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Chapter 71 Main Chapters Chapter 73

Chapter 72: No Need for Love's Pangs

Ayeka sits in the studio and announces, "I have been appointed DJ for this chapter by Dragonwiles. As such, I have chosen for everyone the song 'Shinkai no Kodoku' from 'Gundam SEED Destiny", neither of which, of course Dragonwiles makes claim upon."

The music, bright, strong, and full of promise, but also of tragedy, heartbreak, and deep sorrow, echoes throughout the studio.

Ken-Ohki, in his humanoid form, walked back from the bar where he had been ostensibly been having a drink after arriving on this remote world. He returned to the hotel in the disreputable part of town where he, Ryoko, Nagi, and Washu were staying. After discussing the intelligence he'd gathered from the rebels who frequented the bar, Nagi looked at Washu and asked, "Have we covered everything?"

"Everything, no," Washu said, tapping her chin, "but we have confirmed most of what I expected to learn here."

"My offer still stands," Ken-Ohki noted.

"I thank you again, but I can't take you up on it," Washu told him. "I believe you could get into their inner circles, but that's not the sort of intel I need. I'm trusting Ayeka and the Juraians to handle that part of this problem."

Nagi frowned. "True, Ken-Ohki hasn't run infiltration like this before, and we're both used to chasing crooks, not rebels. Still, even Juraian intel might have a hard time doing what we might be able to do easily. I'm not sure what I'll say if someone on our side dies trying to get knowledge we could've gotten at far less risk."

Washu shook her head. "You're both right, but I've got to focus on what only I can do. Bad as it hurts knowing I could do more here, and that I'm leaving a lot of work for my friends, it'd hurt worse if I didn't take responsibility for what I can do."

Nagi made an affirmative grunt, then added, "We came to help you do it, as far as we can."

"Thank you," Washu told her. "So it's time for the next step we discussed before."

Ken-Ohki shot a glance at the pensive Ryoko. Ryoko waved him off, saying, "I'm just thoughtful tonight. No objections here."

"So we're off again," Washu said, standing up.

Lady Tatuski looked at the various department heads of the Juraian intelligence apparatus before summarizing the meeting so far by saying, "Chatter, informants, agents, surveillance - all indicate that Z will make a big move, or more likely, several big moves, soon. Knowing what moves he will make, and where and when he will make them, is our responsibility to learn, and might result in the difference between victory and defeat.

"Our first priority is therefore to learn where and what he will target. Consider and pursue every lead for obtaining this information, and report what you find to the group. That's all for now."

"My lady," the department heads chorused before standing with her and exiting the room in knots that chattered in low voices.

That had been a particularly nice visit to Earth, Sasami thought to herself as she strode along the corridors of the palace. Now that she was older, it wasn't dignified to skip, but there was no one about except the bodyguard on duty (it was the fleshly Kamadaki's watch) following her, and she felt so good! She'd gotten to see Tenchi, and Yosho, and Mr. Masaki, and her pets, and Ryoko and Washu, and Ryo-Ohki and Nagi and Ken-Ohki and Zen-Ohki, and Tenchi, and - oh, she'd thought of his name twice. Still, it was a very good visit.

She really ought to visit more often, though of course it was hard with her responsibilities as a princess. Still, it was always so very pleasant! They were so very nice of her to make her feel at home when she kept dropping in on them. Not that she didn't do her part with the cooking. She saw the containers in the rubbish bin that had held the food they had to eat when she wasn't around, and that food might as well have been rubbish. Really, three eligible guys like that, why were they all still single? Cooking whenever she came over, she almost felt a little like Tenchi's wife - her face colored slightly. Of course, she was happy to do it, and in some ways she was more like a little sister to him than a wife. And not that she'd really mind, either - he was cute. It was surprising he still didn't have a girlfriend. Whoever did catch his eye would be a lucky girl, for sure.

Sasami stopped suddenly. What was she thinking of? They were just thoughts, weren't they? None of this was relevant to her, surely. But then, why was she thinking so much about it?

What if the possibility she had assumed for years was impossible was just waiting for her to take it? If she were to find some way to confess her feelings - she paused before walking on, taken aback by both how much she did not, and yet how much she did, want to do exactly that. Or what if - but it could hardly be believed - Tenchi were actually to confess to her: that he loved her?

She stopped short, momentarily stunned by the wild hope and elation that surged in her just from the possibility that simply hadn't occurred to her before. A moment later she had to force herself to start walking again, as phantasmal fingers began to worm their way into her gut. For Sasami knew that if she were that worked up over the possibility, even if it never came to be, she had to assume that she, at least, was coming to love Tenchi - and that meant things had to change. Actions had to be taken.

Sasami shook her head. She'd been unfair already, and would be even more so if she carried on as she had after this revelation. Lord Koji was still her betrothed. He had offered to help break the engagement, and she had said nothing either way to him. While he was still held hostage by the arrangement neither of them had agreed to, she was pining for another man? A petulant voice in her head asked how she knew that Lord Koji was not longing for another woman. Tsunami shook her head. It would actually be reasonable if he developed feelings for someone else just as she had. More importantly, it was irrelevant to what she needed to do now. It was high time she either accepted or declined his kind offer, and having finally realized what her own selfish desires were, she might as well do it now.

But there was something else she had to first, she realized, slowing her pace. Before she went to Lord Koji, she had to go to the king - the queen, rather. Her sister. She had at last to take that final, real step, the one that she knew would break her sister's heart. Had Sasami never realized what she felt, she could have gone on innocently on her trips to Earth. Knowing what she did now, however, she realized she had to go to Ayeka, as well.

This could not be, it couldn't be done! It would mean finally being the betrayer, finally being that thing she had never wanted to be - the woman who stole her sister's guy! She could never do that to Ayeka!

But either she must, or she must never go back to Earth again. In any case, she had to set poor Lord Koji free. It was all so unfair. Lord Koji was the one good match her father had made for her and her sister - and now she was going to destroy that legacy.

A memory brought up another bitter pill to swallow down. Sasami had told her sister that she was going to find a better man than Ayeka's own betrothed, but now that she had, she was planning to take him from Ayeka. That just couldn't be!

And yet, it already was, at least in her own heart. If she were not going to kill this passion in this moment and forevermore, then the only honorable thing to do was to go to Ayeka.

That, surely, would break her sister's spirit, though, would it not? Sasami hadn't seen much of Ayeka lately, and when she had, Ayeka always seemed so tired, so laden with cares, and beneath it all, so sad. Sasami wanted to shower her with happiness, but she knew this news would lay waste to her heart.

It wasn't fair! It wasn't right! Ayeka was beautiful, she was strong, she had always been a princess in heart and position, now a queen!. They should never have had to compete for the same guy; men should've come crowding after Ayeka! Even if they had both striven after the same man's heart, Ayeka should've been the one to win it.

Perhaps that was the key, then. Perhaps, Sasami thought, declaring her own intentions would inspire Ayeka to finally return to the fight and go after Tenchi. She could live with that, even if it broke her own heart. But even as she thought it, Sasami realized the unlikelihood. All her sister's responsibilities kept her here. And Ayeka had never spoken of going to Earth, or, for that matter, Tenchi of returning to Jurai.

Tsunami sighed. It wasn't even as though those problems were truly insurmountable, either. But there was no way she could make them choose each other, or even Tenchi to choose her, no matter how desirable either outcome would be. There was only the choice that she had to make. That choice, though - with how much sorrow did it fill her, nonetheless!

"Ah, Sasami," Ayeka greeted her sister with relief. "It is so good to see you again." Ayeka offered a greeting to the fleshly Kamadaki trailing her. She guessed from his face and voice during his response, though both appeared normal enough, that he sensed something amiss with Sasami.

"And you, Ayeka," Sasami agreed.

Ayeka asked, "You have received the information about Z?"

Sasami agreed, and Ayeka took a moment to quickly look around the room. Seeing the only others were some of her most trusted bodyguards, she continued, "There is more you must know, but make sure you only tell Azaka, Ryoko, or Little Washu. Kiyone and Mihoshi, I have already told. Z is said to be able to make his own Light-Hawk Wings."

Sasami breathed in. "If that is the case, he could match our strongest warriors!"

Ayeka nodded gravely. "It is only a rumor, and I have confidence in my skills and those of our people, but this may be a challenge only Prince Tenchi could face, which is why I have asked him to be our champion, matching his wings against Z's."

"I understand," Sasami said, starting to feel dread of the upcoming path upon hearing Tenchi's name again.

"There are so many that I must ask to lend me power in this struggle," Ayeka said morosely. She looked Sasami in the eye and asked, in a different, stately, and careful tone, "If I were to ask you to consult with Lady Tsunami on this matter, on what information or strength she were willing to provide, what would you say, and what do you think she would say?"

As Ayeka had anticipated, Sasami spoke without hesitation - at least since they were in private chambers - and replied, "I am afraid I would say that there are old obligations I have laid myself under, dear sister. As I hope to ever be privileged to remain in your confidences and affections, so I hope to remain in those of others to whom I was given and have given myself.

"But I am still on your side, and that of Prince Tenchi and our friends. So I will say that much of what you would wish to know are new developments, so you are actually more informed than Lady Tsunami. Further, if it came to it, I would do all that I could to bear the brunt of suffering, taking it on myself so that those precious to me had to bear as little of it as possible."

Rising, Ayeka exclaimed, "Thank you, dear sister! I needed those words. But I am upsetting you, and have not let you speak concerning what you came to talk about."

Sasami brushed away a tear and said in a choked voice, "I must cause you suffering, despite what I would wish. I must discuss with my queen the arrangement of my matrimony."

Ayeka had long been expecting the conversation that followed - perhaps even dimly when Sasami had departed on that first visit for Earth after Jurai was retaken. She managed to not quite cry during it.

The investigation into Dr. Clay had an unexpected breakthrough one morning when Mihoshi made an exclamation of delight to Kiyone.

"It's from Daisuke," she said excitedly.

"Daisuke?" Kiyone inquired with a raised eyebrow.

Mihoshi continued reading the message with great interest.

Kiyone sighed.

"Oh, right," Mihoshi said after a moment. "I forgot to tell you, my mistake. I did tell you I put in the request for data from Dr. Clay's navicomputer, right?" Kiyone nodded.

"Right?" Mihoshi asked again, her eyes still glued to the message.

"Yes," Kiyone replied aloud.

"Yeah," Mihoshi continued, "so it turns out that since it was hard to break the encryption, and the ship went through the confiscation procedures and was going to be deployed by the GP, they stopped the decryption efforts and replaced it with an off-the-shelf unit."

She frowned in concentration as she tapped something into a computer. Kiyone stared at her and finally said, "That sounds like bad news."

"Oh, yeah," Mihoshi agreed. "But they put Dr. Clay's navicomputer in the cybersecurity unit's queue for decryption, only they got a terrible backlog, and only now got around to it. I only found out about it from Daisuke from cybersecurity when the request finally got routed to him. I think he might've gotten it moved up in the queue for us."

Kiyone smiled ruefully; that certainly sounded like the GP.

"Anyhow, the decryption's done, so he was giving me access to the data. It's interesting stuff! Say, this planet here, weren't you telling me they have one of the oldest Lady Tsunami legends?"

Kiyone stood up and walked over to look at the screen Mihoshi was pointing to, and agreed.

"Well," Mihoshi said triumphantly, "Dr. Clay traveled there more often than you'd expect, given he had no business interests there. Ooh, and would you look at that." She rested her finger on the date of the last trip, the gleam of discovery in her eye. Kiyone returned it.

The date of the last trip was shortly before Dr. Clay had sent that first robot after Washu.

It had taken a few days to get to the planet, and when they arrived, they'd tried doing a few high-powered scans, but found nothing before it was time for a rest shift. The beginning of their next duty shift found Mihoshi putting the bowl that had held her breakfast into the washer on Yagami. Most of Mihoshi was actually thinking about the case, but the dish escaped the usual consequences of Mihoshi's preoccupation and reached the washer unharmed.

"I don't get it," Mihoshi said aloud, more confused than frustrated. "There's nobody here in this section of the planet, but the navicomputer clearly showed that he came as though meeting with someone on a fairly regular basis. The orbits make sense for these ruins, but there's no no one to meet, and he's not an archaeologist. A rich retiree visiting a historic location of something he was interested in, OK, but this was odd. Odd, but not criminal or rebellious odd, either."

Kiyone, who had already put her dishes in, pointed out, "That's all true. Maybe this was a good clandestine meeting spot, though."

Mihoshi shook her head, "I'd pick someplace more conducive, and actually more public, too. Feels like you could get ambushed anytime here."

"Agreed," Kiyone said emphatically. "So if he was meeting someone here, that means there must be some requirement this place meets that we aren't seeing."

"I guess," Mihoshi allowed. "I hadn't even gotten that far. I was just hoping some evidence of who he met was left behind. Whoever it was probably stopped coming after Dr. Clay's arrest. I hope."

"Agreed again," Kiyone affirmed. "But if the other party didn't leave, there's probably some reason he or she couldn't."

"Mm," Mihoshi agreed. They looked at each other, and by further agreement, this time unspoken, they headed down to the planet to explore the area on foot.

Dr. Clay's orbits of the planet suggested he had been visiting some of the most impressive, and last remaining, ruins on the planet, ruins which had once been the capital of a long-deceased civilization. The area was deserted and dry. Some walls had crumbled, while others were still partly intact. Occasional signs of various archaeological digs were frequent, but none were being actively worked. Many of these digs themselves were so old and disused they looked like ruins themselves.

Visible from fairly far away was a building that had a large dome, or rather, was almost entirely a dome. Getting the feeling that they were being watched, they murmured a moment, then continued their search in a way that took them towards the dome. Although it could house an ambush, it might also provide useful cover from an ambush in the city. Moreover, it was one of the few intact structures, and thus seemed to be among the more likely places for Dr. Clay to have met his mysterious contact.

The building was deserted, but there were plentiful footprints amidst the dust and dirt. Mihoshi and Kiyone entered cautiously, giving their eyes time to get used to the shade. Walking down the entry hall, they came to the dome itself, which was completely enclosed, cavernous, and dim. The detectives' flashlights showed that the footsteps went about a third of the way towards the dome's center, at which point the tracks became confused - apparently a great many people had walked in here, then back out again. Kiyone didn't know much about tracking, but it appeared that the people who had entered had simply stood at roughly the same point in the dome, then left again.

"Could archaeologists have left these?" Kiyone murmured to Mihoshi.

Mihoshi disagreed, "There haven't been any official digs for awhile. I'd almost say we found our meeting site, except who were these people talking to? There's no opposite set of tracks for the person on the other side of the conversation, and the dust in the rest of the room is undisturbed. I don't see where they might've set up a camera and microphone, either - and why would they bother to make one levitate if they were going to leave their own footprints?"

Kiyone remembered that Juraians used levitating communication devices, but that was less reasonable than the other possibility - "Maybe it's a dead-drop."

"Hm," Mihoshi considered, looking around, "but there's nothing nearby to conceal it. Not any furniture or ornamentation anywhere, really." She probed the ground where many people had walked with a nightstick. "And it probably can't be buried much deeper than this without leaving signs whenever they have to dig it up."

"I guess that leaves the ceiling right above this spot," Kiyone suggested.

The entry hall would admit their mechas, so they came back in them and flew them to the ceiling. They used external floodlights on their mechas to illuminate the ceiling, and probed it with their mechanized gauntlets, but found nothing. They spread out to other areas of the ceiling just in case. Finding nothing, they alit again.

"So close I can taste it," Mihoshi murmured.

Ayeka signaled at the door to Lady Misaki's room. She waited until it opened, then greeted her in a voice that could not hide the grief, "My mommy."

Lady Misaki smiled sadly at her and said, "My Ayeka. Why don't you come in?"

The queen went in to the queen mother. There were many more words that evening, and those words were both the least and the most important things.

Next Chapter

Dragonwiles swivels his head around the stage, flicking his tongue out to try to catch even a whiff of scent. He hadn't been sure he trusted any of Tenchi's female friends to do the preview of the next chapter after revealing Sasami's feelings for him. Dragonwiles was beginning to discover that he trusted them even less when out of sight.

"My son's finally getting the popularity he deserves!" Nobuyuki crows.

"He's been pretty popular nearly the whole story," Yosho reminds him, "it's just that not much happened with it until now."

"I'm finally gonna be a grandfather!" Nobuyuki exults.

"Don't count your grandchildren before they hatch," Dragonwiles cautions, still mistrustfully searching the room.

Irked, Nobuyuki huffs, "Tsch! I was having a normal father's reaction to this situation! Please stop making it weird!"

"In all fairness," Yosho pointed out, "she hasn't even confessed her feelings to him yet."

"OK," Nobuyuki allows, "but this is at least a step in the right direction."

"Indeed," Yosho affirms. "Hopefully the next chapter will also be a step in the right direction. It's 'No Need for Sharpening Swords'."

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.

"In the Tenchi OVA, beings tend to meet with Lady Tokimi in the midst of a galaxy and/or miscellaneous debris from combat (and other things?) apparently being dragged in her wake. They meet her in some sort of odd building and/or audience hall. I thought it might be interesting if the audience hall were actually on a planet. Partly this was because although it was an intriguing and alien idea from the OVA, a galaxy is still an awfully big thing to tow around for no apparent reason. Also, I'm fairly sure it would have rather large gravitational effects on things Lady Tokimi passed, or possibly even places she was going. Perhaps she wouldn't care, but it seemed likely to destroy our galaxy in a way that Tenchi and the gang simply couldn't prevent. Also, if Lady Tokimi is bothering to intervene in any part of our cosmos in a non-destructive way, it seems unlikely that she'd bestir herself to go someplace and then let get it ripped apart by the gravitational forces of a galaxy she tows. So I put her building on a planet.

"Also, Lord Koji is not from any Tenchi canon, but it makes sense to me that if Ayeka already has a betrothed, that Sasami might as well. Similarly, Daisuke from cybersecurity is an original character as well. I think I named him after Daisuke Niwa from 'D. N. Angel', but maybe that's just where I heard the name.

"Finally, I hope that you enjoy this Christmas gift. I intend to continue this story, with the next posting likely coming some time from now. So until then, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Oh, and a Happy New Year."

Chapter 71 Main Chapters Chapter 73