This is the first story I ever wrote for Tenchi

This story is based on the OVA continuum.

Little Ryoko

By Diane Long

Blue shades of twilight caught in Ryoko's ice green hair as she sat on the

couch and sipped from her small cup. The sake was just the right

temperature and felt warm and smooth as she rolled it around her mouth.

This was the good stuff, the kind you savored slowly instead of gulping

down for the mere purpose of intoxication. She took another sip and tried

not to look at the others as they laughed over something on the other couch.

They sounded like they were having so much fun. And here she was, all by

herself on the other couch. Even Ryo-Ohki was with them. She took

another sip, her brow creasing almost imperceptibly. What were laughing

about? Was it her?

She bit her lip and hunched her shoulders, resenting their fun and feeling

terribly isolated. Should she go over there and join in? She slid a yellow

eye over in their direction and took in their happy faces. She should just go

over and watch, maybe they would let her join in and laugh with them.

Yeah right. She would do something wrong and Ayeka would get mad.

Then the rest would be angry too, and blame Ryoko for ruining the fun. She

closed her eyes, the longing for companionship a twisting pain deep inside

of her.

Across the room, Washu's head jerked up, her long pinkish red hair flying.

An adult in a 12-year-old body, she seemed diminutive on her hovering

purple cushion as she worked on her holographic laptop. Her fingers paused

above the keyboard as a dim echo of heartache reverberated through her

mental link with Ryoko. Washu absently saved her work before banishing

her portable console. A look of regret passed over her features as she studied

her daughter. If she hadn't felt that nanosecond of pain, she would have

thought Ryoko was sulking. On the surface Ryoko appeared bored and

disinterested in the activities of the others. But, oh, Washu knew so much

better. The little Ryoko she used to know had been such a tender child.

... Sunlight splashed into Washu's library,

catching on the dust motes as they spun through

the currents of the air.

"Little Ryoko," an adult Washu called as she

poked her head around a tall shelving unit made of

a deep red wood. "Where are you?" She listened

with a small smile. Her daughter was anything but

silent. She would give herself away soon enough.

"Ryoko, don't tease mommy now."

Something rustled high above Washu's head. She

looked up to see her toddler precariously balanced

on the top edge of a twenty-foot high bookshelf.

The youngster laughed at being caught red-handed

and called down "Hello mama!" in a squeaky

chirrup. Ryoko's hair was caught up in a simple

yet spiky ponytail, tied with a teal ribbon. Her teal

and pink dress was covered with the dust that

covered the top of the shelves.

"Hello indeed," muttered Washu. "How did you

get up there little Ryoko?" Thank goodness she

hadn't imbued Ryoko with her powers yet. The

last thing she needed was a teleporting three year-

old.

"Climbed!" Ryoko said proudly.

Washu shook her head and began to slide a

wheeled ladder over when Ryoko lost her balance

and tipped over the edge with a shriek.

"RYOKO!"

Washu dashed under her daughter and caught her

as she tumbled down. "That," she said crossly, "is

why mommy tells you not to climb so high!" She

emphasized her point with a gentle shake.

Ryoko looked up at her with big yellow eyes and a

puckered mouth. She sniffed and fat tears began to

run down her cheeks. "I'm sorry. S-sorry,

mommy. Don't be mad."

"Oh, little one." Washu held Ryoko close, and felt

the warm tears against her neck. "Don't cry. I `m

not mad. I just don't want you to get hurt. I love

you."

Ryoko's little arms stretched to get around

Washu's neck as she nodded.

Washu squeezed her again. "I have an idea! Let's

go turn the gravity off in the lab so we can fly!"

"Okay!" Ryoko said excitedly, her tears stopped.

She wriggled out of Washu's arms and raced off

towards the lab. "

...Washu drifted back to the present. So much had changed. When she had

first seen Ryoko after her own release from Kagato she had been

heartbroken to see her daughter so changed. But quickly she saw through

the defenses her poor darling had crafted over thousands of years to protect

herself. On the surface, she was tough, selfish, and insolent. She swaggered

around with a firm shield of protective bravado. Ryoko would like the

others to think she didn't really need anyone, that she was self-contained.

Sometimes it seemed to Washu that Ryoko had emerged from that cave with

the body of a seventeen year-old young woman, and the mind of an eight

year-old child. Despite Ryoko's long life, she had no memories of anything

from her free past. All of her memories were of her time of enslavement and

destruction. The day she emerged from the cave was in many ways the first

day of her life. And she had been struggling ever since to fit in, to be as

normal as it was possible to be around here. And, damn if she didn't do

surprisingly well for someone with absolutely no social skills. It was crude

of course, with her few strategies to prosocialy interact often degrading into

a genuinely child-like display of self-centeredness. If Ryoko couldn't figure

out how to ask someone for something she needed, she would just take it. It

was the only thing that had been 100% successful for her in the past, so with

out even meaning to she often used this skill when she got frustrated with

people.

Washu sighed. This made others see her as less desirable, and often Ryoko

was left out of conversations and activities. Like tonight for example. While

Ryoko sat on the couch with and pretended to be coolly enjoying her drink,

the rest of the youngsters were crowded on the other couch excitedly

babbling over which television show to watch. Ryoko pretended to look out

the window at the moon over the lake, but Washu could see that every so

often she peeked at the group out of the corner of her right eye. Washu

could still feel Ryoko's wish to be invited to join them, to be included.

Ryoko had been damaged. There was such hurt in her. So much pain.

Washu knew only the general story of the horrors she had gone through with

Kagato, but did not know the details because the strength of her link to

Ryoko had been diminished by the nature of her own imprisonment. And the

difference was always in the details. For almost 2000 years, this child had

been abused in countless ways. What must that have done to her soul? Now

she was free, but she was still imprisoned by her past

Washu cleared her throat. "Hmmmm. There are so many good choices

tonight. What do you think Ryoko?"

"That's right!" Sasami bounded over to Ryoko with the television guide in

her hands. "Ryoko can help us!"

Sasami pointed to two spots on the guide's page and looked up at Ryoko.

"We've narrowed it down to these two. Which would you like to watch?"

Washu smiled at the younger girl's sweetness, then her smile slipped as she

felt a pulse of panic from Ryoko. Washu arched an eyebrow and carefully

observed what was happening.

Ryoko fussed with putting her glass down in just the right spot, looking

bored. She took hold of the TV guide, her eyes scanning the page. "Hmmm,

they both look good. Which do you want to watch, Sasami?"

Sasami giggled and rocked back on her heels. "Well, I want to watch the

love story personally. But I really thought you would want to watch the

Battle Action Droids!"

Ryoko smiled hugely. "Yeah! I wanna watch the Battle Action Droids!

That's my favorite show!" she said pointing to a listing in the book.

Sasami giggled again. "Silly! You were pointing to the love story! So I

guess that's what we are going to watch!"

"Hey!" sputtered Ryoko. "It was a simple mistake."

"Too bad, Ryoko," Tenchi said kindly. "Next time you should pay closer

attention."

Ryoko blushed and turned away, looking out of the window again.

Washu's other eyebrow joined it's twin in a high position on her forehead.

No way. It couldn't be. Could it? She thought back.

..."But MO-OM, it says here that the particle

rays should be set to have an INVERSE reaction to

the study medium. You set it up wrong!" said an

adolescent Ryoko, her nose deep within a thick

manual. She was lying on her stomach atop a

floating cushion, kicking her long legs as she read.

Next to her Washu was setting up cell cultures in a

gelatin medium.

Washu raised her safety glasses and looked at

Ryoko skeptically. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. It says so right here," Ryoko said obviously

preparing to read out-loud.

"Alright, alright," Washu conceded and flipped a

switch on the particle accelerator. She looked

back to Ryoko and noticed that her daughter was

being suspiciously silent. Moving quietly, she

peeked over the large manual and saw that Ryoko

had hidden a paper back romance inside.

"Ryoko! You were supposed to be helping me

with this experiment!"

"Aren't I?" came the innocent reply.

"I wouldn't classify recreational reading as a

crucial step in the scientific method, no."

"Mom, you know I only have to read it once to get

it perfectly. We've been at this for HOURS. I'm

bored."

Washu smiled. "Having an obscenely brilliant

daughter makes more work for a mom!" she said

happily.

Ryoko giggled.

"I see your favorite creation is once more flexing

the muscles of independence," came a quiet voice

from behind Washu. The voice was darkly

masculine, with an undisguised self-confidence.

Washu raised an eyebrow. Why

hadn't she noticed his entry? Children are such a

distraction ...

Ryoko stiffened but didn't look up from her book.

"Mom said not to call me that."

"My apologies, dear Ryoko."

Ryoko ignored him.

Washu sighed. "Yes, Kagato?"

"Professor, I need you to sign this form so I might

begin my dissertation proposal." A tall young man

with long pale hair and tiny round glasses handed

her a slip of paper.

"Certainly. I'm glad you are getting started with

that. You don't want to be a student for your entire

life, you know!" She smiled warmly. Kagato was

one of her best students, even if he was jealous of

Ryoko. She signed the form and handed it back to

him.

"Indeed not professor." He swept out of the door.

Washu returned to setting up the experiment.

"How many pulses, little Ryoko?"

"Three," came the distracted reply.

"That must be some book," Washu said as she

raised the protective shield. "I hope it's age

appropriate."

A strangled sound told her it wasn't. Washu

smiled and started up the particle accelerator. Ah

well. Girls would be girls.

...Again Washu snapped back to the present. Ryoko had loved to read. And

yet now that she was free, Washu had never seen her reading anything but

manga. Washu looked up at Ryoko's favored rafter. There really should be

piles of books up there. A deep feeling of sadness crept over her. Oh this

couldn't be true. To deny such a brilliant mind intellectual stimulation was

the cruelest of tortures. No wonder Ryoko became so frustrated so easily.

On some level she must remember that she used to understand things

effortlessly. She must sense the difference. Washu hugged herself briefly,

loathing the mere of idea of how horrible that must be. She forced herself to

relax her arms and behave normally.

She summoned her computer, started typing again and casually asked, "So

when does Battle Action Droids begin?"

"We are going to watch the other one little Washu," Sasami called out.

"What? The love story? Yuck! The greatest scientific genius in the universe

isn't interested in mush. I wanna see things blow up!"

"I'm sorry Miss. Washu, but we have already voted," said Ayeka with a

polite sniff.

"Hmmmm. I think I'm going to go watch it in the lab. Anyone else

interested?" She forced herself to not look in Ryoko's direction. Any

prompting at all would make her suspicious.

"Really? I didn't know you get TV shows in the lab," said Ryoko

interestedly.

Washu looked back over her shoulder with an expression that said, `You

have to ask?'

Ryoko shrugged. "Yeah, right. Sure, count me in." She grabbed the sake

and stalked towards the kitchen.

Washu followed behind her without waiting to see of there were any other

takers. She heard Ryoko rattling around in the cupboards as she slipped into

her lab. Pressing buttons and flipping switches, Washu caused several

plump floor cushions to appear in front of her largest display screen, while

most of the larger equipment slid into the walls to create more space. A

quick adjustment of a knob captured earthly television signals and isolated

the appropriate channel.

As Washu settled on a cushion to await Ryoko, she heard the bell above her

lab door tinkle softly. "I'm over hear, can you find me?" she called.

"Yup," Ryoko said as she settled unto a cushion besides Washu. Without a

word she set down a bottle of sake and two cups between them.

Washu's throat closed tightly at the gesture. "Thank you," she said softly.

"For what? Oh that, trust me you need to drink to get the most out of this

show."

"Ah," Washu said simply, retrieving a large bowl of buttered popcorn from a

dimensional pocket.

They watched the show together, both laughing and the terribly contrived

plots that were constructed to fit in as many spectacular explosions as

possible in a half an hour. Soon the sake was gone and only crumbs and un-

popped kernels of corn remained at the bottom of the bowl. As the end

credits began to roll both women stayed silent as if loath to interrupt how

nice being together felt.

"Well." Ryoko fiddled with a tassel of the cushion. "I guess I should get

going."

"Ryoko."

"What?" Ryoko asked with trepidation, something about Washu's emotional

tone worried her.

"That cushion is yours."

"Excuse me?" Ryoko ran a hand over the plush teal fabric with confusion.

Washu pointed to her own purple cushion. "It's just like mine, but in your

favorite colour."

Ryoko smiled. Well, teal was her favorite colour. "You made this for me

just now?"

"No. Thousands of years ago. We used them together when we worked side

by side."

Ryoko was silent, her hands rubbing the fabric as if trying to conjure a

memory.

Washu sighed softly. "Don't you remember anything?"

"You know I don't," Ryoko said annoyance creeping into her voice. How

many times were they going to have this conversation anyway?

"I know. It's just that I wish that you could."

"Why?"

"Because if you had the same memories I do, you wouldn't push me away,"

Washu murmured.

Ryoko slumped back into her pillow, suddenly feeling very weary. "I don't

do it to hurt you Washu."

"I know. But it's only after your merging with Zero that we have been able

to address this at all."

"Don't think I'm going soft," Ryoko said stiffly, looking down into her lap.

"But you are safe now, you don't have to be so strong."

"What are you talking about?" Ryoko snapped looking up again. She

faltered when she saw Washu in her adult form, her face inches from her

own.

Washu smiled sadly and stroked Ryoko's cheek. "We both know I am

talking about Kagato and the way you became to keep yourself safe."

"Mom?" Ryoko croaked.

"Little Ryoko, I want to try and see if I can retrieve any of your memories.

You were happy once. I want you to know how that feels."

"Who cares?" Ryoko asked with only a shadow of her usual sarcasm.

"I do. Can I try? I'll need your help. I can't do this by myself."

"Don't get your hopes up. No matter who I used to be, I'm different now.

There is no going back."

A small tear clung to the corner of Washu's eyelid. "I know."

"I don't want to remember. I need to go." Ryoko scrambled to her feet and

hurried away.

Chapter Two

Later that night, Ryoko sat on her rafter and brooded as the rest of the house

silently slipped into sleep. Damn that Washu. Couldn't she leave well

enough alone? She clenched her fist until her nails dug painfully into her

palm. Washu had no idea of just how much she was asking. How could she

bear to remember those days, those happy days when she was an innocent.

All of the memories she had left were dark and horrific. She had done such

heinous things. That she had been forced to do them all didn't change the

front row view of her memory. Every act of atrocity was branded into her

mind painted with vivid emotions and pain. She remembered the screams,

and the smells. The smells were the worst. She couldn't be near a barbecue

with out having getting violently ill. Not only did she remember the things

she had done, her body remembered how it had felt to do them. And almost

as bad were the memories of Kagato.

..."Ryoko, pet, come and pour me a glass of

wine."

Shaking, a skinny teenaged girl bearing a wine

carafe on a silver tray darted out from the shadows

and hurried over to his side. Her head was bowed,

allowing her long hair to fall over her face so she

could avoid his eyes. The wine splashed as her

hands trembled.

"Don't drip," he said with a calm fury that she had

learned to fear.

"Yes, sir," she squeaked.

Suddenly his fist swept up and knocked the tray

out of her hands. It clattered to the floor as the

carafe smashed beside it, leaving a puddle of

burgundy liquid seeping out from the shards of

glass.

"Enough of this simpering! I despise it." Kagato

grabbed Ryoko's shoulders and shook her hard

enough to make her head snap painfully

backwards.

"You can destroy planets Ryoko, and yet you

tremble like a rabbit. You disgust me." He flung

her down to her knees and towered over her.

"You are nothing but waste. Defective! All of that

power and such a weak will. I should destroy you

right now."

Ryoko cowered on the floor as sharp bits of glass

dug into the tender flesh of her knees. She felt her

teeth begin to chatter, and tried so hard to make it

stop. Any further signs of weakness from her and

he would become more violent.

But he saw. He always did. "You need to be

stronger Ryoko! Strong like a stone!" He

gestured with right index finger and Ryoko felt her

arm tingle and grow denser.

She clutched at her arm and screamed in pain as

the stone transformation spread upwards.

Kagato laughed heartily to see her so fully under

his power.

Panicked, Ryoko struggled to her feet. "Stop it!"

she yelled swinging her stone arm at his face.

"Leave me alone!"

Kagato stopped laughing and ducked before

returning the blow with a punch that sent her

flying into the far wall.

"Well, my, my. You are showing some promise

after all."

Kagato stalked over to where she lay in a stunned

heap at the base of the wall, a small stream of

blood trickling from a gash on her lip. He grabbed

a handful of her hair and pulled her off the ground,

so high that her feet were dangling in the air.

She groaned in pain as he ground her into the wall

and kissed her bloody lips. She knew what was

coming. She hated what was coming next.

"Yes," he said licking her blood from his lips.

"You are coming along my dear. I think I'll spare

you for now. Let's celebrate."

Tears slipped out from beneath Ryoko's lashes as

she squeezed her eyes shut and tried to do the same

with her mind.

"Oh such emotion," he mocked. "You aren't real

you know. You are just a creation of mine. I'll

just throw you away if you don't please me.

Understand?"

...Ryoko glared into the darkness of the Masaki living room. She had

understood all right. That was the beginning of the end for her. She had

become what she had needed to survive. And it had replaced the person she

used to be, and the problem was that the old Ryoko would never come back.

She had been destroyed by Kagato. That wouldn't matter so much, except

that since Ryoko had merged with Zero she suddenly had something internal

to compare her current self against. The innocent, tenderhearted Zero was

the projection of who Ryoko should have grown up to be, and the

comparison between this and what she had become instead haunted her. She

now had a sense of how warped and abnormal she was. Could she stand to

have other memories, to learn even more clearly of what she had lost? Her

mind said no, but a small voice in her heart was curious to know anyway.

Damn that Zero. And Damn Washu. No, one could understand how she felt.

No one. She teleported to the roof top to watch the moon and stars tracing

across the sky. It was going to be a long night.

The next morning Ryoko drifted to the breakfast table feeling crankier than

usual. She rarely slept, but last night's endless hours of remembering had

exhausted her like nothing else could. As soon as breakfast was finished,

she was going to catch a few Z's in her favorite tree. She ignored the others

and reached for a bowl of rice.

"My, my, it looks like we had a rough ," simpered Ayeka

from behind her cup of tea.

Ryoko's lip curled in agitation but she said nothing. She focused on the

food, enjoying the texture. Rice had such a nice, firm feel to it.

Ayeka looked at Ryoko in annoyance. Why wasn't she rising to the bait?

"Ryoko, it's the shame the way your little sake problem drains the family

resources. It's selfish really."

Ryoko focused on chasing the last grain of rice in her bowl with her

chopsticks. "I wasn't drinking last night, Princess." Maybe breakfast wasn't

such a good idea this morning. She didn't need it anyway. She just ate to be

like them, to be normal. Well, forget it.

She was teleporting away when she heard Ayeka speak again. "Well, you

look exhausted. You were up to SOMETHING last night."

Ryoko reappeared at the table with the low sound of matter transfer.

"Say that again," she growled angry that her pain was being mocked.

::Tell them the truth then!:: said Washu into her mind.

Ryoko's eyes slid over to the again adolescent Washu, while the rest of her

body remained perfectly still. Washu sat with her rice bowl held close under

her chin, the tips of her chopsticks between her lips. She met her daughter's

eyes calmly and tried to give her an encouraging look.

::If you don't tell them you were tormented by memories of your past, they

can't understand.!::

::. . . .:: Ryoko replied in a wordless rush of unhappiness.

::Then I'll tell them!::

"No!" Ryoko shouted out-loud, drawing shocked looks.

Washu set down her bowl and balanced her utensils across its brim as she

cleared her throat. "The fact of the matter is that little Ryoko spent the

entire night agonizing over her past."

"Washu!" Ryoko shouted, slamming her fist on the table, taking off a chunk

of the edge. "Shut the hell up!"

Washu frowned and stood up, placing both palms on the table as she leaned

forward. "CALL ME MOM!" As she spoke her body morphed into her

adult form, a stern parental expression on her face.

Ryoko's eyes widened and for a moment she was shocked into silence.

Washu placed her hands on her hips and continued. "As I was saying, you

spent all of last night remembering what it felt like when Kagato hurt you

and made you hurt other people. You were in so much agony that I had to

take three full strength tranquilizers to get any sleep at all. Even blocking

our link couldn't seal off your pain!"

Ryoko's hands flew up to hide her face. "Stop, please stop. Don't tell."

Washu snorted. "Don't tell them what? That Kagato took a sweet, smart,

wonderful little girl and twisted her soul? Took away her mother? Took

away her freedom? Erased your memories of her childhood? Happy

memories Ryoko!"

Ryoko cried softly into her hands. The rest of the table watched the

interaction between mother and daughter in stunned silence.

"Ryoko, please let me give you your good memories back. You can find

your way back to yourself."

Ryoko's back stiffened. She uncovered her face and scrubbed away her

tears with the backs of her hands. Her lips twisted into a sneer. "You think

you know so much. I like who I am now. I don't want anything you have to

offer."

Washu's mouth puckered in a mixture of hurt and annoyance. "Not even the

ability to read again, my little Ryoko?"

Tenchi's eyes widened. "You can't read?" he whispered.

"You cannot read?" asked Ayeka incredulously. Her eyes widened with true

concern. She might taunt Ryoko from time to time, but she never truly

wished harm on her rival. "Oh, Ryoko that's." she faltered seeing Ryoko

slide near tears again. "That's so. predictable," she finished lamely,

hoping a dash of their semi-friendly verbal sparing might help re-orient

Ryoko.

It didn't.

Ryoko turned red with humiliation and hung her head. "I'll never forgive

you Washu," she hissed as she phased straight down through the floor.

Washu sagged to the table, reverting to her child-like appearance. "What

have I done?"

Tenchi scooted over to her and laid a hand on her shoulder. "What was that

all about?"

"I was just trying to help Ryoko be more honest about her feelings."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm sorry Tenchi, but I've already said too much." Washu got to her feet

and strode off to her lab and quickly vanished behind the door. This time the

door vanished too. No one was going to have access to her today.

Tenchi scratched his head. "Ryoko can't read?"

"Oh that's just horrible!" Sasami looked up at Tenchi with sad eyes. "She

must be so embarrassed. Washu shouldn't have told! And she didn't get to

finish her breakfast. She'll be so hungry."

"Of course she can't read," Ayeka said sadly. "Think of what she has been

through

Tenchi frowned. "We can't really understand the things Ryoko has been

through. But we can try to help her now."

"That's right Tenchi. I bet she needs us, and her breakfast," Sasami stated

gathering up the remainder of Ryoko's food. "Let's go find her!"

Tenchi got to his feet. "Right. Ayeka, are you coming with us?"

Ayeka flushed. " No, I'll just make things worse, Lord Tenchi."

Sasami set a medium sized wicker basket on the table and began loading it

with Ryoko's leftovers, some fruit and bottled water. "How can you say that

Ayeka? Ryoko is your friend."

"She and I don't have that kind of friendship. I know she would prefer I stay

away," Ayeka sniffed. "I'm going to do the laundry."

Sasami shrugged and hefted the basket into her arms. "Ready, Tenchi?"

Tenchi smiled and took the basket. "Yes, let's go. Where do you think she

went?"

"I have an idea. Follow me!" Sasami said, hurrying towards the door.

Half an hour later, Tenchi and Sasami were a mile up the mountainside and

standing in a thick copse of trees. At the very top of the tallest tree was a

small, enclosed tree house.

Tenchi shielded his eyes from the sun and squinted up at the tree house.

"What's this?"

Sasami giggled. "It's Ryoko's private place. Ryo-Ohki brought me here

once."

"Huh, I wonder why she made it."

Sasami looked up at where Ryo-Ohki was perched at the top of her head and

listened to the soft meows of her little friend. "I think Ryoko comes here

when she is sad. Tenchi, Ryoko comes here a lot."

Tenchi approached the bottom of the tree. It seemed fitting that he be the

one to go up there and talk to her. After all, he was her friend.

"Tenchi?" Sasami laid a hand on his shoulder.

He stopped and looked down at her. "Yes?"

"Tenchi, I don't think you should go up there."

"Why not?"

"It's hard to explain. Let me go okay?"

Tenchi scratched his head. "I guess so."

"You're a good boy Tenchi!" Sasami said sweetly and wrapped her hands

around Ryo-Ohki and soon the two of them levitated towards the small

wooden structure.

Tenchi didn't want to be a good boy. He wanted to understand what was

wrong with one of his friends. Instead he sat on the ground and waited.

Sasami was usually right about these sorts of things.

Inside her tree house, Ryoko was lying on the floor curled into a ball. Now

they knew. And it was just like Ayeka to mock her for it. It was the perfect

weakness to exploit. How could Washu have told them? And how did

Washu know anyway? Ryoko had been so careful to not let anyone know

she couldn't read those strange little symbols. Now she had no chance with

Tenchi. He was so smart and so educated. How could he want someone as

stupid and ignorant as she was? It was hopeless.

She shivered and sniffed. Life was so unfair. After all that had happened,

she only wanted to be happy. It seemed that Kagato had cursed her from

beyond the grave. Everything that he had done to her was lasting beyond its

initial purpose. She was doomed to be alone. She had tried so hard to be a

part of this strange little earth family, but the truth was that she didn't really

know how to be part of a family, or even a friend. She didn't know the

rules. None of them liked her anyway. They just tolerated her. They would

be happier if she left. But where would she go?

She looked up at the interior of the tree house. It was crude, just a small

room with no windows. But the roof was tight and she had a comfortable

futon and some blankets to curl up in. Even better, there were the few

shelves where her most prized possessions were safely displayed. She had

learned to hide her things from Kagato early on, as he would destroy any

belongings she managed to acquire.

On the shelves were a few pictures of her housemates, a collection of sake

bottles and cups, and some pretty stones she had found in the river. Their

smooth shape soothed her when she moved them into her palms and rotated

them around. But most prized was the book Tenchi had given her for

Christmas last year. She couldn't read it, but it was something he had given

to her, and so held great meaning. She didn't even know what it was about,

but even more than that she wondered about the inscription Tenchi had

written on the fronts piece.

Ryoko sniffed. Maybe she could ask now that they all knew her secret.

Yeah right. They would just remember what an ignorant barbarian she was.

She was reaching for a bottle of sake when a soft knock at the door caught

her attention.

"Who is it? Go away!"

Sasami stuck her head in the door. "It's me! I've brought you breakfast!"

Ryoko turned her head. "I'm not hungry."

Sasami sat the basket down and sat on the futon. "What's wrong, Ryoko?"

Ryoko stiffened. "Please leave me," she said thickly.

Sasami placed an arm around Ryoko's shoulder. "I don't leave my friends

when they are crying."

"I'm not crying," Ryoko snapped, the suppressed tears plain in her speech.

Sasami didn't say anything, but patted Ryoko's shoulder instead. She let the

silence coax words from Ryoko.

"I'm your friend?" Ryoko asked in a small voice.

"Of course you are. Aren't I your friend?"

"Of course you are, " Ryoko said quickly.

"Ryoko, you don't really think we all don't return your friendship do you?"

"Yes, that is exactly what I think," Ryoko said her voice breaking.

"Oh Ryoko! That's so sad!" Sasami threw both of her arms around Ryoko

and gave her a big hug. "And it's not true. I think of you as another big

sister!"

"How can you?" Ryoko choked. "I almost killed you when you were a baby

remember? When I attacked Jurai."

"I forgave you Ryoko. It wasn't you. It was Kagato!"

"But it was through me! I did it." Ryoko took a shuddering breath. "I did so

many things."

Sasami scooted over so that she faced Ryoko, and looked her straight in the

eyes. "Stop blaming yourself! You had no choice. It's intention that

matters."

"I want to believe that Sasami! But I can't! I can't remember any other way

of living. Those memories are all that I have. They define me."

"Then let Washu give you your old memories back."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"I think I used to be a little girl like you once, Sasami. I don't really

remember. I have this feeling, though, that I was sweet and gentle. That

would be ashamed of me."

"Oh Ryoko."

"So don't you see? That would make me even more ashamed of myself than

I am even now!"

"But I forgive you, and if you were once like me, don't you think you could

forgive yourself?"

Ryoko's mouth worked, but she stayed silent. She didn't have an easy

rebuttal for that.

Changing the subject so Ryoko wouldn't have to answer that out loud,

Sasami asked, "But I still don't understand why you can't read. Didn't you

need to read to follow Kagato's orders?"

Ryoko laughed bitterly. "It was just another form of punishment. Because

he had complete control over me he could even take certain cognitive

functions away from me." She reached over to a shelf and picked up the

book Tenchi had given her and flipped through the pages lovingly.

"I loved to read," she said longingly. " I can almost remember reading all of

the time. at some point. in my life. But when Kagato discovered that, he

took away my ability to read, and only gave it back during my missions

when I was too controlled to read for pleasure. Then he would take it away

again. I never got it back the last time."

A tear trickled down Sasami's face. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Why do you think? It's embarrassing."

"But we could have taught you to read again."

"Oh. I never thought of that. Sasami, I'm not used to having friends."

"I know. But we can only help you if you ask."

"I don't know how to ask."

"Then get your memories back. You might remember how."

"I can't decide right now. I'll think about it, okay?"

"That's a start, I guess."

" Sasami, thank you. May I be alone now? I need to think."

"Okay," Sasami said reluctantly. "Don't forget your food."

"I won't. Bye now."

"Bye, please come home for supper. I'll make your favorite!"

"Okay, okay!" Ryoko laughed, gently pushing Sasami to the door.

"Bye! Don't be late!" Sasami shouted as she and Ryo-Ohki began floating

downwards.

"Ryoko.." Tenchi whispered as he watched Sasami heading back towards

the ground.

Sasami looked up at Tenchi as her feet hit the ground. "I need to tell you

something about Ryoko," she began as they headed back to the house. "But

she is very sensitive about it. Can you keep a secret?"

Chapter Three

Dinner was quiet and tense as everyone tried not to look at Ryoko's empty

seat. The clacks of chopsticks against porcelain bowls broke the silence as

everyone helped themselves to the sushi and condiments.

Washu was the only exception. Still in her adolescent form, she stared at the

empty place setting with a haunted look. She ate mechanically and couldn't

wait to get back to the sanctuary of her lab. She had only come out in hopes

the sushi would attract Ryoko. But in a way she was glad Ryoko wasn't

here. What could she say to make it up to her anyway?

Sasami played with her chopsticks as she looked out the window towards the

lake. It wouldn't be right to start without Ryoko. She brightened when the

screened door slid open.

In swaggered Ryoko. Her lips twisted into a smirk and she eyed everyone

contemptuously. "My. My. Am I late?"

"Indeed you are," said Ayeka dryly, trying not to seem too friendly.

Ryoko cocked one hip and balanced her weight on the opposite heel. "Well,

I just can't be expected to keep appointments. I'm busy you know. Very,

very busy."

Sasami looked hurt, but still understood what Ryoko was trying to do. She

was sure that Ryoko was very embarrassed about breakfast, and the things

she had said this afternoon. It was a wonder at all that she had even shown

up tonight. Sasami `s eyes twinkled. Maybe there was hope.

Ryoko still stood looking at the table. She eyed the sushi longingly, but

seemed stuck.

Tenchi cleared his throat. "Ryoko, won't you please join us?" He motioned

to the empty place setting next to him. "See? We saved you a seat."

Ryoko's eyes widened with surprise. "Why, of course. Thank you," she

stammered and quickly made her way to her seat. She cleared her throat

nervously, not sure how to react to being invited to join in. She sank into

seiza and took her chopsticks. She looked over to Sasami and noticed that

she hadn't eaten anything yet.

"Please eat Sasami. I'm sorry I'm late," she said softly.

"It's okay Ryoko. I understand," Sasami replied gently as Ayeka and Yosho

looked shocked at the apology.

Ryoko selected several pieces of sushi and quietly mixed an extra large

helping of wasabi paste into her small bowl of soy sauce.

Tenchi scratched the back of his head nervously. "Wow! That's going to be

hot!"

Ryoko had a tuna roll caught between her chopsticks and held it poised over

the soy sauce. "Hmmm?" she asked as she dunked it.

"That's hotter than I could ever eat it."

"Oh, it is?" She looked embarrassed. "But you put wasabi paste into your

soy sauce too," she said as a slight flush crept over her cheeks.

Tenchi laughed quietly. "Well, sure, but about an eighth of what you put

in."

Sasami frowned as she saw Ryoko's blush. "This is Ryoko's favorite dinner

and she can eat it however she wants!"

Tenchi got the hint, and went back to eating without further comment.

Ryoko sighed and popped the tuna roll into her mouth. She chewed silently

as she debated whether or not to share a little secret with them. Sasami said

they were her friends. Maybe this would be a good way to start, by sharing

something that didn't really matter. If they laughed at her, she would learn

her lesson before she shared anything really important. She swallowed and

took a small drink of tea.

"I do it because..." she trailed off into the silence.

Washu looked up.

"Yes, Ryoko?" Tenchi encouraged.

"I do it because the spices feel nice. I like foods that feel interesting."

"Ryoko, I don't understand. Please say more," Tenchi said earnestly.

She frowned. " I like sushi because the fish is slick, the rice is soft, and the

wasabi burns. I - I think that must be close to tasting it."

"You can't taste food?" Sasami asked with a little gasp. "That's awful!"

" I never could, Kiddo. I guess it was left out of my design."

"Chocolate!" Washu said in a pained voice.

"Excuse me?" Ryoko asked.

"You could too taste things! Chocolate was your favorite food! I couldn't

keep you out of it! You used to eat yourself sick!" Washu whined nasally.

"I did?" Ryoko asked in confusion.

The other's stopped eating and watched the pair intensely.

Washu's small fists clutched at the tablecloth. "Yes you did! You even held

up the student commissary to get chocolate pudding."

"And you made me stay up all night diagramming it's molecular structure as

punishment," Ryoko finished with a distant expression. "And then you

made me make it out of basic chemical components for breakfast the next

morning." Ryoko grimaced and rubbed her temple.

"Exactly," Washu breathed. "See? Your memories are still there, still

locked away! Please let me in! Please! I want to help you!" She hopped

onto the table and ran over to Ryoko. She knelt and grabbed Ryoko's lapels

and shook her. "Don't let that bastard win! I didn't know you couldn't

taste! How cruel!"

Ryoko's mouth hung open as she let Washu shake her. Washu cared. She

really cared. Ryoko found that she cared too, and felt her resolve

weakening. She threw her arms around Washu and whispered into her ear:

"I'm afraid."

Washu stopped shaking her immediately. "Of what, little Ryoko?" she

whispered back, wrapping her arms around her daughter protectively.

"Of hating myself even more than I already do," Ryoko said in a broken

whisper.

"Oh darling," Washu cried as she felt her body shifting back to her adult

form. She couldn't help it when very strong maternal feelings were aroused

in her. "I won't let that happen."

"And I'll be here for you too," Yosho said, putting a firm hand on Ryoko's

shoulder.

"What?" Ryoko asked pulling back a bit.

"Ryoko, this is the reason I imprisoned you instead of killing you seven

hundred years ago. I was waiting for a chance for you to regain your true

self."

"Yes, imprisoned her in the dark! In misery!" Washu growled, clutching

Ryoko protectively.

"Don't scold me. She was warped beyond recognition and completely out of

control. Her imprisonment had to be absolute."

Washu glared. "Even so, you have played a part in her misery, Yosho."

Yosho sighed. "Yes, I am sorry she fears the dark and small spaces now, but

I really had no choice. It was that or death."

Washu pointed an accusing finger in Yosho's face. "Liar! There were more

humane ways to contain her. But you didn't care. She isn't just frightened

of dark and enclosed spaces! She is terrified! Maybe we should see how

you like the feeling of perpetual drowning in a light-less, watery grave, you

bastard!" Her computer materialized beneath her fingertips, even as she

held Ryoko.

"Hey now!" shouted Tenchi. This was getting out of control.

"Stop it! Stop it!" Ryoko sputtered from within Washu's embrace. She

squirmed about trying to get free.

Washu's fingers paused, but she said nothing her fury was a silent but

obvious presence in the room now. She flexed her arms and would not

release Ryoko.

Unable to get free without hurting Washu, Ryoko stopped struggling, and

rested her chin on Washu's shoulder. "Look, I've already forgiven him," she

said with her eyes closed.

"How could you?" Washu whispered. "Remember our link. I know just

how bad it was."

"Forgiving makes me forget. Then I don't relive it. Your are making me

remember again, Washu," Ryoko's voice held a faint tremor of fear. "Those

are memories I don't desire to reclaim."

Washu banished her computer and gave Yosho a stern look. "You're off the

hook because she says so."

Yosho bowed slightly and returned the grave look. "Then you should be

proud of your daughter, she is gaining wisdom."

The corners of Washu's eyes crinkled as she caught the implied insult.

"And for the record, I am not afraid of anything!" Ryoko growled, caring

less about her so-called wisdom.

Washu's expression shifted with the speed of sliding mercury as she smiled

down at Ryoko's back. "Then I guess you're not afraid of your memories

either! Let's get started!"

"But I haven't finished my dinner!"

"We both know you don't need to eat, if you can taste it or not. Let's go."

Washu hopped down from the table dragging Ryoko with her. She was a

good foot taller than her daughter and had no trouble moving her along.

"But I want to finish!"

"Stop whining! When we are done, you'll be able to taste it!" Washu said

as she took pinched Ryoko's ear to get her to move faster.

"Good luck Ryoko!" Sasami shouted as the two of them disappeared behind

the lab door.

"Yes, come back to us with more manners!" Ayeka teased helpfully.

"I heard that!" came Ryoko's muffled reply.

Chapter Four

Ryoko fidgeted on a tall stool as Washu shined a pen light into her eyes.

"What are you doing?"

"Looking for something. Ah, there it is! Hold still please," Washu said as

she reached behind her. She raised a small device and aimed its aperture at

Ryoko's eye. She pushed a button and held steady until a small beep

sounded. "All done!"

"What was that?" Ryoko asked blinking here eyes to ease the dryness caused

by keeping them open so long.

"I just downloaded your memory matrix. It seemed like a good place to

start." She plugged the device into a data port on the main computer's

console.

"Oh," Ryoko drew up her knees and rested her chin on them.

Washu's fingers flew over the keyboard as she stared at her computer

screen. "Mmmm."

"What? Did you find anything?"

"Maybe. There is a little knot in the nexus that shouldn't be there. Hmmm.

This might be harder than I expected." Washu turned around with a handful

of electrodes connected to long wires.

"What are those for?"

Washu smiled and gently brushed Ryoko's hair out of the way so the

Electrodes could come into contact with her skin. "To monitor your brain

waves. They will help guide me."

"I thought you had downloaded me already. What do you need this for?"

Washu patted Ryoko's cheek. "That's Kagato talking again. You are much

more than a program and you know it. Any changes that happen in real time

may give me a clue. Please try to be patient."

Ryoko smiled sheepishly. "I'll try. may I have my cushion please?"

Washu tapped a button with a wide smile and the teal pillow appeared and

hovered level with Ryoko's stool. Ryoko slid onto the cushion, which then

adjusted itself to the height of Washu's cushion."

"Better?"

"Much." Ryoko felt a tugging in her head as she settled into the cushion.

something she couldn't quite grasp.

"Something's happening!" Washu shouted as she inspected the data screen.

"Whatever it is that you are doing. keep doing it!"

Ryoko scrunched her eyes shut and chased after the strange feeling in her

mind. The cushion, it had been a birthday present, a party. there had been

a party.

"Almost got it!"

A lancing pain shot through Ryoko's brain and she cried out, losing her

grasp on the memory.

"Damn!" Washu swore as she laid a hand on Ryoko's knee. "Are you

okay?"

Ryoko rubbed her head, it hurt like hell, but the pain was quickly receding.

"I'll live. What happened?"

"It seems like Kagato isolated these memories and blocked them out using a

sensory tie-in system. Very clever, I must say."

"So I can understand please?"

Washu looked sad again. She hoped that Ryoko could regain her former

intellectual capacity and education along with her memories. It really was a

shame. "He locked away your happy memories and tied the defense system

into your pain center. If you get too close it feels like your head is splitting

in two right?"

"Something like that. And it felt a little like that when I remembered about

the pudding. Only this time it was much worse."

"Hmmmm. It probably gets worse with each memory. This makes it harder

than I expected. I'm going to have to research this for a while. Why don't

you go out and try to relax."

"Okay. Um. I don't know what to say Washu."

"Then don't. Run along now."

"But..."

"The words will come when we are done. Now go. I've got much to do if

we plan to beat this."

Ryoko smiled and laid a hand on Washu's shoulder before she slipped out of

the lab. Washu smiled and continued her work.

Tenchi sat reading on the sofa when he heard the lab door open. He watched

as Ryoko leaned back against the door and sighed, her shoulders sagging.

"How'd it go?" he asked softly.

She looked over at him and sighed, her chin drooping towards her chest.

"After all of that fuss, we can't get in."

"Washu?"

"She's still working on it. She sent me out here for awhile." Ryoko rubbed

her temples.

"Them why not come sit on the couch and relax for awhile? She'll need you

for something soon enough."

Ryoko looked back up at him, seeing only his silhouette against the reading

lamp. Normally she would have been more than glad to oblige him. An

invitation to sit close to him, to be near him was a rare event. But tonight

she wasn't very interested in any of that kind of play. She was too tired.

She looked up to her rafter and considered just floating up and going to bed.

"Ryoko?" Tenchi asked, a flavor of worry in his voice.

"Oh. Right." She wearily walked over to him and sat on the far edge of the

couch. She snuggled into the corner, facing him, with her arms draped

across the couch's back.

"Look, I have something to say. Just let me say it before you answer,

okay?" Tenchi asked earnestly.

Ryoko nodded, her head still buried in her arms.

The fabric of the couch whispered as Tenchi scooted closer to her. He laid a

warm hand on her shoulder and began. "You are very brave Ryoko. So

brave that you hid your fear from us very well. I never knew."

"Knew what?" she asked quietly.

He patted her shoulder. "Let me finish. I never understood how much you

were hurt."

She looked up at him with hard eyes that wavered behind a wall of repressed

moisture. "You still don't and I hope you never do."

Tenchi's cheeks flushed with embarrassment, and he removed his hand.. "I

mean...er. well... the thing is. oh, this isn't coming out right."

Ryoko's mouth twisted into a sad parody of a grin that didn't match her

eyes. "It's okay. It doesn't matter." She was so alone. Her experience with

life was so different from this kind boy's. How could they ever truly

connect?

Tenchi punched a cushion in frustration. "It does too matter! I'm your

friend, Ryoko."

"I know you try to be. But I won't really let you, will I?"

"Why not?" he asked touching her again.

She shrugged.

"What are you afraid of, Ryoko?"

"Please don't push me. I'm so tired." Her eyelids fluttered and remained

half closed as she looked at him.

"I'm sorry." He paused for a moment, thinking. "Hey, you used to like to

read right?"

She nodded drowsily.

"Let me read you a story then," he said getting to his feet. He walked over

to a small bookshelf and scanned the titles.

"That sounds nice," she murmured and stretched out on the couch, lying on

her stomach, her ankles crossed.

Tenchi eased onto the cushion near her head and opened the book. "This

story is called `Treasure Island' and I'm sure you will like it."

He began to read and Ryoko listened happily, enjoying the fanciful tale. She

laid on her side with her head snuggled against Tenchi's thigh. This was

pure heaven, just like she always had hoped it would be when she hugged

him. But unlike those other times he wasn't pushing her away. This time

they were connected by the story and the slight contact. Somehow she had

done something right.

What it was that was right didn't matter. She let the warm feeling of

happiness lull her into sleep.

Like most good things in her life it didn't last very long. Soon in her dreams

she was running down a dark hallway, so consumed by fear that she could

barely breathe.

..."Mother! Mother!" she screamed.

She skidded around a corner and dashed up a flight

of steps. Where was mom? Why wasn't she

answering? Ryoko gasped as her teal dress flashed

away and was replaced by her red and black

training suit. Oh, no!

"Help me!" she screamed as she vaulted over a

landing and started running along another corridor.

"You're losing control Ryoko! I've almost

completely hacked into your program," gloated

Kagato in a calm voice that seemed to come from

everywhere all at once.

"No!" shrieked the terrified adolescent as she

looked about for a place to hide.

While she paused, a hand reached out from a closet

and quickly drew her inside. "Hush, you little fool

or he will find us!" Washu whispered harshly.

"Mom!" Ryoko cried with relief. "I'm so scared.

What is he doing to me?"

Washu noted the training suit as she drew Ryoko

into her arms. "Don't worry, he needs the

password to get full control over you. I'll never

give it to him."

"What are we going to do?"

Washu hesitated. She should have expected this.

"Little Ryoko, you need to listen. I need you to

leave. To run far away, okay honey?"

"What about you?" Ryoko quavered.

"I need to stay here until the authorities come to

take Kagato away."

"But..."

"I'll come find you as soon as I can," Washu

promised.

"But how?"

She needed Ryoko to get out of here as soon as

possible. Every delay was dangerous. She tapped

Ryoko's temple lightly. "Through our link, silly.

I'll always be with you.

Ryoko hugged her mother tightly "Be careful,

please!"

"I will, now go! Go to Ryo-Ohki!"

"I love you!" Ryoko whispered as she kissed

Washu's face and teleported away

Washu drew a deep breath and slowly started

counting to two thousand, praying with each

numeral that Ryoko and Ryo-Ohki were speeding

away to safety. Outsmarting Kagato shouldn't be

too difficult as long as Ryoko was out of harms

way. Washu consciously shut down her telepathic

link to her daughter on the odd chance Kagato had

developed some way of monitoring it.

Reaching the count of 1789, Washu slipped out of

the closet and swiftly made her way to Ryoko's

room. She needed to be sure that Ryoko hadn't

left anything dangerous lying out in the open. That

silly girl simply didn't have any sense, and the last

thing Washu needed was for a potential weapon to

fall into Kagato's hands right now. Normally a

hand held atom splitter left out on Ryoko's desk

wasn't a problem, but tonight wasn't normal.

Washu carefully checked the hallway for any signs

of her unwanted guest before darting into Ryoko's

bedroom. It was a mess as usual, and as usual,

Ryoko had left her computer on with its network

connection to Washu's most sensitive files wide

open. Washu hissed and ran to the terminal, her

feet crushing empty snack food containers. This

was information Kagato simply must not get

access to! As she backed out of the network

Washu quickly blocked network access from

Ryoko's computer. If they both lived through this

Ryoko was going to be punished for such

carelessness. Seriously punished.

The computer successfully shut down, Washu

scanned Ryoko's desk for any other sensitive or

dangerous items. She was examining an

unfamiliar apparatus when she heard the soft

sound of matter moving by teleportation behind

her. Ice running through her veins, she turned

around to see Ryoko lurching across her bed for a

stuffed animal.

"Ryoko! What are you doing here?" Washu

gasped.

Ryoko flushed, caught in the act. "I forgot Mr.

Jelly Bean!" she said hugging a battered white

velour rabbit to her chest. "I'm leaving, I'm

leaving!"

Washu's eyes widened as the air around them

seemed suddenly charged and full of electricity.

"GO! GO NOW!" she shouted.

Ryoko tried, but could only halfway phase out.

She flickered briefly, before rematerializing in the

spot she had tried to leave from.

"No, lets all stay together. One big happy family,

hmmm?" Kagato asked entering the room from the

hall.

Washu made as if she were going to run to Ryoko,

but grunted as she found her feet rooted to the

floor. She toppled over, carried along by the

forward momentum of her lunge.

Shaking his head, Kagato made a slight motion

with his hand, causing a pulsating red force field to

surround Washu. It surrounded her entire body

except for her head, and clung to her tightly,

hampering her breathing.

"So you see, Professor, my preliminary

dissertation data was correct after all."

Ryoko tried to dash behind him and through the

open door to the hall, but his hand shot out and

caught her by the throat. She choked, both of her

hands pulling at his larger one, as he lifted her feet

off the floor.

"You should have listened to your mother,

Ryoko."

"Ryoko! Use the new sword! Remember?"

Washu gasped out.

Ryoko extended her right hand with the fingers

splayed and a small globe of golden energy formed

in her hand.

Smirking, Kagato squeezed her throat harder and

the energy dissipated. "That's hard to do with out

oxygen, eh little one?" he chuckled.

He turned his gaze to Washu. "The password.

Now."

"Never." Washu's eyes took on a fierce glint as

they narrowed into thin slits. "I'll never tell." She

could barely whisper the last word as the force

field's pressure became even stronger.

Ryoko was now hanging limply from Kagato's

grasp, and he shifted his hold on her so he was

carrying her in his arms. "You are going to die

anyway Washu, and if you die before you tell me

the pass word, so will Ryoko die."

With that, he lifted Ryoko high above his head and

slammed her down upon his right knee, breaking

her back in one quick motion. Ryoko grunted,

blood spraying from her mouth.

Kagato threw her to the ground where she lay

abnormally twisted.

"No!" gasped Washu.

"What will it be for her Washu? Death or life?"

Washu sobbed with the little breath she had. She

could see the life fading from Ryoko's eyes.

"The password Washu. It's the only way I can

access her system to repair this kind of

catastrophic damage."

Washu clenched her eyes tightly. She just couldn't

let Ryoko die. If she lived there would always be a

chance she could escape Kagato's control. There

would be no escape from death.

"It's `Jelly Bean', you bastard."

"Ah, so you can be reasonable. Good." Kagato

summoned his own ephemeral portable computer

and typed in the password. With a few more

keystrokes he had stabilized Ryoko's condition.

Mostly.

"Well, it's a good thing I know so much about it's

design, professor. It makes this creation easier to

repair."

Ryoko moaned pitifully, blood still seeping out of

her mouth into a small congealing puddle under

her chin.

"You didn't finish! Help her!" Washu wheezed

angrily.

"Oh, it'll live. But I always thought that the ability

to feel pain was the biggest of its many defects. I

want it to learn from pain. Let's see how fast that

fantastic body can find a way to bypass pain. If it

can."

Washu let out an inarticulate cry of anguish.

"In fact, I think I'll let you watch after all."

Kagato said as he left the room.

Washu felt the pressure on her body lesson to the

point that she was only restrained, not in danger of

asphyxiating. "Ryoko? Sweetheart? Can you hear

me?"

The young girl groaned and feebly opened her

eyes. "Momma?"

... "Momma? Momma? Please help me?" Ryoko muttered as she thrashed

in her sleep, coming out of her remembering dream.

A cool cloth gently wiped her brow. "It's okay. I'm here now."

Ryoko opened her eyes and cast a haunted gaze up at an adult sized Washu.

"I remembered."

Washu ran a shaking hand along Ryoko's cheek. "I know. I think we shared

the memory through our link just now."

Ryoko closed her eyes again. "I remembered. I really remembered."

She pushed up to one elbow and threw her arms around Washu who was

sitting next to her on the couch. "It's all my fault. If I'd only done what you

said!"

Washu closed the embrace. "Hush little one. You were a child. You were

scared."

Ryoko closed her eyes. "Was that really me? I - she - I was so .?"

"Innocent? Yes." Washu murmured sadly.

A deep sob welled up out the depth of Ryoko's being, and she could not stop

it. Instead she clutched at her mother more tightly. To cover, she wailed, "I

risked everything for a stupid stuffed rabbit?"

Washu chuckled. "Not just any stuffed rabbit. That was Mr. Jelly Bean.

You had him ever since before you were allowed out of the birthing

chamber. He was your security blanket."

"Oh." Ryoko said softly, beginning to understand, faintly, how her past self

might have felt about that.

Washu reached out and into the air behind Ryoko's head and drew

something out of pseudo space "Here."

Ryoko looked at the white stuffed rabbit. "Is that really.?" Then she

noticed the rust colour of old blood stains on its left paw. "Oh. It is." She

made no move to take it.

Washu noticed the path of Ryoko's glance. "Yes. That is a stain from that

night."

Ryoko stared at the rabbit as if in a trance.

"Don't you want him?" Washu asked, her voice leaden. She had been

saving him for so long.

Ryoko started to reach for the bunny, then stopped and looked around

furtively.

"There is no one here but us. It's late at night everyone else went to sleep,"

she said in a firm voice and tired not to look at the delegation of concerned

housemates that hovered just around a corner. The breaking of the locks on

Ryoko's memory had caused such a sharp counter flow of energy, that the

equipment had sent out a psychic pulse and broadcast the memory to every

member of the household. Ryoko didn't need the burden of that knowledge

right now.

Ryoko bit her lip and reached for the toy. It felt achingly familiar to grasp

the soft animal in her hands like that, and soon she was hugging it tightly,

her memories of it clarifying with the contact. She sniffed, fresh tears

pooling under her eyes.

Washu trembled with hope at this sight. "That's enough for one night. I

think we've broken through. Tomorrow will be a busy day. We should

sleep."

Washu stood and cracked her back. She could definitely tell the difference

in her center of gravity after being so short for so long. "Good night,

Ryoko." She started towards her lab.

"Washu. Wait."

Washu stopped but didn't turn around.

"I don't want to go back to sleep. I don't want to have another dream like

that."

"We will find some happy memories tomorrow. It will get better." Washu

said starting to walk again."

"No. I mean... I'm... I don't..."

Washu paused and turned around. "Yes?"

Ryoko hung her head. "I'm scared. Please don't go."

Washu walked back over to Ryoko, but kept her distance. Something

important was happening here. She was on the knife-edge, wanting to help

Ryoko, but also aware that the wrong move would drive Ryoko away again.

"I'm here. What do you want?

Ryoko grimaced. "It sounds stupid."

"That wouldn't be a first," Washu said with a wry twist of her lips.

Ryoko chuckled darkly. "I guess not. Could I sleep with you?"

Washu started. "Sleep with me?"

"Yeah. you know. Slumber party."

Washu was touched. Ryoko wanted her protection. "Sure, but the moment

you start to snore you're out. Got it?" They started walking towards the lab.

"Fine. Just don't tell anybody about this. Any of this." Ryoko said, going

ahead of Washu into he lab.

"My lips are sealed," Washu said as she turned around and gave their silent

observers a dark look. If they ruined this for her, there would be hell to pay.

Chapter Five

Silence was thick and persistent, yet it felt like morning. What time was it?

Ryoko, cracked open an eye. The light was unnaturally dim, given the

signals her body was sending her about the time. Yet it was so warm and

comfortable, why move? She snuggled deeper into her blankets.

Wait a minute. This wasn't her bed.

Ryoko sat up and noticed she was still in her clothes. That was odd. She

was in an unfamiliar futon, and this room didn't look at all familiar. It was

in fact, much nicer than any room in the Masaki house she had ever seen.

Even in the dim light she could see the rich wood paneling and heavy

carpets. Her pirate's eyes noted that the art on the walls was the real deal

and quite expensive. The other items in the room, loaded bookshelves and

reading couches, spoke of an intellectual owner. This must be Washu's

bedroom. That's right. She had slept here last night. Ryoko noticed a

fantastic bed in a recessed corner. It's canopies and feather beds were

worthy of a queen. Not to mention it was a rumpled mess. Yup, that fit

Washu. It was empty though. Ryoko wondered where Washu had gone.

Ryoko pushed back the covers and noticed Mr. Jelly Bean beneath. She

regarded it somberly, having difficulty believing that she had ever cared so

strongly about a toy. That didn't fit. Not at all.

Anger flashed through her. Why should she care what this forgotten child

had felt about anything? This child was dead. Dead and long gone. Seeing

her story wasn't going to resurrect her. Ryoko grabbed the stuffed rabbit

and charged her hands with energy, planning to incinerate the damned thing.

But she couldn't. Her fanged sneer slipped into an expression of wounded

confusion. Somewhere, buried very deeply, a small voice within her begged

her not to do it. Most frightening of all, it was her voice. She recognized it

as her own.

Ryoko numbly set the toy back on the bed. This might change everything. It

might change her. She had fought so hard to survive. She had earned the

right to be bitter, selfish and self-centered. She liked being tough and

brazen. No matter what everyone else thought of her, she didn't want to be

erased so another version of her could take over. A single tear crept out of

Ryoko's left eye. It felt like she was dying.

A door opened, spilling golden sunlight into the room. An adult Washu

stood in the door shaking her head.

"It won't be like that."

Ryoko hurriedly wiped her tear away. "How would you know?" she asked

crossly.

"Because I know you. Both `yous' if you will."

"Yeah, right. You just want to get rid of me."

Washu padded over and sat on the corner of the futon. "Nope. I just happen

to know it doesn't work that way. And I also know that you aren't as off

track as you think."

"Meaning?"

Washu surprised Ryoko by gently taking her chin and tilting Ryoko's face

down so her eyes met Washu's. "Meaning, that my Little Ryoko is still here

right in front of me. She didn't die, she didn't go away. She just has these

huge gaping holes in her life."

"Me? But who am I? Who was I supposed to be?" Ryoko asked feeling ill.

Washu smirked with love. "You were supposed to be who you are. A mix of

your past and your present. But until you unlock your past, you are only half

of your true self."

"I...I.."

"Listen Ryoko. Connecting with your past will only change you, not destroy

you. It will be a melding, each part complimenting the other, not

overwhelming."

"Zero overwhelmed me," Ryoko grumbled.

Washu let go of Ryoko's chin. "Just for a little while. Listen, I've been

working all morning to set up a sort of slide show for everyone. Some of

your happy memories. I thought it would be a nice way to start, with your

close friends near you for support..

"I'd prefer to keep it private."

"I figured you'd say that. But keep in mind, this is the perfect way for you

to open up to them. Without saying a word."

"Hmmmm." Ryoko considered. That certainly was a plus. They all talked

too much anyway.

"Well, think about it. It's time for breakfast. We don't want to keep Sasami

waiting."

"Right," Ryoko said as she ran a hand through her hair wondering if she

looked neat enough to face Tenchi.

"You look fine! " Let's go!" Washu shouted, offering Ryoko her hand.

Ryoko smiled softly and grabbed Washu's hand, teleporting them to the

dining room.

"Wheee! That's fun!" Washu shouted as she skipped to take her seat, not

noticing how strange her usual childish patter sounded coming from her

adult form.

Smirking, Ryoko settled in and took a quick look around at the sober faces

of those around her.

"What?" she asked suspiciously, her smirk shifting into a distrustful frown..

Ayeka would not meet Ryoko's eyes and hung her head in shame. "Oh

Ryoko. I'm so sorry. I had no idea."

"About what?" Ryoko asked dangerously.

Tenchi looked her straight in the eye. "About how you were stolen from

Washu."

Yosho grunted in agreement. "And how innocent you were. I had no idea

myself. And now I feel regret."

Washu sniffed at Yosho. "As you should."

Ryoko closed her eyes in mortification. "Washu! I asked you not to tell!"

she growled. "How could you?"

"She didn't," Ayeka said earnestly.

This stopped Ryoko's anger. Ayeka might be petty, but she rarely outright

lied. Ryoko opened her eyes and looked hopelessly around the group. Now

they knew how weak she had been. "Then how?"

Yosho took a drink of tea and contrived to look the part of the mysterious

shrine keeper "I believe Tsunami may have had something to do with it. I

felt an other worldly presence last night when your memory was shared with

us."

"What a load of crap!" Washu snorted. It was unexpected side effect, but I

believe that the force of the memory locks breaking over-loaded my

monitors and caused a discharge of psychic energy."

Everyone looked at her blankly.

"What I'm trying to say is that my machine short circuited and sent you into

Ryoko's dream!" Washu rephrased her voice high pitched with impatience.

"That's just great Washu! I don't like this at all! What if it happens again?"

Ryoko ranted pulling at her hair.

"It won't need to happen again. Last night happened because I broke

through the locks placed on your memories and the resulting over flow of

energy."

"My memories are back?"

"Yes. Ready for that slide show?"

"Slide show?" asked Tenchi with interest.

Ryoko glared at Washu. Now that it was out in the open, it would be very

difficult to get everyone off of her back about it, and she still hadn't decided

if she wanted to share.

"Oh, it's nothing,' she lied grinding her teeth.

"It certainly looks like more than nothing," Ayeka cooed, with a superior

grin.

"A slide show, eh?" asked Yosho. "Do you have photographs of Ryoko's

youth Washu?"

"Better!" shouted Washu. " I invented a special machine that will allow me

to project a selection of my and Ryoko's memories on a movie screen."

"Ohhhh!" they all murmured.

"Can we watch it now? Oh please?" breathed Sasami with excitement. "I

bet Ryoko was very cute when she was little!"

Ryoko grunted. "Forget it. These memories are mine! And besides, I

haven't had any breakfast yet."

"Oh, I wouldn't ask you to go through such an ordeal with out your

breakfast," Washu agreed tenderly.

Ryoko arched a suspicious eyebrow. "What are you up to, Washu?"

"Sasami dear," Washu continued, "do you have any breakfast left for

Ryoko?"

"Oh yes!" Sasami giggled and bounded into the kitchen.

"Hey, what's up?" Ryoko crabbed alternating her glances between Washu

and the kitchen.

Washu only folded her hands and smiled.

"Here ya go, Ryoko!" Sasami said gaily as she set a large slice of chocolate

cake with chocolate icing and a glass of cold milk before the stunned space

pirate.

"Is this a trick?" Ryoko growled. "Don't think that you... you..." she broke

off as she sniffed deeply. Her eyes widened and she looked at Washu, a

question in your eyes.

"Eat your breakfast, little Ryoko!" Washu said happily, smiling even more

broadly.

Ryoko tore her eyes from Washu's and slowly picked up her fork. She

carefully dug into the slice, the moist cake yielding easily to the metal. She

speared a bite on the fork's tines and slowly raised it to her lips, her nose

twitching, and her eyes almost crossing. She gently brought the forkful of

cake into her mouth, and her eyes closed as she laid the empty fork upon the

table.

"Ohhhh," she moaned softly, chewing deliberately. "Oh my."

Washu glowed. "Guess what else I fixed last night?"

Ryoko opened her eyes with out really seeing. Her expression told everyone

that she was lost in this new sensation. "This tastes wonderful." She took

up her fork again and devoured the rest of the cake in three bites.

"Only Ryoko would have cake for breakfast," Ayeka said fondly, enjoying

the innocent joy Ryoko was finding in the flavor of chocolate. She smiled

shyly, truly regretting her past behavior towards Ryoko.

Ryoko caught the sentiment, but rolled her eyes for appearances as she used

her fingertips to blot up any crumbs she may have missed.

Sasami grinned happily. "Would you like some more, Ryoko?"

Ryoko removed her fingers from her mouth. "May I?" she asked excitedly.

This use of pretty manners caused the others to stop and stare.

"Of course!" Sasami laughed. "Would you like a small or large slice?" she

asked generously.

"I want the whole cake," Ryoko crowed.

The others chuckled and unfroze. Something's would never change, and

somehow that was as comforting to them as it was to Ryoko.

Twinkling, Sasami hurried off to fulfil Ryoko's request.

"Well then Ryoko, Since you are so busy rediscovering your taste buds, do

you mind if the rest of us watch the little slide show I spent all night

preparing?"

Now up to her elbows in the cake, Ryoko paused briefly to nod, before

losing herself in gustatory pleasure.

"That was a sneaky trick Miss. Washu," Tenchi chided gently.

"What's sneaky about it? I gave her back the use of a whole set of senses. It

was down right altruistic."

Tenchi shook his head and decided not to press it further because he wanted

to see the slide show too.

Washu used a hand held remote to dim the lights and activate a digital

screen that hovered just beyond the table. She cleared her throat.

"I thought it might be best to begin with one of my memories," she said.

Washu pressed a button and the screen flared a bright white momentarily

and then resolved to an image of an adult Washu working in a high-tech

laboratory. This Washu hummed softly as she made some adjustments to a

computer program.

..."Sugar and spice, and everything nice. and a

dash of hot 's what little Ryokos are

made of," she murmured with a trace of dry

humor. She walked over to a large window and

looked inside. Sleeping peacefully in an

institutional crib was a blue haired toddler with

many wires and electrodes attached to her body.

Besides that, she looked like a typical child

snuggled under a blanket and cuddling a stuffed

bunny.

Washu placed a hand on the glass and spoke softly.

"You are almost ready to emerge little one. As

soon as I can control your energy fluctuations, you

can be with your mommy."

The child opened two bright yellow eyes and

observed Washu somberly and Washu felt an

inarticulate feeling of questioning flowing through

their mental link.

Washu smiled and sent a pulse of love down the

link along with her feelings of fierce

protectiveness.

The little girl smiled and stuck a thumb in her

mouth.

Washu grinned back and began making silly faces.

The child laughed and hid under the blanket, then

popped out again.

Washu responded by hiding her face in her hands

and then exposing it again. "Peek-a-boo!"

Little Ryoko squealed and laughed again.

"Yes, you are my perfect little daughter. I can't

wait to hold you."

Understanding the intent if not the words, Ryoko

held out her arms.

"No, no, little one. Not yet. Soon. I promise,"

Washu said wistfully now pressing both of her

hands against the glass.

Ryoko dropped her arms and curled up under her

blanket, again watching Washu somberly.

Washu sighed and activated a telemonitor within

Ryoko's chamber and programmed some

intellectually stimulating material appropriate for

the child's cognitive development. She needed to

get back to work so she could finish up the last few

stages as soon as possible.

...The screen flashed white again and remained blank. For a moment, no one

spoke. Of all of the imagined scenarios of Ryoko's creation, no one had

ever expected such tenderness. They waited for Ryoko's reaction.

However, Ryoko was too stunned to speak. She busied her self with licking

her plate as she tried to process this new information. Kagato had claimed

that he had been her creator. And even though Washu had told her

otherwise, she hadn't believed it in her heart. It seemed more fitting that a

creature such as she was made by another monster. But now she had seen

the truth. She set the plate down and looked at Washu, her eyes begging for

more.

Washu's lips trembled as she saw the longing in her daughter's eyes. "You

see? You were a labor of love. My child from the start."

Ryoko trembled and looked away. What could she say to that? Distracted

by this flood of emotions and the overwhelming flavor of chocolate, Ryoko

tried to think as she attempted to get her tongue to reach a smear of

chocolate right above the corner of her mouth. "That was me?" she asked

finally.

"Yes," Washu said simply.

"Then why can't I remember any of that?" Ryoko asked suspiciously. What

if this was just a dirty trick?

Washu laughed. "Because you were just a baby! Babies don't remember

things because their little brains aren't developed enough to store that kind

of information."

"A baby," Ryoko repeated blankly.

"A CUTE baby," Washu clarified in a childish voice.

"Ugh! Ryoko exclaimed, an embarrassed flush dotting her cheeks.

"Would you like to access some of your own memories now?" Washu asked,

wisely changing the subject.

Ryoko flushed even more. "Could I see just one more of yours first?" she

asked shyly, completely forgetting the presence of the others.

Washu's heart soared at Ryoko's new interest in her past. "Of course." She

pointed the remote and accessed another memory.

...Again the screen flashed, this time resolving into

the scene of a chaotic child care center. A harried

teacher was talking to Washu and gesturing wildly.

Washu had obviously hurried from her lab, as she

still had a protective white smock over her clothing

and had safety glasses perched atop her head. She

listened to the teacher and shook her head in

embarrassment. Across the room a six year old

Ryoko was standing stark naked, except for her

pink boots, on top of her little desk. Her ponytail

had come undone and her silvery green hair stuck

out at wild, tangled angles. She was holding court

over an awed group of classmates.

She pointed imperiously at them. "I am Queen

Ryoko. And I say you must take your clothes off

too!"

The other children giggled and began to disrobe,

much to the dismay of the teacher.

Washu hurried over and gathered Ryoko up under

one arm.

"Ryoko! Where are your clothes?" she snapped.

"I threw them out the window," Ryoko replied

calmly looking around Washu's elbow.

"Well, you just interrupted an important

experiment. The whole thing is ruined."

"I'm sorry," Ryoko said in a voice that proved she

wasn't.

Washu grimaced. "You know I can tell when you

are lying, so drop it."

Ryoko frowned. She hated that.

Washu apologized once again to the teacher and

carried her daughter out of the room and towards

her office at the Academy.

"How many times have I told you to keep your

clothing on?" Washu asked as she hurried down the

hall.

"How many times have I told you that I don't like

clothes?" Ryoko replied tartly imitating her

mother's voice. "They itch!"

"There is nothing wrong with your skin sensors.

Though I can't say the same for your modesty

pathways," Washu grumbled ignoring the amused

glances of her colleagues as they made their way

down the hall.

Ryoko was waving happily to the professors she

knew, enjoying the attention. "Hi Dr. Vilella!" she

called, seeing one of her favorites, who almost

always had candy in his pockets.

A grey haired man in a formal suit walked up and

winked at her. "Good morning Ryoko, Dr. Hakubi."

"Good morning," said Washu her annoyance plain

in her voice.

"Kicked out of daycare again?" he asked kindly

handing Ryoko a strawberry lollipop. Ryoko

wasted no time in unwrapping it.

"Mmm-hmm!" she slurprd happily.

Washu deftly removed the sucker from Ryoko's

mouth. "No suckers for naughty little girls!"

"Mom!"

Washu returned her attention to Dr. Vilella. "That's

seven times she's been kicked out this month," she

said with exasperation.

"Well if you want to know, I think her dress is

flying at the top of the flag pole as we speak," Dr.

Vilella chuckled.

"Little Ryoko! You told me that you threw them

out of the window!" Washu said sternly.

"Well, that was the first step," Ryoko explained.

Washu rolled her eyes, itching to get to the relative

privacy of her office. It seemed Ryoko was learning

how `not-quite-lies' could escape mental detection.

This could be a big problem.

"So how is your research on dimensional pockets

going?" Dr. Vilella asked not really caring about

Ryoko's state of undress.

Washu brightened and stuck the lollipop in her

mouth. "That gives me an idea!" She opened a

dimensional pocket and tossed a surprised Ryoko

inside. Washu leaned forwards and filled the

pocket's opening with her face. "You have some

clothing in there with you. You may not come out

until you are dressed young lady!"

...The memory ended, leaving the screen blank. Everyone, including Ryoko

had laughed so hard that their sides ached terribly.

"Oh my goodness!" giggled Ayeka. " Some things never change."

Tenchi was laughing, but still blushed a bright red at the nudity, mostly

because it made him remember just how much Ryoko had grown up.

"That was me!" Ryoko said proudly. "It fits!" She felt a warm glow inside.

The things about her self that she always took for granted were part of a long

history. She felt more real. More grounded in human experience.

"I told you ," Washu said gently. " Are you ready for a memory of your

own now?"

Ryoko took a deep breath. "Yes."

"Good. When I unlocked them, they were sorted by priority. I randomly

selected one of the highest. I don't even know what it is. Are you ready? I

can't wait."

Ryoko nodded and took the remote from her mother. She pressed play and

anxiously awaited one of her very own childhood memories.

...This time the scene was in what appeared to be

Ryoko's childhood bedroom. The walls were

painted in a vivid blue and sported pictures of

different animals and mythical creatures. Galactic

models hung down on wires from the ceiling, and

skeletal models of various creatures graced the

tops of overstuffed bookshelves. The room was

mostly cast in deep shadows, with the pale purple

light of a nightlight plugged into the far wall

glowing reassuringly.

Brightly illuminated by a bedside lamp Ryoko,

appearing to be nine or so, was snuggled deep

under the covers with her head propped up on

plump pillows. Mr. Jelly Bean's head was tightly

pressed under her chin. Sitting on the side of the

bed was Washu reading a story out-loud from a

gilt-edged book.

"So you see, Sleeping Beauty woke up when the

prince gave her the kiss of true love. That is

stronger than any spell or curse, except one that I

might cast of course! The end." Washu said

closing the book.

Ryoko sighed. "Will I fall in love someday?" she

asked looking up at her mother.

Washu leaned over and smoothed back a stray lock

of Ryoko's hair. "Of course you will, honey."

"Really?" Ryoko said with a surprising wistfulness

lacing her voice.

"Why do you ask?"

Ryoko looked away. "Never mind. It's stupid."

"You can tell me anything, you know that right?"

Washu asked gently.

"Yeah. It's just."

"Yes?"

"This boy that I like doesn't like me back."

A shadow briefly passed over Washu's face.

"That happens too, I'm afraid. Sometimes two

people don't feel the same way about each other."

Ryoko looked back at her mother, with urgent

eyes. "No! Its more than that." She paused, the

real hurt in her eyes tearing at Washu's heart.

"He told me. he said." Ryoko struggled for

words.

Washu took Ryoko's hand and squeezed it softly.

"Go on."

Ryoko looked away again in apparent shame. She

took her free hand and drew the covers over her

head. "He said that I wasn't real. That boys didn't

kiss robots," she said in a small voice that was

further muffled by the blankets.

"He said what?" Washu shouted furiously,

whipping the covers away from Ryoko's face. In

one quick movement she gathered Ryoko in her

arms and hugged her with maternal fierceness.

Ryoko hugged back and continued. "He said they

all knew the truth about me. And that no one

would ever kiss me."

Washu's face, hidden behind Ryoko was a mask of

fury. How dare those little substandard herd stock

mock her daughter? She started counting to get

her temper under control. She was the director of

the Academy and she rarely used her power for

personal gain. Well, this time would be an

exception. Those children were only repeating

what they had heard their parents say and those

parents were going to find sitting difficult when

she was through with them.

"Mommy? Is it true? You haven't said anything?

Does that mean he was right?" Ryoko quavered.

Washu squeezed harder. "No way! He was a little

fool!" She relaxed her hold and slowly pushed

Ryoko away and looked her straight in the eye.

"You already know how you were born. I've

never lied to you. Ever. Do you remember what

else I've told you about your birth?"

"That you wanted a little girl more than the moon,"

Ryoko recited.

"Exactly. I wanted you more than I want to be a

scientist or even breathe. So I made you out of

me, and other important things. I made you into

the most perfect little person there ever was."

Ryoko sniffed and her eyes looked glassy.

"Really?" she begged for reassurance.

"Absolutely. You re a person not a robot. Robots

don't have hearts and souls like we do. Someone

will love you someday. I already love you now."

Reluctant to cry in front of her mother now that

she was older, Ryoko buried her head in Washu's

shoulder and breathed shakily trying to get things

under control. " I love you too, mom."

Washu patted her back. "Don't listen to them,

people are jealous of how wonderful you are. You

are so smart, and beautiful, and talented. That's

enough to make anyone green with envy."

"And I can teleport, " Ryoko added proudly.

Washu chuckled. "See how clever you are? You

shouldn't have figured that one out `til you were

older."

Ryoko giggled and surreptitiously wiped her tears

on Washu's shirt before she settled back into bed.

"Feeling better now?" Washu asked, already

mentally listing the names who would be

summoned to her office the next morning."

Ryoko nodded, then considered, "Well, I would

feel even better if I had a pony," she wheedled.

"You're better." Washu stated with a wry smile.

She got to her feet. "Sweet dreams Little Ryoko."

"Mom! I'm too old to be called that."

Washu turned off the bedside lamp. "You'll never

be too old to be my little Ryoko." She blew Ryoko

a kiss and left the room closing the door softly

behind her.

...The screen went blank again, and the group was silent. Where the last

memory had been hilarious this one had been touching and sweet. They all

basked in the strong bond between mother and child they had witnessed.

Especially Ryoko. Her eyes were wide and she was massaging her temple

as if her head hurt her.

"Mom?" she asked uncertainly.

Washu summoned her laptop, so worried that she didn't notice Ryoko's use

of that magic word. "What? Did that hurt? The lock must have re-engaged.

Hold on while I."

"Not that," Ryoko interrupted. "Mom, how could have I forgotten that? You

love me. How could I forget that? And where are the rest of my memories?

Why can't I remember more?" Tears were streaking down her cheeks and

her shallow breathing heralded hyperventilation

Washu leaned through her holo-computer and took Ryoko into her arms,

very much like she had done in the memory. "Shush, shush. You forgot

because you were forced too. And I am controlling your access rate. I don't

want you over loaded. See what just one has done to you? We need to

move slowly."

Tenchi made a slight movement as if he wanted to go to Ryoko's side, but

Yosho put a hand on Tenchi's shoulder and shook his head slightly.

Sighing, Tenchi settled back into his seat

"But you love me, " Ryoko sobbed. "I didn't get it before. And now I do!

And you thought I was smart, and beautiful. No one has ever thought that

about me before."

Ayeka winced regretting every time she had mocked Ryoko's appearance or

refinement. If she had known the bruises that had hid themselves under her

friend's skin she would have never had taunted her so.

Washu stroked Ryoko's hair. "I still think those things."

"But Kagato told me I was waste. A mistake."

"Yes, and I heard every cruel word through our link, and felt them

destroying your heart. Damn him," Washu growled.

::But now, just now, I feel kind of special,:: Ryoko said shyly through their

link, her sobs quieting.

Washu pulled back and wiped away the tears on Ryoko's cheek. "That's

because you are remembering the truth. And did you see those little pieces

of yourself that survived everything you have been through?"

Ryoko chuckled wetly. "The clothes, or rather the lack of them."

Washu arched an eyebrow. "Now don't tell me you missed your little

attitudes and your bent towards manipulation?"

"I saw them," Ryoko whispered.

"As did I," Ayeka whispered behind her hand to an amused Sasami.

"So that person you are feeling fondness for is really yourself. You can

recognize that, right?" Washu asked Ryoko.

"Yes, Yes I can," Ryoko said in disbelief. "I really can."

"Are you ready for another memory?"

Ryoko closed her eyes and shook her head. "Not tonight." She wrapped her

arms around her waist and hugged herself. "This feels so good. I don't want

to waste it."

Sasami made a disappointed sound. "Awwww! But we were just getting to

know you better!"

Eyes still closed, Ryoko allowed her lips to twist into a little smirk.

"Exactly. And while I have appreciated the moral support tonight, this stuff

is really too private to share."

"So you are done for tonight?' Washu verified.

"Yes, maybe we can do this again in your lab tomorrow?"

Washu glowed at the use of `we'. "Of course we can." She began typing on

her laptop. "Just give me a second to shut things down."

"Wait. Can you return my ability to read first?"

Washu's smile faded into a straight line and she hung her head. She had

hoped Ryoko would not ask about this right away.

"I'm afraid I can't. It seem s like Kagato put a defensive lock there, and

there was major damage done to your neural connections when we broke

through."

Ryoko's left fang worried her lip as she looked away. "I see." Her earlier

happiness was visibly draining away from her.

"I may still be able to fix it, but I don't know yet. I need more time."

Ryoko sighed, and kicked off the floor and drifted towards the stairs. "Well,

what's a few more days after 700 years, right?" she tried to quip, her attempt

at humor falling horribly flat.

Yosho stood suddenly and took a firm hold on Ryoko's wrist and stopped

her from drifting away.

Surprisingly, she allowed him to do so and blinked at him, her eyes slightly

unfocused.

"Ryoko-chan. You must not go. You are closer to us right now than you

have ever been. Don't shut us out."

She hovered in the air, taking in his words.

"Let us be your family, let us help you."

"I'm so tired," she protested with a wide yawn.

"That's because you've had a hard day," he said patiently, as if he was

talking to a small child.

She nodded sleepily, obviously becoming more drowsy by the second.

"Wha- what's happening to me?" she asked, her head lolling forward.

Yosho pulled her gently to him and gathered her up in his arms. "It's time

for bed, I think." He shot Washu a concerned look.

Washu's brow crinkled as she watched Ryoko doze off. "This must be a

side effect of reactivating that part of her neural net." She consulted her

laptop. "Her melatonin levels are off the charts. Not to mention. that can't

be my!"

She looked up to watch Ryoko's form shrinking in size, mass, and

proportion, until it reached the shape of the nine year old child she had been

in the last memory. Her now too large clothing draped loosely around her

diminutive body.

Washu frowned. "Damn that Kagato. This was a clever fail safe to control

her if she ever got her memories back. It not only knocks her out, it morphs

her form to match her physical development in the memory, making her

easier to control!"

"Did this happen last night when she got her first major memory back?"

asked Yosho as he adjusted Ryoko in his arms, giving her neck more

support.

"No.." Washu thought for a moment. "But I'm guessing this defense was set

to activate only if the amount of recall reached a certain threshold. It would

have been too time consuming for Kagato to reset her every time a small

memory asserted itself."

"And she remembered a lot today," Sasami observed.

Washu closed her eyes as emotions washed over her. "She remembered

enough to know her inner-self. And once again he hurt her."

"Can you fix it Washu?" Tenchi asked nervously, worried for his friend.

"Should you fix it?" asked Yosho with grave seriousness. "This could be

her second chance for a childhood."

Washu nodded and opened her eyes. "That thought crossed my mind.

However, to do so I would have to lock away or destroy her memories after

this age. Not only would that make me as bad as Kagato, I know in my heart

that our Ryoko would never want that."

Yosho nodded and passed the sleeping child into Washu's arms. "So what

are you going to do?"

Washu cast a tender glance at Ryoko and started walking towards her lab.

"First I'll tuck her in, then get to work on restoring her body as well as her

ability to read," she said in her typical `greatest-scientific-genius-in-the-

universe' voice.

She paused and turned to face them all once more. " I hope you all now

realize just how much my daughter has lost and will treat her more kindly,"

she said more seriously.

"Of course, Miss. Washu," Ayeka said meekly.

Sasami smiled and met Washu's eyes. They both knew she had never

excluded Ryoko in the first place.

"I understand her better now," Tenchi acknowledged. " I will do my best to

help her," he promised.

Washu nodded curtly. "Then I thank you." She disappeared under the stairs

with Ryoko, kicking the door shut behind her with her foot.

Epilogue

Still physically nine, but with all of her memories back, Ryoko strained to

help hang up the laundry on an outside line she could barely reach.

"Thank you, little Ryoko," Ayeka said with a kind chuckle, passing her a

clothespin.

"Oh can it!" Ryoko groused, but with a smile. " I bet she is dragging this

out on purpose."

"Well, Ms. Washu did say she needed her calculations to be correct if you

didn't want to turn into an old hag. That's worth waiting for in my book."

"No kidding," Ryoko said flipping a sheet up onto the line, this time

levitating to a more useful height.

Ayeka just shook her head. "I think it's time for your lesson with Tenchi.

You'd better hurry if you don't want to be late."

"Ugh! Don't get all big sisterly on me," Ryoko muttered, but followed

Ayeka's advice and dashed inside to take her place at the dinner table.

Tenchi was already there, sitting in seiza and waiting for her. She slid in

next to him and looked at the open book he was holding.

"Hi Ryoko. Let's get started. Try this one." He pointed to a word.

She leaned forward and looked at it. Her tongue stuck out from her lips as

she pondered.

"Go on," he encouraged.

"Kah," she sounded out, emphasizing the hard k sound.

"AAAA...Tah."

"Kh aaa Tah... Cat!"

"Very good!" Tenchi applauded. "That was great. Let's see if you can do

the next one. I bet you can!"

Ryoko crossed her arms. "I may look like I am nine years old, but please try

to refrain from speaking to me that way!" she snarled with a scowl.

Tenchi slipped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "Oh I

don't mean it that way Ryoko! I'm just excited for you."

Ryoko blushed at the open show of affection, but decided to keep her mouth

shut.

Washu watched silently from around the corner. She had come to tell

Ryoko that she had figured out how to fix both her reading and her physical

age in one fell swoop. But given how much Ryoko seemed enjoying herself,

it could wait a couple of days.

"Mom?" Ryoko called, sensing her presence.

Washu reached into her pocket and pulled out a small camera. She darted

around the corner and took a quick photo of Tenchi with his arm around

Ryoko. "That's one for the scrap book!" she crowed gleefully.

"Gah! MO-OM!" Ryoko screeched, squirming away from Tenchi as if she

were burned.

Washu grinned. Yes, there was no rush. No rush at all.

The END!

**I hoped you liked my first Tenchi fanfic! And to those readers of my Daria

fanfic, I hope this made sense to you. The Tenchi world(s) are very unique

and complex. I know I said I retired from writing fanfics to pursue a novel,

but I started watching all the incarnations of Tenchi and this story begged to

be written. I didn't mean to lie! So while I think my Daria fic days are over,

I have a couple of Tenchi fics to write as of yet.

I'd like to thank John Takis for his help and feed back on the first draft of

this story. His thoughts about the characterizations were very helpful. And

Update 12/19/2010: Found this on the old Tenchi Muyo Fan Fic Archive