Chapter 49--An unexpected surprise
A little under two hours later, the Banshee pulled into the docking station of the Juraian checkpoint followed closely by the Mako and the Puma. All three ships docked and unloaded their rescued passengers at the same time. Those freed from their crystal prisons streamed through the unloading ramps in droves, hugging each other and cheering loudly, reveling in the new found freedom they had waited so long for.
The Masaki household slowly made their way through the Banshee, Yosho in the lead. Everyone was still stinging from the loss of their friend. They could hear the boisterous cheers and shouts that emanated just outside the exit ramp they were traveling towards. Such cries of joy rung hollow in the ears of the entire company as they closed in on the door in front of them. No more so than for Ryoko.
To the rear of the group, she walked rigidly, her eyes straight ahead and her features hard. Over and over again she replayed the last time she was with the kenshin. The pain in his eyes and the state that his body was in when she had left him broke her heart.
I should have stayed. I shouldn't have left him. But I did. I left him. And now he's dead. Ryoko thought repeatedly. She wanted desperately to flee, to run as far away from this place as possible. But that would be the cowards way out. No. She would support her friends during the meeting. Then she would take Ryo-oki and go far away. She couldn't return to Earth just yet. She needed to get away for awhile. Away from everyone.
Stopping within a few feet of the exit door, the clan waited as the door began to rise, flooding the ramp with a blinding light. Everyone winced then relaxed as their eyes slowly adjusted. Shouts erupted from both sides of the filled corridor as the company proceeded forward. They had barely moved when Ryoko eyes widened. No way! She thought in disbelief , stopping dead in her tracks. It can't be! But I ... Ryoko's eyes darted around frantically as she searched the crowd, for some sign of what she had sensed. Please God, let what I just felt be real! She prayed as she began to run forward past her friends.
"Ryoko! Where are you ..." Tenchi started to shout after her as she rushed past but was unable to finish, for he had felt it too.
"Tenchi?" Ayeka asked, a puzzled look on her face.
Tenchi turned to face her, his face brimming with excitement. "Ayeka do you sense that?"
Ayeka shook her head slightly, paused, then suddenly nodded.
The crown prince and princess surveyed the crowd excitedly as they searched for some sign of what they had just felt.
Ryoko, for her part, had slowed her pace, eyeing what appeared to be an elevator at the end of the immense corridor. She stood transfixed on a large black screen above the elevator door that flashed a series of numbers in rapid succession. Frozen in her spot, Ryoko watched as the light stopped and the door began to slid open.
It has to be him! Please let it be him! She thought desperately, waiting with baited breath for the figure to emerge.
A tall man, dressed in a black sweater and jeans, stepped forward, his vibrant blue eyes troubled, his features distraught.
Ryoko wanted to cry out, for she knew him. But the sadness in his countenance silenced her. She stood still and waited. After what seemed an eternity, the man focused his attention forward. Their eyes met and held. All traces of grief vanished form the man's face to be replaced by such a look of joy it brought tears to Ryoko's eyes. She could hold herself back no more and let forth a cry that soared above the throng of the crowd. "Ryan!" Ryoko's voice sang as she rushed forward into the outstretched arms of her beloved kenshin.
Ryan swept Ryoko upwards, laughing happily as he twirled her around for a few seconds before clutching the space pirate close to his chest.
Ryoko clung to him fiercely afraid to let go; afraid that if she did he would disappear like some phantom dream. Ryan held her tightly, also afraid to let go. They held each other for a few more seconds then slowly released themselves. They stared silently at each other before
Ryan broke the awkward silence with a quick kiss. "It's good to see you again Ryoko. " He whispered, staring lovingly at the space pirate.
Ryoko smiled tenderly as she studied his face. He seemed happy enough but in her heart Ryoko knew something was wrong. She could feel some unnamed pain afflicting the kenshin. Her smile faded to be replaced by a look of concern. She looked up into his blue eyes. "What's wrong Ryan?" Ryoko asked in alarm.
Ryan turned away unable to meet her eyes. "I can't talk about it just yet." He answered softly. "Something has happened that I need to take care of." He added focusing his attention on her once more.
Ryoko saw the pain brimming in his eyes. "What has happened?" She asked in concern never taking her eyes off the kenshin.
Ryan gave a small shake of his head. "I'll explain everything later. Right now we need to report this incident with the council." He replied in distraction as his gaze turned away from Ryoko towards the rest of the Masaki household that were rushing forward.
"Ryan!" Tenchi cried happily, stopping in front of the kenshin. An equally happy Ayeka in tow. He stretched out his right hand which a smiling Ryan clasped eagerly. "Your alive!"
Ryan frowned, stiffing his posture. "Of course I am. It takes more than a couple of pissed off dark knights to kill me. I am a member of the Juraian Royal Family after all." He said seriously, holding his composure for a brief second before giving him a lopsided grin.
Tenchi shook his head. "Still a smart ass." He said somberly before matching Ryan's infectious grin.
Ryan chatted briefly with everyone before turning to push a small red button beside the elevator. The door slid open. Ryan entered, the rest of the group quickly following. Once inside the door automatically shut and rocketed downward.
"Tell me kenshin." Yosho began, "How did you manage to survive the explosion?"
Ryan turned to face him. They deserve an answer. He thought. Drawing in a quick breath, the kenshin began. "I teleported, or I should say my fellow knights teleported me as well as themselves directly to the checkpoint." He said with a pause.
"Why didn't you just teleport onto the Banshee?" Asked Ryoko in confusion.
Ryan gazed at her, his voice soft. " I was dying Ryoko. The wound I took from you was mortal. I had less than five minutes to live."
Everyone stared at him in shock.
Ryan sensing their surprise and confusion, elaborated. "I had no strength left to heal myself. And none of the transport ships could aid me. My only chance was to get to the checkpoint where I could be placed in their advanced healing chamber. With the combined power of all four knights, they were able to bring me to the checkpoint. It was a close call my friends managed to get me here on time."
"By why weren't we contacted." Ryoko began, her voice tinged with anger. "We all thought you were dead." She said, her voice becoming a whisper when Ryan turned his saddened eyes upon her. "I thought I'd never see you again." She added softly before gazing up at him.
Ryan sighed before gently clasping Ryoko's hands. "I'm sorry Ryoko." He whispered after enveloping her in his arms. Ryoko wrapped her arms around him not giving a damn that everyone was staring at her. A few seconds later, the elevator stopped it's descent and Ryan gently released his hold. A soft hiss escaped from the door as it slid open. Ryan exit first followed by Ryoko then the others. The kenshin led them to a large double door where a checkpoint officer stood guard. The young man snapped to attention before giving a quick chest salute.
"Are they ready?" Ryan asked, stopping before the guard.
"Yes kenshin. They await your arrival." He answered quickly, then stood to the side.
"Thank you captain."
Ryan entered the now opened door slowly, the whole gang close behind.
Councilor Meiko stood before a large flat screen that stretched along the entire back wall. Upon the screen were two dozen council members. Meiko greeted the Masaki group with a nod and motioned Ryan to stand beside him. Ryan took his place beside the shorter man, turned to the anxious faces displayed before him and, in a calm and even tone, reported the series of events that had transpired.
After reporting the details of their ordeal, Meiko clapped the kenshin on the back. "Kenshin, today you and your friends brought great honor to the house of Jurai." Meiko said with pride.
Cries of assent rang across the screen. The Masaki household looked at each other, their eyes shining brightly, smiles upon their faces.
"Speaking of the house of Jurai." Taga interjected. "Lord Tenchi, princess Ayeka." He began, addressing the two rightful rulers of Jurai. Tenchi and Ayeka turned towards him. "Have you made a decision whether or not you two take your place as rulers of Jurai ?" He asked.
Everyone in the room turned to stare at Tenchi and Ayeka who fidgeted and blushed as they looked at each other. " Well…" Tenchi began then stopped.
" The truth is… we.."Ayeka stammered.
"Oh for crying out loud!" Ryoko cried rolling her eyes. "Just profess you're love for each other, accept the crown and get on with your life!" she said in annoyance.
"Just a minute Miss Ryoko!" Ayeka exclaimed indignantly. "What about you?"
"What are you talking about?" Ryoko replied feigning innocence.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about!" Ayeka accused, pressing her point.
The two girls continued to banter back and forth about the subject of love much to the chagrin of their male counterparts who shook their heads
"Maybe we should end this." Ryan said in pity.
Tenchi nodded. "Yes. Lets." He replied walking past the girls toward the screen. "If I may have everyone's attention." The crown prince said coughing politely. Everyone quieted down and gazed at the kenshin and Tenchi.
"It is true that Ayeka and I care for each other. In fact we love each other.." Tenchi began before he was interrupted by the tidal wave of cheers that cascaded from the council.
"So you're coming back to us!" Taga cried excitedly.
Tenchi held up his hands. "Please let me finish." He demanded.
Everyone quieted down.
Tenchi continued. "Although I care for the princess, I need more time to think things through before I decide whether or not I want the responsibility of rule." He continued gazing at all the disappointed faces. "I have unfinished business on the earth to take care of so, give me a year to get back to you on that." He finished.
"But what if there is another threat to Jurai. What then?" Taga asked.
Tenchi turned to him. " Then you know where to find me." He replied.
The council members nodded, satisfied by the crown prince's answers.
"Well since that matter is settled somewhat, it time to address the situation on Calbon." Taga began, pausing to motion the kenshin forward.
Ryan stepped forward and waited for Taga to continue. "As you know, Calbon produces many of the foods necessary for our territories to survive. Reports have filtered in claiming that a large group of men have been stealing crops, setting fire to farm houses, and in some cases murdering the farmers themselves. If this alone wasn't bad enough, similar attacks have taken place on nearby planets. We feel that your assistance would be invaluable."
Ryan looked down. "I was aware of this sir. Councilor Meiko has informed me of the situation." He replied softly.
Behind him, Tenchi and company eyed each other then the kenshin in confusion. Only Ryoko knew what was going on and it frightened her. They're going to make him go. They're going to take him away from me! She thought fearfully as she watched Ryan with pensive eyes as she listened intently to the councilor and the kenshin's conversation.
Taga continued his questioning. "Then I can assume he has given you the informational disc."
Ryan reached into his pocket, retrieving a razor thin, see through case smaller than his palm. He held it up in front of him, revealing a small, gold metallic disc that sparkled in the lighted rays of the enlarged screen. "It is in my possession." He answered stiffly, replacing the case back into his pocket.
"And have you reviewed it?" Taga asked.
Ryan nodded. "I have."
"And have you made your decision?"
Ryan turned away from the screen , focusing his eyes toward Ryoko, staring helplessly at her.
A pained expression that mirrored his own met the kenshin's eyes. He felt the fear and anger brimming in his beloved. His heart was torn between love and duty. He wanted to say no. Wanted to tell them he was going back to Earth. But he could not. Not when his people needed him. Cursing himself, the kenshin looked back to the screen that projected Taga's image. " I will accept the mission. I will go to Calbon and weed out the perpetrators that have wreaked havoc on my world and bring them to justice. " He answered with finality, lowering his head to hide the look of disappointment on his face as he stepped away from the screen.
Cries of dissent rang loudly throughout the room as the Masaki clan protested his decision. None louder than Ryoko. "You can't do this to him! He risked his life to save all those people and nearly died in the process! And this is how you repay him! You ask him to risk his life once again! Is there no one else to take his place?!" She shouted out angrily at the images of the Juraian council.
"The other four knights have already been assigned to other missions. There is no one else and none more qualified to handle this situation than Ryan. He is Calbon's only hope." Taga answered somberly.
"But.." Ryoko started to protest when the kenshin turned to face her.
Ryan shook his head sadly.
Ryoko sighed angrily, crossed her arms and turned away from the screen.
Ryan turned around and stiffened his posture as he addressed the council. "Councilors?"
He asked curtly.
Taga frowned. "Yes what is it kenshin?"
"Once I have completed this mission, I will be returning to Earth. With or without your permission if I must." He said coolly, his head held up high in defiance.
"Now just a minute kenshin.." Taga began but was cut off by Meiko.
"I see no problem with that." Meiko said with a sly smile. "The young man deserves a vacation. Don't you agree?"
Taga clenched his jaw but nodded grudgingly. "Yes he does. So be it. After you solve the crisis on Calbon, you will be free to return to Earth."
The council members nodded their assent quickly.
"I will speak to you later Taga. Meeting adjourned." Meiko ordered. The screen before them went blank, sending the room into darkness.
Chapter 50--I Must Go Alone
"Lights!" Meiko commanded softly. The room brightened instantly, illuminating the disappointed faces of the Masaki clan.
The councilor noticed this as he turned to face Ryan. "You know what you must do kenshin."
Ryan nodded. "I do."
"How soon can you leave?" Meiko asked softly
"I am still a little weak from everything that has happened." Ryan began, turning to look upon Ryoko who eyed him sadly. "I should be ready in a few hours."
Meiko nodded then turned to address Yosho. "The checkpoint station will equip you with a ship so you may return to Earth at your leisure."
Yosho nodded. "Thank you councilor."
Meiko smiled. "No problem." He replied, pushing a small button below the long table in the center of the conference room.
The doors opened and the guard entered. "Yes councilor?" He asked.
"Captain Michi, please inform Kia in transportation that the Masaki clan is in need of a ship for their return voyage to Earth."
The captain gave a chest salute and exited the room.
Meiko faced Ryan and held out his hand. Ryan took it.
"Good luck kenshin. I know you will succeed." He said sincerely giving Ryan a strong, jovial shake.
"Thank you councilor. For everything." Ryan replied, returning the handshake.
Meiko smiled and released the kenshin's hand. He nodded to everyone then left the room. Ryan watched him go then turned his attention to Ryoko who had her back to him. This tore at Ryan's heart, for he knew he had just broke hers. He wanted to comfort her but without so many prying eyes.
Yosho noticed this and smiled sadly. "Come everyone, we have a few hours to relax before our trip, and my legs could use some exercise." He said with authority as he headed out the doors. The rest of the group shook their shoulders but followed the older man out into the hall, leaving Ryan and Ryoko behind.
Thank you lord Yosho. Ryan thought with a smile as he walked towards Ryoko, stopping a few feet before her. "Ryoko?" He whispered as he watched the space pirate.
Ryoko said nothing, her back still turned to him.
Ryan looked downward. "Please understand Ryoko. Nothing would please me more than to return home with you. But I must do this. It is my home world. I have to save it."
"And I suppose you must go alone." She said bitterly, turning around to face him.
Ryan looked up. "That is the way of things. I always go on a mission alone. I will return to Earth as soon as possible. I promise you."
"But what if I lose you again? What if you.." She stopped unable to finish.
Ryan stepped forward until they were mere inches from each other. "You won't lose me Ryoko. Not now, not ever. You have entered my heart and soul. We are one." He replied, lifting her hand to rest it on his chest.
Ryoko felt the out of control beat of the kenshin's heart against her finger tips. She knew he would return to her. Her heart swelled with love as she looked up into his eyes.
The kenshin gazed at her candidly as he leaned downwards to kiss her.
Ryoko met him part way, their lips locked in a passionate embrace that seem to go on forever.
Ryan broke the kiss first, backing away slightly before sweeping Ryoko into his arms.
Ryoko giggled as Ryan swung her around a few times before setting her down. "Let's go find the others." He said holding out his hand.
Ryoko nodded, entwining her hand with his and the two took off in search of their friends. Chapter 51--The Long Good-bye
For the next few hours, Ryan spent time with everyone, enjoying their company one last time before he left. Once informed of which ship, Tenchi and company would be traveling on, the kenshin transferred their belongs from the Nozomi onto their temporary vessel. Ryan led his friends to the loading docks, stopping in front of the ramp marked Akuna, One of the checkpoint's fastest ships. The kenshin said his good-byes to everyone except Ryoko who hovered some distance away. He would say his good-byes to her but he needed to speak with Tenchi first. Ryan watched as the crown prince walked up the ramp, pausing his ascent to speak with the kenshin.
"Take care of yourself Tenchi. See you as soon as I can." Ryan said holding out his hand.
The crown prince took it and shook it a few times before letting go. "Same to you." He replied, feeling a little downhearted.
Ryan sensed it and said. "Don't worry my friend. This is not good-bye. We will see each other again. " He replied, smiling.
Tenchi nodded. "Yeah. I know." He said his spirits brightening. He turned to continue his walk up the ramp of the Akuna as the kenshin walked away. Tenchi paused, turning around when he heard Ryan cried out. "Hey Tenchi!"
"Don't forget. You've got one year to decide." The kenshin reminded him.
Tenchi smiled and shook his head. "I know." He replied before adding, "You know that stuff you told me about my path to destiny and all that." Tenchi asked.
"Yes. What about it?"
"What if I'm doing the wrong thing? "
Ryan frowned. He walked up Akuna's ramp and stopped a few feet before Tenchi. "You have to do what is right for you Tenchi. You can't be ruled by what-ifs. It will gnaw at you until you are driven insane. Trust your instincts. They are your guide to your future, Lord Tenchi." Ryan said , giving a chest salute then added, "Besides, if you ever need help, I'll know." He said tapping the side of his head with his left index finger.
Tenchi nodded. "I understand." He replied then watched as Ryan headed down the ramp. "See you later!." Tenchi yelled at Ryan.
The kenshin stopped his descent, and turned. "See you later my friend. Until then good luck to you." He replied.
Tenchi smiled. "Good luck to you." He offered, waving his hand before entering the ship. Ryan watched Tenchi disappear into the ship before heading over to Ryoko.
He held out his arms and Ryoko walked into them. Ryan held her close. "Take care of yourself Ryoko. Keep an eye on prince and princess for me."
Ryoko laid her head upon his chest. "I will." She whispered, holding tightly to the kenshin.
Ryan ran his hand down her hair. "Time to go." He said sadly.
Ryoko released her grip reluctantly and backed away. "I love you." she said softly, tears welling in her eyes.
Ryan smiled tenderly. "And I love you." He replied backing away. "Good bye Miss Ryoko."
Ryoko gazed up at him. "Good bye, Ryan." She said, touching his cheek with her hand one last time before walking past him and up the ramp.
The kenshin watched her go, his heart heavy with grief. I will return Ryoko. He vowed silently as he watched the Akuna separate from the checkpoint station. Rest assured, I will return. He saw Ryoko look out the cockpit window and give him a sad wave of her hand.
Ryan matched her wave and smiled. With a flash , the Akuna was gone. Alone once more, the kenshin sighed heavily, turned around and headed to his ship. Entering his ship, the kenshin headed to the cockpit and typed in the coordinates to Calbon. He smiled as he remembered what he told Ryoko. They were one. I'll return soon. He thought with conviction and with one final push, Nozomi zoomed into space taking with it a young man who had found a family, a home and someone who loved him.