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Chapter 50 Main Chapters Chapter 52

No Need For Darkness

Mihoshi says, "Today Dragonwiles told me I have to play a sad song as the theme song for the chapter, and I have to do that because it is a sad chapter. Well, maybe so, but I don't have to like it!" She presses a button and the slow song begins to play - it is "aura" from the ".hack//SIGN" soundtrack, neither of which are owned by Dragonwiles. The ominous lyrics create a feeling of dread.

A Day Later

Tenchi's aunt unlocked the front door. She'd come all the way up from the hot springs she operated, worried that no one had returned her calls for an entire day. It wasn't like Tenchi or Sasami to do that. It wasn't like anyone to do that, really. She hadn't expected to have to unlock the front door, either. Were they all away on a trip? Surely they'd have told her. Tenchi's aunt hoped nothing was the matter.

She found a strange scene inside the house. No one was there, but all of their things had been left behind - there were wardrobes full of clothes, and Tenchi's school books were still in his room. Also, there was cold food in the kitchen, left as though Sasami had stepped away while preparing it, but had never returned. There was a note written on paper in the kitchen. It was signed by Washu - that nice girl who had helped take care of Taro - and said that the family had to go away on sudden, extended business, and that visitors were welcome to help themselves to the food.

Tenchi's aunt finally decided she'd just have to set her misgivings aside. Tenchi's aunt was worried about them, but she understood that Tenchi's new friends, even dear Sasami and Washu, weren't exactly ordinary, and she didn't want to cause any trouble for them by making a big fuss about this, much as she wanted to have them back in the house as usual. She'd just assume for the moment that the note was right and they were on a long trip. She'd just clean up and check up on the house every now again, or maybe hire some cleaners to do that. She'd make Nobuyuki pay for it, at least, whenever he got back. Or maybe she'd just have them look after Taro while she sent her children went on an extended vacation without telling anyone. That sounded like a plan.

Tencih's aunt began to get to work in the kitchen, tying a handkerchief around her nose to hold out the smell.

Nobuyuki's boss frowned and replayed the message on his answering machine. Nobuyuki was saying urgently, "Hi, sorry about the short notice, I've got to leave, urgent family business, might take a few months! I'm out of town awhile!" The voice of a young woman he didn't recognize put in, "Can we leave orbit already?"

The recording ended abruptly. The boss frowned. This was highly uncharacteristic of Nobuyuki. What's more, he had almost no family to speak of, so what business might take a few months away from his home? If his father-in-law were ill, wouldn't he get him treated locally? Was that relative who ran the hot springs having medical or business problems? Or maybe long-lost relatives had resurfaced someplace else? And who was that on the recording, and what did she mean about "leaving orbit"?

He shrugged. Nobuyuki had bothered to call and inform him about this, which he appreciated. Nobuyuki was good at his job, and was very responsible, so it probably was some sort of bizarre emergency. Life tended to throw those at people. He'd be interested to hear the explanation whenever Nobuyuki returned.

Some Time After That

Kiyone looked at the helter-skelter form of Galactic Police Headquarters with palpable relief. She always enjoyed seeing it at any time, thoroughly enjoying the hustle and bustle and energy of thousands of beings working together. Especially, she enjoyed seeing it now, having wondered not so long ago whether she'd ever be seeing anything again. Her happiness, though, was tempered by the memories of the recent attack, and by the fact that she hadn't been able to contact GP HQ since that attack. She'd been worried that she'd arrive and find HQ somehow destroyed or mysteriously absent. Kiyone had an uncomfortable suspicion that if it was still standing, then things might be wrong in a more subtle way, and in a way that might not be easy to resolve.

She contacted docking control, which sounded very interested to see her, but very firm about not answering any of her questions. She was quickly assigned a clear docking bay, and communications were summarily terminated after she had acknowledged.

Emerging from Yagami, Kiyone saw a GP captain she didn't recognize, as well as many other GP officers. Such a big, or such a diffident, welcoming committee was not something she had expected, but no one was pointing their weapons at her, or even keeping their hands near them, and she forced herself to mirror them.

Kiyone saluted the captain, and he returned it, saying, "Detective Kiyone, I'm Captain Yura. We're glad you've returned."

"Thank you, captain," Kiyone responded. "I'm glad as well- I was very worried, since I haven't been able to get in contact with headquarters."

"Yes, I quite understand," the captain nodded. "Please excuse us - things have been very hectic here. We've had communications difficulties with many of our patrols."

Kiyone stared at him. Things were always hectic at GP HQ, but transmissions still had to come and go. It had been too ridiculously long for it to be some sort of technical error. Something was more seriously wrong than that.

"Though you've just arrived, I'd like for you to come with me, please," Capt. Yura issued his order as a request. He was very polite, very firm, and very nervous, Kiyone noted, but there was no reason to delay the inevitable, so she went with him. He continued, "Ordinarily, I'd like to hear your report, or what circumstances led you to come all this way as soon as possible, even while we walked." Kiyone noted that they were walking very quickly. "However," he continued, "the Juraian intelligence officer assigned to your bureau has insisted on hearing your first report."

"I understand, sir." Kiyone said, though she understood his statement far more clearly than the situation. She didn't like the thought of going before the Juraian intelligence officer in charge of her bureau - he always had seemed suspicious to her. "Sir," she asked, "afterwards, will I be reporting to Captain Nobeyama?"

"Actually," the captain said quickly, "you won't, you'll be reporting to me. I've been appointed your temporary captain."

Kiyone stared at him in shock. "Sir, where is Captain Nobeyama?"

"He's been arrested, actually," the captain said. "Please, we must hurry," he said, and they resumed their rapid pace. "It hasn't yet been made public, though, so I'd appreciate your discretion. This is really an unfortunate scandal."

"Sir, who else has been implicated? How high does this scandal go?" Kiyone asked quickly.

"I don't know all the details myself," Capt. Yura hedged. Kiyone stared at him as they walked until he relented and said, "GP personnel are authorized to know, though, how high it goes. It's not as though we could keep ourselves from finding out! But please, you must say nothing until the official announcement, when we'll be introducing the replacements for the implicated officers. We don't want a public panic." Kiyone nodded, and he said finally, "Grand Marshal Kuramitsu himself. That is how high it goes." He shook his head as he walked. "Incredible as it seems, that is the reality. He has been arrested by Jurai itself, along with other known conspirators."

Kiyone said nothing for several moments. Mihoshi's grandfather, the highest official in the Galactic Police, was on trial, suspected of some sort of conspiracy. She found it hard to believe - everything she knew about him spoke of his honesty.

"Sir, have all the conspirators been found yet?" Kiyone inquired. The captain said nothing, so after some time Kiyone pressed, "Sir, please, I need to know. I don't want to accidentally compromise the GP further by talking with someone who appears to be a comrade but is not."

Finally the captain said, "No, Detective Kiyone, we have not found all the conspirators." He looked very hard at her for a moment, then looked straight ahead.

The Juraian intelligence official of Kiyone's bureau looked up as she entered the darkened room. "Officer Kiyone, thank you for coming so quickly," he said unctuously. "Please, take a seat. Captain Yura, thank you for conducting her here. I'll let you know the moment that we're through."

Capt. Yura closed the door, and Kiyone tried to find the proffered seat, nearly bumping into it first in the darkness. She was still used to the brightly lit hallway. Kiyone looked at the intelligence officer and wondered just why he wore sunglasses at all times, in all lighting conditions, and how he could even see her in the darkened room.

Kiyone tried to keep a frown off her face when, as soon as she had sat down in the chair, he stood up. She hated it when he played psychological games with the seating arrangements. Before, she'd hardly had to put up with it at all. Despite the fact that the zone she patrolled was a direct possession of the Juraian throne, the Juraians cared little about it, as long as galactic civilization did not intrude. She'd been debriefed by this Juraian official exactly three times: once, when she and Mihoshi were first assigned to the zone, again, after her rescue from Venus, and Mihoshi and Tenchi's defeat of Kagato, and for the third time, after the capture of Dr. Clay.

As Kiyone had expected, the intelligence officer's first questions were about the attack of the Juraian battleships upon herself and her partner. Kiyone had never felt so good about knowing so little. For some reason, she instinctively had never trusted the intelligence officer, and his bearing and interest now did not make her trust him more. She was glad that all she knew was that the Juraian warships had arrived undetected and tried to blow up herself and her partner, and then had fled when Ryo-ohki appeared, and that Yagami's logs backed up all of her statements.

At this point, the officer said, "Yes, the commander of that expedition contacted the GP recently. He terribly regrets the attack on you, it was an error he assumes the entire responsibility for. He has offered to compensate the GP, and you personally, from his own purse."

Kiyone said neutrally, "That's very generous, but his apology is quite enough."

"Oh, he was very insistent," the officer pointed out. "He really feels he owes you compensation after having risked your life in that way."

"If he says anything further about it," Kiyone shrugged, "I'm afraid I'll have to tell him that GP regulations forbid me from accepting." Did they really think she'd be bought off so easily?

"You're very devoted to your duty," the officer observed. Kiyone nodded, and he continued, "Very well." He continued the debriefing, saying, "There were some other matters I wanted to probe into."

The Juraian intelligence officer was very interested in knowing who was aboard Ryo-ohki, and about the bodily safety of Princess Ayeka, Princess Sasami, Prince Yosho, the pirate Ryoko, the genius Washu, and Lord Tenchi. Kiyone herself had wondered this often, and it was perfectly innocent for a Juraian intelligence official to want to know the status of royal family members and powerful beings, but she was glad that she did not know. Perhaps she didn't want to see some look of smug satisfaction enter his eyes and hear his voice thanking her, or perhaps it was something deeper.

"Thank you, Detective, you've been very cooperative," the intelligence officer finally said, but despite his words, he had an air of disappointment. Kiyone felt chilled as she perceived that he seemed to be just as suspicious of her as she was of him. Filing that thought away, she asked, "Sir, I don't want to be out of line, but I haven't been able to establish contact with GP HQ for some time, and the situation seems to have greatly changed here. Moreover, my partner remains in the zone. Both our ships were damaged, and she might be attacked again. Would you please answer some of my questions?"

"Officer," the intelligence official said patronizingly, "you know as well as I that such matters are under the authority of the GP, and that I am a mere intelligence liaison of Jurai. However, the situation is different, and it does touch you personally. Further, I commend your clear thinking in this dangerous situation, and the help you've been. With your captain's permission, Jurai intends to ask you to help further, and so I shall give you the answers you seek."

Kiyone wanted to slap him, but she suspected that what he would say next was crucial, and it would clearly be unwise to provoke him in an unknown situation.

"Ordinarily we would set out to rescue your partner, and repair both your ships, but for the moment only yours is being repaired. A mission is being sent to find former officer Mihoshi Kuramitsu, but to put her into custody, not to aid her. You have, I imagine, heard of her grandfather's conspiracy?"

"Only just now, and with few details, sir," Kiyone told him.

"It's crucial that you understand, especially because of your personal involvement with some of the actors," the officer said. His tone was simultaneously urgent, but also arrogantly sad, like a man trying to like a man trying to tell something sad to a baby. "I'm sure that while at the GP Academy, you learned of the embittered history between the families Kuramitsu and Jurai, or at least the general outline. In the recent past, an alliance was made that flowered into friendship between the families, but my fellows in the intelligence department recently learned that the former Grand Marshal and many other present Kuramitsus, including the man's granddaughter, conspired against the King." He paused to allow a look of sanctimonious sympathy appear on his face as he added, "I understand this may be hard for you to hear about your partner, but our agency has thoroughly vetted it."

"Sir, I do find it hard to believe," Kiyone said firmly. "I can assure you that I had seen no hint that she was traitor."

"She may not have known it herself," the intelligence officer said with false pity. "She may have sided with the young Princess Ayeka, since they are friends, and not realized that the princess was plotting against her own father. Or, it may have been worse for former officer Kuramitsu. She may have been mind controlled by Ryoko."

"Mind controlled?" Kiyone asked incredulously.

The officer held up his hand and allowed his voice to flow with sugary reassurance, "Don't worry, Officer Kiyone, if I thought you were under the influence, you'd be in a cell. Your forthrightness has convinced us of your honesty." He resumed pumping into her an insultingly large dose of faked sympathy. "I realize it's all a bit much to take in, Officer Kiyone, so we'll give you a reprieve. After Capt. Yura has debriefed you, we'll see to it that you have plenty of time to rest. We're doing our best to help keep the GP administration together until replacements for key positions are found, you see. I won't make things any worse for you by keeping you here any longer, unless there's anything else that you'd like to ask?"

Kiyone forced her mind to settle down and see the opportunity before her. The intelligence officer's talk of a conspiracy didn't make sense in and of itself - Ayeka and Ryoko and Mihoshi as co-conspirators against King Azusa? Ryoko mind controlling people? - but it was probably not something that would make sense, ever. It was probably a lie. But she didn't have the time to characterize the logical contradictions or plead Mihoshi's innocence. She had a perfect, natural opportunity to find out key information, some of the key information that she had come here to gain, the moment she first conjectured she and the princesses had been targets of an assassination mission.

"Sir, I do have one last question, if you'd be so kind," Kiyone asked. "How is King Azusa?"

"I'm afraid his whereabouts are unknown," the officer told her somberly. "Naturally this is a matter of deep concern to us. Under the circumstances, the Council of Elders has decided to appoint a new King of Jurai." He then said, "I'm afraid I cannot presume to speak for our Elders as to who will be our next king, so that information shall have to wait for its announcement," but his smile was intended to tell her plainly that he knew who would be chosen.

Kiyone kept her face neutral, refusing to play his games. "Thank you for your consideration, sir," she said, standing.

"Take care, Officer Kiyone," he said in farewell. "We'll be depending on you heavily in the near future."

Tenchi stood in a side room of Yukinojo. He had transferred to this ship from Ryo-ohki, along with Ayeka, Sasami, Washu, Nobuyuki, and Yosho, after they had all finally admitted they were going crazy because of the lack of space and furniture aboard Ryo-ohki. Yukinojo, Tenchi was starting to realize, was only a slight improvement - it had rooms, including living space, and was fully furnished, but it was designed for one to two GP officers. He was starting to feel cramped again. He missed his home.

Washu rushed into the room. "Hey, everyone, get to the Galactic TV, quick!" Barely was the message out of her mouth before she had rushed to the next room of Yukinojo.

The others were filing into the room with the Galactic TV bemusedly, and Washu popped into the room from the other side for a moment to say, "Hurry!" Then she left again. Still in the room were two small robotic replicas of her, marked A and B on the backs of their shirts, who were pointing at the Galactic TV and saying, "Watch! Watch!"

Tenchi sighed as Washu hurried him into the room. "What is so important, Washu?"

For once, her face was serious. "I saw a news teaser a few minutes ago - they're about to announce the new emperor of Jurai."

Tenchi was stunned, then looked around the room and asked, "Where's Mihoshi?"

Washu looked at him as if he were crazy, "Piloting the ship, where else?"

Tenchi rolled his eyes, "So, she gets to miss out on the ultra-important announcement that we were all forced to see?"

Nobuyuki asked Washu, "Is Ryoko seeing this?"

Washu nodded shortly, her attention focused on the Galactic TV. Ayeka and Tenchi leaned forward in their seats while Sasami swallowed heavily.

The Galactic TV announcer said, "They're making the announcement, we're now switching live to the Throne Room of Jurai." The view from the camera changed from the newsroom to the grand, massive Throne Room of Jurai. A group of men in impressive clothes were gathered on a large flight of steps, while below them other noblemen, people of standing, and select journalists looked up the flight of steps.

The others watched with ignorant nervousness, not quite sure what was happening now. Ayeka was beginning to feel as though she didn't know, either, as though she were in a bad dream or had been thrust out of her own time. The small group of Juraians on the flight of steps in the most impressive clothes were surely supposed to be the Council of Elders, and they were Juraian noblemen of rank who were next on the rotation to be on the Council, but they were not the current council. Ayeka almost commented on this, but the lead councillor had begun to speak almost as soon as the camera changed. Ayeka recognized him as Lord Yamato, whose planet she had once visited with her father and mother and Yosho.

"Subjects of the many races on all planets in the Juraian empire, it is my duty to greet you on this solemn day, solemn in our grief and in our," he paused, overcome a moment, then continued, "our hope, I cannot say joy so soon after losing our sovereign."

Sasami made a small noise, and Ayeka took a deep breath.

"I am afraid the rumors are true," the lead councillor continued, "the Emperor and most of his entourage have disappeared, and despite our best efforts, he cannot be found. They were all indeed lost near the recent phenomenon that has appeared in the region of Dek'lar. Under other circumstances, we should call upon Princess Ayeka to be our regent for a time, or, if there were, less hope," his voice shook, "we should appoint her our new Empress."

"However," he said angrily, "the king's faithful bodyguards, Lords Tetta and Tessei, among the few to escape the calamity that befell our Emperor, have informed us that she has conspired against her own father."

Ayeka leapt to her feet and shouted, "That is not true, Lord Yamato!"

Jarred, Tenchi tried to refocus on what this 'Lord Yamato' was saying, "...and we fear," he paused, for there was quite a bit of murmuring and confused shouting on the television, "and we fear that Princess Sasami is in her power as well."

Someone on the television shouted, "Not Princess Sasami!"

Sasami said to herself, "No, not me, I'm fine, really," and tried to giggle, but couldn't.

Lord Yamato raised his hands, and the crowd slowly resumed some semblance of order, and he said, "Lords, ladies, please, if you will calm yourselves a moment. Thank you. As such, we have had to go to Jurai's four noble clans for the next heir to the throne. Our selection, though he has been absent for some time, has been tried and tested by our laws and traditions and by personal examination of this council, and we have vetted him. I present to you now, our new Emperor, Oda Kamiki Jurai!"

A nobleman with a stern mien, a trim beard, and the royal robes of an Emperor of Jurai walked into the room through the door that the king used. He walked to the throne of the king, and the Council and the others in the room bowed to him.

"My good people," Oda said commandingly, "I have returned, as the Council said, from the outer reaches, where our king had sent me to fight the pirates, and found myself needed for another task. My wish is to serve Jurai in this hour of great need, and to make our empire stronger yet. This shall be done, I swear it. The pirates shall be pushed back, the noblemen's corruption shall be ended, and we shall reinvigorate our young with proud Juraian tradition, rather than the current decadence and cowardice now seen. We shall return to our proud traditions and so eradicate the scourge of piracy from our lands forever."

Sasami tugged on Ayeka's sleeve. "Where are our parents?" she asked piteously. "Are they - you know?" Her eyes brimmed with tears.

They hugged each other as Ayeka said, "I wish I knew, Sasami." It was so wrong. She'd anticipated having to hold Sasami like this after such an event, but not anticipated being hunted as a renegade! She wanted to shout at Oda and the whole Council that this wasn't fair, that she and her little sister had enough sorrows and worries because of their parents' possible deaths without being slandered and hunted by their own countrymen. Had they no feeling? Why did they have to burden innocent Sasami in this way?

Mihoshi called the room from the bridge on the intercom, having been given a summary of what was transpiring by Yukinojo's computer, and said to them, "Guys, is this for real?"

They looked at the screen, where Oda's speech had ended, and said, "Yes."

"So, who is this guy?" Mihoshi asked.

Ayeka said heavily, "One of our mightiest noblemen, and one of the men Father trusted most. That was why he was sent to deal with the pirates - we were all sure he could defeat them, and he did indeed make great strides against them."

"He doesn't sound like a bad guy, maybe just grumpy," Mihoshi said confusedly. "So why'd he try to kill us all, and depose the King?"

Yosho shrugged. "I'd like to believe that he is not part of the conspiracy, that he is being duped, but that is unlikely."

Nobuyuki shook his head. "So what are we going to do now?" he asked.

Kiyone had left the Juraian intelligence officer, and her second debriefing with Capt. Yura had just finished, when the announcement about Jurai's new king had come. All work had stopped for a few moments. Now that the announcement was over, work was supposed to be starting again, but Kiyone could tell that really what would be happening most of the day would be gossiping about what the new king would do, or fruitless attempts to do something about the chaos introduced into the Galactic Police by having its head official arrested. Kiyone couldn't really blame them. If she had any further official duties at the moment, she doubted that she'd be able to concentrate on them.

Since Kiyone instead had a period of rest, she decided to head towards the cafeteria. The GP HQ cafeteria was always a fascinating place, huge and with at least some patrons at any time of the day or night, full of beings talking and eating. Kiyone soon found a face she knew, and her old friend in turn saw her. "Kiyone!" called her friend Mitsuki. Mitsuki, like Kiyone, had only just entered the cafeteria. "I'm so sorry to hear about Mihoshi," Mitsuki told her.

"Thank you, that's very kind," Kiyone told her reservedly.

"Would you like to eat together?" Mitsuki asked her.

Kiyone agreed, and the two went to the serving line. During the wait and selection of their foods, Mitsuki and Kiyone's conversation turned rather naturally to the changes at the GP, and Kiyone could tell that such was the content of the other ongoing conversations of the people around them. Apparently, large numbers of people, from beat cops to the Grand Marshal, had been arrested as part of the conspiracy.

"It's crazy," Mitsuki said, shaking her head as they walked to find a table. "You look around and another familiar face is gone."

"Yes, it's like you're coming back to a ghost town," Kiyone concurred. The cafeteria had many beings in it, but there were still clearly empty spaces that shouldn't have existed at this time of day.

"We're overworked already, and losing Zirkman and Ol'veold means I may not be coming out of my office for a month," Mitsuki sighed. "Oh, did I tell you I got an office?"

"You mentioned it in passing. Did you finally get a promotion?" Kiyone inquired.

"Yep, finally came through." Mitsuki smiled. Kiyone congratulated her, and added, "I suppose all of your work paid off."

"Sure did," Mitsuki said and beamed. "Of course, now that means there's going to be tons more work for me. Oh, and speaking of recent promotions, did you hear that Adlei finally got Investigator?"

"He deserves it," Kiyone said aloud, but inside her stomach felt heavier. She'd hoped that she and Mihoshi would be achieving that sort of rank about now. Kiyone wanted to feel happy for Adlei, and did, but it was hard to be reminded that even before her life had been in danger, her career had been put on life support.

Mitsuki asked, "So, I hear you're under Captain Yura now?" Kiyone nodded, her mouth full of food. Mitsuki said, "He's a good man," and took a bite herself. Kiyone nodded again. Mitsuki shoved her food about on her plate a bit, then said, "Look, Kiyone, I wasn't going to say anything about this to you now, but this is too good an opportunity to pass up, meeting you here. I was wondering if you wanted to come work under me. This may be too soon after losing Mihoshi, but, well, that's just how life goes sometimes. There's nothing we can do but go on." Kiyone wished that Mitsuki would stop talking like Mihoshi were dead, and felt a bit awkward about potentially subordinating herself to someone who, though a friend, was also something of a rival, but she understood her point of view.

"I appreciate the offer," Kiyone said neutrally, "but I'll have to decline for now. I've barely settled into my new assignment, whatever it is."

"That's exactly why this is the right time," Mitsuki told her. "I mean, it's not like you've heard you'll be getting any promotions out of staying where you are, have you?" She said it casually, but scrutinized Kiyone's face for the least hint.

Kiyone answered her, "I haven't heard either way."

Mitsuki lowered her voice and said, "Well, in my department, it's an open secret. My old commander got locked up, too, and I'm in the running for his seat. The interim Juraian leadership will be picking the replacement for his seat within the week. If we stick together, I can get you my current job." Mitsuki raised her voice and said playfully, "After all, GP Academy classmates should stick together, right?"

Kiyone swallowed, and took a few extra sips of her tea. She didn't want any more uncertainty, any more suspicion. She wanted to return to the GP and start climbing the career ladder again, just like she had before. With or without Mitsuki, it didn't matter, she just wanted to return to how things were. If she did something, anything, other than what she'd anticipated having to do ever since she came here, maybe that would be possible.

Mitsuki paused in her eating, waiting for Kiyone's answer.

Or would it be possible for things to return to how they'd been? Kiyone suspected that the moment the Juraians had appeared and fired on her without warning, that was the moment at which it became impossible for things to be just how they were before. There was no longer a future for her in this dark, manipulated hulk of the GP. It was about to become a puppet of the new King of Jurai. Kiyone would have to do what she never imagined ever doing - not merely leave, but actively escape the Galactic Police. She'd become what she most hated and hunted all her life, a fugitive from justice.

"I'm afraid I can't, Mitsuki, but again, I appreciate the offer," Kiyone told her. Mitsuki returned to her eating, shrugging her shoulders, both disappointed and relieved to not have an ambitious subordinate. Kiyone took a long sip of her tea, hoping it would ease her nerves.

The Juraian intelligence officer stood behind Captain Yura in the captain's office. Kiyone entered and saluted. The captain was about to say something, but the Juraian intelligence officer spoke first, saying, "Please, come in, Officer Kiyone. We're very pleased with the help you've given us so far, and I'm confident that you'll be able to help us in the next mission, particularly."

The captain, mentally off-balance, paused a moment, before adding, "Yes, please come in, there's a lot to discuss."

Kiyone entered the room and stood at attention.

"Officer Kiyone," the Juraian intelligence officer began to say again, and Capt. Yura closed his mouth, again prevented from launching into his own speech. The Juraian official, apparently oblivious to this, continued his speech with the words, "We need to ask you to do something very difficult for us. Your relief patrol in the protected zone has not found any sign of former Officer Kuramitsu, or of Ryo-ohki and any occupants it may have."

Kiyone was struck by the sudden, amusing thought of what Ryoko would say if she were here when Ryo-ohki was called "it", but smothered her smile.

"We need you to find at least former Officer Kuramitsu for us," the official went on. "I understand you two have known each other since the Galactic Police Academy. Cruel as it may seem, that is precisely why you are most qualified to track her down. We're also doing this for her benefit as well. You may be able to convince her to surrender peacefully and with dignity, where other officers, despite their best efforts, might have messier results."

Kiyone didn't bother trying to suppress her reactions to the last few statements, she simply couldn't. Later, she decided after some reflection that it was for the best. If she had shown no reaction to such a proposal, they probably would've become even more suspicious.

Capt. Yura finally got a chance to say something, and said, "For those reasons, the mission would involve you, alone, in Yagami. We feel fairly certain that there is minimal risk that you will be attacked by Officer Kuramitsu -" he amended, in response to a look from the official, "former Officer Kuramitsu, of course, or Ryo-ohki, because of your history, but we realize it is a gamble. Is this a mission you are willing to accept?"

"Jurai will be forever grateful if you do," the official reminded her.

Kiyone saluted, "Yes, sir." She hoped she had left it ambiguous as to whether she was saluting her new captain or the Juraian intelligence official.

"Excellent," the Juraian intelligence official said. "I knew I could count on you, Officer Kiyone. Carry on, I am afraid I am needed elsewhere." He departed the room suddenly, evidently unexpectedly, although Capt. Yura released the surprise from his face quickly. The captain told Kiyone, "The mission is fairly simple, but obviously extremely delicate. I have only one more order for you: you are not to use force. If Officer Kuramitsu does not submit to you, then return immediately to the nearest standard GP waypoint and request for backup to meet you there, and proceed to chase her from that point on. Only at that point will I authorize force. Although we don't expect her to attack you, I don't want you to be alone if she starts to feel cornered."

"Sir," Kiyone saluted again.

The captain stood, and seemed about to dismiss her, but then stopped himself and looked her in the eyes. "You're a brave and conscientious officer. We could use plenty more like you, especially in times like these."

Kiyone ventured, "Thank you sir. Perhaps we need that sort of thing even more before times like these, so times like these never occur."

"I think you're right," Captain Yura sighed. "Dismissed."

She exited the room, and he went to a meeting soon after.

Kiyone proceeded out of the GP HQ docking bay without looking back with Yagami's sensors or her own eyes. She hoped that someday she'd be able to return there, but not if it would be as it was now. It wasn't quite as hard to leave as she'd expected, in more ways than one. It was easy in one way because her mission supplied her with enough cover that she wasn't having to actively escape HQ. In another way it was easy to leave, because Oda had quite thoroughly slain the GP before she arrived. What she was leaving now was a police state, not a police force. She tried not to think about the beings she was leaving behind, and the fellow officers she might soon have to face as enemies.

Yagami cruised on, and Kiyone carefully set its course for the rendezvous where she would meet with Tenchi and the others. There hadn't been opportunity to arrange anything before leaving them, but she was confident that Mihoshi remembered one of their idle conversations on long patrols, when she and Kiyone had decided a good deserted rendezvous point would be if needed. They'd never imagined they'd actually need it.

A small task force of Juraian vessels and GP cruisers followed Yagami at a great distance, too great for Yagami or any vessel it would meet to detect them.

"Sir, Yagami is proceeding towards the Gamaris Wastes," an officer reported.

"Ah, Officer Kiyone, I knew that I could count on you, willing or not," the Juraian intelligence officer thought to himself with a grin. "Very well," he said. "Match the course, but keep our speed the same. We need to keep our quarry from being startled, and we need to give Officer Kiyone the chance to prove herself. Make sure our safe distance is maintained." He said to the bridge at large, "This makes sense, heading for that area. Debris fields there shelter both independent miners, black marketeers, and petty crooks. Even though former officer Mihoshi made some raids there with Officer Kiyone, that was years ago, and today it would still be an excellent place to hide."

The communications officer said nervously to the Juraian intelligence officer, "Sir, GP HQ is calling again, urgently requesting to know our mission and its current status."

"On GP or Juraian authority?" the Juraian inquired.

"It is a GP officer requesting the information," the communications officer replied carefully and confusedly.

"Then my previous order stands, complete communications silence," the Juraian intelligence officer said unconcernedly. He reminded the bridge crew, "I understand your concerns, but our current mission will do a great deal to clear things up at the GP, and normal chains of command will be reestablished as soon as we know who is trustworthy. We are not monsters; we will bring Mihoshi to justice, and anyone who is her accomplice, even Officer Kiyone. So be alert; if either try to flee or have not returned to the GP shortly, we will move in. Otherwise, we shall simply accept the prisoner Mihoshi from Officer Kiyone, and all will be well. Now keep watching the homing device's signal."

Mihoshi hailed Kiyone as soon as they were within range. "Kiyone, I'm so glad you're all right!" she squealed.

"So am I, Mihoshi," Kiyone exhaled. "It's a good thing you didn't go. For a lot of reasons."

Ryo-ohki added herself to the conversation, and Ryoko used the channel to put in, "All right, now that we're back together, let's go, and fast."

"Go? Go where?" Nobuyuki asked from the background on Yukinojo, Mihoshi's ship. "Did we ever decide? What's the next step?"

"We can decide that later," Ryoko insisted.

"Now, look, I know I don't have much experience with being a fugitive," Nobuyuki held his ground, "but if we don't have a plan soon, we'll just become hunted animals and be done for. We need to figure out something now, while we can."

Yosho concurred, "Son, you're right. We need to have a council."

"Escape by committee?" Ryoko asked sarcastically. "An entire empire is hunting us, we don't have time for this!"

"Not to mention its police force," Kiyone reminded them. "Mihoshi, I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but they've arrested the Grand Marshal, and your brother. Not to mention many, many others. The GP, what there is left of it, is on Oda's side."

"Grandpa and Misao?" Mihoshi exclaimed. "And many more? What for?"

Ayeka said, "No doubt for supporting Father."

Ryoko said frustratedly, "Fine, look, maybe we need a powwow. Maybe we need to talk until our faces turn blue. But did it occur to none of you that Kiyone might have been followed?"

An officer reported, "Sir, Yagami has changed course after entering the Gamaris Wastes. It's moving past the center of the region and is on a course to exit the Wastes on the other side."

The Juraian sighed. "Kiyone, you disappoint me. Our mission now changes to one of seizure - we must advance to her position before any rebels near her think to split up in an attempt to avoid capture. Lieutenant," he said, turning to the GP officer who was the nominal captain of the ship, "this is your area of expertise. I leave the mission to you until the engagement is over."

He left the bridge as the lieutenant ordered all hands to battle stations.

"I was followed," Kiyone told them.

"You were?" Tenchi said in alarm.

"But it's all right," Kiyone reassured them.

"Oh, and how do you figure that?" Ryoko raged.

"I found the homing device they snuck aboard Yagami," Kiyone explained. "To keep from alerting me or anyone I'd meet, they needed to travel out of our sensor range, but that meant we'd be out of their sensor range, too. They needed that homing device so they could still know where I was. It was too suspicious to leave the homing device behind, so I kept it aboard, then sent it off towards a place they'd expect us to go, the first rendezvous point we considered."

"The Gamaris Wastes!" Mihoshi exclaimed.

Ayeka said in surprise, "My, that is quite clever, Kiyone. We are all indebted to you."

"I always wanted to see the Gamaris Wastes," Ryoko grumped, "This Uninhabitable Zone is lousy."

"It's a good thing intelligent people in this group are leading you," Ayeka told her.

"You'll need my street smarts yet," Ryoko told her.

Tenchi protested, "Hey, everyone, lay off each other. We need to have a serious talk now. Our lives are on the line, and we need to know what we're going to do next."

Next Chapter

Mihoshi wrings her hands nervously. "Oh dear," she says, "I hope Grandpa and Misao are going to be okay! They're police officers, not criminals! That Oda guy and those bodyguards are the ones who belong in jail. Dragonwiles was right, this was a sad chapter. Let's see what's happening in the next chapter-" She looks at her datapad to find the next chapter's script and wails, "Oh, no, it's not any better yet!" She makes an effort to pull herself together. "It'll just have to get better sometime, I suppose. The next chapter is 'No Need For Finding The Path Forward.'"

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.

"This is all loosely based on a Tenchi Universe episode in this arc in which Kiyone returns to GP Headquarters, has a meeting with the unctuous Juraian intelligence officer, and is nearly arrested by Mitsuki before being rescued by Mihoshi. I modified large portions of the action and added a bit more introspection on Kiyone's part, although as I recall, she was fairly introspective during the episode.

"I also modified Mituski's character so she is slightly less disagreeable. In the anime episode, as I recall it, she flouts her own rise much less subtly, and actually has the bad taste to hint that Kiyone's star has fallen. I tried to make this Mitsuki annoying in the same way, but muted slightly by not realizing that her ambition and constant attention to everyone's status and political fortunes is showing through what she believes is innocent conversation.

"I believe I hammed up the obnoxious nature of the Juraian intelligence officer. As I recall, surprisingly enough, he really did wear sunglasses all the time, even in the darkened rooms he favored. I don't think he played psychological games with the seating arrangements, though. I made mine do that and his other tricks partly because he doesn't care much about others, but mostly because he feels more important now that he is a favored insider, and is even beginning to relish the unofficial but quite real role of inquisitor. Naturally he wouldn't have been quite so grating before the coup, when he was just another Juraian intelligence official stationed at the GP.

"I made up the characters of Zirkman, Ol'veold, and Adlei, as well as the rank of Investigator, just so Mitsuki and Kiyone could have conversation.

"Capt. Yura is a character I made up for this story. He is not related to, nor is he supposed to have the same personality or role as Yura from the Sand Village in Naruto Shippuden or Yura of the Demon Hair from InuYasha, and I don't own either of those characters or the series they appear in.

"Lord Yamato is also my character. I got the idea for his name from Kira Yamato of Gundam Seed, but again, there is no relation or similarity of personality or role of any sort, and I don't own the character or the series.

"I made up Oda Kamiki Jurai. The Oda part of his name is based on the arch-nemesis in 'Sengoku Basara', who is (very?) loosely based on the historical Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga. I don't own the 'Oda' character, or the series 'Sengoku Basara,' and clearly I don't own the historical personage. The Kamiki clan is one of the four royal clans in the Tenchi canon, and also in Tenchi canon, members of those four clans tend to have their clan name as their middle name and Jurai as their last name. In this arc in Tenchi Universe, Kagato is supposed to be the archenemy. Unlike in the OVA, he is a former Juraian nobleman who has been presumed dead for many years. As in the OVA, he and Yosho crossed swords and was defeated. My Kagato is a conglomeration of those the Universe and OVA versions, and I was nearly ready to employ time travel just to make him the villain in this arc, but was wisely stopped by beta readers. Besides, this arc didn't require Kagato as such, but just a nobleman of suitable temperament. I'm disinclined to reveal much more about Oda at this point.

"I also made up the locations the Gamaris Wastes, the Uninhabitable Zone, and the Dek'lar region.

"One of the few things I did not make up was that the families of Kuramitsu and Jurai had a rivalry, and possibly even wars. I don't recall all the details, since I think I got it from Wikipedia. It may or may not have been mentioned or hinted at in some Tenchi series. I don't recall having heard about it in the series, and was a bit surprised when I read about it on Wikipedia, but after some reflection, I liked it. I thought it made sense that the rich and powerful house of Kuramitsu would clash with the rich and powerful house of Jurai before reaching peaceful coexistence and friendship. I'm assuming that in order to get where they are in Tenchi's present, the Juraians had to be quite aggressive at one time, to expand their influence. Whether the Kuramitsu were establishing themselves at that time or already had wealth and power, they would see Juraians as rivals. By the time of this story, I'm assuming that those grudges are long past, and those who truly know the Kuramitsu would see that the conspirators' newly hatched tales of Kuramitsu conspiracy against Jurai are entirely false.

Chapter 50 Main Chapters Chapter 52