Autumn is no time for a scientist, let alone the greatest scientific genius in the universe, to be milling about outside. If you’d ever asked her, Washu would tell you that there is no good time to step away from your work. Any precious time you spend in less than optimal conditions for testing and analysis is a waste. If something belongs outside, drag it in and stuff it in a tube somewhere deep in a lab hidden in a dimensional portal. Which is, coincidentally, exactly where Washu was sitting at that moment. Dozens of experiments surrounded her, patiently waiting out some dull scanning process or trying to live out its day-to-day functions while a stranger probed her eyes into their world. Sometimes she would merely watch, pad of paper in one hand and pen in the other. Othertimes she’d be only half focused on the glass house she would be standing in front of, pounding away at a holographic keyboard and studying the results on screen with unbreakable attention.
She stopped in front of a glass globe almost as big as a football field and waited for her specimen to arise. Blue-green swirls of chemical atmosphere brushed against the sides of the giant case, breaking off into smaller lines before rejoining the collective fog below. Moments passed, the sickly air within stirring violently. Washu scribbled on her pad in anticipation. Breaking into view was a giant, winged, leathery creature. It flapped around and slammed up against the glass frame before pulling back, hovering in midair to stare off at its cruel captor. A curved beak-like structure opened wide, though if it were letting out some sort of cry or threat, Washu was unable to hear it. As fun as it can be to play god, sometimes you need to just turn off the damn volume.
“Hmm,” she mumbled, watching the creature’s left wing with particular attention. “Seems to have recovered well from the last experiment. I’ll still have to proceed with some minor caution. Can’t risk losing such a specimen so early!” She’d managed to capture this one from an icy gas giant planet in a very distant star system. Often found in packs, these creatures possess incredible amounts of energy in order to maintain flight for their entire lives. The closest they even get to a sleep state is a drift maneuver which allows them to coast on the pressurized systems of the planet to preserve stamina. Physical collisions were great mysteries to these creatures. Besides running into each other, they had nothing to land on or hit. As Washu had found out, they couldn’t even attempt it if they tried. Their bodies are extremely sensitive to atmospheric pressures. The first time she attempted extraction she witnessed the effects of changes on their bodily structure. As marked in her notes, it became ‘flatter than Senbei’ and resembled a ‘sack of smashed plums.’
While she gazed down upon the subject, a loud beeping went off around her.
“Huh?” Washu clipped her pen down and waved her hand up to call her computer up. The air around her flickered to life, forming three screens about arm’s length away. A grid of keys faded in gently just level with her lower chest. Tucking her clipboard under her arm, she tapped away into the system. One screen displayed the output of her text inputs, complex lines of code built in a computing language no earth computer was capable of parsing. She rooted through the alien file trees for a moment before the other two screens blinked and activated. The far right screen showed her an overlay of the Masaki household and the surrounding hills, a blueprint-like map for her to keep track of where everyone is. The middle screen showed a view of the lake, a small dot barely moving on the shore.
“She’s back out there again. Eighth day in a row,” Washu thought to herself. “Perhaps I should go talk to her, lord knows the boys here sure won’t.” With a flick of her wrist, the holographic computer vanished into the ether. She turned to face where she came from before observing this creature and walked off.
The surface of the water broke as Ryoko dipped her hand into the lake. The way the chilled water curved around her slender fingers always helped take her mind off of things. The mere act alone may not seem like much, but comfort can be found in the strangest of places. Her reflection rippled and shattered in reaction to her arm movements, not unlike the way a shattered mirror made of mercurial material may react. Her messy, unkempt hair haloed lightly from blocking out the sun hanging in the mild blue skies above her. A thin breeze ruffled the raised collar of her dress shirt. All the while she just kept moving her hand around in the lake, the swishing of the water lightly splashing away barely registering to her. She’d come here to try and get out of the house, away from the TV and the kitchen, away from all of her memories. If only for a moment, she thought, as it all would come back as soon as she went back inside.
She struck out at the water with a hard slap, frustration coming to a head. A loud whoosh sailed through the air as the liquid flew away from her strike and slapped back down into the lake with a few late cracks. Ryoko averted her stare away from the lake and looked off into the distance. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to see herself right now.
“What’s the matter with you?” She posed, almost as a taunt. “You’re acting awfully childish right now. I’d expect this kind of behavior from a bratty princess, not the fearsome Space Pirate Ryoko!” The leaves rustled in the breeze as if to respond. “Hmph, this planet’s made you too soft. This planet and that…” She shook her head and tried to regain control of herself. “Listen to me, arguing with myself. I’d almost expect this kind of behavior from Washu.” Like a phantom, no sooner than she had thought of the name, a pink hair plume became visible in the surface of the water next to her. She glanced her eyes downward, seeing Washu’s reflection joining hers.
“What do you want?” Ryoko dryly blurted. Washu stretched a little.
“Oooooh nothing, just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by.” Washu cooed playfully. Ryoko was not amused, wrinkling her nose momentarily in mild annoyance. Washu continued.
“You’ve been out here for eight days in a row.”
“I know,” Ryoko responded with deadened emotion.
“You’re not a creature of habit, you’re too lazy for that.” Washu, despite her concern, still wasn’t exactly one with social graces. “You’ve been out here paddling away at the lake like a crew aboard a sinking ship, trying to get away from a whirlpool.”
“Maybe I am trying to get away. It’s difficult when you’re followed, you know.” Ryoko’s response was pointed, her mood already down the drain. She didn’t want to be near Washu. They’d never really gotten along to begin with, and she never did understand things like ‘personal space’. Washu knelt over with a smile on her face. With her school uniform and the blissful expression on her face, it’s like she never aged a day beyond 12.
“C’mon now dear,” she brightly chirped. “You’re not going to get anywhere with that attitude. You’re starting to act like some of my experiments, and let me tell ya, some of them can be mighty stubborn.” She stood back up and clenched her fist toward her chest. “But little do they know who they’re messing with. Washu, the greatest scientific genius in the universe!” She maintained her pose for a moment as two little Washu-bots flung up on her shoulders.
“Yeah, the greatest and smartest in the worrrrrrrrrrld!” Washu-bot A cheered on.
“She can figure out anything, get to the bottom of any mystery!” Washu-bot B waved its hands excitedly.
“Yeah!!” They both exclaimed at once. Washu cackled.
Ryoko’s face didn’t budge.
“Aw, that didn’t get anything out of you?” Washu broke her triumphant pose. “I’m just trying to be funny, lighten the mood a little!”
“I’d ask for my money back, but I don’t remember ordering a clown.”
“Listen now, Miss Pagliacci!” Washu quipped back, half offended. She took a moment to act as if she were regaining herself. “I may play the part of the fool on this stage, but I can tell when something isn’t right. You don’t have any parts like this on the script, so why are you out here sulking away the hours all the time now?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Washu didn’t take this as an acceptable answer to her question.
“You miss them, don’t you?” She asked after a moment. Ryoko appeared surprised, scrambling to hide her face from Washu’s perspective of her reflection.
“What makes you think that?” Ryoko asked, muffled by her arm.
“Well, it’s been some time since any of the girls have come to visit, right? They used to be just as much of a part of this house as anyone else. They’d all gone off on their own after you and Tenchi got married. That was years ago by this planet’s cycles. I think perhaps you’re missing them, the additional noise they used to bring into your life.”
Ryoko pondered on this for a moment. Sure, Washu stuck around, but everyone else had left Earth almost a decade ago. No Mihoshi to break things and drive Washu crazy. No Kiyone to chat with over afternoon tea. No more of Sasami’s incredible cooking filling the home with mouth-watering aromas morning, afternoon and night. No Ayeka to butt heads with over Tenchi. No Ayeka to watch daytime soap operas with, to cry with when the drama scaled up, to giggle with as they goofed around about their favorite ‘One True Pairing’ for each show. No Ayeka to bat around and be batted back at by. Life had been great without them, but there was no denying that they left a huge hole after they left.
“…I guess I do.”
“You should go and visit them.”
“Me? Go out there? Want me to just show up at their doorsteps like a catalog girl and ask if they’re interested in a demonstration?”
“If you want to make a little money while you’re up there, sure!” Washu giggled. “But come on, you know you can’t just let yourself sit around in this rut you’ve gotten yourself into. It’s making me depressed. And that’s getting in the way of my ability to observe and experiment!”
“Am I one of those?” Ryoko joked.
“I think I burned your dossier years ago, half of what I had written down in there was more illegal than the cannon I built which could destroy a galaxy in a single shot.”
“My reputation is still intact then.”
Washu was right. Ryoko felt a longing to see the familiar faces of the girls she spent years together with. Would she go so far as to call them friends? A younger, more immature Ryoko would tell you no and then rob you blind. But the years had changed her, at least a little bit. Now she’d say yes, and regale a story about them while she pickpocketed you.
“Ayeka and Sasami would probably be back in the lap of luxary at the Jurai palace, so it wouldn’t be hard to find them. But what about Kiyone and Mihoshi? I wouldn’t have any idea where to find them if they’re on active duty.”
“They did turn down their high station ranks to return here and patrol the solar system before they left, didn’t they? I’m sure I can dig up some dirt on ‘em. Someone’s had to have spotted the Yagami somewhere.” Washu struck a pose. “It won’t be any problem for me, the grea-”
“-test scientific nerd in the galaxy, I know.”
“In the universe!” Washu playfully slapped Ryoko’s shoulder. “Get it right!” Ryoko rose to her feet and turned to face Washu. Any other day and she would have raised a clasped hand for such an action. But today, all she could muster was a soft stare.
“Did you want to come with me?” Ryoko asked.
“Who, me? Nah. I think it’d be best if I stay here and keep an eye on things at the house. Or stay cooped up in my studies. Either or. I think it’d be best for you to go alone, at any rate.”
“Yeah! Just you, the stars, hangin out with the girls! I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to see you again.”
“It’s been ten years, think they’ll be like they were back then?”
“Only one way to find out, dear.”
“Yeah,” Ryoko looked up at the dreary blue sky, some clouds having disrupted the purity of the expanse.
“Grab a few carrots for Ryo-ohki before you leave. Make it a nice outing. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“Robbing a bank is still game then, right?” Ryoko threw out the hypothetical question as she walked back towards the house. With Ryoko’s back turned to her, Washu flicked her wrist and called forth an Ansible. Tiny bleeps and bloops emitted from nowhere as she stood by herself on the edge of the water, Ryoko sliding the wooden door shut behind her.