"Where's Ryouko?" Sasami asked in surprise, the young woman carrying in the rice from the kitchen. Meals in the Masaki household were her main area of responsibility, and the blue haired girl's meals were eagerly looked forward to by the others.
"She's gone out for the day," Washu said as the small redheaded scientist speared some grilled fish for her plate. The small, childlike woman really didn't look like she could be anyone's mother, much less Ryouko's, but she was.
"I'm a little surprised she left without telling us," Tenchi conceded, his short black hair standing up a bit this morning.
"I'm not," Ayeka snipped, her dark purple hair flowing over her shoulders.
"Ayeka," Sasami scolded softly.
"Why didn't she invite us along?" Mihoshi pouted, her blonde hair falling past dusky skin into her innocent blue eyes.
"Ryo-Ohki's gone, too," Sasami realized, "Ryouko's gone off planet?"
Washu took some of her drink, then in a remarkably serious tone said, "Some things are private, you know."
Tenchi looked at her thoughtfully a moment, "Is Ryouko in some kind of trouble?"
Ayeka sighed, setting her bowl of rice down. "As much as I detest that space-pirate," she said, "we do have an obligation to assist her."
"It's nothing like that, but it is something that Ryouko is determined to take care of herself." Washu pushed away from the table, got up and walked to the door, "I hope that you'll all respect that."
Once the smaller woman left the room everyone exchanged worried glances. "She left without finishing," Sasami murmured, "even Washu is acting strange."
"Whatever is going on," Ayeka frowned thoughtfully, "we need to get to the bottom of it."
Washu went to the stairs and opened the closet door, stepping over the threshold and across a spatial warp into her lab. She strode through the machines and experiments to her floating chair and sat, closing her eyes. Reaching out through the empathic link that she shared with her daughter the emotions of pain, grief and deep regret stabbed through her, even as she offered what support she could...
... as Ryouko stood on the bridge of her crystalline starship, Ryo-Ohki. Her light blue hair flowed down her back in a wave, her cat-like golden eyes narrowed in determination as she gazed out into the void. Unlike her normal garb she wore a simple black bodysuit, the only decoration the red gems on her wrists.
Looking towards a slowly brightening star Ryouko softly asked, "How long?"
"Myah," Ryo-Ohki said in a subdued tone, her mistress translating that almost instantly to how long a time remained for the trip.
Ryouko walked over to one of the crystals that made up the computer core of the ship and gently touched it, stroking lightly. "I know," she said softly, "I don't need to do this, but I want to. Do you understand?"
"Myah," Ryo-Ohki sounded firm.
"And no, I'm not being masochistic," Ryouko responded, "you've been listening to Washu again, haven't you?"
"Myah," Ryo-Ohki sounded a little sheepish.
As they neared the edge of the solar system a alarm sounded, then images popped up on Ryo-Ohki's screens. "Security drones?" Ryouko raised her eyebrows at the powerful and deadly mini-battlestartions that hovered in the void, "Guess they're still keeping people out of the system."
"Myah-myah?" Ryo-Ohki asked.
"No, don't destroy them," Ryouko shook her head, "plot their movements and scanning ranges then sneak us by."
"Myah!" Ryo-Ohki agreed.
"Not long now," Ryouko murmured, diagrams and images flickering on the various screens as Ryo-Ohki worked away...
...Washu pulled away, shaking her head slightly. Sharing Ryouko's consciousness was something she rarely did, but today was one of those rare exceptions. "She doesn't need me yet, thankfully," Washu sighed, jumping down and walking back out of the lab. Heading towards the kitchen she stopped as she overheard a soft conversation. Peering into the living-room she saw a serious group, talking intently.
"But how do we find Ryouko even if we do go after her?" Tenchi asked with a frown.
"My Galaxy Police cruiser's been repaired," Mihoshi offered cheerfully, "and it's equipment can track Ryo-Ohki."
"I'm still not sure if we should be going after her," Sasami fretted, "Washu told us that Ryouko wants to handle it herself."
"Ryouko is too proud for her own good," Ayeka noted seriously, "even if she was in real trouble she wouldn't ask for our help."
Quietly Tenchi said, "She's helped all of us at one time or another, so I think we owe it to her to be there for her now."
"All right," Sasami agreed before pointing out, "but we'll have to slip away quietly, or Washu will find out and try to stop us."
"With good reason," Washu said, deciding that was her cue to step in.
Ayeka jerked in surprise, "Washu, you were listening?"
"Of course," Washu said witheringly.
"Washu, we're determined to help Ryouko in this," Tenchi said firmly.
Actually, Ayeka looked pretty dubious and Mihoshi just seemed scared to see how Washu was going to react, but Sasami and he looked serious about it. "Ryouko isn't in that kind of trouble," Washu sighed, rubbing tiredly at the bridge of her nose.
"Then what is going on, Washu?" Sasami asked softly.
Washu studied them silently a moment, then sighed. "Promise me you won't tell Ryouko that I told you?" she asked.
Everyone exchanged glances then nodded.
Washu puffed out a breath, "Any of you hear of Tau-Sigma-three?"
"Yes, that was one of the first worlds Kagato attacked..." Ayeka trailed off as her eyes widened in realization. "Oh dear."
"What?" Tenchi looked between them in confusion.
"It was shortly after Kagato had captured myself and Ryouko," Washu explained softly, "and he had finished brainwashing Ryouko at that point. He decided to use Tau-Sigma-three as a test for how deeply he controlled her."
"What happened?' Tenchi asked despite not being too sure he really wanted to know.
Surprisingly Mihoshi spoke up, "Ryouko killed the colonists to clear the way for Kagato to raid the ruins there."
"You mean she killed the inhabitants of a town?" Sasami asked weakly.
"No," Washu said, shaking her head, "Kagato compelled her to track down and kill every last colonist, planet wide." A pause, "I still remember hearing Ryouko's cries of horror in my mind while she did it, unable to resist his control..."
"My god," Tenchi murmured.
"Today's the anniversary," Ayeka realized.
"She's on Tau-Sigma-three now," Washu nodded gravely, "to pay her respects."
"But... it wasn't her fault," Sasami protested.
"Guilt isn't rational," Washu reminded them, "trust me, I know." She closed her eyes a moment, reaching out...
...as Ryouko walked across grassy fields towards where the capital had once been. The roads were broken now, orange grass poking up through the rock, and the scent of spring was in the air. Beside her Ryo-Ohki was remarkably serious as they went by the weather beaten shells of buildings towards the center of the town.
"Myah," Ryo-Ohki sounded subdued, almost as grim as Ryouko's expression.
The only new construction on the planet was there, a great stone monument that gleamed black in the sun. On it were written in small text all of the names of those who had died here, the thousands who had come to build a new life. Instead of a new beginning they had found death, simply due to the greed and malice of one man.
Ryouko looked up at the stone silently a moment, tears flowing from her eyes as she reached out to touch it. "I remember you," she managed, her voice choked, "I will always remember you, no matter what happens."
Notes: This sprung from thinking about Kagato and the crimes Ryouko committed under his control. It seemed to me that she'd be carrying a fairly big load of guilt around with her, even if it wasn't all her fault. With Remembrance day around the corner it seemed fitting to write this now.