by his adopted father, toward his son. When the old priest places his right hand on Ryoko's head, he feels the softness of her cyan hair while the little princess opens her arms to hug both Tenchi and Ryoko. Tenchi calms down as he feels Ryoko's confidence flow through the Gems to him. A bright blue glow radiates from those three red eyes and then slowly encompasses everyone there. Again Yosho's training as a Shinto priest allows him to touch everyone's soul: the inner conflict within his grandson, his son-in-law's own demons, Ryoko's need to prove her love for Tenchi and then there's Akaruime. He could feel her fear of rejection, to lose her family's love. Yet there is another. He could feel the depth of intelligence hiding just behind the child's consciousness. When Ryoko's Gems merges with Tenchiken, sentience also touches his mind but a name he could place with that one, Seto's friend. Yet this one he couldn't name even through he feels merriment radiate from it. Everyone closes their eyes as the glow turns everything white then takes its passengers when it winks out.
Minutes pass before light footsteps resonate off the entrance staircase. The slender figure of Ayeka, dress in her light blue nightie, slowly descends to the genkan. She slips on her purple shoes, opens the door and goes out. "I'm coming," her ghostly words matches the glassy gaze in her ruby eyes as her slow steps take her to the lake. When she reaches the dark waters, the royal lady kneels down as the glowing tiara's light leaks through her violet hair. A rainbow ribbon of light breaks the watery face to pierce Ayeka's Key. "Ara (Oh)! Ryu-oh! I didn't lose you after all!" joyful tears treacle down her smooth cheeks as her bondmate's love caress' her spirit. The warm embrace slowly brings sleep to Ayeka, drops her tired body to the yielding grass and leaves a peaceful smile on her pink lips. The light ribbon slowly fades away.
As the carrier of her prison passes Alpha Centuri, new thoughts and images invade the petite one's mind. 'So TSUNAMI-MEGAMI watches over her CHARGES but it's more than dutifully protecting the young members of the Royal Jurai Family. She LOVES them too.' Revelations fills her enormous intellect. ?This is NEW. The TSUNAMI-MEGAMI I know is a GARDENER, shaping the universe so her TREES will survive and cares little about the TOOLS she uses: not Seto-san, not Aname, not Funaho, not Azusa, not Misaki, not Horosha, not Washi or anyone else. Where did this LOVE COME from??
Chapter Five: Lydia, The Tattoo Lady
10:32 p.m. Graceland Karaoke, Kurashiki
"How will you explain twenty dollars for a karaoke room to the NZK accountants?" Scully asks an impatient Mulder. The room contains bright green overstuff furniture, pale blue curtains over small round windows and a television in one corner with a tape player on top.
"Actually Scully-dono," Hideyuki intervenes, "this is considered a normal expense. Top agents always entertain contacts, friends and comrades at company's cost."
"See Scully, rescue by unwritten rules," Mulder replies as he heads straight to the VHS machine. Mulder quickly turns on the television set on and pushes the tape into the machine. As the trio watches the events unfold before them, each spirit is charge with different emotions: hope's white rose for Scully, fanatic's green fire for Mulder and fear's black cloak for Hideyuki.
When the event end Scully pushes the stop button and says, "It was an accident."
"You're correct Scully and my report will say as much," a smile of victory on Mulder's lips.
"Do you think that will be enough to protect them from a public outcry?" questions Scully, concern in her emerald eyes.
"That is not our problem, Scully," Mulder frowns at his partner's statement. "Ours is to reveal the truth."
"Even if it will destroy good people!" an angry voice mixes with Scully's concern. "Because of an act-of-god each person in the Masaki home will give a pound of flesh for your truth!"
"Scully," responds Mulder as he realizes his partner's unsay request, "I've never cover up anything in my entire life. They may call me 'Spooky' but I'm an honest ghost."
"I'm not asking you to lie in your report, Mulder," a desperate tone in Scully's voice, "with the physical evidence, the tape and the Okayama forensic lab reports you can establish the truth of the Seto-ohashi Bridge disaster without giving names."
Insight fills Mulder's mind as he sees how Scully's body shakes. "You not telling me something, Scully. I know some of them are your friends but you've never allowed friendship to interfere with our investigations before. What is it?" asks the brown-haired man.
Scully hesitates yet Mulder could see resolve add to the mix as she speaks, "I was six-years-old when we came to Nihon. My father was a captain in the Navy and requested assignment to Operations in Naval Intelligence (ONI), Pacific Front. My father was always fascinated by the Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, and wanted to live in Nihon. My mother hated it here. She's a strict Roman Catholic, who saw it as a pagan land where the Catholic Catechism was reduce to meaningless gibberish. Four weeks after reaching Nihon I was outside my parents' bedroom door when father and mother had a horrible fight. In the end, she threatened to take us back to Maryland, leaving my father. When I heard her words, I ran to hide. I loved my father so much and I wouldn't leave him. Fearing my mother would find me in my room to take me away from him, I left the house but in my confused state I knew nothing about the monsoon about to hit western Honshu . . . " As Scully words continue to flow from her lips, a little child's memory?s floods her mind. Small feet pound on a blacktop road while tears of fear flows down her tiny pink face. Soon the noise of Kurashiki leaves her small ears only to hear the strange quietness of countryside waiting for the storm to hit.
Then the thunderous wind comes which sends her petite body flying with every step, even through her legs knot with agony. When weariness consumes her terror, the child steps slow only to have her two-foot frame snatch by the screaming wind which throws her several feet into the air. The redhead lands on sharp stones and rolls to a stop next to a monstrous tree with blood oozing from her knees and elbows. Looking up at twisting and weaving tree limbs, the little one realizes she is lost. The wind's clamor renders soundlessly her shouts for help as she stumbles to stand up. Still screaming the child's flounders forward but the merciless wind smacks her diminutive shape around and sends her deeper into the woods.
Now the rain comes. Not the heavenly tears of renewal which brings spring's children but the tearing sheets of destruction. Within minutes her red hair is plaster to her head, her dark blue dress turns into a death weight which drains even more strength from her aching legs. While the rain is warm, the volume slowly draws the breath from her lungs and wrenches the life from her emerald eyes. When the storm robs her body of its senses, the tiny form falls forward only to feel strong arms catch her.
Time passes before her dull brain feels the careful embrace, the calm steps tell her she is going somewhere, her dull sight sees a granite face staring straight ahead and his large body protects her small frame. She slips back into dreamless sleep and her eyes only open at the sound as a door slides open. Her rescuer carefully places the child on her weak legs and she hears a steady adult voice say, "Washi setsuritsu suru kono honoo-chan tsuite kesu. Ware-ware shi-nakerebanaranai no mendo o miru kanojo o made ryoshin tsuku (I found this honoo-chan about to be put out. We need to take care of her until her parents come)."
"Hai, otouchan (father)," replies a girl with long black hair as she sits on a white pillow while a boy next to her nods his head. The child's listless senses could barely recognize the sound of bare feet on plain wood. As the pair quickly strips her heavy wet clothes from her shaking body, the tiny girl sees great compassion in the larger girl's ruby eyes as her nimble hands feel the little one's clammy skin.
"Nobuyuki-chan! Kochan's hada yo ni kori ga hatteiru (Nobuyuki! Little child's skin as if covered with ice)," an urgent tone in her voice.
"Wa mottekuru mofu, Achika-chan (I fetch a blanket, Achika), " his tone matching hers'. Seconds later the barely conscious girl views a field of red surrounds her and then two pairs of hands vigorously rubs her icy skin as gentle sounds come from the girl in the blue kimono.
The adult reappears in the slowly reviving child's green eyes with a tray holding bandages, a small red bottle and a cup of clear soap with tea cookies. "Sake o nomu, honoo-chan (Drink the liquid, little flame)," calm words comes from his lips as he kneels down, takes the towel covered girl into the crock of his left arm and brings the cup carefully to her small mouth. Greedily the little redhead drinks the steaming barley miso and munches the sesame cover cookies while the young boy treats her cuts. The sting of the iodine can't dim the spreading warmth in her bruised body, her emerald eyes fill with gratitude before her eyelids drop down and her light body relaxes into peaceful sleep."...I stayed with them until my parents pick me up. I never found out what happened between my father and mother. I only know we lived in Nihon for four years and I was allowed to visit the Masaki family whenever I wanted to. I'm now sure my mother didn't like the idea of me visiting a Shinto priest's family but she never said anything," finishes Scully.
"You feel a debt to these people?" guesses Mulder.
"If Mr. Masaki hadn't found me, the monsoon would've killed me," certainty in Scully's words. "I owe him a life on."
"What is on?" wonders the brown-hair man.
"On is a debt-of-honor," informs Hideyuki, his black eyes sharp with insight. "Whenever someone does or gives something for another, the receiver owes that person an on. Honor demands that an on be repaid in kind."
"After Sasami's sister's outburst, Katsuhito asked if I remember what an on was and I replied yes. By reminding me he was invoking the on," adds Scully.
"What happens if you don't repay this on?" asks Mulder.
"I'll bring dishonor not only to myself but to my family, the FBI, the NZK and to you, Mulder," Scully's words come from pale lips. "Until I return the life he gave me, I will always owe Katsuhito."
Scully looks up and sees sympathy in Mulder's pale green eyes as calm words leave his lips, "I can't promise you anything Scully but I will try to help you." Scully is both grateful and sad by Mulder's response as she watches her partner pushes the machine's reject button and places the tape in his coat pocket.
"I didn't know such things like this existed," awe etches in Hideyuki's words as they turn to leave.
"Don't worry I haven't seen Santa Claus yet," remarks Mulder.
Flash lights the dingy alley behind the dazzling Motown Karaoke as it leaves behind blind individuals. While the pink, brown, red and amber eyes recover their sight, Katsuhito says, "To cover more ground we need to break up, except for Sasami. She comes with me." Everyone nods and turns to leave but the old priest's right-hand touches Ryoko's left leather sleeve. She looks into the elder's concern eyes and she hears his calm voice, "You have the most important job, Ryoko-dono. With your powers you can cover more area than the rest of us but be careful, no one must see you."
"Don't worry, guji, I will create no ripples in the water," strong certainty in her feline eyes.
As the groups head out in different directions, Ryoko follows Tenchi before she pulls away from him. Tenchi calls at the leather lady as she goes upward, "Ryoko, before you go can I ask you a question?"
The ample lady turns around to face the black-haired man before she replies, "Yes . . . ?"
"When you introduced yourself to the kakusodes why did you utter Hakubi as a family name?" curiosity in his brown eyes.
"I don't know," a confusing frown on her pink lips, "it just flows from my lips, like it was natural. Why?"
"Just wondering," answers Tenchi.
Ryoko renews her flight and fades from sight as her sweet words drift to Tenchi's youthful ears, "Be careful, my anata (darling)."
Tenchi groans as he trots to one of the alley's exits.
The joy of flight floods Ryoko's spirit while she scans the land below. The night air plays with her cyan hair, tinkles the chain belt and brings the odors of the masses to her sensitive nose. Thirty minutes later, when Ryoko moves across the face of the crescent moon, her cat eyes see three figures coming out of a karaoke club. Although Ryoko is six blocks away, her sharp vision makes out one woman and two men. With a smug smile the uchu kaizoku teleports to an alleyway just across from her targets as two tall men in black suits become visible underneath a skylight. When the leather lady sees the newcomers, she drops flat to the blacktop and watches both groups. Then the glint of chrome catches her amber eyes.
"Let's go to Tokyo," decides Mulder. "To file our repo . . . "
"MULDER!" Interrupts Scully, her emerald eyes see two men appear in the skylight's white illumination, just thirty feet away. Without hesitation the two men reach underneath their black coats. Instinctively Hideyuki?s right-hand grabs for his Model 92 Beretta as he knows both Americans are without their Smith-and-Wesson, aims at the man on the left but wavers for a second. A white lightning bolt shots out from one of the intruders' firearms and knocks the NZK officer to the cement. The stench of melting plastic fills the air as Scully moves toward the motionless rookie but stops when a gun locks on her. "HE NEEDS MEDICAL HELP!" shouts the redhead.
"He's dead. Now give us the tape," a monotone voice comes from barely moving lips. While those words pass between the two groups, a being detaches itself from the shadows behind the OIK men. A blue-haired man in a bright yellow jogging apparel frantically waves at the FBI agents. Mulder sees the motion behind the killers. Careful to keep his movement passive Mulder slowly holds his right hand up, withdraws the tape from his coat pocket and tosses the spinning tape toward them.
Tenchi comes out of his fourth karaoke club when a pulse of fear lashes through his mind. The brown-eyed youth turns to his right and runs down the street as he follows the pulse's trace, Tenchiken in his right fist. Ryoko hears quick steps behind her. Ryoko spares a quick glance over her right shoulder to see Tenchi right behind her. She turns her amber vision forward to follow the gyrating oblong box path over the two black men and toward another figure. When Tenchi slows to pull-up next to the prone Ryoko, Tenchiken?s bright blue blade flares on and it yanks the black-haired youth on by the lady. "OI . . . NOT AGAIN!" fright in Tenchi's voice.
"TENCHI!" alarm in Ryoko?s voice as her pink right-hand reaches out to him.
Mulder and Scully see Tenchi come out of the alleyway on uneven steps as one Shadow Man keeps his weapon on them while the other tracks the flying tape. When the blue-haired jogger catches the tape, the chrome weapon aims at him with a grim smile on the OIK man's face, "Hand over the tape!" His loud monotone voice conceals the sound of floundering steps from both Shadow Men.
Ryoko leaps into the air and flies forwardly in an attempt to reach Tenchi before the two men react. Just seconds behind the youth, she sees Tenchiken yank the young man's right arm in a blue V motion as the deadly blade chops both weapons into separate parts. "Kya . . . sorry," a chagrin Tenchi apologies as the two men turn to stare at him while relief replaces the terror in Ryoko's heart.
Immediately Scully bolts to the unmoving Hideyuki and Mulder moves to Tenchi's aid but stops when he sees the yellow jogger run away. "HEY! Come back with that TAPE!" shouts the startle FBI agent.
The uchu kaizoku lets out a rumbling purr as she sees someone to chase. Ryoko pops over the others and speedily catches up with the longhaired man. "Can't you run any faster, Earthling?" Ryoko snickers.
"She can fly?" Mulder wonders as he chases after the thief.
Ryoko's hands reach for the jogger but she is unaware the alleyway suddenly narrows until she collides with the corner of a red brick building. "Scrapped that bug off," the jogger smirks while he looks over his left shoulder but he kicks his run into a higher gear when he notes the Shadow Man just ten feet behind and Mulder a few steps behind the dark man. The jogger's blue eyes go wide when he sees an eight-foot wire fence stretches across the four-foot wide alley. He looks to either side and detects how uneven the brick walls are along the narrow path. The jogger waits until his body is twelve feet away from the barrier, before he leaps sideways into the air. He coils his legs then thrusts out his left leg, finds a foothold and kicks toward the other wall as he moves upwards. When he nears the other wall, his right leg thrusts out, finds another foothold and kicks his body further upwards. The jogger goes parallel with the fence as his slim body rolls over the top of the obstacle. The yellow jogger twists his body's decent, lands lightly on his feet and renews his run.
"Who is this guy? Jackie Chan!" Mulder's voice fills with surprise. Then the agent's pale green eyes see the OIK man's left arm pull back and throw a small metallic egg. "LOOK OUT!" shouts Mulder while he drops to the hard surface.
The jogger looks back, sees the shining object drop toward him but there is nothing he can do because he is at top speed. Mercilessly, the object falls into a green plastic garbage can to the runner's right and behind. Seconds later an explosion sends shads of plastic and filth which tears and plasters the fleeing man's back but causes no serious injuries. Hope blooms in the jogger's spirit as he sights the ally's exit but his blue eyes misses the little pink eye peeping around the corner. When the blue-haired man breaks through the threshold, a little foot jams his right foot and tumbles him into an empty street, the VHS tape flies out of his hand.
Tenchi runs to Ryoko, her crumple form lies under her perfect impression in a brick wall. The distress young man quickly kneels down, shakes the body cover with fragments of brick and mortar and says, "Ryoko, are you alright?"
A low moan escapes her lips as she lifts her aching head to look at Tenchi. The worry she sees in his gentle face brings a happy smile to her face and strengthens the uchu kaizoku's love for the youth but the happy smile disappears when her mind clears. "He revealed his KETSU (ASS) to ME!" her voice becomes a roar as golden fire burns in her eyes, "His KETSU is GRASS!" Tenchi falls backwards to land on his tail as Ryoko blasts into the air, pulls a tight left turn and darts down the alley. The black-haired youth looks around, notices the missing Shadow Man. Scully picks up the rookie's pistol, turns to her right and runs into the night.
The jogger bounces to his feet as his blue gaze searches for the tripper only to hear the sound of a roaring scream. Although the sight of the OIK man and Mulder scale the fence brings no joy to his heart, it is the cyan missile flying over the wire fence and heading straight at him which draws from his pale lips a soundless, ?Oh no.? The blue-haired man turns to escape from the obvious pain but only reaches the other side of the street before Ryoko grabs him underneath each armpit, pulls the struggling body over the low buildings and disappears into the darkness.
Sasami hides in the doorway while Mulder and the Shadow Man race out of the alleyway, across the street and into the next alleyway. Quickly the light blue-white clad Sasami runs over to a parked car, kneels down and retrieves the black plastic box. She shoves it down her blouse, turns to her right and walks nonchalant down the street as she tries her best Ayeka imitation. When the little princess' turns a corner, her pink eyes go wide as she almost walks into Scully. With a tiny smile on Scully's sad face, she holds out her hand to the child. Sasami makes a face at the redhead as she hands the tape over but the blue-haired girl's eyes again become like saucers when she sees what is ten feet behind the young woman. Scully see the little one's reaction, drops and spins on her right leg, brings Hideyuki's gun up, aims and fires two shots at the Shadow Man. The first shot shatters the man's left hip while the second shot smashes into his left hand, which drops a silvery object from the hand. Scully twists and leaps to knock Sasami down as the man's body falls onto the small orb. Scully shields the fearful child with her larger body as the metallic egg's explosion shreds the OIK man.
When the deafening sound subsides and the smoke clears, Scully comes to her knees, carefully helps Sasami to stand up and says, "Are you alright, Sasami-san?"
Sasami small ears hear not the redhead's words. Terror grips her young mind while her large pink eyes see only the red gore splatter on everything around her. The blood, the blood is all her fragile mind sees. Sasami bursts into tears and leaps forward to hug the surprised redhead. "This . . . isn't . . . fun . . . anymore . . . Ninjin-chan . . . I . . . want . . . to . . . go . . . home," the little one sobs into Scully's chest.
"There, there, Sasami-chan. Let the flower in your heart bloom," Scully tender words and gentle arms tries to comfort the crying child.
Ryoko hovers thirty feet above the Inland Sea, half a mile off Washu-zan Hill, while her left-hand grasps the yellow jogger by his top's neckband. "Where is the tape?" hot rage boils in Ryoko's feline eyes.
"I don't know!" the blue-eyed man's initial fear changes to cold anger. "When that blue-haired brat tripped me, I lost the tape and I didn't see where it landed!" Ryoko does not believe the thief and her right-hand reaches under his clothes to search for any hidden objects or secret pockets. "HEY, THAT TICKLES!" laughter booms from his lips but goes loud with shock, "OI! WOMAN, You grabbed my KINTAMA (GOLDEN BALLS)! What is you, a CHIMA (CRAZY DEMON)?" The blue-haired thief quickly regrets those last words when Ryoko's ears seem to go flat against her head. As Ryoko slowly draws his face to hers, he could imagine those catlike incisors snapping his neck in one bite. When her face is nearly touches his, many odors from his outfit assaults her perfect nose. "Kya! What did you fall into, a pit benjo?" grimaces Ryoko as she pinches her nose close.
"Can I help it if someone launched a garbage can at me," he replies. Then he notices the leather lady looks down then back up with a small smile on her lips.
"Can you swim?" Ryoko's smile becomes a grin.
"Like a fish. Why do you . . . " his eyes go wide when he sees Ryoko's grin becomes Cheshire cat size. The jogger sweats profusely and pleads, "Come on, you're a good oni . . . eh . . . onna. You wouldn't do this to me."
"Maybe if you sing," Ryoko purrs.
"Sing?" The jogger does not believe his own ears.
"SING YOU YELLOW CARNEY," Ryoko shouts into his right ear.
The blue-haired man starts to sing:
Oh Lydia, Oh Lydia
Have you seen Lydia?
Lydia the Tattoo Lady
She has . . .
Because of the fear thick in his mind the man sings the song in English. Unable to understand any of the words Ryoko pouts at the ruination of her fun. With disgust on her sharp face she teleports to just twelve feet above the glassy sea and drops the still singing stranger. He plunges into the salty water while Ryoko hangs around to make sure he resurfaces. When the blue head breaks the surface, she puzzles over the feeling of relief that touches her spirit. As the man spits water out of his mouth, he shouts at the disappearing woman, "MUSIC CRITIC!"
Nobuyuki finally works his way through the maze of alleys to reach the place where the explosions originate. The first thing he sees is Scully on her knees as she holds the weeping Sasami. The echo of his steps, as he crosses the street, brings the agent's emerald gaze to him. Carefully the brown-eyed man kneels behind the sobbing child and reaches forward to place his left hand on Scully's right shoulder while his right hand touches the shaking child's back. "Sasami-chan, it's time to go home," tells Nobuyuki. Tenderly Scully transfers the blue-haired child to the black-haired man's gentle arms. Wordlessly Sasami locks her arms around the older man's neck, buries her pink face into his left shoulder while the rivers of tears flow from her eyes.
Nobuyuki gives Scully a questioning look as he slowly stands up while he cradles Sasami in his arms. "Sasami-chan is in shock, Masaki-san," Scully answers in a low voice. "She saw someone die in a gruesome way. The death itself would cause this reaction but the duration suggests that it reminded her of something else."
Just then Mulder comes around a corner behind Nobuyuki while Katsuhito appears next to Scully. As Mulder opens his mouth to speak sirens break through the city's constant noise. "Looks like its time for us to go," informs the old priest in both English and then in Nihongo. The pair turns away from the FBI agents, walks up the street where Tenchi joins them and the group disappears into night's secret passageways.
"The jogger got away with the tape," informs a tired Mulder to Scully.
"No, he didn't," corrects Scully as she pulls the tape from her coat pocket and hands it to her partner.
"Why didn't you give it to Mr. Masaki?" wonders Mulder.
"The tape only matters as evidence in your crusade," her emerald eyes locking on Mulder pale green eyes. "I owe them my life but I also owe you, Mulder, because you're my partner. In the end the decision isn't mine to make, it's yours to decide."
"So I'm to dance upon the sword's edge," Scully nods at Mulder words while both turns to greet the arriving police cars.
Chapter Six: Devil in a Blue Dress
12:02 a.m. Outside Graceland Karaoke, Kurashiki
Chief Detective Goto Henry pulls up in his dark car next to the crime scene just as Mulder and Scully finishes their oral statement to the local officer-in-charge. When Mulder sees Goto get out of the car, he walks over to him with Scully right on his heels. With pale flames in Mulder's green eyes the American asks the NZK officer while he holds a pair of black sunglasses under the man's nose, "Maybe you can explain this to me!"
The sweat glistens on Goto's forehead as he replies, "I can't tell you, Mulder-san."
"Those two have been bird-dogging us since we've arrived in Japan," Mulder's words taking on an air of certainty, "when we recovered the tape, they murdered Hideyuki trying to get it and would have killed us if it wasn't for some passerby's intervention."
"If Hideyuki hadn't pulled his gun, no harm would've come to him or to either of you, Mulder-san. They only wanted the tape," Goto realizes his mistake after the words leave his lips.
"So who's in charge of this cover-up, the NZK, the Shadow Men or both?" Contempt reeks in Mulder's question.
"You'll find out when you turn in your report," replies the shameful inspector.
"You mean a decision has already been made?" Scully's own anger comes to the surface. "Two men were killed in an attempt to possess this tape and now you tell me their deaths were meaningless?"
"If the NZK had allowed us our weapons, Hideyuki would be alive," states Mulder, his face just inches away from Goto's face.
"It would've meant three people would be dead not two. Go to bed, Mulder-san, Scully-san," Goto replies as he turns away from the Americans and walks over to the arriving police inspector.
The alert bus driver's black eyes wander to his strange passengers. Rarely does the last bus to Mabi carry any customers, especially a weird mix like this: the honorable Shinto priest of the Masaki Shrine, his adopted son, his grandson, an amber-eyed gaijin woman and little girl with blue hair. The people set in pairs with Tenchi next to a sleeping Ryoko and Katsuhito next to Nobuyuki, who protectively holds the little visitor to Slumberland. It wasn't until they broad the bus to go home did Sasami's grief gives way to sleep's healing touch. The use of the bus is Ryoko's idea because of her deep concern of Sasami's emotional state couldn't handle the teleportation.
Nobuyuki looks on Sasami's peaceful face as she uses his right shoulder as a pillow. The peaceful image brings forth his remembrances of the last time he comforted a child. He could still see the images of that snowy winter day. He holds Achika's hand lovingly as he feels her spirit leave her ravaged body, he walks up the shrine's gray steps while frozen tears cover his tan cheeks, his six-year-old boy's joy turns to anguish when his little ears hear his father's halting words and he feel his son's tears touch his face as he carries him to the shrine's office to tell Katsuhito of his daughter's journey. Nobuyuki remembers his decision to include Achika's love in his life, the fatherly joy as he holds his newborn son and the pride his family gives him. Within those images he sees Ninjin-chan's face, both yesterdays and today, and how much his feelings for her makes him long for a woman's touch in his life again. His behavior makes sure no woman would overshadow his love for Achika by seeing him as a likely prospect. Only someone Achika would approve of, someone he already cares for, someone he could recreate what was once lost.
When the bus takes a tight turn Tenchi feels the sleeping Ryoko sag against him, her head falls onto his shoulder. He looks at her and sees how much her calm face matches Sasami's peaceful one. When the bus hits a hole in the road, Ryoko bounces off Tenchi's shoulder and drops lengthwise on the seat, her head comes to rest on the surprised boy's lap. Barely conscious Ryoko turns onto her right shoulder, her left-hand clasps Tenchi's waist, her nose just inches from the boy's crotch as a happy word sighs from her lips, "Tenchi." Tenchi freezes for a few seconds but relaxes when he realizes Ryoko drifts back into sleep. He senses the touch of her luscious cyan hair, her tender hug, the rhythm of her rising and declining breasts and the affection when she moans his name. All these feelings make Tenchi recognize Ryoko is more than a demon, more than an uchu kaizoku. She is a beautiful woman who cares about him. Yet he remembers her past, her deeds that Ayeka would not let people forget and the mask of aggressiveness Ryoko places upon her face, to keep from being hurt but he detects cracks in the mask whenever she is with Sasami and in that one happy sigh.
Katsuhito takes careful glances at Nobuyuki and Tenchi and sees the play of emotions on each man's face. A half smile on his old lips for he knows his hopes for these two are not built upon sand. As the bus comes to a slow stop, the driver locks the brakes, gets up, walks to his passengers, bows to them and says, "Your stop, noble priest."
"Ryoko, it's time to wake up," Tenchi tells her with a small smile on his face.
"Can't we stay like this, Tenchi?" asks Ryoko, her smile matches his. "Touching you, smelling you, feeling you ki holding me."
"Eh . . . Ryoko, the driver waiting for us," Tenchi's words match the fear his body might betray his attraction to her.
"Oke, Oke," wistful words leave her lips as her amber eyes finally open. "I just wonder if I'll get another chance to be this close to your chinhoko (life-giving sword) again."
"Ryoko . . . " Tenchi sees the pain in Ryoko's face his angry tone causes her. Without looking at him Ryoko stands up and follows Katsuhito. Nobuyuki continues to carry Sasami but shoots a hot glare at his son as he passes him. Tenchi lets out a frustrating groan as he follows his father.
"So who now has the tape?" asks Tenchi as he tries to break the group's mood.
"The yellow guy didn't have it but he said Sasami-chan saw where he dropped it," answers Ryoko.
"Well, Sasami-chan didn't have it when I took her from Ninjin-chan," informs Nobuyuki.
"I saw Akaruime hand the tape over to Ninjin-chan," the priest's calm voice announces. "The child wasn't happy about giving it up."
"You didn't take it back?" Ryoko wonders bluntly.
"At the time the little princess was crying in Ninjin-chan's arms," the elder's words awaken Ryoko's concern for Sasami.
"So the Americans have the tape?" asks Tenchi.
"Hai," replies Ryoko but an insightful gleam enters her amber eyes. She floats over to Katsuhito, opens her mouth but before she can say anything, the elder priest stops as they pass the lakeshore and comments, "That's interesting."
Curious, the other three come up to stand next to him. All four pairs of eyes see Ayeka slumber on the ground just inches from the mirror water. "How did she get out here?" whispers Nobuyuki as he tries not to wake Sasami.
"I don't know," concern in Tenchi's low voice. "But I'll take her in."
The ample lady's eyes widen as Tenchi walks toward the blue-clad beauty. She fades then reappears between the brown-haired boy and the prone princess. "Oh no, Tenchi. I'll take her to her room," her jealous tone brings laughter to Katsuhito's red eyes and a grin to Nobuyuki's face.
"Oke Ryoko," Tenchi's voice fills with surprise since he did not expect such an unselfish act from the cyan-haired lady.
Ryoko floats over, lands next to the snoozing figure and sees the peaceful smile on Ayeka's face. The horns of jealousy upon Ryoko's head vanish as the princess' blissfulness awakens happiness within the leather lady. "Don't worry Sasami-chan," she murmurs softly. "Ayeka-imoto has found her heart." Nobuyuki does not notice the faint smile on Sasami's tiny lips.
Ryoko kneels next to Ayeka and tenderly picks up the violet-haired princess. When she stands up with the lady in her arms, Ayeka snuggles against Ryoko's leather clad body and speaks in a child's voice, "Okasama, was Otousama naughty again?" Her knowing tone brings confusion to everyone's faces except Katsuhito, whose left hand goes up to cover his grin. Everyone waits for more words but hear only the woman's slow breaths as she falls back to sleep.
Tenchi gives a slight shrug and leads the others toward their home. Ryoko falls in next to the elder priest and whispers to him, "Can I see you later, guji?"
"Of course, Ryoko-dono," replies Katsuhito.
"I'll come as soon as I can," informs Ryoko.
The elder nods as he splits from the others and heads to the shrine's granite staircase.
Tenchi opens and closes the front door for the others as well as help them takes off their shoes on the genkan. "You must be getting tired, otousan. Why don't you let me carry Sasami-chan to her room?" asks the worrisome youth.
"I'm fine, musuko. It's been a long time since I put a sleeping angel to bed," Tenchi sees the tender look on his father's face as those words bring warm memories to his mind. A gentle embrace carries Tenchi's unawake form to his room after a day of fun with his joyous parents. His father changes his clothes and his mother tells the sleepy child a bedtime story. His spirit floats into sleep's domain as two pairs of lips lightly touch his forehead.
Ryoko slowly floats up the entrance staircase with Nobuyuki right behind her as Tenchi brings up the rear. Tenchi's mind replays the events of the last few minutes which produces for him a puzzle smile over the sisterly way Ryoko carries Ayeka and the fatherly way Nobuyuki carries Sasami. He wonders if this is a prelude to the future or just an aberration that will disappear with the dawn's early light. Ryoko?s body and her package phases through the princesses room's door while Tenchi opens it for his father. Both men watch the uchu kaizoku bind down to place the violet-haired lady in her futon.
As her relaxed body touches the futon Ayeka murmurs in a child's voice, "Oyasumi (Goodnight) Okasama," and gives Ryoko a kiss on the cheek.
Ryoko's amber eyes go wide but she overcomes her surprise, returns the kiss the same way and whispers as she pulls the covers over the prone body, "Oyasumi Oujo-chan."
The cyan-haired woman stands up, turns toward the men but finds Nobuyuki next to her, who speaks very softly, "Could you get Sasami-chan ready for bed. I might be a hentai but I'm no kochikan (pedophile)." He gently hands the sleeping child over to Ryoko, goes out the door with Tenchi and closes it.
Ryoko bends her head down to whisper in the child's left ear only to find those pink pools open. "Time for bed?" Sasami asks with a sleepy smile, which Ryoko couldn't help but return.
Ryoko kneels down, helps Sasami change into her light green nightie and puts up the princess' blue hair in its protective coverings. Satisfy with her readiness Sasami jumps into Ryoko, hugs tightly the surprised lady and says softly, "Ryoko-neechan, arigato for helping oneesama."
"I didn't do anything!" denies Ryoko as she tries to sound tough.
" Of course you didn't" Sasami cheerfully retorts and kisses the uchu kaizoku on the cheek. "Oyasumi Ryoko-neechan."
"Oyasumi Sasami-chan," Ryoko replies tenderly, kisses the little one's forehead with ghostly lips while she fades away but neither one notice the red crescent of Ayeka's eyes closes.
Ryoko appears on under the plain stone torii at the entrance of the Masaki Shrine. She wears no longer the red leather outfit instead she floats up the stairs in a simple red-and-white kimono. The cyan-haired woman flutters through the entrance and goes over to the stone water basin. She picks up the wood ladle and drips it into the basin to purify for the ritual. She washes her left hand, switches the dipper to her left hand and washes the right one. Then she takes the vessel to her lips, rinses her mouth with the cold mountain water and spits it into the stone drain. Ryoko walks up the stone path to stand in front of the shrine, claps her hands twice and bows over her clasp hands in silent prayer. Ryoko tries to use the prayer to calm the fiery emotions in her soul. She knows she must get the tape from the police but realizes what she is about to do could drive Tenchi and the others away from her. 'Please, please Kami of the shrine, still the battle within and bless my endeavor,' these soundless words echo in her mind. Again, Ryoko feels the warm care from the Gem wash over her spirit and still her turmoil. 'Who are you?' her mind fills with wondrous words. 'I can't hear your words but I feel your song. Are you Funaho-Ki or someone else? You certainly not Kagato-tono (master), I know his iron fist all too well.' Ryoko receives no answers as the warmth slowly melts away but its calm remains.
Ryoko teleports to the shrine office's door and lightly raps twice. "Come in, Ryoko-dono," answers Katsuhito's calm voice.
The ample form of Ryoko phases through the door and sees Katsuhito kneeling next to his writing table. She gathers her courage up before the calm priest, walks within five feet of him as the elder turns to her, kneels and prostrates herself before him. In a steady voice she asks, "I'm going to get the tape back from the deka. I gave it to them so it's my responsibility to retrieve it but to do it I need your help, guji. I need someone who knows the language this gaijin speaks and you're the only one I know and trust."
"How do you propose to learn their language?" questions Katsuhito's strong voice.
"With one Gem I can copy any language a person has within his mind and make it my own," Ryoko words full of hope.
"So you are asking me to volunteer this knowledge to you?" guesses the elder.
"Hai but there is a drawback," a touch of fear in her voice. "Memory fragments of the way you learned that knowledge can be absorb during the process. If there is something you don't want me to know, then we won't do it."
"You've never told anyone about the side effects?" asks Katsuhito, curiosity dances in his red eyes.
"I've always taken what I need. I didn't care who I hurt, who I killed or who I crushed," Ryoko's voice quakes and doesn't dare to look up into Katsuhito's face. "You know what, I liked doing it. I found pleasure when I caused pain, when I took life from others and when I broke their ki."
"But now it's different?" Katsuhito tries to keep pity out of his voice.
"Hai. As I watched the world pass with each season from the cave entrance, I saw a life denied to me: a world of laughter and tears, of hopes and fears, of triumphs and tragedies. I found myself longing for it, to be a part of it."
"But there's more to this?" asks the patient elder.
Ryoko nods and continues, "Your kazoku showed me just how much mockery my life was, the life of an akurei no hakai. I wanted your way of life, I wanted to be a human being."
"But you don't trust Ninjin-chan and her partner," informs the priest.
"I could tell she is your friend but I can't take the chance her partner will help us," Ryoko tries to keep tears out of her voice. "I know deka. I've fought them, I've killed them and I know how they work. Maybe your friend won't hurt us and her partner will help us but they answer to others. I fear those who pull the strings, I fear the puppet masters."
"So by recovering the tape you hope to prevent our deaths," deduces Katsuhito.
"Or worse," she replies. "But I will promise you I will not harm your friend or her companion. I see how Nobuyuki-san acted around her and Mulder-san has merit in his liver."
Katsuhito sees how much Ryoko wants to prove herself worthy to him, worthy to be his grandson's mate and he smiles inwardly. "I will help you, Ryoko-dono," his soothing voice snaps Ryoko's head up, her amber eyes mirror relief.
"Domo arigato, Katsuhito-dono," Ryoko replies. She scoots forward to just inches from the priest, takes a few minutes to clear her mind and says, "Ready?"
"Hai," the elder replies with his eyes close.
Ryoko slowly brings her left wrist to just within an inch from Katsuhito's forehead, closes her eyes and concentrates. The Gem glows blue and she touches it to his brow. Disorientation seizes Katsuhito's mind as all his senses are left void of input. After a few minutes he hears a child's soft chuckles and opens his eyes. Before him stands a twelve-year-old girl with spiky red hair, whose young face reflexes the beauty he sees in Ryoko features but the green eyes catch his attention, ancient eyes that deny her body's youth.
"Konnichiwa Hakubi Washu," states Yosho with a short bow.
"Konnichiwa Masaki Yosho Jurai," amusement in her voice. "I was curious as to why you were so willing to help Ryoko-chan when your own inclination was to trust your friend and her partner. Now I know. Unlike the connection between me and the Gems, you deduced the bond of mother-to-daughter would allow you to talk with me."
"I wanted a counsel from the greatest genius in the universe," a sliver of humor in Yosho's voice.
The humor dissipates a little as Washu replies as she points with her right thumb over her shoulder, "My knowledge didn't keep me out of this crystal overcoat." Yosho looks, sees the huge crystal and the figure within it.
"We are sometimes blind to our children's flaws," comfort in Yosho's youthful voice.
"True but you play a dangerous game, Yosho-dono, the game of kings, "a somber tone matches her strong eyes. "When the Gems became a part of Tenchiken you learn Ryoko-chan was a tool controlled by Kagato-san. You took pity on her, helped her and even protected her from your own people. Your discovery of Kagato-san made easy your decision to remain on your okasan's homeworld. During the seven hundred years you carefully built a place for your family in this land and a trap for him but you've made mistakes."
"Akaruime," this one word fills Yosho with sorrow.
"Your musume," sympathy in Washu's voice. "You push her to bond with Funaho-Ki before she is completely trained in the secrets of Jurai. In the end she used Funaho-Ki's powers to save others but it brought about her death years later. The family you created was nearly destroyed."
"I believed she was the one destined to release Ryoko-dono from her prison but I was wrong," Yosho's heart aches with every word. "Instead her fate was to save the future."
"You were left with Tenchi-chan to raise until his otousan could save himself," Washu continues. "But you decided to follow a different path than the one you use with your daughter. You trained him in the ancient skills of Funaho-sama's homeland instead of Jurai's and you created stories about Ryokoakurei to ensnare his imagination but you discovered a connection already exist between her and him, one brought about by Tsunami-megami."
"Hai, the Tree of Beginning allowed Ryoko-dono's astral body to be a part of Tenchi's childhood," Yosho nods "but as Tenchi grew his interest moved away from the shrine, away from Ryoko-dono."
"So you took a final risk," Washu's green eyes reflect the certainty in her voice. "One night you recited Horosha's poem, 'Ryu Ojiisama' to Tenchi-dono and his imagination was aflame again. The next day you purposely left the office, hide next to the granite stairway and waited. After giving him enough time you returned to find him searching for the keys to Ryoko-chan's cage," a tinkle of humor enters her voice. "You had a little fun with him before you slipped the keys into his mouth. From there on a chain-of-events occurred which only Tsunami-megami could have seen."
"So you think Tsunami-megami guides us?" wonders Yosho.
"Her hand used to be heavy upon Jurai but recently it became more subtle, her care for her Trees is now equal to her care for her tools," Washu's deep vision locks on Yosho's young eyes. "In the last seven hundred years Tsunami-megami has allowed free will to develop both here and on Jurai. She might water a plant or give it nourishment but now she allows it to grow its own way."
A notion strikes Yosho's mind and asks, "You seem to know much of what has happened here but your connection with Ryoko-dono was cut when the Gems were removed and only reconnected when Tenchi-san returned one of them to her. So . . . "
"How do I know everything?" interrupts Washu, a wicked gleam in her eyes. "Once the connection was restored, I examined Ryoko-chan's memory to catch up on events surrounding her. But I was never out of contact with either Funaho-Ki or you."
"Oi . . . " shock rips through Yosho's mind.
"You think the path the Gems' energy flows to Funaho-Ki and then to you is one-way," her voice fills with amusement over Yosho's reaction. "In return for keeping your bondmate sentient and you youthful, I have eavesdropped on your life and Tsunami-megami's actions. I'm sure Tsunami-megami knew of my journeys within the Trees' group mind but she has only seen fit to prevent my meeting of any of the Trees' bondmates except you.
"So we are connected to you just like Ryoko-dono?" asks a shaken Yosho.
"Not the same way. I can hear your and Funaho-Ki's thoughts but I can't read your memories or emotions," acknowledges the little redhead with a sigh. "Also your discipline, as a Shinto priest, will allow you to block my access to your thoughts anytime you want to."
"Since you've respected my privacy and didn't reveal me to your musume, I'll keep the door open," Yosho tries to calm his voice as he silently wonders if the founder of the Galaxy Academy has revealed to him the whole truth.
"Domo arigato," Washu's smile turns grim. "But the threads of fate are coming together. What you have been waiting for is coming."
"When?" Yosho voice becomes deadly serious.
"Wit . . . " Pain lashes through both minds, a soundless scream tears through their spirit.
"RYOKO-CHAN!" cries Washu.
"I know what's wrong!" With those last words Yosho's astral body plunges back along the spirit paths, back to a tiny planet and the shrine's office. His eyes fly open to behold Ryoko on her left side, her body in spasms and terror in her amber eyes.
Yosho's hands seize the sides of her head, forces her eyes to look into his and commands, "Ryoko-dono! Snap out it! It can't hurt you! It happened a long time ago!"
Slowly the horror drains away from the uchu kaizoku's eyes only to be flow in her English words, "The humming death from above, the screams of the living, the rotting smell of the dead, the pitiless eyes of the foreign soldiers with their shouts of vengeance and the shame of surrender. But I was a part of them, a part of the living and the dead. I felt their sufferings, their dreams and their friendships but I saw it all taken away by the monsoon of slaughter." Suddenly a loathing tone enters as she continues, "This is what I brought to my victims. While I gleefully snapped their bones, I snapped their dreams. When I joyously burned their homes, I burned their hopes. As I laughed at their sacrifice, I laughed at their spirit. How could Lord Yosho spare me after what I did to Jurai, to thousands across the galaxy?"
Katsuhito's brown eyes look down at Ryoko's sad face and say in English, "We are all made of darkness and light. It's possible that Lord Yosho saw within you the tiny flame trying to drive away darkness' grip upon your soul and decided to help it."
"You think so, priest?" a thread of hope in Ryoko's voice.
"Besides, he probably thought a tough old woman like you could handle it," Katsuhito deadpans.
"Thanks a lot," Ryoko frowns up at him, pushes herself to a kneeling position before the elder as a curious notion enters her mind and she asks, "You learned English as a prisoner-of-war?"
"Yes, I surrendered on Tulagi Island after most of my men either fled or were killed," serious calm invades Katsuhito's voice. "I didn't believe in the madness which seized the minds of my fellow countrymen but I still owe them my fealty. Because of my social status I was made a captain of marines but my first command was my last. This happened before the bloodlust brought about the atrocities on both sides so my wounds were treated and I was shown respect. After I was interrogated, I was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp at a place called Fort Dodge, Kansas."
"Flat lands with mountains of snow. How long were you there?" Katsuhito hears sympathy in Ryoko words and realizes her imprisonment produces a mutual link between the two.
"Three and a half years," the elder continues. "At first it was very lonely for I was the first commissioned officer captured by the Americans, it wasn't for another eight months before new arrivals came. I couldn't communicate with any of the camp's personnel so my isolation became worse. After six weeks of this silent suffering I decided to learn their language. I gave a note to a guard asking to see the camp commander. The next day I saw him and gave him another note asking to learn English. Two weeks later a young American officer was sent to see me. He asked me, in Nihongo, why I wanted to learn English. I told him the Nihonjin are made of steel but we were still human, we still crave for human speech. The next week the same person came to me and started to teach me his tongue."
"A young man with blond hair and clear gray eyes," Ryoko couldn't help feel some friendship to this person in the elder's memories.
"I'm sure that the only reason his superiors allowed him to teach me was the hope I would give them more information but it didn't stop him from being respectful to me, from offering his hand of fellowship to an enemy of his nation," Katsuhito's words matches his smile of remembrance. "He even smuggled a bottle of sake to me one night. We had a party with each trying to drink the other under the table. Again, I'm sure his commander ignored this break of discipline in anticipating of getting blood from a stone but I didn't mind and neither did he."
"What was his name?" asks the smiling woman.
"Captain Steven Rodgers," the name touches a cord of sadness in the priest's spirit.
Ryoko senses this emotional change and asks, "What happened to him?"
"I don't know," Katsuhito replies. "Once it reached a point where his commander believed nothing could be gain from me, the lessons ended and he said goodbye to me. By that time I was advanced in my learning and continued it by talking to the personnel which got me angry looks from the other prisoners."
"You never saw him again?" questions Ryoko.
"No," Katsuhito continues. "I just hope he survived the war. The world needs people like him, people who can see beyond the anger, the hate and find the possibilities for goodness."
"Well . . . " says Ryoko as she gets up. "I've got to get going. Can I use your telephone?"
"Yes," answers the elder. "They're staying at the Culture Hotel, Okayama. Mulder's room is 613."
1:37 a.m., Room 613, Culture Hotel, Okayama
Mulder stares at the laptop's monitor. For the last ten minutes his hands lie limply in his lap, his mind drowns in a lake of guilt and loneliness. 'How could I've been so wrong about Hideyuki?' his own thoughts condemn Mulder. 'He just wanted to help me, to be a member of our team but each time he got too close I allowed my paranoia to push him away, I treated him like a flawed tool. Because of it I was surprised when he tried to protect Scully and me. His death opened my eyes but it's too late to say I'm sorry.' Like a lens the guilt magnifies Mulder's loneliness. Even with Scully in the next room, he knows she is a part of a world he could only look at from the outside. 'Hideyuki offered to be my helmsman upon this ship,' Mulder thoughts continue. 'To guide me through the reefs and shoals to deep water but now there is no one at the wheel.' At this moment the rooms' telephone rings. Mulder reaches over, picks up the receiver and says, "Mulder here."
"This is Ryoko Hakubi," informs the cyan-haired woman in almost perfect English. "I need to see you."
Surprise fills Mulder's mind as he replies, "It's kind of late, Mrs. Hakubi."
"Please, I need to talk to you," desperation in her voice's tone.
Mulder looks at the tape next to the laptop. He realizes this is a chance to learn if the Masaki family is worth his help and replies, "Okay, where?"
Mulder hears another voice in the background but can't recognize it as Ryoko replies, "The Heartbreak Karaoke Bar. It's just six blocks south of your hotel. I'll meet you there at three o'clock."
"I'll see you then," acknowledges Mulder.
"And thank you," Ryoko says as the phone goes dead.
Mulder's misery vanishes as Ryoko's last words bring a smile to his lips and thinks, 'I might enjoy this.'
A sleepy Rumiko hears the hallway floor creak as someone passes her door. The bespectacled lady decides to stretch her legs and gets up from her artist desk. On pink bare feet she steps over her sleeping assistants, pads over to the door, slides it open and peeps out. The petite lady sees the back of the soggy American heading for his apartment. "Kawatta-san is up late," Rumiko mumbles to herself before her nose wrinkles up, "Kya, he smells!" The black-haired woman closes her door and goes back to finish her latest Tendo story. She wonders what her fans would think about an American character in one of her many stories.
MacClean hears the action behind him but he is too tire to care. He remembers the stares the bus riders gave the dripping jogger and how some move as far away from him when their noses are hit by his foul aroma. Even after he gets to his truck, it takes another hour to reach his apartment in this ancient boarding house. MacClean slides open his apartment door, goes in and closes it behind him. As he peels off the blue-haired wig and pops the contact lens from his eyes, he notes the flashing light at his telephone message machine. The blond-haired man pushes the replay button. "MacClean, this is One-Trick Pony," reports the artificial voice. "Mulder received a plea from Hakubi Ryoko to meet her at the Heartbreak Karaoke Bar, Okayama, at three o'clock." A groan of words leaves the gray-eyed man as the message ends, "Well . . . I just have to hurry and hope no females are using the communal bath."
2:55 a.m. Heartbreak Karaoke Bar, Okayama
Mulder arrives early at the colorful bar and scans the people passing him by. The man in light brown suit suddenly sees a man with sunglasses walking toward him on his left. Mulder breaks into a run across the street, dodges oncoming vehicles and disappears into an alleyway, certain that the OIK man is after the tape in his coat pocket. The dark man follows the fleeing man's path but stops when his senses detect nothing. The man scrutinizes the alley as he slowly steps forward until he reaches a dead end but does not detect Mulder hanging above him. With no time to react a dropping Mulder kicks the OIK man in the head and lands awkwardly on his back. Mulder looks up to see the man in darkness already getting up, faces the American with a silver disk in his hand. Mulder struggles to stand as the OIK man moves to press the object against the agent's neck. Suddenly a narrow beam of light slams through the back of the attacker's neck and removes the head from the trunk. The dropping body reveals a smiling Ryoko as she blows air over her right first finger.
"Hmm . . . Thanks," surprise in Mulder's words. "But did you have to kill him?"
Ryoko bends down, retrieves the round item and shows Mulder the two barbs on one side. "This is a slave maker," a grim note to her voice. "It injects a mind control drug which has a varied effect depending on the person's willpower, it can even cause a self-inflicted heart attack."
Mulder feels a lot less sorry about the corpse and asks, "What about the body?"
"Oh, that easy," amusement in Ryoko voice as she steps forward, holds her hand over the corpse and focus her mind. Mulder back away when concentrated energy radiates from her palm and reduces the body to ashes. "There, all done," pride in her voice. "Now lets go back to the bar."
"Okay," a touch of fear in Mulder's tone as he realizes she could kill him with easy but chooses not to. At the same time he notes how hot she looks in the dark blue miniskirt with light blue, leather thigh boots. Mulder also notes the light makeup to enhance her lovely face and a red glossy hair band to pin back her cyan hair.
When the pair enters the bar, their ears hear a customer in shiny white sadly sing the bar's title. Both takes off their shoes, then a waitress leads them to a reclusive booth. The pretty hostess assumes, by their looks, they are Americans and asks in English, "What would you like to drink?"
"Dragon's Fire Sake," replies Ryoko in perfect English.
"A large scotch on the rocks," answers Mulder in American English.
"Hai," acknowledges the blond-haired lady, she turns away to fulfill their order.
After a few minutes pass, Mulder asks, "So what did you what to talk to me about?"
"Maybe that was a pretext to give me a chance to seduce you over to the dark side," teases Ryoko, her left finger traces Mulder's jaw line.
A reluctant smile appears on Mulder's lips and he says, "Flirting might get you somewhere but I think you wanted to say something to me?"
Ryoko waits while the waitress delivers their drinks, both takes a sip from their cups, and then her serious words answer, "You're in the big leagues now, rookie. Behind each door, in every alleyway and on crowded streets will be people who see you as a danger to their enterprise. You need allies, powerful people you can trust." Mulder is unaware of the rice paper envelope Ryoko opens carefully underneath the table with her left hand, the brownish surface glistens with powdery crystals.
"I've been an FBI agent for four years," counters Mulder. "I think that would make me something more than a rookie."
"That was minor league stuff. You didn't face individuals who could fire bolts of energy from their weapons or just their hands, turn your body into a marionette or steal your memories," While those passionate words leave Ryoko lips, her Gem produces a bluish glow, the powder disappears and the bottom of Mulder's drink discolors.
"You are offering me a covenant in return for the tape?" a painful tone in Mulder's question as Ryoko's last three words triggers the reopening of an old wound. He quickly takes a swallow of his scotch.
"At this moment, the house by the shrine contains some of the most powerful and experienced individuals you will ever find: two princesses from the largest empire within the Galactic Union, a Shinto priest whose hand can be found in many businesses and me, a space pirate," firmly states Ryoko.
Mulder frowns, takes another slip from his drink and says, "I can almost believe the part about the girls and the old man but you don't look old enough to be a space pirate."
"I can look anyway I want," with those last words Ryoko's hair changes from cyan to brown to Ayeka's purple to black and back to cyan while her eyes go from amber to green to red to black and back to amber. Then she continues, "I've been a space pirate for five thousand years under the puppet control of a monster named Kagato. By his hand I've murdered thousands, destroyed planets and crushed dreams but it made me a master killer and gave me the knowledge of the dark underside of this universe."
"Until you met Yosho," reminds Mulder as he places his lips to his glass.
"He got lucky," growls Ryoko. "I was still exhausted from attacking Jurai."
"But he let you live?" wonders Mulder as another mouthful of Scotch hits his stomach.
"He did something I wouldn't have done if I was in his position," confess Ryoko.
"It must have been lonely in that prison?" sadness creeps into Mulder's tone, he is oblivious to the booze's unusual effect.
"At first I accepted the solitude as a relief from my master's control but it quickly turned into a silent agony as each new century passed by," the phantom of Ryoko's hell touches each word. "It reached a point where my mind craved into itself."
"What saved you?" asks a melancholy Mulder as he gulps down the last of his drink. When the potent drags of his glass hit his system, a groundswell of guilt encompasses every cell of his mind.
"A boy," a smile in Ryoko's voice. "But we're getting away from the subject. What about my offer?"
Mulder knows everything the woman tells him matches what Scully and he has found but it seems secondary while his emotions bash into his spirit. Paranoia's grip on his soul melts away by the loneliness that bubbles from his heart. Ryoko's eyes go wide as she witnesses unshed tears in those pale green eyes. "I . . . would . . . like . . . that," Mulder's words choke with emotion. "I've . . . been . . . alone . . . for . . . so . . . long. No . . . one . . . to . . . believe . . . in, . . . no . . . one . . . to . . . trust."
Ryoko moves close to Mulder's shaking frame and asks, "You can tell me what's wrong?" The cyan-haired woman recalls the man's words that the drug turns a man into a tiger in bed but this reaction is from left field.
Barely able to control his words Mulder answers, "When I was twelve-years-old my eight-year-old sister was kidnapped by aliens. I watched her float away from me, through the bedroom window and I froze in terror, doing nothing. No one ever told me why she was taken or what happened to her, it was as if she never existed but she did for me. She was the little brat who laughed at my jokes, the prankster who played games with me and a partner-in-crime who stayed at my side no matter what. I miss her so much." Mulder's head touches the table while unchecked tears spill from his eyes.
The pale green-eyed man's words and tears unlock Ryoko's own feelings of loneliness from its cage. Instinctively her left arm drapes his shaking shoulders while her right-hand touches Mulder's brown hair. "What about your partner, Dana Scully?"
"She's a spy sent to keep me in check," replies the grief stricken man. "Her god is science, what can't be explain by analyzes does not belong in her world."
"Aren't there others who believe as you do?" Ryoko's words try to comfort Mulder.
"They are not my friends. I'm just a collaborator to their own agenda," Mulder's words deepen with guilt. "The one person who tried to be my friend I allowed my mistrust to push away and now he is dead."
"The young man killed tonight," guilt laces Ryoko?s words
?He . . . offered the hand . . . of . . . friendship and I . . . could only imagine . . . the dagger . . . of betrayal," a new wave of sobs cuts into Mulder's words.
Ryoko decides the bar is no longer the place for them and says, "I'll get you to your room." Mulder only nods.
Ryoko leaves money on the table to pay for the drinks. She helps the grieving American to his feet and uses her right arm to support his weight as they slowly work their way to the bar's front door. Halfway to their destination a man in white bumps into Mulder. Ryoko sees a VHS tape fall toward the ground between them and she stoops and scoops up the object with her left hand before it hits the ground yet her right hand never stops holding Mulder up.
"I'm sorry about bumping into you two," a southern accent makes clear the black-haired man's concern. With the bar's lights bounce off the glittery stones on his jacket he asks, "Can I help you with your man?"
"No thank you, sir," replies a concern Ryoko as she puts the tape back into Mulder's jacket pocket.
"Are you sure?" his courteous charm makes Ryoko smile.
"Yes, we'll be fine," the girl in the miniskirt answers. The man with the long sideburns weaves goodbye, turns and walks away on his blue suede shoes. Ryoko also notes Mulder's state-of-mind leaves him unaware of what just happen.
People pass by unconcern about what they perceive as a hooker taking a drunk to some bungalow. The hotel personnel turn a blind eye to this human nature but Ryoko doesn't care about the mild contempt she sees in the hotel's night manager's black eyes as she retrieves the room's key. As they make their trek to Mulder's room, Ryoko's own guilt and loneliness intensify with each sob from his cracked lips and his tears wash her left hand as she holds his head against her shoulder. A short time later the cyan-haired woman opens the door to room 613 and half carries Mulder to his bed. The American limply sits on the bed as the slim lady carefully removes his coat and shoes.
"Goodnight," says Ryoko, barely able to keep her own tears in check and turns to leave.
Mulder grabs her trailing right hand and turns a surprised Ryoko around. The brown-haired man slowly pulls the cyan-haired woman down while he moans, "Please hold me. I don't want to be alone with her ghost tonight."
When Mulder hugs Ryoko, her own self-control shatters as salty waters falls from her amber eyes and her body shakes. Ryoko returns the hug as Mulder buries his head in the woman's hair, both know each seeks to escape the haunting of their past. In this embrace they fall sideways onto the bed.
After a few minutes Mulder says, "Hakubi?" She turns her sharp face up to him, he kisses her on the lips and when their lips part he continues, "Thank you." His was not a kiss of passion or lust but one of gratitude.
Ryoko smiles, returns the kiss with the same gratitude and sniggles up against his chest. Soon both fall asleep. This night neither one is alone.
Sasami lets out a happy sigh as her pink eyes behold the sight in Tsunami's pond. She knows her body is asleep in the futon next to her sister's in the room they share but on some nights her soul wanders dreams' paths to visit the past and the many futures. This night her little feet found themselves next to the Tree of Beginning as both watch the events surrounding Ryoko and Mulder play out.
"You like this kitsune (fox) don't you, Sasami-chan?" softly says a mature version of her voice next to the child's right ear.
The little one twists around to see Tsunami's crouching figure just behind her, stares into the other pair of pink orbs for a few seconds before she replies, "He reminds me of the stories about the Saishono Kishi Jurai (First Knight of Jurai)."
"A seeker of truth, a protector of the weak and a destroyer of illusions," the feeling in Tsunami's words matches Sasami's smile.
"Can we help him find his imoto?" asks the hopeful child "He loves her so very much."
"We can try, Sasami-chan," replies Tsunami.
Sasami pauses for a couple of second, then asks with a mischievous smile, "Can we reward Kitsune-san for helping us?"
"What kind of a reward?" inquires the goddess. Sasami gets on her toes and whispers into Tsunami's ear. The goddess' smile turns into a Cheshire cat's grin and nods to the giggling girl.
Chapter Seven: What a Wonderful World
The morning sun hangs just above nature's mirror as it brings warmth to the house by the lake. Tenchi tries to suppress a yawn while he steps down the front room's staircase. In his school uniform, Tenchi walks to the kitchen entrance as his ears pick up the rat-tap-tap of a heavy knife on a cutting board and the light humming of the little princess. "Ohayo, Sasami-chan," greets the brown-haired youth when he comes through the door.
"Ohayo, Tenchi-niichan," Sasami's happy voice replies. The pink-eyed wonder wears the carrot-decorated apron over her bright green and black dress.
"All you oke?" the young man remembers Sasami's sad experience from the night before.
"Hai, I'm fine," no trace of sadness in Sasami's words.
"Gu (Good)," Tenchi comes to stand next to the girl, watches the child chop the dark forest mushrooms and continues, "What's you making?"
"Shiitake miso soap for choshoku," replies Sasami.
"Otousan will love it, shiitake is his favorite vegetable," comments Tenchi but a puzzle look comes to his face and continues, "Sasami-chan, have you seen Ryoko?"
"No, Tenchi-niichan," Tenchi doesn't detect the joyful tone in Sasami words due to the fading in of the uchu kaizoku at the kitchen's hallway entrance. No longer in the blue miniskirt and boots Ryoko wears a light green dress with an ankle length skirt which tries to conceal her sexy form and a tiny red heart on her left breast.
Both viewers see a dreamy smile on Ryoko's face as she floats toward them. "Ohayo, Sasami-chan," her words greet the girl, her right hand rumples the joyful child's curls as she passes by. "Ohayo, Tenchi," her perfect lips blow a kiss to the youth. Tenchi prepares himself for her bone-crushing hug but the cyan-haired woman just floats on by and leaves a puzzle and slightly disappointed youth, Sasami's shaking shoulders show she barely contains her laughter over Tenchi's reaction. Ryoko pours a cup of tea from the steel teapot, sits on the wooden stool at the kitchen's island and happily sighs while she watches Sasami.
The people in the kitchen hear Nobiyuki come down the entrance staircase as the front door opens. "Ohayo, otousan," hails Nobiyuki.
"Ohayo, Nobuyuki-san," replies Katsuhito. "I see the absence of the deka means our involvement in last night's incident has been concealed by Ninjin-chan and her partner."
"You think the crisis is over?" questions Tenchi's father.
"We'll know in a few hours," replies the elder as both men come into the kitchen. Nobuyuki wears his brown salaryman suit while Katsuhito is in his priest clothes.
Everyone welcomes each other but then Nobuyuki notices the happy glow in Ryoko's face. "ARA MUSUKO!" shouts Nobuyuki as he locks his son in a massive hug. "You're finally a man! With you turning away Ryoko-san's allure I was so worry you were netachi (queer)!"
"OTUOSAN!" cries Tenchi as he tries to break Nobuyuki's embrace. "I did not SLEEP with Ryoko!"
Nobuyuki pulls back with both hands on Tenchi's shoulders and retorts, "But Ryoko-san's gentle radiance. A woman only looks that way after she's slept with her man."
"Na (C'mon), otousan! " Tenchi sternly tells his father. "I was too tried to do something like that."
"But if there are no leaves or roots . . . " Nobuyuki pauses, then fiercely continues. "See what happens when you spurn Ryoko-san's passion! Now she's got another man!"
Katsuhito's sees Tenchi's eyes bugs out while Ryoko lets out a deep sigh yet what draws his attention is the tinkering laughter from the little girl behind his back, like this was a private joke only Sasami knows about.
Tenchi pulls away from his father's grasp and takes a few hesitant steps to Ryoko, "Is this true?" Both his father and grandfather could hear hints of fear and jealousy in the young man voice.
Ryoko's amber eyes focuses on the youth's troubled face. With her right hand she reaches underneath her shirt. The kitchen island blocks the other people's view although Nobuyuki leans over Tenchi's right shoulder in an attempt to get a better look. The uchu kaizoku's hand comes back up with the VHS tape, places it on the countertop and simply says, "I got it."
Tenchi gingerly touches the top of the tape then asks fearfully, "You didn't . . . ?"
"I went there to seduce him if it was the only way to protect the ones I care about," Ryoko calmly replies. "But it never reached that point. Mulder-san agreed to give me the tape in return for our aid in his life work."
"But what about your glow?" questions Nobuyuki.
"Mulder-san is haunted by the spirit of his lost imoto," deep sadness in Ryoko's voice. "He only asked me to hold him on this lonely night." Katsuhito sees Sasami's no longer laughs but has a secret gleam in her pink eyes.
"So nothing happened?" relief in Tenchi's voice.
Ryoko bends forward to look deep into the youth's brown eyes, grins and says, "You're jealous."
"Ya da atashi! (No way!)" Tenchi's words are betrayed by his uncertain tone.
"You know, Tenchi, I like it," Ryoko cheerfully retorts as her right hand touches his chin, the light caress invokes a flood of warm sensations from Tenchi's heart. The cyan-haired lady leans even further to murmur softly in the young man's right ear, "I'm going to take a bath. You're welcome to join me, my anata." As Ryoko fades away she gives the emotional Tenchi a happy gaze and leaves the older men with wise grins and the little one with a shy smile.
Nobuyuki picks up the tape while he asks the elder, "You haven't seen the tape, otousan? Why don't I show it to you before we eat?" Katsuhito nods and follows his adopted son into the living room.
Tenchi leans back on the countertop next to the stove and groans, "How does Ryoko?s spirit makes my heart jump yet leave it thin?"
"You haven't been around your mei and oi (nephews) much, Tenchi-san," guesses Sasami.
"Not really, Sasami-chan," confesses Tenchi. "I spent most of my vacations at the shrine and my father's relatives rarely visited it or our home."
"So you're not use to being both teased and cared by the same person?" asks Sasami, she add the mushrooms to the soup stock.
"Well, I've been joked with by otousan and jiichan," replies the confused young man. "But it seems different coming from Ryoko."
"Maybe if you had a neesan or imoto you would know how to handle it," a touch of sadness in Sasami's voice. "In some ways I've never had a niisan because I lost Yosho-oniisama when I was three."
Tenchi hears Sasami's sorrow but his eyebrows lift when an idea dawns in his mind. He turns to her, goes to one knee, his hands upon her shoulders turn her to him, and he tenderly confesses, "You know, when I was a kodomo (child) I always wanted an imoto, to play games with and to take care of. Sasami-chan, I would be very happy to be your niisan."
The little pout on Sasami's face explodes into glee. She throws her little arms around Tenchi's neck and cries, "ARA TENCHI-NEECHAN!" A perplexed Tenchi returns the hug while joyful waters leak from the child's pink pools onto his right shoulder. 'Why such traumatic outbursts from Sasami-chan?' the young man silently wonders. 'Maybe last night was harder on her than she believed.'
After a few minutes, Tenchi hears someone clear his or her throat. He glances over the joyous child's blue ponytails to see Nobuyuki at the kitchen door, the older man's right hand motions his son to follow him. Tenchi's father silently leaves while the young man carefully separates from the little one's embrace and says, "You better take care of choshoku. I've still got a few things to take care of."
"Oke, Tenchi-neechan," Sasami replies with a bright smile on her freckled face.
Tenchi comes through into the living room, pauses slightly at the doorway to smile at the light-footed girl, and asks his father, "What is it, otousan?"
"Look," replies Nobuyuki.
Tenchi sees an episode of Macross on the television but his eyes go wide as he notices the VCR is on. In a fearful tone he says, "But Ryoko told us Mulder-san gave the tape to her. Do you think he's tricked her?"
"He doesn't strike me as a liar," Katsuhito calmly comments.
"The food is ready!" says a smiling Sasami while she brings the huge bowl of rice to the chabudai.
"Why don't you get Ryoko, Sasami-chan?" tells Katsuhito. "We'll bring the rest of the meal in."
"Oke, jiichan," replies Sasami with a nod.
The little one skips out through the hallway entrance to the furo. Ten minutes later two giggling females come into the living room. When they approach the low table, Katsuhito says, "We have a problem, Ryoko-dono."
"What is it?" mirth in Ryoko's voice, a dark red towel covers her damp hair.
Nobuyuki hits the play switch on the VCR and states, "Ryoko-san, this is the wrong tape."
"WHAT!" shouts Ryoko. Confusion grows in her stiff body as she watches the anime on the screen. Finally she can no longer hold back her words, "But he GAVE me the tape."
"Are you sure he didn't try to fool you?" asks Nobuyuki.
"No! Not after what happened this morning," certainty in Ryoko words.
"Describe to us what happened when you were with Mulder-san?" suggests Katsuhito.
"I help him in a run-in with one of those dark-dressed men but he still had the tape then," Ryoko's right hand against her forehead as she concentrates on each word. "We had a drink together, talked about our problem and agreed on a solution," Ryoko eyes fly open and say with conviction, "When we were leaving, a man bumped into Mulder-san and the tape was dislodged from his coat pocket. I grabbed it before it hit the ground, put it back into Mulder's pocket and the man apologized before moving on."
"The drop-and-pick maneuvers," comments Katsuhito.
"Ai . . . how baka (stupid) I am!" rages Ryoko.
"A what?" the others ask in unison.
"A suri (pickpocket) will bump into his target, drop something to distract it while he picks its pocket," informs the elder. "Was Mulder-san also distracted?"
"Oi . . . he wasn't in any shape to notice what was going on around him," a touch of guilt in Ryoko's words.
"Then this was planned," reveals the priest. "He knew about the tape and used another one as bait. When he dropped the tape, Ryoko-dono went for it because she thought it was the original."
"Ryoko, can you identify this tsukami (gripper)," asks a concern Nobuyuki.
"Like flipping my palm," Ryoko replies coolly. "He was a Western gaijin with saggy black hair, long sideburns and wore a white suite with bright stones on his vest and pants."
Tenchi's shoulders slump, Katsuhito rubs his chin to hide a fleeting smile and Nobuyuki lets out a groan. The ladies look at each other in confusion over the men's reaction and Sasami asks, "What's wrong?"
"Ryoko-dono's description fits over a thousand Elvis impersonators here in Nihon," informs the priest. "In other words, he was wearing a disguise."
Ryoko amber eyes narrow as a thought enters her mind and sharply says, "Even if we can't find him, it does suggest a few things about him."
"You're correct, Ryoko-dono," confirms the elder. "If he was hired by someone to get the tape, he wouldn't wear a disguise because he wouldn't plan to stay where he could be found."
"A gaijin who knew about the tape and wanted it," puzzles Tenchi.
"A gaijin!" shouts a wide-eyed Ryoko. "The yellow jogger was an AMERICAN!"
"A fourth party?" wonders the brown-haired youth while everyone else nods in agreement.
"Who could he be?" asks Nobuyuki, then a smile spreads across his face.
Tenchi sees his father's smile and asks, "What is it, otousan?"
"Just a hunch, musuko," replies his father. "Well, let's eat this wonderful meal Sasami-chan made for us."
As the group head for the low table Ryoko's left-hand touches Nobuyuki's right arm and asks, "Nobuyuki-san, won't you tell us?"
"It's just a hunch, Ryoko-san," Nobuyuki replies with a knowing smile. "If I'm correct, he poses no threat to us. He could even be a friend."
7:05 a.m. Room 613, Cultural Hotel, Okayama
Mulder stares into the bathroom mirror as he tries to fix his brown tie just right. Although he feels refreshed, the pale green eyes he sees in the mirror are still mystified over the early morning encounter with Ryoko Hakubi. In the seven years as a FBI agent Mulder prides himself as a man who keeps a clear head. He thinks back to his Oxford days to find another weird mishap, a prankster puts speed in his gin-and-tonic. The old memory triggers a revelation in Mulder mind and a Cheshire Cat smile on his lips.
When Mulder walks back into the bedroom, the doorbell rings. In a few light steps he reaches the doorknob and says, "Friend or foe."
"It's me, Mulder," replies a puzzled Scully.
"Definitely a friend," comments Mulder while he opens the door.
His partner notes the cheer of his words and sees the sparkle in his pale green eyes. Inquisitively Scully suggests, "You're in a good mood."
"Scully, for once the future isn't such a lonely road," remarks the brown-haired man as he turns back to the bed to put on his shoes. The redhead goes over to Mulder's wordprocessor, views his investigation report but no type. Mulder says while he ties his black shoes, "You can read the report if you want to."
Scully takes up the offer but her mouth drops open with every word, turn to face an amused Mulder and says, "This must be hard for you, Mulder. You took all reference of the Masaki from the report and lied about the tape being lost."
"Actually once my emotional balloon was burst, I realized the choice was easy," Mulder grins up to her. "Goto already stated the report was dead on arrival. So I made a little deal with an unexpected caller."
"Who?" questions Scully.
"Ryoko Hakubi," answers Mulder. "She offered the full resources of the people at the house in exchange for the tape."
"Then you believed that they are aliens from another planet?" prods the emerald-eyed woman.
"From what I've heard and seen, Scully, I would say yes," affirms Mulder as he retrieves the papers from his partner. "Wouldn't you agree?"
"Hakubi's action last night suggests it's possible," Scully reluctantly confirms then remember the lightening blade in the boy's hand. "Maybe even Tenchi Masaki and the collar on Sasami's pet suggest the two other girls are royalty from a place called Jurai."
"At least this way I'll get something out of this dead duck," a grim smile matches Mulder's words.
"Still I would like to thank you, Mulder," says a grateful Scully.
"Well, let's go face the music," utters Mulder as he heads for the door with the redhead in tow.
Langly's fingers lightly rap on the desk next to the keyboard as he waits impatiently for Single Bullet's report. His midnight report is a delay notice and the emergency report at three a.m. is another delay notice. If the Single Bullet's eight o'clock report has a delay notice, then Langly would send out a membership alert to find him.
"Nothing yet?" asks Byers with two paper cups of cocoa, offers one to the longhair while he sips the other. The blond-haired man gratefully takes the cocoa but shakes negatively.
"I wouldn't worry, Ringo," mumbles Frohike while he munches on a tuna salad on sourdough. "Remember the last time he disappeared during the Persian Gulf War."
"Yeah," awe in Langly's words. "He was wounded when he and a SAS team blew up the Iraqi germ warfare lab."
"It took Talisman two months to find him," adds Byers, stream rises from his cup.
"He was lucky he'd run into that Ukrainian hooker," says Langly. "She told him about an American, hiding in a brothel."
"But he kept on moving from one pleasure house to another," responds Byers.
"He was using the brothels as cover in his hunt for Saddam's suicide squad," Langly fills in. "He and the Masad had to find them before they were told to release the microbe."
"Some people have all the luck," remarks Frohike as he takes another bite.
"You think the powers-that-be would tire of his other activities?" says a concern Langly.
"No," replies Byers. "He's an independent agent with a successful track record, he's too valuable for them to throw away."
With Byers last words, the computer's monitor comes to life with a password:
How do you cure a headache?
LG: With Maxwell's Silver Hammer.
SB: You guys are all heart. I've been chased by Mulder, Shadow Men, taken a swim in the Inland Sea, sang Hound Dog, typed up the newsletter's top story, gotten not one wink of sleep and I'm due for work in two hours.
LG: You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.
SB: My name isn't Fred.
LG: So you got the dope on what happened?
SB: Is the fax machine ready?
LG: Ready for bear.
SB: This isn't the whole story. This article is designed to counter the statements released by the Japanese National Police and the American government. I've left out the names of some individuals whom I hope to cultivate as allies.
LG: How Mulder and the little chickadee?
SB: The last time I saw Mulder he was leaving with a devil in a blue dress. I haven't made contact with his partner, only seeing her for a few seconds during their game with the Shadow Men.
LG: What was the score?
SB: Don't know. I had a run-in with a flying cat.
SB: I can't tell you anymore. The rest is in the fax.
The conversation ends as the printer spits out the fax. Byers picks up the first page, reads the first sentence and his brown eyes go wide.
Ayeka kneels before a low table she uses as her desk and eating table in the princess' room. The young woman keeps herself under control when she hears the door slide open behind her and someone comes in. Ayeka keeps her eyes forward while Sasami enters her field of vision and places breakfast on the table. The little one turns to leave but the red-eyed woman's right hand takes hold of the pink-eyed child's right hand and says, "Thank you for the food, Sasami."
"You don't need to thank me, Ayeka-oneesama," replies the bright-eyed child. "I would do anything to help you."
"Even ask that bakemono onna to save me?" harshly questions the First Princess.
Tears fill Sasami's large eyes as she answers, "I LOVE you, Ayeka-neechan! I couldn't bear to see you hurt yourself!"
"How did you know I was going to comment seppuku?" surprise in the older princess' voice.
"I had an awful dream the night before," cries Sasami. "I stood before the door to our room when I heard you shout. I yanked the door open to find you kneeling on a pillow dressed in white and in your hands was a blade. Ryoko-neechan was standing over you, dressed in white and black, a grim smile on her face and her energy sword held high in both her hands." Sasami tiny body trembles as her words continue, "I tried to shout but no words came, I tried to move but my limbs refuse to and all I could do was watch as you plunged the dirk into your throat. As your lips open to scream Ryoko-neechan's blade swung through your neck in one quick blow. Terror filled my ki while my eyes beheld your body crumple to the floor in a pool of blood. Ryoko-neechan picked up your head by your hair, placed it in my hands and said to me, 'You are now Saishono Oujosama Jurai'." When Sasami turns to face Ayeka, the full force of her anguish words washes over her sister, "I had to stop it! I LOVE you so much!"
"What did the bakemono ask for in return for her help?" flint still in Ayeka's voice.
"Ryoko-neechan did it on her own," replies the tearful child. "I think she overheard me talking about you to Tenchi's jiichan."
When Ayeka hears Sasami call Ryoko her elder sister a revelation hits her startled mind. 'Did Ryoko help me because Sasami called her elder sister?' she thinks. 'Did that one word capture the oni's ki?' A little sniffle yanks Ayeka's consciousness back to Sasami where she sees how wet the girl's freckled face is. Ayeka takes Sasami by the shoulders with her firm hands and says tenderly, "Gomen nasai, Sasami. I've made you cry again."
"Just promise me you'll never leave me again, Ayeka-neechan!" pleads Sasami. "I don't know what I'll do without you!"
"Even with Ryoko's care?" teases Ayeka.
"No one could ever replace my LOVE for you!" weeps the blue-haired child.
Ayeka hugs Sasami and utters, "In that case I'll promise never to leave you no matter what happens."
"Ara, Ayeka-neechan!" cries Sasami while her small arms fiercely return the hug.
Minutes later the two sisters release each other and a smiling Ayeka says, "Now go on and let me eat your wonderful food before it gets cold."
"Oke, Ayeka-neechan," Sasami answers as her light feet carries her out of the room.
At the brown van both Nobuyuki and Tenchi could see Ryoko floating outside the princess' window, looking in, before she fades away. "Otousan, do you think Ryoko cares about Ayeka-san?" puzzles Tenchi.
"She cares for Sasami-chan but the oujosama . . . " shrugs the older man.
"Well, maybe things will calm down if she does," a hopeful tone in the youth's words.
"I don't know about that, musuko," comments Nobuyuki, a Cheshire cat's grin on his face. "I've seen sparks scatter more between onees (sisters) than strangers."
"But Ryoko isn't their onee," confusion in Tenchi's words.
"If Sasami-chan treats Ryoko-san as a oneesama, sooner or later Ayeka-san will too," counters the black-eyed man.
"Well, maybe things will get easier for me if that happens," proclaims the black-haired young man.
Laughter bursts pass Nobuyuki's lips and leaves Tenchi bewilder. When the noise ends the man in the brown suit loudly declares, "Ke (Fur) flies when nekos (cats) fight over the same nezumi (mouse)."
A distance away Katsuhito catches his adopted son's words while he calmly walks to the shrine's stone steps and softly comments, "Especially if they don't want to share."
9:21 a.m. NZK Headquarters, Tokyo
The two FBI agents step out of the elevator onto the 27th floor of this glass masterpiece to justice. Both could feel the eyes of everyone on their backs but they continue the journey to Director Kajishima's office. Mulder opens the outer office door for Scully, steps in after her while the redhead gives a short bow to the middle-aged secretary, who returns it, as she informs her, "We're Mulder-san and Scully-san. We're here to give our reports to Kajishima-sama. I believe he is expecting us."
"Kajishima-sama told me to send you in as soon as you arrive," responds the still elegant lady.
Again Mulder opens the door for Scully much to her amusement, as if a new hope gives energy to an old soul. A huge expanse of glass covers the exterior wall, which gives all within the room a beautiful view of the city's skylight. Besides the traditional oak desk near the window are several suits of armor from Nihon, China, India, Middle East and Europe along the interior walls. The desk has the normal office equipment on top of it as well as a picture of the director's family, the current Nihon Prime Minister and other knickknacks, the most unusual is the Stanford Cardinals' baseball cap. The Director raises from his comfortable brown chair behind the desk while Chief Detective Goto Henry turns to face them. Both groups give a short bow before Kajishima says in English, "So, you have your reports ready. Good."
Mulder and Scully hand their reports to Goto who relays them to Kajishima. Taking possession of them the older man comments while he sits, "I understand Detective Goto has let the cat-out-of-the-bag."
Mulder barely hides his contempt as he replies, "He implied our reports would be buried."
"No, Mulder, not buried, just not accepted as our official position," Kajishima calmly retorts while he holds up another report. "Detective Goto's report has been released to the media as our statement. Why don't you read it?"
Mulder takes the report, starts to read it as Scully carefully asks, "What about the lab reports from Okayama Police Forensic."
"The early lab reports were declared erroneous due to the excitement of the investigation, final reports interpret the same evidence differently," responds Kajishima.
"So the Seto-ohashi Bridge was hit by an experimental aircraft being tested by the Japanese Self Defense Force for the United States armed forces," states Mulder as he looks up from the papers in his hands.
"Correct, Mulder," replies Kajishima with a thin smile. "The lab reports will show the wood-like wreckage was of a new material which renders the craft completely invisible to radar and visual sighting."
"According to the report what caused the machine to crash was mechanical failure," quotes Mulder, a hard edge in his voice.
"Again, correct," answers Kajishima with a gleam in his black eyes. "The aircraft exploded just above the Inland Sea which sent a chunk of the machine into the bridge."
"What about Tomas Long?" wonders Mulder.
"An accident, nothing more," replies Kajishima although Mulder hears a false note in that statement.
"What about the white animal?" asks Scully with mix emotions.
"The test pilot's mascot was a freak of nature," returns Kajishima evenly.
"And the collar?" questions the hopeful redhead.
"A piece of costume jewelry the pilot picked up somewhere," the elder responds a little too quickly. "Since the animal and the collar have no bearing on the case, you can have them if you want them."
Immediately both agents recognize the offer as a bribe to Scully and it tells them the Director's true knowledge of the situation surrounding the Masaki family. Scully turns her head to Mulder, pleading in her emerald eyes. Her partner's pale green eyes seem to smile while he gives her a short nod. "Domo arigato, Kajishima-sama," replies Scully.
"What about Koyama Hideyuki?" a mix of guilt and cold anger in Mulder's voice.
"He forgot where his loyalty lie," Kajishima coolly retorts. "A mistake which wasted his life and left his mother and grandfather in sorrow. His funeral is in three days, the family would welcome your attendance."
"What about his family right to know what their son died for?" counters Mulder, a glare in his pale green eyes. "What about the people right to know the truth?"
"The family's honor is satisfied for he was defending justice," answers Kajishima. "As for the people, they don't care about the truth as long as the lies don't interfere with their bland lives. Already apologies have come from both the Nihonjin and the United States' governments with pledges of financial support for repairing the Seto-ohashi Bridge. Even private businesses are giving promises of monetary or material support with the largest coming from the Jurai Holding Company."
A mild shock runs through the two Americans when they hear the company's name, then broad smiles appear on their faces which produces a puzzle look from Goto's face. Ignoring the smiles Kajishima says, "Maybe next time your reports will be accepted as the official truth."
"Next time!" the three agents say in shocked unison.
"Your investigation showed an extreme complacency in our people. You found evidence of the explosion within minutes of arriving at the scene, followed all the leads no matter how impossible they seem, gathered remorseless evidence and allowed no one to stop you," declares the somber elder. "As such I've asked the FBI to assign you and your partner as liaison officers to the NZK, to organize a department to handle cases like the one you've just done. Both of you will hold the position of Chief Detectives with all the rewards and responsibilities."
"What . . . was the reply?" asks a dazed Mulder.
"They said yes as long as you and your partner agreed to the temporary assignment," replies the sober Director.
"What about my work back home?" questions a suspicious Mulder.
"They told me a new officer will be assigned to your section," the elder answers evenly. "He will handle the day-to-day operations and will call you in whenever a case is appointed to your office. From here it's just a flight away."
"Who would we be under?" ask Mulder, his mistrust lessens.
"Assistant Director Sato Hitoshi," replies Kajishima.
Mulder goes over in his mind all the possibilities and headaches this could give him. He looks at Scully, notices his partner's eyes are straight ahead and her silent mouth as she tries not to influence his decision. Then Mulder remembers the reports from Daniel Valodella. It cost him three Washington Redskins' tickets to get Scully's psychological and security report but it was worth it. Both reports show a person in crisis, a close relationship with her father, an affair with an older, married man causes a rift with her mother and the loss of faith in her religion. Mulder comprehends this is Scully's chance for a happy life with people she considers her friends.
"I'll accept your offer," utters Mulder with a smile, he hears Scully release her breath. Mulder steps forward, his right hand reaches into his breast pocket, pulls out some broken sunglasses, tosses them on the desk and says as his grin turns grim, "But tell the Shadow Men to stay out of my way!"
Both Americans give a bow of farewell before they turn and surrender the room to the two pale men. Goto Henry is the first to recover and asks, "Are you sure this is a good idea, Satoshi-sama?"
Kajishima swivels his chair around to look upon the beautiful cityscape before he answers, "It takes a strong man to cross a dangerous bridge."
11:38 a.m. Masaki Residence
Ayeka stands at her room's window, sees the two policemen come out of a light green vehicle while Ryoko, Katsuhito and Sasami come forward to meet them. 'Are they here to arrest the bakemono onna?' she gleefully thinks before anger at her own weakness quickly suppresses that unworthy emotion. 'I can't let them, I owe that bakemono for opening my eyes.' Ayeka turns away from the window to change her clothes.
As the two agents go to meet the trio, they see Ryoko is in a light green full-length dress, Katsuhito is in his priestly grab and Sasami is in a green-black-pink child's kimono. The three from the house notes the two-foot oblong box in Scully's hands and the smiles on the Americans' faces, which causes Katsuhito to comment in English, "Since you don't have a horde of deka here, I assume you're not here to arrest us."
"Correct, sir," replies Scully, both Americans note an earphone covers Sasami's left ear with the wire going down to a black Walkman in her left hand. "The NZK has decided to release a report telling the destruction of the middle section of the Seto-ohashi Bridge was caused by the mechanical failure of an experimental aircraft being tested by the JSDF for the United States."
"So we're in the clear?" asks Ryoko in English.
"As long as you keep a low profile," answers Mulder, he returns the conversation to the elder, "Mr. Masaki that was a nice demonstration of muscle when the Jurai Holding Company made the huge pledge."
"Please call me Katsuhito," counters the priest. "It was meant to remove shame from the honor of the Royal Jurai Family and as a reminder to the government to tread lightly on our friends."
"Well, I think it produced one unforeseen result, Katsuhito," adds Scully with a small grin. "We are now liaison officers assigned to the NZK, to help form their own X-Flies."
Ryoko's eyes bulge slightly and ask, "We're not loosing you guys?"
Mulder's smile evolves into a lopsided grin as he replies, "Looks like you're stuck with us, Hakubi."
"Call me Ryoko," frowns the uchu kaizoku but becomes curious. "What's in the box?"
"Masaki Sasami Jurai," utters Scully in Nihongo as she takes a step forward.
Sasami pulls the earphone out of her pink ears and turns the Walkman off before she asks formally, "Yes, Scully-sama?"
"As the representative of the governments of the United States of America and Nihon we return to you the body of your deceased pet," pronounces the redhead. Sasami takes a step forward as tears appear in her pink eyes while the others hold back their own. Both give a proper bow before the formal lady passes the little coffin to the sad girl. Then Scully reaches into her right coat pocket and places the white-metal collar on top of the polished wood before she asserts, "and I would feel very sad if you didn't call me Ninjin-chan, Oke?"
"Oke," Sasami voice full of sorrow.
"Can the rest of us call you Ninjin-chan?" asks Katsuhito lightly in English.
"Yes except you, Mulder," Scully answers in English just as Mulder parts his lips. "If I can call you Kitsune-chan, you can call me Ninjin-chan."
"Eh . . . isn't it time for MacClean's noontime program, Scully?" Mulder changes the subject.
Scully looks at her watch, replies, "In about ten minutes."
"Let's go in to listen to it," suggests Katsuhito.
"Sounds like a good idea," confirms Mulder.
Sasami gently carries the little coffin while the group heads to the front door. When Ryoko opens the door, the little one asks respectfully, "In a little bit I'm going to say my goodbye to my petto. Could all of you come, please?"
Mulder gives Scully a puzzled look. "She wants us to participate in some kind of funeral for her pet," tells Scully.
Mulder crouches before the blue-haired girl, places his right hand on her left shoulder and says, "I would be honor to accompany you."
Sasami looks up at Scully who says, "Mulder-san said Hai as I will."
"I shall be with you, Sasami-chan," adds Ryoko, Katsuhito hears reverence in the cyan-haired woman's voice.
"I will come as your jiisan," says Katsuhito.
"So will I," adds an elegant voice from the open doorway. Everyone looks up to see a wondrous sight for in front of him or her stands not a plain Ayeka. A silvery spiderweb scarf covers her head and shoulders, which makes her violet hair, red eyes and pink face glisten like raindrops. Instead of her normal purple kimono Ayeka wears a pale blue one with a shower of silver buttons, gold trim and the family mon (crest) in purple thread on her left breast. The obi around her stomach is a rich black with white images of the Trees on it.
"Ayeka-oneesama!" cries Sasami as she runs to her sister while the rest give her a respectful bow for they recognize before them stands Princess Ayeka, representative of the most powerful empire within the Galactic Union.
Ayeka places her hands on her sister's head and shoulder to comfort the grieving child. Then Ayeka looks straight ahead at the others, takes on the proper pose and declares strongly, "I, Masaki Ayeka Jurai, Saishono Oujosama Jurai, have done some shameful wrongs to Ryoko-san. I have attacked her without legal warrant for the Oken Iinkai Jurai (Royal Council of Jurai) erased her past crimes. When she was my prisoner, I tortured her without guilt. As events turned against me I gave illegal orders to these okeibu (police inspectors) to cause more harm to Ryoko-san even after she gave back my sanity to me." Ayeka looks down to see pride in Sasami's pink eyes, gives her sister a tiny smile, then pulls her head back up and continues, "From this point onward I hold no legal animosity to Ryoko-san and ask only for her forgiveness for my dishonorable behavior."
"It is given," Katsuhito hears not only surprise in Ryoko's reply but also the same pride he sees in Sasami's face.
"Then we are even," only in Ayeka's last words does a hint of distaste creep in but she quickly stifles it before she continues, "Sasami and I are going to our room to prepare. When we come back down Wakare Ni Shindeiru (Farewell to the Dead) will begin." Ripples of violet and blue ponytails swirl around the two princesses as Ayeka makes a tight formal turn to her right with Sasami in her protective embrace and the two go up the entrance staircase together.
"What just happened?" confusion in Mulder's tone.
"The first step on a long road," replies Katsuhito in English.
"Eh . . . " Katsuhito's words bewilder Mulder.
"Mulder, Princess Ayeka has just confess to illegal use of her royal powers and asked Ryoko's forgiveness for her actions," informs Scully.
"And I gave it with pleasure," adds Ryoko.
"Because of the restrictions placed upon a shinshoku, I will need to change my garments before the ritual," Katsuhito changes the subject. The elder turns to head for the shrine.
"Katsuhito-dono, may I come with you?" Scully tentatively asks.
"You may, Ninjin-chan," the priest replies over his shoulder. Mulder and Ryoko watch the shorter redhead join the elder and the two walks toward the red torii.
"Well, what do we do until the rest return?" wonders Mulder.
"Hmm . . . how about we listen to that radio program?" suggests Ryoko.
"Sounds like a plan," returns a curious Mulder. Both slip off their shoes, walk side-by-side into the living room while Mulder continues, "So, what did you do with the tape?"
"The tape you gave us wasn't the same one," answers Ryoko, then quickly adds, "It wasn't your fault, Mulder. When the man dumped you at the bar, he switched tapes with you and I didn't catch it."
"So is the deal is off," concern in the brown-haired man's tone.
"No," answers Ryoko as she turns on the radio and adjusts the tuner. "You gave the tape in good faith so the deal is still good."
Mulder sags in relief as his ears hear the Weirdo MacClean's voice, "This is American Karaoke, where you try to sing Rock-n'-Roll in Nihongo. As your first manager I'll decide if you are the equal to Western singers. My first selection, 'Ogon Hokori Onna', is from a disk given to me by a neighbor in my boarding house. But before we listen to Naomi's voice we have 'Strange Days'." The intro music comes from the speakers before the DJ continues, "The mystery of the Seto-ohashi Bridge comes to a conclusion with the government declaring the damage was done by a prototype craft being tested by the Jieitai for the Beigun. Both governments have promised to rebuild the bridge and private pledges are already coming in to help this reconstruction. Strangely enough not all accept this statement. An American-based newsletter, 'The Lone Gunmen', printed a front-page article asserting a UFO driven by gorgeous women did the deed. What is my view on these two statements, Well . . . maybe they're both correct? I mean the test pilot could've been a woman and we all know how bad woman drivers are.
"Now on a personal note I have a message to Kitsune-san and Neko-onna (Catwoman). Your baby is safe in its cradle and no shadows shall ever fall upon it. Now let's listen to that Fleetwood Mac classic. I hope Fuu-chan has a good pair of lungs."
Ryoko turns off the radio, turns to Mulder and says with certainty, "Now we know who has the tape."
"Or at least where it's at," adds the pale green-eyed man.
"I'm tempted to go get it or at least rattle his cage," amusement in Ryoko's words.
"Well . . . I know the Lone Gunmen, the organization MacClean belongs to," Mulder tells Ryoko. "While I can't vouch for the whole body, the ones I know I would consider being moral. If MacClean says the tape is safe from the Shadow Men, then he is probably right."
"What about blackmail?" a worry tone matches the emotion in Ryoko's amber eyes.
"Not part of their MO," replies a calm Mulder. "The Lone Gunmen fear the aliens are corrupting our governments, turning them into puppets for their own goals. Only by gathering, preserving and preventing the loss of evidence can this conspiracy be revealed and destroyed."
"What about me, I'm an alien?" Ryoko asks lightly, both of them sit on the overstuff sofa.
"But you've been on the Earth for the past seven hundred years. In most countries you would be considered a citizen," answers Mulder with a smile on his lips. "Besides who would consider such a beautiful lady as anything but a friend."
"You tease," Ryoko softly accuses with a hand to her lips, a blush on her cheeks.
"I wouldn't mind if we were more than friends," adds Mulder but his smile doesn't match the sadness in his pale green eyes. "But I know your heart was captured long ago by another."
"Tenchi," acknowledges the ample lady but guilt enters her spirit. "Mulder, I've got . . . "
"It's okay," Mulder interrupts her. "I know about the drug."
"How?" surprise in Ryoko's words and amber eyes.
"It's happened before," answers Mulder. "Certain drugs cause contrary emotional responses in me, like the one you used."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know if you would give up the tape," confesses Ryoko.
"Don't be," counters Mulder with a knowing look on his face. "You broke the dam around my soul, cleansing it of all my pain. For that reason I will always remember last night for the comfort you gave a stranger and our spirits touched."
"As I will," adds Ryoko warmly. Both sit silently next to each other but draw comfort from the other's presence.
Nagai High School
Tenchi lets out a sigh of relief as he hears Weirdo MacClean's broadcast. He adds this bit of fact to Ryoko's information and concludes his family and friends are now safe from arrest.
"Is something wrong, Tenchi-kun?" Robert O?Neill?s brogue makes his words roll off his tongue.
"Mo!" answers Tenchi with a startle laugh. "Just happy about my family."
"Gu," returns the blond-haired youth while bites into the pouch sushi at the end of his fork. "I was kind of worried about you."
"Oi . . . " the brown-eyed young man wonders.
"Hai, it was almost a replay of yesterday," but the happy relief in his words disappear into sadness. "I'm glad someone's family is safe."
"Is something wrong with your family?" concern in Tenchi's voice.
"Nothing anyone can fix now," informs a glum Robert.
"There's always hope," encourages Tenchi.
"The dead can never come back," misery in Robert's words.
"Gomen nasai, Robert-kun!" shock in Tenchi's tone. "I didn't know."
It's Oke, Tenchi-kun," sadness in Robert's blue eyes to match his words. "It wasn't your fault. It was ours that caused the most precious treasure to be taken from me and my brother."
"What hap . . . " the school tower clock interrupts Tenchi's words as it calls the student body back to their homerooms.
"I'll tell you some other time, Tenchi-kun," Robert answers while he stands up from the shady tree the two are under, walks toward the white building with a curious Tenchi a few steps behind him.
Anthony MacClean hits the play button to start the disk and leans back in his chair as his mind fills with silent words. He knows from the electric bug-in-stuff-olive-in-the-drink trick and the one in the VHS tape that the two groups were now one. His own research into Scully's past gave him the knowledge about her connection with the Masaki family but now with his own eyes and ears he could sense the bonding between Mulder and Ryoko. Furthermore both bugs gave him information making his choice to alter his broadcast and his story to the Lone Gunmen easy. "Two princesses of Jurai, a space pirate and an influential Shinto priest," MacClean mumbles in English. "Such allies could help me against the conspiracy. Well, I hope the father's van is there so I can deliver part two."
Masaki Shinto Shrine
Scully sits on the shrine office's steps while she stares into the flat courtyard around the Hall of Haiden (Hall of Worship), her eyes show an empty area but her mind sees the images of a young Achika and a young Nobuyuki at play with a little redheaded girl. She does not hear Katsuhito slide the office's door open nor detect his tranquil red gaze upon her and it's not until he sits next to her does her spirit return from the past. For a few minutes both sit next to each other in silence before Scully says, "Maybe we should get back?"
"Oke," replies the elder. He wears a dark green kimono with the Masaki mon in red on his left shoulder. The priest offers his hand to the emerald-eyed lady and Scully takes the offered hand, wonders at how firm the grip is, and the priest asks, "Ninjin-chan, was there something you wanted to ask me?"
Both take steps to the sandy courtyard's entrance before the redhead demands, "What happened to Achika-san?"
"Ara . . . how much have you figured out?" a mix of worry and curiosity in Katsuhito voice.
"Only the little secrets girlfriends share with each other and then I saw what Tenchi did last night," a touch of flint in Scully's answer.
"So you know about our family secrets?" the red-eyed man's words more of an acknowledgment than a question.
"Just a few, Katsuhito-dono," seriousness in Scully's reply. "Like the connection between you and the Sacred Tree of the Masaki Shrine."
"Ara . . . so you know about . . . " the elder voice trails off.
"Hai, I know about Funaho-Ki," adds Scully as she starts down the granite stairs.
"But you didn't believe it, Ninjin-chan?" comments the old priest as he follows her down the steps.
"At the time I did but later I saw it as a child's fantasy," Scully's words strong to Katsuhito's ears. "It wasn't until I saw Tenchi-san use his namesake did yours and Achika-san's words return to me."
"My words?" puzzles the elder.
"Your stories about Yosho with his magical sword, Tenchiken," Scully's words match the knowing look in her face. "When I saw the rod of blue light coming from the hilt in Tenchi-san's hand slice up those men's guns, I knew it must be the legendary sword."
"So you remember my stories?" Katsuhito's words fill with realization of how careless he had been around the redheaded child.
"You're a great storyteller, Katsuhito-dono," comments the woman next to him. "Combine your stories with Achika's statement I was able to see how a wandering alien from Jurai came to live in Nihon seven hundred years ago."
"What did Achika tell you?" Katsuhito cautiously asks.
"Two weeks before I returned to my native country, she told me about her bonding with Funaho-Ki," answers Scully as their reach the first rest stop on the granite steps. "Her eyes were electrified over how it opened her mind, allowed her ki to hear Funaho-Ki's voice, making it possible for her to shape the power of the Tree and feel Tsunami-megami's presence. She asked me never to tell anyone about it and I've kept that promise."
"Mostly because you forgot about it," the elder adds dryly.
"When a child grows into an adult, it gives up childish things for maturity," a drop of shame in Scully's voice. "I just gave up too much."
"So what else have you figured out?" the old priest probes.
"Ryoko-san is probably the mystical akuma freed from her imprisonment, you and Tenchi are descendants from an alien prince and the two sisters are princesses from Jurai, although the part about them being Yosho's siblings is a little hard to swallow," the emerald-eyed lady replies with an uneasy frown on her lips.
Minutes flow by while they finish the descent of the stone staircase in silence. When they reach the path to the house Katsuhito asks, "Your feelings for Nobuyuki-san recalled these childhood memories."
"Hai, I'm attracted to Inkushimi," a blush to Scully cheeks matches the feelings in her words. "Even Sasami-chan noticed how our affections for each brought our eyes together."
"How long have you daisuki (really like) Nobuyuki-san?" prods the elder.
"Since I was little," the redhead confesses softly. "At first I loved him like a niichan but it quickly became a crush yet I knew him and Achika ai suru (to love) each another." Scully held up both her hands, made a fist with both, then raises the thumb on the right while she brings the little finger up on the left, with the nail facing forward. She links the thumb and little finger together as her words continue, "I couldn't force my way between them, they are my friends and I was just a kid."
"But now it's different," stated Katsuhito with a knowing look in his tan face.
Scully stops in her tracks. Katsuhito continues for a few steps before he also pauses and turns slowly around to look at the redhead. He sees fear and guilt within those emerald eyes before she utters, "Is it? Do I have a right to walk on Inkushimi's ai (love) for your daughter, to take her place in his heart?"
"We both know this is impossible, Ninjin-chan," Katsuhito calmly reassures. "For twelve years I watched him grieve for my musume with all his mind, all his heart. Now he has a chance to go beyond his sorrow and Achika would want him to find happiness again but not with any ordinary woman. She would want a person she knew, someone she was close to."
"What if it does happen?" guilt no longer in her eyes but fear still in her voice. "If we do fall in ai, what about Tenchi-san?"
"Tenchi knows his otousan's ai for his okasan will never change," a touch of warmth in the elder's words. "But he wants the pain it causes to be replaced with happiness. Tenchi wants Nobuyuki-san to remember Achika with warm fondness."
"Tenchi-san would accept me?" hope in Scully's tone.
"Hai," the priest replies firmly.
Scully continues her walk toward the house as Katsuhito stays next to her; the elder notes her measured steps reflex the silence turmoil within her heart. The priest opens the door for them, both step inside and take off their shoes. When the two enter the living room Mulder and Ryoko stand up from the couch and go to join the others in the middle of the room.
"So we're ready," comments Mulder but then wonders, "I wonder how much longer before the rite starts?"
"I think right now," Ryoko calmly answers in English as her sharp ears pick up the opening and closing of a door in the still house. The cyan-haired woman adjusts her head to get the best resonance before she finishes, "They heading for the entrance staircase."
"Let's meet them," recommends Katsuhito.
The small group goes into the hallway, forms a line parallel with the stairway and wait. The first thing they sense is two humming voices in harmony drifts down to them. First Sasami then Ayeka slowly appears at the top of the stairs. Katsuhito matches the startle looks in an attempt to hide his knowledge of the ritual. The two princesses wear a white kimono top with long loose sleeves, a light red obi and dark red baggy pants, all notice a dark green two-foot long bag under Ayeka's obi. White ashes cover their faces with a single black tear on each cheek. The little princess' arms reach out with her pink hands face up and flat in front of her with the small coffin perfectly balance upon of them. Ayeka carries two earthen bowls in front of her, a cloud of heavy smoke pours from the right one. Mulder notes how the hazy cloud makes the two princesses look as if they descend from the heavens. Scully puzzles over similarity of the two's outfits to the traditional chihaya and hibakama of a Shinto miko, she also knows miko like Shinto priests cannot handle the dead. Ryoko smiles as the fragrance of the incense's smoke touches her sensitive nose and gives her the reason for the slightly glazed look in the two princesses' eyes. When the two figures reach the hard wood floor, Ayeka goes to the first person in line, Katsuhito, while Sasami waits at the door and continues to hum. All notes the other bowl in the violet-haired lady's hand is halfway full of clear rice oil.
"Drip two fingers in the oil, then into the ashes and place the mark on your forehead," instructs Ayeka. "By this sign you may come as guests of Tsunami-megami."
Katsuhito shows just enough hesitation to make it appear he is being careful about doing the ritual right as his two old fingers go into the oil, lightly touches the white ashes, impresses them onto his forehead which leaves two round dotes just above his gray eyebrows. Ryoko, Scully and Mulder follow the elder's example as Ayeka says, "You have shown respect to Tsunami-megami and may come to the threshold, of the Yomotsu no Kuni (land of shadows)."
Ayeka returns to her position behind Sasami. As they move forward Ayeka's tiara glows briefly and the front door opens without aid. The priest, the uchu kaizoku and the two Americans follow them. The pink-eyed child leads them down the path while the low hum and incense's smoke penetrates their souls, with every breath they take all worries, all doubts and all negativity evaporates from his or her consciousness. Sasami brings the procession to a stop five feet from the lakeshore and turns slowly to her sister. Ayeka places the bowls on the ground to her right as the rest form a line parallel with the shore behind her except for Ryoko. She continues to walk forward until she is next to the ruby-eyed princess. Just as Ayeka realizes she didn't bring a small tripod for the coffin, Ryoko comes into her view with her hands in the same position as Sasami's. Ayeka sees no malice in those amber eyes and gives a nod of gratitude to the ample woman as she takes the wooden object from Sasami's little hands and passes it to the radiant Ryoko.
As Sasami turns to face the lake, Ayeka lifts her arms, her palms face forward and prays in a clear voice, "In reverence and awe we ask Tsunami-megami, the Tree of the Beginning, and all of her offspring to accept my sister's fallen companion and to guide her to Yomotsu no Kuni where she may dwell in peace and happiness. Thus we say reverently these words and perform the sacred dance to gain your aid."
Ayeka reaches under her silk obi to retrieve the soft bag while Sasami's little pink feet take seven steps forward, crosses the right leg behind the left, slowly lifts her arms, positions her right hand parallel with her eyes with her left fingers under her petite chin, lifts her blue-haired head up and closes her dreamy pink eyes. The purple-haired lady unknots the red, green and white string, opens it and reaches in to pull out a light brown flute. Ryoko notes the flute is made of the same material as Tenchiken and Ayeka's tiara with images of tree leaves interlock from the mouthpiece to the bell and eight holes in between.
The slim lady brings the flute to her plain lips as she positions her fingers to match the holes and blows lightly into the mouthpiece. A rich sound comes out of the bell as violet-haired princess' fingers slowly play over the holes as Sasami starts to dance. The little one's feet match the pattern of the notes as she moves parallel to the shoreline but stays in front of the participants as each movement of legs, arms, hands and head forms intricate patterns even through her eyes remain close. As the song progresses Ayeka's fingers increases the tempo with her sister's body in balance with each note until both musician and dancer is lost in the fiery rhythmic beat, unaware of a brilliant bluish-white glow appears from the watery depth and encompass the whole lake. Then Ayeka's tiara blazes into the same bluish-white glow which matches the light from Sasami's key on her forehead and the gentle radiance of the perfect dotes on each of the participant's brows. Even through their bodies remain calmly still Ryoko, Katsuhito, Scully and Mulder feel their souls are no longer within the fleshy prisons but are with Sasami, their spirit feet dance with the nimble girl. Time has no meaning to those at the lake until they see Sasami go to her tip of her right foot and spins with her arms above her head until she stops.
Sasami opens her pink eyes but those youthful eyes contain not the child's innocence but the eternal wisdom of Tsunami. Ayeka continues to play but the music changes to a sad tune of farewell. The body of Sasami walks up to Ryoko, who calmly gives the little coffin to her. When the girl takes the wooden object the youngster speaks but it's a mature voice they hear, "I will guide Sasami-chan's friend on its journey as I will all my children and their bondmates when the time comes." She looks into Ryoko amber eyes and warmly expresses, "Do not blame yourself for the wrongs you have done to my children for you have paid for it even though you were a tool used by another." Then she faces Katsuhito, the two Americans and says, "Priest of the Masaki clan I approval of your family's new friends. The protectorate has been broken, the world polluted by evil creatures and we must help to cleanse it." Sasami's body turns to left, walks to the shoreline and lifts the oblong box above her head. Unseen hands levitate the wooden object from the child's hands and moves it over the lake to its center where the box disintegrates into a glittering mass of colorful fireflies before the mass plunges into the lake of light.
Ayeka ends the song with a sad sigh as the lake returns to its normal state. The others blink to clear their eyes except for Katsuhito, who springs forward to catch a collapsing Sasami before she falls into the lake. The others move forward to comfort the child but Ayeka holds up their hands to stop them and proudly says, "Give her some air. This is the first time for Sasami. She . . . did . . . the . . . sacred . . . dance . . . perfectly." The last words falter from the violet-haired princess' sad lips before she quickly turns away from the others' gaze and runs to the house.
"What happened to Ayeka-san?" asks Ryoko.
"She was trying to say goodbye to Yosho-oneesama," replies Sasami's small voice comes from Katsuhito's protective arms.
The others turn to behold the tire but clear pink eyes of Sasami but Katsuhito detects even more from the child. The elder's mind flashes over the child's dance. He remembers how his Shinto senses see Sasami's aurora grow stronger with each note and step, how the bluish-white glow didn't change when Tsunami enters the girl's body and how even now the texture of Sasami's subsiding aurora was the same as Tsunami's.
"I'm oke jiichan," Sasami tells the priest. "You can put me down."
"You're sure?" asks Katsuhito.
"Hai," reassures the child's as her blue ponytails bounce with her nod. The elder carefully places the child on her bare feet. Her freckled face takes on a serious look as she banishes away her body's fatigue, looks up into their faces and informs them, "We have one more obligation to do. After Wakare Ni Shindeiru, Jurains hold a party to celebrate the memories of our fallen companion and those we have lost before."
"A party! Ne! Ne!" Ryoko eyes light up with Sasami's words.
"I don't see why we can't have a little party," the red-eyed elder comments supportively as he tries to reign in his own inner turmoil.
"Suge gu (Totally awesome)!" shouts the spiky-haired woman as she leaps up into the air, does a lope in the air to bring her body just above the green grass. Her cyan head goes between Sasami's legs as she sweeps the child onto her strong shoulders with two firm hands on each of the little one's legs. The cats-eyed lady takes the child high in the blue sky and does lopes, high-speed banks and tight corkscrews with the child's long blue ponytails streaming behind them while bursts of joyful squeals and whoops of laughter leave the two airborne females' lips.
"What happened?" asks an awestruck Mulder.
"We've just been invited to the Jurain form of an Irish wake," answers the grinning Scully.
"Good," returns Mulder. "I could use a drink. There must've been something in the smoke because I feel really lightheaded."
"Yet blissful at the same time," adds Scully.
"Like you would accept anything with joy," comments Mulder with a silly smile.
"Like a visitation an otherworldly goddess," Scully points out.
"Well, standing here won't help get us to the wake," amusement in Mulder's words.
The Americans walk to the house while the apparently calm priest brings up the rear. 'Is Sasami the bondmate of Tsunami or is she more than that?' Katsuhito thinks silently, his gray brain fills with more questions but he is not sure he wants the answers.
'So the girl child is more than she seems,' thinks the redheaded child within the crystal monolith. 'Obviously, she is the bondmate of Tsunami-megami but the strength of her electromagnetic field tells me it could be something more than that.' Then an idea crosses the ocean of her mind, 'This could explain the changes in Tsunami-megami's personality. By bonding with the child in a special way Tsunami-megami might take on human emotions, human attachments and human needs.' Then a bolt of comprehension strikes her intellect, 'OF COURSE! RYOKO-CHAN'S ATTACK ON JURAI! I felt Tsunami-megami gather her remaining goddess power to remove Ryoko-chan's existence from this dimension but suddenly all that cosmic energy was channeled to some other purpose. When Ryoko-chan entered the Royal Tree Room, Tsunami-megami simply forced her will on my daughter and sent her away with Yosho after her, seeking vengeance. Could this be the answer? Ara . . . I wish I wasn't so BLIND to everything happening around me! If only I had my lab, my instruments to dissect, to analyze and to compute all the possibilities so I could find the correct interpretation. Instead I'm depending on others' sight and intelligence to give me data and conclusions. ME! The GREATEST genius of the universe depended upon lesser minds! If only I had saved Ryoko-chan for she has a flawless mind. But no, I couldn't BELIEVE Kagato-san wasn't PERFECT, Kagato-san couldn't be DEFECTIVE. Because of my EGO I sentenced my poor daughter to 5,000 years in HELL!' More unshed tears fill the little scientist's soul as the ship she is within moves closer to its destination.
Epilogue: We've Only Just Begin
Nagai High School
Tenchi sits on the cement corner with his back against a light pole, his brown eyes close while he remembers Robert's words. He realizes how lucky he is to have something some don't have, a family. A small smile appears on his lips as his mind's eye pictures the two new additions, the eternally cute Sasami and the fiery Ayeka. Then his thoughts touch upon the one person who brings such confusion to him, Ryoko. Tenchi's logical brain tells him he is foolish to take her words at face value since he has only known her for the last few days, according to Ayeka she's an uchu kaizoku. Yet his earliest memories are his adventures at her prison, the cave. He barely recalls the ghostly images of a tall lady at the entrance watching him with his mother. After his mother's death her father, grandfather Katsuhito, takes care of him until his father could do it. When he wasn't training at the shrine or going to school, he would be at the cave. Katsuhito sternly tells him not to go there yet punishes him not for doing it, even when he would camp at the entrance during the weekends. Although he could no longer see the tall lady, his spirit could feel her presence and the sensation of care and love it gave to him. Now he realizes Ryoko could very well be the presence, his ghostly playmate. It would explain why the cyan-haired woman could touch his heart so easily with her passionate words even when she's teasing him. "I just wish she didn't tease me so much because it makes it so hard to tell when she's serious," the brown-eyed youth softly mumbles. "I know I've hurt her already because of my uncertainty but I can't help it. I wouldn't mind if Ryoko was my garufurendo yet I know she wants to be my esu efu (sex friend) but Ryoko is so aggressive she doesn't give me a chance to decide if I'm ready for something like that."
Tenchi's brown eyes open when his ears hear his father's van. He pushes himself up the side of the pole, takes a few steps and opens the door to the shotgun seat. "How was school, musuko?" asks a cheerful Nobuyuki.
"It was fine, otousan, especially at lunchtime," Tenchi answers with the small smile still on his lips.
"So you also heard Kawatta-san broadcast?" inquires the older man.
"Hai, especially the message to Ryoko and Ninjin-chan's partner," the youth adds.
"I think the message was just the first part of an address to our little group," informs Nobuyuki as he holds up a huge envelope when the van halts at a stop sign, then hands it to Tenchi.
"What's inside," asks the black-haired youth as he takes it from his father's tan hand.
"Why don't you open it and find out?" counters the man at the wheel.
Tenchi opens the envelope, looks in to see several sheets of typed paper and an audiocassette. He takes the papers out and sees some are in English while others are in Nihongo. Tenchi reads the Nihongo words first and finds it's a story about the destruction of the middle section of the Seto-ohashi Bridge by Ryoko's and Ayeka's battleships. A quick glance at the English papers shows it to be the same story. Going back to the Nihongo version Tenchi reads the story carefully but when he reaches the middle of the second paragraph he can't stop the laughter from erupting from his lips.
"Read me the English version, musuko," asks Nobuyuki with a grin.
Tenchi groans as his humor dissipates for his father knows his English isn't very good but does it anyway, only stumbling over the occasional word, "The central governments of Nihon and the United States of America would have you believed the destruction of the Seto-ohashi Bridge was caused by experimental military aircraft being tested for both countries' armed forces but this story, no matter how sweet it tastes to us seekers of secrets, are just some fabricated tales to cover the truth. The real truth is alien females are responsible for the early morning devastation.
"Why do these heavenly bodies come to our planet? Simply they seek mates from our male population to revive their depleted genes. How can Earth males be kidnapped without first resisting such evil intent? By wrapping these hideous creatures into such seductive shells that no man with any manhood could resist them. Beauties with cyan hair and amber eyes or with light blue hair and pink eyes is just right the bait for the young bulls this world keeps on producing. Even perverts are not safe from these monsters if his DNA is perfect, they'll make little rose buds to draw them out.
"But you think your government will prevent these space babes from sucking out your bodily fluids, think again. Testosterone heavy young males cause most of the chaos in the world, thus a few thousands less would save our world some major headaches. So those perfect genes carried by the sons of this world are put to a good use while our world leaders get better relations with our galactic neighbors, even if they might be space pirates or spoiled alien royalty out to relieve their monotony.
"What about the loss of the bridge. It can be rebuilt but relationships with these strange beings might not be so easy to maintain if the truth of their schemes is brought to the light of day. Already pledges of wealth rush in from numerous sources to undo the momentary obstacle of this broken toy so the missing school bully or the disappearance of a serial killer or the vanishment of the hunter of cute victims is treated with indifference. Sure these spacey chicks might scoop an innocent shrine keeper's grandson up but our leaders won't lose any sleep over him. For forty-four years our world leaders were very willing to allow ruthless dictators crush supporters of democracy as long as their lips screamed anti-Communists slogans, how many innocent dead are at our feet, how many of their ghosts seek justice.
"So guys the next time you go on a date look closely at that heavenly beauty hanging on your arm, are those eyes really brown or are their amber, is the hair really black or is it blue and are those fangs you see barely hidden by her full red lips. Lips so perfectly alluring, breasts so firm and round, and long legs and arms so willing to embrace you and never let you go."
When Tenchi finishes, cold anger replaces the story's humor in his mind. He looks at his father and snaps, "He makes the girls sound like MONSTERS!"
"Hai, he does, musuko," Nobuyuki coolly replies. "But what is missing from the story?"
It takes seconds for Tenchi to shout an answer, "He keeps the story vague!"
"Correct," his smiling father adds. "No names for people to search for, no details to guide them down to our door and the only information he gave were designed to be recognized by those already involved in our little drama."
"But why write it this way?" puzzles the youth. "I thought such people like him were only interested in exposing the existence of extraterriestials here on Earth."
"Kawatta-san's reasons are hidden from me too," Nobuyuki wonders. "Maybe we should ask a kitsune to figure out another kitsune."
"Well, how will the wakai josei (young women) react to this story?" ponders Tenchi.
"Sasami-chan will shyly giggle but Ryoko-san might like the idea of getting some bitamin esu (vitamin S) from you," amusement in his father's voice as Tenchi's eyes go wide.
3:46 p.m. Masaki Residence
The happy sound of Louie Armstrong's horn plays in the background as cheerful voices touch every corner of the living room. Katsuhito refills the others' red ceramic cups with sake, then refills Sasami's ornate glass with orange juice. The elder sits in the brown overstuff chair opposite the sofa with a small Western table between them. A grinning Ryoko sits on the far right of the sofa with a happy Sasami next to her, the little one in a child's green-light blue stripped kimono. Scully is on the other side of the little princess with Mulder at the other end. The priest notes the depiction on the glass as he hands it to the little princess and asks, "That is an unusual design on your glass, Akaruime. Is there something special about it?"
"This was given to me by Funaho-okachan," answers the pink-eyed child as she shows the transparent glass to the others. "It's my Seijingi gift from her."
"Seijingi?" the sake's effect brings pleasure to Ryoko question while she takes her cup from the elder.
"It's a wonderful ceremony!" her words reflex the excitement in her freckled face. "When I was five, I got to dress up like my okachans and we visited their Tree, Nijumi-Ki! I walked up to Nijumi-Ki by myself, bowed to hers and greeted them!"
"Them?" Scully words barely show the effects of the sake.
"Hai," nods the little one and continues, "Nijumi-Ki is a twin Tree, two Trees from the same roots, which bonded with both of my okachans."
"What else happened during the ceremony?" Scully asks as the implications of what Sasami just told them sinks in.
"I was bathed in rainbow light from Nijumi-Ki's leaves," Katsuhito senses a mischievous tone in Sasami's words. "I could hear her kind voice within me, calling me a worthy oujosama."
"Is there a reason for the ceremony?" the sake makes light Mulder's words, Katsuhito is acting as translator for Mulder during the conversations between him and the others.
"This is the way bondmates are found for the Trees. When the rainbow lights touch the kochan, her ki is revealed to Tsunami-megami. In ancient times if a kochan was found unworthy, she was cast out from its family in shame but Tsunami-megami stopped that a long time ago. If a kochan wants to serve Jurai when she grows up, she can become a Kishi Jurai (Knight of Jurai)."
"How old is Juraijin's culture?" Scully carefully asks.
"My tutors say 30,000 years old," replies the smiling child. "This includes the Time of Legends."
"Time of Legends?" Katsuhito notes an echo in Ryoko's voice.
"Hai, it is a time of heroes, monsters and Tsunami-megami walked amongst her Trees and Jurains," her voice takes on a more serious tone.
Ryoko looks closely at the glass and says, "It shows a woman standing over a sleeping man, with a katana in her hands, trying to defend him against a huge monster."
"The cup depicts the meeting between Masaki Washi and Horosha, Saishono Kishi Jurai."
"Funaho-sama knew the story was important to you," a gentle tone to Scully's voice. "Why don't you tell us about it, Sasami-chan?"
"Oke," a grin on her pink face. The little princess straightens up then starts to speak in a storyteller's voice, "A long time ago Tsunami-megami summoned a man from beyond Jurai, his name was Horosha. Tsunami-megami asked him to help her teach the people of Jurai how to use the world she created for them and the Trees. Horosha-sama agreed to help but only if he was allowed to stay on Jurai afterwards, to have a family and live out his life in peace. Tsunami-megami said yes.
"The first thing Horosha-sama did for Tsunami-megami was to find people to be bondmates for her Trees for she wanted to an unbreakable tie between the Juraijin and her Trees. Horosha-sama went about the land as a wandering ongakukashu (musician-singer), helping the people to learn about the proper way to use the gifts Tsunami-megami gave them. He showed how to heal the sick with the world's herbs, how to find water where none could be seen and how to find the hidden talents even the cripple have. At each town, village or hovel he sought out youths whose ki could make them bondmates for the Trees. Horosha would tell them of how much Tsunami-megami needed their help to create friendship between the two races of Jurai. With each journey he would bring back young men and women whom gave up their old lives to bond with the Space Trees and start new lives. To show their gratitude for giving them this chance the youths titled Horosha, Saishono Kishi Jurai.
"At a village by a glassy lake a peasant girl named Washi watched Horosha breath life back into a drowned boy. That night she listened to his song of celebration but within the words she could hear great loneliness in his kokoro (heart)." Sasami words continue as her mind sees what Tsunami remembers, "Days later Washi saw the dark-skinned Horosha come out of the village leader's home, his wood-framed backpack on his shoulders and a quiet smile on his plain lips.?
"Must you go, Kishi-tono?" asks the village elder as he follows the blond-haired man out the doorway.
"I serve Tsunami-megami and please call me Horosha-san," his words match the uneven smile on his lips. "I'm just an ongakukashu who communicates the kind words and knowledge of Tsunami-megami to the Juraijin."
"Will we see you again, Horosha-sama?" asks the elder's son as he looks into the older man's gray eyes.
"Maybe, if Tsunami-megami wills it or chance brings my feet here," the tall man answers while he gives the other two a short bow which the others return before he turns around to his right and walks up the gravel path. As Horosha passes by Washi, he gives the blue-haired girl a polite smile but again she sees the sad forlorn look in his face.
While Washi watches Horosha, as his steady pace carries him into the mountain forest above the village, she hears not her brother come up behind her and say, "He does not offer you a better life, Washi-chan."
His words burn into Washi's soul and she turns to say to him, "This one is better, Taka-niichan? To plant rice until my back breaks like our father's did, to die in childbirth like our mother did and to marry someone I don't love like you did."
"And what does he offer you, imoto?" Taka's words fill with worry.
"A life where I can stand straight, where I can see the world beyond this village and where I can take the hand of the man I want," the young woman passionately replies.
Taka sees the burning fire in his sister's eyes and carefully remarks, "I saw the way you hover around Horosha-sama during his stay in our home. How you personally served him his meal at our chabudai, poured his sake for him and was always the first to laugh at his jokes but are you sure he wants you?"
"I don't know," Washi says in a small voice. "I never asked him."
"But you are determined to find out?" his tender smile on chapped lips.
"Hai," Washi tries to put all her resolve into that one word.
Taka places his right hand on her right shoulder and he says, "You will find a cache of food and water by the white stump we played on as children."
"Arigato, Taka-niichan," the young woman says.
"Just promise to come back if you don't gain the place you want," an urgent tone in his words matches the one in his heart.
"I erect a vow to you, Taka-niichan," Washi promises, she gives her brother a short bow before she turns around to head for the stump.
Washi disappears behind a hut before her father joins his son to watch her leave. Taka asks, "Otousan, did we do the right thing?"
"Musuko, you saw the way Horosha-sama acted since living in our village these past weeks," admonishes the elder. "Whenever Washi-chan stood next to him he was as still as the lake, whenever she talked to him his replies were like those of a drunk and whenever he asked about her his words would come out like an avalanche. Washi-chan held his kokoro in her little hands but didn't know it. They are two parts waiting to be joined."
Washi follows Horosha from a distance to make sure he didn't see her. In the past two days she hides in overhanging tree limbs and thick bushes to keep her presence a secret. When he is by himself she found him a man of simple habits. He catches fishes, fowls and animals enough to sustain him and adds the fruits of tree and bush to keep him healthy. He walks with purpose but always stops to enjoy a beautiful landscape or laugh at nature's clowns. The more Washi watches Horosha, the more she wants him yet her brother's words keep her at bay, "what if he doesn't want you." In a deep forest Horosha takes an afternoon nap in a clearing next to the trail, he places his sword within easy reach of his right hand. Washi guards him from her hiding place in a tree above his head. Her eyelids almost close over her red eyes when a hissing noise alerts her. Washi looks up to see a huge dragon appear in the sky above the sleeper.
The hot sun reflects off the creature's bronze scales as it twists above the slumbering man. She sees the lust of death in the monster's yellow eyes but fear freezes her voice yet not her body. Washi jumps from the tree to land beside the man and picks up the blade. In an overhead swing she cleaves the beast's heart in two but in its death throes the dragon's clawed hand strikes its killer.
The beast's death roar awakens Horosha who runs to his savor but what he finds fills him with fear. Washi's left face and shoulder has gashes running down them left to right with the ground red with her blood. Horosha distressfully shouts as he gathers her in his arms, "Washi!"
Her dazed ruby eyes open to his words and answers, "Don't worry itoshii (beloved), you won't be alone ever again."
"Was my attraction to you that obvious to you?" surprise in his words.
"Mo," her words choke on the blood in her lungs. "It was . . . your cry . . . of despair . . . I just heard . . . which told me . . . your feelings."
"Then let me heal you with my heart," Horosha tells her as he places his right hand on her blooded face. Horosha closes his gray eyes and prays, "Tsunami-megami, give me the knowledge so I may heal my koibito's wounds that she received in saving your unworthy partner's life." As those last words leave his trembled lips warmth radiates from his fingertips, spreads across her face, into her shoulder and deep within her. A presence suppresses the agony of her wounds and says to her, "I give to you, Masaki Washi, my blessing for helping my ally."
"For the next several days, Horosha-sama tended Washi so the healing of her ki equals her body," Sasami words matches the care in her pink eyes. "Until her strength returned he would use his backpack to carry her, when she needed to eat he would feed her like a baby and when she needed to drink he would tenderly lift her head to his waterbag. No burden was she to bear for her happiness blended with his harmony, which can be found in their children. The end."
"A beautiful story, Sasami-chan," Tenchi's compliment startles the pink-eyed girl as she realizes both Nobuyuki and the youth are there, the smiling boy sits next to Mulder while his father slides in next to Ryoko, the cyan-haired woman gives the older man an amused look.
"So they lived happily ever after," states the young man. The little one only sighs. The redhead senses a shade of sadness in the child's face but its Katsuhito's mind that is in greater agitation. While he translates Sasami's words for Mulder's benefit, he barely keeps the surprise from his own voice for the story, she tells them, is not the same most Jurains know. In that tale Washi kills the dragon without suffering any injuries and claims Horosha as her husband in return for saving his life. The blue-haired child's narrative agrees with those knowledgeable in the Secrets of Jurai. Like Katsuhito they know about a secret door in the Hall of Trees. The door takes you to a room with various items in glass cases and a plain wood table near the far wall where incense sticks burn in a wide holder. A huge picture of a dark-skinned man and a blue-haired woman, a woman with a scar running from her left ear to her little chin, covers the far wall. 'Sasami is too young to be an initiate in the Secrets of Jurai,' Yosho tries to organize his brain. 'So how does she know the truth about Horosha and Washi?'
"Jiichan is something wrong?" concern in Tenchi's words.
"Ara . . . just engraving something on my heart," Katsuhito replies as he becomes aware of everyone staring at him. "What were you saying, Tenchi?"
"We were asking Ninjin-chan and Mulder-san their opinion about the article left in otousan's van," informs Tenchi in halting English.
"You're a trained profiler, Mulder," remarks Scully. "What do you make of these writings?"
"The Three Kings are the only ones I know really well amongst the Lone Gunmen," Mulder thoughtfully answers. "They survive by keeping knowledge about each other crouched in code names and e-mail, very little face-to-face contact. Nobuyuki how long has MacClean been a DJ in Japan?"
"He's been a DJ in Nihon for the past twenty years, mostly at WHOSHI," Nobuyuki answers slowly as he tries not to stubble over the English words.
"What did Kitsune-san say?" confusion in Sasami's words as she holds the Nihongo version of the article.
"I'll translate for you, Akaruime," offers Katsuhito.
"Arigato," Sasami accepts the offer.
"Do you know anything personal about him?" probes Mulder.
"Just what the radio station gave out," adds the brown-suited man. "Most listeners have nicknamed him Kawatta-san, Mr. Weird, because of his noontime program, the stunts he's pulled around town and for living in a boardinghouse for manga artists."
"Manga?" wonders Mulder.
"Nihon comic books," informs Scully.
"Oh. Anyway, So he's a man who doesn't hide in the crowd," comments Mulder.
"The tall nail that gets hammered down," calmly adds Katsuhito.
"Which could be a smokescreen to cover his true self, the Single Bullet," Mulder politely retorts. "This paper suggests he's covering all his bases. It not designed to convince nonbelievers but to inform believers yet keep the men in the black suits from knocking on his door late at night."
"The kidnapping angle," Ryoko?s amber eyes have a knowing look to match her words.
"Common alien conspiracy jargon," Mulder tells them.
"I don't know about that, Mulder," counters Ryoko as she fades from Sasami's side to appear sideways on Tenchi's lap, her soft hands caress his face and hair while her words shift from English to Nihongo, "I would kidnap Tenchi for his rabujusu (love juice)."
"So that's what the word means in the article!" says Sasami while the rest nervously laugh.
"Ryoko-dono, remember we have a kochan with us," admonishes the elder while he tries to hide his own smile with his left hand.
"Hai, guji," her shameful tone made false by the lustful gleam her cat eyes gives the youth.
Although he didn't understand the words, Mulder observes the youth's tenseness with the heavenly body press against him but also notes Tenchi has made no effort to push Ryoko away. The green-eyed man decides to distract the uchu kaizoku when he asks, "Hakubi, you got real close to MacClean. What was he like?"
"He has a smart mouth but his body is hot," answers Ryoko as she leans toward Mulder, her breasts rub across the boy's chest as her words shift again from English to Nihongo. "The way he acted I thought he was a puny thing but he has steel cables for muscles and a nice pair of hojus (precious gems) but I'll take Tenchi's kawaii ketsu (ass) any day."
"Ryoko-san!" a stern tone comes from Scully's lips as she covers Sasami ears.
"Oi . . . what did Ryoko-neechan mean?" asks a confused Sasami.
"I'll tell you when you're older," confides the redhead to the pink-eyed wonder.
"Kuso (shit), I'm missing all the juicy parts," pouts the blue-haired girl as everyone's jaws go slack and Ryoko lets out a short laugh. Only Mulder wonders about the child's comment.
Tenchi is the first to recover and says to the lady in his lap, "I think you're having a bad influence on Sasami-chan."
"Is she the only one, my anata?" asks Ryoko in a false whisper as her nose nuzzles his right earlobe.
Sweat beads break out on Tenchi's forehead while words tumble from his pale lips, "Please . . . Ryoko." Mulder pale green eyes look into Tenchi's shining face and couldn't tell if the black-haired youth pleads for the passionate lady to stop or to fulfill.
"If you ever want me, Tenchi, just give me a whistle, like this," her words come from a sake flush face as she brings it close to his, a sliver of air between their mouths as Ryoko blows lightly over Tenchi's lips. Scully could see within Ryoko's amber eyes a desperate hunger to make complete her love for Tenchi. "Just whistle," Ryoko says again those two words as she spins up off his lap to hover just above his head, the skirt of her dress billows out to show only the youth all that could be his. Nobuyuki could also see the same desire in Ryoko's face as did Scully but he senses a resolve there too, a resolve not to seduce his son but to offer her love to him.
With Ryoko off his lap Tenchi feels a new pressure coming from his crotch. Scully eyes go wide and she speedily shifts her hands from Sasami's little ears to the child's big pink eyes as the young man's body answers the spirit caller's summon.
"Kya, what did I miss this time," annoyance in Sasami's words.
"At least he's not dead from the waist down," comments Mulder with a devilish grin. Was that a trickle of blood from Tenchi's nose the brown-haired American sees?
"I'm . . . off to the benjo," Tenchi words come over his shoulder as he jumps up from the sofa and makes a fast exit to the hallway's benjo, his ears could hear Ryoko say, "Oi . . . I wanted to put your dekachin (large sex organ) to bed."
"Ryoko-neechan!" the words match the pink blaze that comes from Sasami's eyes as the redhead uncovers them. "You don't need to slangy talk! I'm not a nyuji (baby) ne!"
"Of course you're not an akachan, Sasami-chan," Sasami's eyes narrow when Ryoko uses the affectionate word for baby.
"Maybe I shouldn't cook dinner tonight," Sasami's puts teeth into her words.
Ryoko drops from the air as if the blue-haired girl's words shot her down. Her body passes through the table to land at the little one's feet where her hands take hold of the girl's dainty ankles. "Please forgive such as me for I'm an akurei in heaven," whimper words come from underneath a mass of cyan hair covering the child's feet.
Fearful her words are too sharp Sasami leans forward and embraces the cyan-haired head in her petite arms and cries, "Ryoko-neechan! I didn't mean it!"
"Honto ni wa (Truly)?" a muffle question raises from the downturned head.
"Hai!" Sasami puts all her heart into the word.
"Gu," asserts Ryoko as her head comes up to peer into those pink pools, a grin on the lady's face.
"Jodan ja nai wa yo (It's not funny)!" pouts Sasami with her arms across her chest but laughter in her eyes.
"Ara . . . " utters Ryoko as her smile grows to Cheshire Cat's size.
A burst of giggles erupts from the little one's lips as her small hands embrace Ryoko's neck as she softly whispers, "Neechan."
"Imoto," returns Ryoko to the little princess while happy grins appear on the others' faces.
When Sasami pulls back, she says, "I better get dinner ready, everyone must be hungry."
"Are you sure, Sasami-chan? You've had a long day?" concern in Nobuyuki's words as Ryoko floats cross-legged up into the air just above the table.
"Just watch me burn rubber," replies Sasami as she springs from the sofa and skips to the kitchen door, her blue ponytails dance behind her.
"I think I've created a oni," comments Nobuyuki as he changes from Nihongo to English in mid-sentence while the others stare at the swinging kitchen door. "I let her have my Walkman and now she speaks Nihongo-Amerika slang."
"Speaking of things American," states Mulder. "I wonder what's on the tape?"
"There's only one way to find out," Nobuyuki answers as he gets up, takes the tape to the stereo, turns on the power, pops the tape in and hits the play button. The words are Nihongo but the music instantly tells Mulder what those words mean:
What do you think if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song,
And I try not to sing out of key.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends.
Oh I get high with a little help from my friends.
Oh I gonna to try a little help from my friends.
What do you feel when your love is away?
Are you sad because alone?
What do you feel at the end of the day?
Are you sad to be on your own?
No, I get by with a little help from my friends.
Oh I get high with a little help from my friends.
Oh I gonna to try a little help from my friends.
Do you need anybody?
I need somebody to love.
Could it be anybody?
I need somebody to love.
Do you believe in love at first sight?
Yes, I'm certain it happens all the time.
What do you see when you turn out the lights?
I don't know but I know its mine.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends.
Oh I get high with a little help from my friends.
Oh I gonna to try a little help from my friends.
Do you need anybody?
I need somebody to love.
Could it be anybody?
I need somebody to love.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends.
Oh I get high with a little help from my friends
Oh I gonna to try a little help from my friends.
A little help, a little help from my f..r..i..e..n..d..s.
While the music plays, Ryoko starts to weave with the tune, her soul lost in song. Tenchi walks in to see her dancing on air and a pleasant smile light up his tan face. Scully emerald eyes catch the youth at the hallway doorway and the look she sees on his face tells her how much the youth likes this side of Ryoko, a free spirit full of innocence. Then the redhead notes a cloud falls upon those happy features but the young man shakes his head to dispel those negative feelings and the smile returns.
When the song ends, Ryoko lands on in the middle of the room and asks, "Is there more of that wonderful music. It makes me feel like I'm free amongst the stars."
"I noticed the tape is 120 minutes long, Ryoko-san," informs Nobuyuki as he sits next to Scully.
"Although I would recommend you changing your dress, Ryoko-dono," lightly adds Katsuhito as Tenchi comes to stand on the right side of the sofa.
"Kya . . . " utters Ryoko in shock, impulsively her right hand goes to her lips. Ryoko snaps her fingers on her left hand which causes her clothes to transform into her low-cut red-black-white seducer dress with red spandex pants. "Was my equipment alright?" Ryoko asks in English, her brazen words try to hide the scarlet on her cheeks.
"Your beaver is fine," Mulder's answer causes Ryoko's blush to deepen, chuckles from Nobuyuki and frowns of annoyance from the others except Tenchi. Because he didn't understand the meaning of the English slang, his mind locks on the fact of this being the first time he has ever seen Ryoko embarrass about anything. Again Tenchi thinks, 'Which is the real Ryoko, the one full of bravo and grit or the one full of innocence and vulnerability. Could it be both?'
"This is Kawatta-san here to give you a little party music to welcome all to this little blue marble," a voice comes from the stereo and attracts the attention of all in the room. "That Beatles' classic was sung by that ageless aidoru (idol singer), Yokoyama Chisa. The next one is dedicated to the girl with Bette Davis' Eyes. This is Orikasa Ai's rendition of the Rolling Stone's 'Ruby Tuesday'."
Suddenly a hand on his ass shoves Tenchi forward and the young man stumbles to within a few feet from Ryoko. This draws Ryoko's attention away from the music box and she asks him, "Nani wa (What)?"
Tenchi shoots a puzzled look at his grinning father, then returns his attention to the cyan-haired lady. He sees the mix of curiosity and anticipation in Ryoko's cat eyes. The youth quickly realizes giving the uchu kaizoku the wrong answer would again hurt her feelings. Then his mind finds the answer in the music his ears hear. He looks into the beautiful pink face and asks, "Ryoko . . . would . . . you . . . eh . . . dance with me?"
"Hai," surprise makes Ryoko's words soft as the amber-eyed lady dreamily walks to the youth. Tenchi tenderly takes hold of Ryoko left hand with his right and shows Ryoko where to place her right hand on his waist while his own left hand comes to rest on her firm body. Ryoko submissively allows Tenchi to lead as both slowly move to the song's rhythm. As the couple dances the outside world seems no longer to exist for them as their amber and brown eyes look into each other's windows to the soul.
Katsuhito watches the slow dance with approval in his heart. 'Ryoko will be at Tenchi's side no matter where the youth must go to complete his destiny,' the priest thinks but then his thought changes to worry. 'But what about Ayeka. What is her destiny? Will she also be next to Tenchi or is her path different from his?'
Mulder turns his attention from the two dancers to those sitting next to him. He remembers Nobuyuki didn't try to sneak a peak under Ryoko's skirt during her dance on the sun's sitting rays and now his pale green eyes could see a bare molecule of air separates Nobuyuki's left hand and Scully's right hand. 'Well, it looks like Scully will find her happiness here,' Mulder thinks. 'But maybe they need a little help.' As the agent's gaze moves away from this couple it meets Katsuhito's red eyes. The elder gives a knowing nod to the agent which Mulder returns. Mulder leans so his mouth is next to Scully's ear and he whispers, "Don't you want to ask your childhood friend to dance."
Scully green gaze lock on her partner's face and Mulder sees fear and gratitude in them. The redhead turns to face Nobuyuki and asks, "Inkushimi, do you remember the last time we'd danced."
A warm smile touches his lips at the mention of his nickname and replies, "Hai, it was your ninth birthday. You had to stand on my feet so I wouldn't step on them."
"Would you like to try it again?" hope mixes with the other emotions in her heart.
Nobuyuki's eyes light up and he replies, "I'd be honor to." The older version of his son stands up and offers his left tan hand to her. In almost the same dreamy state as Ryoko, Scully takes it with her right pink hand. Both walk to a clear spot on the floor and make sure to give the other dancers enough space. As the two older couple starts to dance the music switches seamlessly to the same singer giving her version of 'Nights in White Satin.'
Ryoko notices Tenchi brown eyes catch a movement and looks in same direction. She sees the other two dancers and the unsuppressed joy in their faces. The slim lady turns her eyes back to Tenchi and sees gladness in his face. "You're happy he found someone to replace your okasama?" she asks.
"Not replace, Ryoko, but to join her," informs Tenchi with deep understanding in those brown eyes. "No one can replace my okasan in his heart but I want his memories of her to be ones of fondness not pain. I hope his new love will dim his memory of her death."
As each song comes to an end a new one begins without pause. Soon Mulder starts to see a pattern, the music's rhythm is for slow dance while the Nihongo words, which the American understands because of the tune, are about friendship, love, hope and truth. The brown-haired agent turns his attention to Katsuhito and says in a low voice, "I think someone is sending us a message."
"Indeed," the elder agrees in English, also keeping his voice down so not to disturb the magic the music has on the other occupants of the room. "But there's something puzzling me. What does Kawatta-san look like?"
"A young man with blond hair, steel gray eyes and in his late twenties," as the words leave his lips Murder's eyes goes wide. "But according to Nobuyuki he's been working in Japan for the last twenty years."
"Furthermore, his words in the article reflexes an old soul," adds the priest. "One full of righteous anger and determination who will use any method his own code of honor will allow him."
"I think I'll call the Three Kings tomorrow to find out more about him," curiosity in Mulder's words but this feeling makes him wonder about other things. "So how long has the Jurai Holding Company existed?"
"I formed the company during the occupation of Nihon by the victors," Katsuhito calmly replies. "I used the shrine's treasury and the family's heirlooms to create a company to help rebuild my country. The original investment was in buying American liberty ships to transport goods to this country. Mostly by luck the company is now a minority stockholder in several high-tech businesses here and in your home country."
"So why I'm-a-simple-priest demeanor?" a playful tone in Mulder's voice.
"I've not participated in the day-to-day operation of the company since my daughter's death," Mulder senses the pain in Katsuhito's voice. "What I did two days ago was my first order to the company in twelve years."
Revelation hits Mulder between the eyes and he asks, "You feel responsible for your daughter's death. Why?"
Frown graces Katsuhito's lips as he realizes his mistake, then shakes his head and answers, "I might as well show the legs of my horse. You saw Tenchi use an ornate weapon in your battle with the OIK, Correct?"
"Yes, it produced a bluish-white rod of light that sliced through metal like butter," informs Mulder as he leans forward to catch every word from the priest.
"The weapon is one of several abilities he will inherit from our ancestor, Yosho-sama," Katsuhito continues. "From everything I've been able to figure out these powers are genetic in origin. When the right time comes his full capabilities will manifest themselves."
"But something happened when your daughter's powers crystallized," guesses Mulder.
"I rushed her. I believed her fate would come before she was ready," grief creeps in the red-eyed man's voice. "I was right but in activating her powers early it caused her to die while she was still young."
"Did it have to happen like that?" wonders Mulder.
"Over the past eighteen years I've looked at the events surrounding those days and I realized the mistake I made because I didn't trust Tsunami-megami or the true nature of others," harsh words come from the priest's lips. "I wanted to control everyone and everything. In the end I lost my most precious treasure."
"You still try to influence things around you," states the American.
"I've helped raise Tenchi, trained him to be a good grandson," counters Katsuhito. "I've only interfered when necessary, mostly as the family's conscious."
While the two couples move in they own worlds and the two men converse with each other, Sasami's small hands create the masterpieces for tonight's dinner as her feet keeps time with the music's beat. Like Mulder she catches the hints MacClean drops in the song selections and the lyrics cause her love for the freedom this culture gives her to grow. As always she could sense Tsunami's gentle presence just on the edge of her own being, trying not to intrude on the little one's happiness. As she finishes the last touches on tonight's dessert, the girl closes her pink eyes and says soundlessly, 'Tsunami-megami, what does you think about Kawatta-san. Another friend?'
The key on Sasami's forehead glows as Tsunami moves into contact with the child's spirit and says cautiously, 'It's possible but he could be very tricky. We don't know that much about him except for the article and the music.'
'Did Kitsune-san say anything important about him while I was cooking?' Sasami thinks to the goddess.
'They both wonder why he seems older than he looks,' replies Tsunami.
'Like me?' surprise in Sasami's mind.
'Hai, in a certain way but I can't be sure,' answers the goddess. 'My powers are restricted to Jurai, my Trees, the Jurains and those of Jurain descent,' Sasami feels fear enter the goddess's being. 'If I were to use my abilities outside my zone of influence, we could lose all that we hold dear to us.'
'I understand, Tsunami-megami,' Sasami replies. Over the past seven hundred years her relationship with the goddess keeps changing. At first her awe of Tsunami restrains the little princess from going beyond master-assistant relationship but then she senses loneliness in the Tsunami's being, she had the Trees to talk to and the people of Jurai to listen to yet has no one she could call a friend. Sasami knows Tsunami once had a friend and a family but later that friend turns into an enemy and the family breaks apart over an argument.
It's then Sasami starts to talk to Tsunami. At first the goddess doesn't respond but Sasami keeps it up. Then one clear morning within the imperial Tree, Sasami accidentally cuts her hand badly with a pruning knife, secretively practicing her cooking skills. Before she knows it, Tsunami is kneeling beside the tearful child and says, "There, there Sasami-chan. I'll make it all better." The wound sparkles with a bluish-white light then vanish. The child reaches out to embrace the goddess but her little arms passes through the image. The goddess smiles at the child's attempt and she gently tells the four-year-old child, ?I will appear to you in your dreams where we can embrace and have fun. If you need my help or want a friend to talk to just to call my name, I'm always there at your side.?
During the cold sleeps of space travel while Sasami is with Ayeka in her search for Yosho, Sasami converses and play games with Tsunami and notes changes in the goddess. The image Tsunami uses become like an adult form of the child's body and the goddess' personality, even her giggles, reflect the little one's spirit. Sasami knows this must mean something but she can't figure it out. 'Am I not just a copy of the real Sasami, a creation of Tsunami-megami?' the little one thinks. 'But if this is true then why can I effect her?'
'Sasami-chan, are you going to give Kitsune-san the gift you mentioned to me,' amusement in Tsunami's words.
'Yip,' a mischievous smile on the child's little lips. Sasami walks to the living room entrance, opens the door during a break between songs and says, "Everyone, yushoku (dinner) is ready."
"What did she say?" asks Mulder.
"She said dinner is ready," replies Katsuhito as he stands.
"More sushi," Mulder groans.
Katsuhito hits the stop button on the stereo. The magical hold the music has on the two couples ends but it aftereffects continue. Tenchi and Ryoko continue to hold hands as they stare at each other, the youth sees the naked desire in those amber pools while the lady sees uncertainty in his brown eyes. It is Tenchi who blushes as he breaks eye contact with Ryoko and says, "Let's eat."
In another part of the room Scully and Nobuyuki also stare at each other as each tries to put into words the emotions they are feeling. Scully is the first one to talk, "You dance very well, Inkushimi."
"As does you, Ninjin-chan," replies Nobuyuki. Both struggles to go beyond these simple words but neither one can call up the courage to say those hard but simple three words. Instead Nobuyuki utters, "Let's eat."
Tenchi and Nobuyuki help Sasami bring in the meal to the chabudai where Katsuhito takes up his normal position at the head of the table. To his right kneels Nobuyuki and Scully, each almost touching the other, while to his left kneels Tenchi and Ryoko also close together. At the end of the table Mulder sits cross-legged while Sasami looks shyly at him, places a hand to her lips and giggles.
"I'm sorry but the last time I tried that kind of sitting, my legs turned into jelly," Mulder apologizes.
"It's alright," informs Katsuhito in English. "Most of our own youth can't either, the introduction of Western furniture has spoiled them." Ryoko quickly translates Mulder and Katsuhito words for Sasami when she notices the annoyance on the little one's freckled face.
Sasami's annoyance gives way to happiness as she says, "For our new friends, especially the one who thinks all food of this land is raw fish, I've prepared something special." The blue-haired child points at each entree and informs them, "We will start with sake-seasoned clear soup, then seitan bourgignonne, follow by cranberry sauce kanten, pumpkin flowers and parboiled green salad. Lastly the dessert will be amazake creme puff."
Mulder couldn't understand any of the girl's words but her gestures and the others' reactions tell him the pink-eyed wonder is presenting them an excellent meal. As he eats the pleasurable flavor of each food tickles his tongue, especially the beefy taste of the seitan bourgignonne. It was only when Sasami sees the touch of sadness on Ryoko's face while the cyan-haired lady eats does a cloud descend on her spirit and she asks, "What's wrong, Ryoko-neechan. Don't you like it?"
Ryoko turns her face to the confused child and says kindly, "Ara . . . It's fine, Sasami-chan."
"Mo, uso tsuku, Ryoko-neechan (No, you're fibbing, Big Sister Ryoko)!" accuses the stern child.
"Why do you say that, Sasami-chan?" asks Scully.
"I've watched Ryoko-neechan at our meals," replies the hurt child. "Her expression doesn't change while she samples different foods and only complements my cooking after the others have."
"Gomen nasai, Sasami-chan. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," the cyan-haired woman apologizes.
"Then why did you lie, Ryoko?" Tenchi sympathizes.
"I . . . I just want to be accepted as a . . . human being," a touch of anguish in Ryoko's words. "Not feared as an uchu kaizoku."
"But Ryoko-neechan why fib about my cooking," probes the girl.
"It's not that I like or dislike I just can't tell the difference," Ryoko confesses.
"Why?" wonders Sasami.
"You have to remember that I'm not a normal humanoid," her voice takes on a painful tone. "For seven hundred years I was imprisoned for being an uchu kaizoku. During that time my senses deteriorated until my mind became foamless but then the day came when Funaho-Ki allowed my astral body to venture out into the world surrounding my cave. For seventeen years all my senses learned how to function again except one. I could see colors, smell the yellow flowers, hear speckled birds sing, feel the gentle breeze but I couldn't taste any of them." The cyan-haired lady sees Sasami's lower lip tremble with emotion, so she softens her voice, "It wasn't your fault, imoto." This only makes the little princess eyes glisten with tears. Ryoko looks at the others and sees the same concern in their faces as her own except Mulder whose own face fills with curiosity as Scully translates the words for him. Each knows, from their own experiences, how much other people's pain could upset the child. Quickly Ryoko continues, "I brought this upon myself and I paid for my crimes but cheer up, Sasami-chan. I'm free with a chance to make a new life for myself."
Sasami tries to pull back the tears when a white handkerchief appears before her watery eyes. She looks into Mulder's pale green eyes, sees a mirror of her own pain in his eyes and notes it is his callus hand that offers her the square cloth. She takes it from him and says while drying her eyes, "Domo arigato."
"She thanks you, Mulder, as do I," Ryoko replies to Mulder's questioning looks.
After a few minutes of quiet eating Scully asks, "Sasami-chan, I was wondering about the ritual you and Ayeka preformed this afternoon. Is it normal for the young to take part in it?"
Sasami's freckled face blooms in eagerness as she answers, "Hai, the children of each clan are trained from an early age to perform the sacred songs and dances used to please Tsunami-megami at the time of birth, death and rebirth. Ayeka-oneesama has done the ritual before but this was my first time."
"If I'm any judge of skill, you were wonderful," compliments Ryoko.
"As did you, Ryoko-neechan," Sasami returns the praise. "But I didn't know you knew our ways so well?"
"Oi . . . I don't, Sasami-chan," stutters Ryoko.
"Then how did you know about Ayeka-oneesama's mistake?" asks the little one.
"I just knew," confusion in Ryoko's voice. "This happened before with Ayeka-san," a share look of knowing exists between Ryoko, Katsuhito and Sasami. "It was like my mind had access to the necessary knowledge for me to reach my goal."
"Did we miss something?" asks a slightly perplexed Tenchi as Scully translates for Mulder the words of Ryoko, Sasami and Tenchi.
"Or just a visit from a goddess," lightly answers Mulder. Tenchi eyes go wide while Nobuyuki chokes on his tea.
Sasami shoots a hot glare at the grinning Mulder and thinks, 'just wait until I give you my gift.'
"I brought the body of Sasami-chan's petto to her this morning," annoyance in Scully's voice at Mulder's statement. "She and Ayeka-sama performed a ritual of goodbye for it, isn't that correct Sasami-chan?"
"Hai, Ninjin-chan," responds the blue-haired girl.
"So Ayeka-san is better?" hope in Tenchi's tone.
"Mo, Ayeka-sama lost it after the ceremony," Scully sadly shakes her head. "Her sorrow has torn asunder her intestines."
Scully's words hit Tenchi's spirit and make him wonder what could be done to lighten Ayeka's heart. Then an idea forms in his mind. After dinner Nobuyuki turns the music back on and hears MacClean say, "Hello again to our guests from out-of-town. Here's a number made famous by Judy Collins. This is Kobayashi Yuko's rendition of 'Suzanne'."
Tenchi carries the dirty dishes into the kitchen for Sasami where he sees the tray of food for Ayeka. "Sasami-chan, can I take the food up to Ayeka-san?"
"Oke," mischief in Sasami's face.
Tenchi uses the backstairs from Nobuyuki's library so no one would notice his journey. When the brown-eyed youth reaches the third floor, he first enters his own room and retrieves Tenchiken. At the princess' door he knocks lightly.
"Hai?" cautiously asks Ayeka.
"It's me, Tenchi," answers the young man. "Sasami-chan let me bring your food for her."
"Just give me a moment," hurries Ayeka. Tenchi hears the bang of drawers and the rustle of cloth before the big princess properly slides the door open. Tenchi sees the princess in a purple kimono with a violet obi around her waist but it's the hasty attempt to hide her blush with face powder which brings curiosity into his mind. "You can put the tray over there on the table, Tenchi-sama," she gives in a voice of command.
Tenchi enters the room, places the tray on the low table, then turns to face Ayeka and says, "There is one more thing I brought for you." His tan hand reaches underneath his obi and holds Tenchiken out to her. "Ayeka-san, I hope this will help you remember your brother."
Ayeka quickly moves forward, takes the hilt with both hands and says, "Domo arigato gozaimasu (thank you very, very much), Tenchi-sama." Fresh tears glitter in her red eyes while a suppressed sob causes her words to sound harsh as she tells him, "Now, please leave."
"Oke," Tenchi steps out into the hallway as Ayeka closes the door. As he starts back to the kitchen the youth mumbles, "Did I do the right thing? She appreciated the return of Tenchiken to her but her mood only seemed to get worse, not better. I wish she wouldn't hide from me all the time, she is kirei na (pretty)." Suddenly his eyes go wide as he stops on the stairs to look around to make sure no one heard him, then sighs, "Kya . . . if Ryoko ever hears me say that she'll really want my kintama." When he enters the kitchen, he hears the clinking of dishes, cups, and the tinkle of metal chopsticks as Sasami cleans them. He watches the happy child and thinks, Well, maybe she'll be better in the morning.' Then out loud he asks the little one, "Can I help you?"
"That's oke, Tenchi-niichan," Sasami a tone of contentment in her words. "I'm almost finish here. Why don't you go back to our guests, I'll be there in a moment?"
Tenchi approaches the door and hears MacClean voice say, ?this next number is dedicated to the little blue girl with rabbit's eyes. Here's Mizutani Yuko's version of 'Puff, the Magic Dragon'.? When he enters the room, his brown eyes see the others have returned to the sofa and chair as Sasami's creations and the music continue to bring pleasure to their thoughts. After only a fleeting hesitation Tenchi sits next to Ryoko, the cyan-haired lady smiles at him and places her hand on his lower left arm but doesn't try anything else. Again Tenchi notes the closeness between Nobuyuki and Scully as they sit between Ryoko and Mulder who has a glass of clear liquid in his right hand.
A few minutes pass before Sasami skips into the room, but instead of going to a place beside Mulder, stops in front of Katsuhito and good-naturedly asks, "May I sit with you, jiichan?"
Sasami request catches the elder by surprise but hides it well by saying, "You may, Akaruime."
Sasami smiles as she scrambles into the priest's lap and faces the others. It is then Mulder and Scully notices the resemblance between the two. While Katsuhito's face has stronger Asian features than Sasami's, certain points on their faces match each other perfectly. For Scully this information only confirms the family connection between the two but for Mulder it triggers his expertise as a profiler and he thinks, 'How long is a Jurain life span? Since Ryoko survived seven hundred years in a cave, could the same have occurred for Yosho?' Then the brown-haired man asks his partner, "Scully, could you ask Sasami if they have a picture of Yosho?"
Scully puzzles over Mulder's request but finding no reason not forward it, she repeats it unaware of how still Katsuhito has become, "Sasami-chan, Mulder-san wants to know it you have a picture of Yosho-sama?"
"Hai, Ayeka-oneesama has a holographic image of Yosho-oniisama but she never lets it out of her sight," replies the blue-haired child with a frown. "Why does Kitsune-san want to know?"
"She said Ayeka does but won't let it leave her room," amusement in Scully's tone because of what Sasami calls Mulder. "Sasami wants to know why you asked?"
"Oh, just curious," answers Mulder with a smudge look on his face.
"Mulder was just curious," translates Scully.
"A kitsune answer from a kitsune," comments Sasami as she thinks, 'Just you wait, smarty.'
"What did she say?" wonders Mulder to Scully.
"She just called you foxy," informs Scully while her smile becomes a broad grin. "In fact, she's been calling you Mr. Fox all night."
"Tell her my parents called me Mulder at home," annoyance in Mulder's words.
"You tell her," counters Scully.
Mulder looks into those young pink eyes yet also sees the eyes of another child, the only one he ever allowed to call him Fox. He drops his gaze and grumbles, "Looks like I'm stuck with it."
"Indeed," Scully comments then she changes the subject, "Katsuhito-dono, I noticed Ayeka-san?s and Sasami-san?s costumes for the ritual were exactly like those worn by Shinto miko. What do you think?"
"It suggests some kind of contact between Jurai and Nihon before the introduction of Buddhism to this land," suggests the priest as Ryoko translates for Mulder. "At a time when Shinto priests still took care of the dead."
"Was the ritual the same?" asks the redhead.
"The invocation was similar to the Shinto prayer to the Kami and use of a sacred dance to gain the Kami?s favor suggests maybe some influence yet there are differences," answers the elder, then he asks the little one, "Sasami-chan, does Tsunami-megami have one face or many faces?"
"Just the two everyone knows about," Sasami innocently answers. "The Tree of the Beginning as we see her today and the likeness of a beautiful woman from the stories about the Time of Legends."
"So the prayers were tailored to worship a single entity," guesses Scully. "But the dance is much more energetic that the ones I remember."
"But so was the original dance before austere influence of Buddhism purified it of its more revealing demeanor," the priest's words match his small smile. "Remember the story the sacred dance is based on."
Realizing there was someone here who might know, Scully turns to the amber-eyed lady and asks, "Ryoko-san, do you know anything about the connections between Jurai and Earth?"
"My memories only go back two thousand years, Scully-dono," replies Ryoko as Katsuhito translates for Mulder.
"Ryoko-san, its Ninjin-chan," corrects Scully lightly.
"Oke, Ninjin-chan," a fleeting smile matches the cyan-haired woman's tone. "Anyway, most of my career as an uchu kaizoku was spent outside of Jurai territory, the incident which led to my imprisonment here on this planet was my first operation in the Jurai Empire."
"What do you know of this Jurai Empire?" probes the emerald-eyed agent.
"Only what the average uchu kaizoku knows," Ryoko's eyes close as she concentrates on her words. "The Jurai Empire is a member of the Galactic Union, an organization most of your galaxy is part of. The Empire has existed for twenty-five thousand years through periods of expansion and contract. The common belief is that the Jurai was founded by exiles from other planets who allied themselves to Tsunami-megami but that is not completely true."
"You mean the story about Jurai uchu kaizokus isn't true," asks a disappointed Sasami.
Ara . . . the first Tree ships were used as merchant raiders by the exiles but their quick success brought an urge for legitimacy in most of them, thus the birth of the House of Jurai," replies Ryoko as she sees a hint of pride in Sasami's face. "There are still contacts between the lawful House of Jurai and the illegal Kaizoku's Guild, even rumors of a Royal Jurain always hold a seat on the guild's council."
"But you're saying there's a hidden history to the Jurai Empire," asks Mulder after he hears Katsuhito's translation.
"Hai, Mulder-dono," confirms Ryoko with a knowing look. "Because I was a member of the guild for two thousand years, I gained access to its deepest secrets," Ryoko tries to keep pride from entering her words, knowing the horrors she'd done as Kagato's tool. "The guild's own records show the exiles learned of the uniqueness of Tsunami-megami Trees and came to take possession of them through conquest. They were stopped by the goddess, her Trees, the bondmates and Kuraichi."
"Kya . . . Kuroi Kotei (the Black Emperor)!" grasps Sasami. "But the history my tutors taught me was he came after the exiles."
"Who is Kuraichi?" Scully asks the little one.
"Kuraichi is the greatest shame the people of Jurai bear," guilt in Sasami's voice. "The Royal Family of Jurai is made up of four branches from the offspring of the Saishono Kokuo Jurai (First King of Jurai): Tatsuki, Masaki, Kamiki and Amaki, the Emperor is selected from one of these four clans. The official history is he was Tatsuki Kuraichi, a minor noble with immense ambition. He exploited my people's nature and successful overthrew the Kokuo Jurai. He created the office of the Kotei Jurai (Emperor of Jurai) and built an Empire on the power of Tsunami-megami's Trees."
"The part about him founding the Jurai Empire is true, Sasami-chan," Ryoko amber eyes reflex sympathy for the child's shame.
"But the rest is a lie?" asks Sasami as Katsuhito's right hand touches her right shoulder.
"Hai, Sasami-chan," verifies the cyan-haired woman. "According to the records there were people already on Jurai. They had formed a monarchy and Kuraichi was the Saishono Kokuo Jurai. He made the alliance with the exiles for their knowledge of ship design. Once the Tree ships were built, he killed the exile's leaders and declared himself the Saishono Kotei Jurai."
"So the Royal House of Jurai is descended from this kaibutsu," the little one's voice quivers.
"What happened to him?" asks Katsuhito, he knows the answer but wants all the family's dirty linen out in the open.
"He . . . He disappeared one day never to return," utters Sasami. "Is that true, Ryoko-neechan?"
"Mo, Sasami-chan," Ryoko replies as she leans forward to place her hand on the child's knee. "The guild records say a palace revolt led by his wife, his offspring and Tsunami-megami ended his evil rule."
"Do the records say why Tsunami didn't stop him earlier?" wonders Mulder.
"From what Ryoko-san found at the guild, Sasami-chan's story about Horosha-sama finding bondmates for the goddess, the rule of Kuraichi-san, the alliance with the exiles and the creation of the Empire seems to suggest Tsunami-megami's obsession with protecting Jurai and her Trees," concludes Scully.
"Most likely Kuraichi-san became a threat to what he'd created," adds Katsuhito after translating Scully's reply for Mulder.
"Hai, guji," nods the ample lady as she continues, "His overthrow legitimized the rule of his successor son, Iwami. For most of his reign, Iwami solidified the gains of the Empire, tied it to the rule of law and expended much of his time trying to wash away the blood from Jurai's hands."
"So his death brought permanency to the Jurai Empire," remarks Tenchi.
"I don't know about Kuraichi-san's death," counters Ryoko as she shakes of her head. "The records reported his overthrow but not his death."
"You mean he could still be alive?" questions Tenchi while his and the other's eyes go wide, only the priest doesn't react.
"I don't know, Tenchi," Ryoko bites back the reply she was going to give. "I didn't run into anyone like him during my two-thousand-year career but anything is possible."
Suddenly the auto-reverse on the stereo kicks in and MacClean's voice enters the room, "Now that we've had some slow dancing, its time for Rock N' Roll. Here are Priss and the Replicants? version of Fleetwood Mac's 'Don't Stop'."
Ayeka takes dainty bites of the creme puff in her right hand while her left is under her mouth to catch any crumbs when the lyrics of the song touch her ears. The other songs echoing up from the living room speak to her about love, friendship and freedom but this one tells her about living:
If you hurt, just smile,
If it takes just a little while,
Open eyes, look at the day,
You're see things in a different way.
Don't stop thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop it will soon be here,
It'll be here better than before.
Yesterday's gone. Yesterday's gone.
Try not to think about times to come,
Not about the things you're done.
If you life was bad to you.
Just think what tomorrow will do.
Don't stop thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop it will soon be here.
It'll be here better than before.
Yesterday's gone. Yesterday's gone.
All I want is to see you smile,
If it takes just a little while.
Know you don't believe it's true,
I didn't mean any harm to you.
Don't stop thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop it soon be here.
It'll be here better than before.
Yesterday's gone. Yesterday's gone.
The refrain resonates in Ayeka's spirit but she softly says, "If only it was that easy."
Sasami claps her hand to the beat of the music while Ryoko's body shakes to the song's charm and Tenchi mouths the words. Katsuhito, Scully and Nobuyuki feel the warmth from the young spirits next them but a sad smile appears on Mulder's face. As the last beat of the drums ends MacClean voice shouts, "Now Asagiri Priss will do The Who's 'Squeeze Box'. When the accordion starts, Ryoko flies off the sofa, catches the child underneath the arms and lifts her up into the air. The two levitate vertical in the room as Ryoko says, "Let's cut the air, Sasami-chan." Delight touches her pink eyes as her young body imitates the ample lady's own dance. The landlubbers down below look up fearfully but then smile as they note the bluish-white glow of the Gem on Ryoko's left hand.
As vibration of the bass guitar stretches out the last cord of the song, the two floating females alight back on the ground. "That was fun!" Sasami words jumps from her lips as she bounces around Ryoko. "Can we do it again?"
"Later, my oil is a little low," Ryoko whooshes as she heads toward the sofa. "I'm not a fireball like you, Sasami-chan."
"You promise ne ne?" pleads the little one.
"Hai, I promise," returns the cyan-haired lady while she places her hands against her mouth. Sasami hears a happy sigh come from Ryoko lips as she sits next to Tenchi which makes the pink-eyed child smile for she is sure the only reason for Ryoko?s fatigue is her need to be near the apple of her eye.
"Well, I need to be up early tomorrow morning for some shrine work," says Katsuhito as he stands up. "So oyasumi, everyone."
"Oyasumi, jiichan," answers Tenchi.
"Oyasumi, otousan," adds Nobuyuki.
"Oyasumi, Katsuhito-dono," chins in Scully and then tells Mulder, "Katsuhito is turning in for the night."
"Goodnight, sir," Mulder adds his two cents.
"Jiichan, can I come with you part of the way?" asks the little princess.
"Your company would be welcome, Akaruime," returns the smiling priest.
The two walks to the front entrance, put on their shoes and the elder opens the door for them. The last rays of the setting sun allow nature's hippie to paint the clouds in tints of red, yellow and blue. It is the beginning and the end of days like these that give Katsuhito's spirit a lift for an unchained world can only produce this kind of beauty yet his thoughts return to the girl next to him.
Just after they pass under the red torii Sasami quietly asks, "Do you have something to ask me, jiichan?"
Katsuhito clears his throat and says, "Is the pain in my chest that obvious?"
"Not really, jiichan," replies the still smiling child but her words are serious. "You became very stiff when I was in your lap, like you were trying to keep your thoughts from betraying you."
"Very well, I was wondering about your story, Akaruime," the elder tries to remain calm as they pause at the granite staircase. "The legend that surround the Masaki family contains a very similar story about two people named Horosha and Washi but the encounter with the ryu is much different. I always assume the tale came from Yosho's own lips but now I wonder."
"Oi . . . is that all," amusement returns to Sasami words as she continues, "I was three-years-old when Ryoko-neechan attacked Jurai. At the time I didn't know about the attack because I was exploring deep in the Palace Tree, Tenjyu, near the Hall of the Trees, where Tsunami-megami and her earthbound offspring reside. I was at the great doors to Tsunami's home when I saw a tall woman flying down the hallway toward me. It was Ryoko-neechan but I didn't know her and fled into the left corner of the hall to hide behind a pedestal with a small wooden statue on it. When I tried to get behind it, I brushed against the statue causing it to move off-center. A door opened behind me. At first I was scared to go in but the green glow from Ryoko-neechan's eyes convinced me to flee into it.
"Inside was a large room with several glass cases, a desk, a wooden altar and a huge picture on a wall. I looked into the cases and found a huge metal sword, a locket with two rings of blue and blond hair, a very old book and an odd looking musical string instrument, like the ones I've seen played on your television. When I reached the desk, it contained memory crystals with a player. My nanny showed me how to use my own player, so I popped one of the clear crystals into the machine and waited. A small figure of an old man with white hair was projected from it and he told me the story about Horosha and Washi, the same one I repeated today.
"By the time the story was completed, I heard my nanny calling my name and I went to her but I would sneak back to the room every so often to listen to the crystals and stare at the picture of the kind man and the happy lady."
When Sasami reaches the part about finding the room Katsuhito's body relaxes as he realizes the source of the girl's stories. 'Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions,' he thinks. 'I have to remember I found the room the same way and it was one of my favorite hiding places.'
"So there was an official version of the story for the public and a true one kept in that room," concludes the elder. "Do you know why?"
"Mo, is there anything else I can help you with, jiichan?" sweetness in Sasami's voice.
"Not now but could you help me with the shrine tomorrow morning?" Katsuhito asks calmly. "We could trade and compare stories."
"Hai, jiichan, that would be fun," Sasami words match the light of anticipation in her pink eyes.
"Oyasumi, Akaruime," the priest gives her a short bow.
"Oyasumi, jiichan," the child returns the proper bow. Sasami watches the back of the priest ascends the cut stone until he disappears before her shoulder sags and she sighs, "I didn't want to lie to him, Tsunami-megami."
A bluish glow comes from Sasami's forehead as Tsunami replies soundlessly, 'You will have to decide when to tell them, Sasami-chan. The longer you delay the harder it will become for those words to leave your lips.'
'I'm so afraid,' Tsunami can taste the fear in the little one's mind. 'I just gained Ayeka-oneesama back, I don't want to lose her forever.'
'I know you love her as much as I love you,' warmth floods into the girl's spirit with the goddess' words.
'I love you too,' Sasami's smile matches her thought.
'When are you going to give Kitsune-san his surprise?' Tsunami changes the subject.
'Oi . . . I better give it to him before they leave,' Sasami eyes open wide as she turns to run back to the house but then stops midway and asks, 'But won't my gift get us in trouble, Tsunami-megami?'
'Mo, others have broken the rules surrounding Mulder, Scully and those poor people whose lives are forever scared by hate, fear and indifference,' replies Tsunami. Again Sasami becomes light of feet only to pull up short when she sees Mulder coming out the front door with a glass in his hand.
Mulder slow steps take him toward the rental car but his spirit battles the feelings of isolation that are trying again to claim him. The sight of Scully and Nobuyuki share their common bond while Ryoko and Tenchi sit close together, listening to Nihonjin voices sing Western Rock, made the brown-haired man recognize how costly his crusade is yet both couple gives him hope for the future. The love affair, with his first partner, dies because of his longings but he sees in them love reborn. His comradeship with fellow agents goes asunder by his obsession but he sees in them fellowship made whole. A normal career will never grace his life but he sees in them how little normalcy means. He pushes away the doubts of his decision to stay in this foreign land as he drops down to the dirt road and leans against the left front tire. His pale green eyes see the light of tonight's first stars reflect off the lake's black waters and whispers to himself, "I stand at the window looking in, searching for your face, Samantha."
"Dekiru watashi tasuke (Can I help you)?" a child's voice comes from above him.
Mulder yanks his head up to stare at the small form, the dimming light makes him see the brown curls and dark eyes of his long lost sister but when she leans a little closer the shadow that wanders his dreams fades before Sasami's features.
"Ga kowarete iru, Kitsune-san (Something wrong, Mr. Fox)?" Mulder hears the concern in Sasami's tone.
"I'm sorry Miss Masaki but I can't understand your questions," Mulder tries to keep his longing out of his words, he notes how the moonlight shines off her face, especially the little mark above her eyebrows.
Sasami takes up a formal stance before Mulder and says, "Watashi, Masaki Sasami Jurai, kubaru hoho tame ni koeru anata no mimi (I, Masaki Sasami Jurai, gives means in order to enrich your ears)." When the last word leaves the little one's lips, she bends down and touches the puzzled man's forehead with hers.
Mulder's eyes go wide with shock as bluish light drowns out everything in his sight except for those two pink amethysts then all thought vanishes as the neural circuitry within his brain fires all at once. Sasami carefully sits on Mulder's lap as his head falls back against the side of the car and his eyes close. She places her small arms around to hold him so he wouldn't hurt himself while his body jerks uncontrollably, lets her blue-haired head rests against his quivering chest and says, "I just want to help you, Kitsune-san. So many have hurt you." Soon the day's events cause the child's body to fall fast asleep as more of her spirit channels Tsunami's power into Mulder.
The starry lion rises above the trees by the time Mulder's pale green eyes open. He looks down to see the tranquil child press against his body, her small body deep in sleep's realm. Unshed tears glisten in Mulder's eyes as he sees the same innocence in the child's upturned freckled face as his memory holds of his sister. His right hand touches the girl's blue hair while his left hand surrounds her waist as he says tearfully, "I won't let anyone hurt you like they did Samantha."
Time slips by while he stares at the two fields of stars until Mulder hears a throat clear. He tilts his head back to see Scully looking down at him and she asks with mirthful words, "Starting kind of young aren't you, Mulder?"
But Mulder takes her words seriously and strongly retorts, "Ruin is the fate for any that harms this child."
Scully frowns then turns to her left, takes a few steps forward and says, "Tenchi-san, they're over here." The redhead can hear Mulder push himself up the side of the car to an upright position as her emerald eyes see Tenchi coming toward them.
Tenchi smiles at them as he walks pass Scully, tenderly take Sasami from the American's gentle embrace and say, "It looks like bedtime for all of us. Oyasumi, Mulder-san, Ninjin-chan."
"Good . . . " Mulder's words stop cold as his mind freezes at a sudden insight.
"Oyasumi, Tenchi-san," replies Scully, unaware her partner's mouth hangs open.
Tenchi walks a few steps forward before he remembers Mulder's limits. He then turns back around and says in halting English, "Goodnight, Mulder."
"Goodnight, Mr. Masaki," Mulder's tongue finally comes untied.
"Just Tenchi," the youth's smile matches his words.
"Okay, Tenchi," Mulder agrees.
Mulder comes to stand next to Scully and inquires, "When Tenchi took Miss Masaki from my arms, did he speak English to me?"
"No, it was Nihongo," Scully replies with a frown. "Why?"
"Oh . . . just curious, Scully," answers Mulder with a foxy grin on his lips.
"Well, it's almost ten p.m., so we better get going so we get enough sleep to meet our new co-workers," Scully recommends as she opens the car and gets behind the wheel.
"But tomorrows Saturday?" appeals Mulder.
"For most in Nihon that's a half-work day, Mulder," informs the redhead.
As Mulder belts into the shotgun seat, he says, "As to your question about me and Sasami, I have to start before they all fall in love with the boy."
Scully puts the key into the ignition lock and starts the car before she counters, "What about the older princess?"
Mulder gets a disgusting look on his face and shoots back, "Please, you know how I am with authority figures. Besides, with her temper I would end up looking like a bruised banana."
With smiles on their faces and pleasant memories in their minds, the two Americans start on their way back to Okayama.
1. What got me interested in writing this series was how much the OAV first episode would make an excellent X-Flies episode. I originally wanted to do a SI series as my first fanfic (I even wrote out an outline for it) but my creative juices just started to flow over this crossover idea. Originally it was only suppose to be forty pages but one thing led to another and it became a this monster, most of this caused by me adding more to the story as I went along and I kept changing the ending.
2. Strange Days will be my crossover series for Tenchi Muyo. I found it hard to find other writers stories because of the continuous title changes between squeals. This story and the next six will be X-Flies crossovers while some later ones are going to involve other characters from different sources (Buffy, Oh My Goddess, Gunsmith Cats, Cardcaptor Sakura and even Sailor Moon). The stories will be progressive so you will need to read the early ones to understand what is happening in the later stories.
3. I used these books as sources for my stories. You don't need them to write a Tenchi Muyo story but they do help in many ways:
1) Japanese Street Slang, Peter Constantine, Tengu Books, New York, Tokyo, 1992 ISBN 0-8348-0250-3, 190pgs. An excellent source on helping you to understand just what that anime character just said.
2) Japanese Slang: Uncensored, Peter Constantine, Yenbooks, 2-6 Suido 1-chome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 112, Japan, 1994, ISBN 4-9007-3703-8, 208pgs. This covers in greater detail those naughty words some earthy anime characters use all the time.
3) Random House Japanese-English/English-Japanese Dictionary, Seigo Nakao, Ballantine Book, New York, 1995, ISBN 0-345-40548, 666pgs. A cheap little book but its not that well organized and doesn't include many slang words.
4) Barron's Japanese Idioms, Nobuo Akiyama and Carol Akiyama, Barron's Educational Series Inc, Hauppauge, New York, 11788, 1996, ISBN 0-8120-9045-4, 389pgs. An excellent source to help spice up your characters? Dialogue and help you understand what that anime character meant about still having legs.
5) The Anime Companion: What's Japanese In Japanese Animation, Gilles Poitras, Stone Bridge Press, P. O. Box 8208, Berkeley, California, 1999, ISBN 1-880656-32-9, 163pgs. This book made me realize just how much of Nihonjin culture anime fans are exposed to and how it added to its attraction.
6) Japan-A Travel Survival Kit, Chris Taylor, Lonely Planet Publications, 1997, ISBN 0864424930, 600pgs. I looked at over dozen travel guides and found this one had the most information about Nihon outside of Tokyo. It has an excellent map to downtown Kurashiki, major and minor sites near and around the city, hotels, local bus routes, rail net and restaurants.
7) A Year In The Life Of A Shinto Shrine, John K. Nelson, University of Washington Press, Seattle, Wash., 1996. ISBN 0295975008, 330pgs. John Nelson teaches at a Catholic girl school in Nagasaki. His interest in other religions led him to investigate the Shinto community in this city and the great Shinto Shrine there. This book gives you a very detailed look at the continuous evolution of Shinto in Nihon, the traditional rituals and the mix of priests involved in this religion. This book gave me a better understanding of Shinto and influenced the way I developed the mystical/religious life for Jurai.
8) A Look Into Japan, John Howard Loftus and William Harland, Japan Travel Bureau, Inc., Japan, 1997, ISBN 4-533-01381-3, 191pgs. Meant to help those traveling and living in Nihon, its illustrations and simple descriptions give you an excellent birdeye's view of Nihon and its culture.
9) Martial Arts & Sports In Japan, Nathan Mathews, Japan Travel Bureau, Inc., Japan, 1993, ISBN 4-533-01995-1, 191pgs. An excellent starting point to understanding both ancient and modern sports in Nihon.
10) Cooking With Japanese Foods: A Guide To The Traditional Natural Foods OF Japan, John Belleme and Jan Belleme, Avery Publishing Group Inc., Garden City Park, New York, 1993, ISBN 0-89529-583-0, 220pgs. An excellent source on traditional Nihon foods, recipes, history and cooking techniques.
11) Japan: A Bilingual Atlas, Atsushi Umeda, 1991, Kodansha International Ltd., 17-14, Otowa 1-chome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 112-8652, ISBN 4-7700-1536-4, 128pgs. The best atlas I could find on Nihon.
12) Dreamland Japan: Writings On Modern Manga, Frederik L. Schodt, 1996, Stone Bridge Press, P.O.Box 8208, Berkeley, Calif., 94707, ISBN 1-880656-23-X, 360pgs. A friend and interpreter of the late Osamu Tezuka, Schodt's book gives you an insider view of the manga industry and its offspring: anime.
13) Guadalcanal: Island Ordeal, Graeme Kent, Ballantine Books Inc., 101 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, 1971, ISBN 345-02268-8, 160pgs. Out-of-print, this book gives you some of the best pictures of the campaign.
14) Tenchi Muyo!: RPG And Resource Book, David L. Pulver, Karen A. McLarney, Mark C. MacKinnon and Jeff Mackintosh, Guardian Of Order, Inc., P.O.Box 25016, 370 Stone Road, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, NIG 4T4, 2000, ISBN 1-894525-08-6, 200pgs. For those who don't have access to Tenchi 101 or the Tenchi DVD, this book contains all the information from these sources as well as an excellent description of the characters and the OAV universe but only hints at some of the mysteries, it doesn't solve them.
15) The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide To The X-Flies, Volume 1, Created by Chris Carter, Written by Brian Lowry, HarperCollinsPublishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY, 10022, 1995, ISBN 0-06-105330-9, 277pgs. I used this as my bible on Mulder, Scully and their universe. It covers the first, second and parts of the third season.
4.The one thing making a tremendous difference for me was the people who sacrificed their time as prereaders for me. Lita Eagle, BGlanders, Achariyth, Kuuta Kutani, Sasami-chan and Fuzzy bunny has helped me recognize my strengths and flaws. As a poet and songwriter for the past fifteen years, I worried only about the structure and content that would make an excellent poem or song. I didn't need to be concern about dialogue, sentence structure or most grammar rules. Imagery, emotions and catchy phases were my bread and butter. Then I started to watch anime again after being away from it for the past twenty years and I saw Tenchi Universe. I enjoyed it a lot but then I found Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-ohki. The OVA had an immediate impact on me. The complex characters, adult plotline and sci-fi/comedy/romance mix made me fall in love with the series and angry with AIC for not continuing it. In my anger I started to write my own continuation of the OAV which I planned to send to AIC in a vain attempt to convince them how good the series was. It was in an Animerca article that I discovered fanfiction and how egotistically was my ambition. The first fanfic story I read was Michael McAvoy's? No Need For Sasami?. If discovering that others had written Tenchi stories didn't slow me, the high quality of McAvoy's series burst my bubble completely. After reading other Tenchi stories by Lita Eagle, BGlanders, Happosai and others, I became even more convinced that I couldn't equal any of these writers' ability. It wasn't until I started to read some of the really poorly written stories that some of the old fire returned to me, if I couldn't equal the best at least I could do better than the worst. I read both McAvoy's article, "A Small List Of Things Best Left Out Of Your Story", and K'thardin's article, "How To Write A Fanfic" to help me start out in the right direction. The one thing I took to heart immediately was K'thardin's recommendation for prereaders. I wanted my first fanfic to be as good as it could be and I know an author is usually blind to his flaws. In fact, except for the skills I had developed as a poet and songwriter, I didn't even know my strengths. These people took the time to show both to me and without their aid, this story would be a real mess. DOMO ARIGATO GOZAIMASU.
5. Background: Since this is a crossover series, I would be adding something to the Tenchi OVA canon when I included the X-Flies universe to the mix yet I also decided to use the canon as a foundation for my own version of it. I used information from the "Tenchi Muyo RPG and Resource Book" to tell me what was in the "Tenchi Encyclopedia (Tenchi 101)", added information from Masaki Kajishima's and Yosuke Kuroda's "True Tenchi Novels" and from the first movie, "Tenchi In Love" but I made changes in places where I didn't agree with either source (Space pirates being the only source of the original human Jurains, Nobuyuki being a descendant of Yosho and Nobuyuki knowing Achika since they were children). I expanded it even further than I originally planned by including a religious/mystical aspect to Jurains? Relationship with Tsunami-megami but I made sure what I added wouldn't contradict anything from the OAV episodes. As Kuuta Kutani pointed out, I have in some places gone WAY off-canon.
6.Timeline: I will be using a modified time line for this series. Besides blending the OAV and the X-Flies time line together, I going to change the episodic lineup for the OAV from the one presented to us by AIC and the Resource Book. A recent debate on TML was how the characters seem to digress in episode thirteen, "Here Comes Jurai." A possible solution offered was episode thirteen was done out-of-sequence with the rest of the Second Season. Its beginning with Mihoshi's report suggested it was originally meant to be the opener for the Second Season but something happened and it was used as a link for the possible Third Season. For me this solution works because it preserves the progressive development of the OAV characters.
Here's the time line I'm using:
X-Flies Pilot (March 6, 1992)
The beginning of the Resurrection of Ryoko (Tenchi releasing Ryoko from the cave).
Ghost in The Machine
Cont. of the Resurrection of Ryoko (starting with the high school incident).
Here Comes Ayeka!
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM OUR FRIENDS (X-Flies)
Mihoshi Falls To The Land Of Stars
FIRE AND RAIN (X-Flies)
We Need Tenchi!
The Night Before The Carnival
MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION (X-Flies)
Here Comes Jurai
Beyond the Sea
MY FATHER (X-Flies)
A HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL (X-Flies)
MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN (X-Flies)
SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE (X-Flies)
Sasami and Tsunami
I'M A PIONEER (El-Hazard)
VETERAN COSMIC ROCKER (X-Flies)
I Love Tenchi
MACK THE KNIFE (Gunsmith Cats)
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN (X-Flies)
DAZED AND CONFUSED (Night Stalker)
The Advent of the Goddess
TEEN ANGEL (Oh My Goddess)
THE BATTLE FOR EVERMORE (Speed Racer)
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: TV series)
CHILD OF LIGHT (Cardcaptor Sakura)
JUST A SINGER IN A ROCK & ROLL BAND (Sailor Moon)
More to come.
7.Characters: Most comments that come from prereaders are about OOC. While most of the prereaders thought the characterizations were good to very good, both Kuuta Kutani and BGlanders believed them to be a little over the top, too emotional. There is a danger for the writer to stray from the OAV personalities, which is one of the reasons why most Tenchi OAV stories take place after the second season. I started mine just after the second episode because of time (the investigation into the destruction of the Seto-obashi Bridge would have to start immediately) and I wanted some restraints placed on myself as to how far I could take the characters yet remain within the boundaries of acceptable behavior. There are distinct differences between the OAV Tenchi gang and the TU Tenchi gang. As was pointed out by Tomas 009Doscher, in "The Sum of All Memories", a person's personality is created by the sum of all of his or her memories. As such, both groups are different because their memories are different and this will be true of the OAV gang in my series in light of their interaction with Scully, Mulder and others. This doesn't mean I'm going to change the OAV personalities since my stories are happening at the same time as the OAV episodes but I will try to show each character is a complex person. Remember that these characters are total strangers to at least some of the other members. As such they are groping in the dark, trying to establish lines of friendship with the others, sometimes accidentally hurting the others and exposing themselves to emotional pain. McAvoy is also right about one other thing, as writers we do project some of our own experiences and those of our friends into the characters we write about.
Tenchi: Of all the characters in the series, Tenchi gets a lot of bad press. Indecisive, naive, gullible and a blockhead are some of the words I've seen used by others. What some keep forgetting is Tenchi is the only 'normal' Nihonjin in the series, all the others are either abnormal (Nobuyuki) or space aliens (this includes Katsuhito). Most Nihonjin people have introverted personalities with a public face seen by most and a private face usually seen by his/her mate. Tenchi's public face is one of politeness, easygoing, agreeable and very quiet but his private face is one with a fiery temper, stubborn determination and heartbreak sadness. Most of Tenchi's indecisiveness comes from the fact he doesn't want to hurt other peoples' feelings. He loves every member of his new 'family' and will do anything to keep it together. If this means a loss of dignity or privacy due to Ryoko's advances, Ayeka's maneuvers, Sasami's mischievous nature, Washu's teasing, Mihoshi's hero worship, Katsuhito's smartass treatment or Nobuyuki's hentai nature, he will endure it. In some ways I see something of myself in Tenchi. I was like this when I was seventeen. I was raised by my paternal grandparents and my paternal great-grandmother. I was introverted, very naive about girls and grieving over the death of my grandmother who was more of a mother to me than my mother was. Will Tenchi choose one of the girls as a mate? I don't know but the girls could be in for a long wait. Most Nihonjin men marry between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-five and to someone they have known since childhood (this is why Nobuyuki-Achika's marriage in their teens is considered to be so unusual). Tenchi is like his name: as solid as the earth and forever like the heavens.
Ryoko: Of all the characters in the series Ryoko bear the greatest burdens (only Katsuhito might come close to her). Even though she was under Kagato's control during her rampage across the universe (the first 3,000 years as Kagato's soulless weapon and the last 2,000 years with the warped personality placed in her by her master), she was proud of being a space pirate and took pleasure in what she destroyed and killed. It's not until she is defeated by Yosho and sealed in the cave does she began to change. Over the next seven hundred years she is reformed by her prison's isolation and then exposed to the goodness of Nobuyuki, Achika, Katsuhito and Tenchi. If any person is responsible for the changes in her personality, it's Tenchi. His childhood was hers, his joys and tears were hers and a bond developed between them (conscious on Ryoko's part and unconscious on Tenchi's part). Her problem is while she has been in love with Tenchi for years Tenchi can only feel the warm comfort her presence gave to him at the cave. Is it love or friendship Tenchi feels for Ryoko? Ryoko would want it to be love but Tenchi isn't sure.
The next person close to her is Sasami because the little princess accepted her without reservation and was the first to treat Ryoko like a human being; the love between the two is sisterly. I'm using the ancient spelling for Ryoko's name because this is how it would've looked five-thousand-years ago.
In seeing how normal people interact with each other, Ryoko has developed guilt over what she did as a space pirate. The old pride is still there but it's tempered by the knowledge of the pain she brought to people no different from Tenchi or Sasami. To find this part of Ryoko's persona I used the experiences of friends who served in Vietnam. Like Ryoko these friends were ordered in to burn villages and kill men, women and children. It doesn't matter if those people were VC or not, it doesn't matter if they were just following orders, the bodies and the ghosts still haunt their dreams. For friends like Lee Blood, each time they close their eyes, they are back in NAM.
Ayeka: The most restraint placed on my writing was Ayeka's isolation during this time. At every opportunity I tried to find a reason to draw her out of her room and her grief. In some ways she is the twin to Ryoko for in her odyssey to find Yosho, she lost everything. Ayeka had built her whole life around her marriage to Yosho since she was five-year-old, even changing her hair color to make herself more pleasing to her brother. With her brother's 'death' the foundation of her life was turned into rubble, these five days are the darkest in Ayeka's life. It is the reason for my portrayal of Ayeka as suicidal. If a normal person's world were destroyed like Ayeka was, an attempt at suicide would be usual. In placing Ayeka in that position I had to find reasons for her to live on. Those were Sasami's unconditional love for her sister, Ayeka's duty to Tenchi and her hostility to Ryoko. I'm using the ancient spelling for Ayeka's name because this is how it would've been when she was born, seven-hundred-years ago. Remember that the name Ayeka is delicate in Nihongo but it can also mean ever changing or metamorphosis. If one person's personality changes in the OAV, it is Ayeka's. She started out as a caterpillar and became a beautiful butterfly.
Sasami: If there is one person I feel the closest to, the little child goddess. Like her, I suffered as a child with physically trauma, which almost killed me. For three months I was at the Children's Hospital in San Fran with a disease that produced puss bags around my spin and spinal cord, slowly squeezing me to death. The doctors saved my life but gave little hope for me being able to walk again. At the end of three months I walked out of the hospital with my body's trunk encased in a metal brace. For the next six months I went through rehabilitation wearing that brace and I succeeded. I didn't have to choose this road, I could have just accepted my fate but I didn't and neither did Sasami. Like me she wanted to live and was willing to accept the merging with Tsunami as the price to be paid. Right now Sasami wrongly believes she is a construct of Tsunami and it's the main reason for her desperation for everyone to accept and love her as Sasami for she fears rejection should her secret be revealed. While her spirit, her soul is Sasami's, her body is not. Sasami's body is a construct of Tsunami's, which can be biological, energy or both at the same time. While her body sleeps, her spirit wanders about the universe. One of the things I added was the fact that while with Ayeka, during her sister's search for Yosho, the time her body spent in stasis sleeps her spirit talked and played with Tsunami-megami. Sasami's body might be eight-year-old and her spirit is that of a child yet her mind is seven-hundred-year-old.
Nobuyuki: One of the reasons I devoted so much time to Nobuyuki is that once the other ladies (Mihoshi, Ryo-ohki and Washu) join the cast, some of the other members will lose time to them. It is the reason I started the romance between Nobuyuki and Scully, to create enough of a reason for him to get as much airtime as possible. I reasoned that most of the OAV episodes must have taken place on Saturdays because Tenchi was home from school but Nobuyuki was not (in Nihon, Saturday is a half-workday for most). As such, most of my stories will cover the in between days. You will get to see Nobuyuki at work or with Scully, Tenchi at school with his fellow friends and the ladies interacting with each other or with Katsuhito without Tenchi being there. For me, Nobuyuki's hentai nature was originally only a part of a more balanced personality but when Achika died he used it as a shield to keep women from looking at him as husband material. Now with Scully brought back into his life we will see Nobuyuki in a new light.
Katsuhito/Yosho: If any person is responsible for the situation the characters are in, it's Katsuhito/Yosho. It was his choose to chase after Ryoko even through her mission had failed. Although he covered his mission with self-sacrifice, his main purpose was selfish, to avoid his responsibility for not telling his family that he didn't want to marry Ayeka, he loved the purple-haired princess like a sister not as a wife. It wasn't until he defeated Ryoko on earth and became aware of the nature of the Gems did his choice to remain on Earth was easy for him. He also made a hard decision to protect Ryoko from Jurai's interest in her but at the same time he started to prepare for the inevitable battle with Ryoko's master, Kagato. What I was looking for in his story was how the nature of the Gems could effect the relationship between Katsuhito/Yosho, Funaho-Ki, Ryoko and Washu. I reasoned if the Gems are the link between Ryoko's and Washu's minds then because they were supplying energy to Funaho-Ki and Katsuhito/Yosho they could mentally link Washu with both of them. I also wanted to show how complex plans like those being used by Katsuhito/Yosho and Tsunami is a mixture of manipulation, free will and blind luck.
Mulder: He is haunted by the kidnapping of his sister by aliens. Although he disguised his search for her as his crusade to reveal the truth about aliens here on Earth, his main purpose in life is to rescue her. He used the X-Flies originally as his excuse for using government resources for his search but so he became intrigued by the supernatural nature of the cases. The X-Flies also feed his outsider nature, his feelings of paranoia, while leading him to others whom felt the same way as he did. Originally he saw Scully as a spy, meant to hinder his crusade, but this changes after her kidnapping by Duane Berry in 1994. Mulder like Nobuyuki has a hentai nature to his character. Scully has found him reading 'Adult Movies Review' at his office and has had numerous affairs with women. David Duchovny stated that Mulder is Jewish but how religious he is has never been defined. Like the other characters I have to be careful not to leak in emotional changes that Mulder suffered through later in the series. The development of friendship between Ryoko and Mulder was never planned by me, it just happened.
Scully: She is a person in crisis. Her love for her father has always been stronger than he feelings for her mother to a point of her being a daddy's girl. An affair with an older, married man and her loss of faith in her religion has brought her to a point where her father and her job at the FBI kelp her saneness. Her exposure to the X-Flies and Mulder's crusade has in some ways revived her connections to her mother and her faith in God. Of all the characters from the X-Flies, it is Scully I've added the most information to. Her family living in Nihon for four years and her friendship with the Masaki family was something I had planned from the beginning, as was the possible romance between Scully and Nobuyuki. I'm going to allow the romance to develop naturally.
Washu: Because of her connection with Ryoko, Katsuhito and Funaho-Ki, keeping this little redhead out of the picture until Book Three would be illogical, besides I don't like the idea of being her lab rat. Trying to construct a personality for someone over at least twenty-thousand-years-old was a real challenge. To build her biography I borrowed heavily from the True Tenchi Novels, Tenchi 101 and the hints dropped in the OAV. For me Washu is one of three goddesses who for some reason decided to live in the lower dimensions. To do this she had to give up her godhead, her memories as a goddess and be reborn as a child. On the planet Kanematsu (remember Mihoshi's last name), a floating child appeared in front of an abbey with three red gems beside her. Named Washu (trans. God of Harmony) by the female rector the child's genius was immediately recognized by the authorities on Kanematsu. By the age of fifteen, Washu had already mastered the basic courses at the Royal Academy before even going there (minimum age for students is eighteen) and tests had shown her power level to be class C. Even with her memory blocked, Washu was able to figure out that the three Gems were very powerful but not their potential or how to use them until she created Ryoko. To make a long story short most of the theories about Washu are confirmed in the True Tenchi Novels. Is this canon? For me it is but for others? I'll leave that up to them. I will also be added some of my own ideas about Washu's past as I go along.
Achika: I know the original name for Tenchi's mother was Kiyone but I didn't want to confuse readers and I wasn't up to the task of creating a likely story for Mihoshi's partner being Tenchi's mother. So I used the name given in Tenchi in Love for his mother but changed her background to fit the OAV and to add some mystery to her. I have never read Naoko Hasegawa's novel version of TIL (I hope some day they would translate it and her other novels into English) but I picked up a few fragments from the different fans. I used some of it but the idea that Achika and Nobuyuki knew each since childhood was mine. Achika's importance to this series cannot be overstated, just as her presence in the OAV is everywhere.
Kagato: BGlanders pointed out to me that according to Tenchi 101 vol.2 Kagato is a male clone of one of Washu's female friends. This statement is confirmed in the True Tenchi Novels with Kagato being the male version of Akara Naja, the second greatest genius in the universe. But who created the clone? According to the True Tenchi Novels, pirates killed Akara Naja while she and Washu were doing research on planet K1190. The True Tenchi Novels place this event at about the same time Washu created Ryoko, about five thousand years ago. I'm going with the idea that Washu was in great grief over her friend's death and over the loss of her son fifteen thousand years earlier and so created Kagato in an attempt to bring her friend back to life and to replace her son. Why do I say both because all clones would naturally be female due to the fact that all embryos start as female before some change into male during the early development of the fetus (what triggers the change is unknown and it is the reason why all of the sheep clones done so far are female), to change the clone's gender showed a conscious decision on Washu's part. Since True Tenchi Novels place this event so close to Washu's creating Ryoko, it is possible Washu was creating a son and a daughter she would never lose.
Skinner: I know, I know. Skinner does not appear in the X-Flies until the second season. There are two reasons for him being in the series:
1. He is my favorite of the minor characters in the X-Flies.
2. It was easier to write the first chapter with him as Mulder's superior to than anyone else.
MacClean: Of the remaining major characters to appear in the first book (don't worry, both Ryo-Ohki and Mihoshi will be in the next story), I can only give a little information about his background. He is a composite character based on my brother Antony (he could pass as my twin) another person. I brought him into the series to add some mystery to it since everyone knows the other characters. You will need to read the other books in this series to find out more about him.
Horosha and Washi: I will let you guess about them. Right now their importance is as a link to Tsunami and Jurai's past. Later both will have different roles with the main characters.
Minor characters: The other characters to appear were used as window dressing with a few details to give them color. Their importance will vary according to what happens to them in the series.
8.Plot: The only plot hang-up was over the bath scene with Ryoko and Ayeka, Kuuta Kutani thought it was eye candy for the fans. The reasons for this occurring were three folds:
1. Ryoko wanted revenge on Ayeka for using Tenchiken on her without upsetting Sasami and Tenchi too much (I could hear Ryoko whispering in my ear, "Let me at her, just once.").
2. Ryoko wanted to disguise her reasons for helping Ayeka; Ryoko has a reputation to uphold and didn't want Ayeka to think she was going soft.
3. Ryoko knows reinforcing Ayeka's hostility to her will give the princess one more reason to want to live.
4. What's a Tenchi fan fiction story without a sexy bath scene (I mean we are dealing with an OAV series that has six steamy bath scenes in just 13 episodes).
Most of the plotline for this story kept on changing as I wrote it, only the beginning, Scully's connection to the Masaki family, Sasami's pet, the meeting between the main characters at the Masaki home, the battle with the OIK men and the first ending (originally Ryoko was supposed to seduce Mulder) was planned. Sasami-chan thought the story and dialogues appeared rushed at certain points (especially at the beginning) and Achariyth believed a better reason was needed to explain the FBI intervention in a Nihon investigation and not the CIA. This gave me one of several reasons to do the first of four major rewrites (minor rewrites were done at the end of each chapter). I increased the interaction between the characters and added more details to the story's background to give it a steady flowing pace.
9.Dialogue: What scared me when I started this story was dialogue. As a poet and songwriter, you don't have to deal with dialogue. I knew I could handle description and the projection of emotions into the narrative but my greatest fear was I couldn't create passable dialogue for the characters. I was very, very surprised when Lita Eagle, Achariyth and Kuuta Kutani told me my dialogue was very good. Lita Eagle said the characters? Dialogue was natural and others like the interaction between different characters. Because these positive comments came so early in the story development, I began to add more dialogue to the story and was another reason for my first major rewrite. But I will have to say that sometimes I wasn't responsible for the dialogue, there were times when I felt like my voice was being used by the characters. The two best examples I can think of are the confrontation between Ayeka and Ryoko and the one between Ryoko and Mulder. I didn't really know for sure how Ryoko would convince Ayeka not to kill herself until the words flowed from Ryoko's lips. Up to the point where Ryoko sits at the bar with Mulder, I was still going to have Ryoko seduce Mulder but then, as I wrote the scene I felt a sudden change within you and me see the result. There were times when I didn't know what the characters would say until I heard the words within my mind. I think the reason for this inner voice or voices is the fact I spent three and a half months in a hospital, mostly in a private room. For the first twenty days of my stay, I had no television and only a few comic books to keep me occupied but soon I was creating stories in my mind with characters from movies, television and comics. During the rest of my childhood I would make my own paper cutouts and paper props to make my own stories, with the characters conversing in my mind. I always considered this a childhood thing but now I realized how in my dreams characters would talk to me in an independent voice. Does this make me a nut case? Maybe but some consider insanity a plus for a writer.
10. Nihongo Words and Idioms: The only big argument I had with some of my prereaders was over the use of Nihongo words in the dialogue. Lita Eagle made a few comments about it and I had some long e-mail letters with Achariyth over this part of my style. Lita Eagle thought the usage would distract the reader from the storytelling and would make some readers just hit the 'back' button while Achariyth believed it is a quick way to lose a reader's interest. I trimmed down the Nihongo words in the narration but stayed firm on it in the dialogue for several reasons:
Atmosphere: I wanted the story to feel like a subtitled version of the OAV. I wanted Nihongo and Jurain culture to flow out of the story. You should know I'm not just an otaku of anime, I'm also otaku of Nihonjin. It doesn't mean I don't recognize the flaws in the culture but I have an admiration for the people. As Gilles Poitras pointed out in his/her? book, Nihongo culture penetrates all anime to vary degrees and many times the only way you can understand a character's actions is to remember that anime is first made for the Nihon market (although American tastes have started to influence anime marketed for Nihon TV). I also wanted to show how similar and different Juraijin is from Nihonjin and how different the two are from Western culture and other space faring races.
Dialogue: I wanted to increase the individuality of the different character's voices. I have talked to other otakus here in Sacramento, anthropology professors and e-mail contacts and many agreed on how important language is in the Tenchi OAV, especially slang. Each characters talks differently in Nihongo and I wanted to carry it over into my story and the only way to do this is to use Nihongo words with a translation next to it. Furthermore female characters talk differently from male characters and I wanted to reflex this in my dialogue too. These examples are:
Katsuhito/Yosho talked in a very slangy Kyushu dialect.
Ayeka talked in a very formal Royal Court dialect (Hensian I think) most of the time with a very dainty feminine voice (but when she loses her temper, watch out!).
Sasami speeches varied from the formal Royal Court dialect to the affectionate Nihongo child speak depending on whom she is talking to and the situation.
Tsunami talked the formal Royal Court dialect.
Ryoko talked in a Southern Honshu dialect with lots of rural slang with a very forward famine voice (almost American in directness).
Tenchi talked in a Southern Honshu dialect with a mix of traditional, school and Nihongo-Amerika slang.
Nobuyuki talked in an Osaka dialect with lots of urban and rural sexual slang.
Washu talked in a very rough, masculine voice (use of na, ze and da particles instead of the feminine no, ne, wa and wa yo) used by most university professors and included slang from various origins but shifts into a very feminine voice when she teases someone.
I had Scully and MacClean talk in a gender-neutral voice reflecting their foreign origins and her being out of Nihon for the last twenty years. MacClean speaks in a Tokyo dialect with a lot of street slang and Nihongo-Amerika words. As the series progress, she will slip back into her old speech pattern.
Impact of Western culture: Nihon is the land of tradition and change, which can be found in her language. Those who listen only to dubs will miss this mix of the old and the new and I wanted to show this influence in my stories. If you listen to subtitle anime and songs sung in the anime, you would find a lot of Nihongo-Amerika words and slang. Just as American English is a bastard language with words going back to ancient Greek and Latin, the street Nihongo contains a lot of Chinese, Korean, European and American words, idioms and slang (especially the Tokyo dialect).
Censorship: Anime contains layers of censorship in an attempt to produce a product saleable in both Nihon and the United States. The pure form is the original Nihongo version (either anime or manga) with minimum censorship (mostly due to the target audience the producers are aiming at). The first layer of censorship is the subtitled. This censorship varied from company to company (USManga doing the least amount of subtitled censorship to Pioneer doing a lot of subtitled censorship) but it is there. Dubbed anime is heavy with censorship so it will not offend certain groups in the United States and England. By using Nihongo words and idioms I am attempting to strip away the layers of censorship to present Tenchi in the raw.
Enjoyment: My stories are attempts to convince the reader he/she is missing a very magical world by not knowing some Nihongo words and idioms. By just using either Happosai's or my glossary a new level of entertainment and understanding of anime will reach you. You don't need to understand that many Nihongo words for the key to unlock the door to this new world.
11.Present Tense: This will be the only time I will do a story in a present tense style, the rest of my stories will be in past tense. The reasons for doing this story in present tense were many:
1. The majority of my poems and songs I have done in present tense and I was hoping to use the same style for my stories.
2. My English professors have always stated that present tense writing is superior to past tense writing.
3. I noticed that some reviewers would get on a soapbox about people using present tense and I decided to let them know how much this bothered me. To be against something because it's different is not a good thing.
12. There are a lot of good to excellent Tenchi fan fiction stories out there. If you want to get hooked on reading Tenchi fan fiction, start with the stories I listed below, these are some of the best:
"Tenchi Muyo! H Adventures" by Warpzone32@hotmail.com this is one of the funniest lemons I've ever read.
"Homecomings: A Tenchi Muyo/El Hazard Crossover" by Andrew Graham & Deunan. A great crossover story.
"Tenchi Muyo: Unfinished Business" by Dennis 'Dewey Neko' Carr & Karmin 'Trakal' St. Jean. Come on guys, get the next chapter out, I love this series.
"Tenchi Muyo: Darkest Hell" by email@example.com I couldn't read this series all at once. I had to space other Tenchi stories in between chapters to keep myself from being consumed by this fic. A great story.
"Breakfast In Bed" by Steven Laird. This is a new story and I recommend it for everyone. I liked it a lot.
"The Mihoshi Incident" by Doppelganger. This Tenchi Muyo/Star Trek NG crossover is very good.
"Tenchi Muyo: Ryoko's Love" by Long T. Tran. Please, please Tran, write some more chapters in this series. I really, really like it.
"The Gentle Sound of Thunder" by BGlanders. All of the stories by BGlanders are great and this is an excellent example. A very sad story and it influenced me a lot in my depiction of Ayeka.
"Tenchi Muyo: Mother's Day" by Ryan Mathews. A very good writer, this story is one of my favorite Washu tales.
"Kongo no Tenchi Muyo" by Hakubi Ryouko. An excellent story.
"Surprises All Around" by Jamie Jeans. Will you please write another chapter Jamie? I like your SI character.
"A Change of State" by Matthew Smith. I'm currently rereading this story. It's one of my favorites because of his portrayal of Sasami.
"Darkness & Light" by Zyrean. The best Kiyone/tall dark stranger series out there.
"Heaven and Eternity" by K'thardin. You don't need to do a rewrite K'thardin, I love the original. I just wish you continued the squeal.
"Aikan Muyo" by Happosai. The best Tenchi lemon out there. It had a huge influence on my writing style.
"Confess To You" by Literary Eagle. Everything that comes out of this lovely lady's pen is great but Confess to You is a prime example of her skill. I add my voice to K'thardin and say? Please finish it!
"No Need For Sasami" by Michael McAvoy. A part of Long T. Tran's Ryoko Love's universe, it was this series that got me hooked on reading Tenchi fan fiction. Keep up the good work McAvoy.
"Blood Red Moon" by Platinum Dragon. This series and its squeals are great.
"Two Guys, A Girl, And A Giant Lizard" and "Destiny's Balance" by Tomas "009"Doscher. This is probably Doscher's best work.
All of these stories can be found at GenSao's Tenchi Muyo Fan Fiction Archive at http://tmffa.com.