Chapter 1: Prologue
The light on the panel blinked red. Sure, sometimes it did that, but it was never a bad idea to check. Probably some ham radio operator near the planet's northern pole playing around during the solar storm. How little they knew of subspace, the people of this planet. If ever the family needed a couple million bucks how many secrets I could sell the apes , she thought. Luckily the last time the damage she couldn't repair herself was somehow covered by extraterrestrial insurance. Funny. Who knew taking out a thousand-year policy would make a dif-
Static. But with a pattern. Some kind of amplitude modulation. Maybe if she changed the receiver oscillation? A touch here, a twist there-
The first sound she made all morning, and rightly so, as she tore off her visor to plug her ears. That was a little too loud, that squeal. It couldn't have been natural. Something about it didn't sound right and it wasn't the tinnitus. The computer was having trouble figuring it out, no matter what algorithm she put it through, no matter how fast she wrote new ones, the squeal had a dimension she couldn't crack.
And it wasn't the only one. Try though she might, the subsequent noises coming through on the subspace scanner wouldn't sort themselves between filters. Every new one needed a new set of equations to even get close to the kinds of clarity of the first, if you could call the crackling wheezy sounds she got from her filtering “clarity”. Nothing seemed to truly clear out. For the first time in a long time she was almost stumped. Good thing , she thought, it's been a while since I had this kind of a challenge. Now, let's try something else.
New layers, new checksums, new receipts. And no stopping on the incoming transmissions. More and more memory, more and more programs--no way her setup had enough computing power to handle the calculations and the virtual antennae for the ever-growing number of transmissions. Maybe after the solar storm, the subspace reception would be strong enough to hack the usual corners. Maybe she could poke into the computers run by the lesser-geniuses at the Galaxy Academy. Could it be they were pointing an antenna at this little corner of the galaxy?
Probably too proud. They wouldn't dare acknowledge that their collective nemesis lives in this little solar system. Idiots, all of them. Wait, idiots... Idiot! That blonde knucklehead of a police officer was out making a report to her superiors. In open, untempered space. During a subspace-scrambling solar storm. She might have been clueless but at least sometimes she was useful, like perhaps being a beacon for the top scientific genius in the Universe. Maybe if the terrestrial satellites could bounce a pirate signal she could piggyback into the feed and get a new angle, even if all that came over the speakers was her tiny little voice saying-
"Hellooooo? Is anybody there? It's Detective FFKKKKKKKKKKKKKKHH-"
Huh, convenient masking there for an open channel like that. You'd almost think she was doing it on purpose. But not that one. Lucky to a fault, even when she was in the middle of an aggressive solar light show. Still, Detective FFKKKHH wasn't much help on her own. But maybe you've got the answers for me... Open up, my pretty...
The ship's computer was used to being poked by the crab trojans by now, enough leftover code hidden in its memory to write a book. Her blonde friend really was transmitting on all channels, even private and reserved ones. She was even broadcasting on the Royal Jurai Automated Weather and General Warning channel. It was almost amazing to behold how many channels the clueless cop had bungled her way into. Not a lot of juicy information coming in, though. Just that lost little voice and static.
Static... Of course! The feed coming in was direct from the ship's computer, so there couldn't be static. Either the microphone was broken or maybe some interference was coming in backwards over the channel. Something that could be filtered.
It made the little genius's brain run at a million miles a minute. Doesn't sound like much. Data? Maybe it's data. Quick, plug it in. Is it- Is it a picture? Is it audio? Is it... coordinates? If this is incoming data on an outside channel... is it the sun? Is it the solar flares? What is it? WHAT IS IT?
A little genius fist slammed through the hard light keyboard, disrupting it. Something was missing and she couldn't see what it could be.
Blink. Blink. The little red light was still blinking. Only now it was blinking on a map. For an echo of a thousand random transmissions of all different types and origins, it seemed almost off-putting that out of all of them they seemed to converge on a single point but there it was. A single solitary place where something in the static was absolutely clear. And as fate often had it, it was close by.
And it's moving closer. Interesting. Very interesting.
Chapter 2: Arrival
The cicadas chirped and the insects buzzed as the heat of the sun baked the earth. The trees, seemingly indifferent, occasionally permitted their noble leaves to twitch in the breeze, which blew casually across the forest and made late summer almost bearable. Higher and higher the sun went up, drawing the morning's shadows away from the eyes of the forest's newest arrival.
They sat in silence as the world slowly came into focus. First the white light, then the shadows from the trees, then the sounds around them. Something familiar to it, but it wasn't clear enough. No matter how hard they thought, the recall wasn't quite there.
That's the thing up there. Trees. Now we have a word. Trees. Trees are in a place. What place was that again?
Forest. A place where trees are. Forest. Trees. Can't see the forest for them. Woods. Into the Woods, to sell the cow. Cows, animals. Bears in the woods. Things slowly started coming back, abstractions and ideas re-associating themselves with terms and pictures. The rush was incredible, like a flowing stream from a cold shower in your head, in the middle of a fever dream spent with the sexiest encyclopedia reading sweet nothings about the lifecycle of the cicada until it seemed nearly like you felt a stirring somewhere...
They bolted upright out of sheer reaction and gasped. Breathing, such a common thing that everybody did. But something felt wrong about doing it now, and it made for a rude awakening. Not once in that stream of information flooding their brain did they have a single thought about themself. Who- or what were they?
They sputtered a moment. It looks like they remembered they could speak, and at least with that, they could surmise that even if in the worst case scenario that they somehow caused this from some wrongdoing in the past, at least these thoughts had a vehicle. And somehow, this fact was comforting, because it meant that even in solitude they weren't born or made to exist alone. But otherwise, what were they born or made to exist to be?
"Whhho am... I?"
They tried speaking a few more times, the sounds came back to them. Who, what, where, which, when, the words they tried first. Some things they could guess but for the most part, they did not have the answers they really needed. They were them, unclear as to what, and somewhere in a forest somewhere on--
"Earth... That's what this place is called right? Have I got that right?" they asked as they looked up to the sky, as if pleading for an answer from above. "Everything else I remember is all about... Earth. At least, the parts that add up to this... Maybe I'm wrong, maybe this..."
Doubt set in, it wasn't working. They had to collect themself and clear their head. Wasn't very hard if they just stopped trying to fill the gaps for a second. Reminded them of something they saw once. Couldn't remember quite what. But it had some warm moments in it. And stabbing. Stabbing. Being stabbed. Again and again. The thought of a cold knife piercing their flesh suddenly rushed back and they grabbed for their chest.
"Wh- Oh, thank God."
They breathed a sigh of relief. Their chest was still there, and so was the rest of them. And while they were looking, they were surprised at the discovery of their hands. Yes, they had them. They were fine hands, four fingers and a thumb on each. Humanoid, they recalled. Human-like hands. If this feeling was right, they were on Earth and looked a bit like a human. At least a little bit. Aside from the gaps. Their body looked like a group project. Their skin wasn't a single color. Some of it was fleshy in appearance, some of it looked more ashen and had less of a... skin look to the surface. They couldn't bring it close enough to their eyes but they swore that instead of the usual bumps and pores it had a hexagonal pattern across it.
Then there was that place where it ended.
When they started feeling the ashy skin, they found a wound on their stomach. Out of some habit to an old way of doing things they wiped their hands on their thighs and quietly drew their fingers across the edge, saying another silent invocation in hopes that they wouldn't hurt themself somehow. They slipped a finger along the edge of the incision. Maybe they had been wounded after all. But it was so clean. Something like ten centimeters across, and so precise, like a surgeon had cut them and abandoned his work.
Their fingers probed inside. It didn't seem as warm as it should have been in there. The breathing they may or may not have quite figured out yet started to hitch and their chest felt heavy. Heavier than it ever had. It made them double forward and they quickly withdrew their hands from the wound, which when they realized what they had done getting their hand out shocked them twice as hard and they threw their fingers immediately into view.
Nothing. No blood or mucus or anything. Slowly they brought their hand to their face. And exhaled. That didn't feel right either. It was. Hot? And somehow it was too sharp for a simple exhalation.
"I am... not human... am I?" The shock was still too much to contemplate, but it did afford something else. They could finally see themself. It wasn't the most appealing sight. Few Earthlings have truly felt the twisting pain of both Victor Frankenstein's realization and Original Sin borne fully in a single instance, but the sight was enough to make them shriek as they pushed back into a tree and gather themself up to their feet.
Finally in full view, they could see that they were. Part human, part machine. Pieces wholesale missing. Hardly any skin on their left knee at all. The skin they did have didn't fit quite right, stretched to the limit in some places, like it was made to cover something smaller. Not enough of either human or machine elements to justify any one descriptor. No markings, no brandings. No flesh of the... tender variety to let them know what they could be. Just a mass of skin stretched poorly over a frame. Their feet seemed farther away than ever, they began to grow dizzy again. Too many thoughts at once, overloading them. They tried but they couldn't scream again. They fell against the tree again, trying to stay upright, when suddenly the first sound they couldn't identify fell on their ear.
Chapter 3: No Need for Introductions
They brought themself around the tree, somehow recalling an instinct to hide. The voice came back.
The voice was deep enough, but not very old. Maybe a young man? Someone roaming the woods? And the language was familiar. Not the one they were using a minute ago, this voice was speaking... Japanese? They began to wonder if they were in Japan. Why then, do they seem to speak English?
It had become terribly apparent that the voice was behind them. So much for hiding.
"ごっごめんなさい！" exclaimed the voice, dropping in volume along with the accompanying shuffle of feet. The new person had turned around.
"I-I- uh," they voiced, trying to make a sentence, "N-no, please-" Fiddlesticks, why was it so hard now when they had been talking to themself earlier just fine? Slowly they turned their head to see this person that had discovered them. At least they were sure that either this new person was polite, their nudity mattered to his sensibilities, or both.
"ええ？アイ...ノ...プリーズ...あそう。英語だ！" He seemed to be making sense out of what they just said. If they remembered right he realized that their words were English. And yes, he was a he, or he seemed to be. A crop of very short hair with a little wild pigtail at the back. Strong-looking shoulders, but it was hard to tell what he was capable of under his blue robe-like summer coat, tied in the middle with a dark cincher, and loose slacks that looked pretty comfortable, really. From the size of the arms sneaking out of his sleeves somehow they could tell he wasn't very grown up at all, maybe around twenty? But maybe they should answer him before he gets suspicious, since he was nice enough to give them the time of day.
"Mhm," they responded, trying to draw it out a bit. Some buried memory or instinct told them to make that answer sound like a solid letter N. "English... D-do you speak English?"
He cocked his head into a raised shoulder and let out a disappointed sound, which answered that one in the negative before he tried answering again. "Mai English izu... bad." He laughed a little, embarrassed.
"Heh. Me too." Their stomach was in knots. They could speak a little but it wasn't enough. Why could they though? The mere implication turned their stomach again.
"お名前はっ...あの... Tenchi. My nehmu Masaki Tenchi."
Where did they know that name from? Somehow it seemed a little familiar. But for the life of them they couldn't remember how. What they did know is that in some way it made them comfortable. He wasn't a threat. They tried speaking again with a "Nice to meet you..."
And then the two of them stood in silence for a second, followed by more nervous giggles. He started.
"あの。あなた... Pleasse take," he managed, taking his little peasant's robe off and leaving him in his t-shirt. They reached out carefully and gripped the material in their hand. It looked as if they could still grab things, that was a plus.
"Thank you," they muttered quietly. In spite of what he'd seen of them, he was kind enough to offer some clothes to them. So they put the little blue vestments on and naturally tied the band around--the little things still seemed to surprise them.
Slowly when it seemed nothing was going on, he began to turn around. They could see he was trying to find the words for things, but in the end he just smiled politely and indicated behind him. "Hausu. えっと... Help izu in hausu. Pleasse," raising his other hand and gathering air towards him. He was beckoning, they figured.
"Okay," they responded, nodding. He responded in kind with another nod and smile. Then the two of them were off. It was no wonder he found them so fast, he knew every tree in this wood. Almost at a good speed he led them past a shed, down a small flight and to a large lake. The forest was broken by a clearing there, and a house, just as he promised, was settled right on the water’s edge.
It was a very large house, unusually so it seemed. It had a tall sloping roof, and seemed to be three stories high, maybe more. All they knew is that it got bigger as they approached it, and something else. Something about that roof. It was tiled, seemed normal for a Japanese house, especially in the country, but something was unsettling about the color of them. As if they should be red instead of blue. Or was it blue instead of red? Something there was not quite right. And it was giving them a headache, the more they thought about it.
He led them to the door and slid it open, looking back to them with another quiet smile and a wave to indicate his inviting them inside. Stepping in, he uttered the phrase they had anticipated. "ただいま！" I'm home. Another voice answered, and they tried to translate the conversation in their head, which was a bit harder than they expected...
"Oh, big brother Tenchi, welcome back, lunch something something- huh? That person-" This voice was attached to a little girl, something like ten years old with bright eyes and a very sweet, freckled face. In the middle of her forehead were what looked like two wooden triangles, or maybe one with an indentation in the middle. Her azure hair she kept up in two pigtails, and from the impressive length of it, it looked as if she had never had a haircut in her life. It wasn't clear exactly what she had on under her cooking apron, but it looked a lot more fancy than the peasant's garb Tenchi loaned them in the woods.
"Yeah, little Sasami, this person something forest doesn't understand. Therefore, something here for help to have from Washu-san." So this one was called Sasami, and there was still another person here called Washu, whom Tenchi thought could help them.
"Washu-san something something whole morning. Door something something called and no answer. Big brother Tenchi can try, please question?" They guessed Washu locked the door and hasn't been answering knocks. More than that, they weren't sure. The conversation was getting a bit hard to follow, and they still had that headache, which didn't get any better standing in the doorway.
"Eh, I got it. Washu-san while I go, Little Sasami something this person watch something help please."
"Okay!" agreed the little one, stepping closer to him to get a better look at the newcomer in the doorway. They slouched a little, embarrassingly acknowledging they were a stranger in their house, and hoping the hole in their gut was hidden enough by the robe.
Tenchi looked back and smiled again, "All right it is, Washu-san will help." The help being in English, still aware of who he was talking to, and that made them smile back. They didn't even notice that Little Sasami had come right up to them, her toes off the edge of the floor at that quaint little Japanese step before the house.
"Hello! Nice to meet you! I'm Sasami!" she bellowed in English, and probably the six words of it she knew best judging from her confidence, grinning ear to ear with a girlish giggle as she bowed quietly and then leaned on one leg. "Please take care of me." It took a minute, the word association was bouncing around from language to language. She was really saying "nice to meet you." It just had to cross into the brain properly.
"Hello," they responded. "Nice to meet you, Sasami. Please take care of me."
"Huh! Understand something language question?"
"Mhm, little bit."
"Your name is?"
They were stumped. Some kind of sound tried to come out, then an attempt at a sentence to make the word return to them, but it wouldn't. "Name… My name... is..." they managed, furrowing their brow.
Tenchi put a hand to Sasami's shoulder. "Hey, not so much. Them is hard something. Something lunch something take person, huh?"
"Okay," she said, nodding to him. Then, she held out a hand, offering it to them. "Esteemed guest person please. Lunch something come to go please?"
"...okay." They took her little hand and slowly were led by the child to the next room. They looked back to Tenchi before passing the threshold, his polite smile still attached to his face. Though, if they could have seen after they left, they would have seen him sigh.
Little Sasami, hand tightly but somehow delicately gripping her charge, led the newcomer under the second floor overhang and into the kitchen. A great pot simmered over the stove, filling the room with the smell of gas and boiling liquids. It was a bright room, and well put together, as if someone took great care to keep it organized. Judging from the way she took command of things, they bet it was probably their little guide. They took it in as much as possible while Sasami excused herself and checked on her work.
Their head still burned quietly. Something about this place seemed strangely familiar but somehow not so. Like revisiting a wax museum version of the home you grew up in, not even Madame Tussaud could make the place feel like you lived there. Quietly they sauntered a few steps in, seeing the kitchen opened to a great room, with a raised dining platform and two large sitting areas with enough couches to seat the entire family reunion. At the end of the room was a wall of glass, and a sliding door to the deck which led to the lake… and the forest where they came from. The sheer totality of it all in one place, as if they were still in the same forest and grounded into the world, it was downright spiritual when they contemplated it. As if-
They turned. Sasami had caught them staring. Perplexed, they let out the only sound they could manage. "Hm?"
"Are you okay? Something something pain something?" She was pointing at their leg, and they could tell that she had noticed their face. That headache must have been worse than they--wait a minute, what was it she called them?
Since they hadn't answered quickly enough, Sasami's smile began to fade. "Big sister? Are you okay?" She had indeed called them that. They looked away and for a moment lost themself. Or was it herself? Him… self? Nothing seemed quite right. "Hey, owie? Hm?"
Her concern broke their existential crisis, and they smiled. "I'm okay, thank you."
"Good," she said, smiling back. "However, sorry. Lunch have to make."
"...I can aid?"
Their answer made her blink. Then her smile came back. "Mhm!"
Soon, Sasami was parsing out small tasks that she needed done, something she could have someone do for her that both couldn't understand what she needed and had no idea what the skill level of the person working for her would be. Which proved strange for both of them but in short order, they had a few vegetables and a cutting board. The knife, however, proved harder to pick up.
They took the knife handle in their hand. After about an inch off the table they flipped it over. Something stirred again in their chest. Someone did something with one of these and they can't think who. Sasami looked over quietly, a little unsure if she should respond to the look on their face again. They tried their best to shake it off, bringing the knife closer to their face, pretending somehow that they were merely studying the blade, and then slowly began to bring that blade down onto the onion before them.
And after two onions and a peeled potato it became more and more apparent they were being watched.
They couldn't explain the feeling, it felt something like a stirring in their neck, as if the little hairs there that stand on end when one is afraid also came equipped with sonar. And these little hairs seemed to point upward, as if that presence were watching them from the ceiling. But that seemed illogical, surely. Nobody could watch someone from the ceiling. Not on boring old Planet Earth…
"Hey! Big sister is too good! Um, maybe something too much," Sasami noted, seeing that they had peeled about a half bucket's worth of potatoes.
"Huh?" They paused, looking down at their hands, which they had negligently ignored for a moment. Apparently they were a machine. Or… was she? That still made their head spin, every time the kid said that word. Or is it just because they offered to help in a kitchen and the child was confused? Or… were they actually the sexist one? Too many questions. Too many potatoes. Sasami giggled.
"It's okay, potatoes are…" and she went on, before catching herself. She'd forgotten that they didn't speak the language. She shook her head and let out a little chuckle again. "Sorry…"
"It's okay, Little Sasami. Potatoes are… I'm sorry, too," they said, giggling just like Sasami did. "Maybe, um. We- We is…" They stopped and began miming. "Mashed? With dinner?"
Sasami smiled, "Sure!"
The two of them gathered what they needed of the vegetable slices and potato hunks and added them to the pot, leaving them to simmer. They nodded quietly to each other, proud of a job well done. The little one began making rounds in the kitchen, tidying what she could and, with her assistant's help, gathering dishes for setting the table. Of course, while in the living room Sasami couldn't help but keep looking at a little door under the stairs, as if the little closet in there housed a goblin that at any moment would spoil their luncheon preparation.
"Hm…" she said, quietly to herself.
"What be?" they asked her, curious what could be inside that door.
"Well, big brother Tenchi was Washu supposed to call upon. Big brother Tenchi of something should have done…" She trailed off, but the gist was clear. Or so it seemed to them, either this cupboard reminded Sasami about Tenchi getting Washu or… Washu was meant to be inside this cupboard? It seemed too much like a different story. Something having to do with Wizards or something.
That was a different voice. A higher-pitched one at that, and coming from upstairs. It was accompanied by the sound of the softest footsteps humanly possible.
"Yes?" called Sasami back. She leaned in to them and whispered, "Ayeka esteemed big sister is."
"Sasami my something have seen-- Huh? This person is who?" the new figure asked, coming into view at the top of the stairs. She was a commanding presence, almost overdressed for summer, in full pink and yellow kimono tied at the waist with a ten inch or bigger belt with an impressive bow at the back. They supposed that it must have been the finest silks, even better than Sasami's. And speaking of Sasami, why had she called her "esteemed big sister"?
"Big brother Tenchi to them something in the woods," the little sister explained. She kept going, more or less filling esteemed big sister Ayeka in the same way Tenchi had earlier.
"Oh, how terrible," Ayeka responded, starting down the stairs, one hand near the bannister and the other delicately perched in front of her face. Her astoundingly richly purple hair, like a helmet perched perfectly above her head with two long tails between the back of it and her neck that reached to the floor, hardly bobbed at all on the way down. She approached the newcomer, folded her hands again, and bowed. "Ayeka Masaki Jurai. Please take care of me."
"...h-how do you do-" they started, then shook their head and bowed back. "Please take care of me."
"Heh. Funny." Yet another voice came in, this one a little deeper and clearly more skeptical. It wouldn't be that long to find the body that matched it as a tall girl with wild blue-green hair and even wilder golden eyes suddenly appeared out of thin air between the two in mid-bow. "Tenchi something something..."
They lost track of what she was saying, the shock of her apparition causing them to take a step back. In short order, the three of them began talking. Heatedly. Meanwhile, the newcomer's mind started racing. The three of them in one place, this place. What was it? On the tip of their mind, really. It was just there, inaccessible. It was starting to make their headache worse. The burning sensation began to fog their perception, and they stepped back farther, which didn't go unnoticed by the wild girl.
"Hey, what's your problem?" she spat, hovering closer. Hovering, of course, being the best descriptor because not only was this house inhabited by mostly women, this one could also fly. This was another of the many thoughts pulsing through their mind as it burned there, prompting them to clutch their forehead.
"You hearing? Hey!" she shot out, nearly yelling this time, and coming very, very close.
"Miss Ryoko…" uttered Sasami, imploring the wild one to leave her new "big sister" alone. So that was her name. Ryoko. That name rang through their mind. Sasami… Ayeka… Ryoko… Washu… Tenchi… Neither the ringing, however, nor Sasami's plea kept Ryoko from getting too close. She reached for the newcomer's hand, to tear it from their forehead and maybe get their attention.
"I'm talkin' to y- OW!" Ryoko, it seemed, regretted that decision. As soon as she made contact with the hand, it immediately turned ashen, and tiny little sparks shot out from the corners of the little hexagons. The two of them shot apart, leaving them both clutching their hands. The ashen skin began falling away, exposing more of the endoskeleton beneath. Ryoko was not pleased at the shock she got.
"Bastard-" she started, ready to pounce. Fortunately, Tenchi, hitherto absent, grabbed her from behind.
"Ryoko, stop!" he cried, struggling against her. Her resistance started to wane as the newcomer doubled over, crying out. The sparks began to fly from all parts of their body now, arcing across the room to any unfortunately close metal object. More of their skin began to turn ashy and flake, and by now they had grabbed their head tightly as if to keep the demons from breaking their way out.
Then, without warning, they stopped sparking and their eyes opened as wide as they could. They toppled over to their knees, limp, and it was clear that there was now a small metal device with a tiny indicator light and large talons clamped to the back of their head. It seemed to have been placed there by the tiny woman standing behind them, who had been obscured until then by the newcomer's body. Unsurprisingly this one had a shock of bright red hair, kept back in a braid-ponytail combo, such that it could be down to her waist but never get in the way of the owner's face or hands. Her eyes were thin, squinted, and it was clear that she was really hoping that what she was doing would work. For the people who lived in the house, it was an indicator that something even more serious was going on than they knew about or perhaps could even comprehend. She lowered her hand from its height, having held it there until the subject fell to the floor, never introducing a rogue variable to the experiment like the good scientist she was.
"Well, now. I see once again I've arrived just in time," she proclaimed.
"...for what?" replied Ryoko.
"Just in time for lunch!"
Next time on Tenchi Muyo:
The mysterious newcomer gets a makeover, Ryoko gets her answers, and we find out why Tenchi was almost too late! Expect this and more coming soon. Oh, and lots of fanservice!!
Chapter 5: Tuck In
As if nothing happened, the small woman with the red hair was grinning from ear to ear. "Miss Washu..." uttered Sasami, speaking the first words since the smoke (and the joke) finally cleared.
"That's right, no need to look for me now, because I'm here," she replied, "and boy am I starving."
"Miss Washu," started Tenchi, "what exactly happened?"
"Hm, well. There's a fair bit I'm not clear on, but at least things are stable."
"But who is this person, and where did they come from?" asked Ayeka, stepping in.
Ryoko, of course, butted in. "And why the hell did they turn the den into an electric light show?"
"All very good questions, and I hope to get the answers, but no way I'm doing it on an empty stomach." Washu patted the half-naked, half-broken newcomer on the shoulder. "So, let's get going, hm?"
That was enough to break their reverie. They quickly took their hands off their head and stood up, the room undeniably tense over their slightest movement. After that ordeal, all they'd been through in the last hour, the words they uttered would cause everyone in the room to gasp.
"...get going where?"
And gasp they did. Because something was different up until now and they couldn't quite put a finger on it, though their brief migraine didn't help.
"Hey!" exclaimed Sasami. "You spoke…"
"Huh? What do you mean I spoke?"
"We can understand you now," explained Ayeka. "It appears you can also understand us."
"What a relief," sighed Tenchi. "It was getting tough keeping up with all the English."
"Wait, you-" they started, interrupted by a blue-haired, golden-eyed demon.
"So maybe now you want to answer some questions?" spat Ryoko, getting in their face, and yet keeping her distance, clearly afraid to get burned twice but not worried enough to get them riled again.
"Hey over there!" called Washu from the table, already tucked into a whole spread with Sasami next to her, pouring a cup of tea. "It's getting cold!"
It was becoming more apparent to them by the minute that they weren't in an ordinary home. Then again, with their half-ashy skin and possible robotic components, and of course their sudden turning into a human-shaped Tesla coil, they guessed that they probably weren't that ordinary either. Maybe, just maybe, they were in the right place.
* * *
The luncheon was awkward, most of the time spent in silence. Which was perfectly fine for some. Ayeka, clearly a lady of pedigree, spent the silence eating her rice one grain at a time. Ryoko preferred larger mouthfuls. It was apparent to even the casual eye that these two were that special kind of opposites that only two diametrically opposed characters could be, and that was rivals. Though over what, it wasn't clear just yet. Ryoko would occasionally steal a glance toward their vestments, and either she seemed interested in their chest, or perhaps she was upset over Tenchi having shared his clothes with them. (Confidentially, it was a little of both.)
Sasami leaned in. "Thanks for helping," she whispered, smiling. The magic afforded her by youth and innocence worked well, and they smiled back. Of course, that was enough to get the attention of the others, and Ayeka stirred, covering her mouth with the ends of her fingers.
"Oh, did you help Sasami prepare this?" she asked with her hand covering her mouth, the upper-crust oozing from the tiny gaps between her fingers.
"Well, I mean. I did a few things to help prep. Chopping and so on, nothing big."
"Still, you're pretty capable at least," interjected Washu. Ryoko seemed a little put off and started to put her bowl down. She didn't hesitate much in swallowing the massive amount she'd already put in her mouth.
"Yeah, it was a big help," Sasami continued, "I would never have been able to get this all together so quickly."
They smiled and looked into their own place setting. Hardly touched, they weren't even sure they could eat at all. After all, weren't they a robot? Do robots eat? They were hungry but. They could also feel skin on their knee, and they knew there wasn't any there. They made a point to look, just to be sure. A passing glance, but it was enough for the little one to notice.
"Humph," the not-so-little demon muttered from across the table. "Chopping, yeah, big deal."
"I mean, that's what I said," they replied to her murmuring. "Heh… Still, for what it's worth I-" They paused, a few thoughts forming on their brain, the kind that make one blink a few times and look down, even outside of the culture they found themself in.
"Thank you," they finally said. "Thank you for your hospitality. I'm still a little perplexed at it all, trying to figure this out myself but. Thank you."
"Hey," said Tenchi, "it's all right. We're glad to help." And excepting Ryoko, they believed him. He had a way about him. Handsome but average, face like a circle, nothing special but somehow with a lot of secrets. Then again, at least one of those things applied to them too.
Out of some old habit they couldn't recall they began to rub at their bad knee. Under most circumstances one would avoid drawing attention to an elephant in the room as obvious as an open wound, especially considering the extent of the damage they'd arrived with. But something about these people here being so kind, for the most part, and very possibly the spinning sensation in their head from their recent explosive moment, all of it led them to forget for a while that they were still missing pieces.
Sasami leaned over and broke their reverie. "...does that hurt?"
"Huh?" they started, yanking their hand away.
"Sasami, don't draw attention to that now," Ayeka started, commanding some regality over her little sister. It seemed apparent that she thought highly of herself. They could practically hear Ryoko's eyes creak as they rolled. "Of course," she continued, commanding some regality over the subject, also to Ryoko's chagrin, "it does look a bit painful…"
"Yes, well, we'll have to fix that," interrupted Washu, plainly.
The attention of the entire table turned to the little woman as she finished her last grain of rice and sat back. Ayeka could command only so far. It appeared that autocracy mattered only up to a point in this universe, which seemed oddly comforting. Or perhaps that was what they told themselves to stow the uneasy feeling that this tiny goblin at the end of the table was raising in them. Possibly in the others as well, though something told them it might not have been the same under ordinary circumstances, no. They upset some tenuous status quo here, and now they were about to be in the middle of it…
"Hmph. No way you can fix that ," came a mutter from a corner.
"Don't insult me, Ryoko, you know I can fix anything. Maybe while I'm at it I can get a few answers for us. You'd like that too, wouldn't you?" Washu finally looked up from her dish and stared into their eyes. Yep, they were definitely in the middle of something for sure. And it was about to get a lot worse.
Washu chortled quietly. "Oh don't worry, it won't hurt a bit…"
Chapter 6: Readying the Theater
Apologies to anybody who missed this chapter, and got stuck on seven while this somehow ended up in limbo. Though if you're reading this, the chance that it's you is actually slim so. Just enjoy!
It was quickly apparent to the now suspended figure that Washu was not only a brilliant scientist, but a massive liar. They would dare call this setup haphazard, if not elegant in its own way. The majority of the lab seemed modular, phasing into existence by necessity. Which would make sense as it was kept under the stairs. A closet-sized laboratory as large as was needed. It reminded them of something. But was it that the door was attached to somewhere else, or that the entire lab itself was dimensionally transcendental? Or was it both?
"Hm. I see you're thinking parts are in enough working order, judging by these readings." Washu pulled up a big chart on a holographic display and pushed it over to them, healthy spikes showing on the charts from when their mind was wandering. Not that it mattered much because they were more preoccupied with being hooked into a machine they didn't understand with prods and wires all over their body.
Washu continued, "It's a good thing too, given how expansive it seems to be. Thankfully my inhibitor is doing its job, otherwise you might have exploded back then."
"Wh-what?" they asked. Ironically about the only free part of their body was their face. Probably Washu likes to look her test subjects in the eye, they reckoned.
"Don't worry, now, it's perfectly safe. I suppose I'll have to incorporate that into the patch job." The what?
"Patch job? I thought you wanted to figure out who I was. Or even what I was."
"Well of course!" Washu exclaimed, raising her hands. "But that doesn't mean we can't get you presentable in the process. Besides, what you look--or looked--like might give me a clue as to your origin."
They supposed that might be true. It might also be another lie, but then again, being naked and strapped into a massive superconductor by a mad genius, it was a useful enough hypocrisy. If only to keep the mad genius in charge of the superconductor happy enough not to throw the wrong switch. They sighed in their acquiescence.
"I knew you'd see it my way, you seem intelligent enough." Washu sat down in a floating chair, which raised itself up and started throwing holographic diagrams and panels her way, ripe for manipulation. She began pecking at the hard light keyboards like a pianist engrossed in some Beethoven. If only for her smugness, it would seem to them that she knew what she was doing. She even tossed in the occasional hmmm to bolster her science cred.
After a few minutes which seemed like hours, they dared to chime in. "...well?"
"Um, Miss… er… Professor Washu?"
"Little," she replied on reflex.
"It's Little Washu. And you've got an extremely amazing neural net."
"What do you mean lit- did you say neural net?"
"Yep, you're an android all right. But a very well-designed one. Probably some kind of infiltration model."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you're a very fancy robot!" No duh , they thought, I know what an android is. "Now I think we can really start."
"You mean we haven't started yet?"
"Nope! Since you're a machine I can't administer anesthesia, at least not without checking how your brain box works. You could be the best robot in the world and with one wrong tap turn into the most expensive hunk of junk on the planet. Fortunately you have the top scientific genius in the universe for a nurse. Hehe."
Did she have to chuckle like that? It makes her out to be more of a mad scientist than--
"What are you doing?" they asked her, only just noticing that during her speech she flew around behind and started pecking at the little chit on the back of their head.
"Nothing to worry about. Not that you'd understand it all, but I'm about to administer a very slight shock to your neural net, so I can implant my surgical Trojan in your brain and allow me to reverse engineer you back to full operating capacity."
They understood that word for word. It also made them worried, because that sounded something like her about to pluck into their brain and fiddle around with it. And that was something they didn't like. But, as fate usually has it, the mad scientist preempted.
"Uh uh," said the little genius, wagging a finger. They had barely moved their head an inch to try and look at her before she delivered a first zap. Fire shot through every part of them as if their pores were volcanoes erupting. They tried to speak but couldn't, so Washu spoke for them. "Don't worry, I'm not going to mess with you too much," she lied again. "I just need to access basic protocols so I can extract some information. Routine firewall stuff, no biggie."
But it was a biggie. They probably had something up there that was theirs. After all, they were alive. They were alive, dammit, and this little crab was going to open up their brain. And on top of it all the room began to spin, accompanied by this terrible static noise. Wait, that wasn't the room.
And the last thing they heard in the midst of the noise was a manic little "...goodniiiiight."
* * *
The sun tried its best to hang high, but even in this season it must give way. And so it began it's tired quest into the evening. A peaceful day it seemed, another in a good line before the bitterness of winter would come to claim the land.
Peace and contentment
Though not without pause and thought
Soon I can't wear shorts…
Not his best work, but then again, the old man had been producing haikus for a long time. They couldn't all be winners. Maybe it meant it was time to finish the day. With the breeze like this, the shrine probably was covered in leaves. Hopefully his grandson or one of the young ladies took care of that.
Katsuhito Masaki stood up from his desk. There was an ease in this space, which he'd inhabited for so long it was all too familiar. He could mark the passage of time with the additions of the furniture. The telephone. The broken teacup. Yes, it was old but it was comfortable. Just the very reason why he hadn't replaced the tatami for years. No other reason. Not the cost or the effort, of course not.
He stroked his gray moustache and pondered. Though at his age, what was left to ponder? Perhaps why he should ponder at all. Though he did realize in the midst of his pondering that the existential underpinnings would have made a better haiku.
He slid the door open. Yes, leaves, just as he suspected. Thankfully being summer they were still manageable. Where was that grandson of his anyway?
Certainly not by his office. He crept out into the open area before the shrine, looking out down the great set of stairs that separated his peak from the Earth. Or at least the shrine from the house and by extension the rest of the world. Not there either. As per usual routine, the pail had been left in the open. Careless sometimes, that boy.
Suddenly the shrine bells began to ring. The breeze had shifted and the air suddenly became heavy, electric. Could it be a storm coming? But the weather had been clear for so long. He couldn't place it but he knew something wasn't quite right.
It was the smell. Light on the breeze, like the memory of a scent. Maybe he was imagining it more than smelling it but. What was it? It was an electric smell. Like burnt cables. Or… ozone? What would possibly produce that kind of a smell now, and this far out? Not even the smells from the house wafted up this far, and there had been plenty of strange ones in the past.
"Hey, Grandpa!" The old man turned. There, climbing up the stairs, was his grandson. It had been some time since anybody had gotten the drop on him. He didn't show it, but he was surely displeased.
"There you are, Tenchi. Where have you been?"
"Gee, I'm sorry, Grandpa. I meant to come right back but something happened and I had to help out."
"Something happened you say? Hmm..." Surely displeased, and yet he knew he was right to be wary.
Chapter 7: Quiet dusk coming early
"So you left for the woods while you were doing your chores?" the old man prodded.
"Yeah, I didn't mean to stop working but the broom handle broke so I went to get a new one. Guess I never got that either," said Tenchi, adding an embarrassed giggle, hoping his grandfather wouldn't be too angry given the circumstances.
"Hm," replied Katsuhito, wondering if the broom handle breaking could seem portentous. The old man's composure calm enough, his grandson started back into his story.
"Anyway, I came down by the old supply shed and heard this weird sound. Like an echo of a shifting wind, then someone's voice. I didn't think anybody would be out there, not one of the girls or anything. I thought maybe someone got lost looking for the shrine or hiking, so I went out to take a look."
"And that's when you found this person?"
"Yeah, and a fair ways out too. No name or anything, didn't speak much Japanese either, come to think of it."
"Interesting. Another miraculous arrival. You took them to the house, then?"
"Yes I--oh gosh! I forgot! I was supposed to talk to Washu first. She's been in the lab all morning and Sasami wanted me to get her."
"Very well, Tenchi, return home. I have some things to do here still, so tell the others not to wait for me. But do ask Sasami to save me a plate."
"Okay, Grandpa. I'll finish up those chores when I can!" And with that, Tenchi was off down the steps, due to return to the house in time to pull Ryoko back from the nameless new arrival. His grandfather remained at the shrine for a time, making sure nobody was near, then made his way quietly to the old shed. Perhaps he would find something else where Tenchi found this mysterious stranger.
* * *
It was colder than usual along the dock. Why I decided to come out this way at this hour was beyond me. I mean, the place wasn't skid row or anything but the docks aren't the safest place in the world. Especially as it was already dark and night was setting in. Still, there was something about being this close to the bay on a night like this. If anything, it was good to get out. That old apartment was stuffy anyway.
But what are you gonna do, huh? I turned up my collar. Something about this air. I mean, I tend to like it warmer. Must've been how I grew up. No time for nostalgia, but. No, it really was cold out there. Something was definitely going on. Maybe it was going to rain? I looked up to the sky.
Nope, not even a single cloud. Just the moon and the stars, as best as you can see them in the wash. The city seemed so far away but you could still detect its electric presence. Too bad, the stars can't compete against us. Then again, they're bigger than we are. Race of Napoleons, us people.
A strong smell came up on the breeze. Like bumper cars or a bad electric motor. Weird. What could possibly be making this smell, and this late at night? A sense of dread came over me and I wondered if maybe I was about to walk into something I didn't need to be near. It's not like crime doesn't happen in the city, after all. Still, I felt compelled to follow it. Not sure what came over me, curiosity I guess. Then again, curiosity did kill the cat.
It led to the banks, and to a parked car a little ways off. Nothing here that could make that kind of smell. Was it the big boat coming in? No, boats like that run on diesel. There was a couple by the old beater, I could make that out as I got closer. He was sitting on the ground and she was perched on the roof. Something about them seemed off. Like they didn't belong here. Then again, neither did I. So why was it I couldn't stop walking towards them?
I couldn't stop. I wouldn't stop. I remember thinking that I should, but it was no use. My feet wanted to take me there and I couldn't stop them.
Out of nowhere, that smell spiked. The air became acrid, and I felt as if my nose were going to burst. The couple was unaffected. I remembered where I saw them from.
They were wanted criminals.
I had seen the posters plastered all over. It was something out of a bad gangster movie. These two had gotten in a car one day and decided to rob every bank from Tijuana up. Looks like they made it to San Francisco. These two were being trailed by the feds, the only ones to knock over half of Vegas and get away with it. But still, here they were, enjoying the night air. Like real people, y'know? Weird. But weirder still was this gal's hair. What in hell do you put in it to make it both turn blue and stand up?
A light appeared at the end of the dock. I squinted at the sudden brightness. A little woman stepped out. It was hard to make the shape but she was small, and had really long hair. I could barely make out what they were saying but thankfully it got easier as I got closer.
"You were the first one to tamper with my machine, weren't you, Ryoko?" asked the little woman of the girl on the car.
"Ehh… I don't remember," she replied.
"This world seems to be reflecting your idea of a 'perfect world'."
"Oh, right!" started the man, who got up and turned to chastise his partner. "No wonder it's so messed up!"
"I can't eliminate this world on my own, Ryoko. You have to renounce this one in order for us to get back to our original world."
The girl on the roof was silent for a minute. Then she delivered her answer. "No."
The other two were shocked. I saw the man take a step back. "What do you mean?" he asked her. "Don't you miss the old world?"
"Heck no," she replied, defiantly.
"You can't be selfish at a time like this!"
"Selfish?!" I remember seeing her shout that but. It looked as if she was going to cry.
Suddenly, I heard a scream. It was a voice, yelling at the top of their lungs. I couldn't place where it was coming from. Then, as I took a deep breath I realized. It was coming out of me. I was making myself hoarse yelling at them, shouting, screaming for them to stop. To not go through with it. It was the mad screams of someone who was sure in that moment they were going to be burned alive…
And yet I couldn't stop myself. I was thinking the whole time, asking myself what it all meant. Why the little woman said a machine was tampered with, a machine that makes worlds--a machine that, with that girl's agreement, would erase this one.
Then I felt a cold hand press on my shoulder.
"There you are…" The voice was cold, and gravelly. Staticky, like out of a broken radio between stations. I turned to face the creature. It. It seemed to be a man. It was built like one. But it didn't... have a face. At least not as quite. It was the kind of face you see out of the corner of your eye. You know, the one that you tell yourself isn't staring at you, you're just seeing things. Right? ...right?
I moved to scream again, but I couldn't muster the slightest peep. I was powerless with this echo of a man staring at me. The shape that took the place of where his mouth should have been twisted into a crooked smile.
"...no. No! STOP! DON'T!!"
A black fog rolled in. Everywhere around it was becoming dark. Soon it seemed that it was only me and… him. His twisted impossible smile grew wider and wider. It seemed he was himself growing. Taller, and taller still. Surrounding me.
"STOP! I WON'T DO IT!"
"Won't do what?"
I whipped around again, and the little woman was there. Looking at me. I could feel the twisted smile still, was it hers now? No, I couldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. I won't do it. Stop. Stop it. Don't do it. DON'T DO IT!
Chapter 8: Pared back to the minimal
"No… stop… don't do it… stop it… I won't… you can't…"
"Hey," said Washu with a quiet prod to the cheek. "Wake up!"
"St- stp- Huh?" Slowly they started coming to. The shape of the lab, the machinery, the hard light keyboards and floating displays, and the little woman with the long hair that put the whole thing together.
"Good morning, sunshine. You were out for longer than I thought you would be."
"Wow, I didn't think I hit your head that hard. Guess I should be more careful from now on. Here, let's do the old test." She produced a pen from her pocket. "Go on, I'm sure you know the drill, just follow the tip."
Washu started moving the pen slowly around, and like the good little patient, they complied and followed the tip with their eyes.
"What… what happened?"
"Well I mean I was going to go for the blow-by-blow but it looks like you've got a minor cyber-concussion."
"A what? What do you mean?"
"It means you haven't calibrated properly after the stress on your systems, so you're filling the gaps. Don't worry, so long as you don't get too much input you should be fine. At least you won't likely explode either way, I've taken care of that."
"...that's right. I was. I was in surgery? Maintenance. I guess it's called maintenance."
"Call it what you like, I think I got things solved for you. At least, outside of the concussion. Got the knee fixed up, repaired the skin with fresh grafts..." she started trailing off, tottering away to get a monitor. "See?"
They beheld the display, a diagram of every repair and upgrade that Washu performed. "But… Was I?"
"I remember… shouting. And there was… a big bridge and a car…"
"Oh, don't worry about all that, you were probably standby-simulating."
"You mean, I was dreaming?"
"If you want to call it that, sure. You were dreaming something. Muttered a lot but at the end you kind of started shouting so I thought maybe a little dermal stimulus could knock you awake," she said, prodding at her own cheek. "But hey, don't worry about that now. I have a surprise for you…"
What was the little crab talking about? She scurried away again, leaving them with their thoughts for a moment. Dreaming. It was all a dream. What was it though? It was starting to fade already. They tried hard to remember it. She was definitely there, that woman. And she was saying something… something about the world. Black fog. Dread. But for the life of them they couldn't recall it enough, the black fog slowly taking over their memories of the-
"Tadaaaa!" Washu was beaming, holding up her arms like a little ringleader, indicating the reflection in the impossibly enormous mirror she'd just rolled in. Aside from the sheer surprise of a giant mirror being hidden somewhere in this lab just for this moment, it contained a figure. And the figure looked back at them. Pale skin, almost like a living statue, with wavy auburn locks. Rosy cheeks, not impressively striking but certainly… cute. Someone who could pass for alive if you weren't looking too hard. And it seemed to be moving as they were studying it. Then it hit them.
"Sure is! I can't say it was easy to determine what your original pattern was, since I couldn't really get inside your head as well as I hoped. So, I did have to get creative in some respects. Skin and such especially needed new genetic material over the old lattice, you burned out the old stuff. Luckily you came to me, I've got plenty of viable materials in stock. So given this is the best I could do, I have to say it's probably even better than the way you looked when you rolled out of whatever firm made you."
It still seemed impossible that they were made, something couldn't be right about that. But she wouldn't stop talking about it, and as well as how much better she made things. This one really loved to gloat, it was clear. She went on and on about subsystems and repairing pseudo-organic parts, it was hard to keep up with the sound of what they assumed was a heartbeat in their ears.
"I can't say that it's proprietary all of it, but definitely you were a special job. Probably means you were an infiltration model of some type. No serial number or anything, but those can be wiped if you really know what you're doing. I figured that's why a lot of the replicant parts seemed specialty, that's a dead giveaway for an infiltration droid."
"...could you not call me a droid?"
"Huh? Why not?" Washu almost seemed surprised.
"It's racist or something, probably." It wasn't easy to keep focus. They were staring where their wounds used to be. Their knee, their skin, their stomach. It was all covered up now. As if it never happened at all. In her explanation Washu had also mentioned that she had to use spare genetic data, and it was easy to synthesize from what she had on hand. Who keeps genetic material on hand? And whose? How was it even compatible? Then, suddenly, it had finally hit them what Washu probably meant by "infiltration model". And that drew their attention square to their chest.
What they saw made them shriek. "WH-WHA- !"
"What's wrong now? Ohh, those. Don't like them? I admit I had to guess what they looked like based on nominal projections for your type and the general shape of your endoskeleton but I didn't think I got them too wrong. You came in with something there, after all, I just had to fix them."
"Fix them? I have- I'm-"
"I see. Now I'm beginning to understand why you're in CC. You must have had your memory shredded before you were dumped."
"What are you talking about? What should I have remembered about… those?"
"It means your brain was scrambled. It's impossible to truly wipe a brain like yours, too many organic components. But you can have it rewired and flipped so it becomes difficult to recall those memories properly. So they probably scrambled the part of your brain that remembers what you looked like. And being that you're an infiltration model, you also probably have a self-destruct feature."
"Meaning when I was about to explode in the living room. You don't think that…"
"Could I have done this to myself?"
"Not likely. You can't do this kind of thing alone normally. But, then again given your episode there, I wouldn't rule out that possibility completely."
"How could I forget looking like this?"
"Well I did say I had to get creative. Your hair used to be darker, and your frame supported the wrong kind of power cell. The one I gave you should last indefinitely, given the span of your organics. Should provide plenty of power when it's time to back things up to the next body, if you last that long."
"My hair was darker? New genetic material…" they thought out loud. "It's red now. Did you just imply what I think you did?"
"Heh, well you know how it is with art." The little gremlin rubbed the back of her head. Lovely, not only did Washu probably use samples from herself, they might never have looked like this at all. Head to toe, might be entirely different. One cannot presuppose upon the receipt of an enormous wooden horse that it might be full of Greeks, but still. For all intents and purposes the figure in the mirror, the one staring back, was a striking young woman with short red hair. A girl who looked like she could go somewhere without being noticed, but someone who you probably couldn't forget if you met. An infiltration droid. A spy. With a shredded memory and an old man in the back staring at her-
Chapter 9: Sweet Summer Child
The old man, long gray hair in a ponytail, dressed in a simple robe and loose casual trousers like a priest in daily life, stepped into view. His poise and maintenance of the calmest air seemed exemplary given that he was surrounded by machines and computers out of the most bizarre science-fiction movies. His light manner and white robes made him brighten the dark, cold quarter of science that Washu inhabited and the new arrival was stuck in, still very much nude and mounted to the cyclotron.
"Forgive me for intruding, but I was told we had a visitor and I wanted to take a good look at them myself," he said, smiling quietly with his eyes so thinly squinted they almost seemed shut. Which perhaps gave solace to the bare one--he did seem polite in his age, but firm, if not wily based on that comment.
"Oh, Lord Katsuhito. No, you're not disturbing at all. I was just going over the upgrades I performed on this unit."
"This unit?" they interjected. They. She? They or she, neither seemed right. Perhaps, they (or she) thought, it was a quirk of the memory scramble. Maybe it would be best to pick one. But which? Washu's words about cyber-concussions seemed to resonate more than anything else. It was almost… calming, the power of that suggestion. Things seemed to make sense when they were put in that light. If that be any light at all on this situation.
"Well, sorry, but you came in here without a name or a serial number. I can't just call you it , can I?"
"Thanks for being considerate. Now um. Would you mind either… y'know?"
"What?" she replied, blinking.
"Get me out or maybe…"
"I think what our guest is asking for is a cover. Some trappings to preserve their modesty."
"Oh! I'm sorry, of course," replied Washu, almost genuinely surprised that the robot would need some clothes. It seemed obvious to them (her) that the little scientist wasn't sure how to treat her (them). This pronoun issue was also becoming taxing by this point.
Washu engaged a switch and the hand and foot restraints uncuffed, allowing the nameless and hitherto ungendered arrival to step out and cover the handy infiltration units Washu had bestowed upon their person. Turning to the old man, arms firmly crossed and legs haphazardly clenched, the newcomer offered an embarrassed smile. The elder returned it, very plainly not staring, when he very well could have. Perhaps it was something about him but he was far too at ease with this situation. Whereas Washu seemed to talk to cover up what she didn't want to reveal, and undercut it with absolute cold, straight demeanor, Katsuhito was so poised and zen. It was clear to them, er… her, from some deep inner place that these two knew more than they were telling. But what?
"Here, sorry about that," said Washu, holding out a robe, "I was getting too excited and I forgot it was just us girls."
After that Washu smiled far too wide, almost as if she were playing at being cuter than she was. This was a game, surely. But it might as well be played along, so as the nameless android put on the robe, she offered a quite chortle. Two can play at this game, sister , she thought, finally deciding. I guess I'll have to be one of "us girls" for a while . Of course, that vindictiveness didn't last very long as the robe proved shockingly comfortable.
"Hey, this is really soft…" she said, easing her shoulders into it.
"Well, it is a Royal Juraian one so you can thank Ayeka for it later."
"What, you pilfered this?"
"Please, I borrowed it. I was in a pinch and nothing of mine would fit you anyway."
"What, you didn't just happen to have it, then?"
"Short-range matter transmission and transmutation is the simplest trick in the book," she fired, clearly hiding behind the science, "although maybe you wouldn't understand..."
"Oh I do, somewhat. I'm more impressed you have a handle on where everyone's clothes are at a moment's notice."
"Never know when you need em!" and with that another smile, this one more genuinely devious.
"Well now that this is settled," interrupted the old man, "perhaps it would be best to introduce myself."
"Oh yes," replied Washu holding a hand out, presenting him, "This is Lord Katsuhito, our benefactor."
"Masaki Shrine Master and High Priest Katsuhito Masaki, pleased to meet you," he said, bowing deeply.
"Oh, the head honcho. Pleased to meet you," she responded bowing awkwardly. "I'm… very gracious for your hospitality."
"Hm," he mustered, ignoring the discomfort she was experiencing concerning her name, or rather her lack of one. "My grandson Tenchi explained that he found you in the woods, and in fairly bad shape. It will please him to know that you are well again."
"Heh, according to Washu I've never been better." Washu's gaze turned devious again, and it seemed that comment was worth some brownie points. Good to know that sass and compliments made her tick. Seems she operated about as childish as she looked.
"You are, of course, welcome to stay as long as you need to, perhaps until your memory returns."
"Oh, no, surely you don't have the space." That one was a bit too out there, but since they were standing in an impossibly large closet under the stairs, it seemed apropos, if not only polite.
"Nonsense, we can't have someone in your condition wandering out in the woods, now can we? Please feel free to avail yourself. It's not as if we aren't used to having beautiful young women around anyway." I suppose that was his form of a joke, but she didn't catch it. Washu seemed to, another smile formed in the corner of her mouth.
"Well, I… I appreciate it. Although I'm not sure when or even if my memory will return. Washu says my brains are scrambled."
"Well it is only a theory," the scientist interrupted, "but it's the best we have now. I don't suppose you'll object to further analysis to confirm that."
"Maybe, if you don't call me a droid again."
"Well then, what should I call you, hmmmm?" Smart alec and she knew it.
"Oh well I um…" she tried to think again but nothing would come, as if it were truly blocked. Her brow even started to furrow as she got deeper in thought until the old man put a hand to her shoulder.
"Please, don't overexert yourself this soon after surgery. Recovery of this kind will require patience and meditation."
"I suppose," she sighed. "Still, I… I should say that I need a name. I just can't come up with anything."
"Would you permit me? As the 'head honcho' I would gladly accept the responsibility." The old man smiled, clearly glad to poke that awkward moment from before back at her. Funny grandpa he was, at least on the surface. But it was enough, and who was she to deny anybody's trust in this position?
"...all right. I suppose. It would be an honor." She tried to thank him properly. That is, over-abundantly.
"Think nothing of it my dear. Although… oh my, could you permit me a favor Washu?"
"Yes, what is it?" she replied
"Do you perhaps have some paper and something to write with?"
"Oh, I think I know exactly what you're after." Once again she set off, this time to a little display, which at the press of a button spat out some thick-looking paper and a pen. When she returned, she uncapped it to reveal a brush. "Will this do?"
"This will be excellent, thank you. Now, let's see..." And the old man set himself down and began to ponder deeply. For what seemed about three minutes he sat there thinking. Both Washu and the-soon-to-be-named-but-recently-gendered-one began tilting their heads. When one looked at the other it seemed plain that Washu was excited, the other a little anxious.
Finally he brought the pen down to the page, humming and hawing with every stroke. One character became two became three, and soon he had completed his task. "Yes, that should be perfect," he said, rising to his feet. "Here you have it, your new name."
He presented the little calligraphy to them both, and they began reading:
野 森 夏 好
"No… mori… Ka… Or is it… Na… ts…" Even though she was given a name she still stumbled. She clammed up, trying not to look like she was ungrateful.
"...ohh, I get it," declared Washu. "Very clever."
"I knew in my heart I would compose a poem today," said the old man, proudly. "Do you understand it, my dear?"
His dear did not, it seemed. "I'm sorry, my Japanese is improving but only an hour or two ago I didn't hardly understand a word."
"It's quite alright, child, allow me to present it formally." He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "I name thee Kasumi Nomori. Out of the forest of summer, a girl. And hopefully," he added, indicating the last character, "a pleasant one."
"Oh, I see now. That is very clever. Thank you very much, Lord Katsuhito, I will be proud to bear that name." She bowed deeply in thanks. It seemed appropriate somehow that, even if it wasn't her real name, that she could accept a pun as her moniker. Especially one that told a story.
"You're quite welcome, my dear," he replied, and rolled the page up into a little scroll. He then presented it to her. "Take it, it's yours now."
She accepted it, and tucked it into her borrowed robes. "Thank you very much again."
"And now that you have a name, Kasumi, would you be willing to perform a small task for me?"
"I suppose so, yes."
"If it is not too much of an imposition for your recovery, I would like you to present yourself to the others again. It will bring them joy to see you well, I am sure, especially Tenchi, and little Sasami."
"Oh, I see. I guess I could do that. I mean, I thought Washu would want to present her work to the others, even if the work is pretty capable of walking and talking." She paused and then raised a finger, quietly. "Or have I answered my own question?"
"Only you can truly answer that, my dear. In any case I would like to confer with Washu briefly, it will only be a moment, and then we will join you."
Washu seemed unopposed to this, which was strange. As long as she'd known her, which of course was less than a day, she expected Washu to take any opportunity to receive a good ego-stroking. But perhaps she was truly better than that? There was still plenty to learn about this household.
"Don't worry," Washu started, "Lord Katsuhito and I had something to talk about anyway. And now that you're up and going, maybe he and I can talk about the logistics of another mouth to feed. If only to sustain those delicate little organic parts of yours."
"In other words I'm going to get hungry soon. I was actually wondering about that, so thanks for telling me. I'll expect you both later." She nodded to Washu and bowed again to Katsuhito, and began walking off. And then she stopped after two steps.
"Not as quite, just remembering. Was it… this way and to the right?"
"Then a sharp left. Stick to the path and you'll find the door."
"All right, I think I've got it. I'll make my way out. Thank you both again." She made her way down the hall and disappeared into the lab, heading for a door that would lead, impossibly so, to that closet under the stairs and who knows what else. Maybe Sasami to greet her, Tenchi to see her well… Ryoko to beat the crap out of her. But one thing was clear, this was going to be a hell of a time going forward.
Chapter 10: In the Golden Afternoon
The newly-named Kasumi Nomori made her way to the exit. It seemed slightly silly to her that the door, which manifested in the room when she got there, would have to be accessed here. Suspicious, it was. Maybe Washu had a reason to do this, to spy on her or make her perform a task. But in spite of that it still reminded her of something. Some place or. A box. A larger box that fit inside a smaller one. This memory issue was going to be a pain and she knew it. And at that exact moment she realized that she was about to have to talk to people because she just shut the door behind her.
Once again she was in the house, having emerged from the closet under the stairs. The door let out into the dining room. As it always did. Except when it didn't, but she couldn't remember why. The sun was hanging lower now, afternoon having already begun its shift into evening. No smells came from the kitchen, so Sasami hadn't started dinner yet.
"It must be early still," she said to herself. "Wonder if anybody is around."
No response, a silent house. She took a few steps into the great room. Nobody there either. Perhaps everyone expected some kind of message from Washu that she was finished. Who could say, maybe they were all just busy. It was a big house on a big plot, after all, and it must take a lot of work to keep it up. Still, it was worth it, it seemed. It was a beautiful place.
She made her way to the big glass doors at the end of the room, and slid one open. The smell of trees and grass filled the breeze, on top of the strong standing scent of water and wood. Natural. It all smelled of the Earth. Nothing like…
A thought crossed her mind and then vanished. Another thing she couldn't remember. She found she was gripping the door tightly, and gave up trying to think. Instead, she stepped out onto the enormous deck and tried to get lost in the feeling of summer. Here she was, even and in spite of the tumult, in a place that seemed quite serene. As if the world knew of all the craziness that happened in it, that by all measure of sheer thankless indifference (which being the hardest paradox of all to maintain) kept this place perfectly still. And now, part of that craziness was her, undeniably tied to the place now, and the people. If only because she was wearing someone else's clothes.
"Hey, big sis-" chimed a tiny voice, breaking the reverie. Upon inspection, the voice was Sasami's. The deck was connected to a long, dock-like path that led to a part of the estate Kasumi had yet to visit, and Sasami was walking down the path, with an even smaller girl beside her that Kasumi had yet to meet. This one seemed to have a darker-complexion, and long blue and brown hair. Another in a string of improbably-colored coifs , she mused to herself, and stepped out onto the deck to meet the young girls.
"Welcome back," Kasumi called, waving. "I'm glad someone's here. I had begun to think I was being left all alone in this big old house."
"...is that you?" Sasami asked as she approached, immensely curious. She looked up at the newcomer's face, squinting hard, looking for someone she recognized.
"What, you were expecting Peter Pan?" she replied with a giggle. As if that were a joke Sasami would get. Or herself for that matter. Swing and a miss, they can't all be winners , she thought. Or at least I guess so?
"Your hair… your… face. You look so different."
"Oh, Washu did a number on me, did the works and then gave me a fresh coat of paint." She spun around once and then smiled at the kid. "See? Good as new."
"Wow. I'm glad for you, big sister." She still called Kasumi big sister . It seemed to fit now more than it did before, since Washu did so much work on her… face.
"Miyaaaooww!" piped up the little one. Both Sasami and Kasumi looked down. For the first time Kasumi got a real look at her. It was plain she wasn't human at all. That wild hair of hers was half fur, and the rest of her was covered in it, down to her adorable button nose and huge catlike ears that came down off the side of her head. Or were they rabbit-like? Something between the two. Surely she was adorable but she was also a cat-rabbit who communicated via meows.
"Oh, Ryo-Ohki! I'm sorry, you haven't met our new guest." Sasami indicated the little one. "This is Ryo-Ohki, and she's pleased to meet you!"
"Meow meow miyoooww," said Ryo-Ohki, beaming. Something about her seemed to connect with Kasumi, like they were somehow kindred spirits. Or they were attached to the same network, it wasn't quite clear. In any case, her smile brought one to Kasumi's face too, and she knelt down.
"Nice to meet you, Ryo-Ohki," she said, patting the little one on the shoulder gently, and coaxing a content miyu from her.
Sasami giggled, briefly. She then asked what had been eating her: "Why are you wearing my sister's robe?"
"Heh, Washu had a fun idea for clothing me which involved a form of very high-tech theft. I guess since it's always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, I'll beg your sister's pardon later."
"Oh, that's no bother, she has a few to spare. I'm sure she wouldn't mind."
"I still feel bad not asking, but. Can't go running around naked I guess."
"Is your knee all better, too?"
"Yep, all fixed and ready for kicking." She adopted a pseudo martial arts stance, but found she couldn't get far with the gag as a little munchkin was hanging around her legs, grabbing at her legs through the robe.
"Hehe, I guess Ryo-Ohki likes you."
"I guess so, huh?" She bent down again to get closer to the little one. "What's up, hun? You want a hug?"
"Miiyooww!" said Ryo-Ohki, excited. Before Kasumi could kneel in for the hug, however, the child had lunged forward for her head. Kasumi braced, but instead of a faceful of kid, a little cat-rabbit was sitting on her shoulder, and it started mewing. Sasami couldn't help herself but laugh.
"Well, that's not something you see every day. Or, maybe you might?"
"Ryo-Ohki is special like that," Sasami replied, and was backed with a contented meow from the little brown cabbit.
"Heh. I guess so," Kasumi mused, and gave Ryo-Ohki a little scritch behind the ear. She could feel her purring. "Oh, hey, Sasami? Where is everybody else?"
"Doing chores. I was bringing Tenchi a snack and checking up on him. Ayeka should be behind the house washing futons." She had been right, it was a lot of work to keep the house up. Even royalty had to help out, which meant soon she would have to probably help out too. But there were plenty of people now, thankfully.
"Maybe I should go see her, thank her for, um, lending this robe to me."
Sasami giggled. "Sure, I'll walk you there. I have to see if she needs something, anyway."
* * *
The two of them sat in silence, waiting for the android to have fully left before exchanging a quiet sigh. Washu crossed her arms and gave Katsuhito a sideways look.
"I presume you had something on your mind about all this, Katsuhito-dono."
The old man nodded. "Hm. I was curious if you had any hypotheses of your own, Washu-dono."
She offered back a twisted smile. "Meaning you want to know if I have any idea at all who she might be."
"Perhaps. My scouting of the area in the woods where Tenchi found her could only garner so much against the equipment you have set up across the prefecture." The corners of his own lips twisted quietly to answer hers. The two multi-centenarians had a special relationship after all they'd been through, though not all of it together at least they could sync well because with few exceptions they were usually the oldest people in the room. Briefly they revelled in silent acknowledgement of this fact, as was their custom.
"I've been working a fair bit on that," she started, breaking the silence and walking to a terminal to change the display. She brought up data from earlier in the day, when the random transmissions were spiking and the convergence point formed briefly in Okayama. "Thanks to our bumbling friend who was making her report and a few terrestrial satellites to help I had a strong enough array to pick this up. There's no telling exactly where the signals originated yet, it requires entirely new programs to analyze the data. But the location is clear." She pointed at the single vertex on the map, and with the size of the display it was clear what was near that dot. A pond. A house. A Shinto shrine…
Katsuhito stepped closer to the map to see the point she indicated. He spent a moment analyzing the area, tracing something out. Washu reasoned this was where he was stalking about, he was tracing his steps where he was investigating. "I presume you know something about Tenchi's discovery of our new friend."
"Leave it to Tenchi," she replied, "to find us another hapless girl. That is, if she really is a girl. An artificial brain with a bad cyber concussion like that, possible shredded memory? It begs for direction, otherwise it breaks down. Androids and cyberized individuals alike, the wires cross and then pure rage, cyberbrain sclerosis, even full weaponization of the body. Thankfully at least we won't have to watch her self-destruct. It was a hard choice but I can't say I don't feel a little badly asserting an identity on her like that." Washu more than anybody knew that identity was fragile and highly personal, even over Katsuhito, who had something of a complication of his own concerning the same. Maybe that was another reason they got along so well.
"Perhaps…" he muttered, still thinking. Or so it seemed. His glanced turned sideways to her. "Does that mean your vivisection proved inconclusive?" A bit of a dagger, but he hoped it nicked her more than drove into her ego.
"Hardly, but plenty of inconsequential data, I must say. Not that I can't use that later, especially if I have to for some reason re-service her if she does break. The android body was created almost entirely bespoke, not too many clues as to where it might be from, which is both hopeful and disconcerting as we can rule out certain groups but can't ignore the gaping hole. It accepted the newly synthesized organic material easily, which is fortunate because I can keep a lid on potential outbursts with the correct gene splicing and nanoproteins. I have plenty of samples extracted and stabilized, ready for analysis, but after such a long procedure and reactivation process it's still another mystery."
"I don't suppose you poked around in her brain, either?"
"The data that I could access is patchy. Not a lot of information. Some short-term memories, random strings but nothing long enough to pull on. I'm sure that even if I could back up everything in there, it won't be that simple getting it out. It's a lot like… well." Washu stopped, looked left and right. "It's almost like trying to crack the memory of a Royal Tree with a scalpel and a spoon. You can do it but it's going to look a lot like wood."
"Then we merely have an ocean, but no sight of land." He placed a finger to his lip, thinking. "I wonder, is your weather equipment functioning?"
"Certainly, why do you ask?"
"I recall as this matter began, there was a change in the winds, and a heaviness. A feeling as if it would rain, but not a cloud in sight. And a smell on the air."
"A smell you say?"
"Yes, it was mild but pervasive. Reminiscent of rainstorms, the smell after. Old snow. But electric. Almost like-"
"Ozone?" Washu interrupted.
"...yes. And it never returned, then things soon became as they normally are."
"Hm. I suppose I can run a check for that. It's not out of the question, if it has a corresponding energy charge." She walked over to the panel again and started cross-referencing weather and atmospheric data with the time index. "Curiouser and curiouser…"
"That is mostly all I know. The remainder of my findings include a stillness in the wood, likely in the area of the concentration. Not unlike the effect of some teleportation technology of old. Though, who can say for certain?" mused the old man, heading for the door. Washu was already busy at work with her weather program. "I will continue to observe, Washu-dono, as I'm sure you will as well. Such a chance arrival is never a simple matter in our little circle."
Washu never looked up from her typing, but managed one final question for the old man: "Are you sure you did the right thing, Katsuhito-dono, giving her that name?"
"The ultimate effect of the pun is not as lost on you, Washu-dono. Besides, it does roll off the tongue…"
And with that he was gone, leaving Washu alone with her work.
Chapter 11: Royal Reintroductions
Ayeka wiped her brow. It was tough work, being a princess and having to do these menial chores. But it was for Tenchi, and for the family's hospitality. But mostly it was for Tenchi. And by this time she had grown quite accustomed to the work. It was comforting to have a routine, somewhat. An air of normalcy inexorably linked to repeated toils.
Okay, it was a little much sometimes but she had to do it. Like a veritable Juraian pooh bah, she had to do it. But who else but her was going to take care of these textiles? Sure, she prefered sewing clothes to beating futons but still. It had to be done. Especially since there was a new person here who might require bedding, though secretly she desired a non-permanent arrangement for them. Can't have any more competing interests in the household, even if it's only taking Tenchi's time and not his gaze from her. She wondered if Washu was done with her little procedure. It was oddly quiet since she took that new person into her laboratory. Then again it was odd enough that this person, with no memory or even a stitch of their own blindly followed her into the danger zone. Perhaps ignorance truly was bliss. Then again, it wasn't worth it to worry, Washu was as much capable as she was terrifying. She put her beater away and prepared to take the mattresses back in, when she heard her sister calling her name. Turning to answer, she saw Sasami and Ryo-Ohki being accompanied by someone she didn't quite recognize. And she was wearing a robe that looked distinctly like one of hers.
"Hey, Ayeka-oneesama!" Sasami waved. Ayeka straightened herself. It wasn't difficult to figure who might be with her, but it couldn't be. They hadn't looked quite like that before…
"Sasami…" she started, a little tenuous. It was a little awkward, after all. Etiquette hasn't been always observed since they arrived on Earth but it tends to wither worse when a stranger accompanies your little sister wearing your clothes.
"Oh, Ayeka-sama," the person replied. The voice sounded familiar. It was certainly nobody she'd ever met that would normally dress like that. It was definitely her robe. The person bowed at her, and the slight upturn in etiquette took her aback. "Please allow me to thank you for letting me use this robe… a little unwittingly but still."
"Washu spirited it away from your stuff so she would have something to wear after the surgery," interjected Sasami.
"She did… did she? Well… at least it suits you." The pun was a little lost in translation but it seemed to spark some kind of response, as the new girl chortled.
"I'm really sorry, though. I'll get something of my own as soon as I can, I promise."
Ayeka stopped for a moment and suddenly her brain put two and two together. "Wait a moment, are-"
"Hm?" she asked, looking up. "Are what?"
"Oh, goodness me, it really is you!" Ayeka daintily covered her mouth with her hand in titled surprise.
"I suppose it is, but I'm still working that out a little…"
"Please, accept my apologies, I didn't recognize you."
"That isn't your fault. I do look a little different, after all. Or so I'm told. In fact, I hadn't really seen much of what I looked like before. Then after the procedure Washu pulled out the World's Biggest Mirror and did I ever get an eyeful. Then she took the liberty of stealing this robe for modesty's sake and I've been wandering ever since."
"I see. Then I must say the procedure seems a great success, you're looking very rejuvenated, indeed." Ayeka withdrew her hand from her face and folded it neatly with her other in front of herself.
"You're too kind, princess."
Sasami, meanwhile, had taken off her pack and placed it against the house. Walking back to help Ayeka get the futons in before dinner, she noticed something nestled in a fold of the robe. "Hey, big sis, what's that?" she asked, pointing. It was enough to break the awkward stream of pleasantries between the newcomer and the princess.
"Oh this?" she replied, pulling out a little roll of paper. "It's something that Katsuhito-san gave to me."
"Really, grandpa gave that to you? What is it?"
"It's something special, that I'm sure will help with a lot of confusion." She turned to look at Ayeka. "For all of us, at least until I'm a little better upstairs. If… I ever get better upstairs. Here." She handed the little scroll to Sasami, who seemed very impressed by it. As well one would be, Katsuhito was a calligraphy master, clearly a practiced hand at it.
"It's pretty. What's it supposed to be?"
"It's my name."
"No… mori… Natsuki." Urp! That didn't go right.
"Nomori Natsuki?" Ayeka asked, puzzled.
"Um, well I…" attempted the other.
"Sasami, may I see that? I hope you don't mind."
"No, not at all," she said, resigned. Ayeka took the scroll from Sasami and studied it herself.
"Oh, I understand. Clever indeed, very fitting. Your name is Kasumi."
That was the correct one, and Kasumi breathed a sigh of relief. That is, she made the motions of sighing. Who knows if she physically sighed or if she even needed to breathe at all? She certainly didn't know. But thinking about such things made her head spin and that's the last thing she wanted right then and there. Sometime soon she'd ask Washu what made her tick. Today was not that day.
"So it's Kasumi-oneechan, then?" probed Sasami, making sure she was getting it right this time (and by extension whether Ayeka was getting it right at all).
"Yes, Katsuhito-sama named me Kasumi. And now that I have a real name, I can say this: It's nice to meet you both." She bowed slightly, to complete her joke.
Ayeka chuckled quietly. "Oh ho ho, well, at least you have that much." Kasumi didn't know how to take that, it almost seemed condescending. But then again, she was trying to be sympathetic it seemed. "Forgive me for asking, but does that imply that Washu wasn't able to…" she trailed off. Kasumi looked askance.
"Are you okay, Kasumi-oneechan?" Sasami asked. Ryo-Ohki, back magically to being a child, wandered over, looking concerned as well. It seemed the little tyke had something of a sense for emotions, even for those of androids.
"Not really. She says I have a concussion and my memory might have been shredded. Which means it may or may not come back, if only in pieces." She smiled a little. "Maybe I'll get a few good ones."
Ryo-Ohki, sensing Sasami's concern and Kasumi's sullen smile, tugged on Kasumi's borrowed robe. "Meow…?" she called asking to be noticed.
"Oh, what is it, little one?" Kasumi asked, puzzled.
She mewed quietly and started moving her little hands. Soon she was singing a little meowey song, moving her hands around in a cute little hands dance routine. She finished as soon as she started, and peered up to see if it had changed anything. Kasumi smiled down at her.
"Aw, thank you, that was very cute, Ryo-Ohki." She leaned down to pat the little cat girl on the head.
"Meow!" mewed Ryo-Ohki happily, glad to cheer up one of the grown-ups. Sasami offered a girlish giggle.
"She seems quite taken with you, Kasumi-san," mused Ayeka.
"I suppose so. I guess I have a way with-" Suddenly, the hairs on the back of Kasumi's head started to stand up. Her pupils dilated wide like a cat and she stood up completely straight. Ryo-Ohki mewed inquisitively.
"Kasumi-oneechan?" Sasami leaned in, echoing Ryo-Ohki's confusion. Kasumi shut her eyes and turned her head slightly, as if she were listening for something.
"What's the matter, Kasumi-san?" posed Ayeka. Kasumi's eyes bolted open.
"We need to move, now," she said, completely direct. And before she could ask why, Sasami found herself and Ryo-Ohki being grabbed and pulled into Kasumi's arms. Ayeka shrieked at the sight of her sister being manhandled and stomped her foot.
"How dare you touch my sister in that manner yoUOUGHH!" Ayeka quickly found herself being thrust into the air. "What are you-" she started, when suddenly she found herself seated on Kasumi's back, and a child on either shoulder. Kasumi had tossed each of them in the air in a precise motion and leapt up to catch them all at the same time, then continued up to the rooftop in a single huge bound. "Let us alone this instant, Kasumi-san!" Ayeka protested, but found herself being not only kidnapped but hushed.
"Hold on-" Kasumi started, leaning her head again as they started their descent onto the roof. "...it's coming down fast." She knelt down and started positioning for the next jump.
"Wait, Kasumi-oneechan, it's okay it's-"
And with a great roar, a spacecraft, sized for a small crew of at most two for a long mission, zoomed belly-down towards the house. Kasumi attempted to make the jump, but Ayeka pushed off and left her off-balance. She grabbed Sasami and Ryo-Ohki and held them tightly, facing away from the ship which was now careening into the lake. With a heavy flop it connected with the water and caused a hundred-foot water spout to shoot into the sky, which came down again gently, indifferent to the way it was so violently disturbed.
"...Kasumi-oneechan?" Sasami asked after a beat.
"Huh?" Kasumi pulled out of the embrace, looking very confused. "Sasami?"
"Well, Kasumi-san," started Ayeka, patting herself down, "I suppose I appreciate the concern for our safety but perhaps next time inform us as to your intentions."
"My intentions? I-" Kasumi was clearly startled by what was going on.
"It's okay, oneechan," said Sasami. "It's only Mihoshi coming back."
"Hey!" came a voice, interjecting. "What are you guys doing on the roof?" The four of them turned and found a young woman phased halfway through the tiles like a ghost, with a shock of blue hair and a raised eyebrow over her golden eyes.
"Ryoko-san!" It was apparent who it was, but Ayeka needed to object to something anyway, and therefore called her name.
"What? Came to watch the show? I was surprised--thought nobody else was gonna see Mihoshi crash this time."
"Hardly." Ayeka was still not pleased. Sasami decided to intervene, being the reasonable one.
"Kasumi-oneechan must've thought we were in trouble, she got us all up here."
"Huh? Who's Kasumi?" Ryoko paused and then spotted the very confused woman in the spare robe. "Oh, that must be you. Or- wait a second…" She floated through the roof and glided her way over to size up the new girl. "Hey, it's you! The electric weirdo in Tenchi's clothes. Huh, that's weird. I didn't figure you for a girl…" She squinted her eyes and leaned forward.
"Y-yeah, that's me. The electric weirdo." Kasumi didn't remember much but she did know that Ryoko didn't like her. Seems Ayeka didn't care for her much either now, but at least there was Ryo-Ohki, bless her little lupo-feline heart. Ryoko continued to eye her closely. "I don't mean to put anyone out… or on the roof I guess. A-as to that…" she turned to Ayeka, nodding her head, "I'm really very sorry. If I did this I… I don't know what came over me."
"So first she steals Tenchi's clothes, and now she's got yours, Ayeka. And then she steals you all away up here. Looks like we got us a klepto, unless you've got a funny way of impressing people, weirdo."
"Hey, that's not fair, Ryoko-onee. She doesn't have anything of her own and she can't even remember her real name, Grandpa gave her that one," Sasami butted in, stamping her foot this time. Family trait, and Kasumi wondered where it came from. But before either Ryoko could retort or anybody else could comment, a sob was heard from by the lake. It was loud, and frankly pitiful. A fully resigned sob from a very defeated and very wet blonde girl with curly hair and dark skin, wearing a soaked uniform of some sort. Everybody but Kasumi knew who that was and what she was crying about, which Kasumi also took as a little odd but, strange things seemed to be the norm. And if she thought this strange, maybe the life she left was pretty dull, indeed.
Chapter 12: What Goes Up
"Waaahhh!" she moaned, sniffling, dripping wet from her unexpected, though not unusual, water landing. "Washu-saaaaan, I broke it agaaainn… somebody help, please…" Mihoshi Kuramitsu, detective first class and Jurai's semi-official emissary from the Galaxy Police, was home. She called out, but nobody came. "Hello? Anybody home? It's me, Mihoshiiii. Hellooooo?" It was astonishing to watch her, half-sobbing from her crashed ship and half-confused where everyone could be. She pressed her face against the glass and peered in, still calling for someone to answer.
It was almost too piteous to watch, but there was an air of downright fascination about the situation. Kasumi didn't know how to proceed, but everyone else on the roof quietly snuck to the edge to observe. What Kasumi didn't know was that it was very rare that anybody actually got the drop on Mihoshi. Usually it was her surprising everyone else, and at the worst times. So nobody, not even Sasami, was completely willing to alert Mihoshi, because this was the first time they'd get to see what she'd do. How many times they'd been interrupted by Mihoshi, how many activities disrupted--or things broken--by her unexpected haphazard bungling in?
Quietly they peered down, making their best effort not to fall off the roof (excluding Ryoko, who could fly, but even she was cautious to cross the line). It had become difficult to see her after she had gotten close to the glass, and they'd only been able to tell by the muffled cries for Washu that she was against the glass at all. Silently they agreed to peek, and slowly moved their heads beyond the edge…
And they nearly fell off after seeing what they found. Mihoshi had given up crying, laid herself down on the deck, and fell asleep, still in her wet uniform. So much for that. Kasumi was still confused, but was eager to observe and understand. Though to be frank, she wasn't really understanding at all.
"Mihoshi-san?" called a voice from by the lake. "Is that you?"
Mihoshi stirred, and slowly started to come to. "Tenchi-san…? Why are you on the roof?"
It quickly became apparent to the onlookers that they had been caught, and with incredible speed they withdrew, excepting Kasumi, who still looked a little confused.
"Hey, yeah. What the heck are you all doing up there?" Tenchi asked, fist on his hip and squinting, trying to make out what was going on and why there was a party on the roof.
"Tenchi-niichan!" cried Sasami, waving at him. Ever the little diplomat the tiny princess continued with "It's okay, it was just a misunderstanding!"
Tenchi raised an eyebrow. Clearly confused, he stepped a little closer to see what was going on. Then he noticed Mihoshi, still dripping. "Mihoshi-san! Are you all right?"
She popped out of a little reverie to answer. "Huh? Oh, y-yes, I'm fine, Tenchi-san. I just got a little wet…"
"Well let's get you out of those wet clothes, you'll get sick!"
Mihoshi blushed, not only was she wet but Tenchi wanted to get her out of her clothes… How scandalous… "T-Tenchi-san…" she muttered, turning her head.
Tenchi, however was confused. If not concerned for the developing redness on her face. "Come on, let's go inside-"
And as he reached for the door, he found himself interrupted by a blue-haired apparition behind him. Ryoko had teleported herself from the roof and floated over, calling softly, "Hey, Tenchi…"
"Tenchiiii… I missed you so much today," she whined, muscling in and wrapping her arms around Tenchi's neck, then she sneakily hovered up and around him so he could no longer see Mihoshi.
"Ryoko, stop," he protested. "Mihoshi is soaking wet and she has to get out of those clothes-"
"WHAT." Ryoko tore herself off of Tenchi and scowled. "What's that supposed to mean, huh? She's all hot and bothered over her little crash and what? You want to get after that like a piece of raw beef??"
"What? No! She's sopping wet-" he realized, and then swallowed hard to regain his composure "-with water ! If she stays that way she's liable to catch a cold."
And as if on cue, Mihoshi sneezed. Sheepishly and through her nose she muttered, "Oh… excuse me…"
"See? Look at her, she's a mess."
"Hmph, she'll be fine. Nobody ever died from a cold," Ryoko huffed, crossing her arms.
"Maybe not, but a hot bath'll fix it either way." A new voice joined the group.
"Washu-san!!" Mihoshi exclaimed, jumping, though not nearly as high as Ryoko. She then welled up and sniffled, bowing deeply. "I'm so sorry, Washu-saaaaaannn…"
"It's all right, Mihoshi, don't worry about your ship. I'll fix it again, good as new, just like every other time…" Washu reassured, patting her on her wet little blonde head. Little did that little head ever entertain the notion that maybe Washu's repair jobs had secondary benefits.
"What is with today and everybody just appearing out of nowhere?" Ryoko mused to herself, out loud.
"You practically do it all the time, especially to Tenchi. Don't like your own medicine, Ryoko?"
"Hmph," she scoffed back, like a daughter to her mother, "What are you doing out of your hole anyway? It's not time to eat yet."
"Now, now, Ryoko. Don't let's get snippy just because you aren't getting your way," chided back Washu, like a mother to her daughter.
"What do you mean, anyway?" she asked, only just noticing Tenchi already in the house guiding Mihoshi to the bathroom door. "WHA-"
"There, ya see? Don't worry too much, you know how that door works." Of course she did, and she knew that once in a while Tenchi was very able to enter that fancy bath house beyond the portal cleverly disguised as the bathroom door. Ryoko seethed, almost pawing at the sliding glass door, even though she could see Tenchi clearly coming back and no funny business had occurred.
"Whew," he sighed, stepping back out. "I told her we'd find her a change of clothes-"
"Don't worry, I've got that covered already." Washu produced from behind her back a bundle of what looked like a pair of high-waisted day pants and a pink short sleeved blouse. Mihoshi's trademark costume, the kind of thing she usually traipsed around in during summer.
"Where did you…?"
"Don't worry about it. We've got time to get these to her so it's fine," she said, dodging the question.
"Tenchiiii…" Ryoko whined, hovering close and giving him puppy eyes.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked, puzzled.
"Aren't there too many girls here already, Tenchi?" she whined again, half faking it just to get close.
"What are you talking about? Oh, Washu," he turned, suddenly reminded, "What happened? Is everything okay with our, uh, new guest?"
"Hm? Oh, you mean her? She's been out of the lab for a little while now, I assumed she was with you, Tenchi-dono," said Washu, plainly.
He furrowed his brow, thinking. "No, I haven't seen anybody since-"
But before he could put two and two together about whom he did see, he was interrupted by a tiny voice from the roof. "Ummm… Excuse us…"
"Eheh…" she giggled, embarrassed.
"What on Earth were you all doing up there?"
"Oh, that was Kasumi-onee, she was worried about us…"
"...Kasumi? Who's that?" he asked, confused. On cue the newcomer with the curly auburn hair leaned down and made a sheepish wave.
"Hello, there, Tenchi," she said, equally as sheepish as she was waving.
"Oh, there you are!" interrupted Washu, almost too warmly for the circumstances. Then again she had only just sculpted Kasumi into a piece of art so she must have been proud of her work at least. She then added something that made Ryoko seeth once more: "See, Tenchi-dono? I knew she couldn't have gotten far. And to think you were worried."
Ryoko did indeed scowl at the thought of Tenchi being worried about another girl. Even if she was a moment ago unsure that the same creature was a girl at all. Tenchi however was still confused, putting things together in his mind, the gears visibly turning. "That… is that…?" he started.
Kasumi didn't have time to answer him, as Ayeka took her royal privilege to make a small cough and intercede. "Yes, well, this is all well and good but I don't suppose someone would mind helping us down from here?"
"Kasumi-onee, can you bring us down?" asked Sasami.
"I… I don't know. To be honest, I can't really recall how I managed to get us all up here in the first place."
"Miaowwww!" offered Ryo-Ohki, tucked behind Sasami.
"Aw geez, hold on," said Tenchi, heading for the back of the house. "I'll go and get a ladder."
"Thank you, indeed, Tenchi-sama. It's good to see a gentleman capable of succor. Unlike some people who have known we were up here this whole time and are capable of flying," sneered Ayeka, glaring sideways at Ryoko.
"Succor, huh? Well, succ on this, succker!" shouted Ryoko back, sticking out her tongue at that royal pain-in-her-butt. Then she took to the skies, scooped up Sasami and Ryo-Ohki, and gently floated back down, smug as smug can be.
"How dare you! I'll show you!" And Ayeka was off, clambering her way up the roof, grasping for whatever gutter, window, or tile she could get hold of. It should be herewith noted that the Masaki house was very large, certainly about three stories tall, with a long, interrupted tiled roof, a terrace deck off the third floor, and an ample amount of windows in between. A clear-headed, steady climber could very easily manage that grade and make their way to the first set of windows demarking the second floor, even though those roofing tiles were very smooth. This must have been Ayeka's plan, though she was neither clear-headed nor steady, especially in the state of anger she was in. No man or beast could stop her, and her sister couldn't much delay her either, offering gentle but futile advice on the nature of future broken bones from the fall, which she hissed at and insisted she could make it, just to prove she could do it.
"Onee-sama… please stop…" she cried.
"Sasami, don't worry, I am more than capable of-UUOAHHGH!" Proving herself quite the opposite, she lost her footing on the tiles and slipped, sliding quickly down towards the deck below. Kasumi's neck bristled again, and her eyes widened. Without so much as a word, she sprung from her perch, skidded down the roof, caught Ayeka just before she slipped off, and angled herself between the princess and the ground. Their eyes met for an instant, and Ayeka peered deep into the vastness of Kasumi's wide-open orbs. For that quarter of a second, she was startled. Seeing Ayeka's expression of terror, Kasumi broke out of her trance and realized where she was. She was holding the princess Ayeka in her arms, plummeting to the ground, and very nearly-
Kasumi connected with the ground and took the whole weight of Princess Ayeka, collapsing into the decking and summarily being squished under her. Thankfully, Ayeka was not heavy enough to break the android, but nevertheless Kasumi had fallen hard on her backside, then whiplashed into the deck. Almost instantly her jaw went slack, and her eyes glazed over.
A little voice shrieked. "Onee-sama!" Sasami cried. Ayeka leapt off the android and rushed to the little one, wrapping an arm around her. "Is Kasumi-onee?"
Ayeka couldn't say. She held Sasami close and peered over. It seemed silent for a moment, as they all gazed at Kasumi's motionless body. Ryo-Ohki peeked from behind Sasami… and Ryoko peeked behind Ryo-Ohki. Washu was far less hesitant, opting to approach cautiously.
"Careful, Washu, she might… do that thing again!" shouted Ryoko from relative safety behind three other people.
Washu produced a stick and poked Kasumi in the foot. Without delay the toes twitched. The other girls all jumped back a few feet. The tension fading, Washu repeated the process, and the toes curled. Kasumi's chest began to rise and lower. The girls breathed a sigh of relief--just in time for Tenchi to show up with a ladder.
"Tenchi-sama… Kasumi-san…" breathed Ayeka, a little ashamed he went to the trouble of helping her which might have cost Kasumi's life. If she was indeed alive at all but that remained to be seen. Tenchi himself gasped at the sight of a prone woman who seemed to fall from the roof in his absence and rushed over.
"K-Kasumi-san, are you all right?" he asked, kneeling at her side. Unresponsive, Washu took her stick and poked Kasumi in the arch of her foot, which caused her to double upward, with a deep breath in, not unlike that of a person revived from suffocation. After the shock of bolting upward, she fainted and fell back again, but her head and shoulders missed striking the wood again because Tenchi, out of reaction, reached under and caught her.
"See? Little bit of stimulus, that's all an android needs to get up and running again. Especially one with a concussion," smiled Washu, proudly.
"Concussion?" asked Tenchi. "Is she going to be alright? Do we need a doctor?"
"Don't worry, Tenchi-dono. It's not the same for an android as an organic life form. Her body can actually take a beating before that kind of damage occurs. No, she just has to get her neural pathways healed from whatever scrambled them. That's the cause of her amnesia."
"Huh…" he hummed. Kasumi stirred in his arms, cooing quietly.
"See, you were worried about a computer. That's sweet," said Washu, coyly.
Ayeka's shame and embarrassment quickly faded into resentfulness. Behind her, Ryoko grabbed the princess' shoulder and pushed forward over Sasami's head, red-faced and jealous as hell. It also seemed she was growling.
Kasumi's brow furrowed. She began to draw sharper breaths. It almost appeared as if…
"Washu-san…" started Sasami, still concerned about her new friend, "Is she… dreaming?"
Washu looked up from the droid and the man cradling it. "Well, that's an astute if not misinformed observation. Androids can't technically dream the way organic life does, because their brains operate differently. However, and especially in the case of ones like this, programmed to act human and then have their brains scrambled to the point of a cyber concussion, they might go into a standby mode during which aspects of lost memories or fragments of data are purged from their temporary positions and catalogued for longer storage."
"Oh…" Sasami offered, clearly confused.
Washu shrugged, switching to layman's terms, at least as low as she could go for the benefit of the little one. "She's not dreaming in a sense because that would require a different form of data synthesis. However… it's not dissimilar to the average observer."
"Please, no… don't…" muttered Kasumi in her not-sleep.
"K-Kasumi-san?" stammered Tenchi. He gingerly lifted her head, and Washu got that smug grin back. Leave it to Tenchi , she thought. Ryoko, however, decided to make her thoughts known.
"Hey, Tenchi!" she spat. "Quit messing with the robot. It's not even a real woman! It's... It's a toaster!"
"Tenchi-sama, as much as it pains me, for once I have to agree," added Ayeka, also still red in the face.
"Hey…" started Sasami, joined by a sad meow from Ryo-Ohki. Kasumi herself continued to stir.
Chapter 13: Hidden Sea Buried Deep
I made my way quietly through the ever-darkening caverns. I had been taxed lately, and it would be good to have some time to myself. Though I loved them, as much as I thought I could do, it was becoming stifling sitting amongst the flowers and being carefree. Too much of a good thing can't be that good, after all, no matter what Mom and Dad say. It took a bit of doing to get away from my brother but I think my need to be alone trumped his need to never be left alone. He'll be fine, he knows I get… moody. I crawled into the crack by the second waterfall and climbed up the little rock, finding the way into my secret air pocket. It was getting harder though, both to get in that space and to get away from him. He needs to understand. He'd better. Sometimes I just… needed to be alone.
Dark… darker, darker… yet darker still. The light from the valleys and the towns faded more and more as I snuck into my hiding hole. It wouldn't stay that way forever, though. These darker parts of the Underground would soon be populated. The phosphorescent mushrooms had been cultivated and would be all over the place soon. Shame, the king always values safety over this kind of true natural majesty. Something that both classes of walking and talking creatures in this world have, but wouldn't dare admit the other did. For if you boiled it down to its base, sure, it was arrogance on both parts. Humans would find a place to claim for a town, or a farm. Some way to make more humans. Monsters… they would put up safety rails and lights in the darkest cave. Some way to keep more monsters.
By rights Humans were probably worse but. Still. It turned my stomach thinking about it.
So few Monsters shared this sentiment. Only one, really. I always respected him. No, wait. That's not right. I always feared him. He was capable of such advancement that could bring stable power to the Underground, but such terrors that could…
Something. Something amiss. This wasn't how it happened. I looked down at my hands, out of reflex. But it was pitch black and I couldn't see them. I brought them to my face, to feel them. Too small. I could barely pick up a knife--no! No, not a knife. A rock? Are there even rocks here to pick up? Where was I? It was too dark to tell.
But I could tell I wasn't alone. Something was breathing down my neck in the darkness. Questions started running across the back of my mind, against that breath. Why did I like the darkness? I didn't like the darkness before? What drew me in here? ... who drew me in? Like a spider, only not as nice. The kind of spiders they warn you about when you're a little kid on the surface. The kind that don't bake delicious donuts for you just because your brother was nice to them.
Stop thinking about spiders , I thought. It wasn't easy, though. Every time I tried to focus on that nagging thought I found myself thinking about other things. Inane ones. Inconsequential things like my memories were making smalltalk with me. As if they were hiding something that never was there. Save for maybe…
In the corner of my eye.
I tried to ignore it but it seemed to be drawing nearer. Those who fight and run away… I remembered. But why would I be fighting? There was nobody down here in the darkness. Nobody would ever find me here. Not even. Him.
I ignored him and slowly crept toward the little patch of light from down the way. One of the fewer glowing plants common in these parts, soon to be joined by scores more. I saw my brother in the distance, half-frantic with his hand cupped by his snout. He seemed to be calling for something. I couldn't tell what he was saying but he seemed distressed. Was he looking for me? What a nosy little… booger. I hated him.
No, no I didn't. I never hated my brother. Why would I think that? It was time to end this. Maybe he could help. No, he couldn't. He was too small and his constitution was careworn by years of living with me… I couldn't take these thoughts. I cupped my hands and screamed back at the top of my lungs. I called his name. Screamed it so loud Mom could have heard it back home.
But no one came. He never heard me. I wheezed in vain. Soon I couldn't even hear myself. No matter how hard I screamed, nothing came out of my mouth. The plants began to fade, and the air became stiff. It was as if I were still in that cave, darkness around me. Darkness… behind me. And in the back of my mind, somewhere that only my deepest fears seemed to live, I could hear a voice.
There you are, child. Come, we have so much to do…
"Please, don't…" I whispered, finding myself unable to move. I shut my eyes tight as I felt shadowy, icy hands reach out and touch my shoulders. And in a single moment, I could feel all my sins--all their sins--running down my back.
My eyelids were suddenly pierced by a bright blue light, like a flame. I couldn't help but open my eyes and see the blinding blueness. It looked something like an eye, with a dark circle in the middle, cutting through my very soul. Not theirs, but mine. Something told me, however, that the gaze shooting through me was directed behind me. A deep voice called out from beyond the blue eye.
"getting off-track , there, huh? maybe it's time to wake up and smell the flowers…"
I was confused. These comments, so pointed. Was he trying to tell me something? Before I could realize, I suddenly was surrounded by a thousand bones. I couldn't move, nor could I prevent their course as they charged headlong into my body. The pain immense, like a broken heart, I couldn't bear it. I had to get out. I had to wake up.