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Chapter 61 Main Chapters Chapter 63

Chapter 62: No Need for Checkpoints

Ryoko hovers in the air. "Hey, everyone, I've got a scene to do, so let's make this DJ part go quickly."

Ayeka says from her seat in the studio, "Perhaps you ought to actually rehearse them, so you might be more prepared."

"I'm talented enough to do improv," Ryoko disagrees. "Anyhow, today's theme song is 'B. T.' It's from the '.hack/SIGN' Original Soundtrack #1." She adds, speaking extremely quickly, "Naturally, Dragonwiles isn't saying he owns the song, the soundtrack, '.hack/SIGN', or 'Tenchi Muyo.' As we've already stated a million times!" She mashes a button and literally flies out of the room. The melancholy violin strains of the song begin to play.

Ayeka found Azaka and Kamadaki standing together the next morning, looking at one of the forests that was part of the space tree. They were staying on this tree until they reached the space tree where her uncle and cousin, head officials of the security cordon, waited.

Ayeka walked up to Azaka and Kamadaki and returned their bow. "I must apologize to you both," Ayeka said humbly. "So many times, I thought through what I would need to explain to you, how much is different between your time and this one, yet I did not do nearly enough. I take responsibility for what transpired yesterday."

"Please, your Majesty," Kamadaki insisted, "do not trouble yourself."

"It is all in the past now," Azaka assured her, "and, my lady, we shall put forth our own efforts to prevent a repetition of those circumstances."

Ayeka nodded, agreeing, "Thank you. May I then suggest another subject? I do not wish to pry, but your stories have inspired many. There are many things I would wish to ask you, but the greatest is what your reasons were when you determined to slay the Vandrusk of Arear. Many have opinions on this matter, but I longed to hear it from you, directly."

"Ah," Azaka said, "the Vandrusk. That was quite a time, wasn't it, Kamadaki?"

"Yes, I recall," Kamadaki nodded. "You had divers reservations about killing it."

"As did yourself!" Azaka insisted.

"Being too eager for more glory," Kamadaki said thoughtfully, "I prejudged the situation. You convinced me to think through our actions more carefully."

Azaka said to Ayeka, "Your Highness, in this very moment have I myself learned something about this matter, for I had not thought Kamadaki over eager for battle. Yet it was necessary in the end. True, the Juraians in the nearby village had broken their troth with the Vandrusk. Still, that was no excuse for its actions afterwards."

Kamadaki furthered, "We were sent to resolve the matter, fully authorized to offer reparations to the creature, yet it used the negotiations as a pretense for further rampages. Upon our refusal to accede to his unjustified claims, it set out to take what it desired by force."

"Our first duty was to protect our people," Azaka nodded. "We had hoped to restore the peace with the Vandrusk, but the villagers had destroyed that hope."

Kamadaki reminded him, "The Vandrusk was all too willing to maim that hope," and Azaka nodded.

"I thank you greatly," Ayeka said sincerely.

"You are most welcome, Highness," Kamadaki told her warmly.

"Did you have other questions, Your Majesty?" Azaka asked kindly.

"If only I had the time, I would have unnumbered questions," she laughed ruefully.

"So long as you have leisure, Your Highness, we are at your disposal," Kamadaki said encouragingly.

She nodded and accepted their offer.

Tenchi walked down a path in the guest compound of the space tree. He looked up to find Ryoko before him, and, seeing that they were alone, asked urgently, "Look, you aren't mad at the new Azaka and Kamadaki, right?"

"No," Ryoko told him with a smile, "I'm actually relieved. I do have a reputation to uphold, you know. They weren't responding at all until I dropped my hint!"

"Oh, no," Tenchi groaned.

"It just felt so weird having somebody in the room not fear me on the first meeting! Even you feared me when we first met, remember?" Ryoko teased.

Tenchi coaxed her, "Just behave around them, OK? You can, I know you can, I've seen you do it. Just don't start anything okay?"

"I won't start anything if they don't," Ryoko said, surprisingly agreeable. "They had nothing against me until I let them know what I used to be. Those two were prepared to accept me, and I could see them trying so adorably hard to accept me after they got the truth, so I'll accept them."

"Good," Tenchi agreed, off-balance. He'd expected to use more cajoling and to have to put up with more whining.

"As long as there are no swords in my back, I'm fine with them," Ryoko declared.

"Ryoko," Tenchi groaned.

"Just kidding," Ryoko snickered. Tenchi sighed. Ryoko looked at him strangely and said, "We don't have to do the original plan, you know."

"Huh?" Tenchi said.

"I know, sorry, different subject, but there might not be another chance," Ryoko told him. "Look, the original plan was to go in, guns blazing, or swords swinging, kill Oda and as few other people as we can, and the good guys win. Yay. Well, we made it, surprisingly, but the odds are even worse from this point on. We can still get out of this. We can still be honorable as we do, too. We did the best we could, but there's a good chance we'll kill way more people than you want us to, and apart from that, we'll probably all end up dead."

"We can do this, Ryoko," Tenchi insisted, hardly believing she was saying this now.

Ryoko had a deadly serious look in her eyes, however. "Imagine a fleetful of people only slightly less tough than the worst opponents you've had to face. Now imagine that fleetful of people is guarding a planetful of really tough people. That's what we're facing now. Even if we win, there's going to be dead bodies on both sides. So, we tried that plan, and it's not working. Let's go with my plan, back when we left Earth. Let's leave, let's go beyond the reach of the Juraian Empire, and start a new life."

"Ryoko, we're almost here!" Tenchi expostulated. "We can't do that now! Why, we'd retrace our steps through some of the most dangerous areas, where the 'really tough people' are in fleets hunting us! We've come this far, we have to go through with it!"

Astonishing Tenchi, Ryoko persisted in entirely sincere disagreement. "Don't Earth people have a saying like 'Don't throw good money after bad?' I've got to give everyone credit, and of course my little Ryo-Ohki's done an amazing job helping. We've made it safely. But past here, we almost certainly cannot be safe. We will get hurt, we can die. If we all go on from here, someone on our side will die, and I know that will hurt you."

Tenchi was shaking his head, but Ryoko said in a hard voice, "You know I watched centuries of Earth history from that cave Yosho holed me in, right? I've seen the expression on good little soldier boys' faces when they lose a friend on the battlefield for the first time. I hated everything back then, and I still felt sorry for them. What would I do if I saw that in your eyes?"

"You-" Tenchi stopped himself, seeing Ryoko starting to grow angry. He put up his hands and said, "Okay, you're serious. I really don't know why you're saying this now, but okay, you are. But I can't do it, Ryoko. And you know it can't work. Ayeka, Grandpa, Mihoshi, they can't just leave this alone. And what are we going to do about Kiyone and Sasami and Dad now that they're on their own?"

"At least they aren't flying into an enemy base," Ryoko noted. "They aren't exactly safe, but they're not going into obvious peril. We could catch up to them. But the others, no. I have my differences with Ayeka, but I do understand she can't walk away from this. Everyone's gotta do what they've gotta do - but there's no reason you and I have to do it with them. I'll give her credit - Ayeka only wants willing followers. If we go, she'll accept it."

"I can't abandon any of you," Tenchi said, feeling small and lost. "Ryoko, please stop."

"It wouldn't be abandoning because it was never your fight to begin with," Ryoko insisted. "I've watched you since you were a baby, Tenchi. I know you're not a Juraian. Oh, sure, you've got some amount of their blood, but in your heart you're human. All your life you've thought of yourself as one, and honestly, you have made yourself one in so many tiny decisions. You put down roots, Tenchi, and those roots are on Earth. Besides, your grandfather came to Earth just so he wouldn't be king. This was never your Empire to protect. To guilt you into an obligation to it would be wrong."

"Ryoko, I can't look away from this problem now that I've seen it," Tenchi insisted. "And even if you're right, I can't go back to Earth - they'll find us!"

"It'll be hard, but there are frontiers beyond Juraian reach," Ryoko told him. "But you shouldn't have to die for an empire you were never part of!"

"I'm not going to die, Ryoko," Tenchi pleaded.

"How do you know?" Ryoko insisted. "Your Wings are great, but you'll get tired eventually. You'll see the carnage, and you'll get weary of that, too. And even if you win, you'll feel hollow having to leave these people just when they need someone to lead them in rebuilding."

Tenchi hadn't thought of these things before, but was still unconvinced. Ryoko balled her fists, looked at the floor, then back at Tenchi and said, "There's another power you don't have despite your Wings, Tenchi. You can't stop your friends. You're too nice. I'm not. I'm a vicious space pirate. I could make you come with me, without killing you, or even hurting you. I could take you away, where no one would ever hunt you down or make you suffer."

He didn't feel fear - or at least, the fear was very different from the fear of battle. It was the fear of loss. Tenchi stared at her and said, "Ryoko, I have to do this. Won't you help us?"

Her face fell in pain and sorrow before she stalked away.

Some hours later, Ayeka spoke with her uncle Hayate and cousin Sagami aboard their space tree, saying, "Uncle, it is with great joy that I see you safe."

"And you, my dear niece and nephew," he replied, bowing to her and Yosho and Tenchi. He nodded to Mihoshi and Washu, who saluted and waved respectively. "Sasami is safe as well, I hear?"

"Indeed, uncle," Yosho replied.

"That is best. I wish we could have told her, but the Takebes are safe as well," her uncle informed them.

Ayeka gasped, "This is indeed unexpected good news."

"Yes, it was quite exciting," he nodded. "Lady Takebe and her father's space tree, and some friends of theirs, came through just before you did. I'm not sure what they were planning, but fortunately it was my battle group that they encountered on the border." He grinned broadly as he confided, "I asked them to lend their assistance within the security cordon."

Yosho began to chortle, and Ayeka asked in shock, "Uncle, you asked them to hunt for themselves?"

"I sent them to coordinates I'll show you in a moment, as reinforcements for the increased security Lord Oda is demanding," Hayate grinned. "But your cousin came up with the best part. We'll be covering your entry by telling them to wait for further reinforcements!"

"So we enter in search of ourselves? Most clever, cousin," Yosho chuckled again.

Sagami bowed and said, "Father is too generous. I'm just happy to do my part for you both."

Ayeka couldn't help a smile of her own, even though she was worried. Uncle was only in this position because he had an absolutely spotless reputation, and loyalty so strong that Oda, though he had ruthlessly locked away many, felt secure leaving him in place. Her uncle was risking much for them. Further, her uncle's actions was surely troubling his conscience. He and Sagami had probably had to forge several records to cover what they had done so far, let alone what they would do soon. She hoped it was not too great a burden for their souls.

Sagami's space tree key grew warm. He grasped it, and his brow furrowed in concern. "Father, Lord Oda has ordered me to join a patrol that will be entering the security cordon within the next few hours."

"He's changed the duty roster again?" their uncle asked, concerned. He then remembered his guests and explained reassuringly to Yosho and Ayeka, "It's happened before, with less notice than this - he simply likes to assert his control."

Still grasping his key, Sagami said with concern, "He has also sent the patrol leader early, for a surprise inspection of the ship. We need to hide our guests, and I had a place ready, but the patrol leader is already in range to detect teleportation."

"Couldn't we just walk to it?" Mihoshi asked, confused.

"That was the beauty of the idea," Sagami grinned ruefully. "There is no direct access to it. My space tree has hollowed out a cave near the engines and main reservoir. It would have enough air, heat, and water for you, while the engines' energy should mask your presence. Without a pathway to it, the patrol leader's inspection teams would have no reason to suspect it even exists. But I suppose we shall just have to hollow out a tunnel to it and take the risk."

"Wait, I've got a better idea," Washu said suddenly, and began to run out of the room.

"Won't the patrol leader detect emissions from that, too?" Yosho called after her.

"At least he won't be looking for these emissions!" she called back over her shoulder.

"What is she planning, Your Highnesses?" Hayate asked.

Yosho was about to admit he didn't know when Washu poked her head back in the doorway and urgently gestured for them to come.

They all followed her to their guest chambers, and to the only piece of luggage that Washu had brought all the way from Earth - her latest dimensional door. As she tapped commands into her phantasmal laptop, the door glowed, and she explained, "I'm pretty sure I've got the bugs worked out of this one. I just need the coordinates of the hole, and we can use this to get in there, without a trace. Or very little trace."

"Then we should go before the patrol leader comes," Yosho decided.

Sagami talked quietly with Washu, then said, "My space tree will signal you once we are near the Takebes. You should be able to use this contraption to board one of their space trees, and be much safer there."

"Our heartfelt thanks," Ayeka told him.

Washu placed the dimensional door flush against the wall and said, "All right, everyone through!" She opened the door carefully, revealing a dirt wall and ceiling, and a nearby stream. Tenchi and the others proceeded through it rapidly, while Hayate and Sagami saw them off.

Next Chapter

Hayate and Sagami stand on the stage together. "Father," Sagami comments, "I suppose we've been doing guard duty so long that we know how to defeat our own procedures!"

"Either that, or this isn't the first time this has happened," Hayate says mysteriously.

"Father?" Sagami asks, taken aback.

Hayate holds his expression a bit longer before guffawing, "Fooled you!"

Sagami shakes his head and smiles ruefully.

Hayate recovers himself and says, "Dragonwiles has asked us to announce the next chapter."

Sagami continues, "It's called, 'No Need For the Unexpected.' Look forward to it!"

Dragonwiles adds, "Thank you all for your patience in waiting for this chapter, which took me longer than usual to get ready. Some of this chapter's content that was not yet ready, I actually moved to the next chapter. I may try making the chapters as short as this one ended up being, or shorter, to get them ready sooner. Still, I expect that the next chapter will take me at least my minimum usual time - about a month and a half."

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.

"I know of no canon being known as a Vandrusk of Arear - I just made it up on the spur of the moment, as something that might've taken place in Azaka and Kamadaki's lives.

"Sasami and Aykea have an uncle and cousin in the Universe arc who have some authority over the security cordon. The cousin is named Sagami but I don't recall the uncle's name, so I named him Hayate, after both a Hayate in 'Naruto' and a Hayate in 'Pretear.' (Of course I don't own any of those.) The actual episode in which they appear, and in which Tenchi and the others get through a checkpoint, is extremely, extremely different from this chapter, to the point where it bears little or no resemblance. I had been planning to make it more similar, but this is what I ended up with."

Chapter 61 Main Chapters Chapter 63