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Part 4

A Ranma / Tenchi Muyo! crossover story
By Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma belongs to Rumiko Takahashi and Viz Communications.  Tenchi Muyo! belongs to Hitoshi Okuda and Pioneer LDC.  Among others…

Additional credits: TV Tokyo and Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina), Takada Yuuzou, and A.D. Vision (Bannou Bunka Nekomusume Nuku-Nuku), Takashi Yabara, Viz, SNK (Fatal Fury).

Notes: Diverges from Ranma after volume 24, continuation for OAV 2 in the Tenchi universe (well, one of them). This fic uses the bizarrely vague 'Pick One!' scenario. Enjoy.

Er… yeah. Sorry about the delay. ^_^;;;

RI four is next. Um… soon.

"Fear was constant. We ran in fear of monsters, protected by things that we never fully understood. Oh, sure, there are the more famous ones — everyone knows the Nerima crew… but even the ones who remained human still… inspired fear in us. They were stronger than the things we feared most. How could we not be afraid of them? The Juraians? They used weapons, tools… things like that. But [the defenders]? If it was magic, or skill, or the fact that some of them were machines inside… they scared us."

—Ensign Bridges of the U.S.S. Cowpens — Interview with G.N.N. 2006

Blinking, her arm protectively encircling Suu, Washuu eyed the newcomer in surprise. Suu stirred slightly, but remained asleep. Ranma, however, was on his feet in a heartbeat, tensed for battle, though he held his blades in reserve. "What do you want?" he asked mistrustfully.

The old woman before him cackled, shaking her head, "Calm yourself, Muko-dono. I heard from the other boys what you did. I'm impressed." She looked upwards, sighing, and waved her staff towards the ships overhead. "I've not seen anything like this in all my years. I haven't seen one of the 'monsters' myself, either… but I hear that you've fought some of them from Mousse. Hmm… and the boys say that your father killed one, too…" she trailed off, frowning darkly. "But that's not the point."

Ranma nodded, relaxing slightly. "As long as you aren't here to fight me…."

Washuu glanced at the old woman, remembering what Ranma had told her before they had left the Masaki home. "Is this the woman that taught you, Ranma?"

He nodded again, not looking away from the small figure. "Yeah. She taught me the soul of ice and the hiryuu-shouten-ha."

"Ah…." Washuu tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Well, I suppose you're here to offer to help, right?"

Cologne grinned broadly, sinking to a sitting position near the scientist. "Indeed. I'm much more skilled than that boy, after all."

"Hey!" Ranma protested, crossing his arms over his chest. "I beat you before."

She glanced at Ranma, and hid a small smile. "No. You beat my shark, Ranma."

He settled for glowering at the older woman, saying nothing. Washuu raised an eyebrow. That was likely an interesting story; time for that later, though. "Well, it's nice of you to offer to help, but we'd need a whole army to try and stave off the reavers."

Cologne chuckled dryly. "Ask, and ye shall receive."

Ranma blinked, reaching behind his head to tug at his pigtail, and frowning when he remembered that it was no longer there. "Oh," he said softly, a light of realization shining in his eyes. "Washuu? How long would it take us to move everyone to China?"

Washuu blinked, her confusion rapidly growing. "What's in China?"

Cologne laughed again, this time more deeply. "My tribe, child, my whole tribe." She glanced at Ranma, smirking. "I doubt you have anything better to offer."

Ranma frowned, scratching the back of his head thoughtfully. "I might be able to… I know someone in China, too."

Cologne's laughter stopped abruptly, as she stared at Ranma, a frown creasing her features. "A risky proposition, if you're thinking what I suspect you are."

Washuu crossed her arms across her chest, finally having had enough of the pair. "Will you two stop speaking in riddles? If we're going to change the plan, I need to know the details."

Yosho eyed the cars as they rolled into the street ahead of him. The first was in fair condition, packed with a worried looking family, and the other was an aging and failing pickup truck, that sputtered and ground to a halt a short distance away.

A man climbed out of the pickup, sighing. "I'm afraid she's done for," he said, a thick Kansai accent inflecting his speech.

Another man, tall and blond, nodded in return, hopping out of the truck. "It lasted long enough. Thanks."

Yosho's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Bogard-san," he called out, recognizing the tall man. "You came to Tokyo after all?"

Terry nodded, his features still set with the dead look he had worn before. "Maizuru didn't have any answers. Just another dead city…." He sighed, shaking his head regretfully. "Nothing there to help with… should have come here sooner." Terry grimaced, glancing back at the old man as he pulled a few possessions from his truck and plodded to the already crammed car to ask something of the driver. "Anyway. I'm here, might as well do what I can. Didn't think I'd meet you again."

With a slight shrug, Yosho gestured to the ships floating overhead. "Well, you came at the right time. There's the way out, if you want to be safe."

Terry shook his head again dourly. "Not really the answer. I don't care much about leaving, anymore. Just…" he trailed off wordlessly.

The radio that Yosho had been given crackled to life suddenly, before Yosho could respond. "Okay, this is Defense, and this is probably the last announcement we're going to make. The 'reavers' are pulling back a ways, we think they might be preparing an attack of some kind later, but for now, everyone's moving to the docks for transportation. We urge everyone to be orderly in the evacuation, as the Juraian forces have everything under control."

Flicking the radio's volume down, the swordsman sighed, one hand fiddling with the 'imitation' key that Washuu had given him. He didn't really want to know how she had come up with it — the woman was eerily capable, and it worked much like the Tenchi-ken. Asking to know more would likely be asking for trouble. "So much for that. So what are you planning next?"

Terry frowned, watching the stopped car speed up haltingly, accelerating unsteadily down the still-empty street. The passengers waved to Terry, and he nodded at them before the vehicle disappeared from sight. "Dunno. Help out around here, I guess." He glanced at the sky. "But I don't know that there's much to help with, if they're gonna take everyone away."

Yosho rubbed at his chin thoughtfully, then shrugged, beckoning Terry to follow. "Well, let's meet up with Ranma and Washuu, Bogard-san. Perhaps we can discuss it with them."

Tenchi stalked forward, Ryouko drifting at one side, and Ayeka scurrying along the other, and the Guardians trailing the whole group protectively. Ryo-oh-ki sighed tiredly from her position atop Kamidake, while Tenchi scanned the largely deserted streets.

"He has to be around here," he muttered. "Those girls said that Washuu came here with two men, and one of them was Ranma. Jiji must be the other. I wish we had a way to track him. I'd like to get him back to Jurai so we can get things moving…"

Ryouko smirked, drifting upwards, passing near enough to Tenchi to allow one hand to trail across his cheek as she floated upwards. "I'll look around."

Tenchi nodded, coloring not nearly as much at her touch as he once had. Ayeka frowned at that, but still kept her thoughts to herself. She glided to Tenchi's side, while he glanced upwards, noting that Saryu-oh was still trailing them.

Grimacing, he rubbed at the trefoil mark on his face again. "I hope we find him soon…" he trailed off, seeing a pair of unfamiliar men walk across the street, chatting in low tones, while Ryouko drifted to the pavement near Tenchi, her face pale and drawn. Ayeka was merely able to stare, her mouth falling open in shock, while the Guardians behind her made quiet noises of surprise.

Tenchi blinked, as the shorter of the two men stopped in his tracks, staring at Tenchi in surprise. Tenchi frowned, mumbling, "What the heck is going on here?" The shorter man approached slowly, nodding at Ayeka and Ryouko.

"Tenchi?" he asked, eyes wide with surprise at the boy's presence.

"Yeah?" Tenchi managed, still horribly confused by the entire ordeal. "Who are you?"

The young man frowned for a moment, then sighed, raising his hand and mumbling slightly. A slowly shimmering field of gray suffused into being around his figure, causing Tenchi and the girls to step back in alarm, while the blond man simply raised an eyebrow. The field snapped into the man's skin, revealing…. "Jiji?" Yosho nodded, and Tenchi frowned sharply, a vague pain at the deception unsettling him. "Why didn't you ever tell us?"

Yosho looked uncomfortably, and hedged evasively, "I had no reason to let anyone from Jurai know that I was going to live as long as I was." He shook his head suddenly, straightening. "What are you doing here, Tenchi? You should be somewhere safe — not here."

Tenchi shook his head dismissively. "My safety is not important… I'm here to find you."

Eyes narrowing, Yosho clasped his hands together behind his back. It was a gesture Tenchi knew too well, one that made him wonder what his grandfather was planning. "And what are you going to do now that you've found me?"

Tenchi shrugged, gesturing to the ship overhead. "We've come to take you back. The Emperor…." He trailed off, noting Yosho's displeased expression.

Yosho shook his head defiantly. "I refuse to leave this planet, Tenchi. I'm afraid if I do, I'll give Father the impetus he needs to simply abandon it completely."

The boy stared, stunned. "But… he said… if you came back…" he fell silent, struggling for words. His eyes tracked briefly to the blond man, who steadfastly looked away, tugging his baseball cap lower as if to distance himself from the situation. Sighing, Tenchi returned his gaze to Yosho. "Ji…. Yosho. You have to come back! If you don't—"

Barking harshly, Yosho overrode Tenchi, "No!" Collecting himself, he coughed, dropping his elderly guise and returning to what Tenchi belatedly realized was his true, much younger, self. "I cannot. And I refuse. There's no way you can make me leave until I've done everything within my power to save the people of this planet." He smirked, a smile that was not reflected in his eyes. "These are my mother's people, Tenchi, and yours, too. I'm not going to leave them alone to face this."

The boy's dismay increased, and he found himself struggling for words, no longer sure what to say. Ayeka had no subtle advice this time, and Ryouko seemed as much at a loss as he was. The guardians kept respectfully silent, and Ryo-oh-ki would likely be no help anyway…. "So… you're just like the Emperor? You can help, but you refuse to?"

Yosho grimaced, shaking his head, and crossing his arms over his chest. "I don't like the way you say that. I am helping. I'm doing everything I can. And… I don't fully trust my father. He just wants to see me on the throne, and I, for one, will not play into his hands."

Tenchi was struck, suddenly, with the realization that for all of Yosho's years, all of his theoretical knowledge, and all of his training as a priest… Yosho was an incredibly petty man. "I can't believe you!" he exclaimed, his outrage overriding his senses. "How can you be so pathetically self-absorbed, and just throw away everyone's best chances at survival!?" He bit his tongue, a secondary epiphany occurring. "Kami! You're almost exactly like your father!"

Face twisting into a grimace, the older man spat, "I am nothing like my father, Tenchi. You're simply too young to understand yet."

Tenchi glowered at the old man, then steeled himself. "I really don't want to do this," he said slowly, "but if you're going to be so stubborn… I'm not going to let you stay here when you could do better for everyone back on Jurai." He stepped forward, reaching one hand to Yosho's shoulder. "Now come on, and stop being so childish!"

Flicking Tenchi's hand off his shoulder, Yosho dropped his arms to his sides. "No," he said adamantly.

Tenchi fumed, dimly aware of Ayeka and Ryouko, both stunned speechless by the scene. "Jiji. You're coming back with me. I'm not going to let you stay here and let people get killed!"

Yosho shook his head defiantly. "You can not tell me what to do, Tenchi. I am going to stay here, and I'm going to fight."

Not even thinking about it, but surrendering to his rage, Tenchi lashed out, shoving the taller man. "Stop being such an idiot! Lives are at stake! Come on!"

Yosho staggered back, expression shocked at Tenchi's blow. "NO!" he roared, shoving Tenchi back. "I'll not speak of this further." With that Yosho turned his back on Tenchi, leaving the boy to fume at nothing.

"Jiji!" he yelled, charging forward again. "We're not done with this yet—"

The rest of his statement was cut off, the tall blond man finally getting involved, stepping in front of Tenchi and effortlessly laying the boy on the asphalt of the street with a single power-blow to the shoulder. The boy spun twice before he struck the ground, reeling, and barely heard, "Leave well enough alone, kid. We don't have time for this garbage."

"Ranma-dono?" The voice on his com-link distracted him momentarily.

He chuckled slightly at that. "Tsunami, please, just Ranma." At least things were getting better to the point that he could manage a laugh at something. Cologne and Washuu watched Ranma with raised eyebrows, while he gestured towards the earring.

"Of course, Ranma. I'm worried about Tenchi-dono and Yosho-dono."

"Um… okay. Is something wrong?" Ranma fidgeted, realizing that for the moment, the women could hear only his half of the conversation. He sighed, taking a step back from the mess of maps and charts that Cologne and Washuu had procured, shuffling numbers about and trying to discern where people would be taken.

Tsunami's voice held a thin note of worry, one that Ranma was barely able to pick out. "I believe that there's a problem, Ranma…. Yosho-dono and Tenchi… do not appear to be pleased with one another."

He sighed, rising slightly. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do about it, but okay. Where are they?" He glanced down at Washuu, who was watching him intently. "Um… Washuu… I'll be back in a bit. Tsunami needs me to look at something."

Washuu leapt to her feet, dislodging the papers, some of which fell atop the still slumbering Suu. "Ranma!" she exclaimed, agitated. "Be careful this time! Please!" She paused for a moment, recomposing herself. "You can't afford to lose any more of yourself, you're already at a critical point…" she trailed off, shaking her head. "Just be careful, okay?"

He nodded in understanding, flashing her a quick grin before rising into the air, guided by Tsunami's voice. "They are east of you, Ranma, some distance, but you should know the place when you see it."

"Okay," he mumbled, before something occurred to him. "Say, how are you using the communication thingy? I thought only Washuu could do that."

The answer that came back was somewhat hesitant. "I… asked Saryu-oh for help, and I know the way your jewels work."

Ranma blinked at that, wondering if the normally stately woman had said the words he had thought he heard. "Um," he said after a moment, deciding it was merely wording, and nothing else, "you mean the stone in my wrist?"

"Of course. What else would I be referring to?"

Ranma blushed slightly, fervently glad that the woman couldn't see his face. Stupid, he told himself, of course she wouldn't— He cut that line of thought short. "Uh… the one on my ear is just like the one on my wrist?"

"I believe it is an imitation. It can be used temporarily, but will not work quite as well… though you would do better to ask Washuu-chan."

"Right," he mumbled, looking at the stone in his wrist and wondering.

Tenchi was hurt. Not damaged, she knew, nothing that wouldn't heal easily. The man that had attacked her Tenchi had been somewhat careful. But not enough.

The boy slowly staggered to his feet, wiping at a trickle of blood from his lip. That was more than enough for her. Three months of wandering through a palace where no one would respect her, and now her Tenchi wasn't being respected, even on his own home world? "Bastard!" she screamed, tensing herself and teleporting to the attacker's side.

Flinching in surprise, he stepped back, narrowly deflecting her punch. "Hey," he said, appearing calm despite the situation, "is that how it is? I don't want to hurt you."

She laughed at that, lashing out to land a brutal strike to the man's midsection, while his guard was down. He merely grunted, staggering back a step. "Shut up! You hurt my Tenchi!"

Snorting, he dodged past her next attack, a perfectly placed elbow strike slamming into the back of her neck as she slipped past him, sending her sprawling. Pulling herself to her feet, she eyed the man, awaiting her in a loose, mobile stance, and spat out the dirt and gravel from her awkward landing. "Your call. Terry 'the Lone Wolf' Bogard. Your name?"

She snarled, summoning her energy blade to her. "Hakubi Ryouko."

The man edged back warily at the sight of the blade, taking a moment to focus himself. A lambent sheet of blue flame seemed to erupt from somewhere within the man, cloaking him in its glowing aura. "No more playing nice, eh?"

She nodded, springing to the defensive, dimly aware of the sounds of energy weapons colliding behind her. Well, Yosho would not hurt Tenchi, and Ayeka was there to help him. Aside from which, Ryo-oh-ki would warn her before anything could happen.

Yosho ducked a swipe from the Tenchi-ken negligently. "Slacker," he accused the boy in front of him. "What's been making you neglect your training so much?"

Tenchi grimaced, his next strikes being equally easily deflected. "Weeks on end in a room trying to get help for the Earth," he spat. "Instead of playing around here and wasting time, so people could get killed!"

Yosho raised his shield arm, deflecting a strike that would have gotten through. "Hah," he snorted. "If you believe that, then you are a fool, Tenchi! I thought you were brought up to be smarter than that."

Tenchi stepped back warily, his eyes still on the blade that Yosho had not yet used for anything but his own defense. Ayeka stood in the distance, jaw agape, and unable to interfere. A small pang of guilt struck at Yosho, needling him where Tenchi's attacks could not reach. The boy shook his head sullenly, sparing a brief glance towards Ryouko, and her own battle. "Yosho, I'm going to save everyone on Earth, if I can help it. I need to bring you back to the Emperor to do it. I'm not going to lose."

The older man faked a laugh where he felt no humor. "Boy, you're being foolish. What good would it do? What if my father merely decides to abandon the planet, with me gone? You know the council is more than frightened of the reavers as it is!"

Tenchi shook his head, hope and betrayal warring in his eyes. "Jiji… I can't. I can't stop now. I have to bring you back."

Terry arched his body to one side, narrowly avoiding the blade of destruction as it smashed through the storefront behind him. "Hey," he yelled, "you crazy-chick! Pay more attention!"

She snarled at him, her eyes shining in a feral manner as her temper rose. "Shut UP!"

He snorted, bounding over her next slash easily, and lashing out with his foot to tag her shoulder. "Careless. You're going to get innocent people hurt. No control. Pathetic."

Unleashing a primal screech of rage, Ryouko pursued the man's slowly retreating course into an alley. "No control? Watch this!" she exclaimed, teleporting briefly behind him to smash out the walls. She cackled to herself as she levitated out of his reach, and the concrete structures slowly crumbled.

The man simply shrugged, bounding upwards on the falling chunks of stone and brick, to land atop the devastated building and look down on her. "That the best that you can do?"

Scowling, Ryouko rose though the air to reclaim her position higher than Terry, and allowed her blade to dissipate, instead summoning a small globe of energy. She smirked, toying with it idly in one hand. "I'm just getting warmed up."

Terry's eyes widened as the small ball of energy was hurled downwards, smashing into the rooftop near him and exploding violently. He leapt away to the next building, his footing shaky as the first slowly collapsed in on itself, a muffled explosion and bright flash warning of a gas leak that had ignited. "I told you! You're completely careless about where you're fighting! Watch what you're doing!"

The woman scowled, and another ball of reddish light began to form in her hand. "I don't need to listen to you," she retorted.

Another voice broke the pair's concentration. "No, but you should listen to your mother, and she says you're being a spoiled brat." A newcomer landed near Terry, eyeing Ryouko warily. "Bogard-san," he remarked, only pausing to glance at the blond man, "it's been a while. I'll stay here; can you help Yosho for me?"

Grimacing, the man nodded, still sheathed in lambent blue flame, and leapt away, leaving the two alone. Ryouko let her energy dissipate, and crossed her arms over her chest, ignoring the remark about her mother. "What are you doing here?"

"Tsunami asked me to keep Yosho and Tenchi from killing each other." He paused for a moment, glancing towards something over one shoulder before admitting, "Well, not entirely. She had much prettier words. Anyway. I'm not in the mood to let you go around blowing up half the city and maybe some of our allies while you're at it."

Ryouko glowered at him. "And I'm not in the mood to deal with someone who's not even a fraction of my age and thinks that he's as good as me."

He snorted, shaking his head. "'As good as you'?" he retorted. "I'm the best."

She growled, summoning another ball of energy. "Ha!" she cried, throwing a small blizzard of bright points towards him, each one exploding in a brilliant and deafening collision with the rooftop behind Ranma.

He perched loosely atop a weather vane, looking down at the pitted and ruined rooftop. "What the hell?" he muttered. "You can only break things. You can only destroy." Shaking his head, he floated a short distance above the iron rod. "Is that all you're good for?"

Ryouko smirked snidely, "It's what I was made for. What we were both made for."

The boy stared, shocked, and clenched his fists at his side. "Eh?" His eyes dimmed, and he blinked. "I'm…." He shook his head. "You're saying that I'm only a weapon, aren't you?"

"What?" she asked, her smirk lessening. "Not quite what you were expecting?"

"Not really," he remarked, raising his eyes to meet hers. "But I don't really care. I mean… so what if I'm a weapon? I still have people… to protect."

Snorting, Ryouko lobbed another ball of energy at him, which he easily avoided. "That's all well and good, but you're still in my way."

Ranma shrugged dismissively, taking up an odd stance some distance from Ryouko. "Yeah? So what? I'm not going to let you hurt Yosho, or Terry, or anyone else I've lost my… self… trying to protect." So saying, he tensed himself, seeming to gather some force of his own before lobbing a globe of golden-yellow energy at her. "Mouko takabisha!"

She readied herself, raising her shield to deflect the blast, and slid backwards a short distance as it impacted. Shrugging it off, she glanced around, only to see that Ranma was gone. She spun, just in time to catch Ranma's heel drop along her shoulder, sending her hurtling to the street below.

Righting herself and rebounding off the surface, she leapt upwards, bearing her energy blade. "What are you talking about?"

Ranma slipped out of range, lashing out at her again and striking her arm in passing. "Heh! Way I see it, I got a choice in being a weapon or not, anyway. I don't have to break anything unless I want to!" He grinned, slipping to the side of Ryouko's next attack.

"Maybe, maybe so," Ryouko laughed lightly, starting to enjoy the fight. "But you're a little to young to hope to fight me!" She teleported directly behind him before he could react, extending one hand towards him, palm outwards. "Too bad!" she finished in a singsong voice.

He started to turn, but not fast enough, and the resultant blast exploded brightly, sending him hurtling through the air, and through the concrete wall of a previously undamaged and ancient building. Ryouko frowned, looking at the smoking crater where she had blasted the boy. "I wonder why he didn't shield against that," she mused.

Ranma rode the explosive wave of force against his spine into a nearby building, raising his arms defensively moments before he slammed into the stone-like surface, and continued on. The barrier shattered, leaving his body bruised, broken, and burnt, to tumble to a halt in an abandoned apartment building.

He was barely even aware of the shift that took him to his smaller form, only noticing when he felt the obvious curves that spoke of the change.

Running a hand through her hair, she gathered herself, and launched back into the battle. "This isn't over," she warned, catching the stunned Ryouko off guard and launching the larger woman hurtling to the ground with a two-armed hammer-strike. Stunned, Ryouko slammed into the asphalt, gasping in sudden pain in a newly formed crater.

Not giving her time to recover, Ranma dove, both blades extended for a lethal attack. "No more going easy on you!" Ranma hissed.

Ryouko sank beneath the street, leaving Ranma to plow into it, creating a meters-wide crater lined in sharpened fragments of frozen and icy asphalt. "Oh-HO!" Ryouko exclaimed, reappearing above Ranma. "So who are you?"

Ranma snarled wordlessly, willing himself to shift back into his proper form. There was a moist… tearing sensation from deep inside, as the change took place, but he ignored it, reassuming the form he wanted. "I'm the same damn person I've always been," he growled.

Rolling her eyes, the cyan-haired woman muttered, "How melodramatic." She threw a palm towards him, launching a barrage of the explosive points of light she had used earlier.

Ranma howled in pain as some of the multitude of sparkling motes struck him, rending his skin, tearing him open, but he refused to let go of his form. "Sao—" he cut himself off with a growl, ignoring the trickling blood from his wounds as his bodysuit seemed to regenerate around him, sealing them. "I don't lose, so don't think that this is over!"

Ryouko's eyes narrowed, and she summoned her own blade. "I don't want to have to hurt you," she warned.

"A little late for that," Ranma snarled, leaping to the attack. Ryouko deflected him casually, and he narrowly avoided another collision with a building, instead flipping upwards. He paused above her, trying to calm himself, as his blades slowly bled through from blue to red. "Soul of ice," he muttered. "Soul of ice."

The redness faded, leaving his weapons blue once more. Ryouko eyed Ranma speculatively, one arm loosely at her side, the other bearing her weapon. "What are you doing?" she asked.

Ranma bristled, but held his temper in check, trying to ignore the way he felt something… changing… inside him. Something sharp and painful. He pushed the feeling away, focusing on the present. "I'm not going to let you hurt my friends, I'll tell you that much."

Ryouko studied him for a moment, frowning, and nodded, allowing her blade to dissipate. "Fine," she said curtly. "I won't hurt your friends. Now what are you doing?"

Ranma laughed giddily, slowly sinking to the ruined street, unmindful of the ice-limed asphalt. "I'm… standing up… for what I believe," he said, wondering why he was having trouble breathing if he didn't need to breathe. He giggled again, wiping at a sudden sensation of moisture on his lips, dimly surprised to see blood on them. "Oh," he remarked, sinking to his knees. "I… wonder what that… means…"

Tsunami wasn't certain when she had told Saryu-oh to send her to the site, but she knew that she had arrived, and everyone on the street had paused their senseless melee to look at her. She looked at both Tenchi and Yosho sternly, crossing her arms over her chest. "What is the meaning of this?" she asked.

Tenchi sheathed his blade, stepping back from Yosho, as the older man did the same. Yosho spoke first. "Tsunami-sama, I'm sorry. Tenchi… does not quite understand the situation that we are in here—"

The boy overrode his grandfather. "Tsunami! Yosho is being an idiot—"

The two found themselves silenced by Ayeka. "You're both being idiots!"

Tsunami blinked, turning to face her theoretical sibling. "Can you tell me what is happening?"

Ayeka nodded, pointedly ignoring both of the men, as Yosho and Tenchi grumbled quietly to themselves. "Yes, Tsunami. Quite simply, Father has decreed that he would help… but you remember that." She seemed flustered for a moment before collecting herself. "At any rate, unable to come to an agreement on how to deal with Father's… request…" the venom with which that word was spoken left little to the imagination of what Ayeka thought of it, "that Yosho return to Jurai and accept the role of Emperor… they fell to fighting." She glanced at Tenchi, murmuring, "I respect you, Tenchi-dono, but I'm afraid that right now you and my brother are being fools."

Yosho and Tenchi blanched, both of them scratching their heads nervously in an identical manner. "Um…" they began, Tenchi trailing off and deferring to Yosho.

Clearing his throat, Yosho opened his mouth, only to stop, as a tall blonde man lit on the street nearby from some point above, enveloped in a wavering cloak of what looked like blue flames. He nodded once, and the blue energy simply faded, leaving the man looking drained. He sighed, pulling his cap down more tightly, and glanced at Yosho. "Ranma asked me to take care of you. He's dealing with the girl alone."

Tsunami frowned. "Where is Ranma-dono?"

The man shrugged again. "Like I said, dealing with the girl — Ryouko, she said her name was."

A distant explosion sounded, and Tsunami raised one hand to her mouth worriedly. "Saryu-oh," she whispered, "tell me where Ranma is." The tree responded instantly, telling her that Ranma was nearby. "I worry for Ranma…." Shaking her head to clear it, she turned to focus on what Saryu-oh was showing her more clearly.

Washuu shivered uncontrollably for a moment, silently promising that she would beat Ranma over the head when he came back — he had promised to be careful this time — if he were more than scratched. But she was trusting him, and busy… so had left the communicator off. Unless he were to call her by name, of course.

Cologne frowned, watching her. "Child," she pronounced carefully, "maybe you should rest."

The scientist resisted the urge to laugh, half-afraid that the carefully restrained hysteria would break loose. "I'm much older than I look," she assured the Amazon. "I can go for a few days without sleep just fine."

Dismissing it for the moment, Cologne turned back to the charts on the ground before her. "Mm. My people are here, in the middle of Qinghai. How do you suggest we travel with as many people as we're going to have to take?"

Washuu grimaced, turning to the task at hand. "Well," she said slowly, "I'm thinking that I can build a device that allows us to generate interference on the reavers' mental transmissions." She sighed, shaking her head. "The problems with this are numerous. If we just jam them, they'll adapt. What I need to do is to try and make something that will make them all chase after one point. But the signal has to be vague."

Not entirely understanding, Cologne raised an eyebrow. "How is that?"

"Well…" Washuu hedged uncertainly, placing one hand over her heart as it inexplicably skipped a beat, and trying to ignore it. "What we need to do it very risky. We need to generate something that makes them think that the device is somewhere within about… one hundred kilometers of where it actually is. If they find it, they'll destroy it. So we need to make it confusing. If we're lucky, this will attract all of the reavers from the area."

Cologne shrugged in an off-handed manner. "So, we would leave the device here to keep them confused as we left?"

Washuu grimaced. "Not quite. They would find it eventually, and destroy it. Our best bet is to use this device as a smoke screen. Not a lure. They're attracted to it, but can't see through it." She gestured to the flat panel of her computer screen, which was rapidly streaming numbers and data. "They'll follow us… unfortunately, the area immediately outside of the lure will become even more dangerous."

Nodding slowly, the old woman stared at Washuu's screen. "That's an interesting device…. I'll trust you on this — you feel like the type that knows what you are doing. But what will this benefit us?"

"Hmm…" Washuu mused, pushing back at the slowly building fatigue. "It will draw all of the reavers near us, but not to us. Leaving everyone else safe."

Cologne's eyes widened at that. "Oh! So you propose we draw the reavers to a place where we can fight them, leaving everyone behind in safety?"

"I wish. The reavers are probably too smart. To be safe, no one inside the area should leave it… meaning we would want to travel to Qinghai with everyone, and our smoke screen. By my calculations, that could take easily seventy days."


Washuu gestured at the computer again. "Assuming the average human walking speed of three kilometers per hour…" she trailed off, shrugging. "But that's not the point at the moment. The idea behind what we're doing is going to do much more than annoy them."

Cologne's eyes narrowed. "A sacrifice in the name of the people who aren't as well equipped to deal with the foes as us, hmm?"

Crossing her arms, Washuu glanced at Suu, still curled up a short distance away. "Well, we'll send away who we can, and keep who we must. People who are not as capable of moving to Qinghai — hopefully quickly. Once that's done, and we can… we'll leave."


The voice penetrated the thick layers of exhaustion that were slowly wrapping themselves about him — and the constant pressure to change, with him only barely resisting.

His body, he realized. His weak, insufficient body — he couldn't even beat someone who was made of the same stuff as him. How could he ever expect to beat the reavers? "What?" he managed, staggering to his feet, ignoring sudden pain from his heart. There were other, lesser pains, and he could ignore them, so why not that, as well?

Ryouko frowned, sinking to float mere inches over the ground. "What are you doing?" she asked, her weapon long since vanished.

His mind balked for a moment, a surge of pain and confusion denying him the correct answer. "I'm…" he shook his head, staring at her again. "I'm not givin' up. I'm not losing. I don't… don't care. Gonna beat you, then I'm gonna beat the reavers."

One halting step, his body too weak to even levitate… could he levitate? The blackness around the edges of his vision — where had it come from, anyway? He couldn't remember… remember… what couldn't he remember?

His hand rose, obscuring his ever-smaller field of vision — darkness creeping inward. Blood? Why was he bleeding? He thought he couldn't bleed anymore… what…

The darkness encroached further, the woman before him staring from a pinpoint of light in a vast sea of black, as his hand fell away. A slow rushing noise filled his ears, and he dimly heard his voice, slowly and thickly, so different as to be someone else's…. "Gotta protect… what I… love…"

Ran-oh-ki winced, turning his head about and sniffing in worry. His partner was in pain, and only getting worse.

Washuu was too distracted, and Ran-oh-ki felt weak… was this how he was supposed to feel when his partner was getting hurt? Or was his partner… dying?

Whimpering, he made a soft keening noise. The tall one, who was sometimes short, with the blue or green hair…. She had a nice smell. She could help his partner. He just needed to reach her… Saryu-oh could tell her what he saw.

Tsunami stared into the distance, distracted by something, while everyone else had simply lapsed into silence, ignoring everyone. Perhaps waiting for Tenchi to make the next move.

Tenchi shifted his feet, considering his situation, and coming to a slow realization. He might not have approved of Yosho's choices… but they had been Yosho's choices to make. He bit his lip, while Ayeka watched him, flushed and holding one corner of her sleeve across her mouth, as though she couldn't believe the words she had spoken — words that were all too true, he knew.

Swallowing his pride, Tenchi stepped away from Yosho, then wheeled, bowing deeply. "I am sorry, Yosho." He took a breath to steady himself, then dropped to his knees, kneeling before the older man. "Please come back to Jurai with us! We need your help!"

Yosho shifted immediately, though Tenchi could see nothing, his eyes staring firmly at the street beneath him. The sound of Yosho's shoes sliding across the street told Tenchi enough. "Tenchi… please get up."

Tenchi remained where he was, struggling to remember the lessons that Ayeka had spent hours explaining to him, drilling them into him until he could practically recite the formalities in his sleep. "Yosho-sama. It is the most humble request of myself, a most insignificant supplicant…." Tenchi grimaced, hating the flowery speech of the courts, and trying to remember which subtleties to avoid, and which to use. "I humbly beseech you to return to the court of your family, and return to your rightful place!"

Yosho's eyes widened in shock. Tenchi, as Yosho had known him, was strong of will, and not one to so casually back down from something he had chosen to fight for. That the boy would simply throw away everything — his attack on Yosho, their argument, the backing of the Emperor — was staggering. That he threw himself to the ground, and used the name that he had…. "Tenchi. Stop."

It galled him, churning his stomach. Tenchi remained where he was, speaking loudly enough to be heard from his awkward position. "This one humbly begs an answer of you, Yosho-sama."

Yosho resisted the urge to grab the boy by his collar and shake him roughly — why couldn't things simply be as pleasant and easy as they once had been? "Stop talking like that, Tenchi. I… I'll go."

Tenchi raised his head slowly, his eyes meeting Yosho's. "Yosho-sa… Jiji. Thank you."

The older man nodded, looking away. "I… I don't…. We'll talk about this later."

Terry sighed loudly, sitting on the curb, and looking away for the moment. "What's taking Ranma so long?"

Yosho blinked, trying to focus his thoughts from the frantic and confused jumble that they had assumed with the knowledge of his inevitable return to Jurai. He had spent hundreds of years on Earth avoiding that return. To no avail, now.

He stepped away from Tenchi, and the boy, respecting Yosho, walked to Ayeka's side. Sitting near Terry, Yosho stared at his hands, deep in thought. All of his running, his hiding, all his attempts…. "I suppose it's true, what they say," he muttered.

"What's that?" Terry asked, staring into the abandoned storefront across the street. "The old one about, 'Tis better to have loved and lost, then never loved at all'?"

Yosho couldn't miss the tone of bitterness buried in that statement. "Well," he said slowly, trying not to remember his own wife, passed away some years ago… "That's true, too, but I was thinking, 'running never solves anything', and… 'you can't hide forever'." He shrugged, crossing his arms and wondering how he would deal with the burdens that were sure to follow his return to Jurai.

Terry winced, perhaps something in Yosho's words resonating with something in his own past. "I think I can understand that," he said after a moment. "So you're gonna leave, but you don't want to?"

Nodding slowly, Yosho took a deep, calming breath. "That's right. As little as I like it… I have no choice, and I'm afraid that if I do leave, I'll be unable to help."

"Why they want you to leave, anyway?"

Yosho pursed his lips thoughtfully. "My father wishes me to take the throne, which I have long been trying to avoid."

Terry blinked at that, his eyes darting across Yosho's countenance for a moment, and then away again. "Well…" he began after a moment. "Sometimes we don't get to make the choices we want." He laughed, though it was stilted, "And sometimes when we make the choices, we realize that they weren't what we wanted."

Tsunami blinked, snapping herself out of the frantic and frenzied link with Saryu-oh. The tree was worried — and rightfully — about Ranma.

She felt her body rise into the air slowly, charged with the ambient energy, and then the soft, tingling sensation of teleportation.

Taking a deep breath to settle herself, she closed her eyes, drawing on a power she had always hoped to reserve, and never to need.

Twice before, however, she had needed it, and each time, it had cost her something. Her very self, the first time. The memory of it was clear from both sides.

The immaculate ring surrounding her tree stained in blood, the princess lying prone and unmoving. Not dead, as her frantic eyes told, too scared to blink, too worried to breathe, and knowing that the pain she had taken from her fall was more than any mere bump or broken bone.

All of Jurai's science and power could not save her — not from that. But Tsunami could…

Her skull had fractured, slivers of bone impacting her crushed spine, and too, she remembered the pain of those slivers, and the frightfully cold, slick feeling of the blood, pooling around her slowly. But more than that, she remembered the fright, the loneliness. No one was there, and she daren't call for help, yet…

She had wanted to cry, to scream… to beg for help and mercy, and no one was there, except…

And then she had reached out to the little girl — herself — and mended the ruined flesh, and done everything she could to repair her hurts… but that loneliness was something she could not banish. It was part of both of them, after that, as the two slowly began to mesh.

She shook her head, trying to dismiss the memories, but unable, as she set about her work, summoning powers she wished she could hold in check.

Then, too, she remembered the first incident clearly, even from the second time her hand had been forced.

Tenchi had been dying, his body almost entirely reduced to ash in what had ultimately been a futile display of… phenomenal stupidity. Not that she could fault him. He had done what he believed in, which was admirable, even if not successful.

And then she had taken the still-living pieces of him, and healed the wounds — replacing what he had lost. He had never truly died. Had he, she might have been able to even heal that, though she was afraid of the repercussions should she try. He devoutly believed he had died, and she doubted she could convince him otherwise… but Ranma…

She brought her attention to the present, over the silver, mirrored pool that surrounded her tree-self. Her 'real body' she used to think, though with Sasami's integration, that was no longer entirely true. The pool reflected her back to herself, showing the slight changes in the Sasami-reflection. She had aged some years, from pre-teen to adolescent, her hair changing shade slightly, thickening and growing shorter.

Tsunami took a moment to wonder what she looked like, trying to distract herself from what she had to do. But the moment faded with the urgency of the situation. "Ranma," she whispered.

He floated before her, mercifully still, as though asleep… but more than that, she knew. One slender, graceful hand rose, gently tracing a line across his abdomen, the pockmarks from Ryouko's explosions leaving cratered and ruined flesh behind, the battle-suit thankfully sealing the wounds and protecting him from dirt and the like.

Weaving her power, she reflected on how easy it would be to blame Ryouko for the entire situation. How simple… Ryouko had attacked Jurai, making Sasami fall. Ryouko had gotten captured, and Tenchi had nearly died trying to rescue her. And she had fought Ranma, damaging him so badly….

Perhaps Ranma would forgive her on his own, but there were limits to how hard he could push himself. And blaming Ryouko would solve nothing. Ryouko was misguided. In the first, she was not in control of herself, and in the second, she was hardly willingly captured. In the last… perhaps there was more blame there. Perhaps. It would be for Ranma to decide, however, not her.

Smiling softly, she traced a line across his cheek with her delicate fingertips, leaning close. "Ranma… wake." He did so, the pain blocked, leaving him drowsy and tired. He blinked, trying to get his bearings. "Ranma… you have been wounded."

He blinked again, able to do no more at the moment. "I will heal you, and leave you with something…." Something, she reflected sadly, that he wouldn't be allowed to remember. Not for some time.

Tenchi stared at the spot where Tsunami had disappeared in a flash of light, worried. "Um," he started after a moment, "where is Ryouko?" Ryo-oh-ki made a soft noise, and the woman in question drifted into sight, her reappearance calming Tenchi quickly. She landed at his side, smiling weakly. "What happened?"

Ryouko fidgeted for a moment, her gaze darting from Yosho to Terry, then back to Tenchi, as her smile slipped. "Nothing," she said after a moment. "He finally ran away."

Yosho raised an eyebrow at that, shaking his head dourly. "That boy? I don't think he knows how to."

Ryouko crossed her arms over her chest, scowling. "Well, he teleported away somewhere. If he wasn't running, I don't know where he went."

Tenchi waved a hand, dismissing the affair. "I'm sure it's not a problem…. Jiji, are you ready to leave?"

Yosho frowned. "I don't… I want to speak to Washuu, first."

Terry stood up, dusting his hands against his jeans, and nodded. "I want to see Ranma. He's a good kid. I'll stick with him."

Visibly relaxing at those words, Yosho let his frown fade, smiling again. "Excellent. He should have someone who knows the ways of the world watching over him."

Terry grunted in a noncommittal manner. "He's got potential, that's for sure."

Yosho managed a faint smile. "Come on, then. Let's go."

Tenchi nodded at the man, a nagging thought causing him to wonder… who was this Ranma? If only he had gotten more of a chance to talk to him aboard Saryu-oh. Everyone seemed to know more about Ranma than him…. He would have to talk to Ranma, once they met again.

Cologne watched, as the tall redhead worked her computer with startling alacrity. The woman was fast at using the device, even if Cologne couldn't really understand how the blasted thing worked. It did, though, and as much as she hated to depend on tools, it seemed to work very well.

"So," she said, tapping one foot thoughtfully, "it would take seventy days to move everyone from here to Qinghai?"

Washuu nodded, running her hand through her hair to brush a stray strand back into place. "Yes. As I said before, the average human has a maximum walking speed of three kilometers per hour." She sighed, shaking her head. "There are things that I can't take into account quickly, but assuming that as the average walking speed to be correct, since there are a number of mountain ranges in the way… luckily, it's spring, so we shouldn't have to worry about snow. At any rate, that should be correct."

Cologne frowned. "What if people walked faster?"

Washuu grimaced, explaining, "It's not that easy. Not everyone is in the form that Ranma and Yosho are — or yourself, for that matter. Most of them are simply normal people without the conditioning they would need. We'll take the people who can't walk that quickly away, if we can, but we're looking at well over a million people here. Since we want to allow people all over the world to be evacuated, we're only taking four million people with us — everyone else will be evacuated by the Juraians, and they'll try and move everyone in our path to give the reavers a buffer zone."

"Hmm…." Cologne looked pensive. "How long will it take to get more ships from Jurai?"

Washuu gestured at the screen. "Five months, more or less, and then it's going to take us two to get to your lands. So we'll have to try and defend ourselves there for three months… of course, the Galaxy police should start arriving in small waves in about…." The redhead bit her lip, tapping a few keys in rapid succession. "About two and a half weeks. I'll relay a message to them to clear anyone from our path first, and then pretty much whoever they can manage to pick up." She nodded, sighing. "I have an odd feeling about Ranma…"

Cologne smirked. The problems were far from solved, but they hadn't destroyed her yet. "Are you worried about Muko-dono?"

Washuu frowned. "Why do you call him that?"

Cologne chuckled dryly. "At one time, he was engaged to my great-granddaughter."

The redhead's eyes widened slightly, and she leaned forward. "Really? What happened?"

The old woman sighed, shrugging. "He sent her away, trading his place for her." She shook her head. "For that, I'll release him of his obligation to her. Life satisfies honor, I would think." There was a moment of silence, Suu murmuring softly in her sleep, before the woman continued. "Who's to say he'll see her again? Or any of us will? No reason to compel him, now."

Washuu nodded slowly. "What about his other fiancées?"

"Oh," Cologne said, surprised at Washuu's interest, "well, let's see…. Shan Pu was the name of my great-granddaughter, and then there was the Tendo girl, Akane. Hmm. He was to unite their houses, the Saotome and Tendo schools together… and the third was an okonomiyaki chef, named Kuonji Ukyou." She shrugged. "Why not ask him yourself?"

Washuu looked crestfallen at those words. "He… he can't remember. Or maybe he can and won't talk to me."

The light of realization sparked in Cologne's eyes, and she understood. "Oh," she said softly, "is that how it is?"

Washuu blinked, looking askance at the woman. "What do you mean?"

Cologne chuckled. Ironic, the poor woman didn't even know it, and knowing Ranma, he would be oblivious as well! "Nothing, nothing, child. Simply… stay near him. He's not the most open or trusting sort, so… have patience."

The scientist nodded thoughtfully, glancing upwards as a soft glow formed around her, brightening in its intensity into a shimmering column of light. There was a flash, and when it faded, another woman was standing near the redhead, this one in long, ornate robes, bearing a gentle countenance. But something in her eyes spoke of sadness, and resting in her arms, seeming to float…. "Muko-dono?" Cologne asked, startled.

And it was him, too, lying limp, seemingly drained. He looked asleep, and yet…. "Oh, no," Washuu breathed. "What… what happened?" A small furry creature jumped from the folds of the stately woman's robes, landing on Ranma's stomach and curling up there.

The woman nodded once at Cologne, and released Ranma. He floated to land gently near the sleeping child, neither of them waking. "Yes," Cologne mumbled, noticing Ranma's changed ears… much longer, less human. "What has happened to him?"

Pausing to gather herself, the woman explained, "Ranma-dono… had a disagreement with Ryouko." She sighed, kneeling at Ranma's side, and patting his head affectionately. "I'm… I am afraid that Ryouko was not careful… and Ranma-dono has… died. He pushed himself too hard, On—" She cut herself off, and cleared her throat before beginning again, "He pushed himself too hard, Washuu-chan."

Washuu knelt near Ranma also, being careful not to disturb Ranma or Suu. "What do you mean? He looks alive to me."

Tsunami sighed sadly. "Yes, but Ranma-dono… his human half was not strong enough. His heart failed him, and he pushed himself too hard… nothing of Ranma-dono remains as human."

The redheaded scientist trembled, blinking away moistness in her eyes. "Well," she said, struggling for control, "he never knew about the chance that he had stolen from him, did he?"

"Washuu-chan?" the other woman asked, cocking her head to one side. Cologne merely watched, wondering what knowledge she could glean from the pair.

Washuu calmed herself forcibly. "Ranma… I was going to surprise him, once this was all over. I was going to see if I could find a way to extract the Masu from his makeup, and allow him to revert to his original form." She cleared her throat, placing one hand atop Ranma's shoulder. "I was going to give him back what I had taken away. That's part of why I wanted him to take care of himself… I wanted to give him back… and now I can't. And it's not because he was careless fighting a reaver, he lost it because… because of my daughter." She heaved an unsteady breath, a lone tear falling to slide across her cheek, then drifting free to strike the boy's shoulder. "How… how do I tell him what he's lost, Tsunami? I… I don't know how to do this."

The woman — Tsunami — sighed forlornly. "There is nothing left of his original body… it's — it is completely Masu, now. But…." She smiled encouragingly at Washuu. "His sprit is his own, and that can't be taken away from him. Even though he is no longer what he once was… his heart is still as beautiful." She shifted, placing her hand atop Washuu's, and repositioning it over Ranma's chest. "He will not resent you. Save… I would not tell him until Ryouko has left."

Washuu laughed, nearly a sob, and it came out as a strangled hiccup. "Of… of course."

She gathered her composure, and focused herself, as Ranma stirred, mumbling softly, "Go 'way, Pop. Don' feel like it…." He lapsed into silence for a moment, then allowed his eyes to drift open. "What… what happened? Last I remember I was talking to…." He blinked, his eyes shifting from Washuu to Tsunami, apparently just noticing that he was lying on the ground, each woman with a hand on his sternum. "What's going on?"

Cologne sighed quietly, wondering how sorry she should feel for the boy. More than simply Jusenkyou stealing his manhood… this had stolen his very humanity. She had known he was more than he had been… but such was the price. "'No good deed goes unpunished'," she muttered to herself. An unfair tradeoff if one ever was.

Giving his very life to save three young women, and what had he gotten in exchange? Power, to a small degree, though it was barely enough by the looks of things. Scorn? He'd lost his mother, she'd gleaned that much from Washuu. He'd lost the closest place he had to a home, and the closest thing he had to a caring parent. Genma had to have meant a lot to Ranma, and he had been denied that… but perhaps it was for the better. Who was to say Genma would be any different from Nodoka?

Ranma might disagree, of course. But that left Ranma's position very complicated, and left Washuu, and perhaps Tsunami, in awkward positions as well. Ranma needed someone who would be able to care for him. To help him, to listen to… he needed a surrogate parent, and Washuu wasn't entirely fit for the job.

The old woman cracked a smile at that. There was something that might improve his lot — it would certainly help Washuu out, from her precarious situation. At least, it might help…. And Cologne wasn't about to deny Ranma the choice. After all, he had seen that one of the survivors, one of the people to get away and be guaranteed life, was none other than an Amazon! That should be rewarded, if nothing else. "I see you're awake, Son," she called out to Ranma.

He sat up, staring at her, and scowled. "What are you talking about?"

Washuu and Tsunami both rose, turning to watch Cologne as Ranma drifted to his feet. "Well, Son, I hope you enjoyed your rest. Are you feeling well?"

Ranma could only stare dumbly for a long moment, and then managed, "Don't you mean 'Muko'?"

"Ah!" exclaimed Cologne. "So you do admit it, then!" She smiled, clasping her hands behind her back and nodding knowingly. A little nettling to distract the boy from his problems.

"Uh…" he said slowly, narrowing his eyes. "No?"

"Very well then, Son. Now, run along, I'll call for you when I need you again." Ranma glowered at her, muttering under his breath, and drifted to the ground, only to stomp away, shaking his head in confusion. "Son!" she called, causing him to turn around and stare at her expectantly. She indicated Suu, and asked, "Would you please find somewhere that she can rest?"

"Oh, man," he grumbled, gently gathering the child in his arms. "Yeah, yeah…"

Tsunami and Washuu watched Ranma depart, taking care not to jostle the girl. Keitaro and the two women he was speaking with waved to Ranma as he passed, and he nodded to them, asking something in a low voice before disappearing into the building.

Washuu smiled sadly. "That was… interesting."

Cologne shrugged. "Mm. Ranma needs something nice in his life." She smirked. "I'm guessing I'm not it. Still, every little bit to help…" she trailed off, noting that Tsunami was staring at her oddly. "Is something wrong?"

"Oh," Tsunami apologized, "I'm sorry." She knelt near the shorter woman, smiling. "I am Tsunami. Who are you?"

Cologne nodded, glancing back to the house that Ranma had disappeared into. "I am Cologne, of the Chinese Amazons. Pleasure meeting you."

She bowed low, surprised when Tsunami leaned closer, gently kissing her once on each cheek. "Please take good care of Ranma-dono, Cologne-sama." With that, she straightened, clasping her hands together and giving a meaningful nod to Washuu. "Please help her take care of Ranma-dono, Washuu-chan?"

Washuu smirked, a trace of the fire that Cologne had only seen hints of, flaring to life in her eyes. "You can count on me!"

The low building was lit more poorly than before, half of the already dim lighting shut off, and the tables abandoned, still covered with assorted disassembled machinery. The directions Ranma had gotten said that the second floor had rooms where someone could sleep, and Washuu had used one of them.

What for, Ranma wasn't certain of, at the moment. The upper floor was dusty, a long hallway lit by empty windows at either end allowing dust-mote-filled shafts of light to filter in. Some of the doors lining the hall were open, allowing a little extra light to spill in and dispelling an otherwise gloomy air.

He paused at one door, seeing a pallet on the floor — abandoned — and an open window. It wouldn't be good to leave Suu somewhere where the girl would be forgotten, though. Shrugging, Ranma strode in, gently laying the girl on the futon, and glancing around the room.

The small, box-like compartment might have been an office of some kind, though that 'might' looked to have been years upon years ago, if at all. There were no closets, no furniture aside from the bedding, and a pair of dirty windows stood open, another girl leaning into them and staring out blankly.

Ranma blinked at that, not noticing the girl earlier. "Um," he began, apologetically, "I didn't see you there, I'm sorry…" he trailed off as the girl turned to look at him, her soft eyes shimmering sadly. "Oh," he said, recognizing her. Her name was, Nuku, if he remembered correctly.

She smiled at him, softly, but it looked a sad thing, only half-felt. "Hello," she managed.

Ranma scratched the back of his neck, glancing out the window, where the fleet could still be seen circling slowly overhead. "So," he began again, struggling for something to say, "are you feeling better?"

The girl lowered her eyes, fidgeting with the lower hem of her shirt. A borrowed one, Ranma guessed, since he remembered her last had been torn apart when she…. "Nuku-Nuku is not damaged," she said slowly, looking away to stare out the window again. Ranma raised his hand, ready to say something, but he found himself at a loss, and the words died on his lips. "But… it still hurts," Nuku whispered.

Shifting from foot to foot, Ranma nodded. "I… I think you're right. I know what you mean."

Nuku turned to look at Ranma, and cocked her head to one side. "Did you lose your mama-san and papa-san?"

Flinching, Ranma managed a nod. "Yeah… yeah, I did."

Nuku stepped away from the window, peering at Ranma curiously. "Does it hurt?" she asked, touching herself over her heart. "Right here?"

Ranma sighed, nodding again. "Yeah."

The two were quiet for a long moment, before Nuku broke the silence. "Want to know a secret?" At Ranma's shrug, she sighed softly, and said, "Nuku-Nuku is really Atsuko."

"Atsuko?" Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Is that your name?" The girl nodded, the beginnings of a smile forming on her face. "That's a nice name."

Nuku — Atsuko, Ranma reminded himself. Atsuko pouted at him, putting her hands on her hips. "Your name?" she prompted.

Blinking, Ranma belatedly realized that he had forgotten. "Oh," he apologized, "sorry about that." He scratched the nape of his neck again, smiling bashfully. "My name is Ranma."

Beaming a smile at him, Atsuko said, "Will you be Nuku-Nuku's friend?"

Ranma grinned, nodding. "Sure. I'm happy to be your friend." He glanced over his shoulder at Suu, still sleeping, and sighed. "I'm thirsty. I'll be right back, but I want to get something to drink, okay?"

Atsuko nodded happily, chirping, "Okay!"

He paused, looking back for a moment. "Do you want anything?"

She shook her head silently, still smiling.

Atsuko watched the boy leave the room, and smiled in satisfaction. Turning to the girl who Ranma had brought in — and was still asleep, she whispered, "Nuku-Nuku likes Ranma-san. It doesn't hurt as much when he's here."

Tsunami offered a hopeful smile to Cologne and Washuu, then clasped her hands together, fading away into the column of light that teleported her into one of the awaiting warships above. The redhead smirked to herself, fighting back the week and more of fatigue. She had gone longer without sleep, though usually in pursuit of some tidbit of knowledge, or trying to create something. Seldom because she had little choice in the matter.

The diminutive woman with the staff shook her head, watching after the quickly disappearing light that had preceded Tsunami's departure. "Such things," she marveled, "I had never expected to see in my life."

Washuu snorted, shaking her head. "Trust me," she remarked dryly, "you haven't seen anything yet."

The woman raised an eyebrow at that. "Oh?" she asked. "What will happen next?"

"No idea," Washuu confessed, keeping the same dry tone, "but it's bound to be interesting. I just hope that we can save as many people as we can before this is all over."

Cologne grunted, looking away. "This is true," she remarked. "Should we go back to planning?"

Washuu made a face. "Probably."

Cologne shrugged thoughtfully. "Perhaps something to eat would be in order. Do you like ramen?"

Before she could speak, Washuu's stomach betrayed her, grumbling slightly. "Er… yes?"

Cologne simply laughed, shaking her head. "I'll be back in a bit, then. Make sure that Ranma keeps himself from getting killed again." With that, the woman bounded away, hopping over the roofs and disappearing from sight. Washuu shook her head, watching the last streamer of the long white hair trail out of sight. And Ranma took happenings like that in stride?

Her science had always been the science of the world around her, much more than the science of her own body. The things that Ranma could do…. There was obviously a scientific explanation for his abilities — and she intended to find out exactly what that explanation was, once she could have a little time alone with the boy — but even once the secret was discovered, it was still enough to impress her. He had killed a reaver with his bare hands, something no one else that Washuu had known of had ever done before.

And as Ranma matured and learned the more complex abilities inferred to him by the Masu, he would become even more powerful. But he needed to learn to fight more cautiously, first…. She shook her head, narrowing her eyes as Yosho trod into sight, trailed by…

She composed herself, awaiting them coolly as they reached the building. Yosho spoke first, looking at Tenchi out of the corner of his eyes. "Ah… Washuu… I'm sorry."

Washuu blinked, quirking one eyebrow up at that. "What are you sorry for, Yosho?"

Yosho fidgeted uncomfortably for a moment, so much of his casual confidence seeming to have been washed away somehow. "I'm… I'm going to have to go back, Washuu. Back to Jurai."

Sighing, Washuu shook her head. "Well, hurry back, then." Turning her attention to Tenchi, flanked as he was by Ryouko and Ayeka, she nodded. "How have you been, Tenchi-dono?"

The boy stared at her for a moment, then shook his head. "Fine, I guess," he said, throwing a sidelong glance at Yosho. Turning his attention back to Washuu, he asked, "I didn't notice before… why are you like that, now?"

Washuu evaded, "Like what?" Ayeka winced, shaking her head, while Ryouko snorted, crossing her arms and looking away. "Which reminds me," Washuu added, not wanting to answer Tenchi's question, "I'd like a word with my daughter alone…"

Ryouko scowled, snorting derisively, "Whatever."

Using her most innocent smile, Washuu traversed the distance between herself and Ryouko quickly, grabbing the cyan-haired Masu-woman by her ear and tugging sharply. Ryouko's eyes widened, and she flailed about, hissing, but unable to do more at the moment. "What was that, daughter?" she asked sweetly.

Grumbling, Ryouko yanked herself free, rubbing her sore ear. "What?" she asked, hurt.

Tenchi carefully avoided seeing anything, instead studying Central Defense East. Yosho joined the boy, while Ayeka subtly hid a frown, watching the exchange covertly.

Washuu walked some distance away, beckoning Ryouko to follow. The woman did so, but reluctantly, asking, "What?" again.

The scientist took a deep breath, regarding Ryouko levelly. "You make me think that I might be a bad parent," Washuu commented quietly.

Ryouko snorted, crossing her arms over her chest. "'Mother'? Come off it — you did nothing to raise me."

"That doesn't make me any less responsible as a parent," Washuu countered. "Aside from which, I'm more your parent than Kagato ever was."

Ryouko growled softly, but conceded the point.

"Now," Washuu said, becoming businesslike, "I half wish I could just give you a sound spanking and send you to bed, but I'm not certain that you know what you did. Tell me why you and Ranma were fighting."

"Well…" Ryouko began, considering, dropping her arms to her sides, "I don't know, really."

"I thought as much."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Washuu sighed, rubbing at her temples wearily. "Ryouko," she said, voice clipped. "You shouldn't have been fighting with him in the first place. He's not physically matured enough to use your level of power. Do you know what you did to him today?"

Ryouko pouted, "I don't know. You're acting like I beat up a little kid!"

"You did," Washuu deadpanned. "Compared to you, he is a child. Despite that, however, he's got more mental maturity than I've seen you display most of the time. He's got a sense of honor, a sense of duty, and he's got a strong heart." Ryouko's eyes narrowed, and her lips compressed into a thin, angry line, but she said nothing. "You have a wonderful heart too, Ryouko… but you're never going to get Tenchi if you stay as self-centered as you are."

Where the other comments had merely nettled the woman, the last had pierced her mental armor, leaving her to gape openly. "What are you saying?" she asked, struggling to regain her composure. "What does that have to do with Tenchi?"

Washuu hid a small smirk. "I'm saying Tenchi won't think well of someone who did what you did. Tenchi wouldn't like to know that you beat Ranma up — and nearly killed him — for what you admit 'you don't remember'." The scientist took a deep breath, pausing to look upwards, then staring at the ships, still in their lazy orbits over the harbor. "I really don't like telling you what you should do, Ryouko, but I'll tell you this much… most of what you've done after first meeting with Tenchi has only hurt any potential relationship you've got with him, not helped much at all."

Ryouko collapsed to her knees, still vulnerable from the first barbed comment. "But…" she began, "I… I love him, and… what about… Zero?"

Washuu nodded slowly. "Well, that helps round out what I would have considered a potential imbalance in your feelings… but you need to acknowledge more of them." She held up a hand, one finger extended. "First," she explained, "you need to learn to respect — Tenchi, Ayeka, you should learn to respect everyone." After a moment, she grinned, adding, "Especially your mother."

Ryouko narrowed her eyes, but remained where she was on the ground, nodding sullenly.

"Secondly," Washuu continued, extending another finger, "you need to give Tenchi some room. Smothering him won't help." Ryouko flinched, nodding again. "Beyond that, of course…" a third finger was extended, "you need to be more responsible for your actions. You can very easily do something you could regret, if you're not careful."

Ryouko nodded a third time. "And… and what else?" she asked, trepidation overpowering her normal bravado.

Washuu frowned deeply, extending a final finger. "You're going to have to learn to apologize when you make a mistake."

The cyan-haired woman was on her feet in an instant, outraged, but her words failed her, and she simply sputtered, before grudgingly nodding. "Fine," she muttered, "the next time I screw up I'll say sorry."

"Oh, oh, no," Washuu said, smiling slowly, "you're going to find Ranma, and apologize right now, if you want to start improving yourself. Shirk off now, and you'll never improve." She paused for a moment, considering, then added, "It's lucky for you that Tenchi is already in love with you, or you would have lost your chance."

At that, the already overwhelmed woman collapsed to the ground again, dazed. "Huh?"

"Go find Ranma, and apologize to him. And remember what I told you!" she warned. "Your mother can't always be this forgiving!" Ryouko climbed to her feet numbly, nodding, and drifted towards Keitaro, where he was still speaking with the two girls who had been with him most of the day.

Ryouko stalked towards the young man and the two women chatting with him before the door to the building. Washuu had said to find Ranma, and he was probably in that building, but…. "Excuse me," she said, probably a little more brusquely than she had intended. Calming herself, she tried again, "Excuse me, do you know where Ranma is?"

The boy blinked, nodding slowly, while the two women eyed Ryouko, the lighter haired one looking unhappily suspicious, and the dark haired one smiling innocuously. "Oh," he said, taking a few seconds to consider, "he took Suu-chan upstairs to put her to bed. He should still be inside."

Ryouko nodded her thanks and turned her back, striding into the building. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly, allowing her to navigate through the tables to the stairwell with ease. At the top of the stairs, she backpedaled, landing in a defensive stance as she nearly collided with Ranma, who instantly went on guard, eyes narrowing mistrustfully. "What do you want?" he asked, annoyed.

Biting back a retort, Ryouko shrugged. "To apologize," she said softly.


The boy stared at her, hard, and she was unable to meet his eyes. Trying to avoid looking at him, she focused on gazing imperiously over his shoulder. "Well," she began slowly, "I, uh, thought you were stronger than you were."

Bristling, Ranma clenched his fists at his sides, gritting his teeth. "How's that?" he hissed. "You're saying that I'm weak?"

Ryouko struggled for a minute, wondering why she had gotten stuck with apologizing to someone with such a short fuse. "I mean, uh… you weren't bad," she said, struggling for words, "I've just had lots more practice than you."

Scowling, he relaxed a little, shaking his head. "Whatever." With that, he stalked past her, slipping down the stairs and shooting her a reproachful glance.

"Wait!" she called out. This wasn't how apologies were supposed to go. She had apologized to Tenchi when she tore his mother's kimono, and he had reacted differently afterwards. So should Ranma, but…

He paused, turning to look up the staircase at her. "What now?"

She struggled for a moment, feeling the burden on her heart that she recognized after only a moment. The weight of guilt. "You don't… I really am sorry," she managed. "Washuu… I talked to Washuu about it, and… it was stupid. I shouldn't have been fighting with you in the first place. I didn't mean to hurt you that badly."

The glow in Ranma's eyes dimmed for a moment, as he considered, then returned to their prior luminescence. "Yeah, it… maybe we were both stupid."

Ryouko nodded unhappily. If Ranma didn't forgive her… what would Tenchi think?

Yosho watched Washuu warily, the scientist toying with a strand of her long hair idly. Doubtlessly wishing for her laboratory, and something to fidget with. "So," he began nervously, wondering what she really thought of him leaving, "I'm… not happy about having to go back to Jurai."

Snorting, the scientist nodded. "Understandably, Yosho. I wouldn't like being in your situation either."

Deflating, Yosho nodded. Tenchi was some distance away, speaking with Ayeka in low tones. Terry lounged on the lawn a little closer, occasionally glancing towards Tenchi as though he didn't trust the boy. "Well," Yosho grumbled, "I just wish I had more power."

Washuu cocked her head to one side, peering at Yosho thoughtfully. "As the Emperor of Jurai, you'll have a lot more power, Yosho." At his questioning glance, she smirked, adding, "And never forget your greatest potential power — the power of delegation."

He furrowed his brow, and she looked away, idly toying with the same strand of hair again. He sighed, deciding she had opted to leave him alone with his thoughts, and watched as a van pulled up to the compound, the tires scraping against the sidewalk before it came to a halt.

A tallish man in glasses — Seta, Yosho remembered — climbed out of the van, and waved towards Keitaro, but froze when he saw Terry. The pair looked at each other for a long silent moment, before Terry bounded to his feet, and the two flew towards each other faster than Yosho could react.

Terry shouted, "Seta!" extending one fist as he dashed towards the other man.

Snapping his head to one side, Seta matched Terry's gesture, and the two halted, fists meeting loudly, while Seta yelled, "Terry!"

Yosho blinked, and the men embraced, pounding each other on the back. "Man," Seta commented, pushing Terry away to look at him more clearly, "I haven't seen you since I dropped out of the circuit!" He shook his head, stepping back and grinning. "How have you been, Terry? Did you finally win?"

Terry's brief smile began to fade, and he shook his head. "Kinda. I mean. I guess. There's another level beyond the circuit, and after a while all I wanted was out…" he trailed off, staring at the ground. "Costs too much," he said after a moment, shaking his head. "How've you been?"

Seta shrugged, scratching the back of his head. "I've been better," he admitted. "But I've been worse, too." His words after that point dropped to a level too low for Yosho to hear, but he could follow the drift of the conversation anyway.

Two men, soldiers in some senses, reuniting. One would choose life and to be with those he loved, the other had nothing left and chose to fight, seeking…. Yosho could tell that Terry wanted attrition, wanted to fight and destroy…. To destroy that which had destroyed him.

He sighed, shaking his head. He was merely distracting himself from the real problem, though. Him, as the Emperor… what would he do?

Ryouko paused, a small smile forming on her lips. "Say," she asked, "what if I show you some new tricks?"

Blinking, Ranma considered. What did he have to lose? The woman didn't seem to want to fight him… anymore. "Okay," he said cautiously. "What did you have in mind?"

The cyan-haired woman smirked, rising up through the ceiling. Ranma hesitated… he had wanted to get some water and talk to Atsuko, but…. "Fine," he muttered, rising to follow her. As he passed through the ceiling, he noticed it was getting easier to levitate and phase through things.

He was fifty meters above the house before he stopped, having reached the point Ryouko had paused at. She frowned, considering. "Okay," she drawled, "why don't you show me what you got?"

Ranma grimaced, crossing his arms over his chest. "I did that," he grumbled. "And for some reason, I woke up here."

Wincing, Ryouko acquiesced, "You're right, sorry…"

Ranma shrugged, uncrossing his arms. "Okay, so how did you do that thing where you moved so fast I couldn't see it?"

The woman stared at him for a moment, thinking, and then answered, "That's teleportation. It's simple. You just need to be able to see where you want to you, and then move yourself there."

Ranma frowned, considering. Moving himself just by thinking about it? It wasn't a very good explanation. He turned to look down at the yard, imagining himself suddenly there, but nothing happened. Grimacing, he concentrated, while Ryouko instantly passed from one side of him to the other. "See?" she asked.

He shook his head, closing his eyes. The yard. He could see it in his mind's eye, Washuu sitting next to Yosho, and how she would look were he to be on the yard with her, rather than fifty meters above it. The table, of course, and the stack of watermelons, Keitaro and the two girls he was still talking to… the way the house would look were he there. Then, he felt it, like some switch in his mind that he merely had to throw and —

— dazed, he opened his eyes. He was a few centimeters over the yard, just like he had thought he would be. Washuu and Yosho turned to look at him, while everyone else seemed oblivious. Ryouko appeared at Ranma's side a moment later, and then the other boy — Tenchi? — and the woman with long purple hair turned to look at the pair of them.

Ranma grinned slowly, looking at his hands. "Okay," he said, "this could be useful.

Ryouko smirked, nodding. "I know."

Ranma snorted, shaking his head, and struggled again, finding it easier this time. In an instant he was —

— above the compound again, and Ryouko appeared next to him a moment later. "Ugh," he groaned. That makes me dizzy."

Ryouko waved a hand dismissively, "You get used to it. C'mon, follow me." With that, she pointed at one of the Juraian warships, its ponderous bulk still circling the harbor. "Let's race."

Ranma grinned slowly. "You're on."

Washuu watched the pair teleport away, smiling softly. "It could be worse," she commented. Ran-oh-ki made a disparaging noise from nearby, rousing himself and crawling into her lap. Raising an eyebrow, the scientist scratched the bottom of his chin. "Is your partner forgetting something?" she asked.

Ran-oh-ki nodded solemnly.

Shaking her head, Washuu whispered, "I'm sure it's okay. He'll remember, and he's been through a lot already.

Ran-oh-ki could only nod in agreement again.

Washuu shook her head, smirking, and glanced to the side as Cologne returned, bounding over a low building with a small stack of metal boxes balanced on one hand. The woman lit in the yard, and counted heads. "A few too many," she pronounced, "but Ranma's got enough appetite to take care of that problem, most likely."

Snorting, Washuu shook her head, while Ran-oh-ki raised his head to sniff inquisitively at the air. He made a soft, curious noise, and Washuu rolled her eyes. "Silly little…" the rest was cut off, as Ranma suddenly reappeared above the yard.

Ranma grinned, Ryouko appearing at his side a moment later, pouting. "Cheater," she grumbled.

The boy's grin widened, and he turned to look at Ryouko. "No," he corrected, "I beat you, fair and square."

Her pout increased, and she muttered, "It's not fair that you're faster than me."

Ranma rolled his eyes, his smile not lessening. "Hey, rat," he called out, as Ran-oh-ki launched himself at the boy's ankle. "Ow! I didn't forget, I came back… Sheesh…." Ranma snatched his partner up by the nape of his neck, leaving the creature to dangle harmlessly from his fingers, obviously annoyed.

Offering an apologetic smile, Ranma set his partner on his shoulder, and turned to stride back towards the large building. Washuu pursed her lips thoughtfully, but decided to let him be for the time. Cologne thought much the same, and handed a bowl of ramen to the scientist, pausing after a moment to offer another to Yosho.

The man accepted his with muted thanks, still lost in thought. When Tenchi approached with Ayeka and Ryouko, Cologne repeated her offer of the ramen, which all accepted, sitting in a rough circle with Washuu, Cologne, and Yosho.

Washuu watched Tenchi closely, as he smiled encouragingly at Ryouko, and in silent approval of her apology. Reading the emotion in Tenchi's gaze, Ryouko flushed, staring at the bowl of soup in her lap. Washuu fought momentarily for control, resisting the urge to laugh — Ryouko's mood swings when it came to Tenchi were sometimes outlandishly erratic. Clingy and seductive one second, shy and awkward the next.

She kept her counsel to herself, though, and expected that Ryouko would be able to navigate her way through the tangle of a relationship herself. The advice that had been given earlier would take Ryouko far, if she could remember to heed it.

Ranma emerged from the building a moment later, trailed by Nuku, who had Ran-oh-ki perched on her head. The girl looked around, seeming surprised to see so many people in one place. Patting the ground next to her, Washuu gestured Ranma to join her. Nodding, Ranma joined the rough circle with Nuku, followed a moment later by Keitaro, Seta, Terry, and the two girls.

Shaking her head, Cologne managed to produce enough ramen for all present, but only just barely. "Always plan to serve more people than you really expect to have to," she murmured.

Washuu smirked, glancing around at the assembled people, and broached the question, "So, who's going, and who's staying?"

Cologne snorted wryly, "You know my answer. I'll stay. I have no desire to abandon my home or my people."

Terry nodded in agreement. "I'll fight," he offered, turning to glance at Seta.

Seta grinned in embarrassment, fishing a note from his pocket. "According to this," he explained, "I should have gone already. But I gave my ticket to Haruka and Sarah."

Keitaro nodded knowingly, as one of the girls with him fished a note from her own overalls. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "I got one of those too! But I decided to stay with Keitaro-kun."

His normally calm and composed demeanor failed him, as Keitaro gaped at the girl, "You… you could have left, and you stayed?" The other girl with Keitaro seemed equally stunned. "But… well, you have another chance to go now. You should, really. You and Narusegawa-san."

The other girl, the one with lighter hair, shook her head. "You're coming with us, Keitaro. Even Motoko's leaving."

Hanging his head, Keitaro surrendered. "Then I guess I'm leaving with Otohime-chan and Narusegawa-san."

Seta sighed, "I as well. Haruka insisted that I come back to her…"

Ayeka cleared her throat, being the next in the circle, and said carefully, "We will be returning to Jurai in an attempt to hasten the evacuation… we do not need to be here to fight for the survival of your fellows."

Tenchi nodded silently, and Ryouko recovered her composure enough to bob her head in agreement. From that, all eyes turned to Yosho, who winced. "I," he explained nervously, "I'm going… going back to Jurai. I'll… I'll see what I can do there."

None questioned his answer, instead turning to the next in the circle, Nuku. She blinked in confusion for a moment, then declared, "Nuku-Nuku will follow Ranma-san."

Ranma blinked, glancing at the girl askance. She smiled encouragingly at him, and he shrugged. "I'm staying here," he stated firmly, "my work isn't done yet." Staring Nuku directly in the eyes, he asked, "Are you sure that you want this, Atsuko? It could be safer if you leave."

She shook her head resolutely. "Nuku-Nuku wants to be close to Ranma."

Ranma twitched, wincing, and Washuu noticed Cologne mirroring the wince. "Um… what do you mean?" Ranma asked cautiously.

Nuku latched onto Ranma's arm exuberantly, nearly dislodging their respective soup bowls. "Nuku-Nuku wants to stay with Ranma-san." Nuzzling his shoulder affectionately, she exclaimed, "Ranma-san is like Papa-san to Nuku-Nuku!"

Thrown by Nuku-Nuku's display of affection, Ran-oh-ki landed in a small pile, glowering balefully before climbing into Ranma's lap. As Nuku disengaged herself from Ranma's arm, he set the empty bowl aside, grinning nervously. "Um, okay. Yeah, yeah, okay." He took a deep breath, gathering himself, and took a moment to study Nuku, as she busied herself with the soup bowl. Everyone else simply watched him expectantly. With much less shakiness in his voice, he commented, "I can handle that."

Washuu smirked, shaking her head slowly. Cologne coughed, muttering, "Kids these days…"

Ranma spared a glance for the woman, before clearing his throat. "Anyway," he said, "what's the plan here? As soon as those," he gestured towards the ships overhead, "leave, I'm sure all those reavers that are hiding under the ground are going to come out and attack all at once."

Grimacing, Washuu shook her head. "We don't know that," she warned. "They might stay down there long enough for us to leave."

Scowling, Ranma shook his head. "Not going to happen," he stated resolutely. "The damn things set a trap, maybe for me, maybe for someone else. They're lots smarter than you think they are.

Cologne interjected, waggling a finger at the pair. "No need to argue, you two. The answer is simple. Hope for the best, plan for the worst."

Washuu swallowed back her words. She couldn't really refute Ranma, as much as she didn't want to think that something as dangerous as the reavers was intelligent. "Okay," she said, "that's true. In that case, what should we do?"

Ranma scowled, muttering, "What can we do? The things are monsters — I have enough trouble fighting them one at a time, and that guy said there were twelve of them around here, right?"

"And at least two more underneath the bay."

"There's only one of me," Ranma grumbled. "I don't know what to do." Washuu winced sympathetically, seeing the difficulty in Ranma's expression — and knowing how hard it was for him to admit that. Maybe being beaten in a fight with Ryouko hadn't been that bad, except…

She pushed that thought away. That was something to deal with later.

Nuku spoke into the silence, surprising nearly everyone. "Nuku-Nuku knows… Mama-san and Papa-san left Nuku-Nuku with something…" she trailed off, her cat-ear-like sensors rising and twitching slightly. "Nuku-Nuku has something."

Washuu raised an eyebrow, prompting, "What is it?"

As if reciting from memory, Nuku said, "'Mishima Heavy Industries has an array of orbital weaponry, which can, in the face of the monster invasion, be used for the purposes of a defensive screen.'"

Washuu's other eyebrow rose to join the first, and she accessed her terminal, checking sensor readings of some of the nearby ships. Freya-oh was the highest in altitude at the moment, and the captain had left a channel open for sensor information, saving Washuu the trouble of sending a formal request.

After a moment of re-orientation, while everyone waited patiently for her to finish, she had the scanners sweeping upwards, instead of down. "Ah," she remarked, "I think I've found them. There are three, but why are they all together?"

Nuku shrugged, shaking her head. "Mama-san and Papa-san… never finished it," she mumbled, looking downward again.

Washuu nodded, gleaning what information she could from the readings. "This is… amazing," she managed, stunned. "How did the Terrans come up with the technology to create a positronic laser array? This is far too complex for any current computer to run manually even if it works…." Sighing, she looked up from the screen. Whoever had built it was a genius, generations ahead of their time. Washuu considered that for a moment. They had built Nuku, too, and she was complex beyond the comprehension of any Terran scientist that she had known of.

"So… what does that mean?" Ranma asked, obviously confused.

Washuu rubbed at her temples, still scanning through the information trickling in. "Well, Ranma, it means that we were given an ace up our sleeves we might not have had, before. The tricky thing is, I'm not sure how to operate it, yet. It looks like it's designed to be operated only from one specific point, that's… nearby. Near the harbor, actually." She muttered, checking the sensor readings against the coordinates she had found. "There's a structure near the harbor. That's where the control center is…" she grumbled, wondering at the complexity involved.

Ranma blinked. "Huh?"

Rolling her eyes, Washuu explained, "There's a weapon in orbit that can help us slow the reavers, probably, but it's dangerous, and I don't know how to control it yet. We can control it from here," she pointed at the map on the screen of her terminal, "but I'm not sure how yet."

One of Nuku's 'ears' twitched, and she smiled brightly. "Nuku-Nuku is the key."

Ranma shrugged, glancing around. "Well," he commented, "that seems easy. We have Atsuko go there, use the weapon, and stall the reavers long enough for us to escape."

Washuu nodded. "It could work," she opined, "but… we can hope it won't have to."

Smirking, Ranma stood. "How much longer do we have before these ships leave, anyway?"

Ayeka answered before Washuu could, her voice calm and composed, "We will be departing in an hour or so. The Juraian Home Fleet is actively teleporting people from the outermost reaches aboard right now." She turned to Yosho, as though she were going to say more, but instead remained silent.

Ranma glanced towards the sky, frowning. Washuu understood his thoughts, too. The ships would be leaving near sunset. Alone in the dark with the reavers…

Yosho stared upwards, knowing that any one of the ships above could bear him away, and now, one of them would. To be taken to his father, and then…. He coughed, whipping his head back down to regard Ayeka levelly. "How much time do we have?" he asked.

Ayeka blinked, surprised, and replied, "Um, a little less than two hours, Yosho-sama."

Yosho bit his lip, looking upwards. Juraian dreadnoughts were fast, but from surface to the far side of the moon, where his father — and the Throne — were waiting…. "It's not enough time. I need to get to Father, and quickly." He punched the ground at his side angrily, wishing he had more time, time enough to get to his father before….

Ryouko smirked, waving at him from her position. "I have Ryo-oh-ki, Yosho… what's the rush for?" she asked.

Yosho quieted for a moment, considering. "I have to speak with the Emperor." He turned to look at Washuu levelly, stating, "I'm going to need Tsunami to meet me there. Can you please ask her to be there for me?"

The redheaded scientist nodded slowly. "Yes," she said, frowning thoughtfully, "but… why?"

He shook his head, a slow smile forming on his lips. "Nothing… you'll see. Tenchi? Come. Let us meet with my father."

The boy blinked in surprise, then nodded, climbing to his feet and shooting a questioning glance at Ryouko. The cyan-haired woman shrugged, holding out one hand and concentrating. A few moments later, Ryo-oh-ki leapt into the extended hand, to springboard upwards and transform into ship-form, displaced air rushing over everyone below as static electricity arced harmlessly across the ship's spines, and a piercing wail rang out from the ship.

Ranma's jaw dropped, as he looked from the ship to Ran-oh-ki, and then back to the ship, and at Ran-oh-ki again. Yosho couldn't help but smile at that. "Ryouko?" he asked the woman.

She raised an eyebrow at him, looking askance. "Yeah?"

Yosho shot a meaningful look at the woman, "I'd like you to stay here, if you don't mind. I think there are some things you could explain…"

She pouted, but glanced at Tenchi and nodded. At that signal, Ryo-oh-ki gathered Tenchi, Ayeka, Yosho, and the guardians up, then majestically ascended, while the Juraian ships widened their circuits to allow a clear passage.

"Huh," Ranma said, collecting his wits. "He could have said goodbye first."

Washuu blinked, looking at him, and shrugging. "He probably wanted to take care of something," she said.

He nodded, glancing at Ryouko, who pouted at the disappearing ship, which had already dwindled into a point of light in the sky. Frowning, Ranma asked, "Why did he ask you to stay here?"

Surprised, Ryouko turned to look at Ranma, and responded with a shrug. "I'm not really sure," she admitted.

Ranma sighed, turning to look at his partner, curled up in a ball in his lap and looking oddly… smug… somehow. The furry creature watched him through one half-lidded eye. "So," Ranma prompted, scratching Ran-oh-ki's chin, "you can turn into one of those big ugly thing?" For a moment, Ranma got the distinct impression that he would be bitten, but his partner sniffed instead, curling himself up more tightly, releasing a great yawn. "Right," he grumbled.

Ryouko snorted, sinking to the ground again, while Keitaro and the girls with him began chattering about something quietly. The cyan-haired woman glanced at the others for a moment, doodling idly on the dirt with one finger, before turning to look at Ranma. "You know," she commented, "I could still probably show you a thing or two… if you're having trouble with the reavers, I might have a trick or two that could help you."

Ranma blinked, considering. "Well," he said slowly, "we need to get Atsuko to that place in the bay as soon as we can… so that she can help out once the ships leave."

Terry coughed loudly, standing. "Ranma, I can take care of that. It should be no problem, and anything that can grant you an edge in this war… you should take," he warned.

Washuu nodded her support. "That's right," she said, "and while we're at it, Urashima-san? I'm going to call down to have you picked up." She blinked, remembering, and glanced towards the nearby building, adding, "And Suu, of course." Sighing, she typed in some notes on her terminal, smiling softly at something she saw. "Saryu-oh will be picking you up in a few seconds."

Ranma glanced upwards, as a searching beam of light extended from one of the ships, halting on Keitaro, Seta, and the two girls with them. They only had enough time to look surprised before they were borne upwards, into the waiting vessel above. A secondary beam searched over the house for a moment, nearly as an afterthought, and stole away the still-sleeping Suu.

Washuu smiled to herself softly, staring upwards. Ranma felt he could guess what she was thinking. That many more people saved.

The scientist cleared her throat, glancing at Ranma meaningfully. "If we're going to be doing this, we'd best get to work," she remarked sternly. "Bogard-san, if you could take Nuku-san…" she mumbled for a moment, producing a sheet of paper with a map from her terminal somehow. "If you could take Nuku-san here, that would be ideal." She glanced around for a moment, looking for something. "I'm afraid I don't quite have the time to build you a radio—"

Atsuko shook her head, grinning. "Nuku-Nuku doesn't need radio!" she exclaimed, gesturing to her ear-like sensors. "Nuku-Nuku can hear just fine, only, Papa-san and Mama-san said that… Nuku-Nuku shouldn't, since people can get upset…" she trailed off, slowly sliding back into the dejected figure that Ranma first remembered meeting, in Yokohama.

"It's okay," he assured, her, patting her on the shoulder comfortingly. "Just make sure you only use it when it's important." Ran-oh-ki sneezed in his sleep, waking himself, and gave Ranma what he was sure was a skeptical look. "Er…. Anyway, take care of yourself, and if there's something wrong, just do what Terry says."

Terry nodded, accepting the directions, and glancing around. "It's a ways away," he commented to Atsuko. "Think you can run to the bay with me in less than an hour?" She nodded eagerly, and the two raced away with a speed that Ranma would have envied, if he weren't simply able to fly.

He smirked at that, drawing some small solace from the thought. "Okay," he asked Washuu, "what next?"

Rising to her feet, and stretching, the scientist banished her terminal. "Well," she mused, "I need to get to the harbor to organize things. Cologne-san, will you be coming with me?"

The old woman nodded, gathering up her previously discarded staff. "Yes," she remarked dryly, "I have things to attend to beforehand. I'll need to return to Nerima for a moment. Would you care to join me?"

Washuu frowned thoughtfully. "I do need to hurry to the harbor, and it's some distance away…"

Ranma snapped his fingers. "Easy," he said, "I can take you there." He shook his head, wishing he had remembered when Atsuko and Terry left. "If we're in a hurry, that might be a better idea, too."

The scientist blinked, as Ranma rose, moving the tired Ran-oh-ki from his lap, to his shoulder. Before she could comment, he swept her off her feet, and rose into the air. "This should be easy," he murmured, "since I remember what the Nekohanten looks like…." He closed his eyes, concentrating, and shifted where he was.

To his relief, when he opened his eyes, he was where he thought he would be, a thoroughly shocked Washuu in his arms, and a completely unimpressed Ran-oh-ki on his shoulder. He set the scientist down, smirking to himself. Ryouko landed nearby some moments later, staring at Ranma in confusion. "How'd you do that?" she and Washuu asked in tandem. The scientist and her daughter stared at each other for a moment, then back towards Ranma.

He blinked, shrugging. "Just like she showed me," he said, gesturing to Ryouko.

Cologne snorted, jumping from Ryouko's shoulder to land on the street. "I'll be back in a moment," she warned, ambling into the restaurant.

Ryouko ignored the woman, shaking her head. "I can't teleport and take people with me. At least, not very far. And I can't teleport to a place I can't see, either. And I can't teleport as fast as you…." By the woman's expression, he guessed that if she were a cat her tail would be lashing.

Ranma shrugged, slightly unnerved by her hostility. "Well, I can't throw fireballs around like you can," he managed.

Ryouko shook her head, stalking around Ranma in a circle, looking him over up and down, as though she had missed something with her primary inspection. "Can you phase through things while carrying someone?"

He grimaced, shaking his head. "I wish," he grumbled. "Then I wouldn't have had that trouble with Nonoko earlier."

Ryouko frowned, pausing her visual survey. "Are you sure about that?" she asked.

Washuu nodded, interrupting, "Of course. Phasing requires a specific quantum alignment that the Masu within yourselves generate. This quantum alignment essentially allows you to slip just to the side of matter, since all matter in the universe is filled with about ninety-nine percent empty space, save for the kind of matter compression found in black holes. That means that Ranma has a lower affinity for realigning himself with local matter, because the template for his powers was derived from Tsunami, not me."

Ranma and Ryouko blinked in confusion for a long moment, before Ryouko managed to understand a small part of what was said. "So," she said slowly, frowning, "all my powers are based off you?"

Washuu smiled, crossing her arms over her chest. "Correct!"

"But you can't fly," Ryouko pointed out. "And even though you can make a shield like me, you can't phase through things."

Shrugging, Washuu held out a hand, allowing a glowing ball of red energy to form there. "The phasing is initially based on the Masu, not me. And there are other things thrown into the mix rather than just my own abilities, or the Masu, which may enhance other aspects that I haven't quantified yet. Take your specialized eyes and ears, for one, and your heightened senses of smell and touch." She clenched her hand, the ball of light turning into the blazing bar of fire that Ranma recognized as her blade. "Of course, we don't know everything that Tsunami can do, and how much of it Ranma's inherited. But some of the tricks he has will be different from yours, and he might not be able to do some of the things you can."

Ranma frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. "So what does this mean? That Ryouko can't teach me anything because we're too different?"

Washuu dismissed the small sword of energy that she had generated, and shook her head. "Not entirely," she explained, "just that some of the things you can do will be different. Note that your quantum signature is more variable than Ryouko's, so you'll heal faster, and can probably manage the body duplication trick more easily." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Yes, Tsunami's template would probably let you do that very well. I don't know if you can make a projectile like Ryouko and I could, or if you're limited to the blade… but aside from what you've gained from her, you also have your own rather impressive abilities, such as your 'soul of ice'. However, back to the subject of things that we know for certain, and the differences between you…. Ryouko, for example, can only teleport herself in a direct line of sight, and not take anyone with her, unless she takes a lot longer to set it up, then it's a slow process over any real distance. You, on the other hand, can't phase through objects with anyone aside from yourself."

"What about the rat?" Ranma asked, jabbing a finger towards the creature on his shoulder. Ran-oh-ki bit the appendage, causing Ranma to wince, and retrieve it.

"He follows your template directly, Ranma." The scientist frowned for a moment. "There's much less inheritance of ability in that direction, since he's much more specifically engineered than you…. Suffice to say that the Masu inherent abilities will be apparent in him. The ability to phase through objects and levitate, as well as his own… sub-dimensional aspects, though that will readily become apparent later."

Ranma stared at Washuu for a long moment, Ryouko mirroring his blank and confused expression in silence. "Riiiight…" he drawled, turning back to Ryouko. "I think she said something about a body duplication trick. Can you show me that one?"

Ryouko nodded eagerly, shooting a mildly horrified glance at the scientist before taking to the skies, Ranma in tow.

Washuu stared upwards at the departing pair, pouting as they rose higher. "Was it something I said?" she asked no one in particular.

Cologne took a deep, slow breath to keep herself from laughing aloud. "Perhaps," she responded from the doorway of the restaurant, flanked by a somewhat sheepish Ryouga and Mousse. "These two idiots," she explained, taking care not to hide all of the affection in her voice, "have decided to stick it out, and stay with us."

The redheaded scientist smiled at that, seeming pleased. "More help is always good." She frowned, remembering something. "Just be sure not to try and kill Ranma. That would be, ah, a bad idea."

Mousse and Ryouga nodded vigorously in understanding.

Yosho shifted his feet irritably. Tenchi tried to focus on the task of piloting, largely moot, since Ryo-oh-ki could pilot without any real need for his aid, but it gave him a moment to look busy and be alone with his thoughts.

Ayeka, perhaps understanding of his situation, stood demurely at Yosho's side, flanked by her ever-present guardians. For their part, they hadn't needed to serve her in the capacity of defense, and that was something that Tenchi was all-too glad for. Ryouko got in enough trouble….

He frowned, as the ship paused, breaking free of the Earth's atmosphere and leaving the world below sparking like a giant jewel, the light of the sun illuminating everything below save for the dark swath of ocean beyond the terminator.

At least, that's what Tenchi's memories from school labeled the line of darkness. He reeled for a moment, as the viewscreen reoriented itself on the moon, wondering at the enormity — and impossibility — of his situation. A year ago, and he was nothing more than an average student, with average student woes, and a slightly abnormal grandfather.

Not 'Representative for Colony 0-315', with all of the hastily taught knowledge that Ayeka could instill him with, and the duties that the title bestowed on him. Chief among those saving the planet. Quite a jump, that, from high school student with an elderly and confused grandfather to… well, whatever he was.

Except that, now, Tenchi knew, his 'grandfather' was actually much older than he had seemed. And Tenchi had met people the likes of which made Yosho appear to be the calm and reserved man that Tenchi saw him as, rather than the ornery and misbehaving shrine-keeper he had first seen him as. But then… did Yosho manage to lose himself in that simple facade, forgetting that he was the son of the Emperor of Jurai?

Maybe it was hard for him, too…. But Tenchi still couldn't wholly understand the man, and rather than try and speak, busied himself with the controls, watching as the moon passed beneath them, and they drew into its shadow… and near the Throne.

Yosho's face betrayed a knowing smile; one tempered with what Tenchi thought might be apprehension.

"What are you planning, Jiji?" he whispered to himself.


To be continued.

Author's notes:

9-02-01 — revised, corrections, etc.
9-07-01 — revised. Thanks to Jason Liao for C&Cing.
10-04-01 — General polishing/grammar fixes.

Whoops. This should have been RI four… :p

But this story writes itself, so this is what you get for now. Please find it in your hearts to forgive me. ^^;;;

Part 5
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