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....