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Chapter 37 Main Chapters Chapter 39
No Need For Planning

Ayeka goes to the front and says, "Greetings to everyone from the Juraian royal family. I am pleased to serve you all in the honored position of disc jockey. For this episode, I shall play for you a traditional Earth song of long and adventurous voyages, the 'Indiana Jones' theme song, which of course Dragonwiles does not own."

As the classical music fills the air, Ayeka smiles and says quietly, "Ah, so stirring."

In a few hours, Asahi had recovered from her fainting spell, and Tenchi, Ayeka, Sasami, Ryoko, Ryo-ohki, Mihoshi, Sasami, and Washu were ready to travel with her to prove her father's innocence and free him. Asahi's partner, the Juraian space tree Mimasaka, was almost as surprised as Asahi had been to learn that Ryoko, the dreaded space pirate, was going on the journey to help them, but she and Asahi had been persuaded by Sasami and Tenchi's elegant rhetoric. Sasami and Tenchi had used firm affirmations of Ryoko's change of heart and elegant appeals to sympathy, such as, "She's really changed...mostly!" and "But she'll be lonely without us!"

The group set out after a farewell dinner prepared by Sasami, and shared with Tenchi's father and grandfather. Tenchi wasn't sure what Sasami had told Asahi about his grandfather's past, but the meal had passed without incident. Tenchi was glad that his family had been able to see him off in peace, because from what Asahi had said, it sounded as though the trip would probably take several days at least.

Despite Ryoko's machinations, everyone was traveling aboard Mimasaka for the moment, including Ryoko and Ryo-ohki (the latter in cabbit form rather than spaceship form, of course.) Ayeka and Ryoko's evening argument was just winding down as Asahi asked Tenchi, "Lord Tenchi, I was," she paused, then continued, "curious, as to how you came to meet Ryoko."

Tenchi noted bemusedly, "I was thinking just today that it was about a year ago that all this started to happen. I met Ryoko during summer vacation, so yeah, it is nearly a year."

"Anyhow," he went on, "she'd been imprisoned on our family's lands for a long time." Asahi didn't appear surprised at this, so he quickly went on, "Grandpa figured we ought to give her one last chance, to change her ways or be struck down. So I let her out, and, well, I had no idea what to think. She attacked me, but not too much, even though I, er."

He hesitated. It had suddenly occurred to him that telling how he had sliced off Ryoko's hand and she had regenerated it might distress Asahi and make her faint again. Besides which, it was one of the weirder episodes in that weird day, and he didn't feel entirely comfortable talking about it.

Tenchi finished, "Well, even though I was fighting back pretty hard. But ever since then she's helped me out, fighting with me in some of the toughest battles of my life. I mean, I can't see it any other way - she really has changed from what she used to be."

Asahi nodded. "Please," she said nervously, "excuse my behavior earlier."

"Oh, no, you were just surprised, it's all right!" Tenchi assured her.

"I've always heard," Asahi explained, "such terrifying stories about Ryoko. I was much younger when she attacked Jurai. I was on Ryuten with my family. I remember all the adults talking frightenedly to each other, classmates at school not being able to get in contact with friends and family on Jurai. Ryoko's always been such a source of fear to me, I just didn't know what to do when I saw her in real life, in such an unexpected setting."

Ryoko and Ayeka's argument had concluded, or more accurately, was experiencing a temporary lull. Ryoko walked towards Tenchi and Asahi, inquiring, "Tenchi, can you believe that Ayeka?"

Ignoring this question, Tenchi remarked, "Ryoko, this is quite a coincidence. I was just telling Asahi that we met about a year ago."

Ryoko said without hesitation, "Yep, as Earthlings measure the time, the one-year mark will be coming up in three days, four hours, seventeen minutes, and, twenty or thirty seconds. Whatever." She put a finger to her chin. "It'll be quite an occasion, our anniversary. We should have a party."

Tenchi didn't know quite what to say - he had almost been about to remark in surprise that she knew the time that exactly, but suddenly realized she might be offended that he couldn't quite remember even which day it was.

Asahi asked Ryoko, "I never got a chance to inquire - why do you want to come along?"

"Easy," Ryoko grinned dangerously, "I want to fight some Juraians and wipe the cocky smiles off their faces."

Noticing the color was starting to drain from Asahi's face again, Tenchi barked at Ryoko, "Ryoko! Don't start this again!"

"Hey," Ryoko pursed her lips, "I was just joking. What, Asahi, don't you want my help?"

Asahi quickly bowed and said apologetically, "No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to seem ungrateful. I do believe you've changed. Really, I appreciate any help you care to give."

Ryoko said with pleasure, "Don't worry about it, Asahi. You know, Tenchi, maybe we should swap Juraians, have her stay around the house rather than that overbearing princess."

Ayeka, some meters away, stalked towards them, saying, "I will not forgive your rudeness to a dear friend of the Royal Family!"

Kiyone, sitting several meters away, shook her head as Ayeka and Ryoko continued bickering. To her, it seemed impossible that anyone should want to argue in surroundings like this. She'd learned in school that Juraian ships maintained their own ecosystem, and she had learned a few more details in the Galactic Police Academy, but that intellectual knowledge paled before the aesthetic reality.

Here in Mimasaka, though she knew she was inside a large, living spaceship, she simply could not believe she was not on a planet. The river that ran nearby flowed exactly like a real river. Insect drones that she recognized from a long-ago biology lesson as from Ryuten fluttered by. The trees stretched above her head towards a bright blue sky, and their branches swayed in the cool breeze. The rock she sat on felt exactly like a real rock, and the smell of the earth around her was exactly what she would expect after a gentle summer rain.

How was this possible? How had the Juraians learned to do all this? How much energy and thought did Mimasaka or any other Juraian space tree have to spend to maintain it all? What was the secret of Jurai that allowed them to do these things that no other culture could?

The crack of a foot splitting a fallen twig caused Kiyone to turn, and she saw Mihoshi leaving the clearing where the others were, and approaching her. Mihoshi waved at Kiyone and commented, "You look like you're really enjoying this!"

Kiyone smiled ruefully, "You're probably used to traveling on a Juraian space tree. Don't tell the others that you found me gaping like this."

Mihoshi came closer and asked, "But what would be wrong with telling them? A space tree is happy when someone enjoys its landscape. And I always think being on a space tree is neat too! Misao and I were always excited when one of Grandpa's Juraian friends took us on a trip on a space tree!" Mihoshi's smile grew as she reminisced, "We always had the best time, catching the bugs and letting them go, climbing the hills and rolling down them. There's nothing quite like a Juraian space tree for traveling in. It's almost a destination itself!"

Kiyone nodded in agreement.

The argument between Ayeka and Ryoko was still blowing full-force while Sasami asked Asahi, "So, where exactly are we going?"

Asahi looked at her in surprise, "Why, we must go directly to Ryuten! Father needs our help."

"That makes sense," Sasami agreed, "but won't you be in danger there? I'm worried about you. Maybe you should stay on Mimasaka once we arrive."

Washu, who had been resting against a nearby tree, now perked up and put in, "Actually, Asahi, I've been meaning to tell you. I'm not sure you can best help your father by going immediately there. We don't know enough about your enemies. Understanding your enemies is the first step to freeing your father."

"But how can we learn anything about them?" Asahi asked, disappointed.

"Kiyone's been doing some research," Washu smiled encouragingly. "Let's see what she comes up with. Ah, there we go," she smiled at something behind Sasami.

Sasami and Asahi turned to see Kiyone and Mihoshi returning from the riverbank. Washu clapped her hands and told Ryoko and Ayeka, "Come on kids, let's hear what Kiyone's found out."

Ayeka crossed her arms and looked daggers at Washu, her frustrations now split between Washu and Ryoko. Ryoko complained, "Kids? You're the one who wanted to abandon the grownup world. You don't get to change back at your convenience, you know."

Washu's face hardened, but just then Kiyone and Mihoshi joined them. Tenchi sighed in relief, not sure he wanted to see what new course the argument would have taken.

Kiyone, seeing that everyone seemed to expect a report out of her, informed them, "The Galactic Police Database has classified most of its information on happenings on Ryuten, since it's a Juraian world. A few of Mihoshi's Juraian sources were able to give us some new information, however. Apparently, Tatetsuki, shortly before the death of Houran, made frequent trips to a planet named Yatsuka. After accusing Asahi's father of murder, Tatetsuki's visits increased in frequency. He's been ordering large quantities of Yatsuka's main export, Hielzen S."

Washu made a noise of interest, while Asahi gasped, "No! He wouldn't!"

"You already knew?" Mihoshi asked Asahi in confusion.

Asahi shook her head, "I never knew the specifics, only what Father told me. I hadn't realized Tatesuki was ready. This is horrible."

"What is?" Sasami asked in confusion.

"Father told me," Asahi said mournfully, "that Tatetsuki was planning to integrate Hielzen S into Juraian space trees. If he is confirmed as the royal carver, then he will do it. Oh, how I fear for the trees!" She grasped her key tightly, and Mimasaka pulsed it warmly in agreement.

"So, what is Hielzen S?" Tenchi asked.

Washu explained, "It's the jargon for a fascinating sort of metal, with unusual conductance of all sorts of energy. But, using it in a Juraian space tree, hm. There'd be several problems with that, at least."

"It is an unnatural thing for a space tree's body!" Asahi said excitedly. "Only after long, careful study do we introduce artificial materials into space trees. Tatetsuki wants to skip it all, and introduce Hielzen S into a tree's body before we are sure it is safe. He wants to use it on the trees' hulls! The metal will not grow with the trees, and if they go too long without a refit, they will be stunted or ripped apart."

"Yep, that'd be the problem with using it for exterior ablative plating," Washu agreed.

Asahi's key pulsed, and she went on, "And Mimasaka just reminded me, there are indications that trees will grow sick and rot at places where it is touched by Hielzen S!"

"Infection and rejection would be dangers you'd have to watch out for. Maybe you'd need some sort of organic bonding agent for the connection?" Washu put a finger to her chin in thought.

"Worst of all," Asahi lamented, "Tatetsuki wishes to use Hielzen S for the power couplings of the tree! Linked to the very heart of the tree! If an infection should take place there, or if the Hielzen S goes unstable in the presence of large amounts of energy, as it is known to do, the tree could be killed!"

Washu nodded sagely. "It's not as though these problems couldn't be solved, but Hielzen S is too new a material for anyone to really know what they're doing with it. Maybe someday it could work, maybe not. I seriously doubt Tatetsuki actually has real solutions yet."

"So," Tenchi ventured, "Hielzen S is bad?"

Asahi exclaimed "Yes!" Simultaneously, Washu cried, "No!"

Washu quickly clarified, "Hielzen S isn't bad. Using it when you don't know what you're doing is bad."

Mihoshi, who had grown confused during Asahi and Washu's discussion, suddenly suggested, "If it's such a bad idea, then someone'll fire Tatetsuki anyways."

Ayeka shook her head. "On such technical matters, we defer to the current master of the Hou school, who for the moment is unfortunately Tatetsuki."

"Why?" Tenchi asked in confusion.

Sasami shrugged and said, "Nobody else understands the space trees. Tenchi, let's say you're a space tree, and I'm the average Juraian. I'd know if you had a cold, and so would you, but neither of us would be able to do heart surgery on you. Do you get it?"

Mihoshi said confusedly, "But Sasami, are you saying space trees catch colds?"

"It was a metaphor, Mihoshi," Kiyone growled.

"I couldn't think of a better one," Sasami admitted embarrassedly.

Tenchi shook his head, "No, no, I get it now."

Mihoshi insisted, "And why does a space tree need heart surgery?"

"Mihoshi!" Kiyone growled.

Ryoko, who had grown extremely bored, suddenly suggested, "I think, when this conversation had a point, that the point of this conversation was to suggest we go to Yatsuka and do some digging into Tatetsuki's background."

"But how can we dig into-" Mihoshi began to say.

Ryoko continued unabated, "So, what, is that what you want to do, Asahi?"

"Hey!" Mihoshi protested.

Asahi had been deep in thought, but now agreed reluctantly, "It does seem to be the wisest course of action. But let us move swiftly. I do not like to think of leaving Father in his cell any longer than we must."

Sasami said encouragingly, "I'm sure we'll learn something worthwhile about Tatetsuki on Yatsuka. And he'll never expect us to go there! When we go to Ryuten, we'll be ready for him."

Asahi nodded, somewhat bolstered by her words.

Next Chapter

Ryoko groans, "That chapter was so boring! No fistfights, no explosions, and I didn't get to kiss Tenchi even once! You know, I think we should all expect a lot more from you, Dragonwiles."

Dragonwiles huffs, "Is there any particular reason the next chapter preview always devolves into a critique of my writing?"

"It makes good comic relief!" Mihoshi points out.

Dragonwiles' eyes flick about briefly. Fixing upon Asahi, Dragonwiles calls, "Lady Asahi, you're up for the preview."

"Oh, I think you'll like this, I've sculpted the preview!" she says, moving a large wood carving onto the stage.

"You're joking..." Dragonwiles starts to say, then realizes, "You're not joking. Well, actually, this could work. Good thinking. Original, I like it. Keeping the fanfic interesting."

Asahi bows deeply and says gratefully, "Why, thank you!"

She begins gesturing to the carving. "As you can see, this is a carving of the planet Yatsuka. Over here, on the equatorial content, I've whittled this large complex - that represents the above-ground portions of the mine, like the ore warehouse and administrative complex. Just to the north, I've carved out the wicked Lord Ohsa's palace. And in the city over here, I've carved a restaurant, where something very special happens!"

"It's very detailed and well-done," Kiyone says appreciatively. The other members of the cast concur.

"Dragonwiles, would you like to see it closer?" Asahi asks, noticing he has remained towards the back while the others have come close to examine the carving.

"No thank you, dragons have very sharp vision," Dragonwiles reassures her.

She says invitingly, "Are you sure?"

"Erm," Dragonwiles coughs with a puff of smoke, "dragons also breathe fire, so I probably shouldn't get too close to a wood carving."

"That is a good point," Asahi agrees. She turns the carving around to show the audience that carved on the back are the words, "Next Chapter: No Need for Mines."

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."

"Hielzen S is a metal introduced in this arc of Hitoshi Okuda's manga. There are some important differences, though. In this chapter, I've established that it can conduct energy well and may be used as ablative plating. However, its new property, one that I've added, is that it can become unstable in the presence of large quantities of energy. Further information will come in later chapters. For now, I can tell you that S still stands for Super, but I prefer referring to it as Hielzen S."

Chapter 37 Main Chapters Chapter 39