The Harem Saga

EPISODE 7 Hitoribotchi no yoru

ACT 1

Mad is the captain of Alpha CentauriWe must be out of our mindsStill we are shipmates bound for tomorrowAnd everyone here's flying blind

Oh, we must believe in magicWe must believe in the guiding handIf you believe in magicYou'll have the universe at your command

Mad is the crew bound for Alpha CentauriDreamers and poets and clownsBold is the ship bound for Alpha CentauriNothing can turn it around

Oh, we must believe in magicWe must believe in the guiding handIf you believe in magicYou'll have the universe at your command

La-la-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-daLa-da-da-da-da-da-daLa-la-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-daLa-da-da-da-da-da-da

Oh, we must believe in magicWe must believe in the guiding handIf you believe in magicYou'll have the universe at your command

La-la-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-daLa-da-da-da-da-da-daLa-la-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-daLa-da-da-da-da-da-da

Oh, we must believe in magicWe must believe in the guiding handIf you believe in magicYou'll have the universe at your command

Artist — Crystal GayleTitle — "We Must Believe In Magic

SCENE 1

The Galaxy Police District Office was an imposing building, meant to exhibit a staid and conservative image no matter what culture it happened to be doing business with. The outside of the structure was featureless and bereft of decoration. The inside was no different: a central atrium with a few plants and elevators, some graphics hung on the walls, small islands of Spartan furniture, and several drab corridors leading off into the recesses of the building.

The Emperor of Jurai happened to be present because his wife (a Detective Captain in the GP) had a meeting to attend, and being very pregnant she had wheedled and whined until her husband had consented to escort her. Mihoshi had deposited Tenchi in the lobby along with his security detail, with a promise to return "in a few minutes."

The Emperor's personal bodyguard "Whuffed!" loudly into a chair. She, too, was very pregnant, and commented sarcastically about dumping the Emperor of Jurai in a lobby rather than in a private office. Tenchi commented that he didn't mind, since Mihoshi's office was smaller than the common room at home, and this way he could stretch his legs. Ryoko marveled again at her husband's patience and sagged, glad to be sitting (she was forbidden to user her Power attributes during her pregnancy, and she preferred to walk anyway since Ayeka had described a hovering, pregnant Ryoko as a dirigible). The remainder of the Emperor's security detail quietly scattered about the atrium, examining everyone and everything. The building's occupants and visitors all recognized the Emperor and maintained a respectful distance.

Tenchi really didn't mind waiting. Truth be told, he was just glad to be out and away from the Palace for a while. He strolled about the atrium, looking at the various artworks hung on the walls. One in particular caught his eye, and he stopped to study it.

The graphic was a series of political maps layered over a computer-generated model of the Milky Way galaxy. The galaxy resembled a spiral-shaped tree, with four main branches extending outwards from the egg-shaped trunk. Each branch coiled around the core for nearly one-quarter of the circumference, before dividing into spurs and smaller fragments. Star clouds and nebulae and great swaths of luminescent matter clumped together like so many leaves on the gently curving limbs. And all across the great model not a solid edge was visible; the entire structure was amorphous and diffuse, with the arms feathering into the voids between one another.

Most of the model was unlabelled; what was presented in detail was a pie-sliced wedge extending from the core to the bottom edge. The highlighted area centered on the Empire of Jurai, and was replete with astronomical terms defining general astrophysical structures. The Empire occupied one minor segment in the center of the wedge, what Terran star charts would call the Orion Spur. But minor is a relative term on a galactic scale: the Spur was 15,000 light years long and 2500 light years thick, separated from the neighboring Sagittarius (core-ward) and Perseus (rim-ward) arms by voids 5000 light years across. Contained within the caterpillar-shaped volume of space were approximately 156,000,000 suns.

Tenchi had learned by now that sheer numbers were deceiving. For instance, of the myriad star systems, less than one in ten thousand contained anything of real value:

* Urban Worlds: These planets were slowly being converted to human hives, as individual cities merged into one giant megalopolis. The buildings often reached a kilometer above and below the planet's surface, and covered every landmass available. Over time they tended to rely heavily upon imported food and raw materials, as their own natural resources dwindled and were reduced to protected enclaves. Sector capitols like Jurai and Seniwa were typical of this type.

* Manufacturing Worlds: These planets tended to be on the inhospitable side, but rich in raw materials. They were festooned with automated mining and assembly complexes, and sparsely populated. They were usually considered commercial property and treated accordingly.

* Rural Worlds: Covered in continental-sized tracts of arable land, these planets were devoted to grain and livestock farming on a global scale. And like the manufacturing worlds, they were heavily invested with automated agricultural complexes, and sparsely populated. And also like the manufacturing worlds, these planets were regarded as private property.

* Regressed Worlds: Many of the planets colonized in the distant past suffered from natural or man-made cataclysms. Contact with the Empire had been cut-off, with a corresponding breakdown in technology. Civilization on these planets devolved to a point somewhere between the Iron Age and the Stone Age. It was generally not cost-effective (or humane, in some cases) to reeducate a former colony until they were ready to reestablish contact. Earth was typical of this type.

* Research Worlds: Environmentally-speaking, these worlds were either barren, boring or lethal, and were considered safe places to conduct risky genetic or toxic industrial research. There were usually a small number of scientists and military personnel living in environmentally secure outposts. K1190 was typical of this type.

* Miscellaneous Habitats: A wide assortment of astronomical research stations, commercial trading posts, and unspecified habitats located in asteroid belts and moons. Those registered and permitted by the Empire were usually included in the navy's patrol routes, under the watchful eye of local garrisons and strike bases. Socially speaking, the Juraian Empire was a pretty mixed bag. At first glance, one would assume it to be a homogenous culture spread evenly and equally across thousands of worlds, ruled by the Imperial family from Jurai. Scratch the surface, however, and that image rapidly dissolved.

Humanity's true origin was, frankly, unknown for sure and hotly contested. Approximately 53,000 years before Tenchi's birth, a full half-dozen centers of human population were expanding outwards in a wave of exploration and colonization. Naturally, these societies bumped into one another, and just as naturally a series of wars broke out as they contested for dominance. It was a long, adventurous, bloody period of human history. But when the dust settled, Jurai was the largest and strongest government, surrounded by a host of smaller and weaker neighbors who were permitted to exist as buffer states. The situation had not changed much in the last few thousand years.

Jurai owed its stability to the simple fact that it allowed it subject planets autonomous government (within reason). As long as they observed the Three Imperial 'C's — Calendar, Coinage, and Courts — they were left alone. This made for a wide variety of political representation to the Imperial Senate: a monarchist could easily be seated next to a theocrat or a fascist. The Imperial Senate would, in turn, represent the voice of the Juraian citizenry to the Imperial Family, and would receive the Imperial Mandate in return. This attitude extended to the full array of human settlements, whether millennia-old societies on the legacy worlds, or company-owned villages on the mining and construction planets. The Empire took a dim view of exploitation of sentients, and this was a cause for much internal strife (particularly on worlds with long-ingrained caste systems). The humanitarian concern expressed was genuine, but tended to mask the more pragmatic concern that oppressed sentients tended to start revolts. The Empire took an even dimmer view of revolts.

However, anything at all to do with interstellar activities fell under the direct control of the Imperium. The navy patrolled the star lanes and enforced the peace — and the merchant guilds were mighty glad that they did. Most wealth within the Empire was generated by interstellar trade, and without the constabulary presence of the Imperial Navy, the pirate infestations and crime cartels would escalate from minor nuisance to major threat. The Empire taxed the merchant guilds, maintained the treaties, and generally kept the wheels of commerce running as smoothly as possible. All Imperial business was enacted using the Juraian language, regardless of whatever local dialects were employed for the day-to-day running of each planet. Every citizen was encouraged to learn it — and required to if he/she/it had any business with an Imperial organization.

Imperial levies funded a number of organizations and services, such as the Galaxy University and various disaster relief organizations. These organizations tended to be notionally apolitical or blatantly loyalist in their leanings. The levies also funded the military, which was ever-alert for unpredictable predations by species from neighboring galactic arms (such as the K'vimm Incursion of recent memory). The military recruited from across the entire spectrum of subject worlds, promoted by meritocracy, and was more-or-less regarded favorably by the Juraian citizenry. Overall, Imperial taxes were kept on the light side (except during emergencies), because the Imperial government had learned the hard way that excessive taxation leads to unhappy sentients, which leads to revolts. And the Empire took a very dim view of revolts.

But the Juraian citizenry were wholeheartedly behind the Imperial family. The Juraian citizenry...now there was a colorful lot. Given that humanity had been dispersing across hundreds of planetary environments for tens of thousands of years, and had dabbled in genetic engineering to some extent over that whole period, diversity was inevitable. There was no such thing as a pure human anymore; the species had been mongrelized. Millennia of genetic enhancement had given the average Juraian citizen the ability to consciously control his/her own fertility, to regenerate lost limbs and organs, live extended life spans, and successfully fight off disease. The same genetic tinkering had also raised the latent psionic capabilities of the race as a whole, and now a sizeable percentage of the population had become Power adepts. (The Imperial Family itself had set the tone early on: the records weren't clear if the dynasty's founders were Psykers themselves, or shrewd enough to recognize the trends and quickly infused the bloodline with Psyker DNA.) Tenchi's family was a microcosm of his empire.

Then there were the artificial intelligence communities, and the few non-human native sapient races, and the endless supply of visiting aliens from outside the Empire...

And every last one of them recognized the ultimate authority of the crown. Even though this hereditary monarchy had behaved less than ideally across its long history, it was perceived as being generally benign and a very useful focal point for the tens of trillions of sentients scattered across 94,000,000,000 cubic light years. All the pomp and pageantry and power, all the majesty of the Imperium, were personified by the occupant of the Juraian throne: Tenchi Masaki Jurai.

Tenchi sighed, feeling the weight of the crown and the responsibilities that went with it.

He felt fingers slip gently around his elbow, and strands of cyan hair tumbled onto his shoulder. "Whatcha lookin' at, Sweetie?"

"This map," Tenchi replied. "It's things like this that make me realize just how big the Empire really is."

Ryoko nodded silently.

"How much of it have you seen?" Tenchi asked.

"Most of the Empire's dirty little corners," she replied. "We never ventured too close to the high-traffic areas." 'We' meant her and Kagato, back in the Bad Old Days. She shuddered involuntarily as the memories tried to surface. "We even ventured outside the Empire once or twice, into the neighboring galactic arms. It's a large, lonely galaxy, Tenchi. But there are some really beautiful places in it. I'd love to take you on a tour sometime."

"Funny, I've been thinking about that subject quite a bit lately." He looked into Ryoko's golden eyes. "I rule all this area, and I've only seen one small part of it. We should start planning some kind of tour."

"Sounds fun. We might be gone for quite a while, though...it takes weeks just to reach the frontier from here."

"It might not take as long as you think," he replied. He ignored her quizzical expression, pointing instead to the mostly-blank region on the map. "What's in the rest of this area?"

"I don't know. Mihoshi could tell you, since the GP would have recent info. Or Washu probably could."

"I could tell you what?" Mihoshi asked, waddling up to them in her GP-issue regulation maternity uniform. She latched onto Tenchi's free elbow, her long golden locks spilling across their arms.

"What the rest of the galaxy is like," Ryoko replied.

Mihoshi gave the map a cursory inspection. "This thing is nearly fifty years old," she announced. "There won't be many physical changes, but there have been some definite political ones."

"Care to elaborate?" Tenchi asked.

Mihoshi grinned. "The last stats I saw were over a year ago, but..."

* The galaxy is approximately 120,000 light years in diameter.

* It contains approximately one hundred billion star systems, though the majority of stars are in binary or multiple systems.

* There are approximately two million intelligent species spread across fourteen million inhabited star systems, or on the order of 94 quadrillion sapients.

* There are approximately 19,000 interstellar governments at any given time, and millions of individual planetary governments.

* Jurai is among a minority of nations that are populated only by a handful of races tied together by a single government.

"You sure use 'approximately' a lot," Ryoko observed.

"You have to," Mihoshi shrugged. "Everything changes constantly. Even the cartography; since the stars are orbiting the center, Jurai gains and loses a few annually. That's a cause for war in some places, even though there's nothing anyone can do about it."

"I'm glad I don't have to worry about such stuff," Ryoko replied.

"I guess that's my job, huh?" Tenchi muttered.

"And you do it so well!" his wives chorused, giving his arms an encouraging hug.

"Do you think anyone authority will ever unite the whole galaxy?" Tenchi asked.

"Not willingly," Ryoko replied.

"Maybe in common defense," Mihoshi added.

"All those different races, and all those different nations...it seems impossible."

"Nothing is impossible," Mihoshi replied. "You've proven that."

"And if any one person could unite them all, it would be you," Ryoko added.

Tenchi just shook his head skeptically.

SCENE 2

Funaho entered the common room of the residential quarters, expecting to find her family. The room was empty; in fact, the whole wing of the Palace was deserted. She eventually wandered out onto the Veranda, and followed the voices until she located them. Sasami was seated at a small table, engrossed in her studies; Misaki and Ayeka were seated at another table, discussing the latter's crowded itinerary; and Ryoko and Mihoshi were settled on adjacent benches, watching Tenchi's children and comparing swollen feet, leg cramps, varicose veins, back pain, heartburn, and recent cravings. There was no sign of Tenchi or Washu.

Funaho answered their greetings with a question: "Where is Tenchi?"

Everyone pointed out on the lawn, where Tenchi could be seen kneeling on a blanket. Flanking him were Washu and Tsunami.

"What are they doing out there?"

"I have no idea," Ayeka replied, pulling one of her ponytails aside to massage her neck. "But they expressly asked us not to intrude."

"Well, I wanted to tell him that I just received a communiqué from Earth, and Yosho has departed for Jurai. He should arrive within the week."

"Oh, that is good news!" Ayeka said. "I'm sure he'll be most pleased to hear it."

"Then I'm sure he won't mind being interrupted," Funaho said, and so proceeded down the steps and onto the lawn. The other women exchanged glances and shrugs, scooped up the kids, and followed.

##########

"The body is all in the mind, but the mind is not all in the body," Tsunami said softly. She wasn't physically present, but the holographic image she projected was of a beautiful blue-haired woman kneeling gracefully beside him. Washu sat tailor-fashion with her spectral keyboard hovering above her lap, her mane of spiky red locks shading her face. An assortment of small instruments lay scattered around the blanket, trained on the Emperor.

"I know," Tenchi replied absently, "I've seen how the mind extends beyond the body." His eyes were closed and his attention focused inward.

"But you haven't seen the full extent," Tsunami countered. "The mind touches many levels of reality. Recall the analogy of the building and the courtyard."

"The mind is like a building, with many windows facing onto a courtyard containing a fountain," Tenchi recited. "The ground-level windows are close enough to the fountain to see small details. But as you move to higher levels, your perspective changes. You see the broader picture."

"Yes. But just how high does the building rise?"

"I...don't know," he answered haltingly. "I never thought about it."

"Construct the image in your mind, Tenchi. Then place yourself on the lowest level." After a short pause, Tenchi nodded. "Now start rising, one level at a time."

The fountain in Tenchi's mind began to recede, as his 'elevation' increased. "When should I stop?"

"Don't stop. Climb as high as you can."

The fountain dwindled to a speck, and then vanished entirely. Yet the building continued to climb inexorably above him. "I've lost the fountain," Tenchi said, "it's too far away."

"Very good. That was a simple image; let's try something more substantial. Place your awareness so that you can you see your body."

Tenchi shifted his mental viewpoint, focusing his enhanced perceptions out and above his body. He clearly saw the blanket and the three figures on it. "Ok."

"Now pull away. But remember, you are still firmly anchored here."

It was good advice. Rising higher and farther, he felt a momentary fear that he might drift too far. But since he still felt the weight of his body pressing into the blanket, he knew he could return in the blink of an eye. So he allowed the process to continue, watching as the rest of his family moved off the veranda. Then the palace as a whole was visible, and soon the outlying grounds. Before long the entire island was visible, populated by toy buildings and four-limbed specks. His awareness continued to expand.

##########

Washu heard them coming and swiveled about, a finger placed to her lips. The expression on her face was more of a command than a request.

"It's ok, Washu, I know they are there," Tenchi said without opening his eyes are turning around.

"What do you want?" Washu asked them, irritated.

"I've come to tell Tenchi that his grandfather has left Earth and is on his way here," Funaho answered.

"Thank you, Funaho," Tenchi replied. He gave no indications that he had seen Washu's scowl. "Please have a seat, ladies, this won't take long."

The women settled into the grass, curious.

"What do you see now?" Tsunami asked.

"The whole continent."

"As your perception expands, the separation between distant locations diminishes. You can fold them together in your mind like opposite ends of a paper sheet. Try it."

The Lighthawk Wings appeared in the air above Tenchi. They pulsed quietly for a moment before altering their normal Y-shaped configuration, merging into one large wing. This object drifted to the ground a few meters away from the blanket, expanding at the edges until it became a lens-shaped disk.

"What is that?" Ryoko asked.

"A dimensional doorway," Washu replied, looking over her shoulder and baring a triumphant smile. There were astonished gasps from the family. "Why so surprised? If Naja Akara could do it, why shouldn't he?"

"Didn't she require mechanical augmentation?" Funaho asked.

"Yes, but Tenchi doesn't," Washu answered proudly. "We've been working on this for months. Impressive, isn't it?"

They all nodded.

"Where does that doorway lead, Tenchi?" Ayeka asked.

"To a beach on the western ocean." Without another word, Tenchi rose and walked towards the doorway. After a slight hesitation, he stepped through it. He emerged a few moments later, carrying two small seashells. He retraced his footsteps, walking past Washu and Tsunami and up to his family. He gave the shells to his children, who squealed appreciatively. Tenchi returned to the blanket, standing quietly between Tsunami and Washu.

"That is a very limited connection," Tsunami said. "Why don't you try connecting points much farther apart, employing all of your Power?"

Tenchi considered the idea for a moment, then nodded. With a gesture the doorway dissolved. He teleported to the far end of the lawn, appearing on a rise a safe distance from his family. He stood for a while staring vacantly into space, motionless. Then the wings materialized above him, growing incandescent and engorged, and his family felt the tug of his unbridled Power attributes. Before long the wings merged into another disk, the new doorway drifting downwards to touch the grass.

Tenchi stepped though the doorway and vanished.

Seconds stretched into a minute, and then into several minutes. His family began exchanging nervous comments, but neither Tsunami nor Washu seemed concerned. The doorway continued to pulse quietly.

Tenchi returned suddenly, appearing through the doorway as though parting a curtain. He gestured and the doorway disappeared. He teleported back to the blanket. In his hands he carried a small bouquet of flowers, wrapped in a pink ribbon with small bells on the bow.

"Where did you get those?" Mihoshi asked.

"From my mother's grave," Tenchi replied slowly.

There was open-mouthed amazement from everyone present. Finally, Ayeka managed to sputter, "Tenchi, do you know how many light years Earth is from Jurai?"

"Yes, I know. Amazing, isn't it? Distance is meaningless beyond time and space." He fiddled quietly with the flowers, then walked off towards the gardens and the small shrine they contained.

"Geez, he's starting to creep me out," Ryoko said.

"Relax, Ryoko," Washu replied. "It's difficult to put into words a concept that is beyond words. Mystics and philosophers have been trying for thousands of years, and haven't had much success. Could you describe the color red to someone born blind?"

SCENE 3

As a general rule, recommissioning ceremonies for Imperial Navy vessels rarely warranted the presence of a celebrity (that kind of attention being reserved for brand new capitol ships). However, the IJN Attakiassa was no ordinary destroyer: she had a radical new realspace driver installed — one devised and prototyped by members of the Imperial family. Full field trials would determine if the new engine would be distributed throughout the fleet. For the admiralty, success meant a lot of money and politics to be doled-out to supplicating contractors; for the crew, which meant a plum assignment with lots of prestige and almost certain promotion. The behind-the-scenes brawl waged by competing factions was so large and dirty that rumors of it actually leaked to the media. And the media had long memories. Thus, when the navy released its plans for a modest recommissioning ceremony, it was publicly pilloried. The navy's Department of Public Affairs (ever vigilant for a chance to increase its own influence) promptly inflated the ceremony's priority and scope, casting about for the ideal celebrity to build the ceremony around. And it took practically no time at all to discard the usual set of actors and sports figures when it was discovered that the Emperor himself (assisted by his scientific genius wife) was responsible for the new engine. Why not shoot for the pinnacle and invite the Royal Family? And that also meant that the usual flock of paparazzi and social remora would trail along, all following a well-planned script to make the Navy look good.

Empress Ayeka had discussed the invitation with her privy councilor (her mother), and having reviewed the implications and benefits had recommended that they accept. Empress Washu received the same invitation (she had built the prototype, after all — and held all the patents on it), and had expressed an interest in seeing the final product. They coordinated their schedules with Tenchi's privy councilor (Baroness Paravaffri Velayuthemy, aka, 'the Iron Inquisitor'), who completed the link to the Emperor. Tenchi had consented readily enough.

Thus, after several months of waiting, the Emperor and his family (some of it, anyway) had been escorted onto the Fleet Admiral's private launch for a ceremonial shuffle from the Admiralty to the space dock facilities in high orbit above Jurai's largest moon. Since it was actually too large to fit into the destroyer's hangar deck, the launch was required to maneuver alongside the IJN Attakiassa and dock with one of the larger personnel ports. Matching seals and synching internal gravity and atmospherics was accomplished smoothly, and the launch's passengers were ushered aboard the warship without incident.

Tenchi stepped though the hatch and was immediately greeted by recorded music and the unmistakable sound of bodies snapping to attention and bowing. He moved aside to allow Ryoko, Washu, Ayeka, and Misaki to join him. The main corridor was crowded, even though normal ship's traffic had been diverted away. There was the obligatory honor guard, the ship's officers, a collection of civilians (mostly media), and one very familiar face.

Rear Admiral Kowis Mobinita grinned. "Welcome aboard, Your Majesties."

"Admiral Mobinita! What a pleasant surprise," Tenchi responded. Tenchi's wives made similar expressions; Admiral Mobinita had commanded the task force that had shadowed Prince Tenchi during his last trip back to Earth — and had then been tasked with counterattacking the K'vimm. "I didn't realize that you were part of this project."

"Yes, Your Majesty. I will be coordinating the field trials, and then the initial combat simulations when the new torpedoes are delivered." Mobinita gestured to the man standing next to him. "May I present the commanding officer of the Attakiassa, Captain Sir Noniel Jelham."

Captain Jelham bowed smartly. The CO of the destroyer was a man with a very dark complexion and jet-black tightly coiled hair tinged gray at the edges. His moon-shaped face was dominated by his eyes, which were clear and quick. His once-muscular physique was slowly yielding to middle-aged spread, but his posture was still ramrod straight. He wore a small collection of service ribbons on his left breast, and the same medallion of knighthood that Tenchi wore. "Your Majesty."

Tenchi returned the courtesy: "And may I present my family: Empress Ryoko, Empress Ayeka, Empress Washu, and Retired Empress Misaki Jurai." Jelham bowed smartly to each of the ladies — until his eyes locked with Misaki's, and then he hesitated for the briefest interval. Tenchi was mildly surprised; not by the Captain's pause, but by the fact his mother-in-law mirrored it.

Washu noticed as well, and cleared her throat theatrically. "Isn't it a bit unusual to post a captain to a destroyer?" she asked Mobinita. "I thought the position was always filled by someone of Commander's rank."

"That is true under normal circumstances," Mobinita replied. "But since this situation is of such high potential, the tradition was waived. And Captain Jelham is our most experienced torpedo tactician; he recently revised the standard curriculum for the naval war college. His insights into deployment and operation of the new torpedoes will be quite valuable."

Washu nodded, accepting the explanation.

"Your Majesty, may I introduce my staff?" Jelham asked. When Tenchi nodded, he turned to face the line of uniformed officers standing at attention behind him. "This is my Executive Officer, Commander Coel Pil'heureux." The ship's XO was a short woman whose auburn hair was wound into tight circlets that hung down her back. Like her captain, she, too, wore an impressive collection of commendations.

"This is our senior medical officer, Dr. Jikkyo Yosonya." A slim woman of indeterminate age, her almond-shaped eyes appraised the Emperor coolly from beneath straight black hair. Tenchi got the distinct impression that nothing much could disturb this woman's composure, whether proximity to royalty, the chaos of combat, or a medical emergency.

"This is Commander Quilen'sta Pennum, engineering and ship's systems." The man was so tall that his head nearly scraped the ceiling plates, and was so thin and pale that he appeared cadaverous. But his grin seemed to raise both halves of his mouth level with his ears, and his eyes were almost the same shade of violet as his short-cropped hair.

"Senior Lieutenant Shanmugajothi nax'aa Diamistrathi, in charge of personnel and supply." This woman was of medium height, and her emerald green hair was tied back into a severe bun. She gave the appearance of being at once both casual and thorough, that she was relaxed because she could afford to be.

"Senior Lieutenant Artdokht Gwymalat, communications and sensors." She was olive-skinned, short, and slim, and her face was etched with very subtle ceremonial tattoos and a complicated pattern of delicate scar tissue. The sides and back of her head were shaved, while the top was covered by a bowl of short black hair.

"Senior Lieutenant Kedney Kianyandaarwa, weapons and tactics." The man was lean and predatory, a bronze-skinned face topped with white hair that hung down his back in a tightly braided ponytail. A white mustache framed his thin lips, and a small scar bisected his left eyebrow.

"Lieutenant Yechoua Ino, our astrogator." The young man was short and round, his eyes staring out of an equally round face like two glistening coals. His head was bald, except for a blossom-shaped tattoo that covered the very crown of his skull. The ursine impression was amplified by the smile carved from his muzzle-shaped mouth.

"Lieutenant Qeziban Beora Hojanka, responsible for hangar facilities and shuttle maintenance." The young woman who bowed resembled a Terran carrot: a spray of green hair that topped a reddish complexion. She could hardly keep the excitement out of her green eyes or lanky posture, and her nervous titter was met with resigned eye-rolls performed en masse by her shipmates.

Thus the Royal Family began its tour of the IJN Attakiassa.

The destroyer was typical of Imperial navy vessels: she was old — outer space, an extremely hostile environment to the biological crew, was actually a benign environment for the plastics and metals that spacecraft are made from. Outer space bestowed the gifts of endurance and longevity, and most of the Navy's thousands of ships had been served by multiple generations of sailors. Attakiassa was already a centenarian when she was tapped for this project. It had been upwards of 15 decades since her initial completion, arming, and commissioning. She had been refitted and modernized several times, and would continue on active duty until succumbing to a catastrophic accident or destruction in battle. Attakiassa had been picked because:

* New spaceships represent a huge investment in time and resources, as compared to the more-modest costs of an upgrade.

* Since the new realspace driver would be retrofitted to all of the navy's assets anyway, why not start with a representative installation?

* It had been her turn in the rotation through the navy's reconstruction facilities.

Engineering was the single largest department on the Attakiassa. The officers kept its maintenance crews continuously repairing and replacing the effects of entropy, fatigue, and hostilities. Like all Imperial starships, she carried a complete nanotech foundry, hydrogen collectors to feed it, and an extensive technical library providing details on practically every component of the ship. She was powered by generators that extracted energy directly from the quantum vacuum, converting it to useful electricity and heat. The electrical grids then fed energy directly into the gravitic drives, which were used to transit through realspace at sub-light speeds. Trans-light speeds required the jump drive, which shifted the vessel into psuedospace where hyperoptic velocities were possible. Fully one-third of Attakiassa's internal volume was consumed by the reactors, force pans, inductor ports, resonating chambers, layers of protective cladding, and the miles of pipes, tunnels, corridors and ducts needed for the control mechanisms, wiring conduits, and access tunnels used by the service crews.

The residential areas of the Attakiassa housed the hundreds of sentients that served aboard her. Deck after deck of cabins, galleys, hospitals, gymnasiums, and support facilities. Light, heat, humidity, gravity, inertial compensation, radiation shielding, water, food, clothing, medicines, and all the facets of Life support must be provided, and in some cases tailored to different species' requirements. Attakiassa was often compared to a small town, and the comparison was an apt one: an Imperium sailor could spend years aboard the same ship, with the same crewmates, so it had to be physically and psychologically compatible.

On freighters and merchant tramps, the remainder of the ship's internal volume was devoted to cargo holds and containment lockers. On the Attakiassa this space was filled by the storage cells that drove the ship's directed-energy projectors; or the torpedo launchers and their corresponding magazines; or the banks of sensors and fire control computers that managed the weapons; or the shield generators that added a protective layer to the armored skin.

All Imperial spaceships massing over two thousand tons carried smaller sub-craft for use as shuttles, and the Attakiassa was no exception. Her auxiliaries varied widely in appearance from day-to-day, depending on their intended use. They were simple frames modified with interchangeable packages to meet individual mission parameters. Atmospheric entry was possible by reconfiguring the shuttle's forcefields to make them aerodynamically efficient. Supplementing these boats were the short-range teleport systems and tractor beam projectors, both capable of moving personnel and bulk cargo on and off the vessel.

The tour ended in the officer's lounge, which had been hastily decorated with banners and piped music and platters of hors d'oeuvres. The royals were shepherded into one corner with the Admiral and the ship's senior officers; the junior officers were foisted onto the civilians and told to "be polite and evasive."

"Your ship is quite impressive, Captain," Misaki said.

"Thank you, Your Majesty. She isn't new, but she certainly carries herself well. Most civilians fail to appreciate the great dignity borne by all old spacecraft, nor the almost biological feel of a ship: the cycles of repair and renewal that it goes through, the symbiosis between the crew and the ship's AI. I imagine it is comparable to a Royal Tree ship."

"Have you ever been aboard one of the tree ships?"

"No, Your Majesty, I have not. But I have always wanted to." There were less than 100 royal space trees scattered about the Empire: Tsunami ('Ouke No Ki', the 'First Tree of Jurai'); the four surviving first-generation trees attached to members of the Royal Family; the dozen second-generation trees attached to ranking nobility; and the assembly of third- and fourth-generation trees, ten of which were assigned to the sentinental squadron protecting Jurai, while the remainder were distributed throughout the Imperial fleets. It was every officer's dream to be paired with one of these latter.

"Perhaps you would care to join me aboard Karin sometime?" Karin was Misaki's first-generation tree, and she was its lifelong Companion.

Jelham's eyes lit up. "I would be honored, Your Majesty."

"Excellent. I'll have my staff attend to it."

Tenchi and Ayeka exchanged glances.

Tenchi - Amazing...

Ayeka - What, that my mother finds the captain attractive?

Tenchi - No

Ayeka - That the captain finds my mother attractive?

Tenchi - No

Ayeka - Then what is so amazing?

Tenchi - That I'm not the one getting into hot water for a change!

Tenchi sat at the lounge table aboard Tsunami. Around the table sat Ryoko, Ayeka, Misaki, Washu and Admiral Mobinita. They watched Attakiassa on the monitors. She was being swarmed by service 'bots, shuttles, a pair of cargo tramps, and (in the distance) a screen of corvettes keeping a wary eye on the activities. The Fleet Admiral's private launch drifted nearby, waiting to shuttle the Royal Family back to Jurai.

The sound of flowing water could be heard throughout Tsunami's command deck, which resembled a garden full of sculpted ponds. One of Tsunami's main branches grew through the center of the structure, and many smaller limbs sprouted from the bulkheads. There was a traditional human-engineered bridge in one small section, separated from the main area by partitions covered with monitor screens and keyboards. It was here that the observers were sitting.

"The projections are simply astounding, Your Majesty," Mobinita said. "If everything goes according to schedule, we will be retrofitting nearly every ship in the fleet over the next five years."

"'Nearly every ship'? Why not all of them?" Washu asked.

"We don't know if the engine will work with the Royal Trees. It hasn't been tried yet, or even studied." Mobinita shrugged sadly. "Have you given it any thought, Empress?"

"Well, not yet," Washu admitted, "though I don't foresee any problems."

"Why don't we find out?" Tenchi asked. "Seems to me as good a time as any to try it, and Tsunami is willing enough."

Ayeka raised an eyebrow. "Can you generate a powerball large enough to accommodate her, Beloved?"

Tenchi shrugged. "By myself, no; with her help, probably. Admiral, would you inform our escort that we're going for a little joyride?"

"Yes, Sire," Mobinita replied. He knew better than to question the Emperor.

Tenchi sat quite still for a moment, eyes closed. The Emblem of Power began to glow on his forehead, and his family felt protective shields envelop their minds. Mobinita had one of the monitors keyed to relay a camera image from the nearest escort vessel, and they all stared at the image displayed.

The bow of the Royal Tree ship was becoming hidden by a blue-white fog, and moments later ten silver blades of enormous size crystallized from the mist. As he watched, three more blades appeared, and together they began to lengthen and stretch, looking like azure fingers reaching into the vacuum. Once they had reached a size nearly twice as long as the body of the ship, they began to fold backwards and merge, forming an iridescent cocoon around the biovessel.

"Tenchi, what are you doing?" Ryoko asked.

"Merging with Tsunami the same way I merge with human adepts: she provides the Power, I provide the control. She is many times larger than I am, and many times stronger, so I wouldn't be surprised if she's faster than me." There was the faintest jarring sensation, synchronized with the on-screen image of the tree ship beginning to pull out of its orbit. The escort ships scurried after it, unable to get any closer. And as Mobinita and the family watched, Tsunami streaked off into interplanetary space. Tenchi smiled. "For what it's worth, she is enjoying this immensely!"

"The escort vessels are transmitting their sensor results, Your Majesty. We're approaching an estimated 75% lightspeed! I guess this answers the question about retrofitting the tree ships."

"I guess it does," Tenchi said, his eyebrows nearly hidden by the glare from his Emblem. "Please inform the escort to meet us back at the Corral; Tsunami is in no hurry to return, and they simply can't keep up with her."

ACT 2

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you.

Though I know that evenin's empire has returned to sand,Vanished from my hand, left me blindly here to standBut still not sleeping.

My weariness amazes me,I'm branded on my feet, I have no one to meetAnd the ancient empty street's too dead for dreaming.

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you.

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin' ship,My senses have been strippedMy hands can't feel to grip, my toes too numb to stepWaiting only for my boot heels to be wanderin'

I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fadeInto my own parade, cast your dancin' spell my wayI promise I'll go under it

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,I'm not sleepy and there ain't no place I'm going toHey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for meIn the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you.

Though you might hear laughin'Spinnin', swingin' madly through the sunIt's not aimed at anyone, it's just escapin' on the runAnd but for the sky there are no fences facin'

And if you hear vague traces of skippin' reels of rhymeTo your tambourine in time, I wouldn't pay it any mindit's just a ragged clown behindAnd if to you he looks blind, I wouldn't worryit's just a shadow you're seein' that he's chasin'

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,I'm not sleepy and there ain't no place I'm going toHey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for meIn the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you

Take me disappearin' down the smoke rings of my mindThrough the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leavesThe haunted sheltered trees, out to the windy beachFar from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond skyWith one hand waving freeSilhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sandsWith all memory and fate driven deep beneath the wavesLet me forget about today until tomorrow.

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,I'm not sleepy and there ain't no place I'm going toHey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for meIn the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you.

Artist — Bob Dylan (with modifications by Judy Collins)Title — "Mr. Tambourine Man"

SCENE 1

"Well, Captain, what do you think?" Misaki sat in her command chair, which occupied the central pedestal of Karin's bridge. Along the wall behind her were the various consoles usually occupied by her crew (presently vacant). The remainder of the available space was used for control panels and fixed monitors. Beside her stood the XO for Karin, Commander Rirri Ki'yuana, a tall and slim woman with short blue hair and violet eyes. The expression on her angular face remained as neutral as her body language, polite and proper and without opinions.

Jelham stood opposite Ki'yuana. "This bridge seems little different from any of the steel ships I've served aboard. The layout is standard, the interfaces are standard, even the color schemes and lighting are standard. And yet...there's a difference. A subtle one. I feel a presence all around, which the AI's are unable to project. I can't quite place it."

Misaki nodded to her XO, eyebrows arched.

"Very impressive, Captain," Ki'yuana said. "Most new arrivals take several days before directly perceiving Karin, which usually requires an adjustment period."

"I didn't say I was 'adjusted' to it..."

"You must have rated highly on your psyker tests," Misaki said. "And yet you've never been aboard a tree ship before? I find that odd."

"The list of candidates is long, Your Majesty, and the number of postings is few. I have no expectations in that direction."

"Don't be so pessimistic, Captain. There are nearly sixty fifth-generation trees presently growing in the royal arboretum. The first stand will reach maturity in the next decade."

"You are too kind, Your Majesty, but realistically the prospects are slim. I would expect Commander Ki'yuana to be much closer to a posting than myself." Which was true enough; to even serve aboard a tree ship — let alone command one — required exceptional psionic sensitivity. Ki'yuana nodded, acknowledging the compliment. "I believe I have found a useful niche in spite of my esper deficiencies."

Misaki smiled. From where she sat, the good captain lacked for nothing.

She tapped a few keys on the arm of her chair, and holodisplays materialized in the air. They showed the space immediately around Karin: the current residents of the Corral. The center was occupied by Tsunami, Funaho's first-generation Companion Mizuho drifted nearby, as did Ayeka's second-generation Companion Ryu-oh. Several of the Sentinels were visible beyond them.

"An impressive sight," Jelham said.

"Indeed," Misaki replied, but she wasn't looking at the monitors. "If you're schedule permits, Captain, perhaps you'd join me for dinner tonight."

"I'd be honored, Your Majesty."

"Do you need to contact your family, to notify them of your whereabouts?"

"I have no family to speak of, Your Majesty."

"Really...you aren't married?" Misaki already knew the answer to the question, having asked an amused Funaho to acquire the officer's personnel records. The resulting dossier made for fascinating reading.

"Not anymore."

"Oh, I'm sorry," she lied.

"It was a long time ago, Your Majesty. The usual sad story: junior lieutenants are notoriously underpaid and frequently absent for long periods of time. The divorce was not unexpected."

"How unfortunate. Perhaps it is best to leave the past alone, then. Rirri, would you have my shuttle readied, and call ahead to the palace and let them know there will be a guest joining us for dinner."

"Yes, Your Majesty," Ki'yuana replied.

##########

"So, how are you feeling?" Kiyone asked.

"Bloated and hot, with a constant desire to orbit the toilet," Mihoshi replied.

The two former partners and best friends settled onto veranda chairs, each carrying a tray which they placed on the table. Sasami had made them lunch before shooing them out of her kitchen.

"Gee, keep talking, it gives me so much to look forward to."

"Well, I will admit that there are moments when I would just as soon forego the whole experience. But then I remember how much fun I had getting into this condition, and what the final product will be. It helps me to keep everything in perspective."

Kiyone laughed. "When do you go on maternity leave?"

"Another week or two. I haven't decided. It depends upon how I feel." Her lunch began to disappear in rapid mouthfuls. "And what about you? How much time are you taking off for your honeymoon?"

"Two weeks. Trinnard can get an indefinite leave of absence if he wants to, but I don't have that luxury."

"So, where are you going?"

"I'll tell you all about it after we get back," Kiyone grinned, knowing that (a) Mihoshi hated waiting for anything, and (b) she couldn't keep a secret to save her life.

"Oh, alright..."

##########

"What are you smiling about?" Ayeka asked. She settled herself into the hot bath, and reached for the floating bucket of bottles and cups. Steam rose in tremulous tendrils towards the ceiling.

"Because I'm happy," Ryoko replied. She leaned against the wall, arms draped over the sides of the pool, feeling the jets of hot water pulse against her back. She watched Ayeka pour the contents of a bottle into her cup. Ayeka gave the bucket a little shove, and it drifted over towards Ryoko.

"Is there a cause for such joy?"

"I have everything I ever wanted, and thought I'd never have: a home, a family, Tenchi..."

"Well, you don't have quite an exclusive lock on him," Ayeka drawled. She sipped at her cup.

"Yeah, I know. But It doesn't bother me so much anymore. Even when I'm not with him, I can feel him." Ryoko extracted a cup from the bucket, and reached for the bottle Ayeka had opened.

"As can I," Ayeka said.

"I sure miss having sake during these baths," Ryoko sighed.

"Cheer up," Ayeka consoled her. "It will only be another month or so. Besides, the fruit juice is good for you."

"Who would have thought that I'd have to be so concerned for my health."

"I thought you were concerned for your daughter's health?"

"Hers, too." Ryoko's smile persisted, even around the juice she was sipping. "So much has changed in the last five years. I can't even imagine what the next five years will bring."

"More children, probably," Ayeka said, a grin lighting her own face.

"Is that a personal goal?"

"Perhaps."

Ryoko chuckled. "God, are we getting domestic, or what?"

"I'm not complaining. Not one little bit. This is the life I dreamed about as a child. In later years I had horrible visions of being married-off to some ambitious princeling, and then kept manacled to a bed as my sole purpose in life."

"I thought you liked using manacles in bed?" Ryoko asked slyly.

Ayeka colored. "Well, just as long as I have the key..."

They shared glances, before bursting into laughter.

Ayeka rose from the bath and padded across the tiled floor, leaving a constellation of water droplets behind her. She leaned over the hovercrib to check on the sleeping Azusa, and then made a minor adjustment to the sound-dampening field around the infant. She paused to watch him wrinkle his nose in his sleep, blew him a kiss, and retraced her steps to the pool.

Ryoko watched a small bulge rise from one side of her tummy and slide across to the other side. She wondered idly if it had been caused by a hand or a foot. Sometimes the whole experience of being pregnant was just too unreal to her.

Ayeka settled back into the pool, and reached for the cup she had set on the ledge. She pursed her lips when she discovered it was empty. "I must agree with you, Ryoko — I will be glad when we can open the sake again."

"You don't have to stay sober on my account, you know."

"I know. But you were gracious enough to refrain during my pregnancy; it is the least I can do during yours." Ayeka reached for the bucket and another bottle of fruit juice. "Have you decided on a name for your daughter yet?"

"Nope. I figure I'll get my inspiration the first moment I lay eyes on her."

"An excellent notion, although I presume Tenchi has made a few suggestions..."

"No, he hasn't. But Washu sure has."

"Now there's an example of an unpredictable set of occurrences."

"Yeah, I know. I have to admit, I'm a little jealous of Achika sometimes...knowing that I was probably treated the same way once."

Ayeka shrugged. "Washu is an excellent mother, and would have been for you, too, if the circumstances had been different. Let the past rest in peace — there is too much to look forward to in the future."

Ryoko nodded, conceding the point. She had been watching Washu for the last couple of years, making mental notes of the way her mother did things. She had also been observing Ayeka, and had to admit that her best friend was a damn good mother as well. Ryoko only hoped she would do as well.

She drained her cup and reached for the bottle, only to discover that it was empty. She retrieved the floating bucket and examined each of the bottles within it, tipping them upside down to verify that they were all empty as well. She snorted in disgust, mildly peeved. A flash of inspiration twinkled in her eyes, and her lips curled mischievously. After stealing a glance at Ayeka to verify her inattentiveness, she began laying each of the bottles quietly on the tiled edge of the pool. Ayeka continued to stare vacantly at the ceiling, and so did not witness Ryoko's stealthy movements.

"Ayeka?" Ryoko leaned forward, pulling the empty bucket beneath the surface of the bath water.

"H-m-m-m?" Ayeka replied, lowering her gaze.

Ryoko propelled a bucket of water straight into Ayeka's face.

Ayeka was unprepared for the assault: she reflexively snapped her eyes shut, and tried to press her lips together tight enough to keep the water from entering. Enough of the bucket's contents streamed past her head to splatter on the tiled wall, sending rivulets snaking in all directions. Ayeka slowly pulled strands of azure hair off her cheeks, scraped the water out of her eyes, and glared across the pool at the chuckling Ryoko.

"What's the matter, Ayeka, should I have included the shampoo?"

Ayeka's answer was a rapid series of scissor-kicks that sent a tidal surge slamming into Ryoko, forcing her against the wall. The empty juice bottles were carried well away from the edge of the pool by the swell, and Ryoko sloshed down onto her submerged bench. Her head bobbed above the surface, cyan snarls weaving wreaths around her ears. She glared down the length of her nearly prone body, and exhaled a spray of mist.

"Thar she blows!" Ayeka giggled.

"Are you implying that I resemble a whale?" Ryoko growled, wiping her face.

"Well, Darling, there are certain similarities: the massive bulk, the spume from the blowhole..."

"Oh, that was low," Ryoko replied. "Well, let's see what you have to say about this!" She was even stronger than Ayeka, and the series of kicks she executed inundated the smirking Empress.

Sasami entered the onsen at that point, looking for her sister, and was nearly hit by the spray. She quickly took note of Tenchi's wives launching surf at one another, the saturated walls and floor, and the hovercrib in the corner of the room. She dashed over to check on the baby, relieved to see that he was completely dry and totally undisturbed by the shrieking and splashing. She ran back to the doorway, and considered her options.

Seconds later, stripped naked and cackling insanely, the teenager leaped into the middle of the pool, drenching the other two occupants — who immediately retaliated. The volume of female laughter and horizontal precipitation increased exponentially.

SCENE 2

Tenchi sat in a chair aboard Tsunami, idly watching the monitors. They showed the tree ship pulling away from lunar orbit, paced by Attakiassa. He smiled wryly, noting that this particular trip varied from the norm in several ways:

* Ryoko was ill, and had remained at home. She had surrendered her bodyguard responsibilities to someone she trusted — Sir Trinnard Qualston and his Companions, Sir Lorand Jabray, Sir Phieer Varo, Sir Miisa Myminka, Sir Tayto Bradar, and Sir Miabel Hakaisha. The impromptu security detail lounged around the command deck, watching the monitors and talking among themselves.

* Attakiassa flew alongside Tsunami. The captain and his crew of naval personnel and civilian engineers would be testing the new Masaki drive, under the watching eyes of its originator.

* Tenchi's normal escort followed as best they could. Since the combined talents of Tenchi and Tsunami rendered her faster than anything else in the fleet, she was the logical choice to accompany the recommissioned destroyer on its maiden flight.

A communications display flickered, and Captain Jelham's face appeared. "We've just received clearance from the space traffic control, Sire. They advise us to head away from the plane of the ecliptic, as commercial traffic is thinnest there."

"Sounds good to me. Set your course, and we'll be right behind you."

"Yes, Sire." The display remained engaged, showing the Captain talking to the hovering 'bot that served as the primary interface for the destroyer's artificial intelligence. Tenchi ignored the image, as he was busy merging with Tsunami and enveloping the ship in a blue-white curtain.

Tenchi's comrades watched the monitors with fascination, which were repeating what was being broadcast on a secure military channel. The Attakiassa was building a ghostly blue energy bubble of its own. Without warning, it streaked off into the distance, followed immediately by Tsunami. Schematics replaced the real-time images, showing the two vessels racing towards an imaginary point far north of the Juraian sun.

"My staff recommends maintaining this course for a while, as we have detected a few anomalies in some of the subsystems."

"Very well, Captain. Keep me posted."

##########

"Thanks for agreeing to this, Mihoshi," Washu said. They were in Washu's lab, in one of the rooms devoted to medical and physical scanners. Washu was attaching sensors to various points on Mihoshi's body.

"Sure. Although I have to admit I am a little nervous." She was sitting comfortably in a floating recliner, where she could see the displays on Washu's console.

"Huh? Why?"

"Well, for the longest time you kept hinting at the different kinds of machines you'd like to 'wire me up' to..."

"I did, didn't I?" Washu admitted. "Well, for the longest time you were a hazard to my lab. But think about it: when was the last time you destroyed anything down here?"

"It's been a while."

"It's been eight months, just before you and Ryoko and Kiyone went out to meet Naja Akara. On that mission you finally learned how to control your Power attributes. Now, not only can you turn them on, but you can also turn them off."

"Well, I'm still a klutz," Mihoshi replied sheepishly.

"I can live with that," Washu smiled. She attached the final sensor and gave Mihoshi's hand a gentle pat. "Just relax. I'm updating my records of all the family members. I'm also starting a history on that daughter of yours."

Mihoshi idly massaged her abdomen. The occupant responded by kicking back.

"Have you thought of a name for her yet?"

"I have a list I'm working through. Tenchi has already crossed-off the ones he doesn't like, although there weren't many."

"Yeah, he didn't object when I suggested 'Achika' for our daughter. Didn't figure he would. H-m-m-m-m, that's odd..."

"Find something interesting?" Mihoshi looked at the instrument readouts, but frankly couldn't decipher them.

"One of the genetic translators is kicking-out an unusual reading. I'm going to run the test again."

"Ok."

There was a long silence, broken only by the steady clicking of keystrokes.

"Nope, I got the same reading again."

"Is that bad?" Mihoshi asked, a vague fear for her unborn child taking root in her mind.

"No, just unusual. A puzzle. And I love puzzles!" Washu cackled. She walked over to Mihoshi's couch and began removing the sensors. "All done. Here, let me help you up."

Mihoshi struggled to a sitting position, comfortable only when her feet touched the floor. "Thanks. Anything else you need?"

"Nope," Washu shrugged. "The machines will digest the data for a while. In the meantime, I was considering taking Achika out on the veranda. Care to join us?"

"I'd love to."

Tenchi - How are you feeling?

Ryoko - Miserable. I never used to get sick

Tenchi - You were never pregnant

Ryoko - Since when is nausea part of the package? Maybe I should ask for a refund

Tenchi - A little late, you know

Ryoko - I know. I love you

Tenchi - I love you, too. What are you doing?

Ryoko - Watching my husband gallivant across this solar system without me

Tenchi - How can you do that? Those broadcasts are on a restricted military channel

Ryoko - I have friends in low places

Tenchi - Just what is Washu up to?

Ryoko - She and Mihoshi were conspiring on some project. They came up from her lab a while ago before heading outside. She took the time to adjust the TV in the common room for me

Tenchi - That was nice of her

Ryoko - I should be there with you

Tenchi - No you shouldn't. You stay home where you belong, and get some rest

Ryoko - But I belong with you...

Tenchi - Ryoko, I am aboard the most powerful ship in the Navy, and I have six knights hand-picked by you for an escort. What could go wrong?

Ryoko - I don't know...something...anything! I should be there with you

Tenchi - Excuse me a moment, Trinnard is saying something

"Yes, Trinnard?"

"You seem rather pre-occupied, Sire."

"I'm talking with Ryoko."

"How? Oh," Trinnard nodded as Tenchi tapped his forehead.

"Ryoko says 'hi', and thanks again to all of you for babysitting me on such short notice."

"It is our pleasure, Sire. We are here to serve the Royal Family whenever, wherever needed."

"She also wants to know where you and Kiyone are going on your honeymoon."

"I don't dare divulge that secret, Your Majesty. I would much rather face Empress Ryoko's wrath than Kiyone's."

"You should hear her laughing."

SCENE 3

Tsunami and Attakiassa floated in space, motionless.

"Sire?"

"Yes, Captain Jelham?"

"It looks like we blew a driver coil. It can be repaired, but we will need to recalibrate the timing crystals afterwards. A minimum of three days."

"Do you need to return to the space dock?"

"That should not be necessary," Jelham replied. "Commander Pennum is confident of performing the repairs here. If you need to return sooner..."

"I'm in no hurry. If nothing else, we'll wait until the escort catches up. That way you won't be completely stranded out here."

"That will be at least seven hours from now."

"As I said, I'm in no hurry."

"Thank you, Your Majesty." Jelham's face disappeared from the screen.

"Well, looks like we're going to be here for a while," Tenchi said to Trinnard. "Shall we see what Sasami stocked the cupboards with?"

##########

Tenchi was stretched-out in the sole bunk aboard Tsunami, a bit drowsy with a full stomach and a few hours to call his own. This was definitely a rare occasion. His mind wandered, touching a host of topics and memories of recent vintage.

Tsunami - Tenchi?

Tenchi - Yes, Tsunami?

Tsunami - I wanted to thank you for showing me how that transfer system operates. I was never able to make it work before

Tenchi - It was my pleasure. Are you getting the hang of it

Tsunami - Yes

Tenchi - Good. Can the other trees learn how to do it?

Tsunami - Most of them do not have the Power to accomplish it. They will have to wait for mechanical augmentation

Tenchi - That will happen soon enough

Tsunami - Yes, it will happen

Tenchi - I've been wondering: can you generate a dimensional doorway?

Tsunami - A portal between dimensions?

Tenchi - No, a tunnel through psuedospace like the K'vimm did

Tsunami - I have been unable to perform either task for a very long time

Tenchi - Yet you are able to enter psuedospace...

Tsunami - With effort, yes

Tenchi - I was thinking...what if we merged our Power and tried building a dim — a tunnel through psuedospace?

Tsunami - It might be possible

Tenchi - Want to give it a try?

Tsunami - Yes

Tenchi - Ok

"Sire? Did we disturb your rest?"

Tenchi wandered out of his cabin and settled into his seat at the table, as the knights made room for him. "No, Trinnard, you didn't disturb me. Actually, I was discussing something with Tsunami."

"Can we be of any help?"

"Well, you can raise Captain Jelham for me."

Trinnard's fingers danced across one of the keyboards. In seconds, Attakiassa's CO appeared on the main viewer. "Yes, Your Majesty?"

"We're going to try a little experiment over here. I just wanted to warn you before your sensors started reporting anything out-of-the-ordinary."

"If I may ask, Sire, what kind of experiment?" Jelham's voice was tinged with concern, since anytime master class Power adepts conducted unusual procedures, literally anything was liable to happen. And the Emperor was the strongest Power adept of them all.

"We're going to try generating a dimensional doorway, similar to what the K'vimm constructed."

"Oh." There was nothing else Jelham could say. If it worked, it had vast military and commercial possibilities; if it didn't, at least they were recording the process for posterity.

"Wish us luck, Captain."

"Good Luck, Sire." To us all. Jelham's expression added silently.

##########

The CO of the light cruiser Umibotakudani observed the communications between Tsunami and Attakiassa and slammed his hands on his command chair arms. "Damn all royalty to hell! How long until we rendezvous with them?"

"Two hours, twelve minutes," the ship's AI replied.

"Are we close enough for a visual?"

"We have been observing them directly for eight minutes, Captain. But even at full magnification the image is extremely grainy."

The CO stewed quietly but frantically. There wasn't a snowball's chance in Startica of getting close enough to render any immediate assistance. And his intuition was screaming that this was a Bad Idea. "Isn't there an astronomy technique for collecting starlight by multiple mirrors, and collating the data?"

"Yes, Captain. It is called interferometry."

"Is it possible to duplicate the trick by merging data streams from all the escort vessels?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Instruct the other ships to assume the octagon formation immediately, observe Tsunami at full magnification, and relay the data here."

"Acknowledged."

##########

Tsunami - Where do you want to go, Tenchi?

Tenchi - How far can we go?

Tsunami - How far can you see?

##########

Jelham watched his screens as the blue-white nimbus formed around Tsunami's bow. As before, ten Lighthawk Wings crystallized, and then three more appeared. But this time the wings detached from the ship, drifting ahead and merging into one massive lens-shaped construct.

"Captain?"

"Yes, Sire?"

"What condition are your maneuvering gravitics in?"

"Fully operational, Your Majesty."

"Care to take a little unscheduled jaunt with us?"

That the Emperor intended to enter the doorway was obvious. What was not so obvious was how Jelham should answer his question. Jelham swallowed visibly, watching his career flash before his eyes. At the inevitable court martial, should he be condemned for failing to support his ship, or failing to support his liege lord? He sighed — he already knew the answer. "Of course, Sire."

"Very good. I'll keep the doorway open until you've joined us on the other side."

"Thank you." Jelham watched the monitors as the big tree ship inched forward, sliding into the azure disk until it had completely disappeared. With the mindset of a man placing his foot on the first rung of the gallows ladder, he ordered the Attakiassa through the doorway.

##########

"They did WHAT?"

"They have entered the doorway, Captain."

"God's balls, are they are out of their minds?"

The AI knew a rhetorical question when it heard one. Besides, it had more pressing information to pass along: "The doorway is closing."

"No! No-no-no-no-no-no...!"

##########

Ryoko watched the tiny blue-white disk contract, as the composite image from Tenchi's escort played across the TV screen. In seconds, it had completely disappeared. She felt a sudden discontinuity, as though inserting the tip of her tongue into the gap a tooth had recently occupied...and she knew something was terribly wrong. A moment later Sasami burst through the door of the common room, looking around frantically.

"She's gone!"

"What's the matter?" Ryoko asked. She felt a cold apprehension at the look of terror in Sasami's eyes.

"It's Tsunami! I can't feel her anymore! She's GONE!"

That's when Ryoko identified the discontinuity. "And...so is Tenchi," she whispered.

ACT 3

Every night in my dreams I see you, I feel you,That is how I know you go on.Far across the distance and spaces between usYou have come to show you go on.Near, far, wherever you are,I believe that the heart does go on.Once more, you open the doorAnd you're here in my heart,And my heart will go on and on.

Love can touch us one time and last for a lifetime,And never let go till we're gone.Love was when I loved you, one true time I hold to.In my life we'll always go on.Near, far, wherever you are,I believe that the heart does go on.Once more, you open the doorAnd you're here in my heart,And my heart will go on and on.

You're here, there's nothing to fear,And I know that my heart will go on.We'll stay forever this way.You are safe in my heart,And my heart will go on and on.

Artist — Celine DionTitle — "My Heart Will Go On"From the Paramount Pictures film Titanic, 1997

SCENE 1

The Royal Tree ship Funaho settled gently through the atmosphere, a ring of naval escorts maintaining formation with her. She was aiming for the private spaceport on the palace grounds, where the members of the Royal Family were waiting for her.

Funaho had not been home in seven centuries. While not a long time for one of the giant bioengineered trees, it was a significant portion of a human being's lifespan. To those on the ground, as well as for the single passenger aboard, a great deal had changed.

Funaho herself had changed. Her original structure had once born a cruciform cross-section; after her convalescence on earth, her limbs were now arrayed in a toroidal ring around her command deck. Drifting slowly out of the sky, she resembled a giant halo with corrugated skin.

Once close enough to cast a fairy ring shadow on the tarmac, Funaho paused; her escorts did likewise, maintaining a respectful distance above her. Her teleport beam flared briefly, depositing her Companion on the surface of Jurai. Her task completed, she rose silently into the sky, heading for the Corral and her peers.

Yosho stood quietly, enjoying the breezes and the smells of his homeworld. He savored the moment for as long as he could. Then he gathered his luggage and strode across the tarmac to the women waiting to greet him.

"Welcome home, Yosho!" Former Empress Funaho said proudly.

"Thank you, Mother. It's good to be home." Yosho bowed to his mother before embracing her. He had christened his tree ship after this indomitable woman, hoping that the name would bestow the same virtues upon his Companion. He had not been disappointed.

Behind his mother stood the other members of the family: his half-mother Misaki, his grandson's wives Ayeka, Ryoko, Mihoshi and Washu, and his two great-grandchildren. Tenchi's betrothed Sasami was present as well. They all bowed respectfully.

"You are looking quite fit," Funaho said, taking his arm and walking him towards the waiting ladies.

"Thank you, Mother." He had dropped the sexagenarian facade that he had worn for so long on Earth. He now revealed his true appearance, a young and vigorous warrior with long violet hair and crimson eyes. "Tell me, where is Tenchi? I expected my grandson to be here today."

"I'm afraid he is not available, Yosho. In fact, he isn't even in this solar system at present." She looked at the unmasked surprise on her son's face. "I will tell you the circumstances later."

"Welcome home, Yosho!" Misaki said, and stepped forward to embrace him. Yosho had the foresight to inhale before the bear hug was clamped on him, so he weathered it with only minor discomfort (Misaki was ungodly strong). "It's been such a long time."

"Thank you, Misaki," he managed to wheeze. "It's good to be back."

"Welcome home, big brother!" Ayeka and Sasami said, faces glowing. Ayeka whispered to Azusa, who studied Yosho with some interest — but with no intention of leaving his mothers embrace. Sasami wrapped her arms around her half-brothers waist and squeezed — giving Yosho a real jolt.

"You've gotten much stronger, little sister," Yosho said to Sasami, massaging his ribs. "And much taller, too. But you still retain the freckles, I see."

Sasami stuck her tongue out at him playfully.

Yosho turned towards Washu, who was holding Achika. "I believe it is time to pass the Master Key to my grandson's heir." He withdrew the artifact from his sash, the twining branches of the hilt glowing warmly in the sun. Achika made a lunge for it. Everyone held their breath — until she safely put both hands around the hilt and tugged at it. The Master Key had recognized her DNA and had accepted her, rather than sending a surge of energy pulsing into her body.

"If it's all the same to you, I think you should wait until Tenchi returns." Washu stepped back quickly enough to break her daughter's hold on the artifact. "Since I can't touch it, there might be some problems."

"Of course," Yosho replied.

Yosho exchanged glances with Ryoko. There was mutual respect, but not much affection. "I have you to thank for my return, as well as my Royal Tree's survival. I believe these belong to you." Two gems glistened from the Master Key's pommel, flaring briefly in proximity to their mistress. "I can return them now, if you wish."

Ryoko eyed them, her face reflecting the struggle in her mind. Finally, she answered: "No. Keep them until my husband returns. I want him to give them to me."

"As you wish." With scarcely more than a shrug, he returned the Master Key to his sash.

##########

Yosho closed the door and looked about the room. His room. The suite in the west wing of the palace that he had occupied throughout his childhood. The corridor he had just vacated contained doors leading to suites for his late father Azusa (currently being renovated), his mother Funaho, his half-mother Misaki, and his half-sister Sasami (though she seldom used it). His half-sister Ayeka's former suite had long since been converted to other functions.

Waves of nostalgia passed though Yosho's heart, and memories flickered unbidden into his mind. So many personal tragedies and triumphs had been resolved here. He wandered about, touching the knick-knacks and souvenirs, trying to remember the origin of each. Sadly, he failed to dredge the history of many from beneath a 700-year-old layer of mental sludge...he had forgotten much of what was once very important to him. His mother had carefully preserved the suite, placing a local stasis generator on-site to retard the effects of entropy, hoping for his eventual return. A similar strategy had been adopted by Misaki, when her daughters had ventured into space on their mission to rescue him. The rooms had not changed across the years, but the occupants definitely had.

The last official portrait of him, taken only three weeks before his hasty departure, hung on one wall. The face of that young man was bright with confidence, despite the public resistance to his mixed heritage. The camera had recorded a warrior's visage, full of courage and the desire to prove himself. What the camera had not recorded was the sorrow in his heart, that his very existence could bring his father's people to such heated dissension. Half breed...the term still stung seven centuries later.

So strident was the opposition to his inheriting the throne that Jurai had teetered on the verge of civil war. Most of the member planets of the Empire had observed the spectacle with little interest, content to let the issue be settled at the capitol. After all, they swore allegiance to the Crown — not the person wearing it. But armed confrontation would have spread throughout the Empire, affecting the lives of trillions.

Thus, Yosho had planned to disappear. Permanently. One way or another, he would avoid his father's schemes and his subject's objections. Ideally, he would die in combat with honor, and restore peace to the Realm. If that failed, then he would simply vanish into obscurity, leaving the arguments to sputter into exhaustion. It was ironic that he settled the conflict on his mothers homeworld, the source of his 'tainted' blood.

And even more ironic that the vehicle of Yosho's escape had eventually married his grandson, as had his own half-sister. Yosho smiled ruefully. That whole series of events had taken more dumb luck than clever planning, but had ended spectacularly. He could still pat himself on the back for recognizing the opportunities and manipulating events so successfully.

He sat on his window seat, staring out at the gardens and clouds, contemplating his future. Just as he had so many times before. Only now, the circumstances had changed. He was free — of the throne he didn't want, of the marriage he didn't desire, and of the paternal expectations that he could have never fulfilled. He was home again, but now the future was bright with possibilities.

Yosho's smile was wide and heartfelt.

##########

Yosho wandered around the garden, basking in the morning sunshine, the fragrance of the flowers, and the memories of his childhood. It had been a long absence, and yet very little had changed. He found himself standing near the shrine built by one of his ancestors a millennia ago — and gasped when he saw the small bouquet of flowers, wrapped in a pink ribbon with small bells on the bow, which had been placed carefully on the alter. He retrieved the bouquet and examined it closely. "It couldn't be," he whispered quietly.

Mystified, he went searching for Washu.

Washu was sitting at the dining room table, typing busily on her spectral keyboard, watching the floating displays around her. Beside her, Achika was sitting in a booster seat propped onto one of the chairs, making a mess of her lunch. Yosho approached them slowly, reluctant to disturb yet unable to explain his discovery. Washu looked over at him and smiled. "Hello, Yosho. I see you found Tenchi's flowers."

"Tenchi's flowers?"

"Yes, the ones he recently placed in the garden shrine."

"Where did he get these?"

"On Earth, from his mother's grave. Why?"

"When did he get these?"

Washu shrugged. "Not long before his...departure. Is something wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"Maybe I have," Yosho replied slowly, lowering himself into a chair. "I placed these flowers on my daughter's grave not an hour before I left Earth. How did Tenchi manage to bring them here?"

Washu grinned and leaned back in her chair. "Much has changed since you saw us last. The family is growing, as you can see; but the biggest changes are in your grandson. He is now able to generate dimensional doorways using the power of the Lighthawk Wings, and he built one that that went all the way to Earth. He just missed you."

"How is that possible?"

"Let me draw you an analogy. Imagine a young man with a pile of clay; he molds it and lumps it together and if he's lucky he might make something that resembles a cup. He's not very good, but he has potential. And then one day an artist showed him a new way to look at the world around him, and how to express himself using that same pile of clay. So he starts experimenting, and his cups start getting better and better, and soon he's doing cups and pots and plates with an exquisite flair. And then he discovers he's able to do portraits, of people and animals and just about anything he sets his mind to. He's become an artist himself; and the more he tries to do, the more he's able to do. He just keeps improving, and his insights become deeper and more profound. But no matter how impressive the process appears, when you step back it is still just mind and heart and hands and clay. That is what is happening to Tenchi; he's become an artist whose medium is energy and quantum patterns."

"Has this changed him much? We saw what became of Kagato."

"No," Washu replied, shaking her head. "With Kagato, it was an obsession, and in the end it consumed him. With Tenchi it's just another facet of life, like studying martial arts. He accepts it and moves on. All things considered, he'd rather spend his time playing with his children or working in his garden. That's the man I fell in love with, that we all fell in love with. He hasn't changed."

Yosho paused to digest the information. Washu took the opportunity to refill Achika's bowl.

"What do you believe is his greatest accomplishment to date?"

"Oh, that's easy," Washu answered. "Somehow he's learned to collaborate with other Power adepts, and to orchestrate their energies with his own. I have no idea how he does it, since an adept's manifestation is supposedly a personal expression. He says he learned to do it while watching us ladies sing together. Something about harmonizing. It's utterly fascinating."

"Is he a good leader?"

"For the most part," Washu sighed. "He likes compromises, although there are times when a firm decision is needed. He's a good listener, his negotiating skills are improving, and he's immensely popular. His subjects trust him."

"It sounds like his approach to politics mirrors his approach to his Power attributes. Who are his closest advisors?"

"His family, of course!" Washu cackled. "Seriously, he listens to Ayeka and Funaho more than anybody else, as they are the shrewdest politicians. You might have some input along those lines."

"I doubt it. The life of a shrine priest was a lot less complicated. Actually, I have given little thought to an active role in his administration."

"Still, you are family. He'll probably want to discuss that with you when he returns."

Yosho nodded.

##########

"So, Yosho, how has Funaho adapted to her return to outer space?" Ayeka walked along the veranda, her body canted to one side as she held Azusa's hand. The boy trotted beside his mother, arm stretched high over his head, casting occasional glances at the tall man beside him.

"A bit like your son: wobbly, but full of confidence. And very happy to be star-bound again. She was eager to come home."

"I imagine Earth is rather staid, now, isn't it?"

"Funaho called that pond home for many years. But the pond no longer exists. The botanists completely drained it during her recovery. The whole mountain has become crowded, since the Science Academy outpost has continued to expand. I'm afraid the harmony we knew has been completely broken."

"What of Tenchi's father?"

"Nobuyuki is doing well. His wife and stepchildren are happy and healthy, and he has promised to attend to the graves above the shrine. He asks that we come back and visit as often as possible."

"I'm sure Tenchi will accommodate that wish...particularly now, with his new-found ability."

Yosho studied the clouds, the trees, and the rippling grasses. The late afternoon sun washed the world in gold and ochre tints. "I didn't realize how much I've missed Jurai, until returning here. Was it the same for you?"

"Yes. I'd have lived anywhere Tenchi wanted to, but I was delighted with his choice of Jurai. Of course, now that Father is gone, the decision is rather moot; the Emperor must reside here."

Yosho nodded.

"Do you miss Father?" Ayeka asked.

"I'm afraid what I feel is more of a nostalgia than bereavement. I was gone so long that I lost any kinship with him. And, quite honestly, I was glad to be out from under his demands."

Ayeka nodded. "There is a new spirit here, now. Tenchi is far more tolerant and far less insistent than Father ever was. I would never have believed the change in public attitude if I hadn't experienced it directly."

"Your husband does us proud, Ayeka."

"Your grandson had a good teacher, Yosho."

##########

"Good evening, Prince Yosho." Kaline Breexandra bowed deeply and then stepped aside to allow Yosho into her home. She was a middle-aged woman in excellent physical shape, who moved gracefully and with no wasted motion.

Yosho bowed, removed his shoes, and entered the house.

"I watched your arrival home on the vids," Kaline continued, "and wondered when you would come by."

"I could not stay away long without paying respect to my teachers family," Yosho replied.

"And were my father alive today, he would be overjoyed to see you. He spoke of you often, and with great pride. I understand that his opinion was in the minority in those days."

"Indeed, which only illustrates the courage of his convictions."

Kaline smiled. "Of course, no one could argue with the swordmaster and expect to escape unscathed."

Yosho nodded.

"I must compliment you on the training you've given your grandson. The Emperor is a skilled and proficient swordsman."

"Thank you, Sensei," Yosho said. "He never lacked for talent, and was always a good student. I trust you have been able to provide some guidance for him?"

"Yes, for him and his lovely wife. Although I have not seen either of them in at least a week...has Empress Ryoko had her baby, then?"

"No, not yet. Unfortunately, Tenchi's itinerary experienced a rather abrupt and unexpected glitch. He should be returning to his regular schedule before much longer."

"Excellent. And what of yourself? I'm sure you have a host of tales to relate, of your many years on a regressed world."

"Well," Yosho replied, scratching the back of his neck, "I did have one or two interesting experiences."

"Perhaps if I ply you with enough tea, you would consider relating those experiences?"

Yosho bowed. "I would be delighted to, Sensei."

SCENE 2

This wasn't quite what he had expected: Yosho had been home for over a week, and had divided his time between official celebrations and simple sightseeing. His family, however, was not particularly visible. In fact, Tenchi's wives had simply refused to leave the Residence. Even Ayeka, who normally represented the Emperor at official ceremonies and public proclamations, had closed the book on her itinerary. It was as if they were in mourning.

No one blamed Yosho for Tenchi's disappearance, of course...and no one made any mention of the coincidence in timing...but there was a decided lack of enthusiasm about his presence.

Everyone missed Tenchi, and was worried about him.

Yosho was not too concerned — he knew his grandson better than anyone. The young man would return in due course, none the worse for wear.

It was his own immediate future that so frustrated Yosho: after centuries of maintaining his regular routine as a shrine master, Yosho was actually bored. He didn't know what to do with himself. As Washu had stated earlier, everyone assumed that Tenchi would have a position for him. Something that would take full advantage of Yosho's tactical flair and fencing prowess. Old friends at the admiralty had been talking to him about the new Masaki Drive, and the window of opportunity available with such an overwhelming technical edge.

Yosho's intuition warned him, however, that the future held a bigger threat than mere expansionist sabre-rattling. People often forgot that Yosho was a Power adept, because his gifts were in the arena of clairvoyance and precognition. He knew things — that Tenchi was safe and secure, for instance — without prior awareness. He saw events just before they transpired (a very useful talent for a swordsman); unlike Sasami, who witnessed events in the distant future. But even Yosho's myopic vision warned him that something was coming...something extremely dangerous...and the Empire would need to be prepared and unified.

The Empire needed its Emperor.

##########

Sasami sprawled across her bed, staring at the ceiling.

Alone. Completely alone. She had been assimilated with Tsunami for centuries. Like a fan whispering in the background, Tsunami's presence had been a constant element in her life for as long as she could remember. Remove the fan, and the sudden silence becomes a palpable thing. The sudden silence in her mind was foreign and sinister.

She didn't like it. She didn't like it at all.

There had been a time when she had been afraid of being completely absorbed by Tsunami, of being swallowed like a wave in the sea. She had feared oblivion as a form of death. But that had been a groundless fear; time had shown her that her essence had not diminished, but had actually increased. Like a single voice being joined by a chorus. Tsunami had been a constant Companion to her, a calming voice on those dark nights when visions and nightmares had frightened her. And a source of strength during those times when the lives of her family were in peril. She was richer for the connection. Tsunami had benefited, as well. The growing bond had shown the ancient consciousness a new reality, a life filled with the joy of discovery and the fire of youth. Experiences had seeped into her vast awareness like wildflowers budding in a spring meadow. Sasami had occupied only a fraction of her attention — but it had been a significant fraction.

The union had not produced cacophony, but harmony. Not discordance, but convergence.

And later, Tenchi's mind had joined theirs, slipping into the weave effortlessly, providing a courage and confidence she had never known.

And now they were both gone.

And she was alone. Completely alone.

And frightened.

##########

Ryoko decided to stay in bed. Again. Other than wandering out to the kitchen, or the bathroom, or the onsen, she had no real reason to get up. Behind the closed door to her suite, she could hide beneath the covers and wallow in the memories of the past five years, or daydream about the future. A past and future filled with Tenchi. The room still carried his scent, still echoed with his voice.

Ryoko's daughter stirred, nudging the walls of her womb. Ryoko wondered idly if her daughter sensed her mood, and was trying to tell her something. "Where is your father?" Ryoko asked for the thousandth time. "Is he safe? Is he happy? Is he alone?" Logically, she already knew the answers. Logically. However, since when did logic ever affect the human heart? The only way she would know for sure was by standing beside him.

The dreams had started again. The not-quite-nightmares of being alone. She had learned to accept the forgiveness of the citizens of Jurai, just as they had learned the truth of her past horrors and had absolved her of the blame. The voices in the night had been silenced by the love of her husband, who carefully tended the garden of her dreams. Even in her sleep, she could feel his presence nearby. But now his absence was almost worse than the voices had been.

In the old days, before their marriage, when her future was still uncertain, her nights had been wracked with guilt-filled dreams and the fear of losing him. Too many times she had awakened on that dark rafter, alone and scared, worried that he had abandoned her. She would fly frantically up to his room, praying desperately that he would still be there. And he always was. The sound of his gentle snoring would calm her frayed nerves, because she knew precisely where he was.

Even after the move to Jurai, and the cluster marriage, and the rotating sleeping arrangement, she had not been afraid. (Jealous, perhaps, but not afraid.) She knew exactly where he was, that he was safe. And that if she wasn't with him, whoever was would fight to the death to protect him.

Only once before had they been separated, when he had constructed his cocoon from the Lighthawk Wings. That had been a risky period; he had been gone for days, and could have died. She could have been left with nothing but memories.

This time, however, there was a difference: part of him remained behind. She touched the skin that housed their daughter, and their daughter touched back. Tenchi had promised Ryoko that she would never be alone again. And Tenchi always kept his promises.

He just hadn't indicated who her Companion would be.

##########

Ayeka sat in the rocker, pushing it slowly backwards...pause to rebound...repeat the push. It was a cycle, the slight creak of the runners marking the passage of time with metronomic regularity.

Azusa stirred on her shoulder, fidgeting in his sleep. The breeze tousled his hair and cooled his brow, and the tidal pull of the rocker lulled him to sleep. Ayeka had gotten into the habit of bringing him onto the veranda at nap-time, letting the gentle whisper of the swaying trees sing their soothing lullaby. Cloud shadows rolled across the flagstones, and the occasional bird swooped past chasing an insect.

Ayeka's attention drifted with the breeze, one moment focusing on her son, the next studying the clouds for familiar shapes. Time seemed irrelevant for an unanchored mind, which eased the pain of waiting.

Waiting for Tenchi to come home.

She missed him terribly. She missed his wry smile, his hand on her shoulder, and the way he cuddled their son. As painful as his absence was, the uncertainty was even worse. She would have borne the separation easier if she knew where he had gone and why. She tried to imagine him on a diplomatic mission, or a military operation — or even another clandestine effort like the one which had eliminated Naja Akara. She could accept (and even appreciate) the need for discretion, and would have been content knowing his absence had a purpose.

The navy said nothing at all. "Testing the new Masaki drive" was the official explanation, but she noticed that they were keeping an armed presence at the last known location of Tsunami and Attakiassa. She had asked Ryu-oh, her arboreal Companion, what the trees knew. They assured her that Tsunami was alive and well, but could offer nothing specific on her location and activities. Of course, that was typical of Tsunami's often decade-long withdrawals. Ayeka only hoped that 'Ouke No Ki' was not passing any bad habits on to her Companion.

Ayeka sighed, drawing on her reserves of patience. And perseverance. She knew she had meetings she should attend, functions she should perform, and appearances she should make. Frankly, she didn't give a damn. She wasn't up to maintaining a casual facade while dodging the media's barrage of questions, of pretending publicly that all was well. All was not well. If Tenchi stayed away much longer, the media would figure out what was going on and announce it to the public. Tenchi was much too popular to simply dismiss his disappearance as an Imperial whim. There would be an accounting: courts martial for the naval officers, judicial inquiries for the civilians. And sooner or later someone would raise the issue of the line of succession: Princess Achika would be declared heir apparent, and her mother would be appointed regent (Ayeka had to grin at that image, knowing Washu's opinions about bureaucracy).

However, there was one consolation about the current circumstances: Azusa.

Ayeka had learned all about separation early in their marriage, on those nights when Tenchi shared the bed of another wife. She had adjusted, of course, since she had little recourse. But the birth of their son had dissipated her melancholy, because now a part of her Beloved remained with her constantly.

She gently hugged the sleeping infant, praying silently for his father to return home soon.

##########

"It just figures," Kiyone said.

"What 'just figures'?" Mihoshi asked.

"I finally work-up the nerve to accept the man's proposal, and then he disappears." Kiyone splashed the bath water irritably, reaching for her cup on the ledge of the pool.

"I should remind you, he disappeared with my husband." Mihoshi occupied the submerged bench seat that she and Ryoko had found the most comfortable. Fortunately, they were rarely in the onsen at the same time.

"Aren't you worried about him?"

"Of course I'm worried about him. We're all worried about him. But I refuse to panic just yet."

Kiyone stared at her friend, eyebrows arching into her hairline. "I must say, that sounds strange coming from you. You have a penchant for over-reacting..."

"I'm only too aware of that. I'm trying to learn to modify my behavior."

"I'm impressed. Is that your idea?"

"No. Washu made me see that my empathic responses may not be the best approach for dealing with 2:00 am feedings." Mihoshi remembered Washu's convincing argument: that she was just as liable to start bawling as her baby, as she entrained her emotions with her daughter's. "I've been spending more time meditating and practicing certain behavioral modification techniques."

"Have they worked?"

"Well...no. I miss him more every time I think about him." She started to sniffle.

"I'm sorry, Mihoshi. I just thought you might have learned how to deal with these crises, what with being married to a hero." Kiyone watched discreetly as her friend struggled to regain control of herself. "Is this what I have to look forward to?"

"What does Trinnard have to look forward to? After all, you go dashing away on high-risk missions for Funaho occasionally. What if something happens to you?"

Kiyone stared at her friend, astonished into silence. The thought had never occurred to her.

##########

Washu sat in the semi-gloom of her library. It was one of the few permanent structures in her trans-dimensional retreat. Besides its own extensive archiving systems, it had psuedospace relays tapping into hundreds of academic and government libraries throughout the Empire...and well beyond. Her office was ringed with monitors, all tied into the central console.

Normally, the room was well-lit; but she had dimmed the lights to match her mood. She sat on her favorite hovercusion, elbows propped on the console, face buried in her hands, heart in her throat.

She couldn't find them. Sometimes it was possible to discern psuedospace traces of a dimensional tunnel, but it was always chancy. And this time, she had struck out. She had extracted the approximate position and angle of Tenchi's doorway from Umibotakudani's log, and had launched a series of probes accordingly. She had found nothing. Without knowing the exact coordinates of the doorway, she could only plot a rough guessitmate of the tunnel's actual course. Her computer had calculated a narrow-mouthed cone whose apex sat due north of Jurai's sun and extended out to...infinity. The image on her computer screen resembled the beam of a lighthouse, guiding her husband home.

She was yielding to despair. She had only been married to her first husband for a few years before he deserted her. Almost the same length of time as this marriage, actually. And it was this coincidence that had shaken her confidence. Somewhere, deep in her heart, a little voice gloated over her misfortune. You're a fool to think that any man would stay with you! Admit your fate: you are denied a home and happiness. The demon cackled merrily when she sobbed.

No! She would not give in to such tortured soul-searching. As was her habit, she retreated from the soft sands of emotion to the bedrock of facts.

* Mikamo's father had jerked on his leash, and her husband had gone running home to Seniwa with his tail between his legs...taking their son, Mikumo, with him. She never saw either of them again.

* Tenchi was definitely nothing like Mikamo. Even with his immature Power attributes, there wasn't a creature in the galaxy — intelligent or otherwise — that could stand toe-to-toe with Tenchi and survive. So, it wasn't fear that drove him off. The last recorded conversation from Umibotakudani's log had sounded lighthearted and casual. More like curiosity.

* This time, Washu was not alone. She had a family for support: her daughters, Ryoko and Achika, and Tenchi's other wives. Her husband would never willingly abandon any of them, for any reason. If he didn't come home, it was because he couldn't come home.

* Tenchi had, by himself, forged a bridge between Earth and Jurai, across hundreds of light years. Despite the fact that both planets rotated at different rates and angles, traced different courses through the interstellar vacuum, and both openings had occupied different hemispheres, Tenchi had compensated enough to keep the doorway intact for several minutes. A phenomenal achievement.

She smeared the moisture from her eyes with the back of her wrist, snuffled loudly, pulling her shoulders up. But how did he do it? Tenchi was not godlike; the Power he wielded was not his own. His gift was the ability to tap into the fabric of space itself and extract raw energy, shaping and manipulating it as he saw fit. While the energy available was limitless, he could only process what the Lighthawk Wings could handle.

And then she remembered: it was a matter of timing.

Her fingers danced across the computer keys, locating data files. These she fed into her programs for analysis, where they bit and chewed and shredded the information recorded the day Tenchi had gone to Earth. It didn't take long to extract the answer: that doorway, like every other Lighthawk manifestation, was created and recreated hundreds of times a second. In essence, he had constantly refreshed the doorway's terminal points to keep the ends synchronized. He had not created a tunnel but a tube, flexible and malleable.

Once again, her husband had surprised her. A trait he displayed on a regular basis. She grinned, in spite of her worry.

She fed the new characteristics into her computer and waited. In seconds the map was erased and redrawn. The cone was now a sphere. Washu cursed under her breath. It meant that, theoretically, he could go anywhere from that starting point.

Well, how far could he go? She wasn't sure; he could travel at least the distance between Jurai and Earth, and perhaps further. With nothing else to go on, she used that distance has her baseline. But, he had merged with Tsunami to create the new doorway. How far could she go? Washu had no idea of the extent of Tsunami's abilities. So, she simply computed a percentage based upon Tenchi's three wings against Tsunami's ten wings, added them together, and fed the sum into the computer. It was sheerest guesswork, but it ought to give her a conservative baseline. The real value would probably be far higher.

The map changed. The sphere covered fully 40% of the galaxy, well beyond the borders of the Empire.

Washu groaned. Her demon laughed.

SCENE 3

"We can do this," Washu insisted, pushing aside the dinner dishes. "After all, we're linked together directly just as much as with Tenchi."

"It won't work," Ryoko sighed.

"A wheel is worthless without a hub, Washu," Ayeka said. "And Tenchi is our hub."

"Haven't you ladies noticed just how easily we mesh together? Our strengths are complimentary, our personalities are interlocked. Do you think that is the result of sheer coincidence?" Washu tapped her chest: "Wisdom." She pointed at Ayeka: "Heart." She pointed at Ryoko: "Strength." She pointed at Sasami: "Foresight." She pointed at Mihoshi: "Luck. We form a gestalt bond, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Ayeka says we're like a wheel; I say we are more than that. We are a multifaceted tool — like the Lighthawk Wings. And in the hands of a master craftsman we can perform miracles."

"But that hand is not here," Ayeka said glumly. "We lack his guidance." She started cleaning Azusa's hands and face, which were liberally smeared with Aunt Sasami's soup.

"C'mon — Washu is right; what do have to lose by trying?" Mihoshi asked. "So: how do we do this?"

"We need a focus...something we can all concentrate on. Like a photo of Tenchi," Washu replied, gently setting Achika on the floor. Achika promptly disappeared into the common room.

"I've got a snapshot of him," Sasami offered, and went to fetch it. She returned moments later, placing the photo on the table, and set it on a slow rotation. They watched it in silence.

"Let's hold hands," Washu suggested finally.

"Why?" Ryoko asked.

"Empathic channeling," Washu replied. "Right, Mihoshi?"

"Skin contact does seem to help transfer energy," Mihoshi said. "Probably something to do with all of the nerve endings."

"To make this work," Washu continued, "we will all need to be synchronized."

"So what are you suggesting?" Ayeka asked.

"We sing together."

"Washu..." Ryoko groaned.

"It worked for Tenchi, remember?"

"I don't feel like singing a happy song."

"It doesn't matter what we sing, as long as we're in harmony. It can be anything."

"Ok, Washu, since this is your idea, you pick it."

Washu nodded at Ryoko, and they all linked hands.

"This feels like a séance," Sasami observed.

"Séances are for the dead — we're trying to reach someone who's still alive," Ayeka replied hopefully.

Washu started singing in Japanese, softly and hesitantly, but by the end of the first stanza her voice had strengthened with resolve. By the end of the second stanza, they were all harmonizing.

Ue o muite arukoo (I look up when I walk)Namida ga kobore nai yoo ni (So the tears won't fall)Omoidasu haru no hi (Remembering those happy spring days)Hitoribotchi no yoru (But tonight I'm all alone)

Ue o muite arukoo (I look up when I walk)Nijinda hoshi o kazoete (Counting the stars with tearful eyes)Omoidasu natsu no hi (Remembering those happy summer days)Hitoribotchi no yoru (But tonight I'm all alone)

Shiawase wa kumo no ue ni (Happiness lies beyond the clouds)Shiawase wa sora no ue ni (Happiness lies above the sky)

Washu really wasn't sure what to do. She was not a telepath, although arguably everyone had the talent in latent form. Instead, she touched her now-silent link to Tenchi, and remembered from past experience what it had felt like to meld with the minds of her 'sisters'. She reached-out blindly for Ryoko, since she had maintained a link with her daughter for so very long.

Ue o muite arukoo (I look up when I walk)Namida ga kobore nai yoo ni (So the tears won't fall)Nakinagara aruku (Though my heart is filled with sorrow)Hitoribotchi no yoru (For tonight I'm all alone)

Omoidasu aki no hi (Remembering those happy autumn days)Hitoribotchi no yoru (But tonight I'm all alone)

Kanashimi wa hoshi no kage ni (Sadness hides in the shadow of the stars)Kanashimi wa tsuki no kage ni (Sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon)

With a start, she found herself connected: Ryoko's thoughts were full of doubts and fears, but also a glimmer of hope. Next Washu tried to reach out to Mihoshi, since she was an experienced empath. The effort proved surprisingly easy; Mihoshi's thoughts mirrored Ryoko's. Washu found it much harder to reach Ayeka, but she finally succeeded. Sasami proved the easiest of all to connect to, since she had shared a link with Tenchi and Tsunami for so long.

Ue o muite arukoo (I look up when I walk)Namida ga kobore nai yoo ni (So the tears won't fall)Nakinagara aruku (Though my heart is filled with sorrow)Hitoribotchi no yoru (For tonight I'm all alone)

Washu - Can everyone hear me?

Ryoko - Loud and clear

Ayeka - Yes. This feels surprisingly familiar

Sasami - Just like when Tenchi does it

Mihoshi - Wow...

Washu - Alright, ladies, use your Power and let's push this thing!

The link grew rapidly stronger as each woman poured Power into it.

Washu - Ok, everyone, all together

ALL - TENCHI!

No response. The link continued to hum, like a radio beacon broadcasting into the night sky.

Washu - Again

ALL - TENCHI!

No response. Washu felt their confidence falter.

Washu - One more time

ALL - TENCHI!

And faintly...

Tenchi - Huh? Is someone calling me?

ALL - TENCHI!

Tenchi - Ladies? Is that you?

ALL - TENCHI, COME HOME!

The link collapsed.

"Damn! What happened? We reached him!"

Washu's only reply to Ryoko's question was to sigh and shake her head.

"Washu, do you know what happened to the link?" Ayeka asked.

"This is all new to me, but at a guess I'd say we overwhelmed it with emotion."

"That's what it felt like to me, too," Mihoshi said.

"Let's try it again!"

"I can't, Ryoko, that just took too much out of me," Ayeka said wearily.

"And me as well," Sasami added.

Ryoko simmered, glaring at the others.

"Look on the bright side, Ryoko — we know he's alive, wherever he is, and he probably got our message. We also learned how to make our own link. That may prove very useful in the future."

ACT 4

Hey Mona Lisa, who was Leonardo?Was he Andy Warhol?Were you Marilyn Monroe?Hey Mozart, what kind of name is Amadeus?It´s kinda like ElvisYou gotta die to be famousI may not go down in historyI just want someone to remember me

I´ll probably never hold a brushthat paints a masterpeiceProbably never find a penthat writes a symphonyBut if I will love then I will findThat I have touched another lifeAnd that´s somethingSomething worth leaving behind

Hey, Midas, you say you have the magic touchBut even all that shiny stuffSomeday is gonna turn to dustHey, Jesus, it must have been some Sunday morningIn a blaze of gloryWe´re still tellin´ your storyI may not go down in historyI just want someone to remember me

I´ll probably never dream a dreamand watch it turn to goldNo, I´ll never lose my lifeto save another soulBut if I will love then I will findThat I have touched another lifeAnd that´s somethingSomething worth leaving behind

Hey, Baby, see the future that we´re buildingOur love lives on in the lives of our childrenAnd that´s somethingSomething worth leaving behind

Artist — Lee Ann WomackTitle — "Something Worth Leaving Behind"

SCENE 1

Another morose morning. The family gathered singly, trudging quietly from their suites to gather around the dining room table. Sasami had been working mechanically, putting together a breakfast that no one really wanted, but they knew that they should eat. The babies sensed their mothers' mood, and responded accordingly: grumpy and ill-tempered.

Somewhere in the middle of the meal, Funaho and Misaki joined them. They declined to eat, simply pulling chairs up to the table and pouring themselves cups of tea.

Conversation was minimal, confined to the immediate task...

...until Sasami gasped, her hand sliding up to cover her mouth. She stared into the room wide-eyed, not seeing the curious glances returned by the family. The corners of her mouth began to climb, along with the angle of her shoulders. She pushed away from the table and dashed into the common room. Now concerned, the others rose and followed her.

Sasami was pawing frantically at the controls of the TV, sending it cycling through dozens of channels. She finally stopped when she located the secure military channel, identified by the glyph in the lower right corner. The image on the screen showed four of Tenchi's security escorts, floating motionlessly against a sprinkling of stars.

And in the center of the screen a blue-white disk was growing rapidly.

Tenchi's wives squealed, eyes bright as lanterns.

The center of the disk began to bubble, and then the bow of the Attakiassa began to emerge. Slowly at first, then with increasing speed, the destroyer passed through the doorway. It appeared intact and undamaged by its absence. The camera tracked the warship, and it became apparent that more than just a couple of corvettes were watching it: Attakiassa now faced a heavy cruiser and two of the Sentinels — and a blue-white mist was forming around the bows of the latter.

A window appeared in the upper left corner of the screen, and a humorless gray-haired woman with intense pink eyes stared at them. "This is Commodore Ma'rhissa of the Royal Tree Ship Sumikenki. Halt and identify yourself."

A second panel opened in the upper right corner of the screen, and an amused Jelham appeared. (Misaki giggled, and then tried to hide from the grins of her family.) "This is Captain Sir Noniel Jelham of the IJN Attakiassa. May I inquire, Commodore, why we are being welcomed home with open gunports?"

"A simple matter of prudence, Captain Jelham. You disappeared under unusual circumstances, and your whereabouts have been unknown. Too many questions left dangling. Now, where is the Emperor?"

"Right behind me, Commodore. He was just waiting until we'd cleared the doorway before coming through himself." Though the communication windows remained unchanged, the background image on the TV blurred as the camera was swung from the Attakiassa back to the doorway. The center of the disk was boiling, and the bow of Tsunami began to slide into view. "If you don't mind a word of advice, Commodore, I don't think it is proper to greet the Emperor of Jurai with bared gun muzzles..."

Commodore Ma'rhissa whispered to her XO, who promptly relayed a set of instructions through his headset. There was a flurry of on-screen activity, as ships hastily redeployed into a standard ceremonial formation. The massive flagship of the Imperial Juraian Navy emerged completely from the doorway. She was rendered full honors by the waiting escorts and cries of joy from the audience in the common room.

A third communication window opened in the lower left corner of the TV screen, and Tenchi smiled out at them. His Emblem blazed with blue-white fire. "Good day, Commodore. I must say, I didn't expect such a greeting."

"Good day, Your Majesty. The admiralty was rather alarmed by your sudden disappearance, and concerned about what might reappear. They are still leery of dimensional doorways since the K'vimm Incursion."

"Ah, of course. I'm afraid I have some apologies to make, then. Perhaps we should hasten home and attend to them, eh, Captain Jelham?"

"I concur completely, Your Majesty."

"Very well. If you'll excuse us, Commodore, we need to be leaving." Tenchi's window closed, followed instantly by Jelham's. The background image showed that the doorway was now moving, expanding and thinning as it floated towards Tsunami's stern. The center of the disk anchored itself to the flagship, while the edge continued forwards, slowly engulfing the Tree Ship. As the camera panned forward with the moving edge, Attakiassa came into view — and a pale blue bubble could be seen solidifying around the destroyer. In seconds, both ships were completely enveloped — and then both ships streaked away.

Commodore Ma'rhissa scowled into the camera, and shook her head. "All vessels stand down. Inform Admiral Mobinita that Tsunami and Attakiassa are inbound, and should assume a standard orbit in..." he looked over at his XO, who whispered a reply. "...74 minutes. Ma'rhissa out."

Pandemonium erupted in the common room.

"The breakfast dishes!" Sasami cried, and dashed into the Dining Room.

"I've gotta call Kiyone!" Mihoshi exclaimed, and waddled into her suite.

"Come on, Achika, we've got to get bathed and dressed. Daddy's coming home!" Washu said.

"We must prepare, too!" Ayeka grinned, scooping Azusa off the floor.

Ryoko laughed happily and whirled out of the room.

Misaki's comm unit bleeped, and she raised it to her ear. The exchange was short, and ended with a smile. "My office just received a communication from Attakiassa," she explained to Funaho. "I believe I'm needed elsewhere."

"And I should inform Yosho of his grandson's return," Funaho replied. She followed Misaki into the corridor, closing the door behind her softly.

SCENE 2

It had been a busy day, full of meetings and explanations and apologies: Tenchi had assumed full responsibility for dragging the Attakiassa and its crew off on an unplanned excursion. He had disrupted the navy's schedule, and thrown his own security forces into a tailspin. Technically, the Emperor could do anything he damned well wanted to, and didn't have to account to anybody for his actions. However, as a matter of practicality, it was good politics to smooth ruffled feathers, stroke fractured egos, and make gracious gestures. Tenchi was becoming a master at greasing the wheels of bureaucracy.

It had been, however, a very tiresome effort. And he was more than happy to see the sun set.

After a full meal and a chance to relax, Tenchi was getting drowsy. He sat in the common room, on the central cushion of the sofa directly in front of the TV screen. Ryoko sat on his right, and Mihoshi sat on his left, each doing her best to get comfortable. Ayeka and Washu sat on the floor nearby, playing with their children. Sasami draped herself across the back of the sofa, as teenagers are wont to do. Yosho and Funaho shared a nearby divan, talking quietly. Misaki and Jelham stood by the dining room table, stealing samples from the dessert platter and exchanging lighthearted comments. All-in-all, it was a very composed moment.

Washu broke the spell. "So, Tenchi, when are you going to tell us where you've been for the last ten days?"

"Yes, Beloved, I believe you owe us an explanation," Ayeka added.

Tenchi sighed. "You're right. It's time I explained our absence." He raised his right arm clear of Ryoko and extended his hand. He teleported a data cube onto his palm. "Here, Washu. I've been stalling the admiralty all day, because I wanted you to see this first."

Washu took the proffered cube, looking it over carefully. Her spectral keyboard materialized beside her, and she inserted the cube into an interface. She typed several commands, and the TV screen flared to life. The resulting image made her gasp, an expression echoed by nearly everyone else in the room.

Filling the screen was a galaxy, seen from above. No one had to state the obvious: it was the Milky Way. "We were a very long way from home," Tenchi said.

Washu finally found her voice. "That's incredible, My Love."

"No wonder I couldn't feel you or Tsunami," Sasami muttered. "You were too far away..."

"Why were you gone so long?" Ryoko demanded. "Did you get lost?"

Tenchi grinned. "Washu, skip to the next image."

She tapped a key and the Milky Way disappeared, replaced by a large, parasol-shaped mass with long tendrils streaming behind the central bulge. Oddly-shaped structures could be discerned buried within its translucent outer surface. As they watched, they could see wave-like contractions rippling outwards from the bulbous apex.

"This is a composite image," Tenchi explained, "primarily in the ultraviolet end of the spectrum. It was practically invisible until we adjusted our sensors."

"Is that thing alive?" Mihoshi asked.

"Yes. We nearly bumped into it when we first exited the doorway. Fortunately, it didn't pay any attention to us."

"Fortunately?"

"Uh, huh. See that little white dot just to the left of center? That's Tsunami." It only took a moment for the significance to hit them.

"My God," Washu whispered. "How big is that thing?"

"Captain Jelham? You can probably answer that better than I can."

Jelham cleared his throat. "That one was about the same diameter as Jurai's largest moon. It turned out to be a juvenile."

"What?" Washu stared at the screen, riveted.

"We followed this one back to its herd...or flock...or pod. I forget what we named the cluster. There were over forty of them traveling together. The largest one we observed was nearly five times the size of Jurai."

Washu was positively vibrating she was so excited. "Tell me you got more data on these creatures!"

"Yes, Your Majesty, we did. We filled the entire library of Attakiassa with sensor logs (other than the small portion we used recording the new driver tests). Whenever you're ready, we can download them to your computer system."

Tenchi chuckled, enjoying Washu's reaction: "Alright!" she yelled, pumping her right fist over her head. She hopped into his lap and kissed him excitedly, all the while ignoring the irritated looks from Ryoko and Mihoshi. "I forgive you. But don't you dare go back there without me!"

"And me!" echoed four other voices.

"I promise, I will not go back there without my family." His wives nodded, satisfied.

"Were you in any danger, Beloved?" Ayeka asked.

"No. Quite the contrary, actually. Those creatures appear to be composed of coherent gas, similar to a plasma. We were afraid that if we collided with one, it would be like stabbing it with a knife."

"What do you call that thing?" Mihoshi asked.

"One of my crewmembers called it a 'Gossamer Jellyfish,' and the name stuck," Jelham replied. "I think Dr. Yosonya tried to catalogue it, and eventually gave up."

"But how can something survive so far out in space?" Ayeka asked.

"If I had to hazard a guess," Washu answered, "I'd say that because they are so diaphanous and fragile, they can't go anywhere near the galaxy proper — the intense gravity would rend then apart."

"How can something grow so big?" Sasami asked.

"What's out there to restrain them? Maybe they grow huge just because they can."

"I wondered about that myself," Tenchi added. "Tsunami's reply was rather interesting: 'Those who dwell among the shoals and reefs know nothing of the creatures that inhabit the deeps.''"

"That's very poetic, if cryptic," Funaho said. "I presume she was not surprised to meet these creatures?"

"Not in the least. She keeps her secrets well."

There was a long silence while they studied the image on the screen.

Washu broke the spell again. "Well, as long we're revealing secrets, I have a couple of surprises for everyone."

"Do tell," Ayeka drawled.

Washu tapped her keyboard and the screen changed again, revealing a chart comprised of each of their names and a corresponding graph. "These are DNA profiles. Specifically, they are the characteristics for generating the Lighthawk Wings. Since Tenchi is the only human we know of that is capable of manipulating them, I used him as the baseline. What is most interesting are the profiles for the rest of us."

"How so?" Funaho asked.

"For starters, we all have those same characteristics to some extent."

"So everyone is born with the latent capability, just like psionic aptitude?"

"No. Let me rephrase that statement: all five of us," she indicated the females gathered around the sofa, "have those characteristics. The odds for that happening are simply astronomical. I suspect that is one of the reasons we are so drawn to Tenchi — we resonate at some frequency."

"Nah, it's just 'cause he's so cute," Ryoko said. She snuggled against him for emphasis.

"Well, I can't argue with that point," Washu grinned. "But, the fact is that we all share those genetic markers. If you look at the chart, you will see the common signature those markers produce. If I may interpret the chart...?"

"Please do," Tenchi said.

"First off, I was surprised to discover that I have the requisite characteristics. No one outside the Royal Family has ever displayed the capability to summon the wings, and yet I have the wetware to do so. Very curious. I was not surprised, however, to see that the characteristics have been passed along to Achika. They are dominant in her, meaning she has the same genetic predisposition as her father."

"Then she will be able to summon the Lighthawk Wings, too?" Tenchi asked.

"Probably," Washu replied. "You have to remember that Tsunami stated there are other factors involved. We won't know for sure until she's an adult. But I'd put the odds in her favor."

Everyone stared at Achika, who was assembling a three-dimensional puzzle. She ignored them.

"Moving along to Ryoko, her signature is almost a duplicate of mine (naturally). Without actually testing her baby, I can only speculate. But I'd wager that Ryoko's daughter will have the same genetic predisposition."

"Oh, wow," Ryoko said softly. She looked over at her husband, reaching for his hand. He squeezed her hand in response.

"Now we get to Mihoshi. This was my second biggest surprise: her profile is almost a perfect match for mine and Ryoko's."

"How can that be, Washu?" Mihoshi asked.

"Because the three of us are related."

"No, it can't be," Ryoko muttered.

"How is that possible?" Mihoshi wondered.

"Because your grandfather, the GP Marshall, is a direct descendant of my son." She raised her hand to prevent any further questions. "I noticed the similarities when we were down in my lab. So I performed a full-spectrum genetic examination on you. Then I requested the medical histories on your family from the GP and the Seniwa planetary census bureau. The records only go back about seven generations, and there was quite a bit of dilution in certain areas, but it was enough to establish a definite trace. My ex-husband was from Seniwa, after all, and took our son with him when he returned." Washu paused, staring solemnly at her hands. "Frankly, I lost track of them a long time ago...it's rather ironic, the tricks that fate can pull on you."

"So, Mihoshi and I are cousins?" Ryoko asked.

"Distant cousins, yes." Washu grinned at the expression on her daughter's face. "Very distant."

Mihoshi giggled. "Wait 'till I tell my parents."

"As with Ryoko's baby, I can only speculate about your daughter. But I'd also put the odds in her favor that she will have the same genetic predisposition."

Mihoshi placed her hands on her abdomen, her face a contemplative smile. "Just like your daddy..."

"And now we get to Ayeka. The characteristics are recessive, but still present. How many generations have passed since the last Emperor capable of summoning the wings?"

"Eight," Ayeka replied. She looked over at Funaho and Misaki for confirmation.

"Well, just like Achika, the genetic predisposition is present and dominant in little Azusa. Again, we won't know positively until he's matured, but the probabilities are stacked in his favor."

Azusa was curled into a ball on his mother's lap, drowsy and idly watching his sister. Ayeka kissed his head gently, and then looked up at Tenchi. He smiled and nodded. Misaki could be heard proudly whispering, "That's my grandson!" to Jelham.

"And last, but not least, is Sasami. Quite possibly the most significant surprise of all. Her profile bears a superficial resemblance to Ayeka's, but shows definite signs of modification."

"What do you mean?" Sasami asked.

"All those years you've been linked to Tsunami, sharing her Power manifestations, your body has been responding. In effect, your DNA has been altered. The result is that your characteristics are almost as strong as Tenchi's. It's quite possible that in the next five years we may see a transformation in you, just like we did in him. If nothing else, your children stand the greatest chance of exhibiting the characteristics."

Sasami said nothing, just exchanging glances with Tenchi. He grinned, offering reassurance. Then she felt her mother's arms encircling her, and a hearty, "Oh, My little Sasami!"

"In fact," Washu continued, ignoring Sasami's embarrassed distress, "the odds are heavily stacked in favor of all of Tenchi's children being capable of generating the Lighthawk Wings. There are no guarantees, of course...just probabilities. But the future looks very promising. In twenty years, when his own Power attributes are reaching their peak, our husband may well have the additional task of teaching his children how to deploy their own Lighthawk Wings. And as his heirs start families, the numbers will grow exponentially. Not only is Tenchi now the dominant political voice for humanity in the galaxy, he is also pulling humanity up the next rung of human evolution."

Tenchi sat in pensive silence, his jaw muscles working slowly, only vaguely aware of the proud smiles of his family. He was staring at the TV screen. When he finally spoke, his voice was tinged with curiosity. "Washu, why is there a question mark below your name?" All eyes turned to look at the chart.

"Oh, I must have forgotten to mention that. My last surprise: I'm pregnant!"

Tenchi emitted a strangled sound, and everyone turned to look at him. He was staring down into Washu's calculating smile, and on her lap Achika's innocent grin. His gaze swung over to Ayeka's bemused expression, and little Azusa's sleeping indifference. Beside him, Ryoko's radiant smile shown down on her swollen abdomen, and on his other side Mihoshi's giggling caused her own enlarged belly to jiggle. He heard Sasami clear her throat, and turned to look over his shoulder.

"You needn't worry about me for a while yet," she said, as though reading his mind. Then her face lit up with a mischievous grin, and she ruffled his hair. "But in five years you had better be good and ready, 'cause we'll have a lot of catching-up to do!"

Tenchi's shocked look faded as one corner of his mouth curled upwards, and then he started laughing. It deepened into an infectious belly laugh that soon spread to the rest of his family.

SCENE 3

As news conferences go, it was not a big deal. The Emperor had finally returned from field testing the new engine, and was officially welcoming his grandfather home. It was to be a simple speech held on the portico of the Residence, with a short guest list of old family friends, a few influential council members, and whatever media felt like attending. Therefore, the usual carnival atmosphere was absent, and a rather tranquil civility was the order of the day.

Tenchi stepped to the podium, and delivered his speech. It was received with respectful applause. Yosho replaced him at the podium, and spoke a few words. More polite applause. Then Yosho removed the Master Key from his sash and, with a sincere bow, handed the artifact to his Emperor.

Tenchi was silent for several moments, inspecting the ancient mechanism constructed from one of Tsunami's branches — and reviewing memories of more recent vintage. Then he turned slowly towards his family and summoned Ryoko. She stepped forward and bowed (as graceful as any extremely pregnant woman can). Tenchi extended the hilt of the Master Key towards her and concentrated. The two crimson gems flared once and vanished, reappearing on Ryoko's right wrist and throat.

For a moment Ryoko was in shock, and then in a rush leaned over her swollen belly and pulled Tenchi into a passionate kiss. The crowd laughed and applauded.

Washu and Tsunami were standing on the Veranda, watching the events from a distance.

"She is once again whole," Tsunami observed.

"Yes, she is." Washu agreed.

"Were you apprehensive?"

"Honestly? Yes — right up to the moment that she kissed Tenchi. I knew then that she would never revert to the monster that Kagato had created."

"She has discovered the full power of her love and compassion."

"So, can she summon the Lighthawk Wings?"

"Not yet. Her heart grows bigger with each passing day; soon it will be big enough."

"After her daughter is born?"

"Yes. She will be ready then."

"Will you instruct her?"

"No."

Washu turned to look at Tsunami, eyebrows raised in surprise.

Tsunami smiled back. "Tenchi will instruct her. I will merely advise when necessary."

"Ah," Washu nodded slowly. "A wise plan. And Sasami?"

"A few more years. She, too, will take her guidance from Tenchi."

There was silence for awhile, broken by the faint noises from the news conference.

"We are free, now," Washu finally said.

"Yes," Tsunami replied. "We came to this galaxy seeking to breed allies of commensurate Power, and failed. Tenchi has succeeded beyond our wildest hopes. And he has redeemed both of our avatars. He truly is The One."

"We can't relax our vigilance."

"No. Never. But now I share your hope, Sister. Let Tokimi come; we will be ready."

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

The title of this story is a phrase from the song originally sung by Kyu Sakamoto, "Ue o Muite Aruko" ("I Look Up When I Walk"), which was released in Japan in 1961, and in the U.S. in 1963 as "Sukiyaki". The details (and the lyrics) are from the Kyu Sakamoto webpage.

Has anyone else noticed the similarities between Tsunami and the Andromeda Ascendant from the TV series Gene Rodenberry's Andromeda? After all, both ships are graceful in appearance, powerful, and sentient. Both communicate primarily with a holographic projection of a human female, both are fiercely loyal to their organic symbionts (Tenchi Masaki and Dylan Hunt), and both are exploring the concept of emotions through avatars (Sasami Jurai and 'Rommie'). While I'm not overly impressed with Andromeda, it does provide a useful comparison on several levels, mostly background information on Commonwealth culture and technology.

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 2002 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 HarrisSubject: "Hitoribotchi no yoru"

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