The Harem Saga

EPISODE 1 Kime

focus n 1: the concentration of attention or energy on something [syn: focusing, focussing, centering] 2: maximum clarity or distinctness of an image rendered by an optical system : "in focus"; "out of focus" 3: maximum clarity or distinctness of an idea; "the controversy brought clearly into focus an important difference of opinion" 4: a central point or locus of bacterial growth in an organism [syn: nidus] 5: special emphasis attached to something [syn: stress] 6: a point of convergence of light (or other radiation) or a point from which it diverges [syn: focal point] 7: a fixed reference point of one's attention on something [syn: concentrate, center, pore, rivet]

ACT 1 - SATURDAY MORNING

"You want to do what?" Tenchi asked, nearly spitting out a mouthful of his breakfast.

"We want to hypnotize you," Washu replied. "I wish to study the Lighthawk Wings under a controlled environment."

"And I'm concerned about your failure to control the Tenchi-ken," Yosho said. "Your recent confrontation with Lord Seriyu left much to be desired."

Tenchi looked skeptical. "And what kind of suggestions are you eager to plant in my head?"

"I swear I will only ask questions. No suggestions. Besides, your grandfather will be right there with you, just to keep things on the up-and-up."

"I dunno..."

"Aw-w-w, c'mon, Tenchi, it might be kinda fun!" Ryoko prodded. "Maybe I could ask a couple of questions...?"

"No," replied Washu.

Ayeka interjected. "Can we come along and simply observe?"

"Yes," Washu answered, "but only on two conditions."

"What are those?"

"Keep quiet and stay out of the way. And there will be absolutely no bickering between you two," Washu said, looking pointedly at Ryoko and Ayeka. "I won't have his concentration disturbed." She turned towards Tenchi. "What do you say, Tenchi?"

To be honest, Tenchi wasn't in favor of it. Things happened down in Washu's lab that could get rather wild. However, since Yosho was going to be present, the chances of Washu trying to pull something were reduced. "Sure," he said nervously.

############

Tenchi's breakfast sat like a lump in his stomach, and he wished he hadn't eaten so much. His chair was reasonably comfortable, but he wasn't: Washu's cavernous lab was dark, except for a few portable lights clustered around his seat, which put him in the middle of a light cone. Washu's workstation was just outside this light cone, and Yosho sat on a stool next to her. Beyond them sat Ryoko, Ayeka, Sasami, and Mihoshi. They whispered among themselves, watching Washu adjust monitors and direct sensor arrays around the darkened ceiling.

Finally, Washu walked over to Tenchi and handed him an odd-looking helmet. "Here," she ordered, "put this on."

"Why?"

"Tut, tut, don't argue with a genius. Besides you'll only have it on for a moment. I'm calibrating a sensor."

"Oh." That didn't sound too bad. He wriggled the contraption onto his head, and asked, "Now what?"

Washu's answer was to flip a switch on the side on her console. Tenchi spasmed once and then slumped. She walked back over to stand in front of him. "Ok, Tenchi, you can remove the helmet now." He did so, but his manner had changed: he was much less animated than before, his actions were performed mechanically, and his eyes were vacant and unfocused. She took the helmet from his limp hands. "Tenchi, you will remain relaxed and stay calm. Yosho and I are going to ask you some questions, which you will answer fully and completely. No harm will come to you, nor will you be asked to do anything that is against your nature. Do you understand me?"

"Yes," he said, his voice flat and emotionless.

"Sit up straight," she ordered. He did so.

"How long will he stay under?" Yosho asked.

"Until we awaken him. He's actually a pretty good subject for this." She looked at one of her display screens. "Everything's normal, no adverse reactions. I think we're ready. Tenchi, how many times have you summoned the Lighthawk Wings?" Washu asked.

"Three times," Tenchi answered.

"Please describe each occurrence."

"The first was on board Ayeka's ship, when I tried to counterattack Kagato. The second was aboard the Souja, when he threw a fireball at me. The third time was near Dr. Clay's ship, when it started breaking apart."

"Why didn't you summon them during your duel with Lord Seriyu?"

"I am uncomfortable with them"

"Why"

"I have less control with them than with the Tenchi-ken, and they are much more powerful. And I am frightened of the Lighthawk Sword."

"Why?"

"I cut an entire ship in half with it. Its source of power is infinite — I'm afraid what might happen if it got away from me."

Washu and Yosho exchanges startled glances. "But the Lighthawk Wings are a defensive shield. Surely it is safe enough to summon them?"

"I suppose so," Tenchi replied reluctantly.

"Which of the three occasions did you feel the least in control of them?"

"The first time, aboard Ayeka's ship. She was trying to give me directions for something I was totally unfamiliar with."

"And which was the most successful occurrence?"

"The second time. I felt Tsunami's presence guiding me."

"Ok, Tenchi, I want you to relax. We are going to go back in time to your fight with Kagato, to the point where he has just tossed you against one of the bulkheads. I want you to tell me what you were feeling, what you were sensing."

"I hurt. I was a little dizzy from the impact. I felt frustrated and shamed by my weakness, by my failure to aid my friends. Then I heard Tsunami's voice explaining how to apply the information she had planted in my mind."

Washu interrupted him. "When did she give this information to you?"

"When she had Azaka and Kamidake recover my shattered body, after Ryu-oh's command module was destroyed...after she regenerated me. That's when she planted the information into my mind."

"What was this information?"

"She described the fabric of normal space-time as a sea of energy at the subatomic level, how waves of energy churn this sea into a foam, and that sometimes the foam cools off enough to form particles. Normal space-time is imbedded in a parallel, thought-like dimension of quantum information, and that regions of this dimension are bonded to regions of normal space-time. A particle in normal space-time casts a shadow pattern in quantum space-time. But this arrangement works both ways: if you modify the particle, you shift the pattern; by adjusting the pattern, you alter the particle. Repeat the action often enough and fast enough, and you can manipulate large scale objects."

"Can you tell me how to do this?"

Tenchi was silent for a few moments, and finally said, "No. There are simply no words that accurately describe the process. It is done with the mind."

"Please continue your narrative aboard the Souja," Washu said.

"I realized that I could now fight back on Kagato's level. I also started getting angry — I saw Tsunami being reeled in like a fish, I heard Sasami crying, I sensed Ayeka and Mihoshi trapped someplace, and I watched Kagato torturing Ryoko. It was when he taunted me that I decided to discard the Tenchi-ken...Kagato had drained it anyway, and I had now had more powerful tools at my disposal. The final insult was the casual fireball that he threw at me — I crystallized the Lighthawk Wings in time to dispel the attack."

Yosho interrupted him. "In other words, it was only when you cleared your mind of all distractions that you were able to summon the Lighthawk Wings?"

"Yes."

"There are no distractions here and now. Can you show us how you do this?"

Tenchi complied. He rose from his chair, took a step forward, and braced himself. He cupped his hands together at waist level, and then slowly unfolded them outwards. The wings suddenly appeared in their Y-shaped configuration, shimmering and pulsing with internal energies. Washu scrambled to get her sensors trained on them. After several moments of intently studying her monitors she emitted a low whistle. "Well, I'll be damned."

"What is it?" Yosho asked, looking over her shoulder.

"The Lighthawk Wings are being continuously recreated, rather than constructed once."

"That would explain their pulsing nature," Yosho said.

"No, that pulse is just a secondary signature in synch with his heartbeat. The actual frequency of emergence is several hundred times a second. Tenchi, I'm curious: if quantum space-time retains patterns for real objects, does that mean that the Lighthawk Wings have a physical basis somewhere in normal space-time?"

"No, they are a different class of patterns."

"Could you clarify that?"

"Consider the brain and the mind. The brain exists in normal space-time as a collection of particles, and this collection has its Companion patterns in quantum space-time. But overlaying this collection is the mind, which exists solely as a superpattern without a Companion in normal space-time. The Lighthawk Wings are of a similar class of pattern."

"How many different classes are there?" asked Washu, thoroughly intrigued.

"I don't know," Tenchi answered.

"Too bad, this was getting interesting. Oh, well, just another mystery to pursue later. And I heard that yawning over there, "Washu said, looking beyond the circle of light. "Ryoko, come here, please."

Ryoko appeared in the air beside her. "Yes?"

"Do me a favor and strike the wings with your energy sword."

"Won't that hurt Tenchi?" she asked dubiously.

"No. Tenchi? Ryoko is going to attack you. Defend yourself."

Ryoko walked around to stand in front of him. The wings were awesome, predatory things, like radiant talons. She gulped apprehensively.

"Rather like looking down the maw of hell, isn't it?" Yosho asked behind her.

She nodded, relieved that he was standing there. With a toss of her head, she clenched her right fist and concentrated. The palmed ball of light quickly expanded into a meter-long rod, the hiss of dying oxygen molecules being the only sound marking its passage through the air. She took a tentative swing at one of the wings. It pivoted slightly, forcing her sword to strike its center.

"Do it again," Washu urged. "Only, swing harder."

Ryoko began a series of cuts, trying to slip her blade between the wings. They rotated much too fast for her, and she produced nothing but a cascade of sparks. Her confidence grew when she realized that Tenchi would not allow her blade near him. She smiled, her competitive nature kicking in. She increased the tempo, using both hands to apply her super-human strength. The results didn't vary. She tried to maneuver around the rotating shield, but Tenchi wouldn't allow that, either. She laughed, enjoying the dance.

"Ayeka! Get in there and help her," Washu commanded.

Ryoko made room for her rival, feeling the princess' Power level increasing. Ayeka tried using a force bolt down the center of the wings, which Tenchi easily neutralized. Ryoko's energy sword vanished, to be replaced by a gathering swarm of firefly-bright darts.

"Fire together!" Washu instructed.

Before they could act, however, Tenchi set the wings to rotating. The gentle whup-whup-whup quickly grew to an irritated whip-pip-pip and then an angry whirrr, as the blades spun faster and faster. His face flickered strobe-like between them, blinking in shorter and shorter intervals until he seemed to merge with the transparent wings. Ryoko and Ayeka raised their hands and let fly with volley after volley, and the lab re-sounded with pyrotechnics and thunder. They tried separating, attacking from different sides, but it did no good — the wings twisted and writhed like living things, enveloping their master in a blister of pure force. Stray bolts ricocheted into the darkness, causing Sasami to scream and Washu to curse, but still the test continued.

Finally, Ryoko and Ayeka staggered backwards, exhausted. "That's enough!" Ryoko panted. Ayeka agreed, spent.

"Thank you, ladies," Washu said, dismissing them. They staggered back to their seats, looking frequently at the boy in the center of his humming shield. "You may rest now, Tenchi." Tenchi didn't really need it — he hadn't even broken a sweat. The wings stopped their rotation, assuming once again their Y-shaped posture.

"That didn't seem too difficult," Yosho commented.

"Manipulating the wings is not much different from manipulating a sword," Tenchi replied. "The difficulty comes when I feed more energy into them. As they get swollen and engorged, they become heavy and sluggish."

"How much energy can you feed into them?"

"I don't know."

"In theory, since he's feeding them energy directly from the quantum vacuum, it should be infinite," Washu interjected. "But there are always practical limits. Still, he drew enough energy to extract himself and Ayeka and Mihoshi from the event horizon of Dr. Clay's singularity. That's a considerable achievement."

"He can summon only three wings; think of the power at Tsunami's disposal with the ten wings she summons."

Washu's response was to purse her lips and roll her eyes, refusing any further conjecture. She turned back to Tenchi. "What was that transformation you made during your fight with Kagato?" Washu asked.

"I noticed some burns on my arms, and Tsunami's information showed me how to repair the injuries and fabricate body armor for myself."

"Can you demonstrate this for us?"

Tenchi lifted his hands to point into the two highest wings, which boiled along his limbs and down his legs like an effervescent foam, coating his body with a mist that condensed into a shimmering exoskeleton. The third wing remained, drifting upwards to chest height. The light cone enveloping him was simply washed away, bleached out by the greater source of illumination.

"I wonder how much protection that armor provides?" Yosho said.

"Since it is behaves like the Lighthawk Wings, and would repair itself nearly instantaneously, I can only speculate...unless Tenchi would consent to having the ladies throw some more fireworks at him."

"No!" chorused Ayeka and Ryoko.

Washu cackled softly as she checked her monitors. "Ok, let's discuss the Lighthawk Sword. What is it, for starters?"

"The original sword was carved from crystal, then minutely scanned, and its pattern stored in quantum space-time."

"What became of the original?" Washu asked.

"I don't know."

"How much concentration is required to summon the sword?" Yosho asked.

"Total concentration. And once crystallized, it requires a great deal of energy to maintain the weapon's cohesion. It is a delicate balance."

"Yet its capabilities exceed the wings."

"Yes. It frightens me to use it."

"Yet you did use it, and successfully."

"No! I was lucky. In my desire to destroy Kagato I applied more Power than I needed. I destroyed the Souja as a consequence. I can't even imagine what would have happened if I had unleashed more energy into it."

"Tenchi, how did you feel the first time you grasped a katana?" asked Yosho.

"Exhilarated. Scared."

"Explain."

"It was the sword of my ancestors. A razor-sharp work of art. And yet, its use required precision and courage, or the blood shed would be my own."

"Can't the same feelings be applied to the Lighthawk Sword?"

"I don't know. It's so alien..."

"It's just a tool, Tenchi. No better or worse than the hand that guides it. Proficiency only comes with practice and persistence."

"Would you please summon the sword?" Washu asked.

Tenchi's right hand reached forward to grasp the hovering Wing. As his fingers closed around it, it contracted inward and upward with a wave-like shimmer. The petal-shaped wing quickly transformed into the Lighthawk Sword. The sword was a two-handed, twin-edged weapon over a meter in length. Its quillions and pommel were intricately carved with strange symbols, and the blade was grooved and tapered into a wicked tongue shape. The polished surface flashed reflections into the dark corners of the lab, and it glowed with internal fire.

"It's beautiful," Yosho whispered. "And it pulses like the wings."

"Geez, the cutting edge is only a few atoms across," Washu announced, passing a hand-held sensor over the blade. "Almost a perfect wedge. That thing would slice through steel plate without resistance. Whoever crafted it was one of the greatest artisans in history."

"Tenchi, perform the first kata," Yosho commanded. He pulled Washu out of the light cone and out of harm's way. Tenchi bowed towards his teacher, and then settled into the beginning fighting posture. What followed was a graceful series of flowing movements that saw the sword rising and falling in ever-tighter arcs. The blade left an energy wake hovering in the air, like strokes from an ephemeral paintbrush. Years of practice were evident in the power and precision of Tenchi's techniques. It was a lethal ballet. Tenchi completed the kata with a flourish and bowed once more. The girls clapped appreciatively, which earned them a glare from Washu.

"Tenchi, how much energy could you comfortably feed the sword?" she asked.

"I could raise the threshold a bit."

"Do so, please."

The sword in his hands became an incandescent crucifix, illuminating every corner of the lab. Tenchi's shadow rippled across the floor and engulfed Washu's workstation, placing her in a graduated darkness. The four girls were no longer sitting in twilight, but were clearly visible, mesmerized by the display. Yosho stood off to one side, slowly circling his grandson, shielding his eyes so he could inspect the sword.

This tableau continued until Washu was satisfied that she had collected enough data. "Yosho? I'm done with the sword. How about you?"

"I've seen enough."

"Tenchi, you may dematerialize the Lighthawk Sword." Tenchi complied, the sword vanished, and the lab dimmed dramatically. It did not return to its original gloom, however, since he still retained the armor.

Yosho silently returned to his seat, lost in thought. Washu busied herself at her console, pausing only when she felt Ryoko materialize behind her.

"Are you taking a break? And can I talk to him for a minute?" Ryoko asked.

"Yes, I am taking a break, and yes, you can talk to him. But he can't answer you back."

"Good enough," she said, and teleported over to where Tenchi stood. Floating so close to him took her breath away. His armor was nearly blinding at this distance, and she could feel the Power radiating from him. His pupils were dark and dilated, the highlights within them sparkling like diamonds. This was the image that she would carry in her heart forever: her knight in shining armor, the one who had liberated her from evil incarnate. Those memories were still fresh and painful, and it was all she could do to sit quietly in the darkness and watch him — she needed to hold him. He gave no indication that he was aware of her, which suited her just fine: maybe he couldn't respond, but he couldn't run away, either. She wrapped her arms around him, expecting the glowing material to be cold and metallic. But it wasn't; like him it felt warm and alive, and shifted subtly with his breathing. She pressed against him, enjoying the sensation of absolute security. "I love you, Tenchi," she whispered into his ear, and then put her head on his shoulder and wept quietly.

It was only moments before Ayeka was standing beside them, a thundercloud on her face — which faded when she heard her rival sobbing. "Ryoko?" Instead of her usual imperious whine, her voice had modulated to the soft timbre reserved for her little sister. "What is wrong?"

"It's ok, Ayeka," Ryoko sniffed, reluctantly disengaging from Tenchi. "I never really thanked him for rescuing me." She wiped her eyes with her sleeves, struggling to reestablish her crusty facade. "Good thing he can't see me — he'd just think I was turning into a crybaby." And then she was gone.

Ayeka studied Tenchi's face, the planes and curves of it, its textures and shades. Gods, he was handsome, and he resembled nothing less than an avenging archangel. Ryoko had said he couldn't see them, so she dropped her normally reserved demeanor. She leaned forward and whispered in his ear, "I love you, Tenchi Masaki, Crown Prince of my heart!" Then she kissed his cheek, giggled, and strode away.

Mihoshi and Sasami wandered over, shading their eyes from the glare. They, too, touched his luminescent carapace, curious about it. "I've worn Galaxy Police battle armor on occasion, but nothing like this," said Mihoshi. "This is fabulous!"

"I've seen pictures of some of my ancestors wearing this, but nobody in my family has been able to summon it in several generations. Tenchi must be a really strong Power user." Sasami ran her hand over Tenchi's arm. "This feels almost like animal hide!"

Mihoshi looked into his eyes for several moments, and then asked Sasami, "Does he ever talk about his feelings? He seems the most relaxed around you."

Sasami shrugged. "We talk about a lot of things, but not his feelings. Why?"

"Oh, I don't know. I just wondered if he likes me, I guess."

"As far as I know, he does."

"I hope so. I sure like him. A lot."

"He is cute, isn't he?" Sasami asked.

"All right, ladies, return to your seats!" Washu marched over and hustled them away from her test subject. She had been discreetly watching the parade of females, each exposing a bit of their soul on the assumption that Tenchi wasn't aware of them. Actually, he was fully aware of them; Washu had simply said that he couldn't answer. Tenchi was probably writhing in embarrassment from these confessions. She was surprised he hadn't gotten a nosebleed. It really was an amusing situation, that her housemates had to wait until he was immobilized to bare their feelings towards him. He was usually tongue-tied when it came to discussing his feelings (typical male behavior). She was tempted to exploit this situation herself, and tell Tenchi how she felt about him, how she —

— and then the alarms in her mind went off: this was not normal behavior. At least, not for her. She prided herself on her objectivity and control through all of her experiments, and this one should be no different. It really wasn't normal behavior for any of these girls, either. On a hunch, she adjusted her monitors to include everyone else in the room. Since she already had base-line readings for everyone stored in the system, she could compare them later as she had planned to do with Tenchi.

Washu looked at the ladies and considered: Well, if everyone was in a mood to tell their secrets, then perhaps this was a good time to resolve some of the issues that troubled the group as a whole. "Tenchi, how do you feel about the galactic houseguests living with you?"

"I love them like family," he answered.

"Are you attracted to any one of them in particular?"

"I'm attracted to all of them."

"Sexually attracted?"

"Yes."

"Even me and Sasami?"

"I've seen you as an adult. And I've seen Sasami's future form." Meaning Tsunami, of course.

"Have you had any fantasies about us?"

"Yes. About each of you."

"So why haven't you done anything about it?"

"To pick one would mean hurting the others. Besides, you all scare me."

"Huh? Please elaborate."

"I don't know how to deal with you — particularly Ryoko and Ayeka. I like their attention, but I get very tired of the bickering. They cause so much damage, and they often hurt each other. It is easier to clean up their messes than to get them to stop. Though I try to treat all of you as good friends, it's just not enough — you want more from me. I've never had a real girlfriend, so I don't know how to behave. I just don't know what you see in me. You are all so beautiful, and so exotic, but..."

"But what?" Washu prompted.

"Are you human?"

Washu laughed. "Tenchi, Earth was colonized nearly 40,000 years ago by humans from the stars. There are hundreds of worlds across the galaxy teeming with human life. With so many diverse environments, cosmetic differences are inevitable. Of course we are human. If we weren't, neither you nor your mother nor your grandfather would have ever been born. If you remember nothing else today, it is that we galactics are all fully human."

"Even Ryoko, with her extraordinary abilities?"

"Yes, even Ryoko. Despite her genetic enhancements, the core DNA is still fully human." Washu heard arguing from the darkness, presumably Ayeka teasing her rival, and Ryoko responding. "Tenchi, would you please describe each of your houseguests?"

"Ryoko is wild and passionate, as is any creature freed from long captivity. She has blood on her hands and burns on her soul, thanks to Kagato. But beneath the hard shell beats a gentle and compassionate heart. She needs to touch and be touched, to know that someone cares, to learn how to care for others. In time, she will heal. She needs an anchor in her life, to provide her with a purpose, and a home, and a reason to temper her passion.

"Ayeka is Ryoko's mirror image: she is shy and demure most of the time, very poised and confident. But like Ryoko, she has also been a captive, although her prison was a luxurious one. She cloaks herself in etiquette and protocol and duty to hide her loneliness. A steel fist in a silken glove, she will tolerate no obstacles to whatever goal she chooses. She needs a refuge in her life, a sanctuary where she can relax, a place to release her passion.

"Sasami is energetic, lively, loyal, and smart. She is compassionate and concerned, and fun to be around. She worries about Tsunami, and her precognitive dreams, but she is also able to set them aside and enjoy her life. She is still growing — and her potential is awesome.

"Mihoshi is an enthusiastic extrovert: an extremely powerful mind that over-developed the instinctive and emotional side. She sees patterns rather than details, an essential for a detective. Though she lacks coordination and a grasp of the obvious, her appreciation for the simple things in life, for the joy of the moment, makes her a wonderful Companion. She needs a calming influence in her life, to help her organize and control the chaos she unleashes.

"You are Mihoshi's mirror image: a reclusive introvert who has over-developed the intellectual side of your mind. You see details rather than patterns, an essential for a scientist. You keep your life tightly controlled and meticulously organized, just to protect yourself from any further emotional pain. You need a reason to embrace your humanity and emerge once again into the sunlight."

Everyone watched Yosho slowly walk over to examine his grandson. "Tenchi, you lack focus, which is why you cannot control your abilities yet. Just look at your poor performance with the Tenchi-ken. It was only under an all-consuming anger that you were able to concentrate fully enough to use the Lighthawk weapons. This is not a good practice, and could lead down the path to Kagato. We will have to look for some appropriate meditation exercises to increase your focus."

Somewhat absently, Washu told Tenchi he could dismiss the armor. For a moment he was wrapped in a silvery fog, and then it vanished, and the lab returned to darkness. It suited the mood.

ACT 2 - SUNDAY MORNING

Sasami found the note first. Like she usually did on Sunday mornings, she slept a bit later, then meandered down to the kitchen to start on breakfast. That's when she found Tenchi's note. It was short:

Gone hiking, back by supper. Tenchi

It was apparent that he had packed a lunch. He must have risen r-e-a-l-l-y early to complete his preparations and leave undetected. He even got past Ryoko, who was still snoring loudly from her rafter. That is so unlike him she thought. She was still pondering it when Yosho wandered in.

"Good morning, Sasami."

"Good morning, Yosho. Did you see this?" She passed him the note.

"No, but I heard him leave."

"This isn't like Tenchi. Is something bothering him?"

"Is there something wrong with Tenchi?" Ayeka asked from the doorway. Yosho passed her the note.

"I think he has much on his mind after yesterday's experiment," Yosho replied.

"Where's Tenchi?" Ryoko asked, yawning loudly. "He's not in his room." Ayeka passed her the note.

Mihoshi wandered in, taking her usual seat at the table. "What's up?"

"Which direction did he go?" Ryoko asked. She handed the note to Mihoshi.

Yosho shrugged.

Noriyuki entered the kitchen, whistling loudly. "Looking for Tenchi?"

"Yes," four female voices answered.

"He took off for the south hills about an hour ago. He was stuffing a lunch into his backpack when I saw him."

"Think I should go look for him?" Ryoko asked.

"No, leave him be. He has some issues on his mind, or he wouldn't be seeking the solitude," Yosho replied.

"Which gives us ladies a chance to talk," announced Washu from the doorway.

############

The water in the onsen rippled as five nearly naked females settled into it. It didn't take long to adjust towels, open the sake bottles, and get comfortable.

"Very well, Washu, we are all here," Ayeka said. "What is it you wished to discuss?"

"Before we get started..." Washu opened a sub-space pocket and extracted a small device that she set next to the tub. She flipped a switch, igniting a red indicator and small humming sound.

"What is that thing?" Ryoko asked.

"An energy damper. Now, if your tempers flare, there will be no energy bolts or blades in here. You will have nothing sharper than your tongues."

"What did you want to talk to us about?" Mihoshi asked.

"Actually, I only have one thing to say, but I'm willing to bet each of you will have something to add to it."

"So spit it out," Ryoko said, reaching for a sake refill.

"Very well. Each of you heard what Tenchi had to say about us yesterday. He's scared to open up to any of us. Frankly, this competition for him is getting destructive. I think it ought to stop."

"That's all very good for you to say," Ryoko replied, "but you don't love him — "

"Don't I? Certainly not the way you think of love."

"Nobody thinks of love the way she does: pure animal instinct to rut," Ayeka smiled cattily.

"Of course, your interests are so much more noble and spiritual..." Ryoko countered.

"As a matter of fact, they are."

"Oh, get real. You want to roll in the sack with him just like the rest of us. That sounds pretty carnal to me."

"You're an expert on carnal knowledge, aren't you? How many thousands of years did you spend on the Souja with Kagato? All those nights with just the two of you. Very educational. And how many times did you service that monster? After so many centuries of dallying about, I'll bet you got the process of regenerating your hymen down to a fine art — like raising and lowering a window shade. The Eternal Virgin. How do you think Tenchi would feel, knowing that you've been used so often that you're little better than a scabrous, worn-out sewage drain?"

"For your information, Little Princess, the proper term is not 'dalliance' but 'rape.' Yes, it happened many times, but I wasn't the only object of his attention. He entertained many guests — men and women — before tossing them out the airlock. Of course, that was during the early years, while he was still human, before the Power consumed him. And I was always the tool of last resort. And there was never any pleasure in it."

"You don't even know if you're capable of pleasure."

"No, but I know who I'm willing to experiment with."

"Like he'd have you."

"At least he'd know what passion is. You're so uptight and inhibited that you'd squeak like a rusty gate. So cold and calculating, so manipulative."

"Is that why you're called the 'Ice Princess'?" Mihoshi interrupted.

"Silence, cretin," Ayeka said.

"No, I won't. We're talking about Tenchi, not politics, and my opinion is just as valid as yours."

"Maybe Tenchi just smells the cloud of pheromones around your empty head. And how many men have you bounced since puberty? No doubt the list is a long one."

"It isn't as long as you'd like to think," Mihoshi replied. "At least there was real sentiment involved with each of them, not some political consideration."

"Then go ahead and ask Tenchi if he'd settle for being another notch on your lipstick case."

"You sure are hung-up on this virginity thing, aren't you?" Ryoko taunted. "But I suppose that's only natural, since the Imperial line of succession depends upon who tears that sheet of skin..."

Sasami leaned over to whisper to Washu, "This is getting ugly. Don't you think we ought to stop it?"

"No. Sometimes you have to drain the poison out of a wound before it can heal," Washu whispered back.

"I was raised to believe that sex was reserved strictly between husband and wife," Ayeka continued. "Otherwise, there is no significance to the act. Consider this: it drives you to crazy just thinking about Tenchi being with me; how would you feel if he had slept with a whole string of other women? My, where's the significance then, eh? Do his kisses and embraces still sound so inviting if you're just one more bed partner?" Ayeka's taunts had hurt — Ryoko blanched. "What could you possibly give him that is intimate, and precious, and completely unique between the two of you?"

"My love," Ryoko answered softly.

Ayeka pondered Ryoko's reply, then said as softly, "Ok, I will give you that point." Turning to Mihoshi, voice hardening, she said, "But not you. You say that you've been 'in love' before. No doubt that justified spreading your legs each time. So, are you going to compare him against the others, and then rate him? Maybe offer him some advice to improve his performance? I'm sure he'll appreciate that."

"No," Mihoshi answered.

"To be fair, you should give him a few years to play catch up, and a chance to sample the local wildlife. No? I thought not. Tell me, what can you possibly give him that doesn't have other men's fingerprints all over it?"

"Children."

"Bah! With your promiscuous life-style, children are an accident of timing. It would just be Tenchi's misfortune to be last in line when the birth-control failed."

"There wouldn't have been any others if I had met Tenchi first."

"That's a worthless argument. You could have stood by your principles and waited for your wedding night, rather than yielding to the heat of the moment. Maybe you haven't noticed, but Tenchi is doing his utmost to stand by his principles."

"And I suppose you never had any boyfriends? You never tried to sneak off in the moonlight with one of your suitors?"

"Absolutely correct. I stayed true to Yosho. Beside, most of those false-faced fawning fools had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. You may call me pampered, but I was still con-fined to a prison."

"Well, your guards and cell were a lot more pleasant than mine were," Ryoko mumbled absently, pouring herself another sake.

"Don't even go there. I'm no murderer, and I left no trail of destruction behind me."

"I didn't do those things by choice!" Ryoko exclaimed.

"As Tenchi said, 'you have blood on your hands and burns on your soul.'"

"He also said they would heal," Mihoshi countered. Ryoko smiled gratefully at her. "Don't you ever get tired of ordering everyone about? It must be terribly difficult here without your household staff tending to your every whim. What have you ever accomplished on your own merits?"

"I don't see — "

"No, you don't see. You push Tenchi around like just another courtier, and he complies only because he is no nice. Where is there any honest affection in that?"

"Humph! This is a fruitless discussion."

Washu whispered to Sasami, who opened another bottle of sake and started refilling cups.

"Ryoko, can I ask you a question?"

"Of course, Sasami. What is it?"

"Why do you drink so much?"

"Do you want the daytime answer, or the nighttime answer?"

"Both."

"Ok," Ryoko replied, sipping her sake. "First the daytime answer. I get a little bored, and baiting your sister is a good way to relieve the tedium until Tenchi gets home from school. Unfortunately, the house usually gets damaged, and we tend to chase Tenchi away...which defeats the whole purpose, I guess."

"Then why don't you just leave?" Ayeka asked her. "Ryo-ohki can take you anywhere you want to go."

"I'm waiting for Tenchi to make up his mind. And down deep in my soul, I'm just enjoying my freedom. There is no one chasing me, or shooting at me, or trying to control me. If I want to just sit on the roof and watch the clouds, or feel the wind in my hair, then I can do it. It's a wonderful feeling."

"What about the nighttime answer?" Sasami prompted.

"I drink to stifle the demons that haunt my dreams. Some nights are worse than others, and the alcohol doesn't keep them at bay. Then I'm compelled to wander around — "

" — up to Tenchi's room."

"Yes, Ayeka, up to Tenchi's room. I want to make sure he's still safe. Oh, in my head I know that nothing will happen to him, but my heart is so afraid that something might — that the one light in my long, miserable life will be taken away or extinguished, and leave me alone and desolate again. So I hover above his bed, and smell him, and listen to his breathing, and watch his face in the moonlight, and wonder what he's dreaming about, and ache to hold him. And then I can relax enough to doze a little...and in my dreams he's there to banish the nightmares and silence the screams and to protect me, if only for a little while. He's my knight in shining armor."

"What about you, Ayeka?" Sasami asked.

"What about me?"

"Why do you drink so much?"

Ayeka stirred her sake with her finger. "From the day of my birth, I was baptized in politics and statecraft. The trouble with living at the top of the pyramid is that everyone wants to replace you. Alliances and loyalties can change at the slightest provocation. You can never trust anyone. Those who don't openly covet your position will mask their eyes, and thus their hearts, and thus their agenda. And they all have an agenda. Every opportunity to curry favor is taken, every chance to advance one's position is exploited. Gods, the scheming never stops. You simply cannot imagine the long line of fops and snakes that I have had to associate with. And the few honorable men that I chanced to meet were always in transit, or overawed by the proximity to the throne, or just thoroughly disgusted with the whole bureaucracy. I had no confidants."

"What about your father?" Ryoko asked.

"My father is generally very stern, very authoritative, very..."

"He's a bully."

"Thank you, Sasami. Yes, he's a bully. Very charming when that works, very brutish when it doesn't. He's managed to stay on the throne so long because he is a stronger Power adept than anyone else." She smiled. "Except Tenchi; even Father can't summon the Lighthawk Wings. I can just imagine the jealous glint in his eyes when he read Mihoshi's report. I suspect that is why he tried to marry me off to that pink-haired buffoon, Lord Seriyu — he's afraid of what Tenchi might do if he got really angry...or perhaps what kind of offspring we might produce. Of course, since Yosho's disappearance seven centuries ago, I am first in line for the throne. At least, in theory I'm first in line. In reality, I'm still little more than a commodity to be auctioned off to the most suitable candidate."

"And what about Sasami?" Ryoko asked.

"A fate destined for Sasami, too, I'm afraid. Her marriage into a noble family will cement yet another political alliance. At least for a while. And as for me, a strong husband will assume the throne in all but name, and I will find myself cast into yet another pampered prison. Not a very encouraging prospect, considering some of the other 'duties' I will be forced to endure. And knowing my father, any suitor he chooses will be a loyal little clone: strong, ambitious, and obsessed."

"I'm surprised he allowed you to go chasing off after Yosho."

"Well, consider the advantages. I was out of his hair — "

" — We were out of his hair."

"Oh, sorry, Sasami. We were out of his hair, and safely asleep aboard one of the empire's toughest Tree Ships. There were very few serious threats to us while we searched, and anything Ryu-oh couldn't outfight she could outrun. And I suspect Father's consorts helped persuade him to leave well enough alone. He knew where we were, so he could worry about other things (and there is always something to worry about). Besides, we might have even located Yosho, his preferred successor." She sipped her sake. "So off we went on a desperate search for our half-brother. I had pinned all of my hopes on Yosho, you see, because he was my only friend and my only escape from a life filled with cynicism and deceit and loneliness. I was completely devastated when I thought he was dead. My future looked very bleak." She slammed back the rest of her sake and reached for the bottle. "And then I met my knight in shining armor. His heart was filled with courage, compassion, and kindness, and his eyes brimmed with honesty and honor and humor. And to top it off, not only is he a nobleman, but a kinsman — Yosho's grandson! He's the answer to every prayer I ever made. Yes, I fell in love with him. How could I not? I have been given a second chance at happiness. Some days I simply cannot take my eyes off of him, and I hang on every word he speaks." She raised her drink to her lips, paused, and said, "And if I lose him like Yosho, I fear I will be sucked back into the abyss forever."

"What about you, Mihoshi? Why do you drink so much?"

"Well, I like the taste, and the buzz is nice."

"Is that so different from your normal state of mind?" Ayeka asked dryly.

"I'm no idiot, you know. I just get distracted easily, and I have trouble with technical details. It's like a blockage in my brain, the complicated stuff just gets filtered out. My parents put me in therapy for a while, not that I really objected — that's when they discovered that I was an empath, which explained a lot of the undeveloped higher brain functions. In school I was terrible in the hard sciences, but I excelled in the humanities and literary arts. I won poetry and creative writing contests. Since I am an empath I can analyze people extremely well (I can feel their bottled-up emotions), so I can help them more often than not."

"An empath, eh?" Ayeka said. "So, why didn't you become a therapist yourself?"

"I actually started down that path. That was my major in college, although my science classes were simply horrible," Mihoshi sighed. "Thank the gods for tutors and hypno-cramming." She reached for the sake bottle. "But after a while it got boring. It seemed like such a limited future. I wanted something more, something with a little excitement to it, with travel possibilities, but still with a way to help people. My grandfather suggested the Galaxy Police, so I looked into it and liked what I saw. I added a minor in law enforcement to my studies, graduated, and then went to the GP academy."

"So you're an empath. I always wondered why the Galaxy Police accepted you," Ryoko said.

"Well, it didn't hurt that my grandfather is the Marshall..."

"It still seems like such an odd choice, since you dislike violence so much."

"That's the bad side of the job, and fortunately there isn't that much of it."

"What about Tenchi?"

"He's the only guy I've ever met that really didn't want something from me. Most guys were just trying to get me between the sheets, or used me as the patsy for their jokes and pranks. If I had a credit for every guy that hurt my feelings I'd be richer than a baron. But it's more than gratitude, I think — I look into his eyes and feel a connection, a linkage, that I've never felt with anyone else. I see you cringe when I say he's my destiny, but I feel intuitively that our futures are bound together. I can't explain it. But it's real. And he's so-o-o nice, and so-o-o cute..."

"We noticed," Ryoko and Ayeka drawled.

"And I've noticed how much pain you two endure. You have so much in common, despite the outward differences, that you could be close friends. What is so heartbreaking is that because you are rivals for Tenchi, and you are so busy competing with each other, that you don't see the anguish you are causing him. He's not blind or stupid. But why should he show anyone any kind of affection when the price is so high? It's no wonder he runs away — from his feelings, from that decision, and sometimes from all of us when the stress level rises." She sipped her sake. "I think we all carry burdens from our past. And maybe we're scared that Tenchi will reject us because of that past."

"He really doesn't ask us much about our pasts, does he?" Ryoko said.

"No," Ayeka answered. "And that's why he's so special: he just accepts us as we are. Such a rare person..."

"Gee, 'Mom,' you sure have been quiet over there. Too much sake?" Ryoko asked, noticing Washu stirring her sake.

"No, I've just been listening."

"We've shared our thoughts and concerns, perhaps you should, too." Ayeka suggested.

"Yeah, 'Mom.' Let's hear your confession."

"I'm afraid you might be rather disappointed."

"Let us be the judge of that," Ryoko replied.

"Just think of it like taking a turn on a karaoke machine," Mihoshi offered.

"I'm not sure that's such a useful analogy," Ayeka hiccupped.

"Oh, I don't know. I rather like it. You ladies have been singing for quite a while. Almost in harmony, really."

"I don't understand that," Sasami said.

"I don't think they do, either, Sasami. Just look for common themes in what they said, almost like a chorus — "

"Come on, Washu, let's hear the good stuff," Ryoko splashed a bit of water at her mother.

"Ok, what do you want to hear about?"

Ryoko, Ayeka, Mihoshi: "Tenchi."

"He is without a doubt the most interesting, fascinating, loveable person I've met in 20,000 years. And I'm drawn to him, too, although belly-bumping him isn't necessarily the first thing I think of."

"But what about that sample you tried to take from him?" Mihoshi asked.

"What sample?" Ryoko and Ayeka chorused.

"See what I mean about harmonizing? Washu said to Sasami.

Sasami giggled.

"Oh, I was just running some medical tests on him after his fight with Kagato. I've never met a Power adept with such capabilities before."

"So why did you have him stripped to his underwear?" Mihoshi persisted.

"His underwear?" Ryoko and Ayeka chorused.

Sasami giggled again.

"Relax, ladies. There hasn't been a man in my life in centuries. And the ones that followed my husband were so disappointing I swore off of them."

"Not forever, I think," Ryoko said skeptically.

"No, not forever. And if Tenchi asked, I would accept. But it seems unlikely. One minute he treats me like a little sister, and the next minute he treats me like a sorceress. He's probably more scared of me than he is of you three combined. It's a stable arrangement for the time being."

"How did you fall into Kagato's clutches?" Ayeka asked.

"He was a graduate assistant of mine at the time I created Ryoko and Ryo-ohki, and he did some of the detail work on the design of the Souja. I discovered too late that he had several illegal enterprises running on the side. He kidnapped me and Ryoko and Ryo-ohki, and put us in stasis until long after he had built his ship. Ryoko, you may not remember, but I was with you for a little while, back in the very beginning. I raised you until you were a toddler and scampering around the Souja's nursery, because Kagato was too busy and uninterested. But he eventually decided that it was time to take over your training, and when he realized that I wasn't going to help him create others like you, he put me back in that box and threw away the key. I was only dimly aware of what you were doing, what you were feeling, but I was never really cut off from you. I had my own taste of hell."

"I do remember someone singing me to sleep, and cradling me during the dark times. I suppose it was you I cried out for when he beat me and starved me, and later, when he..." Ryoko sobbed.

Washu slid over to comfort her daughter. "It's alright now, Ryoko. Tenchi made sure he will never hurt us again."

"Tenchi..."

"That's so sad!" Mihoshi wailed.

Sasami noticed that Ayeka was sniffling, too. "Are you going to cry like Mihoshi?"

"How ridiculous. It must be the sake."

"Well, you four are getting awfully flushed, and your speech is starting to slur a little."

"There you go. Speaking of sake, this bottle is empty. Can you fetch another from that bucket over there?"

"Sure." She climbed out of the pool.

"We still haven't resolved the major issue here," Washu finally said. "You ladies must back off long enough for him to make up his mind."

"If he will make up his mind. I just can't bear the thought of being spurned," Ayeka replied.

"Neither can I," Ryoko sniffed.

"Nor me," Mihoshi said through her sake cup.

"No one is asking you to leave him alone. I'm just suggesting that you give him a little more room. Maybe you should look for other distractions. Go into town once in a while. This planet is full of humans, I seem to recall. Some of them might be interesting to talk to. "

"None like Tenchi," Ryoko whispered.

"Are you looking for his replacement?"

"No!"

"Then what do you have to lose?"

"If he thinks we're losing interest, won't he look elsewhere, too?" Mihoshi asked.

"There is that risk. But great risks often bring great rewards," Washu answered.

"This advice sounds peculiar coming from you," Ayeka said.

"I've spent some time thinking about what Tenchi said, too. Maybe I do need to see daylight once in a while." She sipped her sake, studying her Companions. "What I think is called for here is a non-aggression pact."

"A what?" asked Ryoko.

"A non-aggression pact. That's where you characters agree to stop fighting in the house, and to settle your little disagreements when Tenchi is not around."

"I dunno..." Ryoko hesitated.

"You don't have to be best buddies, just postpone your arguments 'till he leaves. Besides, the fights are usually over something immediate, and by the time you cool off you can't remember what started them in the first place. Rather juvenile behavior, isn't it?"

"I am willing to give it a try," said Ayeka, extending her hand towards Ryoko.

"Ok, I guess it can't do any harm." Ryoko shook Ayeka's hand.

Washu noticed Sasami standing by the transparent wall, watching something intently. "What are you looking at, Sasami?"

"Tenchi's back."

"He is?" Ryoko, Ayeka, and Mihoshi chorused.

"He's practicing with Yosho." The others left the pool and stood beside her. On the lawn beside the Masaki house they could see Yosho and Tenchi performing a very slow, synchronized exercise. It was obvious that they were both concentrating very hard.

"What are they doing?" Mihoshi asked.

"It looks like Tai Chi, or a Juraian equivalent," Ayeka answered.

"Is it just me, or are Tenchi's hands glowing?"

"I believe you're right. Very impressive..."

It was then that Tenchi happened to glance upward and see the five nearly naked half-drunken females watching him. He got flustered and out of step, and Yosho berated him. The ladies all giggled.

"Looks like he's having trouble keeping his focus," Ayeka offered.

"So are we," Mihoshi replied solemnly.

Ayeka, Ryoko, and Sasami glanced curiously at Mihoshi, but Washu silently nodded in agreement.

ACT 3 - FRIDAY MORNING

They began to notice the changes almost immediately.

On Monday morning, Tenchi awoke to the now-normal sight of Ryoko's bloodshot eyes staring down at him. As usual, she had hovered above his bed for a fair portion of the night, watching over him while he slept. Tenchi's startle reflex usually kicked-in, sending him crawling frantically for the door, with Ryoko trying vainly to calm him. This morning, however, he just studied her.

"Good morning, Tenchi," she cooed. He hadn't screamed yet, which was a good sign.

"Good morning, Ryoko," he replied. And then he did something completely unexpected: he made room for her on the bed and patted the empty space, indicating she should join him.

"Really?" She slid under the covers in one lithe movement. She started to snuggle up to him, only to realize that he was getting out of bed. "Oh, don't leave..."

"Sorry, Ryoko, but I have to. However, you're welcome to sleep here while I'm gone, as long as you make the bed when you're done."

She started to pout until she realized that the covers were still warm, and his scent permeated the sheets and pillows. She smiled then, settling down for a long nap. "Ok. Have a nice day, Tenchi. I'll dream about you."

He grinned, gathered his clothes, and slipped down the hall to the bathroom. When he returned, she was snoring softly, completely oblivious to his puttering around. He bumped into Ayeka as he opened the door, and the smile on her face turned to shock when she spotted Ryoko asleep in his bed. However, before she could even open her mouth he placed a finger on her lips. "Relax, she's only been there for five minutes."

"Just what is she doing in your bed?" Ayeka asked suspiciously.

"I told her she could sleep there, since I'm leaving for school. I didn't see any harm in it. Now," he said, extending his arm towards her, "would you care to join me for breakfast?"

Her argument sputtered out when she realized he had just issued her an invitation. And the prospect of a meal without her rival present was more than enough to change her mood. She smiled sweetly and took his arm. "Yes, Lord Tenchi, I would."

The curious glances around the table were even more pronounced when Tenchi asked Sasami to save Ryoko's breakfast for her — she would eat later, since she was sleeping in his room at present. Curiosity turned to disbelief when Ayeka simply laughed it off (she was in on the joke, and could now appreciate the humor of the situation). From Ayeka's perspective it was a marvelous meal — there were no arguments, no tension, and she monopolized Tenchi's attention with absolutely no interference. She watched him leave for the bus stop with a perfectly contented sigh. And when Ryoko did wake up later, her sly comments and sleazy innuendoes about sleeping in Tenchi's room all fell flat. Neither of them felt like fighting for the whole day, as each of them savored their respective tactical victory.

############

Mihoshi had been wandering the woods near the bus stop when she heard it drop off Tenchi. She met him, smiling amiably. She expected the usual clumsy chatter and polite brush-off. Instead he sat on a log and invited her to join him. "What were you looking for?"

"Well, I happened to see these birds fly over this morning. They look an awful lot like some of the birds on my home-world. So, after my chores were done, and I had finished my afternoon nap, I decided to go looking for them."

"Can you describe them?"

She did, and then started describing the similar bird of her youth. They sat together for at least thirty minutes, just talking. He didn't rush her, and didn't beat a hasty retreat to the house. It was the longest conversation they had ever had. The sun continued its slide down the sky, and though it felt warm, it could not defeat the cool breeze. And it was only when their stomachs started growling that he stood up...and offered her a helping hand.

It felt warm, and strong, and he held her hand longer than necessary. Embarrassed, she pulled her hand away.

He started walking towards the house. "Don't you find it rather lonely, living so often in space?" he asked.

"Yes," she nodded. "But it can be satisfying, too. There are so many wonders out there, so many beautiful planets, and star clouds, and it's so huge. I get lost just thinking about it sometimes. And there are always interesting people. The main traffic lanes are usually full of caravans, and the ports and space stations are full of travelers, and the variety of cargo, and the stories, and the problems..."

"Maybe you should keep a journal, and write your memoirs some day."

"That's a really good idea! I think I will. Well, here we are."

"Yes, here we are. Maybe I'll meet you again tomorrow while you're looking for those birds."

"You just might," she replied. She was absolutely thrilled that he wanted to talk to her. She barely noticed that Ryoko had materialized, wrapping herself around Tenchi like a cyan-topped anaconda. Mihoshi bounced into the house, leaving Tenchi and Ryoko staring after her.

But not for long. Ryoko started pressing her breasts against his back. She expected the usual polite rebuff; instead, he placed his hands over hers, pinning her arms in place. Encouraged (not to mention surprised), she started nuzzling his ear.

"Did you sleep well?" he asked.

"I haven't slept that well in ages."

"Glad to hear it. By the way, did anyone ever tell you how nice your hair smells?"

"Uh...no," she answered, at a loss for words.

"Well, it does." She was so flustered that he easily slipped out of her grasp and entered the house. She just stared after him, too stunned to move. Eventually, she started giggling, then laughing, and then flew to the roof in a series of spins and pirouettes. She felt like singing.

############

"Hi, Sasami."

"Oh, welcome home, Tenchi!" Sasami smiled at him from her place by the stove. She always smiled when he was around.

"Something sure smells good."

Sasami giggled. "I'm trying a new recipe."

"Need some help?"

"Sure." She steered him to the table, where she dumped a pile of vegetables in front of him and issued instructions. He sat down and rolled-up his sleeves.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Ok," she replied, sitting down across from him.

"Don't you ever get tired of cooking? I mean, you're in here three times a day, every day. Doesn't it get old?

"Oh, sometimes it does. But I like to cook, and it's my way of helping out around the house. The other girls have their chores to do, and so do you when you're not doing homework." She shrugged. "I just don't think about it much."

"But don't you get lonely here? There really isn't anybody your age to keep you company."

"Yes, but I'm used to it. Father never really let me play with other kids much back on Jurai. I had a few friends, but there were always guards around so it wasn't very private. And I never really went to school; I had tutors most of the time. And the few classes I did go to were with kids from noble families (and they weren't very nice to me). I like it here much better."

"Would you like to go school here on Earth?"

"I'd like to try it for a while, but I don't know how long we'll be here. It would be a shame to make some friends, and then have to leave them. I worry about that happening with you."

"With me?"

"Yes. I don't want to leave here unless you're coming, too."

Tenchi was touched. "Frankly, I haven't given it much thought, but I can see you have." He changed the subject. "Have you heard from your parents?"

"Oh, sure. The Royal Trees stay in contact with one another, and we pass messages along. And the little courier 'bots show-up occasionally with mail." Tenchi had seen them, bringing Ayeka and Sasami small packages and clothing, and sometimes little gifts for him. "Mommy and Half-Mommy Funaho like to hear all about what we're doing, and they ask lots of questions about you and Yosho. Oh, there goes the timer!" And she scampered off.

############

"Little Washu, do you have a moment?" It was Tenchi, of course. Washu had been expecting him to wander down to her lab. No doubt he had been sorting his memories of Saturday's experiment, and now he had some questions. She saved the program she was running, and turned away from her keyboard. He was standing just inside the doorway, looking around at the machines humming away in the darkness. He was nervous, but determined.

"Sure, Tenchi, come on in." She summoned a chair for him, which hovered next to her workstation. Once he was seated upon it, it adjusted its height so that they were face-to-face. "What can I do for you?"

"Well, I've been thinking about that hypnosis session, and some of the things I said during it."

"Anything in particular?"

"Quantum patterns."

She was surprised. He had shown little interest in the sciences before, other than asking for help on homework assignments. "What about them?"

"Well, ever since being hypnotized, I have the oddest sensation that I can 'see' patterns for different objects. I can clearly see the Lighthawk Sword when I concentrate, and the wings. But I'm also starting to see patterns for little things, like books and plates and such. It's a little unnerving."

"I can see where it might be. Actually, it's not unusual for advanced Power users. You're about the right age for those abilities to manifest. They usually require some kind of trigger, or some serious meditation, for the adept to become aware of them. Apparently, our experiment acted as a trigger."

Tenchi relaxed. "Whew, and I thought I was going nuts."

"No, you're not going nuts. Just realizing some potentials."

"Do you see these patterns?"

"Nope. Kagato did, but then he sold his soul for the ability." She watched him flinch at the mention of Kagato's name (in fact, over time it was getting easier for her to speak it — she'd have to think about that). She did not want Tenchi to associate that monster with his own capabilities, so now was as good a time as any to address the issue. "Yours is a genetic gift, courtesy of all that Juraian royal blood. You're going to find that ability increasing, and encompassing larger and more complicated structures. I think you're going to need some guidance on how to access it, and what to do with it."

Tenchi smiled. "Know a good tutor?"

"It just so happens that my schedule is open in the evenings."

"Would learning the mathematics behind it help?"

Again, he caught her off guard. He had been thinking. "It couldn't hurt, but it's not necessary."

"My grasp of physics isn't very good, but I'm willing to give it a shot."

"I like your attitude, Tenchi. Very well, let's get started."

############

Tenchi repeated the pattern for the following three days, allowing Ryoko to sleep in his bed, inviting Ayeka to breakfast, walking home from the bus stop with Mihoshi, helping Sasami in the kitchen, and talking to Washu after homework. Morale around the Masaki household soared.

On Friday, however, Tenchi had to leave early for a school activity. So the principals settled around the breakfast table, staring at one another glumly, depressed by his absence. It wasn't until Ayeka and Ryoko growled at one another that Washu finally raised the issue. "Haven't you ladies noticed the change around here?"

"What change?" asked Ryoko.

"You mean to tell me that you haven't noticed a change in Tenchi's behavior this week? He's finally relaxing around us."

"Now that you mention it..." Ayeka replied.

Ryoko smiled. "...he has been a lot friendlier."

"Don't you characters get it? He's making time for us. He's trying to include us in his schedule, rather than avoid us."

"Is that a result of Saturday's experiment?" Ayeka asked.

"Possibly. But I didn't plant any suggestions in his head. Maybe he's starting to reach some conclusions on his own. Or maybe it's your little non-aggression pact — there hasn't been a single argument all week. He has to have noticed."

"I dunno," Ryoko replied, "but I'm sure liking the change."

ACT 4 - SATURDAY MORNING

Tenchi never really got a chance to sleep in late, but on the weekends he did set his alarm back an hour. Of course, that didn't make much difference to Ryoko, who was hovering over him regardless of when he woke up. "Good morning, Tenchi."

"Good morning, Ryoko." Again, he invited her down on the bed. Again, she accepted. Only this time he didn't move when she snuggled up to him.

"You don't have to rush off to school today," she purred. She rubbed his chest, blowing in his ear. Her intentions were obvious.

"No, I don't. But there is something I wanted to ask you."

"Oh?"

"Would you like to join me at practice this afternoon? I talked to Grandpa about it, and he thought it was a good idea."

At first, Ryoko was disappointed. She had hoped for some-thing much more immediate and intimate. However, the more she considered the invitation, the more intriguing it sounded. For starters, Ayeka never attended sword practice; actually, it was off-limits to all of them (something about distracting Tenchi...go figure). The fact that he had just invited her spoke volumes. She warmed to the idea, and her face reflected it. "Yes, Tenchi, I would like to join you."

He returned her smile. "Good. I was hoping you would."

And then he was quiet, lost in thought. She was content to simply cuddle, knowing the moment wouldn't last long, but savoring it while it did.

############

It was still early morning, and Yosho was sweeping the shrine steps when Ayeka and Sasami found him. Ayeka touched his shoulder to get his attention. "Yes, Little Sisters, what can I do for you?"

"Sasami has been having nightmares about Tsunami again," Ayeka replied. Sasami nodded.

"So, do you talk to Tsunami very often when you're awake?" He sat down on one of lower steps.

"Well...no. She scares me." Sasami sat down on the step beside her older half-brother, while Ayeka sat down behind her.

"Why?"

"Because the older I get, the more I will get swallowed by her." She expected Yosho to laugh at her, or mock her. He did neither.

"Are you afraid of disappearing completely?"

"Yes."

"I don't think that will happen."

"What makes you say that?"

"It didn't happen to Tenchi, did it?"

"Huh?"

"Tenchi wears similar marks on his forehead to yours. That is Tsunami's brand, isn't it?"

"Yes." She reached up and touched the twin polygons above her brow. She remembered seeing the arrow-shaped marks on Tenchi's forehead when he wore his Juraian battle garb. Like hers, they often glowed with their own internal Power.

"And didn't she integrate with him, during that fight with Kagato? He said he heard her voice in his mind, and she planted Power secrets there."

"Well, yes."

"Tenchi seems little changed. A bit smarter perhaps, due to Tsunami, but basically the same old Tenchi." He tipped his head and raised his eyebrows.

"I hadn't thought of that. But still, she will be a lot more integrated with me than with Tenchi."

"Whether you fall in a puddle or fall in a lake, you still get wet. What difference does the depth make?"

"None, I guess." She studied her toes, lost in thought.

"You have much more experience integrating with another personality than Tenchi does. Perhaps you should spend less time worrying about it and offer to help him. I think he would appreciate it."

Sasami perked up noticeably. "What a neat idea! But it might take a while."

"It seems to me you will have many years to work on the task."

"Thanks, Yosho!" she said, visibly relieved by their short talk. She gave him a big hug and ran off to find Tenchi.

"The role of elder suits you well, Yosho," Ayeka said, rising.

"I've had a few opportunities to practice," he replied, also rising.

"Thank you, Big Brother."

"You're welcome, Little Sister," he said returning to his sweeping.

############

Ryoko was breathing hard and sweating buckets. She had just finished sparring with Tenchi. The first round had been fun, and she had confused him by randomly teleporting or levitating, just to see how he would react. Not surprisingly, she had gotten past his guard repeatedly. However, Yosho forbid such activities for the second round, and Tenchi had gotten his revenge by chasing her all over the practice yard. Damn, the kid was good! Not surprising, really, since Yosho had been training him for years, and Yosho was the only person to ever defeat her. Afterwards, they had crumpled together into the shade, draped over their practice swords. She smiled at him, he grinned back.

"I must say, Ryoko, for being out of practice you gave a good account of yourself."

"Thanks," she wheezed.

"Would you like to hear an evaluation?" She nodded, so he continued. "You are without a doubt the strongest fencer I have ever met. Your superior strength and enhanced abilities to phase shift, teleport, and levitate give you a tremendous advantage, as do your missile weapons. You are a formidable opponent. However, when restricted to skill alone, you are easily outmatched. Tenchi had the upper hand in the last round and kept you on the defensive the entire time."

"Tell me about it," she replied.

"If you would like, you are welcome to join us on a regular basis. Your presence here can only improve Tenchi's skills, and perhaps we can offer you something in return."

"I would like that."

"Good. Then we are done for today." His two students struggled to their feet, their thoughts confined to drinking lots of water. "May I talk to you a moment, Ryoko?"

Ryoko and Tenchi exchanged looks, and Tenchi shrugged. Yosho waited until he had disappeared into the trees before speaking.

"Ryoko, I am pleased that you came to practice today. I know Tenchi was happy."

"I enjoyed myself," she admitted.

"Have you given much thought to your future, now that you are completely free of obligations?" Meaning, of course, the statue of limitations on her criminal charges had expired.

And so had Kagato. "Not really. As long as it involves Tenchi."

"I would like to point out that Tenchi is a member of the Royal Family of Jurai. He may even ascend the throne one day. In either case, he is a major target for assassination." The response he saw in her eyes was gratifying. "He is going to need a bodyguard, someone extremely capable to watch his back. If you know of any suitable candidates, I would appreciate hearing about them."

She was absolutely thunderstruck. In one simple statement he had offered her a purpose in life with the one person who had given her life meaning. The implications were enormous; in her mind she saw a door opening on a world she hadn't even dreamed of. It took her several moments to find her voice before she could answer him. "I know someone who wants the job."

"Very good. Will we see you at our next practice?"

"I'll be here," she said. "And Yosho? Thank you."

############

The sun had just set. The sky was filled with wispy clouds that shimmered in yellows and oranges and grays, and the first stars were peeping out behind them. The azure depths were darkening, and the entire canvas reflected off the motionless lake like a polished mirror. Other than the wind, there was absolute silence.

"That was beautiful, Yosho. Thank you for inviting me to share it with you," Ayeka dipped her head towards her brother, who returned it solemnly. They sat on the end of the dock which extended from the Masaki residence. The lights in the house were starting to come on, and the sounds of conversation could be heard drifting down the wind.

"Yes, it is very peaceful out here. Not too chilly tonight, which makes it more enjoyable."

Ayeka was silent for a few moments, considering, and then reached a decision. "May I ask you a question?"

"Yes."

"Why is it you never sent any messages back to Jurai after landing here?"

"My drive engines and communications were damaged in the battle with Ryoko. I couldn't leave without extensive repairs, and I couldn't call for help."

"I meant through Funaho." She gestured towards the woods where Yosho's Royal Tree had taken root. The trees were the culmination of centuries of genetic engineering, whose full capabilities were a closely kept secret of the Juraian Royal Family. One such capability was the psychic link that the trees maintained with one another. This ESPer mode of communication was limited in scope, but was instantaneous across the parsecs and totally impervious to jamming. It was one of the reasons all members of the Royal Family were paired with them.

"At first I asked her not to tell anyone where we were. I thought it wise to watch Ryoko's tomb for awhile. By the time I was satisfied that her prison was a stable one, Funaho and I had both set down roots. This became our home."

"Our trees could sense Funaho entering dormancy, but did not know where she was. It was assumed, though, that if she still lived then so did you."

"And I assumed search parties would arrive here eventually. Or the locals would develop sufficient technology to call home."

"We were worried about you." She meant she was worried. Frantic, actually. Which had lead to her own rescue mission, and the subsequent chain of events.

"I was safe enough here," he lied. Yosho refused to tell Ayeka the truth: that he couldn't bring himself to kill Ryoko. Even though he had witnessed Ryoko incinerate whole city blocks, and had watched her obliterate so many of his friends and comrades who had tried to stop Ryo-ohki, he couldn't do it. Once he had taken her gems, the madness in her eyes had dissipated. She had been reduced to a frightened, disoriented child, who willingly confessed to him about Kagato. He couldn't radio the Galaxy Police, since his communications were destroyed. And if he summoned help through Funaho, the Royal Family would have dispensed its own brand of justice before they ever left Earth orbit. But he couldn't let her run loose, either — she was a danger to everyone, especially herself. In the end, he had done the most merciful thing he could think of: he had placed her in that crypt to await the day that help would arrive. Of course, Ryoko hadn't been alone in her suffering. He had been forced to defend this valley many times over the years. A metal sword kills just as readily as an energy sword. He, too, had blood on his hands.

"Do you think Funaho could be transported back to Jurai?"

"I do not know. Her roots are extensive...you could be looking at nearly a cubic hectare of land."

"There are engineers and botanists on Jurai that could per-form the task."

"Yes, there are. But the locals would notice the activity — particularly if a large transport spent any time moored over her pond."

"The vessel could be cloaked — "

"Have you asked Funaho if she wants to leave? Have you asked me?" He said it gently, but Ayeka still recoiled. "This little corner of Earth is quite comfortable, you know. And some-one needs to watch over the graves on the hill."

Yosho's wife and daughter — Tenchi's mother — were interred above the Masaki shrine. She knew Yosho would never leave. But her brow furrowed with another concern. "Do you think Tenchi would consent to leave Earth?"

"Yes," Yosho replied. "He is a young man, and ready to expand his horizons. He is slowly accepting the idea that his future does not reside on this planet. He has been through a great deal in the last year, and his resiliency says such much about his character."

"Well, he is your grandson," Ayeka smiled. "He could do no less."

"Still, I am concerned for him. You realize, of course, that he should never sit on the throne."

Ayeka was shocked. "Why do you say that?"

"He is too compassionate. He lacks your resolve. How did he describe you? 'An iron fist in a silken glove.' A very accurate assessment, by the way, which simply does not apply to him. However, he would make an ideal consort." He watched her face to gauge how she digested his suggestion. "With the proper training, of course."

Ayeka considered Yosho's idea. She had been so obsessed with winning Tenchi's favor that she had given no thought about what would come afterwards. Her father would be shamed by her lack of foresight and poor strategy; here was a lesson worth remembering. Yosho was correct, as usual. Tenchi had little use for politics, and was absolutely loyal. And she could rely on him to lighten her burden, with his enchanting smile and his strong arms around her..."What kind of training?" she asked finally.

"Protocol, traditions, and the requirements of whatever office he is best suited for. Our mothers went through similar training. You might ask them."

She would. And she now had a goal worth working towards.

############

It was late. The stars twinkled in the sky over the Masaki Shrine, Yosho's office was illuminated by a single desk lamp, and Yosho himself shuffled papers through the circle of light it cast. He heard the quiet footsteps on the porch, and so was not startled when the visitor knocked on his door. "Who is it?" The door slid open to reveal Washu. He motioned for her to enter. "What can I do for you at this late hour?"

"I have a few questions about Tenchi." She settled into the indicated seat opposite from him.

"And these couldn't wait until tomorrow?" he teased. Yosho was only too familiar with her odd hours. She would often work non-stop for days on one of her projects. The clock had little meaning in her dimensional laboratory.

"Well, I've been reviewing the data from his hypnosis session. While we were there, I had a hunch and set up bio-monitors on everyone in the room. The results were rather interesting."

"So, what questions do you have?"

"Did Tenchi ever have any girlfriends?"

Yosho paused to consider. "I think he had a crush or two, and there were a couple of girls he talked about. Nothing out of the ordinary. Why?"

"I just wondered if he has the same affect on Earth females that he has on the galactics living here," she answered.

"No, none of his teachers are trying to seduce him, and none of the girls in his classes seem interested in harassing him. Only the offworlders behave that way. To his schoolmates he is just an average boy."

"I thought so."

"Tell me, Little Washu, do you feel Ryoko and Ayeka are simply suffering through their first school-girl crush? Since they both have no real experience with this subject, isn't this just a phase — some temporary infatuation that will fade with the next handsome face to come along?"

"I used to think so, mixed-in with equal parts gratitude and hero-worship. I don't anymore."

"Is there a problem?" Yosho poured them each a cup of tea.

"I think Tenchi's manifesting use of Power is more significant than we realized."

"How so?"

"Except for Nobuyuki, all of us living here are Power sensitives. I can't prove it yet, but I think we are responding on some subliminal level to his rising capabilities. I think Ryoko and Ayeka, in particular, are reacting to more than just his compassion and charisma."

"Animal magnetism?" Yosho asked dubiously.

Washu shrugged. "It makes sense from a biological perspective. They can feel his capabilities on some deep level...they probably always have. Even Sasami and Mihoshi feel it, I think."

"And what about you?"

"Me, too" she admitted quietly. She sipped her tea, facing the truth.

"I take it that we males are not quite so affected?" Yosho asked, pushing his glasses up his nose.

"Actually, I think you are. But male needs are different from female needs: you need to worry more about dominance games than choosing the best mate."

Yosho sipped his tea silently, digesting this information. Finally, he asked, "How extensive is Tenchi's grasp of matter manipulation?"

"At this point, very rudimentary. He's overwhelmed with the knowledge, and until he learns to apply it, it is just going to confuse him."

"But he will learn?"

"Eventually. He's a quick study. Must be those royal genes in his blood." Washu grinned at him. Yosho nodded at the compliment.

"Have you considered just what his full potential is?

"Yes. It's staggering, really."

"Could he duplicate Ryoko's teleportation, levitation, and phase shifting abilities?"

"I hadn't thought of that. Yes, he probably will."

"In other words, he could become another Kagato?"

"Gods, don't even think such a thing!"

"I refer to talents, not intentions."

"Oh. In that case, yes; as long as he doesn't yield to the temptations."

"Perhaps he needs a mentor, to augment his own conscience."

Washu grinned. "Are you suggesting I look like Jiminy Cricket? I am little enough, I guess..."

"I'm afraid I don't understand that reference."

"Go rent Walt Disney's Pinocchio from the video store." She set her empty teacup on the table. "But you do raise a good point. That boy is going to need a firm hand on his leash for a while, and if he gets shipped off to Jurai, there's no telling whose influence he could fall under."

"Maybe you should go along and hold his leash. He appears to have accepted you as his tutor."

"Maybe I should," she replied. "If nothing else, I can keep an eye on Ryoko. I figure she'll go wherever Tenchi goes."

############

Washu slid the door closed behind her, and then she spoke to someone coming up the steps. Yosho waited patiently, knowing that whoever was out there would enter his office momentarily.

"Grandpa, do you have a moment?"

"Yes, Tenchi, come on in." Yosho indicated the now-vacant guest chair and reached for another teacup. "It's a little late for you, isn't it?"

"I've got a lot on my mind."

"Well, a shared burden is a lighter burden. Tell me about it."

Tenchi accepted the cup of tea. "Last Sunday I woke up in the middle of the night after having a terrible dream. I was disoriented, and it took me awhile to calm down enough to realize that it had been only a dream."

"Go on," Yosho prompted, blowing on his refilled teacup.

"In my dream I had run away from here. Gone off with the fishing fleets, or joined the military, or moved to America, something...I don't remember. But I was gone. And I had hurt everyone here because they felt that I had pushed them away so often, and for so long, that they finally turned their backs on me. Everyone left Earth."

"Where did they all go?"

"Ryoko and Ryo-ohki just took off one day, without saying goodbye to anyone. Someone thought that they had followed this spiral arm out to the frontier worlds, but no one knew for sure.

"Ayeka and Sasami went back to Jurai. Ayeka married some baron's son and bore his children. She was not happy, but she had fulfilled her duties. And Sasami married some princeling and moved out of the empire entirely.

"Mihoshi was transferred clear across the galaxy, and simply dropped out of sight.

"Washu went into her lab one day, closed the door behind her, and it vanished. No one could reach her any more.

"And a huge spaceship arrived one day, scooped Funaho and her lake clear out of the ground, and took you both back to Jurai.

"And in the end, when I finally returned home, the only person left here was Dad. The shrine had been neglected for so long it was falling apart. The house wasn't much better. And when we went up the hill to see the graves, they were nearly hidden under weeds and tall grass. 'This house darkened the day your mother died,' Dad said, 'but when you left it died completely. My whole life has been nothing but bitter loneliness. And that's all I have to bequeath to you, Son.' And then he just faded away.

"And I ran through the fields yelling that I had made a terrible mistake, and begging them all to come back, and that I didn't want to be alone any more...and then I woke up gasping and sweating."

"A troubling dream," Yosho replied.

"And it was so vivid...now I know what Sasami goes through. In fact, as I lay there thinking about it, I wondered if it was the same kind of precognitive dream she has. We share the same blood, after all. It scared me even more just thinking that this might be my future. Anyway, I couldn't go back to sleep, and I didn't want to wake the whole house up with my pacing. So I snuck downstairs, packed a lunch, and went for a long walk."

"What conclusions did you reach?"

"I dunno. I'm hoping it was just a warning of what might happen if I keep pushing everyone away. I know how those girls feels about me...heck, I heard Ryoko and Ayeka during that experiment. I think I've been acting like a jerk."

"It seems to me that you've been trying to change lately."

"Yeah, I have. It's not much, but I want them each to know how much I appreciate them."

"I think they already know that, Tenchi."

"They want so much from me...what should I do?"

"For now, nothing more than you have been doing. You have obligations here to attend to, and they accept that. And a little bit of attention does go a long way; they appear content for now."

"For now," Tenchi echoed. "What about the future?"

"The future will take of itself. You have another year of school left, and much can change during that time. Enjoy your time with them, and let them enjoy their time with you."

############

Yosho listened to Tenchi's footsteps fade into the darkness. He extinguished his desk lamp and followed his grandson outside. He settled onto the steps and gazed upwards. The stars were liberally sprinkled across the heavens. They twinkled merrily, and beckoned to him. Many times over the years he had questioned his choice, his decision to anchor his life here. But he had never regretted it. The years spent with his late wife were worth all the voyages he had ever taken between those suns, and he would gladly make that same decision again.

The Masaki house was finally quiet. It was seldom silent any more. The hollow lack of sound and warmth that had haunted this residence for so many years had finally been banished, hopefully forever. There had been so much pain here, in the years after his daughter's death. It said much that it took five females to fill the void in his grandson's heart left by his mother's demise. And yet, fill it they did...in their own disorganized, chaotic way. Tenchi's instincts had been telling him all along that he needed them.

His grandson wasn't the only person to lack focus. So did the Ladies, which is why there was so little harmony in their lives. Perhaps they instinctively recognized Tenchi as the focus they needed, but just couldn't correctly grasp how to deal with the situation. Sometimes instinct needed a helping hand.

Satisfied, he stood, brushed the dirt from his robes, and headed off to bed.

========================== Author's Notes =============================

As is usual, I came late to the party. I watched the 13 "Tenchi Muyo" OAV episodes with my youngest daughter (a teenager) and got hooked, and then discovered it was ten years old and out of fashion in Japan these days (Spring 2001). It appears to be going through a twilight period of sorts here in the States, but having watched a couple of the movies and some of the television episodes, I have to say a good story has been terribly diluted by all the mutations to other mediums. How sad.

So, call me a purist. I'll stick with the OAVs, and mourn what might have been.

This story takes place after the OAV series, with many references to Kagato Akara (episodes #5 and #6), Dr. Clay (episodes #11 and #12) and Lord Seriyu Tennen (episode #13).

The title, obviously, is the Japanese term for focus, as applied in the martial arts.

If you were thrown off by Tenchi's techno-babble during the hypnosis experiment, I would recommend the following web-sites (written in shirtsleeve English):

"Subtle Connections: Psi, Grof, Jung, and the Quantum Vacuum" - URL stripped by editor"Toward A Physical Foundation For PSI Phenomena" - URL stripped by editor"Can the Vacuum be Engineered for Spaceflight Applications? Overview of Theory and Experiments"- URL stripped by editor

I've done some writing in the past, but I've never tried my hand at playing with other people's characters before. A bit of a challenge, but I don't think I did any serious damage.

The characters of Tenchi Muyo were created by Masaki Kajashima, and brought to North America by Pioneer LDC. This story, while incorporating names and situations held under copyright by others, is copyright 2001 by Jeffery L. Harris.

This story comes entirely from my imagination, and is not, nor intended to be, canon. Please do not send the legions of lawyers after me...it's not worth their time, or mine.

Any questions or comments should be directed to:

Jeffery L Harris

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