Story: Tenchi Muyo: Conquest (all chapters)

Authors: Shanejayell

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Chapter 1

Prelude: The Battle for Jurai

The fleet slowed it's forward progress, coming up to the edge of the solar system. At the lead was a massive ship, it's skin gleaming silver in the light of the stars. Alien script ran down one side of it's bow, freely translated the words meant, 'Washu's Revenge.'

Behind it, dozens of other ships appeared, all of different types and styles. Silvery, shark shaped craft flew alongside blocky, armored carriers. Battleships, cruisers, dreadnoughts, and even a few super- dreadnoughts formed up in a carefully organized order.

On the lead ship's bridge their leader, Ryouko, looked up at the monitors, a pensive expression on her handsome face. Her long blue hair was tied back to keep it out of her eyes, cat like eyes that were focused on the readings that she was studying so intently.

The ship's captain stepped up beside her, her dark hair contained behind her blue military cap. Her uniform was crisply pressed, and she executed a salute with military precision. "There's no sign of the Jurai fleet," Kiyone reported, adding optimistically, "it may be that the military has finally decided to surrender."

"It would be nice," Ryouko said grimly, "but I doubt it. I'd be willing to bet on a pile of credits higher than you that they're encircling Jurai itself."

Anticipating Kiyone's command the young man at the sensors station reported, "Engaging long range sensors." The pink haired boy frowned, "Confirming, there are between fifty and sixty warships around Jurai itself."

"Good work, Nicole," Kiyone nodded, but quietly added, "see if you can get a more solid number on the ships, please."

"Yes, ma'am," he squeaked.

Ryouko put a hand on Kiyone's shoulder, "I'm going back to talk to Washu. Keep us moving forward, but go slow."

Kiyone raised her eyebrows to Ryouko in a silent question, carefully keeping the others on the bridge from seeing her do so.

"Mines," was Ryouko's one word answer as she stepped off the bridge into the lift.

The announcement went out as Ryouko strode down the hallway. "Remain at your battle stations," Kiyone's voice was crisp and confident, "food and refreshment will be delivered to you." There was a pause, "Yamamoto Yohko and mine sweeping crews, launch. Clear the road for us, ladies."

The ship rumbled slightly, three, four times as Yohko's fighter crews launched, each craft equipped with advanced sensors capable of spotting almost any mine. 'Wish Ryo-Ohki and I were out there,' Ryouko thought to herself grimly.

She reached the door she wanted, and Ryouko rang the chime. A voice called out, "Come in!" Washu and Yume sat together, while Minagi paced around the chamber.

"We've entered the Jurai system," Ryouko reported to her mothers and sister needlessly, watching for their reactions. Washu was calm, but the tiny red-headed scientist almost always was. Her elfin lover Yume frowned, the lady considering the situation seriously as she stroked the curled up Ryo-Ohki on her lap. And Minagi...

Her sister paced restlessly, her cheeks red and her fists clenched. Minagi was clearly angry, ready and willing to let that rage out. "Good," Minagi growled, "I can't wait to make them pay for what happened to Nagi."

"We still don't know what happened to Nagi," Ryouko said to her softly, gently placing her hand on Minagi's arm.

"Don't give me that," Minagi snapped back, the scars on her cheeks blazing, "Nagi came here months ago to negotiate, and we haven't heard from her since!"

"And I will do everything I can to get her back," Ryouko said intensely, "but if you let your anger over your lover rule you in battle, you'll get yourself and a lot of good soldiers killed."

"She's right," Washu said softly.

Minagi took a deep, shuddering breath, then she seemed to relax a bit. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, "it's just, she's been missing so long!"

"Trust me, I can understand that," Washu said, shooting a fond glance at Yume. Yume had been taken from Washu for years, and only Ryouko and Minagi's aide had been enough for her to finally save Yume. Well, that and the fleet they built.

"Are you going to be all right?" Ryouko asked Minagi quietly.

"I will be," Minagi nodded, smiling weakly at her sister.

"Good," Ryouko put her hand on Minagi's shoulder, "because I want you to take Ryo-Ohki out and join the battle line."

"Myah!" Ryo-Ohki exclaimed eagerly, jumping down from Yume's lap to bounce her way over to Minagi's side.

"You think that will be necessary?" Yume asked quietly.

"I intend to give the Emperor the chance to surrender to us peacefully," Ryouko answered her quietly, "but based on his actions so far, I very much doubt he'll take it." She looked over at her other mother and asked, "Washu?"

The red headed scientist looked thoughtful. Washu sighed, "You're right, the Emperor's pride has been his driving force so far. He won't surrender."

"But I am still hoping," Ryouko added. With a bit of irritation she said, "The Emperor fired off the first shot of this war, but if I must, I will be the one to finish it."

There was a soft chime from the communicator mounted on the wall, and Ryouko walked over and activated it with a slap of her palm. Kiyone's voice and image were calm as she said, "We're approaching the Jurai defensive line."

Minagi grabbed Ryo-Ohki and bolted out the door even as Ryouko said to Kiyone, "I'll be on the bridge in a moment." She cut the connection and turned to her Mothers, "Go to the medical bays, please. They're the safest part of the ship right now."

Washu took Yume's hand in her own and the two left even as she said over her shoulder to Ryouko, "Be careful."

"Always am," Ryouko saluted, before taking off to reach the bridge. She entered the lift, even as the ship shook with an impact of some kind.

As soon as Kiyone saw Ryouko step onto the bridge she reported, "They opened fire as soon as we entered range."

"How many Jurai ships?" Ryouko asked tersely, looking out at the wooden, spacefaring ships that had helped build Jurai an empire. 'At least, until we came along,' she thought.

"Fifty seven," Nicole replied. Quietly, he said, "Some of them are Galaxy Police ships."

"So the GP is still playing politics," Kiyone shook her head sadly.

"And us with only forty ships," Ryouko said with a smirk. "At least, that's what they think," she added dryly.

"Yohko and the others are hiding on the hulls of four of the cruisers," Kiyone smiled, "and the others are ready to go."

"Good," Ryouko took a deep breath, steeling herself as she said, "Open a communication link with the Jurai flagship."

The dark haired girl at that station went to work, and a few moments later Ryouko was looking at the image of the Emperor of Jurai and his two wives. 'No sign of the princesses,' Ryouko though with some relief, 'at least they're both out of the line of fire.'

"Empress of Manticore," the Emperor of Jurai grated out, "you are outnumbered and out gunned. Prepare to be destroyed!"

"That's my line," Ryouko actually smiled, startling the man. "I'm willing to offer you the chance to surrender, to spare the lives of your soldiers," she added.

"Never," he snarled, and cut the connection.

"Let's hit them with our little surprise. Cue Yohko," Ryouko said, "launch the fighters!"

Several of the blocky, square ships sprouted openings, and smaller, more nimble craft poured out. Lead by four color coded craft in red, yellow, green and blue, they quickly organized into wings, more than doubling the number of ships on Manticore's side.

"All ships," Ryouko paused, looking out at the vessels assembled against them and feeling just a bit of pity, "attack!"

The battle plan Ryouko and Washu had devised was simple yet very effective. The larger ships hung back, using their advanced weapons to hammer the Jurai ships, while Ryo-Ohki and the fighters performed attack runs into the enemy fleet itself.

It was almost funny, in a sad sort of way. The Manticore fleet's shields were so good, only multiple attacks by several ships could possibly rupture them. But each time the Jurai ships organized for such a group assault, the fighters dove in to mess up their coordination. The battle dragged on, the Jurai ships began to flare up, listing away or dying out in the void, and Ryouko wondered when the enemy line would finally break.

The sleek, silvery ship rocked, and the Galaxy Police officers within strove to keep the ship's systems on line. The red headed lead officer pushed her hair out of her eyes, watching the battle on her monitor screen.

The ship jerked yet again, and Mitsuki turned to bark to her communication officer, "Get me the Marshal at headquarters."

The Marshal of the Galaxy Police appeared, a golden haired bear of a man. Eagerly, he asked her, "Has the criminal fleet of Manticore been defeated?"

"No," Mitsuki snapped, "and it's not going to." At his shocked expression she said coldly, "We're losing, sir."

The Marshal slumped back in his seat, "It's not possible, we out numbered them."

"We outnumbered them before they launched some new kind of mini-ships at us," Mitsuki explained. Grimly, she said, "We've already lost a quarter of our ships, and Jurai's losses in ships are even greater."

"Keep fighting," the Marshal mumbled, "we must bring this criminal to justice..."

"Sir, it's over," she barked at him. The Marshal's head jerked up and she met his eyes levelly, "We can't do anything more here, except add to the body count."

The Marshal's shoulders dropped, and quietly he said, "Pull our ships out."

Mitsuki cut the connection, turning to her communications officer, "Notify the Jurai ships we're pulling out, then send the withdrawal signal to our ships."

On the bridge of the Washu's Revenge Ryouko frowned, watching as the remaining organization of the Jurai ships began to break down. The silvery ships of the Galaxy Police began to pull out of the formation, moving away from the planet.

Minagi's image came up on the screen, "The Galaxy Police ships have sounded a retreat! They're pulling out!" She paused, "Do you want us to pursue them?"

"We can deal with the GP later," Ryouko said, "concentrate on the Jurai fleet."

Yuri turned from the communication station, her long black hair swinging as she said, "We're beginning to receive surrender signals from some of the enemy ships."

Yamamoto Yohko's face came up, her red hair stuck to her head by sweat, "I'll send a few fighters to escort them, as well as keep an eye on them."

"Do it," Kiyone nodded. "Kei, take the surrendering ships off the battle monitor, tag them green, the still fighting ships red," she ordered.

The sandy haired blonde nodded, "Right."

The remaining red on the screen was rapidly turning to green even as they watched, until finally one single, blazing spot of red remained. "The flagship," Ryouko said with a sigh, "open up communications with it, please."

The Emperor of Jurai was alone of the bridge, his wives and crew all absent. "Well, Empress of Manticore, it seems you were right," he said, "but you will not enjoy your victory." He depressed certain controls, and the ship began to move forward.

"Don't do this," Ryouko said, "it will do you no good."

"I started this, and I will end it," the Emperor of Jurai said quietly.

"Escape pods are launching from the flagship," Nicole reported.

"They're trying to ram," Kiyone said softly, looking at Ryouko, "should we fire?"

"Shields on maximum," Ryouko ordered, "but keep this line open."

The Emperor of Jurai smiled sadly, even as the flagship picked up speed. They kept their eyes locked on each other, the two rulers, until finally he murmured, "I'm sorry."

The bridge rocked, but Ryouko kept watching even as flames broke out on her enemy's ship. A wash of flame cut across the image, and the line was cut.

"Ship status," Kiyone barked.

"No damage," Nicole reported, "they barely scratched the paint."

"Such a damn waste," Ryouko growled softly, so softly that Kiyone could barely hear her. Ryouko brought Captain Henke's image up, "Michelle, start recovery of the lifepods. I want as many as possible recovered."

The swarthy captain saluted, "Yes, ma'am!"

"I'm going below," Ryouko said to Kiyone softly.

Kiyone watched her leave, knowing exactly where Ryouko was going: sown to the medical bays, to see the wounded. It was her tradition, since the very first battle she had lead the fleet into.

The next few hours were packed with work, keeping them all occupied. Finally, Ryouko called a meeting of her staff, to start putting together an overview of the situation. Ryouko, Washu, Yume, Minagi, and Kiyone sat at the table, other lead captains connected by data-link.

Washu was first up, having visited the planet below them. "Jurai's a mess," she said, "the government pushed for as many resources for the war effort as possible. If they don't receive aide soon, there will be starvation. I've already authorized the first shipments of food and supplies."

"Good," Ryouko nodded, then, "Yume?"

"We have access to the Jurai mainframes," the elfin woman reported, "and I'm trying to find out as much as we can. A preliminary check shows that there are at least a few warships unaccounted for in the battle." Softly to Minagi Yume said, "No sign of Nagi yet, but there are firewalls and encryption all through the system. Be patient, please."

"Thanks," Minagi said softly. She stood to give her report, "Fighter losses were about what we expected. We lost ten, and five more were crippled but the pilots survived. Yohko says we already have volunteers ready to take their places."

Ryouko winced at that piece of news, "Twenty five percent losses."

Kiyone took her turn, "No ships of the fleet were lost, and casualties were low. I've ordered heightened security because of those unaccounted for ships."

Ryouko stood, "Congratulations, all of you. If not for all your valiant efforts, we would not have won this battle." She smiled slightly, "Raise a glass for me at the victory celebration I know you'll be having tonight."

A cheer rang out among the captain, only quieting once Kiyone signaled that Ryouko had something else to say.

"And raise a glass to those we lost as well," Ryouko said seriously.

The meeting came to an end, and Kiyone nodded to Ryouko respectfully. "I'll take Mihoshi along to the party, keep an eye on things," she smiled.

"Minagi will be there, too," Ryouko said.

"What?" Minagi blinked, "Wait a minute..."

"Take a break, have some fun," Ryouko said seriously. "I'll make it an order if I have to," she added with an older sister attitude.

"Can I talk to you for a moment?" Washu asked Ryouko quietly. They left the meeting room together, walking along the hallway quietly. Her face was grim, "You'll have a full-blown rebellion here within a year."

"And if I kill any surviving royals, put a regent in?" Ryouko asked coolly.

"A few years longer," Washu did the calculations, "but still, they would rebel."

"What would happen if," Ryouko paused, "I married Princess Ayeka?"

Washu looked up at her daughter thoughtfully, "I knew it."

"Knew what?" Ryouko said defensively.

Ignoring that, Washu said, "If you marry a willing Ayeka, it's quite possible you could create a partnership between Jurai and Manticore that would be quite stable."

"Good," Ryouko said, "because I've asked Ayeka to be waiting for me when I arrive on the planet later today."

To be continued...

Chapter 2

Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters, nor do I profit in any way from this fiction. This is an alternate universe fiction featuring characters from the Tenchi Muyo OVA, television, and manga series, owned by various companies, including videos from Pioneer and mangas published by Viz.

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest!

Princess Ayeka of Jurai stood ready in the courtyard of the palace, dressed in her very best finery, long robes that swept to the ground, light blues and white. She took a moment to look around her, to see what had become of her homeland. The fires in the nearby buildings were finally out, and the repairs only just begun. She closed her violet eyes, then opened them again to gaze up at the sky. She was here, in this place of ash and former glory, to greet Jurai's new queen.

Ayeka couldn't believe things could have changed so much so fast. Only a few years ago, their enemy had emerged on a little known planet called Manticore, taking over the other bandit tribes of that savage world, uniting them under one rule. Then with the aide of a incredible new technology, they had left their home world, and the conquest had begun.

Their nearby worlds rallied under the new queen's banner, and they expanded outward to rule over dozens of worlds, calling themselves the Republic of Manticore. Strangely, the worlds they took over seemed to be quite content to remain under her rule, and even members of the greatest galactic powers began to fear her.

Finally, when Manticore's expansion reached their own borders and finally came to a stop, Jurai believed their foe was at last overextended. The Emperor himself gave the order for his fleet to attack them, not knowing it would become his final mistake.

The takeover of the planet had only taken a few short days, the enemy fleet was relentless in the pursuit of their final victory. One by one, Jurai's traditional allies had been forced to reluctantly withdrawal from the battlefield, finally leaving them all alone against the enemy's forces. And Jurai's armies just weren't enough.

They had been informed of their conquer's demand that she be waiting out there when their leader arrived only a few hours before she was due to land. Ayeka had spent the little time she had left preparing, dressing as if for a formal reception, with all the proper rituals being carefully observed. At Sasami's gaze she had softly answered her unspoken question, "We may be the conquered, but we still have our pride."

The transport sphere came down, settling in on the ground right in front of them. Ayeka carefully straightened her robes, nervously brushing her long black hair back. The scarlet energy dissipated gradually, slowly revealing the figure it had carried, the Queen of Manticore and all of it's subject worlds herself. Surprisingly, a small smile tugged at those lips, the head tilted towards her in an almost... fond gesture.

"Hello, Ayeka," Ryouko said to her with a wry smile, "it's been a long time."

Ayeka paced the luxurious suite she and Sasami soon found themselves sharing, a deeply confused expression on her face. 'I almost expected to be dead by now,' Ayeka darkly thought, 'or at least be thrown into prison by her. Instead, Ryouko ordered us to be fed, brought up to one of her ships, and then she set us up in this fine suite. And now...' She stopped pacing, turning to look over at the Queen's messenger.

"We're invited to dinner?" Ayeka repeated her softly.

The young woman nodded, She looked so much like Ryouko it was almost scary, with only twin scars on her face making her look any different. "Ryouko would be very pleased if you would join her for a private dinner tonight. It's not required of you, but she hopes you will come," she said with a little smile. With that, she turned to go.

"What's your name?' Sasami piped up, her twin plaits of blue hair swinging.

She turned, smiling down at Sasami as she answered her, "I'm Minagi."

They quickly dressed in the traditional robes that Ryouko had provided for them, and at the appointed time they arrived at the ship's large dining hall. Minagi greeted Sasami, leading her over to a place at a long table, where a surprised Ayeka noticed many of the sons and daughters of the region's planetary rulers sat, eating cheerfully.

She was met by another young lady, blonde haired and dark of skin. "Come with me," she said with a cheerful smile, and led Ayeka down a passageway.

She opened a door, leading into a smaller, more formal dining room. The table was set for two, with a bottle of iced wine waiting nearby. Ryouko herself stepped in from another door, smiling at her pleasantly. Her blue hair was it's normally untamed crest, her garb the same form fitting body suit that she often wore on the battlefield.

'If she's doing this to try and throw me off balance,' a bemused Ayeka thought to herself, 'I think she's succeeding.'

"Thank you, Mihoshi," Ryouko said to the other girl. She beamed over at Ryouko happily and nearly skipped out of the room. That is, until she tripped in the doorway.

"Owwweee!" they heard her cry, as the door clicked shut behind her.

Ryouko shook her head with a little smile, as she said, "I swear, she's worth keeping around just for the comic relief alone." Ayeka had to cover her own mouth, trying to fight back her smile.

Ryouko held out a chair for Ayeka, gently pushing it in behind her, then she took her own seat across from her. Almost on cue, a young woman came in, bearing two large servings of pasta. As soon as Ayeka saw her, her eyes widened in surprise.

"Little Asashi?" Ayeka said, blinking in surprise at seeing hers and Sasami's old friend, here of all places. The dark hared young girl was dressed up as a cook, smiling quite cheerfully as she served them both their food.

""Hello, Ayeka," she answered with a smile, putting a plate down in front of her. She but one in front of Ryouko, adding "I hope you enjoy your meal." With that, she left.

"She likes cooking," Ryouko said to Ayeka's curious look, "so we let her help out, but sometimes it can be as much of a curse as a blessing."

Ayeka frowned thoughtfully, taking a forkful of the pasta and putting it in her mouth. She chewed, swallowed, then her face grew bone pale. She lunged for her drink.

"Chew up some of your bread first," Ryouko quickly advised her, "any liquid just seems to fuel the fire."

Mixing bread with the food helped, Ayeka had to admit as she ate with much more caution. She looked over at Ryouko, who was eating her own food with gusto, and asked softly, "Why did you invite me to dinner?"

A shadow seemed to pass over Ryouko's face at the question. "Let's hold off discussing that until after dinner," she said gently. They ate silently for a moment, then Ryouko smiled slightly, "Do you remember the first time we met?"

A slight blush appeared on Ayeka's cheeks as she remembered what had happened between them, several years ago and many worlds away.

On a minor world bordering on Jurai's sphere of influence, Ayeka and a team of her Father's best diplomats were negotiating a mutual defense treaty with the planet's rulers. Ryouko's forces were advancing planet by planet, winning against all enemies with their vastly more advanced technology. The world had requested Jurai's aid to prepare for the coming war, when Ryouko's forces had launched an preemptive attack.

Things on the planet's surface quickly began to fall apart, and Ayeka found herself leading a mad scramble to try and get off-planet. They had to get away before Ryouko's forces could blockade the planet and seal off any chance of escape.

In the middle of a pitched battle Ayeka saw a scarlet energy blade cutting down the soldiers of the planetary forces, then she found herself confronted by the legendary warlord Ryouko herself. Seeing no other option available to her, she ignited her own golden energy blade and then turned to face Ryouko in battle.

The blades crossed, Ayeka found herself face to face with the warlord of Manticore. A smile tugged at the other woman's lips as they each tested the other's strength, blades flaring brightly. They fought back and forth, leaping up and striking against each other again and again, until the world exploded in light and fire all around them.

Later on, Ayeka found out that an orbital weapon, a crude laser cannon, had been fired on them by the planet's rulers in an attempt to try and kill Ryouko. But at the time all she knew then was that the earth disappeared around them. She suddenly fell, dropping into an the crater made by the explosion, and knew she was dead.

Suddenly, her descent was abruptly stopped. Ayeka looked up, her own wide eyes meeting the catlike eyes of Ryouko, her arm roughly help in the other woman's iron grip. In a single smooth motion Ryouko pulled her back up to the lip of the newly formed crater, her hands firmly holding on to Ayeka's slim shoulders. They stood there silently a moment, both Ayeka and Ryouko mildly stunned by this turn of events.

Then the battle caught up with them again, and they were separated by the crush of people. She looked up, saw Ryouko looking at her, and the warrior raised her blade up in a salute to Ayeka. Gravely, Ayeka did the same for Ryouko, and they were gone.

"Yes," Ayeka said, looking over the table at Ryouko, a small smile teasing her lips as she continued "I do remember when we first met."

The rest of the meal was very quiet, their talk mostly kept to a few of the more neutral topics of conversation. Finished eating, Ryouko moved around to where Ayeka sat, offering her hand for Ayeka to use to pull herself up to her feet. She stood there a moment, looking up into those catlike eyes, and wondered what she was thinking about.

"Please follow me," Ryouko said to her simply, gently pulling at her hand to lead her away. They walked down the corridors of the great ship until they reached a viewing platform. A massive transparent force field extended out of the ship into the airless void itself, providing an wonderful view of the world below them.

A large transport ship was descending towards the planet, and others of the same type were lined up in orbit, waiting to descend. "What are they carrying?" Ayeka wondered aloud, worried that even more troops and arms were coming to her world.

"Food supplies, actually," Ryouko said softly in reply. Ayeka looked over at her in obvious disbelief, but Ryouko just smiled back, "I know that much of Jurai's crops were destroyed during the war. A starving populace is an unhappy populace, and the people will know that I fed them, not Jurai's rulers, their royal family."

Ayeka nodded thoughtfully, her respect increasing for Ryouko's sharp tactical mind. The woman always seemed to be ready for almost anything. She looked up at the taller woman, asking her "Why am I here, Ryouko?"

"I have a rather serious problem," Ryouko said, looking out at Jurai and avoiding meeting Ayeka's eyes. "My mother Washu predicts that there will be a full-blown rebellion on Jurai within a year," she said, giving a look at Ayeka, "unless I'm willing to take certain steps to stop it. And I've learned to trust her predictions."

"A year?" Ayeka quietly echoed her. A little smile appeared as she said modestly, "I would have expected one in only six months."

"A year," Ryouko said firmly in return. "Unless I choose to kill you and Sasami, and put a regent in. Washu thinks that way I hold on to it for a few years longer." She said the last totally calmly, looking out into the void with a serene expression on her face.

Ayeka took a step backward, her hands clenching into fists as she let her power build. "You'll only get to Sasami over my dead body," she softly vowed.

Ryouko looked over at her a bit sadly, shaking her head. "You let Sasami go off to dinner. Do you really know what I may have done with her?" she asked with a smile.

Ayeka's face went pale. "You bitch," she whispered softly, looking over at Ryouko in shock. She cursed herself silently for letting Sasami out of her sight for even a moment.

Ryouko noticed Ayeka's reaction, and she reached out to gently steady her. "I do not kill children," she said to her shortly, "not unless I absolutely have to." She kept a grip on Ayeka's arm, looking into her eyes for a moment as if she was looking for something in them. "Have you considered what happens if your people do rebel?" she suddenly asked.

Poor Ayeka looked honestly confused by Ryouko's question, blurting out automatically, "We drive you off our world."

"And then what?" Ryouko asked her harshly, then she answered her own question. "My ships are far superior to any technology Jurai or it's former allies currently has," she quietly explained. "We can beat you in space easily, putting you right back in your place." A grim smile, "Or even worse, we blockade Jurai and just let your people starve until they surrender."

Ayeka closed her eyes in a failed attempt to try and block out what Ryouko had said. But it was the bare truth, and as a ruler, she couldn't just ignore it. "You wouldn't be telling me all of this," Ayeka said to her softly, "if there wasn't an alternative to propose." She looked up, her eyes meeting Ryouko's as she angrily said, "Let's hear it."

Ryouko just nodded, directing her gaze back out at the planet. "I'm willing to allow Sasami to be my Regent on Jurai, ruling over the planet in my name. I'm even willing to allow the planet to have a degree of independence, if you are willing to agree to my two quite reasonable conditions," she said, and then she smiled over at Ayeka.

"And those conditions are?" Ayeka asked her warily.

"One," Ryouko said, looking quite serious as she held up a single finger, "you and Sasami must pledge your loyalty to me, by your family's name."

Ayeka tried to hide her wince. Ryouko had done her research, that kind of oath could only be broken by death itself. It would guarantee their loyalty to her, that was for certain. "And your other condition?" Ayeka asked a bit hesitantly.

Ryouko held up two fingers. "Two," and with a warmer smile this time, she quietly said, "is even easier." She took a deep, steadying breath, and on letting it out she said to Ayeka in a rush, "I just want us to get married."

Ayeka looked over at her in honest disbelief. "What?!" she exclaimed.

Chapter 3

Part Two

The next morning, and Ayeka was finishing the telling of her tale to the wide-eyed Sasami, pacing the length of the large suite they shared rather restlessly. "Then she sent me back here to rest and to consider her offer," she concluded, coming to a stop in front of Sasami. Ayeka had to fight a smile at the expression on her little sister's face.

Sasami looked over at her, honestly speechless. Finally, in a very soft voice she asked Ayeka wonderingly, "How could she have fallen in love with you so quickly?"

Ayeka looked just a bit startled at that question. "I don't think she's in love with me," she said to Sasami gently, "It would just be a political marriage."

Sasami quietly digested that bit of information, before looking up at Ayeka and asking her, "What are you going to do?"

Ayeka sighed softly, running her hands through her hair nervously. "I just don't know," she softly confessed. "If our father was alive, I would almost have expected this sort of political marriage, maybe to cement an alliance with a blood tie," she said softly.

Ayeka walked over to a view port, looking down at her home world below them, her thoughts whirling about wildly. "But to marry a woman, not to mention someone like her," she sighed out softly, shaking her head wearily.

Ryouko paced her own suite of rooms, even as Washu listened to her with a great deal of amusement. The cute little red-headed scientist was perched on a floating chair, working on a terminal even as she listened to her daughter talk.

Ryouko looked over at her, asking her rather worriedly, "You've been rather quiet. Do you think I handled it all right?" She knew of her mother's ability to see through her own eyes, it was a talent that had come in handy for them both.

"As well as could be expected," a smiling Washu said to her soothingly. She turned from her work to look over at her daughter, "I think that this approach is for the best, at least for the time being. If Ayeka thinks that you want a marriage for purely political reasons, she's much more likely to go along than if..." She trailed off.

"Than if she knows I've managed to fall in love with her," Ryouko finished the sentence for Washu, running her hands through her mane of hair in a nervous gesture. Ryouko sighed, wishing that she could have been a bit more honest with Ayeka.

She had been so startled when she first met her, all those years ago. Her eyes had met those beautiful violet ones, both of them out of breath from their fierce battle, and suddenly she had felt her stomach drop. Her breath had quickened again, for reasons that had nothing to do with their combat, but then the tide of the battle turned, and the mysterious girl was torn from her grasp. All Ryouko could do was raise her blade to salute her, and then return to the work of war.

Ryouko never expected to see her ever again, in all honesty. She returned to her tasks and tried, unsuccessfully, to put her out of her mind. It wasn't until a few months had passed that she discovered that her mysterious opponent had been one of the two princesses of Jurai, Ayeka. A woman of class and nobility, she was as far from Ryouko's reach as a star in the sky, yet... something compelled her on. She learned all that she could of Jurai and it's customs, it's Emperor and people, and finally devised a plan.

Ryouko was a warrior, her people's ruler as well as their greatest warlord. She led her people in their war of conquest, holding on to world after world, and expanding their influence until they had an empire that in size and power rivaled Jurai's own. Then she stopped her advance at Jurai's border, and waited patiently. Jurai's Emperor should have sued for a peaceful alliance, and in the bargaining a blood union would be required. Ryouko would have her wife, and both Jurai and Manticore would have benefited from joining their peoples together.

But the Emperor did the most irrational thing he could have possibly done: instead of talking, he decided to launch an attack against Manticore's far superior forces. Ryouko found herself engaged in a deadly war rather than holding negotiations, forced to slay the ruler of Jurai and his wives, and likely gaining the eternal hatred of Princess Ayeka.

Ryouko sighed softly, pushing her blue hair back again. Changing the subject, she looked over at Washu to ask her, "So how is Yume doing?"

A little blush touched Washu's cheeks. "She's fine," she answered, smiling slightly as she thought about her own lover. 'I wonder if interest in girl's is genetic?' she found herself wondering, and drifted off in thought.

A soft chime rang through the room. "Damn it, I gave orders not to be disturbed," Ryouko said with a fierce look. "Enter!" she barked out.

The dark hared woman walked in, giving Ryouko a perfect salute. "Sorry to disturb you, ma'am," Kiyone said, standing there stiffly.

Ryouko tried not to smile. The former Galaxy Police officer had never really gotten over the discipline she learned there, despite all of Ryouko's efforts to loosen her up. Still, Kiyone was one of her best captains, and most trusted aides.

"What's up?" Ryouko asked her casually.

"We've recovered a life-pod from the Jurai flagship, Tsunami," Kiyone reported breathlessly, obviously having ran all the way to Ryouko's quarters to tell her about it.

Both Ryouko and Washu sat right up upon hearing that bit of news. They had both assumed that the emperor's flagship had been destroyed with all hands during the final orbital assault on the planet. "Any survivors?" Ryouko barked out.

"Both the empresses, Funaho and Misaki are alive," Kiyone crisply reported. "They're both still in cold sleep," she said, "it seems to have saved their lives." She paused before adding, "What do you want us to do with them?"

Ryouko was silent, considering the situation. 'It might be better for me if they're dead,' she admitted to herself, 'if they are alive they'll be a rallying point for resistance against my rule.' Ayeka's face crossed her mind's eye, 'But she'd never forgive me.'

Ryouko walked to the nearest viewport, looking out at the world that turned slowly below them all. 'I don't kill children,' she thought to herself grimly, 'and I try not to kill any of the non-combatants, either.'

"Revive them from cold sleep," Ryouko ordered, "and send them to the medical bays for treatment." She debated her next move, then, "Tell Ayeka and Sasami they're alive, and as soon as Funaho and Masaki are awake, bring their daughters to them."

"Yes, ma'am!" Kiyone nodded, and left as quickly as she came.

"Are you sure that's such a good idea?" Washu asked Ryouko after Kiyone left. She looked at her daughter thoughtfully, waiting to hear her answer.

Ryouko smiled wryly. "If we choose to kill them," she said to her softly, "it will only delay the problem, not solve it. Eventually there will be a leak, the information will come out, and we'll have a whole new set of problems. This way, we can try to turn them to our side, as well as generating good will among Jurai's people."

"And Ayeka would never forgive you," Washu said with a small smile. Ryouko sighed, a small nod of her head indicating that had been a factor in her decision making. "There's nothing wrong with that," Washu reassured her softly, "I wouldn't have urged you to fight Kagato if not for my own personal interest in saving Yume. Just be careful."

Ryouko smiled back at her, "Thanks, mom."

With a angry slap to the console, Ayeka shut the connection to the ship's library computer down. "Peaceful transition of power, my ass," she growled out, quoting a newsfeed about Jurai's conquest that she had just finished reading.

She got up and began to pace the floor again, considering the troubling facts she had just discovered. Ayeka picked up the hardcopies she had made, reviewing the data yet again to see if she had somehow made an error.

Ayeka sat back down on her couch, trying to digest all she had learned. She picked up one sheet, "A structured legal system, with a charter of rights." Dropping it, she picked up another piece of paper, "Independent rule of each world." Another sheet, "Standard systems of education." And finally, "A defense fleet to protect all the systems."

Ayeka shook her head, feeling even more admiration for Ryouko's skills as a leader of men. From the information she had gathered so far, Jurai would actually benefit a great deal from being part of the Republic of Manticore. The Galaxy Police had even been invited in, by Ryouko herself, to police all the worlds of the Republic.

At first she had scoffed at what she read, assuming that the data held in the ship's library was somehow biased. But Ayeka easily linked to all the newsfeeds and several other independent sources of information, and they all backed up the library's data. And there were even more disturbing things she had learned.

She knew that her father, the Emperor, had ordered that certain kinds of information about the war be edited for the public's consumption. Ayeka could certainly understand the army screening any biased reporting that might weaken the morale of Jurai's troops. But this...

Ayeka held the news report in her hand, studying it as if it held a deeply hidden meaning. It wasn't very old, dating back only to the beginnings of the war between Jurai and Manticore, and the headline told the tale: Jurai Launches Attack on Manticore.

Her father had always insisted that the aggressive, militaristic leaders of Manticore had been the ones to launch the first attack, had been the ones who started the war. But if this was true, it made him a liar, and the losses her father had caused their people sickened her.

In a sudden surge of pure anger, Ayeka crumpled up all the papers, tossing them into the nearest waste disposal.

There was a soft knock on her door, and Ayeka called out, "Come in."

A dark hared woman came in, giving Ayeka a respectful nod. "Queen Ryouko ask me to take you over to the medical bay," Kiyone said to her calmly.

"Medical bay?" Ayeka questioned, getting up to follow Kiyone down the hallway. "Is Sasami hurt?" she asked her worriedly.

"I'd rather you see for yourself," Kiyone said, giving her a mysterious little smile. She quickly led Ayeka down the hall to a transport tube, then they descended several levels into the very center of the great ship.

'That makes sense,' Ayeka noted, looking around her as they walked, 'keeping all your wounded where they won't be hurt anymore.' The dark hared girl opened a door, then she waved Ayeka inside. Two figures lay on the beds, Sasami standing anxiously beside them as they talked softly. Ayeka took a few steps forward, and her eyes grew wide.

"Mothers?" Ayeka questioned in a wavering tone of voice, then she ran over to their side as well. Funaho smiled up at her, her dark hair spread around her, while Misaki sat up in her bed, her own pale blue hair matching Sasami's own. "I thought you were dead," Ayeka managed to get out, feeling the beginning of tears.

"Your father," Funaho said, her eyes dark with an unreadable emotion, "he put us in the pod, just before he put Tsunami on a collision course with Ryouko's flagship."

Ayeka looked startled. "Why would he have?" she started to ask.

Masaki sighed softly from the other bed. "His pride," she said softly, "he couldn't admit his mistake, so he chose to embrace death, instead."

"Mistake?" Sasami echoed her softly.

Ayeka found herself holding her breath, wondering what they would say in reply. Funaho's eyes met her own, and in them she saw the answer: what she had learned was true. Her next few words simply confirmed that.

"The emperor chose to attack Manticore," Funaho said softly, "believing that they were weakened." She sighed softly as she finished, "He was wrong."

They sat there silently for a moment, contemplating those words. "You know where we are?" Ayeka finally asked both her Mothers quietly. They both looked over at her blankly, "We're aboard Ryouko's flagship, in orbit above Jurai. She's... won."

"And she wants to marry Ayeka," Sasami cheerfully added.

Both Masaki and Funaho looked at Sasami in disbelief, then as one they looked over at Ayeka. "What?" Funaho asked faintly.

Ayeka sighed softly, "It's a long story."

"Another invitation to dinner?" Ayeka asked as Minagi came into her and Sasami's quarters. Their two mothers were now set up in the room next door, a arrangement that Ayeka was dubious about, honestly. Still, she was glad to have her mothers' perspective on everything that had been happening to her lately.

"Actually, I'm here for Sasami," Minagi said cheerfully. "Asashi sent me over to ask her if she'd like to cook with her."

Sasami quickly volunteered, and Minagi led her out. Over her shoulder, Minagi added, "I'm sure Ryouko would love to have your company, too."

Ayeka heard the door hiss shut, laying back on her bed for a moment. She closed her eyes for a moment of rest, and a blue hared face with catlike eyes flashed across her mind's eye. She sat up suddenly, saying aloud, "What am I thinking?"

She got up, and without thinking too much dressed herself, putting on slightly less formal dining clothes, the kind you might wear with a trusted friend. Feeling a bit more comfortable, Ayeka stepped out into the hallways.

She navigated her way back to the dining hall, and noticed that it was packed with the ship's crew and young nobles. Theoretically, these nobles were all to be hostages to their parent's good behavior, but like many of Ryouko's plans, it served two purposes. While they were held here, they were being educated, trained in the arts of statesmanship and diplomacy, as well as the more practical elements of being a leader of men.

The dark hared woman was sitting at a table with Mihoshi, feeding the blonde tidbits from her own plate. "Hmm, that's good, Kiyone," Mihoshi sighed.

"Let me taste," Kiyone answered her with a wicked smile, and bent forward to kiss Mihoshi gently on the lips.

A deep flush appeared on Ayeka's cheeks as she watched those two young women sitting so closely together. She had heard about such things, of course, she wasn't totally innocent. It was quite common in the noble families of Jurai, where arranged marriages were too often barren, loveless things. Women sometimes turned to their companions for... comfort, in their loneliness. But she had never considered such things in relation to her before.

She came up to them hesitantly. "Excuse me," Ayeka said softly, "but is Ryouko eating out here, tonight?"

Kiyone gave her a glare at the interuption, but Mihoshi smiled up at her sunnily, "She usually eats at the captain's table." She then led Ayeka over to the same door she had traveled down to eat with Ryouko before, saying "Down here."

With that, Mihoshi returned to her table, sitting down beside Kiyone, where she took a bit of her food from her plate and smeared it around Kiyone's mouth. She then proceeded to lick it off, to the cheers of the surrounding tables.

Ayeka blushed fiercely, quickly opening the door and then ducking into the hallway. She leaned up against the door, and tried to slow the beating of her heart. Her eyes closed, and she found herself imagining Ryouko, food on her face and leaning towards her.

She shook her head, and Ayeka walked down the hallway with a determined step. The Ryouko she saw sitting at the table looked rather different than the smooth, capable woman she saw the night before. This Ryouko picked hesitantly at her food, glumly starring down at her plate like she wasn't particularly hungry.

"Hello," Ayeka said, stepping out of the shadows of the hallway. It was rather funny to see Ryouko straighten right up, surprised, and square her shoulders, trying to look her usually capable, confident self.

"Hello," Ryouko said in return, smiling. "I wasn't expecting you," she said softly. She looked at Ayeka thoughtfully, "Have you made a decision yet?"

"I'm still thinking about it," Ayeka said honestly.

Ryouko, quite surprisingly, smiled at her. "Good," she said softly, "if you had decided too quickly, I'd be worried you didn't mean it." Ryouko was a bit tentative as she asked her, "Would you care to dine with me?"

"I'd be glad to," Ayeka said with a smile.

Chapter 4

Part Three

Ryouko smiled warmly, looking honestly pleased at Ayeka's decision to eat here with her again. She smoothly got up out of her chair and gracefully pulled out the seat right beside her own, "Would you care to sit down?"

"Thank you," Ayeka smiled, as Ryouko gently pushed the chair in behind her. She uncorked a bottle, pouring some into a glass beside Ayeka, before refilling her own.

Ryouko sat back down and activated a small device on her wrist, "Another for dinner please, Asashi." She listened for a moment, "Thank you." Ryouko looked up at Ayeka, "Your plate should be here in a minute or so."

"Fast service," Ayeka noted.

"Sasami's helping out tonight, I think," then Ryouko chuckled softly, adding, "The foods much less spicy this time." Ayeka looked rather relieved, and Ryouko smiled.

"I was reading some of the library files," Ayeka said to her softly, "and I found them to be quite interesting."

"Which files?" Ryouko asked her a bit nervously. She quickly tried to remember where her private collection of lewd novels were hidden on the data-base, and if Ayeka could have been able to access them somehow.

"Mostly on your government, and the organization of the Republic of Manticore," Ayeka said, giving Ryouko an odd look. 'I wonder what other files are in there?' she mused, and resolved to try and find out..

Just then the nearby door opened up, and Sasami and Asashi came out bearing the plates carrying Ayeka's dinner. Ryouko tried not to look too relieved at the distraction. "Here you go," Sasami said with a smile.

"Thank you," Ayeka smiled at the two young ladies. "Are you having fun together?" she asked them curiously.

"Oh, yes," Asashi enthused. "I'm learning so much about cooking from Sasami! She doesn't use enough spices, though," she finished with a cute little frown.

Both girls left, and only then did Ayeka chuckle softly. "I'm glad Sasami cooked this," she said with a smile.

"I don't mind Asashi's cooking," Ryouko admitted, "but I know I'm in the minority about that." They shared quiet laughter. "So, you were reading about Manticore," Ryouko said, "what do you think of it?"

"It was very educational," Ayeka answered her coolly. She took a deep breath before saying, "My father had claimed that Manticore attacked Jurai first." Ryouko opened her mouth to protest that, so she held up a hand to stop her, "But my mother has confirmed what you data had told me, that we, Jurai, had started it."

There was a moment of silence at the table, as Ryouko considered what to say. 'Well, I guess I was right in letting the ladies live,' she thought. 'But even I didn't know that the Emperor had lied,' she thought to herself grimly.

"I'm deeply sorry," Ayeka said softly, trying to meet Ryouko's eyes, "for the harm my people wrought on yours."

"It's not your fault," Ryouko replied softly. She got out of her chair and walked to the viewport, looking down at Jurai. "It explains a lot," she said softly, "I sent a diplomat to Jurai early on, to try and negotiate for peace. She never came back."

"You went through all our databases for any sign of her?" Ayeka asked, sounding honestly concerned about the missing diplomat.

"Nothing," Ryouko answered her quietly.

"There are some encryption's, passwords that you may not know about yet," Ayeka said to her hesitantly, "Do you have a link to the royal mainframe? I could try them."

Ryouko turned to Ayeka, looking a bit startled. "Why are you doing this? I'm the enemy, remember?" she asked her pointedly.

A flush appeared on Ayeka's cheeks, and she obviously struggled to try and reign a flare of her temper. "My father may have done a great wrong," she answered her calmly, "and I'm honor bound to try and do something about it."

"Thank you," Ryouko said softly. "Let's try it, then," she said, offering Ayeka her hand and pulling her to her feet, "there's a terminal not far from here."

Ryouko set the brisk pace down a nearby hallway, leaving their two dinners cooling on the table behind them. 'Oh, well,' Ayeka thought wryly, 'I wasn't that hungry, anyway.' They reached a unmarked door, and Ryouko slapped her hand up against an identification plate. After a moment, it hissed open, and she led Ayeka inside. It wasn't the computer room that Ayeka had expected to see, but instead a bedroom.

Piles of clothes were scattered about the room, along with the occasional bottle. The bed was rumbled and messy, but mostly cleared. A chair, small table, and closet made up the rest of the furnishings. "Who's quarters are these?" Ayeka asked.

"It's mine, actually," Ryouko admitted. She dragged a chair over to the wall, and activated the computer terminal built into it.

"But," Ayeka said, surprised, "but it's smaller than my quarters."

Ryouko chuckled softly at that. "You're in the guest quarters," she shrugged. She worked the interface for a moment, then she nodded in satisfaction. "I've patched it in to the Jurai mainframe," she said to Ayeka.

Ayeka leaned forward and quickly punched in her password. 'Yosho,' she typed, and a new window opened up on the screen. Ayeka watched as Ryouko quickly navigated the system, eventually calling up a series of files.

Ryouko tried not to notice that as Ayeka bent over, her breasts were right beside her face. She gulped, and focused on the computer terminal. Working diligently, she searched until suddenly, she exclaimed, "Yes!"

"Did you find something?" Ayeka asked, bending closer to look at the screen.

A cloth covered breast brushed Ryouko's cheek, and she nearly lost her train of thought. "Nagi's alive," Ryouko said, smiling, "imprisoned, but alive!" She quickly back tracked to her own command network, and instructed that Nagi be released from her prison.

"I'm glad," Ayeka said softly. The relief and happiness on Ryouko's face surprised her yet again. 'She really cares about her people,' she thought.

Ryouko got up out of the chair and took a startled Ayeka's hands in her own. "Thank you," she said softly, "it would have been weeks, maybe even months before we found her otherwise." She looked into Ayeka's eyes, her own flashing with energy, then she suddenly crushed Ayeka to her body, kissing her fiercely.

Ayeka was surprised, stunned as she was pulled into the circle of Ryouko's strong arms. She felt her lips parting on their own, surrendering to the sweet kiss, and a fire started to race through her slim body. 'What's happening to me?' she thought to herself feverishly, then she suddenly pushed Ryouko away from her.

"What in the world," Ayeka choked out, backing away from Ryouko. She turned and fled, pushing the door open and running down the hallway.

"Please, wait," Ryouko started to call outr to her, then she stopped. She slumped, leaning against a wall as she swore to herself softly, "Shit."

Ayeka ran by Asashi and Sasami, right into her bedroom, and locked the door behind her. She leaned against the door, trying to catch her breath. She was shaking slightly, reaction racing through her body as her pulse began to slow down.

The deeply hurt expression that had been on Ryouko's face when she fled her appeared in Ayeka's mind's eye, and for a moment she felt a stab of pain in her chest. "What is wrong with me?" she hissed out.

She suddenly remembered the innocent question that Sasami had asked her, just after she told her about how Ryouko had proposed their political marriage, "How could she have fallen in love with you so quickly?"

'Was she right about her all along?' Ayeka found herself wondering. She stood shakily, and walked over to lay down on her bed, covering up her face with her arm. She tried not to think about how she felt around Ryouko, the racing of her heart and the warmth her gaze caused.

"I can't be falling in love with her," Ayeka said in a whisper, "I just can't."

"Are you all right?" Minagi asked her softly. Ryouko had been pacing Minagi's room silently for nearly ten minutes, eyes closed and her expression grim.

"I may have screwed things up spectacularly," Ryouko said with a sigh. She recounted what happened between her and Ayeka the night before, finishing with, "I lost control, and kissed her. I thought she was enjoying it, but she pushed me away, and ran."

"You jumped the gun a bit," Minagi noted, "that's for certain." She shook her head, "Give her some time to calm down a bit, first of all." She thought about it, and added, "Go to her later this morning, and apologize."

Ryouko nodded glumly. "She'll probably be scared to be near me from now on," she said to her with a sigh.

"Maybe, maybe not," Minagi said thoughtfully. "when I talked to her last night, she was kind of disappointed about not being asked to dine with you again. And then she did seek you out to eat dinner with you, right?"

"Yeah, she did," Ryouko agreed. "But it could be she's just looking for a new friend," she said with a sigh.

"Or she could be attracted to you," Minagi smiled, "and be a bit frightened of the idea. I know that females together aren't that unusual on Jurai, but it's not discussed in polite society, either. She may not know what to do."

"I hope so," Ryouko said softly. Her eyes brightened as she remembered something else, "I just got some good news to give you, Minagi."

"Oh?" Minagi said, "And what would that be?"

"Nagi's alive," Ryouko said with a grin.

Minagi whirled around to face her, "What?" A broad smile appeared on her face as she quickly demanded, "Where is she? Is she all right?"

"They didn't kill her, just tossed her in prison," Ryouko grinned. "She'll be here in a few hours, tops," she added. 'It was good to see the sparkle in Minagi's eyes,' Ryouko thought, 'a sparkle that's been absent while her lover was missing.'

"Thank you!" Minagi exclaimed, hugging Ryouko fiercely.

"Thank Ayeka," Ryouko shrugged, "without her password it would have taken weeks to find her, at least."

"I will," Minagi said with a firm nod. She looked at Ryouko worriedly, "I only have a few hours to get ready?"

Ryouko laughed softly, "I'll see you later." She stopped in the doorway and looked back to see Minagi cleaning her rooms frantically, and chuckled again. She headed down the hallway and then took the lift down to the bridge.

Kiyone stood behind the gunnery officer, instructing her. "You see," she pointed out, "when you took this shot, you left the ship vulnerable to their return fire."

"So why didn't the simulation shoot me down?" he asked her timidly.

"The window of opportunity was very small, and the computer decided that the shot was too difficult for your simulated opponent," Kiyone explained to him patiently. 'Of course, I made the shot on my own simulation, but I won't mention that,' she thought with a smile.

"I'll do better, ma'am," the pink hared young man assured her.

"Good, Nicole," Kiyone said with a nod. She noticed Ryouko on the bridge and snapped off a salute, "Admiral on the bridge!"

Ryouko rolled her eyes at that. "I'm not an admiral," she grumbled to her softly. She relented as Kiyone gave her puppy dog eyes, "So how's the training going?"

Kiyone stood straight, "We've reached a 90% win ratio," she reported, "but I feel certain we can add a few points to that."

"Good work," Ryouko admitted, knowing how difficult the simulations that Washu had devised for them really were.

Kiyone checked her chronometer. "The Galaxy Police liaison we invited should be arriving soon," she noted, and a little smile teased her lips. "Can I go down to greet them?"

"You really like jerking their chains, don't you?" Ryouko asked Kiyone with a smile.

"Just deserts," Kiyone said with a shrug. "They canned me after I helped you save innocent lives," she said with a bit of anger in her voice, "so it seems only fair that now they have to come to you for permission to even exist."

A brown haired woman with a military bearing came on the bridge. "Honor Harrington reporting to relieve you, ma'am," she said, crisply saluting.

"I am relieved," Kiyone answered her formally, returning the salute. She and Ryouko walked over to the lift together.

"It's not quite that simple," Ryouko pointed out to Kiyone reasonably once they were on their way up.

"Now that Manticore controls Jurai as well, the GP will need to operate in our territory to do their job in even the most minimal way," Kiyone said coolly. With a small smile she added, "Not to mention the budget they used to get from Jurai's rulers. They're going to have to come to you with hands outstretched."

"We do still need them around," Ryouko said mildly in return. Deciding to try and change the subject, Ryouko asked Kiyone softly, "Would you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

Kiyone looked a bit startled, "Certainly, but I won't promise to answer it."

"That's fair enough," Ryouko admitted. "How did you and Mihoshi become involved?" she asked her softly.

Kiyone smiled slightly, "I didn't take her too seriously at first, I just thought she had a crush. It wasn't until she resigned from the GP in protest over my firing that I began to take her a bit more seriously." She chuckled softly, "Not long after we both joined your employ, she made it quite clear that she wasn't just interested in me as a friend."

'Not much help,' Ryouko thought. "Thanks," she answered her softly.

"So are you having any luck with winning over Ayeka?" Kiyone asked her.

Ryouko looked at her in surprise, "How did you know?"

"The look on your face whenever you used to talk about her," Kiyone said with a shrug.

Ryouko rolled her eyes and decided not to answer that.

Chapter 5

Part Four

The sleek, silver ship smoothly decelerated as it entered Jurai's solar system, maneuvering until it reached the planet of Jurai itself. A carefully executed docking was achieved with the much more massive Manticore flagship, the Washu's Revenge.

"We cooperated with this ship during the Kagoto campaign," one Galaxy Police officer said quietly to the young woman leading the way between the two vessels. She was a good looking if rather intense red-head, and her expression was deeply troubled.

"Does anyone know," she asked the other officers quietly, carefully making her way along the docking tube, "if Kiyone is still affiliated with Manticore's forces?"

"I don't know, Mitsuki," the sandy hared young man admitted to her softly.

They all reached the connecting hatch at last, and then had to wait a moment for it to open up. A soft hiss, then the pressures inside and outside equalized enough for the hatch to open. The GP officers tensed a bit, seeing who was waiting there.

"Welcome aboard the Washu's Revenge," Kiyone said to them with a pleasant if slightly dangerous smile on her face, "I'm her captain, Kiyone."

The redhead threw her a salute, "Galaxy Police Officer Mitsuki." Kiyone gave no sign of recognizing her, just a friendly nod. Her smile widened as a final figure came aboard, a tall, blond hared man of great stature and authority.

"Well, hello Marshal," Kiyone smiled at the leader of the entire Galaxy Police, "It's been a while. Back at my court marshal, I think."

He nodded to her gravely, "It's..." he paused, and then he forced himself to say, "good to see you once again."

"Follow me," Kiyone said briskly, "I'll lead you to the conference room where the Queen is waiting for you."

Ryouko smiled grimly as the door opened and the Galaxy Police delegation was led inside. Kiyone was as deadpan as always, but it was obvious that she was enjoying this. The Marshal looked glum, knowing that he was at a severe disadvantage. The rest of the GP looked nervous, except for the red-head, who kept a wary eye on Kiyone.

Ryouko rose, "Take a seat, please. We have much to discuss."

Kiyone went over to Ryouko, taking a seat just beside her.

The Marshal stiffened visibly. "Does she have to be here?" he asked Ryouko with a bit of anger in his voice.

Ryouko's eyes narrowed, but she spoke mildly in reply, "Kiyone is the senior Captain of the fleet, as well as one of my most trusted advisors." With a dangerous look in her eye she said much more seriously, "She stays."

'This is not going very well at all,' Mitsuki thought to herself grimly. Trying to save what she could from the situation she said, "Thank you for the invitation, Queen Ryouko. I'm certain that the GP can be a great help to you."

"I do hope so," Ryouko said to them as her voice dropped to a frightening purr in the silence of the conference room.

The Marshal and Mitsuki exchanged a worried glance. "Your message didn't mention an agenda for this meeting," the Marshal ventured to say.

Ryouko got up, walking over to take a look out one of the viewports, as well as to make them wait a bit. "My agenda is relatively simple," she finally said to them coolly, "I would like to authorize the Galaxy Police to operate throughout the Republic of Manticore, including the territories that had formally belonged to Jurai."

Almost everyone on the Galaxy Police's side of the long meeting table breathed a loud sigh of relief. Mitsuki, however, still looked rather nervous, a concern that was quickly justified by Ryouko's next few words.

"Sadly, I can't do that just yet," Ryouko said regretfully. "You see, I'm very concerned with how the GP participated in Jurai's war with Manticore, as well as operating as a extension of the Emperor's own secret police."

The Marshal stiffened visibly. "We were only operating as a police force during time of war," he said to her quite firmly.

Ryouko raised her eyebrow, "I distinctly remember seeing GP ships actively fighting against the Manticore line of vessels." She shook her head, "But that is in the past. I am willing to finance the GP, as well as provide you with a charter guaranteeing your independence from my government. You'll be free to pursue criminals even within government bodies."

"What's the catch?" Mitsuki asked her flatly. There was no way that Ryouko was offering them such a wonderful deal without strings attached.

Ryouko gave her a short but respectful nod, "Before I do this, I want the GP to clean house first. All those officers who obeyed illegal orders in the war with Manticore or before hand, must face justice for their actions."

"But, they thought they were obeying the requests of a justified civilian government," the Marshal protested that loudly.

"I was just following orders, is not an acceptable excuse," Ryouko said to him grimly, "They should have refused such orders outright."

Mitsuki spoke up firmly, "If we do this," she said, putting all the force behind the first word, "can we expel the officers dishonorably, stripping them of their benefits and pension, rather than having them face prison sentences?"

Ryouko looked sideways at Kiyone, who gave her a small nod yes. "That might just be acceptable," Ryouko said softly.

Ayeka curled up on her bed, still fully dressed for last night's interrupted dinner. Her thoughts raced, bouncing around wildly from one thing to another, unable to settle down at all. Giving up on resting, she sat up on the side of the bed, glaring blankly at the wall. Suddenly, she was startled by a soft rustling noise coming from one corner of the room.

Ayeka looked around her for anything she could use as a weapon, when she heard a soft cry of, "Myah?" A small, brown colored creature timidly hopped into her line of sight, looking up at her curiously. It was certainly an odd looking animal, a mix of the front half of a cat, but the back and the ear size of a rabbit.

"How did you get in here?" she asked it, surprised.

"Myah!" the little creature cheerfully chirped, and then it bounced up on to the bed beside her, rubbing against her leg happily.

"What a silly little thing," Ayeka chuckled, reaching down to scratch between it's massive cat's ears. The little cabbit purred happily in reply.

"What am I going to do?" Ayeka softly asked it, gently drawing the cabbit into her lap. She petted it absentmindedly, smiling down at it fondly. "I think I'm starting to like her," Ayeka admitted, thinking of Ryouko almost fondly.

The little cabbit looked up at her before giving forth another, "Myah?" To Ayeka, it was almost as if it was actually asking her, "Why?"

Ayeka chuckled softly at her own imagination running away with her. "Ryouko's strong," and the little cabbit paid special attention to that name, "capable and confident. But she's also kind, and she really seems to care about her people."

"Myah," it sounded like the cabbit agreed with that.

"I just wish that I understood why she's so interested in me," Ayeka said to herself with a soft little sigh.

The little creature jumped down, looking up at her entreatingly. Then it ran right through the closed door! Ayeka looked on in surprise, and then it popped it's head back through the door. "Myah!" it firmly commanded her, then moved back outside.

Ayeka got up and opened up the door, seeing the little cabbit bouncing down the corridor. It stopped at an intersection, pointed down one pathway with one of it's expressively big ears, then bounded off that way.

"Oh, well," Ayeka said with a bemused smile, "it's not like I had anything better to do." She followed it down a twisting pathway of hallways, eventually reaching the engineering section. Finally, it passed through an unmarked door and disappeared.

Ayeka hesitated for a moment, looking at the door thoughtfully. She activated the chime, and heard a female voice cry out to her, "Come in." The door opened up, Ayeka stepped inside, and then she stopped cold.

The chamber she entered was massive, stretching impossibly far into the distance. Machinery of many types was scattered all around, much of it completely foreign to Ayeka. Impossibly large structures reached almost to the roof, while other, smaller but infinitely more complex devices floated in midair. And at the very center of all the chaos a young woman sat, working two softly glowing keyboards at the same time.

"Myah!" the cabbit declared proudly.

"So you've made a new friend, Ryo-ohki?" the red-head asked the cabbit curiously. She was tiny, but still seemed to be a mature adult, as well.

"It looks like it," Ayeka chuckled, "though I'm not sure why Ryo-ohki led me here."

"And you are?" the woman asked.

Ayeka blushed, "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm Ayeka."

The woman stopped, an odd look on her face as she quietly said, "Of course you are." She smiled at Ayeka wryly, "My name is Washu." She chuckled as she added, "And I believe you're here to ask about Ryouko."

"How did you know?" Ayeka asked her, surprised.

Washu just smiled at her mysteriously.

Kiyone accompanied the Galaxy Police officers back to the access port, and watched silently as they began to disembark. Once most of them were gone she placed a gentle hand on the Marshal's shoulder, stopping him. He looked over at her questioningly.

"I'm sure Mihoshi would like to see you," Kiyone said to him softly. The older man looked torn a moment, then he finally nodded. Kiyone raised her communicator, "Mihoshi to airlock ten, please, airlock ten."

Not long after, Mihoshi walked up to the airlock, and stopped cold, staring at the Marshal. Then, she cried out "Daddy!" and hit him with a flying hug.

Kiyone noticed Mitsuki standing nearby, and tilted her head towards an empty corridor as she said, "Let's give them some privacy, shall we?"

Kiyone led Mitsuki down the hall a short distance, just far enough away not to hear all of Mihoshi's squeals of joy. "That was a very nice thing you did for him, back there," Mitsuki said to her softly, an odd look on her face.

"I didn't do it for him," Kiyone answered her quite coldly, "Mihoshi would have been so hurt knowing that he had been here and didn't want to see her." That killed the conversation for a bit. The redhead looked deeply uncomfortable, unsure what to say to her. "Did you get that promotion you wanted," Kiyone asked softly, "after you sold me out?"

Mitsuki visibly winced at that. "I didn't sell you out," she protested, "but I had no choice about testifying against you, partner!"

"Don't call me that!" Kiyone bit out at her angrily. "You have no right," she said much more quietly. "You didn't say one word about the good we did," she said bitterly, "just that I had knowingly assisted Galaxy Police's number one enemy Ryouko."

Mitsuki turned away from Kiyone's piercing gaze, knowing that she couldn't argue with what she said. "I'm sorry," was all that she could find to say. A moment of silence, and then she asked, "I suppose you wouldn't consider joining Galaxy Police again?"

Kiyone looked at her in pure disbelief, "You have got to be kidding me."

Mitsuki shook her head, "I know more than a few officers who were outraged about your court marshal. If you want your job back, it's yours."

"No," Kiyone said softly, shaking her head. "After all I've seen, I'm not quite as starry-eyed about the GP as I used to be. Besides," she added with a honest smile, "I can do more real good right where I am."

Before Mitsuki could try to argue her out of it, Mihoshi bounded down the hallway towards them. "Thank you, Kiyone!" she squealed happily, laying a thorough kiss on the surprised Kiyone. Then she was gone down the hall, back to work.

Mitsuki watched her go, her own face remarkably pale. 'I guess I've lost her for good,' she mourned, seeing the honest happiness on Kiyone's face. "I'd better go see if the Marshal's ready to go," Mitsuki said abruptly.

Kiyone looked over at her a bit oddly, but nodded her agreement. She smiled as she saw the goofy look on the older man's face, but otherwise she didn't remark on it. "Good voyage to you," Kiyone wished them well, offering a salute as they climbed out the hatch. Both GP officers returned it gravely, and then they were gone.

"That Kiyone's not so bad," the Marshal said softly.

Mitsuki smiled sadly, "No, she's not." She looked over at him seriously, "The changes Ryouko wants made will mean a major shakeup in the GP."

"But I suspect we'll be the better for it," the Marshal admitted. "Things went from bad to worse under them Emperor of Jurai," he said softly, "let's hope that things improve under the Queen of Manticore."

"They'll improve," Mitsuki vowed softly, Kiyone's face in the forefront of her thoughts, "even if we have to push every change ourselves."

"...and that's what happened." Ayeka felt good having told the whole tale to someone. It was strange, but it was very easy to confide in the small scientist. She had a almost motherly aura about her, inviting such confidences.

"Ryouko is impetuous," Washu sighed, "as you no doubt know." Ayeka chuckled at that, so Washu continued, "But her instincts are usually right."

Ayeka blushed faintly. "I like her," she admitted, "and I find myself feeling strangely around her, as if I want to do... something, but what I don't know."

"That's a good place to start," Washu said gently. Before she could say anything more, the door chimed softly. "Just when it was getting good," she grumbled, then more loudly, "Come in!"

Ryouko walked in, "Washu, I have to ask you something," and then she froze, staring. "Ayeka?" she gasped, and a blush stole across her features.

"Ryouko," Ayeka said, blushing as well. "I'm sorry, I was just asking Miss Washu for advice, I didn't mean..."

"Don't listen to anything she says!" Ryouko blurted out.

"What, you don't think your mother can give good advice?" Washu protested.

"Myah!" Ryo-ohki piped up.

"Mother?" Ayeka echoed her faintly.

"Yes, I'm this overgrown juvenile delinquent's mother," Washu admitted, bringing a snort of laughter from Ayeka.

Ryouko glared at Washu, "Mom!" She took a deep breath, collecting herself, then more quietly, "Ayeka?" When she turned to Ryouko, she continued, "I'm very sorry about what I did last night. I got carried away by the moment, and didn't consider your feelings."

"Apology accepted," Ayeka said softly, walking over to where Ryouko was standing. After a moment to collect her courage, Ayeka asked, "Do you think we could go talk about it?"

Ryouko looked at her in surprise, then she smiled. "I'd be glad to," she said, and tentatively took Ayeka's hand. They left quietly, hand in hand.

"Kawaii," Washu sighed softly, watching them leave.

"Myah," Ryo-ohki agreed.

Chapter 6

Part Five

The brown haired woman waited impatiently for the ship to dock. A soft chime rang out, the hatch opened, and the young woman visibly tensed. Figures filed out quickly, then slowed to a trickle as a look of disappointment crossed her face.

Then a drooping figure stepped out, visibly tired. She looked up, and her face visibly brightened as she exclaimed, "Honor!"

Honor Harrington ran forward, pulling the dark skinned woman into a fierce hug. Then she drew back a moment and kissed her thoroughly. "I've missed you, Michelle," Honor sighed.

Her fellow Captain, Michelle Henke said softly, "Missed you too, love." She chuckled softly, "I should go on extended patrol assignments more often, if you're going to react like this."

"Don't you dare," Honor smiled, before breaking away. "I've got to get back to the bridge," she apologized, "but could we meet in our quarters later?"

"Please," Michelle grinned, and watched her lover sprint away. She picked up her duffel bag from where she dropped it, and headed off to report in.

Michelle walked down the hall, then she stiffened and tried to take on a more military bearing as she noticed who was walking right towards her. 'The Empress herself, and beside her, wasn't that the Princess of Jurai's royal family?' she thought wildly.

"At ease," Ryouko smiled at her as she walked past. Michelle visibly puffed out a breath in pure relief.

"You're not quite comfortable with that sort of military courtesy," Ayeka noted, looking at the expression on Ryouko's face.

"No, I'm not," Ryouko admitted. "Manticore's never had such a formalized military, but soon after we began to expand, we ran into and absorbed the Gryphon system fleet. Some of our best officers are from there, but they use a regimented system. Combine that with my lead Captain Kiyone's ideas, and I guess I'm stuck with it."

Ayeka chuckled softly, trying to hide her nervousness. There was so much she wanted to say, but she couldn't seem to find the words.

"I already apologized," Ryouko quietly said as she suddenly came to a complete stop, "and I meant it."

Ayeka stopped and looked over at her in surprise, wondering if the Empress of Manticore could read minds as well. 'How did she know?' she thought.

"But I don't regret what I did," Ryouko blushed faintly, "or maybe I should say that I'll only regret it if it drives you away from me."

Ayeka blushed as well, looking away from Ryouko shyly. "You don't mince words, do you?" she said, smiling slightly.

"I don't do it very well," Ryouko admitted, "so I try not to very often." She gently slid a hand under Ayeka's elbow to urge her forward again. They walked for a few moments silently, both lost in their own thoughts.

"You said you wanted to marry me," Ayeka said with a bit of irony in her voice, "but I think I misunderstood why."

"I tried to make you believe it was a political marriage," Ryouko said, "but for me, I hoped it would be much more." She looked sideways at Ayeka to see how she was taking it.

Ayeka met Ryouko's gaze, her own expression just slightly bewildered. "When I told Sasami about your proposal," Ayeka softly said, "she wondered how you could have fallen in love with me so quickly. I guess that's my question, too."

"It wasn't so sudden, for me," Ryouko smiled. "I think I began to fall for you at our very first meeting," she admitted softly.

"What, on the battlefield?" Ayeka said, a bit surprised.

"Well, at least it fit's my reputation," Ryouko smiled, and Ayeka chuckled softly. "I didn't even know who you were at the time," she said softly, "all I knew was that you were so beautiful and terribly striking."

Ayeka blushed at the compliment, "Is that why you saved my life?"

"I couldn't let someone like you die, no," Ryouko admitted quietly, "but we were separated, and I thought that was that, at least until I discovered who you were."

Ayeka digested that silently, as they reached her suite of rooms. She looked up at Ryouko, "I'm not quite sure about how I feel about you, but I think I'd like to get to know you better." She took a breath, "But in the meantime, I'm willing to go through with the political marriage."

Ryouko looked honestly startled at that, "What?"

Ayeka felt a bit of satisfaction at surprising the young woman. "Your mother told you there would be trouble between Manticore and Jurai, and I think she's right. We need to do something to symbolize the joining of our two peoples, and I think a marriage could do it."

Ryouko looked like she was about a step behind as she quietly said, "You don't mind getting married before we get to know each other?"

Ayeka nodded patiently, surpressing a smile.

Ryouko smiled, shaking her head. "I think I have a lot to learn about Jurai," she sighed. "When would you like to... ?" she asked.

"As soon as possible, I'd think," Ayeka smiled.

"My lady commands, so shall it be," Ryouko said, executing a formal bow. She took Ayeka's hand and kissed it gently.

Ayeka blushed. "I can't wait to tell my mothers," she chuckled.

"Washu will be quite amused," Ryouko laughed. She paused, "Could we meet for lunch?"

Ayeka keyed her door open, "I'd love to." She hesitated, then gently kissed the surprised Ryouko on the cheek. "See you at lunch," and the door closed behind her.

Ryouko stood for a moment, then she literally flew down the hallway, startling a few passerby with a loud shout of, "Yes!"

Masaki and Funaho gazed at their daughter in disbelief. "You're getting married?" Masaki finally managed to ask, her twin light blue ponytails bobbing in her surprise.

Funaho seemed calmer, outwardly, but she also showed the surprise in her eyes. "You might have discussed it with us, first," the dark hared woman chided her gently.

Ayeka raised an single eyebrow and smiled as she said, "Sorry, mothers, but it was the heat of the moment. Besides, the agreement between Jurai and Manticore will benefit both sides."

Masaki squealed happily and hit Ayeka with a choking hug, "I'm so happy for you!"

Funaho was looking at her daughter thoughtfully. "So is this a political marriage?" she asked Ayeka quietly.

"Not... entirely," Ayeka admitted, even as she worked her way free of Masaki's death grip.

"When will the wedding be?" Funaho inquired, still trying to fully take in the situation.

"As soon as possible," Ayeka shrugged. "I don't want to give any resistance to Ryouko on Jurai a chance to build," she explained.

"But what about the bridal parties?" Masaki suddenly asked tearfully. "And we need to make it a fitting wedding for both of them!" she exclaimed.

Funaho was nodding thoughtfully, "She has a point." She turned to Ayeka, "Does Ryouko have any of her family on board ship?"

Before Ayeka could answer, the communicator in her mother's suite chimed. "I'll get it," Masaki said cheerfully. "Hello?" she asked.

Washu's image appeared on the screen. "Have you heard about this wedding?" she demanded. "There's almost no time to hold any good parties," she frowned.

'What's with the parties?' Ayeka found herself wondering.

"We'll need to get together and start planning the wedding," Funaho stepped up to speak with Washu next.

"I'll be over in five intervals," Washu vowed, "and I'll bring along the delinquent's little sister, Minagi, too."

"See you then," Masaki said cheerfully.

"I think I'll just go for a walk," Ayeka sighed. She didn't want to think about the kind of trouble that Washu, Funaho and Masaki could get into. She opened the door, then sighed as she waved Washu and Minagi in, "That was fast."

"You better take off a bit while we start planning," Washu grinned while rubbing her hands together eagerly.

Minagi was smiling and shaking her head. "I'll try to hold them back from anything too outrageous," she promised Ayeka softly.

"Good luck," Ayeka whispered back, and headed out as quickly as possible.

Ayeka entered the dining hall, looking around her curiously. The tables were packed for lunch, people literally lined up to be fed. 'What's going on?' she wondered, then she saw something that answered that question.

Sasami was manning the counter, and just from looking at it Ayeka could tell the food was one of her sister's creations. Considering the food before now, the crew probably viewed Sasami's coming as a gift from god.

"Big sister Ayeka," Sasami piped up happily. "Ryouko's waiting for you in back," she pointed towards the door leading to the captain's table.

"Thanks," Ayeka smiled, getting close to where Sasami stood. Quietly, Ayeka whispered her news in Sasami's ear.

"You're getting married?" Sasami blurted out loudly enough for all the diners to hear.

There was a moment of silence, then a cheer rang out across the hall. 'Obviously,' Ayeka noted, 'Ryouko's campain to win my favors wasn't all that secret.' She quickly made her way down the corridor to the captain's table.

Ryouko stood up from the table and smiled at her. "What was that?" she asked, nodding out towards the dining hall.

"I think our impending marriage isn't particularly secret, anymore," Ayeka smiled.

"Good," Ryouko answered, "I want everyone to know I'm marrying such a beautiful lady."

Ayeka blushed fiercely.

Chapter 7

Part Six

Minagi nearly choked on her beverage before she managed to get out, "You can't have them go through the ceremony naked!"

"Why not?" Washu asked, seemingly honestly confused by the question. The scientist was sitting cross-legged on a float chair, Ryo-ohki curled up in her lap.

Minagi rolled her eyes, "Ryouko wouldn't care, but from what I've seen of Princess Ayeka, she would just die."

Funaho nodded, "She has a point."

"Myah," Ryo-ohki agreed sleepily.

Ryouko gave Ayeka a welcoming smile, holding her chair and pushing it in as she sat down. "I'll have Sasami send some more food in," she said.

"Thank you," Ayeka said, looking up to meet Ryouko's catlike eyes. She felt that falling sensation again, and fought to keep her self control. With a smile she said, "Almost as soon as she heard about the wedding, Washu called up my Mothers to discuss the wedding plans." She paused, adding, "And the short time we left for parties."

"That's my mom," Ryouko was shaking her head, laughing. "So Minagi, Washu, Funaho and Misaki are planning the wedding?" she asked.

"It looks like it," Ayeka nodded. She frowned slightly, "My mothers can be a bit... outrageous, at times. Do you think things will be all right?"

"Yeah, Washu's that way, too," Ryouko said thoughtfully. She perked up a bit as she said, "But Minagi's there keeping an eye on them. I'm sure that she'll keep them from trying to get us to do anything too weird."

"Topless is still close enough to naked!" Minagi protested.

"Darn," Misaki sighed.

"Myah, myah," Ryo-ohki scolded her gently.

"How smart is that thing, anyway?" Funaho asked Washu quietly.

"Very," was the simple answer.

Honor smiled slightly as her dark hared fellow captain came on to the bridge. Captain Tita pushed her brown hair back, straightening her uniform a bit before saluting and saying, "I'm here to relieve you, ma'am!"

"I am relieved," Honor returned the salute crisply. "Not much going on," Honor said to her quietly, "but I understand there's some progress on the Ayeka/Ryouko front."

"Really?" Tita asked eagerly.

"I've heard they're getting married," Honor whispered.

"What?!" Tita squealed.

Honor shrugged eloquently, then headed for the elevator. She had an appointment to keep. The levels swept by, she vacated the tube, then hurried down the corridor to her rooms. The door hissed open and...

"Bleek!" Nimitz chided her. The slinky treecat leapt up on her shoulder, and she could feel it's disapproval at staying in the quarters all day.

"Don't give me that," Honor replied, "I'm sure you've had Princess Sasami in here feeding you celery again."

The treecat tried to look innocent and failed miserably.

"Is that you, Honor?" the sleepy voice asked.

Balancing the treecat on her shoulder with the ease of long practice, Honor crossed the living room and into the bedroom. Michelle sat up on the covers, her eyes half-closed with sleep. "Hello, love," Honor smiled.

Michelle got up from the bed to enfold Honor in a firm hug, "You have no idea how good it is to see you."

"Bleek!" Nimitz butted in.

"You too, Stinker," she smiled, but it was obvious that Michelle was focused on Honor.

"How was your trip?" Honor asked as they both sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Tiring, and long," Michelle said. She looked over at Honor with a little smile, "Do you really want to be on this bed discussing my trip?"

"No," Honor blushed. She squealed as Michelle grabbed her and pulled her down.

A few moments later, and Nimitz left with a soft "Bleek," of disgust.

"Myah?" Ryo-ohki asked.

"We could always have them fight a duel before they get married," Funaho suggested.

A pause, while everyone considered it. "Too messy," Washu noted.

"Besides," Minagi pointed out, "they already fought back when they first met."

"Good point," Misaki nodded.

Ryouko sighed softly, putting her drink down. "That was good," she carefully pushed the pile of plates aside. Ayeka was looking at her wide eyed. "Wow," she murmured softly. "Do you... usually eat like that?" Ayeka asked Ryouko faintly.

"Only on special occasions," Ryouko admitted. "Washu tells me it's a kind of bio-chemical imbalance. Every now and then, I just need to really fuel up," she explained.

"Thank goodness," Ayeka smiled. "I'd like to cook for you occasionally, but making that much at a time would be a bit much," she laughed.

"You cook?" Ryouko asked, thinking of some of the meals Sasami had made for them recently. If Ayeka was that good, she really was a prize.

"Not very well," Ayeka admitted honestly. "My cooking is a bit too much like Asashi's, to be honest," she shrugged.

"I've always liked a challenge," Ryouko grinned, and Ayeka smiled back tentatively in return. She drank a bit, "I was surprised how good a fighter you were, when we first met."

"Some of that is family tradition," Ayeka accepted the change of topic easily. "We've always been trained to fight, symbolically ready to stand by the troops in battle," she explained. "I also used to spar with my brother, Yosho, a great deal. He was much faster than I was," she sighed.

"Yosho," Ryouko nodded, "he disappeared several hundred years ago, correct?"

"Hmm," Ayeka nodded, and continued sadly, "When Kagato attacked, Yosho pursued him in his ship. We never heard from him again."

Ryouko's eyes widened on hearing Kagato's name. "I fought him myself a few years ago alongside the Galaxy Police," she told Ayeka. "When we searched his records we discovered his battle with a Lord of Jurai, but I didn't realize he was your brother," she said quietly.

Ayeka's face was pale as she asked, "Did you find out what happened to Yosho?"

"Yosho caught up with Kagato on a world out on the rim," Ryouko explained, "and they fought it out there. Kagato's files claimed he killed him, but I didn't entirely trust that. After we finished our mission I detoured out to the planet to check it out."

"Did you find anything?" Ayeka asked eagerly.

Ryouko shook her head, "We did a full planetary survey, but we couldn't find any trace of Jurai technology. There were traces of the Juraian genome in their population, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything."

Ayeka nodded, "But I'd still like to check it out for myself." A smile, "Once everything here settles down, anyway."

"I'd be glad to help," Ryouko smiled. At Ayeka's inquiring look, "Family means a lot to me, and once we're married, Yosho will be family, too."

"Thank you," Ayeka smiled. She raised her drink, then stopped. "You fought Kagato as well?" she asked.

Ryouko chuckled softly, "I wondered when you'd catch that. Yes, Kagato kidnapped Yume, my mother's lover, so that kind of made things personal for me." Ryouko smiled as she explained, "Kagato was actually Washu and Yume's assistant before he went bad, and he took her as well as trying to capture my mother."

Ayeka thought about Washu, and the steel that she had seen in her, "I suspect Kagato regretted that later."

"Right about when this ship," Ryouko waved around them, "the Washu's Revenge, showed up on his doorstep. We fought, and I and Minagi were able to defeat him and free Yume."

"Thank you," Ayeka gently placed her hand on Ryouko's, "for avenging my brother. It seems there's yet another debt my family owes you."

Ryouko actually blushed a bit.

"So this is where you've been," Yume said. The slim, almost elfin scientist came up behind Washu and slid her arms around her. "What's going on?"

"Wedding planning," Washu explained. She gestured, "Meet Funaho and Misaki, the mothers of Princess Ayeka."

"It's an honor," Yume smiled. She looked around, "Has anyone suggested the Manticore custom of nude..."

"Yes, and vetoed," Minagi quickly piped up.

"Too bad," Yume smiled impishly.

"It might be a bit boring," Funaho smiled, "but a simple exchanging of vows might be best for the two of them. With, of course, all the trimmings to befit a royal wedding."

"It might be boring," Minagi noted, "but knowing Ayeka and Ryouko, I think it might be the best idea yet."

Misaki pouted, "But I was hoping we could go with the ancient custom of bearing witness to the consummation of the marriage!"

Everybody sweatdropped.

Kiyone paused at the door as she heard Ayeka and Ryouko talking, then she turned around and headed up the hall. It had been a long time since she had let herself think about Kagato and what had happened then.

She and Mitsuki had been assigned to observe Ryouko and the Manticore fleet's battle with Kagato. Off the record, she suspected the Marshal hoped that Ryouko's forces would be defeated, but leave Kagato weakened enough to be stopped by the Galaxy Police.

Again and again they watched Ryouko's ships flare, then die under Kagato's assault. Suddenly, Kiyone noticed that there was a momentary weakness in Kagato's shields when he attacked. Ryouko's ships hadn't caught it, and Mitsuki urged her to keep silent. The GP could use that information to defeat Kagato themselves.

Another ship died, and Kiyone couldn't take it anymore. Mitsuki's protests ringing in her ears she moved their cruiser into Ryouko's line of battle while transmitting the shield data to Ryouko. Almost as one the Washu's revenge and her cruiser fired, rupturing the massive ship's hull. The weapons were quickly disabled, and all the while Mitsuki sat there silent.

Her communication's screen came on, and for the first time Kiyone saw the Empress of Manticore. She didn't look like the demon the GP portrayed her as, instead she had an engaging smile and eyes that twinkled with amusement.

"Thank you for your help," Ryouko smiled. More seriously, "I and my sister Minagi are going in after Kagato."

"I wish I could go along," Kiyone said as she saw Misaki glaring at her, "and I wish you good hunting. That bastard's killed more than a few GP officers over the years."

"We'll get him," Ryouko smiled, and the transmission cut off.

"We're going back to headquarters," Mitsuki growled as she brought the ship's drives on line. "I hope the Marshal's in a good mood when he hears about this," she sighed.

He wasn't, of course. Kiyone had disobeyed orders, despite the circumstances, and Mitsuki's testimony had been particularly damaging. And all during her testimony, Mitsuki stared straight ahead, refusing to meet Kiyone's eyes.

The dishonorable discharge was almost a given. Kiyone spent a few weeks feeling sorry for herself, drowning her sorrows at a little bar out on the rim. On a wet day, a figure settled down into the seat beside her, and pushed back the hood of her rain coat.

"How would you like a job?" Ryouko had asked with a smile.

Chapter 8

Part Seven

"How would you like a job?" Ryouko had asked Kiyone with a smile.

The former Galaxy Police officer gaped at Ryouko in honest surprise. Not just startled to see her, but that the Empress of Manticore would even venture into a dive like this one. "What kind of job?" she managed to ask.

"I could use a captain. I lost a lot of good people against Kagato," Ryouko said seriously. "And you certainly demonstrated your caliber during that battle," she added.

"I won't reveal GP secrets to you," Kiyone said bluntly.

Ryouko just smiled at that. "I wouldn't expect you to," she answered.

Kiyone met Ryouko's eyes, looking for any signs of deception. She didn't find any. "All right," she smiled, "I'll do it."

Kiyone was jerked out of her thoughts by someone calling her out name. She turned, and saw Minagi running up the hall towards her. "Hey, Minagi," Kiyone smiled at her. "What's the good word?" she asked.

Minagi smiled, "You've heard about Ryouko and Ayeka, right?"

"The proposal's been accepted, then?" Kiyone asked. At Minagi's eager nod she laughed softly, "About time! Maybe now Ryouko can get her mind back on the job."

"I wouldn't bet on it," Minagi chuckled. "I need your help with something," she started, then she trailed off.

"What?" Kiyone asked.

"Could you help me get the bachelor party organized?" Minagi asked. At Kiyone's odd look, "Washu's insisted on it."

Kiyone shook her head. "Well, I guess we're better than letting Washu set up the party," she admitted quietly. She looked over at Minagi, "Any ideas?"

Minagi grinned evilly, and her resemblance to Ryouko was even more pronounced.

Ayeka lay back on her bed, a contented little smile on her face. Lunch with Ryouko was enjoyable, the conversation lively. Another sigh, as she thought, 'And Ryouko is both charming and gallant, too.'

"Myah!" she heard, and looked down to see Ryo-ohki sitting at her feet.

Ayeka reached down and gently picked her up, cuddling close. "Hello, Ryo-ohki," she smiled. The door chimed, and she called out, "Enter!"

Washu smiled at her, an almost elfish looking woman standing at her side. "Can we come in?" she asked.

"Certainly," Ayeka smiled, looking curiously at the other woman. The way they stood spoke of some deep intimacy between them. 'Are they lovers?' she found herself wondering.

"Princess Ayeka," Washu smiled, "I'd like you to meet my lover, Yume."

Yume smiled, extending her hand, "I guess that makes me Ryouko's step- mother." She made a cute face, "There are worse fates," she paused, looked thoughtful, "but right now I can't think of a single one of them."

Ayeka had to muffle a laugh at that.

Washu smiled slightly. A bit more seriously, "After talking it over with your Mothers, we settled on a simple exchanging of vows for the wedding. Would that be all right?"

"I'm a bit relieved, honestly," Ayeka smiled. "I did some research, and was preparing myself for the possibility of you deciding on the Manticore customs," she admitted.

"The nude ceremony?" Yume chuckled. She gave a sideways glance to Washu, "I understand that it was suggested.

Washu whistled, trying to look innocent.

"Myah," Ryo-ohki said in a scolding tone.

Ayeka tried to keep her expression suitably grave, but finally she just had to laugh.

"See you at the bachlorette party," Washu grinned, leading Yume out of the room.

"Bachlorette party?" Ayeka echoed, surprised.

Ryouko looked out a viewport, out into the darkness of the void. She heard footsteps growing nearer, and had to throttle back her temper. "I thought I had given orders not to be disturbed," she said, her voice a low growl.

"I think the nice young man guarding the entrance was a bit too afraid to try and interfere with your future mothers-in-law," the voice said cheerfully.

Ryouko turned quickly, seeing a beaming Misaki and somewhat more serious looking Funaho walking up the hall towards her. Ryouko nodded her head with a smile, "I'd probably be too, in his shoes."

"Washu sent us," Funaho said gravely. "We decided on a simple exchanging of vows for the wedding ceremony, if you have no objections," she smiled slightly.

Ryouko blew her breath out in obvious relief. "I was worried I was going to have to try talking Ayeka into the nude ceremony," she confessed.

Misaki smiled suddenly, "We could change the plan if you like."

"Please, no," Ryouko smiled, waving her hands.

Funaho and Misaki joined her by the viewport, and Ryouko took the opportunity to take a look at them covertly. The blue haired Misaki was obviously Sasami's mother, a cheerful, almost genki presence. But there was intelligence in those eyes, no matter her foolish behavior.

"The stars are so beautiful, aren't they?" Misaki said cheerfully. Ryouko felt a bit startled, having only seen the darkness, not the lights shining out there.

Ayeka's mother Funaho was a bit more enigmatic. She stood with formal dignity looking out into the void, but the purple hared woman has steel in her despite her manners. Like Ayeka, she reminded Ryouko of a sword shining in the darkness.

"You're in love with her, aren't you?" Funaho surprised Ryouko by asking.

"Yes," Ryouko admitted, and was suddenly hit with a flying hug!

"I'm so happy!" Misaki squealed, hugging Ryouko in a death grip. Ryouko wiggled and struggled free, gasping for breath.

Funaho watched, eyes twinkling, hiding her smile behind her hand. "I think once Ayeka gets used to the idea, she'll be all right," she smiled at Ryouko. She reached over to take the beaming Misaki's hand, "She's known about us for years."

"Oh, really?" Ryouko raised her eyebrow.

Misaki blushed charmingly, "Ayeka walked in on us, when the Emperor was away."

Funaho blushed as well, and Ryouko had to fight a smile.

Sasami smiled, seeing Minagi and Kiyone walking in. She jumped up and waved, and both young women came over to where she was sitting. "Hello, Sasami," Minagi smiled.

Kiyone pushed her hair out of her eyes as she asked, "Have I thanked you yet, for taking over the ship's kitchen?"

Sasami blushed sweetly, "Consider me thanked."

"Kiyone!" Mihoshi cried, running across the dining hall.

"wait for it... wait for it... " Minagi whispered softly.

Trip! Mihoshi fell face first to the deck, sat back up, and cried, "Whaa!"

Kiyone rushed to her side, "Are you all right?"

Mihoshi rubbed her head, sniffling softly. "I'm sorry, Kiyone," she whimpered.

Kiyone helped her up, holding her protectively close.

"Let's leave them alone, shall we?" Minagi suggested to Sasami.

The little girl nodded, making a face. As they were walking away, she asked Minagi softly, "Does everyone on this ship have somebody?"

Minagi looked at Sasami in a bit of surprise. "But I thought that you and Asashi were..." she started to say.

"No," Sasami shook her head, "we're just friends."

"I went looking for you to ask, would you like to help with your sister's bachlorette party?" Minagi asked her.

Sasami looked a bit surprised, "Me?"

"We could really use your help," Minagi smiled, looking down at her.

A little blush appeared on her cheeks, and Sasami said, "Sure, I'd be glad to."

"Good," Minagi flung her hair back with a grin as she confided, "because I have almost no idea what I'm doing."

Sasami laughed, "I'll handle the cooking, too." She looked at Minagi curiously, "I guess I should cook for Ryouko's party, too?"

"Please!" Minagi laughed. She looked thoughtful, "Could you ask Asashi to make a few dishes, though? Ryouko does have a fondness for spice."

Sasami smiled, "Then I'm glad she's with Ayeka. My sister has a temper."

Minagi grinned, "That's not what I meant!"

They both laughed.

Nimitz glared at the closed bedroom door. Honor and Michelle had been in there for a few hours, now, leaving him out here, all alone. The treecat felt a presence, and turned to see Ryo-ohki slipping through the bulkhead.

"Bleek!" Nimitz complained.

"Myah," Ryo-ohki said sympathetically.

"Bleek?" Nimitz asked.

"Myah, myah," Ryo-ohki shrugged helplessly. With that, she turned and bounced back out into the hallway.

Nimitz turned back to glare at the closed doorway.

Chapter 9

Part Eight

The party had been going on for over an hour, and it didn't look like it was going to be winding down any time soon. Half nude dancing girls were paired up with many of the ladies and gents, a few actually dancing up on the tables. The other tables were covered with food and drink, and a pile of unopened gifts sat nearby.

Minagi waved the sake bottle, "So did we surprise you?"

Ryouko laughed, toasting her sister with her own bottle. "Considering you nearly got skewered, I'd say yes," she grinned. When the lights came up she had been so startled her sword manifested, much to everyone's great amusement.

Looking almost like two elves Washu and Yume danced together slowly. The near immortal women clearly loved each other deeply, a life long pair. 'I hope Ayeka and I can be like that someday,' Ryouko thought.

Nagi sauntered over to where they were standing, smiling as she grasped Minagi's arm, "Can I take her away for a bit?"

"Go for it," Ryouko laughed. Nagi barely gave Minagi a chance to put her bottle of booze down before pulling her into a tight clinch. They kissed deeply, much to the blushing Minagi's embarrassment.

The two had met when Nagi showed up after the bounty the Galaxy Police put on Ryouko's head, mistaking Minagi for her. They straightened that out, and found themselves deeply attracted to each other. After being in a state of serious denial about it for a few months, they finally accepted that they belonged together.

"Would you like to have another drink?" Ryouko heard a voice ask from right beside where she was sitting.

She turned to see a scantily clad serving girl standing there, her costume consisting of a few artistically placed straps of leather and not very much else. She bent over with the urn of wine she carried, high lighting her many charms. Not that long ago, Ryouko might have been tempted by her, but not any more.

'Guess I'm really hung up on Ayeka,' she thought to herself ruefully. Aloud, Ryouko said to her gently, "No, thank you."

The girl gave a disappointed pout, and slinked off, her bottom swaying.

There was a sound from up on the improvised stage, and Ryouko felt her stomach drop as she saw that her mother was standing up there with Yume, grinning from ear to ear. 'What is she up to now?' she worried.

"All right everybody," Washu grinned, "it's time for the real fun to begin!" A screen activated behind her, and a image formed.

"Oh, no," Ryouko whispered.

Ryouko as a child stood there, looking quite abashed. A blanket with a large wet stain on it hung over a line nearby. "I bet you all didn't know Ryouko had a bed wetting problem," Washu grinned at them maniacally.

Minagi was snickering softly, and Ryouko shot her a glare. Minagi just grinned back, "Hey, you laughed when she did it to me."

"If I knew she was going to dig that up, I'd have destroyed all the files," Ryouko said with a soft groan.

"And now for the past girlfriends!" Yume spoke up as Washu hit another switch, and the torture continued...

Ayeka blushed fiercely as she opened up the first gift. Her co-mother Misaki grinned at her as the box opened up, Ayeka took one look inside and then quickly stuffed the gift back in.

"What is it?" Sasami asked her eagerly.

She, Asashi, Funaho, and more than a few of Ayeka's closer friends from the noble families of Jurai all looked on curiously. Ayeka blushed brightly, reluctantly drawing out the x-rated lace number that her mother had bought her.

"Wear it on your wedding night," Misaki smirked.

Funaho grinned as Ayeka blushed even brighter. "I think it will almost certainly make Ryouko happy to see you," she also smirked. Thoughtfully, she then added, "Of course, being totally nude is always good, too..."

"Why weren't you saying that when we were discussing the ceremony?" Misaki asked.

"Mothers!" Ayeka protested, looking over at Sasami and Asashi in concern.

Asashi sighed, "Guess I shouldn't tell her what's in my gift."

"Me, either," Sasami agreed.

Ayeka looked in surprise at both younger girls, then she buried her face in her hands and groaned softly.

"Drink this," Funaho passed her a glass of something that smelled quite potent, "it'll probably help."

Ayeka downed it in one go, and her friend Rhione cheered her on, "Way to go!" The redhead sat down by Ayeka, "So, have you two... done the deed, yet?"

"No!" Ayeka looked shocked at the suggestion.

"Too bad," Misaki murmured.

Rhione patted her on the shoulder, "You always were an old fashioned girl." She took a drink, and with a devilish look asked, "Are you two getting married in the Manticorian custom?" Over Ayeka's growing protests she cheerfully explained to the eager crowd of young ladies, "They marry in the nude, you know."

"Sorry, they're just performing an simple exchange of vows," Funaho took mercy on the fiercely blushing Ayeka.

"Too bad," Rhione smirked. She frowned slightly, then spoke more quietly, "Ayeka, have you ever... at all?"

Ayeka looked startled, "I've had experience."

"What kind of experience?" Misaki asked eagerly.

"Sufficient experience," Ayeka said evasively.

Funaho had an odd look on her face. "I don't mean childhood experimentation, or a bit of fumbling in the dark," she said, looking over at Ayeka worriedly, "have you..."

Ayeka spoke softly, admitting, "No."

Her parents, as well as Rhione, were all looking at her oddly. "But," Rhione said, "you had plenty of chances, and not a few men or women panting after you."

"Panting after wealth or power, you mean," Ayeka sighed. "I learned to see the gold diggers fairly early on," she added.

"A virgin bride," Misaki remarked, looking just a bit tipsy, "I thought they were extinct."

Ryouko groaned softly, keeping her head down on the table.

"And then there was Lum," Washu grinned, "but she insisted on their getting married immediately. I understand that her people, the Oni, are all still trying to track Ryouko down."

"I didn't know you had dated so much," Nagi remarked quietly.

Ryouko sighed, "Youthful indiscretions."

"Urd and Mara both dated her at the same time," Yume laughed, "until they each found out about the other one. When the smoke finally cleared, Ryouko was gone and they were dating each other instead."

"How much longer is this going to go on?" Minagi asked from Ryouko's other side.

"They're gonna run out of names pretty soon," Ryouko's voice was muffled by her being face down on the table.

"Then she was taken captive by Usagi and her harem," Washu said as images of eight young women appeared on the screen, "and she barely escaped before they killed her by exhaustion."

"Be strong," Nagi patted Ryouko on the shoulder.

"Myah," Ryo-ohki offered in sympathy. She was munching on a basket full of carrots, so it was a bit muffled, but it sounded sympathetic, any way.

"And then there was her affair with Kiyone..." Yume started.

"Hey!" Ryouko protested, "I never had an affair with her!"

Kiyone chuckled softly, watching the party on the bridge's monitor screen. Scattered around the bridge were Honor, Tita, Mihoshi and a few of the other fleet captains.

Yamamoto Yohko sighed softly, pushing her red hair back, "I almost feel sorry for her." She paused, smiled, "Almost."

"Why aren't you down there?" Tita asked Kiyone. You've been serving in the fleet longer than any of us, and I know you were invited," she smiled.

"It wouldn't have been appropriate," Kiyone shook her head. "I'll give her my best wishes on her wedding later, in private," she finished.

"She's right," Honor nodded. Her uniform was crisp and neat, though it was a bit spoiled by Michelle Henke hanging off her arm and Nimitz perched on her shoulder.

"Bleek," the tree-cat chided them all.

"Besides," Mihoshi said to them cheerfully, "this way Kiyone and I can give Ryouko her special gift in private."

"Special gift?" Yohko asked.

Sounding quite perky, Mihoshi said, "A deluxe trip for her and Ayeka to the Pleasure Planet for their honeymoon!"

A moment of dead silence in the room...

Ayeka watched the party with a slightly tipsy smile on her face. Funaho and Masaki were cuddling together, the nobles were pairing up and dancing, and even Asashi and Sasami were sitting together, talking quietly.

"I need some air," she sighed, and Ayeka slipped quietly out of the room. She walked down the halls, her steps eventually taking her to a view port.

'This is where Ryouko and I talked,' Ayeka remembered, 'and where she first asked me to marry her.'

The planet of Jurai turned below them, and Ayeka gazed down at her home-world a little sadly. So much had happened to her in such a short time, she could hardly believe it. The conquest, a new Queen, the proposal, and then... falling for her.

Ayeka closed her eyes, and Ryouko's cat like eyes flashed in her mind, that saucy grin, and the silky mane of blue hair that she longed to run her fingers through. 'I just wish that I knew what she sees in me,' she thought.

A figure slowly walked out of the shadows, and Ayeka blinked in surprise to see who she had been thinking of. "Ryouko?" she asked quietly.

Ryouko looked up, and her face lit up with a smile, "Ayeka." She stepped up to stand beside her, and Ryouko's typically spicy scent surrounded them both.

"You left your party, too?" Ayeka asked. "Or did it just run down?" she added.

"Nagi was about to do her striptease for us," Ryouko smiled wryly, "and I figured that would be a bit much, even for me." She looked out at the planet that was slowly turning below, "Jurai is such a beautiful world."

"Is it very much different from Manticore?" Ayeka asked.

"Yes and no," Ryouko smiled. "Manticore is more green, a wild place. We haven't chosen to disturb the forests much, it's a dangerous place, but also a beautiful one,' she finished. She looked down at Ayeka, "I'm not describing it well, I think."

"You love it, I can hear it in your voice," Ayeka said quietly. A pause, "And beside you I'm sure I could learn to love it, too."

"We don't have to live there," Ryouko said gently, "we could settle just as easily on Jurai if you wish it."

Ayeka smiled up at her, a few tears glistening in her eyes. "Thank you," Ayeka said, and slipped an arm around Ryouko's neck. She then drew her down gently into a very thorough, very vigorous kiss.

"Wow," Ryouko murmured softly.

Ayeka smiled demurely, "We'll decide where to live after the wedding, all right?"

Ryouko said innocently, "Yes, dear."

Ayeka batted her on the arm gently, and they shared a quiet laugh.

Chapter 10

Part Nine

Ryouko stood there silently, enjoying the pleasure of standing there with Ayeka. She was stunned, shaken to the core by Ayeka's willingness to give up her home, all that was familiar to her, and go with Ryouko. She found herself wondering if she could make that kind of sacrifice.

Ayeka reached up, gently brushing Ryouko's hair back with her fingers. "Sorry," Ayeka smiled, "but I've wanted to do that for a while."

Ryouko almost purred as Ayeka teased at her mane, and Ayeka laughed softly. Ryouko grinned back, "I'm just a big pussycat for you to tame."

Ayeka tilted her head up, and Ryouko bent down to kiss her again...

When the ship was suddenly rocked by an explosion. Alarm sirens blared, and the ship shook again and again.

"What's going on?" Ayeka cried out.

Ryouko lunged for a nearby screen, punching the link to the bridge, "Status!"

Kiyone's voice came over the link, "We're under attack by a Jurai frigate, it came out from the other side of the planet."

"Are there any injuries?" Ayeka asked quietly.

Kiyone gave her a fierce smile, "Not yet."

Ryouko frowned angrily, "It must be one of the ships that escaped the final battle for the planet. There were a few ships that we didn't account for." She shook her head, asking, "What are our shields and weapons status?"

"There's been no damage so far," Kiyone answered, "but our weapon systems will require a few minutes to re-charge."

"No need," Ryouko smiled grimly, "I'll handle it."

"You know I hate that," Kiyone quickly protested.

"Over and out," Ryouko said simply as she cut the connection. "Ryo- ohki!" she cried.

The little cabbit was there like a shot, jumping onto her shoulder. Ryouko glowed scarlet, a shield forming around her as she prepared to leave the ship.

"Wait," Ayeka grabbed her arm, "take me with you."

"No way," Ryouko shot back, "I won't endanger you."

"Those are my people out there who are shooting at us," Ayeka said, and it seemed that she drew the authority of a princess around her body as she continued, "and I have to try and help stop them however I can."

Ryouko met her eyes, and knew that she wasn't going to win that argument. So instead, she offered her hand, "Let's go, then."

"Myah!" Ryo-ohki said happily.

Ayeka shivered as they passed through the skin of the ship, to float out in the void of space. 'How, exactly, is she going to handle this?' she wondered.

"Go, Ryo-ohki," Ryouko cried, and Ryo-ohki launched herself from Ryouko's shoulder, expanding into a crystalline starship in black and red. A transport beam enfolded them, and they found themselves in a domed command center.

"This is Ryo-ohki?" Ayeka asked, looking around her in disbelief.

A large, floating diamond appeared in front of her, it suddenly showed Ryo-ohki's face and gave her a cheery, "Myah!"

"Ready shields, prepare weapons," Ryouko said as an image of space appeared above them. She was completely focused on the battle, the warlord of legend.

"Myah!" Ryo-ohki answered, other floating diamonds moving and shining.

Ayeka looked at her, astonished from the change that she had undergone. The warm, pleasant Empress of Manticore was gone, leaving only a warrior.

The Jurai ship turned from it's attack on the Washu's Revenge, going after the new target. It resembled a sailing ship of old, this wooden ship, but it's power wasn't to be underestimated. Using just those ships, Jurai had built an empire, only to be defeated by Ryouko.

Energy danced through space towards them, and Ayeka braced for the impact, but Ryo-ohki dodged each strike easily. Again and again they fired, but each time they failed.

"Get the point," Ryouko frowned as she looked up at the display, "you are not going to hit me, give it up."

"They'll just go for the Washu's Revenge," Ayeka sighed.

Almost on cue, the Jurai ship realized it wasn't going to hit her, and turned it's guns back on the other ship. "Good call," Ryouko sighed. "Ryo-ohki! Target weapons systems, minimal casualties," she ordered.

"Myah!" And with that, Ryo-ohki swooped in on the Jurai ship, skimming along it's surface as it made pinpoint strikes, destroying weapons ports on both sides of the ship.

"No wonder you won," Ayeka whispered.

The vessel hung there in the void, completely motionless. Gasses billowed out of rents in it's hull into space, and it listed a bit, as if it's stabilizers had been damaged in the fight. Finally, slowly, it began to move forward.

"It's going for the Revenge," Ryouko hissed. "They'll die as soon as they hit the shields," she said through grit teeth.

"You don't want them to die," Ayeka looked at Ryouko thoughtfully.

Ryouko sighed softly as she met her eyes, "Death without meaning is a waste. And that would be a meaningless death."

Ayeka nodded firmly, "Can you let us communicate with them?"

Ryouko nodded, "Ryo-ohki!"

The screen above them shimmered, and they had a view of the inside of the Jurai ship's bridge. Smoke billowed across the large room as young men and women worked frantically to restore some of the ship's systems. The captain looked up, "Have you called to gloat," he started, only to trail off when he saw Ayeka's image.

Speaking firmly, Ayeka declared, "My mothers and sister are aboard that ship, captain. Break off your attack, now."

He gaped at her in shock, then over his shoulder he cried out to the bridge, "All stop!" He turned back to look aghast at Ayeka, "Are they holding you captive, Princess?"

Ryouko kept silent, letting Ayeka handle this however she wished.

"No," Ayeka smiled at him and the figures behind him cheerfully, "actually, we're preparing for my wedding to the Empress of Manticore." He looked at her in stunned shock, and she smiled as she gently said, "The situation has changed, captain. Dock with the Washu's Revenge, and explanations will be forthcoming."

He nodded, dumbly, and the link was cut.

"Nicely done," Ryouko smiled, taking Ayeka's hand.

Ayeka blushed, "Thank you.
A short while later Funaho and Masaki were both waiting at the airlock when the Jurai frigate docked with Ryouko's flagship, greeting the soldiers. Seeing them seemed to calm the young men and women even more that Ayeka did.

"What do you want us to do with them?" Kiyone asked Ryouko thoughtfully.

Ryouko smiled wryly, "I think we should let them go." Kiyone gave her a severe look, and she shrugged, "They thought they were still at war."

"And would you please not go out and fight battles on your own," Kiyone lectured her leader in a whisper.

"I wasn't alone," Ryouko said defensively, "I had Ayeka and Ryo-ohki with me."

Kiyone rolled her eyes and stalked off, grumbling under her breath. Ayeka looked at her oddly as she passed, walking towards Ryouko.

"What's wrong?" Ayeka asked, watching Kiyone leave.

"She thinks an Empress shouldn't be out getting her hands dirty," Ryouko sighed.

Ayeka looked at Ryouko in honest surprise. "Even I know you well enough to know that's unlikely," she mused, "does she like hitting her head against a wall?"

Ryouko began to laugh, "Probably."

A young man pulled free of the group of Jurai soldiers to walk over to Ryouko. She subtly pushed Ayeka a bit behind her, just in case. His black hair fell messily into his eyes, and he didn't look like he had gotten much sleep.

"I wanted to apologize," he said with a bow, "on behalf of myself and my crew. We've been out of touch since the battle, otherwise we wouldn't have attacked."

Ryouko nodded, "Perfectly understandable, Captain...?"

"Vaun," he smiled and bowed again.

"I wish you well, Captain Vaun," Ayeka smiled at him gently. Vaun nodded respectfully, and turned to stand by his crew.

"What will happen to them now?" Ayeka asked as they left the boarding area and deeper into the ship itself. Ayeka held Ryouko's arm, and they walked together closely.

"We'll probably let them go with a warning," Ryouko admitted. "I don't think they knew the war was over, honestly," she shrugged.

"I'm glad," Ayeka admitted. She smiled up at Ryouko, "I was wondering, should we make an public announcement of our engagement in Jurai and Manticore?"

Ryouko nodded thoughtfully, "It couldn't hurt." She smiled suddenly, "It might even stop those rumors that I'm holding you captive and having my wicked way with you."

"What?" Ayeka squeaked.
Washu groaned, holding her head in her hands. The room was a disaster, people and food scattered around in the remnants of the bachlorette party. A few members of the bridal party had drifted on over, filling the room even more.

Yume burped, delicately. "Sorry," she blushed.

Rhione was supporting Sasami as she got quite sick in a basin. "I am never drinking that much again," Sasami groaned.

"Don't make promises you might not be able to keep," the slightly green looking Rhione pointed out gently.

Minagi and Nagi were leaning up against each other, both looking much the worse for wear. "Where are the guests of honor, anyway?" Nagi asked with a frown.

Misaki and Funaho walked in, both looking great considering the amount they had both drank last night. "Good morning," Misaki said cheerfully, receiving glares from everyone.

"Shhh," Funaho shushed her quietly, knowing massive hangovers when she saw them. They both split up to render what assistance they could.

"Where did Ayeka and Ryouko go?" Minagi asked Funaho quietly. She winced visibly, "And do they feel as bad as I do now?"

"They left early to fight off an attack on the ship," Funaho shrugged, and smilingly added, "and they both look fine."

"One of these days," Washu grimaced, "I'm going to figure out why Ryouko holds her liquor so much better than I." She paused, "Attack on the ship?"

"Yes," Misaki said as she was cheerfully helping an alcohol soaked maid up. "They handled it quite effectively," she beamed.

Yume chuckled softly, "Sounds like Ryouko's idea of a fun date."

Chapter 11

Part Ten

Ryouko tapped on the door, knowing that Minagi and Nagi had retreated there with romantic intentions the night before. Best not to barge in. In the days following the attack, she had begun to feel a sense of urgency about the wedding. It was time to start taking steps.

Minagi opened the door and looked out blearily, but upon seeing Ryouko's expression she asked, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," Ryouko said seriously, "I just need to talk to you for a moment."

Minagi looked at her a moment, then nodded, "Right." She closed the door, and Ryouko quietly heard her say, "Hold that thought, love. I'll be back soon."

Minagi emerged in a hastily pulled on bodysuit, and she and Ryouko walked off together. "Guess I better try to get on Nagi's good side for that," Ryouko sighed.

"Not a bad idea," Minagi said, looked over at her sister's serious expression. Quietly, she asked again, "What's wrong?"

"I'm just not sure how to do this," Ryouko muttered. A deep breath and she asked, "Will you be my best man?"

Minagi grinned, "Of course!" She looked over at Ryouko thoughtfully, "So you're going through with this?"

"As soon as possible," Ryouko nodded. There was a certainty about her, as if any lingering doubts about Ayeka being the one for her were gone.

"What brought this on?" Minagi asked curiously.

"I've known about Ayeka's character from the very first time we met," Ryouko smiled, then she gave a dreamy sigh, "but when she followed me out into battle, that was it. I've never had anyone I cared for be willing to do that before."

Minagi looked at her, sweatdropping.

"What?" Ryouko protested.

Minagi just smiled, shaking her head. "If you don't mind," she grinned, "I'd like to get back to what I was doing, assuming she hasn't left in a huff."

"Sorry about that," Ryouko blushed. Minagi gave her a cheery wave as she went back down the hallway to her quarters, cautiously opening the door and slipping inside. There was a loud shriek of surprise, then the door shut.

Ryouko grinned as she sauntered down the hall to her parents room. The door was open, and she saw Funaho, Misaki, Washu and Yume talking animatedly. "So what colors do we do the decorations?" Misaki asked.

"Try to work some red and black in there," Ryouko smiled as she walked in.

"Why?" Funaho asked, surprised.

"It's the colors of her battle costume," Yume said absentmindedly.

"Mission accomplished?" Washu asked Ryouko curiously.

"Minagi's agreed to be my best man," Ryouko confirmed.

"Rings," Yume looked up at Ryouko thoughtfully continuing, "have you talked about that with Ayeka?"

Ryouko's eyes widened, and her face went pale, "No."

"Take a deep breath, and sit down," Washu ordered in her 'mom' voice. Like most adult children, Ryouko obeyed automatically.

"Remarkable," Funaho muttered.

"Works on the battlefield, too," Yume noted. "I've heard her take over entire units using that tone of voice," the sprightly woman said with a great deal of pride.

Washu handed a small box to Ryouko. "Open it," she urged her gently.

The ring inside shimmered, glimmering in the artificial light. It was composed of many types of metals, all twined together to form a pleasing pattern. "What is it?" Ryouko asked quietly.

"It's made of metals unique to Manticore," Yume explained, "and we made sure that Ayeka isn't allergic to any of them."

"Not that that wouldn't have been funny," Misaki smirked. She imitated Ayeka's voice, "Ryouko, honey, the ring is lovely... but I itch!"

Funaho fought back a laugh, "I won't show you the ring you'll be receiving from Ayeka. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise."

Ryouko looked around the circle of mothers thoughtfully. "You've got this all figured out, don't you?" she said with a smile.

"Pretty much," Washu nodded thoughtfully.

"I think I'll go find Ayeka," Ryouko got up to leave.

"Good idea," Misaki said cheerfully as they bent down to work. "What colors should we dress Ayeka and Ryouko up in?" she asked the others.

"No pink," Ryouko shot over her shoulder before letting the door hiss shut behind her.

"Darn," Yume sighed.

Ryouko smoothly moved through the crowded hallways, giving smiles and respectful nods to the officers and guests that she recognized. Most of them were headed for the dining hall, so Ryouko figured Sasami was serving another of her excellent meals. She received a cheeky grin from Yamamoto Yohko and just had to grin back.

Yohko was insubordinate, obnoxious and a serious discipline problem, everyone agreed. Of course, she was also one of the best pilots and tactical minds in the service. Which was the only reason she still was in the service. That, and Ryouko liked a bit of cheekiness.

She reached Ayeka's door, and took a deep breath before knocking. "Come in," Ayeka called out, and Ryouko pushed the door open.

Ayeka had her back turned, and held a robe to the front of her body, her pale skin visible below the drapes of cloth. Her hair was down, flowing down her bare back, flowing down to the curves of her shapely bottom.

"I'm sorry," Ryouko squeaked, whirling around.

Ayeka finished pulling her robe on around her, a blush marking her pale cheeks. She belted it and walked over to Ryouko's side while she said softly, "I'm terribly sorry, I thought that you were my mothers coming back."

Ryouko kept her eyes firmly shut, her cheeks flaming.

Ayeka fought the urge to laugh aloud at seeing the powerful warlord of Manticore having been reduced to a blushing girl. 'Not that I'm not blushing, too,' Ayeka thought. "I'm dressed," Ayeka reassured her gently.

Ryouko opened her eyes a crack to check, then she opened them up all the way. 'It's not that I haven't seen the female body before now,' Ryouko thought, 'it's just... this is the first time I've seen Ayeka's.' She blushed again, 'A beautiful body it is, at that.'

Aloud, Ryouko smiled, "I should have announced myself, or something." She paused and asked suspiciously, "What were your parents over for?"

"Wedding plans, of course," Ayeka smiled, and from the look on her face realized that Ryouko's mothers were also being busy.

"Did they mention rings?" Ryouko asked, and Ayeka laughed aloud.

"I'm not allowed to tell you about it," Ayeka laughed, "but yes, they did." She paused, "We were talking about making an announcement, before..."

"I was just thinking about it," Ryouko thought, silently adding 'before seeing you so completely obliterated every thought in my mind.'

"When do you want to announce it?' Ayeka asked.

Ryouko smiled, "I was actually thinking I've put it off too long. How about today?"

"All right," Ayeka smiled. "But where?"

Ryouko frowned as she mused aloud, "Not aboard the Revenge, certainly. It's just a bit too military for that sort of thing."

"Ryo-ohki?" Ayeka suggested.

"She'd love that, the little ham," Ryouko chuckled. "But we have developed a bit of a reputation, Ryo-ohki and I," she said, a bit sadly adding, "Not quite wedding material, either."

Ayeka's eyes lit up, "The Palace on Jurai. It symbolizes the old, while my marriage to you represents the new era for my people."

"Perfect," Ryouko grinned down at her, her eyes flashing with enthusiasm. Ayeka leaned forward, and gently kissed the startled woman on the lips. "What was that for?" a clearly pleased Ryouko asked her softly.

Ayeka smiled, "For being you, a perfect gentleman."
The sun was setting as they stood there together, waiting in the great hall of Jurai's palace. Wood was arched and bent to the will of countless sculptors of Jurai, forming arching halls and graceful sculptures all around them. A rainbow of tones were scattered all about, rose woods and multicolored cloths decorating all of the massive spaces.

Globes of light danced all around them, but the fiery glow made both women look like a pair of golden statues. A young man smiled, and began to softly count down, "Five... four... three... two... one..." Across the worlds of the Manticore Empire, and all the worlds that formerly belonged to Jurai, the image of the Empress of Manticore and the Princess of Jurai appeared.

"Good day," Ryouko took the lead as they had discussed previously, "to all the citizens of the empire. Tonight," she smiled, "I have a joyous announcement to make."

Ayeka took her turn, "There is good news to all those worlds that once fell under the rule of Jurai. I and Ryouko have determined to take a significant step to cement the peaceful merger of the people of Jurai and Manticore."

"Not long ago," Ryouko smiled down at Ayeka, "I proposed to the Princess of Jurai.

A dramatic pause, and Ayeka smiled, "A proposal I was honored to accept."

"We will be married in ten stellar cycles," Ryouko smiled.

"A joyous event that we hope with symbolize the beginning of a new era for all our peoples," Ayeka finished.

"And that's a wrap," the young man grinned.

Poor Washu looked like she was going to pop a blood vessel as she said, "Ten stellar cycles? That's only ten days!"

"You didn't tell her?" Ayeka asked Ryouko softly.

"It must have slipped my mind," was Ryouko's dry answer. She smiled at Washu as she cheerfully said, "But I have every confidence that you, Yume, Misaki and Funaho will pull everything together in time."

Yume gently took hold of Washu's arm as she reminded her, "Remember your blood pressure, love."

Washu took a deep breath, "You just love doing things like this to me, don't you?"

Ryouko was unrepentant, "Yep."

"And what are you going to be doing while we prepare your wedding?" Yume asked.

Ayeka took Ryouko's arm as she said with wide eyed innocence, "Well, I was thinking of showing her the sights."

Both Yume and Washu gaped up at her in honest surprise, but Ayeka just couldn't keep a straight face. She began to laugh, and Ryouko soon joined her.

Chuckling softly, "Sorry, mom, I just couldn't resist." Ryouko was a bit more serious as she said, "I don't want a repeat of the attack a few days ago, and this wedding could help prevent that."

"All right, all right," Washu couldn't help smiling.

"We'll step up the preparations," Yume nodded, adding quietly to Washu, "I'm sure Funaho and Misaki are having kittens up on the Revenge."

Ayeka's eyes widened, and Ryouko murmured, "You forgot to tell them, too?" Ayeka just nodded in reply.

"Well. let's get to it," Washu sighed before adding dramatically, "we've only got ten days to pull off the wedding of the millennium!"

"Most people say century," Ayeka murmured.

"My mom's not most people," Ryouko grinned back.

Chapter 12

Part Eleven

"About issuing the wedding invitations," Washu said, looking over at Ryouko curiously. They were all sitting around one of the conference tables, where most of the wedding planning had been taking place.

"Well, send them out to my friends," Ryouko looked at her blankly.

Funaho gave her a sympathetic smile, "We're going to have to invite the remaining great powers to the wedding."

Ryouko paused, then her eyes grew wide. "The Moon Kingdom?" she squeaked, and Ayeka looked at her oddly.

"Yep," Yume nodded, "and the Oni, Demons and Gods, too."

Minagi went pale, "You mean that Mara, Urd and Lum are all going to be under the same roof at the same time?"

"Not to mention Usagi and her harem," Washu volunteered cheerfully.

"I am so dead," Ryouko muttered, putting her head down on the table top.

Ayeka looked at them all oddly, "What's the problem?"

Yume, Washu, Masaki and Funaho all gave Ryouko a look, silently saying, 'You get to explain this one.'

Ryouko stood up and offered Ayeka her hand. "There's something that I need to tell you," she sighed softly. They left the room together, walking the hallways until they reached a deserted corner of the ship.

"What is it?" Ayeka asked her softly, looking up into those expressive catlike eyes.

Ryouko hesitated, feeling the warmth in Ayeka's gaze, but knew it had to be done. "Before I knew you," she started, "I dated quite a bit." Ryouko didn't pull any punches, telling Ayeka about her past few girlfriends.

Ayeka chuckled softly, "I know."

"You know?" Ryouko asked in surprise.

"You do have a bit of a reputation," Ayeka said gently. She paused, taking a breath, "But there's something you need to know."

Ryouko looked at Ayeka in surprise. 'What would she have to confess?' she wondered. She suddenly had the mental image of Ayeka, in leather, with a whip, and had to fight back a impish smile. "What's wrong?" she asked softly.

Ayeka's cheeks went faintly pink. "I... haven't, before," she said softly.

Ryouko looked down at her, not entirely grasping what she had just said. "You haven't...?"

"No," Ayeka blushed.

It took Ryouko a moment, but she finally got it. 'She's a virgin,' Ryouko realized, looking at the beautiful woman standing in front of her. She reached out, gently stroking her hand through Ayeka's hair. "I'm glad," Ryouko said softly.

Ayeka looked startled, "What?"

"I've had lovers," Ryouko said softly, "but until you came along, I've never been in love." A soft sigh, "I just wish you could have been my first, as well."

Ayeka smiled up at her, her eyes glittering with tears, "You're so sweet." She rested her head against Ryouko's chest, and felt her arms circle around her. "I'm just glad," Ryouko heard her say softly, "that one of us knows what she's doing."

Ryouko couldn't help it, she began to laugh. Ayeka chuckled as well, and they both began to relax again. "I doubt you're going to have any trouble figuring things out," Ryouko laughed.

Ayeka pulled back from her gently as she said, "My Mothers have a list of wedding preparations for me to do."

"I've got to go see Kiyone, as well as some of the captains," Ryouko agreed. She checked her chronometer, noting that it was too late for lunch. "Do you want to meet for dinner?"

"I'd love to," Ayeka gently kissed her on the cheek. "See you then," she waved, and in moments was gone.

Ryouko made her way to the bridge, and came in just as Kiyone was finishing up a lecture.

"...and I know that the Jurai ship came in using a gap in our sensor web. But we were sloppy, not keeping at least our minimal weapons 'hot' and ready to use. I also intend to institute more drills, as our response was also lacking," Kiyone finished. The other captains and commanders all shifted uncomfortably under her gaze, but they couldn't refute anything she said.

Ryouko stepped on to the bridge, and Honor Harrington stiffened visibly. "Admiral on the bridge!" she called out.

"I'm not an Admiral," Ryouko grumbled good naturedly.

Kiyone gave her a nod, then turned to the others and said, "Meet us in the officer's conference room, five minutes."

Ryouko waited until the door closed behind them before saying mildly, "You were a little harsh. Ryo-Ohki, Ayeka and I were able to handle it."

"You shouldn't have had to," Kiyone said dryly, adding "If you hadn't acted, I feel certain that ship full of Jurai soldiers would be dead right now, a criminal waste." She paused, smiling, "And I'm not even going to go into the fact that the Empress shouldn't be getting her hands dirty."

Ryouko made a face, "I'm going to fighting that until the day I die."

Kiyone sighed softly, "I should let you know that Mihoshi got you a wedding gift without telling me." Ryouko raised an eyebrow, and Kiyone blushed faintly, "A honeymoon trip to the pleasure planet."

Ryouko shook her head, laughing softly, "That's our Mihoshi."

The other captains filed in, and Ryouko gave them a few moments to get settled. She smiled engagingly, "If you haven't heard the announcement yet, I'm getting married..."

Soft chuckles from the crowd. Ryouko had all but shouted her happiness when Ayeka had accepted her proposal, much less the bachelor and bachlorette parties! Everyone was very aware of their leader's coming wedding.

Ryouko grinned, "... and I need some volunteers for the honor guard."

"I'm in," Kiyone said simply.

"And I," Honor spoke up. Michelle raised her hand right after.

Tita smiled, "You help my wedding to Elisse, it's the least I can do."

Yohko grinned, "Can we throw you a party, too?"

"Not in the five days left," Ryouko laughed.

Yohko pouted, "Darn. Still, I'll help too."

Soon the remaining captains had all volunteered, but Ryouko's expression became more grave. "I should warm you that the role won't be entirely ceremonial," she cautioned them. "I don't expect something to go wrong, but I do want to be prepared," she added.

"I swear," Kiyone said, her eyes glittering dangerously, "that Ryouko's and Ayeka's wedding will go off on schedule!" She met the eyes of the other captains, "Are you with me?"

"Aye!" the called out together, raising their fists in the air.

Ryouko sweatdropped.
Ayeka smiled, entering the mess hall. The lunch crowd was just leaving, and Sasami was surrounded by a bevy of handsome young men and pretty women. As soon as they saw Ayeka they scattered, leaving a flustered Sasami in their wake.

"What was that about?" Ayeka asked her, surprised.

"Wedding proposals," a bemused sounding Sasami answered. At Ayeka's startled look she explained cheerfully, "They've developed a fondness for my cooking, I guess."

Ayeka found herself wondering if it wasn't because of her sweet and kind personality, but decided not to bring it up. "I wanted to ask you a favor," she smiled down at her little sister. It had been a hectic few days since the wedding announcement, and she knew things were going to become busier soon.

"Do you want me to cook for the wedding?" Sasami asked eagerly. It was obvious that she enjoyed her work, and looked forward to the idea.

"Only if you want to," Ayeka chuckled. They walked on, "What I wanted to ask was, would you like to be a bridesmaid?"

Sasami's eyes widened, and she squealed happily. "Could I?" she asked eagerly.

"Please," Ayeka grinned.

"I'd love to," Sasami laughed. She looked thoughtful, "Do you want Asashi, too?"

"Good idea," Ayeka smiled. "I can go ask her tonight when Ryouko and I are having dinner," she said thoughtfully.

"I can ask her for you," Sasami volunteered cheerfully, a bit of red to her cheeks.

Ayeka looked down at her thoughtfully, 'She keeps denying theirs something between her and Asashi, but...' She shook that thought away, "Thank you, Sasami."

Sasami and Ayeka talked a few moments longer, and then they separated.

Ayeka paused, and saw Sasami run up to a slowly walking Asashi. They talked, then Asashi reached out tentatively for Sasami's hand. The other girl took it in her own, and they walked off hand in hand.

"Kawaii," Ayeka sighed aloud.

"They are, aren't they?" she heard. Ayeka turned to see Rhione looking down the hall at the girls with a slightly amused expression.

"Are they...?" Ayeka asked her friend as they fell into step together.

"Probably," Rhione laughed. The redhead had an engaging smile, "They've both denied it, of course, but little girls that age tend to anyway."

Ayeka laughed softly in agreement. "I was actually looking for you," Ayeka smiled.

"Oh?" Rhione asked.

"Would you be willing to be a bridesmaid?" Ayeka asked.

Rhione grinned, "How bad are the bridesmaid's dresses?"

Ayeka threw her hands in the air, "You'll have to ask my or Ryouko's mothers. They've all taken it out of our hands."

Rhione laughed, "You're lucky, believe me." She shook her head, "My sister ran her own wedding, and came quite close to committing homicide."

"Well, I'm not there yet," Ayeka admitted cheerfully.

They walked onward a few moments, then Rhione said softly, "I rather envy Ryouko. I would have liked to have won you myself."

Ayeka looked at her friend in surprise, "What?"

Rhione sighed softly, "I was right, you didn't notice." She smiled gently over at the surprised Ayeka, "It's all right, I got over you eventually."

"I'm so sorry," Ayeka said softly, "I can be so blind sometimes." She took a breath, "I can't ask you to be a bridesmaid, it wouldn't be..."

"I'd be honored to be your bridesmaid," Rhione said gently. She paused, "Ryouko makes you happy, doesn't she?" Ayeka nodded, and Rhione smiled happily, "Then that's good enough for me."

Next: The Wedding!

Chapter 13

Part Twelve

"Urd lightning strike!" the goddess Urd cried out, showering their gathered adversaries with pinpoint lightning strikes. The tall white haired woman had a impish grin on her face, she was clearly enjoying the thrill of battle.

The troops scattered, howling madly as they tried to escape.

"That's not bad," a grinning Lum chuckled, "but now it's my turn!" The Oni girl dressed in the tiny tiger stripped bikini soared over the commando team's head, and threw a massive stream of lightning down at them.

The entire ship rocked, another explosion going off nearby.

"That's it," Ryouko growled, "I'm getting in on this!" Her red and black battle garb clung to her body, her eyes glittering angrily.

"No," Minagi barked, "you're getting married first. I don't care who these fools are, I'm not letting them spoil this!"

"She's right," Ayeka put her hand gently on Ryouko's arm.

Ryouko hesitated, then nodded slightly. She looked up, "All right, let's do this."

With a firm nod Belldandy opened the holy book up again, and took up reading where she had left off in the ceremony.

'How in the world did this happen?' Ayeka sighed, trying to focus on Belldandy's words.
"So why are we standing here like this?" Ayeka asked the others quietly. She, Ryouko, Minagi and Kiyone were all standing on one side of the docking bay, waiting for the latest arrivals.

"Because they aren't coming here by ship," Minagi grinned.

In the middle of the docking bay a white light began to build up, expanding into a rainbow of colors that soon reached up to the high ceiling. There was a bright flash, a sudden displacement of air, and they appeared from nowhere!

Ten young women looked around them curiously, two younger girls and the rest of them adults. Hair colors and styles varied a great deal in the group, running from short blue hair to long blonde tresses. A tall, long haired blonde haired woman separated from the mob to walk towards them, her hair tied up into two little balls.

"Hello, Queen Serenity," Ryouko nodded respectfully.

The blonde pouted, "You know you can call me Usagi, Ryouko."

Ryouko decided just to let that one pass. "This is my sister, Minagi, that's the Captain of the Washu's Revenge, Kiyone, and," Ryouko paused, her pride evident in her voice, "Ayeka, The Queen of Jurai and my future bride."

Usagi looked at Ayeka assesingly, then she smiled suddenly. "I'm impressed you could snag Ryouko," she said cheerfully.

Ayeka smiled back at her, "It's more like she snagged me."

The nine other members of the Moon Kingdom's court stepped up beside her, and the introductions were soon made all around.

"I thought that the queen of the Moon Kingdom was only into girls," Kiyone stepped aside to ask Minagi quietly.

"She is," Minagi answered, "why?"

"Isn't that a boy over there?" Kiyone pointed discretely.

Minagi looked, then chuckled softly, "That's Lady Haruka of Uranus, and she's definitely a girl." A green haired woman took her arm, and Minagi added, "Lady Michiru of Neptune and her have been life partners for years."

"Are the stories about the Queen's Court true?" Ayeka asked curiously.

"Pretty much," Minagi grinned.

"If you wish, I can escort you to your rooms," Kiyone volunteered to the toga clad young woman. As she led them out, Ryouko heard her say, "Lady Ami of Mercury, Washu mentioned she and Yume would be honored to see you again..."

"I'm surprised you escaped them alive," Ayeka smiled, taking Ryouko's arm.

"It was a near thing," Ryouko answered dryly. The left the docking bay together, moving to where their next group of guests were expected. Most of the Manticoran and Jurai dignitaries had arrived, and now the representatives of the remaining great powers were coming soon.

A soft announcement came over the ship's internal broadcast system, "The Galaxy Police delegation are arriving at dock number five. Repeat, the Galaxy Police delegation are arriving at dock number five..."

"Should we?" Ayeka asked Ryouko curiously.

"Kiyone and Minagi are meeting them," Ryouko answered with a smile.

Ayeka raised her eyebrow, "Is that such a good idea?"

"Kiyone actually asked me if she could," Ryouko said. She looked thoughtful, "Something about a question she needed to ask the Marshal..."

Not far away on the docking level of the Washu's Revenge, the hatch hissed open and Kiyone reached in, helping both of them out into the ship. Mitsuki stepped out first, and the Marshal followed her. Both of them were dressed in the Galaxy police formal uniforms, and Kiyone was mildly surprised at their beaming smiles.

"Daddy!" Mihoshi squealed, hitting the Marshal with a flying hug.

The tall man handled it well, whirling her about easily. "Good to see you, precious," the Marshal chuckled softly.

"Thank you for the invitations," Mitsuki smiled at Kiyone. The slim redhead looked pretty good, her uniform starched to perfection.

Kiyone though about claiming it was just a formality that they were invited, but suddenly she was tired of the ongoing hostility between her and the GP. 'I'll let it rest,' she thought. "You're welcome," Kiyone said with a smile.

The Marshal paused, looking at her thoughtfully. "How is the groom dealing with things?" he asked, remembering his own tension on his wedding day.

"Only mild panic so far," Kiyone smiled.

"And Ayeka?" Mitsuki asked curiously.

"Calm on the surface," Kiyone reported. They walked along for a few moments when Kiyone stopped them, a gentle hand on the Marshal's arm. "There's something I wanted to ask you," she smiled up at him.

"Yes?" the Marshal asked curiously, Mihoshi walking beside him.

Kiyone took a steadying breath, Mihoshi moving over to stand at her side. "I'd like your approval," she paused, "for me to marry your daughter, Mihoshi."

There was a moment of silence, with both Mitsuki and the Marshal left speechless.

The Marshal looked at Kiyone a moment, thinking of the disgraced officer she had once been. Now, she stood tall, a powerful and respected woman within the Manticore fleet, a person who's reputation was already on the way to becoming legendary.

"Yes, you have my permission," the Marshal smiled.

"Thank you, Daddy," Mihoshi squealed, hitting him with another flying hug.

"Thank you, sir," Kiyone shook his hand firmly.

A hand rested on her shoulder, and Kiyone turned to meet Mitsuki's gaze. Her former partner shook her hand firmly, "Congratulations."

"Anyway," Ryouko said, "Kiyone promised to be on her best behavior."

Another announcement came over the ship's broadcast system, "The Demon, Goddess, and Oni representatives are arriving at dock number eight. Repeating, the Demon, Goddess, and Oni representatives are arriving at dock number eight..."

"Oh, dear," Ayeka said faintly.

"They're all arriving at the same time?" Ryouko groaned, holding her head in her hands. She shook it off, "We'd better get over there, fast!"

Ayeka and Ryouko rushed down the halls to dock number eight, soon running into Kiyone and the GP running there from the other side. The Marshal and Mitsuki looked serious, Mihoshi grinned, and Kiyone was sweatdropping.

"What's going on?" Ayeka sighed.

"From what I can hear," Kiyone groaned, "the Goddesses are fighting the Oni, and the Demons are betting on who'll win." She pulled her pistol, resetting it to the highest stun setting.

"Marvelous," Ryouko sighed. She looked over at Mitsuki and the Marshal, "You mind helping out?" Both nodded. "All right," Ryouko took command, "On three!"

Ayeka put her hand on the door activation switch, nodding her readiness.

Quietly, Ryouko counted down, "One.. two... three!" Ayeka hit the switch on cue, and Ryouko led them inside.

"Skuld Bombs away!" the young, dark haired Goddess cried, throwing a handful of her explosive devices at the Oni party.

"I saw you looking at my darling," the flying girl angrily cried, picking off the bombs midair with her lightning bolts. The tiny tiger striped bikini she was wearing was holding back her many charms, but just barely.

Urd and Mara stood together talking, money exchanging hands. "I'm switching my bet to Ryouko," Urd sighed, the goddess looking vaguely disappointed.

"Why?" Mara asked curiously. Not that the demon minded taking Urd's money, but she thought she smelled a rat.

"There's no way she's going to let this drag on," Urd made a face. Softly, she grumbled, "Just when it was getting good, too."

Ryouko stood there a moment, watching the pointless argument continue. She clenched her fists, "I have had just about enough of this."

"Get down," Ayeka quickly advised the Marshal and Mitsuki, noting that both Mihoshi and Kiyone had already ducked for cover.

Ryouko summoned her sword and dove right into the middle of them. Her eyes flared blood red, she swung her sword down, and the room was rocked by an explosion. The shock wave blasted everyone in the room backwards, and as the smoke cleared they gaped at Ryouko.

The deck smoked, buckling where she had struck as she floated a foot above the ground. Ryouko glared at the goddesses and Oni, her voice cold, "This place is neutral territory as of now." She narrowed her eyes, "Anyone who starts something has to answer to me."

"Told you she'd handle it," Urd whispered to Mara.

"Not very diplomatic," Belldandy smiled, "but most effective." The brown haired goddess walked over to where Ryouko stood, "It's good to see you once again."

"Hmph!" Lum turned from the goddesses to fly over to the other Oni. "Darling," she exclaimed, throwing her arms around a dark haired young woman.

"Why me?" Benten whimpered softly.

"I could have beaten her," Skuld complained. But the dark haired young goddess complained quietly, not wishing to incur Ryouko's wrath.

"Good to see you, Ryouko," Mara smiled. She stood on one side of Ryouko, Urd on the other, and she smiled impishly, "I seem to remember you once thought about a threesome?"

"That won't be necessary," Ayeka steeped up to firmly take Ryouko's arm. She didn't say anything else, but then again she didn't need to, her tone of voice said it all.

Urd smiled slightly, looking Ayeka over. "You've found yourself a good one," she smiled at Ryouko, took Mara's arm, and moved off.

"Belldandy," Ayeka turned to the dignified young goddess, "we have a favor to ask of you."

"What is that?" Belldandy smiled.

"Would you be willing to perform the ceremony for us?" Ryouko asked.

Belldandy looked a bit startled, but she smiled broadly, "I'd be honored."

"The ceremony starts in about an hour," Ayeka said apologetically. "I know it's very short notice, but..."

"I'll be fine," Belldandy reassured her.

"We should go get ready," Ryouko said to Ayeka reluctantly. They paused there, exchanging a long, searching glance.

Ayeka took a half step forward, pressing her lips to Ryouko's. "See you in an hour," she murmured softly, turned and went to get dressed.

"I'll take you to your quarters to prepare," Kiyone smiled, leading the Goddesses, Demon, and Oni away from the mildly surprised Ryouko.

Ryouko smiled and shook her head, her fingers brushing her lips lightly. 'She still surprises me even now,' she thought. Not long after she was pacing the small waiting room nervously.

After a bit of debate, Ryouko had been dressed in a modified version of her battle garb. Red and black fabrics hugged her body from neck to feet, giving her absolute freedom of movement. But this version included outer robes, giving her a more regal aspect, going along with the simple gold circlet she wore on her brow.

Washu and Yume slipped in, both dressed in their finest clothes. Washu still looked like a pint sized maniac, but there was no helping it. "The hall is ready, and the guests are all seated," Washu reported cheerfully.

Yume looked up at Ryouko seriously, "Are you sure you want to go through with this?"

"It's a little late now," Ryouko's voice was a bit strangled.

"No, I think we can get you away clean," Washu said with a little smirk, "though I doubt Ayeka would ever forgive you."

"Ayeka," Ryouko murmured softly, thinking back to the young woman who had caught her eye all those months ago, and eventually won her heart. "I'm sure," Ryouko smiled at Yume and Washu, "I love her."

"Good," Yume nodded, "I'm glad for you." Both her mothers steeped forward to hug her gently before stepping out to wait with Belldandy.

Minagi joined her a few moment's later. "You've got the ring ready, right?" Ryouko asked.

With a sigh Minagi slipped the little black box out of her pocket, opening it up to reveal the shining metallic ring. "All ready," she reassured her. Music started, and Minagi put her hand on Ryouko's shoulder, "Ready to go?"

"Ready," Ryouko nodded, and the two stepped out.

Just across the way, Funaho stepped back to take a good look at her daughter. "You look beautiful," she smiled.

Ayeka smiled, her traditional robes of Jurai falling around her body. Dressed in white and silver, she looked almost like an angel, her dark eyes shining out from under her white hood. "This is wonderful," she sighed softly, "thank you."

"My daughter's getting married," Misaki said, her large eyes glittering with unshed tears.

"Here it comes," Sasami muttered.

"Whaa!" twin geysers of tears shot out of Misaki's eyes. Funaho fished one of many napkins from her own formal robes and gently wiped at her co-wife's eyes.

After they had taken a few moments to recover, Funaho and Misaki each gave Ayeka a gentle kiss on the cheek, then they went out to join Washu and Yume.

"Ryouko's a lucky lady," Rhione stepped up to Ayeka's side and carefully wiped away a few tears without disturbing her makeup.

"So am I," Ayeka smiled happily, "I love her." She took a deep, steadying breath before asking, "Is the ring ready?"

Rhione took a black velvet pouch out of her dress, sliding it open to reveal the gleaming ring. "It's all ready," she smiled.

The music outside in the hall changed, and Sasami looked up at her, "Ready to go?"

"Let's do it," Ayeka smiled at the two of them. Sasami and Rhione fell into step behind her as they walked out into the great hall.

What had once been a plain dining hall was now a glorious temple, devoted to the fulfillment of love. Garlands hung from the rafters, the portals all opened to the glories of space and the world turning below them. Rows of seats bracketed the central aisle, and all the seats were filled with guests, nobles and dignitaries from all the worlds ruled over by Manticore or Jurai. Friends and family filled the front rows, while Kiyone and the other ship captains stood as an honor guard.

Ryouko turned to watch Ayeka walk up the main aisle, and for a few moments she couldn't manage to breathe. A vision walked up to where she was standing, only the impish twist of the lips revealing her humanity.

"Breathe," Ayeka urged her softly, "we can't have you fainting." Not that Ayeka wasn't having a few oxygen problems, herself. Ryouko was a striking figure, beautiful and dangerous in her black and red, looking almost like an angel fallen from heaven.

"Looking at you," Ryouko's voice was husky, "it's easy to forget."

Belldandy smiled, whispering, "If you two are done flirting?"

"Myah," Ryo-Ohki scolded them gently, perched on Minagi's shoulder.

Ryouko smiled, while Ayeka looked down modestly.

Belldandy opened up the holy book, "My friends, we are here for a most joyous occasion. Today, we are witnessing the joining of two ..."

Suddenly, the vessel rocked, something striking the ship so hard that the entire massive ship was moved. Ryouko reached out to steady Ayeka, "What's going on?"

Kiyone's expression was almost murderous as she raised her communicator to her lips, "Bridge! What's going on?"

Nicole's voice came through clearly, "Three cloaked ship's have attacked. Two have latched on to the hull and are offloading troops onto your deck, one is standing off and firing!"

"Yohko, Tita, Honor, Michelle," Kiyone gathered up the captains even as she turned to Ryouko, "we'll handle this. Finish the wedding." With that, they took off down the aisle, picking up the Marshal and Mitsuki as they went.

As they passed the Senshi, Lady Haruka and Michiru got up. "Would you mind, Princess?" Haruka asked eagerly.

"Have a blast," Usagi smiled and waved.

The captains, Galaxy Police, Haruka and Michiru charged out into the halls, and followed the sounds of battle to the invaders. The captains took up positions to lay down fire, but strangely, Haruka and Michiru stood out in the open in the hallway.

"What are you doing?" Tita squeaked.

"Uranus World Shaking," Lady Haruka cried out, a massive surge of energy forming around her fist, which she tossed at the enemy.

"Neptune Deep Submerge," Lady Michiru cried, and her sea blue energy bolt followed Haruka's into the charging troops.

"I'm impressed," Honor admitted. The enemy were staggered, but not stopped, and she along with the others opened fire!

"All right, let's try this again," Belldandy said cheerfully.

Another explosion shook the ship, almost knocking Belldandy off her feet. The doors to the hall slammed open, and troops poured inside, weapons raised. "This wedding is against all the ancient traditions of Jurai," the lead trooper declared, "we will not allow it to continue!"

"I hate party crashers," Urd muttered, rising to her feet.

Lum floated up from her own seat on the opposite side, "Shall we?"

"Lets," Urd agreed, and the two attacked.
'Which brings us back to now,' Ayeka thought.

Belldandy tried to read the ceremony again, only to be cut off by a stray energy bolt. "Urd," Skuld's scolding voice rang out.

"Sorry, Sis," Urd yelled back.

Belldandy blew a singed hair out of her face. "Let's cut to the chase," she said as she closed the book. She looked at Ryouko, "Do you promise to love Ayeka for as long as you both live?"

Ryouko stood up straight, "Yes."

"Ayeka, do you promise to love Ryouko for as long as you both live?" she asked Ayeka.

"Yes," Ayeka's voice declared.

"The rings," Belldandy prompted them.

Ryouko slipped the ring on Ayeka's finger, saying softly, "This was made of all the precious metals of Manticore."

The ring Ayeka slipped on Ryouko's finger was gleaming wood, "It's made of pieces of all the great trees of Jurai."

"By the power invested in me, I declare you married. You may kiss the brides!" Belldandy said happily.

Ayeka slid into Ryouko's arms, a gentle kiss that became more passionate by the moment. They slid apart, and Ryouko said a bit breathlessly, "If this is the start, I may not live through the honeymoon."

Ayeka smiled, "You'll make it, I promise."

"Now," Ryouko said dangerously, looking up at the enemy troops battling Mara, the Goddesses, and the Senshi, "let's finish this." Her scarlet energy blade flared to life in her hands.

Ayeka shrugged off her outer robes, electrical energy arcing around her body, "Indeed."

Exchanging smiles, the two of them charged into the battle together.
A few hours later, and the hall was a shambles, chairs scattered and walls singed. "That was one hell of a party," Haruka smiled. There was a bandage on her forehead, and her robes were a bit tattered, but she looked like she was having a good time.

"First a big fight," Kiyone shrugged, "then a big party."

Washu and Yume sat together on a couch, Misaki and Funaho sitting across from them. "Here's hoping that when Minagi or Sasami get married, it'll be quieter," Yume wished.

"Oh, I don't know," Misaki grinned, "I thought this went pretty well, considering."

"Who were they, anyway?" Lady Ami asked. She had been walking about helping provide medical aide to anyone who might be needing it when she heard them talking.

"The last gasp of the Jurai separatists, I suspect," Funaho smiled.

"I'd just like to know where they got those cloaked ships," Washu frowned.

"Where did Ayeka and Ryouko go?" Sasami asked. Asashi sat closely beside her, and the two hadn't been parted all evening.

"I think they're starting the honeymoon early," Kiyone smiled.

Ayeka looked up at Ryouko curiously, "These aren't your usual quarters."

Ryouko smiled down at her, "I thought larger rooms might be appropriate for us."

"Wait here," Ayeka smiled, leaving Ryouko to stand in the bedroom. She was gone only a few moments, her return leaving Ryouko breathless once again.

"Where did you get that?" Ryouko squeaked, looking at the x-rated lace number that Ayeka was barely wearing.

"Would you believe it was a gift from my mother," Ayeka slid into Ryouko's arms. They fell back on to the bed, relaxing there a moment.

"I love you," Ryouko said to Ayeka softly.

"I love you, too," Ayeka sighed softly, the gentle stroking of Ryouko's hands making her shiver.

In a surprised sounding voice a few moments later Ryouko gasped out, "Where did you learn that?"

Ayeka laughed softly, "Beginner's luck?"
Author's Notes: Belldandy, Urd, Skuld and Mara are from Oh My Goddess Lum and Benten are from "Those Obnoxious Aliens" Usagi and her Harem are from Sailor Moon. Yamamoto Yohko is from Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko. Honor and Michelle are from David Weber's Honor Harrington novels. Minagi and Yume, for those who asked, are from the Tenchi Muyo manga series.

So why did Belldandy get picked to perform the marriage? As both Ryouko and Ayeka are Queens, it's not like there's anyone in a high authority to do it. I thought of having Kiyone do it (a captain of a ship can perform marriages), but that didn't really work, either. But Belldandy is a goddess, not to mention very serene and holy, so why not her?

Now that I've pulled off the wedding, I'm taking a break on this series. There are a few different plot threads I've left open, and there's still the question of what happened to Tenchi in this universe, so I will come back. Eventually...

Chapter 14

Honeymoon Voyage

"What do you mean, they're gone?" Kiyone blurted.

Yuri winced, pushing her long black hair out of her face. "We checked their quarters first," she tentatively reported, "then we went down to the mess hall to see if they were getting an early breakfast. No sign of them."

Kei stood straight, adding with military precision, "Then we asked a discrete friend to run a sensor scan over the ship. He only picked up Minagi, not Ryouko."

Kiyone nodded, keeping her expression carefully blank. "Don't worry," she smiled at them, "I'm sure that the Empress knows what's she's doing."

Both Kei and Yuri looked relieved as they walked out together, Kei muttering to Yuri, "See, I told you we didn't need to tell her."

"It was your idea," Yuri shot back as the door closed behind them.

Kiyone looked around the bridge calmly, "Notify me if anything unusual happens." She looked over at Nicole, "You have the bridge."

The pink haired young man saluted, "Yes, sir!" Kiyone walked stiffly into the bridge lift, the door sliding shut behind her. Nicole blinked as an odd, muffled sound came from there. "Did that sound like a scream of frustration to you?" he asked the other bridge staff.

A few minutes later and Kiyone was hammering on a closed door, loudly yelling, "I know you're in there!"

The door slid open, and a very rumpled looking Washu looked up at her sleepily, "Could you keep it down, please? People are trying to sleep in."

"Where are they?" Kiyone growled.

"Where are who?" Washu tried to sound innocent.

It took all of Kiyone's will power to resist the urge to pick Washu up and shake her bodily, "Ryouko and Ayeka, of course!"

Washu sighed, "Come on in." She called out into her and Yume's set of rooms, "Get dressed, we've got company!"

"Drat," Yume called back to her. Washu sat Kiyone down on the couch and a few minutes later Yume stumbled out of the bedroom, belting her robe around her pixie-like body. "So what's going on?" she asked them.

"It looks like Ryouko and Ayeka have already left on their honeymoon," Washu informed her wife with a shrug.

"Without telling anyone?" Kiyone growled.

"Good for them," Yume smirked.

"You're not helping," Kiyone sighed to Yume. She looked over at Washu with a determined expression, "Do you know where they were headed, at least? I'd like to get a fighter squad out there to watch over them, just in case."

"I suspect that they knew that you'd want to," Washu smiled, "because they didn't tell me." Privately, she thought, 'Not that I couldn't make a few educated guesses.'

"You could go try asking Funaho and Misaki," Yume added, "but I doubt that they were told anything, either."

"Ryouko knows this sort of thing drives me up the wall," Kiyone sighed.

'Part of why she does it,' Washu thought wryly.

The communicator chimed, and Kiyone scowled in irritation. "I'll get it," Yume smiled. She walked over to the small screen receiver and accepted the call. She froze, then turned back to Kiyone and Washu, "I think you'll want to see this."

The large screen flickered a moment, then a grinning Ryouko appeared. "Hi Moms!" she waved at them cheerfully.

"Ryouko!" Kiyone shot to her feet, but Ryouko carried on as if she hadn't heard.

"I just wanted to leave a message that Ayeka and I are going away for a day or so on our honeymoon. We're taking Ryo-Ohki, so if you're hearing this Kiyone, good luck catching up with us," Ryouko smirked.

A sleepy looking Ayeka stumbled into view dressed only in a robe and a very scanty piece of lace, "What are you doing still up?"

"Just recording a message for my Moms," Ryouko smiled.

Ayeka's face went bone pale, "I'm on camera?" She quickly pulled her robe around her body, blushing fiercely.

Quietly, Washu said to Yume, "Ayeka's got a pretty good body, doesn't she?"

"It almost makes me wish that we went along with the nude marriage ceremony," Yume whispered back to her.

Ryouko pulled Ayeka close to her as she said, "We won't be gone too long. Kiyone, I'm depending on you to keep the fleet in line. Moms, back her up wherever you have too." With another cheery little wave Ryouko said, "Bye!" The recording ended, the screen going dark.

Kiyone puffed out a breath, "I really hate it when she does things like this."

Far, far away from the suite on the Washu's Revenge, a small crystalline starship in black and red traveled rapidly through the dark space between stars, riding the currents of hyperspace. Ryouko was chuckling to herself softly, standing watch on the bridge.

"What's so funny?" Ayeka asked her quietly. She wore comfortable casual robes, the loose garments that one of Jurai would only wear around a lover or family.

Ryouko turned, her red and black body suit hugging her closely. "It's about time for that message I recorded to play back," she grinned.

"I expect Kiyone's having kittens right about now," Ayeka actually smirked, walking over to gently take Ryouko's arm. She rested her head on her shoulder a moment before asking, "Will you tell me where we're going?"

"It's not the Pleasure Planet," Ryouko smiled teasingly, "that I can promise you."

"Myah!" Ryo-Ohki scolded her mistress.

"Ryo-Ohki, time to destination?" Ryouko asked.

"Myah, myah myah," Ryo-Ohki answered her.

"And what did that mean?" Ayeka asked curiously. 'It seems I'm going to have to learn to speak cabbit,' she thought, but she was still smiling.

"It means," Ryouko took a firm grip on Ayeka's arm, "that we're there."

There was a short shudder, then a bit of a lurch as Ryo-Ohki dropped out of hyperspace. The stars soon reappeared in the viewport as they returned to normal space once again, and Ayeka began to look around for familiar constellations to try to see where they were. Her eyes widened slightly as she realized that they were nearby a planet.

The blue-green world circled below them, heavily forested and clearly wild even to the naked eye. No great cities rose up here, instead this was a world who's inhabitants lived in closer synch with nature than other worlds.

Ayeka looked down at that world, and instantly knew where they must be. "Manticore," she said softly, looking up at Ryouko.

"My home," Ryouko nodded gravely, holding Ayeka close to her side. She smiled slightly, "I saw your home world, so I thought I'd give you a chance to see mine."

"It's beautiful," Ayeka said breathlessly.

"Beautiful but deadly," Ryouko agreed. Quietly, "I think part of why I'm such a good fighter is that I was raised here, amid the dangerous wilds."

"It's almost as beautiful and dangerous as you are," Ayeka agreed before reaching up to gently cup Ryouko's face in her hand. She quickly turned, pressing her body into Ryouko's as she kissed her passionately.

"Do you want to go to bed?" Ryouko smiled down at her impishly, feeling the fire kindled in her by Ayeka's unexpected aggression.

"No," a fiercely blushing Ayeka said, "let's do it here, in the view of your home" she paused before adding shyly, "and mine, now."

Ryouko smiled, and one could almost see a hint of a tear in her eye. "As my lady wishes," Ryouko murmured, gently sliding Ayeka's outer robes off her shoulders. She lay that cloth along the floor like a blanket, then gently unhooked the undergarments. In moments, blushing, pale flesh was revealed to her hungry eyes.

Ayeka gulped nervously, and Ryouko took a half step backward. A clip at the neck of her uniform was unsnapped first, then one on her chest revealing a swell of tanned flesh. A final clip was released at her waist, and Ryouko let her fighting garb pool at her feet.

Ayeka opened her arms and Ryouko stepped forward, their body's sliding together easily. Tanned and pale flesh slid down to the floor, bodies twining together gracefully, only one thing interrupting their joining.

Ryouko looked up at the fiercely blushing Ryo-Ohki diamond hovering nearby and simply told it, "Get lost."

The diamond computer unit flew into one of the corners, glowing bright pink and emitting an occasional 'Myah," mournfully.

After some very enjoyable and energetic hours had passed, two sweaty, somewhat tired looking young women rested there on the floor. They looked out again at that beautiful world that slowly turned below them, enjoying the silence.

"Let's hope no one heard us down there," Ayeka finally murmured softly, inspiring a short bark of laughter from Ryouko.

"For someone who was a beginner not too long ago," a grinning Ryouko murmured back, "you seem to have some real natural talent."

"Why, thank you," Ayeka smiled back. She rested her head against Ryouko's slightly sweaty bosom and sighed, "I love you."

"I love you, too," Ryouko murmured back softly, holding her close.

Back on the Washu's Revenge, Kiyone sat at her desk and glared at the pile of paperwork waiting in front of her. Not only was she having to deal with her own work, but with Ryouko gone off who knew where, her work was on Kiyone's desk, too!

"Now I know the real reason Ryouko and Ayeka took off," Kiyone muttered, "it was to dump all of this on me!" The door chimed, and she looked up, "Yes?"

"It's Mitsuki," her former partner in the Galaxy Police called out in reply, "I received a message that you wanted to see me?"

"Come on in," Kiyone answered.

Mitsuki strode inside, her red hair gently brushing her shoulders. She was good looking, but a bit overly ambitious, something Kiyone didn't much like. Still, she was quite capable, which was the main reason Kiyone had asked the Galaxy Police officer here.

"I was about to head back to headquarters and report to Marshal Anderson. You caught me just in time," Mitsuki smiled.

"Good," Kiyone nodded. "With Manticore's fleet cooperating with the GP, we'd like to have a liaison officer on board the Revenge," she said calmly.

"Not a bad idea," Mitsuki admitted. "I can pass it on to the Marshal, and have a list of suitable officers for you in a few days," she added.

"I'd like you to be the liaison officer," Kiyone smiled, enjoying the startled look that appeared on Mitsuki's face.

"I'm honored," Mitsuki started to say, "but..." She paused uncomfortably, "Considering our past history, are you sure it's such a good idea?"

"The past is the past," Kiyone gave a little shrug of her shoulders. "I know it'll have to be cleared by the Marshal anyway, but are you interested in the job?" she asked.

Mitsuki wanted to swallow feeling that piercing gaze on her, wondering what Kiyone was thinking. 'I can see why she's become such a good commander,' she thought. "Yes, I'm interested," Mitsuki smiled.

"Good," Kiyone smiled, the power of her gaze lessening. She pulled a piece of paper from the stack, stopping a moment to keep the tower of files from falling right over. She passed it to Mitsuki, "Here's the formal request for you to be our liaison officer."

"Thank you," Mitsuki threw a crisp military salute, one that Kiyone returned. "May I ask whom I'll be reporting to here?" Mitsuki asked as she carefully folded the sheet, tucking it away inside her uniform jacket.

"Minagi or myself," Kiyone said, looking despairingly at the pile of paperwork, "I'm second and she's third in command under Ryouko."

'She's that high in command of the fleet?' Mitsuki looked at Kiyone in awe. "Shouldn't you be an Admiral or something?" she squeaked.

Kiyone gave her a tight little smile, "Lead Captain is title enough for me."

Kiyone bent down over her work, and after a few moments of silence Mitsuki realized she was dismissed. She left the room quietly, striding down the hallway lost in her thoughts. 'Now I really wish she was still a Galaxy Police officer,' she thought, 'with that level of skill in command she'd be running the place by now.'

A young woman came jogging around the corner, nearly running right into Mitsuki. Good reflexes prevented a collision, but the other lady clipped her anyway. Her hair was red like Mitsuki's, but much longer, and her clothing marked her as a high born of Jurai.

"I'm terribly sorry," the young woman smiled, "are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Mitsuki smiled back, noting the pleasing green eyes the girl had. "My name is Mitsuki, what's yours?"

A graceful little bow, "Rhione."

With that, the lady was gone down the hallway, leaving Mitsuki staring after her with a thoughtful expression on her face.

Chapter 15

Part Fourteen

The crystalline black and red starship wobbled back and forth a bit as it carefully approached the much larger Washu's Revenge. Ryouko's parents Washu and Yume, her sister Minagi, Ayeka's mothers Funaho and Misaki, her sister Sasami, Kiyone and Mitsuki were all watching it's return and wondering if it would land in one piece.

Minagi made a face, "Looks like Ryouko got poor Ryo-Ohki drunk again."

Sasami looked up at her in alarm, "Drunk? How can you get a spaceship drunk?"

Washu sighed, "Remember, Ryo-Ohki is organic, too." She looked over at Kiyone, "We'd better clear the landing deck. I seem to remember from the last time she did this that a tanked Ryo-Ohki doesn't land too well."

"They do this often?" Mitsuki raised her eyebrow. It looked like being the liason between the Galaxy Police and Manticore was going to be an interesting job.

With a deep sigh of her own Kiyone activated the communication system, "Clear the landing deck, please. Emergency teams, to your stations."

They watched from a safe distance as Ryo-Ohki missed the dock completely, the first try. It backed up, wobbling all the way, then managed to line up properly and go in. Bouncing off the doors, it dinged the ceiling, then dribbled it's way to a stop.

"At least nothing blew up or caught on fire this time," Minagi sighed hopefully.

Just then a fire broke out on the deck.

"You just had to say it, didn't you?" Kiyone sighed.

It only took them a few moments to reach the docks, and already a transport sphere had formed to drop off Ryo-Ohki's passengers to the floor. The massive crystal ship shrank, becoming a small, brown furred cabbit.

Ryo-Ohki looked around blearily, it's fur rumpled and sticking up oddly. "Myah-hic!" it managed, then flopped right over.

The transport sphere quickly dissipated away, revealing both Ryouko and Ayeka leaning up against each other unsteadily. "Hi, guys," Ryouko called out while she waved a large bottle of sake around cheerfully, her cheeks glowing red.

"Big sister," Sasami cried, running over to their side.

Ayeka smiled down at her weakly, "Hi, Sasami."

With a slight smile on her face Misaki said, "It certainly didn't take Ryouko very long to loosen her up."

Funaho raised an eyebrow, "Considering what happened on our honeymoon, I don't think we're in a position to criticize."

Misaki didn't say anything, but she blushed charmingly.

Ignoring that conversation Washu looked over at the two clearly intoxicated women and one very drunk cabbit and sighed softly to herself. "Let's just get them to bed," she pushed her red hair back wearily, "we can find out what happened to them tomorrow."

Minagi picked up Ryouko, Kiyone grabbed Ayeka, and Washu and Sasami supervised the dropping off the drunkards in their new suite together. "You smell like they poured the booze on you," Minagi scowled down at Ryo-Ohki.

"Myah," Ryo-Ohki agreed cheerfully, then, "hic!"

Mitsuki shook her head as she headed back to her quarters. 'Galaxy Police headquarters was never like this,' she thought, but she was smiling. She remembered something, and stopped at a suite near her own, activating the chime.

Rhione opened the door, "Yes, Miss..?" she trailed off, obviously not remembering.

"Mitsuki," she smiled. "Your friend Ayeka and Ryouko are back," she waved and headed off.

"Wait a moment," Rhione called. Mitsuki turned, and the Jurai noble woman smiled at her gently, "Thanks for telling me."

Mitsuki nodded respectfully, "You're welcome."

'At least they're back home again,' Kiyone thought to herself as she returned to the bridge. "I relieve you," she nodded to Honor.

Honor Harrington saluted, "No changes since the watch began."

"In other words," Kiyone smiled back as she returned the salute, "it's been quiet." Honor nodded, and Kiyone smirked, "Better get back to your girlfriend Michelle before she comes after me for pulling you away."

Honor blushed, "Thank you, ma'am!"

Honor left the bridge quietly, and Kiyone took a moment to note who was standing watch with her tonight. Kei and Yuri were at the communications and security posts, an odd but compatible couple. Nicole manned the tactical station, the pink haired young man studying his readouts diligently. And sitting over at the science station Yume was gazing off into space with that distracted way she had when working on a difficult problem.

"What's going on?" Kiyone asked her quietly.

"Those cloaked ships," Yume sighed softly.

Kiyone made a face upon hearing that. The three cloaked vessels had attacked the Washu's Revenge during Ryouko and Ayeka's wedding, releasing boarding parties within the ship while firing from outside. They had handled them fairly easily, but the question of where those ships had come from remained a unresolved problem.

"Making any progress?" Kiyone asked Yume quietly.

The elfin scientist smiled back at her grimly. "I was able to plot their course from data we acquired when we downloaded the captive ships' computers," Yume said, "and they came from a colony world out on the rim."

"But they don't have that kind of technology," Kiyone murmured.

"Not that we know of," Yume agreed.

"Ryouko isn't going to like hearing that piece of news," Kiyone sighed. A slight smile quirked her lips, "Once she sobers up, anyway."

Yume snickered quietly before asking Kiyone, "I take it that they both had a good time on their honeymoon?"

"They were certainly," Kiyone looked thoughtful, "cheerful, when they landed."

The next morning according to ship's time and the group of them were in the captain's mess-hall for some breakfast. Ryouko ate hers hungrily, showing no signs of having an hangover, but Ayeka was looking just a bit more fragile as she cautiously ate. Ryo-Ohki, on the other hand, was fine as she demolished a big pile of carrots. The rest of them dug in happily, the table a chaotic but friendly free for all to grab at dishes of food.

"So what happened?" Minagi asked curiously.

"Since we had already seen my home of Jurai together," Ayeka drank some coffee, "we decided to visit Manticore."

"After having a bit of fun in orbit," Ryouko ignored Ayeka's fierce blush, "we went down to the forests so I could show Ayeka around." She drank some of her coffee, "The only problem was we ran right into Fluffy."

Washu nearly choked on her coffee, while both Minagi and Kiyone looked at the two of them in awe. Only Sasami looked confused as she asked, "Who's Fluffy?"

"Well over one ton of soft and furry destructive capability," Minagi shook her head in awe. "You didn't have to kill it, did you?" she asked them. "I think it's still an endangered species, not to mention that it would upset Mihoshi," she added.

"We just drove it off," Ayeka said quietly, still blushing faintly.

"And then what happened?" Misaki asked eagerly.

"We went back up in Ryo-Ohki, and Ryouko suggested we have a celebratory drink," Ayeka sighed. She winced slightly, "To be honest I don't remember very much after that."

"Myah," Ryo-Ohki agreed sheepishly.

"Too bad," Ryouko murmured as she drank more coffee.

Ayeka blushed again under Ryouko's amused gaze, looking as if she had remembered something else that had happened that night. "Seems I'm going to have to practice a bit before I can keep up with you," she murmured quietly, so only Ryouko could hear.

"You're keeping up fine," Ryouko answered quietly, "and you don't need any practice." She smirked, "Believe me."

Watching them Sasami blushed faintly before looking down into her plate. "Ick," she muttered to herself softly.

Ryouko shook her head, noting the amused glances of those gathered around the table. "Back to work," she sighed. "Did Mitsuki accept?" she asked Kiyone.

"You were right, she did," Kiyone nodded. "She's on board now, I believe she's setting up her quarters," she reported.

"Good," Ryouko sighed, "we might just need her." She turned to Yume, "Any luck with those cloaked ships?"

Yume blinked at her in surprise, shaking her head. "I swear, sometimes I wonder if you don't read minds," she muttered.

"No, I just know you and Washu pretty well," Ryouko smiled at both her mothers, "neither one of you can let go of a problem until you solve it."

Washu laughed softly, "You've got a point."

"Using the cloaked ships' computer systems and navigational logs," Yume reported, "I've back tracked them back to a world out on the rim." She called up a file, "Colony world number 0315, called by it's natives Earth."

Ayeka leaned forward, "A Jurai colony? I haven't heard of it."

Ryouko had an odd expression on her face as she quietly said, "I have." She looked over at Ayeka, Masaki and Funaho, "After we beat Kagato, we raided his files, and he claimed to have fought and killed Yosho out there."

Funaho's face went visibly pale, her eyes wide as she remembered her long lost son. "That's ...quite a coincidence," she managed to get out.

"I'll agree with that," Masaki put her arm gently on her co-wife's arm.

"Oh, no," Ryouko groaned suddenly.

"What?" Ayeka looked over at her worriedly.

"That planet's right beside the Moon Kingdom," Ryouko moaned, "that means we'll have to deal with Usagi and her harem if we want to investigate."

"I thought you liked them," Minagi smirked, "at least, that's what the stories say."

Trying to muster some dignity Ryouko said, "Those stories are greatly exagerated."

"That's not what Lady Mercury said," Washu smirked, drinking some juice.

"Or Uranus and Neptune," Kiyone pointed out.

"I get no respect," Ryouko sighed.

Ayeka lay her hand gently on Ryouko's arm, smiling at her warmly when she turned to look. "If it helps, I've always respected you," she said quietly.

"It helps," Ryouko laughed softly.

"Myah," Ryo-Ohki added seriously.

To be continued...

Chapter 16

Part Fifteen

        Minagi pushed her mane of light blue hair back as she looked over the forty or so young men and women who sitting in front of her, the members of the Manticore Pilot Corps. They came from a variety of worlds, ranging from out on the rim, to some of the throne worlds of the surviving galactic empires, and they shared one thing in common other than the blue and white uniforms they wore. They all were risk takers, adventurers who lived to be on the edge.

        "Sorry ladies and gents," Minagi smiled at them a bit apologetically, "but we're going to be increasing our fighter drills for the next while."

        There was a general groan, and Minagi waggled her finger at them scoldingly, her long hair bouncing along her back.

        "We don't know what we're going to run into on Earth," Minagi said to them seriously, "all we really do know is that those cloaked ships that attacked the Revenge came out from there. So I'm not taking any chances." A dark haired young man sitting in the back was waving his hand and she nodded to him, "Yes, Hunter, right?"

        Rick Hunter stood up and said, "Yes, ma'am. Has it been decided which fighter pilots will be brought along on the Earth trip yet?"

        "Yamamoto Yohko and the other three fighter wing commanders will be the ones making that decision," Minagi shrugged. She grinned suddenly, "So if anybody's still got some treats to bribe 'em with, break them out now."

        There was a general laugh from the pilots at that.

        "That's it for now," Minagi gave them a casual wave for dismissal, and the pilots got up out of their seats and filed out of the room while talking together quietly. Mostly about what the mission might be like and whom to brown-nose about it, she noted with some amusement.

        'A very casual command style,' Mitsuki noted, watching the meeting from the wings, 'but it seems to work with them.' Looking at the pilots they seemed much more independent than typical military crewmen, so maybe that informal style suited them well.

        "You wanted to see me?" Minagi walked over to her.

        The two set off down the hallway together, and Mitsuki asked, "Would it be possible for me to accompany the team heading for Earth?"

        Minagi looked over at her thoughtfully, "I don't see there being a problem. Have you asked Kiyone about it yet?"

        Mitsuki blushed slightly, "I thought I should ask you, first."

        Minagi smiled slightly, "Kiyone makes you nervous?"

        "A bit, yes," Mitsuki admitted. She sighed, "I've been reviewing her record, getting a feel of what she's done since she left the Galaxy Police."

        "And what did you think?" Minagi asked.

        "I was impressed," Mitsuki said softly, "very impressed. I thought the stories about her in the Manticore Fleet were exaggerated, but now I find that it's just the opposite!"

        "Kiyone is pretty damn good at her job," Minagi nodded firmly, "but if you look at the fleet in general, most of our best people have quite similar records." She looked over at Mitsuki and added, "Including you."

        Mitsuki blushed, mildly surprised as she protested, "It's not quite the same thing."

        "Ryouko wouldn't have requested you from the Galaxy Police if you weren't of the same caliber," Minagi smiled. She grinned, "I heard about how you commanded the GP forces we fought at Jurai. You did a fine job there."

        Mitsuki flushed, "Considering that the GP had to run with out tails between our legs, I'm not all that proud of it."

        "You did what you had to do in a bad situation, and you were smart enough to know when to pull out," she said simply. With a soft chuckle she added, "When you're dealing with her, just try to remember that Kiyone puts her pants on one leg at a time, just like you or I."

        Mitsuki smiled back, "I suppose you're right, ma'am."

        Minagi punched her in the shoulder, nearly knocking her off of her feet, "Minagi, please! We don't do that formal style here."

        Mitsuki rubbed at her shoulder, wincing slightly, "Right, right."

        In another part of the ship planning discussions were taking place, involving how the fleet itself would be operating. "I still don't like this idea at all," Kiyone said, angrily tossing the data pad on to the table. The dark haired woman looked clearly irritable, standing there with a nervous Honor Harrington at her back.

        Ryouko sighed as she said, "There's not a lot of options available to us." Quite dryly she added, "If we go wandering into the Moon Kingdom's territory with the battle fleet at our backs, it won't go over well."

        Honor Harrington cleared her throat nervously. She got a nod from Kiyone and said, "But why not take the Washu's Revenge? Just going there in Ryo-Okhi and Minagi's Swordbreaker puts you all at serious risk."

        Washu looked slightly indignant at that comment, "Ryo-Ohki is more powerful than most of the ships in our fleet, captain. And the Swordbreaker prototype has the best shields of any of our craft, not to mention the improved drive system."

        "Point taken," Kiyone sighed. She frowned, then plaintively asked Ryouko, "But why do you have to be the one to go investigate this?"

        "Queen Serenity was quite pointed that I had to come along," Ryouko said, giving a sideways glance over to her new bride.

        Ayeka was quite unruffled as she sipped from her glass of tea and simply said, "Which is why I'm coming along as well."

        "What?" Kiyone squawked.

        "Oh, this is going to be good," Ryouko murmured to her mother softly.

        Washu nodded, "Ayeka's almost as stubborn as you are."

        "Maybe a bit more," Ryouko added.

        Once Kiyone got herself somewhat under control she told Ayeka seriously, "It is not wise for you to go on this mission, Ayeka."

        "It's also not wise to leave Ryouko and Serenity alone together," Ayeka answered dryly.

        Washu snickered softly.

        "Myah," Ryo-Ohki sounded quite amused.

        "A point," Kiyone admitted with a sigh. She looked at Ayeka thoughtfully, trying to tell how determined she was. "You're going to insist, aren't you?" she made a face.

        "Sorry, but yes, I think I am," Ayeka said firmly.

        Kiyone pushed her dark hair out of her face, "Then I guess I'll just have to go along, too. Someone has to keep you out of trouble."

        "But ma'am!" Honor blurted out.

        Kiyone gave her a look that wilted the younger woman almost instantly. "Honor, I'm leaving you in command of the Revenge," she said firmly. She looked thoughtful, "Tita can stand in as your second in command."

        "Yes, sir," Honor saluted.

        Ayeka looked thoughtful, "So Ryouko and I are going, Kiyone, Minagi, and my mothers have also requested to come along."

        "Funaho and Masaki?" Washu blinked.

        "My brother Yosho may have been slain there," Ayeka said softly, "of course they want to see it, to say their final farewells."

        "Understandable," Ryouko nodded. "We could also use an investigator along as well, any suggestions?" she asked leadingly.

        Kiyone gave her a look, "Mitsuki is quite the qualified investigator. If the information about the cloaked ships is concealed, I suspect she could find it."

        The door to the conference room hissed open, and Minagi stepped in. She caught part of Kiyone's reply and said, "Mitsuki has already asked to come along."

        Ryouko looked remarkably smug.

        "How did you know?" Ayeka blinked at her in surprise.

        Ryouko grinned, "That's for me to know and you to find out."

        Ayeka raised her eyebrow, "You know, you do sleep pretty soundly..."

        Ryouko flushed and blurted out, "I'm a pretty good judge of character. I figured that Mitsuki would want to be where the action is."

        "Ayeka has Ryouko so whipped," Minagi said to Kiyone with a smile.

        "Oh, yeah," Kiyone nodded firmly.

        Not much later that day and there was a general rush going on to get everything ready to move out. "Swordbreaker?" Mitsuki blinked in confusion as she jogged alongside the boy who was escorting her to the ship in question.

        "Yes, ma'am," Nicole beamed, his pink hair falling into his eyes. He grinned, "It's the latest prototype ship created by Washu-sama!"

        "But what is it?" she pressed him.

        "It's a hybrid ship, with both organic and inorganic systems, with more advanced shields and weapons," Nicole said with a great deal of enthusiasm.

        'Then again,' Mitsuki thought, 'this boy probably gets enthusiastic about weather reports.' Changing the subject she asked, "So how long have you been in the fleet?"

        "Since Capt'n Tita joined," the boy's eyes got big and sparkly. Nicole beamed, "We ran into Ryouko and Ryo-Ohki, helped each other out of a mess. She offered Tita a Captaincy in her fleet, and Tita insisted that we all be given the chance to join up."

        They passed a viewport and Mitsuki jerked to a stop, her eyes wide. "Wow," she murmured, looking at the ship that hung out there in space.

        It was a silvery wedge shaped craft, about a third the size of the Washu's Revenge, but just looking at it told Mitsuki that it made up in power what it lacked in size. Shaped in graceful curves, the central body was basically an oval, with twin bows that stuck out the front. The over all impression it gave was of a tiger, crouched down but ready to strike.

        "Is that it?" Mitsuki murmured softly.

        Nicole nodded, a smile on his face, "That's Swordbreaker."

        Mitsuki grabbed the boy's arm and all but dragged him down the hallway as she said, "Then what are we waiting for? Let's get on board!"

To be continued...

Chapter 17

Part Sixteen

        Minagi had a slight smile on her face as Mitsuki came onto the large bridge. "Hell of a ship, isn't she?" she said with a great deal of pride, sitting there in the command chair.

        "From what I saw of it, it's pretty impressive," Mitsuki quickly agreed with Minagi, looking around her curiously.

        Sasami, Masaki and Funaho stood to one side of the chamber, out of the way of the members of the bridge crew. She didn't recognize most of the crew who were sitting at the different stations, and wondered if they were a group specially assigned to the Swordbreaker itself. However she noted that the bridge layout itself was pretty typical, with a central command chair and several crew stations spread out around the circular bridge.

        "You ain't seen nothing yet," Minagi grinned. She turned to the young lady at one of the consoles, "Ayanami, open communications with the Ryo- Ohki."

        "Yes, ma'am," Rei Ayanami said coolly, activating a series of controls on her panel with smooth efficiently.

        The bridge of the Ryo-Ohki appeared on the monitor screen, and Mitsuki quickly made note of those standing there. Ryouko and Ayeka were front and center, Washu and Yume to one side, and nearby Kiyone was standing waiting.

        "Ready to move out?" Ryouko asked with a grin.

        "The last of the stragglers are on board," Minagi shot a impish look at Mitsuki.

        "Hey!" Mitsuki protested.

        Ryouko chuckled softly at that before smiling at Minagi, "We're moving out. Let's keep the ships down to the lower hyperspace bands, we're not in that much of a rush to get there. And it'll give us a chance to discuss our strategy."

        Minagi pouted, "Aw, but I wanted to see how fast this thing could go!"

        "It'll just have to wait," Ryouko shrugged, then she seemed to be hit with an inspiration, "we'll race or something later, OK?"

        "I'll even give you a lead, old timer," Minagi grinned.

        "Oh, yeah? Ryo-Ohki can take Swordbreaker any day!" Ryouko shot back.

        Washu sighed and muttered to Yume even as the two siblings continued to fight, "I swear, they're like a pair of overgrown children."

        "Be strong, m'love," Yume pattered her on the arm.

        Ayeka was shaking her head, but a little smile was teasing her lips.

        Kiyone shot all three a scolding look, then said to Minagi seriously, "The Swordbreaker will be carrying the fighters along with it through hyperspace. That means if we run into anything hostile, let the Ryo-Ohki take point until you can disengage them."

        "Got it," Minagi nodded firmly.

        "Then let's do this," Ryouko nodded firmly.

        "Mothers, sister, I look forward to seeing you on Earth," Ayeka said quietly just before the communications line closed.

        "Get me Yamamoto Yohko," Minagi next ordered Rei, and a few moments later the face of the intense captain of all the fleet's fighter squads was up on the screen. "Move the fighters into position," Minagi ordered her.

        Outside in the airless depths of space a flight of seven fighters moved in a delicate dance, taking up their positions all around the Swordbreaker. Six of them were silvery strike fighters, and one was a larger, almost blood red craft.

        "Fighters ready," Yohko reported from the red fighter's cockpit.

        "Extend transit field around the fighters," Minagi turned to the silver haired figure sitting at the navigation console.

        "Done," Ruri answered her simply, an odd light dancing across both the backs of her slim hands and her wide blue eyes.

        "Tactical, extend the ship's shields around us and the fighters," Minagi ordered the young woman with fiery red hair.

        "The shields are in place, ma'am," Asuka Langley reported back after a moment.

        "Yohko," Minagi said, "I want communications links maintained with Swordbreaker at all times. This is the first time we've tried this stunt with this many fighters, so if any of your systems start behaving oddly, I want to know."

        Yohko nodded, her expression grim, "Understood."

        The link closed, and outside, they saw Ryo-Ohki moving into position in front of them. "All right," Minagi smiled, "looks like it's time to go."

        Ruri worked her controls, smoothly bringing them directly in line behind Ryo-Ohki, There was a slight shudder, then Ruri softly declared, "Main drives engaged. Countdown to hyperspace transit in... five... four... three... two... one... go."

        Outside all of the viewports, space itself seemed to disappear into pure darkness as the ship left normal space and began to move through a very different sort of reality. Hyperspace, the shortcut between any two places in the universe, was utilized by most of the great spacefaring races. But Washu had taken that technology one step better, cutting down transit times by an incredible factor. And Swordbreaker might just be her best design yet.

        "Estimated time of arrival for Earth, two standard days," Ruri reported coolly.

        Mitsuki did a fast metal comparison of roughly how long a typical Galaxy Police cruiser could have crossed that sort of distance and whistled softly. "That's incredibly fast," she murmured to herself quietly.

        Minagi chuckled softly, "Not really. Both Ryo-Ohki and Swordbreaker are taking it easy. We could finished this trip in less than a day if we wanted to."

        "Remind me not to challenge either ship to a race then," Mitsuki blinked. She looked over at Minagi thoughtfully then with a sly grin asked her, "When you do race against Ryo-Ohki, who should I put my money on?"

        Minagi had a good laugh at that, "Damned if I know." She got up out of her seat and said to the navigator, "Ruri, you're in charge."

        "Of course," the silvery haired girl answered coolly.

        "Asuka," Minagi turned to the tactical officer, "keep an eye on the fighters for me. You pick up anything unusual, let me know."

        "Yes, ma'am!" Asuka threw a salute.

        Minagi took Mitsuki in tow before walking over to Sasami, Funaho and Masaki and saying, "We'll have someone show you to your quarters. They won't be luxurious as the Washu's Revenge, but they shouldn't be too bad, either."

        "Thank you," Funaho said with a bow.

        "I'm sure it'll be fine," Misaki beamed. Quietly to Funaho she said, "It'll be just like that time we stowed away on that freighter and had to spend the entire trip in a little cabin."

        Funaho didn't say anything, but she blushed faintly.

        "Sasami," Minagi started, but trailed off looking a bit uncomfortable.

        "Yes?" Sasami asked curiously.

        "We don't have a ship's cook just yet," Minagi admitted. She looked entreatingly at Sasami and asked, "Would you mind helping out?" Her pleading glance was quickly joined by Mitsuki's, Sasami's mothers, and then several bridge crew.

        "All right, all right," Sasami laughed, "I'll cook for you."

        "Thanks," Mitsuki smiled happily. She chuckled softly, "I'm sure that none of you would want to try my cooking."

        "Is it that bad?" Funaho asked her curiously.

        "There's an standing order to shook me if I go anywhere near the galley of a Galaxy Police vessel," Mitsuki answered jokingly.

        Soft laughter was her general reply. They escorted the ladies to their rooms, then Minagi said to Mitsuki, "Anything you need to do to prepare for our arrival on Earth?"

        "Not much I can do in advance," Mitsuki admitted. "I'll have to see how the situation there is and then play the investigation by ear," she explained. She hesitated a moment, then looked over at Minagi to ask, "You seemed especially concerned about the fighters. If there some unusual danger involved with bringing them along?"

        "Not exactly," Minagi said gravely. "We tested this out a few times and it's worked fine, mostly. But one time..." she trailed off.

        "Something went wrong," Mitsuki quickly concluded. She quietly asked her, "Did you figure out what happened?"

        "From the transmissions we recovered the pilots were goading each other on, seeing which one could get the closest to the transit field's event horizon," Minagi explained quietly. A grim little smile, "They managed to rupture the field."

        "A catastrophic re-entry into normal space," Mitsuki murmured, "there's no way they could have survived that."

        "Even worse," Minagi said grimly, "they impacted a planet."

        "Ouch," Mitsuki winced, thinking the kind of explosion that could trigger.

        "Dixon and Fokker got a memorial plaque in one of the fighter hangers," Minagi shrugged, "because we couldn't recover a body." Minagi shook her head and forced a smile, "Such a gloomy topic! Sorry I nattered on so long."

        "Hey, I asked," Mitsuki shrugged. She smiled, "So how do we kill two days?"

        Minagi smirked, "I can guess how Ryouko and Ayeka are going to."

        Mitsuki snickered, "Even with Ryouko's mothers on board?"

        "Wouldn't stop Ryouko," Minagi said thoughtfully, "but it might slow Ayeka down a bit."

        Just ahead of them aboard Ryo-Ohki, Ryouko looked out into the blackness of hyperspace with Ayeka standing close by her side. "You know what I'm going to miss the most while we're on this trip?" Ryouko asked.

        "Our bedroom?" Ayeka asked with a little smile.

        "Heh. That, too," Ryouko admitted. With a slightly sheepish smile she admitted, "I'm going to miss Sasami's cooking."

        "Oh, don't worry about that," Ayeka shrugged.

        "Hmm?" Ryouko looked at her curiously.

        From behind her back Ayeka produced a giant lunch box. "I had Sasami prepare us two bento boxes for today and tomorrow," she said cheerfully.

        Ryouko began to laugh even as she hugged Ayeka close, "You think of everything, m'love."

To be continued...

Chapter 18

Part Seventeen

        The bridge deck of the Ryo-Ohki was nearly entirely dark, with only a single circle of light standing out in the shadows. Six figures sat there cross-legged on the floor, gazing across at each other intently in the almost complete silence.

        Ryouko stared at her hand for a moment, as if she could change the cards in it by the force of her will alone before she slapped them down with a softly muttered curse. "I cannot believe this is happening," she grumbled.

        With an impish little smile on her face Ayeka raked in the large pile of credits. "I warned you," she said with a casual shrug, "I do not bluff."

        "You have some interesting hidden depths," Kiyone noted with a soft sigh. She hadn't been fully cleared out just yet, but considering the card playing capabilities Ryouko usually showed, plus Ayeka's newly revealed gift for gambling, she thought it was only going to be a matter of time.

        "I would have warned you," Funaho said with a laugh, "if you had asked." She and Misaki had both decided to stay out of the game, sensing there were sharks in the water.

        "I'm out," Mihoshi sniffled. She had foolishly bet against Ayeka twice, pretty much clearing out her available funds.

        "If it helps any," Ayeka smiled, "there's a better gambler than I am out there."

        "You have got to be kidding," Washu blinked. The only reason she was still in the game was due to her computer-like mind, and even that wasn't saving her.

        "My friend Rhione is even better at this than I am," Ayeka chuckled.

        "Then I'm glad we didn't have her on this ship too," Yume sighed before throwing in the towel, "I'm out."

        "One more hand so that I can try to get some revenge?" Ryouko looked across at Ayeka with a dangerous twinkle in her eye.

        "Lets," Ayeka nodded regally, "though you'll only be adding on to my winnings." She looked over at Kiyone, "You in?"

        "What the hell," Kiyone shrugged, "I'm in."

        "Mom?" Ryouko looked over at Washu curiously. Her mother nodded resignedly and Ryouko grinned over at Ayeka, "Deal the cards."

        Over on their companion ship the Swordbreaker Galaxy Police officer Mitsuki was having a restless night. Adjusting to another ship's clock could be difficult, especially now with their trying to match up with the day rotations of the Earth when they arrived. With a sigh she got out of bed and dressed, deciding to go for a walk.

        'This ship is sparsely populated, really,' Mitsuki soon noted. With the advanced systems that Washu had installed, it could very nearly fly itself. And looking out the viewports wasn't particularly enjoyable, as she could only see the blackness of hyperspace.

        "Hey, Nicole," Mitsuki called out, finally seeing a familiar face.

        "Ms. Mitsuki," the pink haired boy turned around to nod to her cheerfully. "How are you doing?" he asked.

        "A little bored, honestly," Mitsuki admitted. She looked over at him curiously as they fell into step, "So what's the story with Ruri?"

        "Ruri-chan," Nicole's eyes got big, throbbing hearts in them.

        "Eeep," Mitsuki took a cautious half step away.

        "She, Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley were all rescued a few years ago from a band of slavers," Nicole explained, "who were altering their captives to sell on the black market."

        "Altered?" Mitsuki repeated questioningly.

        "Hmm," Nicole nodded, "Ruri was changed to be able to interface with any ship, at will. She doesn't even need a control panel to fly the ship."

        "And Ayanami?" Mitsuki asked.

        "They started the same process on her, but never fully completed it," Nicole answered, "and Langley was lucky that they hadn't started in on her yet. Minagi lead that rescue mission personally, she was the one who got the captives out, and all three of them are fiercely loyal to her."

        Mitsuki nodded to herself thoughtfully, having seen how the three of them had crisply obeyed all Minagi's commands, working together like a team. "Didn't Manticore try to return the captives to their families?" she asked him quietly.

        "They did send most of the people the slavers took back home, but the three of them asked to stay on with the fleet," Nicole smiled. "When they found out that Minagi would be commanding the Swordbreaker, all three put their transfer requests in the very same day," he added cheerfully.

        "A interesting little band on this ship," Mitsuki admitted.

        "One of the best in the fleet," Nicole said proudly.

        They reached the ship's galley, and Mitsuki just had to smile at the long line-up waiting for some of Sasami's cooking. She turned to Nicole, "You mind if I grab a midnight snack?"

        Nicole laughed, "No problem. I'll see you later."

        'Nice kid,' Mitsuki though as he walked away with a jaunty step. 'If only his gender matched the name,' she grinned, 'Nicole would have a chance.'

        "Hello, Mitsuki," she heard someone call out. She turned in surprise to see Rhione sitting at one of the dining tables, eating a bowl of pasta.

        "Rhione," Mitsuki blinked, "what are you doing here?"

        The noble lady gave her a enigmatic little smile, "We couldn't let Funaho and Misaki travel unattended, so I volunteered to come along." Rhione shrugged slightly, "And I was curious about seeing this planet Dirt, as well."

        "Earth," Mitsuki corrected her gently.

        "Dirt, Earth, whichever," Rhione shrugged, but there was a teasing lilt to her voice.

        "Just don't do that when we get to the planet," Mitsuki chuckled. She smiled, "Would you mind if I join you?"

        Rhione gestured to the chair opposite of her, "Be my guest."

        Mitsuki hesitated, not quite sure how to ask what she wanted to. She looked over at her intently, "You are aware this could be dangerous, correct?"

        "Of course I know," Rhione said to her calmly. "But it's an manageable danger. Besides, considering the luck and skill that Ryouko and the others have shown, I think it's an acceptable gamble," she finished.

        Mitsuki looked across the table at her, taking in her almost unreadable poker-face. "You don't play cards, do you?" she asked.

        "Oh, I dabble," Rhione said with an airy wave of her hand.

        From the next table over Ruri observed their interaction before calmly stating, "Idiots."

        Asuka sighed softly, digging into her food. "You know how unnerving that can be to people," she pointed out, "so why do you do it?"

        Ruri looked thoughtful before answering entirely deadpan, "Because it's fun?"

        "She's got you there," Rei pointed out softly.

        "Don't you start," Asuka gave her a look. Both girls gave her matching cool looks, making her groan out, "How did I get stuck with you two?"

        "Just lucky, I guess," Ruri smiled slightly.

        Rhione shook her head before turning back to Mitsuki, "You know, I think I like her."

        "An interesting group of people," Mitsuki agreed. 'I wonder if I fit in with this rag-tag bunch, too?' she wondered, 'And if so, what does that say about me?'

        Back on the Ryo-Ohki, Ryouko looked at her hand, then over to the calmly smiling Ayeka, trying to read what was behind that gaze. Washu had already folded, as had Kiyone, which just left her and Ayeka trying to win it all.

        "Match, raise or call," Ayeka said simply.

        Ryouko looked down at her hand, knowing that it was a good hand. Any other player, and she would have felt safe with it. But Ayeka had already shown she was very good with the cards, and she couldn't rest on her laurels.

        "I'll match your credits," Ryouko tossed the credit chips in, then a few more, "and I'll raise you another hundred."

        Ayeka nodded thoughtfully. She dealt Ryouko then herself another card each, and then added to the massive pile of credits. She studied her hand, then looked up to meet Ryouko's eyes. "I call," she said to her simply.

        "Queen's court," Ryouko lay out her cards with a smile, "or what some people like to call the empress' hand."

        "Not bad," Ayeka agreed, "but not quite good enough." She lay her own hand out with a smile, "The Kings's court beats the Queen's, I think."

        Ryouko looked at her cards, then at Ayeka's. "Well, damn," she said mildly. She tossed Ayeka a grin, "I can't wait until you sit in on our games on the Washu's Revenge." She smile became positively evil, "They'll never know what hit 'em."

        Ayeka grinned back, "I can hardly wait."

        "M'love, you're dangerous," Ryouko added with a grin. They got up off the floor together, leaving the other gamblers laying there to sleep it off.

        "Do you really think we should have broke out the sake?" Ayeka looked over at Mihoshi and Kiyone, who were both out cold leaning on each other.

        "We still have at least a day before we reach Earth," Ryouko said with a smile, "plenty of time for them to recover."

        "Do you think they'll be trouble once we get to Earth?" Ayeka asked Ryouko softly as they walked down the hallway together.

        "I hope there won't be," Ryouko said as they reached their suite, "but I'm going to be prepared for it if it comes." She keyed their door open, and the two walked inside.

        "We know those cloaked ships came from there," Ayeka said with a sigh, "even if we don't know who, exactly, sent them."

        "We'll find out," Ryouko reassured her. She looked up, "Ryo-Ohki, any messages?"

        "Myah!" the ship answered cheerfully.

        "Good," Ryouko nodded, "give us a wake-up call once we hit morning, ship's time."

        "Myah, myah! Myah," Ryo-Ohki said cheerfully.

        "I have got to learn how to speak Cabbit," Ayeka muttered.

        "She'll wake us up come morning," Ryouko explained. "Do you want to try to get some sleep, or..." she trailed off suggestively.

        "You're insatiable," Ayeka laughed good naturedly.

        "Me? I'm not the one who woke me up for a quickie," Ryouko protested.

        A wicked chuckle was all the answer she got.

To be continued...

Author's Note: the card game they crew of Ryo-Ohki are playing is Poker, more or less. I still don't know where the idea of Ayeka being a card-shark came from, but I kind of like it.

Chapter 19

Part Eighteen

        The bridge was almost silent as Ruri simply lay her hands just above the large control panel, an odd light appearing in her wide, dark eyes. "Preparing for transit back into normal space," she murmured to herself softly.

        "How rough is this going to be?" Mitsuki asked Rhione softly as they stood to one side of the ship's bridge. After the two day trip she was almost eager to get to work.

        "Normally real-space transit can be rough," Rhione quietly admitted, "but I understand that Ruri is remarkably skilled."

        "Aproaching re-entry point," Ruri announced.

        "Confirming status with Ryo-Ohki," Rei spoke up softly from her communications post, "entry point confirmed."

        "Shields to maximum," Minagi ordered.

        "Shields ready," Asuka worked her own set of controls smoothly, "tactical systems ready."

        "Re-entry to normal space in five.... four... three.. two, one!" Ruri reported, even as the stars reappeared in viewports across the ship.

        THOOM! The ship rocked under them as something detonated outside the ship. Minagi held onto her command seat, "Tactical, report!"

        "Sensors are still off from transit," Asuka worked quickly, then turned to the others on the bridge, "Get somebody looking out viewports!"

        Mitsuki ran to the nearest one even as she wondered why she hadn't thought of that herself. "There's a pitched battle outside!" she reported.

        The primary screen showed a burst of static for a moment, then an irritable looking Ryouko's face appeared. "Ryo-Ohki's sensors have recovered enough to show that the Earthers appear to be launching an attack on the Moon Kingdom," she said to them grimly before adding, "and they're doing it using old Juraian ships."

        "Looks like we've come to the right place," Minagi admitted.

        "We're moving in to support the Moon Kingdom forces," Ryouko smiled grimly.

        "After we get all the fighters deployed, we'll be right behind you," Minagi confirmed. Just before Ryouko disconnected Minagi grinned, "Good luck!"

        Ryouko grinned back, "Luck is for amatures." With that, she was gone. In seconds Ryo-Ohki was supporting the Moon Kindgom ships, laying down a wicked suppresion fire.

        Before Minagi could even ask Rei said, "Yamamoto Yohko reports that all fighter pilots are ready to launch."

        "Then let's do it," Minagi grinned, "prepare to drop shields."

        "Drop shields?" Rhione repeated softly, surprised.

        "Swordbreaker's been carrying the fighters in it's shield envelope," Mitsuki explained, "we have to drop shields or they can't get out."

        "Sensors are back up,"Asuka reported to Minagi as she gave Rei a look, "We're only going to drop the shields a few seconds at most. The timing's got to be perfect."

        "It will be," Rei answered cooly.

        "That's my Rei," Asuka chuckled. She and Rei tied their control systems together, Rei communicating softly with the pilots as Asuka prepared.

        "Drop shields," Minagi ordered.

        Almost simultaniously the seven fighters shot forward, quickly escapting the shield envelope and taking up their formation. Three were arrayed on each side of a larger, blood red craft.

        On the Swordbreaker's bridge Yamanoto Yohko's face appeared. Focused and intense she reported, "Ready, ma'am. Request permision to move in and engage the enemy."

        "Tactical update," Asuka brought the battle up on another screen, "the Moon Kingdom forces are badly outnumbered, nearly two to one." A slight smile, "Numerically at least we won't make that much of a difference."

        Minagi gave a viscious smile, "But we outpower every other ship on the battlefield." She looked up at Yohko, "Let"s try to bring everybody home this time." At the young woman's grave nod she said to her simply, "Go."

        Yohko lead the charge into the enemy formations, her fighters bobbing and weaving madly through the massive wooden ships of the enemy forces. Targeting primarily weapons and defensive systems they softened up the ships of the enemy line, allowing the Moon Kingdom and Ryo-Ohki to pick off the damaged vessels.

        Right behind her Swordbreaker opened up with her main guns, throwing waves of power into the enemy fleet. But the Earth ships were maneuverable, and only by closing the distance could they guarentee the kills.

        "Ryo-Ohki," Ryouko cried from her own bridge, "another barrage!"

        "Myah!" Ryo-Ohki agreed quite cheerfully, throwing another red swath of energy that cut an Earth ship in two.

        "Can you open a communications link with the Kingdom?" Ayeka asked.

        In seconds a screen opened up, and a very tired looking Lady Mercury snapped without looking up, "No I can NOT send you tactical support!" She looked up and saw who she was talking to and went beet red. "I'm so sorry," she started.

        Ayeka raised her hand in a calming gesture, "It's all right. I just wanted to inform you that we've deployed fighters, so please caution your forces to choose their targets carefully." Her eyes widened in alarm as she saw that Mercury was alone in the command center and she worriedly asked, "Where's the Queen?"

        Mercury smiled slightly, "Using her sceptre to shoot down enemy ships."

        "I've seen it in action," Ryouko said with a smile, "it can do it." A devilish smirk, "Amoung other things it's useful for."

        Ayeka looked at the smirking Ryouko and the suddenly blushing Mercury and sighed, "I don't think I want to know."

        Washu stepped up, "Do you need medical or technical assistance down there?"

        "Both," Mercury agreed quite reluctantly.

        Washu met Yume's eyes, then looked over at Kiyone and Mihoshi. "We'll take a transport sphere down," she nodded to Mercury and cut the transmission.

        "Wait a minute," Ryouko started.

        "I designed that transport bubble myself," Washu said softly, "it can take anything that class of ship can throw at us." More quietly, "The people of the Moon are a proud race. They wouldn't admit to needing help unless they were in grave trouble."

        "Kiyone, keep an eye on her," Ryouko ordered.

        "Got it," Kiyone agreed as she and a suddenly serious Mihoshi grabbed medical kits and followed Washu and Yume off the bridge. Not long after the scarlet shere detached from Ryo-Ohki, dodging every shot as it swiftly dove for the Moon's surface.

        "It can take whatever they can throw at us," Ryouko imitated Washu almost exactly before continuing in her normal voice, "so why are you ducking, Mom?"

        "Better to be safe than sorry," Ayeka chuckled.

        "Agreed," Ryouko nodded. She looked out at the mass of enemy ships and with a dangerous smile said, "Let's go do some real damage."

        Ayeka's grin almost mirrored hers, "Oh, yes."

        Mitsuki left Rhione standing to the side of Swordbreaker's large bridge and approached the tactical station. "Are there any fighters onboard Swordbreaker itself?" Mitsuki asked Asuka tentatively.

        Without looking away from her controls Ayeka snapped, 'We've got two Deathscythes and a Wing Zero in hanger three."

        Mitsuki turned to Minagi, "Request permission to take out a Deathscythe."

        "I know you're qualified on the simulators," Minagi said, having obviously read her Galaxy Police personnel file, "but how much real experience have you had?"

        "Enough," Mitsuki answered shortly. Quietly, "Even with our technical superiority the odds still don't favor us. We need every ship we can get out there."

        "Don't get yourself killed," Minagi said to her quietly before loudly proclaiming to the bridge, "Permission granted."

        As Mitsuki was running off the bridge Rhione reached out to take her arm, "Be careful."

        Mitsuki smiled wryly, "I'll try, but this isn't really a situation where careful applies." She pulled free, and was gone down the hallway.

        The halls were eeriely quiet as Mitsuki ran for hanger three. She was flung up against the wall as the ships's shields took another hit, but still held firm. 'In a Galaxy Police ship, we'd be toast by now,' she thought grimly as she keyed the door open.

        "Lights," Mitsuki commanded as she stepped into the hanger.

        The ships rested in their launch cradles, three sleek vessels of destruction. One was edged in silver, two others decorated in black. The Deathscythes were sleek, deadly shadows, ready to be unleashed against their foes.

        Another blast shook the deck, and Mitsuki decided to be poetic later. She clambered aboard, locking herself into the command chair and pulling on the flight helmet. "Communications check?" she asked as she ran through the preflight checklist.

        "Communications go," Rei answered back dryly.

        "We're taking heavy fire," Asuka came on the line, "but I should be able to get a window to launch you in about a minute." Softly she added, "Remember to disengage the locks holding your fighter down to it's cradle."

        With a blush Mitsuki realized the lock was still engaged, "Thank you." She finished her checklist in under a minute, then held her breath.

        "Launch window opening," Rei started...

        ... then Asuka finished, "Now!"

        A burst of thrust kicked Mitsuki back into her seat as she soared out into the darkness of space. Weapons fire nearly tagged her right then and there, but a swift turn bought her a moment to get her bearings. The display on her console showed her the mass of enemy ships, and for just a moment felt a chill, but she banished it.

        "Time to get to work," Mitsuki murmured before joining the fighter squad in harrasing the enemy formations.

        In the Palace of the Moon Kingdom Washu and Yume worked to bring the powerful shields that protected the city back on line. Next door, Mihoshi and Kiyone had set up a emergency medical station, treating the most seriously wounded.

        "How's the situation look?" Washu asked Lady Mercury.

        "Your ships have turned the tide," Mercury said in honest relief, "it looks like we're actually going to win this one."

        "Then we'd better get this shield back on line fast," Yume said grimly.

        Lady Mercury nodded slightly, "A desperate enemy might choose to do something drastic."

        "Exactly," Washu agreed.

        "Shit," Mitsuki cursed softly as she saw the damaged ship moving on a collision course with the Moon's surface. She patched the information to Yohko, Ryouko, and Minagi and hoped they had a better idea than she had.

        "We're tied up here," Ryouko growled angrily.

        "Primary weapons are temporarily offline," Minagi cursed, "our secondary batteries aren't powerful enough."

        'No time,' Mitsuki thought even as she said over the communicator, "I'm going in." Pulling a turn that would have destroyed a fighter in an atmosphere she was off.

        Mitsuki came up alongside the ship, then in a burst of speed got ahead of it. She pointed her nose at it's falling bow and opened up, throwing the fighter's entire stock of missles at the falling vessel. Fires bloomed on it's surface, gasses pouring out into space, but it's fall stayed steady.

        The energy cannons flared to life, Mitsuki threw streams of destructive power at it. "Primary weapons over heating, autromatic shutdown in..." the computer reported.

        "Override," Mitsuki barked, knowing the risks she was running.

        The vessel flaked off armor and hull, interior portions venting into space. But the core kept on falling. "Second warning, catastrophic overheating in the fusion core will occur in .." the ship's monotone voice reported.

        Mitsuki looked back, knowing there wasn't much time left. "One thing left to try," Mitsuki sighed. "Emergency thrust, activate," she gave the command, the sudden force of it hammering her back into her seat.

        The vessel swelled in Mitsuki's viewport, then the two ships came together...


To be continued...

Chapter 20

Part Nineteen

        There was a moment of stunned disbelief on the bridge of the Swordbreaker as Mitsuki's fighter exploded into a wash of flame on the viewscreen. "Asuka," Minagi barked out the order, "did she make it out?"

        From the tactical station Asuka worked her sensors frantically but had to report, "No lifesigns registering, ma'am."

        Rei spoke softly as she tried to use the communications gear to contact her, "Mitsuki, please respond. Mitsuki, if you can pick up this signal, please reply..."

        "Is she... " Sasami said weakly, "she couldn't be..."

        Misaki began to cry softly, even as Funaho put her arm over her shoulder. "She may have ejected in time," she reassured her gently.

        Rhione turned around, leaving the bridge silently.

        "I didn't want to loose anyone this time," Ryouko murmured to herself softly. Standing on Ryo-Ohki's bridge her expression was serious as she asked, "Ryo-Ohki, have all the remaining Terran ships retreated back to Earth?"

        "Myah," Ryo-Ohki picked up her mood as she answered softly.

        "It appears so," Ayeka agreed, "they've suffered serious losses in ships." There was a moment of silence, "Do you want to tell Kiyone about...?"

        "No," Ryouko sighed, "but I'd better be the one, just because of how long we've known each other." She spoke up, "Connect us to Swordbreaker."

        A moment later Minagi's grim face appeared on the viewscreen. "I've got the fighters out on patrol in case the Terrans try something else," she reported to her sister seriously, "as well as performing a search pattern."

        "We're heading down to the Moon Kingdom itself," Ryouko informed her, "to get a idea of the over all situation." She paused uncomfortably before adding, "And I'll let Kiyone know about Mitsuki being missing."

        Minagi nodded grimly, "Thanks. We'll keep on looking."

        "Please," Ryouko said softly. The connection closed as Ryouko said to Ayeka softly in explanation, "Minagi and I, we've always tried to at least bring a body home for the grieving family."

        "There's little chance she's alive?" Ayeka softly asked even as Ryouko gave Ryo-Ohki the order to descend to the Moon.

        Ryouko's expression was grave, "Not much. Even if she ejected before the explosion, there's decompression to deal with. The flight suits provide some protection, but..."

        Ayeka nodded grimly. Changing the subject, "Why would Earth launch an attack on the Moon Kingdom? From my research, they've been peaceful neighbors for centuries."

        "I don't know," Ryouko said grimly, "but I intend to find out. And discover what they've got to do with the attack on our wedding, too."

        They set down in the courtyard outside the Palace, Ryo-Ohki smoothly reverting to her cabbit form. They barely had a chance to sort themselves out when a blonde came running out, her long hair streaming behind her in two tails.

        "Ryouko," Queen Serenity threw her arms around the Empress then burst into loud tears, "thank you so much!" Before Ayeka could muster any objection the weeping queen threw her arms around Ayeka, too.

        "You're people?" Ryouko asked softly.

        "We've been quite fortunate," Serenity let Ayeka go reluctantly, "there's been only a few casualties." Her expression darkened, "We saw one of your fighters destroyed."

        "We haven't confirmed the pilot's status," Ayeka said softly, "but..."

        Serenity turned to signal one of the young men standing guard, "Jadite?" The blonde threw a salute as she continued, "Organize search parties. If the pilot was near enough to the surface when the ship exploded, he or she might still be alive."

        They walked into the Palace together as Ryouko asked, "What started all this?"

        "I'm not entirely certain myself," Serenity admitted softly. They passed through a reception area, "We had good relations with the last Terran king, Endymion, but for some reason the latest king seemed to bear a grudge against the Kingdom."

        They entered the command center, where Lady Ami of Mercury, Washu, and Yume were working on bringing the systems back on-line. The blue haired lady bowed, "Defensive shields are back on line, mostly due to Washu and Yume's expert assistance."

        "Could you give Ryouko and the others an update on the tactical situation?" Serenity asked.

        "Of course," Ami slipped her glasses on, "the Terrans launched their attack almost as soon as we returned home from your wedding, using a degree of military power that we were unaware they had possessed."

        "The cloaking devices," Washu murmured, "they must have used them to get the warships past your sensors."

        "That's my theory," Ami quietly agreed. She turned back to Ryouko and Ayeka, "They maintained a blockade to keep us from getting word out, then attempted to reduce our defenses."

        Serenity looked curious, "With that blockade still in place, how did you get word that we needed assistance?"

        "We were able to rummage through the cloaked attackers navigation computers," Yume spoke up, "and traced them back to Terra."

        "Terra knew they wouldn't stand a chance against our fleet," Ayeka murmured, "why would they risk launching a strike against us?"

        "They were probably counting on their strike to succeed," Ami quietly pointed out, "if they had managed to slay either you or Ryouko, the Empire would have been thrown into chaos, it possibly could have started up a civil war."

        "I don't think I like this Terran king very much," Ryouko scowled, "what's his name?"

        "We don't know his birth name," Serenity said, "but he calls himself Tenchi."

        "Tenchi?!" Ayeka looked surprised, "That was the name of my brother Yosho's sword."

        "An interesting coincidence," Yume noted.

        "I'm not so sure I believe in coincidence anymore," Lady Rei of Mars remarked as she entered the chamber. Long black hair flowed over her shoulders, and her eyes sparked a fiery red.

        Serenity looked at her, and from the sudden sparkle in her eye it was clear she cared deeply for this intense woman. "Have you learned something more?" she asked her softly.

        Rei's face was softened for a moment by a gentle smile directed to the queen, then she turned to Ryouko and the others. "It seems that this 'Tenchi' claims to be a lost prince to the Juraian throne," she explained grimly, "and has convinced much of the Earth he is the true heir."

        "All right, now I'm certain that I don't like this Terran king very much," Ryouko said grimly. She looked over at Ayeka, "It looks like we're going to have to take steps."

        "Indeed," Ayeka agreed.

        Rei and Serenity exchanged a glance, then Serenity spoke up firmly, "We'll offer whatever assistance we can. I have no wish to remain neighbors with such a hostile force." With a slightly rueful smile she added, "Sadly, at this point our assistance doesn't amount to much."

        "We'll take what we can get," Ryouko was looking quite thoughtful, already considering the overall situation. She shook herself once she noticed the odd looks she was getting, "Sorry."

        "I remember how you work, warlord," Rei smiled slightly, "and I look forward to seeing what you come up with." She offered her hand to Serenity, "Shall we leave them to it, Usagi?"

        A slight blush colored Serenity's cheeks as she said, "Of course." She took the lady's hand, and they left the chamber with remarkable haste.

        "Usagi?" Ayeka raised an eyebrow, "Wasn't that what she asked you to call her?"

        Ryouko nodded slightly, "Only Serenity's most intimate friends, or lover, is allowed to call her that." A slight smile, "Rei is a lucky woman."

        "Do you miss it?" Ayeka asked softly, not an accusation but merely a question.

        "No," Ryouko shook her head as she reached out to take Ayeka's hand in hers, "because I'm a luckier woman by far."

        "Charmer," Ayeka smiled fondly.

        Washu cleared her throat loudly, "Could we get to work, please?"

        Just then Kiyone walked into the chamber. The black haired officer instantly knew something was wrong, "What happened?"

        Ryouko sighed softly, "It's about Mitsuki..."

        That evening Minagi felt a flash of irritation as she and a few other crew disembarked on the Moon's surface to attend a victory banquet. "A banquet," she growled, "we haven't even won this yet."

        Ruri gave her a calmly assessing look, "You're angry because we haven't found Mitsuki yet, not because of any banquet."

        "I shouldn't have let her go out in that fighter," Minagi growled.

        "And if you hadn't," Ruri pointed out to her coolly, "the Palace we're walking up to would be a smoking crater right now."

        "A great comfort to her family and friends," Minagi scowled.

        "Yes," Ruri said intensely, "because she was living her life the way she wanted to. Her own choices brought her to that moment, not yours." A moment of silence, "You can not change the past Captain, not even you have that power."

        "Hmm," Minagi was nodding slightly. "Have you ever considered becoming a captain yourself?" she asked Ruri suddenly.

        Ruri looked up to see if the woman was kidding or not. "No," she answered simply.

        "You might want to think about it," Minagi commented as they passed through the outer gates and inside.

        Upon seeing the hostess and guests Minagi felt just a bit better, seeing black armbands being worn by almost everyone. Probably in honor of their own losses, too, but she felt comforted that the dead were being remembered tonight as well.

        Ryouko and Ayeka made their way through the crowd to their side. Ryouko smiled grimly, "Good to see you, sis. You too, Commander Ruri."

        "Thank you," the blue haired, almost elven woman nodded slightly. Ruri looked up at them thoughtfully, "Any news on ..?"

        "Nothing," Ayeka shook her head before adding grimly, "They've found the wreckage, but haven't positively identified her yet."

        Serenity made her way to the four woman, and nodded respectfully to Minagi. "I understand that the pilot that saved the Palace was launched from your ship," she said softly, "I hope that you will pass on my deepest regrets to her family."

        Minagi nodded, "I will."

        "That won't be necessary," a firm and very recognizable voice came from the doorway not too far from where they stood. Mitsuki leaned on the shoulder of a dark haired young woman, looking a complete mess except for the broad grin on her face. Her hair was stubble, seemingly burned away, and her uniform was in tatters, blood staining the fabric. But strangely, her body appeared whole beneath the wrecked uniform, her wounds healed.

        "Mitsuki!" Minagi was across the room and joyfully pounding on the redhead's shoulders like a shot, "You're alive!"

        "Of course I'm alive," Mitsuki nearly fell over except for the dark haired girl bracing her upright, "I couldn't hurt this bad if I was dead."

        "Go easy," the girl scolded Minagi, "she was gravely wounded when we found her. If not for my healing gift, I don't know if she would have survived."

        "Thank you very much," Ryouko stepped up to say. She smiled slightly, "Lady Hotaru of Saturn, am I correct?"

        Hotaru nodded slightly, "Yes I am."

        "Know that Ryouko, Empress of Manticore owes you a debt. Call on me, and I will answer," she said to the young woman firmly.

        "You're welcome," Hotaru smiled slightly, surrendering the slightly scorched Mitsuki to their care. She walked away, but was soon met by a pink haired girl who clasped the slightly older Hotaru's hand in her own.

        Kiyone looked into Mitsuki's eyes, and the redhead was surprised to see tears glistening, "Don't you ever do something that stupid again."

        Mitsuki smiled wryly, "I'll try not to."

        A figure made her way through the crowd, cutting across to where they stood. Rhione had the oddest look on her face as she gazed at Mitsuki thoughtfully. Softly she said, "I'm glad to see that you're all right." She looked her over, "Well, mostly all right."

        "Thanks," Mitsuki smiled back slightly. She looked over at Ryouko, "So, what did I miss?"

To be continued...

Chapter 21

Interlude: Galaxy Police

        Kiyone slipped away from the crowd that was standing around Mitsuki, taking a moment to try to recover her composure. She had been startled to feel tears coming upon seeing the redheaded officer there alive, considering what had passed between them.

        'I guess time really does heal all wounds,' Kiyone mused, remembering when they had parted all those years ago...

        The silvery Galaxy Police cruiser smoothly docked with the massive central base, the small control room of the snug ship having been ominously quiet for most of the trip back there. Finally Mitsuki softly reported, "We're home, at last."

        "Maybe not my home for very much longer," Kiyone coolly unstrapped herself, pushing herself out of the compartment. In the ship's reduced gravity field she nearly flew down the hallway, using expertly placed handholds to pull herself along.

        Mitsuki quickly got free to try and follow her, skimming down the hallway in hot pursuit. She caught up with Kiyone just in time to say defensively, "I sent in a preliminary report, just like the regulations demand."

        There was a real fire in Kiyone's eyes, enough to make Mitsuki back away from her a step. The black haired officer scowled, "Some report! Not a word about Kagato's defeat, or the lives that were saved." A breath as she quoted bitterly, "GP officer Kiyone has disobeyed direct orders, am returning to base to provide full report."

        "Kiyone, I'm not your enemy here," was what Mitsuki quietly said, raising up her hands as they floated there just outside of Kiyone's quarters, "I'm just following my oaths, the same way that you would."

        "No," Kiyone said to her simply, "I wouldn't. Not this way." With that, she keyed her door open, slipped inside, and locked it behind her. For just a moment Kiyone thought she heard someone crying on the other side, but she swiftly dismissed that idea.

        Kiyone looked around her quarters regretfully, thinking again of what she might be losing soon. But faced with the same circumstances again, watching ships being blown out of space and being ask to do nothing about it, she knew she'd act.

        "I just wish it hadn't been Ryouko I helped," Kiyone muttered.

        The dresser drawers were all quickly cleared out, her casual clothes packed away. The uniforms were stowed away a bit more carefully, then she put away all the momentos that she had accumulated over the past few years. With a soft sigh she sat down on her couch and waited for the call that she knew was coming soon.

        It took only a few moments before the communicator chimed into the silence. Kiyone reached over to activate it, "Yes?"

        "Officer Kiyone?" She nodded, and the older officer continued reluctantly, "It is my duty to inform you that there is a court of inquiry being held in regard of your actions in the 'Kagato' incident. It will be convened tomorrow, at 0800 hours."

        'That certainly was quick,' Kiyone thought, 'I wonder if they want this trial to be as short and simple as possible?' Realizing that he expected an answer she nodded firmly, "Yes, sir. Will an advocate be assigned to me?"

        "Yes," he nodded back simply, "Officer Kieran has been assigned from the judge advocate general to work on your case." He provided her comm code and added, "I'd recommend you meet with her before the court tomorrow."

        'Obviously something's brewing,' Kiyone noted. "I'll do that, sir," she said. The older man disconnected, and she leaned back with a soft sigh. She patched the comm code in, and in only a few moments the connection was made.

        Officer Kieran's eyes widened slightly as she recognized Kiyone. Before Kiyone could even say anything the sandy blonde firmly said, "We need to meet, Kiyone, in person."

        'All right, there's definitely something going on,' Kiyone thought. She knew Kieran from when the older officer had taught space law back at the academy, and she was not a person who fooled around. "When and where?" she asked crisply.

        "Soonest," Kieran scowled, "there's a decent bar here on base. We'll meet there." With that, she abruptly disconnected.

        Kiyone got up and moved to the door, picking up her bags. She couldn't stay on board this honorable ship, not with this hanging over her head. She slipped out, leaving the empty room unlocked, and smoothly made her way to the docking port.

        Somehow, Kiyone wasn't too surprised when Mitsuki intercepted her on the way out. "You're leaving the ship?" she asked, pushing her red hair back impatiently.

        "I'll be staying over on the base until this is settled," Kiyone said simply. She keyed open the port and moved into the docking tube when Mitsuki grabbed her foot. "What?"

        "You don't have to," Mitsuki started, "I mean..."

        "Yes, I do," Kiyone shook herself free, then pushed off smoothly, leaving Mitsuki standing there in the airlock behind her.

        "Officer on deck!" the young man, so new that the polish hadn't been rubbed off him yet, threw an almost perfect salute.

        It took Kiyone a real effort not to laugh. 'Guess the story hasn't made it into the rumor mill yet,' she thought bleakly. "Guest quarters?" she barked.

        The boy stiffened up even more, if that was even possible. "Two levels up, on the inner ring, ma'am," he reported.

        "And where can I get a drink around here?" Kiyone smiled just slightly.

        The boy blinked, "Also two levels up, on the outer ring."

        "Thanks," Kiyone gave him a casual wave of her hand before stepping on to the moving sidewalk up the long hallway. She reached the lift a few moments later, rose up the required two levels and then checked into a open suite. She dropped her bags off there and re-keyed the lock to her ID before going to find the bar.

        Almost as soon as Kiyone went inside the dark, shadowy bar, she saw Officer Kieran sitting at one of the back tables. She cautiously made her way through the crowd and settled down into a seat, meeting the older woman's sympathetic gaze.

        "For various political reasons the higher-ups don't monitor this place," Officer Kieran said simply, "we can talk safely here."

        The visibly pale Kiyone's eyes widened slightly before she blurted out to her, "What in the hell is going on out here?"

        "You really don't get it, do you?" Officer Kieran sighed.

        Kiyone waved down a waitress and quickly ordered something very strong and probably near poisonous. Once the lady left Kiyone fixed Kieran with a look, "Educate me."

        Kieran nodded to her crisply, "Ryouko is not on our most Galaxy's most wanted list because she's committed the acts of piracy that the Marshal claims she did."

        The drinks were delivered and Kiyone took a long pull of hers before asking, "So why are we all going after her, then?"

        "The Marshal is in bed with the Empire of Jurai," Kieran said to her bluntly, "and the Empire wants Ryouko dead or brought back in chains." With a sigh she added, "And you had a shot at actually doing that, but instead you helped her."

        "Shit," Kiyone muttered. What had been a bad situation, with her having disobeyed orders, was now a whole lot worse. The Marshal would be under pressure from Jurai, and he'd probably need to find a scapegoat of some kind.

        "They're going to throw the book at you," Officer Kieran said with a sigh, "unless I can pull off some kind of deal for you."

        "And if I don't want to make a deal?" Kiyone leaned back in her chair, taking another drink before meeting Kieran's gaze.

        "I'll defend you to the very best of my abilities," Officer Kieran said with a great deal of sympathetically, "but I can't really refute the basic facts of their case. You did disobey the orders, whatever the circumstances."

        "And what happens then?" Kiyone asked.

        "Stockade," Kieran answered crisply, "for twenty to life. And with the Marshal being involved, you'll likely be held to the maximum."

        Kiyone nodded slightly. "And if we deal?"

        "The prosecutor contacted me after I was assigned the case," Kieran said softly, "if you publicly admit that you made an error in judgment in aiding the 'Space Pirate Ryouko' they'll simply kick you out with a dishonorable discharge."

        There was something in Kieran's tone of voice and the sandy haired woman's eyes glittered dangerously. "You're angry," Kiyone blinked.

        "Hell yes I'm angry," Kieran bit out angrily, "you're a fine officer, and under any other conditions you'd be getting a promotion right now. But instead, I'm going to have to do my very best to keep you out of the stockade!"

        Kiyone reached out to pat the woman's arm, "Thanks."

        The two sat at the darkness of the corner table in the station bar for a few moments, drinking silently as the bar's noises rolled right over them. Kieran was clearly still upset about the situation, but Kiyone felt an odd sort of calm coming over her. The dark haired officer drank her booze thoughtfully, considering her situation.

        "Take the deal," Kiyone finally said softly.

        Kieran looked up at her in surprise, "You're sure?"

        "Even if you pulled off a miracle and I actually won," Kiyone said with a sigh, "I don't think I'd really want to stay in an organization that lets something like this happen."

        Kieran nodded reluctantly, "I can sympathize." She stretched out uncomfortably, "I'll call the prosecutor, try to get something set up for tomorrow."

        "Thanks," Kiyone picked up her drink, finishing it in a long pull, "I'm gonna go get some rest, and get ready for tomorrow."

        The two walked out of the bar together, and Kiyone blinked in honest surprise at the Galaxy Police officer who was waiting outside for them. The dusky skinned blonde smiled up at Kiyone shyly before asking her, "Can I talk to you?"

        "Mihoshi?" Kiyone looked at her in confusion.

        Kieran gave Kiyone a slight smile, "I'll see you in the morning."

        They made their way to one of the larger view ports, gazing out at the stars together. "You really didn't do those things, did you?" Mihoshi looked up at her earnestly.

        Kiyone felt a moment of deep pain. "Yes, I did," she said firmly. Mihoshi was a good friend, someone she trusted, and she refused to draw her into this mess. "I'm bad news, Mihoshi," she said softly, "you need to stay as far away from me as you can."

        "You're a good person," Mihoshi said intensely, "There's no way you'd disobey an order without a very good reason." Tears glistened in her eyes, "I believe in you."

        "I'm pleading guilty to the charges tomorrow," Kiyone made her voice as hard as she could as she continued, "and you do not want to be caught up in that." She strode away, ignoring Mihoshi's soft words behind her.

        The trial the next morning was all purely for show, even Kiyone could see that. Any motion that Kieran put forward in her defense was quickly quashed, overruled by the prosecution or by the admiral who was overseeing the case. Even after Kiyone actually plead guilty Mitsuki was ordered to the stand and give her evidence.

        The redhead looked straight ahead as Mitsuki expressionlessly narrated the battle between Ryouko's fleet and Kagato's ship. She explained how they were ordered to observe, and Kiyone's discovery of a flaw in Kagato's shields. Then Kiyone disobeyed her orders, transmitted information to Ryouko's ships, then brought their ship into Ryouko's battleline. And all the time, she completely refused to meet Kiyone's eyes.

        Not long after Kiyone stood there before the Admiral as she was formerly dismissed from the Galaxy Police. Rank insignia and medals were torn from the cloth of her uniform, and Kiyone fought back the harsh sting of tears. But the worst was as she was leaving, hearing a command officer talking to Mitsuki about the promotion she had earned...

        Kiyone felt a gentle hand on her arm, and turned from where she was leaning to meet Mihoshi's gentle gaze. "What's wrong, love?" she asked her softly, "We should be inside celebrating Mitsuki's return."

        "I'll be inside in a few minutes,:" Kiyone promised her. She smiled fondly as Mihoshi walked inside. Mihoshi had resigned after Kiyone's trial, following her to Ryouko's fleet. It had taken a bit of effort, but she had finally made Kiyone understand she wanted to be more than friends.

        'If not for that trial, I wouldn't have everything I do now,' Kiyone thought with a smile. 'More than enough reason to forgive her.' She pushed off the stone wall smoothly and walked inside, to party tonight and prepare for the battles to come tomorrow.

To be continued...

Chapter 22

Part Twenty

        Rhione helped escort Mitsuki to a chair, sitting her down at one of the tables where many of the partiers then tried to force food and drink upon her. The now mostly scruffy looking redhead's eyes widened as the piles of treats and beverages swiftly built up, an odd little smile on her face.

        "Nice to know I was missed," Mitsuki managed.

        Rhione sat down beside her, taking a moment to adjust her formal gown. The elegant young woman pushed her long locks of red hair back, "You gave us all quite a scare, you know. Queen Serenity, Ryouko and Minagi were all frantic."

        Mitsuki looked up to meet her eyes a moment, almost as if she was searching them for her sincerity. More softly, "I'm sorry for scaring you that way, but I didn't have much choice."

        "I know, I saw most of it," Rhione murmured quietly. She closed her eyes a second, thinking of the Earth cruiser falling towards the Palace, the little black fighter swiftly moving in front of it, the weapons blazing and then finally ramming into the larger ship, exploding in a blaze of fire. "How did you manage to survive that?" she asked.

        Mitsuki smiled grimly at her own memories. "I ejected out of the fighter just before the ship's core blew," she quickly related, "but I got caught up in the fireball and shrapnel on the way down." Mitsuki picked one of several alcoholic beverages and drank some down, "If I hadn't been found by the Lady Hotaru, I'd probably have died."

        "What you did was phenomenally stupid," Commander Ruri appeared by her side to calmly note, the blue haired woman meeting Mitsuki's eyes firmly. "Please don't do it again, or we might just have to give you a medal, next time"

        The two watched her go thoughtfully. "Was that a compliment, you think?" Rhione finally asked quizzically.

        "I'm not quite sure," Mitsuki took another drink.

        Rhione reached out to tug at a tattered bit of Mitsuki's sleeve, "You look like something Ryo-Ohki would refuse to drag in. Why don't we get you changed?"

        "Into what, exactly?" Mitsuki blinked.

        Rhione smiled, her eyes twinkling, "I'm sure we can borrow something."

        Mitsuki suddenly had a bad feeling about that.

        Across the large ballroom, Ryouko and Ayeka watched the two get up, Rhione gently tugging a reluctant Mitsuki over to Lady Haruka. The three spoke together for a few moments then they moved off, leaving the hall together.

        "I wonder what that's all about?" Ayeka mused.

        "It's a little quick for them to be planning a threesome," Ryouko answered with a impish little smile. At Ayeka's frown she quickly said, "You haven't seen how Rhione's been looking at Mitsuki when she thought she wasn't looking."

        Ayeka looked where the three woman had disappeared into the inner reaches of the Palace, "You may have a point, at that." Not meeting Ryouko's eyes she smiled just slightly and said, "You've got a plan, don't you?"

        "I've always got a plan," was Ryouko's rather flippant answer. She moved a bit so that she was meeting Ayeka's eyes, "But a plan about what?"

        Ayeka smiled slightly, "Earth."

        Ryouko's face became serious as she said, "Yes, I do." A slash of white as she smiled, "But I intend to brief everyone in the morning."

        "Hitting them when they're still groggy and willing to agree with almost anything?" Ayeka raised an eyebrow. A smirk, "Good negotiating tactics."

        "Well, I learned from the very best," Ryouko shrugged. At Ayeka's curious glance she added cheerfully "At the feet of my mom, Washu." She hesitated a moment, "I notice you aren't pressing me about what the plan is."

        Ayeka smiled up at her grimly, "I've got a few guesses." She reached up with a delicate hand, gently cupping Ryouko's face as she said, "And I trust you, m'love. Whatever plan you've come up with, you know I'll back you."

        Ryouko bent down, kissing Ayeka lingeringly. "Thank you," she murmured softly.

        There was a soft disturbance from the other side of the large room, and they reluctantly pulled apart. Ayeka took a look and began to chuckle softly, then Ryouko turned to take a look and grinned while shaking her head.

        Mitsuki had a clearly disgusted expression, dressed up in a stylized roman toga, one that was obviously borrowed from Lady Haruka. "I can't believe you talked me into this," she softly grumbled, tugging at the short skirt uncomfortably.

        Rhione beamed, "But you look so good in it."

        "Oh goddess," Mitsuki muttered softly.

        An waltz began, the musicians playing the notes smoothly. Rhione took Mitsuki's hands in her own. "Would you dance with me?" the noblewoman asked.

        Mitsuki blinked, clearly surprised by the request. But she looked down to meet those eyes filled with silent entreaty and smiled back to softly say, "I'll try." They moved out onto the dance floor together, and she felt a bit comforted seeing Queen Serenity and Lady Rei along with Ryouko and Ayeka joining in the dance as well.

        The celebration ran on into the night, and the guests from the crews of the Swordbreaker and Ryo-Ohki chose to stay in the palace to sleep. There was a certain amount of sharing of rooms, the palace spacious but not that spacious.

        "You better not snore," Minagi said to Ruri as she was carrying a bedroll into the bedroom they were going to have to share.

        "Like a buzzsaw," was Ruri's deadpan answer as she laid out her own bedroll, her boy's pajamas in a somber blue.

        "What?" Minagi blurted, only to see the teasing smile on her friend's face. "Oh, you are going to pay for that, especially after I tell Asuka and Rei."

        In a nearby room, Ryouko gently cradled Ayeka in her arms. "See you in the morning, love," she murmured to her softly.

        Ayeka smiled slightly, her eyes opening as she snuggled into Ryouko's arms. "You're not that tired, are you?" she asked softly.

        "That depends," Ryouko drawled, "how quiet can you be?"

        A bit of a flush appeared on Ayeka's cheeks. "I could always bite a pillow," she smiled shyly.

        Ryouko's wicked chuckle was her only reply.

        Mitsuki opened the bedroom door, blinking slightly as Rhione smiled slightly. "And how did you manage to arrange this?' she asked, not that surprised.

        "A few threats," was Rhione's cheerful answer as the nightie clad woman gently took Mitsuki's arm and pulled her inside the room.

        "Why.." Mitsuki started, when Rhione gently pressed her lips to hers.

        "I was trying to be subtle," Rhione 's breath teased at Mitsuki's lips as she spoke, "but then I thought I lost you." A slight smile, "Life can be too damn short for games."

        "Oof," Mitsuki gasped as she was pushed over, falling onto her back on the bed. With an impish little grin on her face Rhione slid on top of her. "I'm glad," Mitsuki kissed her gently.

        For many, it was a too short time before the sun appeared above the Moon Kingdom, the chimes jarring many from a sound sleep. Food was served, along with hangover remedies, and after a trip down the ornate halls, they gathered for Ryouko's briefing.

        "... and that's it," Ryouko finished.

        Lady Rei looked over at her in shock. "You can't be serious!"

        "Oh, yes she can," Kiyone growled, "this is just the sort of plan Ryouko loves to pull." She gave her ruler a glare, "I absolutely forbid it!"

        Ryouko grinned, "Sorry, but it's not your call to make."

        "I'm not too thrilled with this idea either," Washu said dryly, "why are just you and Ayeka attacking this Tenchi's headquarters?"

        "There's no offense intended," Ryouko nodded towards Queen Serenity, "but there's not enough of the Moon Kingdom's fleet left to really make an effective distraction. That's why we need to have Swordbreaker up in orbit, fighting against the Earth fleet along with the fighter wings while Ayeka and I take Ryo-Ohki in."

        "No offense taken," Serenity waved, "I'm well aware of the beating our ships have taken." She smiled grimly, "But why are only you and Ayeka going?"

        "Because we have no idea of his power level," Ayeka said dryly. "My brother Yosho had an exceptional level of power, and if this Tenchi is really his descendant, he might have inherited some of that power," she sighed.

        "Ruri," Minagi said quietly, and the blue haired Commander sat up at attention, "I'm putting you into command of Swordbreaker." She looked over at Ryouko, "I'm going with you."

        Ryouko opened her mouth to argue, then saw the look on her sister's face. Ayeka put her hand on her lover's arm to quiet her, "We'll be glad to have you."

        Ryouko finally nodded slightly, "We'll go in using the orbital battle for cover, make a quiet entrance into Earth's territory, then we'll go to their capital and have a little talk with this Tenchi."

        Lady Rei nodded thoughtfully, "We've got tactical information on the planetary defenses, as well as a few outdated maps that might be useful."

        "We'll take what we can get," Minagi grinned.

        Mitsuki got out of her seat, a grim look on her face. 'I have to admit, it makes sense,' she thought, 'but I still don't like the idea.' She was a bit surprised when Ruri drew her aside, "Something I can do for you, commander?"

        Ruri smiled grimly, "I have a very good team aboard Swordbreaker, and I don't want to shift them around to fill the second in command slot."

        Mitsuki blinked, "And?"

        "Baka," Ruri muttered to herself softly, then louder, "I'm offering you the job, with Minagi's approval. Interested?"

        Rhione poked her in the side, and Mitsuki saw the broad smile on her face. Turning back to Ruri she smiled slightly, "I accept."

To be continued...

Chapter 23

Part Twenty-One

        The ships came from around the darkside of the moon, where they had been carefully organizing all their forces. Flying at the point was Swordbreaker, the ultra-modern warship being flanked by the Manticore fighter wings and the remains of the Moon Kingdom forces.

        "I'm still not very happy about having those Moon Kingdom ships coming along with us," Ruri quietly noted from her usual position at the ship's helm. Despite being the temporary captain the blue haired girl maintained her position there, smoothly coordinating with Rei and Asuka over at the communications and tactical stations.

        "Neither am I," Mitsuki agreed from her rather uncomfortable seat in the captain's chair, "but we needed enough ships to make Ryo-Ohki's absence a bit less noticeable." The tall redhead was maintaining a close watch on the tactical updates, as well as keeping an eye on the ship's system's itself. 'This is a lot harder than Ruri makes it look,' she noted.

        "A flight of enemy ships are coming up from Earth space," Asuka calmly noted, but her voice was coming out just a bit more eager than usual. It was quite clear that the orange haired young woman really enjoyed her work, both in her voice and in her posture, leaning into her controls. She smiled just slightly, "It seems that several of the ships that were more heavily damaged in the last engagement are still grounded."

        "Keep an eye out for any cloaked ships," Mitsuki ordered them all crisply, "we've been assuming that their only cloaking devices were used in the ships that attacked the Washu's Revenge, but we could be wrong."

        "Couldn't have said it better myself," Ruri smiled.

        "An incoming message on a secured channel," Rei said, working her control panel calmly, "it's from the Moon Kingdom's lead ship."

        The main screen changed as they received the signal, and a dark haired woman appeared up there. Lady Mars smiled at them slightly, "We're ready to go, ma'am." The noble pushed her long hair back, "We've concentrated on getting our warships back to fighting form, but we're only at seventy-five percent capacity."

        "System limitations?" Ruri asked crisply.

        "Our long range sensors are more limited than I'd like," Mars admitted, "and our point defense is going to be spotty at best."

        "Initiating secure computer links," Rei anticipated the command, "tying in the Moon Kingdom vessels into our sensor grid."

        "Thanks," Mars grinned.

        "Message to all ships," Ruri began to bring them forward, "prepare to initiate combat maneuvering. Fighters, move out!"

        The nine fighters shot forward, rapidly reaching the first of the Earth ships. The smaller vessels bobbed and weaved in among the larger vessels, fireballs blossoming at the enemy frantically tried to shoot them down.

        "Well, well, it looks like the enemy's learned how much damage those fighters can actually do," Mitsuki noted.

        From the surface of the Moon a wave of energy struck out, and an Earth ship exploded violently. A few moments later there was another, as the Earth ships frantically maneuvered about to try to avoid the attack.

        "Do make sure that Kiyone and Mihoshi remind Serenity that we're up here, too," Ruri noted calmly as an energy-bolt nearly singed their hull.

        Mitsuki smiled grimly as the range quickly closed between the two fleets, feeling honest relief that Rhione and the others were down on the Moon's surface and out of danger. "All right," she sat up straight as they finally came into optimum weapons range, "let's make these guys regret ever going after Manticore!"

        Not far from the battle they floated silently, the lights dim and only the most minimal power being used. Swordbreaker and their allies unleashed a massive stream of weapons power, and Minagi whistled softly, "Now that's impressive."

        "Not too bad at all," Ryouko agreed, standing nearby her blue haired twin sister. Ayeka paced impatiently not far away, and Ryouko could certainly understand how she felt. Thankfully, the wait was almost over.

        "So we're going to follow a damaged Earth ship down?" Ayeka asked, her twin tails of dark purple hair flowing behind her.

        "It should help shield us from their sensor grid," Ryouko agreed. Her eyes narrowed as an enemy ship blossomed in flame, "Ready, Ryo-Ohki?"

        "Myah!" the ship replied cheerfully.

        "Then let's go," Ryouko swept her long blue hair back with a grin.

        The twisting, tumbling enemy craft suddenly found itself with a new shadow as Ryo-Ohki zoomed in right beside it. The nimble craft echoed the other ship's descent almost perfectly, using the fire and debris to cover their descent to the blue green world just below.

        "Are we going to be able to break away from it's slipstream?" Minagi asked calmly as the ground rapidly began to fill the viewscreen.

        "Let's find out," Ryouko replied, "go, Ryo-Ohki!"

        They were shaken roughly as the slim ship fought to break free from the path it was following, but in moments Ryo-Ohki broke free. The black and red craft floated not far above the ground, as they all took a moment to get their bearings.

        Ayeka raised an eyebrow as Ryouko and Minagi argued over the map and sighed softly. "Give it here," she took it from them. After orienting it the correct direction she pointed, "According to this the capital is due west from here."

        Minagi shook her head with a smile, "Thanks."

        Ryo-Ohki skimmed along the ground, and they looked out at the scenery that passed them by. Industry seemed to have overrun this world, frantic efforts being expended to manufacture machinery of all types. Ominously, much of it seemed to be the weapons of war.

        Ryouko studied the various munitions factories as they skimmed by with a trained eye and frowned, "If this is all fairly typical, they've put much of their manufacturing capacity into building up for warfare." She shook her head as she grimly concluded, "It looks like the Moon Kingdom may just be a first step for them."

        "Myah!" Ryo-Ohki cried out in warning as several fiercely red glowing objects appeared on another of the viewscreens.

        "It looks like we've been spotted by their mobile security forces," Minagi noted as she called up a closer look at their pack of pursuers. Slim, fully air-bound fighter planes, but sill quite deadly for all of their primitive technology.

        Ryouko gave them an single glance, quickly assessing their capabilities, "I think we can handle them, but it'll be noisy."

        "Can we outrun them?" Ayeka asked. At the sisters surprised glances she continued, "It may not be too heroic, but the faster we get to their leader the better."

        "She's got a point," Minagi admitted.

        Ryouko nodded and flashed a sudden smile at her lover, "Part of why I love you." She tilted her head up, "Ryo-Ohki, let them eat our dust."

        "Myah!" Ryo-Ohki agreed cheerfully, then put on a burst of plainly unearthly speed, soon leaving the fighters far behind.

        Ayeka looked out the viewscreen and frowned. 'Could one of my blood really be responsible for all this?' she wondered, 'Could my brother's descendant have fallen so very far?' She sighed, 'At least the others are safe up on the Moon.'

        The Palace shook slightly, a near miss rattling the energy shields that fought to protect it. Sasami leaned up against a wall a moment, waiting to see if there was another hit, but after a few seconds of silence moved on. The main hall was packed, the wounded being carried on one side and a improvised command center operating on the other.

        "How are we doing?" Sasami tentatively asked.

        Washu smiled slightly, "We're winning."

        Sasami looked around at the growing casualties and quietly said, "If this is winning, I don't want to see what losing would be like."

        With that Sasami moved off to help out her mothers Funaho and Masaki along with Rhione, leaving Washu to gaze after the girl thoughtfully. "She's quite an unusual little girl," Yume said quietly, reaching out to take her lover's hand gently in hers.

        "I think I may have underestimated her," Washu admitted. She looked up to where Lady Mercury carefully studied her readouts, "How are the shields holding?"

        "I'm impressed," the blue haired young woman admitted, "your improvised repairs are actually holding up better than our original shield grid." Lady Mercury gave her a slight smile, "The stories of your technical prowess aren't exaggerated."

        "I noticed you were working on similar improvements when we started work," Washu said modestly, "it gave me plenty of material to build on." She tilted her head to the side, "Have you ever considered visiting the Science Academy?"

        "A few times," Mercury acknowledged with a slight nod, "but I suspect my lover would be rather uncomfortable in such a place. She much prefers a simpler life of cooking and housekeeping for the two of us and our daughter."

        Yume nodded slightly, a mental image of a sweet housewife for the dynamic Mercury. "May I ask who your lover is?" she asked curiously.

        Mercury smiled happily, "The Lady Jupiter."

        "Wha.." Washu gaped, the mental image of a sweet little housewife shattered when confronted by the amazonian Lady Jupiter.

        Lady Mercury just smirked in reply as she returned to her work.

        Ryo-Ohki rocked slightly, a near miss jostling the little ship. "Did the fighters catch up with us?" Ayeka asked in surprise.

        "No, they're ground based defenses," Ryouko scowled, "I think we've hit the capital's outer defense perimeter."

        Just ahead of them a great building rose up towards the sky, a fortress of gray stone and dull metal. And all around it a small army waited, fully prepared for battle. "Looks like they were expecting us." Minagi noted.

        "We'll ram the building," Ryouko said thoughtfully.

        "Like back in our raider days," Minagi grinned, "you two go in to find this King Tenchi, and Ryo-Ohki and I will hold off the army."

        "That sounds like a plan," Ryouko grinned ferally as she ordered Ryo- Ohki to charge. They hurtled towards the great building, breaking through the stone into an open chamber within. All three of them leapt out, even as Ryo-Ohki reverted to her cabbit form. "Go get them," Ryouko waved as Minagi and Ryo-Ohki took off.

        The two dropped towards the army, Minagi igniting her energy sword while the cabbit fell beside her. Ryo-Ohki shifted, growing larger, until at first a cabbit/little girl stood by Minagi, then a tall cabbit woman stood there.

        "I never realized," Ayeka looked down in shock.

        "Myah," Ryo-Ohki gave a very Ryouko-like grin, ignited an energy sword of her very own, then she and Minagi charged the army.

        "Let's go love," Ryouko tugged Ayeka forward. She consulted a rough schematic Lady Mars had given them of the building and nodded towards a hallway leading into the heart of the structure. "The throne room's that way," she said.

        "Right," Ayeka nodded, almost flying down the long hallway beside Ryouko. A few of the guards attempted to bar their way, but the two of them handled that threat fairly easily with sword or electrical blasts.

        The hallway opened up into a much larger chamber, a great hall of some kind. An ornate throne stood there empty, but just behind it a dark haired young woman paced in front of an armored door, a fierce expression on her pretty face. That look soon turned to alarm once she saw them coming, "Stop intruders!"

        Before Ayeka or Ryouko could even react, a powerful energy shield stopped them both in midair, sending them hurtling down to the ground. "Why, that.." Ryouko snarled out as she ignited her scarlet energy blade angrily.

        "Wait," Ayeka waved Ryouko back, quickly extending her own force shield outwards until it struck the younger woman's barrier head on. There was a moment of interference, then both shields slammed down suddenly.

        "How?" the girl gasped.

        Ayeka met her gaze, "It seems our energy fields canceled each other out."

        "You're related," Ryouko murmured in surprise. The girl's long hair was black, the shape of the face was similar, and her eyes were the same violet shade of Ayeka's own.

        "My name is Funaho," the young woman met their eyes defiantly as she declared, "and I will not let you pass!"

        "I am.. Queen Ayeka of Jurai, kinsman," Ayeka said softly. She met the girl's gaze steadily, "I seek to parlay with King Tenchi, to forge a peaceful resolution to this conflict."

        "No one sees the King," the younger Funaho said regretfully, "not even his daughter." Her expression darkened, "Only his vizier sees him now."

        "And how long has this been going on?" Ryouko asked her softly, a sudden sinking feeling coming over her. She didn't like the sound of this, not at all.

        Funaho looked over at her with a frown, obviously wondering who this woman was, but she still answered. "A few weeks," she said softly, "why?"

        "About the time our wedding party was attacked," Ryouko's expression was grim. She looked over at Funaho then nodded to the heavy armored door, "Your father is in that chamber there?"

        "You will not pass me," Funaho vowed.

        "Then come inside with us," Ryouko snapped back. "You have a right to see your father," she strode towards the sealed door, the others trailing along behind her.

        Ayeka put her hand on a large keypad, looking down at it thoughtfully as Ryouko studied the massive door itself, "Do you know the code to open this?"

        "Only the vizier knows," Funaho scowled, "supposedly for added security." Proudly she continued, "The door is three feet of battle steel, you'll never get inside."

        "Three feet?" Ryouko tapped the material, listening to the metal ring thoughtfully, "Shouldn't be too much of a problem." With that she ignited her energy sword, driving it into the metal, swiftly melting a doorway for them all.

        "You must fight on," the man's voice declared, "for the greater glory of Earth!"

        The three rushed inside the room, only to freeze at what they saw waiting for them. The dark haired young man lay sprawled on the throne, clearly dead. A blow to the head was what probably had slain him, many weeks ago. Nearby another man, likely the grand vizier, continued to urge his troops on more and more desperately.

        Funaho gazed at the boy sitting on the throne, tears streaking her face as she murmured softly, "Father?" Then more loudly, an anguished cry as she ran to kneel at his side, "Father!"

        "No, you can't" the vizier raised a gun from his cloak, and Ryouko reacted without thinking, cutting him down with an energy bolt.

        Monitors across the one side of the room showed the ongoing space battle, what was left of the Earth forces about to be destroyed. "We've got to order them to surrender," Ayeka ran towards the control panel to try and stop the needless loss of life.

        "No," Ryouko stopped her gently before explaining, "they wouldn't take such an order from either of us."

        Funaho knelt by her father's side, tears streaking her face. "Computer," she rose to speak softly with an odd sort of determination, "The king is dead, long like the king."

        A woman's voice rang through the chambers, "Acknowledged. Queen Funaho, your authority is accepted and confirmed."

        "I will not rule under that name," Funaho murmured softly. Eyes flashing she declared, "From this day forth, I am Queen Tenchi the Second."

        "Your reigning name has been recorded, Queen Tenchi," the computer reported.

        "Patch me through to the fleet and ground forces," Tenchi said crisply. She took a deep breath, "I order you to stand down. The war is now over. I will reveal more when I know it myself, but our king has been betrayed by his dearest comrade." Another breath, and with a bit more emphasis she finished, "The war is over."

        The weapons fire trailed off, silence falling both in the small room and between the fleets out in space. Ayeka met the woman's gaze who was most probably her niece and gently asked her, "What will you do now?"

        Tenchi looked up to meet her eyes, looking like a young girl out of her depth as she softly said, "I don't know."

To be continued...

Chapter 24

Part twenty-two

        Minagi grinned ferally as the blue haired warrior dodged and weaved through the Earth soldiers, her energy sword blazing as she cut through the weapons they carried like paper. On her other side Ryo-Ohki's cabbit-woman form moved almost like her mirror image, tearing into the enemy with a great deal of enjoyment.

        Problem was, the enemy just kept coming.

        Then.. the soldiers faltered in their attack. One held his hand up to his helmet's earpiece, listening to something intently. His eyes widened, then all around Minagi the soldiers began to cast their guns to the ground. It was like a spreading wave, all the troopers in her line of sight laying their weapons down.

        Minagi kept her energy blade ignited as she softly muttered, "What is going on here?" Not far away from her, Ryo-Ohki seemed equally confused.

        'Don't worry,' Minagi heard Ryouko's voice coming through on the mental link the sisters shared in battle, 'the reins of power have shifted.'

        "What do you mean..?" Minagi started to ask, but the link was gone again. "I hate it when she does that," she muttered irritably.

        Far above the blue green world two space fleets exchanged weapons fire, one growing smaller with each passing moment. "This is turning into a slaughter," Mitsuki scowled from Swordbreaker's captain's chair, "and I don't want to have to kill all these bastards." The redhead turned to the communication's officer, "Rei?"

        Rei Ayanami's hands danced across the controls, then the light blue haired woman shook her head, "No response to our hails."

        "They're down to less than half their warships," Asuka Langley reported from where she sat at her tactical station. The orange haired girl sounded frustrated as she continued, "They should have surrendered by now!"

        "Baka," Ruri muttered from her seat at the ship's navigation console. The silvery haired captain said with real regret in her voice, "We continue on."

        "Wait," Rei leaned forward, "there's a powerful signal coming from Earth." She listened, her eyes widening, "It seems... the King is dead."

        The Earth fleet's weapons stilled as they received their orders from their new leader. Slowly the surrender signals began to come in to the Manticore and Moon Kingdom ships, until the entire enemy fleet had yielded.

        The young queen of Earth stood by her father's side, her eyes dark as the attendant's arrived to take the King's body away. One of the men nodded to where the Vizier's body lay, "What should we do with the king's father, Noboyuki?"

        Queen Tenchi closed her eyes, her face showing the deep pain she felt. "I would ask you to cast the traitor's body out for scavengers," she bit out, "but I feel certain they would refuse him." Her eyes popped open, dark violet, "Burn it."

        "His father did this?" Ayeka said weakly. The Queen of Jurai almost felt ill at the idea, and as Ryouko lent her a supporting arm she smiled up at her in relief.

        "I'm sorry," Ryouko said to the young queen softly. Her eyes narrowed slightly, "We know that this Noboyuki ordered the attacks on Jurai and the Moon Kingdom, but..."

        Queen Tenchi met Ryouko's gaze steadily. "We will take responsibility for all the harm that we've done," she said to her firmly, "I give you my word." Her voice dropped down, "But for now, let me bury my father."

        Ayeka and Ryouko exchanged a glance, then Ayeka said, "Of course." She hesitated a moment, "I would be honored to be there, if you would allow. We are related by blood, after all."

        "I think he would have liked that," Tenchi said softly in reply.

        Not long afterward the three met outside the palace, Ryouko, Minagi, and Ayeka, talking together softly. "So one man caused us all this trouble?" Minagi looked pissed, "And it was this King Tenchi's own father?"

        "Looks like it," Ryouko said grimly. She looked up the sky, seeing none of the flashes that would be visible from a space battle, even in daylight. "You mind taking Ryo-Ohki up there and make sure everyone knows what's going on?" she asked Minagi.

        "Got it," Minagi nodded to her twin, "You want me to ask Serenity to keep a tight rein on Mars, Jupiter and Uranus while I'm up there?"

        Ryouko made a face, "Good idea." Ayeka looked over at her curiously and she explained, "Those three are the warriors of Serenity's court. If they have their way, they'll continue the war until the Moon Kingdom's safety is guaranteed."

        Ayeka thought of the three pleasant young women that she had met and softly said, "They wouldn't really..."

        "Lady Mars loves Serenity," Ryouko smiled at Ayeka wryly, "So I wouldn't put much past a woman in love. And Uranus and Jupiter are both fiercely loyal to Mars, they'll follow her lead."

        Minagi picked up Ryo-Ohki with surprising gentleness, tossing her into the air as the cabbit expanded to take on the form of a crystalline starship. "I'll be back soon," Minagi waved before she and Ryo-Ohki zipped off into the sky.

        Mitsuki leaned forward in her seat as they saw the vessel rising up from the Earth's atmosphere. "Hail them," both she and Ruri ordered at the same time. Mitsuki smiled slightly, "And link us up to the Moon Kingdom and the fleet, it'll save time."

        "Right," Rei made the connections smoothly.

        Minagi's face came up, and she smiled wryly. Before anyone could ask she said, "Ayeka and Ryouko are still on the planet. Sit back, it's a long story."

        A few minutes of explanations later, and Queen Serenity was nodding gravely. "That one man's treachery could have caused all this," she said sadly.

        Putting it as diplomatically as possible Minagi said, "Ryouko also requests that the Kingdom only pursue military adventures if the situation on Earth can not be resolved."

        Serenity smiled wryly, "I'll keep an eye on Mars and the others."

        The screen shifted, and Misaki and Funaho, the queen mothers of Jurai appeared. "Has there been any sign of Yosho on the planet?" Funaho asked gravely.

        "Sorry, not yet," Minagi said softly, "but I have met the new Queen, and she carries the family resemblance, ma'am."

        Misaki beamed, "Then I look forward to meeting her."

        It had only taken a few hours to prepare, and they were here in a remote part of an island nation called Japan. The shrine around them was well maintained, the graves in a secluded grove not far from the main buildings. Two stone markers, one new, one older, were there. ' Katsuhito Masaki' the older marker read, underneath that etched in, 'Yosho.' Beside, the new marker was for Tenchi, his remains already buried beneath the rocky earth.

        "I was almost expecting some kind of state funeral, not this quiet ceremony," Ryouko finally said thoughtfully.

        "My father was happy here," Queen Tenchi said softly, "before his Grandfather died, and he discovered the records of his Juraian heritage. I thought he'd prefer this."

        Ayeka gazed down at the grave of a boy she would have liked the chance to know, then her gaze turned to the other one. Some part of her had hoped that he might still be alive, despite the odds against it. "Elder brother," she sighed sadly.

        Ryouko moved over to her side, gently laying her arm over Ayeka's shoulders. "At least we know," she said softly, "and your Mothers can visit here."

        Queen Tenchi had the oddest look on her face. "I still can't quite get my head around the idea that Yosho's family still lives, even after of all these centuries," she murmured.

        Ryouko smiled wryly, "I suspect they want to meet you."

        Tenchi paled, "There's something to look forward to."

        The three moved away from the graves, continuing to talk softly. The trees gave way to the shrine grounds, then a long stairway, leading down to where the transport was parked. It was felt to be disrespectful to have such things on the shrine grounds themselves, so they landed it out there.

        "They're not so very fearsome," Ayeka said softly to her.. grandniece. It was odd, they looked the same age, but Ayeka was so much older than her. She smiled slightly, "And I suspect my mother Funaho will be charmed to know that you were named after her."

        "I hope so," Tenchi said softly.

        The next day the sun rose above a most momentous meeting, the formal peace talks. The Moon Kingdom was represented by Serenity and Lady Mars, Tenchi was there to stand for the Earth, and Ryouko ad the others were representing Manticore and Jurai's interests.

        Tenchi stood apart from the others, oddly alone, until two figures broke away from the Jurai delegation. Masaki and Funaho made their way over to the girl's side, and as they neared the girl the resemblance between her and Funaho was obviously apparent.

        After a searching gaze Funaho smiled at the girl gently, "It's good to meet you at last, grand-daughter."

        Tenchi bowed without even meaning to, both women's presence washing over her. "I'm honored," she said, face towards the floor.

        "She's so cute!" Misaki gushed, nearly strangling the girl in one of her death grip hugs.

        Ayeka had to smile, shaking her head. "Well, that certainly broke the tension," she remarked to Ryouko cheerfully.

        "Good," Ryouko smiled wryly, "I find myself liking the kid."

        Queen Serenity tried to keep her face grave, but even her lips twitched with a smile. "We should get started," she said softly.

        They sat around the table, a long moment of silence as they settled themselves. Ayeka rose first, "We might want to state our expectations first, to help us begin to negotiate."

        Serenity rose first, her long golden blonde hair flowing down her back. She smiled grimly, "The Moon Kingdom merely seeks the safety of our citizens. I'm just not sure how to achieve that."

        "Disarm them," Lady Mars said crisply once she was done, despite the scolding look that Serenity gave her.

        "Jurai has only been inconvenienced by this," Ayeka rose to say diplomatically, "but we are concerned by the blood ties between our peoples."

        "I'm concerned by that as well," Ryouko got up and admitted, "as well as how quickly and effectively the Earth was able to build their military forces. I don't want to fight this battle again in twenty or thirty years."

        "I think I may have a solution," Tenchi rose, her face grave. She took a deep breath and said, "I'd like to formally request that the Earth be admitted into the Republic of Manticore." At their surprised expressions she continued, "Under Manticore's rule we will be neutralized as a threat to either the Republic or the Moon Kingdom, and I'm willing to swear the same oaths as the families of other nobles have."

To be continued...

Chapter 25

Part twenty-three

        Queen Tenchi's startling suggestion that the Earth join the Republic of Manticore cut across all of the conversations, the meeting dropping to near silence. All their eyes turned to Ryouko and Ayeka, the two rulers who would have to make the next decision.

        "I think I like it," Ryouko finally said to herself thoughtfully, pushing her long mane of light blue hair backwards.

        Ayeka nodded her agreement, "As do I." She looked over at Queen Serenity and asked, "Do you have any objections?"

        Lady Mars opened up her mouth to say something, then closed it when her Queen forcefully elbowed her in the side. "As long as you protect the sovereignty of the Moon Kingdom, I have no problems with it," the Queen said diplomatically.

        "That's all I was going to say," Lady Mars muttered softly.

        "Maybe so," Serenity murmured back with a slight smile, "but I suspect you would have put it in somewhat blunter terms."

        Mars smiled wryly, "True."

        "The Moon Kingdom has been our friend and ally for many years," Ryouko said calmly, "and we have no interest in changing that in a territorial grab."

        Tenchi smiled slightly, her long dark hair flowing past her shoulders. "I take it that we're all in agreement?" she asked.

        "Indeed," Serenity nodded.

        "Let's get the oath swearing done, then," Ryouko said, walking over to where Tenchi stood. She looked around, "Who wants to be the witnesses?"

        "I will," Funaho spoke up gravely, with Washu also chiming in with her agreement.

        "Thank you," Tenchi smiled.

        "Place your hand over your heart," Ryouko instructed her quietly. "Do you swear, by the honor of your family and of your bloodline, not to raise rebellion against the Republic and people of Manticore?" she asked formally.

        "I so swear," Tenchi said as she met Ryouko's catlike eyes directly, her purple tinted eyes clear of guile and deception.

        Serenity smiled wryly, "Time to start negotiating again." Several questioning glances were thrown her way and she explained, "The Moon kingdom is now a little sovereign bubble in the middle of Manticore space. We need to define that bubble, sorry to say."

        "Washu?" Ayeka looked over at Ryouko's mother.

        "Yeah, I can handle it," Washu agreed. She looked over at Ryouko, "You mind?"

        "I was about to ask you myself," Ryouko agreed. She looked over at Serenity, "You might as well bring down Lady Mercury, too. That way they can define the exact size of the Moon Kingdom's territory to the last micron."

        "Now I get to break the news to the planet's population," Tenchi said softly, the look on her face showing that she wasn't looking forward to it.

        "It'll be all right," Funaho said comfortingly to her granddaughter. They looked remarkably alike, these two dark purple haired women with the dark eyes. She smiled gently, "In fact, I think I have an idea on how to soften the blow..."

        The announcement that came a few hours later was politically masterful, the commentators would all agree. Tenchi presented the joining with Manticore as the uniting of two long separated families, of becoming part of something that by rights they should have been a member all along. Of the imperial ambitions of Noboyuki she spoke none at all, and it seemed likely that he would become merely a footnote in history.

        Standing beside Tenchi as she made her broadcast was Funaho and Masaki, her two grandmothers. They seemed to bring both a sense of gravity and gentleness to the proceedings, and it was clear that they cared for the young ruler that they had just met.

        "So what happens now?" Serenity inquired as they stood together on the launching pad nearby Tenchi's palace. A Moon Kingdom vessel awaited their queen, while Ayeka and Ryouko planned to take Ryo-ohki.

        "Minagi has agreed to stick around with Swordbreaker and half of the fighters," Ayeka said, "just in case any Earth ships haven't received the surrender order."

        "And in case Tenchi decides to pull a fast one," Ryouko noted. The others gave her curious glances, "I like the lady, but I don't know if I trust her just yet."

        "Fair enough," Ayeka admitted.

        "I'm glad that Washu and Yume are also staying behind, helping the Moon Kingdom restore our ships and defenses," Serenity noted. She smiled slightly, "The young lady who helped save the Palace, Mitsuki, what's happening to her?"

        "Minagi has offered her a position on Swordbreaker along with her being our Galaxy Police liaison," Ryouko said, "I think she's going to accept." She chuckled softly, "And where Mitsuki goes, Rhione is soon to follow."

        "They seem much in love," Ayeka agreed. She smiled slightly, "My mothers are also staying for a while, to get to know their new granddaughter a bit better."

        Serenity raised an eyebrow, "Aren't you worried?"

        "She gave her word," Ryouko noted. She grinned suddenly, "And my mothers-in-law can take care of themselves, believe me."

        "They'll be fine," Ayeka agreed, having made her farewells to her mothers earlier.

        "Myah," Ryo-ohki agreed, munching on a carrot at their feet.

        The Moon Kingdom ship sent some signal, and Serenity made a face. "Time to go," she shook both Ayeka and Ryouko's hands. "Thank you, for helping my Kingdom and neutralizing the threat that Earth presented us," she said gently.

        "It was our pleasure," Ryouko smiled wryly.

        "We were glad to help," Ayeka murmured.

        The tall blonde walked away from them, pausing a moment before she entered the ship. "You offered once for the Kingdom to join Manticore," Serenity smiled, "I'll think about it."

        "Huh," Ryouko murmured as Serenity's ship rose up, quickly disappearing into the distance, "Well, what do you know..."

        Ayeka gently put her hand on Ryouko's arm, "We probably should get moving, too."

        "Right," Ryouko bent down, picking up Ryo-ohki gently by the scruff of the neck. "Go, Ryo-ohki!" she cried, flinging the cabbit up into the air. The little furball expanded, shifting from flesh to organic crystal until a starship in black and red floated above them.

        "Myah!" Ryo-ohki projected a transport beam, pulling Ayeka and Ryouko inside of her. They zipped to the palace to pick up Sasami, and then the vessel broke from Earth's atmosphere to reach the moon. Kiyone and Minagi boarded there, along with a few others, and they waited a few moments before the fighters arrived.

        "Connect us to Swordbreaker," Ryouko ordered, and a few seconds later Minagi's face appeared on the screen.

        "Hey, sis," Minagi gave a little wave. Behind her Mitsuki stood, and not far from her Rhione waited serenely. "We'll keep an eye on things here for a bit."

        "Thanks," Ryouko nodded. "I don't expect there to be any trouble, but I'd rather be safe," she explained. A little grin, "I'll send Nagi over here once we get home, too."

        Minagi grinned sheepishly, "I'd appreciate it." She paused, "Hey, Kiyone?"

        "Yes?" the dark haired officer answered, a slight smile on Kiyone's face.

        "Keep Ryouko out of trouble while I'm gone," Minagi smirked.

        "I'll try," Kiyone answered dryly.

        Ayeka snickered softly at that. "Please watch over my mothers," she said softly, "as much as they'll allow you to, anyway."

        "We'll do our best," Mitsuki spoke up. Her red hair was growing in rather scruffy, but oddly it seemed to suit her. "Have a nice trip, all."

        "See you in a few weeks," Ryouko agreed as the fighters moved into position around them. Ryo-ohki extended her transit field and shields around the few fighters, there was a momentary falling sensation in the passengers and they were off.

        Kiyone, Mihoshi, and Sasami soon left the bridge, but Ayeka and Ryouko stood there together in the grand chamber. Ayeka relaxed against Ryouko's shoulder, the slightly smaller woman softly sighing her contentment.

        "It's been an interesting few months," Ayeka finally murmured softly, "is it always this exciting in the Republic of Manticore?"

        "This is nothing," Ryouko's voice was clearly amused as she continued, "you should see when it's actually exciting."

        "I walked right into that one," Ayeka punched Ryouko in the shoulder, but she was smiling. They looked out into the void together, the other- space of hyperspace all around them. "So what happens now?" she asked.

        "Well," Ryouko smiled, "I intend to take you bellow later and..."

        "Not that," Ayeka blushed, even though she didn't sound displeased with the idea. "I meant to the Republic, now that you've taken both Jurai and Earth?"

        "We rebuild," Ryouko's voice was gentle, "both Jurai and Earth need assistance. We'll bring both regions of space into the fold, helping establish the quality of life and codes of law that Manticore is well known for."

        "And the conquest?" Ayeka asked softly.

        "I'm a warrior, Ayeka," Ryouko answered quietly, "if something nasty shows up on our boarders, spoiling for a fight, we'll be ready." She smiled, "But if you're asking if I intend to go on any more military adventures, then no."

        "Really?" Ayeka looked up at her in surprise.

        Ryouko took advantage of that upwards motion, kissing her and slipping her a bit of tongue. They reluctantly separated and she smiled, "I don't need to go looking for a battle when I've won what I most wanted."

        "I love you," Ayeka sighed, snuggling into Ryouko's arms.

        Ryouko tightened her grip around the other woman, "And I love you."

        This isn't the end for their story, for in truth such a tale cannot be said to have an end. Ayeka and Ryouko lead the Republic of Manticore to greatness, becoming much loved by the peoples of all the worlds that they ruled. When Mitsuki and Rhione returned to Manticore it was as a wedded couple, a ceremony performed by the ship's captain Minagi. The captain herself refused to marry, Minagi and Nagi cheerfully living in sin.

        The Republic of Manticore would continue to expand, but through more diplomatic means rather than using force of arms. Queen Serenity of the Moon Kingdom chose to join with Manticore, eventually, and many other planets would decide to follow her example. The benefits of joining the Republic were obvious, including both economic and military factors.

        In time, Queen Tenchi of Earth would come to the Courts of the Republic, to learn of the rulers of other worlds and to formally present herself to the planet of her ancestors. Tenchi would learn much there, and have many adventures...

        But that is a tale for another time...

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! Author's Notes

        A long, strange trip.. I want to thank everyone who's followed this series for this long, and I hope you enjoyed it. As you can tell from the ending I do intend to continue this later, but it'll be a while. Sometime in 2004, after I've had a bit of a break from the series...

        This story actually started off simply with the scene of a victorious Ryouko arriving as the new ruler of the planet Jurai. It just appeared in my head as a whole and complete sequence, and I had to try and write it up.

        Of course, I then had to start figuring out what the circumstances were that would allow that to have actually happened. Not easy...

        This is an alternate universe fiction, and features an very different timeline from the OVAs, the various TV shows or the manga series. I'm going to be borrowing material liberally from all these versions of the Tenchi Muyo series in introducing the different characters and concepts I'll be using, as well as making stuff up as I go along. So if you spot a character not behaving as they normally would, it's very likely intentional.

        Ryouko, in the various Tenchi Muyo series, has often been played as a rather dumb character, but in this story I'm portraying her as being just the opposite. She's a savage warrior, that's certainly true, but she's also an excellent tactician and a very skilled politician. Of course, love at first sight can hit almost anybody, and when it happened to Ryouko, she fell hard.

        Ayeka, in my conception, is a bit more of a cynic. She's been raised up in a highly political environment and is the product of that world. She's both tough and proud, but is at heart a realist who will try to work within a situation that's offered her. Has rarely met anyone she considers an equal, much less someone who is now her superior, and she wasn't quite sure how to deal with it.

        Yume was captured by Kagato, rather than Washu in this timeline. Kagato himself was the one who launched the attack on the planet Jurai, and was chased off by Yosho. As a free woman, Washu helped Ryouko build up the military might of Manticore primarily to help rescue her lover Yume, and she now remains on to help guide her daughter while settling down with Yume in their little love-nest. Washu is one of Ryouko's primary advisers, as well as trying to be a good mom along with her wife, Yume.

        Why did Kiyone have to leave the Galaxy Police in disgrace? She decided to defy the GP to help Ryouko defeat Kagato, and for that she was drummed out of the police. Her life story, up to a point, likely matches up with that of the Tenchi TV version, more or less. She is the lead captain of Manticore's fleet, as well as a military advisor for Ryouko.

        Minagi, Ryouko's twin, is right out of the manga series. She's overall a nicer person than Ryouko, but if pushed she can be quite fierce. She's in love with Nagi, and has been with her for quite a few years. Minagi is third in command in the fleet, directly under Kiyone, but she could be higher if she really wanted to.

        Masaki and Funaho, Ayeka and Sasami's mothers, are based mostly on the manga versions of them. Funaho is basically deadpan but very amused, while Masaki is just genki and cute.

        Mitsuki was Kiyone's partner when Kiyone helped Ryouko fight Kagato's ship, and testified against her when Kiyone came up for trial. She, along side a group of Galaxy Police ships, fought in the battle of Jurai, and was the one to decide to pull the GP forces out. She may have had feelings for Kiyone, but now is trying to be a friend. I've decided to continue to feature her, so I've made her the liaison officer between the GP and Manticore's fleet.

        It has been brought to my attention there are some possible similarities between my story and Tenchi Muyo: Alliance, written by Rann Aridorn. I have read his story, and I did enjoy it, but I'm not intentionally echoing his work. The biggest thing the stories have in common is the complete absence of Tenchi himself, as well as both being Ryouko+Ayeka shoujo-ai.

        Yet another novel reference! Manticore, as well as the characters of Honor Harrington, Nimitz and Michelle Henke all come from a series of popular military science fiction novels written by David Weber. They are very good books that are strongly character driven, and I'd strongly recommend them. I'll also be doing some cameos from various science fiction anime in this series, when I have the chance to fit them in.

        So why did Belldandy get picked to perform the marriage? As both Ryouko and Ayeka are queens, it's not like there's anyone in a high authority to do it. I thought of having Kiyone do it (a captain of a ship can perform marriages), but that didn't really work, either. But Belldandy is a goddess, not to mention very serene and holy, so why not her?

        The Moon Kingdom is very different in this universe. The Silver Millenium Kingdom didn't fall to the negaverse, instead they beat off that attack. In the 'Conquest' time-period the Kingdom coexists with an Earth based civilization, and is ruled over by Serenity, a.k.a. Usagi.

The Prelude:

        I wanted to explain how the Manticore fleet defeated the Jurai forces so easily, so I decided to introduce the concept of their using fighter ships. That, along with the superiority of Manticore's weapons and shields, allowed them to win the day.

        I had established earlier that the Galaxy Police had fought on the side of Jurai, so I wanted to feature a GP character in that episode. Since I had already featured Mitsuki, I thought she was a good choice. The pull out of the GP forces ending the battle seemed believable to me, as well...

        In the prelude I tried not to contradict anything in the original 12 episodes I wrote, but if I missed anything, please let me know so I can fix it.

        A note about the cameo appearances: Most of the character appearances are in there just for fun, where I'm using a 'famous' character instead of simply introducing a generic officer. I'll try to keep the cameos in character, but I may occasionally get things wrong.

Additional characters by Series! Belldandy, Urd, Skuld and Mara are from Oh My Goddess. -Their relationships are actually based around their interactions in the manga series, more or less. A relationship isn't spelled out between Urd and Mara, but it's implied...

Lum and Benten are from "Those Obnoxious Aliens."

Usagi and her Harem are from Sailor Moon. -Partially based around a very funny story by Erica Friedman called "Tuxedo Mirage." That, and we don't really know much about how the Moon Kingdom relationships work...

Yamamoto Yohko is from Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko. -I've only seen the first few OVAs of this series, but I liked Yohko so when I needed to include a fighter pilot, I used her. I'll be featuring her and her fellow pilots more often, too.

Honor and Michelle are from David Weber's Honor Harrington novels. -She's basically an 'alternate' version of Honor. I don't want to give too much away of what happens in the novels, but a lot of very bad stuff happened to her, even before the first book. In this world she fell for her Academy roommate Michelle, and has managed to avoid much of that trouble.

Kei and Yuri are from the original Dirty Pair -I've always felt that the Lovely Angels got a bit of a bad rap, so I'm not going to have them cause any massive disasters. They are a couple, something I may cover in more detail later...

Nicole, Tita and Elysse are from Plastic Little -What can I say, I like to see a happy ending. So Elysse and Tita are married, and both were recruited by Ryouko for the fleet, Tita as a captain and Elysse as a science officer. You can assume that their past matches up with Plastic Little, more or less.

Rick Hunter, Ben Dixon and Roy Fokker are from Robotech -I'm not using the Japanese name because in all honesty I don't know enough about the original Macross. He's a bit happier about being a pilot than the original Rick was. Dixon and Fokker in the next chapter are of course his flying buddies.

Rei Ayannami and Asuka Langley are from Neon Genesis Evangelion. -I haven't decided on their background in this universe, but I thought that making them the communications and tactical officers would be appropriate, considering their personalities.

Ruri is from Martian Successor Nadesico.

Minagi, Asashi and Yume, for those who asked, are from the Tenchi Muyo manga series. -I've always been a fan of the manga series, and the relationships are quite interesting. If you look hard enough you can find something in the manga to back up almost any couple you like...

Nagi, and Mitsuki are from the Tenchi Muyo TV series. -Mitsuki was the rival of Kiyone from the TV series, so I wanted to carry that over to this story line. On TV she doesn't show up too much, so I can pretty much develop her however I want to.

Rhione I just made up...

Chapter 26

Title: Chapter 26: One's Own Honor 1

[Author's notes: FLASHBACK BEGINS. How DID Ryouko recruit her navy?]

Disclaimer: I own none of the characters from David Weber's Honor Harrington series or from the Tenchi Muyo anime or manga series, and I intend no infringement on any of those rights. This story is part of the 'Tenchi Muyo: Conquest' timeline, but is set before that series begins.

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor

Commander Honor Harrington felt a stab of fear as she looked down at the tactical display by her seat, but she hid it very well. All of the Gryphon System Fleet, well over fifty ships of the line, were arrayed in a defensive vector along the projected route of the invading force. Not only was every active military vessel out there, but they had scrounged up every available ship, arming comercial vessels and also re-arming previously scrapped hulls. It was a remarkable display of military force, but it probably wasn't going to be enough.

Manticore was coming.

The Gryphon system had been lucky, in a way. The expansion of their neighbor Manticore had been in the direction of the Republic of Haven originally, they were clearly concentrating on defeating the most powerful of the local neighbors. Up until recently Manticore had barely even ventured into space, and their sudden appearance as a major military power had shook local systems to the core. Their ships were generations ahead of anything their rivals had, and they had quickly conquered all of their more hostile neighbors.

And now that fleet was coming their way.

"Long range sensors?" Honor enquired, her hands nervously the tree- cat in her lap. Nimitz bleeked at her softly, and she scratched him behind the ears. A few years ago a commander wouldn't have even been in that seat, but despirate times called for despirate measures. Most of her class at the academy had been rushed through, their teachers knowing that this day was coming soon.

"We're getting early warp echoes," Scotty Tremaine reported, the young officer watching his scanners carefully. "Fleet command seconds that, ma'am."

"Yellow alert," Honor said softly.

"Readying main and secondary missile tubes," her weapons officer calmly reported from his station, "preparing electronic counter measures." Alistair McKeon was a good second in command as well as tactical officer, and Honor was glad to have him here.

'Depending on how good their tactical systems are,' Honor thought, 'we might get a full flight of missiles off before we die.' A deep breath and she said, "Prepare evasion courses, when the enemy returns fire I want us ready to move."

"Right," the boy on navigation squeaked out nervously. Hudson looked fifteen, tops, and his hands shook as he worked.

Honor felt a flash of sympathy, one she firmly squelched. Softly she said to him, "You can do this, just remember your training."

Hudson flashed her a greatful smile, "Thanks."

"Warp emergence!" Scotty reported, working his controls quickly, "We've got multiple warp emergences. They're here."

"Red alert," Honor ordered as the sirens began to wail around them. She quickly turned to study the tactical display and felt her stomach drop. As the first few ships appeared it looked almost like an even fight, then more and more vessels appeared.

"There's got to be over a hundred ships out there," a soft voice whispered.

"I want targeting solutions," Honor barked the order, trying to keep her crew distacted from the enormity of the odds against them, "ready point defense!"

"They're slowing," Scotty reported, "stoping! They're dead in space, ma'am."

"What the..." Honor blinked in surprise.

There was a sudden loud squeal on the bridge, almost loud and sharp enough to be painful, then the large holographic tactical display wavered. There was a distortion, the image of local space completely disappeared, and a image of a humanoid figure stood there. She seemed tall, her eyes sparkling as she looked around. A long mane of blue hair flowed down her back and a simple red and black bodysuit clung to her form.

Honor puffed out a nervous breath, then got up out of her seat and walked over to where the image now stood in the holo-tank. She cleared her throat and despite feeling a bit foolish said, "My name is Commander Honor Harrington of the Gryphon System Navy warship Fearless. Who are you, and what do you want?"

"Huh," the woman looked at her thoughfully, and Honor took a moment to wonder how it was being acomplished, then she continued, "you're the first one to actually try talking to me. You've got guts, I think I like that."

"Who are you?" Honor repeated, a sudden sinking feeling grabbing hold of her. 'It couldn't be,' she thought weakly.

"My name is Ryouko," the woman smiled, "and I'm the Warlord of Manticore. I want to talk to whomever is in charge over there, as soon as possible." Ryouko paused, then added, "And you are now my liason officer." With that, her image simply disapeared.

There was a long moment of dead silence on the ship's small bridge, the entire crew stunned by what they had just seen and heard. Honor was the first to recover, barking the order, "Connect me to the admirality, at once!"

"Bleek?" Nimitz commented in the quiet.

A few minutes later a conference was going on, command ships connected via subspace links. "Very well done, Honor," Admiral White-Haven smiled at her wryly, the older man sitting on his own flag bridge.

"Don't be praising her," Houseman of the diplomatic corps whined, "we were preparing a formal response! If we'd just had more time..."

There was a general ignoring of that comment. The Manticore contact had left them all badly off balance, and this conference was more to try to determine what to do now. It was made more difficult by communication lag times with the Crown, who would know about what was happening well after this meeting ended.

Admiral Courvosier spoke up, and Honor felt herself smile over at her old tactics teacher. "We don't have the Queen's authorization to act, but I feel we have no choice," he sighed, his steel grey hair falling in his eyes.

"I agree," Ambassador Langtry nodded, the younger man's eyes shining with eagerness. "We'll need to send over a mixed military and diplomatic delegation and," he paused, "Commander Harrington, you're coming along."

"What?" Honor found herself blurting.

"Ryouko of Manticore named you her liason officer," Admiral White- Haven pointed out, "I suspect we should take that seriously."

"This is a travestry," Housman muttered, "this is a delicate matter, one that should be handled by the experts..." He trailed off when he met Harrington's deadly gaze. The young woman and he had a history, and it was clear he was scared of her.

"Have we got information on where this meeting will be taking place?" Courvosier asked.

Ambassador Langtry spoke up, "They've sent us coordinates for their flagship, we're to dock our pinnacles with the Washu's Revenge."

"Lovely name," White-Haven murmured to himself softly. He smiled seriously, "Then let's get going, people. Pinnacles will be going around to pick up the negotiation team."

Communications were closed, and Honor took a nervous breath. She returned to the bridge and waved Alistair over, "Lieutenant-Commander McKeon, you have the bridge. I'm going to be off ship for awhile, so use your best judgement."

"Yes, ma'am," McKeon saluted. He dropped his voice, "I've heard about this Ryouko, she's supposed to be honorable."

"Let's hope," Honor agreed. She left the bridge as Nimitz climbed up on her shoulder, a comfortingly familiar weight. The lift took her down to the docking bay, and she was a bit surprised as the pinnacle arrived so quickly.

"Welcome aboard," Admiral Courvosier gave her an engaging smile. He waited until she was seated before he asked, "How are you doing, Honor?"

"Very well sir," Honor said frankly, taking in the figures in the compartment with her. Two admirals, two diplomats and her. With a wry smile she continued, "I never expected to be commanding a vessel this soon, especially considering what happened back in the academy."

Admiral White-Haven, sitting just ahead of them, fought back a bit of laughter. "I've had the dubious pleasure of meeting Pavel-Young," he said dryly, "I have no doubt that he gave you every reason to beat up on him."

"I was glad that you decided to report his attempted assault," Courvosier noted, "otherwise we'd be dealing with him as an officer."

"You should be offering your thanks to my roommate," Honor said softly, "Michelle Henke." Honor felt a blush come to her cheeks as she thought of her beautiful, dusky roommate, "She helped me understand that it wasn't just about me, but the good of the service."

"Are you and Michelle still in touch?" White-Haven asked perceptively.

'I wish I didn't blush so easily,' Honor thought, her cheeks still faintly red. "Not since the academy Sir," she answered.

There was a soft thump, and the pilot stuck his head back into the passenger's compartment. "We've docked with the Revenge," he reported.

"Let's go," Langtry said as he lead them out through the hatch, up a docking passage and into the Washu's Revenge.

Waiting there were two women, visually as different as night and day. The blue haired woman looked almost exactly like Ryouko except for her scarred cheeks. Beside her and only half her height was a redheaded womann, dressed in casual clothing.

"Welcome aboard," Ryouko's twin said with a grin, "my name is Minagi, and I'm currently in charge of the Revenge."

Introductions were quickly made, then the redhead spoke up. "Ryouko's waiting in the conference room," she said, "let's go." Instead of leading the walk the redhead dropped back to walk by Honor's side. "So you're the one who got Ryouko's attention?"

"Ah, yes ma'am," Honor blinked as she looked down at the little redhead. "Uhm, may I ask who you are?"

"Washu," the redhead smiled. She gave Honor a piercing look, "Are you single?"

Honor blinked, instantly thinking of Michelle. "Ah, no," she stammered.

"Too bad," Washu mused, "you're Ryouko's type." She gave Honor a cheerful wave then walked to the front to join Minagi.

"What was that about?" Honor squeaked.

"Manticore is said to have somewhat more liberal customs," Langtry noted, his lips twitching up in a slight smile.

Before Honor could try to form a reply to that comment Minagi declared, "We're here."

The doors opened into a large room, a simple table with Ryouko sitting at the head, viewports all along one side. She flashed a smile as she saw Honor enter along with the others and take a seat. She waited until Washu and Minagi sat down on either side of her before saying, "I'm glad you came so promptly, we have a great deal to discuss."

Langtry cleared his throat nervously. "We are under instructions from our Queen to sue for peace, but we do have terms.."

"I'm not here to demand your surrender," Ryouko shook her head. She got up from her seat, walking over to stand by a viewport, "I'm here to offer an alliance."

To be continued...

Chapter 27

Title: Chapter 27: One's Own Honor 2

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor: Two

Ryouko looked up as the doors opened into the large room, watching the delegation from Gryphon moving in nervously. She felt a smile steal across her face as she saw Honor enter along with the others and take a seat. Ryouko waited until Washu and Minagi sat down on either side of her before saying, "I'm glad you came so promptly, we have a great deal to discuss."

An older man that Ryouko's information files identified as Ambassador Langtry cleared his throat nervously. "We are under instructions from our Queen to sue for peace, but we do have terms.." he said quietly.

"I'm not here to demand your surrender," Ryouko shook her head. She got up from her seat, walking over to stand by a viewport, looking out at the stars. "I'm here to offer an alliance," she said without turning around.

There was a beat of silence behind her, as if her guests didn't know quite what to say. Finally, Honor herself spoke up nervously, "I'm sorry, did I hear you right?"

Ryouko turned, noticing one of the junior diplomats glaring at Harrington. He looked like a weasel to Ryouko so she ignored him, focusing her attention on the intense young officer. "I'm here to offer an alliance," she repeated, "one that will benefit both of us."

An older admiral smiled ruefully. "I can see how an alliance will benefit us," White Haven said, "we don't get annihilated, for one. I'm just not sure how it helps you."

Ryouko felt her smile widen slightly. She liked dealing with straight talkers, and it looked like Gryphon had a lot of them. "My fleet is quite impressively powerful," she said, and she could feel Washu's disapproval, "but currently we're staffed at less than half crews."

"It's not a problem in a lightning assault," Minagi spoke up from her position at the table, "but in a sustained battle we could have problems."

Langtry had an odd gleam in his eyes as he said, "You want us to help crew your ships. But what would we get in return?"

"Two things," Washu spoke up. "First, you would be part of Manticore's dominion, with all the benefits that go with it," the little redhead said, "and second, we would provide our technology to upgrade your own fleet. By the time we're done, your ships will by much nastier."

Both the Ambassador and the two Admirals had looks on their faces that they might have just hit the jackpot. Only Honor looked across the table at Ryouko and the others with a frown, weighing something in her mind. Finally she stood, "Excuse me, sirs."

Houseman paled in his seat, "Sit down, you shouldn't be ..."

Ryouko gave him a dangerous look and said, "Shut up." As he crumpled in a dead faint she looked over at Honor and calmly asked, "Yes?"

The young woman gulped, looking visibly nervous. "Even with your crew problems you can defeat us easily," Honor put her hands on the top of the table, fighting to keep her voice steady, "but you need to have fully crewed vessels for something. Obviously, you intend to take on someone that is even more powerful." She met Ryouko's eyes and asked, "What sort of battle are we signing on for if we become your ally?"

Ryouko's face was still, then she suddenly smiled as she said, "Well done, young lady." She pushed her long hair back from her face before casually saying, "You all know about the Ruins Buster, the criminal known as Kagato."

"Kagato," White Haven's eyes widened, "he's even attacked some of our allied worlds. His ship, the Soja, is said to be nearly unstoppable."

"Not unstoppable," Washu said crisply, "but powerful and dangerous, yes." She met the eyes of the figures across the table, "There will be losses."

"Kagato's one problem we have," Ryouko continued, "and I have another objective." Her expression was calm as she continued, "Jurai has been absorbing smaller systems, growing in this direction. I mean to stop that growth if I can."

"You intend to take on the Emperor of Jurai," Admiral Courvosier spoke up, his voice admiring, "you've got guts, I'll give you that."

"Gryphon is right in Jurai's path," Minagi noted, "you wouldn't have built up your fleet the way you have if you didn't know that."

"Gryphon is one of the few systems with the ability to go toe to toe with Jurai," Ryouko said calmly, "but you're not strong enough to win." Before anyone could protest that she said firmly, "You'll hurt them, but you'll loose. Join with us, and we can take them."

Langtry cautiously said, "I'd like to bring your proposals to our Queen, she must be the final one to make the decision. Could we have twenty four hours?"

"I'll give you two days to consider," Ryouko smiled slightly, "and please bring any counter offers with you when you come back to the table." As the Gryphon delegation was leaving she called out, "Can I speak to Commander Harrington?"

White Haven frowned, giving Honor a look clearly saying that she was welcome to refuse. She nodded and he said, "We'll wait for her."

Washu and Minagi left as well, and Honor walked over to where the Warlord of Manticore stood by a view port. Ryouko looked at the severe brown haired young woman, and up close she was struck by how young the girl seemed, dressed in that crisp black military uniform.

"Would you take the alliance I'm offering?" Ryouko asked her curiously.

Honor hesitated, "I'm not the one making the decision, ma'am."

Ryouko laughed softly, "I don't think I've ever been called ma'am before." She raised her eyebrow, "Off the record?"

"If it's off the record," Honor puffed out a small sigh, "then yes, I would. We need you against Jurai as much as you need us to help take on Kagato."

"Fair enough," Ryouko agreed. She turned her gaze out to the stars once again, "Are you involved with someone?"

The look on Honor's face was just priceless. The young officer's cheeks went bright red, her mouth dropped open in surprise, and she looked at Ryouko in shock. After a bit of stuttering Honor managed to get out, "Yes, I am."

Ryouko smirked, "It too bad, you're cute." She gentled her smile and gave the girl some space, "It's all right, I won't jump you." She walked towards the doors, pausing to say over her shoulder, "But the man or woman you love is lucky to have you." With that, she was gone. Not long after Ryouko stood on the bridge of the Revenge, watching the ship leave.

"Do you think they'll agree?" Minagi asked, standing by her sister's side.

"I'm not sure," Ryouko shrugged slightly.

"We nearly had them reeled in too," Washu complained from the science station, "if that officer hadn't spoken up."

"Honor Harrington," Ryouko smiled thoughtfully, "she's impressive. If they do join our fleet, we'll be better off."

"I know that tone of voice," Minagi frowned, "you've got the hots for her, don't you?"

"A momentary attraction," Ryouko waved, "but she's got someone." She watched the Gryphon pinnacle disappear towards their fleet, "It's too bad, really."

Washu sighed softly. "You still let your hormones override your thinking," she complained, "one of these days you'll fall in love..."

"Never happen," Minagi shook her head, "our Warlord is a confirmed bachelor."

"You've got that right," Ryouko agreed. She looked over at her tactical officer, "Kei, keep an eye on the Gryphon ships. If they do try something, I want to know about it."

"Yes, ma'am," Kei agreed, her red hair flowing over her shoulders.

"They're not foolish enough to launch an attack on us," Washu reassured her daughter.

"Maybe," Ryouko agreed, "but I've learned not to take chances." She saw a vessel break away from the Gryphon fleet, likely to head for their homeworld with the negotiators.

"There they go," Minagi noted. "Let's hope they pick us."

Ryouko watched the ship shrink in the distance, lost to her thoughts. 'I hope Harrington's right,' Ryouko mused, "we need them almost as much as they need us.'

To be continued...

Chapter 28

Title: Chapter 28: One's Own Honor 3

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor: Three

Honor Harrington fought back a surge of primal fear, her short brown hair combed down thoroughly, her uniform spotlessly neat. She sat there stiffly in her seat, not noticing the sympathetic glances from the Admirals and various Diplomats sitting around her.

"Bleek," Nimitz chided her, the treecat looking up to give her a perplexed glance, clearly not understanding why his chosen human was so nervous.

"That's easy for you to say," Honor murmured to him softly, but feeling just a bit better somehow. Knowing that the treecat didn't care about the rank of the dignitary they were going to meet was oddly comforting.

The pinnacle bumped as it touched down, and Honor gulped softly. White Haven gave her a smile, "It will be all right, Honor."

"I hope so," she answered as Honor fell into her traditional place, exiting the pinnacle and walking out onto the landing platform. A small crowd stood waiting for them, a few guards in position around them. 'There she is,' Honor thought.

Queen Elizabeth greeted her Admirals and Diplomats with gentle dignity, the dusky skinned beauty smiling warmly. She looked up to see where Honor stood and surprised her by saying, "Commander Harrington, I've heard so much about you."

Honor gave a picture perfect salute as she answered, "I hope it was all good, your Majesty."

"Cousin Michelle speaks of you highly," Elizabeth answered softly, "and often."

Honor gaped in surprise. 'Michelle,' she thought dazedly, a fierce blush coloring her cheeks as the Queen politely looked away.

"I believe we have much to discuss," Elizabeth turned to her staff, "and this is not the place to do it. Follow me."

In a daze Honor followed them. trying to recover her composure a little. She was a bit surprised not to be taken to a meeting room, instead they gathered in a large private office, one used for more informal business. She was even more surprised to see only Langtry, White Haven, Courvosier and herself remaining for the meeting and she turned to go.

"Stay," Courvosier ordered softly, her old tactics teacher smiling as he added, "Elizabeth wanted you here, too."

"Yes sir," Honor squeaked.

Elizabeth sighed softly. "All right," she looked over at the group with a suddenly piercing gaze, "start at the beginning and tell me everything."

White Haven gave Honor a prompting look, and she took a steadying breath. Meeting her queen's eyes Honor said, "Shortly after the Manticore fleet arrived Warlord Ryouko used our holographic systems to make contact...."

It took a few minutes, the Admirals, Honor and Ambassador Langtry taking turns to cover relevant details. Langtry finished with, "We informed Ryouko that we needed to bring her offers to you, and she gave us two days to consider and make any counter offer."

Elizabeth nodded gravely, digesting what had been said. She turned to the two Admirals, "What do you think of this?"

"Jurai has been expanding closer and closer to us for years," White Haven said dryly, "we're going to have to fight against them eventually, anyway."

"I do have some mixed feelings about taking on Kagato," Courvosier added seriously, "he's dangerously powerful." He smiled reluctantly, "Though bringing him to justice for his attacks on our colonies is attractive."

"Fair enough," Elizabeth nodded. She looked at the Ambassador, "And what do we know of planets that have been absorbed by Manticore?"

Langtry checked some papers, "The Office of Naval Intelligence provided some briefing papers, and I've also used diplomatic contacts to confirm it. As far as we can tell, it seems that they've benefited from Manticore's rule."

"You're serious," Honor blurted in surprise.

With a wry smile Langtry continued, "Manticore provides increased safety for it's people, they have a constitution that limits their interference with conquered worlds, and they share their technology with occupied worlds."

"Their drives would cut days of our merchant vessel's schedules," White Haven noted, "and if they re-armed our fleet with their tech, we'd be far nastier all round."

"Fair enough," Elizabeth nodded slightly. She looked over to where Honor stood nervously, "What do you think, Commander?"

Honor puffed out a breath, pushing her short brown hair back. She met Elizabeth's eye and said, "I talked to Ryouko a bit, after the meeting ended." Honor smiled wryly, "She's bold, even rude, but I liked her and I think she was sincere."

Elizabeth gave a ghost of a smile, "Interesting." She took a moment to look over the official documents then said, "We will accept Ryouko's alliance."

"We'll send an escort out with the message," White Haven said as he moved towards the door, "they can escort the Washu's Revenge in."

"There will need to be a public signing ceremony for the alliance," Langtry noted, "I'll begin all the preparations."

"Thank you all for your service," Elizabeth said simply, "let us begin this new task." With that dismissal they moved out, Honor nearly making it to the door when Elizabeth called, "Commander?"

"Yes?" Honor squeaked.

"My cousin Michelle is here at the palace," the Queen said with a smile, "I think she'd be happy to see you."

"And I'd be happy to see her," Honor admitted softly.

"I'll have a servant escort you," Elizabeth summoned a young page, and the two of them left the meeting room together.

The two of them didn't have to go very far, the young man leaving her at the door of a parlor. Honor pushed the door open nervously, taking in the Lieutenant Commander who stood looking up at a portrait that she bore a startling resemblance to.

"Honor," Michelle Henke beamed up at her as she walked across to where Honor stood, hugging a startled Honor close.

Honor froze a second, then wrapped her arms around Michelle. "Good to see you, roomie," she murmured softly.

"I hear you've been getting in trouble without me being around," Michelle said softly into Honor's ear. She eased off on her grip finally, taking in Honor's uniform and remarking, "You look good, Commander."

"So do you, Lieutenant Commander," Honor's cheeks were red as she looked down at the slightly smaller woman.

"I hope cousin Elizabeth didn't scare you too badly," Michelle took Honor's hand, drawing her over to a comfortable couch.

"Oh yes," Honor said softly. She smiled wryly as she settled down beside Michelle, "I understand you've been telling the Queen about me?"

"Nothing too outrageous," Michelle actually smirked, "I didn't tell her about that cute little mole you have on your...."

"Michelle," Honor scolded.

Michelle chuckled wickedly, but desisted in her teasing. Instead she looked over at Honor searchingly, "Do you remember that night you kissed me?"

Honor looked down, blushing. It had happened shortly before graduation, ad Honor had come to the simple realization that she and Michelle might not see one another again. The possibility of war with either Manticore or Jurai lay just over the horizon, and the odds of both of them surviving such a war were slim.

"I... I'm sorry," Honor stuttered.

"I'm not," Michelle said softly, and Honor looked up at her in pure shock. "I always knew I was fond of you," she said to the younger woman gently, "but I don't think I realized how much I cared until that lovely kiss."

"I'm surprised I didn't hurt you, I was so clumsy," Honor managed, her thoughts racing. 'Michelle cares for me?' she thought wonderingly.

"I wanted to tell you back then," Michelle reached out to stroke Honor's flaming cheek as she said, "but with everything that was coming, I didn't dare."

"So why now?" Honor asked, leaning into that touch.

"Well, cousin Elizabeth was tired of my moping about you all the time," Michelle admitted, "and she encouraged me to try."

"The Queen knows about us?" Honor's face went bone pale.

Michelle just looked amused, "Not only that, but she approves."

Honor was still trying to digest that piece of news when the parlor door opened suddenly. Michelle opened her mouth to protest, then saw the man's admiral stars. Honor leapt to her feet nervously, "Admiral White Haven."

"It's time to move out," White Haven said apologetically, "we need to move out to escort the Washu's Revenge in."

"I'll be here to meet you," Michelle promised softly as she watched Honor stride off.

To be continued...

Chapter 29

Title: Chapter 29: One's Own Honor 4

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor: Four

Ryouko felt the tension on her bridge as the Gryphon ships approached their fleet, slowing as they neared the Washu's Revenge. Yuri tilted her head to the side, her glossy black hair flowing like water as she said, "The Gryphon fleet is requesting communication."

"Put them on," Ryouko ordered, her mane of blue hair coursing wildly down her back.

Commander Honor Harrington appeared on the screen, several admirals and diplomats arrayed beside her. Her face was grave, revealing nothing. "Warlord Ryouko?" the brown haired young woman in military garb asked.

'They're declining our offer,' Ryouko thought grimly, but forced herself to stay calm. "Yes, Commander?" she asked formally.

"As I was the first one to open communications with you, it was felt I was the best one to deliver our Queen's response," Honor said, deadpan. She took a breath, a slight smile curved her lips and she said, "We accept."

It took a moment for it to sink in, then the bridge of the Washu's Revenge broke out in cheers. Ryouko felt herself grinning, glad to see a similar emotion on Honor's face. "Manticore is honored to accept Gryphon into our numbers," she said with a grin.

"There's a lot of work still to do," the leader of the diplomats, Langtry, said, "but a lot of it can be dealt with on our way to Basilisk. We'll send over our people while we prepare for a public ceremony on Basilisk itself."

"Sounds like a plan," Washu agreed, the redheaded scientist looking visibly relieved.

"Let's move out," Minagi said, Ryouko's twin moving to action. The scars that marked her cheeks gave her an oddly gentle look, but still capable and dangerous.

"I look forward to seeing you," Ryouko smiled before the Gryphon ship broke contact.

It wasn't long before they met in a meeting room in the Washu's Revenge, discussing how the alliance between their forces could work. Admiral White-Haven, the silver haired senior was just finishing off his proposals with, "... and that's our proposal."

"Empress?" Ryouko blinked. "You want to make me an Empress?" she repeated, having some difficulty with accepting the idea.

"It has some merit," Washu spoke up thoughtfully, "with how quickly Manticore's sphere of influence is growing, it's not too unreasonable."

"There's another reason as well," Honor spoke up, her voice soft. She smiled a bit wryly, "Warlord is a rather dangerous title for a leader, no matter how well earned. Empress, on the other hand, is a bit more acceptable."

"It also gives me a greater rank than Queen," Ryouko murmured, "helping save face with your ruler." She sighed, "Guess I can live with it."

"Bleek," Nimitz commented cheerfully from the treecat's place on Honor's shoulder.

They talked for hours, mostly Washu and Langtry, with the others stepping in as necessary. The final agreement would need to be ratified by Queen Elizabeth when they reached the planet, but the diplomats were confident it would be accepted.

"All right," Minagi stretched out once they finished, her skintight bodysuit clinging to her form as she said, "who wants to eat?"

Admiral Courvosier smiled slightly as he said, "I'd be honored." The former tactics teachers spoke with members of Ryouko's staff easily as they filed out of the room, a bond clearly forming between the two groups.

"Honor," Ryouko fell into step beside her. She smiled at the still shy officer as she said, "If you want to wait for dinner, I could give you a tour of the ship."

Honor hesitated, then the brown haired young woman smiled back at her. "Actually I'd like to," she said, "I've heard a lot about it."

"Then come on," Ryouko said, noticing the worried look that Washu gave her as the two slipped away. She gave her mother Washu a reassuring smile, but she rather thought that the woman wasn't buying it.

Ryouko noticed that Honor kept her eyes open as they walked, the girl soaking up details of the ship around her. The few members of the crew they passed gave Ryouko casual waves while tossing Honor thoughtful looks. Dressed in various clothes of Manticore there were no uniforms though they all treated Ryouko with great respect.

'Guess it's been a while since I took a lady aside,' Ryouko thought.

"Either everyone is at their posts," Honor finally commented, "or you really are running these ships on skeleton crews."

"They're not at their posts," Ryouko sighed.

Ryouko ducked through a hatch, the two of them entering a larger chamber. The far side was a window providing a wonderful view of the ships all around them. Off in the distance the planet of Basilisk turned, slowly growing larger as they approached.

Honor took in the ships, the more primitive Gryphon ships alongside the powerful Manticore vessels. She rested her hand on the transparent alloy, then turned back to Ryouko. "You know that having us join your forces will change things," she said.

Ryouko flashed a smile, Honor really was sharp. "Uniforms and all, I think," she said with a wry smile. "You're people have had a organized military far longer than we have, adopting your systems would be simpler," Ryouko said.

Honor looked a bit surprised, "I thought Manticore had a military tradition...."

Ryouko laughed, "No, we just fought each other a lot." She pushed her hair back, "Single combat was always our focus, not group military action and unit organization."

Honor's eyes widened slightly. "I knew it was an achievement that you organized Manticore into a spacefaring world," she finally said, "and after hearing that I'm even more impressed."

Ryouko felt her cheeks redden slightly, cursing the automatic reaction as she fought to get it under control. 'She's taken, remember,' she reminded herself of that fact ruthlessly. Ryouko took a steadying breath and said, "Thank you."

"Considering your reputation," Honor said with a slight smile on her face, "my crewmates are going to be wondering if you are having your way with me."

Ryouko had to fight back a laugh at that, a bit startled by Honor's boldness. "Youthful indiscretions," she waved a hand with a smile, "I was a bit wild before." She turned to Honor and raised an eyebrow, "Worried?"

"No, according to those very same stories you're honorable," Honor said mildly.

Ryouko snickered softly. "You know, I think I like you," she slapped the stunned girl on the back with a grin. "You're right though, we'd better get back to the others."

As they navigated back towards the dining hall Honor noted, "You seemed awfully focused on taking on Kagato when we first talked."

Ryouko offered her hand, gently tugging honor through a low gravity bubble in the ship. "He's holding family of mine," Ryouko admitted, "and we're going to make him regret it."

Honor's eyes widened, "That's why your ship is called Washu's Revenge!"

Ryouko grinned, "Got it in one."

It took only hours to complete the voyage to the planet of Basilisk, The Washu's Revenge settling into a high orbit. The Gryphon fleet representatives went down first, then they waited for Ryouko and her party to arrive. All around them a full military party was ready, their dress uniforms gleaming and weapons polished.

From the clouds it descended, an angular vessel made up of gleaming black crystal. It swept down towards them, hovering above the landing field as a scarlet transport sphere descended towards them. It touched down, revealing the three figures within it as the power dissipated.

The great vessel above them dropped, murmurs of fear trailing off as it swiftly shrunk. In moments a small, furry cabbit sat at Ryouko's feet, looking around proudly. "Myah!" it exclaimed.

The Queen's party moved forward, Elizabeth and her diplomats meeting Ryouko and her people as equals. "Welcome to Basilisk, Empress Ryouko," Elizabeth offered her hand.

Ryouko took it, meeting the dark skinned beauty's smile. "It's an honor to be here, Queen Elizabeth," she replied.

Covertly Ryouko scanned the crowd around them, noticing Honor was standing nearby her. Standing right beside her was a lady clearly related to Elizabeth, and from her stance the woman that Honor was interested in.

"Not bad," Minagi mused impishly, looking around with amusement.

"Hush," Washu scolded her softly.

Later on Ryouko wondered if it had been her moment of distraction that gave the enemy the chance to strike, the opening that he needed. The officer broke out of ranks, pulling a sidearm as he cried out, "No alien ruler!"

"No!" Honor moved like a shot, shoving Ryouko and the others backwards even as the weapon discharged loudly.

"Honor!" Michelle cried out as Honor's shoulder exploded in a splash of blood.

Minagi simply disappeared, she moved so fast, energy sword blazing as she cut down the man with a single stroke even as Ryouko ran over to Honor's side. "Move," Washu ordered the others, kneeling down beside the wounded young woman.

Nimitz's fur was all puffed up, a low growl coming from back of the treecat's throat as he stood guard over his human partner. Still, he surrendered his place to Washu, clearly aware that she meant no harm to Honor.

"Are you all right?" Honor asked softly, taking in the worried looks on the three women kneeling above her, reaching out to stroke Nimitz reassuringly.

"We're fine," Ryouko said as Michelle, tears streaking her face, all but shoved Minagi aside to kneel by Honor. "And we'll make sure you'll be all right, too," Ryouko said as much for Michelle's sake as for Honor.

To be continued....

Chapter 30

Title: Chapter 30:One's Own Honor Five

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor: Five

Honor Harrington felt herself returning to consciousness slowly, but eventually the slim brown haired young woman stirred slightly in the comfortable bed. She opened her eyes, blinking a bit sleepily, then those brown eyes widened in honest surprise as she took in her surroundings.

The chamber that she lay in was enormous, stretching off into the distance impossibly far. All around her advanced medical equipment was set up, and her skin had an odd dampness to it, almost as if she had been out swimming.

"I see you're awake," the voice said as the redheaded woman dressed up in a nurse's uniform walked towards her. It was her height that had kept Honor from recognizing Washu immediately, the normally tiny woman standing well over five feet.

"Washu," Honor blinked, trying to get her thoughts in order.

"You're aboard the Washu's Revenge," Washu said cheerfully as she checked a screen floating in the air beside Honor's bed, "we brought you here when we found out that ordinary regeneration methods didn't work on you."

Honor's eyes widened as memory rushed back, trying to push herself up as she said, "The Queen and Ryouko, are they...?"

"They're fine," Washu reassured her as she touched a few keys, nodding in satisfaction, "and both of them are very grateful."

"I'm glad they're all right," Honor sighed.

"Before I forget," Washu said, "thank you for saving my daughter." She smiled slightly as she continued, "I just finished doing the last scans, your shoulder wound is fine." She offered Honor her hand and asked, "Shall we go?"

Honor took it, mildly surprised by the strength Washu showed as she easily tugged Honor to her feet. "I hope the attack didn't delay the signing," she frowned, noticing that she was just wearing a skimpy hospital gown.

"Your Queen was right," Washu smiled back slightly as she gently steadied Honor, "she said that you'd not want it to be delayed. Basilisk is now officially part of Manticore and you all get to call Ryouko your Empress."

They fell into step together across the black, glossy floor as Honor noted with a smile, "From what I've seen the Empress may have the harder time adapting."

"You may be right," Washu agreed, opening up a locker door that seemed to appear from nowhere. She pulled out a Basilisk uniform and passed it to Honor, "A replacement for your damaged one, it should fit."

"Thanks," Honor said, pulling on the uniform gratefully. Washu watched curiously as she changed, a slight smile teasing her lips. "What?" Honor asked, adjusting her uniform cap.

"I was just thinking of our ships being manned by crews in those uniforms," Washu admitted. She had shrunk when Honor wasn't looking, turning back to the redhead that was nearer to a young girl than a grown woman.

"We'll all get used to it," Honor smiled slightly, finishing off with tightening her tie. She smiled at Washu as she added, "I have to admit I'm looking forward to serving aboard your ships."

"Serving," Washu raised an eyebrow as she opened a door out into the ship with a wave of her hand, "not commanding?"

"I'd like that too," Honor admitted as they went into the brightly lit hall, Washu leading the way, "but I'm barely senior enough to command a Basilisk ship. I have no idea how I'll rank in the merged fleet that we'll be creating."

"Maybe," was Washu's simple answer. The two reached an unmarked door that she opened as Washu added, "You have a few friends waiting."

"Honor!" Michelle was up from her chair like a shot, running across the room to throw her arms around her. Nimitz leapt from her shoulder over to Honor's even as he scolded his human loudly, the three of them reunited once more. Michelle eased up finally, her eyes glistening with tears as the dusky skinned woman said, "Don't do anything that stupid again, please."

"I'll try," Honor murmured, shaken by her friend's tears, wishing that she wasn't the cause for them yet feeling oddly complimented, too.

"Try hard," Ryouko said, the blue haired woman walking towards where they stood. Instinctively Honor tried to kneel but she stopped her with a gentle hand on the shoulder, "None of that, please. And no calling me 'Empress' please, just Ryouko."

"But...." Honor blurted.

"Let it go," Michelle quietly advised with a impish smile, still keeping a tight grip on Honor. She smiled slightly, "I know that Elizabeth does the same for her friends and advisors."

"I don't know if that man could have killed me," Ryouko admitted, "but you put your life on the line for me." Seriously she continued, "I won't forget that, not now, not ever."

Poor Honor's face went bright red at that, her mouth hanging open as she tried to find something intelligent to say.

"That goes for me as well," Minagi said from where Ryouko's scarred twin casually sat on a nearby couch, "I know my life would be boring without my big sister around."

Ryouko studied Honor a moment, a slight smile on her face. "We won't embarrass you any more," she said gently, "let's get you updated, instead."

"Washu said we're on your ship?" Honor asked.

"Yes," Ryouko agreed as she led them to seats, "when we found out that you were resistant to regeneration we brought you up here for treatment."

"It took about a day," Washu said from the float chair she was perched in, "but I finished patching you up as well as giving you a complete physical."

"How complete?" Michelle suspiciously asked as they settled into their seats, the other woman still refusing to let go of Honor's arm.

Washu smirked, "Why? Wondering if I took vids?"

"Myah," Ryo-ohki scolded Washu, the cute little cabbit sitting curled up in her lap.

Ryouko chuckled softly at that then she looked at Honor and said, "We're already talking to your admiralty about integrating our forces."

Minagi looked visibly amused as she said, "About half of your commanders are happily cooperating, the other half are stonewalling."

Honor groaned softly. "High-Ridge, I'd bet on it," she muttered softly. She tilted her head to the side, "Go over their heads if you have to, I know the Queen will step on them firmly if necessarily."

"Actually I went to the next meeting myself," Ryouko smirked, "the objections trailed off quite nicely, thank you."

There was a soft thump, and Honor blinked in surprise. "Looks like the shuttle landed," Washu noted cheerfully.

"We're on a shuttle?" Honor blinked, looking around the comfortable room in surprise. "I never even felt the artificial gravity shift...."

Ryouko lead the way out of the room and down a set of steps to a small landing pad that Honor didn't instantly recognize. There were only a few figures waiting for them on the edge of the pad, the palace of Basilisk rising up behind them. They walked towards the group, Honor looking around her in honest confusion.

"This is the Queen's private landing," Michelle explained.

"Honor," Queen Elizabeth looked at her intently a moment then the dusky woman smiled, "you're looking much better than when I last saw you."

"My Queen," Honor tried to kneel again when the Queen stopped her, a gentle hand resting on her arm as she smiled gently.

"You didn't tell her, cousin?" Elizabeth looked at Michelle with a raised eyebrow.

"I didn't have the chance," Michelle smiled. She looked at Honor, "The palace has this entrance so that the Queen can avoid the typical formalities that a public appearance require."

"Manticore doesn't have that sort of tradition," Ryouko smirked.

"Don't gloat," Washu scolded her daughter.

Elizabeth fought back a smile, the group walking inside as they talked softly. "Try not to panic," Michelle murmured softly.

"I'll try," Honor sighed.

"You really scared me, you know," Michelle slipped her hand into Honor's once again, squeezing it gently.

Honor blushed a bit under that warm gaze, looking away shyly. "I'll try not to do that again," she answered quietly.

To be continued...

Chapter 31

Title: Chapter 31: One's Own Honor 6

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor: Six

Ryouko tried not to smile at the nearly terrified look on Honor's face as they met the young woman's Queen. 'Guess she really isn't used to this,' she mused, the blue haired space pirate watching her newfound friend with amusement.

"So what do you think of this Michelle?" Minagi asked her curiously as they entered the castle itself. Her scars marked her face but other than that she could pass for Ryouko's twin, something they had used to their advantage more than once.

"Not sure," Ryouko admitted, looking over at the dusky skinned woman beside Honor. "She was certainly fierce when Honor was hurt, but other than that...," she shrugged.

Washu dropped back, their little redheaded mother giving them scolding looks, "More importantly it's none of our business."

"yes mom," Minagi smirked.

"Myah," Ryo-Ohki added cheerfully, the little cabbit bouncing along besides them down the thickly carpeted hallway.

Ryouko rolled her eyes. "Do you think Honor noticed our little surprise yet?" she asked with a impish little smile.

"I don't think so," Washu said thoughtfully, "though she has been a bit distracted."

The Queen led them into a beautifully decorated parlor, comfortable chairs and couches set up around the cozy room. Elizabeth was a beautiful woman, her dusky skin glowing in the light, but there was strength in the young woman's slim form. "Sit down," she smiled warmly, "I'll have some food sent up in a moment."

They took their seats but Honor moved away from Michelle to go over to Washu. "I'm sorry," she said sheepishly, "but I think you made a mistake with my uniform." She touched her collar, "These are the insignia of a captain, I'm just a commander."

"No mistake," Washu smiled.

"What," Honor blinked in surprise.

"You've been promoted," Elizabeth said to Honor calmly, sitting down with her dress swirling around her legs.

"And there's no favoritism involved," Ryouko pointed out with a grin, her blue hair falling into her eyes. "Almost everyone in Gryphon's Navy is getting a bump up," she added.

"Not that you haven't earned it," Michelle murmured as she guided a mildly shaken Honor into a seat beside her on the couch.

"Bleek," Nimitz agreed, the tree-cat comfortably resting on Honor's shoulder. He had climbed up there as soon as Honor had been released from sickbay and seemed entirely unwilling to move.

Minagi looked like she was trying to hold back a laugh at the look on Honor's face. "Ah, food," she grinned as the servants brought trays of snacks in, setting them around the room along with glasses of various beverages. "So should we discuss business or...?" Minagi asked.

"Some business, maybe," Elizabeth said, giving Ryouko a questioning look.

"Yeah, why not," Ryouko agreed. She sat back casually, drinking from a generous sized bottle of sake as she asked, "How long do you think it'll take to shake down the merged fleets?"

"Three months minimum," Washu answered firmly. "Our Manticore people are going to have to adapt to the Gryphon military style and the Gryphons need to be fully briefed and fully trained to use our tech," she explained.

Honor shook herself, but the lady managed to get back into the conversation. "I'm surprised it would be that fast," she admitted.

"I wondered about that myself," Elizabeth drank some wine.

"We've had some experience in integrating allied forces," Minagi explained, "though admittedly not on quite this scale before."

"I hope we'll be able to help," Michelle offered with a smile.

"Trust me," Ryouko grinned at the two officers, "we'll probably be asking." She took another drink, "But the Admiralty has fallen nicely into line and the crews seem eager to get to work, so I'm staying optimistic."

"Barring unforeseen occurrences," Washu cautioned. She sampled some wine as she remarked, "Murphy's law seems universal."

"Oh yes," Minagi agreed.

"Speaking of ships," Ryouko raised her glass to the still mildly pale Honor, "I was thinking of assigning the star-destroyer Nike to you. She's a recent product of the Manticore shipyards and I've great hopes for her."

Honor gulped, "I'd be honored."

"Cousin," Michelle spoke up. Elizabeth looked over at her questioningly as she continued, "Would you mind if I spoke to Honor privately?"

"Go on," Elizabeth smiled.

"Ah...." Honor didn't even have a chance to say anything as Michelle drew her to her feet. The two women were out of the room in moments, leaving the others with amused smiles.

"About time," Ryouko chuckled.

Honor blinked, trying to get her thoughts in some kind of order as she and Michelle walked down the hallway together. It had been a hectic hour since she had awakened in the Revenge's sickbay, not to mention the shock of her sudden promotion and the offer of a ship.

"Come on," Michelle opened up the door, ushering Honor inside and then closing and locking it behind them. The bedroom suite looked lived in, in fact clothes that Honor recognized as belonging to Michelle hung in the closet.

"What's going on?" Honor turned to meet Michelle's dark eyes and asked, "What are we doing in your bedroom?"

Michelle smiled slightly from where she stood a little ways away from Honor, puffing out her breath in a soft sigh. "You know," she said softly, "I had this all planned out. We were both going to be on the beach, I was going to let you get settled in first. We'd go out together as friends, get you more comfortable with the idea...."

"Comfortable with what?" Honor asked, an odd tightness in her chest.

"Then this thing with Manticore happened," Michelle said. Her smile was wry, "When I first heard that you and the Fearless had made contact with the Washu's Revenge I was so scared. Then I thought of what I heard about Ryouko and got really worried."

"But...." Honor managed before Michelle continued.

"When you got back I was so relieved," Michelle flashed a smile, "and proud of you. I wanted to tell you so much but there wasn't time, and I knew we'd find time to talk later." Her eyes darkened, "Then you were shot right in front of me."

"I'm sorry," Honor started, then corrected herself, "well, no I'm not. I was doing my duty, but I'm sorry I frightened you."

"More than that, you terrified me," Michelle murmured. She moved closer to Honor, looking up at the taller woman thoughtfully before saying, "I don't want any regrets, Honor."

"I don't understand," Honor admitted.

"Then maybe this will help," and with that Michelle slid her arms around Honor, drawing her close. The kiss was firm but gentle, the two pressing close, only parting reluctantly a few moments later. "I love you, Honor," Michelle said, "I can't wait to tell you any longer."

Honor's cheeks were bright red but joy shone in her eyes. "I love you, too," she whispered, "since back in our academy days."

"Bleek," Nimitz protested, reluctantly jumping down from his spot on Honor's shoulder.

"Sorry Stinker," Michelle smiled down at him before snuggling closer to Honor. "Until you kissed me back then I thought my feelings were one- sided," she confessed.

"You might have told me," Honor sighed, "I thought that, too."

Michelle looked up at Honor gently, "You made it very clear back then you weren't ready for something like this."

"You're probably right," Honor admitted, "I was scared of any intimacy, especially after Young attacked me." Her eyes widened, "You didn't have feelings for me back then, did you?"

"Oh yes," Michelle's voice was dangerous, "and if I had half a chance Young would never have been able to hurt anyone again." She snuggled closer and quietly, "So what do we do now?"

"I don't know," Honor held her, "but I'm not losing this, not when I just found it."

"No," Michelle nodded towards the bed, "I meant that."

"Michelle!" Honor blurted, cheeks flaming.

Michelle slid free, grabbing hold of Honor's hand and drawing her forward gently. "I promise I'll be gentle," she reassured her softly.

"I've never...." Honor's face was flaming.

"Don't worry," Michelle purred as she drew Honor down to the bed, "I haven't either." She smiled, "I think we can figure it out, though."

To be continued....

Chapter 32

Title: Chapter 32: One's Own Honor 7

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor: Seven

"Honor," Ryouko looked up with a grin as she said dramatically, "help save me from this!"

The blue haired Empress of Manticore waved toward the thick piles of papers that cluttered the desk in her office aboard the Washu's Revenge even as Honor walked into the room. Nimitz eagerly leapt down from Honor's shoulder to join Ryo-Ohki, the two exchanging conversation made up entirely of 'Bleeks' and 'Myahs.'

"Sorry, ma'am," Honor Harrington said, the slim brown haired woman fighting back a little smile, "I think you're stuck with doing at least some of it." In the many months that had passed since the peaceful merger of Manticore and Basilisk Honor had gotten more used to her leader's casual style, but it still felt... a bit odd.

"Maybe I can foist some of this on Minagi," Ryouko shook her head. She brightened slightly as she drawled, "So how's Michelle?"

Honor felt her cheeks reddening slightly under her amused gaze, it was quite obvious that Ryouko had heard about the scene the two of them had made down at the boarding docks. Michelle had just gotten back from a long patrol assignment and she had gotten a wee bit carried away in her greeting Honor. Not that Honor had been too restrained, either.

"She's still asleep," Honor murmured, thinking of everything they had done last night, not to mention this morning.

"Ah honeymooning," Ryouko chuckled. A bit more seriously she said, "I asked you to come here for a reason, Honor."

"It's time to move against Kagato," Honor didn't even make it a question.

"I think so," Ryouko nodded. She rubbed at her eyes tiredly and Honor realized that she probably hadn't slept. "How have the fleet exercises been going?" she asked.

"Very well," Honor answered, "we're pulling together nicely. Overall ship efficiency is in the ninety percentile range with a few vessels nearing one hundred."

"Like the Nike," Ryouko named Honor's ship with a grin. Her smile disappeared as she continued, "But we both know how powerful Kagato is."

"I heard about the Galaxy Police's attempt to bring him in," Honor agreed.

Only a few weeks ago a powerful fleet of GP cruisers had attempted to engage Kagato's ship the Soja in battle and it had been a complete disaster. The cruisers had been far too overconfident in their Jurai provided technology, waltzing in to try to hammer at the Soja, but the massive ship's shields easily held them all off. The powerful weapons array of the Soja wiped out the ships with ridiculous ease, the remnants swept aside like so much garbage.

Ryouko made a face at the mention of the GP but she nodded slightly. "The GP aren't pushovers," she said, "anyone who can defeat them so easily isn't to be taken lightly."

'Guess the GP still has a price on Ryouko's head,' Honor noted silently. "But we're much better equipped," Honor answered her aloud, "thanks to Washu's designs and our two homeworlds' ship-building capabilities."

Ryouko shook her head, her eyes narrowing slightly. "Sorry for fretting," she said, "we've been working towards this for so long that it's a bit strange, finally being ready to go." Ryouko made a face, "Not to mention mother's latest innovation."

"Oh?" Honor prompted.

"A powerful new ship design," Ryouko said, "with both improved shielding and weapons capabilities that she calls Swordbreaker. The problem is that bringing it into production will take us several months, at least."

There was a soft tapping from the doorway and Minagi sauntered inside, her sleek black bodysuit hugging her form. She looked almost the same as Ryouko did, only the two bold scars on her cheeks making her different. "Yo," she casually waved as she flopped down on a chair, "did you tell Honor about the fighters?"

"Just about to," Ryouko said, clearly cross about Minagi spilling the beans.

"The light armored combat units?" Honor sat up in surprise as she asked, "You were able to make the design work?"

"Actually Basilisk's tech boys were pretty close to a breakthrough," Ryouko pointed out, "we just took their work and built on it."

"Washu's got the prototypes ready to test," Minagi said, "but it'll be a month before we're ready to go to full production."

The Light Armored Combat unit or LAC was something Basilisk had been trying to develop, but the technical difficulties had stopped them. They couldn't come up with weapons systems or drives that would be powerful enough to make the small craft effective in battle. Obviously, Washu had been able to solve those problems.

"We'll need to recruit pilots, too," Honor murmured, a slight frown on her face. The pilots of the fighters would be facing grave risks, she knew, and the casualties would probably be high.

"I'm already looking into volunteers," Minagi said seriously. She leaned forward slightly, "Have you decided what we're going to do about Kagato?"

Ryouko got up from her desk, walking over to the viewport to gaze out at the stars. "As much as I'd like to take more time to ready our fleet," she said seriously, "I think it's time." She turned back to look at the others, "Contact Washu and the fleet commanders, we need to prepare our tactical options. It's time to deal with Kagato."

"Damn it!" Nagi loudly cursed. The floor of the bridge seemed to heave up beneath them, the Nike rocking with the force of the blow but the cruiser recovered quickly. Around the bridge the crew worked efficiently, handling emergency alerts and maintaining ship's systems.

Honor nearly chided Nagi for her language but restrained herself. The light blue hair framed the other woman's face, the former bounty hunter rather uncomfortably wearing the fleet's uniform. Honor's regular second in command was in sickbay, badly injured in the initial assault, so Nagi had stepped up to do the job.

"Fleet status?" Honor barked.

"We've lost a quarter of our ships," Hudson reported, sounding much more confident than when Honor had first commanded him months ago, "and the Soja's shields are holding fast."

"And Michelle Henke's Dauntless?" Honor asked, keeping her voice even. She had seen the explosion a few moments ago, and prayed that....

"No answer to our hails," Yuri said from communications, the black haired woman looking over at Honor in sympathy.

Honor closed her eyes a moment, feeling as if she wanted to die, then she banished all emotion to focus on the task at hand. "We keep going," Honor said firmly.

On the viewscreen the Washu's Revenge and the Soja floated in space a ridiculously short distance apart, the two massive vessels exchanging weapons fire at point blank range. The Soja loomed even over the Revenge but the smaller ship survived all it could dish out even as Washu's unique weapons designs beat it back. All around them the Manticore fleet floated in a spherical formation, throwing firepower down continuously against the Soja.

"I almost wish that GP ship would finally do something," Nagi murmured from where she stood by Honor's side. The Galaxy Patrol vessel hung back out of range, obviously using it's sensor systems to record the battle for any useful data.

"Later," was Honor's reply. She studied the tactical display a moment, "We've got to move in closer," she said grimly, "increase the intensity and cohesion of our attacks. We might break through, or at least distract the Soja enough for the Revenge to break through."

Nagi nodded bleakly as she said so softly that only Honor would hear, "We'll be under greater fire but I think it's a good call."

"Thanks," Honor smiled just slightly. She raised her voice, "Yuri, get me the flagship, we need to let Ryouko know what we plan...."

A squeal of feedback ripped across the bridge and Yuri swiftly bent over her controls. "A Fleet wide communication," she reported, "coming from the GP cruiser."

Honor and Nagi exchanged a surprised look. "Put it on," Nagi ordered.

Two women appeared on the screen, the cockpit of the GP cruiser with a black haired young woman and a quite clearly annoyed looking redhead sitting beside her in the co-pilot seat. "This is Galaxy Police officer Kiyone," the black haired woman said.

"I can't believe you're doing this," the redhead scowled.

"Save it, Mitsuki," Kiyone answered crisply. She turned back to say, "There appears to be a momentary weakness in the Soja's shields when he launches an attack."

"Confirm that," Honor barked to her tactical officer as the GP cruiser moved in to take up a place in their line of battle.

"Now that she's brought it to our attention," Hudson shook his head ruefully, "I can see it."

The next time Soja launched an attack the Washu’s revenge and the cruiser fired almost as one, rupturing the massive ship’s hull. The enemy’s weapons were quickly disabled as the ships moved in, Honor helping direct the mopping up.

As Honor worked she watched the communication feed as Ryouko hailed the GP cruiser. “Thank you for your help,” Ryouko smiled. More seriously she said, “I and my sister Minagi are going in after Kagato.”

“I wish I could go along,” Kiyone said as she saw Mitsuki glaring at her, “and I wish you good hunting. That bastard’s killed more than a few GP officers over the years.”

“We’ll get him,” Ryouko smiled, and the transmission cut off.

Nagi shook her head, her expression grim. "I hope the Marshal of the GP is in a good mood," she said, "or that officer is in big trouble."

"We've got our own problems," Honor answered.

It took a few hours before they found out the results of the battle, Ryouko and Minagi slaying Kagato on the bridge of the Soja. Honor didn't care much about that, instead her efforts were focused on the recovery of the lifepods. The medical bay was busy as they were cracked open, injured men and women pulled out one at a time.

The clear gel the pods used to protect their contents glistened as the woman struggled to get out and Honor felt a moment of purest relief. "Michelle," she breathed, rushing to her lover's side.

Michelle smiled weakly, the dusky skinned officer leaning against Honor's easy strength. "The Dauntless?" she asked weakly.

"Gone," Honor answered, "but we've recovered most of your crew."

"Thank god," Michelle slumped, exhausted.

To be continued....

Chapter 33

Title: Chapter 33: One's Own Honor 8

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor: Eight

"They're going to where?" Michelle blinked in surprise, the dusky skinned officer standing on her bridge as a section of the Fleet hung in deep space near a solar system out on the very edge of Jurai colonized space.

Honor Harrington adjusted her uniform a bit uncomfortably, the brown haired woman on the viewscreen looking good with the new insignias of an Admiral on her collar. "I'm not sure the name of the bar," she answered her mildly from her own ship, the Nike, "but Ryouko is on a planet in this system looking for that Galaxy Police officer, Kiyone."

"Must have impressed Ryouko," Michelle noted. The battle with Kagato had ended months ago, the Manticore fleet working quickly to rebuild it's forces. One unexpected effect of the conflict had been the attention it had brought from the surviving galactic empires, more than one watching the young military power warily.

"That she did," Honor agreed. She scowled, recalling the information they received in the aftermath. In return for helping them defeat Kagato Kiyone had been tried by the GP, finally choosing to plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for a dishonorable discharge.

"Bleek," Nimitz chided her, the slim treecat clinging to his chosen person's shoulder.

"Stinker knows you pretty well," Michelle commented. She looked curious, "Why does Jurai have such a hatred for Ryouko, anyway?"

"Besides the fact that Manticore is a potential threat to Jurai," Honor smiled slightly, "there's supposed to be bad blood between Ryouko and the Emperor. Apparently a few years back Jurai attempted to force a colony that was looking for independence back into the fold...."

"And Ryouko stopped them," Michelle anticipated.

"Exactly," Honor nodded, "and the Emperor took it as a personal insult." One of Honor's staff discretely signaled her and she sighed, "Excuse me, Captain."

"We'll talk more later," Michelle flashed a smile before disconnecting.

Honor looked towards her tactical officer, "Kei, what's the situation?"

"Ryo-Ohki is inbound," the redhead reported then Kei frowned, "but I'm picking up two unknown drive signatures as well. I can't be certain, but I'd say they were civilian ships trying to conceal their presence."

"Interesting," Honor frowned. The majority of Fleet was back in Manticore space along with the Washu's revenge, they only had about ten ships handy, mostly light but fast battlecruisers. "Put me through to Minagi," she ordered.

"Admiral," Minagi looked up with a welcoming smile, her long blue mane flowing down over her shoulders. The scars on each of her cheeks didn't distract from the warmth of her smile, in a way they only added to it.

"... we don't know for sure what those ships are," Honor finished, "but there are rumors of slavery rings out here. I'd like you to take your Valiant and the Striker to investigate, the rest of us remaining to cover Ryouko."

"Good plan," Minagi said simply, her eyes lit up with excitement, "I'm on it." With that she disconnected, external views showing the two cruisers swiftly moving off to investigate the unknown ships, soon accelerating to near maximum.

"Ryo-Ohki has entered communications range," Webster offered, the young man smiling slightly, "we're being hailed."

"Put them on," Honor answered.

Ryouko looked much like her twin, only the unmarked cheeks and different uniform making her different. "Open the docking bays," she grinned, "mission accomplished."

"Welcome back," Honor answered, noting the black haired woman who stood beside Ryouko. She looked visibly tired, a bit the worse for wear and Honor added, "And may I personally welcome you, Officer Kiyone?"

Kiyone looked up in surprise but managed a smile. "I'm not an officer any more," she answered, "but thanks for the thought."

Ryouko cut the connection and Honor turned to leave the bridge as she formally said, "Number one, you have the bridge." The lift swiftly carried her down then out to the docking bays even as she considered the woman she that had just seen. 'It looks like things haven't been easy for her since she left the GP,'' Honor noted, 'best keep that in mind.'

Honor reached the docking bay in time to see Ryo-Ohki arrive, the unique crystalline ship slipping in through the bay doors easily. A transport beam smoothly set Ryouko and Kiyone down onto the deck then the ship shrank, form shifting until it return to it's cabbit shape.

"Bleek!" Nimitz cheerfully hailed his furry friend even as Honor strode inside and gave Ryouko a formal salute.

"You know that I hate that formal stuff," Ryouko complained with a smile. She turned to Kiyone, "I'd like you to meet Admiral Honor Harrington, she was the one who was in command when you aided us against Kagato."

"That took guts," Kiyone offered her hand, "and courage. Not many leaders would have kept up the pressure that way, knowing the risks they were taking."

"Thank you," Honor managed a smile, her own feelings mixed about that battle. It was a victory, yes, but far too many lives had been lost for her to feel very good about it.

"Where did Minagi take off to so fast?" Ryouko asked curiously as they headed to the lifts.

"We spotted two suspicious ships in the area," Honor relayed, "operating covertly, she went to check them out." She paused, "Considering the rumors of human smuggling in the region, I thought it best we investigated."

"That could be a problem," Ryouko frowned as they swiftly headed to the bridge, "Minagi has a strong dislike for slavers." As they arrived with barely a thump she quietly added, "I think it comes from being a slave herself, once."

Honor kept her poise, barely, as they all moved out onto the bridge. "Transmit to all vessels in the squadron," she ordered crisply, "the Empress is aboard, we're moving out to meet Minagi's ships."

"Transmitted," Webster acknowledged.

"Moving to projected course of the Valiant and Striker," Prescott said, the older man at the helm moving with smooth confidence.

"I'm impressed," Kiyone murmured, looking around the bridge with no little awe.

Honor smiled slightly, keeping her eyes on the screen as they moved out. The bridge was a hybrid of Washu's design innovations and Basilisk military tech, crystalline microcircuitry fused with cutting edge military tech. The holo-imaging tank took up a quarter of the bridge, tactical and helm up front, security, communications and engineering positions in behind. Round and spacious there were extra seats for other officers and staff, as well as powerful defensive screens.

"Ma'am," Kei called her attention as the young woman continued, "I'm picking up weapons discharges, at the edge of sensor range."

"Increase to maximum acceleration," Honor ordered crisply. Dropping her voice a bit she addressed Ryouko, "Exactly how strongly does she dislike slavers?"

"She wouldn't attack without provocation," Ryouko shrugged, "but her definition of provocation has always been a bit looser than mine."

"Marvelous," Honor muttered.

"Should you go to battlestations?" Kiyone ventured.

"Not a bad idea," Honor said then gave the order. As the signal rang through the ship she continued, "As long as the slavers don't have backup, we should have tactical superiority." She paused, "As long as they're not using Q-ships, anyway."

"Q-ships?" Ryouko asked curiously.

"Merchant vessels secretly refit as warships," Honor answered, "they're very dangerous as ambushers but not so good in a stand-up fight. I understand Haven used them during the war."

"The Galaxy Police impounded a few," Kiyone agreed.

The images on the viewscreen grew as they approached, the flashes of weapons fire trailing off as Minagi's two cruisers rode herd over the three merchant vessels. Unnecessarily Kei reported, "Their engines are disabled but otherwise they're undamaged."

"Hail Minagi," Honor ordered.

"Boss," Minagi appeared, her clothes a bit smudged but otherwise looking unharmed, "I'm surprised to see you so soon."

"What's the situation?" Ryouko asked curiously, noting several battered looking men and women in matching uniforms behind Minagi.

"They fired on me as soon as I neared, and we returned fire," Minagi shrugged. "I took a few crew, boarded 'em and confirmed they're slavers." Her eyes darkened with anger, "And they were augmenting their captives, sis."

Honor bit back her anger, but barely. Unwilling augmentation of any citizen was horrible, and the kind of things these slavers might want.... "What are we dealing with?" Honor asked grimly.

"Pilot modifications," Minagi responded, "along with a partial or complete brain-memory wipe. Apparently they're selling these girls to the highest bidder."

"Bring the victims aboard," Ryouko said with surprising gentleness, "we'll get them to Washu and Yume, hopefully they can help." Her voice hardened, "And your captives, they're facing trial on Manticore for slavery and anything else we can come up with."

To be continued...

Chapter 34

Title: Chapter 34: One's Own Honor 9

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor: Nine

"She's gone where" Honor demanded, the brown haired woman in a crisp captain's uniform glaring at the officer whom had been assigned to keep an eye on Ryouko.

"She's gone down to the planet" Tremaine answered, the young man visibly pale under Honor's gaze"I couldn't stop her, ma'am."

"Marvelous" Honor did her best not to curse, but it took some effort.

"Bleek" Nimitz scolded her gently, the eight legged treecat clinging to her shoulder.

They were orbiting a minor world bordering on Jurai’s sphere of influence, intending to try to open up a dialog with the planet's rulers. Ryouko was realistic enough to know that making allies against Jurai would be wise, no matter which way things developed between Manticore and Jurai.

Things went bad almost from the start, of course. Despite much of the region being unclaimed space the planetary government claimed the Manticore ships had entered sovereign territory, then without warning they had launched an attack on Honor's division of ships. Fighting defensively Honor had held the line even as Ryouko took Ryo-Ohki ahead to try and communicate with the planetary government.

Obviously, it hadn't gone well.

"What is a Jurai heavy cruiser doing here" Honor frowned, noting the ship that hung in orbit nearby their own ships.

"I think that's the root of the problem" Tremaine admitted"it looks like they were here to negotiate with them first."

"And when the planetary government saw us coming they panicked" Honor realized. "And Ryouko is..."

"Fighting, I believe" one of the new officers spoke up, Lieutenant Hunt"she took a squad of Manticoran marines down with her."

"Hail the Empress" Honor ordered.

Yuri nodded, the black haired young woman working her controls. A moment later she reported"Contact established, ma'am."

Ryouko appeared on the main screen, her long blue main slightly messy and a few smudges on her cheeks. There was a wild grin on her face as she said"Too bad you missed the start of the fun"

Honor had to remind herself a officer did not scold her commander in chief, no matter how much she wanted to. Instead she asked"What's your situation"

Ryouko laughed"I got tired of sitting up in orbit watching things go crazy down here so I thought I'd take steps." She paused"The civil guard, police and military are all fighting for access to the few space transports available, so things were getting a little hairy for the citizens."

"Understood" Honor nodded"but be aware there are Jurai forces on the planet, too. I'd really like to avoid starting a war, if we can."

"We're already in a war" Ryouko paused"informally." She turned her head, eyes narrowing before she barked"Got to go." With that the image was gone, space swirling around them.

Honor had a bad feeling about this and ordered"Hunt, can you get a image of where Ryouko is down on the surface"

"Aye aye" Hunt answered, the image on the screen changing as he used a combination of sensors to cut through the atmosphere to the planet's surface... and saw a pitched battle going on.

Ryouko was in the middle of the planetary forces, red energy blade cutting down everyone who took a shot at her. The Empress of Manticore fought like a warrior born, dodging attacks then returning to defeat any who dared oppose her. Then they saw another figure fighting the planetary forces, leading a band of figures through fighting until their paths finally crossed.

"Tell me that isn't who I think it is" Honor sighed.

"Sorry to say I can't do that" Tremaine groaned out"that's Ayeka, the first Princess of the planet Jurai."

Ayeka was dressed in formal diplomatic robes, now a bit battered by her attempted flight from the world. Long violet hair flowed down her back, her eyes a more delicate shade of purple. The two women looked at each other a moment then Ayeka ignited her own golden energy blade and turned to face Ryouko in battle.

"Washu is going to have kittens" Honor murmured as they watched them leap into battle.

"Bleek" Nimitz sounded amused.

Back and forth they fought, Ayeka surprisingly holding her own against Ryouko's skills. It was hard to see their faces but both almost looked like they were enjoying the battle, testing each other's strengths and weaknesses. Back and forth, relentlessly, then suddenly the screen went white!

"Orbital weapon's discharged" Hunt reported grimly.

"Target that cannon" Honor barked"then get me an image of the surface back"

Tremaine was at his weapons station, swiftly getting a reading on the enemy weapon's platform. "An antique laser weapon" he reported, firing their main batteries to destroy the device. A single shot sent it swirling away as a puddle of molten wreckage even as he targeted and destroyed the rest for good measure.

"Ryouko" Honor asked crisply.

"She's fine" Hunt sighed in relief.

Honor looked to the screen then blinked in surprise at the image there. Ryouko held the Princess Ayeka safely in her arms, the two standing at the edge of the crater the orbital weapon had created. They stood there for a few moments, both of the women clearly a little stunned by the turn that events had taken.

Then the battle caught up with them again, and they were separated by the sudden crush of people. Ayeka looked up from her band of diplomats, saw that Ryouko was looking at her, and the warrior raised her blade up in a grim salute to Ayeka. Gravely, Ayeka did the same for Ryouko, and then they were gone.

"I'll be damned" Tremaine muttered softly.

"Contact the planetary government" Honor said crisply"or whatever is left of it. Tell them that if they attempt deliberate regicide again we'll have to bombard the planet from orbit." Honor felt the eyes of her crew on her and smiled"We know we don't do that but considering Manticore's less than stellar reputation they won't risk it."

"Yes, ma'am" Yuri grinned.

"Transport sphere" Hunt reported"heading for the Jurai ship."

"Looks like the princess and her people are leaving" Honor noted.

"Should we try to..." Tremaine asked.

"No" Honor was firm"despite everything we're not at war with Jurai." Mentally she added, 'Not yet, anyway.' Aloud she continued"Get ready to receive Ryo-Ohki, please."

It wasn't long before Ryouko was striding the halls of the ship, Honor, Ryo-Ohki and Nimitz following. "Who was that young woman" Ryouko asked, a thoughtful look on her face.

"You don't know" Honor blinked in surprise.

"Would I be asking if I did" Ryouko sighed. She walked a bit stiffly, her uniform a little battered but she appeared unhurt from the conflict.

"Sorry" Honor smiled. "She looks like the first princess of Jurai, the Lady Ayeka, but I'll need to run a visual match from records to be sure."

"Ayeka, huh" Ryouko murmured thoughtfully. They walked along a few moments"Have someone prepare a full briefing on her for me."

"Why" Honor asked warily.

"I think" Ryouko answered calmly"I have an idea."

To be continued...

Chapter 35

Title: Chapter 35: One's Own Honor 10

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor: Ten

Kiyone nervously adjusted her Major's insignia, then reached down to tidy up her uniform. The black haired young woman was still getting used to wearing the Manticore uniform, designed so different from her old Galaxy Police one, but she was adapting slowly but surely. She left her quarters and went out into the halls on the fleet drydock, floating high above Manticore, where the latest designs of vessels were being constructed and tested.

"It's good to have you aboard, Kiyone," Washu looked up from where she stood in the command center that Kiyone had entered a few moments later, her lips curling up in an honest smile of welcome.

"Ma'am," Kiyone nodded, fighting the urge to salute. Over the months that she had been with Manticore she had learned a lot, including the odd way Ryouko worked. Washu had no official rank, but she had her lover Yume were probably Ryouko's closest advisors, ministers in all but name.

Washu looked amused, "Remember, just call me Washu." She smirked as she drawled, "Or little Washu, if you like."

Kiyone just let that one go. "Has there been any word on Nagi?" she asked seriously.

The amusement on Washu's face largely went away at that point. "No, not yet," she said intently, "it's been three weeks since she went to Jurai and not a word."

"Damn it," Kiyone made a face.

Thinks had been rapidly going down hill with Jurai for several months now, but this was a new low. Ryouko had begun to expand the Manticore Empire against several hostile neighbors, ultimately ending up on the edge of Jurai space. She had planned to open up diplomatic talks with Jurai at that point, but the Emperor had not only refused to talk to them, he had ordered his vessels to move against Manticore's forces.

Sending Nagi in as a diplomatic envoy was Ryouko's last hope to resolve things semi-peacefully, but it looked like it wasn't going too well. The border between Jurai and Manticore was swiftly becoming a battleline, with Admiral Harrington out there keeping an eye on things along with the best of their fleet.

"Minagi is having fits, as you can imagine," Washu said grimly. She shook herself, "The only good news is that the diplomatic push with the nonaligned powers is going well."

"I'm glad," Kiyone said a bit wryly. If felt odd at times, being in the position that she was in. Her experience with the GP along with the amount of travel she had done had swiftly lead to her becoming one of Ryouko's inner circle, advising the Empress on many diplomatic matters, and she was quickly rising in rank in the fleet as well.

"I know that you feel conflicted in all this," Washu added quietly as the staff that ran the command center hurried around them, "but I think you know first hand that the Galaxy Police aren't on the side of the angels in all this."

"Especially how blatantly the GP has chosen to climb into bed with Jurai," Kiyone conceded, thinking of the Galaxy Police presence on the Jurai side of the battlelines, "but I still have friends over there, even if I think the organization itself stinks."

"That's true," Washu nodded, the little redhead smiling wryly. "If it helps any the Science Academy has come down publicly on Jurai's side," she added seriously, "putting Yume and myself in a similar position to yours."

"Not fun," Kiyone was about to say something more when an officer spoke up.

"Ma'am," Nicole spoke up, the pink haired new recruit sitting at sensors, "there's an unidentified hyper signature out on the edge of the solar system." The young man worked the controls with confidence, "It's civilian, not Jurai or Manticore."

"Assuming they have military grade sensors, how long until they get into range to scan the docks?" Kiyone ordered crisply.

"If it's Jurai or Galaxy Police tech, probably half an hour," Washu answered crisply. She looked up at Kiyone, "You think they're trying to see what we're building out here?"

"We've kept the Light Armored Craft and the Carriers for them a secret up till now," Kiyone shrugged, "I'd like to keep it a secret if we can." She narrowed her eyes in thought, considering the situation, "Why don't we send a ship out to meet them, far enough away to keep them from scanning us? We can always use the old customs inspection excuse."

"You don't need my permission," Washu tossed her a smile, "but I agree with you."

Kiyone left a commander in charge as she left the bridge, hurrying down the halls towards the docks. She made herself ignore the view outside the armored windows, though she was tempted to slow down to study the ships that were in construction just outside.

The Manticore system drydock was one of the busiest in the Empire and home to some of the most vital projects under the protection of Home Fleet. The new LAC Carriers were swiftly coming together, construction crews hauling metal segments together to assemble the massive, blocky craft. Along with standard shipboard weapons each would carry a wing of eight LACs, the nimble, very lethal craft a deadly surprise to any enemy.

'At least we're hoping to keep it a surprise,' Kiyone thought to herself as she reached the docks. Several light cruisers were moored to the heavy dock, intended for possible defense of the station as well as to transport crew. She keyed the airlock and stepped into zero gravity, sliding across the connection tube to the waiting ship.

"Ma'am," the lieutenant saluted as she stepped onto the deck, the dusky skinned young man looking a bit nervous.

"Let the bridge know I'm coming Roger," Kiyone said crisply as she strode by.

"Yes ma'am," Roger saluted again before hitting the internal communications system.

A few moments later and Kiyone stepped off the lift onto the bridge, smiling slightly as she saw the crew busily preparing to move out. The captain turned to smile, the brown haired woman throwing a crisp salute, "Welcome aboard, Major Kiyone."

"Captain Tita," Kiyone returned the young lady's salute. A recent arrival to the Fleet Captain Tita had started out as just a ocean going captain on a small colony world before getting caught up in Manticore's diplomatic efforts and an attempted murder. Once the dust settled Tita and her crew were offered a chance to join up, and after some debate they agreed.

"Nicole over at Drydock passed us over the sensor readings," Tita reported with a merry twinkle in her eyes that showed that she really enjoyed her work, "we've already got a least-time intercept plotted and ready to go."

"Well done," Kiyone murmured with a smile, "let's go."

"Balboa," Tita turned to her tanned, blonde haired executive officer, "execute course, start us up at 200 gravities." She keyed the communicator for engineering, "Mikhail, we're on the move."

The gravely voice of the old engineer reminded Kiyone of many engineers she had met, crusty men who were more comfortable with their engines than with most human beings. "You'll have full power as needed," Mikhail rumbled out, "and the lazy yard crew had completed the weapons upgrade as promised."

"Weapons upgrade?" Kiyone asked as the ship rumbled just slightly, disconnecting from the station and moving out into the blackness of space.

Tita smiled slightly, "Washu's committed to bringing cruisers up to par with larger ships in energy arms, at least." The vessel accelerated through the void, stars streaming by the viewport as they raced to the intercept point.

"Can we scan the vessel yet?" Kiyone asked crisply.

Balboa was frowning slightly, "It's a private boat, but an older class of ship." He paused, "Unarmed, according to scans, but it carries a Galaxy Police insignia."

Tita looked over to Kiyone as they slowed, the ship coming to a halt a cautious distance away. "Do you want to hail them, or should I?" she asked.

"Considering the GP doesn't like me very much right now," Kiyone answered her wryly, "you probably should do it."

"Galaxy Police vessel," Tita said formally, "this is Captain Tita of the Manticoran cruiser Cha Cha Maru II, please identify yourself and state your intentions."

The view screen fuzzed with static, then the very messy interior of the ship appeared. "Oh, where's that video feed," the familiar voice asked. The view shifted a bit, then a cheerful looking blonde appeared, her dusky skin oddly suiting her warm expression.

"Mihoshi?" Kiyone blurted out in surprise.

Mihoshi beamed, pushing her blonde hair back from her face. "Kiyone, I've been looking all over for you," she said cheerfully.

"Friend of yours?" Tita had to ask, her voice tinged with amusement.

Kiyone was sweatdroping, but she couldn't help the smile that stretched her face. "An old friend of mine," she admitted. "We'd better let her dock," she advised, "and find out what's going on."

A few moment's later Kiyone and Tita were waiting by the docking hatch, the larger vessel floating beside the GP patrol boat. Tita looked up at her thoughtfully, "You know, I don't think I've seen you smile like that before, ma'am."

Kiyone felt herself blush a bit, "I have to admit, I've missed her."

There was a soft chime from the hatch, indicating that the connection tube was pressurized and ready to go. Tita activated the switch, the door opening up as she continued, "Well, as long as there's no problems, I don't care."


"Ooof!" Kiyone hit the ground underneath the happy blonde, the other woman having flung herself through the hatch and right atop Kiyone. Kiyone felt her cheeks going bright red as Mihoshi snuggled happily then sighed, "Hello, Mihoshi."

To be continued...

Chapter 36

Title: Chapter 36: One's Own Honor 11

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor: Eleven

Eighth Fleet rested in space, though compared to sea navies of old it would likely only qualify as a squadron or more. Still, the numbers of ships were deceiving. Each one of these starships, the almost fluid hybrids of Washu's organic designs and Gryphon's traditional military tech, could unleash incredible damage, and together the fleet was nearly unstoppable.

'Too bad we're facing someone nearly as powerful,' Honor Harrington thought, the young woman standing on the bridge. Not too far in cosmic terms another fleet waited, a division of ships belonging to Jurai, one of the most powerful empires in space. Using their unique wooden vessels and Great Trees they had been an unbeaten military power for centuries.

"Bleek," Nimitz murmured, the large tree-cat crouched on her shoulder as around them the crew waited, tension hanging in the air.

"It's all right, Stinker," Honor murmured, scratching the 'cat's ears as she tried to breathe out some of her own tension.

Nearly four standard weeks ago Manticore had sent in Nagi as a diplomat, with full authority and instructions to negotiate a halt to hostilities on their behalf with Jurai. The flamboyant former bounty hunter had been instructed to stay in regular contact, but she seemed to have disappeared without a trace.

"Captain on the bridge!" a officer declared and Honor turned slightly, smiling as a dusky skinned woman left the lift and strode to her side.

Michelle Henke smiled, stopping at Honor's side. "Admiral," she nodded, eyes twinkling with subtle amusement.

Honor felt her cheeks color slightly. Command of a fleet required an admiral, according to Gryphon regulations, and to appease the old guard Ryouko had given Honor a field promotion to admiral before sending her out here. It was purely a temporary measure, but Michelle seemed to get great pleasure out of her lover's elevation.

"We just got in a message from command," Michelle handed over the datapad with a more serious look, "according to Jurai Nagi never even arrived."

"Which is a load of garbage," Honor answered softly, "one of our last messages from her ship the Ken-Ohki was that she had been contacted by Jurai's orbital forces."

Michelle nodded, her expression grave. "Ryouko has formally notified Jurai that unless we hear from our ambassador in the next day," she said, "we're resuming military operations against Jurai and her allies."

"We're ready, of course," Honor said, a bit of regret in her voice.

Michelle looked at her lover thoughtfully, keeping her voice down as she said, "You hoped for a peaceful resolution?"

Honor nodded slightly as she said quietly, "I don't enjoy this, though I do know it's all been necessary." She smiled wryly, "Though considering Manticore's been the aggressor so far, I'm probably not one to talk."

"Come on," Michelle led her off the bridge, the two entering into the captain's ready room. She waved Honor to a seat even as she called the steward for coffee for her and cocoa for Honor. "You're in a bit of a funk," she said gently, "what's wrong?"

"The latest casualty reports came in," Honor finally sighed.

Michelle winced. It was one of the things that she most dreaded about this job, the monthly report that might have old friends or comrades, classmates and comrades in arms on it. "Was it a friend or..." she asked softly.

"Alistair McKeon," Honor said softly, "he made captain shortly after the defense of Gryphon. I was the one who recommended him for independent command..."

"I met him," Michelle kept her voice firm, "and I doubt you were the only one to give him that recommendation." A faint smile, "He's a good man."

"Yeah," Honor took a drink. "He was out on anti-piracy patrols when they were hit by a group of Juraian sponsored privateers."

Michelle fought back a curse. As part of the ongoing war with Manticore Jurai had sponsored privateers to raid Manticore's shipping and to force them to divert military vessels to protect those ships and the innocents aboard. Making matters worse they had armed those pirates with modern weapons, increasing the threat many times.

"McKeon got the shippers away," Honor continued dully, "but there were more pirates than he had ships and he couldn't let them chase the merchants."

Michelle could easily imagine the scenario: a smaller band of ships fighting hard to cripple or kill their superior enemy, taking whatever damage it took to win. The tactical realities were brutal, with the loss of your ship almost a certainty.

"It's not that I don't want to fight," Honor's voice dropped to a dangerous purr, her eyes glittering, "it's that I want it too much." She swallowed, "A part of me wants to attack NOW, burn those bastards right out of space..."

"Bleek," Nimitz agreed, the soft hiss of the treecat echoing his mistress' rage.

"Honor!" Michelle put the command snap into her voice, the sort of thing you learned in officer training and never forgot. Honor jerked up, surprised out of her anger and Michelle sighed, "Jurai is fighting to maintain thousands of years of rule, Honor."

"That's no excuse," Honor growled.

"No, it's not," Michelle quietly agreed, "but it does make their desperation more understandable." She took a breath as she pointed out, "When we thought Manticore was going to destroy Gryphon we got pretty desperate, too."

Honor narrowed her eyes, "We never got that desperate."

"We could have, though," Michelle said firmly. She looked out the window at the ships floating there in space, "The ships we're facing our mostly manned by people like you and I, fighting for their king and country."

"So will anyone really get punished for any of this?" Honor asked.

"When we win," Michelle put the focus on the first word, "I know Ryouko won't let them get away with what they've done." She gave Honor a smile, reaching out to put her hand on hers, "Just don't lose your perspective, love."

"Thanks," Honor smiled back, her words echoed by a comforting sound from Nimitz.. It was interesting seeing Honor consciously readying herself to return to duty. It was almost as if she was donning some invisible captain's armor, readying herself for the coming battle.

"Ready," Michelle finished her coffee, rising to offer her hand.

Honor took it, rising gracefully, "Always."

The bridge was as busy as ever, status reports and communications from various ships in the fleet, internal matters to deal with and so on. Michelle moved from station to station, talking with her crew and checking the boards, her presence both gentle and commanding.

'Michelle really is a natural captain,' Honor thought admiringly, feeling oddly comforted by her talk with the other woman. She still felt the anger and grief, of course, but at least now she thought she could manage it well enough.

"Bleek," Nimitz teased, using one of his arms to tug a lock of her hair gently.

"Captain Henke," the communication's officer had a urgency in it that stilled all conversation across the busy bridge.

"Yes?" Michelle asked calmly.

"A message from Jurai command, text only," Mr. Webster reported. He took a shaky breath and said, "The Empire of Jurai formally announces the resumption of hostilities with the Republic of Manticore."

"Battlestations," Michelle ordered crisply, alarms going off across the ship.

"Mr. Webster, forward a copy of that to all squadron commanders," Honor commanded swiftly, "status is red! I want all our ships in a defensive formation five minutes ago."

"Jurai vessels are moving," tactical declared, "standard attack pattern."

"Wait till we close the range before firing," Michelle ordered crisply, "put the latest tactical imagery on the main viewer."

Honor looked up, watching the icons of her band of ships moving closer to the red marked Juraian ships, and was struck by a single thought. 'This really is it,' she mused, 'one way or the other, this is the beginning of the end.'

To be continued...

Chapter 37

Title: Chapter 37: One's Own Honor FINAL

Tenchi Muyo: Conquest! One's Own Honor: Final

"Oh my god," Honor Harrington breathed out, standing on her flag bridge as the admiral junior grade waited.

"Bleek," Nimitz agreed, the treecat holding on to her shoulder to peer out into space.

Eighth fleet was spread out on the front lines, now reinforced to have the numbers to hold the line if needed. And they had, fighting off both Jurain tree ships, Galaxy police crews and many of the allies of that great star nation, not yielding this vital forward point, keeping the route open to launch an attack on the Jurai homeworld itself. The strain was telling on the ships, field repairs and battle scars marking them, but to those who knew they were badges of honor.

"Glad to see us?" Ryouko asked with a grin. The blue haired ruler of Manticore stood on the bridge of the Washu's Revenge, the massive vessel leading several of the boxy craft that were the latest products of Manticore and Griffin's shipyards. More seriously she said, "You've done a hell of a job out here the past few months, thank you."

"Ma'am," Honor nodded, "my crews’ thank you."

"Are those what I think they are?" Captain Michelle Henke asked, the dusky skinned captain looking at the vessels eagerly.

Washu chuckled, the small, redheaded scientist nodding, "They're ready, crews too."

"Then we're finally ready," Honor murmured.

"Come aboard the Revenge," Ryouko said quietly, "we're organizing a captain's meeting. It's time to get ready to end this."

Not long after Honor and Michelle walked the corridors of the Revenge, heading to the main conference hall, Nimitz cradled in Honor's arms "It's strange," Michelle murmured as they reached the doors, "how long ago it feels since we were here."

"As long as you're with me," Honor murmured, "it could have been forever."

With a blush of pleasure Michelle followed Honor into the conference room, eyes sweeping the table. Both familiar and several unfamiliar faces were at the table, a sign of the rapid promotions that had been going on in this time of war.

"Welcome," Kiyone looked up, her long black hair falling down her back. She looked good in her Manticore uniform, having clearly settled in to her new role on Ryouko's staff.

"Yo," Minagi nodded, but the blue haired young woman's face was grim. Her lover Nagi had been sent on a mission to Jurai months ago and had quite simply vanished. Her determination to find out what happened positively radiated off her, as did her anger.

Ryouko looked up from the head of the table where she was in conversation with Washu and Yume. "About time," she grinned, moving to take her seat. Around the table men and women sat a few junior officers leaning up against the walls. Seriously she said, "You've done the hard work out here, keeping Jurai bottled up here, good work."

Honor actually blushed, seemingly at a loss for words.

Washu looked amused, the little redheaded scientist taking pity as she activated the monitor. "We've kept our research projects under tight security," she explained, "so many of you in this room don't know al the details of what we're hauling."

"Or at least nothing but the name," Titan commented, the brown haired young woman smiling.

"Bleek," Nimitz sounded amused.

"Starting from designs from the Griffon Navy," Washu showed images of a small, agile strike craft, "we've designed a powerful space vessel that crews one and is far more maneuverable than any larger vessel."

Minagi smiled slightly, "What took the longest was getting the assembly lies going and training the pilots, really. That and modifying transports to carry them."

"How effective are they going to be?" Michelle asked, leaning forward intently.

"Yohko?" Ryouko nodded to the young woman.

Yamamoto Yohko nodded, her long hair and almost catlike eyes giving her an impish look. "We took our first few fighters out on a test run in a remote border skirmish," she related as she stood casually in front of the assembled captains, "there were just four fighters and three cruisers against six Jurain third generation treeships."

Minagi grinned, "None of the treeships escaped."

"What's the tactical doctrine for using the fighters?" Honor asked intently, "How long will we have to shake down our combined fleets?"

"A week," Ryouko answered. She sighed and waited for all the protests to die down before continuing, "I know that's not long, but one of the best advantages we're going to get is keeping the fighters a secret. The longer we delay the attack, the more likely that Jurai or the Galaxy Police are going to find out about them."

"We'll get it done," Yohko said firmly.

"I notice you just mentioned Jurai and Galaxy Police," Michelle noted, "does that mean what I think it does?"

Kiyone nodded with a grin, "Most of Jurai's allies have formally declined to help them defend planet Jurai." She paused, her eyes filled with a kind of regret, "The only major hold out is Galaxy Police, and it looks like they'll be there till the end."

"After all of this is over someone is going to have to take a serious look at how deep Jurai was in with the Galaxy Police," Yume noted from where the scientist sat by her lover Washu, "I still can't believe the Marshal would go to war for them."

"Let's not get too overconfident," Ryouko looked around the room with steely eyes. "We'll be facing first generation treeships alongside the best of the Galaxy Police, ships that are more powerful than anything our fleet has fought before," she reminded them.

Honor surprised herself by speaking up, "Maybe so, but I'm confident in our people." She paused, meeting Ryouko's eyes, "And confident in our leader."

"You got that right," Minagi grinned, noting with some amusement that her sister was the one blushing, this time.

"All right, all right," Ryouko quieted down her captains again. "Everyone head back to your ships," she said, "we have a week of simulated combat runs with the fighters to go through." As the captains filed out she called, "Honor?"

"I hope I didn't mess up your speech too much," Honor said softly, Michelle lingering nearby, "I don't normally give in to impulse like that."

"Couldn't have planned it better myself," Ryouko answered. She smiled, "No insult intended but I plan to be on the Revenge during the assault. You've been in command of the system up to now, so I thought you should know."

"Washu's Revenge is the best place for you to be," Honor said frankly, "especially if this gets as hairy as I think it will."

"You think it's going to get nasty too?" Ryouko said.

"This is Jurai's last stand," Honor answered frankly, "if it gets desperate they're going to throw everything they have at us."

"About what I thought," Ryouko agreed. She looked over at Michelle a second, then back at Honor, "Did I ever tell you I was attracted to you when we first met?"

"Eh?" Honor blinked, confused by the sudden change of topic.

Ryouko laughed softly, "I hope Captain Henke knows what sort of prize she has." With that the Empress left, still chuckling to herself softly.

Later that night Honor and Michelle lay in bed together, talking softly. "I still can’t believe she said that," Honor murmured, cheeks flaming.

"That's because you don't understand how attractive you are," Michelle answered. She toyed with Honor's short brow hair, "What do you think will happen?"

"I don't know," Honor admitted, "but I'm hopeful we'll win."

"I mean after that," Michelle answered.

"Defeating Jurai's fleet is only the start," Honor said, "Ryouko then gets to fight the harder war to win over the people." She paused before adding, "I almost think our job is going to be easier."

"I wouldn't go that far," Michelle chuckled. She cuddled close, "No matter what happens, I'm glad that I have you."

Honor held Michelle to her, breathing in her scent, "Me too."

Outside in the suite Nimitz curled up in front of the door, a disgusted look on the treecat's face over being locked out of the bedroom. "Bleek," he grumped and lay down to sleep.


Notes: the story continues in Tenchi Muyo Conquest. My intent here was to get into the backstory of Tenchi Muyo Conquest, most of it told from Honor Harrington's perspective, and I think I've managed pretty well. I'm still thinking of doing a story after Conquest, too, but it's not coming any time soon.

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