$Id: rings.txt,v 1.67 2002/06/05 03:32:27 gjo Exp $

RINGS

A Nadesico fanfic by Greg O'Sullivan (gjo@unimelb.edu.au)
http://ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au/~gjo/nadesico/


Seiya removed a wall plate and shorted a few circuits together, bypassing
the damaged card reader.

"It should open now Miss Ruri. I have to get back to work on the life support
systems. Without the main hull we don't seem to have quite enough capacity
from the bridge section emergency systems."

"Thank you, Mr. Uribatake."

Ruri opened the door to Akito's quarters and went in.

"Mr. Tenkawa, can I come in and talk with you please? Everyone is worried
about you. You can't have eaten for days."

Ruri proffered a bag of rice crackers. Akito took them and started munching.

"The Captain and Miss Subaru are behaving very strangely, Mr Tenkawa.
Why have you shut yourself in your room? What happened while you were
missing?"

"Ruri, it's an adult problem, I'm not sure you would understand it."

"Is that why you are all behaving like children?"

"Something happened between Ryoko and I, Ruri. We were in what Inez calls
an alternate probability strand, like this reality but not quite. Everything
was slightly different. Yurika was dating Jun. I wasn't aboard the Nadesico
for the voyage to Mars.

"Ryoko wasn't on the Nadesico either. She and I met at the Nergal docks and
shipped out on the Cosmos. We were the only ones who remembered the way
things were meant to be. We tried really hard to return. We managed to find
Inez. We couldn't get her to help us at first. I thought I would never get
back to my Yurika.

"Ryoko and I became closer because of our adversity. I finally realised Ryoko
had loved me for a long time and I'd been ignoring it because of Megumi and
Yurika. I think Ryoko tried to get herself killed the day of the talent
competition because she thought I didn't care and she didn't matter.

"When we had finally despaired of ever returning, Ryoko finally admitted her
feelings to me. I didn't want to hurt her further. I love both Ryoko and
Yurika now.

"Inez eventually recovered her lost Ai memories and remembered me. She
believed us and worked out a way to return us to own probability strand.
I don't know what to do, Ruri, I love them both. I have to choose one of them
or neither of them. I've been hiding in here trying to buy some time."

"Shouldn't Yurika take precedence? You loved her first Akito."

"It's not that simple Ruri, Ryoko and I slept together. I told her I loved
her. We were planning a life together in that other place. We thought we
could never come back. I didn't want to hurt Ryoko, once I realised she
loved me and there was probably no way back. It seemed the right thing to
do."

"I can't help you Akito, I'm just a little girl, I know nothing of
such matters."

"I'm sorry Ruri, I didn't mean to tell you all this."

"Yurika said she wanted me to come and live with you both when we return to
Earth. You're messing everything up! Please go and see Miss Subaru. Get it
sorted out, you belong with Yurika."

Ruri appeared upset.

Idiot, Ruri thought, it's just like Megumi all over again. Akito really did
wear his heart on his sleeve. She didn't know why the ups and downs of Akito's
love life bugged her so much.

"Ruri, I have to talk to them both eventually, but I don't know that this can
be undone. Maybe it's better for everyone if I don't see either of them
again."

"Akito, whatever you decide to do, please don't shun me as well.
You are special to me too."

"Don't worry Ruri, I'll always be your friend."

Ruri turned and left.

"Thanks for the crackers, Ruri."

* * *

The Nadesico's situation was stable. Yurika had sent the main hull of
the battleship, containing the alien boson-jump computer brain, off into the
unknown. She had wanted to keep it out of the hands of all the warring
factions, Nergal, Earth and Jovians.

The Nadesico bridge section was being towed back to earth under United Earth
forces guard. Conditions would have been cramped with all the crew jammed into
the smaller section, but some of the non-essential personnel had been moved
across to one of the UE frigates. By rights Akito should have had some more
people in his room but no one had been able to get past his jammed door when
the room allocations were being made.

The emergency systems were proving unreliable and under capacity. Uribatake
and his engineers had their work cut out for them, keeping life support and
general amenities working. Crew morale was low and tempers were short.
Uncertainty over their future hung gloomily over the crew. The war was over
for now, a cease fire was in effect, but the Nadesico crew had illegally
seized the ship. Earth and Nergal certainly didn't approve of what they had
done with the boson-jump computer. Most likely, trial, imprisonment or house
arrest faced the senior crew members when they returned to Earth. At the very
least a life under constant surveillance, with a threat of something more
sinister if they ever revealed what they knew.

* * *

Akito finally contrived to see Ryoko alone, without running into Yurika.

Ryoko was sitting on her bunk staring blankly at the wall.

"Ryoko, can we talk?"

"So you've finally decided to stop sulking in your room ehh, Tenkawa!"

Ryoko's defences are all up again, Akito thought.

"We have to talk about the future, Ryoko."

"I assume you are going to marry Misumaru, open a restaurant and live happily
ever after. I'm going to try and keep my piloting career alive, if
associating with you losers hasn't completely ruined it."

"Ryoko, don't be like this."

"Like what Tenkawa, we were finished when you decided to return to your
precious Yurika."

"You know staying there wasn't really an option for either of us, Ryoko.
Where's the girl who told Yurika the score and just about wrenched my
arm out of it's socket hanging on to me? You said you loved me, Ryoko.
I don't think I can go back to Yurika now. It doesn't look like I can be
with you either."

"Tenkawa, you have to choose one of us!" said Ryoko, alarmed.

"I'll marry Yurika and you can be my mistress," Akito said mischievously.

Ryoko stifled an involuntary laugh.
"Aaawww Tenkawa, you don't have the stamina for that."

"What do you want Ryoko? Tell me the truth, stop blustering."

"Akito, I want to fly with you, be your girlfriend, thats all.
I do love you. You know that."

"I don't want to hurt Yurika."

"Akito, you have to make up your mind. Hiding in your room was weak, I
despise you for that. What do you expect me to do, meekly surrender and give
you my permission to go back to Yurika? What do you want Akito?"

"I want to be a good chef. I want my own restaurant. I don't want to kill
any more."

"It seems to me Yurika is more compatible with your plans, Akito.
You have to follow your dreams. Akito, I can't be just a waitress in your
restaurant. I have to be a pilot, that's what I am."

"Neither of us may be able to pilot again Ryoko, depending on what happens
when we get back to Earth. Ryoko, you tried to get yourself killed once
because of me, didn't you. That time during the talent contest?"

"So you haven't slunk back to Yurika yet, because you are worried about
what the suicidal bitch will do? You don't have to worry about that again.
I'm not going to kill myself over a loser like you."

"Ryoko, even if I try and follow you into a military piloting career, there is
no guarantee we will get to serve together again. It seems unlikely they
will ever let me fly anything again. Seeing each other only when you get
some leave, will that be enough for us Ryoko? Would you marry me Ryoko?
You seemed happy enough when we were living together, practically as
man and wife with the Utopia colony survivors. You weren't flying then."

"Is that a proposal, Akito? I can't give you answer till you have broken
it off cleanly with Yurika. I believe you already made her the same offer.
Make up your mind Akito, this isn't fair on any of us."

"What if I choose to be with neither of you, Ryoko?"

"You'd hurt us both, Akito, to what end? Just so you don't have to feel
guilty? Be a man Tenkawa. Make a decision. I'd like you to go now."

* * *

Damn, what was I trying to do, thought Ryoko. Force him into Yurika's arms
and make him feel bad about it at the same time? I don't know what I'll
do if he chooses Yurika. I shouldn't have been so aggressive. He didn't go
straight to Yurika, he does care about me. I've messed it all up.

Now that the fighting is over, I could try and get posted back to a colony
space station, one of the surviving Earth/Moon Lagrangian stations, maybe L3.
Akito could run a restaurant there. I could still fly and Akito could cook.
We could work something out. Why didn't I say something? IDIOT!

Ryoko collapsed back onto her bunk.

* * *

Akito left in a state of emotional turmoil. He'd expected Ryoko to behave
differently, plead her own case more or push him to Yurika. Talking with her
hadn't helped him. He wasn't in an ideal frame of mind to face Yurika, but he
wanted to get it over with.

He knocked on the Captain's door.

"Yurika, it's Akito, can I come in?"

Yurika opened the door, tears filled her eyes when she saw him.

"Come in Akito dearest. Why did you run away? What Ryoko said, it isn't
true is it? You are here now, I know everything will be fine. You wouldn't
hurt me."

"Yurika, what Ryoko said is true."

"But why Akito, don't you love me any more?"

"I'll try and explain Yurika, we were trapped in an alternate world
we didn't think we would ever be able to get back. Ryoko loves me, you know.
She just wasn't as pushy about it as you and Megumi were.

"So Ryoko pounced on you as soon as she had a chance?"

"It wasn't like that Yurika, Ryoko is a fine honourable person, she never
mentioned her love for me at all. We thought we had exhausted all options
of returning. We were alone, the only people from our Nadesico there.
Ryoko was a friend and comrade, we were in despair. Ryoko offered herself
to me out of the love she felt for me, I couldn't refuse her. I don't know
what to do Yurika. I still love you, but I can't hurt Ryoko. I love her too.
I know things can't be the same between us now. I think I'll just slip away
when we get back to Earth. It's probably best if I don't see either of you
again."

"Akito, don't leave me, I love you. What happened between you and Ryoko
wasn't in this universe, it doesn't count. I can forgive you and Ryoko.
Say you love me and not Ryoko."

"I love you both."

"You can't have two girls, Akito. You have to decide."

"What do you want Yurika?"

"I want to be with you Akito, help you in your dream to be a chef
and have your own restaurant. The fighting is over now, the Nadesico
is finished. It's not much to ask for is it? Just a little happiness at
last? We can look after Ruri and be a family."

"Things happened in that other place I can't forget, Yurika.
Ryoko and I were living with Inez and the other Utopia Colony survivors.
They were all still alive. They only died in this world because of me, you
and Megumi."

Yurika went pale, she knew what he was talking about.

"Ryoko and I were planning on staying with them and helping to rebuild
the colony after the war. You were still the Captain of the Nadesico there,
Yurika. Aoi Jun was your fiance."

"Jun?" Yurika whispered.

"How did you get back, Akito?"

"Inez accidentally recovered her childhood memories of Ai. She knew who
I was and believed our story about not belonging in their world.
Inez worked out how to return us."

"Why did you come back if you were happy there with Ryoko?"

"We wanted our Nadesico back, our friends, we didn't belong in that world.
We knew what we had done, couldn't be undone, but we still had to come
back. I had to see you again.

"Ryoko doesn't want to give up the Military life, she still wants to be a
pilot. Ryoko loves Tenkawa Akito the Aestivalis pilot. I don't think there
is any future for that Akito, Yurika. I'm not sure she feels the same way
about Tenkawa Akito the cook.

"I'm worried Ryoko might do something bad to herself, she already
tried to do something desperate the day of the talent contest. It turns
out, that was all about me. She thought she was worthless because I didn't
notice her. How could I be happy with you, Yurika, if Ryoko would suffer like
that again. How can you be happy with me, knowing what happened between
Ryoko and I. Oh Yurika, I've messed up everything for everyone. Truly
I only ever had the best of intentions."

"Stay with me tonight Akito, don't leave me alone again. Love me."

"I can't, Yurika. I only came to explain, give you the truth. I can't decide
the best path. I wanted you to know, I never meant to hurt either of you.
Good night."

* * *

Akito returned to his room.

There was a knock on the door. It was Ryoko.

"Can I come in Akito, I want to talk."

Akito opened the door.

"You saw Yurika, didn't you?"

"Yes, Ryoko."

"How did it go?"

"She still loves me, Ryoko."

Ryoko bowed, submissive.

"Akito, please choose me. I can try and get a posting to one of the the
Nergal Lagrange point space stations. I have some money saved. We can lease a
shop on the business strip and you can open a restaurant. I can still fly
and you can pursue your cooking. We can be together. I don't expect you to
keep piloting."

Akito was taken aback.

Ryoko was trembling.

"Say something, Akito."

"I thought you only liked me when I was a pilot, Ryoko."

"I know what your cooking means to you Akito, I couldn't ask you to
give up your dream."

Ryoko had proved her love for him, yet again, by coming here like this
to plead. As if he needed any more proof, since his eyes had been opened.
He knew what this must be costing proud Ryoko. Akito had to give Ryoko a
decision, it was now or never for them. He couldn't deny that his relationship
with Ryoko had progressed further than his relationship with Yurika.
Ryoko needed him more. Yurika was more resilient. Ryoko despite her tough
seeming exterior, had a certain brittleness to her emotions. He was decided,
take the path of least harm.

"Subaru Ryoko, will you marry me?"

"Yes, Akito."

Ryoko collapsed against him crying.

Somehow she'd won, against all the odds.

* * *

Akito skipped out early before Ryoko woke. She was sleeping peacefully
and looking beautiful. He left her a note so she wouldn't worry.

"Got some things to organise, see you soon, love Akito."

First call was Seiya. Akito talked him into making an engagement ring
for Ryoko. They didn't have any gold or diamonds, but Seiya was
able to turn up some iridium alloy and some synthetic industrial sapphires
from the Aesti spare parts bin. The sapphires were actually nearly gem
grade.

Next stop was Miss Howmei, to organise a surprise engagement party.
Howmei was shocked it wasn't going to be for Yurika, but she took it in her
stride.

Next Akito went to Yurika's cabin. She had just got up.

"What is it, Akito?"

"I've decided, Yurika."

Yurika's heart leaped, he's coming back to me, she thought.

"I'm going to marry Ryoko. We are having an engagement party at 13:00 today,
I hope you will come."

The colour drained from Yurika's face, she didn't say a word.

There wasn't any thing Akito could do for her now, he turned and left.
Akito called Aoi Jun on the communicator.

"Jun, Yurika's just had some bad news, I think you should go see her."

Akito closed the channel.

Lastly, Akito returned to Engineering. Seiya had brought his engineering
and modelling skills to bear on the problem and turned out a stylish if
unconventional ring.

* * *

Akito returned to his room, but Ryoko wasn't there. He went to the girls
quarters. Ryoko, Izumi and Hikaru were all there. Ryoko smiled nervously
as he came in. He walked straight over and embraced her.

"Ryoko, I've got something for you."

He handed her the ring.

"It's lovely Akito, where on earth did you get something like this, out
here in space?"

Ryoko was blushing.

"Seiya made it for me out of Aesti spare parts. I know it doesn't
sound very romantic, put like that, but it's the thought that counts."

"It's perfect, Akito."

He was serious, Ryoko thought, I wasn't dreaming about last night.

"Girls, Ryoko and I have an announcement to make, if you hadn't already
guessed. Ryoko and I are planning to get married, we are now officially
engaged. I've organised a little engagement party to celebrate
in the Cafeteria at 13:00, you are all invited."

Hikaru was beaming.
"How did you manage it Ryoko, you dark horse! Did you beat him unconscious
and drag him off to the VR room with you?"

Izumi was chuckling, "The Captain isn't going to like this."

* * *

Akito and Ryoko left the female pilot's bunk room.

"I told Yurika, Ryoko."

"How did she take it?"

"She seems to be in shock. I told Jun to go see her, he'll look after her.
I hope you don't mind about the party and announcing it to the girls, Ryoko.
I should have asked you first."

"It's fine, Akito, I can scarcely believe it myself. It makes it seem
more real now."

"It will help Yurika too. She won't be able to bury her head in the
sand this time."

"Lets tell all the others and hand out some party invitations."

They walked hand in hand up the corridor.

* * *

The crew were happy to have a distraction. Almost everyone was in good
cheer and were congratulating the couple. Yurika came in shadowed by Jun.
She looked deeply unhappy. She came over to Akito and Ryoko.

"Miss Subaru and Mr Tenkawa, I wish you long life and happiness."

Yurika embraced them both. She took Ryoko's hand and whispered almost
inaudibly.

"Ryoko, please look after my Akito....."

There was an awkward silence. Jun took Yurika's arm and lead her away.

Hikaru and Izumi came over and bailed up Ryoko.

"Ryoko, you have to tell us what happened while you were missing.
We are dying to know. It must have been something amazing for you
to have won Akito away from Yurika like this," Hikaru interrogated.

For once Ryoko didn't mind this attention from her friends. She was
happy, nothing was going to spoil this day for her. The group settled down
at a table and she started to tell them everything.

Ruri came over to Akito.

"Mr Tenkawa, I don't understand how you could do this to Yurika"

"Ruri, it isn't really the time or place for this, but you deserve an answer.
I didn't really have a choice. To do otherwise meant doing worse harm to
Ryoko. I think I've chosen the path that will cause the least harm."

"What are you plans with Ryoko, Akito?"

"Ryoko is hoping to continue with her career as a pilot, she is aiming to go
one of the Nergal space stations. I can open up a restaurant there and be
with her."

"What about me Akito, could I come with you and Ryoko?"

"I haven't discussed that with Ryoko, Ruri. It's hard to say what will happen
when we get back to Earth."

"I'd have preferred it was you and Yurika, Akito. Ryoko scares me some how."

"Ruri, Ryoko is a fine person, she's put her life on the line for us all
countless times. I seem to remember her out there alone, saving the ship
from a Jovian attack, when a certain on duty bridge crew member
was busy singing in a talent contest."

Ruri blushed remembering her illogical entry in the talent contest.

"I'd like a stable family environment. Ryoko doesn't strike me as the motherly
type, Akito."

"Was that a joke Ruri?" Akito smiled.

"The Nadesico is my home and you are all my family, If you all go
your separate ways, I'll have nothing."

"It's kind of inevitable that this will end, Ruri. Now that the war is over
and we only have the bridge section of the Nadesico left, it can't be the
same. I can't be with Yurika. Think about what you want, Ruri. I'll sort
something out with Ryoko, if you decide you want to come with us."

* * *

The party was winding down and people were drifting away. Yurika and
Jun had left early. Akito rescued Ryoko from Hikaru and Izumi.

"Ryoko, how are you feeling?"

"Tired, but happy, Akito. Hikaru and Izumi are exhausting.
So many questions."

"How did the girls take the news?"

"They are happy for us. They knew I had a crush on you ages ago.
They used to tease the hell out of me. They can't bug me about that
anymore. Let's go back to your room Akito. I'll move my stuff in.
I want to be with you properly. Waiting until we are married would be
a bit hypocritical under the circumstances. I don't think Nergal will
go after us for breach of that no relationships on-board the ship
contract condition now. I think that little matter of stealing the
ship will take precedence."

Ryoko chuckled.

"Besides, you have more space in there because you locked everyone out
while they were relocating people."

"Good, Ryoko, let's go. All I want now is some rest and a quiet talk with
you."

* * *

Ryoko came in with her small case and a carry bag.

"Is that all your stuff, Ryoko?"

"I like to travel light, Akito. My father was a scram jet fighter
pilot. We used to move around a lot."

She dumped the bags on one of the bunks and sat down beside him
on the cushions. She sidled up against him. Akito put his arm around her.

"We have a lot to talk about, Ryoko, but there's no rush, we have plenty of
time now."

"Akito, I'm so happy, I don't feel I deserve this. I've never behaved like
a proper lady for you. I never really believed you could like me as a woman.
I'll try and behave better, I promise, I don't want to lose you."

"Ryoko, don't worry, I love you as you are. I don't know anyone who has
a heart as courageous and true as yours. I always admired and respected you.
You kept your feelings for me hidden, I had no way to know you
loved me. I won't let you down."

Akito stroked Ryoko's hair.

"Ryoko, what would you like to do for our wedding?"

"I don't want any fuss Akito. A civil service will do. I'd like it to be
soon. I don't have any surviving close relatives. All the people I care
about are here on the Nadesico. If things were different we could get the
Captain to perform the ceremony. But I don't think we can ask that
of Yurika."

"No of course not, Ryoko, it would be unbelievably cruel to ask that of
Yurika. Could we ask the Captain of the UE frigate escorting us come
across and do it?"

"No Akito, it's OK, we can wait till we return to Earth."

"Ruri is worried what will happen when we get back to Earth.
She doesn't have any family, that counts. Her biological parents are
total strangers to her. She asked if it might be possible to come with us.
She wanted to go with Yurika and I, but she is a bit nervous of you, Ryoko."

"Maybe she would be better going with Minato and Yukina, Akito.
Life on Earth would be better for her than life on a station."

"You don't want her with us?"

"I didn't say that, Akito, I was just thinking of what might be best for her."

"I promised her we would stay friends, Ryoko. She was worried we would
loose touch with each other."

"If she wants to come, of course I will make her welcome, Akito. Even if she
seems to think I will be playing the part of the wicked step-mother."

Ryoko snorted.

"She won't be any trouble, Ryoko, she is mature beyond her years. You know
that. What will Hikaru and Izumi do when they get back?"

"I think Hikaru wants to be a professional Manga artist."

"Izumi?"

"Who can say, that girl is seriously warped."


* * *

Inez called them in the morning.

"Akito, Ryoko, can you come and see me in my office soon? I need to get
your report of what happened while you were missing. I know no one is
in the mood for such formalities, but I have a certain amount of
scientific curiosity."

"Fine, Inez, we'll see you before lunch if thats OK?"

"That would be good, Akito."

Ryoko sighed. "I'm getting a bit sick of recounting the story."

* * *

They sat down with Inez in her consulting room.

"I don't want to take up too much time with this, I just want to
check a few facts," said Inez.

"Did you you go back in time and into a different reality?"

"Thats right, Inez."

"Did you meet me at the Utopia Colony ruins on Mars?"

"Yes."

"Did I explain my probability strand theory to you."

"Yes, Inez, at great length," Ryoko and Akito both groaned.

"I don't think I need to ask you anything more."

Inez waved a strange looking scanner over them both and took some readings.

"I don't need to ask, because I know most of the story already. I was
there at Utopia and met you both. I have the memories from that Inez
as well as my own."

"How is that possible, Inez?"

"That strand collapsed. I'm not completely sure without some further
experiments but I think interacting with entities from the prime probability
strand like yourselves gives a special immutable nature to information
arising from the interaction, like memories. Such data is preserved during a
strand collapse. In effect I now have two sets of alternate memories.
I have some possible bad news and a warning for you both. This isn't the
prime probability strand. It may collapse too. I can't predict when it will
happen, if it will happen or what effect a collapse will have on you."

"You mean this isn't the real world?"

"All the strands are real while they exist, Akito. This just isn't prime
strand or the strand you originated in, however it is very close."

"Can we jump back to the prime strand?"

"I don't think so. We don't have the precision required for such a fine
jump, since this strand is still so close to the prime probability strand."

"Is there any reason to try and leave this strand?"

"I'm not sure, Akito, I think there are several classes of strand.
Some diverge and re-converge continually from the prime strand and are semi-
stable and can exist for a long period of time. They are little different
from the Prime strand. Other strands are of low probability and short lived.
The strand you first wound up in was one of those. Others are of very low
probability difference but continue to diverge, eventually exponentially
until they collapse. I think this strand is one of these, it will be stable
and similar to the prime strand for many years then rapidly diverge and
collapse.

"I think the act of crossing the strand boundaries causes the formation
of extra strands. Trying to leave this strand might just complicate
matters.

"You need to be aware that if the strand collapses within your lifetime
you may perceive your circumstances change and suddenly have some extra
memories you didn't have before. Then everything will be stable again.

"There is no point worrying about it unless it happens."


* * *

Things weren't exactly pleasant when they got back to Earth.
The crew spent several months in custody while they were debriefed by
the Military and Nergal. The Military couldn't take any action
against them, Nergal didn't want to take any civil action against them.
Nergal had no desire to have their secrets aired in a public court.
The crew were finally released, forbidden off world travel and were to
be kept under surveillance.

Everyone was milling around outside the security fence of the UE
complex where they had been held.

Ryoko hadn't been able to see Akito during the time they had been
detained because the men and women had been kept separately.

Akito and Ryoko ran to each other and embraced.

"So you missed me huh, Tenkawa!"

"You know I did, Ryoko." Akito squeezed her harder.
"You heard they won't let us leave Earth?"

"Yurika's Father managed to get messages in and out for us Akito.
Akatsuki is still being investigated for possible war crimes charges.
It's only a formality to appease the Jovians, he will get off.
As soon as it's settled he is going to try and help out the Nadesico crew.
Apparently he can swing it for me to get a piloting job with the station
security forces at the L3 station."

Akito saw Admiral Misumaru, Yurika and Jun climbing into a car to leave.
He waved at them, Yurika smiled and waved back.

"Did Yurika seem OK to you, Ryoko?"

"Yes, Akito, she seems fine now. We talked, she knows we love each other,
she has accepted it. Time heals all wounds they say don't they?"

"Have you seen Ruri?"

"I think Nergal still have her somewhere, she wasn't kept with us.
I think Yurika has been trying to get custody of her.
Apparently Nergal are her legal guardians at present."

"What!"

"I know! Akito, we'd better find Prospector and see if we can see her."

Minato and Yukina were just leaving.

"Goodbye Mr Tenkawa, thanks for everything," called Yukina.

"It's sad isn't it, Ryoko, the crew, we're all drifting apart already."

"Don't be so mushy, Tenkawa, it's not as if anyone has died.
We'll see them again, they'll have to come to our wedding."

They found Prospector chatting with Seiya, who didn't appear to be in any
particular hurry to get home.

"Mr Prospector, where is Ruri, can we see her?"

"No that is not possible at this time."

"Is she OK?"

"Yes she is fine. They are going to release her into the custody of Admiral
Misumaru tomorrow, when the paperwork comes through. They are keeping
her in protective custody until then."

"Thanks Prospector"

"Looks like there isn't anything we can do about Ruri at present, Ryoko."

"Ruri will be OK with the Admiral and Yurika, Akito."

"We need to sort out somewhere to stay. How long do you think it will be
before Akatsuki can come through with the L3 station posting for you?"

"Months rather than weeks I think, Akito. We need to find something
reasonably long term."

"OK, lets go see my old boss. I'm sure he can use a hand, my old room
should still be available. You might be able to try your hand at waitressing
for a while. You'll have to try not to kill any customers."

Ryoko chuckled.

* * *

The boss still had a room for Akito and Ryoko, and jobs for them both
if they wanted them.

Akito slipped right back into cooking, it was as if he had never left.
Ryoko was struggling with waitressing. She managed not to kill anyone, but
some rude customers left very frightened looking. They went to bed as soon
as the place closed and they had finished cleaning up.

"I'm sorry, you didn't enjoy that much, Ryoko, you don't have to keep doing
it. The room is cheap and the food is free. We don't really need the money at
the moment."

"I'm sorry too, Akito, but one more day of that and I think I would kill
some customers."

"What will you do tomorrow, to keep occupied, if you aren't serving?"

"I'll wash dishes instead, anything is better than dealing with those
damn customers."

"Aestivalis squad leader to pot scrubber, it's a bit of a come-down
isn't it, Ryoko?"

"It's only temporary, Akito, I don't mind. Really! At least
I can be with you in the kitchen."

"We have tomorrow morning off anyway. We aren't required till lunch time.
Perhaps we can catch up with Hikaru and Izumi? What were the girls planning
to get up to anyway?"

"Hikaru is going to setup a studio in town and draw Manga.
Izumi is buying a night club would you believe!
I think she intends to perform there herself."

"Now that is bizarre."

"Should we organise the wedding soon, Ryoko? It might be better if we do it
now while we can still contact everyone."

"You're right, Akito, the local registry office will do. The girls can
be bridesmaids. We can have an informal reception here at the restaurant.
Did you have anyone in mind to be best man?"

"I'm a bit light on for male friends, Ryoko. I guess I can ask Seiya.
Jun or Akatsuki are out."

"Let's make it this Saturday then, Akito. Since we have the morning
off tomorrow, we can go out shopping and make the arrangements.

They snuggled up together and went to sleep exhausted.

* * *

Ruri appeared at the restaurant doorstep with some suitcases.
Ryoko and Akito were just on their way out.

"Ruri, what are you doing here?" Akito asked.

"Mr Tenkawa, I'd like to stay with you and Miss Subaru."

"I thought you were going with Yurika?"

"Yurika thought that, but they didn't bother to ask me."

"We only have one bedroom, Ruri, it isn't really suitable."

"I can sleep on the sofa. Please, I won't be any trouble."

"Won't the Misumaru's make trouble over this Ruri?"

"No it's OK, Yurika said I could stay with you, if I really wanted to."

"OK Ruri, if you are sure it's what you want. I'll take your bags
upstairs. We were just going out shopping. Do you want to come along?"

"Yes, I'd like to come."

Ryoko tousled Ruri's hair playfully.

"Good to see you again kid."

* * *

They stopped off at a small jewellers to look at some wedding rings.
They decided on some simple white gold bands because the white gold
looked better beside Ryoko's iridium alloy engagement ring.

They got some simple stock wedding invitations.

Akito whispered to Ryoko, "Ruri should be a flower girl at the wedding."

Ryoko nodded.

"Do you girls want to go off and buy some dresses?"

"I don't want a white wedding dress Akito, I'll just wear my good cocktail
dress. We should get a dress for Ruri though. You can hire a suit."

Ruri wasn't keen, but they took her into a bridal shop and picked out
some gowns for her to try on. Eventually they all agreed on a simple
blue gown with white petal like top. Ryoko seemed to think it would match
the cocktail dress she was planning to wear.

Akito thought the dress made Ruri look like a princess.

They returned to the restaurant to start work. Ruri spent the afternoon
addressing and sending out the paper invitations. She used her laptop
computer to hack into the Nergal personnel database and get the addresses.
She sent out electronic copies as well to make sure everyone got them in time.

* * *

It was the night before the wedding.

Ryoko sent Akito off to spend the night with Seiya and his wife.

"Tenkawa, some traditions just have to be upheld even if we aren't having
a full blown white wedding. I'm going out for some fun with the girls
tonight, you should spend the night with your best man. It's bad luck to see
the bride on the wedding day before ceremony. Don't worry, Ruri is coming
along with us, we won't get into any trouble. Seiya knows me, he knows he is
a dead man if he doesn't get you to the registry office on time, I'll see you
there Akito, I promise."

* * *

The girls went off to an amusement arcade, Hikaru and Ryoko were playing
a simplified Aestivalis simulator game. Ryoko was getting mad because
Hikaru was always beating her.

"Bah, this game is all wrong," complained Ryoko.

"Hikaru wins because she is playing the game, Ryoko," Ruri explained.
"You are treating it like a real Aestivalis, the game Aestivalis
can move faster and has less inertia."

Ruri took the controls from Ryoko and proceeded to trounce Hikaru.

"Haa, take that Hikaru," Ryoko laughed. "Beaten by a little girl."

Izumi was playing a target shooting game. She had already won a giant
size stuffed Gekigangar toy and was well on her way to winning another
large prize.

"I think that's enough Miss, you'll wipe me out." the operator complained.

Izumi shrugged, there wasn't any real challenge in it anyway. Izumi gave
the toy to Ruri. It was almost as tall as her.

"Let's go do some Karaoke," suggested Hikaru.

Ryoko moaned as the girls dragged her off.

Ruri was struggling to carry Gekigangar.

* * *

Akito spent the night at home with the Uribatake's. Akito had a few beers
with Seiya and they reminisced over old times on the Nadesico. Mrs
Uribatake was pleased to finally get some insight into Seiya's life
when he was away from home. Akito handed over the rings to Seiya and
turned in early. Seiya didn't mind. He said he still had his speech
to write and besides Ryoko would kill him if Akito wasn't in perfect
shape for tomorrow.

* * *

Ryoko woke early took a shower and started dressing. Her blue strap-less
cocktail dress was bit tight, even though she'd had it let out a bit.
It was rarely worn. She still treasured it, her father had bought it for her.
She pulled on the long white gloves that went with it. She did her hair
and looked in the mirror, I don't look too bad she thought. Her green hair
didn't really go with the dress, but it was her favourite dress and she
wanted to wear it this day.

Ryoko helped Ruri put her hair up.

Ryoko didn't quite know what to make of Ruri. The girl seemed so distant
most of the time, but she had been quite animated and determined when
she was asking to stay with them. Was there something in the way she
looked at Akito? What about that song she sang at the talent contest?
No, she was too young. Ryoko put the thought out of her mind.

The girls arrived early to walk her to the registry office. She'd told them
she intended to be on time, she wasn't going to play the childish game of
keeping Akito waiting at the altar.

* * *

Seiya and Akito had arrived five minutes early. Seiya hadn't forgotten
the rings. I bet Ryoko arrives right on time, Akito thought.

Akito wasn't disappointed.

He gasped as he watched Ryoko arrive. He had never seen her in a dress
before. She was a truly beautiful woman, easily out shining Megumi or
Yurika. How had he not noticed her all that time they were flying
together? Hikaru and Izumi didn't scrub up too badly either, but Ruri,
in her matching blue gown, was simply gorgeous.

Ryoko saw Akito in his hired suit. She smiled. Yummmm, she thought.

They went through the ceremony, exchanged their vows and rings.
The bride was kissed and the register signed and witnessed.
Hikaru threw some rice over the happy couple, in spite of the signs
forbidding such activity at the registry office. They had forgotten to
organise a photographer, but Izumi had brought a camera and was busy
snapping away.

They walked back to the restaurant arm in arm. The reception guests were
just starting to arrive. Yurika and Jun were already there.

So she came, Akito thought.

Most of the ex-Nadesico crew showed up. Apart from Yurika this was a happy
time for them all, their last chance to be together as a group for the
foreseeable future. There was music, dancing, food and wine.

Seiya's speech was very funny. He recounted the tale of Akito being
chased around the ship by the girls with their food, saying that Ryoko was the
fastest, fittest and having the most stamina, had finally run Akito down
today. It even got a smile from Yurika who could finally see how funny that
incident had really been.

Things were winding up and Ryoko threw her bouquet. Erina Won managed to
emerge victorious after using some unlady like martial arts techniques on
Megumi.

Erina had a large envelope for Ryoko and Akito.

"It's a wedding present from Akatsuki," Erina explained.
"He couldn't be here today, for obvious reasons, but he sends you
both his best wishes."

Ryoko tore it open. There were three sets of passports and visas for Ryoko,
Akito and Ruri. Also an official letter from Nergal Heavy Industries
reinstating Ryoko as a Nergal employee and transferring her to the L3 space
station as Senior Aestivalis pilot. Finally there was a hand written note.

"Ryoko, beware the anime fan, regards, Akatsuki."

Ryoko laughed at reading that.

"Well Tenkawa Ryoko, it looks like we get to start our new life together
sooner than we though." Akito kissed Ryoko yet again.

* * *

The three of them took a shuttle to the L3 station the next day.
On arrival they checked into a cheap hotel at the L3 space dock.

"I have to see the station commander, Akito, I won't be back till dinnertime.
You and Ruri can go check out the real-estate scene after you have unpacked."

Ryoko darted out the door, pausing for a quick kiss.

"Well, Ruri, lets head downtown and see if we can find us a restaurant."

The stations shopping precinct look a bit run down, there were a lot of
empty shops. It consisted of conventional modern buildings in a vast open
space, with a fake blue sky and clouds to make it less claustrophobic.

"I guess the destruction of the SM L2 station wasn't good for business, Ruri."

"Wouldn't it be more efficient to do an online search of the station
space allocation authorities database, rather than wandering around here,
Akito?"

"Yes, Ruri, but I wanted to stretch my legs after the shuttle flight,
and we can get a better feel for the area this way. We need to find
something suitable for use as restaurant, with some on site
accommodation."

They saw a possibility almost straight away, a shop front fitted out as
a cafe. It was closed, with a for lease sign in the window. There were
rooms above.

"Let's contact them about this one and see if we can have a look around."

Akito called the number. The agent could meet them in five minutes with
the access cards.

The kitchen was ideal with modern fittings. The flat above was furnished and
had three large bedrooms. People tended not to go lugging their
furniture around space with them.

"A family operated it previously, they had kids and they all lived up here,"
said the agent.

Akito asked about the lease and gulped when he heard the figure mentioned.

"I'll discuss it with my wife and get back to you tomorrow."

Akito and Ruri walked back to the hotel.

"It looked ideal, Ruri, plenty of room for you."

The docking bay seemed busy with lots of shuttle arrivals.

"It looks like people are beginning to return to the stations now the
war is over. I think you should grab that lease while you can, Akito."

They told Ryoko about the Cafe over dinner.

"They are asking a bit much, Akito, but I can cover it.
If what the station commander told me is true, things are about to really
boom here again, we shouldn't delay. I can meet you there at lunch time
tomorrow and we can sign up if we are all happy with it."

"Where did you get that kind of money from, Ryoko?"

"My father left me a little money, and I never really had the chance to
spend any of my pilots pay while I was on the Nadesico. You should
check your bank balance, you might be surprised."


Ryoko loved the flat above the Cafe. It was bright and airy, well as as bright
and airy as a building on a space station could be anyway.
There was plenty of room so Ruri wouldn't be under foot all the time.

"Let's do it, Akito."

They signed the paperwork and transfered the credits to the agent who handed
over the access cards.

"I've got to get back to work, Akito, can you get our stuff moved in now?"

"Sure Ryoko, I'll book out of the Hotel, you can come home here
tonight."

* * *

Akito met Ryoko outside the front of the Cafe. Without warning he grabbed her
and lifted her off the ground into his arms.

"Oy Tenkawa, what gives."

Ryoko was wriggling so much he almost dropped her. Ruri was amused.

"It's an old tradition Ryoko, carrying the bride across the threshold.
The husband carries his new bride through the doorway of their new home,
the first time he brings her home. I came across it when I was studying
up on wedding customs." said Ruri.

Akito carried her inside.

"Oy Tenkawa yourself, Mrs Tenkawa" Akito laughed as he kissed her
and deposited her back on the floor.

What was I thinking when I signed that wedding register, thought Ryoko,
blushing furiously. I guess I was still feeling a bit insecure.
Bloody Tenkawa!

Ruri thought it was funny, Ryoko still hadn't got used to being
affectionate with Akito in public. I was wrong to doubt Ryoko, thought Ruri.
She is just like me in a way, she has trouble with her emotions too.
We are all going to be happy here.

* * *

The restaurant was up and running. Business was still a bit slow but growing
all the time. Akito often went to see Ryoko in the mornings after he had been
to market for restaurant supplies. She usually managed to wangle them some
time together in the Aesti simulator. She liked Akito to keep his hand in and
it was a good excuse for them to spend more time together. That "Damn Tenkawa"
could still beat her most of the time, unless she was riled about something
and really let go at him.

In the evenings Ryoko sometimes deigned to wait tables, to pass the time
till Akito could shut up shop and come to bed.

They didn't open the restaurant on Sundays and Ryoko had rigged the duty
roster so she was free all day on Sundays.

They had a comfortable life.
Akito wondered if Ryoko was missing the action of combat here in this
backwater. He thought about Ruri too, there wasn't really anything for her to
do here that would fully exercise her talents. Doing the restaurant
accounts wasn't exactly taxing her capabilities. The restaurant also tied
them down. I must hire another chef and break him in, so we can take a holiday
to Earth when Ryoko gets her leave, Akito thought.

* * *

Ruri usually enjoyed helping out at the restaurant. It was soothing to do
a simple normal thing like chopping vegetables for Akito. It was good to be
near Akito. It was good to have Ryoko in her life too. Ryoko had a good heart
and being with Akito had mellowed her.

Ruri sometimes wished they could see the others from the Nadesico crew more
often. Ryoko had taken her back to earth once, when she had a been on a
training course for few days. They had only managed to see Minato and Yukina
briefly. Akito hadn't been able to get away from the restaurant.

Ruri was getting older, she was 14 now.

Her teenage years were upon her. She intellectually knew her body and
emotions were changing under the influence of her hormones. Knowing
something and experiencing it were two different things entirely.

Today she felt a strong up swelling of feeling for Akito.
She knew that he belonged to Ryoko, she knew she was far too young.
She thought about the old days on the Nadesico, the song Omoikane had
written for her to sing in the talent competition. That song had
been meant for Akito. If things had been different..... If I had meet him
before those other girls. If only I was a little older.
She still didn't understand how he had ended up with Ryoko.
God I'm an idiot she thought. I want what Ryoko has with Akito. I'm becoming
jealous of her! I should have stayed with Yurika and the Admiral. I don't want
these feelings.

Akito noticed something was up with Ruri.

"Ruri, what's the matter?"

Ruri was on the point of crying.
Akito came over and hugged her.

"No, Akito don't...."

She was crying now and buried her head in his chest.

"Ruri?"

"Akito, you don't understand, you never understood," Ruri sobbed.

"What, Ruri?"

"All those Nadesico girls Akito, they all loved you, even Inez and Erina.
Akito I loved you too, I still do. I... I... I didn't know what it meant
then. Don't tell Ryoko, Akito, she'll kill me."

"Don't tell Ryoko what, Ruri?" Ryoko said from the kitchen doorway.

Akito and Ruri jumped apart as if jolted with an electric shock.

Ryoko had dropped in on her lunch break, and had heard Ruri's confession.

Ryoko stood in the doorway with a look of shock and disbelief on her face.
Ruri stared back at her with those baleful yellow eyes, all trace of emotion
gone from her face.

Damn that Tenkawa, Ryoko thought. His girl problems had followed him here.

"Ryoko, Ruri has a problem, we all need to talk about it. I can't stop now
the lunch rush is about to start. Can you take Ruri out for lunch
somewhere, please? Have a little girl to girl chat with her?"

"It's all right Ruri, honestly, come with me, lets leave poor Akito in peace."
Ryoko gently took Ruri's hand and started to lead her away.

Akito shrugged his shoulder and rolled his eyes and gave Ryoko a quick
squeeze.

Akito was right she thought, they all needed to talk about this. It changed
everything. Ryoko had come to think of Ruri as a younger sister, part of
their family. It shocked her that Ruri had those kind of feelings for
Akito. Akito is placing a lot of faith in me, leaving me to handle this,
I'd better not screw it up. She knew how much Akito liked Ruri.

Ruri hadn't said a word since they left the restaurant.

Ryoko took Ruri to a nearby pizza place. She hadn't tried it before but
the other Aesti pilots always ordered take away from there and they
recommended it highly. It was run by a real Italian.

Ryoko and Ruri sat silently across the small table from each other while they
waited for their order.

I'll have to start, thought Ryoko... this is going to be hard.

"Ruri, I understand how you must be feeling now."

"That doesn't make any sense, our situations are totally different,
Ryoko."

"I loved Akito for a long time Ruri, without hope of him ever returning my
love. If I was being honest with myself, it started right back when he
destroyed that Jovian controlled rogue Aesti, that had bested Hikaru, Izumi
and I.

"He wanted to be a cook, didn't want to pilot, but he came through for
us when it mattered. He took up with Megumi shortly after that, I knew I
didn't have a chance with him, but my feelings for him just kept growing.
I couldn't help it, couldn't control it. The pain I felt when he chose
the Captain. How is that different to what you are feeling now Ruri?"

Ruri remained silent.

Ryoko continued.

"I never told Akito how I felt then. I denied I was in love with him,
even to myself, but I couldn't help slipping up. Izumi and Hikaru knew.
They made my life hell with their teasing.

"If it hadn't been for that jump accident he would be with Yurika now.
I didn't really deserve this chance to be with him, I was a coward.
You did the right thing letting him know how you felt, Ruri. Sometimes
I wonder if he loved Yurika more than me. Did he only choose me because
he thought that Yurika would cope with rejection better than me? Akito is a
good man, Ruri, he always tries his best for people."

The pizza arrived and they started to eat. The pizza was good.

Ryoko reached out to hold Ruri's hand with her right hand. She forgot
that Ruri had an IFS on both her hands. Briefly they saw each other
through each others eyes as their IFS made contact and activated.

"I'm sorry, Ruri!"

Ryoko dropped Ruri's hand.

"Ruri, please tell me about you and Akito, tell me how you feel.
I know it doesn't sound logical, but it will help to talk."

The pizza reminded Ruri of the time she had been in Peaceland with Akito.

"Ryoko, you won't send me away now, will you?"

"Not if you want to stay, Ruri."

"Akito was my knight, Ryoko. When I went to Peaceland, he fought some
rude kitchen staff to defend my honour, so to speak. He helped me
save Omoikane. He never treated me like a child."

"That song Ruri, the one you sang in the contest, that was for Akito
wasn't it?"

"Yes, Ryoko, I wanted him to notice me."

"Everyone noticed you, Ruri, you won the competition. You could have
been Captain of the Nadesico."

"What's wrong with me, Ryoko, there is a pain in here and it wont go away.
I used to be happy just to be with you and Akito."

"It's just your body catching up to your mind, Ruri. You have been an
adult in your mind for a long time. The body can influence the mind
in strange ways."

"I don't think I can work with Akito in the kitchen any more, Ryoko.
Do you think you could find work for me at station ops?"

"I'll see what I can do Ruri, if thats what you want. You know Minato
would be happy to for you to stay with her and Yukina on Earth.
It might help you to be around some younger people, like Yukina."

"You said you wouldn't send me away, Ryoko!"

* * *

They sat around the table having their late supper after the restaurant
had closed.

Ruri felt silly now about the fuss she had caused today. The ache in
her heart wasn't so strong now. She regretted causing the worried looks on
Akito's and Ryoko's faces.

"Akito, Ryoko I'm sorry I didn't mean to hurt either of you," Ruri blurted.
"I had no right to say those things to Akito."

"It's OK Ruri, it's better to be honest about your feelings.
It will get easier, Ruri," Ryoko soothed.

"Princess Ruri, you're still my number one friend."

Akito took Ruri's hand and kissed it.

"Unhand my husband you vile temptress," Ryoko laughed.

That sounded dumb thought Ryoko, we shouldn't be making light of the
poor girls feelings.

Ryoko hugged Ruri and whispered in her ear, too quiet for Akito to hear

"If anything ever happens to me, Ruri, he's all yours."

* * *

Sunday lunch was interrupted.

A holo image appeared in front of Ryoko, it was the duty officer at
station space control.

"Ms Tenkawa, there is an incoming unidentified ship, not responding to
messages. It's coming in fast. We have already scrambled your Aestivalis
wing. You might like to get down here."

"Akito, I have to go, there is a flap on."

She gave him a perfunctory kiss and ran for the door.

Akito hated it when this happened, it was usually pretty quiet, but the few
times Ryoko had be recalled to duty had been nerve wracking. He was out
of the loop, there was nothing he could do. This sounded like something more
serious.

"Ruri, can you hack into space control from here? I want to see what
is going on."

"I'm on it Akito."

Holo images of the incoming black ship and telemetry info sprang up
around Ruri's computer.

"It looks like some kind of small warship, Akito. It's on a direct course
for the station. Ryoko's wing are positioning themselves to intercept.
The station defences are all online. It looks like there are going to
be hostilities."

"Who has anything to gain from attacking the station, Ruri?"

"The intruder is firing on the Aestivalis wing. Control has given the
order to return fire. The station is launching missiles.....
One Aestivalis has been destroyed. Akito, there's been another Aestivalis
launch, Ryoko is out there now!"

"Ruri, we have to do something. I just can't sit here!"

"Akito, you can't do anything."

"Ruri, I'm going out, they have spare frames. Alter the security level on
my access card so I can get into the Aesti hanger."

"No, Akito, I won't."

"Ruri, something is going badly wrong out there, I have to try and help.
Keep a data feed going to my communicator, I'm going."

* * *

Akito sprinted through the Aesti Hanger.

One of the maintenance staff saw and recognised him.

"Mr Tenkawa, what are you doing in here."

"Get some more of these frames launched, the station is in danger."

"We don't have any more qualified pilots, Tenkawa."

"I'm taking one out."

"You aren't authorised."

"I can fly it, god dammit, get out of the way."

Akito jumped in the cockpit, sealed up and brought all systems online,
launching without any checks.

"Status Ruri?" Akito yelled.

"I've got the space control feed patched through to your Aesti, Akito,
you should have full tactical display now."

Ryoko was rendevouzing with her three surviving comrades.

"Ryoko, this is Akito, the Intruder has boson jumped two Jovian type
fighters in behind your group. I'm moving to intercept.
Stay on the main ship. I'll deal with them."

"Tenkawa, what are you doing out here, this is a job for professionals,
not cooks." The virtual Ryoko was scowling at him.

Ryoko rarely called him Tenkawa these days, it always seemed funny
to him now since she was a Tenkawa also.

Akito caught the enemy fighters off guard, they hadn't expected a sixth
Aestivalis. They never saw what hit them.

"Ryoko you are clear now, I'm following you in."

A virtual Ruri popped up.

"The enemy vessel is fleeing. Ryoko's group can't catch it. Station
control are demanding an explanation of your unauthorised launch.
The enemy is out of range, control is recalling the Aestivalis."

* * *

Ryoko stormed across the hangar bay to Akito.

"Akito, what were you thinking of, how will I explain this to the
station commander. You have embarrassed me."

"Better embarrassed than dead, Ryoko."

"One of my people died today Akito. It's not a game. I thought you
didn't want to pilot anymore, you were tired of the killing."

"Seeing you out there in combat again, Ryoko, suddenly the restaurant
doesn't seem that important. If you have to fight again, I want to be
there with you."

The Station Commander was in the bay.

"I won't ask how your husband got access to the Aesti, Tenkawa.
But the simple fact is, he saved the station and your lives.
You were caught between the enemy fighters and the mother-ship.
You would have been carved up. I know you have been sneaking him into
simulator. I've seen the stats reports on your matches, he's just as good
a pilot as you are isn't he Ryoko?
Regrettably we now have a vacancy for another pilot. If he wants in,
the position is his."

* * *

The Tenkawas sat down to their evening meal.

"What will we do about the restaurant if you are piloting again, Akito?"

"We can hire another cook to cover for me. I was thinking of doing
it soon anyway, so we could take a holiday to Earth."

"I'm sorry about earlier, Akito. I'm glad you were there for me.
It was like old times."

"Old times? You mean yelling at me a lot again?" Akito laughed.

"Ruri, there won't be anyone here with you during the day if we are
both at station control."

"It's not as if I need baby sitting," complained Ruri.

"Ryoko, do you think you could get me that job at station control
we talked about? It felt good to be useful to Akito today. I could do
much more if I had a job in control. We would all be together that way,
we'd be comrades again."

Ruri thought, I'd still have their company without having to be
alone with Akito.

"I'll ask the Commander, Ruri. I'm sure he'd be happy to have your
talent at our disposal, with this new threat."

"Does anyone know who they were or what they were after, Ryoko?"
Akito enquired.

"The ship design was something new, but the fighter models were
definitely Jovian. I'd say it's some disaffected Jovian rebels trying
to disrupt the peace. I don't know that their aim was necessarily to
destroy the station, they could have managed that if they had pressed
ahead. I guess they couldn't afford to risk their ship. They may try
again, the station is maintaining a higher state of security alert
for the time being."

* * *

Ryoko and Akito took a pair of Aestivalis out on patrol.

"It's good to be out here with you again, Ryoko."

"I know Akito, it's what I've always wanted, but what about the
restaurant?"

"I don't feel safe here anymore. The station is a sitting duck."

"I know what you mean, Akito. What can we do?"

"I think I'd be happier on Earth, Ryoko."

"Akito! We have a job to do here protecting the station, we can't let
these terrorists drive us away."

"What about Ruri, Ryoko? She's stuck on the station. At least as pilots,
we have a fighting chance, if another attack comes. If the station blows
Ruri will die."

Akito was right, she thought.

"That's the end of this sweep, Akito, let's go home we need to talk with
Ruri before we decide anything."


* * *

Ryoko and Akito started discussing their fears with Ruri.

Ruri stopped them short.

"I have a suggestion. Admiral Misumaru has been in contact with me.
He has been recruiting crew for the Nadesico "B". If you request
a transfer from Nergal to the UEASF he will be able to get you
assigned as pilots.

"He also wants me for a position on the new Nadesico. We will all be
safer on a Battleship, than here."

"Who will Captain the Nadesico "B", Ruri?" Ryoko asked.
"Will it be Yurika?"

"No Ryoko, Yurika no longer has the will to do it. I will be the Captain
of the Nadesico "B""

Ryoko and Akito were taken aback.

"Don't be so surprised Akito, who do you think was operating most of
the Nadesico systems during battle. I could have been Captain then,
after all I did win the talent contest."

Akito laughed.

"I know you are capable Ruri, but are you ready for the burden of command?"

"I can only try my best, Akito. We can't stay here safely. I want to put my
skills to use again, to solve this terrorist problem."

"What do you think, Ryoko, pilots on a Battleship again. We won't be
running away, we'll be taking the fight to them. You don't have any
problems with young Captain Hoshino here do you?"

Ryoko chuckled.

"No ma'am"

She gave Ruri a smart salute.

"It's decided then, United Earth Alliance Space Force here we come."

* * *

The Nadesico "B" was preparing to leave the lunar construction facility
for her first voyage.

The atmosphere on board was different to that on the original Nadesico.
Some of the crew were even Jovian.

The three of them were a little older and wiser than they had been when
the original Nadesico has set out on it's first voyage. They were the
only original Nadesico crew members aboard. The terrorist problem hadn't
become personal for any of the others yet. Hikaru and Izumi hadn't
wanted to leave their civilian lives to be pilots again and chase terrorists.

Ruri had been reunited with her friend Omoikane, the ships computer.
The original data from the Nadesico A had been preserved by Ruri and
uploaded into the new system.

Captain Hoshino's orders allowed her plenty of discretion to solve the
problem of terrorist attacks as she saw fit.

Ruri had arranged for Akito to be able to cook when he wasn't required
for piloting. She had allocated Ryoko and Akito a decent size cabin to
share, rather than the normal segregated pilots quarters.

* * *

Ryoko and Akito were settling into their cabin.

"Ruri said she'd drop by and eat with us when she got off duty."

"That will be nice Ryoko, we haven't seen much of her, since we got
to the moon. A Captain's life is a busy one."

"Did we do the right thing coming here Akito? I was expecting some more
of the Nadesico vets would sign up."

"It's peace time, Ryoko, they have their lives to get on with. Most
people don't see these terrorist cells as much of a threat. I think a
few did apply but the authorities blocked them. Someone pulled some
strings for us."

"I was expecting Uribatake would leap at the chance to serve on a
new ship, Akito."

"I hear he has had a bit of a reconciliation with his wife, they are
expecting another child."

"Oh." Ryoko never thought much about children.

Ruri knocked at the door.

"Come in, Ruri."

"I've brought some take-away from the Cafeteria, I thought we'd eat in."

"How is the ship going Ruri?"

"Fine, you should check out your new Aestivalis units tomorrow, they
have several improvements over your old models."

"How have you been coping, Ruri?"

"I'm glad to have Omoikane back, I missed him."

"Has a departure date been set yet, Ruri?"

"Within the next few days. The ship itself is fully operational, but we
are waiting to try and fill some more crew positions. It has been hard
to get suitable people. We only have three Aestivalis pilots, you two
and a Jovian called Takasugi Saburota."

* * *

Ryoko was up the far end of the Aesti hangar running Takasugi through
some checks on his Aesti. They were heatedly debating some technical
point.

Akito was busy familiarising himself with the new hand weapons systems.
A fancy cross between a rail gun and a plasma weapon that fired hyper
velocity energy packets.

Erina Won walked into the hanger.

"What are you doing here, Erina?" Akito spluttered.

"I'm glad to see you too, Akito. I am the Nadesico "B" helmswoman.
Some one has to look after Nergal's interests in this matter."

Akito got down out of the Aestivalis cockpit and walked over to her.

Ryoko was too busy yelling at Takasugi to have noticed Erina yet.

"Akito, I really am glad to see you again. No matter what you think
of me, those days on the Nadesico were special to us all, even to
Akatsuki."

"What is Nergal's interest in this, Erina?"

"We think they are more than just terrorists, Akito, they represent a
real threat. We need to find out what they really are.

"I see you are still with Ryoko. Let's go over and save that poor Jovian
from her. I could never figure out how you wound up with Ryoko, Akito.
Yurika, Megumi even, I could understand but Ryoko? I would have bet
against it lasting this long."

Erina thought, why did Akito never like me? What has that butch
tom-boy got that I haven't?

"We have been very happy Erina, A bit of give and take keeps things
working smoothly. Ryoko was never really half as ferocious as she
seemed."

Ryoko looked up and saw them walking over.

"Run through that 12A diagnostic again Takasugi. I'll see you later,
looks like I have a visitor."

Ryoko walked over and meet them half way. I don't like this she thought.
Erina's presence seemed like some kind of harbinger of impending doom.

"Ryoko, good to see you again."

Ryoko shook Erina's hand and stared back impassively.

"Erina is going to be Nadesico "B" helm, Ryoko."

"Well this is getting to be a right little Nadesico reunion."

"I have a message for you both from Inez, it seems a bit cryptic but she said
you would know what it meant."

"'Reality is what you remember.'"

"I'll see you both later, I have to report to the Captain, I believe
we are shipping out tomorrow."

* * *

"So what do you think about Erina joining us, Ryoko?"

"I suppose Erina is OK, Akito, better than having a stranger at the
helm. Her Nergal links make me nervous though. Something dangerous
is unfolding."

"How is that Takasugi guy?"

"He'll do fine Akito, once I've knocked some sense into him."

A holo image of Ruri appeared before them.

"This is the Captain, all duty crew report to your stations, prepare
for immediate launch. Destination is the L3 space station."

"Looks like we aren't waiting till morning, Ryoko. Ruri must have only
been waiting for Erina before lifting. I wonder what the rush is?"

* * *

The Nadesico "B" arrived at the L3 station. Erina had cleared it with Nergal
for the UEASF to have access to station database. Ruri had down-loaded the
records of the combat with the intruder ship and was busy analysing them.

Ruri computed the probable trajectory of the debris from the wrecked
Jovian fighters and sent Akito and Ryoko out to try and retrieve anything
they could find.

* * *

"There's something over here Akito, looks like mech wreckage."

Akito saw the body first.

"Ryoko, there's a body here."

I killed this man to protect Ryoko, Akito thought, sickened.

"We'd better bring it in."

Akito grabbed the corpse with his Aestivalis hand.

"You grab that bit of wreckage, Ryoko."

Ryoko appeared pale and shaken in the holo image. She knew she must have
killed many people before in combat, but rarely did one get to gaze on
the face of the enemy in space warfare.

* * *

They managed to identify the body via DNA records. It wasn't a Jovian.
He had been an UE Delphinium pilot. The mystery of the terrorists
deepened. They were certainly more than just a group of disaffected
Jovian rebels.

Ruri had analysed the trajectory the intruder ship had followed, it
could be backtracked almost perfectly to a certain sizable Mars/Jupiter
orbit asteroid. It was too easy. The Nadesico "B" was en-route
to investigate.


* * *

The Nadesico "B" was approaching the asteroid of the suspected terrorist
base with fangs out, the Aestivalis were already deployed. All the Nadesicos'
weapons were charged.

There was no sign of enemy activity.

Ryoko was leading the Aestivalis group with Akito and Takasugi on her wing.
She wished Izumi and Hikaru were here, or at the very least they had another
pilot. A full four unit wing was a much more effective fighting force than
three. Ryoko was apprehensive, she had something to lose now. It wasn't
like the old days when she would throw herself into battle, heedless of the
consequences.

A Ruri hologram appeared in their cockpits.
"Our sensors detect no ships or fighters in the area, but there is a
power source on the asteroid. You will have to land and investigate."

A diagram of the power source location appeared on their screens.

"Affirmative Captain, we are going in now," Ryoko answered.

The Aesties touched down a short distance from the projected location
of the power source.

"Spread out a little and look around, stay in sight," Ryoko ordered.

"I see something ma'am," Takasugi comm'ed. "Looks like a small airlock."

The three Aesties gathered around the small doorway.

Ryoko opened a link to the Nadesico.

"Captain, we have found an airlock, the power source is immediately below
us. It's too small for the Aestivalis to use. Do want us to go in?"

"Negative Ryoko, hold your position. I'm sending a shuttle with some
marines."

Ruri was being cautious.

The marines in their lightly armoured space suits look diminutive compared
to the towering Aestivalis frames. The airlock was easily opened and the
marines were quickly inside the enemy base.

They were all getting a holographic image feed from the sergeant leading
the marine squad. So far the complex seemed deserted and powered down.
Only emergency lighting was on, there was still power somewhere.

"I've reached the control centre Captain, the area is secured and
apparently free of booby traps. I've attached the data link to the
computer system as you requested." The marine sergeant reported.

Ruri began accessing their systems. As she had expected almost all
data had been wiped, but some essential control programs were still in
place. The base was abandoned but it looked like they were expecting to
return some time. Ruri suspected they had been led here for a purpose.

"Ryoko, get back to the Nadesico immediately, something isn't right.
I'm pulling the Marines out now."

"On our way Captain," Ryoko responded.

The Aestivalis wing lifted off at high acceleration straight back toward
the Nadesico "B".

The marines were just emerging from the airlock on the surface as a
powerful energy beam sliced their shuttle in two.

"Captain, the marines, I'm going back to cover them," Ryoko yelled.

"No, Ryoko, continue back to the Nadesico maximum thrust, don't engage
the enemy unless you are forced to."

"Helm, take us away from the asteroid full thrust."

"Captain, it's that ship, it matches the profile of the ship that
attacked L3 station, it boson jumped in. Numerous fighters jumped in
also, they are all around us."

"Fire on the hostile ship with the gravity blast cannon."

The reports from the bridge crew were almost superfluous to Ruri, she
was getting the whole picture via her IFS link to the ships systems.

Their Aestivalis had evaded the enemy fighters between them and the Nadesico
and now had a clear run back.

"Captain, why are we running, surely the Nadesico has them out gunned?"
Ryoko enquired.

"Ryoko, get your wing back inside the Nadesico distortion field as quickly as
possible, we are slowing a little to help you catch up."

"Divert full power to the the engines and distortion field as soon as
they are inside."

"We are just docking now Captain," Ryoko reported.

Space was suddenly filled with a white light as the Nadesico was slammed
with the shock wave from a powerful explosion.

The Asteroid had ceased to exist.

Ryoko's Aesti was tossed about like a toy in the docking chute. Her unit
slammed into a side wall bounced and settled into a corner with one of
it's legs splayed at an awkward unnatural angle.

Akito and Takasugi were already in the dock when the shock wave hit and
had managed to keep their footing.

"Ryoko, are you OK?" Akito called, anxious.

"I think so, Akito. My Aesti is busted up, I can't stand, the cockpit
release isn't working."

"Quick, Takasugi give me a hand, drag her Aesti upright so the cockpit
eject is clear."

They hauled Ryoko's damaged unit vertical. The cockpit door was clear
and could now be opened. Ryoko clambered out.

Akito and Takasugi parked their frames and went to Ryoko.

Ryoko was holding her side.

"Ryoko, you're hurt!"

"It's nothing, Akito, I think I've just cracked a rib."

Ryoko coughed. A small fleck of blood appeared at the corner of her mouth.

"Sit down, Ryoko, it looks a bit more serious than that."

Akito was on the comms at once.

"Get a med team down to the flight deck immediately, we have a pilot
with possible internal injuries."

Akito went with the medics, following the trolley Ryoko was on, holding
her hand. They had put a IV in her already.

"Is all this fuss really necessary?" Ryoko moaned.

"Mr Tenkawa, you'll have to wait outside now. You'll just be in the way."

The doctor brushed Akito out of the way.

* * *

Ruri joined Akito outside the medical centre.

On her way down she had been thinking about what Ryoko had once said.

"If anything ever happens to me..."

Ruri didn't know if Ryoko had been joking or not. There could be
no joy for anyone, if that came to pass.

"How is she, Akito?"

"You know doctors, Ruri, they aren't saying much, but they didn't look
that worried."

"What happened out there, Ruri?"

"The asteroid was just one big booby trap, Akito. They were prepared
to sacrifice many of their own people just to keep us close to the
asteroid so we would be destroyed.

"If we had delayed at all to fight them we would have been destroyed.
There wasn't anything I could do for the marines, Akito. I just didn't
work it out soon enough. As it was I put you, Ryoko and Takasugi at
grave risk."

* * *

The doctor's assistant called them.

"You can go in and see her now. She is going to be fine, she has a
broken rib, it punctured her left lung. We had to perform a minor
operation to patch it up and drain the blood. She'll be out of action
for a while though, until the rib knits."

Akito breathed a sigh of relief.

"How are you feeling, Ryoko?" Akito asked.

"I'm fine Akito, just a bit sore, when are they going to let me
out of here?"

"Not till tomorrow, just standard procedure they like to keep an eye
on you for 24 hours after an op. You had a punctured lung."

"Take it easy and do what the doctors say, promise me, Ryoko,"
admonished Ruri. "I have to get back to the bridge."

Ruri turned and left.

"What's happening, Akito, those damn doctors wouldn't tell me anything."

"The asteroid was a trap, Ryoko. The marines all died, we would have died
too if we had tried to save them. The enemy sacrificed many of their
fighters to their own trap, just to try and destroy the Nadesico."

"That's very scary Akito. Who are they and what are they trying to achieve?"

* * *

Akito awoke with a start. Something was very wrong. There was a tangle
of long dark blue hair on the pillow beside him. This wasn't their room
on the ship. Yurika stirred beside him.

Akito knew what had happened. Probability strand collapse.

I've been with Yurika three years! This is our wedding night. We leave
on a shuttle for out honeymoon in the morning!

Inez had warned them that something like this would happen. She hadn't
warned them the consequences would be quite this dire.

Where was Ryoko? He knew the answer. She was on one of the new Hisago
Plan space colony projects, leader of an elite Aestivalis training
squadron.

I've got two sets of memories for this three year period!

He'd just seen Ryoko at his wedding a few hours ago! Ryoko had seemed
sad at the wedding, one of the few people who hadn't been happy for them.
Ryoko hadn't found anyone yet, she was still putting everything into her
career.

This can't be happening.

Ryoko will remember too. Three miserable years pining
for me as well as three years of happy marriage. I've got to contact her!

Akito got up in the faint pre dawn light and tried to place a call through
to Ryoko.

"Ms Subaru is currently unavailable, you may leave a holo message
after the start screen".

"Ryoko, it's me Akito. I remember. I love you. I'll be in touch as soon
as I can," Akito whispered.

He hoped Ryoko would get the message soon. It didn't seem fair, he had
two sets of happy memories. Ryoko wasn't going to get off so easily.
He was sick of the universe messing with his life.

"Akito, darling, what are you doing. It isn't time to get up and get
ready for the shuttle flight yet is it?"

"No Yurika, go back to sleep."

He got back into bed. Yurika snuggled up behind him. This was an exquisite
torture for him. He remembered making love to her just hours before.
So different to Ryoko, but still so good.

He missed Ryoko. All of them. The Ryoko of years ago on the original
Nadesico, their common predecessor. His wife Ryoko. His long suffering
friend Ryoko of the new now.

He swivelled the wedding ring around on his finger. It would be a band
of yellow gold now, instead of white.

* * *

Ryoko hit the sack, she was tired, it had been a long flight back to the
colony from Earth.

Well that's over with, she thought. Tenkawa's wedding. Since Akito had
been with Yurika for three years, she had thought that the actual wedding
wouldn't matter.

It had upset her more than she thought it would.

He had always been Yurika's. She never had had a chance with him. At least
she had spared herself the embarrassment of confessing her love for him,
only to rejected. Akito had been too good for her, a better person and a
better pilot.

At least I can still strive to live up to his example, as far as
piloting goes.

* * *

Ruri woke from a troubled sleep. Vague dreams of embracing Akito and
a confession of love she should never have made, seeped into her
consciousness.

She had never become that desperate during her time living with Akito
and Yurika. It had been hard at times. Living so close to Akito in that
cramped one bedroom apartment. Akito and Yurika were wed now. It was time
to wall off and forget those feelings and dreams.

Somewhere in the Misumaru house an insistent incoming priority holo
message alert was sounding for the Admiral.

* * *

Ryoko jerked awake.

Where was Akito? She was alone in single bed. Her rib wasn't broken
any more!

Inez, she cursed. You never told us it would be like this.
She knew where she was now. Officers quaters on a Hisago plan space colony.

Memories of three wasted years hiding her feelings. Three years without
Akito. Empty years of nothing but training, flying and fighting.

Memories of the same years, lived again differently.

Three years of love with Akito, three years when she had been more human.
Three years of happy memories that she shouldn't have had. Happy memories
that would torment her for the rest of her life. She choked for breath.

He will be with her now, they'll be leaving on their honeymoon any hour now.

Will he remember too?

Ryoko got up, got dressed and jogged to the park.

She started running laps of the path that circled the gardens.

Focus and run she thought, the pain can't catch me if I keep running.

* * *

Ryoko stumbled exhausted back into her room.

There was an incoming message.

"Ms Subaru, it's Hoshino Ruri. I have some bad news for you. There has
been an accident. Akito and Yurika, their shuttle has been destroyed.
There were no survivors. Akito and Yurika are dead Ms Subaru."

The news didn't seem to impinge on Ryoko who was already in shock
from the strand collapse.

"Ms Subaru, did you hear?"

"I'm sorry Ruri, will you be OK?" Ryoko croaked.

"Yes, I'm here with the Admiral, we are taking care of each other.
I have to let the others know. I'll let you know about the memorial
service arrangements later. Goodbye Ms Subaru."

Ryoko terminated the call and absent mindedly checked her waiting
messages.

"Ryoko, it's me Akito. I remember. I love you. I'll be in touch as soon
as I can."

Ryoko screamed. He still loved me, he was going to come for me and
now he's dead.

* * *

The memorial service was a sombre affair.

There were no bodies to bury. Instead a small shrine, with photos of
Akito and Yurika had been erected.

What upset Ryoko the most, was that she had no physical keep sakes of
her time with Akito. Both her rings were gone, lost with the collapse
of that other probability strand. Her special iridium and sapphire
engagement ring and her plain white gold wedding band, they never existed
here. It might as well have all been a dream.

She couldn't behave like a grieving widow. Everyone would think
she was crazy. Inez would have understood, but she hadn't shown up.
She was working at some black Nergal project and couldn't make it in time.
Ruri didn't seem to remember anything of the time she had spent with Ryoko
and Akito.

There was no one Ryoko could turn to.

Ryoko stared upwards at the evening sky. The wind was blowing her hair about
showing her dark roots. She'd given up on dyeing it. The stars were just
starting to come out. She desperately needed to find a new star to follow.


THE END.

Greg O'Sullivan (gjo@unimelb.edu.au)
http://ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au/~gjo/nadesico/