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Chapter 29 Main Chapters Chapter 31

No Need For Zero

Dr. Clay announces, "I am Dr. Clay, the preeminent scientist of known space, and I have been chosen to be the DJ for this chapter. I have selected the Earthlings' song 'Double Trouble' as the theme song for this chapter."

"Which 'Double Trouble' song?" a studio staffer asks.

"What, you mean Earthlings have recorded more than one song by that title?" Dr. Clay shakes his head. "I don't really care, just pick one." He leaves the studio.

Dr. Clay stepped boldly into the enormous grey chamber, followed by his perfected combat robot, Zero. It stood subserviently behind him, arms crossed in the bow he had programmed for these occasions. Zero had a large, dark circle for a face, and its entire body was colored a dull brown. It was vaguely humanoid, with bulbous arms but no hands, and a hoverskirt instead of legs. On its chest it bore a yellow circle. Inscribed inside it was a blue shape like the number 4.

The seven hundred years since Dr. Clay had been dismissed from the Academy had changed his outward appearance. His octopus-like plaits of hair were now gray, and his right eye was now a sophisticated biosensor. Dr. Clay's inner spirit was largely unchanged.

Washu would hinder him no more. She was petty and insignificant, but she was also the key to unlocking his own limitless potential.

From nowhere a ghostly white head appeared, which nearly filled the lower third of the enormous chamber. The head's blue eyes scrutinized with condescension Zero and Dr. Clay, who remained on the perimeter of the cavern. Dr. Clay made a great show of kneeling subserviently.

"Dr. Clay," the face acknowledged him reluctantly. Its mouth was invisible, and the face was still, as though any mouth the head possessed had not moved. Its long white mustache rippled faintly, as though stirred by a strong breeze, though the air in the chamber was still and cool.

"D3, sir, " Dr. Clay said urgently, "I have important news for Lady Tokimi."

"Another schedule slip in your current assignment?" D3 asked, uninterested.

"No, sir, about another matter, extremely urgent, I must speak with her," Dr. Clay enjoined him.

"We forgave you your direct contact with Her Ladyship many years ago because it was the result of your experiment," D3 said sternly. "In my subsequent communications with you, I was very specific. You were to be granted permission to speak directly with her once the vessel was ready."

"D3, is it possible I was wrong?" Dr. Clay asked with a sharklike smile. "Were you told to search for Washu?"

"What do you mean?" D3's voice was sharp, incisive with sudden interest and well-hidden startlement.

The answer flashed through Dr. Clay's mind: his often-faulty inderdimensional listening bug was his first clue, but the unusual queries by unusual persons into Academy, Galactic Police, and galactic history databases had made him certain. D3's agents were too careless in their information-gathering methods. Dr. Clay's hidden tracking programs that he had left in those databases had easily found the queries of D3's agents, and had automatically reported them to Dr. Clay. The only thing Dr. Clay said, however, was, "Quite right, D3, I suppose I was wrong. Most unfortunate, as I managed to localize Washu to a star system."

"Tell me where she is," D3 demanded calmly.

"I wouldn't want to waste your time, if you weren't told to search for her," Dr. Clay said with feigned diffidence.

"It is no waste of time. Lady Tokimi told me to have agents search for Washu," D3 was inexorable. "Tell me where Washu is, and I will tell Lady Tokimi."

"Er- I need to check with Lady Tokimi, to make sure we're referring to the same Washu," Dr. Clay thought fast.

"I could've told you that," D3 rumbled. "Nevertheless, Lady Tokimi has opted to reveal herself to you."

Dr. Clay looked around, grunting, "Reveal?"

D3 finished, "Yes, you never understood. Your access to Lady Tokimi was limited for your own protection. She has been here all this time."

Dark humanoid shadows stretched up the walls, but nothing was present to create the shadows. Zero chattered softly to Dr. Clay, "Dimensional energy shift in progress." Dr. Clay looked around in astonishment.

A ghostly white and purple woman appeared, towering over D3, filling the entire chamber.

"So, Dr. Clay," she asked in a cool voice, "you have the audacity to seek my face?"

Dr. Clay gulped.

Washu yawned as she came out of the lab. She stretched her forearms behind her head, hoping that motion would revive her. This was a sorely needed break.

Time travel evidently still confounded scientists and engineers the galaxy over, according to the scientific networks she'd accessed since she'd started living here. Washu was convinced that she was close to a practical solution. She had been close seven hundred years ago, and she was building on her previous work, but there were so many fine variables to be accounted for, to say nothing of the need for precisely controlled tests.

She also needed to figure out whether or not time travel was a good idea.

Washu slowly drained these considerations from her mind and wandered into the living room, where she sat down on the floor in front of the sliding glass door and looked out at the lake. The ten-legged lion was taking great gulps from the water. Washu heard Sasami and Mik playing in another room.

Washu watched with surprise as a dun robot came towards the sliding glass door. Washu stood up and watched as the robot crossed its arms diagonally across its chest and bowed.

Pausing a moment, Washu decided to meet the robot outdoors rather than indoors. She didn't know that she could trust it inside the house. From what she could tell, it would be difficult to stop it getting inside the house if it really wanted to. Hopefully, so long as Washu was outdoors, it wouldn't try to get in.

She closed the sliding door and turned to face the robot, bowing in return. They both straightened and the robot said, "Washu, my master Dr. Clay requests your presence immediately."

"Clay, huh?" Washu said noncommittally. "Did he tell you what he wants from me?"

The robot replied, "Dr. Clay wishes to introduce you to a person of importance."

"What's your designation?" Washu asked.

The reply was, "Camouflage Battle Robot Zero, addressable as Zero."

"Well, Zero," Washu told Zero calmly, "I'm afraid I've got work to do here, so please go back to Dr. Clay and tell him 'Maybe some other time.'"

Zero's arms uncrossed as it swished forward, attempting to grab Washu. Washu leapt in the air and flipped to land behind it. "I knew it wasn't gonna be that easy," Washu sighed.

Ryoko, alerted by her mindlink with her mother, teleported in and fired on Zero, but it dodged. "I don't know," Ryoko said reproachfully, "why you just stood there talking uselessly with it when you knew it was no good."

Zero had turned about and was still attempting to scoop up Washu, who was leaping from place to place. Ryoko hovered in the air and fired more shots at it, but it was surprisingly agile.

"Ryoko, my dear," Washu defended herself as she continued to dodge, "it's always best to get more information about a situation. Clay always did have a gift for robotics. Did you see how well Zero handled natural language? Now if only he had gone and made something more genial, like Azaka or Kamadaki."

"Why are we still playing with it?" Ryoko asked, frustrated by the situation.

"I wanna see what it can do," Washu explained patiently as she leapt away again, "he might have a whole army of these things."

Zero, growing tired of being shot at by Ryoko, shot back. Ryoko yelped as the energy bolt hit her. It would've killed an ordinary humanoid, but Ryoko was largely unharmed. She began to bob and weave in the air as Zero shot at her while still pursuing Washu. Ryoko returned fire.

"And it's still trying to capture me!" Washu noted. "Two targets simultaneously!"

Ayeka emerged from the house in war paint and battle armor. "Zero, leave this place immediately or suffer the consequences," she commanded.

"We've all been waiting awhile for your grand entrance," Ryoko said sarcastically.

Ayeka sniffed and informed her, "I was searching the rooms to be sure nothing else had been teleported here like this Zero has."

Zero was still chasing Washu and shooting at Ryoko, so Ayeka ran at Zero.

There was just enough time for Ayeka to see the exterior casing of Zero dripping off, as though it were melting. Its body reformed and changed colors, and when it turned to face Ayeka, it had the appearance of Ryoko.

Ayeka stopped short and drew her key, and Ryu-Oh powered its energy blade. Ayeka said harshly, "What trickery is this?" as she looked from one Ryoko to the other.

Washu whistled, "So that's what Clay meant by camouflage!"

Ryoko attacked her counterpart with renewed fury, but it dodged her. Ryoko, irritated by Ayeka's hesitation, pointed out, "Hello, Ayeka? The real me can fly. It isn't. I'm still flying."

"Thank you, Ryoko," Ayeka said, gratitude mixing with irritation, "but as you're having so much fun shooting it, I cannot approach close enough to attack it, can I?"

Ryoko folded her arms and said arrogantly, "Be my guest, Ayeka."

Zero spoke with Ryoko's voice and said, "Attack her, not me! I'm the real one!"

Ayeka ran forward and slashed at Zero. It tried to block with an arm, but this was sliced off during the attack. Zero was fast enough that it managed to move the rest of its body out of the way. Ayeka turned towards it and saw that it had regenerated its arm. She looked at Zero in surprise, and Zero ran forward and grabbed her arms, whirling around and around. Zero no longer looked like Ryoko.

"Oh great," Ryoko commented.

"The impudence!" Ayeka shrieked as she managed to pull free.

Zero now appeared to be Ayeka, even down to the key and energy blade. Ayeka wasn't sure how it was duplicating the key and blade- perhaps they were simply a part of Zero's body. Zero was now facing Ayeka in an exact mirror of Ayeka's pose, even down to the precise way she held both hands on the key.

Washu thought quickly. The robot's main objective had been to take her to Dr. Clay. It had persevered even in the face of enemy fire. Now it was using its camouflage abilities to confuse them. What would be its next move? Probably it would wait for the confusion to build, then capture her while the confusion had her off-guard. Washu prided herself on her alertness, but she wasn't sure how closely she could watch both Ayekas. She might not be able to continue her leaping game as she had been.

Ayeka whispered to Ryu-Oh through her key, "Ryu-Oh, you know I'm me, don't you?"

Ryu-Oh responded through the key, "Yes, Ayeka, but how do I tell the others?"

Sasami and Tenchi ran towards them. Sasami had left through the back door some time ago and found him working in the fields. Both of them looked in confusion at the situation. Tenchi held his key blade at the ready while his eyes canvassed the scene for the third time, hoping to uncover some clue. "Uh, stupid question," Tenchi finally gave in and asked, "but why are there two Ayekas, and where did the tan robot go?"

"She's the robot!" one of the Ayekas pointed at the other.

The other Ayeka nodded at the other and claimed, "That is the impostor!"

Tenchi grinned and ran towards them both. He yelled, "Haaaai!" He swung his sword at the one who had spoken second, the one on the right. She turned her blade to block him.

In the middle of his motion, Tenchi twisted his sword down, to go under the blocking blade, and altered his course so he ran at the Ayeka on the left, who had spoken first. He sliced his blade upward at it. That Ayeka scooted backward, but not quickly enough to keep Tenchi's blade from shallowly cutting it from the waist up.

The injured Ayeka turned around and attacked Tenchi with its key blade. As Tenchi blocked the attack, the being ran around to his other side and struck at him again. Tenchi again blocked and gulped.

The real, uninjured Ayeka put a hand to her mouth, Ryoko swore, Washu grimaced, and Sasami shrieked.

Zero was now impersonating an uninjured Tenchi.

Washu tried to think, which was hard to do when she was feeling her worry and her daughter's worry. There had to be some way to tell the two Tenchis apart.

Tenchi and the other Tenchi continued to spar with their key blades. Ayeka edged towards them, then quickly stepped into a certain place. One of the Tenchi's strikes forced the other to move towards her. She was now facing the left side of that Tenchi. Without hesitation, she slashed upwards, cutting it in half. Ayeka halted her sword at the crest of her swing and dealt a blow down, halving the top half of the Tenchi she had already sliced.

"What do you think you're doing!" Ryoko screamed.

Ayeka continued to divide the fallen Tenchi, and the other Tenchi aided her. Ayeka was totally intent on her task, a fearsome expression on her face, but the standing Tenchi tried to smile reassuringly and said, "It's OK! I'm really me!"

Ayeka ordered, "Azaka, Kamadaki, come and analyze the remains of this robot. Isolate each of its sections."

"Yes ma'am!" the robots replied cheerfully as they teleported in. They surrounded the fallen Tenchi and erected a forcefield about it, then subforcefields around each of its parts. They turned their colored lenses upon the still form.

The form did not remain still for long- it almost appeared to be melting. Washu sighed with relief. The form gradually resolved into an extremely divided Zero.

"Washu," it said in its own voice, "You must come to Dr. Clay. You have been warned."

"It's not dead yet?" Tenchi looked at it, half in disbelief and half wondering what he'd have to do to make it stop.

"If we completely destroy it, I can't hack its memory banks," Washu cackled. "You kids were great. Ayeka, would you please drop that off in my lab?"

Ayeka looked at her distrustfully, "You are going to keep its pieces in different stasis units, aren't you?"

Washu looked at her indignantly, "Hey, I'm a genius. I'd figured that out!"

Ayeka continued doggedly, "Even if a very interesting experiment occurs to you, which would require the uniting of the pieces?"

"You don't think I'd take that much risk with an experiment, do you?" Washu asked, greatly offended.

Ayeka said simply, "I need your word on this, Washu." Ayeka had not yet put away her key blade. Tenchi had been about to, but sensing the tension, held on to it, nervously looking at everyone.

Ryoko suggested, "Let's just blast the other pieces. Who needs 'em?"

Washu allowed tightly, "She's got the right idea. I can study its chameleon abilities well enough from the head. We should destroy all the pieces other than the head. I don't think it can regenerate its entire body without help. Help which I will not provide," she added fiercely.

"Destroy all sections other than the head," Ayeka ordered. "Yes ma'am!" Azaka and Kamadaki agreed. They compressed the forcefields around all the parts, and used their lasers to meticulously eradicate every bit of Zero.

Zero's voice sounded once from its head, without a hint of pain, although its words seemed somewhat slurred, as though from damage during the battle: "Washu, you will accompany Dr. Clay. Voluntarily or involuntarily."

When Azaka and Kamadaki had destroyed every piece other than the head, Ayeka put away her key and ordered them to transport it to Washu's lab. Tenchi slowly put away his key blade with visible relief. Everyone was quiet and still after they had departed.

Ayeka stepped towards Washu and said, "I thank you, Little Washu. I did not mean to offend you. There was too much at stake for any uncertainty. Impostors could be fatal to us in this house. An impostor in the house of Jurai could be fatal to many millions."

Washu made a face and allowed, "No, you were right. I do get a little carried away sometimes. It is safer this way."

Sasami tried to lighten the mood by asking, "Tenchi, how did you know which one was Ayeka?"

"Well," Tenchi recalled, "they both sounded like Ayeka. But only one actually talked the way she does. And Zero took a hand off a sword. I figured that Ayeka was trained like I was- always keep both hands on the sword."

Ayeka felt an unexpected happiness that Tenchi knew her so well.

"And you," Ryoko descended and placed her feet on the ground so she could glare at Ayeka better, "you just ripped into Tenchi without any idea if he was the right one, didn't you?"

"Lord Tenchi's swordsmanship was far superior to that copy's!" Ayeka defended herself. "Besides, Ryu-oh and Funaho were able to triangulate his real position from his key blade, which they were powering!"

"And if they were off by a little bit?" Ryoko asked, unappeased.

"They have always been reliable," Ayeka said with rising ire.

"It was pretty scary though," Tenchi pointed out. "I mean, it wasn't quite like Ayeka or me, but it looked and sounded just like both of us. It didn't talk quite like her, but it didn't talk like a robot either. It knew how to confuse us to its advantage and didn't lose its cool for a moment. The galaxy must be a dangerous place with robots like that running around."

"No, there's not any robots like that, outside of Galactic TV!" Sasami protested.

Nodding in agreement, Washu told him, "Sasami's right; that's fortunately not the case. Even our state of the art in robotics isn't that good. This was a very special model made for one purpose by a gifted and twisted individual. It's probably the first. But everyone keep your guard up. I don't know that we can count on it being the last."

Sasami winced, Tenchi gulped, and Ryoko and Ayeka continued glaring at each other.

Mihoshi wandered out of the house, yawning. "So, what's happened?" she asked chipperly.

Next Chapter

Azaka and Kamadaki move towards the audience. Kamadaki comments, "I suppose we're becoming undertakers of our own kind, hauling around this defunct Zero."

Azaka muses, "I thought it was a bit of sci-fi cliche, having a robot head still function and talk. Didn't they do that a lot in the 'Alien' series of movies?"

Ryoko agrees, "Yeah, and Ayeka's weapon bears a suspicious resemblance to a lightsaber. Watch out brat, you're going to get sued for copyright infringement!"

Ayeka says angrily, "This is a Juraian spaceship key! It's quite clearly a different technology! We have thousands of Juraian patents on this!"

"I thought the keys were a natural part of the ship," Kiyone says in confusion.

Dr. Clay waddles forward and says, "The next chapter will, of course be about me, even being titled, 'No Need For Dr. Clay'." He pauses. "Dragonwiles thinks that title is a mockery, but I will turn it into my hour of triumph! The ignoramuses will no longer be able to mock me when I rule the galaxy!"

"That's a sci-fi cliche too, isn't it?" Ryoko notes amusedly.

"How many villains actually get a galaxy handed to them by someone as mighty as Lady Tokimi?" Dr. Clay asks proudly. "Hm?"

Continuity with Dragonwiles

Dragonwiles reposes in state in the library of his lair. Looking up from his book, he greets, "Welcome to this special segment, in which I give a few brief continuity notes."

"The term hoverskirt is actually from 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' (which I don't own), used to describe Tom Servo's locomotive apparatus. What is a locomotive apparatus? It's the way he gets around."

"I also made up the long form of Zero's name. So far as I know, Zero's only name is Zero."

"I totally made up Azaka and Kamadaki's ability to make subforcefields. They can make forcefields, so it seemed logical." Dragonwiles pauses and then huffs, "What? You know that all scifi and fantasy writers add abilities just 'cuz they're handy!"

Dragonwiles calms down, moving to another topic."Oh, and I totally made up the way that Dr. Clay and D3 and Lady Tokimi met, and how Dr. Clay found out that it was Washu who was wanted by Lady Tokimi. I was unaware of any info on those subjects, so I made up backstory that made sense to me and fit in with my backstory."

Chapter 29 Main Chapters Chapter 31