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Part 5

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: Kitty Films and Naoko Takeuchi (Sailor Moon), 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). Nuku Nuku is from the OAV, not Dash or TV. Sailor Moon occurs, well, at some point in the series, but it's something of an alt anyway. This fic uses the bizarrely vague 'Pick One!' scenario. Enjoy.

If you have it, I recommend playing 'Sou Gan' during… well, you'll know where it should be played.

"From a historical standpoint, this will largely be identified as nothing more than an odd footnote, but from a relative standpoint… the impact of Emperor Yosho's decision set in motion changes that will doubtlessly change the way that the entire hierarchy of Jurai works. Ironic, really, since he did so little to move events in this direction, other than his first official act. Actually, —" [record truncated].

—Laruma Karau of Minor House Laruma, Historian, House Laruma — Recovered fragment from personal archives circa Old Terran Year 1999-2000

Terry let part of his mind drift, focusing instead on the rhythm of motion, smooth, leaping bounds, the cat-like girl pacing him easily. He glanced at the map that the redhead had given him one more time, then stuffed it into a pocket mid-leap.

Nuku kept up, even when he increased his speed, going at what he judged surpassed the speed of the average vehicle. There was, at least, a certain… freedom… in the act of simple running.

Even if he couldn't run forever.

He skidded to a halt, as more and more people began to line the streets, first the occasional couple or lone person hurrying in the same direction, then whole small families, and larger clusters of associates pressing towards a common goal. The harbor, he realized.

Nuku stopped behind him, looking around curiously, and not even winded. He snorted, eyeing the streets ahead. As wide as Tokyo's streets traditionally were, only packed tightly with people, more of the worrisomely vast wall of humanity trickling in to try and cram their way forward. It was nothing short of sheer luck, as far as Terry could tell, that kept the masses from breaking down and panicking.

And a good thing, too. He shook his head, not even wanting to think of the mess that it would cause were such a thing to happen.

Turning his attention to the immediate problem, he glanced at Nuku, jerking his thumb towards the skyscrapers lining the streets. "Hey," he asked, "you think you can jump between those and pass overhead without falling?"

The girl nodded attentively, bracing herself for a jump, and Terry smiled slightly at the sight.

She certainly had a lot of energy. "Well," he remarked, "let's get going then!" With that, he vaulted out across the crowd, ignoring the gasps and yells of surprise, and rebounding off the hard concrete between the floors of the nearest skyscraper, angling inwards and deeper above the crowd. A glance behind him showed that the girl was still trailing him, her arcs higher and slower. "Just hope we don't start a riot," he whispered, too quietly to be heard over the rushing air around him.

Wringing her hands in agitation, a young woman paced the hallway, unsure of what she should do. "Oh," she muttered, "I feel so helpless!"

Nabiki looked up from where she had slumped to the floor in the hallway. "What's bothering you, Oneesan?"

Flustered, Kasumi sank to the floor opposite her sister, and sighed. "I feel so helpless," she muttered again. "Saotome-san is so unwell, and poor Ranma-kun!" She wrung her hands once more, prompting Nabiki to stretch out and hold Kasumi's hands to keep them from fidgeting.

"Oneesan," Nabiki said firmly. "Listen to me. Ranma's… Ranma's better off without that stuck-up…" she trailed off, composing herself. "I'm sure that Nodoka's just a little unbalanced. With some time, she should be able to calm down, and since Ranma's… pet… ate her sword, she's no longer dangerous."

Kasumi frowned uncertainly. "I don't… we can't go to the harbor without her, though. We can't just abandon her."

Nabiki snorted, shaking her head and releasing Kasumi's hands to slump against the wall. "If you say so," she grumbled dourly.

Both girls broke of their ruminations as a pale beam of light swept through the walls of the house, bathing the pair and brightening in intensity until Nabiki was forced to close her eyes. When she opened them again, she found herself sitting in the center of a vast wooden deck, Kasumi and Nodoka close by and looking equally stunned.

A man wearing official-looking robes attended by a tiny wooden cylinder floating over each shoulder approached, nodding slowly and scanning a small display that the cylinders projected before him.

"Hello," he pronounced slowly, "I hope this translator is working correctly. Are any of you injured, or required back on the surface of the planet?"

Nabiki stood slowly, staring about her. The vast wooden deck was massive, and gargantuan walls loomed in the distance, along with a ceiling some dozen meters above her. Flashes of light appeared with somewhat spastic regularity across the wooden deck, leaving more dazed people to stare about in conclusion.

Finally having regained her feet, Nabiki fell abruptly back down, landing suddenly on her rump. "Oh, wow," she managed, the enormity of the situation setting in. They were leaving Earth… abandoning the planet that had belonged to humanity for all of the history that Nabiki had ever known. And Ranma was staying down there to fight, and try and keep it for humans.

A figure stood before her, bending low and placing a hand on her shoulder. "Nabiki? When Kasumi comes to her senses, tell her that I love her. I love both of you." Nabiki blinked, trying to work her jaw as the figure — her father — straightened, and approached the man with the wooden cylinders. "I need to return. Can you please send me back?"

Wait, Nabiki tried to say. Stop, don't go. But she was still too stunned, and no words came, until Soun vanished in a sudden flash of light.

Another man appeared near her a moment later, dressed smartly in his business suit, somewhat rumpled from the transition, a small girl held protectively in his arms as he stared about in astonishment. The young man with the cylinders approached the man, and asked his question, "Are any of you injured, or required back on the surface of the planet?"

The salaryman shook his head slowly, still clutching the girl protectively. "I'm… okay," he said slowly. Nodding in satisfaction at the man, the questioner moved on towards the next flash of light.

Another man in official-seeming robes, accompanied by a trio of slightly smaller wooden cylinders over one shoulder, approached. His bearing screamed 'military' to Nabiki, and she gathered her will, trying to collect her senses. "Hello, and welcome aboard the Freya-oh. My name is Laruma Genoh, and I'm with the Silver Journey — Ginraii. Can you please give me your name?"

Nabiki numbly heard herself say, "Tendo Nabiki. This is my sister Tendo Kasumi."

Genoh nodded, glancing at the trio of wooden cylinders to check something, and evidently pleasing himself with what he had observed. "Thank you, Tendo-san. There will be a briefing before we cross the Gate and enter Juraian space." Genoh sighed softly, and walked towards the salaryman, still holding his daughter, and having calmed slightly. "Hello, and welcome aboard the Freya-oh. My name is Laruma Genoh, and I'm with the Silver Journey — Ginraii. Can you please give me your name?"

"Joudai Arashi," the salaryman mumbled. "This is my daughter, Yuki. I'm with the Tokyo Index and Exchange. I summarize the Index…" he trailed off into silence, looking as lost as Nabiki felt. "What happens now?"

Genoh didn't have an easy answer for that question, either.

The street seemed somehow empty with Ranma gone. And one of the strange women with him… Ranma managed to fall in with a lot of strange people, though. A few more shouldn't be too surprising, even if Ranma was less… human… and more like a character off some cheap pulp manga.

Shaking his head, Ryouga glanced around, wondering what would happen next. Mousse eyed the redheaded woman curiously, adjusting his glasses from time to time. They were both dying to ask the same question, but both knew better than to do so. He sighed, scratching at his bandana morosely, and sank into one of the abandoned seats.

Mousse joined him after a moment, the two having settled into a companionable silence. Washuu and Cologne murmured quietly to each other about China, the old woman having produced a pile of charts and numerous baubles earlier.

He sighed again, wishing he could trust himself to walk outside… but Checkers had settled down for a nap, and rousing the dog just to wander about didn't suit him. He grimaced, trying to think about the situation rationally.

"So," he said, struggling to think of something to talk about, "what do you think is going to happen next?"

Mousse looked thoughtful, glancing towards the two women, and shrugged. "Us going to China," he said. "I guess, at any rate. The old mummy probably wants to go home… our village is there, among other things. Probably a few things back home that might help, too."

Ryouga raised an eyebrow. "Things that might help?"

The bespectacled boy nodded, taking off his glasses to clean them on the sleeve of his robe. "Yeah," he said, donning the thick lenses again, "I think that throwing spring of drowned duck water or something like that on the monsters would help us out quite a bit."

Rocking back in his chair slightly, Ryouga nodded. "That's true," he admitted. "I didn't think of that."

Mousse simply shrugged. "I just hope we don't end up being totally useless. I keep worrying that I should be doing more…" he trailed off uncomfortably.

Ryouga nodded, staring at the table before him in thought. Was that it? It was jealousy? Ranma was still doing better than they — rescuing his fiancées, and then coming back to keep fighting, despite his losses. Was that it? Was he simply trying to one-up his old rival? Hanging his head, Ryouga sighed. Had he been that petty towards Ranma?

It was a bleak day indeed. "Well," he said, raising his head to glance at Mousse, buried in his own thoughts. "At least the day's almost over."

Mousse snorted, nodding.

Ranma hung in the air, still and relaxed. From his altitude, he could see over the mountains and on to the faint smudged line that was the horizon. The world was spread out beneath him, the sparkling seas to the south glimmering against the light of the setting sun, just barely visible some eighty kilometers and more away.

Further west, not far from the sun's own position lower in the sky, Fuji was clearly visible, the nearly cloudless sky being a welcome change from the weather that Ranma had become accustomed to. A passing cloud drifted below him, fleece-like in its texture, though he had been surprised to see what they were like when he had gotten closer.

A dark shadow suddenly eclipsed the cloud, as one of the Juraian warships from above altered its course, descending to the city below. Ranma watched, fascinated, as the dreadnought pierced the cloud, sinking majestically through the flimsy layer of vapor to plunge downward, trailing mist behind it.

"Huh," he managed, transfixed.

Ryouko nodded from her position nearby, watching the same scene. "I've seen more spectacular things in my time," she commented, "but… it's certainly not bad to look at." She glanced at Ranma covertly, smirking.

He snorted, taking a deep breath, and letting himself… drop. Ryouko squawked in surprise, diving after him as he grinned, watching the city accelerate towards him, hands outstretched.

The air snapped and whistled about him as he fell, until he righted himself, much lower, savoring each moment of the descent. "That was fun," he laughed, as Ryouko caught up to him, confused.

"What?" she asked.

He shrugged, drifting towards the ground gently. "I just… I don't know. Have you ever done that, before? Just… let yourself go for a bit, and then caught yourself again? Maybe you're just more used to flying than me."

Ryouko looked at him thoughtfully. "You think it's fun?" she asked, sounding more puzzled than she looked.

Shrugging again, he replied, "Well, pretty much, yeah."

She continued to look at him appraisingly. "I guess if it were new to me, I might feel the same way…"

He laughed softly, and was about to suggest that she try it when Ran-oh-ki shifted suddenly, causing Ranma to glance at his shoulder in surprise. How had the little furry thing managed to hang on? Further speculation was interrupted by Washuu's voice over the communicator, "Ranma? Can you come back, please? Cologne and I need to get to the harbor soon."

He sighed, accelerating towards the Nekohanten, Ryouko close by. "Okay, I'm coming," he answered.

Ayeka cleared her throat anxiously as Ryo-oh-ki pierced the thin and flimsy looking field that surrounded the Throne, sinking to rest some distance over one of the decks. The starboard deck, Ayeka noted, glancing around the flat surface, the stars sharply contrasting against the gleaming wooden floor.

Ryo-oh-ki chose that moment to transport them to the surface in a dizzying surge of light and color, before reverting from ship to the small creature that Ryouko so loved to torment. Tenchi smiled, catching it as it descended, and setting it atop Kamidake. For its part, the guardian paid its passenger no attention, simply maintaining its position flanking Ayeka.

The princess masked a grimace, as Tenchi and Yosho glanced about warily, both of them focusing on a pair of approaching royal guards.

Ayeka had taken care to recognize each of the Emperor's own bodyguards on sight, and these two were no exception. There had been surprisingly few changes after her extended absence, which alarmed her somewhat, but if it meant that she didn't lose her edge in the petty politicking that Jurai so loved, then so be it.

Giving the guards just enough time to open their mouths, she smoothly overrode them, saying, "Peruma, Saryo, it is good to see you. We seek the Emperor and time is short — take us to him."

They swallowed back their own declarations, nodding, and led the way, Ayeka demurely deferring the lead position to Yosho. He grimaced, but followed the guards, Tenchi carefully remaining a short distance behind him, yet ahead of Ayeka.

He glanced back at her, worry plain on his face. She'd have to teach him to hide that better… Not even the Minor Houses would be fooled by his best poker faces. Instead of reprimanding him, she nodded subtly, offering the merest hint of a smile. He relaxed instantly, his face smoothing to a mask of calm and readiness.

She nearly stumbled, but caught herself as he looked away. Then again, maybe he wouldn't need to be taught that much.

The rest of the journey was completed in silence, Yosho obviously wishing that it could be moved faster, though he concealed most of his ire until they reached the main audience chamber.

The Court was arrayed neatly around the Emperor, standing in the hall rather than sitting upon the formal seat — the control center of the Throne. Ayeka glanced around, hiding her search in smiles and polite nods at the surrounding courts, looking for… ah. Tsunami was there, standing nearer the throne than the Emperor. Likely to be closer to the tree, Ayeka surmised, though she kept that speculation to herself.

The Emperor's pride exceeded his skill at hiding his expression, and he smirked, nodding at Yosho as he drew near, Tenchi trailing him. Yosho coughed loudly, stopping some paces before his father, and held one hand towards Tenchi. "Give me the Tenchi-ken," he commanded quietly.

Tenchi frowned, a moment of doubt visibly passing across his features, but nodded, handing the master key to Yosho. Yosho held it in one hand, inspecting it closely, while the Court watched silently. They wouldn't say anything until the meeting between Yosho and his father was over, most likely, with the possible exception of the Emperor's wives. Of course, Ayeka had never known her mother to speak out against the Emperor in public.

Yosho eyed the key for a moment, running his fingers across the jewels in the hilt, and then looked up to meet his father's gaze. "I'm here," he said simply. "Now what?"

The Emperor cleared his throat imperiously, and nodded. "Well, it is good to see you again, my son. We said we would wait for you to return to rule Jurai for as long as it takes… and it may not even take as much time as we had thought."

Yosho shrugged, twirling the Tenchi-ken through his fingers in a brazen display of indifference. Even Tenchi winced upon seeing the breach of protocol — the only ones who looked to be unaffected were Tsunami, and Yosho himself. The Court gasped, if quietly, but no murmurs were allowed to escape. "Let's get down to the point," Yosho declared. "And that's this: you wanted me to return so that I could take the mantle of Emperor once you decided to leave it, correct?"

The Emperor nodded slowly, frowning. "Indeed —"

Yosho tossed the Tenchi-ken high into the air above, stating, "Okay then, here's the deal. You want me to come back, so make me the Emperor."

"We see no problem with that request," came the response. Brows furrowing slightly, the Emperor remarked, "It was ever our intent. Why do you request this, then?"

Smirking broadly, Yosho snatched the Tenchi-ken from the air as it fell back towards the ship's deck, and announced, "Right now."

Ayeka bit her tongue, hard, and Tenchi simply gaped openly. Misaki and Funaho exchanged a glance, and raised their eyebrows from their positions across the Court.

The Emperor shook his head slowly, "I don't…" He swore softly underneath his breath, and coughed loudly. "We do not understand."

Yosho grinned, waving the Tenchi-ken at his father. "You want me to come back, then you make me the Emperor. Right now. Not when you feel like it, not in two hours… not even in ten minutes. Right now," he demanded.

The Emperor grimaced, and Ayeka drew in a slow, hissing breath. If The Emperor said 'no', what could Yosho do? Shaking his head slowly, he appeared as though he would refuse… but he relented, dubiously. Sourly, he commented, "As… As you wish it, then. I hereby pass the crown to you, knowing that I am leaving the Empire in good hands." With that, Azusa, no longer the Emperor, removed his mantle, and handed it to Yosho hesitantly.

Tsunami glided forward smoothly, announcing, "I stand witness. Welcome to Jurai, Emperor Yosho."

Yosho donned the mantle, nodding as he tugged it on, and leaving his father to stand in confusion, and wonder what his role was, now… But then, Ayeka realized, his role was over, and Yosho was the ruler. She could see the Court boiling beneath their carefully composed exteriors. Likely they saw a way to change things to their own liking, and Yosho was horribly out of date on Court customs. Unlike Ayeka, he'd had his memories of the correct way of handing things dulled over the last seven hundred and more years of being no more than a priest at a shrine.

He eyed the Court, nodding to himself, twirling the Tenchi-ken in one hand, and grinning. "I like it," he announced. "I can get used to this."

He snapped his fingers, while Tsunami drew to a halt at his side. Ryo-oh-ki bounded to his ankles, and he leant down, scratching her behind her ears. "Well, it's been fun, all, but I'm afraid it's time for us to leave," he commented, eliciting a — this time — audible gasp in reaction from the Court.

Ayeka swallowed nervously. Whatever Yosho was planning, it couldn't be good…

The man sighed, and tossed the Tenchi-ken to Tenchi. The boy caught it belatedly, horribly confused, as Yosho slipped off the mantle of Emperor. "My first act as Emperor of Jurai," he announced, throwing the mantle towards Tenchi, after the blade, "is to step down. Congratulations, Emperor Tenchi."

Azusa nearly suffered a visible conniption fit, exploding, "Now WAIT just one moment here—"

Tsunami raised a hand, and the Emperor fell silent. In these matters, Ayeka remembered as a hollow feeling formed in the pit of her stomach, the decision could not be disputed by the Emperor. They were to be settled by the Court. The only possible allowable exception to this was the word of the Goddess of Jurai. Tsunami.

If there was no Emperor, her word was law. Addressing the entire ship, and granted the amplification of the Throne, her voice rang out, "I stand witness. Welcome to Jurai, Emperor Tenchi."

Then again, Ayeka thought, they probably never expected it to actually happen.

The court fell silent, stunned, and Azusa visibly fumed. "Yosho," he hissed, "how could you betray me so!"

Yosho shrugged indifferently, gathering Ryo-oh-ki into his hands. "About as easily as you can betray my people, Father. Now, if you don't mind, I've got a planet to get back to and defend." Dropping his voice to a whisper, he turned towards Tenchi and Ayeka. "Sorry to force you into this, but you can manage things… there… better than I can." Almost as an afterthought, he added, "And, ah, save yourself some heartache and secure a political alliance with a daughter of the former ruling house of Jurai, Tenchi."

Tenchi nodded dazedly, still staring at the mantle in his hands. The mantle of rulership. Ayeka felt her knees grow weak. "Oh, my," she managed. Tenchi. Emperor. Somehow, it made a dizzying sort of sense…

Tsunami smiled, and reached for Yosho's hands. "I applaud your choice," she told him. "Now, we must depart." So saying, she gathered his hands on her own, Ryo-oh-ki scrambling to climb atop Yosho's shoulders. Her eyes closed in concentration as a beam of light from the tree enveloped both of them, and they vanished.

Not vanished, Ayeka knew from a technical standpoint, teleported to another tree… but it was still disconcerting.

Shaking his head, Azusa stomped towards Tenchi, grumbling, "Foolish boy… he'll come back yet—"

His further words were cut off by not one, but both of his wives barring his passage. "I think not," Funaho warned, lips quirked into a smile.

Misaki nodded in agreement. "Yes, I'm afraid that I cannot reasonably allow you to approach the Emperor, in my capacity as the Supreme Commander of the Royal bodyguard."

Azusa fumbled for words, "But, I, we, that is…"

Misaki glanced at Ayeka and Tenchi, now the center of the entire Court's attention. "Besides," she stated calmly, before grabbing the former Emperor in a crushing hug, her voice escalating to a squeal, "aren't they just so cute?"

Tenchi sighed forlornly, dismissing them for a moment, and struggling into the mantle. His mantle, now. Glancing at Ayeka, he swallowed nervously, whispering, "I guess… Um… I guess this means that I should marry you now, like Jiji said, right?"

Was that what he had said? Ayeka suddenly felt very faint. "Oh, my," she managed. "But then, that would make me the Inspector General of Information, Tenchi-sama…"

He shrugged, managing a wry grin. "I couldn't think of anyone else I'd rather have there. It's just…" he trailed off, looking disappointed.

Ayeka wondered where the words that she spoke were coming from, as she heard her voice explain, "But, Tenchi-sama, the Emperor is allowed more than one wife, and could you think of a better bodyguard than Ryouko?"

Tenchi coughed nervously, flushing. "Two? Both? I mean… uh…" He glanced around the ship, the assembled Court still studying him closely. "Okay," he said after a moment. "Why not? But, uh… let's be really careful when we tell Ryouko about all of this."

"Yes," Ayeka heard her voice, much louder than she thought she intended, "and let's be sure to keep her away from fragile things when she finds out."

"Fragile things?"

"Yes, Tenchi-sama. Fragile things. Things like planets, and the Juraian Home Fleet."

Tenchi blinked at her in confusion. "Oh," he said softly, realization blooming in his eyes. "Good point."

"If you don't mind, Tenchi-sama, I'd like to faint now." And with that, everything fell to blackness.

Terry hopped over a high chain-link fence, clearing the barbed wire easily, and glancing back to make sure that the girl had no trouble. She landed lightly nearby, looking at him expectantly.

Shrugging, he turned to survey the area. The compound was large and low, except for one wide tower that rose easily twelve stories high, circular, with a blue steel and glass latticework structure covering the entire exterior. He glanced upwards, seeing the dishes that he assumed meant some kind of communications system that capped the structure haphazardly.

The faint smell of the harbor was evident, a salty tang that just barely managed to survive against the harsh smell of the city — droves of humanity, old air from automobiles, and the sour reek of wet asphalt. A glance to one side revealed a broken section of piping in a planter bordering the parking lot. The planter had flooded, and was even then flowing into the lot.

Nuku made a face at it briefly, then turned her attention back to him. "Right," he said uncertainly, marching towards the building. "Do you know your way around here?"

She nodded, staying in his shadow. The main door was like that of a traditional office building, double glass doors. The lobby was as deserted as the parking lot, a few flickering monitors for various computer screens displaying their data on Mishima Heavy. Nuku glanced around for a moment, then turned sharply on her heel, marching down one of the corridors immediately connected to the lobby.

Shrugging, Terry followed, glancing disinterestedly at the occasional posters lining the walls, until they came to a set of steel double doors, a security station built into the wall at the side. Probably a card reader, though Terry's knowledge of those was limited, and it had been smashed into oblivion as some point, leaving a tangled mess of loose wiring and random parts. He grimaced, pushing the confused Nuku behind him.

She stayed behind him, frowning mistrustfully, and followed him cautiously into the next room.

Tables filled the room in orderly rows, their surfaces littered with a strange assortment of equipment and machinery. The floor was barely visible beneath the piles of assorted junk — loose papers and stray parts pouring off the tables to pool in untidy piles. But nothing dangerous, at the moment, and there was an intact security station of some kind near the center of a large, slightly curved wall.

The base of the tower, Terry belatedly realized. And inset into the wall, a massive steel door, small dents marring the seams where it was sealed. Nuku pointed at the door. "There," she stated firmly.

Terry grumbled, leaning close to examine the door. He had no clue how to operate the security device at its side — it looked like the previous one. Like a card-reader. Sighing, he tapped at the door once, sounding it out for thickness and solidity, then drew himself into a more advantageous stance, and launched his fist at the door with a resolute, "HA!" The steel rang dully, but didn't give way.

Wincing, he drew the hand back, shaking it. "Ow," he grumbled. "Okay, maybe there's another way in."

A tall, lanky, dark-haired man pulled himself upright from one of the piles of amassed and discarded machinery, peering around blearily. Wearing a worn looking lab-coat, the man smacked his lips together tiredly, dislodging some of the devices that had somehow come to bury him. "What's going on?" he asked, his voice tired enough to suggest that he was about to fall asleep again. Blinking, he focused on Terry and Nuku, slowly waking himself up. "Oh, hey… you guys got any mayo?"

Terry blinked in confusion. The man had an accent — a horrible accent, obviously he spoke another language natively. "Um… no?" he ventured, confused.

Nuku blinked, peering at the man in consternation. "Damn," he grumbled, sighing. "You know how hard it is to eat a sub with axle grease?"

Glancing at Terry, Nuku asked, "What's a sub?"

The man shrugged, riffling through the junk on the table and producing a large hoagie. "One of these," he explained.

"Oh," she said, nodding. "Nuku-Nuku likes those better that way."

Terry shook his head, leaning against the door and checking his watch. He didn't understand what was going on, but Nuku seemed like she might.

The man gave out a put-upon sigh. "You know, in the training video, they made a big deal of how Mishima 'cares for the salaryman,' yet they can't even spend five bucks on a jar of Hellman's. You ever wonder why that is?"

Nuku's demeanor drooped visibly. "Mama-san and Papa-san… they cared."

Not seeming to have noticed, the man continued to grumble, "No, they gotta get Kroger brand mayo, which tastes like it might as well be axle grease."

Terry sighed audibly, interrupting, "Look, can you open this door? Me and the girl kinda need to get in there, if you know what I mean."

He raised an eyebrow, studying Terry. "What? Huh? Oh, yeah, that. What do you need in there for?" Before Terry could respond, the man glanced at Nuku, then grinned slyly. "Oh. I getcha." He offered a wink, pulling a keycard from one pocket.

Terry held his tongue in check, waiting. Once the door was open, that problem, at least, would be dealt with, and the man could freely think whatever he wished. He stepped away from the door to allow the technician some room, and asked, "What's your name, anyway?"

"Durant," the man said, sliding his card through a reader and punching in some numbers. "From Jersey City. Why?" Terry got no chance to reply immediately, as the card-reader emitted an unpleasant grinding noise, and spat sparks, refusing to unseal the door.

"Just curious. I'm Terry, and this is Nuku-Nuku." He winced at a secondary shower of sparks from the damaged security device. "Is it supposed to do that?"

Durant scowled, turning to glare at the card-reader like an old nemesis. "Fine. That's how we'll play it," he muttered quietly, rifling through a stack of papers, schematics, old circuitry, and half-eaten donuts. Terry wouldn't have been entirely surprised to find that the heap of junk concealed a piece of the Armor of Mars. After a mere second or so, Durant produced a weighty, but much abused-looking crowbar. He gave a feral grin, promising to descend on the hapless card-reader like the fury of heaven. "You really should have cooperated when you had the chance," he warned. "Now, I'm gonna have to make an example of you." He raised the crowbar high over his head and proceeded to beat the keycard scanner like an overzealous thug.

Terry dropped his face into his hands and sighed loudly. "Lovely," he grumbled. "This is just perfect."

Durant stopped his merciless beating, gasping for breath. The once semi-functional scanner lay in pieces, stray wires occasionally sparking fitfully.

And the door remained sealed.

The technician dropped the crowbar into the sea of discarded machinery and schematics at his side, and glared at the tables littering the room. "And let that be a lesson to you all!" he screamed.

Terry grimaced, grabbing the fallen crowbar before it could disappear. "Do you, ah… mind if I use this?" he asked.

Shrugging, Durant responded, "Sure, have a go, though I don't see why you couldn't just use the supply closet."

Rolling his eyes, Terry wedged the edge of the crowbar into the slim crack at the side of the door. Centering himself, he grinned, saying, "Now, I'll show you how a real man opens a door." With that, he flung himself against the crowbar, promptly snapping it into two pieces.

Regaining his balance, Terry stared at the two halves of the crowbar in dismay. Durant's jaw dropped and he stuttered, "Mo… Mookie?" The technician turned to look at Terry. "You… you BROKE Mookie?"

Terry shuffled his feet nervously, and handed the pieces of the crowbar back to Durant. "Uh… sorry about that."

Durant's eyes welled up with tears. "But… but… but…"

Moving past both of the men, Nuku placed her palm against a panel on the side of the door opposite the scanner, which emitted a sound, 'ker-chunk', swinging open smoothly.

Terry glanced at the doorway, resisting the urge to scream. "Hey, man… you need a little time alone with your… er… 'Mookie'?"

Durant shook his head, growling, "Fine. FINE! Go to your precious love nest! See if I care!" Grumbling, he gathered up the pieces of his crowbar like a father cradling a sick child, clutching them to his chest and whispering words of encouragement.

Terry glanced through the open door and shook his head. "Look, do yourself a favor and get to the harbor while you can. Those things'll probably be here soon."

The technician paused his ministrations on his damaged crowbar. "Things? What things? More of you, you… Mookie-breakers?" He began to sob slightly after those words, still cradling his damaged tool.

Nuku spoke up, waiting by the door, "Ranma-san says that they eat metal."

Durant looked at Terry. "Huh. You must be more hard-assed than you look."

Terry snorted, turning towards the open door, and shot back, "Yeah, something like that."

Two girls walked slowly through a deserted park, side by side. Both had long hair and fair features. The taller of the two had a long fall of chestnut, while her companion's hair was a fiery-golden mane.

The darker-haired girl eyed her companion for a moment, drawing to a halt before a tree. Their clothing was perfectly suited for a pair of normal girls walking around Tokyo on a normal day. Except, of course, they were neither normal girls, nor was it a normal day.

The blonde looked askance at her for a moment, confused, and asked, "What's up, Makoto?"

Makoto shrugged, running her fingers across the oak tree's bark. "Nothing," she said after a moment. "Nothing, Minako… just remembering my old sempai."

"Oh? Did he like trees?"

She shrugged, wondering what had brought back the memories of her long gone boyfriend so abruptly. "Not really. Well, maybe. I don't remember that part really well. Mostly I just remember his eyes… he had the most gorgeous eyes."

"I wish I had a boyfriend like your old sempai!"

Makoto snickered, shaking her head. "Who wouldn't?"

"Say… what was his name, anyway?"

Makoto sighed dreamily, already half-lost in fond remembrances. "Saotome Ranma…"

A sudden shiver running across his spine, Ranma turned to Ryouko. "You feel that?" he asked.

She glanced at him, and shrugged. "No," she said, pointing towards the ground below — the ground where Ran-oh-ki had chased a car, and a reaver had run from Ranma earlier that same day. "You see that, though?"

Ranma glanced down, observing the spot she indicated. A lone traveler in a worn brown duster, flapping against a faint breeze. "Hey… someone's wandering in. We should probably take him the harbor, or something."

Ryouko shrugged, glancing upwards at the ships. Ranma followed her gaze, curious, and watched one of the Juraian dreadnoughts emit a pale beam of light. The light coalesced into a familiar shape, high above the ground.

Ryo-oh-ki, Ryouko had named the creature — her own partner — while teaching Ranma the body duplication trick. "Looks like Yosho's back," was her only comment, as the starship sank slowly to the ground.

Ranma glanced at her curiously. "What do you mean? And why did it come out of a ship, instead of just from the sky?"

Ryouko shrugged, drifting towards it. "I don't know, but I'll meet you back with Washuu. You go help whoever's down there."

Grimacing, Ranma let himself drop, as Ryouko sped away. The dizzyingly exhilarating rush of air was just as sweet as it had been the first time — his hair snapping behind him, while the wind shrieked past his streamlined bodysuit. The jewel near his ear maintained its position without any physical anchor, and Ran-oh-ki managed to stay on his shoulder, whiskers waving in the air pressure.

He grinned at his partner impulsively. "You get a kick out of this, don't you?" Ranma accused.

Ran-oh-ki glanced at Ranma for a moment before turning his attention back to the swiftly approaching ground. But that glance conveyed, to Ranma, a very strong sense of approval. "Okay," Ranma said, "we'll try this again some other time."

Leaving very little room to catch himself, he flipped in the air, descending towards the Earth feet-first, loosing a raucous, "Whooo!" Slowing himself through the same mechanism that allowed him flight in the first place, he impacted with the ground — hard. He had dealt with worse, though, so dismissed it. A small cloud of dust blossomed beneath his landing site, momentarily obscuring the outside world, until he rose.

The dry breeze carried the majority of the grit away as he straightened, grinning at the newcomer. "Welcome to Tokyo," he greeted. "What brings you here?"

The newcomer stared in a stunned silence for a long moment, giving Ranma time to take in his features. A boy of about his own height, wearing dusty green camouflage fatigues, a light brown duster, and a pair of goggles to banish the worst of the airborne grit. The breeze ruffled his medium-length shock of black hair, and he reached up to pull down his eyewear, revealing a flash of the white bandana that served to keep his unruly hair in check.

Nodding to Ranma slowly, he tucked the goggles into a pouch on his waist, introducing himself, and rending Ranma speechless. "Uh… nice to meet you, I guess," he said. "My name is Saotome Ranma."

Yosho glanced around as Ryo-oh-ki stopped some distance over the streets of Tokyo, sending him to Earth in front of a small restaurant. How the creature had known to home in on it was beyond Yosho, but Washuu stepped out of the building a moment later, nodding at him in approval.

Likely the woman had known what he was going to do even before he had done it. He stifled a sigh at that, turning to look at Tsunami, who simply offered an encouraging smile for him, before gliding towards Washuu to whisper in low tones.

Ryo-oh-ki remained in starship form, maintaining her position. From what Yosho remembered, the Home Fleet would be leaving in only a few minutes. Unless Ryouko wanted to take the two-week voyage back to Jurai, she would have to hurry to catch the Throne's portal.

And Emperor or not, Tenchi wouldn't have a choice in the matter, either. He was emperor in name only, just yet. There would be the standard fanfare surrounding a once-in-several-centuries event, as the change in title was recognized by the Council and then the assorted Juraian nobles would attempt to coerce him one way or another… No, the way Yosho saw things, Tenchi would need every whit of the help that Ayeka, Tsunami, and even Ryouko could provide.

He blinked at that, considering. And Ranma. Ranma could help too, by reputation alone. The boy by himself had destroyed more reavers than anything else, and letting the fact that Ryouko was just as powerful slip out would probably help Tenchi with more issues than Yosho could count.

The nobles would back away when presented with something stronger than the reavers — but more importantly — something also much closer than the reavers.

A threat planets away and a threat hanging off the Emperor's arm lovingly were two different things. He sighed, glancing upwards as Ryouko landed warily, looking around. She met Yosho's gaze and raised an eyebrow speculatively, the two speaking at the same instant, "Where's Ranma?"

Washuu broke off her whispered conversation with Tsunami and glanced towards Ryouko to check. Not seeing Ranma, she grimaced, thumbing a small bracelet. "Ranma," she said sternly, "are you coming back?"

The reply was audible, and very strained. "Um… yeah, Washuu… I'll… bring Ranma back. Uh… can you come with me?" The air cracked audibly, displaced as Ranma appeared over the street a moment later, an unfamiliar boy carried in his arms roughly — and none too happily, to judge by his struggling.

Ranma unceremoniously dropped the other boy, sending his assorted possessions tumbling. "Hey!" the boy growled. "What's the big idea, you idiot?"

Shrugging, Ranma answered, "Was in a rush." He turned to Washuu, bobbing his head apologetically, and still hovering off the ground. "Sorry about taking so long. Didn't want to leave this guy out here alone."

Washuu sighed, shaking her head. "Well," she commented, "I wouldn't want anyone to be abandoned out there alone, since the fleet's leaving so soon…"

The boy snorted, shaking his head as he reclaimed his dropped possessions and stored them carefully in various pockets. Cologne emerged from the building, likely alerted by the yells as Ranma dropped the boy, and eyed him warily.

Shaking her head again, Washuu asked, "What's your name?"

"Saotome Ranma," the boy grumbled, finishing grabbing the last of his possessions. "Heir to the Saotome School of Anything Goes, Yamasenken." Dead silence rang out in response, each of the assembled people — including the two boys Yosho recalled from that morning — simply staring at the other boy as he shifted his feet nervously. "What?" he asked after a moment. "Is it something I said?"

Cologne coughed pointedly, drawing some of attention away from the newcomer. "Well," she murmured, "it's nice to meet you, boy." She hobbled over to Ranma, perched on her staff, and patted him on the head affectionately. He glanced at her, but said nothing. "This is my son… Tanma."

Ranma stared at her sharply again, then shrugged, Ran-oh-ki sighing loudly from his shoulder. "Um… yeah," he muttered, eyeing the other boy. "Well, we should be going, right?"

Washuu nodded slowly, glancing at Tsunami one last time. "Yes," the scientist said. "R… Tanma, can you take Cologne and I to the harbor? Yosho, there could be some other people from Defense in the area, see if you can lead them towards the harbor, since the fleet will be leaving shortly." The redheaded scientist shot a pointed glance at Ryouko, who nodded once before ascending towards her ship, Tsunami simply disappearing in a muted flash after shooting a smile at Ranma. "So… Ranma. Are you going to help us, or are you just a refugee?"

The boy grunted, tugging at his bandana for a moment, and shrugging. "Guess I'll fight," he grumbled, "but… I was looking for a scroll."

Washuu rolled her eyes. "The city is huge. Where do you expect to find it?"

He shifted his feet unhappily, staring at the reddening sky. "Well, I have to find the Umisenken somewhere. It's the companion for the Yamasenken, you see, and…" he trailed off, shrugging.

Washuu stared at him for a moment, then sighed. "Okay, well, if you're willing to help, stay with Yosho. Tanma? We're going to need your help under the bay."

Ranma started at that, turning to look at Washuu in surprise. "Under the bay?" he asked. "You mean… under the water, on the bottom?"


He stared at her, frowning. "I'd rather stick with Yosho, really…"

Washuu waggled a finger at him. "Unless you know a way to be two places at once, then sorry, we need your help at the bay."

Ranma grinned, nodding. "Deal. Okay, let's go."

With that, he swept the redheaded scientist into his arms, levitating a short distance off the ground, and glanced at Cologne pointedly. Smirking, the woman climbed atop his shoulder, while Ran-oh-ki jumped to the ground. And then, a slowly intensifying sensation of—

—otherness swept through her.

Dizzy, she nearly fell, catching herself at the last moment, while Ranma carefully set Washuu down on the slowly bobbing deck of a large ship. Ranma glanced around, smiling as if he were pleased with himself. Cologne jumped to the deck, studying the area for a moment. A giant collection of tents was scattered around, most of them looking battered and hastily erected.

From around a larger tent, a pair of sharply dressed figures in matching fatigues, rifles carried carefully, approached, glancing at the trio in confusion. One stepped forward, reciting slowly as though from memory, "Do you speak English?"

Cologne winced. The accent was atrocious. Washuu seemed to not notice or be affected, nor did Ranma, both of them simply nodding quietly. Lapsing back into his native tongue and relaxing — very slightly — the man asked, "What are you doing here? And how did you get here, anyway?"

Ranma shrugged, explaining, "I just came to drop Washuu and the old ghoul off. I've going to get back to Yosho." Cologne turned to reprimand Ranma, who had answered in Japanese, but an echo of his words sounded an instant later, in perfect, concise English. He blinked, tugging at the blue gem on his ear and studying it for a moment before shrugging. "Anyway," he muttered, releasing the gem to float in the air before him.

He stared at the gem for a moment, while the Americans watched in confusion. The edges of his body became indistinct and blurred, then there was a shift, and he faded out of sight. When he returned to Cologne's visual range a second later, he was standing next to… his cursed form. The two looked at each other, grinning raucously. But there was a difference. Ranma had a gem in his wrist, and a flare of blue on his skin-tight black costume, while his cursed form lacked any gems.

Cologne opened her mouth to comment on that, when the redhead reached out, grabbing the gem Ranma had left in the air for a moment, and seemed to absorb it into her wrist. There was a faint humming sound, and a matching blue flare formed on her left wrist, to compliment the blue flare on Ranma's right. Done with that, the two Ranmas nodded, and the male disappeared while the redheaded Ranma looked at Washuu attentively, still hovering slightly over the deck. "Okay," she said slowly, seeming to adjust to something internally. "What now, Washuu, Old Ghoul?"

Belatedly knocking the smaller red-haired female over the head, Cologne turned to Washuu, who looked impressed, and the Americans, who were shocked beyond words, jaws agape as they stared in stunned silence. "Yes, Washuu-san… what now?" Cologne asked, trying to regain her own bearing.

Washuu frowned. "Well," she said, eyeing Ranma. "You could be a little more polite and ask me before you grab like that, but I am impressed." Shaking her head, she turned to the two uniformed men, and began speaking in English, "At any rate, my name is Washuu Hakubi, and I need to speak with whoever you have in charge."

Mousse made no obvious outward responses to Ranma returning as suddenly as he had disappeared, grinning at the assembled defenders. Ryouga, on the other hand, gawked openly. How had Mousse not reacted to that?

It was strange enough seeing Ranma float — he hadn't landed for more than a moment yet — but the vanishing trick? The way he had passed through the chains earlier? It made his head hurt to think about.

"You know," he rumbled quietly to Mousse, "we should get on his good side. I don't think we could beat him if we pissed him off, now."

Mousse regarded Ryouga skeptically. "This just occurred to you now? I thought the levitation from earlier, and the fact that the red-haired woman with him said he's already killed three of the monsters himself was a pretty good clue. Considering that his father died to take out one…"

Ryouga frowned thoughtfully. "You have a point," he admitted. "What was that attack he used, though?"

"Something like 'poison snake deep hole blow,'" Mousse muttered. "Why?"

The boy who had named himself Ranma whipped his head around to stare at Mousse. "What did you say?" he demanded. "That's the name of one of the Yamasenken School's attacks! Where did you see it?"

Mousse and Ryouga glanced at each other for a moment, then shrugged, ignoring the boy. Ryouga thumbed the radio on his belt to life, and glanced around. "Well," he grumbled, "what do we do now?"

Ranma turned to Yosho for guidance, and the others shortly followed suit. Yosho coughed delicately, glancing heavenward for a moment, at the mass of Juraian ships as they were bathed in the warm light of the setting sun. "I think," he stated slowly, "that we should look around to make sure that everyone in the area got away safely, and generally move southward, towards the harbor."

Nodding, Ranma floated upwards, the small furry creature at his feet pausing to bare his teeth at Ryouga before jumping to Ranma's arms. "I'll scout around," he said, patting the creature on the head. "I'll keep close by."

Ryouga shook his head, watching Ranma drift upwards and glance around attentively.

Ranma swept over the streets quickly, circling the slower force moving beneath him. He felt his own senses were dulled, dealing with being in two places at once, but she was simply trailing Washuu and Cologne across the deck of the large ship in the harbor.

Ran-oh-ki's senses filled in where his own lapsed, so he gave the majority of them to his other half. It was odd, actually being in two places at once. Ryouko said it was made easier by a very slight change between the two forms, something subtle in the musculature, or the eyes, or the ears…

But she also said that the range and practicality were limited. Ranma guessed that by splitting himself into cursed and uncursed, and using the extra gem, he magnified his ability to use the trick into an effective weapon.

His partner stirred, stretching his neck out and allowing his whiskers to twitch as he scanned and searched nearby. He made a soft mewling noise to alert Ranma, unnecessary with their senses shared, as they were, and Ranma dropped down to the street with the others.

Ryouga and Mousse remained quiet and respectful, watching him attentively, while the boy claiming his name glowered. Yosho glanced up, raising an eyebrow. "I found something," Ranma explained before they could ask. "Close by. It's not a reaver, so I'm going to check it out, and be right back."

Yosho nodded. "Okay, Ranma. Don't take too long," the older man warned.

Ranma spared a nod as he flew towards the life sign that Ran-oh-ki sensed. The others were heading south, towards the harbor. The sun sat heavily on the horizon, large and red, while the Juraian fleet above rose slowly, dwindling upwards into the sky. Ranma watched them for a pair of heartbeats, before reminding himself that time was limited.

Accelerating sharply, he zeroed in the life force that his partner was detecting. He halted suddenly, his heart giving an unsteady shudder when he realized where the signal was coming from.

The Tendo home. He swallowed fearfully, staring at the building.

It seemed so unchanged, so… welcoming, somehow. But in his heart, he knew that it wasn't. Kasumi at least had treated him as she always had, and yet…

Bolstering himself, he stepped forward. If it were Kasumi or Nabiki… he could take them to the fleet in the harbor, and be done with it. If it was his mother — If it were Nodoka, he corrected himself. If it were Nodoka, then…

He wasn't certain what he would do, but Ran-oh-ki made a soothing noise, calming him.

With that, he stepped through the unlocked door, calling out, "Hello? Is anyone here?"

Ran-oh-ki's senses already told him the answer to that question, but he felt the need to ask anyway.

There was no reply. Ran-oh-ki directed him outside, and he followed their shared senses. Outside and upwards.

He exited the house through the back entrance, which had been left open, and floated upwards to the edge of the roof, calling out again, "Hello?"

A voice answered him shortly, "Hello, Ranma… I didn't think I'd see you again any time soon."

He blinked, drawing slightly away as he regarded the lean man on the roof, gazing at the sunset. "Tendo-san?"

Soun sighed, staring at the sunset. "Just Tendo, Ranma. That's what your father called me, you know…" The man broke off, shifting a polearm near him, and Ranma recognized the naginata that was the Tendo family's traditional weapon at Soun's side. "I heard… I heard from Nabiki before she left… what you did. And maybe they would have been safe anyway, but you took care to save Akane."

Ranma said nothing, simply nodding, while his partner remained cautiously silent.

"Anyway," Soun continued, "I'm… I'm staying here. This is my place, now…"

"Tendo-san? It's not going to be safe here for very long…"

The man laughed at that, only a slight trace of bitterness sounding. "No… no, Ranma, it's not. And that's fine. I don't have anything left to take care of for myself, you see. Two of my daughters are gone, taken away to safety by whoever it is that showed up." He pointed at the ships, the last of which was just disappearing into the sky. "The other was sent away to a safer place even before that. And I'm left here, in the home that I built for my wife, all those years ago." He sighed, smiling.

Ranma closed his mouth slowly, finding himself without words for the situation.

"But… I'm done, Ranma. I'm tired… tired of being weak, being a coward… the master left." He changed the subject abruptly. "I don't know where. I suppose I don't care, really. All I had left was a friend, and he died earlier today. You… you will find something, though, Ranma. You're young yet. But I'm an older man… and I'm not going to run anymore. I'm going to do what I should have done years ago, and what your father had the courage to finally do today. I'm going to stand up and protect this home to my dying breath."

Ranma nodded slowly, his hands dropping to hang at his sides. "Yes," he managed. "I… understand, Tendo."

Soun smiled softly, climbing to his feet and whipping the naginata around himself with startling alacrity and deftness. "It's been too long," he mused. "Too long since I've truly fought." He shook his head, turning to regard Ranma levelly, lit from behind by the dying light of the sun. "You've listened to an old man rambling long enough, Ranma. Your father left me something, and I think you should have it."

He rummaged in his gi for a moment, producing a much worn and tattered scroll. "This scroll," he explained, "carries a school your father never passed on to you. I think he'd want you to have it now, though. It's not complete," he warned, "but I think you can manage to learn it anyway, should you want to."

Ranma nodded numbly, accepting the scroll in wonder. "Thank… thank you, Tendo."

Soun grinned warmly, shaking his head, naginata slung over one shoulder. "Thank you, Ranma. It was my firm hope that some day you would become a Tendo, though you may not have known… but what will be, will be. You should go now. Farewell, Ranma-kun."

Stunned, Ranma could only nod, clutching the scroll that bore his father's legacy to his chest as he floated over the roof. "Tendo…" he said slowly. "Are… I mean…" He bowed his head, unsure of what words were appropriate. "Thank you, Tendo. Thank you, and… if I ever see your daughters again…" he trailed off, wondering. Would he? Would he see them again? "Farewell, Tendo."

With that, he drifted away backwards, south and east, watching the sun frame the old warrior atop his home.

When the distance was as great as Ranma supposed the man could shout, the Tendo patriarch rose, and saluted Ranma with his naginata. Ranma swallowed, unable to help himself, and wiped at the moisture in his eyes before turning away.

"… Mr. Norris. So if you could escort the civilian fleet, we would be very grateful."

The military man nodded, glancing around his office for a moment before replying to Washuu, "That would make the situation a little easier for us to bear, Miss Hakubi… are you the representative of the civilian defense force?"

Washuu winced, then nodded slowly. "Yes, I suppose I am. Seta left, and he was in charge, so…" Cologne smirked, but said nothing from her position near Ranma.

Norris nodded again, looking at a sheet of paper before him. "Well,'' he said, "I hope that we can work together, but I'm afraid if you've come to us for protection, we can't offer much."

Ranma shifted uncomfortably, most of her attention elsewhere, but in her split-state, it was nearly like being two separate people… nearly. She did wonder at the fact that — as she figured it — the man was speaking English, and she could understand it. Speak it, too, thanks to the gem.

Washuu was just full of little surprises. Ranma briefly wondered what she would come up with next, but forced herself to pay attention to the situation at hand. One way or another, Washuu had negotiated to have the U.S. soldiers join their own crew on the trip to China, which was just as well. They likely wouldn't fare very well against the reavers alone.

The redheaded scientist smiled warmly, putting one arm around Ranma and pulling her close. "Don't worry," the scientist stated. "We've got a bit of an edge against the reavers already. I can try and see what I can do to modify your current weapons, but right now, I need access to your communications arrays."

Norris frowned doubtfully. "Why?"

Releasing Ranma for the moment, Washuu produced the computer screen she was fond of, and indicated some value that Ranma couldn't identify. Apparently, neither could Norris. Washuu sighed, explaining, "We've got access to an orbital positronic laser cluster. Nuku-san might be able to control it, but—"

"Who is 'Nuku-san'?" Norris interrupted.

Washuu gestured to Ranma, smirking. "Ranma's daughter."

Ranma snapped her neck around at Washuu, and rolled her eyes.

Norris frowned, but nodded slowly. "And this will let you destroy the 'reavers', then?"

Washuu hedged for a moment. "That's not certain yet. It should buy us some time, but we don't know how much power is there, and until I can access the diagnostics remotely, we don't know what kind of power they can output."

The captain's face twisted into a sour grimace. "Fine," he muttered. "Go ahead, if you think it will help. But what we really need is a long-term solution to destroy these enemies, and a one-shot cannon isn't going to do the trick."

Washuu gestured to Ranma, who nodded, summoning her blades. The captain nearly leapt out of his seat, staring in shock at her. Ranma smiled, letting the blades vanish, and rising to float a slight distance off the ground, tucking her feet beneath her as though she were sitting. "I can handle a few," Ranma tossed out casually.

"What are those?" the captain managed after a minute.

Washuu sighed, "Focused energy in a quantum matrix — near-anti-matter filling a frail energy structure. When something is struck with the structure it can behave either as a dense solid, or an explosive force. You'll notice that generally when the beams are longer, pockets of energy form opposite the 'blade' of the weapon to balance out the internal forces more easily."

Ranma blinked, trying to fathom what the scientist was speaking about. Norris raised an eyebrow speculatively. "Can you manufacture those for my crew? Or do you have a more versatile piece of equipment that does the same thing?"

"No," the scientist said firmly. "The ability to create them is genetic. So only Ranma can do it."

Norris's face fell immediately.

"I might, however, be able to come up with something else. I'd need access to a lab, and it will need to wait until after we've cleared the harbor and gotten the laser working." Washuu turned to Ranma abruptly. "Ranma? The Juraian ships are leaving, so if the reavers are going to be moving…" she trailed off, biting her lower lip.

Ranma grinned cockily, glad to have some attention from the redhead. "Not a problem," she declared. "I'll go down and keep an eye out."

Washuu nodded her thanks silently, as Ranma sank through the ship, deck by deck, and from there, through the cold water of the bay.

Terry paced around the large, circular room, fearful of touching any equipment, and wishing that he had thought to ask the technician for help. The room was ringed in rows of quietly humming machinery, replete with flashing lights, small screens with endless columns of marching data that he couldn't even begin to comprehend… And the giant glass tube in the center of the room, the upper regions dangling with various pieces of cabling that looked more like they belonged in some ecchi anime than any facet of reality.

Terry took off his hat, and scrubbed his hands through his hair. "Okay," he said slowly, glancing around. "Maybe I can get someone on the radio to tell me how to work this thing." He frowned, trying to remember anything he knew about more complex machines. Red buttons were bad. Glass shielding over a button was there for a reason. And a very important one, yellow and black warning tape meant 'Don't touch!'

The problem with that was that nearly all of the buttons he could see were either behind glass shielding that could be flipped up, were red, or were surrounded with yellow and black warning tape. He stared straight up at the ceiling, sighing.

Nuku watched him silently, and he shook his head, turning to study the rows of switches labeled — oddly — in English. Switches weren't as bad as buttons, he reasoned. A switch could be reversed, after all. Despite his knowledge of English, the meanings eluded him. "'Phase dispersion'? What the heck is this stuff?" Turning a beseeching gaze towards the young woman, he asked, "Do you know how to run this thing? I know that we're supposed to get Washuu to control it, but I'm afraid to touch the thing."

She nodded, and her ear-like sensors popped upwards. "Yes," she stated firmly. "Eimi-chan? Are you still here?" she asked, much less confidence in her voice.

Lights suddenly brightened, various displays flickering and resetting, and more of the machinery whirred to life, making Terry's hackles rise. He didn't understand it very well, and he didn't like it much, either. A sweet, childish voice echoed from a concealed speaker system, "Hello, Atsuko. I didn't think you would come back."

Nuku fidgeted for a moment, then bowed her head. "Nuku-Nuku is sorry she ran away, Eimi-chan."

A faint laugh filled the room from the speakers, making Terry wonder where this 'Eimi' were hidden. "That's fine, Atsuko. The coding that allows me to be upset with you was damaged before I was transferred to this facility."

Sighing, the girl walked towards the glass tube in the center of the room. "Nuku-Nuku… Nuku-Nuku needs to use the gift that Papa-san and Mamma-san left for her."

Eimi seemed to brood on the question for a bit, the lights dimming as the silence bore on, until they brightened again suddenly. "Very well, Atsuko. Enter the terminal so that we can verify the final decryption sequence."

Terry blinked, as Nuku stripped off her outer clothing, leaving her in a tight, form-fitting bodysuit, bearing a worrisome hole in the center of her stomach, and revealing what looked all-too-much like real skin to Terry's eyes. "She's a robot?" he murmured to himself. "Hard to believe…"

"Not entirely," Eimi answered, as the glass cylinder rotated halfway, folding partially into itself to allow Nuku access. "Atsuko is more correctly termed a cyborg. While mechanical in design, her body is organic in function, and her original brain is purely organic tissues reinforced with a complex and redundant suite of processors to monitor and convert the signals from her brain to her body. Her physiology is quite complex, and the term 'robot' is simply too simple to convey—"

"I get the idea," Terry grumbled, having been lost long into the voice's spiel. "You're a computer, right?"

"That analysis is most apt. My original parameters were substantially altered when my initial form failed in a test against the current threat."

"Uh-huh," Terry said distractedly, watching with a worried fascination as the various connections began to drop from the roof of the glass cylinder, linking up with various points on Nuku's body. Her hands, her elbows, her legs, one over her nose and mouth — even one at a point in the middle of her lower back. The final pair of cables, though, extended downward, to firmly clamp onto the girl's ear-like sensors.

Terry swallowed, as the glass tube swiveled, sealing itself, and slowly began to flood with a dark green fluid. "Is this normal?" Terry asked, concerned.

"Yes," the computer reassured him. "Would you like to see the systems she is going to access?"

Terry shrugged. "Don't have anything better to do."

"Very well." A large monitor on the wall, previously spewing out screen after screen of numbers, flickered, switching to a satellite's-eye view of Japan, Tokyo situated in the center.

The screen slowly focused inward, raising the level of detail and giving Terry the sensation that he was falling. He looked away for a moment, nauseous. "Whoa," he mumbled, turning back when the image had steadied, focused on the harbor. "Great, this is… this is good, right?"

"Top of the line," Eimi said proudly. "There are fourteen decryption cycles remaining before we can activate the weapons, however. I estimate that it will take about twenty minutes, thirty two seconds."

Terry nodded, taking a seat on an abandoned chair. "Well, that was easy. So now we wait?"

"Yes. Could I have your name, please?"

"Bogard. Terry Bogard."

"Pleased to meet you, Bogard-san. My name is Eimi. Would you like me to sing you a song? Kyusaku-sensei taught it to me…"

Yosho glanced at Ranma expectantly as the boy rejoined the southbound group. When Ranma made no immediate move to explain what he had found, Yosho asked, "What happened?"

Ranma blinked, startled. "Oh, I uh… I was saying goodbye… to a friend," he explained slowly, eyes downcast, focused on a small and much-worn scroll in his hands.

The older man made no move to press Ranma further. "Ah. Well, let's keep moving."

Ranma nodded, offering the scroll to Yosho. "Can you hold this for me?"

Yosho nodded, pocketing the scroll in a fold of his robes before the other boy who claimed to be Ranma could get a good look at it. The boy frowned, asking, "What was that?"

Ranma glanced at him, grimacing. "My father's legacy," he muttered. "Now let's get moving south. Who knows what's going to happen next?"

Yosho snorted, running a finger across the radio he still wore, as the group moved on.

Mousse broke the silence nervously, "It's quiet," he mumbled. "It's weird."

Ryouga shrugged, looking over his shoulder for a moment, guided on the correct path by the dog leading him onwards. "I've been places that were this quiet before," he said. "But… I've never seen that many cities this quiet. It is strange. A city… a place this big, and now it's empty." He grimaced, shivering. "I'm used to quiet, but the… the emptiness just feels…"

Ranma nodded in agreement, while the boy claiming his name remained sullenly quiet. "I've been places this quiet before," he said suddenly, surprising Ranma. "A few outlying places still standing, a few… not. I haven't seen any of the monsters myself, but I've heard about them."

Yosho glanced at the boy briefly before adding, "We came in through Okayama, Ranma. We saw a few abandoned cities, too. Some of them simply leveled. You must not ever underestimate the reavers' ability to destroy."

They all fell silent again after that, trooping along as quickly while Ranma shivered. "There's a reaver coming," he warned. "Maybe more. Ran-oh-ki senses something else south of here, too." He rose into the air, grimacing. "Where are we, anyway?"

Yosho frowned, picking up the pace and moving from a slow trot to a fast run. "The last sign I remember said we were in Azabu."

Ranma nodded. "I'm going to scan ahead and check out what I'm sensing, you guys hurry."

Yosho grumbled, but led the rest of the boys onward, following Ranma's lead from overhead.

And in the distance, the last vestiges of the sunlight vanished, and the first stars began to emerge.

Tsunami watched the Earth, joined by the still shell-shocked Tenchi, and Ayeka, who was yet unbalanced from the entire situation.

Not that she could blame them, of course. Rulership of Jurai was not something one expected to have handed to them that suddenly — or at all, in Tenchi's case. The boy was ill equipped, and barely ready to handle the situation. Ayeka was better trained, but completely taken off guard by the whole affair.

And Ryouko… now that would be a tricky situation, Tsunami mused, watching the planet Earth recede in the distance, as the former Emperor sullenly piloted his ship. The schedule needed to be adhered to, of course, and the fleet framing the Throne was filled to maximum capacity…

Of course, the second they got back, Tenchi would be swamped with would-be advisors and ne'er-do-wells trying to ingratiate themselves upon the 'impressionable' new royalty. Tsunami sighed, but managed a smile when Ayeka suddenly raised herself defiantly, most likely already planning for what would happen next.

Until Tenchi could officially instate Ayeka and Ryouko as the Inspector General of Information, and the Supreme Commander of the Royal Bodyguard respectively, he would have Funaho and Misaki to help him manage things. The two were standing a short distance away, a bubble around them keeping the rest of the Court at bay already as they whispered to each other — doubtlessly preparing for their return to Jurai.

Tsunami schooled her expression, quashing down a sudden and unexpected surge of panic as the Throne opened a Gateway, and the Home fleet crossed through it. She raised one hand, halfway, as though she were going to wave to someone on Earth, but instead lowered it. "Why did I do that?" she mused, nearly silently.

Makoto glanced around the otherwise deserted street. She had no family of her own, but from the plan they had discussed earlier, those who did have family were sent away to safety. Minako lounged against a lamppost, bored.

The blonde sighed, looking upwards. She brightened suddenly, and opened her mouth to say something. At that point, triggered by some unknown mechanism, the light turned on. Minako blinked, and smiled at the light, lowering her face to look at Makoto. "Hey," she asked cheerfully, "isn't that good luck?"

Smirking, Makoto spread her hands in a helpless gesture. "I have no idea," she said. "But the others should be here soon. Should we transform?"

"Yeah, it's not like there's anyone around to see us."

Two brightly colored flashes of light later, and the girls had vanished, sensible and warm clothing vanishing in favor of brightly colored fuku. "Okay!" Makoto exclaimed. "Once the others get here, we'll be ready."

"Ready for what?"

Makoto rolled her eyes. "To defend the city."

"Oh, right."

The rest of their allies arrived in short order, Saturn, followed swiftly by Mars and Mercury. Endymion hadn't shown up yet — likely because of the wounds the monsters were creating in the Earth. The wounds that affected him as well, making escape impossible. Which was why Moon was absent, as well. Someone needed to take care of him by moving him to the harbor, and safety. They all would have been happier if they could all have helped, but they needed to stay behind.

"Where's Pluto?" Jupiter asked, confused. "I thought she was supposed to meet us here and tell us what we were supposed to do next."

Mercury pursed her lips thoughtfully, offering, "Perhaps she was delayed?"

Further speculation was cut off, as Mars glanced about herself nervously. "Um, I sense something very strange approaching," she said worriedly.

The entire group fell into a careful silence, spread out into a wide circle. Saturn leaned against the Silence Glaive near a storefront, while the rest of the Senshi fanned out from her, each peering about warily, and making as little noise as possible. The moon cats finally made their presence known, climbing atop an abandoned car for a better vantage, and sniffing around themselves cautiously.

Mars sighed softly, shivering. "I guess it was a false alarm," she murmured.

The rest of the Senshi shrugged, but before any of them could speak, a voice shattered the quiet, "Look out!"

Jupiter whipped her head around to locate the speaker, but he was already gone, and Saturn's shrill cry of alarm distracted her. She spun again, only in time to see a man, or something like a man, though she didn't have enough time to make out his facial features, wrap his arms around Saturn, lifting her off the sidewalk, and then simply vanish. Only a half-second later, the storefront where she had been standing exploded violently, and a mass of black carapace and shattered glass tumbled through.

Ranma hefted the girl in his arms carefully, trying not to hurt her. "Are you okay?" he asked worriedly. She squirmed around, trying to get a good look at him, and he lit upon the roof of a nearby building, setting her down.

She spun to face him, holding her polearm before her protectively. "Who are you?" she asked mistrustfully.

"Name's Ranma." He removed Ran-oh-ki from his shoulder, allowing the creature to hop to the roof. "This is my partner, he'll keep an eye on you. I'd like to know what a bunch of cheerleaders are doing out here right now, but I gotta go. Try not to hurt yourself."

With that, he gracefully leapt backwards off the building, somersaulting through the air to land in the middle of the street, creating a three-meter-wide crater and startling the rest of the cheerleaders back with cries of, "It's a youma!"

Good, he decided. If the cheerleaders were scared away from him, then he wouldn't have to worry about them being hurt. Though the reavers should be scary enough, really. Time for that thought later.

He stood slowly from the crouch he had landed in, glancing up some twelve stories to see the cheerleader he had taken to safety staring down at him over the edge in consternation. Shrugging, he turned his attention to the reaver before him, as it straightened, skittering towards him in a fast sideways arc, probably attempting to get the better of him.

But this time, Ranma was prepared — the battle against Ryouko had taught him a few things about how he could better use his abilities.

He dove towards it, sinking through the ground, and floating back up behind it, while it spun to face him. Taking advantage of its momentary surprise, he launched a powerful roundhouse into the joint between its abdomen and one leg, throwing all of his strength and cheating a bit by adding all of the power his levitation afforded him into the blow.

The reaver was thrown back violently, soaring through the air to impact jarringly against the side of an office building, two stories above the ground, and disappearing inside. The excess force left Ranma spinning, and he landed unsteadily to reclaim his balance. "Heh, the old momentum trick," he said slowly, dizzy from the sudden motion. "Masu surprise."

Bits of glass, twisted steel, and masonry rained to the ground noisily, as the reaver exploded from the building again, all claws and violent motion. Ranma instantly sank beneath the ground, Ran-oh-ki's linked senses allowing him to avoid the reaver while phased. He rose to the street again, next to the cheerleader with long black hair in a mane down her back, red skirt and all.

She stared at him, eyes wide, and he grinned cockily, aware of the reaver's location as it resurfaced further down the street. The girl pointed suddenly over his shoulder, yelling a warning, and he dove towards her, alerted again by his partner. Gathering her in his arms, he teleported again, this time staying just above the street. He couldn't afford to leave the field of battle when a pair of reavers were attacking defenseless girls, after all.

The reaver he narrowly dodged backpedaled furiously, tearing long gouges of the asphalt up in its wake. "Alright, bugs. You and me, 'cause I got a lot of anger, and you're about the only thing around that can take it!" He set the girl down, reeling and dizzy. "You just stay out of harm's way," he advised her.

The pair of reavers charged together, halted by a shout of, "Fire soul!" With the sudden battle cry, a river of flame poured from the hands of the girl who he had just moved — the one with the red skirt — bathing both of the reavers in angry, searing heat, and setting a parked car ablaze.

Ranma's jaw dropped, and he blinked. "What the hell was that?" he asked, stunned.

The girl turned to look at him cautiously, her eyes traversing his body from head to toe, then back up before she responded, holding her hands towards him in a ready stance. "I'm Sailor Mars," she declared, "one of the—"

The rest of the declaration was cut off as Ranma grabbed her, lifting her and teleporting across the fire again. Both reavers emerged from the flame unscathed, charging blindly. It could be that the fire had obstructed their vision, but Ranma knew that fire didn't work as well as cold against them. Washuu had explained quite a bit about the reavers to him on their journey to Tokyo.

"Sorry," he said, setting her down as she blinked in confusion at the two undamaged reavers. "Fire doesn't do a lot to those." The rest of the girls had drawn closer towards him, most of them unhappily. Yosho emerged from a nearby alley, Ryouga, Mousse and the other boy right on his heels.

One of the girls — one that reminded Ranma very much of Ukyou, only with a green skirt — pointed suddenly, exclaiming, "RANMA!"

And over the crackling flames, a single exclamation rang out, "Oh, SHIT!"

Ranma stared upwards, falling through the bay. It wasn't deep, once she neared the bottom. But then, she had always gauged 'depth' to be a function of how long she could last without air, not how far from the surface she was. Not needing to breathe rendered that system moot.

Her eyes shifted opening and her vision seemed to swim for a moment, a flurry of colors eventually resolving into something else. She blinked, shivering. Vague memories of seeing infrared scenes from a movie surfaced in her mind, and she nodded to herself, trying to take the visual shift into account.

Seeing in a spectrum not normally visible to humans was disorienting, but she concentrated on getting used to it. The ships above her had warm/bright spots near the engines, slowly brightening as the massive propellers whirred to life. Her hearing had changed, too, so that the disturbances of the ships' sonar and the noise of the propellers of the ships that were already pulling out registered as a kind of audible static.

Her first thought was that it would interfere with her senses, but her second was that it was just another reminder of how far she was from human. She shook her head, trying to avoid the distraction of her other half, and his actions. Time enough to deal with that later.

There were reavers beneath the bay, though she couldn't see them at the moment, or sense them, either. Probably hiding nearby. She closed her eyes, and tried to ignore the sounds of the ships above, focusing on her other senses.

She could sense things better through Ran-oh-ki, but he was elsewhere at the moment. There was a vague… tickling sensation at the edges of her perception, though. She drifted upwards slightly, not wanting to fight near the mud, which would obscure her vision. Could, she thought. She might be able to hear them through the mud, but the risk was not likely to be worth it.

Still, Ran-oh-ki's sensors would be useful… if her other half didn't need them to search for survivors.

As if summoned, two murky black shapes swam through the mud at the bottom of the bay, and upward. Like sinister, hard-shelled squid. The things were far too heavy to be able to swim, in Ranma's estimation, but they didn't seem to let that bother them.

She cracked her knuckles experimentally. She'd only ever fought reavers one-on-one before, excepting the one she and Yosho battled together. She'd also only ever won at a cost.

Time to win, she decided. Time to change the balance of war. The reavers had destroyed her life, and for that they would pay.

Summoning her blade proved to have an unexpected side effect, as she shot towards the pair of reavers, ascending towards the ships hungrily. Not touching the blade, but in a swath wherever she passed it, ice formed, floating upwards in her wake.

Glancing at the ships overhead, she grimaced. No hiryuu-shouten-ha, this time. There was too much potential to damage the fleet above her.

Ryouga backpedaled, staring around at the scene in consternation. Ranma was there, hovering next to a number of cheerleaders, while a swath of fire burned in the street, a nearby car already ablaze from the conflagration.

Ranma shook his head, ignoring the girl who had called his name for the moment, and pointing at Ryouga. "Ryouga! Mousse! You guys get ready." With that, he spun, facing the fire. The flames died down, revealing the pair of unscathed reavers.

Yosho dashed onto the field of battle, interposing himself between the girls and the monsters. "Stay back," he cautioned. "These things are very dangerous."

One of the girls — the one with an orange skirt and a long mane of golden hair — rolled her eyes. "Well, yeah, we noticed that."

Ryouga snorted, drawing up and bracing himself at Ranma's left, while Mousse took the position on his right.

A girl that looked somewhat like Ukyou, wearing a green skirt, marched towards the other boy — the one who had called himself Ranma. "You have a lot of explaining to do," she said warningly.

While he was curious to see what would happen between the two, the pair of reavers chose that moment to charge. There was an eerie dual humming sound, resonating from a few nearby points, but Ryouga didn't have time to look, instead bringing up his umbrella to deflect an errant claw. Mousse rolled to one side, lengths of chain exploding outward from him to tangle in the reaver's limbs, while Ranma simply shot straight up.

The reaver tripped, missing Ranma and Mousse, and not able to get through Ryouga's defenses, though he found his strength challenged by the monster as it barreled towards him. Mousse's chains had fouled it up, making the creature stumble.

Ranma descended on the fallen creature like the wrath of some angry martial arts god, in Ryouga's eyes, snarling and wielding a glowing blue bar of… something. Whatever it was, it slammed into the reaver's carapace, and frost began to spread across it immediately, centered around the point of contact between Ranma's blade and the reaver. Blue-white motes of light exploded away from the center, turning into drops of ice, spreading their own frost where they fell.

Ryouga's jaw dropped, and he stepped back, eyes wide. Mousse's eyes were wide also, and the cheerleaders were all simply frozen in place, mixed expressions of incredulity and fear evident more prevalently than any other emotion.

The girl with the red skirt, and long black hair said, "Um… I don't think he's on the same side as the monsters."

The reaver sank into the ground abruptly, leaving Mousse's chains lying on the street, and Ranma to rebound upward, seething. Ryouga had never seen Ranma to look so furious before in his entire life, and reflexively stepped backwards. Mousse did the same, both of them looking up towards the boy who had once been their chief rival with a newfound respect.

Yosho glanced briefly at Ranma, but trusted the boy to hold his own — he had backup from his friends, and they couldn't afford to just ignore one of the reavers. While Ranma squared off and prepared to attack, Yosho summoned his blade and shield. The second reaver hissed softly, barely audible over the burning car, and charged.

Diving towards the reaver, Yosho slid beneath it on his shield, stuck to his hand, but frictionless to the street. Swinging with his other hand, he scored a glancing blow to a leg, tripping himself to a roll after he passed beneath it, landing crouched on his feet. He grinned, leaping towards it while it turned, and lashed out to blind the creature before it could react.

His strike was true, but faster than he could react — faster than he thought the reavers could move — it smashed a limb into him, striking not with the barbed point, but clubbing him. The crushing blow knocked the wind out of him, launching him across the street towards a building.

Dazedly, he thought of the idiocy of the situation. How had he allowed himself to be taken by surprise? He reoriented himself, preparing to recoil off the building, and shook his head. It wouldn't happen again. He struck the cement divider between two large windows squarely, bones and wooden slippers groaning under the strain, but holding, and launched himself back at the reaver, which had already turned away from him. A mistake, in Yosho's mind, and one he would make the reaver pay for as dearly as possible.

He was silent, giving no warning shout as he sailed through the air towards the creature, bracing his blade. His aim was true, and his blade drove through the hide, piercing it with a hideously loud crackling noise, and tearing a long, jagged gash deep into it before Yosho rolled free, narrowly evading another solid blow. He landed crouched, in front of the girls, arms extended. The reaver before him struggled forward a step, thick yellow ichor spurting from its wound.

Unexpectedly, the thing shambled forward, a lumbering half step. Yosho grimaced, knowing that the wound he had gotten would plague him terribly enough as it was, but ignoring it for the time. Bruising, probably, possibly internally, but he knew from long experience that no bones were broken or cracked.

One of the boys with Ranma gave a loud shout, and Yosho whipped his head around to look. The more solidly built one, who Ranma had addressed as Ryouga, punched the still-burning car. It flipped, flying in a neat arc towards the reaver. The reaver ducked low, and Yosho raised his shield, dispelling his blade to extend its protection to the girls behind him. The car slammed into the reaver, striking near the long wound Yosho had left, and crumpled around a limb raised for self-defense.

The reaver's piercing claw ruptured the gas tank, coating the wound and the carapace near it in flaming gasoline. While fire and heat didn't affect reavers very well, the wound allowed the gasoline to enter its body, still burning. The hulking mass of metal that had once been a car was shrugged off, as the burning reaver gave a piercing shriek, sinking below the ground hurriedly.

Ryouga glanced around, confused, as the other boy — Mousse — began gathering up his chains, stuffing them into his robes with a few deft motions that spoke of years of practice. "I guess we won?" Ryouga ventured, turning to look at the girls.

They were just girls, not women. Not that it was important at the moment — battleground was not a place for people who weren't warriors. "I'm not so certain," Yosho cautioned, looking to Ranma for confirmation. Ranma crouched low to the ground, concentrating.

The boy looked up, his vibrantly blue eyes seeming almost luminous momentarily. "They're close by. I think they're preparing something." He grimaced sharply, clapping one hand to his shoulder as a narrow gash formed, bleeding for a heartbeat before his bodysuit sealed it. "I'm having a lot of trouble in the bay right now," he mumbled.

Yosho nodded, shifting the balance of power between shield and blade back. "Thank you, Ranma."

The boy claiming Ranma's name and the girl in the green skirt turned to look at Ranma. The boy frowned, commenting, "I thought your name was Tanma."

"Yeah," Ranma muttered. "Today. Yesterday, my name was Saotome Ranma, heir to the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts." He grinned slightly, rising to his feet, and then further, floating above the ground. "It's my father's legacy, even if the name's not mine. He left me a scroll, earlier today, you know…" he trailed off thoughtfully, and glanced at Yosho.

Yosho nodded slowly, fishing the scroll Ranma had handed him out from his robes, and examining it. He shrugged, stowing the scroll. "Well, Ranma, it looks like your father left you a scroll labeled 'Umisenken'. Is it important?"

Ranma glanced at the boy claiming his name. Clearing his throat, Ranma nodded. "I think so, Yosho. I think it might explain why this guy," he jerked his thumb at the other boy, "is claiming to be me."

Ryouga nodded, and a moment later, Mousse did as well. The bespectacled boy asked, "Who are you, really?"

Glancing worriedly at the girl in the green skirt, who had had hands on her hips and was frowning angrily, and then at the other cheerleaders, just staring in confusion, he admitted, "My name is Kumon Ryu."

Ranma snorted, shaking his head, "I should have known—"

Whatever else he was going to say was cut off suddenly by an angrily shouted, "Silence Glaive surprise!"

Ranma threw herself into a barrel roll as she approached the reavers, and they both spun away, leaving her to create a thin wall of spiraled ice in her wake, between the two. Catching herself, she flipped, arresting her momentum.

The creatures oriented themselves to face her. She wasn't certain, but suspected they were surprised to see her. She smirked, banishing her blades for the moment. It was tricky, managing the situation, but her other half needed them more than she did. At least, he was in a better position to use them.

And sharing them with her other half would only make the battle more difficult. She struggled for a moment, not liking the balance, and eventually settled on summoning one blade — her other half could carry the other.

A moment of experimentation allowed her to reshape it into a jo, a good defensive weapon for dealing with the reavers when peripheral damage wasn't a worry for the moment. She'd just need to avoid making too much ice.

A battle plan formed in her mind quickly — she could ignore gravity, being underwater and being able to float anyway. The only worry was ice, but she could phase through that without trouble. Okay, she thought to herself, time to get busy.

She flung herself in a sideways arc, ignoring up and down for a moment, as the reavers were oriented 'downward' at the moment. As long as they fought in a single plane, she'd have a bit of an advantage… except for their adaptability.

With that thought in mind, she resolved to strike as decisively as possible. A few good hits might be all she would need. The reaver's claws were a blur as she wove between them, jamming the end of her jo into the point where one limb joined to the carapace.

Ice began to spread from the point of contact instantly, frozen seawater hardening into a shell encasing the joint, limiting the reaver's movement. 'Well', she thought, 'that changes things'. The reaver seemed stunned, and its partner was still not in a position to react, so she swiftly struck the next joint, focusing more on cold than strength.

The bloom of ice was violent, and rapidly enveloped the reaver's joint.

Shrugging, Ranma shifted the weapon from pole to mere hand-width blade, and pressed it against the expanding ball of ice.

Displaced water surged around her, but she was phased, as the bloom of ice swelled, engulfing not just the one, but the other reaver, and then continued growing. Surprised, Ranma drifted back, releasing her blade and admiring her handiwork. That was quite impressive, she thought, watching the ice drift upward momentously, slowly picking up speed as it went.

"Commodore! There's a blip on sonar, coming up about seventy five meters astern."

Norris scowled at the man who had given the information to him. "More bad news," he muttered. "What is it?"

"Um, Sir… it looks like… ice."

The redheaded scientist who had claimed to be in charge of the Japanese civilian force chortled, "Ranma's a clever one when it comes to combat, and an absolute genius for adaptation." She nodded, arms crossed over her chest. "Not as much of a genius as me, of course," she added after a moment.

Norris simply stared, until another crewman rushed into the cabin, eyes wide and breathing heavily. "Sir!" he reported. "A large, um, block of ice has surfaced, eighty two meters astern by laser sight. It… it has one of the monsters stuck in it, and there's some girl standing on it."

Washuu's hand darted to her bracelet. "Ranma, levitate out of the way. You don't want to be at ground zero."

A moment later, a small effeminate voice sounded from Washuu's wrist, replying not in English, as Washuu had spoken, but in Japanese, "Okay, Washuu. I'll stay above them."

The crew looked at Norris expectantly. Swallowing, he nodded, giving the order he knew they wanted to hear. "Have the Maine proceed as planned, order the Chancellorsville and the Cowpens to stand by — I want them on high alert, and get me Lieutenant Commander Patterson."

The crew rapidly shifted from the downcast attitude that had plagued them since their retreat from America, to one ready for battle, calling out, "Aye-aye, Captain!"

A moment later, the communications link crackled to life, Patterson's voice asking, "Orders, Commodore?"

"Lieutenant Commander Patterson, you have permission to open fire on the reavers in the bay that are encased in ice."

"Aye, Commodore. Men, bring us about, prepare tubes one and four."

Norris nodded in approval, and motioned with a hand gesture for the communications link to be terminated. For a long, breathless moment, there was absolute silence; the crews busy monitoring their instruments and control panels attentively. Washuu turned to the window, staring out at the harbor, even though it was too dark to see.

The seconds continued to tick away, the helmsman muffling a cough worriedly, as they waited for a status update. One of the officers spoke suddenly, "Torpedoes away, Commodore. They are proceeding on course, ETA in thirty-six seconds."

Grunting approval, Norris nodded again. Patterson should be able to manage his submarine just fine. The scientist pulled a small pair of spectacles from a pocket, and continued watching the sea. Not, as Norris had learned, that she would be able to see anything that spectacular.

The seconds passed, and the crewman grinned, looking up from his display. "Louisiana reports a hit, Commodore, our instruments confirm." A split-second later, a loud, 'crack' rang out through the air, the explosion echoing through the bay, and through the still open door to the deck.

Washuu shook her head before the crew could celebrate, interrupting, "Sorry, the reavers survived, though you might have stunned them. They phased and dropped through the ice at the last moment."

Norris looked around at the crew, and they blinked, having no way to confirm what she had suggested. "Are you sure?" he asked weakly, hoping somehow she was wrong.

"Yeah," Ranma's voice called from Washuu's bracelet. "They sure seem mad, though. They're heading towards the ship that fired at them."

Washuu shrugged helplessly, whispering, "Don't get cocky, Ranma."

The effeminate voice and a masculine one responded in tandem, "This time, we won't."

Norris sank into his seat, dejected. "What else can we do?" he whispered.

"Have faith in Ranma," Washuu suggested. "And pray."

Ranma gritted her teeth, shooting downward. The reavers had to be stopped, and the Americans had been unable to do it. That left it up to her.

Hair snapping behind her like fire, she dove, phasing through the sea again. The reavers were intent on ignoring her, this time, heading straight towards the ship. She summoned her hand-blade again, suddenly remembering what had happened the first time she had faced off against a reaver.

The mouko takabisha. It might not compare to the ferocity of the hiryuu-shouten-ha, or have the pure force of Ryouko's attack with the little points of light, but it did interfere with their ability to phase.

That was the plan, then. Get into position, hit them both with a mouko takabisha, and freeze them again. If they were cold enough, the Americans' weapons might break them, as easily as her own fists could once they were frozen. It was just a matter of accomplishing the task.

Teleporting in front of the reavers, she took her stance, drawing in her ki, and released it in a shuddering wave. Mouko takabisha, she thought, unable to verbalize underwater. The sparking energy of her life essence flared, bright and golden, shooting out to slam into one of the reavers. The other swam wide, making Ranma wonder if, perhaps, they were afraid of it.

And they should be, she decided, gathering her energy. The second reaver was moving too fast; she'd need to get closer to it. She gathered her energy, preparing for another strike, when she remembered — too late — that she was ignoring the reaver behind her. Her body twisted to the side, changing a strike that might have severed her arm into a gash several inches deep.

Her other half took part of the injury away, and it lessened in severity, but it was still too close. Belatedly, she realized that she had allowed herself to be trapped between the two reavers. The situation was decidedly dangerous, she thought, trying to evade sixteen whipping and razor-sharp limbs.

Ranma wheeled, sensing the reaver rearing up behind him, and braced himself, preparing to leap out of the way. He couldn't afford to dodge far, though, that would entail leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.

But the reaver paused for a moment. Dark, chaotic swirls of power bled around it, as though it were standing before a blast furnace of chaos, spattering the unused energy aside. It stood for a single moment longer before simply exploding, splattering acidic ichor across an invisible barrier of force behind it, and another, before Ranma.

His shield, he realized belatedly. "I didn't know I could do that," he mused, his control of the shield slipping away. As the larger chunks of the reaver's carapace collapsed, Ranma saw the young cheerleader — the one he had rescued first, lowering her polearm and smiling in satisfaction, Ran-oh-ki perched comfortably on her head.

That would have to be it, Ranma decided. "That was pretty good," he said aloud, wondering if he had perhaps abandoned martial arts cheerleading too quickly. The ability to throw fire around might have been nice, in the end, though he wasn't sure it would be worth having to wear a cheerleading outfit. No, he decided, glancing briefly at the green-skirted girl, when it came right down to it, he had enough problems trying to sort out honor and love, without adding more confusion to the situation.

The girl beamed at him, traipsing casually around the desiccated hulk of the reaver. "Thank you!" she exclaimed.

He nodded wordlessly, as the crowd behind him remained silent, apparently stunned at the whole ordeal. Not that he could blame them, really. Ran-oh-ki's senses linked with his, showing him where the other reaver was hiding nearby — preparing to strike again, undoubtedly. "I didn't want to do this," Ranma grumbled. "I really hope you guys don't get mad at me for this. Ran-oh-ki? I see those large rats on the car over there," he said, pointing to the one car left undamaged from the battle. "Go ahead and let go of the control."

And even if he didn't need it, his other half would.

Ran-oh-ki keened a soft, unhappy, "Miyah," but nodded in approval. And then Ranma's world was swept away in a sea of confusion.

Makoto stepped back a full step, staring at the strange boy in confusion. The real Ranma, she supposed, though it was hard to think of the name without instantly thinking of… Ryu…

But whatever he was, he didn't seem to have any evil intent. Hotaru blinked, and the moon cats looked offended when he called them rats, but everyone bided their silence. Perhaps, she thought, because of the unreality of the situation. Maybe it was all some strange, odd dream, and they'd wake up with the problem gone… but no, pinching herself hurt, and didn't wake her.

Venus stood, blinking in surprise, her chain dangling from her fingers limply. The rest of the Senshi fared little better. Killing youma and the like was not traditionally so… messy. And the crew standing near them, they seemed to simply take it in stride.

She eyed Ryu appraisingly. "Ryu?" she asked. "Why did you lie to me?"

Ryu looked around worriedly, then calmed himself, offering the same pleasant smile she remembered — the one that made her knees weak. "Mako-chan," he said smoothly, "I can explain everything. Now, why are you wearing that silly outfit?"

The older man with the sword snorted, pointing at Ranma. "You'd better," he warned, "unless you want to make him mad."

All attention returned to Ranma again, now crouched on all fours, and growling low in his throat. He unleashed a single, loud yowl, then leapt straight into the ground, and… disappeared. Makoto scratched her head in confusion. "What the heck?" she asked.

The older man frowned, and his armaments vanished into the air. "I really wish he wouldn't do that," he muttered. "Well, I believe introductions are in order. I'm Masaki Yosho, and the lad who just went off to fight a reaver alone is the honorable Ranma, formerly of clan Saotome."

The strongly muscled boy with the umbrella and bandana sighed, stepping forward. "Right," he said uncertainly. "My name is Hibiki Ryouga…"

Washuu shivered suddenly, as a feeling of cold… otherness… swept through her. What was Ranma up to?

One of the crewmen suddenly shut straight up from his seat. "Commodore! Sonar's catching what looks like ice forming about twenty meters from the Louisiana!"

Norris raised an eyebrow. "Ice? Again? What's happening this time?"

"We're… we're not really sure yet. It's very diffuse—" He fell silent, grabbing for his control console to steady himself as the ship gave an alarming lurch. "And it seems to be displacing a lot of water. I have Lieutenant Commander Patterson, Sir."

Norris's face was a mask of disbelief. "This is impossible. This is a cheesy sci-fi movie, not my life!"

Washuu shook her head, heart racing. "Ranma," she whispered. "What are you doing?"

"No," Terry said slowly. "That's very kind of you, but you don't have to sing for me."

"Are you sure, Bogard-san?" Eimi asked him yet again. "I know how to sing 'To be in Love', among other songs."

Terry shrugged. "I've never heard that," he said. "But I need to keep my ears open to make sure none of the monsters get up here. My job is to protect Nuku, after all."

Eimi was silent, at that. "There are only three decryption cycles remaining, Bogard-san. Would you like to select a target?"

Terry shrugged again. "You know what we're after, don't you? The reavers. Just hit them, if you can."

A soft 'ping' noise sounded from the speakers. "Understood, Bogard-san, though Atsuko will have the final vote in control, initially."

Terry sighed, drumming his fingers across a deactivated terminal. "So," he asked, tired, "can you tell me where the reavers are?"

The views of Tokyo at night, from far above suddenly vanished, to be replaced by a view of northern American continent. "Certainly," Eimi replied pleasantly. "I can deliver any information you require on the reavers — this facility was redesigned to accommodate research on them."

"Oh?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "Can you tell me where they came from?"

A crosshairs appeared on the map of North America, scanning across it and locking on a point deep in the Rocky Mountains. The crosshairs expanded into a small square, which abruptly zoomed forward to show a more detailed view. The image continued to expand until the square occupied the entire screen.

The process repeated a number of times, until Terry was able to see a flat, featureless basin. Eimi's voice offered an explanation, "This basin is located near the base of Gannet Peak, in the United States province of Wyoming. This image was taken last night, while the sun was still up over the Americas."

"Gannet Peak?" Terry murmured, leaving his seat to approach the monitor and see it more clearly. "I've been to Wyoming." He shook his head. "I don't remember that mountain, but I think I know the area. They just crawled out of that hole, then?"

"No, Bogard-san." The image shifted, overlaid with a grainy black and white image, not a basin, but a short hill. "This image was taken some weeks before the first news of the 'reavers,' as you call them, reached us. We believe it's a research facility, though according to the U.S. military network, they were unaware of its existence." A few roads and small outbuildings lined the hillside, and a larger helipad sat atop it.

"Just like Area Fifty One," Terry grumbled.

"Oh, no. That's real, but vastly misunderstood. It's nothing more than a launch facility for secret and otherwise experimental aircraft. At least, it was. Would you like to see yesterday's image of the territory?"

Terry shrugged. "Why not?"

The scene shifted, both the color image of the basin and the grainy black and white fading away to be replaced by an expanse of yellow sand. "Well?" Terry asked after a moment. "Where is it? I don't see anything but desert."

"You are correct, Bogard-san. At this point, that is all that remains."

Terry shot a scowl at the screen. "Show me San Francisco," he ordered. "I have friends there."

The screen image shifted again, showing the Bay Area as he remembered it, only with far less greenery around the edges. It zoomed in on the peninsula. San Francisco. Where once a city had lain, there was nothing. Small piles of rubble, casting only the barest hints of shadow against the sun.

Terry's hand reached for the screen, trembling. "I can't believe it," he whispered. "It's… it's gone. The… the bridge. The buildings… HOW?"

Eimi was silent for an extended moment. "The final decryption cycle is complete." The image shifted to a picture of San Francisco, still intact, casting its shadows across the land. In time lapse, it showed the progress throughout a week. "It took a pair of reavers a full seven days to demolish the city, though I do not believe that they devoured as much as they could have. They seem to seek out the living before eating mineral, though it is known that they will eat nearly all the dead they create."

Terry shivered, feeling queasy at the thought. His friends… "Did anyone get away?"

The screen shifted again, moving towards the city's harbors as he watched building after building crumble in slow motion. Masses — throngs of people — swarmed onto the ships waiting in the harbor. Cargo, cruise, military… all kinds of ships would be filled and set sail, only to be replaced by another, but the flood of humanity never ended, not before the number of ships did.

Terry took a deep breath, screwing his eyes shut. How horrible it must have been, crowded up at the edge of the docks, waiting for a ship that would never come, with nothing but death awaiting you behind. Families separated, desperately hoping that they would be able to join again. It was all he could do to resist collapsing to the floor in tears. He had known tragedy in his life; he had seen the women he loved die, one after another. But he could not imagine how horrible it would have been, to be there, surrounded by that, and with no way to fight back.

"Mae West was destroyed," Eimi explained, "but we were able to discern that the Americans named their fleet 'The Last Hope', before they departed. It's not widely publicized, but several of the ships in Tokyo Harbor arrived with the American military vessels."

Shaking his head, Terry rubbed at a faint moistness in his eyes. "That's enough," he said. "I've seen enough. Find the reavers nearest to us, and destroy them. Do it NOW."

The same soft 'ping' sounded, and the visual display zoomed out to a map of the entire planet. "This map is real-time, and we are currently tracking two hundred and fifty seven reavers. We suspect that there are more we cannot scan, and many are outside of our targeting range." The map zoomed in on the bay again, rushing in close enough to show a grainy image of a small crowd standing around the ruptured remnants of a reaver. "This is unexpected. It would appear as though this one was destroyed. However, I detect nearly a dozen more headed towards the same location, and one beneath this very tower. I cannot strike it without damaging myself."

Terry grinned wickedly. "Fine," he said. "Do what you can, I'll take care of the one here."

Eimi chirped softly, yet another 'ping' sounding. "Please take a communicator so that I can remain in contact with you, Bogard-san." A small light flashed, indicating the location of the communicators, and Terry grabbed one, looking at it. "The back opens, and you can pin it to your collar."

Nodding, Terry did just that. "Now," he said, testing the small metal pin, shaped in the logo of Mishima Heavy industries, "I'm ready to go."

"Affirmative," the communicator chirped in Eimi's voice.

He dashed down the stairs, preparing to meet with the enemy. He had a score to settle, after all.

Hotaru, winded from her use of both the Silence Glaive surprise, and then the silence wall, sat on the curb, while the boys made a round of introductions. The moon cats simply stared, unable to speak without giving away too much, for the moment. Yosho seemed like a nice man, though Hotaru could tell he was worried about Ranma. The boys nodded skeptically to the Senshi's explanations of who they were.

Ranma was interesting, she decided. Very interesting. She'd thrown more into the Silence Glaive surprise than she had meant to, but he had blocked it somehow.

Hotaru felt a vague shiver down her spine, and turned to look at the still deserted street behind her. A massive, reaver-sized segment of the street spontaneously exploded upwards, full of writhing reaver, and still being pursued by a yowling Ranma. The reaver reached the apex of its leap, probably a good fifteen meters above the ground, and fell backwards, but Ranma continued upwards, flashing blue claws carving a path before him. He hung for a moment, still in the air, above the mass of the body he had just tunneled through.

The reaver plummeted like a greasy comet, black legs waving limply behind it, trailed on all points by fluttering streamers of thick yellow ichor. Ranma landed gently on the street only a short distance away from the Senshi, on all four limbs, and behind him, the reaver impacted in the crater with a moist-sounding, 'thump', a small fountain of ichor spraying upwards briefly to spatter against the street.

He sniffed disdainfully at the slain reaver, small wounds covering his body from the battle. Silence reigned, no one able to break it for the moment, as everyone watched the boy-turned-beast.

Pluto chose that moment to show up, which Hotaru thought wasn't terribly bright. The Senshi of time stepped through a portal in the middle of the street, shaking her head and grumbling. "What the hell is going on here?" she exclaimed, staring at the boys in abject confusion.

Ranma growled low in his throat, and pounced. The green-haired woman had only enough time to turn around before Ranma drove her to the ground. He narrowed his eyes at her mistrustfully, and growled again, pinning her in place and sniffing her suspiciously.

Hotaru hid a small smile, almost enjoying the way Pluto's eyes bugged out at the sight of Ranma. "Eeep!" Pluto managed. "I thought I just dealt with you— no, wait, the ears… Who are you?"

Ranma growled again, and Hotaru called to him, "Ranma-san, leave her alone. Come here, instead."

At her voice, Ranma bounded over, and paused, eyeing Ran-oh-ki. The creature gave out a put-upon sigh, and jumped from Hotaru's lap. Seeing that his destination was clear, Ranma curled up into a small ball, resting his head on Hotaru's lap, and purring slightly.

Dead silence rang out, while Pluto climbed to her feet, and dusted herself off. Venus was the first to break the quiet. "That boy's got issues." Hotaru smiled happily. Maybe he did, but she liked that. He was very interesting — and he had tried to protect her, too.

Washuu blinked, staring through her spectacles at the harbor. Small chunks of ice littered its surface liberally, as though someone had tried to make stew with ice, using the harbor as a great cauldron. The light amplification and zoom features of her spectacles allowed her to see that some of the icy bits contained chunks of the reavers that Ranma had torn apart, and more just solidified and frozen ichor.

"Wow," she mused, feeling the chill breeze waft in and rustle her hair. Ranma shivered, crouched as she was in Washuu's lap, like a great big redheaded kitten. "I did not see this coming."

Norris trembled, though Washuu wasn't certain if it was from anger, or fear. "Next time you kill a reaver," he asked, pointing towards where one wall of the bridge had been, "please ask her to avoid tearing apart my ship when she comes back?"

Washuu cocked her head to one side, raising an eyebrow. "Oh?"

Cologne snorted, having just reentered the bridge. "I see that Ranma's found a solution after all," she commented. "I think he should be congratulated on damage control, considering how much a mess he normally makes."

Norris paled, and sat down in his chair, hard. "I'll be quiet," he mumbled.

"Um," Sailor Venus began, cocking her head as she looked at Pluto, "where were you? Weren't you supposed to be here?"

She shook her head, drawing her attention away from the softly purring… creature… that Hotaru had managed to collect. Well, the rules on pets might have to be relaxed a bit, but if it were controllable, then there were no worries. "I'm sorry," she grumbled. "I had to go back in time a few centuries to chase after an amateur and her pet half-demon. She thought she could re-arrange the time stream to prevent all this from happening without being aware of the side-effects."

Mercury raised an eyebrow at that. "What did you do?" she asked.

Pluto waved a hand dismissively. "After I subdued her pet, I explained to her that she couldn't change anything without me stopping her. I think that that," she said, pointing at Ranma, "smelled the thing that I fought." She shook her head. "But I'm digressing. What the hell is going on here? Did that girl already do some damage to the time stream?"

Shrugging philosophically, Mercury commented, "We'd have no way to tell. However, you said you would tell us the plan when you got here, and we'd defend the city. So what's your plan?"

Pluto nodded decisively. "That's fairly simple. We'll stay here, and defend the city, protect everyone who's left…" At the blank stares she was receiving, she hung her head. "Damn that little girl! What did I miss?"

The oldest of the males interjected before anyone else could answer, "That's probably going to be something of a surprise to you… And it's probably just as well, anyway. My father wouldn't care to rescue a rebel faction, but I suspect my grandson will be far more lenient."

Pluto stared at the man in confusion. "'Rebel faction'?"

The man's smile widened. "Yes. I'm Masaki Yosho, former Emperor of Jurai."


"It's a long story, I'll explain it when we set out to sea. For the time being, however, my people have come and are in the process of evacuating the people of this planet. Most of the population of Tokyo was already evacuated via a small fleet of Juraian warships earlier today." He turned to Saturn, who was experimentally scratching the back of Ranma's ear. "Now, Saturn-san, if you could wake Ranma up, we should probably hurry back to the docks."

The girl nodded, pouting slightly. "Can you wake up, Ranma-san?"

The small furry creature at Saturn's side hopped onto Ranma's head, and batted him with his paws. Ranma fell limp for a moment, then struggled to his feet — two feet, like a normal human. "Ugh," he groaned. "That didn't feel too good."

Yosho shook his head. "I don't imagine it would. Are you okay?"

Ranma waved a hand dismissively, scowling, and hovering a short distance above the ground. A moment later, a redheaded female appeared at his side, dressed identically, save that the blue flare was on her left arm, where his was on his right. The two faded out of sight for a moment, and then it was only Ranma, with a blue flare encompassing each arm, instead of just one.

He flexed, and the blue flare faded from his left arm, leaving him with a small blue gem hanging from one ear. "I think I've had worse, Yosho. Did anything happen?" Yosho shrugged, but not before Saturn dropped her Glaive, jumping into Ranma's arms. He reflexively caught the girl, and looked around, bewildered. "Huh?"

"You're my boyfriend now!" she exclaimed happily. Ranma's face spoke volumes of incredulity.

The boy standing near Jupiter's side muttered, "And I thought that I had it rou—" The rest of his statement was cut off as Jupiter's elbow found its way into his gut.

Ranma shook his head, setting Saturn down, and motioning for everyone to be silent. "Uh, say that again, Washuu?" he asked. The gem on his ear flickered, then slowly sparked green.

His eyes widened, and he turned around to look behind him, Ran-oh-ki scrambling up onto his shoulder. At the far end of the street, barely visible in the distance, three reavers were scrambling towards them. "It just gets better and better," he remarked bitterly. "Do you have any good news for me?"

Terry backpedaled from the base of the stairs, narrowly evading a massive claw, one that rent the door he had been unable to dent, and reduced it to gleaming scrap. "Oh," he muttered, "You want to play hardball, huh?"

He reached deep within himself, towards that rarely tapped reservoir of energy that he knew would let him win any battle. The reservoir of anger. Rage. And righteous fury.

Blue flames ignited about him, not merely a battle-aura, but hot enough to warp and melt the stairs beneath his feet. He was protected from his own power, as was the pin that Eimi asked him to wear. But the reaver was balked, and skittered backwards, crashing through the piles of discarded computer pieces, junk food, and whatever else Durant had scattered about before he left.

He was more than just Terry. He was a power. One that would crush the reaver before him, at any cost.

Screaming, he flung himself into the abyss, deeper into that reservoir of strength, and burst into a sudden leap towards the reaver, absently batting a massive, black, protrusion covered limb out of the way. He landed a kick that cracked its carapace, knocking it back into the wall, and followed up with another carapace-cracking punch.

The reaver lashed out violently, and Terry was forced back to the defensive, trying to avoid four pair of slashing claws, finally simply grabbing one of the limbs roughly. The spines and protrusions melted beneath the onslaught of the fire that surrounded him, and Terry simultaneously kicked out and yanked backwards, tearing the limb off. The reaver shrieked, a high-pitched, keening noise.

Bellowing out in rage, Terry's fist descended again, cracking the carapace a third time, finally opening it enough to cause the creature to bleed across the floor. He stepped back and spun, a violent roundhouse cracking open the carapace completely, tearing the creature's armor clean off, and removing the remaining three limbs on its left side. "Hah!" Terry shouted, staggering backwards, off balance.

But the thing was beyond fighting back, merely able to thrash about in its death throes, and spurt acidic ichor across the room. Despite all that, Terry wasn't satisfied. Yelling again, he kicked the unarmored yellow membrane hidden beneath the thing's armor, tearing it easily and releasing the entirety of its innards to flow across the floor. One final, spastic twitch sent a limb slamming into Terry, knocking him free of the deluge of toxic ichor, to slam into the steel of the staircase. It conformed to his body, softened by the flames surrounding him.

Flames that flickered, and died once the battle was over. He coughed, and tried to get up, but his chest refused to expand enough to give him a full breath of air, and the steel staircase was wrapped around him too tightly for him to move. His eyes flickered to the pool of acid, slowly flowing towards the tower. "I'm sorry, Eimi," he croaked. "I think I screwed up."

Her voice was clear across the communications pin on his collar. "Bogard-san, I am trying to contact someone to help you, but do not know when help will arrive."

"It's okay," he said softly, pain slowly blossoming in his chest. "It's… it's what I wanted, Eimi. Don't you get it?"

"Get what, Bogard-san?" Eimi's voice sounded nervous, nearly on the verge of tears. Not, Terry thought, that that could be possible. She was just a computer, after all.

"I won," he managed, coughing weakly. "This time, I saved the girl. I think the Gods cursed me, but this time… this time I saved the girl."

"Bogard-san? What about Atsuko? How will she escape, now?"

Terry grimaced. "Use… use the radio. Ask Ranma to come get her… and tell him to hurry. I have to say something to him before it's too late."

"Very well, Bogard-san."

Ranma took a deep breath, Yosho moving to stand at his side. "This is going to be bad, isn't it?" Ranma asked the older man.

Yosho nodded gravely, watching the trio of reavers charge. "Yes, Ranma," he said softly. "Unless someone up there really likes us."

A squeal of static sounded briefly in Ranma's ear, and the radio there picked up a transmission, a young feminine voice asking, "Is there a 'Ranma' on the radio, anywhere? I'm afraid that there's a situation. Please respond, over."

"Did I mention that it just keeps getting better?" he grumbled, one hand rising to the jewel on his ear. "Yes, this is Ranma. What's going on?"

"Ah, Ranma-san," the voice greeted him. "Bogard-san and Atsuko are with me, and need your help."

"I'd love to help," he snapped, "but there's a small army of reavers here that's kinda going to be keeping me busy for a while!"

For a long moment, there was nothing but silence, and Ranma thought that whoever he was speaking to had left. But she answered, after a pause. "I will deal with them for you, Ranma-san. Please advise anyone with you to hurry to cover — the positronic laser array may have unknown localized side effects. Over."

Ranma blinked, as a brilliant spear of green fire lanced through the sky, tearing through the clouds hiding the stars, and striking the lead reaver head on. Impossibly, a hundred meters away and more, it was smashed into the ground, twitching, while the line of green fire remained trained on it, until it exploded messily, with an easily audible 'pop'.

Jaw hanging, Ranma took a moment to collect himself. "Okay," he said, touching the gem. "I'll be right there, over." He dropped his hand and turned to Yosho, who looked equally stunned. "Yosho, Atsuko and Terry need me. Washuu's on an American ship called 'Kitty Hawk'. I'll meet you back at the harbor, use the radio if you need me."

Yosho nodded, galvanized, and spun towards the still-frozen Senshi and assembled martial artists. "Okay, everyone, by now probably half of the ships have already left. Let's go!"

Not wanting to face the possibility of being left behind, or worse, caught in the path of destruction from the heavens, they all wheeled and ran, Yosho just barely behind them, making sure none were abandoned. Ranma groaned, looking behind him. One way or another, the battle was a mixed success at best.

Shaking his head, he closed his eyes, teleporting back to the harbor, where the Kitty Hawk had been. The ship remained where it was when he had last been there, and he stumbled, catching himself. "Running low on energy," he muttered, glancing around. Where was the facility? He had gotten a glance at it on Washuu's terminal… there. He nodded decisively, flying towards a large metal tower tucked away into a subtle corner of the harbor. "Okay," he said, touching the jewel, "I'm Ranma, so who are you?"

"My name is Eimi. I'm the computer that operates Mishima Heavy's positronic laser array. I'm monitoring it now, and they are nearly guaranteed to burn out of power within the next three hours. I'm firing the three on a rotating frequency to maximize their usable time, but I fear that when I am destroyed, they will become useless. Over."

Ranma blinked, reaching the tower, and phasing through it. He took a step back when he saw Nuku's body, suspended in a vat of green liquid, though whatever it was, was draining away. A voice — Eimi's voice, he decided — came from the speakers in the room's ceiling. "I'm curious to know how you did that, but don't have any time left, I'm afraid. Nuku will be ready to go in a few minutes, Bogard-san is at the bottom of the stairs."

Nodding dubiously, Ranma watched Nuku for a moment before heading for the stairs. "Terry?" he called out.

Hearing no reply, he sank through the stairwell, halting suddenly, eyes wide when he found the man. "Terry?" he asked, worried.

Terry's eyes were half-closed, his breathing was labored, and his chest was a bloodied ruin. The man was trapped in the devastated remnants of the staircase, but he smiled when he saw Ranma. "Ranma," he said weakly. "I hoped… I hoped I would see you… before it was too late."

Ranma shook his head, testing the edges of the iron wrapped around Terry. "Don't talk," he insisted. "I'll get you out… Damn it! If I could phase you through this… I can't teleport you while you're in here—" He realized he was babbling, and shut himself up, working at the edge of the staircase, slowly, painfully slowly, bending it back.

"No, Ranma," Terry whispered. "Don't bother. I let… I let this happen to me. I'm… tired. So very tired. I need to tell you something. It's very important. Are you ready?"

Ranma's hands slowly fell from the staircase, hanging limply at his side. He nodded slowly, choking back tears. It was just so unfair… He reached up slowly, removing the gem from his ear. "Yes," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "I'm listening."

Terry's expression became stern, and he hissed in pain, before saying, "Ranma… fight to protect what you love. But… never… never ever let yourself forget to love what you protect."

"I… I don't understand."

Terry smiled softly. "You will. Remember what I told you, Ranma. Never forget what I said."

"Fight to protect what you love. Never forget to love what you protect," he repeated solemnly. "But, Terry—"

"No," Terry overrode him. "It's time. I'm… I'm going to stay here, Ranma. My path… it's ended. Take care of your… take care of Nuku…"

Swallowing tearfully, Ranma nodded. "I promise, Terry. I'll protect her…" Understanding suddenly blossomed. "Yes. I'll protect her forever, if I can help it, Terry."

Terry's breathing slowed, and his eyes began to drift shut. "I'm… glad, Ranma… now go…"

Nodding, Ranma shot upwards, rising to the uppermost level of the tower. Nuku was outside of the glass cylinder, already dressed again, but on her knees. She breathed slowly. "Tired," she managed. "Nuku-Nuku is so tired…"

Ranma knelt near her, taking her hands in his. "Atsuko? It's… it's time to go."

She looked up at him, impossibly innocent eyes dim with sadness. "Where is Bogard-san?" she asked.

Ranma glanced towards the staircase, but couldn't find words for a long moment. "He's… He didn't make it, Atsuko. We have to go."

Drooping further, she nodded, barely able to climb to her feet and collapse into Ranma. He lifted her gently, the pair hovering over the ground. "Eimi?" he asked. "Are you going to be okay?"

"I… think so, Ranma-san. An archive of all the command files to control the positronic laser array has been uploaded to Atsuko's memory, so that it may be used for defense. I… cannot leave this place. I will continue to operate the positronic laser array as long as possible. Goodbye, Atsuko."

Nuku's face fell, and she sniffled, "Goodbye, Eimi-chan… will I see you again?"

After an extended moment of silence, Eimi responded, "I will stay with Bogard-san."

Ranma nodded, steeling himself, "Goodbye, Eimi. Okay, Atsuko, let's go." Concentrating, Ranma managed the strength for one final teleport to the deck of the Kitty Hawk, before collapsing, too weak to move further.


Terry swam up through the layers of darkness that bore down on him. "Yes… Eimi?"

"I'd like to sing a song for you. It's not the song that Kyusaku-sensei taught to me, but I think you will like it."

"Sure," he said, too tired to complain. "What's it…?

"It is called 'Suo Gan', Bogard-san."

"Terry. Name… Terry."

"Very well, Terry." Eimi took two seconds to compose herself, and then her voice sounded, lyrical and sweet, not just one voice, but thanks to her synthesizers, a choir, nearly angelic in quality.

The music flowed through him, lifting his spirits. He knew he was dying. He had been asking for it, ever since the Armor of Mars. That he had finally managed to beat the odds, and be the one to die, rather than the one forced to survive was merely something that would allow him to perish happier.

An odd surge of momentary strength rushed through him, and he smiled, ignoring the dried and caked blood flecking his lips. "Thank you, Eimi, that was beautiful."

"Thank you, Terry… I wish… I wish I could go with you."

"Got… got enough women… waitin' for me… on the other… side…" His eyes became heavier, the strength fleeting and leaving him sapped. It was soon, he was sure. Soon, he would fade away. He had never thought that death would be like that. "But… you're… welcome, too… Eimi…"

And with that, his eyes drifted shut, one last time. "Thank you, Terry." Were those sobs he was hearing? But he couldn't be sure… "Thank you…"

Ranma lay on the deck, Nuku sprawled atop him. He groaned. "Okay," he managed. "I'm… gonna get up… gonna keep on fighting."

Nuku rolled off him, climbing to her knees, but no further. She managed half a nod.

A hand grasped Ranma's, helping him to his feet. "Come on, Ranma," a voice called out to him from the darkness. "You've had a long day. Why don't you get some rest?"

Ranma shook his head, peering through the dimness at Washuu. "Washuu? Uh… no, can't… can't stop fighting."

"Yes," she reprimanded him, helping him walk along, "you can, and you will. I'll keep working on the problem, but you will get some rest." He found himself sat on a bed, while he was dimly aware of Nuku having been maneuvered to sit next to him. "Now—" she cut herself off suddenly, stifling a powerful yawn. "Now, I'm going to inject you with something that will ensure you a restful sleep."

Ranma winced, feeling a prickling sensation in his arm. "But," he complained, feeling his strength drain. "Not… fair…" Bolstering what little strength he had, he reached forward, grabbing Washuu before he collapsed onto the bed.

"Ranma!" she yelped, unresisting as Ranma pulled her down on top of him, his hand on the back of her neck, and their faces close. "What are you doing?"

"Shiatsu," he mumbled. "Ghoul taught me. Used on Shampoo."

"What's shiatsu?" Washuu asked, not attempting to wrest herself free of Ranma's grip.

"Lotsa stuff," Ranma mumbled, finding the point he wanted, and jabbing it gently with his finger. Washuu collapsed atop him, asleep instantly. "That one… makes you go to sleep…" he concluded, drifting off.


To be continued.

Author's notes: 'Sou Gan' is from 'Empire of the Sun'.

There are a few cameos in here, ranging from the blatant, to the subtle. Try to find them all! Collect, save, trade for swell prizes!

Interlude 1
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