Ryo-Ohki dipped low over the greenish-colored waters as she flew toward the towers in the distance. The buildings grew larger as she approached the tourist area that Ryouko had directed her towards. When she was less than three kilometers away, she slowed down and approached at a far more cautious speed.
"Are you certain they’re here?" Aeka asked as she observed the town become more distinct on the external monitors.
"Well, we have on our hands a popular seaside tourist planet with a population of fifty million that has either mysteriously lost the ability, or is simply refusing, to communicate with us. There hasn’t been a launch from the planet’s surface since we’ve arrived in-system. And I can’t pick up a single transmission, not even a radio station, anywhere on this entire giant swimming pool. Now what do you think the odds are Mihoshi has been here?" Ryouko crossed her arms as she waited for Aeka’s inevitable answer.
"It does make sense," Aeka admitted a bit reluctantly. Something was bothering her about the situation. Even Mihoshi, walking disaster that she tended to be, would have been hard pressed to knock out an entire planet’s ability to communicate. And how could she have disabled all of the spaceports too? It just didn’t seem possible. "But perhaps we should consider an alternate explanation."
"Yeah, right," Ryouko snorted derisively. "Like what? A giant undersea monster awakened from its ancient slumber and grabbed the entire population of the planet?" Ryouko made a ‘monstrous’ sound and wriggled her fingers in Aeka’s direction. "That sounds like the plot to some cheesy late night movie."
As Ryouko finished her declaration, gigantic tentacles hundreds of feet long and dozens of feet across shot out of the water and wrapped themselves around Ryo-Ohki, halting her in mid-flight.
"I hate you," Aeka said calmly to Ryouko right before Ryo-Ohki was dragged into the icy depths of the ocean below.
A Tenchi Muyo story
by D.B. Sommer
Disclaimer: Tenchi Muyo!, its characters and settings, © Hitoshi Okuda, AIC / Pioneer LDC, and Viz Communications, Inc.
All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
‘First light’ for the remaining crew of the Rack N’Ruin and their Galaxy Police partners turned out to be a couple of hours after light actually first struck. Malgaunt had insisted, and eventually won the argument, that in order to recover the Shihana they were going to have to be prepared for any eventuality. That meant making the time to take everything they could possibly need in order to ensure that things ran smoothly later. So, once again, the crew went through the inventory of what they had salvaged, then thoroughly re-examined the ruins of the ship one more time.
A handful of additional items were recovered on their second inspection. Onita found and claimed a high-powered plasma rifle, and Funuyaki dug out some waterproof cloaks to help keep them dry in case of rain. The others discovered a handful of small, useful items as well.
It was as Onita and Ariana searched the remains of the rear of the ship —after the Galaxy Police officer had pulled aside some heavy pieces of what were once armored plates from a heavily reinforced room— that he spotted a shiny turquoise block that was fifteen feet long and ten feet across. Unlike most of the other remains of the ship, it was intact and without even a scratch upon it.
"Neratron," Onita said under his breath. It was an incredibly resilient substance that could transform directly from gas to solid. Among other things, it was frequently used as a cheap alternative to contain prisoners, its unique molecular structure putting them in a form of basic suspended animation. Its advantages were that it cut down on the amount of space required to keep prisoners and one did not have to worry about feeding and maintaining them. On the downside, the suspended animation was not always one hundred percent effective and occasionally the prisoners died while entombed in the substance. That complication failed to stop some less scrupulous individuals and governments from using it anyway.
"Oh, I forgot he was still in the brig," Ariana said from her position several feet behind the large man.
"Who’s in it?"
A tiny smile formed on Ariana’s lips, one she concealed from Onita. "Our puppy."
Onita stared at her blankly for a moment. "You have a puppy locked up in Neratron? What did he do, chew on Stargrave’s slippers?"
Ariana ignored the slight against her captain and continued smiling. "Just release him from the Neratron, and you’ll see for yourself."
Onita shrugged and began looking for a cylinder of Preztnast, the chemical used to revert Neratron to its gaseous state. Usually it was inserted directly into the Neratron via an air-powered injector. Within moments, he found the case that held the long silver cylinders. There was a huge hole in the side from a fragment of flooring that had been ripped upwards and punctured the gunmetal gray case. Over half of the injectors had been destroyed, but all it required was one to initiate the chemical change. He extracted a working cylinder, double-checked it to make sure it was in working order, then plunged the end into the turquoise substance.
For a single moment nothing happened, then the Preztnast begin to take effect as the surface of the block where Onita had injected it began to bubble. It bubbled slowly at first, but it quickly picked up speed as the material became black mist that drifted away in the slow passage of air that traveled through the many holes that now dotted the surface of the ship.
A hole formed where the Preztnast had first been injected into block. As it grew deeper and wider, ever expanding, Onita saw the first hint of what was actually inside the Neratron. A furry hand with nearly inch long claws and strong muscled lines along the fingers and wrist was exposed in the retreating mists. More was continuously revealed; the fur was orange colored, and a powerful arm was revealed as well. Soon a face that was pointed outward somewhat, free of fur save around the sides and bottom of the jaw became visible. A flat nose and closed eyes, deeply inset in the face, also became clear. Onita was able to identify what race the ‘puppy’ belonged to.
"A Sasquish." It was an odd being to be among the group of pirates. In general, they were a race that tended to be well respected throughout the galaxy. They were most famous for being very talented negotiators, with sharp minds and quick wits. That they also tended to stand between seven and ten feet tall, bore very sharp teeth and sharper claws, and weighed in around five hundred to seven hundred pounds of solid muscle that could break most other sentient races in half without halfway trying did not hurt in most of their negotiations, either. Onita had never met one himself, but Sasquish were usually spoken of in terms of great respect.
The last of the Neratron changed into mist, allowing the Sasquish to be released from its prison. Onita watched closely, for if anyone suspended in the substance did not open its eyes within the first thirty seconds of being freed, it usually never opened them at all. Within seconds after it was freed, the Sasquish’s eyes fluttered open as it reoriented itself to the world it had been awakened to. Onita noticed that the creature appeared male, given its lack of clothing and Onita’s own basic knowledge of Sasquish anatomy not being all that different from many other males of various species, his own included.
He continued watching closely as the Sasquish slowly rose to his feet. Once Onita was sure he could stand on his own, he turned to Ariana. "That’s some puppy."
The next thing Onita was aware of was being hoisted into the air as though he were a small child and the Sasquish a large parent. A very large and somewhat homicidal parent, as he found himself being suspended in mid-air by the throat and unable to breathe. Onita was a powerful man, very powerful, but he was helpless in the grasp of the far stronger Sasquish. His blows had no effect, mostly due to the thick hide of the alien.
"My name is Pupei! Not ‘puppy’!" The Sasquish uttered in a growl through gritted teeth. He roared once into Onita’s face, the fetid breath from being entombed in Neratron sent a wave of nausea through the Galaxy Police officer as his vision began to grow black.
Ariana watched the scene with amusement. "Oh, I forgot to tell you: Pupei is something of an outcast among his race. It has to do with a chemical imbalance in his brain that can’t be corrected. It makes his temper somewhat volatile, especially when compared to others of his species. On the other hand, he’s even stronger than most Sasquish and can bench press well over a ton under standard gravity conditions. But I see you’ve already discovered that on your own. Nice detective work."
Darkness began to claim Onita. His hand fumbled for his side arm, only to have it fall to the ground when his fingers failed to properly latch onto the weapon. His thought processes were so jumbled he wasn’t sure if he could have aimed it properly anyway. Besides, he also was uncertain whom he would have shot first: Pupei for strangling him or Ariana for setting him up and laughing about it.
"WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?!" A voice boomed from the doorway.
Ariana’s amusement turned to chastisement as she saw Stargrave standing in the ruins of the doorway to the ship’s brig. "It’s… ah…"
"Save it!" He said over her stammered excuse. He moved quickly, yet gracefully, towards Pupei’s side. The Sasquish’ grip remained firm as Onita’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and his struggling became a shadow of what it once was. "Release him."
The order was firm and commanding, yet Pupei did nothing. "He called me a puppy! I hate that!"
This time Stargrave’s voice dropped lower, yet continued to carry its same commanding tone. "I gave you an order. Now release him."
Pupei turned, and bared his teeth at Stargrave. Sa’bre failed to even blink at the implied threat while Ariana’s sidearm was in her hand in an instant as she tried to get a clear shot at Pupei’s head.
"If you refuse my order again, I’ll finish what I started the last time you defied me."
The effect was instantaneous as Pupei released Onita. The Galaxy Police officer dropped to the ground hard and was gasping desperately for air as he slumped prone on the ground. Pupei gave one last low growl towards the captain, but backed away. His hand subconsciously fingered a long, jagged scar that ran diagonally across his chest from the top of the left pectoral to the right end of his stomach.
Stargrave made no motion to help the slowly recovering officer. Instead, he waved his hand towards Ariana and Pupei, indicating they should follow. Without bothering to glance in Onita’s direction, Sa’bre called over his shoulder, "When you can walk again, meet us outside the bridge. We’re almost ready to go." The trio left without another word.
Malgaunt scowled in the direction of Stargrave and his two returning companions. "Where’s Onita, and who’s the rather big fellow?" He directed the questions towards the captain.
"The Sasquish’s name is Pupei. He survived the crash by being frozen in a block of Neratron. He’s going to be very useful to us. As to your man, Lieutenant Onita, Pupei had a disagreement with him over the pronunciation of his name. Your man suffered no permanent injury and should be rejoining us shortly." Stargrave gave a non-committal shrug and looked over the supplies. He began mentally inventorying what they should take and what was going to have to be left behind.
The mental tally was interrupted as Malgaunt warned, "We’re in this together, Sa’bre. We can’t afford to have infighting among our people. Mine will keep in line. You had better keep a tighter rein on yours."
"On the few of them that are left, anyway," Funuyaki added from her position off to the side of the gathering, where she was keeping as much to herself as she could.
That comment earned her a glare from Stargrave that would not only have struck her dead, but reduced her to ashes as well if it could. That look was followed on its heels by an equally lethal-looking stare from Ariana. It took a great deal of effort on Funuyaki’s part to refrain from commenting to Ariana about how some dogs took after their masters a little too well.
After another tension filled moment — in which Funuyaki felt a curious, prickly sensation from the back of her neck — Stargrave relaxed and gave her a smile that radiated even more lethality than the glare had. This time Ariana did not bother matching Stargrave’s outward change (not that Funuyaki thought she could match it) as both she and Stargrave turned away from the officer and returned to inventorying the goods. The moment Stargrave turned away, Funuyaki felt the sensation disappear. She shook it off as just her finely honed officer’s warning sense giving her an appropriate warning that her life had been in danger.
Her thoughts returned to those of solitude. About the only people that had bothered her since the crash were Malgaunt, when he gave her an order or asked her opinion on something, and the gray wrinkly bag of flesh, Autolycus. Curiously, she found herself charmed by the… whatever he was, and honestly regretful that they had not met under different circumstances. He was easy to get along with and had a sharp mind, despite his age. Also, he lacked the hard edge the other members of the Rack N’Ruin had, despite his own status as a pirate. They might have even become friends. But they had met under their current conditions, and as charming as he was, he still represented part of the difficulties that plagued her. Not that the others were not suffering continuing troubles of their own. Troubles that were becoming progressively worse as time wore on.
Among them was that Fera was dead. Somehow, Funuyaki instinctively knew that, although she could not say how she knew or why. She was beginning to wonder if any of them were going to get off the rock they were stranded on alive. As the casualties on Funuyaki’s ‘side’ continued to soar, she had to admit it was not an unrealistic expectation.
Funuyaki was still considering her options when Onita finally joined them. He was, as Stargrave had promised, apparently unharmed save for the red marks at his throat, and those were becoming fainter by the second. Far from surprising, Onita headed directly for Malgaunt. Funuyaki considered joining them before she realized she didn’t particularly care what had happened to her excessively muscled partner.
Her eyes followed the animated discussion that was just out of her earshot. Onita shot a glare towards Ariana. Although the look promised a great deal of suffering, it wasn’t anywhere near as menacing as the one that Stargrave had used earlier, or the glare Ariana was now giving him in return. Funuyaki found herself idly wondering who would kill whom first if it came down to a duel. She knew Onita was skilled in combat and had a tendency towards excessive violence, but her money would have been placed on Ariana. As much as she couldn’t stand the woman, she exuded an air of controlled deadliness.
The glaring cut back to more manageable amounts as Malgaunt ordered Onita, then Funuyaki, to begin gathering the supplies they would need to take with them. Funuyaki sighed and went to work, thoughts about her comrades falling from her mind.
As they began rounding up the equipment, Stargrave saw that Angstrom was assisting and obviously gathering together some items that were intended for an overland journey. Stargrave made his way over to Angstrom and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Don’t bother getting anything together. Your job is to stay here and guard the transmitter."
The older man appeared hurt by the order. "Even with our pup— I mean, even with Pupei helping out, you’re still going to need every able-bodied being you can get. Joffry can watch the transmitter just fine."
"Joffry has two broken legs and would hardly be able to react in an emergency." Stargrave shook his head. "I need someone reliable staying with the transmitter. It’s our only way off this planet. If anything happens to it, our recovery operation is going to be meaningless. I need you here."
Reluctantly, Angstrom assented. He was obviously depressed as he began helping the others pack their things. Stargrave watched him for a few moments and, once convinced that he would be compliant, turned to Autolycus. "I can’t see any reason for you to go along."
"Oddly enough, I was thinking the same thing about the mission altogether," Autolycus said as he looked up at his captain.
Stargrave saw that the statement had attracted everyone else’s interest. "What’s that supposed to mean?"
Autolycus took a deep breath and began. "Give up the Shihana, Sa’bre."
"You must be joking!" Stargrave snapped.
"Far from it. This plan of yours was faulty from the beginning, as I would have told you had I suspected that you were talking with the Yagdagron with the intention of recovering the Shihana. Now that your well thought-out plan has fallen completely into pieces, it’s time to cut your losses and get out of here. Raise a distress call on a general frequency. Since the Galaxy Police won’t be the ones responding, whoever picks us up won’t know who we are. As long as we don’t have the Shihana with us, they shouldn’t have any reason to not take us off this miserable planet."
"I’m not leaving the Shihana behind!" Stargrave snarled. His increasing anger caused Ariana to move closer to him, though she made no openly aggressive movements towards Autolycus.
"It’s just a tool, one that has become more trouble than it’s worth having, no matter how important you think it is. Look at all we’ve lost in a matter of hours, and what do we really have to show for it? Just a bunch of bodies. Certainly everything we have lost can be replaced in time, but the most important thing is that we haven’t lost anything that’s irreplaceable. But to continue on the course that has caused us to lose so much would be madness." A sadness entered Autolycus’ eyes. "Give up this foolish dream of vengeance and let go of your past, Stargrave."
"What do you know about my past?!"
"I know enough to tell you that if you continue on this course with the obsession you have, you’ll just succeed in destroying yourself."
Stargrave trembled with anger, then, almost as if he realized whom he was arguing with, he calmed down. Slowly, he took a deep breath to relax. He began speaking in a much more controlled voice. "Even if what you say is true, it’s my choice. Besides, I have absolutely no intention of failing anymore. I’m poised on the edge of achieving my dreams, and only a fool would turn back at the moment of his greatest triumph."
"Sometimes it’s the bigger fool who doesn’t change his dreams," Autolycus said quietly.
Rather than becoming angry at the continued defiance, Stargrave bent low and stared Autolycus directly in the face. "You’re right, but sometimes it’s the bigger fool who changes his dreams when confronted with the possibility of failure. Life is about risks, and I will not shirk in my dreams because of fear or possible failure."
Autolycus gave up his arguments. His form seemed to slump slightly in the baggy clothing he wore.
"You don’t have to come along if you’re worried," Stargrave said as he began packing things again.
Autolycus shook his head. "I’ll be coming with you for a while longer," he assured them as he watched the others begin to pack their things as well.
"We can’t spare anyone to help you along," Stargrave informed him.
Autolycus snorted at that. "I can keep up without any help. I have my ways."
Much to the others’ surprise, Stargrave grinned, the first time he had done so since they had crashed. "You do at that, old one. You do at that. Now let’s get going." He took a moment to pull the locator out and examine its viewscreen once again. The blip still remained at the exact same coordinates it had before. If it stayed that way for one more day, it would be his once again. And then he would prove Autolycus wrong as the galaxy trembled at his feet.
Tenchi rolled around a bit, still somewhat in the throes of the latest part of a dream. The one that led into it was a faint blur, but the current one was more than enough to capture his full, dreamlike attention. In it, he was placed in some horrible situation in school in which he was interested in several very attractive classmates who continuously rejected his blatant romantic overtures. The girls had no names, but they all seemed hauntingly familiar. There was the somewhat ditzy blonde hall monitor, the somewhat snobbish purple-haired class president, and the somewhat rough and tumble cyan-haired class rebel. Every time he tried to come onto any one of them, that girl would hit him and say she wasn’t interested in him and that he should try to harass one of the other girls. Each rejection caused the class to laugh at him, but he still persisted in spite of the humiliation. He was sure one of them would break down and like him eventually. He just knew it.
There were other, non-romantic interests in the dream as well. There was the tall, pale, greyish-haired teacher with the small glasses on his nose, who seemed to have a bad tendency to come after Tenchi with an energy sword whenever he got an answer wrong. There was the spiky red-haired school nurse that kept trying to give him enemas, and then there was his younger sister, who would pop in periodically and say ‘poor Tenchi’, and offer him support. Somehow, they all seemed faintly familiar to him, although he couldn’t place a name with any of the faces.
Eventually, the frustration within the dream affected him enough that he came out of it and groggily awakened a little. He was too exhausted to force his eyes open, and a part of him wanted the dream to turn out better anyway. Distantly, he felt himself fluff up his squishy pillows and make his head more comfortable before trying to drift off again. It was still a bit cool, so he tried grabbing his blankets to cover himself up. After his hands fumbled around and found nothing, he became dimly aware and took a moment to allow his sleep-drowsy mind to come up with the information as to why he couldn’t find the blankets.
Right, he was sleeping on the cold ground of an alien planet with no blankets to keep him warm. The additional detail of there not being any pillows either also entered his thoughts as well. It took several moments for that detail to be accurately processed before the conflicting information really registered. His memory told him he had fluffed up some squishy, yet firm, pillows several seconds ago. It took another moment for enough higher functions to switch from their sleep cycle to going online and making sense of the situation. Where would a couple of squishy, yet comfortable pillows come from? And why had he developed a sudden craving for milk?
Eyes flew wide open as Tenchi realized that his ‘pillows’ were covered in an orange material and he found out exactly why they were so squishy, yet firm as well.
"ACK!" He sat up, using his hands to help rise by pushing himself upward. That he placed them directly on Mihoshi’s ‘pillows,’ and that she gave off a low moan as he did so, made him panic even further so that he overrode his natural instincts and simultaneously released his hold by ripping both hands away from their contact point. With no method of support, he went crashing back down face first in-between Mihoshi’s breasts once again. On the bright side, they served to cushion what might have been a painful experience very nicely.
Tenchi assessed the situation. Evidently, at some point during the night he had sought a more comfortable position on the hard and cold ground and ended up sprawled out directly on top of Mihoshi and used her as a makeshift mattress. Currently, their bodies were pointed in the same direction; he was just lower than her. His face had been resting on her chest and the remainder of his body was stretched out across hers. By some miracle, Mihoshi had not been awakened yet.
If anyone had come by, the position would have been explicitly compromising. For the first time since they had crashed into the planet, Tenchi was grateful for not being within half a galaxy of anyone he knew. He would never have been able to explain what was going on. But luck was with him for a change. All he had to do was extract himself from being on top of Mihoshi, and no one would be the wiser.
He started to get up when Mihoshi’s legs suddenly wrapped themselves around his lower back, tightly, as he discovered a moment later when he tried to raise himself off her and found he was effectively locked into the position he was currently in. He tried raising himself up on his knees, but Mihoshi’s legs kept themselves wrapped around his back, tightening a bit as he tried moving his hips up.
[Talk about thighs of steel. And I thought Ryouko was strong.]
"You be quiet!" Tenchi hissed. At that moment, Mihoshi moaned slightly. Tenchi had enough time to whisper, "Oh shit," before Mihoshi wrapped her arms around his head and smothered him into her cleavage.
Tenchi was about to shout at Mihoshi to stop when he heard a loud snore come from her again. As impossible as it seemed, she must have been still asleep. It seemed either she was grabbing him in response to some dream, or her grasping actions were instinctive. In either case, he still had a chance to get himself out of the situation without having to give a lame and unbelievable sounding excuse as to what he was doing on top of Mihoshi. Sure. Knowing Mihoshi, she’d believe him, and amazingly, it would be the truth. But he would still feel stupid in having to admit to crawling on top of her like some kind of pervert in the middle of the night.
As he was still in the process of trying to evaluate the situation, he started to feel lightheaded. It took him a moment to realize that it was because he was buried facedown in Mihoshi’s cleavage, pressed firmly against her and with little room to breathe. Mihoshi’s arms had a firm grip around his head, and the most he could risk doing was turning his face slightly so that he could free his nostrils and could get some decent gulps of air.
Once he got some fresh oxygen, he tried coming up with another solution. The way things were going, he was beginning to think he’d rather fight Kagato again than having to deal with extracting himself from his sleeping partner. It would have been easier to deal with, in any case. He was still trying to come up with something, when he heard Mihoshi begin to murmur in her sleep.
"Oh yes, I like it when you say things like that. It makes me feel so wanted."
Tenchi felt at odds with himself. There was a feeling of disgust at eavesdropping at what was obviously not meant for his ears, yet at the same time a voyeuristic desire also made its presence known as his ears strained to hear more of what was going on in Mihoshi’s dream. Being helpless in the situation, he relaxed and continued to listen as she murmured again.
"Ohh, what would the others think if they heard you say that about me?"
That piqued his curiosity further, the feelings of disgust falling by the wayside. Was she dreaming about him?
"I bet Aeka and Ryouko would get angry. They get jealous so easily if they’re made to feel inadequate. Thanks for choosing me."
So it was about him. He should have known. Still, it was to be expected. She had made her interest in him known, even if she was not quite as forward as the other girls tended to be. The other girls probably dreamt about him as well. His pride swelled at the implication as Mihoshi spoke again.
"Of course, I’d be happy to help you with the cooking, Sasami."
Facefaulting while lying flat and being smothered in someone’s ample cleavage is a physical impossibility, a universal law that even Washuu could not break even if she felt inclined to try. That was the only thing that prevented Tenchi from doing so at that moment.
After Mihoshi had quieted down, Tenchi tried coming up once again with something to get him out of his predicament. Her hold was as tight as ever and gave no indication of easing off in the near future. She was going to wake up eventually; even Mihoshi could not sleep an entire day. He needed to do something to get her to release her deathgrip without waking her up. And then it occurred to him: an idea so simple, yet so brilliant, that even Washuu would have patted him on the back for coming up with it. The way to make Mihoshi release her grip would be to do something to her to make her shift that grip, and there was an easy and completely innocent way of doing it.
Tenchi would tickle her. Sure. That would work. No problem.
The only difficulty would be in deciding where to tickle her. Many people were ticklish in their sides, and Tenchi had perfect positioning to try there. He began running his fingers along her sides, waiting for the right moment to jump out of her grasp the instant it was loosened when she laughed. After tickling her sides for a few moments, he felt her tremble. A wide smile broke across his features as he felt her hold shift and then…
…tighten. Her legs grasped at his waist with a power that he could scarcely believe, and his face was smothered into her chest again. Low moans of passion could be heard as she cried out, "Oh yes, Tenchi! Yes! Keep doing that! Keep touching me there!" Her hips began bucking up as she continued moaning.
Tenchi stopped ‘tickling’ immediately. That had not been his fault. How the hell was he to know that particular area of Mihoshi’s body was a sexually sensitive one? She was an alien, for crying out loud! And what was worse was that his own body had begun to respond to the rather animated reaction Mihoshi had to his stimulation.
Tenchi needed to extract himself from her before something happened that both of them would really regret. Unwilling to give up on his original plan, which was good but had suffered from faulty execution, Tenchi began to run his fingers under Mihoshi’s armpits. With any luck, she would at least try to scratch the irritation and release him. If she reacted the same way again, he would just yield to the inevitable and wake her up to face whatever consequences followed from his actions.
Even Tenchi’s rotten luck wasn’t able to hold up. Mihoshi began to giggle as he tickled her there. Almost immediately she loosened the grip on both her arms and legs, and Tenchi used the opportunity to get off of her and as far away as he possibly could. After a moment, Mihoshi’s giggles subsided and she began snoring once more.
"I need a vacation," Tenchi moaned as he flopped back on the ground.
Tenchi woke Mihoshi up an hour later. Almost when she had awakened, she looked at him curiously, then blushed. Guessing at why she was blushing, his reaction was to blush in kind. After several minutes of blushing, and the internal voice cooing in a sarcastic voice about ‘what a man he was,’ Tenchi and Mihoshi grabbed a quick meal of flat-tasting rations before turning to the problem of modifying the anti-gravity web to run on its own power. Unlike the previous modifications Mihoshi had done back at the ship, this one proved to be more difficult. It took them hours of using a minimum of tools to hammer, bend, and otherwise nearly rebuild from scratch a working power supply to the sled. After working for most of the afternoon, they had at last rigged up a small vehicle that was little more than the two long rods and a hovering power core that they could pull through the air behind them. Still, it was the only option they had.
"Which way do we go?" Mihoshi asked as they began to set off.
"Over there." Tenchi pointed to some hills in the distance. He thought he remembered passing them on the way over, and in any case they would help provide cover for them should the people that were trying to get their hands on the orb come looking for them. It was the best they could manage.
The duo set off for the hills.
Malgaunt turned at the outburst to look at Sa’bre. Stargrave and he had taken the middle section of the six-person procession as it made its way towards the Shihana. "What?"
"It’s moving again!" Stargrave nearly wailed as he stared at the locator.
Malgaunt was at his side in an instant. "Direction and speed?" He hoped against hope it was Fera and that she was heading towards the ship.
"Nearly in the opposite direction from us." Stargrave stared at the screen for a few moments. "Slowly, at least for now."
Malgaunt did his own mental calculations as he watched the blip on the screen move slowly away from him. "I’d mark it as no greater than two kilometers an hour. For now, as you say."
"We’ll still catch up to them," Ariana said. "It’ll just take a little while longer. Maybe an extra day. Two at the most."
"Humph!" All eyes turned to Pupei. He was in the rear position of the group. On his back he bore half of the equipment that had been taken on the journey and had kept up with the others with no problems.
"You have something to say?" Stargrave asked, his temper barely held in check.
"You humies are all slow. Let me get rid of this stuff and I can catch up to the Shihana in a day. All I need is that locator to point me in the right direction."
Stargrave brought the device closer in an almost protective gesture. "Hardly. This is the only means we have to track it. If we lose this, we might as well be looking for an Argathian Tick in a Fildebeests Punt."
"Fine." Pupei gave a shrug. "On the other hand, if we get to where whoever is stealing the Shihana was, I might be able to track them by scent."
"You can do that?" Funuyaki wasn’t aware of Sasquish having that highly a developed sense of smell.
"If there isn’t a strong odor to mask the person I’m tracking, and if they excrete a scent, yes." Pupei looked towards Stargrave again. "But I do need a starting point."
Stargrave considered the facts. It sounded as though it was a possible alternative. They would get as close as they could to the track the Shihana had taken and allow Pupei to go ahead from there. Pupei was a formidable opponent, and could probably defeat any mere Galaxy Police officer easily. However, given what Mihoshi had done so far, she was anything but ‘mere’. But since the benefits outweighed the drawbacks, Stargrave had no choice but to nod his head in approval. Besides, he had a good feeling about the plan. Maybe this one would work where all of the others had failed so miserably. After all, how much bad luck could one person have?
It took them another day and a half to cover the forty-eight kilometers between themselves and the path the Shihana had taken. In spite of the occasionally difficult terrain, every member of the party was in superior physical shape (save for Autolycus, who was somehow keeping up by moving his tiny legs ‘very fast,’ as he said) and they were able to set a pace that would cover slightly better than twenty kilometers a day. The Shihana itself was being transported at less than half that, although it appeared to have been taken into a more mountainous area, meaning that Stargrave’s own speed was probably going to drop off as well. If the Shihana made its way out of the mountains first, that lead could increase. It was more imperative than ever that Pupei succeeded in his task.
Once the Sasquish got the scent, Stargrave gave the order to leave and watched him set off at an impressive speed. Funuyaki estimated his speed at nearly fifteen kilometers an hour, and he seemed to have no problems negotiating the terrain. With any luck, he would be upon the Shihana before the twin suns set. And by the end of the next day, the Shihana would be Stargrave’s.
"Tenchi, take a look at that!"
Tenchi stopped pulling the anti-grav sled and looked in the direction she pointed, shielding his eyes from the glare of the twin setting suns and stared at the distant horizon. A soft smile broke across his features as he bathed himself in the panoramic view before him.
Mihoshi moved closer to his side. "What do you think?"
"It’s beautiful." At that moment, Tenchi was overwhelmed by the realization that he was now witnessing a view that no one else from his planet would ever enjoy. Not one, but two suns were setting at the same time, their rays shining through a sky that had never known the touch of civilization and was as pure and as natural as could be. The effect was dazzling, and it was a unique thing that only he, out of billions of people, could enjoy. For one brief moment, all of his cares and worries about his and Mihoshi’s predicament fell aside and a feeling of exhilaration passed over him.
Mihoshi refrained from giggling; instead content to bask in Tenchi’s obvious enjoyment of the scene. The wave of emotions that washed over her at the knowledge that something she had pointed out had made Tenchi feel so happy surprised her. It made her feel content, and yet much happier than she had been in a long time as well. It was most confusing.
She was still trying to sort out her emotions, and failing, when she saw a large, furry figure approaching the mouth of the pass they were in. It took Tenchi several moments longer, until the figure actually entered the pass itself, before he realized it was there.
"Mihoshi? Do you have any idea what that thing is?" he asked.
Mihoshi looked at the creature, standing roughly some thirty meters away from their current position. "Well, if I’m not mistaken, it looks like a Sasquish. Overall they’re a very nice alien race that are very smart, tend to be reasonable, and not given to quick or irrational judgments. Except for the ones with a rare brain disease that make them quick-tempered and nearly homicidal. But the Sasquish try to cover up that fact from the general public, since they consider such members of their race an embarrassment and a symbol of their inability to deal with the problem. But, generally normal Sasquish are easy to get along with and cause few problems that draw the attention of the Galaxy Police."
The Sasquish drew close enough that Tenchi could make out the expression on its face. "And the ones that are quick-tempered?"
"Have a bad tendency to rip the limbs off of people that they don’t like," Mihoshi informed him. "I had to arrest one a while back. It was a bit difficult, since their hides are so tough they’re laser-resistant."
The Sasquish was drawing uncomfortably close. "How did you stop him?"
Mihoshi thought about that for a moment. "Umm. As I recall, after we demolished the bar, most of its patrons, and the security bots, I ducked under one of his punches and he hit a power main embedded in the wall, electrocuting him. It ended up causing a black out in the whole area, but he was definitely subdued. He did smell just awful afterwards. I never want to smell burnt Sasquish again."
When he was about ten meters away, the Sasquish slowed down as he approached them. To Tenchi, the alien appeared very big and very strong. "Did the one you had to arrest look as angry as the one that’s approaching now?"
"Uh, yes. Yes, it did," Mihoshi responded happily.
That was just great. Tenchi took note of their surroundings. The pass they were in was narrow and with sheer sides that made climbing impossible. Judging by how fast the Sasquish had initially run towards them, there was no chance they could outrun him either. Unless a space ship suddenly swooped down and chased off the large alien, they were not going to get out of this without a fight.
Mihoshi stood in front of Tenchi and smiled towards Pupei. "Umm, excuse me, but I don’t suppose you’re here to rescue us?"
"Afraid not," Pupei was impressed by the girl’s courage. When faced by a large and angry Sasquish, most humanoids would have tried fleeing in terror. It never did any good, but that never stopped them from trying.
"What are your intentions here?"
That brought Pupei to a stop. What game was the girl playing at? Perhaps she was trying to buy time. "I’m going to take that orb from you and kill you. Trust me, compared to what Stargrave would do to you, being dismembered by me is going to be a blessing."
"Sir, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to place you under arrest," Mihoshi warned.
Stupid courage, Pupei noted, but it was still courage. At least the boy hadn’t seemed to do anything yet. The Galaxy Police officer was the most dangerous. She would have to be taken out first.
"I’m quite serious." This time. Mihoshi drew her sidearm and pointed it at Pupei.
"I thought you said they were laser-resistant," Tenchi said from his position slightly behind Mihoshi. Given her poise, he had thought she knew what she was doing in confronting Pupei. But now he began to wonder if perhaps he had jumped to a very wrong conclusion.
"Oh, that’s right." She tossed her laser pistol several meters away.
"So how are you going to subdue him now?" Tenchi asked.
"Oh, that’s easy. I’ll just…" Mihoshi thought about it. Then she gave some more thought about it. Then she gave a whole lot more thought about it, using every thought she had. After several moments, she sobbed out, "I have no idea how."
Pupei shook his head. Either the duo was having fun at his expense, or they were idiots. In either case, he was going to enjoy dismembering them. He gave a battle cry and rushed towards Mihoshi.
Tenchi fumbled for the Master Key inside his shirt. Just as he brought it out, it slipped from his finger and fell to the ground. Several curses escaped from his lips as he bent down to retrieve the weapon. He looked up just in time to see that there was no chance he could recover it before the Sasquish fell upon Mihoshi.
Pupei was no more than ten feet away when a panic-stricken Mihoshi held out her right hand before her and yelled out, "Halt!" before closing her eyes and wincing.
Large shards of ice shot out from the freezer cell in her gauntlet. The initial giant ice shards impacted against Pupei’s skin, halting his forward momentum. As each shard touched him, it adhered to him like a second skin. Within several moments, he was completely encased in ice. Once fully blanketed in the opaque substance, the unit stopped firing and shut down.
Hearing none of the expected sounds of violence, Mihoshi opened her eyes and saw that block of Sasquish standing in front of her, not more than five feet away. She looked curiously at her glove. "Wow! I forgot I had one of these."
Tenchi sat down, happy that the problem had been solved while silently cursing Mihoshi for getting him so worked up when she had the situation well in hand, even if she didn’t know it. The girl was going to give him a heart attack one of these days — assuming one of the other girls didn’t beat her to it first — but as it stood now, Mihoshi was probably the frontrunner in that particular contest.
Within the block of ice, Pupei felt his mental processes shutting down one by one. It was just like when he had been frozen in the Neratron. He was being encased in a prison that denied him even the dignity of movement, to be put on display as a freak of nature for the amusement of others, just like on the ship. Just like he had been treated on his home planet. He was an embarrassment, not only to his family, but to his entire race. He denied that fate! Never again!
A surge of anger flooded him, counteracting the anesthetic functions of the icy prison. It took all of his remaining strength, but he forced himself to fight through his stupor and then through a field of pain. He flexed his impressive muscles with all of his might, and just as he thought he would fail, he felt a crack form in the surface of the ice. With that small victory to spur him onward, he redoubled his efforts and was rewarded by the prison shattering all at once, sending icy fragments in all directions.
One of the larger fragments struck Mihoshi solidly in the temple, stunning her and sending her reeling. Even as Pupei fell to the ground, trying to regain his strength, Mihoshi staggered around as though she were drunk. Swaying, she ended up walking facefirst into one of the rocky sides of the pass and bounced off, hard. She turned back towards Tenchi, cross-eyed and standing even more unsteadily on her feet. "That didn’t feel good at all." She collapsed to the ground in a heap.
Pupei recovered enough to appreciate the unintentional results of his handiwork. He took one menacing step towards Mihoshi. "I’m going to beat you to death with your own arm for that, you little bitch."
"Stay away from her!"
Pupei turned away from Mihoshi’s motionless form. His attention was so riveted on the girl that he had forgotten there was another annoying pest around. He took a careful look at Tenchi. "Fine. Have it your way. I’ll beat her to death with your arm instead."
Sensing words would be wasted, Tenchi said nothing and held the Master Key before him. A moment’s concentration summoned forth the power within him, activating the long blue blade of Juraian energy. He began a basic attack pattern his grandfather had taught him, bringing the blade high above his head. From that position, he flowed smoothly and brought the blade to bear in front of him, pointing it in Pupei’s direction. Tenchi hoped the show of skill would make the Sasquish think twice before attacking. Surely he would back away in fear of the Master Key.
Pupei took one look at the blade of energy, laughed, then came forward.
Tenchi gulped audibly. "Stay back, or I won’t be responsible for what happens to you." Tenchi saw that words had no effect on the much larger alien, and was about to go into an attack position with the Master Key when the blade flickered, then went out altogether.
"BWHAHAHAHA! What’s the matter, humie? Forget to put the battery in your little flashsword there?" Pupei roared in laughter again as Tenchi slammed down on the hilt in a vain effort to get the sword to re-ignite. It was the best laugh he had had in a long time. The boy had done him a favor in lightening his mood. Pupei would return the boon by killing him quickly.
Tenchi’s panicked attempts failed to produce even a glimmer from the Master Key. Seeing Pupei recover from his bout of laughter, Tenchi backed away and began looking around for an alternate weapon. His eyes fell on the laser pistol a few feet away, the one Mihoshi had carelessly tossed aside earlier. She claimed it wasn’t powerful enough to hurt the Sasquish, but Tenchi found himself hoping that this would be one instance in which she had been wrong.
He bent down and picked up the weapon. It appeared to be simple enough to use; one just pointed at where the target was and pulled on the trigger. It was just like shooting a gun, not that Tenchi had ever had the opportunity to fire one, but the principle appeared the same.
When he leveled the laser at the Sasquish, it just smiled in return. Tenchi went ahead and fired, the laser bolt going well over the right shoulder of what he thought he had been aiming at. The second shot was badly overcompensated, and Tenchi’s shot hit the ground a good two feet in front of the furry alien. Pupei grew tired of toying with his prey and charged forward, taking the third shot in the shoulder. He grimaced slightly as the laser stung him, but did no real damage. The fourth shot never came close to Pupei as he managed to close the distance between him and his target and slashed upward, striking Tenchi’s weapon arm. Instead of heading towards the alien, the shot went high into the air and struck the side of the pass directly above Tenchi. The blow also served to knock the laser out of Tenchi’s hand and it went sailing nearly twenty feet away.
Tenchi pulled back his arm, cradling it in his other. Blood flowed freely from a gash that had been opened up by the Sasquish’s claws.
Pupei backhanded Tenchi, sending him sailing several feet away and into the side of the pass wall and right under an overhang. Pupei took a moment to admire his handiwork. "Nice try, kid. But this is where you get what’s coming to yo —" A rock hit Pupei directly on top of the head.
Pupei paused in his ‘parting speech’ and looked up. At first, he was concerned that a third person might have been hiding and had positioned themselves above him for some kind of assault. But when he looked up, he saw no one there. Relaxing, he looked back towards Tenchi. He was about to begin his speech again when a low rumble came from above. His head jerked upward, for he thought he recognized the sound and understood what the first stone had heralded. Sure enough, just as he looked skyward, he saw a large portion of the pass wall, the part that the fourth laser shot had hit, give way and come falling down the towards him like a gray wave of water.
Pupei lunged forward, hoping to make it under the overhang Tenchi had fallen under, all the while knowing he wasn’t going to make it. A prayer passed his lips as he felt the first, and largest of the rocks, hit him squarely in the back. A Sasquish’s hide could withstand a great deal of abuse, but tons of stone falling from that height was far too much, even for someone as durable as Pupei.
Tenchi covered his ears as the roar of the miniature avalanche deafened him. He too sent a silent prayer to the heavens above; one in which he hoped the overhang he was under would not collapse from the weight from above. Less than ten seconds after it started, it was over. Tenchi waited for the dust to settle, and his hearing to return, before scrambling out from the underhang and running as far away from the area of the pass that had collapsed. Just because the initial wave was over did not mean there would not be a second rockslide, perhaps even worse than the first.
A couple of minutes passed, and when it appeared that nothing else was going to fall down, Tenchi relaxed. He looked at the place where his opponent had been and found himself feeling sorry for the large alien in spite of the fact that it had just tried to kill both himself and…
"MIHOSHI!" Tenchi turned to see where she was. She appeared to be in the same condition as she had been when he had lost sight of her. She was laying face down on the ground and well away from the rockslide.
Guilt shot through Tenchi as he made his way over to her and carefully picked her up. How could he have forgotten her so quickly? True, he had been attacked, cut, and nearly buried alive, but once it was obvious he was out of any immediate danger he should have been at her side. Instead, he had stared at a big pile of rocks while Mihoshi could have been dying. If anything happened to her, it would be his fault for not reacting in time.
Ignoring the growing feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach, Tenchi gently shook her, while being mindful of the wound to her head. There was only a small trickle of blood coming from it, not as much as the cut she had gotten in her fight with the Katasan from the other day, but with head injuries one could never tell how serious they truly were.
Panic started to overtake him; that would accomplish nothing. He used a mental exercise to calm himself. It was one his grandfather had taught him when he was younger, and ever since the girls had entered his life he had found himself putting the technique to frequent use. After bringing himself under control he softly, he called out Mihoshi’s name.
After the second time Tenchi said it aloud, Mihoshi’s eyes fluttered open. The dreadful feeling that had made its home in the pit of his stomach left him. He said, "How do you —"
"The Sasquish!" Mihoshi tried sitting straight up from her prone position in Tenchi’s arms. She only got halfway up when her head slammed into Tenchi’s, knocking them both out for a full minute. They recovered at the same time, each sitting up and groaning.
"Sorry about that," Mihoshi said as she regained her feet, then helped Tenchi up on his. It took both of them several moments to collect their thoughts before they realized what had happened.
"Where’s the Sasquish?"
"Under there." Tenchi pointed at the pile of rocks that now served as Pupei’s funeral cairn.
Mihoshi looked at the pile of stone, whistled, then looked back at Tenchi in open awe. "Wow! I had no idea you were that strong. How’d you pick up that really big boulder on the top? It looks like it weighs a couple of tons."
"I didn’t throw the rocks on top of him! He just got buried in an avalanche!" Tenchi snapped.
"Oh." Mihoshi nodded in understanding.
Tenchi breathed a sigh of relief and allowed the majority of his tension to drift from him. Once he felt at least semi-relaxed, he turned his attention to the prize that the others seemed to so desperately want. "I wonder what’s in that thing?"
"Let’s find out." With her curiosity aroused, Mihoshi turned to the orb and examined it closely. She touched the single button on the outside, and was rewarded with the control panel sliding open. Looking at the twenty different keys that dotted the surface of the pad, it readily became apparent to her that the way to open the orb was to punch in some kind of code. She told Tenchi as much.
"Is there anyway of figuring out what the code is?" Tenchi asked.
"You could hack your way into the system and find it that way. Usually the protection on these is really good and it’s difficult to figure out how to get into the system and find the proper files." Mihoshi began punching numbers into the keypad.
Tenchi watched her closely. "So how long do you think it’ll take you to hack into that thing?"
"Silly. I can’t hack into it. I don’t have any equipment for it, and I’m not really any good at hacking either."
"Err, then what are you doing?"
"Oh, I’m just playing with the numbers here." Mihoshi listened with amusement at the funny sounds each button made when she pressed them. "The code has to be some combination of them. I can make it open when I find out the right one."
"And how long are the codes, usually?"
"It could be anything up to twenty five different digits."
Tenchi felt a headache come on. "Mihoshi, do you have any idea how many different twenty five number combinations are possible on a twenty digit pad like that? The idea that you can just randomly punch buttons and hope you somehow come up with the right combination is —"
"Ohhhh, that’s really pretty. You know. I think that second orb inside the first one is made out of polynison. That’s strange because it’s really, really expensive and to use that much of it would cost a small fortun… Tenchi, why are you hitting your head into the ground and saying ‘Why do I even bother’ over and over again?"
Tenchi didn’t answer. He just kept hitting his head into the ground and hoped that after enough times, it would eventually all make sense to him. Either that, or he knocked himself into unconsciousness. Either way it would make things less frustrating.
And several feet away, one of the most lethal killers in the universe remained where it was, only two shields away from blossoming as it was created to do.
To be continued.
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