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Act III: Body and Mind

A Ranma story
by Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma is property of Rumiko Takahashi and Viz video

Nabiki and Tofu slid to a halt near a small grove of evergreens, as the avalanche above them died out. The Tendo girl gasped for breath, then staggered to her feet, surveying her surroundings.

After regaining his feet, Tofu removed the ring from the Kinjakan and tossed it to Nabiki, then pointed to a marker blazed onto a nearby tree. "We can be in the village we set out from by night, if we hurry."

Nabiki frowned, shaking her head. "What about Ranma and Akane?"

The older man turned to look at the thin spire of ice, jutting out from above the white cloud that seemed impossibly far away. It stood as a memorial to the fallen youths. "I don't know. Who can say what the future holds?"

The now youngest of the Tendo sisters slumped back to her knees. "They're… dead?"

Tofu considered for a moment, then hefted the uncapped staff in his hands. "Yes… But I think Ranma had to have had a plan. I just don't know what it was."

Nabiki was lost in thought. She had the will. There were factors against her, but there was some potential. And where there was a will…

She woke in a cold sweat, the way she always did when she woke from that dream. Sitting up slowly to avoid waking her husband, she pawed at the blackness to the side of her bed for a moment before hitting something. It began to glow, softly at first, then more brightly, as she stared at the luminous numbers on the clock's display.

Sighing, she climbed to her feet, padding towards the doorway as the light from the clock faded, and a soft glow formed in response to her footsteps, outlining the hall.

She grabbed a robe from a hook, and threw it on, closing the door softly behind her. Once the door was closed, the light began increasing in brightness slowly, allowing her time to adjust. She stared at the lights for a long moment, remembering the lights of her childhood, and their simple harsh brightness.

Shaking her head, she tramped into the kitchen, where the coffee machine was already percolating. She frowned thoughtfully. "I wonder if all of this has made me soft?"

Her musing was interrupted as her husband slipped into the room silently, his presence subtle enough that he triggered none of the sensors she had. She frowned at that, cocking her head to one side, as he smirked at her. "Perhaps, perhaps not. Looking at the alternatives, I'm pleased things are the way that they are."

She turned away, ignoring him until her coffee was ready. Sipping at it, she relaxed, making a contented humming noise. In response, the sensors activated the blinds, drawing them up and flooding the apartment with the pre-dawn glow.

Tofu stared at the rising sun thoughtfully, absently putting his arm around his wife's shoulder, as she leant comfortably against him. "Morning," she said at length.

"Hmm…" he mused, frowning at the electric lights. "I wonder if they're learning not to see me."

She turned to look at him. "I know you're going to be one… and I know that Ranma and Akane are. What about Ranko?"

He tightened his grip on her, holding her tightly, and she had to wonder how something that firm could not be real. "I don't know. I think that Ranma is the center, somehow."

"Even in death?"

"It's a common enough theme," Tofu said slowly. "Heroes aren't always stopped merely by death…"

"What about Akane? She wasn't a hero."

He was silent for a long moment. "I don't know. We can't say who Ranma is, yet. We only know some of the Qinghai Confederacy are. Saffron is—"

She cut him off. "Everyone is someone, right? What about me? I don't want to be separate from you." She pushed away from him, staring into the murky depths of her coffee cup. "And I'm not anyone."

"I don't know," Tofu said softly.

She brushed her hair back, sighing happily. The quay was much lower than it had been in her parent's day. The cold of nuclear winter in her earliest youth had restored the once-melting icecaps, however temporarily.

She glanced at the ancient shoreline, some meters higher up the beach then where the water currently lay, and smirked. Another few centimeters this year. Eventually it would be restored to the way it had been before the Fall.

Shaking herself out of her reverie, she approached the rounded skimmer at the end of the quay, bobbing with the motion of the water. There was a small shack at the end, near the skimmer. Much too small and crude to house a person. Perhaps it was an office.

She knocked at the door, and a muffled voice answered her from inside. "Jus' a minute."

Waiting patiently, she turned to study the skimmer itself. It looked outdated, but the finish was new, and it was compact. It had a theoretical capacity of eight people plus freight, but was small enough to be run capably by a single person. A 'corsair', she remembered. Tendo Heavy had stopped producing them some years back, as the demand went for either heavier and more durable craft, or lighter and faster vehicles.

The door opened partially, and a tall, lanky man squeezed out through the small gap. He frowned, as a long ribbon at his sleeve caught momentarily, then freed himself. He nodded once, tugging at a small metallic turtle pendant at his neck. "Yo," he said, his eyes traveling up and down, exploring her body shamelessly.

The girl smirked, her stance widening as she placed her hands on her hips. "I hear you're a pilot. That's your craft?"

He jerked a nod, pulling his attention from her body, outlined clearly in the bodysuit she had chosen for the occasion. Meeting her eyes, he frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. She eyed him in return, noting his odd, loose fitting outfit. "Where are you from?" she asked, wondering at the flowing cloth.

"Out, mostly. I'm one o' 'them', Missy, if that bothers ya. Should know before ya try an' hire me."

She shrugged indifferently. "It's been happening more lately. My dad is, too. We think I might be, but aren't sure. Some of our friends from the Qinghai Confederacy told us about it. They saw it first. They say it's weaker towards NR Xinjiang, and that's where we're going. Can you operate there?"

"Dunno. Never tried it." His eyes flicked across hers, his smile widened slightly. "Mos' folks get all nervousy roun' us. Anyway, Xinjiang's kinda hot, ya know? What kinda run is it?"

"It's clean, not hot," she said, frowning somewhat. "You'd have to be an idiot to try and go up against Xinjiang without cleaning things up with them first."

"Heh. I like yer style. Name's Keitaro Koara. Keitaro's given name, Koara's family. Ma's from Out, too, so she names me after a frien'."

Blinking, she extended a hand to shake his warmly. "Tendo Ranko, Tendo's the family name. Don't you want to know why we're going to Xinjiang?"

He blinked, his eyes seeming to nearly glow for a moment in the sunlight. "'S about the Ranma, ain't it?"

"So… what does it mean to be 'Fey', anyway?"

"Well, it's not exactly a scientific condition, Ranko. Otherwise we'd have an answer for everything. That's the way it works, though…"

"So you're telling me that the only reason it took so long is because we needed to find a technical solution, not a mythical one?"

"For the most part… yes."

"Daddy! I can hardly believe this… I might have been… wait, how can you be, if you're that founded in science?"

"It's something that defies explanation. It won't work for you, either. Either you are, or you aren't. Things like 'science' and 'magic' can really be the same at an advanced enough level."


"Aside from which, do you want to be Fey?"

"I… I couldn't complain, Daddy…"

"Mom? Everything… everything is ready. I'm going to send most of the equipment over freight. I hired a pilot to handle a personal skimmer. I've heard that he's good… and I trust him because he's… you know."

The face on the view screen flickered for a moment, the connection negotiating some difficulty, and when it returned, Ranko's mother nodded gravely. "Take care of yourself, Ranko. I wish you had time to visit us before… good luck."

Ranko smirked, seeing the lines of worry etched in her mother's face. "Take it easy, Mom. I'll be just fine. I'll be back before you know it! I have to go, now. Love you; tell Daddy I love him too, okay?"

"Chairman Saffron?"

He glanced over, his wings flapping once irritably. It was an odd thing, to not be a part of the cycle. Without needing to burn himself out over ten years… "When we are alone, Herb, please address me as Saffron."


Shaking his head, Saffron turned to look at the slightly shorter man. "What is it, then?"

The man frowned, tugging idly at one dragon-scale bracer. "I think one of them is coming back."

Saffron raised an eyebrow. "One of 'them'?"

"Yes… another of the minor set."

Saffron's brow furrowed in thought. "I see. What does this mean?"

"Well, you know that from a scientific and technical standpoint that we can't exist. It seems that there are pillars that can allow us to be… when we should not."

"This is not something new to me."

"Yes, of course. You are a not a pillar, though I am. Cologne was not, nor is my wife."

"I'm not? I'm of the major set, then?"

"Indeed. This leaves three pillars unaccounted for."

Saffron mulled that over for a long moment. "There are four, not three?"

"Not a trinity. Corners of a square."

"Ah…" Saffron's eyes became distant, as he considered. "Very well, then. If I am not a pillar, what am I?"

"The Emperor, of course."

"Fah. That title, perhaps, was once appropriate. Now…"

"Of course, not with this regime. At any rate, I suspect that my place is then… Swords."

Saffron considered that for a moment. "Ah, a prince of the Musk. Then you would be…" He trailed off, nodding to himself. "What, then, of this 'other'?"

"I believe that Ranma is another like myself. Cups. For… he is similar and opposite me in many ways."

Saffron stared at Herb for a long moment. "Then we are lost, for he is dead."

"Not… necessarily. I've been speaking with his family…"

The cold is confining beyond belief. I don't know how much longer I can handle it. It's so… so empty, so lonely…

But I remain, forever away from his touch. I am alone… and it hurts.

Keitaro whooped, hunching over the control console and grinning like a maniac. A monstrous wave came out of nowhere, threatening to capsize the skimmer, and he gunned the accelerator, riding up the arc of the approaching wall of water, and flying across the ocean.

Ranko held herself steady, barely keeping the seasickness at bay, and clung to the handhold by her seat with all her might. "Where did that wave come from?" she yelled, trying to be heard over Keitaro's mad whooping.

"Out, likely. Them bigguns like to play at the edges, ya know." He thumbed a switch, causing the levs to activate, and saving the craft from smashing into the sea below. Ranko sighed in relief at that; the ship would survive probably any impact, and she might, too. The cargo in the back, however, was more fragile.

"How long till we reach the mainland?" she asked, dismissing Keitaro's talk about the edges. If there were boundaries, they would be everywhere, not simply at sea.

"Eh… prolly another hour'r so.." He stretched, stepping away from the steering yoke and haphazardly slapping a large yellow button. "We got some time. Wanna talk?"

Ranko shrugged, loosening the straps binding her to the seat. "I suppose. Why did you wait so long to activate the levs?"

Keitaro grimaced, flopping into a nearby seat. "Dunno. I like bein' part a' the sea, ya know? Flyin' over the water is great, but skimmer's built to float. Gotta use it. No sense bein' able to, an' not."

She shook her head. "Okay. We're going to need to stop in Lesser Japan before crossing into Greater Hong Kong. Our guide in NR Xinjiang is named 'Shia Hai'. Even though it's closer to travel through Qinghai, and we have allies there… we're going in through the south, through… Xizang."

"'Shia Hai'? 'Sea o' Summer'? Got yer classic irony, there. Anyway… Tibet, eh? Ma always wan'ed to go there. Dunno why, though."

"Er… yes. At any rate… we'll pick up some things and another skimmer will join us as we head in."

Keitaro grimaced. "Another skimmer? Wha's wrong with the Tama?"


"Wait… wait… I get it. Some o' yer crew don' like us, right?"

"Ah… yes. Sorry."

"'Sa'right. Happens lots."

Keitaro leant against the skimmer, wearing a heavy coat and warmer clothing as he conceded to the intense cold inland.

Ranko shivered herself, her teeth chattering. "It's colder than I thought it would be," she said.

The man snorted, shaking his head. "Ain't col' enough. Tama's gotta cool 'er engines a bit. Let 'er res' 'fore we go to Xinjiang."

Crossing her arms beneath her chest, Ranko looked around the icy and snowed slope that the skimmer sat on. "Tibet," she said softly. "I always expected… I don't know. I thought it would have more people in it."

Keitaro snorted again. "Don' know 'bout that. Only reason I'm lettin' the Tama rest up is in case we gotta run from Xinjiang er anythin'. We go to Qinghai if things get bad, eh?"

Ranko nodded, leaning against the skimmer near Keitaro and surprising herself with its warmth. "Yes, we have allies there."

Surveying the site, she nodded. The temporary facility to house the workers would be… sufficient. At no small cost to the People, but for the weapon that they were attempting to recover, it would be worthwhile.

She brushed a strand of her hair out of her face and grimaced unhappily. Unruly, unkempt. It would have been shorter for her tastes, except that they had decided she should look more like one of the Japanese girls to make Tendo feel more relaxed.

Ranko was, of course, the biggest obstacle to a smoothly running operation. And sadly necessary since she was the only one with the technical expertise to back the goals of the mission.

Shivering slightly against the chill of the air, she sighed. Tomorrow, she would arrive with a pair of skimmers. They were reluctant to allow them into their territory with their own craft, but Tendo had paid them nicely with some of Tendo Heavy's finest.

Enough to make a small difference, since some of the weaponry could prove to be effective against the Musk… But Tendo was allied with Qinghai. That much was known. Would she knowingly provide weapons that could damage her allies? Still… there was her curiosity to be assuaged.

There it was. A towering column of ice, monumental in every conceivable sense. Forcibly turning her attention away, she focused on the slim, composed woman before her.

Shia Hai said nothing, instead nodding and pausing her introductions to the facility to stare at the structure herself. "The ice…" she said slowly, her accent calculated and practiced, "we've tried to cut our way in a little, but the tools break." She nodded to herself once, her eyes playing across the upper spires of the mass of frozen water. "Ice cold — The ice gets colder the closer we get. Hardens. Shatters our tools. You have a plan?"

Ranko shivered, but managed a weak nod. "Yes, I have a plan." She glanced back to the skimmer, Keitaro moodily perched on the prow and looking down at the snow. Shia Hai shot a glare towards the young man that was nothing short of a sneer, and looked away quickly. "Is something wrong?"

"No, Miss Tendo. Everything… is fine. We have little trust of… the Outers."

The Tendo girl simply nodded, understanding. Perhaps the reason that there were so few fey in Xinjiang was truly due to killing, as the rumors contested… She banished that line of thought. First things first, and that meant… "Don't worry. He's promised me he'll stay with his skimmer. In the meantime, the Tama has what we'll need later — I'll unpack it myself. The Orion is carrying all of the excavation tools."

Shia Hai smiled grimly. "Then we should get to work."

"Miss Tendo?"

The young woman broke herself out of her reverie, and turned to face the technician. Her tone was carefully level, not admitting a hint of emotion, as she glanced at Shia Hai, to her side. "Yes?" The woman followed her everywhere.

The tech swallowed nervously, wiping his hands against his lime-green lab coat in a nervous gesture. He falteringly offered, in his thickly accented Japanese, "The… sign seem stable."

Her eyes swung to the display before her, and she gave a curt nod, replying in his own Mandarin and causing Shia Hai to frown. "Begin the procedure."

Death is an odd thing, when one is bound to a dead body. Akane found it best to contemplate silently… though there was never and response when she tried to be 'loud'… she simply felt safer thinking her thoughts softly. Ranma was near her — impossibly near, mere centimeters between their bodies… but out of her reach forever.

She could sense his presence, his spirit, surrounding her. Nearly enveloping her. Tantalizingly close, like lovers whose lips almost touch in a kiss, painfully sweet in closeness… but not enough. She could reach out towards him, spread her own spirit beyond her body to close the distance… but she didn't know if he would accept her.

Was he her lover, come to protect her in the end from herself? Or was he her jailer, protecting everyone else from her? If she could have answered that question… but she couldn't, and she remained floating in a void of contemplation, so close… so painfully close… and did not reach out to him.

Ranko grimaced, wondering at the stares she attracted. She wore skin-tight body armor, Tendo Heavy's very best, which was much more revealing than anything that the locals seemed to be familiar with. The thermal insulation was almost enough to counter the cold, and she wasn't about to abandon the suit, but the stares were beginning to wear thin. Xinjiang was not used to seeing women dressed in anything so… non-conservative.

Returning to her quarters aboard the Tama, she switched on the intercom, listening to the technicians as they worked, and searching through her clothing for something that would fit over her body-suit and — hopefully — make her less of an eyesore. To them, at least.

Faint static muffled the voices on the intercom slightly, though she could make them out without straining.

"Ten meters."

"Looking good… holding… stress is about 40% of capacity. That's pretty severe for this kind of ice."

"Tango, check the temperature on that shaft, it's wobbling a little too much for my tastes."

"Ah… damn. We're looking at about — Get your men out of there NOW!"

"Tango, roger that. Evac!"


"Another… 6 meters."

"Main shaft? It's at about 16 degrees."

"Mm…. Tango, maybe that procedure was immature?"

"That's in Kelvin, not Fahrenheit or Celsius."

"I see. Halt immediately, and withdraw. The signs aren't as good as they thought, are they?"

Ranko sunk her head, resting her face on her hands. They were trying so hard… Dragging herself up from her despair, she considered her final option. They wouldn't like it, but the ice was impervious to all other attempts…

Pressing a button, she snapped out over the intercom, "The operation is over. There's only one way through this."

For a moment, there was absolute silence. Then all of the lines came to life at once. "Understood, Miss Tendo."

Ranma felt himself drifting, surrounding Akane. His body — and his sprit — tantalizingly close… but not willing to touch. Akane was safe here. To be any other way… He would have sighed, were his body not dead, and he focused on keeping the cold active.

He wondered to himself if he had become an ice-demon, a spirit that would haunt the mountain and any who dared to climb it… but he pushed that thought away, and instead focused his attention on Akane. She was so close… he longed to reach out to her, but knew better.

Being together with Akane forever. So close and so far at the same time. He pondered, trying to decide if it were heaven or hell, and how long he'd be there. He pushed those thoughts aside, too, and turned his attention inward. Even in death, he had work to be done.

Shia Hai took a long drag from her cigarette, staring at the hand-typed report on the desk before her. The room was locked, the security disabled, and the typewriter inaccessible to all but herself. No wires or connections to tell anyone what she had typed, aside from those she delivered the note to herself.

She took another drag, mumbling aloud to herself as she read. "So, it is the findings of myself that while not entirely trustworthy, there is no immediate danger in granting the request provided we apply certain severe limitations."

Another drag, and the cigarette was stubbed out, as she paused to expel the smoke. "This is also the most expedient path, and while some risks are posed, it is the opinion of this office that it is the scenario with the least amount of potential to fail. Extensive measures will have to be taken to ensure…" she trailed off, frowning. "Did I spell that right? Damn it…"

Sighing, she set the page to one side of the typewriter, mumbling to herself as she began typing again.

Once done, and satisfied, she crumpled the older papers into a ball, and tossed them into the rubbish bin, cracking a window open despite the chill to let the smoke fade. Tucking the newly typed pages into an envelope, she rose. Stretching, she placed the package of cigarettes into her pocket, the envelope securely in hand, and wandered into the hall, closing the door firmly behind her, and checking to make sure that it was locked.

And with her gone, a small flying creature crawled through the narrow gap in the window, making a beeline towards the trash bin before leaving again.

Keitaro sat at the pilot's seat, rifling through some creased and crumpled papers, a wooden pipe unlit and clenched in his teeth as he mumbled softly.

Ranko stretched, ducking to clear the bulkhead before the main cabin, and called out, "Morning, Keitaro. Any word on that package yet? Shia Hai said that there was a lot of paperwork involved before we could authorize what we're planning."

Keitaro shrugged, wadding up the paper and tossing it into the air. "Nothin' doin', yet. Figger a week, maybe two, then things get movin' 'gain." He swatted the ball of paper with his pipe, not glancing as it flew into a small metal rubbish bin, already aflame.

Ranko smirked. "Can do that even here, eh?"

"Ya, easy stuff." Keitaro seemed tense and distracted, looking elsewhere.

"I thought you didn't smoke?" Ranko asked, wondering about the pipe.

Keitaro shrugged, gesturing towards Ranko with the pipe, clean as the day it was made, with no signs of singing or tobacco upon it. "Don'. Jus' liketa have this aroun' for stuff like that."

Keitaro stretched languorously, his palms smacking against the steering yoke of the craft. Ranko had taken to keeping the young pilot company, preferring his company to that of Shia Hai. Shia Hai was simply too… off… somehow, beneath her seemingly friendly and calm exterior.

Not that Keitaro didn't seem to have his share of secrets, but she trusted him. More than anyone else at the site other than the few technicians she had brought. And they preferred their own company the most.

Sighing, she studied Keitaro, as he idly looked out at the snowy landscape before the skimmer. "Time to Power down," he muttered, his hands working at a switch beneath the control yoke.

"Power down? You mean you've left the skimmer running since we've gotten here?" Ranko asked, surprised.

"Yup," Keitaro confirmed, as the low whine of the skimmer's engines faded into her hearing range before grinding to a halt. "Gotta give the engines a lil' rest, and reboot the main system."

He yawned, thumbing a few more switches, and the consoles all flickered for a moment before turning black, shortly to be replaced with reboot diagnostics and onscreen displays. Ranko watched, fascinated, until the boot sequence was complete, and the main computer chirped, "Myu!"

She giggled. "What's that supposed to be?"

Keitaro shrugged, leaning back into his chair and monitoring some screen idly. "Some pet o' my father's, from what I hear." He mumbled, shaking his head. "It's col' out there today." With that, he thumbed the engines back on, and they whirred back to life. "We're good," he muttered, seemingly satisfied, relaxing back into his seat.

Shia Hai grumbled, reading through the documents before her. "Yes," she said slowly, "it's all in order. Let her through, with… the weapon."

The heavily armed and armored guards nodded, four of them following a short distance behind the Amazon woman. Their states were not in such extreme distrust of one another that they were not allowed to travel into each other's lands… but the people of NR Xinjiang had no great trust for the fey.

The Amazon ignored them, one hand idly tracing the scrollwork along the heavy metal ring belted to her waist. "I have only half of the tool," she warned Shia Hai. "The other half is being carried by my husband."

Shia Hai grimaced distastefully, but hid her distaste after a moment. "I see." She followed in the snow alongside the guards, behind the Amazon. "Is the other half going to be needed?"

"Yes. My husband will deliver it."

Shia Hai's grimace returned more forcefully. "We only authorized one f—" She caught herself, and coughed loudly, as the Amazon turned, staring at her expectantly.

"Only one what?" she asked innocently, her eyes seemingly trusting.

Collecting herself, Shia Hai explained, "We can only allow one… esteemed warrior such as yourself to set foot within this perimeter. If there are to be more, there is paperwork to be filled out." She nodded, satisfied that she had covered her mistake.

"He will not set foot within your perimeter, then."

Shia Hai bit her lip. "It is… it is said you cannot lie."

The Amazon nodded, her seemingly liquid eyes still locked on Shia. "That it is."

"Then, I have your word?"

Smiling softly, the Amazon nodded again. "You have my word. My husband will not set foot within your camp, unless war is declared upon us."

Only partially reassured, Shia Hai nodded. "Very well, then."

Keitaro watched Ranko as she idly toyed with the ring. "S'that?" he asked, slurring his voice even more than normal.

She seemed not to notice, removing the ring from her lap and holding it up to the light of the setting sun. "Apparently, this is half of the Kinjakan. We're going to use it to cut through the ice." Her eyes became distant, as she remembered her father's retelling of the story. "This is the last thing Uncle Ranma held before he…" She trailed off, simply staring at the ring in a certain grim fascination.

Keitaro raised an eyebrow. "The Ranma used it, eh?"

She nodded, frowning, and lowering the ring to her lap. "Why do you call him 'the Ranma'?"

He blinked, seemingly surprised. "Oh, ya know how it is. Just the accent. No special reason, 'r anythin'…" With that, he shrugged, staring off into the snow outside the skimmer.

Ranko dismissed it for the moment, slowly standing, and holding the giant ring in one hand. "Well," she commented, stretching, "I'm going to talk to the woman who brought this. She's probably the only one who can use it, anyway."

Ranko watched the flaxen-haired woman, wondering who she was, and how she had retrieved the other half of the weapon. The woman smiled politely at her, then turned the ice, striding forward purposefully.

Several rows of technicians, Shia Hai, and a number of guards lined the perimeter, watching closely. The Amazon ignored them, tapping the ring of the staff against the outer edge of the ice. It seemed to… waver… once, and then the staff emitted a low hum, and a very faint glow.

The assembled people edged away, giving the Amazon room to work, as the edge of the ring bit into the structure before it, hissing steam rising from the point of contact.

Ranko watched attentively, as the woman slowly worked her way deeper into the structure. Shia Hai and a pair of her guards followed he woman carefully, causing Ranko to worry. Why weren't they sending in techs? She opened her mouth to ask, but a hand fell on her shoulder, and she wheeled about, seeing one of the younger techs that Shia Hai had assigned to her. "Miss?" he asked, his accent slowly having improved over the weeks they had spent in pursuit of penetrating the ice.


"We need to prepare for their retrieval."

She nodded, her mind frantically assembling all the things that would need to be done, and dismissing the oddity…

Shia Hai followed behind the Amazon carefully, shivering at the nearness of all the ice… but the woman was creating a channel easily wide enough for two or three of Shia Hai to walk abreast, and not touch the sides. Quickly, too. Much more quickly than she had begun.

The People did not like plans that involved guesswork or gambling. And this was one such plan… They weren't certain how it worked, only that it laid within the ice.

The woman before them stopped suddenly, staring forward, and lowering her weapon. Shia Hai peered over her shoulder, her camera serving as an excuse. But behind the wall of ice… there they were.

None of the attempts had gotten so close, before. Merely a meter left.

The woman whispered something softly, whimpering, and nodded, raising the weapon once more.

Shia Hai signaled her guards, preparing for the part of the plan that was nothing more than a gamble.

The Amazon pressed forward again, causing the mass of ice overhead to groan and creak alarmingly. A fissure sprang up from the wall before them, deepening, climbing upwards with a shuddering series of snaps. The two halves of the structure, separated by the weapon in the Amazon's hands, fell apart slowly, stopping when the degree of separation was about ninety degrees, leaving it looking like a giant shell that had cracked open, revealing an egg-shaped core of ice inside.

And inside that ice, their own weapon. Simply waiting for the Amazon to release it. She did so, tapping the ring against the top of the small egg-shaped icy sphere that contained the two bodies, and the small scythe-like implement beneath them. Blood had frozen in the egg, still flowing from the boy's body, frozen mid-fall.

Shia Hai shuddered, and the ice cracked, shattering into a dozen large pieces. Two of them larger, containing the bodies. The Amazon sighed, hunching over and gathering her breath. Good, Shia Hai thought. That much easier to finish what they had intended to start.

She brushed past the Amazon, gesturing towards the boy and his block of ice. A pair of guards approached, their powered body-armor allowing them to lift him, and hustle back towards the compound, where the techs would take over the situation. The other pair of guards approached the girl, setting the shaped charges they had readied earlier.

The Amazon opened her mouth to say something, but Shia Hai silenced her, lunging for the scythe that had been freed, and swinging it viciously behind her. For all of their vaunted prowess, the Amazon had only enough time to blink, raising one arm to deflect the blow.

Perhaps, Shia Hai thought, relieved, she was trying to use the supposed 'fey talents' that they had heard about. Not that it mattered now, she smiled, dropping the scythe and clearing out of the blast site. One of the guards stopped to move the Amazon, encased in ice as she was. If Miss Tendo's plan worked, then perhaps she could be used, too.

She thumbed her wrist communicator open, broadcasting on a public frequency. "This is Shia Hai, from the northern arm research facility. There's been an accident—" Communications shut off with a squealing burst of static, as the explosives behind her detonated.

Shia Hai smiled, drawing a cigarette from the pack in her pocket, and putting it to her lips, still unlit. The communications link opened up only a moment later. "Both of the Tendo Heavy ships that were sent to us were destroyed. We request backup," she said, carefully speaking around the cigarette.

The guards nodded, the pair of them setting the frozen Amazon down, and jogging swiftly towards the parked ships. The Orion lay closest, and would be destroyed casually, the Tama, more carefully. They'd want the… thing… that piloted it alive.

Keitaro cracked his knuckles, shaking his head and watching the plume of smoke and fire that trailed from an RPC as it lanced through the chill air, striking the Orion like God's fist. The Orion was not heavily armored enough to withstand the round, and the shell pierced it easily, detonating inside, and sending the entirety of its engine, components, and everything else inside to rain down around the wreckage in flames.

"Tendo's not gonna be happy about this one," he mumbled to himself.

The computer chirped a query at him.

"Tama, go from 'standby' to 'low power' mode. And open a channel to Qinghai."

A chirp of negation sounded. "Figures." He was silent for a moment, watching a small troupe of power-armored soldiers trudge towards him through the snow. "They probably have anti-air artillery hidden around here. They wouldn't risk letting me get away…"

His head swiveled to scan a monitor, as it flashed suddenly, and the computer chirped again. He blinked, scanning to another monitor, locked on the excavation site.

And the frozen Amazon.

"Oh, shit. They just put themselves in the middle of two angry Dragons." He contemplated silently for a moment, debating his options.

First and foremost, he needed to protect the Tendo girl. That was the important part. Retrieving Ranma in any form was the second task that he had been entrusted with. Not nearly as important as protecting the living; but still very important. Keeping Herb from committing an act of war was not on the list, but he was supposed to keep things level.

"Okay, Dad, looks like I'm going to be borrowing some of your power later, unless you think that the King of Cups can fix it." A hollow pounding noise rang out from access hatch. "And quick, too…"

Ranko punched in the last of the data onto the terminal before her. "Okay," she said nervously, unsettled by the explosions that had rocked the compound earlier. "This should work, though it's probably going to take a few hours before it's complete."

The technician nodded, glancing over the control panels into the sealed room with the boy's body, and a pair of doctors in heavy protective gear from the environment. Hermetically sealed suits. No air would reach them, and they could hopefully heal the wound across his chest before it was a major issue.

The doctors carefully lined up a thermal auto-bandage over the wound, though it wouldn't be activated yet. Once it was aligned correctly, they nodded, and retreated through an airlock. When it was clear, Ranko thumbed a switch, flooding the room with a faintly glowing amber liquid. A pair of faint, slim paddles descended, coming to rest above Ranma's body just short of the ice.

More instruments descended, an anchor for the bandage, to keep it aligned, then a small array of wires that bit into the ice, glowing red, and carving off the excess. "Okay," Ranko said, realizing too late that she was repeating herself in her nervousness. "This should take care of it."

The technician nodded. "I think I understand the process," he said. "Well enough, anyway."

Ranko turned to look at the man inquisitively, but he had backed up, and was holding a pistol trained on her. "What are you doing?"

"Please step away from the machinery, Miss Tendo. We do not wish to damage it, and you do not wish to stop the revival of your uncle. If you cooperate, you will live."

There was pain. Undeniable, unbelievable, and far too much of it.

It had been decades since he had felt at all.

It was not the release he had been expecting at all. A sudden wash of something flowed across him, triggering the familiar change.

Maybe it was pain, and maybe it was the curse… but it felt good.

Her eyes yet refused to open, and she felt like her entire body was encased in some kind of jelly, and she distantly heard someone's speech, reverberating and distorted.

"…that's it. Does he know Mandarin?"

"Probably not. He shouldn't understand us, and there's no way that he can hear us anyway. Does it… wait a moment. Wasn't that a guy a few minutes ago?"

"Ah, shit! I think we blew up the wrong one!"

Her eyes opened.

"Damage is regressing — control? Control? Where the hell is control!"

"Yeah," Keitaro whispered, "we're in trouble now."

He ignored the poundings at the entry hatch to his craft, focusing on the instrumentation instead.



To be continued.

Author's notes: This is… mostly what I had planned from the start with a few minor departures, and one major one. Keitaro is (somewhat) based off of characters from Love Hina, property of TV Tokyo and Ken Akamatsu.

Now to think about NORTH and SOUTH.

Act IV
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