First off, I'd like to begin by saying that TENCHI MUYO! (All characters, places, situations, etc.) Is the property of PIONEER / AIC.  I don't own any of the Tenchi characters, since I can't write at all this is a good thing.  However, Victor is my creation.  If you like them and want to use him, let me know, and we shall see. If any of the situations are similar to ANYTHING written before...  Then phooey on you, and I am sorry if it seems I am ripping anyone's story off.  It's not intentional!!!  This story was written for pure amusement and enjoyment. Oh, and I am getting help on this story (without which, it would be just horrid!!) by one Mr. Mayhem.  On with the mutilating hack that is my story ^_^

Illusions of Life: Sins of the Past

 Chapter, the first

            There comes a time in a man's life when decisions, no matter how painful, have to be made.  Luckily for one particularly hapless young man, his time to decide had yet to arrive.  If it had, then he wouldn't be sleeping so blissfully while the shadowy form of a woman hovered mere inches above his bed, golden eyes glowing slightly in the dawn's dim light.

            When the muted sounds of birds, trying vainly to chirp louder than the falling rain, invaded his unconscious mind Tenchi could no longer maintain the tranquility of oblivion.  Instead, behind eyes tightly closed against the morning light, he prepared himself for the morning of yet another day in a life that no sane person would have ever considered normal.  With a tired and well- practiced sigh, he opened his eyes to the sights that the day would bring.

            And promptly began screaming.

            "Aaugh!!!!!!!!!"  The strangled cry tore from the semi-conscious Tenchi's mouth, as his eyes opened to the sight of red-rimmed, blurry golden orbs mere inches from his own.  With reflexes he normally reserved for the heat of battle and his grandfathers training sessions, Tenchi propelled himself across the floor in a tight, fast roll that left him standing near his closet door, his posture wary.

            Your normal every-day teenage male would have found the thought of a beautiful, affectionate, utterly charming, young woman in his bedroom first thing in the morning to be a great thing.  Indeed, maybe even a blessing from the gods themselves.  And yet Tenchi could not bring himself, could not even allow him self to think like that. It would tip the scales of his mind much too far off balance.  Tipping his mind to the point that he'd begin to doubt his own sanity.

            Staring at Tenchi, Ryoko saw the look on his face.  It hurt more than almost any other reaction she could have thought of.  Flustered and upset Ryoko looked sheepishly down at her hands.  She couldn't understand what had made Tenchi react like that.  For Tsunami's sake, she had even worn clothes this time! She knew she was beautiful.  Hell, she knew she could turn the head of almost any man just by walking into the room!!  So why, every night, did she do nothing but wait for him to wake up?  Why not just wake him and show him the things he was missing by being asleep? 

            However, despite those thoughts, Ryoko already knew the answer to that question.  She watched him sleep simply because of the way he slept.  She knew, she just knew, that she had to watch Tenchi at night. The peace she gained by watching his calm, unflustered features in the moonlight was unattainable when she herself rested.  It soothed her tortured soul to see him like that.  Even if she couldn't sleep, her inner demons throwing her past at her, tormenting her, it helped her to know that her beloved could rest.  Ryoko liked to think that her staying beside Tenchi each night helped to keep his own demons away, whatever they might have been. 

            The look she saw in Tenchi's eyes that morning made her heart contract painfully within her chest.  Even from across the room Ryoko could recognize the fear in their deep brown depths.  He was afraid of the demon in front of him, he was afraid of herCan't he see that I do this only because I love him?  Why can't he see?!?   And with a choked, heartrending sob, Ryoko fell to the bed and began to cry.

            As Ryoko sank to the bed in front of him curling into an anguished ball, Tenchi mentally kicked himself for over-reacting.  The intense feelings of guilt and self-hatred that welled up within him twisted his gut into knots.  What about the sight of Ryoko when he woke up made him react the way he did?  She had been doing this ever since the Kagoto incident.  Heavens above, she didn't even have a room of her own, just the rafters.  The room that had been built for her, in the wing with Kiyone and Mihoshi's rooms (Noboyuki had added some to his house, thanks to the ever expanding list of "houseguests"), was now Mayuka's.  After the girl had been reborn, thanks to Washu, she had given it up, claiming that she preferred the rafters anyway.  Even if Ryoko spent almost all of her time there, she still appeared over him every morning and scared the hell out of him.

            Tenchi was beside the bed before he even realized what he was doing.  Sitting on it's edge, he slipped an arm around her, gathering her sobbing form to him.  He sighed, knowing that even if he never got completely used to it, that he would probably miss it if she didn't show up in his room every morning.  The thought shook him, had he really just thought that?  he shook his head to clear it, he couldn't have.  Gazing down at the sobbing girl in his arms,

Tenchi opened his mouth to speak.

            "It's alright, Ryoko."  He reassured, stroking her cyan hair.  "It's alright, I'm sorry I overreacted like that.  I guess grandfather's training makes me a little jumpy now and then..." At that, Ryoko looked up and pushed herself out of his arms, a frightened look in her eyes.  Seeing the look on her face, Tenchi groaned inwardly, realizing he had said something colossally stupid.

            "Is that how think of me Tenchi?" she asked, her voice quiet and shaking slightly.  " Do you think of me as an enemy Tenchi?  Why?  All I've ever done is try and show you how good we are together..." As Ryoko said this, a steely edge crept into her voice.  "If I'm just an enemy in your eyes, then maybe I oughta just take Ryo-Ohki and leave!!!"

            Tenchi tensed, unsure of the seriousness of her words.  After a moment of hesitation he replied, his voice sheepish.  "That's not what I meant and you know it Ryoko.  I don't want you to leave, you know that..."    

            Ryoko brightened considerably when Tenchi said that.  All of her anger seemed to disappear instantly.  Glomping onto him in her normal manner, she nuzzled her face against his shoulder, pressing herself against him rather seductively.  She felt Tenchi tense up, but ignored it, telling herself he was just caught up in the moment.

            "I am so glad that you want me to stay with you Tenchi!!"  She enthused.  "I know," she purred, "let's make this bed OUR bed!!" and with that Ryoko pushed him down onto the bed, pulling the covers over them.

            Tenchi began a life and death struggle with Ryoko.  She was difficult to fend off on any occasion, but when he was attempting to remain in his clothes, the conflict escalated far beyond what he considered a manageable situation.  Suddenly, so suddenly that Tenchi hit the floor with a solid thump, he found himself flinging out of the bed and out of her grasp.

            Tenchi was confused.  What would make Ryoko stop?  Especially when she had nearly disrobed him completely, he noted, turning bright red.  He was forced to wipe a trickle of blood from beneath his nose when he noticed that she was wearing even less than he was.

            Perched on the bed, Ryoko had a sad, heartbroken look in her eyes.  She just couldn't understand why he had to be this way.  Any other man (although, despite what Ayeka would insinuate, there had never been any other men) would have submitted to her "good graces" long ago.  Could it be that he truly didn't have feelings for her?  Maybe, just maybe, had one of the other girls had already claimed his heart?  No, it couldn't be!!  She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to will away the tears that threatened to spill out at the thought.

            "Tenchi..." The name escaped from her lips as a quiet sob.  Etched on her face Tenchi saw of despair, her golden eyes clearly reflecting just how deeply she cared for him.  And deep within his chest, he felt his heart stir in response.  "Why..." She begged, her voice quiet and desolate.  As the plea slipped from her lips, Tenchi fought everything within him that told him to take her in his arms and tell her anything she wanted to hear.  He wanted to do anything to remove that look from her eyes.

            "Why?"  She asked again, the question coming out more as a sob then an actual world.

            No, I can't do this.  There are too many other hearts at stake here.  Tenchi waged a heated battle in his mind in the space of a heartbeat.  But if I don't do something I'll lose her as surely as if I had chosen one of the other girls.  I have to do something, but what?  I don't want her to go, I need her in my life.  Wait a minute.  Did I just think that?  He saw Ryoko bow her head in defeat.  I have to do something now.  Think, Tenchi, Think!

            Tenchi looked over at the sobbing Demon and sighed.  Whatever happened, he couldn't let her go, not her.  Why, he couldn't, or wouldn't, say.

            "Ryoko, I...I just can't.  There are so many others to consider.  I care about you, but I also care about the other girls.  I just don't know what to do anymore, Ryoko..."Tenchi then hung his head in shame and defeat.

            The faint sound of crying coming from down the hall interrupted the emotionally charged atmosphere.  Ryoko looked up, first at Tenchi, then in the direction of the crying child.  She shook her head and rose, her face blank.

            Ryoko turned to the bowed figure before her.  "I have to go see why your daughter is crying, Tenchi."  She informed him, her voice flat... dead.  And with that, she phased out of his room.

            Tenchi had looked up just in time to see the pain hiding in the depths in her eyes before she faded from his vision.  Sighing, he woodenly started leaning his room.  After cleaning and making his bed, he went to his closet to get some clothes for the bath.  As he moved to the closet, something on top of his dresser caught his eye.

            Looking at the top of the dresser, his eyes scanned the pictures collected on top of it.  One of him as a young boy, strapped to his mother's back in front of the cave.  He seemed to be staring intently at the cave even as his mother was looking at the camera and smiling. 

            The next picture was of Tenchi and Noboyuki at Christmas, probably when he was 10 or 11.  This day was one of the few times that his father had been home from work for more than one day, and they had truly enjoyed that Christmas. 

            The rest of the pictures were more recent.  A picture of Tenchi and Ryoko, sitting in a cherry tree along the path to the shrine; one of Ayeka as she was tending the garden; one of Mihoshi and Kiyone posing in front of the Yagami; a picture of Sasami and a toddler Ryo-Ohki preparing a meal, probably lunch; a Picture of Washu, her hand in a "V" for victory, after completing the doorway to her subspace lab. 

            The next picture was of Ryoko holding Mayuka as she rocked the baby to sleep.  The photo brought a smile to his face.  Apparently Ryoko had not noticed the picture, and neither had Ayeka, for that matter.  It was one of the few times that Tenchi had caught the so-called demon with her guard completely down, her mask of bravado discarded.  She'd had a smile, a gentle, caring smile, on her face as she looked down at the tiny child in her arms.  Stumbling onto the scene, Tenchi had quickly run and grabbed the camera to snap the photo.  Amazingly enough he'd managed to sneak back to his room without getting caught.  If Ryoko had found out about the picture, she would probably have thrown a fit, but it was the best picture he had of her.  Smiling slightly, her turned his gaze to the final photo.

            It was the largest photo of the group, and it was among his favorites.  He remembered that day well.  He had finally completed high school, graduating with honors.  (Mostly thanks to Kiyone's tutoring; Washu had a bad habit of over-complicating her "simple" explanations.)  The entire group had come to watch his graduation ceremony.  With the entire group posing together, his old friend Amagasaki had taken the picture.  Standing in the center of the gang, in a black graduation gown, was Tenchi.  On either side of him were Ryoko and Ayeka, Ryoko wearing Tenchi's graduation cap lopsidedly on her head.  Washu stood in front of her daughter, Kiyone right next to her.  Next to Ayeka was Mihoshi (who looked as if she were about to fall into Ayeka), with Sasami standing before her.  Noboyuki and Katsuhito stood side by side, behind Tenchi, and Ryo-Ohki, in toddler form, stood right in front of Tenchi, smiling and giggling.  Ryoko, Kiyone, Washu, Ryo-Ohki, and Sasami all had a hand out in the "V" for victory.

            Tenchi paused when he saw the pictures.  Sighing, Tenchi turned the memories over in his mind.  So many memories, He thought wistfully.  For all the stress all of these lovely, if alien, women brought to his life, he wouldn't trade any of it for a normal life.  For better or worse, they had changed his life, and changed him.  Imagining life without any of them, especially Ryoko and Mayuka, was just not possible.

            With a grunt and a cry, Tenchi slammed his fist into the wall, leaving an indention the shape of his clenched fist.  Why is this so difficult?  He screamed in his mind.  Why can't I just love them all equally?!?!?   With another sigh, Tenchi grabbed his clothes and made his way to the door.

            Opening the door, he saw most of the residents of his house peering out of their rooms, sleepiness and concern apparent on each face.  Not looking at any of them, Tenchi stalked down the hall and then downstairs, toward the Onsen.  The only ones that did not see him were those that had already been up and about, or in Washu's case, in a different area of the house.

-----------------------

            Ryoko, meanwhile, had already phased into Mayuka's room, and plucked the child from her floating crib.  She looked down at the bawling child, and sighed.  Leaning Mayuka into her shoulder, Ryoko made her way over to the changing table.  Setting the baby down gently, she proceeded to change her, tossing the diaper cover and her sleeping outfit in the dimensional hamper that lead to the laundry room. 

            Washu had been making her way to Mayuka's room after she had heard the mental sigh from Ryoko.  Knowing full well that the sigh was not directed solely towards the baby, she slipped quietly into the infant's room.  She stood in the doorway and marveled at how natural her daughter looked caring for Mayuka.  With a grin, Washu closed the door silently behind her and opened her mouth to speak.

            "Aww, how sweet.  My little Ryoko is such a good mommy, isn't she Noodles."  Washu said, looking at the smile on Mayuka's face.  Washu prepared to make good her escape if Ryoko decided to make a quick attempt on her life for the comment.

            Looking up at hearing her mother's voice, Ryoko tensed, grimacing for a moment at the "Little Ryoko" comment.  Then she sighed and a wistful look settled across her face.

            "Do you think I'd be a good mother, Washu?" 

            Washu was shocked into silence by the question, but her heart skipped a beat because of what Ryoko said next.

            "I really want to have a child of my own one day.  I really hope Tenchi will look at me that kinda way soon Mom", Ryoko said.  Her expression was far away and dreamy. 

            Sighing, she finished cleaning Mayuka off, and picked Mayuka up. Grabbing an extra diaper and a change of clothes, both for herself and for the baby, Ryoko promptly willed herself and the giggling infant to the floating onsen.

            Washu stood there, physically and mentally attempting to regain her composure.  Ryoko had called her Mom.  Her *daughter* had called her Mom!  This was one of the few times that Washu could ever remember Ryoko willingly calling her mother.  Thinking quickly, she was startled to realize this finally brought the non - joking total to six. She finally could count it on more than one hand!!! 

            Shocking the rest of the house, an ecstatic Washu hopped and skipped down the hallway and downstairs toward the kitchen.

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            Ayeka, seeing the pain and frustration on Tenchi's face as he stomped by, she assumed that Ryoko must have been hovering over him again. 

            Really, I cannot believe that monster woman.  Why can't she just leave my Lord Tenchi alone in the morning?  She thought to herself.

            Ayeka sighed, somewhat angrily, and began to dress.  She would just have to have words with Ryoko during breakfast.  Smiling wickedly, Ayeka made her way downstairs to the kitchen.

            The kitchen was one of the most advanced, well furnished kitchens in the galaxy, though the purpose of a few things in it were a mystery to everyone but Washu.  Well, when you have the greatest scientific mind in the universe "touch up" the kitchen because she was bored, you know it is going to be fantastic.  In front of the sink, wearing a frilly yellow apron stood a young girl with two long, blue ponytails arching like falling water from her head.  She was deep into the process of making a morning meal of gargantuan proportions, since many of the houseguests had appetites that rivaled that of most small armies.

            Sasami hummed merrily to herself as she cooked.  Even though it was still raining out, she was in an exceptionally good mood.  Tsunami had shown her some very beautiful places and people while she slept, and she was glad to know that her "grown-up" half was so nice and happy.  As such, Sasami barely even registered the loud crash when Tenchi nearly broke through the wall of his room. 

            Chalking up the noise of Tenchi's outburst to the normal chaos of the house, Sasami kept humming cheerily, anticipating everyone's reaction to the meal.  Sasami was so glad she had such a good group of friends.  Really they were more like family, with father Noboyuki, and grandfather Katsuhito, and cousin Tenchi, and sister Ayeka.  Everyone else, Kiyone and Mihoshi and Ryoko and Ryo-Ohki and Washu, they were all family too.  And every morning, instead of giving them a big hug, she would get up early and cook them an extra special breakfast.  It was a good life, she thought, as she stirred the soup.

            Sasami turned when she heard the front door open.  Looking up, her smile widened to epic proportions when she saw who had come in to the Masaki household.

            "Grandfather!!  I'm so glad your here!  You're just in time for breakfast.  What brings you to the house?" Sasami said all of this as she leapt into the old man's arms, hugging him happily.

            Katsuhito just smiled and lifted the young, spirited girl into his arms so he could return the hug.  Chuckling with genuine mirth, he set his youngest sister down.

            "Is there anything I can do to help prepare breakfast today Sasami?  I was going to give Tenchi an early lesson today, but I might as well start with one of your delicious breakfasts."  Katsuhito smiled down at the blue-haired princess and pushed his glasses back into place on his nose.

            More and more, she is beginning to look like Tsunami, Katsuhito thought to himself.  I wonder when they will assimilate into one being; will Tsunami still be as kind as Sasami is now?  Or will her duties as a Goddess reign in that youthful exuberance?  I hope not, that would be the greatest of tragedies.

            The rest of the household descended the stairs as the smells of Sasami's excellent cooking set all of their mouths to watering.  First down was Ayeka, walking calmly and stately.  She stood, waiting for the rest to arrive.

            Next down was the duo of Space Detectives, Kiyone and Mihoshi.  Mihoshi shot down the stairs as if fired from a cannon.  Skidding slightly, she pounced down at her spot at the table, looking around with wide eyes.  Sighing, her tone exasperated, Kiyone sat next to her partner, albeit with much better grace and decorum.

            Trudging down the stairs shortly after the two GP officers the slightly stooped form of Noboyuki appeared, yawning loudly.  Since this was one of the rare days he didn't have to be at the office, he was dressed in a much more relaxed fashion (i.e., without the tie ^_^).  He set himself down with a thud next to Katsuhito.

            Finally, practically dancing for joy, Washu entered the room and took her place in between Kiyone and Noboyuki.  Everyone looked at her oddly as she continued to giggle like a schoolgirl every few seconds.  Realizing what she was doing, she blushed slightly, and then met everyone's gaze with an innocent expression.  "What!?!?!" she asked in such an accusatory voice that everyone looked away and became very interested in something, anything, else.

**************

            Relaxing in the warm waters of the Onsen, Tenchi closed his eyes as the warm waters started to melt the tension from his muscles.  He sighed aloud as he thought about how his morning had started.  There were so many things he could have done differently, could have done better.  Instead, he had reacted the way he usually did, and had hurt Ryoko's feelings, badly.

            Why am I such an idiot?  Tenchi berated himself silently.  I really ought to be used to Ryoko doing that by now, but no.  Instead of just asking her to move, and let me up, I had to go and freak out.  What is wrong with me?  With another loud sigh Tenchi hung his head in defeat. 

            It was probably a good thing that he did, because at that exact moment, Ryoko phased into existence about 20 feet in front of him, a happy Mayuka cradled in her arms.  The little baby giggled as Ryoko settled into the warm waters, Mayuka nestled comfortably against her chest.  As she settled into the water, Ryoko sighed tiredly, alerting Tenchi to her presence.

            Hearing the depressed sigh directly ahead of him, Tenchi reflexively started to look up to see who was so upset.  His brain didn't kick in until after he had lifted his head, reminding him that the sigh was female, and exactly who could possibly enter the Onsen without opening the door.  Putting one and one together, he realized just a second to late precisely who would be sitting in front of him.  As his eyes settled on the form in front of him, he realized in horror that the only towels were next to the door, nearly twenty feet away!!!!!!

            Kami Sama…Tenchi thought, as blood began to trickle from his nose and a sweat drop the size of a soccer ball appeared on his head.  Tearing his eyes away, Tenchi spun around, blushing madly, and attempted to maintain both his composure and his consciousness.  How am I gonna get out of this one?  She's between me and the door!!

            By this time Ryoko had caught his familiar scent, and had realized that Tenchi was in there with her.  Judging by the swift movement, and the sound of dripping water, Ryoko guessed that he had seen her.  She considered for a moment teasing the object of her affections, maybe even coming on to him, but then remembered Mayuka.  Sighing, she floated over and got herself a towel, then seated herself back in the waters of the Onsen.  Mayuka began crying, just a tiny bit, when she was removed from the warmth of the hot spring.

            "Aww, it's ok Mayuka.  Shhhhhhh, don't cry little one.  Mommy Ryoko's gonna keep you warm and safe".  Indeed, the soothing words and warm waters had already calmed the blue haired infant.  Glancing in Tenchi's direction, she saw that he was beet red and trying to make his way, to the door without looking at her.  With a snort, Ryoko moved away from the door to the opposite side of the pool and turned from Tenchi and the door.

            Not wanting to torture him any more, she spoke.  "It's safe, Tenchi.  I have a towel on, so you're more than welcome to stay.  We'd like that, wouldn't we, eh Noodles?"  Mayuka giggled as Ryoko tickled her stomach. 

            Tenchi had immediately sprinted to the door and grabbed a towel, and was almost gone when he heard the last comment Ryoko made.  He slowly turned to her.

            "Ryoko, you know I'm not supposed to be in here when one of you girls is in here."  He said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head nervously.

            Ryoko looked up, a playful gleam in her eye.  "It's ok, Tenchi.  I don't mind, and nobody else is here.."  She smiled a little, noticing that he didn't tense up when she offered the invitation again.  Seeing that Tenchi was still hesitant though, she tried a different tack.  "You don't spend enough time with Mayuka anyway, Tenchi."  She got a small bit of satisfaction seeing that remark hit home.

            With a grimace, Tenchi realized she was right.  He didn't spend enough time with his daughter, or with the group as a whole, since he had to tend the fields.  Besides, Ryoko had a towel on, and she wasn't attempting to seduce him.  He was certain even Ryoko wouldn't try that with the baby here, so Tenchi relaxed a little and got back into the water.  Slowly, he made his way over to Ryoko and Mayuka.

            As Tenchi made his way over, Ryoko's smile got even wider than it had been before.  She hadn't thought that he would actually stay, but now that he was she was ecstatic.  As the young prince got closer, the space pirate realized that he was watching her carefully, on guard if she tried anything.  Even if she WAS tempted to try something, she decided it would be better if Tenchi actually stayed for once. 

Maybe she could convince him to take a bath with just her... later.  She purred at the thought.

            When Tenchi reached Ryoko and Mayuka, he grinned down at his daughter.  It had been a while since he had seen her.  She was a beautiful child, and he looked forward to watching her grow up.  She was spirited, even this young.  He glanced at Ryoko, and realized that anyone walking in might have mistaken the three of them for a family.  Well, anyone not from his little group that is.

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            Ayeka tapped her foot impatiently as she stood next to the kitchen door.  She could not understand what was taking Lord Tenchi so long to arrive for breakfast.  For that matter, she couldn't understand why Mayuka and that demon-woman weren't here either.  After hearing the cry of the baby in the morning, she knew that the first two to reach Mayuka's bedroom would be Washu and Ryoko.  Since Washu was here, Ayeka decided she would just ask the diminutive scientist.

            "Excuse me, Miss Washu...." Ayeka began, but she immediately corrected herself at the glare from the red-haired woman, "um, Little Washu, could you please tell me where baby Mayuka is?  Ryoko and she should have been down for breakfast ten minutes ago."

            Washu considered the question for a moment, then replied with a grin, "I think Ryoko and Mayuka went to the Onsen to bathe before breakfast, Ayeka.  They probably got there just after Tenchi did.  They'll be along shortly...." The words were barely out of Washu's mouth before Ayeka's face went red with rage.

            "How dare she be in the Onsen with Lord Tenchi!  Of all the nerve!!  Who knows WHAT she is doing to him in there. I will have none of this!!!!!"  Ayeka snarled at this last comment as she ran to the door and flung it open, intent on stopping whatever it was Ryoko had planned.  She instead got a rude, and to her quite frightening, sight.

            Tenchi, Ryoko, and Mayuka were strolling slowly up the path.  Tenchi was not distressed in the least as he carried his daughter.  Indeed, neither he nor Ryoko was nervous, as if they were trying to hide anything from the rest of the house.  What frightened Ayeka the most was the laughter.  Tenchi and Ryoko were laughing together, and laughing with Mayuka.  Ayeka's mood worsened when Sasami walked up behind her as she stirred something in a small pot.

            "Wow, Ryoko and Tenchi look like they're having a good time, Ayeka.  Don't you think that they look happy sister?" In her joy at seeing her friends and family so happy, she missed the look that Ayeka gave her.  Washu then walked up and put a hand on Sasami's shoulder.

            "Don't they just look like the darlingest couple, Sasami?"  Washu asked the small princess.  Sasami nodded her head and giggled with Washu, though the scientist was not looking at the happy sight in front of her.  Washu looked up at Ayeka and watched the elder princess's reaction to her statement.

            Ayeka glared daggers at Washu and snarled, "Do not make such outlandish accusations Washu, lord Tenchi would not disgrace himself by consorting with that monster - woman."  Ignoring Washu's glare at Ayeka's title for Ryoko, she stomped out the door to greet the trio as they neared the house.

            Bowing to Tenchi in greeting, she began speaking.  "Good morning, lord Tenchi.  I am pleased to see that you and your daughter are all right.  It eases my mind to see that neither of you are harmed in any way..." She said, her voice tight as she shot Ryoko an icy stare.

            Ryoko growled a bit at the implications of what Ayeka had just said.  "Whaddya mean by that, Princess?  You know I'd never hurt Mayuka or Tenchi.  What's gotten your goat?"  Smirking, Ryoko assumed her usual cocky stance and continued.  "Why is it so hard for you to believe that Tenchi would actually choose to stay at the onsen with little old me?" Ryoko clasped her hands and batted her eyes.

            Meanwhile, Ayeka's own eyes had gotten round as saucers.  She was shocked at what Ryoko had said.  Indeed, she could not make herself believe it. 

            "W-w-what?!?!?!?!  How can you expect me to believe such an outlandish story?  Surely you must be lying then..." Ayeka said, the disbelief rampant in her expression.

            "Sorry Ayeka, but it's true.  Then again, it's only natural for two people who are so much in love to bathe together, eh?" Ryoko retorted, glomping onto Tenchi and winking at Ayeka.

            Ayeka's eyes narrowed, and she thought furiously to herself, the nerve of that brazen hussy!!!  I'll just have to show my Lord Tenchi just what a fiendish monster Ryoko really is then.  Inspiration struck, and Ayeka decided to put her newly found barbs to the test.

            "You fiendish woman, what have you done to Lord Tenchi?  It is obvious that he is only standing beside you right now because he is afraid for his daughter's safety. Why else would he be near a slothful, arrogant, ungraceful tramp such as yourself?"  Ayeka had a great deal of satisfaction to see the comments hit home, to see the hurt on Ryoko's face. 

            Both of the girls stared at each other, the hatred and anger palpable in the kitchen everyone was gathered in.  It was plainly obvious to all that a full out fight was brewing, since Ryoko wouldn't allow such painful words to go unanswered.  Surprisingly though, it was not Ryoko that replied, it was Tenchi.

            "That's enough, Ayeka.  I ran into Ryoko in the bath, and I stayed to spend time with Mayuka.  Ryoko didn't try anything so don't get so worked up.  And besides," he said, meeting each of their eyes in turn, his voice terse, "How many times do I have to tell you not to fight in front of Mayuka?"  As if on cue, the baby began to wail. 

            Tenchi walked past both of them, and handed the baby to

Washu.  "See, now you've done it."  Tenchi then turned to his Grandfather and the rest of the household.  He spoke as he grabbed a bowl of rice and headed back to the door.  "Grandfather, I'm going to head up to the training grounds now.  I'll see you when you get there".  Bowing to everyone, Tenchi strode quickly out the door.

            The group looked on in silence as Tenchi stalked away.  Everyone except Katsuhito looked at each other in shock.  The Shinto priest's face was expressionless, his eyes hidden behind the light reflecting off his spectacles. 

                        Washu spoke up first.  "I hope you both realize that fighting in front of Tenchi like this is just going to drive him away, girls."  She commented quietly.  "If you two don't stop fighting like this, then neither of you will win his heart.  In fact, it'll be more likely that Sasami will get Tenchi..."  She added, a mischievous gleam in her eyes.

            "What?!?!?!?!" Ryoko and Ayeka screamed in unison, their rivalry and argument momentarily forgotten.

            Sasami giggled at the two girls reactions.  She didn't think of Tenchi like that, and the thought made her giggle.  She could feel Tsunami laughing right along with her.

            Ryoko was the first to recover from Tenchi's unusual outburst and Washu's scolding.  Taking Mayuka from Washu, she glared at Ayeka, her eyes narrow and holding barely restrained anger.

            "We'll settle this later princess.  I have a baby to take care of.  Now, if you'll all excuse me." With that Ryoko and the baby phased from view.

            Washu felt a voice in her mind as soon as her daughter left.

            Can I talk to you later, Washu? Ryoko's mental voice sounded inside her mind.

            Washu grinned, knowing what her flesh and blood would ask.  Of course, little Ryoko.  You can tell mommy all about it later, ok?  She could feel Ryoko tense up when she called her that, but sometimes it was fitting.

            Katsuhito just sighed and looked at Noboyuki.  "Sometimes, I think the boy takes after you a little too much, Son."

            All Noboyuki could do was sigh and nod as Katsuhito finished his meal and made his own way to the training grounds.  He sincerely hoped Tenchi would not get too rough of a lesson from his grandfather.

--------------------------

            At the clearing devoted to his training, Tenchi was balancing on short, narrow wooden pegs stuck into the ground, jumping to and fro slashing at a block of wood.  At least he didn't have it attached to a tree branch anymore.  It felt good to know that he could keep the chunk of wood in the air on his own now, almost making the little thing fly.

            The small piece of wood floated around, as though it were flying through the sky, maybe even through space itself.  With a sigh, he remembered who else could fly. Tenchi played over the incident that had happened just before he had left the house.  Why Ayeka would react like that, he only knew only too well.  Why Ryoko and she couldn't get along, Tenchi didn't know.

            *Thunk* Tenchi grimaced when his train of thought caused him to miss the small piece of wood he had been keeping in the air with his bokken.  Kinda like me and the girls.......... A rustle in the trees behind him alerted him to a presence in the clearing.  Good, time to start the lesson.  Maybe this will get my mind off of Ryoko and the other girls.  Tenchi Turned to face his grandfather, bowing as he did so.

            All the Kama must have taken a liking to Tenchi.  For the second time today, the act of bowing his head saved him, this time from a fast moving bokken aimed for the back of his head.  Teetering slightly on the post he was balancing on, Tenchi brought his own bokken up quickly to deflect the next strike.  The force of the swing sent him off balance.  He was not quick enough to block the next attack, and it struck him hard enough to send him tumbling across the clearing into a tree.

            Scrambling to his feet, Tenchi saw Katsuhito staring at him from the other side of the clearing.  Katsuhito's eyes were inscrutable behind his glasses, but his deep frown alerted the young man that today's lesson was not going to be an easy one.  Hunkering down into a defensive fighting stance, Tenchi waited for his grandfather to make the next move.

            Katsuhito suddenly lunged across the entire clearing almost before Tenchi could react striking with a succession of quick blows that Tenchi fended off only through reflex.  His frown deepened, and he slipped into the more familiar fighting routines.

            "Tenchi, have you learned nothing in all the time I have been training you?  How can you expect to defeat any opponent when you only react?  Without decisive action, there can only be failure.  Houoof!"  The last exclamation flew from Katsuhito as Tenchi slipped a blow through the elder Masaki's defenses and scored a solid hit.

            With a savagery that Katsuhito had not thought his grandson capable of, Tenchi began to fight desperately, almost inhumanly.  If not for his vastly superior training, Katsuhito was sure that he would have lost to his grandson within the first seconds of the boys attack. The sparring session ranged all around the clearing, neither opponent speaking, the only sound in the clearing was the crack of their practice swords colliding.  The elder swordsman was listening to the flow of the battle, trying to determine the reasons for his grandson's viciousness.  The master swordsman slipped into the purely defensive "Emperor Kneels" fighting stance as he contemplated the changes in his pupil. 

            There was more going on in his grandson's head than Katsuhito had originally thought when Tenchi had arrived at breakfast this morning.  After he had left, Washu had filled the shrine keeper in on what had happened earlier, as did Kiyone.  Ayeka had disappeared into her room, quite embarrassed about being scolded in front of everyone, and by Tenchi of all people.  After thinking on this for a while, Katsuhito reached a startling conclusion.  If he was right, then things were about to get more interesting.  As he regarded the intensity displayed by his grandson, Katsuhito was almost certain that he was right.

            The elder Masaki was forced to return his full attention back to the boy in front of him when Tenchi succeeded in landing another strike on Katsuhito; this time a sold hit on his grandfather's shoulder.  Katsuhito was astonished all over again; never before had anyone struck him while he was in the Emperor Kneels.  Recovering quickly, Katsuhito focused completely on his grandsons actions, parrying blow after blow in rapid succession.  Finding the flow of the battle, he struck quickly, disrupting the pattern Tenchi had fallen into.  A few precise strikes later, Katsuhito had Tenchi on the defensive again, backpedaling to avoid the hailstorm of blows from the master swordsman's bokken.  His voice level and unflustered, Katsuhito asked his grandson a question.

            "What is troubling you so, Tenchi?  You are fighting well, better than you usually do.  Your actions reflect your emotions," he observed, meeting his grandsons eyes with a steady gaze, despite the speed of his attacks.  "You are fighting something, are you not?  And it is not this old man.  No, you are fighting something, fighting it with your entire being.  Fighting so hard, so savagely, that this must involve someone you care about more than you even realize.  One of the girls perhaps."  The last part was meant to goad Tenchi on, and it succeeded.  Katsuhito momentarily stopped his line of questioning as Tenchi began to press a furious attack on his defenses.  After beating Tenchi back and returning to the offensive, he continued. 

            "The last time I saw this sort of decisiveness from you was when you had to go fight Kagato.  So, what has happened with the girls to elicit this sort of reaction?"  Ducking under a wild swing, Katsuhito saw that Tenchi's emotions were getting the better of him, and he was no long fighting with any sort of skill, instead just letting his rage and frustration guide his sword.  His point made, Katsuhito decided to end the lesson for the day.

            Tenchi could not believe the change that came over his grandfather.  Suddenly there was nothing he could do.  Every attack he made, Katsuhito's blade was there, almost before his own was.  Tenchi watched in growing amazement as his grandfather made it painfully clear exactly how much farther he had to go with his training.  In less than ten seconds, Tenchi found him self struck repeatedly over a good portion of his chest, arms, and legs. Even as he landed face down on the ground, his own bokken in his grandfather's hand, he knew that every place he'd been struck was going to bruise.  As Tenchi looked up, Katsuhito dropped Tenchi's bokken and began to calmly walk away from the clearing. 

            "Tenchi, one last thing."  Katsuhito said, not turning or stopping.  "These lessons are not meant only for battle.  Life can be far worse than any battlefield.  Today was our practice was good, but you were not fighting me, you were fighting both yourself and your emotions.  You cannot hold back the tide of your life forever, Tenchi.  It will only hurt you, and the people who care about you, if you are not honest with yourself. The longer you hide from the truth, the less time you have to live with it.  Remember this, grandson, while you tend to yourself."  That said Katsuhito disappeared down the trail toward the shrine.

-----------------------------

            After an uncomfortably quiet breakfast, Kiyone and Mihoshi headed out on the Yagami to make their rounds.  The Sol sector was much better patrolled now that Kiyone had arrived, since she actually *made* Mihoshi go out on patrol.  After an hour into the patrol with absolutely no activity, it looked as if the day was going to be yet another uneventful one for the two Galaxy police detectives.  That's why it came as a bit of a surprise when the long-range sensors picked up a small group of spacecraft streaking into the solar system at reckless speeds.

            "Wow, would you look at that," Kiyone said as the two racing ships sped towards them, seemingly oblivious to the GP cruiser only a million kilometers off their bows, and closing fast.  Glancing to the left to see if Mihoshi was even paying attention, Kiyone was irritated, but not terribly surprised to find Mihoshi asleep, drool dripping off her chin.

            "Wake up Mihoshi!!" an extremely annoyed Kiyone screamed into her blonde partners ear.  "We've got some police work to do, so get it together Mihoshi!"

            Mihoshi just curled up a little bit more and mumbled, "Just let me sleep a little longer, Kiyone."  Then she yawned and snores pored forth from the co-pilot seat.

            Kiyone could barely contain her anger at Mihoshi's inaction.  Glancing at the main display, she realized that she had less than a minute to prepare.  The read-out identified the ship in the lead as a light civilian freighter that was popular among smugglers because of the amount of room in its hull and frame for modifications.  The second ship, an obviously modified heavy fighter, was apparently in pursuit of the first.  Focusing the visual sensors on the smaller ship, she noticed the markings of the bounty hunters guild emblazoned on its dagger-like hull. 

            "Great, just what I needed.  Now I have to get involved with a bounty hunter."  Geez, what a mercenary bunch of creeps!  First Mihoshi sleeping, now this, Kiyone thought glumly.

            Her mood darkened considerably when she saw the markings on the six ships following the bounty hunter.  Her eyes widened when she saw the markings of a pirate guild on the other ships.  She glanced at all of them, shaking her head.  Even with the numbers against her, the Yagami should have more than enough firepower to subdue the pirates, the unidentified small craft, and the bounty hunter if she had to.

 "Why can't anything ever go my way?"  Kiyone mumbled to herself as she readied to hail the ships.

-----------------------------

            Half a system away and a few minutes earlier in Washu's lab, the diminutive scientist was busily typing away at her ethereal computer.  Mid-keystroke, the computer started beeping, indicating that someone was in the lab.  A millisecond later, Washu felt someone appear behind her.  Without even turning, she knew it was Ryoko, probably there to talk with her about Tenchi.

            "Well hello Ryoko," Washu said as she spun around on the floating cushion she used as a chair.  Washu peered into her daughters mind and was surprised to see the mornings events not blocked from her.  Oh, so this is what she wants to talk about, eh?  Washu thought to herself as she scanned the most recent "Tenchi" incident through the telepathic link she shared with her daughter.

            Ryoko regarded the childlike woman in front of her for a hesitant moment before sitting down unceremoniously on the floor.  Looking up, she opened her mouth to speak, then shut it almost immediately, unsure how to proceed.

            "You wanna know if Tenchi is in love with one of us girls, don'tcha?"  Seeing the pained look Ryoko gave her, she realized she had hit the nail on the head, so to speak.  "Well how am I supposed to know Ryoko?  I could probably look into his mind with some device or another, but I don't even do that to you unless I think there is something wrong.  So why should I do that to him?"  Washu asked, turning back to face her computer.

            "But Washu, any other man I know would have been mine by now.  How can he keep turning me down or pushing me away?"  Ryoko grimaced and fought back a tear before she asked her next question.  "He's gotta be in love with someone else if he acts like this, right?" Ryoko asked her mother. 

            "Good use of deductive reasoning, my little Ryoko," That succeeded in getting an irritated grimace out of the cyan haired girl, so Washu finished the rest of what she had to say quickly, "But your not entirely right.  Did it ever occur to you that the reason he can't, or won't, return the affection you show him is because he doesn't want to hurt ANY of us?"  

            Ryoko was about to dismiss Washu's thought with a shrug and a wave of her hand when the diminutive scientist spoke up again.

            "Look at all the facts dear," and Washu said as she called up a few screens of data.  "If Tenchi picks Ayeka, that will hurt you and Mihoshi.  If he picks Mihoshi, which is unlikely, the little blonde would likely be killed by Ayeka or yourself.  If he chooses you, both Ayeka and Sasami will leave, and none of us want that."  Washu turned back around, meeting her daughter's gaze, her eyes filled with motherly compassion.

            "But Washu, I know that none of the other girls love him like I do!!  Why can't he see that it hurts when he keeps pushing me away?" Ryoko asked, desperation evident in her voice, her eyes wet from unshed tears.

            Washu sighed, but had expected nothing less from her progeny.  She could see her progeny trying to hold back tears, and something Washu had heard from Sasami came back to her.

            The red headed scientist had been watching Tenchi, Ryoko, and Mayuka playing in the yard one day.  Suddenly it occurred to her how much the trio looked like a family.  Unbidden, memories of her husband and son surfaced, threatening to shatter her calm demeanor; Sasami had seen her and walked over.

            Sasami had turned her bright pink eyes on Washu and said, "You know, Mommy Funaho says that it's okay to have a good cry every now and then, little Washu."

            Washu had looked over at Sasami, and shook her head.  "I haven't cried in a long time, Sasami.  I don't know if I even can any more."  Instead of answering, Sasami had just smiled and hugged Washu.

            It was as if a dam had broken.  Slowly at first, then with increasing intensity, Washu began to cry.  She just stood there silently and let the tears come.  And little Sasami was right; afterward, she felt immensely relieved.

            Back in the present, Washu watched as Ryoko tried valiantly to hold back her tears.  Washu knew, thanks to her link, that her daughter hated to show weakness to anyone.  The red headed scientist quickly decided that, despite everything that had happened in the past, this could be an opportunity to begin acting like the mother that she was supposed to be.

Slipping off her cushion to kneel beside Ryoko, she wrapped her arms around her startled daughter in a fierce hug.  Washu felt her daughter stiffen, but she refused to let go.  She just said the first thing that came to her mind.

"There, there, Ryoko.  Everything'll be all right.  Just let it out." 

For another moment Ryoko tried to hold in her pain.  Then she heard the obvious concern and support in Washu's voice, the former space pirate's control slipped a second later and her slender frame shook as she started crying in great, shuddering, sobs.

-----------------------------

            "Wow, those ships are moving really fast, aren't they Kiyone?" Mihoshi observed, rubbing sleep from her eyes.  "We should tell them to slow down before they get into an accident.  Shouldn't we be hailing them?"  Mihoshi asked.  Kiyone fell out of her seat in surprise as her partner spoke directly into her ear.

            She looked on in shock as Mihoshi opened a general hail and began speaking to all of the ships.  How does she even remember how to do that?  Kiyone thought to herself.  Then she heard what Mihoshi was saying and she turned stark white.

            "You there, in the ships.  This is detective's first class Mihoshi and Kiyone, in charge of the Sol system.  You are going really fast, and you need to slow down, okay?  If you don't, you'll make Kiyone really mad, and we'll have to arrest all of you, so please slow down, pretty please?"  As Mihoshi pleaded with the two ships, Kiyone quickly overcame her initial shock and slapped the comm. system off.

            "Mihoshi, you dingbat, what are you doing?  That's a bounty hunter and a bunch of pirates out there, they're not going to listen to you just because you asked nicely!!"  She saw tears beginning to well up in Mihoshi's eyes and sighed.

            "Look, it's all right.  I'm going to hail the bounty hunter and find out who the bounty is, ok?"  Seeing Mihoshi starting to calm down, Kiyone started up the comm. again and hailed the bounty hunter with a tight beam transmission.

            "Bounty hunter, state you name and license number, and the nature of your chase." Kiyone called, her voice calm and full of authority. 

            A fuzzy picture of a man dressed in a red coat and wearing a wide brimmed hat appeared on the monitor.  The man had apparently seen better days, as was made obvious by the ragged scar that angled from is left brow across the bridge of his nose, and across his right cheekbone. The scar was pale against his tanned complexion.  While apparently human, Kiyone noticed the fur on his face, nearly dismissing it as a beard before she looked more closely.  With a small gasp she realized that the bounty hunter was a Priderian, a race known for both their strength and their sense of justice.  Kiyone had never heard of a Priderian bounty hunter before; usually, they stayed on the right side of the law, with many making up the very best of the Galaxy Police.

            The bounty hunter looked up a little bit, his eyes still hidden in the deep shadows underneath the wide brim of his battered hat.  "My name is Victor Duras, and I am a Class 4 bounty hunter.  My guild code is V60513D.  Please stand down, detectives, I can apprehend this bounty without your help, but I would appreciate the help with the pirates.  I think they are after the same target I a......"

            Suddenly, the frequency fuzzed out completely, the image degenerating to static.  Looking up quickly, Kiyone could see that the largest pirate ship had opened its main bay to space to reveal a jury-rigged weapons turret, which it was bringing to bear on the small fighter.  What made Kiyone's eyes go wide was when she recognized the cannon mounted to the makeshift turret.  It was a capital ship deck gun designed for engaging battleships. 

The bounty hunter had excellent reflexes.  The second the cannon started to target him, he threw his small craft into a tight turn that almost brought him out of the cannons firing arc.  Unfortunately, against something as small as a fighter even a near miss would be enough for a kill.  The blood-red streak of energy passed by less then a meter from the fighter's hull, and the sleek craft's port wing exploded as fuel and ordnance was ignited by the intense heat.

            Kiyone and Mihoshi watched in horror as the bounty hunter's ship was envelop in a massive explosion.  The initial shot continued further, however, and grazed the freighter as well.  Fortunately, the shields held on the lead ship and it was merely knocked aside with the force of the blast.

            Mihoshi began crying as soon as she saw the bounty hunter's fighter explode.  "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...." Mihoshi wailed.  "Why'd they do that to the nice bounty hunter!!!"

The blonde let out a loud "eep" as the pirates now turned their attention to the much less maneuverable GP cruiser.  She looked over at her partner with tear filled eyes.  "What are we gonna do, Kiyone?"

            "We have to get out of here!!" Kiyone exclaimed.  "Our ship can't stand up to a cannon like that.  We need reinforcements......." Kiyone looked up in time to see the criminal ship prepare to fire, the cannon's tip glowing blood red.  With all of the cover fire from the other pirate ships, Kiyone realized there would be no way to dodge the canon. 

            Whatever fates let me get out of that ultra energy matter fiasco, I could really use a Miracle right about now

---------------------

            Washu stood there holding her daughter, just muttering soothing words as she stroked Ryoko's soft cyan hair.  And cry she did.  The green-eyed scientist let Ryoko cry for many minutes; when she sensed that Ryoko was through the worst of it she decided to speak.

            "Just remember, Ryoko, that he doesn't express how he feels because he doesn't want to hurt anyone."  Washu whispered comfortingly, as she held the sobbing form of Ryoko in her childlike arms, "If you're hurting this badly, imagine the guilt and pain he must be going through, knowing that he's hurting you and the other girls, and hurting himself as well."

            Ryoko looked up in shock as Washu finished her speech.  Thinking on it for a moment, she realized that the one being hurt the most by all of her flirting, all of the fighting was Tenchi.  But, she couldn't just let Ayeka win.  That would drive her crazy, she was sure.

            Before either of them could continue their conversation, warning lights started flashing from a number of displays.  Washu let go of her daughter after a final squeeze, and leaped back to her computer, her small hands flying over the keyboard as she tried to pinpoint the source of the disturbance.

            "Ryoko, go get Ryo-Ohki and the others.  There's a firefight out by Saturn, and it looks like it is gonna be a doosy."  Seeing her daughter's reluctance, she shot Ryoko one of her best glares and snapped,  "Kiyone and Mihoshi are out there, and they're going to be totally outmatched if we don't hurry and get out there.  Now get moving Ryoko, grab Ryo-Ohki and get out there!"  Her expression softened for a moment as she added, "we'll finish our little mother daughter talk later, ok?"  With that, Washu flashed her daughter one of her best mad scientist grins, jumped from her floating pillow and sprinted for the door.

            Ryoko just shrugged her shoulders and faded away.  She reappeared in the fields next to Tenchi a moment later.  She didn't want to let on that she was actually worried, but Ryoko picked up her pace as soon as she reappeared next to Tenchi.  I hope Mihoshi doesn't get those two killed.

            "C'mon Tenchi, we have to go," Ryoko said as she put her arm on Tenchi's shoulder.

            "Go where, Ryoko?" Tenchi asked even as he set down his tools.

            Ryoko shrugged her shoulders.  "It looks like Kiyone and Mihoshi have gotten themselves in a bit of a jam, so we need to go help out.  We have to go get Ayeka, so C'mon, let's hurry."

             Without waiting for a reply, Ryoko teleported Tenchi and she over to the hanging lines, where Ayeka was busily cleaning the laundry.

            Ayeka started visibly when Ryoko stuck her head through the linen she was setting on the line.  Startling her further, Ryoko just grabbed her hand with a grin.

            "Time to go on a little trip princess," she said with a smirk.  Suddenly Ayeka and Ryoko disappeared.

            Sasami came out of the house a moment to late to witness her sister's abrupt exit.  She looked around for a minute, and then sighed.

            "Where did everybody go?" The little girl wondered, as she looked around the suddenly deserted yard.  "Even Ryo-Ohki's gone..."

            Less than a minute later, Ryo-Ohki shot out of the atmosphere, headed directly for Saturn.

----------------------------

            Kiyone closed her eyes and shoved the throttle all the way forward as she desperately veered the ship into a tight left-hand turn.  There was no way the Yagami was going to be able to dodge the freighter's main cannon at this range, but she had to try. 

            She could hear Mihoshi crying next to her, but Kiyone was too scared to even yell at her.  Please let us live through this, she prayed to whatever gods happened to be listening, as she watched arcs of energy run across the barrel of the cannon as it ran through the last moments of it's firing sequence.

            From behind the GP cruiser, energy streaked into the criminal ship, battering the boxy craft with a hail of weapons fire.  At almost the same moment, laser fire streaked from the debris cloud that marked what Kiyone had though was going to be the final resting place of the bounty hunter's fighter.  Kiyone checked her screens and let out a small, amazed, gasp.  Victor's ship had partially survived the blast and most of the main hull, the starboard wing, the engines, and some of the energy weapons were intact and operational, at least for the moment.  Even more encouraging, Ryo-Ohki shot past the Yagami's bow, still raining fire on the pirate ships.

            Ryoko, with Tenchi, Ayeka, and Washu in the background, appeared on the Yagami's main screen.  The former space pirate was still as smug as ever, and her devilish grin was in full force. 

            "Thought you two could use a little help."  Ryoko looked over her shoulder then and said, "You were right, Washu.  That other ship did survive; at least kinda, anyway."

            "Well, I told you.  That bounty hunter must have known how his target was armed and planned accordingly.  Still, he must have had a contract with the science academy at some time or another in order to have shielding that good on such a small ship."  While Washu was talking, she waved her holotop into existence and began typing.

            The fight in space was short but intense.  After a few well-placed shots from Ryo-Ohki, the main cannon on the enemy ship was destroyed.  The cabbit-ship then turned its attention to the rest of the pirates.  Without its primary armament, the pirates began evasive maneuvers, trying vainly to escape the combined wrath of three obviously superior vessels.

                        The Bounty hunter opened up a channel to Ryo-Ohki.  Though it was obvious that both he and his ship were worse for the wear, he spoke in a deep, calm voice.

            "Thank you for your help, former criminal Ryoko.  Though I did not believe the rumors that you were in this sector," Victor said, a slight grin appearing on his battered and bloody features, "I am relieved, for the moment anyway, that you have indeed changed for the better."  And with that he gave a slight bow of acknowledgement.

            "Wow, I didn't think I was still famous," Ryoko said, her lopsided grin even larger than before.  "Didja hear that Tenchi?  People still know me!" she said as she drank in the praise from the bounty hunter.

            "Yes Ryoko, Definitely still infamous, anyway," Ayeka said with a smirk.

            "Whatever Princess, at least I am known for more than my name."

            Ayeka shook her head as her eyes got wide.  "Wha-what WHAT!?!?!?!?!  How dare you say such outlandish things!!"  She turned to Tenchi, the glimmer of tears in Ayeka's eyes.

            "Tell this monster woman to stop, Lord Tenchi." She implored the young man.  Tenchi began to sweat as both Ayeka and Ryoko loomed nearer to him.

            "Um, Ladies", Washu said as she peered up from her spectral computer, "Maybe we should concentrate on the battle out there, not the one brewing in here?"

            Washu looked at the screen, and her eyes narrowed slightly when she saw the bounty hunter.  hmm, so he's a Priderian, eh?  Has to be a half breed if he's bounty hunting; No full breed would "debase" himself like that.  Washu's hands danced over her computer as she entered in numerous observations. 

            Well, well, well!  Washu thought to herself.  This might be even more interesting than I thought.  Washu looked up again to see the scenes of the battle, and hmmm'd to herself thoughtfully...

--------------------------

            In very short order, all of the pirate ships were neutralized.              The largest pirate ship, it's shields starting to buckle and the big gun little more than slag, made a break for Earth's surface.  Ryo-Ohki swung around in pursuit as Kiyone brought the Yagami around to follow and the bounty hunter limped after all of them, his fighter doing an admirable job of keeping up, despite the heavy damage to it's port-side.

            The frigate, while not faster than Ryo-Ohki, was fast enough to get to the Earths atmosphere before the rest of them could catch up.  Unwilling to damage their ships, Ryoko, Kiyone, and the bounty hunter stopped their ships before they entered Earth's gravity at a reckless pace.

            Washu opened a channel and spoke to the other two ships. 

            "All right folks, it looks like whoever that was just crash-landed in the central mountains of Japan.  We'll meet you back at the House, Kiyone and Mihoshi.  You three should be able to take it from here."

            "Take it easy you two", Ryoko said over the comm., and then the signal went out as Ryo-Ohki returned to the Masaki residence.

            Kiyone and Mihoshi looked at each other.  Mihoshi looked as confused as ever, and Kiyone looked surprised to still be alive.  Shaking her head to clear it, Kiyone maneuvered their cruiser over to the first pirate ship…

            After nearly four hours, Kiyone and Mihoshi had managed to round up all of the pirates.  All that was left was the bounty hunter.  As she made preparations to tractor the small ship into the holding bay, Kiyone opened up a comm. channel to speak with Victor.

            "Come in, Victor Duras.  We're going to bring you into our ship so that you'll survive reentry, and then we'll begin tracking your criminal."  Kiyone looked at the screen and saw the nod from the Bounty Hunter. 

            "That is acceptable Detective.  I'll be aboard shortly."

            "Why are you after this criminal anyway, Victor?"  Kiyone asked as her curiosity took over now that the threat was neutralized.  "They must have something very important to have that kind of weaponry."

            "He is very important, Detective, and very dangerous," Victor said as he grimaced.  "Since my bounty got away, I'll just have't find out his destination from the pirates."

            Kiyone looked at him oddly as she asked her next question. 

            "Why would they know?"

            Victor looked fully up at the screen, and Kiyone could see a smoldering fire within his eye that disturbed her in its intensity.  And yet, it reminded her of the past, though she could not place why.

            "It seems me bounty was meetin' with these 'er Pirates to exchange something, but they double crossed 'em.  Not that I blame them."  Victor shook his head.  "My guess is that he's headin for their main base."

            Kiyone was startled to hear that a single criminal would be crazy enough to attack a pirate stronghold, but she decided to wait until Victor was on board to ask why he was after that man.  As she was activating the tractor beam, she saw Mihoshi looking at the co-pilot's control panel.

            "I wanna help, Kiyone!"  Mihoshi whined, realizing that her partner was more or less ignoring her, "I'll start our descent Kiyone, and then we can go arrest those vile pirates in the name of Justice!!"  Mihoshi, striking a pose right out of a magical girl anime, didn't quite realize where she was putting her hand until it was a bit to late.  "Oops...I don't think I was supposed to press that one..."

            Kiyone's eyes got wide when she realized that Mihoshi had hit the correct button.  However, she also managed to hit the button for the afterburners... and had knocked the throttle all the way to the max position.  The end result being that the cruiser hurtled towards the Masaki residence at roughly ten times the speed it should have been going.  Kiyone didn't even have time to scream at Mihoshi before the GP cruiser hit the lake.  As she lost consciousness, Kiyone made a vow to kill Mihoshi if she lived through the impact.

End of Chapter, the First.  What did you think?  This is the first fanfic I wrote, and I would like it muchly if you commented in the box below.  Makes me feel special to get email, even if it is hate mail ^_^  I know ye are itching to get on to the next chapter, but tell me what ye thought of this chapter as well, ok?

DREZ