Disclaimer: Tenchi Muyo! and all characters herein are property of AIC and Pioneer, LDC Inc. I am just the voice of one loon crying out on the Net. And since loons don't have any money it wouldn't do you any good to sue me.

Thanks to everyone that made this fic possible. Juliusmz, my pre-reader. GenSao for providing a place for writers to hone their craft. And of course Hiroshi Hayashi and Masaki Kajishima for creating such dynamic characters that make FanFic writing such a challenge. And I'd like to thank the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences...


Tenchi Muyo!


Chapter I v2.0

By Arca Jeth


[The Graviton 1 Space Station] Sluis Sector

The large, silvered structure hung indifferent in space. The brightly lit station sat in stark contrast to the dark gas giant about which it orbited. Once an ore processing plant, the Graviton 1 space station had been erected in the dawn of space colonization. Its multi-level rings and wagon wheel shape testified to its use of spin to produce artificial gravity. The station now lay still with new gravity generators in place.

After the remodeling and overhauls, Graviton 1 had become a showplace, a draw for tourists and sightseers to gawk at the bands of dark gasses surrounding Sluis Van.

While this was all well and good, it did nothing but annoy the resident spacers that called the station home. All of their grungy workstations and greasy body shops had been replaced by gleaming shopping centers and family fun zones. All of the scruffy freighter pilots, trash haulers, and outright smugglers were relegated to the lowest levels of the outermost ring. (Some say in the hopes a pirate attack would finish them off.) But among the dingy corridors, flop houses, and 3d tattoo parlors there was an oasis. In the Spacefarer's End Bar and Grill, pilots could rest tired bones after a long voyage. One could engage in friendly profane conversation without rugrats under-foot. While kept painstakingly clean by the old proprietor, Yosho, all the spacers who darkened the swinging doors felt right at home.

No white tablecloths adorned the tables in the Spacefarer's End. Everything was stainless steel with sharp corners and no cushions. Rumor had it that all Yosho had to do at closing time was wash everything down with a water hose.

There was no piano player who ceaselessly pumped out easy listening tunes for polite conversation. The 'End' had a jukebox with only two settings, Hard Rock and the Blues. A horseshoe shaped bar which dominated the area was surrounded by scattered tables with booths snugged into the corners. Over the bar, a sign stated Yosho's three rules:

1. When settling a dispute NO Blasters!

2. No political discussions!

3. Absolutely NO SPITTING!

Though the place had a few quirks, it had really grown on the rough-and-tumble patrons and on the Graviton 1 administrators (especially since it kept the spacers out of the shiny public areas).

It was another normal business day at the Spacefarer's End, with the pilots in one corner discussing shipping routes, ship repairs, complaining about tariffs, high port fees, and the latest sports scores. In another area, smugglers regaled each other with stories of their latest "big score' and how many patrols they dodged, or their most recent sexual conquest. These, along with the usual smattering of mechanics, techs, con men, and outright thieves made for a colorful scene as She walked through the doors.

As these things go, most men can't resist looking at a woman from the bottom up so the first thing many spacers noticed was her footwear. She wore black, high-heeled, leather boots with steel toes. Her pants were also tight-fitting

black leather and drew the eye to her curvaceous hips. A bare midriff gave way to a black boustier that gave more than just a glance at her ample bosom, over-which she wore a black half-jacket with a stylized, female demon straddled atop an old-fashioned rocket on the back. An over-sized black bag was slung over her left shoulder. Around her neck she wore a black choke necklace with tiny silver studs on its circumference. Soft lips and a small turn-up nose seemed out of place on her face when viewed with the most striking gold, feline eyes. Her head was toped with an unruly mane of hair, so light blue that it was almost silver, that spilled down her back.

While taking in the total package of this most alluring woman, many miss the subtleties that tell them that they should keep their distance. One of which was the cold, calculating way in which she viewed the room before her. The other was the casual way her right hand rested on the butt of the high powered BlasTech DL 44 heavy blaster strapped to her thigh.

"Ryoko!" Several of the patrons called in greeting as the cargo pilot walked deeper into the room. Some said while she was a hard person to know, you couldn't ask for a more loyal friend than Ryoko. A one-time pirate/smuggler/

con artist, Ryoko had settled down into the not-so-exciting life of a free-trader (though for the right price she's been known to engage in marginally legal ventures). Nodding in turn to the greetings of old acquaintances Ryoko felt that she had finally come home. Noticing some of the appreciative looks she got from the males of the group she saw a few appealing prospects but had always made it a policy to never get too attached to anyone here. When that happened it would be time to move on. Heading up to the bar, Ryoko sat down on a stool near the center.

"Hey Yosho," she called to the owner/operator. "The usual."

The old bartender, Yosho came over with a mug of a green, foaming concoction that looked slightly more appetizing than used reactor waste.

"That's one Rusty Razor blade for the lady," Yosho said amicably. His steel gray hair, spectacles and starched apron looked so out place with the rangy clientele it was almost comical. "Why do they call it that anyway?"

"'Cause that's the way it feels going down," Ryoko said after a long pull on her drink. "It's good to see you again Yosho."

"I'm glad you're still in the land of the living Ryoko," Yosho said. "It's been three months since your last visit."

"Yeah, my longest voyage yet."

"So, what about that date you promised me?"

"Yosho, I could be your daughter," Ryoko said with mock surprise.

"Humph, if you were my daughter I wouldn't let you go wandering the space lanes."

"Speaking of daughters," Ryoko said. "How's Achika doing? Is she still married to that architect?"

"Of course she is," Yosho said, a pride filled expression coming to his creased face. "In fact, they're expect my first grandchild."

"Well congratulations!" Ryoko exclaimed. "If it's a girl, name her after me, okay?"

"We'll see," Yosho said non-committal. "But while we're on the subject, why don't you settle down with some nice young man and have some children?"

"Me? Kids?" Ryoko said laughingly. "I could just imagine trying to take them along on some runs. But seriously; I'm not ready to stop yet. There's just too much to see and do out there to tie myself down."

Yosho shook his head resignedly.

"Well if excitement is what you crave then you need only to look towards the end of the bar."

Ryoko followed Yosho's gaze to a bar stool upon which sat a young lady who trying, and failing, to look inconspicuous. She wore a cream-colored business suit with the hem of her skirt that came just above her knees when she sat down and she wore low-heeled pumps that that perfectly matched the ensemble. She clutched a small purse in her left hand while sipping at her drink. Her tailored jacket just covered a white silk blouse.

To Ryoko, the whole outfit screamed style as it also called for the attention of every pickpocket, thief and con in the room. The stranger's crowning glory was her flowing violet-almost lavender-hair that cascaded down her back ending in two, long ponytails.

"Hmm. Society girl," Ryoko thought aloud. "What's she doing down here? Slumming?"

"She's actually looking for transport," Yosho said. "The word is, she came down looking for a pilot. She was lucky a friend of mine found her and steered her in here."

Ryoko shuddered a bit remembering stories she'd heard about the fates of thrill seekers who'd come to the Underworld for adventure. Most were lucky to make it out missing their money and jewelry. Some didn't make it out at all.


"Why didn't she just take a passenger liner?" She asked.

"My guess is, she doesn't want to be found," Yosho said.

Her curiosity peaked, Ryoko got up and started over.

"Hey get that package ready, will ya?" She called over her shoulder.

"Of course."

As she neared the woman, Ryoko caught the gleam of a thin necklace. It looked like platinum braid with a pale pink pendant hanging from it. It was a corusca gem and from the size it looked like it could buy more than half the ships docked at the station. Ryoko looked over to the corner where the thieves hung out and saw the Ho'Din, ParTah, and her cronies staring hungrily at the young woman. ParTah's partner Grif stood and made a move towards the bar, but at that time Ryoko had reached the stool and sat down next to the unsuspecting young woman. Grif sat back down in defeat.

The violet-hared woman was looking in the other direction and was startled when Ryoko said:

"Hi there. I heard you were looking for a pilot."

When she quickly turned around, Ryoko realized two things immediately. The woman was quite young, barely into her twenty's. And she had the most beautiful ruby eyes Ryoko had ever seen. Now she'd seen red eyes before but this was the first time she'd seen them actually look GOOD on someone. Realizing that she was staring and making the woman uncomfortable, Ryoko used her most disarming smile.

"So, where are you headed?"

The girl let out a breath and took a sip from her drink.

"I'd rather not say," she looked around nervously. "Out loud that is."

"I see," Ryoko said. "Come with me."

Ryoko led the woman to a quiet corner booth that in other places would have been called "cozy." Setting her bag on the table, Ryoko leaned forward.

"So, what's your name?"

"Aeka Ju-, Aeka."

Ryoko caught the slip but decided not to pry. If there was one thing Ryoko appreciated it was secrets.

"I'm Ryoko," Ryoko shook hands with Aeka. "Where do you want to go...Aeka?"

"The Gallinore System," she said quickly.

"That's clear across the galaxy from here. Why the Gallinore System?"

"Because it's clear across the galaxy from here," Aeka said, nervously playing with a strand of hair. "If it's out of your range I'll understand."

"Hold it," Ryoko held up a hand. "Nothing is out of my range. It'll just cost you, that's all."

"I can pay you," Aeka said emphatically. "I have money."

It wasn't lost on Ryoko that Aeka hadn't asked how much any of this would cost.

She must be even richer than she looks.

"There is one condition though," Aeka said quietly. "I would prefer to travel... incognito." She quickly looked away as if embarrassed. Ryoko was slightly disappointed not to be able to look into her lovely ruby eyes.

"Don't worry about it," she said reassuringly. "Keeping secrets comes with the job."

Aeka looked up at her gratefully. There was something about this woman that intrigued Ryoko. On the surface she just seemed like another of the social parasites that lived in the upper levels of the station. But when Ryoko looked in her

eyes she saw something. It was as if another person were trying desperately to come out into the sun. It was clear that Aeka was struggling against herself. She was running away from something but not aimlessly. This woman had a plan.

Ryoko was about to comment on this when the bag she had set on the table began to shudder and shake. Aeka looked at it in surprise and backed away.

"What is that?" she asked nervously.

"It's just my ship," Ryoko said matter-of-factly.

"Your ship? But how did you fit it in there?"

Instead of answering her question, Ryoko widened the bag's opening; allowing a small nose to peek over the rim. After taking a few cautious sniffs, the creature's head came fully into view. It had a cat-like face, dark brown fur, and large eyes that were the same golden color as Ryoko's. With its large, floppy ears cocked at an odd angle the furry creature seemed to be in an almost thoughtful mood.

"It's so cute!" Aeka exclaimed. "What it its name?"

"Her name is Ryo-Ohki," Ryoko told her.

"She's a cabbit, isn't she?" Aeka inquired. "I thought they were very rare."

"They are," Ryoko answered quietly. This was the first time she had ever seen Aeka smile. She was stunned at how the happy expression transformed her already pretty face into a beautiful scene.

Taking advantage of being the center of attention, Ryo-Ohki let out her cutest "miya" and sat up looking piteously at Aeka.

"Oh, you poor thing," Aeka cooed. "Traveling through space all this time, you must be famished! Ryoko what does she eat?"

"Just a minute, ah here he his." Ryoko indicated as Yosho walked up to the table and set down a small basket of carrots.

"Thanks Yosho," Ryoko said to the old bartender.

"Don't mention it though they are hard to come by." With that he walked back to the bar.

"Here you go furball," Ryoko said handing Ryo-Ohki a carrot.

"Miya, miya!" Ryo-Ohki made the food disappear as if it never existed.

"My, you are a hungry little thing, aren't you?" Aeka said petting the cabbit gently.

Ryo-Ohki sat up for another helping but her mistress was suddenly looking elsewhere. A lone man siting at a table was waving to her; beckoning her to come over.

"Take over for me, will ya?" She said handing the basket to the bewildered young woman.

"Of...course," Aeka said looking after her.

Ryoko made her way to the table in the opposite corner where a tall, dark-skinned pilot sat. His name was Quin and with his black, shoulder-length, braided hair and sparkling, brown eyes this self-proclaimed ladies man was probably the most notorious heartbreaker in the Underworld. And he was probably the only man, besides Yosho, that Ryoko could honestly call a friend.

"Glad you could join me Ryoko," he greeted warmly in that deep, quiet voice that caused many a lady to swoon into his muscular arms. "I need to talk to you."

"Gee, I never would have guessed with the way you were trying to flag me down like a hover taxi," Ryoko said jokingly.

"I'm glad to see you've kept your sense of humor while you were out. But seriously; you've got trouble coming."

"So what else is new?"

"It's Nagi."

Those two words were enough to make Ryoko's blood run cold.

Not her, not now

"But I thought she was still in that penal colony on Belsavis," she said aloud.

"Well she got paroled," Quin said solemnly. "And she's gunning for you, personally."

"She can't still be mad about what happened," Ryoko said thoughtfully. "Well I don't have time for her right now anyway, I've got a client lined up." She jerked her head in Aeka's direction.

"You can't just blow her off Ryoko she's not going to stop until you're dead!" Quin said raising his voice. "I don't want to see you laid out on a slab somewhere!"

"Quin I'm a big girl and can take care of myself," Ryoko said trying to sound nonchalant. But she was starting to see just how upset Quin was. He was loosing major cool points with this concerned attitude. And if there was one thing Quin was conscious of, it was his image. "Besides, Ryo-Ohki can outrun anything she can throw at us."

"What if she got Ken-Ohki out of impound?"

"Then Ryo-Ohki will be a very happy cabbit," Ryoko said. "What's this really about?"

"I know you don't like this kind of thing, but I worry about you," Quin said taking her hand. "Listen, why don't you come to my place and hide out for a few days? I'm sure your client wouldn't mind being delayed and I'm a pretty

fair host."

"After what happened the last three times? I'd rather not," Ryoko said. "Besides, my client strikes me as the innocent type and I'd like to get her to her destination with her chastity intact."

"I'll be a perfect gentleman," Quin said sounding wounded. "Since when have I not been able to make a woman comfortable?"

"Exactly," Ryoko said wryly. "Thanks Quin, but I've got a job to do." Ryoko got up to leave but Quin held her hand a moment longer.

"Come back alive Ryoko," he said. "Or else I'll never forgive you."

Without another word, Ryoko turned and headed back to her booth and was surprised to find Aeka and Ryo-Ohki getting along famously. Aeka would hold a carrot above Ryo-Ohki and the cabbit did back flips to reach it. With each

acrobatic feat, Aeka clapped and giggled happily.

Hmm. She never showed off for me like that

"Looks like you two are getting along," she said sitting once more. "We'll be leaving shortly. The only thing left to discuss is price."

Aeka looked up from the game.

"Fourteen thousand, all in advance."

To her credit, Aeka did blink once at the astronomical price. But then said:

"Agreed. I will just have to access my account."

"Woah! Hold on a minute," Ryoko said quickly. "I don't know how many times you've done this but, you never take the first offer. I give you a too high price then we go back and forth a while until we both reach the actual price."

"And hat would be?" Aeka prompted.

"Oh, somewhere in the area of nine thousand," Ryoko said, immediately recognizing her mistake.

"That's a little higher than I 'd hoped for, but I'll take it." Aeka said standing up. "Was there anything else? If not I'll get my bags."

"Uh no," Ryoko said wondering how she'd just been out maneuvered. "Take Ryo-Ohki with you. She can lead you to the docking bay, it's 94."

Ryoko had another reason for sending the cabbit along. She was pretty handy in a fight and if Aeka got into trouble she could send a psychic message back to her mistress.

"Of course," Aeka said. "Would you like to come with me Ryo-Ohki."

"Miya!" Ryo-Ohki said hopping into her bag.

Picking up the bag Aeka walked out the bar doors. Ryoko shook her head resignedly. There was definitely more to that woman than met the eye. Ryoko headed back to the bar to settle her bill with Yosho. Halfway there, she noticed that the characteristic chatter of the room had abruptly stopped.

"Hello Ryoko," said a deep but feminine voice behind her. Ryoko restrained the urge to go for her blaster, knowing that it was useless in here. She turned around slowly, throwing as much confidence and arrogance into the maneuver as she could. It didn't pay to show fear in front of a predator.

Standing before her was a tall woman of severe features. Dressed in combat fatigues and armed to the teeth, Nagi was all business. Where Ryoko dressed for style, Nagi went for intimidation. Under her khaki blouse, the angular outline of body armor poked through. She was armed with a two barreled heavy blaster rifle (highly illegal), a vibroblade in each of her heavy combat boots, a blaster pistol for a side arm, and two coils of deadly razor wire that she used as earrings.

She also had a pair of piercing red eyes that were nothing like Aeka's. Where Aeka's eyes were large, warm, and inquisitive, Nagi's were narrow, cold, and calculating. Her thin lips were curved up in that familiar, smug sneer.

Her head, however, was topped with a crown of light-blue hair that was almost an antithesis to the rest of her appearance.

"Been a long time Nagi," Ryoko said. "You look terrible. Like you've been eating prison food or something."

"After only a week I was eating the warden's food," Nagi said. "But keep talking Ryoko. Your sense of humor is the only reason you're still alive."

"You know, I'm sure making death threats violates your parole," Ryoko said wondering how she could get past the bounty hunter who was blocking the door.

"They'll be more than threats when the day's over," Nagi said quietly. "I promised I'd have revenge for what you did to me."

"Well. I'd love to stand here all day and shoot the breeze but I've got a job lined up so if you'll excuse me." Ryoko made a move towards the door but Nagi raised her rifle warningly. At the same time several patrons also

reached for their weapons.

"No blasters!" Yosho shouted from the bar. Somehow, a section of the wall had flipped down, revealing an E-Web repeating blaster, mounted under the bar. "I mean it."

Reluctantly, Nagi placed her rifle on the floor. Ryoko followed suit with her side arm. The other patrons sat back in their seats. Ryoko caught a glimpse of Quin holding his hand on his blaster for a moment longer. She shot him a warning glance and he relented but still leaned forward in his seat, ready for action.

"Looks like it's just you and me Ryoko," Nagi said smiling widely.

"Yep, looks like." Ryoko was less than eager to engage in unarmed combat. She had been out of practice for these three months and wasn't at her highest level.

Nagi, on the other hand had spent a year fighting it out in one of the toughest penal colonies in the sector.

This was going to be interesting.

Nagi started off rushing in directly, but at the last moment she twisted to the side and lashed out with a booted foot aimed directly at Ryoko's mid section. Or at least where she should have been. Ryoko had rolled to the side and came up in a defensive stance. Seeing that her gambit had failed, Nagi closed the distance and began a series of exploratory jabs and kicks. Ryoko let her come, blocking every blow, as she gauged Nagi's skill level.

Ryoko had just finished laying her plans to counter attack, when the bounty hunter did something totally unexpected. Nagi leaped onto table and kicked a glass of beer directly into Ryoko's face. Ryoko easily dodged most of the liquid, but in the split second she looked away, Nagi had been able to pull out her vibroblade. Its quiet hum sounded almost hungry, as if it couldn't wait to rend defenseless flesh.

Ryoko dodged backward as Nagi came forward, slashing with every step. Ryoko sidestepped and danced away from every attack but did not run. For she knew that once she turned around, one well-thrown blade would sink between her

shoulder blades. Ryoko backed into a table and someone slapped a knife hilt into her hand.


Feigning fear, Ryoko allowed her eyes to widen dramatically, drawing her opponent closer. In a flash, Ryoko swept her knife upward, straight into Nagi's knife arm...only to have it bounce off her wrist guard.

"Damn you!" Ryoko swore.

"You didn't think it would be that easy, did you?" Nagi laughed as she backed away and they began circling each other.

Instead of answering, Ryoko gave several feints with her blade, driving Nagi towards the doors of the bar. There was a small step down just out side the bar. It wasn't much but it might allow her the time to pull the holdout blaster she had in her boot. It was working. Nagi was being driven resolutely toward the swinging doors. But as her back touched the first door, Nagi paused and with an evil grin, she slammed her fist into the adjacent door causing it to swing out and back directly into Ryoko's field of vision. Seeing her plan collapse, Ryoko thrust quickly for a killing blow. Nagi was prepared for her and smashed her knife hand with the hilt of her blade sending Ryoko's weapon flying. She then caught Ryoko's chest in a powerful kick that sent the young pilot sprawling over a set of hastily-vacated chairs.

"It looks like the game is over," Nagi said, switching off her vibro-blade. "While I can't say it's been a pleasure knowing you, I admit that I'll regret killing you like this."

"Why's that?" Ryoko asked, trying to disentangle herself from the furniture. It couldn't end like this. She couldn't die here, not by Nagi's hand. Ryoko redoubled her efforts to escape, but the wind had been knocked out of her.

"I didn't have time to make you suffer."

Nagi flipped over the blade and cocked her arm for a life-ending throw. Just then, the bar doors burst open and Aeka walked in looking around.

"I was halfway to the storage lockers when Ryo-Ohki jumped out and started back here. Have you seen her...?" She broke off seeing Ryoko on the floor and Nagi standing with her arm in mid-throw. "Um. Who are you?"

"Oh of my way bitch!" Nagi yelled advancing on her.

"Aeka get out of here now!" Ryoko warned.

"Wha-what is going on?" Aeka asked backing away from Nagi.

"What's going on is I'm about to kill your friend," Nagi said menacingly. "And you too if you don't get lost."

"Kill? Aahh!" Aeka put her hand to her forehead and fainted to the floor. Glad to get rid of the minor annoyance, Nagi started toward Ryoko to finish the job. But she neglected to notice that Aeka had aborted her faint and dropped into a crouch.

As Nagi closed in on Ryoko, Aeka lashed her foot out in a sweep catching Nagi's ankle. The bounty hunter went down in a heap, her vibro blade slid off a few yards away.

"You little bitch!" Nagi exclaimed getting back to her feet. "I'll make you pay for that."

She reached for her other vibro blade to cut her down.

"That's far enough Nagi!"

All eyes in the room turned toward the door and the two women standing there. The station constable, and well known hard case, Kiyone Makibi leaned against the doorway with her arms crossed and a disapproving look on her face. Her very presence was a testament to her reputation as the best of the best. She was the only law enforcement official on the station brave enough to come to the Underworld without a full mecha battle suit.

"Hi Nagi! I'm so glad you're out of that prison, you know I heard there were rats the size of your head in there." Or of course, her slightly scatter-brained partner Mihoshi.

Kiyone cleared her throat and Mihoshi broke off.

"Now you wouldn't happen to be breaking your parole just two days out, would you?" Kiyone flecked an imaginary speck of dust from her pristine, crimson uniform.

"Just a private dispute," Nagi said quickly. "Nothing to interest you Kiyone."

"You'd be surprised at what interests me," Kiyone said eyeing the fallen Ryoko. "Ryoko. Somehow I knew you'd be in the middle of this."

"Actually it was out of you and Marvin since he gets into almost as much trouble as you," Mihoshi supplied. "But since he was given ten consecutive life sentences last week and it was Ryo-Ohki that came to us we figured it was you."

"Mihoshi," Kiyone said with an exasperated sigh. "Just let me handle this."

"Sorry Kiyone."

Kiyone moved away from the door. Through it was a small tactical squad. She was brave, not stupid.

"I believe you know the way out Nagi."

The bounty hunter stood and strode out of the bar.

"This isn't over Ryoko," she said. But she was looking directly at Aeka when she said it.

After she left, Aeka came over and helped Ryoko up.

"Who was that woman?" she asked.

"Nobody," Ryoko said. "Just a bounty hunter I crossed once."

"That's not the whole truth Ryoko," Kiyone said, picking her way over. "Why don't you tell your friend about the history between you two?"

"You first," Ryoko shot back. "Now unless you're going to arrest me, I've got business to attend to."

"Go ahead," Kiyone said. "Unless of course Yosho wants to file a complaint on you for trashing his place."

Yosho shook his head negatively. "The administrators really need to check those inertial dampers more often," he said simply.

Giving him one of her patented withering looks, Kiyone nodded. Ryoko started to walk but Kiyone grabbed her arm and pulled her aside.

"Who's that girl with you?" She asked.

"Just a transport fare I picked up. What's it to you?" Ryoko said defensively.

"Nothing. It's just that there's something about her..."

"Why constable, I didn't know swing that way," Ryoko said in mock surprise.

"Try to follow me for a minute Ryoko," Kiyone said. "Listen. When I saw her save your ass back there," Ryoko tried to object but Kiyone went on. "Something went off in my head. Call it cop instinct, woman's intuition, or whatever. But one thing is for sure, that girl is trouble."

"Oh come on Kiyone," Ryoko chuckled. "She's harmless. Probably just a social type from upstairs looking for a thrill."

"Do you know her name?"

"She didn't say," Ryoko's tone hinted that she knew more but Kiyone didn't want to press her in front of the others. "Anything else?"

Kiyone stepped out of her way. And Ryoko could have sworn that her hardened expression had softened a bit.

"Take care of yourself," she said.

"Don't I always?" ^_^


Ryoko sat back into the floating chair aboard Ryo-Ohki and prepared for another voyage. In the seat next to her, Aeka stared wide-eyed at the panoramic view, that Ryo-Ohki's transparent cockpit supplied.

"It's incredible," she said quietly. "Does it affect the structural integrity to have such a large view port?"

"Nope," Ryoko said proudly. "That's all-natural Ryo-Ohki out there. Hard as dura-steel and twice as durable. She can also change structure in mid-flight."

"Lovely as that is, I think I liked her better as a cabbit." Aeka said sounding disappointed. Suddenly a control crystal popped into existence bearing Ryo-Ohki's face.

"Miya! Miyaaa!" she said.

Aeka smiled and patted the crystal affectionately.

"All right you two," Ryoko said. "Get ready for warp."

Status screens and repeater displays appeared and the propulsion system developed a low hum.

"On my mark Ryo-Ohki," Ryoko said. "Three...two...one...Mark!"

With a loud MIYA! the cabbit/spaceship jumped to warp speed. As they streaked along, Ryoko tried to get more information on her passenger, but the girl wasn't giving any answers. So Ryoko decided to change tactics.

"That's pretty hair color," she said. "Is it natural?"

"Yes it is," Aeka said blushing slightly. "I got it from my father's side of the family."

"Speaking of families, where's yours?" Ryoko asked.

Aeka stayed silent for a while. So long in fact that Ryoko was about to ask again.

"I left them," Aeka said quietly. "And I don't know what will happen now."

She brushed back her amethyst hair and looked away.

Ryoko stared at her for a while before speaking.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"I'd rather not burden you with my problems."

"Okay," Ryoko said. "Why don't you ask me something about myself? Anything at all."

"Who was the man you spoke to in the bar," Aeka asked. "Was he your boyfriend?"

"You saw that?" Ryoko asked. Aeka nodded. "Well for one thing, he's not my boyfriend."

"But you two seemed so close, and he's very handsome," Aeka insisted.

"He's only a friend," Ryoko said. "We slept together a couple of times, and I know that he wants more out of our relationship but...I like things the way they are. I don't want things to get complicated."

"I see," Aeka said.

"Come on Aeka, I gave you an answer, so you have to give me one."

"What do you want to know?"

"Why did you leave home? You're apparently loaded, so why leave all that behind?"

"If I told you, would you keep it a secret." Aeka said. "You must tell no one."

"Of course," Ryoko said. "Completely confidential, remember?"

"I left to get out of an arranged marriage."

"Oh come on, you want out of a marriage?"

"What is that supposed to mean?" Aeka said irritably.

"Just that you seemed to be the type that couldn't wait to marry some guy, that's all." Ryoko said expecting the woman to raise her voice. To her surprise, she did not.

"I may have once been, but not any more," Aeka said, a hint of sadness in her voice. "That is part of the reason for this journey."

"So who was the unlucky guy?"

"Some spoiled playboy my father dug up," Aeka said disdainfully. "After the announcement was made, I simply packed up some bags and left."

"So who are you, really?"

"Oh no," Aeka cut her off. "I believe it is your turn now. Who was that unpleasant woman, and why did she want to kill you?"

"Her?" Ryoko asked sitting up. "That was Nagi, a bounty hunter. She's as hard as they come and twice as mean. That does it for who she is. As for why she wants my head on a stick, that gets a little complicated." Ryoko paused and looked to her left where Aeka sat totally engrossed in the story.

"Nagi started out as a hot-shot cop with the Sluis Sector Security Force. They said she was the best of the best and had a special way of getting information out of any con. She was on her way to the top when she met a certain pirate gang. A rumor started that she was a little too rough in getting confessions and internal affairs started an investigation. She would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for one young, and gorgeous, pirate coming forward and convincing her victims to testify in the hearings. Nagi couldn't believe she was brought down by a lowly space pirate. I guess

she thinks I dragged her down to my level when I did that."

"Those were your friends that she tortured?" Aeka asked with concern in her ruby eyes.

"Some of them, yes," Ryoko said, memories of the horrible scarring rose unbidden in her eyes. "Instead of waiting out the inquiry, Nagi just quit and struck out as a bounty hunter. Since then, she's always had sort of a soft spot for me."

"I don't understand something," Aeka said. "You are not still a pirate?"

"Nope, I don't do that anymore. Different reasons. I just haul cargo now." Ryoko was silent for a moment.

"Before I forget, thanks for helping out back there. That was a pretty sweet move but if we meet Nagi again I wouldn't try it again if I were you."

"Why not?"

"One thing about Nagi is she learns from her mistakes. That time she underestimated you. But she won't do it again. Besides, those Celeste Academy moves won't do you any good in a straight fight."

"Wait a minute," Aeka said with widening eyes. "How did you know I went to Celeste Academy?"

"I recognized that move from their self-defense training course," Ryoko said. "And the way you talk! You must have taken four years of diction class to be that proper."

"You speak as if you attended Celeste yourself," Aeka said. "But how could..."

"...Some one like me get in?" Ryoko finished for her.

"I didn't mean it to sound that way," Aeka apologized.

"But it did," Ryoko said. "Don't worry about it. That place wasn't my style anyway."

"So why did you go?"

"Well, mostly to get back at my mom."

"Really? Why?"

"Mom always pushed too hard, I guess. She always wanted me to follow in her footsteps. Nothing I did was ever good enough, so one day, I asked to get into Celeste. You see, my mom never put much stock in social classes and such.

So when I asked to go I knew it would hurt her, a lot."

"Oh my," Aeka said quietly.

"Hey, I was pretty mad at the time," Ryoko said defensively. "Anyways, Mom pulled some strings and got me in.

"I hated it there! Everyone walked around like they just *knew* that they were better than me. After about a month of that I begged to come home, but my mom made me stay there for a whole semester. After that, we just sort of drifted apart. I left and started wondering around space until I met up with the pirate group. That's pretty much all there is to my life. Your turn."

Aeka sat for a moment and stared out at the stars. After what seemed to Ryoko an eternity she shook her head as if coming to a hard decision.

"You were right about me," she said. "I was ready to marry once. But I destroyed it with my own hands."

"What happened?"

"I drove him away, by the same method you hurt your mother." Aeka said. "My family's money comes from inter-stellar shipping. My great grandfather saw the growth of the industry and capitalized on it. Most people would call us

rich. But my family always aspired to be wealthy."

"Aren't those the same?" Ryoko interrupted.

"No, they're not. When one is rich, they simply have much money. But to be wealthy requires a certain state of mind." Aeka was silent for a moment, her eyes closed in deep thought.

The expression on her face reminded Ryoko of an old spacer named Roa. He had lost an arm in a crash but sometimes he said he could still feel the sharp burning pain in the lost limb. "Ghost pains," he'd called them.

That's what she's having now. She's remembering her loss.

"Do tell," Ryoko prompted.

Opening her eyes, Aeka told her tale.


Meanwhile... [20 Parsecs core-ward]


Aboard her "temporary" cruiser, Angst II, Nagi looked over a bounty update she had just received via holo-net. The message said:

200,000 Standard Core credits for the safe return of my fiancée Aeka Jurai. A 20,000 credit bonus will be awarded for a speedy return.

Nagi grinned at the holo of a violet-hared young woman. The expression was neither mirthful, nor was it jolly. Yet it was the grin of a woman who had once enjoyed burning ants under a magnifying glass as a child. That same maniacal glee showed in Nagi's face now. However, bugs had given way to house pets and now had graduated to sentient beings.

"It won't be long now," she said licking her lips hungrily as the rest of the message came up.

Last seen in the company of pilot only known as Ryoko.

"It won't be long for either of you."


That's it for part one. Part 2 is coming up soon. For those of you who find your favorite characters OOC, just remember that this is an alternate universe and they don't have the same experiences (or AIC's writing staff ^_^) to help them.

As always, C&C are welcome and greatly appreciated. E-mail me at arcaj@planetjurai.com.